Lukes Gospel- AS CCEA Notes


`                                                 Luke’s gospel notes AS

theme 1


A gospel of prayer

One of the features of the gospel of Luke is that it is a gospel of prayer. Luke alone showed a marked interest in the private prayer life of Jesus. In the book of Luke, one would discover three different parables on prayer, for example, the parables of the “friend at midnight”, “the Pharasee and the Publican” and “the unrighteous judge”. Also when his disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, it was after Jesus himself had finished praying. Again, at cardinal points in his life and ministry, Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed at his baptism and during his transfiguration, for example. Luke was interested in prayer; that is why his book is called a book of prayer.

Interest in women

Another feature of the book is that it is interested in women. Luke gives a lot of space for women and women’s issues in his gospel. Luke wrote about the Prophetess Anna, who, it was said was not going to die until she had seen the savior with her eyes. Luke vividly captured her feelings and reactions when she saw the Christ. Luke also recorded the story of the widow at Nain. This makes Luke’s gospel a gospel of women.

Gospel of the Holy Spirit

The other characteristic with which the book of Luke is associated is the fact that it is a gospel of the Holy Spirit. In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, the Holy Spirit features highly. Also, in the account of the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was described as having descended in a bodily form like a dove. Jesus himself is recorded to have said that “the spirit of God is upon me”. This goes to prove that Luke’s gospel is gospel of the Holy Spirit.

A gospel of praise

The book of Luke is also described as a book of praise and joy. In the early parts of his book, especially, Luke recorded the “Benedictus”, the “Ave Maria” and the “Magnificat”. These were songs that were offered in praise of God and done with joy in the hearts of the people who offered them.


Luke’s gospel is also tainted with a global outlook. It sought to appeal to the world rather than to the Hebrews exclusively. For example, Luke traced the family tree of Jesus to Adam, who is seen as the father of the human race and not to Abraham, who is considered as the father of the Jews, as Matthew did. Another example of universalism is the fact that when the child Jesus’ life was in danger, God appeared to Joseph and told him to flee to Egypt, a gentile nation.

A gospel of people

Luke had a lot of interest in individuals. He showed a lot of interest in the personal lives of people. It is one reason his book is called a gospel of people. He wrote about the personal experience of the woman called Elizabeth, the wife of Zachariah and how she had a baby in her old age. He wrote about Zacchaeus and the relationship between Martha and Jesus. That is why it is called the gospel of people.

Was Luke a reliable historian?
Christian apologists and missionaries believe that Luke was “inspired” and “inerrant,” even though Luke himself does not make such a claim in his books (Gospel according to Luke and Acts). One of most popular argument often proposed by missionaries as “evidence” that Luke was “inspired”, or at least someone who we can blindly trust without second thoughts, is as follows: he was an excellent historian who conducted a careful investigation during the course of composing his books. It is claimed that Luke accurately named many countries, cities, that he accurately described certain events of his time, correctly named various officials with their proper titles and referred to places which have only recently been discovered. Therefore, this somehow “proves”, according to the apologists, that Luke’s story can be trusted in its entirety and that there is no room for doubts regarding his claims whatsoever.

1.    We refer to the author as “Luke” simply for the sake of convenience and not because we believe that Luke authored the third Gospel and the Book of Acts. We might as well call the author “Max”, but because the third gospel is commonly known as the “Gospel according to Luke,” the name of Luke is retained.

·         According to critical scholars, the third gospel, like all the gospels, is anonymously authored

·         Nonetheless, even if we accept the traditional authorship claim, it remains that Luke was a non-eyewitness – he did not witness any of the alleged events from the life of Jesus first hand.

·         Luke was a follower of Paul.

·          According to the Raymond Brown, it is possible that Luke, a minor figure who travelled with Paul for some time, wrote the third gospel and the book of Acts decades after Paul’s death. Brown writes: “

“We have no way of being certain that he was Luke, as affirmed by 2nd-century tradition; but there is no serious reason to propose a different candidate.

·         It should be noted that the author of the third gospel and Acts nowhere claims to have been “inspired” by a higher source to write his accounts. Such arguments are listed by one missionary as follows:

·         Independent archaeological research has solidified the authenticity and the historical reliability of the New Testament. Some of the discoveries include:

1.    Luke refers to Lysanias as being the tetrarch of Abilene at the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, circa 27 A. D. (Luke 3:1) Historians accused Luke of being in error, noting that the only Lysanias known was the one killed in 36 B. C. Now, however, an inscription found near Damascus refers to “Freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch” and is dated from 14 and 29 A. D.

  1. Paul, writing to the Romans, speaks of the city treasurer Erastus (Romans 16:23). A 1929 excavation in Corinth unearthed a pavement inscribed with these words: ERASTVSPRO:AED:P:STRAVIT: (“Erastus curator of public buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.”)
  2. Luke mentions a riot in the city of Ephesus which took place in a theatre (Acts 19:23-41). The theatre has now been excavated and has a seating capacity of 25,000.
  3. Acts 21 records an incident which broke out between Paul and certain Jews from Asia. These Jews accused Paul of defiling the Temple by allowing Trophimus, a Gentile, to enter it. In 1871, Greek inscriptions were found, now housed in Istanbul which read:


5.    Luke addresses Gallio with the title Proconsul (Acts 18:12). A Delphi inscription verifies this when it states, “As Lucius JuniusGallio, my friend, and the Proconsul of Achaia …”

6.    Luke calls Publicus, the chief man of Malta, “First man of the Island.” (Acts 28:7) Inscriptions now found do confirm Publicus as the “First man”. (Josh McDowell, The Best of Josh Mcdowell: A Ready Defense, pp. 110-111)

·         Ramsey; believed that the New Testament, particularly the books of Luke and Acts, were second-century forgeries.

·         he was compelled to admit that the New Testament was a first-century compilation and that the Bible is historically reliable.

Dr Ramsey stated: “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy … this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”

Ramsey further said: “Luke is unsurpassed in respects of its trustworthiness.” (Josh McDowell, The Best of Josh Mcdowell: A Ready Defense, pp. 108-109)

1.    Luke was able to name the various cities in existence in his time, accurately name officials of his time with their correct titles, name certain countries of his time, mention a theatre he knew about which has recently been discovered and accurately mention certain religious rites and practices of the time? There is nothing “extraordinary”about this. This only shows that Luke was a person who had basic education and was familiar with his surroundings. These are utterly ordinary matters and such type of accuracies do not in any way suggest that the person or book is “extraordinary”, “special”, or in any way heavenly “inspired”.

2.    Secondly, there are also grave inaccuracies within Luke’s gospel. The following are some inaccuracies and discrepancies within Luke’s Gospel and Acts over which there is widespread agreement among scholars, including devout Christian scholars:

v  Luke forged a genealogy for Jesus even though he had no father. The genealogy has no historical standing. Worse, his genealogy contradicts the one forged by Matthew.

v  Luke provides an infancy narrative which is irreconcilable with the infancy narrative provided by Matthew.

v  Luke mentions a census under Quirnius during the birth of Jesus which is almost universally recognized as a major historical blunder on Luke’s part.

3.    In addition to the difficulties raised by a detailed comparison of the two birth narratives found in the New Testament, serious historical problems are raised by the familiar stories found in Luke alone.8 

4.    In Acts, Luke has Gamaliel referring to a revolt by Theudas which in fact took place years later after his speech. Again, there is widespread agreement among Christian scholars that Luke was in error on this occasion.

5.    There is also general agreement among New Testament scholars that the speeches found in Acts are either the creations or adaptions of Luke.9 

6.    Furthermore, Luke’s story in Acts contradicts at a number of points with the information within the authentic Pauline epistles, something also generally acknowledged by scholars. Therefore Luke was a very errant writer, who made both mistakes and accuracies in his writings.10

v  Luke took 50% of his gospel from Mark — a secondary source authored by a non-eyewitness. Why would Luke do this if we are to suppose that he was accurately researching the issues and shifting through reliable first-hand sources? We know from Luke’s opening words that he did not have a high regard for the previous narratives. Evangelical scholar Donald Guthrie writes:

Luke’s preface is illuminating in regard to his own approach to his task. He claims to have made a comprehensive and accurate survey over a considerable period, which throws a good deal of light on his seriousness of purpose. Moreover, Luke admits that others had previously attempted the same task, but his words imply that he found them unsatisfactory…11


other ways in which luke used mark

v  Luke states at the beginning his intention to write carefully and in an orderly manner (1:3); accordingly he rearranges Marcan sequence to accomplish that goal, e.g., Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is put at the opening of the Galilean ministry rather than after some time had elapsed (Luke 4:16-30 vs. Mark 6:1-6) in order to explain why his Galilean ministry wascentered at Capernaum; the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is placed before the call of Simon and companions (4:38-5:11 vs. Mark 1:16-31) in order to make more logical Simon’s willingness to follow Jesus; Peter’s denials of Jesus are put before the Sanhedrin trial in preference to Mark’s complicated interweaving of the two. At times Luke’s orderliness is reflected in avoiding Marcan doublets (Luke does not report the second multiplication of loaves) whereas Matt likes to double features and persons. Yet Luke has a double sending out of the apostles/disciples (9:1-2; 10:1).

v  Because of changes made in material received from Mark, Luke occasionally creates inconsistencies, e.g., although in Luke 5:30 the partners in the conversation are “the Pharisees and their scribes,” 5:33 speaks of “the disciples of the Pharisees,” as if the Pharisees were not present; although in 18:32-33 Luke takes over from Mark the prediction that Jesus will be mocked, scourged, and spit on by the Gentiles, Luke (unlike Mark 15:16-20) never fulfills that prediction; Luke has changed the Marcan order of the denials of Peter and the Jewish mockery of Jesus but forgotten to insert the proper name of Jesus in the new sequence, so that at first blush Luke 22:63, in having “him” mocked and beaten, seems to refer to Peter, not Jesus. See also n. 67 above.

v  Luke, even more than Matt, eliminates or changes passages in Mark unfavorable to those whose subsequent career makes them worthy of respect, e.g., Luke omits Mark 3:21,33,34 and (in 4:24) changes Mark 6:4 in order to avoid references detrimental to Jesus’ family; Luke omits Mark 8:22-26 which dramatizes the slowness of the disciples to see, and Mark 8:33 where Jesus calls Peter “Satan”; in the passion Luke omits the predicted failure of the disciples, Jesus’ finding them asleep three times, and their flight as reported in Mark 14:27,40-41,51-52.

v  Reflecting Christological sensibilities, Luke is more reverential about Jesus and avoids passages that might make him seem emotional, harsh, or weak, e.g., Luke eliminates: Mark 1:41,43 where Jesus is moved with pity or is stern; Mark 4:39 where Jesus speaks directly to the sea; Mark 10:14a where Jesus is indignant; Mark 11:15b where Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers; Mark 11:20-25 where Jesus curses a fig tree; Mark 13:32 where Jesus says that the Son does not know the day or the hour; Mark 14:33-34 where Jesus is troubled and his soul is sorrowful unto death; Mark 15:34 where Jesus speaks of God forsaking him.

v  Luke stresses detachment from possessions, not only in his special material (L), as we shall see below, but also in changes he makes in Mark, e.g., followers of the Lucan Jesus leave everything (5:11,28), and the Twelve are forbidden to take even a staff (9:3).

v  Luke eliminates Mark’s transcribed Aramaic names and words (even some that Matt includes) presumably because they were not meaningful to the intended audience, e.g., omission of Boanerges, Gethsemane, Golgotha, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.

v  Luke may make Marcan information more precise, presumably for better story flow, greater effect, or clarity, e.g., Luke 6:6 specifies that the next scene (Mark 3:1: “again”) took place “on another Sabbath”; Luke 6:6 specifies “the right hand” and 22:50 “the right ear”; Luke 21:20 clarifies or substitutes for Mark’s “abomination of desolation”.14

The important point to note here is that Luke has used Mark and made a number of changes to its contents. New Testament scholars compare Luke and Mark to see how Luke is using his source (Mark) and adapting it. Mark is obviously not the only source employed by Luke, but since we know that he has altered the Markan stories in a variety of ways, it is only logical and reasonable to conclude that Luke must have done the same with the other sources at his disposal – he must have altered them as well to suit his agenda and presuppositions. Therefore, the fact that Luke accurately mentions certain ordinary details, such as naming cities correctly etc., does not follow that his story in its entirety can be trusted blindly. Thus the statement that “honest sceptics are now forced to agree that the Bible is historically accurate and reliable” is nothing more than nonsense. Critical scholars certainly do not regard Luke, or any book of the Bible, in its entirety to be “historically accurate and reliable” just because certain ordinary details are recorded accurately within them.

v  we come across a fairly ordinary writer who utilises sources at his disposal, making a variety of changes to them to suit his theological agenda and one who makes errors at times and also gets certain facts right. None of the examples presented by these apologists suggests that the “Bible” (which is a collection of many individual books and letters by authors of varying degrees of education and literacy) is “historically reliable” as a whole.

The late Raymond Brown made a remark that Luke would have been a fitting candidate for membership in the brotherhood of Hellenistic historians, but he would never be made the president of the society.15 

Dating of lukes gospel

As for the dating of Luke and Acts, most scholars place it in the 80 – 100 AD period. For instance, Paula Fredriksen places Luke between c. 90 – 100.4 E. P. Sanders dates the final form of the gospels between the years 70 and 90.5Theissen and Merz place Luke anywhere between 70 C.E to 140/150 C.E — more in the first half of this period6 The late Catholic scholar and priest, Raymond Brown, placed Luke in the year 85 — give or take five to ten years7

Why did Luke write the gospel? 

1. a) an "ordered account", writting an accurate account for Theophilus. Clarifying life and teachings of Jesus. Undertakes duty as a jesus' time historian, but not what we see as a historian in the 20th century. 

2.  APOLOGETIC purpose of his gosep. Wanted to show christianity was not illegal and an break off from judaism. Shows Jesus, being non violent, mission of peace, pilate was not responsible for his death, connection between o.t and his mission. 

3. Defended christiianity from heresies. Heresy for example sayjesus rose spiritually while teachings would say bodily.

4.  Luke wanted to show Jesus' mission as Universal e.g the universal Saviour, for all people including gentiles, samaritans, widows, women etc.

5) LUKE wanted to show holy spirit of the PENTECOST was still with the church, a constant continuation.

Authorship of Luke's Gospel

Why do we think Luke was the writter of the gospel?

1) Traditionally it is associated to Luke, and Luke with Paul.

Come from 3 differenet traditional sources that we can rely on independantly:

• 170-180 AD Luke mentioned as author, also as doctor who worked with Paul, wasnt a eye witness of events but was a " Follow of the Apostles" -  written in the MURATORIAN CANON. Gospel then seen as apostolic as he learned from apostles. • Notion of Luke as author held by early church fathers such as; IRANAUES, EUSEBIUS, ORIGIN, TERTULLIAN AND JEROME. Jerome was from Greece like Luke. Said gospel was written FOR GREEKS BY A GREEK. • ANTI-MARCIONITE PROLOGUE, states that Luke was a syrian of antioch (GREECE), a physician and a follower of PAUL/APOSTLES.

These may not be seen as additional materail as stated in acts and apostle, may be viewed as unreliable source also.


a) writer of acts and gospel, implaceed WE passages, 27:1 " decided that WE should sale to Italy." And 28:16 "When we arrived in Rome." Both from act of apostles.

Author speaks in first person, as if actually there. This suggests he was present with Paul and was therefore his companion on his journey. But this could have been written by anyone? Why say Luke wrote it? Some of followers of Paul are excluded such as Silas and Timothy who were both mentioned in Acts.

b) HOBART, author has to be a doctor!

Medical Knowledge shown i.e

5:12 " Full of Leprosy" in later stages.

4:38 " a great fever "

speaks of also a surgical needle rather than a domestic one in parable of rich young man. This indicates some medical training.

c) HAD compasion towards doctors unlike others such as MARK.

example Mk 5:26 " Even though she had been treated by many doctors. She had spent all her money, but instead of getting better she got worse all the time.

example Lk 8:43 " she had spent all she had on doctors but no one had been able to cure her."

Shows he was a doctor as slightly more biased towards Doctors, showing in Lk8:43 it was not their fault.

d) PAUL wrote the COLOSSIANS which mention Luke as, " LUKE, OUR DEAR DOCTOR.."

This accounts not for an eye witness, but was familiar with Paul and the med knowledge in gospel of Luke.

However CADBURY suggests his med knowledge is no greater than Josephus or Lucian.

" The style of LUke bears no more evidence of medical training than does the language of other writers who were not physicians..." Cadbury does not believe this point alone makes Luke the guaranteed author of the gospel and acts.

What do we know about him then?

1) Author of third gospel, doctor, follower of paul and hellenistic greek gentile

2) Was companion of Paul, WE passages, FITZYMER states, " One credible view of these passages is that they represent a diary of the author, later used in the composition of the acts."

3) well travelled doctor, who went with Paul known as " Luke, Our dear doctor( PHysician)." COL 4:14

4) CAIRD says he is a well educated hellenistic writer who shows great style of writing and classical greek. Easily adapted style of writing to suit situation i.e spoken greek and bible greek.

5) Gentile writing for gentile, greek mother tongue. GENEALOGOY of Jesus goes back to adam and not abraham. Also shows favour to gentiles, e.g universal kingdom, parable of the great feast and the good samariatan.

6) Paul states him as non jewish origin " come over the circumcision " COL 4:10-14.

7) well knowledgeable in the field of judaism and old testament writing. Quotes SEPUAGINT, e.g the magnificat, and use of scripture in tempatations.

FITZYMER States he was a non jewish semetic writer,

", but as a non JEWISH SEMITE, a native of ANTIOCH, where he was well educated in a hellenistic atmosphere and culture. "


not familiar with Paul or theological ideas, possibley not LUKE.

• Calls PAUL GREAT ORATOR, but in Pauls letter to the corinthians they dont consider him a preacher. Possibley just modesty though • PAUL had a gentile mission, in acts he is backed by apostles, but in letters in shows he has difficulties with the likes of peter and other apostles about his mission • Acts shows Paul as loyal to the law, letter to GALATIANS he considers scandalous the idea of cirumcision, still loyal although may not agree with the law. • DIDNT mention Pauls letter, possibley no importance at general time of writing gospel and acts. • not familiar with theological ideas such as end of day escatology or concept of law and christology, but they do not have to be carbon copies of each other as everyone has different ideas.

To Conclude on this sub topic, FITZYMER STATES,

" To dismiss the substance of tradition that Luke wrote the third gospe and acts seems GRATUITOUS."

No absolute definitive truth on the evangelist of the third gospel and acts, more than likely is that LUKE was author of both going by weight of evidence given

Theme 2- Key narratives

The infancy Narrative


1.    Within the Gospel: Luke almost certainly added on what we call the Infancy Narrative (chapters 1 & 2) after he’d written the rest of the Gospel.

§  He initially began his Gospel at the same point that Mark did – with John the Baptist. Chapter 3 reads like an opening chapter, and includes Luke’s genealogy of Jesus. Apart from the opening four verses addressing Theophilus (which could equally well lead into Chapter 3), Chapters 1 and 2 form a self-contained unit, carefully constructed, which is both a preparation for so many of the themes in the rest of the Gospel and a miniature Gospel in its own right.

§   Note also that Acts 1 plays the same introductory cameo role for Luke’s story of the Apostolic Church in Acts as Luke 1-2 does for his Gospel, and breathes the same Spirit-filled atmosphere, with Mary at the heart of 2 both. We could say that Luke 1-2 is the ‘segue’ from the Old Testament to the Gospel, and Acts 1 the ‘segue’ from Luke’s Gospel to the Acts of the Apostles, reflecting Luke’s three part historical schema: Israel, the Christ event; the period of the Church. 2. Within the Infancy Narrative. [See ‘Appendix 1: The Structure of the Lucan narrative: A diptych’] How has Luke organised his story? Note two things in particular

§  The parallelism between the stories about John the Baptist and Jesus

§   The way Luke ‘elevates’ the details in Jesus’ story to emphasise the primacy of Jesus (e.g. barrenness overcome cf virginal conception) In other words, Jesus and John are like but unlike; there’s continuity and discontinuity; in Jesus something new and unique is beginning. It’s very possible that this is one instance of the process we see in the New Testament which smoothes out any lingering rivalry between the disciples of Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist, by progressively subordinating the Baptist into the role of a ‘Forerunner’ of Jesus the Messiah.

§  But it’s also one of the ways in which Luke very skilfully effects the transition from the Old Israel and the Old Covenant to the new dispensation in Jesus Christ. The Diptych is saturated with Old Testament references and echoes and associations, and John is the final embodiment of the Old Covenant. Let’s now look at the content of Luke’s Infancy Narrative under seven headings:


2.    Mary 3. Anawim 4. Links with the Old Testament 5. The place of Jerusalem 6. Universal mission 7. Historicity issues 1. Christology •

§  Titles: After the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit’s empowering of the disciples, the Early Church reflected again and again on the identity of Jesus and its implications. We can see how these reflections developed by comparing the four Gospels with one another (and of course with the various New Testament Epistles which precede the Gospels).

§   The Christology ‘heightens’ from Mark through to John, and later descriptive titles tend to be retrojected back into the gospel narratives. Luke is no exception, and heightens the public use of such terms as ‘Lord”, ‘Son of God’, ‘Messiah’, ‘King’, and ‘Saviour’ (peculiar to Luke among the Synoptic Gospels). All five are used in the Infancy Narrative. o ‘Lord’ - 1:17, 43, 76; 2:11 o ‘Son of God’/ ‘Son of the Most High’ - 1:32, 35, 2:49 o ‘Messiah’ – 2:11, 26 o ‘King’ – 1:32,33 o ‘Saviour’ - (1:69), 2:11 Also used are ‘Son of David’, ‘Holy’, ‘Light for revelation to the Gentiles’, ‘Glory to the people Israel’.

§  In these titles are a whole cluster of claims about who Jesus is, and a foreshadowing of the themes of the Gospel. Parallel to all this is Luke’s heightening of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Public Ministry of Jesus – and here in the Infancy Narrative, right at the beginning, the 3 o John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit - 1:15 o The Holy Spirit will come upon Mary – 1:35 o Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit - 1:41 o Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit - 1:67 o The Holy Spirit rests on Simeon – 2:25 o Revelation to Simeon by the Holy Spirit – 2:26 And remember, the Spirit (of prophecy) was understood to have been absent from Israel since the last of those we now term the ‘canonical prophets’.

§  The return of the Spirit therefore has eschatological significance. Something is afoot! Fast forward to Luke 3-4 (the baptism and temptation of Jesus) and Luke 4 (the opening sermon of Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue: ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me’) •

§   The Virgin Birth or (better) Conception: This is no invention of Luke. At the very least, the tradition predates both Luke and Matthew, who draw on a common tradition. The divergences between the two Infancy narratives are wide and real, but leave the central affirmations intact

§  Note that Luke, unlike John and Paul, suggests nothing of the pre-existence of Jesus. Nor is there any explicit statement of Incarnation equivalent to John’s ‘the Word was made flesh’ (John 1:14). But for Luke, the uniqueness of Jesus’ filial relation to the Father is clear in Luke 1:35. Jesus was not ‘adopted’ at his Resurrection; he was understood to be Son of God from birth. How would such a tradition have developed? There are various answers: o It was based on family secrets (the ‘memoirs’ of Joseph or Mary) BUT why didn’t other writers pick up this tradition, and why the divergences between Luke and Matthew? o It was a deduction made by early Christians from the title ‘Son of God’ BUT why would anyone do so, given that the title was widespread and applied with widely different meanings in the ancient world? o It was a borrowing from the pagan world, which knows of heroes born of gods and human women BUT all such stories involved the (male) god taking human form and having intercourse with a woman. o There were Jewish traditions of the virgin birth of the patriarchs BUT these were allegorical accounts of the formation of virtues in human souls. “None of these proposals has explained adequately how there came to be some sort of a tradition in the early Christian community prior to both Luke and Matthew about the virginal conception of Jesus.” (Fitzmyer) The genealogy in Luke 3 falls outside the Infancy Narrative proper, but note: •

§  It can’t be reconciled with that in Matthew (different names, different number of generations) •

§   Jesus’ descent from David is through Joseph, i.e. it is not biological but legal (by ‘adoption’). •

§  In Luke’s genealogy, Jesus’ forebears are traced back to Adam, not to Abraham as in Matthew. This foreshadows his role as saviour not just of the Jews but also of the Gentiles. 4 2. Mary I love Austin Farrer’s words: ‘About the person of Mary, I cannot have the happiness to know my reader’s sentiments, but I can have the generosity to acquit them of a crime. I will not suppose them to hate a name, because others have inordinately loved it’. May I commend to you ‘Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ’, the 2004 Seattle Statement prepared by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, in which there is very substantial convergence of our respective understandings of Mary. And I quote from ARCIC: ‘Anglicans have tended to begin from reflection on the scriptural example of Mary as an inspiration and model for discipleship. Roman Catholics have given prominence to the ongoing ministry of Mary in the economy of grace and the communion of saints. ‘ Luke presents a very different picture of the mother of Jesus from that in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark, not only is there no Infancy Narrative in which the divine origin of Jesus is made known to Mary or Joseph at conception and birth, but his mother and natural family seem to lack appreciation of what his mission really is. And Jesus distances himself from her. His true family, he says is, ‘whoever does the will of God’. There’s a stark contrast here between his natural and eschatological families. In Luke, however, this contrast is avoided.

§  Mary from the beginning is the one who ‘hears the word of God and obeys it’ (11:27-38). She is the model disciple, from the Annunciation onwards, receptive to the working of God’s Spirit, and we find her in Acts 1 as part of the community of disciples – the eschatological family of Jesus - waiting in prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit at the birth of the Church. True, Mary is slow to understand that Jesus must be about the business of his Father, but she ponders ‘all these things’ like a good disciple. She is in fact presented as a figure or personification of the Church. Note in passing that for Luke there’s no shadow of doubt of the centrality of Jesus as Lord and Saviour; any significance he gives to Mary derives from that. But that significance is greater than some Christians have been willing to acknowledge. Other key Marian themes include o New creation, with the Holy Spirit shaping this new beginning of humanity o The modelling in the Annunciation of how God’s grace interfaces with human freedom o Poverty and simplicity and openness to God as marks of the true Israel (Old and New), which are rewarded in the eschatological reversal in the Kingdom of God o The ‘blessedness’ of Mary, greeted by Gabriel and Elizabeth with words which continue to be used to honour her. You will know of that form of prayer called the Rosary, some of you more intimately than others. The first five of the fifteen ‘mysteries’ to meditate on are the Joyful Mysteries: Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity of Jesus, Presentation, and Finding in the Temple. All are from Luke’s Infancy Narrative, with a little help from Matthew.

3.    Links with the Old Testament •

§  Jesus is presented as the climax of God’s dealing with Israel. Some of the Old Israel (i.e. all the dramatis personae in the Infancy narratives) are shown as welcoming Jesus in one way or another. John the Baptist becomes the link person between Old and New, the last of the prophets. There is the clear hint that some of Israel will reject Jesus (2:34-5), but for Luke the confrontation with the Synagogue is not the pressing matter that it is for Matthew. •

§  The Old Testament is a far more important source for understanding the content and details of the Infancy Narratives than are the alleged parallels within the pagan world. • Luke’s OT motifs are ‘the patriarchal couples (especially Abraham & Sarah) the births of Samson and Samuel, and the post-exilic piety of the Anawim’ (Raymond Brown) cf Matthew’s focus on the patriarch Joseph, and Moses. •

§  There are no explicit citations of Old Testament prophecy (cf Matthew). However, the text is studded with unacknowledged quotes, and OT associations and parallels. See, for example - the pattern of birth announcements in Old Testament [see Ishmael (Gen. 16:7- 13); Isaac (Gen. 17:1-21; 18:1-15); Samson (Judges 13:3-20)] is the pattern of Lucan birth announcements. o The appearance of an angel (or the Lord) to someone (mother or father) o Fear on the part of the person confronted by the heavenly figure o The heavenly message (often with stereotyped details) o An objection by the person confronted or a request for a sign o The giving of some sign or reassurance - the OT background of the Canticles (Benedictus, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis) = ‘set piece’ compositions from Old Testament materials, especially Septuagint (but NB ‘Semitisms’ in the Greek). Example: The Magnificat. [See Appendix 3: The Magnificat’s Old Testament Background} 5.

§   The place of Jerusalem For Luke, Jerusalem is ‘the city of destiny for Jesus and the pivot for the salvation of mankind’ (Raymond Brown). It’s not only the place where Jesus died, rose and ascended; it’s also the place where salvation has been accomplished and from which witnesses go out to all the world. 6 Luke’s Gospel begins and ends in Jerusalem (cf the other three Gospels). His Infancy Narrative reflects this emphasis. It begins with Zechariah offering incense in the Jerusalem Temple, and ends with the child Jesus in the Temple. The Presentation is especially rich in Jerusalem Temple themes. 6.

§  Universal mission Luke rejoices in the mission to the Gentiles. He embraces the universalist strand in Judaism and presents Jesus’ ministry to Israel as leading seamlessly to the Church’s ministry to the whole world. In the Infancy Narrative this is expressed explicitly in Simeon’s words ‘my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’ (2:30-32). The song of the angels (however translated) also has a universal reference.

§  7. Historicity issues These are considerable, and include •

§  The difficulty of reconciling Luke and Matthew •

§  The incompatibility of some of Luke’s details with what we know of Mediterranean history from other sources •

§  The question of how Luke knew intimate family history •

§  The beginning of the process we see fully developed in some later Roman Catholic thinking about Mary, which amounts to saying ‘Such and such a thing ought to have happened, therefore it did’ – Farrer’s ‘fact-factory’. I can’t go into this issue of historicity in detail here, but my own preference is to •

§  Rely more on the Lucan elements overlapping with those in Matthew (which preserve many central affirmations about Jesus’ conception and home and family life and which offer evidence of a very early tradition). •

§  Thankfully receive the Canticles as they stand as Luke’s contribution to our understanding of who Jesus is (similar to the speeches he places in the mouths of Peter and Paul in Acts). This is not to deny that Luke may well be drawing on earlier traditions for them. •

§  Recognise that all four Gospels are theological statements arranging preexisting chunks of memory, and not get fussed too much by Luke’s creative handling of them. •

§   Prefer the carefulness and artistry of Luke’s Infancy Narrative to either the later Apocryphal Gospels’ fantastic accounts of Jesus’ childhood, or the equally speculative and arbitrary accounts of some reductionist writers today.

§  Preserve a healthy scepticism which enables us to ask questions.


The shepheards and the ANGELS In the infancy narrative

·         Although Nazareth was off the beaten track and a sleepy enough place, Mary’s experience ranged far beyond the confines of the little village. There is a bustle about her going ‘with haste’ to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah. She travelled to Bethlehem for the census and after that to Egypt. Every year, Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem. She went to Capernaum with Jesus and his disciples (Jn.2:12) and was back again in Jerusalem for the fateful days of the Passion (Jn.19:25-27). The last we hear of her in the New Testament, she is in the Upper Room with the apostles, some other women and the brothers of Jesus united in prayer (Acts 1.14)

·         Mary had the ability to take swift and decisive action. She went ‘with haste’ to visit Elizabeth. To some extent she joined her son in his ministry. She goes with the group to Capernaum and Jerusalem.The Gospel of Luke notes the thoughtful, reflective aspect of Mary. On two occasions, he describes her mulling over the whole thing in her mind as she went about her life (Lk.2:19, 51). The Magnificat tells of her radical sense of justice and her ability to express trenchant social criticism (Lk.1:46-55). 

·         It is not difficult to imagine her dressed in a tunic of undyed wool. Hands and fingers roughened from years of work in the fields. The whole village would help out in times of planting, weeding, gleaning, picking. Her face would be burnt brown, lined and worn by the sun and hard work. 

·         Her face would have reflected many an emotion: tense with fear on the flight to Egypt, calm in repose, warm in love, cross with anxiety  when they found the child in Jerusalem, her eyes bright as a button, alert, intelligent, flashing with humour or outrage.

Paralells between the anouncement of John and Jesus’ births

The Announcement of John's Birth

The Announcement of Jesus' Birth

The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to tell of a miraculous birth: Luke 1:11

The angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell of a miraculous birth: Luke 1:26-27

Gabriel tells Zechariah, Zechariah, do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard.Luke 1:13

Gabriel tells Mary, Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God's favor. Luke 1:30

Gabriel announces the name of the child, ...and you shall name him John Luke 1:13

Gabriel announces the name of the child, ...and you must name him Jesus Luke 1:31

Gabriel announces the mission of the child, even from his mother's womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the Israelites to the Lord their God...preparing for the Lord a people fit for him. Luke 1:15-17

Gabriel announces the mission of the child, He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob forever and his reign will have no end. Luke 1:32-33

Zechariah expresses disbelief and is rebuked, Zechariah said to the angel, 'How can I know this? I am an old man...The angel replied...'Look, since you do not believe my will be silenced..' Luke 1:18-20

Mary expresses concern and is assured, 'But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will com upon you, and the power of the Most High will over you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.' Luke 1:34-36

John is born: The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son... Luke 1:57

Jesus is born: ...the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth of a son, her first-born. Luke 2:6

John is circumcised and named on the 8th day: Now it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; ... 'he is to be called John.' Luke 1:59-60

Jesus is circumcised on the 8th day: When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception. Luke 2:21

Zechariah speaks the prophecy of the Benedictus in Luke 1:67-79

Mary speaks the prophecy of the Magnificat in Luke 1:47-55

John's birth story conclusion: ...the child grew up and his spirit grew strong. Luke 1:80

Jesus' birth story conclusion: And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom, and God's favor was with him. Luke 2:40

The Shepheards visit; angel, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Jospeh, Jbap, Jesus, Simeon, Anna.

·         This is the third time in the opening chapters of Luke that we encounter the angel of the Lord;

1.    First Gabriel speaks to Zachariah and gives him the promise of a son. This promise was made and fulfilled in Luke 1 and resulted in wonder and fear for those who saw it.

2.    Then, Gabriel spoke with Mary and promised her a son -- a promise now come to pass. On the same night when Mary’s promise comes to pass, the messenger appears a third time. By this time, we have come to trust that words spoken by angels are the message of God and are worthy of trusting response.

3.    This third visit is similar as once again people find themselves afraid in the presence of one sent from God, but it is also different. The messenger appears with the Lord’s glory that shines around the shepherds. And their response is terror. The “glory of the Lord” is an Old Testament phrase referring to God’s presence and strength. It is often associated with light and shining. 

·         When the glory of the Lord shines around the shepherds, they find themselves surrounded by the power and presence of the God who delivers God’s people from enemies and evil, who calls God’s people to life set apart as the people of God, and who promises to establish an eternal kingdom and throne. They are terrified, but the angel goes to on proclaim “good news” that is accompanied by joy for everyone. The shepherds are told that they will find a Savior, the chosen of God, in Bethlehem. The promise will be known through a sign: the sign of a baby lying in a manger.2

·         At one and the same time, the glory of the Lord signifies the presence of God with them and yet not in the person of a king reigning on a throne but as a small baby lain in a feeding trough. Once the message has been delivered, a whole army of angels appears, and they are praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The proper response to the news that has been announced is praising God.

·         This whole unfolding drama is God’s story, and God is the one who should be praised because of it. When the angels leave, the shepherds get up and go into Bethlehem to see with their own eyes the sign that was promised to them. And they find the sign just as it was given, and they begin to share with those around them who were amazed. Just like the angels, the shepherds also depart, and like the angels the shepherds are also praising God and, more than that, they are glorifying God. They are lifting up the one who is already exalted and honoring him with their praises and in this way they glorify God.

·         The theme of God’s glory runs throughout the passage. It is a reminder of God’s presence and a reminder of the response God’s people make to the gift of a Savior -- a Savior who will defeat the world’s enemies by means completely apart from those of the enemy. This is the kind of kingdom and throne signified by a baby lain in a feeding trough.

The presentation of Jesus in the temple/ Jesus lost in the temple

·         Mary and Joseph take the baby Jesus to Jerusalem "to present him to the Lord"-Luke 2:22 -         The presentation of Jesus in the temple is in fulfillment with the Jewish law.Every male child must be taken to the temple and an animal must be offered as a why Joseph is usually artistically depicted in this scene holding a cage with two doves in it.

·         The prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna meet the Holy Family while at the temple in Jerusalem. Simeon was told by God that he would see the Savior before he died.When Simeon sees baby Jesus he takes him from Mary and holds Him in his arms and praises God proclaiming, "Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation" -Luke 2:29

·         Simeon then blesses Mary and Joseph and prophesies to Mary:"Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed." -Luke 34-35

·         Anna also proclaims that this child, the baby Jesus, is the long awaited Messiah.After all this the Holy Family leaves Jerusalem and returns to Nazareth.There they live in peace and joy for many years before Jesus begins His public life.

Jesus lost in the Temple

·         Until things went wrong. When the caravan set out from Jerusalem to journey backto Nazareth, each of Jesus' parents assumed he was with the other. Previously he had travelled with the women; now he was supposed to travel with the men. But as it happens, he was with neither.

·         His absence was not noted until the end of the day, when family groups of men and women assembled for the evening meal. Frantic with worry when they found Jesus was missing, Mary,Joseph and probably other family members set out to return to the city, to search for the young man. This would have taken a day's travel, especially as they were moving against the flow of other pilgrims leaving the city. Jesus had now been missing for two days.

Jesus among the Temple teachers

·         It probably did not take them long to find Jesus - as parents they would have known his interests, and where he was likely to be. They found him in the Temple, almost certainly sitting in on one of the teaching seminars given at the schools/colleges for young men. 

·         Somehow or other Jesus must have received a good grounding in Scripture studies in the  Nazareth synagogue, and now he was in his element, a natural-born scholar in love with learning - especially the Jewish scriptures.  The scholars in the Temple college were impressed by his unusual promise as a pupil, and apparently welcomed him.

·         Understandably, Mary and Joseph were relieved when they found him, though probably somewhat annoyed at Jesus' assumption that they could have known where he was. When questioned, Jesus told his parents they should have known he would be in his Father's house, i.e. the Temple. This answer seem to point to the fact that the young Jesus had already developed the idea of God as an intimate Father, something which went beyond the normal religious consciousness of a devout 1st century Jew. This innovative idea would shape his whole life and teaching.

The young man Jesus

·         Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents, and lived out his adolescence there. He was a young man now, but he maintained the traditional attitude of respect and obedience towards his parents. 

·         One interesting sentence from the gospel passage is often overlooked: 'and his mother kept all these things in her heart'. Why is the mother mentioned, but not Joseph? Two points:

1.    Joseph does not appear in later episodes of Jesus' life; did he die young?

2.    or it this sentence simply a tribute to the love of a traditional Jewish mother for her son?Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; 43 and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the company they went a day's journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him

Jesus rejection at Nazareth

·         Luke's presentation of the scene at Nazareth has long vexed the exegetes.

·         1 The chronology and geography of the account, as well as some of its essential details, differ greatly from Mark or Matthew. In Mark, the scene is located just before the end of the Galilean ministry (6,1-6); in Matthew, it comes at the climax of the Galilean ministry (13,53-58). In Luke, on the other hand, it is a kind of inauguration scene, prefacing Jesus' ministry.

·         Whether Luke has used Mark or a special source remains a difficult question.2 For our purposes, it suffices to notice that in recounting or constructing the scene, Luke involves himself in some inconsistencies.

·         Verse 23 presupposes healings already performed in Capharnaum, but Luke has related none of them. The short summary in v. 15 had spoken only of teaching. Further, the gap between vv. 22 and 24 is quite noticeable: the attitude of the people changes too suddenly from acceptance to hostility. The effect is that the Lucan narrative seems somewhat badly contrived; Luke has, seemingly, constructed it somewhat carelessly.

·         3 This fact has led commentators to inquire into the meaning of the scene. It has been suggested that Luke intends the scene to telescope the career of Jesus, and to bear a symbolic meaning.

·         4 But this may be true in ways which have not hitherto received notice. If this is so, the scene may have more importance than has been suspected for understanding Luke's interpretation of the person and mission of Christ. In verse 16, Jesus enters the synagogue and announces that this day the prophecy of Isaiah 61 is fulfilled in him:

“The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour.”

·         This prophecy seems to have been applied to the prophet himself> It is, thus, primarily as prophet that Luke presents Christ's inauguration of his mission. The first reaction of the people is favourable: "And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips." (v. 22)6 But the mood shifts suddenly.

·         The people question his identity, and evidently challenge him to perform a mighty deed to prove his claim. Christ answers with the saying that "No prophet is. ever accepted in, his own country," and cites the examples of Elijah and Elisha, both I prophets, wonder-workers and healers, whose mission took them outside of Israel. He seems thus to insinuate that salvation is to pass to non-Jewish nations, and the people immediately react in anger: "They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff." (v. 29) The people now, far from receiving the prophet, are suddenly trying to kill him-and this is the opening scene of the ministry!

·         The phrasing of the verse, exebalon auton exo res poleos is reminiscent of the vocabulary used in the parable of the vineyard in Luke 20,I5: ekbalontes auton exo tou ampelonos apekteinan. This parable obviously refers to Christ's death; in the pericope under examination in chapter four too the people intend his death.

·          The same details and phrasing appear again in theaccount of Step hen's death in Acts 7,58, an account commonly understood to be modelled upon the death of Christ: ekbalontes exo tes poleos.

·         The expression, then, is one already known to Luke. In 4,29 the addition of the detail that the town was built upon the brow of a mountain-a detail which exegetes are unable to identify-7 suggests a reference to the, city ofJerusalem, popularly known as the city seated upon the mountain. Given the fact that Luke's gospel as a whole focuses upon Jerusalem as the destination ofJesus' journey, this interpretation seems quite likely.

·         It is additional evidence that the Nazareth scene has been constructed as a prophecy, pointing to Christ's future destiny, his death at Jerusalem. The final verse of the passage supports this conclusion. The scene ends with an apparently simple statement: autos de dielthon dia mesou 'auton eporeueto (4,30). A study of the verb dierchomai reveals that it is used once commonly by Matthew and Luke, once by Mark and Luke, and once by Mark alone. But it is used twenty-eight times by Luke alone, eight times in the gospel, and twenty times in Acts. It is, thus, a familiar Lucan expression, and may have a special connotation.s

·         For Luke seems to use it most often with reference to the missionary work of Christ or the apostles, or the preaching of the gospel. In Luke 9,6 and in Acts 8,4 and 40 it is used with direct reference to preaching the gospel; in Acts 20,2 it is used with parakalein and in 20,25 with kerussein. More importantly, it is used in the somewhat formalized speech of Peter in Acts 10,38, a speech which begins with a reference to Christ as "anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power," and continues, hos dielthen euergeton kai iomenos pal1tas tous katadunasteuomel1ous hupo tou diabolou . . . . T

·         he similarity between this characterization in Acts and the use of Isaiah 61 in the scene at Nazareth seems obvious: in both cases, a reference to prophetic anointing with the Holy Spirit, a ministry of doing good, curing or freeing. The mysterious expression autos de dielthol1 dia mesou auton eporeueto is translated in the Jerusalem Bible "he slipped through the crowd and walked away". It is most frequently interpreted as a miraculous action of Jesus , signifying his immunity from harm because "his hour had not yet come". But is this its real meaning? We have suggested that the verb dierchomai is most frequently used by Luke with reference to mission-either Christ's or the apostles' continuation of the mission of Christ. It is interesting to note that the verb is here used in conjunction with another of Luke's favourite words, poreuomai which, though also a common word, seems to bear in some cases a fixed religious connotation.

·         9 It is used throughout the central section of Luke's gospel, in which Luke high-lights Christ's journey to Jerusalem to accomplish . his exodos (cf. 9,31) or new passover (9,51-57; 10,38; 13,22; 13,33; 19,28; 19,36; 22,22); in 17,II, still in the context of the journey, it is used in conjunction with dierchol11ai. It is also used in Acts 1,1O-II for the ascension, the completion of the journey.10 Since, in the first place, the scene at Nazareth is thought to be symbolic or programmatic, and since in its closing sentence Luke uses the important verb poreuol11ai, might it not be that this concluding sentence is also programmatic, having as its function to conclude and summarize the life and mission of Jesus? If the verb dierchomai is understood to refer to Christ's mission, and the verb poreuomai to his journey, then the concluding sentence autos de dielthon dia mesou auton eporeueto might fittingly refer not to a miraculous escape but rather to Jesus' ministry among the Jewish people-preaching the gospel of salvation,making his way to Jerusalem to accomplish the new passover of death, resurrection and ascension.ll


·         The evidence points strongly to the conclusion that when in the pericope 4,16-30 Luke introduces Christ's prophetic ministry, he does so not only by depicting him as fulfilling the Isaian prophecy,

·         but also by constructing a whole scene which is itself prophetic of the destiny of the prophet. The scene stands as a symbol at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, so that the whole gospel will be read in the light of the climax toward which it is pointed-the death, resurrection and ascension of the prophet messias.

·         Christ is the prophet sent by God, anointed with the Spirit to announce the good news of salvation. He is a prophet who, like other prophets before him, will have to suffer at the hands of his own people.

·         The Nazareth episode prophesies how this will happen. He will speak of salvation for all nations ; he will be cast out and killed by the Jews at Jerusalem, the city seated on the mountain.

·         The final sentence, autos de dielthol1 dia mesou auton eporeueto summarizes his whole career: his mission was to go through their midstannouncing the good news of salvation, making his way to Jerusalem and through death, resurrection and ascension, into the glory of the Father.

Jesus controversies witht the RE authorities

Forgiveness of sins

This passage is often used to prove that Jesus claimed to be God. Though Luke makes this point later in his account, such a reading is not the best understanding of this text. Rather, in this passage Jesus reveals four other significant truths. First, He is teaching His disciples how to fish for men. As they will learn, they also can announce the forgiveness of sins to others. Though people face many burdens, the burden of guilt and the lack of certainty about the love and forgiveness of God are some of the hardest to bear. There is great power in the truth that a person’s sins are forgiven and God is not angry.

The second point that Jesus makes is that He has come to raise Israel from paralysis. The man is portrayed in this text as an illustration of Israel. Throughout Luke and the other Gospels, the Jewish people are described as being unwilling and unable to move toward Jesus in faith. In this very context, the religious leaders reveal an almost complete paralysis of faith. By announcing the forgiveness of sins to this man, based on the faith of his friends, Jesus is showing that He also forgives the sins of the religious leaders and will also raise them to new life if they respond to the forgiveness they have received.

Third, Jesus shows that physical and spiritual restoration are connected. The Rabbis taught that “A sick man does not recover from his sickness until all his sins are forgiven him, as it is written, ‘Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases’” (Evans 2003:187). Though many come to Jesus seeking only physical deliverance, He knows that many of the problems they face actually require a spiritual cure. The spiritual problem must be taken care of before the physical can be addressed. This was not necessarily the case with the paralyzed man, but it is definitely the case with the nation of Israel. They wanted physical deliverance from Rome and a restoration of their land and inheritance, but such blessings cannot be granted until the sin of the nation was removed.

This leads to the fourth truth. In announcing forgiveness, and then healing the man, Jesus was not proving Himself to be God, but was proving Himself to be the Messiah. More of this will be explained below, but ultimately, Jesus was showing that part of His ministry was to remove the religious barriers between God and man. Through His life and ministry, He would do away with the religious priesthood, temple, and sacrificial system. Jesus was revolting against the rules and regulations of religion as a means of approaching God for the forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus, people can approach God directly, having already received forgiveness without condition.

5:17. As Jesus continued to travel and teach, news about Him spread, and questions began to be asked. The religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and teachers of the law, were the ones who decided whether a person was teaching correctly or not. So they came from all over, out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem, to listen to Jesus teach. The title Pharisee comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to divide, to separate” and the Pharisees were known for their strict separation from the world, and for their exactness in making decisions and laws about what was allowed and not allowed in Jewish law and teaching. They were here to make such a decision. They had heard reports of what Jesus was teaching, and desired to hear Him for themselves in order to determine whether they should accept and encourage Him, or accuse and condemn Him.

Luke writes that the religious leaders were sitting. In Jewish culture of the time, teachers sat and taught while students stood. Probably Jesus was sitting as well, but the Pharisees wanted to be seen as equals to Jesus, as ones who did not need to learn anything from Him, but as those who would listen to what He taught in order to judge its validity.

The parallel account in Mark 2 tells us that there were not just Pharisees and teachers of the law present, but also a large crowd of people who had gathered to hear Jesus teach the Word of God (Mark 2:2). And Luke records that the power of the Lord was present to heal them. Luke, because he is a physician, emphasizes the healing ministry of Jesus, whereas Mark emphasizes the teaching ministry of Jesus. Jesus often did both. He taught the Word, and then He proved that what He was saying was true by performing miracles. In that time, this was how prophets showed that what they were teaching was true. So from this alone, the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and the surrounding crowd should have recognized that Jesus was a prophet of God, as many of them did (John 7:40).

However, many others were skeptical, and were probably getting ready to question and challenge the teachings of Jesus when something strange happened.

5:18. There were some men present who had brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed. In Jewish culture, paralysis was viewed as the judgment of God due to serious sin. As such, people who were paralyzed were banned from the priesthood, and in some areas, excluded from full participation in the community (Green 1997:239). This man was outcast by men, and viewed as judged by God.

The friends of this man had heard of the healing power of Jesus, and wanted to bring in and lay the paralyzed man before Jesus. The house was crowded to overflowing, and in Mark 2, it says that there was no room at the door. Trying to get a makeshift bed through a standing-room only crowd would cause quite a disturbance. In the story, the crowd of people, which includes religious leaders, represents a barrier that is keeping the man from Jesus (Green 1997:240). This is what the man has experienced in life as a result of his paralysis. People, led by the religious leaders, kept him from experiencing God and receiving any blessing from God.

5:19. The men could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd. The men were persistent, however, and decided to go upon the [/b]housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus.[/b] Jewish homes generally had flat roofs which stairs going up the side of the house. On summer nights, families might go up there to sleep where they could catch the cool evening breeze. They were constructed with wood beams covered with thatching, which were then laid over with mud, clay, and stone tile (Barclay 1975:62; Bock 1994:480). To lower the man through the roof, they would have torn up the rock tile, dug a hole through the clay and mud, and ripped out the thatching. These roofs could have been as much as three feet thick, making it nearly impossible to dig through, and if done so, would essentially destroy the house (Pentecost 1981:152). So it is more likely that Jesus was in a covered gallery, or side room, of the main house. The roofs on such rooms had similar construction, but were much thinner (Edersheim 1988:503). All of this would have created quite a stir in the room below, both from the noise and with the falling pieces of mud and dirt. The owner of the house may have been alarmed as well.

Finally, when the gaping hole is large enough, the men lower the paralyzed man on the pallet down to the floor in front of Jesus.

5:20. Jesus saw their faith and was impressed. This is the first mention of faith (Gk. pistis) in Luke. The content of what they believed is not explained. But the fact that Jesus saw their faith probably refers to how they took every step possible to bring the paralyzed man before Jesus. In this case, their faith is not a metaphysical persuasion within the mind, but an outward, visible, act of faith. They were not believing in Jesus for eternal life, believing that He was God, or placing faith in Him as the Messiah. They believed the words which Jesus taught, which was probably that since Jesus had power to heal, the Kingdom of God was at hand (Evans 2003:186; cf. Luke 4:18). As a result of this belief, they acted on it, and did what was necessary.

When the main had been laid before Jesus, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” Many get confused by this verse because they think that Jesus has just given eternal life to the paralyzed man based the faith of his friends. But this is not the case.

Jesus is not giving the man eternal life. He is simply announcing that his sins are forgiven. Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is provided to the entire world without condition (1 John 2:2). This does not mean that all have eternal life, however, since faith in Jesus is required for that (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47).

These men certainly had faith, and they believed in Jesus for healing. But they did not believe in Jesus for eternal life, at least not according to anything written in the text. So this passage is not about receiving eternal life. It is about how Jesus offers forgiveness of sins, which in a Jewish context, is related to the Messianic actions of bringing physical deliverance from sickness, *******, and judgment (cf. 1:77; 3:3; 24:47). “Jesus’ offer is not to be construed, as it has been so often, as an attempt to play at ‘being god’… Forgiveness was an eschatological blessing; if Israel went into exile because of her sins, then forgiveness consists in her returning: returning to YHWH, returning from exile” (Wright 2006:434).

The men, including the paralyzed man, were probably not expecting to hear that the man’s sins were forgiven. They just wanted the man to be healed. But Jesus is showing that sometimes spiritual deliverance is a prerequisite to physical restoration. Plus, Jesus wants to prove that He is destroying the religious walls that have been erected between God and man. The religious leaders question Jesus about this in the following verses.

5:21. As a result of Jesus declaring that the man’s sins are forgiven, the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason among themselves about what Jesus meant. They make the accusation that Jesusspeaks blasphemies for ”Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Due to what the Pharisees say, many believe that in telling the man that his sins are forgiven, Jesus is making a claim to being divine (cf. Edersheim 1988:505; Pentecost 1981:153; GNTC I:249). On the surface, it does seem this is what the Pharisees understand Jesus to be claiming. After all, what other form of blasphemy is there except someone claiming to be God when they are not? This understanding is supported by verses like Psalm 103:12 which says that only God can forgive sins.

But there at least three other reasons why Jesus could have been accused of blasphemy. This accusation could have leveled against Jesus for speaking against the Torah, engaging in idolatry, or bringing shame on Yahweh’s name (Bock 1994:483).

So Jesus is probably not making a claim about His deity. The religious leaders thought Jesus was speaking against the Torah, or at least, their understanding of it. This is especially true when the forgiveness of sins is understood within Roman culture and the Jewish religion. Culturally, the Roman emperor claimed to have the power to forgiven sins, not for “eternal life” but so that the rains would come and crops would grow (Evans 2003:187). Forgiveness of sins was related to physical restoration and healing.

It is the same in Judaism. Forgiveness of sins, as has already been pointed out (cf. 1:77; 3:3), is related to the release and restoration of persons and individuals from the temporal consequences of sin, such as physical sickness or death, temporal judgment, and ******* to other nations. It is not how to gain entrance into heaven or eternal life, but is a prerequisite to the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In Judaism, the primary means by which this forgiveness was obtained was through the sacrificial system at the temple as administered by the priests. When a guilty person when to the temple, and offered their sacrifice to the priests in the prescribed way, the priest would pronounce that their sins were forgiven (Lev 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18, etc.). This was the method prescribed by God.

So it was not uncommon for a priest to announce to a person that their sins were forgiven. Sometimes even prophets did this (2 Sam 12:13). Yet nobody believed that when a priest said this, the priest was claiming to be God. They were simply following the regulations laid out by God for the forgiveness of sins. Everybody understood that when a priest said, “Your sins are forgiven,” they meant, “Your sins are forgiven by God.” That is how Jesus would have been understood. When Jesus announced that the man’s sins were forgiven, nobody thought He was making a claim to be God. If He had wanted to claim He was God, He would have said, “I forgive your sins.” But He doesn’t. He speaks in the passive voice (“Your sins are forgiven”), just as a priest would, implying that it was God who forgave the man his sins.

So the issue was not what Jesus said, but rather the context in which He said it. Only the priests could offer forgiveness of sins, and even then, only to people who were in the temple, and after they had made the proper sacrifices. By telling the man, “Your sins are forgiven” Jesus was bypassing the temple, the priests, and the sacrificial system. Though not claiming to be God, Jesus was claiming to speak for God as a prophet (Wright 2004:60).

t was this that the religious leaders could not stand. Jesus was doing away with their religious system, and allowing humans to approach God without the temple, without the priests, and without a sacrifice. It was unthinkable! These were things God had ordained, so in the thinking of the religious leaders, Jesus was speaking blasphemy. “The objection of the Pharisees…was that Jesus was claiming to offer something he had no right to offer, on conditions he had no right to set, to people who had no right to receive it” (Wright 2006:436).

5:22. Though He did not hear what they said, Jesus perceived their thoughts, or understood what they accusing Him of, and told them so. Again, this would not prove His divinity, as if He had omniscience. At most, it proves that Jesus is a prophet (Green 1997:242). They have questioned Him in their hearts, and so now He sets out to question them.

5:23. Jesus sets out to prove that He has authority to forgive sins without the temple, the priesthood, or the sacrificial system. He asks, ”Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk’?” Clearly, the former is easier to say since there is no outward evidence that actual forgiveness has taken place. But if someone says “Rise up and walk” all would be able to see whether the paralyzed man actually walks or not. The first statement cannot be demonstrated, but the second can.

5:24. According to Jewish thinking, a Prophet’s words can only be trusted if he has the accompanying signs to back him up. Jesus is going to provide a sign to prove that He has the authority to forgiven sins without religious rituals or intermediaries. If the man is healed, this proves that Jesus is not a blasphemer, but that the power of God is with Him.

Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man. This is the first time this title is used of Jesus in Luke’s account, and the only time it is used in connection to a miraculous healing. In the Hebrew Scriptures, this title (Heb. ben Adam) is most often used of the Prophet Ezekiel. A major theme in Ezekiel is that God will take the dead nation of Israel and restore her to new life. This is especially seen in the famous vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37). Since Jesus is about to restore life to a paralyzed man as a picture of how He can restore life to a paralyzed nation, it is fitting that this is the first place where Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man.

The title has further significance, however. It does not indicate divinity, but rather, humanity, or anyone who is son of Adam (Heb. ben Adam). The usage in Daniel 7:13 (cf. 8:17) contrasts the Son of Man with the four beasts. They are spiritual; the Son of Man is human (Bock 1994:486). When Jesus uses this title of Himself, He is hinting that He is the new Adam, the new representative of humanity, the new model for all mankind (cf. Rom 5:12-21). As sons of Adam ourselves, we also are able to announce the forgiveness of sins that is freely given to all through Jesus Christ. We, however, do not need to seek the accompanying miraculous signs, since we do not have to prove that we have the authority to bypass religion. Jesus has already proven this. Nevertheless, we must still seek to bring healing and restoration in the lives of others, even if it is not through “miraculous” means.

After referring to Himself as the Son of Man, He sets out to prove that He has power on earth to forgive sins. He does this by saying to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

5:25. As a result of the words of Jesus, the paralyzed man rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. The physical transformation would have been visible to the eye as atrophied muscles strengthened and rebuilt. The man did not remain, but picked up his mat, and went home, giving praise to God.

5:26. All the people who witnessed the miraculous healing were amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today!” Not only did they see the roof torn off a house and a bed drop down from the ceiling, but then a showdown between Jesus and the Pharisees followed in which Jesus healed a man of paralysis and proved that forgiveness of sins was available to all without the need of religious rituals.

Eating with sinners

Jesus continues to show His followers what it looks like to be fishers of men, and how He is fulfilling His mission statement from Luke 4:17-19. So far, Jesus has brought freedom to a demoniac, a leper, a paralytic, and in this section, an outcast tax collector (EBC 8:883). Sometimes Jesus shows love to the poor and sick who are outcast; other times He reaches out with love to the rich and famous who are also outcast in their own way. But Jesus is never constrained by cultural stigmas. In Luke 5:27-32, Jesus goes against cultural stigmas and invites a man a man to follow Him who, although he was rich, was viewed as a traitor. He had gained his riches by betraying his Jewish people, heritage, and religion.

5:27. The man was a tax collector.

At that time, there were two kinds of tax collectors, the Gabbai and the Mokhes (cf. Arnold 2002:355; Barclay 1965:64; Edersheim 1988:515; Ford 1984:65; Malina 2003:415; Pentecost 1981:154; Shepard 1939:142). The Gabbai were general tax collectors. They collected property, income, and poll taxes. Property taxes, or ground taxes, were based on whether you owned property and grew crops on it. It consisted of one-tenth of all grain grown, and one-fifth of all oil and wine. This could be paid with the actual grain, oil, and wine, or with an equivalent amount of money. The income tax was set at one percent, and was assessed on all other sorts of income. Finally, there was a poll tax. It was collected from everyone in the Roman Empire whether you owned land or not, had income or not, worked or not. These were the general taxes collected by the Gabbai. They were set by official assessments, and there was not much room for the Gabbai to take advantage of the system and cheat people out of more than what was due (see TNDT VIII:88-105).

The Mokhes, however, collected a duty on imports and exports. There were two kinds of Mokhes—theGreat Mokhes and the Little Mokhes. A Great Mokhes was an overseer, and hired others—the Little Mokhes—to collect the taxes for him. The rights to collect taxes in a particular location could be bought and sold (it was called “tax-farming”) and the Great Mokhes were individuals who had bought the tax rights to multiple regions, and then hired Little Mokhes to collect the taxes (cf. TDNT VIII:93f). Zaccheus was probably a Great Mokhes because Luke 19:2 calls him a chief tax collector.

To collect taxes on imports and exports, the Mokhes would set up toll booths on roads, harbor docks, and bridges, or almost anywhere that people were gathering for a festival or moving along the road. A farmer could be taking his produce to market on a road he has used for ten years, and one day, a tax collector sets up a booth on the road and starts charging people for using it. They would charge more for horses and donkeys, and even more for carts of produce and wares.

Of the various tax collectors, the Mokhes were despised the most—especially the Little Mokhes, since they were the ones who legally cheated and stole from the people. If a person became angry at how much he was being taxed, the Little Mokhes could confiscate everything and throw the man in prison.

The Roman government had a curious way of paying their tax collectors. They told the tax collectors how much money to send in to the government. Anything that the tax collector could get above and beyond that amount could be kept for himself (Ford 1984:66). It was not uncommon for tax collectors to burn villages or have someone murdered in order to exact taxes (Ford 1984:66). Due to this, tax collectors were universally hated, and were often killed. So many tax collectors hired personal body guards for protection. A proverb from the time period states that “Bears and lions might be the fiercest wilds beasts in the forests, but publicans (tax collectors) and informers were the worst in the cities” (Geikie 1888:367).

So tax collectors in the Roman Empire became rich, but at the expense of being hated and viewed as traitors by their own people. This hatred was amplified among the Jewish people, since the Roman government occupied the lands God had promised to Israel, and the Roman Emperor had proclaimed himself to be the son of God. Paying taxes was not only a reminder that the Jews were under foreign rule, but was viewed by some as a form of idolatry (cf. Luke 20:22). This was reinforced by the fact that Roman coins often had the image of the Caesar or some other Roman deity engraved on the face of the coin (Ford 1984:68). For a Jewish person to collect these taxes—sometimes with the help of Roman soldiers—was viewed as a betrayal not only of their fellow Jews, but of God Himself.

Among Jews, therefore, tax collectors were on par with harlots, gamblers, thieves, and robbers (Geikie 1888:367). Jews taught that if a tax collector entered a house, the house became unclean (Ford 1984:66; Malina 2003:416). As a result, tax collectors were excluded from the synagogue, could not tithe to the temple, and would not be called on as a witness in a trial (Shepard 1939:143). No help would be offered to such men, and they were often viewed as beyond the help of God as well.

The tax collector that Jesus encounters in Luke 5:27 is a man named Levi. With the name Levi, he is probably from the tribe of Levi, the tribe set apart for service in the temple. As a tax collector, Levi would not be allowed to serve in such a role. Following this account, he is never again called Levi, but instead, Matthew (cf. Matt 9:9). Levi means “joined” whereas Matthew means “gift of God.” Matthew eventually writes the Gospel of Matthew, which tells the story of Jesus for a Jewish audience. It is unknown when, how, or why he changed his name, but maybe he changed it to reflect his new identity as a result of what happens in this text.

When Jesus encounters Levi he is sitting in the tax office, which is not a constructed building, but rather a movable booth set up at various locations to tax the people traveling along a road or gathering in a particular location.

When Jesus saw Levi collecting taxes at his tax booth, He said to him, “Follow Me.” The request by Jesus for Levi to follow is a request for Levi to leave everything behind, and break all other ties. The fact that Jesus was making such a request to one who was outside the bounds of the worshipping community reveals that in Jesus, God has broken through the barriers which “had been considered insurmountable. It is precisely the unclean, the disobedient, the sinner who is called in this case” (Schweizer 1986:13).

Alfred Edersheim, a Biblical scholar and historian, believes that Levi followed Jesus about and taxed the crowds that came to hear Jesus teach (Edersheim 1988:519). Since Jesus gathered crowds wherever He went and tax collectors would set up their booth wherever people moved along a road or gathered, placing a tax booth wherever Jesus went would have been quite profitable for Levi. If Edersheim is right, Levi was already following Jesus around, and taxing the people who gathered to hear Him teach. Jesus Himself was probably taxed on various occasions as well.

Of course, as Levi taxed the people who gathered, he would have seen the miracles Jesus performed, and heard what Jesus taught. Tax collectors were not allowed to attend the synagogue for the teaching of Scripture, but if Levi had been following Jesus for some time, he would have heard on multiple occasions the truths Jesus taught about the love of God, forgiveness, and eternal life.

Jesus probably noticed that the presence of a tax collector bothered his disciples and many of the others who gathered to hear Him teach. And yet, rather than ask Levi to stop following Him around, Jesus does the opposite, and actually invites Levi to officially become one of His followers! Jesus doesn’t care that society hates Levi. Jesus doesn’t care that Levi is a wretched sinner. He just wants Levi to follow Him.

In Jewish culture, it was normal for Rabbis to gather followers around them. But as seen here, Jesus did it in an entirely unusual way. Stephen Jones explains:

John 1:36 describes how disciples typically sought out their teachers and presented themselves for the learning relationship. Only after careful examination did the rabbi extend an invitation. The caliber of the disciples reflected greatly upon the reputation of the rabbi. Only the brightest and best were accepted.

The more familiar pattern for Jesus was his recruiting disciples, seeking them out and calling them to follow him. This would no doubt seem a desperate approach for a rabbi, as if no deserving students would approach him. Unlike others, Jesus called his disciples to come and follow him (Jones 1997:24).

And even in selecting His disciples, Jesus did not choose the best and the brightest, but rather the outcast, despised, and rejected. Levi certainly fit the bill. The attitude of Jesus toward Levi was in complete contrast to the other religious people of His day. Those whom they rejected, He accepted. Those whom they despised, He loved. Those whom they avoided, Jesus sought. In the calling of Levi by Jesus, grace has become an event. The question of whether or not Levi’s sins have been forgiven is irrelevant. The calling of Levi proves that through Jesus, forgiveness of sins has been granted to all, even to the worst of sinners (cf. Schweizer 1986:14).

5:28. In response to the invitation of Jesus, Levi left all, rose up, and followed Him. This is nearly identical to the response of Peter, James, and John when Jesus called them to be fishers of men in Luke 5:11. They left their boats, nets, and record catch of fish to follow Jesus. Levi does the same thing. Levi recognized a good opportunity when he saw it. The cost of leaving everything behind to follow Jesus was well worth it.

Once Levi left his booth, it was like turning in his resignation. Very likely, the tax gathering booth did not stay empty for long. The position was probably filled within a day. Although being a tax gatherer cost you your friends and family and the respect of your neighbors, it gave you great wealth, and there are always people who will do almost anything for money. In that society, just like in ours, there were men who were willing to be seen as a traitor if they could just become rich. Though tax collectors were hated, there were always people ready and waiting to become a tax collector.

Luke says nothing here about the issue of Levi’s eternal destiny. The text does not indicate one way or the other that Levi has believed in Jesus for eternal life.

5:29. Though Levi had left his tax booth behind, he still was able to invite Jesus to a great feast in his own house. Though he had left his job, he had not given up his house or all his money. He had simply stopped working as a tax collector. And one of the first things he does is host a party for Jesus. This is the first of many parties in Luke’s gospel, and as with all parties, is a sign of the new era being initiated by Jesus (Wright 2004:64).

Also at this party were a great number of tax collectors and others. Being socially outcast, tax collectors and others like them were the only type of people Levi knew. He didn’t know any upright and socially acceptable people, as they would not want him for a friend. Levi and his companions are not the “moral upper crust of society” (Bock 1994:495).

In Jewish thinking, tax collectors were on the same level as prostitutes (Matt. 21:32). The religious people and the upright citizens didn’t want to have anything to do with either, but Jesus loves both and shows compassion toward both. Here we see Him sharing a meal with tax collectors. Being religious outcasts as they were, it is unlikely that the food was ceremonially pure according to the Pharisaical standards. Jesus, however, appears to not be overly concerned about the religious purity of the food He ate (Evans 2003:192; Green 1997:243).

5:30. As a result of Jesus eating a meal with tax collectors, the scribes and Pharisees complained.The word complained (Gk. gogguzein) could also be translated “grumbled.” While it is a rare word in the New Testament (only here and in Matt 20:11), it is used frequently in the Septuagint when the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses while wandering in the wilderness (Beale 2007:293; Evans 2003:193).

Here, they grumble about Jesus eating with tax collectors. Jewish religious leaders went to great pains to avoid sin or even the appearance of sin. They felt that sharing a meal with sinful people gave the impression that they were condoning the sin. But their separation went beyond just sharing meals. They did business as much as possible only with other Pharisees. When they traveled, they stayed with other Pharisees. Talking with a sinner or touching a sinner was bad enough. But sitting down and sharing a meal with them was off limits. Sitting and eating with a sinner was the same thing as endorsing the sin (Bock 1994:495 n13).

Furthermore, while even the most observant Jew could eat with a Gentile in the Jewish home, no observant Jewish person would eat in the home of a Gentile or a sinning Jewish person, since it was impossible to know if the home was ritually pure or if the food was prepared according to kosher standards (Ford 1984:70).

So when the Pharisees see Jesus eating at the house of Levi, they were concerned. He was not behaving as a Rabbi should. Furthermore, they had heard some of His teaching about the Kingdom of God, and were concerned that Jesus was including all the wrong people in it (Wright 1996:273). And so they complain to Jesus and His disciples. This indicates that the disciples had also gone with Jesus to this meal. The Pharisees may have approached the disciples rather than Jesus because they had recently been bested by Him in such dialogue before. Another possibility, suggested by Chrysostom, is that they were trying to instill doubt and disloyalty in the hearts of the disciples (cf. Shepard 1939:146).

The criticism of the religious leaders was that Jesus and the disciples ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. Whoever the “others” (5:29) at the feast were, the scribes and Pharisees viewed them assinners. The term (Gk. hamartōlōn) refers anyone who recognizes their sin, and not just to the worst of sinners (Bock 1994:496). The term is not overly critical or harsh, but the Pharisees still went to great lengths to separate themselves and their disciples from such people. Jesus was going against all normal methods of training His followers. He not only attends parties with sinners but invites them to be His disciples. Isolation from sinners is not what Jesus expects from those who follow Him (Bock 1994:492).

5:31. Though the Pharisees complained to the disciples, Jesus must have heard their criticism, and so it is He who responds. His answer is a parabolic summary of His initial mission statement in 4:17-19. There, His stated mission was to liberate those who in ******* and set captives free (cf. Green 1997:247). Here, He states that people who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. He draws an analogy between the sick and sinners. When one is sick, they seek help from a doctor. The doctor diagnoses the problem, then prescribes medicine or diet and lifestyle changes to overcome the sickness and improve health. When a person is not sick, they don’t go to a doctor. Only the sick go to a doctor.

5:32. Similarly, Jesus states that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.Just as healthy people don’t need doctors, righteous people don’t need repentance. In speaking of therighteous does Jesus mean those who are truly righteous in God’s sight, or those who are self-righteous in their own eyes? Most believe He is referring to people who are self-righteous (cf. Pentecost 1981:156), but either way, the statement is still true (cf. EBC 8:884).

Repentance is a turning away from sin toward obedience. As with the call to follow Jesus, repentance is not the same as believing in Jesus for eternal life. During His life, some people followed Jesus who did not believe in Him for eternal life, and some who believed in Him, did not follow Him. So also with repentance. Repentance is for all men, and even non-believers can turn from their sin toward obedience to God, but this does not give them eternal life. And believers, even though they have eternal life, must continue to repent as the Spirit convicts them of patterns of sin in their lives. And it is people who have patterns and habits of sin in their lives who are the sick. Those who recognize their sickness seek out a doctor.

Finally, it must be noted that during His ministry, Jesus did not spend a lot of time trying to convince people of their sin. He does this occasionally, but it is not His main focus of his ministry or evangelistic efforts. Most of His time is spent helping those who already know they need His help, while showing love, mercy, and unconditional forgiveness to everyone else.

This is what He is teaching His disciples. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of their sin (John 16:8). Jesus, and those who follow Him, should spend time with those who have been convicted of their sin, teaching them from the Scriptures about the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God. Fishers of men cast their nets where the fish are most hungry. Those who were considered to be outside the boundaries of God’s love and concern are the very ones to whom Jesus has been sent (Green 1997:248).


Luke 5:33-39 contains three short parables, the first in Luke’s Gospel. The parables of Jesus are some of the most difficult passages to understand in the New Testament. Much of this is due to our separation in time, language, and culture from Jesus. But even the disciples of Jesus, who did not face these contextual challenges, often had trouble understanding what Jesus meant by His parables. The confusion is natural, however, since according to what Jesus says in Luke 8:10, He intended these pointed little stories to be confusing. We will explain why in that passage, but for now, it is best to recognize that if a parable is initially confusing, we’re on the right track.

And the parables of Luke 5:33-39 are some of the most confusing. For the last eighteen hundred years, these three short parables have been almost universally interpreted in a particular way. Almost all resources, whether Bible commentary, book on the parables, or journal article, interprets this passage in a particular way (Fitzmyer 1981:597; Govett 1989:5; Jeremias 1972:118; Marshall 1978:227; Pentecost 1982:23). In the past, when I’ve taught this passage, I followed the traditional explanation.

The traditional explanation is that Jesus was starting something fresh and new, based on grace and truth. His new movement was incompatible with Judaism, especially the legalistic emphasis on the law. So in the parables, the old clothes and old wineskins are equated with Judaism, and the new clothes and new wineskins represent the new grace-filled teachings of Jesus. The teachings of the Pharisees are described as “worthless, useless, and outdated” according to the Law of Moses (Pentecost 1982:23), while those of Jesus are full of grace, truth, and love according to life in the Spirit.

One reason for the popularity of this traditional explanation is that it fits the passage (almost), and scratches an itch that we Christians have felt from almost the very beginning, namely, how to explain Christian departure from the Jewish roots of our faith. The traditional interpretation was first introduced by the heretic Marcion in the Second Century AD (cf. Eriksson nd:1). Gentiles had become the majority among Christians, and were facing persecution from both the Roman Empire and traditional Jews. The Jewish people had revolted against Rome in 67-70 AD, and as a result, Jerusalem was razed and the temple destroyed. Since Christianity had a Jewish nature and foundation, the Roman military included Christians in their attempts to quell the Jewish rebellion. So some of the early Christians tried to separate themselves from Judaism to avoid further persecution. The Jewish people, of course, saw the Christians as a heretical offshoot, and so were also trying to destroy the fledgling faith. Many Christians defended themselves by attacking Judaism, both with pen and sword.

Aside from these cultural reasons, Marcion was heavily influenced by Gnostic dualism. He believed that matter as evil and only what was spiritual was good. Therefore, the creator God in Genesis 1-2 was evil. Also, Jesus could not have come in the flesh, because flesh, being matter, was evil. As a result of this thinking, Marcion rejected the entire Old Testament as the false Scriptures of the evil creator god of Judaism. He also rejected much of the New Testament Scriptures which taught that Jesus was the Son of God come in the flesh.

These were radical changes and departures from the Jewish roots of Christianity. One of the passages which Marcion kept in his Bible, and which he heavily used to defend his ideas, was Luke 5:33-39. Based on this passage, he taught that Judaism was like old clothes and empty wineskins which needed to be discarded and ignored. Jesus had brought new clothes, new wine, and new wineskins which could not mix in any way with the old. Of course, it should be noted that verse 39 did not fit with Marcion’s interpretation, and so, as with other passages he couldn’t explain, he removed this verse from his Bible (Metzger 2002: 115).

And the church, though they eventually condemned Marcion as a heretic for many of his views, fully adopted and accepted this understanding of Luke 5:33-39, and for the most part, have not retreated from it for 1800 years. Furthermore, as the interpretation lived on, it was frequently used to justify the separation of any new group from the old, traditional group. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the other Reformers used Luke 5:33-39 to separate from Catholicism. In the past 500 years, almost every splinter group within Christianity has similarly used the passage in such a way to defend and explain their departure (cf. Govett 1989:6-18). Such an interpretation of the passage also explains the church’s almost total neglect—and even denial—of the Jewishness of Jesus and the apostles.

In recent decades, as scholars and pastors have rediscovered the Jewish roots of Christianity, questions have been raised about Marcion’s explanation of these parables. This challenge has come, in part, because the traditional understanding never really had an adequate way of explaining verse 39 where Jesus says, “And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’” If Jesus was really teaching that He was separating from Judaism, how could He apparently agree with the consensus that “The old is better”? Though tradition is nearly unanimous on 5:33-38, there are numerous explanations and interpretations of verse 39. There is even evidence of some early tampering of original Greek manuscripts to help make sense of the verse in light of the traditional explanation. Some of the possible explanations will be presented in verse 39.

So with all of this in mind, the explanation below will provide two things. First, the traditional explanation will be summarized. Then an attempt will be made to explain what Jesus was really teaching with these parables.

5:33. The parables of Jesus in 5:34-39 are in response to a question that He is asked in verse 33. The parallel text in Matthew 9:14 indicates that it is the disciples of John the Baptist who ask the question. They want to know why the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but the disciples of Jesus eat and drink.

The Jewish people had numerous laws and customs for fasting. Aside from the yearly fast days, many religious leaders would also fast every Monday and Thursday, and would whiten their faces with ash so everyone could see that they were fasting (Matt 6:16-18; cf. Wenham 1989:27; Radmacher 1999:1260). It is not impossible that this feast with Levi was on one of these fast days (Shepard 1939:148). Daily prayers were said promptly at noon, three, and six, no matter where they were or what they were doing. If they were in a marketplace or on a street corner, they would pray there (Matt 6:5).

Jesus fasted and prayed (cf. Luke 4:2), and taught His disciples to do the same (Matt 6:6-18). However, there is no written record of the disciples fasting (cf. Mark 2:18). Instead, they seem to spend more time eating and drinking with Jesus. At one point, Jesus is even accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34). At issue here is not the annual fasts which follow the Jewish calendar, but the daily prayers and weekly fasts which were part of the traditional disciplemaking methods of John and the Pharisees (Culbertson 1995:261).

But the issue of fasting and praying is only the topical question for a deeper issue. The real issue is why Jesus trains them the way He does. Jesus has already been challenged about His choice of Levi as a disciple (Luke 5:27-31), and now He is being asked about His training methods. As with everything in Judaism, there were set forms and guidelines for who a Rabbi should choose as his disciples, and how he should train them. The Pharisees followed this pattern, as did John the Baptist. Jesus, however, did not.

So both the Pharisees and the disciples of John were a little confused at the discipleship methods of Jesus. When they ask Jesus the questions of 5:30, 33, there is no animosity toward Jesus or criticism of His methods; just confusion and curiosity as to why Jesus was operating outside normal Jewish customs.

5:34. Jesus answers the question by speaking of a wedding feast. He asks if the friends of the bridegroom will fast while the bridegroom is with them. Jesus is identifying Himself as the groom, and His disciples as the friends. The question is rhetorical, as everybody knows that a wedding celebration is a time for feasting, not fasting. One who fasts at a wedding feast insults the bride and groom, especially if they are friends.

Jesus is not opposed to fasting in general, but fasting for his disciples at the present time. Fasting is a sign that a person is dissatisfied with the way their life and world is headed. It is a way of signifying an eschatological hope that God will restore righteousness and justice on the earth, and from a Jewish perspective, send the Messiah to do so (Green 1997:249). But for the disciples of Jesus, that which is hoped for in fasting—the Messiah—is already there. So there is no need for them to fast.

5:35. Jesus indicates that a time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away. Since Jesus is referring to Himself as the groom, many believe this is the first reference by Jesus to His future death and departure. Jesus says that when that day comes, then His disciples will fast.

This verse has been used by some to argue that Christians should not fast, and by others, to say we should. Those who argue against fasting say that the days of fasting which Jesus referred to when the bridegroom is taken away refer only to the three days between the death of Jesus and His resurrection. Now that He has risen from the dead, Jesus, the groom, is with us always, and so fasting is not proper for the Christian (Matt 28:20; cf. Morgan 1943:31).

The other position holds that although Jesus is with us spiritually, He is not with us physically, and fasting should be practiced until Jesus returns. The main strength of this position is the fact that the disciples did fast after Jesus had risen from the dead (cf. Acts 13:2; 14:23; 1 Cor 7:5).

The best approach seems to be that the verse should not be used to defend either position. Jesus is not trying to give guidelines for Christian piety (Wenham 1989:30). He is describing the kingdom and defending His discipleship methods, and is simply saying that while there will be a time for His disciples to fast, but that time is not now. When they do fast in the future, it should not be to reveal how holy and obedient they are to God, but in order to perform acts of justice and mercy (cf. 3:7-9; Isa 58:3-9; Jer 14:12; Zech 7:5-6; Joel 2:12-13). This type of fasting reveals the understanding that we wait for the final and complete inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth by living according to Kingdom principles of justice and mercy here and now.

5:36. Having answered the questions from the Pharisees and John’s disciples with the two images of a doctor healing the sick and friends not fasting a groom’s wedding, Jesus further explains His answers with three parables. It is crucial to recognize that the parables are told not just in relation to the question of how Jesus makes disciples (vv 33-35), but also the earlier questions of who Jesus chooses to be His disciples (vv 30-32), and how Jesus can offer forgiveness of sins (v 21).

Though verse 36 says He spoke a parable, the repeated phrase no one (vv 36, 37, 39) indicates that this parable contains three pictures with one common message or theme. In attempting to understand the pictures, one must remember that they are not just illustrations. Parables are stories that use shock, surprise, and humor to challenge the listener’s thinking, values, and point of view. Parables are the seeds of a paradigm shift in the minds of those who hear and understand. The pictures within this parable use humor to show why Jesus chooses sinners and societal rejects to be His disciples, and why He trains them through eating and drinking at parties. First Century hearers would have laughed when they heard the folly of the first two pictures (cf. Trueblood 1964:94-98; Eriksson nd:9).

The first humorous picture concerns patching an old garment. This fits with the image of a wedding feast. Handing out clothes is something that bridegrooms did during wedding celebrations (cf. Judg 14:12-19; Rev 3:5; Isa 61:10).

Jesus says that no one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one. The picture is humorous because no one would be so foolish as to destroy a new garment just to fortify, strengthen, or patch an old garment (cf. Bock 1994:519). The new garment is made of unshrunk cloth, and so when a piece of it is sewn onto an old garment, and then washed, it makes a tear in the old garment, so that both old and new are destroyed.

Aside from destroying both garments, the new does not match the old. It is nearly impossible to find a piece of new cloth that perfectly matches the old in color and appearance. Such a patch would be embarrassingly visible to all. For such reasons, old garments were generally not patched at all. It was better, they thought, to leave a small hole or rip in a garment, then to bring attention to it by trying to cover it over with a piece of cloth that did not match is color, texture, or style, thus bringing even more attention to the damaged clothing.

The way this parable is typically taught is that the Pharisees have an old garment with holes in it and Jesus is bringing a new garment. A Jesus is not going to destroy His new way of doing things just to patch up the old way. That would destroy both. Instead, He is going to discard the old, and teach and practice the new way.

However, in the cultural context, Jesus is not stating that the old ways should be discarded. He is not even saying the old ways should be patched. Today, when an article of clothing develops a hole, it is typically discarded. But this was not the case in biblical times. Old garments were much too valuable to be thrown out. They were hardly “worthless and useless” (Pentecost 1982:23). If a piece of clothing developed a hole, the person would first try to repair or patch the garment. If that was not possible, the garment would be saved for some other purpose, possibly to mend some future garment.

Therefore, Jesus is not saying anything negative about the old garment, that is, the ways of the Pharisees. Nor is He saying that His new way is superior. Rather, Jesus is saying is that He has a new way, which is similar to the old, but still different enough that the two will not mix well.

This first parabolic picture of Jesus is in answer to the question of verse 33, and explains why Jesus teaches and trains His disciples the way He does. Jesus has a new way of making disciples which is not focused on fasting, but feasting. He wants people to see that life with God is full of joy and celebration. While there will be times for somber fasting, a life lived with Jesus is a life lived to the full (John 10:10).

5:37. The second picture is that of wine and wineskins. As with the garments, wine is a picture of festivity and celebration, and is often equated with the joy of a wedding feast (cf. John 2:1-10). In this picture, Jesus humorously points out that no one puts new wine into old wineskins. There were numerous types of vessels that carried wine, but the most common were made from the skin of sheep or goats. After the animals were slaughtered, the hides were cleaned, and sewn closed where the legs had been. The spout of the wineskin was where the neck used to be (cf. Bock 1997:520).

Newly pressed wine, or grape juice and other ingredients needed to make wine, was poured into the fresh wineskin through the neck, and when it was full, the neck was tied shut to make the skin airtight. Over time, the juice would ferment. The fermentation process would produce gas. And this gas would cause the goatskin to expand. A wineskin could be used several times before it lost its elasticity (Pentecost 1982:23). Eventually, however, the skin would lose its ability to flex, and would no longer be suitable for making wine.

If someone tried to use a wineskin that had lost its elasticity for making more wine, the fermentation process would cause the old wineskin to stretch beyond its limit, and the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. Both would be destroyed. Jesus retains the touch of irony in this second parable as well (Bock 1997:520). Nobody would be foolish enough to put new wine into old wineskins.

5:38. The proper way to make wine is that new wine must be put into new wineskins. The new wineskins are supple, so when the new wine ferments in the skins, the skins expand, and both are preserved.

The traditional explanation of this second picture is like the first. Jesus was bringing new teaching and new ideas which could not be contained in the old ways of the Jewish Law. Therefore, the old ways should be abandoned for the way of Jesus. Typically, the way of Jesus is equated with grace, and the way of the Jews with law and legalism.

As a result of this traditional interpretation, numerous groups throughout church history have used this image to justify their own departure from other groups. Reformers used it to defend their departure from the traditions of Catholicism. Mostly newly formed denominations use the passage to explain their new forms of church. Charismatic groups use the passage to defend their view of the new work of the Holy Spirit.

All of these uses are based on an improper understanding of the imagery. First, the interpretation is based on bad theology. The idea that Jesus brought grace to replace the legalistic Jewish Law is false. Jesus was Jewish and intended to affirm the Law and fulfill it; not abolish and destroy it (Matt 5:17-18). The Law was good and gracious, and this parable must not be thought to say anything different.

A proper understanding of the imagery helps support the Jewish Laws and traditions. Like the old clothes of verse 36, old wineskins were quite valuable. Nobody would throw out old clothes, and nobody would dream of discarding old wineskins. To the contrary, old wineskins were often more valuable than new. They were often coated on the inside with pitch or tar, which made them watertight containers for storing almost anything. There is evidence of old wineskins being used to store and transport water, oil, grain, important documents, and even more old wine (Young 1995:157). Just because new wine does not get put into old wineskins, does not mean that the old wineskins are worthless and should be discarded. Rather, Jesus affirms the value of both old and new wineskins, and points out that each has its proper function. Using an old wineskin in a way it should not be used (to ferment new wine) will destroy the valuable wineskin and the ruin the wine.

Old garments were the finished products of a long process and old wineskins were prized for their ability to protect the wine from the air. For the original hearers…their cultural values were age, ancestry, and lineage and these values were directly tied to the material conditions of limited goods (Eriksson nd:11).

Used in this way, Jesus is once again affirming the traditional method of making disciples by the Pharisees and John, and the types of disciples they gather around them. He is not saying their way should be discarded. In fact, He is actually praising their ways and disciples by equating them to the valuable and useful old wineskins. Why does Jesus need new wineskins? Because He has new wine (discussed in v 39). The new wine is like the new clothes. Jesus has a new way of training disciples. Since this is so, Jesus cannot use the old type wineskin, that is, the old type of disciple that fits the traditional discipleship pattern. Jesus needs a new type of disciple to fill with His new discipleship methods.

If the first picture of this parable is in response to the question of verse 33 about why Jesus trains His disciples the way He does, this second picture of the parable is in response to the question in verse 30 about who Jesus has chosen as His disciples. Since Jesus has a new way of training disciples (v 36), Jesus needs new vessels to start with. He cannot use the traditional type of disciple, the educated, morally upright, respected individual—as valuable and as wonderful as such people are—they would not be able to wrap their minds around what Jesus was trying to do. The first picture showed that the way of Jesus is full of joy and celebration. This second picture includes that idea, but also shows that this way of Jesus is open and available to all people, even those other Rabbis would reject.

5:39. The third picture in this parable has proven the most difficult to fit into the traditional understanding of this passage. The first picture was about the new clothes, and the second about new wineskins. This third picture is about new wine. Jesus says that no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, “The old is better.” This verse is confusing at first because it is true that the old wine tastes better. Everybody knows that wine gets better with age, and this was true in Jesus’ day, as it is in ours. Ecclesiasticus 9:10b reads, “As new wine, so is a new friend; if it becomes old, thou shalt drink it with gladness.” Of course, at that time, wine was considered old after three years (Lightfoot 1989:78).

The reason for the confusion is because of the traditional understanding of verses 38-38. If Jesus is bringing superior clothes and superior wineskins, then shouldn’t He also have superior wine? But since old wine is better, does this mean that the new wine of Jesus in inferior?

Some commentators correctly note that wine is often a picture for the Jewish teaching about the Torah. The Torah itself is compared to water, the Mishnah to wine, and the Talmud to spiced wine (Culbertson 1995:276; Young 1995:158). So based on this image, it seems that Jesus is bringing new wine, or a new teaching about the Torah. This idea fits well with what Jesus said in verses 36-38, but does not seem to fit with verse 39, where He seems to agree with the universal consensus that when it comes to wine, the old is better.

There have been numerous ways of explaining how to understand this verse. Below are several possibilities that have been proposed over the years, ordered (in my opinion) by increasing probability. First, some, like Marcion, have simply removed the verse since it seemed to disagree with what they thought the passage was saying. Marcion also cut out of his Bible much of the Old Testament and many of the other difficult parables of Jesus (Metzger 2002:115; Mead 1988:234). So the first solution is simply to ignore or reject the verse. There are, however, other less drastic solutions.

The second solution focuses in on the word old (Gk. palaios) and retranslates it as “former,” then draws a parallel between this passage and the first miracle of Jesus in John 2:1-10 where He turns water in wine. There, when the steward tastes the wine that came from water, he exclaims that while most people serve the best wine first, Jesus has saved the best wine for last. Seeing a similar idea here, verse 39 is understood as saying that the wine Jesus brings is superior, even though it follows the older, or former, wine (cf. Wenham 1989:35).

Third, some focus in the word drunk (Gk. piōn) and understand the verse as saying that once a person has become drunk on old wine, they don’t really want more (“new”) wine, for they are already drunk. The old is good enough, and it accomplished its purpose. They’ll stick with what has worked. This imagery fits with the fact that Jesus is at a party where some of the participants may well have become drunk.

Fourth, in comparison to Acts 2:13 where the work of the Spirit at Pentecost makes others think that the disciples are drunk, some have taught that old wine, since it was more valuable, was drunk in moderation, and often even diluted with water. New wine, however, since it was cheaper, was drunk more liberally, and without dilution. Old wine was intended for refined, moderated drinking; new wine was used for drunken parties (cf. Hos 4:11; 7:14). Therefore, Jesus is thought to be saying that those who follow His teachings of the Kingdom should drink deeply of them. “We should give up the old, cautious ways, which are like sipping old wine, duly watered, with decorous moderation, and plunge into the kingdom, as though into a Bacchic revel” (Mead 1988:234; cf. also Kendall 2004:92). Other passages do seem to indicate that the Messianic age is compared to a party (Zech 9:17), and that early Christians may have taken Jesus’ words here too literally (1 Cor 11:21; Eph 5:18).

Fifth, one popular suggestion is to hear irony in the statement of Jesus. Everybody has encountered individuals who don’t want to try anything new, even though the new way may be better than the old way. Read in this way, the wine that Jesus brings, though “new” in time (Gk. neos), may be superior in taste and quality, and in fact, may even be “older” since it is what God originally intended (cf. Blomberg 1990:125; Schweizer 1984:112; Wenham 1989:33).

Finally, there are several textual variants in the verse, which may indicate that from very early on, scholars have tried to make sense of this verse. Depending on which Greek manuscript is used will determine how the text is understood. There are two main variants in verse 39 which affect the meaning The first is the word eutheōs, which is translated immediately (cf. NKJV). By including this word, the verse indicates that people stick with what they are used to. They have developed a taste for a particular type of wine, and when they taste something different, they don’t like it at first. They believe that the former, or familiar, wine is better. But later, if they continue to try the new, they may realize that the newer wine truly is better. “They can be brought round to new wine, given time” (Mead 1988:234).

The second textual variant is with the word better (MT Gk. chrēstoteros), which in other translations isbest (Gk. chrēstos). With this, the choice of wine becomes one of simple preference—“I like this wine better than that wine”—rather than an exclusive statement about which one is ultimately best. With both variants, the Majority Text is preferred (as translated in the NKJV), as it helps lead to the proper understanding of this verse, which is presented below. People who thought that Jesus was condemning the old ways of Judaism and were desiring to provide an explanation for why the Jewish people ultimately rejected Jesus as the Messiah, would be included to edit this verse.

The main difficulty with all of these options is in what they share: the assumption that Jesus was trying to do away with something bad in the discipleship methods of John the Baptist and the Pharisees. That assumption causes verse 39 to be difficult to understand. If, however, this assumption is abandoned, and it is recognized that Jesus is not criticizing the traditional pattern, but is simply introducing His own different way of choosing and making disciples, then the verse becomes clear. The differences between the methods of Jesus and those of the Pharisees and John “had nothing to do with patterns of religion. It was not that the two fasting groups were concerned with outside observances, while Jesus was concerned only with the inner attitude of the heart. Nor can the fasting groups be dismissed as legalistic ascetics in contrast to Jesus seen as a free-and-easy antinomian” (Wright 1996:433). Something else is going on.

Jesus is answering questions about what kind of teacher He is, and what kind of disciples He is making, and ultimately, why He is doing things the way He is. The picture of new clothes (v 36) answers the question about the way Jesus is choosing to make disciples (v 33). The picture of new wineskins (vv 37-38) answers the question about why Jesus calls sinners and tax-collectors like Levi to be His disciples (v 30). And finally, the picture of new wine (v 39) answers the question about why Jesus teaches what He does (v 21). These three questions and answers are brought out more clearly in Mark 2:1-22. And what is the ultimate answer to all these questions? The Kingdom has arrived. The exile is over. “The party is in full swing” (Wright 1996:433; cf. also Evans 2003:194).

In a way, therefore, the final statement of Jesus in verse 39 is a veiled invitation to the Pharisees and the followers of John to try the new wine. He is not denouncing them or their ways, but a full cup of His wine has been placed on the table, and they are invited to taste it. Though they may not like it at first, the invitation is there (Eriksson nd:12). Jesus has brought in the Kingdom of God, and the invitation to participate is open to all. “Jesus interprets his behaviors, which are questionable and innovative to some onlookers, as manifestations of God’s ancient purposes coming to fruition” (Green 1997:250).

Referring back to the textual variants helps support this view. It seems likely that an early scribe might have removed the word “immediately” (Gk. eutheōs), since no wine connoisseur prefers new wine to old, regardless of how often it is tasted, and since Jesus is not saying that one way of discipleship is best and all other ways are bad, but rather, that those who are used to one particular way, continue to prefer it, believing that it is better than others. The scribe may have also been inclined to explain why the Jewish people rejected Jesus as their Messiah, and so would have put “best” (Gk. chrēstos) in the place of “better” (Gk. chrēstoteros). These scribal corrections are to be rejected because Jesus is not saying that the methods of the John the Baptist and the Pharisees are bad or should be rejected, but that He simply has a new way, which they will not immediately (or ever) appreciate.

So Jesus invites all people, including the Pharisees, to join Him in this fresh way of following the Torah, but knows that people generally remain in their traditions and are uncomfortable trying something new. They prefer the old. Jesus knows that most will not change their ways, nor even try it. If there is a rebuke of the Pharisees and their teachings, it is only in this: that they are so entrenched in their traditional ways of following Torah that they will not even taste the fresh, new way of following the Torah that Jesus has brought (Bock 1997:522).

Jesus found that much resistance to accepting his message, on the part not of hostile but of well-intentioned and pious people, arose simply from this attachment to old ways and old ideas. They had stood the test of time; why should they be changed? This was a perfectly natural response, and one which was not totally regrettable: it could be a safeguard against the tendency to fall for anything new just because it was new—to embrace novelty for novelty’s sake. …Old wine has a goodness of its own and new wine has a goodness of its own. Personal preference there may be, but there is no room for dogmatism which says, ‘No wine is fit to be drunk till it is old’ (Kaiser 1996:457).

So Jesus uses new methods (new clothes) to provide new men (wineskins) with a new message (wine). Jesus is not saying that the message, men, and methods for making disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees are wrong. He is simply pointing out that their way is not for everyone, and leaves some people outside of the boundaries. Their way is good for those who fit the mold. But Jesus wants to reach those who have been abandoned, overlooked, bypassed, and rejected. Through His words, actions, and selection of disciples, Jesus is showing that the Kingdom of God has arrived. Though he doesn’t name it here, Jesus is beginning to introduce the New Covenant since the previous Covenant will eventually vanish (Heb 8:13; Luke 22:20; Wiersbe 1989:189)

Picking corn on the sabbath

Though on the surface, it seems that the issue in Luke 6:1-11 is the law and tradition surrounding the prohibitions for the Sabbath, the real issues are cultural and theological. The actions that Jesus performed on the Sabbaths in this passage were allowed in certain situations by certain people. So when Jesus performs these actions—or instructs His disciples to do so—He is not violating the Sabbath law, or even the oral tradition about the law, but is instead making a startling claim about Himself, His ministry, and His followers.

When understood this way, the two events in Luke 6:1-11 starkly reveal the new wine that Jesus brings, and the new wineskins He puts it in (cf. Luke 5:33-39). Jesus shows how His interpretation and application of the Jewish Torah for His disciples is different than that of the Pharisees and John the Baptist. He does this by taking one of the key, identifying laws of Jewish life, the law of the Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11, and interprets the law in such a way that does not break or abolish it, but fulfills and expands it for the benefit of all mankind.

Luke 6:1-5 will be considered here, and 6:6-11 in the next section.

6:1. Of critical importance to understanding Luke 6:1-5 is the difficult phrase at the beginning of the passage, on the second Sabbath after the first. This may be the most difficult and most discussed textual problem in the Gospel of Luke. The Greek phrase is sabbatō deuteroprōtō, and literally means “the second-first Sabbath.” Since deuteroprōtō is found nowhere else in Scripture or Greek literature, some believe it is a scribal error, and should be removed from the Greek text (cf. NIV, NAS; Bock 1994:534; Metzger 2002:116). Doing so, however, robs the passage of its force.

Among those who retain it, the word is usually translated as in in the NKJV, the second Sabbath after the first but this does not clarify which Sabbath is in view. Most scholars believe it doesn’t matter, and the events could have happened on any Sabbath of the year. This view notes that in the account that follows, the disciples of Jesus violate several of the 39 prohibited acts on the Sabbath as contained in the oral Torah, and based on this, the point of the passage is to show that Jesus followed the written Torah (the Pentateuch) but not the oral Torah (the Mishnah).

The point argued below, however, is quite different. Once it is determined which Sabbath Luke is referring to, it becomes clear that Jesus was not disobeying the oral Torah, but was in fact following it, and in so doing, made a provocative point about Himself and His ministry. To arrive at this conclusion, it must first be determined which Sabbath deuteroprōtō has in view.

A study of the Jewish background and the various views indicates that the Sabbath in question was Shavuot, the fiftieth day after Passover (see “What’s On Second? Who’s on First? Deuterōprotō in Luke 6:1”). According to the instructions in the Torah, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) Sabbath, like the Passover Sabbath, is not a weekly Saturday Sabbath, but is a holiday Sabbath, and can fall on any day of the week (Lev 23:21). This was the second of three Feasts which required pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Deut 16:16-17). During the Feast of Weeks, travelers would bring seven different kinds of first fruit offerings to the temple: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (Deut 8:8). Several special ceremonies were conducted as these offerings were brought in to the temple and presented before the Lord.

But there was another offering for this day that was prepared and brought specifically by the temple priests. It was twin loaves made from new wheat flour. These loaves were specially made and prepared by the priests, and most curious of all, they were the only loaves ever brought into the temple that contained leaven (Lev 23:17). A special ceremony was conducted to prepare these loaves.

On the day of Shavuot, the priests would enter a field specifically chosen for this ceremony, and would harvest three seahs (about 24 liters) of stalks of wheat. After harvesting the stalks, the wheat had to be prepared in a way the differed from the usual way of separating wheat from the chaff. Usually, when wheat was harvested, the grain and chaff were separated through the process of threshing and winnowing. But the preparation of the wheat for the twin loaves used a special procedure known as “rubbing and beating.” The wheat that had been harvested was rubbed in the palm of the hands and then beaten with the fist in the other hand, though some say the beating could be done with the foot on the ground (Neusner 1988:745, Mishna, Menahot 6:5). Later tradition required that the wheat be rubbed 300 times and beaten 500 times, but this was probably not in practice at the time of Jesus. These actions were performed, even though it was the Sabbath (Neusner 1988:756, Mishna, Menahot11:1-3).

Finally, after the wheat had been threshed and winnowed by hand in the field, it was brought into the temple, where it was made into bread with leaven, before being presented before the Lord as an offering.

Two things are unique about this offering. First, it is the only offering that is presented to the Lord with leaven. Leaven, or yeast, is always a symbol for sin in Scripture, and so no other offering ever contained leaven. Second, this was the only offering that was prepared and shaped by the hands of men. Every other time, when grain or an animal was brought into the temple as an offering, it was offered just as it was. Yes, the grain might be roasted over a fire, and the animal would be slaughtered before it too was roasted, burned, or boiled, but no other actions of forming, shaping, or molding the offerings were to be performed. Only the two loaves on the Feast of Weeks were formed in such a way.

So in this context, what does the term deuteroprōtō mean? As stated, both the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Weeks included offerings of the first-fruits. In Hebrew, the seven first fruit offerings of Shavuot are referred to as bikkurim, which is translated in the Greek Septuagint asprōtogenēmatōn (lit., “first ones.” Cf. Neusner 1988:168, 172, Mishnah, Bikkurim 1:6; 3:2). It is during the Feast of Weeks that the second first-fruits offering is brought into the temple (cf. Exod 23:19; 34:22; Lev 2:14; 23:17, 20; Neh 10:35; Ezek 44:30). So this seems to be the most likely explanation ofdeuteroprōtō. Deuteroprōtō is an abbreviated form of deuteroprōtogenēmatōn. The first first-fruits offering is the day after the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the second first-fruits offering is fifty days later on the Sabbath of the Feast of Weeks.

All of this is significant due to what Luke records next, that on this particular Sabbath, Jesus and the disciples went through the grainfields. This should be read quite literally. They were not on a path or road that went through the grainfields, but were walking off the path, through the midst (Gk.diaporeuomai) of the grainfields.

As they walked, they plucked the heads of grain (Gk. stachus, lit., “ears, stalks”). While this word can be used to refer to any kind of plant that produces stalks or ears, such as corn, barley, or wheat, in the New Testament, it always refers to wheat (Louw-Nida “stachus,” cf. also NET). The disciples are not plucking barley (Gk. krithē, cf. John 6:9, 13; Rev. 6:6), but wheat. Certainly, there is a more specific word for “wheat” (Gk. sitos) that could have been used, but Luke is not as concerned with the wheat as he is with what the disciples are doing with it.

He writes that after they plucked the ears, they ate them, rubbing them in their hands. Though this could be just a description of what they did with the grain (Bock 1994:522), it seems more likely that Luke points out their actions because of the symbolism of these actions on this particular day. These actions clearly resemble the actions of the priests as they harvest the grain and rub them in their hands to prepare the flour for bread.

6:2. The fact that some of the Pharisees were nearby and saw what the disciples of Jesus were doing shows that this was not just any grainfield, but was one specially tended and prepared for temple use on this day. If it were any random grainfield, one would have to conclude that the Pharisees were following Jesus around, or had coincidentally come upon Him as the disciples were picking grain (cf. Bock 1996:171).

Seeing what the disciples are doing, they ask them, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” The word Sabbath is plural, which may indicate that that the holiday Sabbath that year fell on Friday, causing back-to-back Sabbaths. But the issue of primary concern is why the Pharisees were questioning the disciples of Jesus.

Initially, people of western categories of thinking believe that the disciples of Jesus are stealing the wheat. The field was not theirs, nor was the wheat, and yet they plucked and ate of it as they walked along. But such is not the case. Land owners were required by Jewish law to let the poor and hungry eat from their fields. The poor could eat as much as they wanted as long as they did not do any harvesting, or collecting the grain in baskets. Even when it came time to harvest the field, the landowners were expected to leave the corners of the field uncut so that the poor could still eat (Lev 23:22; Deut 23:24-25). This was a form of practical welfare, and is seen in action in the book of Ruth.

So the Pharisees are not concerned that the disciples are eating grain that is not theirs. They are concerned that the disciples are plucking and eating this particular grain, in this grainfield, on this Sabbath. There were Jewish laws against thirty-seven types of work on a Sabbath, including harvesting, threshing, winnowing grain, and preparing food (Neusner 1988:187, Mishnah Shabbat 7:2). The disciples were technically doing all of these.

Sometimes priests could perform some of these prohibited acts on a holiday Sabbath if the holiday required it (Neusner 1988:756, Mishnah, Menahot 11:2-3; cf. Henry 1991:1671). For example, harvesting the firstfruits of barley for Passover was done on the holiday Sabbath by the temple priests (Neusner 1988:753, Mishnah, Menahot 10:3). Similarly, harvesting the firstfruits of wheat and preparing the twin loaves of bread could be performed by the priests on the holiday Sabbath (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 131a). So on both Passover and the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot, or Pentecost), the priests would enter into a field by the temple, harvest some grain, and then bring it into the temple to prepare as an offering.

It seems possible that the disciples were going through this particular grainfield on this particular holiday Sabbath, and performing actions that only temple priests were allowed to perform. The Pharisees, who are watching over the field, challenge the disciples for an explanation.

6:3. It is Jesus who answers the Pharisees, which may indicate that the disciples were acting on His instructions. As an answer, Jesus does not exactly defend the disciples or explain their actions, but provides a precedent from Israelite history. The account He chooses is when David…was hungry, he and those who were with him.

6:4. The account that Jesus refers to occurs in 1 Samuel 21. In 1 Samuel 20, King Saul’s son, Jonathan, told David to flee for his life because Saul wanted to kill him. In chapter 21, David and his companions have been on the run for three days, and have run out of food. After arriving in the town of Nob, David visits a priest in the house of God (this was before the temple was built), and asks the priest for five loaves of bread for him and his men. The priest tells David that the only bread he had was the holy bread, the showbread. The priest tells David that he can have the bread, if the men have not recently slept with women.

It is not important in this context why the priest required David and his men to have kept themselves from women, except to say that the showbread was holy and was intended for people who were ritually clean, as the priests usually were. What is important is that the priest recognized that according to the letter of the law, it was not lawful for any but the priests to eat the bread, the intent and purpose of the law enabled the priest to give the showbread to David and his men.

What did David and the priest know which Jesus also knew, but the Pharisees did not? The answer begins with understanding why the priests were given the bread in the first place. When God initially ordained the priesthood, He did not arrange for them to be paid. They did not receive a salary, a stipend, or any sort of monetary payment for their services. Nor were the priests allowed to own land. They were not given a portion of the land of Israel to grow crops or raise animals.

Instead, God provided for the needs of the priests through the grain and animal sacrifices of the people. When Israelites brought grain and animals to the tabernacle or the temple as an offering, a portion of it would be burned on the altar as an offering to God and the rest was usually reserved for the priests and their families.

Every week, to provide for their bread, the priests made twelve loaves of showbread (for more on the showbread, see Edersheim 1994:142). The loaves for the priests were made from the offerings of the first-fruits (which were stored in temple storehouses to last for the entire year), and any priest who had kept himself clean could eat of this bread (Num 18:11-13; 1 Sam 21:4-5). This bread for the priests was referred to as Terumah (or Terumah Gedolah) and is usually a food item given to the Priests as a gift. It is listed as one of the twenty-four priestly gifts.

These twelve loaves represented the twelve tribes of Israel, and were placed on a table in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle (Exod 25:23-30). Every Sabbath, new loaves replaced the loaves from the previous week, and the priests could then eat the loaves that had been removed (Lev 24:5-9).

The consumption of Terumah is guarded by numerous Torah-based restrictions and could be eaten by priests, their families, and their servants, as long as those who ate of these gifts were in a state of ritual purity. Interestingly, Terumah gifts were given to Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42, who gave them to other people who were in more need than he. While in this instance the loaves were made from barley, the point is still made that while the Terumah were generally reserved for priests, they could also be given to others who were in need. The intent and purpose of this law then, was to provide food for the priests, who had no other way of obtaining food.

When David came along, and he and his men were hungry, the priest recognized that at the core of this law, was God’s desire to provide food for those who did not have any. Even when the wheat was harvested for bringing it into the temple, God stated that some of the wheat be left in the field to provide for those who were poor and hungry (Lev 23:22). At this point in David’s life, he was both poor and hungry, and he was only asking for five loaves, which left seven for the priest, one for each day of the week.

So in 1 Samuel 21:5, David affirms that he and his men have kept themselves from women, and then goes on to point out that although the bread was consecrated in the vessel that very day, it had become common. This means that the day which David went to ask the priest for bread was a Sabbath day. The bread was changed every Sabbath. The fresh consecrated loaves were brought into the Holy Place and set upon the table, and the loaves from the previous week were brought out for consumption by the priests. The loaves that David was asking for were “in the vessel this day” which means that they had been brought out that very day, a Sabbath day.

Which raises the two points Jesus is making with this story.

Frist, the showbread was to be replaced early Saturday morning with freshly baked loaves. In order for the priests to accomplish this, they had to make the bread on the Sabbath. “The Sabbath-Law was not merely of rest, but of rest for worship. The Service of the Lord was the object in view. The priests worked on the Sabbath, because this service was the object of the Sabbath” (Edersheim 1988:v2,58). The Pharisees were allowed to do the work of baking bread on the Sabbath so that the loaves could be put out fresh on the table in the morning of the Sabbath.

The second point is that the loaves were intended as a provision for those who were hungry and in need (Pentecost 1981:165). Usually, this was the priestly family, but, as in the case of the priest giving the bread to David, the priest could give the loaves to those who were hungry or who were also in the service of the Lord. Though David was not yet king, the priest recognized that David was the anointed of the Lord, just as Jesus claimed about Himself and His disciples. Jesus, like David, “is waiting for the time when this kingship will come true. He too, is on the move with his odd little group of followers” (Wright 2004:67).

Both of these points relate to what Jesus and His disciples are doing in this grainfield on the Sabbath. By reminding the Pharisees of 1 Samuel 21, Jesus is implying that if the priests can make and exchange the loaves on the Sabbath, eat the old bread to satisfy their hunger, and give the bread to David who is also hungry, and none of this broke any of the Jewish law, then the disciples of Jesus can certainly eat a little grain on the Sabbath in order to satisfy their own hunger (cf. Matt 12:1). Jesus is saying that God’s law never intended to exclude people from basic needs, like eating, and David is an example of what the law really meant. In effect, if the Pharisees condemn the disciples, then they also condemn David and this priest who gave him the bread (cf. BKC 1983:219; Beale 2007:294; Wiersbe 1989:190).

Furthermore, if it is true, as argued above, that this Sabbath was the holiday Sabbath of the Feast of Weeks, then the actions of the disciples resembled that of the temple priests, who were not only allowed to perform these actions on this Sabbath, but were required to do so (cf. Henry 1991:1671). Jesus had His disciples perform similar actions to show that He was instituting a renewed Israel with a priesthood of all believers who did not require the mediation of temple or its sacrifices of sheep, bulls, and goats. Jesus was foreshadowing a means of direct access to God through Himself. This is the point of verse 5 (cf. the similar point in 5:20-21; Radmacher 1999:1260; Wright 2004:67).

Jesus was acting as a priest in providing food for His followers. This action had precedent in the example of David in providing similar food for His men. Furthermore, by having the disciples pick the grain and rub it in their hands, Jesus was foreshadowing the renewal of Israel and the creation of a Kingdom of Priests.

Jesus was not simply trying to provoke an argument with the Pharisees about the nature and restrictions of the Sabbath. Rather, He was trying to teach an important lesson to His disciples about the His own nature, and the purpose behind His mission. Jesus is saying that in Him are fulfilled the temple worship, the dwelling place of God with man (cf. Matt 12:6). In Jesus and His followers are the new priesthood, the new sacrificial system, and new center for the worship of God.

6:5. Though this final statement of Jesus has caused much consternation among scholars, the statement is simplified by understanding that Jesus is not claiming to be God, or that He has the infallible interpretation of the Torah. Though He is God, and does have an infallible interpretation of the law, his is not what He is stating in Luke 6:5 (contra EBC 8:887).

Rather, His statement is just another way of saying what He says elsewhere, that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In other words, man is to rule over the Sabbath; the Sabbath is not to rule over man.

In the Gospels, when Jesus speaks of The Son of Man, while He is referring primarily to Himself, He is also speaking of all humanity (cf. Mark 2:27). The phrase is the preferred title of Jesus for Himself. In using it, Jesus is not claiming to be a man (though of course He was human), but was making a claim to be the representative of all humanity (Pentecost 1981:162). He was the son of Adam (Heb., ben Adam), the new man. Just as Adam represented all mankind when he sinned in the Garden of Eden, so Jesus also represents all mankind in His life, death, burial, and resurrection (see Rom 5:12-21).

Based on this understanding then, when Jesus says that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, He is saying, “I, and all humanity with me, is Lord of the Sabbath.” In other words, humanity rules over the Sabbath; the Sabbath does not rule over humanity. Or, to put it another way, “People control Shabbat and not the other way around” (Stern 1992:89).

Yet some forms of Jewish tradition had made the laws and regulations of the Sabbath too difficult and demanding. Keeping the Sabbath had become too much work. The purpose of the Sabbath was to give mankind a day of rest, reflection, and rejoicing in God, one another, and creation. But instead, it had become a burden, exactly the opposite of what it should have been. Jesus, as the representative of all humanity, was showing how the Sabbath was truly to be kept.

The point of this entire passage then, is “not to pit the alleged legalism of the Pharisees (and scribes) over against the libertinism of Jesus” (Green 1997:252). Instead, it is simply to show that Jesus is living and acting within a particular form of Judaism which viewed mankind as the reason and ruler of the Sabbath, rather than the other way around. It serves us; we do not serve it. The same holds true with all other institutions, even those created by God. “Jesus is less concerned with abrogating Sabbath law, and more concerned with bringing the grace of God to concrete expression in his own ministry, not least on the Sabbath” (Green 1997:252). Divinely inspired institutions are given by God to man to help us live life to the full. They are not given as a means to gauge personal faithfulness to God.

Healing on the sabbath

After the surprising claim of Jesus in Luke 6:1-5 that He and His followers are the new priesthood, the new sacrificial system, and the new center for the worship of God, Jesus reiterates this point through a dramatic healing in a Synagogue on the Sabbath. As with the account in 6:1-5, the issue of what is allowed on the Sabbath is secondary to the theological and practical point Jesus makes in 6:6-11. Truth and law are to help free people in life and in their worship of God; not hinder them. A proper understanding and application of God’s law will not result in the development of roadblocks to God, but will open up access for all people.

6:6. Jesus, as was His custom on the Sabbath, went to the synagogue to teach. Sabbath teaching in the synagogue usually focused on a particular passage of Scripture, with a few Rabbis reading, translating, explaining, and applying the text (cf. Luke 4:14-16). In this account, the focus is not so much on what Jesus teaches from the words of Scripture, but on how He interacts with the people who are present, and what He teaches through His actions.

On this particular Sabbath, there was a man present whose right hand was withered. The termwithered is a medical term used by Luke to describe a hand that is atrophied or paralyzed (Shepard 1939:164). Some speculate that the Pharisees had brought this man in order to trap Jesus (cf. v 7; McGee 1983:IV,271), but it is just as likely Jesus brought the man to teach the Pharisees and His disciples something. If the latter option is true, then the man with the withered hand could have been the object lesson for the teaching of Jesus that Sabbath. However, it is not likely that Jesus would use people this way, so the most likely option is that the man just came to the synagogue that day. Maybe he was a regular attender; maybe he was just visiting. The point is that he was there.

Early second century commentaries on this passage indicate that the man was a mason, and so his paralyzed hand kept him from performing his work, and therefore, providing for his family (Barclay 1975:72; Evans 2003:241).

6:7. The scribes and Pharisees were also present at the synagogue, listening to and participating in the Sabbath teaching. But on this day, they were more interested in what Jesus did than what He said. They watched Him closely. There are numerous words for watching, looking, and seeing in Scripture, but the one Luke uses here (Gk. paratēreō), means “to spy on” or “to watch out of the corner of one’s eye” (cf. Ps. 36:12 LXX; Bock 1996:178; ZIBCC 1:375). It carries the idea of watching someone with malicious intent. Luke puts this word first in the verse, to give it emphasis.

So the scribes the Pharisees are not in the synagogue to learn, but to find an accusation againstJesus. They wanted to discover some way to charge Jesus with wrongdoing. Jesus knew the Pharisees were trying to find fault with Him, but He does not shy away from the conflict. Instead, He seems to head directly toward it. “He does not back away. The opposition may be secretive; but Jesus is open” (Bock 1994:529).

6:8. Jesus knew their thoughts, that they were trying to trap Him, and so He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” Frequently, synagogues followed many of the rules and regulations found in the Temple. Since teaching and discussion Scripture was considered to be a priestly duty, many of the laws and regulations about the priesthood were loosely applied to those who taught and discussed Scripture in the synagogue on the Sabbath. One such rule restricted people with a physical deformity such as a broken foot or broken hand (cf. Lev 21:19).

The deformity of the withered hand would have kept this man out of the Scripture discussion. Though he could attend and listen, he could not speak.

The fact that he was seated reveals his exclusion. In a typical synagogue of the time, the teaching Rabbi would sit, and those who were allowed to teach and interact with the Rabbi would stand near the front. Women, children, Gentile visitors, and those unqualified to participate in the dialogue, would sit in the back of the synagogue and around the edges of the room. Since this man was sitting, he was not being allowed to participate.

Yet, in obedience to Jesus, the man arose and stood. Jesus could have healed the man while he was sitting, but by asking the man to stand, Jesus indicates that the man is about to participate in the teaching.

6:9. Once the man had risen, Jesus said to the Scribes and Pharisees, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” To save life in this context has nothing to do with receiving eternal life, but is about restoring a man to full health so that he can use his hand. Such an action would indicate to all that the kingdom of God had arrived, and that God was at work through Jesus to redeem and restore the nation (cf. Evans 2003:241; Bock 1994:529). “In the wider Greco-Roman world of Luke’s day, ‘salvation’ had to do with ‘a general manifestation of generous concern for the well-being of others, with the denotation of rescue from perilous circumstances’ including, but hardly limited to the healing of physical malady” (Green 1997:256). This term was related to the hoped-for restoration of Israel which the Messiah would bring. In His actions toward the man with the withered hand, Jesus was hinting at His desire to bring healing and restoration to the withered land of Israel (Green 1997:256)..

The opposite of saving a life is to destroy (Gk. apollumi) it. This does not necessarily mean to kill someone, but can mean “to ruin, harm, or hinder.” To behave toward them in such a way that they cannot live life in a meaningful and productive way, fulfilling their potential within the Kingdom of God (cf. Schweizer 1984:113).

But in asking the question as He did, Jesus shows that there is no neutral ground. By framing the question as an either-or question—you can either save a life or destroy it—Jesus reveals that there are only two options when it comes to helping other people, and being part of the Kingdom of God. There is no neutral ground, and religious people are not always on the side they imagine. If someone refrains from helping another, it is the same has hurting them. “If any illness is left unattended when healing can be provided, evil is done by default” (EBC 8:887).

But the question of Jesus is much deeper than this. The Jewish religious leaders had laws which essentially said the same thing that Jesus has just indicated. Jesus was not asking this question to teach them. He was not even asking this question to see if they knew the answer. Jesus was not asking the question because He thought they had never thought about it before. He asked the question to show them that neither the question nor the answer really mattered.

The question Jesus raises was very similar to a question which the Pharisees already answered in one of their many books on how to keep the law. When it came to the law, the Jewish religious leaders left no stone unturned. Every question had been asked and answered. They had considered all aspects of what could and could not be done on the Sabbath.

One of the questions in their books on the Sabbath was whether or not it was permitted to heal on the Sabbath. Here is the answer they had come up with in one of their books of Sabbath regulations:

1. On the Sabbath, healing to save a life is not only permitted, but a duty. Jews were required to perform work if it would save the life of a person who would otherwise die.

2. Caring for the seriously ill was sometimes allowed on the Sabbath, but only under certain restraints and conditions.

3. Treating minor ailments is prohibited. This is because a minor ailment is not life threatening, and can therefore wait until after the Sabbath is over. Also, treating minor ailments often required the grinding of herbs to prepare medicine, and grinding is one of the prohibited forms of work (Edersheim 1988:2, 60-61; Stern 1992:117).

That was answer of the Jewish experts to the question of Jesus. Yet Jesus did not ask the question because He was ignorant of their answer, nor did He ask it because He thought they didn’t know the answer. He asked because He knew the answer, and He hated it.

It is not that the answer was wrong. It was technically the right answer. It was logical and consistent with the rest of Jewish law. It helped maintain the purity and sanctity of the Jewish Sabbath. But in this instance, Jesus doesn’t care about having the right or wrong answer to a theological question, nor does He want to debate with them about what is or is not work on the Sabbath.

In asking the question, Jesus is showing that the question itself is the problem. Neither the answer, nor the question, is what matters. What does matter? The person standing in front of them all is what matters. The man with the withered hand is what matters. It is not the time to develop theological answers to questions about human need and suffering when a person is standing in front of you who is suffering. At such times, debate and discussion is not helpful, but is only destructive and harmful. At such times, theological questions about what sort of people we can help, and when or why we can help them, are nothing more than theological excuses for a failure to help someone in need. “Law must submit to need. Put another way: law is not designed to prevent one from meeting needs” (Bock 1994:512).

This was why Jesus asked the question. The religious leaders had all the right answers for why this man with the withered hand should be seated in back, kept quiet, and relegated to second-class citizenship within Israel. But Jesus wanted to show that their theological answers to the problem of human suffering did not help people, but hindered them. Their answers did not saves lives, but destroyed them.

6:10. After asking His pointed question, Jesus looked around at them all. This is an interesting detail that Luke includes. It is as if Jesus was challenging anyone to answer His question while the suffering man was standing in their presence. As Jesus looked around, it would be interesting to know if the other teachers averted their gaze.

Jesus was probably also looking upon them with sorrow. They had all the truth one could ask for, but none of the love. Yet truth, if it is properly understood, leads to love.

After looking around the room, Jesus spoke to the man saying, “Stretch out your hand.” When the man did so, his hand was restored as whole as the other. There is a strong sense of irony in the statement by Jesus and the healing of the man. “Note the amount of labor involved in the healing: Jesus merely speaks a sentence” (Bock 1994:530). Undoubtedly, a lot of talking and speaking about the Scriptures had already taken place that day, while the man with the withered hand sat there, unattended, unhelped, and possibly judged. Jesus only says a few more words, but in so doing, heals the man.

Commentaries are often divided as to whether Jesus actually broke a Sabbath-day law here or not. Most argue that Jesus did break the Pharisaical understanding of the Sabbath law, but not any specific command of God. Some of these commentaries brought out how the Pharisees probably had some difficulty accusing Jesus here of any wrongdoing, since He didn’t actually grind any herbs or use any medicine. All Jesus did was command the man to stretch out His hand, which is not technically breaking the law.

One commentary rightfully points out that in the parallel passages of the other Gospels, and on other Sabbath-day conflicts, Jesus provides five reasons why He is allowed to heal on the Sabbath. The first reason, which Jesus gives in Matthew 12, is that the manmade laws of the Pharisees are not the same as the God-given laws of the Hebrew Scriptures. Although Jesus has broken man’s laws, He has not broken God’s laws.

Second, even according to the opinion of some Jewish leaders, it was okay to rescue a sheep who had fallen into a hole on the Sabbath (Evans 2003:242). Jesus argues that if it okay to rescue a sheep, it is definitely okay to heal a man (cf. Matt 12:9-14).

Third, Jesus says in numerous places that the Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath. This means that God has given the law to help man better serve and glorify God, not to enslave man and require him to glorify the rules.

Fourth, Jesus states in other contexts that “My Father has been working until now, and I too am working.” This means that God works every day, even on the Sabbath, and if God can do it, so can Jesus.

Finally, another Jewish rule allowed circumcision on the Sabbath. Jesus argues that if circumcision is okay, then healing on the Sabbath should also be allowed (Bock 1994: 528; Stern 1992:117).

While all of these arguments are true, they still miss the entire point of the actions of Jesus. It is not about who has the better argument, who knows the law better, or who can present the most logical case. It is not about whether Jesus broke the Sabbath, or changed the Sabbath, or really wanted to teach anything about the Sabbath at all.

Jesus wanted the Pharisees and His disciples to see the man. Jesus saw the man and his need, and had compassion on Him to heal him. He saw something good to do for somebody, and He did it. He did not allow the finer points of legal and theological debate keep Him from helping another person in need. Breaking the rules to help others in need is better than keeping the rules and failing to lift a hand.

It can be argued that if our interpretation of the law keeps us from helping someone in need, then our interpretation and application of the law is at fault. Jesus shows the entire goal and purpose of the law: to help people love one another. If the law does not lead us to love, it has not been properly understood or applied. The truth of this is revealed by its opposite in the following verse.

6:11. After seeing that the man’s hand had been healed, the scribes and Pharisees were filled with rage. The word for rage (Gk. anoia) is where we get the English word “annoy,” but is much stronger than it’s English descendant. In Greek, it is describes irrational anger, even pathological rage (Bock 1994:531; 1996:179; Radmacher 1999:1260; ZIBCC 1:376). The Pharisees were livid at Jesus.

This reveals that they never did see the man. In their minds, he was only a good illustration for a theological argument. But beyond this, they also missed out on seeing God at work. The religious leaders knew that healing only came from God. In John 3, the Pharisee Nicodemus says to Jesus that they all know no man can do the things Jesus does unless God is with Him. Yet the Pharisees, so intent on keeping the Sabbath, won’t even allow God Himself, who gave them the Sabbath, to go against their manmade traditions about the Sabbath and show love and mercy toward another human being.

One reason for the anger of the Pharisees is something Jesus said which Luke does not record, that the healing was accomplished because God was at work in Jesus to perform it (John 5:17-18). This was, after all, the only way a miracle could be performed. Therefore, God Himself works on the Sabbath. The miracle was therefore God’s endorsement of Jesus and His actions on this Sabbath day (Bock 1994:530).

But the worst part about this verse, is what they decide to do with Jesus. Luke records that discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. In His initial question in v 9, Jesus asked if it was lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy? In such a way, He revealed that there is no middle ground. One who fails to do good, ends up doing evil. One who fails to save a life, destroys it.

The Pharisees prove this point when they get upset at Jesus for healing the man on the Sabbath. Though their regulations forbade them from helping the man, they were still allowed by the same law to plot how they might kill Jesus (cf. Mark 3:6). In rejecting to do the good in front of them, they ended up plotting evil.

It is clearly debatable if Jesus did any official “work” on this Sabbath, and so at most, Jesus would have been lightly reprimanded. The reaction of the Pharisees in seeking capital punishment for Jesus is a definite over reaction to the law (Exod 31:14; 35:2). This marks the beginning of the controversy that Jesus has with the religious leaders.

The escalating controversy also marks the beginning of Jesus showing His followers that He is starting a new people with new rules and a new way of living. In the following verses, Luke selects twelve men who will lead the way in forming the “new Israel.” This new people will be defined by their loyalty to Jesus in the new age that was dawning. They would no longer be bound to many of the laws and regulations of the age that was passing away, as that part of the old creation was drawing to a close (Wright 2004:69).

Salvation history

I. The Opportunity of Salvation

The word “salvation” is used five times in the book of Luke (Luke 1:77; 2:30; 3:6; 19:9, 44.). The clearest presentation of the word is used in Luke 19:44 where Jesus saw the city of Jerusalem, began to weep, and said,

How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation (Luke 19:42-44, emphasis added, New Living Translation).

It is important to make a few observations about this verse.

1.    Salvation is said to be an “opportunity.”
The opportunity for salvation is through Jesus’ words and work on the Cross. The people of Jerusalem did not accept the opportunity for salvation that Jesus presented them. One of the main themes of the Bible is how humans can respond to that opportunity for salvation. As Allison Trites writes in the
Gospel of Luke, Acts, “God is seen preeminently at work to fulfill his purposes in salvation history in Jesus” (p. 14). Jesus revealed himself as the one who brought salvation. 1

2.    The four previous mentions of the word “salvation” in the book of Luke affirmed that Jesus was the one able to bring salvation.
That ability to bring salvation is what predicted the opportunity of salvation through him.

3.    Jesus was weeping because “the nation missed the opportunity to respond to the eschatological moment, that is, to his [Jesus] visitation.”2
Luke 19:42-44 tell of how Jesus “had visited his people as he had promised. The Messiah had come to seek and to save the lost. They refused to recognize they were lost. They refused to see God’s glory in Jesus or to give God glory for sending Jesus.” 3

4.    Jesus was sad because he knew that their decision to reject him would cost them dearly.
This was the salvation opportunity for the Jewish people yet they failed to accept it (Trites, p. 261).

5.    Because the people had not accepted their opportunity for salvation, they therefore rejected the Son.
Luke’s Gospel is a clear presentation about how Jesus was affirmed as the Son of God, performed miracles, died for those who followed him, rose again, and ascended to heaven. Furthermore, because the people of Jerusalem had rejected Jesus and his work, their rejection would cause God’s judgment to come.

II. Other Verses Explaining Salvation in the Book of Luke

Within the book of Luke several other verses also expand on this main passage about salvation.

Three of the five times Luke mentions the word “salvation” it is found in the beginning section of Luke (chapters 1-3, see attached chart). In this beginning section Luke’s emphasis is on the words and statements of others about Jesus and the salvation he brings. From the beginning of Luke’s Gospel Jesus was acclaimed as the promised deliverer (Trites, p. 22). Because one of the main messages of Luke’s Gospel is to present how Jesus, as God, was affirmed as the Son of God, Luke uses the affirmations of three different characters to show Jesus as the means to salvation. In this way, Luke is using people to affirm who Jesus was before Jesus stated who he was.

The first reference to Jesus as salvation is from Zechariah who declared, “You [John] will tell his [Jesus] people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). While filled with the Holy Spirit (1:67) Zechariah gave this prophesy about his son, John. Zechariah showed that John would prepare the way for Jesus, the one who would forgive sins. If salvation comes from the forgiveness of sins, who has the power to forgive sins? That is Jesus; therefore, salvation is through Jesus.

The next use of “salvation” in the book of Luke is when Simeon, a righteous and devout man waiting for the Messiah, held Jesus and said, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Again, Jesus is seen as salvation. When Simeon saw Jesus, he saw salvation. It should be noted that the use of salvation by Zechariah and Simeon connects to the Old Testament concept of “bringing deliverance.” The Holeman Treasury of Key Bible Words states that bringing deliverance as savior was applied to the coming of Christ in Zechariah’s prophecy (Luke 1:69, 71; Ps. 106:10; 132:17) as well as Simeon’s hymn of praise (Luke 2:30). 5

The third use of the word “salvation” in the book of Luke is when John the Baptist quoted from Isaiah saying, “And then all people will see the salvation sent from God” (Luke 3:6). This affirms that the one sent from God (Jesus of supernatural birth, [Luke 1:26-38]) is the one that is salvation. Similar to previous verses, seeing Jesus is the same as seeing salvation.

After these three introductory remarks about salvation the word is not used again until Luke 19:9 where Jesus responds to Zacchaeus’ decision to give half his wealth to the poor and four times as much to the people he had cheated on their taxes (Luke 19:8). Jesus responded with, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.” The first three presentations of salvation in the book of Luke were seen as Jesus as its source. This is the first time Jesus directly declared himself as the instrument of salvation. Jesus declared Zacchaeus righteous and that salvation had come to him, probably because of his belief in Jesus and his response to Jesus.

III. Synonyms of Salvation in the Book of Luke

There are eight synonyms in the book of Luke that help to explain his concept of salvation.

A. Eternal Life

“Everyone who has given up house or wife or brother or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come” (Luke 18:29-30, emphasis added). For those who are saved Jesus promised eternal life in paradise (Luke 23:43).

B. Believe

During the time of Jesus’ resurrection he was walking with two of his followers and he said, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25, emphasis added).

Earlier in Luke several women had returned from the empty tomb and told everyone what they saw. “The story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.” (Luke 24:11, emphasis added). Responding to Jesus’ offer for salvation with belief is one of the most frequent descriptions from Luke about how to receive salvation. 6

C. Acknowledge

“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels” (Luke 12:8, emphasis added). Acknowledging Jesus on earth and what he came to do is what allows people to join him in the presence of God’s angels. The people who responded to Jesus on earth are the same people who are promised a warm reception in heaven (Trites, p. 22).

D. Repent

Jesus opened his disciples’ minds to interpret the Scriptures and told them during his last conversation with people on earth, “There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent” (Luke 24:47, emphasis added).

Repentance of sins is frequently emphasized in the book of Luke as a proper response to Jesus because someone receives salvation by repenting. 7 In Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology, vol. 3 he comments on repentance saying repentance “is almost universally added to believing as a requirement on the human side for salvation” (p. 372). He continues, “Repentance is not in itself equivalent to believing or faith, though, being included in believing, is used here as a synonym of the word believe” (p. 378).

E. Sacrifice

While teaching to a large crowd Jesus told them, “You cannot be my disciple without giving up everything you own” (Luke 14:33).

Jesus had elaborated on this same point earlier in his ministry saying, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 9:26-27).

In these two passages Jesus spoke of sacrificing a person’s will, desires, needs, and ambitions all for the sake of following him. This sacrifice in order to follow Jesus is how to get salvation.

F. Forgiveness

After opening the minds of his disciples to interpret the Scriptures Jesus gave this statement during his last time speaking with people on earth, “There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent” (Luke 24:47, emphasis added). This forgiveness of sins was something only Jesus could do and was one of the expressions used in the Gospel of Luke to describe the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. 8

It is important to remember that these synonyms are not to be seen as different ways of salvation. They are simply different ways of expressing God’s opportunity for salvation. Neither are these synonyms a list from which people can chose which ones they like best. People “enter into God’s kingdom through one response that involves faith, repentance, baptism, confessing Christ, following Jesus, and keeping the commandments.” 9 This is not a process, it is an act which contains all of these responses. 10 As this examination of synonyms has been used to discover the meaning of the word “salvation” in the book of Luke an examination of antonyms will also be presented.

IV. Antonyms of Salvation in the Book of Luke

A. Denial

“Anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels” (Luke 12:9, emphasis added). Jesus was clear that those who knew him on earth would know him in heaven, but those who denied him on earth would be denied in heaven.

B. Rejection

When sending out his disciples for ministry Jesus told them, “Anyone who rejects you is rejecting me. And anyone who rejects me is rejecting God, who sent me” (Luke 10:16, emphasis added). Rejection of Jesus is a rejection of God, therefore also a rejection of the opportunity of salvation of which Jesus was.

C. Punishment

While talking about the Pharisees to his disciples Jesus taught, “They [Pharisees] shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished” (Luke 20:47, emphasis added). Punishment will fall upon all those who do not confess Jesus as Lord and follow him.

V. Salvation in the Book of Luke

Salvation is an emphasis in the book of Luke.

From start to finish Luke presents Jesus as the Savior, Messiah. In chapter one of Luke, Jesus was pointed to as the one who would bring salvation through the forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77). Then that message was affirmed by Simeon (Luke 2:30) and again by John the Baptist (Luke 3:6). Jesus himself claimed to be able to offer salvation when declaring that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ home (Luke 19:9).

With his final affirmation of salvation in Luke 19:44, Jesus stated that those who had not responded to the offer of salvation (himself) would be crushed, because he was the offer of salvation.




Very detailed notes!! brilliant



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