Sunday, May 31, 2009

Luke 16 and 17


The parables of the good Samaritan and of the Pharisee and the publican commend a certain type of behavior. They are "example stories." But the parable of the dishonest steward belongs to a different category. There is nothing edifying about it. The steward's conduct was characterized in the beginning by incompetence and in the end by flagrant dishonesty. If it is a true parable, Jesus must have used it, as he did the parables of the importunate friend and the unrighteous judge, to make one truth vivid and memorable; but since we do not know its original context, we can only guess what that truth was. Whatever its original purpose, early Christian teachers used it with Jesus' authority to recommend the practice of prudence. The steward was a rascal, but a clever rascal, and Jesus' followers were invited to emulate that cleverness for better ends: The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light (KJV). Vs. 9 limits the point to the prudent use of money, and may be Luke's own addition.
16:la. Editorial introduction. If Jesus used the parable that follows, and interpreted it as Luke does in vs. 9, he may have addressed it to some such group as the "tax collectors and sinners" of 15:1. Jesus' disciples can scarcely have needed advice about the use of "unrighteous mammon," but no doubt the issue had become a live one in the church of Luke's day.
1b-2. There is no allegory in the narrative. The rich man is not God or the devil or mammon, and the steward is not intended to represent a disciple. The estate manager in this instance is an employee, not an overslave as in 12:42-48. His employer, informed that he has been wasteful in his management of his affairs, demands a final statement of his accounts before dismissing him from his service.
3-4. The steward has not been accused of dishonesty but fears that his dismissal will imperil his ability to earn a living. In his extremity he concocts a scheme by which he hopes to place a number of people under obligation to himself and thereby to assure their help when he needs it.
5-7. He summons his master's debtors individually and invites them to falsify their accounts. The debtors are either tenants who have signed agreements to pay for the rent of their land in kind (cf. Mark 12:2) or purchasers of produce from the estate who have signed notes calling for payment at some later date. They are encouraged to alter the amounts of their bills, or perhaps to draft new ones and inscribe smaller amounts. A hundred measures of oil, about 875 gallons. Quickly: Probably to be construed with write rather than with sit down. A hundred measures of wheat, about a thousand bushels.
8. It is difficult to decide whether the lord of this verse refers to the "rich man" of the parable or to Jesus. If the former identification is accepted (with the KJV and the RSV), then we are to assume that the employer detected his steward's dishonesty but expressed admiration for his cleverness. If the latter is preferred, the first half of the verse is an indirect reference to Jesus' comment on the story and the second half is a direct quotation of his words. With vs. 8b, cf. Matthew 10:16b: "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Those who belong only to this age (RSV mg.; cf. 20:34) are wiser in the attention they give their worldly interests than are the sons of light (cf. John 12:36; Eph. 5:8; I Thess. 5:5) in their concern for their eternal welfare.
9. Editorial interpretation. The real lesson of the parable is now said to be the wise use of money. Mammon represents the Aramaic anwmm, a word which means "money," but whose derivation is still a matter of dispute. Luke apparently believed that all money has some taint about it, and that the only redeeming feature of its possession is that it can be expended for righteous purposes. As the dishonest steward used money to make sure that people would receive him into their houses after he had been dismissed from his stewardship (vs. 4), so Christians are to use it to assure eternal habitations for themselves. It is the distribution of money as alms to the poor that is meant (12:33). Make friends for yourselves: The recipients of alms will intercede with God that the giver may be received into the heavenly dwelling places. When it fails (RSV): Money is useless after death, and so the clause is the equivalent of "when you die," and amounts to the same thing as the inferior reading translated by the KJV, when ye fail. That ... they may receive you: The rich can help the poor in this age, and the poor can help the rich in the age to come. Or perhaps the whole clause is a circumlocution to avoid the use of the divine name. "That ... God may receive you."
Luke assembles a number of sayings to guard against any misunderstanding of the parable. Jesus had not commended the steward's dishonesty, but only his prudence. The disciple must be scrupulously honest in all money matters. According to some interpreters, vs. 10 was a current proverb or maxim, and vss. 11-12 are religious interpretations of it in the light of the foregoing parable. Others believe all three sayings were suggested by the parable of the pounds, particularly the master's commendation of the servant in 19:17 (Matthew 25:21).
10. II Clement 8:5: "For the Lord says in the gospel: 'If you do not guard what is small, who will give you what is great? For I tell you that he who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.'" Other variants are quoted by Irenaeus and Hilarius.
11. The unrighteous mammon: see on vs. 9. The true riches, i.e., heavenly treasure--God's gifts in the new age.
12. That which is another's: Money is a foreign currency to those whose citizenship is in heaven. That which is your own: Heavenly treasure is the Christian's only true and eternal possession. "Our own" is the reading in Codex Vaticanus and some allies. Marcion reads "my own."
13. Identical with its Matthaean counterpart except for the use of servant instead of "man." Incorporated by Luke at this point because of the occurrence of the word mammon. Devotion to money and devotion to God are incompatible loyalties.
14-15a. Editorial introduction. The Pharisees, who have not been mentioned since 15:2, are reintroduced, and we are told that Jesus now addressed himself to them. Who were lovers of money is a generalization linking the saying that follows with vss. 1-13, but it does an injustice to the party within Judaism characterized by its devotion to the law. The anti-Pharisaic polemic in the Gospels is in large part a reflection of the later controversy between church and synagogue (see on 11:37-44).
15b. Perhaps originally a stricture on self-righteous pride. But Luke thought of it in some way as a criticism of mammon service. The Pharisees claim that their wealth is proof that they are righteous, but God's verdict is different from men's. Or the idea may be similar to that in Matthew 6:2. The ostentatious distribution of alms is highly esteemed among men, but is an abomination in the sight of God.
5. THE LAW AND THE GOSPEL (16:16-18; cf. Matthew 11:12-13; 5:18, 31-32)
Three scattered sayings that have little or no connection with one another or with the rest of the material in the chapter.
16. Matthew preserves a more extended, more obscure, and possibly more primitive version. John the Baptist marks a turning point, in history. Before his time, the law and the prophets; since his time, the kingdom of God. One of several sayings in the gospel tradition that speak of the new age of God's rule as a fact of present experience, not just an event of the last days. Already every one enters it violently. Already men may participate in it, press their way into it, if they will run every risk, exert every effort, and make every sacrifice. Cf. Jesus' exhortations in 9:59-62; 13:24, and 14:26. No reference to political messianists, such as the Zealots, need be conjectured.
17. Used by Luke at this point to avoid the implication that the gospel has abrogated the law. The latter retains its validity. Tittle: Probably an ornamental stroke decorating the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
18. The marriage bond is indissoluble. In addition to Matthew 5:31-32, variants are also found in Mark 10:11 (Matthew 19:9) and in I Cor. 7:10-11. Matthew is alone in introducing the clause "except on the ground of unchastity."
Two distinct themes are discussed. Vss. 19-26 declare that there will be a reversal of values in the life to come. The poor will be rewarded and the rich will be punished. The point of view is similar to that in 6:20b, 24: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. ... But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation." Vss. 27-31 assert that the impenitent rich have already had ample warning of their fate in the Law and the Prophets, and would not repent even if one were to return from the dead to reiterate that warning.
Many interpreters believe that the latter section is an allegorical appendix that presupposes the conflict between early Christianity and orthodox Judaism. The rich man and his brothers represent the unbelieving Jews. Jesus is made to assert that they have stubbornly refused to repent in spite of the obvious testimony to himself in Scripture and to predict that they will fail to be impressed by his resurrection. It is conceivable that Luke and his readers imposed some such interpretation on these verses, but it is by no means clear that it is inherent. They are more readily interpreted as an attack on Sadducean wealth and worldliness. Most Sadducees were priests or members of the Jewish aristocracy--privileged and frequently wealthy people. A refusal to believe in an afterlife, or to admit that Scripture afforded any warrant for such a belief, was among their characteristic tenets. Vss. 27-31 may have been added to the parable to make it a criticism of Sadducean materialism.
In 1918 Hugo Gressmann of the University of Berlin published an elaborate monograph on the parable which has influenced much of its subsequent interpretation. According to Gressmann, the story that Jesus told was a Jewish version of an ancient Egyptian tale, still extant in a demotic papyrus of the first century A.D. The body of a wealthy man, clad in his finest attire, was carried to his grave by a large company of mourners. At the same time the body of a poor man was removed for burial, unaccompanied by attendants and covered only by a mat. An observer, impressed by the disparity in the honors bestowed on the two, commented on the advantages enjoyed by the rich man, but changed his views when he was permitted to visit the underworld. There he saw the poor man clothed in the linen garments of the rich and given a place of honor, while the rich man suffered torment for his evil deeds. The story concludes with the moral: "He who is good on earth fares well in the realm of the dead, and he who is evil on earth fares ill."
Gressmann is less convincing when he elaborates his theory to explain the apparent break in the parable at vs. 27. He asserts that the latter section was Jesus' protest against basing the doctrine of rewards and punishments in an afterlife on stories of visits to the other world. Moses and the prophets bear witness to it, and no miracle is necessary to authenticate their testimony.
The parable is unique in the Gospels for its colorful description of the state of men after death. As in the LXX, Hades represents the Hebrew word Sheol. In early Hebrew thought Sheol was a gloomy subterranean pit to which the spirits of men went after death and in which they suffered some shadowy and miserable existence. When later Judaism adopted the idea of the resurrection, probably from Persian eschatology, Sheol became the temporary abode of disembodied spirits. Gradually the belief arose that there would be some separation of the righteous from the wicked even before the resurrection. In I Enoch 22 the author speaks of special places reserved in Sheol for the evil and the good "until the great day of judgment." The Lukan parable moves within a similar framework of thought. One part of Hades resembles Gehenna, the place of final punishment. In it the rich man suffers fiery torment. The other part resembles Paradise, the final dwelling place of the righteous. In it Lazarus rests on Abraham's bosom. The two men can see one another and speak to one another, but actual passage from one part to the other is impossible, for between the two a great gulf has been fixed.
19-21. The rich man is often called "Dives," the word with which the Vulg. translated the adjective "rich." The Sahidic version named him "Nineve," and the name "Phinees" also had some currency in the third century A.D. Purple for the outer and fine linen for the undergarment. Lazarus: The Greek form of Eleazar, which means "one whom God has helped." This is the only parable in which a proper name occurs; it is necessary for the course of the dialogue in vss. 23-25. The name is a common one, and there is no reason to suspect any connection between the parable and the story of Lazarus in John 11. What fell from the rich man's table: Refuse later thrown outside the gate. Dogs were regarded as unclean animals, and their unwelcome attentions were the climax of the poor man's miseries.
22. Carried by the angels: That "angels of service" and "angels of destruction" are sent to fetch the souls of the righteous and of the wicked after death is stated by a Jewish rabbi of the second century A.D., and no doubt the idea is much more ancient. Abraham's bosom: The poor man's relationship to the patriarch was that of a son to his father (cf. John 1:18). The rich man ... was buried: Failure to receive burial could have been interpreted as an act of divine punishment on earth, but no such misfortune occurred.
23-24. The rich man craves a drop of water, as Lazarus had once longed for crumbs of bread. The ideas of Paradise and of Gehenna have practically coalesced with the earlier idea of Sheol--a flame in one part of Hades, and a spring of water in the other.
25. We are not told that the rich man had been particularly evil, and the poor man particularly good, although the story may carry that implication. Abraham's only argument is that those who enjoy good things in this life suffer evil things in the life to come and vice versa.
26. Another reason for rejecting the request: It cannot be granted.
27-28. If Lazarus cannot cross over the chasm to help the rich man, perhaps he can return to earth with a warning for the rich man's brothers.
29-31. Such a mission would be superfluous. Moses and the prophets have already spoken of rewards and punishments in a life to come. Those who do not heed Scripture would not be impressed by any miracle of resurrection.

1. ON THOSE WHO CAUSE OTHERS TO SIN; FORGIVENESS; FAITH(17:l-6=Matthew 18:7, 6, 15, 21-22; 17:20b)
Three unrelated sayings abstracted from Q.
17:1-2. A general principle with a specific application. Matthew gives the verses in reverse order and there is a variant of vs. 2 in Mark 9:42. Temptations to sin: The plural of a noun whose basic meaning is "trap" or "snare." Millstone: More picturesquely described in Mark and Matthew as a heavy one that would have to be turned by an ass. One of these little ones: Probably Luke understood the phrase to mean the disciples or some special group among them. The meaning is made explicit in both Matthew and Mark by the addition of "who believe in me."
3-4. Take heed to yourselves: The Greek phrase is used on several occasions in Luke-Acts but not elsewhere in the N.T. Probably Luke intended the warning to be attached to the saying in vs. 2. If your brother sins: Codex Bezae and its allies add "against you," which is no doubt a correct interpretation of the text. It is the individual responsibility of an injured party that is under discussion. Matthew makes the rebuke only the first step in an elaborate procedure of ecclesiastical discipline (Matthew 18:15-17). The offender is to be forgiven, no matter how often the offense is repeated, if he shows a spirit of contrition. The imperative is unconditional in Matthew's version, whose "seventy-seven times" makes the saying the converse of Lamech's cry for revenge (Gen. 4:24).
5. Probably editorial, as the use of the words apostles and the Lord suggests. Increase our faith: "Give us more faith so that we can carry out your command." Or the request might mean: "Add faith to the other gifts you have given us."
6. Truth made vivid and memorable by paradox. The minutest quantity of faith-implicit trust in God--would enable men to accomplish things that seem impossible. "This word of Jesus does not invite Christians to become conjurers and magicians, but heroes like those whose exploits are celebrated in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews (Manson, Mission and Message of Jesus, p. 433). "Mountain" for sycamine tree (a black mulberry) in Matthew 17:20b, and in the variant in Mark 11:22-23 (Matthew 21:21). Note also I Cor. 13:2.
There is no apparent connection with the preceding. Jesus was not concerned in the parable with criticizing or commending the farmer's treatment of his slave. The story is not about life in the new age (as in 12:37) but about everyday rural life in the Palestine of the first century. A commonplace incident is made the vehicle of a spiritual truth.
7-9. Servant translates the Greek word for "slave." A series of questions whose answers would seem obvious to men who lived under a slave economy. The essence of the parable is in vs. 9. The slave who only carries out his master's orders has not earned any right to his thanks. I trow not (KJV) is added by codices Alexandrinus and Bezae, and other later MSS and versions.
10. The application: Men who only carry out God's commands have no claim on any reward. "The tilt against exaggerations and perversions of the doctrine of tit for tat is a prominent and characteristic feature of the teaching of Jesus. What we receive from God is grace and goodness, and not reward. ... The excessive emphasis and elaboration of the doctrine of retribution was one of the weak spots of Rabbinic Judaism" (Montefiore, Synoptic Gospels, II, 543).
Probably a variant of 5:12-14 (Mark 1:40-45). But in this special Lukan version the number of lepers has been increased from one to ten; the miracle is effected at a distance; a Samaritan has been included in the leper group; and the emphasis is on the fact that only a foreigner showed any gratitude for Jesus' act of healing. Possibly Luke made a place for the story in his narrative to show that an incident in Jesus' own ministry had foreshadowed the acceptance of the gospel by Gentiles and its rejection by Jews.
11. Another abrupt reminder that Jesus was still in the course of a leisurely journey to Jerusalem. Between (RSV)--near the border of--is preferable to through the midst of (KJV) as a translation of a difficult Greek phrase. Probably Luke mentions Jesus' proximity to Samaria only to account for the reference to a Samaritan in the story this verse introduces.
12-14. There is a reference to a similar leper colony outside the gate in II Kings 7:3. For leprosy as a disease in the ancient world, and for regulations governing the segregation of lepers and their readmission to society see on 5:12-14 (also Vol. VII, p. 338). Go and show yourselves to the priests: The command precedes the actual miracle of healing in contrast to 5:14. The Jewish lepers would be required to report to the temple in Jerusalem, but what of the Samaritan?
15-16. Only a foreigner returns to give thanks to Jesus, as did the Syrian Naaman to Elisha (II Kings 5:15).
17-18. The story in 5:12-14 was told as an illustration of Jesus' miraculous powers as a healer. In this version the miracle has been subordinated to a series of rhetorical--and prophetic--questions.
19. A command and a comment that were apt enough in 8:48 (cf. 7:50) but which introduce an element of confusion here. Were not the nine Jews also healed by virtue of their faith? Perhaps Luke added the verse to end the story with a familiar formula.
Peculiar to Luke's Gospel, but believed by some interpreters to have stood in Q as an introduction to the matter that Luke now associates with it in the verses that follow.
20a. An introduction typically Greek in its structure and possibly supplied by the evangelist.
20b-21a. A protest against speculation concerning the time when God's rule would begin. With signs to be observed is an interpretation of a Greek phrase, occurring here only in the N.T., which KJV translated with observation. From the time of the book of Daniel Jewish apocalyptic writers were more concerned with the signs that would mark the end of the age than with any other feature of the apocalyptic hope. They gave their imaginations free rein in their portrayal of the catastrophes--"the woes of the Messiah"--which would indicate that God was about to destroy the present world order. Wars, fratricidal strife, social collapse, natural disasters, a breakup of the cosmic order--such were the lurid events they delighted to detail and delineate. Behind this interest was the belief that the worst would have to come to the worst before God would intervene to destroy the present age and to inaugurate the new era of his rule.
21b. The positive half of the saying asserts the utter futility of all such popular interest in signs. Our interpretation of it will depend on the meaning we give to the preposition ejnto;v. The KJV and the RSV represent two possibilities. (1) Within (KJV; RSV rag.) corresponds to the normal Greek use of the word, and this translation makes Jesus declare that God's rule is a new spiritual principle already operative in the lives of men. In this sense the saying can be compared with the words of Paul in Rom. 14:17: "For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." It has been objected that Jesus could not have spoken of the kingdom of God as within the Pharisees, but this difficulty loses its force if the introduction is secondary--i.e., in the original saying perhaps Jesus was talking to his disciples. Another objection is more serious. The thought of the kingdom of God as a new state of being, while similar to the concept of "eternal life" in the Gospel of John, has no parallels in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic tradition the idea appears always to have eschatological associations. It is a new age that will succeed the present world order, or that in some measure has already broken in upon it. (2) In the midst of (RSV) (or "among") is a translation that removes the saying from its exceptional category among the kingdom references in the Gospels. But we do not dispose of all exegetical problems by accepting this alternative. The verb "to be" would have been unexpressed in the Aramaic original. Is the saying predictive? Did Jesus mean to assert that the new age would arrive with such dramatic suddenness that men would have neither time nor occasion to observe its coming? Or does the saying state a fact? Does it belong with others by which Jesus declares that the new age is already in the midst of men, even though they may fail to be aware of it? (See on 7:28; 10:18; 11:20; 13:18-20; 16:16.)
2. SUDDEN COMING OF THE SON OF MAN (17:22-37=Matthew 24:23, 26-27, 37-41, 28)
Matthew combines eschatological matter from Q and from Mark 13:1 to form one composite discourse, much as he has already woven together the two accounts of the mission of the twelve. Luke keeps his sources separate, reproducing the Q matter at this point and the Marcan tradition in ch. 21.
22. Peculiar to Luke and possibly his own composition. Christ predicts the discouragement that would be experienced by the early Christian community at the delay in the introduction of the messianic age. The author of II Peter, writing about the middle of the second century, counseled his readers to hold fast to the hope but to postpone its realization to the distant future (II Pet. 3:3-10). The Son of man in this verse and throughout the paragraph is a supernatural being who will appear as God's vicegerent in the last days.
23-24. The disciples are to pay no attention to any rumors about the local advent of the Son of man. His coming will be as universal and unmistakable as a flash of lightning.
25. Note 9:22 (Mark 8:31). Missing from Matthew's version, and possibly an editorial insertion into older apocalyptic material. Jesus predicts that his passion will precede the eschatological events. Perhaps the purpose of the verse was to declare that Christ himself and none other was the Son of man of whose coming he had been speaking.
26-27. The messianic age will come upon careless men and women as suddenly and unexpectedly as the deluge in the days of Noah (Gen. 6:5-8; 7:6-24).
28-30. It will come upon them as abruptly as fire and brimstone fell upon the city of Sodom in the days of Lot (Gen. 18:20-33; 19:24-25). If this second O.T. illustration stood in the Q source, Matthew has omitted it. In both instances it is not the preparedness of the patriarch for the crisis that is emphasized, but the unpreparedness of his contemporaries. Noah and Lot were frequently associated in rabbinical tradition for hortatory purposes, as they are also in II Pet. 2:5-8.
31-33. Usually interpreted as the evangelist's elaboration of his source. Vs. 31 appears to have been introduced from Mark 13:15-16, which Luke does not use when he borrows other material from that chapter (following 21:21). In its Marcan context it is a warning to Judeans to flee at once when they see "the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be" (Mark 13:14). Here it is advice to disciples to abandon all earthly possessions at the appearance of the Son of man. The warning let him ... not turn back prompts the evangelist to refer to the ill-fated indecision of Lot's wife (Gen. 19:26). Vs. 33 is a saying from Q that Luke has already used in a slightly different form in 9:24 (Matthew 10:39). Since there is no parallel to it in Matthew 24:1, it is probable that Luke himself is responsible for including it again at this point. In its present setting it declares that a man must forfeit his life as well as his earthly effects in the last day if he is to share in the glories of the coming age.
34-35. The closest associates will be separated by the appearance of the Son of man. In that night is a peculiar phrase after "on the day" of vs. 30. Luke must have been responsible for it if Matthew's "Then two men will be in the field" is the reading as it stood in Q. Two women would be required for the easy operation of a hand mill. Taken="saved." Left="abandoned to judgment."
36. Read by Codex Bezae, many late Greek MSS, and the Latin and Syriac versions. Probably a scribal gloss on the original text from Matthew 24:40. Its Lukan authorship has been defended on the precarious grounds that if vs. 34 refers to a man and his wife--not an improbable interpretation of the Greek text--some mention of male as well as female servants would be necessary to give a complete picture of a Palestinian household.
37. The saying is appended by Matthew--without Luke's introduction--to his counterpart to vss. 23-24, where it seems to emphasize the suddenness with which the Son of man will appear. No doubt a common proverb (cf. Job 39:30). Apparent meaning in Luke's context: "Judgment will take place wherever there is occasion for it." Possibly we should read vultures (RSV mg.) instead of eagles, for the latter are not carrion birds and are not gregarious.

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