Jesus Raises ... a Prophet?
Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Luke 7:11-17, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the third Sunday after Pentecost. As usual, your comments are welcomed. For a very lovely, gently written account of this story, with many historical references, see http://www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/7_11-17.htm
This pericope has what appears to me to be an enormous amount of word play, namely two crowds, beholding and seeing, and two raisings (or perhaps just one!). As familiar as this story is to many of us, these word plays invite us to see this text from a number of angles and not as just another “Jesus did it again” story. Keep in mind, that the news about this event goes out and prompts John the Baptizer to send messengers asking whether he is the one who is coming or whether they should keep looking. Why would the traditional reading of this as a miracle story prompt that question?
I don’t have any answers at this stage – in the naïve reading of the text. But, if Luke’s language is intentional and not lazy, these word associations may be an added dimension to this story.
11Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ἑξῆς ἐπορεύθη εἰς πόλιν καλουμένην Ναΐν, καὶ συνεπορεύοντο
αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ ὄχλος πολύς.
And it happened in the next day he entered into a city which is called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd was going with him
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἐπορεύθη: API 3s, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer ...1c1) to lead or order one's life
καλουμένην: PPPart asf, καλέω, 1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice
συνεπορεύοντο: IMI 3p, συμπορεύομαι, 1) to go or journey together 2) to come together, to assemble
1. ἐγένετο is the word that the KJV delightfully translates “it came to pass.” It seems to be a way of transitioning from one event to the next.
2. ἑξῆς is a temporal adverb meaning ‘next.’ When it has a preposition and a definite article - ἐν/τῷ/ἑξῆς – it is often translated “the next day.”
3. The journey from Capernaum to Nain would be 25 miles – a long day’s journey!
12ὡς δὲ ἤγγισεν τῇ πύλῃ τῆς πόλεως, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐξεκομίζετο τεθνηκὼς μονογενὴς υἱὸς τῇ μητρὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ αὐτὴ ἦν χήρα, καὶ ὄχλος τῆς πόλεως ἱκανὸς ἦν σὺν αὐτῇ.
Yet as he drew near to the gate of the city, then look a man who had died an only son of his mother was being carried out, and she was a widow, and a crowd of that city with her.
ἤγγισεν: AAI 3s, ἐγγίζω, 1) to bring near, to join one thing to another 2) to draw or come near to, to approach
ἐξεκομίζετο: IPI 3s, ἐκκομίζω, 1) to carry out 1a) a dead man for burial
τεθνηκὼς: PerfAPart nsm, θνῄσκω, 1) to die, to be dead 2) metaph. to be spiritually dead
ἦν: IAI3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. ὡς ... καὶ: While καὶ is often translated as “and,” here it looks like it is part of a construction of ‘when ... then.’
2. “Look”: The word ἰδοὺ is the aorist middle imperative of εἶδον, which became a particle that draws attention. It is often translated in the KJV as “Lo” or “Behold” and in the deep South as “Lo and behold!” The words εἴδω, ἴδω, and ὁράω have a long, morphing history worthy of word study.
3. More importantly, the root of ἰδοὺ is the same as the participle ἰδὼν below.
4. While I don’t know the economic system in Nain, it seems that in addition to the sheer grief that a mother would feel over the death of her child, the details that he was her only son and that she was a widow would indicate that this woman was facing destitution as well.
5. The scene here is worthy of a “Look!” Jesus, who is being followed by his disciples and a large crowd, is entering the city via the gate from one direction; the dead man and his mother, who are being followed by yet another crowd from that city, are exiting the city via the city gate from the other direction. Look, a collision! After the collision, the word about this incident is going to go out in every direction to all the surrounding country.
13καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτὴν ὁ κύριος ἐσπλαγχνίσθη ἐπ' αὐτῇ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Μὴ κλαῖε.
And having seen her the lord was moved with compassion toward her and said to her, “Do not mourn.”
ἰδὼν: AAPart nsm, εἴδω/ ἴδω, 1) to see with the eyes 2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
ἐσπλαγχνίσθη: API 3s, σπλαγχνίζομαι, 1) to be moved as to one's bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity)
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
κλαῖε: PAImpv 2s, κλαίω, 1) to mourn, weep, lament
1. “Having seen her”: This is interesting. After the ‘behold!’ draws attention to the man who had died (which is in the nominative case in v.12), Jesus beholds the mother. In fact, the feminine pronoun ‘her’ is used three times in this verse. The lord saw her; he was moved with compassion toward her; he said to her.
2. In case we missed it, this is about her.
14καὶ προσελθὼν ἥψατο τῆς σοροῦ, οἱ δὲ βαστάζοντες ἔστησαν, καὶ εἶπεν, Νεανίσκε, σοὶ λέγω, ἐγέρθητι.
And having approached, he touched the bier, then the ones carrying [it] stood still, and he said, “Young man, I say to you, be raised.”
προσελθὼν: AAPart nsm, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach 2) draw near to 3) to assent to
ἥψατο: AMI 3s, ἅπτω, 1) to fasten to, adhere to 1a) to fasten fire to a thing, kindle, set of fire
βαστάζοντες: PAPart npm, βαστάζω, 1) to take up with the hands
ἔστησαν: AAI 3p, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐγέρθητι: APImpv 2s, ἐγείρω, 1) to arouse, cause to rise
1. Be raised: Most translations have this in the active voice, “arise,” although it is a passive imperative. For a more refined translation I would need to see what the sense of passive imperatives tend to be in the NT and especially in Luke.
2. Not to impose a theological agenda onto this text, but the whole language of resurrection, whether Christ ‘rose’ from the dead or ‘was risen’ from the dead has always been a curious matter to me. In one sense, God raised Jesus and anyone who is dead must be raised by another because that one is currently busy being dead. At the same time, the one who is raised from the dead is no longer dead, so it would be appropriate to speak of ‘rising’ from death as well.
3. For Jesus to touch the bier may be a shocking act of making oneself unclean.
15καὶ ἀνεκάθισεν ὁ νεκρὸς καὶ ἤρξατο λαλεῖν, καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὸν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτοῦ.
And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and he gave him to his mother.
ἀνεκάθισεν: AAI 3s, ἀνακαθίζω, 1) to raise one's self and sit upright, to sit up, erect
ἤρξατο: AMI 3s, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
λαλεῖν: PAInf, λαλέω,v 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound 2) to speak
ἔδωκεν: AAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give 2) to give something to someone
1. The abruptness of ‘the dead man sat up and began to speak’ sounds almost comical. But, movement and speech are often what signifies from a distance that one is ‘alive and well.’ There may also be greater significance to the act of sitting up and speaking. We’ll explore that below.
2. The second clause here is one of those maddening parts of Scripture that has three pronouns and two possible corresponding singular male antecedents: “(1) He gave (2) him to (3) his mother.” We know from v.12 that the “his” (3) is the dead/raised man, because the woman has already been identified as ‘his’ mother. The question is, who is ‘he’ and ‘him’? Did the dead/raised man, who not incidentally sat up speaking, give Jesus to his mother (In word reminiscent of the Gospel of John, “Woman behold your son; son behold your mother”)? Or, per the more traditional reading, did Jesus give the dead/raised man to his mother?
3. If we go with the traditional reading (and I suppose most of us shall, in the end), what does it mean to say that Jesus ‘gave’ him to his mother? Did he say to her, “There you go, Ma’am”? Did he help the man off the bier and give him a prompting shove toward his mother? Did he bring their hands together? No matter how we imagine it, Luke returns the attention from the dead/raised man to the mother.
4. 4. To complicate matters a little more, the three 'he' pronouns in this verse may parallel the three 'her' pronouns in v.13. Or that might just be a coincidence.
16 ἔλαβεν δὲ φόβος πάντας, καὶ ἐδόξαζον τὸν θεὸν λέγοντες ὅτι Προφήτης μέγας ἠγέρθη ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ὅτι Ἐπεσκέψατο ὁ θεὸς τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ.
Then fear grasped all, and were glorifying God saying, “A great prophet has been raised in us,” and “God has looked after his people.”
ἔλαβεν: AAI 3s, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing in order to use it
ἐδόξαζον: IAI 3p, δοξάζω, 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion 2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate
λέγοντες: PAPart nmp, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἠγέρθη: API 3s, ἐγείρω, 1) to arouse, cause to rise
Ἐπεσκέψατο: AMI 3s, ἐπισκέπτομαι, 1) to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes
1. The subject of the first clause is ‘fear,’ contra the NIV that makes ‘they’ the subject.
2. Luke uses the verb ἐπισκέπτομαι 3 times: 1:68, 1:78, and here. Each time it is in reference to God ‘looking down’ upon God’s people. However, when Matthew uses it in c.25, it is a reference to ‘visiting’ those who are imprisoned. That is why some translations use ‘visit’ instead of ‘looked upon’.
3. Okay, as long as we’re wondering who is whom in v.15, let’s go all the way here. When the crowd says “A great prophet has been raised,” we assume that they are making a statement about Jesus based on this great work of wonder in raising the dead. But, this text has already fixed the verb ‘being raised’ to someone– the dead/raised man – who, not incidentally, rose up speaking. Speaking is what prophets do. Maybe this crowd is saying that, through Jesus, a prophet has just been raised.
4. Or, maybe Jesus is a different kind of prophet than simply a speaking prophet. And perhaps that is the subject of the next pericope.
17καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ὁ λόγος οὗτος ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ περὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάσῃ τῇ περιχώρῳ.
And this word went out in all Judea concerning him and all the surrounding country.
ἐξῆλθεν: AAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of
1. One place where this word will go is to John the Baptizer, initiating the next story.