On Reading the Greek Bible, as a glutton

My absolutely favorite blogpost written by Rachel Held Evans is the one she entitles, Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony.

Unfortunately, she wrote this one, against bullying, against “calling other people” names and calling them out, as she herself uses her blog and the CNN blog to call out those she regards as bullies, namely men named Donald Miller, Mark Driscoll, and most recently Dave Ramsey. Fortunately, she confesses “our” tendency, in bold font, saying,

In short, we like to gang up.

And fortunately, she goes on, confessing more, in bold font, saying,

After all, when God became flesh and lived among us, the religious accused him of hanging out with “sinners” (even gluttons!) never realizing that this was the whole point, that there were only “sinners” to hang out with.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize the biblical, literal, problems with “gluttony.” To make her point, she quotes

passages like Philippians 3:19 (“their god is their belly”), Psalm 78: 18 (“they tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved”), Proverbs 23:20 (“be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat”), Proverbs 23:2 (“put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite”), or better yet, Ezekiel 16:49 (“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”)

Unfortunately, these are not always so easily literally to be taken as focused like a precise laser beam on “gluttony.” I mean, look at this little bit by one writer on the problems of connecting some of the words in some of these texts, with gluttony, and I quote (from):

Hastings’ Dictionary of the New Testament


GLUTTONOUS. —In Matthew 11:19 = Luke 7:34 we are informed that our Lord was reproached as a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber. The Greek is alike in both passages— ἄνθρωπος φάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης . The English versions are probably right in their rendering of φάγος and οἱνοπότης as implying intemperate excess. But this hardly lies in the words themselves. φάγος (Liddell and Scott, s.v. ) is found only in these passages and in later ecclesiastical writers. οἰνοπότης does by usage (not by etymology) imply excess (Anacreon, 98; Call. Ep. 37; Polyb. xx. 8. 2). In Proverbs 23:20 it answers to סבא יַיִן ‘one who is drunken with wine’ (cf. Deuteronomy 21:20 , Ezekiel 23:42 , Hosea 4:18 for use of the Heb. root); and it is parallel with μέθυσος in Proverbs 23:21 . In Proverbs 31:4 (24:72 Swete) the verb οἱνοποτέω occurs in the bad sense. But it is possible that the real force of the insult to our Lord is shown by Deuteronomy 21:20 . The rebellious son is to be brought by his parents to the elders, to whom the parents are to say, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice, he is a riotous liver and a drunkard.’ He is then to be executed by stoning. It is true that the LXX Septuagint here συμβολοκοπῶν οἰνοφλυγεῖ has no resemblance to the phrase in the Gospels, but Proverbs 23:20 has μηδὲ ἐκτείνου συμβολαῖς as one half of the doublet, ‘among gluttonous eaters of flesh’ ( בִּוֹלְלֵי בָשָׂר ); and in Proverbs 23:21 Aq . [Note: Aquila.] , Sym., Theod. [Note: Theodotion.] agree in using the Deuteronomic word συμβολοκόπος for ולל . Delitzsch in his Heb. NT uses the words found in Deuteronomy 21:20 .

We need not wonder at the non-agreement with the LXX Septuagint. For the discourse has several indications of having been spoken in Aramaic, such as the paronomasia probably to be found in the cry of the children (Matthew 11:17 , Luke 7:32 ‘danced’ and ‘wept’; cf. Farrar, Life of Christ , i. 92; and the Peshitta), and the variation ἔργωντἐκνων ( Matthew 11:19 , Luke 7:35 ) which is best explained by supposing some error in reading an Aramaic document.

George Farmer.

Copyright Statement
These files are in the public domain.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for ‘Gluttonous’. Hastings’ Dictionary of the New Testament. http://www.studylight.org/dic/hdn/view.cgi?n=1075. 1906-1918.

Don’t we gangs of sinners and of gluttons need also really to include all of the Greek here? I’m playing a bit. I’m playing to make a bit of a point. I’m trying to say that we all tend to equate different things and the same things.

Even if we include LXX Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus 23:6, 31:20, 37:30-31) and LXX Maccabees (3 Maccabees 6:36, 4 Maccabees 1:3, 1:27, 2:7) and NT Titus 1:12 (quoting the so called “Epimenides Paradox”), then we are reading literal things as metaphorical. Literal is metaphorical. That last sentence, you get, as a joke, a literal “ha ha” that’s a funny saying “joke.”

Glutton in English is the glue for lots of biblical Greek notions of gluttony. These Greek notions translate Hebrew ones, and in the NT cases perhaps Aramaic notions, of gluttony. We are gluing these notions together as the same, not different.

Then Rachel Held Evans takes us a step further to say that nobody much condemns gluttony. Not like they do homosexuality. And yet, she says, they’re not “literally” to the “biblical literalist” much different. Same with bullying. All sins. All things that all sinners do. Jesus tended to hang out with them, with all, since all equaled sinners, were sinners all the same. And Jesus was called a glutton, if we literally get the Greek.

My point is that Rachel Held Evans’s point is that we must muddy these waters. What’s gluttonous? Who’s the biggest sinner? How are we to throw the first stone? Why not be more like Jesus this way? When will we stop the bullying?


One response to “On Reading the Greek Bible, as a glutton

  1. “We need not wonder at the non-agreement with the LXX Septuagint.”

    In the encyclopedia entry I quoted in the post above, this is the funniest sentence. The writer is trying to reassure us readers. The non-agreement with the LXX Septuagint (pardon his redundancy) is really something to wonder at! We might call our wonderment involuntary. I call the non-agreement wonderful. I call it wonderful because we readers want it to be agreement. Non-agreement is agreement, when we “need not wonder at” it? Ha! Of course!

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