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How can Jesus take something away from someone who has nothing? - Luke 8:18 (Monday with Mounce 196)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceI found an interesting little example of the synoptic problem and harmonization. In Luke 8:18, Jesus says, "Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have (ὃς ἂν μὴ ἔχῃ), even what they think they have (ὃ δοκεῖ ἔχειν) will be taken from them" (NIV).

When I first read this, it felt strange. I spend more time in Mark than in Luke, so I checked out Mark 4:25 (also Matt 13:12; 25:29). "Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have (καὶ ὃ ἔχει) will be taken from them" (NIV).

The Markan version at one level is non-sensical. If a person has nothing, then there is nothing to be taken away. And so at one level, what appears to be a Lukan clarification saves the passage from absurdity: "even what they think they have." The δοκεῖ is the key.

Of course, Mark and Matthew could have taken a perfectly understandable saying and made it absurd — not really. Most see Luke as clarifying its meaning.

Interestingly, the NLT conflates the two readings and hence removes the power of the Markan form and the interpretation of the Lukan: "But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them." The TEV ("those who have nothing will have taken away from them even the little they have") and the NJB ("anyone who has not, will be deprived even of what he has") does the same.

This strikes me as moving beyond translation to commentating.

While Luke's version is more obvious in meaning, the Markan/Matthean version has more rhetorical punch to it and is the kind of thing Jesus would say given his tendencies toward metaphor and obfuscation. His images have punch and cause one to think. The absurdity of the Markan version, I would guess, is original, and Luke is making explicit the implicit meaning.

Either way, it is a simple little example of how the gospel writers work with their traditions to convey the truth of the gospel to their context.

MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at

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