Barry Newman's Blog

March 12, 2013

The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep (part VI)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep — barrynewman @ 11:46 pm

According to Carson[1]

Carson says little about the cultural or other background to the parable in Matthew, though he argues that the reference to the sheep “wandering away” suits the pastoral setting of the parable and should not be understood as signifying later apostasy from the Christian community.

He devotes considerable attention to the matter of the “angels” referred to in the verse immediately preceding the parable, verse 10 (considering verse 11 as lacking good manuscript support). He is reluctant to consider the “angels” as a reference to angelic beings and writes, as one of his reasons, “Nowhere in Scripture or Jewish tradition of the NT period is there any suggestion that there is one angel for one person.” Although he recognises that there are references in Scripture to angels in connection with believers, such as in Hebrews 1: 14, he believes that “the most likely explanation is the one Warfield … defends.  The ‘angels’ of the ‘little ones’ are their spirits after death, and they always see the heavenly father’s face … their destiny is the unshielded glory of the Father’s presence”. He concludes that “The evidence though not overwhelming, is substantial enough to suppose that ‘their angels’ simply refers to their continued existence in the heavenly father’s presence.”

One of Carson’s concerns is the idea that for every believer there is a guardian angel.  However one could still hold to the view that angels have a special concern for believers without subscribing to that specific idea.  Indeed, as the writer of Hebrews  puts it, “Are they (angels) not ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” And as already mentioned, in Luke Jesus follows his telling of the parable of the lost sheep with a comment on the joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15: 10).

Might it not be, as expressed in Matthew, that “their angels” are the angels of the little ones, in the sense simply that they have a special interest in the salvation of these believers, these little ones?  Additionally, it may well be that in the comments being made by Jesus in Matthew 18: 10 and Luke 15: 10 we are being given information concerning which people were previously ignorant.


[1] For Carson’s comments on the parable and its setting see Carson, D.A., “Matthew in Matthew Mark Luke, The Expositors Bible Commentary, volume 8, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1984, pp. 395 – 404

March 10, 2013

The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep (part V)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep — barrynewman @ 11:57 pm

According to Jeremias[1]

We have already noted Kistemaker’s use of Jeremias and that Jeremias understands that the term, “sinners” would include “shepherds”.

However we should recognise the following: In the ancient world, to describe a ruler as a shepherd was to refer to the responsibility of a ruler to care for his people just as a shepherd has the responsibility to care for his sheep. Moses was a shepherd, God himself is referred to as a shepherd (e.g. Psalm 80:1). There are many references to a “shepherd” in the Old Testament in a noble sense, even a shepherd whom God will raise up. for the care of his people. Probably in the time of Jesus the notion of “shepherd” could be accompanied by either or both bad and good connotations.

On other relevant matters Jeremias writes, “Among the Bedouin the size of a flock varies from 20 to 200 head of small cattle; in Jewish law 300 head is reckoned as an unusually large flock.  Hence with 100 sheep the man possesses a medium-sized flock; he looks after it himself (like the man in John 10: 12), he cannot afford a watchman. Similarly though a little differently to Black, Jeremias believes that “the mountains” (ta ore) of Matthew are a translation of an Aramaic word meaning, “hill-country”. He also comments that “shepherds are reckoned among the hamartoloi, because they are suspected of driving their flocks into foreign fields, and of embezzling the produce of their flocks … A Palestinian shepherd counts his flock before putting them in the fold at night, to make sure that none of the animals is lost.  The number 99 implies that the counting has just been carried out.  … Experts all agree that a shepherd cannot possibly leave his flock to itself.  If he has to look for a lost animal he leaves the others in charge of the shepherds who share the fold with him … or drives them into a cave. … When a sheep has strayed from the flock, it usually lies down helplessly, and will not move, stand up or run. Hence there is nothing for the shepherd to do but to carry it, and over a long distance this can only be done by putting it on his shoulders.”

We should note that Jeremias believes there was only ever one parable and that the original version is preserved in Luke.


[1] For references  by Jeremias to the parable and its setting see Jeremias, op. cit., pp. 38 – 40, 132 – 134

March 8, 2013

The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep (part IV)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep — barrynewman @ 9:45 pm

The cultural and other backdrops to the parables

I think one needs to be cautious about writing into the parables what one considers to be the natural backdrop to the parables.  Jesus may have chosen to ignore some of what would be described as normal, in order to make a necessary point.  However, it may be of some value to consider the following perspectives.

According to Kistemaker[1]

Kistemaker, who recognises that Jesus may have told a similar story twice in two different settings, treats the parables as one. He draws upon material produced by Bishop, Smith, Armstrong, Jeremias and Brouwer. Referring to Bishop he writes, “A person who owned a hundred sheep was a man of small to average means.  He himself cared for the sheep, knew them by name, and counted them at least once a day.”  While recognising that the parable simply indicates that the 99 sheep are left by the shepherd, he points out that it does not say that they were unprotected and quotes Smith, saying, “We must probably picture them as driven into some enclosure.” He further writes, making references to Armstrong and Jeremias, “Sheep are very social animals; they stay and live together as a flock.  When a sheep is cut off from the flock, it becomes bewildered. It lies down unwilling to move, waiting for the shepherd.  When he at last finds it, he puts it on his shoulders, in order to cover the distance back to the flock more quickly.  Soon shepherd, sheep and flock are together again.” He also mentions Jeremias and Brouwer, portraying “the shepherd with a sheep around his neck, grasping front and hind legs with each hand.” In dealing with the difference between Matthew and Luke as to where the 99 sheep are left he refers to Black whom he says, “suggests that the word mountain may have been influenced by the Aramaic tura ‘which in Palestinian Syriac has the twofold use of “mountain” and “country,” the “open country” as contrasted with inhabited places.’”  I will refer again to this matter of “mountain” and “open country” later.


 [1] For Kistemaker’s chapter on the parable see Kistemaker, S., The Parables of Jesus, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1978, pp. 206 – 210

March 5, 2013

The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep (part III)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep — barrynewman @ 11:35 pm
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            Luke

The parable in Luke is immediately preceded by a reference to the Pharisees and the scribes muttering about how Jesus fraternised with “tax collectors and sinners”. Jeremias maintains that “the term ‘sinners’ means: (1) People who led an immoral life (e.g. adulterers, swindlers, Luke 18.11) and (2) people who followed a dishonourable calling (i.e. an occupation which notoriously involved immorality or dishonesty), and who were on that account deprived of civil rights, such as holding office, or bearing witness in legal proceedings.  For example, exercise-men, tax-collectors, shepherds, donkey-drivers, pedlars, and tanners.”[1]  Although the incident begins with the note that “all” these tax collectors and sinners were approaching Jesus to hear him, the Pharisees and the scribes in their murmurings referred to something more – his receiving sinners and eating with them.  That Jesus received sinners may imply that sometimes he acted to some extent as host at these dinners. Undoubtedly the Pharisees and the scribes considered and wanted others to conclude that Jesus himself was tainted by his relationship with these people.  And to have gone so far as to have eaten with them, displaying, in his world, such a hospitable attitude towards them in the act of eating with them, and perhaps behaving in some way as a host to such at certain dinners, must have resulted in their contempt for him, concomitant with their contempt for the “sinners”.

Luke earlier records how Jesus was a guest at a great banquet thrown by the tax collector Levi where many other tax collectors were present and how some Pharisees and in particular some scribes who were Pharisees, muttered to his disciples questioning how they could eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus replied with sarcasm saying, “Those who are healthy do not need a doctor, only those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5: 29 – 32, similarly reported in Matthew 9: 10 – 13).

Having told the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus then says, “So I say to you there shall be (more) joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance.”  (Jeremias believes that God himself and his joy are being referred to but that the statement is expressed in this way because it would be inappropriate to ascribe emotions to God.[2])  With respect to the idea of their being 99 righteous persons who have no need of repentance, Jesus was perhaps using a Semitic turn of speech involving a comparison where there was no comparison at all. There are no “righteous persons who have no need of repentance.” Alternatively he may have been simply speaking with a tinge or more of sarcasm when he uttered the latter part of his saying.

Luke then recounts the parable of the lost coin and what is commonly called the parable of the prodigal son. While not discussing these later parables it is clear that the latter deals with how the older brother responds to and how he should respond to the “repentance” of the younger one – surely dealing with the same theme that lies behind the parable under discussion.

So for Luke, unlike for Matthew, the setting is one of how one does or should respond to the repentance of those considered “sinners” and what Jesus has to say about the so-called righteous.


[1] Ibid., p. 132

 [2] Ibid., p. 135

March 3, 2013

The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep (part II)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep — barrynewman @ 8:33 pm

The Settings

The differences between the two accounts of the parable are enough to suggest that Jesus may have told similar though somewhat different stories on at least two different occasions.  Indeed, perhaps of greater significance is that the settings in the Gospels for the parable are very different. However we cannot dismiss the possibility that Matthew and Luke simply inserted the one parable, whether it was told only once or more times, into their literary structures, giving it different twists for their own literary and theological purposes, and given their different readerships. None the less we will proceed as though the parables are different and see where that tactic leads us.

Matthew

Chapter 18 of Matthew begins with the disciples asking Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He then focuses on a child and remarks upon becoming like children as a necessary qualification for entry into the kingdom of heaven and identifies who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. After equating reception of one such child with reception of himself he warns of the terrible seriousness of causing one of these little ones to sin. Then follows his remedy for those by whom stumbling blocks arise in the world – cutting off of a limb, plucking out an eye. This is followed by his warning not to despise “one of these little ones and gives a reason for this which focuses on their “angels” “always having an audience with” (?) (literally “their angels continually behold the face of”) his father in heaven. At this point Jesus asks the question that begins his parable of the lost sheep. The parable is then immediately followed with the words, “So it is not the will of (literally “the will before”) your (or “my”) father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”  The phrase uttered before the parable, “behold the face of my father in heaven” seems to be in parallel with the phrase uttered after the parable, “before your (or “my”) father in heaven”.

What follows this statement, namely advice about a brother who sins, does not seem to be intimately associated with the parable, though it is not totally without relevance.  In fact Jeremias is of the view that it is this advice, about how to treat a brother who sins, that indicates, how for Matthew, in the way he uses it, the parable is mainly hortatory in character – “addressed to the disciples, a call to the leader of the community to exercise faithful pastorship toward apostates.”[1]

The setting for the parable in Matthew then, is predominantly that of the “little ones”.  While it is clear that to begin with Jesus is referring to “children”, (“paidion” or a cognate occurs four times in the first few verses of the chapter – vv. 2, 3, 4 and 5), he later refers only to little ones (“mikron touton” in vv. 6, 10 and 14), which many agree seems to be a reference to his disciples.  The cross over from “children” as “children” to “little ones” meaning something like “young, precious but vulnerable disciples” is not a clearly defined one but begins perhaps as early as verse 4 if not verse 3.

It might appear, at first glance, a little odd, to have this “tender” parable preceded by the reference to: the terrible judgement that will fall upon him who causes one of the little ones to stumble, the dire procedures to be adopted to avoid creating a stumbling block and the warning not to despise one of the little ones. However, these matters may be considered to be consistent with the reference in the parable to the lost sheep having wandered away rather than having been lost by the carelessness of the shepherd. In fact to refer to the parable as told in Matthew as “the parable of the lost sheep” may be considered misleading.  The implication could be that the sheep has gone astray because someone else has placed an obstacle, in its path, causing it to stumble.


 [1] Jeremias, J., The Parables of Jesus, Study Edition, SCM press, London, 1963, p. 40

March 2, 2013

The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep (part I)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep — barrynewman @ 12:33 am

The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep

The parable of the lost sheep, that wonderful story told to so many Sunday School children over the centuries is not as innocent and lovely as it might first appear. I am indebted to my friend and colleague of many years, Colin Gauld, for arousing my interest in this simple or not so simple parable.  As I have thought about it I have begun to realise that this blog series could turn out to be a little complicated and somewhat longer than originally I would have thought necessary.

The parable is recorded in two of the Gospels: Matthew 18: 10 – 14 and Luke 15: 3 – 7.

The Parable

Essentially the accounts are the same. A man has a hundred sheep. One is missing. The man leaves 99 of the sheep to find the missing one. There is rejoicing when he finds it.

However they differ in a number of details.  Though they both begin with a rhetorical question, in Matthew, it is in terms of, “What do you think?” (i.e. with respect to, the following situation), whereas in Luke it is along the lines of, “What man of you” (i.e. finding yourself in the following situation) “does not ….”.  Matthew’s account, by far the simpler, then speaks of one of the sheep “going astray”, while in Luke, the man has “lost” one of them.  In Matthew, the 99 are left upon the mountains.  In Luke, the 99 are left in the desert. In Matthew, the man “searches for the one that went astray and then if he finds it, he …” and this is in contrast with “he searches for the lost sheep until he finds it”, in Luke. Matthew then records that the man upon finding it “rejoices over it more than over the 99 which have not gone astray”. Luke is far more elaborate at this point and the story advances with, “And having found (it), he lays (it) on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together friends and neighbours saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”

February 15, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 9:33 pm

Here is the full series

February 14, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part VII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 9:49 pm

The oddities of the parable?

I am not sure that there are any oddities in the parable itself. The fig tree in the “story” that Jesus told behaves exactly in the same way that fig trees behaved in his real world.  What may be considered a little peculiar however is the reference to a welcome homely event – the coming of the fig season, being allied to the awesome future that is in store for many and for disciples especially.  This sharp contrast, generally ignored by the commentators, may well have had a sobering and long lasting effect on the disciples.  One should not ignore the possibility that this was a purposeful ploy by the master educator – referring to an ordinary and well known development in the life of tree, with its pleasant outcome to bespeak of awesome and unexpected events, yet to come, most unpleasant for many.

What we should learn from the parable and the teaching of Jesus accompanying it.

What Jesus said to his disciples, he has also said to us.  We must not see the peaceable circumstances of western Christianity that exist at this present time as normal.  The world and what happens to believers in this world is by and large tortuous.  And we can be easily led astray.  We must be on our guard against false teachers and false messiahs and we must understand that persecution when it comes is what Jesus promised.  We should further realise that the plans of God do not focus on a temple, Jerusalem or national Israel.  They relate to the proclamation of the gospel worldwide and the bringing in of the kingdom in its finality with the coming of the Son of man.

In the words of Jesus: “Listen carefully. Watch. For you do not know the time when these things will occur. The situation  is like a man who going away and leaving his house, puts his slaves in charge and assigns to them their work, commanding the one in charge, the door-keeper, to be watchful. Likewise you must watch. For you do not know when the master of the house will come.  It could be in the evening, at midnight, when the cock crows or in the morning and not during daylight hours. If you do not keep watch, he could come without warning and find you asleep. What I say to you disciples, I say to all.  Watch”.

February 13, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part VI)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 10:14 pm

Solutions to the problems?

It is not my intention to review various solutions proposed to the problems outlined above.  Carson’s understanding of the textual material is one example of how evangelicals have addressed the issues.  See Carson, D.A., Matthew, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, the Expositor’s Bible Commentary Series, vol 8, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1984, 496-507. In his concluding remarks and with respect to the claim by Jesus that “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24: 34), he writes, “If our interpretation of this chapter is right, all that v. 34 demands is that the distress of vv. 4-28, including Jerusalem’s fall, happen within the lifetime of the generation then living.  This does not mean that the distress must end within that time but only that “all these things” must happen within it” (p. 507).

Taking a broad look at the textual material, one is struck by its many components and the ways in which they are juxtaposed.  Using much of the general descriptions given earlier to these components and forming a type of collage from the accounts given in the three Gospels, we find that reference is made to:

the prediction of the destruction of the temple, the coming of the Christ, world- wide catastrophes before the end, persecution for the disciples, the need to endure to the end, desolation, “invasion” and the warning to flee, the gospel of the kingdom being preached throughout the world, the warning about false Christs and false prophets, the coming of the Son of man being obvious, the picture of cosmic catastrophes and the coming of the Son of man, angels gathering God’s elect, Jesus stating that when “these things begin to take place … lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near”, the parable of the fig tree, the statement, “This generation will not pass away until all has taken place.  Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away”, the warning that the exact time is known only to the Father, the parable of a man preparing for going on a journey, the warning about being weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the cares of life, the warning to watch and pray, because the exact time when the Lord is coming is unknown and because the disciples need strength to escape all these things and to stand before the Son of man, the parallel with the days of Noah and the sudden appearance of the flood for those who perished, the warning of the suddenness of the end and eternal distinctions being made between people – some taken, some left.

One cannot fail to be impressed by the extreme gravity of the various situations being foretold, the dire warnings given to the disciples, the catastrophes that will occur in the near future, the startling end of all these matters involving the coming back of the Son of man, the master of the house returning from his journey.

Perhaps one of our problems has been to look at the accounts with a modern, western and strict view of chronology and time duration.  Is Jesus not primarily concerned to warn his disciples of their need to escape the destruction of Jerusalem soon to take place, their dire future because of their relationship with him and the possibility of their being led astray by false claims, false people and unrighteous living?  Does he not so warn them by painting the situation to be as extreme as it will be and is he not giving them an assured awareness of the reality behind his warnings by indicating that the beginning of the catastrophes – the great distress, will occur in their life time? And while so warning them, does he not give them the assurance that it will all one day come to an end, with the return of their master in final vindication, along with indicating their need to recognise that when that will occur is completely unknown?

He collapses together the many and various elements of the complete scenario.  The predominant use of the word “near” and the reference to “all these things” is simply a consequence of this compactness.

February 11, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part V)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 9:09 pm

Problems in understanding the parable and the words of Jesus that accompanied it

If the prime matter being referred to by the word “near” is the soon to come destruction of the temple, the successful siege of Jerusalem the military occupation of the surrounding land and even the persecution of the early disciples, then we readily comprehend the significance of that word.   We also readily understand the notion that these matters would be carried out with considerable force.

If however we reflect upon the reality that wars, nations rising against nations, famines and earthquakes (“floods” and “fires” are not specifically mentioned but I am sure we are meant to include them) have been occurring in the world throughout the last two thousand years and occurred before, the idea of “nearness” in association with them may seem to be a little odd. (Although one might argue that since they have always been occurring they have always been near.) We might also consider it odd that Jesus said the gospel would be preached throughout the world, if that phenomenon is to be associated with the idea of “nearness”, when we recognise that it is only in our time that one could legitimately say that the gospel has been so preached. And some might say that not even that has really come to pass yet.  (Alternatively one might view “the world” as Jesus spoke of it as being of narrower dimensions than our modern view of “world” and agree with Paul that in his time the faith of believers was being reported on “throughout the whole world” [Romans 1:8]).

Adding to our puzzlement might be that part of the interpretation of the parable given by Jesus where he refers to “when you see these things happening” (Mark and Luke) or “when you see all these things” (Matthew).  That Jesus, after telling the parable, solemnly declares, “This generation shall not pass away until all has taken place”, may only compound our difficulties. And what are we to make of “the great signs from heaven” (Luke)?  Well, presumably, whatever else one might make of this phrase, it speaks of the cataclysmic nature of the events being described.

The textual material preceding and following the parable of the fig tree is well recognised, particularly by evangelicals, to be one of the most difficult parts of Scripture with which to come to terms.  One proposal, as part of a solution, is that Jesus, thinking that the final bringing in of the kingdom with the return of the Son of man was imminent in time, was simply mistaken.  After all Jesus was not only the Son of God he was also fully a man and subject to some of the limitations of mankind.  It is arguable for instance that along with everyone else of his age he believed that the organ, the heart, was where thought was located. Additionally, as seems evident from the Gospel accounts, that he was sometimes surprised at the belief expressed in him by gentiles. (Although on other occasions he displayed knowledge that one would not have expected him to have possessed unless God had revealed it to him.) Furthermore, in the textual material under discussion he indicates something of his knowledge of his own ignorance in saying that he is not privy to the knowledge of “that day and hour”.  None the less, many are reluctant to concede that with respect to the relative imminence (or otherwise if that is the case) of his final arrival and the arrival of the kingdom in its completeness Jesus was mistaken.

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