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Why, in Luke's account does Jesus specifically tell the disciple to go after he requests to go and bury his father?

In Matthew's account, Jesus responds to the request of the man to bury his father by instructing the disciple to follow him:

Matthew 8:21-22
21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

However, in the Luke account things are a little different:

Luke 9:59-60 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Here, the instruction to follow Jesus occurs before the man requests to go and bury his father. After this request, Jesus says the famous line about burying the dead and then tells the man he previously told to follow him, instead to go, or depart, in response to hearing his request to bury his father.

Does the Luke account reveal that Jesus actually permitted the disciple to depart and bury his father on the condition that he proclaims the gospel of the kingdom of God?

Otherwise, why, in context, would Jesus tell the man he just instructed to follow him to depart?

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    Your question makes me consider how discipleship is not a physical but a spiritual following in Jesus' footsteps. Jesus' answer did not really address the person's question but his misunderstanding about what discipleship entails. Jesus corrects that misunderstanding by defining discipleship as a going forth and proclaiming the kingdom of God. Thus the duties of discipleship do not conflict with our other responsibilities. Rather, they are fulfilled in the very way we carry out the responsibilities of family and daily life.
    – Nhi
    Nov 27, 2022 at 15:40

3 Answers 3

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No contradiction: One should not take the verb “go” separately, but with the adjacent place+purpose, thus it is not here a simple predicate but a composite predicate to the effect that “go and proclaim Kingdom”=“go next to Me” for only by this going next to me, i.e. by following Me, you will be seen as proclaiming the Kingdom along with other My followers.

That is to say “going proclaiming Kingdom” is to go to other direction from that aimed at by those who are about to bury his father.

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  • Hi Levan, Thanks for your response. Do you have another example in the New Testament where person A tells person B to go and person A really means to imply that person B come along with them?
    – Austin
    Nov 30, 2022 at 1:17
  • @Austin I will check, but what immediately comes to mind is John 11:16 when Thomas (A) says to other disciples (B) “let us go and die with Him”, but this may not be exactly that Nov 30, 2022 at 3:55
  • Thanks, Levan, for looking into it and overall for addressing the core substance of my original question, whether or not we will ultimately will agree.
    – Austin
    Nov 30, 2022 at 5:13
  • @Austin Thanks for addressing my conjuncture. I think the overall context is important sometimes more than a specific word. If Achilles says to his soldier who says that he wants to leave the Trojan battle with the majority of Achaean warriors: “Let the cowards do their cowardly deed, but as to you, you go and shame their cowardice!” The context shows that Achilles says to the soldier to go with him to the battlefield and fight, and not to go with the cowardly soldiers to a returning ship giving speeches about courage, praising the brave and shaming them, cowards, during the voyage back home. Dec 1, 2022 at 6:31
  • Hi, Levan, I think you've done well constructing an analogy largely faithful to the original example. For me, the context and grammar still points to the soldier being instructed to leave, since the soldier asked to leave, and Achilles told him to leave, & since it seems consistent w/ both English & Biblical Greek that when someone tells another to go they mean for him to leave him unless he uses some explicitly inclusive language such that it's clear they're to travel together. Overall I think context, word meaning & syntax, equally matter, so one violates not the limits of the other.
    – Austin
    Dec 9, 2022 at 9:18
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Luke 9:

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Smith's Bible Commentary:

And Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury their dead: but you go and preach the kingdom of God (Luke 9:60 ).

You say, "Wow, how cold and insensitive Jesus must have been. Wouldn't even allow this fellow to go and attend his father's funeral. Why anybody lets you off work to attend your dad's funeral." But that phrase, "Allow me first to bury my father," is an interesting phrase of procrastination. It doesn't mean that your father is dead. It is a phrase that they still use to the present day, that says, I want to stick around home for a while. I want to wait till my father dies, and then I'll come. And it didn't mean that his father was dead and was ready to be buried, because they always buried people within two hours after they were dead. So when he says, "Allow me first to bury my father," he is saying, "Maybe down the road a ways, I've got a few things I want to do first, and down the road a ways maybe I'll do it. Me first."

Barclay's Daily Study Bible:

Jesus' words to the second man sound harsh, but they need not be so. In all probability the man's father was not dead, and not even nearly dead. His saying most likely meant, "I will follow you after my father has died." An English official in the East tells of a very brilliant young Arab who was offered a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge. His answer was, "I will take it after I have buried my father." At the time his father was not much more than forty years of age.

Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible expressed a similar sentiment.

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In both Matt 8:21, 22 and Luke 9:59, 60, Jesus is using "dead" in two senses: one metaphorical/spiritual and one literal. The literal sense is obvious, but the metaphorical sense is also used in a number of places in the NT such as:

  • Eph 2:1 - And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
  • Eph 2:5 - made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved!
  • Eph 5:14 - So it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
  • Col 2:13 - When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our trespasses,
  • Col 8:10 - But if Christ is in you, the body is indeed dead on account of sin, but the Spirit is life on account of righteousness.

Thus, when Jesus says, "let the dead bury the dead", He is effectively saying to the potential disciple something like, "let those spiritually dead bury the literally dead; but you are not spiritually dead, come and work with/for me".

Thus, Jesus discouraged the man from burying his father but suggested that other should do it.

The "command to "Go"

While the verbs used in both Luke 9:60 and Matt 28:19 are translated "go", neither is imperative; that is, neither is a command. Indeed, they are different verbs in both cases:

  • Matt 28:19 - πορευθέντες = having gone, aorist
  • Luke 9:60 - ἀπελθὼν = having gone forth, aorist
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  • Thanks, for the response Dottard. I rephrased the question to focus more specifically on why Jesus tells the man to go and how that relates to his request to bury his father. Can you focus more on the significance of the imperative to go?
    – Austin
    Nov 25, 2022 at 20:37
  • @Austin - I don't see literally there is a difference between Matthew's and Luke's account. The 'go' in Luke's account refer to "proclaim the kingdom of God", not to "bury the dead". Nov 25, 2022 at 20:56
  • @VincentWong, I would agree with you however in the contextual flow of the conversation, the man asks Jesus to leave and bury his father, Jesus tells the man to leave and proclaim the kingdom instead of staying with him. That allows the man to leave and proclaim the kingdom and bury his father. The man wanted to interrupt his discipleship to bury his father. Jesus says no, there is no break in discipleship. Even when you leave me to fulfill practical obligations your purpose isn't simply these, but to proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus does not teach that the faithful never bury dead people.
    – Austin
    Nov 26, 2022 at 4:07
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    @Austin - Now I better understand your logical flow. Yes you are correct Jesus did not restrict the man to bury his father and then go to preach the Gospel. Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So if the guy decided to preach the Gospel, he was free to do anything that please to the Lord, that is, if his action was the true love of his father, and not an excuse to escape from Jesus. Nov 27, 2022 at 15:58

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