Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ezra as a source for Luke

It is a generally accepted datum of New Testament scholarship that the Book of Ezra was not a source of quotations or allusions for any book in the New Testament.[i] I write to suggest that it was a source for Luke. This article will examine the Parable of the Unjust Steward and the controversy sayings of Chapter 16 sandwich between this and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

My exposition of the Gospel of Luke would address Theophilus as if he had professed a lack of understanding of Christianity perhaps based on sacerdotal concerns.

Luke seems to emphasize contrasts, such as the thankful vs. thankless lepers, the repentant and unrepentant thieves, the Samaritan and the Pharisees, and the rich man and Lazarus. The author also contrasts high and low, proud and humble, and the rich and poor. This is a characteristic of the wisdom literature. If Luke is using wisdom literature as a model or source, one should expect to see parallelism, vivid words, examples from life, metaphors, comparisons and contrasts.

Contrasts are presented in a number of different forms and methods. For instance, Luke may place two words, phrases, concepts, incidents and/or individuals in juxtaposition to create comparisons and contrasts.[ii] When the outline is set forth in this manner, it is easy to see how the Book of Ezra could be a source.

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.”[iii]

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."[iv]

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.” The gifts for the temple also included 100 cors of wheat and 100 baths of olive oil. 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.

After Ezra and his company arrived in Jerusalem, Ezra was informed that some of the Jerusalem priests have married foreigners. Ezra directed that a genealogy be prepared of everyone. Apparently approximately 100 priest and 10 laymen had married foreigners. Ezra assembled the community, read the Book to them and directed that the 110 priests and laymen divorce their spouses forthwith. Ezra and his community believed that intermarriage resulting in children constituted a defilement of the “holy seed” that corrupted the holy land and had to be eliminated to protect the land of Israel.

Ezra and the “men of understanding” were scribes and teachers of the law. By the time of the Maccabees, they were linked to the Hasideans.[v] The Hasideans as advocates of Torah and covenant led Jewish resistance to Hellenism. Kampen concluded that it may be that the origin of Pharisaism is within the scribal circle of Hasidim. The Pharisees, like the pre-Maccabean party of scribes, assiduously cultivated a strictly legalistic piety, holding themselves aloof from the world.[vi] Josephus considered the Pharisees to be the most accurate interpreters of the laws. The name, Pharisees, means “separated ones.”

Before discussing the controversy sayings, it should be stated that Luke has contrasted the “men of understanding” of Ezra 8:16 with the lack of understanding in Luke 2:50; 8:10; 18:34 and 24:45; Acts 7:25; 28:26-27. 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”[vii] and “chosen vessel,” Act 9:15 may allude to “You are holy to the LORD, and the vessels are holy.” 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.

The first thing we realize about the controversy sayings of is that the response is directed to the Pharisees who had scoffed at Jesus. In Ezra 10:11, we read “separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” In the four verses preceding the reaction of the Pharisees to what Jesus said in commenting on the Parable of the Unjust Steward, we read: “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” The word “faithful” appears four times.

In Ezra 9:2, we read “For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons; so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” Thus it appears that Luke has compared the “faithlessness of the officials and chief men” with the unjust steward and contrasted them with the faithful steward of Luke 12:42. Luke has also contrasted the 12 appointed by Ezra who weighted-in with the steward who was directed to give an account because of allegations of dishonesty. This word steward οἰκονόμος in the Parable of the Unjust Steward should probably be translated as “treasurer of the temple.”

When the Pharisees scoffed at the sayings of Jesus he responded with 4 verses: “But he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void. Every one who divorces his wife and marries commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

The last verse talks about divorce which is most interesting for this article because Ezra had directed about 110 Jewish men to divorce their wives. Jesus is addressing his comments to the Pharisees who like Ezra are skilled in the law and Jesus sees a dilemma that Ezra also faced. When two prohibitions seemingly conflict, which controls? Ezra said the prohibition on intermarriage controls. Jesus said the divorce and subsequent remarriage was tantamount to adultery. The penalty for adultery was death by stoning. Therefore Jesus addressed it differently and in so doing followed Malachi who rebukes Israel for profaning the Mosaic covenant (Mal 2:10-16). One example is the breaking of the marriage covenant by divorcing ("breaking faith with") the wives "of their youth" (v. 14).

In Ezra 9-10, intermarriage with foreigners is viewed as a defilement of the holy race and as unfaithfulness to God (9:2; 10:2, 10). Thus the Lucan Jesus has again contrasted the “unfaithfulness to God” with “breaking faith.” The Lucan Jesus talks about the faithful steward in Chapter 12 and says in effect, by the way unfaithful also means when an unfaithful husband commits adultery when he divorce and marries another.

The Pharisees, being skilled in the law, were certainly well versed in scripture and would recognize when Jesus used a rare word such as βάτους

[Lk 16:6] and that it only appeared in Ezra 7:22.[viii] This is purpose of the description of the two quantities of wheat and oil using the word βάτους and κόρους copied in Greek from Ezra with the same exact quantities. A κόρους was a Hebrew dry measure for grain of between 10-12 bushels. 100 cors of wheat was a large amount of wheat, representing the yield of about 100 acres. In Luke, these items represent either rent owed to the Temple or payment on loans made from the Temple. Luke alludes to Ezra because he wants us to realize that in both instances the intended recipient is the Temple. The second occurrence of an unusual word form in Luke 16:12 must have caused a reaction in that Luke used the word ἀλλοτρίῳ translated in Luke as belonging to another. Ezra used this same word translated in Ezra as “alien” seven times in Chapter 10 in addressing the problem of intermarriage. Thus the scene is set for the use of the word βδέλυγμα translated in Ezra and Luke 16:15 as abomination.

In Lk 16:15, Luke is using the same Greek word Ezra used in describing the intermarriage, “abomination.” In Ezra 9:1 we read, inter alia, “The people of Israel and their priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites.” In using the word, abominations, Ezra was asserting that intermarriage was absolutely the worst thing that the people could do. Luke has equated intermarriage with unspecified certain conduct of the Pharisees using the same Greek word, βδέλυγμα . Actually Ezra has a compound word containing this word with letters added at the end translated as “their abominations.” Neither Plummer, Marshall nor Bock have recognized that βδέλυγμα is used in Ezra 9:1.[ix] This word is usually used to denote detestation amounting to idolatry and nothing has indicated that idolatry is in issue in the Gospel of Luke but Acts does have a minor idolatry theme. However, Ezra uses this word in conjunction with intermarriage. This would not be significant but for the last verse in the four verse response to the Pharisees.

The divorce verse now has new significant. What is it?

The Lucan Jesus has implicitly criticized the Ezran concept of exclusiveness instituted by a mass divorce and by a direction to live apart within the land. This is also an implied criticism of the Pharisees, the “separated ones.”

"That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." Position, wealth, education, popularity, religiosity, the esteem of men -- these are abomination in the sight of God. However this list is not conclusive as can be seen from reviewing the various passages: Lev 18:18-30; Lev 20; Deut 24:1-4; 25:13-16; Proverbs 3:31-32; 6:16-9; 11:1; 17:15; 20:10; 24:9 and 28:9.

Each of these examples of allusions to Ezra depends on a single word. Birger Gerhardsson discussed the use of a catch-word as a memory device where the use of the word would allude to a passage of scripture. He gives the example of the “thorn-bush” periscope in Exodus 3:1 and Luke 20:37 implying Luke was aware of this memory technique and used it in his gospel. These examples seem to suggest that Gerhardsson is correct. Those in the audience had followed in the traditions of the men of learning and knew their scripture so well they knew that Jesus had alluded by word and concept to the Book of Ezra.

Luke has used the Book of Ezra as a source.[x]

Copyrighted 2006

[i] Thomas L. Brodie in The Birthing of the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings (Paperback - Jun 6, 2006) has suggested that Ezra was a source for chapter 3 and 4 of the Gospel of Luke.

[ii] Compare these examples. Witness the contrasts between "fell" and "added" in the expressions "there fell of the people that day about three thousand men" (Ex. 32:28), and "the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41)—the only occasions where "about three thousand" is used in Scripture. Similar too is this example: "there were with him about four hundred men" (1 Sam. 22:2), and there "rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves" (Acts 5:36). In 1 Sam. 28:24, we read of the "fat calf" while in Luke 15:23, we are told of "the fatted calf’ which was killed for the prodigal son!

[iii] Ezra 7:6 RSV

[iv] Ezra 7:28, 8:16

[v] 1 Maccabees 7

[vi] Josephus, War, II., viii. 14; Ant., XVIL, ii. 4; Life, xxxviii.; Acts xxiii. 3, xxvi. 5; Phil. iii. 5

[vii] 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).

[viii] In the Parable of the Lost Coin, Luke used the word “drachma” to identify the coin, a word which appears only in Ez 2:69; 8:27; and Lk 15:8,9, perhaps setting the stage for the use of βάτους.

[ix] The Lexical Concordance for the Septuagint and NT includes this word as being utilized by both Ezra and Luke.

[x] My good friend Lee Dahn noted that when the unjust steward had the people rewrite their indebtedness, the one initially owed “100 baths of oil” while the second person owed “100 kors of wheat” that these phrases appear in Ezra 7:22 using the same Greek words as appear in Luke 16:6-7. He also reminded me that Ezra directed the mass divorces.


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