An Exegesis on the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This one sentence summary found at the very end of Luke 18:9-14 should give us all a good slap in the face. This particular pericope is of vital importance in our Christian walk. Luke 18:9-14 tells us about a Pharisee and a tax collector who both go to a temple to pray. The Pharisee stands before God praying about himself; he thanks God that he is not like other men and women and that he is not like the tax collector beside him. At the same time, the tax collector lays himself down before the Lord praying that God have mercy on him, a sinner. Recognizing his sin and unworthiness the tax collector humbles himself and asks for the Lords mercy; which thereby brings him justification, forgiveness and peace. The Pharisee however looks down upon the tax collector and even thanks God that he is unlike other men and women; this ego trip drives a wedge in the Pharisees relationship to God and also brings wrath and judgment upon himself. As we read this passage we may find ourselves saying, “I must remain humble.” That goal however can only be reached by firstly meditating and reflecting on the question: “Am I humble?” Then we must daily ask and remind ourselves: “How will I avoid exalting myself? Another way to bring this verse to life would be by asking ourselves: “How can I exalt the image and glory of God?” Asking these questions daily in every situation and circumstance will help each of us to avoid a mind set of self-righteousness as seen in Luke 18:9-14. (cf. Forerunner Commentary)

The historical context of Luke is fairly interesting. Upon reading the gospels one might conclude that Matthew, Mark and Luke all pretty much say the same thing. This is slightly true; the gospels’ sole purpose is centered on the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. However, the gospel of Luke begins by dedicating the writing to Theophilus in order that he might know that what was taught was trustworthy and true. It is thought that the gospel of Luke was written in order to stress the fact that the events he described in his gospel were real and actually did happen. The author of Luke’s purpose for writing might have been to counter the notion that the stories of Jesus circulating throughout the early church were just myth and legend. (Smith)

There are a few notable differences between the gospel of Luke and the other gospels. Matthew and Mark were both written around 60 AD while Luke was written some time after that. Luke was largely sourced from Markan material seeing that the gospel of Mark was the earliest recorded gospel book; however, the writer of Luke had a lot more material to work with than just the first two gospels. Although it is safe to say that the writer of Luke used Markan and Matthewan material while writing the gospel of Luke, there is very little similarity in the “Passion and Resurrection Narrative” section of the three gospels. This further supports that the writer of Luke used far more material than just Matthew and Mark. In fact, the differences between Luke’s Passion and Resurrection Narrative in comparison to Marks are so different that many scholars say the gospel of Luke is free from all Markan influence after Luke 22:7 or 22:15. (Smith)

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is also unique to the gospel of Luke; of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John this parable is only found in Luke. I find it interesting that the gospel of Luke contains 45 parables, 28 of which are found in the gospel of Matthew. The gospel of Matthew contains 50 parables while the gospel of Mark has only 10 parables, 9 of which are also found in Matthew. The gospel of John has a fair amount of parables but none of them can be found in any other gospel. I think it is fairly safe to say that the gospel of Luke was written for a specific reason and task and by having it in the bible, it has tremendously bettered the cannon in its entirety. It is also noteworthy to mention that the same author who wrote the gospel of Luke also wrote the book of Acts, which by itself is an incredible masterpiece of a work. That is neither here or there however; what is important at this time is the gospel of Luke (specifically Chapter 18:9-14) which has much to offer and teach us. (Randle)

The co-text surrounding Luke 18:9-14 is at very least, beautiful. The author of Luke is a phenomenal writer. He was obviously more versatile than the other gospel writers. He was a Greek Christian, a physician, a man of travel and of world-outlook, he was sympathetic, spiritually attuned, poetic, artistic and of high intelligence. As most of us know Luke was a physician. His passion for helping the ill and afflicted is portrayed throughout his gospel by way of giving special attention to certain aspects of Jesus ministry. It is evident throughout the gospel of Luke that he is fond of portraying the sympathy and care that Christ has for humankind. Luke speaks more about prayer in his gospel than Matthew, Mark or John does. Luke also gives special attention to the healings found in the ministry of Jesus. He sheds light on the lovingness, gentleness and tenderness of Jesus by telling us about Jesus’ care for women, children and the poor. (cf. Robertson)

In chapter 1 Luke addresses Theophilus by saying that he has investigated everything in which he writes about from the beginning and that he has written an orderly account for him, all so that he may know the certainty of the things that he has been taught. The orderly account of which he speaks is this: Luke can be broken down into four major sections and two subsections which make up six parts. Part 1 is the prologue (Luke introduces his work and dedicates to Theophilus). Part 2 accounts for the Birth Narratives and Events in Jesus’ Childhood (Mary the virgin conceives, Jesus born in Bethlehem, Jesus circumcised). Part 3 tells us about the Preparation for Jesus’ Ministry (which includes Jesus’ baptism and temptation). Part 4 is Jesus’ Galilean Ministry (Jesus filled with the Spirit, Jesus healing, teaching, preaching). Part 5 shows us The Travel Narrative and Judean Period of Jesus’ Ministry (Many parables taught by Jesus, blessings, much prophesy from Jesus about himself). Part 6 concludes the gospel with The Passion and Resurrection Narratives (Jesus betrayed, last supper, beaten and hung on cross, resurrection and ascension of Jesus). (Smith)

Luke 18:9-14 is found three fourths of the way through in Part 5 (The Travel Narrative and Judean Period of Jesus’ Ministry). Part 5 is the biggest section of the six followed by Part 4. These two sections make up nearly three fourths of the written material in Luke. Directly before Luke 18:9-14 is the teaching from Jesus for the need to pray. Luke 18:1-8 is the parable of the persistent widow who is denied justice. She pesters the judge until he finally gives her justice. Jesus concludes the teaching by letting us know that God will grant justice to his elect who cry out to him. Immediately after Luke 18:9-14 (the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector) are a few verses about children. In Luke 18:15-17 Jesus tells us not to hinder children, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as them. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (cf. Smith)

The teachings directly before and after Luke 18:9-14 are vital to understanding what the Lord has to teach us in this pericope. If a detailed analysis of this passage (Luke 18:9-14) is desired one must first make a detailed analysis of Luke 18:1-8 and Luke 18:15-17. Remember, Luke has written this gospel in such a way that it will be an orderly account. If it is an orderly account of all things than we can safely suggest that Luke 18:1-8 is step 1, Luke 18:9-14 is step 2 and Luke 18:15-17 is step 3. If step 2 (our pericope about being humble and not being self righteous) is the desired outcome then step 1 (Gods elect crying out to him day and night in prayer) is what we must do first to get there. Though being humble and not self-righteous is a great goal and even greater attribute it is still only step 2. If someone practices step 1 (crying out to God in prayer) then they shall arrive at step 2 (being humble and not self-righteous) and step 2 shall help us to reach step 3 (receiving the kingdom of God like a little child). Receiving the kingdom of God as a little child is the end result of practicing the first two steps on a daily basis. One could say that it is the ultimate goal, seeing that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” We all want to enter the kingdom of God; being likened to a child is a great step in that process. (Egelkraut)

If someone were to ask “how do I become like a child?” the proper response would be, “you must become humble.” Humility is not just found or chosen however, it requires crying out to God and praying. This is portrayed by the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. His crying out and praying to God (step 1) was a show of his humility (step 2) and that humility likens him to a child (step 3), who ultimately finds his way into the kingdom of God. The Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 however, does not even understand step 1. His prayer consisted of thanking God for making him righteous, for making him unlike other men and women who were evil doers, robbers and adulterers. His self-righteous mind set blocked him from receiving justification from God. He held himself above the rest of Gods children when Christ Jesus himself spent all of his time with the very type of people that the Pharisee looked down upon. The Pharisee did not cry out to God in prayer. As far as God was concerned the Pharisee was more lost than any of them; for the Pharisee was lost but believed he was found. Is it not better to be lost and know you are lost? The tax collector could be put in this category of one who is lost but knows it. His lost a weary soul lead him to his crying out to God in prayer. The Pharisee was blind to his own depraved and wicked ways. This led him to pride and self-righteousness.

Upon further study one could note that the very body language of the Pharisee and the tax collector can show us the condition of their hearts. In verse 11 the Pharisee “stood up” and prayed. This standing before the Lord shows pride and egocentrism. The Pharisee is likening himself to God by standing before him in prayer. Not only does this show us the nature of his character but it also shows us that he is deaf to the word of God. A Pharisee such as himself would have an education and would have direct access to the Old Testament bible. He has more than likely read through the scripture and been taught to memorize it since childhood. Yet, he has ever learned but never come to the truth. We can further add that the Pharisee has come to rely upon his own works for salvation. In verse 12 the Pharisee says, “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” This is his good work, his reasoning for feeling higher, better and more righteous than others. It is the same reason that he is lost; he believes his own works and own righteousness have earned him salvation.

The tax collector however, “stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven…” this standing at a distance shows us that the tax collector feared God. He did not look up to heaven either which not only shows his fear of God but, also shows that he feels unworthy in his own state of being. His feeling of unworthiness is rightly earned by all of us. He is a sinner and admittedly so by himself. In continuation of verse 13 the tax collector “beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’ The tax collector recognized his sin and beat his chest because of it. He cried out to God in prayer (step 1) to have mercy on him who is a sinner (step 2). Now that the tax collector has cried out to God in prayer and has humbled himself he is now ready to be likened to a child, whose eternal home is the kingdom of God.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) This verse is very powerful and speaks volumes about the way we all should live. I have lingered over this verse for quite some time now and have wondered if there is anything more to it that I might have missed. I did a word study on the word humble in this pericope. According to Strong’s Concordance the word humble here means to make low or bring low; to level, reduce to a plain; to lower, depress; of one’s soul bring down one’s pride; to have a modest opinion of one’s self; to behave in an unassuming manner; devoid of all haughtiness. The word humble obviously has much to do with having a proper view of ones self. Having a proper view of self leads to a proper attitude and lifestyle of living, which is below God and below others. We are called to be servants to God and to Gods children who are our brothers and sisters. Being humble is of great importance and without humility the Christian walk is nothing more than a religion to comfort our own self-righteousness. (Blue Letter Bible)

The word humble in this pericope has the Strong’s Number G5013. It matches the Greek word Ï”ÎұÏ⒬ÎҵÎҹÎҽáҽҹÏ”° (tapeinoÃ…ҍ), which occurs 18 times throughout 11 verses in the Greek concordance of the NASB bible. Some other like verses using the same Strong’s Number are found in Matthew 18:4, 23:12, Luke 14:11, James 4:10 and Philippians 2:8. Each of these verses shows us the importance of humility and how one lives out a life in humility. A great supporting verse for this word study is Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!” Jesus Christ himself shows us the way to humility. It was Gods will that Jesus die on the cross. Jesus had asked God the father to spare him from being beaten and nailed to the cross. But Gods will was final and rather than fighting God or puffing up his chest, “Jesus humbled himself and became obedient.” Jesus above any other person had the right to be self-righteous but he was not. In fact Jesus was just the opposite; he was completely humble to the point of washing his disciples feet and even dying on the cross. (Blue Letter Bible)

My conclusions to the study of this pericope and the word studies within are life changing. In my thesis questions and statements it was clear to me that one must strive to be humble. I have found that being humble is far more than a mental decision however. My first question was, “am I humble?” The answer to this question was far more complex and larger than any answer should be. Thus, I concluded that however humble I may be there is always an abundance of opportunity for improvement. In this area of growth, I have learned that one should never compare himself/herself to another human being. This is the initial spark that catches fire to the mind set of self-righteousness. Our spiritual walk and level of humility to Christ is between us and Christ; no one else. It has been made ever clear to me that humility like many other things is only seen through actions. My analysis of the Pharisee and the tax collector has shown me that our physical actions alone show the condition and position of our heart and souls.

This answer and conclusion led me to the second set of questions which deals with response and application. “How do/will I avoid exalting myself?” and “How can I exalt the image and glory of God?” I have found that these questions are unlike the first. These questions require daily and even individual momentarily speculation and reflection. In every situation we face we must ask ourselves if we are glorifying ourselves or Christ. A spirit of humility demands continual work, reflection and proper spiritual perspective.

The work involved is all-encompassing. Work must be done mentally, physically and even emotionally. To avoid exalting ourselves we must continually, in every instance, work to exalt Christ. The glory is his; the more we pound that fact into our brains the better our growth in humility will be.

Reflection is a must when trying to gain humility. Rejecting reflection and meditation will lead us to a path of sin and self-righteousness. Recalling the 6 parts of Luke reminds me that Jesus had times of preparation. Jesus would spend time in prayer alone reflecting upon his actions both in the present time and for the future. In order to succeed in our goal of gaining humility we must do as Jesus did. He is the ultimate example and each part of his life and ministry is given in order for us to follow him. If Jesus spent time preparing his heart, mind and body to act in a Godley way then so must we.

Lastly, proper spiritual perspective is of utter significance in our walk toward greater humility. As we have read in Luke 18:9-14, the Pharisee had a wrong and sinful spiritual perspective while the tax collector had a justifiable and honorable spiritual perspective. This spiritual perspective involves seeing God in a proper way. When we see God in a proper way then we can see his children properly. When we find ourselves puffed up to God, taking life on by ourselves and doing good works for our own sake then we are long overdue for a dosage of being humbled. Our good works are to glorify God and our life is to be fully submitted to him in every aspect. Any other recipe will result in self-righteousness.

Therefore, our greatest goal should be to learn and keep a proper view of God. When we strive for a proper view of God our goal for gaining humility will come naturally. We must remember however, that goals are not reached by metal decision but rather by living and practicing the correct steps in an orderly way. Step 3 is never accomplished without having first practiced step 1. Humility is only the second goal in a 4 part process. To gain humility we must first cry out to God in prayer. Being likened to a child in order to receive the kingdom of God is only attained after first calling out to God in prayer and thereby gaining humility by doing so. Having a proper view of God is ultimately reached only by first calling out to God in prayer with humility and thereby being likened to the nature of a child. Understanding Luke 18:9-14 requires daily work/practice, reflection/meditation and having a proper spiritual view. Each in an orderly fashion just as Luke as arranged his gospel. I believe that this will help us answer the thesis questions, “How will I avoid exalting myself?” and “How will I exalt Christ?”

Forerunner Commentary. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

Randle, R. (n.d.). Chronology of the Parables of Jesus. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

Robertson, A. (n.d.). The Gospel of Luke. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

Smith, B. D. (n.d.). The Gospel of Luke. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from The New Testament and its Context:

Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for tapeinoÃ…ҍ (Strong’s 5013)“. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2009. 6 Dec 2009.

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