A Question About Inheriting. There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The setting is not entirely clear. Jesus spoke to the disciples privately in v. 23, but now he is addressed by a lawyer. The lawyer’s question is readily understandable following Jesus’ blessing of the disciples in vv. 23–24 for what they have seen and heard. What if one has not seen and has not heard what the disciples were privileged to see and hear? Is there any hope for them? The scholar asks a good question, even is there some sense of opposition in the asking of the question (ekpeirazō – put to the test). It is perhaps notable that in Mark and Matthew, the question asks what is the greatest of the commandments and Jesus is the one who provides the answer. Jumping ahead just a bit, Jesus does not answer the scholar’s question, instead asking his own question, receives an answer (“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”) and accepts the scholar’s answer: “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
The scholar’s question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is one that raises questions in the simple phrasing of the question itself – especially given that Jesus accepts his answer.
At first blush one wonders about “doing” and “inheritance.” Stoffregen offers, “I would like to think that there is something I could do to inherit some of Bill Gates’ fortune… An inheritance is usually determined by the giver, not the receiver.” Some commentaries, operating out of their theology of salvation, claim the scholar was thinking of some form of salvation by works and had no understanding of divine grace. They do not see Jesus as accepting the question, but only the answer to Jesus’ own question. I would suggest they have pre-interpreted the text – clearly Jesus commands “doing” love not simply being in a state of love. Catholic understanding is not the “either-or”, i.e., do this and not that, but rather “both-and.” From the 4th century onwards Catholic theology and teaching have declared “works salvation” as outside orthodoxy, i.e., a person can do things and thus earn salvation. The Church teaches that salvation is from grace alone – the grace which enables us to respond in faith and in action to the gift of God. Yes, orthodox Catholics are about “doing,” but never in the sense that we have “earned” something that then places a claim upon God, but rather compelled by the love of God, how could we but do otherwise?
Jesus Response. What is written in the law? How do you read it?” Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with these two questions of his own. It is generally easy to agree on “What is written;” the problem is usually in the second part, “How do you read it?” or “how do you interpret it?” This is not only personally important to the scholar but also to his place in Jewish society. The particular Greek word for read (anaginosko) suggests that reading was always done aloud and generally publicly. Jesus does this in the synagogue at Nazareth (4:16). Jesus’ second question may go further and imply, “How do you interpret the law to others?”
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The scholar answers with the twice-daily repeated shema from Dt 6:5 — except that he adds “mind” to the Hebrew text — and he includes a command from Lv 19:18 about loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. They combine to illustrate the way to everlasting life given in the scholar’s answer (v. 27). This combination was evidently original with Jesus (Mark 12:29–31) and perhaps known to the lawyer – or perhaps the scholar was very well read in the Scriptures. In any case, Jesus accepts the answer: “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
The lawyer has read well, but reading is not enough. The Pharisaic elevation of the importance of study of the Torah reached its zenith in the pronouncement of Akiba: “Study of the Law is of higher rank than practicing it.” In stark contrast, Jesus responds: “do this, and you will live.” Eternal life is found not just in knowing the commandments but in doing them.
- Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, Mich.: B. Eerdmans, 1985), p.6
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com
Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 available at http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm
Luke 10:25 scholar of the law: an expert in the Mosaic law, and probably a member of the group elsewhere identified as the scribes (Luke 5:21). Luke uses a more technical term for “lawyer” (nomikos, related to the word for “law” = nomos) rather than “scribe,” who were also considered experts in the Law (Torah). Six of the nine times this word nomikos is used in the NT they are in Luke. The only time it is used previous to our text, we are told: “but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him, rejected the plan of God for themselves.” (7:30). The image of “scholars of law” (NAB preferred translation) or “lawyers” does not improve through the gospel (11:45, 46, 52; 14:3). The reader should already be a bit suspect when a scholar of the law approaches.
Luke 10:25 test: ekpeirazō, literally, “put to the test.” This is not a neutral expression but rather connotes at least some degree of opposition. Some scholars do not assign the lawyer an adversarial role, suggesting that the text indicates otherwise. The scholars calls Jesus “teacher,” respectfully. Jesus engages him as an equal as indicated by responding to the lawyer’s first question with a question. Jesus agrees with the answer. Jesus responds to the second question with a story followed by a question, and again the lawyer and Jesus are in agreement.
Luke 10: 25 inherit eternal life: The same question reoccurs in Luke 18:18. Interestingly, Luke this combination of words does not occur in the Torah (the Law). In other words, it is an odd phrasing of the question from someone whose expertise is the Torah. The “inheritance” promised (kitēronomia) promised the people is the land (Gen 28:4; Dt 1:8, 2:12, 4:1; cf. Acts 7:5). Ps 15 (LXX) speaks of the Lord as one’s inheritance. Other verses speak of eternal life (Dan 12:2) and others. In the NT, the idea of an eternal inheritance is found only in Hebrews 9:15 (although suggested in 1 Peter 1:4). “Eternal life” in mentioned frequently in the NT.
Luke 10:27 and with all your mind: With only minor variations, Luke has quoted Dt 6:5 but has added “and with all your mind” your neighbor as yourself: This is an exact citation from Lev 19:18.
Unlike Mark 12:29–31; Matt. 22:37–40, where Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18 are separately listed as the prōtē (“first”) and the deutera (“second”) of the greatest commandments, the two are merged into one in Luke in Jesus’ dialogue with the scholar of the law. The contexts of both passages are also alluded to in Luke’s account. First, these two passages appear in a dialogue concerning the inheritance of eternal life: ti poiēsas zōēn aiōnion klēronomēsō (“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”). An allusion to the wider context of Deut. 6 can be detected in that the observance of these commandments is required for the inheritance of the land:
“Do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that you may, according to his word, prosper, and may enter in and possess [klēronomēsēs; inherit] the good land which the LORD promised on oath to your fathers” (Deut. 6:18). In addition, the reference to zōēn aiōnion (“eternal life”) may also be an allusion to Deut. 6:24: “…the LORD commanded us to observe …that we may always have as prosperous and happy a life [zōmen].” The attainment of salvation is understood in light of the ancient promises to Israel.
Luke 10:28 do this: poieo; the present tense in Greek would mean “continuously do”. This is parallel to the business of Martha in the following pericope. There poieo is not used of her work, but more “religious” words for “service” or “ministry” (diakonia/diakoneo) are used in v. 40.
An allusion to the wider context of Lev. 19:18 can also be identified in the verse that follows Luke’s citation of the OT texts: touto poiei kai zēsē (“do this, and you will live”). This verse brings to mind Deut. 6:24, but its affinity with Lev. 18:5 is to be noted with the use of poieō (“do”) and zaō (“live”): “You shall keep all my commandments, and all my judgments, and do [poiēsete] them; and if a person does [poiēsas] so, he shall live [zēsetai] by them.”