This is the Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. The Gospel text is Luke 24:1-12. Recently in my writings I have been trying to point to a much bigger picture, what a particular text says in relation to the other gospel accounts. This time I would like to look at just one word.
And [the women] remembered [Jesus’] words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:8-11 ESV).
When I read the translation, that the words of the women seemed to the disciples as ‘an idle tale’, it did not seem that those words were too frequently used these days. I looked into this word that ended up being translated into two words: ‘idle tale’. It turns out much more could be said.
It ends up that it takes a lot of words for BDAG (page 594) to define this word: ‘That which is totally devoid of anything worthwhile.’ And speaking of words being infrequently used, that book also gives these synonyms: ‘idle talk, nonsense, humbug(!)’.
This is the only time that word is used within the entire New Testament, but all words have some sort of history. And Luke is very careful with his vocabulary. In the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (volume 2, page 387f), there was significantly more.
It seems this word is a technical term in medical vocabulary for the delirium caused by a fever. It especially appears in the observations of Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’, the man who is the basis for the Hippocratic oath. He lived about four hundred years before Jesus.
It is interesting that Luke, a physician, chooses to use to this term. The lexicon goes on to say the following: ‘This meaning [of delirium] seems too strong as a description of the remarks of the holy women to the effect that they had found the tomb empty on Easter morning.’ But, perhaps by using this term, Luke is wanting to make a very strong point. He is, after all, talking about the very basis of Christianity.
If Jesus was still dead, and if you could go to his tomb, what difference would his words make? What difference would the rest of the bible make?
Another interesting thing was a somewhat biblical (Jewish) writing that also used this term, ‘idle tale’. In a book called 4 Maccabees (only 1-2 Maccabees typically appear within The Apocrypha), the ruler, Antiochus, is trying to get Eleazer, a lawyer, who is also connected to the priesthood by blood, to renounce the Jewish laws and eat some delicious pork (Who could make this stuff up?!). Antiochus asks him: ‘Will you not wake up from the foolishness that your philosophy produces? Will you not abandon your delirium (5:10)?
The book of 4 Maccabees was designed as a comfort and encouragement for the persecuted, so I would imagine that you know how this is going to turn out. What is most interesting is that, right as Eleazer is about to die, he says this: ‘You know, O God, that though I might have been saved, I am dying in the tortures of fire for the sake of the Law. Be merciful to your people, and be satisfied with this punishment for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs (4 Maccabees 6:27-29).’
I would think that this might remind you of someone else. That this man is related to the priests and that he says these similar things near the time that Jesus was around—that is interesting. And it shows how very easy it is to get what Jesus did wrong. It is important to remember that he is both fully God and fully man.
Prayers are requests made to God. When you have God the Son making a request to God the Father, that seems to me to be a different category. What people can do is make a good example for others to follow. What God does is totally different. That is why his Son has the name that means one who SAVES—not helps.