Entering the promised land, 11:1-16:20
1. A symbolic judgment upon Israel, 11:1-12:12
iv] The parable of the defiant tenantsSynopsis
In the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, a man plants a vineyard for himself and gives charge of it to certain vintners on a share basis. When it comes time for the owner to collect his share of the fruit, the vintners assault, and even murder his agents. The owner even sends his son, on the assumption that the vintners will respect his own son, but all they do is murder him. The parable concludes with a question; what do you think the owner will do to these evil vintners? The parable is followed by a fulfilment text from Psalm 18 - the prophecy of the stone.
Israel's rejection of Jesus, the glorious Christ, brings with it disaster.
i] Context: See 11:27-33.
ii] Structure: The parable of the defiant tenants:
The parable of the Tenants, v1-9;
A fulfilment text, v10-12.
Israel's failure to recognise Jesus as messiah, Son of God, is overtly displayed in the sign of the cleansing of the temple. Israel's rejection of the Christ brings with it disaster. This fact is reinforced in the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen / Tenants / Vineyard. The kingdom of God is at hand and brings with it judgment for those who reject his gracious kindness. The concluding fulfilment text, addressing the wider context of Israel's rejection of the Christ, predicts that the rejected one will become the glorious one.
Form - a teaching parable or kingdom riddle / parable? The parable is often treated as a teaching parable in the form of an allegory explained by its context: the man who planted the vineyard = God; servants = prophets; son = Jesus; the murder of the son = the cross; the killing of the tenants = destruction / judgment of Israel / Jerusalem / Temple; given to others = inclusion of the Gentiles. The parable certainly suits its historical context and may well have been delivered by Jesus at this point in time.
It is though, more likely a kingdom / climactic parable, a gospel riddle, missing the introductory "the kingdom of God / heaven is like ...." The content is typical: blah blah leading up to a climax, cursing / judgment = the kingdom of God / heaven is at hand. The introductory statement "he began to speak to them in parables" clues us to the fact that Jesus is speaking to the unbelieving crowd in riddles.
The word παραβολη, "parable", would not be used at this point in time and in this setting for an illustration / teaching parable. The wording of the added saying in Matthew's gospel, "therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit", Matt.21:43, indicates that as far as Matthew is concerned, we are dealing with a kingdom / climactic parable ("The kingdom of God is like ..."). So, we have here a kingdom parable: "He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others" = the kingdom of God is at hand; the day of judgment is upon us, repent and believe.
The punch-line - the day of judgment is at hand - is in the form of a question-answer, v9. It is possible that the riddle ended with the question only, v9a, the answer being obvious. Either way, the disciples are certainly privy to the riddle.
The fulfilment text that follows, v10-11, is often viewed as a typical example of proof-texting by the early church, and as such, serves as an editorial exposition of the parable. Of course, the proof-texting may be down to Mark (or Matthew!!). Yet, it is likely that it does not specifically address the parable, but rather the wider context of Israel's rejection of Christ which was specifically evidenced in the questioning of his authority by the delegation from the Sanhedrin. The chapter division here disrupts the unity of what is a larger pericope / episode. See in more detail Matthew 21:42
What the commentators say about The Parable of the Defiant Tenants: It is likely that from the earliest days of the Christian church this parable was treated as an allergy. The first complete commentary on Mark published early in the seventh century states "God is called a man, a father, to put it in a human way. The vineyard is the house of Israel, and the hedge is the protection of the angels. The pit for the winepress is the Law. The tower is the Temple. The farmers are the priests. The leaving on a journey on the part of God represents the freedom of our will. The servants sent are the prophets. The produce of the vineyard is obedience. Some of the prophets were flogged, others wounded, and others killed. The son, the most beloved and the final one, is the only begotten."
This approach continued up to the publication of Gleichnisreden Jesu by Jolicher. He argued that much of the parable was a construct of the early church and was designed to reference the death of Jesus. None-the-less, Jolicher interpreted the major elements of the parable allegorically. To this day the parable is usually treated as an allergy, so Cranfield, Taylor, Marcus, France, Gundry, Mann, Boring, Evans, .....
The argument as to whether it is a construct of the early church varies in degree depending on the stance of the commentator. So, for example, Taylor, taking a conservative line, argues, "whether the parable has undergone some degree of expansion is a matter for conjecture."
Dodd, in The Parables of the Kingdom, argues that "this parable is a true parable of the Kingdom, since it points to the final crisis in the dealings of God with his people." Although Dodd argues that it was not originally an allegory, its context and present shape leads him to interpret it allegorically. Jeremias in The Parables of Jesus, with some reservations, agrees with Dodd, although he leans more toward an allegorical interpretation. He views it as a word of judgment on Israel's religious leaders who "have multiplied rebellion against God (and) therefore shall the vineyard of God be given to others", namely, "the poor."
Treated as an allergy, the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen answers the question concerning Jesus' authority, condemns the ruling priests as unfit to hold their high office and predicts that God's purposes will be accomplished through his Son, despite deadly opposition, so Evans, p.239. Blomberg, Interpreting, takes a more generalising approach: a) God is patient and long-suffering, even in the face of rebellion; b) The day will come when God judges those opposed to his will; c) God's purposes will be finally accomplished.
Some commentators, wary of an allegorical approach to the parable, opt for a single idea approach; more a metaphor than an allegory, eg., "The tenants of God's vineyard have been guilty of rebellion against God and so the vineyard is to be given to others", Nineham. This approach is reasonable, given Matthew's added independent saying of Jesus, cf., Matt.21:43. Matthew will sometimes extend the function of a kingdom parable. In its primary sense, it announces the coming kingdom, but Matthew will sometimes add an illustrative function. He does this with the parable of the Wicked Husbandman by his addition of the saying in 21:43. So, it is not unreasonable to follow Matthew's lead. Note that Matthew's allusion to Isa.8:14-15, Dan.2:44, in v44, although present in most texts, may well have come across from Luke 20:18. It serves to refocus on the "stone".
The context of the parable and its proximity to the fulfilment text in v10-11, tempts us to adopt an allegorical interpretation. Yet, the parable is primarily a kingdom / climactic parable announcing the immediacy of the kingdom - the day of judgment is at hand. This realistic story of an absentee landlord trying to administer his investment within a dysfunctional society, serves as a riddle; a word of judgment from God to dull the hearing of those who refuse to hear, Mk.4:10-12. Only those with ears to hear can unlock the secret of the riddle, namely, that the kingdom of God is at hand / the dynamic realm and reign of God is about to be realised in the Christ, the Son of God, so, repent and believe. This, of course, is the secret message of all kingdom parables; it is the gospel, nothing more, nothing less.
Authenticity: In summary, critical scholarship tends to the view that an original kingdom / climactic parable, subject to allegorical interpretation, was shaped to reflect the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. To this was added a fulfilment text in support of Christ's prophetic awareness of his end.
The synoptic gospels bear witness to the shaping of tradition, but at the same time, they bear witness to the careful transmission of that tradition. The gospel writers have their say in the arrangement of the tradition, not in the altering of it. Whether oral or written, the early believers understood that the apostolic tradition was divine revelation. So, the parable is likely to be close to the original. As for the fulfilment text, to think that Jesus neither foresaw nor foretold his death, or that he ignored the scriptures to that end, is close to absurd.
It seems likely that the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen was linked early in oral tradition to the cleansing of the temple, the question concerning Jesus' authority, and the prophecy of the stone, although it should be noted that many commentators see this arrangement as a Markan construct.
Matthew guides the interpretation of the parable with the addition of the saying, "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and given to a nation that yields the proper fruit", 21:43. Matthew also adds the parable of the Two Sons, 22:1-14. This parable is unique to Matthew and it may well be that the placement of this received tradition is down to Matthew himself.
Text - 12:1
The parable of the wicked husbandmen, v1-12: i] The parable proper, v1-9a. Note parallels with Isaiah 5:1-2. See "Interpretation" above.
λαλειν [λαλεω] pres. inf. "to speak" - [and he began] to speak. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "to begin." A common transitional phrase in Mark; "Then Jesus set out to address them", Cassirer.
αυτοις dat. pro. "to them" - to them. Dative of indirect object. Obviously including those who questioned Jesus' authority; the delegation from the Sanhedrin.
εν + dat. "in" - in [parables]. Possibly instrumental, "by means of parables", but more likely adverbial, expressing the manner of his speaking, "with parables", "in a parabolic way"; "in riddles". The plural "parables" is "referring not to a series of parables, but to the manner of the teaching", Taylor; "Parabolically", Rawlinson.
γεωργοις [ος] dat. "to some farmers" - [a man planted a vineyard and put around a fence, wall, hedge and dug out a winepress vat and built a tower and rented, leased it] to farmers, tenant farmers [and set out on a journey]. Dative of indirect object.
τῳ καιρῳ [ος] dat. "at harvest time" - [and he sent a slave to the farmers] in time, season. The dative is adverbial, temporal; "at the time of harvest."
ἱνα + subj. "to [collect]" - that [he might receive]. Introducing a purpose clause; "in order that he might collect."
παρα + gen. "from [them]" - from beside [the farmers]. Here expressing source; "from the tenant farmers", as NIV.
απο + gen. "some of" - from = of. Here the preposition serves as a partitive genitive, as NIV.
του αμπελωνος [ων ωνος] gen. "of the vineyard" - [the fruit] of the vineyard. If "fruit" is taken verbally, "harvest", the genitive could be classified as verbal, subjective. It can also be classified as adjectival, possessive, or better idiomatic; "the fruit which was harvested from the vineyard."
λαβοντες [λαμβανω] aor. part. "they seized [him]" - [and] having taken [him]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verbs "to beat" and "to send." "The vine growers, however, caught hold of him, gave him a thrashing, and sent him away empty-handed", Cassirer.
κενον adj. "empty-handed" - [they beat and sent away him] empty. Ref. persons; "empty-handed." Accusative complement of the assumed direct object "him", standing in a double accusative construction and asserting a fact about the object "him"; "sent him away empty-handed.".
εκεφαλιωσαν [κεφαλιοω] aor. "they struck [this man] on the head" - [and again he sent to them another slave and that one] they struck on the head. The Gk. is somewhat obscure, but something like "wounded on the head" is intended. "An act of violence is intended", Taylor, possibly stoning; "having stoned" is added to some manuscripts. "Head-butted", Marcus.
ητιμασαν [ατιμαζω] aor. "treated him shamefully" - [and] dishonoured, insulted, treated scandalously. "Maltreated him", Barclay.
οὑς μεν ..... οὑς δε pro. "some of them [they beat], others [they killed]" - [and he sent another and that one they killed and they maltreated many others, [beating] some and [killing] others. The relative pronoun οὑς serves as a demonstrative pronoun, "some ..... others", while μεν ..... δε establishes an adversative comparative construction.
δεροντες [δερω] pres. part. "they beat" - beating. This participle, as with "killing", is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of the maltreatment of the servants, but possibly instrumental, expressing means. The verb modified by the two participles is assumed. The object of this verb is the accusative πολλους αλλους, "many others", so "they maltreated many others, beating some but killing others" = "some they beat up, some they killed", Peterson.
ετι adv. "left" - [he] still [had one]. Adverb of time, expressing a continuing situation; the absentee landlord still had one other person whom he could send. The adjective "one" serves as a substantive, emphatic by positionThe adjective "one" serves as a substantive, emphatic by position
υἱον αγαπητον "a son whom he loved" - a beloved son. Accusative, standing in apposition to ἑνα, Here probably with the sense of "one", "his only son", but if there is a messianic allusion then, "a dearly loved son", Cassirer.
εσχατον adv. "last of all" - [he sent him] last, finally [to them]. Best taken here as a temporal adverb; "finally he sent him", ESV.
λεγων [λεγω] pres. part. "saying" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he sent", "he sent .... and said", or adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of his sending, "saying".
ὁτι "-" - that [they will respect, have regard for the son of me]. Introducing a dependent statement of direct speech; "they will show honour to my son", TH.
ὁτι "-" - [but those share farmers said to themselves] that. Recitative; introducing a dependent statement of direct speech.
οὗτος pro. "this" - [this one is the heir]. The close demonstrative pronoun serves as the nominative subject of the verb to-be. Cranfield notes that the pronoun here, used as a substantive, takes a disparaging sense; "those husbandmen, being such as we know they were", Swete.
δευτε "come" - Adverb serving as an interjection; "come on now!"
αποκτεινωμεν [αποκτεινω] aor. subj. "let's kill" - let us kill [him and the inheritance will be ours]. Hortatory subjunctive.
λαβοντες [λαμβανω] aor. part. "they took him and [killed him]" - having taken [they killed him]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to kill", as NIV.
εξω + gen. "out of [the vineyard]" - [and threw out] outside, out of [of the vineyard]. Spatial, as NIV; used in place of εκ. Stylistic repetition of the prefix of the verb ekballw, "to cast out."
As noted above, the question by itself seems the likely ending of the parable, given that Jesus is prone to ask a question and leave it at that, eg., Lk.17:9. In Matthew the crowd answers the question. In any case, the answer is obvious. What is not obvious, is the meaning of the parable, but for those with eyes to see it proclaims the immediacy of the kingdom, in this case, the bad news rather than the good news.
ουν "[what] then" - [what] therefore [will do]. Inferential / drawing a logical conclusion; "therefore".
του αμπελωνος [ος] gen. "of the vineyard" - [the master] of the vineyard? The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / of subordination; "the lord over the vineyard."
απολεσει [απολλυμι] fut. "[he will come and] kill" - [he will come and] destroy [the farmers]. The verb is usually translated here as "kill", but the sense is "destroy", possibly meaning put them out of business.
αλλοις dat. adj. "to others" - [and give the vineyard] to others. Dative of indirect object. The adjective serves as a substantive, so "to other share-farmers / tenant farmers."
ii] Fulfilment text, v10-11. As noted above, this text addresses the wider context, namely, the rejection of the Christ by Israel's religious authorities. It announces that the rejected stone is now the cornerstone of God's plans, a wonder to behold. In Psalm 118:22-23, Israel is the stone, although in Jewish exegesis there is some evidence that David / messiah / Christ is viewed as the stone. The text celebrates divine deliverance and the reversal of fortunes, and this applied to the stone / Christ. In Aramaic, the words for "son" and "stone" are similar, prompting the stitching of the text to the parable. Of course, this linkage is not evident in the Gk. So, the parable proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand, and the fulfilment text proclaims that the rejected one is the cornerstone / lord / king of the kingdom.
ουδε "haven't you [read]" - [have you] not [read this scripture]? Used in a question expecting a positive answer. The sense is "not even"; "have you not even read this scripture?" Moffatt. The question "implies that the prophecy was well known", Taylor.
λιθον [ος] acc. "the stone" - the stone [which]. "Stone" is the subject of the clause and so should be nominative, but it has been attracted to the accusative relative pronoun ὃν, "which".
οἱ οικοδομουντες [οικοδομεω] pres. part. "the builders" - the ones building [rejected]. The participle serves as a substantive.
εις + acc. "-" - [this one has become, come to be] into. This preposition + the accusative "head" serves as a predicate nominative; a Semitic construction.
γωνιας [α] gen. "the cornerstone" - head, capstone [of the corner]. The genitive is adjectival, partitive; "cornerstone". The position of this stone in a building is unclear. It may be the key cornerstone from which the building is aligned and upon which it is built, but it could also be the key stone in an arch, so Cranfield. At any rate, the stone is the most important stone.
παρα + gen. "-" - [this came to be] from beside [the lord]. Expressing source; "from beside"; "This is the action of the Lord", Barclay. αὑτη, "this", being feminine, is a strict reflection of the Hebrew text.
θαυμαστη "marvellous" - [and it is] marvellous, wonderful, incomprehensible. Predicate adjective. "We rub our eyes - we can't hardly believe it", Peterson.
εν + dat. "in" - in [the eyes of us]. The prepositional phrase, "in our judgment", TH, is adverbial; "As far as we are concerned, it is incomprehensible." The paradox of the gospel reverses human values and expectations. "We are left gazing in wonder at the inscrutable ways of God as they are being revealed, not only in the teaching, but also in the experience of the Messiah", France.
iii] The reaction of the religious authorities, v12. This verse is rather compressed and so has been rearranged in most modern translations. France does a good job unpacking it: "They were trying to arrest him, but could not yet, because they were afraid of the crowd since they knew, and were aware that the crowd also knew, that he had spoken this parable against them, so that the crowd was now more likely to take his side against them. So, for the time being they take no action, and they leave him in possession of the field."
κρατησαι [κρατεω] aor. inf. "to arrest [him]" - [and so consequently they were seeking] to take possession of = seize [him]. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they were seeking; "they tried to find a way to arrest Jesus", Barclay. The subject of the verb "to seek" is obviously the delegation from the Sanhedrin, as NIV.
γαρ "because" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why they looked to arrest Jesus. The arrangement of the sentence in the Gk. could imply that the causal clause explains why they feared the crowd, but this doesn't make sense; see note above. The authorities considered arresting Jesus because they took to heart Jesus' word of judgment, but didn't carry through with their plans because they feared the crowd.
ὁτι "-" - [they knew] that [he had told the parable]. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they knew / perceived / understood; "for they knew well enough that the parable was directed against them", Cassirer.
προς "against [them]" - toward [them]. Here expressing opposition, as NIV, cf., Moule IB 53. Boring suggests that the parable was "not intended to be misunderstood and to harden" because the religious authorities understood that the parable was "against" them, ie., it is not a kingdom / climactic parable. Actually, they did misunderstand the parable because it wasn't actually against them personally, and it certainly did harden their resolve to arrest Jesus. This predictable response on the part of the authorities may explain why Jesus would present a kingdom parable with elements so easily aligned to the context of rejection. What it doesn't explain is why believers would so easily follow suit, given that we have come to understand the secrets of the kingdom!!!
και "but" - and [they feared the crowd]. Here adversative; "however, they were afraid of the populace", Cassirer.
και "so" - and so. Here inferential, "so, therefore, accordingly."
αφεντες [αφιημι] aor. part. "they left [him]" - leaving [him they went away]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to go away, depart", as NIV.