Note of the Day


Note of the Day (Easter Tuesday)

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For the first two days of Easter (Sunday and Monday), I examined John 5:19-20 and 6:35-58—two passages in which Jesus identifies himself with the power of resurrection. Today, the third passage will be discussed: John 11:17-27ff, with attention paid primarily to the central verses 25-26.

This passage, of course, is part of the Lazarus narrative (Jn 11:1-44), one of the best-known portions of the Gospel of John. It can be outlined simply as follows:

  • The narrative introduction: a dialogue with Jesus and his disciples—11:1-16
  • Jesus with Martha, in which a short discourse (partial dialogue) is embedded—11:17-27
  • Jesus with Mary—11:28-36
  • The miracle: including a partial dialogue—11:37-44

The key verses (25-26) are from Jesus’ encounter with Martha, upon his arrival in Bethany. Here is an outline of this section:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 17-20)
  • Martha’s statement to Jesus, expressing faith in Jesus’ (divine) nature and person (v. 21-22)
  • Discourse (vv. 23-26)
  • Martha’s statement to Jesus, again expressing faith in Jesus (divine) nature/identity (v. 27)

The short discourse of verses 23-26 follows a general pattern found in many of the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John:

  • Saying of Jesus (v. 23): “Your brother will stand up (a)nasth/setai, i.e. ‘rise [from the dead]’)”
  • Response by Martha, reflecting a failure to understand the true/deeper meaning of Jesus’ words (v. 24):
    “I know that he will stand up in the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] in the last day”
  • Jesus’ Response, expounding the initial saying (v. 25-26)

Here is the text of Jesus response in verses 25-26:

e)gw/ ei)mi h( a)na/stasi$ kai\ h( zwh/: o( pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ka*n a)poqa/nh| zh/setai, kai\ pa=$ o( zw=n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ou) mh\ a)poqa/nh| ei)$ to\n ai)w=na
“I Am the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] and the life: the (one) trusting into me, even if he should die away, he will live; and every (one) th(at) lives and trusts into me, no he does not die away into the Age.”

In several textual witnesses (including the early Greek MS Ë45) the words “and the life” (kai\ h( zwh/) are not present; however, they are almost certainly original, and, indeed, seem essential to the fundamental sense of Jesus’ words. Martha’s statement in v. 24 reflects the popular Jewish belief of the time—of an end-time resurrection (by God) connected with the Judgment. This same basic idea is expressed by Jesus with the four instances of the phrase “and I will stand him up in the last day” in Jn 6:35-50 (see the previous day’s note). Jesus corrects Martha’s understanding in two respects:

  1. By identifying the resurrection not with a future event, but with his own person. As has generally been recognized by interpreters of the Gospel of John, the “I Am” (e)gw ei)mi) formula used by Jesus indicates his intimate relationship (and identity) with God the Father (YHWH).
  2. By identifying himself not just with the (future) bodily resurrection (“standing-up”, a)na/stasi$), but with “the life”. In the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, zw/h (“life”) nearly always refers to divine or eternal life, sometimes specified by the traditional Jewish expression (rendered in Greek as) “life of the Age(s)”.

In the previously discussed passages (Jn 5:19-29; 6:35-50), these two aspects are indicated by the verbs a)ni/sthmi (“stand up”) and zwopoie/w (“make alive”). The first verb (related to the noun a)na/stasi$) in this context primarily signifies physical/bodily resurrection, while the second verb is tied to the Johannine theological/spiritual understanding of “life” (zw/h). The power to give (eternal) life belongs to both Jesus (the Son, 5:21) and the Spirit (6:63). In order to see something of the logic running through 11:25-26, the following diagram might be helpful:

  • Resurrection (a)na/stasi$)—power to raise the dead (at the end of the Age)
    • Life (zw/h)—power to give (eternal) life
      • Trusting in(to) Jesus
        • Will live (zh/setai) [though dying phyisically]
        • Living (zw=n) [possession of eternal life through the Spirit]
      • Trusting in(to) Jesus
    • Life [implied]—believer will not ever die
  • Into the Age (to Come)

The chiastic outline moves from the external manifestation of Jesus on earth (as miracle worker and end-time judge) to the internal experience of the believer (union with Christ through the presence/power of the Spirit).

The Lazarus narrative as a whole also demonstrates these two aspects of Jesus’ resurrection and life-giving power:

  • The narrative introduction: physical death of Lazarus and arrival of Jesus in Bethany (11:1-16)
    • Encounter of the believer (Martha) with Jesus (11:17-24)
      • Life-giving words of Jesus, including the believer’s response (11:25-27)
    • Encounter of the believer (Mary) with Jesus (11:28-36)
  • The miracle: physical raising of Lazarus and restoration to life (11:37-44)

If we combine all three passages examined on the three days of Easter, we can see how the future and present dimensions of resurrection relate:

  • John 5:19-29: Raising the dead and Giving life—those who hear the voice of the Son will come out of the tomb
    • John 6:35-50 (vv. 39-40, 44, 54): Future (bodily) resurrection: “and I will raise him in the last day”
    • John 11:17-36 (esp. vv. 25-26): Present (spiritual/eternal) life-giving: “I Am the resurrection and the life”
  • Conclusion/Illustration: Lazarus hears Jesus’ voice and comes out of the tomb (John 11:37-44)

In light of Jesus’ own resurrection (celebrated on Easter), and these passages on the power of resurrection in the person of Jesus, the central question posed to the believer (Martha) at the end of Jesus’ words in Jn 11:25-26 is most significant:

pisteu/ei$ tou=to;
“Do you trust/believe this?”


Note of the Day (Easter Monday)

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For the second day of Easter (Easter Monday) I will be discussing the second of three passages in the Gospel of John where Jesus is associated with the power of resurrection. The previous note for Easter Sunday dealt with John 5:19-29; today’s note will look at one specific area of the Bread of Life discourse in Jn 6:35-58. For some background on this passage, I would recommend reading the earlier note I posted during Holy Week. There I demonstrated something of the parallelism that exists between verses 35-50 and 51-58. Today the focus will be upon one key phrase where Jesus states “…and I will stand {him} up in the last day”. This phrase appear four times in vv. 35-58, but they can be consolidated into two main sayings:

  • Verses 39-40—a dual formulation, where it appears twice and then is restated in v. 44.
  • Verse 54

John 6:39-40:

tou=to de/ e)stin to\ qe/lhma tou= pe/myanto/$ me, i%na pa=n o^ de/dwke/n moi mh\ a)pole/sw e)c au)tou=, a)lla\ a)nasth/sw au)to\ [e)n] th=| e)sxa/th| h(me/ra|
tou=to ga/r e)stin to\ qe/lhma tou= patro/$ mou, i%na pa=$ o( qewrw=n to\n ui(o\n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ au)to\n e&xh| zwh\n ai)w/nion, kai\ a)nasth/sw au)to\n e)gw\ [e)n] th=| e)sxa/th| h(me/ra|

“This is the will of the (one who) sent me: that all which he has given me, I should not have perish (anything) out of it, but I will stand it up in the last day.
“This is the will of my Father: that every (one) th(at) observes the Son and trusts into him should have life of-the-Age, and I will stand him up in the last day.”

Several points should be noted in this pair of closely related sayings:

  • The ultimate fate of believers—that of being raised—is expressed as the will or wish (qe/lhma) of God.
  • God is referred to with the parallel expressions most commonly used by Jesus in John: (a) “the one who sent me”, and (b) “my Father”.
  • Here there is the important theological idea, expressed on numerous occasions in the Gospel of John, of the Son receiving from the Father, i.e., the Father has given (dedwken, from didwmi); the Son, in turn, gives (what he received from the Father) to believers. In this instance, believers as a collective, are what was given to the Son.
  • The connection between salvation (that is, “life of the Age[s]”, i.e. “eternal life”) and not “perishing” (a)po/llumi) occurs elsewhere in the Gospel (Jn 3:16; 10:28; 17:12; cf. also 6:12; 12:25).
  • The motif of “seeing/beholding” the Son (and thereby seeing the Father) is a frequent and most important one in the Gospel—here using the verb qewre/w (Jn 2:23; 6:2, 62; 12:45; 14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-19; 17:24).
  • “Seeing” is intimately connected (being virtually synonymous) with “trusting/believing”, with the usual expression, lit. “trusting into (the Son)”

The theme of trusting/believing in Jesus is primary to the section 6:35-50, as is indicated in the main “Bread of Life” saying in verse 35:

“I Am the bread of life: the (one) coming toward me, no he should not hunger; and the (one) trusting into me, no he should not thirst ever.”

Coming to(ward) Jesus is described in terms of eating, while trusting/believing in Jesus is described in terms of drinking. If we add the statement of verse 44 to that in vv. 39-40, then the motif of coming to Jesus is connected with trusting in Jesus there as well.

“No one is powered [i.e. is able] to come toward me if the Father (who) sent me does not draw/drag him, and I will stand him up in the last day

And, again in verse 44, the will (implied) of the Father is emphasized as the source cause. If we arrange the central actions of vv. 39-40, 44 in order, one sees the thematic thread of vv. 35-50 spelled out:

  • Given (by the Father) to the Son, v. 39
  • Trusts in the Son (as a result of seeing/beholding), v. 40
  • Comes to the Son (drawn by the Father), 44

John 6:54:

o( trw/gwn mou th\n sa/rka kai\ pi/nwn mou to\ ai!ma e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion, ka)gw\ a)nasth/sw au)to\n th=| e)sxa/th| h(me/ra|
“The (one) chewing [i.e. eating] my flesh and drinking my blood has life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life], and I will stand him up in the last day

Just as vv. 39-40 (+ 44) connect with the theme of the main Bread of Life saying in v. 35, so here verse 54 connects with the main saying in v. 51:

” I Am the living bread th(at) came down out of Heaven: if (any) one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is my flesh over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world”

Instead of coming and trusting (the theme of vv. 35-50) we have eating [and drinking] (the theme of vv. 51-58 [but also implicit in the saying of v. 35]). Note the use of the verb trw/gw (“grind, crunch”, i.e. “chew/gnaw”) in v. 54 rather than the more general verbs (fa/gw/e)sqi/w) signifying eating. This seems intended to bring out the concrete sense of eating Jesus’ flesh in rather graphic fashion; whether this also is meant to stress the physical eating of the sacrament (Eucharist) is difficult to say. In any event, the image of eating/drinking Jesus is closely related to that of coming to him and believing in him. Verses 60-65 tie together both themes under the presence and life-giving power of the Spirit (v. 63).

The common expression “and I will stand him up in the last day” reflects a standard Jewish belief in resurrection, as would have been prevalent at the time. The only difference is that the Jewish belief would be stated as “and God will stand him up in the last day”. Here Jesus is claiming the power of resurrection (that is, of giving life [to the dead]). In Jn 5:21, 26 this power comes to Jesus by way of his relationship to the Father. Jn 6:63 indicates that the same power belongs to the Spirit as well—note the use of the verb zwopoie/w (“make alive”) in both 6:63 and 5:21. In the case of the resurrection power of Jesus, however, the formula “and I will stand him up in the last day” in chapter 6 is clearly eschatological—that is, it relates to the future (even if understood as the imminent future), to the Judgment and the end of the age. In this respect it differs from the resurrection power of Jesus in chapter 11, which I will discuss in the next Easter note.


Note of the Day (Easter Sunday)

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For the three days of Easter (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday), I will be looking at three passages in the Gospel of John (Jn 5:19-29; 6:35-58; 11:17-27ff) where Jesus is associated (and identified) with the power of resurrection. Of the Gospels, it is only John which specifically treats this as a theological motif, though, interestingly, not within the Resurrection narrative itself; the passages discussed here all come from the first half of the book—the so-called “Book of Signs” (chapters 2-12).

First a note on vocabulary.—There are two main verbs related to resurrection:

  • e)gei/rw (egeírœ), “rise/raise”, often in the sense of rising/awakening from sleep. In the New Testament, it is the word regularly use to refer to rising/raising from the dead (as in Jn 2:19-20, 22; 5:21; 12:1, 9, 17; 21:14), but it also occurs in the simple concrete sense of “get up” (Jn 5:8; 11:29; 13:4; 14:31), or abstractly (“appear”, “become prominent,” etc, Jn 7:52).
  • a)ni/sthmi (aníst¢mi), “stand up”. In the Gospels and Acts, this verb is mainly used in the general sense (“stand/get up”); however, occasionally, it refers to resurrection (“stand up [out of the dead / in the last  day]”), as in Mark 8:31; Luke 16:31; 24:7, 46. In John, too, it is primarily used in the sense of resurrection (Jn 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:23-24; 20:9). The related noun a)na/stasi$ (anástasis, “standing-up”) came to be the technical Greek term in Judaism (and Christianity) for bodily resurrection, in John (5:29; 11:24-25) and throughout the New Testament.

One should also mention the verb zwopoie/w (zœopoiéœ), “make alive” (i.e., give/bring life), which is used in Jn 5:21; 6:63, and in several New Testament epistles (Rom 4:17; 8:11; 1 Cor 15:22, 36, 45, etc). In addition, there are two other verbs in John which carry a special meaning related to the idea of Jesus’ ascension/exaltation, and where an association with the Resurrection is probably to be included: a)nabainw (“step up”), u(yo/w (“lift high”).

John 5:19-29

This passage is part of the extensive discourse (Jn 5:19-46) which follows the miracle of Jesus’ healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda/Bethzatha (Jn 5:1-8). In the narrative context, the miracle occurs on the Sabbath, and results in one of the Gospel “Sabbath Controversies”—this controversy is the main stimulus for the discourse, especially Jesus’ saying in v. 17 (“My Father works until now, and I also work”). Jesus’ identity, and his relationship to God the Father, is the dominant theme of the discourse. Verses 19-29 can be broken into three sections, each beginning with the expression “Amen, amen, I say/relate to you…”, and containing a principal saying followed by exposition; the middle section being much more succinct, limited to a single saying.

Verses 19-23: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the Son does not have power [i.e. is not able] to do anything if not [i.e. except] what he sees the Father doing; for whatever That (One) does, these (things) the Son also does likewise” (v. 19)

This is a familiar theme in the Gospel of John: the Son only does and says what he sees (and hears) the Father doing (and saying). It stems from the basic image of family business and training, where the child (son) learns to follow the trade or occupation of his father, gaining skill, knowledge and expertise. In the verses which follow (20-23), this relationship is described in more detail:

  • The works which the Father shows the Son are due to the Father’s love (file/w) for him, and, as a result, the Son’s work will be great and marvellous (v. 20)
    • The Father gives the Son the power to raise (e)gei/rw) the dead and make them alive (zwopoie/w) (v. 21)
    • The Father gives the Son the power of (the final) Judgment—i.e. to judge all people/things (v. 22)
  • The Son therefore deserves the same honor as the Father who sent him (v. 23)

Note here especially the eschatological thrust of vv. 21-22 which emphasizes the resurrection of the end-time—the power of which belongs to Jesus (the Son).

Verse 24: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the (one who) hears my word, and trusts the (one who) sent me, has life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped (from) out of death into life”

Here a number of Johannine words and motifs are present:

  • The specific association of “hearing” and “trusting/believing”—in particular, to hear (a)kou/w) has a special theological emphasis in John (Jn 3:29, 32; 5:24-25, 28, 30, 37; 6:45; 8:26, 38-47; 10:3, 27; 11:41-42; 12:47; 14:24; 15:15; 16:13; 18:37).
  • One hears the Word[s] and Voice of Jesus, and thus the Word/Voice of God. Here of course “word” is lo/go$, as in Jn 1:1ff.
  • The important teaching that Judgment depends on trust/belief (or lack thereof)—namely, trusting in Jesus, that he has come from the Father (thereby trusting in the Father who sent him); cf. especially Jn 3:16-21.
  • The theological use of compound verbs derived from bai/nw (“step, walk”): in particular, a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw (“step up” and “step down”) are frequently used to refer to the Son ascending/descending to/from the Father in Heaven. Here, metabai/nw has the sense of stepping from one place to another. There is frequent theological import to these prepositions e)k/ei)$ (“out of”/”into”) as well—”out of” death and “into” life.
  • The dualistic juxtaposition of life and death, as well as the specification of “eternal life” (“life of the Age[s]”)

Again, an association with resurrection is implied by the eschatological coupling of “Life of the Age” and “Judgment”. To see the association more clearly, it may be useful to compare Jn 3:16-21 with Jn 11:25-26.

Verses 25-29: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the hour comes—and now is—when the dead (ones) will hear the voice of the Son of God and the (one)s hearing will live” (v. 25)

Once again hearing (a)kou/w) is emphasized, joining with the saying in v. 24. There is also a clear thematic parallel with vv. 20-22 in the first section—the relation between Father and Son is demonstrated twofold:

  • The power to give life (i.e. resurrection/eternal-life), v. 26 [par. in v. 21]
  • The power (authority) for (the) Judgment, v. 27 [par. in v. 22]

The reciprocal phrasing of verse 26, so common in the Johannine discourses, is especially worth noting here:

“For just as the Father has life in himself, thus also he gave life to the Son to have in himself”

The relationship between Father and Son is intimately connected to the power of Life. The extension of the relationship (to include believers), stated clearly in other passages, has to be implied here. It could be rendered something like:

…so too the Son has the power to give life to those whom he wishes

The phrasing at the start of verse 25 is significant in framing this entire section:

  • The hour comes (e&rxetai w&ra)—eschatological imminence is here implied (i.e., “the day is coming [about to come]…”)
  • And now is (kai\ nu=n e)stin)—the present moment, with the presence/appearance of Jesus

Present and future are joined together in a way that is unique to the discourses of Jesus in John. Jesus will give life in the resurrection at the last day, but also gives life now to those who hear, believe and come to him. The power of resurrection will be demonstrated concretely in the present at the raising of Lazarus (ch. 11), and in Jesus’ own resurrection, but there is deeper spiritual significance as well, which I will touch on more in the next two posts. For now, it may be worth concluding with Jesus’ dramatic words in verses 28-29:

Do not wonder (at) this: that (the) hour comes in which all the (one)s in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out…


Note of the Day (Holy Saturday)

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In celebration of Holy Saturday, I will be discussing one of the few events narrated in the Gospels following Jesus’ death, that of the soldier ‘piercing’ Jesus’ side in John 19:34ff. The Gospel of John records two details, each of which is tied to an Old Testament Scripture:

    1. The soldiers are ordered to break the legs of the crucified victims (in order to hasten death), but when they come to Jesus they see that he is already dead (19:31-33). The Scripture indicated in verse 36 is not absolutely certain; it may be Exodus 12:46 [cf. 12:10 LXX] or Num 9:12 (neither is cited verbatim, cf. also Psalm 34:20). The identification would seem to be with Jesus as the slain Passover Lamb—see the context of Jn 19:14; also Jn 1:29, 36.
    2. A soldier ‘pierces’ Jesus side (19:34, 37), discussed below.

John 19:34 reads:

a)ll’ ei!$ tw=n stratiwtw=n lo/gxh| au)tou= th\n pleura\n e&nucen kai\ e)ch=lqen eu)qu\$ ai!ma kai\ u%dwr
“but one of the soldiers jabbed his side with a spear-tip and straightway [i.e. right away] came out blood and water”

The verb often translated “pierce” (nu/ssw, nússœ) would be more accurately rendered “jab, stab”, perhaps implying here that the soldier’s action was not intended to produce a wound, but rather to check that Jesus was dead (in spite of verse 33). Christian tradition was quick to fill out some of the details: for example, the soldier’s name was identified as Longinus, after lo/gxh (lónch¢, “spear/lance”, technically the spear head or tip), and the wound was naturally enough specified as on the right side (see the Ethiopic version, and so typically in Christian art). The spear itself became a powerful symbol, especially in Eastern Orthodox tradition, where it was related typologically with the Angel’s sword that barred the way to Paradise (Gen 3:24)—i.e., Christ’s death opened the way for us to Paradise again (a popular theme in the hymns of Ephrem the Syrian, etc). Later, the spear would play a role in the rich Grail traditions of the West (see down below).

Two elements here should be looked at in greater detail: first, the blood and water that came out from Jesus’ side (v. 34b); and second, the Scripture citation from Zechariah 12:10 (v. 37).

The Blood and Water

“…and right away came out blood and water”—there have been many attempts to explain this enigmatic detail; especially popular in modern times have been the various medical theories (treating it as a realistic phyisiological detail) which try to explain what may have occurred (cf. the standard Commentaries). These are interesting, but, I would say, somewhat misplaced. At the historical-traditional level, “blood and water” more than likely simply represent a common popular understanding of human (internal) physiology—the two obvious fluid elements contained in the human body, which for a healthy person, ought to be evenly balanced; see, for example, the Jewish tradition in the Midrash Rabbah (15.2) on Lev 13:2ff. The Synoptic tradition might have more emphasized blood coming out—see Mark 14:24 (and par) “this is my blood of the testament th(at) is poured out over many”. However, in the Gospel of John, the mention of water here alongside blood is especially significant. Apart from this verse, “blood” (ai!ma) is mentioned only two other places: in Jn 1:13 and Jn 6:53-56. The first passage contrasts those who come to be born “out of” (that is, from/by) blood (plural), the will of flesh, or the will of man with those who come to be born out of God (from the Spirit, cf. Jn 3:3-8). The second passage is part of the “Bread of Life” discourse; I have discussed these verses in an earlier post, see also here below.

Water is a more prevalent symbol in the Gospel of John. There are four (or five) principal passages:

  • The miracle at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine (Jn 2:1-11)
  • The first portion of the discourse with Nicodemus, regarding being born “from above”, identified with being born “out of [i.e. from/by] the Spirit” (Jn 3:3-8)
  • The discourse with the Samaritan Woman, where Jesus contrasts water from the well with the “living water” he gives (Jn 4:7-15ff)
  • The saying of Jn 7:37-38, part of the discourse[s] Jesus spoke during the Feast of Booths (ch. 7-8), again emphasizing “living water” for those who believe (drink from) Jesus.
  • [One should probably add the foot-washing episode and discourse in Jn 13:1-15ff].

It is possible, I think, to connect the passages involving water and blood according to the theology of the Gospel, and so to glimpse what significance the two motifs together might have in Jn 19:34:

  • Identification of water and wine—miracle at Cana (2:7-9ff)
  • Identification of wine and blood implied—the Eucharistic nuance of Jn 6:53-58 (cf. Mark 14:24 par). Note also the theme in Jn 6:35ff of coming to (and believing in) Jesus, which is parallel to the eating (his flesh) and drinking (his blood) in vv. 51ff.
  • These two passages, taken together, effectively connect, at the symbolic level, water and blood.
  • Coming to (and believing in) Jesus is also symbolized by drinking “living water” in Jn 4:7ff and 7:37-38
  • Water is identified with the Spirit in Jn 3:3-8.
  • Blood is essentially connected with the Spirit as well in Jn 6:60ff (esp. verse 63).
  • The passages in John 3 and 6, taken as a whole, demonstrate a Spiritual interpretation and presence for both Baptism (water) and the Eucharist (blood).
  • Blood and water also both cleanse the believer—see the foot-washing scene in Jn 13:1-15ff, for this same idea with blood, cf. 1 John 1:7.

The first Epistle of John is generally understood as coming from the same basic school of thought (if not the same author) as the Gospel—it uses much common language and style, and shares many theological concepts. In addition to 1 John 1:7, we should also consult 1 Jn 5:6-8, where we see the same triad—water-blood-Spirit—which can be distilled from the Gospel passages mentioned above. It would perhaps be better to view the equation as: water-blood + Spirit. Verse 6 states that Jesus is “the one who came through water and blood“, which I take to be primarily a reference to the Incarnation, and is presumably meant to emphasize the reality of Jesus’ human nature (against early “docetic” views of Christ). If so, then we should probably view the “blood and water” of Jn 19:34 in the same light; only here it is sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ death that is most prominent (note the order “blood and water” instead of “water and blood”). 1 Jn 5:7 adds the Spirit to blood-water as part of the “witness”, and, I believe, it is appropriate to add the Spirit, by way of interpretation, to Jn 19:34 as well. It should perhaps be understood in relation to the “living water” that flows from Jesus, which the believer receives within by faith (and the power of the Spirit). Jesus’ sacrificial death releases this cleansing and life-giving power to us—when we drink of it (by faith and the Spirit), the same life comes to be in us.

The Citation from Zechariah 12:10

In Jn 19:37, the Gospel writer explains the ‘piercing’ described in v. 34 as a fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10, which is cited thus:

o&yontai ei)$ o^n e)ceke/nthsan
“they will look with (open) eyes unto the (one) whom they pierced”

The Hebrew Masoretic text reads “and they will look unto me the (one) whom they struck through [i.e. pierced]”. The first person pronominal suffix (“me”) would suggest that God is the referent, but this is admittedly difficult in context, and a number of MSS instead read “him”. Verses 10-14 have primarily the theme of mourning, and the association with verses 1-9 (describing a great war and judgment against the nations) may indicate that the people who remain in the land are mourning those who have been killed (i.e., as martyrs), and as a result the people turn and look to God. This is more or less the approach taken by many Jewish commentators; however, in the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 52a), we find an example of a messianic interpretation (by R. Dosa)—it is the Messiah (ben Joseph) who is pierced, and the people mourn for him. The most common early Christian interpretation is that it refers to Jesus’ return (parousia)—the people (Jews and Gentiles), especially those who are responsible for his death, will look upon him as he comes in glory. This is certainly the way the verse is used in the Johannine book of Revelation (Rev 1:7); cf. also Justin Martyr’s First Apology §52. However, I suspect that there is a deeper, spiritual meaning here in the Gospel. Consider, for example, the thematic signficance of seeing/looking, especially the way that the verb o)pta/nomai is used—Jn 1:39, 50-51; 3:36; 11:40; 16:16-19. In these passages the emphasis is primarily upon believers seeing/beholding Jesus (and his glory); elsewhere in the Gospel we find the familiar message that those who see Jesus also see the Father—this seeing is parallel with (and corresponds to) knowing, and is salvific. Nowhere is this more clear than in the sayings regarding the Son of Man being “lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). As I discussed in an earlier post, this “lifting high” reflects both Jesus’ sacrificial death and his exaltation/glorification; by looking on this symbol, we also see the Father, and are drawn to Christ; in turn, we are led by him to the Father.

There is perhaps no better image for meditation and contemplation on the eve of Easter than Christ, the one pierced, who has poured out his blood and water (his “soul unto death”, Isa 53:12), lifted high above us, where we can all look upon him with open eyes.

The spear that pierced Jesus’ side took on a surprisingly important role in medieval Grail lore, as part of a complex of images. It was paired with the cup from the Last Supper, which caught the blood which came out after Jesus was pierced. In the Grail romances, pagan religious beliefs and mythology blend together with Christian symbols and sacramental thought. The cup (eventually identified as the “Grail”) and spear both became magical-sacred objects in these tales, housed in the mysterious Grail castle. In the middle Ages, these were not necessarily idle myths—the Grail (and related Arthurian) legends could be used as a powerful expression of Christian spirituality, as we find in the 13th century Quest for the Holy Grail. In later centuries, they continued to exert a strong artistic influence, perhaps best exemplified in Richard Wagner’s ultimate musical opera Parsifal.


Note of the Day (Good Friday)

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To commemorate Friday of Holy Week (Good Friday), I will be exploring the “Good Shepherd” discourse of John 10:1-21, leading up to the climactic verses 17-18 which relate specifically to the Passion of Christ.

There are two main patterns for the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John: (1) partial-dialogue and (2) continuous exposition. The previously-discussed discourses in chapters 3, 7-8 and 12 follow the first pattern, where the people hearing Jesus’ words react and respond with a question that reflects some level of misunderstanding, prompting Jesus to respond in turn. John 10:1-21 follows the second pattern, which can be compared in some ways to the longer parables in the Synoptic Gospels; the Vine discourse of John 15 is another example.

Jesus begins with a compact illustration or “parable”—the word used by the Gospel writer here is paroimi/a (paroimía “along the path”, i.e. “by way of…”) rather than parabolh/ (parabol¢¡  “[something] cast/thrown alongside”, i.e. “comparison”). Paroimi/a could be rendered “metaphor” or “proverb”, presumably comparable to the Hebrew word lv*m* (m¹š¹l); it is rare in the New Testament, occurring elsewhere only in Jn 16:25, 29 and 2 Pet 2:22. The illustration consists of verses 1-5, with two main figures: (a) the door (qu/ra) to the sheep-pen (the au)lh/ or “open space” for the sheep, presumably surrounded by a wall), and (b) the shepherd (poimh/n, the “keeper/guardian” or “herder” of the sheep). These two figures are brought together in vv. 1-2 by way of two theologically significant verbs: (a) a)nabai/nw (anabaínœ, “step up”), used in v. 1 for the thieves or “false” shepherds who climb up into the sheep-pen; and (b) ei)se/rxomai (eisérchomai, “come/go into”) in v. 2 for the “true” shepherd who enters through the door. There are two main themes as well within the illustration:

(a) The “true” or ideal shepherd contrasted with the “false” or wicked shepherd (emphasized in vv. 1-2)
(b) The sheep follow the (true) shepherd, who calls them by name—they know his voice (vv. 3-5)

It is curious that Jesus identifies himself with both the door and the shepherd (cf. the exposition in vv. 7-18). It is clear that some early scribes had difficulty understanding this, for a number of textual witnesses (including the early MS Ë75) read poimh/n (“shepherd”) instead of qu/ra (“door”) in verse 7. I tend to interpret the door and the sheep-pen according to Jesus’ (i.e. the Son’s) relationship to (and identity with) the Father—going out and in of the door is illustrative of Jesus coming from and returning to the Father. As such, according to the theology in John, since Jesus is the way to the Father for believers (Jn 14:6), he is the door for them as well. From another aspect, the sheep-pen also reflects the unity of believers in/with God and Christ (cf. especially Jn 17:20-23ff).

In the exposition of the illustration which comes next (vv. 7-18), Jesus discusses both figures (door and shepherd): verses 7-10 deal with the door, and verses 11-18 with the shepherd. Each section follows a common pattern:

  • “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement of Jesus—v. 7 / 11
    • Contrast of “true” vs. “false” shepherd, emphasizing that only the true/ideal Shepherd cares for the sheep—v. 8 / 12-13
  • “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement of Jesus (repeated)—v. 9a / 14a
    • Emphasis on the shepherd leading the sheep, and the sheep following—v. 9b / 14b-16
  • Statement of salvific purpose and action of the Shepherd—v. 19 / 17-18

Comment should be made on the expression o( poimh\n o( kalo/$, usually translated “the good shepherd”, though a more literal rendering would be “the beautiful keeper/herder”. Here the adjective kalo/$ probably should be understood in the sense of “fine, noble”; it might, however, also have the connotation of “perfect” or “ideal”, especially in light of the contrast with the “false” shepherds (thieves/bandits and hirelings). In a society such as ancient Israel where pastoralism (herding) was a major part of the economy, the image of the herdsman would have been clear and powerful, much more so than for people in modern Western countries. In the ancient Near East, the shepherd was a common symbol for the ruler (as guardian) of the people, sheep being especially vulnerable and in need of protection. It appears frequently in the Old Testament (2 Sam 5:2; 7:7; [Eccl 12:11]; Isa 44:28; Jer 49:19; 50:44), often used of God as Shepherd (Gen 49:24; Ps 23:1ff; 28:9; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10; Ezek 37:24; Amos 3:12; Mic 7:14). Moses and David are examples of ‘ideal’ rulers who had served as shepherds (cf. the specific association with David in Ps 78:70-72), and on a number of occasions the people Israel are depicted as sheep lost without a shepherd (Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Jer 50:6; Zech 10:2-3; 13:7; cf. also Mk 6:34; 14:27 par). In the Prophets, the theme of judgment against the (religious) leaders as false (corrupt/wicked/failing) shepherds (Isa 56:11; Jer 2:8; 10:21; 12:10; 25:34-36; 50:6; Zech 10:2-3; 13:7) appears often, occasionally contrasted with the promise of restoration of true/faithful shepherds to lead Israel (Jer 3:15; 23:1-4; Ezek 37:24; Mic 5:4-6). The two Old Testament passages where this theme is most fully expounded are Ezekiel 34 and Zech 11; the last of these is thoroughly a message of judgment (v. 17 is close to 13:7, which Jesus quotes in Mk 14:27 par), whereas Ezek 34 is closer to the thought of the discourse here in Jn 10. Jesus as “Chief Shepherd” appears elsewhere in the New Testament (Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4), and Christian leaders are to follow his example as shepherd of a flock (cf. Jn 21:13-17; 1 Pet 5:2, etc). Paradoxially, in the Gospel of John, as well as elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus is both the Lamb (Jn 1:29, 36, et al.) and Shepherd—an association made explicit in Revelation 7:17.

Special attention should be given to principal theme of the “Good Shepherd” saying and exposition here in Jn 10:11-18:

o( poimh\n o( kalo\$ th\n yuxh\n au)tou= ti/qhsin u(pe\r tw=n proba/twn
“The beautiful keeper/herder sets (down) his soul [i.e. lays down his life] over the sheep” (v. 11b)

This can be understood concretely—the shepherd lays his body over the sheep to protect them—or figuratively—the shepherd gives up (i.e. risks) his life for the sake of protecting the flock. Clearly, in the context of Jesus’ teaching here, the image prefigures his upcoming death; note the use of similar language in the institution of the Lord’s Supper (“this is my blood of the testament/covenant th[at] is poured out over many”, Mark 14:24 and cf. par.). In the Old Testament shepherd imagery, this theme of risking one’s life is not especially emphasized, but only implied within the idea of protection and rescue of the flock (see also the Shepherd parable in Lk 15:3-7; Matt 18:12-14). It is a certain characteristic of the true/ideal/faithful shepherd as opposed to the mere hireling who does not really care for the sheep (vv. 12-13).  But there is even more is involved: the idea of setting/laying down one’s life; note again the structure of this section:

  • “I Am” saying (“I Am the Good Shepherd”), v. 11a
    • Theme: the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, v. 11b
    • Contrast between true shepherd and false shepherd (hireling), vv. 12-13
  • “I Am” saying repeated (“I Am the Good Shepherd”), v. 14a
    • Theme: “I know the (sheep that are) mine and the (sheep that are) mine know me”, v. 14b
    • Emphasis on the shepherd leading (a&gw) the sheep, and the sheep following (“hearing”, a)kou/w)—”knowing” explained in terms of hearing, v. 15-16

There are several important (Johannine) theological motifs embedded in the brief exposition of vv. 15-16:

  • The knowing between sheep (believers) and shepherd (Jesus/Son) is reciprocal
  • The relation between believers and Son parallels that of Son to the Father (ultimately Jesus leads them to the Father)
  • This knowing is salvific—it is intimately connected with the sacrifice of the shepherd laying down his life
  • This knowing involves “hearing” the “voice” of the Son (who only speaks what he has heard from the Father)
  • This hearing/knowing/leading involves the unity of all believers (v. 16, with the mission to the Gentiles implied)

The climax of the passage is the statement of salvific purpose and action (vv. 17-18, parallel to that in verse 10) for the Shepherd:

Dia\ tou=to/ me o( path\r a)gapa=| o%ti e)gw\ ti/qhmi th\n yuxh/n mou, i%na pa/lin la/bw au)th/n. ou)dei\$ ai&rei au)th\n a)p’ e)mou=, a)ll’ e)gw\ ti/qhmi au)th\n a)p’ e)mautou=. e)cousi/an e&xw qei=nai au)th/n, kai\ e)cousi/an e&xw pa/lin labei=n au)th/n: tau/thn th\n e)ntolh\n e&labon para\ tou= patro/$ mou
“Through [i.e. because of] this the Father loves me, (in) that I set (down) my soul (s0) that I receive it again. No one carries it (away) from me, but (rather) I set it (down) from myself. I have authority to set it (down) and I have authority to receive it again—this (charge) laid upon (me) [i.e. this command] I received (from) alongside my Father”

Here we have a powerful dualistic expression (setting-down/taking-up) of the two aspects of the Shepherd’s saving sacrifice—setting down life (i.e. death), and taking it up again (i.e. resurrection). There is some ambiguity in the verb lamba/nw, which can be understood either in the sense of “receive” or “take”; for consistency’s sake in the translation above, I rendered all three instances (indicated with italics) as “receive”, but in the first two instances “take” might be more appropriate. Even though Jesus is normally thought of as raised up from the dead by the Father (and not by himself), in the Gospel of John, we have the clear idea that Jesus receives life “in himself” from the (living) Father (see esp. Jn 6:57), and so has the power both to be—and to confer—life (Jn 6:57b; 10:10b; 11:25).

The setting down of Jesus’ life certainly covers the entire Passion, but we can see it vividly expressed especially at the moment of death, where, in John’s account, upon uttering his final word (tete/lestai, “it is completed”), we read:

kai\ kli/na$ th\n kefalh\n pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma
…and bending (down) the head, he gave along [i.e. gave up] the spirit [lit. breath]

For the taking/receiving his life back again, we must wait for Easter Sunday.

Of the Marian images associated with the Passion of Christ, perhaps the most enduring is the so-called Pietà, which depicts Mary cradling the dead body of her son Jesus. This image was especially popular in Renaissance art, the most famous work being the sculpture by Michelangelo (on right), exemplary in its visceral and sensuous treatment of sacred subject. In the liturgy, this motif of Mary’s suffering and lamentation is expressed in the Stabat Mater, that great Marian poem, which similarly brought forth musical settings from most of the finest Western composers in the 18th and 19th centuries. In a note posted last Holy Week on Good Friday, I discussed Luke 2:35 (from the oracle of Simeon) which often has been associated with Mary’s experience of pain and suffering at the death of her son.


Note of the Day – April 13

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(This is an expanded version of a note posted during Holy Week last year)

All four Gospels record Jesus’ “Last Supper” with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23ff; John 13:1-30), but with a well-known chronological difference: the Synoptics indicate that it was a Passover meal (Matthew 15:7; Mark 14:12; and esp. Luke 22:7), the 14/15th of Nisan; while John records Jesus’ death during the preparation for Passover, 14th Nisan (John 19:14; also cf. 12:1). A number of solutions have been offered to explain or harmonize the difference between the accounts, none, I should say, entirely satisfactory. Much more interesting, however, is the fact that John records no institution of the sacrament (Lord’s Supper), attention rather being given to Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (13:3-20). In fact, the only mention of the bread and cup would seem to be in the “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6 (vv. 53-57); this has prompted many scholars to ask if perhaps vv. 51-58 have been inserted by the author/redactor into the current location from a traditional Last Supper setting. But this raises an even more significant question: do verses 51-58 in fact refer to the Eucharist (that is, to the material sacrament)? As I will discuss below, I do not think the primary reference is to the sacrament. However, here are some arguments in favor of a sacramental reference:

  1. Suddenly, in place of Jesus himself (or his words) identified with the Bread from Heaven (“the Bread [which] came down from Heaven”, o( e)k tou= ou)ranou= kataba/$, cf. esp. v. 51), we hear of “eating his flesh” (fa/ghte th\n sa/rka) and  “drinking his “blood” (pi/hte au)tou= to\ ai!ma) (vv. 53-56)
  2. The verb (trw/gw) used in verse 56, conveys a very concrete image of eating (literally “striking” or “crunching” away; in colloquial English it might be rendered “munching”). This would suggest a physical eating (of a material sacrament) and not simply a spiritual appropriation.
  3. It is most unlikely that the Gospel of John would not have some reference to the Eucharist, and this is the only passage which fits.
  4. The “embedded” reference to the Eucharist is parallel to a similar reference to the sacrament of Baptism in the Discourse with Nicodemus (see 3:5)
  5. The Bread of Life Discourse follows the Feeding of the Multitude, which, in all four Gospels, is described using Eucharistic language, and presumably was understood in connection with the Eucharist from earliest times.
  6. One critical argument is that a redactor of the final version of the Gospel intentionally added in more specific sacramental details in order to modify or qualify an otherwise “spiritualist” teaching.

What about the idea that the author (or redactor) added Eucharistic teachings of Jesus to the discussion of vv. 25-50? One can certainly see how verse 51(b) could have been a connection point with the prior teachings on the “Bread from Heaven” (expounding the Passover theme of the Manna), as well as teaching on the Eucharist. The mention of “flesh” (o( a&rto$ de\ o^n e)gw\ dw/sw h( sa/rc mou/ e)stin u(pe\r th=$ tou= kosmou/ zwh=$, “and the bread which I will give over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world is my flesh“) would lead naturally to discussion of the Eucharist. The real problem, however, is not so much vv. 51-58, but rather what follows: vv. 60-71, especially verse 63: to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin to\ zw|opoiou=n, h( sa\rc ou)k w)felei= ou)den (“the spirit is th[at which] makes live, the flesh profits nothing”). The tone of this portion seems to be at odds with a reference to the material sacrament in vv. 51-58. A number of critical scholars have noted that reading 6:25-50 and 60-71 in sequence makes good sense, while including vv. 51-58 creates an interpretive difficulty. R. E. Brown, in his commentary (Anchor Bible 29 pp. 302-303), takes the precarious step of assuming both that vv. 51-58 were added by a redactor, and that we should read vv. 60-71 as relating to vv. 25-50 but not to vv. 51-58.

In my view, it is important to look at the Gospel as it has come down to us, whether or not sayings of Jesus from different contexts have been combined together to give it its current form. I would outline the chapter as follows:

  • 6:1-14: The Miraculous Feeding, which includes Eucharist language and imagery [v. 11-13] + transitional verse 15
  • [6:16-21: The traditional episode of the Jesus’ Walking on the Water to meet his disciples]
  • [6:22-24: Transitional section which sets the scene]
  • 6:25-30: Discussion of the Miraculous Feeding, with a saying of Jesus on the “work of God” (tou=to/ e)stin to\ e&rgon tou= qeou=, i%na pisteu/hte ei)$ o^n a)pe/steilen e)kei=no$, “this is the work of God: that you should trust in the [one] whom that one sent”, v. 29)
  • 6:31-59: The Bread of Life Discourse, which I break down into four parts:
    a) The Scripture reference (“Bread from Heaven”), and Jesus’ initial exposition: 6:31-33
    b) Crowd (“Lord, give us this bread always”) and Jesus’ Response: e)gw/ ei)mi o( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (“I Am the bread of life…”), 6:34-40
    c) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “I am the Bread”/”which came down out of Heaven” and Jesus’ Response, 6:41-51
    d) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “The Bread that I will give…is my flesh” and Jesus’ Response, 6:52-58 + concluding note v. 59
  • 6:60-71: Discussion of the Bread of Life Discourse (the Disciples’ Reaction), in two parts:
    a) The reaction “This is a rough account [i.e. word/saying], who is able to hear it?” and Jesus’ Response, 6:60-65
    b) The turning away of many disciples, with Peter’s response (“you have words of life [of the] Age [i.e. eternal life]”), 6:66-71

Here I view vv. 51-58 as integral to the Discourse as we have it. The “flesh and blood” of vv. 53-56 is an intensification and expansion of the imagery in verse 51: the “bread that he gives” is his “flesh [and blood]”—compare verses 51 and 54:

e)a\n ti$ fa/gh| e)k tou/tou tou= a&rtou
(“If someone should [actually] eat out of [i.e. from] this bread…”)
o( trw/gwn mou th\n sa/rka kai\ pi/nwn mou to\ ai!ma
(“The [one] chewing [‘chopping at’] my flesh and drinking my blood…“)

zhsei ei)$ to\n ai)w=na (“…he shall live into the Age [i.e. have eternal life]”)
e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion (“…has life [of the] Age [i.e. has eternal life]”)

Jesus’ returns to mention just the bread again in the concluding verse 58, which also reiterates the OT scripture (and motif) that began the Discourse: ou!to/$ e)stin o( a&rto$ o( e)c ou)ranou= kataba/$, “this is the bread (which) came down out of heaven”.

Another way to read the core section of the discourse (6:35-58) is in parallel, as though verses 35-50 and 51-58 represented two aspects of the same message. Note the points of similarity:

  • Saying of Jesus: “I am the bread of life / living bread” which begins the section (v. 35a / 51a)
  • Teaching by Jesus expounding the “bread of life” in terms of “coming/believing” and “eating his flesh”, respectively (35b-40 / 51)
  • Question by “the Jews” (grumbling/disputing), reacting (with misunderstanding) to Jesus’ teaching (41-42 / 52)
  • Jesus’ Response: second exposition (43-47 / 53-57)
  • Concluding “Bread of Life” statement, comparing those who ate manna with those who eat the true bread from heaven (48-50 / 58)

Each of these sections follows the basic pattern of the discourses in the Gospel of John (see the previous day’s note). It is interesting that in vv. 35-50, eating as such is not mentioned (until the conclusion, vv. 49-50); rather the emphasis is on “coming toward” Jesus and “believing in [lit. trusting into/unto]” him, which is part of the initial statement in verse 35:

“The (one) coming toward me, no he shall not hunger; and the (one) trusting into/unto me, no he will not thirst, never”

This is contrasted with vv. 51-58 where the theme is specifically “eating” (Grk fa/gw):

“If (any) one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is my flesh, over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world” (v. 51b)

It is also interesting the way that “bread” clearly represents both food and drink in v. 35. This is paralleled in vv. 51-58, where the bread (“flesh”) of v. 51 quickly expands to include “blood” in verse 53ff; it signifies both aspects of human sustenance as well as both primary aspects of the human (physical) constitution, in conventional terms.

How should we relate these two main points of emphasis: “coming/believing” and “eating/drinking”? Is one sapiental (response to Jesus’ words as teaching/wisdom) and the other sacramental (participation in the ritual symbol [eucharist])? Or do they reflect two sets of images corresponding to the single idea of spiritual life in union with Christ? I prefer to regard them as signifying two “levels” for the believer. The first, that of coming/believing (vv. 35-50), is well served by the use of the two prepositions (pro$ “toward”, and ei)$ “unto/into”)—the believer approaches Christ through faith, coming, we could even say, “into” him. At the second level (vv. 51-58), believers commune and nourish themselves—now Christ comes “into” the believer, there is now life in us (cf. the powerful statement in verse 57). But is this second level specifically the Eucharist, in a ritual sense?

In the context of the Discourse, the sacrament of the Eucharist may be implied (a preshadowing), but I do not think it is at all primary to Jesus’ teaching. It is rather the Person of Jesus himself and the Life which he conveys—by means of the Spirit—which is central to the message; and it is this “word” (lo/go$) which the disciples find “rough” or difficult to hear. Too much has been made of verse 63, for it simply gives priority to the Spirit—especially in a sacramental context (Eucharist)—just as the Spirit takes priority in the context of Baptism (3:5-8). In other words, Spirit first, then sacrament; too often in Church history, Christians have made it the other way around, as though only through the tangible sacrament (as a “means of grace”), can one truly experience the Spirit. Consider the fierce fighting over the words of the institution (tou=to/ e)stin to\ sw=ma/ mou, “this is my body”, Mark 14:22 par.)—all of the ink (and blood) spilled over the significance of “is” (e)stin)—when it would have been better, I think, to focus on the demonstrative pronoun (“this”, tou=to): that is, not the reality of the sacrament, but the reality of what it signifies. In this regard, it is absolutely necessary to study and meditate carefully on the Bread of Life discourse in John.

(For further notes on the Passion Narratives and the Lord’s Supper, see the first half of an article posted last Easter season.)

The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was perhaps the most contentious issue dividing early Protestants. At the Marburg Conference, Luther refused to shake Zwingli’s hand and stated famously ihr habt einen andern geist denn wir (“you have a different spirit than we [do]”). If a corporal “real presence” remained a ‘line in the sand’ for Lutherans, Bucer of Strassburg and Calvin each sought mediating positions—Calvin spearheaded an agreement with Bullinger and the Swiss Reformed (the Zurich Consensus of 1549), which marks perhaps his finest moment. Calvin’s view of the Eucharist was that Christ is truly present—but only by the Spirit, in a spiritual manner—as believers together partake of the elements. Other Spiritualist Reformers, such as Caspar Schwenckfeld, disgusted by the infighting and the “carnal” view of the sacraments held by mainstream Protestants, advocated a Stillstand, a moratorium on administering the sacrament, along with a clear message: believers partake of the presence of Christ entirely by the Spirit—the material elements, while perhaps useful, ultimately are not necessary.


Note of the Day – April 12

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At the close of the previous day’s note, I presented the three passages in the Gospel of John which are, in some respects, parallel to the three Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Today I will examine them in more detail.

The passages are: John 3:13; 8:28; 12:32. They all involve the “Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as do the Synoptic predictions (see the prior note for more on the expression “Son of Man”). They also each use the verb u(yo/w (hupsóœ, “lift/raise high”). In the Gospels, this verb primarily appears in two contexts: (1) as a contrast with “making low[ly]”, i.e., humbling oneself, the ideal of humility expressed by Jesus in the Synoptics (Lk 14:11; 18:14; Matt 23:12; cf. also Matt 11:23 par. and Lk 1:52); and (2) in the context of these three passages in John. In the fourth Gospel, the references to “the Son of Man” usually have to do with the heavenly nature or exaltation/glorification of Jesus, often involving ascent/descent (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31). Only in Jn 5:27 and (probably) 9:35 is the expression used in the way it commonly is in the Synoptics. The three verses to be discussed below are each embedded in one of the famous discourses of Jesus which make up the bulk of the Gospel. Generally, these discourses follow a pattern: (a) Jesus makes a provocative statement, (b) those who hear him respond with a question which reflects misunderstanding and a failure to grasp the deeper sense of Jesus’ words, (c) Jesus responds in turn with an exposition of profound theological/christological significance. Often two or more sets of question-response are involved. Critical scholars continue to debate the origin, nature, and composition of these great discourses, which are not quite like anything we find in the Synoptic Gospels, and contain language and expressions often similar to that of, for example, the Johannine Epistles.

John 3:14

Kai\ kaqw\$ Mwu+sh=$ u%ywsen to\n o&fin e)n th=| e)rh/mw|, ou%tw$ u(ywqh=nai dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou
“And according as [i.e. just as] Moses lifted high the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary (that) the Son of Man be lifted high”

This is part of the discourse with Nicodemus which comprises John 3:1-21. I would outline it as follows:

  • Narrative introduction (Jn 3:1-2)
  • Statement by Jesus: “If one does not come to be (born) from above, he is not able [lit. powered] to see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3)
  • First question by Nicodemus: “How is a man able to come to be (born when) he is aged? he is not able to go into his mother’s belly and be (born) a second (time, is he)?” (Jn 3:4)
    • Jesus’ Response—regarding coming to be born out of [i.e. from] the Spirit (Jn 3:5-8)
  • Second question by Nicodemus: “How are these (things) able to come to be [i.e. how are these things possible]?” (Jn 3:9)
    • Jesus’ Response—regarding the witness of the Son of Man (Jn 3:10-15)
  • Further teaching by Jesus—regarding the Son of God sent into the world (Jn 3:16-21)

The saying under consideration here is part of the response by Jesus to Nicodemus’ second question, which may be divided in this way, according to a kind of step-parallelism:

  • The witness of what we have seen and known (which people do not accept)—v. 11
    • Contrast between witness of earthly and heavenly things—v. 12
      • Only the Son of Man ascends/descends to/from heaven (to give witness concerning heavenly things)—v. 13
        • The Son of Man will be lifted high (so people can see his witness)—v. 14
          • Those who see him and trust/believe have Life of-the-Ages [i.e. eternal life]—v. 15

We see embedded in this sequence examples of the well-known dualistic imagery in the Gospel of John: earthly/heavenly, above/below, etc. The verbs used in verse 13 for ascent/descent are a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw, literally “step up” and “step down”; they are common narrative verbs (Jesus and others “step up”, that is, “go up” to Jerusalem for the feasts, etc.), but have a deeper significance in the Gospel—they relate to Jesus’ heavenly/Divine nature, and the nature of his mission: to his being sent from, and returning to, the Father. As such, they are closely tied to the verb u(yo/w (“lift high”) in verse 14, which leads to a second sort of dualism, or two-fold aspect to Jesus as the Son of Man—namely, to his suffering and glorification (or, to put it in classical theological terms, his humiliation and exaltation). Being “lifted up” foreshadows Jesus’ death on the stake [i.e. his crucifixion], but it also suggests his ascension and exaltation: his return (“stepping up”) to the Father in Heaven.

The parallel to the symbolism of Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert is noteworthy, for it relates to a range of Exodus/Passover motifs in the Gospel. The episode referred to in Numbers 21:4-9 is a curious one: when the Israelites had complained of the lack of food and water, in response God sent poisonous snakes among them and many died; Moses interceded and prayed to God for the people, and was instructed to fashion a snake-image and set it upon a pole, so that all who looked upon it would be healed and live. Underlying the symbolic action is an ancient pattern of thought which might be described as therapeutic and sympathetic magic: the image represents the ailment and serves to draw it away in hope of healing. That God in the Old Testament frequently works through many apparently (from our viewpoint today) superstitious elements of the ancient world is an important principle of Biblical theology. However, already by the time of the New Testament, this passage was being interpreted at a deeper theological level. The book of Wisdom (16:6-7) makes the point that the saving symbol (the serpent-image) served to direct people’s attention to the person of the Savior (God). The Jewish Targums, too, interpret the looking on the serpent-image as turning (one’s heart) to the living and dynamic (hypostatic) Word/Name (Memra) of God. Cf. Brown, John (Anchor Bible 29), p. 133.

John 8:28

o%tan u(yw/shte to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou, to/te gnw/sesqe o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi, kai\ a)p’ e)mautou= poiw= ou)de/n, a)lla\ kaqw\$ e)di/dace/n me o( path\r tau=ta lalw=
“When you should lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that ‘I Am’, and from myself I do nothing, but (rather) according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”

This saying is part of the long, multi-faceted discourse (or series of discourses) set during Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles, Sukkoth), covering chapters 7 and 8 (excluding 7:53-8:11). The specific discourse here involves Jn 8:21-30, which I outline this way, according to the pattern indicated above:

  • {There is no narrative introduction; just a connecting phrase “therefore he said again to them…”}
  • Statement by Jesus: “I go under [i.e. away] and you will seek me, and (yet) you will die away in your sins; (the place) where I go under, you are not able to come” (Jn 8:21)
  • First question of the Jews: “He will not some(how) kill himself(, will he)?” failing to understand “where I go…you are not able to come” (Jn 8:22)
    • Jesus’ Response—emphasizing the nature of their unbelief; dualistic contrast (“above/below”, “not of this world / of this world”) highlights Jesus own identity (Jn 8:23-24)
  • Second question of the Jews: “Who are you?” (Jn 8:25a)
    • Jesus’ Response—emphasizing his identity and witness in two main aspects: (1) judgment, and (2) representing the one who sent him (the Father). (Jn 8:25b-26) There is also here an interesting wordplay in the difficult phrase in v. 25b which begins the response, and which I render literally “(from) the beginning that which even I have spoken to you”—cf. Jn 1:1-2; 8:43.
  • Further teaching by Jesus—clarification of Jesus’ relationship (and identity) with the Father (Jn 8:28-29)

The saying under consideration comes from this final pair of verses, which I arrange (and translate) together:

  • “When you should lift high the Son of Man then you will know that ‘I Am’
    • and from myself I do nothing, but according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”
  • “And the (one) sending me is with me [cf. Jn 1:1-2], he did not leave me alone
    • (in) that I always do the (things) pleasing to Him”

The first portion of each verse emphasizes the ontological/existential relationship; the second portion reflects the familiar Johannine theme of the Son (Jesus) doing and saying just those things he sees and hears the Father doing.

In Jn 3:14, lifting up the Son of Man was a sign and symbol of the salvation God would bring about through the Son; now in Jn 8:28, lifting up the Son of Man reveals God the Father himself. This, too, is a common refrain by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (cf. especially Jn 14:8-14). For the identification of Jesus with God the Father (YHWH) as “I Am”, see the culmination of the last discourse in this series, Jn 8:52-59.

John 12:32

ka)gw\ e)a\n u(ywqw= e)k th=$ gh=$, pa/nta$ e(lku/sw pro\$ e)mauto/n
“And I, if I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself”

This third and final passage comes from a discourse (Jn 12:20-36) that is set following Jesus Entry into Jerusalem. It does not follow the same pattern as the previous two discourses examined above. Here is an outline:

  • Narrative introduction (Jn 12:20-22)
  • Statement by Jesus (Jn 12:23-28a)—there are several portions to it:
    • “The hour has come so that the Son of Man should be glorified” (v. 23)
    • Parable of the kernel of wheat, illustrating the generative power of Jesus’ impending death (v. 24)
    • A saying on discipleship, similar to Mark 8:35 and pars. (v. 25)
    • A saying reflecting the familiar theme in the Gospel of the relationship Disciple-Jesus-Father (v. 26)
    • “Now my soul is troubled…” (v. 27)—another statement on the coming of the “hour” which serves as a parallel and inclusio with verse 23.
    • “Father, glorify your name!” (v. 28a)—the climax and conclusion to his words.
  • Voice from Heaven: “I have glorified (it) and again I will glorify” (Jn 12:28b)
    • Reaction by the Crowd: they heard the voice as thunder, and did not understand it (v. 29); note the apparent allusion to the Sinai Theophany (cf. Exodus 20:18-21)
    • Jesus’ Response (Jn 12:30-32)—he expounds and explains the voice with two sayings:
      (1) “Now is the judgment of this world, now the chief of this world will be cast out outside” (v. 31)
      (2) “And I, if I should be lifted high, will drag all (people/things) toward myself” (v. 32)
    • Additional narrative explanation (Jn 12:33)
  • Question from the crowd: “Who is this Son of Man?”—expressing confusion between the Anointed One (Messiah) and the “Son of Man”, apparently understanding “being lifted up” as related to death or going away.
    • Jesus’ Response—teaching using dualistic imagery of light/darkness: trust/believe in the light while it is here (Jn 12:35-36)

This is probably the most complex and difficult of the three discourses presented here, with wide-ranging and dramatic shifts in emphasis, as the Gospel narrative as a whole builds toward the Passion. The discourse begins with a powerful declaration regarding the Son of Man (v. 23), emphasizing his glorification. Underlying this statement is the teaching on the purpose and effect of Jesus’ impending death (v. 24), and the way in which it connects with the one who follows and believes in him (v. 25-26). The saying in verse 32 does not specifically mention “Son of Man”, but it is clearly implied in Jesus’ use of the pronoun “I” (e)gw). Indeed, the question by the crowd (v. 34) could be understood to relate to all three of the sayings being discussed here (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). Even for believers today, the challenge remains to grapple with these two aspects of the incarnate Christ’s identity, his revelatory message and saving work, as expressed in the Gospel: suffering and glorification, brought together in one extraordinary symbol of the Son of Man being “lifted high”. The power of this symbol is so great that it will draw [literally, “drag”] all people (or all things) to him.

Wednesday of Holy Week is traditionally associated with Mary Magdalene and the Anointing of Jesus at Bethany. Three different figures came to be united in Christian tradition: (1) the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany some days before his death (Mark 14:3-9; Matt 26:6-13; John 12:1-8), identified in John as Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus; (2) the ‘sinful’ woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7:36-50; and (3) Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus exorcised seven demons (according to Lk 8:2). In popular tradition, Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute who repented upon encountering Jesus, her repentance being demonstrated in the anointing scene. It is doubtless her presence in the Resurrection narratives which served to strengthen her association with the anointing scene in Holy Week. For more on Mary and anointing episodes in the Gospels, see my note from Wednesday in Holy Week last year.


Note of the Day – April 11

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In the previous day’s note, I looked at the three main predictions by Jesus of his Passion—his suffering, death and resurrection—in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 8:31 / Matt 16:21 / Luke 9:22 | Mark 9:31 / Matt 17:22-23 / Luke 9:44 | Mark 10:33-34 / Matt 20:18-19 / Luke 18:31-33). Today I will be exploring them together in a bit more detail.

As a way to proceed, it will be helpful to highlight some of the common elements:

The Son of Man—this expression (in Greek, o( ui(o$ tou= a)nqrwpou, ho huios tou anthrœpou) occurs numerous times in the Gospels, and is almost exclusively used by Jesus himself. It is extremely rare elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 7:56; Hebrews 2:6; and in Revelation 1:13; 14:14 where the anarthrous form ui(o$ a)nqrwpou is used). While it makes sense as a Greek construction (“the son of [the] man”, “the man’s son”), in the New Testament it corresponds to the Hebrew <d*a*Á/b# (ben-°¹d¹m) and Aramaic vn`a$Árb^ (bar-°§noš). In writings prior to (or contemporary with) the New Testament, this Hebrew/Aramaic expression is used three ways:

  1. With the simple meaning of “human being” or “mortal (person)”. It is used in this sense virtually everywhere it occurs in the Old Testament (Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Ps 8:4; 80:17; 144:3 [vwna /b]; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43). In nearly all of these instances it is used in (poetic) parallelism with other common words signifying “man” (vya!, vona$, rb#G#), and always in the second place (cf. Ps 8:4 [Heb v. 5]). This is also the meaning of the expression in extra-biblical Hebrew and Aramaic prior to the New Testament (8th cent. Sefire inscription III.16-17; 1QapGen 21:13; 11QtgJob 9:9; 26:2-3; 1QS 11:20; 1QH 4:30). For these references and a good discussion of the subject, cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays (Scholars Press: 1979), pp. 143-160.
  2. In the context of Divine address to a human messenger (Prophet). Here, too, it has basic meaning of “mortal”, but the situation is distinctive and unique—a human being who receives entry into the heavenly realm or is vouchsafed revelatory information through a heavenly vision (such as the situation in 1 Kings 22:19-22). “Son of Man” is used this way throughout the book of Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and in Daniel 8:17.
  3. Used of a heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13: “and see! with the clouds of heaven (one) like a Son of Man was coming…” Again, the basic meaning remains “human being, mortal”—the idea being that this (heavenly) messenger looks like, or appears (in the vision) in the form of, a human being. However, this occurrence of the expression in Daniel proved to have an enormous influence on subsequent eschatological thought. The figure of a heavenly (pre-existent) Redeemer (or “Messiah”) came to be associated with the title “Son of Man” in Apocalyptic literature at the time of the New Testament—cf. in the so-called “Similitudes” of the Book of Enoch (esp. chap. 48), where he is identified with the “Righteous/Elect One”.

One should also mention use of “Son of Man” as a circumlocution or substitute for the personal pronoun “I”. This is not so clearly attested in Aramaic (or Hebrew) at the time of the New Testament; however, there is some indication that Jesus may have used it this way (see, for example, Mark 8:27; 10:45; Matt 5:11; 10:32 and pars.). On the other hand, Jesus certainly has an exalted, heavenly figure in mind—with whom he identifies himself (certainly the Gospel writers so understood it)—who will appear to judge the world in the end-time: cf. Mark 8:38; 9:9; 13:26; 14:62; Matt 10:23; 12:40; 13:41; 16:28; 19:28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31; Luke 12:8; 17:22, 30; 18:8; 21:26 (and pars).

It is, however, Jesus’ use of “Son of Man” in the context of his suffering, death and resurrection which is of most interest here. In addition to the three main passion predictions under discussion (“Son of Man” occurs in all of them except Matt 16:21), see Mark 9:12; 14:21, 41 and pars; Matt 26:2; Luke 22:48; 24:7. Note also the usage in John (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31, and see below), where the emphasis is more on exaltation/glorification/ascension of the Son of Man. I do not think it misplaced to consider the title “Son of Man” in the theological/Christological sense of incarnation—that is, of Jesus taking on the form, flesh and blood of a human being. A number of “Son of Man” sayings relate to his suffering, humility and sacrificial service to others (cf. Mark 10:45; Matt 8:20; 11:19; Luke 6:22).

It is necessary—Greek dei= (dei), this verbal form (from de/w, “to bind”) is syntactically connected with an accompanying infinitive (“it is necessary to…”). It is used in only the first Passion prediction, but is implied in the Lukan form of the third (with the added phrase of “all things written through the Prophets…will be completed”). We find this same emphasis in other references by Jesus to his suffering and death, especially in Luke (Lk 17:25; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44; cf. also Matt 26:54)—that it was necessary in order to fulfill Scripture. Note also the occurrence of dei= in John 3:14 (see below).

Be given over—This verb (paradi/dwmi, paradídœmi) occurs in all three forms of the second and third Passion predictions. It has the basic meaning of “give along”, “pass (someone or something) along”, but with a wide range of application. The related noun para/dosi$ (parádosis) is usually translated “tradition”, that is, something passed along (from generation to generation). It can also be used in the sense of “giving over” or “handing over” someone to the authorities (or one’s enemies, etc); in such instances, it is often translated “betray”, and, indeed, it carries this specific meaning throughout the Passion narratives.

Into the hands of…—This expression only occurs in the second prediction; however, in all three predictions specific groups are designated to whom Jesus will be “given over (into their hands)”. In the first and third predictions, Jewish religious leaders are indicated: “Elders, Chief Priests [Sacred-officials], and Scribes [lit. Writers]” in the first, and “Chief Priests and Scribes” in the third (except for Luke, who omits this phrase). These three groups make up the Jewish ruling Council in Jerusalem—the “Sanhedrin” (transliteration of the Greek term sune/drion, i.e., a place where people sit together in assembly). It is they who will interrogate Jesus and bring him to the Romans for judgment. The third prediction also mentions “the nations/peoples” (ta e&qnh), by which is meant non-Jews or non-Israelites (i.e., “Gentiles”); in the context here, of course, the terms refers to the Roman government. All three forms of the second prediction use the expression “into the hands of men”—here “men” certainly refers both to the Jewish and Roman administrations, and may be used in a pejorative sense.

Kill/Be killed—All three predictions mention Jesus’ being put to death, using the verb a)poktei/nw (apokteínœ) (except for Matt 20:19 which uses stauro/w, “put to the stake”, i.e. “crucify”). This verb is an intensive form of ktei/nw (kteínœ, “kill, slay”), emphasizing the violent, negative character of the act. However, in a legal context, it can also mean “condemn/sentence to death”. In order to preserve something of this sense, I have translated it literally (and somewhat awkwardly), “set forth (or send away) to be killed”.

Third day…will be raised—All three predictions (except the shortened Lukan second) mention the resurrection in relation to “three days”. Mark uses “after three days” (meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$) and “he will stand up” (a)nasth/setai), while Matthew and Luke use “on the third day” (th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| or th=| h(me/ra| th=| tri/th|) and “he will be raised” (e)gerqh/setai). Matthew and Luke have the more standard early Christian phrasing (cf. 1 Cor 15:4).

It may be worth looking at these passages overall from a critical standpoint; this can be done at three interpretive levels:

1. The Historical. Some critical commentators have questioned whether the historical Jesus would have uttered predictions of this sort. These questions are, to a great extent, simply the product of doubts regarding Jesus’ possession and use of divine foreknowledge. A stronger argument can be made on the basis of the form and style of the predictions in the Gospels, which is suggestive of early Christian credal formulae, particularly the use of expressions such as “after three days / on the third day… he will be raised”, etc. At the very least, there is evidence of literary shaping of this material, including possible (intentional) additions and/or omissions by the Gospel writers. On the whole, however, the versions of each prediction are close enough that one could reconstruct a (hypothetical) Greek (or Aramaic) original for each. The similarity to early Christian phrasing and formulae could just as well be explained by positing that the traditions being preserved and memorized stem from Jesus himself. One other argument in favor of historical veracity is the use of “Son of Man”, which, apart from its frequent occurrence in the Gospels (the words of Jesus), hardly appears in the New Testament at all. Early Christians preferred “Anointed [Christ/Messiah]”, “Lord”, or “Son of God” as titles for Jesus; passion predictions ‘created’ by the early Church are perhaps more likely to read “it is necessary for the Anointed/Christ…” rather than “it is necessary for the Son of Man…”

2. The Traditional. Here the main question is: are we dealing with three separate predictions, or three variations of one underlying prediction. This same critical question has been applied, for example, to the separate miraculous feeding episodes (the 5000 and 4000), and to the different scenes of a woman who anoints Jesus. The feeding miracles are especially relevant in this regard, since they both appear together (as separate episodes) in Mark/Matthew, even though the similarity in overall structure and many details have led most critical scholars to see them as deriving from a single historical tradition. Ultimately it is impossible to answer this question on purely objective grounds. Certainly the Gospel writers would have understood them as three separate predictions uttered by Jesus on different occasions. For further reading on this issue in particular, from a (moderate) critical viewpoint, I would recommend the appendix in R. E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1994), pp. 1468-91 (in the second volume).

3. The Gospel Context. As mentioned in the previous note, in all three Synoptic Gospels these three Passion predictions occur in the same position—between the confession of Peter and the Entry into Jerusalem. Was this placement and structure the creation of one Gospel writer (i.e. Mark, according to the general Markan-priority hypothesis), or was it inherited already as a fixed arrangement of traditional material at the pre-Gospel level? The answer to this question depends, in part, on what one makes of the second question above. Luke has given the clearest narrative structure to the material by inserting a large block of teaching (sayings and parables)—Lk 9:51-18:14—and framing it all specifically as occurring during the journey to Jerusalem. This emphasis heightens the significance of the Passion predictions (see also the poignant lament for Jerusalem in Lk 13:34-35, which similarly foreshadows Jesus’ suffering and death). Luke also has included (or added?) in the third Passion prediction (Lk 18:31ff) the phrase “all the things written through the Prophets… will be completed”—an important theme which will be repeated (by Jesus) several more times in the Passion/Resurrection narratives (Lk 22:37; 24:44, cf. also 17:25; 24:7, 26) and again in the book of Acts.

As I previously indicated, there is nothing in the Gospel of John which corresponds with these Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptics; however, upon examination, one does find a parallel of sorts—namely, a set of three statements about the “Son of Man” which involve the use of the verb u(yo/w (hupsóœ, “raise/lift high”). Here are the three passages:

John 3:14:

Kai\ kaqw\$ Mwu+sh=$ u%ywsen to\n o&fin e)n th=| e)rh/mw|, ou%tw$ u(ywqh=nai dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou
“And accordingly as Moses lifted high the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary (that) the Son of Man be lifted high”

John 8:28:

o%tan u(yw/shte to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou, to/te gnw/sesqe o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi, kai\ a)p’ e)mautou= poiw= ou)de/n, a)lla\ kaqw\$ e)di/dace/n me o( path\r tau=ta lalw=
“When you should lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that ‘I Am’, and from myself I do nothing, but (rather) according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”

John 12:32:

ka)gw\ e)a\n u(ywqw= e)k th=$ gh=$, pa/nta$ e(lku/sw pro\$ e)mauto/n
“And I, if I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself”
Some manuscripts read pa/nta (“all [things]”) instead of pa/nta$ (“all [people]”).
The expression “Son of Man” is only implied here; it is used previously in verse 23 and again in v. 34.

I will discuss these Johannine passages in more detail in the next daily note.


Note of the Day – April 10

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As an inauguration of Holy Week, I will today look briefly at the three main predictions by Jesus of his suffering and death as they are preserved in (the Synoptic) Gospel tradition. This will be done with a minimum of comment, by presenting the versions side by side for comparison.

In each instance, the saying itself is in bold, with significant differences or alterations by the Gospel writer in italics. Parentheses indicate words added for ease of reading; square brackets represent explanatory glosses.

The First Prediction (Mark 8:31; Matthew 16:21; Luke 9:22)

Mark 8:31

kai\ h&rcato dida/skein au)tou\$ o%ti dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou polla\ paqei=n kai\ a)podokimasqh=nai u(po\ tw=n prebute/rwn kai\ tw=n a)rxiere/wn kai\ tw=n grammate/wn kai\ a)poktanqh=nai kai\ meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$ a)nasth=nai

“and he began to teach them that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (things) and to be removed from examination [i.e. be rejected] under the Elders and the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers and to be (set forth to be) killed, and, after three days, to stand up (out of the dead).”

Matthew 16:21

a)po\ to/te h&rcato o(  )Ihsou=$ deiknu/ein toi=$ maqhtai=$ au)tou= o%ti dei= au)to\n ei)$  (Ieroso/luma a)pelqei=n kai\ polla\ paqei=n a)po\ tw=n presbute/rwn kai\ a)rxiere/wn kai\ grammate/wn kai\ a)poktanqh=nai kai\ th=| trith| h(me/ra| e)gerqh=nai

“from then Yeshua began to show his learners that it is necessary for him to go (away) from (there) into Yerushalaim and to suffer many (things) from the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials and Writers and to be (set forth to be) killed, and, on the third day, to be raised (from the dead)”

Luke 9:22

ei)pw\n o%ti dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou polla\ paqei=n kai\ a)podokimasqh=nai a)po\ tw=n presbute/rwn kai\ a)rxiere/wn kai\ grammate/wn kai\ a)poktanqh=nai kai\ th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| e)gerqh=nai

“…saying that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (things) and to be removed from examination [i.e. be rejected] from [i.e. by] the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials and Writers and to be (set forth to be) killed, and, on the third day, to be raised (from the dead)”

The greatest differences are in the Matthean version of the saying, Mark and Luke here being nearly identical. There are two minor agreements between Matthew and Luke (against Mark): (a) the use of “on the third day” instead of “after three days”, and (b) the (divine) passive “to be raised” (e)gerqh=nai), instead of “to stand up” (a)nasth=nai). Both of these differences reflect more common early Christian usage. The elements unique to the saying in Matthew are:

  • Use of the 3rd person pronoun instead of “Son of Man”
  • Addition of the phrase “go away into Jerusalem”
  • Omission of “and be rejected” (kai\ a)podokimasqh=nai)

In three Gospels, this saying occurs directly after Peter’s confession of Jesus in Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30 par). Peter’s rebuke of Jesus (along with Jesus’ response: “get behind me Satan…!”) follows the saying in Mark and Matthew (Mk 8:32-33 par [Luke omits this episode]). With this is connected a block of sayings on discipleship (Mk 8:34-9:1 par), followed by the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-10 par).

The Second Prediction (Mark 9:31; Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:44)

Mark 9:31

e)di/dasken ga\r tou\$ maqhta\$ au)tou= kai\ e&legen au)toi=$ o%ti o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradi/dotai ei)$ xei=ra$ a)nqrw/pwn kai\ a)poktenou=sin au)to\n kai\ a)poktanqei\$ meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$ a)nasth/setai

“for he taught his learners and related to them that the Son of Man is (about to be) given over into the hands of men, and they will set him (forth) to be killed, and having been killed, after three days he will stand up (out of the dead)”

Matthew 17:22-23

ei@pen au)toi=$ o(  )Ihsou=$: me/llei o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradi/dosqai ei)$ xei=ra$ a)nqrw/pwn kai\ a)poktenou=sin au)to/n kai\ th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| e)gerqh/setai

“…Yeshua said to them: the Son of Man is about to be given over into the hands of men, and they will set him (forth) to be killed, and on the third day he will be raised (from the dead)”

Luke 9:44

qe/sqe u(mei=$ ei)$ ta\ w@ta u(mw=n tou\$ lo/gou$ tou/tou$: o( ga\r ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou me/llei paradi/dosqai ei)$ xei=ra$ a)nqrw/pwn

“set you these words into your ears: the Son of Man is about to be given over into the hands of men…”

The differences are as follows:

  • Mark includes the additional phrase “and having been killed” (it is possible that Matthew omitted this)
  • Matthew and Luke both specify what the present indicative (“is given over”) in Mark implies by adding the verb me/llei + infinitive (“is about to be given over”)—i.e., this will happen very soon.
  • Luke omits the references to being killed and rising; this may be a simple abbreviation of the saying.
  • As in the first prediction, Matthew uses “on the third day” and “will be raised” instead of “after three days” and “will stand up”; the full saying in Luke presumably would use the same phrasing as Matthew.
  • Mention could also be made of the unusual introduction to the saying in Luke: “set you these words into your ears…” (i.e., “listen carefully to what I say”).

In all three Gospels, the second prediction follows closely upon the first—separated by the sayings on discipleship (Mk 8:34-9:1), the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10), the sayings regarding Elijah (Mk 9:11-13), and the extended episode of the healing of the epileptic/possessed boy (Mk 9:14-29).

The Third Prediction (Mark 10:33-34; Matthew 20:18-19; Luke 18:31-33)

Mark 10:33-34

o%ti i)dou\ a)nabai/nomen ei)$  (Ieroso/luma, kai\ o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradoqh/setai toi=$ a)rxiereu=sin kai\ toi=$ grammateu=sin, kai\ katakrinou=sin au)to\n qana/tw| kai\ paradw/sousin au)to\n toi=$ e&qnesin kai\ e)mpai/cousin au)tw=| kai\ e)mptu/sousin au)tw=| kai\ mastigw/sousin au)to\n kai\ a)poktenou=sin, kai\ meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$ a)nasth/setai

“see, we (are about to) step up into Yerushalaim, and the Son of Man will be given over to the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers and they will judge against him to death, and they will give him over to the nations and they will act as a child with him and will spit on him and will scourge him and will set him (forth) to be killed, and after three days he will stand up (out of the dead)”

Matthew 20:18-19

i)dou\ a)nabai/nomen ei)$  (Ieroso/luma, kai\ o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradoqh/setai toi=$ a)rxiereu=sin kai\ grammateu=sin, kai\ katakrinou=sin au)to\n qana/tw kai\ paradw/sousin au)to\n toi=$ e&qnesin ei)$ to\ e)mpai=cai kai\ mastigw=sai kai\ staurw=sai, kai\ th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| e)gerqh/setai

“see, we (are about to) set up into Yerushalaim, and the Son of Man will be given over to the Chief Sacred-officials and Writers, and they will judge against him to death and will give him over to the nations to be played with (as a child) and scourged and put to the stake [i.e. crucified], and on the third day he will be raised (from the dead)”

Luke 18:31-33

i)dou\ a)nabai/nomen ei)$  )Ierousalh/m, kai\ telesqh/setai pa/nta ta\ gegramme/na dia\ tw=n profhtw=n tw=| ui(w=| tou= a)nqrw/pou: paradoqh/setai ga\r toi=$ e&qnesin kai\ e)mpaixqh/setai kai\ u(brisqh/setai kai\ e)mptusqh/setai kai\ mastigw/sante$ a)poktenou=sin au)to/n, kai\ th=| h(me/ra| th=| tri/th| a)nasth/setai

“see, we (are about to) step up into Yerushalaim, and all the (things) written through the Foretellers about the Son of Man will be completed: for he will be given over to the nations and he will be played with (as a child) and will be insulted and will be spit on, and having scourged (him) they will set him (forth) to be killed, and on the third day he will be raised (from the dead)”

Apart from several syntactical differences, the versions in Matthew and Mark are very close: Matthew omits mention of “spitting” but includes a reference to crucifixion (“be put to the stake”); and, as in the first two predictions, Matthew (along with Luke) uses “on the third day” and “will be raised” instead of “after three days” and “will stand up”. The specific Lukan differences are worth noting:

  • He has added the phrase “all the things written through the Prophets about {the Son of Man} will be completed”
  • The phrase mentioning the Chief Priests and Scribes is omitted.
  • In addition to the four verbs indicating the action of the nations against Jesus, Luke includes “will be insulted/abused” (u(brisqh/setai)

The three predictions punctuate fairly evenly the material in Mark 8:27-10:52 / Matthew 16:13-20:34. However, Luke has expanded greatly the corresponding section (Lk 9:18-50; 18:15-43) by adding 9:51-18:14: a lengthy collection of material (primarily of sayings and parables) found elsewhere in Matthew (part of so-called “Q”) or unique to the Gospel of Luke. This long section is framed as taking place during the journey to Jerusalem (see Lk 9:51). As such, when we get to the third prediction in Luke (Lk 18:31-33), after all of the intervening material, it has something of a different feel about it.

Interestingly, there are no corresponding passion predictions in the Gospel of John; however, we do find, among numerous allusions to Jesus’ death and resurrection a similar group of three specific references to the Son of Man being “raised/lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). These verses from John, along with some additional critical notes regarding the Synoptic passages presented above, will be discussed in the next day’s note.


Note of the Day – April 9 (Palm Sunday)

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(This reproduces a note posted last Palm Sunday)

(See also the series of notes on the “Cleansing of the Temple”, the episode which follows the “Triumphant Entry” in the Synoptic Gospels)

The Sunday before Easter, marking the start of the Easter Week (or Holy Week), is traditionally called “Palm Sunday”, the day on which Jesus made his “triumphal” Entry into Jerusalem. This event is recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19), and clearly is based on a common tradition. Despite this, the precise historical circumstances, and even the basic interpretation of the episode, are disputed by commentators. For example, even though the Entry is set in the context of the Feast of Passover (see esp. John 12:1), certain details suggest that the Feast of Tabernacles might be more appropriate (e.g., the use of palm fronds [only in John], the application of Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9 [on which, see below]). As for the interpretation of the scene, this ought to be examined from three basic perspectives:

  1. How did Jesus (and his disciples) intend or understand the event?
  2. How did the crowds receiving him understand it?
  3. How did the Gospels writers (and early Christians) understand it?

This is particularly important with regard to: (1) The words shouted by the people, as recorded in each Gospel; and (2) The scripture passages applied to the event (by the people and/or the Gospel writers). I will here look at each of these in turn.

1. The words shouted by the crowds (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 19:38; John 12:13)

It is useful to compare each of these side by side (translated words in italics represent details unique to each Gospel):

Mark 11:9-10

eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou:
eu)loghme/nh h( e)rxome/nh basilei/a tou= patro\$ h(mw=n Daui/d:
w(sanna/ e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$

Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David
Hosha’-nâ in the highest (place)s

Matthew 21:9

w(sanna/ tw=| ui(w=| Daui/d:
eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou:
w(sanna/ e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$

Hosha’-nâ to the son of David
Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord
Hosha’-nâ in the highest (place)s

Luke 19:38

eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ o( basileu\$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou:
e)n ou)ranw=| ei)rh/nh kai\ do/ca e)n u(yi/stoi$

Blessed is the (one) coming—the king—in (the) name of (the) Lord
Peace in heaven and glory in (the) highest place(s)

John 12:13

eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou,
[kai\] o( basileu\$ tou=  )Israh/l

Blessed is the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord,
[and] the king of Israel

First, note what is common to all of the Gospels:

(a) w(sanna/—a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic an` uv^oh (hôša± nâ) (Hebrew aN` hu*yv!oh [hôšî±¹ (n)nâ]), which would be translated “Save, please…” or “Save, I pray…” (an being a particle of entreaty). This verb form (with or without the particle) reflects a real request from a petitioner (toward the king, or God) everywhere it occurs in the Old Testament; however, gradually, it came to be used as an acclamation or exclamation of praise (something like “God save the king!” in Britain). Its appearance here is certainly a result of its use in Psalm 118 (v. 25)—it may originally have indicated a prayer for victory and/or prosperity: in the context of Sukkoth (harvest festival) it is intended as a prayer for rain. Of the Gospels, only Luke omits any w(sanna/ exclamation.

(b) Psalm 118:26a—all four Gospels include the first half of verse 26, which is an exact quote from the Septuagint (and an accurate translation of the Hebrew): eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou, “blessed is the (one) coming in the name of the Lord” (Hebrew hwhy <v@B= aB*h^ EWrB*). The reference originally was most likely to the king returning from battle (see below), but it is possible that a more general festal setting is intended (at least for vv. 25-29). Certainly the verse came to be used in reference to pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the Feast (Sukkoth, Passover, etc). For more detail on the use of Ps 118, see below.

(c) Reference to king/kingdom—In all four Gospels, some mention is made of a king (basileu/$, John 12:13, Luke 19:38), a kingdom (basilei/a, Mark 11:10), or David (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:10). This would imply that the crowds (and/or the Gospel writer) had a Messianic context in mind.

(d) e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$—this phrase occurs in all three Synoptic accounts (though Luke is quite different, see below). Literally, the phrase would be rendered “in the highest (place)s”, i.e., in heaven, or in the highest heaven. The rare instances where this phrase occurs in the Septuagint (Psalm 148:1; Job 16:19), it translates <ym!orM=B^ (“in the heights”) parallel to “heaven” (<y]m^v*, ou)rano/$). The usage in Matthew and Mark (with w(sanna/) probably represents a climactic intensification of the acclamation.

Secondly, what is unique to each Gospel:

(a) Mark adds eu)loghme/nh h( e)rxome/nh basilei/a tou= patro\$ h(mw=n Daui/d (“blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David”), as a parallel to Psalm 118:26a—”blessed is the one coming…blessed is the kingdom coming”. Here the Messianic connotation could not be more explicit: not just the king, but the kingdom itself is coming; that is, the restored Davidic kingdom will be ushered in. One is reminded of the annunciation to Mary: “he shall be great and shall be called Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32).

(b) Matthew adds tw=| ui(w=| Daui/d to w(sanna/: “Hôsha’-nâ to the son of David”, so that the exclamation of praise (or entreaty, in the original Psalm) is addressed specifically to the “Son of David”. This is a clear Messianic title which is applied to Jesus on a number of occasions (only in the Synoptic Gospels, most frequently in Matthew). It should be noted that generally it is the crowds (or other individuals) who use this title, never Jesus himself: in fact, the only time Jesus mentions it occurs in a brief exposition of Psalm 110:1 (Mark 12:35-37; Matthew 21:41-45; Luke 20:41-44) the precise meaning of which remains difficult to determine. Matthew records the same phrase (w(sanna/ tw=| ui(w=| Daui/d) being uttered by children in the Temple; Luke has a similar notice (without the phrase) involving the disciples (Luke 19:39-40).

(c) John follows Psalm 118:26a with the phrase [kai\] o( basileu\$ tou=  )Israh/l (“and the king of Israel”). This addition seems to specify who the coming one is—”even the king of Israel”.

(d) Similar to John, Luke seems to have added o( basileu/$ to Psalm 118:26a; however, the text is uncertain. The majority text (ac A K L D Q P Y f1, 13 28 565 700 etc) reads o( e)rxo/meno$ basileu/$ (“the coming king”); a few manuscripts (W 1216), lectionaries and Church Fathers do not have basileu/$; Western witnesses (D a c d ff2 i r1 s) have a reading harmonized closer to that of John (transposing basileu/$ and repeating eu)loghme/no$); MS B with some versional witnesses ([arm, syr?]) reads o( e)rxo/meno$ o( basileu/$ (“the one coming, the king”). More notably, Luke has, apparently, modified and expanded the phrase e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$, so that it is a clear echo of the angelic announcement to the shepherds: “in heaven peace, and glory in the highest (place)s” (compare Luke 2:14). The climactic moment of Jesus entry into Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51) parallels the entry of Jesus into the world.

2. The Scripture passages applied to the event

Psalm 118 (esp. vv. 25-26)

This Psalm was discussed briefly above. The original context was, most likely, of the king returning victorious in battle (the victory being won by God, vv. 6-16ff), and welcomed as one “coming in the name of the Lord”. However, this is not certain, and a more general festal setting is possible (see esp. vv. 25-29). Certainly, by the Maccabean period, it would seem, this Psalm was included among the Hallel Psalms (113118) recited by pilgrims during the great feasts (Sukkoth [Tabernacles], Passover, Pentecost, the Dedication). In this context, one who “comes in the name of the Lord” would refer to the pilgrim. Jesus cited this Psalm in relation to the (religious) opposition he faced—v. 26 (in Matthew 23:39), and v. 22-24 “the stone the builders rejected…” (Parable of the Tenants, Mark 12:10-11 & par.). If it is possible that the crowds and followers of Jesus are reviving the royal setting of the Psalm, welcoming Jesus as the Messiah who will restore the Davidic Kingdom, for Jesus the message seems to have undertones of his impending suffering and death.

Zechariah 9 (v. 9)

Only Matthew (21:4-5) and John (12:15) specifically apply this prophetic passage to the Triumphal Entry, but each not without difficulties. Matthew’s citation is tied to curious and problematic details (the two animals—ass and foal) which I will not go into here. The citation in John has actually been modified from Zech 9:9—instead of “rejoice much daughter of Zion” (LXX xai=re sfo/dra qu/gathr Siwn), the text reads mh\ fobou= quga/thr Siw/n, “do not fear daughter of Zion”.  R. E. Brown in his classic commentary (Anchor Bible 29 p. 458) suggests that this phrase may have been taken from Zephaniah 3:16, and that the earlier addition [kai\] o( basileu/$ (see above) may likewise have come in from Zeph 3:15. This passage in Zechariah (similar to what may have been the original setting of Psalm 118) depicts the surrounding hostile nations defeated and cowed by the power of God (vv. 1-8); with an even more destructive scene of judgment against the nations in vv. 13-15. In between we have the scene of the king coming to Jerusalem (v. 9) which ushers in a time of peace and prosperity (vv. 10-12, see also the reprise of this theme in vv. 16-17).

So, to return to the initial questions:

How do the crowds in the narrative understand Jesus’ entry?

It seems unmistakable that the people (the Synoptics seem to depict crowds following along with Jesus [Mark 11:7-9 par.], John describes crowds coming out to meet him [12:13]—two separate groups?) as their acclamations are recorded, have a definite Messianic idea in mind—that Jesus would be the coming Davidic king who will restore the kingdom of Israel. This seems most clear in John’s description of the crowd carrying palm branches—some have suggested that this indicates the time of Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles), but a nationalistic reference to the Maccabean revolt and the Dedication seems more appropriate (1 Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc. 10:7; cf. Brown, AB 29 p. 461).

How did Jesus understand the event and his own actions?

So much attention is given in the Synoptics to the acquisition of the colt, it would seem to have been of considerable importance to Jesus. Whether or not he was consciously fulfilling prophecy is difficult to say. The fact that Zech 9-14 seems to have had a considerable influence over Gospel Tradition (Jesus himself cites 13:7b [Mark 14:27 par.]), means that the earliest believers, at least, saw the connection. I think it likely that Jesus indeed identified himself with the king of Zech 9:9, “righteous and [himself] bearing salvation, poor and riding upon an ass”.  If the Synoptic position of the Cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15-19 [par]) is historically correct, Jesus also manifested judgment as well, but not at all the kind that would have fulfilled popular Messianic expectation.

How did the Gospel writers understand the event?

It is interesting to consider the possible connection in John between Zech 9 and Zeph 3 (see above)—many of the same themes appear, but with a different emphasis in the latter passage: the conversion of the nations (vv. 9-11), the purification of Israel (the “remnant”, v. 12-13), including a sanctification of the appointed feasts (v. 18). The passage parallel to Zech 9:9ff (vv. 14-17) is perhaps even more appropriate as applied to Christ, see v. 17: “the Lord your God is in your midst [or ‘within you’], strong he shall save, he will have joy over you with gladness, he will make quiet in his love, he will rejoice over you with shouting”.  For the rest, I would point to the discussion above, as well as encourage each believer toward a careful study of the passages.