A Sociolinguistic Reading of ptōchos in Luke’s Gospel, Part III: “Lukan usage of ptōchos from the ‘L Source’ (14:13, 21)”

Posted: December 16, 2013 in General

stock-photo-feet-99245384Sociolinguistics would be better called a “socially constituted linguistics”, since the social function gives form to the way in which language is encountered in real life (cf. Wardhaugh, 1986). It is concerned about speakers, receptors, setting, context, form, and the relation of language to other codes. The focus is not so much upon the sentence or the text but upon the speech event as such. In other words, this is language in action [1]. It is very true with Luke 14. The entire unit is set at a Sabbath dinner in the home of a leading Pharisee. It begins in 14:1-6 with the healing of a man with dropsy and comment by Jesus about healing on the Sabbath day (cf. Green, 1997: 553-62). In 14:7-11, Luke tells the parable about those who choose places of honour at a marriage feast. Luke 14:12-14 is a saying about inviting “the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind” to dinners or banquets (cf. Craddock, 1990: 177) [2]. James Resseguie suggests that the whole of chap. 14:1-33 should be viewed together as a narrative in which conflicting ideological points of view are juxtaposed and contrasted. One view is “exaltation oriented”, seeking to gain recognition before others, the other “humiliation oriented”, avoiding the self-promotion of the first outlook [3]. The overall message of the chapter can be summarized as ‘the replacement of the socially honoured by the poor’ (ptōchous).

The first century Mediterranean persons were strongly group-embedded, collectivistic persons. They were most concerned with family integrity. Since they were group-oriented, they were socially minded, attuned to the values, attitudes and beliefs of their in-groups [4]. Dinners were important social occasions that were used to cement social relations. It was very important who was invited. Moreover, accepting a dinner invitation normally obligated the guest to return the favour. Table fellowships across status lines were relatively rare in traditional societies [5]. Who sat were at an ancient meal was a critical statement of social relations. No one wants to come to a dinner unless he is confident that the others at the table will be “the right kind of guests”. Thus the people were mainly divided as those who have honour in the society, and those who are ‘poor’ in every aspects of their life (cf. Green, 1997: 553-62). In Luke 14, Jesus advises not inviting friends, family, relatives, and wealthy neighbours to dinner. Rather, invite those who are not able to pay back. Mē phonei (“do not invite”) depicts a habitual invitation and has the force of a command not to do this exclusively. But the more gracious action that Jesus suggests has bigger, more permanent, reward from God [6].

Jesus exhorts the Pharisees to invite not their friends, but the poor, crippled, lame, and blind (these four groups also appear in 14:21). As in the case of Luke 4:18, here also ptōchous takes the leading role and is inclusive of the other physically disabled, anapeirous, chōlous, and tuphlous. Philip Esler has astutely observed that, “it is surely through no inadvertence on Luke’s part that the types of people specified in Luke 14:21 as replacement guests are virtually identical to the groups promised the good news in Luke 4:18 and extolled as blessed in the beatitudes in 6:20-21”, namely, the beggars, the crippled, the blind, and the lame [7]. These people were excluded from the temple (Lev 21:17-23; 2 Sam 5:8). Qumran also excluded such people from their community (1Q 28A [= 1QSa = Rule Annex]; 1QM 7:4) [8]. Jesus’ association with this ‘classless’ caused reaction from his opponents (cf. Green, 1997: 553-62).

Jesus’ message overturns the preoccupations, presenting “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind”, notable examples of those relegated to low status, marginalized according to normal canons of status honour in the Mediterranean world, as persons to be numbered among one’s table intimates and, by analogy, among the people of God [9]. In sum, the concept ptōchous actively interacts in the passage against the existing societal functions and calls for a social reversal of order (cf. Craddock, 1990: 177-80). Thus the function of ptōchous is identified mainly in five ways: first, as the inclusive concept it represents every aspects of poor/poverty; second, as a social concept it introduces a socially constituted meaning; third, as a connecting particle, it relates setting, content, and form of the text with the sitz-im-leben of the receptors; fourth, as a dynamic linguistic code, it reproduces a language in action and resistance; and fifth, it gives a call for social transformation.

End Notes:

[1] Eugene A. Nida, “Sociolinguistics and Translating”, Sociolinguistics and Communication, UBS Monograph Series I, ed. Johannes P. Louw (Stuttgart: UBS, 1982), p. 2.

[2] Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, “Honour and Shame in Luke-Acts: Pivotal Values of the Mediterranean World”, The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation, ed. Jerome H. Neyrey (Peabody: Hendricksen, 1991), p. 137.

[3] J. L. Resseguie, “Point of View in the Central Section of Luke”, JETS 25 (1982): p. 46.

[4] Malina, The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 64.

[5] Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary, pp. 285-6.

[6] Darrel L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. 1 (Michigan: Baker Books, 1994), p. 1265.

[7] Philip F. Esler, Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lukan Theology, SNTS MS 57 (Cambridge: University Press, 1987), p. 186.

[8] Three of the four (“the lame, the blind, the crippled”) are mentioned (along with “one who has permanent blemish in his flesh”) as those to be excluded from the eschatological war of the “sons of light against the sons of darkness” in the Qumran War Scroll (1QM 7:4) and also excluded from the coming meal in 1QSa 2:5-6; cf. 2 Sam 5:8 (LXX). See, Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke, Vol. 28A, pp. 1047-9.

[9] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 553.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

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