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The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector

Jesus[a] also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down[b] on everyone else. 10 “Two men went up[c] to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee[d] and the other a tax collector.[e] 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this:[f] ‘God, I thank[g] you that I am not like other people:[h] extortionists,[i] unrighteous people,[j] adulterers—or even like this tax collector.[k] 12 I fast twice[l] a week; I give a tenth[m] of everything I get.’ 13 The tax collector, however, stood[n] far off and would not even look up[o] to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful[p] to me, sinner that I am!’[q] 14 I tell you that this man went down to his home justified[r] rather than the Pharisee.[s] For everyone who exalts[t] himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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  1. Luke 18:9 tn Grk “He”; the referent has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  2. Luke 18:9 tn Grk “and despised.” This is a second parable with an explanatory introduction.
  3. Luke 18:10 sn The temple is on a hill in Jerusalem, so one would go up to enter its precincts.
  4. Luke 18:10 sn See the note on Pharisees in 5:17.
  5. Luke 18:10 sn See the note on tax collectors in 3:12.
  6. Luke 18:11 tn Or “stood by himself and prayed like this.” The prepositional phrase πρὸς ἑαυτόν (pros eauton, “to/about himself”) could go with either the aorist participle σταθείς (statheis, “stood”) or with the imperfect verb προσηύχετο (prosēucheto, “he prayed”). If taken with the participle, then the meaning would seem at first glance to be: “stood ‘by himself’,” or “stood ‘alone’.” Now it is true that πρός can mean “by” or “with” when used with intransitive verbs such as ἵστημι (histēmi, “I stand”; cf. BDAG 874 s.v. πρός 2.a), but πρὸς ἑαυτόν together never means “by himself” or “alone” in biblical Greek. On the other hand, if πρὸς ἑαυτόν is taken with the verb, then two different nuances emerge, both of which highlight in different ways the principal point Jesus seems to be making about the arrogance of this religious leader: (1) “prayed to himself,” but not necessarily silently, or (2) “prayed about himself,” with the connotation that he prayed out loud, for all to hear. Since his prayer is really a review of his moral résumé, directed both at advertising his own righteousness and exposing the perversion of the tax collector, whom he actually mentions in his prayer, the latter option seems preferable. If this is the case, then the Pharisee’s mention of God is really nothing more than a formality.
  7. Luke 18:11 sn The Pharisee’s prayer started out as a thanksgiving psalm to God, but the praise ended up not being about God.
  8. Luke 18:11 tn Here the plural Greek term ἀνθρώπων (anthrōpōn) is used as a generic and can refer to both men and women (NASB, NRSV, “people”; NLT, “everyone else”; NAB, “the rest of humanity”).
  9. Luke 18:11 tn Or “swindlers” (BDAG 134 s.v. ἅρπαξ 2); see also Isa 10:2; Josephus, J. W. 6.3.4 [6.203].
  10. Luke 18:11 sn A general category for “sinners” (1 Cor 6:9; Lev 19:3).
  11. Luke 18:11 sn Note what the Pharisee assumes about the righteousness of this tax collector by grouping him with extortionists, unrighteous people, and adulterers.
  12. Luke 18:12 sn The law only required fasting on the Day of Atonement. Such voluntary fasting as this practiced twice a week by the Pharisee normally took place on Monday and Thursday.
  13. Luke 18:12 tn Or “I tithe.”
  14. Luke 18:13 tn Grk “standing”; the Greek participle has been translated as a finite verb.
  15. Luke 18:13 tn Grk “even lift up his eyes” (an idiom).
  16. Luke 18:13 tn The prayer is a humble call for forgiveness. The term for mercy (ἱλάσκομαι, hilaskomai) is associated with the concept of a request for atonement (BDAG 473-74 s.v. 1; Pss 51:1, 3; 25:11; 34:6, 18).
  17. Luke 18:13 tn Grk “the sinner.” The tax collector views himself not just as any sinner but as the worst of all sinners. See ExSyn 222-23.
  18. Luke 18:14 sn The prayer that was heard and honored was the one given with humility; in a surprising reversal it was the tax collector who went down to his home justified.
  19. Luke 18:14 tn Grk “the other”; the referent (the Pharisee, v. 10) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  20. Luke 18:14 sn Everyone who exalts himself. See Luke 14:11. Jesus often called for humility and condemned those who sought honor.