“'He must increase, I must decrease' (John 3:30):

A Cultural and Social Interpretation”

Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J.
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Richard L. Rohrbaugh
Lewis & Clark College
Portland, OR 97219


The episode in John 3:22-30 regularly gets short shrift from commentators.1 That is especially true of the Baptizer's striking remark in v. 30 that at best is praised, but never interpreted.2 Nor has anyone taken notice of how foreign to Mediterranean culture that remark really is; hence to our knowledge no one has ever felt the need for or found suitable ancient, non-biblical parallels that might be brought to bear on its interpretation. In the discussion that follows, however, we shall examine relevant parallel material that is indeed illuminating. Yet we do not do so as just another history-of-religions investigation. Instead, we bring to the task models from comparative anthropology that enable us to assess John 3:30 in its proper cultural and social context.

It is also true that this passage is rarely compared with other materials in the Fourth Gospel that might offer clarification. Monographs and commentaries typically investigate the links between John and Jesus in John 1, and indicate their continuance in John 3:22-30. Yet we will argue that at least in 11:45-52 we find an important but unnoticed contrast to 3:22-30. Whereas John the Baptist did not suffer envy at Jesus' success, the Jerusalem elite did so. The interpretive key to that contrast, we argue, lies in the sociology of perception (“limited good”) and the anthropology of envy.

Our thesis is that in this story John's disciples are on the verge of envying Jesus and his disciples. Like most people in antiquity, they appear to share the view that all goods are limited in quantity and are already all distributed. There is only so much land, gold, fame or praise existing in the world. Thus if someone seems to be gaining any of these, inevitably others must be losing -- possibly me or one of my friends. In other words, the world is a zero-sum game: for some to increase, others must decrease. The Baptizer himself steps apart from the game, but not so his disciples. For them, Jesus' success appears to be a gain that implies their loss. It is this cultural concept of “limited good” and relevant ancient instances of it that we bring to our interpretation of John 3:30.

1.0 Preliminary Reading of John 3:22-30

The scene begins with notice that both Jesus and John are baptizing in the Judean territory.3 That sets the stage for the controversy that follows. The disciples of John engage in a “controversy” with someone4 over purification. The key term here, zêtêsis, can have such neutral meanings as philosophical inquiry or investigation, but it can also have a much more highly charged meaning such as a controversy or legal investigation.5 The sense in 3:25 is that of controversy and even of envy. These disciples then go to John to voice their interpretation of the: zêtêsis “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing and all are going to him” (v 26).6 Their complaint clarifies the subject of the zêtêsis a rivalry between Jesus (and his disciples) and John (and his disciples).

The nub of the zêtêsis resides in the perception that Jesus' growth in fame and reputation comes at the expense of John and his disciples. In many ways John's disciples voice the same kind of remark as do Jesus' enemies in 11:47 at the growth of Jesus' fame because of his raising of Lazarus: “This man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him. . .” In both stories some people perceive that their own worth diminishes precisely as Jesus gains greater respect and honor. In fact, Jesus' increase causes their decrease.

The audience of the Fourth Gospel has been carefully prepared how to assess remarks such as those of John’s disciples. No less than three times John announced Jesus’ superiority to himself, indicating that he and Jesus are not in competition but that John’s career is precisely to herald Jesus.

1:15 “He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.”
1:26-27 “. . .among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes
after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
1:30 “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me,
for he was before me.’”

John, then, has already declared his position on the success of Jesus; he himself does not see the situation in terms of limited good, nor will he engage in envy.

However John steps apart from this typical game of envy by making several critical remarks. First, he declares that Jesus has not achieved anything on his own. No one, including Jesus, has anything but “what is given him from above” (v 27). Thus in the jargon of honor and shame, the honor Jesus enjoys is honor ascribed by God with which mortals may not disagree (Acts 5:39). In this way John states that he himself does not share his disciples' perception of a controversy since it is God who gives Jesus' status and fame. Second, he reminds his disciples of his own earlier testimony to Jesus (3:28; see 1:19-23), indicating that his major role has been to herald and acknowledge Jesus' honorable precedence and status before all. John has always promoted Jesus; it is his mission to see Jesus increase. Third, he describes his relationship to Jesus as the “friend” (philos) who stands close by and “rejoices greatly at the groom's voice” (v 29).7 Surely groom and “friend” are not rivals; nor does the “friend” lose anything if the groom is happy. In fact, as John says, “this joy of mine is now full,” that is, in no way has it diminished because of Jesus' success. Thus John disputes his own disciples' interpretation of the situation. Whereas they see only loss in Jesus' growing success, John sees “fullness of joy” at Jesus' fame, just as the philos revels in the voice of the groom.

Finally, John makes one of the most counter-cultural statements in the New Testament: “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (v 30). Why “counter-cultural”? What is taking place between the characters of the story and the reader and his audience? How would readers know that John has made a remark so unusual as to turn their world upside down? To answer this we must borrow from cultural anthropology a model for assessing social perceptions of gain and loss in honor-shame (agonistic) societies.

2.0 Cultural Model of “Limited Good"

The anthropologist George Foster8 long ago described how peasants perceive that all good things in the world exist in limited supply:
By “Image of Limited Good” I mean that broad areas of peasant behavior are patterned in such a fashion as to suggest that peasants view their social, economic, and natural universes--their total environment--as one in which all of the desired things in life such as land, wealth, health, friendship and love, manliness and honor, respect and status, power and influence, security and safety, exist in finite quantity and are always in short supply, as far as the peasant is concerned. Not only do these and all other “good things” exist in finite and limited quantities, but in addition there is no way directly within peasant power to increase the available quantities.9

For peasants, ancient as well as modern, the world exists as a zero sum game in which land provides the basic analogy for understanding the world. There is only so much arable land in the world and it is already all distributed. If one person gets more, someone else has to get less. Moreover, the same is true of all other good things in the world including water, food, wealth, as well as respect and fame. Thus Foster argues that “any advantage achieved by one individual or family is seen as a loss to others, and the person who makes what the Western world lauds as 'progress' is viewed as a threat to the stability of the entire community.”10

The key here is the perception that everything good is already all distributed and cannot be increased. Foster suggests that when people view the world in this way, two things will happen: (1) people “are reluctant to advance beyond their peers because of the sanctions they know will be leveled against them” and (2) anyone “who is seen or known to acquire more becomes much more vulnerable to the envy of his neighbors.”11 Social relations become heavily dependent not just on maintaining what one has in life but also on avoiding the perception of gaining more. To gain is to steal from others. Thus peasants will not tolerate neighbors who acquire beyond what they have. Because goods are limited, envy follows acquisition as surely as night follows day. Two things, then, are at stake in our discussion of John 3:25-30: 1) the perception of limited good, such that one's gain comes at another's expense, and 2) the reaction of envy to prevent this gain/loss.12

3.0 Cultural Illustrations of “Limited Good” in Antiquity

While the notion of limited good was formulated by a modern scholar studying modern peasant societies, it has direct relevance for interpreting a host of ancient texts, both Greco-Roman and biblical.

13 These examples, once appreciated, illustrate the presence of the concept in antiquity and thereby confirm the utility of using an anthropological model for interpretation of biblical documents. Thus our argument is that ancient expressions of limited good can serve as interpretative parallels for understanding John 3:25-30.

We begin with an ancient saying of Iamblicus which fully expresses what we saw in regard to the attitude of John's disciples: “People do not find it pleasant to give honor (timê) to someone else, for they suppose that they themselves are being deprived of something."14 Evidently, those described here (“people”) perceive the world in the same way as do Foster's peasants: everything is limited, especially “honor,” such that another's gain comes at one's own loss. Of course this naked quote tells us nothing of the reaction of those who are “deprived of something”; but since this gain is perceived as an injury or insult of some sort, the common social reaction would likely be anger and/or envy to stop the loss and restore the former balance.

Plutarch (On Listening to Lectures 44B) describes a situation of “limited good” when he remarks that some persons hear a speaker and react in envy at his success: “As though commendation were money, he feels that he is robbing himself of every bit that he bestows on another”.15 Here again the issue is one of reputation or respect, and the perspective is that of “limited good.” Another's gain means “robbery” of oneself. While Plutarch does not say that this situation results in agonistic behavior, it remains a distinct possibility. In another place (Old Men in Public Affairs 787D) Plutarch states: “And whereas men attack other kinds of eminence and themselves lay claim to good character, good birth, and honour, as though they were depriving themselves of so much of these as they grant to others.”16 Obviously honor is both to be sought and defended. But a pattern is also emerging here: a grant of honor to another means depriving oneself of honor in equal measure. The perspective is one of “limited good,” and agonistic reactions would likely follow.

In a number of places Josephus also describes situations that presume some sort of perception of “limited good.” First, when he describes the envy of John, son of Levi, at his own rise in fortune, he comments:

“. . .believing that my success involved his own ruin, he gave way to immoderate envy. Hoping to check my good fortune by inspiring hatred of me in those under my command, he tried to induce the inhabitants of Tiberias, Sepphoris, and Gabara -- the three chief cities of Galilee -- to abandon their allegiance to me and go over to him, asserting that they would find him a better general than I was” (Vita 25 §§122-23).17

The issue is once again honor or reputation, and the perception is again that of “limited good.” Josephus' “success” meant John's “ruin.” The result was “envy” and an attempt by John to win back what he saw Josephus as taking from him.

In another place (B.J. 1.23.5. §459) Josephus reports how Herod demanded that his sons be treated each according to his particular honor, because to give honor unfairly to one son was to take it unjustly from a deserving son: “...let the honours you award them be neither undeserved nor unequal (anômalos), but proportioned to the rank of each; for in paying deference to any beyond the deserts of his age, you gratify him less than you grieve the one whom you slight.”18 Once more, the focus is honor and the perception that of “limited good”: the deference given one son is seen as loss of another. Feuding among the royal sons is sure to follow in an attempt to redress the perceived wrong.

Josephus's account of Moses' peril (A.J. 2.11.1 §255) clearly reflects his own appreciation of “limited good.” Even as certain Egyptian nobles urged Pharaoh to put Moses to death, “He [Pharaoh] on his own part was harbouring thoughts of so doing, alike from Moses' generalship and from fear of seeing himself abased, and so, when instigated by the hierarchy, was prepared to lend a hand in the murder of Moses.”19 As we have come to expect, honor is the “limited good”: Pharaoh perceived that Moses' reputation came at his own expense (“fear of seeing himself abased”), and the appropriate envious reaction was to kill Moses and thus restore himself to prominence.

Finally, in Josephus' account of Korah's revolt (A.J. 4.2.4 §32), the author comments: “It were monstrous that Korah, in coveting this honour, should deprive God of the power of deciding to whom He would accord it.”20 Not accidentally the issue is over “honor” and the perception, at least of Josephus, is that of “limited good”: Korah's acquisition of status and honor in this regard comes at God's expense. The deity must and will respond to this threat.

In one place (Ebr. 28 §110) Philo compares and contrasts people of insight with those with mere earthly vision. The wise and all-seeing soul, he says, stretches toward God and interprets created things as benefactions of God; moreover, he honors God as the only Cause of these material benefactions. In contrast, the man of undiscerning vision, whose eye is blinded, does not perceive the Cause at all, but considers material benefits as causes of what he hopes to receive. Hence, he worships many gods, building idols of stone and wood. Philo then makes a claim (Ebr. 28 §110) that relates this material to his perception of “limited good”: “Polytheism creates atheism in the souls of the foolish, and God's honour is set at naught by those who deify the mortal. . .they even allowed irrational plants and animals to share in the honour which belongs to things imperishable.”21 As we have come to see, “honor” – in this case, God's honor – is proportionately diminished as more creatures are honored as gods; the honor of the imperishable God wanes insofar as honor is given to perishable beings. It is clear, therefore, that there is only so much honor in the cosmos, and when honor is unworthily given to some, it diminishes the legitimate honor of others. For this reason Philo labels the just honoring of God as hosiotês, but the improper honoring of creatures, asebeia.

Fronto's letter to Marcus Aurelius provides another striking illustration of the phenomenon we are investigating. Fronto begins by comparing Orpheus' ability to charm “sheep and doves with wolves and eagles” with that of a political leader who gathers together different nations endowed with diverse characteristics. Orpheus' following, nevertheless, lived sociably together in unity and concord, “the gentle with the fierce, the quiet with the violent, the meek with the proud, the sensitive with the cruel.” While Fronto exhorts the Emperor to the same achievement, he concedes that at court the emperor faces “a far harder task than to charm with the lyre the fierceness of lions and wild beasts.” His endeavors, then, should be focused on this: “Set yourself to uproot and utterly stamp out one vice of mutual envy and jealousy among your friends, that they may not, when you have shown attention or done a favor to another, think that this is so much taken from or lost to themselves. Envy among men is a deadly evil and more fatal than any, a curse to enviers and envied alike.”22 The stage is the imperial court, where clients seek the emperor's patronage, thus climbing the fragile ladder of honor and shame. Despite the fact that Fronto talks about imperial elites and not peasants, the social perception is the same: all things are limited, and the success of one is perceived as another's loss. However a new element emerges here: the explicit remark that envy follows the perception of another's success. That is so because all are grasping for the same prize. All seek a high reputation in the eyes of their peers.

At this point we turn from the Greco-Roman world to examine some of the evidence in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The story of Esau’s lost blessing in Gen. 27:30-40 provides a good example. Esau returns from hunting and asks his father’s blessing. But as a result of Jacob’s deceit, Isaac has already blessed his younger son. When Esau returns, and Isaac recognizes him, he is distraught. Esau pleads, “Bless me, me also, father!” But Isaac cannot. There is only one blessing and it is already distributed. So too are the servants, grain and wine that go with it and sustain it. Esau’s second plea (27:38) to his agitated father is even more telling. It makes clear the limited nature of the good: “Have you only one blessing, father?” Indeed he does. Esau receives a curse instead.

Once, when Gideon and his army were prepared to go into battle, the Lord said to him: “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, 'My own hand has delivered me'” (Judges 7:2). The point of view is that of the person who stands to lose honor by the actions of another. The deity perceives that if Gideon wins the victory with a large army, the likely result is the rise of Gideon's reputation as a great warrior and Israel's reliance on him. This, it is implied, comes at God's expense. Hence the command is given to reduce Gideon's troops by two-thirds so that the victory remains with God.

Similarly, David was returning to Saul from “slaying the Philistine” and was acclaimed in city after city by women who came out “singing and dancing, with timbrels, with songs of joy, and with instruments of music.” And they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam 18:6-7). The narrative states that when Saul heard this, he was “very angry, and this saying displeased him, 'They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; and what more can he have but the kingdom'” (18:9). This represents a classic situation of the birth of envy. Saul, like so many other figures we have seen, perceives that David's success comes at his own expense. Moreover, the issue continues to be one of honor, in this case a reputation for military valor and success. Obviously Saul calculates that David will not be satisfied with this honor but will in time aim to have Saul's very throne: “What more can he have but the kingdom?” Thus from that time on, we are told, “Saul eyed David,”23 indicating that he continued to interpret David's every plan or success as wounding his own honor.

Next we turn to Mark's account of Jesus' teaching in the synagogue of his home village (patris) (6:1-6//Matt 13:53-58; Luke 4:16-30).24 His public act of speaking in so formal a setting as “the synagogue” at the most significant of times (“on the sabbath”) embodies a claim of qualification to do something that he apparently did not have prior to his departure. Now disciples follow him! Evidently Jesus has changed radically since he left Nazareth, and has become a person of considerable stature and honor. But his public speech immediately provokes a negative reaction, “they were astonished.”25 In a string of questions the villagers voice their objections to Jesus' public behavior.26 First, they call attention to what they find most offensive in Jesus, namely his newly found capabilities and the corresponding honor they bring him:

Where did this man get all this?
What is the wisdom given him?
What mighty works are wrought by his hands? (6:2)

Evidently such actions would hardly be expected of a peasant artisan. They are perceived as increases in Jesus' status vis-à-vis his former neighbors. Such a quantum leap in honor is apparently processed via the perception of “limited good,” which adequately explains the hostile reaction to Jesus. His gain is interpreted as their loss.

In antiquity, the chief cultural grounds for an individual's status are pegged to his kin, since a man's origin and birth ordinarily provide a reliable index of his worth for the rest of his life.27 Hence, the question “where did he get all this?” implies that Jesus could not have gotten “wisdom” and “powers” from his family who are ordinary peasants: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Simon and Judas, and are not his sisters with us?” (6:3). This means that their social location in the village environment is that of typically poor peasants and artisans.28 Born of humble stock,29 Jesus has no means in their eyes to deserve any new honor. As an artisan he received no schooling (John 7:15),30 and so the qualifications for his public voice in the village synagogue remain uncertain. And yet, here he is enjoying a most favorable and increasing reputation. Jesus' increase in respect throughout Galilee lifts him high above his village peers, a situation which his neighbors perceive as an intolerable and unbalancing force that means their corresponding loss of honor in proportion to Jesus' gain.31 Although the term “envy” does not appear here, the complete ingredients for it are present, as we shall shortly see.

What do people do who perceive a serious imbalance in the zero-sum game of honor and status? Luke concludes his version with an attempt on Jesus' life (Luke 4:29). Resort to violence is an open admission of loss.32 Matthew and Mark both record a hostile reaction, although not life-threatening: “they took offense (eskandalizonto) at him.” In short, they deny his claim to public voice; they attempt to cut him down to size. Jesus has the final word, quoting a common proverb that “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” Granted that Jesus' remark is a generic sort of maxim that is sufficiently broad to apply to many situations, nevertheless it does have to do with role and status (“prophet”), honor, and peer envy, items regularly found in a “limited good” perspective. We do not think it far from the mark to translate Jesus' remark as “a person of distinction [prophet] lacks no acknowledgment of his role/status [honor] except in situations of “limited good,” where his closest associates and relatives [in his own country and in his own house] perceive themselves as losing honor precisely as his increases.” 33

In Mark’s gospel we find several other stories that reflect the perception of limited good (7:24-30; 9:38-41 and 10:35-45). In the story about the Canaanite woman (Mark 7:24-30), Jesus first refuses her request, saying: “ Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The plain meaning of his words states that there is only so much bread, and it belongs to the “children.” To give any to the dogs means that the children’s share will necessarily shrink. But the woman argues in response that “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She effectively neutralizes the limited good perspective by stating that she is not encroaching on the children’s portion (bread), but wishes to share in that part of the portion that has always been fed to dogs (the bread crumbs). The story depends on the audience understanding “limited good” to grasp both Jesus’ words and the woman’s argument.

In Mark's gospel we also hear John the son of Zebedee reporting to Jesus about a situation that resembles the dialogue between John the Baptizer and his disciples. John and others saw a man who was not a disciple use Jesus' name in successfully casting out a demon (9:38), and they forbade him. Jesus' disciples evaluate what they observe in terms of some notion of “limited good,” and so the focus is on the “name” of Jesus and the honor that this non-disciple gains. His success means that Jesus (and his disciples) suffers some corresponding loss; and to staunch this flow, the disciples “forbade him.” Jesus, however, does not perceive the incident in terms of “limited good” and criticizes the disciples' actions: “Do not forbid him.” Far from being a proclamation of tolerance,34 Jesus’ words admit of a different interpretation, namely, that Jesus continues to gain an honorable reputation when another uses his name. When and until this other person speaks ill of Jesus (katalogêsai), the Teacher experiences a net gain in honor. What is clear is that the disciples evaluate the episode in terms of “limited good,” seeing the exorcist's success coming at their and Jesus' expense. Jesus does not contradict the evaluation of “limited good” so much as to indicate that currently he and his disciples continue to experience a net gain in honor. Hence, “do not forbid him,” indicates that Jesus does not feel envy and thus hostility.

One further example from Mark 10:35-52 concludes our survey of parallel materials. Two disciples, who are already prominent among the Twelve (Mark 5:37; 9:2), approach Jesus and request further special favors. They wish “to sit at his right hand and his left hand in his glory” (10:37). We today consider someone at the right hand of the boss to have extraordinary status; so also was that true in antiquity. Psalm 110:1 states it quite clearly: “The Lord said to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand.'” Thus James and John have asked for a truly unique honor. However Jesus persuades them to accept his new calculus of honor, which is “the cup” of sufferings that he will drink and the “baptism” of his passion and death. Instead of receiving what they asked for, James and John are given the honor of sharing Jesus' fate.

But the damage has been done. The other ten disciples hear of the request and react in anger. Their reaction makes perfect cultural sense in terms of “limited good” because if James and John were to receive the honor status they requested, there would be little or no special honor left for them. The success of two would come at the expense of ten. Thus the ten understand that the request of James and John will hurt themselves. Moreover, the indignation and anger (aganaktein) with which they react was understood as the appropriate emotional response to a sense of injury. The episode, we are told, does not escalate into a situation of envy and agonistic behavior because Jesus intervenes (10:42-45). But all of the elements of a battle born of “limited good” perceptions are present.

Yet as Jesus did with James and John (10:38-40), he now does with all of the Twelve (10:43-45). He redefines honor such that “limited good” will make no sense. He criticizes positions of power and status by reminding the Twelve that people in such situations despoil those below themselves. In his circle of disciples, Jesus states, the “great” one is the servant of the rest and the “first” person is the slave of all. Ambition for these particular status positions is acceptable, for no one loses anything; all gain. Jesus then concludes by presenting himself as an honorable example of what he is saying: “the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.”

In sum, the ancient illustrations of “limited good” we have examined exhibit the following traits. First, they all clearly indicate the perception of a zero-sum game in which one's success means another's failure. A causal connection is invariably perceived between the gains of one person and the losses of another. In addition, almost all of the illustrations indicate that the commodity being contested is “honor,” that is, commendation by another, reputation, precedence, role and status, attention or favor from a high ranking person. The result is that in most instances those who perceive themselves as losing because of another's success take hostile action to redress the imbalance. Sometimes it is active harm that is done, including gossip and vilification, or murder or dismissal and disdain. Finally, many of the illustrations describe a situation of envy, a most important element in the social dynamics of ancient Greeks, Romans and Israelites. The data thus appear as follows:

Table 1 Ancient Illustrations of Limited Good

Author & Work Expression of
“Limited Good”
in Dispute

Reaction, Especially Envy

Agonistic Redress
Iamblicus clearly stated honor not mentioned not mentioned
Plutarch: Listening 44B clearly stated honor implied not mentioned
Plutarch: Old Men 787D clearly stated honor implied attack
Josephus, Vita
clearly stated success, good fortune immoderate envy inspiring hatred and defection
Josephus, Ant. 4.32 & 4:51 clearly stated honor not mentioned divine judgment
Philo, Ebr. 110 clearly stated honor not mentioned not mentioned
Fronto, Letters 4.1 clearly stated attention, favor explicitly mentioned “deadly & fatal”
Judges 7:2 clearly stated honor not mentioned not mentioned
1 Sam 18:9 clearly stated reputation, honor implied “eyed” David
Mark 6:1-5 implied reputation, honor implied “too offense at him”
Mark 7:24-30 implied patronage, honor not mentioned bestowed favor
Mark 9:38-41 implied reputation, honor implied “they commanded him to stop”
Mark 10:35:35-45 implied status, honor implied “they became angry at James & John”

4.0 “Limited Good” and Envy

Although only two of the passages discussed above explicitly state that “envy” follows the perception of “limited good,” we assert that it is implied in all of the others. We base this on our analysis of envy in the ancient world as well as our investigation of “limited good.” Let us briefly examine envy in terms of five issues: a) what is envy, b) what is envied, c) who envies whom, d) how one envies, and e) how one avoids envy.

1. In his analysis of the emotions speakers typically arouse, Aristotle (Rhet. 2.10.1) defines envy as “a kind of pain at the sight of [another's] good fortune,” a distress which comes not from any effort to match the success of the person envied, but simply “because others possess it.”35 Cicero (Tusc. Disp. 4.8.17) repeats this centuries later: “Envy is distress incurred by reason of a neighbour's prosperity.”36 In Plutarch's words (On being a Busybody VI:518C, 6), “Envy is pain at another's good.”37 Envy, then, means pain or distress at another's success, a sense of being injured, which seeks redress.

2. The object of envy seems always to be “honor” in one of its manifestations. Rhetoricians declare that “success” (eupragia) is envied, a judgment verified by authors who describe the arousal of it.38 We suggest that whatever patronage someone received, wealth one acquired, status one enjoyed, reputation one earned, prowess one displayed, in short, the Greco-Roman contents of the cultural value of honor, caused the distress and pain which describe envy.

3. Who envies? Basically peers, as Aristotle (Rhet. 2.10.1) said: “Envy is defined as a kind of distress at the apparent success of one's peers?”39 Cicero (De Or. 2.52.209) echoes this: “People are especially envious of their equals, or of those once beneath them, when they feel themselves left behind and fret at the other's upward flight.”40 Envy, we are told, also arises within families: “Kinship, too, knows how to envy” (Aristotle, Rhet. 2.10.5).41 Foster's excellent study of envy indicates that “every society designates those of its members who are deemed eligible to compete with each other for desired goals,” that is, “conceptual equals.”42

4. Although Cicero (Tusc. Disp. 4.8.17) states that envy does not always translate into harmful behavior toward the envied person, we find in numerous instances that it does.43 When we ask how enviers typically envy, our research indicates six ways: a) ostracism, b) gossip and slander, c) feuding, d) litigation, e) the evil eye and f) homicide.44 Saul's “eyeing” David after he heard of “Saul's thousands and David's ten thousands” likely illustrates ocular malevolence,45 which festered until Saul attempted to kill David. Jesus' endless controversies with Pharisees and others represent feuding at its most savage level, for Jesus cannot say or do anything without incessant criticism and carping from his rivals. Likewise the various reactions to Jesus at Nazareth are examples of either ostracism (Mark and Matthew) or attempted homicide (Luke). Jesus' enemies spread slanderous gossip about his empty tomb (Matt 28:11-15).46 And Jesus is the formal object of judicial proceedings before the Sanhedrin and the Roman procurator.47

5. How does one avoid envy? Foster's study indicates four ways to avoid envy: a) concealment, b) denial, c) the “sop,” and d) true sharing.48 If one does noble deeds in secret and hides one's prowess, then no one will know of any reason for feeling envy. But Jesus' mission is to proclaim the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15) in all the towns of Galilee (Mark 1:35-39), for which he must be as public as possible. Moreover, Jesus instructed his disciples in a parable about putting a lamp on a lamp stand and not under a bushel (Mark 4:21-23), virtually prohibiting them from concealment, a strategy he himself followed.49 Second, Jesus appears to use the strategy of “denial” when he refuses the compliment of the rich man, “Good Teacher, what must I do?” (Mark 10:17). He instructs this man “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God” (Mark 10:18). Third, a “sop” refers to some form of forced sharing of goods to placate a group likely to envy the success that earned the goods, such as the “liturgies” in ancient Greece.50 One can only speculate about the remarks in Mark 6:5-6 that Jesus “could not work any power there because of their unbelief.” No possibility of sharing his benefaction of wisdom and power is available to Jesus, and it is odious to imagine that Jesus allowed himself to be a victim or to be pressured into buying off his critics. Jesus, then, offered no “sop” to avoid envy. Finally, the rich deposit of Markan references to Jesus' healing power and his lavish feeding of the multitudes argue that Jesus almost continually engaged in true sharing of God's benefaction. Thus, except for Jesus' refusal of the compliment in 10:17, he does not appear to have engaged in any of the classical strategies of avoiding envy.

We remarked earlier about the widespread prevalence of the perception of “limited good” in the ancient world. Now we argue that in the context of “limited good” envy is the logical and social next step in the sequence of events that occur when the ancients perceive that another's gain means their own loss. This is expressed and clearly implied in the catalogue of materials that illustrate both the existence of a “limited good” perception in antiquity and lay bare its anatomy. This implies a continuous, conflictual social dynamics, which modern scholars label as an agonistic society.51 For example, biblical scholars readily point out how the principal literary form of the gospels, the chreia, embodies agonistic behavior.52 The “responsive” type of chreia typically begins with criticism of a sage's behavior and teaching or with a hostile question put to him. Thus provoked, the sage must respond with sharp wit. This native rhetorical form corresponds to what cultural anthropologists describe as situations of challenge and riposte, where the claims of some to honor (prowess, precedence, power) are challenged, generally by a peer who finds the other's honor painful or distressing to himself.53

When one reads the narrative of Mark and identifies the responsive chreiai and their cultural shape as challenge-riposte episodes, it becomes clear that the narrative episodes in the story of Jesus contain a pervasive sense of antagonism, whether the reader analyzes them in terms of rhetoric as responsive chreiai or in terms of cultural anthropology as challenge-riposte exchanges. Thus, we conclude, there was a widespread perception of “limited good” by the ancients generally and by the characters of the gospels specifically. This perception generally aroused envy in the perceiver, which frequently issued in hostile behavior to cut down to size the person perceived as gaining honor. This gives rise to the constant tension between claimants of honor and those who envy them that is typical of an agonistic society. These perceptions, the envy they arouse, and the agonistic behavior they give rise to are expressed in the ubiquitous rhetorical form of the responsive chreia, an exercise taught to young students. Thus both the model of social dynamics drawn from cultural anthropology and the forms of ancient rhetoric tell a similar story.

5.0 John 3:22-30 In Cultural Context

The materials we have just surveyed and the model of agonistic social dynamics that we have described can be brought to bear on John 3:22-30 with considerable profit. First, the zêtêsis in which John's disciples are involved should be described as an envious reaction. They perceive the situation in terms of “limited good,” in that they interpret Jesus' rise in reputation and fame as causing decrease in that of John the Baptist and thus their own. Their complaint that “All are going to him” means that fewer are flocking to John or that John is losing popularity. This perception, then, causes in them what is expected in that society: pain at another's good fortune and distress at his success. Since injury must be answered, they are poised to act out their envy in some hostile way.

That of course is exactly what happens in 11:45-52. There we get the culturally expected response when the perception of loss (limited good) leads to envy and eventually to hostile action. In 3:27-30, however, John stops the spiral of envy. He corrects one part of his disciples' perception when he declares that God is the source of Jesus' honor and success (3:27); human beings should in no way challenge God's sovereignty as benefactor. When God is gracious and causes an increase, no fault accrues to the recipient of his favor. Thus John reminds his envious disciples that he himself has never felt injured or distressed by Jesus; in fact, his greatest honor has been to witness to Jesus (1:19-23).54 In other words, he does not perceive the present situation in terms of “limited good,” as do his disciples. Jesus' success means his own success as herald of or witness to the Lamb of God.(1:29-34). Indeed, John himself pointed Jesus out to two of his disciples who then heard and followed Jesus (1:35-39).55 Evidently John was pleased that Jesus succeeded, even if it meant “loss” of two of his own disciples.

By way of the metaphor of a wedding party John totally denies any rivalry between himself and Jesus. John, the philos of Jesus the bridegroom, listens to the bridegroom's voice and “rejoices with joy” at it (3:29a). No pain at Jesus' good fortune here! No distress at his success! “My joy is now filled” (3:29b). If there is no perception of “limited good,” then there is likewise no sense of pain or distress, nor is any envy aroused that leads to agonistic behavior. John, then, completely contradicts his disciples' perception of the situation.

John concludes his response to his disciples with an utterly counter-cultural remark: “He must increase, I must decrease” (v 30). Most commentators read the “must” here as a statement of divine necessity, signaling God's will that Jesus increase.56 This final remark repeats what John said earlier about the contentment that the philos should have at the bridegroom's taking of a wife. But it also addresses the heart of the cultural model we have been studying. Jesus' success in fact means that John's reputation and significance wanes. The fundamental perception of “limited good” is again validated, but in this case it does not lead to envy and hostility. In this way it is counter-cultural. For John insists that he is not pained or distressed at Jesus’ “increase.” And so, he readily surrenders his reputation and honor, which belong to Jesus by right. Rarely does one find in Greek or Israelite literature a public figure who willingly and peacefully allows his honor and prestige to diminish without envy and hostile reaction.57 Therefore, it is only when readers appreciate the cultural perception of “limited good,” which leads to a sense of pain and distress, and issues in envy, that they hear what the characters are saying and understand the strikingly unusual response of John to his disciples.


1. Typical of commentaries is that of Martin Stowasser, Johannes der Täufer im Vierten Evangelium (Klosterneuburg, Österreichisches Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1992). He pays close attention to the logical and rhetorical shape of the material, text-critical problems, and the history of the tradition of the material. Yet his focus, like that of most commentators, rests on the bridegroom metaphor in 3:29 (pp 184-90).

2. From the time of the Church Fathers, the typical commentary on 3:30 pointed to the astral parallel of auxaanein - elattousthai with the careers of Jesus and John. See Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971); Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (AB 29;Garden City: Doubleday, 1966) 153; Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968) 1.417.

3. Some scholars have suggested a relationship between Acts 18:25, 19:1-7 and John 3:22-30. For example, Raymond E. Brown suggests that John had many disciples who continued his teaching and baptismal practice after his and Jesus’ death. Indeed they were in conflict with the Johannine community; see Brown’s Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist Press, 1979) 29-30 and 69-71. We do not consider this for two reasons. First, this is an historical question but we are asking social questions. Second, even if Brown is correct, there is no impact on our treatment of 3:22-30. Our focus is on “he must increase, But I must decrease,” which in John’s narrative serves to undercut an expected pattern of limited good and agonistic behavior.

4. There is uncertainty about the identity of the Ioudaioi in v 25. Raymond E. Brown (Gospel According to John, I-XII, 150) translates it as “a certain Jew.” The reading of P66, )* (et al) is Ioudaiôn Rudolf Bultman (The Gospel of John, 171) claimed that the controversy is between John’s disciples and Jesus; for a more recent argument that the conflict is between the Baptizer’s disciples and Jesus, see John W. Pryor, “John the Baptist and Jesus: Tradition and Text in John 3:25,” JSNT 66 (1997) 15-26.

5. See H. Greeven, “zêtêsis,” TDNT 2.756-57 and BAGD 339.

6. Only one study of this passage has noticed the social implications of the disciples’ reaction; Robert L. Webb (John the Baptizer and Prophet. A Socio-Historical Study [JSOTSup 62; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991] 74) remarked: “In hyperbole derived from envy, they state ‘all are coming to him’ (3:26).”

7. In Greek the phrase literally means “friend of the bridegroom.” In Israelite society the term (shushbinim) referred to close friends of similar age who formed associations for mutual aid in putting on a wedding. The obligations incurred were always reciprocal.

8. George M. Foster, “Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good,” American Anthropologist 67 (1965) 293-315); see his “Interpersonal Relations in Peasant Society,” Human Organization 19 (1960) 177 and “Cultural Responses to Expressions of Envy in Tzintzuntzan,” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 21 (1965) 24-35.

9. Foster, “Peasant Society,” 296. The world of biblical scholarship is indebted to Bruce J. Malina for bringing Foster’s work to our attention; see his The New Testament World. Insights from Cultural Anthropology, (revised edition; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1993) 90-116.

10. George M. Foster, “The Anatomy of Envy: A Study in Symbolic Behavior,” Current Anthropology 13 (1972):169.

11. Foster, “Anatomy of Envy,” 169.

12. This material has been successfully applied to aspects of ancient Greek culture; see Peter Walcot, Envy and the Greeks: A Study in Human Behavior (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1978) 22; David Cohen, Law, Sexuality, and Society: The Enforcement of Morals in Classical Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) 183-98 and Law, Violence and Community in Classical Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) 26, 63-70; J. Elster, “Norms of Revenge,” Ethics 100 (1990) 862-85 and John J. Winkler, “Laying Down the Law: The Oversight of Men’s Sexual Behavior in Classical Athens,” in Before Sexuality. The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World (ed. David M. Halperin, John J. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990) 174.

13. For a biblical example, see R.L. Rohrbaugh, "A Peasant Reading of the Parable of the Talents: A Text of Terror?" Biblical Theology Bulletin 22/4 (1993):32-39.

14. Anonymus Iamblici in H. Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 5th edition (ed. W. Kranz; Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1935) 2.400.
. The translation here is that of Frank C. Babbitt, Plutarch (11 vols.; LCL; London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927) 1.237.

16. The translation here is that Harold N. Fowler, Plutarch (11 vols.; LCL; London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927) 10.99.

17. The translation here is that of H. St. J. Thackery, Josephus (9 vols; LCL; London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926) 1.47-8.

18. The translation here is that of H. St. J. Thackery, Josephus (9 vols; LCL; London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927) 2.217.

19. The translation here is that of H. St. J. Thackery, Josephus (9 vols; LCL; London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1930) 4.215-16.

20. The translation here is that of H. St. J. Thackery, Josephus (9 vols; LCL; London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1930) 4.491.

21. The translation here is that of F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, Philo (10 vols; LCL; London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam, 1930) 3.377.

22. Fronto, Correspondence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto 4.1, as cited in Stanley Stowers Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986) 81-82.

23. This is almost certainly a reference to the evil eye, the essence of which is envy. See n. 31 below.

24. For a discussion of the Lukan version of the story in terms of honor and shame, see R.L. Rohrbaugh, “Legitimating Sonship: A Test of Honor: A Social Science Study of Luke 4:1-30,” in Modelling Early Christianity (ed. Philip F. Esler; London: Routledge, 1995) 183-97.

25. LSJ (517) translates the verb here (exeplêssonto) as connoting a sense of distance created by someone or something (“drive away from”) or hostile reaction to something (“shocked” or “amazed”); BAGD (244) give as meanings for this verb “astound, overwhelm,” sometimes with the sense of joy and at other times suggesting fear or fright.

26. For a study of questions as aggressive and challenging weapons, see Jerome H. Neyrey, “Questions, Chreiai, and Challenges to Honor: The Interface of Rhetoric and Culture in Mark’s Gospel,” CBQ 60 (1998) 657-81.

27. Ancient rhetoric of praise and blame and the progymnastic exercise called the encomium both indicate how offspring were ascribed the same social status as their parents and ancestors; for examples of this, see Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul. An Archaeology of Ancient Personality. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996) 23-27, 92-93, 158-60 and Neyrey, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, 37-40, 78-80, 91-101.

28. See George W. Buchanan, “Jesus and the Upper Class,” NovT 7 (1964) 195-209.

29. We must not forget the humble status of “Nazareth,” as voiced by Nathaniel in John 1:46; on the degree to which the city of one’s birth can contribute to an individual’s status and reputation, see Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul, 113-24, 131-32, Neyrey, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, 91-97 and Jerome H. Neyrey, “Luke’s Social Location of Paul: Cultural Anthropology and the Status of Paul in Acts,” in History, Literature, and Society in the Book of Acts, (ed. Ben Witherington, III; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1996) 251-79.

30. In the encomium and other rhetorical sources, a person’s education was routinely noted; no student could hope to match much less surpass his teacher; but at least the reputation and honor of the teacher would become the source of the disciple’s ascribed honor. See Neyrey, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, 8-9, 80, 102-04.

31. All of the Gospel writers repeatedly anticipate and counteract negative responses to Jesus because of his low status at birth. For a discussion of the strategies each Gospel writer uses in addressing this problem, see R.L. Rohrbaugh, “Locating Jesus: Strategies for Persuasion” in The New Testament World (ed. Philip F. Esler; forthcoming from London: Routledge).

32. Rohrbaugh, “Legitimating Sonship,” pp. 185-86.

33. Evidently Jesus’ remark in Matt. 13:57 is a rhetorical sententia or maxim; its success in this chreia rests on its being a common explanation of the phenomenon we are observing, namely peer envy which is based on a perception of limited good. For Hellenistic parallels, see M. Eugene Boring, Klaus Berger, and Carsten Colpe, Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995) 96) and for Israelite ones, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (Garden City: Doubleday, 1981) 527-28.

34. See D. A. Nineham, Saint Mark (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1963) 253; and C. F. D. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959).

35. The translation here is that of John H. Freese, Aristotle, Rhetoric (LCL; London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam, 1926) 239.

36. The translation here is that of J.E. King, Cicero (28 vols.; LCL; London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1945) 18.345.

37. The translation here is that of W.C. Hembold, Plutarch (16 vols.; LCL; London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1939) 6.491.

38. Aristotle states that the “good fortune” (eupragia) of another occasions envy (Rhet. 2.10.1); Josephus describes in his Life how his personal success (eupragia) cause “immoderate envy” in others (122).

39. Freese, Aristotle, Rhetoric, 239.

40. The translation here is that of E.W. Sutton and H. Rackham, Cicero (28 vols.;LCL; London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1945) 6.351.

41. Freese, Aristotle, Rhetoric, 241.

42. George Foster, “Anatomy of Envy,” p. 170.

43. The observation of Alvin W. Goulder (Enter Plato [New York: Basic Books, 1965] 57) is striking: “In one manner or another, Greece usually finds occasion to punish its greatest men – Aristides, Alcibiades, Anaxagoras, Cimon, Demosthenes, Phidias, Pericles, Themistocles, Xenophon – while Aeschylus and Euripides die in self-imposed exile. However novel Socrates’ life in other respects, his fate at the hands of the Athenians is scarcely unique. G.C. Field remarks that by the fourth century b.c., ‘one thing that strikes anyone. . .is the extraordinary sense of insecurity which all public men, orators and generals alike, must have felt. Hardly anyone of prominence escaped trial at some period of his career, and few avoided condemnation either to payment of a heavy fine, or even to death.’”

44. Anselm C. Hagedorn and Jerome H. Neyrey, “It Was Out of Envy that They Handed Jesus Over’ (Mark 15:10): The Anatomy of Envy and the Gospel of Mark,” JSNT 69 (1998):32-34.

45. In a series of studies on the “evil eye,” John H. Elliott has made clear the presence and extent of this social phenomenon, which is generally related to envy. See "The Fear of the Leer. The Evil Eye from the Bible to Li'l Abner," Forum 4.4 (1988) 42-71; "Paul, Galatians and the Evil Eye," CTM 17 (1990) 262-73; "The Evil Eye in the First Testament: The Ecology and Culture of a Pervasive Belief," in D. Jobling, G. Sheppard and P. Day, eds., The Bible and the Politics of Exegesis (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1991) 147-59; "Matthew 20:1-15: A Parable of Invidious Comparison and Evil Eye Accusation," BTB 22 1992) 52-65; "The Evil Eye and the Sermon on the Mount," Biblical Interpretation 2 (1994) 51-84.

46. For a study of gossip in the New Testament, see R.L. Rohrbaugh, “Gossip in the New Testament.” In John J. Pilch, ed., Social Scientific Models for Interpreting the Bible: Essays by The Context Group in Honor of Bruce J. Malina. (forthcoming from Leiden: Deo).

47. For a fuller account of the ways in which Jesus was envied in Mark, see Hagedorn and Neyrey, “It Was Out of Envy,” 38-54.

48. Foster, “The Anatomy of Envy,” 175-82; see also Hagedorn and Neyrey, “It Was Out of Envy,” 36-38.

49. Yet it must be admitted that Mark contains some instances where Jesus seems to keep secret his presence (7:24) or his actions (1:44; 7:36). But these are significantly outweighed by commands to broadcast news about healings he has done (5:19-20) and by reports about Jesus which circulate widely (1:28, 45; 2:1-2; 3:7-8; 4:1 etc.). Thus we do not wish to perpetuate the mistaken construct of a “Messianic Secret.” See Hagedorn and Neyrey, “It Was Out of Envy,” 51-53; also John Pilch, “Secrecy in the Mediterranean World: An Anthropological Perspective” (BTB 24 [1994): 151-57); John Pilch, “Lying and Deceit in the Letters to the Seven Churches: Perspectives from Cultural Anthropology” (BTB 22 [1992]: 126-34). On prohibition of secrecy, see Matt 5:14-16.

50. See Friedrich Oertel, Die Liturgie. Studien zur ptolemäischen und kaiserlichen Verwaltung Ägyptens (Leipzig: Teubner, 1917); N. Lewis, The Compulsory Public Services of Roman Egypt (Florence: Edizioni Gonnelli, 1983); S. R. Llewelyn, “The Development of the System of Liturgies,” New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity 7 (1994) 93-111; David Whitehead, “Competitive Outlay and Community Profit: ÖIËÏÔIÌIÁ in Democratic Athens,” Classica et Mediaevalia 34 (1985) 55-74.

51. Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Society in Ancient Greece (New York: Zone Books, 1988) 29-56; Peter Walcot, Envy and the Greeks, 52-76; and Alvin W. Gouldner, Enter Plato: Classical Greece and the Origins of Social Theory (New York: Basic Books, 1965) 41-77; and now David Cohen, Law, Violence and Community in Classical Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) 70-75, 90-101, 128.

52. Any student of the chreia in gospel research about Jesus is well aware of the agonistic setting of most of them. Some hostile remark, such as a criticism, or some aggressive question is put to a sage to test and possibly defeat him. See in this regard, Neyrey “Questions, Chreiai and Culture.” For ancient rhetorical documents about chreia, see Ronald F. Hock and Edward N. O’Neil, The Chreia in ancient Rhetoric. Volume I. The Progymnasmata (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986); on Markan chreia, see Burton L. Mack and Vernon K. Robbins, Patterns of Persuasion in the Gospels (Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1989). Both Mack and Robbins have contributed individual essays on the chreia: Burton Mack, Anecdotes and Arguments: The Chreia in Antiquity and Early Christianity (Occasional Papers 10. Claremont, CA: Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, 1987); Vernon Robbins, “The Chreia,” in Greco-Roman Literature and the New Testament (ed. David E. Aune; SBLSBS 21; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988) 1-23 and “Pronouncement Stories and Jesus’ Blessing of the Children,” Semeia 29 (1983) 43-74.

53. See Hagedorn and Neyrey, “It Was Out of Envy,” 43-46; see also Neyrey “Questions, Chreiai and Culture,” 664-70.

54. Morna Hooker (“John the Baptist and the Johannine Prologue,” NTS 16 [1970] 354-58) makes the case that John’s primary role in John 1:6-8, 19-34 is to witness (martyrein) to Jesus, a role secondary to that of reforming prophet with a special washing rite.

55. On John’s active recruitment for Jesus, see Walter Wink, John the Baptism in the Gospel Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968) 91.

56. For example, Raymond E. Brown (The Gospel According to John I-XII 146 and 153) likens the “must” in 3:14 to comparable expressions in the synoptic passion narrative; the “must” in 3:30 has the same sense of divine necessity.

57. Speaking of marks of honor, Aristotle states: “And to take vengeance upon enemies and not to be reconciled; for to retaliate is just” (Rhet. 1.9.24). On the common expectation that hurts and injuries would be repaid, see Jerome H. Neyrey, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, 203-205.

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