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Note of the Day – February 19 (Mark 3:3-19; Matt 10:1-4)

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The next topic to be discussed regarding the Call of the Disciples in the Gospel Tradition is the tradition of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles). Three distinct aspects will be examined:

  1. The tradition of the call/commission of the Twelve, and how this functions in the Synoptic Gospels
  2. The list(s) of the Twelve, along with brief discussion of the details related to Peter and Judas Iscariot, and
  3. The significance of the (number) Twelve within this tradition

I begin with the first aspect, starting with the tradition as recorded in the Gospel of Mark.

The Twelve Disciples

Mark 3:13-19

It is worth noting that here, with regard to this particular tradition, Mark actually has a slightly longer (and more elaborate) version. Usually the longer form of a tradition indicates some degree of (secondary) development, though occasionally the process of development may work in the opposite direction—toward the simplifying or condensing of an earlier tradition. The call/commission of the Twelve is set after an initial period of teaching and (healing) miracles by Jesus, as recorded in 1:21-3:12. The Markan narrative at this point may be outlined as follows—first, for the specific tradition in 3:13-19:

  • Verse 13—The call of the Twelve is narrated simply, with three details or elements: (a) the location on a mountain, (b) the call, and (c) the response. As in 1:16-20, an immediate, obedient response is indicated:
    • Jesus calls them toward [pro$] him
    • They go away toward [pro/$] him
  • Verses 14-15—The commission: “he made twelve”, where the verb poie/w (“do, make”) can be understood in the sense of “appoint, designate”. The majority text adds “whom he also named apostles“, though the phrase is omitted by a number of manuscripts and may reflect a harmonization with Lk 6:13b. A two-fold purpose is expressed, by use of the conjunctive particle i%na (“[so] that”):
    • “that [i%na] they might be with him”
    • “that [i%na] he might set [i.e. send] them forth”, using the verb a)poste/llw, related to a)po/stolo$ [apostle]
      the purpose of his sending them is also two-fold, expressed by a pair of infinitives (and a third joining infinitive):

      • “to proclaim (the message of the Kingdom)”
        —”and to hold authority [e)cousi/a]”
      • “to cast out the daimons [i.e. demons, (evil) spirits]”
        These represent the two principal activities of Jesus in his Galilean ministry, and are both characterized by the authority which he possesses.
  • Verses 16-19—The names of the Twelve; this consists of two overlapping components:
    • Vv. 16-17: A specific notice of the naming (implied) of the Twelve, echoing verse 13 [v.l.], and the new names given by Jesus (“he set a name for [them]”) to the first, and best known, of the Twelve—Peter, James, and John
    • Vv. 16b-19: The list of the Twelve, according to the (Synoptic) tradition shared with Matthew

The Markan narrative which follows, spanning the entirety of the Galilean ministry period (3:208:30), appears to be governed by this passage, and may reflect a specific (Markan?) development of an earlier stage of the Gospel tradition. Note the following outline, as I suggest it may relate to the two-fold purpose assigned to the calling of the Twelve in 3:14-15 (above):

1. “to be with him” (3:206:6a)—this theme is expressed, in various ways, in each of the passages or episodes which make up this section, which one might organize into a chiastic outline:

  • Contrast of the disciples with Jesus’ natural family and acquaintances, etc (3:20-21, 31-35)
    —Jesus’ proclamation (and teaching) of the Kingdom, i.e. in parables (4:1-34); by which he also gives the secrets of the Kingdom to his closest followers (the Twelve, v. 10)
    ——The disciples together with Jesus in the boat (4:35-41), along a manifestion of the authority he holds
    —Jesus’ healing (exorcism) miracles (5:1-43), i.e. the authority to “cast out the daimons”
  • Contrast (implied) of those who trust in him (i.e. disciples) with the people of Jesus’ home town (6:1-6a)

2. “he would send them forth” (6:6b-8:30)—the section is introduced with a summary of this activity by the Twelve in 6:6b-13; “the Twelve” are mentioned specifically as such in verse 7. A similar chiastic outline may be established for this section as well, framed, for example, by three pairs of episodes:

  • Reference to the healing miracles, worked by the Twelve (6:13)
    —An episode involving Herod (6:14-29)
    ——Feeding miracle (6:30-44)
    ———{the remainder of 6:45-7:37}
    ——Feeding miracle (8:1-10)
    —An episode in which Herod is mentioned (8:14-21)
  • Narrative of a healing miracle, worked by Jesus (8:22-26)

Clearly the commission of the Twelve in 6:6b-13 is parallel to the call of the Twelve in 3:13-19—and each introduces the two main sections of the narrative (3:13-6:6a and 6:6b-8:30). Beyond this point, the narrative clearly depicts the Twelve remaining with Jesus during his journey to Jerusalem (9:35; 10:32), and also during the time in Jerusalem (11:11).

Matthew 10:1-4

By comparison with Mark, the narrative of the call of the Twelve is much simpler; it also functions thematically, and within the structure of the Gospel, rather differently. To begin with, the mountain setting of Mk 3:13 is not mentioned, occurring at an earlier point, as the setting for the “Sermon on the Mount” (chaps. 5-7); the wording in 5:1 is generally similar to that in Mk 3:13: “he stepped up onto the mount(ain)/hill”. In this scene, Jesus also gathers his disciples together, again using similar language (“they came toward him”); only here the purpose is not to commission the Twelve, but to teach (v. 2). On the theory that Matthew has made use of Mark (or a comparable Synoptic narrative), the collection of teaching making up the “Sermon” (primarily “Q” material) has been ‘inserted’ into the first period of the Galilean ministry at a point corresponding to Mark 1:21. The preceding summary of Matt 4:23-25 anticipates the episodes following in chapters 8-9, which essentially ‘pick up’ the Markan narrative—8:1-9:17 corresponds with Mk 1:29-2:22.

As mentioned, the version of the call tradition in Matthew is simpler that that of Mark, and may reflect an abbreviation of the Synoptic tradition (note how Matthew paraphrases the details in Mark). Moreover, the emphasis is more specifically upon the authority Jesus gives the Twelve to work healing miracles:

“And calling his twelve learners [i.e. disciples] toward him, he gave to them (the) authority [e)cousi/a] o(ver) unclean spirits, so as (also) to (be able to) cast them out and to heal every sickness and every disease.” (10:1)

Healing sickness/disease is mentioned as distinct from the casting out of unclean spirits (exorcism miracles), whereas in Mark, both kinds of activity are combined under the basic idea of expelling demons (understood as being responsible for disease). The names of the Twelve follow in vv. 2-4, but without the Markan reference to Jesus’ giving names to Peter/James/John (Peter’s new name is mentioned in passing).

Also different from Mark’s treatment is the way that the mission of the Twelve (Mk 6:6b-13) follows immediately after the call, in 10:5-16. It also serves as the setting for another collection of teaching (vv. 16-42), similar to the earlier “Sermon” in chaps. 5-7. This material is found in other locations in Mark and Luke (including “Q” material). Matt 11:1 concludes this teaching to the Twelve and focuses back again on the ministry activity of Jesus—11:116:20 generally follows Mk 3:208:30 (cf. above), with some differences in ordering and emphasis, and also inclusion of other “Q” and “M” material. Consider the general outline:

  • Narrative introduction/summary of Jesus’ ministry work (4:23-25)
    • Jesus gathers his disciples to him (5:1)
      • He instructs them—collection of teaching (chapters 5-7, “Sermon on the Mount”)
        • First period of the Galilean ministry—teaching and miracles of Jesus (8:1-9:34)
          —development of the Synoptic tradition, including “Q” and “M” material
  • Narrative introduction/summary of Jesus’ ministry work (transitional, 9:35-38)
    • Jesus’ call/commission of the Twelve (10:1-5)
      • He instructs them—collection of teaching (10:6-42)
        • Second period of the Galilean ministry—teaching and miracles of Jesus (11:116:12)
          —development of the Synoptic tradition, etc.

As in Mark, there is also a notice that the Twelve follow Jesus to Jerusalem; two specific references contain this information:

  • The saying in 19:28, added to the core narrative of vv. 27-30 (= Mk 10:28-31); this tradition will be discussed in a subsequent note.
  • 20:17—the third prediction by Jesus of his upcoming Passion (Mk 10:32 par)

This topic will continue in the next daily note, where the call/commission of the Twelve in the Gospels of Luke (and John) will be examined.

Note of the Day – February 18 (John 1:35-51)

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Yesterday’s note explored the tradition(s) related to the call of Peter and the first Disciples, in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:16-20 par). Today I will be looking at the very different line of tradition preserved in the Gospel of John. While it is not entirely impossible to harmonize the Synoptic and Johannine accounts (for those who wish to do so), it should be noted that there is scarcely a single detail in common between them, other than the presence of the brothers Andrew and Simon, and the introduction of the name “Peter” for the latter.

John 1:35-51

As discussed in earlier notes, these verses are part of the larger narrative block of 1:19-51—a sequence of four episodes, set as occurring on four consecutive “days” (a literary device, as much as historical). Verses 35-51 make up the last two “days”. Here again is an outline of vv. 19-51, indicating how deftly the author has blended together traditions regarding the baptism of Jesus and the call of the first disciples, into a single narrative:

  • 1:19-28—Day “1”: The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
  • 1:29-34—Day “2”: The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
  • 1:35-42—Day “3”: Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
  • 1:43-51—Day “4”: Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness
Day “3” (John 1:35-42)

Verses 35-36 essentially repeat the opening from the previous “day” (v. 29f), in which the Baptist sees Jesus (coming) and declares, “This is the lamb of God!”. What follows in the earlier episode (vv. 30-34) is the Baptist’s narration of Jesus’ baptism and his witness as to Jesus’ true identity as the “Son of God” (v. 34 [some MSS read “Elect/Chosen One of God”]). This is treated as a public declaration, for all people to hear. In verses 35-36, on the other hand, it is (only) heard by John’s immediate followers (disciples), two of whom, upon hearing it, leave the Baptist to follow Jesus (v. 37). Compare this with the Synoptic tradition (in Mark):

  • “Jesus said to them, ‘Come (here) behind me…’ [Mk 1:17] and straightaway, releasing th(eir) nets, they followed him” [v. 18]
  • “…looking on Jesus, John says, ‘See! the lamb of God’ [Jn 1:36] and the two…heard him speaking and followed Jesus” [v. 37]

There is a general similarity, but the details differ considerably. It is interesting that, in both traditions, two disciples are involved, and one of them is Andrew (Mk 1:16; Jn 1:40). This cannot be mere coincidence; rather, on entirely objective grounds, it almost certainly reflects authentic (historical) tradition. It is likely that the original Johannine tradition, in its simpler form, continued from verse 37 on (directly) to vv. 40-41:

37…they heard him speaking and followed Jesus. 40Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two…following (Jesus)… 41He finds his own brother Simon and says to him…”

This tradition follows the Synoptic by recording Andrew and his brother Simon (Peter) as the first two disciples (known by name) who follow Jesus. However, the entire setting in John appears to be quite different from that of the Synoptics. There is no mention of fishing; indeed, Andrew appears not to be engaged in fishing at all, but has been a disciple of the Baptist. Nor does Jesus take the initiative, speaking first to Andrew and Peter both, but a very different process and order of events seems to be involved. Moreover, this distinct Johannine tradition has been further adapted by the Gospel writer in light of the overall narrative in chapter 1. This has been done through the inclusion of a number of details:

  • The emphasis on the disciples responding to the witness of John the Baptist regarding Jesus (cf. verses 7-8, 15, 19, 31-32, 34). This is made all the more emphatic by the repetition of verse 29 in vv. 35-36.
  • This begins a chain of witness from John to the disciples in turn (cf. 17:20; 20:31, etc), as narrated in vv. 40-42 and 43-46.
  • The central encounter with Jesus in vv. 38-39, told with distinctly Johannine language, including the special use of the verbs e&rxomai (“come”), me/nw (“remain”) and the motif of seeing/knowing.
  • The declaration of Jesus as “the Messiah” (i.e. Anointed One, Christ); cf. the parallel declaration in v. 49 (also in v. 45), whereby the first disciples bear witness to the identity of Jesus (20:31).

This particular episode also concludes with the naming of Peter (as “[the] Rock”, pe/tro$), by Jesus. This is associated with a different point of the Gospel narrative in the Synoptics (Mk 3:16 par; Matt 16:18). The naming of Peter will be discussed in a subsequent note.

Day “4” (John 1:43-51)

Much that has been said of the prior episode applies to the fourth “day” as well. One main difference is that the disciples are shown responding to Jesus’ call directly, rather than the testimony of John the Baptist (compare vv. 35-37 and 43). Indeed, verse 43 is similar to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 1:16-20 par, though a different disciple (Philip) is involved; yet the basic motif is very close, as Jesus says to the person:

  • “Come (here) in back of me…!”
    Deu=te o)pi/sw mou (Mk 1:17 par)
  • “Follow me!”
    Akolou/qei moi (Jn 1:43)

Again, as in the Synoptics, we are dealing with a second pair of disciples who come to follow Jesus—Philip and Nathanael (instead of the brothers James and John). That this reflects an authentic (historical) tradition, however different from the Synoptic, would seem to be confirmed by the presence of disciples (Philip and, especially, Nathanael) who otherwise play little role in the Gospel narrative. A Christian tradition from a later period would almost certainly have involved better known figures. It is interesting, again, how it is said of Philip (in v. 44) that he was from the same town (Bethsaida) as Andrew and Peter; similarly, in the Synoptics, Andrew/Peter and James/John are, it would seem, from the same area (Capernaum).

From the standpoint of the Johannine narrative (and theological) context, note how in this episode we find the same keywords and motifs as in the prior one—e&rxomai (“come”), me/nw (“remain”), and seeing/knowing (vv. 46-48, 50). All of these common words are given a special meaning and significance in the Gospel of John, involving the relation of the believer to Christ:

  • Jesus comes into the world from the Father, and also comes to those who will believe. Believers, in turn, come to Jesus
  • Believers remain/abide in/with Jesus, and Jesus in/with them

This same dynamic is defined in terms of seeing/knowing—Jesus sees/knows from the Father, and sees/knows those who will believe; then believers also come to see/know Jesus (the Son).

The saying/statement of Jesus in the closing verse 51—a suitable climax to the entire section (and, indeed, chapter 1 as a whole)—draws together all of these motifs, as well as the entire Baptism scene, in the vision promised to the disciples (believers). This remarkable verse has been discussed in considerable detail in an earlier note.

Note of the Day – February 17 (Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)

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Today’s note begins the next division of our series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, focusing on the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (cf. the Introduction). The first topic of study is on traditions related to the Call of the Disciples. There are four primary traditions found in the Gospel narrative:

  1. The call of the first Disciples—esp. two pair of brothers (Peter/Andrew, James/John)
  2. The call of Matthew/Levi
  3. The call and commission of the Twelve
  4. The naming of Peter

Only the first and third of these will be dealt with in detail.

The Call of the First Disciples

Mark 1:16-20 par

Following the baptism of Jesus (and the testing in the desert), the period of Galilean ministry, according to the Synoptic narrative, begins with announcement of Jesus’ activity. In the Gospel of Mark, this is found in 1:14-15:

“And with the giving along (of) Yohanan {John} (into custody), Yeshua {Jesus} came into the Galîl {Galilee} proclaiming the good message of God and giving account [i.e. declaring/saying] that ‘The time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near! Change your mind [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!'”

Matthew (4:17) generally follows Mark, though without the preceding message of John the Baptist’s arrest. Luke has set the notice of John’s imprisonment at a different point in the narrative (right before Jesus’ baptism, 3:18-20), and makes no mention of Jesus proclamation of the coming of the kingdom or need for repentance (but cf. Lk 4:43; 8:1). This has essentially been replaced by the narrative summary in 4:14-15, emphasizing the role of the Spirit and Jesus’ activity of teaching (in the Synagogue), which sets the scene for the episode at Nazareth in 4:16ff. In the quotation of Isaiah 61:1 (vv. 18-19), Jesus declares, as part of his mission, that he is to “give/proclaim the good message”, much as is stated in Mk 1:14-15.

Mark 1:16-20 records the call of the first disciples. The parallel in Matthew (4:18-22) is very close; while Luke, has supplemented the basic narrative (5:1b-2, 10-11) with a miracle story involving Peter and his co-workers (5:4-9). This unique handling and development of the tradition will be discussed below. The narrative in Mark is extremely simple, with action and dialogue kept to an absolute minimum:

  • Notice of the location, along the Sea of Galilee (v. 16a)
  • Jesus encounters a two pair of brothers—Simon/Andrew & James/John—in turn (vv. 16b, 19a)
  • These men are all fishermen, busy working their nets (vv. 16b, 19b)
  • Jesus calls to them (to follow him) (vv. 17, 20a)
  • They all leave their nets and boats (and family, etc) to follow Jesus (vv. 18, 20b)

The central element is the saying of Jesus in verse 17, and the structure of the narrative gives the impression that it was built up around the saying. Here is the saying (in Mark):

“Come (here) in back of me [i.e. follow me], and I will cause you to become salt-water (fisher)s of men” (Mk 1:17)

Matthew’s version (4:19) is virtually identical, reading “make you” instead of “cause you to become”. In Luke, the comparable saying is quite different:

“Do not be afraid! From now on you will be catching men alive” (Lk 5:10b)

What is striking about the main Synoptic tradition, as given simply in Mark/Matthew, is how the sparse narrative detail gives the impression of an immediate response by the disciples—at the very (first) word from Jesus, they leave everything and follow him. This, of course, will become a motif—i.e. of obedience and commitment in following Jesus—repeated on several occasions in the Synoptic narrative (Mk 2:14; 8:34; 10:21 par; Lk 9:57-62 par). The core saying itself contains certain elements which summarize and reflect the ministry of Jesus, and are worth noting:

Verse 17a—the emphasis and motif of discipleship:

  • The expression deu=te (“come [here]”) is as much an invitation or exhoration as it is a command, and indicates one’s coming close, toward Jesus—Matt 11:28; 25:34; cf. also 22:4; Mark 6:31.
  • The preposition o)pi/sw (“in back of, behind”) is often used specifically in terms of a disciple following a master (Mark 8:34 par, etc). Its occurrence in the saying(s) of John the Baptist (Mk 1:7 par; Jn 1:15, 27, 30) was discussed in previous notes.

Verse 17b—the illustration from daily life (cf. the parables of Jesus):

  • The word a(lieu/$ refers to someone who works on/in the salt-water, here meaning specifically a fisherman. The activity from daily life is applied to the religious/spiritual life of the disciple (believer) who follows Jesus.
  • The genitive “of men” (a)nqrw/pwn) establishes the point of contrast—instead of gathering in fish for the catch, the disciples will be gathering in human beings for the kingdom of God. This latter detail is not stated explicitly, but such a connotation is likely, given the frequent references to the kingdom of God/Heaven in the parables and teachings of Jesus.

Luke 5:1-11

As noted above, Luke’s version of this episode represents a significant development, in which the core Synoptic narrative (found in vv. 1b-2, 10-11) has been expanded to include a distinct miracle story featuring Peter (vv. 4-9). Verses 1a & 3 may reflect Lukan editing/authorship in order to blend the two traditions effectively into a literary whole. In particular, they seem to echo the setting in Mk 4:1-2, which Luke may have transferred from that location in the (Synoptic) narrative. This is likely, since in 8:4ff, the passage parallel to Mk 4:1-2ff, there is no corresponding mention of Jesus teaching the crowd from a boat.

This is all relatively straightforward—the Synoptic narrative, supplemented by another (“L”) tradition related to the call of Peter—were it not for the fact that the miracle narrated in vv. 4-9 is remarkably similar to that found in John 21:1-8ff. The problem is that the Johannine episode is said to have occurred at a much later time, after the resurrection of Jesus. It is not just a question of a general similarity; rather, there are a number of specific details shared by the two narratives, which include:

  • Peter and his colleagues had fished all night and had caught nothing (v. 3, 5; Jn 21:3)
  • Jesus is standing on the shore of the lake (v. 1; 21:1, 4)
  • Jesus tells them to go and cast out their nets again (v. 4; 21:6)
  • The result is an enormous catch of fish (v. 6b; 21:6, 11)
  • Reference to the stress (tearing) on the nets, and to the help required to bring in the catch (vv. 6-7; 21:8, 11)
  • A reaction by Peter to(ward) Jesus as a result of the miracle (v. 8; 21:7)
  • Jesus is called “Lord” [ku/rio$] (v. 8; 21:7)
  • The catch of fish is symbolic of the work of Christian ministry, and is connected in the narrative to a (separate) tradition involving the commission of Peter and the other disciples (vv. 10-11; 21:11, 15ff)

Also notable is the use of the dual name “Simon Peter” in both narratives (v. 8; 21:7), as it is the only such occurrence in the Gospel of Luke (and only once elsewhere in the Synoptics, Matt 16:16); cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 28), p. 561.

These similarities have been explained various ways by commentators:

  • As two separate historical episodes, at different points in the life of Peter, during his time with Jesus—one at the beginning, and the other at the end. The shared details would be either coincidental or providential.
  • Two separate traditions have been shaped by a distinct miracle-story form—i.e. the miraculous catch of fish.
  • A tradition with an original post-resurrection setting (John) has been given an earlier setting at the time of Peter’s calling (Luke).
  • A tradition originally associated with Peter’s calling has been set after the resurrection. I.e. the reverse of the view above.
  • It is a piece of “floating” tradition, which came to the Gospel writers (and/or their sources) without a specific narrative (or chronological) context; each writer made use of the tradition at the most meaningful (or logical) point.

The first option generally follows the traditional-conservative view. Those who hold to it would quickly point out the many differences between the two narratives, in addition to the similarities. Critical scholars, on the other hand, are more likely to accept either the second, third, or fifth options (e.g., Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, pp. 561-2). The fact that Luke has apparently adapted an (earlier) Synoptic narrative, by adding/inserting the miracle episode, as a distinct unit (vv. 4-9), would perhaps favor (some form of) the critical view. For those who would argue between the Lukan and Johannine setting as the “original” setting of the historical tradition, the evidence seems to be fairly evenly divided. On the one hand, the fact that Luke and John (according to the Alexandrian/Majority text of Lk 24), have inherited common traditions related to the resurrection, supports the post-resurrection setting in John 21. On the other hand, the idea of Peter and the other disciples returning to the ordinary life of fishermen after the resurrection has always seemed a bit odd (even unlikely) to many. The overall milieu of the scene (esp. vv. 1a-8 in John) better fits the period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (as narrated in the Synoptics). It would be easy enough to adapt such an “earlier” or “floating” tradition to a post-resurrection setting, as could have been done in John simply by adding vv. 1 and 12b-14 (try reading the text without these framing verses) to an episode otherwise very close to Lk 5:4-9.

Speaking of the Gospel of John, it should be mentioned, in closing, that the Fourth Gospel has nothing like Mark 1:16-20 par, but records/preserves an entirely different tradition regarding the call of the first disciples (Peter/Andrew, etc). This will be discussed in the next daily note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (Continued)

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This is a good moment to stop and re-set the current series entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (cf. the Introduction). The first part of the this series has been devoted to a detailed examination of the Baptism of Jesus. This was chosen because it provides an ideal case study (using extensive evidence from all four canonical Gospels) for analyzing how the early (historical) traditions came to be developed and adapted over time, leading to the composition of the Gospel narratives as we have them. It was demonstrated rather clearly, I think, in these notes, how the account of Jesus’ baptism (and his relation to John the Baptist) were preserved (independently) in multiple strands of tradition. Each Gospel writer gave his own interpretation and treatment of the material, but was essentially obligated to hold to a basic narrative, and to the preservation of certain fundamental traditions.

The remaining two parts, or divisions, of this series will be focusing on: (1) the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (Pt  II) and (2) the Passion Narrative (Pt III). These are also useful as divisions since they reflect the basic two-part structure of the Synoptic narrative—(i) the Galilean ministry (Mk 1:28:30), and (ii) the journey to Judea/Jerusalem and the events there (Mk 8:3116:8). The other Synoptics have more complex structures; indeed, Luke rather clearly has a three (or four) part division:

  • [The Infancy Narrative]
  • The Galilean ministry (3:19:50)
  • The Journey to Jerusalem (9:5118:34)
  • The time in Judea/Jerusalem (18:3524:53)

However, it is easy enough to see how the core Synoptic narrative has been adapted and expanded. In the case of Luke, the Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2) has been added and the journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10) has been filled out by including a wide range of sayings/teachings of Jesus, and other episodes, most of which do not occur in the Gospel of Mark (i.e., so-called “Q” and “L” material).

Here is a preliminary list of some of the areas and topics I will be addressing in the next set of notes (for the remainder of February and into March), dealing with the Galilean Ministry of Jesus, traditions and passages related to:

  • The call of the Disciples
  • Jesus’ relatives and family
  • The Sabbath Controversies
  • Collection/joining of sayings, parables, and miracle stories
  • The Feeding miracle(s)
  • The Son of Man sayings

The next several notes will deal with the first topic—the Call of the (first) Disciples of Jesus.

It is worth mentioning, that these Galilean ministry passages and traditions are, for the most part, exclusive to the three Synoptic Gospels. The main reason for this is that a large percentage of scenes and dialogues in the Fourth Gospel are set in and around Jerusalem, so there is less material with which we can definitely work. However, it may be surprising how many parallels we will find between the Synoptic and Johannine traditions, and that the latter may well have included (and reworked) numerous episodes and traditions which are set in the “Galilean” section of the Synoptic narrative.

It may also be helpful to remind readers of the method I have adopted for this series. For each passage, narrative, or set of traditions being studied, I examine—

  • The basic Synoptic narrative (as represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark)
  • The so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark)
  • Traditions and details preserved only in Matthew and/or Luke (so-called “M” and “L” material), as well as original (literary) contributions by the authors
  • Johannine tradition and the Gospel of John

This order of study is roughly chronological, reflecting ‘layers’ of development—but not strictly so by any means. The Gospel of John certainly contains (separate) early/authentic historical traditions which are not found in the Synoptics. However, more often than not, the Fourth Gospel also shows the most evidence of extensive development, adaptation, and interpretation, of Gospel tradition. Indeed, this is a primary reason why it is usually regarded as the latest of the canonical Gospels—often dated around 90 A.D., in the form it has come down to us.

Note of the Day – February 16 (Luke 9:28-36, etc)

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Today’s note follows up on the discussion yesterday, regarding the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-13 par), and its parallels with the Baptism of Jesus. Here I will be focusing on the meaning and significance of the episode, especially as presented in the Gospel of Luke. This will include a comparison of the variant readings in Lk 9:35, compared with those in John 1:34.

Interpretation of the Transfiguration scene

As I mentioned in the prior note, the Transfiguration begins the second half of the Synoptic narrative, much as the Baptism scene begins the first. The Baptism of Jesus marks the start of his ministry (in Galilee), while the Transfiguration marks the beginning of his Passion (i.e. in Judea/Jerusalem) and precedes his journey to Jerusalem. The parallels between the Baptism and Transfiguration (cf. the list in yesterday’s note) have to be understood in terms of these differing contexts within the narrative. Consider the following points:

1. The connection with John the Baptist and questions regarding the identity of the Messiah

This has been a central theme in our study of the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (discussed in detail in the prior notes). John the Baptist, of course, features prominently in the Baptism narrative, which opens with a description of John and his ministry, including the central association with the Isaiah 40:3ff prophecy (Mark 1:2-6 par). His presence in the Transfiguration scene is limited to the (separate?) tradition which appears at the end (Mk 9:11-13). It is generally assumed that Jesus is speaking of John in his reference to “Elijah” (cp. Matt 11:14), drawing a parallel between the Baptist’s mistreatment/arrest and his own (i.e. of the “Son of Man”, 8:31; 9:12, etc). Note the framing structure surrounding 8:27-9:13, forming an inclusio:

The question regarding the identity of “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) is given more prominence and clarity in Luke’s account of the Baptism (3:15; cp. John 1:19-27).

2. The heavenly declaration corrects/clarifies the Messianic identification

This is implicit by the phenomena attending Jesus at his baptism, especially the descent of the Spirit upon him; Luke brings out the Messianic association more directly, in the subsequent scene at Nazareth, where Jesus identifies himself with the “Anointed” figure of Isa 61:1ff (Lk 4:17-21, cf. also 7:22). This makes clear in what sense Jesus is the Messiah (3:15) and the “one [who is] coming” (3:16; 7:19 par). The heavenly declaration at the Baptism adds to this by identifying Jesus as God’s Son (3:22 par), drawing upon the image of the king (i.e. the Davidic ruler) as “Son of God” (the variant reading in Lk quotes [the Messianic] Psalm 2:7). Similarly, prior to the Transfiguration, Peter declares Jesus to be “the Anointed One (Messiah) [of God]” (Mk 8:27 / Lk 9:2). The exchange between Peter and Jesus which follows (Mk 8:31-33 par, but omitted by Luke) suggests that Peter had in mind the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic ruler (cf. Parts 6-8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), which would not have been compatible with the idea that Jesus must suffer and be put to death. It was Peter who also responds to the Transfiguration, without truly understanding the significance of what he sees (Mk 9:5-6 par, cf. below). Again, as at the Baptism, the heavenly voice declares Jesus to be the “Son of God”—but here, it would seem, not in the traditional Messianic sense, but hinting at something greater, tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:9, 12-13 par), which will lead to his exaltation to the right hand of God (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:32-35; 13:30-35 [citing Ps 2:7], etc).

3. The presence of Moses and Elijah—Jesus as a Prophet figure, specially chosen/anointed by God

That Jesus was seen as a Messiah of the Prophet figure-type seems clear enough from the Baptism scene, attested by different strands of tradition (Mk 1:7-8 par; Lk 3:15ff; 4:14-30; Jn 1:19-27), as well as the entirety of the period of his Galilean ministry, as recorded in the Synoptic narrative. Principally, he fulfilled the role of Spirit-endowed, miracle working Prophet (like Elijah), identified more specifically with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. It has been popular to interpret the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene as representing “the Law and the Prophets” which Jesus was fulfilling (Matt 5:17; Lk 16:16; 24:27, 44; Jn 1:45, etc). However, this does not seem to be correct. To begin with, Elijah is an odd choice to represent the Prophetic Scriptures (Isaiah would make more sense, cf. Jn 12:39-41). More importantly, Moses and Elijah each represent distinct Prophet-figures; and, in the original context of the Gospels, it is almost certain that Jesus, in the period of his Galilean ministry especially, was also seen as an Anointed Prophet. I would suggest that in the Transfiguration scene the significance of Moses and Elijah is two-fold:

  1. It identifies Jesus as a Messianic Prophet (like Moses and Elijah), marking the conclusion of his Galilean ministry in which this role was primarily being fulfilled, but also pointing to his eschatological role inaugurating a new era for the people of God. It is no coincidence that, in Jewish tradition by the time of Jesus, Moses and Elijah were seen as prophetic figures who would appear at the end-time, as a fulfillment of specific prophecies (Deut 18:15-20; Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6).
  2. Moses and Elijah each experienced a theophany—manifestation of God’s presence—upon the holy mountain (Sinai/Horeb); similarly, Jesus (and his disciples) on this mountain experience the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence and the divine Voice from heaven. This theophany, in relation to Jesus, is of a different sort, reflecting his divine Sonship. For more on this, cf. below.
4. The Transfiguration scene prefigures the coming Passion—the death and resurrection of the Son of Man

This is clear from the position of the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic narrative, as noted above. It marks the conclusion of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the beginning of his Passion—the upcoming journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10; Lk 9:5118:34), and the events which would take place there. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration brings out this aspect more clearly (cf. below).

The Transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36

Note the following details or characteristics of the Lukan version, and its place in the specific context of the Gospel narrative:

  • Luke has given special prominence to Jesus’ role as a Messianic, Spirit-endowed Prophet in the period of his Galilean ministry (4:149:22); this gives greater significance to the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene (see above).
  • Peter’s confession in Luke (9:20) reads “You are the Anointed One of God” which is parallel to the unique form of the heavenly declaration in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration “This is the Son of God, the Elect/Chosen (One)“. On this, see below.
  • Luke’s version of the Transfiguration brings out more clearly the association with Moses and the Exodus—especially the traditions regarding the cloud of God’s presence (9:29, 31a, 34-35, cf. Exod 13:21-22; 19:9, 16ff; 24:15-16ff; 33:9-10; 34:5; 40:34-38). In particular, note v. 34 which alludes to Moses entering the cloud (Exod 24:18, cf. also 33:9).
  • This also enhances the idea of the Transfiguration as a theophany, in which Jesus and his disciples experience the presence of God and see his glory/splendor (vv. 31-32, cf. also v. 27). In this context, the altered appearance of Jesus (v. 29) probably is meant to echo the tradition regarding Moses changed appearance in Exod 34:29-35.
  • Luke ties the Transfiguration more directly to the coming death and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, in two respects:
    (1) by the detail he includes in v. 31, using the word e&codo$ (exodos, “way out”, i.e. “exodus”), and
    (2) its relation to the journey to Jerusalem which follows, and which features so prominently in the structure of the Lukan narrative (9:51-18:34)

The textual question in Luke 9:35 and John 1:34

Finally, mention should be made again of the textual variants for the heavenly declaration in Luke 9:35. The majority text (including A C* W 33, etc) follows the version in Mark (9:7):

“This is my Son, the (one who is) loved”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$

However, many of the earliest/best manuscripts (Ë45,75 a B L, etc) instead read:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. elect/chosen]”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( e)klelegme/no$

Most commentators prefer this as the original reading, considering it much more likely, considering scribal tendencies, that the passage would be harmonized with Mark than the other way around. As it happens, there is a similar textual variant related to the declaration of Jesus’ identity at the Baptism, in John 1:34. The Baptist’s statement, in the vast majority of manuscripts and witnesses (including Ë66) reads—

“…this is the Son of God”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=

which, of course, is quite similar to the voice at the Transfiguration in the Synoptic tradition (cf. also the Matthean version of the Baptism, Matt 3:17). However, in a number of witnesses (Ë5,106vid a* b e ff2* etc) the reading is:

“…this is the (One) gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen] of [i.e. by] God”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( e)klekto/$ tou= qeou=

A few MSS have the longer (conflate) reading “…the elect/chosen Son of God”, which is surprisingly close to the heavenly voice in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration (according to many of the best MSS, cf. above). The adjective e)klekto/$ is closely related to the participle e)klelegme/no$ (both from the verb e)kle/gomai, “gather out of/from”), and has essentially the same meaning (“selected, elect, chosen”, etc). The adjective normally refers (in the plural) to believers (as the elect/chosen ones) in the New Testament, but the singular is used of Jesus (also as a title) in Luke 23:35; a few manuscripts likewise read the adjective, instead of the participle, in Lk 9:35. In the two Lukan references, and in Jn 1:34 v.l., the title “Elect/Chosen One” almost certainly must be understood in a Messianic context. The Lukan usage in 9:35, if original, suggests a parallel with the adjective a)gaphto/$ (“[the one] loved [i.e by God]”)—the one chosen by God is loved by God, and vice versa. It also indicates that the title “Son of God” should not be understood here in terms of later orthodox Christology (nor even the developed Christology of the Fourth Gospel). The immediate narrative context of the Gospel has rather a different, two-fold emphasis:

  • Jesus is the Son of God in a Messianic sense, according to the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 etc in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. Lk 1:32, 35, etc), and
  • The declaration points to the death, resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, by which he is considered to be God’s Son (and Anointed One) in a very special sense (Acts 13:33, etc). The Johannine idea of Jesus’ Sonship—i.e. as the pre-existent, eternal Son of the Father, plays little (if any) role in the Synoptic narrative, and represents a somewhat later development in the Gospel tradition.
The title “Elect/Chosen One of God” (ah*l*a$ ryj!B=) is found in an Aramaic text from Qumran (4Q534). It survives only as a fragmentary piece, so it is nearly impossible to determine the precise context, but it appears to be related in some way to the ancient Enoch traditions, most familiar as expressed in the work known as 1 Enoch. Column 1 lines 10-11 reads: “in that [i.e. because] he is the chosen (one) of God, his being born [i.e. his birth] and the spirit [jwr] of his life-breath [<vn] {…} his thinking/reckoning [pl. i.e., plans] will be to the distant age (to come) [i.e. for ever]…”. It may perhaps be debated to what extent the title “Elect/Chosen One” is Messianic (cp. Isa 42:1; Ps 89:3; 106:23); however, in the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (chap. 37-71), often dated roughly to the time of Jesus (early-mid 1st cent. A.D.), we find a heavenly figure (much like Jesus) who is variously given the titles “Son of Man”, “Anointed One” and “Elect/Chosen One”. All three of these titles appear together, in the context of the Transfiguration scene, in Luke 9 (vv. 20, 22, 26, 35 v.l., 44).

Note of the Day – February 15 (Mark 9:2-13, etc)

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Mark 9:2-13; Matt 17:1-13; Luke 9:28-36

Today’s note represents the final part of the series of notes on the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition. In it we will examine the parallel of the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic Gospels, in comparison with the Baptism. I have already touched upon this in the Introduction to the larger series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”. The points to be discussed in this note are:

  1. The position and significance of the Baptism and Transfiguration in the structure of the Synoptic narrative as a whole
  2. Similar/parallel details between the Baptism and Transfiguration, and how they may differ or function in context, and
  3. The similarity of the heavenly declaration regarding Jesus’ identity

Study of the Transfiguration is much simpler than that of the Baptism, since it seems to be attested only in the primary Synoptic narrative. In the method I have been using in this series, this core narrative is represented by the Gospel of Mark, following the fundamental critical hypothesis that Matthew and Luke made use of Mark. There is always the possibility that all three Gospels are drawing (independently) upon a common “Synoptic” tradition; however, it must be affirmed that, if Matthew and Luke did not use Mark, they must have used a source very similar in content and structure. In Mark, the Transfiguration occurs at 9:2-13, with the Synoptic parallels being Matt 17:1-13 and Lk 9:28-36. It does not seem to have been part of the so-called “Q” material (common to Matthew and Luke), nor is any such tradition recorded in the Gospel of John. Commentators debate whether Matthew and Luke may have inherited traditions apart from the core Synoptic narrative (so-called “M” and “L” material), which they included, or whether they have simply adapted the basic narrative. A reference to the Transfiguration is also found in 2 Peter 1:17-18, but it is not clear whether the immediate source of this is historical memory (Peter, taking the text at face value), the Synoptic narrative, or an independent tradition.

1. The Structure of the Synoptic Narrative

The Synoptic narrative, as shared by all three Gospels, is divided into two main portions: (1) The Galilean ministry of Jesus, and (2) The time in Judea (Jerusalem). The Galilean period begins with the Baptism, and concludes, we may say, with Peter’s confession of Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, this covers the span of 1:28:30; Matthew and Luke generally follow this same outline (Luke being closer to the Markan order), but both Gospels “fill out” the narrative with additional sayings and episodes, i.e. the so-called “Q” material, along with other traditions (“M” and “L” content). The Transfiguration is the major episode which begins the second half of the Gospel, much as the Baptism begins the first half; it follows the first (of three) announcements by Jesus of his upcoming Passion (Mk 8:31ff), and precedes the journey to Jerusalem. This journey is scarcely mentioned in Mark, serving as the setting for chapter 10 (vv. 1, 32, 46), but in Luke it is developed considerably as a prominent feature of the narrative, covering the entire collection of material from 9:51 to 18:34 (almost ten full chapters). Virtually all of Jesus’ activity in Judea is set in the second half of the narrative, giving the impression that the only journey Jesus made to Jerusalem was the one just before his death. By contrast, the Gospel of John records multiple visits to Jerusalem, coinciding with the major religious festivals, an arrangement which, in certain respects, one must assume more accurately reflects the historical situation.

2. Similarities between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes

I begin with the narrative as represented by Mark, noting differences in the other Gospels along the way. There are a number basic elements which can be pointed to as parallels between the two scenes:

  • The isolated locale—the Judean desert/wilderness (1:4ff) vs. a high mountain [in Galilee?] (9:2)
  • Visual/visionary phenomena appear, in relation to Jesus (1:10; 9:2b-4)
  • These phenomena involve brightness/whiteness (1:10 [the dove image]; 9:3); for more on this, cf. “Did You Know?” below.
  • The phenomena may be said to have a Prophetic and/or Messianic context—”anointing” by the Spirit (Isa 61:1ff, cf. Lk 4:14-20, etc) and the presence of Moses/Elijah with Jesus (more on this in the next daily note).
  • A cloud/presence, i.e. from heaven (1:10-11; 9:7)
  • The declaration by a heavenly voice (cf. the next section below)
  • A reference to John the Baptist as “Elijah” (1:2, 6; 9:12-13)
  • The scenes are connected (in different ways) with Peter, James and John as disciples of Jesus (1:16-20; 9:2ff)
  • Following closely after, Jesus works a healing (exorcism) miracle (1:21-28; 9:14-29)

In Matthew’s version, the parallel is made more precise by the fact that the heavenly declaration in both scenes is identical (Matt 3:17; 17:5b). The primary difference between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes is twofold: (a) the presence of Jesus’ disciples and their response to the visionary experience, and (b) the Transfiguration more fully reflects a theophany (divine appearance/manifestation), such as recorded in the Old Testament. Luke, in particular, has brought out more clearly a connection with the theophany at Sinai (9:30-31, 34; cp. Exod 19). Luke also adds the detail of Jesus being engaged in prayer in both scenes (3:21; 9:29a), which creates another parallel unique to that Gospel.

3. The declaration of the Heavenly Voice

In both scenes there is a heavenly Voice (i.e., that of God). Note the similarity of wording (in Mark):

“and there came to be [e)ge/neto] a voice out of [e)k] the heavens” (1:11a)
“and there came to be [e)ge/neto] a voice out of [e)k] the cloud (9:7a)

The main difference is one of closeness and intensity—the voice at the Transfiguration comes from a theophanous cloud [nefe/lh], indicating the presence of God (cf. the Exodus traditions, Exod 13:21-22; 19:9, 16ff; 24:15-16ff; 33:9-10; 34:5; 40:34-38), which overshadowed [lit. cast shade upon] Jesus and his disciples. Luke’s account enhances the detail of the cloud (Lk 9:34), drawing upon the image of Moses entering the cloud, to the place where God was present (Exod 24:18, cf. also 33:9). The declaration of the heavenly voice in both scenes is very similar; in Mark it is:

  • “You are my Son, the (one who is) loved—in you I have good regard” (1:11b)
    su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n soi\ eu)do/khsa
  • “This is my Son, the (one who is) loved” (9:7b)
    ou!to$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$

Matthew, insofar as he is following the Synoptic/Markan version, seems to have combined the two statements, so that they read as identical in both episodes:

  • “This is my Son, the (one who is) loved—in whom I have good regard” (3:17; 17:5)
    ou!to$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n w!| eu)do/khsa

The situation in Luke is a bit more complicated, as there are significant variant readings for the declaration in both scenes. For the baptism (3:22b):

  • The Majority reading—identical with that in Mark (cf. above)
  • The minority “Western” reading—a quotation of Psalm 2:7 LXX:
    “You are my Son—today I have caused you to be (born)”
    ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron gege/nnhka/ se

On this textual variant, cf. my earlier discussion. For the transfiguration (9:35):

  • Reading of Ë45,75 a B L, etc:
    “This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. elect/chosen]”
    ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( e)klelegme/no$
  • The majority reading (A C* W 33 et al): identical with that in Mark

Most critical commentators consider the first reading as more likely to be original, the latter being adapted/normalized to the Synoptic parallel in Mark/Matthew and the baptism scene. A few manuscripts read the related adjective e)klekto/$ instead of the participle e)klelegme/no$ (cf. Lk 23:35), but with essentially the same meaning. This textual question will be discussed in related to an interpretation of the Transfiguration scene, especially as it has been developed in the Gospel of Luke, in the next daily note.

Finally, to round out the comparison, we should mention the version of the heavenly declaration at the Transfiguration, from 2 Peter 1:17, which is similar to that in Matthew, but with a different formulation in Greek (giving priority to the reading of Ë72 B):

“This is my Son, the (one) loved (by) me—unto whom I have good regard”
o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ mou ou!to/$ e)stin ei)$ o^n eu)do/khsa

One detail which entered the Gospel tradition regarding the Baptism of Jesus was a great light/fire which flashed in the water around him at the moment of his baptism, presumably associated with the presence of the Spirit. This tradition was relatively widespread, appearing in the Old Latin MS (a) and one Vulgate MS between Matthew 3:15 and 16, with similar references in Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 88), and Epiphanius (Panarion 30.13.7). It came to be immensely popular and influential in the Syrian Church, being described in the Gospel Harmony (Diatessaron) of Tatian (cf. the Commentaries of Ephrem [IV. §5] and Ish‘odad of Merv). In the Syrian baptismal tradition, a principal motif was that Jesus’ glory, ‘left behind’ in the water, is picked up by the believer when he/she “puts on” Christ—restoring the “robe of glory” originally lost by Adam & Eve. On this, cf. my earlier Epiphany note.

 

Note of the Day – February 14 (John 1:19-27, etc)

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Today’s note will examine what is perhaps the final stage of development regarding the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition—the theme of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (and Son of God) in the Gospel of John. I have already discussed this to some extent in the earlier notes, but here I will be highlighting how this particular theme, or aspect, of the Tradition has been developed. To review the structure of the Gospel, chapter 1 is made up of five sections—(1) the Prologue (vv. 1-18), and (2) a sequence of four episodes, narrated as four “days”, during which the focus shifts from John the Baptist to Jesus (cf. Jn 3:30):

  • 1:19-28—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
  • 1:29-34—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
  • 1:35-42—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
  • 1:43-51—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness

I begin with the two references to John the Baptist in the Prologue:

Jn 1:6-9

Here in the Prologue the lo/go$ (Logos, “Word”) of God is referred to as the “true Light” (to\ fw=$ to\ a)lhqino/n, vv. 5, 9), which, in the context of the Fourth Gospel, clearly refers to the divine nature and origin of Jesus, and to the primary purpose of his appearance (incarnation) on earth (vv. 5, 12, 14, 18, etc)—to reveal (make known, “shine forth”) God the Father to humankind (the elect/believers). In vv. 6-8 the statement is made specifically that John (the Baptist) was not the Light, but only came to be a witness to the Light. It is sometimes thought by commentators that this reference, taken together with the remainder of the narrative in chapter 1, as well as the episode in 3:22-23ff, indicates that there were followers of the Baptist who believed strongly that he was the Messiah (cf. Lk 3:15).

Jn 1:15, 30

Here in verse 15 (and repeated in v. 30) we have the saying by the Baptist (cp. Mk 1:7 par [cf. the earlier note]), which, it would seem, has been given a unique Christological interpretation in its context in the Gospel of John. This interpretation is based on a distinctly Johannine use of the three verbs appearing in sequence—e)rxomai (“come”), gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), and ei)mi (vb. of being, “am/is/was”, etc). It clearly points to Jesus’ identity as the pre-existent Son of God (vv. 14, 18, 34). For a detailed exposition, cf. the discussion in my earlier note (previously referenced).

When we turn to the next four sections (or “days”), the first “day” is the most significant in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah), in comparison with John.

Jn 1:19-27

The narrative structure of this episode consists of an exchange (dialogue form) between the Baptist and a deputation of religious leaders (Scribes, Levites, Pharisees), from Jerusalem, who have come to ask him “Who are you?” (v. 19). This question specifically relates to three eschatological/Messianic figures:

  • “The Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, v. 20)—It is worth noting that this is not asked of John, but, apparently, the statement comes from the Baptist’s initiative (perhaps anticipating the purpose of their question):
    “And he gave account as one [i.e. confessed], and did not deny (it)—indeed he gave account as one (saying) that ‘I am not the Anointed (One)’.”
  • “Elijah” (Eliyyah[û], Gk. Hli/a$, v. 21a)
  • “The Prophet” (o( profh/th$, v. 21b)—most likely a reference to the “Prophet like Moses” (Deut 18:15-20) who, in Jewish (eschatological) tradition, was expected to appear at/before the end-time.

John denies being each of these last two (Prophetic) figures, in response to the question, “What then? Are you…?” It is significant that John denies being “Elijah”, since this identification came to be so well-established among early Christians and, as we have seen, is attested in the Gospel (Synoptic) tradition. According to Mark 9:13 par (and Matt 11:14), it would seem that Jesus himself identified John as the “Elijah (who is) to come”. While, in the Fourth Gospel at least, John the Baptist denies being any of these Messianic figures, he does identify himself as the herald (the “voice”) of Isaiah 40:3ff, which, of course, is also the primary Scripture associated with him in the Gospel Tradition (Mk 1:3 par).

It is worth considering just what is meant here in this passage by o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”, i.e. Messiah). For many early Christians, at least at the time the Gospels were written (c. 60-90 A.D.), the primary association would be with the traditional figure of the coming Ruler, from the line of David, who would judge/subdue the nations and bring about the deliverance/restoration of Israel. Yet, it is hard to see how the Baptist could have been viewed in this light, if we accept the historical portrait of him in the Gospels (and Josephus). There are two other possibilities:

  1. The “Anointed One” here refers to a different Prophetic figure, possibly the one anointed by God in Isa 61:1ff, or the Messenger of the Lord in Mal 3:1ff. Both roles seem to have been applied to Jesus, either at the historical level (during his ministry), or in the earliest strands of Gospel tradition. In this case, there would still be three Messianic figures mentioned in the passage.
  2. It refers to a Messianic end-time (Prophet) figure more generally, whether the type of Elijah, Moses, or something else. According to this view, the figures of “Elijah” and “The Prophet” would only represent two specific Messianic figure types, while John denies being this Messiah in any sense.

If we accept the historicity of the scene, then it seems to me that the latter option is perhaps more likely; while, at the same time, the Gospel writer (and/or his readers) may have understood it as referring to three distinct figures, among which “the Anointed One” could have still meant the traditional Davidic Ruler type. It is also interesting that these Messianic figures are connected, in the mind of the questioners, with John’s baptizing ministry (v. 25). At first glance, this may appear somewhat strange, until we realize that John himself seems to have cast his ministry in eschatological and prophetic terms (as discussed in the prior notes). A version of the Baptist’s traditional sayings (cp. Mk 1:7-8 par) are included here, in the context of the narrative, at this point (vv. 26-27). One unique detail in the Johannine version should be pointed out—the following phrase from v. 26:

“…in your midst stands one whom you do not see [i.e. know]”

Here the historical tradition is given added significance from the standpoint of Johannine theology—that of people (believers) seeing/knowing Christ (as the [true] Light, etc).

Jn 1:29-51

The next three “days” each contain important declarations regarding Jesus’ identity, as well as a central narrative episode in which people encounter Jesus—the narrative being marked by a distinctive (Johannine) use of the verbs e&rxomai (“come”) and me/nw (“remain”), as well the motif of seeing/knowing:

Day 1 (1:29-34):

Declaration 1—”See! the Lamb of God…” (v. 29)

  • Jesus coming toward John (vv. 29-30)
  • John came to baptize (Jesus) (vv. 31, 33)

[The Baptism of Jesus, as described by John]

  • The Spirit stepping down (i.e. coming down) and remaining on Jesus (vv. 32-33)
  • Before this, John had not seen/known Jesus (i.e. recognized his identity) (vv. 31, 33)

Declaration 2—”This is the Son of God” (v. 34)
[Note: Some MSS read “this is the Elect/Chosen (One) of God”; on this, cf. the next daily note]

Day 2 (1:35-42):

Declaration 1—See! the Lamb of God!” (v. 36, repeating v. 29)

  • Jesus passing by—two of John’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus (v. 37)

[Disciples/Believers encountering Jesus]

  • Disciples ask Jesus: “Where do you remain/abide?” (v. 38)
  • Jesus responds to them: “Come and see” (v. 39)
    —They came and saw and remained with him

Declaration 2—”We have found the Messiah!” (v. 41)

Day 3 (1:43-51):

Declaration 1—”We have found the one of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote!” (v. 45, step-parallel with v. 41)

  • Disciples encourage others to follow Jesus (vv. 44-45), according to Jesus’ own example (v. 43)
  • Come and see” (v. 46)

[Disciples/Believers encountering Jesus]

  • Disciple asks Jesus: “From where do you know me?” (v. 48a)
  • Jesus responds to him: “I saw you…before he called you” (v. 48b)

Declaration 2—”You are the Son of God…the King of Israel!” (v. 49)

The declaration by Nathanael shows that, at the level of the early traditional material, we still find the identification of Jesus as the Anointed One or Messiah (“King of Israel”, i.e. the Davidic Ruler figure-type) and Son of God (in a Messianic sense). However, elsewhere in the narrative, it is clear that the identification has moved beyond this, to a deeper Christological interpretation—of Jesus as the One sent by God, of divine origin, even the pre-existent Son of God. This, of course, is the portrait we find in the Fourth Gospel, from the Prologue all the way to its very end (20:31).

Mention should also be made here of the concluding visionary statement (a declaration by Jesus) in verse 51: “You will see…”. I have discussed this verse at some length in an earlier study, but it is worth pointing out several clear parallels with the Baptism scene from Gospel tradition:

  • The heaven opening up [vb. a)noi/gw, compare Mk 1:10 par]
  • The descent of a heavenly/divine presence—Messengers (i.e. Angels) of God, vs. the (holy) Spirit of God (cf. verses 32-33 and the Synoptic par)
  • The use of the verb katabai/nw (“step down”, i.e. “come down”)
  • The Messengers/Spirit coming down upon [e)pi/] Jesus [Mk uses ei)$ “unto”]
  • Jesus is identified as a Messianic and/or Divine figure (“Son of God”)—these are effectively blended together in the figure “Son of Man”, as found in the sayings of Jesus throughout the Gospel tradition

 

Note of the Day – February 13 (Luke 3:15; 4:14-21ff)

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Today’s note continues the study of the Baptism of Jesus as developed in the Gospel Tradition, by looking at the theme of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (in comparison with John the Baptist), here within the Gospel of Luke.

There are three distinctive Lukan contributions to the Gospel tradition at this point:

  1. The addition of 3:15
  2. The specific emphasis on the Spirit and the heavenly voice in the Baptism narrative (3:21-22), and
  3. The episode with which the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is narrated (4:14-21ff)

Luke 3:15

The Lukan Baptism narrative (on the ministry of John the Baptist) contains the following information in verse 15:

“And (with) the people looking toward receiving (something) [i.e. being in expectation], and all (the people) gathering (it) through their hearts about th(is) Yohanan {John}—(if) not in some (way) [i.e. whether] he might be the Anointed One [o( xristo/$]…”

This leads into the Baptist’s sayings of vv. 16-17 (par Mark 1:7-8; Matt 3:11-12), which, in Luke’s version, are a direct response to the people’s reaction in v. 15. The detail in this verse is not found in the other Synoptic Gospels, but its general authenticity is perhaps confirmed by a comparison with Jn 1:19-27 (to be discussed in the next note). At any rate, it would not be at all surprising if such a unique, prophetic figure as John might be taken as an Anointed One of God (i.e. Messiah). However, it seems most unlikely that the traditional Messianic figure-type of the Davidic Ruler is in view here—it is hard to see how anyone would consider the Baptist in that light, based on the description of him and his ministry in the Gospels (however, cp. Jn 1:20ff). It is far more probable that the people thought he could be a Messianic Prophet figure—especially according to the type of Elijah, who would appear at the end-time before the Judgment. The main point to note is that John here deflects attention away from his Prophetic/Messianic role to that of the “one who is coming”, the one greater than he (i.e. Jesus).

Luke 3:21-22—The Baptism

I have already discussed the way that the Gospel writer has adapted the Synoptic narrative of Jesus’ baptism, in an earlier note. Today, I wish to look briefly at two specific points of emphasis which relate to the Lukan portrait of Jesus’ identity (as the Anointed One of God).

(1) The Descent of the Spirit (v. 22a)

Several details are worth noting. First, Luke’s description seems to give added emphasis to the descent of the Spirit as a concrete, visual event (note the words in italics):

“…and the holy Spirit stepping down [i.e. coming down] in bodily appearance as a dove upon him…”

Second, the word order joins the descent of the Spirit and the heavenly voice into an enclosed symmetry, connecting them in an artistic manner:

  • and stepping down
    —the Holy Spirit…upon him
    —and a voice out of heaven
  • coming to be

Third, after the baptism, the role of the Spirit and its relationship to Jesus is given much more prominence in the Lukan narrative (note the words in italics):

  • 4:1—”And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden {Jordan} (river) and was led in the Spirit in(to) the desolate (land)” (cp. Mk 1:12; Matt 4:1)
  • 4:14—”And Yeshua turned back [i.e. returned from the desert] in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl {Galilee}”

Finally, the use of Isa 61:1ff (in 4:17ff, cf. below) indicates that Jesus has been, in some sense, anointed by the Spirit, which almost certainly should be understood as having taken place at the Baptism.

(2) The Voice from Heaven (v. 22b)

I have already mentioned (in a prior note) how the Lukan syntax of vv. 21-22 has the effect of making the declaration by the heavenly voice the climactic focal point of the scene, in a distinctive way. Two additional points should be mentioned here:

(a) The idea of Jesus as the Son of God—how this is developed in Luke-Acts. Consider:

  • It is introduced in the Infancy narrative, at the Angelic announcement of his birth to Mary (1:32, 35)
  • The idea is implied in the scene of the child Jesus in the Temple—God as his (true) Father, contrasted with Joseph as his (human/legal) father (2:48-49)
  • The genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38), which directly follows the baptism (and the declaration of the heavenly voice), is included as a creative (literary) device to emphasize Jesus’ true identity as the “Son of God” (i.e. rather than the human son of Joseph)
  • The title “Son of God” plays a key role in the Temptation scene which follows (4:3, 9)
  • His identity as Joseph’s (human/legal) son is brought up again in the subsequent scene at Nazareth (4:22)
  • He is declared “Son of God” by demons during the first miracles of his public ministry (4:41, cf. also v. 34)

(b) The variant reading of the heavenly declaration—in the Beza MS [D], as well as in certain Latin MSS and writings of the early Church Fathers, instead of the traditional Synoptic version (identical with Mk 1:11), the voice from heaven cites Psalm 2:7 [LXX]:

ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron gege/nnhka/ se
“You are my Son—today I have caused you to be (born)”

I have discussed this reading (which some scholars consider to be original) in an earlier note. It certainly makes a Messianic association with the title “Son of God” more definite (cf. Acts 4:25-27; 13:32-33ff; Heb 1:5; 5:5).

Luke 4:14-21—The Episode at Nazareth

I will be discussing this episode in more detail at a later point in this series (when studying the Galilean ministry of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition); here I will simply point out several details which relate back to the earlier chapters and the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God:

  • The unique presence and power of the Spirit on/in Jesus as he begins his ministry (v. 14, cf. also v. 1)
  • The quotation from Isa 61:1, as read by Jesus in the narrative (vv. 17-19)—this refers to an anointing by God, and the presence of the Spirit upon this (prophetic) figure. Jesus’ comment in v. 21 would indicate that he is identifying himself with this Anointed One.
  • The crowd’s reaction in v. 22 plays on the idea of Jesus’ sonship—that he is the human/legal son of Joseph. In the Lukan context, this implies that the people have missed the essence of the Scripture and what Jesus has said. Rather than recognizing him as the Anointed One (and Son of God), they continue to see him in the ordinary sense as the son of Joseph and Mary. Luke has already introduced this contrast earlier in in chapters 2 and 3—the child Jesus in the Temple (esp. 2:48-49), and the genealogy of Jesus (esp. the framing verses 23 and 38).
  • In his response to the people’s reaction, Jesus identifies himself as a Prophet (v. 24, see also Mk 6:4 par).
  • The illustrations he gives in vv. 25-27 suggest that he may be specifically identifying himself as a Prophet in the manner of Elijah. The reference to working miracles (like Elijah and Elisha) is probably what is in view here, especially in light of the Isa 61:1 citation (cf. the parallel in Mk 6:5 and the reference in Lk 7:22-23).

These points of emphasis relate back to the Baptism narrative, in that they serve to identify Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), not of the Davidic ruler type, but as a Prophetic figure (i.e. “the one [who is] coming”), drawing upon two Messianic motifs: (1) Elijah, as a miracle-working Prophet, and (2) the one anointed by the Spirit of God in Isa 61:1ff. The connection here with Jesus as the Son of God is much less prominent, but I would argue that it still underlies the scene.

 

Note of the Day – February 12 (Matt 11:2ff, etc)

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Moving from the core Synoptic tradition (in Mark, cf. the previous note) to its development in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, there are several areas to consider:

  1. The development of the immediate Synoptic tradition—i.e. of the Baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
  2. The “Q” material in Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35, and
  3. Details or traditions found only in Luke

We begin today with the first two areas, leaving the third to be discussed in the next daily note. Remember that we are now examining the specific theme, or component, in the Tradition of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One.

Luke 3:21-4:1ff & Matt 3:16-4:1ff

Both Luke and Matthew, to the extent that they made use of Mark (or a similar Synoptic source), have independently—(1) adapted the basic narrative of the baptism, and (2) incorporated so-called “Q” material.

(1) Matt 3:13-17 and Luke 3:21-22

Matthew generally follows Mark closely in narrating the Baptism, with two main differences: (a) the description in Mk 1:9 (v. 13) has presumably been modified to allow for the insertion of the exchange between John and Jesus in vv. 14-15; and (b) the form of the declaration by the heavenly voice (v. 17) is different. Both of these changes seem to have, as a major (if not primary) purpose, a depiction of the baptism of Jesus as a sign to be observed by all the people (i.e. all Israel). The statement by Jesus in verse 15 indicates that, by submitting to baptism by John, he is fulfilling the religious forms and symbols, etc, of the Old Covenant (“all the righteousness [of God]”), stretching back through the Law and Prophets to the birth of the people Israel (cf. 11:13 par). The form of the heavenly declaration in v. 17 similarly functions as a public assertion regarding Jesus’ identity—”This is my Son…” It moves from a ‘simple’ record of events to include information about how people (believers) should understand them.

Luke has modified the Synoptic narrative somewhat differently, through arrangement and syntax. First, he has essentially ‘removed’ John from the scene (vv. 18-20), leaving Jesus on the stage alone. Secondly, the distinctive syntax of vv. 21-22 (a single sentence in Greek), drives the description forcefully ahead to make the heavenly declaration the definite focus of the narrative. The Lukan syntax here is quite difficult to translate literally, since it involves (an extreme) form of the construction e)ge/neto de/ (“and it came to be [that]”) + a sequence of infinitives (a construction used frequently in the Gospel). Here is a an approximation:

“And it came to be, in all of the people being dunked (by John), and Yeshua (also) being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and the holy Spirit’s stepping down [i.e. coming down] in bodily appearance as a dove, and (it was then that) a voice coming to be out heaven (said): ‘You are my Son, the (one) loved (by me)—in you I have good regard’.”

The three verbs in italics are all infinitives, which would typically be translated “to dunk”, “to step down”, and “to come to be”, but here have to be rendered differently, like participles or verbal nouns (gerunds), in order to make sense, and yet still capture the development of the sentence in its sequence, i.e.:

  • all the people (in their) being dunked
    • the Holy Spirit’s stepping/coming down
      • a voice out of heaven coming to be

The sequence builds, step by step, to the declaration by the heavenly voice, which emphasizes its significance and position in the Lukan narrative.

(2) Matt 4:1ff & Luke 4:1ff

Matthew and Luke each include so-called “Q” material following the Baptism account; this includes primarily the Temptation scene (Matt 4:1-11 / Lk 4:1-13), but also, as a way of transitioning to it from the Baptism, an expansion of the (Synoptic) narration in Mk 1:12, giving greater prominence to the role of the Spirit in relation to Jesus. Compare:

Mk 1:12—”And straightaway the Spirit casts him [i.e. Jesus] out into the desolate (land)…”
Matt 4:1—”Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit…”
Luke 4:1—”And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back…and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land)”

Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35 (“Q”)

This “Q” material, while unrelated to Jesus’ baptism as such, is important as another source for studying the relationship between John and Jesus. It is divided into three sections, each of which includes early traditional material, which has been joined together, based on common themes and language, to form a coherent whole. It may be outlined as follows:

  • John’s question to Jesus, with Jesus’ response (Matt 11:2-6)
  • Jesus’ testimony regarding John (vv. 7-15)
  • The (negative) reaction to John and Jesus, respectively (vv. 16-19)

For the purposes of this study, the first two sections have the greatest relevance, developing themes also found in the Baptism narrative.

Matt 11:2-6 (Lk 7:18-23)—The setting of the first section has John in prison, from whence he sends messengers (from among his disciples) to Jesus with an important question:

“Are you the one coming, or should we look toward receiving [i.e. expect] a different (person)?” (v. 3, Lk’s version [v. 19] is nearly identical)

As I discussed in the previous note, the use of the expression “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$) makes it all but certain that John is asking if Jesus is the Chosen/Anointed One (i.e. Messiah), sent by God. However, he probably does not have in mind the Anointed Ruler from the line of David, but rather a Prophetic figure-type—perhaps “Elijah” or “the Prophet (like Moses)”, or even the Messenger of YHWH from Mal 3:1ff (which seems most likely). On this, cf. Parts 2 & 3 from the series “Yeshua the Anointed” and the note on “The One Coming“. The plain sense of this question would indicate that John, at that particular moment in time, harbored some doubt as to whether Jesus was indeed the Chosen/Anointed one (“the one coming”) he had declared in his preaching (Mk 1:7-8 par, etc). Some Christians may be bothered by this idea, but it is straightforward enough, and does not need to be explained away.

Jesus’ response (Matt 11:4-6 / Lk 7:22-23) is essentially a quotation of Isa 61:1, along with allusions to Isa 26:19 and 35:5. This is significant, since here Jesus identifies himself specifically with the Isaian herald—the prophetic figure anointed by God (by/with the Spirit). The signs of his anointing are the miracles he works and the “good news” he proclaims to the poor, things characteristic of Jesus’ ministry and central to it. The same association is established even more directly in Lk 4:17-21ff, which will be discussed in the next note.

Matt 11:7-15 (Lk 7:24-30)—This second section is less uniform than the first, and may involve a collection of related sayings. Here Jesus gives testimony regarding the person and role of John the Baptist, identifying him specifically with the “Messenger” of Malachi 3:1ff (cf. above). Jesus does this first by stating that John is a prophet (v. 9a) and, indeed, exceedingly (more) than a prophet (v. 9b)—that is, something greater than a prophet. This is explained by the citation from Mal 3:1 which follows in v. 10 par, the same Scripture which is applied to John in Mk 1:2. In Matthew’s version of this material, Jesus is even more precise, declaring John to be “Elijah, the one being about to come”. This is an interpretation of Mal 3:1 based on 4:5-6 [Hebr 3:23-24]. Luke does not have this in his corresponding material, but it is established (indirectly) elsewhere in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 9:12-13 par).

The logic of these “Q” sections, then, seems to be as follows:

  • John asks whether Jesus truly is the Anointed Prophet of the end-time (“the one coming”), i.e. probably the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff.
  • Jesus, in his response, redirects the question—(implying) that he is not this messenger, but is to be identified (instead) with the Messianic figure of Isa 61:1ff
  • In a separate tradition(?), Jesus turns the question around, identifying John as the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff, and, specifically, “Elijah”, the Prophet “who is coming”.

This will be discussed further in tomorrow’s note, when dealing with the traditions and details only found in the Gospel of Luke.

Note of the Day – February 11 (Mark 1:2-3, 10-11)

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We now come to the third area of study regarding the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition:

  1. The Ministry of John
  2. The Relationship between John and Jesus
  3. Jesus as the Anointed One, in comparison with John

We might expect that this component would have undergone the most development in terms of early Christian interpretation. This is true to some extent, but, as we will see, much of the interpretive development stems directly from traditions established at a very early point. We begin, again, with the core Synoptic tradition, represented by the Gospel of Mark, bringing in as well one example from the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts. For a detailed study on the background of the title “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah/Christ), please consult my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed“.

Mark 1:2-3, 7-8, 10-11 (Acts 10:37-38)

The emphasis on Jesus’ identity (as the Anointed One) is found at three points in the Synoptic (Markan) narrative:

Mk 1:2-3—The citations of Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3

The use of Isa 40:3 has been discussed in several of the prior notes, as it is the primary Scripture (and prophecy) associated with John the Baptist in the early Gospel tradition. According to Jn 1:23, John himself quotes it in response to questions regarding his own identity. Indeed, on objective grounds, it is possible that Isa 40:3 entered into the early tradition, at the historical level, through the very preaching of John. If so, then we may detect a decided shift in meaning. For John himself, as for the Community of the Qumran texts, it is likely Isaiah 40:3ff had eschatological, but necessarily Messianic, significance. John, through his preaching and baptizing, was fulfilling the role of the Isaiah herald (the “voice”) by preparing people for the coming (end-time) Judgment of God on humankind. This emphasis is clear enough in the Gospel tradition (Mk 1:4; Matt 3:7-10, 11b-12 pars). However, by the time the Gospel of Mark was written (c. 60 A.D.?), the association with Isa 40:3 had been tied more directly to John’s role as forerunner of the Messiah (Jesus, the “Lord” [ku/rio$]).

Malachi 3:1ff, on the other hand, had a more definite Messianic significance at the time of John and Jesus, largely due to the interpretation given to the oracle at the end of the book of Malachi itself (4:5-6 [Heb 3:23-24]), which draws upon traditions involving the prophet Elijah. As part of the growing eschatological worldview among Jews of the Intertestamental period, there was an expectation that Elijah (or a prophet like Elijah) would appear at the end-time, prior to the “day of the Lord”, the day of YHWH’s coming to bring Judgment. Sirach 48:10 expresses this belief, and the Qumran Community envisioned the coming of an Anointed (i.e. Messianic) Prophet figure, drawing upon Deut 18:18-19, as well as the Elijah traditions, and important passages from Isaiah (61:1ff, etc). The text 4Q521 (fragment 2) appears to blend Isa 61:1ff with Elijah traditions and Mal 4:5-6, specifically. On these Messianic figure-types, see Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as my note discussing Mal 3:1ff (“the one coming”).

The Markan Gospel has joined Mal 3:1 to the (earlier) citation of Isa 40:3 in vv. 2-3, establishing the ministry (and identity) of John, in relationship to Jesus. John is the prophet (both “Elijah” and the Isaian herald) who prepares the way for the coming of the Lord’s Chosen/Anointed representative (i.e. the Messiah) at the end-time. This became the standard interpretation among Christians; however, the early Gospel tradition is actually much more complicated, as we shall see.

Mk 1:7-8—The Baptist’s sayings

These two sayings have also been discussed in the earlier notes of this series; however, it is worth emphasizing several points regarding each saying:

Verse 7—Mark’s version begins: e&rxetai o( i)sxuro/tero/$ mou o)pi/sw mou (“the one stronger than me comes behind me”). As already discussed, this is a well-established saying, attested in multiple strands of tradition. Luke’s version follows Mark in its opening words, but otherwise seems to reflect a separate “Q” version, shared by Matthew, and may involve a blending of the Markan and Q forms. Matthew (3:11) probably preserves the “Q” version as such—

o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$ i)sxuro/tero/$ mou
the one coming behind me (is) stronger than me”

which is also the form preserved in Johannine tradition: o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$ (“the one coming behind me…”). The parallel in Matt 11:3, also “Q” material (cf. Lk ), suggests that the Baptist is using an expression (“the one [who is] coming”) which has a specific eschatological and Messianic significance:

“Are you the one coming [o( erxo/meno$], or should we look toward receiving [i.e. expect] a different (person)?”

This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

Verse 8—The comparison in this saying has already been examined: “I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”. The “Q” version of this saying (Matt 3:11b / Lk 3:16b) emphasizes the association with the coming (end-time) Judgment, by adding “and (in) fire”, along with the saying that follows in Matt 3:12 par. In most of the Messianic thought of the period, the Anointed figure—whether of the Prophetic or Davidic-ruler type—functions as God’s representative who appears prior to, or at the time of, the great Judgment. In Jesus’ own eschatological sayings, it is the “Son of Man” figure (with whom Jesus identifies himself) who is associated especially with the coming Judgment. It is likely that John is also expressing a traditional (Messianic) association with the (Holy) Spirit of God, from passages such as Isa 11:1-9 and 61:1ff.

If we take these two sayings together, at both the historical and early Gospel level, John is prophesying the coming of an (eschatological) figure, anointed/chosen by God (i.e. Messianic), through whom God will exercise Judgment on humankind—saving the righteous ones (who repent), and destroying the wicked. John’s own ministry is preparing people for the coming of this greater/stronger figure.

Mk 1:10-11—The Baptism

The core Synoptic narrative of the baptism of Jesus itself is made up of three parts:

  • A summary description of Jesus coming to John for baptism (v. 9)
  • The descent of the Holy Spirit (as a dove) upon Jesus (v. 10)
  • The voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s Son (v. 11)

The differences in the Matthean and Lukan versions have already been mentioned, in part, and will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. It is interesting that, although the account in the Gospel of John (1:29-34) takes a very different form (cf. the previous note), the basic components are the same:

  • Jesus coming toward John, among those being baptized, etc (vv. 29, 31, 33)
  • The visual/visionary descent of the Spirit (as a dove) upon Jesus (vv. 32-33)
  • A declaration by God concerning Jesus (v. 33) and a declaration (by John) that Jesus is the Son of God, and/or the Chosen One (v. 34)

This indicates that the details became established and fixed in the Gospel tradition at an early date. Let us consider the two elements which point to Jesus’ identity:

Verse 10—Mark’s version of the visual/visionary phenomena is as follows:

“and straightaway, (at his) stepping up out of the water, he saw the heavens tearing (open), and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [i.e. coming down] unto [ei)$] him

Matthew and Luke (Matt 3:16 / Lk 3:21b-22a) are quite close to Mark, with only slight differences in style and emphasis. What is the significance of this image in the Synoptic tradition? There are few references to the Spirit in Mark, but those proximate to verse 10 suggest the following points:

  • The coming of the Spirit should be understood in relation to the earlier saying of v. 8, that the “one coming” would ‘baptize’ people in the holy Spirit. This indicates a special relationship between the Messianic figure (Jesus) and the Spirit of God, which is marked by the descent of the Spirit at his baptism.
  • In verse 12, the Spirit thrusts Jesus out into the desert, where he confronts the Devil and is tested. The language in Mark’s version (cp. Matt/Lk) sounds harsh, but it vividly indicates both the power, and the overriding direction of the Spirit. This episode precedes the beginning of Jesus’ own ministry.
  • Upon his return, and the start of his ministry, Jesus has power/control over the Devil and all unclean spirits—i.e. spiritual power, with the power of the Spirit being implicit.

Admittedly, the specific Messianic association with the Spirit is fairly slight in Mark’s account, but it will become much more prominent in the Gospels of Luke and John.

Verse 11—The voice from heaven (“and there came to be a voice out of the heavens”) declares:

su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n soi eu)do/khsa
“You are my Son, the (one) loved (by me)—
in you I have good regard [i.e. I think good/well of you]”

Luke’s version (3:22b) is identical, being a personal statement by God to Jesus; in Matthew (3:17), the formula is different, addressed to people generally (and presumably audible to them): “This is my Son…in whom I….” We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus as the Son of God in light of the Christology of a later period; but we should be extremely cautious about reading this into the Gospel account here without further ado. It is much more likely, in the earlier strands of Gospel tradition, and at the historical level, that the significance of this identification was Messianic. Some commentators would dispute this, but the parallel between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (to be discussed) would seem to confirm the Messianic significance of the heavenly declaration within the core Synoptic tradition. The idea of the Anointed One (Messiah) as God’s Son relates primarily, if not exclusively, to the Davidic ruler figure-type; for more on this, see Parts 6-8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (cf. also Part 12). The Messianic aspect of this scene is developed in Matthew, and, especially, in the Gospel of Luke.

Acts 10:37-38

On the basic theory that the sermon-speeches in Acts genuinely record pieces of early Gospel preaching (cf. my earlier discussion on this point), consideration must be given to this material as preserving a separate line of tradition, from an early stage of transmission. There are several references to the Baptism of Jesus in Acts, but the one most relevant to our discussion here is found in 10:37-38, part of Peter’s sermon-speech in the house of Cornelius (cf. my earlier article on this speech):

“You have seen [i.e. known] the word (which) came to be down (through) the whole of Yehudah {Judea}, beginning from the Galîl {Galilee} with the dunking [i.e. baptism] which Yohanan proclaimed—(of) Yeshua the (one) from Nazaret, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and (with) power, who came throughout (the land) working good and healing…(in) that God was with him.”

Here it is specifically stated that God anointed (e&xrisen) Jesus—that is, he was God’s Anointed One (xristo/$). This anointing is said to have been “with/in the Holy Spirit”, almost certainly an allusion to Isa 61:1ff, known as a Messianic passage at the time of Jesus. The only episode from the Gospels which suggests an anointing with the Spirit is the Baptism, and the immediate reference to baptism in v. 37 would seem to confirm this. We must be cautious in attributing this emphasis entirely to Peter (at the historical level), since it happens to be an important theme developed in the Gospel of Luke (as we shall see).