Sunday, October 30, 2022

Theological Innovation v. Fuller Appreciation

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments on Luke 20:27-38, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost.
Your comments are welcomed!

Προσελθόντες δέ τινες τῶν Σαδδουκαίων, οἱ [ἀντι] λέγοντες ἀνάστασιν μὴ 
εἶναι, ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν 
Yet certain ones of the Sadducees having come, the ones who say [argue] not to be a resurrection, inquired of him
Προσελθόντες : AAPart, nmpl, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach  2) draw near to  3) to assent to
λέγοντες : PAPart, nmpl, to speak [against]
εἶναι: PAInf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἐπηρώτησαν : AAI 3pl, ἐπερωτάω, 1) to accost one with an enquiry, put a question to, enquiry of,  ask, interrogate  2) to address one with a request or demand  2a) to ask of or demand of one 
1. The Sadducees – what little we know of them, which seem to be largely from comments like this verse – adhered strictly to the five books of Moses. That kind of theological conservatism would especially pit them in contrast with that theologically fertile time of the 2nd century BCE, when Greek philosophy influenced the development of a number of theologies, such as hades (the underworld, as opposed to Sheol, the grave); apocalyptic eschatology; and resurrection – all of which they argued were novel and not orthodox (if that is a proper term for this instance) ideas. The NT writers - and, it would seem most pharisees and other religious leaders - took most of those ideas for granted. 
2. So, rather than imagining this conversation as yet another episode of a group of religious leaders resisting Jesus, this note by Luke of what distinguishes Sadducees provides a different avenue. We can read this conversation in terms of what it means for rightly interpreting biblical texts. Later parts of this story will expand the topic to how one's approach to interpreting biblical texts affects faithfulness.  
2. In some manuscripts, the word ἀντι (against) precedes the verb λέγοντες (say) making it more than a simple assertion but an argument or contrary statement.

28 λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, Μωϋσῆς ἔγραψεν ἡμῖν, ἐάν τινος ἀδελφὸς ἀποθάνῃ 
ἔχων γυναῖκα, καὶ οὗτος (nms) ἄτεκνος , ἵνα λάβῃ  ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ ἐξαναστήσῃ σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ. 
saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote to us, if a certain brother should die having a wife, and should be childless, then his brother ought to take the woman and to produce his brother’s seed.
λέγοντες: PAPart, nms, λέγω, 1) to say
ἔγραψεν : AAI, 3s, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters 
ἀποθάνῃ : AASubj, 3s ἀποθνήσκω, to die out, expire, become quite dead.
: PASubj, 3s εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
λάβῃ: AASubj, 3s λαμβάνω, 1) to take  1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it  1a1) to take up a thing to be carried  1a2) to take upon one's self 
ἐξαναστήσῃ : AA Subj, 3s ἐξανίστημι, 1) to make to rise up, to rise up, to produce  2) to rise (in an assembly to speak)
1. The ἐάν introduces a condition, which I try to capture by translating the subjunctive voice as “if ... should ....” The ἵνα (normally translated as ‘in order that’) then introduces the result of condition, which I am translating as “ought,” since the question involves the law of Moses.
2. The law of Levirate Marriage is given in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. The first two verses simply state the practice, which leads me to think there is a long tradition behind the practice, so it does not require explanation or justification. The bulk of the text, vv.7-10, have to do with a brother who does not want to follow through with his obligation.
The purpose of the law is that the deceased brother’s name may not be blotted out from Israel. This is key: The law of levirate marriage is about keeping one’s name alive beyond one’s death. Child-bearing, then, is a form of life beyond the span of one’s mortal coil.
The one who refuses to fulfill his obligation to his elder brother’s memory gets punished by the widow. She pulls off his sandal – which, I believe might be a way of taking away his ability to marry or do business, since one of the symbols of covenant-making was to remove one’s right sandal and give it to the other. And she spits in his face and declares his deed, for which his household shall be remembered as “the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.” In other words, his ignominy will live beyond is mortal coil as well.
3. Two examples of how levirate marriage laws did or did not work in ancient Israel’s life are found in Genesis 38 and the book of Ruth. In Genesis 38, Judah’s eldest son dies, leaving Tamar as a widow. The second son practices birth control while ‘entering’ Tamar, so he also dies. Both deaths are attributed directly to God. The third son is but a child, so Tamar is told to go back to her family while he grows up. But, Judah does not fulfill his obligation to Tamar, so she poses as a prostitute and smartly nabs Levi in a sting operation. Read it.
The book of Ruth is all about widowhood and survival. In the end, she marries Boaz, a 2nd in line male heir, who loves her and has to negotiate with the 1st in line heir for her. Read Ruth 4:7 to see the role of the sandal in such cases. This story also makes explicit reference to Judah and Tamar.
4. I love how has “become quite dead” as part of the definition of ἀποθνήσκω. It brings to mind the words of Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride” who says, “There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

29 ἑπτὰ οὖν ἀδελφοὶ ἦσαν: καὶ  πρῶτος λαβὼν γυναῖκα ἀπέθανεν ἄτεκνος:
Now, there were seven brothers; and the first having taken a wife died childless;
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
λαβὼν: AAPart nsm, λαμβάνω, 1) to take
ἀπέθανεν: AAI 3s, ἀποθνήσκω, to die out, expire, become quite dead.

 30καὶ  δεύτερος 
Also the second
1. I was always taught as a kid that Luke 17:32, “Remember Lot’s wife,” was ‘the 2nd shortest verse in the Bible’ (after “Jesus wept.”) That’s because we were wedded to the King James Version, which is working from a different Greek text and translates this verse, “And the second took her to wife, and he died childless.” What kind of distinction is “the shortest verse in the Bible” anyway?

31καὶ  τρίτος ἔλαβεν αὐτήν, ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ οἱ ἑπτὰ οὐ κατέλιπον τέκνα καὶ 
and the third took her, then likewise also the seven did not leave children behind and died.
ἔλαβεν: AAI 3s, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  
κατέλιπον : AAI 3p, καταλείπω, 1) to leave behind  1a) to depart from 
ἀπέθανον: AAI 3p, ἀποθνήσκω, to die out, expire, become quite dead.
1. I guess this is the original “No Child Left Behind” text.

32 ὕστερον καὶ  γυνὴ ἀπέθανεν.
Finally the woman also died.
ἀπέθανεν: AAI 3s, , ἀποθνήσκω, to die out, expire, become quite dead.

 33 γυνὴ οὖν ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τίνος αὐτῶν γίνεται γυνή; οἱ γὰρ ἑπτὰ 
ἔσχον αὐτὴν γυναῖκα.
The woman, therefore, in the resurrection is to be the wife of which of them? For the seven had her as a wife.
γίνεται: PMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  
ἔσχον : AAI 3p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have  (hold) possession of the mind (refers to alarm, agitating  emotions, etc.),
1. Now comes the full circle of the description that Luke offers to folks like me who need it, and the question that the Sadducees pose: They don't believe in the resurrection and the purpose of the question seems to be to show that it is incompatible with the teachings of Moses. The point of the law regarding levirate marriage was to address how one's life continued after death. From the Sadducees' perspective, at best the doctrine of resurrection would have been a superfluous attempt to address a theological topic that had already been given in the law of Moses. At worst, it was a syncretic attempt to blend Hebrew and Greek thinking. 
2. Perhaps from our perspective as NT readers, at best the Sadducees are representing a heroic attempt to resist a widely popular theology on biblical principle. At worst, they are reactionary fundamentalist readers of Scripture ... (and I'll let Jesus show why this kind of biblical reading is not faithful below). 

 34καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς  Ἰησοῦς, Οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου γαμοῦσιν 
καὶ γαμίσκονται,
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage,
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
γαμοῦσιν : PAI 3pl, γαμέω, 1) to lead in marriage, take to wife
γαμίσκονται: PPI 3pl, γαμίσκω, 1) give in marriage
1. Aw, Luke goes and leaves out the very best comment in this entire story! Mark 12:24 (sim. Matt. 22:29) reads,Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?’” That verse from Mark provides the title to an excellent article on this pericope by James Luther Mays that is available free here
2. I apologize for the non-inclusive language of my translation. I am keeping it literal for a reason. See note 2 for v.36. 
3. Jesus begins his response by recognizing a practice about "the sons of this age." That phrase could sound like a "nowadays" sort of reference, but as the next verse shows Jesus is taking for granted a resurrection and distinguishing between the kind of concerns that matter prior to death - as reflected in the laws of levirate marriage - and the kinds of concerns that matter after resurrection.  

 35οἱ δὲ καταξιωθέντες τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου τυχεῖν καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται:
Yet the ones who have been accounted worthy in that age to attain also the resurrection out of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage;
καταξιωθέντες : APPart, nmp, καταξιόω, 1) to account worthy, judge worthy;
τυχεῖν : AAInf, τυγχάνω, 1) to hit the mark  1a) of one discharging a javelin or arrow  2) to reach, attain, obtain, get, become master of  
γαμοῦσιν : PAI 3pl, γαμέω, 1) to lead in marriage, take to wife
γαμίζονται: PPI 3p, γαμίζω, to give a daughter in marriage
1. Both v.34 and v.35 end with a phrase, “marry … given in marriage.” But, the final words ending the two phrases are different. I do not know the significance of the difference between γαμίσκονται of v.34 and γαμίζονται of v.35, which I have highlighted in red text. My guess would be that this is a copyist error, which is why I am not translating them differently. However, I fully confess that "copyist error" is often my guess when I don’t understand something. If it is a deliberate change – from a word that means “giving in marriage” to one that means “giving a daughter in marriage,” the significance of that change is lost on me. Perhaps one of them accompanies a positive assertion, “marry and given …” and the other a negative assertion, “neither marry nor given …” Anyone?
2. καταξιωθέντες (“who have been accounted”) is only found in the passive voice in the NT: Here, Acts 5:41, and II Thes. 1:5.
3. Luke does not explain what is meant by, “the ones who have been accounted worthy in that age to attain resurrection.” It is an uneasy eschatology for those who have become accustomed to imagining either that all ‘souls’ are transported immediately to paradise or hades upon death, or that everyone is resurrected in the end, some for reward and some for punishment, or that all will be redeemed in some way in the end. The implication here is that some are dead and stay that way, while some are resurrected because they have been accounted worthy for it. The point of the response is less about offering a clear and concise picture of Luke’s/Jesus’ eschatology, but to address the wrong-headedness of the question regarding marriage and the resurrection.  
4. For anyone who tries to find a consistent presentation throughout the NT on what resurrection looks like, when it happens, how it happens, etc. ... bless your heart. 

 36οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀποθανεῖν ἔτι δύνανται, ἰσάγγελοι γάρ εἰσιν, καὶ υἱοί εἰσιν 
θεοῦ, τῆς ἀναστάσεως υἱοὶ ὄντες.
for they are not able to die any more, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being the sons of the resurrection. 
ἀποθανεῖν: ἀποθνήσκω, to die out, expire, become quite dead.
δύνανται: PMI 3pl, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources
εἰσιν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ὄντες: PAPart npm, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. The plural noun ἰσάγγελοι  is a contraction of ἰσο (equal to) and άγγελοι (angels.)
2. Verses 34-36 together ought to drive literalists to distraction because A) Either ‘sons’ in v.34 has to mean ‘sons and daughters’ since we’re talking about marriage. That would open up the whole of the Scriptures to being translated in a more inclusive fashion and literalists would have to quit pretending that inclusive language translations are some kind of politically correct conspiracy. Or, B) Maybe “men” truly means “men” the kind of marriage that Jesus is cool with is something between men only. Take your pick, literalists. 
3. The assumption here is that life in the resurrection is more like the life of angels, or "sons of God," than human life that we know now with all of its needs and frailties. Moses' law would be addressing those needs and frailties. 
4. Not to complicate matters, but there is a story in Genesis 6 where "sons of God" did begin marrying, or at least hooking up with earthly women and producing offspring. Sometimes the shifting mythologies behind Scriptures across the centuries are hard to keep separate. 

 37ὅτι δὲ ἐγείρονται οἱ νεκροὶ καὶ Μωϋσῆς ἐμήνυσεν ἐπὶ τῆς βάτου, 
ὡς λέγει κύριον τὸν θεὸν Ἀβραὰμ καὶ θεὸν Ἰσαὰκ καὶ θεὸν Ἰακώβ:
Yet that the dead are raised even Moses disclosed at the bush, as he says “the lord God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;”
ἐμήνυσεν: AAI 3s, μηνύω, 1) to disclose or make known something secret  1a) in a forensic sense, to inform, report  2) to declare, tell, make known  3) to indicate, intimate  3a) of a teacher 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to … 1e) to call by name, to call, name
1. Jesus speaks to the Sadducees in the language that they preferred, which is from the “five books of Moses” or the Pentateuch. The Sadducees began this conversation with reference to what Moses “writes” (ἔγραψεν, v.28). Jesus counters with what Moses ‘disclosed’ with his words in Exodus 3.  In that text, God actually is the one who says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” So, by attributing it as a disclosure of Moses, Jesus is keeping the topic on Moses’ writings.
2. The verb ἐμήνυσεν ("reveal"/"disclose") appears 4x in the NT: Here, Jn.11:57, Acts 23:30, and I Cor.10:28. It seems to be an interesting word choice, but I’m not sure why.
3. The irony of the disclosure is that the story is about how God discloses Godself to Moses via the bush, yet as the presumed author of the first five books Moses is disclosing God via the bush story.
4. I have translated the latter part of the verse differently than the NIV, KJV, ESV, and NRSV – which is to say, I’m probably wrong. But, I want to show that λέγει is very common and is usually translated “says” (although “calls” is a secondary possibility).  The NRSV bends the text quite a bit by making “lord” a genitive; saying “speaks of the lord as …”
5. The reader – either implicitly or explicitly – must decide where, exactly, the language of the story in Exodus 3 begins. I’ve tried to show one possibility by adding quotation marks.
6. My sense is that the point of the reference to the bush relies on the word “of.” For Moses to reveal God as “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead, means that, as God lives, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob live. For those of us familiar with this story from Exodus 3, the "of" in Luke's quote corresponds with the "I am" (not "I was") as how God is identified. 

 38 θεὸς δὲ οὐκ ἔστιν νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων, πάντες γὰρ αὐτῷ ζῶσιν. 
Yet he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live in him.
ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ζῶσιν: PAI 3p, ζάω, 1) to live, breathe, be among the living (not lifeless, not dead)
1. This could be translated, “Yet God is not of the dead, but of the living, for all live in him.”
2. Again, I think the term “of” – implied in the genitival construction of the objects of the verb – is the point, particularly as Jesus uses the present tense to say "He is ... God ... of the living." 

Concluding Thoughts
It strikes me that there are several layers of theological import taking place in this text. Topically, of course, it is about resurrection. However, the particular view of resurrection in this text is not the view that is expressed elsewhere in Scripture, that the dead are dead until the great trumpet sounds and the final resurrection occurs, or the arguments that Jesus himself is the first to be raised. The description here seems a little more akin to the Greek argument of the immortality of the soul. In God, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive; they are not dead and awaiting resurrection. So, this text could be a jumping off point for exploring what we mean when we speak about resurrection.

Another way of reading this text is as an argument about hermeneutics, where the charge of theological novelty is met with the answer that the 'new' theology is simply uncovering the depth of the older material. If the Sadducees only hold to the first five books of Moses, then the doctrine of resurrection seems to be a new innovation. Jesus argues that it is present in the very books of Moses that the Sadducees claim to champion. That is a very contemporary conversation, in my mind.

Yet another way of reading the text is to look at the way the Sadducees’ storied question seems to make the argument of resurrection silly, because life can be so messy in this life that for the present arrangements to continue after death would be a horribly tangled affair. What they are taking as frames of reference for resurrected life is our current way of living. In the first part of his response, to dismantle the assumptions behind the Sadducees’ question, Jesus takes as frames of reference for resurrected life a particular understanding of angels: Angels do not die, therefore they neither marry nor are given in marriage. Among other things, this is a very interesting view of marriage! It seems less about love and romance and more about the need to perpetuate one’s lineage because we are going to die – which, frankly, sounds more like the way Mayflies approach their teeny tiny lifespan than the way we like to imagine that we approach ours. At least we could say, this loveless practical view of marriage-as-a-means-of-perpetuating-life seems to be the reason for laws of Moses regarding levirate marriage. Jesus’ first argument is that the levirate marriage laws are provisional, based on the reality of death, and not applicable to any conversation about resurrected life. 

More than anything, I feel that this text shows something about a static reading of Scripture. If we see Scripture as a kind of "God said it; I believe it; that settles it" sort of reality, then the fact that "God said it" is in the past tense means that God could be retired or dead and we could still argue along these lines. A living God, however, matters. I think the United Church of Christ's phrase, "God is still speaking" is one of the most faithful approaches to hermeneutics imaginable. 


  1. As a lay person, I just wish to say I find your site quite informative and it offers me insight into both familiar and not-so-familiar passages. I too also find your humor refreshing.

  2. One of the things that I always wondered about is where did this idea of seven failed consummations of the marriage come from. One time while reading through the Apocrypha, I found the story of Sarah in Tobit, where seven brothers were killed by a demon on their successive wedding nights. Eventually, Sarah is delivered from the demon and marries Tobias, Tobit's son. It appears Sadducees are referencing the newest and popular religious texts at that time. These texts incorporated angels and demons, and the concept of life after death, if not resurrection. In doing so, it looks as though they were trying to discredit those concepts as well as what Jesus was doing.

    1. I suspect this was a standard story for those who wanted to argue that resurrection - as a continuation of the pattern of this life - is an unworkable idea. The story of Sarah may have been one way of addressing that story and this text another.
      It all seems completely ill-conceived for those of us who believe women are not family heirlooms to be given away in marriage from one man to another.

  3. Is it the case that the focus is as much on the widow than it is on the guys or even on resurrection itself? To whom will the widow 'belong' in the resurrection? Despite all the gendered language about'sons' of this Age or of God, Jesus is really talking about the widow?

    The woman is infertile (let's assume). Stories of such women are well-known (Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth). Sarah and Abe were both 'dead, Rebekah and Isaac waited twenty years (was it?) for their first child; Rachel envied her more fertile co-wife. But 'the Lord' is God of the living (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob - does he really mean or at least include their wives??). The point is that where there is 'death' the Lord creates life = resurrection.

    Why is 'the bush' mentioned? The word batos is also used in Luke 6 to refer to a bramble bush which cannot produce fruit. Again, the fertility issue is pointedly made.

    And why to the Sadds raise the question of resurrection with this scenario? The standard answer is they are mocking the idea of resurrection. Is it that? Could that not have been done more effectively in another way? They seem themselves to connect resurrection with infertility. And when they compliment Jesus on his response is it because he has changed their minds or because think he's agreeing with them??

  4. Thank you for this! I've gotten more out of this selection this time than I ever have before. I used to be upset that there's no "marrying or giving in marriage," because I didn't want to be separated from my husband. But in light of your analysis, what I'm getting now is that each of us will meet with God individually, and will live in God without regard to who we were married to. I expect my husband will also live in God, and we can communicate better than we ever have before as well.

    I'd never realized what God's words to Moses said about Eternity, but now I see it - maybe this is where CS Lewis got Aslan's "I call all times soon."

  5. Struck that ἐξαναστήσῃ (raise up for semen) and ἀνάστασιν (stand up/resurrect) are pretty similar words...

    1. They have the same root, ίστημι. And that is all I am going to say about it.


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