Sunday Morning Greek Blog

February 21, 2011

Entering Heaven Difficultly

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Matthew Gospel of,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 5:18 pm

January 30, 2011

It seems like Sunday is the only time I have to blog on reading through the Greek New Testament, so I’ll just call this the Sunday Morning Greek Blog.

I could say much about Jesus’ discussion of divorce in the first part of Matthew 19, but I think I’ll wait until my own divorce is finalized and well behind me.

However, I did discover something interesting today about Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man in the last part of Matthew 19. Now I am neither rich nor young, but having landed a new job that pays better than any job I’ve had before, I should probably start paying better attention to teachings about wealth.

The thing that struck me most about my reading today was how the Greek text records Jesus’ answer to his disciples about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. The English translations usually say something like, “It is difficult for a rich man/person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” This makes it sound like the main verb is “to be difficult” and “to enter” is an infinitive that completes the thought of the main verb.

But this is not the way it is written in Greek. The actual phrase in Greek (for my Greek geek friends) is πλούσιος δυσκόλως εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν, which translated literally would read “[a] rich one difficultly will enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The main verb here is the verb εἰσερχόμαι (“I enter”), which is used as a future tense form here (εἰσελεύσεται, “[he/she] will enter”). The word for “difficultly” (δυσκόλως) sounds a bit awkward for English, but I use it here to emphasize that the word is an adverb, which means it modifies or describes the action of the verb. (Remember “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here!)

Jesus says the rich “will enter the kingdom of heaven” (this is not to say that being rich is the only or any kind of qualification for entering the kingdom of heaven!), but they will do so with difficulty. Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth here; he just wants to make sure we have the proper attitude toward wealth. In vs. 24, when he says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (a real sewing needle, not a narrow gate as some have tried to purport) than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, his disciples ask, “Who then can be saved?” Think about that for a minute. Jesus tells them the rich enter with great difficulty, then they ask “Who then can be saved?” as if they think the nonrich can’t be saved!

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but that seems to reveal to me an attitude about prosperity in that day. Jesus did much of his ministry among the poor and oppressed, but he did not shy away from confronting (or in this case, reaching out to) the prosperous either. Could it be that the masses flocked to Jesus because the poor thought they had no hope for eternity? Even after all this time with Jesus, did the disciples still think salvation was something only for the prosperous?

Salvation is for all, rich or poor. Prosperity teachers need to sit up and take note here: When you tell your flock that God can make them rich, you might want to include this passage so they know the trouble they’re in for!

Again, this is not to say wealth is bad. I like Ephesians 4:28: “Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” Luke 16:9 is even more compelling: “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Wealth is a blessing, and if we use it to bless others, I think we discover a new type of neighborly love.

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