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.