Barry Newman's Blog

December 24, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part VII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:58 am

The Old Testament quotes

All three Gospels record, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner” – an exact quote from Psalm 118: 22 as it occurs in the LXX.  Matthew and Mark add, “This was from the Lord and it was wonderful in our eyes”, another precise quote from the LXX (or equivalent) Psalm – verse 23, except for one insignificant exception (“estin” rather than “esti”). The Psalm speaks of someone being rescued by the Yahweh from their enemies, with verses 16 to 18 reading, “The right hand of Yahweh has exalted me; the right hand of Yahweh has wrought powerfully.  I shall not die but live, and recount the works of Yahweh.  Yahweh has chastened me sore; but he has not given me up to death.”

One can understand why Peter associated this stone with Jesus – Acts 4: 10, 11 and 1 Peter 2: 7.  Carson suggests that while the Psalm could be referring to David, it is more likely that the reference is to Israel. Bailey recognises several features in verses 19 to 28 of the Psalm – a procession, the cry “Hosanna”, the statement “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, and a reference to branches, that are reflected in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Gospel writers portray Jesus as seeing the Psalm having a fulfilment in him.

The accounts of Luke and Matthew, in the case of the latter, after an intervening comment by Jesus, follow their quotes with a loosely constructed reference to Isaiah 8: 14, 15 and perhaps also to Daniel 2: 35.  Matthew: “And he who falls on this stone shall be broken; but on whomever it falls it will crush him”; Luke: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls it will crush him.”  The passage in Isaiah refers to Yahweh directing the prophet and those like-minded, to fear him but not to fear what others fear.  As a consequence he, Yahweh, shall be a sanctuary to them and they will not stumble over him – a stumbling stone, whereas many of Israel and Jerusalem shall fall and be crushed. In Daniel the reference is to a dream in which an image, representing a number of kingdoms, is ground to powder by a stone cut “without hands” from a mountain.

Bailey suggests that Jesus was in fact applying a text clearly about God to himself.  That unlike the students of “Hillel, the great rabbi who lived one generation before Jesus … (who) quoted texts about God and applied them to himself …, ( his students not thinking) he was serious … the disciples of Jesus were convinced that Jesus meant it – and that it was true.”[1]

The intervening comment made by Jesus as recorded in Matthew reads, “On account of this I tell you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits thereof.”  The statement, given what follows, seems reflective of Daniel 2: 44 which refers to God setting up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, a kingdom that beats to pieces and grinds to powder all other kingdoms.

Carson is of the view that “the ‘capstone’ … is most probably the top stone of roof parapets, exterior staircases and city walls … A ‘capstone’ if set too low, could be tripped over by an unwary person, sending him over the parapet; if too light or insecurely fastened, leaning against it could dislodge it and send it crashing onto the head of some passerby.”[2]

To what extent those who heard Jesus speak understood there to be references to Daniel is perhaps problematic.  It is clear however that at least the Jewish hierarchy soon understood that Jesus spoke the parable against them and presumably recognised that Jesus was quoting from Psalm 118 and, even if loosely, from Isaiah 8.

Psalm 118, Isaiah 8 and Daniel 2 together point to those upon whom judgement falls as well as those whom God delivers and exalts.  The parable that Jesus told deals with both these dreadful and glorious realities.

At this Christmas time, we reflect on the birth of Jesus of whom it was said, soon after his birth, “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2: 34).  What Jesus said just prior to his death had its precursor in the words of Simeon, uttered some 30 years before.


[1] Bailey, op. cit., pp. 424

[2] Carson, op. cit, pp. 453, 454.

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December 21, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part VI)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 10:24 pm

The Old Testament allusion

Kistemaker believes that as Jesus began his parable, the chief priests, Pharisees and scribes would have quickly realised that he was alluding to a prophetic passage from Isaiah.

In the LXX, Isaiah 5: 1, 2a reads: “Now I will sing a song about my beloved, to the beloved, about my vineyard. The beloved had a vineyard on a ridge in a fertile place. And I put a fence around it and entrenched it and planted a quality vine and built a tower in the midst of it and dug a winepress place.”  The text goes on to speak of God’s abandonment of the vineyard, identified as the house of Israel, because the vine, identified as the men of Judah, “produced thorns rather than grapes”.

In Luke’s Gospel any connection between the beginning of this parable and the parable that Jesus told would not have been all that obvious to his readers, even if they were familiar with the LXX.  Luke mentions a vineyard but that is the only similarity.  Presumably, writing largely for a Gentile audience, Luke was under no pressure to make a connection between the parable and the Old Testament at this point.

Unlike the situation with Luke’s Gospel the similarities between the parable of Isaiah and the beginning of the parable that Jesus told, as recorded in Matthew and Mark, are considerable. Each refers to a vineyard, the putting of a fence around it and the building of a tower, with Mark referring to digging a pit for a wine press, and Matthew digging a wine press in it.  However in neither case is there a direct quotation, at this point, from the LXX; the syntax is generally different anyway. Yet the resemblances are obvious.  Of course, Jesus almost certainly told the parable in Aramaic. To what extent anyone listening to the parable connected it with the Isaiah text, or if they did so, when they did so, is problematic. The Isaiah parable has God owning the vineyard and establishing it.  The text may even suggest that the place for the vineyard was there to begin with, that place having been assigned to the house of Israel. The parable that Jesus told, to begin with, simply tells of a man who planted a vineyard, describing how he established it.  In spite of the differences between the beginning of the parable that Jesus told, as recorded in Matthew and Mark, and the one in Isaiah, it is difficult to believe that no one listening to Jesus saw any connection between the parables, even as Jesus just began to tell his parable.

With respect to Matthew, with a Jewish readership familiar with the LXX, it might have been important for him for the connection to be reasonably obvious.  If there had been an Aramaic version of Matthew’s Gospel, what was recorded there may have been fairly similar to what Jesus originally said.  For Mark it may simply have been a matter of his recording the parable, in Greek, in a way that brought it into close conformity with the original Aramaic version as spoken by Jesus.

All these speculations are not meant to write off any interdependency between the three gospels or dependency by any of them on any other source. For those who listened to the parable, as it unfolded, perhaps it was a matter of “those having ears to hear, let them hear”!

December 19, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part V)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:36 pm

Explaining the differences

How does one account for the differences, especially the significant ones?  Some might suggest that Jesus may have told the parable more than once and on each occasion not precisely in the same way. However, in the case of this parable, the evidence is that each of the Gospels records the telling of it in the same circumstances and at the same time – after the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, after his “cleansing” of the temple and after his being questioned about his authority.

Do we put the differences down to memory lapses at least on the part of some involved in the transmission and then in the final recording of the parable and the circumstances in which it was told?  Could it be that for those who heard the parable different aspects came to the fore in the retelling of the event and subsequently these differences made their appearance in the Gospel narratives? Could it partly be the result of any interdependency of the Gospels and any reliance on even another source or other sources? Could the writers of the Gospels, taking into account their particular likely readership, have altered the material to better communicate the essentials of what was said and what happened, to their readers?  Should we allow the Gospel writers some freedom to recount the episode in one way or another for whatever reason, one possibility being their desire to write according to their own style?

Licona in his lengthy work entitled, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” seems to be persuaded that the Gospel records belong to the literary genre of ancient biography, while not possessing all of the characteristics of such biographies and differing from them in some substantial ways.[1] One aspect of such biographies was the degree to which the authors felt free to be flexible in their reporting of events and speeches, without necessarily believing they were contravening standards of truth or honesty or being seen by others to do so.  If this understanding of the nature of the literary genre of the Gospels is correct then more light is shed not only on the differences among the narratives of the resurrection of Jesus as told in the Gospels but also on such as the differences in the recording of this parable and its circumstances.

One can image a bizarre scenario in the ancient world, where an opponent of the early believers and their claim that God had raised Jesus from the dead, exclaims that the Gospel records obviously do not agree on the details surrounding that so-called resurrection and so cannot be trusted.  To which in response, in our scenario, a believer replies, “Are you for real? Are you someone from the 21st century!? The Gospel writers are simply using the style of our age.  They are allowed some flexibility. You know that! The Book ‘Les Miserables’, the musical production, ‘Les Miserables’ and the film, ‘Les Miserables’ all differ in details, but the plot is essentially the same.  The outcome is the same. They are however a work of fiction or based on that work of fiction.  On the other hand, our Gospel writers are dealing with the truth, the extraordinary truth, the world shattering truth, of which many are witnesses!!”

The differences in the narratives are in the end minor and do not prevent us from discerning the meaning and significance of the parable and the main circumstances of its telling.  However later on we will need to take into account some of these differences as we explore what is being conveyed to us.


[1] Licona, M.R., The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, IVP, Downers Grove IL, 2010, pp. 201-204.  See also notes, 6 to 26 referred to in those pages.

December 17, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part IV)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:40 pm

The differences in the Gospel records

There are a considerable number of differences among the Synoptic Gospels with respect to the parable itself and consequential interactions between Jesus and others.  My endeavouring to indicate some of these differences has resulted, here and there, in an awkward translation of the texts.  Some of the differences are quite minor and amount to such as word order, a pronoun instead of a noun or whether an item is singular or plural in number.  Each Gospel differs in terms of various details given. There are however some marked discrepancies. One major difference concerns the descriptions given to how many servants were sent to collect the fruit and what happened to them and another is in terms of whether Jesus responds to the question of “What will the master of the vineyard do?” or whether his listeners do.

Luke records how, in the parable, three servants are sent. As Bailey notes, the description of what happens to them shortens with each one but the severity of the way they are treated increases with each one. However none of them are killed. In Mark Jesus speaks of three individual servants to begin with, the last one being killed and then many others some of whom are beaten and some of whom are killed. Matthew, somewhat similarly to Mark records that of the servants originally sent, one is beaten, another killed and another stoned and that when more are sent they are treated in similar fashion.

Both Mark and Luke relate how Jesus utters a rhetorical question concerning the reaction of the vineyard owner, answering how he will destroy the tenant-farmers.  However Matthew has some of his listeners respond in kind but at greater length.

December 15, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part III)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 12:18 pm

The circumstances leading to the telling of the parable

The historical and literary setting for the parable is much the same for all three Gospels.  In was uttered a few days before Jesus was killed. Each record the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem with the throwing of garments on the road along which he travelled, with many uttering the cry, “Blessed is he (Luke ‘the king’) who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Each refers to Jesus entering the temple driving out all those who sold there and his saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called (Luke: be) a house of prayer (Mark: for all the nations) but you have made it (Matthew: make it) a den of robbers.” Each record how the chief priests and scribes reacted to what he did there, with Mark and Luke writing how they sought to destroy him. Matthew and Mark refer to the cursing of the fig tree and how on the following day, the disciples observed the fulfilment of the curse.  All three Gospels relate how Jesus, being in the temple again, was questioned by the chief priests, the scribes and the elders as to under what authority he was operating and as to whom had given him such authority. Each mentions how Jesus in his counter-questioning of them concerning John’s baptism, said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  Mark and Luke then recount Jesus telling the parable of the tenants.

Matthew, alone, before proceeding to that parable, records Jesus speaking of the parable of the two sons, with his exclaiming, at the end of the parable, to those who had questioned him about his authority, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and sinners will enter the kingdom of God before you.”

Bailey sees special significance in the actions of Jesus in the temple at this time. For example, in not allowing anyone to carry anything through the temple (Mark 11: 16), he believes that Jesus would have been in control of the 39 acres (14 hectares) of the temple complex, preventing among other things the afternoon sacrifice. “Jesus and his followers … had made their public statement.  The new messianic King had claimed his own and had signalled the obsolescence and destruction of the temple.”[1] Such a situation would have infuriated the religious hierarchy.  No wonder the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the city sought to destroy Jesus (Luke 19: 47) and why members of the Sanhedrin demanded Jesus to declare by what authority he had acted in the way he had done.

It will become important to reconsider these circumstances when we come to examine the significance and meaning of the parable later on.


[1] Bailey, op. cit., 411. In stating this he writes “as argued by N.T. Wright.”

December 13, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part II)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:04 pm

Resources

Before commencing this blog I read relevant sections from the following: Carson’s commentary on Matthew[1], Bailey’s “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”[2], Jeremias’ “The Parables of Jesus”[3] and Kistemaker’s “The Parables of Jesus”[4].

The main concern of Jeremias is to demonstrate how the composers of the Synoptic Gospels, over allegorised the original parable which he believes is more faithfully recorded in the Gospel of Thomas.  I will not proceed to examine the parable as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas as I think there is reasonable evidence that that Gospel was written after the writing of the Synoptic Gospels.  Furthermore, in my opinion, the parable as given in the Gospel of Thomas is deficient compared with the parable found in the Synoptics. . For all that, Jeremias has some interesting comments to make about “The introduction to the parable”, “The sending of the servants” “The sending of the son” and “The final question”.

Carson discusses, what he terms, “the complex debate” surrounding the parable. For instance he makes a number of comments on Jeremias’ thesis and his concern for allegorisation. As expected he interweaves his exegesis of the parable with the context in which it is imbedded.  He is cautious on a number of matters of interpretation over which there are differences of opinion.

In his work, Kistemaker considers all three Gospel accounts and recounts the parable in a way that suggests that it was true to life.  In doing so he appeals to certain matters which he believes provide significant background to the parable.  Along with the other three authors, he argues that the meaning of the parable can be derived in part by a consideration of the “Song of the Vineyard” in Isaiah 5 and the quotes that Jesus made from Psalm 118 and Isaiah 8.

Bailey, characteristically, analyses Luke’s account in terms of structure.  This enables him to talk about balance of ideas and a central feature that he believes is at the heart of the parable.  His understanding of what is central in the parable is somewhat different to the understanding espoused by the others.  As usual, he has some significant things to say about the cultural and social background to the parable and some of this is a little different to that provided by Kistemaker. Among other things, in his explication of the significance of the parable, he draws on some rabbinical material, a fascinating story told of a 20th century king of Jordan, and the Middle Eastern importance given to the concept of “honour”.

During the course of this series some attention will be given to ideas expressed in all four sources, but particularly some of the background material provided by Kistemaker and Bailey.


[1] Carson, D.A., “The parable of the tenants” in Matthew, Mark, Luke, The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1984, pp. 450-455.

[2] Bailey, K.E., The Parable of the Noble Vineyard Owner and His Son” in , Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL, 2008, pp. 410-426.

[3] Jeremias, J., The Parables of Jesus, Revised Study Ed., SCM, London, 1963, pp. 70-77.

[4] Kistemaker, S., “Tenants” in The Parables of Jesus, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1980, pp. 87-98.

December 6, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part I)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 10:20 pm
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The Parable of the Tenants

Like the parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Sower, this parable that Jesus told can be found in all three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.  For ease of comparison, the three accounts together with connected subject matter are given below in three columns.

     Matthew 21: 33 – 46Hear another parable.“There was a man, a householder who planted a vineyard and placed a fence around it and dug in it a wine press and built a tower and let it out to tenant-farmers and went abroad.And when the time for the fruits drew near he sent his servants to receive his fruit. And the tenant-farmers took his servants: they beat one, another they killed and another they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more than the first and they treated them similarly.

And in the end he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

But the tenant-farmers, seeing theson, said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come let us kill him and possess his inheritance.’

And they took him, cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

When therefore the master of the vineyard will come what will he do to those tenant-farmers?

They said to him, “He will bring a miserable death upon those evil men and let out the vineyard to other tenant-farmers who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone, which the builders rejected, this has become the head of the corner;

this was from the Lord and it is wonderful in our eyes’?

On account of this I tell you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits thereof.

And he who falls on this stone shall be broken; but on whomever it falls it will crush him.’”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables they knew that he was speaking about them. But when they tried to arrest him they feared the crowds because they regarded him as a prophet.

           Mark 12: 1 -12And he began to speak to them in parables,“A man planted a vineyard and placed a fence around it, and dug a wine press pit and built a tower and let it out to tenant-farmers and went abroad.And at the time he sent a servant to the tenant-farmers in order to obtain from the tenant-farmers the fruit of the vineyard.  But they took him, beat him and sent him away empty. And again he sent to them another servant and they struck him on the head and shamefully treated him. And he sent another to them and they killed him: also many others, some they beat, some they killed.Yet he had one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying ‘They will respect my son.’

But those tenant-farmers said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and the inheritance will be ours.’

And they took him, killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.”

What therefore will the master of the vineyard do?

He will come and destroy the tenant-farmers and give the vineyard to others.

Have you not read this scripture:

‘The stone, which the builders rejected, this has become the head of the corner;

this was from the Lord and it is wonderful in our eyes’?

And they tried to arrest him but they feared the crowd because they knew he had told this parable against them. And leaving him they went away.

            Luke 20: 9 -19And he began to speak to the people this parable.“A certain man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenant-farmers and went abroad for a long time.And in time he sent a servant tothe tenant-farmers in order for them to give to him the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenant-farmers beat him and sent him away empty. And he proceeded to send another servant but they also beat him, shamefully treated him and sent him away empty. And he proceeded to send a third. They also wounded him and threw him out.And the master of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Perhaps they will respect him.’

But having seen him, the tenant-farmers reasoned among one another and said, ‘This is the heir.  Let us kill him so that the inheritance may become ours.’

And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

What therefore will the master of the vineyard do to them?

He will come and destroy these tenant-farmers and give the vineyard to others.”

And when they heard (it) they said, “May it not be.”

But he looked at them and said, “What then is that which is written:

‘The stone, which the builders rejected, this has become the head of the corner’?

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls it will crush him.’”

The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on him at that time but they feared the people for they knew he had told this parable against them.

December 2, 2012

The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The parable of the Mustard Seed — barrynewman @ 12:20 am

Here is the full series

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