1. Selective Bibliography
2. Introduction
3. The Kingdom of God as the Time of Forgiveness
   3.1. Parable of Laborer in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-15)

   3.2. Repentance and Becoming like a Child (Matt 18:3)
4. Jesus' Association with Sinners
   4.1. References to Jesus' Association with Sinners
Jesus' Justification of his Association With Sinners 
      4.2.1. Not to Call the Righteous but Sinners (Mar
k 2:17 = Matt 9:12-13 = Luke 5:31-32)
      4.2.2. Seek and Save the Lost (Luke 19:1-10)
      4.2.3. Two Parables of the Lost Found (Luke 15:3-7 = Matt 18:12-14; Luke 15:8-10)
      4.2.4. Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32)
5. Jesus as the Mediator of Eschatological Forgiveness
   5.1. Forgiveness of Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12 = Matt 9:1-8 = Luke 5:17-26)
   5.2. Forgiveness of Woman at a Banquet (Luke 7:36-50)
6. Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)



1. Selective Bibliography

M. Albertz, Die synoptische Streitspräche: ein Beitrag zur Formgeschichtliche des Urchristentums, 1921); J.D.G. Dunn, "Pharisees, Sinners and Jesus," in Paul and the Law, 1990;  P. Fiedler, Jesus und die Sünder, 1976; J. Jeremias, “Zöllner und Sünder,” ZNW 30 (1931) 293-300; id., New Testament Theology, 1971; B.F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus, 1979; Pöhlmann, Der verlorene Sohn und das Haus, 1993; E.P. Sanders, Judaism, 1992; id., "Jesus and the Sinners," JSNT 19 (1983) 5-36; S. Westerholm, Jesus and Scribal Authority, 1978.

2. Introduction

Most Jews of Jesus' day differentiate between the righteous and wicked within the nation (see, for example, Jub. 30:21-23; Pss. Sol. 2:36; 3; 13; 1 Enoch). The righteous person is one who habitually chooses to obey the Law, whereas the wicked person is the one who habitually chooses to disobey the Law. The blessings and curses of the Law (see Lev 26; Deut 28) are individualized, so that individual Jews who choose to obey the Law are blessed in this life and those who do not are cursed in this life. Generally, second-Temple Jews believe that human beings have free will and are morally responsible (see Ps. Sol. 9:4; T. Asher 1:3-9; T. Judah 20; Sir 15:14-16; 32:24); this includes even the Essenes, who refer to their members as “those who are resolved” (1QS 5.8) or “each of the resolved from Israel” [1QS 6.13). In addition, most second-Temple Jews believe that the consequences of choosing to be a sinner extend into the next life: the righteous will receive eternal life and the wicked will be judged and destroyed. It is also commonly believed, however, that God will forgive any sinner who repents, so that the consequences of sin could be nullified. (Repentance includes not only being remorseful but change of behavior.) Since human beings are free, however, it is the responsibility of the sinner to initiate the process of repentance and being forgiven. (John the Baptist likewise preached the possibility of forgiveness of sins on the condition of repentance in order to prepare his generation for eschatological judgment. He assumed that those who heard his message were morally free and therefore responsible for their decisions.)

3. The Kingdom of God as the Time of Forgiveness

In Jesus’ view, a benefit of the Kingdom of God is the possibility of forgiveness. This is consisternt with Jewish eschatological expectation since national forgiveness, or atonement, is expected to be part of God's eschatological blessings (Jer 31:34; Ezek 16:63). It is also continuous with John the Baptist's preaching of "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." Jesus' opponents, however, criticize him for teaching that God is so merciful as to be unjust to the righteous, to which Jesus responds.

3.1. Parable of Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-15)

1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.  2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5 So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why  have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'  7 "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my  vineyard.'  8 "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'  9 "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' 13 "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

The parable usually referred to as "The Laborers in the Vineyard" is unique to Matthew. In it Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to the event of a landowner (oikodespotês) who hires workers at different times of the day to work in his vineyard and then pays them all the same wage at the end of the day. The parable is divided into two parts with two different settings: 20:1-7; 20:8-15. It is an example of a two-part parable with the emphasis on the second half. The first half of the parable tells the story of the hiring of laborers at different times of the day, which is followed by the second half describing the scene at the end of the work day. Jesus uses this story to communicate the idea of the eschatological mercy of God now available to his hearers.

    The first part occurs in the marketplace during the day from the first hour to the eleventh; at different times of the day the owner of a vineyard goes there to hire workers in order to pick his grape harvest: 20:2 first group hired at dawn; 20:3-5a second group hired at third hour (9:00 a.m.); 20:5b third and fourth groups hired at sixth and ninth hours (12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.); 5:6-7 fifth group hired at the eleventh hour (5:00 p.m.). It would seem that he sends the later hirings into the field without any contractual agreement (20:13). The landowner does not have a contract with the workers hired at nine in the morning, but agrees to pay them what he thinks is right. Presumably he has said the same thing to the men hired even later, including those hired at the eleventh hour (5:00 p.m.). The reason that he goes to the marketplace at different times of the day could indicate his desire to use as few workers as possible to harvest his grape crop, which would create in the mind of the hearer the idea of his frugality. This makes the ending even more surprising.

Harnisch holds that the Matt 20:1a (along with 20:16) is redactional and that its insertion changed the original meaning and function of the parable (Die Gleichniserzählugen Jesu, 177-200). Originally the parable was about more generally “das Wunder der Liebe als Ortsangabe Gottes” (197), whereas in its redactional context it is illustrative of the Kingdom. C. Hezser adopts the same approach (Lohnmetaphorik und Arbeitswelt. Das Gleichnis von den Arbeitern im Weinberg (Mt.20:1-16) im Rahmen rabbinischer Lohngleichnisse [Freiburg and Göttingen: Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 1990] 237-50) Because she rejects 20:1a as authentic, Hezser does not interpret the parable as describing God’s mercy to Israel because of the Kingdom of God, but understands Jesus as making a general point about God’s goodness. But there is no convincing reason to conclude that Matthew was responsible for making this parable into a Kingdom parable. See also J. Breech, The Silence of Jesus, 142-57. Breech’s interpretation of the parable not in terms of the Kingdom of God is unconvincing. L. Schenke considers 20:3-5 as secondary, because the later interest is only in the first and the hired ("Die Interpretation der Parabel von den ‘Arbeitern im Weinberg’ (Mt 20.1-15 durch Matthäus," in Studien, 245-68). But this is only a mere possibility.

The datival opening of the parable indicates that the comparison is with the story told in the parable (Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, 100, 136). Matthew inserts the parable The workers in the Vineyard into his Markan source in order to illustrate the saying in Matt 19:30 = Mark 10:31, "Many who are first will be last and the last first." He concludes the parable with the almost identical saying: "Thus the last will be first and the first last" (20:16), so that the two sayings form an inclusio around the parable for the purpose of guiding the reader in its interpretation (G. de Ru, “The Conception of Reward in the Teaching of Jesus,” NovT 8 (1966) 202-22 (204-205); D. Via, The Parables, 148).

    The second part of the parable occurs on the estate at the end of the day, the twelfth hour (6:00 p.m.). The landowner gives instructions to his foreman to call the workers and pay them their wages (20:8). At this time those who were hired last are paid first (20:9), and then those who were hired first are paid last (20:10). Those who are hired first are paid the agreed upon sum of one denarius, the standard wage for a day's labor (20:11-12). But surprisingly those who were hired last were also paid a denarius. Why the owner did this is not explained, but the hearer would probably surmise that it was because these men have dependents to support who would go hungry otherwise. In other words, it is out of his compassion that the landowner does what he does. It is at this point in the parable that the hearer experiences an unexpected departure from ordinary experience, because no landowner would do this. Those who were hired first begin to murmur because they have received the same wage as those hired last. Since this was the amount for which they agreed to work, each man would have been content with his denarius and gone home happy, had it not been for the fact that the other workers received the same wage. They bristle at the fact that those who worked for only one hour are treated the same as they are: “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day” (20:12). (At some point in the story the landowner enters the scene.) The landowner responds to this protestation by pointing out they those hired first have been treated justly and asks them what right do they have to begrudge him his generosity: "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go. But I will to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with what is my own? Or do you have an evil eye because I am generous?” (20:13-15). (To have an evil eye is to be the opposite of generous.)

Matthew inserts the parable The workers in the Vineyard into his Markan source in order to illustrate the saying in Matt 19:30 = Mark 10:31, "Many who are first will be last and the last first." He concludes the parable with the almost identical saying: "Thus the last will be first and the first last" (20:16), so that the two sayings form an inclusio around the parable for the purpose of guiding the reader in its interpretation. According to Jeremias in so doing, Matthew is actually distorting the original meaning of the parable: "For Matthew our parable represented the reversal of rank which would take place on the Last Day" (Parables of Jesus, 35). The landowner's giving of wages to the last hired first is supposed to be an illustration of the principle enunciated in Matt 19:30; 20:16.  It does not seem, however, that Matthew's interpretation of the parable as an illustration of the reversal of rank on the day of  judgment is contrary to Jesus' original meaning, for those who are "first" now in the sense of being religiously respectable will be last on the day of  judgment insofar as they will exclude themselves from eschatological salvation because of their rejection of the Kingdom of God and its messenger (see R. Stein, An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, 128).

    In the parable the landowner is metaphorical of God, so that the point of the second half of the parable is that the Kingdom God is the time when God wills to show his covenant people an unusual measure of mercy. In the parable the payment to the last-hired is no payment at all, but a manifestation of generosity. Jesus seeks to communicate that out of his goodness God shows unusual mercy to sinners, those Jews without life-long obedience to the Law who repent and believe the good news about the Kingdom of God. As a result they will have the same salvation-historical status as the righteous, those who have habitually obeyed the Law. This depiction of God would be as unexpected to the hearers of the parable as that of the landowner who pays a full day’s wages for one hour’s work, and for this reason could be a stumbling block to them. Although second-Temple Jews believed that God was merciful, even merciful enough to forgive sins that strictly speaking should not be forgivable according the conditions laid out in the Torah, Jesus’ teaching about God’s unusual offer of Kingdom-mercy went beyond what they were willing to accept. In fact, the parable may be directed to Jesus' critics who take exception to his practice of associating with sinners for the purpose of offering them forgiveness on the condition of repentance. If so, then according to Jesus, those who have a record of obedience to the Law, represented in the parable by those who were hired first, should not take offence at the goodness of God, who unconditionally forgives sinners, represented in the parable by those who were hired later in the day. It is not that they deny that sinners can be forgiven and restored but they do not think that it is just that they should be treated the same as sinners who have repented. But, according to Jesus, God's unusual mercy leads to an "unjust" treatment of sinners.

The James Ossuary

The existence of an ossuary bearing the Aramaic inscription transliterated as Ya'aqob bar Yosef ahwi dYeshua' and translated into English as "James son Joseph brother of Jesus" has recently come to light. The limestone burial box, thirty-five cm. high and fifty cm. long, has been dated to the first century, before the destruction of the Temple. The ossuary is said to have been unearthed in Silwan on the West Bank, a village near Jerusalem. The Israeli Antiquities Authority, however, has pronounced the inscription as fraudulent. The ossuary itself is authentic, but it is alleged that someone carved the inscription into it and then covered the inscription with an imitation patina made from water and ground chalk to produce the illusion of antiquity. Among those who believe that the inscription is not fraudulent, some have questioned the authenticity of the second half of the inscription—"brother of Jesus"—concluding that it is from the hand of a modern forger.

3.2. Repentance and Becoming like a Child (Matt 18:3) (see Mark 10:15 = Luke 18:17)

In a Matthean version of a dominical saying, Jesus says, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you repent and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (18:3). Facilitated by link word to paidion in 18:5, Matt 19:3 was interpolated by the author of the gospel into a Markan tradition (Mark 9:33-37 = Matt 18:1-5); for this reason it should be interpreted in isolation from its larger context. The word translated as "repent" is straphête, which is sometimes used in the same sense in LXX variants, translating šûb, the Aramaic translation of which would be tûb. It occurs also in the citation of Isa 6:10 in John 12:40, and has the meaning of “to repent” in Sib. Or. 3.625. "To repent" and "become like children" are coordinate in meaning, standing in apposition to each other: to repent is to become like a child. In other words, one humbles oneself under God by accepting a sentence of judgment, receives the offer of forgiveness and then turns from disobedience to obedience to the Law. The assumption is that prior disobedience would have resulted in eschatological condemnation. To repent is analogous to becoming like a child, insofar as the penitent Jew has as few claims on God as a child has on its society. Whatever benefits a child receives are gratuitous and unearned. So analogously, a disobedient Jews who enters the Kingdom as a child does so without any pretensions to having merited this privilege.

Some claim that Matt 18:3 is a “free adaptation of Mark 10:15” (Manson, Sayings, 207; see W. Trilling, Das wahre Israel, 108; J. Dupont, Les Béatitudes II, 167-72; Schlosser, Le règne de Dieu dans les Dits de Jésus, 2.554-55). On this hypothesis, when he comes to the story of the blessing of the children in Mark 10:13-16 = Matt 19:13-15, Matthew omits 10:15 because he has already used it earlier. This means that Matt 18:3 is actually Matthew’s interpretation of Mark 10:15 and not a saying of Jesus. But more probably Matt 18:3 is non-Markan in origin (Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 154-55; S. Legasse, Jésus et l’enfant. “Enfants,” “petits” et “simples” dans la tradition synoptique (EtB; Paris, 1969) 33-35; Schweizer, Matthew, 361; Davies and Allison, Matthew 2.756-57). If Matt 18:3 is redactional, this means Matthew would have changed Mark’s hos an for ean and substituted straphête kai genêsthe for Mark’s dexêtai tên basileian tou theou. In addition, he would have made the singular paidion into the plural ta paidia, changed Mark’s third person singular eiselthê to the second person plural eiselthête and completed the saying with eis tên basileian tou ouranôn rather than Mark’s autên. None of these changes is obviously Matthean redaction (in spite of J. Dupont’s attempts to do so [Les Béatitudes II, 167-72].) In fact, two of them are inexplicable as such. First, the use of strephein to mean "repent" is nowhere else attested in Matthew; as in the other gospels, the preferred word for "repent" is metanoein. It is unlikely that the author of Matthew would redact his Markan source using straphête, since he shows no preference for the word used in the sense of "repent" and, when the opportunity arises, does not change the occurrences of metanoein in his Markan source to strephein. (Matthew does introduce strapheis kai idôn autên [9:22] into his Markan source [5:34], but not with the meaning of “to repent” or even “to change.”) Second, the use of the plural ta paidia in Matt 18:3 seems unlikely on the hypothesis of Matthean redaction. If he were redacting Mark 10:15 one would expect the author of Matthew to retain the use of the singular. The context into which Matthew inserts the dominical saying found in Matt 18:3 has Jesus using a child as an object lesson for the disciples. Since it would have been better literarily to use to paidion in Matt 18:3, the fact that Matthew used ta paidia probably indicates that he did redact Mark 10:15, but interpolated another version of this saying into his Markan context. For whatever reason, he preferred this version, in spite of its use of the plural ta paidia. (The author of Matthew omits the Markan version of the saying, although he includes the Markan tradition in which it is found [Mark 10:13-16 = Matt 19:13-15 = Luke 18:15-17].) If one argues that the plural “as children” (hôs ta paidia) is used because the verbs are plural (straphête kai genêsthe), then on the hypothesis of Matthean redaction the question is raised why the author of Matthew chose to change the third person singular in his Markan source (hos an dexêtai) into the second person plural. Furthermore, the fact that the author of Matthew reverts back to the singular in Matt 18:4 (to paidion touto) and Matt 18:5 (hen paidion toiouto), makes it even more improbable that he would use the plural (ta paidia) in Matt 18:3.



What does Jesus intend to communicate with the Parable of the workers in the Vineyard? What is the condition that Jesus sets for entrance into the Kingdom of God?


4. Jesus' Association with Sinners

Jesus actively seeks out Jewish sinners, and offers them forgiveness on the condition of repentance. In so doing they enter into the Kingdom. It seems that this practice offends some Jews, not because they do not think that the sinners could or should repent, but because they think that the sinner should take the initiative. The members of the Qumran community (probably Essenes), for example, understand themselves as the community of the new covenant, where eschatological forgiveness is available to all the initiated, but hey did not actively seek members among "the sinners," whom they called the "men of the lot of Belial" or "men of Belial." Rather they expected them first to express an interest in joining the community and then agree to undergo a multi-year initiation process into the community. Jesus' critics do not recognize the salvation-historical significance of the present time, the Kingdom of God.

In order to bring them into the Kingdom of God, Jesus seeks close contact with "sinners" and even dines with them. Such an act is deliberate and considered extremely offensive by Jesus' opponents. Although the reason for their disapproval is not stated, likely the Pharisees (and any who happen to agree with their position) believe that, as already indicated, Jesus shows too much mercy to Jewish sinners. Moreover, Jesus' action could be misinterpreted as his condoning of their sinful behavior, since a Jew would not dine with a person of whom they disapproved for moral reasons. The Pharisees would have another reason, however, for rejecting Jesus' practice of dining with "tax-collectors and sinners." By doing so, Jesus most likely eats untithed produce and produce that is ritually contaminated, which for the Pharisees is a violation of their oral law. The Pharisees probably belong to haburot, associations in which the members buy from one another and sell to one another in order to ensure that their food was tithed properly and kept ritually pure. In his choice of dinner companions, Jesus clearly shows himself as not being a haber, a member of a haburah; this would be interpreted as his rejection of the Pharisaism in general. Because of his practice of dining with Jewish sinners, Jesus receives the derisive epithet "friend of tax-collectors and sinners" (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34).

Pharisaic Haburot

A Pharisee was a member of a voluntary religious association dedicated to the pursuit of perfect obedience to the Law; in pursuit of this goal they developed extra-biblical clarifications and supplements to the Law called halakot. According to Mark 7:3-4, a Pharisaic concern was to preserve the purity of ordinary food by washing their hands before touching their food.  In the Law, eating ordinary meals in a state of purity is explicitly required of priests and their families when the food eaten consists of foods dedicated to God (Lev 7:19-21; 22:3-16). But since the Law in general requires that an Israelite as much as possible avoid coming into contact with impurity (Lev 11, 13), the Pharisees apparently reasoned that, when eating, they ought as much as possible to keep themselves pure, thereby preserving the ritual purity of ordinary food. In order to purify themselves ritually before eating the Pharisees washed their hands, extrapolating from the effectuation of ritual purity by water in the Law (see Exod 30:18; Lev 15; 16:4, 26; 17:15; 22:6; Num 19). (The Pharisees wanted to know why Jesus and his disciples did not abide by their regulations.) Not surprising, they also used water to purify cooking and eating utensils in extrapolation of the Law's prescriptions (see Lev 11:32-35; 15:12; Num 19:15)  (see also Mark 7). According to Josephus, because of their desire to be ritual pure, decent Jews were reluctant to emigrate to the newly-founded city of Tiberius, because it was built upon the site of tombs (Ant. 18.36-38). This indicates that generally Jews valued being ritually pure even when it was unnecessary (Ritual purity was only required as a condition of entering the Temple); possibly, the Jews who refused to settle in Tiberius wanted to eat their ordinary meals in ritual purity. (The Essenes also aimed to preserve the ritual purity of food: War 2. 129 [They purified themselves in cold water before eating]; Ant. 18.22 [Since priests had higher purity requirements than non-priests, priests prepared the common meals]; War 2.139 [Food could only be touched by full members]; War 2. 143 [Expelled members cannot eat other food]; see 1QS 5.13, 16; 6. 16-17, 20-21; CD 10. 10-13, which deal with similar regulations.)

In early rabbinic literature there are references to haburot, associations of Jews whose aim was to ensure a supply of properly-tithed produce and to ensure that this supply was ritually pure. Since a purpose of the members of a haburah was to eat their ordinary meals in a state of ritual purity, the food used in the preparation of meals must begin as ritual pure.  Thus, to eat one’s ordinary meals in ritual purity was a commitment that required separation from non-haberim, usually identified as the ammei ha-aretz, in many aspects of life, especially in the areas of buying produce and eating, because non-haberim were suspected of not taking sufficient precaution against the ritual contamination of food and indeed of not accepting the halakot for the handling of food to be consumed by non-priests (m. Demai 2.3; t. Demai 2.2, 12). (According to t. Demai 2.10, some non-haberim were known to follow the rules of the haberim in private.)

The relationship between the Pharisees and the haburot is a question that scholars have long debated. No doubt the institution of the haburah evolved over the centuries, so a simple identification of the haberim in early rabbinic writings with second-Temple Pharisees is historically unwise. Nevertheless, there is evidence in early rabbinic writings that second-Temple Pharisees, to be exact, the houses of Shammai and Hillel, sought to eat ordinary meals in a state of ritual purity and formed themselves into haburot in order to ensure that this would happen (Sanders, Jewish Law, 250). In m. Eduyot 1.14, in a debate between the houses of Shammai and Hillel, the am ha-aretz stands in contrast with these two houses with respect to the cleanness and uncleanness of vessels. In other contexts in the Mishnah, it is the haberim who stand in opposition to the ammei ha-aretz in this respect, so that one could argue that in the second-Temple the Pharisees are to be identified with the haberim.  In m. Demai 6.6, similarly, the houses of Shammai and Hillel debate whether one should sell his olives to anyone but a haber; the assumption is that, since olives, being wet, will be rendered ritually impure by being touched by anyone who has not washed his hands before handling the olives. A haber, by contrast, would cleanse his hands before touching the olives, thereby preserving them as edible for a haber. The implication is that the Pharisees are haberim. Likewise, in m. Hag. 2:7 the am ha-aretz are contrasted with the Pharisees with respect to the ritual defilement of clothing (midras impurity), whereas in m. Dem. 2:3 the contrast is between the am ha-aretz and the haberim. This implies that haberim is synonymous with the term Pharisee (parushim). Finally, in t. Shab. 1.15, it is debated whether a perush (i.e., a Pharisee), when ritually impure because of a discharge (a zav), is allowed to eat with an am ha-aretz, who is assumed to be equally as ritually impure.  The assumption is that it is the norm for Pharisees to eat their ordinary meals in a state of ritual purity.  Now whether every "good" Pharisee in the second-Temple period was a haber is impossible to say; nevertheless, it is clear that the institution of the haburah antedates the early rabbinic period, having its origins in the second-Temple period and that the Pharisees were haberim (see Westerholm, Jesus and Scribal Authority, 62-67; Sanders, Jewish Law, 187). In general, one can say that to be a Pharisee was to be a haber, since this was the only reliable way ensuring that one’s ordinary meals were ritually pure.

4.1. References to Jesus' Association with Sinners

4.1.1. Mark 2:15-17 = Matt 9:10-13 = Luke 5:29-32:  Some scribes of the Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating with sinners. Jesus was violating the precautions that the Pharisees had instituted designed to prevent the violation of laws of tithing and purity laws (see below).

4.1.2. Matt 11:19 = Luke 7:34:  Jesus is known derisively as a "friend of tax-collectors and sinners." His opponents apparently contrasted his lifestyle with the asceticism of John the Baptist, to the detriment of the former. In other words, Jesus was condemned for his practice of eating with the religiously lax and thereby violate Pharisaic halakot, referring to him as a "glutton and a drunkard" (see Deut 21:20). Jesus' response to this accusation is to point out that his critics also considered John to be demonized on account of his asceticism, so that there was no pleasing them. (Jesus' reference to himself as "son of man" is probably an Aramaic idiom serving as mere periphrasis for "I," rather than a messianic title.)

4.1.3. Luke 15:1-2: Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees and the scribes for welcoming sinners and eating with them. It is to counter this accusation that he tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep (see below).

4.1.4. Luke 19:1-10: Jesus is criticized for choosing to stay with Zacchaeus, the tax-collector, widely known as a sinful man, as opposed to a righeous man (19:7) (see below).

4.2. Jesus' Justification of his Association with Sinners

Jesus defends his practice of associating closely with sinners and even eating with them by asserting that his God-given task as the messenger of the Kingdom of God is do all that is possible to bring Jewish transgressors of the Law to repentance.

4.2.1. Not to Call the Righteous but Sinners (Mark 2:17 = Matt 9:12-13 = Luke 5:31-32)

Mark 2:17

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

 Matthew 9:12-13

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice' (Hosea 6:6). For I have not come to call the  righteous, but sinners." 

Luke 5:31-32

31 Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." 

In Mark, two events relating to Levi (Matthew) the tax-collector are conjoined. Levi’s calling as a disciple is described briefly, having parallels with the call of the four disciples in Mark 1:16-20: Jesus calls men who are at work, and these leave their occupations without hesitation when Jesus commands them to follow him. The narrative of the Calling of Levi serves as background to the narrative that follows, in which Jesus defends his association with tax-collectors and sinners during a banquet hosted by Levi. Historically, it is probable that there was an interval between Levi’s call and the banquet that he hosted; the two units have been connected because they both concern Jesus and his relationship with Levi. In Mark, it is unclear at whose house the banquet took place: "And it happened that he was reclining in his house and many tax-collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples" (Mark 2:15). Luke clarifies, however, that Levi was the host: "And Levi prepared a great reception for him [Jesus] in his house" (Luke 5:29). In Mark’s account, at Levi’s house Jesus and his disciples recline at a banquet with Levi and "many tax-collectors and sinners" (2:15). Although the omission of the article before "sinners" may be taken to imply that the tax-collectors are a class of sinners, Luke’s emendation of his Markan source makes it clear that the diners consisted of tax-collectors along with others, presumably those who were also socio-religious outcasts, although not poor (Luke 5:29). Matthew and Luke both eliminate the unnecessary clause, "And there were many and they followed him" (Mark 2:15c), since this is redundant.

The historical authenticity of Mark’s account of Jesus’ Call of Levi has been called into question. Pesch argues that, not only is the conjunction of the two traditions redactional, but the tradition of the Calling of Levi is itself a Markan creation on analogy to Mark 1:16-20 (see R. Pesch, “Levi-Matthäus (Mc 2,14/Mt 9,9; 10,3). Ein Beitrag zur Lösung eines alten Problems,” ZNW 59 (1968) 40-56. Allegedly, Mark constructs 2:13-14 from 1:16-20; then an original reference to Levi son of Alpheus in 2:15a is transferred to 2:14 and the name was replaced by autou, resulting in a lack of clarity in 2:15a: is it Levi’s or Jesus’ house? Pesch’s reconstruction has subsequently proven convincing to many (Grundmann, Markus, 79-84; M. Trautmann, Zeichenhafte Handlungen Jesu, 134-38; Fiedler, Jesus und die Sünder, 119-29). The evidence, however, does not support such a far-reaching conclusion. (In general such conclusions are based on tenuous tradition-historical reconstructions that at most have the status of unprovable hypotheses.) The lack of clarity caused by the two pronouns in 2:15a points only to the conclusion that the conjunction of the two traditions is redactional, but not necessarily that 2:14 is a redactional creation. Moreover, to argue that the parallels in vocabulary between Mark 2:14 and 1:16-19 requires the conclusion that the former was modeled on the latter exceeds the evidence. The parallels could just as easily be explained by positing that the same author wrote both narratives. In fact, if Mark created 2:13-14 based on 1:16-20, one would expect more parallels between them (Gundry, Mark, 127). In addition, it is questionable whether Mark would disrupt a series of controversy stories by fabricating and insert 2:13-14 (Gundry, Mark, 127). In conclusion, although it is probable the connection between them is redactional, both 2:13-14 and 2:15-17 have an equal claim to historicity. If, as the tradition convincingly claims, the tradition contained in the Gospel of Mark originates with Peter’s reminiscences, 2:13-14 and 2:15-17 appear to be two such reminiscences, which Mark has joined together, since the two refer to Levi (see Taylor, Mark, 201)

    While Jesus was dining with these tax-collectors and sinners, according to Mark, the "scribes of the Pharisees" complain to his disciples about Jesus’ choice of dinner companions. In Matthew’s version it is only the Pharisees who complain, whereas in Luke it the scribes and the Pharisees. These differences are insignificant, since likely Jesus’ detractors consisted of Pharisees, some of whom were scribes, who functioned as legal authorities among the Pharisees. What was so offensive about eating with tax-collectors and sinners is not explained, but taken for granted. Possibly, part of their concern was with Jesus’ disregard for ritual purity, since "tax-collectors and sinners" obviously were non-observant; similarly, they may have been concerned that the food eaten had not been tithed properly. If so, their objection would be that Jesus was not a haber, and therefore did not take the appropriate steps to ensure the ritual purity of his food and that it had been tithed.

Early rabbinic Judaism takes a dim view of tax-collectors. They are mentioned in the same context as murderers and robbers (m. Ned. 3.4; m. B. Qam. 10.2). Tax-collectors are also assumed to render a house ritually impure if they enter the house (m. Tohar. 7:6). In the Tosefta, if he becomes a tax collector, a haber is automatically deemed to be unreliable with respect to the separation of the tithe and other legal matters and as a result is expelled from the haburah (t. Demai 3.4). The Pharisees likely had a similar view.

But, even if they are haberim and object to the fact that Jesus is lax in maintaining ritual purity, Jesus’ accusers have more substantial grounds for being offended. His very association in such an intimate manner with those Jews who have clearly abandoned the covenant would be scandalous. The sinners, including the tax-collectors, with whom Jesus chooses to associate are not the ordinary, uneducated majority of the population who had no formal allegiance to any religious group, although they tend to favor the Pharisees (later known as the “people of the land” in the Mishnah and especially in the tractate Demai). Rather, these are those whom all Jews would recognize as willful and flagrant transgressors of the Law, those who have chosen to remove themselves from the covenant by rejecting their covenantal obligations, keeping the commandments. The position of Jesus’ opponents is consistent and reasonable and should not be put down to pettiness and religious bigotry. As already indicated, generally first-century Jews had no sympathy for Law-breakers, because it was assumed that such disobedience was voluntary: no one was compelled to transgress the Law, but chose to do so. One’s attitude to such people should be that of derision and contempt. Surely, they might argue, Jesus, the self-styled messenger of the Kingdom of God, should not be associating with Law-breakers, since they have already disqualified themselves as objects of God’s mercy. Only at such a time that these sinners repent could Jesus justifiably associate with them.

There was little tolerance for sinners in second-Temple Jewish society. To pronounce curses upon “all the men of Belial’s lot” forms part of the initiation ceremony into the community in the Rule of the Community (1QS 2.4–10). During the initiation ceremony into the community, the Levites in the community are required to pronounce curses on “all the men of Belial’s lot” (2.5), those Jews who are not members of the community and are considered to be disobedient to the Law. The curse includes being denied God’s compassion and merciful removal of guilt: “May God not have compassion on you when you cry out. May he not forgive by atoning for your iniquity” (1QS 2.8) (Garnet, Salvation and Atonement in the Qumran Scrolls, 70–73). Curses are also pronounced on “he who enters this covenant and places the stumbling-block of his iniquity before himself so that he backslides” (1QS 2.12). Presumably this is the man who has begun the process of entering the covenant, but does not carry it through to full membership, because he continues “to walk in the stubbornness of his heart” (1QS 2.14) (Knibb, The Qumran Community, 82). The curse includes the destruction of his spirit without the possibility of forgiveness and the adherence of the curses of the covenant to him (Deut 29:20) (1QS 2.14–16). The assumption is that those who are cursed have freely chosen not to cross over into the covenant but to remain in a state of disobedience, which is the basis of their being cursed. Likewise, in Berakhot, the men of the covenant are required annually to curse both Belial and “the sons of Belial” (4Q286 frg. 7, col. 2) during the covenant renewal ceremony. The sons of Belial presumably constitute human beings who belong to the lot of Belial, and so are in rebellion against God. The sons of Belial, in other words, are Jews who do not belong to the community; it seems that they are to be cursed because they “alter the command[ments of the Law]” (4Q286 frg. 7, col. 2.12). This appears to be the accusation that their opponents do not accept their halakic views or have changed traditional halakic interpretations. The assumption underlying the practice of cursing “the sons of Belial” is that they could have done otherwise, and so must be held responsible for their rejection of the correct interpretation of the Law. To curse presupposes that the one cursed deserves to be cursed. In 4QFlor 1.8 the sons of Belial are destined to be destroyed on account of their sins (see Jub. 15.33-34). Along the same lines, in Ps. Sol. 17:36 a function of the Davidic Messiah will be to “rebuke rulers and drive out sinners by the strength of his word” (see 17:25-29). Finally, Mattathias is compared favorably to Phineas for his zeal for the Law that leads him to destroy sinners (2:26; see 3:5-6).

    Jesus' response to his detractors has been encapsulated in two sayings. First, speaking metaphorically, he says that he has come as a physician to the sick, not the healthy (2:17b). He is comparing himself to a physician who directs his attention and energy to the sick, who in this case are analogous to the tax-collectors and sinners. In non-metaphorical terms, Jesus explains in a second saying that he has come not to call the righteous to repentance but sinners (2:17c). (Luke clarifies his Markan source: "I have come…to call sinners to repentance" [5:32].) The form “not…but” should not be taken to mean that Jesus has no interest in the righteous, but that he is more interested in the sinners, because he knows that they will not come to him on their own initiative. Jesus expects the righteous to respond willingly to his message, but he must go to the sinners and coax them into repentance. Even if he were a haber, believing in the need to tithe produce that was suspected of not having been tithed properly (demai) and in the desirability to eat ordinary meals in a state of ritual purity, Jesus would still eat with sinners, since this is an act of mercy. In Jesus' view, the demand to show mercy would take precedence over possible violations of halakot relating to demai and ritual purity. In Matt 9:13, Jesus cites Hosea 6:6 to make his point that his opponents are not aware that God is more concerned that his people show mercy—as Jesus does in eating with sinners in order to give them the opportunity of entering the Kingdom of God—than he is with the keeping of the ritual law, or in this case the halakot (oral law). Whether Jesus would have taken this position if he did not believe that the present is the time of eschatological forgiveness is unanswerable; possibly he may have upheld the moral order and also shunned "tax collectors and sinners." It is not that Jesus believes that tax-collectors and “sinners” are innocent victims of religious prejudice; rather he genuinely believes them to be guilty of transgressing the commandments. The difference between him and his opponents is his conviction that God’s eschatological mercy requires him to go to these religious renegades and appeal to them directly to repent and believe the good news about the Kingdom of God. Jesus believes that at this time in Israel's history a special dispensation of mercy is granted to sinners: it is the time of eschatological forgiveness. His opponents apparently do not agree with him concerning the salvation-historical significance of the present time or, if they do, they do not believe that God would grant this special dispensation to those who willfully have transgressed the Law. It is not that Jesus thinks that there will be no eschatological judgment, but he believes that before that day God as merciful is providing every opportunity for sinners to come to repentance.

The historical authenticity of Mark 2:15-17 has also been called into question. An extreme position is represented by Bultmann, who concludes that Mark 2:16 was created to provide a narrative framework for Mark 2:17 (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 18, 74, 81, 92, 104-105, 152-53, 155). In fact, in his judgment, the saying itself is composite, consisting of a mashal in 2:17b (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 74, 81) and a secondarily added "I" saying in 2:17c (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 92; see Hans-Josef Klauck, Allegorie und Allegorese in synoptischen Gleichnistexten (Nab n.s. 13; Munster: Aschendorff, 1978) 151-52, 157). Bultmann allows for the possibility that Jesus used the mashal for the purpose of self-defense (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 104-105), but is dubious about the authenticity of 2:17c (152-53, 155), since few of these sayings have any strong claim to authenticity. Many have agreed in general with Bultmann’s conclusion of the non-historicity of 2:15-17 (Fiedler, Jesus und die Sünder, 120-27; Dodd, Parables, 88-89; Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 174, 178). Dodd holds that 2:15-16 was created as a narrative framework for what is a parable (2:17b) and its interpretation (2:17c). Implicitly appealing to the criterion of coherence, Carlston likewise rejects 2:17b as authentic because, as a wisdom-saying, it is not characteristic of “the eschatologically based call to repentance which formed he heart of his message” (The Parables of the Triple Tradition, 114). Why a wisdom-saying expressive of Jesus’ mission should be incompatible with an eschatological thrust is not clear. Mk 2:17c is also inauthentic because as an “I have come” saying it originates in the Christological thought of the apostolic age. Such an argument, however, is circular, because Jesus’ saying does not imply a high Christology presupposing his pre-existence. In addition, again appealing to the criterion of coherence, the saying presupposes the Pharisaic distinction between the righteous and sinners, which, according to Carlston, Jesus did not accept (114-15). But why Jesus would not accept a distinction that was foundational to the second-Temple period requires explanation not the reverse. Because it is an apophthegma, the scene described in this passage is concise and it culminates in Jesus’ two sayings; but literary form does not prejudge the issue of historicity: being an apophthegma does not disqualify the Mark 2:15-17 from being historically accurate.On historical grounds, Haenchen doubts that there were so many tax-collectors in Galilee to form such a crowd of diners at Levi’s house (Der Weg Jesu, 110-111) and Sanders doubts whether the Pharisees would have taken notice of Jesus’ activities: "The story as such is unrealistic. We can hardly imagine the Pharisees as policing Galilee to see whether or not an otherwise upright man ate with sinners" (Jesus and Judaism, 178; see 174). Hultgren claims that the narrative in 2:15-17 has been constructed from the two sayings in 2:17b and 17c (Jesus and His Adversaries, 109-11). The artificiality of the narrative is obvious insofar as it places Pharisees in the same house as tax-collectors and sinners, presumably reclining with at the same table, but the former would not have associated with such people in table fellowship. (It should be noted that nowhere does 2:15-16 indicate that Jesus’ critics are eating with him.) At most he is willing to say that 2:15-16 was composed as a setting for the sayings out of “general reminiscences concerning the conduct of Jesus” (111). Hultgren also believes that the two sayings in 2:17 arose in the early church and are therefore “Christian compositions” (110). Other exegetes argue correctly that a historical event underlies Mark 2:15-17 (see Taylor, Mark, 203-204; Bornkamm, Jesus, 80-81; H. Roberts, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (London: Epworth, 1955) 25-29; Pesch, “Das Zöllnergastmahl (Mk 2, 15-17.” Mélanges Bibliques en homage au R.P. Béda Rigaux (Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1970) 63-87; id., Markusevangelium 1.167-68; Klauck, Allegorie und Allegorese in synoptischen Gleichnistexten, 154-56; Merklein, Die Gottesherrschaft als Handlungsprinzip, 199-201). Haenchen’s argument is from silence, since no one knows how many tax-collectors there were in Galilee in Jesus’ day and how many there were at Levi’s house. Sander's objection presupposes that the Pharisees considered Jesus to be an unremarkable man and that there would not have been Pharisees in Galilee who could have taken notice of Jesus’ activities. Both assumptions are questionable.

    There is also a symbolic dimension to Jesus’ table fellowship with tax-collectors and sinners. His act of eating with these socio-religious outcasts was intended to communicate God’s favorable attitude towards sinners in Israel. Jesus’ willingness to go to sinners and even dine with them, not only served the practical purpose of bringing Jesus into contact with sinners, but also functioned as a symbolic representation of God’s openness to sinners at this crucial juncture in salvation-history, the time of the Kingdom of God. Jesus could have engaged sinners exclusively in public settings (see Luke 19:1-10), so that his choice to do so in the intimate setting of the meal was significant and unmistakably symbolic. The invitation to table fellowship symbolized the heart of God towards sinners: now was the time of eschatological forgiveness, when all barriers to fellowship with God have been removed on the mere condition of repentance.

M. Trautmann sees Jesus’ meal fellowship with sinners as an invitation to enter the Kingdom of God; she holds that, since the meal in early Jewish apocalyptic literature and rabbinic texts is a "Topos des Eschatons," ("topos of the eschaton"), Jesus’ invitees would understand their invitation symbolically as an invitation to the Kingdom of God. She writes, "Im Zusammenhang des Auftretens Jesu und seiner Verkündigung des anbrechenden Basileia…realisiert die Tischgemeinschaft Jesu mit Zöllnern daher zeichhaft des eschatologische Heilsangebot Gottes an die Sünder, die Einladung der Sünder zum 'Gastmahl' des anbrechenden Reiches Gottes" (Zeichenhafte Handlungen Jesu, 162).  Similarly, N. Perrin describes Jesus’ meal fellowship with sinners as "an anticipatory sitting at table in the Kingdom of God and a very real celebration of present joy and challenge" (Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, 107-108).  Although her proposal is possible, it seems, however, that Trautmann has exceeded the evidence. There is nothing in the narrative to suggest that the meal was intended to be a symbolic invitation to enter the kingdom of God. Likewise, Perrin’s proposal is untenable for the same reason. The fact that the eschaton is sometimes symbolized as a banquet is insufficient to conclude that Jesus’ invitation to dine with him was a symbolic invitation to enter the Kingdom or an anticipation of eschatological dining. 

M. Borg interprets Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners as a manifestation of his challenge of the Pharisaic quest for separation and holiness and his alternate vision for Israel (Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus, chaps. 4-5). Borg argues that Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisaic norms of purity was not strategic but programmatic. In other words, Jesus did not violate purity norms by associating with sinners as a valid exception to a rule, which he would uphold in non-exceptional circumstances. Rather, he rejected the norm itself. The Pharisees defined holiness as separation, which was exemplified in their halakot on tithing and ritual purity relating to meal fellowship. Jesus’ act of eating with sinners was a provocation, designed symbolically to set forth an alternative definition of Israel as a more inclusive community. Borg rejects the idea that Jesus’ meal fellowship with sinners was merely "a strategic temporary suspension of the demands of holiness for the sake of mission" (Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus, 94), because he rejects the idea that Jesus differentiated between the righteous and the sinners, seeking to bring the latter to repentance (Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus, 94-95). Rather than defining holiness as separation, according to Borg, Jesus conceived holiness as a contagious power: "Holiness…was understood as a transforming power, not as a power that needed protection through rigorous separation. Such was implied in the metaphor of the physician in Mark 2.17 par., set in the context of table fellowship. The physician was not overcome by those who were ill but rather overcame the illness" (Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus, 135). Jesus advocates the priority of mercy over holiness. Most of what Borg says misses the mark. Jesus did distinguish between the righteous from the wicked and directed his mission to the latter in order to offer them the possibility of eschatological forgiveness on the condition of repentance; his violation of purity laws was strategic, not programmatic (How much of the Pharisaic halakot on tithing and purity Jesus would have accepted, however, is another question). Borg does not adequately stress the salvation-historical "crisis" context of Jesus’ ministry: that entrance into the Kingdom of God was now a possibility.  Moreover, there is an ambiguity in Borg’s presentation concerning whether Jesus required the "sinners" to repent before they could be included as part of Israel.

    Whether Jesus’ use of the term "the righteous" is ironic has been debated. Although some argue that he did not accept the disjunction between the "righteous" and the "wicked," Jesus probably did make such a distinction. In his understanding, the "righteous" were not the perfect, but merely the habitually obedient, whereas the wicked were those who had rejected the covenant and demonstrated this by their habitual disobedience. (The righteous were no doubt relatively few in number in Jewish society.) He believes that the righteous do not need to be called to repentance, but will enter the Kingdom of God without the need of repentance by simply believing his message about the Kingdom of God. The sinners, on the other hand, need to hear the call to repent and then believe the message of the Kingdom of God.

C.H. Dodd argues that Mark 2:17b "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners" is a later interpretation along allegorical lines of the parabolic saying of the sick needing a physician and not the healthy: the sick represent the sinners whereas the healthy correspond to the righteous. Dodd believes, however, that, since Jesus did not recognize the class of "the righteous," the interpretation distorts the intended meaning of the parable (Parables, 88-89). Likewise, M. Trautmann believes that historically Jesus did not make the distinction between sinners and the righteous. Accepting the authenticity of Mark 2:17b, Trautmann claims that Jesus’ point was that all Israel were sinners, so that he came to call all Israel to receive the Kingdom of God. The tax-collectors and sinners were merely extreme examples of what all Jews were (Zeichenhafte Handlungen Jesu, 162-64), If Jesus came only to call sinners then the righteous would be excluded from the Kingdom of God. Arens argues that in the saying 2:17b as a formerly independent saying acquires an ironic tone when it is introduced to the conflict story because the “righteous” become Jesus’ objectors and critics (The ÊLTHON-Sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. A Historical-Critical Investigation, 53). But there is no reason to think that Jesus is referring to his critics when he speaks about the righteous.

E.P. Sanders’s view that Jesus differed from his accusers insofar as he did not require that sinners repent in the normal Jewish sense is highly improbable. Sanders claims that no one would be offended if Jesus managed to convert sinners; thus there is no basis for Jesus’ opponents to object to Jesus’ association with sinners for the purpose of bringing them to repentance. The passages where Jesus does refer to the requirement of repentance of sinners Sanders dismisses as inauthentic, being the imposition of Lukan theology (see Luke 15.7, 10; Luke 19:1-9). Moreover, Sanders rejects the authenticity of all of Jesus’ explicit declarations of purpose, such as Mark 2:17, Matt 15:24 (174). Sanders proposes that the novelty and offensive element of Jesus’ association with sinners was the fact that he did not require repentance, as normally understood by Jews: "Jesus offered companionship to the wicked of Israel as a sign that God would save them, and he did not make his association dependent on their conversion to the law" (Jesus and Judaism, 207). Sanders does not consider the probable historical possibility that Jesus’ offensiveness consisted in the fact that he extended to the sinners a mercy that normally would not or should not have been extended to them: even though these sinners sinned freely, Jesus went to them, associated with them in the intimacy of meal fellowship and offered them the possibility of eschatological forgiveness on the condition of repentance. Jesus’ opponents could not accept Jesus’ position that theirs were exceptional times when God would be merciful to his people to the point of coaxing sinners into repentance, and therefore into the Kingdom of God. Probably they did not accept Jesus’ central claim that the Kingdom of God had drawn near, so that there were no basis for sinners to be handled any differently than they were normally. Likewise, Merklein claims that Jesus exended forgiveness to the sinners before their repentance, which is why his association with them was so offensive (Die Gottesherrschaft als Handlungsprinzip, 173-217). He writes, “Gott is entschlossen, apriori die Schuldvergangenheit des Sünders für irrelevant zu betrachten, ihm zu vergeben und ihn anzunehmen, so wie sich das im Handeln Jesu zeichenhaft konkretisiert” (192). This is what differentiates Jesus’ view of forgiveness from that of early Judaism. Such a view would be so much against Jesus’ teaching about final judgment, with which he was in agreement with John the Baptist and early Judaism, as to be anomalous.

4.2.2. Seek and Save the Lost (Luke 19:1-10)

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"  8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord!  I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the  amount."  9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Another narrative concerning Jesus’ intentional association with tax-collectors for the purpose of offering them the possibility of forgiveness is found in Luke 19:1-10, a tradition unique to Luke. Jesus takes the initiative and invites himself into the home of Zacchaeus, a "chief tax-collector" (architelônês) and rich man. The name Zacchaeus reveals that its bearer is a Jew, being the Hebrew name Zakkai (see Ezra 2:7; Neh 7:14). The Romans used a system of tax-farming: the right to collect a toll tax was sold to the highest bidder, who paid the Romans in advance what he had agreed to pay. This person then had the right to recoup this initial expense and then gain a profit by collecting the toll tax in a given region. As chief tax collector Zacchaeus probably had bought the right to collect the toll-tax from those transporting goods through Jericho and he supervised other tax collectors who worked for him. Needless to say, this system of Roman tax-farming was open to abuse. Zacchaeus’s encounter with Jesus occurs while the latter is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. As he travels through Jericho, Jesus is mobbed; obviously his reputation has preceded him. It is said that Zacchaeus is eager to see Jesus, by which is meant merely to catch sight of him (19:3). At this point, apparently, Zacchaeus’s only goal is simply to lay eyes on the remarkable man about whom he has heard so much. No information is provided on what exactly Zacchaeus’s interest in Jesus is; one could speculate that what Zacchaeus has heard about Jesus' remarkable abilities to heal and cast out demons has piqued his curiosity. Because he is a shorter than average man and Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people, Zacchaeus is unable to accomplish his goal of seeing Jesus. Zacchaeus is thereby led to the extreme and undignified act of climbing a tree in order to see Jesus when he passed by. Presumably, Zacchaeus hopes to remain hidden from view, which is possible in a sycamore tree.

Fielder claims that Luke has expanded an original Conflict Narrative (Streitsgespräch) with the narrative detail contained in 19:3-5 (Jesus und die Sünder, 132-33; see Arens, The ÊLTHON-Sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. A Historical-Critical Investigation, 163); the description of Zacchaeus' meeting with Jesus is a Lukan insertion. Evidence for this, according to Fiedler, is the abundance of Lukan preferred style and vocabulary. In addition, 19:3-5 serves to promulgate a Lukan theology of repentance. The Lukan Jesus is portrayed as offering forgiveness and salvation on condition of repentance. The story of Zacchaeus illustrates this theology, for in 19:3-5, he has already taken the first stages of repentance by taking such extraordinary measures to "see" Jesus. According to Jeremias’s analysis, however, 19:3-5 contains the usual mixture of redactional and traditional elements, so that Fiedler’s conclusion that this is purely Lukan redaction is unsubstantiated; the traditional elements in 19:3-5 are incompatible with the hypothesis that this is a Lukan creation (Jeremias, Die Sprache des Lukasevangeliums, 276). Traditional elements include eis to emprosthen and anebêhina. Luke tends to avoid the use of the preposition emprosthen, and he uses anabainein + inf. to express purpose not with the conjunction hina. Fiedler’s assumption that Luke’s theology of repentance is not also that of Jesus is wrong.

    When he arrives at the place in Jericho where Zacchaeus is in a sycamore tree, Jesus looks up at him, addresses him by name and tells him to come, for he plans to lodge with him. Whether this is an instance of supernatural knowledge or whether Jesus knew of Zacchaeus before seeing him in the tree is impossible to determine. Nonetheless, Zacchaeus is overjoyed with the prospect of playing host to Jesus; his modest expectation of simply catching sight of Jesus as he passed by has been greatly exceeded, for now he will share table fellowship with him. Those who hear this interchange between Jesus and Zacchaeus are offended that Jesus has chosen to receive the hospitality of a "sinful man." Zacchaeus has the reputation that tax-collectors have generally: they are thieves and traitors and have removed themselves from the covenant by their violation of the commandments. After climbing down from the tree, Zacchaeus says to Jesus, "Behold, half of my possessions I give to the poor, and if I cheated anyone any amount I give back to him fourfold" (19:8).

Sycamore Tree in Jericho

Zacchaeus, the chief tax-collect based in Jericho climbed such a tree to be able to see Jesus as he passed by.  Luke writes, "He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being short of stature, was not able to because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to be able to see him, for Jesus was about to come that way" (Luke 19:3-4). The sycamore tree is a type of fig tree that grows up to fifteen meters high and has a very wide trunk.

    It is not clear whether Zacchaeus is protesting his classification as a sinner by citing as proof against this allegation evidence of his customary fairness and generosity or whether he is pledging to give to the poor half of what he owns at the present time and to repay fourfold all those he has intentionally cheated in the past. In other words, it is a question of whether Zacchaeus is defending his worthiness to host Jesus in the face of the criticism leveled against him or whether he has repented and now desires to show the fruit of his repentance by giving to the poor and repaying those whom he has cheated even more than the Law requires (see Lev 6:1-7). It is probably the latter: Zacchaeus responds to Jesus’ initiative by repenting of his sinful past. Thus, the present tense verbs should be interpreted with a future sense, as Zacchaeus's pledge that from this time forward he will do these two things. Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus confirms this interpretation: "Today salvation has come to this house" (19:9). Salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus, because he has repented, which is the condition that Jesus sets for entering the Kingdom of God. If it were not for Jesus’ initiative, however, Zacchaeus may not have repented, and may have continued to be excluded from eschatological salvation. Jesus’ statement that Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham is a justification for his association with Zacchaeus: as a Jew, Zacchaeus is as much the intended recipient of the offer of salvation as those who do not have such a sullied past. Jesus’ purpose was to make the offer of salvation or entry into the Kingdom of God equally accessible to all; this was a manifestation of God’s mercy.

One should take "salvation" (sotêria) to be synonymous with "Kingdom of God," "eternal life," or any other term that Jesus uses to denote eschatological salvation; it is a translation of the Hebrew ysh' used eschatologically. The noun ysh' is a common term in the Hebrew Bible, and it also occurs occasionally in the Qumran texts (4Q510 2.1.2 4Q381 24 1.7; 31 1.6; 33 1.8) In CD 20.20, ysh' has an eschatological meaning parallel to Luke 19:9. The term sotêria is a Lukan favorite, occurring ten times in Luke/Acts (Luke 1:69, 71, 77; 19:9; Acts 4:12; 7:25; 13:26, 47; 16:17; 27:34); of these ten only once does the term occur on the lips of Jesus, in 19:9 (see Jeremias, Die Sprache des Lukasevangeliums, 73). (The term sotêrion also occurs in Luke/Acts but in quotations from the LXX [Luke 2:30; 3:6; Acts 28:28].) Outside of Luke, sotêria occurs only in John 4:22. Thus it is possible that the occurrence of sotêria in 19:9 is due to Lukan redaction; perhaps he replaced another term used to denote eschatological salvation by sotêria.

    In Luke 19:10 the saying: "For the son of man has come to seek and save the lost" occurs. Jesus uses an "I have come"-saying to express the purpose of his mission. Other "I have come"-sayings in Luke include Luke 5:32 = Mark 2:17 = Matt 9:13b; Luke 12:49-50 = Matt 10:34-36 (see also Mark 10:45 = Matt 20:28; Matt 5:17). The phrase "the son of man" seems to be nothing more than a circumlocution for "I"; there does not appear to be any messianic implication or overtones to the phrase. The saying makes the same point that the "I have come"-saying makes in Mark 2:17b: that Jesus sees his mission as the offering of eschatological salvation to those who have heretofore excluded themselves from the covenant by their deliberate sins. (Variants of the saying occurs in Matt 18:11; Luke 9:56, but textually these appear to be modified interpolations of the saying in Luke 19:10. A possible allusion to Ezek 34 has been detected in Jesus’ saying. Yahweh, referring to him as "son of man," instructs Ezekiel to condemn Israel’s shepherds for not caring properly for the sheep. Then Yahweh promises that he will become a shepherd to Israel (34:11-16): "I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice" (34:16). (In the LXX, "I will seek the lost" [to apololos zêtêso] is clearly parallel to Luke 19:10: "to seek and save the lost" [zêtêsai kai sosai to apololos]). Possibly, Jesus had this eschatological passage in mind, when he formulated his mission as he did in this saying. If so, he saw his task as seeking the lost on behalf of God as a prelude to the Kingdom of God.

It has also been hypothesized that 19:8 is an secondary insertion, disturbing the original unity between the crowd’s objection to Jesus’ decision to stay with Zacchaeus in 19:7 and Jesus’ defense of this decision in 19:9 (Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 33-34; 58-59; 65; Fitzmyer, Luke, 1219; Fiedler, Jesus und die Sünder, 134-35; Arens, The ÊLTHON-Sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. A Historical-Critical Investigation, 161-81). The evidence, however, is insufficient to conclude that 19:8 is a Lukan redactional insertion. Although there is evidence of Lukan preferred vocabulary in 19:8 (Fitzmyer, Luke, 1219), as Jeremias points out, there are also traditional elements, which suggests that 19:8 is not a Lukan redactional creation (Die Sprache des Lukasevangeliums, 277). Examples of Lukan preferred vocabulary include statheis de, eipen pros + accusative. Nevertheless, there are also several traditional elements. Although it is Lukan, as Fitzmyer asserts, Jeremias demonstrates that the substantive ta huparchonta used with genitive (to denote possession) is traditional, since Luke prefers the dative (Die Sprache des Lukasevangeliums, 277, 163, 178, 201). In addition, the place of the possessive pronoun mou ("my") before ta huparchonta is uncharacteristic of the Lukan style. The use of ho kurios as a designation for the historical Jesus is pre-Lukan, and the verb sukophanteô is found only in the Lukan special tradition (3:14; 19:8) (Die Sprache des Lukasevangeliums, 277). Bultmann alleges that the basis of Jesus’ decision to stay with Zacchaeus is different in 19:9 and 19:8, thereby indicating the presence of a literary seam. In the former, it is because Zacchaeus is as much a son of Abraham that Jesus chooses to stay with him, whereas, in the latter, it is implied that Jesus stays with him because he has repented (Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 33-34). Arens likewise claims that 19:8 breaks the flow of the narrative and creates inconsistency in 19:9 (The ÊLTHON-Sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. A Historical-Critical Investigation, 163-64). He gives five reasons for his conclusion: 1. 19:8 breaks the flow of the narrative because the answer in 19:9 should be follow immediately after 19:7; 2. Jesus’ response in 19:9 is provoked by Zacchaeus’ acceptance of Jesus into his house, not by the declaration in 19:8; 3. 19:9 is not addressed to Zacchaeus, who is speaking in 19:8, but to the objectors, who speak in 19:7; 4. the words of Zacchaeus are unexpected because they are not a response to anything that Jesus has said about his riches; 5 19:8 introduces a new theme, which is ethical, having a didactic purpose, not soteriological as the rest of the narrative is. According to Arens, 19:9 consists of two sayings that have separate origins. The Lukan redactor is responsible for the addition of eipen de pros auton ho Iêsous , which explains dissonance between auton and toutô (The ÊLTHON-Sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. A Historical-Critical Investigation, 165) and for the addition of kathoti in order to link 19:9a and 19:9b, which was the original ending of the story. But, contrary to Bultmann, Jesus does not offer two different defenses for his choice to stay with Zacchaeus. The abbreviated nature of the narrative makes it difficult to perceive accurately the intricacies of Jesus’ interaction with his critics and Zacchaeus; when this is taken into consideration the alleged awkwardness of 19:8 is explicable. To the criticism that he has chosen to stay with a "sinful man," Jesus replies that Zacchaeus also is a son of Abraham, which means that he has as much right to receive the offer of eschatological salvation as any other Jew. Because of Jesus’ gracious initiative, Zacchaeus repents, to which Jesus responds by saying that salvation has come to his house. The words of Zacchaeus are not unexpected since they are a practical expression of his repentance. Without Zacchaeus’s statement in 19:8, what Jesus says in 19:9a would be inexplicable, for Jesus would have no basis to declare that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’s house. So 19:8 does not break the flow of the narrative at all. (Contrary to P. Fiedler and E. P. Sanders, Jesus did not offer salvation to sinners unconditionally, without first requiring repentance, so that one cannot interpret 19:8 as the insertion of a Lukan theology of repentance into a narrative in which it was not originally found.) Thus, Marshall wrongly claims that in 19:9 Jesus makes no reference to Zacchaeus’s proposal to give half his possessions to the poor and repay those whom he has cheated. In fact, Jesus’ declaration that salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus presupposes his proposal (Luke, 695). In effect, 19:9b represents a summary of Jesus’ response to the criticism that he accepts hospitality from a sinner, whereas 19:9a is directed not to his critics but to Zacchaeus, being Jesus’ response to his repentance (Contrary to Marshall, Jesus does not address both his critics and Zacchaeus at once [Luke, 695]). A simple chiastic structure is thereby created (abba): Jesus is criticized for his initiative with Zacchaeus (a), but Zacchaeus responds positively to this initiative by repenting (b); Jesus then responds to Zacchaeus’ repentance (b), and finally responds to the criticism that he accepts hospitality from a sinful man (a). The abbreviated nature of the narrative makes it difficult to detect the change of interlocutors. The advantage of this interpretation is that it solves the problem of the use of the third person in 19:9b, when Jesus apparently has been speaking directly to Zacchaeus in 19:9a, for in 19b Jesus is not speaking to Zacchaeus but to his critics about him (see Arens, The ÊLTHON-Sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. A Historical-Critical Investigation, 164-65). The themes of soteriology and ethics are inseparable since in Jesus’ preaching repentance is a condition of salvation. In conclusion, far from being secondary, 19:8 is so central to the narrative as to be indispensable.

4.2.3. Two Parables of the Lost Found (Luke 15:3-7 = Matt 18:12-14; Luke 15:8-10)

Luke 15:3-7

3 Then Jesus told them this parable:  4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home.  Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'  7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 

 Matthew 18:12-14

12 "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not  leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.  14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.   


 Luke 15:8-10

8 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?   9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." 

As part of his "Travel Narrative," Luke includes Jesus' response to the accusation that he receives sinners and even eats with them by relating two parables. In the two parables, Jesus compares sinners who repent to something lost being found. Luke 15:1-3 serves to introduce the parables. Even if the introduction is Lukan redaction, there is no reason to question whether Luke provides the correct historical context for understanding 15:4-10.

    In the first parable, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who lost one sheep from his flock of one hundred. So anxious was he to retrieve this lost sheep that the shepherd left the other ninety-nine, presumably in the care of another, and searched until he had found the lost animal. The ratio of 1:99 is a convention designed to emphasize the unimportance of the one lost sheep, so that it is implicit that the sheep is being sought simply because the shepherd values it. Upon finding it, the shepherd carried the sheep back, and called his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him because he found his lost sheep. Jesus’ hearers would understand the image of a sheep that have strayed as metaphorical of Jews who have disqualified themselves as members of the people of God because of their disobedience. Similarly, the shepherd in the parable would be interpreted as a metaphor of God. In Luke 15:7 is found the application of the parable: "There is (more) joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous who do not need to repent." According to this interpretation, Jesus defends his association with sinners by claiming that God is actually more joyous over the Jew who repents than over the Jew who has no need to repent, such is the heart of God towards sinners. What is implied is that Jesus understands himself as making God’s concern to seek out the lost in Israel his own mission. The assertion that at this time juncture in salvation-history, the Kingdom of God, God is active in seeking out disobedient Jews through Jesus would be met with puzzlement and possibly resentment on the part of Jesus' hearers. The idea that a pitiable, helpless sheep is an appropriate metaphor for a disobedient Jew would be offensive to Jesus’ hearers; for the average hearer there would be dissonance between the tenor and the vehicle of the metaphor. Those who are the fringe of respectable Jewish society have chosen to be there and are nothing like a helpless sheep that needs the solicitious attention of a shepherd. Moreover, Jesus’ assertion that God rejoices more over one repentant sinner than over the genuinely righteous runs counter to expectations of natural justice. It is not that Jesus’ contemporaries denied that sinners could and ought to repent, but in their view Jesus minimizes both the moral responsibility of the willfully disobedient and the the meritoriousness of the habitually obedient.

Those who accept the hypothesis that the double tradition derives from the so-called Q-source seek to separate the Lukan and Matthean redactional elements from the hypothetical original version of the parable. It is the general consensus that the Matthean context of the parable is secondary, but that Luke is responsible for adding 15:5-6 to the original parable. The original parable is said to consist of Matt 18:12 = Luke 15:4 and its application in Matt 18:13: “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.” There is naturally debate over which elements in Matt 18:12 and Luke 15:4 are more original. Most importantly, on this reconstruction Luke 15:7 is judged to be a secondary development. The original point was simply that there is greater rejoicing over the finding of the lost than over those who do not need to be found. Luke 15:7 was supposed to be constructed based on 15:10 (and also alluding to 15:2), but 15:7 but also incorporates elements from the original application in Matt 18:13. The Lukan application introduces the new idea of repentance into the parable: the tax-collectors and sinners who need to repent and the righteous who do not need to repent. If this is tradition-historical reconstruction is correct then one must judge Luke’s version of the parable to be inauthentic. But the view that Luke 15:7 is a Lukan creation founders on the linguistic evidence, since the verse combines both redactional and tradition elements. In addition, given that the literary agreement between the two versions of the Parable of the Lost Sheep is quite meager, it is circular reasoning to assume the existence of an original version and then determine how both the Matthean and Lukan diverge from this. Once the straight jacket of the Q-source hypothesis is removed, the more natural explanation is that Jesus used the parable of a shepherd who searches for one lost sheep at different times to make different points, which means that Matt 18:12-14 and Luke 15:3-7 are two different parables using the same metaphor.

    In the structurally-similar, second parable, Jesus relates the story of a woman who, having lost one of her ten coins, does not ceases searching her house until she finds the lost coin (15:8-10). She lights a lamp in her probably windowless house and sweeps the floor in an effort to locate her lost coin. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and tells them to rejoice with her because she has found her lost coin. Jesus’ interpretation of the parable is similar to Luke 15:7: “There is joy among the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (15:10). The woman's diligent and unceasing search for her lost coin is metaphorical of the concern that God has for the tax-collectors and sinners in Israel; her joy similarly represents God’s joy over the repentance of tax-collectors and sinners. With this parable Jesus intends communicates that his association with sinners is actually God’s seeking after sinners, being a manifestation of the Kingdom of God.

4.2.4. Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32)

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. 13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. 25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' 28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 31 "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

    Luke appends the Parable of the Lost Son to the two previous parables, which he may have found as a unit. Jesus tells a realistic story designed to provide a defense of his association with tax collectors and sinner. The purpose of the parable is to communicate the idea of the present possibility of receiving God’s forgiveness on the condition of repentance.

    In the parable a younger son asks for his inheritance from his father. Simply asking his father his inheritance would not be interpreted as indicative of a rift in the relationship between the son and his father, since it was not uncommon for a father to divide up his property and for a son to take his inheritance and emigrate from Palestine in order to improve his lot in life (see T. Iss. 6:2). From what he does with his inheritance, however, it becomes clear to the hearer that the younger son’s motives for leaving his father’s house are not honorable and so he must be deemed a rebellious son. When he arrived at his destination, “there he squandered his wealth in dissolute living.” The older brother points out to his father that his brother has squandered his money on prostitutes (15:30). So it was not the fact that he lost the money that is reprehensible but why and how he lost it. When a famine strikes his adopted country, the younger son finds himself in state of destitution, tending to pigs that are better fed than he is: “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating” (15:16). In this debased state, it is said that the son "came to himself" (eis heauton de êlthon), meaning that he comes to his senses or his right mind. He then decides to return to his father, confess his sin against heaven (God) and his father; implied is that he has relinguished his former rebelliousness against his father.

    When he received his inheritance from his father, he forfeited any right he had to his father’s property and so legally can no longer expect anything from him or his older brother. For this reason, he hopes to be received back as a servant in his father's house: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men” (15:19). (Even the day laborers hired by his father are better off than he is.) In the parable, the father joyfully receives back his son as his son and not a day laborer or a servant; possibly what is intended is not simply personal reconciliation but also legal reinstatement of his forfeited sonship. The unexpected element in the parable is the father’s extravagant response to the return of the younger son makes the story interesting: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (15:20). But more importantly it directs the hearers to focus on the metaphorical value of what transpires between the father and son. Jesus intends the behavior the younger son to be metaphorical of the response required of those who hear his message of the Kingdom of God: they must repent and return to God unconditionally. Likewise, he intends the father’s joyous reception of his son to be metaphorical of God who is overjoyed to receive back Jewish sinners on the condition of repentance.

Merklein argues that the forgiveness of the father was not conditional on the repentance of the younger son (Die Gottesherrschaft als Handlungsprinzip, 195-96). He bases this conclusion on the fact the father did not know that the returning son was a repentant son: “Aus der Sicht des Vaters ist die Rückkehr eben nur Rückkehr und nicht Umkehr.” Er kann nicht wissen, ob der Sohn mit der Rückkehr auch eine Umkehr vollzogen hat” (195). Merklein claims that at the center of the parable is the joy of the father not the repentance of the son: the father forgives unconditionally, and chooses to eliminate all the consequences of the younger son’s actions: “Die Schuldvergangenheit des Sohnes hat für den Vater weder in der Gegenwart noch in der Zukunft mehr Bedeutung“ (195). It is probable, however, that the hearer would assume that, if he returns to his father’s house, then he the younger has relinguished his former rebelliousness against his father. On Merklein’s interpretation, it is still not clear whether Jesus teaches God has forgiven sinners even if they do not respond to his message: “In der Begegnung mit Jesus bietet Gott seine Vergebung an, deren Initiative allein von Gott ausgeht and vom Meshchen keine Bedingungen und Voraussetzungen fordert” (197).

    The presence of the elder son in the Parable of the Lost Son complicates the interpretation of the parable. This other son remained obedient to his father and therefore blameless during the time of his brother’s prodigality. When his brother returns and is received back with joy, understandably the older brother is offended that his father would be more generous towards his wastrel offspring than he has ever been towards him. As he put it, "Yet you have never given me as much as a young goat in order that I may celebrate with my friends" (15:29b). It is a question of justice and upholding the moral order. It is not that the older son objects to his father’s decision to receive back his once lost son, but surely he should not be treated better than he himself has been treated. But the father is actually more joyous at the return of the younger son than he is with the years of obedience from the older son, as shown by his extravagance. In response, the father does not deny the truth of any of his son’s statements; he only reassures his son that he is always with him and that all that he has belongs to him (15:31). He then explains, "It was necessary to celebrate and rejoice, because this, your brother, was dead and is alive, was lost but now has been found" (15:32).

Jeremias finds a double application in the Parable of the Lost Son (15:24, 32), each half of the parable ending with the same logion. He also rightly reconstructs Jesus’ purpose in relating this parable as a vindication of his table fellowship with sinners (The Parables of Jesus, 128-32). (This means that Luke is justified in his appending this parable to the two other parables in 15:1-10.) According to him, the emphasis falls on the latter half of the parable, as is true of the three other parables with double applications (Matt 20:1-15; 22:1-14; Luke 16:19-31) (131). Jeremias’ further assertion, however, is questionable: "Jesus thus claims that in his actions the love of God to the repentant sinner is made effectual. Thus the parable, without making any kind of christological statement, reveals itself as a veiled assertion of authority: Jesus makes the claim for himself that he is acting in God’ stead, that he is God’s representative" (The Parables of Jesus, 132). Such a statement seems to overreach the evidence. B.F. Meyer explains that Jesus attempted to win over those genuinely righteous Jews who questioned his choice to associate so intimately with sinners, since they held the typical Jewish view that conversion (or repentance) comes before communion. Meyer correctly points out that, "The "novum" in the act of Jesus was to reverse this structure: communion first, conversion second. Jesus’ openness to sinners was intended to make their conversion that much easier" (The Aims of Jesus, 161). Thus, Jeremias assumes wrongly interprets the older brother as representing self-righteous and loveless Jews (The Parables of Jesus, 132).

The unstated premise of the father’s explanation is that one should rejoice more at the return of the lost than at the continued obedience of the righteous. In cases such as this, God's propensity to mercy will result in the suspension of retributive justice. Or, as Jesus said as the conclusion of the Parable of the Lost Sheep, "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous who do not need to repent" (15:7). The older son stumbled over the fact that his father would be so "unjust" as to be more joyous over the return of than the son who does not need to return. Thus, through the figure of the older son, Jesus responds to the criticism that he associates more readily with "sinners" than the genuinely righteous (see 15:1-2). Jesus’ response is the Kingdom of God is the time when God will be unjust towards sinners by offering them the possibility of restoration and forgiveness.

It has been argued that Luke 15:25-32 originally did not belong to 15:11-24, the former being a redactional expansion. J. T. Sanders argues that the original parable consisted of 15:11-24, whereas 15:25-32 is a Lukan redaction, appended to it as an attack on the Pharisees and allowing for a transition to Luke 16 ("Tradition and Redaction in Luke xv. 11-32," NTS 15 (1968-69) 433-38). His evidence for this position is as follows. First, he claims that Jesus did not use parables with two climaxes (zweigipfelig), so that, since in its present form it has two climaxes, the Parable of the Lost Son is not authentic. (According to Sanders, the three other zweigipfelig parables—Matt 20:1-15; Matt 22:1-14 and Luke 16:19-31—are not originally so.) Second, he alleges that there is a preponderance of Lukan redactional features in the second part, in contrast to the many non-Lukan features found in the first section. This proves that 15:11-24 is traditional, whereas Luke 15:25-32 is redactional. Sanders finds eleven Semitisms in 15:11-24, but only two in 15:25-32; the lack of Semitisms in the latter half is a indicator of Lukan composition. Then he finds ten distinctly Lukan traits in second half, which proves Lukan redaction. Earlier, E. Schweizer similarly argued for the Lukan creation of second half of parable based on a linguistic analysis (Zur Frage des Lukasquellen, Analyse von Luk. 15,11-32,” ThZ 4 (1948) 569-71. Although this sort of investigation is complicated and precarious, Sander’s conclusions do not hold up under close scrutiny. The assertion argue that Jesus could not have created a zweigipfelig parable is not obvious; in fact, if the need arose, he could easily have done so. After all, according to Sanders, redactors of the gospel tradition thought that it was advisable to create such parables. Second, several studies written in reaction to Sander’s hypothesis have provided ample evidence that, based on the linguistic criteria, 15:25-32 gives no more indication of being Lukan redaction than 15:11-24. First, as J. J. O’Rourke points out, any use of linguistic data must take into account that 15:11-14 contains 249 words, while 15:25-32 has only 144 words; Sander’s study did not take make allowances for this discrepancy ("Some Notes on Luke xv. 11-32," NTS 18 (1971-72) 431-33 (431). Second, there are enough non-Lukan features, including Semitisms, and Lukan features to be found in 15:11-32 to conclude that the parable, linguistically considered, is a unity. Jeremias examines the ten "distinctly Lukan traits" alleged to exist in 15:24-32, and concludes that only two of these are really attributable to Lukan redaction: epunthaneto and ti an eiê tauta (15:26b); the other eight can be ascribed to the tradition ("Tradition und Redaktion in Lukas 15," ZNW 62 (1971) 172-89). Similarly, Jeremias catalogues the probable traditional and redactional elements in Luke 15:11-32, both of which are found in the found in equal proportions in both halves of the parable. He concludes, "Das Gleichnis vom Verlorenen Sohn is vom Evangelisten nur ganz leicht stilistisch ueberarbeitet worden. Es kann keine Rede davon sein, dass der zweite Teil redaktioneller Zusatz wäre (181). C. E. Carlston likewise takes exception to Sander’s hypothesis. Although he differs methodologically at points with Jeremias and does not accept his conclusion that Luke 15:11-32 is only lightly edited by Luke, Carlston, nonetheless, agrees that there is no evidence to conclude that Luke 15:24-32 is Lukan redaction ("Reminiscence and Redaction in Luke 15:11-32," JBL 94 (1975) 368-90; see Merklein, Die Gottesherrschaft als Handlungsprinzip, 194; Eichholz, Gleichnisse der Evangelien, 200-20). Based on an examination of the expressions characteristic of Lukan style, those which may or may not be Lukan and those which are uncharacteristic of Luke, Carlston concludes that the entire parable has come to Luke from the tradition, which he has then edited accordingly: "Linguistic criteria seem strongly to indicate that that the entire parable came to Luke via the tradition and that he has treated it with the same degree of freedom that he shows in his treatment of Markan and Q material" (383). D. Via points out that mention of the two sons in the first part of the parable (“A certain man had two sons”) (15:11) suggests that the second part of the parable is original for otherwise there would be no reason to mention two sons (Parables, 163). T.W. Manson considers and rejects two literary arguments for separating the first half from the second half of the parable (The Sayings of Jesus, 285-86). First, since there is no second part in the two previous parables in Luke 15 it is argued that in the third parable originally there was no second part. In response, Manson writes, “With regard to the first it may be replied that the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin are parables and not fables; and therefore we do not expect to hear about the feelings of the sheep or the coins. Further, there was no reason why Jesus having made two parables on this model should be compelled to make every other on the same pattern” (285). Second, it is pointed out that in 15:12 the father divides his property between the two sons but in 15:29-31 he still is in possession of the share of the older brother; this is seen as a tension and evidence that 15:25-32 is secondary. Manson points out if this is truly an inconsistency that it extends into the first half because the younger son refers to his father’s hired servant, not his brother’s (15:17). It should be added that it is credible that the elder son has not received the right of disposal of the property bequeathed to him (15:12).

L. Schotroff claims improbably that the whole parable is a Lukan composition, a position that cannot be maintained in the face of the linguistic evidence. She also claims that it reflects Lukan soteriology ("Das Gleichnis vom verlorenen Sohn," ZThK 68 [1971] 27-52). Whether it is possible to isolate Luke’s soteriology—allegedly expressed in Luke 15:7—is questionable, and, if this is possible, whether Schotroff represents Lukan soteriology correctly as the renunciation of all claims of works before God, which renunciation is the meaning of repentance, is doubtful. (The point of the parable and Luke 15:7 is joy over the repentance of sinners, which is the turning of sinners from disobedience to obedience). In fact, whether Lukan soteriology, if it could be ascertained, would differ substantially from the soteriology of the early church, Jesus and early Judaism in general is even open to debate. Merklein rejects Schottroff’s view that it is a Lukan creation; he accepts it as authentic because there are no references to repentance in it. In this way it is the authentic Matt 18:12-13 “Im Verhalten Jesu zeigt sich, was Gottes Heilsentschluß bedeutet” (Die Gottesherrschaft als Handlungsprinzip, 197).

J. Crossan accepts the authenticity of the Parable of the Lost Son; even though it is from only singly-attested tradition and derives from the third stratum, he gives this tradition a + rating, indicating that it goes back to the historical Jesus (The Historical Jesus, 449). Presumably, according to Crossan, this tradition meets the criterion of coherence: it agrees with his reconstruction of the historical Jesus from the earlier stratums that are multiply-attested. One suspects, however, circular reasoning: that Jesus' teaching in this parable agrees with his pre-conceived notion of Jesus as wandering cynic-sage.


What is the criticism that is leveled against Jesus? Why do Jesus' opponents take offence at Jesus' practice of seeking out and associating with "sinners"? How does Jesus respond to this criticism? What does Jesus' response indicate about his understanding of his mission?


Double Huldah Gates

The two sets of southern gates known as the two Huldah Gates; the Huldah Gate on the east (the Triple Gate) served as an entrance into the Temple, while the one on the west (the Double Gate) served as an exit (m. Mid. 1.3; 2.2). A paved street seven meters wide ran along the southern outer wall of the Temple in front of the Huldah Gates for a distance of 280 meters. Access to the Huldah Gates was by means staircases. At present only half of the the right wing of the double Huldah gate is visible from the exterior.

Reconstruction of Double Huldah Gates

Urban Simulation Team


5. Jesus as the Mediator of Eschatological Forgiveness

As the messenger of the Kingdom of God Jesus offers to sinners the possibility of repentance and forgiveness. (As will be seen later, in Jesus' view, to be forgiven is to enter the Kingdom of God.) This is the time of Israel's eschatological salvation, wherein God will grant all Jews—including the sinners—eschatological forgiveness.  Moreover, Jesus claims to mediate this eschatological forgiveness, which causes his critics some consternation, because he is assuming an authority that they consider that only God possesses. Two passages bear on this.

5.1. Forgiveness of Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12; Matt 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26)

Mark 2:1-12

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word  to them.
3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some scribes were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things?  9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the  paralytic, 11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and the praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."

Matt 9:1-8

1 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." 3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!" 4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?  6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 7 And the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.







Luke 5:17-26

17 One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18 Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."  21 The Pharisees and the scribes began thinking to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, "Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  23 Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?  24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."  25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, "We have seen  remarkable things today."

In this Markan passage, Jesus says to the paralytic, not only that he is healed, but also that his sins are forgiven. Although the use of the passive voice creates an ambiguity as to who is doing the forgiving and on whose authority, the scribes correctly interpret Jesus' use of the passive as a divine passive, and take offence, concluding that Jesus is blaspheming insofar as he is usurping the divine prerogative to forgive sin (Mark 2:7 = Luke 5:21b). Mark and Luke both indicate that Jesus knew what the scribes or scribes and Pharisees were thinking, the implication being that Jesus had supernatural knowledge (Mark 2:8; Luke 5:22). To this objection Jesus responds by asking: "Which is easier? To say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven' or to say, 'Rise, take up you pallet and walk'?" In Jesus' view, if he is able to heal him, then he also has the authority to pronounce the paralytic forgiven. The assumption is that the one whom God empowers to heal is the one whose claim to mediate divine forgiveness is valid. In other words, God would not grant healing power to anyone who misrepresents himself. Jesus then says that to prove that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he commands the paralytic to arise, take up his pallet and go home. The term "son of man" in this context is at least a circumlocution for "I" (Whether Jesus is also identifying himself as the eschatological figure of "the son of man" is another question.) The witnesses to this healing respond with amazement, glorifying God.

N.T. Wright argues that by offering forgiveness Jesus implicitly undermines the validity of the Temple, because forgiveness would have been available to Jews through cultic means (Jesus and the Victory of God, 102, 108, 129-30, 130, 274, 338, 343). The problem with this assertion, which is an important support of Wright’s conclusions, is that the people to whom Jesus mediated forgiveness would not have been forgiveable through sacrifices since their sins were intentional, sins of the "high hand" (Num 15:27–31). So what Jesus is doing is offering the possibility of forgiveness not available from the cult. E.P. Sanders argues that Jesus’ pronouncement that the paralytic was forgiven would not have been offensive to his contemporaries (Jewish Law, 60-63). In Sander’s view, Jews generally believed in the possibility of forgiveness, even apart from its mediation by a priest. Thus, Jesus’ pronouncement is hardly blasphemous; the only basis for taking offence would be that some might consider his pronouncement presumptuous, since he did not know whether the man had confessed his sin and made restitution. (Sanders also wonders how anyone could have known what Jesus’ opponents were thinking; he takes this sub-vocal murmuring to be a literary device.) The problem with Sander’s view is explaining why the alleged creator of this piece of gospel tradition would think that Jesus’ pronouncing a paralytic forgiven was blasphemous, not to mention all those who heard this tradition and passed in on uncorrected. How would such a tradition emerge and be passed on if it was generally believed that pronouncing a man forgiven was nothing approaching blasphemy? Sanders is correct that Jews believed in the possibility of divine forgiveness, but little is known of how forgiveness was mediated non-cultically. It is a safe bet that a non-priest could not arrogate to himself the right to pronounce others forgiven; to assume such a religious status would require some sort of official sanction. If any were granted such a religious status apart from priest, these no doubt were few in number. Exactly, who in addition to the priests, had such a sanction is unknown, but obviously it was not Jesus.

    The connection between forgiveness and healing in this narrative needs further investigation. It is probable that Jesus attributes the man's illness to a particular sin or sins, so that upon being forgiven he is healed, since the cause of his illness is removed. In the Old Testament, individual sin and sickness are sometimes closely associated (see Ps 103:3; Isa 38:17). Similarly, in some cases "to heal" is used as a synonym of "to forgive," which gives further indication of the proximity of these two ideas (see Ps 41:4; Isa 57:18-19; Jer 3:22; Hos 14:4). A causal relationship between sin and illness occurs in Sir 38, where the advice is given that, when sick, one should repent, ask forgiveness, and bring an offering to the Temple. (This represents an individualization of the curses of the covenant.) In addition, there seems to be a causal connection between Nabonidus' illness and the sin from which he received forgiveness in the Prayer of Nabonidus (4QprNab). To posit a causal relation between the paralytic's forgiveness and healing explains why Jesus points to the man's healing as proof of his authority to forgive sins upon the earth. Were he not so authorized, Jesus could not have healed the man, since his paralysis was a result of his sin. It should be recalled that Jesus interpreted his calling as messenger of the Kingdom of God as fulfilling Isa 61:1-2 ("to bring good news to the afflicted" etc. ) and that in 11QMelch the appearance of Melchizedek is likewise said to be fulfilling of Isa 61:1-2 and also somehow instrumental in providing atonement for the "all the sons of light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek" (2.8).

Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was his custom, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. And he opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isa 61:1-2) 20 And he rolled up the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
11QMelch 2.7 "...in which atonement will be made for all the sons of [light and] for the men [of] the lot of Mel[chi]zedek.

The point is that for some Jews in the second-Temple period the eschatological figure described in Isa 61:1-2 plays a role in providing Israel with eschatological atonement. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jesus understands himself as being the messenger of the Kingdom of God and as mediating eschatological forgiveness, since he interprets Isa 61:1-2 of himself.

The historicity of this Markan unit of tradition pericope turns on issue of its alleged composite nature. It has often been affirmed that Mark represents an amalgamation of two pericopes. A saying about forgiveness (2:5b-10 or 2:6-19) is supposed to have been interpolated into a miracle story (2:1-5(a), 11-12). (Bultmann holds that 2:5b-10 was not originally an independent unit of tradition, but was constructed for the miracle story and inserted within it ; the saying arose from a discussion about the right to forgive sin (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 15, 47, 212-13). If one removes the saying on forgiveness, Jesus, upon seeing their faith, says to the paralytic, "Rise, take up your pallet and go home." Thus the phrase, "He says to the paralytic" in 2:10b is held to be a duplication of the identical phrase in 2:5a, which is necessitated by the interpolation of 2:5b-10. The controversy with the scribes over Jesus' claim to have authority to forgive sins is assumed to be a reflection of the early church's need to trace back its own claim to have authority to forgive sins to an authenticating original act of Jesus.

If it is true that Mark 2:1-12 is an amalgamation of two traditions it follows that the narrative at least in part is unhistorical, insofar as the event as described in Mark did not take place. Furthermore, if Jesus' controversy over his authority to forgive sins actually originates with the early church's need to authenticate its own claim to mediate God's forgiveness then only the miracle story alone is a candidate for historical authenticity. But if sin and illness are causally linked, so that forgiveness is the condition of being healed, then the basis for suspecting that 2:5b-10 was interpolated into an original miracle story disappears. In fact, it is historically feasible that Jesus would pronounce the man forgiven and use the fact that he was healed as evidence that "the son of man has authority to forgive sins on earth" (2:10). Similarly, the repetition of the phrase "And he says to the paralytic" in 2:10b is easily explained as narrative exigency to indicate that Jesus is addressing himself once again to the paralytic, having finished his conversation with the scribes. If there is insufficient evidence that Mark 2:2:1-12 is a composite text, the only obstacle to acceptance the narrative as historical is the claim that Jesus performed a healing miracle. Taylor rationalizes the miraculous element of the narrative by saying that the man's paralysis was hysterically induced, being a function of the guilt that he felt for his sin. Jesus' mediation of forgiveness released the man from his guilt, which led to his restoration to health (Mark, 195) On such an interpretation, Jesus becomes a perceptive psychoanalyst. But it is highly unlikely that the supernatural character of Jesus' healing as described in this narrative can be so easily naturalized.

Fiedler objects to accepting the depiction of Jesus in Mark 2:1-12 as one who, as the son of man, has divine authority to forgive sins. According to Fiedler, it was unprecedented in Judaism that anyone other than God could forgive sins, and he believes that Jesus never connected sin and illness. Moreover, Jesus’ use of the title "son of man" would have been unintelligible to his hearers (Jesus und die Sünder, 107-112). Fiedler’s objections really miss the mark. In Judaism, forgiveness was mediated by priests and likely other authoritative figures; also the connection between sin and illness in Judaism is firmly established. In addition, Jesus probably used the title "son of man," which would not have been unintelligible to his readers, whatever Jesus meant by it.

5.2. Forgiveness of Woman at a Banquet (Luke 7:36-50)

Luke 7:36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner." 40 Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. 41 "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of  them will love him more?" 43 Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly,"  Jesus said. 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." 48 Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50 Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

In a Lukan narrative, while dining Jesus assumes the right to pronounce a sinful woman to be forgiven to the dismay of the other guests. Exactly why she was a “sinner” is not stated, but arguably she used to be a prostitute. A Pharisee, named Simon, invites Jesus to eat with him; Jesus accepts and reclines at his house to eat. When she learns of this, a certain woman known in the city as a sinner brings an alabaster jar of perfume, stands behind Jesus at his feet and begins to wash his feet with her tears. If Jesus is reclining on his left side, as was the custom, the woman is positioned behind him at his back; probably, if he is sharing a couch with another, Jesus is reclining behind that one. The woman wets Jesus' feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them and then anoints them with the perfume.

    Jesus' host, Simon the Pharisee, takes exception to Jesus' allowing such a woman even to touch him. He wonders to himself how a man who is a prophet does not know that this woman is a sinner. (The assumption is that any man who is a prophet sent by God should have prophetic clairvoyance and thereby know things that the average person cannot know.) It would seem that Jesus ironically knows his thoughts, for he provides a defense against Simon's criticism. He describes a situation in which two men are forgiven of debts of differing amounts, the one five hundred denarii, the other fifty. He asks which of these men would love the one who has forgiven him his debt the more, the one forgiven of the larger amount or the one forgiven of the smaller. The answer is obvious: the man forgiven of the larger amount would love his benefactor more. (It is wrongly claimed that there is a discrepancy between forgiveness in the narrative and the remission of debt in the parable. Quite the opposite, Jesus uses a parable about two debtors to explain the behavior of the forgiven woman because the Aramaic word for sinner, chyybth, actually means "debtor" (see Matt 6:12) (M. Black AAGA-3, 181-83). So Jesus explains that this woman is going to such extremes because she has been forgiven of many sins. His meaning may be construed as follows: “Her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, with the result that she loves much.” In other words, Luke uses a consecutive hoti in 7:47. Or the hoti in Luke 7:47 may be taken in a logical sense, so that the clause states the reason why the forgiveness is known to exist. If so, Jesus would be saying: "Her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, seeing that she loves much" (Luke 7:44). (To interpret Jesus as specifying that her love is the cause of her being forgiven—the causal use of hoti—does not make sense in the context.) Because there were two debtors in the parable, Jesus expects Simon and the other critics to identify themselves as debtors whose debts have been forgiven, even if their debts were not as great as that of the woman. In this way they would be more sympathetic to her.

Luke takes over a consecutive hoti from Mark (Luke 8:25 = Mark 4:41), and inserts one into another Markan tradition:  Luke changes Mark's "What is this? A new teaching, and one with authority, and he even commands over unclean spirits" (Mark 1:27) to "What is this word that (hoti) he commands unclean spirits with authority and power" (Luke 4:36).  Thus, since Luke is not adverse to the consecutive use of hoti, Luke 7:44 may be interpreted in this way. 

    It seems that Jesus has had a previous encounter with this woman, at which time he mediated God's forgiveness to her. Thus, the event that Luke describes is what she does in response to this encounter. Jesus then turns to the woman and says, "Your sins have been forgiven" (7:48). The use of the perfect tense in this context indicates a past action: Jesus is not pronouncing her sins forgiven in the present but declaring that her sins were forgiven during his previous encounter with her. Presumably, Jesus is saying this for the benefit of Simon and the other guests, since the woman already knows that her sins have been forgiven. The other guests take offence at Jesus' presumption of having authority to forgive sins. In conclusion, Jesus says to the woman: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (7:50). The basis of her forgiveness is her acceptance of Jesus as one sent by God, through whom God mediates eschatological forgiveness.

Some interpreters view the narrative of the anointing as a Lukan creation. Bultmann argues that Luke created a realistic background for the parable in Luke 7:41-43 on the basis of Mark 14:3-9 (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 21; see Fiedler, Jesus und die Sünder, 112-16). If Luke 7:36-50 is a Lukan creation, then the narrative differences between Luke's account and its Markan must be attributed to Luke's pious imagination, unless one assumes that Luke had access to a more accurate version of the tradition than Mark, which few, if any, do. On this assumption only the parable would have any claim to authenticity. Wellhausen claims that not only is the narrative was a rewritten version of Mark 14:3-9 but also that Luke adds the parable, which changes the point of the narrative from love leading to forgiveness to forgiveness being attested by love (Lucae, 31-32). On this reconstruction neither the rewritten narrative nor the parable has any historical value. Luke 7:36-50, however, is not a redaction of Mark 14:3-9. If it were, this would mean that Luke took a tradition from his Markan tradition, heavily redacted it and relocated it outside of the Passion narrative. In other words, he would have handled his Markan source in a most uncharacteristic manner. When faced with a choice between two similar but not identical narratives, Luke opted for the non-Markan (see A. Plummer, St. Luke, 209; Marshall, Luke, 306; Geldenhuys, Luke, 234-35; Schramm, Der Markus-Stoff bei Lukas, 43-45; Wilckens, "Vergebung [für die Sünderin (Lk 7,36-50)" in Orientierung an Jesus, FS J. Schmid, 394-424 (398-99); Eichholz, Gleichnisse der Evangelien, 57-58). Schramm holds that Luke was influenced in his redaction of his special tradition by elements from Mark, which is possible, but this is quite different from saying that Luke created his narrative from Mark (Der Markus-Stoff bei Lukas, 43-45).

Even if Luke 7:36-50 is not a Lukan redaction of Mark 14:3-9, it is still possible that it represents a pre-Lukan conflation of two originally isolated traditions. Fitzmyer argues that Luke inherited a composite tradition, made up of a pronouncement story (7:36-40, 44-47a-b) and a parable (7:41-43); Luke 7:47c connects the parable to the pronouncement story (He holds that Luke 6:48-50 is a Lukan composition.) (Luke, 683-94); see Taylor, Formation of the Gospel Tradition, 70-71). At some point in the history of the tradition these two traditions became conflated into a single tradition, which Luke later incorporated into his gospel. If Fitzmyer is correct, then the historicity of Luke 7:36-50 is in question. At best, Luke 7:36-40, 44-47a-b represents another version of the tradition of Jesus' Anointing by a Sinful Woman found in the other three gospels and Luke 7:41-43 is another of Jesus' parables. But one suspects that the parable influenced the form of narrative, so that the conflation of the parable of the two debtors leads to Jesus' no longer being depicted as commending the woman for her thoughtful act but as mediating God's forgiveness to her. (This would provide Luke with a motive for creating Luke 7:48-50.) This would mean that Luke's version is historically inaccurate, since the motif of Jesus' as mediator of God's forgiveness of God is a later development in the history of the tradition. It is preferable to hold that the pronouncement story and parable form an original unity. It is unjustified to affirm that originally Luke 7:36-50 consisted of two originally unconnected traditions. Fitzmyer seems to assume wrongly that the gospel tradition must have originally existed as formally pure, isolated units of tradition. The scene described by this passage is true to life: there is no reason why Jesus would not relate a parable in the process of a dispute in the midst during in the heat of a controversy, in order to clarify his point. Thus there is no reason why a unit tradition would not originally have consisted of both narrative and parable.

Masada from Southwest

The fortress of Masada was located near the western shore of the Dead Sea.  Originally constructed during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, Masada was renovated and expanded by Herod.  Josephus describes the fortress at Masada as follows, "After following this perilous track for thirty furlongs, one reaches the summit, which, instead of tapering to a sharp peak, expands into a plain. On this plateau the high priest Jonathan first erected a fortress and called it Masada; the subsequent planning of the place engaged the serious attention of King Herod." (War 7.284-86) (Josephus then goes on to describe the details of Herod's expansion of Masada (War 7.286-94).


Why does the fact that Jesus saw himself as mediator of eschatological forgiveness to "sinners" offend Jesus' critics? How does Jesus respond to his critics in this matter?


6. Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 19:9-14)

Luke 19:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'  13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home made righteous before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." 

The point of this parable is to contrast two attitudes towards God. The Pharisee believes that he is righteous before God and in his prayer even catalogues his many properties that qualify him as being righteous. The tax-collector knows that he is a sinner, and simply repents and asks for mercy. The reader (or hearer) is intended to assume that the Pharisee is righteous only in his own eyes, and not genuinely so. (Ironically, genuine righteousness, since it is not moral perfection, is characterized by a profound sense of inadequacy.) Jesus concludes that the tax-collector departs in a state of having been declared righteous, because he has repented, asks for mercy and receives it, whereas the Pharisee does not, because he is wrongly convinced of his own righteousness. To be declared righteous is to be declared no longer to have guilt and so to be acceptable to God—it is to be forgiven. Thus, according to this parable, there are two ways of being declared righteous before God. One can obey the Law, as the Pharisee wrongly believes that he has done.

It is interesting to note that in the so-called Halakic Letter (4QMMT), the author reassures the reader  that he will rejoice at the end time, if he follows the author's counsel, because he will discover that the author is correct. It seems, in other words, that the author expects God to vindicate him and his community at the eschaton. The author continues, "Thus, it will be reckoned to you as righteousness when you do what is upright and good before God, for your own good and that of Israel" (4QMMT 117-118 [4Q398]). Obedience to the Law properly interpreted will lead to being declared to be righteous by God.

Or one could be made righteous by repenting and receiving forgiveness from God, so that one is declared righteous because of God's mercy and one's repentance. In other words, God's mercy is shown to the pentitent in not holding previous acts of disobedience against him, as in the case the tax collector in the parable. In Jesus' view, the time of the offer of eschatological forgiveness has arrived, when God would accept all Jewish sinners on the condition of repentance.

Jeremias provides linguistic evidence that Luke provides the introduction for the parable (18:9) (Die Sprache des Lukasevangeliums, 272; see also Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 193, 335). Eipen de is a Lukanism, as is de kai.  Likewise the use of pros with accusative (pros tinas) following verba dicendi to introduce the one(s) being addressed is characteristic of the Lukan style.  Luke thereby identifies for his readers the purpose of the parable:  "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable." It should also be noted that Luke 18:14b is a doublet of Luke 14:11 (see Matt 18:14).


What is Jesus' warning to those who wrongly consider themselves righteous?