Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 9 July 2012; Revised 19 November 2015
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Parsing information for Greek words is taken from Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament. Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). I use the title "The Good News of Mark" because Mark describes his book as "good news" (1:1). Please see the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on Mark and his book.
Date: Nisan 12, A.D. 30 (Tuesday)
Parable of the Vineyard
Parallel Passages: Matthew 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-18
1 And He began to speak to them in parables: "A man PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey.
And he began to speak to them: Mark does not define "them" but he most likely refers back to the chief priests and the scribes and the elders in 11:27 as confirmed by verse 12 below. in parables: pl. of Grk. parabolē, something serving through comparison or analogy to encourage a new perspective, from paraballō, lit. “a laying beside” or “casting alongside.” The noun is variously translated as parable, proverb, figure, illustration or type. In the LXX parabolē renders Heb. mashal, which comes from a verb meaning “to be like.” The Hebrew word mashal has a broader usage than parabolē. A mashal could be in story form or in proverb form or even a discourse. Many proverbs are similes (DNTT 2:744).
The parable was a primary teaching method of Yeshua (Matt 13:3). Lane suggests that while "parables" is plural, the noun is used adverbially and means simply "parabolically." However, the plural could refer to the fact that Yeshua's temple teaching involved more than one parable. Indeed, the parable of the vineyard is followed by the parable of the cornerstone.
A man planted: Grk. phuteuō, to plant vegetation. The first one to plant in Scripture was God himself on the third day of creation (Gen 1:11-12). a vineyard: Grk. ampelōn refers to a plantation of grapevines, especially one producing grapes for winemaking. In the LXX ampelōn renders kerem, a grape vineyard (e.g., Deut 23:24; 24:21). The first mention of a vineyard in Scripture is one planted by Noah (Gen 9:20). In the list of blessings God promised Israel in Moab was a fruitful land (Deut 7:13; 28:11). God also provided a number of instructions to Israel for managing their vineyards (Ex 22:5; 23:11; Lev 19:10; 25:3-4; Deut 22:9; 23:24; 24:21). The ultimate production of the vineyard in wine was an important commodity in Israelite culture (Deut 11:14), not only for personal consumption but also for use in religious festivals (Ex 29:40; Num 15:5; Deut 16:13).
and put a wall around it: "wall" is Grk. phragmos, a fence, wall or hedge. Some kind of fence around the property was necessary to keep the vines from running over a neighbor's property and to serve as protection against wild animals (Rienecker). and dug a vat under the winepress: Grk. hupolēnion, the trough for the juice under the press in which the grapes were crushed; lit. "and dug a winepress" (Marshall). and built a tower: Grk. purgos, tower, as a lookout structure. and rented it out: Grk. ekdidōmi, aor. mid., to give out, to farm out, to lease. to vine-growers: pl. of Grk. geōrgos, means either (1) a farmer or tenant farmer or in particular (2) a vine-dresser or viticulturist, as in this passage. The term applied to those who had made a contract with the landlord to tend the vineyard in return for part of its produce. The duties of a vine-dresser included monitoring and controlling pests and diseases, monitoring fruit development, pruning when necessary, harvesting and producing wine.
and went on a journey: Grk. apodēmeō, to go away from one's locality, to travel, to make a trip. Some versions (CEV, DRA, ESV, HNV, KJV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) insert the word "country," which does not appear in the Greek text. More accurate translations are the GNT, NCV and MSG with going away on a "trip;" and NIV and TLV on a "journey." HCSB has simply "went away" and CJB has "left." The verb does not define the destination, although a neighboring province would satisfy the requirements of the story.
Wessel comments that the setting of Yeshua's story reflects a condition that actually prevailed in Galilee in Yeshua's time in which much of the land was in the hands of absentee landowners who contracted with tenants on a crop-sharing basis. Being from Galilee Yeshua would have had first hand knowledge of farming practices and built his parable on that situation. In fact, an ancient papyrus tells of a dispute between an absent landowner and hostile tenants who withheld quantities of grapes, wine and wheat (Lane). This kind of situation could easily erupt in violence.
Yeshua's parable of the vineyard is drawn from Isaiah 5:1-7.
"Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes." (Isa 5:1-2)
There are some striking differences between Yeshua's parable and the one in Isaiah. Yeshua substitutes worthless tenants for the "wild grapes." Yeshua's parable tells of a vineyard owner who planted and then went on a journey. In Isaiah 5 the focus of the story is "my beloved" (Heb. l'Yadid), a person who does not leave. The message of Adonai in Isaiah would appear to speak of the one called "beloved son" in Mark (1:11; 9:7; 12:6). So Isaiah's parable refers to Yeshua in two ways.
Scholars are divided over whether the parable should be treated as an allegory since some features seem to have obvious symbolic meaning. However, Yeshua attaches no symbolic meaning to individual words, and he never explains the details of the parable as he does with other stories. Nevertheless, as an allusion to the indictment in Isaiah the vineyard must be representative of the nation of Israel (Isa 5:7). However, in the imagery the nation cannot be distinguished from the land that God gave Israel (cf. Jer 12:10). The owner of the vineyard, then, would symbolize God. The tenants, as indicated by verse 12, would be the leaders or rulers of Israel. Taken at face value the parable has some shocking elements. What vineyard owner would act as this one does in the rest of the story? And, what does the figure of the vineyard owner tell us about God and His relationship with Israel?
2 "At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers.
At the harvest time: lit. "and at the time." The time for harvesting grapes in Israel was typically June through September, i.e., from Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) to Sukkot (Feast of Booths) (cf. Deut 16:13-15). Grapes were usually the first fruit to ripen. When harvest time came, the vineyard owner sent one of his servants to collect what the tenants owed. The payment was to be made in produce of the land according to a previously agreed-on percentage, which would then be sold and converted to currency. he sent: Grk. apostellō, to cause to move from one position to another, to send away, out or off. Originally in Greek culture the verb was used of sending an envoy to represent a king or a personal representative with legal powers. In the LXX apostellō translated shalah (to stretch out or to send), often in contexts of commissioning and empowering a messenger (DNTT 1:128). The verb is used especially in the apostolic writings of the disciples selected and sent out by Yeshua.
a slave: Grk. doulos can mean either slave or servant. In the LXX doulos translates the Heb. word ebed, which similarly described someone enslaved after being captured in war or in order to pay a debt, whether voluntarily or involuntarily (cf. Ex 21:7; Lev 25:39, 44, 47). The status of slave meant the person was property of an owner. Slaves were not daily or weekly wage earners as the workers in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). A number of Bible versions translate doulos as "servant" since the term "slave" is offensive to modern ears. However, God did not prohibit slavery, but regulated it's practice. Under the Torah slaves served for six years and then were to be released from their obligation in the seventh year (Ex 21:2; Deut 15:12). Unlike slavery in pagan cultures Hebrew slaves were to be cared for and treated justly (Ex 20:10; 21:20; 23:12).
In addition, ebed identified those that served God, especially service in the temple (DNTT 3:593ff). In other words, God was their owner. The great Hebrew and Jewish heroes of the faith considered themselves slaves of God the King and it was considered a high honor for a person to be called a slave or servant of God. Abraham was the first to use this title (Gen 18:3; 26:24), but the most frequent usage is in relation to Moses and over 40 citations remind Jews of his status, including 18 in the book of Joshua alone. Many other Israelite leaders also bore this title. See the note on 10:44. In this case the slave was not a mere messenger, but functioned as a legal agent for the owner as the Mishnah says, "a man's agent is equivalent to himself" (Ber. 5:5).
to the vine-growers: pl. of Grk. geōrgos. See the previous verse. The text is specific that the owner sent his slave to see persons, not the land. in order to receive: Grk. lambanō, aor. act. subj. In general this verb marks the transit of a person or thing from a position or entity to another who is the agent, with the latter being also receptor. The active voice would require the verb be rendered as "to take." of the produce: pl. of Grk. karpos, the edible product of a plant grown for agricultural purposes. of the vineyard: Grk. ampelōn. See the previous verse. According to ancient records the idiom "fruits of the vineyard" refers to different kinds of wine, including a cheap wine designated for the slaves of the state (Lane 417). Wine was a product in high demand and could be easily sold for a profit. from the vine-growers: pl. of Grk. geōrgos. The redundancy of the term emphasizes that the slave had not been sent to do any harvesting, but to collect the owner's share of what had been harvested. The owner's portion was probably about forty per cent (Young, Jewish Theologian 217).
3 "They took him, and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.
They took him: The owner sent three slaves in succession to collect the expected payment, but the tenants reneged on their agreement. The tenants physically seized the servant. and beat him: Grk. derō, to punish in a violent manner, at the very least with fists and at worst with whips. and sent him away empty-handed: Grk. kenos, devoid of contents. The first slave received a severe beating and was sent back to the owner without the expected payment.
4 "Again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully.
Again he sent: Grk. apostellō. See verse 2 above. them another slave: Grk. doulos. See verse 2 above. This is the first shocking element. The owner sends a second servant. Why didn't the owner go himself? The second slave, as a duly authorized agent of the owner, would have had the authority and duty to investigate the circumstances of the previous slave's beating, as well as collect the payment. they wounded him in the head: Grk. kephalioō, to strike or inflict a wound on the head. and treated him shamefully: Grk. atimazō, to deprive of honor or respect, to disgrace or to shame. The clause is lit. "wounded in the head and insulted" (Marshall). If the shameful treatment was related to the head, then they may have pulled out his hair. Whatever the actions of the second slave may have been, it's clear that the tenants acted unlawfully.
5 "And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others.
And he sent: Grk. apostellō. See verse 2 above. another: Amazingly the owner sent yet another slave. This is the second shocking element. Surely two beaten slaves would warrant the intervention of the owner. and that one they killed: Grk. apokteinō, to murder someone or to end someone's life by force. The verb would be better translated as "murdered." The tenants could only interpret the lack of retribution for the first two slaves as a license to kill the third and so they did. The owner must have learned of the killing by witnesses.
and many others: Lane suggests that the detail of "he sent many others" was intended by Yeshua to force his listeners beyond the framework of the parable to the history of Israel (418). In the Tanakh the prophets are frequently designated "the servants of God" (as noted in verse 2 above) and the listener could easily make a correlation between the parable and the adverse treatment of the prophets (cf. Matt 23:31; Heb. 11:32-37).
beating some: See the previous verse. and killing others: Both verbs are present participles, indicating on ongoing pattern of violence. The fact that only some were killed was probably only a matter of providence. The tenants fully intended to kill every servant of the owner. The actions of the tenants reflects the indictment of Isaiah 5:7,
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!"
Yeshua accused these hypocrites of being the sons of those who murdered the prophets (Matt 23:31). If this story reflected real life then the owner would be subject to criticism for his failure to do justice for his servants. However, as a symbol of God would we really want God to exact vengeance on us for breaking His laws? Justice is a double-edged sword.
6 "He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
He had one more: Another servant is meant, and this one, too, is totally devoted to carrying out the will of the owner. a beloved: Grk. agapētos, adj., to hold in affection. son: Grk. huios, a male offspring or descendant, whether by direct birth or by more remote ancestry. Lane suggests that agapētos probably means "only" son (as in the LXX of Gen 22:2, 12, 16; cf. Jer 6:26). This affectionate reference has already been spoken twice by God the Father of Yeshua (1:11; 9:7). The disciples would have recognized the reference and remembered the occasions. Given the outcome of the parable they might have become concerned about its significance. After all, Yeshua had already told them three times that he would be killed. he sent: Grk. apostellō. See verse 2 above. So, the father sent his son. last to them: The clause emphasizes both the finality of sending agents and the mission of meeting with the tenants to collect the owner's share.
saying, They will respect: Grk. entrepō, fut. pass., 'to turn about,' relating to change of position or condition. In this instance the verb means to have regard for, to respect. my son: The assumption that the murderous tenants would respect the owner's son seems naïve in the extreme. Perhaps the owner thought that the tenants didn't respect the slaves of the owner because of their inferior social status. Nevertheless, social prejudice is no excuse for beating and killing the slaves of another man (cf. Deut 24:14). The owner had no evidence that the tenants would be respectful of his son and every reason to believe he was putting his son's life at risk.
7 "But those vine-growers said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!'
This is the heir: Grk. klēronomos, inheritor in a legal sense. The son would be the heir if he was the only son. If there were other sons, the first-born received a double-portion (Deut 21:17). come, let us kill him: Grk. apokteinō, to murder. See verse 5 above. The proposition reflects a conspiracy to murder, which makes the offense even more vile and for which there could be no atonement (Lev 17:4). and the inheritance: Grk. klēronomia, a share in what is passed on by a testator, in this case the vineyard, although this was not likely the total of the owner's assets that could be inherited. will be ours: As Wessel comments, they saw the coming of the son as a golden opportunity for seizing the property as they might have inferred from the son's coming that the owner had died. If the son died then ownership of the land could be challenged. By rabbinic law a presumptive title to land which is continually producing is conferred by three years of unchallenged possession (B.B. 3:1; cf. B.B. 54a).
8 They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.
They took him: Grk. lambanō, aor. part. The verb marks the transit of a person or thing from one position to another, and in the active voice means "to take." The verb implies having the requisite power or control to accomplish the goal. and killed him: The tenants duly carried out their evil plan. The opening clause is lit. "And taking they killed him." and threw him: Grk. ekballō, aor., to cause to move out of a position. The verb can have various nuances of meaning, such as to put out, to drive out, or to reject. As a reference to the crucifixion of Yeshua "rejected" is a better translation, since there was no physical "throwing" involved. out: Grk. exō, prep., a position that is beyond a limit or boundary, outside. of the vineyard: The tenants were apparently concerned about violating the Torah law against desecrating property with death (Gen 4:10; Num 35:33; Job 16:18; Ps 9:12), so they attacked him outside the boundaries (Kasdan 244). Both Matthew and Luke have the killing of the son take place after he is taken out of the vineyard (cf. Matt 21:39, Luke 20:15). There is no contradiction in the chronologies since the location of the action verbs after the taking is outside the vineyard.
9 "What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others.
What will the owner: Grk. kurios, owner, master, lord. Although Yeshua may have had a double entendre in mind, translation of "owner" is preferred in keeping with the statement of verse 1, "a man planted a vineyard." While Yeshua ordinarily does not answer his own questions, he does so in this parable (Matt 21:40; Luke 20:16) to make a clear application. of the vineyard do: Grk. ampelōn. See verse 1 above. In Matthew's version unnamed persons in the audience answer the question (Matt 21:41). The response indicates that rebellion against the owner and the injustice done to the owner's servants and son would bring a predictable result.
He will come: Grk. erchomai, fut. mid., to come or arrive, indicating movement from one location to another. The middle voice of the verb emphasizes the personal action of the owner. The distance is irrelevant. The owner will come. Here, as in other places in the Besekh, the verb refers to correction or judgment, usually within the foreseeable future (cf. 1Cor 4:19-21; 1Th 2:16; 5:3; Rev 2:5, 16; 3:3). and destroy: Grk. apollumi, fut. act., to eliminate an entity, to kill or destroy. the vine-growers: pl. of Grk. geōrgos. See verse 1 above. The destruction will fall on those tenants who acted unlawfully. The owner would have recourse to governmental intervention to forcibly subdue the mutinous tenants (Lane). While this verse alludes back to Isaiah 5:1-7 and its indictment of the vineyard, the ire of the owner in the parable is directed only at the renegade tenants, who no doubt stand in for those plotting Yeshua's death.
and will give the vineyard to others: pl. of Grk. allos, an adjective that denotes a qualitative difference and distinguishes an entity from one or more other entities. In other words, the owner will appoint new tenants. Luke's version has Yeshua's listeners respond to the pronouncement with, "May it never be!" (Luke 20:16) In Matthew's version the "others" are first identified as vinedressers (Grk. geōrgos) in verse 41 and then in verse 43 as "another people" (Grk. ethnos) producing the fruits God expects. But, in terms of application who are the others? Wessel speaks for many Christian commentators when he says that "The killing of the tenants may be a not-so-veiled prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the "others" to which the vineyard is given are the new Israel." Lane concurs, saying, "the sacred trust of the chosen people will be transferred to the new Israel of God." Barclay also agrees,
"The parable has in it the whole germ of what was to come - the rejection of the Jews and the passing of their privileges and responsibilities to the Gentiles."
Geldenhuys in commenting on the parallel saying in Luke 20:16 says,
"The Jewish rulers (and along with them the unbelieving part of the people) will be visited by the judgments of God and will no longer have the privilege of acting as the spiritual leaders of God's people. Believers in Jesus (from whatever nation) will be the new, true Israel, God's vineyard, and other leaders will be the workers in His vineyard - namely, the apostles, and after them all who have been called to ministry spiritually to His church on earth (this ultimately extends, therefore, to every ordinary believer).
The "New Israel" is the code name for Christianity invented by the church fathers beginning in the mid-2nd century, largely as a result of the destruction of the Jewish state by the Romans in A.D. 135 (Wilson 83). Prior to this time Christians saw themselves as grafted into Israel, but patristic writers, beginning with Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 160), claimed that God rejected Israel for rejecting their Messiah and that the Scriptures and the Land no longer belonged to the Jews. This inexplicable doctrine, called Replacement Theology (also Supersessionism, Covenant Theology, Reconstructionism, or Dominionism), flies in the face of Paul's Israelology:
"I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew." (Rom 11:1-2 NASB)
Some might see a parallel with Yeshua's comment about having "other sheep" (John 10:16). The metaphor of "sheep" (as "vineyard") is used in the Tanakh for Israel (Ps 79:13; 95:7; 100:3; Isa 53:6; Ezek 34:12). However, Yeshua told the Syrophoenician woman who requested healing for her daughter, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 15:24). The woman did not try to convince Yeshua to start a new flock, but described herself as joined to Israel and in that admission Yeshua healed her daughter. Listen to the full revelation concerning the "other sheep."
"I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd." (John 10:16 NASB) (See my commentary on John 10:16.)
Yeshua was not going to take the "other sheep" and form a new flock away from Israel, but bring the "other sheep" to the existing flock of Israel. Similarly, Paul used two figurative terms to describe this truth:
"But if some of the branches were broken off, and you -being a wild olive - were grafted in among them and became a partaker of the root of the olive tree with its richness, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you." (Rom 11:17-18 TLV)
"Therefore, keep in mind that once you - Gentiles in the flesh - were called "uncircumcision" by those called "circumcision" (which is performed on flesh by hand). At that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah." (Eph 2:11-13 TLV)
The New Israel theology has no Scriptural basis. Furthermore, a religion that cuts itself off from its Jewish roots, denies the authority of Torah, persecutes the blood kin of the Messiah and opposes the biblical right of Jews to their Land could never qualify as a "new" Israel. That kind of Israel is totally foreign to the apostles (cf. Acts 1:6). Rightly does Daniel Gruber opine concerning Christianity,
“It was the best of religions; it was the worst of religions. It brought life, love, and compassion to a dark and cruel world. It also brought torture, repression, ignorance, slavery, and death to an innocent world. It burned with Light and Truth. It also burned the Bible and those who believed it.
“Those who adhered to it built universities, hospitals, and orphanages. They also justified poverty, exploitation, war, and conquest. They brought food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, work to the destitute, and hope to the hopeless. They [also] filled the earth with contempt for man, contempt for God’s creation, and contempt for God.
“What is this thing called “Christianity”? The Bible does not tell us. The Bible talks about something else.” (The Separation of Church and Faith: Copernicus and the Jews, Elijah Publishing, 2005; p. 186)
To apply the parable in context, the chief priests and rulers of the Sanhedrin must be considered as the "tenants," as they rightly deduce in verse 12. They are comparable to the unworthy shepherds condemned in Ezekiel 34. Who are the "others" then? There are four types of application that could be made.
First, the "others" could be Yeshua's apostles as he had already informed them. They would sit on thrones, replacing the Sanhedrin, and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30). After the resurrection the apostles will take up the task of judging and shepherding the people of God (cf. John 21:15-17; Acts 2:42; Eph 2:19-20). Adam Clarke supports this interpretation saying, "I will give it into the care of new vinedressers, the Evangelists and apostles. And under their ministry, multitudes were brought to God before the destruction of Jerusalem." Not only did the apostles fulfill this task for their generation, but the apostles left Scripture to shepherd succeeding generations of disciples (cf. Eph 2:20; 2 Pet 3:2; Jude 1:17). In the millennial kingdom the apostles will again take up the mantle of leadership, as Yeshua promised. Christians must never forget that it is the names of the Yeshua's Jewish apostles that are inscribed on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:14), not any Christian theologian, Pope, Bishop or General Superintendent.
Second, since the vineyard represents Israel then the tenants could be those who work within that sphere to bring about the production of righteousness. In other words, the "others" are Messianic Jews (so Kasdan 245). In the first century tens of thousands of Jews accepted and followed Yeshua as Messiah (Acts 21:20). Down through the centuries there has always been a faithful remnant of Jews who accepted Yeshua as their Messiah. Since the recreation of the state of Israel and the Messianic Jewish renewal in the 1970s the fruit of righteousness is growing in the Land once more. The Land is blossoming in agricultural production (Isa 35:1-2) and Messianic Jewish congregations are multiplying, serving as worthy tenants.
Third, understanding the vineyard as the Commonwealth of Israel, the new tenants could be those whom the Lord appointed to shepherd his people in order to bring about the spiritual fruit that He desires. Paul declared:
"He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the holy ones, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Messiah; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah." (Eph 4:11-13 HNV)
These offices were not limited to the first century nor assigned only to Messianic Jews, but represent the leadership and discipling plan for the Body of Messiah in the present age. By extension the concept of stewardship would also apply to husbands since a wife and mother is likened to a fruitful vine in a vineyard (Ps 128:3; SS 1:13; 4:12-16; Ezek 19:10).
Fourth, the vineyard could be figurative of the Kingdom of God, which Yeshua spoke at some length in 10:13-25. (He will speak of it again in verse 34 below.) In this broader sense, then, all the subjects of the King could be considered tenants. All disciples have a share in vineyard work and have something to contribute to the fruitfulness of the Kingdom. This Kingdom is not the Church as Augustine envisioned in his book City of God, but the kingdom promised to King David (Luke 1:32-33; Acts 13:32-33). The good news of the Kingdom is to the Jew first and then to the Gentile (Rom 1:16).
It would be easy to dismiss the parable as unimportant to the modern disciple since it was obviously spoken to Yeshua's enemies. Yet, all Scripture has application for all disciples. Fundamentally the parable is about stewardship, just like the other servant sayings and parables of Yeshua (Matt 24:45-51; 25:14-30; Luke 12:35-48; 19:11-27). God has placed great privileges and responsibilities in human hands. He has also extended abundant grace and bestowed benefits of incalculable worth. What do we owe God in return?
10 "Have you not even read this Scripture: `THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;
Yeshua now abruptly introduces a parable with different imagery. Have you not even read: Grk. anaginōskō, to know again, hence to recognize, and so 'read.' In Jewish culture Scripture was read aloud, and the verb likely alludes to reading in a synagogue service. this Scripture: Grk. graphē, writing, and in the Jewish context meaning the sacred Hebrew Bible (24 books) referred to as the Tanakh, corresponding to the Protestant Old Testament (39 books) and its translation into Greek, the Septuagint. All the quotations from the Tanakh in the Besekh come from the LXX. The term "Scripture," which occurs over 50 times in the Besekh, summarizes the body of literature containing God's inspired, infallible, inerrant words penned by over 25 writers, from Moses to Malachi.
The Tanakh reveals God's nature, His plan for a Messianic Savior and salvation, and His plan for holy and righteous living. This is the only Bible Yeshua and the apostles knew and as Scripture they upheld its authority over the traditions of men. Yeshua then proceeds to quote from two verses of Scripture, Psalm 118:22-23. The stone: Grk. lithos, a term for stone of various types. In the Targum on Psalm 118:22 the stone is identified as David (Cook). which the builders: Grk. oikodomeō, pres. act. part., to erect a structure, lit. "the ones building." rejected: Grk. apodokimazō, to refuse to recognize as qualified. The addition of the preposition apo indicates rejection after examination. Thus, the verb means to discard or to reject. Jewish literature identifies the builders as Samuel the prophet and Jesse the father of David and indicates that they rejected God's choice of David to be king (Young, Jewish Theologian 219). Similarly, Yeshua is the son of David and he too was rejected.
this became: Grk. ginomai, aor. pass. ind., to become or to come into being. the chief corner: Grk. kephalēn ['head'] gōnias ['corner'] lit. "the head of the corner" (KJV) and thus refers to that which unites two walls. Although the expression does not denote direction, 'head' might refer to that point considered the principal corner of the structure's foundation. The cut and placement of the cornerstone is vital in building construction to assure the proper alignment of foundation stones and the plumb of the walls. Isaiah speaks of this cornerstone:
Therefore thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: 'Whoever believes will not be in haste.' (Isa 28:16)
For Yeshua's the builders, were the men of power in Israel, and indeed the chief priests and elders knew that Yeshua spoke this parable against them (verse 12 below). In later messages the apostles leave no doubt that this stone foreshadowed the Messiah as the cornerstone and the apostles as the foundation stones in perfect alignment (Acts 4:11; Rom 9:32-33; Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:6-8; Rev 21:14). Any departure from the cornerstone and foundation already laid can only result in instability in life and the potential of judgment.
11 THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'?"
this came about: Grk. ginomai, aor. mid., to become or come into being, "this came to be." from the Lord: Grk. kurios generally means the owner of possessions. In the vernacular kurios was used to refer to persons of high or respected position, addressed as “sir,” “lord” or “master,” but especially as a designation for God. In the LXX kurios occurs over 9,000 times, principally to translate Heb. words for God. In the overwhelming majority of instances (over 6,000 times), kurios replaces the Heb. Sacred Name Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey, which is the name used in Psalm 118:23. This was the name God gave to Moses to share with His people.
and it is marvelous: Grk. thaumastos, marvelous, remarkable or wonderful. The adjective is connected to seeing some kind of spectacle. in our eyes: pl. of Grk. ophthalmos, a term referring to the sensory organ of the eyes, but here as figure of speech means moral or spiritual understanding, a perception shared by the group. It appears as if Yeshua uses this parable as interpretive of the parable of the vineyard tenants.
12 And they were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away.
And they were seeking: Grk. zēteō, impf., be on the search for, to look for. The imperfect tense (continuous action in past time) suggests an earlier point for the plotting than the conclusion of the parable. to seize Him: Grk. krateō, aor. inf., to gain control over, to restrain, to seize or arrest with the intention of detention. Yeshua had already prophesied his arrest in 9:31 and 10:33. The reaction of the chief priests may be due to the application Yeshua made of the quotation from Psalm 118. The parallel narratives in Matthew and Luke add this prophecy:
"And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him." (Matt 21:44)
"Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him." (Luke 20:18)
and they feared: Grk. phobeō, aor. pass. See the notes on Mark 11:18, 32. the people: Grk. ochlos refers to an assembled company of people. In this context the term is probably not intended as a general reference to the Am Ha-Retz ("people of the land"), but to the crowds in the Temple courts. The time of the festival was drawing near and thousands of pilgrims were arriving daily. Many of those from the Land (whether Galilee, Samaria or Judea) knew Yeshua either by personal contact or through his public ministry.
for they understood: Grk. ginōskō, to know something with the mind or to form a judgment about something. that He spoke the parable: Grk. parabolē. See verse 1 above. The noun is singular here in contrast to verse 1 where it is plural. It isn't immediately clear whether the mention of "parable" here refers back to the story of the vineyard tenants or the interpretive parable of the cornerstone. Either one would qualify since the former revealed their intention for homicide and the latter revealed their intention to reject him.
against them: Matthew records "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them" (Matt 21:45). This statement indicates that parables were not such dark sayings, but the basic message of the story could be understood by the masses even if they missed the deeper meaning. In this case the adversaries of Yeshua got the point well enough. They understood the parable as an indictment and probably realized that Yeshua understood their malevolent intent. And they left Him and went away: Since there was not an opportunity to carry out their arrest plot they left him and went away.
Verses 13-40 concern serious theological questions discussed and debated by rabbinic scholars of the time. The narrative is in a dialog form in which Yeshua is asked a question and he responds with his own question.
Paying the Poll-Tax to Caesar
Parallel Passages: Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-26
13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement.
Then they sent: This statement underscores the point that the opposition against Yeshua was far from unanimous. some of the Pharisees: pl. of Grk. Pharisaios which translates the Heb. p'rushim, meaning “separatists.” The title was born of the fact that they separated themselves from the common people of the land who did not tithe, were ritually impure and knew nothing of the Torah (Law). They traced their roots to the Hasidim ("pious ones") organized in the time of Ezra. There were many aspects of Phariseeism with which Yeshua would have agreed. They believed in resurrection and immortality, and the importance of living a holy life. They regarded Greek ideas as abominations. The Pharisees accepted the traditions of the Sages as having equal authority as the written Torah. See the note on 2:16 for more background on this group.
and Herodians: pl. of Grk. Hrōdianoi. In early times of the Roman Empire, the adjectival termination -ianos was widely applied to slaves belonging to the great households, but by the first century it had passed into regular use to denote the adherents of an individual or a party ("Christian," ISBE). The same meaning may be found in the Latin Christianus. The suffix ianus (pl. iani) was commonly used to designate followers of a particular leader or camp, or what might be considered partisans. Early historical documents speak of Caesariani and Pompeiani, that is, partisans of Julius Caesar and Pompey (e.g., Josephus, Ant. XIV, 7:4). The Herodiani or Herodians were partisans of King Herod (Matt 22:16).
The mention of Herodians is strange given that Yeshua was in Jerusalem. When Herod the Great died in 1 B.C. his kingdom was divided between three of his sons: Archelaus received Judea and Samaria, Herod Antipas received Galilee and Perea, and Philip received Ituraea and Trachonitis (northwest of Galilee). Archelaus reigned in Jerusalem (Matt 2:22) until A.D. 6 when he was deposed, and the province of Judea was then formed, consisting of Samaria, Judea and Idumea, and placed under the rule of a Roman governor. Pontius Pilate held the post 26-36 A.D.
The question, of course, is why would any Jew support the Herodian dynasty, since they were of Edomite origin and of a thoroughly wicked bent. Yeshua had warned his disciples of the continuing evil influence of Herod through his adherents (8:15). The Herodian family was offensive to the Pharisees, but even in ancient times politics made for strange bed-fellows. Certain Pharisees found common cause with the Herodians. The Pharisees viewed Yeshua as a threat to the social and religious order and the Herodians considered Yeshua a threat to the political stability of the tetrarchies.
to Him in order to trap: Grk. agreuō, aor. act. subj., to snare prey by entrapment. him in a statement: Grk. logos, vocalized expression of the mind. Their goal was to manipulate Yeshua into making a public statement that would discredit himself. It may be that these particular Pharisees and Herodians had never tried to debate Yeshua before. In their arrogance they actually believed that could get Yeshua to say what they wanted him to say.
14 They came and said to Him, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?
Teacher: Grk. didaskalos, teacher or instructor who regularly engaged in the imparting of knowledge or skills, a vocation of special status among the Israelites. The equivalent in the Tanakh of didaskalos would be moreh ("one who throws out," or "points out," "directs," or "instructs"). Yeshua's adversaries did not address him as "Rabbi" ("my master"). we know that You are truthful: Grk. alēthēs, unconcealed, and so 'true.' The adjective could be translated as real, genuine, trustworthy, straightforward or honest. and defer to no one: lit., "and it matters not to you about anyone." The implication is that Yeshua is so puffed up that he does not respect leading rabbinic Sages or the two prominent schools of Hillel and Shammai. Of course, he knew that Hillel and Shammai often disagreed with one another. In fact, it was common for the School of Hillel to refer to the School of Shammai as “the synagogue of Satan” (Moseley 96).
for You are not partial to any: lit. "for you look not into the face of men." The opening clause employs flattery and is clearly a setup. They manage to compliment Yeshua and insult him at the same time. Yeshua was certainly an independent thinker. He did not moisten his finger and stick it in the air to see which way the wind of public opinion was blowing. Yeshua knew the evil in men's hearts and did not entrust himself to them (John 2:24-25).
but teach the way of God in truth: If these adversaries really believed this claim, they wouldn't have asked the question. They would have repented and became disciples. Is it lawful: Grk. exesti, 'it is out/open,' hence it is allowable, permitted or right. The normal word for law (Grk. nomos) does not occur in the narrative. The Romans imposed their laws on subjugated peoples, so it would seem silly to ask "is it lawful?" The question does not concern the instruction of Torah, which says nothing about the issue under discussion, although the principle of submission to a pagan authority exists in the prophetic books (Jer 29:7). What they're asking is, "What do you tell your disciples of this matter, so that we can determine whether your teaching is correct?"
to pay: Grk. didōmi, aor. act. inf., a generic verb that essentially means to give something to someone. In various contexts the verb might denote to give as a gift, to give up something as a sacrifice, to give or hand over something as a legal duty, to entrust money to someone, or to pay an amount owing, such as taxes, tribute, rent, etc. a poll-tax: Grk. kēnsos, the poll or head tax determined by the census. The noun is singular, so the plural translation of "taxes" that occurs in most major Bible versions makes the question too broad. The question does not pertain to taxes in general, of which there were many kinds, but a specific kind of tax. The specific issue being addressed is the Roman poll-tax. The translation of "tribute" (ASV, KJV, LITV, Mace, Marshall, WNT, YLT) may be archaic, but it expresses the heart of the issue.
to Caesar: Grk. Kaisar originally was the family name of Julius, the first emperor. In time it became a title of the Roman head of state. The Caesar in power at this time was Tiberius (14-37 A.D.). The context of the question alludes to the fact that Caesar Augustus reformed the system of taxation in 1 BC. Each province was required to pay a wealth (or income) tax of about 1% and a flat poll tax of one drachma on each adult. The income and poll taxes relied on a regular census being taken to evaluate the taxable number of people and their income/wealth status. (For more on Roman taxation see Taxes in the Roman Empire.) With the province of Judea under direct Roman rule, taxes collected therein went straight into the Roman treasury.
or not: Jews, in general, accepted the half-shekel temple tax, but hated paying taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees, however, while resenting the humiliation implied in paying the taxes justified its payment, while the Herodians supported it on principle (Lane). The Zealots, on the other hand, refused to recognize Caesar's sovereignty. In fact, Judas the Galilean instigated a revolt at the time of the enrollment in AD 6 for the Roman tax (Acts 5:37). Josephus quoted Judas as saying that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery (Ant. XVIII, 1:1) and that people who paid Roman taxes were cowards (Wars II, 8:1). In consequence of Judas' revolt, the Zealot Party (Matt 10:4) formed itself and became a major provocation that led to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 66–70 (Stern 238).
15 "Shall we pay or shall we not pay?" But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at."
Shall we pay or shall we not pay? The setup question is bogus on the face of it, because the Roman government did not give Jews a choice. Failure to pay could only result in harsh consequences. The question was not academic, but one hotly debated by the Herodians, who supported Roman taxation, and the Zealots who were violently opposed to this element of Roman tyranny. But He, knowing: Grk. horaō, perf. part., perceiving with the eye, to see. Yeshua's "knowing" came from personal experience. The perfect tense emphasizes that his "seeing" had been of some duration, perhaps hearkening back to the beginning of his ministry. their hypocrisy: Grk. hupokrisis, playing a role as in a theatrical production and used as a figure of speech for pretense or duplicity.
said to them, "Why are you testing Me: Grk. peirazō, to make trial of the quality or state of someone's character or claims, and so may be translated as "test" or "tempt" depending on the context. The distinction is that God tests (cf. Deut 8:2; Jdg 3:1) and Satan tempts (Mark 1:13). Yeshua's question alludes to the divine directive "You shall not put the You’re your God to the test" (Deut 6:16). Yeshua knew that if he gave a positive answer he would lose credibility with the people and a negative answer would bring reprisal from the Roman government. Bring me a denarius: Grk. dēnarion, a Roman silver coin, first minted in 211 B.C., about 4.55 grains. The coin could only be produced in Rome. The denarius was probably equal to a farm worker's daily wage (Matt 20:2). to look at: Yeshua would have known what a denarius looked like, but he was setting the stage for his own question.
16 They brought one. And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" And they said to Him, "Caesar's."
They brought one: Being a coin in common usage, the critics had no difficulty in providing the coin. Yeshua then responded with a second question that echoed the elements the question his adversaries posed. And He said to them, "Whose likeness: Grk. eikōn, resemblance to some other entity or something that bears a likeness to something else, particularly of a crafted object, an image. Coins minted by pagan empires generally depicted a pagan deity or some element connected with pagan religion. Roman coins during the Empire often contained an image of their current ruler, either in a pose or with inscriptions indicating deification. In contrast the Hebrew shekels displayed only traditional, stylized pictures due to the Second Commandment which prohibited graven images. According to Hippolytus, the Zealots would not handle or look upon any coin which bore an idolatrous image (Lane f25, 423).
and inscription is this: Grk. epigraphē, something inscribed on a surface, here of incised wording, a superscription. The inscription would include the location of minting, "Roma," and other Latin abbreviations designating various titles assumed by the emperor, such as IMP (Imperator), CAES (Caesar), PM (Pontifex Maximus) and COS (Consul), as well as the abbreviation of the emperor's name (AVG = Augustus). And they said to Him, Caesar's: The coin likely bore the image of Caesar Tiberius with the inscription "TI Caesar" (Michael Swoveland, Reading Ancient Roman Coins).
17 And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him.
And Jesus: The English transliteration of the Greek Iēsous, which itself is a transliteration of Yeshua, our Lord's Hebrew name given to him by his parents in accordance with angelic direction. Yeshua is the only name by which he was known to his contemporaries. See the note on 1:1 for the background of this precious name. said to them, "Render: Grk. apodidōmi, aor. act. imp., to engage in reciprocity, frequently with a commercial component. The functional meaning here could be to pay back or give back. If taken literalistically Yeshua could be interpreted as saying give all the Roman coins back to the Romans. In a sense the leader Simon Bar Kokhba did this by minting Hebrew coins during the Jewish revolt of A.D. 132-136 to avoid use of Roman coins.
to Caesar the things that are Caesar's: In one sense the statement is paradoxical because the ability to make wealth comes from God (Deut 8:18). Moreover, the sovereign care of God is necessary for prosperity. Caesar could no more claim that wealth existed by his own creation than we can. Nothing truly belongs to any of us, because God can claim it in an instant. Just ask Job. Nevertheless, Yeshua did effectively rule that taxes imposed should be paid, as Paul would later reinforce (Rom 13:6-7). The disciple of Yeshua is not responsible for the use or misuse of tax revenues. (This does not mean that disciples should invite greater taxation through their political choices for public office.)
and to God the things that are God's: The unstated contrast is that while Roman coin bore Caesar's imprint, man bears the image of God (Gen 1:27). The Roman coin was temporal, but a human being is eternal. The things of God to be given then, by Torah definition, included people, animals, crops and precious metals (whether in coinage, vessels or bulk form). Things rendered to God usually meant what was presented at or used in the temple, those people and things devoted to divine service. This expectation is reasonable since these things already belong to God.
And they were amazed at Him: Grk. ekthaumazō, to be astounded by something out of the ordinary. The Pharisees and Herodians clearly did not expect this answer. After all, Yeshua had evicted the money-changers collecting the Temple tax. However, Yeshua did not object to the temple tax, since he paid it himself (Matt 17:24-27). The Herodians should have been happy with the part about rendering to Caesar and the Pharisees should have been happy with the part about rendering to God. However, being thwarted did not change their attitude toward Yeshua.
Parallel Passages: Matthew 22:23-33; Luke 20:27-38
18 Some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) came to Jesus, and began questioning Him, saying,
Sadducees: pl. of Grk. Saddoukaios (Heb. Tz'dukim). This is the only mention of this Israelite group in the book of Mark. References to the Sadducees also occur in Matthew 3:7; 16:1, 6, 11-12, 22:23, 34; Acts 4:1; 5:17; 23:6-8. Josephus describes the Sadducees as one of four prominent Jewish groups in the first century (Ant. XIII, 5:9). Yochanan the Immerser called the Sadducees vipers (along with the Pharisees) and Yeshua warned his disciples to beware the "leaven of the Sadducees" (Matt 16:6, 11). The origin of the Sadducees is a matter of controversy, since there are no extant Sadducean documents, but many were aristocratic and wealthy. The Great Sanhedrin members included a group of Sadducees and a group of Pharisees (Acts 23:6), but no other evidence exists that gives any kind of precise numbers nor their representation among the priests, scribes and elders.
Whatever the philosophical leanings of the rank and file priests Flusser says the Temple aristocracy was identified with the Sadducees (44, 104). Lane says in one place that there is no warrant for the assertion that the Temple hierarchy was by conviction Sadducean or was inclined to follow Sadducean traditions (426) and then later in his commentary says that the chief priests had Sadducean leanings (532). The latter statement would be correct given the mention of Sadducees among the chief priests in Acts 4:1 and 5:17. After the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 the Sadducees effectively ceased to exist, although their legacy was passed on to other Jewish groups that favored the authority of the written Torah over the Oral Law, such as the Karaites.
who say that there is no resurrection: Grk. anastasis may mean either (1) bringing to a higher status or (2) a rising from the condition of being dead. The use of parentheses to set this phrase off is unnecessary. The statement is not an aside, but a crucial point of identification. Anastasis is the principal Greek word in the Besekh for resurrection, with references divided between the resurrection of Yeshua and the resurrection at the end of the age. The noun is derived from the verb anistēmi, which means to rise, stand up or get up and in its ordinary use refers to one who is sitting or lying down. In common usage the verb referred to standing in contrast to sitting (Lam 3:63; Zech 3:7-8 LXX) and was used as a religious metaphor to depict the opposite of falling (Luke 2:34).
Since earliest times pagans believed in the immortality of the soul, but whether the soul would again enjoy the home of a physical body after death was the subject of much debate and speculation. Believing that death ended the dwelling place of one’s soul, ancient Greek philosophers put forth the doctrine of the transmigration of the soul into some other body (DNTT 3:259). Ancient Egyptians, who did not agree with the Greeks, developed the science of mummification, an advanced form of embalming, which they believed would empower the soul to return to a person’s body. Both Jacob (Gen 50:2-3) and Joseph (Gen 50:26) were embalmed, perhaps out of respect for Egyptian custom, but probably in anticipation of later travel to Canaan for burial. Embalming was rarely practiced in Canaan.
In Yeshua’s day the Pharisees and Sadducees were sharply divided over the issue of physical life after death. Josephus summarizes their positions:
"the Pharisees … ascribe all to fate [or providence], and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does co-operate in every action. They say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, - but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment. But the Sadducees are those that compose the second order, and take away fate entirely, and suppose that God is not concerned in our doing or not doing what is evil; and they say, that to act what is good, or what is evil, is at men's own choice, and that the one or the other belongs so to every one, that they may act as they please. They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades." (Wars II, 8:14)
Because of the Sadducean position, the Mishnah, reflecting the beliefs and practices of the Pharisees, declared that anyone who says the resurrection of the dead is not intimated in the Torah has no part in the world to come (Sanh. 11:1). The actual physical process of resurrection remains a matter of confusion and debate. See my web article The Mystery of the Resurrection.
and questioning: Grk. eperōtaō, impf. act., to put a question to someone, to ask. Him, saying: The translation offers a redundancy not in the Greek text, which is lit. "they were questioning him, saying." The verb, while in regular use can refer to any kind of question, is used here in the sense of a sh'eilah, rabbinic-type or theological question (Kasdan 253).
19 "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN'S BROTHER DIES and leaves behind a wife AND LEAVES NO CHILD, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER.
Teacher: Grk. didaskalos. See verse 14 above. As the Pharisees and Herodians before them, the Sadducees address Yeshua with the respectful title, although their respect was likely feigned. Moses: Grk. Mōusēs, the transliteration of Heb. Moshe, which is most likely derived from Egyptian mes meaning "child" or "son" (BDB 602), since the daughter of Pharaoh named him (Ex 2:10). She explained the chosen name by saying, "Because I drew [Heb. mashah, "to draw"] him out of the water." Moses was the great Hebrew leader, prophet and lawgiver of Israel. Moses was a Levite, the son of Amram and Jochebed, who was Amram's aunt (Ex 6:20). He had two wives, Zipporah (Ex 2:21; 18:2) and a Cushite woman (Num 12:1), and two sons of Zipporah, one named Gershom and the other Eliezer (Ex 18:3-4).
Moses led the Israelites in their exodus from Egyptian slavery and oppression, their journey through the wilderness with its many threats, and finally in their meeting with God at Mount Sinai where the distinctive covenant bonding between Israel and God took place. Moses compiled, wrote and/or edited the five books attributed to his name (Ex 24:4; Deut 31:9; Mark 12:19; Luke 24:27, 44; Acts 15:21; Rom 10:5), and left Israel with the rich legacy of God's Word. He was a heroic leader and a devout man of God. His story is found in the extensive narratives from Exodus 1:1 through Deuteronomy 34:1. His name appears 764 times in the Tanakh and 80 times in the Besekh. Moses was a giant of a man.
wrote: graphō, aor. act., to write or inscribe, generally in reference to a document. This simple statement, as well as others in the Besekh, contradicts the view of modern liberal scholarship that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, but that it was the product of later generations that synthesized oral tradition. Portions of Torah were written on tablets (Ex 32:15), but mostly scrolls were used (Ex 24:4; Deut 17:18; 25:58; Josh 1:8; 1 Sam 10:25; Jer 36:4). The setup to the story and query reflects the conviction of the Sadducees that only the written words of Moses had authority, not the oral traditions adhered to by the Pharisees.
The expression "Moses wrote" reflects traditional Jewish belief in verbal (or dictation) inspiration of the Tanakh ("God spoke and Moses wrote"). The conviction of the mediatorial work of Moses in transcribing and transmitting the spoken words of God is preserved in the Jewish Sabbath liturgy. When the Torah scroll is removed from its cabinet, it is held aloft and the congregation recites this affirmation:
V'zot hatorah asher sam Mosheh, leef-nay b'nay Yisrael al pee Adonai b'yad Mosheh
the Torah that Moses set before the children of Israel, from the mouth of
Adonai, by the hand of Moses." (My translation)
for us: pl. of Grk. egō, pers. pron. There is no preposition "for" in the Greek text. The pronoun is in the dative case and would be lit. "to us," as in the ASV, DRA, ERV, HNV, KJV, NKJV and WNT. The distinction between "for us" and "to us" is important. The preposition "for" could mean that the instruction was developed by Moses to fix an existing problem (see the note on the matter of divorce in 10:4) and that God's Law was only for Jews. Gentiles don't have to obey Torah. However, "to us" indicates that Moses wrote what God directed. The written instruction was intended for all those belonging to the Commonwealth of Israel (see the note on 11:17).
that IF A MAN'S BROTHER DIES: The Sadducees summarize the commandment given in Moab, but the complete instruction should be considered.
"When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. 6 "It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. 7 "But if the man does not desire to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, `My husband's brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.'" (Deut 25:5-7)
and leaves behind: Grk. kataleipō, aor. act. subj., to leave behind through withdrawal or death, an idiomatic expression of being widowed. a wife: Grk. gunē, an adult female, without regard to marital status. When the context indicates that the woman belongs to a man, then the word is rendered as "wife." The corresponding Hebrew word ishshah applied both to a wife gained by betrothal and a pilegesh (concubine) who was also considered a legitimate wife (cf. Gen 25:1; 30:4; 35:22; 2 Sam 12:11; 16:22; 1 Chron 1:32). The condition that follows would apply whether the deceased man was monogamous or polygamous.
AND LEAVES NO CHILD: Grk. teknon, a child in its literal sense of genetic kinship. The word "son" in Deuteronomy 25:5 is Heb. ben, which occurs over 5,000 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and basically (although not exclusively) means “son” (BDB 119). The LXX translates ben in Deuteronomy 25:5 with sperma (seed, sperm, posterity or descendant), and "firstborn" in Deuteronomy 25:6 with paidion (child, newborn to youth), both neuter nouns. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, interpreted to the Torah instruction to refer to childlessness as being the proximate cause of a man marrying his brother's widow:
"If a woman's husband die, and leave her without children, let his brother marry her, and let him call the son that is born to him by his brother's name." (Ant. IV, 8:23).
The Sadducees apparently took the same view since the Greek text does not have huios ("son"). However, ein ben in Deuteronomy 25:5 does not mean "childless" or "without children" (as translated in the CJB, DRA, and JPS). The entire context requires the interpreting ein ben as lacking a male heir. Otherwise, what is the point of the first son born to the marriage of the widow and her brother-in-law being given the name of the deceased brother? If the man was polygamous, a common situation in ancient Jewish culture, the rule still applied. If a man had a son by a concubine, then the requirement of this law would not apply (cf. Deut 21:15-17). Among Jews then (and since) interpreting the condition as being childless was preferred over being "son-less" since it further restricted compliance with the Torah requirement.
HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE: God commanded that a man should marry the widow of his deceased brother in the event his brother had produced no male heir. This practice is called Levirate marriage. The term "levirate" comes from the Latin levir meaning “husband’s brother” and translates the Hebrew word yabam, which occurs in the Deuteronomy passage. Levirate marriage, called yibbum in Judaism, is a custom whose origin lies in antiquity (e.g., Lot, Gen 19:31-32; and Judah, 38:8), long before God issued a regulation concerning the practice. God preferred that Israelite men marry women within their tribe, as illustrated in the specific ruling given for the daughters of Zelophehad (Num 36:6). The reason was simple. The land of Israel had been apportioned among the tribes and then within each tribe further apportioned to the clans. Marriage wasn’t just about romance but maintaining the tribal name and the land associated with the name.
The act of assuming the marriage responsibility for the deceased brother is a serious Torah requirement. If the brother-in-law refused to perform the duty of marrying the widow in order to produce an heir for his deceased brother, then the widowed sister-in-law had to perform the ceremony of chalitza and publicly disgrace her brother-in-law by removing his shoe before the village elders and spitting in his face. From that moment on, he would be known throughout Israel as “the house of him who has his shoe loosed” (Deut 25:10; TWOT, I, 359f). Failure to perform the duty did not result in any kind of criminal penalty or require atonement, but he would have to live with the social disgrace.
The requirement of yibbum was expected even if the surviving brother already had a wife, polygamy being an acceptable practice in the Torah. In addition, traditional Jewish interpretation also required the ceremony if the widow declined to marry the brother-in-law. The law implied, as actual biblical cases illustrate, that if there was no male sibling or the nearest male sibling refused his duty then the next male relative in the line of consanguinity assumed the responsibility to perform the duty of a yabam (e.g., Boaz, Ruth 4:14). In context the yibbum law pertains to the family clan and God intended that families take care of their widows.
AND RAISE UP CHILDREN: Grk. sperma, seed, child or descendant. TO HIS BROTHER: In yibbum the biological father becomes a surrogate for the first son, but every other child born to the union would be his. The primary purpose of the yibbum law was to preserve the dead man’s name in Israel and insure that assets belonging to him and the widow remained in the family to be passed on to the son. Caring for widows and assuring their security is a continual theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. God insisted that the family shoulder the responsibility of its widows rather than burdening the community as is common in modern times.
20 "There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died leaving no children.
There were seven brothers: The mention of seven, while hypothetical, points to the fertility of Jewish families in ancient times. "Seven sons" was a proverbial expression for a fruitful womb (Ruth 4:15). Not many families in the Tanakh are mentioned as having this many sons, although Jacob had six sons by Leah, and Jesse, father of David, had eight sons. More sons were typically the result of polygamy. Only two families in the Tanakh are recorded having seven sons (1Chr 3:24; Job 1:2) and one in the Besekh (Acts 19:14). The hypothetical scenario here may well have been adapted from a story in the book of Tobit of a woman married to seven husbands, all of whom died childless (3:8, 15; 6:13; 7:11).
and the first: Grk. prōtos, the basic idea has to do with beforeness, and in this setting to have primary position or the most prominence in a group. The "first" could simply be a story element of chronology, but it also could allude to the firstborn brother. took: Grk. lambanō, aor. In general the verb marks the transit of a person or thing from a position or entity to another who is the agent, with the latter being also receptor; in the active sense, to take. a wife: lit. "took a woman" and by virtue of that fact she is referred to as a wife. In early biblical history a woman becomes a wife by consent and consummation (Gen 24:58; 25:1; 38:1-3; Ex 2:1).
With the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai the formal marriage process changed to two stages and two ceremonies. The first stage was betrothal and the ceremony called erusin, “betrothal” (Deut 20:7; 22:23, 25; 28:30; 2Sam 3:14; Matt 1:18; 2Cor 11:2). With the introduction of erusin a man would acquire the bride of his choice in the presence of witnesses (cf. Ruth 4:9-11). According to the Mishnah (Kidd. 1:1), a woman could be acquired [in marriage] in three ways: by money or its equivalent (cf. Gen 29:18; 34:12; Ex 21:11; 22:16), by deed (cf. Gen 24:3-4; Jdg 14:2; Ruth 4:9-10), or by intercourse (cf. Deut 22:28-29). A deed was almost always involved because marriage included a transfer of property.
Jewish betrothal is not like the Gentile concept of engagement, which is only a promise of marriage. The erusin stage was also called kiddushin, “sanctification,” and meant that from that point the woman belonged to the man. The word kiddushin comes from the same root word as kadosh (“holy”). Just as kodesh ("holy things") are forbidden to all but those for whom they are designated, so too does this woman become forbidden to all men but to whom she has now been designated. Erusin-Kiddushin made the woman a legal wife and her status could only be changed by divorce or death. Erusin was usually accomplished by the groom giving a coin or ring to the prospective bride and her acceptance of the token accomplished kiddushin.
Nisuin, also referred to as chupah ("wedding canopy), completed the kiddushin of marriage by the groom taking the bride into a room or his house for consummation. The Hebrew word nisuin (“elevation”) comes from a verb that means to lift up, to carry or to take. The wife has left her father’s authority and now belongs fully to her husband, just as Eve belonged to Adam when God presented her to him. In biblical accounts a wife never takes a husband, but a husband takes a wife (e.g., Gen 4:19; 6:2; 11:29; 1 Sam 25:39; Hos 1:2). The wedding ceremony, if there was one, was determined by local custom and the wishes of the parents. The verb "take" in this scenario most likely alludes to the nisuin stage. For more on the process of marriage in biblical times see my web article Marriage in Ancient Israel.
and died: Grk. apothnēskō, pres. part., to physically die. The verb is only used of animals and humans. The present tense gives vividness to the past event. leaving: Grk. aphiēmi, aor. act. ind., to release, let go or leave behind. The verb illustrates the tragedy of death in terms of its impact on loved ones, but also implies a destination. Everyone goes somewhere when they die. no children: Grk. sperma, seed, sperm, posterity or descendant, lit. "no child." The fertility of husband and wife is immaterial to the story. In the scenario the husband dies leaving his wife childless.
21 "The second one married her, and died leaving behind no children; and the third likewise;
The second one married her: The fact that the Sadducees pose the hypothetical situation of seven brothers having married a widow after each of them died demonstrates that yibbum was still practiced by Jews in the first century. The Mishnah, which reflects generally accepted beliefs and practices in the first century, supports the practice of yibbum as a matter of duty, but carefully limits its application. For example, a priest could not marry a widow (Lev 21:14). If a man had a male heir by another wife, then yibbum was not expected. The marriage restrictions of Leviticus 18 still applied from which the Mishnah identifies fifteen categories of widows that a man was not allowed to marry (Yeb. 1:1). The Deuteronomic legislation is admittedly narrow in scope, but that doesn't make it less authoritative. Apparently the second brother
and died leaving behind: Grk. kataleipō, aor. act. part. See verse 19 above. no children: The hypothetical scenario is not concerned with when or how each husband died, but the reader might wonder how a woman married to seven men could be childless. The story in the book of Tobit explains that "the evil demon Asmodeus had slain each of them before he had been with her as his wife" (Tobit 3:8). and the third likewise: In the hypothetical story the third brother apparently does not fear taking the widow as a wife, although he might have reservations. In the story of Tamar her father-in-law, Judah, was afraid to give his third son Shelah to her after God had killed his two brothers, Er and Onan, who were unworthy husbands for Tamar (Gen 38:1-11).
22 and so all seven left no children. Last of all the woman died also.
and so all seven left no children: Amazingly all six brothers did their duty under Torah, but could sire no children. Last of all the woman died also: The last sentence depicts a great tragedy in Jewish culture. After having suffered the grief of widowhood seven times and bearing no children to carry on the family name, she too died. This would be cause for great mourning in her community.
23 "In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one's wife will she be? For all seven had married her."
In the resurrection: Grk. anastasis. See verse 18 above. when they rise again: The earliest MSS do not contain this phrase and so in enclosed in brackets in the Nestle text (Metzger 93). The phrase may seem superfluous, but redundancy is typical of Hebraic writing. which one's wife will she be: The Sadducees assume that those who believe in the continuation of life after death must also believe in the continuation of the marriage institution and that marriage in heaven must be monogamous. The question drips with sarcasm. The same question could be asked using the example of the Samaritan woman who had five husbands. Polygamy, as well as divorce and remarriage would create the same kind of dilemma. The simple solution would be that if a man were limited to one wife in the next age, then he should be allowed to pick her as he does in the present age.
For all seven had married her: lit. "for the seven had her as wife." The verb implies that all the unions had been consummated, since no marriage in Scripture is legitimate without it. No mention is made of the longevity of each marriage and there could be a variety of factors that prevented pregnancy.
24 Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?
you are mistaken: Grk. planaō, pres. pass., to cause to go astray, to mislead, to deceive. Yeshua says they have been deceived, or perhaps more accurately, they have deceived themselves, and so have gone astray from the truth. that you do not understand: Grk. oida, to know something in a personal sense or to have discernment about. the Scriptures: pl. of Grk. graphē, writing. See verse 10 above. A major reason for their lack of knowledge of Scripture is that the Sadducees only recognized the Pentateuch as authoritative. They could claim that Moses says nothing of anyone being raised from the dead.
Rabbinic authorities, on the other hand, believed the Torah pointed to resurrection (Sanh. 90a-b, 91b). For example, the bequest of the Land was promised to the fathers in Deuteronomy 11:21, “so that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth.” The songs of Moses and of Hannah assert that not only does God kill but He also makes alive (Deut 32:39; 1Sam 2:6).
Job declared, “Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26). The Psalmists expressed hope of life beyond the grave (Ps 16:10; 49:15; 73:24). God prophesied through Isaiah, “Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits” (Isa 26:19). God promised Daniel, “But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age" (Dan 12:13). Martha affirmed this belief regarding her brother Lazarus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24).
or the power of God: Yeshua accuses the Sadducees of minimizing the ability of God to perform miracles. After all, the Pentateuch reveals a wonder working God. In Genesis, the book of origins, God created the heavens, the earth, animals, vegetation, mankind, all in six days (Ch 1-2). Genesis also records the translation of Enoch (5:24), the destruction of the earth's population with a global deluge lasting 40 days (7:4, 12), establishment of the rainbow (9:13), the creation of languages (11:9), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone (19:24), changing Lot's wife into salt (19:26), the barrenness and healing of wombs of Abimelech's wives (20:18), three miraculous pregnancies of patriarchal wives (Sarah, 21:2; Rebecca, 25:21; and Rachel, 30:22).
Exodus records the burning bush (3:3), transformation of a rod into a serpent (4:2-4), healing Moses' leprous hand (4:7), ten divinely caused plagues on Egypt (Ch 7-12), the pillar of cloud and fire that led Israel (13:21), the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land (14:29), the creation of the heavens and earth in six days (20:11), the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai (24:12-18), the daily provision of manna in the wilderness for forty years (16:35), water from the rock (17:6), the Shekinah glory cloud in the Tabernacle (40:35).
Leviticus records the burning of Nadab and Abihu (10:1-2). Numbers records Miriam's leprosy and healing (12:10), an earthquake to swallow Korah (16:31-33), the budding of Aaron's rod (17:8), water from the rock (20:10-11), healing of serpent bites (21:8), the divine enablement of Balaam's donkey to speak (22:28), and the plague from following Balaam (25:8-9). Lastly, Deuteronomy records non-swelling feet and shoes that didn't wear out during 40 years of the wilderness (8:4).
It may well be that the viewpoint of the Sadducees was influenced by Hellenism. From the earliest time Greek philosophers mocked the belief in the resurrection on the basis of the decay and dissolution of the body. The pagans could not imagine a deity powerful enough to collect all the dust of the long-dead and returning souls to their original bodies. So, the Sadducees allowed themselves to be more influenced by man's flawed reasoning than the Word of God.
25 "For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
For when they rise: Grk. anistēmi, aor. subj., to rise, stand up or get up and in its ordinary use refers to one who is sitting or lying down. from the dead: Grk. nekros, one without life, dead, normally used of physical death, but also figuratively of spiritual death. The expression "rise from the dead" is obviously a figure of speech, since bodies decompose and spirits of the dead go immediately either to heaven or Hades (Luke 16:23; 2Cor 5:8). The saints are not in a heavenly bed, snoring away the years or in some sort of coma-like stasis. The Jewish point in using those words is that we all shall “stand” before God (Matt 12:41; Rom 14:10; Jude 1:24). Indeed, the “souls” John saw in heaven were clothed and standing before the throne (Rev 6:9; 7:9; 10:5).
they neither: Grk. oute, a negative particle dismissing an activity or thing that follows the particle, and most often coupled formulaically with another oute or functioning in similar fashion, i.e., "neither … nor," as here. marry: Grk. gameō, pres. act. ind., taking a woman as a wife, comparable to chupah and nisuin. nor are given in marriage: Grk. gamizō, pres. pass., to give a woman in marriage, such as when a father agrees to give his daughter to the bridegroom in erusin (betrothal). The fact that the stages of marriage are reversed is common to Jewish expression. A rabbinic blessing on marriage typically pronounced by the parties at the time of betrothal says, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments and has commanded us concerning the forbidden relations and has forbidden unto us the betrothed and has allowed unto us the wedded through chupah and kiddushin" (Ket. 7b).
but are: Grk. eimi, pres., to be. like angels: Grk. angelos means messenger. The corresponding Hebrew word is malak, which means messenger, representative, courier or angel. The messenger may be human or angelic, which must be determined from the context. In this verse angelos refers to a divine messenger. Yeshua is not saying that resurrected saints are angels (as sometimes depicted in popular fiction), but they are like angels in their state of immortality. The Pentateuch mentions the visitation of the Angel of the Lord 17 times and other angels 15 times. Each of these occasions marked God's intervention in human affairs. Yeshua's statement amounts to new revelation, since there is no information in the Torah or the Prophets that indicates that people are like angels after death or that people will be married or unmarried after death. Conversely, there are passages that hint at the continuation of families in the millennial age (cf. Isa 65:17-23; Zech 14:16-18).
in heaven: Grk. ouranos, the area above the earth that encompasses the sky, interstellar space and associated phenomena or the transcendent dwelling-place of God (Danker). In the LXX ouranos translates the Heb. word hashamayim (“the heavens”) (DNTT 2:191). The consistent use of the plural form for “heaven” is thought to signify completeness, yet different activities and places are associated with hashamayim.
The Hebrew and Greek words for “heaven” are used in Scripture to refer to at least three different places (Ps 148:1-4). In terms of direction from the ground level of the earth the first heaven is the atmosphere or “face” of hashamayim, across which birds fly (Gen 1:20) and from which comes rain, snow, dew, lightning and thunder (Gen 8:2). The second heaven is interstellar space (Gen 1:1, 8), populated with the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of creation to give light to the earth. Finally, the third heaven is the abode of God the Father, the home of angels and the place where Yeshua now sits at the right hand of God (1Kgs 8:30; Eph 1:20).
A distinctive element of this verse is that while "rise" is aorist tense (used as a prophetic future tense) the next three verbs are in the present tense and not the future tense. In Greek the present tense can have a variety of meanings. A present tense verb may indicate action in progress, habitual practice, or action at successive intervals. However, sometimes the present tense is used to indicate an event now occurring, a past event with vividness, an anticipated future event or an action purposed. The last two usages would fit this setting. Yeshua is talking about when the resurrection at the last day occurs (John 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24) and not his present time.
While the Tanakh does not provide any information on the details of life after resurrection, Yeshua asserts for the first time that the resurrection will make His people “like angels” and life will be absent any marrying activity. (Yeshua's revelation could mean that angels are androgynous even though appearing male or that they do not mate.) Yeshua does not precisely say that a spouse in the present age will not be one's spouse in the age to come, but his response to the hypothetical scenario implies that the woman would not be the wife of the seventh husband in the age to come.
Of interest is that two centuries later a Talmudic commentator Abba Arika (175–247), known simply as "Rab" in the Talmud, would say something very similar:
"The future world is not like this world. In the future world there is no eating nor drinking nor propagation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence." (Ber. 17a)
26 "But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, `I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, and the God of Jacob'?
But regarding the fact: lit. "but concerning" (Marshall). that the dead: Grk. nekros. See the previous verse. rise again: Grk. egeirō, pres. pass., to rise or to raise. The word "again" is probably superfluous. The present tense can point to a future anticipated event, but in context Yeshua asserts a present reality. The spirits of the godly rise to heaven upon death (Luke 16:22; 23:43; 2 Cor 5:8; Rev 6:9; 7:9). have you not read: Yeshua resorts to facetious satire since the priests would have read all the Torah many times. "Maybe you missed this part." After considering the miracles recorded in the Pentateuch (verse 24 above), some of these wonders demonstrate God's power to change or transform human conditions, such as the creation of life, the translation of Enoch, the changing of Lot's wife into salt, and the healing of barren wombs.
If God can create life and can heal a dead womb, He can restore a dead body to life. However, Yeshua deliberately chose not to quote from Genesis. in the book: Grk. biblos means book as a literary production, especially a sacred or venerable book. of Moses: Grk. Mōusēs, the transliteration of Heb. Moshe. See the on verse 19 above. The book in view is Exodus (Heb. Sh'mot, "names"). Yeshua essentially ascribes authorship of the book of Exodus to Moses. Yeshua could have quoted from obvious references in the prophetical books (e.g., Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2), but he quotes from the Torah because the Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch as absolutely authoritative. how God spoke: Yeshua states the proposition in reverse, to wit, God spoke and Moses wrote His words in a book.
I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM: Grk. Abraam, which transliterates the Heb. Avraham. The first Hebrew patriarch, he became the prime example of faith. He was the son of Terah, a descendant of Noah's son, Shem (Gen 11:27). He grew up in Ur of the Chaldees, a prominent Sumerian city. He was known at the beginning as Abram (“father is exalted”), but his name was changed subsequently to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) (Gen 17:5). Abraham was living in Haran when God called him to migrate to Canaan, and during his sojourn there God spoke to him and established a covenant with him. For more information on the great patriarch see my web article The Story of Abraham.
AND THE GOD OF ISAAC: Grk. Isaak, which attempts to transliterate the Heb. Yitzchak ("laughter"), the only son of Abraham by Sarah when Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety (Gen 21:1-6). Isaac was actually Abraham's second-born child, Ishmael being his first-born by Hagar, Abraham's concubine-wife. God made it clear to Abraham that being the child of promise the Messianic line would go through Isaac (Gen 21:12). Isaac became a child of sacrifice and a type of Yeshua when God commanded Abraham to kill his son in a worship ceremony in the "land of Moriah" (Gen 22:1-14), in the vicinity where Yeshua would be crucified. Later, through the matchmaking efforts of his father, Isaac married his second cousin Rebekah (Gen 22:15, 51, 57-58, 67). God reiterated the covenant He made with Abraham with his son Isaac (Gen 26:2-5, 23-24; Ex 2:24; 6:4; Lev 26:42).
and the God of Jacob: Grk. Iakōb attempts to transliterate the Heb. Ya'akov ("Jacob"). The meaning of Jacob's name, "heel-catcher," had no pejorative connotation when first given by Isaac to his son. As indicated by Hosea 12:3, "heel-catcher" illustrated the strength and power he had with God. (For more on the background of the name and the first "Jacob" see my web article In Defense of Jacob.) The son of Isaac held great honor among the people of Israel and so it is not surprising that five different men bear this name in the Besekh, including the apostle misnamed "James." Each Jacob mentioned in Scripture is usually distinguished from the others by the mention of his family relations. God reiterated the Abrahamic covenant with Isaac's son Jacob (Gen 28:10-22; 35:9-12), affirming the same promises and specifying that the Messianic line would not go through Esau. The covenant with Jacob introduced something new: Jacob's name was changed to Israel ("God perseveres," BDB 975) and God promised that from him would come a nation and an assembly of nations (Gen 35:11).
This is one of the great theological statements of the Torah, spoken to Moses in calling him to lead Israel out of bondage (Ex 3:6, 15, 16; 4:5). The formula "Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob," was also incorporated into official Jewish prayers used in the first century and can be found in many Jewish works that predate the Besekh (Lane 429). Just as significant is that fourteen times in the Tanakh God is identified as the "God of Jacob." While some Christians find fault with the patriarchs for various reasons, God was never ashamed to be associated with them. They were all godly men who walked by faith. Yeshua reminded the Sadducees that the present tense of "I am" in God's revelation to Moses meant that the patriarchs did live after they died.
27 "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken."
He is not the God of the dead: Grk. nekros. See verse 25 above. but of the living: Grk. zaō, to live, to be possessed of vitality, to exercise the functions of life (Mounce). Yeshua exposes the blatant stupidity of the Sadducean theology. What Yeshua does is to insist that the patriarchs are not extinct nor lying in a grave waiting to be resurrected, but alive in the presence of God. Since their spirits survived death then it will be no problem for God to give them immortal bodies on the last day. Conversely, if the patriarchs are not alive then God has broken faith with His covenantal promises. As Paul would later say, "If we have hoped in Messiah in this life alone, we are to be pitied more than all people." (1Cor 15:19 TLV). you are greatly mistaken: Grk. planaō, pres. pass., to cause to go astray or be mislead. Yeshua repeats his charge in verse 24 that reads much like a lament. How could these men who devoted themselves to the study of Torah be so blind?
Additional Note: Yeshua and Levirate Marriage
See my web article Levirate Marriage. Over the centuries Levirate Marriage (yibbum) waned in favor in Judaism because it became associated with the practice of polygamy. Talmudic tradition enforced the Torah requirement for Levirate marriage, but a rabbinic assembly convened about A.D. 1000 issued an edict prohibiting polygamy for a thousand years. The ban was adopted because of pressure from the predominant Christian culture, which viewed polygamy as barbaric.
Levirate Marriage never was an issue for Christianity since it had rejected most of the laws given by God to Moses. At the Council of Trent in 1563 the Catholic Church opposed plural marriage in the strongest terms. In Canon II of the Doctrine on the Sacrament of Matrimony, the Church declared: “If any one saith, that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that this is not prohibited by any divine law; let him be anathema.” The Church went further. In spite of making a strong statement supporting monogamous marriage, Canon X of the Doctrine on the Sacrament of Matrimony declared that celibacy was better and even more sacred than marriage.
The sentiments of the Council of Trent have influenced all of Christianity, including Protestantism. Christian leaders, like the Medieval Rabbis, decided that their own law was more authoritative that God's law. If Yeshua was opposed to the duty mandated by the Torah that He Himself gave to Moses, He failed to take any action to overturn the law. It would have been strange for Yeshua to criticize the practice since, in the flesh, He directly descended from the unions of Judah and Tamar (Matt 1:3) and Ruth and Boaz (Matt 1:5). Instead the Lord’s concern was to correct the basis for the Sadducee rejection of the resurrection, as well as to clarify the nature of resurrection in relation to marriage. The silence of Yeshua on the application of the Levirate marriage law in the present age effectively leaves the law in force, regardless of what Medieval rabbis ruled and what Christian antinomians believe.
The Greatest Commandment
Parallel Passages: Matthew 22:34-40
28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?"
One of the scribes: pl. of Grk. grammateus translates Heb. sofer, and refers to a specialist in Mosaic legal matters. A scribe was a legal scholar and a teacher of the Torah. Matthew identifies the questioner as part of a group of Pharisees and a nomikos, an expert in the Torah (Matt 22:34-35). came: Grk. proserchomai, aor. act. part., to approach from a point to a person or place; to come, go to or approach. and heard them arguing: Grk. suzēteō, pres. act. part., to engage in a serious conversation about a matter, which may be amiable or contentious.
recognizing that He had answered them well: An unnamed scribe had been watching the proceedings and he was impressed with Yeshua's cleverness and authority. asked him: The scribe posed a sh'eilah or rabbinic-type question (Kasdan 256). What commandment: Grk. entolē, a directive for action, command, order or instruction. In the LXX entolē occurs 244 times (46 times without a Hebrew equivalent). The noun is concentrated in the Torah, especially in Deuteronomy (DNTT 1:331). In the majority of passages entolē renders Heb. mitsvah, (e.g., Ex 20:6; Ps 119:6), 159 times. A mitsvah is instruction intended for obedience and often associated with a good deed or charitable works with the promise of blessing for obedience. Violation produces guilt and need for atonement. See the note on 7:8 for other words translated by entolē. is the foremost of all: Grk. prōtos, having to do with beforeness and can mean (1) having primary position in a sequence or (2) standing out in significance or importance.
According to Jewish tradition God gave Moses 613 commandments. Stern suggests that what the inquirer is really asking is: “What is the most important basic principle, the one on which all the rest of the Torah depends?” This was a continuing matter of discussion for rabbis, as illustrated by this example from the Talmud:
"R. Simlai [3rd cent. A.D.] when preaching said: Six hundred and thirteen precepts were communicated to Moses, three hundred and sixty-five negative precepts, corresponding to the number of solar days [in the year], and two hundred and forty-eight positive precepts, corresponding to the number of the members of man's body. … David came and reduced them to eleven [Psalm 15] … Isaiah came and reduced them to six [Isaiah 33:15-16] … Micah came and reduced them to three [Micah 6:8] … Again Isaiah came and reduced them to two [Isaiah 66:1]. … Amos came and reduced them to one … [Amos 5:4] … But it is Habakkuk who came and based them all on one, as it is said, 'But the righteous shall live by his faith'" [Hab 2:4] (Makk. 23b-24a)
However reducing the Torah to a principle predated the quotation above and Yeshua. A famous Talmudic story contrasts Hillel (c. 110 BC - AD 10) and Shammai (50 BC - AD 30):
"It happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ (Shab. 31a)
No doubt knowing Hillel's maxim, the scribe was curious to see how Yeshua would answer.
29 Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD;
The foremost is: Grk. prōtos, lit. "the first is" (Marshall). Instead of referring to any of the ten commandments Yeshua proceeds to quote from Deuteronomy 6:4. Hear: Grk. akouō, pres. act. imp., to hear as a sense perception, to learn, to listen, to follow, or to understand. The verb here is a present participle, which denotes those who actively hear. In the LXX akouō consistently stands for Heb. shema, which not only means to apprehend, but also to accept and to act upon what has been apprehended (DNTT 2:173). The significance of the verb is found in these words of Moses:
"Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law." (Deut 31:12)
O Israel: Grk. Israēl, a transliteration of the Heb. Yisrael, which means “God prevails” (BDB 975). The article "O" is not in the Greek or Hebrew text. The noun refers to both the covenant name of the chosen people and a reference to the individual biological descendants of Jacob (Gen 32:28). Those who claim that the Church is the New Israel disregard Yeshua's affirmation of Torah in general and this most important commandment in the Torah. The reader should note that Yeshua said Israel and not Palestine. Contrary to the erroneous labeling on Christian Bible maps and usage by Christian commentators there was no Palestine in Bible times. There is no Palestine now and to use the term in any biblical context can only be described as antisemitic. See my web article The Land is Not Palestine.
The Lord: Grk. kurios. See verse 11 above. our God: Grk. theos. In secular Greek writings theos, representing a number of deities, was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). In the LXX theos renders the generic designations of God, El (which occurs over 200 times, including combinations such as El Bethel, El Elyon, El Roi, El Olam, and El Shaddai) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times. As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos (DNTT 2:67-70).
The pronoun "our" identifies the one true God as the God of Israel. There is no such thing as a "Christian God." The only God in existence is the "God of Israel," an expression that occurs 199 times in the Tanakh and two times in the Besekh (Matt 15:31; Luke 1:68). Parallel to this formula is “God of Jacob,” which appears 21 times in Scripture, 13 of which include the longer formula, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." Every nation had their deity, but only to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then Moses did the true God reveal His name, His election and His commandments. This God may be the God of the Gentiles (Rom 3:29), but only if they accept the revelation that He is the God of Israel and join themselves to Israel.
is one Lord: Grk. heis, a numerical term with focus on singleness. A few versions render the statement as "The Lord our God is one Lord" (HCSB, KJV, NASB). The ESV translation is followed by the ASV, CJB, HNV, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV, and TLV. The majority translation reflects the complete sentence in Hebrew, shema Israel, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai echad, which was recited daily, in the morning and in the evening (Berachot 1:1). The word "one" is echad, which is the number "one," and as an adjective may mean "one and the same" (Gen 40:5), the first in a sequence and unity (BDB 25). The sentence affirms both the belief in one God, that is, the God of Israel is the only God in existence, that this God is Israel's God and by virtue of that fact God is king over His people.
This verse is also the opening line of the Jewish ritual called Shema, consisting of Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:38-41. The Shema is the centerpiece of the Jewish morning and evening prayer services, and although called a prayer, it is an affirmation and a declaration of faith in one God. The Shema originally consisted only of one verse: Deuteronomy 6:4 (Sukk. 42a; Ber. 13b). The long form of the Shema was developed sometime between A.D. 70 and 200. The assumed obligation to daily recite the Shema is based on Deuteronomy 6:7, but this interpretation is strictly rabbinic and not found in Scripture. The verse cited actually has to do with a father's teaching role in the home, not a liturgy for sacred assemblies.
The affirmation has long divided Christians, Messianic Jews and unbelieving Jews. How can God be one and yet be Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Doesn’t that make God three? Nowhere does the Besekh say that God is three. However, echad is not a statement of arithmetic but of character. Echad describes his uniqueness. He is the only God there is. And as such He alone is to be worshipped. Having said that - echad also incorporates the idea of a plurality in unity, a tri-unity.
In Genesis 1:1 Elohim ("God," plural of El) created the heavens and the earth. Elohim is a plural noun and the very nature of the universe attests to plurality in the deity that created it. The universe is a triunity: space, time and matter, each of which also consist of three parts. Space has three dimensions or directions. North-south, east-west, and up-down. Time is three: past, present, future. Matter consists of energy, motion and phenomena. (For a detailed explanation of the triunity of the universe see Henry Morris, Biblical Basis for Modern Science, Chap. 2.) The mathematical equation of the triune God is not 1+1+1=1, but 1 x 1 x 1=1. That is the mystery of God.
In Genesis 1:26 the Creator says, “Let us make man in our image,” and man is also a plurality in unity: body, soul and spirit, as mentioned in the very verse in which God is declared to be one (cf. 1 Thess 5:23). The rabbinic explanation that Elohim is a “plural of majesty” does not fit at this point. The Torah goes on to point out that there is "one" statute for the Israelite and for the alien (Num 15:15), which means the 613 commandments function as a unity. When Israelites acted in unity they were described as echad (Judg 20:8; 1 Sam 11:7). The word “echad” often means a multiple unity, such as “one” cluster of grapes or “one” bundle of sticks.
God is revealed with more than one personality in Scripture. Genesis 1:2 mentions the Spirit of Elohim as moving over the ball of water that would become the earth. Three men visited Abraham and he called one of them Adonai (a name for God in the Tanakh). Jacob wrestled with a man he also called Adonai. Isaiah 48:16 uses three different terms to speak of the divine: “From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit" (NASB).
What shouldn't be missed is that the very first command Yeshua mentions is "Hear." The command is a present imperative (start and keep on doing). The command to "hear" reflects the typical manner of learning in ancient times. Scrolls were rare and knowledge of God’s Word came from hearing the Scriptures read aloud and memorizing them (cf. Rom. 2:13). The command is a stronger exhortation than it appears on the surface. It is not a permissive directive, but a strong exclamation as if the Lord is yelling to a deaf person, “Hear!!” Moses used a similar command to Israel in reiterating the Torah before their entry into Canaan, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully” (Deut 5:1).
Yeshua echoed the exclamatory imperative “Hear!” on several other occasions to introduce important teachings (Matt 13:18; 15:10; 21:33; Mark 4:3; 7:14; Luke 18:6), though the word is usually translated in modern versions with the softer request to “listen.” In Hebrew writing parts of the human body were often used as allusions to behavior, both positive and negative (cf. Matt 5:29f; Rom 6:13; Heb 12:13). By turning the physical function of the ear into a command, Yeshua addresses the root issue of obedience. Yet, this is the one command that the Israelite leadership, both historically and in Yeshua's own generation, had rebelled against. Unfortunately, many Christians are guilty of the same failure "to hear."
30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.'
Yeshua then quotes Deuteronomy 6:5. And you shall love: Grk. agapaō, fut. act. ind., to treat respectfully, to welcome, to be pleased with. It is generally devoid of strong emotion, although it can mean to be fond of. It contains the idea of devotion for the sake of another. In the Besekh that devotion is often portrayed in sacrificial terms. In the LXX agapaō translates aheb, but aheb is a far more comprehensive word than agapaō. There are four words in Greek for love. Besides agapaō there is eros, desire or longing between a man and woman; storgē, family affection; phileō, affection of people who are close to one another, whether inside a family or out, also care and compassion, and then love of things that one enjoys. Aheb is like the English word “love” which is used to mean all these things.
Let's consider a point of grammar. The verb "love" is not in the imperative mood, the mood of command, as the verb "hear" in the previous verse. It may seem strange then that "love" is translated as "you shall love" instead of "you will love." The future tense in Greek is generally predictive of an event or behavior. Sometimes, though, future tense expresses the idea of progress in future time. And, as in this case, the future tense sometimes expresses an entreaty for behavior, and since it necessarily involves futurity, this is an appropriate tense for that idea.
The LXX of the Deuteronomy passage also has the future tense for "love." The expectation of love is not as strong as the command to hear. In the Torah there is an "or else" for failing to hear (Deut 13:11; 17:13; 19:20), but not for failing to love. The future tense in the Greek manages to convey both the certainty and the obligation of God's expectation to be given love, just as is found in the Hebrew grammar of this command. If the Israelite or the disciple of Yeshua, hears (which implies obedience), then love will naturally result. Moreover, such obedience is the proof of love, as Yeshua told his disciples, "if you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). The command to love, then, is a natural extension of the command to "hear," making them one commandment.
the Lord your God: See the comment on the previous verse. with: Grk. ek, from, out of. all: Grk. olos, an adjective that signifies that a person or thing is understood as a complete unit and does not necessarily indicate every individual part; thus, whole, entire or all of. your heart: Grk. kardia (for Heb. lebab, inner man, mind, will, heart; BDB 523), the organ that pumps blood throughout the body, but used frequently in Scripture as a metaphor to refer to the center of personhood, character, cognition, emotion, and volition. Kasdan defines "heart" as the spiritual nature (257). and with all your soul: Grk. psuchē, a quality without which one is dead, lit. life. The term is also used of the inner self and may encompass the mental, emotional, attitudinal and other inner characteristics. In the LXX psuchē renders Heb. nephesh, which means soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, passion, appetite, or emotion (BDB 659). Kasdan defines nephesh as our personal humanity (258).
and with all your mind: Grk. dianoia, the mental process relating to options for behavior, with the focus on intention or purpose. It could be translated as mind-set, disposition, intelligence, mind, thought or understanding. In the LXX dianoia occurs 75 times, 38 of which translate Heb. lebab (DNTT 3:124), making dianoia somewhat interchangeable with kardia. However, dianoia also renders other Hebrew words, such as machashabah (thought or plan, Dan 11:25) and binah (understanding, Dan 9:22). While in Greek culture dianoia refers to the act or faculty of thinking and reflection, in the LXX translating Hebraic thought the term cannot be separated from the person's disposition, i.e., his character expressed by his will. "For as he thinks within himself, so he is" (Prov 23:7).
Of special interest is that this phrase does not appear in either the MT or the LXX of Deuteronomy 6:5, but the phrase is found in Matthew's version of this encounter and in Luke 10:27 (although in that verse dianoia is last in the order of love). Stern suggests the phrase may have been added by the translator of Matthew's original Hebrew work (30). The reason for the supposed inclusion would be to convey in a Greek cultural setting the full sense of the commandment—that everything one is, does and has must be used to love God. This supposition has no support from any Greek text.
Since Matthew, Mark and Luke contain the phrase it's more likely that Yeshua spoke these words. Lane suggests that "soul" and "mind" represent a double translation of the Heb. nephesh (431). Another alternative is that speaking in Hebrew Yeshua probably used binah (given the scribe's repetition, verse 33) as a midrash to interpret the combined metaphors of "heart" and "soul." Still another possibility is that this is one time when Yeshua spoke a phrase in Greek intending the message for Hellenistic Jews.
and with all your strength: Grk. ischus, inner capacity for effective activity, strength. In the LXX ischus renders 30 different Hebrew words, often denoting manifestations of power (DNTT 3:713). It can express man's physical strength (Josh 8:3) or his intellectual power (Prov 8:14), but is used particularly for divine power (Num 14:13). In the passage Yeshua quoted, the Heb. word rendered "strength" is meod, which means muchness, force, abundance or might (BDB 547). Kasdan defines meod as "all that we have" (258).
These four aspects of human personhood, or personality, do not indicate compartmentalism as occurs in the Hellenistic dualism of body and soul. In essence these four terms are expressions of redundancy, their purpose to emphasize a unity of purpose to motivate action. This expectation of love does not mean that all persons will love God to the same degree or in the same way. It is not age specific and differences in age mean differences in physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual maturity. The point is that a person should love God with all his capabilities. Ultimately this kind of devotion is a choice. God chose Israel (Deut 7:8) and devoted Himself to their salvation and security. In return He expected that His people would choose Him back.
31 "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
The second is this: This important detail emphasizes that the first or most important commandment is "Hear and Love God." You shall love: Grk. agapaō, fut. act. ind. See the previous verse. your neighbor: Grk. plēsion, indicating nearness whether in proximity or circumstance, generally rendered as "neighbor." Plēsion is used in the LXX to render Heb. reya, which means friend, companion, or fellow, including a fellow citizen (BDB 945f). as yourself: Grk. seautou, a reflexive pronoun, second person singular. This qualification is intended to invite self-examination. The expectation is not "love your neighbor as others do." Hillel had said: "Be a disciple of Aaron, love peace, pursue peace, love all men too, and bring them nigh unto the Law" (Ab. 1:12). Lane notes that the combination of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 has a number of antecedent parallels in Jewish literature, such as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (137-107 B.C.), Issachar 5:3; 7:6; Dan 5:3 (432).
Yeshua no doubt alludes to the specific provisions in Leviticus 19 that lead up to the statement of the second great commandment in verse 18. God gave very practical guidelines so that the Israelites would know what he meant by loving one's neighbor. These expectations included leaving a portion of a harvested field for the poor, confronting sinful behavior, and refraining from any action that would cause harm to another's person or property. It's also noteworthy that the "stranger" (non-Israelite) was to be treated with the same degree of justice and love (Lev 19:33-34).
Love is a measure of faithfulness. It is to be offered in sincerity and with respect. Love avoids evil and supports what is good. Love is particularly devoted to brothers. Those of the household of faith in need have a claim on our generosity. Love would not contemplate wronging a brother. We should keep in mind that the Torah cannot be canceled if love fulfills it. Moreover, for love to fulfill Torah, then it must be an informed love. As a person devoted to God's will (12:2), the disciple takes the time to learn from Torah how God defines justice and the right things that a disciple should do for his neighbor.
Some Christian psychologists and ministers have interpreted the second commandment as a justification for self-love. "How can you love others if you don't love yourself?" Such an assumption ignores both the grammar of the command and the reality that everyone loves himself. The word "as" is a preposition, not a conjunction. With a preposition the command is set in contrast to another condition or activity In other words, "as" presumes that you already love yourself. Paul said, "No one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it" (Eph 5:29, NIV). We pamper ourselves. Admit it! We eat, we sleep, we bathe, we perfume, we curl, we exercise, we clothe ourselves, and much more. We do love ourselves. Consider how much of your time is spent pursuing activities for your personal health and welfare, and you'll begin to get a measure of your current self-love.
Self-love is a slippery slope. Paul warned that in the last days people would be self-lovers (Grk. philautos, 2Tim 3:2), and he did not mean it as a good thing. Many vices can result from inordinate self-love, which Paul goes on to list:
"money-lovers, boasters, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without affection to kindred, irreconcilable, slanderers, uncontrolled, brutal, good-haters, 4 betrayers, reckless, conceited, pleasure-lovers rather than God-lovers, 5 having an appearance of godliness, but denying its power." (2Tim 2-5 mine)
Yeshua called his disciples to renounce self-love: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal" (John 12:25). The disciple cannot really fulfill this command with all its specific expectations in Leviticus 19 unless the self is surrendered to God and transformed by His grace (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10).
There is no other commandment greater than these: Many Christians like to quote these two commands to love as if it absolves them of the necessity of keeping all of God's commandments. For them love is some kind of nebulous good feeling. However, labeling these two commandments as greater did not make all the statutes, ordinances and rules of behavior given to Israel unimportant. Yeshua also did not annul all the other commandments and replace them with just these two. God's standards of righteousness and holiness reflect His desire for His people to have the best kind of life. In return we show our love for God by obeying His commandments. Even the apostle Paul, whom many Christians think was anti-law, told the Corinthian congregation, "what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God" (1Cor 7:19). John echoed this sentiment by saying, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1Jn 5:3).
32 The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM;
The scribe said to Him, "Right: Grk. kalōs, adv., in an effective manner with a focus on meeting expectations, thus 'well' or 'effectively.' This translation (which also occurs in the CEV, ESV, and RSV) makes the scribe's pronouncement sound arrogant, as if the scribe had the authority to judge Yeshua. Other versions make the statement a compliment with "well said" (CJB, ERV, HNV, HCSB, NIV, NKJV, NLT). The Message has "A wonderful answer!" The DRA and KJV translate lit. with "Well!"
Teacher: Grk. didaskalos. See verse 14 above. The scribe addresses Yeshua by his publicly acknowledged title. You have truly: Grk. alētheia, that which is really so, thus 'truth.' Alētheia refers to reality and recognition of facts as opposed to deception or exaggeration. This character quality distinguishes Yeshua, who described himself as being "the truth" (John 14:6), from Satan, who is a "liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44). stated: lit. "you said in truth."
that He is one: See verse 29 above. In repeating the commandment the scribe omits the sacred name per Rabbinic restriction. and there is no one else besides Him: The scribe gives the point of the Heb. echad. To say that God is "one" does not deny His triune character, but declares that the God of Israel is the only God in existence. God does not masquerade under the names of deities worshipped by false religions. The gods of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, pantheism, and the numerous lesser religions and cults do not exist in reality.
33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE'S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And to love Him: Grk. agapaō, pres. inf. See verse 30 above. Curious is that the scribe does not repeat "love" in the future tense (as a command) and omits the command to "Hear." with all the heart: See verse 30 above. and with all the understanding: Grk. sunesis, faculty of perceiving readily with the mind, thus 'understanding,' 'comprehension' or 'insight.' In the LXX sunesi occurs about a hundred times and primarily renders Heb. binah from bin, to observe, notice, or understand (DNTT, III, 130). In reiterating Yeshua's statement the scribe substitutes sunesis for dianoia ("mind") and omits psuche ("soul"), but there is no real difference in the meaning. and with all the strength: Grk. ischus. See verse 30 above. and to love one's neighbor as himself: See verse 31 above.
is much more: Grk. perissoteros, adj., exceeding a standard of abundance; greater or more important. than all burnt offerings: Grk. olokautōma, a sacrifice consumed by fire. The word in the Heb. text is olah, commonly translated as "whole burnt offering" because the animal would be wholly consumed by fire (DNTT 3:421). This offering, specified in Leviticus 1:3-17, was a voluntary act of worship for atonement of unintentional sin in general; or an expression of devotion, commitment and complete surrender to God. The offering had to be an animal - bull, ram or male bird without defect.
and sacrifices: pl. of Grk. thusia, sacrifice or offering. In Greek culture thusia signified the ritual of sacrifice, as well as the sacrificial animal or any other similar sacrificial gift (DNTT 3:417). In the LXX thusia is distinguished from burnt offerings, tithes, vow offerings, free-will offerings or first-born dedication offerings (LXX Deut 12:6), and generally renders two specific kinds of sacrificial offerings, Heb. minchah and zebach.
The minchah ("gift, tribute or offering," BDB 585), was an offering made to God of any kind whether of grain or animals. Minchah first occurs in Genesis 4:3 in which Cain offered fruits of his field. Later in Torah instruction minchah is used especially of the grain offering (Lev 2:1). The grain offering was a voluntary act of worship as recognition of God’s goodness and provisions or an expression of devotion to God. The offering had to be grain, fine flour, olive oil, incense, baked bread, salt; no yeast or honey. The grain offering accompanied burnt offerings, sin offerings and peace offerings (along with a drink offering).
The zebach ("sacrifice," BDB 257) was a sacrifice that was typically eaten at a feast (e.g., Passover, Ex 34:25), and was also used of covenant offerings (e.g., Gen 31:54; 46:1) and the peace offering (Ex 24:5; Lev 3:1). The peace offering was a voluntary act of worship to express thanksgiving and fellowship. The offering had to be any animal without defect from herd or flock and a variety of breads. Unlike most sacrificial offerings, a peace or fellowship offering was eaten in part by the worshipper and his family, as if God had invited them to dinner at his table and his family. The peace offering is a celebration of shalom between all the participants.
Thusia was also used of thank or praise offerings of the lips (Ps 27:6; 50:14; 107:22; 116:17; Heb 13:15). It should be noted that all these offerings were mandated by God, but initiated by the person making the offering.
The scribe alludes to a well-established principle in the Tanakh of the greater importance of personal virtues over sacrifices, such as obeying the voice of the Lord (1Sam 15:22; Jer 7:22-23), steadfast love (Hos 6:6), an open ear (Ps 40:6-8), and a contrite heart (Ps 51:16-17). These passages do not suggest that sacrifices were unimportant, because they were a key feature of all the pilgrim festivals. Rather, Scripture emphasizes that more important than sacrifices is a commitment to comply with all God's commandments. While the scribe does not mention sin or guilt offerings they would be implied since the zebach and minchah were regularly associated with sacrifices for atonement.
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.
he had answered intelligently: Grk. nounechōs, adv., with a display of intelligence, thoughtfully, wisely. You are not far: makros, adj., to be distant. from the Kingdom: Grk. basileia means kingship, royal power, or territory ruled over by a king. The doctrine of the kingdom in the teaching of Yeshua and the apostles relates to the expectation and fulfillment of promises made to Israel. of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See the note on 1:15 for the significance of this concept. Yeshua's response could be understatement, "not far" being equivalent to "close." Even so, "not far" is not "inside." The scribe accepted that the Kingdom of God necessitated loving Him and one's neighbor. However, the entrance ticket to the kingdom is repentance (1:15). Only Mark records the favorable response of the scribe and Yeshua's statement of the scribe's nearness to the kingdom of God.
And after that: The crowd and Yeshua's adversaries could see that he had deftly handled two important questions debated by the rabbis and Jewish groups of that time. It was apparent that Yeshua could not be outsmarted and no one was impertinent enough to ask more questions and to risk being made a fool of. However, their reticence did not mean that Yeshua could not ask questions.
Messiah as the Son of David
Parallel Passages: Matthew 22:41-46; Luke 20:41-44
35 And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?
And Jesus began to say: Grk. apokrinomai, aor. pass. part., to answer or reply to someone, whether to a question, request, exhortation, command, etc. (BAG). In the LXX apokrinomai renders Heb. anah, to answer or respond to something said in conversation; to respond to an occasion and speak in view of circumstances or to testify or respond as a witness in a legal proceeding (BDB 772). as He taught: Grk. didaskō, pres. part., to teach or instruct, used frequently of Yeshua in the apostolic narratives. In the LXX did occurs about 100 times and is used primarily to render three Hebrew verbs: (1) lamad, "exercise in, learn, teach" (BDB 540), e.g., Deut 4:1; Psalm 94:10; 119:99; 144:1; (2) the Hiphal form of yada, "cause to know, teach" (BDB 393), e.g., Job 13:23; Prov 1:23; (3) yarah, "to throw, shoot, point out, direct, instruct" (BDB 434), e.g., Prov 4:4; 5:13; Isa 9:15; as well as six other Hebrew verbs (DNTT 3:760).
In contrast with Greek education Jewish teaching since the time of Moses has been more concerned with communicating God's ethical demands than imparting information (DNTT 3:766). in the temple: Grk. hieron, sanctuary, temple (subst. neut. of the adj. hieros, 'sacred, holy'). When used of the temple in Jerusalem hieron applies to the entire temple complex with all its courts in contrast to naos, which refers to the sanctuary proper where priests offered sacrifices. For a description of the construction and characteristics of the temple see my comment on Mark 11:11. This opening comment alludes to the fact that in this last week Yeshua taught in the temple every day until the time of the Passover. Yeshua then poses his own sh'eilah, theological question.
How is it: Grk. pōs, an adverb introducing a query concerning the manner, way or reason in respect to a subject. Yeshua likely means "in what sense?" that the scribes: pl. of Grk. grammateus. See verse 28 above. say: Grk. legō, to make a statement or utterance; "are saying." that the Christ: Grk. Christos, the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah. For more information on this Jewish title see my comment on Mark 1:1. is the son of: Grk. huios, a male offspring or descendant, whether by direct birth or by more remote ancestry. David: Yeshua points out the widely accepted viewpoint the Messiah would be a descendant of King David (e.g., Sanhedrin 38a; 97a). As a result the Messiah was known as Mashiach ben David (Sukkah 52a). The Talmud connects the Messiah with David in an interesting manner.
"The Messiah-as it is written, And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge of the fear of the Lord. (Sanhedrin 93b)
The quotation in the tractate is taken from Isaiah 11:2, which follows this revelation in verse 1:
"Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit." (Isa 11:1 NASB)
The Tanakh prophesies that the future king of Israel would come from the line of David (cf. cf. 2Sam 7:8-29; Isa 9:2-7; 11:1-9; Jer 23:5-6; 30:9; 33:15, 17, 22; Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24; Hos 3:5; Amos 9:11; Mic 5:2). The Besekh likewise states plainly that Yeshua is a descendant of King David and heir to the throne (Matt 1:1-16; 9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9; Mark 10:47; Luke 1:32; 18:38-39; Acts 13:22-23, 32-34; Rom 1:3; 2Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5).
36 "David himself said in the Holy Spirit, 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET."'
Yeshua does not wait for an answer, but supplies it himself. David himself: Although many Bible scholars are skeptical of authorship claims found in Psalm superscriptions, Yeshua had no reluctance in accepting Davidic authorship. said in the Holy Spirit: Yeshua affirms the Spirit inspiration of the Psalms in general and David's words in particular. In fact, Peter twice identifies the words of David as inspired by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16; 4:25). Paul would later say that all Scripture is inspired of God (2Tim 3:16), but Peter is more specific in identifying the Holy Spirit as the inspiring agent (2Pet 1:20-21). The fact of divine inspiration is the foundation for authority of the Scriptures. Yeshua proceeds to quote from Psalm 110:1.
The Lord: Grk. kurios. See verse 11 above. The Hebrew text of Psalm 110:1 has Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey, the tetragrammaton. This is the sacred name God gave to Moses to share with Israel. While not reflected in Bible translations the Name is not a title or a word for a deity, but the personal name of the God of Israel (Ex 3:15; 2Chr 14:11; Isa 42:8). What Yeshua actually said in Hebrew we can only guess, because it's not likely he spoke Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey. The avoidance of speaking the Name in any casual sense began very early in Israel's history (cf. Amos 6:10), but a very restrictive Rabbinic prohibition arose during the Babylonian exile to prevent the Name from being spoken in the presence of heathen and thereby lead to their desecration of the Name.
As a result Jews avoided speaking the Sacred Name and substituted Adonai (Lord), HaShem (the Name) and "Holy One, Blessed be He," in synagogue liturgy. Members of the Qumran sect in Heb. biblical manuscripts wrote Adonai instead of the Sacred Name (DNTT 2:512). Even in legal settings where the accused or witnesses were required to make an oath using the Name they would use a substitute (Sanhedrin 56a). The Sacred Name of God was ordinarily only spoken during worship in the Temple. In the course of the services on the Day of Atonement the high priest fully pronounced the Name (Deut 21:5; Yoma 6:2) and did so ten times (Yom. 39b). While the Name was not to be spoken outside the Temple precincts, allowance was made for an "emergency," such as when Ezra read the Torah scroll from a pulpit made of wood (Neh 8:4-6) (Yoma 69b). See my web article The Blessed Name.
Yeshua probably said "Adonai," which is an emphatic form of adon ("lord, master or owner" BDB 10). said to my Lord: Grk. kurios. The Hebrew text of Psalm 110:1 has adon. Sit: Grk. kathēmai, pres. mid. imp., be at rest on the haunches; sit down or take a seat. at my right hand: Grk. dexios, lit. "sit at the right of me." The greater commands the lesser to wait for justice.
until I put your enemies: Grk. echthros, being opposed, contrary or hostile; being an enemy engaged in warfare. beneath: Grk. hupokatō, prep., indicating a position that is at a lower level than something else; beneath or under. your feet: pl. of Grk. pous, the body part that is used for walking or running; the foot. The source of the word picture is the ancient practice that followed the defeat of an enemy and first mentioned in Joshua.
"When they brought these kings out to Joshua, Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, "Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings." So they came near and put their feet on their necks. Joshua then said to them, "Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous, for thus the LORD will do to all your enemies with whom you fight." (Josh 10:24-25)
In the first century Roman coins depicted a military victor standing on the neck of the defeated with an inscription like "under the yoke of Rome" (Witherington 398). Yeshua points to a victory that God will grant the son of David. In this situation of enemies of Yeshua have much in common with the enemies of David. The promise of defeating enemies of the Messiah portends warfare, but not the typical kind. Yeshua would not engage the Roman army or even the Temple police. Yeshua recognized that his worst enemies were not of this world (Eph 6:12), but he would have to contend with the demonic principalities and powers in control of the corrupt High Priest (cf. Col 2:15).
37 "David himself calls Him `Lord'; so in what sense is He his son?" And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.
Yeshua then presents a paradoxical question. Lord: Yeshua asserts that the one David identified as my adon is the Messiah, indicating the Messiah's superiority over David. son: Yet, the Messiah is David's son. How can this be? Yeshua was saying in effect, "You're looking at the answer."
Wessel makes the incredible claim that "A messianic interpretation [by Jewish rabbis] of Psalm 110 is unknown before the third century A.D." It is true that the Talmudic citations given in my comment on verse 35 are from the Gemara and not the Mishnah. Yet, Yeshua had just said in the previous verse that such a Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110:1 was prevalent. Moreover, various people in the apostolic narratives asserted that Yeshua was the son of David, the one they expected to sit on the throne of David (Matt 1:1; 9:27; 15:22; 20:30; Mark 11:10; Luke 1:32), and these books are reliable historical records. The apostle Paul echoed this belief (Rom 1:3; 2Tim 2:8).
Stern points out that all of Psalm 110 is considered Messianic and is quoted or alluded to in the Besekh more than any other passage of the Tanakh (67). (Besides here see Matt 22:44; 26:64; Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34–35; 1Cor 15:25; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 13; 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17, 21; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; and 1Pet 3:22.) A shift in rabbinic attitude did occur sometime after A.D. 70 in the understanding of Psalm 110 as reflected in the Targums. The Targum on Psalm 110 gives this interpretive translation of verse 1:
1. Composed by David, a psalm. The Lord said in his decree to make me lord of all Israel, but he said to me, “Wait still for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to die, for one reign must not encroach on another; and afterwards I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord spoke by his decree to give me the dominion in exchange for sitting in study of Torah. “Wait at my right hand until I make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord said in his decree to appoint me ruler over Israel, but the Lord said to me, “Wait for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to pass away from the world; and afterwards you will inherit the kingship, and I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.” (Targum Psalm 110, trans. E.M. Cook)
The rabbinic attitude no doubt changed for a time because of apostolic use of Psalm 110, but it is clear that a common Messianic view of the Davidic psalm was in vogue at this time.
Indictment of Hypocrites
Parallel Passages: Matthew 23:1-7; Luke 20:45-47
38 In His teaching He was saying: "Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places,
Beware of the scribes: pl. of Grk. grammateus. See verse 28 above. Some versions translate with "teachers of the law." Other versions (ASV, ESV, GNB, KJV, HCSB, HNV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV, TLV) place a comma after "scribes," which Stern criticizes saying:
"Most English versions translate this passage in a way that makes it appear Yeshua is talking about all Torah-teachers, e.g., KJV, “Beware of the scribes, which ….” But the Greek construction does not justify a comma after “scribes” in KJV; a comma there makes it appear that Yeshua is condemning all of them. The comma makes such a rendering antisemitic, because it prejudges a whole class of Jews where Yeshua does not. Yeshua, rather, is condemning only those Torah-teachers who exhibit certain objectionable behaviors. In so doing he is expressing the prophetic tradition of the Tanakh, not the anti-Jewish tradition of Christendom.
Ironically two other Messianic Jewish versions, the HNV and the TLV, follow the same punctuation convention as the major versions. Some versions (CEV, NCV, NIV, NLT) accomplish the same purpose by putting a period after "scribes" or "teachers of the law." The NASB is the only version with no punctuation after "scribes." The CJB has "Watch out for the kind of Torah-teachers who like to …".
While Stern expresses a valid concern, the fact remains that the book of Mark depicts a sustained conflict between Yeshua and the scribes from Jerusalem (3:22-30; 7:1-5; 11:18, 27-28; 12:12). The positive reaction of the scribe in verses 35-37 above is an exception to the general experience of Yeshua. The reality is that the greater majority of the power brokers in Israel of that time were vocal opponents of Yeshua who eventually crucified him. This virulent animosity would repeatedly manifest itself against the apostles after Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts.
who like to walk around in long robes: Grk. stolē referred to any stately robe, particularly a garment reaching to the feet, or one train-like, sweeping the ground. The scribe was distinguished by a linen robe, a long white mantle reaching to the feet and provided with a long fringe. White linen clothes were regarded as a mark of distinction, so that men of eminence (priests, Levites, scribes), or those who wished to parade their position, wore white and left bright colors to the common people (Lane).
and like respectful greetings: Grk. aspasmos, an oral greeting. Since the scribe was a professional, he expected respectful treatment. In Matthew's version of this saying the scribes want to be called "Rabbi" (Matt 23:2, 7). in the marketplaces: Grk. agora, a place for gathering, especially a marketplace as the center of civic life. As a scribe passed by on the street or in the bazaar people rose respectfully. Only a tradesmen at their work were exempted from this display of deference. An ordained scribe would be greeted with titles of respect, such as "Rabbi," "Father," "Master" (Lane). In the parallel versions the Pharisees are included in this description.
This expectation is expressed in the Mishnah: "He who learns from his companion one chapter, or one Halakha, or one verse, or one word, or even one letter is bound to do him honor" (Abot 6:1). The Talmud records that whenever Jehoshaphat king of Judah beheld a scholar-disciple he "rose from his throne, and embraced and kissed him, calling him Father, Father; Rabbi, Rabbi" (Makkot 24a). Scripture doesn't record such an incident, but we do find Elisha proclaiming "my father, my father," as Elijah was taken up into the sky by a whirlwind (2Kgs 2:12).
39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets,
and chief seats: pl. of Grk. prōtokathedria, the chief seat, the bench in the synagogues in front of the ark where the Scriptures were contained while facing the congregation. It was reserved for the officials and persons of high distinction (Rienecker). in the synagogues: pl. of Grk. sunagōgē means a gathering-place or place of assembly and in the rest of the Besekh refers to both the place at which Jews gathered for worship and learning as well as the congregation that met there (Acts 6:9; 9:2), including Messianic Jews (Jas 2:2). In the LXX sunagōgē is used to translate the Heb. words kahal (a summons to an assembly) and edah (the assembly or congregation of Israel).
and places of honor: pl. of Grk. prōtoklisia, first or chief place at the table. The place of the most honored guest on the couch around the table, usually on the right. at banquets: Grk. deipnon refers a few times to the daily main meal, generally in the evening (Luke 14:12; John 12:2), but principally a formal banquet, (Mark 6:21; Luke 14:16-17), or Jewish festival meals, such as Passover (John 13:2, 4; 21:20; 1Cor 11:20).
40 who devour widows' houses, and for appearance's sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation."
who devour: Grk. katesthiō, pres. act. part., to devour, to eat up, lit. "the devouring ones." widows': pl. of Grk. chēra, a woman bereft of her husband. houses: pl. of Grk. oikos, a structure for habitation or figuratively of a household. The term could also refer to what was in the house, i.e., possessions. The plural nouns indicate a major social injustice. Geldenhuys suggests that the offense of the scribes against the widows was living on their kindheartedness and constantly insisting that they should give large temple gifts and contributions for public worship, contributions too high for their limited means (518). Jeremias suggests Yeshua likely refers to the habit of scribes sponging on the hospitality of people of limited means (114). The practice of motivating generosity by guilt is despicable, especially given the wealth of the temple establishment. The story that follows powerfully illustrates the point. Like the prophets before him Yeshua was rightly concerned about the exploitation of the poor, particularly widows, who were the most defenseless.
and for appearance's sake: Grk. prophasis, alleged motive or cause, especially a motive or cause that is falsely alleged; pretext or pretense. The scribes manifested a public show of piety, much as Paul would later describe as "having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2Tim 3:5). The contrast between manipulative legal larceny and public religiosity reveals the inherent wickedness of the scribes. Unfortunately, this hypocrisy continued throughout the history of Christianity to the present time.
make long: pl. of Grk. makros, long, used adverbially in the sense of goes on and on. prayers: Grk. proseuchomai, pres. mid. part., to address petitions to God; lit. "praying." The ESV translates the verb as if it were a noun. See the note on 11:24. The CJB translates "long prayers" with "making a show of davvening," a Yiddish term for prayer. Stern explains his usage of davvening:
"The term usually refers to praying the liturgical prayers of the synagogue. Today’s traditional Jew davvens three times a day, adding extra prayers on Shabbat and yom tov (festivals). In the synagogue the chazan (cantor) chants the first few words of each prayer or blessing, and each person recites the prayer softly at his own speed, until the cantor signals the end of that prayer by chanting its last few words. One can call attention to oneself by reciting the prayer loudly or with florid chanting which gives an appearance of deep piety. Although the specifics of first-century davvening were different, Yeshua here inveighs against such religiosity." (40)
"Davvening" seems an unfortunate choice since Yeshua spoke Hebrew, not Yiddish. In addition, little is known of the actual content of Jewish prayers used in either the Temple service or synagogue services prior to A.D. 70. There are recorded intercessory prayers by ten Israelite leaders in the Tanakh, not counting the book of Psalms. The prayers of Yeshua (John 17), Peter (Acts 4:23-30) and Paul (Eph 1:15-23; 3:14-19; Col 1:9-12) also reveal much of the content and style of early Jewish praying. The texts of traditional prayers found in the Siddur did not become fixed until the Middle Ages and while there are some similarities to biblical prayers, Yeshua was not talking about "davvening" in his criticism. In essence these hypocrites were too much like pagans in that they believed they would be heard for their many words and meaningless repetitions (Matt 6:5-7).
These will receive: Grk. lambanō, fut. mid., to take or to receive. greater: Grk. perissoteros, exceeding a standard of abundance. The adjective is making a comparison indicating the receipt of something extra. condemnation: Grk. krima may refer to a judicial decision, decree or verdict, or a sentence of condemnation and the subsequent punishment itself. The statement implies a contrast with the resulting question, "greater than who?" and "greater than what?" Just as there are proportional rewards (Matt 25:14-23), so there seems to be proportional punishments. When Yeshua sent out the Twelve he hinted at a city receiving judgment for not welcoming the good news by saying, "Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city" (Matt 10:15). The essence of the contrast is that levels of spiritual knowledge come with commensurate responsibility. The scribes with their in-depth knowledge of Scripture would be more accountable than the masses without such exposure and education.
The Generous Widow
Parallel Passage: Luke 21:1-4
41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums.
And He sat down: kathizō, aor. part., to sit, to take one's seat. The narrative does not explain which gate Yeshua used to gain entrance, but it could have been the Beautiful Gate. Inside the gate he found a bench and sat down to observe the activities. The time of sacrifice was past, but there were likely those who still lingered for private devotion, for private sacrifices, or to pay their vows and offerings. Although the topography of the Temple, especially this part of it, cannot be known with certainty the area had room for more than 15,000 worshippers (Edersheim 741).
opposite the treasury: Grk. gazophulakion, treasure room or treasury; also contribution box or receptacle (BAG). The term occurs in the plural form in 1 Maccabees 3:28, "And he [Antiochus] opened his coffers and gave a year's pay to his forces, and ordered them to be ready for any need." The singular form of the noun, as occurs here, is found in 1 Maccabees 14:49 as the location in which copies of a decree inscribed on bronze tablets was placed. In 2 Maccabees 3:6 the treasury was the depository of large sums of money. The treasury consisted of receptacles located in the Court of the Women of the temple. Description of the treasury and rules for accountability of offerings received may be found in the Mishnah Tractate Shekalim.
The word "treasury" in this context, being a singular noun, probably refers to the provision for receiving gifts and offerings as well as those who supervised the collection and accounting of monetary gifts. Receptacles could be found in two forms. First, there were two treasury vaults, one called 'chamber of the silent,' the other 'chamber of utensils.' In the former, devout men secretly gave charitable monetary gifts, and the poor of good family received there secretly their sustenance. In the other chamber, every one who desired to offer a utensil voluntarily left it there. Every thirty days the treasurers opened the chamber, and every utensil found to be fit for the maintenance of the Temple was preserved, while the others were sold and the proceeds went to the treasury for the maintenance of the Temple (Shek. 5:6).
Second, there were thirteen trumpet-like chests (Heb. Shopharoth) placed at intervals around the walls in the Court of the Women of the temple (M. Shek. 6:1, 5-6). The chests were made of brass and because of the shofar-like shape were called trumpets. The trumpet-chests were shaped wide at the bottom and narrow at the top to prevent dishonest people from taking out coins while pretending to cast them in. The specific purpose of each chest was marked on it (M. Shek. 6:5). Nine were for the receipt of required offerings; the other four for strictly voluntary gifts. Edersheim explained the allocations as follows:
Chests I and II: were appropriated to the half-shekel Temple-tribute of the current and of the past year.
Chest III: those women who had to bring turtledoves for a burnt- and a sin-offering dropped their equivalent in money, which was daily taken out and a corresponding number of turtledoves offered. This not only saved the labour of so many separate sacrifices, but spared the modesty of those who might not wish to have the occasion or the circumstances of their offering to be publicly known.
Chest IV: the value of the offerings of young pigeons.
Chest V: contributions for the wood used in the Temple.
Chest VI: contributions for the incense.
Chest VII: contributions for the golden vessels used in ministry.
Chest VIII: If a man had put aside a certain sum for a sin-offering, and any money was left over after its purchase, it was cast into this chest.
Chests IX, X, XI, XII, and XIII: These chests received what was left over from trespass-offerings, offerings of birds, the offering of the Nazarite, of the cleansed leper, and voluntary offerings. (Edersheim-Temple 25)
It might appear from the text that the treasury was a location for giving alms (charity) for the poor, but only the 'chamber of the silent' had any benefit for the poor. The trumpet-chests, as described by the Mishnah and Edersheim, were for gifts to God and the Temple, not gifts to the poor. and began observing: Grk. theōreō, impf., to watch, to observe. the people: Grk. ochlos, a crowd in a given place. putting money: Grk. chalkos, copper, brass or bronze money. into: Grk. eis, prep. with the focus on entrance, 'into.' into the treasury: Grk. gazophulakion. The same word previously rendered "treasury" occurs again, but no specific receptacle is identified.
and many rich people: Grk. plousios, lit. "rich men." were putting in: Grk. ballō, impf. The verb may be used of a vigorous action and be translated as throw or scatter, or of a more subdued action and be translated as put, place, lay or bring (BAG). There is no preposition "in" following the verb, so the verb would be better translated as "brought" and refer to the action of the group taken as a whole. large sums: pl. of Grk. polus, extensive in scope, much. The imperfect tense would mean in reality, "they were donating much." The brass chests made a very recognizable sound as the coins were dropped into them. Dropping a large number of coins in at once was called “sounding the trumpet” (cf. Matt 6:2). Yeshua observed the rich making their contributions, but was unimpressed.
42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.
A poor: Grk. ptōchos, poor, abject poverty, one who has literally nothing and is in imminent danger of real starvation (Rienecker). widow: the widow entered the Court of the Women beyond which she could not go. It's not surprising that Yeshua would notice a widow after his indictment of scribes for injustice against widows in verse 40. Three specific widows are mentioned as contemporaries of Yeshua, but Mark only mentions the third. The first was Anna who served in the temple with fasting and prayer (Luke 2:37-38). She was 84 at the time of Yeshua's birth. The second widow was in the city of Nain (Luke 7:11-12). Her son had died and was about to be buried, but Yeshua raised him to life. Luke also relates the narrative of the widow described here (Luke 21:2-3).
Yeshua also spoke of two other widows. The first occurred early in his ministry when he spoke at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:25). He observed that while there were many widows in the time of Elijah, only one in Zarephath received Elijah's help. (The story is told in 1 Kings 17). The second widow figured in a parable (Luke 18:1-3), who repeatedly sought the aid of a judge to do justice for her. The story was likely based on a real case.
came and put in: Grk. ballō. See the previous verse. There is no preposition "in" following the verb, but almost all versions insert "in" on the assumption that the widow was dropping her coins into a chest. The verb could be translated simply as "brought" or "contributed," as the ESV uses in the next verse. two small copper coins: pl. of Grk. lepton, the smallest Jewish coin. The small Judean copper coin was worth normally about one-eighth of a cent (BAG). The coin was originally minted during the Maccabean period (Lane 442). amount to a cent: Grk. kodrantēs, a Roman coin equal to about a forth of a cent (BAG). Mark gives the Roman coinage for the benefit of his Roman readers, 64 of which equaled a denarius, a day's wage for a common laborer (Stern 42).
Since the widow's poverty was severe, one wonders how she came to have the two coins. Perhaps she sold a possession for the purpose. The verse raises a number of questions: Where did the widow cast her coins? How did Yeshua know the amount of the widow's donation? How did he know she was poor? Could he have known her? How old was the widow? Why would a poor widow contribute to a corrupt Temple? Why would the widow give when her own poverty probably qualified her for support from the synagogue? (cf. 1Tim 5:9)
43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury;
Calling His disciples: The Twelve apparently had not been sitting with Yeshua, so he summoned them. Truly: Grk. amēn, which means “so let it be” or “truly.” Amēn transliterates the Heb. ’amen (ah-mayn), which means “it is true, so be it, or may it become true.” I say to you: In Hebrew ’amen points to something previously said, but Yeshua often uses the term in conjunction with "I am saying" to emphasize that what he is about to say is of supreme importance. this poor widow: The identification of the woman is repeated from the previous verse. put in: Grk. ballō, aor., to cast or to put. See verse 41 above. There is no preposition "in" anywhere in the verse. more: Grk. polus, adj., extensive in scope. than all the contributors: Grk. ballō, pres. part.; lit. "the ones putting." See verse 41 above.
to the treasury: Grk. gazophulakeion. See verse 41 above. Some versions (as the CJB, ESV, GNT and TLV) assume the widow put her coins in one of the trumpet-chests, but the exact repetition of the word "treasury" argues against this interpretation. Other versions as the HCSB, HNV, KJV, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, and RSV simply repeat the word "treasury." In addition, the purpose of each chest determined the minimum amount of money that could be put in. Two lepta would not have come close to the specified amount for any of the chests. Her two coins could not have even paid for a dove. The widow probably just cast her coins on to the floor next to one of the chests. Rabbinic rules specified that money found on the floor would go to the purpose of the chest to which it was closest (M. Shek. 7:1). This would explain how Yeshua knew the amount of her gift and ipso facto that she was poor.
Yeshua draws the attention of his disciples to the widow as a model of generosity, perhaps in contrast to the disciples who were too enamored with the importance of wealth (cf. 10:25-26). The love of money is the root of many evils (1Tim 6:10), both in the world and within organized religion. The widow's donation is significant since she could have kept one of the coins for herself (Lane). The lesson is still important. Poverty is no excuse for stinginess and even a small charitable gift has great value to God (Matt 10:42; Mark 9:41). The amount of giving must be measured in terms of one's ability (cf. 1Cor 16:2) and as one purposes without manipulation or guilt (2Cor 9:7). The widow is a example to emulate because she gave when she had no obligation to give. In fact, she should have been the object of the temple's largesse, not a contributor to it.
44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on."
for they all put in: Grk. ballō, aor. See verse 41 above. The verb refers to putting money into a receptacle. out of their surplus: Grk. perissoteros, adj., exceeding a standard of abundance; greater or more important. Relative to this verse is the Rabbinic restriction on charitable giving: "No one should give away more than the fifth of his fortune lest from independence he may lapse into a state of dependence" (Ketubot 50a). In other words, rabbis generally did not believe in giving until it hurts. In any event, Yeshua's assessment does not actually denigrate the giving of the rich. but she, out of her poverty: Grk. husterēsis, deficiency, want, need. Paul spoke of the same condition of giving from the Macedonian congregation, "that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality, for I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord" (2Cor 8:2-3 NASB).
put in: Grk. ballō. See verse 41 above. There is no preposition "in" following the verb, so "contributed" would be a better translation. all she owned: Grk. osa, as much as. all she had to live on: "to live" is Grk. bios, which refers to the means by which life is sustained. Edersheim suggests that this description is what she had to live upon for that day (741). The narrative does not offer any explanation of her means of support, but unless one wants to assert divine omniscience this description of her contribution suggests that Yeshua had personal knowledge of her situation. Nevertheless, the sacrificial generosity of the widow served as an acted out parable. She gave everything to God and Yeshua gave everything to men.
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