Bible Study: Luke 14:33 and the Absurd Command

I’ve seen some confusion among skeptical circles concerning a strange command in Luke 14:33. Does Jesus tell us to sell all our possessions? If the disciples didn’t sell all they had, were they not taking Jesus’s words seriously?

The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy may be the skeptic’s most adored resource when it comes to finding an error in the Biblical text. One intriguing error it points to is Luke 14:33, where Jesus tells us to forsake our possessions. What do we do with Jesus’s absurd command?

“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”

The aforementioned resource tells us a Christian, in order to take the Bible as his authority, should literally follow this command. Since there are many who haven’t forsaken their possessions, is this an example of cherry picking? Do we adhere to some commands but reject others? I will grant the skeptical resource correct if it can answer some objections I have to its position.

Firstly, note the first two words of the verse in question. “So Likewise.” This is clearly the end of a much larger instruction. The entire parable actually begins at verse 28,

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”

Already we have a far clearer picture of what the verse in question is commanding us. This passage is about ability. Ability to serve God and become His disciple. If a man doesn’t have enough resources how could he build a tower? Likewise, if a ruler doesn’t possess a large enough army to conquer the opposing kingdom, how could he possibly come out victorious? At this point, it’s quite obvious the point of the verse in question isn’t to literally sell all one owns but to announce that they are insufficient. One cannot be a disciple if he believes his possessions are more sufficient than God. As in the case of the rich younger ruler, one may need to give up possessions if they’re an idol, but it’s hardly a command inclusive to all.

It’s worth noting how one who acts on the assumption of the adequacy of his resources in this passage will be mocked. Based on our knowledge of the ancient world being based on honor and shame we can read this passage as a warning that one who assumes he alone is adequate (takes up a place of honor) is mocked (is forced to stand in a lower place). If, however, one denies his adequacy (he takes the lower place himself) he will be made a disciple and be given truly adequate resources (he is given the place of honor). Based on other verses that tell us God rewards those who humble themselves, the essence of this passage is that “You will be exalted through humility.”

Further support for this is found in Luke 9:61, which uses the same Hebrew word that’s used for “forsaketh” here. That verse says,

 “And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.”

Obviously, the man’s family wouldn’t cease to be his family when he left them. Of course, the skeptic may shout “cruel!” here, but such actions weren’t common in ancient culture. Even in some cultures today, one may spend months, even years, away from family. Why? Unlike western culture’s obsession with time, ancient culture didn’t share that same urgency. I’ll dive further into that another time, but for now, it’s reasonable to conclude The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy ironcally erred in ignoring the entire context of Luke 14:33.

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10 thoughts on “Bible Study: Luke 14:33 and the Absurd Command

  1. I enjoyed reading this, Lucas! It’s time I diligently read my Bible to grow spiritually and to discuss these objections as well. Have you read this entire Encyclopedia you mention? If so, would you recommend it to learn the arguments from skeptics?

    1. Thank you Brian. I haven’t read the entire book yet, but if you’re looking to becoming familiar with skeptical objections to the Bible you can just as easily visit sites such as Evil Bible or Bible viz if you want a list of supposed contradictions. If you want something that introduces you to more general arguments I recommend simply picking up Richard Dawkins God Delusion. I know a lot of Christians feel uncomfortable reading atheist literature but in my view, if you steer clear from it how will be prepared to defend your faith when someone who has read them brings those arguments to you?

      Blessings, and thanks for reading.

      1. I agree. I haven’t even read a lot of Apologetics books, only two: Mere Christianity and On Guard. Most of my research has been watching debates and lectures. I’m trying to become more equipped, though. Thanks for the recs! If you’re interested, and I haven’t read these myself, but I’ve heard Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by Craig and Moreland is a great overview.

        1. Mere Christianity and William Craig’s On Guard are fantastic books. You’re on the right track, my interest in apologetics began by watching debates as well. Then I started reading and watching apologetic material from both atheists and Christians before I eventually settled on the most reasonable conclusion: Jesus Christ did indeed rise from the dead and his eyewitnesses carried on the message. After reading up on books based on science I found my interest waning towards a more historical and scholarly bent, and so that’s where I am today. I mainly read books centered around Biblical scholarship and ancient history now, but on occasion, I still like to familiarize myself with the basics.

          I’ve heard of that book, I’ll definitely pick it up sometime.

        2. Yeah, I’m thinking I’d prefer to be rehearsed in history and Biblical scholarship than science as well, since, after all, Christianity doesn’t say too much about quantum mechanics. I am enjoying a book by an atheist scientist, “The Big Picture” by Sean Carroll. He’s very kind and presents his arguments without demeaning religious people. I actually responded to his argument against the Contingency Argument in my latest post. Take a look if you’re interested!

          Do you have any recommendations on where to turn when I have Bible questions? It seems like there’s so many resources out there that it’s hard to know which ones are trustworthy.

        3. That’s great to hear! I’ve heard of Sean Carroll, he’s definitely one of the more respectable critics. I’ll take a look at your response.

          I have a tab on my computer with a bunch of recommended sites so I’ll sample a few for you here. They all deal with historical apologetics:

          Tekton Apologetics Ministries: http://www.tektonics.org/index.html

          Christian Thinktank (one of my most used resources) http://christianthinktank.com/

          And the Deeper Waters blog by apologist Nick Peters: http://christianthinktank.com/

          They have a ton of material and are my three most used resources.

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