Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 6.27-38
7th Sunday after the Epiphany - Year C

Other texts:


These verses continue Luke's "Sermon on the Plain." The final section of the "sermon" is the assigned text for 8 Epiphany C, which, at least in the Lutheran tradition, would be replaced next week by The Transfiguration of Our Lord for the Last Sunday in Epiphany.

I think that the "you" in these verses may not be the same "you" as in the blessings/woes that precede it -- unless we assume that there were poor, hungry, weeping, rich, filled up, and laughing people in the crowd.

These instructions are address to "those who are listening" (v. 27, akouo, present tense = "keep on listening, or continue to listen"). This word is also at the beginning and end of the "sermon" in Luke. The crowd had come to listen to Jesus -- and to be healed (v. 18 -- both aorist = possibly implying a "one-shot" listening and healing event -- once healed, why return until sick again?)

Jesus concludes the "sermon" with the image of those who are hearing his word and are doing it (v. 47, present tense verbs) as those who are building a house on a deep, solid, rock foundation that can withstand the onslaught of a river. In contrast, those who heard and are not doing (v. 49 aorist verbs!) are like those built a house without a foundation, which cannot withstand the onslaught of a river and collapses.

Note also that the verb translated "doing" (poieo) occurs in our text (v. 27c) and is part of a compound verb "doing-good" (v. 33ab, 35b).


As I mentioned, the words in our text are addressed to those who want to continue to hear Jesus' words, and presumably do them, in contrast to those who want, what we might call, a "quick fix" for what ails them, and then have nothing more to do with Jesus.

Note also that the "yous" in our text are plural. These are commands about what we are to be doing together -- both our good and bad experience. There are four present tense imperatives. The first is a general one: "[Continue to] Love your enemies." The next three could describe some of the ways we are to love our enemies. They are almost like the synonymous parallelism of Hebrew poetry.

These three commands indicate some type of enemy and the loving action we should be doing for them. I don't think that the list is exhaustive, but illustrative of some ways we can love our enemies.

The word for "enemy" is echthros, which more literally means, "hated". It seems to apply to both parties -- similar to the "law of retaliation," which I'll discuss in the next section: they hate me so I can hate them = being enemies.


These verses contain four applications or illustrations of the principle of love for enemies. At the same time they contradict the lex talionis or "law of retaliation" that God had commanded in the OT: eye for an eye, etc. (see Exodus 21:23-25; Lev 24:19-20).

The "enemies'" actions are not always what we might expect from someone we hate:

enemies'(?) actions:

loving actions

If we reconstructed these commands according to the law of retaliation, they might be stated:

I can remember, as children, my brother calling my parents at work. "Brian hit me." I'd get on the other phone and give my rationale, "He hit me first." "He hit me harder," my brother would further complain. (Of course I hit him harder, I was older, bigger and stronger <g>.) Sometimes my brother would exaggerate, "Brian keeps hitting me." I'd correct him, "I only hit him once." He'd complain further, "Yes, but he hit me harder than I hit him."

A child's understanding of fairness is to be hit only as many times and as hard as s/he inflicted on the other person. This is not Jesus' idea of fairness. It is not the way to "love our enemies."

Tannehill (Luke) makes the point that our actions are not being passive.

Passivity would mean doing nothing. Offering the other cheek is doing something provocative. It risks greater harm in order to make a (nonverbal) statement, which requires the aggressor to take a second and more careful look at the one who is being victimized, with the possibility of a change in relationship (for better or worse). [p. 118]

Perhaps another way of stating this is that we will not let the other person determine our actions. This is similar to Friedman's "non-anxious presence" in opposition to "reptilian aggression," which seeks to fight back or flee. In this state of mind, we don't act rationally. Peter Steinke (How Your Church Family Works) writes about this type of reaction:

At the onset of threat, self-preservation has more relevance for survival than self-awareness. Long before we could ever talk or think, we called on automatic processes for survival. We call on them again and again. Besides, they act faster than the thinking processes. When we are anxious, we act before we think. The Automatic Pilot joins forces with the House of Emotion and dominates. In a reptilian regression our behavior is not mediated through the neocortex. Anxious, we are apt to lose objectivity and civility. We are in a position to be neither responsible nor loving. Reason and love are best served in time of calm.

In periods of intense anxiety, what is most needed is what is most unavailable -- the capacity to be imaginative. Again, this is as true in the church family as in all relationship systems. Threatened, any of us may dispense with our Christian convictions and values. Anxiety is no respecter of belief systems. It is an indiscriminate trigger. Threat is threat. The reptilian brain is not impressed by the sincerity of what we believe to be true; it does what it is designed to do: react instinctively. [p. 18]

What comes up in the next section is the fact that we are to be "children of the Most High." This suggests that acting like reptiles is not what our Father expects from us.

One could try and clearly define just what the enemies' actions are; e.g., in Matthew striking on the right cheek would have been a backhanded slap -- more an insulting action than of one to cause pain. However, to do so, I think, undermines the intent of these illustrations, e.g., the rule only applies to a backhanded slap -- if someone hits me with a right hook, then I can hit him back. They are general examples, which we are to expand and apply to our own situations. Tannehill (Luke) makes this point:

Thus, there is strong use of repetitive patterns, which provide emphasis and also suggestively expand an initial utterance. The language tends to focus on specific actions in specific situations, but the implications are not thereby limited. A series of situations is mentioned, and more could easily be added. This patterned use of language stimulates hearers to imagine additional instances that fit the pattern, instances that reflect their own situations. [p. 117]

While I agree with furthering the application and illustrations of "loving one's enemies," beyond just the one's mentioned in the text, we also need to be aware of the fact that we are not Jesus. At best, we might guess at what Jesus might do -- at what it might mean to love our enemies as we define new enemies and behaviors in the present day.

These illustrations encourage us to do what Steinke says is most difficult in anxious situations: "to be imaginative" -- to allow the Spirit to create imaginative ways to love our enemies.

Tannehill (Luke) sums up this section by commenting how v. 31 radically changes the "principle of reciprocity":

The so-called Golden Rule in verse 31 may seem much less radical, since it works with the principle of reciprocity. The principle of reciprocity (do to others as they do to you = love your friends and hate your enemies) was widely accepted in the ancient world and represents the attitude that Jesus is challenging. Both the Golden Rule and vv. 32-35 attack this principle. ... We are not to do to others as they do to us but as we would want them to do to us. [p. 118, emphasis added]


The three questions in these verses expose the deficiency of a love that does not extend beyond the circle of those who do good for one another.

Sirach 12:1-7 presents a much different guide for life:

If you do good, know to whom you do it,
and you will be thanked for your good deeds.
Do good to the devout, and you will be repaid --
if not be them, certainly by the Most High [hypsistos].
No good comes to one who persists in evil
or to one who does not give alms.
Give to the devout, but do not help the sinner.
Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly;
hold back their bread, and do not give it to them,
for by means of it they might subdue you;
then you will receive twice as much evil
for all the good you have done to them.
For the Most High [hypsistos] also hates sinners
and will inflict punishment on the ungodly.
Give to the one who is good, but do not help the sinner.

Can we assume that such "wisdom" was present among the people in Jesus' day as a word from God? (Sirach was written sometime before 180 BC in Hebrew and translated into Greek sometime after 132 BC.) If so, then Jesus' statements seem much more radical.

The logic of this section is that children are to be like the parent. We are "children of the Most High [hypsistos, v. 35] who is kind even to the ungrateful and evil."

Culpepper (Luke, The New Interpreter's Bible) notes this fact:

The disciple's relationship to God is based on the axiom that the child is like the parent, so the character of God dictates that we practice of love that is not limited by others' responses to us, for God "is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked" (v. 35). [p. 147]

There is repetition in the questions that partly connects this section with what has gone on before. The three "ifs"

The same three actions appear in v. 35.

Loving and doing good (slightly different grammar) also appear in v. 27.

The text indicates that sinners can do these actions: loving, doing good, and lending. However, they do them following the rule of reciprocity -- to those who can love and do good and repay in return.

What is different about the children of the Most High is not their actions per se but the recipients of their actions and, related to that, the motivation for those actions. We are not to be motivated by receiving the same kind of love or help in return.

The thrice repeated question (in NRSV) "what credit is that to you?" might be better translated "what kind of grace [charis] is that for you?"

David Tiede (Luke) comments on that phrase:

When the RSV [and NRSV] translates this as what credit is that to you? It has captured the sense of "why could you claim to have done anything special?" But the question, "What kind of grace is that for you?" indicates that the issue is not merely how much one has done, but the kind of "grace" which is at work. The grace of the kingdom is qualitatively different. [p. 144]

In fact, "grace," properly understood, is the giving without expecting something in return. It does not follow the law of reciprocity. It is not motivate by what one might receive in return for loving others, doing good, or lending.

Verse 35 presents a translation/interpretation difficult. The NRSV has in the text: "expecting nothing in return" is in the text. A footnote, based on a few variant readings has "despairing of no one". The CEV offers these two translations: "without expecting to be paid back" and "without giving up on anyone". Luke Timothy Johnson (Luke, Sacra Pagina) points out the difficulty in translating the Greek term:

The use of the word apelpizo here has created confusion. The obvious meaning "expect a return" is otherwise unattested in extant Greek literature, and the verb ordinarily means "give up hope." [p. 109]

He goes on to conclude that the translation "without expecting a return" is a correct translation in the context. He is probably right. Although the outcome is about the same, there are two ways to approach the Greek phrase.

The word in question is the verb elpizo = "hope" (used in v. 34), with the prefix ap(o) which, in this case, seems to negate the meaning of the verb: That is "not having hope" or "despairing". The other word in the phrase (according to most ancient manuscripts) is meden = "no thing" as a pronoun, perhaps = "hoping for nothing" = "not expecting a return"; or meden, as an adverb, can mean, "not at all," perhaps = "not at all despairing" [the thing(s) that were given away] = they are gone. Don't fret about them.

However, in contrast to expecting any reciprocity from others, v. 35 talks about our great reward. The word for "reward" (misthos) refers to what one has earned. It is the payment or wages for work. Perhaps the difference is that we are rewarded as a parent rewards children -- because of who and whose we are -- rather than what we might have done. We are often the "ungrateful and wicked." Yet, the Most High is kind to us.

The word for "kind" (chrestos) is used only in one other passage in reference to God. Paul writes in Romans 2:4b: "Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" God's kindness doesn't mean just doing pleasant things for us, but doing what is most beneficial useful for us (a meaning of chrestos.) Exposing our sinfulness so that we might repent, may not feel pleasant, but it is to our eternal benefit for God to do that.

The conclusion to this section is a command (to the plural "you") to (continue to) be merciful (oiktirmos -- a fairly rare word in the NT that Lowe and Nida define as: "to show mercy and concern, with the implication of sensitivity and compassion) as God, our Father is merciful. The children are to behave like the Father. What makes the Father's actions so merciful is that they are done without expecting a return -- even to evil people and sometimes without even receiving a "thank you".

JUDGE NOT (vv. 37-38)

The main verbs in this section are present tense imperatives. These carry the idea of continuous or repeated actions. Thus we can understand the prohibitions as: "Don't continue to judge" (or "Don't keep on judging"). "Don't continue to condemn." We can understand the positive commands the same way, "Keep on forgiving." "Continue to give."

Culpepper (Luke, The New Interpreter's Bible) on these verses:

Two prohibitions (do not judge; do not condemn) are followed by two positive commands (forgive; give; cf. Acts 20:35). The consequences are stated with passive verbs (you will not be judged; you will not be condemned; you will be forgiven; it will be given to you), leaving the agent unnamed. The passive construction may indicate divine action (cf. 18:29-30), but it may also affirm that those who are non-violent, merciful, non-judgmental, and generous toward others will indeed be treated in the same way. [p. 148]

Taking Culpepper's second interpretation of the passive verbs, this section goes back to the Golden Rule. We are to treat others as we want them to treat us -- and they will treat us that way. When we are forgiving and giving (rather than judging and condemning), others will treat us in the same way.

It would be easy to see in these verses a return to the law of reciprocity that was nullified in the previous verses. However, in looking at Luke's use of the word "give" (didomi) which occurs three times in v. 38, we can gain a better understanding of these verses.

Within this sermon, the pattern has already been commanded that we are to give to anyone who asks (v. 30) even if they can't pay us back. Is that the pattern of God's giving -- we ask, God gives? Earlier in the chapter, Jesus related a story about David giving the bread of the Presence to his hungry companions -- something that they were not supposed to eat. Does God give to us what we shouldn't be receiving?

In the Parable of the Ten Slaves (19:11-27), the king gives his slaves ten pounds and tells them to make good use of them. (didomi occurs in vv. 13, 15, 23, 24, 26 in the parable.) What is given is given before the slaves have done anything. What the king is interested in, is what the slaves have done with what has been given to them.

A similar scenario takes place in the Parable of the Renters of a Vineyard (20:7-19). The vineyard has been leased of given [ekdidomi] to the tenants (v. 9). Only later, after they have had time to grow the crops, are they asked to give the owner his share of the fruit of the vineyard (v. 10). When they refuse, and kill the owner's son, eventually the owner comes, destroys the tenants and gives the vineyard to others (v. 16). What the owner is interested in, is what the tenants have done with what has been given them.

In a sense, the slaves and tenants prove their worth after they have received the gifts from the king/landlord. I think that in relationship to our text, we can say that God has given us mercy and forgiveness, how that we have received it, what will we do with it? We are expected to be merciful and forgiving; to pass on what we have been given.

Finally, there are these important words in Luke: Then [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

God gave and continues to give himself to us, even when we don't deserve it. God is merciful to the ungrateful and evil. That is the measure by which he measures out, and by which we are to try and live our lives.


Culpepper (Luke, The New Interpreter's Bible)

The first and second sections of Jesus' teachings to his followers (6:20-26; 6:27-38) set in place the two principles that pose stumbling blocks for most modern Christians: the repudiation of privilege based on wealth and the repudiation of retaliation that spawns violence. These principles are diametrically opposed to the assumptions of the marketplace and the media that shape American culture: The wealthy are privileged, and conflict requires that one show strength through retaliation. Our heroes, therefore, are usually neither poor nor non-violent. As a result, the power of materialism and the question for possessions have increased dramatically during this century and violence in our homes, schools, and streets is rampant.

Jesus' alternative is not sheer passivity but aggressive action to undermine hostility and violence. He taught a new attitude toward possessions and persons in need and a new response to hostility. [p. 149]

Tiede (Luke):

The ethical concerns of this entire section are remarkably this-worldly, demonstrating that the Messiah is bringing the reign of God into the contested arena of human life. People who even start to live this way may seem odd or deluded, and the "righteousness" of this kingdom will be "alien" in the world. Perhaps it will even be threatening. But it is god's saving way as enacted by Jesus who now had declared this divine standard and method of mercy to be definitive for the behavior of his followers. [p. 145]

Culpepper (Luke, The New Interpreter's Bible) offers the following story near the conclusion of his comments on Jesus' "sermon".

Once there was a man who took great pride in his automobile. He performed all the routine maintenance on schedule and kept the car clean inside and out. When he could afford to do so, he began to trade cars every couple of years so that he always had a relatively new vehicle. he also traded up, getting a larger, more luxurious car each time. Then he began to trade every year so that he would always have the current model. Eventually, he got to the point where he would buy a new car, drive it home, and leave it in the garage. he refused to use it because he didn't want to put any miles on it or run the risk of getting it scratched. So the new care just sat -- pretty, but never used. This could be a parable of the way some people treat their faith, becoming less and less active in church while professing more and more strongly that they are committed Christians.

Jesus knew that it would not be easy for anyone to respond to the call of discipleship. The simple call, "Follow me," meant such a radical change of life. Knowing how difficult it would be, Jesus concluded the sermon with sayings that warn about the urgency of putting discipleship into practice. [pp. 152]

Jensen (Preaching Luke's Gospel) offers this possible conclusion to a sermon on this text:

Jesus' word for us today is: "I call you to live your lives out of an alternative vision of reality. I call you to live your lives as lives that reverse the values of this culture. I call you to love your enemy; turn the other cheek; give your possessions to those in need and judge not the lives of others. Be merciful even as I am merciful. I have come to nourish your entire life with my mercy. I have come to empower you with mercy in order that you may, indeed, live a new kind of life in this world." [p. 82]

Brian Stoffregen, Rock Springs, WY
ICQ #18545384