Q&A on November Readings
Note: The questions alone are listed above the line in inverse order of the verses to which they pertain, which generally means the most recent questions are at the top of the page (each has a link to its answer). Below the line, questions and answers are given in the order of the verses that prompted the question. So, you might scroll down until you find the last question that is new to you, jump to the answer, and just read down the page from there.
Q: In reading Zechariah 11:17, I wondered about the KJV’s “idol shepherd”. Other translations, including the NKJV, say “worthless”. Answer
Q: Should any particular person be connected with the “three shepherds” cut off in one month as described in Zechariah 11:8? Answer
Q: In Matthew 11:11 what does it mean that John the Baptizer was the greatest of those born of women (even greater than Abraham?) but so low in the kingdom of heaven that its least person was greater than him? Answer
Q: After reading Matthew 1:25 and your post of November 17, 2006 and reviewing the Q&A from May on the topic, I wanted to ask for more explanation. We know from Scripture that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Christ, and the Bible speaks of Him as being “born of a virgin”; Isaiah prophesied it, and the Gospel accounts describe it. There is really nothing said in Scripture about Mary and Joseph’s private life after that. I guess I just don’t understand the need to emphasize Mary’s virginity (or lack thereof), once Christ was born. Since Luke presumably got many of the details of Christ’s birth from Mary, I would think he would have recorded her continued virginity if it was so and if we needed to know. Answer
Q: When I read Matthew 1:1-17, no matter how many times I re-count, I keep coming up with only thirteen generations from the exile to Christ, despite the fact that Matthew 1:17 says there are fourteen. Am I miscounting? Answer
Q: In your original Biblog post on Matthew 25-26 you referred to the anointing of Jesus’ feet, but Matthew 26:7 refers to the woman anointing Jesus’ head. John 12:3, which you mentioned, refers to Mary anointing Jesus’ feet. Is this a case of the two evangelists not reporting the same incident in the same way? Answer
Q: In commenting on Matthew 25:14-30’s Parable of the Talents you limited the application to the apostles and pastors and said it had to do with their being accountable to the Lord. That interpretation is new to me, but the parable has always made me uncomfortable, so you are welcome to it! I don’t suppose it will really be resolved that easily though. Answer
Q: I was thinking about Matthew 24:10-13 as I heard news and analysis of the Pope’s visit to Turkey and speculation about the relationship between different governments and whether different religions flourish under them. It might seem life for Christians is too free of persecution. Still, has there been as much fighting within denominations as there is now? Not just ours, but almost all “flavors” of Christianity seem to be having serious differences within their churches. Instead of dealing with those internal problems, denominations patch-over external differences with other denominations. It’s all very strange. Is that what these verses are about? Answer
Q: Can Matthew 18:18 refer to any group of Christians, or is it a direction to the disciples and, by extension, to our pastors only? Can 18:19-20 refer to any group of Christians? It seems that different Lutheran synods in America have different takes on these passages. Answer
Q: The two anointed ones in Zechariah 4:14 are Zerubbabel and Joshua? What of the golden oil then? Is the oil meant to symbolize the rebuilding of the temple, done by Zerubbabel, and the reorganizing of the services, done by Joshua? Answer
Q: Why put short little books like Obadiah in the canon, especially when it seems so much of what he says other prophets also say? Answer
Q: Why put short little books like Obadiah in the canon, especially when it seems so much of what he says other prophets also say?
A: That’s a good question! This question about the 21-verse book of Obadiah (otherwise addressed here) might also be asked about the 25-verse book of Jude, which is said to repeat or be repeated by 2 Peter (see here and here), or about the four accounts of the one Gospel. We could certainly suggest some unique things about Obadiah (for example, its single focus on Edom yet its profound promises for Israel), but, in order to be absolutely sure of “why” the book was included in the collection, you would have to ask the ultimate author of the book and of the collection of books, God Himself, Who alone is also responsible for any commonality between the collected Bible’s individual books. If some sort of a church council in our time voted on what books should or should not be in the Bible we no doubt would have a record of reasons for or against particular books’ inclusion. The fact of the matter is that there isn’t such a record because there wasn’t ever such a council. The Holy Spirit very early on worked less formally through the Old Testament and New Testament Church to keep those books the Holy Spirit saw fit to keep (in contrast, for example, to other writings referred to in the Old Testament that did not survive). Most recently we’ve been seeing in our reading of Zechariah 1:5, written after the exile, that the books of some of the prophets from before the exile were already considered as Scripture alongside the books of Moses (see this Biblog post). We also have seen other examples, such as Daniel’s use of Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2), and we could go back even further to God’s commands through Moses that certain writings be preserved, for example for the king to copy (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). The Old Testament “canon”, in this context the “list” of books included, was more or less set at the time that the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (known by the Roman numerals “LXX”) was made (likely beginning as early as the third century BC). Some time after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, an assembly of Jewish leaders met at Jamnia, a city about 13 miles south of Joppa, and discussed the status of some books, but there is no evidence that group settled the limits of the Old Testament canon. Officially, we say that the canon remains open, although it is unlikely any other books will ever be included. False teachers have at various times tried to do away with whole groups of books; the heretic Marcion, who died about AD 160, rejected the whole Old Testament and, from the New Testament, only kept ten of Paul’s letters and a differently-edited version of St. Luke’s Gospel account. Finally, I think how what is said of Revelation in 22:18-19 is usually applied to the Bible as a whole, at least in its original, inspired manuscripts, but not necessarily to their copies or translations. (See this previously posted general Q&A for more on the formation of the New Testament canon.) Back to Top
Q: The two anointed ones in Zechariah 4:14 are Zerubbabel and Joshua? What of the golden oil then? Is the oil meant to symbolize the rebuilding of the temple, done by Zerubbabel, and the reorganizing of the services, done by Joshua?
A: In the fifth night vision of Zechariah 4:1-14, the usual interpretation of the oil is that it represents the Holy Spirit (4:6, 12), “channeled” to the people by way of the anointed ones, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, who chiefly according to their royal and priestly offices are symbolized by the olive trees, or olive branches, which, via two golden pipes, fill the lamp’s bowl with oil (4:3, 12). Olive oil was not only used for fuel in lamps, but it was also used for anointing kings and priests, as well as prophets. Meaning “anointed one”, Hebrew’s “Messiah” becomes Greek’s “Christ”, and we recognize Jesus Christ as the perfect and final One anointed as Prophet, Priest, and King. Zerubbabel and Joshua in their offices point to Christ, Who was “anointed” by the Holy Spirit to carry out His three-fold office with the goal of our salvation (see Isaiah 61:1-3). The Holy Spirit enabled Zerubbabel and Joshua to carry out their offices despite opposition. In much the same way, the Holy Spirit creates faith in us; the Holy Spirit enables us to produce the fruits of faith despite the opposition of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh; and the Holy Spirit preserves us in the faith and brings it to completion at the Last Day. Back to Top
Q: Should any particular person be connected with the “three shepherds” cut off in one month as described in Zechariah 11:8?
A: Since you asked, I want to make a number of comments as I answer your question. First, apparently the verse is reporting that the Lord annihilated three of the tyrannical shepherds, not necessarily the only three such shepherds; there were apparently any number of other ones. Second, the number three is a perfect number, so it may simply indicate completeness. A number of ancient commentators think that this verse may refer to the three classes of Jewish rulers--prophets, priests, and kings--although other commentators dismiss that suggestion. More likely may be that verse refers to three heathen rulers of the nation of Israel, and, if not three individual rulers of one dominating empire, perhaps rulers of three dominating empires. Third, the “month” may not be a literal period of days between two moons, but the “month” may simply be a relatively brief period of time. Figurative meanings, of course, are common in such literature as Zechariah. A final note on the heathen rulers cut off in the short period of time is from my self-study Bible: “Although the three cannot be specifically identified, the Good Shepherd will dispose of all such unfit leaders.”
As I worked on answering your question, I noticed that the translations differ on what they do with the rest of the verse. The KJV translates, “my soul lothed them, and their soul also abhorred me”, with the pronoun “them” presumably referring to the three shepherds (confer the ASV, NEB, NKJV, NASB, and ESV). However, that understanding is said to be “grammatically impossible”. Another way of understanding the verse, one found in the AAT, NIV, and a generally-reliable commentator I consult, is that, “The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them” (NIV). (In Isaiah 1:13-14 the Lord is also described as weary of the flock.) The Lord may be weary of the flock because of the flock’s lack of appreciation both for the His delivering the flock from the three tyrannical shepherds and for His pasturing the flock (v.7). Note what the following verses say about the Lord’s actions. What a good call for us to repent and bring forth the fruit of repentance in our lives! Back to Top
Q: In reading Zechariah 11:17, I wondered about the KJV’s “idol shepherd”. Other translations, including the NKJV, say “worthless”.
A: You’ve put your finger right on another obsolete word in the KJV that can confuse the reader or hearer. I thought of the “idols” or false gods the Bible describes that don’t--more significantly can’t--do anything. The intended sense is related. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) helps by indicating that one of the archaic meanings of the word “idol” is that of an “inert inactive person (who has the form, without the proper activity or energy, of a man)”. The OED also points out that the phrase “idol shepherd” in Zechariah 11:17 goes back to the 1560 Geneva Bible, which predates the 1611 KJV, and that the phrase was used in seventeenth-century polemics with the sense of “counterfeit” or “sham” and also the “idle” sense described above, meaning “neglectful of duty”. The shepherd of the Lord’s choice was apparently removed from the scene, and a foolish (v.15) and worthless shepherd (v.17) replaced him and was afflicting the flock. There may be reason to find partial fulfillments in some historical leaders, but the final fulfillment is likely that which is found in the antichrist. Thank God the Good Shepherd pastors and protects the flock that remains faithful to Him. Back to Top
Q: When I read Matthew 1:1-17, no matter how many times I re-count, I keep coming up with only thirteen generations from the exile to Christ, despite the fact that Matthew 1:17 says there are fourteen. Am I miscounting?
A: Usually I check these sorts of things, too, but apparently the last time I read those verses I didn’t. Your question prompted me to take another look. Depending on how I counted, I came up with your problem of the thirteen in the third grouping (the exile to Christ), as well as possibly too many in the second grouping (David to the exile) and not enough in the first grouping (Abraham to David). You have raised a question about the genealogies that was new to me, but it was not new to some commentators. (Other commentators do not address this issue—either ignorant of the concern or unable or unwilling to venture an answer.) Your question allows me the opportunity not only to offer an answer but also to explain a little about how we approach such matters of Holy Scripture: prayerfully, humbly, and persistently using our method of interpretation that is historical, grammatical, and theological.
In all of this we remember that we accept Scripture’s claim to be inspired and therefore inerrant. Such belief automatically rules out some explanations of the matter (for example, we reject out of hand one commentator’s solution that the Divinely-inspired St. Matthew, a former tax collector no less, could not add). But, only the original manuscripts of the books of the Bible are inspired and inerrant, so we first look to see if the problem might be in the copies of those manuscripts or their translations. While verse 17 does not appear to have any readings of the text that vary between different copies, other verses earlier in the section do, and one of those addresses the concern you raised. In verse 11 between Josiah and Jeconiah (which is another name for Jehoiachin), some manuscripts add “Jehoiakim” as being both a son and father. (Those making such copies perhaps thought that the name was accidentally left out by previous copyists.) This variant is alternatively taken as resolving the problem of thirteen in the third group and as creating a problem of fifteen in the second group. Regardless, the variant reading is usually rejected on the basis of poor evidence. So, since the text as we have received it is most likely correct, we next look to see if there is some way of understanding the text as giving fourteen generations in each of the three groupings, as Matthew claims in verse 17 that it does. (Incidentally, one writer takes the three groupings as reflecting the three persons in the Trinity, and the groupings themselves are variously understood: theocracy, monarchy, and hierarchy; judges, kings, and priests; growth, decline, and restoration with internal ruin; patriarchs, kings, and princes; fathers of the kings [not to mention the mothers!], kings, and followers of the kings, etc.)
Historically speaking, we know from other listings in the Old Testament that there are other descendants who are not included in the genealogy Matthew gives. In fact, essentially no Old Testament genealogy it thought to name every person in a family line, nor were genealogies apparently expected to do so back then. I am not suggesting that Matthew or any other author is unreliable, but I am saying they use “father of” and “son of” loosely in places where we in our modern idiom might use “grandfather of” and “grandson of”. Matthew’s historical selectivity, such as his mentioning women other than the usual matriarchs, indicates a theological purpose we will consider in a moment. Grammatically speaking, we must consider the words “from” and “to” in verse 17. Do they mean to include the beginning and ending names? Or, should we be expecting fourteen names between, for example, Abraham and David? The Greek word for “from” can be used in regards to distance, which might suggest that from Abraham to Isaac is only one generation. One could make the same argument regarding the Greek word used for “to”, although here they seem to be used together to define the beginning and end of a series. So, we would probably say Abraham is one generation and Isaac another. Thus, as Matthew lists them in the first group, from Abraham to David (vv.2-6), there fairly clearly are fourteen generations, counting both Abraham and David. (The use of “fourteen” is variously regarded as such things as the sum of seven days of old and new creation [perhaps appropriate given Matthew’s “book of Genesis” reference in 1:1], the total of the values for the letters in David’s name, and a precedent set in an Old Testament genealogy [although not so obvious, see the fourteen generations from Abraham to David in 1 Chronicles 1:28, 34; 2:1, 4-5, 9-15].) In the second group, from David to the exile (vv.6-11), there appear to be fifteen generations, if David is counted again and the count goes all the way to Jeconiah; presumably, not counting David twice and counting Jeconiah gives us fourteen. In the third group, from the exile to Christ, there are twelve, if Jeconiah is not counted twice, or thirteen, if Jeconiah is counted twice—either way not fourteen. Not counting Jeconiah twice would seem reasonable following the precedent of not counting David twice, but arguments can be made on the basis of Matthew’s wording that Jeconiah should be counted twice for theological reasons—but even that does not solve the problem (anymore than saying someone’s error put “Jeconiah” at the bottom of the second list, where “Jehoiakim” was meant—changing one name doesn’t add a fourteenth to the list). A number of other solutions to the problem are proposed: counting at the top of the list the “brothers” (or “kinsmen” in verse 11, particularly Zedekiah) or the exile itself as a generation, theorizing that a name dropped out from the middle of the list (for which omission there is no manuscript evidence), counting Mary as a separate generation (distinct from Joseph) near the bottom of the list, and counting at the bottom of the list as separate generations “Jesus” Who was born into the flesh and “Christ” Who comes at the end of the age. While none of these are particularly satisfying, we really need only offer one plausible solution, and at least one of them has enough plausibility to be considered as having addressed the concern. (There may well some other more or completely satisfying explanation out there that is and might remain unknown.)
Without wanting to open a can of worms, other Biblical lists (as have been noted before on other Daily Lectionary pages, as with David’s “mighty men” here) are also somewhat problematic. Matthew may well have known he did not give fourteen names in the third list and may have been content with that. If no one person is counted twice, there is a total of 40 generations before Christ, which, despite Matthew’s claims of 42 at least one writer regards as an appropriate result since 40 is a number of fullness. To be sure, Matthew has telescoped his listing of the genealogy, emphasizing the Davidic line and Jesus’ relationship to David—apparently one of Matthew’s theological purposes. Hearers, including us, should know of the others who are not included in his list but mentioned elsewhere and understand that his listing serves his purposes, regardless of whether there are fourteen individuals in each of the three categories. (For example, we might be able supply missing names that genealogical tables he may have consulted may not have supplied, or we might at least know that there probably were others, even if we cannot name them.) What apparently was most important for Matthew and is most important for us is seeing Jesus as the Christ: true Judge, King, and Priest; the Son of Abraham and the Son of David; the goal and fulfillment of salvation history, more particularly, as the genealogy accents, God’s promises to Abraham and David. Back to Top
Q: After reading Matthew 1:25 and your post of November 17, 2006 and reviewing the Q&A from May on the topic, I wanted to ask for more explanation. We know from Scripture that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Christ, and the Bible speaks of Him as being “born of a virgin”; Isaiah prophesied it, and the Gospel accounts describe it. There is really nothing said in Scripture about Mary and Joseph’s private life after that. I guess I just don’t understand the need to emphasize Mary’s virginity (or lack thereof), once Christ was born. Since Luke presumably got many of the details of Christ’s birth from Mary, I would think he would have recorded her continued virginity if it was so and if we needed to know.
A: Practically speaking, the primary need I see arise to discuss Mary’s virginity or lack thereof comes regarding the periods before Jesus was conceived, after He was conceived, and immediately after He was born. However, as near as I can tell, some people who deny miraculous aspects of His conception or birth also use the so-called brothers and sisters to deny that Mary remained a virgin during her pregnancy and immediately after Jesus was born. (The Greek word for such “kin” apparently does originate from the idea of a common womb, but that common womb might be more than one generation back.) Admittedly, not everyone, including me, speaks or writes as precisely about these matters as they might. To be sure, if one holds to the Scriptural teaching that Mary was a virgin before, during, and immediately after carrying Jesus, then what happened in Mary and Joseph’s private life after that is of little importance. People give all sorts of edifying reasons for Mary’s always remaining a virgin well after the birth of Christ, but, for the most part, I also generally think that those reasons, however edifying they might be, lack meaningful Scriptural support. At the same time, arguing for Mary’s not always remaining a virgin on the basis of St. Luke’s account not mentioning it is an argument from silence and thus not an argument to be given a great deal of weight. But, I certainly agree that our salvation does not depend on her long-term virginity. Having said all of that, I am compelled to reiterate that the early church condemned as false teachers those who denied Mary’s perpetual virginity. I am also compelled to reiterate that our Lutheran Confessions, by which (after Scripture) I am oath-bound to norm my teaching, can be taken to hold to the position of Mary’s remaining a virgin long after Christ was born. Back to Top
Q: In Matthew 11:11 what does it mean that John the Baptizer was the greatest of those born of women (even greater than Abraham?) but so low in the kingdom of heaven that its least person was greater than him?
A: I had to smile when I checked and saw that I had not explained this either in commenting on Matthew 11:11 or its parallel Luke 7:28; sometimes I like to let difficult passages go to see if anyone will ask. In the context of Matthew 11:7-15, Jesus has been praising John and in the second half of this verse seems to cut him down in order to show the exceeding greatness of the Kingdom. The first half of the verse indicates that among human beings, most likely on account of his office as immediate forerunner of the Messiah, John exceeds all. (A suggestion is made that Jesus is not included among those “born of women”, in the sense of married women, since He was born of a virgin.) The second part of the verse is more problematic, and one commentator offers three possible explanations. First, Jesus could be referring to Himself, perhaps according to His state of humiliation or being younger than John (or, another suggests, being otherwise perceived by the people as less-great). Second, without excluding John from the Kingdom, Jesus could be contrasting John’s present state, as he was still alive, with the state of all believers’ after the Last Day. Third, Jesus could be contrasting the still-alive-but-soon-to-be-dead John with those who would be alive to witness Jesus’ death and resurrection (or perhaps with those already received into heavenly glory). Another commentator mentions but rejects the possibility that John’s supposed doubts about Jesus put him beneath regular believers in Jesus. Similarly that same commentator mentions but rejects the idea that Jesus put John into a category of Old Testament believers in comparison to New Testament believers (see how Matthew 13 would put John on this side of that alleged divide). I’m not sure that a hard and fast decision on a particular interpretation can or needs to be made. Back to Top
Q: Can Matthew 18:18 refer to any group of Christians, or is it a direction to the disciples and, by extension, to our pastors only? Can 18:19-20 refer to any group of Christians? It seems that different Lutheran synods in America have different takes on these passages.
A: The binding and loosing that is effective on earth and in heaven (v.18) is closely tied both to the two on earth agreeing to ask something and having it done in heaven (v.19) and to the Lord’s being present where two or three are gathered (v.20). In part because of the excommunication context in chapter 18 and in part because of the similar statements in Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23, we generally limit the action of Matthew 18:18 to the Office of the Keys, so to the apostles and their successors, that is, pastors today. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Keys are given for the benefit of the Church, but the lay members of the Church do not exercise they Keys as the pastors do, although the lay members always have the right and privilege to say “Amen” to the pastor’s actions for their benefit. As for Matthew 18:19-20, to the extent that the verses can be understood as saying something different than what precedes, I suppose they might be differently applied, but I do not think they say much different. The Lutheran Confessions seem also to apply verses 19 and 20 to the Office of the Keys. The public prayers of the Church may be in view in verse 19, but such take place in the Divine Service, which, properly consists of pastor and people together. Likewise, the Lord’s Presence of verse 20 is most properly linked to the assembly of the Church, pastor and people, around the purely preached Word and the rightly administered Sacraments. (Remember that verse numbers came later, so when an author refers to Matthew 18, telling precisely to what verse reference is made can be difficult, or a matter of interpretation, if the verse is not paraphrased.) What you say is true: different Lutheran synods in America have different takes on these passages, but one does not need to look outside our own Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to find different interpretations. While Christians can and should forgive their fellow Christians sins committed against the former by the latter, such forgiveness is not, strictly speaking, the exercise of the loosing key being discussed in Matthew 18. In that same way, the Lutheran Confessions do not seem to know of anyone exercising the keys—that is, “absolving”, in the strict sense of that term—other than pastors. So, the Bible and the Confessions would draw lines between those within our Synod and those of other synods who want to interpret the passage differently. Some quotations of Martin Luther may be mustered in support of such positions, but as faithful Lutherans we are bound only to those writings of Luther contained in the Confessions, and we do not let non-confessional Luther writings outweigh statements in the Confessions. Back to Top
Q: I was thinking about Matthew 24:10-13 as I heard news and analysis of the Pope’s visit to Turkey and speculation about the relationship between different governments and whether different religions flourish under them. It might seem life for Christians is too free of persecution. Still, has there been as much fighting within denominations as there is now? Not just ours, but almost all “flavors” of Christianity seem to be having serious differences within their churches. Instead of dealing with those internal problems, denominations patch-over external differences with other denominations. It’s all very strange. Is that what these verses are about?
A: In Matthew 24, verses 10-13 come in the immediate context of persecution (verse 9), so seeing people turning away from the faith, the rising up of false prophets, and increasing wickedness as results of lives “too free of persecution” does not seem to fit with what Jesus is saying. Church history is replete with examples where the faith flourished both under persecution and under the government’s endorsement of Christianity, which in neither case is to suggest that Jesus is wrong. I am increasingly convinced that the so-called signs of the end are in the main or at least initially fulfilled around the time of the crucifixion; you no doubt could find examples in Acts or the Epistles of all the things Jesus mentions in verses 10-13. To be sure, the complete fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy is telescoped, so that what is happening today within and between denominations is included. Could the ignoring of the internal problems be a marginalization of the faithful? Could the patching-over of the external differences be the great apostasy that immediately precedes the final coming? I’d say “Yes” to both questions, but, as the reporters’ cliché puts it, “Time will tell.” Back to Top
Q: In commenting on Matthew 25:14-30’s Parable of the Talents you limited the application to the apostles and pastors and said it had to do with their being accountable to the Lord. That interpretation is new to me, but the parable has always made me uncomfortable, so you are welcome to it! I don’t suppose it will really be resolved that easily though.
A: You have fairly characterized what in the Biblog post I did say was a “likely” interpretation. Although the interpretation I suggested is certainly not one you find everywhere, you do find it. The matter is not, as you said, so easily resolved, as there are variations. A non-Lutheran commentator says the parable originally emphasized Jesus’ ministry calling Israel to account but then is transferred to the final judgment (he doesn’t say who is being held accountable at that time). Certainly the parable in 25:1-13 applies to everyone, but the delegation of authority in 25:14-30 is a major reason for narrowing the focus of the second parable to the apostles and pastors. Not all that far from that understanding, a generally sound and occasionally thought-provoking Lutheran commentator said the parable “may have to do with the Gentile mission, that is, the church is required to work among those who do not now belong to its fellowship (25:32).” Somewhat similarly, a non-Lutheran commentator sees the parable as mostly warning Jesus’ opponents (with at least a little implicit encouragement to His followers), perhaps about their having hidden God’s Word that came down to them through the sacred tradition; in the end it is taken and given others. My comments regarding the parable not being about money or abilities notwithstanding, Dr. Luther himself, in what is thought to be his first sermon (in 1510 or 1512), sees the “talent” as our abilities—or “external, internal, and intermediate goods”—with which “we are required to do to our neighbor what we are able to do” (AE 51:8; possibly see also AE 10:174; 15:123). Later, however, Luther applied verse 14’s call of the servants and entrusting of the property to those in ecclesiastical offices (AE 25:447; see also AE 23:228; 27:159, 167; 28:282; 35:148, 181; 40:386; and possibly 48:13). In keeping at least with Luther’s earliest comments, a very traditional Lutheran commentator said the point of the parable was faithful use of God’s grace in producing good works. Another Lutheran view is somewhat similar, seeing Christ as the Giver, distributing gifts as He sees fit but summoning all to service and faithfulness; faithfulness, regardless of its output, is graciously rewarded, while excuse-making unfaithfulness is judged and condemned. Regardless of how this parable is interpreted, we are all accountable to God for our faithfulness or lack thereof, for our good works or lack thereof, etc. Maybe the Holy Spirit has us both feeling uncomfortable for a reason, even as we know there is forgiveness in Christ for every sin. Back to Top
Q: In your original Biblog post on Matthew 25-26 you referred to the anointing of Jesus’ feet, but Matthew 26:7 refers to the woman anointing Jesus’ head. John 12:3, which you mentioned, refers to Mary anointing Jesus’ feet. Is this a case of the two evangelists not reporting the same incident in the same way?
A: Thank you for reading more closely than I apparently read! When I began writing that paragraph of my post, I was looking at an outline of the chapter that specifically said “feet”, and I did not notice that the feet were not mentioned in the chapter’s account. After receiving your question via email, I revised the post to refer simply to “anointing”, but I nevertheless did want to point out that you most likely correctly understood this to be the same event reported in slightly different ways (which is why I referred to John’s mention of Mary). The two accounts do not contradict one another, of course, for perfumed ointment poured on the head, which is where kings and priests were anointed, can run down the body to the feet (or could have been applied to top and bottom, as it were separately). You also might notice that Jesus in Matthew 26:12 refers to the perfume being poured on His “body”. Moreover, the theological import of her act, anointing the Anointed One in preparation for His death (remember His body was not treated right before burial), does not depend on which part of the body stands in for the whole. (St. John may have his own theological purposes for mentioning the feet.) Back to Top