Sunday, August 7, 2022

Prince of ... Divided Households

Prince of Peace Divided Households
Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments on Luke 12:49-56, the gospel reading for the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost. There is a long philosophical ramble at the end that you may not want to read on the pain of death by boredom. As usual, your comments are welcomed.

49  Πῦρ ἦλθον βαλεῖν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν, καὶ τί θέλω εἰ ἤδη ἀνήφθη. 
I came to cast fire against the earth, and what do I wish if already it has been kindled?
ἦλθον: AAI 1s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
βαλεῖν: AAInf, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls  1a) to scatter, to throw, cast into 
θέλω: PAI 1s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend 
ἀνήφθη: API 3s, ἀνάπτω, 1) to light up, kindle 
1. Like many prepositions, the preposition ἐπὶ can mean many things, including upon, on, at, by, before, over, against, to, across ( While ἐπὶ is not an uncommon preposition, it shows up unusually often in this pericope (10x). I am going to try to use the same word – against – throughout this pericope, assuming that Luke is repeating it with purpose. However, in this verse ἐπὶ  is followed by an accusative. In vv. 52-53 it is sometimes followed by the dative case, which might imply a different word would be better.
2. Compare the phrase ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν here with ἐν τῇ γῇ in v. 51. V. 49 has the preposition ἐπὶ  with the accusative; v.51 has the preposition ἐν with the dative. Those slight differences should be reflected in the translation somehow.  I suggest “fire against the earth” and “peace in the earth.” More below on v.51.
3. There are some key decisions facing the translator for this verse. Compare the KJV and the NIV to see how radically different this verse can be, depending on those choices.
KJV: I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?
NIV:  I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
a) One has to decide how to translate the τί - whether as ‘how’ (KJV) or ‘what’ (KJV), whether introducing a question (KJV) or an exclamation (NIV).
b) One has to decide how to translate the εἰ - whether as ‘if’ (KJV) or negligible (NIV). The difference between εἰ and ἐάν seems important here.
c) One has to decide how to translate the verb ἀνήφθη. It is an aorist passive indicative. The KJV translates it as a simple past tense (be kindled), but the NIV translates it as a subjunctive, making (were kindled).
In the end it seems to me that the KJV is actually more consistent with the Greek than the NIV or NRSV in this phrase. They may be following the earlier work of Greek bible editors, who chose to put a period and not a question mark here. The NIV is easier to read, because I’m not sure what the KJV means by “what will I?”

50 βάπτισμα δὲ ἔχω βαπτισθῆναι, καὶ πῶς συνέχομαι ἕως ὅτου τελεσθῇ. 
Yet I have a baptism to be baptized [with], and how I am constrained until when it may be completed. 
ἔχω: PAI 1s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  
βαπτισθῆναι: APInf, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)  2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean  with water, to wash one's self, bathe 
συνέχομαι: PPI, 1s, συνέχω, 1) to hold together  1a) any whole, lest it fall to pieces or something fall away from it  2) to hold together with constraint, to compress
τελεσθῇ: APSubj, 3s, τελέω, 1) to bring to a close, to finish, to end  1a) passed, finished  2) to perform, execute, complete, fulfil, (so that the thing done  corresponds to what has been said, the order, command etc.)
1. I have to wonder if the juxtaposition of ‘fire’ in v.49 with ‘baptism’ (which literally means dipping in water) in v.50 is significant. Could it be a contrast (making the δὲ of v.50 “but”) “I came to bring fire, but I have to be immersed in water...”? Could it be two ways of cleansing, via fire and via water?
2. The phrase “I have a baptism to be baptized [with]” is awkward. “Baptism” (βάπτισμα) is accusative, making it the direct object of the verb ἔχω. But, then “to be baptized” βαπτισθῆναι is a passive infinitive, which could follow ἔχω as “I have to be baptized” if there weren’t already an accusative (a baptism) in the way. So, it seems best to add “with” to the infinitive, “to be baptized with.”
3. It is interesting that τελεσθῇ (“it may be completed”) is in the subjunctive mood, not the indicative, making the completion of Jesus’ baptism conditional.

51 δοκεῖτε ὅτι εἰρήνην παρεγενόμην δοῦναι ἐν τῇ γῇ; οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ' 
ἢ διαμερισμόν. 
Do you suppose that I arrived to give peace in the earth?  No, I say to you, but the division.
δοκεῖτε : PAI, 2pl, δοκέω, 1) to be of opinion, think, suppose  
παρεγενόμην: AMI 1s, παραγίνομαι, 1) to be present, to come near, approach  2) to come forth, make one's public appearance 
δοῦναι : AAInf, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone  2a) of one's own accord to give one something, to his advantage  2a1) to bestow a gift  2b) to grant, give to one asking, let have  2c) to supply, furnish, necessary things
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. I am translating παρεγενόμην as “I arrived” to distinguish it from “I came” (ἦλθον) in v.49. It is a different verb and it is in the middle, not active voice.
2. Likewise, v.49 has “to cast” (βαλεῖν) and v.51 has “to give” (δοῦναι).
 As much as I’d like to contrast the claim “I came to cast fire against the earth” (49) and the supposition that “I arrived to give peace in the earth” (51), Luke’s word choices seem to steer away from that.
3. It is also worth noting that we usually think of Jesus as bringing peace and not fire or division.

52ἔσονται γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν πέντε ἐν ἑνὶ οἴκῳ διαμεμερισμένοι, τρεῖς ἐπὶ  δυσὶν καὶ δύο ἐπὶ τρισίν, 
For from the now five will be in one house having been divided, three against two and two against three. 
ἔσονται: FMI, 3pl, εἰμί,  1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
διαμεμερισμένοι: PerfPassPart, nmpl, διαμερίζω, 1) to cleave asunder, cut in pieces  2) to be divided into opposing parts, to be at variance, in dissension  3) to distribute 
1. While the baptism with which Jesus is to be baptized is yet to be completed (v.50), the “now” (νῦν) suggests that already the division that Jesus brings is taking place.
2. Since nothing in Luke 12 suggests that the attendants to Jesus’ words are having these household divisions, this seems to be a text reflecting a certain sitz im leben of Luke’s community. By the time Luke was writing – a half a century after the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus – these kinds of divisions may have been more evident. I think vv.4-12 of this chapter have the same kind of ‘layered experience’ feel to them.

53 διαμερισθήσονται πατὴρ ἐπὶ υἱῷ καὶ υἱὸς ἐπὶ πατρί, μήτηρ ἐπὶ τὴν 
θυγατέρα καὶ θυγάτηρ ἐπὶ τὴν μητέρα, πενθερὰ ἐπὶ τὴν νύμφην αὐτῆς 
καὶ νύμφη ἐπὶ τὴν πενθεράν. 
A father will be divided against a son, and a son against a father, a mother against the daughter and a daughter against the mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law. 
διαμερισθήσονται : FPI, 3pl, διαμερίζω, 1) to cleave asunder, cut in pieces  2) to be divided into opposing parts, to be at variance, in dissension  3) to distribute
1. I am trying to be very deliberate in showing where Luke has an indefinite article (a) or a definite article (the) and even, in the case of the daughter-in-law, a possessive pronoun (her). I don’t know the significance of those differences, just that they are there.
2. It is also curious that the males following ἐπὶ are in the dative case, while the females are in the accusative case. In v.52 above, the numbers following the ἐπὶ are in the dative case. Is this just a thing, or is there significance here?

54  Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ τοῖς ὄχλοις, Οταν ἴδητε [τὴν] νεφέλην ἀνατέλλουσαν ἐπὶ 
δυσμῶν, εὐθέως λέγετε ὅτι Ὄμβρος ἔρχεται, καὶ γίνεται οὕτως: 
Yet he said also to the crowds, “When you may see [the] a cloud rising against west, immediately you say “A shower is coming,” and it happens.
Ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἴδητε: AASubj 2p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
ἀνατέλλουσαν: PAPart asf, ἀνατέλλω, 1) rise  1a) to cause to rise
λέγετε: PAI 2p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
γίνεται: PMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
1. It is interesting to try to picture this scene. V.1 shows that there was a huge crowd, but says that Jesus began to speak first to his disciples. In v.13, someone from the crowd calls out a request to Jesus which begins another teaching. In v.22, Jesus again speaks ‘to his disciples’. In v.32, he speaks to his ‘little flock’ (which seems odd compared to the ‘thousands’ in v.1). In v.41, Peter poses a question distinguishing between ‘us’ and ‘everyone.’ Now, Jesus speaks ‘also to the crowds.’
2. Mine is the only translation in the world that says ‘rising against west’ and not ‘rising in the west.’ I am trying to keep consistent with my translation of ἐπὶ as ‘against’ even though in this case it might be unwarranted. But, see note 3.
3. The word for west (δυσμῶν, for some reason often plural like it is here) is sometimes used to signify something larger than a compass point. Just like the word for east (ἀνατολή) in the birth narrative could be translated that the Magi saw a star ‘at its rising,’ and just like the word for south (νότον) in the next verse can also signify the ‘south wind,’ so the word for west (δυσμῶν) can signify the sunset or the end of the day. has this note: “acc. to the reading of T WH Tr mrg. ἐπὶ δυσμῶν may possibly be understood of time.”

55καὶ ὅταν νότον πνέοντα, λέγετε ὅτι Καύσων ἔσται, καὶ γίνεται.
And when [you may see] a south wind blowing, you say “It will be hot,” and it happens.
πνέοντα: PAPart asm, πνέω, 1) to breathe, to blow  1a) of the wind
λέγετε: PAI 2p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
γίνεται: PMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
1. The noun νότον (south or south wind) is in the accusative case and the word πνέοντα is a preposition, not a verb. What I think that means is that the verb ἴδητε (you may see) from v.54 is still at play, so I inserted it in brackets.
2. This pattern of saying “a shower approaches” or “it will be hot” followed by ‘and it happens’ sounds strangely like the rhythm of the creation story in Genesis 1, where repeatedly God says ‘let there be ...” and, behold “there was ....” Maybe this ability to ‘read the signs’ is, in some small way, the ability to perceive the way of God.

 56ὑποκριταί, τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γῆς καὶ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ οἴδατε δοκιμάζειν, 
τὸν καιρὸν δὲ τοῦτον πῶς οὐκ οἴδατε δοκιμάζειν; 
Hypocrites, the face of the earth and the heaven you know to examine, but this time how do you not know to examine? 
οἴδατε: PerfAI 2p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
δοκιμάζειν: PAInf, δοκιμάζω, 1) to test, examine, prove, scrutinize
οἴδατε: PerfAI 2p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
δοκιμάζειν: PAInf, δοκιμάζω, 1) to test, examine, prove, scrutinize
1. There is a bit of a space v. time issue here. The crowd knows to examine space – the face of the earth and the sky - and see what change will take place. But, hypocritically, the crowd does not know how to examine time and see what is at hand.
2. It feels odd for Jesus to be using the word “Hypocrites!” when speaking generally to the crowd and not specifically to religious leaders or people who are trying to trap him in a religious conundrum. Below is a comparison of the uses of the plural term in the gospels. There are no uses in John, one in Mark, four in Luke, and fifteen in Matthew.

Time and Space
I don’t want to get all philosophically nerdy or anything, but this idea that change takes place at the intersection between space and time is a big deal in the history of philosophy. For example, when Immanuel Kant writes his “2nd analogy” in The Critique of Pure Reason, he distinguishes between two types of observations. When examining a house, one makes numerous observations of the parts – the gables, the door, the siding, etc. – in random order. But, when examining a moving ship, the order of what one sees in time – the distant, then closer, then still closer observations – makes a difference. These ‘alterations’ in appearances are what we connect, in Kant’s language, in our ‘synthetic faculty of imagination.’ All of that is to say that the whole activity of seeing and perceiving patterns, seeing and knowing where what ones sees is going, is a pivotal human capacity, both in the history of philosophy but also for Jesus in Luke’s gospel. And, if my suggestion earlier about the ‘saying’ and ‘it happens’ pattern really does reflect God’s way of creativity in Genesis 1 (v.55, n.2), this pattern of seeing and perceiving is indicative of how we “know” God’s way in the world. Hypocrisy is, I would argue, relying on God’s way in the world in some respects (anticipating weather, for example), but being blind to it in others – like the justice issues that follow in vv.57-59.

Mt 6:2
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
Mt 6:5
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
Mt 6:16
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
Mt 7:5
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
Mt 15:7
Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,
Mt 16:3
And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
Mt 22:18
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
Mt 23:13
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Mt 23:14
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Mt 23:15
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
Mt 23:23
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Mt 23:25
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
Mt 23:27
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Mt 23:29
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous,
Mt 24:51
And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Mk 7:6
He answered and said unto them, Well hath Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
Lk 6:42
Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.
Lk 11:44
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.
Lk 12:56
Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?
Lk 13:15
The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?


  1. Thank you! I've struggled a while to make sense of the "hypocrites!" verse, and the idea of time and space as observational points--and of the willingness to rely on God for some but not all--was great. Not boring at all!

  2. Thank you! I'm in the Washington, DC area, and today there's a big celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Hava A Dream" speech. The parallel between that speech and the binding and loosing you illuminate here seems particularly appropriate to the day.

  3. I also appreciate your "hypocrites" interpretation. It gives a little different spin than the usual modern understanding. Thanks for the work you do each week.

  4. We may be used to the 'Christian' meaning of baptism. BlueLetter Bible (using dated resources) adds 'overwhelmed' as a meaning of baptism:

    metaphorically, to overwhelm, as ἰδιώτας ταῖς ἐισφοραῖς, Diodorus 1, 73; ὀφλήμασι, Plutarch, Galba 21; τῇ συμφορᾷ βεβαπτισμένος, Heliodorus Aeth. 2, 3; and alone, to inflict great and abounding calamities on one: ἐβάπτισαν τὴν πόλιν, Josephus, b. j. 4, 3, 3; ἡ ἀνομία με βαπτίζει, Isaiah 21:4 Sept. hence, βαπτίζεσθαι βάπτισμα (cf. Winers Grammar, 225 (211); [Buttmann, 148 (129)]; cf. λούεσθαι τὸ λουτρόν, Aelian de nat. an. 3, 42), to be overwhelmed with calamities, of those who must bear them...

    If we take that perspective, we walk away from water alone and see things like 'baptized with fire' in a different context?

  5. I'm sorry about that 2013 comment - it was obviously meant for a different post, and I have no idea how it got here!

    But thanks for *this* post - I could have used a little more discussion about Jesus' "baptism" yet to come, because he'd already been baptized. And when we are "baptized by fire," that's when we get the Holy Spirit, which Jesus had and was a part of already.

  6. Adding the 'with' to baptism makes it a reflexive act that Jesus undergoes. What if like the fire it is about bringing a baptism (a cleansing or overwhelming) to bear on the world.


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