Monday, February 22, 2016

Theodicy or Hypocrisy?

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Luke 13:1-9, the gospel lection for the third Sunday of Lent. The text seems clearly to have two parts – as is reflected in many translations that use subheadings. But, it is equally clear that Luke sees these two parts as interrelated. A significant interpretive issue would be naming the nature of the relation. I will offer some thoughts about that below. As usual, your comments – good, bad, or ugly – are always welcomed. Well, not the ugly ones, but you know what I mean.

1 Παρῆσαν δέ τινες ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ καιρῷ ἀπαγγέλλοντες αὐτῷ περὶ τῶν Γαλιλαίων ὧν τὸ αἷμα Πιλᾶτος ἔμιξεν μετὰ τῶν θυσιῶν αὐτῶν.
Yet some in that time brought news to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. 
ἀπαγγέλλοντες: PAPart, nmp, ἀπαγγέλλω, 1) to bring tidings (from a person or a thing), bring word, report  2) to proclaim, to make known openly, declare 
ἔμιξεν: AAI 3s, μίγνυμι, 1) to mix, mingle   
1. This verse begins with the conjunction δὲ (it is the 2nd word, but it is called a ‘postpositive’ word because it is usually translated as the first word). δὲ can signify continuation (and), contrast (but), or change (then) depending on the feel of the context. Here, Jesus has begun to address the huge crowd in 12:54. The nature of the news that some folks are bringing to Jesus might indicate that a change of topic within the same stream of conversation has come up. Typically, I would use ‘then’ for such a case. But, Luke adds “at that time” which would make ‘then’ redundant. When in doubt, I fall back on ‘yet’ as a translation of δὲ. See vv. 6, 7, and 8 below for other possibilities.

 2 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Δοκεῖτε ὅτι οἱ Γαλιλαῖοι οὗτοι ἁμαρτωλοὶ παρὰ πάντας τοὺς Γαλιλαίους ἐγένοντο, ὅτι ταῦτα πεπόνθασιν;
And answering he said to them, “Are you supposing ‘Those Galileans among all Galileans became sinners, that they have suffered these things’?
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer  2) to begin to speak, but always where something has preceded  (either said or done) to which the remarks refer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
Δοκεῖτε: PAI 2pl, δοκέω, 1) to be of opinion, think, suppose 
οὗτοι:
ἐγένοντο: AMI, 3pl, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen 
πεπόνθασιν: PerfAI, 3pl, πάσχω, 1) to be affected or have been affected, to feel, have a  sensible experience, to undergo  1a) in a good sense, to be well off, in good case  1b) in a bad sense, to suffer sadly, be in a bad plight 
1. ὅτι: The conjunction ὅτι appears 2x in this verse. It can be translated either ‘that’ or ‘because’ or it can introduce a thought or a quote. Most translations have the first ὅτι as “that” and the second as “because.” The problem then becomes the verb ἐγένοντο. It gets translated as “were,” when an aorist form of the verb ‘to be’ is common and would serve that purpose better. I am interpreting the first ὅτι as introducing what it is that they are supposing.
2. The contrast in the supposition is between ‘those’ and ‘all.’ Those Galileans – among all Galileans – became sinners. So, Pilate killed them or perhaps God let Pilate kill them.

 3 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ' ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὁμοίως ἀπολεῖσθε.
No, I say to you, but unless you repent all of you will likewise perish. 
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
μετανοῆτε: PASubj, 2pl, μετανοέω, 1) to change one's mind, i.e. to repent 
ἀπολεῖσθε: FMI, 2p, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy  1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin 
1. One issue facing the translator is whether the λέγω points backward or forward. Is it, answering the previous supposition with “No, I say!” Or, with Jesus having said ‘No,” is the λέγω introducing what Jesus adds: “No. I say unless you ...”
2. Another issue facing the translator is what to do with the side-by-side conjunctions ἀλλ' and ἐὰν. ἀλλ' is a form of ἄλλα (dropping the vowel because it is joined with a word that begins with a vowel) and typically means ‘but,’ indicating a strong contrast. ἐὰν often means ‘if’ but here it is sidled with the negative particle μὴ, so ‘unless’ or ‘except.’ 
3. The word ἀπόλλυμι often means ‘to destroy,’ but here it is in the middle voice, so it is not an active act of destroying as much as a reflexive act of perishing.
4. I see the phrase πάντες ὁμοίως “all likewise” as emphatic, since it is wedged in between two verbs using the 2nd person plural voice which already mean ‘you all’. To me, it is emphatic in opposing the contrast between ‘those Galileans’ and ‘all Galileans’ in the supposition.

 4 ἐκεῖνοι οἱ δεκαοκτὼ ἐφ' οὓς ἔπεσεν πύργος ἐν τῷ Σιλωὰμ καὶ ἀπέκτεινεν αὐτούς, δοκεῖτε ὅτι αὐτοὶ ὀφειλέται ἐγένοντο παρὰ πάντας τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τοὺς κατοικοῦντας Ἰερουσαλήμ;
Or those ten on whom fell the tower in Siloam and killed them, are you supposing ‘They among all people living in Jerusalem became debtors’? 
ἔπεσεν: AAI, 3s, πίπτω, 1) to descend from a higher place to a lower  1a) to fall (either from or upon) 
ἀπέκτεινεν: AAI 3s, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever  1a) to destroy, to allow to perish 
δοκεῖτε: PAI 2pl, δοκέω, 1) to be of opinion, think, suppose 
ἐγένοντο: AMI, 3pl, γίνομαι
κατοικοῦντας:
1. Like v.2, I am translating the ὅτι as the beginning of what they are supposing.
2. Like v.2, the contrast is between ‘they’ (the ten) and ‘all’ people living in Jerusalem in the supposition.

5 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ' ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὡσαύτως ἀπολεῖσθε.
No, I say to you, but unless you repent all of you will in like manner perish. 
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
μετανοῆτε: PASubj, 2pl, μετανοέω, 1) to change one's mind, i.e. to repent 
ἀπολεῖσθε: FMI, 2p, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy  1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin 
1. This verse is exactly the same as v.3, with one exception.
2. The exception is that this verse has the word ὡσαύτως instead of ὁμοίως. Many translations reflect no difference. The NRSV has ‘as’ and ‘just as’ in vv. 3 and 5. I changed ‘likewise’ to ‘in like manner’ just to show that there is a difference. The question arises whether Luke changes this word in order to indicate that this similarity is the point of the two verses. While the common supposition points to the difference between the sufferers and others, this retort speaks to the solidarity of either all Galileans or all of those living in Jerusalem. Whatever we might say about ‘them’ is likewise true about ‘us.’

 6 Ἔλεγεν δὲ ταύτην τὴν παραβολήν: Συκῆν εἶχέν τις πεφυτευμένην ἐν τῷ ἀμπελῶνι αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἦλθεν ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ οὐχ εὗρεν.
Yet he was saying this parable: “Someone had a fig tree having been planted in his vineyard, and he came while seeking fruit on it and found none. 
Ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
εἶχέν: IAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold 
πεφυτευμένην: APPart, AFS, φυτεύω, 1) to plant  
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons
ζητῶν: PAPart nsm, ζητέω, 1) to seek in order to find  1a) to seek a thing
εὗρεν: AAI 3s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon 1a) after searching, to find a thing sought 
1. Like v.1, this verse begins with the conjunction δὲ. It can be a continuation or contrast word, depending on the feel of the context. For example, in vv.7, I think it is just a way of moving the story along, so I translate it ‘then.’ But here the δὲ is the connective tissue between the conversation of vv.1-5 and the parable of vv.6-9. Is it “and,” meaning that the parable simply continues the theme of the conversation? Is it ‘but,’ meaning that the parable speaks against the notions at play in the conversation? Is it ‘then,’ meaning that this is the next sequence but more neutral regarding the connection? (Most of the translations I have at hand go with either ‘then’ or ‘and.’ Nobody is going with ‘but.’)
2. A fig tree in a vineyard. Are they compatible plantings so this is common or is this an oddity? The ancient farming manuals provide one answer.  It seems to have been a common practice to plant fig trees in vineyards to aid in the trellising of vines. In fact Pliny recommends that trees be used for growing grape viines since "high class wines can only be produced from vines on trees " Pliny specifically mentions the fig tree as a preferred tree for use m trellising "The choicer wines," he says, "are made from the grapes at the top of the trees." (Pliny, Natural History pp.136-139)
3. By the way, isn’t “fruitless fig tree” one of the best insults in history?
4. Parables about trees make an interesting intertextual study in the Scriptures. Compare Judge 9:8-15, Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:8-18, and of course the references Jesus makes in his dire words about Jerusalem to the fig tree.

 7 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἀμπελουργόν, Ἰδοὺ τρία ἔτη ἀφ' οὗ ἔρχομαι ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν τῇ συκῇ ταύτῃ καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκω. ἔκκοψον [οὖν] αὐτήν: ἱνατί καὶ τὴν γῆν καταργεῖ;
Then he said to the vintner, ‘Behold three years I enter while seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none.’  [Therefore] cut it down; why is it also wasting the ground?’
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
 Ἰδοὺ: AMImpv ὁράω, behold! calling attention to what may be seen, heard, or apprehended in any way.
ἔρχομαι: PMI 1s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons
ζητῶν: PAPart nsm, ζητέω, 1) to seek in order to find
εὑρίσκω: PAI 1s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon 1a) after searching, to find a thing sought 
ἔκκοψον: AAImpv 2s, ἐκκόπτω, 1) to cut out, cut off  1a) of a tree  
καταργεῖ: PAI 3s, καταργέω, 1) to render idle, unemployed, inactivate, inoperative 1a) to cause a person or thing to have no further efficiency 1b) to deprive of force, influence, power 
1. I’m using a bit of license with ‘wasting,’ but the point seems to be – because of the καὶ (also) – that it is not just the tree itself that is affected but the ground that is being idled by the barren tree. 

 8 δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἄφες αὐτὴν καὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔτος, ἕως ὅτου σκάψω περὶ αὐτὴν καὶ βάλω κόπρια:
But having answered he says to him, ‘Lord, allow it this year also, until when I may dig around it and may throw manure;
ἀποκριθεὶς: AAPart, nms, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
ἄφες:AAImp, 2s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  … to permit, allow, not to hinder
σκάψω: AASubj 1s, σκάπτω, 1) to dig
βάλω: AASubj 1s, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing 1a) to scatter, to throw, cast
1. In this verse, the δὲ seems to introduce contrast – the vintner offers a counter-proposal to the owner’s solution of cutting the tree down.

 9 κἂν μὲν ποιήσῃ καρπὸν εἰς τὸ μέλλον εἰ δὲ μή γε, ἐκκόψεις αὐτήν.
then it may bear fruit per the plan but and if not, you will cut it down. 
ποιήσῃ: AASubj, 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce,
μέλλον: PAPart, ASN, μέλλω, 1) to be about  1a) to be on the point of doing or suffering something  1b) to intend, have in mind, think to 
ἐκκόψεις: FAI 2s, ἐκκόπτω, 1) to cut out, cut off  1a) of a tree  2) metaph. to cut off occasion
1. This is an atrocious verse for translating. The word κἂν is a merged word from καὶ and ἐάν, then it is paired with μὲν, which is sometimes translated and sometimes not translated but is a placeholder for another word later, like εἰ. On top of that is the participial phrase εἰς τὸ μέλλον, which, literally, might be ‘into the intending’ or something like that. I am using the phrase “per the plan” to represent this phrase.
2. The point seems clear enough, regardless of the specific word-by-word translations. The Vintner is asking for one more year of care and work. If the fig tree begins producing – mission accomplished! If not, bring out the axe!

Part I: Theodicy or Hypocrisy?
A text like Luke 13:1-5 invariably prompts us to think that the large question of theodicy is being addressed. It speaks to tragedies, both humanly perpetrated and (apparently) accidental. It may even get our hopes up that this text will finally answer the perplexing issues that surround questions of theodicy. Will we finally find an answer to “Why do bad things happen to good people” in this text? My feeling is, no, we will not.

What I see happening in the first 5 verses here is not that Jesus is taking on those big questions. I see Jesus addressing not theodicy but hypocrisy. “Do you suppose a causal relationship between morality and tragedy?” That is what I hear behind the suppositions that Jesus perceives among those who bring him the news of this tragedy. “You have more in common than different with those victims.” It puts the whole question of causality or blame on a new footing – who are we to place blame?

So, I see this first part as a criticism of those who assume that they are different enough from victims to place blame on them for their victimhood. Jerry Falwell after 9/11 or Pat Robertson after hurricane Katrina – pointing fingers, naming names, calling out communities from whom they are different – come to mind as those who assume they can fathom out victims and place blame.

Part II: One More Chance
The meaning of the second part of this reading – verses 6-9 – seems relatively simple compared to the previous verses. The vintner asks for one more chance. It is not an endless stream of chances, but it is certainly more patient than the owner’s first inclination of, “That’s it. Cut it down.” All I can say is that when people are ready to lynch me for various shortcomings – and there are plenty of possibilities out there – I hope someone among them has read this text and says, “Let’s give him one  more chance.” I’ll try to do better.

Parts I and II Together
A great question, then, is what vv.1-5 and vv.6-9 mean when taken together. If the suppositions of vv.1-5 point to our tendency to cast blame, the theology behind those suppositions is a direct causal relationship where God says, “That’s it. Death for you!” Boom! Pilate and falling towers.

The parable suggests that the connection between producing fruit and being cut down is not so direct. There is room for ‘one more chance.’

I am often very reluctant to assume that the landowners or vineyard owners of Jesus’ parables are descriptive of God. They are rather severe folk and sometimes I’m inclined to think they are more a description of “this is how things seem to operate” to which God’s kingdom offers an alternative course. So, I’m not saying that this vineyard owner is God, thus making Jesus the vintner who has to talk God into being nice for once. To me, that is a very dangerous Marcionite way of looking at the God whose primary description in the Scriptures is “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”


6 comments:

  1. "whose primary description in the Scriptures is “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

    Of course the theodicy problem brings to the fore, that one cannot be sure of how or when one enters into the covenant of that enduring relationship are. Because tradition is an all to human theological construct, one may doubt that we have even understood that 'steadfast love' at all?
    http://www.energon.org.uk

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  2. there it is! another breakthrough moment, Mark: "not addressing theodicy, but hypocrisy." thanks. ... but now... how to continue with my attempt at a sermon... --T Hennesy, Oswego, IL

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  3. What I am still struggling with is the comment in v3.3 and 5. Those verses imply that tragedy is the result of sin, and that repentance will somehow mean that people are not victimized by tyrants like Pilate or tragedies like a falling tower.
    It seems to me that tragedies - humanly and non-humanly contrived - are no respecter of persons. A tornado hits where it hits, without looking to see if there is blood on the doorpost first.
    That is partly why I just cannot accept that the pericope is about theodicy, the justice (dice) of God (theos).

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  4. Hi there, TH. Great to hear from you. Here we are, together again, in text study. Nice.

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  5. Thank you for your last paragraph! It's customary, as you say, to interpret all these landowners in the various parables as God, but I'm often very uncomfortable doing that. I appreciate your interpretation very much, as being more in line, with a God of love.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Caryn. It's always delightful to hear from you.

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