April 3 (1): Luke 18:31-34

In today’s Easter season note, following the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of Luke, we come to the third Passion prediction or announcement by Jesus, the last of the three similar sayings common to all the the Synoptic Gospels. The first two occurred in Luke 9:22, 43-45 (par Mk 8:31; 9:31-32; Matt 16:21; 17:22-23)—cf. the notes on these; the third is in Luke 18:31-34 (par Mk 10:32-34; Matt 20:17-19). In the Gospel of Mark, especially, the three predictions are spaced evenly, running through the narrative like a refrain. Luke, on the other hand, has greatly expanded Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, as a narrative setting for all kinds of teaching, both to his disciples and to the crowds they meet along the way. This takes up nearly nine full chapters in the text (between the second and third predictions)—now, at last, they are approaching Jerusalem, and the third pronouncement thus has a more significant dramatic effect within the narrative.

Luke 18:31-34

If we compare the Lukan version with that in Mark, we first note that Luke’s narrative introduction is much simpler and more direct:

“And taking the Twelve alongside, he said toward them…” (v. 31a)

Mark’s introduction is rather awkward and pedantic by comparison:

“And they were on the way, stepping up [i.e. going up] unto Yerushalaim, and Yeshua was leading (the way) before them, and they wondered (at this), and the (one)s following were afraid. And taking the twelve alongside again, he began to relate to them the (thing)s being about to step together [i.e. come together, happen] to him…” (Mk 10:32)

Matthew’s version (Matt 20:17) is likewise simpler, containing a bit more information that Luke has:

“And (at) Yeshua’s stepping up [i.e. going up] unto Yerushalaim, he took alongside the Twelve [learners] down (on their) own [i.e. privately], and on the way he said to them…”

The saying follows in Luke 18:31b-33 (par Mk 10:33-34 / Matt 20:18-19); I set the Lukan/Markan versions side by side (major differences in italics):

Lk 18:31b-33

“See! we step up unto Yerushalaim, and all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers {Prophets} will be completed for the Son of Man: for he will be given along to the nations and will be treated as a child and will be abused/insulted and will be spat on, and (then) being whipped they will kill him off [i.e. put him to death]; and (then) on the third day he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again).”

Mk 10:33-34

“See! we step up into Yerushalaim, and the Son of Man will be given along to the Chief sacred-officials [i.e. Priests] and the Writers {Scribes} and they will judge against him to death, and (then) he will be given along to the nations and they will treat him as a child and will spit on him and will whip him and will kill (him) off [i.e. put him to death], and (then) with [i.e. after] three days he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again).”

The two main differences in Luke’s version are: (1) inclusion of the phrase “all the things written through the Prophets will be completed” and (2) it does not contain the portion on the Son of Man being given over to the Chief Priests and Scribes (i.e. the ruling Council or “Sanhedrin” in Jerusalem) and judged worthy of death. This phrase apparently was omitted by Luke, since it is found also in Matthew’s version. Matthew agrees with Luke (against Mark) in the use of the expression “on the third day” instead of “after three days”. The only other significant differences in Matthew are the use of stauro/w (“put to the stake”, i.e. crucify) instead of a)poktei/nw (“kill off, send away to death”), and e)gei/rw (“rise [again]”) instead of a)ni/sthmi (“stand up [again]”).

Interestingly, Luke’s version focuses entirely on the role the “nations” (i.e. the Roman administration, possibly also counting Herod’s regime [cf Lk 23:6-12]) will play, and adds to the sense of Jesus’ impending mistreatment by including the verb u(bri/zw (“abuse, insult”). This results in two specific points of emphasis: (1) the focus is put squarely on Jesus’ suffering, and (2) I believe it intentionally sets the Passion more directly in line with the phrase “all the things written through the Prophets will be completed“. We are never told just what these Scriptures are (cf. also Lk 24:25-27, 45-48), but, based on the way Luke narrates the Passion account (with the inclusion of Herod’s role, a detail found only in Luke), combined with the account in Acts 4:23-31, it is likely that Psalm 2 is one that he has in mind. In the first centuries B.C./A.D., the Psalms were presumably counted among the Prophets (with David regarded as a Prophet, cf. Acts 2:25, 30; 4:25 etc), and the second Psalm was already being interpreted in a Messianic sense. Ps 2:1-2 is applied to Jesus’ Passion in Acts 4:25-26, and Jesus is identified as the “Anointed” and “Son” of God of Ps 2:2, 7 in Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5 and Luke 3:22 v.l.

All three Passion predictions use the expression “the Son of Man”; I have already discussed this detail in the notes on the first two predictions, and will here give a more definite summary on its possible significance in this context:

    • Jesus often uses the expression “son of man” in reference to himself. It is uncertain to what extent “son of man” in Hebrew or Aramaic was used as a substitute (surrogate or circumlocution) for the pronoun “I”, “you”, etc, in the time of Jesus; however, this does seem to be a factor underlying its use in Jesus’ sayings. Matthew summarizes the first Passion prediction (Matt 16:21) by narrating “…Jesus began to show to his disciples that it was necessary for him to go forth unto Jerusalem…”
    • The original Hebrew/Aramaic usage of “son of man” (Heb <d*a* /B#, Aram vn`a$ rB^) appears to have been primarily as a formal (and poetic) parallel to “man”—to indicate (hu)mankind, human beings generally, and, in particular, to the idea of their mortality. It is likely that Jesus here is identifying himself with humankind and the human condition, especially in terms of weakness, suffering (and death).
    • It is also possible that “Son of Man” in these particular sayings (as in Lk 9:58 par, etc), is meant as an intentional contrast or correction by Jesus to any expectation (on the part of his disciples) that he was about appear to people as a glorious end-time figure—the Anointed, “Son of God”, or “Son of Man” (cf. Lk 9:26-27; 12:8-9; 17:22ff etc)—upon his arrival in Jerusalem (cf. Lk 19:11). Before the Anointed One and Son of Man can appear in glory, he must first suffer and be put to death—a notion so striking and unexpected that the disciples were not able to understand it (Lk 9:45; 18:34, where the meaning is also said to have been covered/hidden from them), and that it would be necessary for early Christians to demonstrate (and have demonstrated to them) that it could be found in the Scriptures.
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