This brief interlude is among the more perplexing passages in the book of Luke. It comes between two passages that are clearly about wealth and possessions. Luke introduces it by noting that the Pharisees scoffed at Jesus' teaching because they loved money. Yet though Jesus proceeds to rebuke the Pharisees, he does not mention money directly at all. On the surface the unit is so disjunctive that many interpreters despair of trying to ascertain where it fits in the chapter's literary argument.
But one approach is likely to explain the connection. The issue Jesus raises in this middle section has to do with values and Jesus' authority. Coming under the authority of God's kingdom influences disciples' values (Tiede 1988:285-88). Kingdom causes call us to renounce divided loyalties (vv. 10-13), to have idolatries revealed, since God hates them (vv. 14-15) and to raise standards of obedience to reflect total integrity (v. 18). Verses 16-17 make up the hinge, suggesting that the kingdom's arrival means that Jesus' preaching comes with authority. His way will fulfill what the law and the promise anticipated. The passage ends up being yet another rebuke of the Pharisees. Their way is not the way to God. It is kingdom preaching that transforms people, not the way of these leaders.
So the Pharisees are sneering at Jesus' call to be generous and responsible stewards of the resources God gives. The Greek word for sneer, ekmykterizo, is particularly graphic. It means "to turn one's nose up" at someone (Preisker 1967b:796-99; Lk 23:35). They thoroughly reject Jesus' teaching. The Pharisee's consistent attitude toward Jesus' teaching reveals hard hearts dead set against him. There is no attempt to hear him; there is only contempt.
The official approach does not impress Jesus. They seek to justify themselves in the eyes of men. But God knows their hearts. It is what God thinks that counts. Accountability before the divine is more important than the world's opinion. What human beings value is an abomination before God. The term "abomination" (bdelygma) is strong (Foerster 1964a:600). An abomination is the opposite of an acceptable offering before God. In other words, their values stink and are rejected as repugnant by God. The NIV rendering is detestable in God's sight is on the mark. God hates their loving attitude toward money. Similar complaints from Jesus are recorded in 11:39-41 and 18:9-14.
Jesus turns his attention to getting the right perspective on these events. The new era means that the Pharisees do not have an exclusive claim on God's will: The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached. Here are the two basic eras as far as Luke is concerned. There is the era of promise and the era of preaching of the good news of fulfillment. The dividing line is John. He prepared a people (1:15-17), and now the new era is being preached. Jesus' arrival means the new era's arrival. The way of God is found in his kingdom preaching. Thus it is not the Pharisees' scoffing that carries authority, but Jesus' exhortations about how to walk with God.
But Jesus says more. He notes that "all are urged insistently to enter in." This translation is somewhat unusual and needs defending (for this approach, Fitzmyer 1985:1117-18). Most versions read everyone is forcing his way into it (NIV; NRSV has the variation "everyone tries to enter it by force"), but such a statement is manifestly not true. Everyone is not in a rush to enter in; many choose to reject the kingdom utterly. The key here is the Greek term biazo, which means "to apply force." But the voice of the verb is ambiguous in Greek. Is it middle, so the force is applied by everyone? Or is it passive, so force is applied to everyone—and if so, in what sense? I would argue that the term is passive and thus that Jesus is speaking of the persuasion applied to all through preaching (for details, Cortes and Gatti 1987:247-59). The preaching of the good news offers the opportunity to enter into kingdom benefits. Through this message all are urged to enter in. The time of fulfillment has come, and all are asked to share in its blessing. But to do so one must hear Jesus, not scoff at his authority.
Then Jesus sets the remark in a larger context. Nothing about the law will pass away. What does this mean? In the context of law and promise, it must mean that it is the kingdom program that realizes the law. Authority is associated with that program (Banks 1975:214-15). The goal of the law is Jesus. Through him its promise is realized. The verse must be read contextually.
The term law in Luke-Acts has various functions depending on the context of its use. In fact, to consider Luke's view of the law is to take up a question that surfaces again and again in the New Testament (for views on New Testament handling of the law, see Bahnsen et al. 1993). In Luke three themes dominate. First, in terms of relating to God and to others, the law instructs and gives moral guidance (16:27-31). Second, when law is considered in terms of promise, as in this passage, it stands fulfilled in Jesus. Third, law has passed away when it is considered as individual laws or what the Jews would call "halakoth," practices that identify a person as Jewish as opposed to Gentile. Rites like circumcision and concern about clean foods are no longer necessary (Acts 10—11, 15). These three senses summarize how Luke sees the law; each time the term appears, the reader should examine the context to see which force is being applied (Blomberg 1984).
Jesus' point in 16:16-17 is that the kingdom's arrival represents the culmination of the law's function. Values and morals are determined by the kingdom's presence. Jesus' preaching and teaching are part of the kingdom program and thus reflect God's will. The Pharisees' responses, including their scoffing, do not lead one to God.
But this administrative move from law to kingdom does not mean that commitments are to be ignored. An example of Jesus' authoritative teaching is the handling of the divorce issue. Jesus lays out the standard that marriage is to remain intact. It is a commitment made before God. To break it is to set up adultery, since remarriage is likely to follow. This saying in Luke is not designed to be a detailed presentation of Jesus' view of divorce; it merely sets out the most basic standard as an illustration of the moral tone Jesus desires. More complete biblical statements on divorce come in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Malachi 2:16, Matthew 5:30-32, 19:1-12, Mark 10:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:8-16. Jesus' point here is that he sees the marriage commitment as intended to be permanent. The theological basis is the recognition that marriage involves a vow before God as God forms the couple into one flesh, a point made clear in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. Jesus' pronouncement illustrates his authority. The way of righteousness sees divorce as wrong, because to divorce is to break a promise made before God and is to deny what God does in making a couple one flesh. Kingdom values honor commitments made to others before God. In the kingdom integrity and faithful devotion to God are the essence of character.