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Luke chapter 9 contains the following set of verses:

[51] And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, [52] And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. [53] And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. [54] And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? (KJV)

In this context, it's obvious "he" or "his" refers to Jesus. But question 1 is:

Why does this use "his face" instead of simply "him"?  What is the
difference supposed to be?

And, I can gather from verse 54 that the "they" in verse 53 are the Samaritans of the village that the messengers went to to prepare for Jesus. But question 2 is:

Why did the Samaritans not receive Jesus "because his face was as though he would go to
Jerusalem" - what does this mean and what made it a reason to turn him away?
1
  • The Jews were not friendly to the Samaritans, and vise versa. It's possible they would not receive Christ when they found that His intention was to go through them to Jerusalem, which they hated even more. Prejudice, pure and simple. "His face," to me, implies that He was undeterred from His purpose. You can look at Him and see that He was determined. I can't prove any of this, so it remains a comment. – Steve Oct 23 '15 at 5:49
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As Steve commented, Jerusalem was a rival place of worship, so the Samaritans resented the Jews going there. It is my understanding that Galilean Jews usually went to Jerusalem the long way across the Jordan river but returned through Samaria. "His face" could have been translated "his countenance". In other words, his determination to reach Jerusalem was visible.

From the Pulpit Commemtary,

Luke 9:53

And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. Here the kindly overtures were rejected by the inhabitants of the >Samaritan village in question. The >reason alleged by them was that this >Teacher, who wished to come among them, >was on his way up to worship at the >rival temple at Jerusalem.

6

Another answer addressed the issue of Samaritan rejection of one traveling to Jerusalem, so I will attempt to address your other question:

Why does this use "his face" instead of simply "him"? What is the difference supposed to be?

The difference is a Semitic flavor and the emphatic sense of the Semitic idiom behind it. The word πρόσωπον = face is found three times in this section, in verses 51, 52, and 53.

  • τὸ πρόσωπον ἐστήρισεν = he set his face [to...] = he resolutely set out [to...]

  • πρὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ = before his face = ahead of him

  • τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἦν = his face was [set to...] = (with reference to v. 51) he was planning to go

These two idiomatic uses of πρόσωπον (considering verses 51 and 53 together) awkwardly reproduce common Hebrew idioms. Luke, a Gentile, is well known for his frequent use of Semitic phrases.1,2

If we compare St. Luke with the other Synoptists, we are forced to admit that...there are a whole host of peculiarly Lukan Semitisms, that is, constructions and phrases...which awkward in Greek, are normal and idiomatic in Semitic.

This despite the fact that Luke may or may not have been a competent speaker of Aramaic or Hebrew. Sparks adduces many examples; a few of the more common include:

  • επαίρειν τους οφθαλμούς (or την φωνήν) = "to life his eyes/voice" = "to look up at/say to" 3
  • ποιεΐν ελεος μετά = "to make mercy with" = "to show mercy toward"4

The phrase "στηρίζω τὸ πρόσωπον" (v. 51) is found in the LXX only in Jeremiah and, most frequently, Ezekiel, (10x; see, e.g., 6:2, 13:17, 14:18, etc.). There it translates (sı̂m pānı̂m) and refers to the prophet (or, twice, God himself) "setting his face" toward the object of the LORD's judgement, to prophesy against it. The same sort of resolution can be seen in other passages where the same Hebrew - sı̂m pānı̂m - means something more similar to Luke’s usage (e.g. Gen 31:21, 2 Chr 20:3, 2 Ki 12:18(17)),5 The basic sense shared by all of these is on of determination or resolution to action.

The idiom "he set his face to" simply conveys Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem. The choice of wording reflects Luke’s particular Semitizing style.6


1. H. F. D. Sparks. The Semitisms of St. Luke’s Gospel, The Journal of Theological Studies, 44:175 pp. 129- 138.

2. There is another in this section, the initial "καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ + infinitive" ("and it came to pass while...") is a distinctively Hebrew way to begin a narrative. (13x in Luke; 1x in Mark; none elsewhere in the New Testament; LXX passim)

3. E.g. Luke 6:20, 11:27, 16:23, 17:13; cp Gen 13:10, Ruth 1:9.14 (נשׂא את־עיניו)

4. E.g. Luke 1:72, 10:37; cp. Gen 24:12, Jdg 1:24 (...עשׂה חסד עִם)

5. The LXX uses other verbs to translate this phrase in these examples. Apparently this has led some to conclude that Luke either misunderstood the meaning of Ezekiel’s phrase or that he is incorporating material from a Greek source, presumably written by an individual translating from the Hebrew of these other, more obviously consonant examples, rather than working with the LXX. See, Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 405.

6. Whether Luke was consciously attempting to give the text a Biblical "flavor" or simply reflecting the patois of his Jewish friends remains to be seen. (See Sparks, note 1, for his opinion.)

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