COMPANION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT - The New English Bible. By A E Harvey. - © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press, The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press. 1970. - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2014.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE

HOME | << | to theophilus | the coming of christ | galilee: success & opposition | journeys & encounters | challenge to jerusalem | the final conflict | maps - the holy land in the time of: jesus (c. A.D.30); vdu map | >> |
Map: Palestine under the Herods. (Visual Display Unit Map. This is and excellent scripture visual  display resource)

Chapter 1.

The Author to Theophilus (1). With this introductory phrase (which does not stand, as such, in the Greek original) the NEB allows one to see at a glance that the first four verses of this gospel are what we should now call a preface. It is the preface to the writings of the author whose name tradition has preserved as Luke, and who may in fact (though we cannot be sure of it) have been the same person as 'Luke the doctor' (Colossians 4.14), the friend and companion of Paul. Then as now, writing a preface was a literary convention. But the books of the New Testament were written for religious, not literary purposes; it is only here, and at the beginning of Acts (which is the second part of Luke's work), that any kind of preface occurs. Immediately, Luke presents himself to us as someone unusual among the New Testament writers: a conscious literary stylist (this opening paragraph is a smooth and polished piece of Greek prose), ready to make use of the conventions of the world of letters.

Greek historians took it for granted that their work should begin with a preface explaining the writer's purpose and methods; and Luke, who certainly felt himself to be writing a chapter of world history, followed the same convention. Moreover, however wide a readership a book was intended for, it was customary to dedicate it to a personal friend or an influential acquaintance. Luke's preface, though it is shorter and less fulsome than most, is entirely in the spirit of his age. But this conformity to convention also makes it impossible for us to draw any precise conclusions from his language. Theophilus could be almost anyone—Greek, Roman or Jew, pagan or Christian, senior civil servant or private gentleman (your Excellency (3) suggests a person of some rank, but the Greek word was a very general term of respect). Many writers (1) could be a rhetorical exaggeration of the fact that Mark, and possibly Matthew, had already completed their gospels; or it could be an indication that far more accounts of the gospel story were current in Luke's day than have survived to ours. And Luke's own decision to write a connected narrative (3) of these events could be due to a desire to improve on the work of his predecessors, an anxiety to refute false information that had been coming to the ears of inquirers such as Theophilus, or simply a sense that there was a need for a third "gospel" based, as such history ought to be, on the traditions handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses (2). The language of the preface does not allow us to decide between these possibilities. But the fact that Luke wrote such a preface at all, and moreover that he extended his work (through his "Acts of the Apostles") the story of the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome, shows that he was aware of tackling a more ambitious task than the other gospel writers, and that, unlike them, he had at his disposal many of the techniques and the literary conventions of the professional Greek historian.
top


The coming of Christ

| annunciation: john the baptist; jesus | Mary visits elizabeth; mary's song of praise | nativity: john; jesus | presentation of jesus in the temple; simeon & anna | jesus 12yo || tiberius 15; john the baptist; jesus baptised; tempted | >> |

In the days of Herod king of Judaea (5). By contrast with the Hellenistic polish of the preface, and indeed with the historical precision Luke shows elsewhere (see especially 3.1), the narrative begins in a way more reminiscent of the Old Testament than of contemporary history books. Herod the Great reigned for over thirty years, and died in 4 B.C. So Luke's indication of date is extremely vague. On the other hand, "in the days of so-and-so king of Judah" is a standard Old Testament formula for introducing an episode in the history of the Jewish kingdoms, and this is only the first of many touches by which Luke, in these first two chapters, gives an Old Testament atmosphere to his narrative. ← Most of these touches are linguistic, and can hardly be reproduced in translation. Sometimes, indeed, the idioms are more Semitic than Greek, and many believe that Luke's infancy narratives are a translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic original. But phrases thoroughly characteristic of Luke also occur, and it is at least as likely that Luke, who could in any case write in more than one style, is here composing the story in language modelled mainly upon the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

There was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of the priesthood called after Abijah. The ritual of the temple in Jerusalem was performed by members of all the families which could trace their ancestry back to Aaron and who formed the priestly class in Jewish society. Twenty-four such families had returned from the exile, each tracing its descent back to one of the grandsons of Aaron (one of whom was Abijah), and each of these families (or "divisions of the priesthood") still existed as a distinct clan in some part of Judaea and Galilee, and twice a year took responsibility for a week's duty in the temple. The whole clan took up residence in Jerusalem for its week's duty, and the several families of the clan each took responsibility for one day of the week, casting lots on the morning of the day to determine the duty of each individual. Luke was evidently well acquainted with this system, and was able to show how it came about that Zechariah was officiating in the temple on a particular day. It was the turn of his division (8), that is, it was one of the two weeks in the year when his clan attended the temple; he was there to take part in divine service, that is, it was the day appointed for the family to which he belonged; and it fell to his lot to be the individual who on that day received the coveted privilege to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer the incense (9).

Twice a day, morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed and burnt at the altar before the temple. The hour of the incense offering (10) came just before this sacrifice in the morning, and just after it in the evening (we cannot tell whether morning or evening is meant here): it was the moment when the chosen priest left his two assistants outside by the altar and entered the sanctuary. This was the first room in the temple proper, being a kind of anteroom to the Most Holy Place (which only the High Priest could enter, and that only on one day of the year). Here stood a small altar for burning incense; and the mysterious sanctity of the place, combined with the smoke of the incense and the complete solitude of the priest, made this moment a particularly likely one for visions and intimations of the divine. Certainly many stories are told in Jewish literature of similar experiences in the temple; so much so, that the people who were waiting outside (who were probably laymen from the district where the clan lived, come to worship with their own priests) had little doubt what had happened when Zechariah stayed so long inside and was unable to give them the customary blessing when he emerged from the sanctuary: they realized that he had had a vision (22).

'Your prayer has been heard' (13). A divine intervention, granting the birth of a child to a woman who had been barren and was now past the age of childbearing, was a feature of many Old Testament stories; and these stories often included the apparition of an angel and a supernatural intimation of the name which the child was to bear. Almost all the details of Luke's narrative (and much of the actual language) can be found in one or other of these Old Testament stories, and a comparison of these shows how deeply Luke was influenced by such precedents. ← Compare especially Genesis 17.15-21; 18.4-15 (the promise of the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah), Judges 13 (Samson), 1 Samuel 1 (Samuel). But this is not to say that his own combination of these conventional elements was simply due to his imagination; for certain known facts about the subsequent life of John the Baptist, if not a reliable tradition about the circumstances of his birth, must have suggested to him that it would be true of John (as it had been true of Samson and certain other Old Testament persons ← Such as Rechabites (Jeremiah 35) and Nazirites (Numbers 6).) that he would be sworn never to touch wine or strong drink; that, like an Old Testament prophet, he would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and this from his very birth; ← The Greek is a biblical idiom, which can mean from the moment of conception. I .tike may have seen the stirring of the baby in the womb (1.41) as the first proof that John wus filled with the Spirit. and that he would be a figure fulfilling many of the prophecies and expectations which had gathered round the name of Elijah ((17) see above on Mark 9.11).

Again, that the angel was Gabriel ((19) the angel-messenger par excellence since his appearance in the Book of Daniel), that Zechariah asked for a sign ('How can I be sure of this?' (18)), and that he was rewarded (or punished) with temporary loss of speech, are all typical elements of this kind of story; ← Asking for a sign: Genesis 15.8. Dumbness: Daniel 10.15. Paul was similarly struck blind for a while, Acts 9.9. Compare the temporary blindness of Elymas, Acts 13.11. but this hardly affects the question whether Luke's story is legend or truth. Experiences of this kind, whether true or fictitious, tend to fall into a certain pattern. Some eye witness may well have remembered the vivid moment when Zechariah stood there making signs to them, and remained dumb (22), even if the rest of the story is the writer's attempt to make explicit what was essentially an incommunicable experience.

Failure to bear children was keenly felt by Jewish women as a cause of 'reproach among men' (25), and Elizabeth's thankful reaction is the same as that of Rachel when, after years of barrenness, she gave birth to Jacob: "God has taken away my reproach" (Genesis 30.23). Why did Elizabeth then live in seclusion for five months? We know of no custom that would have obliged her to do so; but her seclusion gives added point to the surprise of the meeting which took place between her and Mary in the sixth month (26).
top

Woven into the story of the strange circumstances of John the Baptist's birth is the story of the birth of Jesus. This too comprises a supernatural message and a miraculous birth, but it no longer recalls the stories of Jewish literature and folklore, since it culminates in a happening which was unique and unparalleled, ← In Greek mythology there are numerous stories of unions between an immortal God and a mortal woman. But Luke's account shows no traces of influence from such sources. The setting is entirely Jewish, and Jewish traditions knew nothing of such things. Any miraculous birth always involved a human father. So far as Luke and his readers were concerned, Jesus' birth was absolutely unique. the birth of a child whose mother was a virgin. Matthew and Luke are the only New Testament writers who explicitly mention this. Matthew simply states it in a single sentence, with very little comment. Luke, on the other hand, devotes a whole paragraph to it, and his account is clearly intended to give some explanation of its meaning. He introduces the scene very carefully. Mary was a girl betrothed to a man named Joseph (27). The Greek word translated girl has traditionally been translated "virgin", and it is true that it often meant this; but it was also one of the commonest words for "girl", and there is no reason to think that Luke intends to stress Mary's virginity at this stage of the story. Mary is introduced simply as a young fiancee, already legally committed to her future husband, but not yet living with him. Unlike Zechariah, who received his vision when performing a ritual act in a holy place, Mary is no one in particular and has done nothing special, and the words of the angel's greeting seem to recognize this: 'most favoured one' (28)—the phrase shows that God has regarded her with exceptional favour, not that there is necessarily anything in her to have drawn the favour upon herself. How will this divine favour be shown? The angel's answer still holds back the critical point: for the present, he simply promises to Mary a son who will be qualified to bear the titles and attributes of many of the great figures of Old Testament history and prophecy, and who will be a worthy successor of his ancestor (through Joseph) David (32). (The angel's words are a tissue of scriptural allusions: compare especially Genesis 16.11, Isaiah 9.7, Micah 4.7.) Such promises had been made to women in the past.

'How can this be?' said Mary; 'I am still a virgin.' (34) Mary's reaction is puzzling. She is about to be married, and can expect to have a son; and it is necessary to read a good deal into the text if we are to find there some reason for Mary thinking it impossible that she should give birth to a child. ← It has been suggested that Mary had made a vow of virginity; or that she understood the angel to mean that she was to conceive immediately. But there is no support for such explanations in the text. However, the difficulty disappears if we ask, not why Mary should have said these words, but why Luke placed them in her mouth. From the story-teller's point of view, the question has a clear purpose: it is the cue ← Luke is fond of introducing such "cues ".Compare 13.23; 17.37; 3.10, 14 and elsewhere. for the angel's decisive declaration that the child is to have no human father at all. 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you' (35). Matthew says simply that Mary became 'with child by the Holy Spirit'. Luke uses some more poetic and suggestive idioms to convey the proposition that God would himself take the place of a human father, and that the child would therefore be, in a unique and literal sense, "Son of God". Mary's apparently naive question is the key to the whole mystery: to have this child she will not need, physically, to cease being a virgin.

'Moreover ...' (36) In the Old Testament, the recipients of divine promises commonly ask for a "sign". Mary does not ask; but a sign is given. 'Your kinswoman ← The word is very vague. It could mean belonging to the same nation, or the same tribe within the nation, or the same family within the tribe. We do not know what the relationship was. Elizabeth has herself conceived a son in her old age.' When Mary has seen this, she will have no difficulty in believing that for her, as for Elizabeth, 'God's promises can never fail' (a phrase from Exodus 13.12).

In response, Mary went straight (the Greek implies haste and determination) to visit Elizabeth (39). A town in the uplands of Judah is probably intentionally vague, Judah being the old tribal name for the mountainous area around Jerusalem; it implies no more than that Mary took the angel's message seriously enough to make a three days' journey south from Galilee. Her purpose was presumably to confirm the angel's words by seeing for herself that Elizabeth was pregnant. This, at least, was proof of her faith that the Lord's promise would be fulfilled (45), and would have been sufficient to elicit Elizabeth's blessing. But the coincidence of the baby stirring in Elizabeth's womb at the moment of Mary's arrival gave the scene a new turn. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (41)—Luke's way of describing a sudden gift of prophecy—and declared that her baby had not merely stirred, it had leapt for joy (44). The Greek word used for joy here was rich with scriptural overtones: it suggested the joy of the people of God in the presence of their long-awaited Lord, the Messiah.
top

And Mary said (46). The narrative is interrupted by a song of praise. There was good precedent for this. In Old Testament narratives, when a barren woman was granted her prayer for a child, she was often found to break out in a cry of joy and thanksgiving. The finest example is in 1 Samuel 2: when Hannah was at last blest with a son, she uttered a song which fills a whole page of text, and which is so similar in tone to Mary's song that the one can hardly be regarded as completely independent of the other. Yet Hannah's great song is anything but personal; it is mostly a hymn on the justice and the mercies of God, with barely a word that bears upon Hannah's own situation—so much so, that it is quite possible that the verses originally had an independent existence, and were only subsequently inserted into the story of Hannah. Very much the same is true of Mary's song here. The greater part of it is concerned with themes which occur again and again in the psalms and in later Hebrew poetry: the fidelity of God to his people, and the ultimate vindication of the cause of the poor and oppressed against the proud and the rich. Almost every phrase occurs at one place or another in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, there is not a word in it that is distinctively Christian, and barely a sentence which is characteristic of Luke. To all intents and purposes, the song is a beautiful example of a Jewish psalm. As such, there is no reason why it should not have risen spontaneously to the lips of the joyful mother-to-be. But equally (if one concedes that Luke was writing up the scene fairly freely), it could have been inserted by the writer to comply with the convention that the apparently miraculous gift of a child should be answered by a cry of praise.

But who sang the song? It was Elizabeth, not Mary, who was in the classic situation of one whose "reproach" of barrenness had been taken away, and some manuscripts actually give her name in this verse. Moreover, there is one point at which the song seems to become personal, and to spring from the events which have just been narrated:

'so tenderly has he looked upon his servant,
humble as she is.
' (48)

This last phrase could mean literally, "her humiliation". And who has been "humiliated"? Not Mary, but Elizabeth, who has borne the reproach of barrenness all her life. In short, were no name given in the text for the singer of the song (which may indeed originally have been the case, later copyists adding one name or the other as they thought best), we should probably not hesitate to ascribe it to Elizabeth, and to regard those few manuscripts which give her name in verse 46 as having correctly divined the original intention of the writer.

However, the last of these arguments is double-edged. "Humiliation" is a correct translation in verse 48, but so is "humility", and in so far as the song is a typical utterance of that strain of Jewish piety which fervently believed in the blessedness and ultimate vindication of the poor, the meek and the humble, the speaker could just as well be anyone (or any group of people) who belonged to that class. Mary, just as much as Elizabeth, is to be imagined as an upright and " humble" person to whom God had shown particular favour; therefore the translators (though not without hesitation) decided to abide by the traditional ascription of the song to Mary. The song is throughout in general but fervent terms. If it does not allude specifically to this moment in Mary's life, it is nevertheless a fine expression of what she may have been feeling. Its spirituality, though entirely Jewish in origin, has a universal quality which, since early centuries, has won for it a firm place in the worship of the Christian church.
top

Now the time came for Elizabeth's child to be born (57). Luke is very soon to recount the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus: but the way he has chosen to weave together the strands of the two stories makes it necessary for him to balance this by first working in the birth of John. The main interest of this story lay in the apparently inexplicable agreement of the child's parents to call him John. This was a miracle, sufficient for those who witnessed it to be struck with awe (65). The impressiveness of the story is marred by the banality of the language in the NEB translation. Luke is here still writing in the idiom of the Greek Old Testament, and thus imparting more solemnity to these events than the English version conveys.

On the eighth day (59). This was the normal time for circumcision (Leviticus 12.3), but it is a little surprising to find a Jewish family at this date naming the child (as the Greeks did) when a week or so old instead of at birth. It was by no means invariable to call a child after its father, even in a priestly family; in fact it was more common to call it after its grandfather. But doubtless if the name John (which had been fairly popular since the time of the Maccabees) had never been given to a member of this family, the sudden consensus of mother and father must have seemed striking, particularly since the narrator seems to assume that, since his vision in the temple, Zechariah had been not just dumb, but deaf and dumb. (In Greek, a single word meant deaf-and-dumb, and was often used for either affliction.)

And Zechariah his father was filled with the Holy Spirit and uttered this prophecy (67). Another song of praise, this time with rather more allusion to the events of the gospel, and therefore justly called a prophecy—prophesying was regarded by Luke, as by Jewish writers of the period, as the characteristic manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it makes liitle difference whether the words go back to Zechariah's own inspiration, whether they were composed for the purpose by Luke, or whether they originally had an independent existence as a hymn and were incorporated and perhaps adapted by Luke. This song, like Mary's, is a typical example of Jewish religious poetry, with only small touches added to bring it into line with Christian experience in general and with the story of John the Baptist in particular. Its style, accumulating clause upon clause with little regard for logic or syntax, is reminiscent of some of the psalms in the Bible, and still more of the psalms composed during the century before the birth of Christ and known as the "Psalms of Solomon". Its language, like that of Mary's song, is impregnated with scriptural idioms. Its content departs little from the mainstream of Jewish piety. Thus the first stanza ← According to the NEB arrangement; but many arrangements are possible. The Greek text has no clear divisions. (68-9) is a typical expression of the old Jewish hope that God would "raise up" a deliverer. For Luke's readers, this hope had now been fulfilled by Jesus in a startlingly unexpected form; but the language used here is still perfectly traditional. The second and third stanzas (70-5) dwell on God's promises that he would guarantee to his own people a land of their own in which they would dwell in safety and peace. And the last stanza returns to the theme of the promised Messiah (for whom the morning sun from heaven (78) had become an almost technical expression). Only verses 76-7 bear on John the Baptist, who was to be the Lord's forerunner (77), and to baptize for the forgiveness of ... sins (77).

As the child grew up (80). Luke had nothing further to record between John's infancy and his public appearance some thirty years later. But he could infer that John, being a prophet, must during that time have become strong in spirit (for prophecy was a gift of the Spirit of God), and also that his appearance in the wilderness was prepared for by a long ascetic apprenticeship in the wilds. ← There is a certain similarity between the teaching and activity of John and the ideals of the community which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls; but beyond this there is no evidence (hut lie was in any way associated with that community. It is quite possible that during his yearn in the wilds he came in contact with it; but this remains pure speculation.
top

Chapter 2.

Coin of the reign of Augustus Caesar.

In those days a decree was issued by the Emperor Augustus (1). One of the innovations of Augustus was to replace the existing somewhat haphazard system of taxation in the provinces of the Roman empire by a uniform system based on a census of the population in each province. This policy gradually became effective throughout the Roman world; but we happen to know, independently of Luke's gospel, when it was applied to Judaea. Archelaus, one of Herod the Great's sons, ruled over Judaea from his father's death until A.D. 6, when he was banished by Augustus and his kingdom became part of the Roman province of Syria. This was the moment to introduce the new system of taxation, and it fell to Quirinius, who became a governor of Syria in that year, to carry it out. This imposition of direct taxation was exceedingly unpopular, and actually caused a minor revolt. It was the first registration of its kind in Judaea, and it was not liable to be quickly forgotten (Luke in fact refers to it again in Acts 5.37).

If, therefore, Luke intended to provide his narrative at this point with a date (as he does at the beginning of chapter 3), then there can be no doubt that the date in question was A.D. 6-7. But this date causes difficulties. In the next chapter (3.23) Luke says that Jesus was "about 30 years old" in A.D. 28-9. This is probably only approximate; nevertheless, if Jesus was born in A.D. 6-7 he would have been only twenty-two in 28-9, which is rather young for him to be described as "about thirty". Moreover Matthew places Jesus' birth in the lifetime of Herod the Great (that is, before 4 B.C.), and Luke himself states that John the Baptist, who was only six months older than Jesus, was born 'in the days of Herod king of Judaea' (1.5). Luke's date here (A.D. 6-7) seems about ten years too late.

But it is far from certain that Luke is concerned to specify a date at this point. At the beginning of this paragraph he is still using scriptural language: the vague phrase, in those days (1), is typical of the style. His interest in chronology begins only with the very elaborate dating in the next chapter (3.1-2). Here he mentions the census in order to explain how it came about that Jesus of Nazareth, a Galilean, was born at Bethlehem, a village situated in another part of the country altogether. His explanation is at first sight quite plausible. Although a census of this kind was normally based upon people's actual place of residence, not on their ancestral town, at least one other part of the Roman empire is known where subjects had to register according to their place of birth; and this may have been the case in Judaea. And the explanation may have appealed to Luke on other grounds also: it enabled him to establish a direct connection between the birth of Jesus and an act of the supreme ruler of the Mediterranean world—the gospel story is presented, right from the start, as a chapter of world history. But was there in fact such a census at the time when Jesus was born? There are reasons for doubting whether it could have taken place while Herod the Great or his son Archelaus still ruled Judaea; there is no other record of a census before that of A.D. 6-7, and it is not at all easy to fit Quirinius into the picture some ten years before his only recorded governorship of Syria. If Luke is writing serious history at this point, we ought perhaps to be ready to take his word for all this; but if he is merely working a memory of Quirinius' famous census into his narrative in an attempt to explain the circumstances of Jesus' birth, we must be prepared to admit that, from a historical point of view, he has fallen into error.

She wrapped him in his swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger (7). The manger is the pivot of the story. Already in the gospel there have been two interventions by angels, and each of them has ended with the promise of a sign. This third intervention follows exactly the same pal tern, and the sign consists in the new-born baby being found wrapped in his swaddling clothes (i.e. in a tight little bundle, as is still the custom of Arab women), in a manger. Why was the baby in such an unusual place? Luke offers a thoroughly practical reason: because there was no room for them to lodge in the house (7). The words, to lodge, do not occur in the Greek, and may give a misleading impression. In the east, it is unlikely that travellers would have been refused "lodging", either in a private house or in an inn; but it is possible that all the houses were too crowded to offer Mary a room to herself for having her baby, in which case a shed or a cave ← There is a tradition, dating back to at least the second century, that Jesus was born in a cave. Constantine's great church at Bethlehem was also built over a cave, but this is indecisive: caves very commonly attracted such traditions anyway. A certain cave on the mount of Olives soon became associated with many episodes in the life of Jesus. used for sheltering cattle might have been the best the village could provide—thus giving fulfilment to the angel's "sign". For what really impressed the shepherds was this miraculous confirmation of the angel's words: it had all happened as they had been told (20). It is only by the way that Luke works in some deeper comment on the event. The angel proclaimed that the baby would be deliverer (saviour), Messiah, and Lord, titles which Jesus hardly bore in his lifetime on earth, but which the church was soon to ascribe to him; and the event (like the fulfilment of each of the previous "signs") was the cue for another song of praise, this time quite brief and sung by the angels. One of the main blessings of the age of the Messiah—so it was believed— would be on earth his peace (14), to be enjoyed by all those whom God had chosen to benefit from it. To Jewish readers this would have meant the Jews; but Luke was writing for Christians, who now knew that there existed a much wider company of men on whom his favour rests. ← The traditional rendering, "goodwill towards men", is of a manuscript reading which is less likely to be original (see NEB footnote). "Men of goodwill" is a possible, but unlikely, translation.
top

Eight days later (21). Luke shows himself to be thoroughly conversant with everything that was customary under the Law for Jewish parents after the birth of a first male child (27), and he seems to lay great emphasis (by stating it three times, verses 22, 27 and 39) on the fact that Jesus' parents meticulously fulfilled all the legal requirements. First, after eight days, came circumcision and naming (as with John the Baptist, 1.59). Then, forty days after childbirth (during which she remained at home awaiting her purification (23)) ← Their purification is puzzling. Luke's phrase is taken straight from the Old Testament (Leviticus 12.6), where it means, "when the days of (i.e. preliminary to) purifying were completed". The difficulty is in Luke's addition of the word their. It was only to the mother that these requirements applied. On the other hand, Joseph and the baby could be regarded as ritually "unclean" through contact with her, and their presence at the temple sacrifice may have been necessary. the mother had to offer a sacrifice of a lamb (which, in the case of poorer people, was remitted to a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons (24), Leviticus 12.8), after which the priest declared her "clean". A further obligation arose when the child was the mother's first-born and a male; for it was a very old and strong religious principle in Judaism that 'every firstborn male shall be deemed to belong to the Lord' (23) (Exodus 13.2). In primitive times this probably meant that every family had its own priest; but later it was applied literally only to the descendants of Aaron and Levi (the priests and the Levites), and all other families "redeemed" their first-born sons from temple duties by paying a tax of five silver pieces (Numbers 18.15-16). But Luke mentions no such payment here; instead, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (22). It looks as if Luke is offering a special interpretation of the rule about first-born males: this particular baby was 'to belong to the Lord' (22) in a unique sense. It was therefore inappropriate to "redeem" him from the Lord's service by a payment: he must on the contrary be taken to the temple to be "presented" to the Lord. Thus everything was done as prescribed in the law—but with a highly significant difference (27).
top

There was at that time in Jerusalem a man called Simeon (25). Two further witnesses are called (so to speak) to give their evidence that the birth of Jesus was of unique significance. The first was a man upright and devout, qualified by his blameless life, like Zechariah and his wife (1.6), to play a small part in these critical events. He was also one who watched and waited for the restoration of Israel, that is to say, he believed with an exceptional earnestness and eagerness that the glorious destiny which God had promised for his people (the Greek word meaning "consolation" was almost a technical term for this, and so may perhaps be translated restoration) was shortly to come to pass, and like many of his contemporaries he expected the herald of this to be the Lord's Messiah. The Holy Spirit was upon him (25, 26), giving him, not just guidance and supernatural knowledge, but above all the gift of prophecy; and when he recognized that the moment had come for which he had been living, he gave his prophetic testimony in the form of the last of the songs with which Luke adorns this part of his gospel. The song begins quite personally: the sight of the baby gives Simeon his discharge (29), and he can now die in peace. But to describe what the baby
is, language and imagery are borrowed from Isaiah: the promised deliverance (31) (Isaiah 40.5) is not only for Israel, but will shine forth far beyond the confines of the Jewish religion as a light that will be a revelation to the heathen (32) (Isaiah 42.6). Yet this Messiah by no means conforms to the popular image of a figure of glory and power: the story is to have its darker side. Simeon adds some enigmatic oracles addressed to the parents, which Luke doubtless intends the reader to solve for himself as the gospel unfolds.

The second witness is a prophetess (36). The official view in Judaism was that the gift of prophecy had ceased with the last of the Old Testament prophets, and would only be revived in the new age wilh the coming of the Messiah. But in Jesus the Messiah had come; and so Luke presents the revival of prophecy as one of the signs accompanying his birth. What this meant was by no means clear to all; but those who were looking for the liberation of Jerusalem (38) (another almost technical expression for this new age) would have been alive to the significance of Anna's prophetic words about the child.
top

When he was twelve (42). Nothing is said in any of the other gospels about the years which Jesus spent in Nazareth. But Luke, who has just hinted at the kind of training received by John the Baptist (1.80), provides an anecdote which does the same for Jesus. To anyone familiar with Greek culture, it was axiomatic that these early years would be devoted to education: accordingly Luke reports that Jesus grew full of wisdom (40), and the story of Jesus' precocity can be paralleled from the biographies of many famous figures of antiquity. But Jesus' learning was of an entirely Jewish character. In Hebrew culture "wisdom" consisted of an understanding of the ways of God as revealed in Scripture, and there can be no doubt that the questions being discussed by the twelve-year-old boy and the teachers (46) in one of the colonnaded courts of the temple turned upon the interpretation of certain passages of the Old Testament: Jesus had already learned enough in the local synagogue in Nazareth to be able to hold his own with the scholars of the capital. The occasion was a Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which was often made in family groups; but Jesus' answer already betrays a loyalty stronger even than to his family. For him, the temple was not just "God's house", it was 'my Father's house' (49). ← The old translation, "about my father's business", is much less likely to be the meaning of the Greek phrase, though this is admittedly imprecise. But addressing God as one's own "Father" made little sense to ordinary people. Even his parents did not understand what he meant (50).
top

Chapter 3.

A Denarius of the reign of the enperor Tiberius.

There is now a lapse of time; and in the manner of a professional historian Luke carefully fixes the date at which his story comes within the range of world history. The commonly received system of dating throughout the Roman empire was by the year of the reigning Emperor. So here: in the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius, A.D. 28-9. This sounds, to modern ears, as precise and reliable an indication as one could wish. But in antiquity an accurate chronology was a great deal more difficult to obtain than it is now, and historians often liked to provide some chronological cross-references at the beginning of their work. Luke's list is not exceptional, though it is unusually detailed, and it also serves to fill out the picture of the political conditions of the time. After the death of Herod the Great (4 B.C.) his kingdom had been divided into four, each part being governed by a tetrarch, which means "ruler of a fourth part". It was this word tetrarch (always translated prince in the NEB) which perhaps led Luke to specify, for the sake of completeness, the ruler of each of the four parts. Judaea, after the unsuccessful reign of its first tetrarch, Archelaus, had come directly under Roman rule in A.D. 6 and was governed by a Roman official called, first, a praefectus and subsequently a procurator. Pontius Pilate held this office from A.D. 26 to 36, and Luke gives him the general title that was used in Greek for such officials, governor. Herod (Antipas, son of Herod the Great) became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea ('Transjordan') at his father's death, and remained in power until A.D. 39. Philip, another of Herod's sons, ruled his tetrarchy in the north-east until A.D. 33. Abilene, the northernmost part of Herod's original kingdom, lay in the Lebanon, and we know little about its history; but there is no serious reason to doubt Luke's statement that its ruler's name was Lysanias. Luke then completes the picture with
a the high-priesthood. Only one high priest held office at a time: he normally presided over the supreme Jewish Council (the Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem. The high priest in this year was Caiaphas; but Annas, his father-in-law, had also held the office from A.D. 6 to 15, and he probably still exercised so much influence that Luke may have thought it right to couple his name with that of Caiaphas.
top

The word of God came to John (2). The phrase is an Old Testament one, appropriate to a prophet (compare Jeremiah 1.1). It is one of the touches by which Luke fills in the prophetic side of John's ministry (4-6). The quotation from Isaiah (40.3) is common to the accounts in all the gospels, though it is given at greater length by Luke (7-9); and John's first speech (except that it is delivered generally to the crowds and not to the Pharisees and Sadducees) runs closely parallel with the version in Matthew (3.7-10). But after this Luke's narrative takes a different course. From the other gospels the impression might easily be gained that John's preaching consisted entirely of an announcement of the Coming One and an urgent call to repent and be baptized. But it is clear, both from other passages in the gospels and Acts, and from the fact that his movement lasted long after the appearance of Jesus, that he must also have given moral teaching. The people, indeed, addressed him as Master (12), a form of address which was often used when speaking to Jesus, and which implied that John, too, was regarded as a teacher (11). Luke gives a sample of John's teaching here. Sharing food and clothing with the needy was recognized as a social obligation and as a highly meritorious act throughout the history of Judaism. John's attitude to tax-gatherers and soldiers, however, was more liberal than that of his contemporaries, who regarded these professions as incompatible with a strict observance of the law, and excluded them from the true community of Israel. John by contrast (and here his attitude was closer to that of Jesus) accepted these people, only warning them against the special temptations of their professions. Yet even he showed a certain intolerance towards tax-gatherers (12): if they had done what he said, they would have deprived themselves altogether of their source of livelihood (see below on 18.9-14).

The people were on the tiptoe of expectation (15). Luke gives the Baptist's proclamation of the Coming One in much the same terms as Matthew, but characteristically sets the scene for it a little more carefully and vividly. Any prophetic figure preaching a radical message in the wilderness was liable to arouse expectations about the promised Deliverer, and indeed we know that there were a number of pretenders to this role during the century, culminating in the figure of Bar Kochba, who led the last revolt of the Jews against the Romans in A.D. 135. It was against this background that John announced the coming of a greater successor, not so much relaxing the expectation of the people as turning it away from himself to another who was still to come.

The subsequent fate of John is recounted by Mark and Matthew in some detail at a later stage in their gospels (Mark 6, Matthew 11). Luke is content merely to summarize it (18-20) (the story was presumably well known to his readers) and, with perhaps a historian's concern to round off a story and draw a moral, he places his summary here. After this, John does not appear again in his gospel: the stage is left clear for Jesus.
top

During a general baptism of the people (21). Jesus was last mentioned growing up in Nazareth. Here it is simply taken for granted that he was among the crowd who came to be baptized, and the vision which accompanied his baptism serves to bring him out of obscurity and indicates that he is from now on the protagonist of the story. Who was this Jesus? Luke's previous chapters have given, so to speak, his divine parentage—but this was only recognized by the faithful. Who was he in the eyes of ordinary people? Luke answers, the son, as people thought, of Joseph (23), and impressively proceeds to trace his ancestry right back to Adam, son of God (38). A similar genealogy in Matthew (though it offers a quite different list of names for Jesus' immediate ancestors) serves to answer the question, How was Jesus a son of David? But Luke's interest seems to be simply that of a historian: this is who Jesus was. (On the genealogy itself, see above on Matthew 1.1-17).
top

Chapter 4.

Luke's account of Jesus' temptation is very similar to that of Matthew (4.1-11), except that the episodes are in a different order. There are some slight differences of detail which suggest that Luke was less familiar with Palestine than Matthew and Mark, and found it harder to visualize the setting of Jesus' experience. Jesus returned from the Jordan (1). Did Luke think that the wilderness was in a different part of the country? In fact it began close to the edge of the Jordan valley, and Mark and Matthew are much more convincing when they say that Jesus entered it straight after his baptism. Next the devil led him up and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world (5). According to Matthew, Jesus was taken 'to a very high mountain'. In the wilderness of Judaea there are many such mountains which command an immense view over the Jordan valley and would have offered an appropriate setting for Jesus' temptation. But Luke prefers to think of the experience as an inner vision: Jesus saw all the kingdoms of the world in a flash.
top


In Galilee: success and opposition

| << | nazareth | capernaum | the lake of gennesaret: fishing for men; levi called; 2 sabbath stories | the sermon by the lake: blessings & woes; love your enemies; pass no judgement | capernaum: jesus heals a centurion's servant | nain: a widow's son raised | messengers from john the baptist | simon the pharisee's dinner | journeying: the parable of the sower; jesus's family; crossing the lake: jesus, the heals a demon possessed man | the mission of the 12 | herod's anxiety | bethsaida: peter's declaration; jesus foretells his death and resurrection; jesus transfigured | >> |

Success and opposition describes Jesus' progress through Galilee as aptly in Luke's narrative as it does in Mark's. But Luke, unlike the other evangelists, places a notable case of opposition (recounted more briefly in Mark and Matthew) right at the beginning, perhaps seeing in it a foretaste of Jesus' ultimate destiny at the hands of his fellow-countrymen. He was doubtless familiar with the tradition which made Jesus' activity in Galilee open with a number of "successes", and he makes a brief allusion to these in verse 15. But he does not linger over them; instead he hurries on to the main episode, which serves to lay down the pattern of Jesus' subsequent activity.
top

So he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up (16). Matthew and Mark call it simply his 'home town', but Luke is careful to maintain consistency with the account he has given of Jesus' infancy. Strictly speaking, Nazareth was not Jesus' 'home town', it was only where he had been brought up. No followers were with him, as they are in Matthew's and Mark's narratives; but in those two gospels the episode comes later in the story, whereas here the disciples have not yet been called. He went to synagogue on the Sabbath day as he regularly did—and what follows is consistent with what we know from Jewish sources about the order of service in a synagogue on a Sabbath morning. After prayers came a reading from the Law of Moses (the first five books of the Bible). After that, a member of the congregation was invited to stand and read a lection from one of the prophets, and then to sit and expound it. Jesus had already made a reputation by his teaching, and when he visited a town it was natural that he should be asked to give the exposition. Indeed it is likely that he (like the apostles after him) eagerly accepted these opportunities of proclaiming his message, and the exposition which he gave on this occasion was doubtless typical of his teaching in their synagogues (15) in many other places. The passage chosen by Jesus (18) (Isaiah 61.1-2, with the addition of a phrase from Isaiah 58.6) was originally a prophecy that, after the exile in Babylon, the Jewish people would once again be free to return to Jerusalem and celebrate the "jubilee year" (Leviticus 25.10), the year of the Lord's favour (19). But in the time of Jesus it was certainly understood as a still unfulfilled prophecy of the new age to which the Jews looked forward. Luke gives the quotation at length (following the Septuagint version of the (ireck Bible, which gives a slightly different sense from the Hebrew text which Jesus is likely to have used), but offers only the barest summary of Jesus' sermon ('Today ... in your very hearing this text has come true') (21). Yet the weight of Jesus' words is vividly captured. In referring Isaiah's prophecy to himself he was making a prodigious claim. This claim at first excited admiration; but doubt and disbelief crept in with the remark, 'Is not this Joseph's son?' (22)—for so, 'as people thought' (3.23), he was. Mark, in his account of this scene (6.1-6), goes on to describe the effects of this scepticism: Jesus 'could work no miracle there'. Luke implies the same consequence, even though he does not state it; for the same picture of Jesus unable to perform miracles or to gain acceptance among his own kinsfolk is what gives point to the harsh sayings which follow. Nevertheless, Jesus' words seem to apply, not just to the people of Nazareth, but to the Jewish people as a whole. "Physician, heal your-self!" (23) There was no obvious reason at this stage why anyone should have cast this well-known proverb in Jesus' teeth, but these were exactly the terms in which the Jews taunted Jesus at the crucifixion (Matthew 27.42)—Luke is again using the scene as a foretaste of the treatment received by Jesus, not just at Nazareth, but (in a wider sense) in his own country. Again, Jesus' saying (24), 'no prophet is recognized in his own country' is not seen by Luke (as it is by Mark and Matthew) merely as a comment on his treatment at Nazareth. It is a paradigm of the progress of his entire mission (and indeed of the subsequent mission of the church). And the Old Testament examples which follow are relevant, not so much to the matter in hand, as to what was to become the recurring pattern of Jesus' work, seeking out either those whose profession or way of life was thought to disqualify them from membership of the holy people of God, or else even those who were not Jews at all. The story of Elijah and the widow of Sarepta is found in 1 Kings 17 (25), that of Naaman in 2 Kings 5. The implication of both these stories was that, in God's saving purpose, it could happen that foreigners might be more favourably placed than Jews; and the result of Jesus quoting them was that the whole congregation were infuriated (28). They evidently intended to put him to death by throwing him down a cliff (and there are many steep places in the neighbourhood of Nazareth, even though the village was not built on a hill, but rather in a hollow among hills). Luke evidently saw something miraculous in Jesus' escape: he walked straight through them all, and went away (30).
top

Coming down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee (31). The phrase is typical of Luke, who does not expect his readers to be familiar with Palestine, and is careful to explain that what to Greek ears was nothing but a barbarous collection of syllables (Kapharnaoum) was a town in Galilee. Luke may not have been familiar with Galilee himself, but he probably knew that Capernaum was on the lake, and he is accurate when he says that Jesus must have "come down" to it from the mountain village of Nazareth. From this point to the end of the chapter his narrative closely follows Mark (1.21-34). The rebuked the fever(39) as he had rebuked the devil in the previous incident. By this touch Luke perhaps wishes to make the whole paragraph into a series of encounters with devils, culminating in the devils' recognition that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah (41). Jesus' retreat next morning to a lonely spot serves, as in Mark, to make the transition
from Capernaum to a wider field of work. Luke places this wider field in the synagogues of Judaea (44). Strictly speaking, Judaea was a long way to the south of Galilee, and if Luke means this literally he is in conflict with the other gospels. ← This apparent conflict caused early copyists to make the alteration in the manuscripts which is noted in the NEB footnote. But, along with other Greek and Latin writers, Luke sometimes uses "Judaea" to mean Palestine in general, and his intention here is probably only to say that Jesus' preaching extended far over Jewish lands.
top

Chapter 5.

By this time, in the other gospels, Jesus had gathered disciples round him. Luke has not yet mentioned this; but he now tells the story of how he was joined by Simon, James and John (who were of course so well known to Luke's readers that they needed no introduction). In Matthew and Mark, this was a simple summons, followed by an immediate response. But Luke leads up to it with a story which is clearly intended to offer some explanation of the disciples' instant decision to follow Jesus—and which also incidentally gives early prominence to Simon Peter among Jesus' followers. Both Mark (4.1-2) and Matthew (13.1-3) record that Jesus, when teaching by the Lake of Gennesaret (1) (a more precise name for the lake which the Jews usually called the "Sea of Galilee"), liked to put out a little from the shore in a boat. Luke takes the story on from there. The details are entirely lifelike. The best time for fishing in the lake was (and still is) at night; and the cooperation of two boats to bring in a heavy haul of fish was regular practice. The sequel was Jesus' word (here addressed only to Simon),'from now on you will be catching men' (10). The story finds a suggestive echo in John 21, where Jesus (this time after the resurrection) again enables Simon to make an exceptional haul. Both the stories appear to have been freely written up by the evangelists to bring out a symbolic meaning, and both may go back to what was perhaps originally a single event.

The narrative of the healing of a leper (12-14) follows Mark (1.40-5) very closely, only omitting Mark's references to Jesus' anger and sternness (which were perhaps as puzzling to Luke as they are to us). Jesus, indeed, moves more gently in this gospel: instead of being forced to leave the town by the numbers of those who were pressing upon him (Mark 1.45), it is merely said that, on his own initiative, from time to time he would withdraw to lonely places for prayer (16).

The next scene (the healing of a paralysed man (17-25)) reproduces the actual words of Jesus almost verbatim from the account in Mark (2.1-12), but shows considerable freedom in the narrative. In part, Luke appears simply to have written the scene in a more polished Greek style—'You would never believe the things we have seen today' is (26), in the original, a fluent and idiomatic expression compared with Mark's 'Never before have we seen the like' (2.12); in part also, he makes it easier for the non-Palestinian reader to visualize: he sets the story inside one of the large tiled houses of western cities, instead of outside the flat-roofed, baked mud houses of the east. But in essential points his narrative follows the tradition preserved in Mark.
top

In the events and sayings following the call of Levi (27-39), Luke has again made only minor alterations to the details—he interprets Jesus' "invitation" to sinners as being, not to a metaphorical banquet (as in Mark), but to repentance (32); and he explains the observance of fasting among John's disciples and the Pharisees as an aid to the practice of prayer. But whereas in Mark 33 (2.13-22) there is only a loose and general connection between each paragraph, Luke has neatly worked them into the setting of Levi's big reception (29) and, by slight editorial touches to Jesus' sayings, has made them all relevant to the Pharisees' complaint that his disciples, instead of following the usual austerities of a strict religious sect, could be seen to eat and drink (33) . The comparison with the wedding feast (34-5) fits this context just as well as the context given to it in Mark, and Luke makes no significant alteration to it (the presence of verse 35 here is just as puzzling as the corresponding verse in Mark). But the following parables are given a different slant (36). The point is no longer, as in Mark, that the sheer novelty of Jesus' message demands an altogether new medium of expression—this would have no relevance to the question of the presence of the disciples of Jesus at Levi's reception. The point is now that any attempt to combine the new with the old (the new freedom of Jesus' message with the old practices of fasting) is fatal to both. And Luke adds a further saying (37-9), which is in fact an old proverb, and seems to fit a little awkwardly here. Once you have tasted the superior quality of old, matured wine, you cannot go back to cheap, new stuff (or perhaps: you are prejudiced against anything new). The complaints of the Pharisees were based on assumptions which were now superseded. To have tried to combine them with Jesus' new principles would have been to render both meaningless.
top

Chapter 6.

The two Sabbath stories run even closer to Mark (2.23-36). In the first (1-5), Luke characteristically adds a detail which makes the story easier to visualize: the disciples were plucking the ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them (1); and he also omits, as Matthew does, one of the general sayings about the Sabbath ('the Sabbath was made for the sake of man', etc.) recorded by Mark—perhaps, like us, he found it difficult to understand. In the second story (6-11) the changes are even more trivial, unless it is significant that Luke does not mention Jesus' 'anger' on this occasion: such an emotion did not (it into Luke's portrait of Jesus as it did into Mark's.

During this time (12). Luke now begins to set the stage for a major discourse of Jesus. The discourse itself, though it takes place on level ground, is clearly a version of the same collection of teaching as Matthew presents in his Sermon on the Mount and, as in Matthew, it presupposes a double audience: an inner group of disciples, and a large crowd. Luke's narrative, while still running close to that of Mark (3.7-19) is arranged so as to account for the presence of these two groups. The sequence begins with Jesus spending the night in prayer (12)—Luke insists far more on the importance of prayer in Jesus' life than any of the other evangelists. Jesus then, out of an existing group of disciples (the presence of which was presupposed in chapter 5) chose twelve and named them Apostles (13). Even in the less portentous account in Mark, these twelve are clearly mentioned for the sake of their part in the subsequent history of the church. Luke makes this even more explicit, by recording that Jesus actually called them Apostles (the title by which the founders of the early church came to be known), and by subsequently referring to them by this title four times in his narrative. His list corresponds to that in Mark and Matthew, except that the Thaddaeus of Mark, or the
Lebbaeus of Matthew, is replaced by a mysterious Judas son of James (19)—a name also apparently known to John (14.22).

The inner group of listeners being now identified, Luke brings Jesus down to level ground (17) (which he presumably thought more appropriate as a setting for a sermon than a hill—he seems to have reserved hills for supernatural experiences) and accounts for the presence of a crowd by the spread of Jesus' fame far to the south and the north of Galilee. It was not merely that he had been known to perform miraculous cures; there was power in him (19) (recognized also by Mark, 5.30) which could be released if a sick person so much as touched him.
top

Then turning to his disciples he began to speak (20). Luke, like Matthew, places a long discourse of Jesus early in his narrative, and if we compare Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, we see at once that here is another version of the same thing. Both begin with "beatitudes" and end with a parable; Luke's version, though it is much shorter, contains only a few verses which are not in Matthew's; and there is even the same indeterminacy of audience: at the beginning Jesus is speaking 'to his disciples', at the end (7.1) we hear that he has been 'addressing the people'—exactly as in Matthew. Yet Luke's "sermon" is not merely an abridged version of Matthew's. It has its own distinctive tone, and in certain details it presents Jesus' teaching in a somewhat different light.

'How blest are you who are in need' (20). The first and most striking difference between these beatitudes and those in Matthew is that they are all in the second person: they presuppose an audience of people who were actually in need, hungry, weeping and reviled. Anil this goes with a second difference. In Matthew (5.3), the needy are 'those who know their need of God' (literally, "poor in spirit"), the hungry are those who 'hunger and thirst to see right prevail'. In other words, the blessing is pronounced as a reward for a certain moral and religious disposition. But here, the needy are really needy, the hungry really hungry; and the promise is that their condition will be reversed on that day (23), that is, at the future coming of the kingdom of God. Doubtless many of the religious connotations of poverty and hunger, which are spelled out in Matthew's version (particularly in those beatitudes which Luke omits), are also present here; but the emphasis is on the dramatic reversal of fortune which awaits those who are literally poor and in need.

The same emphasis runs through the "woes" (24-6) ('Alas for you') with which Luke balances each of the beatitudes (these do not occur in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, though rather similar woes appear at another place in his gospel, 23.13-30). 'Alas for you who are rich.' (24) This is the logical corollary of 'how blest are you who are in need', but although there was a strong strain in Jewish piety which was prepared to find a blessing in poverty, it would have come hard to deny that there was also a blessing in riches. Yet this was Jesus' teaching, embodied here in an unambiguous condemnation of whole classes of society which recalls the manner of an Old Testament prophet (26). One other detail characterizes those who were to be blest: like the prophets (as a Jewish tradition had begun to say—see above on Matthew 23.31) they would be persecuted for their faith; and their persecutors would be the descendants of those who had persecuted the prophets—not the world in general, but the Jews.
top

'But to you who hear me I say' (27). The rich and prosperous were not in the audience, and little time is spent over denunciations of the world at large: the sermon is for those who will follow Jesus. The next sayings are placed under a single bold heading, 'Love your enemies' (28). In the Sermon on the Mount, this radical injunction developed out of Jesus' interpretation of the familiar commandment, Love your neighbour; here it is bluntly stated as a distinctive ethical principle, and illustrated by a series of examples. The examples are familiar from Matthew (5.39-48), but Luke has added touches of his own.' When a man takes your coat' (29): evidently a robber who tears off the first garment he can get hold of, not a litigant (as in Matthew) who is prepared to take a shirt as a pledge before he insists on a coat. 'Even sinners love those who love them.' (33) Matthew contrasts the conduct of Christians with that of the outcasts of Jewish society (tax-collectors) or of "the heathen". Luke is more general: sinners are simply non-Christians. In Matthew, impartiality is inculcated on the grounds that God dispenses sun and rain impartially to just and unjust. Luke sharpens this, so that loving your enemies can be seen to be a way of imitating the God who is kind to the ungrateful (35). Similarly, God is to be imitated not (as in Matthew) because he is 'perfect', but—and this is more relevant in the present context—because he is compassionate (36).
top

'Pass no judgement, and you will not be judged.' In Matthew's version (7.1-2), the judgement is the Last Judgement, the rewards are other-worldly. The same doubtless goes for these sentences (which, if taken as this-worldly advice, would sound like either opportunism or wishful thinking). The good measure of a truly generous corn-merchant is an image of the reward which awaits the generous giver in heaven.

He also offered them a parable (39). The word often means "a riddle", and these two sayings, which both have the ring of proverbs, are certainly enigmatic. (Matthew (15.14) applies the first to the Pharisees, and there is an echo of it in a similar context in Romans 2.19. The second, 'A pupil is not superior to his teacher,' is made into a rule of discipleship in Matthew 10.24; but Luke has a different ending, and the meaning is mysterious.)

Fig-fruit

Other parables follow (41-2): the speck of sawdust and the plank almost exactly as in Matthew, the fruit-metaphor (43-5) much more generalized so that it becomes a test, not of the authenticity of a prophet (as in Matthew), but of whatever goes on in the heart. Generalized too is the saying about calling Jesus "Lord, Lord" (46)—it is not a question of deciding who is and who is not a Christian (as in Matthew) but of relating the worship of Christ to a sincere intention to perform his exceedingly exacting ethic.

And so, with the same parable of two houses (47-9) as in Matthew (though Luke perhaps imagines a house near a European river like the Tiber rather than near a Palestinian wady), the sermon comes to an end. It contains much less teaching than Matthew's sermon (though much of what is omitted here appears elsewhere in Luke's gospel), but its tone is both sharper and more general—sharper, because the most radical elements in it are presented without qualification or interpretation; more general, because the debate between Christians and Jews, which is so prominent in Matthew, can hardly be overheard in Luke, and the ethic stands alone as a guide for life under any circumstances whatever. Whether Matthew and Luke themselves were responsible for these two different versions, or whether two different collections of Jesus' moral teaching already existed before these gospels came to be written, is a tantalizing question. But both versions reflect a teacher of outstanding originality, whose influence has disturbed not only those of his first followers who undertook to write down his words, but the many generations of Christians who, in a great variety of ways, have endeavoured to bend their lives to his teaching.
top

Chapter 7.

He went to Capernaum (1). As in Matthew, so in Luke, the great sermon is immediately followed by a petition addressed to Jesus by a Genlile. In both gospels, the dialogue between Jesus and the centurion is virtually identical; but Luke presents the episode itself somewhat differently. In Matthew, the sufferer is 'a boy of mine'—which is ambiguous. Matthew apparently takes it to mean the centurion's son; but Luke chooses the other alternative, a servant (2). However, he then has to explain why the officer was so anxious about this particular servant, and so he adds the explanation: whom he valued highly. In Matthew, again, the point of the episode, with the dialogue it contains, is the comparison between the authority of a military officer over his men and that of Jesus over the world of spirits; but in Luke this point is almost incidental (and indeed fits somewhat awkwardly into the story). All the stress is on the character and behaviour of the centurion; he was "a friend of the Jewish nation", he was so respected by the Jews that some of their elders were willing to press his case (3), and at the same time he had too much humility to approach Jesus in person. No Gentile could have been better qualified to gain his petition from Jesus; and Luke doubtless saw all these moral excellences comprised in the faith which Jesus promptly rewarded (9).
top

Afterwards Jesus went to a town called Nain (11). The site of this town is known: it lies just off one of the roads leading from the lake to the coast, on the side of a steep hill. As Jesus approached it from the main road he would have had before him the principal gate of the town. Out of this gate was coming a funeral procession. The Jews normally buried within a few hours of death. The body, wrapped in a linen cloth, was carried from the house on a bier (for coffins were not used) to a family grave cut in the rock; and since graves were always outside the walls of a town, the procession had at some stage to pass through the gate. This was the moment at which Jesus intervened, and performed what was regarded as the greatest of all miracles, that of bringing a dead person back to life. Two such miracles are recorded in the gospels apart from this one: Jairus' daughter (Luke 8.40, Mark 5.21, Matthew 9.18) and Lazarus (John 11). Here the story is told quite simply, and there is little to distinguish it from similar stories told about other miracle-workers in antiquity. On the other hand, the reaction of the bystanders was conditioned by their religious beliefs. 'A great prophet has arisen among us' (16). Elijah and Elisha, the first great prophets, had performed similar miracles (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4): Jesus must be another of the same calibre. Moreover, raising from the dead was a sign of the new age that was to come: 'God has shown his care for his people'—the same phrase as is translated 'has turned to his people' in Zechariah's prophetic song (1.68). The miracle was evidence of a new relationship beginning between God and man.
top

John too was informed of all this by his disciples (18). This episode, with its sayings about John the Baptist, occurs in Matthew 11, where it reads like a digression. By placing it immediately after the account of two notable miracles, and by inserting the note that there and then Jesus cured many sufferers (21), Luke knits the same material more neatly into his narrative. In other respects his version is much the same, apart from verses 29-30. This comment, which draws a clear distinction between Jesus' supporters and opponents, occurs only in Luke's gospel (though it is possibly echoed, in a quite different context, in Matthew 21.32). The only difficulty is to know (since Greek manuscripts originally had no inverted commas) whether the comment is that of the narrator or is to be attributed to Jesus himself (see the footnote in NEB).
top

One of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him (36)—evidently a formal meal, since the word translated took his place at table literally means "lay on a couch", and it was only on more formal occasions that the Jews adopted the Greek and Roman custom of reclining, instead of sitting, at table. Moreover, an ordinary family meal might have been held in private; but any kind of larger dinner-party always attracted visitors other than the invited guests (whether people simply wishing to listen to the conversation or beggars hoping for scraps of food). It was only on such an occasion that a woman who was living an immoral life in the town (37) could have gained admission to a Pharisee's house and, finding the guests reclining on couches with their legs stretched out behind them, could have discreetly ministered to Jesus, taking her place behind him, by his feet. Jesus' host evidently had certain presuppositions about his guest. He assumed that, like himself, Jesus would be particular about who touched him, in order to remain ritually "clean" (particularly before a meal); and he was interested to see whether Jesus had the prophetic gift of knowing intuitively about the personal lives of those with whom he came in contact. Jesus ignored the first point (40), but took him up on the second (41-3). First, he told a brief and pointed parable, and then he drew attention to the signs of powerful emotion in the woman. Washing a guest's feet or anointing him with oil and perfume were not courtesies normally offered to guests at a banquet; they were part of a specially careful toilet which a guest might make before he left home. Jesus therefore was not criticizing his host on the subject of his hospitality, but pointing out that these attentions from a woman were clear signs of her feelings. He did not need to be a prophet to see that her actions expressed a love and gratitude towards himself which could only be due to the fact that she was indeed a "sinner", but now knew herself to have been forgiven. By contrast, the formal hospitality of the Pharisee expressed no such emotion. 'Where little has been forgiven, little love is shown' (47).

To this extent, the point of the dialogue is clear: Jesus wins his point against the Pharisee. But there is evidently far more to the story than this; and as soon as it is examined more carefully, difficulties and uncertainties appear. A somewhat similar story (set in the house of a certain 'Simon the leper', Mark 14.3) occurs in the other gospels shortly before the narrative of the passion. Luke has no such story in that place: has he adapted it to a different purpose here, or were there originally two episodes which both involved a woman with a flask of ointment? Did Jesus originally speak the parable on this occasion, or has Luke added it to his story? Do the final verses belong to the original story, or is it Luke's own explanation that the woman had been forgiven because of her faith in Jesus (50), perhaps as a result of his preaching earlier in the day? If the paragraph seems less than perfectly coherent, the reason may be that all its parts did not originally belong together. At the same time, the episode is bound together by a very strong association of ideas. Sins, in Jewish teaching, were often described as debts —this links the parable firmly to the dialogue; and the English word love must not mislead us into thinking that the scene is intended to offer an analysis of deep emotions. In Jesus' own language, such words meant, not lasting affection, but the outward expression of loyalty and gratitude; indeed, the same word was used for "love" and "thank". The generous gestures of the woman and the response of the pardoned debtors would have been described by the same word, only imperfectly represented by agape in Greek or love in English.
top

Chapter 8.

After this he went journeying (1). This marks a new stage in the narrative: Jesus left the area around Capernaum, where he could count on the hospitality of friends, and became an itinerant preacher, moving at first from town to town without any clear sense of direction, and then 'setting his face resolutely towards Jerusalem' (9.51). Luke (alone of the evangelists) allows us a glimpse of the way in which Jesus and his disciples were provided for: women who had been cured by him offered their own resources (3). Luke's list of names overlaps with that in other gospels (Matthew 27.55-6; Mark 15.40-1), in so far as they all include Mary of Magdala. Joanna (2) reappears below (24.10), Susanna is otherwise unknown. It is interesting (and was doubtless of interest to Luke, with his concern for connections with secular history) that Jesus' following extended to the household of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee.
top

A sower went out to sow.

At this point in the narrative both Mark (chapter 4) and Matthew (chapter 13) introduce a section devoted to Jesus' parable-teaching, and offer some hints on the place of this teaching in Jesus' work as a whole. Luke follows the same tradition, but (perhaps because he has so many other parables to put in later on) he makes much less of it. He said in a parable (4): only the parable of sowing is given, followed by two short sayings; and although Luke retains the difficult quotation from Isaiah 6.9 (so that they may look but see nothing, hear but understand nothing (10)), he gives it in the briefest possible form, and softens the contrast between the disciples to whom it has been granted to know the secrets of the kingdom of God and those who are not so privileged, whom indeed he vaguely calls the others. Some, perhaps many, may have reacted with the stubborn obstinacy foretold by Isaiah, but no clear line is drawn. The disciples are not singled out again, nor does Luke suggest that they are given any private instruction. He reserves his full treatment of the Isaiah passage until the very end of his two-volume work (Acts 28.26-7), where he identifies the people from whom God has withheld understanding with that majority of the Jewish race who, though given the first opportunity to hear and accept the gospel message, have persistently rejected it. Meanwhile, the possibility of Jesus' hearers coming to a full understanding of his teaching remains open. Luke accordingly sums up the paragraph with words which represent a slight but significant alteration of the saying which is given in Matthew and Mark (4.24), and which are clearly addressed to the crowds at large: 'Take care, then, how you listen' (18).

For the details of the parables, see above on Mark 4. Luke has made only slight changes. He appears to have thought that the seed on the footpath would fail to grow because it was trampled on (5), and for that reason would ultimately be eaten by the birds. The interpretation of the parable only differs from the parallel versions in that it introduces still more of the language of the Greek-speaking church, such as believe and be saved (12), time of testing (12) and, most striking of all, a good and honest heart (13), which is a cliche of classical Greek ethics.
top

Some incidents follow which, in Mark, are carefully woven into the narrative but which appear to be assembled together by Luke without much concern for a proper sequence. The parable-teaching which has just finished was clearly given out of doors; but, when Jesus' family arrives (and no reason is given for their visit, as it is in Mark 3.21), he seems suddenly to be indoors, and is told that his mother and brothers are standing outside (20). Similarly, the crossing of the lake is given no context: it simply happens one day (22), though in other respects the paragraph seems to be a straightforward rewriting of the version in Mark (4.35-41), omitting extraneous details and considerably softening the severity with which Jesus reproves his disciples 26-39 for their lack of faith. The following story also runs closely parallel to Mark (5.1-12), and the differences are no more than might be expected from Luke's attention to stylistic detail. He places the episode (according to the testimony of a number of important manuscripts), in the country of the Gergesenes (26). Matthew and Mark give the names of two cities, Gadara and Gerasa, neither of which is close enough to the lake to give any clear indication of the locality. Gergesa (if this is what Luke meant) is totally unknown; all we can say for sure is that Luke correctly understood the place to have been on the east side of the lake, opposite Galilee—that is to say, in predominantly gentile territory. The devils however (as in Matthew 8.29) use the language of Jewish mythology: the Abyss (31) was the place in which the powers of evil were destined to be imprisoned at the end of time (Revelation 20.1-3).

In the two interwoven episodes which follow (40-56), Luke is faithful to the account in Mark (5.21-43). The few changes he has made are only those which a writer might be expected to introduce in order to make a story his own.
top

Chapter 9.

The departure and return of the Twelve are separated, as in Mark 6, by the device of a brief change of scene to the court of Herod. But Luke, though he follows Mark's arrangement, has greatly abbreviated it. The words, 'As for John, I beheaded him myself' (9), are all that is left of the well-known story of Salome's dance. Herod himself is also presented in a more sophisticated light. He is called (as in Matthew) by his correct title of "tetrarch" (Prince) (7) and not (as in Mark) by the popular name of 'king', and he is not made to share the somewhat naive view (which is more characteristic of Jewish folklore than of a Hellenistic ruler) that Jesus might be John the Baptist raised from the dead. His reaction is more pragmatic: after disposing of John he now finds himself with another religious leader to come to terms with. His desire to see Jesus for himself is referred to again in 23.8.

In other respects the narrative in Mark is clearly the model for Luke's account, and the differences are unimportant. 'Neither stick nor pack' (3) agrees with Matthew (10.9-10) against Mark (6.9) in forbidding even a stick —perhaps because the main use of the travellers' stick was self-defence, and this was felt inappropriate for the peace-loving disciples of Jesus. The only serious discrepancy in Luke is the mention of Bethsaida (10). This village, which lay on the east side of the mouth of the Jordan, and therefore in the jurisdiction of the tetrarch Philip, had recently been rebuilt as a town of some pretensions. It was hardly a place to choose for withdrawing privately, and the miracle which follows can hardly have been in its vicinity (10-17), since it presupposes a lonely place (12). By introducing the name, Luke has made the scene extremely hard to visualize. On the other hand, his approach to the geography of Galilee is rather different from that of the other evangelists. He mentions very few place-names, and is usually content to situate the various incidents quite vaguely in the countryside. He is about to omit a series of episodes recorded in Mark, which end with one at Bethsaida (Mark 8.22). His concern may simply have been to bring the general course of Jesus' progress roughly into line with the narratives he was using as his sources, without much attention to the exact setting of any particular episode.
top

One day when he was praying alone in the presence of his disciples (18). The translators have made no attempt to soften the contradiction contained in this sentence, and it is Luke who must bear the blame. What appears to have happened is that Luke liked to represent important experiences in the life of Jesus as taking place when Jesus was at prayer: see, for example, the baptism (3.21) and the transfiguration (9.28). But it was also necessary to have the disciples present for the sake of the conversation which follows. Hence, praying alone in the presence of his disciples. Luke omits much of the detail of this conversation (compared with Mark (8.27-30), whose narrative he seems now to pick up again, having passed over the contents of several pages, and compared still more with Matthew (16.13-20), who has some altogether original material to insert at this point). He preserves only the two most significant points: Peter's recognition that Jesus is God's Messiah (20) (and Luke for once follows Mark in reporting Jesus' injunction to secrecy on the matter), and the prophecy that 'the Son of Man has to undergo great sufferings' (22).

And to all he said (23). There is again little attention paid to actual circumstances. If Jesus was' praying alone' there can have been no all within earshot to whom Jesus could have addressed his teaching. But the sayings which (following Mark) Luke had now to record were obviously not part of Jesus' private instruction to his disciples, and so the presence of a larger audience had simply to be taken for granted. 'Day after day he must take up his cross': the expression, "taking up" (or "carrying") one's cross is one which must have been formulated after Jesus' execution (see above on Mark 8.34); and Luke adapts it still more to the purpose of strengthening the resolve of Christian congregations by making it sound like a constant spiritual exercise —day after day. In other respects, the sayings stand much as they are in Mark, including the most difficult of them, 'there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God.' (27) Only Mark's final words, 'already come in power', are omitted; and this omission perhaps made the oracle easier for Luke's readers to interpret. The kingdom of God, so long as it did not involve a manifestation of power on a cosmic scale, was a reality already sometimes present in the activity of Jesus, and certainly now experienced in the life of the church. To this extent, Jesus' prediction had come true.
top

One should not properly use the word "transfiguration" as the name of the next episode in Luke. Instead of 'he was transfigured', Luke writes the appearance of his face changed (29), and his account of the scene, while it retains an emphasis on the supernatural glory of Jesus (32) and the two figures who appeared with him, nevertheless adds a few touches to make the sequence of events more credible and logical, at the expense of the symbolic meanings present in Mark (9.2-8) and Matthew (17.1-8). Thus: the disciples had been in a deep sleep; only on waking did they see the three resplendent figures. Peter's suggestion of making shelters was motivated by the fact that the figures were moving away (33), and he hoped (somewhat inappropriately, Luke admits) to detain them; the disciples' fear was caused, not by the vision (which should not have been particularly frightening) but by their being suddenly enveloped in a cloud. Yet despite these touches of rationalization, the scene in Luke retains its other-worldly quality, and has a clear message to give. Moses and Elijah spoke of Jesus' departure, the destiny he was to fulfil in Jerusalem (31). The Greek word is exodos, which certainly meant departure, but was also used as a euphemism for "death", and was furthermore a word which Luke could hardly have chosen to use if he had not intended his readers to be reminded of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. Moses had had an exodos, a "destiny", to fulfil, and had died before it was completed; and the force of the disciples' vision was not only (as in Matthew) that Jesus was a new Moses, and that (as in Mark) he would shortly be clothed with a glory which was even now momentarily visible in his person, but that meanwhile there was a destiny he was to fulfil in Jerusalem, which would involve his "departure" (or death)—that is, an exodos. The disciples, according to Luke, needed no injunction to secrecy: they told nobody anything of what they had seen (36).

Next day (37). It is just possible that Luke thought of the vision as having taken place at night (hence the 'deep sleep' of the disciples), in which case he may have deliberately added this note of an interval in time. His account of the exorcism is otherwise a much-abbreviated version of that in Mark (9.14-29), but has a different ending: they were all struck with awe at the majesty of God (43). This atmosphere of general wonder is built up still more in the next phrase, and provides the setting for the solemn announcement which Jesus makes to his disciples. The announcement is introduced in strikingly biblical language (44), a point which is lost in this translation. According to Mark (9.32), the disciples 'did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him'. Mark offers no reason for their incomprehension. But Luke has a simple (if somewhat artificial) explanation. Judging by their subsequent conduct, the disciples had clearly not grasped Jesus' unambiguous prediction. The reason must have been that they were not intended to grasp it: it had been hidden from them (45).

To conclude the section (46-50), Luke makes a very brief selection from the sayings recorded at this point by Mark (9.34-41), without apparently attempting to bring them into a more logical order.
top


Journeys and encounters

| << | journeys & encounters | mission of 72; unrepentant cities condemned; return of 72 | the parable of the good samaritan; mary & martha | teaching about prayer | warning against hypocracy; care & anxiety; be watchful servants | repent or perish; the parable of the barren fig-tree; sabbath - a crippled woman healed | the parable of the narrow door; lament over jerusalem | a lesson to guests & host; the parable of the great feast; cost of discipleship | parables: the lost sheep; the lost coin; the lost son; the shrewd manager; the rich man & lazarus | about sin, forgiveness & faith; a servant's duty; 10 lepers cleansed; coming of the kingdom | parables of - the unjust judge; the pharisee & the tax-collector | >> |

The NEB inserts a new heading at this point; and certainly the next ten chapters form a section sufficiently distinct to deserve its own title. In the narrative of Mark (10.1), Jesus now begins his decisive journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, and in both Mark and Matthew it is possible, at least approximately, to plot this journey on the map. In Luke, Jesus also begins his journey shortly after the episode of the transfiguration; but the journey is so packed with sayings and events that it becomes quite impossible to visualize the progress made by the travellers or to be sure which route from Galilee to Jerusalem they are supposed to have taken. The journey, in fact, which would normally have taken three or four days at most, and which is recorded quite briefly in Mark, becomes a whole series of Journeys and encounters, lasting perhaps several weeks.

If Luke were a little more precise about Jesus' route, and offered some indication, as the journey progressed, of the places Jesus had reached, we might conclude that he was better informed about this part of Jesus' activity and was therefore in a position to expand his account of the journey. But in fact he is so vague on these points that a different explanation seems preferable. Practically none of the material in these chapters appears in Mark, and only some of it (in other contexts) in Matthew. We must imagine that Luke had received a substantial amount of information about Jesus' teaching and activities which had no fixed place in any connected narrative, and which he had to work in as best he could. He knew that, at a certain point, Jesus travelled from Galilee to Jerusalem; and it occurred to him to fill out the picture of Jesus as a travelling teacher (a picture which his Greek and Roman readers will have found familiar, since such teachers were a common phenomenon in the Hellenistic world) by inserting into this journey most of the extra material which he possessed. It did not greatly matter exactly what route Jesus took; all that was necessary was to remind his readers from time to time that Jesus was on the road, and to help them to visualize the itinerant life of one who had said that he had nowhere to lay his head (58).

There may also be another reason why Luke, though he devotes so much space to the journey, is vague about the route which was actually taken. He may not have known the country; and reliable maps did not exist. He knew that Galilee was a separate region from Judaea, and he was well informed about the political differences between each region. But both regions were essentially Jewish; and he may not have known that they were in fact separated by the alien territory of Samaria, so that to go from one to the other it was necessary to go either through Samaria or round it. He may have visualized Galilee and Judaea (as the Roman geographer Pliny appears to have done) as a continuous stretch of country, with Samaria lying alongside. He knew that Jesus must have entered Samaria at some stage, since one or two episodes clearly belonged there; but whereas in fact a traveller who took the route through Samaria would soon have left Galilee far behind him, Luke may have imagined that Jesus could have crossed the border at any time during his journey and then have crossed back to continue through Galilee to Judaea. If so, he would have felt free to work in the Samaritan episodes at almost any point he liked.

In any case, it was no ordinary journey. For Jesus, it was a necessary prelude to being taken up to heaven (51) (Acts 1.2,11), and it fixed his course as being from now on directed inexorably towards Jerusalem. All this Luke expresses in a sentence rich in scriptural overtones; his language leaves no doubt that a new chapter is beginning in the story of Jesus. At the same time, one of these overtones sounds right through the first of these "encounters". One Old Testament figure in particular—Elijah—had been " taken up into heaven" (2 Kings 2.11). Many thought that Jesus must be this same Elijah, now returned to earth; and the disciples James and John (appropriately called 'Sons of Thunder', Mark 3.17) were probably simply echoing this popular view when they expected Jesus to do what Elijah had done to his enemies (2 Kings 1.10) and burn them up by calling down fire from heaven. The scene took place in a Samaritan village (52). For several centuries the Samaritans had been something of a race apart from the rest of the Jewish nation. They possessed a different version of the Old Testament (consisting of only the first five books) and regarded Mount Gerizim, near their own capital, as the "chosen place" where God should be worshipped, believing this, and not Jerusalem, to be the true site of the temple. More recently, Samaria had been brought under the same administration as Judaea; but relations between the two races were still strained, and little more than twenty years before Jesus' visit the Samaritans had caused a crisis by deliberately defiling the temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. It was not unknown for them to attack pilgrims on their way through Samaria from Galilee to Jerusalem; and when Jesus tried to make the same journey, the Samaritan villagers were behaving true to form when they would not have him because he was making for Jerusalem (53). The disciples' reaction was probably equally typical of Jews; but Jesus (as several stories in this section show) dissociated himself altogether from the traditional animosity between the two races.

Jesus (as Luke will be constantly reminding us) was on the road (57); and the road is the cue for three sayings about "following" (57-60). Two of these occur also in Matthew (8.18-22), and what was said of them there may apply equally here: the sayings themselves (including the third (61-2), added by Luke) have a general and proverbial sound, and it may have been only later that a little anecdote was added to each, thereby making the sayings more particular and more radical.
top

Chapter 10.

After this the Lord appointed a further seventy-two (1). It is clearly stated in each of the first three gospels that Jesus had a distinct group of twelve disciples and that on one occasion he sent them out on an independent mission; and in the early church the existence of this original Twelve was taken for granted. Luke alone mentions a further seventy-two and a further mission; but he says practically nothing to explain the function of this second group. The instructions given to them are almost exactly the same as those in his own (9.1-5) or Matthew's (10) version of the charge to the Twelve (the only addition here is that they are to travel so hastily that I hey must exchange no greetings on the road (4)—oriental courtesies consume a lot of time!); and after their return they play no further part in the story. What is their significance? Luke was a historian: he knew the importance of the mission to non-Jews in the subsequent history of the church, and he knew that this had been conducted by apostles who were not members of 1 lie original Twelve. ITe may have wished to justify the credentials of this larger circle of apostles by mentioning the further seventy-two (1) in the gospel. Alternatively, seventy-two (or seventy: there was constant oscillation between the two) was an important round number in Jewish legend and history. Moses commissioned 72 (or 70) elders (Numbers 11); 70 (or 72) elders had translated the Old Testament into Greek under divine inspiration. Any of these motives may have been in Luke's mind: more we cannot say.
top

'Alas for you, Chorazin!' (13) This condemnation of cities of Galilee occurs (more appropriately in a Galilean context) in Matthew 11.20-4; and the final words to the seventy-two ('whoever listens to you listens to me') are evidently another version of the saying at the end of the charge in Matthew (10.40), which appears also, in a slightly different form and in another context, in Mark 9.37.
top

The seventy-two came back jubilant (17). The mission and return of this larger group conforms to the pattern of that of the Twelve (9.1,10), who had also been given 'power andauthority to overcome all the devils' (9.1). Invocation of the name of Jesus could effect an exorcism, even if the exorcist was not a follower of Jesus (9.49). The reason was Jesus' victory over Satan. 'I watched how Satan fell' (18). Jesus' vision of this victory is in terms of Jewish mythology (Isaiah 14.12), his promise to the disciples of power to tread underfoot snakes and scorpions (19) (of which Luke later gives an instance in the case of Paul, Acts 28.6) is a fulfilment of Psalm 91.13. The idea of names enrolled in heaven (20)—meaning a secure place in the age to come—is a commonplace in the Bible.

At that moment Jesus exulted in the Holy Spirit (21). The startling saying that follows (21-2) occurs in Matthew 11.25-7. Here perhaps it is better in place, since the scene concerns only Jesus and his disciples; and if Luke was thinking of the seventy-two as the prototypes of subsequent apostles, then he 23-4 may have found in this saying (and in the next, which in Matthew occurs in the parable-chapter, 13.16-17) a validation of their authority: they were those to whom the Son may choose to reveal the Father (22).
top


A lawyer came forward to put this test question to him (25). It is the same question as was put to Jesus on another occasion (18.18; Mark 10.17), the answer is the same as that given to a slightly different (and perhaps more "testing") question in Mark 12.28, Matthew 22.34. This dialogue in Luke may be a record of a different occasion altogether, or it may be a conflation of the others; in either event, it shows Jesus and the professional lawyer in complete agreement—at least so far as general principles were concerned. But on the practical application of these principles—'And who is my neighbour?' (29)—Jesus had something quite new to say.

'A man was on his way from Jerusalem down to Jericho.' (25) The long steep descent through the mountains, winding along the courses of the wadys, was a notorious haunt of robbers until quite recent times. The robbery was nothing out of the ordinary; the interest of the story turns entirely upon the response of the three other travellers. We may feel that the response of the first two was strangely inhuman; but their conduct was probably due, not to any lack of human feelings, but to a deliberate choice between conflicting obligations. On the one hand, there was a clear commandment to help any "neighbour" (normally interpreted as any fellow-Jew) whose life was in danger; on the other hand, if the victim were already dead (which, by his appearance, this one presumably might have been) both a priest and a Levite would incur ritual defilement by touching or even by approaching the corpse, and this might prevent them from fulfilling their duties in the temple, or from collecting the tithes to which they were entitled. It would probably not have surprised Jesus' contemporaries to hear that in this case caution overcame charity: they decided to avoid all risk of defilement and went past on the other side (32).

We know what Jesus thought of such an attitude: just as it was absurd to invoke rules about the keeping of the Sabbath as a pretext for refusing to cure a sick man, so it was indefensible to regard rules about ritual purity as more binding than the needs of a human sufferer. But if this were the point which Jesus intended here, we should expect the third traveller to have been an ordinary Jewish layman, whose simple understanding of the law would put to shame the casuistry of the professional religious classes. The element of surprise in the story consists in the fact that the third traveller was, of all things, a Samaritan (33). It is true that the Samaritans, according to their own version of the Law of Moses, were also commanded to "love their neighbour as themselves"; and it is true that there was a familiar story in the Old Testament about the mercifulness of certain Samaritans (2 Chronicles 18). But at the time when Jesus told this story, Jews and Samaritans hated each other with great bitterness. The Samaritan had every reason for not regarding the wounded Jew as his "neighbour". Yet he did for him all—if not more than all—that one Jew would feel obliged to do for another.

'Go and do as he did' (37). It is tempting to regard these words as permission to use the parable as a moral tale, and to make the Samaritan into an example of how one should behave when one finds oneself, say, at the scene of a road accident. But this can hardly be what Jesus intended. The Samaritan's behaviour was only what, at their best, human beings can be expected to do for each other. It did not need a parable of Jesus to inculcate such an ideal: people already knew that this was what one ought to do, and doubtless Jesus' listeners each hoped that, in a similar situation, he would have done as much himself. Nevertheless, they would have had more sympathy than we have with the priest and the Levite, whom they would have realized to be in the grip of conflicting obligations; and they would have been virtually forced by their Jewish upbringing to regard the concept of "neighbour" in a very narrow sense, and to feel no obligation to come to the help of any of the traditional enemies of die Jewish race, such as the Romans, the Samaritans or indeed most Gentiles. The example of the Samaritan, who was prepared to regard his worst traditional enemy as his neighbour (36), was designed to shock them out of this attitude.'Go and do as he did' meant, treat anyone, of any race and background, as your neighbour, with all in the way of help and charity which the word implies. The parable found its target in the exclusive nationalism of the Jewish people in the time of Jesus; but there has never yet been a society or a civilization in which it would have no relevance.
top

A woman named Martha made him welcome in her home (38). Hospitality was offered to a visiting preacher as a matter of course; but we are rarely given a glimpse of the domestic strains which it caused. Jesus' hostess was distracted (40) by her many tasks (the word meets us often in harassed private letters of the period), while her sister took up the position of a listener at the teacher's feet. Jesus' reply speaks for itself: it is an application of the old adage that it is better to concentrate on one thing than to dissipate one's energies on many (compare Ecclesiasticus 11.10). But what the moral was for Jesus' contemporaries or for Luke's readers is a harder question. Simple fare for visiting teachers? The rights of women in the Christian church? Or simply the very modern tension between domestic chores and "the things that matter"? We cannot tell. For Luke's readers, in any case, the whole point probably lay in the one phrase, listening to his words (39). "Listening to Jesus' words" was the "best part" (42) that anyone could possibly choose.
top

Chapter 11.

Once, in a certain place, Jesus was at prayer (1). In Matthew (6.5-13) the Lord's Prayer is deliberately contrasted with the lengthy and ostentatious prayers of Jews and pagans. Luke gives it in a different context. Jesus was a man of prayer (a point which Luke likes to emphasize), and his disciples naturally wished to imitate him: 'Lord, teach us to pray.' Modern instruction on prayer usually concentrates on mental and psychological techniques for becoming aware of the presence of God. But, whatever experience and methods the religious men of antiquity may have had, their teaching on prayer had a slightly different function: it defined the relationship which the worshipper had to God, the rewards and benefits which his faith justified him in praying for, and the conditions he must fulfil if his prayer was to be accepted. It was in this sense that the Pharisees and other religious groups in Judaism "taught their disciples to pray": they each used distinctive prayers to formulate their doctrine of the relationship of God and man and of the destiny which God had promised to his chosen people. We learn from this passage that John the Baptist had composed such prayers; and we are now given Jesus' own instruction, which can be regarded, from one point of view, as a succinct summary of his teaching.

The version in Luke is even briefer ← There was a tendency for copyists to fill out: Luke's version with clauses from Matthew's. Later manuscripts therefore offer a text very similar to that in Matthew, and this is why older translations such as the Authorized Version (which was based on late manuscripts) offer virtually the same text in Luke as in Matthew (see the footnotes in NEB). But it is certain that Luke originally had a much briefer prayer than Matthew. than that in Matthew. It is also less Jewish, in the sense that the additional clauses in Matthew can all be paralleled from Jewish prayers of the period, and that some of the phrases would have been easier for a non-Jew to understand in Luke's version than in Matthew's. Whether this makes Luke's text more likely to represent the prayer which Jesus originally taught is open to question; but it certainly lays bare, even more starkly than Matthew's, the radical economy of Jesus' teaching.

"Father" (2). Even in Greek, this sounds strikingly direct and intimate, and there can be little doubt that it represents the Aramaic word Abba. This was a child's familiar name for its father; it was Jesus' own way of addressing his heavenly Father; and it became a distinctive mark of the praying of Christians: through Jesus, Christians are admitted to an intimate relationship with God, such as sons have with their father. The directness of the opening in Luke, compared with Matthew's more formal address, expresses that new boldness in prayer which we know to have been characteristic of Christians from earliest times (see below on Romans 8.15). The next change is Luke's each day (3) for Matthew's 'today': the meaning of daily bread is still obscure but, in Luke, life seems a little less provisional; we can look forward to praying for bread each day rather than confining ourselves to 'today' and leaving the future entirely to God. And thirdly, Luke uses the natural Greek word for sins (4) (instead of "debts"), though he brings back the Hebraic concept of debt in the next words: all who have done us wrong (literally, "all our debtors").

'Ask, and you will receive.' (9) This apparently unconditional affirmation that a Christian's prayer is always heard is illustrated, as in Matthew (7.7-11), by the analogy of an earthly father: if God is your father—and that he is so is a premise of the Lord's prayer and of all Christian praying that begins Abba, "Father"—how much more will he grant the prayers of his children! But what prayers? Luke may have been conscious of the obvious question: surely God does not answer all prayers? In Matthew's version of the saying, the promise seems quite general: God will give 'good things' to those who ask him. According to Luke, there is only one prayer that will certainly be answered, the prayer for the Holy Spirit (13). Luke also gives another small parable. 'Suppose one of you has a friend' (5). The scene is a Palestinian one-room house, with the family all in bed; the conflict is between the rules of hospitality that would be normal in village life in the east, and the trouble caused to a whole family by such an appeal at midnight. The moral seems to he: a pressing request (even if it looks like shamelessness (8)) makes a man give a friend all he needs. How much greater the efficacy of even an apparently shameless prayer, given the overwhelming "friendship" of God! The people were astonished, but some of them said (14). The only substantial difference between Luke and Matthew (12.22-30) in this paragraph is that in Luke the objectors are, not the Pharisees, but one section of the crowd: the scene represents, not a deliberate attack by opponents, but a puzzled reaction on the part of some of Jesus' listeners. Luke has also changed one or two details. 'If it is by the finger of God' (20). Matthew has, 'by the Spirit of God'. Luke's phase is more biblical: "finger of God" occurs in Exodus 8.19, "hand of God" frequently in the Old Testament; and these are evidently equivalent expressions for "spirit" (compare Ezekiel 8.1 and 3). In verse 21 Matthew's 'strong man in his house' has become 'a strong man fully armed ... on guard over his castle'. We should probably think of a local prince, such as one of the sons of Herod the Great: many of their palaces were heavily fortified against insurgents or against belligerent neighbours from the east. 'Happy the womb that carried you' (27). This brief exchange occurs only in Luke. Happy is the word translated 'Blest' at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The woman's blessing is in perfectly conventional language. Jesus caps it with another, which would have again been unremarkable on the lips of any Jewish teacher. But the reader who was aware of the uniqueness of Jesus and of the word of God (28) which he preached would have seen that the saying had a special point for the disciples and their successors.

For the remaining details, see the comments on the parallel passages in , Mark and Matthew: Beelzebub, Mark 3.22-7; the unclean spirit, Matthew 12.43-5; the sign of Jonah, Matthew 12.38-42 and Mark 8.11-12; the sayings about a lamp, Mark 4.21 and Matthew 6.22-3.


The two following sections are a striking example of Luke's way of arranging and editing his material. The setting, a meal in a Pharisee's house, is due to Luke (and appears to be quickly forgotten as the chapter progresses). The background of the discussion about inner and outer cleansing (38-41) is drawn from Mark 7.1-9, and the various accusations against the Pharisees and lawyers (53-4) are all found (though in a different order) in Matthew 23. The section ends with a summary account of Jesus' controversies which is, like the opening, apparently due to Luke.

In the details, Luke's changes are very slight. 'Let what is in the cup be given in charity' is an obscure expansion of the simpler phrase in Matthew (23.25). The NEB footnote suggests a possible alternative rendering, which would involve a pun on a Greek word which can mean both "what is inside" and "what is possible" but it may be that the Aramaic original has been misunderstood. 'Alas, alas, you are like unmarked graves over which men may walk without knowing it.' (44) The Jews took elaborate precautions to avoid the defilement which followed walking over a grave: Luke's version of this saying has an authentic Palestinian ring. So also has his introduction of a quotation from Scripture (which however we cannot place exactly, though it is close to 2 Chronicles 24.19) with the phrase, 'the Wisdom of God said' (49). The Jews were fond of referring to God in this kind of oblique way. By contrast, the 'key of knowledge' (52) is an expression more at home in the world of Greek religious speculation than of Jewish controversy. On the whole, Luke shows himself to be expert on political and social conditions in Palestine, and his recognition that only some of Jesus' accusations were applicable equally to the Pharisees and the lawyers corresponds to the facts better than Matthew's more simplified picture.
top

Chapter 12.

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered (1). Luke slightly changes the setting, but continues to offer a selection of sayings (occurring in different contexts in other gospels), some of which are addressed to the disciples, some to the crowd. The scene with which the previous chapter closed—the Pharisees submitting Jesus to intensive cross-questioning —is the cue for the first saying about the leaven of the Pharisees. In Mark (8.15) the phrase is unexplained, but seems to refer to political activity. In Matthew (16.5-12) the'leaven' is the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Here, it becomes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: what lies behind their profession of piety will be revealed at the Judgement—and Luke sets in this context (of the darker things of the soul being one day brought to light) a saying which in Matthew (10.26-7) has a quite different application (2,3).

'To you who are my friends I say' (4). Friends is a new word, but clearly refers to an inner ring of already loyal followers rather than to the crowd outside, and introduces a series of sayings (4-7, 8-12) intended to give encouragement under persecution. Down to verse 9, the sequence is the same as in Matthew 10.26-33. The only significant difference is that the saying in verses 8-9 introduces the figure of the Son of Man (8): here he is not a figure of glory and triumph (as in Mark 8.38) so much as an "advocate" at the heavenly assize that will be held by God with his angels. Verse 10 (on slandering the Holy Spirit) is an abbreviated version of Matthew 12.31-2 (Mark 3.28-30). Verses 11-12 correspond to Matthew 10.19-20 (Mark 13.11).

'Master, tell my brother to divide the family property with me' (13). In Palestine, disputes about inheritance were complicated by the fact that wills had to be made in accordance with detailed provisions in the Law of Moses which defined the rights of eldest sons and of other members of the family. At the same time there was a strong instinct to keep the family property so far as possible intact, and not to divide it among a number of inheritors. The lawyers who dealt with such disputes needed, in this as in other matters, to be experts in the interpretation of Scripture. Jesus had proved himself an expert, and it was perhaps natural for a man in the crowd to assume that he could be appealed to as a qualified judge. Jesus was reluctant; and the exchange led (at least in Luke's editing) to a general discourse about greed of every kind (15). The parable which illustrates it (15-21) is unusually philosophical for Jesus. Instead of pressing upon its hearers the demands of a new situation (like most of the parables), it appears to be simply an illustration of the age-old truth that man proposes and God disposes. Its vividness comes more from the style of telling (the debate of the man with himself, the dramatic divine summons) and from the unexpected use of some of the catch-words of popular philosophical debate ("eat, drink, and enjoy yourself" (19), "You fool" (20)) than from the intrinsic interest of the story. The moral—that true riches are of another kind—is also an old one. There is a rather similar expression of it in Ecclesiasticus 11.14-19.
top

'I bid you put away anxious thoughts.' (22) These warnings against anxiety occur, in much the same words, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.25-34). Luke, who is particularly interested in the degree of actual renunciation and poverty required in the followers of Jesus, focuses the same teaching upon every kind of preoccupation with worldly possessions and, in the saying about thieves and moths (33-4), makes a little more of the contrast (again a cliche of popular philosophy) between material wealth and never-failing treasure (33) than is present in the more poetically balanced version in Matthew (6.19-21). Jesus' followers are a little flock (32), the new elect people of God. They correspond to that faithful remnant of Israel whom Isaiah sought to strengthen in terms very similar to these words of Jesus (41.8-20; 43.1-7). 'Sell your possessions and give in charity' (33). Luke is clear about the distinctive way of life demanded of this small group of followers, and he is to show how it was put into practice at the very beginning of the history of the church (Acts 2.44-6).
top

'Be ready for action' (35). A Christian must be constantly alert: this theme occurs in all the gospels, and is illustrated here by several variations on the theme of a servant who is not taken by surprise when his master unexpectedly returns. In Matthew and Mark these illustrations occur when Jesus is explicitly teaching about the imminent but still unpredictable hour of general judgement which is to come upon the whole world; and in Matthew (25.1-13) the parable of the 'ten girls' (whatever its original significance may have been) is offered as an illustration of the same theme. Echoes of that parable may perhaps be heard here also. But in this chapter of Luke very little is said about the future. It looks as if Luke has deliberately shifted the emphasis of this teaching from the prediction of future woes and rewards to the inculcation of the right attitude in the present. Whether the culmination of all things was far or near (and perhaps it was beginning to seem farther than nearer by the time Luke wrote), the same vigilance and alertness were still demanded of Jesus' followers. Of course it remained true that, when the great Day finally came, there would be a stupendous reversal of accepted values: the poor, not the rich, would be blest, the last would be first, the least would be greatest. In such an age, one could even imagine the master and the servants changing places at supper. But again, this was not only a matter of the future. In the Christian church, the paradox had already been experienced in the present. Their Master had come to serve (Mark 10.45) actually wait on them (37) (John 13). At this point the master-servant illustration leaves the world of ordinary experience and points unmistakably to him whom the church came to recognize as its Servant-Lord.

Peter said (41). Luke makes the next paragraph (42-6) (which is almost identical with Matthew 24.45-51 ) depend on a question of Peter's. The question is not directly answered; but the illustration (as in Matthew) points to the Last Judgement. The vigilance shown now will be one of the criteria by which it will then be known whether any individual belongs to us or to everyone, whether he will find his place among the faithful or among the faithless.

'The servant who knew his master's wishes' (47). Another servant illustration, this time preserved only by Luke. Its point seems to be different from the others, but we are given no clue how to interpret it. The situation it fits best is the debate which was soon to begin between Jews and Christians. The Jews, since they possessed the Law of Moses, claimed that they knew their master's wishes. This, they believed, assured them of salvation. Most of them shaped their lives in such a way as to carry them out (or so they thought). Even those who made no attempt to do so could still perhaps be saved through their solidarity with a race which was committed, as a whole, to observing the revealed will of God. On the other hand the Gentiles (they argued) did not know the master's wishes; they did not possess the Law of Moses. The verdict on them would surely be infinitely more severe. But suppose Jesus' merciless analysis of their way of life was right; suppose that the Jews did not in fact succeed in keeping the Law. They might find it was the Gentiles, not themselves, who were judged less severely (48).

'I have come to set fire to the earth' (49). Fire: a symbol of the Last Judgement and an attribute of the Elijah-figure whom John the Baptist had predicted and who was to precipitate the final phase of history. The saying is one of those which show Jesus in this role of inaugurating a new and critical epoch, and it suggests (as does the baptism saying in Mark 10.38) that he knew that he too would be near-submerged by it—for baptism (50), in this saying, is probably correctly understood by the translators as an ordeal, rather than as an anticipation of the sacrament of the church. For from now on (52): this note of time is Luke's most significant addition to Matthew's version of the saying (10.34-6). Division within families (51) was an outrage to Jewish morals, but it was one of the features of that period of intensified evil which (it was believed) would immediately precede the end. Jesus had said (so at least Luke presents the matter) that such division would occur from now on; and when the church found that the new faith was in fact tearing families apart, il knew how to interpret these tragedies: they were signs of the critical age which had begun, as surely as, in Palestine, clouds in the west (54) mean rain, and a wind ... from the south (55)brings parching heat.

'When you are going with your opponent to court' (58). The saying, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.25-6), is a simple everyday illustration of the kind of conduct demanded by Jesus. Luke may simply have added it here for want of a better place; or he may have seen a rather different point in it. The opponent could be understood as the Christian's persecutor: in view of the urgency of the times, it was better not to get involved with him at all!
top

Chapter 13.

At that very time (1): Luke was a conscious historian, and this is another instance of his concern to tie his story in with contemporary events. Unfortunately the allusions are lost on us: the historian Josephus does not mention these events, and we have to reconstruct them as best we can from the little Luke says about them. If Galileans were sacrificing in Jerusalem the occasion must have been a Passover, when thousands of pilgrims came in and slaughtered their lambs in the temple. We know that this was often an occasion for civil disorders, and it is quite possible that Pilate had to use force to restore order even in the temple area. It is less surprising that the disaster at Siloam (4) is not mentioned by Josephus. The south-east corner of the city walls of Jerusalem stood on high ground looking over the Pool of Siloam. Some repairs to one of the towers were doubtless the occasion for this accident, which may have been very much in the news in the last year of Jesus' life, but would have been completely forgotten a few years later had not Jesus commented upon it. The contemporary Jewish explanation of why such calamities befall individuals was very simple (though it was often made more plausible by some subtle refinements): they must have sinned, and this was their punishment. Jesus did not altogether reject this solution; there were certainly occasions on which he seems to have regarded illness as a consequence of sin. But here he offers a more prophetic explanation: these catastrophes are warnings, they are typical of the fate which awaits you all—'unless you repent.' (5)
top

He told them this parable (6)—and its theme is the same: repentance. Fruit and vegetables were grown in vineyards alongside the vines, but clearly a tree had to yield fruit if it were to justify the amount of good it took out of the soil. Manuring a fig-tree would be a somewhat exceptional measure. So too the activity of Jesus was exceptional, and gave his hearers an exceptional opportunity to repent.
top

One Sabbath he was teaching in a synagogue (10)—a typical instance of a Sabbath controversy provoked by a miracle of healing. Luke has already recorded one such episode (6.6-11), and this one (which has no exact parallel in the other gospels) follows the same pattern, but with slightly different details. The sufferer was bent double (11). In modern terms, we would say her condition was one of physical deformity; but it was apparently quite natural to think of this, no less than an obviously mental disorder like epilepsy, as a case of being possessed by a spirit. The miracle, then, was an exorcism; and there is considerable play, throughout the paragraph, on the words "binding" and "freeing" (though this can hardly be reproduced in an English translation). We can detect, below the surface, a whole mythology of evil: Satan "binds" his victims, but when he himself is "bound" by one who is stronger (see above on Mark 3.27), his victims are "freed". However, the real interest of the story lies in the dialogue between Jesus and the president of the synagogue (14). Granted their own premises, it is a little difficult to see why Jesus' opponents should have been covered with confusion (17). In the following centuries, careful regulations were made which permitted Jews to do what was necessary for their animals without infringing the Sabbath rest; and doubtless some such regulations were already in force. If so, they could well have answered that they did not neglect the needs of their animals, but they still kept the Sabbath, and a permanently crippled woman could just as well have been healed another day. In his attack on them, Jesus seems to have argued ad hominem. The woman is called a daughter of Abraham (16)—an appeal to the solidarity of the Jewish race—and a rather artificial parallel is drawn between loosing an animal from a manger and loosing a person from Satan. But if the argument seems thin, the point was gained in any case by the miraculous cure: only blinkered legalists could regard such an action as wrong, even on the Sabbath.

The two brief parables of mustard-seed and yeast occur (18-20) (without any interpretation) in the parable-chapters of Matthew and Mark (Matthew 13-31-3; Mark 4.30-2).
top

He continued his journey (22). So much has happened since Luke told us that Jesus had begun his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem that we need to be reminded of it; for the journey is in reality little more than the literary framework for a collection of otherwise disconnected sayings and episodes. In this section, as so often, Luke gets the dialogue moving with a question from one of Jesus' listeners. The reply, and the sayings which follow it, are all familiar from Matthew's gospel, but appear in a strangely different combination. The ' narrow gate' of Matthew 7.13 has become a narrow door (24), and the difficulty is not to find it (Matthew 7.14) but, having found it, to enter—for there is a danger of being too late, and the door may be shut (as it is in the parable in Matthew 25.10). Those who are too late are greeted only with a fierce dismissal—"Out of my sight, all of you, you and your wicked ways!" (27) (a quotation from Psalm 6.8)—regardless of their apparent right to enter. Here again Luke offers a different application from that in Matthew (7.22-3), where those excluded are spurious Christian prophets. Here they are Jesus' own society and nation, the Jews and this leads to the strongly anti-Jewish picture of Gentiles having precedence over Jews in the coming feast in the kingdom of God (29), almost exactly as in Matthew (8.11-12), and complete with a phrase which is otherwise entirely confined to Matthew's gospel, wailing and grinding of teeth (28).
top

At that time a number of Pharisees came to him (31). Mark says (3.6) that the Pharisees were in league with the partisans of Herod. Were they now plotting an ambush together, or had the Pharisees suddenly become anxious to save Jesus' life? We do not know—though it is interesting that in Acts Luke represents the Pharisees as initially sympathetic to Christianity. In any case Jesus' reply was doubtless remembered for its own sake, and not for the light it threw on his relations with Herod and the Pharisees. It also shows that Luke imagined Jesus' journey to be still through the territory of Herod Antipas, that is to say, through Galilee or Transjordan. He replied, 'Go and tell that fox' (32). To the Greeks, as to us, the fox was a by-word for cunning; but in Hebrew writings it more often stood simply for a puny creature, and Jesus may have been saying, "Go and tell your little king". His reply, nevertheless, was very much to the point. Herod wished to put an end to Jesus' activity of casting out devils and working cures. But he did not need to trouble himself. On the third day—three days was a natural way of describing any short space of time (e.g. Jonah 1.17)—it would all be brought to an end by the will of a power far greater than Herod's, and Jesus would have reached his goal. The Greek word here is as ambiguous as the English, and leads on to a saying about the geographical "goal" of Jesus' journey, Jerusalem. 'It is unthinkable for a prophet to meet his death anywhere but in Jerusalem.' (33) This seems to put it very strongly: it was only a fairly recent tradition which asserted that most of the prophets had in fact been killed in Jerusalem. ← See above on Matthew 23.29. But for Luke, with a historian's bird's-eye view of religious developments in Palestine, any other destiny for Jesus may well have seemed unthinkable. And there follows, with great appropriateness, a lament over Jerusalem (34-5) in virtually the same words as in Matthew 23.37-9.
top

Chapter 14.

One Sabbath he went to have a meal (1). The main meal on a Sabbath took place after the morning service in the synagogue, and guests were often invited. Perhaps Jesus had been preaching, and was invited to the meal afterwards; in any case, his presence on such an occasion in the house of a leading Pharisee (that is to say, probably a leading member of the community who also happened to be a Pharisee) was perfectly natural—and Luke makes it the occasion for a number of sayings to do with feasts and banquets. But first, there was a healing miracle to record. Jesus' question, 'Is it permitted to cure people on the Sabbath or not?' (3) probably had a perfectly clear-cut answer in the teaching of the lawyers and the Pharisees: it was permitted when it was a question of saving life, but otherwise not. The man with dropsy was not in immediate danger, therefore it was not permitted to treat him. But possibly the sheer inhumanity of this principle when there was a prospect of an immediate miraculous cure reduced them to silence, and they said nothing (4). If the Law permitted them (as it did) to save even an animal's life on the Sabbath, how could they be so casuistical as to regard it as wrong to heal a man?

Elsewhere, Jesus explicitly criticizes the lawyers and Pharisees for their tendency to seek the places of honour (7) (for at any formal meal the seating at table was strictly by seniority). Here, he contrasts this fashion with a rule of his own—which is what, in this instance, the word parable seems to mean. ← On the wide range of meanings of this word, see above on Mark 3.23. The rule itself ('Do not sit down in the place of honour') was an old one (Proverbs 25.6-7) and was not strange to Jesus' contemporaries; and even the motive Jesus gave for it was not unmixed modesty but a desire that the fellow-guests will see the respect in which you are held (10). However, a saying is added (perhaps by Luke, for it occurs also in other contexts, Luke 18.14, Matthew 23.12) which makes the rule into a parable in another sense: it is an illustration of that great reversal of values which will be a feature of the kingdom of God. 'Whoever humbles himself will be exalted' (11).

Then he said to his host (12). Another rule, this time based on Jesus' distinctive principle (6.33) that one must do good without expecting any return. Jewish culture was very conscious of the curse of poverty, and when any large party was given it was not done to exclude paupers and beggars who might be fed on what was left over. Moreover, many devout Jews made a point of keeping open house to the poor. Jesus' rule only goes further than this in that the poor were to be invited, not in addition to the usual guests, but instead of them.
top

One of the company, after hearing all this (15). Practical questions about hospitality led the mind naturally to the feast in the kingdom of God. This was an image which, ever since Old Testament times, the Jews loved to use for the promised reward which awaited the just and devout of their nation. 'Happy the man who shall sit at the feast' was a typical "beatitude": a Jewish teacher might well use it to encourage his students to greater virtue. But Jesus' beatitudes struck a different note: 'how blest are those in need' (6.20); and the story that follows illustrates the contrast. The story itself runs more smoothly in Luke than in Matthew (22.1-14), whether because of Luke's more careful editing or because he had access to a purer version of it. It faithfully reflects Palestinian customs; but at the same time il lias one or two touches which point to a subsequent adaptation of the story lo the needs of the church. It was a normal courtesy to send a servant to inform the invited guests when the dinner was ready; but if it was a big dinner party, one servant could hardly have managed the task alone. Matthew, more plausibly, makes the host send 'his servants', but Luke's single servant may be intended to help the reader to think of Jesus, sent by God with the final summons to the kingdom. The first two excuses (which are here made more explicit than in Matthew) are entirely plausible: the last hour of daylight, after the day's work was finished, was the natural time to complete a purchase of land or livestock, and since large dinner parties normally lasted well into the night, the guest would normally lose nothing by giving his apologies to the servant and arriving somewhat later. For this seems to be the point of the story (21). Instead of keeping these guests' places for them (as would have been usual) the indignant host sent his servant out quickly to bring in all the beggars who could be found, so that those whom he had invited (who were men of considerable substance if they could afford five yoke of oxen) would suffer the indignity of arriving at the house and being turned away because there was no room for them. 'Happy the man who shall sit at the feast in the kingdom of God!' Yes, but (Jesus replies) this happiness may be enjoyed by those whom you least expect. It is the poor who are happy (or "blest", the same word in the Greek). The others, by putting it off, have missed their chance: 'I tell you that not one of those who were invited shall taste my banquet' (24). However, two further details suggest how this story was used in the early church. First, the third excuse: "I have just got married and for that reason I cannot come" (20). There is no hint of this in Matthew's version, and it fits awkwardly into the story; for unlike the others, who could have come late, a newly married man could not have come at all, and it is difficult to see how he could have accepted the invitation in the first place. On the other hand, some Christians soon came to see marriage, as well as possessions, as an obstacle to following the call of Jesus (the servant), and this, as well as artistic symmetry (for most good stories contain groups of three) may have helped this extra detail to come into the story. Secondly, the servant is commanded to go, not only into the streets and alleys (as in Matthew) but also on to the highways and along the hedgerows. This is perfectly plausible; beggars were to be found outside cities on the roads, especially in the shelter of a wall that enclosed some estate or vineyard (there were no hedgerows in Palestine: the Greek word here means a wall or a fence). But it is also a perfectly intelligible symbol for those who were "outside" the Jewish nation—the Gentiles. The subsequent history of the church was to demonstrate that it was these people, not the Jews, who got in first.
top

'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother' (26). Matthew (10.37) has 'who cares more for father or mother', and this is clearly the meaning; Luke's more violent version may nevertheless he closer to Jesus' own language (see above on Matthew 5.43). Moreover, the saying in Matthew is addressed to those who are already disciples. Luke, by bringing in great crowds (25), has given this and the following sayings a rather different meaning: this is what you must be prepared for if you are contemplating following me. 'None of you can be a disciple of mine without parting with all his possessions' (33). This extreme implication of Jesus' teaching about poverty and detachment occurs only in Luke; and it is a question in which Luke seems to be particularly interested, both when recording Jesus' sayings and when relating the church's attempt to put the principle into practice (Acts 2.44; 5.1-12). It comes in here as the corollary of two little illustrations (28-32) which seem to have the moral: Count the cost first! But, though the paragraph hangs together well enough, the examples of the man building a tower and the king planning a campaign do not quite do what is expected of them; for their natural meaning is that one should not begin at all unless one is sure one can finish. This seems an unlikely thing for Jesus to have said about Christian discipleship in general (34). But if the sayings were originally intended, not for the crowds (as here), but for the small group of disciples who were steeling themselves to face whatever lay ahead of Jesus, then they would make good sense if they were spoken by way of encouragement at a moment when the disciples were faltering: you cannot give up now, you should have counted the cost before you began following me!
top

Chapter 15.

'This fellow', they said, 'welcomes sinners and eats with them' (2). Several other episodes have illustrated the offence Jesus gave by consorting with sinners—that is, with those whose profession or way of life excluded them from the privileged position which all law-abiding Jews claimed to possess in the economy of God. It was clearly expected of him, as the leader of a new religious movement, to be as careful about the company he kept as the highly exclusive fellowships of the Pharisees. The defence Jesus made on this occasion involved a small but very important difference between himself and his opponents. It could not be said of the Pharisees, or indeed of Jewish religious thinkers generally, that they did not value repentance. On the contrary, they took it for granted that a truly penitent man was accepted by God, and they made no objection to welcoming a "sinner" into their company if he had shown genuine signs of repentance. But it was essential that the sinner should take the initiative: he must first repent, and only then could he be "welcomed", either by God or by his fellow-men. There was no question of having anything to do with him until he showed signs of renouncing his old ways. Jesus' offence consisted in not waiting for these signs.

The Shepherd

On this occasion, Jesus justified his initiative with a group of parables (the first of which occurs also in Matthew 18.12-14, but with a quite different point). Luke, compared with Matthew, dwells a little more on the moment of finding: the shepherd lifts the sheep on to his shoulders (5) (the only way of carrying an injured or exhausted animal), the woman (and also, less appropriately, the shepherd) invites friends and neighbours in to celebrate the find—she is evidently very poor, for the value of the ten silver pieces (8) (Luke gives them the name of the equivalent Greek coins, drachmas) only amounts to a pound by NEB values. All the emphasis is on the joy which follows finding what was lost; and if it is true that the sinner is also someone who is "lost", it is legitimate to read off from these simple illustrations something of the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (7). It follows that repentance is not (as the Pharisees would probably have put it) just a way of making amends for past misdeeds and rejoining the ranks of the just. It belongs to a different order of things altogether.
top

The third parable (11-32) (for which "The Prodigal Son" is perhaps not the best title, since all the emphasis is on the behaviour of the father) illustrates the same point, but takes it a great deal further. The opening reflects actual conditions in Palestine. A father could either bequeath his property in his will (in which case it was laid down by law how he must divide it between his heirs), or else make a gift of it before he died, in which case he was free to dispose of it as he wished, but was entitled to the produce or the interest until his death. The younger son's request was quite normal: the main part of the property would in any case go to his elder brother, and he could expect to do better by turning his share into cash (13) ← This is probably, but not certainly, what the Greek phrase means. Older versions have "gathered all he had together", which is also possible. and setting himself up in business among the Jews of the Dispersion in some foreign city, than by trying to live on a small-holding in the over-populated farmland of Palestine. However, his taste for reckless living (14), combined with a severe famine (which would have sent up the price of food) soon brought him to total poverty. He hired himself out to a gentile employer (and minding pigs would have been a job particularly repugnant to a Jew), but even so his wages were not sufficient to buy himself food (at least in famine conditions), and he would have been content even with the pauper's diet of carob-tree pods (16)— had he been able to get them, but they were jealously guarded for the pigs. In despair, he decided to return home.

So far, the story is a typical rake's progress. But the reaction of the father is new and arresting. He ran to meet him (20)—which was very much beneath the dignity of the head of a family—and instead of listening to his son's request or testing his penitence, he invested him in the robe (22) reserved for an honoured guest, and showed, with the gift of ring and shoes, how far he was from treating the prodigal as one of his paid servants (17). The welcome, the presents, the feast were all tokens of his joy at finding one who was lost. The story, thus far, is a humanly convincing example of that same joy which is the point of the preceding two parables. But, if it is legitimate to read off from it a general lesson about the nature of God's forgiveness (and it is irresistible to do so, since it yields such riches in the process), one point in particular seems relevant to Jesus' controversy with his opponents. They laid down all kinds of conditions (genuineness, lastingness, a will to make reparation, etc.) which a sinner's repentance had to fulfil if it were to be accepted. But in the parable, it was sufficient for the son simply to return to his father. Similarly, it was not necessary for the "sinners" with whom Jesus consorted to prove their penitence: it was sufficient that they sought his company.

This already provided part of the answer to those who were criticizing Jesus for consorting with sinners. But the parable goes on. From the point of view of strict fairness, the elder son had a genuine grievance: while he had slaved for years to work his father's estate (29), and had gone on working it for his father's benefit even after it had become legally his own, his brother, by squandering his inheritance, had deprived his father of the interest due to him. Surely, therefore, the rewards given to the younger brother were inappropriate and unfair. Once again, the father acted with striking generosity. Instead of waiting until his elder son approached him (as fitted his dignity), he came out and pleaded with him. "Everything I have is yours" (29,31). This was technically true: the original gift of the entire property to the elder son was a sign of much greater esteem than the killing of the fatted calf for the younger. But the main force of the appeal depended, not on technicalities, but on humanity: "How could we help celebrating this happy day?" (32) Jesus' strongest argument against his critics likewise depended, not on technical definitions of repentance, but on those ultimate principles of humanity which are a sure guide to the nature of God's dealings with men.
top

Chapter 16.

'There was a rich man who had a steward' (1). The situation must have been a common one in Palestine, where there were many large estates, owned by absentee landlords, and administered by a steward. But the story itself is puzzling. On the face of it, the steward's action was dishonest and unscrupulous, and we are astonished to read at the end that the master applauded the dishonest steward (8). It is true that this last sentence is ambiguous. The Greek words for the master could also mean "the Lord". The sentence might therefore be, not a continuation of the story, but a comment on it by Luke: "Jesus applauded the dishonest steward". But this does not make the matter any easier. Why should Jesus, any more than the rich man in the parable, have applauded a blatant case of dishonesty?

However, the situation presupposed in the parable may not be quite what it seems at first sight. The steward had been accused of squandering the property (1). What does this mean? Simply helping himself to more than his due from the revenues would hardly have constituted squandering—the word is that used of the younger son of the previous parable who 'squandered' his whole fortune in reckless living. More likely, the steward had been trying to enrich himself by lending out at a high rate of interest large sums from his master's fortune, to the detriment of the proper management of the estate. In Jewish circles, this was strictly illegal (for usury was forbidden); but there were many ways round this prohibition, and a steward who behaved in this way, though he would certainly be morally dishonest, might nevertheless succeed in keeping on the right side of the law. It is true that there is i not a word in this parable to say that this was the kind of squandering involved; ← Though the word used for "squandering" is the same as that translated 'scattered' in Matthew 25.24, and there it does seem to carry the meaning, "lending out for interest". but if we suppose that it was, then the negotiations with the debtors become more plausible. The amount they owed was very large—too large, surely to represent arrears of rent payable by tenants to a landlord; and the steward is hardly to be imagined as having paid large sums on account to merchants who had then failed to honour their contracts (for this was not the usual way of doing business and could anyway hardly be described as squandering). On the other hand, if the debtors were borrowers, the situation immediately becomes intelligible. Repayment in kind was regular practice (and incidentally provided many loopholes for avoiding the technical prohibition of usury). The difference between a thousand and eight hundred bushels of wheat represents interest at twenty-five per cent (a normal rate), and the difference between a thousand and five hundred gallons of olive oil represents interest at one hundred per cent, which sounds very high, but is not without parallel in antiquity, since oil was a much riskier commodity than wheat. This interest the steward had hoped to receive as personal profit; the rest represented what had to be repaid to his master. But in view of his imminent dismissal, he decided to forgo the profit, and by voluntarily liquidating the original contracts and replacing them with bare statements of the amount of the original loan, he earned the gratitude of the debtors and the approbation of society at large—for easing or remitting the repayment of a loan was regarded by the Jews as a singularly meritorious act.

The master applauded the dishonest steward for acting so astutely (8). If this explanation of the parable is on the right lines, the comment becomes intelligible. The master had not been cheated as a result of the steward's hasty transactions. On the contrary, the steward, seeing where his true interests lay, had abandoned his own chances of immediate profit, and the master had quickly recovered his capital. The steward offered a commendable example of radical action in the face of a crisis. This may well have been the point Jesus wished to make, here as elsewhere. Judgement was imminent: no time must be lost in remitting debts, forgiving offences, and preparing oneself for the kingdom of God.

Nevertheless, in the form in which it has come down to us, the parable is exceedingly obscure. A great many details have to be read into it in order to make it yield an acceptable sense. What did Luke think was the moral?

He appears to offer no less than three, but two of these are unfortunately as obscure as the story itself, (i) 'The worldly are more astute than the other-worldly in dealing with their own kind'. The steward was certainly astute (this is strongly emphasized in the parable); but if this saying is to be seen as anything more than a cheap comment on unpractical pietists, it is necessary to find something admirable in his astuteness. If in fact it consisted of the praiseworthy act of freely remitting debts then, even if his motives were astute and self-regarding, his conduct could be held up as an example to Christians who, with their infinitely more altruistic ideals, could hardly afford to be less generous than a dishonest steward. But does the other-worldly mean Christians? Literally, the phrase means "the sons of light", which is as unusual an expression for religious people as the worldly (literally, "the sons of this age") is usual for the irreligious. It appears to be a phrase which some religious sects (if we may judge from the Dead Sea Scrolls) liked to use of their own members. It is quite likely that at some stage the Christian community began to use similar language about itself, (ii) 'Use your worldly wealth to win friends for yourselves'. (9) This again clearly refers back to the parable. The steward had "made friends" by his prompt action (verse 4). Christians are to do the same, though in a more lasting sense, in that instead of procuring for themselves hospitable homes on earth they are to obtain an eternal home in heaven. But how is worldly wealth to be used for this purpose? If the steward of the parable was dishonest all along the line, it is hard to draw any moral; but if he genuinely remitted debts to his own disadvantage, then again he can serve as an example to Christians, who are to secure their ultimate reward by renouncing every kind of monetary gain. (The phrase translated worldly wealth is a curious one, and means literally "unrighteous mammon". This may correspond to a Hebrew expression meaning any kind of financial profit which, strictly speaking, was forbidden under the Law.) (iii) 'The man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted also in great' (10-12). This group of sayings simply commends trustworthiness, and would be a more appropriate comment on the parable of the pounds (19.11-27) than on this one; but perhaps it also serves here as a warning against taking the dishonest steward as an example of the wrong kind of "astuteness".

There is no obvious connection between the sayings which follow (13-18), and all except one of them have parallels in different parts of Matthew or Mark: verse 13 = Matthew 6.24, verse 16 = Matthew 11.12-13, verse 17 = Matthew 5.18, verse 18 = Mark 10.11-12 (and, with a significant variation, Matthew 5.32). Verses 14-15 however are found only in Luke. The Pharisees, who loved money (14). It is unlikely that the Pharisees as a class were wealthy; indeed we know of several learned Pharisees who were very poor. But there were certainly some who were not above turning their reputation for sound learning to financial advantage, and even the strictest of them found means of accommodating their interpretation of the law to the necessity of commercial transactions. Much as they praised the virtue of alms-giving, they regarded it as positively undesirable to impoverish oneself by too much generosity, and llieir attitude to money was a great deal less radical than that of Jesus. Jesus' criticism of them here is a variation of his usual attack on their "hypocrisy". Their outward show of strict observance is a cloak, not just for a lack of humanity, but for a preoccupation with worldly gain. The social position they achieve by these means puts them in the category of those who must expect a reversal of fortune: as it is expressed in Mary's song at the beginning of the gospel (1.51), 'the arrogant of heart and mind God has put to rout'. Or, still more drastically, 'What sets itself up to be admired by men is detestable in the sight of God' (15).
top

'There was once a rich man' (19)—unnamed, like most of the characters in the parables (though in the course of time he has acquired a name, Dives, which is simply the Latin for "rich man"). Surprisingly, the poor man has a name: Lazarus (20) (the Greek form of a common Jewish name, Eleazar). The contrast is carefully drawn: purple and fine linen and daily feasting were marks of the greatest luxury, while the beggar was a cripple (he lay) who had no one even to keep the dogs from trying to slake their thirst by licking his sores (as they would in a dry summer, when water was far too precious to give to dogs). It is true that it was unusual not to allow beggars the scraps from the table (21), but nothing is said by way of moral judgement on either the rich man or Lazarus. All we are told is that one was very rich, the other very poor. In the next scene the contrast is equally vivid, though the setting is drawn from contemporary Jewish folklore and popular religion. Whatever might be said in theory about a general resurrection and a universal Last Judgement, ordinary people in Palestine certainly believed (as ordinary people have always believed in many parts of the world) that immediately after death some go to heaven and some go to hell. Clearly Jesus was not using the parable as an opportunity to give new teaching about the after-life.

On the contrary, the angels escorting Lazarus (22), the presence of Abraham in heaven, the fire in hell (24), and the glimpse given to the damned of the better lot they might have had, were all standard features of popular Jewish belief. Again there is no moralizing. It is a simple contrast; one is very happy, the other very unhappy, not because of their virtues and vices, but because of a necessary reversal of fortunes. Thus far, the parable is a pictorial statement of that great change in values proclaimed in Jesus' beatitudes: ' How blest are you who now go hungry; your hunger shall be satisfied' (Luke 6.21); 'how blest are the sorrowful; they shall find consolation' (Matthew 5.4).

'Blest are you who are in need', 'Alas for you who are rich' (Luke 6.20, 24). The message is stark and clear (especially in Luke's gospel). But can nothing be done, cannot the rich still be saved? Certainly not after death: it will be too late then, there is a great chasm fixed (26). But suppose a messenger were sent to the rich who are still alive, to warn them? The parable goes on to deny even this possibility—and here it seems to point to the very heart of Jesus' understanding of himself and the people among whom he worked. 'They have Moses and the prophets' (29). The Jews were uniquely privileged in having, in the Old Testament, an authoritative guide to the conduct required of them by God. But even to this they could be indifferent—they "hear and hear but understand nothing" in the words of Isaiah quoted by Jesus on another occasion (Mark 4.12)—so much so that they could still tolerate extremes of riches and poverty in their own society. No further prompting by God would help these "children of Abraham" (like the rich man of the parable) to live worthily of their inheritance, not even if someone should rise from the dead—and the parable ends with tantalizing allusions 31 to another Lazarus who did "rise from the dead" (31) (John 11—did Luke know of this?), and to Jesus himself, whose own resurrection at first aroused incredulity and even mockery (Acts 17.32).
top

Chapter 17.

'Causes of stumbling are bound to arise' (1). The phrase is barely English, and in the original it is barely Greek. The reason is that causes of stumbling is an expression so loaded with meaning from the Old Testament that it almost serves as shorthand for a number of distinctive Jewish beliefs. The underlying metaphor is of a snare into which one falls or an obstacle over which one stumbles. To us, the metaphor suggests the kind of things which cause accidents. But the Hebrews seldom thought of things happening by accident: either someone had deliberately laid a snare, or else it was intended by God that a person should be tripped. And so the metaphor was used of all sorts of catastrophes or dangers which God laid in the path of his people or of an individual in order to test or to punish them (Isaiah 8.14; Jeremiah 6.21; Ezekiel 3.20). Jesus' followers would not be immune from such trials: there would be persecutions from outside and heresy and schism from within. Such things were bound to arise. But this would be no excuse for any member of the community willingly precipitating further trials by thoughtless or malicious behaviour.

By the little ones (2) who must not be made to stumble, Jesus may originally 2 have meant small children: he was exceptionally interested in them for a religious teacher of his time. Children must always have been following him about, as they still do any unusual person in the east; and Jesus took notice of them instead of ignoring them. But the church was more interested in its own "little ones", the weaker brethren who might stumble over the radical implications of Jesus' teaching; and this is probably how Luke (like Matthew, 18.6) understood the phrase here.

'If your brother wrongs you' (3). Compare Matthew 18.15, 21-2, where the same rule is given as part of the order of the church. Seven times in a day (4) is equivalent to Matthew's 'seventy times seven'—an unlimited number of times.

The apostles (seldom so called in the gospels, see above on 6.13) said to the Lord (5)—a typically Lucan introduction to a saying also recorded in Mark (11.23) and Matthew (17.20). Luke replaces ' mountain' by mulberry-tree (6), we do not know why.
top

'Suppose one of you has a servant' (7). The application of this little parable is built into it from the start. It was a common idiom of religious speech to call oneself " God's servant", and what was true of the relationship of master and servant could be seen to be true, in important respects, of that between God and man. If the relationship described in the parable sounds austere, it must be remembered that the word servant meant literally a slave. The master here is of modest means, having only one slave both to work on his farm and to look after the house. He is under no obligation to put his slave's comfort before his own. Equally, the slave is in no position to take credit ← The translation, deserve no credit, is probably correct, though the usual meaning of the word is that given by older translations, "unprofitable". for completing his usual routine. 'So with you: when you have carried out all your orders' (10). Men's orders from God were the detailed commands and prohibitions of the Law of Moses. There were many of Jesus' contemporaries who believed they "deserved credit" for their meticulous observance of them, and failed to realize that the demands of God upon man are far more fundamental than can be expressed in any set of orders.

He was travelling through the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee (11). On the map this makes little sense (and the translation through the borderlands is itself a simplification of a puzzling Greek phrase). By now—since Jesus' "journey" has lasted through eight chapters—he should have left Galilee far behind. But Luke may have had a rather different picture of the geography and imagined that much of Jesus' journey lay close to the Samaritan frontier (see above, p. 250). If so, he would have seen nothing inappropriate in placing a story involving a Samaritan at this stage in the journey.
top

Ten men with leprosy (12). On the disease and its social consequences, see above on Mark 1.40-5. The lepers were necessarily on the edge of the village, and stood some way off to avoid contact. Jesus' reply to their appeal took the unexpected form of a command to 'go and show yourselves to the priests' (14). The command occurs in Mark's story (1.44) of the cleansing of a single leper, and we can see the point of it from Jesus' point of view: he did not wish to come into conflict with the priests by trespassing on their prerogatives. But, in Luke's story, what sort of answer was it to the lepers' appeal? They must have known that, in their present state, they had no hope of being certified clean by a priest—otherwise they would have gone for examination long ago. Jesus' answer could only mean that, if they went now, they would be well enough by the time they arrived at the temple to be certified clean—which is just what happened. We can assume that nine of them were Jews, and had to go to Jerusalem for the purpose; but the tenth, being a Samaritan, must have gone to the ruins of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim in Samaria. Precisely when he turned back (15) (whether before or after he had seen a priest) is not stated; nor is it clear exactly what the others ought to have done. But these details probably did not trouble the narrator, who saw in the story a clear illustration of two points he had already made elsewhere: first, even a Samaritan can be an example to a Jew; secondly, a man's faith (19) is more important than the race he belongs to.
top

The Pharisees asked him, 'When will the kingdom of God come?' (20) Given the earnest expectation for a new order of things which (at least in Palestine) ran right through the Jewish religion, and given the fact that this new order was expected to come, not by gradual evolution, but by a sudden act of God, the question was an obvious one to put to Jesus, and was asked by friends and enemies alike. When asked by the Pharisees, the question may have been intended to elicit a reply which (if it were at all naive or literal) would bring Jesus into ridicule; but Jesus avoided the trap. 'You cannot tell by observation'—the word suggests particularly astrological observation, calculations from the conjunctions of stars with historical events—and Jesus showed that he agreed with all those learned and responsible Jews who tried to discourage this kind of fanciful speculation about the future. 'There will be no saying, "Look, here it is!"' (21), as if it were likely to be something doubtful and ambiguous, needing careful inspection to check its authenticity. Jesus then went on to add a positive answer of his own to the question—but exactly what that answer was is obscured from us by the imprecise Greek in which it is recorded. 'The kingdom of God is among you' (or within you, or within your grasp—see the footnote in NEB). Several meanings are possible—and it may be that the preposition in Jesus' own language was equally ambiguous, since Jewish scholars themselves debated what was meant by saying that God was "among them": did it mean, God saw that they were clothed and fed, or that God knew their innermost thoughts? Older translations of Jesus' saying have mainly preferred "within you". But this suggests an inner spiritual experience, which is something very different from what the Jews—and, it appears, Jesus—meant by the kingdom of God. Jesus seems to have talked of the kingdom both as a future consummation and as an already perceptible reality. Something of his new and rich understanding of the old Jewish phrase probably lurks in this difficult saying.

He said to the disciples (22). Luke changes the setting, even though the subject is still the same: the culmination of history in the Last Judgement and the inauguration of a new age. Jesus projected himself into this drama in the role of the Son of Man; and Christians, therefore, looked forward to it as one of the days of the Son of Man. Perhaps, when Luke wrote, there was already a disappointed longing for this "day", and this saying seemed to offer an antidote; certainly there was for a long time a temptation to abandon ordinary occupations and go running off in pursuit (23) of anything which seemed to promise the advent of the new era. There were sayings of Jesus to discourage this (compare Matthew 24.26-7); there were also sayings about the darker side of the destiny of the Son of Man which should have corrected a one-sided preoccupation with his ultimate glory (see above on Mark 8.31).

'As things were in Noah's days' (26). The rest of the chapter (27-37) inculcates the attitude of vigilance and readiness for immediate action which must be maintained in the face of what is to come. The sayings are almost all found (somewhat differently arranged) in Matthew 24. Luke adds to the example of Noah that of Lot (the two were often paired together—see 2 Peter 2.5-6 for another example), and gives us the proverb, 'Remember Lot's wife' (32). The two biblical stories not only warn against neglecting the signs of the times. It is also fatal (doubtless in the Christian life in general, as well as at the last critical moment) to look back!
top

Chapter 18.

He spoke to them in a parable (1). One of the characters in this little story is called the unjust judge (6), and this has given its name to the parable. But it is important to see in what sense he was unjust. The setting was a small town. A widow (3 )—which was a byword for someone reduced to poverty through no fault of her own—had been the victim of some fraud or sharp practice, and in order to recover her money she had to go to law. In such cases, this did not involve a formal sitting of a court; it was sufficient for the parties to agree upon a qualified lawyer to arbitrate between them. The little town, in any case, may have possessed only one such lawyer; if so, the widow's only hope of redress lay in persuading this lawyer to attend to her case. Now it was a fundamental principle of Jewish justice that a judge received no payment. There was therefore only a moral obligation for the lawyer to attend to all the cases brought before him. This particular lawyer was not sensitive to his moral obligations—he cared nothing for God or man (2); possibly he waited until litigants brought him a present before he concerned himself with their affairs. But the widow, by again and again thrusting her papers in front of him, finally got her way.

The unjust judge, therefore, was not necessarily guilty of perverting justice; indeed it might be less misleading to call him "the unrighteous judge", ← This is an equally faithful translation of the original, which probably represents a Hebrew idiom, "judge belonging to the world of unrighteousness, the world of inadequate observance of the Law". since it was his unreadiness to do his duty and hear cases brought before him which was reprehensible. The justice of the widow's claim is taken for granted; the point is the difficulty she had in getting it attended to. The application of the parable follows easily. Christians needed to have no doubts about the rightness of their cause; but, in the face of calumny and persecution, they longed for vindication. This was expected to take the form of a reversal of present values, a bringing to light of the things known only to faith, and the visible establishment of the Christian community as the chosen people of God—in short, the end of the present order, the judgement, and the new age. Those things were taking longer to come than perhaps the earliest generation of Christians expected (a disappointment which may underlie the difficult phrase, while he listens patiently to them (7); an alternative rendering is given in the NEB footnote—"while he delays to help them"—which would make this clearer). But they must keep on praying (1) for them. If even a neglectful human judge yielded at last to constant entreaties, how much more certainly would God vindicate his chosen! (6) But that moment of vindication would always involve judgement. Anyone who had lost faith (perhaps because of the delay) would have reason to fear it. 'When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?' (8)
top

And here is another parable that he told (9). The scene this time is set in the main inner quadrangle of the temple at Jerusalem at the hour of the morning or evening sacrifice. At these two times in the day every Jew was bidden to pray, either in the synagogue or else wherever he happened to be; but if he was near by, he went up to the temple for the purpose (10), and joined the crowd of those who were present at the sacrifice. The Pharisee's prayer probably sounded a great deal less objectionable then than it does to us now. He was not necessarily priding himself on his virtues; rather, he was thanking God for the privilege of leading a life which, both in public and in private, laid him open to no charge of rapacity, failure to observe the law, or adultery. For example: far from ever failing to observe the annual fast-day of the Jews, he followed the pious practice of the stricter groups and fasted twice a week (12). Far from ever failing to pay the necessary tithes on his agricultural produce, he paid tithes on everything in his possession. In short, his way of life was that of a Pharisee, it was an example of one of the most sustained efforts any Jewish group had ever made to observe the law in every detail—and he thanked God for it: thanksgiving, it was said, was the most precious of all forms of prayer. The tax-gatherer, by contrast, was committed to a way of life which made any such prayer impossible for him. He lived by raising slightly more taxes from his fellow-citizens than he was bound to pay to the government, and the fundamental dishonesty inherent in his profession branded him, in the eyes of Jewish society, as one who was for ever "outside the law". It was beyond his power to make the kind of amends (say, giving away most of his profits) which would alone be regarded by his fellow-citizens as a sign of true repentance and allow him to be re-admitted to the society of the just. His prayer was despairing and simple—but not new: it echoed the opening of Psalm 51; and later in that psalm come the words, "A broken and humbled heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise". Jesus' parable is a vivid illustration of that wonderful document of Hebrew spirituality. Luke says, it was aimed at those who were sure of their own goodness and looked down on everyone else (9). Certainly, the Pharisees believed (and not only they) that their way of life assured them of salvation to a greater extent than that of any of their contemporaries; and this was one of the instances of human pretension which was destined to be exposed by that great reversal of values which Jesus proclaimed. In the words of a saying that occurs in a
number of different contexts, 'everyone who exalts himself will be humbled' (14).

They even brought babies for him to touch (15). At this point Luke returns to the order of events in Mark (15-30), and reproduces Mark's narrative (10.13-31) with only a small amount of rewriting. The children who are brought to Jesus for his blessing become babies in Luke; and the 'rich man' of Mark's narrative (who is inferred by Matthew to be 'young') becomes a man of the ruling class (18), which is logical enough: riches secure social position.
top


Challenge to Jerusalem

| << | jesus tells of his death and resurrection (3) | jericho - zacchaeus; the parable of the pounds | jerusalem: triumphal entry; temple cleansed | by whose authority? the parable of the vineyard | temple destruction foretold; signs & persecutions; jerusalem's destruction foretold; coming of the son-of-man; the fig-tree | >> |

'We are now going up to Jerusalem' (31). After the long section of Journeys and encounters which, though Jerusalem was given at the outset as the ultimate destination, gave little feeling of actual progress southward, the narrative now begins to move again. As in Mark (10.33-4), the disciples are once more taken into Jesus' confidence about the impending destiny of the Son of Man. The rejection and humiliation of this figure, who was traditionally thought of as vindicated and glorified, was something the disciples found it hard to accept, and Mark makes no secret of their bewilderment. But Luke presents the matter more from the point of view of a church historian. The early church must have momentarily felt the same difficulty in reconciling the glorified Christ of their faith with the humiliated Jesus of their memory. How did they overcome it? They went back to the Old Testament and found evidence there (doubtless in such passages as Isaiah 53) that this was what had to happen: all that was written by the prophets had come true for the Son of Man. But the disciples did not yet realize this: the true interpretation of these prophecies was only revealed to them later (24.27). Meanwhile, their failure to grasp Jesus' prediction—a failure demonstrated by their subsequent conduct—could only be explained (as Luke also suggests, 9.45) as part of God's purpose: its meaning was concealed from them (34). Luke has omitted from Mark's account (10.46-52) the name of the beggar (Bartimaeus) and the word of Aramaic with which he addressed Jesus (Rabbuni), but in other respects he has followed Mark closely, except for adding a conclusion which he seems to have felt appropriate to a number of Jesus' miracles, And all the people gave praise (43).
top

Chapter 19.

Entering Jericho (1). The Jordan valley between the Lake of Tiberias and the Dead Sea consists of a long narrow plain which is for the most part parched and treeless. But at Jericho, which lies toward the southern end of this plain close to the mountains of Judaea, there is a spring which irrigates the fields and orchards and makes the town a veritable oasis in the desert. In the time of Jesus it was a prosperous city, rich in date-palms and balsam trees, and the home of a well-to-do Jewish community. It was also the principal eastern frontier town of Judaea; Herod the Great had built a winter palace there, and it had a large traffic of merchants and travellers. There was a man there named Zacchaeus (2). This is the Greek form of a common Jewish name, Zakkai. The man was a Jew, a wealthy superintendent of taxes. This does not mean a civil servant in the employment of the government; for the government did not collect its own taxes, but offered the job to any firm of tax-collectors which could offer to return the highest revenue from a given area. These firms made their money, partly by exacting a slightly higher rate of taxation than they returned to the government, partly by investing the revenues in business interests before paying over the total assessment. Zacchaeus is to be imagined as the head of one of these companies. In this profession he had enriched himself; but he had also incurred social disapproval, since the principles upon which tax-collectors made their living could be regarded as extortionate and usurious, and as therefore incompatible with Jewish law. In the eyes of strict Jews, at least, such a man was a sinner (8), and excluded from the society of those who maintained a careful observance of the law. Hence the general murmur of disapproval (7) when Jesus deliberately sought lodging with him. But on this occasion Jesus' action was spectacularly vindicated. It was always possible for a tax-collector to repent and rejoin the society of the righteous, so long as he made restitution to all from whom he had exacted more than was due. It was recognized that it was probably impossible for him to identify and repay more than a small number of those whose taxes he had collected, and it was considered adequate if he made up the rest by making a proportionate contribution to the public good. The result of Jesus' visit was that Zacchaeus resolved to do all this—and more. He stood there (8)—the word suggests that he was making a public declaration—and promised to give away half his possessions (which was more than would have been considered adequate), and to anyone who could prove he had been cheated in the tax collection to pay back the difference, not merely plus twenty per cent (as the Jewish Law required, Leviticus 6.1), but plus 400 per cent. After this, no one could call Zacchaeus a sinner again (7); he and his family would recover their full rights in the Jewish community—'Salvation has come to this house today' (9). But this had happened because Jesus, instead of shunning him as his pious contemporaries did, had deliberately sought his company.
top

They thought the reign of God might dawn at any moment (11). This is Luke's introduction to a parable which, in its main features, is familiar from Matthew's gospel (25.14 30), where it is told as an allegory of the Last Judgement. Whatever people thought of Jesus, there was inevitably a temptation to see in one who gave such notable signs of miraculous power the harbinger of that new age—the reign of God—which the majority of Jews earnestly awaited; and Jesus' arrival at the Holy City must have seemed to many a likely moment for the promised new age to begin. Such crude expectations were politically dangerous to Jesus in his lifetime; but they lived on after his death and resurrection, and we know (from the letters of Paul, for example) that Christian leaders had strenuously to discourage those who tried to contract out of all the normal responsibilities of daily life because they thought the reign of God might dawn at any moment. The question, at any rate, was still very much alive in Luke's day, and by subtly emphasizing certain details in the parable (the long journey abroad of the king (12), the necessity to be trustworthy in a very small matter (17)), Luke made the parable teach a lesson of patience and responsible social conduct. But Luke's version also has some original features which suggest that the parable had already had a complicated history before it came into his hands. It now contains a by-plot; the capitalist who starts his servants in business is also a man of noble birth who has hopes of being appointed king (12). This supplies the destination of his journey. All "kings" in Palestine held their kingdoms by appointment of the Roman Emperor; and in fact one of Herod the Great's sons, Archelaus, acquired his right to rule over Judaea by making the journey to Rome in circumstances exactly similar to those described here, so much so that Jesus' story may well be an allusion to this actual event (4 B.C.). But what has this political episode to do with the story of the three servants? On the face of it, very little; indeed the two fit together so badly that it seems likely that (as in Matthew 22.1-10) what were originally two separate stories have somehow been combined into one. Nevertheless, the political setting of the by-plot has influenced the telling of the main story; for the capitalist is now also a king, and is able to reward his servants, not just with more capital and more responsibility, but with governorships over cities. And this introduces a new point into the story: these glittering rewards seem out of all proportion to the very modest commercial successes of the servants, all the more so since the sizeable capital sums mentioned by Matthew ('talents') appear in Luke (13) as the almost unworkably small assets of a few pounds. ← The NEB translators seem to have abandoned their own principles here. The Greek mina (which is the sum in the text) was worth 100 denarii, and the NEB normally makes ten denarii equivalent to a modern pound. The serviants had the equivalent of roughly ten pounds sterling to trade with. This makes the detail of giving the third servant's capital to the first servant seem slightly grotesque—he had by now become a provincial governor! Hence, perhaps, the protest, "he has ten already" (25). But it considerably heightens the point which Luke saw in the parable: your attention now to small and humble things will gain you a reward out of all proportion in the kingdom of God. One further detail sharpens the point. In Matthew, the third servant buried his money in the ground, which was regarded as the most prudent way of keeping it safe. But here, he put it away in a handkerchief (20), which was improvident and dangerous. At Luke's hands he has become a typical example of one who is definitely not trustworthy in a very small matter (17).
top

The ascent to Jerusalem from Jericho (28) was a walk of some twenty miles up a road which climbed nearly four thousand feet from the plain to the crest of the Mount of Olives. Luke follows Mark in mentioning Bethphage and Bethany (29) (which lay just off the road to the south), but prefers an alternative (and possibly more exact) name for the Mount of Olives, the hill called "olive plantation" (which in Latin is olivetum, hence Olivet).

Triumphal entryThe details of the narrative (29-35) of finding the colt follow Mark closely (11.1-10). As in Mark, the episode is doubtless meant to be understood as a miraculous confirmation of Jesus' authority, not as a piece of prior organization. But Luke gives Jesus' ride a slightly different interpretation. The branches and greenery, with their Jewish festival associations, disappear; instead, the disciples throw their cloaks on the ground in front of Jesus, which is the gesture of acclaiming a king. The Zechariah prophecy, "Here is your king, who comes to you in gentleness, riding on an ass", which is implicit in Mark's account and is expressly quoted in Matthew, is no more than distantly suggested here; but the word king (38) is deliberately introduced into the cry of the disciples (who take the place of the crowds in the other versions). Their cry, as in the other accounts, uses the words of Psalm 118.25-6. But Luke has made it sound somewhat less Jewish, omitting the Hebrew word Hosanna, and adding words reminiscent of the angels' song at Jesus' birth. Jesus' entry thus becomes, no longer an uncertain recognition by the crowds of the nearness of the Messiah, but a proclamation by Jesus' own disciples that he is a divinely commissioned king. And Jesus accepts the proclamation. Using a familiar proverb, he tells those who question his right to the title, 'If my disciples keep silence the stones will shout aloud' (40).

As soon as the procession had come over the saddle of the Mount of Olives the whole city of Jerusalem would have appeared before their eyes, spread out on the opposite side of the valley, with the immense and magnificent buildings of the temple in the foreground and Herod's citadel commanding the city from its highest point behind. According to popular etymology, the name Jerusalem meant "vision of peace" (41-4). In the manner of a prophet, Jesus based his lament over the city upon the name itself and, foreseeing the inevitable course which events were taking and which his own intervention would do nothing to deflect, he prophesied, not peace, but siege and destruction. By the time Luke wrote, these things had in fact taken place (A.D.70); but the details of Jesus' prophecy have not necessarily been rewritten in the light of subsequent history. They can all be found in the Old Testament (see especially Isaiah 37.33; Psalm 137.9; and the description of Nebuchadrezzar's siege of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 52); they were already conventional terms for describing a besieged and conquered city. There is no reason to doubt that Jesus foresaw such a fate coming upon Jerusalem as clearly as Isaiah had before him. It must indeed have been clear to any man of vision that the increasing turbulence of Jewish nationalist groups under the Roman administration could only lead to disaster. Nothing short of a change of heart could avert it. The moment—God's moment (44)—for such a change of heart had arrived in the person of Jesus. But the opportunity had been, and would be, rejected.
top

Then he went into the temple and began driving out the traders (43). The episode, told in full by Mark (11.15-19) and Matthew (21.12-13), no more than briefly summarized by Luke, and is also detached from Mark's strict chronological scheme; for whereas, in Mark, it is placed in the last week in Jesus' life, in Luke it forms only the beginning of a substantial 47 period of activity in Jerusalem: Day by day he taught in the temple (47).
top

Chapter 20.

One day (1). The question about Jesus' authority, which in Mark (11.20-5) follows close upon his violent action in the temple, is recorded by Luke as having been put to him in the course of his daily teaching, and so becomes a question specifically about his authority as a teacher. 'Acting like this' (2) must mean, "setting yourself up as a qualified expounder of Scripture". The only authority his questioners were prepared to recognize was that which they conferred themselves; but Jesus was in effect questioning all their presuppositions when he returned their challenge with reference to John the Baptist: John had received no authority from them to baptize; was his activity therefore invalid?
top

The parable of the vineyard (9-16) is told very much as in Mark (12.1-12), and Luke's only changes (such as the reduction of the number of servants to one each time) are signs of literary artistry rather than of any different understanding of the story. But there can be little doubt that in the son of the story he saw Jesus himself. The slight alteration (made also by Matthew) that the son was flung out of the vineyard (15) before being killed is perhaps deliberately intended to suggest Jesus' crucifixion outside Jerusalem; and the two texts which follow the parable, though they have no very clear application to the story, have much to say about the destiny of the Son of God. "The stone which the builders rejected has become the main corner-stone" (17) (Psalm 118.22) was originally an image for the miraculous restoration by God of the fortunes of any righteous man who had seemed to his enemies ruined and God-forsaken, and it was an image which the early church eagerly added to the complex series of building metaphors with which it strove to express the idea of the Christian community as God's new temple. But here it expresses a straightforward claim that Jesus, though now to be rejected and killed, will subsequently be vindicated and glorified. The continuation (found only in Luke), 'Any man who falls on that stone will be dashed to pieces' is not a logical sequel, but another stone-saying which Luke felt it appropriate to insert at this point. It is not an exact quotation: the idea, and some of the wording, is drawn from Daniel 2.34—where a great stone smashes an idolatrous statue—with possibly also a hint of Isaiah 8.14 (the "rock of stumbling"). Later Jewish scholars interpreted the Daniel passage as a prophecy about the Messiah, and this interpretation may have been current in Jesus' time. But in any case, in its context here it clearly expresses the reverse side of the Son's coming glorification: all who do not accept him now will then experience, not the thrill of his glory, but the severity of his judgement.

The following sections (19-21.4) follow Mark (12.13-44) very closely. Luke, like Matthew, has simply added a few narrator's touches in order to keep the action moving. In particular, he connects the question about paying taxes with one of the accusations actually made against Jesus later on (23.2). One point of detail is corrected. Jesus' answer to the Sadducees in Mark 12.25 ('When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; they are like angels in heaven') could conceivably have been misunderstood as a promise of heaven to everyone, good and bad, without distinction. Luke removes the ambiguity: Jesus was talking only of those who have been judged worthy of a place in the other world (35).
top

Chapter 21.

Some people were talking about the temple (5). The new temple, begun by Herod the Great in 20 B.C., was still not entirely completed; but it was already one of the most spectacular pieces of architecture in the ancient world. Like the great pagan temples which could be seen everywhere in the Roman Empire, the temple building itself had a facade of brilliant white marble, and its appearance was enriched by votive offerings, among which was a great golden vine set up over the door by Herod the Great himself. It is these features, which would have been of a kind familiar to any Greek reader, rather than the exceptional size of the masonry (which only those who had seen it could appreciate) that Luke (unlike Mark) singles out for mention.

These stones still lay at the foot of the temple, where they were thrown down after the capture of Jerusalem in A.D.70.

The same concern to give, for his Greek readers, a less alien character to a discourse which in Mark (chapter 13) is expressed in a thoroughly Jewish idiom, accounts for some of the detailed alterations which Luke has made in this chapter. But there are also some more significant changes. It is possible that Luke was combining the material in Mark with some other source; but at the same time certain deliberate touches which he gave to the discourse show that lie had an editorial policy of his own. He wrote his gospel a decade or two Inter than Mark, and the church, though still firmly believing in the impending end of the world, had nevertheless had to revise its idea of the course which history was going to follow. In Mark, the disciples' question ('When will this happen?') was elicited by Jesus' startling prophecy that the massive temple buildings were to be totally destroyed; and Jesus answered that all this would take place within their own generation, but that it must be understood in a wider context of world history: it would be no isolated catastrophe, but only one of the events in that turbulent period which must necessarily precede the end. These prophecies were spoken, and perhaps also written down by Mark, before Jerusalem was in fact taken and the temple desecrated and destroyed by the Roman army in A.D. 70. Naive Christians, up to that time, may well have thought that the end of the world would follow immediately. But as the years passed, and history continued as before, a more sophisticated interpretation was placed on Jesus' words. A part of what he had prophesied—in particular the fall of Jerusalem and the persecution of Christians—had already been fulfilled; but the climax presaged by these events—the Last Judgement and the glorious coming of the Son of Man—still lay in the future. To be precise (and this appears to be Luke's own formulation of the matter): 'These things are bound to happen first; but the end does not follow immediately' (9).
top

This concern to present a slightly more sophisticated and less esoterically Jewish version of Jesus' discourse appears in a number of small details. The setting itself is different in Luke. In Mark, the discourse is a piece of private instruction given to four disciples as they sit on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple; but here, it is a part of Jesus' general teaching given in the temple itself. The audience are all those who call him 'Master' (7), and the words are clearly destined, in Luke's account, for the encouragement of subsequent generations of Christians. Those Christians have experience, not of political agitators in Palestine who claimed to be the Messiah (saying, "I am he" (8)), but of over-enthusiastic preachers in the church who unsettle their congregations by proclaiming "The Day is upon us" (a phrase which occurs only in Luke). Before all this happens (12)—that is to say, in the continuing experience of the church—those same Christians are to suffer persecution; and in their frequent appearances in law-courts (synagogues both in Palestine and elsewhere were constituted as judicial bodies) they are not to prepare their defence beforehand (Luke uses the technical language of a Greek court). 'Some of you will be put to death' (16): doubtless this had already happened when Luke wrote; but there was a saying of Jesus, 'not a hair of your head shall be lost' (18). How was this saying to be reconciled with the fact that Christians had already been martyred? Perhaps along the lines, suggested more clearly by the NEB translation than by the Greek text, that Jesus was talking, not of physical safety and physical death, but of true life and true death.
top

'But when you see Jerusalem encircled by armies,' (20) The historical event around which Jesus' prophecies turned was the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. In Mark and Matthew it is referred to, in the conventionally cryptic language of apocalyptic writing, as the 'abomination of desolation'. Luke drops the convention, and makes Jesus refer explicitly to the siege. If Mark was written before the event, and Luke after it, this might seem a sufficient explanation of the difference between them. But Luke's procedure is by no means just to write an account of the siege as it happened and to put this into Jesus' mouth as a prophecy. He does not mention any of the things which (as we know from the contemporary historian Josephus) were particularly notable in the siege of Jerusalem; his language is entirely that which the Old Testament prophets used in their premonition of a similar event, and which, therefore, Jesus may well have used himself when prophesying the fate of Jerusalem. Moreover, the catastrophe is not merely prophesied, it is also interpreted, and interpreted in a fully Old Testament manner: it will be ' the time of retribution, when all that stands written is to be fulfilled' (22) (Deuteronomy 32.35; Hosea 9.7; Jeremiah 5.29); and its consequences will fulfil other oracles (24), Zechariah 12.3 (where the Septuagint Greek version is much closer to the text of Luke than to its Hebrew original) and Isaiah 63.18. Only the last words are mysterious: until their day has run its course. The foreigners, it would seem, cannot be destined to trample on Jerusalem indefinitely. Jerusalem (even if only metaphorically) has still a part to play in the salvation of mankind—a hint, perhaps, of that view of history which is worked out by Paul in Romans 9-11.
top

'Portents will appear.' (25) All the calamities described so far, however severe, were the kind of thing which could happen in the ordinary course of history. Even the fall of Jerusalem must not be regarded as so unexampled that it was necessarily a sign of the imminence of the end (Luke, as a historian, and indeed many of his non-Palestinian readers, were doubtless able to keep a sense of proportion about it). Nothing, in short, which the church had experienced so far was to be interpreted as an immediate presage of the last things. These would be heralded by events of another order, by a serious break in the continuity and orderliness of the physical world. The portents to be looked for would be in the sky: if the heavenly bodies lost their regularity—and still more if the celestial powers (26) which controlled those bodies were shaken—then chaos must be expected on earth (for most people took a certain amount of astrology for granted: it was the regular movement of sun, moon and stars which guaranteed the regular succession of cause and effect on earth). The roar and surge of the sea, too (25), means more than an ordinary storm. It was believed that only God's firm hand held the sea back from engulfing dry land; if this were relaxed, a great tidal wave would make men not know which way to turn. It would be signs such as these, and not thie familiar vicissitudes of history, which must be read as heralding the coming of the Son of Man. But that coming would also put an end to the tribulations of the church; therefore it would be the moment to hold your heads high (28).
top

The tone of this is comparatively optimistic: as soon as things get really severe, Christians may take courage because their liberation is near. But it is still necessary to utter warnings. Although the kingdom of God (31) (so Luke fills out the cryptic blank left by Mark and Matthew—see above on Mark 13.29) will follow the portents as surely as summer follows the budding of the fig-tree (29) (or any other tree, as Luke adds for the benefit of his European readers, see above on Mark 13.28), nevertheless in the meantime the apparent delay of these things must not lead either to scepticism or to moral laxity. Jesus had authoritatively predicted that the present generation would live to see it all (32), and when it came it would not just be a cataclysm in Palestine (as the purely Jewish language in which Christians tended to describe it might make others think) but the whole world over (35) . Dissipation and drunkenness and worldly cares (34)—which Luke perhaps saw already taking hold of some Christian communities—would only dull the mind in the face of this prospect: in this state, men would fail to read the signs and would be caught suddenly like a trap. They must pray for strength, so that, whether or not they died before the end, they would at all events win the right to stand in the presence of the Son of Man (36). Luke has written this final exhortation in such a way that it could serve as the end of a sermon to the church at any time, whether or not the "portents" had begun to appear. In a subtle way, he has adapted material that was originally all conditioned by expectation of an immediate end to the needs of a church which was beginning to accept the indefinite continuation of the present.

His days were given to teaching in the temple (37). Luke has not yet fallen in with the careful time-scheme propounded by Mark, but allows an indefinite number of days to elapse before The final conflict. To spend the night on the hill called Olivet does not necessarily imply camping out. The village of Bethany, where (according to Mark) Jesus lodged during these days, lay on the far slopes of the Mount of Olives.
top


The final conflict

| << | betrayal - the plot; passover preparation; passover supper; true service; peter's denial foretold | mount of olives - prayer; arrest | jesus before the high priest; peter's denial; jesus mocked & beaten; jesus before the council | jesus before pilate; - before herod; pilate - sentenced to death; simon of cyrene; jesus crucified; death; burial | the resurrection; walk to emmaus; appears to his disciples | >> |


Chapter 22.

Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, known as Passover, was approaching (1). Luke's narrative of the Supper follows the outlines of Mark's version, but also diverges from it at a number of points. Either he was rewriting the passage somewhat freely, or else he was drawing on a different tradition. In either event, the resultant picture is a new one. The introduction seems aimed, as so often in Luke, at giving a slightly more consequential account of events. There is no attempt to offer a date (as in Mark): the festival was simply approaching, and this gave urgency to the schemes of the authorities to do away with Jesus. It is not quite clear from the other gospel accounts how Judas' treachery in fact helped them; but Luke makes this explicit: Judas' task was to betray him ... without collecting a crowd (6), at a time when J erusalem was packed with pilgrims. He effectively did so by leading the authorities to a spot where he knew that Jesus would go for solitude during the night. He acted, Luke says, under the impulsion of Satan (3). Whereas we might now be tempted to speculate on Judas' motives, the first-century approach was less psychological: the events of The final conflict were set in motion by supernatural powers, who used human beings as the instruments of their purpose. ← Nevertheless, the story recorded in Matthew (26.14-16) may be intended to supply a human explanation: Judas betrayed Jesus for money.
top

The preparations for the Passover supper, on the afternoon on which the Passover victim had to be slaughtered (7), are told almost exactly as in Mark; and it follows that Luke, like Mark and Matthew, thought of this supper as a celebration of the Passover meal, with its special dishes of bitter herbs, roasted lamb and unleavened bread, and its recital of the miraculous deliverance of Israel out of captivity. This meal was always a formal one. The people in each group which shared it were bound together by table-fellow ship, which they signified by partaking of the bread and the wine which their host had blessed. Like Mark and Matthew again, Luke does not trouble to mention all the normal details of this meal, but singles out certain words and actions of Jesus which made this celebration exceptional; and it is precisely in the words and actions which he reports that Luke shows how differently he understands the occasion.
top

'How I have longed to eat this Passover with you before my death!' (15) The Greek, like the English, is ambiguous (see the footnote in NEB): did Jesus eat with them or did he not? The phrase in the following verse, 'never again shall I eat it', sounds less ambiguous, and seems on the face of it to settle the matter: Jesus shared this Passover with his disciples, but would do so never again—a prophecy which occurs in similar terms in Matthew and Mark. But the words never again occur only in certain manuscripts (see the footnote); indeed the majority of the most authoritative manuscripts omit the word in question, and give simply "I shall not". In itself, this does not settle the matter. The text in the NEB may still be the right one. But we must keep open the possibility that Jesus' saying was not a prophecy at all but a vow of abstinence. He had longed to share this Passover with his friends, but when it came to the point he may have refused to partake of it. If so, his abstinence would certainly have been surprising. Not only do Matthew and Mark give no hint of it ← Unless Jesus' refusal to accept wine just before the crucifixion was connected with such a vow of abstinence (Mark 15.23). (the most they suggest is that after the cup of blessing Jesus refused any further wine: the final "cup" of the formal meal was waived, not only for himself, but probably also for his disciples), but it would have been odd in itself on such a solemn occasion. ← It was for some centuries the practice of a part of the church to fast during the Jewish Passover as a religious act performed on behalf of the Jews. It has been suggested Ihal this provides an explanation of Jesus' fast: he fasted on behalf of his own people. Could Luke really have meant this? In view of the ambiguities already mentioned, it is hard to be sure; but there is one further point which bears on it. Both Matthew and Mark lay some emphasis on the fact that Judas' act of betrayal was an instance of that basest form of treachery which consists in betraying someone with whom one has become intimate through the solidarity of table-fellowship: Jesus was betrayed by one who had 'eaten with him' (Mark 14.18; Matthew 26.23). But if Luke believed that Jesus himself ate nothing at this meal, he would have needed to make some change at this point; and sure enough we find that Judas is not identified as one who "ate with" Jesus, but as one whose "hand was with his on the table" (21); there is no mention of eating together.

However this may be, the point serves to focus attention on one respect in which Luke's account is different from any other. Few words are spoken in explanation of the cup and the bread (16,18); but twice over Jesus uses the present meal to point forward to a greater reality, that of the kingdom of God (16), in which the Old Passover ritual will find its fulfilment. The coming "Messianic Age"—that is to say, the paradise which (it was confidently expected) God would one day create for his elect by the agency of his Messiah—was often described in the imagery of a banquet; and the principal interpretation placed, in Luke's account, on the disciples' Passover supper is that it was the last that would be celebrated in the old manner. Soon—indeed very soon, if Jesus' sayings are intended to be taken as an indication of his intention to fast until this came about—it would be superseded by an experience which would reveal the coming of the kingdom of God. The purpose of this present meal was to foreshadow something greater in the near future.

Breaking bread.

Little else is added by way of interpretation except the words,'This is my body' (19), which follow the blessing and breaking of the bread. The saying points in the direction of the longer versions in Mark and Matthew, where Jesus calls the bread his body because he sees himself as a victim about to be sacrificed, and his disciples can appropriate the benefits of this sacrifice by partaking of the victim's flesh. But Luke gives us no explicitly sacrificial imagery. The saying stands in complete isolation, and could just as well be interpreted as John interprets it in his gospel: Jesus gives men, in his body, the bread of eternal life.

It can now be seen how differently Luke presents the Passover supper. It is not merely that he reverses the order of the cup and the bread—the breaking of the bread had no fixed place in the Passover ritual, and his account can be fitted into its Passover context as well as the others. More striking is the fact that, instead of offering an interpretation of Jesus' words over the bread and the wine, Luke appears to concentrate on the significance of the whole meal as a foretaste of the greater realities of the coming kingdom of God. Only at the very end, with the words 'This is my body', does he come near the sacrificial imagery that occurs in Mark and Matthew. This is, in fact, the only vestige in his narrative of that understanding of the bread and wine which was adumbrated by Mark and Matthew, was slightly elaborated by Paul, and then became normative in the church at large.

Or so, at least, the matter stands as the main text runs in the NEB. But this is by no means the only, or even the best-attested, text. The majority of manuscripts give a longer text which brings the narrative much closer to that in Matthew and Mark, and also reproduces some details from Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 11.24-5. If this text is adopted, many of the peculiarities of Luke's account disappear: the usual order is restored of the cup following the bread, and an interpretation is given of Jesus' sayings over the bread and wine which corresponds closely with that in the other accounts. Even so, certain oddities remain, in particular the extra cup of wine shared by the disciples before the breaking of bread; and the critic is left with the very difficult task of explaining how the shorter version ever came into existence. Many believe that it is easier to explain the longer text as a subsequent amplification of an original shorter one than to explain why an original longer one should ever have been abbreviated; and it is for this reason that the NEB translators decided to relegate the longer version to a footnote.
top

Then a jealous dispute broke out (24). It is natural, in the light of subsequent Christian devotion, to think of the breaking of bread and the sharing of a cup as the most important, if not the only important, features of this meal. But this was not Luke's view. Luke saw the Passover supper as the occasion for a farewell speech by Jesus to his disciples. Such farewell speeches were one of the conventional devices used by ancient historians; Luke himself provides another example in Paul's farewell to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20.18-35), and the gospel of John considerably extends the convention in reporting a long discourse of Jesus to his disciples on the night before his death. For the content of the speech, Luke draws partly on sayings which are recorded in other gospels in different contexts. In particular, the question, Who among them should rank highest, was raised, according to Mark (10.41) and Matthew (20.24), as a resuh of the indiscreet request of 1 he two sons of Zebedee on the way up to Jerusalem. The answer given by Jesus here is very similar to the one recorded in those accounts. A new detail is the word "Benefactors" (25). Some of the Hellenistic kings of the east liked to adopt this title (Euergetes): by their wealth (however acquired) and liy the peace I hey procured for their kingdoms (however precarious) they were pleased to characterize their rule (however tyrannical) as a benefaction to their subjects. The use of the word here is perhaps ironical; at any rate the highest (26) among Jesus' disciples must have no such pretensions. As in the versions in Mark (10.42-5) and Matthew (20.25-8), the image invoked for this reversal of ordinary precedence is that of the one who sits at table or the servant who waits on him (27); but Jesus' final word, 'Yet here am I among you like a servant', though it rings true in a general sense, seems a little inappropriate in its setting here, where Jesus is to be imagined reclining at the head of the table. Did Luke know anything of the tradition in John's gospel that, before the meal began, Jesus washed his disciples' feet?

'You are the men who have stood firmly by me in my times of trial' (28). This surprising description stands in the place of the simple phrase, 'you my followers', in Matthew's version of the same saying (19.28). It is difficult to see to what moments in Jesus' life it can refer. The disciples were not present when he was "tempted" (the same word, in the Greek, as "tried") in the wilderness; and there are few occasions in the main part of Luke's narrative on which it could be said that the disciples distinguished themselves by their constancy in moments of trial. Moreover, in the "trials" that were about to begin, they first fell asleep when they might have supported Jesus in his suffering, and then forsook him altogether. The description, therefore, seems hardly appropriate—unless it is a reminiscence of some times of trial which happen not to be recorded in the gospels. On the other hand, after the resurrection, when the church was subjected to severe "trials", and Christians were notably "standing firm", the phrase will have sounded particularly apt; and since, in Luke's gospel, the disciples often stand as representative figures for Christians in general, we may suspect here a certain amount of reading back into the lifetime of Jesus the subsequent experience of the
church. 'And now I vest in you the kingship' (29). This translation is not quite accurate, and fails to evoke the associations present in the Greek word. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus calls the wine shared by the disciples at the Passover 'my blood of the covenant'. Luke says nothing of this, but it may be significant that he makes up for it by introducing the word "covenant" here. Jesus is not, at this moment, "vesting" his disciples with a kingship that will begin at once, but (to take the Greek word literally) "covenanting" or "bequeathing" to them a status which they will enjoy, not immediately, but after his death and resurrection. The symbol of this is one which has been used a few verses before—the coming heavenly banquet (30); and, in slightly uneasy juxtaposition, ← Though feasting in full view of one's humiliated enemies was traditionally one of the rewards to which the righteous looked forward: Psalm 23.5. a further image is added belonging not to the festivities of the new age but to the Judgement which will inaugurate it. Exactly as in Matthew's version of the saying (19.28), the disciples are promised a part to play at the coming Judgement: they will 'sit on thrones as judges'.
top

'Simon, Simon, take heed.' (31) All the gospels record Jesus' prediction of Peter's threefold denial. Matthew and Mark place it a little later, on the walk out of the city to Gethsemane; Luke and John set it in the context of Jesus' farewell discourse. Luke, moreover, introduces it with some words which seem, like the rest of the speech, to look further forward into the future. Peter would indeed (by the time this gospel was written) have gone to prison and death (33); and there would certainly be times when it was the 33 responsibility of any church leader, in times of stress, to lend strength (32) to his brothers ("brother" became almost a technical term for "fellow-Christian"). Jesus could have foreseen these things. But in any case there was a severe test to be undergone in the near future. We have seen that, instead of speculating about Judas' motives in betraying Jesus, the tradition ascribed the cause of his action to Satan (22.3). In the same way, there is no psychological reflection in the gospels about the disciples' behaviour in forsaking Jesus at his arrest. This too happened through the intervention of Satan. But this time Satan was not permitted to destroy his instruments; he was merely given leave (31) to put them to the test (as he was given leave to torment Job; see Job 1.12; 2.6). The metaphor used is a strange one (though well in the manner of Jesus). Wheat is either sifted in a coarse sieve to separate it from the chaff and other rubbish (in which case the wheat falls through), or else, after threshing, in a fine sieve to separate it from smaller seeds and impurities (in which case the wheat remains in the sieve). Either way, it is tested and separated out. What the disciples were about to undergo was an equally rigorous test; but because of Jesus' prayer, and with the aid, apparently, of Peter's timely recovery (when you have come to yourself (32) is only one of the possible meanings of the Greek word), they would—unlike Judas-survive the ordeal.

The last section of Jesus' speech (25-37) bears more closely still on what was about to happen. All the gospels record that when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane at least one of those who were with him was carrying a sword and attempted to use it (John's gospel actually gives the name of the slave who was wounded). This appeared to be incompatible with the instructions which Jesus had previously given to his followers (10.3-4), quite apart from being contrary to the spirit of Jesus' teaching, and from carrying with it the danger of trouble with the Roman authorities. Luke explains the circumstance by recording a saying of Jesus which seemed (if it was really spoken on this particular occasion) to authorize exceptional preparations. 'We have two swords here' (38)—certainly not enough for serious resistance, but enough (as perhaps Luke was the first to notice) to give fulfilment to an important prophecy (37). One of the first clues which the early church found to the meaning of Jesus' person and work (a clue which may indeed have been given by Jesus himself) was the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53. But one verse of that prophecy ran, "He was counted among the outlaws" (53.12). How could lliis be true of Jesus? In what sense could his disciples be regarded as "outside the law" or "transgressors of the law" (both nuances are present in the word translated outlaws)? A possible answer lay in the firm tradition that one of them had used a sword in Jesus' defence. From the strict Jewish point of view simply carrying a sword on the Sabbath (and so, a fortiori, on a festival such as the Passover) was probably forbidden, and from the Roman point of view its use in resisting arrest would have incurred severe penalties. If two of Jesus' disciples had swords on that particular night, this would have been enough to make the prophecy, "he was counted among the outlaws", seem to have come true.
top

Then he went out and made his way as usual to the Mount of Olives (39). Luke has a version of the following scene which is rather different from that of Matthew and Mark. The main elements are the same—the words of Jesus' prayer, the disciples falling asleep, and the warning about 'the hour of testing'. But all this is told more briefly, as if it were already well known to Luke's readers. Luke does not mention Gethsemane by name; he simply calls it the place, and suggests (rather to our surprise, since Matthew and Mark give the impression of a unique occasion) that Jesus made a habit of going there (as usual)—which perhaps explains how Judas was able to find him. Further, the sequence of events in Mark's version is drastically shortened; only a summary of Jesus' hours of prayer is given, and much less is said about the disciples—indeed their falling asleep is made to seem less culpable: Luke suggests they could not stay awake because they were worn out by grief (45).

But in return, Luke offers a description of Jesus at prayer which is quite unparalleled. To pray, Jesus knelt down (41), an unusual attitude (Jews usually stood to pray, sometimes prostrated themselves, only occasionally knelt). He received a vision of an angel from heaven bringing him strength (43): angels appear often enough in Luke's narrative, but nowhere in a role quite like this. Evidently the struggle was exceptionally severe (Luke probably thought of it as a struggle between Jesus and the devil rather than as a psychological struggle within Jesus himself), and despite the angel's help, Jesus underwent anguish of spirit (44). The Greek word so translated is agonia, from which our word "agony" is derived. It means, not so much an acute conflict of emotions, as an intense anxiety about what is going to happen. Jesus, we must suppose, was in suspense whether Satan would after all prevail, and Luke, by using the violent metaphor of "bloody sweat", ← Like clots of blood falling to the ground is a bizarre image (sweat can hardly be compared to bits of congealed blood) and, though accurate, is probably an over-pedantic translation. Luke doubtless meant "drops" of blood. The metaphor occurs in Greek literature from the time of Homer. leaves his readers in no doubt of the reality of Jesus' agitation.
top

While he was still speaking (47). Once again, the main points of Mark's narrative are here, but are much more briefly told; on the other hand, Luke adds one or two new details. The kiss, for Matthew and Mark, was simply the signal pre-arranged between Judas and the armed band; here it is the cue for outraged comment by Jesus. The momentary resistance of his followers (49) is placed, perhaps more logically, before the arrest of Jesus instead of after it, and is followed by a miracle of healing (which only Luke mentions, perhaps to indicate that Jesus did not intend his instructions about carrying swords to have such bitter consequences). The flight of the disciples is not mentioned (Luke seems to be avoiding anything which would discredit them); on the other hand, point is given to Jesus' reply to his captors by bringing on to the scene people of some responsibility—not just servants and police, but some of the chief priests and elders (52) themselves (representing the Sanhedrin), and officers of the temple police who were responsible for public order in the temple area, and would have been the men to take action had Jesus' conduct been in any way irresponsible when, day after day (53), he was in the temple. 'But this is your moment—the hour when darkness reigns'. It was no good arguing. It was not just that Jesus and his followers were utterly outnumbered; behind the crowd of armed men were supernatural forces of evil which were to be allowed a temporary victory. Satan (euphemistically called darkness) had already claimed Judas (22.3), though he was to be denied the other disciples (22.32); he still had more to gain before the end.
top

Christ before the High Priest. G van Honthorst.

They brought him to the High Priest's house. Luke arranges the next events somewhat differently from Mark and Matthew. If we had only his account we should not suspect that there were any legal proceedings during the night. Jesus seems to have been brought to Caiaphas' house simply for safe detention until the morning session, and this period of waiting provided a natural context for the stories of Peter's denial and the mocking of Jesus. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard for warmth and light. Peter, sitting in the group gathered round it, was three times identified. Jesus, meanwhile, was presumably held by the guards somewhere in the courtyard where he could turn and look at Peter—which, in Luke, is the climax of the episode, ← Most manuscripts add, after verse 61, "He went outside and wept bitterly". These words arc cxactly as in Matthew's account, though different from Mark. If Luke wrote them here, it would seem to follow that he was making use, not only of a source of his own and of Mark, but also of Matthew. But on other grounds it is not very likely that he knew Matthew's gospel, at least in its finished Greek form; and it is perhaps easier to assume, as the NEB translators do, that the words crept into most manuscripts of Luke through assimilation with Matthew. and we are left to imagine Peter's feelings. The mockery and insults heaped on Jesus are described as the guards' way of passing the time—not, as in Mark and Matthew, as a deliberate test of Jesus' Messiahship.
top

Crucified!

At this point Luke's account is quite different from Mark's and is, in many ways, more plausible. When day broke. The session of the Sanhedrin (of which the elders of the nation, chief priests, and doctors of the law together made up the membership) is described as taking place, not at night, but at the more normal time of early morning—official business, even at Rome, and still more in the east, was done between dawn and midday—and for all Luke says may have been held, not in the High Priest's house, but in the usual assembly chamber of the Council. No witnesses were called, no evidence presented. The object of the session seems to have been simply to establish from Jesus' own lips whether he admitted to being the Messiah 70 and therefore (in that sense at least) the Son of God (70). Jesus' reply was guarded, but for good reason. 'If I tell you ... you will not believe me; and if I ask questions, you will not answer' (67). Jesus could not admit to being the Messiah without qualification; to give a truthful answer, he would need opportunity to explain and define, and this was being denied him. However, the judges took this reserve as tantamount to a confession.
top

Chapter 23.

As soon as the council was satisfied that Jesus admitted to being (at least in some sense) the Messiah, they brought him before Pilate (1): Jesus was a threat to public order, and it was the governor's responsibility to deal with him. In this, they were acting as proper citizens of a country governed by Rome. A Roman official did not normally institute proceedings against criminals and troublemakers, but received charges brought by a third party against them. Having heard the charges and questioned the witnesses and the accused, it was for him to decide upon the legal nature of the alleged offence, and to pronounce the verdict and the sentence. Luke gives fuller details than the other gospels do of the charges that the Jewish authorities brought against Jesus. These charges appear as deliberate but entirely credible misrepresentations of events which are actually recorded in the gospel. Pilate seized upon Jesus' admission that he was the Messiah, which a implied, in some sense at least, the claim to be a king (2). If Jesus seriously claimed to be "king", then there might well be grounds for a charge of sedition against Rome. So Pilate questioned Jesus on this point. But he evidently did not regard Jesus' reply as sufficiently incriminating to proceed with the matter.
top

Jesus' accusers then slightly changed their tactics, and picked up in more detail one of their earlier charges. 'His teaching is causing disaffection among the people all through Judaea. It started from Galilee and has spread as far as this city' (5). Galilee was in the jurisdiction of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, and Pilate immediately remitted the prisoner to him (an episode which Luke alone records). It is unlikely that Pilate was obliged to do this merely because Jesus' country of origin lay outside his own jurisdiction: the misconduct of which Jesus was accused had come to a head in Jerusalem, and he had a perfect right to deal with it himself. On the other hand, the accusers of Jesus were now alleging charges which arose out of events in Galilee and which Pilate had no means of verifying, and lie could well have felt that this part of the case would be much better heard by the local ruler, who happened to be available in Jerusalem at that time. In addition, the remission of Jesus to Herod was perhaps intended as a courtesy. Luke says that it was anyhow received as such, and healed the strained relations between the two men. We have no other evidence that there had been a standing feud between them (12); but it is not improbable that the Roman administrator had frequent causes of difference with the part-Jewish ruler in the adjoining territory. Herod Antipas apparently had some influence with the Emperor at Rome—it was not for nothing that he had named his capital Tiberias, after the reigning Emperor. Pilate's gesture towards his influential neighbour is perfectly understandable.

We know from Josephus where Herod would have been: not in the great palace built by his father, for this was now the Roman governor's praetorium, but in the older palace built by the Hasmoneans, close to the walls of the temple area. When Herod saw Jesus he was greatly pleased (8). Hints of Herod's interest in Jesus were given earlier in the gospel (9.9; 13.31); but the hearing does not seem to have advanced matters, and it ended once again in a scene of mockery. Presumably the question of kingship was still the main charge against Jesus. Herod obviously regarded it as preposterous, and sent him back to Pilate dressed in a glorious robe (11).
top

Jesus before Pilate.

Pilate now called together the chief priests, councillors, and people (13). Neither Pilate nor Herod having found Jesus guilty on a charge of subversion (14), Pilate now publicly delivered his considered decision. He would let Jesus off with a warning, probably accompanied by a light flogging (16) (which was usual enough in such cases (Acts 22.25), though here the Greek word is a general one and could mean a "warning" alone). But at this point the crowd intervened to upset the normal course of justice. Mark and Matthew provide the explanation (which has found its way into many ancient manuscripts of Luke, but is probably not part of the original text) that it was customary for Pilate to release a prisoner at the festival—-which also explains incidentally what the crowd was doing there: they had come to claim their prisoner. Luke merely represents the crowd as demanding that if any prisoner were to be released it should be, not Jesus, but a certain Barabbas, who, because of his connection with a rising against the Romans (19), was perhaps understandably the more popular of the two. Not merely this, but they clamoured for Jesus' crucifixion, even though neither the Jewish authorities, nor Herod, nor Pilate, had found him guilty of any capital offence (22). The result of their clamour, in Luke's account, was a total miscarriage of justice. Their shouts prevailed and Pilate decided that they should have their way (24). There was no pretence at a fair trial or a regular verdict: it was the rule of the mob, connived at by the Roman governor. Luke, by this means, reaches the same conclusion as Matthew and Mark: it was the Jews who were guilty of Jesus' death, even though the punishment—crucifixion—was one that could only have been inflicted by the Roman authorities. But his presentation, if it exculpates Pilate from direct responsibility for Jesus' death, leaves him with a strange reputation for the administration of justice in his province, and also has the implication that it was not just the Jewish leaders, but the people of Jerusalem as a whole, who secured Jesus' condemnation.
top Simon carries the cross.

By a very slight change (26), Luke has made the episode of Simon from Cyrene carry a load of symbolic meaning. Simon does not just "carry Jesus' cross" as in Matthew and Mark; he walks behind Jesus carrying it, and so becomes the first to fulfil the condition of discipleship, 'he must take up his cross, and come with me' (9.23).
top

Great numbers of people followed (27). Luke's interest, throughout the gospel, in the people as a whole, and particularly in the group of women who followed Jesus, was perhaps his reason for mentioning this; and it gave him a cue for recording a further saying of Jesus. 'Daughters of Jerusalem' (28). The tone is prophetic, both in its language and in its intention. The women were weeping, ostensibly for Jesus. But the real meaning of their tears (this is how the Old Testament prophets worked, giving the true interpretation of signs that were misread by their contemporaries) was that they presaged the fate of Jerusalem. Jesus had already prophesied about the future: 'Alas for women who are with child in those days, or have children at the breast' (21.23). Here the same thing is expressed in different words, and an oracle from Hosea is added, which showed that the impending catastrophe must not be regarded as a transient disaster, but as the decisive judgement of God. Rather than face that, people would 'start saying to the mountains, "Fall on us", and to the hills, "Cover us"' (Hosea 10.8). Jesus ends his speech with a proverb. 'If these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?' To give the proverb its most immediate application (though we cannot be sure that this is what Jesus intended): if this sort of thing can happen even to a harmless preacher, what may not happen when there are real revolutionaries at work? This prophecy, at least, was gruesomely fulfilled during the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, A.D. 66-70.

'Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.' (34) Luke is the only evangelist to record this saying. ← And not all manuscripts of his gospel contain it (see NEB footnote) so that we cannot be sure that it is authentic. In its setting, the prayer appears to be for the executioners who were acting under Roman orders: they knew nothing of the issues involved, and they must not be held to bear the blame for the crucifixion any more than Pilate himself. But Luke doubtless saw more in the saying than this. The unconditional and radical character of God's forgiveness is often stressed in his gospel; and in Acts he makes it clear that this pardon was available even for the Jews, who through ignorance and failure to understand (Acts 13.26) had crucified their own Messiah (Acts 2.36-8). Even they had the excuse that "they did not know what they were doing". Even they could be forgiven.

In his gospel Luke often abbreviates an episode we know from Mark and Matthew, and then adds a new element of his own. So here: the mockery is told more economically, but a new light is thrown on it by the reactions of the two criminals. To one criminal, as to all the mockers, Jesus was a false pretender: his impending death proved the absurdity of his claims. But the other criminal accepted that Jesus would, nevertheless, "come to his throne" (42)—that is, that there was some sense in which the title over Jesus' head would be shown to be true. This could doubtless only happen in that hoped-for age when the Messiah would inaugurate the glorious kingdom of his elect people. The criminal begged that, through Jesus' "remembrance" of him, he too would have a place in that kingdom. "He got more than he asked for" is an old comment on this passage. Whatever theoretical picture the Jews officially held of the after-life (involving first a period of waiting, then the moment of general resurrection, judgement, and apportioning of reward), there was another far simpler way of talking about life after death which perhaps the majority of people in Palestine tended to adopt and which Jesus himself felt able to make use of (for instance, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus): immediately after death, the individual expected to be judged by God and awarded his appropriate punishment or reward. It is this more popular way of seeing the matter that seems to be reflected in Jesus' reply to the criminal, 'Today you shall be with me in Paradise.' (43) As in all languages and cultures, there were many names for the reward of the just (as for the condemnation of the wicked). Paradise was originally the sumptuous garden of a Persian monarch. When the Jews used the word, they probably thought of the Garden of Eden. Jesus' promise to the criminal was in language he could easily understand: God would grant him the reward of the just. His faith that Jesus was after all a "king" made him the first to inherit the glorious destiny of all who acknowledged Jesus as their Lord.
top

The sun's light failed (45). This was Luke's explanation of the darkness. If he meant that there was an eclipse (which is the usual meaning of the Greek word he uses), ← It is so translated in the First Edition of NEB. his explanation was physically impossible: there can be no eclipse of the sun at full moon (the Passover was always at full moon), and in any case an eclipse lasts only a few minutes. But Luke certainly regarded the darkness as a miracle, and these objections will hardly have occurred to him; one way or another, he was convinced that the sun's light failed. Mark and Matthew both report that Jesus died with a cry, Luke alone informs us what it was: a verse from a psalm, 'Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit' (46) (Psalm 31.6). Perhaps someone heard it, perhaps it was an early Christian intuition that Jesus had made his own this serene Old Testament prayer (drawn from another of the "righteous sufferer" psalms) and prefaced it with his characteristic address to God, 'Father'. The last word rests (as in Mark and Matthew) with the centurion (47). What impressed him was evidently Jesus' bearing on the cross (and not the supernatural portents which accompanied his death, as in Matthew's version). But his exclamation is given in a form which would perhaps have come more naturally to such a man than the theologically pregnant confession (' Son of God') attributed to him by Mark and Matthew. 'Beyond all doubt', he said, 'this man was innocent.' ← Literally, "just" or "righteous". But the point of the sentence was not to pass a relative moral judgement on Jesus, but to show which side the centurion had taken: guilty or innocent, blasphemer or man of God, false or true. The translation "innocent" catches this well enough.

At this the mood of the onlookers seems to change from mockery to sympathy or remorse. With the rather stylized literary expression, beating their breasts (48), the crowd is described as already perhaps regretting its part in the crucifixion of Jesus and preparing for the repentance which (as Luke will soon describe in his second volume) will be induced in many of them by the preaching of the apostles.


Death of Jesus.

Jesus' friends, and the women who had accompanied him from Galilee (49), showed their loyalty by remaining near by until the end. And Joseph of Arimathaea, out of sympathy with Jesus' cause, obtained from Pilate the body for burial. Luke tells this episode in his own way. In Mark, Joseph's motive seems to be One of ordinary Jewish piety: no dead body must be left exposed after nightfall. In Matthew, Joseph is a secret disciple, and acts out of loyalty to the master. But in Luke, Joseph takes his place among the other pious Jews (men who looked forward to the kingdom of God (51)) on the fringe of the gospel story who, without being disciples, were good and upright (like Zechariah and Elizabeth, 1.6, and Simeon, 2.25); and his goodness and uprightness were shown precisely in that he dissociated himself from the action of the Council, and wished to make some kind of amends—in other words, Luke characteristically offers a moral explanation for Joseph's action which, in its main details, he records exactly as it stands in Mark.
top

Chapter 24.

It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin (23.54). This is a very precise note of time: ← The Greek word means, not "about to begin", but "dawning", and is an odd way of saying that the Sabbath evening was beginning. But the translation given, which assumes that the word could be used very loosely, seems the only way to make sense of Luke's sentence. There is some evidence that contemporary Jewish writers used a similar idiom, which may have been translated literally into Greek at an early stage of the Gospel tradition. the Sabbath began at sunset on what non-Jews would naturally call "Friday evening". Luke is carefully building up his effect: the women evidently meant to return, and we are told exactly how they spent the intervening time, and why they came back only on the Sunday morning (24.1)—if they had come earlier they would have broken the Sabbath commandment. In what follows, the details (including the improbable one that they still thought of anointing Jesus' body with spices) are as in Mark, but the emphasis is slightly shifted. The main fact in the story is still that the tomb was empty; but this only put the women utterly at a loss (4). The important element is now the declaration of the angels (two angels have taken the place of one in Mark, but the effect is the same: the essential thing is the angelic vision, not the number of angelic beings). No more than an echo remains of the puzzling promise that Jesus will meet his disciples in Galilee (Mark 16.7; Matthew 28.7). Galilee is only mentioned as the place where Jesus uttered a prophecy of his resurrection. And the resurrection was now proved to have taken place, not so much by the empty tomb, as by the realization that the prophecy had been fulfilled. It was this realization which the women hastened to tell the apostles. Luke does not name them until this point. His list agrees with that of Mark and Matthew, except that Joanna (see above on 8.2) takes the place of Salome. Like both Mark and Matthew, he has his own explanation of why their experience did not pass straight into the proclamation of the first Christians: they were not believed.
top

That same day (13). This story occurs only in Luke; indeed, all the gospels, after having run closely together in their accounts of the trial and execution, diverge markedly when they come to the circumstances of the resurrection, and it is impossible to fit their accounts together into a single coherent scheme. The reason for this may well be that the conviction that Jesus had "risen from the dead" was not reached at the same time and in the same way by all the disciples, and many different stories about these critical days must have been current (we know in any case from 1 Corinthians 15.5-7 that there were more appearances of the risen Christ than are recorded in the gospels). Each evangelist will have chosen to narrate the particular experiences which seemed to bring out most clearly the meaning of this almost unimaginable event-something too good to be true, as the NEB expresses (41) it with perhaps unnecessary banality—and we can expect to find a vein of deliberate teaching in each of the episodes. Luke's story, even though the mysterious stranger and his mysterious disappearance give it at first a slightly fairy-tale atmosphere, is nevertheless precise in its details. The name of the village is given, and its distance from Jerusalem; and though there are certain difficulties in identifying it, there is every reason to believe that it existed. ← The present village of Amwas stands on the site of the important Roman town of Nicopolis, some eighteen miles north-west of Jerusalem. In the third century this town was lii'mly believed to be the Emmaus of the gospel, and there are the remains of a large Byzantine basilica there. But the distance does not agree with Luke's figure of "60 stades" (seven miles). Consequently the Crusaders built a church exactly 60 stades along the same road, and thereby started a second tradition. A third possibility is a village which was called Koloniyeh after the Romans had planted a "colony " there, but which in Jesus' time was certainly called Emmaus. This lies on the Jaffa road, some four miles north-west of Jerusalem. II this is the true site, the discrepancy of Luke's seven miles is not serious. One of the two disciples is also named: Cleopas (short for Cleopatros, a not uncommon name: he may have been the Clopas who was the husband of a certain Mary, John 19.25). Presumably his home was at Emmaus; and the disciples' offer of hospitality to the stranger rings true for the east: by early afternoon the main part of the day is thought to be over. The stranger made the proper show of reluctance—he made as if to continue his journey—but no one liked to be still on the road too late in the day (for darkness falls very rapidly in Palestine), and he soon gave in and stayed for a meal. At his sudden departure the disciples could still have had an hour or two's daylight in which to walk back rapidly to Jerusalem.

The significance of the story is concentrated in two points. First, Jesus explained to them the passages which referred to himself in every part of the scriptures (27). The various beliefs which Jesus' contemporaries held about the coming Messiah were all based on passages of Scripture which could be interpreted as prophetic references to him. But the picture which was usually obtained from these sources was of a glorious and powerful figure who would immediately inaugurate a new age. In the course of his teaching, Jesus had frequently tried to modify this picture by replacing the central figure with another, the Son of Man, and by insisting on the suffering which must precede glorification, both for himself and for those who followed him. Nevertheless, he had not succeeded in preparing his disciples for the apparent catastrophe of the crucifixion, which they found quite impossible to reconcile with any of their existing ideas of what a Messiah should be. Nevertheless, after the resurrection, they came to see that Jesus' humiliation and death did in fact "fulfil" Scripture as much as his glorification; or (to put it the other way round) that the many passages in the Old Testament about a Righteous Sufferer pointed to the same person as those which were more usually quoted in support of the expectation of a divinely sent Deliverer. Thus Christianity very soon gave to its adherents a distinctive approach to the Old Testament quite different from that current among the Jews; and Jesus is here shown to have given his authority to this method of interpretation.

This is my body!

The other point of significance is the moment at which their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. Jesus took bread ... said the blessing ... broke the bread—the precise actions of his solemn last supper three days previously. That last supper was continued by Christians whenever they met together for the Eucharist. It was their experience that when they did this the Lord was there. The meal was the right and inevitable moment for the two strangely blinded disciples to recognize the risen Christ.
top

They returned to Jerusalem and found that meanwhile Jesus had appeared to Simon (34)—that is, to Simon Peter: this is confirmed by Paul (1 Corinthians 15.4) though it is not narrated in any of the gospels. Jesus' next appearance is also clearly recorded for a purpose. They thought they were seeing a ghost; and the emphasis on their being able to touch Jesus, and on his human appetite, was meant to show them that this was not a ghost-story. But not only them: doubtless there were still many people when this gospel was written who thought they could explain away the resurrection (and so discredit Christianity) by suggesting that the disciples had only seen a ghost. The evidence of Jesus' tangibility continued to be important long after the first Easter day.

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures (45). Jesus' magisterial lesson in the right understanding of the Old Testament is repeated—but with an important addition: all this was to be proclaimed to all nations (47). How this came to be fulfilled is the subject of Luke's next volume, Acts of the Apostles, and there is no real break in the story. Nevertheless, the narrative up to this point has been a "gospel", like the other gospels, and needs to end, as they do, with Jesus' last appearance on earth. So a brief summary is given of the events which fill the first chapters of Acts, ← Some manuscripts make this summary correspond more closely to the account of the Ascension in Acts 1. See the footnote in NEB and below on Acts 1.1-10. and the gospel ends, as it began, in the temple at Jerusalem. But this is not really the end. The disciples only begin from Jerusalem. Luke has still to tell the story of how Christianity reached Rome.
top