Sunday, November 6, 2022

How Not To Prepare for Catastrophe

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Luke 21: 5-19, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel text for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost. We do not have vv.1-4 as part of our reading. I suppose that is because it is a story in itself and gets its own airtime in the lectionary cycle. Nonetheless, I think it is important for setting the tone of our pericope. So, I’ll provide it from the NRSV:
[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’

5 Καί τινων λεγόντων περὶ τοῦ ἱεροῦ, ὅτι λίθοις καλοῖς καὶ ἀναθήμασιν 
κεκόσμηται, εἶπεν,
And of certain ones speaking about the temple, that it has been adorned with beautiful stones and offering ornaments, he said,
λεγόντων : PAPart, gpm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
κεκόσμηται: PerfPI, 3s, κοσμέω, 1) to put in order, arrange, make ready, prepare  2) to ornament, adore  3) metaph. to embellish with honor, gain honor 
1. The word I have translated “offering ornaments” is the dative plural form of ἀνάθημα (anathema). It is like and related to, but not the same as ἀνάθεμα, which is found in Paul’s writings, signifying some accursed. The Catholic Encyclopedia says this: “A term formerly indicating offerings made to the divinity which were suspended from the roof or walls of temples for the purpose of being exposed to view. Thus anathema according to its etymology signifies a thing offered to God. ... As odious objects were also exposed to view, e.g. the head of a criminal or of an enemy, or his arms or spoils, the word anathema came to signify a thing hated, or execrable, devoted to public abhorrence or destruction.”
2. Notice that Luke uses the genitive plural, “of certain ones ...” instead of the dative plural, “to certain ones.” This is unlike Mark’s account (13:1) where Jesus addresses some of the disciples who remark about the temple’s size and glory. Luke’s way of putting it opens several possibilities, like a tour guide standing nearby going on and on about the glories of the temple to a group of first-time visitors, or a litany that included something about the glory of the temple as signifying something about Jerusalem. Luke’s text could even be translated “And of certain sayings about the temple,” making the sayings the subject, not the ones saying them.

6 Ταῦτα θεωρεῖτε, ἐλεύσονται ἡμέραι ἐν αἷς οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται λίθος ἐπὶ 
λίθῳ ὃς οὐ καταλυθήσεται.
“These things which you are beholding, days will arrive in which they will not be left stone on stone which will not be demolished.”
θεωρεῖτε: PAI 2pl, θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold 
ἐλεύσονται : FMI 3pl, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning 
ἀφεθήσεται : FPI, 3s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  1a) to bid going away or depart … 3h) to leave so that what is left may remain, leave remaining  
καταλυθήσεται: FPI, 3s, καταλύω, 1) to dissolve, disunite  1a) (what has been joined together), to destroy, demolish
1. This verse is curious because it really has 2 subjects: “The things” and “days.”
2. Since ἐλεύσονται is in the middle voice, I am using “arrive” instead of “come.”
3. καταλύω could be “thrown down” as many translation choose. I think the ‘stone on stone’ reference signifies construction, so the undoing should carry a tone of destruction – hence, ‘demolished.’

7  Ἐπηρώτησαν δὲ αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, πότε οὖν ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί 
τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα γίνεσθαι; 
Yet they interrogated him saying, “Teacher, so when will these things be, and would be the sign these things are coming into being?
Ἐπηρώτησαν : AAI 3pl, ἐπερωτάω, 1) to accost one with an enquiry, put a question to, enquiry of,  ask, interrogate 
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔσται: FMI 3pl, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen
μέλλῃ : PASubj, 3s, μέλλω, 1) to be about  1a) to be on the point of doing or suffering something  
γίνεσθαι: PMInf 3pl, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
1. I have translated the verb ἐπηρώτησαν as “interrogated” because it strikes me that its use throughout the synoptic gospels typically signifies an adversarial moment. I am not saying that the interlocutors are necessarily enemies per se, but that it seems to signify a challenging question, and not a simply inquiry. Most translations seem not to agree or to find the translation of this term pertinent, since the KJV, NIV, NRSV, and ESV all simply translate it as “asked.” The NASB, however, has “questioned.” The point is that it seems to sharpen the dialogue, from a simply question/response moment to an edgier one. And perhaps that shows why Jesus’ first response is a warning in the next verse.  

8  δὲ εἶπεν, Βλέπετε μὴ πλανηθῆτε: πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί 
μου λέγοντες, Ἐγώ εἰμι: καί, Ὁ καιρὸς ἤγγικεν: μὴ πορευθῆτε ὀπίσω αὐτῶν.
Yet he said, “Watch that you may not be led astray! For many will come in my name saying, “I am;” and “The time has come!”  May you not follow after them. 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
πλανηθῆτε: APSubj, 2pl, πλανάω, 1) to cause to stray, to lead astray, lead aside from the right way  1a) to go astray, wander, roam about  2) metaph.  2a) to lead away from the truth, to lead into error, to deceive
Βλέπετε: PAImpv 2p, βλέπω, 1) to see, discern, of the bodily eye
ἐλεύσονται: FMI 3 pl, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἰμι: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen
ἤγγικεν: PerfAI 3s, ἐγγίζω, 1) to bring near, to join one thing to another  2) to draw or come near to, to approach 
πορευθῆτε : APSubj 2pl, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on one's journey
1. While Βλέπετε (watch) is in the imperative voice, πορευθῆτε (follow) is an aorist passive subjunctive, not an imperative. It might have that feel, but the imperative voice comes later, in v.14.
2. The phrase πορευθῆτε ὀπίσω αὐτῶν (“follow after them”) is reminiscent of Jesus’ call to disciples to follow after him.

9 ὅταν δὲ ἀκούσητε πολέμους καὶ ἀκαταστασίας, μὴ πτοηθῆτε: δεῖ γὰρ 
ταῦτα γενέσθαι πρῶτον, ἀλλ' οὐκ εὐθέως τὸ τέλος.
Yet when you might hear polemics and disorder, may you not be terrified; for it is necessary for these things to begin first, but the end not immediately.
ἀκούσητε: AASubj, 2pl, ἀκούω, to hear  
πτοηθῆτε: APSubj 2p, πτοέω, to terrify; pass. to be terrified
δεῖ: PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains
γενέσθαι: AMInf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
1. I admit that the phrase “may you not be terrified” seems kind of mousy and roundabout, but I want to show that, once again, this is not a simple imperative. It may carry the force of an imperative within the context, but in the rough translation I am trying to show that it is an aorist passive subjunctive verb. Yet, while it is subjunctive (which show possibility and does not indicate a point of fact), I think in a refined translation one can say that the possibility lies in the dependent clause (“when you hear …”) and does not have to be reflected in the verb itself.
2. In a refined translation this would read ‘wars’ and ‘uprisings’ or something like that. I want to show the etymological connection between ‘wars’ and ‘polemics’ (πολέμους) and to show that ‘uprisings’ means dis/order, signified by ἀ/καταστασίας.
3. The last clause is important. The question is “when?” and the answer is “no immediately.” This flies in the face of anyone who argues that Jesus predicted the imminent end.

10 Τότε ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ἐγερθήσεται ἔθνος ἐπ' ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ 
Then he was saying to them, “Nation shall be raised on nation, and kingdom on kingdom,
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἐγερθήσεται : FPI 3s, ἐγείρω, 1) to arouse, cause to rise  1a) to arouse from sleep, to awake  1b) to arouse from the sleep of death, to recall the dead to life
1. I know that one typically reads this verse “nation against nation” and “kingdom against kingdom,” but I want to pick up on the possible parallel language of ἔθνος ἐπ' ἔθνος and βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν with λίθος ἐπὶ λίθῳ (stone on stone) of v.6. This may not refer to conflicts between nations as much as successive risings and fallings of nations and empires.
2. The challenging question Jesus is answering is “when?” The answer so far says that first they will hear of polemics and disorder (v.9a), but that the end is not yet (v.9b). This verse may (may! I’m only one humble guesser here!) signify something like, “kingdoms will come and go …” indicating that there will still be a lot of history to the world, even if the temple no longer has stone upon stone.

11 σεισμοί τε μεγάλοι καὶ κατὰ τόπους λιμοὶ καὶ λοιμοὶ ἔσονται, φόβητρά τε 
καὶ ἀπ' οὐρανοῦ σημεῖα μεγάλα ἔσται. 
Not only will there be large earthquakes and in places famines and pestilences, but there will also be terrors and great signs from heaven.
ἔσονται: FMI 3pl, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present  (the word φόβητρά  is plural and doesn’t really seem to fit on this side of the comma.)
1. I am reading the τε ... τε καὶ construction as “not only ... but also” (or ‘but even’), setting up a parallel description of things on earth and things in heaven: Mega-earthquakes in places; mega-signs from heaven; famines and pestilences in places; terrors from heaven.
2. Maybe we can read this as the undoing of Genesis 1, where God creates the ordered world out of chaos.
3. This verse does not necessarily ascribe agency to God in these cataclysmic events.
4. The future form of the verb ‘to be’ can take nominative nouns as predicates.

12 πρὸ δὲ τούτων πάντων ἐπιβαλοῦσιν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν καὶ 
διώξουσιν, παραδιδόντες εἰς τὰς συναγωγὰς καὶ φυλακάς, ἀπαγομένους ἐπὶ βασιλεῖς καὶ ἡγεμόνας ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματός μου: 
Yet before all these things they will lay their hands upon you and pursue [you], handing [you] over to the synagogues and prisons, leading away to kings and rulers on account of my name;
ἐπιβαλοῦσιν : FAI 3p, ἐπιβάλλω, 1) to cast upon, to lay upon  1a) used of seizing one to lead him off as a prisoner
διώξουσιν: FAI 3p, διώκω, 1) to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away  2) to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after 
παραδιδόντες : PAPart, npm, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another)  2) to give over into (one's) power or use  2a) to deliver to one something to keep, use,  take care of, manage
ἀπαγομένους : PPPart, apm, ἀπάγω, 1) to lead away  1a) esp. of those who are led off to trial, prison, or punishment 
1. This verse may name a list of events that “they” will perpetrate before the cataclysmic signs of v.11. Or, it may describe the flow of the events, from seizing and pursuing, to handing over, to leading away. I think it is the latter.
2. I am using ‘pursue’ to translate διώξουσιν, for two reasons. First, I think the word “persecute” (which is how many translations put it) is ill-defined and overused. Second, the definition above emphasizes the ‘running’ aspect of the verb, like the person who simply cannot get away, even if s/he should elude the first capture. It brings to mind internal and external refugees, diasporas, etc.
3. Remembering that the original question in this conversation had to do with the demolition of the temple. Jesus introduces “you” and his “name” in v.8, which makes the events surrounding the temple also events about his disciples.

13 ἀποβήσεται ὑμῖν εἰς μαρτύριον.
For you it will turn into a testimony. 
ἀποβήσεται: FMI 3s, ἀποβαίνω, 1) to come down from, i.e. a ship  2) to turn out, result, to be the outcome
1. The implied subject of ἀποβήσεται, I have as ‘it,’ seems to be something like ‘the moment that is filled with the catastrophes and events of vv.11-12.’ For the disciples (‘to you’ in the dative, since they are not the subject or agent of the verb), that moment will turn into a testimony. The agency of who makes it so is not given, since that is the subject of the following verses.
2. In one of my first translations for Seminary, I was told not to make too much of the etymological relationship between the word μαρτύριον (“testimony”) and the transliteration “martyr.” So, I won’t. No matter how poignant the danger of this description is. Nothing to see here, folks. Move on.

14 θέτε οὖν ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν μὴ προμελετᾶν ἀπολογηθῆναι,
Therefore, put in your hearts not to meditate beforehand to defend yourself,  
θέτε : AAImpv τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down 
προμελετᾶν : PAInf προμελετάω, 1) to meditate beforehand
ἀπολογηθῆναι: APInf ἀπολογέομαι, 1) to defend one's self, make one's defense 
1. Here we have our 2nd use of the imperative voice. What are we required to do? What must we do? What is the imperative of this moment? In v.8 it is to watch. Here it is to “Put it in your hearts” not to prepare a defense ahead of time - a disarming command. Watch and trust, more or less?

 15ἐγὼ γὰρ δώσω ὑμῖν στόμα καὶ σοφίανἧ οὐ δυνήσονται ἀντιστῆναι  
ἀντειπεῖν ἅπαντες οἱ ἀντικείμενοι ὑμῖν.
For I will give to you mouth and wisdom those who oppose you will not be able to withstand or to speak against.
δώσω : FAI 1s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone 
δυνήσονται : FMI 3pl, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power
ἀντιστῆναι : AAInf, ἀνθίστημι, 1) to set one's self against, to withstand, resist, oppose
ἀντειπεῖν : AAInf, ἀντιλέγω, 1) to speak against, gainsay, contradict
ἀντικείμενοι : PMPass npm, ἀντίκειμαι, 1) to be set over against, opposite to  2) to oppose, be adverse to, withstand
1. The reason for disarming the disciples is because Jesus himself will be present in that moment, to make the events into a testimony.

16 παραδοθήσεσθε δὲ καὶ ὑπὸ γονέων καὶ ἀδελφῶν καὶ συγγενῶν καὶ φίλων, 
καὶ θανατώσουσιν ἐξ ὑμῶν,
Yet you will be handed over even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends and will put to death out of you,
παραδοθήσεσθε: FPI 2p, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another)  2) to give over into (one's) power or use
θανατώσουσιν: FAI 3p, θανατόω, 1) to put to death  2) metaph.  2a) to make to die i.e. destroy, render extinct
1. The word “handed over” (παραδίδωμι) is also translated “betrayed.”

2. The last phrase, “out of you” is awkward and most translations add “some out of you.”

 17 καὶ ἔσεσθε μισούμενοι ὑπὸ πάντων διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου.
And you will be hated by all because of my name.
ἔσεσθε: FMI 2p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
μισούμενοι: PPPart npm, μισέω, 1) to hate, pursue with hatred, detest  2) to be hated, detested 

 18 καὶ θρὶξ ἐκ τῆς κεφαλῆς ὑμῶν οὐ μὴ ἀπόληται. 
And a hair out of your head shall not be destroyed.
ἀπόληται: AMSubj 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy 
1. The future form of the verb ‘to be’ (ἔσεσθε) in the v.17 may govern both “hated” (μισούμενοι) in v.17 and “be destroyed” (ἀπόληται) in this verse. At any rate, I have “shall not be destroyed” because it is in the subjunctive voice.

19 ἐν τῇ ὑπομονῇ ὑμῶν κτήσασθε τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν. 
In your patience possess your souls.
κτήσασθε: AMImpv 2p, κτάομαι, 1) to acquire, get, or procure a thing for one's self, to possess  1a) to marry a wife 
1. I’m not sure why modern translations have this verse in the future, “You will possess …” κτήσασθε is an imperative, not a future verb. I’ll need to see if there is a textual variant at play, since older translations like the KJV and Young’s Literal Translation have the imperative voice. Sometimes that indicates that older texts, not yet discovered when Young or the KJV crowd were doing their work, have something different and more reliable.
2. Until or unless I can see why this verb should be different than the text I’m using (supplied by, I’ll stay with what I have. In which case:
This is the 3rd imperative of our pericope. First, we were told in v.8 to watch. Then, in v.14, Jesus says to put it in our hearts not to meditate ahead of time what to say. Now, we are told to “possess (or keep) our souls in patience.” The force of the imperatives seem to be to still us in order that God can take care of us.  


  1. V. 19 might be better reversed in the English translation: Possess your souls in your abiding (the root of patience - menos)?

    1. William, that works for me in the refined translation. Yes.

  2. As a liberal American, I'm having trouble possessing my soul in patience, this week. And although the events of our election have a disquieting similarity to what's described in this verse, I'll still not start preparing for the end. Thanks for the help with this one!

    1. I'm with you Caryn. It's been a challenging week for many of us. Blessings on your own journey and the journey that you walk with your congregation.

  3. Curious on two things:

    Why are we translating ethnos as 'nation' instead of 'peoples' - or ethnic groups. Nation states didn't exist then, and have been imposed on ethnic groups (think Africa and Europe's merging of ethnic groups into nations).

    How does a hair of one's head remain undestroyed if one is killed?

    Just asking!

  4. Hi Bill,
    I'd love to know the significance of your question regarding "nations" v. "ethnic groups" or "peoples." Does the word "nations" imply more of a structure of history, self-determination, governance, etc.? Is there some literature out there that sees "nations" as a northern or western imposition on how other groups would self-identify?
    I've always felt that the term "kingdom" was a bit misleading, since it could refer to something as small as a city-state or as large as an empire. I'm not quite sure where "nation" fits into those categories.

    And I love your last question, although I'm thinking that hair takes a lot longer to decay than many other parts of the body. I wonder if it were a common thing back in the day to happen across bones and hair in a cave that once was a tomb. Hmm...

    1. Better late than never? So peoples - ethnos - seems to me to be a more pervasive conflict situation having to do with identity vs. political determinations (and as we know, nation-states were relatively late in appearing). So think Protestant/Catholic Europe/Ireland, Hutu/Tutsi, the Tulsa massacre, and other ongoing 'ethnic cleansing' proposals?

  5. I'm finding a tendency to see construction/destruction throughout this passage. As you pointed out, the 'stone on stone' resembles construction, which will be destroyed. Human construction simply doesn't last.

    Then, as nation is raised upon nation, we see again the constructions of people's/nations/kingdoms upon those that have gone before them. I think we can assume that, again, these human constructs/constructions will not stand the test of time.

    Finally, we are told of our own (the disciples') destruction through arrest, betrayal, and even murder. Yet, much like human construction, human destruction is limited because through the moment of testimony, Jesus builds up and constructs within us the words and wisdom that humans cannot destroy. Not sure what to do with this yet, but I found it intriguing.

  6. Love the idea of construction/ the final destruction "reconstructs" our very souls...we just are called to live in trust and abide in the midst of these changing times.

  7. However we've embellished the concept of nation-states - in many ways the product of the Reformation in the breakup of the Holy Roman Empire - the term nation refers to people birthed in a named place, as it were. says

    First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English, from Latin nātiōn- (stem of nātiō ) “birth, tribe,” equivalent to nāt(us) (past participle of nāscī “to be born”) + -iōn- -ion"


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