Exegesis Paper on Luke 19:1-10

A few weeks ago I blogged on my NT Exegesis class here at Princeton Theological Seminary.  I then posted my paper on 1 Thessalonians 15:12-28 as well as a list of resources for 1 Thessalonians provided by my prof.  I will now do the same for the paper I wrote on Luke 19:1-10.  I will tell you I got a ‘B’ on this paper not to be prideful, but rather so you know it isn’t what some would call an ‘A’ paper.  I will also say that a ‘B’ with the prof I had is something I am proud of. Some self critique: This paper was much better with respect to footnoting and secondary sources usage.  It is not (as my 1 Thess. paper was) a commentary on the commentaries I used.  I feel as though I found my voice a bit more in this paper.  That said, the introduction and conclusion need some work.  That said, here is my translation of the passage followed by my take on the story of Zacchaeus.

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1And Jesus entered Jericho to pass through it. 2And behold, there was a man called Zacchaeus and he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3And he wanted to see who Jesus was but he was not able to because of the crowd and he was small in stature.[1] 4So he ran ahead to the front [of the crowd] and climbed up in a sycamore tree in order to see him because [Jesus] intended to pass by that way. 5And as he came to that place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry down for today it is necessary[2] for me to stay in your house.”6So he hurried down and received him rejoicing. 7And all who saw this murmured to one another saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” 8Standing, Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I give[3] to the poor and if I have gained anything from anyone by falsehood I give back fourfold.” 9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because he also is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”  — Luke 19:1-10

Luke 19:1-10 is more than a story about what might at first glance appear to be a chance encounter between Jesus and a tax collector named Zacchaeus.  In light of the entirety of the book of Luke, this passage is packed with theological implications.  The passage starts out with a rather innocuous phrase, “And Jesus entered Jericho to pass through it” (v. 1), but even in this Luke is communicating much more than Jesus’ physical location.  Jesus’ movement brings him closer and closer to his ultimate goal of Jerusalem.  This is stated very matter of fact in 17:11, where the reader learns that “on the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.”[4] Then in 18:35 Jesus approaches Jericho which means he is less than 15 miles from Jerusalem.  The description in 19:1 continues with the theme of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem which is significant in and of itself.  In v. 2, the main character in the story next to Jesus is introduced as “a man called Zacchaeus and he was a chief tax collector and was rich.”  It is interesting to that Luke chose to inform his readers that Zacchaeus “was a chief tax collector and he was rich” (v. 2) since usually being a tax collector would automatically indicate wealth.  It seems possible that Luke was emphasizing the fact that Zacchaeus was rich in light of the outcome of the story since earlier in Luke Jesus is quoted as saying, “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (18:25).

Luke’s overall presentation of the rich is not very sympathetic.   Early on in Luke, Jesus is quoted as saying “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (6:24).  The nature of this “woe” (οὐαὶ) is exemplified in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.  The fact that Lazarus is named while “the rich man” is given no name at all speaks volumes since those who receive no names are denigrated to obscurity and generality.  Even if this story is a parable created to present a point, the fact still remains that the rich man is not given a name.  In this story, Lazarus is a poor man who lay at the gate of the rich man “covered with sores, and longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table” (v. 21) who “feasted sumptuously every day” (v.19).  Both Lazarus and the rich man die but while Lazarus was by Abraham’s side (v. 23b), the rich man is “in Hades, where he [is] being tormented” (v. 23a).  When the rich man notices this, he says, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames” (v. 24).  The irony that the rich man is asking to be served by the very one he neglected on a daily basis is overpowering.[5] Abraham’s response presents this stark reality to the rich man in saying tenderly, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony” (v. 25).  While the word “woe” is not explicitly used here, it is indeed the most succinct way to describe the rich man’s predicament.  This is important to keep in mind as the story of Zacchaeus continues.

In v. 3 the reader learns that Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus but is unable due to the combination of the crowd around Jesus and because he is “small in stature” (τῇ ἡλικίᾳ μικρὸς).  While many translations, including the NRSV, render the Greek here as “short in stature,” this only captures one sense of the meaning here.  In Luke 2:52, ἡλικίᾳ is used to describe Jesus in where he is described as “growing in wisdom and stature” while in 12:25, ἡλικαν is used to discuss the span of a person’s life.  So while this word can refer to physical height, as seen in 2:52, it apparently can also refer to the span of a person’s life as in 12:25.  Within the context of Jewish culture, however this latter use could easily be used with respect to moral span or fullness of a person so to speak.  In this mindset, Zacchaeus would not short merely in the physical sense, but his character would be lacking as well.  The story of the blind beggar Jesus heals is a perfect of this type of character deficiency.  Thus, just as sickness, disease, or disability was often understood as the result of sin on the part of the individual or their parents or as the result of demon possession, so it was with the case with being short.  This, as well as Zacchaeus’ wealth, and position meant that Zacchaeus was a sinner as far as his town was concerned.[6]

While v. 3 says that Zacchaeuswanted to see who Jesus was,” it is v. 4 that helps us see the level of intensity of this statement.  Similar to when the father in the parable found in Luke 15, when in Luke 19 the text reveals that “he ran ahead to the front [of the crowd]” and on top of that, he “climbed up in a sycamore tree in order to see him because [Jesus] intended to pass by that way” (v. 4).    Regardless of the level to which Zacchaeus’ dignity was degraded, it is obvious that he fully intended on doing whatever it took to see who Jesus was.[7] In the midst of Zacchaeus’ seeking, Jesus steps in to meet him there.  When Jesus arrived at the tree Zacchaeus had climbed in hopes of merely seeing Jesus, Jesus looks up at him and speaks to him saying, “Zacchaeus, hurry down for today it is necessary for me to stay in your house” (v. 5).  The use of δεῖ in v. 5 is worth exploration since Luke’s usage of this word gives the corresponding action much more weight.  While there is a spectrum of meaning for this word when translating it into English, BDAG includes this instance of δεῖ in the heading “to be under necessity of happening, it is necessary, one must, one has to” and then under the subheading “of compulsion caused by necessity of attaining a certain result.”  Jesus is not asking to stay at Zacchaeus’ house, nor is he merely suggesting it, rather it seems that Jesus is saying that he must stay with Zacchaeus or that “it is necessary.”  But in what sense is it necessary for Jesus to stay with Zacchaeus?  Is there, as some scholars have argued, a theological implication behind Luke’s use of this word in such a way?  This sense of the word is also used when Jesus says, “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; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12, emphasis added).  It seems in this case Luke is intentionally pairing δεῖ, here translated as “ought to,” with the presence and work of the Holy Spirit which indicates understanding δεῖ as “divine necessity” is legitimate at least in some cases.  Danker also includes Acts 9:6 in this type of usage of the word δεῖ which only increases the level of significance.  Once again it is Jesus speaking, but this time to Saul on the road to Damascus.  To preface Jesus’ words, we are told that Saul “was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him” (v.3).  At this point Saul “fell to the ground” because “he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (vv. 4-5).  It is important to realize that Saul is headed to Damascus with letters that provide authorization for him to proceed with his plan to bring all followers of the Way “bound to Jerusalem” presumably to be tried in some way (v. 2).  The divine necessity in this situation seems warranted when considering Saul would receive a new name and a new mission regarding followers of the Way that results in the spread of the gospel beyond what many may have imagined.  So when Saul says, “Who are you, Lord?” (v. 5) and receives the response “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (v. 5b-6, emphasis added) it seems the NRSV understatements the necessity of what it is that Saul must do.  The divine necessity involved in Jesus’ stay at Zacchaeus’ home may provide some insight into how Jesus knew his name.[8]

According to v. 6, the obedience Zacchaeus exhibits in response to this divine necessity (whether he understands it as that or not) is flawless.  Not only did he hurry down as Jesus asked, “he hurried down and received him rejoicing” (v. 6).[9] Luke’s usage of χαίρω is revealing.  The first usage of this word in Luke is in 1:14 where the birth of John the Baptist is foretold in the prophecy given to Zechariah by an angel at the temple.  Since the Baptist is the forerunner of Jesus, this is not just your average, run of the mill happiness.  Rather there is a sense of what could be described as the fulfillment of a deep longing.  Xαίρω is also used by the angel who greets Mary to tell her about the birth of Jesus (1:28), as well as the healing of the “bent-over-woman” in Luke 13, the return of the so called “prodigal son” (15:5), and the way the disciples rejoice at Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem (19:6).  The passion that is the magnificat seems to be in the spirit of χαίρω as well though the word itself is not used in this case.

Though Zacchaeus is rejoicing, after those who are present observe this exchange between Jesus and Zacchaeus there is “grumbling” (v. 7a) among the crowd since Jesus is going to stay at the house of a sinner (v. 7b).  What happens next could be understood as a rebuttal: Zacchaeus’ tells Jesus, “half of my possessions I give to the poor and if I cheated anyone of anything I repay [them] fourfold” (v. 8b).[10] Though most translations present Zacchaeus’ statement in future tense where he will give half his possessions to the poor, the fact that the verbs are actually in the present tense seems as though Zacchaeus has already been doing this.[11] The fact that we are told that Zacchaeus stands up before speaking supports the idea that he may be defending himself.  That said, since there are gaps in the text this is not definitive evidence.  If this is the case, reading the story of Zacchaeus as a conversion narrative is problematic.  If Zacchaeus has already been doing as he says, it is possible that he was already a believer and is standing up for himself and the illegitimate declaration that he was a sinner (v. 7).  He did seek Jesus out after all (vv. 3-4).  With this in mind, Jesus’ response might make a bit more sense.  In hearing Zacchaeus’ legitimate response, Jesus declares that “Today salvation has come to this house because he also is a son of Abraham” (v. 9a) stating emphatically that Zacchaeus is “also a son of Abraham” (v. 9b).  This verse is both supportive and problematic concerning the possibility that Zacchaeus may have already been a believer.  Indeed John preaches to the crowds that came to him for baptism, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Luke 3:8-9).[12] Do Zacchaeus’ works prove he is indeed a true son of Abraham?  The problematic aspect of this verse comes at the beginning of the verse when Jesus says salvation (σωτηρία) has come to Zacchaeus’ house “today” (σήμερον).  If Zacchaeus is already a believer, how it is that salvation is only coming on the day of Jesus’ arrival?  As it turns out, this word appears in Luke in more than a few places either alluding to or directly identifying Jesus.  When Zechariah is finally able to speak after being mute for doubting God’s provision, Zechariah is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and prophesies (1:67).  His prophecy includes three uses of σωτηρία the first of which is a veiled reference of the Messiah who will be “a horn of salvation” (v. 69).  In addition, σωτηρία is also used when Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and praises God saying “my eyes have seen your salvation (σωτηρία)” (2:30).  And lastly, John the Baptist uses this same word to describe Jesus when he invokes the prophecy of Isaiah saying “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (3:6).  If then, Luke uses σωτηρία to refer to Jesus himself as the embodiment of God’s salvation, it is indeed true that Salvation (read Jesus) has come to Zacchaeus’ house that day and would not be problematic in weighing the possibility that Zacchaeus was already a believer.

Luke’s use of σήμερον (v. 9) is telling as well.  Once again, Luke seems to reserve this word for very important events.  In fact the first usage is used in one of the most quoted passages of Luke: the announcement of the birth of Jesus.  Here an angel declares to some shepherds watching their flocks in the fields, “‘Do not be afraid; for see —  I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’” (2:10-12, emphasis added).  Jesus also uses this word after he reads from the scroll of Isaiah in his synagogue saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21).  This is no small thing that Jesus has said and in fact contributes to Jesus’ rejection in his home town of Nazareth. (4:24, 29).

Even with all this however, the possibility that the story of Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus was not a conversion story as it is usually presented could very well fall apart in v. 10.  Here Jesus states, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” showing how in one sense Jesus’ “seeking” parallels the efforts Zacchaeus made to see Jesus (vv. 3-4).  When Jesus refers to “the lost,” is he indicating that Zacchaeus was indeed lost and is now “found” so to speak?  This is after all the same word (ζητῆσαι) that is used in the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:1-7.  While this is a distinct possibility and may prove after all that the more accepted reading of this story is that of a conversion narrative, Jesus’ words just a chapter before the story of Zacchaeus in 18:8b more significant.  Here the use of the title “Son of Man” is used, just as it is in 20:10 in response to Zacchaeus’ declaration, but here Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  Is the story of Zacchaeus then an answer to his own question?  In pondering this possibility, let us first return to the “grumblers” in v. 7.  If Zacchaeus’ declaration of his financial conduct is taken as him standing up for himself, it seems possible, if not probable, that Jesus is addressing the grumblers (vv. 9-10) and not Zacchaeus.[13]

While v. 10 could also function in this way even if it is a conversion story, if Jesus is indirectly identifying the grumblers as those who are lost, this would once again indicate the possibility that Zacchaeus’ use of present tense verbs does in fact show that Zacchaeus already believes.  This, coupled with the indications mentioned above, seem to show that Zacchaeus is standing up for himself and then even declared a true son of Abraham by Jesus.   It would not be hard to envision at least some of those who are grumbling feeling slighted or indignant that Jesus did not choose to stay at their homes.  Instead he chooses one who is on the “wrong” side of the social structure thus turning that same social structure on its head.  The question that must now be addressed is “So what?”  If this story is in fact a story that legitimizes, and even showcases Zacchaeus’ faith how does that affect our understanding of conversion?  It seems that the only thing at stake is the human tendency to turn things into rules and formulas.  While faith must be present for salvation, all efforts to make salvation formulaic seem myopic and detrimental to the expansion of the kingdom of God.  That this would help us remember that “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord” (Psalm 37:39) and those who are the recipients of God’s grace do not get to make the rules.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.

Craddock, F. B. Luke Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox, 1990.

Fitzmyer, J. A. The Gospel According to Luke. Vol. 1 Anchor Bible. Garden City: Doubleday, 1981 and 1985.

Marshall, I. H. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Talbert, Charles H. Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel. New York: Crossroad, 1984.

Tannehill, R. C. The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation. Vol. 1: The Gospel According to Luke. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.


[1] I have chosen to translate this phrase in a slightly ambiguous way since it seems that more than Zacchaeus’ height is under scrutiny in this passage.

[2] The significance of the phrase “it is necessary” (δεῖ) will be discussed at length in this paper.

[3] While many translations choose to render Zacchaeus’ statement as something he intends to do, the Greek is in present tense indicating that Zacchaeus is already doing these things.

[4] All verses not from Luke 19:1-10 are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.

[5] Charles H. Talbert comments on this as well in his book Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (New York: Crossroad, 1984), 157.

[6] Marshal states that here “ἡλικαν obviously means ‘height’” in The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, 696.  While I do would not argue that this word does mean ‘height’ in this context, it seems irrational to me to rule out the possibility of the additional connotations mentioned above.

[7] Kenneth E. Bailey also addresses this aspect of this passage in his book Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 177.

[8] Marshal also notes that “this may be a case of supernatural language” but also states that “it is perfectly possible that Jesus could have known his name,” 696.

[9] Marshal also notices this noting that “the repetition of σπεύσας κατέβη is no doubt deliberate” (697).

[10] Fitzmyer disagrees with this as he understands a rebuttal on Zacchaeus’ part as a “bristling protest of self-righteousness.”  While it could definitely be read that way, this seems to assume a tone that is not otherwise apparent in the text, 1220.

[11] Tannehill comments on this be chooses to translate Zacchaeus’ statements as “I will give” and “I will give back” as “they could also a new policy that begins at this time” (277).

[12] Craddock also makes this association noting that the when Jesus says “Today salvation has come to this house” (v. 10), it is possible that “this house” may be a reference to “the concept of household salvation” which is an important concept for Luke (F. B. Craddock, Luke, Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox, 1990), Salvation Brought to Zacchaeus.).  [Note: As the CD-ROM version does not provide page numbers, I will reference this work using section headings instead.].

[13] Talbert also comments on this idea, 176.

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14 Responses to “Exegesis Paper on Luke 19:1-10”

  1. c. stirling bartholomew Says:

    RE: didomi δίδωμι Luke 9:7

    “Present and Perfect indicatives are unmarked for tense” R.A. Hoyle [1]. This has been controversial since the late 1980s. Hoyle cites Porter 1989. But note that Randall Buth of Jerusalem has been a frequent and vocal critic of this position.

    R.A. Hoyle SIL Horsleys Green UK

  2. Sara J. Green Says:

    That is very interesting. I had not come across that. Thank you for your comment. I look forward to checking out your blog!

  3. Suggested Resources on Luke « Says:

    […] « Exegesis Paper on Luke 19:1-10 […]

  4. Greek Exegesis « Says:

    […] Exegesis class that I very much enjoyed.  I have previously posted a paper on 1 Thessalonians and Luke as well as a resource list for each ( 1 Thes. / Luke ).  Here I will post information from my […]

  5. Enock Thobias Says:

    Thanks! This paper has not only reminded me of my Greek class, but also gave a lot of challenges (and new horizon) to understanding “Zacharius’ story”

  6. Sara J. Green Says:

    Glad to hear it, Enock! It was definitely an interesting passage to explore. : )

  7. Pearl Says:

    do you have anything on luke 17:11-19 or the annointing of david in 1 samuel

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