The Standing of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector in the Temple

Abstract: In this parable (Luke 18:9–14) “stand” (ἵστημι, histēmi), in reference first to the Pharisee then the tax-collector, is usually interpreted literally. This bears out in commentaries, yet is also implied in common English translations. Argued here is that both occurrences of “stand” should instead be construed figuratively. Bases for these interpretations are found in historical  figurative uses of “stand”, figurative instances of the associated adverb “far away” (μακρόθεν, makrothen) in v. 13, plus an alternative application for the prepositional phrase “toward himself” (πρὸς ε͑αυτόν, pros heauton) accompanying “stand” in v. 11. Lexical and grammatical cues bolster the case. Psalms 137:6 LXX (138:6) and 9:22 LXX (10:1), along with Romans 4:2, provide key interpretative lenses.


It was supposed to be straightforward. I had planned to write a relatively short blog post for Thanksgiving Day [three years ago!] on the subject of thankfulness, comparing that which is relatively insignificant with the truly valuable and durable. My aim was to use the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector (Luke 18:9-14) toward that end. But it was not to be.

I intended to translate from the Greek rather than rely on a common English version. However, as I began to work through Luke 18:11, then 18:13 especially, it seemed to me the typical translations may have overlooked something. But I wasn’t sure. And I’m still not sure, though I’m a bit more confident now that I’ve completed this enquiry.1

In accepting the conclusions herein, the commonly understood message of the parable would in no way be impaired. Yet, gainfully, some ambiguity would be alleviated, resulting in more coherence. At the same time the parable’s lesson would be heightened and more of its inherent irony revealed.

The Standing Issue

At issue is the Greek verb histēmi (ἵστημι), “stand”, as used in Luke 18:11 and 18:13.

Regarding verse 11 is it stood . . . prayed with/to/about himself (KJV, NASB, NET) or is it standing/stood by himself . . . praying/ed (ESV, NIV, NRSV, ISV)?2 In other words, does the prepositional phrase (PP) with/to/about/by himself (pros heauton) accompany “stand”, or does it go with prayed/ing instead?3

In verse 13 the tax-collector “stood” far off or at a distance. But stood from what or whom? Relatedly, is “stand” in verse 13 meant to be contrasted with “stand” in 11?

More to the point, should “stand” be interpreted literally or is a figurative construal to be preferred? In other words, did Jesus intend a figurative rather than a literal meaning in either or both verses?

After considerable rumination, I’m inclined to the position that “stand” should be interpreted figuratively in both verses (though perhaps semi-figuratively in v. 11).4 Further, I think Jesus meant to contrast one ‘standing’ with the other.

My initial apprehension in taking a stance on this hinged on the fact that only two sources even hinted at this being a possibility in the context of this parable.5 Excepting these two, the subject of figurativeness completely eluded the relevant discussions. Yet this verb stands figuratively in a number of New Testament (NT) passages.

Acts 1:23 is one example: And they placed/put [forward] two.6  In its context the disciples “placed” or “put” two candidates forward to replace Judas Iscariot. Many English versions extrapolate the intended meaning from the context, rendering the verb “nominated” (NIV, NLT, ISV), “proposed” (HCSB, NKJV, NET), or “appointed” (KJV). In other words, some use functional equivalence (aka dynamic equivalence7), recognizing the figurative application. Others adhere more closely to the root meaning of the word, as in “put forward” (ESV, NASB, ASV). Yet, arguably, it is Young’s Literal Translation—employing formal equivalence—which most succinctly captures the essence of the term in this context: And they set two.

It may prove helpful to expound on the usage in Acts 1:23 by analogy. Consider a chess game. Each player stands or places (sets) game pieces onto the chessboard. One player moves a piece to a space already occupied by a piece belonging to the opposing player, thereby capturing the opponent’s piece. This move results in the re-placement of the opponent’s piece by the capturing piece. The capturing piece now stands in the place formerly occupied by the opponent’s piece. The use of histēmi in Acts 1:23 is somewhat analogous, though figurative. The disciples figuratively stood Barsabbas and Matthias (they set two). In the position in which Judas formerly “stood”, either Barsabbas or Matthias would re-place him. Of the two set, only one would be chosen for the place formerly occupied by Judas, in order to stand in that position.

Figurative instances of this verb appear in John 8:44 ([the Devil] does not stand in the truth), Romans 5:2 (this grace in which you stand), and 1 Corinthians 15:1 (the gospel . . . in which you stand).8

The argument to be advanced here, to paraphrase a bit, is that the Pharisee “stood” self-righteously, while the tax-collector “stood” humbly. Certainly the context bears out their contrasting dispositions, but the position argued for below is that the verb histēmi should be interpreted figuratively in harmony with this attitudinal contrast.

A Literal Understanding of “Stand” Over-Interpreted?

In his respected commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Joseph A. Fitzmyer reflects (bold added): The contrast of the two types, their stances in the Temple, and their utterances in addressing God in prayer speak eloquently.9 Here Fitzmyer ventures close to apprehending what I perceive to be the intended figurative meaning of histēmi, “stand” in both 18:11 and 18:13. Instead, however, in his literalistic interpretation the author conjectures about the physical locations of the two characters within the Temple complex and with respect to each other:

We are not told where the Pharisee stood, but the contrast with v. 13 would imply that he moved far to the front of the Court of Israel within the Temple precincts . . . [The tax collector] stood far off. I.e. probably just within the confines of the Court of Israel.10

A literal preconception moves the writer to interpret the tax-collector’s having “stood far off” (makrothen hestōs) as necessarily in relation to the Pharisee’s presumed placement inside the Temple. Thus, according to the author, the tax-collector must be just barely inside the Court of Israel, while the Pharisee is positioned at the other end, near the Court of the Priests (the Holy Place).

But Jesus mentions the Temple only in a general sense, not in any particulars.  This is as He begins the parable, describing it as the destination of the two characters (and implicitly referring to it again in closing: “this man came down”).

More importantly, note that in the Pharisee’s ‘prayer’ he is aware of the tax-collector’s presence (“like this tax-collector”).11 Such awareness could be perceived as implying the tax-collector was in close proximity to the Pharisee. Furthermore, if the tax-collector were indeed spatially “far off” from the Pharisee, we might expect “that (έκει̑νος, ekeinos) tax-collector” rather than “this (ου͒τος, houtos) tax-collector” here.12 The Pharisee’s mention of the tax-collector, coupled with his use of “this” rather than “that” here, questions Fitzmyer’s (and many others’) conjectures.13

Perhaps the context suggests a better point of reference? As noted above, the parable contrasts the Pharisee’s self-exaltation with the tax-collector’s humility. Thus, “stand” (histēmi) in 11 and 13 could be intended to compare and contrast their respective self-perceptions as to how each “stood” in relation to God.

Understood this way, arguably the parable better coheres. That is, in such a view their contrasting prayer stances would be conveyed in more vivid relief, thereby providing more cohesion and coherence.14

Are there syntactical and lexical cues which could bolster such an interpretation?

The Target Framed and Revealed

Luke identified Jesus’ target audience of this parable in his preface (18:9), casting them very negatively as being self-righteous to the point of despising all those outside their group. As the parable unfolds, the reader will likely conclude that the Pharisee is part of this unnamed group, for his character fits the profile. While this seems evident enough in English translation, it is more obvious in the Greek.15 This demonstrates through repetition of lexical items (individual words, as in a distinct dictionary entry),16 paralleled syntactic structures, and particular use of certain verbal forms. These serve as intraconnecting self-references, providing cohesion. Through careful attention to these grammatical and lexical cues, comparisons and contrasts move to the fore, underscoring the irony in the climax.

The translation below is much closer to formal equivalence (‘word for word’) than functional equivalence (‘thought for thought’), in order to better illustrate these linguistic devices. Key words and phrases are color-coded and/or emphasized, with the corresponding Greek (transliterated) in parentheses. Explanations of their intraconnections follow further below. The two instances of “stand” (histēmi) and the associated PP in v. 11 and adverb in v. 13 are translated overly-literally, since the bases from which to derive their figurative renderings are yet to be substantiated.

18:9 And He also told this parable to some having-been-persuaded (pepoithotas) in (eph’) themselves (heautois) that they are righteous (dikaioi) and despising the rest (loipoi):
10 “Two men went-up (anabainō) to the Temple to pray—one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11 The Pharisee, stood (statheis) toward (pros) himself (heautou), these things began-praying, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not as the rest (loipoi) of mankind: thieves, unrighteous (adikoi), adulterers—or even as this tax-collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I give ten percent of all I acquire.’
13 “Yet the tax-collector, distantly (makrothen) having-stood (hestōs), was unwilling to even lift his eyes to heaven, but began beating his chest, pleading, ‘O God, be conciliatory with me, the sinner!’
14 “I tell you, this man came-down (katabainō) to his home having-been-pronounced-righteous (dedikaiōmenos), rather than that other; for everyone who exalts (hypsōn) himself (heautou) shall be humbled (tapeinōthēsetai), but the one who humbles (tapeinōn) himself (heautou) shall be exalted (hypsōthēsetai).”

The parable itself opens and closes with the verb bainō: “went up” (anabainō) in v. 10 and “came down” (katabainō) in v. 14. This repetition of bainō provides lexical bookends to Jesus’ words, forming a simple inclusio, thereby framing the parable. Similar lexical framing devices link the Pharisee to the unnamed group in the preface (18:9).17 These devices also serve more broadly to link the preface to the parable proper (18:10–14).

Working backwards in v. 9, “the rest” (loipoi) is a duplicate of the Pharisee’s statement in his ‘prayer’ (v. 11), in which he thanks himself God that he is not like “the rest” (loipoi).18 The unnamed group’s despising of “the rest” in the preface thus lexically links and contextually connects to the Pharisee’s statement.

Included in this list of “the rest” in the Pharisee’s ‘prayer’ are the “unrighteous” (adikoi)—the antonym of “righteous” (dikaioi) from v. 9.19 Ironically, though, it is the humble tax-collector who is “pronounced-righteous” (dedikaiōmenos) in v. 14. Of course, this last reference (v. 14) provides stark contrast with the unnamed group in v. 9, while the latter furnishes further linguistic evidence to construe the Pharisee (v. 11) as part of this unnamed group. And the multiple usage of “righteous” conjoins the preface (v. 9) to the parable at two separate points (vv. 11 and 14). The first (9) and last (14) form a larger lexical frame, thereby binding the entire pericope.20

Continuing backwards in v. 9, the reflexive pronoun “themselves” (heautois) is thrice repeated in the parable proper, though as the singular “himself” (heautou). The first, in 11, likely connects with the plural in 9.21 In 14, the syntactically paralleled pair exalts himself . . . humbles himself unmistakably provides contrast.22 The first “himself” in 14 certainly refers to the Pharisee, which then links it to 11.23 This fourfold usage provides lexical intraconnection, the first (9) and last occurrence (the second in 14) of which establish yet another frame.

Observe also that the reflexive pronouns in 9 and 11 are each preceded by a preposition (epi {eph’} and pros, respectively). Given this and that there are three established lexical correspondences between 11 and 9 (loipoi – loipoi, adikoidikaioi, heautou – heautois), the unnamed group’s description as having-been-persuaded in themselves (pepoithotas eph’ heautois) may be intended to near-parallel the description of the Pharisee’s “stood toward himself” (statheis pros heauton) in 11.24 That is, considering the three lexical links, the phrase in 9 describing the unnamed group could function as a sort of linguistic superset of the syntactically similar phrase describing the Pharisee in 11. If so, these two clauses—each a participle + preposition + reflexive pronoun—would then form a syntactic parallel somewhat similar to the participle + reflexive pronoun paralleled in 14 (exalts himself . . . humbles himself). If this parallelism is granted in 9 and 11, the two clauses would form a syntactic frame, substantiating further connectivity between the Pharisee and the group—and between the parable and the preface.

To add credence to this suggestion of syntactic parallelism in 9 and 11, consider the Pharisee’s ‘standing’ alongside the tax-collector’s. The descriptive adverb “distantly” (or “far away”) for the tax-collector’s ‘standing’ could possibly be understood as in contrast to the Pharisee’s ‘standing’ “toward himself”, which would then provide an obvious connection (via contrast) between the two. Both instances of ‘stand’ are participles. The participle modifying the tax-collector in v. 13 is a perfect tense-form—the same form as the participle describing the unnamed group (having-been-persuaded). The perfect in each case describes a state: the unnamed group is in a particular state of persuasion (that they were righteous), while the tax-collector is in a particular state of standing (“distantly”). Are these perfect tense-forms meant to be paralleled for comparison, similar to the Pharisee’s ‘standing’ as contrasted with the tax-collector’s?

An answer to this question may well be found in the ironical climactic conclusion. It was the tax-collector “having-been-pronounced-righteous” in v. 14, while everyone exalting himself—the Pharisee (and likely each one in the unnamed group25)—will be humbled. This verb applying to the tax-collector in v.14 is another perfect participle, and it is the third and final verb in this pericope in the perfect tense-form.26 With all this in mind, the non-use of the perfect for the Pharisee’s ‘standing’ in 11 could be attributed to its connection (via syntactic parallelism) to the ‘state of persuasion’ of the unnamed group in 9.27 In other words, assuming the Pharisee belongs to (is a subset of) this group, he is already in a state of having been persuaded he is righteous, and his ‘standing’ in 11 carries this state from 9 as a given; and, because of this linkage, a summary (aorist tense-form) “stood (‘toward himself’)” would suffice.28

Whether one accepts the immediately aforementioned or not—and the following can lend further reasoning for accepting it—the usage of the three perfect participles (vv. 9, 13, and 14) establish syntactical and verbal intraconnection. The first and last perfect participles then provide yet another linguistic frame, conjoining the preface to the parable proper. And these two provide a sharp and wryly ironical contrast.

In sum, lexical and syntactical intraconnections provide cohesion and coherence within the pericope. Some of these devices also link the parable’s preface (18: 9) to the parable proper (18:10–14). This linkage also substantiates correspondence between the unnamed group and the Pharisee, which in turn provides starker contrast between the Pharisee and the tax-collector.

Taking in the above discourse analysis,29 it should be easier to perceive the two instances of “stand” here as likely a means by which to juxtapose the tax-collector with the Pharisee.30 In what follows evidence will be presented to reinforce this position.

The Tax-Collector’s Standing

Besides the figurative applications of histēmi, “stand” in Scripture shown earlier (John 8:44; Acts 1:23; Romans 5:2; 1Cor 15:1), there are examples of similar non-literal uses in the LXX (aka Septuagint, aka Greek Old Testament) and extra-biblical literature contemporaneous and near-contemporary with the NT. Some of these will follow further below. First, a brief grammatical and syntactical explanation is necessary.

Our investigation here centers on the use of histēmi, “stand” as a participle in both Luke 18:11 and 18:13. The Greek participle is best described as a verbal adjective, possessing characteristics of both a verb and an adjective. It will sometimes function more adverbially, primarily modifying the main verb, while concurrently acting adjectivally, describing the associated noun in some way. Alternatively, in some contexts its purpose is more adjectival, describing a noun by attaching a verbal component.31 For our purposes, Dana and Mantey’s grammar provides a sound basis for understanding the participles’ function here, which is more adverbial than adjectival (called adverbial participle):

This is the use in which the participle is involved in the relation of the noun which it modifies to the action or state expressed in the main verb, and exhibits predominantly verbal characteristics . . . Though in these uses the sense of the participle may be rendered with a clause, we cannot correctly assume that it is the syntactical equivalent of a clause, for its adjectival force is retained and relates it intimately with the noun as well as the verb. It is simply an adjective used to modify a verb, and hence may be appropriately called adverbial. The varieties in adverbial use come, not from alterations in the essential function of the participle, but from variations in the relation of its noun to the main verb and the context . . . Most often the English participle will best render the Greek, for Greek and English are very similar in their use of this idiom.32

In Luke 18:13 the relevant words here are the adverb + participle makrothen hestōs, “far-away having stood”.33 A comparative English example may prove helpful: The perpetually tardy scientist, nearly exhausted, endeavored to complete his time machine on time. The verb exhausted here is a participle describing the noun scientist. The adverb nearly modifies the participle exhausted. But the participle also describes the main verb endeavored in that it indicates the manner in which the scientist performed the action: he endeavored (to complete) in a nearly exhausted condition. This combination nearly exhausted roughly corresponds to the function of the adverb + participle makrothen hestōs in verse 13, when conceived figuratively.

In this parable, the adverb makrothen, “far-away”, modifies the participle hestōs, “having stood”. The adverb + participle (makrothen hestōs) here adjectivally describes the tax-collector, though it predominantly functions adverbially modifying the main verb. When understood figuratively, the tax-collector “distantly having stood” describes his attitudinal ‘stance’ (more on this below). Due to his feelings of unworthiness—evidenced by the emotion conveyed in the words he utters in his prayer—he adopts a penitent posture, probably with his head lowered. This explains why he would not even raise his eyes to heaven.

The key reference point is heaven. That is, since the tax-collector was unwilling to even lift up his eyes to heaven, wouldn’t heaven provide the most likely point of reference for his ‘standing far away’? In other words, could it be that the description of his ‘stance’ as being “far away” pertains to his perceived ‘distance’ from heaven—with heaven understood as a metonym for God? A look at some extra-biblical and LXX usage of both makrothen and histēmi will provide evidence supporting this proposition.

In one lexicon the verb histēmi is defined: “frequently merely a stronger form of εἶναι [einai], to be in a certain place or state”.34 In other words, in this particular definition, the word “stand” is almost equivalent to, though stronger than, “be”: He stands strongHe is strong. This is found in John 8:44, as the explanatory clause following the verb’s usage makes clear: he [the Devil] does not stand [ exist] in the truth, because there is no truth in him. The Devil stands in untruth. The Devil is untruthful.

More important is the accompanying sub-definition “with Adv[erb]”.35 That is, there are specific occurrences of this figurative meaning of the verb with an accompanying adverb—as in the construction of 18:13. Furthermore, in this combination the two can form an idiomatic expression. The second reference below (33.6.3) provides such an example. These are from Histories by historian Polybius (c. 208 BC–c. 118 BC). The verbs below are different tense-forms, but from the same root histēmi.36 Coincidentally, the first one (18.3.2) adverbially uses the adjective “unrighteous” as used in Luke 18:11.

18.3.2: ἀδίκως ἵστασθαι καὶ λίαν ἀγεννῶς
adikōs histasthai kai lian agennōs
unrighteously to stand and very low-born
stanced unrighteously and very ignobly
postured unrighteously and very ignobly

33.6.3: ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν, ὀρθῶς ἵσταντο
hōs emoi dokein, orthōs histanto
as to me it-seemed, straight they-were-standing
as it seemed to me, they stood uprightly
in my opinion, they were honest/upright [standing]

In somewhat similar fashion, Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BC–c. 50 AD) used the verb figuratively and with the adjectival form of “straight” in a context regarding principles (Legum 3.32). The verb here is in the same form as Luke 18:13 (perfect tense-form):

γάρ τις τὸν ἑστῶτα καὶ ὑγιῆ καὶ ὀρθὸν διακόψῃ καὶ διέλῃ λόγον
gar tis ton hestōta kai hygiē kai orthon diakopsȩ̄ kai dielȩ̄ logon
for anyone the stands also whole and straight should-cut and should-divide message
for anyone that stands whole and straight should cut and divide message
for that message which stands wholesome and upright should anyone cut and divide
for should anyone cut and divide that message which stands wholesome and upright

This same form of “stand” is found in Luke 5:2, used in a semi-literal or quasi-figurative fashion: two boats standing in the lake. This illustrates the multivalence of this verb.37

Going back to Luke 18:13, the adverb makrothen comes from the adjective makros, which means long, far, distant. The adjectival form is used in Luke 15:13 and 19:12 (distant country/land). The adjectival form is also used in Josephus’ (37 AD –c. 100) Antiquities, in which the Jewish historian records Michal pleading for David’s safety, asking that God lengthen the night to give him extra time to escape Saul (6.216).

In Philo there are quite a few figurative usages of the adverb,38 the best example of which, for our purposes, is in The Special Laws, IV (Spec 4.218):

αἳ μακρόθεν τῶν ἐπ᾿ ἀνθρώποις πλεονεξιῶν τὴν λύσσαν ἀνείργουσι καὶ ἀνακόπτουσιν
hai makrothen tōn ep’ anthrōpois pleonexiōn tēn lyssan aneirgousi kai anakoptousin
which far-away the among men of-greed the fury constrains and restrains
which distantly constrains and restrains the fury of greediness among men
which remotely constrains and restrains the penchant for greediness inherent in humankind

Taking this in its context, the idea here is that observing these laws will “lengthen” the propensity for the covetousness inherent in humans. Below is the C. D. Yonge translation in larger context:

Ought we not, then, to feel an attachment to such commandments as these, which tend to restrain us from and to remove us to a great distance from the acts of covetousness, which are common among men, blunting the edge of the passion itself?39

The figurative meaning here is one of remoteness: the commandments make the likelihood of succumbing to covetousness something so far-removed, so distant, so remote.40 Such laws induce humans to stay far away from breaking them.41

It is a variation of this figurative meaning, I shall argue, that is the intention in this parable.  While the laws described in Philo are attractive to the extent that observing them restrains greed—the undesirable acts of coveting becoming therefore more remote occurrences—the tax collector’s perception of estrangement from God consequently made him feel relationally ‘remote’ from God. While the above investigation provides a solid basis, more direct evidence comes from the LXX.

Makrothen is found 37 times in the LXX. Most often its meaning in those contexts is literal, one of spatial distance—far away. However, there are a few instances of figurative usage relating to God. The first is perhaps quasi-figurative.

In Exodus 24:1–2 Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, as well as seventy elders of Israel, are instructed by the LORD to worship at a distance (makrothen), yet Moses is permitted to come near to the LORD. Thus, because Moses is closer relationally to the LORD, he is privileged to move closer spatially; whereas, the others were to remain “at a distance” spatially, since they did not enjoy the same level of relational closeness.

More important are the three occurrences of makrothen in the Psalms, two of which include the verb histēmi. In Psalm 37:12 LXX (38:11), the verb for ‘stand’ in this context, while connoting the idea of distance in a spatial sense, is not referring to physical, literal standing so much as a general attitude of a state of avoidance: Because of my affliction, my dearest friends and those closest to me will not come near and stand (estēsan), even my family members from far-away stand (apo makrothen estēsan).

Psalm 9:22 LXX (10:1) speaks of the LORD figuratively “’standing’ far away” from the psalmist:

ἵνα τί, Κύριε, ἀφέστηκας μακρόθεν
hina ti, Kyrie, aphestēkas makrothen
that why, O-LORD, You-stand-from far-away?
O LORD, Why is it that You stand far away?
Why, O LORD, do you stand at a distance?
Why, O LORD, are you distant?

The verb aphestēkas is a combination of the preposition apo, “from” and histēmi, “stand”. It carries the idea of withdrawal and the resulting stance of that withdrawal. In its context above, the verb does not mean stand in a literal, physical sense, nor does it mean that God was then in a state of existence far away spatially, as opposed to nearby. The psalmist is merely expressing his own feelings of relational distance in response to the LORD’s seeming aloofness.

Psalm 137:6 LXX (138:6) conveys a message very similar to that in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector. Importantly, it includes makrothen with the apparent meaning of relational rather than spatial distance, yet it also includes other lexical items in common with the Parable’s climax (hypsēlos/hypsēla,exalted”; tapeina, humble”):

ὅτι ὑψηλὸς Κύριος, καὶ τὰ ταπεινὰ ἐφορᾷ, καὶ τὰ ὑψηλὰ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν γινώσκει.
hoti hypsēlos Kyrios kai ta tapeina ephora̧, kai ta hypsēla apo makrothen ginōskei.
Because exalted LORD and the lowly He-observes, and the exalted from far-away He-knows
Because [the] LORD [is] exalted, He observes the humble, but the proud He knows from afar.
Though the LORD is exalted, He sees the lowly, but the haughty He recognizes from a distance.
Though exalted, yet the LORD watches the humble, but knows the self-exalted from afar.

Observe the play on words illustrated in the Greek. The adjective hypsēlos, “exalted” is used to describe LORD (Kyrios), while this same adjective is nominalized—made into a noun with the use of the article ta (“the”)—to refer to the self-exalted (ta hypsēla). The latter is to contrast with the exalted LORD and “the humble” (ta tapeina). In the final clause apo makrothen ginōskei, God knows the self-exalted from afar. The LORD sees everything, of course, though preferring to watch over (and implicitly ‘draw near’ to) the humble, while relating to those exalting themselves in a distant manner, as if from afar.42

Returning again to Luke 18:13, the tax-collector felt so far away from God he was unwilling to even lift his eyes to heaven. His stance, the way he was “distantly postured”, reflected his perceived relational distance from God (cf. Psalm 9:22 LXX [10:1], Exodus 24:1–2 above).43 When understood this way, we can envision that in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector Jesus may well have appropriated Psalm 137:6 LXX (138:6), flipping the lens from God’s perspective to the Pharisee’s (v. 11), then to the tax-collector’s (v. 13), and ultimately reverting back to God’s  (v. 14). In the Parable’s ironical climax, the tax-collector’s contrition was rewarded by God’s justification (implicitly ‘drawing near’); the Pharisee’s self-exaltation was dismissed by God’s ‘distancing’ (and ultimate humbling).

A working figurative rendering (functional equivalence) for makrothen hestōs, “having stood far away” in Luke 18:13 might be penitently postured: The tax-collector, being penitently postured, was unwilling to even lift his eyes to heaven. Or perhaps:

The tax-collector, having assumed a penitent posture
The tax-collector, in a state of penitence
The tax-collector, feeling (relationally) distant
The tax-collector, being distantly postured
The tax-collector, postured far-removedly          

The participle hestōs (in conjunction with the adverb makrothen) is functioning mostly adverbially (adverbial participle) and is interpreted here as causal, indicating the reason the tax-collector would not raise his eyes to heaven. Putting this interpretation into a clause, we might render it: The tax-collector, because he felt (relationally) distant, was unwilling to even lift his eyes to heaven.

The Pharisee’s Standing

Having established plentiful historical figurative uses of “stand” (histēmi), and, more importantly, its use in conjunction with “far away” (makrothen) expressing relational rather than spatial distance, we now turn to Luke 18:11. The issue here is how to translate pros heauton, “towards himself” in its context. The specific challenge is in translating pros, “towards”.

In dynamic contexts this preposition pros indicates movement towards something (see πρός here: Spatial Representation of Prepositions). These contexts involve verbs of motion: from one place towards or to another. In static contexts—those in which there is no spatial movement, as here—pros can refer to orientation toward something.

The most common use of this preposition in the NT generally is in reference to speech: he spoke to (pros) them. In fact, this is the use of pros in the parable’s preface (18:9): And He also spoke this parable to (pros) some...44

Yet there are quite a number of nuances for pros. It is used as an inscription to a number of NT epistles, e.g.: PROS GALATAS, To [the] Galatians. Here is another nuance, indicating proximity and/or relationship:

John 1:1: and the Word was with (pros) God.
2Cor 5:8: absent from the body, present with (pros) the Lord.
2Cor 6:14: what fellowship [has] light with (pros) darkness?

And here are two more:

Acts 24:16: clear conscience toward/before (pros) God
Eph 3:14: I bow my knees before (pros) the Father.

So, how should we interpret this preposition in the context of Luke 18:11?45 Two different commentaries assist, the first from over a century ago.

Alfred Plummer comments on statheis (σταθείς) in Luke 18:11 and then quotes Frenchman Henri Lasserre: “This perhaps indicates the conscious adopting of an attitude . . . debout et la tête haute (Lasserre)”.46 I translate/interpret Lasserre’s French as roughly “stood and with head high/elevated”. The portion after debout (“stood”) surely includes the PP pros heauton as part of his translation into French.  This might be construed “stood self-exaltedly” or “stood haughtily”.

While Plummer continues on to explain the context in a literal fashion,47 Lasserre above clearly views statheis pros heauton—or, at minimum, the PP—figuratively.

Charles Talbert’s comments regarding the Pharisee’s misplaced confidence and condescending attitude toward others provides additional aid (bold for emphasis):

The Pharisee’s posture is unmasked as idolatry . . . To judge is God’s prerogative (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5), not ours. Proper thanks to God for one’s lot in life never involves condescension toward others . . . Spiritual arrogance is presumption, assuming that one stands in God’s place, able to judge. It is this exaltation of oneself that God overturns.48

Note that Talbert’s use of “posture” here is not unlike how Polybius uses histēmi in 18.3.2 (see previous section).49 This plus Talbert’s other words bolded above well-describe the Pharisee in this context. Could this be what Jesus meant with his phrase statheis pros heauton here?

Below are two different nuances for pros in BDAG, followed by possible translations of statheis pros heauton for each:

orientation toward someone > of goal (striving) toward > for the purpose of, on behalf of50

In the context of Luke 18:11 this could be rendered “standing on behalf of himself” / “standing on his own behalf“/ “standing on his own”.

The next BDAG nuance is similar:

orientation toward someone > of relationship for > friendly to, toward, with, before51

In 18:11 this could be rendered “standing for himself” / “standing before himself”.52

On these possibilities, Romans 4:2 provides a sort of negative analogy here: For if Abraham was pronounced-righteous [edikaiōthē] by works, he has cause to boast—but not before [pros] God. Assuming our renderings above have merit, comparatively, the Pharisee was “standing for himself” or “standing on his own behalf”, confident of his own righteousness by virtue of his understanding that he’d faithfully followed the Law (and then some—v. 12).

Because the Pharisee presumed he fully adhered to the Law, his ‘stance’ was one of self-confidence, for he assumed his works placed him in close relationship with God. Plummer scathingly depicts his ‘prayer’:

There is no prayer, even in form; he asks God for nothing, being thoroughly satisfied with his present condition. And only in form is his utterance a thanksgiving; it is a self-congratulation. He glances at God, but contemplates himself. Indeed he almost pities God, who but for himself would be destitute of faithful servants.53

So his presumed ‘standing’ before God in Luke 18:11 was, in reality, a ‘standing’ before himself. And, according to our understanding—our alternative application of pros heauton here—this is how Jesus describes the Pharisee: standing before himself. In other words, as per the understanding here, Jesus is implicitly harshly criticizing the Pharisee via His description of his ‘stance’, i.e., his ‘prayer posture’.

With this construal in mind, we could adapt the message in Romans 4:2: For if the Pharisee was pronounced-righteous by works, he has cause to boast before/to himself (pros heauton)—but not before/to God (pros theon).

A working figurative rendering (functional equivalence) for statheis pros heauton, “stood toward himself”, might be oriented toward himself: The Pharisee, oriented toward himself, prayed these things. Or perhaps:

The Pharisee, standing for himself
The Pharisee, standing on his own behalf
The Pharisee, postured haughtily
The Pharisee, postured arrogantly

Thus, the participle statheis (in conjunction with pros heauton) is functioning mostly adverbially (adverbial participle) and is interpreted here as one of manner, indicating the attitude in which the Pharisee prayed.54

Standing Attitudes

Assuming the analysis above, the Pharisee is part of the group identified in the preface (18:9). As such, he was already convinced of his own righteousness. Due to this, he self-confidently and arrogantly ‘stood before himself’ in his ‘prayer’.

In contrast, the tax-collector knew he did not measure up to God’s standards. So, feeling relationally remote from God, in penitence, he adopted a lowly posture, likely with eyes downcast, unwilling to raise them to heaven. The tax-collector ‘stood far away’ from heaven, i.e., God.

Interpreting this parable through the lens of Psalm 137:6 LXX (138:6), the preposition pros (“toward”) in 18:11 should be understood as in juxtaposition with apo (“from”) in the Psalm. The Pharisee “stood toward himself” (pros heauton), yet God knew him only from afar (apo makrothen [see Spatial Representation of Prepositions referenced above]). The Pharisee stood on his own behalf (pros heauton), not before God (pros theon—Romans 4:2). In contrast, the tax-collector, recognizing his sinful condition, stood “distantly” from God (Psalm 9:22 LXX [10:1]), yet was noticed by God for his lowly stance (Psalm 137:6 LXX [138:6]).

Two men came to the Temple, but only one went home justified. The Pharisee’s prayer was self-centered, the tax-collector’s God-centered. In his overly-confident self-righteousness the Pharisee presumed he was already justified. In contrast, the tax-collector presumed God’s judgment was already upon him. Yet the tax-collector was made righteous because of his humility (the one humbling himself shall be exalted), while the Pharisee went home unjustified owing to his self-exaltation (for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled).

Below is my revised translation of this parable. It is a mix of formal equivalence (word-for-word, “literal”) and dynamic or functional equivalence (sense-for-sense):

9 And then Jesus spoke this parable to those having been persuaded in themselves that they are righteous while despising all the rest:
10 “Two men went up to the Temple—one a Pharisee, the other a tax-collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing on his own behalf, began praying thus: ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity: thieves, unrighteous, adulterers—or even like this tax-collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I give ten percent of all I acquire.’
13 “But the tax-collector, penitently postured, was unwilling to even lift his eyes to heaven, but began beating his chest, pleading, ‘O God, show undeserved favor to me, the sinner!’
14 “I tell you, this man, rather than the other, came down to his home deemed righteous; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but the one humbling himself shall be exalted.”

If the analysis here is accepted, it’s not where the two stood spatially, but how each stood. And this prompts the question: How do I stand? How do you stand?


1 Any such confidence may well be misplaced. Errors could be contained herein due to my lack of formal education in New Testament (NT) Greek. I welcome any corrections and comments. And I must admit to some apprehension in arriving at an exegetical conclusion previously not found—to my knowledge.

2 A textual variant involving word order complicates translation. The Critical Text (CT)—the Greek text from which modern versions are translated—is statheis pros heauton tauta prosēucheto (“stood toward himself these things prayed”), while the variant reads statheis tauta pros heauton prosēucheto (“stood these things toward himself prayed”). As a result, some translations may be influenced by a text-critical position for one over the other. Here we assume the CT (which mirrors the Textus Receptus). See note 3 below.

3 The CT (see note 2 above) syntactically allows for placing the PP either after the participle “stood” (“stood toward himself”) or after the main verb “prayed” (“prayed toward himself”) in translation. But the variant weighs against placing the PP after “stood”, and this variant may have arisen for that very reason. Copyists may have desired to disambiguate the text by altering it (thinking they were correcting it?). A few manuscripts even lack pros heauton entirely. For a fuller explanation, see Roger L. Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft [German Bible Society], 2006), p 142.

4 Such a (semi-)figurative rendering seems to require the v. 11 PP accompany “stand” rather than prayed/ing, for otherwise ἵστημι (histēmi) stands alone and is interpreted literally as either attendant circumstances or temporal (“stood and [then] prayed”)—see, e.g., Alan J. Thompson Luke, EGGNT (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016), p 281.

5 And this was discovered only very recently. In working drafts prior to the past few weeks, none had been found. These commentaries will be implicitly identified further below.

6 See “ἵστημι/ἱστα̒νω”, Frederick W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p 178.1.c. (= put [before]). Danker calls this “a highly multivalent word”.

7 As an aside, see Bill Mounce’s important distinction between functional aka dynamic equivalence and “natural language” translations: Functional (or Dynamic) Equivalence and Natural Language.

8 See “ἵστημι”, W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000), p 483.C.5. Hereafter as BDAG. Cf. Acts 25:10, in which the same form of the verb as that in Luke 18:13 (perfect active participle) is used, though in a periphrastic construction, which is arguably figurative: “Before Caesar’s tribune I am standing.”

9 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 1184

10 Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, pp 1186, 1188. I. Howard Marshall (The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC; Accordance Electronic ed./OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.7 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978]) goes even further: “By contrast . . . the tax-collector stands at a distance, possibly in the outer court of the temple” (p 680).

11 I use ‘prayer’ (in single quotes) here to indicate its self-congratulatory and judgmental tone, offering no real thanksgiving. Bock (Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, BECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996], p 1463) well-captures my thoughts: “In effect his prayer is, ‘I thank you God that I am such a great guy!’”

12 This would be in concert with the usual near/far distinction (whether spatial or anaphoric/kataphoric) as in the juxtaposed “this”/”that” in 18:14. See Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), pp 365–371. Runge mentions this usual near/far distinction en route to explaining what he perceives as another discourse function of this pair (thematic/athematic). Curiously, though, the author overlooks “this” with respect to the Pharisee’s mention of the tax-collector in 18:11, while noting all other occurrences of “this”, ου͒τος (houtos) and “that”, έκει̑νος (ekeinos) in this pericope (p 370).  Cf. note 30 below.

13 As I was finalizing this article, I reviewed some material and came across the following from J. P. Louw, “Reading a Text as Discourse” in David Alan Black, ed. Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1992): “[It] is not so much a matter of the extent of understanding but rather of being able to justify what is being understood, and especially to be sensitive to over-interpretation” (p 19, emphasis in orig.). And this was after I’d already chosen and was still pondering this section’s subtitle.

14 For cohesion and coherence, see David Alan Black, Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), pp 171, 196.

15 As just one example, many English versions translate adikoi in v 11 other than “unrighteous”—e.g. “unjust” (ESV, NASB, KJV, ASV, D-R)—which will likely cause some readers to miss its lexical connection to dikaioi, “righteous” in v 9. Additionally, most English versions translate dedikaiōmenos in v 14 “justified”, which will likely cause readers to miss its lexical connection to both dikaioi in v 9 and adikoi in v 11.

16 This is as opposed to using a particular word then later using a synonym for this same word. For more finely defined terminology and more expansive applications for an enquiry such as the one embarked on here see Black, Linguistics for Students of NT Greek; for what I mean by “lexical items”, see esp. pp 58, 97, 179–181.

17 I’m using “lexical frame” differently than others might. Here I refer to the repetition of individual words—lexical items—which thereby provide internal connectivity, with “frame” constituting the text between and including the first and last uses of these words, plus their associated immediate contexts.

18 On this connection see John Nolland, Luke: 9:21–18:34, WBC (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993), p 875.

19 See Nolland, Luke: 9:21–18:34, “δίκαιοι, ‘righteous’ [ED: in v 9], is probably based on the use of its opposite, ά̓diκοι, ‘unjust,’ in v 11” (p 875).

20 Mikeal C. Parsons (Luke: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007]) notes the significance of the use of “righteous” here in this parable and in The Parable of the Good Samaritan: “The contrast between the negatively portrayed religious leaders and the unexpected heroes highlights the theme of the reversal of expectations. Verbally the [two] parables are linked by the important theological theme of justification (δικαιόω, dikaioō) . . . Since δικαιόω (dikaioō) occurs in no other parable in Luke’s travel narrative, this verbal link is noteworthy” (p 119).

21 The parable proper introduces the Pharisee in concert with the tax-collector via α͗νθρωποι δύο, anthrōpoi duo (“two men”) in v. 10. Yet the Pharisee appears to be ‘pre-introduced’ in the preface (v. 9; cf. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, p 1461). By this I mean the following. The phrase α͗νθρωπός τις, anthrōpos tis (“a certain man”) serves to introduce a new character in Lucan narrative (10:30, 14:16, e.g.), but sometimes it is expanded, introducing other participants in the scene by association (as in 15:11: “a certain man had two sons”)—see Stephen H. Levinsohn, Discourse Features of New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on the Information Structure of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2000), pp 134–135. Extrapolating from this, it seems plausible τινας τοὺς πεποιθότας . . . καὶ ἐξουθενοῦντας, tinas tous pepoithotas . . . kai exouthenountas (“a certain group having-been-persuaded . . . and despising”) functions similarly here. That is, the Pharisee in 18:11 appears implicitly ‘pre-introduced’ as part of this “certain group” in 18:9 by association via the description “having-been-persuaded . . . and despising”. The lexical connections noted in the main text here reinforce this association. More on this below.

22 Cf. Luke 14:11.

23 And it seems probable this first “himself” (ε͗ατου̑, heautou) in v. 14 implicitly refers to members of the unnamed group, given the presence of every (πα̑ς, pas) before the article (ο͑, ho)—everyone.

24 And cf. notes 21 and 23.

25 See note 23.

26 If we accept Stanley Porter’s position that the perfect is the most heavily marked tense-form (Stanley E. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, [New York: Peter Lang, 1993 {1989}], pp 245-251), then we would interpret the perfect participles in vv. 9, 13 and 14 as providing emphasis. This would mean special focus should be upon the unnamed group’s ‘state of persuasion’ (that they were righteous), the tax-collector’s ‘state of standing’ in 13, and, climactically, the tax-collector’s ‘state of being pronounced righteous’ in 14.

27 Cf. note 21 and the intervening main text. Assuming my rationale regarding connection holds, this may soften Nolland’s reluctance to perceive parallelism between v. 11 and v. 13, which he views as “uncertain because of the use of the perfect active participle there [ED: in v. 13] and the aorist passive here” (p 876). To possibly further allay Nolland’s concerns, I interpret the v. 11 participle middle instead of passive—see Martin M. Culy, Mikeal C. Parsons & Joshua J. Stigall, Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text, BHGNT (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2010), p 568; cf. xi–xiii. It seems to me the middle works better in context, especially with the reflexive pronoun in the accompanying PP.

28 And I find further evidence to support interpreting the aorist in v. 11 as describing the Pharisee as part of the group. I deem the participle τοὺς πεποιθότας (tous pepoithotas) in v. 9 as attributive (to τινας, tinas)—see Thompson, Luke, EGGNT, p 281. This further supports my assumptions in the text, which I shall rephrase and expound upon: I deem the two participles are near-parallel (τοὺς πεποιθότας ~ σταθεὶς), in keeping with my position of syntactical near-parallelism. Thus, I infer that the Pharisee is implicitly included in the “some” (τινας, tinas) of v. 9 (again, cf. note 21 above). This means, according to my schema here, the Pharisee “standing toward himself” shares in character with those “having-been-persuaded in themselves that they are righteous” (v. 9).

29 I use this term in a general sense to describe the work done in this section, though this same term is applied to many different approaches in analyzing sections or the whole of ancient and modern works. My approach is similar, though smaller in scope, to that found in Black, Linguistics for Students of NT Greek, pp 170–196. One recent volume exemplifying the myriad approaches to discourse analysis is Todd A. Scacewater, ed. Discourse Analysis of the New Testament Writings (Dallas, TX: Fontes Press, 2020). For additional background, cf. Peter Cotterell & Max Turner, Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989); Black, ed. Linguistics and NT Interpretation; Levinsohn, Discourse Features of NT; Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek NT.

30 The juxtaposition of “this” with “that” in v 14 is noted by Bock (Luke: 9:51–24:53): “In another contrast, Jesus says that ‘this’ (ου͒τος, houtos) tax collector was justified, while ‘that’ (έκει̑νον, ekeinon) Pharisee was not” (p 1465). Note also that in his ‘prayer’ the Pharisee derisively referred to “this (ου͒τος, houtos) tax collector” in what could be considered yet another ‘reversal of expectations’ in light of v 14 (see Parsons at note 20). And these provide yet another intraconnecting lexical link.

31 See Stanley E. Porter Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1994), p 181. The participle contains both verbal and adjectival qualities, context determining its function.

32 H. E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: MacMillan, 1927), p 226 . And the cautionary advice of Porter (Idioms) should be kept in mind: “In some instances it may simply be better not to specify the relation between the participle and the other elements of the construction [ED: whether causal, instrumental-manner, instrumental-means, etc.], since the context does not give specific indicators” (p 191). In other words, the exegete should be careful to avoid interpreting when translating, if the text is ambiguous to the point that other translational/interpretive possibilities exist.

33 Compare to οἳ ἔστησαν πόρρωθεν, hoi estēsan porrōthen in Luke 17:12.

34 See LSJ here (under B):ἵστημι. Bracketed transliteration added.

35 Ibid.

36 These are both taken from the LSJ under B (final references).  The first (18.3.2) is an infinitive, the second (33.6.3) a finite verb. Though Polybius’ writings predate Luke’s Gospel by about two centuries, I think they are relevant here.

37 See Danker’s comment at note 6.

38 Somn 2.142: aposkopein makrothen hoi chrēsmoi; Spec 4.104: hōste makrothen aneirxai boulomenos; Virt 137: hyper tou makrothen epischein. In one instance, Polybius uses the word figuratively with reference to time in Histories 1.65.7: προορᾶσθαι καὶ φυλάττεσθαι μακρόθεν, proorasthai kai phulattesthai makrothen, foresee and keep guard from-afarforesee and keep guard well in advance/well beforehand.

39 Public domain; see here:

40 Comparatively, a more literal application of this nuance would be, e.g., an employee working off-site—the employee working remotely, at a distance from the main work site.

41 It seems the meaning of remote in such contexts as remote possibility evolved from the general concept of spatial distance, with the idea that as distance increases an object becomes smaller to the eventual point of being minute, and then this conception was further applied to a figurative sense of the word: remote > faint > slight > unlikely.

42 Of course, none of this is intended to reduce Deity to creature, as if the LORD were three-dimensional and/or not omnipresent.  This is merely to capture the force of the psalm’s anthropomorphic depictions.

43 Matthew Henry (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Volume 5: Matthew to John, New Modern Ed. Unabridged [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991]) comes somewhat close to the proposition here. After first making the assumption the tax-collector literally stood ‘far off’ with respect to the Pharisee and the Court of the Priests, he makes the following observation: “[T]he publican kept at a distance under a sense of his unworthiness to draw near to God . . . Hereby he owned that God might justly behold him afar off, and send him into a state of eternal distance from him, and that it was a great favour that God was pleased to admit him thus nigh” (p V.626; italics in original, bold added).

44 Some might argue that it should be understood “against”: And He spoke [this parable] against some. However, to is the normal way Luke introduces parables (cf. 1:13, e.g.), which is “to indicate the addressees” (Thompson, Luke, EGGNT, p 281). See BDAG, p 874.3.d.α.

45 It is likely not “by himself”, as Alfred Plummer notes (The Gospel According to St. Luke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary {International Critical Commentary}; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; 5th ed. [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1922], Accordance edition/OakTree Software, Inc., Version 1.4): “’Standing by himself’ would be καθ’ ε͗αυτόν [kath’ heauton]” (para 9310). Cf. Culy, Parsons & Stigall, Luke, BHGNT, p 568.

46 Plummer, According to St. Luke, para 9309. I would be remiss if I did not include the following remarks from Plummer’s Introduction/bibliography: “Lasserre, Henri. Les Saints Évangiles, 1886, 1887. A French translation of the Gospels with brief notes. Uncritical, but interesting. It received the imprimatur of the Archbishop of Paris and the praise of Leo XIII, ran through twenty-five editions in two years, and then through the influence of the Jesuits was suppressed” (para 6680).

47 Plummer, According to St. Luke, para 9309. The author takes pros heauton with prosēucheto. In all fairness to Plummer, I should note that his comments here make good sense of his exegetical decision to place the PP with prosēucheto (which would be “prayed to himself”): “The character of his prayer shows why he would not utter it so that others could hear” (para 9309). In the final analysis, it may well be that the syntactical ambiguity (see notes 2 and 3) is quite purposeful and such that the hearer/reader would be forced to ponder both interpretations.

48 Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (New York: Crossroad, 1982), p 171 (emphasis added).

49 This is not to state this is what Talbert is conveying for the meaning of statheis in Luke 18:11, just that his overall conception here does not contradict such a figurative rendering.

50 BDAG, p 874.3.c.α.

51 BDAG, p 874.3.d.β.

52 One can almost picture the Pharisee standing before a mirror, thinking to himself: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most righteous one of all?

53 Plummer, According to St. Luke, para 9311 (bold added). Some of these late 19th century works have quite a way with words! To be clear (and fair), Plummer’s depiction of the Pharisee’s prayer must be viewed in context with note 47 above; however, his words here well support our alternate interpretation. For a fairly exhaustive investigation into the myriad ways to interpret the Pharisee’s actions—both positively and negatively—see Nolland, Luke: 9:21–18:34, pp 876–878. I highly recommend Nolland here.

54 See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 627–628.


Time to Live


How long? How short. So live each day the daily way, trusting in God above (Matt 6:11, 6:34).

Forgive, forget; release your debts (Matt 6:12), living in step with the Helper (Gal 5:22–26).

The Clock of Life
(Robert H. Smith)

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.

The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in “Tomorrow”
For the clock may then be still.

Da Pacem, Domine (Give Peace, O Lord)

[This is a slight revision of a post from 3 years ago.]

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt had been commissioned to compose a work to be premiered at a peace concert in Barcelona on July 1, 2004. The piece, “Da Pacem Domine” (Give Peace, O Lord), was begun two days after the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, in memoriam. It has been performed in Spain every year since.

The text of “Da Pacem Domine” has its origins as an antiphon circa 6th or 7th century (though, as the liner notes to Pärt’s 2005 release Lamentate and the 2009 In Principio state, this piece is based on 9th century Gregorian antiphon), a Christian hymn sourced from 2 Kings 20:19, 2 Chronicles 20:12,15 and Psalm 72:6-7. Prior to Pärt’s adaptation, it was apparently last used in Roman hymnals (and perhaps in the Church of England) in the late 1800s.

The vlogger below set this prayer of peace—as sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir & Paul Hillier—against a backdrop of soberingly haunting black and white war-themed images:

Da pacem, Domine,
in diebus nostris,
quia non est alius
qui pugnet pro nobis
nisi tu, Deus noster

Give peace, O Lord,
in our time,
for there is no other
who fights for us
but you, our God

Yet I offer this more broadly. To all in need of peace for any or a variety of reasons, may the Prince of Peace grant it to you faster than you can say “amen”.

A Plea for Repentance

Following is one of Alfred Schnittke’s Psalms of Repentance (# VII). These psalms are adaptations of 15th century poems, commemorating the millennial anniversary of Christianity in Russia (in 1988). Appropriately, the words are translated from the Russian to King James English:1

Oh my soul, why art thou unafraid
of the dead in their graves
of the bare and terrible bones?
Where is the prince and where the ruler?
Where the rich and where the poor?
Where is loveliness of countenance?
Where the rhetoric of wisdom?
Where are the proud, where those who lust for fame?
Where are those who boast to others
of their gold and pearls?
Where is pride, where is love?
Where are the greedy?
Where is the seat of true justice
that giveth the guilty no rest?
Where is the ruler, where the slave?
Is everything not equal:
dust and earth and stinking dirt?
O my soul, why dost thou not tremble in dread?
Why art though not afraid
of the terrible judgments
and everlasting torments?
O wretched soul!
Remember how attentively thou didst obey
The words of the earthly czar,
A merry-making man,
but didst not heed the commandments
of thy heavenly Creator.
Thou livest in sin,
not revering but mocking
the teachings of Scripture.
O my soul!
Weep, cry out to Christ:
“Jesus save me!
Deliver me…”—answer the prayers of the saints—
“…from torments bitter and eternal.”


1 English translation by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart © ECM Records (though with slight emendation in the addition of quotes and ellipses in the final three lines), as taken from Alfred Schnittke Psalms of Repentance, ECM New Series 1583, 1999 ECM Records GmbH. See also Alfred Schnittke: Psalms of Repentance (ECM New Series 1583).

Give Peace, O Lord

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt had been commissioned to compose a work to be premiered at a peace concert in Barcelona on July 1, 2004. The piece, “Da Pacem Domine” (Give Peace, O Lord), was begun two days after the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, in memoriam of its victims. It has been performed in Spain every year since, in commemoration.

The text of “Da Pacem Domine” has its origins as an antiphon circa 6th or 7th century (though, as the liner notes to Pärt’s 2005 release Lamentate and the 2009 In Principio state, this piece is based on 9th century Gregorian antiphon), a Christian hymn sourced from 2 Kings 20:19, 2 Chronicles 20:12,15 and Psalm 72:6-7. Prior to Pärt’s adaptation, it was apparently last used in Roman hymnals (and perhaps in the Church of England) in the late 1800s.

The vlogger below set this prayer of peace—as sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir & Paul Hillier—against a backdrop of soberingly haunting black and white war-themed images:

Da pacem, Domine,
in diebus nostris,
quia non est alius
qui pugnet pro nobis
nisi tu, Deus noster

Give peace, O Lord,
in our time,
for there is no other
who fights for us
but you, our God

Yet I offer this more broadly. To all in need of peace for a variety of reasons, may the Prince of Peace grant it to you faster than you can say “amen”.

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