The healing of the man with dropsy is a surprisingly under-noticed passage in Luke. Few commentaries give much attention to it at all. Where attention is given, the passage is usually heard in one of the following ways: (1) in the context of healing stories or Sabbath healings in general, and thus through the lens of form criticism and how this story participates in the larger context of healing stories; or (2) in the context of the symposia or meal stories since this passage introduces such a scene, and the background for understanding the passage is thus the literary topos of meal stories in the Greco-Roman world. In either reading, the fact that the man has dropsy specifically is essentially irrelevant to the story; he might as well have been blind or lame or deaf. Yet this is the only occurrence in the NT of this specific condition, and I would like to suggest that dropsy is not incidental to the story at all. Rather, the dropsy is itself key to the story. Dropsy is used widely in the ancient Greek world, particularly in the writings of philosophers, and it is frequently a metaphor for greed and wealth. Among the commentary tradition, few scholars take notice of the dropsy metaphor. This paper will mine the Greek philosophical tradition for examples of dropsy to build the case for its metaphorical usage, and it will apply that metaphor to this passage in Luke to see how it might serve the Lukan narrative.
Biblical Interpretation – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 2013
Keywords: dropsy; greed; wealth; healing stories; meal scenes