Monday, November 11, 2013

Luke 11: not "be shameless in prayer," but "God is shameless, so pray!"

On the "friend at midnight" parable in Luke 11:

  ....The next phrase carries all the weight of the story.  The neighbor will rise because of his anaideia.  Two mysteries must be solved.  First, who does "his" refer to--the neighbor or the host?  Traditional interpretations point to the surprised host--but the Greek text is ambiguous.  Second, what is the meaning of anaideia? This is undoubtedly what motivates someone in the story to act.

Notice how the NIV interprets the passage for us:  "I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness,  he will surely get up and give him as much as he needs."  The NIV inserts the words "the man's" to point to the host as the subject of "his."  The TNIV barely improves this by inserting the word "your"...but this is not in  the original text either.  Furthermore, the NIV translates anaideia  as "boldness"--the host is bold in his request--as the key to gaining needed bread...(Fortunately the TNIV provides a footnote that straightens this out).  Many scholars today believe that "his" does not refer to the host but to the neighbor in bed...

...Added to this...traditional translators have said that anaideia   means "shameless" or "persistent" (hence "bold") and that it is the virtue belonging to the surprised host.  But this sense of the word only comes much later than the first century.  In Greek,  anaideia       (or its adjective   aidos   ) means "shame" and the prefix   an  negates it.  Thus   anaideia   means "shameless" or "without shame."

In the Middle Eastern cultural context shame is the very thing you sought  to avoid with all your life.  Honor--the absence of shame--was the attribute for which you wished to be known.....Therefore we might easily say that someone in the story is a person in whom there is no shame, someone of honor, someone who recognizes and protects his good name.

Now suddenly Jesus' story takes on new meaning. "Yet because of his lack of shame he will rise and give him..."  The parable is focused entirely on the neighbor in bed!...Let's attempt a paraphrase: 

I tell you, the sleeping neighbor will not get up and give his friend the bread because they are friends.  The neighbor will get up and give fresh bread because he is a man of honor--a man who will not bring shame to himself or his village
Suddenly Jesus' story takes on a new theme.  Fresh bread for a surprise visitor will come through the door not because of the nature of the request or the relationship with the neighbor.  This confident request is anchored to the honor of the neighbor in bed...

In Jesus' view,  prayer (as requests from God) may be made confidently not because of who we are--but because of who he is..

Our confidence that this is the correct interpretation is if we keep reading Luke 11:9-13.  Jesus is still explaining his view about prayer.

Jesus encourages us to ask, seek and knock because these requests will be met by a God who is good.  pp 38-40,   Gary M. Burge, Jesus, The Middle Eastern Storyteller

Note: be sure to read the whole chapter of the book here, as this is only one way he enlightens the parable

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