Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Why two different Greek words for steward?

Luke uses two different Greek words for steward. The Greek word used to describe the Chuza’s position is ἐπίτροπος. This is a person who manages a household but Chuza is Herod Antipas’ steward and his household is quite large. What then is the significance when Luke uses a different Greek word translated as “steward” in the Parable of the Faithful Servant and the Parable of the Unjust Steward? This fact, and what I wrote earlier about Erastus and also the observations of Austin and Plummer with respect to this parable, prompted my question. Is there anything in Luke to suggest that Luke is in fact discussing the temple establishment that would permit me to link the parable of the unjust steward with the rich man clothed in purple?

Recently Lee Dahn suggested to me that one verse of the Parable of the Unjust Parable may be an allusion to a verse in the Book of Ezra. Two different biblical resources stated emphatically that there are no quotations in the New Testament from several books of the Septuagint including the Book of Ezra. Consequently an independent investigation was necessary to validate the proposal made by Lee Dahn with respect to one verse.

Ezra was a priest and scribe, a direct descendant of Aaron through Eleazar (Ezra 7:1-5). His father was Seraiah, the last High Priest to serve in the First Temple (2 Kings 25:8-21). What we know about Ezra is found in Ezra chapters 7 to 10, and Nehemiah chapters 8 to 10, where he led the second group of exiles that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. Ezra is the only person in the Bible described as “skilled in the law of Moses” [Ezra 7:6 RSV].

Ezra was a man of extraordinary learning who educated his people. “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel” [Ezra 7:10]. Ezra is credited with reviving an interest in the study of scripture. Ezra led the reform of post-exilic Judaism.

The temple at Jerusalem had been rebuilt and dedicated but more priests were needed to carry on its services. There was a pressing need of men of God to act as teachers of the people. Therefore Ezra issued a second appeal to the Levites, sending them an urgent invitation to unite with his company. To emphasize the importance of quick action, he sent with his written plea several of his "chief men" and "men of understanding." Ezra 7:28; 8:16.

Ezra 8:24: Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests: Sherebi'ah, Hashabi'ah, and ten of their kinsmen with them.

25: And I weighed out to them the silver and the gold and the vessels, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his lords and all Israel there present had offered;

26: I weighed out into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and silver vessels worth a hundred talents, and a hundred talents of gold,

27: twenty bowls of gold worth a thousand darics, and two vessels of fine bright bronze as precious as gold.

28: And I said to them, "You are holy to the LORD, and the vessels are holy; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD, the God of your fathers.

29: Guard them and keep them until you weigh them before the chief priests and the Levites and the heads of fathers' houses in Israel at Jerusalem, within the chambers of the house of the LORD."

30: So the priests and the Levites took over the weight of the silver and the gold and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem, to the house of our God.

As a special precaution in safeguarding the treasure, Ezra "separated twelve of the chief of the priests," men whose faithfulness and fidelity had been proved “and weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering of the house of our God, which the king, and his counselors, and his lords, and all Israel there present, had offered.” These men were solemnly charged to act as vigilant stewards over the treasure entrusted to their care. "Ye are holy unto the Lord," Ezra declared. Ezra also stated "the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering unto the Lord God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the Lord." 8:24, 25, 28, 29. Ezra appointed faithful officers to act as stewards. These people by the first century had become known as treasurers of the temple.

There are no details provided about what happened during the five month journey of the second wave of repatriates led by Ezra. In his memoirs Ezra writes "I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way; since we had told the king 'The hand of our God is for good upon all that seek Him'..." Fasting and prayer thus secured safe passage (Ezra 8:22ff.) The contents of chapters seven and eight indicate concern for Temple cult and personnel played a primary role in the organization of the journey.

Thus it is apparent that the Book of Ezra has described how Ezra appointed twelve trustworthy chief priests to act in a role which could easily be described as treasurers of the temple. Is there any Second Temple literature confirming the existence of temple treasurers? Josephus told how when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem he “presented the sacred money to the treasurers, who were of the family of the priests.” Josephus also stated in describing the custody of the vestments of the high priest during a particular period: “Before that time they were kept under the seal of the high priest, and of the treasurers of the temple.”

The Talmud preserves a lamant of Abba Joseph ben Hanan, who lived during the era of Herod's temple; he conveys the plight of the common person under the high-priestly families:

Woe to me because of the house of Boethus,

woe is me because of their staves.

Woe to me because of the house of Hanan,

woe is me because of their whispering.

Woe to me because of the house of Kathros,

woe is me because of their pens.

Woe to me because of the house of Ismael ben Phiabi,

woe is me because of their fists.

For they are high priests

and their sons are treasurers

and their sons-in-law are trustees

and their servants beat the people with staves.

Babylonian Talmud Pesahim, 57a; Tosephta Menahoth 13:21 cited by Menahem Stern, 'Aspects of Jewish Society: The Priesthood and Other Classes,' in Jewish People, ed. Safrai and Stern, 2:602-3.

The significance of this first century lament is that the sons of the High Priests were treasurers providing further proof of the existence of this temple position. Does the Greek word οἰκονόμος in the Parable of the Unjust Steward refer to a person connected with the temple? The answer is a qualified yes. Thayer’s Lexicon notes that the word can mean “the superintendent of the city's finances, the treasurer of a city (or of treasurers or quaestors of kings)” and the entry under Strong for this word includes a fiscal agent (treasurer).

We now come to the verse which Lee Dahn believes is an allusion to a verse in the Book of Ezra. Note that in Luke 16:6-7, the owed amounts are 100 baths of oil and 100 measures/cors of wheat. In Ezra 7:22, we read “up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.” The Greek words appearing in the Book of Ezra (LXX) match the Greek words in the Gospel of Luke. In verse 21, we read the King decreed these quantities of silver, wheat, wine and oil were to be turned over to Ezra as a gift for the temple in Jerusalem. Josephus describing this same gift to the temple stated, inter alia, “And that God may not be at all angry with me, or with my children, I grant all that is necessary for sacrifices to God, according to the law, as far as a hundred cori of wheat.” Thus the treasurer of the temple, translated in the parable as steward, had each debtor reduced the quantity of the item owed to the temple. In several other verses, these items, but in different quantities, are mentioned in temple transactions.

There are several other examples in Luke-Acts that may be allusions to the Book of Ezra that have been overlooked.

The following words, phrases and concepts appearing in the chapters of the Book of Ezra describing Ezra and his accomplishments can be found in Luke-Acts: “law of Moses”, Luke 2:22; 24:44; “set his face” may allude to “set his heart” (but see Gen. 31:21; Isa. 50:7; Jer. 21:10; 44:12; Ezek. 6:2; 13:17; 14:8; 15:5; Dan 11:17-18); “chosen vessel,” Act 9:15 may allude to “You are holy to the LORD, and the vessels are holy” and “men of understanding” is contrasted with lack of understanding in Luke 2:50; 8:10; 18:34 and 24:45; Acts 7:25; 28:26-27.

The fact that there are a number of allusions in Luke-Acts to the Book of Ezra is confirmation that the allusions are intended as part of a common theme.

I need to check Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, to determine if the history of the offices of the temple is discussed. I do not believe so. Nor does Skarsavune, In the Shadow of the Temple discuss the history of the offices of the temple.

More work is needed before the transaction can be changed from “steward” to “treasurer of the temple.” The next part in this series about the proper economic, legal and social context of some of the parables will address the significance of the order to “give an account.”

Copyrighted 2006


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