Note of the Day


Note of the Day – June 23

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This is the last of short series of notes on the miraculous feeding narratives (of the 5000/4000) in the Gospels. In the prior notes, I have discussed a number of critical questions related to these narratives, along with a comparative study of the passages. Today, in the concluding note, I will look at Eucharistic elements in the narrative; this brings us back to notes I posted earlier in the week, following the (traditional) commemoration of Corpus Christi (the “body of Christ” in the Eucharist) this past Sunday. This entailed a study on the expression “breaking (of) bread” as a kind of shorthand reference to the Lord’s Supper in the early Church; in an examination of the relevant passages, I left unaddressed the miraculous feeding narratives, to which I now turn for today’s note.

Let us begin with Mark’s account (Mk 6:30-44); the key verse is v. 41:

“And taking [labw\n] the five bread-loaves and the two fish (and) looking up into the heaven, he spoke well of [i.e. blessed eu)lo/ghsen] (it) and broke down [kate/klasen] the bread-loaves and gave [e)di/dou] (them) to [his] learners [i.e. disciples] to set alongside them [i.e. the people], and the fish he divided (among) them all”

Matthew’s account (Matt 14:13-21, v. 19) is simpler, but shows only minor differences, most notably perhaps the use of kla/w (“break”) instead of the compound verb katakla/w (“break down”). Luke’s version (Lk 9:10-17) of this verse (v. 16) is almost identical with Mark.

On the surface, there might not seem to be much relation to the Eucharist here; after all, there is no mention of a cup, nothing to suggest symbolism of Jesus’ body (or blood), plus the mention of fish—is there actually a connection to the Lord’s supper? The answer is yes, and there are several reasons for this, which I will discuss in turn.

1. The Greek verbs used

Look at the Greek verbs indicated in square brackets in Mk 6:41 above, and you will see that, with just one slight variation, they are the same verbs (and in the same sequence) used to describe Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper (Mark 14:22 par):

And in their eating, taking [labw\n] bread (and) blessing [eu)logh/sa$] he broke [e&klasen] (it) and gave [e&dwken] (it) to them and said, “Take (it)—this is my body”

The only difference is that there, instead of the verb katakla/w (kataklᜠ“break down”), the simple verb kla/w (klᜠ“break”) is used, as in Matthew’s account of the feeding of the five thousand (cf. above). As I pointed out in a previous note, the same sequence of four verbs also is used in the Emmaus scene, when the disciples finally recognize the presence of Jesus in their midst:

Lk 24:30: And it came to be, in his bending down [i.e. reclining] with them, taking [labw/n] the bread he blessed [eu)lo/ghsen] and, breaking [kla/sa$] (it), he gave [e)pedi/dou] (it) to them…

2. Textual evidence from the Feeding of the Four Thousand

In some ways, the wording in the Markan account of the feeding of the Four thousand (Mk 8:1-9,  v. 6) is even closer to that of Jesus’ acts of institution at the Last Supper:

And taking [labw\n] the seven bread-loaves (and) giving good favor [i.e. giving thanks eu)xaristh/sa$] (over it), he broke [e)kla/sen] (them) and gave [e)di/dou] (them) to [his] learners [i.e. disciples] to set alongside (the people)…

The parallel version in Matthew (Matt 15:32-39, v. 36) differs little. Interestingly, in Mark 8:7, in Jesus’ handling of the fish, there is a textual variant—some manuscripts read eu)xariste/w, others read eu)loge/w. The verb eu)xariste/w (eucharistéœ, “give/grant good favor, give thanks, be thankful/grateful”) also appears in Jesus’ acts of institution as recorded by Luke (Lk 22:17, 19) and Paul (1 Cor 11:24); it is also used in John’s account of miraculous feeding (Jn 6:11).

3. The Context in the Gospel of John

If we compare the wording in Jn 6:11—

Therefore Yeshua took [e&laben] the bread-loaves and giving good favor [i.e. giving thanks, eu)xaristh/sa$] (over it), he gave throughout [die/dwken] to the ones (having) lain back [i.e. lain/sat down]…

it is noteworthy that we do not find nearly so close a parallel to Jesus actions at the Last Supper. Noticeably missing is any mention of breaking the bread (though “broken pieces” [kla/smata] are mentioned in v. 12). This may well be an indication that John has inherited an early form of the tradition which was not yet shaped to fit the eucharistic imagery to the same extent (as we see it preserved in the Synoptics). However, the Johannine form of the narrative would have a considerable influence on Eucharistic formulae and imagery in the early Church, as we shall see below.

The miraculous feeding episode in John serves as the basic setting for the great “Bread of Life” discourse which follows in Jn 6:22-59, a discourse in which most commentators find at least some reference to the Eucharist (especially in vv. 53-58). I must admit that I am not as inclined to see references to the concrete (material) sacrament in these verses as many commentators do—especially if we are to regard these in any meaningful way as authentic words of Jesus. I see the Eucharistic imagery here as of a more general type, referring primarily to the work of the Spirit as conveying the real [but spiritual] presence of Christ and eternal life to the believer (much as the apparent references to baptism in Jn 3)—foreshadowing, perhaps, the true and proper meaning of the sacrament. However, that there is Eucharistic imagery, especially in vv. 53-58, I do not deny.

4. Early Christian tradition

Here I will limit discussion to several points and one or two references which show that early Christians understood a definite Eucharistic aspect or element to the miraculous feeding episode.

a. The Johannine context. As mentioned above, the miraculous feeding is followed by the Bread of Life discourse, which has certain eucharistic elements. While the extent to which the eucharistic aspect applies to the meaning and intent of Jesus’ original words may be debated, there can be no doubt that Christians early on made the association. The Gospel of John is best dated somewhere between 70-90, and may include a late (c. 90-95) redaction.

b. As discussed in an earlier note, the “breaking (of) bread” appears to have served as a kind of shorthand reference to the Eucharist. In virtually every instance in the New Testament where the breaking of bread is mentioned, there appears to be some connection to the Lord’s Supper. By way of “catch-word (or catch-image) bonding”, any occurrence of breaking bread in the narrative would likely have been associated with the Eucharist from a very early time on.

c. The use of the verb eu)xariste/w in John’s account (as in the Synoptic feeding of the four thousand) may have helped to increase the use of the verb in association with the Eucharist (a word which, of course, derives from a transliteration of the related noun eu)xaristi/a [eucharistía]).

d. There are a number of parallels between John’s account of the miraculous feeding and references to the Eucharist in the so-called Didache (or “Teaching” [of the Twelve Apostles]).

  • The Bread is simply called kla/sma (plur. kla/smata), “broken (piece[s])” in Didache 9:3-4 as in the feeding miracle (cf. Jn 6:12)
  • Note especially the prayer in Did 9:4:

“As this broken (bread) was scattered throughout up above (on) the mountains and was brought together (and) became one, thus may your called-out (people) [i.e. church/ekklesia] be brought together from the ends/limits of the earth into your Kingdom…”

With the following details:

  • The bread scattered on the mountains (only in John’s account [v. 3] is a mountain setting mentioned).
  • The verb translated “brought together” (suna/gw) is the same used in Jn 6:12-13 for the gathering up of the fragments (kla/smata). The same verb is also used in a Eucharistic setting in Did 14:1. The image of the (twelve) disciples gathering up the twelve baskets of fragments “so that nothing might be lost” [Jn 6:12b] was a suitable symbol of Church Unity, as the Didache clearly indicates.
  • The mention of the Kingdom (of God/Christ); perhaps coincidentally, John’s account is the only one which makes any reference to a king (v. 14f).
  • Note the three relevant details in succession in Didache 14:1:

“having been brought together [sunaxqe/nte$], break bread [kla/sate a&rton] and give good favor [eu)xaristh/sate—i.e. technically ‘celebrate the thanksgiving/eucharist‘]

Despite the name ascribed to the writing, the Didache is almost certainly not a product of the Apostles. It is typically dated sometime between 125-150 A.D., but may possibly preserve earlier tradition. It is a “church manual” of sorts, and provides at least a partial glimpse of what early Christianity may have been like in the first half of the second century (a generation or two after the later writings of the New Testament).



Note of the Day – June 22

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In the previous day’s note, I offered a comparison of the miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic Gospels, including a comparison of the similarities between the feedings of the 5000 and the 4000 in Mark/Matthew—similarities which serve as a reasonably strong argument in favor of the critical view that the two narrative episodes are based on a single historical tradition (or event). I also mentioned at least one good argument (on objective grounds, apart from any particular view of inspiration/inerrancy) in favor of the traditional-conservative view that these really do represent a record of separate events. This will be discussed in the second half of today’s note; however, to begin with, let me offer a comparison of the miraculous feeding narrative in John vs. the Synoptics. The corresponding passage in the fourth Gospel is found in Jn 6:1-15. The narrative setting of this episode in John is, of course, quite different:

  • Jesus has previously been in Jerusalem (Jn 5:1ff), and is now in Galilee (6:1); this abrupt shift would seem to indicate that we are dealing with the inclusion of traditional material, and no real attempt has been made by the author to smooth over the seam.
  • The occasion of Passover is mentioned (v. 4), which is almost certainly an insertion by the author to connect the miracle explicitly with the setting of the “Bread of Life” discourse which follows in 6:22-59.
  • Note how the author includes the episode of Jesus’ walking on the water (6:16-20) right after the miraculous feeding, just as in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew), even though it doesn’t seem entirely to fit the narrative context in John (note the rather awkward transitional description in vv. 22-23). I take this as an indication that the two episodes were already coupled together at a very early point in the Gospel tradition.
  • There is, certainly, nothing at all like the Bread of Life discourse following the feeding miracle in the Synoptic Gospels—it appears to be a tradition unique to John.

Special details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic feeding of the 5000:

  • Reference to Jesus’ healing the sick (v. 2) [cf. Matt 14:14; Luke 9:11]
  • Specific mention by the disciples of the cost of (at least) 200 denarii to feed so many people (v. 7; Mk 6:37)
  • The number of loaves (5) (v. 9)
  • The specific (round) number of men in the crowd (5000) (v. 10)
  • The mention of grass (v. 10; Mark 6:39, par Matt)
  • There are twelve baskets [kofino$] of fragments left over (v. 13)

Details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic (Matthew-Mark) feeding of the 4000:

  • The specific location along/across the Sea of Galilee (v. 1) [cf. Matt 15:29]
  • Jesus going up onto a mountain (v. 3) [cf. in Matt 15:29, but note also mountain theme in Mk 6:46 par. Matt).
  • Jesus takes the initiative regarding the crowd (v. 5) [cf. Mark 8:2-3 par]—however this is more of an original/distinctive element of John’s narrative
  • Philip’s response to Jesus question (v. 7) shows a partial similarity to Matt 15:33 (but also Mk 6:37, see above)
  • The verb “sit/fall back” [a)napi/ptw] is used (v. 10) instead of “lay back/down” [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw]; also, there is no mention of the crowd sitting down in groups of fifty, etc.
  • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (v. 11) as in Matt  15:36 and MSS of Mk 8:7, instead of “bless” [eu)loge/w]

The number of details in common with the feeding of the 4000 is striking—another indication, perhaps, that the two narrative episodes (of the 5000 & 4000) stem from a single historical tradition. It is also worth pointing some details which are unique to John’s account:

  • The Passover setting (v. 4), though the mention of “green grass” (Mk 6:39) might generally indicate springtime.
  • Jesus specific question about buying food for the crowd (v. 5), described as intended to test the disciples (Philip) (v. 6)
  • The mention of specific disciples Philip (v. 5-7) and Andrew (v. 8).
  • The boy with the loaves and fish (v. 9)
  • The loaves specified as “barley” [kriqino$] and the fish as “dried-fish” [o)yarion, instead of i)xqu$/i)xqudion]
  • Jesus’ command to his disciples to gather up the fragments (v. 12), along with the use of suna/gw (“bring together”) instead of ai&rw (“lift [up/away]”)
  • The reaction of the people to the miracle in vv. 14-15.

The significant number of details unique to John would seem to be incontrovertible evidence that John has not derived his account from any of the Synoptics, but has inherited an early Gospel tradition, some version of which is shared by the Synoptics as well. For a convenient chart comparing all of the miraculous feeding narratives in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible vol. 29: 1966), pp. 240-243.

What, then, of the traditional-conservative view which would regard the miraculous feedings of the 5000 and 4000 as authentic separate historical events? As I mentioned above, there is one main piece of objective evidence in its favor: namely, the tradition recorded in Mark 8:14-21 (par Matthew 16:5-12). Actually, according to standard methods of analysis for the Gospels, one should distinguish three elements in this passage, which follow a relatively common pattern:

  • Narrative setting (v. 14)
  • Saying of Jesus (v. 15)
  • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 17-21), following the question/misunderstanding of the disciples (v. 16)

The saying of Jesus about the “leaven of the Pharisees” is found in all three Synoptics—it is part of the parallel sequence in Matt 16:5-12 (v. 6), perhaps inherited from Mark, and is also found in Luke 12:1 but there in a very different context. It is Jesus’ exposition in Mk 8:17-21 which is of particular interest here, for he refers to both feeding miracles (in some detail!) If one is to regard vv. 17-21 as being in any way an authentic dialogue, then one is also forced to admit that the two miraculous feeding narratives both reflect historical events. This creates something of a dilemma for critical commentators—for if, on the other hand, the two feeding miracles are versions of a single event, then the entire dialogue of vv. 17-21 must effectively be regarded as an early Christian creation. Indeed, many critical scholars, I am sure, are inclined to accept the authenticity of the saying in v. 15 much more so than the expository dialogue in vv. 17-21.

It is interesting that there also appears to be literary significance to the parallel presentation of the two miraculous feedings, at least in the Gospel of Mark; note the following structure:

  • Feeding miracle (of the 5000)—Mk 6:30-44
    • Episode in a boat at sea (miracle of Jesus)—vv. 45-51
      • Statement about the loaves; disciples’ lack of understanding—v. 52
  • Feeding miracle (of the 4000)—Mk 8:1-10
    • Episode in a boat at sea (saying of Jesus)—vv. 14-15ff
      • Discussion of the loaves; disciples’ lack of understanding—vv. 16-21

While not constructed as carefully as similar arrangements of narrative episodes in, say, the Gospels of Luke or John, the parallelism is clear enough. There are then, other concerns besides historical accuracy/reliability that make it important to maintain a distinction between the two miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic tradition.


Note of the Day – June 21

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In the previous day’s note I introduced some of the critical issues (source- and historical-critical) surrounding the miraculous feeding of the multitude (5000 & 4000) narratives in the Gospels. To demonstrate several points more clearly, today I will present a modest comparative study of the passages. To begin with, it is worth noting just how close are the three Synoptic accounts of the feeding of the Five thousand. The passages to compare are: Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14:13-21, and Luke 9:10-17. The introductory/transition portion of the narrative (Mk 6:30-34; Matt 14:13-14; Lk 9:10-11) shows much greater variance:

  • Occasion/setting: the return of the Twelve from their mission (Mark/Luke) vs. Jesus hearing about the fate of John (Matthew)
  • The extended narrative in Mark (vv. 31-34) including additional dialogue and a longer mention of Jesus’ compassion for the crowd
  • Matthew and Luke do not have the narrative portion of Mark 6:31-34, presenting a simpler narrative setting—Matthew/Luke agree (against Mark) in mentioning Jesus’ healing the sick in the crowd

There are other minor differences as well, such as Luke specifying the location as Bethsaida (Lk 9:10) and the mention of Jesus speaking about the kingdom of God (v. 11). The common elements are: (a) Jesus withdrawing (to a secluded place) with his disciples, (b) the crowd following him, (c) an expression of Jesus’ care/compassion for the crowd. Here is a comparison of the core narrative which follows (using the NASU translation), with significant differences (additions, modification or reordering of material) italicized (note also the simpler descriptions in Matthew/Luke compared with Mark):

Mark 6:35-44

35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But He answered them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” 38 And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.

Matthew 14:15-21

15 When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” 17 They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” 18 And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 19 Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, 20 and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21 There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

Luke 9:12-17

12 Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place.” 13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 (For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each.” 15 They did so, and had them all sit down. 16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full.

Let us now turn to the two accounts of the miraculous feeding of the Four thousand, in Mark 8:1-9 and Matthew 15:32-39. Luke does not record this separate feeding episode, which may not be all that significant since here in the narrative he has nothing corresponding to the entire section of Mark 6:45-8:26. As in the case of the feeding of the Five thousand, Matthew’s version is simpler than Mark’s, but, apart from slight differences in wording and arrangement, is otherwise extremely close. In many ways, the feeding of the 4000 gives the impression (according to the critical view) of being closer to the earliest historical tradition of the feeding miracle—it is a more streamlined narrative, with fewer signs of editing. The historical critical question, of course, is very much in dispute (for traditional-conservative commentators at least); but consider just how close the two narrative episodes actually are—in each we have:

  • A large crowd has followed Jesus, and is now in a deserted/distant place with no opportunity to obtain food
  • Jesus has compassion on the crowd
  • Mention of sending the crowd away
  • Question of the disciples about trying to feed such a large number of people
  • Jesus asks what food they have—just a small number of bread loaves and fish
  • Jesus instructs the crowd to sit down
  • Jesus blesses/gives-thanks and gives the food to the disciples to distribute to the crowd
  • All in the crowd eat and are satisfied
  • Baskets full of fragments remain and are gathered up
  • The (round) number of men in the crowd is stated (5000/4000)

There are, of course, notable differences—both substantive and in detail—but the similarities are striking; it is a fairly strong argument in favor of the critical view that we are dealing with two versions of the same underlying historical tradition. That two separate events would have occurred—and been narrated—in such a similar fashion seems rather unlikely. As critical commentators are fond of mentioning, there is also the historical implausibility of the disciples, having recently witnessed the first dramatic feeding miracle, having the same doubts again about being able to feed such a large crowd (but cf. the notice in Mark 6:52). The main differences between the two narrative episodes can be summarized:

Feeding the 5000

  • It is stated that Jesus had compassion on the crowd
  • The disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away (to find food)
  • Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd something to eat
  • The disciples tell Jesus what food they have (response to Jesus inquiry in Mk)
  • Five loaves, and two fish
  • Jesus commands the crowd to lay-back/recline [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw] in groups
  • Jesus “blesses” [eu)loge/w] the food
  • Twelve baskets [ko/fino$] of fragments left over

Feeding the 4000

  • Jesus states that he has compassion for the crowd
  • Jesus says he is unwilling to send them away (to find food)
  • The disciples question how they can feed such a large crowd
  • Jesus asks the disciples what food they have (as in Mk’s version of feeding the 5000)
  • Seven loaves, a few (small) fish
  • Jesus has the crowd sit down [a)napi/ptw] (no mention of groups)
  • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (in Matt; “bless” [eu)loge/w] in Mk some MSS)
  • Seven woven-baskets [spuri/$] of fragments left over

To a large extent, these differences are variations in vocabulary and specific detail, of the sort that might naturally occur during the development and transmission of ancient tradition. If the critical view holds, then, at some point early on, two versions of the story (with differing details and vocabulary) crystalized, developing to become distinct enough to be preserved as separate narratives in the Synoptic tradition. In fairness I think it can be said that, without the need to safeguard a particular view of the inspiration (and/or inerrancy) of Scripture—that is, if such a narrative ‘doublet’ occurred in any other ancient writing—there would be little question that a single historical tradition underlay both narratives. However, there is at least one strong argument (on objective grounds) in favor of the traditional-conservative view, and this will be discussed in the next day’s note—along with a comparison of the miraculous feeding narratives in John and the Synoptics.


Note of the Day – June 20

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In yesterday’s note, partly in commemoration of the traditional feast of Corpus Christi (first Sunday after Trinity), I examined the New Testament expression of “breaking (of) bread” (as in Acts 2:42, 46; Luke 24:35, etc) in relation to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) in the early Church. There is one other major passage where this image occurs—the miraculous feeding of the multitude by Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. The tradition surrounding this miracle is unique in that: (a) it is one of the only episodes recorded in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John); (b) it is one of the only instances where something like the same narrative occurs twice in the same Gospel (Matthew/Mark). For this reason (among others), it proves to be an interesting ‘test case’ in terms of how early Gospel traditions may have developed, as well as being illustrative of the key differences between traditional-conservative and critical viewpoints in this regard.

I will divide the discussion into three main sections, each of which will be treated in a daily note:

  • Survey of the passages, with a brief study of the source-critical and historical-critical questions
  • A more detailed comparative study of the narratives
  • An examination of the Eucharistic elements of the traditional narrative—their possible origins and influence in the early Church

Today’s note will is devoted to the first of these—namely, a survey of the passages, study of key source-critical and historical-critical questions. To begin with, a miraculous feeding of five thousand men (plus women and children) is narrated in Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15. As will be seen, all four narratives are quite close, both in outline and much detail as well; typically the the three Synoptic accounts are extremely close, while there are more substantial differences between the Synoptics and John. This brings up two separate, but related, source-critical questions:

  1. What is the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels?
  2. What is the relationship between the Synoptics and John?

The first question is usually addressed in the wider context of the so-called “Synoptic Problem”—how to explain the substantial agreement (including wording, order, other detail) between two and/or all three Synoptic Gospels. Today, there is a rough consensus among many (if not most) critical scholars that corresponds with the so-called “Two-Document” and “Markan priority” hypotheses, according to which:

  • Mark was written first, and both Matthew and Luke made (extensive) use of Mark, including the overall narrative plan and arrangement.
  • Matthew and Luke also made use of a second major (written) source, primarily consisting of blocks of Jesus’ sayings and teachings—this is the so-called “Q” source. Usually this is assumed to be a distinct written document, but it is perhaps safer to refer to it more generally as a collection of shared tradition(s).
  • Matthew and Luke also each made use of other sources—collections of tradition, whether written or oral—not found in the other Gospels, and often labeled “M” and “L” respectively.

While not without difficulties, this does, I believe, represent a reasonably sound working hypothesis. At the very least, if Matthew and Luke did not make use of Mark, then they must have made use of an early Gospel framework very similar in both content and arrangement. In particular, the position of the feeding miracle within the overall Gospel framework is similar between the Synoptics. Assuming, for the moment, the “Markan priority” hypothesis, here is the position of the episode in Mark:

1. Mk 6:1-6: The rejection of Jesus at Nazareth (saying in v. 4)
2. Mk 6:7-13: Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve (saying/commission in vv. 10-11)
3. Mk 6:14-29: Herod and the death of John the Baptist
4. Mk 6:30-44: The feeding of the Five thousand
5. Mk 6:45-52: Episode at sea—Jesus walking on water (reference to the feeding miracle in v. 52)
6. Mk 6:53-56: Summary references to healing miracles by Jesus
7. Mk 7:1-23: Sayings of Jesus in context of disputes with Pharisees and Scribes (at least two blocks of sayings, vv. 6-13 and 14b-23)
8. Mk 7:24-37: Two healing miracles

If we compare the position in the Gospel of Matthew, it is nearly identical; the only structural difference is that Jesus’ commission and sending out the Twelve occurs somewhat earlier (Matt 10:5ff) and serves as the introduction and narrative focus for a lengthy block of sayings vv. 16-42 added to the portion (vv. 5-15) he presumably inherited from Mark. The arrangement in the Gospel of Luke differs even more considerably:

  • The story of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth occurs earlier (at the beginning of his ministry), and in different/expanded form, in Lk 4:16-30
  • The material corresponding to Mark 6:45-8:26 for the most part is not found in Luke; as a result the confession of Peter, Jesus’ first Passion prediction (with related sayings), and the Transfiguration (Lk 9:18-36) follow immediately after the miraculous feeding episode in Lk 9:10-17

Notable differences between the Synoptic accounts of the feeding of the Five thousand will be mentioned in the comparative study in the next day’s note.

The second question (see above) has to do with the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels and John. Even though there is relatively little common material between John and the Synoptics, scholars have at times proposed that the author of the fourth Gospel utilized one (or more) of the other three. For example, there are some notable details in common between the Passion/Resurrection narratives of Luke and John, but other (apparent) minor points of agreement as well. However, in my view, most of these similarities are best explained by a shared common tradition rather than literary borrowing. I would concur with a good number of scholars today that there is very little (if any) clear evidence that the author of the fourth Gospel even knew (let alone used) any of the other three Gospels. At least one strand of evidence to this effect will be presented in the comparative study offered in the next day’s note. This means that, if we take Mark as the earliest Synoptic (and partial exemplar for the other two), then, at several key points, the Gospels of Mark and John are both drawing from an early tradition (or block of tradition), such as that involving the feeding of the Five thousand. By all accounts the “common portion” shared by John here is modest, limited to the traditions corresponding to Mark 6:30-52.

There is a far more serious historical-critical issue related to these passages, one which demonstrates a rather clear divide between traditional-conservative and critical approaches to the Gospels. The difficulty can be summarized by the fact that, in the Gospel of Mark (and in Matthew) there are two different miraculous feedings which are largely identical, differing mainly in specific vocabulary and other detail. This second episode is a feeding of Four (instead of Five) thousand men, as narrated in Mark 8:1-10 (par Matthew 15:32-39). The traditional-conservative view would tend to take these at face value as separate historical episodes; however, the number of similarities makes this hard to maintain in the light of objective analysis. The critical view would generally hold that these are separate versions of the same episode which have been preserved in different form; but there are difficulties with this view as well, as we shall see. Critical scholars are most reluctant to harmonize differences and discrepancies in Scriptural narrative by positing separate (similar, or nearly identical) events. For example, because of the different apparent chronology between John and the Synoptics, some traditional-conservative commentators would hold that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice; however, I regard this as highly unlikely—apart from the variant position of the episode (‘early’ vs. ‘late’), there is virtually no evidence to support a tradition of two (largely identical) Temple-cleansings. The situation is more complex with the “Anointing of Jesus” episodes in the Gospels; there it is likely that we are dealing with two traditions—one represented largely by Luke 7:36-50, the other primarily by Mark 14:3-9 and the Matthean parallel. As in the case of the miraculous feeding narratives, the Johannine account shows a mixture of details found in the other versions, which is somewhat hard to explain if we are dealing with different historical events (or traditions). This will be explored in greater detail in the next note.


Note of the Day – June 19

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This past Sunday (the first after Trinity Sunday), in Roman Catholic tradition, represents the feast (celebration) of Corpus Christi—that is, the body of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). Protestants generally do not recognize this feast day in the Church Year, since it is tied to a belief in the “real presence” of Christ (i.e. his body present miraculously, but materially in the consecrated bread and wine) and the concept of transubstantiation (the substance/essence of the bread and wine is transformed into his body/blood). Ever since the Renaissance and Reformation period, Western Christians—Protestants in particular—have struggled to preserve something of the ancient mystic-symbolic sense of the sacred ritual in light of the more scientific-materialistic age in which they live. The crux of the disputes in the Reformation period was the declaration by Jesus in the Last Supper scene of the Synoptic Gospels—”this is my body / this is my blood” (Mark 14:22, 24 par)—and how precisely it should be understood. However, perhaps even more interesting, from my viewpoint, is the question of exactly how early believers may have applied eucharistic language and symbolism to their communal meals. In this regard, the crucial, seminal passage is found in the book of Acts, in the narrative summary of Acts 2:42-47:

42And they were strong/steadfast toward (each other) in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion, in the breaking of bread and the speaking out toward (God) [i.e. prayers]…
44and all the ones trusting/believing were (together) upon the same (place) [e)pi\ to\ au)to/] and had all things in common…
46and according to (the) day [i.e. daily], being strong/steadfast toward (each other) with one impulse in the sacred place [i.e. Temple], and breaking bread according to (the) house, they took food with (one another) in joy and smoothness/simplicity [lit. without stone/pebble] of heart…
47…and the Lord set toward [i.e. added to] the ones being saved according to (the) day [i.e. daily] e)pi\ to/ au)to/.

Here I would focus on the expression kla/si$ tou= a&rtou (klásis tou ártou), “breaking of bread” in verse 42, which is mentioned again in verse 46 in slightly different form: “breaking bread according to house”. The modifying expression “according to house” (kat’ oi@kon) means that the “breaking of bread” took place in one house, then another—presumably an indication that the larger group/community met in the houses of different believers in turn. But what of this “breaking of bread”?—does it represent: (a) ordinary meals, or (b) a celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist)? On the surface, it would seem that ‘ordinary’ communal meals are meant, as in v. 46 where it says that the believers “took food/nourishment with (one another) [metala/mbanon trofh=$]”. However, most scholars today would, I think, hold that some form of the Lord’s Supper is meant, and in this they are probably correct. One could, perhaps, distinguish between the terminology of the earliest believers (c. 35 A.D.) with that of the author of Acts (c. 70-80) [cf. also references in Acts 20:7, 11; 27:35]; but for the author of Luke-Acts, at least, it is extremely likely that “breaking (of) bread” served as a kind of shorthand reference and image for the Eucharist. This would seem to be confirmed by the narrative of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35), where Jesus comes to be known/recognized in the breaking of the bread (cf. verse 35, the only other occurrence of the noun kla/si$ [klásis, “breaking, fracture”] in the New Testament). For more on this passage, see below.

The symbolism, of course, originates with that used by Jesus in the Synoptic accounts of the Last Supper:

Mark 14:22: “And in their eating, taking [labw\n] bread (and) blessing [eu)logh/sa$] he broke [e&klasen] (it) and gave [e&dwken] (it) to them and said, ‘Take (it)—this is my body'”

The version in Matthew 26:26 differs very little, the majority text of Luke 22:19 somewhat more so, with the addition in 19b (missing in some key ‘Western’ manuscripts) of: “…th(at is) given over you; do this in my memory/remembrance”. From a period presumably in between that of the earliest believers and the author of Luke-Acts, we have Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, which includes a citation of Jesus words of institution (vv. 24-26) fairly close to the formula in Luke. While the exact context and circumstances are not entirely clear, Paul’s is describing a situation where the significant (or “sacred”, i.e. eucharistic) aspects of the communal meal are effectively being ignored or disregarded in practice. This indicates (clearly enough to me) that the eucharistic elements simply serve as a ritual, symbolic aspect of what is otherwise an (ordinary) communal meal. Paul warns strongly against those who eat and drink without “judging/discerning throroughly” (diakri/nwn) the body (of Christ) (v. 30, and note the warning against eating and drinking unworthily in v. 27). Some commentators have interpreted verse 30 in light of later disputes regarding the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, but this almost certainly reads too much into the text. I believe Paul’s point in this passage is two-fold:

  1. Those who participate in the meal in an unworthy manner are, whether consciously or not, disregarding the sacred/symbolic aspect of the meal—it is not possible to reconstruct the ancient ritual element with certainty, but originally it probably centered upon a specific act of “breaking bread”, in imitation of Jesus’ own act.
  2. The nature of the problems at Corinth involved a lack of unity among believers, and this was reflected in the way they came together to celebrate the eucharistic meal (see v. 17-19ff). Here divisions in the body of Christ (the congregation) are juxtaposed against the body of Christ (bread and wine) broken/divided in ritual (but serving to promote unity and spiritual life).

Previously, I mentioned the Emmaus scene in Luke 24, where Jesus joins the two disciples for a meal (in their house or a lodging on the way). All throughout the scene (vv. 15-29), the disciples had failed to recognize the resurrected person of Jesus; that is, until the moment of the common meal:

30And it came to be, in his bending down [i.e. reclining] with them, taking [labw/n] the bread he blessed [eu)lo/ghsen] and, breaking [kla/sa$] (it), he gave [e)pedi/dou] (it) to them…

The same set of four verbs, in sequence, appears in Jesus’ words at the Lord’s Supper (see above)—the eucharistic connection could not be clearer! Note, too, that upon the breaking of the bread, “their eyes were thoroughly opened and they recognized [lit. knew upon] him”, an aspect of the scene important enough to be repeated in verse 35, where it is mentioned, in conclusion, “how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread”. This, I believe, is not unrelated conceptually to Paul’s statement regarding the importance of “discerning” (diakri/nw) the body of Christ during the meal. The importance of the breaking of the bread, which, as I pointed out, was probably a single ritual act of breaking (accompanied by simple liturgical wording) is emphasized in the so-called Didache (or “Teaching” of the Twelve Apostles), which likely dates from the early-mid second-century; in the Eucharistic passage in chap. 9-10, the bread is specifically referred to as “broken (piece[s])” (kla/sma) (9:3-4). In the Didache, the associated prayers have already developed considerably beyond anything likely to have been used by the earliest believers (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-26); but note the powerful image of Christian unity expressed in verse 4:

“As this broken (bread) was scattered throughout up above (on) the mountains and was brought together (and) became one, thus may your called-out (people) [i.e. church/ekklesia] be brought together from the ends/limits of the earth into your Kingdom…”

This draws upon the other major passage in the New Testament which specifically refers to the breaking of bread—namely, the miraculous feeding of the multitude—which I will discuss in the next few daily notes.

The feast of Corpus Christi was officially established by Pope Urban IV in 1264 A.D., associated with the so-called miracle of Bolsena in which the eucharistic wafer (host) was said to have bled and imprinted bloody images of the host upon the surplice of the officiating priest—therefore removing any doubts the priest (or others) may have had about the doctrine of transubstantiation and the Real Presence! The scene was commemorated most famously by Raphael in the Stanza (reception room) d’Elidoro in the Vatican palace.


Note of the Day – June 15

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This is the third of three daily notes, covering three Christological phrases in Peter’s Pentecost speech-sermon (Acts 2:14-41). The first note examined the phrase in verse 22, the second note the dual clause in verse 33; today I will look at the statement in verse 36. Verses 22-24 represent a kerygmatic formulation which precedes the citation/exposition of Psalm 16:8-11; a second kerygmatic statement follows in verses 32-33, along with a secondary citation from Psalm 110:1 in vv. 34-35. Verse 36 represents, in turn, the climactic statement of the speech, the importance of which is indicated by the solemn manner it is introduced—

“Therefore (let) all the house of Yisrael safely/surely know…”

Then comes the climactic statement:

“…that God (has) made him (both) Lord and Anointed—this Yeshua whom you put to the stake!”

Here is again, the central clause:

kai\ ku/rion au)to\n kai\ xristo\n e)poi/hsen o( qeo/$
“God made him (both) Lord and Anointed”

Believers are so accustomed to thinking of Jesus as Lord (that is, God/Divine) and Anointed (i.e. the Messiah), that the context of this declaration in Peter’s speech is easy to overlook. Indeed, it may be somewhat shocking to realize that Jesus’ identity/status as Lord (ku/rio$) is specifically tied to his exaltation/glorification following the resurrection. That is certainly the sense of Psalm 110:1 here (cited in v. 34-35), as juxtaposed with Psalm 16:8-11—the statement in Ps 110:1 follows (and, one may say, is a result of) Jesus’ being raised and ascending (v. 34a) into Heaven. Contrast this with the citation of Psalm 110:1 in Hebrews 1:13, where there is a relatively clear sense of Jesus’ eternal, pre-existent status as God’s Son (cf. Heb 1:3ff).

Here, too, in Acts the use of the verb poie/w (poiéœ, prim. “do, make”) is problematic, especially from the standpoint of post-Nicene orthodoxy, for this verb is that which is used in reference to God’s act of creation, and yet the Nicene creed explicitly that Jesus was “begotten, not made” (gennhqe/nta, ou) poihqe/nta). And, although the statement in Acts 2:36 does not say that Jesus was metaphysically made (as a creature), how can he be said to have been “made” Lord after the resurrection? Was he not already Lord in eternal pre-existent union with the Father, and all throughout his incarnate life on earth? Certainly, later theologians and commentators would be extremely reluctant to use such language. It is somewhat easier to speak of Jesus being “made” the Anointed (i.e. the Messiah) since this term applies primarily to an Israelite/Jewish religious concept—that of the king or priest who is anointed (ritually/symbolically) as God’s chosen representative among the people. By the time of the New Testament, following centuries of reflection and response to both the Scriptures (prim. the Prophets and prophetic Psalms) and historical circumstances, the Anointed/Messiah had come to be associated with a very definite sort of eschatological figure (Davidic ruler and/or Priest and/or Prophet) who would oversee (in whole or part) the restoration of Israel and God’s end-time judgment. In several Jewish writings likely contemporary with the New Testament—the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) and 4 Ezra (2/4 Esdras)—this “Messiah” is more or less identified with an apparently separate figure, that of a heavenly/pre-existent “Son of Man” (certainly influenced by Dan 7:13). While there is some precedence for the idea of the Messiah as a divine/heavenly figure, more often he was understood to be a real human being. It is primarily the role he serves which is divinely ordained and empowered. One could, then, speak of Jesus as being “made” the Messiah, in the sense that, as a human being, he was divinely empowered to fulfill the Messianic role(s). In traditional Christological terms, Priest, Prophet and King, are understood as the three “offices” of Christ.

Yet, how exactly should one understand the idea of Jesus’ being “made” Lord here in Acts 2:36? The Greek word ku/rio$, in a Jewish and early Christian religious context, is used primarily as a reference to YHWH, the one God. Even in the earliest period of the New Testament writings and traditions, to refer to Jesus as ku/rio$ was tantamount to affirming his divine nature/status. There are of course passages in the Gospels where ku/rio$ is applied to Jesus in the narrative in a diplomatic or honorific sense, such as the use of “Sir” in English, but this is hardly the case in passages reflecting actual early Christian belief. More difficult to interpret are those sayings of Jesus where he appears to use the word applied to himself; perhaps most tantalizing of all is his citation of Psalm 110:1 (Mark 12:36-37 par), which might provide a decisive interpretation to the verse (see above), however the exact meaning and thrust of Jesus’ question remains a matter of considerable debate among commentators. The most explicit statement of Christian belief in this regard (identifying Jesus as Lord in the sense that God/YHWH is Lord), within the Gospel narrative, is certainly the declaration by Thomas in Jn 20:28 (“my Lord and my God!”). But if ku/rio$ is meant to indicate Jesus’ divine nature or status—identifying him in some meaningful way with God/YHWH—in Acts 2:36, how can he be said to have been “made” ku/rio$? I would suggest three main possibilities for interpretation, none of which are without difficulty:

  1. The statement fundamentally reflects an “adoptionistic” view of Christ—that is to say, he was only elevated to divine status (at the right hand of God, v. 33) upon his being raised by God from the dead and glorified/exalted. Prior to this, Jesus was simply a human being, though one specially appointed/gifted by God (v. 22ff). This would be the most straightforward reading of the statements in Peter’s speech, though of course, it contradicts much of the overall New Testament witness, and would be flatly rejected by (later) orthodox Christology. For more on this, see my additional (upcoming) note on Adoptionism.
  2. The statement—whether understood as being strictly from Peter, the author of Acts (trad. Luke), or some combination—shows a limited awareness of Jesus’ true nature. In other words, what was known for certain (at the moment) involved Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of God) and the sending of the Spirit (from God the Father), and was expressed within a traditional Jewish conceptual framework. Only subsequently, in the following years, would an understanding of Jesus’ eternal and pre-existent divine nature develop, to be expressed within the Gospels and Epistles, etc. This view of the matter reflects the principle of progressive revelation—that only gradually, did the New Testament writers, the apostles, and other believers come to a full realization of Jesus’ nature (in the orthodox sense). This view is somewhat easier to accept if Acts 2:14-36ff represents the actual words of Peter (c. 30-35 A.D.) rather than that of the author of Acts (c. 70-80?); it would be a strong argument that, at the very least, 2:14ff records early apostolic kerygma.
  3. The statement reflects a kenotic view of Christ; by this is meant that Jesus Christ, in some meaningful (though admittedly mysterious) way, forsook his pre-existent divine nature/status, and “emptied” himself to become a human being (the so-called kenosis, from Grk. keno/w kenóœ, “[make] empty”). Upon his death and resurrection, Jesus was then elevated and restored to (an even greater?) divine status, now united with humanity, at God’s right hand. While generally attractive, there are two main difficulties with such a view: (a) it is largely dependent on a single passage (the “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11), and (b) there are several other passages (such as Col 1:19, cf. also 2:9) which have been taken as confirmation of the orthodox belief that Jesus was in some sense “fully God” even during his earthly life. Applying this view to Acts 2:14-36 also requires reading much into Peter’s speech, which as it stands, better fits an adoptionistic, rather than kenotic, viewpoint.

Clearly there are significant critical and interpretive questions involved in this verse which admit of no easy solution. On the one hand, we should guard ourselves against reading developed (orthodox) Christology back into the New Testament; on the other hand, we must be cautious about reading too much into a single passage. Peter’s speech must first be understood and interpreted in its historical and literary context:

  • The historical context—this is the first public sermon delivered by believers following the resurrection of Christ (and the sending of the Spirit); one should expect just what we find here: rough, simple, dramatic kerygmatic statements (focusing on the immediate message of the resurrection and promise of salvation), rather than a developed and systematic Christology. Throughout the Gospels and here in Acts (cf. 1:6f), there are numerous examples where even Jesus’ closest disciples (Peter and the Twelve) demonstrated that they possessed a limited awareness of exactly who he was.
  • The literary context—this is also the first major Christian speech-sermon recorded in Luke-Acts; it follows directly after the resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Spirit on Pentecost: the events which Peter makes reference to in his speech. Even if the author had wished to express the deity of Christ more clearly, it would have been rather out of place in context here. The overall portrait of Christ will be expanded in the subsequent speech-sermons in Acts.

Both of these observations would tend to support the “progressive revelation” view (#2) above, as well as being the most compatible with orthodox Christology.


Note of the Day – June 14

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This is the second of three daily notes on the Pentecost speech-sermon of Peter in Acts 2:14-41 in which I am examining three Christological statements or expressions—the first (a&ndra a)podedeigme/non a)po\ tou= qeou=, see the previous day’s note) was found in verse 22; today I will be looking at verse 33. The first kerygmatic statement in vv. 22-24 precedes the quotation from Psalm 16; a second kerygmatic statement follows it in vv. 32-33, which is framed by two main clauses (with parenthetic declarations):

This Yeshua [Jesus] God made stand up (again)
—of which we all are witnesses…

…he has poured this out
—which you [also] see and hear

Note the structure of this frame:

  • Act of God (the Father)—raised Jesus from the dead
    • We all (i.e. the disciples/speaker[s]) are witnesses (i.e. have seen)
  • Act of Jesus—poured out the (gift of the) Spirit
    • You (i.e. the crowd/hearers) are witnesses (see and hear)

It is the inner clauses that are central to the Christological statement, for they provide the bridge between the act of God (resurrection) and the act of Jesus (sending the Spirit); they are as follows:

th=| decia=| ou@n tou= qeou= u(ywqei\$,
th\n te e)paggeli/an tou= pneu/mato$ tou= a(gi/ou labw\n para\ tou= patro/$

(and) therefore being lifted high (to) the giving [i.e. right] (hand) side of God
(and) receiving the e)paggeli/a of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father

The first clause refers to Jesus’ exaltation to the special honored position of the “right hand” side of God. This is a popular expression in the New Testament, and one of the most common (and probably earliest) descriptions of the exalted “divine” status of Jesus (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3ff; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22), certainly influenced greatly by Psalm 110:1, cited already by Jesus in the Synoptic tradition (Mark 12:36; Matt 22:44; Luke 20:42), here in Acts 2:34, and in Hebrews 1:13. This idea of Jesus being raised to divine status/position proved somewhat problematic for subsequent Christology, for it could indeed be taken to suggest that Jesus was not “fully divine” prior to the resurrection/exaltation. I will discuss the “adoptionistic” interpretation of such expressions at the conclusion of the third note.

The second clause describes Jesus’ reception of the Holy Spirit from the Father. This idea is less common in the New Testament, best known from the Gospel of John—see the discourses of Jesus in Jn 13-17 (esp. 14:26; 15:26; 16:7) and the episode in Jn 20:19-23 (v. 22). However, something similar had already been mentioned in the Gospel of Luke 24:49:

“and [see!] I set forth from (God/Myself) the e)paggeli/a of my Father upon you; but you—sit (down) in the city until the (time in) which you should be sunk into [i.e. have put on] power (from) out of (the) height”

The same expression “e)paggeli/a of the Father” also occurs in Acts 1:4 in reference to the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples. Previously above, I left the word e)paggeli/a untranslated since it is somewhat difficult to render literally in English. Fundamentally, it would be defined as a message or announcement (a)ggeli/a angelía) on (e)pi epi) a particular matter, primarily in the sense of a public declaration. A specialized, but common, nuance to the word is a declaration that a person intends (or is about) to do something—i.e., a promise—and so the word is used almost exclusively in the New Testament. The context tends to be the covenantal promise(s) God made to Israel, even though the word e)paggeli/a (and the verb e)pagge/llw) hardly occur in the Greek version (LXX) of the Old Testament; it becomes much more common in the deutero-canonical and similar Jewish writings of the intertestamental period (e.g., 2 Macc 2:17; 3 Macc 2:10; Ps Sol 12:8; 2 Bar 57:2; 59:2; Jos Ant 2.219), often expressed in terms of the “promises of God” or the “promises of/to the fathers”—promises to be inherited/fulfilled to faithful believers among Israel. The word, in this sense (and with these related expressions), is used fairly frequently by Paul (in Romans and Galatians), as well as in Hebrews—in particular, Paul invests the word with great significance, indicating the salvation and (eternal) life to be inherited (the parallel word klhronomi/a “lot, inheritance”) by believers through Christ (apart from the Law). This is realized through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, as Paul states in Gal 3:14; note the expression “promise of the Spirit” (e)paggeli/a tou= pneu/mato$)—parallel with the “blessing (eu)logi/a) of Abraham”—and cf. also Eph 1:13 (“the holy Spirit of the promise”).

Apart from 23:21, all of the subsequent instances of e)paggeli/a in the book of Acts refer primarily to the idea of God’s promise(s) to Abraham/Israel:

  • Acts 2:39, juxtaposed with the promise of the Spirit (v. 33), as in Galatians 3:14
  • Acts 7:17—promise to Abraham, in the context of the Exodus and journey to the Promised Land
  • Acts 13:32, juxtaposed with Christ (as Savior) from the seed of David “according to the promise” in v. 23 (cf. Galatians 3-4 for Christ [and believers] as the seed of Abraham according to the promise)
  • Acts 26:6, again with an implied connection (or fulfillment) of the promise in Jesus Christ (and the gift of the Spirit)

As mentioned previously, in Acts 1:4, here in 2:33, and earlier in Luke 24:49 (the only instance of the word in the Gospels), the Spirit is specifically referred to as the e)paggeli/a (“promise”) of God.


From whom/whence does Jesus send (a)postellw, lit. “set [forth] from…”) the Spirit, as in Lk 24:49 (see above)? In the history of Doctrine, this is the notorious question of the “procession of the Holy Spirit”, as represented by the so-called Filioque controversy. The latin filioque reflects an expression “and the Son” which was added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed, to indicate that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son (technically referred to as the “double/dual procession of the Holy Spirit”). This addition was rejected by the Eastern Church and has proven a divisive issue between East and West through the centuries, the precise reasons for which are somewhat hard to appreciate today. The idea of a shared “sending” of the Spirit, in some meaningful sense, is suggested strongly by the Gospel of John, where, in the discourses, Jesus refers to the Spirit/Paraclete as one who: (1) “the Father will send in my name” [Jn 14:26], (2) “I will send (from) alongside the Father” [Jn 15:26], (3) “I will send”, having first gone away to the Father [Jn 16:7]. The phrasing in Lk 24:49 and Acts 2:33 is closest to Jn 15:26. Conceptually, in the Gospel of John, the idea is that the Spirit is sent (travels/proceeds out of the Father, cf. Jn 15:26) to the Son, and the Son, in turn, sends it/him to believers (portrayed in Jn 20:22 as Jesus breathing the Spirit into the believers).


Note of the Day – June 12

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This past Sunday was the octave of Pentecost, traditionally Trinity Sunday—commemorating the doctrine of the Trinity. Both historically and theologically, the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine—as formulated in the Apostles’, Nicene, Constantinopolitan and Athanasian Creeds—is derived primarily from questions about the person of Jesus Christ. The principal question is two-fold: (1) in what sense is Jesus to be understood or regarded as the “Son of God”, and (2) in what sense, or to what extent, is Jesus to be considered both “divine” and human? It is interesting to note the gulf that exists between the orthodox Christological formulae and much of the New Testament language used in reference to Jesus—language which could be, and has been, interpreted in a heterodox manner (see the note on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy).

Consider, for example, the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts: according to the traditional-conservative view, these reflect the actual words (allowing for a modicum of translation and/or editing) of early believers such as Peter, Stephen, James, and Paul. Many critical scholars, on the other hand, see them as largely the creation of the author (trad. Luke), which may, to a greater or lesser extent, preserve earlier (oral) tradition as well. Either way, they represent some of the earliest kerygmatic statements (i.e. Gospel proclamations) regarding the person of Christ.

In light of the recent commemoration of the day of Pentecost (as narrated in Acts 2:1-13), it is worth looking at the great Pentecost speech/sermon of Peter in Acts 2:14-41. I will be discussing this in detail as part of a series of the “Speeches in the Book of Acts”, but for the moment allow me to isolate three Christological phrases:

  1. In verse 22—a&ndra a)podedeigme/non a)po\ tou= qeou=
  2. In verse 33, a dual phrase—th=| decia=| ou@n tou= qeou= u(ywqei\$, th\n te e)paggeli/an tou= pneu/mato$ tou= a(gi/ou labw\n para\ tou= patro/$
  3. In verse 36—kai\ ku/rion au)to\n kai\ xristo\n e)poi/hsen o( qeo/$

Each of these will be examined briefly over a series of three daily notes, beginning with the first today.

Acts 2:22: a&ndra a)podedeigme/non a)po\ tou= qeou=

This phrase is part of the key kerygmatic statement in 2:22-24, which begins as follows:

 &Andre$  )Israhli=tai, a)kou/sate tou\$ lo/gou$ tou/tou$:  )Ihsou=n to\n Nazwrai=on a&ndra a)podedeigme/non a)po\ tou= qeou= ei)$ u(ma=$
“Men, Israelites! hear these words/things—(of this) Jesus the Nazarean, a man a)podedeigm/enon a)po\ tou= qeou= unto you…”

The participial phrase in Greek is the central concern, and is to be translated with care:

a)podedeigme/non (apodedeigménon) is a participle form of the verb a)podei/knumi (apodeíknymi), a compound of the preposition a)po (apo, prim. “from”) and dei/knumi/deiknu/w (deíknymi/deiknúœ, “show, display, present”). The prefixed particle a)po is primarily an intensive, though here it is repeated as a preposition in the phrase. The entire expression a&ndra a)podedeigm/enon a)po\ tou= qeou= could be rendered literally “a man presented from God…” However, the compound verb a)podei/knumi often carries a more specialized meaning, such as: (1) “present (someone) in an office or position” (i.e., designate, appoint, etc) and (2) “present by evidence or argument” (i.e. demonstrate, prove, etc). Here the sense would seem to be that the special status of Jesus was demonstrated or legitimated publicly by God (a)po can indicate agency, better rendered in English as “by”), with the added nuance that Jesus was also from (a)po) God. With this in mind, verse 22 can be translated as follows:

“Men, Israelites! hear these words/things—(of this) Jesus the Nazarean, a man presented from/by God unto you (with) works of power and wonders and signs which God did/made through him in your midst, even as (you your)selves know”

Verses 23 and 24 continue with clauses (modifying “[this] Jesus the Nazarean…”):

“23this (one), by the marked-out will [i.e. purpose] and foreknowledge of God, given out through (the) hands of lawless ones, fastening (him) toward (the stake) you took him up/away [i.e. put to death] 24whom God made stand up (again), having loosed the pains/anguish of death, according to (the fact) that [i.e. because] there was no power to firmly hold him under it”

This leads into the exposition of Psalm 16 in verses 25ff. The language and syntax of vv. 22-24 is colorful and rather awkward (as I hope the rather literal rendering above makes clear); later theologians and commentators certainly would use more consistent and systematic phrasing. For one thing, there is little in vv. 22-24 to distinguish Jesus from, for example, other prophets and chosen figures (such as Elijah), who, by the power of God, worked miracles (and even raised the dead). Consider again the phrase particularly in focus here, which states that Jesus was:

“a man presented by God [or from God] unto you (with) works… which God did through him…”

There is no suggestion of any “divine” status (in the orthodox sense of Jesus’ deity) prior to his death. Such language could be read in an adoptionistic sense. Adoptionism is a label applied to a range of early Christian beliefs and opinions whereby Jesus was an “ordinary” human being who was only “deified” (or, elevated to a divine status) after the resurrection. Another strand of thought held that Jesus was actually appointed/anointed/gifted as God’s Son at his baptism (cf. for example the variant reading [citing Psalm 2] in Lk 3:22). The view emphasizing the exaltation of Jesus upon his resurrection appears to have been more widespread and better accords with the depiction of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (cf. also, for example, in Romans 1:3-4). What then of the orthodox view of the Deity of Christ, in the more absolute, ontological, existential, or metaphysical sense? This will be addressed specifically following a discussion of the second and third kerygmatic phrases (from Acts 2:33, 36) in the next two notes.


Note of the Day – June 10

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In the previous day’s note, I examined the theme of the unity of the believers in Jerusalem in the early chapters of Acts (chs. 1-7); in so doing, I specifically discussed the first of two words or phrases used repeatedly by the author to express this sense of unity—e)pi\ to\ au)to/. Today I will be looking at the second expression—o(moqumado/n.

2. o(moqumado/n (homothumadón)

With one exception (Romans 15:6), all New Testament occurrences of this adverb are in the book of Acts. It is a compound derived from o(mo/$ (homós, “one”) and qu/mo$ (thúmos). This noun (qu/mo$, from qu/w) fundamentally refers to a violent movement (i.e. of wind, breath, etc), and so, for human beings, often the sense of “spirit, passion, anger”, and so forth. It would come to carry the more general anthropological semantic range of “soul, mind, will, disposition, temperment”, etc. as well. The adverb o(moqumado/n is typically translated as “of one mind/will/consent”, and so forth; a more literal rendering might be “of one impulse”, which I have chosen to use below. Here are the passages where this word is used in the book of Acts (note the proximity/pairing with the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/):

  • Acts 1:14: “These [i.e. the apostles mentioned in v. 13] all were being strong/steadfast toward (each other) with one impulse (in) speaking toward (God) [i.e. prayer], (together) with (the) women and Maryam the mother of Jesus and his brothers.”
    • V. 15—e)pi\ to\ au)to/, in context of the ~120 (12 x 10) disciples mentioned parenthetically
  • Acts 2:46: “According to (the) day [i.e. daily], being strong/steadfast toward (each other) with one impulse in the sacred place [i.e. Temple], breaking bread according to (the) house, they took/received meat with (each other) in joyfulness and smoothness/simplicity [lit. without a stone/pebble] of heart.”
    • V. 44, 47—two instances of e)pi\ to/ au)to/: the first, a reference to the believers being/living together and holding all things in common; the second, a climactic reference to the community of believers, which was being added to (with new members/converts) each day.
  • Acts 4:24: “And the (believer)s having heard, with one impulse (they) took up voice toward God and said…”—in response to the arrest, and subsequent release, of Peter and John narrated in 4:1-22.
    • V. 26—e)pi\ to/ au)to/ cited from Psalm 2:2, referring to the opposite of Christian unity: earthly rulers come/join together against God and His Anointed (Christ).
  • Acts 5:12: “…and they were all (together) of one impulse in the pillared (porch) of Shelomoh [Solomon]”—a notice following the response to “signs and wonders” which occurred “through the hands of the apostles”.
  • Acts 7:57: “and crying (out) with a great voice, they pressed together [i.e. shut] their ears and rushed (together) with one impulse upon him…”—referring the the angry mob that attacks Stephen following his speech (7:2-53) and visionary claim (v. 55-56).
  • Acts 8:6: “and the crowds had (care) toward the (things) related under [i.e. by] Philip, with one impulse, in their hearing and seeing the signs which he did”—here, no doubt, the gentler “of/with one mind” would be a bit more appropriate.
  • Acts 12:20: Here o(moqumado/n is used in a political/diplomatic sense, of the representatives of Tyre and Sidon who came to Herod “of/with one mind/impulse” to seek peace.
  • Acts 15:25: “It seemed (good) to us, (having) come to be of one mind/impulse, to send toward you men gathered out [i.e. chosen] (along) with our beloved Paulus and Bar-Nabas”—part of the letter from the Jerusalem church in 15:22-29.
  • Acts 18:12: “…the Yehudeans [i.e. Jews] with one impulse stood against Paulus and led him upon the step (of judgment)”—o(moqumado/n in a hostile, anti-Christian sense, as in 7:57.
  • Acts 19:29: “and the city was filled with (people) poured-together [i.e. confusion], and they rushed (angrily) with one impulse into the show-place [i.e. theatre]…”—another instance of hostile usage.

The only other New Testament use of the word is in Romans 15:6:

5And (may) the God of remaining-under [i.e. patience/endurance] and calling-alongside [i.e. help/comfort] give to you the self(-same) thinking [i.e. to be of the same mind] in/among one another, according to (the) Anointed Yeshua, 6(so) that of one impulse in/with (a) single mouth you might give honor/esteem to [i.e. glorify] the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed.

Here unity is clearly connected to our relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, and manifest in terms of confession and worship. Yet, the dynamic quality of this relationship—such as in the basic, elemental sense which underlies qumo$/o(moqumadon—remains. The New Testament usage, summarized above, can be clarified further into two different primary aspects:

  1. Acts of fervent, communal worship—positive, applied to the early believers
  2. Description of a agitated crowd pressed together and rushing to action—mainly negative, applied to opponents/enemies of Christ

This very much demonstrates the two sides of unity experienced by the early Church, and, indeed, by faithful believers throughout history.


Note of the Day – June 9

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An important theme of the early chapters of Acts (chs. 1-7) is the unity of believers. This is described in a sequence of introductory/summary passages which punctuate the narratives in these chapters. The main references are:

  • Acts 1:14, part of a transitional passage (vv. 12-14) that follows the Ascension narrative (vv. 6-11).
  • Acts 1:15-26, an introductory, pattern-setting narrative which details the ‘reconstitution’ of the Twelve apostles, and containing a speech by Peter.
  • Acts 2:1, introduction to the Pentecost narrative (2:1-13).
  • Acts 2:42-47, a summary/transitional passage following Pentecost speech by Peter (vv. 14-40).
  • Acts 4:23-31, a narrative which runs, in many ways, parallel to that of 1:15-26, confirming the mission of the apostles and other believers.
  • Acts 4:32-37, a summary/transitional passage, which also serves to introduce the Ananias/Sapphira narrative (5:1-11).
  • Acts 5:42, summary verse to the narrative in 5:17-41 (for similar summary verses, see 2:41, 47b; 4:31[b]; 6:7).
  • Acts 6:1-6, a short narrative describing the first challenge to unity among the Jerusalem believers (note also the summary in v. 7).

It is only after the death of Stephen, and the onset of persecution (8:1-4, cf. also 11:19), that the (local/geographical) unity of the believers is broken—ironically, the dispersion/scattering (8:4) served to inaugurate the early Christian mission to the wider world outside of Jerusalem and Judea. Here are some key points in the descriptions of unity surveyed above:

  • They were devoted to prayer (1:14; 2:42; 4:31) and the teaching of the apostles (2:42; 6:4)
  • They were gathered together as a group/community in one location, which might vary “house to house” (2:1, 46; 4:31)—2:44 may also indicate some form of communal living (such as associated with the community of the Qumran texts)
  • They came together for the “breaking of bread”—common meals and/or eucharistic celebration (2:42)
  • They frequently gathered and attended in the Temple (Lk 24:53; 2:46, cf. also 3:1)
  • They held all things in common, selling possessions and providing for believers who were in need (2:44-45; 4:32, 34-37; 6:1)

There are, in particular, two expressions employed by the author of Acts to emphasize the unity of these early believers—e)pi\ to\ au)to/ and o(moqumado/n.

1. e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (epì tò autó)

This is a relatively common Greek idiom which the author of Acts (trad. Luke) uses in a distinctive manner. It is actually rather difficult to translate literally in English; the closest perhaps would be “upon the same (thing/place)”. In conventional English, it is typically rendered as “together”, in either: (a) a spatial-geographic sense [“in the same place”], (b) in terms of common identity [“for the same cause/purpose etc”], or (c) in the more generic sense of being gathered/grouped together. Where the expression occurs in the LXX, the generic or spatial sense is most likely meant (cf. Exod 26:9; Deut 12:15; 2 Sam 2:13; Ps 4:8[9]; Isa 66:17; Hos 1:11 [LXX 2:2]); a possible exception is the usage in Psalm 2:2, which would probably have been the reference most familiar to many early Christians (cf. Acts 4:25f). The expression also is used elsewhere in the New Testament in a similar manner, in Matt 22:34; Lk 17:35; 1 Cor 7:5; 11:20; 14:23; the last two references in Corinthians provide the closest context to the usage in Acts.

It is perhaps possible to trace a progression, of sorts, in the occurrences of the expression in the book of Acts:

  • Acts 1:15—here, in a parenthetical statement on the number of early believers gathered in Jerusalem, the expression is certainly used in a simple generic sense. However, the notice of the specific number—120—almost certainly is significant in relation to the symbolism of the disciples (the 12 apostles and 12 x 10) as a fulfillment/restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • Acts 2:1—here either the generic or spatial sense is primarily meant; the combined usage with the adverb o(mou= perhaps indicates the latter.
  • Acts 2:44—probably the spatial/geographic sense is meant here, i.e. the believers were living together (in the same place). To some degree, the communal life is implied, to which (by, for example, holding all possessions in common) is also attached or included a unity of purpose.
  • Acts 2:47b—this is the most difficult reference: “and the Lord set toward [i.e. added to] the (one)s being saved according to (the) day [i.e. daily] e)pi\ to\ au)to/“. The culminating expression is extremely difficult to translate accurately in context. Possibly it has the sense of “all together”, but clearly something more than simple grouping/gathering together is meant. The climactic and emphatic position of the expression suggests a deeper unity of identity and/or purpose is implied. New believers become part of the overall community, which, for the moment is spatially united (in Jerusalem and living/worshiping communally), but soon will be scattered (Acts 8:1-4; 11:19) into the wider mission field.
  • Acts 4:26—this use of the expression comes from a citation of Psalm 2:2 (mentioned above); the context is of earthly rulers taking counsel together (LXX “are led/brought together”) for a definite purpose and with hostile intent (“against the Lord [YHWH] and against his Anointed”). The expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/ translates Hebrew adverb dj^y~ yaµad, “as one, in union, together”. This is the opposite of the unity of early Christians; it is anti-Christian (i.e. unity against Christ), the joining together of enemies/opponents of Christ. The transitional narrative of Acts 4:23-31 reflects the prior arrest/interrogation of the leading apostles (in chapters 3-4) and foreshadows the challenges to unity recorded in chapters 5-6. As previously mentioned, with the execution of Stephen, and the onset of more intense persecution, hostility of enemies will break the spatial unity of believers; however, as 4:23-31 makes clear, the unity of purpose and identity remains unbroken. Perhaps it would be better to speak of unity of spirit (or Spirit), though this transcends ultimately the simple expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/.

It remains to look at the second expression for unity (o(moqumado/n), which I will do in the next day’s note.