Why Seek the Living among the Dead?

The Road to Emmaus appearance, based on Luke 2...
Joseph von Führich, “The Road to Emmaus appearance” (1837; Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Luke 24:1, αἱ γυναῖκες, αἵτινες ἦσαν συνεληλυθυῖαι ἐκ τῆς Γαλιλαίας αὐτῷ (Luke 23:55; the women who had come with him from Galilee; cf. Matt 28:1–8; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 8:2–3; 23:49; 24:10; John 20:1–13) go to Jesus’ tomb φέρουσαι ἃ ἡτοίμασαν ἀρώματα (Luke 24:1; carrying spices that they had prepared). Instead of finding Jesus, however, the women are met with an empty tomb and two shining figures (Luke 24:2–5a). To these women, the resplendent individuals then address the question τί ζητεῖτε τὸν ζῶντα μετὰ τῶν νεκρῶν; (Luke 24:5b; Why do you seek the living one among the dead?).

From the women’s perspective, of course, seeking someone who was alive among the dead was precisely not what they were doing. They had, after all, come φέρουσαι ἃ ἡτοίμασαν ἀρώματα (Luke 24:1; carrying spices that they had prepared), which they had not had with them previously when they were at the tomb (Luke 23:55–56). Among those who were dead, they were seeking one who was dead. The figures’ point is, then, not that the women were confused about where dead or living people might normally be found but that the individual the women were seeking had a different status than they had supposed. The object of their search was alive rather than dead—and those who sought him should have known better than to think otherwise (Luke 24:6–7).1

Although Peter at least goes to see the tomb for himself and comes away θαυμάζων τὸ γεγονός (Luke 24:12; marveling at what had happened), the apostles generally fare still worse. Even on hearing the women’s report, they think it nonsense (Luke 24:10–11).2 Cleopas and his fellow traveler also know the women’s report, but neither do they have any firm convictions about its veracity (Luke 24:13, 18–24).3 Meeting Jesus, whom they do not recognize, Cleopas and his original traveling companion are also told they should have known better (Luke 24:25–26).4 They should have known to have expected Jesus’ resurrection, but they didn’t. Apparently, the unrecognized Jesus spends the rest of the trip teaching the two other travelers. Yet, seemingly nowhere along the balance of this journey are Cleopas and his companion stopped in their tracks by the realization that, of course, Jesus must have risen from the dead (Luke 24:13–15, 25–28). Normal experience was quite to the contrary, hence the two travelers’ inability to fit their experiences into another mold besides that of unrealized hopes for Israel’s redemption (Luke 24:20–24).5 Then again, their own experience of Jesus was, self-confessedly, far from “normal” (Luke 24:19).

When confronted with the fact that they ought to have known better, the women at the tomb had at least ἐμνήσθησαν τῶν ῥημάτων αὐτοῦ (Luke 24:8; remembered his words; cf. Luke 24:6). Yet, even after having new words added to those they had already heard, Cleopas and his companion come only to “burning hearts” until ἐγνώσθη αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου (Luke 24:35; he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread; see Luke 24:28–34). To be sure, the group of disciples hears the reports of Jesus’ appearance to Simon and the two travelers, but they are still joyfully incredulous when Jesus appears among them (Luke 24:33–43).6

Respecting “normal” experience, there was nothing “natural” about Jesus’ resurrection. “Normally,” dead people stay dead. “Normally,” unless the grave is disturbed, a dead body will be in the same place a few days after that body is laid to rest, and spices can be brought back for the body at a later time if such needs to happen. On the other hand, respecting the creator God’s faithfulness to his promises to his people, nothing is more supremely “natural” than that the crucified messiah should be found alive three days after he had died (Luke 24:5–7; 25–27; 44–49; cf. Rom 4:17).7 In the end—not least, in the climax of all things—neither the grave, nor indeed death itself, is a very good container for such a person, in whom all the fullness of the creator’s mighty power and purposes for his people were seen to have been at work (cf. Luke 24:19, 21; Acts 2:24; Heb 7:15–16).

Hand place a bullet into a plain paper bag, and the bag will hold the bullet well enough. Shoot the bullet into the bag with a gun, and the bag hasn’t got a chance.


1. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003), 657.

2. Tertullian, Marc., 4.43 (ANF 3:422).

3. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 657.

4. Ibid., 650–51, 657.

5. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 64.15 (NPNF1 8:266); Augustine, Tract. ep. Jo., 2.1 (NPNF1 7:469–70); Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 651.

6. Augustine, Faust., 4.2 (NPNF1 4:161); Augustine, Serm., 66.3 (NPNF1 6:456); Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 657.

7. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 64.15 (NPNF1 8:266); C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 25–37; Tertullian, Marc., 4.43 (ANF 3:422); Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 649, 651–52.

Thousands and Ten Thousands

David quittant son troupeau. David et Saül. Da...
15th-c. Illumination (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Samuel 18:6 describes David’s return after killing Goliath (1 Sam 17:41–58). Precisely how this event sits chronologically in relationship to the surrounding narrative is difficult to establish.1 One good way of reading the narrative, however, involves treating 1 Sam 18:1–5 as an extended parenthesis, which includes some foreshadowing, and understanding 1 Sam 18:6 to be bringing the reader back to the main plot line that had temporarily paused with 1 Sam 17:58.2 In this context, it begins to be said הכה שׁאול֙ באלפו ודוד ברבבתיו ‎(1 Sam 18:7; Saul has slain by his thousands and David by his ten thousands; see also 1 Sam 21:11; 29:5).3 Yet, thus far, David has specifically been reported to have killed only one person (Goliath) and some animals (1 Sam 17:34–37)—not רבבת (ten thousands).4 Rather, the women’s song quantitatively represents the qualitative value of David’s victory over Goliath as it relates to Saul’s previous exploits.5 On hearing this song, then, Saul becomes enraged and starts looking and acting to do David harm (1 Sam 18:8–9).

Not dissimilarly did a later Saul also act against a later David (cf. Jer 30:9; Ezek 34:23–24; 37:24–25).6 Although the former Saul perhaps did so from envy and the later from zeal (cf. Rom 10:1–2; Gal 1:13–14; Phil 3:4b–6), they both found themselves standing against the one on whose side יהוה stood (1 Sam 16:14; 17:37; 18:12, 28; Acts 26:14).7 Although they were, in some ways, outstanding among their fellows (e.g., 1 Sam 9:2; 11:1–15; Gal 1:13–14; Phil 3:4b–6), the persecution in which they engaged was without any just cause (1 Sam 23:24b24:22; 26:1–25; Acts 9:4–5; 22:7–8; 26:14–15).8 Yet, despite some more positive moments of lesser tension in the relationship between the former Saul and the former David (e.g., 1 Sam 24:16–22; 26:21–25), this Saul dies by his own hand (1 Sam 31:4).9 Only in the case of the later Saul does the persecutor ultimately capitulate to the goodness of the one with whom יהוה stands and die by Torah in order to live in faithfulness and join with those who announce goodness of the Davidic Messiah, who has himself delivered his people from the one who had held them in terror (Gal 1:11–24; 2:19–20; Heb 2:14–15; cf. 1 Sam 17:11, 24).10


1. E.g., K&D, Samuel, 490–91n1; cf. Walter Brueggemann, “Narrative Coherence and Theological Intentionality in 1 Samuel 18,” CBQ 55, no. 2 (1993): 243; Antony F. Campbell, “The Reported Story: Midway between Oral Performance and Literary Art,” Semeia 46 (1989): 77–85; Simon J. De Vries, “David’s Victory over the Philistine as Saga and as Legend,” JBL 92, no. 1 (1973): 23–24, 35–36.

2. Burke O. Long, “Framing Repetitions in Biblical Historiography,” JBL 106, no. 3 (1987): 396; cf. Jerome, Ep., 46.2 (NPNF2, 6:61).

3. Brueggemann, “1 Samuel 18,” 238. The term רבבת does not itself designate an exact quantity, but it and its context do ascribe to David a significantly greater quantity of slaughter than to Saul (1 Sam 18:7–8; Brueggemann, “1 Samuel 18,” 228–29, 239; R. P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary [LBI; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], 160; HALOT, “רבבה”; Katherine Stott, “Herodotus and the Old Testament: A Comparative Reading of the Ascendancy Stories of King Cyrus and David,” SJOT 16, no. 1 [2002]: 63).

4. Based on David’s description in 1 Sam 17:14–15, 28, 33, 38–39, 42, 55–56, 58, 1 Sam 16:18 likely concerns David’s confrontation with the beasts that he mentions later (1 Sam 17:34–37; K&D, Samuel, 478–79). Or, the narrative of 1 Sam 16:14–23 may be a flash-forward to the parallel material in 1 Sam 18:10a (cf. Brueggemann, “1 Samuel 18,” 238; Chrysostom, Hom. 2 Cor., 24.4 [NPNF1, 12:393]). Moreover, according to 1 Sam 17:52, אנשׁי ישׂראל ויהודה (the people of Israel and Judah), or probably more simply, בני ישׂראל ‎(1 Sam 17:53; the children of Israel), are said to have routed the remainder of the Philistine army. To be sure, the narrative represents David’s defeat of Goliath was the catalyst for this larger victory. Yet, at this point, (1) אנשׁי ישׂראל ויהודה (the people of Israel and Judah) were certainly not under David’s command (1 Sam 17:12–20, 28, 33, 42) and (2) the text does not necessarily imply that David accompanied the rest of the people in their pursuit after the remainder of the Philistine army (1 Sam 17:51a, 54, 57). Indeed, even in such a pursuit, unless David had carried with him some weapon from the battlefield itself (e.g., Goliath’s sword; 1 Sam 17:50–51), after killing Goliath, David hardly seems to have been armed with more than a staff and four stones for his sling (cf. 1 Sam 17:40, 50).

5. Even the numbers of enemies later reported to have been killed in particular engagements by David’s שׁלֹשׁת הגברים (three mighty men) and their close associates pale in comparison (e.g., 2 Sam 23:8–23; 1 Chron 11:1012:22).

6. Cf. Irenaeus, Haer., 4.27.1 (ANF, 1:498).

7. Chrysostom, Hom. 2 Cor., 24.4 (NPNF1, 12:393); Irenaeus, Haer., 4.27.1 (ANF, 1:498); Tertullian, Praescr., 3 (ANF, 3:244).

8. Augustine, The Correction of the Donatists, 2.9 (NPNF1, 4:636); Irenaeus, Haer., 4.27.1 (ANF, 1:498); Tertullian, Praescr., 3 (ANF, 3:244).

9. Chrysostom, Hom. 2 Cor., 24.4 (NPNF1, 12:393).

10. Cf. Ibid.

Prayer Prayers

Luke 11:1–4 recounts Jesus’ teaching his disciples how to pray. The substance of the prayer much resembles the parallel account in Matt 6:9–13. Yet, Luke’s version is considerably shorter than Matthew’s at a couple points. Also, rather than coming in the context of a longer discourse, Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11:2–4 responds to a specific request from one of the disciples that he teach them to pray, just as John had done with his own disciples (Luke 11:1).1

To some extent, the prayer’s final three petitions may evoke Prov 30:7–8,2 but whether in this connection or when compared with Matthew’s fuller version of the prayer itself, Luke’s retention of καὶ γὰρ αὐτοὶ ἀφίομεν παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν (Luke 11:4b; for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us) is a striking explanatory expansion within his otherwise terse report.3 The verb ἀφίομεν could be performative (we forgive as we pray), but given the larger context of Luke’s Gospel, a broader, customary sense is still more probable (we regularly forgive; e.g., Luke 6:37; 11:5–13; 17:3–4).4 Even when they are not praying per se, Jesus summons his disciples to forgive others in such a way that does not immediately give the lie to their own requests for forgiveness when they ask it of their Father (cf. Luke 4:16–21; 10:21–37; 11:5–13; 18:9–14; see also Matt 6:14–15; 18:21–35).5 Although Jesus frames his instruction with ὅταν προσεύχησθε λέγετε (Luke 11:2a; when you pray, say), the content of the prayer itself makes demands on Jesus’ disciples that extend far beyond their speech in prayer to their Father.6


1. Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 141.

2. Cf. Acts Thom. (ANF, 8:547); Augustine, Ep., 188.2.6 (NPNF1, 1:550); John Cassian, Conferences, 9.21 (NPNF2, 11:394–95); Tertullian, Jejun., 15 (ANF, 4:112).

3. Cf. N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 169.

4. Clement of Alexandria, Strom., 7.13 (ANF, 2:546). Nearly quoting Matthew’s version of this prayer verbatim, Didache 8:3 prescribes that it be prayed three times a day. In such a context, even if the community’s confession of its own forgiveness toward its debtors within the prayer itself is purely performative, it certainly also happens with a frequency and regularity that would, in itself, put the community in a fairly consistent state of forgiveness toward such people.

5. Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo., 7.11 (NPNF1, 7:51–52). Cf. Augustine, Pecc. merit., 2.21 (NPNF1, 5:53); Tertullian, Marc., 4.26 (ANF, 3:391–93); Tertullian, Pud., 2 (ANF, 4:76–77). See also Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Combined ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 1:119–41; Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1990), 276; Bock, Jesus according to Scripture, 141–42; James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Christianity in the Making 1; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 411, 589–92; Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 292–95.

6. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 168–70. Cf. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (ed. Irmgard Booth; trans. R. H. Fuller; rev. ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1963), 183–87.