Notes on Prayer: James 5:13-18

The recent notes and studies on Hezekiah’s prayer (see the previous study in this series) dealt with the subject of praying for healing/deliverance from illness or disease. This is a longstanding aspect of human religious experience. There is a natural tendency to turn to God (or a particular deity) when one is faced with illness, and especially so if the condition is life-threatening (as in the case of Hezekiah). Even persons whose religious commitment or devotion is minimal are likely to petition God for healing in such circumstances. This continues to be true today, even with our much increased understanding of the scientific physiological causes of disease (and resultant treatment). The current pandemic, however, afflicting people in different parts of the world, has highlighted the limitations of even the finest examples of modern medicine, and brings to the fore a renewed interest in the religious phenomenon of prayer for healing.

Like the psalm that follows the prayer of Hezekiah (in the Isaian version, 38:9-20), and attributed to the king, there are a number of Psalms which are framed as petitionary prayers to YHWH for healing (from life-threatening illness, and/or related dangers). You may wish to consult, for example, my earlier studies on Psalms 6 and 30. In such Psalms, a lament for the suffering one faces alternates with thanksgiving for the deliverance God brings (or will bring). Mixed in with the petition is an appeal to God, based on the fact that the sufferer (the protagonist of the Psalm) has remained faithful and devoted to YHWH, repenting of any sin and disavowing association with any wickedness. The protection God provides the righteous, according to the principle of the covenant-bond, would include rescue/deliverance from any life-threatening danger.

When we turn to the New Testament writings, it is interesting to note how little is said regarding healing from illness—and of prayer for healing, in particular.

To be sure, there are many incidents of healing recorded in the Gospels and Acts. A number of healing miracles performed by Jesus are recorded, some of the episodes being told in a most memorable fashion, often tied to important sayings and teachings of Jesus. Healing miracles were especially characteristic of the Galilean ministry period, according to the narrative structure of the Synoptic Gospels (see esp. Luke 7:21-22 par, cp. 4:18-19ff). In addition to the specific miracles recorded in the Synoptic tradition, we have the key summary statements in Mark 1:34; 3:10 par, etc. Given the close association, in the thought-world of people at the time, between evil spirits and illness/disease, it was natural that miracles of healing were related to exorcism miracles, being performed equally (and at the same time) by Jesus (cf. especially the tradition in Mark 3:22ff par). His disciples were given authority over the evil spirits, so that they could perform the same sorts of healing miracles (Mk 3:15; 6:7, 13 par). This continues among the apostles and early Christian missionaries in the book of Acts (cf. 3:1-16ff; 4:30; 5:15-16; 8:7; 9:32-42; 14:8-10ff; 20:7-12; 28:8), where miracles were performed ‘in the name of Jesus’. Healing miracles were also part of the manifestation and work of the Spirit among believers, at least in the Pauline congregations (according to 1 Cor 12:9, 28ff).

In spite of all this, the recorded miracles of healing are not specifically tied to prayer by the person afflicted. Prayer is mentioned in the exorcism miracle tradition of Mark 9:14-29 par (v. 29), but as a requirement for the person performing the healing (i.e. Jesus’ disciples). The context of the Synoptic narrative tradition in Mk 1:35ff par would suggest that Jesus’ ability to perform healing miracles was connected in some way to his time spent alone in prayer. But nowhere do we see prayer enjoined on the person who is afflicted—i.e., that they should pray for healing, and thus be delivered from affliction. The closest we come to this, perhaps, is in the exchange between Jesus and the blind beggar in Mark 11:47-52 par (cf. also the exchange with the crippled man in John 5:6ff). However, the point is that trust in God (and in Jesus) results in healing, not prayer per se (cf. Acts 14:8-10).

More to the point, nowhere in the New Testament does the author direct or encourage believers to pray for healing when they are afflicted by illness. The inclination to pray to God in such instances was so commonplace (and natural) that perhaps there was no need to mention it; however, given the tendency toward superstition and quasi-magical ritual in such matters, one might expect some direct teaching on the subject. Even in the Lord’s Prayer, there is no petition for healing and physical health as such, unless it is to be subsumed under the request for ‘deliverance from evil’ (Matt 6:13); given the close connection between evil spirits and disease, this is certainly possible. The best support for the idea of praying for healing is found in Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in the “Last Discourse”, if we view requests to the Father “in my name” as a more generalized extension of the apostolic healings peformed ‘in Jesus’ name’ (Jn 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24ff; cp. Acts 3:6, 16; 4:7, 10ff, 30; 16:18; 19:13ff); requests for healing would thus be rightly included among believers’ prayers to God.

There is, however, little evidence on this point in the remainder of the New Testament writings. Paul refers repeatedly to prayer for deliverance, but typically in the context of rescuing he (and other ministers) from dangers and obstacles in proclaiming the Gospel (Rom 1:10; 15:30; Phil 1:19; Col 4:3; 2 Thess 3:1, etc), and not for healing from illness or disease as such. There is really only one passage in the New Testament that ties together prayer and healing from disease, giving specific direction for believers in the matter: James 5:13-18.

James 5:13-18

The teaching in this passage is relatively straightforward, even if we do not have complete information on the details of the prayer/anointing ritual that are being referenced.

“Does any(one) among you suffer bad(ly)? He must speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray]. Does any(one) have a good impulse? He must make music (to God).” (v. 13)

Two general conditions are described here: (1) suffering some kind of trouble or affliction (not necessarily illness or disease), as indicated by the verb kakopaqe/w (“suffer bad[ly]”); and (2) the opposite, where things are going well for a person, so that one “has a good impulse” (eu)qume/w, in English idiom we might say “is in good spirits”). One is to “speak out toward” God, making a request in prayer, when suffering affliction.

“Is any(one) among you without strength [i.e. sick/weak]? He must call alongside the elders of (the ones) called out (to assemble) [i.e. the congregation], and they must speak out toward (God) over him, rubbing [him] with oil in the name of the Lord.” (v. 14)

Quite often, sickness is defined by the term a)sqenh/$ (lit. “without strength”); here the denominative verb as)qene/w (occurring 33 times in the NT) is used, meaning “be without strength” (i.e. “be sick, weak”). This refers specifically to someone who is sick or weakened by illness, disease, or a debilitating condition. Such a person ought to call on leading ministers (“elders”) of the congregation, and it is they who will pray to God, anointing (lit. rubbing) him with oil reserved (and consecrated) for just such a ritual purpose. All of this is done “in the name of the Lord”, that is, in Jesus’ name, in accordance with early Christian tradition (cf. above).

“And the (word) of trust, spoken out (to God), shall save the (one) being wearied (by sickness), and the Lord shall raise him (up); and, if he would have been doing (any) sinful (thing)s, they shall be released [i.e. forgiven] for him.” (v. 15)

Interestingly, here it is not the trust/faith of the sick person, but of those ministering to him, that leads to healing. The trust of the sick person certainly is implicit in the process, at least insofar as he/she has trusted enough to call on the elders for help. Some allowance would doubtless be made for the person’s weakened condition; in such instances, it is necessary for the rest of the community (esp. the leaders of the congregation) to give their strength (of faith) to the person in his/her weakness. The trust of the ministers is expressed through their prayer, spoken out (loud) to God. This verse would seem to promise that such a prayer will be answered, when performed in the proper context of the community, where it is done “in Jesus’ name”.

On the latter point, there may certainly be a tendency to treat prayer “in Jesus’ name” as a quasi-magical formula, which, in turn, would lead to a superstitious sort of Christian practice. It may be debated the extent to which a magical healing-formula is in view here in the letter of James, any more so than in the early apostolic miracle-traditions in the book of Acts (cf. above). In the best sense, we are dealing not with a specific formula, but of trust in the divine power of Jesus Christ that is at work, in and among believers, through his Spirit (which also the Spirit of God). This seems to be specified here by the expression eu)xh\ th=$ pi/stew$ (“[word] of trust spoken out”). Ultimately, it is the power of Christ himself (“the Lord”) that raises the person back to health.

The verse here also makes a rather clear association between sickness/illness and sin, though recognizing (as elsewhere in the New Testament), that such illness is not necessarily the direct result of sin. Thus, there is the conditional statement here, using the subjunctive (and introduced by the conditional particle e)a/n): “if any one would have been doing (any) sinful (thing)s”, i.e., if the person has been committing any sins that may have led to his/her illness. The promise is that, through the prayer of trust, such sins will be forgiven (lit. “released”). In all likelihood, there is a similar connection between sin and illness in 1 John 5:14-17, a passage for which a precise interpretation has been notoriously difficult (and controversial). I discuss it at length in prior notes and studies. Whatever else one may say about the 1 John passage, it deals with the issue of the prayer by the community for a person who has sinned, and who may be suffering (illness?) as a result.

“So (also) you must give out an account as one to (each) other of the sins (you commit), and you must speak out (to God) over (one an)other, so that you may be healed. The request (to God) of a just (person) has much strength, being at work in (him).” (v. 16)

The connection between sin and illness is further extended here, with an instruction intended to prevent such sickness from occurring, and to bring about regular and timely healing of illness, before it reaches the point where it is necessary to call on the elders. This involves the public acknowledgement (i.e. confession) of sin, done on a regular basis. Admittedly, this is an aspect of early Christian practice that has largely disappeared from congregation life over the centuries, and is practically non-existent in most modern day churches. One expects that it would be most difficult to restore the practice, even if one believed that it should be restored (a point that can be debated). It does, however, reflect a sense of cohesive congregational unity that can be judged as quite healthy, on the whole. Like most aspects of communal Christian life, it requires that the practice be rooted in genuine trust, love, and the guidance of the Spirit. This latter point seems to emphasized here in the closing statement, regarding the strength of a just/righteous person’s prayer, based as it is upon the power of God/Christ that is “working in” (vb e)nerge/w) the believer—which we must identify with the Spirit, though it is not stated so in the letter. We might fill in the translation as “(God’s power) being at work (in him)”. On the role of the Spirit, as superseding any specific congregational ritual or practice, this point will be discussed in detail in an upcoming study.

From a Christian standpoint, the just/righteous (di/kaio$) person means, primarily, one who trusts in Jesus; yet the author concludes the discussion with an example of an earlier kind of “righteous one”, from the Old Testament (vv. 17-18)—the prophet Elijah, whose miracle-working power is attributed to his faith and earnest prayer to God. The illustration is taken specifically from the tradition in 1 Kings 18. Elijah was not especially associated with prayer in the Old Testament narratives, but this aspect became more prominent in subsequent Jewish tradition (e.g., 2/4 Esdras 7:109; m. Taan. 2:4; b. Sanh. 113a; j. Sanh. 10, 28b, etc; cf. Davids, p. 197).

Apart from this passage in James (and the possible context of 1 John 5:14-17, cf. above), there is only one other instance in the New Testament where health and healing are connected with prayer—in 3 John 2. There the sentiment is expressed in the most general manner: it is a wish for health and wholeness (in the body), even as things go well for the person in their soul.

To the relative paucity of references to prayer for healing, we must also add one famous passage where God does not answer a faithful believer’s fervent prayer for healing from a troublesome ailment. This, as you may guess, is Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh” illustration in 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10. It will be discussed in the Notes on Prayer next Monday.

 

Notes on Prayer: Isaiah 38:1-8ff

Isaiah 38:1-8ff

In the previous study of this series, we looked at the prayer of Hezekiah in Isaiah 37:15-20 (= 2 Kings 19:15-19); today we will examine another instance of prayer, also involving Hezekiah. This time the situation is that of a grave illness experienced by Hezekiah, one which was life-threatening, putting him in danger of death. Such was a relatively common occurrence in the ancient world, when life-spans were considerably shorter, mortality rates much higher, and medical knowledge regarding disease treatment and prevention quite limited by comparison with what is available to us today. Even so, the current pandemic being experienced widely, if to varying degrees, around the world can serve as a reminder that the modern age is not without its own dangers from life-threatening disease.

Hezekiah’s prayer, in this instance, is for healing—surely one of the most common occasions for prayer to God, both in Hezekiah’s time, and even now today. Here is how the historical tradition is recorded in the opening narrative of Isa 38:1-2 (the parallel version in 2 Kings 20:1-2 is virtually identical):

In those days, YHWH-is-(my)-strength [„izqîy¹hû] became weak (with illness) to (the point of) death, and YHWH-saves [Y®ša±y¹hû], son of Amôƒ, the spokesperson (of YHWH), came to him and said to him, “So says YHWH (to you): ‘Give instruction to your house(hold), for you are dying and will not live.'” And „izqîy¹hû turned his face around to the wall and made a petition to YHWH…

In verse 1, I have translated the YHWH names (= Hezekiah, Isaiah), rather than simply transliterating them in English, as a reminder that they are YHWH sentence/phrase names, and indicate how deeply religious devotion to YHWH was woven into the fabric of Israelite society at the time. The name Hezekiah (WhY`q!z+j!, „izqîy¹hû) means something like “YHWH is (my) strength”, or “YHWH gives strength”, possibly in the wish-form, “(May) YHWH give strength”. Similarly, Isaiah (Why`u=v^y+, Y®ša±y¹hû) has the meaning “YHWH is (my) salvation”, or “YHWH saves”, “(May) YHWH save”. These names, in their proper meaning, are significant in terms of the subject and action of the narrative—that is, prayer to YHWH for salvation and strength (i.e. healing) from illness.

The prophet Isaiah—the term ayb!n` literally referring to a spokesperson (for God)—comes to Hezekiah announcing to him that he will die, and will not recover. The implication is that this announcement reflects God’s will and decree regarding the fate of Hezekiah—i.e., this is when his life will end. Faced with the prospect of certain death, Hezekiah makes a plea or petition to YHWH. The verb ll^P*, in the reflexive Hithpael stem, often denotes the specific idea of seeking a judicial ruling (arbitration) on behalf of another person. It came to be used in the sense of the religious devotee seeking arbitration from God Himself (as judge) with regard to a certain situation or set of circumstances (such as a life-threatening illness).

Even though a designated prophet of YHWH had announced that he would not recover, Hezekiah still makes his case to God (the Judge) that he should be healed and allowed to recover. The substance of this petition is given in verse 3:

And he said, “Oh, YHWH, (I would ask that you) remember (the way in) which I have walked about before your face [i.e. before you], in firmness and with a whole heart, and th(at) I have done (what is) good in your eyes!” And „izqîy¹hû wept (with) great weeping.

The opening word aN`a* and the particle an` (attached to the verb rkz) are both particles of entreaty, which are nearly impossible to translate literally in English. I approximate the sense above with “Oh, … (I would ask that you)…”. The basis of the appeal is ethical and religious, rooted in the fundamental idea of faithfulness (to God) and covenant loyalty. According to the ancient concept of the binding agreement (tyr!B=, i.e. covenant bond), especially in terms of a suzerain-vassal agreement, the faithful/loyal vassal is promised protection by the sovereign, which extends to anything that might threaten his life. The king Hezekiah, portraying himself as a loyal vassal of YHWH, asks God to “remember” (vb rk^z`) his years of faithfulness and devotion (to the covenant). This is expressed two ways:

    • The idiom of “walking about” (vb El^h* in the Hithpael reflexive stem), as a reference to a consistent pattern of behavior, over a period of time; the sense of covenant loyalty is further defined by the expressions
      (a) “in firmness” (tm#a#B#), the noun tm#a# connoting a person who is trustworthy and reliable
      (b) “with a whole heart” (<l@v* bl@B=), corresponding to the English idiom “whole-hearted”, though we might also say “with a pure heart”
    • Doing “th(at which is) good” in God’s eyes, more properly implying upright and moral conduct; this alludes primarily to the requirements and regulations of the Instruction (Torah), which effectively represent the terms of the covenant between God and Israel.

This appeal to one’s own faithfulness and righteousness may be somewhat disconcerting to us as Christians, as it seems to resemble, at least on the surface, the sort of prayer uttered by the Pharisee in the parable of Luke 18:9-14 (vv. 11-12). There are other instructions in the New Testament warning against relying upon one’s own righteousness for receiving help/salvation from God. A simple appeal for mercy from God, asking for His favor, would seem to be more fitting (from a Christian standpoint). And, indeed, a heartfelt appeal to God for mercy, more akin to the utterance of the toll-collector in the Lukan parable, is perhaps implied by the notice of Hezekiah’s great weeping that accompanied his prayer.

However, from the standpoint of Israelite religion during the kingdom period, it was the covenant framework which defined how the people (and the king, in particular) related to God. And this covenant between Israel and YHWH was very much understood in terms of the religious and cultural conventions of the time, including the form and function of the ancient Near Eastern “binding agreement”, with its strong ethical-religious and judicial aspects. Any appeal to the covenant would, by its nature, have to be expressed in both ethical-religious and judicial terms.

We find many examples of this throughout the Old Testament, including a number of instances in the Psalms which evince the covenant setting, and also a royal background roughly comparable to the context here in Isaiah 38. There are quite a few Psalms in which the Psalmist (or protagonist of the poem) makes a judicial appeal to God, affirming and defending his faithfulness, and asking God to act on his behalf.  Often the appeal involves deliverance from one’s enemies/adversaries, which can include rescue from the great enemy of all—Death itself. In several Psalms, it is deliverance from a life-threatening illness that is in view; see, for example, Psalm 6 (discussed in an earlier study), as well as the more recent study on Psalm 30. As it happens, the Isaian version of the narrative regarding Hezekiah’s illness, also includes a psalm of this sort (see below).

Following Hezekiah’s prayer, a new word comes to Isaiah, from YHWH, announcing that the king’s fate is changed:

And there came to be a (new) word of YHWH to Y®ša±y¹hû, saying: “You must go and say to „izqîy¹hû, ‘So says YHWH (the) Mighty (One) of David your father: I have heard your petition, (and) I have seen your tears; (now) look! I will again (put) upon your days [i.e. the days of your life] (an addition of) fifteen years'”. (vv. 4-5)

The heartfelt prayer of Hezekiah, with its implicit covenant appeal, results in a change of the divine decree. God has answered his servant’s prayer. Apart from what this means for the individual, in the wider (historical and literary) context of the narrative the change in fate has significance for the community as well. Hezekiah’s illness (with its threat of death), the focus in chapters 38-39, is set parallel to the terrible danger (and threat of destruction) facing Jerusalem from the Assyrian invasion (chapters 36-37). The two are clearly tied together, with the one (Hezekiah’s illness) serving as a symbol for the other (the Assyrian invasion). This is stated precisely, even in the immediate context of our passage, as the prophetic word of YHWH continues in verse 6:

“And, from (the) palm [i.e. hand] of (the) king of Aššûr I will snatch you away, and this city, and I will give (my) protection over this city!”

The righteous/faithful king Hezekiah, who turns to YHWH in prayer and supplication in his time of need, stands for the people as a whole—the faithful remnant of Judah—and the city of Jerusalem. The two go hand in hand—the chosen one (king) and chosen city (Jerusalem)—and both symbolize the faithful ones of God’s people, those who are to be saved and delivered from the danger of death and destruction.

Hezekiah appears to have held a special position in the Isaian tradition, beyond that which we see in the Prophetic/Deuteronomic line of tradition in the book of Kings. There, too, Hezekiah stands as something of a model for the faithful king, loyal to YHWH in the manner/pattern of David (cf. especially the notice in 2 Ki 18:3-7). However, Hezekiah seems to have an even greater significance in the book of Isaiah, especially if, as many commentators believe, it is his reign that is in view in the prophecies of chapters 7-9. At the very least he represents (and symbolizes) the salvation of Judah/Jerusalem from the Assyrian threat, and his recovery from illness clearly is symbolic of the city’s deliverance.

This greater prominence of Hezekiah in the Isaian tradition is also reflected in the psalm of thanksgiving (for deliverance from illness) in Isa 38:9-20. It is not found in the parallel version of 2 Kings, which likely means that it was not part of the original literary work, but was added/included by the author/editor of Isa 36-39. The similarity with Psalms such as 6 and 30, which also deal with the idea of recovery from a life-threatening illness, was noted above. There are a number of themes, images, and points of emphasis in common. I will be discussing this in more detail in the upcoming Saturday Series study (on Isa 38-39).

Notes on Prayer: Isaiah 37:15-20

Isaiah 37:15-20

Isaiah 37:15-20 records the prayer of Hezekiah, king of Judah, in response to the Assyrian invasion that took place (under Sennacherib) in 701 B.C. Nearly all of the Judean kingdom fell to Assyria (46 cities and towns are mentioned by Sennacherib in the Assyrian annals), a fact confirmed very much by the context of chapters 36-37 (discussed in the recent Saturday Series studies); cf. especially the notices in 36:1f, 19; 37:11-13, and here in the prayer (v. 18f). There is a parallel version of chapters 36-39 in 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, which raises the strong possibility that both accounts derive from a common (literary) source. The parallel version of Hezekiah’s prayer is in 2 Kings 19:15-19; there are number of variants between the two versions, most of which are quite minor.

Hezekiah’s prayer is a request for deliverance from military attack and destruction (including the horrors of siege warfare), and yet, it is worth noting that the actual petition for deliverance occurs only at the very end of the prayer (v. 20). The rest of the prayer is focused on God (YHWH), and the honor that belongs to Him. This raises an important point, regarding prayer, that is often ignored or neglected by the general populace (including many Christians) today. The tendency is to move immediately to the particular need or concern a person has, without spending any time addressing God with the honor and respect that is due to Him. Such a tendency runs against Jesus’ express instructions in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:8-13 par), where the petitions regarding personal and communal needs are only made after those which focus on God, His person and His kingdom.

The prayer of Hezekiah needs to be understood within the overall context of chapters 36-37. The threat to Jerusalem is established in 36:1, followed by the taunt-discourse of the Rabshakeh (a high Assyrian official serving in a diplomatic capacity) in vv. 4-20 (cf. the recent Saturday Series study). This discourse introduces a number of themes that are central to the prophetic message in the book of Isaiah. Especially significant is the issue of placing one’s trust in God, in the face of overwhelming danger, rather than relying on other means. The choice is between a political solution—viz., an alliance with Egypt, peace negotiations with Assyria—and trusting on YHWH alone for deliverance.

The message of the Rabshakeh is essentially repeated (in summary form) in 37:10-13, and this second message is properly what Hezekiah is responding to in vv. 14ff. Having received the message, warning of horrific destruction if Jerusalem does not surrender, Hezekiah, it is said, “went up (to) the house of YHWH” (that is, the Temple complex) and spread out the scroll containing the message before YHWH. In so doing, he effectively presented the danger—but, more importantly, the oppressive wickedness of the Assyrians—before God. This is the setting for his petition and the prayer that follows.

Verse 15

“And YHWH-is-(my)-strength made a petition [i.e., prayer] to YHWH, saying…”

I have fully translated the name „izqîy¹hû (WhY`q!z+j!) rather than transliterating it in English (i.e. Hezekiah). Not that this is so important for an understanding of the prayer per se, but simply as a reminder of how the idea of faithfulness and devotion to YHWH was woven into Israelite society during the kingdom period; many names were YHWH-sentence/phrase names. We are not accustomed to names like this in Western society, and they may seem strange to our ears, but the people of the time would immediately have heard and understood their meaning. It is a kind of distortion of the text of Scripture when we transliterate such  names. The idea of trust in YHWH, so essential to the message and theme of the passage, is built into the very name of Hezekiah, filling the role (at least in the book of Isaiah) as the faithful ruler who represents the remnant of people that are to be saved.

Verse 16

“YHWH of (the heavenly) armies, Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of Yisrael, (the One) sitting (upon) the Kerubs—you (are) He, (the) Mightiest (One) [i.e. God], you apart (from all others), for all (the) kingdoms of the earth! (It is) you (who) made the heavens and the earth.”

The prayer begins both with praise to YHWH and with a confession of belief in Him as the one true God and Creator, Sovereign ruler over all the world. His power and rule over all the “kingdoms of the earth” implicitly establishes a contrast between YHWH as King and the wicked tyrant Sennacherib; this contrast is brought out more clearly in the Isaian oracle and taunt (parallel to the Rabshakeh’s taunt) that follows in vv. 21-35.

That YHWH is to be identified as the Creator is clear from the very use of the ancient expression “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies” (toab*x= hwhy), which is presumably based on the idea of El-Yahweh as the one who brought the heavens (and the heavenly/divine beings) into existence; He rules them and has control over them, and they act/fight on His command. For more on the meaning and background of the tetragrammation-name hwhy (YHWH/Yahweh), cf. my earlier article and the recent notes on Exodus 3:13-15. It is also stated here quite clearly that YHWH is the One who “made the heavens and the earth” (cf. the same of the Creator °E~l in Genesis 14:19, etc).

The rule of YHWH as King is symbolized by His ‘throne’ in the Temple sanctuary, flanked as it is by fabulous winged beings (Kerubs, the precise meaning of bWrK= remains uncertain), in a manner typical of kings’ thrones in the ancient Near East (including the Assyrian empire). The might of YHWH extends over all the (human) kingdoms of earth; He truly is the “Mightiest One”, an expression which is a relatively literal rendering of the intensive (or comprehensive) plural <yh!ýa$ (°Elohim, i.e. “God”).

By this point of time in the Prophetic tradition (7th century B.C.), Israelite monotheism had moved strongly in the direction of absolute monotheism—i.e., no other gods exist. While not stately clearly or definitively here, the idea is certainly expressed that YHWH is God “apart from” (db^l=) all others (cf. below).

Verse 17

“Stretch (out) your ear(s), YHWH, and hear; open your eyes, YHWH, and see! See and hear all (the) words of Sennacherib, which he sent to defame (you the) Mightiest, (the) Living (One)!”

Hezekiah calls on YHWH to see and hear what is going on in the current crisis. However, the focus still is not on the immediate need for rescue/deliverance; rather, his appeal is for YHWH to avenge His own honor. The reference, of course, is to the Assyrian message in vv. 10-13, but also (in context) to the taunt-speech of the Rabshakeh earlier in 36:4-20. The purpose of that message was practical—an attempt to gain a peaceful surrender of Jerusalem—but the ultimate effect, in terms of the Prophet tradition, was to insult (i.e. blaspheme) YHWH, the one true God. I have rendered the verb [r^j* as “defame” —that is, to cast blame or reproach upon a person undeservedly.

As I discussed previously, the first half of the Rabshakeh’s message (vv. 4-10) largely echoes the judgment-oracles of the prophets (including Isaiah) against the kingdoms of Israel/Judah, in the sense that the Assyrian conquests are part of God’s decreed judgment, and no attempt to avert it (through diplomatic means, etc) will succeed. It is in the second part of the taunt (vv. 12-20), however, that the message becomes truly insulting to God, suggesting that it is foolish to trust in YHWH, that He cannot protect Jerusalem from destruction, and that there is no possibility for the city to be saved. It is this that Hezekiah presents before YHWH (in the parallel/summary version of 37:10-13), and he calls on God to act in defense of His honor, preserving His name in the face of the tyrant’s boasts. The Isaian taunt-oracle in vv. 21-29 effectively gives YHWH’s answer to Sennacherib.

Verse 18

“Surely, YHWH, (the) kings of Aššur [i.e. Assyria] have made desolate all the (place)s on earth and their lands”

Hezekiah admits the military might of the Assyrians, and their conquests—how they have “made desolate” (vb br@j*) the lands of the surrounding territories. There is almost certainly a bit of wordplay here between the root brj I and that of brj II (meaning “kill/slay [with the sword]”). There is also a dual use of the noun Jr#a# (“earth, land”) which is almost impossible to render effectively in English. A consistent translation would be “…all the lands and their lands”, which sounds quite silly; as an alternative, I make use of the two main denotations of the noun (“earth” and “land”) with the rendering “…all the (place)s on earth and their lands“.

Verse 19

“and have given their ‘mighty (one)s’ in(to) the fire—for they were no (true) Mighty (One)s, but (instead) a piece of work of (the) hands of man, (made of) wood and stone, and (so) they destroyed them.”

Hezekiah also admits the Assyrian boast that the gods of the surrounding nations were unable to protect them from conquest. This is true since, from the Israelite monotheistic (and Prophetic) standpoint, those deities are not true gods at all—that is, they do not exist. This premise is expressed in the standard polemic of the prophetic writings, to the effect that the “gods” of the surrounding nations can be reduced to nothing more than the images used to represent them. Such a caricature of polytheistic religion may not accurately represent what those peoples actually believed, but it demonstrates the essential reality of their religion when compared with the truth of YHWH as the only living God (v. 17). The polemic against idolatry is strongly rooted in the Deuteronomic line of tradition (cf. Deut 4:28; 28:36, 64; 29:16-17), but it is also found in the Isaian oracles (e.g., 2:8; 17:8), becoming even more prominent in the so-called Deutero-Isaian poems (40:18-20; 41:6-7, 21-24, 28-29; 44:6-8, 9-20; 45:16-17).

Verse 20

“And now, YHWH, our Mightiest (One), bring us salvation from his hand, and (then) all (the) kingdoms of the earth will know that you, YHWH (are the One)—you apart (from all others)!”

It is only at the very end of the prayer that Hezekiah actually makes his petition for the city to be rescued from the king of Assyria. Even here, however, this request is couched in the continued appeal for YHWH to defend His own honor. By turning back the Assyrian attack, all of the nations will realize that the God of Israel is the true God, unlike the false (non-existent) idol-deities who could not save their cities and territories from destruction. The exclusivity of YHWH as the only (true) God is affirmed here by a repetition (in abbreviated form) of the wording in verse 16 (cf. above). YHWH is God “apart from” (db^l=) all others.

The effectiveness of Hezekiah’s prayer is indicated by the answer that God gives to it, through the prophet Isaiah, in verses 21ff. This will be discussed further in the upcoming Saturday Series study.

 

June 7: Luke 11:2, 9-13

Luke 11:2, 9-13

In our study of how the traditions regarding the Spirit of God developed in the New Testament, among early Christians, we have been considering the evidence from the historical traditions preserved in the Synoptic Gospels. As we move from the core Synoptic Tradition to its (later) developments in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we find an increasing number of references to the Spirit—most notably in the Lukan Gospel. This has already been discussed in a previous note (on Lk 4:1, 14ff)—the way that the references to the Spirit at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry have been developed and adapted, with an eye toward the role of the Spirit in the larger narrative of Luke-Acts.

A similar sort of example can be found in chapter 11 (vv. 1-13), where the author has brought together several different traditions—sayings and parables—on the subject of prayer. This is typical of the thematic and “catchword” bonding by which Gospel traditions often came to be combined together. In the Lukan Gospel, the journey to Jerusalem provides the literary framework within which a large amount of material has been included, as though it were simply a record of all that Jesus taught along the way. The fact that much of this material is found in different narrative locations in the other Gospels makes clear that the Lukan arrangement is literary, rather than historical and chronological. In 11:1-13, the unifying theme is prayer; at least three different tradition-units make up this pericope:

    • A version of the “Lord’s Prayer” (vv. 2-4), following the narrative introduction in verse 1
    • The Parable of the man who calls on his friend in the middle of the night (vv. 5-8), and
    • A short block of sayings—at least two distinct traditions (vv. 9-10, 11-13)—part of the so-called “Q” material, also found in Matthew (7:7-11)

The emphasis in vv. 5-13 is on the assurance that God, as the “heavenly Father”, will answer the prayers of His children, and that they should not be afraid to petition God in their time of need. In particular, let us examine the sayings in vv. 9-13—the first of which is virtually identical with the Matthean version:

And I say to you: you must ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened up to you; for every (one) asking receives, the (one) seeking finds, and to the (one) knocking it is [or, it will be] opened up.” (vv. 9-10)

Luke has apparently made no change to the “Q” tradition, other than perhaps the inclusion of the introductory phrase (in italics). The situation is different with regard to the tradition in vv. 11-13; it is instructive to compare the Lukan and the Matthean (7:9-11) versions phrase by phrase:

    • “Or, what man is (there) out of [i.e. among] you” (Matt)
      “And for what father out of [i.e. among] you” (Lk)
      It is possible that Luke has glossed “man” as “father” to make the immediate context of the illustration more clear, but it would also be appropriate to the overall context of vv. 1-13, which is framed by references to God as the heavenly Father (vv. 2, 13). It also establishes a precise contrast between an earthly father and God the Father, which is very much to the point of the illustration. The Lukan syntax would seem to confirm its character as a gloss—i.e., “what (man) among you, as a father…”.
    • “whom, (when) his son will ask (for) bread, he will (surely) not give over to him a stone(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “the son will ask (for) a fish and, in exchange (for) a fish, will he give over to him a snake (instead)?” (Lk)
      The Lukan syntax is simpler, emphasizing that the harmful item (snake) is given in place of (a)nti/) the beneficial thing requested by the son (a fish). The initial pairing in Matthew is bread/stone, rather than fish/snake, but it similarly establishes the pattern for the illustration.
    • “or even will ask (for) a fish, he will not give over to him a snake(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “or even will ask (for) an egg, will he give over to him a stinging (creature) [i.e. scorpion] (instead)?” (Lk)
      Matthew’s second pairing is the first in the Lukan illustration; in place of it, the Lukan version juxtaposes egg/scorpion, which makes for a more extreme (and ridiculous) contrast.
    • “So (then), if you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Matt)
      “So (then), if you, beginning (now) as evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Lk)
      The two versions are nearly identical here; the use of the verb u(pa/rxw (lit. “begin under”), instead of the simple verb of being (ei)mi), would seem to be an indication of Lukan style. Of the 46 occurrences of the verb u(pa/rxw, 31 are found in Luke-Acts, and it is not used in any of the other Gospels.
    • “how much more will your Father, the (One) in the heavens, give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him?” (Matt)
      “how much more will your Father out of heaven give (the) holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him?” (Lk)
      Again the two versions are quite close here, the most notable difference being that Luke reads “holy Spirit” in place of “good (thing)s”. Assuming that we are dealing with a common saying, which certainly seems to be the case, the two versions here cannot both be an accurate representation of the original. Almost certainly, Matthew preserves the original saying (or close to it), which Luke has adapted in light of the special emphasis on the role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (cf. above). Several manuscripts (Ë45 L, etc) read “(a) good spirit” instead of “holy Spirit”, most likely in an attempt to harmonize the two versions.

The Lukan reference to the holy Spirit as the “good thing(s)” that God will give to His offspring effectively centers the saying within an early Christian context, anticipating the “gift” of the Spirit that will come upon Jesus’ disciples in Acts 2:1-4ff. It serves as the climax to Jesus’ teaching on prayer in this passage, implying that it is the Holy Spirit that will truly be the answer to his disciples’ prayer. In this regard, it is interesting to note a fascinating variant reading within the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, found in a small number of witnesses. The majority text of the second petition (in v. 2) reads “may your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), just as in the Matthean version, though Codex Bezae (D) adds e)f’ h(ma=$ (“upon us”). However, in two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) and in the writings of at least two Church Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus Confessor), we find a very different petition which substantially reads:

“may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”
e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$

Some commentators have suggested that this is a gloss interpreting the coming of God’s “Kingdom” as a reference to the coming of the Spirit, and that it may have originated as a liturgical adaption of the Prayer in a baptismal setting. Interestingly, an identification of God’s Kingdom with the Spirit, within the narrative of Luke-Acts, may be justified on the basis of Jesus’ answer to the question posed by his disciples in Acts 1:6-8. A more precise Christian identification is made by Paul in Romans 14:17. If we go back to the sayings and words of Jesus, a similar association, between Kingdom and Spirit, can be found in the Matthean version of the saying at Matt 12:28 / Lk 11:20 (cf. the prior note); the Lukan version of this saying, which uses “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God” occurs just shortly after the section on prayer in chap. 11. We may also note the association made by Jesus in the Johannine discourse of chap. 3 (v. 5).

Though this variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer is certainly secondary (and not original), it provides an intriguing enhancement to a genuine Lukan theme in this passage. It offers a parallel, at the beginning of the section (v. 2), to the reference to the Spirit at the conclusion (v. 13), thus framing the entire pericope, and emphasizing all the more the point that the coming of the Spirit represents the ultimate goal and answer to the prayer of believers. There is a similar connection between prayer and the Spirit running through the Johannine Last Discourse—cf. 14:13-17, 25-26; 15:7ff, 26; 16:7ff, 23-24.

The variant reading itself represents a distinctly Christian adaptation of an established Old Testament/Jewish tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age. Drawing upon the natural association between God’s (holy) Spirit and cleansing, the sixth century Prophets, as part of their overall message regarding the restoration of Israel (and return from exile), emphasize the role of the Spirit that God will “pour out” upon His people, cleansing them and giving to them a “new heart” and a new spirit which will allow them to remain obedient to the Covenant. The Qumran Community further developed this idea, applying it to their own religious identity as the faithful ones of the end-time. The Qumran Community viewed itself as a “community of holiness”, made up completely of “men of holiness”, led by a “council of holiness”, and established by God’s own “spirit of holiness” (1QS 8:20-9:3). The water-ritual for entrants into the Community symbolized the cleansing of the person’s spirit by the “spirit of [God’s] holiness”, so that the individual’s own spirit was made entirely holy (1QS 3:5-9), allowing him to become part of the holy Community. The parallel with early Christian baptism is clear enough, and the variant reading of Luke 11:2, if it indeed stems from a baptismal setting, would indicate that early Christians used similar traditional language, regarding the cleansing role of the Spirit in the Community.

Before proceeding further to consider how this Lukan emphasis on the Spirit reflects the historical traditions surrounding the earliest believers (in Luke-Acts), it will be worth examining one additional Gospel tradition where the Lukan version, apparently, makes reference to the Holy Spirit. In the next daily note, we will look briefly at the saying in Lk 10:21-22 (par Matt 11:25-27).

 

Notes on Prayer: Acts 4:23-31

Among the speeches (and sermon-speeches) in the book of Acts, that of 4:23-31 is properly not a speech, but a prayer to God. One might even make the claim that it is the earliest Christian prayer on record. Certainly, to the extent that what the author presents in these verses accurately reflects the historical situation, such a claim would be justified. The prayer-speech in 4:23-31 is, however, a literary work more than it is a stenographic record of what was said at the time. It takes the words, thoughts, and sentiments of the early Jerusalem Christians, and presents them as a single voice. This is appropriate, since the narrative in chapters 1-8 repeatedly emphasizes the unity of believers—how they were all of a single mind and purpose, best expressed by the use of the term o(moqumado/n (“[with] one impulse”, cf. 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6). This unity of thought and purpose is reflected in the prayer of believers, as indeed it should be for us today.

For the Monday following Pentecost (“Pentecost Monday”), I thought it worth providing a study, as part of the “Monday Notes on Prayer” feature on this site, of the prayer-speech in 4:23-31. In doing so, I have adapted an article from my earlier series on the “Speeches of Acts”. In considering the context of Acts 4:23-31, it is best to begin with an outline of chapters 3 and 4, dividing the overall arc into three distinct narrative sections, each of which contains a speech. 4:23-31 belongs to the third (final) section:

    • Introductory/Core Narrative—the healing Miracle (3:1-10)
    • First speech by Peter (3:12-26), with narrative introduction in v. 11 joining to v. 1-10
    • Narrative Summary (4:1-4)
    • Second Narrative (introduction)—Peter and John brought before the Sanhedrin (4:5-7)
    • Second speech by Peter (4:8-12)
    • Narrative Conclusion/Summary (4:13-22)
    • Third Narrative (introduction)—Disciples gather together (4:23)
    • Speech (Prayer) by the Disciples, addressed to God (4:24-30)
    • Narrative Summary (4:31)

Even if 4:23-31 is properly a prayer to God, it very much follows the same sermon-speech pattern that governs the other speeches in the book:

    • Narrative Introduction (v. 23)
    • Introductory Address, with kerygmatic detail (v. 24)
    • Citation from Scripture (vv. 25-26)
    • Exposition and Application (vv. 27-28)
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 29-30)
    • Narrative Summary (v. 31)

This confirms the literary character of the prayer-speech, and makes it unique and distinctive among the notable examples of early Christian prayer.

Narrative Introduction (verse 23)—this introduction also joins with the narrative in vv. 13-22, emphasizing succinctly several points which are key motifs in the book of Acts:

    • the disciples are loosed [i.e. set free] from (custody)—the opening participle a)poluqe/nte$
    • they go (return) to “th(eir) own (people)” [tou\$ i)di/ou$]—i.e. their fellow believers, gathered together (implied)
    • they give forth the message (a)ph/ggeilan) regarding what was said and done to them—part of the overall message/proclamation of the apostles

Introductory Address (verse 24)—this follows the same narrative pattern used in v. 23:

    • “and being loosed from (custody), they went…and announced….” (v. 23)
    • “and (the ones) hearing,… they lifted up voice…” (v. 24)

Here we also find the keyword o(muqumado/n (homothumadón), mentioned above— “of one impulse” (or, “of one mind, of one accord”), used numerous times throughout the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:46; 5:12; 8:6) to express Christian unity and solidarity.

Since vv. 23-31 represents a prayer (and not an ordinary speech), the address is not to a surrounding crowd, but to God. Parallels to this prayer in Isaiah 37:16-20; 2 Kings 19:15-19 (Hezekiah’s prayer) have been noted, and the author (or an underlying tradition) may have used the OT passage as a pattern; note also similarities of language in Psalm 146:6; Neh 9:6. The title despo/th$ (despót¢s), “master, ruler”, used in addressing God, is somewhat rare in the New Testament, though by no means uncommon (Lk 2:29; 1 Tim 6:1-2; 1 Pet 2:18, etc). For the use of this conventional, ritualistic language for God as Creator elsewhere in early Christian preaching, see esp. Acts 14:15.

Citation from Scripture (verses 25-26)—this is from Psalm 2 (vv. 1-2), one of the most popular and often-cited “messianic” Psalms in the early Church (see my earlier study on this Psalm), verse 7 being especially applied to Jesus (in Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5, and Luke 3:22b [v.l.]). But verses 1-2 also seem early on to have been related to Jesus’ suffering and death, in much the same way that they are interpreted here in Acts 4:25b-26. Cf. on the Exposition below.

The text of Psalm 2:1-2 here matches that of the Greek LXX precisely. However, nearly all scholars and textual critics are in agreement that the sentence which introduces the Scripture (in v. 25a), at least as reflected in the ‘earliest and best’ manuscripts (Ë74 a A B E 33 al), is syntactically garbled, preserving a primitive corruption. This is not so obvious in standard English translations (which attempt to smooth over the text), but is readily apparent in Greek. A literal rendering of the text as it stands (such as in the NA27 critical edition) is nearly impossible:

“the (one who) of our Father through the holy Spirit (of[?] the) mouth of David your child, said…”

The Majority text (primarily much later MSS) reads simply “the (one who) said through the mouth of David your child…” But this is generally regarded as a natural simplification and clarification; for, if it were original, how could the apparent confusion in early, otherwise reliable MSS such as B et al ever have been introduced? There are a number of suggestions to explain the older text, such as mistranslation from an Aramaic original. An interesting theory holds that Acts was left in an unfinished state, and v. 25a had different drafts of the sentence which ended up being accidentally combined; indeed, there do appear to be three distinct phrases jumbled together: (a) “through our father (David)…”, (b) “through the holy Spirit…”, (c) “through David your child/servant…”. I am somewhat inclined to think that tou= patro\$ h(mw=n was originally a reference to God as “the One (who is) of our Fathers [pl.] (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)”, as in Acts 3:13, but was subsequently misread as referring to David. The remaining confusion then has to do with the position (and place) of pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou (“[of] the holy Spirit”), either as a mistaken insertion, or as part of a complicated syntax which scribes found difficult to follow. Perhaps the original text (at least the basic sense of it) would have been something like:

“the (God) of our Fathers, (who) by the holy Spirit, through the mouth of David your child/servant, said…”

For more on detail on the text of v. 25a, see the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament (2d edition), pp. 279-281.

Exposition and Application (verse 27-28)

The key verb from Ps 2:1-2 (suna/gw, “lead/bring together”) is given in emphatic position in verse 27: “For upon truth [i.e. truly] they were brought together [sunh/xqhsan]…”, using the same form of the verb as in the Psalm (cf. also a similar use earlier in 4:5). The expression e)p’ a)lhqei/a$ (“upon truth, truly”) is common in the LXX and is used elsewhere in Luke-Acts (Lk 4:25; 20:21; 22:59; Acts 10:34); here it emphasizes the fulfillment of the Psalm (understood as prophecy). The specific application continues with the next phrase—”in this city, upon your holy child Yeshua whom you anointed…” The use of “child/servant” (pai=$) and the image of Jesus specifically as “Anointed” (xristo/$, here the verb xri/w [cf. Lk 4:18; Acts 10:38]) echo kerygmatic statements in the earlier sermon-speeches (in Acts 3:13, etc). Also expressed previously (cf. Acts 2:23), is the idea that the suffering and death of Jesus took place according to the sovereign will, foreknowledge and (predetermined) plan of God (v. 28). There seems to be a precise fulfillment for each of the four groups mentioned in Ps 2:1-2:

    1. The Nations [i.e. Gentiles/non-Jews] (e&qnh)—in v. 27 the e&qnh are principally the Romans (i.e. Roman government).
    2. The Peoples [laoi/], originally synonymous with e&qnh, but in v. 27 clarified as the “peoples [pl.] of Israel” (i.e. the Jewish people collectively, or generally).
    3. The Kings [oi( basilei=$]—here, king Herod (cf. Lk 23:6-12, otherwise Herod does not appear in the Passion accounts).
    4. The Chiefs/Rulers [oi( a&rxonte$]—i.e. the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who plays a key role in the Passion narrative and early kerygma.

Originally, Psalm 2 was a royal psalm presumably set in the context of the inauguration/coronation/enthronement of the (new) king. The accession of a new king (often a child or young man) was typically an occasion when vassals and ambitious nobles might take the opportunity to rebel and carve out power or territory for themselves. This is the situation generally described in vv. 1-3; God’s response, with a promise to stand by the king and secure his rule, follows in vv. 4ff. The king was anointed (v. 2) and, symbolically, was also God’s son (v. 7)—two titles and expressions which, of course, caused this Psalm to be applied to Jesus from the earliest time.

Concluding Exhortation (verses 29-30)

As this speech is a prayer, the exhortation primarily takes the form of a request/petition to God: “And now [kai\ ta\ nu=n], Lord, look upon [e)pi/de]…” For the expression  kai\ ta\ nu=n, cf. 2 Kings 19:19 [LXX] and in Acts 5:38; 17:30; 20:32; 27:22; or a similar contextual parallel to the imperative e)pi/de, cf. Isa 37:17 [LXX]. There are two parts to the request:

    1. look upon [e)pi/de] their [i.e. the religious leaders’] threatening (words and action)s
    2. give [do/$] to believers [God’s slaves/servants] so that they are able, with all parrhsi/a… —to speak [lalei=n] God’s word (i.e. God speaking through the believers) —to stretch out [e)ktei/en] God’s hand, in order to bring about healing and for there to be “signs and wonders”

They clearly ask to be made instruments of God’s own work and power, with the emphasis that miracles come to be done “through the name” [dia\ tou= o)no/mato$] of Jesus (cf. Acts 2:21, 38; 3:6, 16; 4:7, 10, 12, 17-18). Note also the references again to Jesus as “holy” [a%gio$] and “child/servant” [pai=$], titles characteristic of early Gospel preaching in Acts.

Two other expressions are worthy of special notice:

    • the term parrhsi/a, “speaking out (with) all (freedom/boldness)”, i.e. “out-spokenness”—a key word in Acts (cf. 2:29; 4:13, 31, and again in the concluding verse 28:31); it implies speaking openly, in public.
    • “speak the word (of God)” [lalei=n to\n lo/gon]—a common theme and expression in the book, cf. Acts 4:29, 31; 8:25; 11:19f; 13:46; 14:1, 25; 16:6, 31; and similarly (with variation) in several dozen other verses. Lo/go$, typically translated “word” is perhaps better rendered “account”, as this emphasizes the descriptive and narrative element central to early Gospel preaching and proclamation.

Both of these details appear together again at the end of verse 31 (below).

Narrative Summary (verse 31)

“And (on) making their need (known) [i.e. making their request], the place in which they were brought together was shaken, and they all were filled (full) of the holy Spirit and spoke the word/account [e)la/loun to\n lo/gon] of God with all (freedom/boldness) of speech [parrhsi/a$].”

This verse echoes the earlier manifestation of the Spirit in the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-4); the common elements are:

    • The disciples are all together (in one place) [2:1, the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/]
    • The manifestation of the Spirit is accompanied by theophanous elements—in 2:2 there is the sound of a mighty wind and appearance of fire; in 4:31 there is shaking (saleu/w), as of an earthquake.
    • The disciples are all filled with the holy Spirit (2:4)

Shaking (or an earthquake) is a common feature of God’s manifestation (theophany) to human beings—cf. Exodus 19:18; 1 Kings 19:11; Isa 6:4; also Josephus Antiquities 7.76-77. This sort of divine appearance in response to prayer may not have a precise parallel in the Old Testament, but it is certainly common enough to ancient religious thought (and experience)—for examples from the Greco-Roman world, cf. Ovid Metamorphoses 15.669-72, Virgil Aeneid 3.88-91 [for these and several other references above, I am indebted to E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles (Westminster Press: 1971), pp. 226-229].

Notes on Prayer: Luke 18:9-14

This is a special Thanksgiving Day edition of the Monday Notes on Prayer. When we speak of thanksgiving, it is usually meant in the sense of giving thanks to God. The Greek verb for this is eu)xariste/w (and the eu)xarist– word group). It properly refers to showing good favor (xa/ri$) toward someone; however, in a religious context, it is typically used in the sense of a person being grateful (or thankful) for the favor shown to them by God. The majority of occurrences of the verb (24 out of 38) are in the Pauline letters, most frequently in the opening greeting and introduction (exordium) of the letter. The verb is rare in the Gospels; apart from its use in the Last Supper scene (Mark 14:23 par), and in the similar context of the Miraculous Feeding episode (Mark 8:6 par) where there are also eucharistic overtones, it occurs just three times, twice in Luke (17:16; 18:11).

In these notes, we have been studying the teaching and example of Jesus regarding prayer, most recently in the sayings, parables and other details unique to the Gospel of Luke. There are two distinct traditions in 18:1-14—the parable and saying(s) in vv. 1-8 (discussed in the previous study), and the parable in verses 9-14. As it happens, the verb eu)xariste/w occurs in this passage (v. 11), as an example of the wrong way to give thanks to God.

Luke 18:9-14

The narrative introduction to this parable (v. 9) establishes the context for it, with the reason for Jesus’ telling of it. The setting of the illustration itself (v. 10) is simple and straightforward, and it specifically involves prayer:

“And he also said this (illustration) cast alongside toward some (of) th(ose) having persuaded upon [i.e. convinced] themselves that they were just [di/kaio$], and making the remainder (of people) out to be nothing: ‘Two men stepped up into the sacred place to speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], the one (was) a Pharisee and the other a toll-collector.'” (vv. 9-10)

The Temple-setting of the parable is fully in accord with the role of the Temple in Luke-Acts, emphasizing it as a place for prayer and worship of God, rather than the (sacrificial) ritual of the Temple-cultus. For more on this, see Part 1 of the article “The Law in Luke-Acts”, and also Parts 6-7 of “Jesus and the Law”. The afternoon hour for public prayer (c. 3:00 pm), tied to the time of the evening sacrifice, features prominently in two narratives (1:10; Acts 3:1; cf. Mishnah tractate Tamid 5:1). As is typically the case, the idiom of prayer is expressed by the verb proseu/xomai, “speak (out) toward”, i.e. toward God.

The two contrasting figures in the illustration are a Pharisee and a toll-collector (telw/nh$). Pharisees are mentioned frequently in the Gospels as opponents of Jesus, or as those discussing/debating points of Law (Torah) with him; they are representative of the religiously devout and observant Jews of the time. The “toll-collector” was a local agent for the Roman administration in the provinces, collecting indirect taxes (i.e. tolls, customs fees, etc). As such, they were traditionally associated with corruption and exploitation, in addition to the ‘impurity’ related to their work on behalf of the pagan government; for faithful and observant Jews, the toll-collector became a stock figure-type representing “sinners” (Mark 2:15-16 par). The telw/nh$ is mentioned most frequently in the so-called “Q” material of Matthew and Luke, and other Lukan passages (Lk 3:12; 5:27-30; 7:29, 34 pars; 15:1; 19:2ff).

In the parable Jesus gives the prayer offered to God by each of these two men, continuing the contrast. The prayer of the Pharisee is as follows:

“The Pharisee, (as) he was standing, spoke out these (thing)s toward (God) toward himself: ‘God, I give (thanks) to you for (your) good favor, that I am not as the remaining (one)s of men—(those) seizing (things), without justice, (partner)s in adultery, or even as this toll-collector (here)—(for) I fast twice (during) the Shabbat-week, (and) I give a tenth from all (thing)s whatever I acquire.'” (vv. 11-12)

As is proper in prayer, the Pharisee gives thanks to God (using the verb eu)xariste/w, cf. above), in gratitude for the favor and blessings shown to him. However, the incorrect orientation of his prayer is indicated through a bit of wordplay that is lost in most translations:

pro\$ e(auto\n tau=ta proshu/xeto
“he spoke out these (thing)s toward (God) toward himself”

In conventional English, this would be rendered “he prayed these things about himself”, translating the first preposition pro/$ in the sense of “about, regarding”. However, the real implication, based on the actual wording, is that, while speaking toward God, the Pharisee is really speaking toward himself—i.e., the focus is not on God, but on himself. How is this done? First, he separates himself from the remainder (loipoi/, pl. “[one]s remaining”) of humankind; this reflects quite typical (and natural) religious thought—there are the devout and faithful ones, and then all the rest who do not show the same care or concern for God. A similar sort of prayer is recorded in the Talmud (b. Ber. 28b, j. Ber. 2.7d). The Pharisee rightly attributes his religious devotion to God, at least in terms of the form of his prayer (i.e. thanking God for His favor), and properly echoes the traditional idea of Israel (the faithful ones) as the chosen people of God. What is especially bad, in the context of the parable, is the way that he includes the toll-collector standing nearby as a “sinner” merely on the basis of his profession. On this point, compare the Zaccheus episode (19:7ff), and the Synoptic tradition in Mark 2:15-16 par.

The second aspect that is highlighted has to do with the Pharisee’s declaration of his religious devotion, marked by regular fasting and tithing of his possessions. This may be related to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-13), where charitable giving and fasting are two of the three typical religious activities (along with prayer) emphasized by Jesus. There, too, he makes a clear contrast between outward action and inner attitude, things done publicly and in secret. Jesus’ disciples are not to behave in these matters as many other religiously-minded people do. For more, see the earlier study on Matt 6:5-8. In spite of the Pharisee’s customary use of the verb eu)xariste/w, he appears to be emphasizing his own religious devotion rather than the favor (xa/ri$) of God.

The toll-collector’s prayer comes in verse 13:

“But the toll-collector, having stood far off, did not wish not even to lift up his eyes unto heaven, but (instead) struck his chest (as he stood), saying: ‘God, (please) you must be accepting to(ward) me a sinful (man)!'”

It should be noted both the similarities, but also the stark differences, between the Pharisee and toll-collector, in (a) their position as they pray, and (b) the content and focus of their prayer. First, their position. They both are said to be standing, using the same verb (i%sthmi), but described very differently:

    • For the Pharisee, a single word is used—aorist passive participle sta/qei$ (“was standing”)—with nothing, apparently, in his position or posture to indicate humility before God. The circumstantial passive form, rather Lukan in style, suggests that the Pharisee has placed himself in a prominent position.
    • For the toll-collector, an active perfect participle is used (e(stw/$), along with the modifying adverb makro/qen (“[from] far off”), presumably meaning that he stood in the back of the courtyard. Moreover, his attitude toward God is also described vividly in other ways—unwilling to raise his eyes toward heaven, and beating his chest (as a sign of sorrow). His posture is one of humility and repentance.

With regard to the description of the prayer itself, the situation is reversed: the Pharisee’s is lengthy (by comparison), and the toll-collector’s extremely brief (just three words). They both begin the same way, addressing God—o( qeo/$ (“[O,] God…”)—at which point the prayers diverge. The Pharisee declares his faithfulness and religious devotion. The toll-collector does not feel that he can offer anything comparable, but instead, refers to himself precisely as the Pharisee would regard him, as a “sinner”, or, to be more accurate, as a sinful person (compare Peter’s admission to Jesus in 5:8). Moreover, he offers no thanksgiving to God for the favor shown to him; rather, he fervently implores God to show favor. He uses an imperative form of the verb i(la/skomai, related to the noun i(lasmo/$. These words are extremely difficult to translate accurately, and consistently, in English. The basic idea is religious, and involves God being appeased so as to accept a person (their offering, etc) and treat them favorably. Essentially, the toll-collector is asking God to accept him, to be gracious and show favor to him, in spite of his sinfulness.

“I relate to you (that) this (one) [i.e. the toll-collector] stepped down into his own house having been made right (in God’s eyes), alongside the other (one who was not)—(for it is) that every (one) lifting himself high will be set (down) low, but the (one) lowering himself will be set (up) high.” (v. 14)

The conclusion of the parable is straightforward, and features a reversal-of-fortune motif common to many of the parables (as also in the Lukan Beatitudes, etc). Things were “made right” for the person considered to be a “sinner”, while the “just-ness” of the seemingly devout and faithful person was not confirmed. This reflects two sides of the dikaio– word group and the verb dikaio/w. Just as the two men “step up” into the house of God (Temple), so now they “step down” each into his own house, but with different results. For the toll-collector, things “have been made right” between he and God, while the Pharisee, who considered himself to be right and just (di/kaio$) in God’s eyes was not declared to be so, as a result of his action and attitude in prayer. The parable concludes with a proverbial saying also found, in a different context, at 14:11.

It seems likely that Jesus was not addressing this parable to other such Pharisees, but to his own disciples, instructing (and warning) them much as he does in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1-13). The contrast in the parable is extreme—the humble and repentant “sinner” will be accepted by God over the person who is religiously devout—but the main point is actually quite simple: Jesus’ followers (believers) are to behave with humility before God, especially in prayer and other religious matters.

Notes on Prayer: Luke 18:1-8

In addition to the main section on prayer in the Gospel of Luke (11:1-13, discussed last week), there are two parables which deal with the subject. These appear in sequence at 18:1-8 and 18:9-14, likely joined together due to the common theme of prayer. Both of these parables occur toward the end of the Journey portion of the narrative—i.e. the extensive collection of teaching set during the journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:34; cp. Mark 10:1-34). This framing of Jesus’ teaching is as much a literary device as historical; it is likely that many of the sayings, parables, etc, were originally uttered by Jesus on different occasions. Here, in particular, the two parables may have been spoken by Jesus at different times, and not necessarily right after each other.

Luke 18:1-8

In the Lukan narrative, this parable follows a block of eschatological teaching (17:20-37), some of which is found in a different location (the Eschatological Discourse) in the Gospel of Matthew. This narrative context is important for a proper understanding of what follows in 18:1-8. Even if the parable (as spoken by Jesus) originally did not have eschatological significance, it clearly does in its current Lukan setting. The eschatological context, however, is not immediately obvious in the introduction to the parable (v. 1):

“And he related to them an (illustration) cast alongside [parabolh/, i.e. parable], toward [i.e. regarding] it being necessary (for) them to speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] (at) all times, and not to be in weariness [i.e. grow tired] (about it)…”

Contrary to the parable in 11:5-8 (discussed last week), here the point (according to the notice in v. 1) is to be persistent in prayer, described two ways:

    • to pray to God “at all times” (pa/ntote)
    • not to become tired of it (vb. e)gkake/w), lit. be ill/weary/tired in the effort (of praying), and thus stop

The illustration or parable itself is in vv. 2-5. The first character is a judge (krith/$), described as “not fearing God and not turning in (to consider) man” (v. 2). The second verb (e)ntre/pw) is a bit difficult to translate; I have rendered it quite literally as “turn in”, that is turn in toward something (or someone). The middle/passive use (as here) indicates a person turning in to give consideration to something, occasionally in the sense of paying attention or giving respect. In other words, this judge neither fears God nor gives any consideration for other people; the description is similar to that of king Jehoiakim by Josephus (Antiquities 10.283, Fitzmyer, p. 1178). In verse 6, this man is further characterized as being “without justice” (a)diki/a), i.e. unjust, certainly the worst sort of quality for a judge to have.

The second character in the parable is a widow (xh/ra), who is involved in certain legal difficulties (v. 3), presumably as a plaintiff in a court case. This may have entailed action against property inherited from her husband, the sort of thing alluded to by Jesus in 20:47 par. It is this situation which prompts her to approach the judge, her specific request being: “(Please) you must work out justice [e)kdi/khson] for me from my (opponent the one) seeking justice [i.e. a decision] against [a)nti/diko$] (me)”. English translations tend to obscure the relation between the verb e)kdike/w and the noun a)nti/diko$—at their heart, and etymologically, both relate to dikh/ (“justice”, “what is just/right”). At first the judge refuses to consider the widow’s request, but then thinks to himself that, even though he does not fear God or give regard to people’s needs (v. 4, repeating the description in v. 2), yet

“…through [i.e. because of] this widow holding along a beating [ko/po$] for me, I will work out justice for her, (so) that she should not strike me under the eye unto [i.e. at] the completion (of her) coming (to me).”

I have rendered the idiomatic language quite literally, though this can easily mislead the average reader. First, “holding along a beating”, refers to troubling a person with repeated “blows” (noun ko/po$, an act of cutting, striking), here in the figurative sense of continually bothering someone to the point of wearing them down. Second, the verb u(popia/zw literally means “(hit) under the eye”, either in the sense of irritation or an act of violent striking (as in a fistfight). Here the sense is one of annoyance and irritation—with her constant coming to him, in the end, this widow will be so annoying as to ‘batter him under the eye’.

Jesus’ exposition of this parable comes in verse 6: “And the Lord [i.e. Jesus] said, ‘You must hear what this judge without justice relates (to you)'”. The point is made in verse 7, relating the judge’s decision with that of God:

“And shall God (then) not make the working out of justice for his gathered out [i.e. chosen] (one)s, the (one)s crying (out) to him day and night, and (so) bring (his) impulse long upon them?”

This argument is of the qal wahomer (“light and heavy”) type—i.e. from the lighter example to the heavier, a Hebrew expression similar to the Latin a minori ad maius. If a corrupt human being will respond this way to a poor person’s need, how much more will God the Father answer the prayer of his chosen ones (oi( e)klektoi/, “the ones gathered out”). The use of the substantive adjective e)klekto/$ gives this teaching, in its Lukan context at least, a distinctly Christian orientation, referring to believers in Christ as the “ones gathered out” (Romans 8:33; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:9, etc). Interestingly, while the adjective is otherwise rare in the Gospels, it is used prominently in the Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13:20, 22, 27 par), and, as such, could imply an eschatological significance here as well (cf. below). The term makro/qumo$ (here in the verb makroqume/w) literally means having a long(-lasting) impulse; in English we might paraphrase by saying that the movement of a person’s heart and mind is turned long and hard toward something (or someone). The word-group is often translated in terms of “patience” or “longsuffering”, but that applies better to human beings than it does to God; rather, the idea here is that His attention is intently fixed on the plight of the Elect (believers). Their severe suffering and distress is indicated by the phrase “crying (out) day and night”; this likely refers to the (end-time) persecution of believers (Mk 13:9-13 par; cf. Rev 6:10), which, according to the early Christian eschatological worldview, begins with the suffering of the first disciples.

The eschatological orientation of the parable comes more clearly into view in the concluding verse 8, which contains two sayings, the first of which properly concludes the parable:

“I relate to you that He will make the working out of justice for them in (all) speed [e)n ta/xei].”

The precise meaning and force of this declaration is uncertain; there are two possibilities:

    • God may seem to delay in acting to bring justice to his people, but, when he (finally) does, he will act quickly.
    • God will act on behalf of his people very soon.

The first option better fits the historical setting of Jesus’ actual teaching; the second is more appropriate to the outlook of the Gospel writer, who is writing after the on-set of suffering/persecution of believers (i.e. in the period c. 35-70 A.D.). However, it is worth noting that, frequently in the New Testament, the expression e)n ta/xei has clear eschatological significance (for examples, cf. Part 1 of the article on “Imminent Eschatology in the New Testament”). The second saying in verse 8 relates to the (end-time) appearance of the “Son of Man”:

“(But) more (than this)—the Son of Man, (at his) coming, shall he find trust upon the earth?”

This is one of the eschatological Son of Man sayings of Jesus in the Gospel tradition, which early Christians certainly understood in terms of the return of Jesus to earth, the so-called parousi/a (parousia)—his coming to be alongside us. Critical commentators debate the extent to which Jesus intended such a self-identification in the original sayings; I discuss the subject extensively in several different series (cf. articles in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, the current “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”, and an earlier set of notes specifically on the Son of Man Sayings).

Two questions must be asked: first, what is the exact meaning of this saying? Jesus seems to raise the question of whether there will be any real trust (or “faith”, pi/sti$) among people when the Son of Man comes. This is certainly being addressed to Jesus’ followers (i.e. believers), and not to humankind at large. The end-time will be one of great testing, involving suffering and persecution of believers; within the context of the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse, this is part of a period of distress (qli/yi$) that will come upon humankind prior to the end (Mk 13:5-23 par, vv. 9-13). Under such circumstances, it is possible even for believers (the Elect) to be deceived and to fall away (Mk 13:13, 23 par), and so requires that Jesus’ followers remain vigilant in prayer (cf. Mk 13:33-37 par; Lk 22:40-46 par). Whether his followers—all of them—will remain faithful, trusting in God, is an open question.

Second, we must ask: what is the relation of the saying in v. 8b with what came before in vv. 1-8a. At first glance, the saying seems unrelated, and, indeed, may originally have been uttered by Jesus on a separate occasion. In the Lukan context, it is joined to v. 8a by the coordinating particle plh/n, a specific indication, it would seem, of Lukan style and authorship—it occurs 15 times in Luke, and another 4 in Acts (more than half of all NT occurrences [31]), compared with just 6 in the other Gospels (and only once in Mark). Literally this conjunction means something like “more (than this)”, but the exact force of it can vary considerably. Quite often the meaning is adversative, drawing a contrast with a prior statement; here, this could mean that, yes (on the one hand) God will provide justice for the Elect, but (on the other) will there actually be any real faith present among the Elect by the time the Son of Man comes (i.e. after the period of suffering)? On the other hand, the force of the conjunction could be seen as cumulative, reaching a conclusion, i.e., yes it is true that God will bring justice, but beyond all this is the question of whether the followers of Jesus will remain faithful in the time of distress. I tend to lean toward the latter nuance. In this regard, the saying in v. 8b provides the perfect complement to the stated purpose of the parable—that disciples of Jesus (believers) must remain constantly in prayer through all things, and so demonstrate their/our trust in God (and in Christ), even in the period of great distress and persecution that marks the end-time. This will be considered further when we examine the theme of prayer in the Gethsemane scene of the Lukan Passion narrative (22:40-46).

The parable which follows, in verses 9-14, though also dealing with the subject of prayer, has a very different message and point of emphasis; this will be discussed in the Notes on Prayer next Monday.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28A (1983).

Notes on Prayer: Luke 11:1-13

As we continue this survey of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, having already explored the core Synoptic traditions, as well as the passages and references unique to the Gospel of Matthew, we now turn to the Gospel of Luke. In considering the Lukan evidence, one is first struck by the emphasis given to prayer as a detail in the narrative, where it is mentioned, by the author (trad. Luke), quite apart from any specific traditions he has inherited. This will be touched on further in a future study on prayer in the book of Acts, but here it suffices to point out how this emphasis on prayer is expressed in the Gospel narrative.

First, prayer is associated with the Temple at several key points in the Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2). The angelic appearance to Zechariah in the opening episode takes place, in the Temple sanctuary, at a time when people are praying in the precincts, coinciding with the evening (afternoon) sacrifice and the offering of incense (1:10). This is the same public “hour of prayer” which serves as the narrative setting in Acts 3:1ff. Moreover, the angel’s visitation is said to be in response to Zechariah’s own prayer to God (1:13). In a later episode, we read of the aged prophetess Anna, that she was regularly in the Temple precincts (2:37), doing service to God with fasting and prayer (de/hsi$, request, petition, supplication). These details are important in establishing the idea of the Temple as a place for worship, prayer, and teaching—rather than for cultic ritual and sacrificial offerings (see also 18:10ff). While this is part of the wider Synoptic tradition (cf. the discussion in Parts 6 and 7 of “Jesus and the Law”), it is given special emphasis in Luke-Acts, where the early believers in Jerusalem are portrayed as continuing to frequent the Temple (24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:20ff, 42; cf. also the article on “The Law in Luke-Acts”). This new, purified role and purpose for the Temple (in the New Covenant) provides a point of contact between early Christianity and the finest elements of Israelite/Jewish religion in the Old Covenant (as represented by the figures of Zechariah/Elizabeth, Joseph/Mary, and Simeon/Anna in the Infancy narratives).

Second, the Lukan Gospel provides a number of introductory/summary narrative statements which include the detail that Jesus was engaged in prayer, indicating that it was typical of his practice during the period of his ministry. The pattern of these notices, while again related to the wider Gospel tradition, is distinctively Lukan:

    • Lk 3:21—Of all the Gospel descriptions of the Baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:9-11 par), only Luke includes the detail that Jesus was praying when the Spirit descends, etc:
      “And it came to be, in the dunking of all the people, and Yeshua also being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and (at) the opening up of the heaven…”
    • Lk 5:16—Curiously, in 4:42f which is parallel to the Synoptic Mk 1:35ff there is no mention of Jesus praying; this detail is given separately, at 5:16, following the call of the disciples and cleansing of the Leper (par Mk 1:16-20, 40-45):
      “and he was making space (for himself) down under in the desolate places, and (was) speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying]”
    • Lk 6:12—Only Luke mentions Jesus praying on the mountain at the time of his selecting the Twelve disciples/apostles (Mk 3:13ff par):
      “And it came to be in those days, with his going out onto the mountain to speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], he was spending (time all) through the night in th(is) speaking out toward God.”
    • Lk 9:18—Again it is only Luke who mentions Jesus in prayer prior to his question to the disciples regarding his identity (Mk 9:27ff par):
      “And it came to be, in his being down alone speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], his learners [i.e. disciples] were (there) with him and…”
    • Lk 9:28-29—Similarly, in the Transfiguration episode (Mk 9:2-8 par), Luke is alone in stating that the purpose in going up on the mountain was to pray:
      “And it came to be, as if [i.e. about] eight days after these sayings, [and] (with) his taking along (the) Rock {Peter} and Yohanan and Ya’aqob, he stepped up onto the mountain to speak out toward God [i.e. pray]. And it came to be, in his speaking out toward (God)…”
      As in the Baptism narrative, the divine manifestation (and voice) comes after Jesus has been praying.
    • Lk 11:1—The narrative introduction prior to Jesus’ teaching on prayer (cf. below).

Luke 11:1-13

The major section in the Lukan Gospel dealing with Jesus’ teaching on prayer is 11:1-13. It includes the famous Lord’s Prayer, which I discussed in detail in earlier notes in this series. I will not repeat that study here, but will make mention of place of the Lord’s Prayer in the section of the Gospel as we have it. This may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction, with a request by the disciples (v. 1)
    • The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 2-4)
    • A Parable illustrating the need for boldness in prayer (vv. 5-8)
    • Additional sayings on prayer [Q material] (vv. 9-13)

The narrative introduction is entirely Lukan in style and vocabulary; moreover, it evinces an interest in prayer (and the background detail of Jesus engaged in prayer) that is distinct to Luke among the Synoptics (cp. the passages noted above).

Verse 1

“And it came to be, in his being in a certain place (and) speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], as he ceased [i.e. finished], one of his learners [i.e. disciples] said to him, ‘Lord, teach us (how) to speak out toward (God), even as Yohanan also taught his learners’.”

In spite of the Lukan syntax and specific prayer-emphasis, there is an important matrix of traditional Gospel elements here in this narrative summary:

    • Jesus in the (regular) act of prayer (see above)
    • His disciples observing him, wishing to follow his example (i.e. to pray like he does)
    • The significance of disciples following the pattern of religious behavior established by their master is emphasized by mention of John the Baptist
    • The reference to John the Baptist teaching his disciples how to pray (cf. 5:33 par) indicates the importance of (a certain manner of) prayer within Jewish tradition

This positioning of prayer within the wider Jewish (religious) tradition, is comparable to the teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15 (cf. the previous study), which also contains a version of the Lord’s Prayer. While Jesus’ instruction on prayer generally continues the Jewish tradition—indeed, there is very little that is distinctively ‘Christian’ in the Lord’s Prayer, etc—he gives to it a number of different points of emphasis and interpretation. This was perhaps more clearly evident in the Matthean teachings (in the Sermon on the Mount), but it is very much at work in this Lukan passage as well.

Verses 2-4

(On the Lord’s Prayer, consult the notes, for both the Matthean and Lukan versions, previously posted as part of this Notes on Prayer series.)

Verses 5-8

This parable is unique to Luke’s Gospel (so-called “L” material). It may well have been told on a separate occasion originally, and included here by way of the thematic association (prayer); either way, in its Lukan context, it serves to illustrate further the disciples’ request on how they should pray. If the Lord’s Prayer presented the proper form and content of prayer, this parable in vv. 5-8 stresses the need for boldness in prayer, regardless of the circumstances. Several points or details in this parable are worth noting:

    • The characters involved are not strangers, but friends—people dear (fi/lo$) to each other, at least to some extent (v. 5, 8)
    • The person making the request does not do so for himself (cp. the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, v. 3), but on behalf of another friend (v. 6)
    • The request is made at an inopportune time (“the middle of the night”), otherwise there would be no problem in meeting the request; moreover, the house is locked up and everyone is in bed (v. 7)
    • Commentators question the significance of the scenario depicted in verse 7, especially the householder’s statement to his friend that “I am not able, standing up (out of bed), to give (anything) to you”; how would this relate to God the Father? The details of the parable should not be pressed so far; it functions as a qal wahomer illustration—if a human being will respond this way, how much more so will God do so for his friends!

In verse 8, Jesus brings out the point of his illustration:

“I relate to you, if he will not even give to him, standing up (to do so), through being [i.e. because he is] his dear (friend), yet through his lack of respect [a)nai/deia], rising he will give to him as (many thing)s as he needs.”

The key word is a)nai/deia, which I translated as “lack of respect”, but it could be rendered even more forcefully as “(being) without shame, shameless(ness)”. Respect for the time and situation ought to have prompted the person making the request to wait until a more appropriate time (i.e. in the morning), yet he went ahead, regardless of the situation, and woke up is friend in the middle of the night to make his request—which, one might add, was not particularly urgent. Thus, contrary to the way this parable is portrayed by many commentators, the stress is not on persistence in prayer (cp. with 18:1-8), but, rather on boldness—or, perhaps, better, that we should be willing to make our request to God without concern for the situation or what people would consider proper. This is surely to be regarded as an aspect of faith in prayer. We ought never to imagine that God is too ‘busy’ or that it might be better to wait until a more opportune moment; rather, when there is a need at hand, we should make our request boldly, at that very moment.

Verses 9-13

The sayings on prayer in these verses have their parallel in Matthew (Sermon on the Mount, 7:7-11), and thus are part of the so-called “Q” material common to both Gospels. Despite the difference in location, these sayings almost certainly stem from a single historical tradition, though, possibly, they may represent separate sayings combined (by theme) at a very early point in the collection of Gospel traditions. I tend to think that, in this particular instance, they were probably spoken together by Jesus.

The saying in vv. 9-10 corresponds with Matt 7:7-8:

“(You must) ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened up for you; for everyone asking receives, and the one seeking finds, and for the one knocking it [will be] opened up.”

The two versions are identical; the only difference being whether the final verb in Luke’s version is present (“it is opened up”) or future (“it will be opened up”, as in Matthew). The message is clear enough: God will answer those who pray to him. The three-fold idiom only emphasizing this point. God’s faithfulness in responding to prayer is further indicated through the illustration in vv. 11-12 (= Matt 7:9-10):

“And for what (one) out of you will the son ask the father (for) a fish and, in exchange for a fish, will give over a snake? or also—will he ask (for) an egg, and (the father) will give over a stinging (creature) [i.e. scorpion] (instead)?”

Here the emphasis is on a father giving a son what he needs (and would naturally ask for), i.e. food and sustenance (cp. the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, v. 3). The point is driven home through exaggeration—the father not only not giving the son what he needs, but giving what is actually harmful (and deadly) for him! Clearly, no human father would behave this way; most would genuinely wish to give their children what they need and request (much like the friend in the previous parable). In Matthew’s version the illustration is a bit different, though the basic point is certainly the same; the first comparison is a rock instead of bread, while the second is the same as the first Lukan comparison (a snake instead of a fish).

In verse 13 (Matt 7:11), Jesus explains the illustration in vv. 11-12 (as if the explanation and application were not obvious enough). It is here that the Lukan version differs most significantly from the Matthean; I give Matthew’s version first:

“So if you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will your Father in the heavens give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him!”

Here the emphasis is on God giving “good (thing)s” (a)gaqa/), or “good gifts” (do/mata a)gaqa/), in a general sense. God will answer requests in prayer, by giving people what they need and which is truly beneficial for them. The Lukan version follows the Matthean rather closely, but there are a couple of key differences (points of difference indicated by italics):

“So if you, beginning under (as) evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will your Father out of heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him!”

It is worth considering each of these points of difference:

1. For the descriptive participle, Luke uses the verb u(pa/rxw (u(pa/rxonte$) instead of the verb of being ei)mi (o&nte$). It is possible that u(pa/rxw was used to soften the implication that the disciples of Jesus were called “evil” (ponhro/$). Literally, the verb means “begin under”, i.e. begin under a particular situation or condition, etc. Frequently it was used in an existential sense, of a person (or thing) coming into being, or for an existing condition, etc. As such, the verb could also be used, loosely, as an equivalent for the ordinary verb of being. Luke appears to have been particularly fond it, as more than half of the New Testament occurrences (31 out of 46) are in Luke-Acts (7 in the Gospel, 24 in Acts). Possibly the use here may relate to the idea of the disciples as human beings (who, generally speaking, are “evil”), without implying that they, specifically, are evil in character.

2. The description of God the Father in Luke’s version is “out of heaven” (e)c ou)ranou=), while in Matthew it the more proper title “the (One) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). This latter title is virtually unique to Matthew’s Gospel (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:21, etc), and, as such, likely reflects the distinctive Matthean vocabulary and style (nearly half of all NT occurrences of the expression “in the heavens [pl.]” are in Matthew). If the wording were characteristic of the wider Gospel tradition (in Greek) of Jesus’ sayings, we would expect to see more evidence of it in the other Gospels (it is found elsewhere only at Mk 11:25).

While it is possible that the expression in the Lukan version (“out of heaven”, e)c ou)ranou=) reflects a stylistic difference (in Greek), it seems much more likely that it is meant to stress that the “good gifts” God the Father gives to Jesus’ disciples (believers) come from out of heaven. The manuscript tradition shows some uncertainty in this regard, with some key witnesses including a definite article (Ë75 a L 33), and others not. The presence of a definite article would indicate that the expression should be understood as a title (as in Matthew), i.e. “the Father the (One giving) out of Heaven”, or, perhaps even o( path\r o( as an abbreviation for “the Father the (One in Heaven)”. The lack of a definite article would best be understood as the source/origin for the Holy Spirit—the Father gives the Spirit from out of Heaven.

3. Most notably, Luke’s version makes specific (“[the] holy Spirit”) what is general in Matthew’s version (“good [thing]s”). If both sayings stem from a single historical tradition, as seems likely, it is hard to see how they both could accurately reflect what Jesus said (at the same time). Most critical commentators would regard the Lukan version as an interpretive or explanatory gloss (by the author), reflecting the idea of the Holy Spirit as the “gift” (do/ma) sent by the Father (Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17; Lk 24:49; cf. also John 4:10), and which, in turn, is the source of all (spiritual) “gifts” for believers (1 Cor 12; 14:1ff, etc). The Lukan evidence (from Acts), in particular, is strong confirmation for the critical view. This does not necessarily contradict a sound view of the Gospel’s inspiration, since it is simple enough to consider the Lukan version here as preserving an inspired interpretation of Jesus’ original words. Many similar such examples could be cited, both in Luke and elsewhere.

This emphasis on the Holy Spirit is significant for Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, in a number of ways:

    • It signifies the climax of this teaching—i.e., for the disciples of Jesus who remain faithful, and continue in prayer, following Jesus’ example and instruction, the end result will be the gift of the Spirit.
    • Ultimately, it is the Spirit (of God and Christ) that should be the focus of our prayer, i.e. it is the Spirit (its power, manifestation, etc) that we should be requesting from God the Father (cf. John 15:16, 26, etc); this is a key lesson, one which here is presented in terms of the initial sending of the Spirit (to the first believers).
    • The statement in verse 13, in its literary context, connects back to the Lord’s Prayer, and the request for the coming of God’s Kingdom. As I have noted previously, on several occasions, the framework of Luke-Acts associates the Kingdom with the coming of the Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. especially Acts 1:6-8). There is also the interesting variant reading of Lk 11:2 which reads (or glosses) the coming of the Kingdom as the coming of the Spirit.

Notes on Prayer: Matthew 6:5-8

Matthew 6:5-8

The main section of teaching by Jesus on prayer, in the Gospel of Matthew, is in chapter 6 (part of the “Sermon on the Mount”). In Matt 6:1-18, Jesus gives instruction to his disciples regarding their religious behavior and attitudes, drawing upon three basic components of conventional (Jewish) religion—(1) charitable giving to the needy (vv. 2-4), (2) prayer (vv. 5-6ff), and (3) fasting (vv. 16-18). All three are discussed according to the pattern laid out in verse 1:

“You must hold (yourself carefully) toward your right(eous)ness [dikaiosu/nh], not to do (it) in front of men, (and) toward it being looked at by them, and if not [i.e. if you are not careful], (then) you hold no payment [misqo/$] (from) alongside your Father in the heavens.”

This statement illustrates the problem with translating dikaiosu/nh as “justice” or “righteousness”; something like “right-ness” would be more appropriate. Here it is used, in a conventional religious sense, of a person who lives and acts (or would so act) in a right way before God; or, perhaps more to the point—that such persons, through their behavior, would show themselves to be right and just. In this regard, Jesus’ teaching to his followers is as clear as it is striking: such religious behavior should not be done publicly in front of others. Actually there are two components to this injunction: (a) it should not be done in front of others, and (b) it should not be done for the purpose of being seen by others; this second aspect clarifies the meaning of the first, and represents a more serious situation. Jesus warns them that, if they are not careful in this matter, they will receive no recognition from God for their religious way of life. The word misqo/$ refers to payment made for the work a person does (and is hired to do)—that is, a wage, though sometimes it can also be used in the sense of a reward. Here, the basic idea is that a person would normally expect to receive recognition (payment, reward) from God for right and proper religious behavior.

This teaching by Jesus is illustrated through three examples of typical religious behavior, as noted above. The expository pattern followed is precise for each case, with the exception of the ‘added’ teaching on prayer in vv. 7-15. The pattern may be outlined as:

    • The u(pokritai/
      • Warning against behaving like them
      • Description of how they behave
      • They already have all the payment they will receive
    • Jesus’ disciples
      • Description of how they should behave
      • If so, they will receive future/heavenly payment from God

The noun u(pokrith/$ is difficult to translate accurately; it is often simply given in the transliterated form which has passed into English—hypocrite—but this is generally inappropriate and can be misleading due to the negative value-judgment built into this word. Originally, the verb u(pokri/nw (middle/passive u(pokri/nomai) literally would have meant something like “separating out from under”, generally in the sense of bringing out an answer or explanation. This came to be applied widely in the technical sense of an actor or poet interpreting a role or work (before an audience), and along with this basic meaning, the more negative connotation of acting falsely/deceptively by “playing a part”, “play-acting”, etc. Here, Jesus draws upon this idea of a person playing a role, and doing it in front of others—note in v. 1 the verb qea/omai (“look [upon]”) from which comes the noun qe/atron (our “theater” in English), lit. a place for viewing (looking at) something.

With this in mind, let us consider Jesus’ illustration of the teaching with regard to prayer—first, a description of the u(pokritai/:

“And when you would speak out toward (God), you shall not be as th(ose who) respond under (a mask) [oi( u(pokritai/], (in) that they are fond (of being) in the (place)s of gathering together (to worship) and in the corners of the wide (street)s, having stood to speak out toward (God), (and) how they might be made to shine forth (so) to men—Amen, I relate to you, they (already) hold their payment from (this).” (v. 5)

The verb typically translated “pray” (proseu/xomai) literally means “speak out toward”, which, in a religious context, obviously refers to addressing God. To preserve something of the literal meaning of the noun u(pokrith/$, I have translated the plural here as “the (one)s responding under (a mask)”, with the added detail of a mask capturing the image of the stage-actor playing a role. Who are these ‘actors’? In context, it can only refer to those who seek public recognition or affirmation for their righteous/religious behavior; implied in this, is that many (or most) religiously-minded people, to some extent, would fit under the description—that is, it is typical of conventional religion. It is said that such people “are fond” (filou=sin) of two things related to their prayer:

    • First, of being around other people, either in the buildings where people are brought together to worship (the sunagwgh/, or “synagogue”), or outside in the open (“wide”, platei=a) streets and squares.
    • Second, of standing (e(stw=te$) when they pray, which enhances their visibility

Both are done so that these persons “might be made to shine forth” (fanw=sin) as righteous and devout, and to be recognized as such by others. It should be pointed out that this portrait by Jesus is something of an exaggeration, one that is meant to illustrate typical religious behavior—one concerned with appearances and what others think about what we do—in a rather extreme manner. By contrast, Jesus’ instruction for his followers points to the very opposite extreme:

“But when you would speak out toward (God), you must go into your (own) place (where things are) gathered, and, closing your entrance, you must speak out toward (God) in the hidden (place); and (then) your Father, the (One) looking in the hidden (place), will give forth (payment) to you.” (v. 6)

There is, I think, an intentional contrast here, based on the motif of “gathering together”, which is largely lost in translation. I have tried to preserve this above by rendering the noun tam[i]ei=on most literally as a place where things are collected/gathered together (for use)—i.e. a store-room, closet, etc. Here this is understood to be a private room in a person’s own house, in contrast to a public place (or building) where groups of people gather together (i.e. sunagwgh, “synagogue”). Moreover, the door is to be shut, so that the person is entirely hidden (krupto/$) from all other people. The contrast could not be more definite. Is this meant to be taken concretely, as though one should avoid all public contact or gathering when one prays? Or does it rather symbolize the overall attitude and outlook Jesus’ followers (believers) should have? Probably the latter, with the specific details representing the same extreme or exaggerated portrait with which it is contrasted in v. 5. At the same time, Jesus absolutely emphasizes the “hidden” vs. the public—that is, recognition from God alone, since it is only He who can see into the hidden place. Ultimately this hiddenness is a matter of the heart—of inner attitudes and intention—rather than any sort of external behavior. Paul uses much the same language, though with a different purpose and emphasis, in Romans 2:28-29:

“For (one) is not a Jew in the shining forth [e)n tw=| fanerw=|] (to others), and circumcision (is not) in the shining forth in the flesh, but a (true) Jew (is so) in the hidden [e)n tw=| kruptw=|] (place), and circumcision (is) of the heart—in the Spirit, not the letter—the praise of which (comes) not out of men, but out of God.”

Interestingly, the conclusion is the same: praise and reward for one’s religious behavior is to come entirely from God, not other human beings. Jesus casts this in an eschatological light—the outward-oriented behavior of most religious people is rewarded in the present, from the public praise and recognition they receive; but, for Jesus’ followers, there will be a heavenly/eternal reward from God in the future.

Jesus’ teaching in verses 7-15

As noted above, the pattern for all three areas illustrated by Jesus—charitable giving, prayer, and fasting—is precise, and very nearly identical (vv. 2-6, 16-18). However, the prayer-illustration has been expanded to include additional teaching on prayer. While it is possible that this association could be part of the earliest tradition—that is, made by Jesus himself in his preaching—most critical commentators would hold that this section, like the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, represents a collection of Jesus’ teaching, originally given on different occasions (presumably), which has been gathered together based on theme and “catchword-bonding”. The disruption of the teaching pattern of 6:1-18, along with the fact that some of the teaching in vv. 7-15 (such as the Lord’s Prayer itself) occurs in a different narrative location (in Luke), would seem to confirm this. At any rate, this ‘additional’ teaching on prayer may be divided into four distinct sayings or traditions, including the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9-13). As I have discussed the Lord’s Prayer extensively in prior notes, I will here address, briefly, only the sayings in vv. 7-8, 14-15.

Verse 7

“And (in your) speaking out toward (God), you should not give a stuttering account, just as the (one)s (among the) nations (do), for they consider that in the many (words of) their account they will be listened to (by God).”

Here the contrast is specifically with the way that people in the surrounding nations pray; as in vv. 5-6, this again is certainly an exaggerated portrait of pagan prayer, characterized by two related terms:

    • The verb battologe/w, the first portion of which is of uncertain derivation but is usually understood to mean something like “stammering, babbling”, etc; I translate the verb above as “give a stuttering account”. It possibly refers to the tendency to extend or enhance prayer with ‘magical’ or strange-sounding words. Such use of ‘tongues’ can give a false impression of the special/inspired character of the prayer; cp. Paul’s careful instruction regarding the use of ‘tongues’ in (public) worship in 1 Cor 14.
    • The noun polulogi/a, “account/speech” (logi/a) of “many” (polu/$) words; again, there is a common religious tendency to extend the length and complexity of prayer with words, phrases, petitions, epithets, etc.
      (For more on both terms, and what they may signify, with examples from Greco-Roman literature and religion, cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 364-7.)
Verse 8

“(So) then you should not be like them: for your Father has (already) seen [i.e. known] the (thing)s which you hold as need(s) (even) before your asking him (for them).”

The first portion of v. 8 clearly relates as much to the saying in v. 7 as what follows; I suspect that vv. 7-8, at least, belong together from the earliest (or very early) layer of Gospel tradition. Even if the core of v. 8 represents a separate saying, together here they form a contrast for how Jesus’ disciples should conduct themselves in prayer, as in vv. 5-6—it should not be the way most people (whether Jew [vv. 5-6] or Gentile [vv. 7-8]) typically do. In particular, there should be recognition of God’s providential foreknowledge regarding what His people (the righteous/believers) need, and that he will not fail to provide. There is a general parallel to this idea elsewhere in the Sermon (5:45; 6:25-34; 7:7-11; par Lk 11:9-13; 12:22-31). As such, this teaching is fundamentally theological—Jesus’ disciples are to understand this aspect of God’s nature and character. Indeed, it is this very awareness that shapes our prayer and also serves as a fitting introduction to the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9-13).

Verses 14-15

“For, if you would release for (other) men their (moment)s of falling alongside, your heavenly Father will also release (them) for you; but if you would not release (them) for (other) men, (then) your Father also will not release your (moment)s of falling alongside.”

This dual-saying has a parallel in the wider Synoptic tradition (Mark 11:25[-26]), and has been included here (whether by Jesus as speaker or as a traditional association) because of its similarity to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (v. 12). Moreover, it also relates back to earlier instruction in the Sermon itself (5:23-24), which similarly connects forgiveness/reconciliation toward others with the legitimacy of our (external) religious behavior—with the point that forgiveness takes priority over even our dearest offerings and prayer to God. The parallelism in this teaching is precise and absolute in its reciprocity—as we do (to others), so it will be done to us (by God). This is a core teaching of Jesus’, central to the Sermon (7:12, etc) as well as found in parables, etc, throughout the Gospel Tradition, and yet one that remains most challenging for us to follow. For more on the Gospel parallels and the relation of this saying to the Lord’s Prayer, see my earlier note on Matt 6:12 / Lk 11:4a.

References above marked “Betz, Sermon” are to the outstanding critical commentary on The Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz, in the Hermeneia Series (Fortress Press: 1995).

Notes on Prayer: Matthew 5:44

Last Monday, we examined references to prayer in the Synoptic Tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark. Now, we will be looking at those passages and references that are unique to the Gospels and Matthew and Luke; today we focus on the Gospel of Matthew.

Actually, in Matthew there are relatively few teachings or traditions of Jesus regarding prayer beyond the Markan/Synoptic references. Indeed, the relevant passages are limited to the collection of teaching known as the “Sermon on the Mount”, and which, to some extent, has parallels in Luke (so-called “Q” material). We have already examined the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13ff; par Lk 11:2-4) in considerable detail. Within this context, there are two other passages which must be studied: (1) the saying in 5:44, and (2) the teaching in 6:5-8 which directly precedes the Lord’s Prayer.

Matthew 5:44

“But I say to you, ‘You must love your enemies and speak out toward (God) over the (one)s pursuing you’.”

This saying is part of the Antitheses section of the Sermon on the Mount (5:21-47)—in particular, the final (6th) Antithesis, on loving one’s enemies (vv. 43-47). Here, I reprise the discussion from my earlier series on “Jesus and the Law”:

On love for one’s enemies (vv. 43-47)

Customary saying:

    • “you shall love your neighbor [lit. the one near] and (you shall) hate your enemy [lit. the one hostile]”

Jesus’ saying:

    • “love your enemies and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] over the ones pursuing [i.e. persecuting] you”

Relation to the Law:

The saying is extracted from Leviticus 19:18 [LXX], a verse frequently cited in the New Testament (Matt 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:9, cf. below); however here the phrase “as yourself” (w($ seauto/n) is not included as part of the citation, presumably to better fit the second part of the saying. The second half of the saying does not come the Old Testament Scripture at all, but should be regarded as a customary and natural (logical) extension—if one should love one’s friends and neighbors, the opposite would seem to follow: that we should hate our enemies. For the principle expressed in ethical-philosophical terms, see e.g., the Delphic aphorism (“to friends be of good mind [i.e. be kind], with enemies keep [them] away [i.e. defend against, ward off]”) and the famous maxim in Xenophon Mem. 2.6.35 etc. (“a man is virtuous [on the one hand] in prevailing [over] friends in doing good, and [on the other] [over] enemies in [doing] ill”).

Jesus’ Exposition:

Jesus flatly contradicts the conventional wisdom, commanding instead to love one’s enemies and to pray to God on their behalf. This relates both to personal enemies and to those who persecute [lit. pursue] Jesus’ followers (cf. in the Beatitudes, vv. 10-12). Of all Jesus’ statements in the Antitheses, this represents the most distinctive Christian teaching, and the one which is perhaps most difficult to follow. As in most of other Antitheses (see above), Jesus extends the Torah command and gives it a deeper meaning—in addition to loving one’s friends and relatives, one must also love one’s enemies.

Example/Application:

As the basis for this command, Jesus cites as an example (verse 45) God the Father himself who:

    • makes the sun to rise upon the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ people alike
    • sends the rain upon the ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ people alike

In some ways this is a curious example, drawing from simple observance of natural phenomena, apart from any ethical or religious considerations—for certainly, we see many instances in Scripture where God brings evil and judgment against wicked/unjust people. However, the emphasis is here on the more fundamental nature of God as Creator—giver and preserver of life.

Verses 46-47 provide a clearer application of Jesus’ teaching, and is parallel to the statement in verse 20. The so-called “love command”, with its extension even to one’s enemies, proved to have immense influence in subsequent Christian teaching, even if the force of it was sometimes softened—cf. Rom 12:19-21 (citing Prov 25:21-22). In Galatians 5:14 Paul refers to the love-command (as represented by Lev 19:18) as “all the Law fulfilled in one word”. There are various forms of Jesus’ saying in verse 44 preserved elsewhere in early Christian writings, which may reflect independent transmission: Luke 6:27-28; Romans 12:14; Didache 1:3; 2 Clement 13:4; Justin Martyr First Apology 15.9; Athenagoras’ Plea for Christians 11.1; Theophilus of Antioch To Autolycus 3:14; cf. also 1 Corinthians 4:12; Justin Dialogue 35:8; 85:7; 96:3; Clementine Homilies 12:32.

Ultimately the purpose (and result) of following Jesus’ teaching is stated in verse 45a:

“how that [i.e. so that] you may come to be sons [i.e. children] of your Father in the heavens”

This demonstrates a clear connection with the language and imagery of the Beatitudes (esp. v. 9); by following God’s own example (in Christ), we come to be like him—the same idea which concludes the Antitheses in verse 48.

The saying in verse 44 (par Luke 6:28)

With the context of the Antitheses in mind, let us now consider the specific saying in verse 44. It will be helpful to compare the Matthean and Lukan versions, since they presumably stem from the same basic tradition, though they occur in rather different contexts in the respective narratives:

Matt 5:44:
“But I say to you,
{line 1} ‘You must love your enemies
{line 2} and speak out toward (God) over the (one)s pursuing you’.”

Lk 6:27-28:
“But to you the (one)s hearing (me) I say,
{line 1} ‘You must love your enemies
{line 2} (and) do well to(ward) the (one)s hating you;
{line 3} you must give a good account [i.e. speak well] of the (one)s wishing down (evil) on you,
{line 4} (and) speak out toward (God) about the (one)s throwing insults upon you’.”

I have broken the saying into separate lines in order to indicate the poetic character of Jesus’ saying. According to the style and conventions of traditional Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) poetry, the saying follows the pattern of parallel couplets (bicola) whereby the second line (colon) restates and builds on the first. The Lukan version is made up of two bicola, while the Matthean has just a single bicolon. In both versions, the main verb in each line is an imperative (“you must…!”), while the descriptive modifier for the ‘opponents’ in line(s) 2-4 is a present participle, perhaps suggesting continuous/repeated action. If both versions, in fact, stem from a common tradition (i.e. historical saying by Jesus), then it is likely that the Matthean version is an abridgement (and/or simplification) of a more extensive saying.

In each version, the command in the first line is identical: “(you must) love your enemies” (a)gapa=te tou\$ e)xqrou\$ u(mw=n) [so also at Lk 6:35]. The difference is found in the line involving prayer:

and (you must) speak out toward (God) over the (one)s pursuing you
kai\ proseu/xesqe u(pe\r tw=n diwko/ntwn u(ma=$
kai proseuchesthe hyper tœn diœkontœn hymas

(and you must) speak out toward (God) about the (one)s throwing insults upon you
proseu/xesqe peri\ tw=n e)pereazo/ntwn u(ma=$
proseuchesthe peri tœn epereazontœn hymas

The sayings are essentially identical in form, differing only in terms of the specific preposition (u(pe/r vs. peri/) and descriptive verb (diw/kw vs. e)perea/zw) used. The variation in preposition could merely reflect a stylistic difference in Greek; the choice of verb, however, is more substantive. The Matthean verb is diw/kw, “pursue [after]”, often in a hostile sense (i.e. “persecute”), directed specifically at Jesus’ followers; as such, the verb is used three times earlier in the Beatitudes (vv. 10-12; cf. also 10:23). The Lukan verb (e)perea/zw) is much more rare, occurring just once elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Pet 3:16); it means “(throw) insults/abuse upon”, sometimes in the more outright hostile sense of “threaten, be abusive (toward)”.

How are we to explain the difference between the two versions? Given the pointed use of the verb diw/kw elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount, it seems likely that the Matthean version may be an (interpretive) abridgment of an original saying preserved more completely in Luke. Certainly we could fairly say that the Lukan lines 2-4 are effectively combined and summarized in the Matthean line 2, with the emphasis being more directly on mistreatment toward people because they are followers of Jesus. On the other hand, the use of diw/kw could also reflect Jesus’ own emphasis (as speaker) in the context of the Sermon; this would certainly represent the more traditional-conservative explanation. At the same time, some commentators suggest that Luke has expanded the saying, and that Matthew’s more concise version more accurately preserves the original; perhaps the general parallel in Rom 12:14, using the same verb diw/kw, might be seen to confirm this. Either way, the main point is clear enough, in both versions: that Jesus’ disciples are to speak out toward God (i.e. pray) on behalf of those who are mistreating and abusing them. This remains one of the most difficult and challenging aspects of Jesus’ teaching for believers—and for us today—to follow faithfully.

The other principal passage on prayer in Matthew (6:5-8) will be explored in the next study.