What’s the Difference between Individuals in Luke 17:34-35? Why were Two Seized and Two Let Go?

These two verses have puzzled both casual Bible readers and serious Bible scholars for centuries. Because of how the passage was edited and amended, we’re supposed to believe that it refers to the last judgment, ang God is the judge. But on what basis? If the passage is a warning, what are we being warned against?

Luke 17:34-35 is not about a final judgment. It is not about God. It is not about a futuristic eschatological destiny.

These verses are a trial summary, a verdict in an actual trial. The defendants were two couples. Each couple was mixed ethnicity, what we might call interracial, Jew and gentile. One was subject to The Law, one was not.

That was the reason for the differing treatment.

The charges were the same: sexual activity with someone of the same gender.

This was a crime for Jews since Jews were subject to the Torah and its legal extrapolations. But only Jews (generally speaking).

But gentiles were not subject to Torah. They couldn’t be charged with a Torah crime the way a Jew could.

But the crime was not based on territorial boundaries, which is what we’re used to.

Imagine you’re a Jew, and you’re forbidden to eat shrimp. There’s no shrimp restaurant in Jerusalem.

So you travel to Damascus. There’s a shrimp restaurant, and you go in and eat a bowl of shrimp.

If Saul of Tarsus is nearby, and he has his papers on him, he can arrest you for Torah violation and take you to Jerusalem to stand trial.

He arrests you not because you’re in Jerusalem, because you’re not. He arrests you because you’re a Jew breaking the Jewish law.

A Jew was forbidden to have gay sex anywhere, in Jerusalem, Damascus, or Rome. If a duly authorized person, like the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, so long as he’s got his I.D. on him (his papers), can arrest you and take you to a Jewish court for trial no matter where he catches you.

A gentile could be prosecuted under Jewish law ONLY if the local magistrate were authorized by covenant or custom to impose Torah on gentiles, only in a Jewish court.

There was one law for the Jew and the non-Jew alike according to Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22. But this could be enforced only in a Jewish court.

Obviously a gentile from Gadara could not simply say, “I’d like to kill someone. I think I’ll go to Jerusalem next week.” The government had to protect it’s people. There had to be ways to maintain order.

But in one of the towns on the periphery, a town that was half Jews and half gentiles, the situation was not so cut and dry. At the village council, a thief would be convicted by a mixed court of Jews and non-Jews. But convicting a gay or a lesbian would not be a guaranteed slam dunk in a community with social diversity.

Those verses, Luke 17:34-35, they are a trial summary from a Roman court. In the Roman court, the gentile defendants could not be judged by Jewish laws because they weren’t Jewish.

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To see a list of other posts related to the Evidence, the Bethsaida Trial and the Gay Jew Jesus, click here.

About Ron Goetz

Husband, Father, Author
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