Barry Newman's Blog

January 26, 2013

The Parable of the Tenants (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 8:50 pm

Here is the full series

January 24, 2013

The Parable of the Tenants (part XIII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 8:11 pm

In conclusion

What would be an appropriate title for this extraordinary parable?  “The parable of the tenants” is how it is commonly known. Would “The parable of the wicked tenants” be a more appropriate title? What about “The parable of the noble vineyard owner” a title something akin to the one suggested by Bailey? The long suffering owner of the vineyard is one of the striking characteristics of the story. Yet judgement, severe judgement, comes to the fore as the parable concludes and in the words which Jesus utters at the end.  Would, “The parable of the vineyard owner who punishes” or “The parable of the vineyard owner whose long suffering has a limit” be more suitable? Traditionally we assign titles to the parables that are fairly simple and the titles themselves do not say much if anything about the underlying significance of the parable. A title such as “The parable of the vineyard owner and his tenants” would conform to this tradition.

Whatever we decide about its title, it is a terribly violent parable, a portrayal of God’s purposes with the focus on God, his people, his prophets and his Son and the wickedness of those who rejected his son and God’s response to their wickedness. And then upon the conclusion to the parable, for those who have ears to hear, Jesus makes it ever so clear that he is the Son. And he will be killed by wicked and lawless men.  And he will be vindicated.  And he will be judged.  Many in Israel and beyond Israel will fall because of him and many will rise because of him.

In our day and age, in the light of this parable, let all who claim to lead his people at any time reflect seriously on how they do lead them! How weighty is the judgement of God upon those who lead his people astray!  But let all, who read this parable and the comments that Jesus made, whatever their relationship with God’s people, take care how they respond to this Jesus. Jesus is the Son of the Great King.  Nothing can be thought, said or done concerning this son of God that escapes the notice of that Great King. And he has made him Lord!

January 22, 2013

The Parable of the Tenants (part XII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 10:46 pm

The oddities of the parable

Carson regards the sending of the son, after all that has happened to the servants, as not as odd as a modern reader might find.  Bailey makes little reference, if any, to the idea that there are features to the parable that are not true to life. Kistemaker seems to believe that the parable would be readily appreciated by the hearers as realistic although his remarks along this line relate to the absentee landlord and the sending of the servants to collect what was owed to him.  Jeremias also apparently thinks that the parable is realistic although he concludes that the slaying of the son was meant to convey to the audience an intensity of wickedness that otherwise they might miss.

One cannot speak with certainty but several features of the parable do stand out to my mind as quite extraordinary – indeed very odd and unrealistic.  However, I am in no way implying that Jesus could not tell a “good story”.  I wish to make a point to the contrary, as shall be explained.

Would any sensible landowner keep on sending servant after servant, all being shamefully treated or worse?  Some were stoned, some were beaten and according to two Gospels, some killed.  One might with considerable hesitation send a second servant, after receiving word that the first had been very badly treated- perhaps there had been some gross misunderstanding, some terrible mistake.  But what if that second servant was likewise abused?  Surely at this point the landowner himself would come or if not send or have sent some law–enforcers, either his own or those belonging to the authorities.  What landowner would really tolerate the beating, the stoning, and the killing of so many servants?

Then, after all this manifestation of extreme toleration, would the landowner really imagine that these evil tenants would somehow radically change their attitude and respect his rights just because he sent his son? Would not the expectation be that these tenants might well treat his son in the same way as they had treated his servants, even if they were to regard their treatment of his son as being of a much more serious nature?  Was the landowner not putting his son knowingly in jeopardy?  Surely if the son were sent he would be sent with a show of force to take over control of the vineyard and to punish the tenants. Of the course the reality would be that God so loved the world that he would give up his only Son.

And how evil can a group of tenants be?  Would they not acquire a terrible reputation?  Who would do business with them in the future?  Who would ever want to come near them? They had become thoroughly evil – completely lawless. Yet to begin with, they were not “outlaws” or political rebels.  They were hired tenants!  To beat, to stone, to kill, to throw a body out of the vineyard, or to stone a person outside the vineyard and then cast the body aside, to be ravaged by dogs!  How unbelievably callous, how utterly evil these tenants were!

And finally, does the landlord in the end simply put in an appearance and destroy the tenants bringing upon them a miserable death. He and whose army – no mention being made of any force other than himself?  (Again, of course, the reality is that God needs no army to assist him.) And then would he simply hand the responsibility for the vineyard over to other tenants?  He had not made a good choice of tenants on the first occasion.  Will he choose any more wisely the next time?

The parable is artificially constructed.  It is a set up.  Jesus is the master story teller.  As with the parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed the truth that Jesus intends to convey must shape the parable. Realism must not shape the truth.  What Jesus wishes to portray is profound.  The truth he intends to convey is extraordinary. It is the truth people need to hear.  In this instance, it is not only his disciples that must hear, but also the crowds listening and fundamentally the chief priests, scribes, elders and Pharisees.  And hear it they will.  And for some there will be understanding, at least in part.

For Jesus the truth dominates what he says.  The created story is simply the carrier for that truth.  No one would comment, as Jesus told the story, that it did not ring true. Instead the reaction would be in terms of endeavouring to discern what Jesus was getting at.  The story was a horrific one.  It was spell-binding. No wonder Luke records, some saying, “May it not be!”  And they got the message or at least part of it.  Light dawned, but it exposed extreme evil, demonstrated extreme patience and in the end spoke clearly of extreme judgement.

Jesus was the supreme artist but his artistry was of the most serious kind.

January 20, 2013

The Parable of the Tenants (part XI)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:13 pm

The relevance of the parable and what followed for the readers of the Gospels

While removed in time from the telling of the parable, the readers of the Gospels could hardly fail to see much of its significance.  Whatever their final response to Jesus, surely they would recognise that Jesus regarded himself as the son who had been sent by the father, God himself, to act on the Father’s behalf, that Jesus considered that he was the central figure in God’s final revelation to his people and that he was historically the most important of all God’s servants and coming at the end of the line, the ultimate personage in history.  Surely the readers were meant to understand that Jesus foresaw his death, that it did not catch him unawares, and that he also foresaw his vindication and his role one day as judge.

Presumably, the readers would have recognised how Jesus saw God’s character.  That he had been devoted to his people, loving his people, having chosen them for himself, that he expected his people to be loving towards him in return, ever faithful to the one who had loved them, nurtured them and done all things necessary for their well being, that God had been exceedingly long suffering, patient, enduring, slow to anger, while being ill treated, still persistent in endeavouring to draw his people to himself; that in the end he had made himself vulnerable, sending his only son, the beloved son, to be despised by a rebellious leadership, and that ultimately his justice would could come to the fore, his son would be vindicated, exalted and all those who had ill treated his son and those who came before him would not go unpunished.

Would the readers recognise that in God’s justice and in his outworking of his plans his people would be defined differently to how they would have been understood in the past – that there was to be a new Israel consisting of those who would offer to God what he so desired, love, faithfulness, obedience, loyalty?  Would the readers recognise the jeopardy in which they placed themselves if they opposed this Jesus but alternatively how they would be recipients of the favour of God if they recognised this Jesus for whom he is – the real Messiah, the Christ, the saviour, the Lord, the coming judge?

January 17, 2013

The Parable of the Tenants (part X)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:00 pm

Understanding what followed the parable

Luke records how in answer to the rhetorical question of Jesus, “What will the master of the vineyard do …?” and his own reply, “He will come and destroy … and give … to others.” Jesus is met with the dramatic response, “May it not be!” Surely no one believed that the parable was simply a story without any point. But was it the case, from Luke’s point of view, that at least some in the crowd saw that the parable was a portrayal of God, his vineyard Israel and its religious leadership and how God would bring judgement upon that leadership and transfer their responsibilities to others?  Surely the reaction recorded would be unexpected if the listeners could not understand some aspects of what the story signified. Perhaps Luke had to include a reference to the response for the sake of his Gentile readership whom themselves, unlike the Jews who had listened to the parable, may have been slow to make the connection between the parable and the realities behind it.  The response, “May it not be!” would provoke the reader to think seriously about what the realities behind the parable might be.

It is at this point however, that in all three Gospels it is recorded that Jesus asks the question about the Scriptures that refer to the rejected stone becoming the head of the corner.  In the light of the obvious rejection of Jesus by the religious authorities in the electric environment leading up to the telling of the parable, surely some would conclude that not only did Jesus believe that the stone being rejected was Jesus himself but that this was indeed the case.  After all, he was the one whom had been greeted by crowds with the words, “Hosanna to the Son of David” as he approached the city of Jerusalem and by children with the same words as he healed in the temple.  Yet he was being opposed by the religious leaders, who in fact wanted him dead! Some thought he was a prophet but did some believe that he might be even more than a prophet?  Could he be the long promised and long awaited Messiah? Did some think that if he thought of himself as the head corner stone, did he consider himself to be the Messiah?  And in accord with the psalmist, this turn-around from being the rejected stone to the dominant stone – this would be God’s doing, if it came to pass. It could only be God’s doing and what a marvellous thing that would be – “wonderful to the eyes”. Would some in the crowd have thought even like that?

For Matthew’s readers, the severity of God’s judgment on those who rejected his Son would not be allowed in any way to be minimised. Jesus would continue by saying that the kingdom of God would be taken away from “you” – those who would have understood that the accusing finger was pointing at them – those who had opposed him so vehemently and who were yet to bring about his death – and given to a nation that would produce what God desired.  Did the words of Daniel 2 come to mind in any of the hearers? One could posit that in his reference to “nation”, Jesus was simply saying a group of people, still the Jewish people but considered to be a different nation being constituted under a new leadership, was what he had in mind. However, Matthew’s Gospel, though written for a Jewish readership, every now and again brings to the fore that the gospel has relevance for the gentile world.  The Magi from afar seek out the baby Jesus. “You are the light of the world” Jesus said to his disciples early in his ministry. It was a centurion’s servant and a demon possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman whom Jesus healed. The “sheep” and the “goats” come from the nations that the Son of Man will judge.  The followers of Jesus are to make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Is Matthew recording that this other “nation” is more like the gentile world, or at least not just the Jewish world?

Then as Matthew and Luke record, the stone, portrayed by the prophet Isaiah as Yahweh himself, and which Jesus links with the stone of the Psalmist, which he has identified as himself, that stone, will crush to pieces those who fall on that stone.  Oppose Yahweh and in the end he will grind you to powder.  Oppose Jesus and he will do likewise.  It is difficult not to see Jesus as closely identifying himself with Yahweh, or at least as acting for Yahweh.  And do we not now know that he is the judge whom the Father has appointed to judge the world?

Having heard the parable and having perceived that the parable had them in mind, the scribes, the chief priests and the Pharisees seek, what will be in effect the carrying out its prophecy. They wanted to arrest him then but the crowd holding him in such awe and regarding him as a prophet, made that impossible.  They would seek another time.

There is an ambiguity in the text.  Was it only the religious hierarchy that perceived that the parable had been spoken against them or did the crowds also perceive the same thing?  It is not improbable that the crowds saw it the same way as the religious leadership.  I have already suggested such. In which case, part of the problem for those seeking to do away with Jesus is that the crowds may have seen them in the same light that Jesus saw them.  Their intentions would have been too obvious.  They wanted Jesus dead!

At this point, one might have expected all three Gospels to have recounted, almost immediately upon the telling of the parable, the actual arrest of Jesus, his trials and the crucifixion.  However, while indeed there were only a few days between the telling of the parable and these events, each of the Gospels reports numerous other things that Jesus said and did. None the less the significance of much of what he said and did during those few remaining days is partly derived from the circumstances behind the telling of the parable and the parable itself.  But that is another story.

January 15, 2013

The Parable of the Tenants (part IX)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:53 pm

Understanding the parable

By now, if it was not so before, the meaning of the parable and what followed should be reasonably clear.  Jeremias describes the parable as “pure allegory”.  Well, it certainly is highly allegorical. The advice that one should normally look for only one or two main points being made in a parable does not apply here.

The main elements of the parable are:  the vineyard owner, his servants, the son of the owner, the tenants and of course the vineyard itself and its fruit.  The vineyard is Israel. God is the owner.  The fruit of the vineyard that God expects could be justice, righteousness, faithfulness and love, without insisting on being precise. His servants are those whom God has sent to Israel. His son is Jesus. The tenants are those who are Israel’s religious leaders responsible for the care of Israel.  There is also significance to be attached to the time line.  God chose Israel in the past; the prophets came to Israel throughout her history; the Son has finally come to Israel; the son will be killed; the current leadership will be removed; there will be a new leadership. There is also significance attached to what happens. God’s choice of Israel involved his considerable care for her; God expected certain qualities from his people; the religious leaders have acted with considerable malice towards God and his prophets; God has been longsuffering and patient; the prophets were, and the Son will be, shamefully treated; the religious leaders act as though they could act with impunity; God will finally bring judgement to bear upon those leaders; although not part of the parable, in the words of Jesus that follows it is clear that the Son will be vindicated and exalted and will himself be central in the judgment of God.  Finally, if in the parable the landlord is to be understood as a foreigner, is Jesus conveying the notion that God is a foreigner to those who were supposed to be caring for his people?  They are antagonistic towards him and reject his ownership. An intriguing thought!

For all of the theological and historical material embodied in the parable there is some diffuseness to it however and one should recognise what it does not portray.  It would be a mistake to see significance in each item involved in the setting up of the vineyard – for example, elements of the complex history of Israel, its beginnings with Abraham, the rise of the kings, the prefigured Messiah, David, the division of Israel into the Southern and Northern kingdoms, the annihilation of the northern kingdom, the exile of the Southern kingdom, the occupation of Israel by succeeding nations – none of these features are being portrayed in the parable.  It would also be a mistake to be too precise about the identity of the tenants and when they have been operating. Surely they at least represent any with influence who are opposed to Jesus, however, given an historical perspective, they also represent those in the past with influence who did not take care of but mislead God’s people and mistreated his servants.  History is compressed in this parable. It also seems we should be careful in seeing the killing of the son outside of the vineyard as illustrative of Jesus being killed outside of the city of Jerusalem. Mark’s Gospel, which may give an account of the parable closer to the original version as told by Jesus, than the other Gospels, has the son killed within the vineyard.  Should we see, in the reference by Jesus to Psalm 118, an understanding by him that he is representative of Israel?  There are other questions like that, the answers to which are not easy to determine.

And one must not forget the setting. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and his cleansing and occupation of the temple explicitly displayed a belief in his own importance and authority. The reaction of the chief priests and scribes to what occurred there was profound. The cursing of the fig tree by Jesus bespoke of his judgement upon the failure of at least the religious leadership.  The confrontation between Jesus and members of the Sanhedrin created even greater animosity. The parable of two sons, recorded by Matthew, that elevated the tax collectors and sinners above the religious hierarchy was stark in its condemnation of the latter and would have only increased the tension between Jesus and the religious leadership.

The parable focuses on the extraordinary opposition Jesus was now facing. Yet it has its setting in history.  To repeat its significance but within the historical setting: God in his great kindness had chosen a people especially to be his people.  He nurtured them, cared for them taught them, gave them all things necessary for their good health just as Isaiah spoke of God planting his vineyard: his high quality vines were grown in fertile soil on a ridge receiving both sun and rain, the vineyard was fenced about, entrenched and a tower built; E\expectations were for a wine press, one day, to produce quality wine.

In due course God expected the only appropriate outcome and sent his servants, surely, the prophets, who however could only generally condemn what was on offer.  Some of his servants were shamefully treated and some were killed.  The so-called leaders of God’s people were the ones largely responsible. Finally God sent his Son, his beloved son – that Son, ever so much more important than any or all of the prophets. Surely those claiming to lead his people would recognise his Son for who he is!  But shamelessly they would kill him as well.  They would “cast him out”. God, who though his messengers had been himself shamefully treated, and so dishonoured, had been ever so patient, long suffering and finally so gracious in sending his Son, now, having suspended judgement for so long, would act in anger.  Heavy judgement would descend on those who claimed to be the religious elite.  Others would now care for his people.  It may have been that some time later the “others” would be identified, by some, as the gentiles.  However, at the time or not too long afterwards, the “others” would have been understood to have been the leaders that Jesus had been training – his intimate and faithful disciples.

The judgement court of God had been in session, a verdict had been reached and sentence pronounced.  Later, perhaps when the Gospels were being read, the destruction of Jerusalem would have been seen as both symbolic of and part of that sentence.  And can we not hear echoing in the parable the lament over Jerusalem recorded later in both Matthew and Luke: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you.  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not. Behold your house is forsaken” (Matthew 23: 37, 38; Luke 13: 34, 35a)?

January 13, 2013

The Parable of the Tenants (part VIII)

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

The cultural background

Wealthy farmers often lived away from their farms and left the management of their holdings in the hands of others.  Jeremias suggests that the most likely backdrop to the parable is that of a foreign farmer living in another country. He claims that “the whole of the upper Jordan valley, and probably the north and north-west shores of the Lake of Gennesaret but also a large part of the Galilean uplands, at that time bore the character of latifundia, and were in the hands of foreign landlords.”[1]  He concludes that because these landlords were living abroad, their absence from their holdings enabled any tenants to take considerable liberties and furthermore, if the landlords were foreigners the tenants would most likely treat them in an aggressive manner.  However, in the parable that Jesus told there is no mention of the owner of the vineyard being a foreigner.  The owner simply plants the vineyard, protects it, and prepares it for the production of wine, and then goes abroad, as Luke puts it, “for a long time”.  None the less, if, foreign ownership of farms was common, there would be no need to mention in the parable that the landlord was a foreigner.  However, whether or not the landlord is a foreigner, may not be all that important for understanding the parable and perceiving its significance. But see below.

Carson points out that the landowner shows his care for the vineyard in his setting up of the fence and the building of the tower. “He builds a wall to keep out animals, a watchtower to guard against thieves and fire, and digs a winepress to squeeze the grapes right there.”[2]

Kistemaker has a lengthy section on the background to the parable. He comments as follows:  “The watchtower was used during the harvest as a lookout against thieves, and might also serve as a dwelling place for the tenant.  The whole project was a financial venture for the landowner.  He planted new vines on untried soul. He rented the vineyard to farmers, but would have to wait for four years before the vines began to bear grapes.  During this time he would support the farmers, buy manure and supplies for the vineyard and hope that in the fifth year he might have a profit. … (In the absence of the landlord), “the tenants would cultivate the vineyard, prune the branches, and raise vegetable crops between the vines during the first few years.  The tenants worked as sharecroppers and were thereby entitled to a portion of the produce.  The rest of the income would go to the owner. … For the first four years the owner would have to support (the tenants). … When the harvest time approached in the fifth year, the landowner would send his servant to collect the income of the vineyard. Contacts between the owner and the tenants may have been minimal during the first four years.  This lack of contact may have resulted in alienation and even hostile attitudes on the part of the tenants, as depicted in the parable.”[3]

Upon the landlord’s servant being beaten, Kistemaker continues, “The message which the owner received was that the tenants had no intention of paying the requested income of the grape harvest.  By sending the servant away beaten and empty-handed, the tenants claimed possession of the total crop … the tenants by beating and killing (other servants) made it known that the vineyard remained in their hands.  They were the ones who had made it productive; therefore, they reasoned, they were entitled to the produce of the vineyard and even to the vineyard itself  … when they saw the son approaching, they may have thought that the owner had died and that the son had taken his place.  That being the case little would stand in the way of full possession of the vineyard if the son were removed. The tenants then could claim that they had faithfully tended the vineyard, that they had not paid any rent for a number of years, and that the legitimate owner of the property had died. .. (the tenants initially admitted the son) to the vineyard, but in order not to defile the vines with blood, they killed him outside of the vineyard … assuming that accompanying servants would take care of the burial.” [4] Recognising that there are some differences among the Gospels, for example, that Mark, contrary to Matthew and Luke records the son being killed in the vineyard and then cast out, the scenario painted by Kistemaker admirably fits the parable.

However, Jeremias and Bailey, neither of whom goes into the detail provided by Kistemaker, have slightly different perspectives.  Jeremias believes that given the assumption that the owner is dead, upon the killing of the son, the land becomes ownerless property with the first claimants to the ownership being given that right. In commenting on the phrase, “the inheritance will be ours,” Bailey appeals to “a ruling in the Mishnah regarding ‘squatters rights” that reads: ‘Title by usucaption (sic) to houses, cisterns, trenches, vaults, dovecots, bath-houses, olive presses, irrigated fields, and slaves, and aught that brings constant gain, is secured by occupation during three completed years.’” and claims that this ruling “sheds light on the mentality of the renters in the story, who believe that if they can maintain physical possession for three years, they can secure ownership of the vineyard.”[5]

Of perhaps greater importance is the significance that Bailey gives to the notions of “insult”, “shame”, “anger” and “nobility” in his understanding of the parable. In referring to Luke only, he comments on the shameful treatment of the second servant and rhetorically asks the question, “How much violence and insult against his servants will the owner of the vineyard tolerate? … The owner has the right to contact authorities, who at his request will send a heavily armed company of trained men to storm the vineyard, arrest the violent men who have mistreated his servants and bring them to justice.  The abusing of his servants is an insult to his person, and he is expected, indeed honour bound, to deal with the matter. No anger is mentioned but it is assumed. The question is, what will he do with the anger generated by the injustice he and his servants have suffered?  … “Will he allow his enemies to dictate the nature of his response?  He is in a position of power.  Retaliation is possible and expected.  But is further violence the only answer?”  Bailey continues, “We sense a painful pause … where the master says, ‘What can I do? (The owner experiences anger, frustration, pain, anguish, rejection, desire for retributive justice and finally a costly peace out of which he chooses to act.)  I will send my son.” [6] It is not surprising that Bailey believe that the title to the parable should be “The Parable of the Noble Vineyard Owner and His Son”. In fact the structure he proposes for the parable as recorded in Luke has as its central pivotal feature, the decision of the owner of the vineyard to send his beloved son.

The background provided by Jeremias, Kistemaker and Bailey is unfortunately not in all respects congruent, yet together they provide sufficient material for us to have a general understanding of the setting of the parable.

What exactly did Jesus have in the background of his mind as he told the parable? We cannot know.  What exactly were the overwhelming features of the story that were consistent with how the majority of hearers would have understood the backdrop to the parable?  We cannot answer that with confidence either. It is possible that as different hearers heard the parable, the background they brought to their understanding of the raw elements of the parable, differed anyway.  It may have even been the case that for many hearers, if not most or all, some aspects of the parable did not even ring true to life.  I will refer to that matter again later.


[1] Jeremias, op. cit., pp. 74, 75.

[2] Carson, op. cit., p. 452.

[3] Kistemaker, op. cit., pp. 90, 91.

[4] Ibid., pp. 91 – 93.

[5] Bailey, op. cit., p. 420.

[6] Ibid., pp. 415 – 417.

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.

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.

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