Re: Lk 19:1-10: ambiguous present tense

From: David Moore (
Date: Mon Nov 06 1995 - 00:58:55 EST

"Carl W. Conrad" <> wrote:

>The lectionary gospel text in my church today was the Zacchaeus narrative
>in Luke. Although I was certainly aware of the special status of TELWNAI in
>Luke as paradigms of the righteous in antithesis to the Pharisees (Lk
>3:12-13; 7:29; 18:9-14); yet I was not aware of the Joseph Fitzmyer (Anchor
>Bible) interpretation of the Zacchaeus pericope: that here is a man who,
>although a despised publican, indeed an ARXITELWNHS, has evidently been
>regularly donating 50% of his income to the poor and reimbursing 4-fold any
>persons whom he is found to have defrauded. The key verse 8 uses the
>present tense for Zacchaeus' declaration, in response to scoffers' outrage
>that Jesus should have chosen to dine with a "sinner," that his customary
>practice more than satisfies the requirements of the Law.
>I had always sort of "taken for granted" that vs. 8 was an assertion of
>what Zacchaeus intended to do hereafter in response to the confrontation
>with Jesus, and that the translation of NRSV of the verbs of this verse in
>the FUTURE tense was appropriate to the right interpretation of the
>passage. In viewing the text this morning, we noted that RSV retains the
>present tense in English to translate the Greek present tense.
>It appears to me that there are indicators pointing both to the traditional
>interpretation (that Zacchaeus promises he will undertake these actions)
>and to the Fitzmyer interpretation. In favor of the latter is the fact that
>there is nothing in the narrative that says Zacchaeus is repenting of
>former sins (unless one wants to read "EI TINOS TI ESUKOFANTHSA" that way)
>and that Jesus makes the dinner appointment at the house of Zacchaeus with
>the assertion (v. 9), "KAQOTI KAI AUTOS hUIOS ABRAAM ESTIN." In favor of
>the alternative view is what would appear to be an indicator of a
>conversion on Zacchaeus' part, Jesus's declarations, (v. 9) "SHMERON
>As intriguing to me as the fact that an noteworthy interpreter has argued
>for such an interpretation and the evident ambiguity of the story itself is
>the use of the present tense in v. 8. We have just had an intriguing
>discussion of the possibilities of varied interpretation of the Greek
>present tense, and it occurs to me that this particular instance is
>sufficiently ambiguous to invite discussion amongst our learned colleagues.
>What do you think this present tense means about Zacchaeus' habitual
>behavior or future demonstration of present repentance?

        There are several problems with Fitzmyer's interpretation which,
IMO, tip the balance in favor of the traditional interpretation of this
passage. Carl has hinted at some of these points but allow me to develop
them a little.

        First is his taking hUPARXONTWN (v. 8) to mean "income." (Cf.
Louw & Nida 57.189-57.208 for a number of words that *could* be used in
this sense.) He cites Luke 8:3 and Acts 4:32 as possibly supporting this
interpretation (Fitzmyer, 1225), but there is no compelling reason to
translate either of these instances as he has understood the word. So it
seems better to take hUPARCIS (Is that the right lexical form of this
part.?) in its usual lexical meaning - which fits quite well in both Lk.
8:3 and Acts 4:32. Zacchaeus' dedication of half his ownings as donations
to the poor would be very much in keeping with Jesus' teaching regarding
riches as recorded in Luke (Lk. 18:22; 12:32-34; cf. also Acts 4:32-35)
and could be seen as the fruit of sincere repentance and faith (Lk. 3:8,
9; 6:43f.).

        Second, Fitzmyer does not deal adequately with SHMERON in v. 9.
He says, "Jesus pronounces not forgiveness but the vindication of
Zacchaeus: Jesus announces salvation 'to this house' because he sees that
Zacchaeus is innocent..." (Fitzmyer 1220-21). In saying this, Fitzmyer
leaves out the implication that Zacchaeus' change of heart has come
"today." Otherwise, that salvation has come "today" in that Jesus, who
embodies salvation, has come to Zacchaeus' house (Fitzmyer 1225) is a
concept that may be present in the Lord's saying; but such an emphasis,
without at least equal emphasis on the other characters' (in this case
Zacchaeus') response to Jesus would be uncharacteristic of Luke.

        Third, there is good reason to take the two verbs in the present
form here as futuristic presents. APODIDWMI must be futuristic since it
depends on the conditional clause, "*If* I have extorted anything from
anyone...." The aorist, of course, would not have to be preterite, but it
would be highly illogical to think that it was customary for Zacchaeus to
extort from people and then pay them back fourfold. His statement, with
its conditional "if" clause, can only be taken as a good-faith promise to
pay back anyone he may have cheated. If we take APODIDWMI as a futuristic
present, the chances are much better that DIDWMI should be understood
similarly. Also, notice the use of KURIE in the middle of Zacchaeus'
speech. This may indicate that he is recognizing Jesus' right to call him
to such a radical change of direction in his life.

David L. Moore Southeastern Spanish District
Miami, Florida of the Assemblies of God Department of Education

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:32 EDT