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Chapter Three

The Parable of the Judge and the Widow

by Susan Marie Praeder
from The Word in Women's Worlds, Four Parables
Published in 1988 by Michael Glazier, Inc. Wilmington, Delaware.
Published on our website with the necessary permission

Lk 18:1-8 He told them a parable concerning the need for them to pray at all times and to persist at it, saying, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected humankind. There was a widow in that town, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘See that I get my justice against the opponent in my case.’ For a time he was unwilling to do so, but later on he said to himself, ‘Although I neither fear God nor respect humankind, on account of the trouble this widow is causing me I will see that she gets her justice—otherwise I fear that she will keep coming until it reaches the point that she beats me black and blue!’ ” The Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge says! Will not God see to it that his chosen ones get their justice, the ones who cry out to him day and night— and is he patient with them? I say to you that he will see to it that they get their justice soon. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

In this chapter I consider the parable of the judge and the widow in relation to OT portrayals of judges and widows and its own interpretative conclusion concerning God, the Son of Man, and the people of God. The first part of the chapter illustrates OT perspectives on ideal and unjust judges, God as righteous judge and judge of widows, and just and unjust treatment of widows. One of my conclusions is that the parable's portrayal of the widow departs from the traditional picture of widows as defenseless women. The second part studies the characterizations of the judge and the widow and special problems of interpretation and translation.

Of Judges and Widows

The instructions for the appointment of judges in Deuteronomy and 2 Chronicles present an ideal picture of these local officials. The judges in cities and towns are supposed to be God-fearing, impartial, just or righteous, and immune to bribery

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality; and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous” (Dt 16:18-19).

He [Jehoshaphat] appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD; he is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed what you do for there is no perversion of justice with the LORD our God, or partiality, or taking bribes” (2 Chr 19:5-7).

The local judge in the parable fails to live up to the ideal on at least two counts: he is neither a God-fearing nor just or righteous man. In addition, his lack of respect for people could mean that he has carried impartiality too far. Or he could be looking for a bribe from both parties to the dispute.(1)

Allusions to corruption in prophetic and sapiential literature suggest that the failure of judges to live up to the ideal was a recurring problem:

“And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. / Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city” (Is 1:26).

Her officials within her are roaring lions; / her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning. /Her prophets are wanton, faithless men; / her priests profane what is sacred, they do violence to the law, / The LORD within her is righteous, he does no wrong; / every morning he shows forth his justice, each dawn he does not fail; but the unjust knows no shame (Zeph 3:3-5).

Do not seek to become a judge, lest you be unable to remove iniquity, / lest you be partial to a powerful man, and thus put a blot on your integrity (Sir 7:6).

Do not go to law against a judge, for the decision will favor him because of his standing (Sir 8:14).

The portrayal of two corrupt judges in the story of Susanna also illustrates the problem. Their testimony against her is accepted “because they were elders of the people and judges” (v 41). It takes divine intervention to convince the court that they are perverters of justice and to save the heroine. In the passages cited and in the story of Susanna, corruption is linked to the lack of justice or righteousness: “the city of righteousness,” the “righteous” God and “the unjust,” “iniquity,” two judges forgetful of “righteous judgments” (Dan 13:9), and so on. In the introduction to the interpretative conclusion, Jesus refers to the judge in the parable as “the unjust judge.”(2)

Widows were among the groups who had to be protected against unjust treatment from judges and other people of influence. In Deuteronomy a curse is pronounced on those who are unjust in judgments involving widows, aliens, and orphans, “Cursed be he who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (27:19). Isaiah and Jeremiah are called to remind their contemporaries of the plight of widows in an unjust world:

Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, / and the writers who keep writing oppression, / to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, / that widows may be their spoil, andthat they may make the fatherless their prey! (Is 10:1-2).

Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place (Jer 22:3).

Continuing in the prophetic tradition, Jesus criticizes scribes “who devour widows' houses,” that is, who charge exorbitant fees for the legal assistance which they offer to these women (Mk 12:40; Lk 20:47).3

The Psalms characterize God as a righteous judge and a judge of widows, in both cases as a judge unlike the unjust judges of the world:

God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day (7:11).

The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! (50:6).

Father of the fatherless and judge of widows is God in his holy habitation (68:5).(4)

Passages in Deuteronomy and Sirach describe God as the ideal judge: impartial, immune to bribery, and attending to widows, aliens, and orphans:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing (Dt 10:17-18).

Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it; and do not trust to an unrighteous sacrifice; / for the Lord is the judge, and with him is no partiality. / He will not show partiality in the case of a poor man; and he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. / He will not ignore the supplication of the fatherless, nor the widow when she pours out her story (Sir 35:12-14) (5).

In Exodus and Malachi God's support of widows, aliens, and orphans includes the threat of acts of violence against their oppressors:

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless (Ex 22:21-24):

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness...against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts” (Mal 3:5).(6)

Reader identification of widows as an oppressed and unjustly treated group is basic to the understanding of the parable's portrayal of the widow. She is at a disadvantage and in danger of losing out to a local system under the control of a corrupt and influential man. At the same time, however, the portrayal departs from the stereotypical or traditional picture of widows as poor, defenseless women who depend on God for their rights and social well-being. The widow triumphs over the judge and does so without the intervention of God the righteous judge. She sees to it that she gets her justice by coming to repeat her plea to the judge. Her repeated pleas force him to intervene on her behalf— if only out of the self-interested desire to rid himself of a troublesome woman. The traditional picture suggests that the widow is in the right, but the narrator of the parable, Jesus, does not state whether she is right or wrong. Whether she is right or wrong, the narrator's interest is the fact that she undertakes persistent action in her own case and cause and eventually prevails.(7)

Comparative material illustrating the practices of Palestinian local courts is unusually sparse and of little help in interpreting the parable's account of behind-the-scenes, pretrial proceedings. Josephus appointed local courts of seven judges in first-century C.E. Galilee, and the Mishnah attests to local courts of three judges for noncapital cases (JW 2.20, 5§570-71; Sanh. 1:1). In inheritance disputes three local judges or one specially certified judge presided over the case.(8) The synoptic saying about settling disputes seems to assume a court of one judge (Mt 5:25-26; Lk 12:57-59). The judge in the parable could be a specially certified judge (provided that this was a first-century practice), one of several judges assigned to the case but the only corrupt judge in the group, or a character selected for reasons of story-world economy: one widow and one judge.

In the synoptic saying about settling disputes Jesus portrays the “accuser” or “opponent,” antidikos as in the parable, as a dread figure who can “hand you over to the judge” or “drag you to the judge.” A late rabbinic saying cites an instance of bribery involving a woman and the opponent in her case. She presented the judge with a silver gift, and her opponent provided him with a gold gift.(9) Among the cases calling widows to court were inheritance disputes arising from the death of their husbands. In such cases the opponents of the women could be their children or the children of their husbands from previous marriages.(10)

The parable of the widow and the judge tells the story of an encounter involving characters representing opposite sides in the local and OT systems of justice. The judge who is supposed to be in control of the situation is an unjust judge at least as corrupt as any of those whose judgments are lamented in prophetic and sapiential literature. Widows, along with aliens and orphans, were among the outsiders in the men's worlds of courts and local systems of justice or injustice. The parable takes an unexpected turn in its portrayal of a widow who thwarts or triumphs over a local judge on the strength of persistence and resourceful pestering.

The Judge, the Widow, God, the Son of Man, and the People of God in the Parable

The narrator introduces the parable of the judge and the widow by identifying its form and purpose. It is a parable instructing a third person plural group about persistent prayer. The third person group represents Jesus' disciples or a larger group in this segment of his journey to Jerusalem. The preceding discourse of the days of the Son of Man is addressed to the disciples, “And he said to the disciples” (17:22), but the following parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is not necessarily restricted to the same group, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others”(18:9). The content of the parable of the judge and the widow indicates that it is directed to the disciples or a larger group of Jesus' followers. Elsewhere in Luke teaching on prayer is reserved for the disciples (6:28; 11:1-13; 21:36; 22:40, 46). Prayer “at all times” is frequent prayer, prayer that finds a place day and night, prayer that forms the lives of the group. The group is also told “to persist at it,” a positive rendering of më egkakein, “not to give up” or “not to grow tired of it.”(11) This exhortation suggests the possibility of difficulties or disappointments in the practice of prayer and in the living situation of the group.

The characterization of the judge as a local official “who neither feared God nor respected humankind” is a rhetorically styled summary asserting his absolute corruption. The judge is seriously deficient in the relationships that form decent human existence. Similar characterizations are used by Odysseus of the suitors, by Aulus Verginius in a speech denouncing conspiratorial opponents, and by Josephus of Noah's corrupt generation and of King Jehoiakim:

“You neither fear the gods who hold broad heaven / nor the human revenge that is to follow” (Od. 22.39).

“These are the plans, senators, which they have formed under the cover of darkness and intend to carry our, deeds of abomination and terrible darin; they neither fear divine anger nor respect the threat of human revenge” (Dionysius of Halicarnassus Rom. Ant. 10.10.7).

Then in the course of time they exchanged their ancestral customs for an inferior sort of lifestyle. They neither continued to accord the traditional honors to God nor to attend to justice in the human realm. (Josephus Ant, 1.3, 1,72).

He turned out to be an unjust man and an evildoer by nature who was neither pious toward God nor reasonable in human relationships (Ant. 10.5, 2§83).(12)

The judge's lack of fear of God is his lack of reverence for the power of God. He does not model his judgeship on the righteous sovereign power of God and has no concern for the consequences or possible divine punishment. His lack of respect for people admits of two interpretations. Either he does not care about people or does not care what people think about him. The former interpretation fits the situation outlined in the parable. The judge does not care about people such as the widow but is forced to surrender to her persistent pleas. The latter interpretation relies on outside information about partiality and personal reputation in the Middle East. As someone who does not care what others think about him, the judge is completely impartial or utterly despicable from the perspective of human relationships.(13) In this case I see no reason for reading into the parable. The source for the characterization of the judge is Greek rhetoric, not or not so much the supposedly unchanging laws and limits of social relationships in the Middle East. Moreover, the parable pays no attention to the opinions of third parties to the dispute. Its sole area of interest is the encounter of the judge and the widow.

The widow is characterized as a bold and persistent pleader. She is so bold as to approach the judge and to present her unconditional demands to the corrupt and influential local official. The fact that “she kept coming to him” is a sign of her persistence. She came on more than one occasion and over an unspecified period of time to someone who paid no attention to her plea and refused to take action. “See that I get my justice against the opponent in my case” is a summary of her repeated pleas as dictated by the story economy of the parable.

In and of itself, the widow's plea for justice is unclear. She could be insisting that the judge avenge some wrong done by her opponent, guarantee her a fair hearing and just treatment, or serve as her advocate in the trial.(14). In terms of the limited information about the case and the parties to the case in the parable, there seems to be some truth in all three lines of interpretation. Her opponent has wronged her, and she is intent on righting the wrong through the local system. She is trying to insure that justice prevails, but in her view the cause of justice and her side of the case are identical. If the judge supports her and justly favors her side of the case, then justice will prevail. There is no reason to doubt her view, even though Jesus does not state whether she is right or wrong. The traditional picture would have to be denied outright by descriptions of the widow as “self-interested,” “unjust,” or the like for hearers and readers of the parable to conclude that she is wrong.(15)

After Jesus characterizes the judge and the widow, the parable turns to the judge's reaction to her persistent pleas. It is reported that the judge is unwilling to see that she gets her justice. No reason is given for his unwillingness, and, given his character and the local system of courts, no reason needs to be given. “For a time”and “later on” indicate that his unwillingness continues for an unspecified period of time. Jesus reports the judge's change of mind as a summary quotation of his thoughts, “but later on he said to himself.” The very fact that his thoughts are quoted characterizes him as an unjust schemer. Luke uses this technique to expose the thoughts of scheming parable characters such as the rich fool and the unjust steward (12:17; 16:3).(16)

In his thoughts the judge characterizes himself and the widow. His self-characterization echoes the characterization that Jesus assigned to him, “I neither fear God nor respect humankind.” His characterization of the widow, however, represents only his understanding of her persistence and its future course. According to the judge, the widow is a pest and a possible threat to his dignity, safety, or both. The idiom in “the trouble this widow is causing me” creates the impression that she is bothering him to death or making life difficult for him, to name only two of the equivalent idioms in English. “I will see that she gets her justice” echoes her plea. He is concerned to protect himself from further suffering, “otherwise I fear that she will keep coming until it reaches the point that she beats me black and blue!” All of this is attributed to the judge; there is no indication that Jesus the narrator identifies with the judge's characterization of the widow.(17)

My translation of the judge's thoughts about the threat posed by the widow is only one possible rendering of a clause troubled by grammatical and interpretative uncertainties.18 The principal interpretative controversy revolves around the level of meaning, figurative or literal, represented by the verb hypõpiazõ.(19). In its literal sense the verb is a term for a blow in a boxing match or in a brawl, “give someone a black eye” or “slug under the eye.” The figurative meanings assigned to the verb in the parable and in other passages include “annoy,” “insult,” “ruin someone's reputation,” and “wear out.”(20) As my translation “she beats me black and blue” makes obvious, I support a literal rendering of the verb. The characterizations of the judge and the widow seem to call for a literal level of meaning. The widow has already annoyed the judge and he must have already earned a poor reputation. The position of the clause and the verb recommend a bold or strong conclusion, and it would be something of an anticlimax to learn that the judge expects more of the same from the widow and nothing more. Some scholars object to a literal interpretation because they cannot imagine that a widow would attack a judge.(21) Against their objections it should be observed that the parables accommodate the absurd, comic, and unrealistic and that some women have been bold or upset enough to attack their oppressors.

The judge's fear of violence could be real and serious or imaginary and humorous. (22) If it is real and serious, then he has changed his mind in order to save himself from the widow's violence. If it is imaginary and humorous, then he is poking fun at her by suggesting that her unrelenting persistence is a prelude to violence. He has changed his mind in order to rid himself of her and her pleas, and his humorous thoughts serve as a temporary remedy for personal tension. Whether his fear is imaginary or real, the quotation of his thoughts reveals that he is a representative of a local system who is looking out for himself. He is not interested in the cause of the widow's distress or in righting the wrong for her sake and the sake of justice. He intervenes because it is in his personal interest to do so. His humor, if there is humor in hypõpiazõ, is a dismissive tactic. As long as he can dismiss her as a troublemaker, there is no need for him to investigate her case, his judgeship, and the local system that he represents.

The narrator of Luke introduces the interpretative conclusion of the parable as a teaching of Jesus “the Lord.” The use of this title in descriptions of the deeds of Jesus and introductions to his words is a special characteristic of this synoptic gospel.(23) “Hear” is a second person plural command addressed to the group audience of the parable. The judge is reintroduced as “the unjust judge” or literally “the judge of injustice,” a Semitic idiom signifying that he is a man who conducts his judgeship in a way that is contrary to the ways of the righteous God and the people of God. He belongs to the realm of injustice, not to the realm of justice presided over by God.(24) The same sort of characterization is applied to “the unjust steward” or “the steward of injustice,” who is ruled by worldly ways (16:8; RSV “the dishonest steward”). In Luke-Acts the idea of injustice also appears in reference to “workers of iniquity” excluded from the kingdom, Judas Iscariot, and Simon Magus (Lk 13:27; Acts 1:18; 8:23).

In the interpretative conclusion the parable of the judge and the widow is the basis for an illustrative question and answer about the relationship of God and the people of God. The parable proper and this part of its interpretative conclusion are linked by a common concern for getting justice, a concern repeated four times in the short passage: “See that I get my justice,” “will not God see to it that his chosen ones get their justice, the ones who cry out to him day and night,” and “he will see to it that they get their justice.” The form of the first part of the question prepares for a yes-answer. Since the unjust judge attended to the widow's pleas, it is certain that God will take action on the prayers of the chosen ones. In the background of the question are the OT ideas of God as the righteous judge, the people of God as a chosen or elect group, and their petitions to God as pleas in the form of cries.(25) The widow and the people of God are similar in their persistence. She comes again and again, and they are supposed to cry out day and night. Since she succeeded in pestering the judge to intervene in her case, they should continue to persuade God to intervene in their case.

My translation of kai makrothymei ep 'autois as “—and is he patient with them?” is a provisional rendering. I understand the clause as an afterthought, as an awkward attempt to keep hearers and readers of the parable from carrying the comparison of God and the judge too far. Although God and the judge are similar in their seeing that justice is accomplished, they do so out ofcompletely dissimilar motives. The judge attends to the widow and intervenes in her case because she is pestering him. In contrast, God is patient with the petitioners and seems to listen with unlimited tolerance. God intervenes in their case for reasons of the relationship of God and people which are not stated in the interpretative conclusion. Without the awkward aside, hearers and readers of the parable could conclude that God, like the unjust judge, is pestered into intervention.

Various translations of the conjunction kai, present third person singular verb makrothymei, and prepositional phrase ep'autois have been proposed. The basic sense of kai is that of the coordinating conjunction “and,” but some interpreters have assigned it adversative, concessive, and explanatory nuances such as “although,” “but,” “even though” and “inasmuch as.” Others omit it from their translations. Makrothymeõ usually means “be patient, bear patiently, be long-suffering, forbear.” In the LXX it translates a Hebrew expression that refers to God's redirection or suppression of divine anger. Some scholars interpret makrothymei as a reference to divine patience, but others argue that the verb should be translated as “delay” or “postpone,” since patience implies the passing of a period of time. Their arguments involve reading of the interpretative conclusion and the parable in relation to Sir 35:19. (26) Ep'autois is usually understood as a reference to the chosen ones, but scholarly readings occasionally interpret “them” as the opponents or oppressors of the chosen ones. Further problems of interpretation and translation include uncertainties about the Aramaic or Greek syntax of the clause and its status as a question, statement, or conclusion in a conditional clause.

The various proposals yield interpretative translations such as:

a question anticipating a yes-answer and continuing the first part of the question: “and is he not patient with them?”

a statement in the form of an aside: “and he is patient with them.”

a statement with makrothymei as “delay” and ep'autois as the opponents: “and he delays his anger against them.”

a conclusion of a conditional clause: “(if they cry out to him day and night,) he patiently hears.

a concessive statement: ”although he keeps them waiting for him.

a concessive statement with a seeming delay: “even though he seems to delay on their account.”

a relative clause: “and whom he hears graciously.” (27)

It is unlikely that ep'autois designates a third party of opponents or oppressors. Since the chosen ones are the only group included in the interpretative conclusion, a reference to their unintroduced opponents would be intrusive and unclear. In contrast, “the unmerciful,” “the nations,” “the insolent,” and “the unrighteous” make it clear that ep'autois in Sir 35:19 is a reference to the Gentile oppressors of God's people. I am not persuaded that makrothymei means “delay” in the interpretative conclusion or in Sir 35:19 or that Sirach 35 influenced the composition of the parable. In Sir 35:19 bradynõ, “delay,” and makrothymeõ are linked in a parallel expression, kai ho kyrios ou mē bradynē oude mē makrothymësë ep'autois. It is not that the two verbs are absolutely synonymous but that they illustrate complementary aspects of God's revenge against the Gentiles, “And the Lord will not delay, neither will he be patient with them.” God will neither postpone nor suppress the outbreak of divine rage. A similar sort of complementary contrast occurs in the NT use of makrothymeõ of God outside the interpretative conclusion, “The Lord is not slow (bradynei) about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing (makrothymei) toward you” (2 Pet 3:9).

Makrothymeõ and ep'autois also appear in Sir 18:11, a complementary commentary on God's mercy and patience toward God's people or people in general, “Therefore the Lord is patient with them (emakrothymësen ... ep'autois) and pours out his mercy upon them.” God pours out mercy and responds in patience, the active and passive aspects, as it were, of God's role in the relationship of God and people. The related adjective makrothymos is included in frequent refrains that characterize God as loving, merciful, patient, and true, for example, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger (makrothymos), and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). “Slow to anger” means that God is long on patience. Sir 35:14-15 portrays a widow who “pours out her story” to God the judge, but it does not necessarily follow that Sir 35:19 is the key to the interpretative conclusion. As we saw in the first part of this chapter, the portrayal of widows as an oppressed group under God's special care is a recurring OT concern. The portrayal of God and the widow in Sirach 35 itself reflects the influence of the Deuteronomic portrayal of the ideal judge who tends to the needs of widows, aliens, and orphans.

My provisional rendering of kai makrothymei ep'autois resembles some of the previously proposed renderings. Although my translation is a question, it communicates the same basic point as the statements “and he is patient with them” and the relative clause “and whom he hears graciously.” My translation interrupts the first part of the question instead of continuing it, as is the case in “and is he not patient with them?” The question in my translation expects a yes-answer but not with the same insistence as in the continued question. Several factors have formed my translation, which I consider to be no less tentative than previously proposed renderings. I prefer to stay by literal translations for troubled texts. In my reading the interpretative conclusion is not preoccupied with the delay of the parousia. I understand the question and answer as an assurance that God will intervene soon. The delay, if any, is a thing of the past; the focus of the interpretative conclusion is on preparation for the future. “Soon” is not an answer to the supposed delay in makrothymei but an indication of time corresponding to the judge's delay in the parable proper.(28)

In “I say to you that he will see to it that they get their justice soon” Jesus answers the first part of the question. “I say to you” is a solemn introduction used in other sayings in Luke to establish the unquestionable authority of the speaker (e.g., 4:24, 25; 6:27; 7:9, 26, 28). The principal controversy in the sentence answer is whether en tachei should be translated as “soon” or “suddenly.”29 Other NT occurrences of the adverbial expression support the rendering “soon.” In commands in Acts, en tachei is used in the sense of “quickly” (12:7; 22:18), but in other contexts in Acts and other NT texts it means “soon” (Acts 25:4; Rom 16:20; 1 Tim 3:14; Rev 1:1; 22:6). The examples from Romans and Revelation, like the interpretative conclusion, look forward to divine intervention in short order, “Then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20).

The judge put off the widow “for a time” but “later on” surrendered to her pleas, and God is supposed to intervene for the chosen ones “soon.” I am unsure whether God is like or unlike the judge in respect to time. If God is like the judge, then “soon” follows what seems to be a divine postponement. If God is unlike the judge, then the point is that there is really no delay at all in divine intervention.(30)

The interpretative conclusion also contains a future Son of Man saying in the form of a question, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” The future Son of Man saying in Luke that best illustrates the conclusion of the parable is the conclusion of the apocalyptic discourse, '“But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (21:36). Persistent prayer is a common concern of the parable and the conclusion of the discourse. The phrase “on earth ” indicates the arena of the Son of Man's activity and authority at the end time. In the apocalyptic discourse the same or similar phrases allude to the universal effects of the Son of Man's coming for all peoples, Jews and Gentiles, and over all the earth (21:23, 25, 35). God will see to it that the people of God get their justice, but Jesus the Son of Man will come to judge. The conclusion of the parable contends that the Son of Man will come in search of faith. The question is whether he will find it anywhere, including among the group addressed on the road to Jerusalem and the gospel's readers. The parable implies that he will find it only if the addressees continue in faith and in the faithful practice of persistent prayer until the day of the Son of Man. (31)

The introduction, parable story, and interpretative conclusion in the parable of the judge and the widow form a multiperspectival teaching about the justice of God and the persistent prayer of the people of God. The narrator of Luke introduces the parable as an urgent teaching about continual and persistent prayer. In the parable story Jesus tells of a widow who pleads to a local judge for justice. The question and answer in the interpretative conclusion attributed to the Lord relate the parable story to the justice of God and the continual prayer of the chosen ones. The Son of Man saying raises a question about the faithful persistence of the people of God until the future coming of the speaker.

Tracing the outline of the parable's teaching is a simple task. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about closer study of the introduction, parable story, and interpretative conclusion. Problems of interpretation abound, including issues pertaining to coordinated reading of the parable story and the interpretative conclusion, study of the limited sources for the system of local courts and the situation of Luke's community, and translation of key passages. In summarizing the results of this chapter, I also intend to identify some of the problems of interpretation involved in my reading and other readings of the parable story and the interpretative conclusion.

The principal problem in comparative study of the characterizations of the judge and the widow in the parable story stems from overrepresentation of OT portrayals of judges and widows and underrepresentation of first-century C.E. sources for the role of judges and widows in Palestinian local courts. My descriptions of the judge as a corrupt local official and the widow as an unusually persistent and self-sufficient representative of an oppressed group rely on the OT. The first-century C.E. texts required for conducting a complete or representative comparative study are not available to us; either there were no such texts, or they have been lost for centuries.

Points or problems of interpretation in the parable story itself include the judge's relationships, the widow's plea, the judge's characterization of the widow, and the translation of hypõpiazõ. We are not told what it means to be a man “who neither feared God nor respected humankind,” what the widow means by “my justice,” whether or not Jesus the narrator identifies with the judge's characterization of the widow, and whether hypõpiazõ is a figurative or literal beating. I am fairly certain that Jesus does not identify with the scheming judge and have indicated my preferences in respect to the other points or problems. More important than my preferences, however, is the fact that the parable story invites multiple interpretations.

One of these is represented by the interpretative conclusion, which sees some resemblance between the characters in the parable story and God and the chosen ones. The principal problem in the interpretative comparison is whether God is like or unlike the judge. God is like the judge in seeing that justice is accomplished, but does God, like the judge, delay in intervention? The answer to this question is obscured by kai makrothymei ep 'autois and en tachei, and, in my reading, appeals to Sir 35:12-20 and the situation of Luke's community do not solve the problem. The precise situation of Luke's community is uncertain, and the usual description, “the delay of the parousia,” is too imprecise to serve as an interpretative standard. Of course, there is also the possibility that the interpretative conclusion is not tied to community problems.

The relation of the interpretative conclusion to the parable story illustrates the selective and supplementary tendencies of all interpretative studies. The judge and God intervene, and the widow and the chosen ones are persistent, but other “unpleasant” elements in the characterizations of the judge and the widow are not selected for comparison. Thus, for example, the interpretative conclusion does not suggest that the almighty sovereign is like a local official who is “above it all” or that the chosen ones are on the verge of violent protest. The Son of Man saying in the interpretative conclusion supplements the parable story's understanding of justice as supportive intervention. The chosen ones get their justice, but judgment comes with justice. This point relates the parable to the preceding discourse on the days of the Son of Man.


1. For Dt 16:18-19, see G. von Rad, Deuteronomy; A Commentary (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) 114-15. For the judge in the parable, see J. D. M. Derrett, “Law in the New Testament: The Parable of the Unjust Judge,” NTS 18(1971} 190-91; J. Jeremias, Parables. 153; G. Stählin, “chēra,” TWNT9.438/ TDNT 9.449-50.

2. For Is 1:26, see H. Wildberger, Jesaja (BKAT 10/1; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1972) 65-66.

3. G. Stählin, “chēra” 9.437/9.448-49; H. Wildberger, Jesaja, 48, 198-99.

4. RSV “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows.”

5. For Dt 10:17-18. see P.C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT; Grand Rapids1976) 205-7.

6. For Ex 22:21-24, see B. S. Childs, Exodus: A Commentary (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974) 478-79.

7. For the traditional picture, see G. Stählin, “chēra,” 9.428-54/9.440-65; idem, “Das Bild der Witwe. Ein Beitrag zur Bildersprache der Bibel und zum Phänomen der Personifikation in der Antike,”JAC 17 (1974) 5-20. M.A. Tolbert (Perspectives, 125-26 n.3) suggests that the portrayal of the widow departs from the traditional picture.

8. Str-B 1.28.

9. Ibid., 1.288.

10. J. D. M. Derrett, “Law.” 187.

11. For renderings of mē egkakein, see G. Delling, “Das Gleichnis vom gottlosen Ritcher,” ZNW 53 (1962) 5-6; C Spicq, “La parabole de la venue obstinée et du juge inerte, aux décisions impromptues (Lc XVIII, 1-8),” RB 68 (1961) 69-70.

12. For further parallels, see J, Wettstein, Novum Testamentum Graecum (2 vols.; Amsterdam: Dommerian, 1752; repr. ed., Graz.: Akademischc Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1962) 1.778-79.

13. For various views of the judge, see K. E. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes: More Lucan Parables, Their Culture and Style (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1980) 131-33; G. Delling, “Gleichnis,” 7; J. D. M. Derrett, “Law,” 190-91.

14. For the widow's plea, see G. Delling, “Gleichnis,” 8-11; J. D. M. Derrett, “Law,” 187-88.

15. Against J, D. M. Derrett, “Law,” 187.

16. For related passages outside the parables, see Lk 5:21; 7:39.

17. Scholarly interpreters pass over this important distinction; e.g., I. H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Exeter: Paternoster, 1978) 672-73.

18. For interpretation of the clause, see G. Delling, “Gleichnis,” 12 nn. 46-47; J, Jeremias, Parables, 153-54; A. Jülicher, Gleichnisreden, 2.282-83; I. H. Marshall, Luke, 673; C. Spicq, “La parabole,” 75 n. 4.

19. For interpretations of hypõpiazõ, see G. Delling, “Gleichnis.” 12; R. Deschryver, “La parabole du juge malveillant (Luc 18, 1-8),” RHPR 48 (1968) 360-61; J. Jeremias. Parables, 153-54; A. Jülicher, Gleichnisreden, 2.282; W. Ott, Gebet und Heil. Die Bedeutung der Gebeisparänese in der lukanischen Theologie (SANT 12; Munich: Kösel, 1965) 21-22; G. Schneider, “hypõpiazõ,” EWNT 3.977; G. Stählin, “chēra , ”9.438 n. 88/9.450 n. 88; M. A. Tolbert, Perspectives, 125-26 n. 3.

20. For the meanings in other passages, see J. Wettstein, Novum Testamentum Graecum, 1.779-80.

21. E.g, K, E. Bailey. Through Peasant Eyes, 136.

22. For the role of irony in Jesus' report of the judge's thoughts, see W. Harnisch, “Die Ironic als Stilmittel in Gleichnissen Jesu,” EvT 32 (1972) 433; C. Spicq, “La parabole,” 75.

23. For kyrios in Luke, see J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke, 1.200-204.

24. G. Delling, “Gleichnis,” 13-14.

25. For cries to God (boaõ), see, e. g., Ex 15:25; 17:14; Jg 10:10; 1 Sam 12:8, 15:11. This is the only reference in Luke to the “elect” (eklektos) people of God. In Lk 23:35 rulers mock Jesus as God's “Chosen One.” The other NT references are to the chosen or elect people of God, Jesus, the angels, Rufus, and the “elect lady” or “elect sister.” See esp. Mt 24:22, 24, 31; Mk 13:20, 22, 27.

26. For this line of interpretation, see H. Riesenfeld. “Zu makrothymein (Lk 18, 7),” Neutestamentliche Aufsätze. Festschrift für Prof. Josef Schmid (ed. J. Blinzler, O. Kuss, and F. Mussner; Regensburg: Pustet, 1963) 214-17.

27. For the various proposals, see D. R. Catchpole, “The Son of Man's Search for Faith (Luke XVIII 8b)” Nov T 19 (1977) 92-93; G. Delling, “Gleichnis,” 17-18; R. Deschryver, “La parabole, ” 363; W. Harnisch, “Ironie,” 431; H. W. Hollander, “makrothymia”, EWNT 2.936-38; F. Horst, “makrothymia,” TWNT 4.383-84/TDNT 4.380-81; A. Jülicher, Gleichnisreden. 2.287; H. Ljungvik, “Zur Erklärung einer Lukas-Stelle (Luk. XVIII.7),” NTS 10 (1964) 289-94; I. H. Marshall, Luke, 674-75; H, Paulsen, “Die Witwe und der Richter (Lk 18, 1-8),” TGl 74 (1984) 29-30; W. Ott, Gebet, 44-58; H. Riesenfeld, “Zu makrothymein, ”214-17 G. Schneider, Parusiegleichnisse im Lukas-Evangelium (SBS 74; Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1975) 73; G. Scholz, Gleichnisaussage und Exisienzstruktur. Das Gleichnis der neueren Hermeneutik unter besonderer Berück-sichtigung der christlichen Existenzstrucktur in den Gleichnissen des lukanischen Sonderguts (Europäische Hochschulschriften 23/214; Frankfurt: Lang, 1983) 221-25; C. Spicq, “La parabole,” 78-80; A. Wifstrand, “Lukas XVIII.7,” NTS 11 (1964) 72-74.

28. W. Ott (Gebet. 21 n.4) doubts that “for a time” and “later” imply a significant period of time.

29. G. Delling, “Gleichnis,” 19 n. 83; R. Deschryver, “La parabole,” 363; I. H. Marshall, Luke, 676; W. Ott, Gebet, 63-66; C. Spicq, “La parabole,” 81-84; G. Stählin, “Bild,” 6 n. 8.

30. For comparisons of God and the judge, see J. D. M. Derrett, “Law,” 179; R. Deschryver, “La parabole,” 362; G. Schneider, Parusiegleichnisse, 73.

31. J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke. 2.1181

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