Summary: This parable is clearly about prayer but exactly what is Jesus teaching us about prayer. Because of interpretative translations, it may not be what you think.
The Parables of Jesus
My BFF @ Midnight
August 2, 2009
This parable is clearly a parable about prayer. Luke has positioned it after Jesus teaches “The Lord’s Prayer,” and has included the saying about prayer that uses the “ask, seek, and knock,” which Matthew has as part of the Sermon on the Mount. The question though is, “What exactly is the parable teaching us about prayer?” A common belief is that this parable is Jesus teaching us about the need to persist in prayer. Don’t give up knocking on the door but keeping pounding on it (in prayer) until “it” is answered.
But as we will see although this is a very important concept spiritually, this parable is not really about persistence but about God’s character and nature towards those who pray as verses 11-13 indicate. Turn to Lk. 11:1.
An old man was lying on his deathbed. He had only hours to live when he suddenly smelled chocolate chip cookies. He loved chocolate chip cookies more than anything in the world.
With his last bit of energy he pulled himself out of bed, struggled across the floor to the stairs, and headed down the stairs into the kitchen. There his wife was baking those aromatic cookies.
As he reached for one—SMACK! He felt a slap across the back of his hand. His wife scolded, "Leave those alone; they’re for the funeral!"
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."
He said to them, "When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’ "
Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ’Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
"Then the one inside answers, ’Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
The parable is found in verse 6-8. The difficulty that lies in this parable is something that is already taken care of us by the translators who must make an interpretation in order to translate. The NIV says in verse 8 because of the man’s “boldness,” he will get up and give him as much as he needs. Some translations have gone a slightly different direction and translated the word as “persistence” further interpreting the word.
The big problem is that this word, anaideia, is not found anywhere else in the NT. Literally the word should be translated as “Shamelessness.” Now the problem is whether “being shameless” is a negative idea here or positive as the “persistence” translators have concluded. If it is negative then the person has no proper since of shame as a guide to conduct. If it is positive then the person has a proper sense and seeks to act in ways that will not bring shame.
For example, a thief who steals from his mother might be shameless. But also a son might be treat his mother shamelessly because he takes care of his mother’s every need indicating that his actions are without shame or shameless. So which is shameless here? Obviously most of us would normally reserve shamelessness as a negative but would 1st century hearers done so?
There is a thesaurus of Greek words that includes 258 occurrences of anaideia all of which are… can anyone guess? These are occurrences of this word in literature from the time period that is not biblical. Negative or positive? Well, as it turns out all of them a negative. Most NT scholars believe this to be a negative word except when used here. Many have stuck with a positive translation because it becomes difficult to understand what it is about prayer that Jesus is teaching. And they already believe what this parable is about.