Supplemental Study

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Daniel 9:25-27

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Overview of Daniel 9

Daniel 9 may be outlined as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction: Context of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years (vv. 1-2)
  • Daniel’s Prayer (vv. 3-19)
  • The Prophetic Revelation (by Gabriel) to Daniel (vv. 20-27)

The revelation of verses 20-27 is connected with both the setting of Jeremiah’s prophecy and Daniel’s prayer, a fact that is sometimes neglected by commentators. In examining the prayer (vv. 3-19), we find three main divisions or points of emphasis:

  1. Confession on behalf of the people’s sin, especially in terms of their disobedience to the instruction and righteousness of God (vv. 5-11)
  2. Acknowledgment of the righteous Judgment of God (vv. 12-14)
  3. Supplication to God for mercy and redemption, in two aspects:
    (a) turning away of God’s wrath (vv. 15-16), and
    (b) that God will hear and deliver his people (Israel) and city (Jerusalem) (vv. 17-19)

The setting of the narrative is the (Judean) exile in the early Persian period (v. 1), but the revelation in vv. 20-27, as well as the visions which follow in chapters 10-11, relate to future events (from the standpoint of the narrative). This involves the destiny of God’s people and the city of Jerusalem. The prophecy of Jeremiah mentioned in v. 2, is found in Jer 25:11-12; 29:10—the land will be laid waste for 70 years by Babylon, with the peoples sent into exile, but after these 70 years God promises to visit his people and bring them back to the land (of Judah). In the context of the book of Jeremiah, this can be seen as an accurate prediction, though the “seventy years” almost certainly represents a symbolic, general time frame. However, here in Daniel, the revelation by Gabriel in 9:20-27 has given a new interpretation (or application) to Jeremiah’s prophecy—the 70 years are (re-)intepreted as 490 (70 x 7) years. Again, 490 should be taken here as a symbolic (round) number; the Community of the Dead Sea scrolls seems to have understood it in relation to the Sabbatical year-cycle and the Jubilee year (cf. 11QMelch, etc). This time period is divided as follows (vv. 25-27):

  • From the word to restore and build Jerusalem until (there is) an anointed leader—7 weeks (49 years)
  • Jerusalem will be built and fortified, but in a time of distress—62 weeks (434 years)
  • The anointed one will be “cut off” and a ruler will come to destroy the city and Temple, leading to war and sacrilege, until his destruction—1 week (7 years)

This passage teems with difficulties, and it will not be possible to address them all here. However, I believe a correct interpretation depends on three factors:

  1. Whether the 70 weeks (490 years) should be taken literally or are symbolic—the latter is certainly to be preferred, removing any need to fit the prophecy into a precise and rigid time-frame.
  2. To what does the “going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” refer? Should this be identified with the edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4), of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:12-26), or an earlier date (c. 586) which would allow for ~49 years until the rebuilding of Jerusalem? The context of the passage here rather suggests that it refers to the “going forth” of the word/command of God, coinciding with Daniel’s prayer (v. 23). From the standpoint of the narrative, the 490 years begins with the setting in v. 1 (“the first year of Darius…”).
  3. The context of the revelation, set in verse 24, must be kept in mind, whereby the 70 weeks have been cut/decreed by God, according to the following purpose for his city and people:
    (a) to finish the rebellion, i.e. of the people against God; probably this should be understood as the period of rebellion
    (b) to complete the sins, i.e. of the people, to bring them all to completion
    (c) to cover/wipe (out) evil/iniquity, using the language of priestly, ritual sacrifice
    (d) to bring in (ever)lasting righteousness
    (e) to seal (the) vision, i.e. the prophecy by Jeremiah (v. 2), but also presumably also the visions to Daniel, etc. in the book
    (f) to anoint (the) holy of holy (place)s, i.e. the Temple and its inner sanctuary

However one chooses to interpret this passage, there can be no doubt that its orientation is eschatological—it assumes that the 70 weeks will bring about the end of the current sinful age, and the beginning of a new everlasting period (or Kingdom) of righteousness.

Interpretation and Identity of the “Anointed” in Dan 9:25-26

There are actually two figures who are called “anointed” (j^yv!m*) in this passage, which strongly indicates that the word here does not refer to a specific future/end-time figure subsequently to be known as “the Anointed (One)” (Messiah). Rather, it would seem to apply more generally to the particular leader—king and/or priest—of the people who return to the land following the exile. On the basis of the known history of the early post-exilic period in the Old Testament, the “anointed” leader who is established after the first seven weeks would likely represent the High Priest Joshua, or the (Davidic) ruler Zerubbabel, or both. For the dual-leadership of these two, cf. Zechariah 3-4; 6:9-15; their anointed status is suggested by the phrase “sons of oil” in Zech 4:14. This figure is specifically called “anointed leader [dyg]n`]”; this term often denotes a (military) commander, but can refer to any prominent person who has an (official) position of leadership “in front of” the people.

The second figure in verse 26 is more problematic; it tersely states that “following the sixty-two weeks, (the) anointed (one) will be cut off [tr@K*y], and there will be nothing/no-one [/ya@] for him”. Modern critical commentators generally consider this a reference to the High Priest Onias III, who was murdered by Menelaus c. 171 B.C. in the reign of Antiochus IV (according to 2 Maccabees 4:23-34). This is based on the view that the final seven years in Dan 9:26-27 refer to reign of Antiochus IV and the rise of the Maccabees (i.e. 171-163 B.C.). The critical view is supported by the earliest surviving interpretation of Dan 9:20-27 (1 Maccabees 1, cf. verse 54). The earliest reference to the “anointed” one (of 9:25) would seem to be in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek) [11Q13], where he is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” (Isa 61:1, also 52:7) who brings the good news of salvation and deliverance to God’s people (col. ii, lines 18-20ff). As far as I am aware, this is the only quotation or allusion to Dan 9:25-26 in the scrolls, and there do not appear to be any other references in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. Jerome, in his Commentary on Daniel (the oldest critical treatment of vv. 24-27), gives a confusing summary of what he considers the Jewish view of the passage, but indicates that vv. 26-27 referred to the Roman defeat of the two Jewish revolts (during the reigns of Vespasian and Hadrian). The latter relates to the quasi-Messianic leader Bar-Kokhba (132-135 A.D.).

Christians, of course, came to interpret the “anointed leader” or “anointed (one)” in vv. 25-26 as a prophecy regarding Jesus, especially of his death, when he was “cut off” and “there was none for him”. However, there is really no evidence in the New Testament itself for this association, and vv. 24-27 are not cited apart from Jesus’ mention of the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/ew$ (with narrator’s comment) in Mark 13:14 par (on this, cf. below). In the Greek version of Theodotion, the seven weeks and sixty-two weeks are combined (i.e. 69 weeks), which allows for the references in vv. 25 and 26 to be understood in terms of a single Anointed figure. Christian commentators followed this way of reading the text, applying it to Jesus. However, the Masoretic Hebrew clearly separates the seven weeks from the sixty-two weeks, and is almost certainly correct, as recognized by most translations and commentaries today, and which I follow in the outline above. For more on the Christian interpretation of the passage, cf. below.

The bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn (Dan 9:27)

In Dan 9:27, we read:

“…for half of the week he will make cease the slaughtering (of animals) and (the) offering, <m@v)m= <yx!WQv! [n~K= lu^w+, until the end/finish (that has been) cut is poured out upon (the one) laying waste”

After the “anointed” one is cut off, a ruler will come with his army to bring war and destruction upon Jerusalem (and the Temple). In v. 27a, it is stated that this conquering ruler will establish a firm agreement with the multitudes (i.e. of Judah/Jerusalem) for one week (7 years). During the first half of the week (~3+ years), he will do two notable things: (1) cause the sacrificial offerings and the Temple cultus to cease operation, and (2) the phrase left untranslated in Hebrew. Difficulties abound regarding this latter phrase; literally, the Masoretic text reads:

“and upon the wing [[nk] of despicable (thing)s he lays waste”
or, perhaps:
“and upon the wing of despicable (thing)s (the one) laying waste (comes)”

This does not make particularly good sense in the context of the verse, complicated further by the interpretation/translation in the Greek versions:

“and upon the Temple there will be a stinking (thing) of desolations [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn]”

The Hebrew suggests a person, whereas the Greek, perhaps understanding the “wing” [[nk] to be the side or pinnacle of the Temple (cf. Lk 4:9), seems to indicate something (an idolatrous object?) placed on the Temple structure. The earliest interpretation is found in 1 Maccabees 1:54, following the Greek rendering—the “stinking thing of desolations” [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn] is identified with a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5). In light of this, some critical commentators have proposed emending the Hebrew [nk (“wing”) to <nk (“their place”), with the expression then being <nk lu (“upon their place”, cf. Dan 11:38), i.e. the pagan altar with its sacrifices in place of the prescribed sacrificial offerings of the Temple (Collins, Daniel, p. 358). This is very reasonable, but it involves the always questionable step of emending the text (with no other external support, unfortunately 9:20-27 is not present in the Daniel scroll fragments from Qumran); it also depends on the particular interpretation of vv. 26-27 as describing the reign of Antiochus IV.

The Greek expression “the stinking (thing) of desolation [sing.]” [bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$] is found in the New Testament, in the so-called Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mark 13:14 / Matt 24:15), along with the same narrator’s aside in both passages. According to the standard critical hypothesis, Matthew is reproducing Mark’s text verbatim. As part of his description of the time of intense suffering and distress about to come upon Judea and Jerusalem, the Gospel tradition records this declaration by Jesus:

“But when you see ‘the stinking (thing) of desolation’ having stood where it certainly should not (be)”—the one reading must have (this) in mind—”then the (one)s in Judea must flee into the hills…” (Mk 13:14)

While the expression clearly comes from Dan 9:27, it is by no means certain precisely what Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer[s]) understand this to be. The closest we have to an interpretation is found in Luke’s version, which seems to have transformed the reference (note the portions identical with Mark/Matthew in italics):

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by swaths of soldiers, then know that her desolation has come near” (Lk 21:20)

It now refers simply to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, which was fulfilled in the war of 66-70 A.D. Given the fact that so much of the Eschatological Discourse was more or less accurately fulfilled in the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Gospel writers (and Jesus himself) may well have had this in mind—(re-)interpreting Dan 9:26-27 into the (current) context of the Roman Empire. Commentators, however, continue to debate whether the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$ is intended to describe a particular act of desecration by Rome. Among the possibilities are:

  • The emperor Gaius’ (Caligula) establishment of the imperial cult, including his statue which was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (c. 40 A.D., Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had similarly set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple.
  • The destruction and despoiling of the Temple by Titus in 70 A.D.
  • The transformation of Jerusalem into a (pagan) Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) in the reign of Hadrian, following the suppression of the Jewish (Bar-Kochba) revolt in 132-135 A.D.

For those who interpret Dan 9:26-27 from a modern-day futurist standpoint (cf. below), the setting up of the “stinking thing of desolation” in Jerusalem is yet to occur. If Paul has Dan 9:27 in mind in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (vv. 3-4), then he understands it as a person, who will take his place in the Temple, which accords with the wording of the Masoretic Hebrew text (above). Modern futurist interpretation typically identifies this figure with the “Antichrist” (1 Jn 2:18) and the Beast of Rev 13-19.

Christian Interpretation and Eschatology

The earliest surviving interpretation of Jesus as the “Anointed” of Dan 9:25-26 is probably in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis (Bk 1, chap. 21, late 2nd century), though it is also implied somewhat earlier in the treatment of verse 27 in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas 16 and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies V.25ff. From the early 3rd century, cf. also Tertullian’s Answer to the Jews §8, 13, and Origen, Against Celsus 6:46. For these Church Fathers, the time of Antichrist (v. 27) was represented by the false teaching and “Gnostic” views of the period, which they so eagerly sought to combat. Unfortunately, the Commentary of Hippolytus on Daniel (early-mid 3rd century) does not survive complete, but in at least one fragment (on the “abomination of desolation” in v. 27, cf. above), he provides a two-fold interpretation: it relates (1) to that set up by Antiochus IV, and (2) to that which will yet take place when Antichrist comes. Many thoughtful readers and commentators today will likely end up adopting a similar view (cf. below). In Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, in his lengthy (and critical) discussion of vv. 24-27, he quotes from Hippolytus as well as a lengthy extract from Eusebius’ Demonstration of the Gospel (8:2). Another important citation from Hippolytus is found in the much later Commentary of Dionysius bar-Salibi on Revelation (Rev 11:2). For other relevant passages in the writings of the Church Fathers in the 4th and 5th centuries, see e.g., Eusebius’ Church History 1.6.11; 3.5.4; Theophania 4:35-36; Athanasius’ History of the Arians §§76-77; Cyril of Jerusalem, Lecture 12.19; Aphrahat, Demonstration 17.19; 21.

As indicated above, the standard modern critical view holds that Daniel 9:26-27 refers to the period of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), the Seleucid Greco-Syrian king who ruled c. 175-164 B.C. On the whole, this is likely to be correct, given the way that the subsequent visions in chapters 10-11 seem to describe the rise and history of the Greek (Alexandrian/Hellenistic) Empire, which is usually understood as the fourth Kingdom/Beast of the visions in chapters 2 and 7 as well. Fitting the historical events precisely into the prophetic scheme of Dan 9:20-27 is rather more difficult. Identifying the “anointed” one who is “cut off” with the High Priest Onias III is certainly plausible, but far from certain. Also, as discussed above, it is not entirely clear that the actions of the coming ruler of vv. 26-27 truly match those of Antiochus in detail. Far more problematic, however, at least for those who take the inspiration of Scripture seriously, is that the eschatological Age did not come with the death of Antiochus, the re-establishment of Jewish rule under the Maccabees, and the re-dedication/consecration of the Temple. The period of the Maccabees was by no means a time of “everlasting righteousness” (9:24), as the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. make abundantly clear.

It is not surprising, then, that the Qumran Community and the early Christians would interpret and apply the passage according to their own eschatological viewpoint. For the earliest believers in Jesus, the coming of the end-time Judgment (and with it the return of Christ) appeared to be imminent, marked by the “birth pains” described by Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse—Roman imperial control of Judea, threat of rebellion and war, the appearance of Messianic pretenders, the persecution and arrest of believers, etc—which would culminate in the war of 66-70 A.D. with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (and the Temple). Much, if not most, of what Jesus predicts in Mark 13 par, can be seen as more or less accurately being fulfilled in this period. It is certainly possible to understand the “stinking thing [i.e. abomination] of desolation” in this context as well, as I discuss above. However, there remains the same problem—the end did not come with these events, not after the destruction of the war of 66-70, nor the revolt of 132-5 A.D. Even if Jesus were correctly understood as the “Anointed” one of Dan 9:26, to what extent has a period of “everlasting righteousness” been established on earth?

This, in turn, has led some modern-day commentators to posit a time gap between the first 69 weeks (483 years) and the last week (7 years)—the last week is yet to be fulfilled, and will occur some time (very soon) in the future. While this may seem like a good way to harmonize Scripture and preserve its historical accuracy, unfortunately there is no support for it in the text of Daniel itself. Nothing in Dan 9:20-27 suggests any sort of gap in time (let alone of 2000+ years) before the final week. More feasible, in my view, is the idea that the events of vv. 20-27 are fulfilled at two levels—(1) the historical fulfillment culminating in the period c. 170-163 B.C., and (2) the typological fulfillment in the life and person of Jesus. According to the second (Christological) aspect, the 70 weeks have an even more pronounced symbolic sense—rather than attempting to fit them into a chronological scheme, it is better to view them as representing the fulfillment of God’s determined plan for His people. The period of distress, war, and religious persecution in vv. 26-27 is likewise representative of events which have been played out countless times throughout history, even in the case of the city of Jerusalem itself.

Returning to the original context of Daniel 9:20-27, it may be fair to ask in what sense it is eschatological. As I see it, there are two possibilities:

  1. The eschatology is real—i.e., verses 26-27 describe events which mark the end-time and the completion of the current Age.
  2. The situation of Israelite/Jewish history (regardless of how one dates the book) is being described, symbolically, using eschatological language and imagery, to express the hope and belief in God’s deliverance of his people.

The apparent chronological calculations in the passage would suggest that it is meant to show the fulfillment of historical events. According to the mainstream critical view, the book of Daniel (esp. chapters 7-12) dates from a time c. 165 B.C., and that the visions and revelations are, for the most part, ex eventu prophecies—descriptions of events which have already occurred. Traditional-critical commentators, on the other hand, are much more inclined to take the setting of the narrative at face value, holding that Dan 9:20-27 is an authentic revelation from the time of the historical Daniel (early 6th century). Neither approach, however, has been able to explain entirely how the events in vv. 25-27 have been, or will be, fulfilled in history. One should therefore take seriously the symbolic aspect of the passage, especially in its use of the Sabbatical year-cycle to mark its chronology. The year of Jubilee begins in the middle of the seventh Sabbatical year (i.e. the last “week”), on the 10th day of the 7th month, which is the Day of Atonement (cf. Daniel’s prayer and v. 24). Forty-nine (49) years precede the Jubilee, corresponding to the 490 years (49 x 10) in vv. 20-27. All of this symbolism was clearly recognized and expounded in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek), which happens to contains the earliest surviving direct allusion to Dan 9:25-26 (cf. above).

The text 11QMelch may also be seen as providing an interesting bit of evidence in support of viewing Jesus as the “anointed” one of Dan 9:25. As noted above, in col. ii lines 18-20, this figure in Daniel is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” in Isa 61:1ff—the same Messianic figure with which Jesus identifies himself in Luke 4:18-20; 7:19-23 par. This demonstrates that, by the time of Jesus, there were at least some Jews who interpreted the “anointed” of Dan 9:25 as one who would bring the good news of salvation to God’s people.

References above marked “Collins, Daniel” are to the Commentary on Daniel by John J. Collins in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993).

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on Daniel 3:25

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Overview and Interpretation

Daniel 3:25 is noteworthy as the only occurrence in the Old Testament of the expression “son of God”; the plural appears numerous times (in several forms) in the Hebrew, in reference to divine/heavenly beings, and, less frequently, to human beings (cf. the first section of Part 12). However, the singular occurs only here in Daniel, at the climactic moment of chapter 3, as the three young Israelite/Jewish men (Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah) are inside the blazing furnace, and the king (Nebuchadnezzar) declares in amazement:

“See! I behold four young men loosed (from their bonds and) walking in the middle of the fire, and there is no damage to them! and the appearance of the fourth is like that of a son of God!”

While it is not specified in this verse, the clear implication is that this fourth “young man” (rb^G+) is a divine/heavenly being. The expression in Aramaic is /yh!l*a$ rB^ (bar-°§l¹hîn), the equivalent of Hebrew <yh!ýa$ /B# (ben-°§lœhîm), which is typically used in the plural for heavenly beings (i.e. Angels). The text states this explicitly in verse 28, in the subsequent public declaration by Nebuchadnezzar:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his Messenger and brought release/deliverance for his servants…”

The Hebrew/Aramaic ialm, like the Greek word a&ggelo$, can refer to either a human or heavenly “messenger”, depending on the context; here, it certainly means a heavenly Messenger. At the historical level, a (pagan, polytheistic) king such as Nebuchadnezzar, in using an expression like /yh!l*a$ rB^, would have meant simply a divine being, “son of (the) gods” (cf. Hebrew <yl!a@ yn}B=), according to the conventional understanding of the time. The text does not indicate just what it was about the appearance of this fourth person that led Nebuchadnezzar to believe it was a divine being of some sort. From the standpoint of Israelite/Jewish monotheism, the “gods” (<yl!a@) or “sons of God” of course were understood to be created heavenly beings or “Angels”.

The earliest interpretation of this heavenly/angelic being in Dan 3:25 is found in the Additions to the Greek version of Daniel, LXX Dan 3:49 (verse 26 of the addition), where it is stated that “the Messenger of the Lord stepped down into the furnace with the ones around Azariah and shook the flame of the fire out of the furnace”. This is a reference to the Messenger (Angel) of YHWH in ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition. Originally, this was not so much a particular Angelic person or being, but rather a concrete expression and embodiment of God’s power and protection on behalf of his people, which may acted out by His Messenger(s), but can also be taken to represent the presence or manifestation (theophany) of God Himself. The Messenger of YHWH is especially depicted as one who protects Israel (Gen 16:7-11; Exod 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2; Num 20:16; 22:22-35; Judg 2:1-4; 2 Kings 19:35; Ps 34:7; 35:5-6; Zech 3:1-6; 12:8, etc). Later Rabbinic tradition identified the Angel of Dan 3:25 as Gabriel (b. Pesach. 118ab). For the Christian interpretation of the passage as a Christophany, or as prefiguring Jesus in some way, cf. below.

Daniel 3:25 and 7:13-14

There are some interesting parallels between these two passages. To begin with, the references, taken on their own, are similar, though the expressions use different vocabulary:

“See! [ah*] … (he) is like [hm@D*] a son of God
“See! [Wra&] … one like [K=] a son of man

Probably both are referring to a heavenly being, a Messenger (Angel) of God, and both seemingly in the context of the protection and deliverance of God’s people (the righteous ones) on earth. If we step back and look at the overall setting of chapters 2-3 and 7, in relation to the thematic development and structure of the book, the parallelism is enhanced:

First, we have the visions of chapters 2 and 7, which are related in the following ways:

  • Each involves a succession of four kingdoms, the last of which is the most savage and violent, with ten toes/horns representing ten kings. Following these is the everlasting kingdom of God, which will be established following the defeat/judgment of the other kingdoms.
  • Each has the general structure of: (1) occurrence of the vision, (2) hymn/vision of God’s glory, (3) interpretation of the vision.
  • Each is set at the beginning of one half of the book—(1) the vision in chapter 2 introduces the stories of chs. 3-6, set during the Babylonian, Median, and Persian (i.e. the first three) kingdoms; (2) that in chapter 7 introduces the visions of chs. 8-11, involving the rise and history of the Greek empire (the fourth kingdom).

Note also the following parallels between chaps. 3 and 7:

  • The episode in chapter 3 is, in some ways, a narrative dramatization of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream—now it is a real statue, representing the glory and power of earthly kingdoms on a grandiose scale (everyone in the kingdom is to bow down before it and worship). This, then, is a story narrating the beginning of the four-kingdom vision—i.e. the first kingdom, of Babylon. The fourth beast of chapter 7 (and the following visions of chs. 8-11), is part of a vision depicting the end of the four-kingdom scenario (cf. vv. 11, 26, where the final beast is judged and slain).
  • In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar persecutes the people of God (arrest and execution of the three young men), just as the fourth beast (and his last horn) in the vision will make war against the (people of the) holy ones (7:21, 25).
  • At the central point of the ch. 3 story, the one like a “son of God” appears in the middle of the fiery furnace; in the central scene of the ch. 7 vision, the one like a “son of man” comes into the fiery presence of God (the “Ancient of Days”) in Heaven.
  • In chapter 3, the one like a “son of God”, it may be said, comes to rescue/deliver his people (the three young men); in the chapter 7 vision, it is said that the “Ancient of Days” comes to bring judgment (v. 22). It is not said how the “(people of) the holy ones” are delivered, but based on Dan 12:1ff (cf. also 10:13-21), this takes place by way of a heavenly Messenger (Michael), whom many commentators identify as the one “like a son of man” in 7:13-14.
  • Following the appearance of the one like a “son of God” in chap. 3, the Babylonians realize they have no power over God’s people (vv. 27-28), who are given special privilege and promoted within the kingdom (vv. 29-30). In the chapter 7 vision, the scene involving the one like a “son of man” coincides with the judgment of the beasts and the removal of their kingdoms; instead, an everlasting Kingdom is given to “the people of the holy ones of the Most High” (vv. 22, 27).

If a heavenly Messenger (Angel) is being described in both passages, then we are seeing this from two perspectives:

  • On earth, among humans, he is marked (in some way) as a divine being (“son of God”)
  • In heaven, among the divine/celestial entities, he resembles a human being (“son of man”)

However, the parallelism in chapter 3 & 7 could also be interpreted differently:

  • In chapter 3, a divine being (“son of God”) appears among humans
  • In chapter 7, a human being (“son of man”) appears among the divine/heavenly beings

In this case, the human being could either (a) be symbolic of the righteous (people of God) on earth, or (b) indicate the elevation of a human being (or humankind) to a heavenly status and position before God. Of these options, the first is more plausible, given the references in 7:22, 27; however, already at the end of Daniel (12:2-3) we find the righteous being exalted to a heavenly, celestial position. We have also seen the idea of a human being specifically elevated to divine/heavenly status in the Enoch traditions (1 En 70-71, etc), and, of course, with the person of Jesus in early Christian belief; several of the texts from Qumran (4Q427, 4Q491, etc) suggest something similar.

Christophany and Christological Interpretation

It has been popular among Christians to view this heavenly Messenger of Daniel 3:25 as an Old Testament appearance or manifestation of Jesus—that is, a “Christophany” of the pre-existant Christ (Son of God). There are a number of writings of the early Church Fathers which indicate such a belief, though it is not attested before the end of the 2nd century A.D. Here the most notable passages which survive:

  • Irenaeus [late 2nd century], Against Heresies I.5.2—identifies the one resembling a “son of God” with “the Son of God”, though he does not specifically say that this was Jesus in a pre-incarnate form.
  • Tertullian [early 3rd century], Against Marcion 4:10—conflates Dan 3:25 and 7:13, reading “Son of Man” in both passages, but clearly with the idea that “Son of Man” indicates Jesus’ deity. In chapter 21 of the same book, he states that it was Jesus (as Son of Man) who saved the lives of the three young men.
  • Hippolytus [early-mid 3rd century], Commentary (Scholia) on Daniel, understands the “son of God” to be Christ, but wonders how Nebuchadnezzar could have recognized this—it prefigures the acceptance of Christ by the Gentiles.
  • Jerome, Commentary on Daniel (commenting on the text with the Additions [cf. above], vv. 49, 92 [25], 95 [28])—accepts the plain meaning of the text as referring to an Angel, and interprets this typologically as relating to Christ: “this angel or son of God foreshadows our Lord Jesus Christ, who descended into the furnace of hell… in order that he might without suffering any scorching by fire or injury to his person deliver those who were held imprisoned by chains of death” [English translation by Gleason Archer]. Cf. also Letter 130.10.
  • Athanasius, in his Fourth Discourse Against the Arians §24, accepts Dan 3:25 as a Christophany without comment; Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith 1.13.80, offers a brief interpretation similar to that of Hippolytus.

Along similar lines, a fair number of commentators throughout the centuries have identified Jesus with the “Messenger of YHWH” in the Old Testament, and that Dan 3:25, 28 (vv. 49, 92, 95 in the Greek version) indicates one such appearance of the pre-existent Christ as the Angel of the Lord. It must be said that there is really nothing in the Old Testament to warrant this interpretation. Nor is there much in the New Testament to support it. While Jesus was identified with the “one like a son of man” in Mark 13:26; 14:61 par; Rev 1:7, 13; 14:14ff, there is no comparable identification with the one “resembling a son of God”. I find only two passages which could conceivably be cited in support of Old Testament Christophany and/or recognizing Jesus as the Angel of YHWH:

  • In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul draws upon Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition regarding the rock of Kadesh and well of Beer (Numbers 20-21), giving it a spiritual and Christological interpretation, declaring that the life-giving rock which followed the Israelites “was the Anointed (One) {Christ}”. While we cannot be absolutely certain, this seems to indicate a belief that the pre-existent Christ appeared in a miraculous form among the ancient Israelites. If so, Paul likely would have recognized a similar presence of Jesus in other episodes from Israelite history; however, he makes no mention of this elsewhere in his letters.
  • The identification of Jesus with the Messenger of God in Malachi 3:1. I have discussed this passage in an earlier note. While early Christian tradition, based on the explanation provided in Mal 4:5-6, settled on the interpretation of this Messenger as a human being—John the Baptist, fulfilling the end-time role of “Elijah”—elsewhere in Gospel tradition, it is Jesus himself who appears to be the “Messenger of the Covenant” and the “Lord” who comes to the Temple (in the original context of Mal 3:1ff). The basic Synoptic narrative, with the centrality and climactic setting of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (and into the Temple), supports such an interpretation.

Once early Christians came to understand the earthly (historical) Jesus as the incarnation of pre-existent Deity (Son of God, Word/Wisdom of God), it was easy enough to identify him with the Messenger of YHWH, since this figure often represents the presence and power of God Himself made manifest to humankind. However, this Christological application has not yet been made explicit in the New Testament.



Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on the Son of Man Sayings

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There is nearly unanimous agreement among scholars that the expression “the Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) in the Gospels, derives from its use (originally in Aramaic) by Jesus himself. All but a handful of the 80+ occurrences of “Son of Man” are from Jesus’ own words in the Gospels. By contrast, the expression only appears four times elsewhere in the New Testament, and only once as a title for Jesus (Acts 7:55-56, which is a reflection of Gospel tradition [Lk 22:69 par]). It is equally rare in the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings, the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-160 A.D.)—Ignatius, Ephesians 20:2; Epistle of Barnabas 12:10. In both of these passages “son of man” is understood in something like its generic sense (“human being”) to emphasize the human nature of Jesus—Ignatius stresses Jesus’ dual-nature (“…the [son] of Man and son of God”), while ‘Barnabas’, on the other hand, stresses that Jesus was not simply a human being (“see again Jesus: not son of man, but [rather] son of God”). We find “Son of Man” a bit more frequently in subsequent writings of the early Church, but usually in the context of commenting on, or attempting to explain, the use of the expression in the Gospels (or in Daniel 7). The most noteworthy occurrences in the 2nd century, are in the apologetic works of Justin Martyr—Dialogue with Trypho §§31, 32, 76, 79, 100, 126; and the First Apology §51.

All of this to say that the expression is found so frequently in the sayings of Jesus, and then virtually disappears from early Christian tradition—this makes the authenticity of its use in the sayings secure. However, when it comes to the eschatological Son of Man sayings by Jesus, where he appears to identify himself as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment, critical scholars tend to be a bit more cautious and skeptical. The authenticity of these sayings (as we have them in the Gospels) has been questioned, generally on the basis of two factors:

  1. They have been “Christianized” to varying degrees—that is to say, a number of the sayings have been tied in contextually to believers’ faith in, and confession of, Jesus (e.g. Luke 6:22; 9:26 [Mk 8:38]; 12:8). For critical scholars, this indicates that, at the very least, the sayings have been colored or modified in light of early Christian belief and practice.
  2. Jesus never specifically identifies himself as the “Son of Man”—this only occurs once in the Gospel tradition (in Matthew’s version of the first Passion prediction, Matt 16:21), and may be attributed to the author/narrator rather than Jesus. According to the view of a number of commentators, in the eschatological sayings, Jesus is referring to a separate divine/heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”, cf. Dan 7:13-14ff; 1 Enoch 37-71), and not to himself. In early Christian tradition, references to this figure were then interpreted as referring to Jesus and his end-time (second) coming, as we see in Matt 24:3.

With regard to the first point, the extent of the “Christianization” of these sayings certainly can be debated. If we consider the core sayings in the Synoptic tradition—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 and parallels—there is really very little evidence for this. The saying in Mark 8:34 has a more obvious “Christian” context, but, since the sayings in 8:34-9:1 have likely been appended together as part of the earliest Tradition, and need not have been uttered by Jesus in sequence on a single occasion, it is questionable whether one should equate it with the (original) context of v. 38. The same may be said for the narrative framework of chapter 13 (the Olivet or “Eschatological” Discourse), which is best understood as a collection of sayings, which may have been uttered by Jesus on different occasions, combined together on the basis of a common theme and subject—i.e. eschatological teaching and sayings by Jesus. Verses 9-13 are a prophecy of the persecution early believers will experience, and the “false Messiahs (or Christs)” in vv. 21-22 are connected with people claiming to be Christ (i.e. Jesus) in v. 6; however, only Matthew’s version of this discourse specifically connects the coming of the Son of Man (Mk 13:26 par) with the future/second coming of Jesus (Matt 24:3). In none of the Synoptics is the Son of Man saying itself modified or glossed, nor do we see any sign of this in Mark 14:62 par.

It is interesting to consider that Luke’s Gospel, apparently written for a wider Greco-Roman (Gentile) audience, and which occasionally translates or simplifies elements of the Gospel tradition into more conventional Greek language, never does this with the Son of Man sayings, even though the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as Jesus uses it, would have sounded strange indeed to Greeks unfamiliar with the Semitic idiom. Luke has considerably more eschatological sayings than Mark—in addition to the three core Synoptic sayings (cf. above), there are those in Lk 12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8; 21:36 (and cf. the parallels in Matt 24:27, 37, 39, 44). Not once, however, does the author narrate or explain the saying in such a way as to clarify that the coming of the Son of Man means the coming of Jesus himself. While early Christians may have assumed or understood this automatically, some in Luke’s intended audience likely would not have. That the Son of Man sayings were left ‘unexplained’ indicates that they were so deeply rooted and fixed in the Gospel tradition, the author simply could not alter them.

This brings us to the second point—that in these Son of Man sayings Jesus originally was not referring to himself, but a separate heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”). There are several problems with this view:

(a) There is little, if any, formal difference between the eschatological Son of Man sayings and those elsewhere in the Gospel tradition (i.e. Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 7:34; 9:58 par, etc), in which it is generally admitted that Jesus is referring to himself, perhaps using “son of man” idiomatically as a substitute for the pronoun “I”. Even in the context of the Passion, and the predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par) which critical scholars might regard as ex eventu prophecies produced by early Christians, there is little doubt that “the Son of Man” refers to Jesus himself. It is natural to assume that the eschatological sayings also are meant as a self-reference. If there was any intended distinction between the usage in these sayings, it has become completely confused in the Gospel tradition. In fact, there is some indication that Jesus’ use of the expression actually was confusing to some in his audience, if we accept the detail recorded in John 12:34.

(b) There is no clear evidence that the expectation of an end-time figure called “the Son of Man” was widespread or common at the time of Jesus; indeed, the situation is quite the opposite. As I indicated in Part 10, there is only one surviving document, likely contemporary with (or prior) to the time of Jesus, which describes a specific divine/heavenly being called “the Son of Man”—the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71). This “Son of Man”, also identified as “the Righteous One”, “the Elect/Chosen One” and also “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah), will serve as Judge over the nations at the end-time. This figure, like the “Son of Man” in Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62, is clearly inspired by, and derived from, Daniel 7; however, the Similitudes do not specifically emphasize his glorious appearance on earth at the end-time. There is little reason to think that Jesus was referring to common and popular image, though educated and devout Jews certainly would have recognized an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14. Turning again to John 12:34, we see that Jesus’ audience seems to understand “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah/Christ), presumably in terms of an end-time Davidic Ruler (cf. Parts 68), but they are noticeably less clear about the Son of Man (“…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”).

(c) If we combine the arguments of (a&b), along with the fact that there is little sign that any of the eschatological Son of Man sayings has been altered or glossed for the sake of clarity or as part of a Christological interpretation (cf. above), then there appears to be little reason to treat those sayings differently from Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” elsewhere. Even in the textual transmission, there is surprisingly little evidence for substantive variant readings involving the expression “Son of Man” (i.e., using a more familiar title “Lord”, “Christ”, “Son of God”, or even the pronoun “I”), one notable example being found in John 9:35 (“Son of Man” vs “Son of God”).

If, then, we accept the general authenticity of the Son of Man sayings by Jesus, and that they have been preserved with very little modification or alteration, it becomes necessary to step back and consider how the eschatological sayings fit within the overall use of the expression. I have already discussed this in prior notes and articles, but I will summarize the points here:

  • As a Hebrew/Aramaic idiom, the expression “son of man” simply refers to a human being or to the human condition. The poetic and formal usage in the Old Testament typically is related to the idea of human limitation (or weakness) and mortality, especially compared with the divine/heavenly nature of God and his Messengers (Angels).
  • Subsequently in Hebrew and Aramaic, this generic sense of the expression—i.e., a(ny) human being—merged into the specific use of the idiom as a self-reference, a substitute or circumlocution for the pronouns “I” or “you”. However, it is still debated whether, or to what extent, it was commonly used this way in the time of Jesus.
  • In many of the sayings, Jesus appears to use “son of man” as a self-reference, but in terms of his identity as a human being. Within the Synoptic tradition, see especially, Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 9:58 par.
  • This identification with human beings (and the human condition) also has a distinct soteriological emphasis in a number of sayings, both in the Synoptics and John—cf. Mark 10:45 par; Luke 19:10; John 3:13; 9:35.
  • He also identifies specifically with human weakness, suffering and death, expressed in the Gospel tradition in the context of his Passion (suffering/death) and subsequent resurrection—esp. the Passion predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 par), also Mark 9:9, 12; 14:21, 41 par; Matt 12:40; 26:2; Lk 22:48; 24:7, and cf. in the Gospel of John (Jn 3:14; 6:27, 33; 12:23, 34; 13:31).
  • Finally, he identifies himself with the “one like a son of man” (i.e. resembling a human being) in Daniel 7:13-14, as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear as God’s representative at the end-time Judgment—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 par, etc. Jesus draws on tradition and imagery (from Daniel 7) similar to that found in the Similitudes of Enoch (probably contemporary with Jesus’ time). In the Gospel and early Christian tradition, this Son of Man reference blends together with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (Mark 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56 etc). This exaltation motif is expressed somewhat differently in the Gospel of John, as a return, stepping (back) up into heaven to be with the Father—Jn 3:13; 6:27-52; 12:23; 13:31.


Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Daniel 7:13-14

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Daniel 7:13-14, which would prove to be enormously influential on eschatological and Messianic thought, both in Judaism and in early Christianity, itself holds a central place in chapter 7 of the book of Daniel (for the structure of the chapter, cf. below). It is part of the heavenly Throne-vision in vv. 9-12, similar to other such visions in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—1 Kings 22:19ff; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; 3:22-24; 10:1, cf. also 1 Enoch 14:18-23; 60:2; 90:20, etc (Collins, p. 300). The throne is said to have wheels, and thus is to be understood as a chariot-throne, which draws upon ancient Near Eastern mythic imagery, associated with heavenly/celestial phenomena—i.e. the fiery chariot of the sun, etc—and the divine powers which control them. For chariot imagery related to God and Heaven in the Old Testament, cf. 2 Kings 23:11; Psalm 68:17; 104:3; Isa 66:15; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:15-21; 10:2. The idea of God’s chariot-throne would play an especially important role among the Jewish visionary mystics of the Merkabah/Hekhalot tradition.

Interestingly the text of verse 9 reads “the thrones [pl. /w`s*r=k*] were set [lit. thrown, i.e. into place]”, and there is some question as to the use of the plural here. It probably should be taken as indicative of the setting—the heavenly Council or Court. In ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite) tradition, the high deity °E~l (generally identified with YHWH in the Old Testament) presides over the Council of the gods; in the context of Israelite monotheism, the “gods” (°¢lîm/°§lœhîm) are created heavenly beings (i.e. Angels) who sit in the Council—Psalm 82:1; 89:7; Job 1:6, etc. For an elaborate description of the Angels surrounding the chariot-throne of God, cf. the so-called “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice” (4Q400-407, 11Q17) from Qumran, esp. 4Q405 frags. 20, 23 (11Q17 cols. 7-10); and in early Christian tradition, note Matt 25:31, as well as the (Christian?) corollary of human beings on the thrones surrounding God/Christ (Matt 19:28; Rev 4:2ff; 20:4). Cf. Collins, p. 301.

On the throne is seated the /ym!oy qyT!u^ (±attîq yômîn), usually translated as “(the) Ancient of Days”, with the adjective qyT!u^ understood (on the basis of its cognates in Hebrew) as “advanced”, either in the sense of age or of prominence and wealth (majesty, etc). This image is likely drawn from the mythic-religious tradition of depicting the high God °E~l as an elderly patriarch (with long white/grey beard), though here it has been adapted to traditional Israelite visionary images of the glory of God (El / YHWH)—Exod 24:9-11; 1 Kings 22:19ff; Isa 6:1-5; Ezek 1. Verse 9b-10a vividly depicts the divine figure seated on his fiery chariot-throne, with countless multitudes (of heavenly beings) serving him. The vision scene in 1 Enoch 14:15-23 provides an interesting comparison.

From verses 11-12 it is clear that the Heavenly Council is also the Court, with God ruling as Judge (Psalm 82, etc). Judgment is brought against the Beasts of the earlier part of the vision (vv. 2-8, cf. below)—a sentence of death is pronounced and executed against one Beast (the fourth), while the others are stripped of their kingdoms but allowed to live for a time. It is in this context that verses 13-14 must be understood:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

This figure comes near and approaches the “Ancient of Days”, and is given authority/rule (/f*l=v*), honor/glory (rq*y+), and (a) kingdom (Wkl=m^), so that “all the peoples, nations and tongues [i.e. languages] would serve him”. The question as to the identity of this “(one) like a son of man” has long vexed commentators, leading to a variety of interpretations, some more plausible than others. In terms of the original context of the vision in the book of Daniel, I would suggest three basic possibilities regarding this figure:

  1. Symbolic—he represents the Kingdom of God or the people of God (and their dominion)
  2. Real, but archetypal—i.e. he is the heavenly archetype of humankind (“son of man”), specifically the righteous/holy ones (people of God)
  3. Real, and personal—he is a real heavenly being, an Angel such as Michael who represents the people of God, supporting and protecting them, etc.

Sound arguments can be made for each of these:

1. The symbolic view is supported by the structure of the passage (chapter 7) itself, where the “(one) like a son of man”, and the kingdom he receives, is set parallel with the people of God (and they kingdom they receive), cf. below. Also, this figure resembling a human being is clearly meant as a contrast with the four “beasts” of vv. 2-8; since they are taken to represent four earthly kingdoms (in their savagery and violence), it is logical that the human being likewise represents the kingdom of the people of God.

2. The same parallelism could just as well be interpreted in an archetypal sense—that the heavenly “son of man” is the type/pattern for the righteous/holy ones on earth. This certainly seems to be the way that Daniel 7 was expounded and interpreted in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st-century A.D.?), and also, to some extent, by the Qumran community (cf. below).

3. It is the third view, however, which seems best to fit the immediate context and thought-patterns in the book of Daniel. Angels are prominent in the second half of the book, and are generally depicted in human terms (Dan 8:15; 9:21; 10:5; 12:5-7; cf. also 3:25), as they often are elsewhere in the Old Testament (Gen 18:2; Josh 5:13; Judg 13:6, 8, 16; Ezek 8:2; 9-10; Zech 1:8; 2:5, cf. Collins, pp. 306-7). A specific identification with the chief Angel (Archangel) Michael is possible, given his comparable role and position in Dan 12:1 (cf. also 10:13, 21). The “(one) like a son of man” should probably be understood as a real heavenly being, at least similar to an (arch)Angel such as Michael. This does not eliminate the parallelism or corollary with the people of God, as is clear enough by the evidence from Qumran (on this, cf. below).

Before proceeding, it may be helpful to examine the structure of Daniel 7 in outline form:

  • V. 1: Narrative introduction/setting
  • Vv. 2-14: The Vision of the Four Beasts
    —The Four Beasts (vv. 2-8)
    —The Ancient of Days who presides in Judgment over the Beasts (vv. 9-12)
    —The Son of Man who receives the everlasting kingdom/dominion (vv. 13-14)
  • Vv. 15-27: The Interpretation of the Vision
    —Basic outline/explanation: Four Kingdoms (vv. 15-18)
    —The Kingdom of the Fourth Beast (vv. 19-25)
    —Judgment and the Kingdom of the People of God (vv. 26-27)
  • V. 28: Conclusion

Verses 13-14 and 26-27 are clearly parallel in several respects:

  • Judgment in the Heavenly Court (vv. 9-12, 26)
    • Kingdom taken away from the Beast(s)
  • Everlasting Kingdom/Dominion
    • Given to the “one like a son of man” (vv. 13-14)
    • Given to the “people of the Holy Ones of the Most High” (v. 27)

Interestingly, we find the same basic paradigm, it would seem, in the Pseudo-Daniel (Aramaic) text 4Q246 from Qumran, which was certainly influenced by Daniel 7.

An important point lies in the way that heavenly and human beings are united in the term “holy ones” (Heb. <yvdwq, Aram. /yvydq). Although a few instances are uncertain or disputed, the majority of occurrences of the plural “holy ones” in the Old Testament would seem to refer to heavenly beings (i.e. Angels)—Deut 33:2; Psalm 89:5, 7; Job 5:1; 15:15; Dan 4:17; Zech 14:5, and cf. also the LXX of Exod 15:11. The only clear instances where “holy ones” refer to human beings (on earth) are in Deut 33:3 (cf. the par with verse 2); Psalm 16:3; 34:10. Especially significant is the usage in the Qumran texts, which in many ways are close to the eschatological/apocalyptic imagery and thought-world of Daniel, and, indeed, were certainly influenced by the book. The Qumran Community saw itself as connected with the Angels—the holy/righteous ones on earth, corresponding to the Holy Ones in Heaven; this was a key aspect of their self-understanding, in particular, of their eschatological role and identity. Indeed, they referred to themselves as “congregation of the holy ones”, and in 1QM 10:10; 12:7; 1QH 11:11-12 we find the very expression (“people of the holy ones”) as in Dan 7:27; note also the variant formula “holy ones of the people” (1QM 6:6; 16:1). On the relation between the Community and the Angels, and their inter-connection, cf. especially in the War Scroll (1QM 12:7, etc), passages in the Rule documents (1QSa 2:8-9; 1QSb 3:25-26; 4:23-25), and in the Hymns (1QH 3:21-22; 4:24-25; 11:11-12). For these and other references, cf. Collins pp.

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71), which may well be contemporary with Jesus and the earliest Gospel tradition, there is an equally clear, and (in some ways) even more precise correspondence between the holy/righteous ones on earth and in heaven—1 Enoch 39:5; 47:2; 51:4, etc. It is indicated that their true nature and position will be revealed at the end-time Judgment (1 En 38:4-5). The Son of Man is their ideal/archetypal heavenly representative (the Righteous One, the Elect One); in the concluding chapters 70-71, we see how Enoch himself, as the first human being to be raised to heavenly status, is identified with this Son of Man, apparently merging/assimilating with him in some way.

What of the traditional interpretation of the “one like a son of man” with the Messiah in Jewish thought? Apart from the possible example of 4Q246 from Qumran, this association does not seem to have been clearly formed until the 1st century A.D. In the Similitudes of Enoch, the Son of Man figure, certainly inspired by Daniel 7, is specifically called “(the) Anointed One” (1 En 48:10; 52:4); cf. also the context in 2/4 Esdras 13 (late 1st-century A.D.). The Messianic interpretation came to be the dominant view in Rabbinic literature (b. Sanh. 89a; Num. Rabbah 13:14, et al); even the plural “thrones” in Dan 7:9 could be understood in this light (one throne for God, one for the Messiah), as traditionally expressed by R. Akiba (b. Chag. 14a; b. Sanh. 38b). For early Christians, of course, the Messianic interpretation was applied to the person of Jesus—first in terms of his exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (from whence he will come at the end-time Judgment), and subsequently, in terms of his pre-existent deity. According to either strand of tradition and belief, his divine/heavenly status and position was superior to that of the Angels, just as the “one like a son of man” would seem to hold a special and exalted place in the context of Daniel 7. The identification of Jesus with this divine/heavenly figure appears to go back to the (authentic) early layers of Gospel tradition, and the Son of Man sayings by Jesus himself (for more on this, see in Part 10, and the additional supplemental note).

References marked “Collins” above are to John J. Collins’ commentary on Daniel in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993), esp. pages 299-323.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Hebrews

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When discussing Jesus as a Priest (cf. Part 9), special attention must be given to this theme as it is presented in the Letter to the Hebrews. As previously discussed, references where Jesus is described or depicted as a priest are rare in the New Testament—more common is the image of Jesus as a sacrificial offering, rather than the priest who administers the sacrifice. However, in Hebrews, the theme of Jesus as Priest appears in a complex and highly developed manner, set in the very heart of the book (chapters 4-10). It is not possible to give a thorough exposition of these passages in one relatively short article, but I hope to present and outline and survey of how the author treats the theme.

To begin with, the Christological paradigm is set already in the prologue or introduction (Heb 1:1-4):

  • The Son as “heir of all things”—divine pre-existence—role in Creation (vv. 2b-3a)
    • His sacrificial and atoning death—”cleansing of sins”
  • The Son inherits a name and position greater than the Angels—exaltation to the right hand of God (vv. 3b-4)

The Son’s greatness over the other divine/heavenly beings (Angels) is not due to a special (eternal, pre-existent) relationship with God the Father (as would be the case in the Gospel of John and later Trinitarian orthodoxy), but rather as the result of his sacrificial death for the sins of humankind. Thus the atoning death (and resurrection) of Christ is the central tenet of the Christology in Hebrews, one that the author describes in terms of the Priesthood of ancient Israel. Interestingly, there is no attempt to define this in Messianic terms, for, in Hebrews, the Messianic elements of early Christianity (titles, terminology, Scripture passages) have already been fully assimilated into a Christological matrix. Note, for example, that there is not one instance where “the Anointed (One)” [o( xristo/$] occurs as a title (apart from the citation of Psalm 45:6-7 in 1:9); instead, it is used as a name, virtually identical with “Jesus” (Heb 3:6, 14; 5:5, et al). Similarly, “Son of Man” does not appear, except in the general sense of the expression as cited (Ps 8:4-6) in Heb 2:6, though the basic identification of Jesus with a heavenly/divine figure at the right hand of God is assumed throughout.

The Priestly motif is introduced at several points in the first two chapters, most notably in Hebrews 2:5-18:

  • Heb 2:11—where Jesus is referred to as “the (one who) makes holy”, and believers as “the (one)s (who) are made holy”. There is a strong incarnational aspect to the argument in 2:5-18—i.e. the extent to which Jesus shares and identifies with human weakness and suffering. This underlies the power and significance of Jesus’ death and is the basis for his Priesthood.
  • Heb 2:17—the climactic declaration of this section: “…he was obligated to be(come) like one (among) the brothers according to all things, so that he might come to be a merciful and trust(worthy) Chief Priest, unto [i.e. so as to be] providing acceptance [vb. i(la/skomai] (with God) (regarding) the sins of the people”.

The verb i(la/skomai (hiláskomai, found only in Heb 2:17 and Lk 18:13) is almost impossible to translate literally in English—in a religious/ritual context it has the sense of making God (or the gods) friendly/gracious to human beings, and is thus somewhat similar to the verb katalla/ssw (i.e. change, make things [completely] different), including the idea of reconciliation or restoration of the relationship (broken by sin) between humans and God. Equally rare are the related nouns i(lasmo/$ (hilasmós, 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10) and i(lasth/rion (hilast¢¡rion, Rom 3:25; Heb 9:5), which indicates the general lack of sacrificial language and terminology in the New Testament. For sacrificial offerings, Hebrews typically uses the concrete noun qusi/a (lit. the animal that is slaughtered), along with the verb prosfe/rw (“bring/carry toward”), i.e. of the priest bringing the offering toward God (by way of the altar).

In chapters 3 and 4 (Heb 3:1-4:13), the historical context and setting of the Wilderness period—Moses, Aaron, the Tabernacle and the establishment of the (Old) Covenant—provides the basis for the comparisons with Jesus (Old Covenant vs. New Covenant) which follows. The two main sections which describe Jesus as a (High) Priest are Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and 6:20/7:1-10:18.

Hebrews 4:14-5:10

Here Jesus is identified as the Great High Priest (4:14), partly on the basis of his exaltation to heaven and his status as the Son of God, but more properly as the result of his sacrificial death (the sufferings of which are due to his identification with, and sharing of, our human nature). The following points are made in this section:

  • 4:14-16: Jesus’ association with human weakness—incarnation and sacrifice
  • 5:1-4: Priests are appointed by God to sacrifice for sin
  • 5:5-10: God appointed Jesus to be High Priest (of the order of Melchizedek), atoning for sin by way of human weakness—suffering and submission of the Son

Hebrews 7:1-10:18

The association of Jesus with Melchizedek in Heb 5:5-10 (citation of Ps 110:1 in vs. 6) is stated again in 6:20—a transitional verse which concludes one section and leads into the next (7:1ff). The figure of Melchizedek, (Canaanite) Priest-King of ancient Salem, passed into Jewish and early Christian tradition through two Scriptural texts: (1) the Abraham narrative in Gen 14:17-20, and (2) the reference in Psalm 110:4. The original context of Psalm 110:4 is instructive for an understanding of how the figure had come to be interpreted by the 1st century A.D. (cf. below). here is an outline indicating how the author of Hebrews develops the Jesus/Melchizedek parallel:

  • 7:1-10—Melchizedek: introduction and summary from the Abraham narrative
    7:11-22—Application to Jesus (‘High Priest of the order of Melchizedek’, Ps 110:4)
  • 7:23-28—Jesus as Priest is greater than human priests
    8:1-13—He is High Priest of a New Covenant
  • 9:1-10—The service of priests in the Sanctuary, esp. sacrifice and the Day of Atonement
  • 9:11-14—Jesus as Priest is greater than human priests—replaces the sacrificial offerings
    9:15-28—He is High Priest of a New Covenant—Sacrifice
  • 10:1-18—Concluding statement on Christ’s Priesthood and Sacrifice

For additional references to the Priesthood theme in the remainder of the book, cf. Heb 12:24; 13:10-16, 20.

Jesus and Melchizedek

The reference to Melchizedek in Psalm 110 is somewhat obscure, but it seems to be based on an underlying royal theology in the Psalm, deriving from ancient Near Eastern tradition. Taking the old Abraham narrative in Genesis 14:17-20 at face value, “Melchizedek” was an historical figure, a Canaanite Priest-King. His name (qd#x# yK!l=m^ malkî-ƒedeq), vocalized originally as malk£-ƒidqu (according to Cross, p. 209) would have meant something like “my king is (the) Righteous (One)”, where “Righteous” (‚idqu) is a Divine name or epithet. Later Israelite/Jewish tradition rendered or interpreted “Melchizedek” as “just/righteous king” (in Greek basileu$ dikaio$), while Hebrews 7:2 translates it as basileu\$ dikaiosu/nh$ (“king of justice/righteousness”). He is said to have been the King of Salem, generally identified with the ancient site of Jerusalem (for the different understanding of šlm by W. F. Albright, cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 231-2) and Priest of °E~l ±Elyôn. la@ (°E~l, Canaanite/Amorite °Il[u]) was the name/epithet of the high Deity in ancient Canaan; the name originally would have meant something like “Mighty (One)”, and already in early Israelite tradition, it was identified with YHWH. The way Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek is narrated in these few brief verses suggests that it refers to a longer tale or tradition now entirely lost to us.

If the reference in Ps 110:4 is genuinely to the “Melchizedek” of Gen 14 (for a differing view, cf. M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150 Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 17A, p. 117), then we must ask just what the Psalmist meant by it. In the ancient Near East, kings typically functioned as priests as well, officiating on certain ceremonial occasions—palace and temple complexes being closely connected. This was also the case in ancient Israel, where kings and princes fulfilled a priestly role in the offering of sacrifices, and so forth (cf. 2 Sam 6:17-18; 8:18; 1 Kings 8:63-64; 2 Kings 16:12-13, etc). It would seem that only traces of this historical situation are preserved in the Old Testament, while in the Torah and Chronicles (both with a strong priestly/Levitical orientation) we find opposition to the idea of rulers appropriating the Priest’s role (cf. especially the episodes in Numbers 16 and 2 Chron 26:16-20). In all likelihood, Psalm 110 preserves a bit of the royal theology surrounding the kings of Israel/Judah, associated with Jerusalem and the Davidic line—i.e. they are priests, not according to the lineage of Levi and Aaron, but according to the pattern of Melchizedek, to whom even Abraham gave homage. It is possible that the Hasmonean (Maccabean) rulers drew upon this tradition as well (cf. 1 Macc 14:41) when they assumed the position of High Priest (1 Macc 10:18-21; 13:42; 14:4-47; Josephus Antiquities 13.299-300; 16.162, etc). In this regard, Psalm 110:4 appears to have played a role in Messianic thought, specifically in shaping the figure of the exalted Priest or Priest-King to come (cf. Jubilees 32:1; Testament of Levi 8:14-15).

If the interpretation of Psalm 110:4 suggested above is correct, then the author of Hebrews has made use of Melchizedek in a somewhat similar way, applying it of course to Jesus, within a very specific Christological matrix (cf. above). He lays out the line of argument in the opening verses (Heb 7:1-10):

  • Melchizedek is both Priest and King (vv. 1-2)
  • He has no genealogy (vv. 3ff)

In my view, these two points derive from the same basic royal theology that underlies the use of Melchizedek in Psalm 110 (cf. above); but note how the author develops these:

  • Jesus, like the Davidic rulers, is King and from the line of Judah, yet he is also Priest (the High Priest), even though he is not from the tribe of Levi or a descendant of Aaron. The priesthood of Melchizedek preceded that of Levi, and is thus superior to it.
  • Melchizedek, in fact, is a High Priest (i.e. Priest of the Most High), though there is no priestly lineage ascribed to him anywhere in the Old Testament. This argument from silence is given a very specific interpretation: that he has no natural, traceable genealogy. More importantly, this means that his (and Jesus’) qualification for the (High) Priesthood is not based on an earthly line of descent.

The specific way the author frames this last point has led commentators to question whether it is an imaginative (midrashic) application of the simple absence of any genealogy for Melchizedek, or whether he believed that Melchizedek was a divine/heavenly being of some sort. The phrasing and force of verse 3, along with the comparison in verse 8, perhaps suggest the latter:

“without father, without mother, without (any) account of (his) coming-to-be [i.e. genealogy], having no beginning of days (and) no completion of life, but having been made (very much) like [a)fwmoiwme/no$] the Son of God, remaining (the) Sacred-official [i.e. Priest] into the carrying-through [dihnke$, i.e. continually, unbroken]” (v. 3)

“…and (on the one hand) here men dying-away [i.e. who die] receive the tenth, but (on the other hand) there it is witnessed that he lives” (v. 8)

There are two possibilities: (1) the sketchy figure of Melchizedek has been fashioned according to what the author already believes about Jesus, in order to make the comparison fit, or (2) it reflects an existing tradition or belief that Melchizedek was a divine/heavenly (and immortal) being. The latter possibility is strengthened by several references in texts from the two centuries B.C./A.D.:

  • The Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek) [11Q13] (late 1st cent. B.C.?), in which Melchizedek is described as a Messianic (end-time) figure who will appear as Deliverer of the people of God and Judge of the wicked (Belial) who held his people captive. The application of Psalm 82:1-2, especially, has led many commentators to believe that Melchizedek here is Heavenly/Angelic being, similar to Michael (cf. 1QM 17:6-8; 4QAmram 3:2).
  • In 2 (Slavonic) Enoch 71-72, Melchizedek (as a child) is taken up by Michael into heaven and thus achieves an exalted status similar to Enoch in Jewish tradition, and Jesus following the resurrection in the earliest Christian tradition (Acts 2:33ff; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34, etc). The text of 2 Enoch is difficult to date, but its core probably stems from the late-1st or early 2nd century A.D.
  • We find the idea of a Heavenly/Messianic Priest in several writings of the period—e.g., the Testament of Levi 18; Assumption of Moses 10:2; and the earlier Qumran text 4Q541.
  • In Jewish tradition, the Angels are often depicted functioning as priests in Heaven—cf. 1 Enoch 9:1-11; 15:2; 40:6; 47:2; 99:3; 104:1; Jubilees 31:14; Testament of Levi 3:4-6, etc; and note especially the so-called Angelic Liturgy (or “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”) from Qumran, 4Q400-407, 11Q17.

We might also note the allegorical image of the High Priest as symbolizing the Logos/Word of God in Philo—On Flight and Finding §117-8, The Migration of Abraham §102ff, On Dreams 1.215, etc.
For a number of the references above, cf. Attridge, Hebrews, pp. 97-103, 192-5.

In conclusion, let us see how the author of Hebrews expounds the Jesus/Melchizedek parallel in the remainder of chapter 7 (vv. 11-28):

  • 7:11-14—Two facts or points of belief are combined:
    (a) Jesus was from the royal line of Judah, not the priestly line of Levi (i.e. the priesthood according to the Law), and
    (b) Jesus is a (High) Priest by way of his sacrificial death => his priesthood must be of a different origin (i.e. a different Law or Covenant)
  • 7:14-19—Jesus’ priesthood comes through Melchizedek, however:
    (a) it is not by way of physical/biological or earthly lineage
    (b) it is according to (Divine) Power and (Eternal) Life
    This qualification is supported by the author’s gloss on Psalm 110:4—the phrase “the ta/ci$ [order/arrangement/succession] of Melchizedek” (v. 17) is interpreted as “the o(moio/th$ [likeness/resemblance] of Melchizedek” (v. 15). In all likelihood this means that Jesus is an Exalted/Heavenly being, just like Melchizedek (cf. above).
  • 7:20-28—Jesus’ (eternal) priesthood is confirmed and demonstrated by:
    (a) God’s own promise (oath), and
    (b) The holiness and sinlessness of Jesus

In spite of the comparison with Melchizedek, it is clear that, for the author of Hebrews, Jesus’ position as (true) High Priest is ultimately based on: (1) his position as the (pre-existent) Son of God, and (2) his death as an atoning sacrifice. This is emphasized in the concluding verse of this section, and is tied in with the idea of God’s oath regarding Jesus, that is, the word which He speaks (cf. Heb 1:1):

“but the word [lo/go$] of the oath th(at is) after the Law [i.e. changes the Law, cf. v. 12] has completed the Son into the Age”

This completion/perfection of the Son is the result of his sacrificial death for the sins of humankind (2:10ff; 5:8-10; 9:11-14), which, in turn, completes and perfects those who believe in him (10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:2, 23).

References marked “Cross” above are to F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History and Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).
Those marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament (Scholars Press: 1974)
Those marked “Attridge, Hebrews” are to Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia Commentary Series (Fortress Press: 1989)

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on Psalm 110:1

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In the current article (Part 8) of the Easter season series “Yeshua the Anointed”, I briefly examined the episode in Mark 12:35-37 par, where Jesus discusses the relationship between “the Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”. Central to the episode is Jesus’ citation of Psalm 110:1, which in the Greek version (LXX) begins:

ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w|
eípen ho kúrios tœ kuríœ
“The Lord said to my Lord…”

The dual use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) at first glance is confusing, and is due to specific circumstances surrounding the recitation (and translation) of the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH, Yahweh). The original Hebrew reads,

yn]d)al^ hw`hy+ <a%n+
n®°¥m YHWH la°dœnî
“Utterance of YHWH to my Lord:…”

Early on in Jewish tradition, the Tetragrammaton hwhy (YHWH) was replaced with “(my) Lord” (ynda) when the text was recited; this, in turn, generally led to the common practice of translating hwhy with Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) in Greek, and to the double-use of ku/rio$ in LXX Psalm 110:1. A similar wordplay could be attested for Aramaic—ya!r=m*l= ar@m* rm^a& °¦mar m¹r¢° l®m¹r°î (cf. Fitzmyer, WA p. 90).

In the original context of the Psalm, the Lord (YHWH) speaks to “my Lord” (the king). Most scholars would hold that the setting (as in Psalm 2) involves the enthronement or inauguration of the (new) king, a time at which nobles and vassals might choose to rebel or to gain power and independence for themselves (Ps 2:1-3; 110:1). God gives to the king assurance of His protection and support, including victory over all enemies, i.e. the surrounding nations (Ps 2:4-11; 110:2-3, 5-7). As noted in Parts 6 and 7 of this series, Psalm 2 was interpreted and applied to the coming/future Anointed King (from the line of David) in a number of Jewish writings of the period (such as the 17th Psalm of Solomon). However, apart from its use in the New Testament, there is little evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 at the time of Jesus. In one text from Qumran (11QMelch [11Q13]), Melchizedek (Ps 110:4) appears as a Divine/Heavenly figure who functions as Judge against the wicked (Belial), but this scenario (col ii, lines 9-13) is derived from Psalm 82:1-2 rather than 110:1. His appearance (as Judge and Deliverer) is also connected with the Anointed One of Daniel 9:25 and the Messenger of Isa 52:7 who brings the good news of salvation (col ii, lines 15-25). A similar paradigm may underlie the “Elect/Righteous One” and “Son of Man” figure in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), which many scholars hold to be roughly contemporary with Jesus and the early New Testament writings.

In any case, Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as though a Messianic interpretation were understood, but he shifts the meaning of “Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) away from the royal Davidic figure-type and toward a different reference point—a Divine/Heavenly figure, closer, perhaps, to the “Son of Man” of 1 Enoch and Jesus’ own sayings (cf. Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 pars; Luke 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, and pars in Matthew; also John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:62). Certainly, it was understood this way in early Christian tradition, associated specifically with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God in Acts 2:34-36 (cf. also Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the Synoptic saying of Jesus in Mark 14:62 par, he identifies himself (as “the Son of Man”) who will appear at the right hand of God, in connection with the coming/end-time Judgment (Mk 13:26 par). Thus Jesus may be identifying himself with a pre-existent Heavenly/Divine figure akin to that in 1 Enoch 37-71. In Hebrews 1:13, Psalm 110:1 is cited in the context of belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, though in Heb 5:6 an association with the resurrection (and exaltation) seems to be more in mind.

References marked “Fitzmyer, WA” above are from J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays (Scholars Press: 1979).

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note (“The One Coming”)

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In examining the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus in Gospel tradition, special attention needs to be given to the expression o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the Coming [One]”, or “the [One who is] Coming”). This is a verbal noun from e&rxomai, a middle/deponent verb with the basic meaning “come, go”. It is used frequently in the New Testament, especially throughout the narratives of the Gospels and Acts. It plays a most important role in the message of John the Baptist, as recorded in the Gospels. The core declaration by John is firmly placed in the very earliest strands of (historical) Gospel tradition, being attested in at least five different places within the Gospels and Acts.

The Declaration by John the Baptist (Mk 1:7-8; Lk 3:16-17; Matt 3:11; John 1:27)

In the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:7-8) it is as follows:

“The (one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai] in back of [i.e. behind/after] me… I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”

Luke’s version (Lk 3:16) corresponds closely and reads:

“(On the one hand) I dunk you in water, but (on the other hand) the (one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai]… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and fire”

In Matthew 3:11 we have:

“(On the one hand) I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance], but (on the other hand) the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] is stronger than me… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and fire.”

Interestingly, Luke and Matthew agree with each other (against) Mark on several details: (1) both omit “in back of me” [o)pi/sw mou], (2) both use a me\nde/ construction [i.e. “on the one hand…on the other”], and (3) both add “and fire” [kai\ puri/]. Matthew differs from Mark/Luke, however, in the key phrase: “the one coming is stronger” vs. “the one stronger…comes”.

The truncated version in Acts 13:25, which may well be independent of Lk 3:16, is: “See! (one) comes [e&rxetai] after [met’] me…”

Finally we have the saying as recorded in Johannine tradition (John 1:26-27):

“I dunk you in water, (but one) has been stand(ing) in the midst of you whom you have not seen [i.e. known], the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] in back of me [o)pi/sw mou]…”

John’s version (independently) agrees with Mark in the inclusion of o)pi/sw mou (“in back of [i.e. behind/after] me”), and with Matthew in the verbal substantive (participle) o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”). It also contains detail not found in the Synoptic tradition, such as the idea that “the one coming” had been standing in the midst of the crowd (among those coming to be baptized by John), undetected by them. Keep in mind that the Johannine Gospel does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but has John the Baptist describe it after it had occurred (Jn 1:29-34). It would seem that a common (historical) tradition has been preserved in various forms.

Malachi 3:1

In the context of the Baptist’s message, this use of the verb e&rxomai almost certainly has eschatological significance, and is probably derived from Malachi 3:1, the last clause—”the Messenger of the covenant, whom you take pleasure in, see! he will come“. In the Greek [LXX] version, the form is e&rxetai, as in Mark/Luke (cf. above). In other words, “the one coming” [o( e)rxo/meno$] likely refers to the Messenger of Mal 3:1. Now, both the Hebrew Ea*l=m^ and Greek a&ggelo$ can mean either a human or divine/heavenly messenger—i.e. a prophet/herald or an Angel—depending on the context. Based on a comparison with Exodus 23:20, it seems most probable that the original reference in Mal 3:1 was to a heavenly Messenger (Angel), perhaps the “Messenger of YHWH” (virtually a personification of God Himself); note (the parallel elements being italicized)—

Exod 23:20: “See! I am sending a Messenger before you to guard you in the way, and to make you come [i.e. bring you] to the place which I have established”

Malachi 3:1: “See! I am sending my Messenger and he will (turn and) face [i.e. look at, examine] the way before me; and straightly [i.e. suddenly] he will come to his temple…”

Admittedly, the syntax of Mal 3:1 makes interpretation difficult, since there are two references to a Messenger. It is, I believe, best to view the structure of this verse chiastically, as follows:

  • See! I am sending my Messenger…and suddenly he will come (to his temple)
    —the Lord whom you are seeking
    —the Messenger of the covenant (in) whom you have pleasure
  • See! he is coming

We seem to be dealing with a single figure, a single Messenger (of the covenant), who is to be identified as “the Lord” [/doa*h*]. Now in the Old Testament and Israelite religious belief, God (YHWH) himself was represented by the Angel/Messenger of YHWH, and the appearance or manifestation of this “Messenger” signified the very appearance of YHWH. Here the appearance of the Messenger in Jerusalem, in the Temple, ushers in the great and terrible “Day of YHWH” (verse 2), whereby the people will be judged with fire. The righteous will be purified and refined (vv. 2-4), while the wicked will be consumed (vv. 5-6). This very clearly fits what John the Baptist describes of “the one coming” in Matt 3:11-12 / Lk 3:16-17.

However, by the time the book of Malachi was completed, an ‘appendix’ was added, which seems to identify the Messenger of Mal 3:1 with “Elijah” who will appear before the Day of YHWH (Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24]). From this interpretation developed the Messianic/eschatological Elijah-tradition—at the end-time, just prior to the Last Judgment, Elijah (himself or a Prophet like him) will appear in order to bring people to repentance. For more on this tradition, cf. the current article. In drawing, it would seem, upon Mal 3:1ff, did John have in mind a heavenly/divine Messenger (representing God himself) or an end-time Prophet-like-Elijah? There is perhaps a clue to be found in Luke’s account (Lk 3:15), where it is narrated that John’s declaration in vv. 16-17 is in response to speculation that he might be “the Anointed” (i.e. the ‘Messiah’), as we see also in Jn 1:20ff. Based on what we know of the Baptist’s appearance and his ministry, it is unlikely that anyone would have imagined him to be a Messiah of the Davidic-King type, whereas he easily could have been thought to be a Messianic Prophet according to the Elijah-tradition. As in Jn 1:20ff, he eschews such an identification, reserving it for another (Jesus).

Development in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:15, 30 etc)

In the Fourth Gospel, we find that the declaration of the Baptist has undergone an important theological/Christological development, which is expressed in the parallel statement in Jn 1:15, 30 (see my earlier note for a detailed exposition of these verses). This is part of an intentional effort by the author (and/or the tradition[s] he inherited) to subordinate John the Baptist to Jesus more completely and profoundly than we see in the Synoptic Gospels. We may note: (1) the references to John in the Prologue (Jn 1:1-18, vv. 6ff, 15), (2) his explicit testimony in three consecutive episodes (Jn 1:19-28, 29-34, 35ff), and (3) the juxtaposition of John and Jesus in Jn 3:22-30. Throughout the Gospel of John, the verb e&rxomai (“come, go”) often carries a special significance, related to the idea of Jesus (the Son) coming from God (the Father), and going back (returning) to Him. Particularly, in this respect, e&rxomai relates to what we would call the incarnation of the pre-existent Son. Many examples could be cited, but I will limit them here to instances where the participle [o(] e)rxo/meno$ (“[the one] coming”) is used—Jn 1:9, 15, 27; 3:31 (twice); 6:14; 11:27, also 12:13. The occurrences in Jn 3:31 are especially noteworthy since they follow right after the Baptist’s (final) statement, and are thought by some scholars to be a continuation of his words. It is also interesting that the parallel formulations of Jn 1:15, 30 vary between the participle (o( e)rxo/meno$ “the one coming”) and indicative (e&rxetai, “[he] comes”), just as we see the Baptist’s declaration in the Synoptic tradition (cf. above).

Psalm 118:26

There is an entirely different strand of Gospel tradition associating Jesus with “the one coming in the name of YHWH” of Psalm 118:26 (cf. Mark 11:9 [par Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38]; Matt 23:39 / Lk 13:35). Jesus is also connected with the king who comes in Zech 9:9ff—with both Zech 9:9 and Ps 118:26 being combined in the triumphal entry scene, most clearly in John 12:13, 15:

“…the (one) coming [o( erxo/meno$] in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel”
“…see! your king comes [e&rxetai]…”

In early Christian belief, and the developed Gospel tradition, Jesus’ identification as “the one coming in the name of the Lord” means more than that of the traditional Anointed King or Prophet. This is perhaps best seen by comparing Luke 13:34-35 (citing Psalm 118:26) with Luke 19:41-44 (a similar lament for Jerusalem, following his entry into the city, vv. 36-40). Here the appearance of God himself to his people is identified as taking place in the person of Jesus (v. 44). This brings us back to the language and symbolism of Malachi 3:1, as I understand its meaning and significance in the context of the original oracle.

The Salvation of “All Israel” in Romans 11

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This article, which is supplemental to the study on Paul’s View of the Law (in Romans 9-11), will attempt to clarify Paul’s complex address in chapter 11, particularly with regard to the declaration in verse 26a: kai\ ou%tw$ pa=$  )Israh/l swqh/setai (“and thus all Israel will be saved”). To begin with, it is important to keep the overall context of Romans 9-11 in mind when studying chapter 11; the following observations are especially significant:

  • The first argument (in Rom 9:6-13) of the section as whole, begins with the statement: “for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel” (v. 6b), i.e. not all Israelites are (the true) Israel.
  • Paul expounds this with the examples of Abraham and Isaac, to emphasize that true sonship and inheritance (of the blessing, etc) comes not from natural birth and ethnicity, but from the promise and favor of God (and God chooses and calls out whomsoever he wishes).
  • This is further applied in relation to the proclamation of the Gospel (the main theme of chapter 10)—Gentiles have responded to the Gospel, trusting in Christ, while many Israelites, God’s elect people, have failed (or refused) to accept Christ.

There is thus a fundamental connection between 9:6b and 10:15a:

“for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel”
or, “for not all the (one)s out of Israel are Israel” (9:6b)
“but not all (of them) listened under [i.e. obeyed] the good message” (10:15a)

Both use the expression “not all” (ou) pa/nte$), though the syntax of 9:6b makes this more difficult to see in translation. In any case, the implication is clear—only those (Israelites) who accept the Gospel are the true Israel. Now, to continue on with an analysis of chapter 11:

Paul’s initial address in Rom 11:1-12 contains a central argument (from Scripture), bracketed by two rhetorical questions (introduced with the formula le/gw ou@n, “I relate therefore…”). The central argument (in verses 3-10) draws upon the narrative in 1 Kings 19:9-18, of God’s revelation to Elijah as he sought refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. Paul refers specifically to verses 10, 14, where Elijah laments to YHWH that he is the only prophet (of YHWH) left who has not been killed, and that the rest of Israel has forsaken the covenant (Rom 11:2b-3); God responds in verse 18 to the effect that there are still seven thousand in Israel who have not “bowed the knee to Baal”. Note how Paul phrases this in Rom 11:4: “I have left down [i.e. left behind] for myself seven thousand…”—the addition of e)mautw=| (“for/to myself”), shifts the meaning slightly from the original context of being spared from death (by the sword) to being chosen by God. We should observe carefully the points that Paul expounds from this passage:

  • Verse 5—he applies the situation in 1 Kings 9:9-18 to his own (current) time: “so then, even now in (this) time, there has come to be a (remainder) left behind [lei=mma] according to (the) gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)”. In verse 4, the verb used is kataleip/w (“leave down, leave behind”); the noun lei=mma is related to lei/pw, indicating something which is left (behind), either in a positive or negative sense. The word lei=mma is typically translated as “remainder” or “remnant”; but here, as indicated above, this remnant is understood as a people gathered out (the noun e)klogh/, from e)kle/gomai, “gather out”), i.e. elected by God, just as Israel herself was chosen as his people.
  • Verse 6—this gathering out is the result of the favor (xa/ri$) of God, and not because of anything the people have done. Here Paul moves away from the Old Testament passage again, which seems to tie the people’s being spared with their particular religious behavior; instead, he emphasizes that the gathering out is no longer (ou)ke/ti, “not yet, not any more”) based on works (“out of works”, e)c e&rgwn). He has already applied this very idea to the example of Abraham in Galatians 3 and Romans 4.
  • Verse 7—only the remnant obtains what Israel seeks after (cf. Rom 9:30-33), the rest were hardened (lit. turned to stone). The metaphor of “hardening the heart” is common in the Old Testament, most famously in the example of Pharaoh in the Exodus narrative, which Paul references in Rom 9:14-18.
  • Verse 12—this verse is transitional, following Paul’s answer to the (second) rhetorical question (in verse 11), and leading into the address of vv. 13-24. He introduces the first of several qal wahomer exclamations, arguing from the lesser to the greater—i.e., if in this lesser/inferior case it is so, then how much more so when…! The contrast is between Israel’s h%tthma (“loss, defeat”), parallel with para/ptwma (“falling alongside [i.e. over the line]”), and their plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”). The exact meaning of plh/rwma here is important for the overall flow and force of Paul’s argument; I think it is best to understand it in the sense of a restoration (filling up) of what was lost.

Romans 11:13-24 is the first of two addresses Paul makes to Gentile believers specifically, with regard to Israel and its salvation (vv. 13-14).

  • Verse 14—”if… I will [i.e. that I might] save some of them”—note Paul’s use of ti/$ (“some of them”)
  • Verses 15-16—Paul applies three more qal wahomer-style arguments, similar to the one in verse 12:
    • Israel’s a)pobolh/ (“casting away from”) and their pro/slhmyi$ (“taking/receiving toward”); it is not entirely clearly whether these should be understood as subjective genitives (their rejection/acceptance of the Gospel) or objective genitives (their rejection/acceptance by God), since either is possible, and they actually represent two aspects of the same situation.
    • The (currently) small number of Israelite believers as the a)pa/rxh (“beginning of [lit. from]”, i.e. the first grain of the harvest) and the (future) full number as the fu/rama (“[mass of] mixed/kneaded [dough]”).
    • This may also refer to the current “remnant” of Israel as the r(i/za (“root”), and those who will follow as the kla/doi (“branches”); though the “root” perhaps should be understood more generally as the true people of God (faithful Israel) extending back to Abraham. The context of vv. 17-24 strongly suggests this latter, wider interpretation.
  • Verses 17ff—in the illustration of the olive tree and its branches, some branches are “broken out” (e)cekla/sqhsan) and others are (currently) being “poked in” (e)nekentri/sqh$); the sense generally is that the new branches from the “wild olive” tree (i.e. Gentiles) take the place of those that were broken off.
  • Verse 20—the branches were broken off specifically for “lack of trust” (a)pisti/a), i.e. a failure (or unwillingness) to trust in Christ. This has to be understood in terms of Rom 9:6; 10:15 (cf. above).
  • Verse 23—similarly the grafting back in of branches broken off depends entirely on “not remaining in [i.e. upon] a lack of trust”—that is, they must come to trust in Christ.

Romans 11:25-32, the second of the two addresses directed at Gentile believers deals more directly with the question of Israel’s ultimate salvation. Paul now adopts a more decidedly eschatological focus.

  • Verse 25—Israel’s hardness (i.e. their inability/unwillingness to accept the Gospel) lasts until “the fulness of the nations should come in”. The use here of plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”) for the nations (Gentiles) is parallel to that in verse 12 for Israel; Paul probably understands it in the sense of the full (or complete) number, measure, etc. It is only then, once the Gentiles have fully come to Christ, that “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26a).
  • Verse 26-27—the Scriptures Paul cites here are important for an understanding of v. 26a; the primary citation is from Isaiah 59:20-21a, along with Isa 27:9—the combination of elements is significant:
    • “the one rescuing” (o( r(uo/meno$)—Christ himself (1 Thess 1:10, etc), or God working through Christ.
    • “he will turn away from Jacob [i.e. Israel] a lack of (proper) fear [a)sebei/a] (of God)”—cf. Rom 1:18; here a)sebei/a (lack of fear/reverence) is synonymous with sin and wickedness in general, but also, specifically, with a lack of trust (a)pisti/a) in Christ. On the idea of Christ turning people from evil (using the verb a)postre/fw), see Acts 3:26.
    • “and this is the (agreement) set through [diaqh/kh] to them alongside [i.e. with] me”—diaqh/kh here in the sense of an agreement (covenant) between two parties (according to the Hebrew tyr!B=), referring to the “new covenant” in Christ and not the old covenant of Sinai and the Torah (cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18). For the principal Old Testament passage relating to the “new covenant”, see Jer 31:31-34.
    • “when I should take away from (them) their sins”—probably an allusion to Isa 27:9, here set in parallel with the citation from Isa 59:21a, i.e. “turning them away from” and “taking away from them”. For the specific association between removal of sin (and its power), through the death of Christ, and the “new covenant”, see Jesus’ words in Mark 14:24 (par Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20).
  • Verses 28-29—the juxtaposition (me\nde/ “on the one hand… on the other hand…”) Paul establishes in verse 28 must be analyzed and treated with great care:
    • me/n (on the one hand)—
      • kata\ to\ eu)agge/lion (“according to the good message”)
        • e)xqroi/ (“[they are] enemies“)
          • di’ u(ma=$ (“through you”, i.e. for your sake)
    • de/ (on the other hand)—
      • kata\ th\n e)klogh/n (“according to the gathering out”)
        • a)gaphtoi/ (“[they are] loved“)
          • dia\ tou\$ pate/ra$ (“through [i.e. because of ] the fathers”)
    • Paul uses this construction to highlight the sense in which they are (currently) hostile to the Gospel—it is for the sake of Gentiles, that they should come to Christ, as Paul describes earlier in vv. 11-24, 25 (cf. also 10:19-21). For more on this difficult teaching, see below.
  • Verse 31—the mercy which will be shown to Israel is the same that has been shown to Gentiles—that is, the sacrificial work of God in Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel, which has the power to make human beings right before God and to free them from the enslaving power of sin.

Finally, it is left to address specifically the statement in v. 26a: “and thus all Israel will be saved”. There are a number of ways this has been interpreted, which I represent by the following five options:

  1. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved by the mercy and favor of God, but apart from their coming to faith in Christ.
  2. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved collectively through the work of Christ, but in a mysterious way understood only by God, and not necessarily in the sense of “becoming Christians”.
  3. All Israelites alive at the return of Christ will come to faith in him, and will thus be saved.
  4. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all Israelites (and Jews) who trust in Christ.
  5. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all believers in Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Based on the statement in Rom 9:6 and the olive tree illustration in 11:17-24, Paul certainly would have affirmed the fourth and fifth views above, in the sense that the true Israel is to be identified with believers in Christ (cf. also Rom 2:28-29). However, in Romans 11, and especially in verses 25-32, it would seem that he actually has something like view #3 in mind—namely that, at the end of the age, upon the return of Christ (or shortly before), there would be a widespread conversion of all Israelites and Jews currently living, that together (and/or all at once) they would come to faith in Christ. It is important to remember that, when Paul penned Romans, many, if not most, of the Israelites and Jews of his own generation, who had failed or refused to accept the Gospel, were still living, and he could envision the possibility that they could all still come to faith. As is abundantly clear from his letters, Paul, like most early Christians, expected Christ’s return and the end of the current age to occur very soon, presumably within the lifetime of most believers. In this context, Paul’s eschatological hope for Israel here makes good sense. Admittedly, it is rather more difficult to apply to the situation today, where nearly two thousand years have gone by, and many generations of Israelites and Jews have passed away—a situation, I am quite certain, that never would have occurred to Paul. Even so, it is still possible to affirm the belief (or at least the hope) that there will be a widespread conversion of Israel before the return of Christ; and, indeed, may Christians today hold just such a view.

Interestingly, in recent decades, there have been an increasing number of commentators and theologians who would adopt an interpretation along the lines of #1 and 2 above, at least in the sense that Israelites and Jews will be saved by God without having to “convert” or “become Christian”. This may be related to what is called the “Two Covenants” or “Dual Covenant” theory, which I will discuss briefly in an explanatory article.

Most distinctive is Paul’s teaching that Israel’s ‘hardening’ against the Gospel is directly related to the missionary outreach to Gentiles. This reflects historical reality, in that there were Jews who fiercely opposed the early Christian mission, according to Paul’s own testimony and the narrative in the book of Acts. Persecution often fuels the success of a religious movement, galvanizing support and helping to forge a strong and distinctive identity. This may also reflect, at some level, a degree of “cognitive dissonance”—Paul and other Christians were forced to explain the success of the mission among Gentiles throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and Italy (Rome), while many Jews, who (as the elect people of God) should have been more receptive, did not accept the Gospel. This leads Paul to two different explanations which he brings together in these chapters:

  • Not all Israelites are the true Israel (9:6), and
  • They fell away (i.e. refused to believe) in order to make room for the Gentiles to come to faith
    —this last proposition is most vividly illustrated by the image of the olive tree and the branches (11:17-24)

    • Paul viewed Christianity as the outgrowth of (faithful) Israel stretching back to Abraham (i.e., the “remnant” is the root of the tree)
    • The branches which are faithful and remain in the tree (cf. John 15:1-11) are the early Jewish believers
    • The branches of the wild olive tree are the Gentiles—believers are grafted into the tree of ‘true Israel’
    • The branches which were broken off (i.e., unbelieving Israelites and Jews) may yet come to faith and be grafted back in

Once the full number (or measure) of Gentiles have come to faith, then the unbelieving Israelites and Jews will have the covering removed from their mind (2 Cor 3:14-15) and will come to trust in Christ as well. This, at least, is how Paul appears to have viewed the matter. Fitting it into a particular eschatological framework today is, of course, especially difficult, as indicated by the wide range of interpretive approaches that have been adopted over the years.


The Law and Sin in Romans 7:7-25

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The famous passage in Romans 7:7-25 has been discussed countless times by commentators and theologians over the years, and it is not remotely possible even to begin surveying this scholarship—nor all the relevant aspects of interpretation—within one relatively short article. My purpose here is threefold:

  1. To offer my view on the essential context of the passage—namely, the force and significance of Paul’s use of the first person (“I”)
  2. To present an exegetical outline, in the hopes of illustrating, clearly and simply, how Paul understands the relationship between the Law and Sin in the context of the passage.
  3. To give a summary distillation on “Paul’s View of the Law”, in terms of this particular passage.

The “I” of Romans 7:7-25

Paul casts this section in the first person, using “I, my”, etc throughout. This has given rise to considerable debate among interpreters over the centuries, and especially in more recent times. Is the use of the first person autobiographical (describing Paul’s own experience), or is a rhetorical and literary device? Most critical commentators today assume the latter, and, in this, they are almost certainly correct; even so, the question would still remain—who precisely is Paul representing in this section? There are several possibilities:

  • Human beings generally, prior to the coming of Christ
  • Israelites/Jews specifically, prior to the coming of Christ (or prior to faith in Christ)
  • Human beings (believers) prior to coming to faith in Christ
  • Believers generally in their struggle with the flesh and sin

A comparison with Romans 5:12-21 suggests that Paul in 7:7-12 is drawing upon the condition of human beings up until the time the Law (Torah) was introduced. Both passages provide colorful interpretations of the situation described in the Genesis 3 narrative, with Sin as the main actor; note, for example, the way sin “deceives”—e)capata/w in v. 11, compared with a)pata/w in Gen 3:13 [LXX]. Paul personalizes the narrative, giving a dimension of psychological realism and drama to it. The introduction of the Law (Torah) in vv. 9ff might suggest that Israelites and Jews specifically are in focus; however, by verse 22 it becomes clear that a somewhat wider view of the Law is meant—one which embraces all human beings (Jews and Gentiles alike). I take Rom 7:7-25 as parallel with 5:12-21—in the earlier passage, Paul is describing the presence and work of Sin in the world (e)n ko/smw|, v. 13); while in 7:7ff, it is the presence and work of Sin in the flesh (e)n th=| sarki/, v. 18). This focus within the human being makes Paul’s personalizing approach (“in me” e)n e)moi/, “in my flesh” e)n th=| sarki/ mou) both appropriate and effective.

Rom 7:7-12 is cast in the past tense, 7:13-25 primarily in the present. This would seem to indicate that in vv. 13ff Paul is describing the current situation of human beings (“under the Law” and “under Sin”): (a) prior to the coming of Christ, and/or (b) prior to faith in Christ. However, there are several details in the text—especially in vv. 13-25—which could be taken as applying specifically to believers in Christ, i.e., of the struggle believers face with regard to the flesh and sin even after coming to faith. Here are the most notable:

  • Verse 9—e)gw\ de\ e&zwn xwri\$ no/mou pote/ (“I was living apart from the Law then”). Elsewhere, Paul uses the expression “separate/apart from the Law” (xwri\$ no/mou) referring to faith and the work of God in Christ (Rom 3:21, 28; 4:6, etc), so one might think that the Christian condition is meant here as well. However, almost certainly, Paul is simply indicating the human situation prior to the introduction of the Law, with no/mo$ used in the strict sense of the Old Testament/Jewish Torah. The verb za/w (“live, have life, be alive”) is meant in the ordinary, conventional sense of human life and existence, and not of “life in Christ” or “eternal life”.
  • Verse 9—h( a(marti/a a)ne/zhsen (“sin came up to life”). The verb a)naza/w could be understood as “be alive, come to life again“; this might mean, in a Christian context, that sin died once (through Christ) and then came to life again (for believers). Probably, however, the force of the particle a)na here is simply “up”—i.e., that sin sprang up to life through the command of the Law.
  • Verse 17—nuni\ de\ ou)ke/ti e)gw\ katerga/zomai au)to\ (“now [it is] no longer I working/accomplishing it…”). Within the context of vv. 13-25, this could certainly be taken in the sense that a person (i.e., a believer) does not truly will to commit sin, and that it is the sin dwelling/remaining in the flesh which can act against a person’s will.
  • Verse 22—kata\ to\n e&sw a&nqrwpo/n (“…according to the inner man”). Elsewhere, Paul uses this language in relation to the inward (spiritual) renewal of believers (2 Cor 4:16), and the same expression “the inner man” is used in Eph 3:16. It is sometimes assumed that the expression refers to something only possessed by Christians, but this is far from certain. Paul also refers to a renewing of the mind (nou=$) in Rom 12:2 (cf. also Eph 4:23), an aspect of human nature presumably possessed by believers and nonbelievers alike. His idea of the “inner man” in the context of Rom 7:7-25 probably relates more to the human mind and conscience generally.
  • Verse 25—Curiously, after Paul’s declaration of thanksgiving in v. 25a, introducing God’s work through Christ which rescues human beings from the “body of death” (v. 24), he restates the situation of the human condition, from the prior verses, in v. 25b. This could be taken to mean that the conflict so described applies specifically to believers, even after coming to faith in Christ.

Perhaps the strongest association of the conflict in Rom 7:7-25 with believers comes from the parallel in Gal 5:17, where Paul briefly describes a dynamic similar to that in Rom 7:13-25. Clearly, in Gal 5:16-25, Paul is addressing believers who are in the Spirit, and yet he speaks of a conflict with the flesh in terms very much like those in Rom 7. But it is just here that we find the greatest difference between the two passages—in Rom 7:7-25 the person struggles against the flesh, but also against the Law and Sin, whereas in Gal 5 only the flesh is involved. According to Paul’s teaching, believers in Christ are freed from bondage to the Law and sin; but he never claims a similar freedom from the flesh—Christians must continue to struggle against the flesh, dying to its influence every day, through identification with Christ’s own death, and through the guiding work and power of the Spirit.

An exegetical outline of Romans 7:7-25

In this section, Paul especially addresses the relationship between the Law and Sin. He does this first by way of an important rhetorical question in v. 7a: “What then shall we declare? (Is) the Law sin?“—to this, he gives a decisive answer, mh\ ge/noito, “may it not come to be (so) [i.e. by no means, God forbid]!” But, if the Law is not identical with sin, how are we to understand the close relationship between the Law and sin, such as he describes throughout Galatians and here in Romans, to the point of using “under the Law” and “under sin” as nearly synonymous expressions? This is what he attempts to explain and expound in vv. 7ff. I divide the passage into three sections, or scenes, each of which describes a distinctive situation involving human beings (represented by Paul in the first person) in relation to the Law:

  • Rom 7:7-12—Scene 1: Introduction of the Law (Torah) over humankind
    • V. 7a—Rhetorical Question: “Is the Law sin?” (may it not be!)
    • Vv. 7b-8—Answer/Explanation (main proposition): the Law brings about knowledge/awareness of sin (cf. Rom 3:20)
      • The command (v. 7b)—example from the Decalogue (Ex 20:17): “Do not set (your) heart upon…”
      • Sin “uses” the command (v. 8) to work/produce instances of “setting the heart upon” illicit/prohibited things
    • Vv. 8b-9—Expository transition:
      • apart from the Law (xwri\$ no/mou) sin is dead (nekra/), v. 8b
      • apart from the Law (xwri\$ no/mou) I was living (e&zwn), v. 9
    • Vv. 9-11—Rhetorical Illustration/Identification (e)gw de\, “but I…”):
      • Sin (already present) comes up to life (in the human being) with the command (v. 9)
      • The command leads to death, not life (v. 10)
      • Sin acts (deceptively) through the command, to kill (v. 11)
    • V. 12—Expository transition (statement regarding the Law):
      • The command is holy, just and good…(how then, does it lead to sin and death?)
  • Rom 7:13-20—Scene 2: Humankind under the Law (of God)
    • V. 13a—Rhetorical Question: “Did the thing that is good come to be death for me?” (may it not be!)
    • Vv. 13b—Answer/Explanation (secondary proposition): the Law makes sin to “shine forth”, i.e., become apparent/manifest
      • Action: The Law works/produces death through the command
      • Purpose: So that Sin would come to be (seen for what it is)—i.e. completely sinful
        —Manifestation of the power of Sin: flesh is in bondage to it (v. 14)
    • Vv. 14-20—Rhetorical Illustration/Identification (e)gw de\, “but I…”):
      Contrast/conflict: The Law is spiritual, but I am fleshly—Spirit vs. Flesh (cf. Gal 5:16-25)

      • I work (“under sin”):
        —lacking true knowledge: “I do not know” (v. 15)
        —the will is trapped between: the Law (good, v. 16) and sin in the flesh (evil, b. 17)
        —the will is weakened by sinful flesh (v. 18)
        —the person does the opposite of the will (v. 19)
      • It is the power of sin working in me (v. 20)
  • Rom 7:21-25—Scene 3 (Illustration): Humanity subject to the Law (of God) and the Law (of Sin)
    • V. 21—Statement of two contradictory laws (Rhetorical Illustration/Identification: “I find… in me”)
    • V. 22—The Law of God: in the “inner man”
    • V. 23—The Law of Sin: in the (outer) members (i.e., bodily parts, the “flesh”)
    • V. 24—Rhetorical Question: “who will rescue me from this body of death?”
      —and the Answer (implied), v. 25a: “…God through Jesus Christ our Lord”
    • V. 25b—Concluding summary statement (of the two contradictory laws):
      • me\n (on the one hand): “with the mind I am a slave to the Law of God”
      • de\ (on the other hand): “with the flesh (I am a slave) to the Law of Sin”

Paul’s View of the Law in Romans 7:7-25

As the above outline should make clear, Romans 7:7-25 is a dense network of arguments and illustrations, images and symbols, drawing upon nearly everything that Paul has said thus far in Romans about the Law (and Sin). It is the power of his personalized (first person) presentation that makes his exposition so memorable. As the history of exegesis and interpretation amply shows, believers (i.e. those hearing and reading Romans) were likewise able to identify themselves with the “I” in the passage—which was doubtless Paul’s aim and intent in using such a literary device. But what do these verses say specifically regarding Paul’s view of the Law? To begin with, there are two fundamental beliefs or propositions which he expresses throughout the passage:

  1. The Law (Torah) itself is not sinful, nor to be identified with sin (v. 7)—rather, it is holy, just and good (v. 12), and is spiritual (v. 14), reflecting the will of God (the Law of God, in the wider sense).
  2. Though he does not state it specifically here until verse 14, by comparison with the rest of Romans (and Galatians), it is clear that, in his view, human beings were in slavery and bondage to Sin (“under sin”) even before the introduction of the Torah.

With these two ideas in mind, it is possible to summarize some key points related to the overall exposition in vv. 7-25:

  • The main purpose of the Law is twofold: (1) to bring about knowledge and awareness of sin (v. 7, cf. also 3:20), and (2) to make sin itself appear in its true (sinful) nature (v. 13). These are two sides of the same coin—one emphasizes human perception and experience, the other emphasizes the power and presence of sin itself. How does this happen?
  • Revelation of sin comes through the command (e)ntolh/) of God as expressed in the Torah—particularly, as Paul illustrates here (vv. 7-8), through the fundamental ethical-moral commands, which would tend to be shared by most non-Israelite/Jewish peoples as well. Until there is a specific injunction or prohibition which is to be obeyed or followed, sin is “dead”—that is, it possesses no conceptual or experiential reality for human beings. With the introduction of the command, sin literally “comes up to life” (v. 9).
  • Sin holds power over human beings (their flesh), but it does not lead to death until the command is violated (cf. Gen 3:3, 11, 22). As in the Genesis narrative, death is to be understood in the normal sense of physical death, and not as some kind of “spiritual death”—it is the body that dies or is dead as a result of sin (Rom 8:10f).
  • There are several aspects to Paul’s view of death that comes as the result of sin: (1) as a future fate and judgment, (2) as a condition or judgment realized already in the present, and (3) as an active power (along with Sin) at work in the world (and the flesh).
  • Sin enslaves human beings externally in the surrounding world (Rom 5:12ff), but also, more notably, internally in the “flesh”. The power of sin dwells and works in the flesh, specifically the body and its parts.
  • The human will is conflicted and torn between the power of sin in the flesh and the mind or “conscience” which recognizes the command (the Law of God).
  • The “Law of God” is a wider concept than the Torah, as it relates to the “inner man”, the human mind and/or conscience. As such, it applies even to Gentiles who do not have the Torah (cf. Rom 2:12-16, 26-28). In this regard, Paul refers principally to the fundamental ethical/moral aspects of the Law; he never attempts to make a similar connection with the ritual/ceremonial aspects of the Law.

It is fair to assume that the people represented by Paul’s “I” in Rom 7:7-25 primarily represent believers prior to coming to faith in Christ. At any rate, they should be distinguished from the situation in Rom 1:21ff—there, human beings have fallen into idolatry and immorality, and God gives them over to even greater wickedness; here, by contrast, human beings are struggling with their conscience, wishing to live in an upright manner according to the Law of God, but unable to accomplish this because of the power of sin and the weakness of the flesh. One should consider the situation in Rom 7:7-25 as that of the “righteous” (Jew and Gentile alike), in the conventional/traditional religious and ethical sense, who wish to be faithful to the Law and to do good—but even they are enslaved by the power of sin. The Law reveals and makes manifest the reality of this bondage; the only hope of rescue from it comes through the work of God in Christ (v. 25).


Paul’s View of Sin and Romans 5:12-21

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As part of the series of articles on Paul’s View of the Law in Romans (see), I felt it worthwhile to explore specifically his view of sin, and the language (and images) he uses to express it. This is done especially with an eye toward understanding his description of sin in the famous passage in Romans 5:12-21, as well as gaining a better sense of how he defines the relationship between sin and the Law.

Paul’s use of a(marti/a (hamartía)

The a(mart- (hamart-) word-group (vb a(marta/nw, hamartánœ) in Greek has the basic meaning “miss, fail to hit (the target)”, or, in a metaphorical sense, to “miss the way, fail to find”, generally, “go astray, err”. As such, its semantic range is similar to the corresponding words derived from the root afj (µ‰°) in Hebrew. The substantive a(ma/rthma (hamárt¢ma), rare in the New Testament, has the general meaning “error, mistake”, along with the more developed legal/moral sense of “offense, fault, guilt”. The related noun a(marti/a (hamartía), far more common, has a similar range of meaning, but often refers specifically to individual actions. All of this fits fairly well under the English word “sin”, in spite of its strong religious/moral connotation.

Paul uses the verb a(marta/nw in the basic sense of “committing an error, offense”, either against the Law (Torah) or generally against accepted moral standards—sexual immorality, drunkenness, etc. (1 Cor 6:18; 7:28, 36; 15:34)—as well as the more distinctly Christian idea of neglect/mistreatment of one’s fellow neighbor/believer (1 Cor 8:12; Eph 4:26). In Romans (Rom 2:12; 3:23; 5:12, 14, 16; 6:15), the verb is used, it would seem, in a more general/generic sense, though clearly violation of the Torah (in its ethical commands, 2:17-27) and the kind of idolatry/immorality associated with paganism (1:18-32) are in mind. The noun a(ma/rthma (Rom 3:25; 1 Cor 6:18) refers to specific erroneous/offensive acts (“sins”), as does Paul’s use of the noun a(marti/a in the plural (Gal 1:4; 1 Cor 15:3, 17; Rom 7:5; Col 1:14; Eph 2:1).

However, the singular a(marti/a often carries a somewhat different meaning or significance for Paul in his letters—”sin” as a power, and one that is occasionally personified. Note the following:

  • the expression u(po\ [th\n] a(marti/an (“under sin”), where the preposition u(po/ (“under”) refers to human beings under the power and authority of sin (Gal 3:22; Rom 3:9; 7:14); the context of Gal 3-4 and Rom 6-7 indicates the idea of bondage or slavery to an overlord
  • human beings are said to act or function as slaves (or servants) to sin (as lord/master), cf. Rom 6:6-7, 13-14, 16-17, 20, 22; 7:25 (indeed, the entire context of 6:1-23; 7:14-25); note also Gal 2:17
  • sin is said actively to rule/reign (as king or lord)—cf. Rom 5:13-14, 21; 6:12, 14
  • sin otherwise is described as acting, with devious/hostile purpose, in Rom 5:12; 7:8ff
  • sin specifically is said to dwell (lit. “house, take up house”) in human beings, as a personal entity might (Rom 7:17, 20, cf. below)
  • sin is connected to the Law and death, both of which can also be described as (personified) powers (1 Cor 15:56; Rom 5:12-14ff; 6:21-23; 7:13ff; 8:2, and see also on the expression “the Law of sin” below)

In order to understand this particular aspect of Paul’s view of “sin” (a(marti/a), it is necessary, I believe, to consider something of the ancient worldview that informs this language and imagery.

The ancient religious/mythological background

Generally speaking, according to the ancient and traditional (polytheistic) worldview, the universe was filled with living and intelligent “powers” (i.e., “gods”), which governed and were manifest within the various forces and phenomena of nature. This extended even to human society and daily life, whether within the community, family or at the level of the individual. Clearly, the cycles of fertility, birth and death, the seasons and the harvest, etc, were seen as governed by “deities”, but equally so the things a person experiences day to day throughout his/her lifetime. To have, or to experience, good fortune (health, prosperity, success) meant that a person had (or possessed) a “god”; in Greek, the word eu)dai/mwn (rel. eu)daimoni/a, eu)daimone/w, etc), often translated blandly as “fortunate, happy, blessed”, literally means “(having) a good daimon [that is, a divine-power/deity]”; an especially gifted person was similarly thought to possess a daimon (“genius” in the literal sense of the word). By contrast, misfortune and disease, etc., were caused by the presence of evil powers, such as we see famously in the book of Job, as well as in the exorcism narratives in the Gospels and the book of Acts (note also 2 Cor 12:7).

Within the context of Israelite/Jewish monotheism, of course, these “divine powers” took on a different character and role, either understood as heavenly/celestial beings (“angels”) serving God’s rule over the universe, or as ‘fallen’ evil spirits acting within the confines of the world. It is the latter sense which dominated the thinking in early Christianity, especially where the world of nature and humankind was seen as existing in a state of corruption and evil. According to such a “dualistic” viewpoint, the quasi-divine “powers” (whether or not precisely synonymous with “demons”) were thought of in terms of beings or forces which were actively hostile and opposed to God. Paul appeared to have believed in the existence of such “powers” (Gal 4:8-9; 1 Cor 10:20; 15:24; Rom 8:38; Col 2:8, 15; Eph 1:21; 2:2; 6:12; cf. also 2 Thes 2:3-12), though he says relatively little about them specifically in his letters. He describes more clearly, especially in Romans and Galatians, the role played by three (personified) powers—Sin, Death, and the Law. Sin, in particular, is described in almost mythological terms—that is, by telling a story or tale (mythos) with Sin as a leading character who acts with purpose and intent. This is what Paul appears to be doing in Romans 5:12-21.

The context of Romans 5:12-21

Much of the difficulty with interpreting this famous passage, I believe, lies in a fundamental difference in worldview. Modern readers and commentators tend to view “sin” almost entirely in terms of individual misdeeds; Paul and other early Christians shared this basic understanding, but, along with it, retained the concept of sin as a quasi-divine force or power which was opposed to God. Such an idea is quite foreign to Western thinking, especially today; it is much easier for us to conceive of the Devil/Satan as an invisible (but real) being than it is to think of “sin” as a personification, moving and acting, holding people in servitude, and so forth.

On the surface, Romans 5:12-21 is framed as a (typological and synchronistic) contrast between Adam and Christ, yet it is interesting how little Adam actually appears in these verses—the principal actor (especially in vv. 12-14) is sin, along with his associate death. Note:

  • Sin enters (“comes into”, ei)se/rxomai ei)$) the world, and death enters along with (lit. “through”, dia/) him (v. 12)
  • Sin is in (h@n e)n) the world—dwelling, working and multiplying—though without his presence really being recognized by human beings (v. 13); people would not see Sin for who he/it was until the coming of the Law (Torah)
  • Sin reigns/rules as king (basileu/w), through his powerful associate and representative death, until the coming of the Law (i.e. of Moses), and then even more thereafter, until the coming of Christ (v. 14)

It is hard to say to what extent Paul is simply using figurative language here; he certainly understood sin as a real and genuine force or power, but at least two aspects of his illustrative argument here suggest that the language is primarily figurative:

  1. In verses 12-14, Paul is generally summarizing the narrative in Genesis 3 (focused on Adam), and extending it broadly to cover the entire period of human history up to the time of the Sinai Covenant (the Law/Torah), and beyond; he does something quite similar in Rom 7:7-12. In this respect, he effectively attributes to Sin actions and functions involving other characters—Adam, Eve, the Serpent, etc—in Genesis.
  2. In verses 15-17, in a story parallel to, and a reversal of, that in vv. 12-14, the “favor/grace of God” is effectively personified as the protagonist much like Sin in vv. 12-14. Grace works in the world, and through Christ, just as Sin worked in the world, affecting all human beings, ultimately ruling/reigning in life (as Sin ruled/reigned in death).

Paul does not explain exactly how Sin’s entry into the world (manifest in the first sin by Adam) spreads into/unto all human beings (v. 12). Historically, there are three primary ways this has been explained by commentators and theologians:

  • Biological/Generational—human beings transmit a “sinful nature” from parents to child, from one generation to the next; this is sometimes connected with the “traducian” theory that the human soul is transmitted biologically.
  • Imitative—the sinful parent effectively teaches the child to sin, from generation to generation.
  • Collective—all human beings sinned collectively in the first human being Adam (or pair, Adam/Eve)

All of these are rather far removed from Paul’s actual line of argument and illustration in Rom 5:12-21; a major problem, as indicated above, is that such theories almost completely ignore the primary context of the passage (esp. verses 12-14), which depicts sin as a (personified) power. I would interpret Paul’s expository logic as follows:

  • Adam’s disobedience provides the opportunity and opening for Sin (as a power) to enter into the world, that is, into the world/domain of human beings
  • Based also on the parallel discussion in Romans 7:7-25, Paul appears to have viewed Sin’s entry in two ways:
    (1) as an external force present and active in the world influencing and affecting human beings (i.e. “the world“), and
    (2) as an internal power dwelling within human beings, operating and influencing people specifically at the level of the “flesh” (sa/rc).
  • A major result and effect of human sin is death (that is, the fate of real physical death), pronounced as a judgment by God (according to the Genesis narrative). Death, too, is sometimes seen as an active force.
  • The “flesh” of human beings—covering both physical/biological and psychological aspects—already weak, and fatally weakened further by the presence and influence of both sin and death (often viewed as working together), is unable to resist the power of sin.
  • Sin effectively rules as king or lord, enslaving all human beings under its power and authority. Viewed figuratively, this means that human beings are unable to resist the impulse to sin (within) and sinful/wicked influences in the world (i.e. human society) around them.

A uniquely Pauline addition to this narrative is the role of the Law (no/mo$)—that is, the Law of God, but specifically as expressed in the Old Testament Law (Torah). This, of course, is the subject of the current series “Paul’s View of the Law”; his unusual and remarkable view of the Law may, thus far, be summarized here as:

  • Prior to the introduction of the Law (Torah), sin was present in the world, working and ruling over human beings, enslaving them; however, people were not able to recognize the true nature and presence of sin.
  • The primary purpose of the Law was to produce recognition and awareness (i.e. proper knowledge) of sin (Rom 3:20; 7:7, cf. also Gal 3:19). Paul seems to envision a connected/parallel dynamic at work for Gentiles who do not have the Torah, but who recognize comparable ethical and religious standards.
  • Paradoxically, however, the effect of this is to increase the presence and influence of sin, even to the point of bringing about death. Through the commands of the Law, sin is defined, esp. in relationship to God, but the presence (and increased awareness) of sin—especially as manifest in the “flesh”—means that human beings are not strong enough (i.e. not able) to fulfill the Law of God (as expressed in the Torah, and also in the human ‘conscience’ or “inner man”).
  • The result is that human beings are further in bondage, to the Law (“under the Law”), just as they are in bondage to sin (and death); Gentiles, in their own way, are similarly in bondage under the Law (cf. Gal 4:1-11). Paul, however, makes the point strongly that the Law is not the same as sin.
  • Through the person and work of Christ, the Law is fulfilled/completed for believers (who are thus “justified” before God), and is, in fact, brought to an end for those who are in Christ—freed from the Law, as we are freed from sin (and death).

The “Law of Sin”

These two key concepts—the Law and Sin—are combined in the expression “the Law of Sin” (o( no/mo$ th=$ a(marti/a$), which Paul uses in Rom 7:23, 25; 8:2. Throughout Galatians, the word no/mo$ (“law”) refers almost exclusively to the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah); similarly in Romans, however Paul does begin to use the term with a somewhat wider scope of meaning, beginning in chapter 3, but most notably here in chapter 7. In Romans 7:7, he starts with the Torah (the Decalogue), but by verse 22, he has shifted the meaning by introducing the expression “the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=). This phrase seems to include the Law as expressed in the human soul (or “conscience”), i.e., the “inner man”; Paul had used it previously in 1 Cor 9:21, probably in the sense of the true Law, synonymous (for believers) with the “Law of Christ” (cf. also Gal 6:2).

In Rom 7:22-25, Paul juxtaposes “the Law of God” against “the Law of Sin (and Death)”, as two opposing forces at war within a human being—the mind/soul/conscience influenced by the former, and the “flesh” controlled by the latter. This clearly reflects the condition of human beings prior to coming to faith in Christ, though Paul describes a similar dynamic—the flesh warring against the Spirit (and vice versa)—for believers in Gal 5:16-17ff.

A final example: 2 Corinthians 5:21

An interesting use of the word a(marti/a (in the singular) is found in 2 Cor 5:21, where Paul uses it twice, in connected phrases:

“the one [i.e. Christ] not knowing sin, he [i.e. God] made (to be) sin over us [i.e. for our sake], (so) that we might come to be the justice/righteousness of God in him”

It is a most striking juxtaposition: Christ comes to be (made) sin, and we come to be justice/righteousness in Christ. Paul appears to be playing on the various meanings and connotations of the word “sin” (a(marti/a), from a Jewish and Christian point of view. There are several possibilities for interpreting these two phrases:

1. to\n mh\ gno/nta a(marti/an, “the (one) not knowing sin”, in the sense that Jesus—

  • had no experience of sin, i.e. had not committed any such misdeed
  • was unfamiliar sin’s reign, i.e. was not under its/his power and authority (for a similar idea, cf. John 14:30)
  • had no intimate contact with sin, i.e. its power was not dwelling in him

2. a(marti/an e)poi/hsen, “he made (to be) sin”, in the sense that Jesus—

  • was made into the form of (sinful) human “flesh” (Rom 8:3); the idea of incarnation, cf. Gal 4:4; Phil 2:7
  • was made like unto the (enslaving) power of sin, in order to conquer and destroy it (cf. Rom 8:2-3; Gal 3:13-14)
  • was made into a sin-offering; note the similar double meaning of afj in Hebrew, which can be used both for sin and the offering made on behalf of sin

Probably the first meaning in each case is to be preferred, but it is intriguing to consider the other possible associations, as one can find basis for them elsewhere in Paul’s thought.