Posted by: mattcolvin | November 21, 2011

Luke 18:1-17: Greek note on the Unjust Judge

Tuesday of the 22nd week after Trinity:

This pericope contains the parable of the unjust judge, which is an a fortiori argument: if an unjust judge will give a widow justice because she persists, how much more will God give justice to those who ask him.

There is an interesting verb in verse 5. The NKJV is fairly typical of English versions:
“‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me (hina me hypopiaze me).’” The rendering “weary” is surely incorrect. (It is always a bad sign when the only evidence for a given meaning in the lexicons is the very verse in question.) This verb ὑπωπιάζω is an interesting one. An inattentive student might etymologize it incorrectly (I did so at first). It is properly from υπ- and ωπι- with a factitive suffix -αζω: “to give someone a black eye.” It occurs most frequently in Aristophanes’ comedies, where buffetings and talk about them abound. It also appears in Diogenes Laertius’ life of Diogenes the Cynic, who is equally rude and violent. In none of these other sources does it have a metaphorical meaning, let alone a milder one.

I think we should take the verb literally. The unrighteous judge fears a blow, or (since the verb is present tense) repeated blows in the face, which David Daube reminds us was the “archetypal shaming insult among Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans.” (Daube, “Shame Culture in Luke”).

Taking ὑπωπιάζω thus literally pays an added dividend of deepening the a fortiori: not only is God compared with a human judge, and an unrighteous human judge, but with a human judge who fears a disfiguring blow to his face. God is not human, not unrighteous, and cannot be struck in the eye, that He should act from fear of any such thing.



  1. […] metaphor in Isaiah 5 We saw in an earlier post how an literal, non-metaphorical translation of the word υπωπιαζω deepens the meaning of […]

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