This is my exegetical paper for Gospels. I wrote it at the same time I wrote an exegetical paper for Old Testament History and Theology which I won’t be posting since I was very disappointed with it. I had great hopes for it and parts of it were really pretty good but I punted on the Biblical theology section, I really should have been bolder but I went in the obvious direction and my paper lacked coherence. (since it was going somewhere and I detoured it). So, it will never see the light of day unless I do some extensive editing (which apparently will never happen). It was the story of Hagar in the wilderness, a passage I think says a lot about God’s care for the Gentiles even though they weren’t his covenant people. I also thought the passage was interesting in light of the parallels in the story of Hagar and the story of Israel: oppression at the hand of their masters and God’s care in the wilderness are themes shared by both. And the interesting reversal of fortunes: the descendants of the oppressor are oppressed by the people (Egyptians) of the slave girl. Maybe I’ll look at it again during my break, if I edit it, I might post it when I return to blogging.
This paper suffers from what all my exegetical papers suffer from, I wrote it the week it was due, I did not edit it enough and it lacks cohesion. I think that you can see some improvement in my introduction but I didn’t write the paper I intended to write. Oh well, at least I can learn from my mistakes and hopefully write a better paper for my next class. And I can console myself with the knowledge that I only have three more papers to write and then I’m done 🙂
When Jesus toldthe disciples the Parable of the Unjust Judge, he knew that they would havecertain presuppositions about how the widow was to be tried in the land ofIsrael, about what was expected of the judge and what they expected when theMessiah ushered in the kingdom of God. The Scriptures are filled with statutes on the treatment of the widowand exhortations to the judges in
The purpose ofthis paper is to examine the parable in light of these presuppositions and touse that to shape an interpretation that would be applicable to the churchuniversal. As well as examining some ofthe interpretative issues related to this parable.
The Text in Context and Interpretation Issues
In the passagesimmediately preceding the parable (Luke 17:20-37), the Pharisees ask Jesus whenthe
Jesus begins the parable by giving thedisciples its meaning: they should always pray and not lose heart. They are to pray repeatedly, not all day [ii]and Luke’s use of dei/ makes it “a moralimperative.”[iii] This needfor prayer has clear reference to Jesus’ delay in returning. Though his return will be sudden and obvious,and though they long to see it, they will not, so they need to pray so as not tolose hope. Though there may be a sensethat persistence in prayers is applicable,[iv]losing sight of the main point does disservice to the text. The point of the prayer is for vindication,for justice[v]that only a just judge can give, it’s similar to the prayer in Revelation ofthe saints under the altar who cry out “how long before you will judge andavenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”[vi]It’s a prayer to God to give them the strength to persevere in their suffering;to continue in the faith[vii]until Jesus returns; to not stop crying for justice even when the wickedprosper, and to pray for those who are being persecuted for the sake of thekingdom. Praying without ceasing thatGod’s kingdom would come, so that they may receive what they reverently desire,to live in righteousness and justice.
The parableconsists of two characters, an unjust judge and a persistent widow and anunseen third character that is the impetus for the widow’s actions, he is heradversary and she goes to the judge to receive justice against him. In a society where the Torah is taken seriously,it would be expected that the widow would receive justice because the judgewould know from Scripture that dispensing justice to widows was expected ofhim. And that Scriptures contain manypassages where the Lord speaks of his special care of the widow and of hisdesire for the widows to receive justice. But this judge is not interested in dispensing justice; he just wantsher to leave him alone. He does not fearGod or respect man, so the Scriptures would hold no sway over him. Thisdescription of him has lead some to assume that judge was a Roman judge butBock states that the Romans did not insert themselves into local disputesunless it involved capital punishment.[viii]
On reflection[ix] thejudge decides to grant the widow’s petition since he knew she would continuecoming to him and wearing him down. Thetext could also be translated literally, “blacken the face,” or “a blow underthe eye”[x]which many take to mean that the judge did not want her to damage hisreputation but as noted, but daily believes that “respect” can be translated”shame,” the judge “does not feel shame before men.” [xi] And if this is correct, then the judge wouldnot be concerned about his reputation since he feels no shame. Bailey translates it as “lest she give me aheadache!”[xii] Green makes the point that Jesus may havewanted to impress upon the disciples that in the quest for justice there may bea need to act “outside the script proved by an unjust world.”[xiii]
The judge concedesto her request because it is in his best interest to do so. His interest ingiving the widow justice is self-serving, he only cares that she will continueto harass him, he does not desire to do what is right, he only wants to do whatis expedient.
Jesus then tells thedisciples that they should listen to what the unjust judge says.[xiv] If the unjust judge will grudgingly andslowly dispense justice, will not God give speedy justice[xv]to his elect who cry out for justice day and night. It is amazing that Jesus would use a woman asan exemplar for the behavior of the disciples given the standing of women inJudaism. Also, the language used here isvery similar to that used of Anna the widow, who worshipped and prayed day andnight in the temple. And she, like Simeonwas able to see the redemption of
Luke 18:7 is themost problematic verse of the passage and there are a number of ways thatscholars have handled the translation. Partof the problem according to Fitzmyer is “the shift from the emphatic fut. inthe preceding rhetorical question to the pres. indic. here markrothymei.”[xvii]The other part of the problem is the meaning of the word, “have patience, belong-suffering, forebearing” doesn’t really fit “the rhetorical question inv.7a (whether it be read as pres. indic. or pres. ptc.)”[xviii]Creed translates it as “does God restrain his anger?”[xix]Bailey believes that it means “setting aside wrath,”[xx] andJohnson translates it as “show patience toward them”[xxi]
Jesus’ concludingstatement is pretty clear, will he find faith, or the faith, when hereturns. The character of God from theOld Testament is clear, he is just, faithful and long-suffering and they canrest assured that he will do as he promised but what of the hearers of theparable? The exhortation is clear: will Jesusfind any like the widow, who will cry to him day and night to receive justice? [xxii] Will they persevere in faith until Jesusreturns? Or will they grow weary andforget the promises of God? Will theyallow the unjust actions of the world to weigh heavy on them and cause them togrow weary, or will they cry out to God to grant them justice? Acts 12:5 may be an indication that thechurch took this exhortation to heart when they prayed for Peter while he waskept in prison.
Some see thisparable as a “twin”[xxiii]of the Parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-8), since both have apersistence element to them but the principle in each is different. One is about vindication or justice the otheris about the Holy Spirit. The parablesour distinct in the players as well, there is a reason that Jesus choose a judgeto teach about the need to be persistence in appealing for justice and a friendin appealing for food.
Though the passageis generally free of textual critical issues and most scholars agree that thisparable is purely a Lucan parable,[xxiv]there are two areas of controversy. Oneis whether it is to be seen as part of Luke 17:20-37. Those that do not see a connection, believethat this is a parable about the need for persistent pray.[xxv] Thosethat see a connection between the passages believe that Jesus’ teaching is”oriented toward the necessity of tenacious, hopeful faith in the midst ofpresent ordeal.”[xxvi] In the passage, the Pharisees ask Jesus whenthe
The othercontroversial aspect is what actually constitutes the parable; some believe theparable consists only of verses 2-5[xxix]and it has generally been viewed as authentic.[xxx] Verse 1 is viewed as Luke’s introduction andBlomberg states that it is “almost universally said to have missed the point ofthe parable”[xxxi] And verses6-8 “are often attributed to later tradition or redaction.”[xxxii] There are many opinions concerning 18:6-8, Hultgrennotes that most interpretations fall into one of three categories: the whole(18:2-8) originated with Jesus, the whole did not originate with Jesus, andverses 5-8 are not authentic at all and may have been “pre-Lukan” in origin.”[xxxiii]The Jesus Seminar “prints 18:2-5 in pink type and 18:6-8 in black.”[xxxiv]
Since there is noreal reason to dispute the authenticity of the passage, it seems clear thatJesus intends the parable to be viewed in the light of his return; in the lightof his ushering in the consummation of the kingdom. If the parable immediately followed thediscussion of the return of Christ, then the establishment of the kingdom wouldhave been in the forefront of the mind of those who heard the parable. And certainly, in the mind of those who readthe parable and this appears to be the intent of the author. As Blomberg notes, “it is precisely by thereturn of the Son of man that God vindicates his elect.”[xxxv] In that context, it would be helpful tounderstand how the disciples would have viewed the parable in light of theirpresuppositions about the
The Shocking Comparison in Light of the Old Testament
A disciple who hadany familiarity at all with the Scriptures would have been astonished by thisparable. To compare a holy and just God to this picture of a judge who does notfear God or respect man, one who would ignore the pleas of the widow runscompletely counter to Scripture. This isa subversive comparison, one that turns the disciples view of God completelyaround. Instead of viewing God as just,righteous and good, Jesus was telling them to view him like they would viewthis judge. Many New Testament scholars mitigatethis view of God by stating that Jesus is making an “argument from lesser togreater,” [xxxvi] also called a “qal wehomer conclusion: God’spatience is greater, and God’s response to prayer is faster for his elect.” [xxxvii]
But does thisreally solve the problem of this passage? If Jesus wanted to make this point couldn’t he have used anotherfigure? Couldn’t he have somehow used ajust judge who was somehow delayed in granting justice to this widow? Before this question can be answered, thereneeds to be an examination of the depth of the problem faced. How far from Scripture is this picture of theunjust judge? Following are a number ofways this passage violates the Old Testament’s view of justice , its view of a justand holy God and what was expected in the Messianic kingdom, the kingdom Jesusstated that he was within the grasp of the Pharisees.
The Old Testamentclearly teaches that God is just. Abraham appealed to God’s justice when we pleaded with him to save Sodomand Gomorrah,[xxxviii] Mosessang of a God who was just and who dealt justly with his people even when theywere corrupt,[xxxix] Ezrain his prayer of repentance and supplication praises God for his justice,[xl]the Psalmist states that YHWH established his throne for justice and he judgesthe world with righteousness,[xli]that YHWH inclines his ear to do justice for the oppressed,[xlii]and that he loves justice.[xliii]God himself states that he is a God of justice[xliv]and that he practices justice.[xlv]
Comparing God toan unjust judge who refuses to grant a widow justice is so subversive, it acomplete reversal of what is said of God in the Old Testament. Over and over again he states that he willgrant justice to the oppressed and specifically mentions widows. In Deuteronomy, he states that he executesjustice for the fatherless and the widow.[xlvi]He commands
It violates hiscommandments not to pervert justice.[xlix]
There is a clearexpectation that the judge would be a just judge. Moses was to appoint judges who would “judgethe people with righteous judgment.”[l] Thejudges were commanded to be impartial and dispense justice to all.[li]
The judge was arepresentative of God, he judged not for man but for God and so had to reflecthis character and since there is no injustice in God, the judge had to beimpartial. He had to, “let the fear ofthe LORD be upon” him.[lii] The unjust judge had no fear of God andstands in clear violation of this mandate.
This parable alsoturns on its head the view of God in the extra biblical writings of the daysuch as Ben Sirach and Ecclesiasticus.[liii] God will not “ignore the supplication ofthe fatherless, nor the widow when she pours out her story.”[liv]And Bailey states that the “Jewish legal tradition required that on the basisof Isaiah 1:17 ‘the suit of an orphan must always be heard first; next, that ofa widow.”[lv]
But one of themost amazing aspects of this parable is that it stands counter to what wasexpected in the Messianic kingdom. Whatwould have confused the disciples at this point is that if the kingdom waswithin the grasp of the Pharisees as Jesus had said in the previous narrative,then why would there be a delay for justice? Why would they have to pray repeatedly for something that the Messiahwas expected to bring? Justice and righteousness were a main component of theMessianic reign, the Scriptures are clear on this: one who judges and seeksjustice will sit in the tent of David,[lvi] the throne of David will be upheld withjustice and righteousness,[lvii]and God’s Servant will bring forth justice to the nations.[lviii] Yet, here is Jesus telling them that theywill have to pray repeatedly for justice. Just as the widow should have received justice as the hands of a judgein the land that was governed by the law of God, the disciples may havebelieved that justice and vindication were there due in the reign of theMessiah in the
All of the individualparts of this parable would have elicited a negative response from those thatheard it and when Jesus compared God to the unjust judge that would have beenoutrageous and counter to everything that they knew about justice up to thispoint. As demonstrated above, thedoctrine of justice was clearly laid out in the Old Testament and easy todiscern, there is no equivocating that God is a just God and will not allowwrong doing to go unpunished. Thedisciples would have known this and it would have been a major source ofwonder.
A Proposed Solution to the Problem
Why would Jesususe a picture of God that is so completely opposite of who he is and what canbe expected of him? Why would he choosea judge who will not dispense justice as the picture of a God who will freelydispense justice and who loves justice? Could Jesus have used a just judge torepresent God? But why would a justjudge delay justice? That was a question that the Israelites asked themselvesrepeatedly, “How long O Lord?”[lix] Itwas a question of the Psalmist and the prophets. How long would a holy God allow wickedness toprosper, to allow those who are doing his will to be persecuted andkilled? When could a righteous peopleexpect vindication? When would theyreceive the kingdom that was promised to them by God? When would they be able to dwell inrighteousness? The poor in spirit werepromised the
Jesus could notuse the example of a just judge who was somehow impeded by an outside force togrant justice to the widow. This picturewould have been counter to the principle Jesus was trying to teach. Jesus’ return has nothing to do with anoutside force stopping him from returning to execute justice and to vindicatethe elect by his return. What isstopping him from returning is the will of the Father. This is the point of similarity between theunjust judge and God, the will to execute justice when they deem it desirableto do so; the unjust judge for purposes of evil, his own perverted desires and thepurpose of God for righteousness and justice, when it is the appointed time todo so.
Just as the widowreturned to the judge to receive what was her right, justice, the church shouldpray to the Lord that they would receive what is their right, justice andvindication that is accomplished when Jesus returns. And as the unjust judge decided it was in hisbest interest to grant the request, God will speedily grant the church’srequest for vindication and justice on those who persecute them. But the church has a far greater promise forjustice than the widow because Jesus promised that the church would receive itand in the book of Revelation, it is clear that he delivers on that promise.[lx]Andif they begin to think that the Lord tarries, they have this promise that he isnot slow to respond, that he will bring about their vindication speedily.
A Modern Interpretation of the Parable
Howshould a Christian view this passage today? Clearly, this passage should be viewed in a very similar way as theearly church and the church throughout history. Christ’s delay in returning and the persecution of the church haveremained a constant through the history of the church. Just as the early church experience injusticeat the hands of those in power, so does the church today suffer injustice atthe hands of unjust men. Reading thispassage should be an encouragement to them to persevere and to take theirpetition to the Lord because he invites them to do so and he promises to answertheir cry for justice speedily. And whenthey grow weary and want to give up because they can see no end to theirsuffering, they can remember this persistent widow who refused to give up, eventhough she was coming before an unjust judge. They come before a just God, who desires to grant them justice; helistens to their pleas and promises to give them justice speedily.
Andthe church has something far greater to encourage it in perseverance and hopethat God will do as he promised because the church has the example of thevindication of Christ. The empty tombtestifies to Christ’s vindication[lxi] andassures us that we will one day be vindicated as Christ was at hisresurrection. He was jeered, persecutedand tortured but he remained steadfast in his obedience to the will ofGod. He was proved to be the Son of Godby the acceptance of his sinless offering on the cross. Only God is holy enough to be the perfectsacrifice for sin and the empty tomb speaks volumes that God accepted theatonement of Christ’s death. And hisresurrection is the church’s assurance that he will bring justice to those whopersecute his people.
Though the versessurrounding the parable are in dispute the details of the actual parable areclear: the church is exhorted to approach God the way the widow approached theunjust judge who refused to grant her justice, repeatedly until she wore himdown. The church is to come to Godrepeatedly, to encourage the church to persevere, that the God who lovesjustice will hear their prayers and will answer them. He has promised to do so, and the church cansee that he is a God who grants justice to those who cry out day andnight. They know that he loves justicebecause he sent his Son to obtain it for his people. Without that sacrifice they could not becalled his people. Thanks be unto Godfor his unspeakable gift.
[iii]Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volume 2:9:51-24:53(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996), 1447
[iv], AlfredPlummer, The Gospel According to St. Luke(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906), 411; Benjamin B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B.Warfield – II (Nutley, NewJersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), 698-710;
[v] “Thejustice mentioned here is nothing but the deliverance (from oppression) towhich God’s people (his elect) may lay claim as the salvation promised them bytheir king.” He also notes a similaritybetween the cry for justice of the disciples and that of the psalmist (Psalm43;1); Herman Ridderbos, The ComingKingdom (Philadelphia, Pa.: The Presbyterian and Reformed PublishingCompany, 1962), 191
[vii]Blomberg believes that Jesus is referring to the faith of the widow, “thespecific kind of faith just illustrated.” Craig L Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (DownersGrove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 272
[ix]According to Creed and Green, this type of “soliloquy” was common in Luke(12:17; 15:17; 16:3). John Martin Creed, TheGospel According to St. Luke (New York: ST. Martin’s Press, 1957), 223; Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke,(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997), 640.
[x] It is aboxing term that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9:27 (Bailey, 136).
[xi] KennethE. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes (GrandRapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), 132.
[xiv]According to Green, the phrase is used of Jesus as a “reminder that Jesus’followers may learn profound lessons about discipleship (oriented toward thecoming age) from worldly examples (oriented toward this age);” (Green, 641).
[xv]Ridderbos writes “when there is question of speed in God’s action, we shouldalways remember that such speed is subject to God’s fulgilling his own counsel”(511).
[xvii] JosephA. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke(X-XXIV) (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985),1180. According to Blomberg, studies have stated that “it is a dependent clausein an adversative or concessive relationship to what precedes (the kai.Perhaps reflecting an underlyingAramaic stative clause);” (272).
[xix] Meaning “is God patient at the misdoings ofthose who ill-treat the elect?” Creed, 223.
[xx] He usesMatthew 18:26; Romans 2:4, 9:22; 1 Peter 3:20 and 2 Peter 3:9 to support histranslation (Bailey, 138-39).
[xxi]“Butthe overwhelming use of makrothymeoand its cognates is with in the context of judicial restraint andlong-suffering, or tolerance (cf. e.g., Jer 15:15; Prov 19:11; Sir 29:8). It is a quality most associated in the LXXwith God (see sir 18:11);” Luke Timothy Johnson, Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press[A Michael Glazier Book], 1991), 270.
[xxiii]Hultgren notes six points of similarity. Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus (
[xxiv] Bockmakes extensive notion of the exceptions (1445). Bailey notes several points of similaritybetween the parable and Ben Sirach 35:15-19 and believes that Sirach was thebases of the parable (127-141).
[xxvi]Green, 637; Though there are some like Plummer who see a connection but believethat the parable is about persistent prayer in general and not just about thereturn of Christ (411).
[xxviii]Plummer, 411; Morris, 262; Bock 1446
[xxix] Accordingto Fitzmyer, Bultmann, JÃ¼licher, GrÃ¤sser and Grundmann view the application ofthe parable in vv. 6-8 as “certainly secondary” (Fitztzmyer, 1320).
[xxxiii] Aswell as noting the positions, he notes those who hold each (Hultgren, pg. 257).
[xxxvi]Green, 637. See also Bailey, 137.
[xli] Psalm9:7-8; 89:14; 97:2
[xliii]Psalm 33:5; 37:28
[xlv] Jeremiah 9:24
[xlvi] Deuteronomy 10:17-18; 24:17
[xlvii] Isaiah 1:17
[xlix] Exodus 23:1-3
[l] Deuteronomy 16:18-20
[li] Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:16-17
[lii] 2Chronicles 19:6-7
[liii]Sirach 35:12-26; Ecclesiasticus 35:15-25
[lix] Psalm6; 13:3-4; 94:3; Habakkuk 1:2