Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Difficult Text for Difficult Crises

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Matthew 10:24-39, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.

24 Οὐκ ἔστιν μαθητὴς ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον οὐδὲ δοῦλος ὑπὲρ τὸν κύριον αὐτοῦ.
A disciple is not above his teacher nor a slave above his lord.
ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. There is a twin dynamic at work in this text, that can be described by pairing this verse with v.1 of this chapter. At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus had given the apostles incredible power – power like his – over unclean spirits and the ability to heal all manner of diseases. Pairing that empowerment with this verse means that the empowered apostles are also subject to the same kind of rejection that Jesus himself endured. The immediately preceding verses speak of how the apostles will be delivered up, persecuted, falsely accused, and made refugees fleeing from town to town. In that sense, the apostles are very much like Jesus. Empowerment and rejection may be marks of discipleship.
2. I am assuming that the possessive pronoun αὐτοῦ (of him, his) at the end of the verse modifies both the διδάσκαλον (teacher) and the κύριον (lord). It would be consistent with the next verse that way.

25 ἀρκετὸν τῷ μαθητῇ ἵνα γένηται ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος αὐτοῦ, καὶ ὁ δοῦλος ὡς ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ. εἰ τὸν οἰκοδεσπότην Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐπεκάλεσαν, πόσῳ μᾶλλον τοὺς οἰκιακοὺς αὐτοῦ.
Enough to the disciple that he might become as his teacher, and the slave as his lord. If they called the householder Beelzebul, how much moreso the others of his household?  
γένηται: AMSubj 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
ἐπεκάλεσαν: AAI 3p, καλέω with ἐπί, to call on, to call to (denoting the object, not the subject.
1. The first phrase translates awkwardly to English till one adds “It is enough …” The word ‘enough’ (ἀρκετὸν) is in the nominative case and is the subject.
2. While ‘teacher’ and ‘lord’ are in the nominative case, the verb γένηται takes a ‘predicate nominative’ as its object.
3. I often transliterate οἰκο-δεσπότην as ‘house-despot.’ Some of Jesus’ parable actually read a little more sensibly if one begins with the notion that this person exercises power and is not simply the ‘head of the house.’ In this verse, that power is paired with being ridiculed. Returning to my comment on v.24, discipleship is empowerment and rejection because Jesus experiences both.
4. Some translations add, “How much more will they malign the others …”

26 Μὴ οὖν φοβηθῆτε αὐτούς: οὐδὲν γάρ ἐστιν κεκαλυμμένον ὃ οὐκ ἀποκαλυφθήσεται, καὶ κρυπτὸν ὃ οὐ γνωσθήσεται.
Therefore may you not be afeared them; for nothing is veiled which will not be unveiled, and hidden which will not be made known.
φοβηθῆτε: APSubj 2p, φοβέω, to strike with fear, scare, frighten. Middle or passive as here, to be put in fear, take fright
ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
κεκαλυμμένον: PerfPPart nsm, καλύπτω, 1) to hide, veil  1a) to hinder the knowledge of a thing
ἀποκαλυφθήσεται: FPI 3s, ἀποκαλύπτω, 1) to uncover, lay open what has been veiled or covered up 
γνωσθήσεται: FPI 3s, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel
1. The verb φοβηθῆτε is passive and subjunctive. I often make that ‘be afeared’ in the rough translation in order to show that it is still a verb and not simply an adjective like ‘afraid.’ Many translations give this subjunctive the force of an imperative, “Do not fear” or “Do not be afraid.”
2. I am making κεκαλυμμένον and ἀποκαλυφθήσεται “veiled” and “unveiled” in order to keep the consistency between them, since they share the root καλύπτω.
3. The topic of things veiled and unveiled seems to be new for this text, which has been about empowerment and rejection. In this verse alone, it might seem that the veiling might be a way of describing how it is that the lord and his disciples are being ridiculed and rejected. But, what follows take a different direction.  

27 λέγω ὑμῖν ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ, εἴπατε ἐν τῷ φωτί: καὶ ὃ εἰς τὸ οὖς ἀκούετε, κηρύξατε ἐπὶ τῶν δωμάτων.
That which I say to you in the darkness, say in the light; and that which in the ear you hear, proclaim on the housetops.
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
εἴπατε: AAImpv 2p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἀκούετε: PAI 2p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf 
κηρύξατε: AAImpv 2p, κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald … 3) used of the public proclamation of the gospel
1. This verse is a takes the topic of veiled and unveiled from the previous verse, not as referring to the ridicule or rejection that the disciples are suffering, but to the process of Jesus teaching in secrecy to disciples proclaiming publicly.

28 καὶ μὴ φοβεῖσθε/ φοβηθῆτε ἀπὸ τῶν ἀποκτεννόντων τὸ σῶμα, τὴν δὲ ψυχὴν μὴ δυναμένων ἀποκτεῖναι: φοβεῖσθε δὲ μᾶλλον τὸν δυνάμενον καὶ ψυχὴν καὶ σῶμα ἀπολέσαι ἐν γεέννῃ.
And do not be afeared /And may you not be afeared by the ones who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; But be afeared more the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in gehenna.
A. φοβεῖσθε: PMImpv 2p, φοβέω, to strike with fear, scare, frighten. Middle or passive as here, to be put in fear, take fright
B. φοβηθῆτε: APSubj 2p, φοβέω, to strike with fear, scare, frighten. Middle or passive as here, to be put in fear, take fright
ἀποκτεννόντων: PAPart gpm, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever
δυναμένων: PMPart gpm, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability, a state of mind, favorable circumstances, or permission of law or custom
ἀποκτεῖναι: AAInf, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever
φοβεῖσθε: PMImpv 2p, φοβέω, to strike with fear, scare, frighten. Middle or passive as here, to be put in fear, take fright
δυνάμενον: PMPart gsm, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability, a state of mind, favorable circumstances, or permission of law or custom
ἀπολέσαι: AAInf, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy
1. There is a textual variant over the first use of φοβέω in this verse. Some texts have option A, which the verb φοβεῖσθε, an aorist passive subjunctive that matches the same in v.26. Other texts have option B, which makes the verb φοβηθῆτε, a present middle imperative that matches the 2nd use of this verb later in this verse.
2. I try to avoid assuming any reference to gehenna and associated terms are automatically references to ‘hell,’ so I transliterate them. 

29 οὐχὶ δύο στρουθία ἀσσαρίου πωλεῖται; καὶ ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν οὐ πεσεῖται ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἄνευ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν.
Are not two sparrows bartered for a penny? And one out of them will not fall on the ground apart from your father.
πωλεῖται: PPI 3s, πωλέω, 1) to barter, to sell  2) sellers 
πεσεῖται: FMI 3s, πίπτω, 1) to descend from a higher place to a lower 
1. In case you ever time travel to 1st century Israel, you may need to know the exchange rate: An assarium is worth a tenth of a drachma. However, Luke 12:6 says one can get five sparrows for two assaria, so his market must have had a slightly greater supply of sparrows.

30 ὑμῶν δὲ καὶ αἱ τρίχες τῆς κεφαλῆς πᾶσαι ἠριθμημέναι εἰσίν.
Yet of you even the hairs of the head all are numbered.
ἠριθμημέναι: PerfPPart npf, ἀριθμέω, 1) to number  
εἰσίν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. This verse is initiated by ὑμῶν, a plural “you.” The comfort that one derives from it is accompanied by the honor of others that it implies as well.
2. The verb for “numbered” is literally ‘arithmeo.’

31 μὴ οὖν φοβεῖσθε: πολλῶν στρουθίων διαφέρετε ὑμεῖς.
Therefore do not be afeared; you are more valued than many sparrows.
φοβεῖσθε: PMImpv 2p, φοβέω, to strike with fear, scare, frighten. Middle or passive as here, to be put in fear, take fright
διαφέρετε: PAI 2p, διαφέρω, 1) to bear or carry through any place 
1. The verb διαφέρω literally means ‘to carry’ or ‘to bear,’ but seems to have connotations of relative worth. How a word gets from ‘carry’ to ‘worth’ is a mystery to me, but not unlike many other words in many other languages.
2. I worry that this verse is often conscripted for an anthropocentric species-ism, especially when valuing human consumption over preserving endangered species. However, the proverbial force of this verse is only meaningful if one starts with God’s care for sparrows, no matter what the market value of them is. If we revel in God counting our hairs then we need also to revel in God’s care for sparrows, even if the market sells them for a pittance.

32 Πᾶς οὖν ὅστις ὁμολογήσει ἐν ἐμοὶ ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὁμολογήσω κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν [τοῖς] οὐρανοῖς:
Therefore anyone who agrees in me before the people, I also will agree in him before my father in [the] heavens;
ὁμολογήσει: FAI 3s, ὁμολογέω, 1) to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent 2) to concede  2a) not to refuse, to promise  2b) not to deny  2b1) to confess 
ὁμολογήσω: FAI 1s ὁμολογέω, 1) to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent  2) to concede  2a) not to refuse, to promise  2b) not to deny  2b1) to confess 
1. I know that the popular rendering of ὁμολογέω (sounds like ‘homologeo’) is “confess,” and in a refined translation I would probably make it so. However, I find it helpful to remember that, at the heart of confessing Christ is agreeing with Christ, or literally ‘saying (λογέω) the same (ὁμο)’ as Christ.
2. Just to keep up, there are things taught in secret that are shouted from the rooftop, things said in agreement with Christ before the people that are echoed before by Christ before God in heaven.  

33 ὅστις δ' ἂν ἀρνήσηταί με ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἀρνήσομαι κἀγὼ αὐτὸν ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν [τοῖς] οὐρανοῖς.
Yet whoever rejects me before the people, I also will reject him before my father in [the] heavens.
ἀρνήσηταί: AMSubj 3s, ἀρνέομαι, to deny, disown, say no, reject, renounce 
ἀρνήσομαι: FMI 1s, ἀρνέομαι, to deny, disown, say no, reject, renounce 
1. The way one translates ὁμολογέω in v.32 should be negotiated with how one translates ἀρνέομαι in this verse, since they are being used as oppositional possibilities.
2. The Pelagian overtones of this verse are enough to drive any Calvinist crazy. So, call me crazy, but there is something marvelous about the “as in earth, so in heaven” relationship here.

34 Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν: οὐκ ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἀλλὰ μάχαιραν.
May you not opine that I came to cast peace on the earth; I came not to cast peace but a sword.
νομίσητε: AASubj 2p, νομίζω, 1) to hold by custom or usage, own as a custom or usage
ἦλθον: AAI 1s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
βαλεῖν: AAI, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls 
1. I like the word ‘opine’ for many reasons, chief among them is the false idea that anyone can hold any opinion whatsoever with equal validity. While this verse is not an imperative (as many translations imply), it certainly argues that some opinions ought not to be held.
2. This is the first in a line of several very difficult verses. I will show, at the end, an example of why the harshness of these verses are necessary, even if the harshness ought to be more of an exception than a rule.
3.The verb βάλλω commonly means “to throw.” It is the verb used to describe “casting” out demons and has appeared previously in this chapter that way (v.1). It is also the verb where we are to implore the lord of the harvest to “cast” workers into the field (v.38, the last verse of the previous chapter). Here, Jesus is speaking of throwing peace v. a sword on the earth.
4. I don’t know if I’m genuinely trying to understand, or if I’m trying to soften the blow of this verse, but here’s one idea. A ‘sword’ is indeed a weapon and seems like the antithesis of peace because it represents violence. It is also a something that divides – like a machete (chiefly a tool) but unlike a spear. It could be that division is the point more than violence and the antithesis is division v. peaceful coherence.

35 ἦλθον γὰρ διχάσαι ἄνθρωπον κατὰ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ θυγατέρα κατὰ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτῆς καὶ νύμφην κατὰ τῆς πενθερᾶς αὐτῆς,
For I came to divide a man against against his father and daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law,  
ἦλθον: AAI 1s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
διχάσαι: διχάζω, 1) to cut into two parts, cleave asunder, sever 
1. The exceptional nature of these divisions are clear when one considers the larger biblical narratives of Ruth/Naomi, Abraham/Isaac, etc., where familial love is powerful and honored. There are plenty of counter-examples of familial love (David/Absalom, Jonathan/Saul, Sarah/Hagar) where the tensions are plain but not idealized. Here, those tensions are part of the picture.

36 καὶ ἐχθροὶ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οἱ οἰκιακοὶ αὐτοῦ.
and enemies of the man his household.
1. There is no verb in this phrase, so translations add some version of ‘to be.’ Since the object is in the nominative case, adding a form of ‘to be’ makes sense, since ‘to be’ often takes a predicate nominative. So, the NRSV says, “and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
2. In the online version of the NASB (found at vv. 35-6 ARE ALL IN CAPS!!! I GUESS JESUS WAS YELLING!!!
3. In v.25, the assumption was that the householder and his household would be fated together – if the householder were to be called Beelzebul, then the members of the household could expect the same. Here, that norm is upset, with the household rebelling against the householder. It is important to remember that even within this pericope itself, these difficult verses and their difficult relationships are not treated as the norm but the exception to the norm.

37  φιλῶν πατέρα ἢ μητέρα ὑπὲρ ἐμὲ οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος: καὶ ὁ φιλῶν υἱὸν ἢ θυγατέρα ὑπὲρ ἐμὲ οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος:
Whoever is loving a father or mother above me is not worthy of me; and whoever is loving a son or daughter over me is not worthy of me;
φιλῶν: PAPart nsm, φιλέω, 1) to love
ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. While I shy away from assuming too much credence in the distinctive meanings of different words for love (agape, phileo, eros) in the NT, it is worth noting here that the term is phileo (φιλέω). Matthew uses φιλέω three times outside of the two uses in this verse. In 6:5 Jesus speaks of hypocrites who “love” to pray standing in the synagogue or on street corners. Similarly, in 23:6 Jesus speaks of those who “love” the uppermost rooms at feasts and chief seats in the synagogue. In both of these cases, φιλέω refers to a love of status. In 26:48, the sign by which Judas betrays Jesus is to kiss, φιλέω. In the next verse, when Judas actually does the deed, the word is καταφιλέω.
So, what is the exact nuance of loving one more than loving Jesus when the verb is φιλέω?
2. One possibility is to hold this verse in connection with the previous verse – the members of one’s household are opposing one’s discipleship of Jesus and one is being forced to choose between them. In that case – again, an exceptional case – the choice should be to agree with Jesus.

38 καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος.
And whoever does not take my cross and follow behind me, is not worthy of me.
λαμβάνει: PAI 3s, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 
ἀκολουθεῖ: PAI 3s, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him
ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. To Matthew’s community, as well as to 21st century readers of Scripture, “take up my cross” has clear meaning rooted in the story of the crucifixion. Within Matthew’s narrative, the crucifixion has not yet happened, so it would be hard to know what a narrative-time audience would have understood by this reference. ‘Out of time’ statements like these are the reason why groups like the Jesus Seminar are willing to say that some of Jesus’ statements are more genuinely statements by Jesus than others.
2. The interpretive question – apart from the source question – is how this verse relates to the difficult verses that precede it. If, for example, this is clearly a Matthean interpolation – since Jesus’ cross is not a thing yet in the narrative – then what is Matthew saying by it? Is it the way of the cross that is the dividing line within the household, the family, etc. How is the way of the cross an expression of bringing a ‘sword’ and not ‘peace’? (See v.34 n.4 above).

39 εὑρὼν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἀπολέσει αὐτήν, καὶ ὁ ἀπολέσας τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εὑρήσει αὐτήν.
Whoever finds his soul loses it, and whoever loses his soul because of me saves it.
εὑρὼν: AAPart nsm, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with
ἀπολέσει: FAI 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy 
ἀπολέσας: AAPart nsm, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy … to lose utterly
εὑρήσει: FAI 3s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with
1. And, speaking of unexpected twists and turns, here is the contrast between ‘finding and losing’ as it pertains to one’s ‘soul.’

These last few verses qualify this reading as one of those ‘difficult texts’ from which a preacher often wants to run away. They surely can be abused and surely have been abused by persons in religious authority to require their followers to sever all family relationship, in order to exercise unlimited control. For that reason, one is often wise to run away from this text. However, that also leaves this text in the hands of the tyrant, without some alternative way of hearing it or living toward it.
Another misuse of this text is to personalize it to the extreme – that God loves every hair on my head and way, way more than other species of nature whose well-being might hinder my joy. The plural ‘you’ mitigates that kind of misuse, but that distinction is lost in the English translations, since we do not distinguish between a plural or singular ‘you.’
Here is one way that I would propose hearing and preaching this difficult text:
I read a heart-breaking article (linked below) about a person who engaged in systematic child molestation while serving as a youth pastor, pastor, and in other trust-filled roles. At several significant points along the way, the possibility that this person was engaging in abuse was raised. But, most often, instead of a thorough investigation or honoring the accusations provided by the victims, many of those in leadership were more inclined to take the abuser at his word, because they liked him. He was charismatic, popular, and their friend. His wife was their friend. Friendship is an important value and one does not wish to embroil a friend in controversy, particularly when it could destroy a career, marriage, and reputation. So, those who had reasonable suspicions and could have provided safety for the past and future victims, chose silence or ignorance because of friendship.
What these last few difficult verses in this text imply is that there are exceptional circumstances when integrity is more important than even our most cherished familial relationships. Following Jesus – which, in this text is ‘agreeing’ with him and ‘taking up his cross’ – will, at times, require being more committed to truth-telling than keeping friendships.
I have tried to show that these are exceptional cases. In many cases the householder and household are in accord. But, when they are not, the way of Christ is the sharp sword of truth and integrity that may divide even close family and friends.


  1. Thank you again for an excellent translation and exegesis of the text. God bless you!

  2. Very helpful translation and commentary, Mark. I’m doing a serious entitled “Jesus! I Wish He Hadn’t Said That!” on the difficult sayings of Jesus and your good stuff here is very helpful.

    1. Thanks, Mitchell. I hope your series goes well.

    2. Thinking about family vs. Jesus and remembering the function of clan in structuring life. In my parent's day, it was assumed that paternal control of education and marriage was the norm. It was also assumed that one chose or rejected friends based on their acceptability to the family leadership (my mother was spanked for having a black playmate come home with her - after the friend left). Household can also be extended to a wider domain for us - and we do see divisions within the 'house.' Sometimes we 'go along to get along,' and sometimes we don't...

    3. Yep. It seems that many households have similar structures and stories, Bill.

  3. They spare you time and visual perception and help to peruse email or other web texts in little print.speech to text

  4. Sheer curiosity: why did people buy/barter sparrows?

    1. For sacrifices at the temple. Sparrows were cheaper than doves, and could be afforded by poor people.


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