From Ezekiel 17:24 and 21:3 to Luke 23:31: A Survey of the Connecting Jewish Tradition

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“For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31; KJV) Passages such as this demonstrate the indispensability of situating the teachings of Jesus within the context of Second Temple Period history, culture, literature, and language.


Material from Ezekiel 17:24, and more often 21:3 (20:47 in the English Bible) has often been cited as the source of Jesus’ saying in Luke 23:31, “If they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?“ Other commentators have questioned this assumption. If the material was borrowed from Ezekiel, however, was it borrowed directly or was it sifted through hundreds of years of usage, only to find its way into the mouth of Jesus?

When addressing these questions, it becomes immediately apparent that despite the numerous interpretations offered, there has been no attempt to gather all the pertinent sources together. Nor has there been any attempt to offer anything resembling a comprehensive analysis of all the relevant material. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to amass all known possible parallels, and to discuss the impact of each on the understanding of the “green tree/dry tree” imagery from Ezekiel to Luke.

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An olive branch. Illustration by Janet Frankovic.

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  • W. E. Nunnally

    W. E. Nunnally

    W. E. Nunnally, Ph.D. was born in Richmond, VA in 1955. He and his wife Lacey have lived in Springfield, MO for the past 17 years. They have two adult children and two grandchildren. Dr. Nunnally completed a BA in Religion at Mississippi College in…
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