The teachings of Messiah, 9:51-19:44

5. The coming kingdom, 16:14-18:14

vi] Righteousness given - the pharisee and the tax collector


The Pharisees had asked Jesus "when the kingdom of God was coming." In response, Jesus addresses the issue of "the days of the Son of Man" - the coming of the Lord. In this context Luke records the parable of the unjust judge, and then, our passage for study, the parable of of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. In this story two men go up to the temple to pray, one affirms his goodness, the other recognizes his sin. It was the man who humbled himself who "went down to his home justified."


In the parable of the Churchman and the Politician, Jesus reminds his disciples of the substance of faith, a faith that saves. The self-righteous churchman, a good and pious man, relied on his own righteousness for God's approval. In the day of the coming Son of man he will be humiliated. On the other hand, the corrupt politician relied on God's mercy, asking God to turn aside his righteous anger. As a consequence, the politician, a sinner, was justified; God now treated him as if he had never sinned. Here then is the substance of a faith that saves, it is a faith that relies on Christ's faithfulness and not our own.


i] Context: See 16:14-31. The parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector is the last episode of six dealing with Jesus' teaching on The Coming Kingdom, 16:14-18:14. In 17:20-37, we are warned of the coming judgement. Then, in 18:1-8, Jesus' disciples are reminded to pray for the coming kingdom, to look for God's vindication in the coming day of the Son of Man. Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find God's people asleep, or standing in faith, v8b? Now, in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector, Jesus reminds his disciples of the substance of that faith, a faith that saves.


ii] Structure: This passage, The parable of the pharisee and the tax collector, presents as follows:

Setting, v9;

"to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous."

Teaching parable, v10-13:

Saying / application, v14a:

"this man went home justified before God"

Saying, v14b:

"those who exalt themselves ..... but those who humble themselves will be exalted."


ii] Interpretation:

The parable of the Pharisee and Sinner / Tax-collector teaches that a faith which relies on the faithfulness of Christ, justifies, whereas an obedience to the law that relies on the worth of personal effort, condemns. To stand in the day of the coming Son of Man, to enter the coming kingdom, requires faith in Jesus, weak and feeble though it may be.


Independent saying, v14b. This little saying certainly derives from Jesus, but was probably not originally part of the parable. The punch-line of the parable is v14a. The saying may have been added during oral transmission or stitched to the parable by Luke. Either way, it explains how it could come about that a good man ends up condemned and a bad man ends up blessed, ie. how could it be that good people go to hell and bad people go to heaven? As a young primary school student I well remember this story being told us in class and even as a young boy, it did seem strange to me, even wrong, at the time.

Nolland suggests that Luke's placement of this saying shows that he understands the parable in terms of the divine "reversal" theme, cf., 14:1-14, esp. v11, a theme which serves to introduce the next section. Although divine reversal seems unreasonable, it rests on the holiness of God, a holiness which is realized eschatologically in the exaltation of the spiritually humble and the condemnation of the spiritually proud. The spiritually proud, those who rely on their own righteousness, will not stand in the day of the coming Son of Man. Those who do stand in that day are those who are right before God / who are covenant compliant, and this because they recognize their state of loss before God and so rest on the mercy of God found in the faithfulness of Christ.


What the commentators say about this episode: In breaking open this parable we are best to follow Johnson who argues that the two parables recorded in 18:1-14 are tied to Jesus' eschatological discourse in chapter 17 and so "serve a narrative function beyond their self-contained message." Not all commentators agree. Some take the line that this parable, together with the parable of the Widow and the Judge, "both speak of effectual prayer. But whereas the preceding parable relates to the prayer of the church for the return of Christ, this treats the sinner's prayer for pardon", Manson, so also Fitzmyer. Creed, at one point agrees with Fitzmyer, but then goes on to link the parable with the parables of mercy in chapter 15. Plummer sees no relationship, either with the preceding parable, nor the wider context.

Bock and Nolland argue that this parable introduces the section, 18:9-30, calling "for humility that trusts God totally", Bock. Marshall agrees, although extending the section to 19:10, teaching "the qualifications required for entry to the kingdom", namely, "entry on the basis of divine grace and human faith." None-the-less, Marshall still links this parable with what goes before, since it answers the question "who will be found faithful when the Son of Man comes?"

Along with Johnson there are some commentators who tie the parable to Jesus' eschatological discourse, 17:20-37, and the parable of the Widow and the Judge, 18:1-8. "The two preceding episodes have to do with a pending judgment that will render strict justice. Who, then, will be found just? In answer, Luke points to a parable that Jesus told the Jewish churchmen", Ellis. "Preparation for the coming of the Son of Man means understanding of the basic principle of the kingdom; the mighty are brought low and the humble exalted. Jesus' contemporaries and the church must recognize this fact. It is the faith of the lowly for which the Son of Man will be looking", Danker.

Stein is surely right when he makes a direct link with v8b. "Luke perhaps placed this parable here to serve as an example of those who will be found faithful when the Son of Man returns. Thus 18:9-14 and the three following accounts, all deal with what it means to have 'the faith.'" Although it is generally accepted that v8b serves as a second application for the parable of the Widow and the Judge, shifting the focus from God to the "chosen ones", these notes proceed on the basis that v8b bridges to the parable of the Pharisee and Sinner, and this, together with the wider context (what proceeds and what follows) shapes the interpretation of the parable.


The Pauline perspective: It could be argued that some of the above comments tend to read Paul's justification-theology back into the gospel tradition. Irrespective of the fact that Luke would himself be influenced by Paul's theological bent, if Paul serves as the inspired exegete of Jesus, then to understand the gospel tradition it is necessary to view it through Pauline eyes. "The Pauline doctrine of justification has its roots in the teaching of Jesus", Jeremias, Parables.


iv] Synoptics:

The parable is unique to Luke.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 18:8b

Transitional saying, v8b. This saying relates to v1-8a, but at the same time bridges to / sets the ground for, v9-14. See 18:1-8. "Will the chosen ones remain true to the faith until the Son of Man returns?", Stein, the faith in the sense of "a faith that perseveres in allegiance to Jesus", Bock.


The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector, v9-14a. i] Setting, v9: Luke notes that the parable is directed to people who are confident of their "own righteousness" and who therefore assume that they stand approved before God.

de kai "-" - but, and, also. Continuative. If Luke intends a close link with v1-8, particularly v8b, then "also", in the sense of "in addition to what he had said before", TH., expresses well a continuative sense; "He also told the following parable", Moffatt.

proV + acc. "to" - to, toward. Possibly spacial, "he then addressed this parable to ....", NAB, etc., but it seems more likely that the preposition here expresses reference / respect, "with reference to", or even opposition, "against the Pharisees", so Fitzmyer, ie. Jesus is still speaking with his disciples and asks them to note those who will not stand in the day of the coming Son man; they will not stand for it is "the one who is righteous through faith [who] will live." "He gave this parable also, in reference to certain people who felt secure in their own righteousness", Rieu.

touV pepoiqotaV (peiqw) perf. part. "[some] who were confident" - [certain people] the ones having confidence, being persuaded, convinced, trusting. The participle is adjectival limiting "some"; "certain people who were confident ...." "Were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance", Peterson.

ef (epi) + dat."in [their own]" - in [themselves]. Spacial; used of inward reflection. "They trusted in themselves instead of God", Jeremias, Parables.

oJti "-" - that [they were righteous]. Here introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they were confident of, namely of their righteousness" = moral performance. Cause / reason is also possible, so Nolland; it was "because" of their moral performance that they felt secure in themselves and therefore did not need to rely, in faith, on the divine provision of righteousness.

eisin pres. "-" - they are [righteous]. The present tense is probably being used to express their thinking at that time, namely, that they were righteous.

dikaioi adj. "righteousness" - righteous. "Conduct that makes one acceptable to God", Marshall; "upright", Williams.

touV ..... exouqenountaV (exouqenew) pres. part. "looked down on [everybody else]" - the ones ... despising, holding contempt for [others / the rest]. The participle is adjectival, as touV pepoiqotaV. Probably not "despised", NJB, or "utterly despised", Plummer, but "scorned", Williams; "looked with contempt", Barclay.


ii] The parable, v10-13: Two men went to the temple to pray, probably for private prayer. The Pharisee declared his confidence in his own righteousness. Like Saul, before he met Christ, he could say "as to righteousness under the law, blameless", Phil.3:6. This is a common attitude for those who have adopted a merit-based religion. Indeed, he was a good man. In fact, as Jesus tells the story, the Pharisee had exceeded the law's demands. The law certainly didn't require fasting twice a week, nor was a person expected to give a tithe of everything they purchased. The tax collector, on the other hand, was anything but good. As part of a graft-ridden occupation which collaborated with the Roman government, he was a despised member of Jewish society. Unlike the Pharisee, he proclaimed his sinfulness and asked that God protect him from the righteous judgement that was coming his way.

proseuxasqai (proseucomai) aor. inf. "to pray" - The infinitive expresses purpose; "in order to pray." Morning and afternoon (evening) prayer services were a regular feature of temple worship, although people could come and pray at any time.

telwnhV (hV ou) "tax collector" - Surely we need to contextualize the term "tax collector", given his hated status in Jewish society. Here was a Jew working for the Roman government and feeding off his fellow Jews ("a graft ridden occupation", Ellis), as such he was viewed as a traitor, a collaborator. Today's tax agent bears no resemblance. "Publican", AV., is not helpful as a "publican" in Australia is a person who manages a hotel / pub. This caused me great confusion as a child since my grandmother was a publican! Possibly "a bent / corrupt politician" may better contextualize the profession.


staqeiV (iJsthmi) aor. pas. part. "stood up" - having taken his stand. Attendant circumstance passive participle, identifying an action accompanying the main verb "prayed"; "stood up and prayed", as NIV. The expression simply implies the positioning of oneself to make an important statement. The Pharisee may have made the statement for all to hear, but probably not, rather he settles himself so that he can address God and does this in the usual standing position, possibly with arms outstretched and quietly speaking to God. Today, a person might kneel down to address God. "The Pharisee posed and prayed like this", Peterson.

proshuceto (proseucomai) imperf. "prayed" - was praying. The imperfect is possible inceptive, "began to pray."

proV + acc. "about [himself] / [stood] by [himself]" - to [himself]. The NIV has opted for a reference / respect sense to the preposition and assumes that the prepositional phrase modifies proshuceto, "was praying"; "concerning himself", Nolland. The TNIV opts for a spacial sense with the prepositional phrase modifying staqeiV, "having stood". Possibly just "standing praying by himself", or just "stood to pray" = an Aramaic ethic dative, Manson, Sayings, so "said his prayers", Moffatt.

oJ qeoV "God" - Nominative of address with the force of a vocative.

eucaristw (eucaristew) pres. "I thank" - I give thanks. Nolland rightly notes that this prayer can be seen to express "thankful joy"; in another context we have here "the ideal of a pious man." So, what has this Pharisee done wrong? Probably nothing really, he is presented as a good moral man. There is nothing wrong being thankful for our advantages before God, yet we face disaster if we think our goodness secures our eternal salvation.

soi dat. pro. "you" - to you. Dative of direct object after the verb "I give thanks."

oJti "that" - that. Possibly expressing cause/reason, "because", but better taken as introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing the content of the prayer.

w{sper "like" - Comparative.

oiJ loipoi twn anqrwpwn "other men" - the rest of men. Expressing exclusivity; "everyone else", NJB.

arpageV (ax agoV) "robbers" - "Extortionist".

adikoi adj. "evildoers" - unjust. Used of a sinner in general.

moicoi (oV) "adulterers" - Possibly more general, "immoral".

kai "[or] even" - Ascensive. Identifying the tax-collector as of "the same class as the other people named", TH. "Or, for that matter", Manson, Sayings.

wJV "as" - as, like. Here as a comparative.


nhsteuw pres. "I fast" - The present tense, being durative, implies ongoing fasting. "Twice a week" is beyond what the law requires.

tou sabbatou (on) "[twice] a week" - [twice] of the week. The genitive is adjectival, partitive, or adverbial, temporal, so Culy.

panta adj. acc. "all" - everything. Accusative of reference. He was rigorous in his tithing.

ktwmai (ktaomai) pres. "[all] I get" - [everything as much as] I acquire. Tithing a purchase is not required because the tithe is already paid when the money for the purchase is gained in the first place (although not in modern taxation systems - these days we get caught both ends!!!!), yet this man went beyond the requirements of the law and "tithed everything that came into his possession", Stein.


eJstwV (iJsthmi) perf. part. "stood [at a distance]" - having stood [far off]. Possibly an attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verbal phrase "was not willing to raise up", so "stood far away and would not lift even his eyes to heaven", Moffatt, but also possibly adjectival, attributive, limiting the "tax collector" by description; "the tax collector who was standing at a distance." Standing either away from the people, or in the outer court of the temple.

hqelen (qelw) imperf. "he would [not even]" - was [not] willing [even]. "Was not willing" in the sense of "would not even dare."

ouk ... oude "[he would] not even" - Double negative emphasizing his bowed state, his deference toward God, particularly his unworthiness to approach God.

eparai (epairw) aor. inf. "look up" - to lift up. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the negated verb "was not willing." "Not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven", NJB.

etupten (tuptw) imperf. "beat [his breast]" - was beating, striking. The imperfect is possibly iterative expressing repeated action, "kept on beating his breast."

legwn (legw) pres. part. "and said" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle.

iJlasqhti (iJlaskomai) aor. pas. imp. "have mercy" - pardon, propitiate. The sense here, particularly in the passive voice, is "pardon / forgive", although "propitiate / mollify", or at least "expiate / make amends", cf. Ex.32:14, is also possible. It's hard to ignore the Old Testament atonement association of this word, particularly the use of the verb for the turning aside of God's wrath from the sinner to the sacrifice, or at least, the providing of a sacrifice that can make amends for the sinner, cf. Ps.24:11, 64:3, 77:38, 78:9; note also NT use of the verb and noun: Rom.3:25, Heb. 2:7, 1Jn.2:2, 4:10. The setting of the story, namely the temple, implies an atoning sense. It's also interesting that such a theologically charged word is used for this story. Why not just the usual word for "have mercy"? So, are we to agree with Bock who suggests that the tax collector "asks God to show mercy through atoning forgiveness"? Given the root meaning of the Hebrew equivalent, "to cover", we can at least say that he "sought God's mercy in order to have his sins covered and the divine wrath removed from him", Stein, see also Johnson. So, it seems likely that the choice of this word gives us a clue into the substance of the mustard-seed faith that enables us to stand when the Son of Man comes: it is a faith in Jesus, particularly his faithfulness on our behalf as an atoning sacrifice, which sacrifice justifies. A broken sinner, standing in the temple, might well pray; "O God, on my behalf, unworthy sinner that I am, shower me with your eternal mercy, turn aside your vengeance."

moi dat. "on me" - Probably a dative of interest, advantage; "for my advantage"

tw/ aJmartwlw/ (oV) dat. "a sinner" - the sinner. Dative in apposition to "me". Possibly "have mercy on me for my sins, Moffatt, but more likely "have mercy on me the sinner", Plummer, the definite article identifying this particular sinner. "The sinner that I am", Rieu.


iii] The punch-line, v14a: Jesus now draws out an application from the parable. The Pharisee had justified himself, in the sense of proclaiming his own righteousness. The tax collector proclaimed his loss and, relying on God's mercy, asked God to turn aside his righteous anger. In so doing, says Jesus, the sinner was justified, that is, he was set right before God, and this as a free gift of God's kindness. Thus, possessing a righteousness from God, he found himself included with God's people and saved from judgement. The instrument by which he received this gift was faith. Although faith is not mentioned, the sinner clearly relied on God when, in his prayer, he asked God to act in mercy toward him; Like Noah he became an "heir of the righteousness that comes by faith", Heb.11:7, and thus, he "went home justified before God."

uJmin "[I tell] you" - to you. Dative of indirect object. Serving to emphasize what follows; "I assure you", Phillips.

ouJtoV "this man" - this one [rather than the other]. Referring to the tax collector.

par (para) + acc. "rather than [the other]" - This preposition sometimes establishes a comparison, "in comparison to, more than." Plummer thinks that is the sense here, ie. that the sinner went home more justified than the righteous man. Yet, it is more likely expressing opposition / contrast, as NIV; "rather than the other."

dedikaiwmenoV (dikaiow) perf. pas. pat. "justified before God" - [went down to his house] having been justified. The participle is adverbial, possibly causal, "because he was justified", definitely not comparative, "more justified than the other", Wallace, rather modal expressing the manner of his going, "he went down in a state of being justified", Evans. The passive is probably theological, identifying God as the one who justifies. The perfect tense indicates a completed and ongoing state. As with "propitiate / expiate", this word is also theologically charged; a word used only here in the gospels. It's not hard to imagine that this gospel story could well have shaped Paul's understanding of justification by faith; it could even have triggered his Lutheran / Wesleyan experience on the Damascus road. At the simplest level, "justified" means "forgiven." Yet, there is more to the word, this tax collector was declared right before God, approved in God's sight, judged right, covenant compliant - it's just-if-I'd never sinned.. God considered him eternally righteous / holy in his sight, even though he was anything but a moral man. He asked God to cover / atone for his sins, and he did. "It was he, rather than the other, who returned to his home, a man again at rights with God", Cassirer. Even the stronger "made righteous", Berkeley (given that what God declares so is so), or "set right with God", can express the intended sense here.


iv] Saying, v14b: The final saying is a typical, "the first shall be last....." type of saying that points to the great reversal in the day of judgment. It is a warning to those who think they stand to beware "least they fall" - a warning to the self-righteous that in the day of judgement, in the day of vindication, they may be the ones condemned. Only those set right before God as an act of divine grace will stand in that day.

oJti "for" - because. Expressing cause/reason; explaining why it was that the sinner when home justified.

oJ uJywn (uJyow) part. "[everyone] who exalts" - the everyone lifting up. The participle is adjectival limiting "all, everyone"; "everyone who exalts himself." Here, in the sense of lifted up to a high station, "exalting".

tapeinwqhsetai (tapeinow) fut. pas. "will be humbled" - will be leveled = humbled. Theological passive, the agent of the action being God. The "proud", or more particularly the "self-righteous", will be humiliated in the coming day of judgment.

oJ .. tapeinwn (tapeinow) pres. part. "those who humble [themselves]" - the one humbling [himself]. The participle serves as a substantive.

uJywqhsetai (uJyow) fut. pas. "will be exalted" - will be lifted up, exalted. "Exalted" as opposed to abased, and this at the final judgment in the coming / revealing of the Son of Man.


Luke Introduction



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