Friday, May 18, 2012

An Eternal Fable

Jesus sent out seventy-two other disciples to prepare His path to Jerusalem, but only Luke seems to know about it. Next according to Luke, Jesus oddly thanks God for hiding truths from the people who are supposed to know them. One of those truths would soon explained...

An Eternal Fable
There are few things more important in this life than the next one, at least for some Christians, Hindus, and others. We will focus on the Christians here, and a little bit of Scripture regarding eternal life. There are many thoughts of what you have to do to get eternal life. Depending on where you look in Scripture, you may find that there is nothing you can do. Some people say that you need to accept Jesus as your Savior to be Saved. Then, there is a little blurb in Luke with a different answer to consider.

Luke 10:25-28 discusses earning eternal life. An expert in God's Law (a.k.a. the Torah) asks Jesus what he "must do to inherit eternal life," so Jesus asked him what is written in the Law (Luke 10:25-26). It is unclear if Jesus' question is "what is written in the Law, in general?" or "what is written in the Law specifically regarding eternal life?" The framing suggests the latter, but there is nothing in the Law that suggests eternal life.

Luke 10:27-28 provides the replies:
[The Law expert] answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." NIV
The first answer the man provides, about totally loving God, is quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5, but it has an amendment made to it. The "and with all your mind" is not part of Deuteronomy 6:5, nor is it in the Torah, nor is it in the entire Old Testament. Where did it come from? We will get to that in a moment. For now, we should note that the Old Testament suggested you leave your own understanding, your mind, behind as a follower of God, and instead trust in His ways with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5).

The sentiment about loving God with "all your heart" is repeated nine times in God's Law, but it only shows up in the last book of the Law. Usually when "all your heart" does show up, it is explicitly or implicitly connected with obeying all of the commandments in the Law, as we see in the verse after the quoted one, Deuteronomy 6:6, as well as in Deuteronomy 10:12, Deuteronomy 11:13, Deuteronomy 26:16, Deuteronomy 30:2, and Deuteronomy 30:10.

The second answer, about loving your neighbor (known informally as the second greatest commandment), is buried about two-thirds of the way through Leviticus (the third book of the Law), was specific to people living in the Israelite nation (both Israelite and alien), was never repeated in the Law at all, and was located between commandments about not harboring hate and not interbreeding different animals, as was covered more in depth in a previous study. In other words, there was no special prominence given to this command in God's Law.

Jesus said that these were the correct answers on what you must do to inherit eternal life, despite the misquote. That means that you have to earn eternal life, and you do so loving God and loving your neighbor. Here in Luke, Salvation is through works, and you do not have to get baptized, get born again, or even acknowledge Jesus.

Interestingly enough, while there is no mention of eternal life associated with the loving your neighbor command, Deuteronomy 30:6 does associate loving God with "living," but this is actually referring to a prophesied time when God will circumcise hearts, and the "living" just means that God would not kill people early if they loved and obeyed Him, but they would still die eventually, as was covered in an earlier study.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that this little anecdote exclusively in Luke appears to be a conflation of two separate episodes; Matthew 19:16-26/Mark 10:17-27/Luke 18:18-27 and Matthew 22:34-40/Mark 12:28-34. In the latter case, a Teacher of the Law (like Luke's expert in the Law in this study) asked Jesus the question of which commandment was the greatest, and Jesus answered to love God, and that the second was to love your neighbor. In the former case, some random rich man asked Jesus what he "must do to inherit eternal life" (exactly what was asked in this study). In that case, Jesus tells the man to obey the commandments, and even listed a few of them from the popular version of the Ten Commandments, but He never mentions loving God or loving your neighbor!

This conflation is the work of Luke the Editor. Why Luke did it is not entirely clear. Perhaps Luke noticed the oddity in Jesus' reply to the rich man to simply obey commandments which had nothing to do with loving God or your neighbor, or perhaps Luke did not like the thought of Jesus elevating any particular commandment to be the "greatest" and so he had someone other than Jesus suggest them, or maybe both. Yet it is clear that Luke was sourcing this material from Mark and/or Matthew.

Why is this sourcing obvious? Well, do you remember earlier when we discussed "and with all your mind" being inappropriately added to the quote? That comes from Matthew 22:37/Mark 12:30, where Jesus Himself misquoted Deuteronomy 6:5, including "all your mind" in the quotation. If Jesus is misquoting Scripture, then you know have a problem, and if that misquote is propagated, well, you know you have fiction on your hands. Luke has crafted this episode out of thin air.


  1. I must say that I never noticed the contradictions regarding salvation. But you're right, there are many ways to get saved in the NT. Women get saved by raising good children, for instance.

    Really, the more one looks at it, the "funnier" it gets.

  2. Lorena, it is amazing how easy it is for those differences to go unnoticed as a believer. I know I never thought about them back then!

    If you like that, you should definitely check out Steve Well's blog post entitled "194 ways to get yourself saved." While Steve seems sometimes to err on the side of taking any possible inference as a full-fledged explicit statement, the variation in the needs for Salvation is still incredible!

  3. I noticed this contradiction some years ago........I have heard sermons many times concerning the Good Samaritan, but I have never heard a sermon that addresses the question of salvation asked by the law giver. I asked a selected few members of the clergy ( PHD's, Rev. Theology instructors), they all appeared to have never noticed the question, and, they had difficulty in trying to explain the contradiction, but could not deny it's existance.

  4. Unfortunately, Anonymous, that seems to be the attitude of too many of the clergy; in that they will readily pick the low-hanging fruit, and maybe even pick a little further up the tree of knowledge, but tough stuff like this they leave to rot in the upper boughs and hope nobody else notices.