Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Almost every commentary ever written on the start of Luke 16 is wrong."

When Commentaries get it wrong. Discuss.


  1. Couldn't disagree more.

    Marcus H dismisses the command of v.9 as an explanation of the parable and chooses instead to focus on v.14f. However v.9 is much closer linked to the parable and in fact v.14f makes perfect sense in the traditional reading too. The justifying of yourself that Jesus acuses the Pharisees of is seeking the justification before men - that is present, worldly and from false gods - other humans. Instead he commends seeking justification before God - that is future, heavenly and from the one true God.

    So the dishonest manager is to be emulated in that he has faith and hope for justification in the future, and is not seeking instant-gratification justification in the present.

    Marcus H does this all the time. He doesn't realise that the main problem with the Pharisees was not that they were seeking justification before God by their works, but that they were seeking justification before men by their works.

    Idolatry is the main problem with sin in the bible. Justification by works is a form of this. If we turn it around (by making idolatry a subset of justification by works) we make God not the end, but the means to something else.

    That's what I think anyway.

  2. 1. It's all self-justification isn't it.
    2. 'does this all the time' is a slightly unhelpful generalisation for a conversation!
    3. I wonder if we're to take Luke 16v9's command as being a bit like those in 10v37 and 18v23 designed to prove the futility of self-justification?

  3. 1. I don't think it is all self-justification. The Pharisees in this section are seen to be serving money. They don't do this in the hope for being declared just by either money, men or God. They do it because they think that money can deliver happiness and satisfaction. The trouble is that money is not their only god, public opinion is another god. So they seek that reward (which can be considered other men's declaration that they are 'just') by doing acts to be seen before men.

    2. Fair point. Sorry.

    3. Not many people would read the Good Samaritan and start thinking about the courtroom... but you could read those passages as leading you to realise the futility of self-justification as you suggest. However, I think it is a bit strong to say that they were 'designed' to 'prove' that. Every single command in the bible could be seen as leading to repentance and realising that we cannot justify ourself.

    Did Jesus intend people to hear the Good Samaritan and say: 'I could never be that good... I need grace' or 'I should go and do likewise'. Of course that is a false question as it is not either/or, but I don't think that the former is usually the prime intention in 'law' passages in scripture (and as MH suggests the majority of the church has been with me on that).

    We can read commandments in scripture without skipping the fact they are commandments and settling on their condemnatory implications when faced with human sin. Few people have been more aware than Luther that the commandments are impossible to keep, yet on the 10 commandments he rightly realises that primarily they are commandments and not just bad news to force us to Christ.

    I don't see why we cannot rest a while in the realisation that Jesus' commandment is good, and the promise adjoined to it is good too, before moving to the condemnation that we are all under because the law cannot be kept.

    Calvin's comments on Luke 16:1ff:

    "The leading object of this parable is, to show that we ought to deal kindly and generously with our neighbors; that, when we come to the judgment seat of God, we may reap the fruit of our liberality."

    Does his comment show us that Calvin is a legalist? Marcus H seems to suggest that Calvin and all the other commentators are indeed legalistic in lifting up an 'abomination in the sight of God' as an example to follow. I don't have it all worked out, and law/gospel causes me serious headaches, but I would suggest that this is not a legalistic reading.

    I am reminded of Charles Simeon's famous quote:

    "there is not a decided Calvinist or Arminian in the world who equally approves of the whole of Scripture . . . who, if he had been in the company of St. Paul whilst he was writing his Epistles, would not have recommended him to alter one or other of his expressions.

    But the author would not wish one of them altered; he finds as much satisfaction in one class of passages as another; and employs the one, he believes, as freely as the other. Where the inspired Writers speak in unqualified terms, he thinks himself at liberty to do the same; judging that they needed no instruction from him how to propagate the truth. He is content to sit as a learner at the feet of the holy Apostles and has no ambition to teach them how they ought to have spoken. (Moule, 79)"

    Although talking about Calvinist/Arminian interpretations of scripture, I feel that it has some application here. I think Calvin, Luther and 'almost every commentary ever written on the start of Luke 16' do try to listen to the text as it is, rather than fit it into a system (which is sadly what I feel Marcus H does here).

    4. Worship is a more fundamental category for understanding our relationships than legal language. I think Marcus H agrees with that too (c.f. Four Responses to Grace). As I said in my first comment I am again aware that if we always talk about justification God is sidelined. If we mainly talk about worship God is always centre because he is the only one worthy of worship. That is why I fired off my comment so quickly and unthoughtfully, sorry. But I'm still working it all through, so appreciate the challenges.

  4. 1. Whether we call it legalism or not, they're all idolatry....

    3. It seems to me that the good samaritan in Luke 10 is the same as the Rich Man in Luke 18 - bookending the 'road to the cross' narrative with challenges to those who think they can get themselves to God - contrasted with the 'little children' to whom he reveals himself in both ch10 and ch18.

    I grant that Marcus' language is provocative, but it's not the text but others views he's arguing with.

    4. Worship is the key. (I think if you listen to his fourth Revelation talk that becomes evident)

    I'm not overly convinced that the non-biblical language of legalism is all that helpful for us to be using, but I guess there's need for something to identify the sin of the pharisees/elder-brother/rich/lawyer etc...