Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Luke 12:1-12 - Biblical Insights into the Gospel of Luke


Jesus leaves a Pharisee’s house, after reclining at the man’s table, and finds himself surrounded by thousands of people, some hostile to his message, and he addresses the disciples directly. As the passage unfolds we witness something of the nature of the ministry of Jesus; what he chooses to focus on, the positive and negative aspects of what he communicates, and how Luke portrays the whole narrative.
In 12:1-12 (see bottom of post for Luke 12:1-12) we are privy to what Jesus communicated to his disciples that day. In order to glean wisdom and understanding from a passage like this, I will endeavour to highlight critical aspects of the passage, including firstly the social setting of the passage and secondly the structure of the discourse. Thirdly, I will refer to important textual aspects of the Lukan narrative, and then fourthly, will compare parallel texts in Mark and Matthew with the Lukan text. There are many theological implications of such a passage, and so lastly I will comment on sub-sections of the passage, namely, hypocrisy, shouting from the rooftops, fearing God and not man, acknowledging God and blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.


Geldenhuys writes, ‘A spirit of hostility to Jesus probably prevailed among the major portion of the multitude’ (1979, p. 348)[1]. I would categorically omit the word ‘probably’ from his quote. Hostility was clearly evident. The question is what caused the hostility? We see in 11:37-54 that Jesus had reclined at a Pharisee’s house for a meal (11:37), and that Jesus critically challenged the Pharisee’s understanding and representation of holiness. Jesus says words like, ‘this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets...’ (11:50 NIV). The word hostility, thus used by various authors (Geldenhuys, Green and Tannehill) is completely justified to explain the social atmosphere of the situation at hand.
In the Lukan narrative we have a transition from a small crowd in the home of the Pharisee, to Jesus going outside (11:53). We read in 12:1 that the crowd gathered by the thousands, and it is not a stretch to say, by the tens of thousands, similar in a sense to the Sermon on the Plain narrative.
Are the parallel versions of 12:1 (discussed later), namely Mk 8:14-15 and Mt 16:5-6, occurring in a different setting? Or are the settings the same and the circumstances identical, yet recorded differently? Bock argues for a distinct setting in 12:1 to the other Scriptures, as Jesus quite often spoke similar kinds of things in his public discourse (1996, p. 1130). Brill argues similarly, as Jesus is speaking to the ears of a large crowd compared with Mark and Matthew, to a small crowd (1999, pp. 53-54). Simply because all the synoptics use similar phrases, for example, ‘yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod’ (Mk 8:15), ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ (Lk 12:1) and ‘yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (Mt 16:6), does not allow the assumption of the same setting.


Luke uses the presence of the large crowd to begin a new section in the Lukan narrative. Green highlights 12:1 – 13:9 as one large section labelling it, ‘Vigilance in the face of eschatological crisis’ (1997, p. 476). 12:1 – 13:9 appears to be one single discourse with three of four differing topics (Green, 1997, p. 476). While Talbert (Reading Luke) and Stein say the discourse concludes at 13:21, you can sense a break in the narrative between 13:9 and 13:10. While Grundmann supports 12:1-48 as a section (See Bock, 1996, p. 1129), there is overwhelming support for 12:1-13:9.
There are also some strong links with the previous verses in 11:37-54, where Luke has recorded Jesus giving a scathing attack on the hypocrisy (Stein, 1992, p. 349) of the Pharisees. It seems fitting then, that Jesus would speak ‘first to his disciples’ about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
The 12:1-12 passage has three subunits (Nolland, 1993, p. 675) of vv 1-4; 5-7; 8-12. Verse 13 clearly is delineated from the previous verse and thus the passage is 12:1-12.  
If we were to produce an outline of 12:1-12, one may write:
12:1 – The hypocrisy of the Pharisees
12:2-3 – Secrets will be exposed
12:4-7 – Do not fear man, fear God who knows you
12:8-9 – Acknowledge Jesus and do not blaspheme against the Holy Spirit
This may well be simplistic compared with the literary structure of Luke highlighted in McComiskey (2004, pp. 205-208), though I do not believe Luke considered a structure of his writing to the complexities of stratums and cycles and the like and therefore this creates unnecessarily complexity when simplicity is acceptable.


1 ‘Meanwhile’ – literally means ‘at which things’ (Fitzmyer, 1985, p. 954), or ‘in which things’ (Tannehill, 1996, p. 201) which thus links this verse strongly with the preceding verses in chapter 11.
The word ‘crowd’ is translated ‘people’ in a small number of manuscripts (namely ms. P45).
υποκρισις – ‘hypocrisy’ (NIV, NRSV). Giesen in (Green, 1997, p. 480) defines someone who exemplifies υποκρισις as, ‘a person whose conduct is not determined by God and is thus ‘godless’’.  Fitzmyer writes that υποκρισις only appears once in the LXX (1985, p. 955).
Καταπατειν – ‘to walk over one another’ (Bock, 1996, p. 1133), ‘to trample down (underfoot)’ (Strong, 1890). The sense is the crowd is swelling in very large numbers, and there is much pushing and shoving in order to hear Jesus or be in close proximity to him.
3 ταμειοις (tameion) refers to the innermost part of an Oriental house. This is the most private location in a resident’s dwelling.
4 φιλοις (philois) relates to ‘friends’ and Bock highlights that this informs the reader that the disciples are still the ones in view within the narrative (1996, p. 1135).
5 γέενναν – ‘hell’ (NRSV). Gehenna, also known as Ge-Hinnom is a valley south of Jerusalem. Geldenhuys notes that in years gone by, children were in fact sacrificed as burnt-offerings to the Canaanite god Molech (1979, p. 351) in this valley. We read of references in the OT of a God who kills and brings to life (See Deut 32:39, 1 Sam 2:6 and 2 Kgs 5:7), though we do not read of references there of God committing the sacrifices, but the gross killings of children, were burned as sacrifices primarily to pagan deities but sometimes to YHWH. Nonetheless, human sacrifice occurred in this place known as Ge-Hinnom (see Jer 7:32 and 2 Kgs16:3) (Nolland, 1993, p. 678) (Hendriksen, 1978, p. 653).
Under the leadership of Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), he stopped the practice of child sacrifice, and the valley in Jerusalem was then used to burn up corpses of animals and criminals; a garbage dump. The fire continually burned in Ge-Hinnom. It entered the vernacular of the first century people, as a figurative place of everlasting punishment (Geldenhuys, 1979, p. 351). Kittel notes that the Valley of Hinnom became associated with everlasting judgment in hell in apocalyptic material from the 2nd Century b.c.e. (Kittel, 1964, p. 657).
6 ασσαριων – ‘penny’ or rather ‘assarion’. A Roman copper coin, that is worth one-sixteenth of a denarius (Nolland, 1993, p. 678; Stein, 1992, p. 347).
Nolland notes that sparrows were a cheap type of food for the poor (1993, p. 678).
7 ‘even the hairs of your head are all counted’ – In the OT, we read of God’s deliverance of the Israelite people, like 1 Sam 14:45 that reads, that, ‘As the LORD lives, not one hair of his (Jonathan’s) head shall fall to the ground.’ So as the Lord was with the Israelite people, God is with the disciples gathered in the Lukan narrative. As Nolland expresses it, ‘Since God is vitally and caringly involved, disciples do not stand alone in the situations in which their allegiance to the Son of Man is under challenge’ (1993, p. 678).
8 ‘before the angels of God’ – Jesus is picturing a parallel, juridical scene in the heavenlies (Doren, 1981, p. 484).
10 ‘Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost reveals hostility to what is unmistakeably divine and holy, and is therefore unpardonable’ (Geldenhuys, 1979, p. 352). Βλασφημησαντι is the, ‘aorist participle, and thus does not denote a continuous action or a permanent attitude, but indicates that after this deed has once been done it is already finally decided’ (Geldenhuys, 1979, p. 352).
11 μεριμνατε – to be anxious about (‘worry’)


Referring to Bock’s outline of the source material of the Lukan passage is helpful. Some authors, like Marshall, while intellectually astute, complicate the parallels in the synoptics (Marshall, 1978, pp. 508-521). Bock highlights clearly the parallels between 12:1-12 and the other synoptics. He writes (1996, p. 1129):
Lk 12:1 = Mt 16:5-6 = Mk 8:14-15
Lk 12:2-9 = Mt 10:26-33
Lk 12:10 = Mt 12:31-32 = Mk 3:28-30
Lk 12:11-12 = Mt 10:19-20 = Mk 13:11

In our exegesis, comparing the Lukan text to the other Synoptic gospels is helpful in determining the similarities and differences between the usage of particular terms and concepts within the text. Other authors choose not to visually present the parallels as below, though seeing the differences before us is beneficial.
Let us look at the reference to the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ or similar derivatives of this phrase:
Mark 8:15 - And he cautioned them, saying, "Watch out--beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod."
Luke 12:1 - Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.
Matthew 16:6 - Jesus said to them, "Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

I have placed Mark first, as Mark we know is the earliest of the Synoptic gospels. There is debate about the source of the saying used in 12:1 of the yeast of the Pharisees. Fitzmyer notes that some credit the saying to ‘Q’ (Schneider and Marshall), yet even with the similarities to Mark 8:15, the verse seems to be a Lukan specific verse (Fitzmyer, 1985, p. 953), with Luke’s addition of the word ‘hypocrisy’.
The other parallel considered here is Lk 12:2-9 compared with Mt 10:26-33 below: 
Luke 12:2-9 - 2There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
4 "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies ? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

8 "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.

Matthew 10:26-33 - 26 "So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

In the Lk 12:2-9 and Mt 10:26-33 passages above, we witness the use of the same source (Nolland, 1993, p. 675). The passages are very similar, though some differences are the introductory comments in Matthew and that Luke references that five sparrows are sold for two pennies (12:6) and in Matthew, two sparrows are sold for one penny (Mt 10:29). Nolland alludes to the idea that the differences between Luke and Matthew may be because Luke has corrected the amount in order to produce the ‘correct going price’ (Nolland, 1993, p. 678). Surely the purpose of such a statement is not so much the meticulousness of the mathematics at hand, but rather that God does in fact know the intricate nature of not only the environment, but your own life. God is to be revered and not feared; a God who even numbers the hairs on your head.



Jesus is clearly warning the disciples in 12:1 of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, comparing them to yeast in a loaf of bread (Fitzmyer, 1985, p. 954). While Pharisees were clearly religious observers, for example, practicing circumcision, fasting, having a kosher diet, they nonetheless deceived others and thus were hypocrites (Neyrey, 1991, p. 88) (Clark, 1982, p. 40). So the question is, why the yeast of the Pharisees?
From what is understood of yeast in the cooking of bread, is that the yeast spreads throughout the whole loaf (note the parable of the Kingdom in 13:18-21 used in a positive sense) and obviously used negatively here (Bock, 1994, p. 221).  Leaven (used interchangeably with yeast), is known to be old sour dough which has been stored away and placed with fermenting juices and then finally used in new dough to act as a rising agent (to make the bread light) (See Fitzmyer, 1985, p. 954; Nolland, 1993, p. 677).
Plutarch (46 – 120c.e) is a Greek historian and he discusses why priests of Jupiter were not allowed to touch either yeast or flour (Danker, 1988, p. 244). In a sense Plutarch is commenting on a well established tradition within Jewish faith and culture; namely the removal of yeast during the Passover celebrations (Ex 12:14-20). Yeast in 12:1 is used in a negative sense, of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees that will spread quickly like yeast in a batch of dough.

Shouted From the Rooftops

Hypocrisy will thus spread quickly, and not only that, has the potential to come to the light. Furthermore, if we view the 12:1-12 passage eschatologically, we see that hypocrisy will not go unnoticed at the time of judgment. What is covered up will be seen and what is spoken in secret will shouted from the rooftops. The challenge is laid down from Jesus, to the disciples in the ears of the crowd (including of course the Pharisees and other religious leaders), that whatever is said, and done, will one day come under a certain amount of scrutiny at the time of judgment.
Is the comment made to the Pharisees meant to be one that Jesus intends to come to pass or is it simply a general comment? The question is asked of Bock (1996, p. 1134) and he says that a ‘general remark seems likely’, that is that the Pharisaic grumblings will not necessarily be literally shouted from the rooftops. Though, the eschatological view of this passage, as mentioned, alludes to the potential that hypocrisy will in fact be exposed at the time of judgment.

Fear God, Not Man

Jesus continues speaking with his φιλοις in 12:4, and communicates to them that they need not fear that anyone would kill their body. Furthermore, it is better to fear the Lord, as the Lord is the one who can cast you to into γέενναν if God so chooses.
Jesus says to his disciples to not be afraid of those who kill the body (12:4), with the assumption that persecution is inevitable (Green, 1997, p. 480), that is, Jesus does not say, ‘Persecution may come...’ he in effect, validates that it will.
Conveniently, the seemingly sceptical Jesus Seminar authors, Funk and Hoover, seek to discredit the validity of the 12:3-5 section, amongst others. The reason (cited in Bock, 1996, pp. 1130-1131) for the rejection of such a passage is, ‘because it presupposes a level of persecution that fits the era of the early church, not Jesus’ time’. When we think of authorship dates, we know Luke to be written around 80c.e. and of course by then much persecution had arisen within the Judean area (including the horrific events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70c.e.).  Though to assume that Jesus did not say to the disciples, ‘do not fear’ but to fear God because God has the capacity to send someone to everlasting punishment, and to say these verse are not relevent, seems all too convenient for difficult theological passages.
There are two challenges present here. One is to intellectually discuss such a proposition by the Jesus Seminar authors, on its validity or otherwise of the inclusion of 12:3-5. The second is to determine the level of literalism intended by Jesus in 12:5.
Firstly, Bock argues well for the validity of the insertion of 12:3-5 (1996, p. 1131), because even prior to the beginnings of the early church persecution was rife. Remember the decapitation of John the Baptist? What about the hostility towards Jesus himself? That hostility we know was occurring from his birth, and religious leaders sought to kill him following his inaugural reading of Isaiah in a Galilean synangogue. It is therefore, on this premise alone, not unlikely that Jesus would have in fact given that challenge to the disciples present.
The second challenge, that many authors fail to expound on, is the literalism of the 12:5 passage. Many are happy to explain the historical aspects of γέενναν and how it came to be used of Jesus himself. The confronting exegetical task is to then ask will God in fact follow through on Jesus’ statement of casting people into ‘hell’ (NRSV)? Interestingly, Jesus does not say that God ‘will’ cast people into a continuous burning rubbish dump, but that God nonetheless has the authority to do so if God so chooses.
The passage then shifts from negative, to positive, that God has not forgotten about the sparrows and therefore you do not need to be afraid, as God even knows how many hairs are on your head.

Acknowledging God

Jesus exhorts the disciples of the importance of acknowledging him, so that he will acknowledge them ‘before the angels of God’. Matthew’s parallel in 10:32 renders it, ‘before my Father in heaven’. Irrespective, acknowledging the reality of who Jesus is, is a vital aspect critical to the discipleship journey, or as Conzelmann puts it, from this text, we are challenged to confess Christ’s Lordship over the world (1960, p. 188).

Blaspheming Against the Holy Spirit

One of the difficult passages in the Lukan narrative is the reference to the unforgiveable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Exegetically the issue is not sins against the ‘Son of Man’ as this clearly seems to be forgivable, but rather against the Holy Spirit.

Looking at the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in 12:10, we see connection with the Israelites and their Exodus from Egypt. One author says that the blasphemy in the Lukan passage is related to, ‘the denial or rejection of the manifest saving intervention of God on behalf of his People’ (Nolland, 1993, p. 679). Keener says it refers specifically to the ‘sin of the Pharisees, who are on the verge of becoming incapable of repentance’ (Keener, 1997, p. 107). Though we will see below, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is more than just the Pharisee’s concern.
Fitzmyer (1985, pp. 964-965) discusses five explanations possible for the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit which has clearly reworked an earlier commentary of Marshall (1978, pp. 517-518). Also further adapted from Marshall and Fitzmyer is Bock (1994, p. 223) and again Bock (1996, pp. 1140-1141)

In summary:
1.       The blaspheming is attributed to the work of Satan and therefore is not forgivable.
2.       Since the blaspheming comes from ‘believers’, they should know better and is thus unforgiveable.
3.       It is rejecting the post-resurrection preaching of the apostles and is unforgiveable as this is explicitly Spirit-led preaching. (Also in Marshall (1978, p. 517) and (Brown, 1969, p. 108). Brown links this strongly with the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.
4.       It refers to a failure to communicate what the Spirit is saying to those in positions of leadership.
5.       Refers to a persistent, rejection of the Spirit’s testimony about Jesus.
I sit with point five, as Βλασφημησαντι relates to ‘abusive speech’ and ‘personal mockery and calumniation’ (Kittel, 1964, p. 621), and while the demonic may be at work in some way or another (point 1), what is unforgiveable is, as Fitzmyer says, the, ‘persistence in consummate and obdurate opposition to the influence of the Spirit’ (1985, p. 964).


There is more to be said. Rigorous debate will no doubt ensue, especially because of the controversial nature of some of the aspects of this Lukan text, for instance, the existence of hell and the theological rhetoric that comes from that, the idea of God’s judgment upon follower’s of Jesus and the challenging verses of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
That being said, we have gleaned much from the discussion above. We witness something of the compassion of Jesus, coupled with the willingness to share with the disciples, words that will challenge.  Jesus ultimately offers hope to his listeners if they stay true to acknowledging him, abstaining from hypocritical ways like the Pharisees, and if they fear God and not people.
God knows the intricate details of each person. He know how many hairs are on our heads (not many for this particular author), and God cares for people even more so than the sparrows. Every reader can take encouragement from those truths found in Luke 12:1-12.


Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke 9:51 - 24:53: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.
Bock, D. L. (1994). Luke: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downer's Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Brill, K. (1999). The Composition of Luke's Gospel. Leiden: Tuta Sub Aegide Pallas.
Brown, S. (1969). Apostasy and Perseverance in the Theology of Luke. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute.
Clark, T. &. (1982). The Purpose of Luke-Acts. Great Britain: Morrison and Gibb.
Conzelmann, H. (1960). The Theology of St. Luke. Britain: SCM Press.
Danker, F. W. (1988). Jesus and the New Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Doren, W. H. (1981). Gospel of Luke: Expository and Homiletical. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
Fitzmyer, J. A. (1985). The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, INC.
Geldenhuys, N. (1979). The Gospel of Luke: The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans.
Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke: The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans .
Hendriksen, W. (1978). Gospel of Luke. Edinburgh: W & J Mackay.
Keener, C. S. (1997). The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.
Kittel, G. (1964). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament VOL 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans.
Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WB. Eerdmans.
McComiskey, D. S. (2004). Lukan Theology in the Light of the Gospel's Literary Structure. Milton Keynes: Paternoster.
Neyrey, J. H. (1991). The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation. Massachusetts: Hendrickson.
Nolland, J. (1993). Word Biblical Commentary (35B): Luke 9:21 - 18:34. Dallas, Texas: Wood Books.
Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke: The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. U.S.A.: Broadman & Holman.
Strong. (1890). Strong's Bible Dictionary.
Tannehill, R. C. (1996). Luke: Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

NRSV - Luke 12:1-12  Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.

Luke 12:2  Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.

Luke 12:3  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
Luke 12:4  "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.

Luke 12:5  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 

Luke 12:6  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight.

Luke 12:7  But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12:8  "And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God;

Luke 12:9  but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.

Luke 12:10  And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

Luke 12:11  When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say;

Luke 12:12  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say."
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