Category

Note of the Day

Note of the Day – May 24

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Mark 1:12; Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1

Following the account of Jesus’ baptism (see yesterday’s note), we find another reference to the (Holy) Spirit, in Mark 1:12:

“And straight away [i.e. immediately] the Spirit casts him out into the desolate (land).”

The use of the verb e)kba/llw (“cast/throw out”) seems rather harsh here, and this perhaps explains the different wording in Matthew/Luke (cf. below). However, in the narrative context it is appropriate in several respects:

  • It emphasizes the (forceful) power and authority of God’s Spirit
  • It stresses the abruptness and immediacy of the action—in Mark this takes place “right away” (eu)qu/$) after the baptism
  • It effectively encapsulates the difficulty and trial Jesus is forced to face at the beginning of his ministry

In verse 13 we read: “And he was in the desolate (land) forty days, being tested under [i.e. by] the Satan, and he was with the wild animals and the (heavenly) Messengers attended him”. Matthew and Luke, of course, give an expanded account of this “testing”, in a brief and dramatic dialogue form (Matt 4:2-10 / Luke 4:2b-13, part of the so-called “Q” tradition). Matthew preserves the (Markan) detail of the helping Angels (Matt 4:11b).

Matthew and Luke each record the initial action by the Spirit differently:

“Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit, to be tested under [i.e. by] the Accuser.” (Matt 4:1)
“And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden {Jordan} and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land), being tested under [i.e. by] the Accuser for forty days.” (Luke 4:1-2a)

They both use a form of the verb a&gw (“lead, bring”), which can also have a more forceful connotation (i.e., “carry, drive,” etc), but here it is probably the leading/guiding presence and power of the Spirit that is meant. As Matthew and Luke describe the testing of Jesus in some detail, there is less reason to speak of his being cast/thrust out into the desert; rather, in this context there is greater importance to the idea of the guiding (and protecting) role of the Spirit. The image of the desolate land or “desert” (e&rhmo$) is also significant, full of symbolism from ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition; there is a two-fold aspect:

  • as a place where prophets and people encounter God—e.g., Hosea 2:14-15, and of course the Exodus/Sinai tradition as a whole; cf. also 1 Kings 19, etc.
  • as a place of dangerous beasts and deities (“demons”/evil spirits)—Lev 16:10; Isa 13:21; 34:14, etc.

For Jesus, it is primarily a place of testing under the power and influence of the Adversary or Evil One, called according to the two traditional titles:

  • Hebrew /f*c* (´¹‰¹n), an opponent or adversary, especially in the context of one who brings a charge or accusation in (the heavenly) court. Though rare in the Old Testament, there is certainly evidence for the tradition of a specific heavenly being who takes this role (Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2, 4, 7; Zech 3:1-2), becoming much more common and prominent in texts of the post-exilic period. This word is typically transliterated in English (“Satan”), and often in Greek as well (Satana=$, as in Mk 1:12).
  • Greek dia/bolo$ (diábolos), literally one who “casts through” or “throws across” (from the verb diaba/llw), usually in terms of creating separation or opposition; specifically, the verb was often used in the negative (hostile) sense of accusation, slander, misrepresentation, deception, etc. In English idiom, we might say “one who casts suspicion”, “one who spreads lies”, etc. As a title, it is customarily transliterated into English as “Devil”.

The Spirit in Luke 3-4

There is a greater emphasis on the Spirit in Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

  • Lk 4:1a—”And Yeshua, full [plh/rh$] of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden {Jordan}…”
    The adjective plh/rh$ (“full, filled [with]”) is especially common in Luke-Acts, with the expression “full of the Spirit” also occurring in Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24. For a similar expression with the related verb plh/qw, cf. Luke 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9.
  • Lk 4:1b-2—”…and he was led in the Spirit in the desolate land forty days, being tested…”
    For Jesus and believers being “in [e)n] the Spirit”, cf. Luke 2:27; 10:21; Acts 19:21; note also Lk 1:17, 80. The idea of being led by the Spirit is common in the New Testament, though the specific expression occurs only rarely (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18).
  • Luke 4:14—”And Yeshua turned back in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl {Galilee}…”
    For the important combination of the (Holy) Spirit and power (du/nami$), cf. Luke 1:35; Acts 1:8; 10:38, and also in Rom 1:4, etc; note also the juxtaposition in Lk 1:17.

This leads into the scene at Nazareth where Jesus reads from Isa 61:1f (Lk 4:18): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”. For the Spirit coming upon [e)pi/] Jesus and other believers, note the occurrences in Luke 1:35; 2:25; 3:22; Acts 1:8; 2:17-18; 10:44-45; 11:15; 19:6. There is a clear chiastic structure to the Holy Spirit references in Luke 3-4, demonstrating how integral the theme is to the overall narrative:

  • Lk 3:22—The Holy Spirit came down upon [e)pi/] him (Baptism/Anointing)
    • Lk 4:1a—He turned back [u(pe/streyen] full of the Spirit
      • Lk 4:1b-2—in the Spirit in the desert—being led by the Spirit—testing by the Devil
    • Lk 4:14—He turned back [u(pe/streyen] in the power of the Spirit
  • Lk 4:18—The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi/] him (Anointing)

Note of the Day – May 23

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

The Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11; Matt 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34)

The next passage in the Gospel tradition referring to the Holy Spirit is the account of Jesus’ baptism. This is narrated in all three Synoptic Gospels (Mark 1:9-11; Matt 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22), as well as indirectly in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:26-28, 29-34). Mark provides the simplest narrative of the common tradition:

“And it came to be in those days (that) Yeshua came from Nazaret of (the) Galîl and was dunked into the Yarden {Jordan} under [i.e. by] Yohanan. And, straight away, stepping up out of the water he saw the heavens split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [i.e. coming down] into/unto him; and there came to be a voice out of the heavens (saying), ‘You are my (be)loved Son, I think good in [i.e. think well of] you’.”

There are three elements of the baptism scene:

  • The heavens splitting open (in Matt/Luke, the heavens are “opened [up]”)
  • The (holy) Spirit coming down to Jesus in the form/likeness of a dove
  • A voice from heaven which declares Jesus to be God’s Son

Each version has slight differences, but the basic sequence of events is the same. The account in John is different still (the baptism itself described by the Baptist only in vv. 32-34), though it certainly derives from the same historical tradition. Interestingly, in John’s version it is the Baptist, not a voice from heaven, who declares that Jesus is God’s Son (“I have seen and witnessed that this is the Son of God”). Let us specifically compare the descent of the Spirit in all four versions:

  • Mark 1:10: “…he [i.e. Jesus] saw the heavens being split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down unto/into [ei)$] him”
  • Matt 3:16: “…and, see! the heavens were opened [for him] and he saw [the] Spirit of God stepping down as if [i.e. like] a dove [and] coming upon [e)pi/] him”
  • Luke 3:21-22: “There came to be…(the) opening up of the heaven(s) and (the) stepping down of the holy Spirit in bodily [swmatiko/$] appearance as a dove upon [e)pi/] him”
  • John 1:33: (God’s words to John) “(the one) upon whom you should see the Spirit stepping down and remaining upon him…”, confirmed by the earlier verse 32: “I looked (and saw) the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven and remaining upon him”.

All four use the verb katabai/nw (lit. “step down”, i.e. “come down, descend”)—this is a basic narrative verb, but it is given special theological significance in the Gospel of John (cf. below). The descent of the Spirit is also described as something which is seen, though with some variation in the four accounts:

  • In Mark, it is Jesus who sees the heavens open and the Spirit descend as a dove; there is no indication that this is visible to anyone else.
  • In Matthew, it is simply stated that the heavens were opened, but again it is Jesus who sees the Spirit descending.
  • In Luke’s account, it would seem that the entire event was visible to all; this is reinforced by his specific reference to the Spirit coming “in a bodily appearance” as a dove.
  • In John, the Baptist sees the Spirit descending upon Jesus, with the important detail that the Spirit remains on him.

We can also see how the Gospels variously identify the Spirit here: (1) “the Spirit” (Mk, Jn), (2) “the Spirit of God” (Matt), (3) “the Holy Spirit” (Lk), indicating that, by the period of 60-70 A.D. (at the latest), all three could be used interchangeably. This is confirmed by Paul’s terminology in his letters, and indeed through the rest of the New Testament, though the expression “the Spirit of God” increasingly becomes less common (cf. 1 Jn 4:2).

It is hard to say just how this event (the descent of the Spirit) was understood in the earliest layers of Gospel tradition. The idea and imagery are not developed much in Mark’s Gospel, nor, we may assume, in the core Synoptic tradition; by contrast, the declaration of Jesus as God’s Son is much more prominent (Mk 1:1; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61; 15:39 pars; Matt 4:3, 6 par; 14:33; 16:16; 27:43; Lk 1:32, 35). The presence of God’s Spirit in relation to Jesus takes on greater importance in the Gospel of Luke, in light of the increased emphasis on the Holy Spirit throughout Luke-Acts (as we shall see), and even more so in the Gospel of John. Here, I point out just two examples of a wider theological/Christological interpretation of the symbolism in these two Gospels:

1. Jesus as one who is anointed with the Spirit. This is an important theme in Luke, for which there is some parallel in Matthew (cf. Matt 4:1; 12:18, 28), doubtless indicating a level of Christological development by the time these Gospels were written (c. 70 A.D.). However, I would also maintain that Luke, in emphasizing Jesus as one anointed by the Spirit of God, is simply drawing upon early Gospel tradition, which identified Jesus first as an Anointed Prophet. I have discussed this in considerable detail in my recent series “Yeshua the Anointed” (cf. Parts 23). In particular, Luke brings out the association of Jesus with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff, both in the key passage of the episode at the Synagogue in Nazareth (Lk 4:18ff), and again in Lk 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6). Jesus is specifically said to have been anointed by God with the Spirit in Acts 10:38 (cf. also Acts 4:27-28). There is further Lukan support for understanding the baptism in terms of anointing by God in the variant (Western) reading at Lk 3:22—there, instead of declaring “You are my beloved Son, I think good in you”, Psalm 2:7 is cited: “You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)”. In Psalm 2, the ruler is said to be God’s “anointed” (j^yv!m^), and the psalm as a whole was often given a Messianic interpretation, both in Judaism and early Christianity.

2. katabai/nw and a)nabainw. In the Gospel of John, these two related verbs (“step down”, “step up”), used frequently in narration (“go/come up/down”), take on a unique theological (and Christological) meaning. The verb katabai/nw encapsulates the idea of Jesus’ coming to earth in human form (incarnation), having been sent by God from heaven—cf. Jn 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58. Correspondingly, the verb a)nabai/nw can refer to Jesus’ exaltation and return to the Father—Jn 3:13; 6:62; 20:17; there may be a play on words implicit in Jn 2:13; 5:1; 7:8, etc. John 1:51 combines both verbs in an image of Jesus (the Son of Man) which clearly is meant to parallel the baptism account; I have discussed this enigmatic saying of Jesus in an earlier note.

Finally, it is interesting to consider the specific symbol of the Spirit as a dove, since there is no certain precedent for this association in the Old Testament or Israelite/Jewish tradition at the time of Jesus. Commentators have pointed out passages such as Genesis 1:2; 8:8, and Song of Songs 2:12 as possibly having relevance. Luke describes this aspect of the baptism scene as a concrete (“bodily”) manifestation of God’s Spirit, similar in certain respects to the theophany in Acts 2.

Note of the Day – May 22

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

The saying of John the Baptist regarding Jesus and the Holy Spirit is found five times in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, as discussed in the previous note—three times as part of the triple tradition (Mark 1:7-8 / Matt 3:11 / Luke 3:16) and twice as a saying of Jesus in Acts (Acts 1:5; 11:16). It is also preserved independently in the Gospel of John.

John 1:26-27, 30, 33

The Fourth Gospel’s account of Jesus’ Baptism is unique in that it is only narrated indirectly as part of John the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus (1:19-34ff). Interestingly, the saying corresponding to Mark 1:7-8 par is presented as two (separate) sayings by the Baptist, in verses 26-27 (also v. 30) and 33:

John 1:26-27 John 1:233
“I dunk you with water; (but) in your midst has stood (one) whom you have not seen [i.e. known], the (one) coming behind me, of whom I am not worth (enough) to loosen the straps of the (shoe) bound under (his) feet.” “And I did not see [i.e. know/recognize] him, but the (one) sending me to dunk in water, that one said to me, ‘(the one) upon whom you should see the Spirit stepping down and remaining upon him—this is the (one) dunking in (the) holy Spirit’.”

This may indicate that separate sayings have been combined together in the Synoptic tradition. The first saying has different wording in John, but it shares with Mark (and Matthew) especially the phrase “the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] behind me [o)pi/sw mou]”. The use of o)pi/sw mou (“behind me”) has suggested to some commentators that the historical Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist prior to embarking on his own ministry. However, the context of the Gospel narratives as they now stand indicates no more than that Jesus appeared in public later than John, and with less prominence. The Synoptic version(s) of the saying emphasize the actual superiority of Jesus three ways:

  • The declaration that Jesus is stronger/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$] than John
  • John’s admission that he is not (worthy) enough [i(kano/$] to handle the shoes of Jesus
  • The contrast (me\nde/ construct in Matthew/Luke) between John baptizing in water, and Jesus baptizing in the holy Spirit

The Johannine version of the sayings include all three as well, though it is the first that is emphasized, with quite different language. Instead of the (comparative) adjective “stronger/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$]”, it is stated that neither John the Baptist nor the people in the crowds have seen (i.e. recognized) Jesus. This is important, for it indicates that only by way of divine revelation is Jesus’ identity (and his presence) realized (cf. Matt 16:16-17 for a comparable passage in the Synoptics). This revelation is narrated in verse 33, followed by the Baptist’s testimony “I have seen and have witnessed…” (v. 34). The saying in verses 26-27, in which John declares the superiority of Jesus, is repeated in modified form in verse 30 (also earlier in v. 15), again using different language:

“The (one) coming [e)rxo/meno$] behind me has come to be in front of me, (in) that [i.e. because] he was first (ahead) of me” (v. 15)
“A man comes [e&rxetai] behind me who has come to be in front of me, (in) that [i.e. because] he was first (ahead) of me” (v. 30)

Here the saying has been given a deeper theological (and Christological) interpretation. This involves a sequence of three key verbs:

  • “he comes [e&rxetai] behind me”
  • “he has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of me”
  • “he was [h@n] first (ahead) of me”

I have discussed this construction in some detail in an earlier note; here I will simply point out the essential significance of these verbal phrases in the context of the Johannine view of the person of Jesus:

e&rxetai (“comes”)—there are two aspects to note:

(1) The Gospel of John frequently refers to Jesus as one who has come (using the vb. e&rxomai) from God; specifically, in the Johannine prologue it is used for the divine Logos coming into the world (Jn 1:9), which primarily means the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. Within the Gospel context, his public life and ministry begins with his baptism by John.
(2) The wider Gospel tradition inherited the Messianic title of “the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$]”, drawn largely from Malachi 3:1ff (cf. also Psalm 118:26) and applied it to Jesus. This is at the center of the question of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus in early Gospel tradition, which I have discussed in an earlier article. Its use in the Baptism scene identifies Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), i.e. God’s representative (Prophet/Messenger) whose appearance will precede and usher in the end-time Judgment. In the later scene of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where Psalm 118:26 is cited, the title signifies Jesus as an Anointed King and Ruler from the line of David.

ge/gonen (“has come to be”)—in the Johannine prologue (Jn 1:1-18) the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) is used exclusively in the sense of created beings coming into existence (esp. being born); as applied to the pre-existent person of Christ, the divine Logos, it refers to his incarnation (“the Logos came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh”, Jn 1:14).

h@n (“was”)—again, in the prologue, the verb of being ei)mi is used essentially in relation to the life and presence of God (esp. Jn 1:1-2); within the content of Johannine Christology, it is a keyword indicating the deity of Jesus.

The portion of the saying dealing with Jesus dunking (baptizing) in the Holy Spirit differs from the Synoptic in two ways:

  • There is no mention of fire (Matt/Luke “…in the holy Spirit and fire“); indeed John has virtually removed the eschatological context of God’s coming Judgment (Mark 1:2-4; Matt 3:7-10, 12 par) from the narrative.
  • It follows directly after the reference to the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus (to be discussed in the next daily note). This emphasizes the presence of the Spirit (“coming down and remaining upon him”) in relation to Jesus’ identity—as Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God (v. 34).

Interestingly, it is only in the Gospel of John that we actually read of Jesus doing anything like baptizing his followers in the Spirit; this is in Jn 20:19-23, the climactic scene of Jesus with his disciples after the resurrection:

“…even as the Father has set me forth from (Him), so I (am) send(ing) you. And saying this, he blew [i.e. breathed] in/on (them) and said to them: ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit…'” (vv. 21b-22)

This should be taken as indicating what the Gospel writer (and/or his tradition) understood by ‘dunking/baptizing in the Spirit’. However, there are several other passages in the Gospel where Jesus refers to the Spirit in the context of water, and which may involve the symbolism of baptism. In Jn 4:7-26 and 7:37-39 Jesus declares that he is the source of living/eternal water, which may be identified with the Spirit (4:23-24; 7:39); here the emphasis is on the believer drinking of the water/Spirit. More directly relevant, perhaps, is Jn 3:5-6, where Jesus brings together the idea of being born out of water and out of the Spirit. Many commentators have seen here a reference to baptism—the believer is baptized both by water (the baptism ritual) and the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8:12-17, 38-39 v.l.; 10:44-48; 11:15-17; 19:2-7). I am inclined to give somewhat more weight to the specific narrative context of the passage, i.e. as referring to a contrast between physical birth out of the mother’s womb (i.e. out of water) and spiritual birth (cf. Jn 1:12-13). Even so, the water/Spirit parallel is clear enough, and the person of Jesus—his teaching, work, and life-giving power—is specifically associated with the giving of God’s Spirit.

 

Note of the Day – May 21

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

The first passage referring to the (Holy) Spirit in the Synoptic Tradition comes from a saying/declaration by John the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), which is certainly among the very oldest/earliest to be preserved in Christian tradition. The age (and authenticity) of the saying is confirmed by the fact that it is recorded no fewer than six times in the Gospels and Acts, having been transmitted independently in at least two (or more) strands of tradition. Moreover, while John the Baptist has a central place in the earliest Gospel narrative, he soon disappeared from Christian tradition generally—he is never mentioned in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts, and only once in the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-150 A.D.), as part of a simple Gospel/creedal formula (Ignatius, Smyrneans 1:1, cf. Rom 1:3-4). Thus the prominence of John in the primitive Gospel narrative and kerygma is virtually a guarantee of authenticity.

Mark 1:7-8 (par Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16)

Mark’s short account of John the Baptist and his ministry (Mk 1:2-8), which precedes the Baptism of Jesus (vv. 9-11), climaxes with the core saying in vv. 7-8:

“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of (the shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit [e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|].”

Matthew and Luke provide a more extensive account, including additional sayings and teachings by John:

  • His words to the crowds (Matt 3:7-10 / Luke 3:7-9), exhorting them to repentance; in Matthew this is directed specifically to Pharisees and Sadducees in the crowd (v. 7).
  • The ethical instruction in Luke 3:10-14
  • The saying in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17 (cf. below).

The saying corresponding to Mk 1:7-8 is in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16. Here the three versions are presented side-by-side for comparison, with the main elements in Matthew/Luke which differ from Mark indicated by italics:

Mark 1:7-8 Matthew 3:11 Luke 3:16
“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit.” “I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]; but the (one) coming behind me is stronger than me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bear/carry the (shoe)s bound under (his feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.” “I dunk you in water; but the (one) stronger than me comes, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”

The main difference between Mark and Matthew/Luke is twofold:

First, the syntax of the saying in Matthew/Luke sets the reference to Jesus as the one coming (who is greater than John) in the middle of the contrast between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit:

  • I dunk you in water
    —the one who comes (who is stronger)
  • He will dunk you in the Holy Spirit (and fire)

This contrast is further establish by the use of a me\nde/ construct (i.e., “on the one hand…on other hand…”), which I did not especially bring out in the translation(s) above. The result of this framework, by implication, is that baptism in the Spirit is based on the superiority of the person of Jesus as “the one (who is) coming”. For more on this, cf. below.

Secondly, Matthew and Luke both add “and (in) fire [kai\ puri/]”. This emphasizes the coming/future Judgment of God upon humankind (cf. Matt 3:7ff par), and leads in to the added saying in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17 (cf. below). It also results in the thematic triad:

WaterSpiritFire

all of which are associated with purification and cleansing in Old Testament tradition. Cleansing by water is common enough (Num 8:7; 19:12; Ps 51:2; Ezek 16:4; 36:25; Zech 13:1, etc), and the imagery is occasionally extended to the (symbolic) pouring out of the Spirit of God (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25-26). Fire is also used as a symbol of purification; in addition to the idea of burning up garbage and refuse, there is the metallurgic imagery, whereby base metal is refined and its impurities removed through fire—cf. Psalm 12:6; Isa 4:4-5; 48:10; Dan 11:35; 12:10; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3. Offerings and objects consecrated to God are also burned with fire (Ex 29:18, 34, etc; Deut 13:16; Josh 6:24). These three elements (water, fire, and the Holy Spirit) are combined in the text 1QS 4:20-21 from Qumran (cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX [AB vol. 28], p. 474); note the relevant details:

  • It will occur at the (end) time of God’s visitation—i.e., an eschatological setting
  • God will purge the deeds of humankind by His Truth
    • refining (by fire) a portion of humankind (i.e., the righteous/chosen ones)
    • removing every evil spirit from their flesh
    • cleansing them from wickedness with (the) holy Spirit
    • sprinkling them with the Spirit (as with water)
  • The righteous ones are cleansed with the Spirit of Truth

The fire in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17 more properly refers to the coming Judgment. The threshing/winnowing separates the righteous and the wicked—perhaps more accurately it separates the wicked from the righteous (cf. 2 Kings 13:7; Prov 20:8, 26; Isa 21:10; 27:12; 30:24; 41:16; Hos 13:3; Mic 4:12-13; Hab 3:12; Jer 4:11; 15:7; Dan 2:35). The ominous closing reference to being burned up “with fire unquenchable” (puri\ a)sbe/stw|) is likely an allusion to Isa 66:24 (cf. Mark 9:43, 48 par). It may draw upon the image of the garbage-burning and furnaces of the Ge-Hinnom (Valley of Hinnom).

The importance of the saying in Mark 1:7-8 par ultimately lies in the identification of Jesus as the (end-time) figure through whom God will visit His people and bring Judgment upon humankind. This is marked by three elements in the passage:

  • Jesus is the one who comes [e&rxetai] (or the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$]). This almost certainly derives from Malachi 3:1ff, which proved to be a central Messianic passage in the early Gospel tradition. I have discussed this in some detail in prior notes and articles.
  • He is greater/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$] than John. Luke sets the saying by John (Lk 3:16-17) in the narrative context of questions by the people as to whether John might be the Anointed One (Xristo/$, “Christ/Messiah”). As I have discussed previously, the term “Anointed One” here likely refers to an end-time Prophet according to the type of Elijah, who will precede the visitation and Judgment of God (Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6). Vv. 16-17 are said to be John’s answer to this (cf. Jn 1:19-27).
  • He will baptize people with the Holy Spirit. Already in the Old Testament Prophets, the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon His people is seen as a mark of the coming New Age (Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 39:29; cf. also Zech 12:10). For the association with the Judgment of God, cf. above. In Acts 2:14-21, the prophecy of Joel 2:28-29 is said to have been fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

It should be noted that the saying by John the Baptist is recorded twice more, in Acts 1:5 and again in Acts 11:16, though in both these passages it is presented as a saying of Jesus, which would seem to indicate a separate tradition:

“…that Yohanan {John} dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit after not many of these days [i.e. in a few days].” (Acts 1:5)

(Peter speaking) “and I remembered the utterance of the Lord as he said, ‘Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit’.” (Acts 11:16)

This raises the intriguing question as to whether (or to what extent) the words attributed to John in Mark 1:7-8 par in the Gospel narrative have been shaped by a saying of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is not possible to delve into this possibility in these notes; I leave it as something to ponder.

Finally, the Baptist’s saying is also attested in the Gospel of John, but with important differences, which will be dealt with in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – May 20

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

In honor of Pentecost, celebrating the coming of the (Holy) Spirit upon the first believers (cf. Acts 2:1-13ff), I will be presenting a series of Daily Notes examining all the references to the Spirit in the Gospel Tradition—i.e., the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, as well as a survey of passages in the book of Acts.

With regard to the earliest layers of the Gospels and Christian tradition, it is sometimes difficult to be sure precisely what is meant when the word pneu=ma (pneúma) is used. This is due in large measure to the basic range of meaning in the word itself. The root verb pne/w fundamentally signifies “to blow”, as of the wind in nature, or the breath of a living being, these being generally related—according to the ancient (mythological) worldview, the wind could be understood or described as the “breath” of a deity. The noun pneu=ma, like the related pnoh/, refers to something blowing (or “breathing”); specifically this can mean: (a) wind or breeze, (b) breath of a living being (esp. a human being), (c) the life force/essence which animates a living being (i.e. soul/spirit), or (d) a personal/personified life-essence (“breath”), i.e. an invisible deity or “spirit-being” which animates the natural world. The Hebrew word j^Wr (rûaµ) has a similar range of meaning.

Frequently in the Old Testament, j^Wr refers to the “breath/wind/spirit” of God (YHWH)—Gen 1:2; 6:3; 41:38; Ex 31:3; 35:31; Num 24:2; Judg 3:10; 6:34, et al. Primarily this signifies the presence and power of YHWH in relation to his people, especially to the prophets and rulers of Israel. There is no real indication in Old Testament tradition that the “Spirit” of YHWH is a distinct person; however, according to the ancient mindset, the attributes (power, wisdom, holiness, etc) and/or manifestation of a deity were often personified. The “Messenger” of YHWH is perhaps the most common and notable example of this religious phenomenon in the Old Testament—often it is hard to know for certain whether the tradition understands this as separate being (“Angel”) or the manifestation of YHWH himself. Early Christians, including the Gospel writers, inherited this idea of the Spirit of God. Naturally, holiness was a fundamental attribute and characteristic of God’s Spirit, though the term “Holy Spirit” (lit. “Spirit of Holiness”) itself is quite rare (Psalm 51:11; Isa 63:10-11; cf. also Dan 4:8-9, 18; 5:11), becoming more common in later Jewish writings. It is quite in keeping with the phenomena of ancient Near Eastern religion that the Holiness of God would come to be personified or understood as a person.

In the New Testament, the word pneu=ma (as “breath, spirit”) is primarily used three ways:

  1. The animating life-breath or ‘soul’ of a human being, i.e. “spirit” (with a lower-case “s”)
  2. The Spirit of God (YHWH), according to Old Testament and Israelite/Jewish tradition
  3. A distinctive Christian understanding of God’s Spirit, in relation to the person of Jesus Christ and God the Father (YHWH)

For the most part, as we shall see, it is the second meaning that is most common in the Gospel tradition. Occasionally there is some uncertainty whether the first or second meaning is intended. Only in a few places do we find clear evidence for the third (Christian) meaning. By the time of the later New Testament writings (c. 70-95 A.D.), use of pneu=ma, with or without the qualifying adjective a%gio$ (“holy”), almost always indicates the Holy Spirit in the uniquely Christian sense.

In these Daily Notes, I will be adopting the following approach, looking at references to the Spirit in:

  • Passages or sayings of Jesus common to the Synoptic tradition (generally using the Gospel of Mark as a reference-point)
  • The Gospel of Luke (along with parallels in the Gospel of Matthew)
  • The Gospel of John
  • A survey of passages in the book of Acts, along with several key references from early Christian tradition elsewhere in the New Testament

Note of the Day – April 4

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

This is the last in the series of daily notes for Easter Season, during which we have explored the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and John. Today’s note is on Acts 7:55-56—the last Son of Man verse in Luke-Acts, and one of only four occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” outside of the Gospels (the others being Heb 2:6 [quoting Ps 8:4ff] and Rev 1:13; 14:14 [referring to Dan 7:13]).

Acts 7:55-56

Most of the Son of Man sayings in Luke relate either to: (1) Jesus’ suffering and death, or (2) his exaltation to Glory (and future return in Judgment). As I have previously discussed, the use of “son of man” in the first instance would seem to identify Jesus specifically with humankind in its mortality (weakness, suffering and death); in the second, he identifies himself as the Divine/Heavenly figure (of Daniel 7:13ff) who will appear at the end-time Judgment by God. These two aspects of the expression “Son of Man” are present during the night of Jesus’ arrest and “trial” before the Sanhedrin (Lk 22:22, 48 and Lk 22:69), and also in the Angelic announcement of Lk 24:7 where the predictions of Jesus’ Passion (Lk 9:22, 44-45; 18:31-33) are connected with the Resurrection.

When we turn to the book of Acts, the theme of Jesus’ suffering (and death) continues—both with regard to the message that is proclaimed by the disciples (Acts 1:16; 2:23ff; 3:13-15, 17-18; 4:10, 27-28; 5:30 etc), and as a pattern for their own experience of suffering and persecution (cf. throughout chapters 3-7), predicted by Jesus himself (Lk 12:11-12; 21:12-19). So also the theme of Jesus’ exaltation (cf. below). Acts 7:55-56 represents the climactic moment of the Stephen narrative, which spans chapters 6-7:

  • 6:1-7: Introduction, setting the stage for the conflict
  • 6:8-15: The conflict with Stephen, including his arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin
  • 7:1-60: The Sermon-Speech and Execution of Stephen
    • 7:1: The question of the High Priest to Stephen, which serves as the immediate narrative introduction to the Speech
    • 7:2-53: The Sermon-Speech of Stephen (for a detailed examination of this speech, cf. my earlier article)
    • 7:54-60: The response to the Speech and Execution of Stephen
  • 8:1a: Transitional verse, mentioning Saul/Paul’s role in the execution
  • 8:1b-4: Narrative summary describing the onset of Persecution (led by Saul)

Of the three major scenes in Acts which show the early believers in conflict with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-42), it is the Stephen narrative which most clearly follows the pattern of Jesus’ Passion. The parallels (some more precise than others) may be outlined as follows:

  • Stephen was “full of faith/trust and the Holy Spirit” and “full of the favor (of God) and power” (Acts 6:5, 8)
    —Jesus likewise, at the beginning of his ministry (Lk 4:1), was said to be “full of the Holy Spirit”; cf. also Lk 4:14 and Lk 1:15, 17; 2:40.
  • Stephen did “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8)
    —Cf. especially the notice of Jesus’ miracles in Acts 2:22
  • It is stated that Stephen’s opponents “did not have strength to stand against the wisdom and the Spirit in which he spoke” (Acts 6:10)
    —Cf. Luke 20:26, etc; 21:15
  • The accusation of blasphemy (i.e. insult/slander against God) (Acts 6:11)
    —The declaration of the High Priest (Mark 14:64 par), implied in Lk 22:71
  • Stephen’s opponents “stirred together” the crowds etc. against him (Acts 6:12)
    —The Jewish authorities “shook up” the crowds against Jesus (Mark 15:11, not in Luke)
  • “They seized him and led him into the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12b)
    —Cf. Luke 22:52, 54, 66; 23:1, also the specific mention of “Elders and Scribes” (Lk 22:66)
  • False witnesses give testimony, involving the Temple (Acts 6:13)
    —False witnesses against Jesus rel. to the “Temple-saying” (Mark 14:57-59 par, not in Luke)
  • The claim that Jesus would destroy the Temple (Acts 6:14)
  • Stephen stands in the middle of the Council (cf. Luke 22:66)
  • The question by the High Priest regarding the truth of the accusations (Acts 7:1)
    —The specific question in Mark 14:60 par (not in Luke); cf. also Mk 14:61 par; Lk 22:67, 70
  • Stephen’s vision of the Son of Man (Acts 7:55-56)
    —Jesus’ answer to the Council regarding the Son of Man (Lk 22:69 par; in Matt/Mark, seeing the Son of Man)
  • The reaction of the Council (including tearing their garments) (Acts 7:52; Mark 14:63-64 par, cf. Lk 22:71)
  • Stephen is taken outside of the city to be put to death (Acts 7:58, cf. Lk 23:26, 33)
  • Stephen’s dying words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59)
    —Jesus’ dying words: “Father, into your hands I place [i.e. give] along my spirit” (Lk 23:46)
  • Stephen asks God to forgive those putting him to death: “Do not hold up this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)
    —Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness on the cross (Lk 23:34 [not in some MSS])
  • After Stephen’s death “there came to be… a great persecution upon the Church” (Acts 8:1)
    —After Jesus’ death “there came to be darkness upon the whole land” (Luke 23:44)

From a narrative standpoint, these parallels illustrate vividly the disciple following in Jesus’ footsteps, even to the point of death (Lk 5:11, 27-28; 9:23, 57-62; 18:22, 28; 21:12-19; 22:39, 54; 23:27, 49 pars; cf. also Mk 10:38-40, etc). Let us compare specifically the Son of Man parallel:

Jesus’ saying (Lk 22:69):

“From now on, the Son of Man will be sitting out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of the power of God”

The formula in Mark/Matthew is:

“[From now] you will see the Son of Man sitting out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of the Power, and coming with/upon the clouds of Heaven

The declaration by Stephen (in Acts 7:56) is:

“I behold the heavens opening through and the Son of Man standing out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of God

The preceding narrative in verse 55 adds the following details: (1) he saw the glory of God, and (2) Jesus is specifically identified as the Son of Man (“Jesus standing at the right hand of God”).

The use of the verb dianoi/gw (“open through[out], open thoroughly”) is interesting, as it appears to be a favorite of Luke’s—7 of the 8 occurrences in the New Testament are in Luke-Acts, and five of these refer to the knowledge and awareness of Jesus, and of coming to faith, etc. Note:

  • Luke 24:31—”and their eyes were opened through [dihnoi/xqhsan] and they knew upon [i.e. recognized] him…”
  • Luke 24:32—”Were our hearts not burning [i.e. being set on fire] [in us] as he spoke with us in the way, as he opened through [dih/noigen] to us the Writings [i.e. Scriptures]?”
  • Luke 24:45—”Then he [i.e. Jesus] opened through [dih/noicen] their mind for th(eir) bringing together the Writings [i.e. understanding the Scriptures]”
  • Acts 16:14—”a certain woman {Lydia}… of whom the Lord opened through [dih/noicen] (her) heart”
  • Acts 17:3—Paul gathered through [i.e. discussed, argued] with them from the Scriptures, “opening through [dianoi/gwn]…that it was necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer and stand up (again) out of the dead, and that this Yeshua is the Anointed (One)…” (cf. Luke 9:22; 24:7, 26, 46)

The early chapters of Acts (chs. 1-7) are still connected in many ways with the Gospel narrative, so it is fitting perhaps that they close with this vision by Stephen of the Son of Man, a fulfillment of the sayings by Jesus such as that in Luke 22:69. His vision confirms the reality of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of God) and of his identity as the divine/heavenly Son of Man. Christ’s presence in heaven at God’s right hand was a common motif in early Christian tradition (Acts 2:25, 33ff; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3, etc), largely influenced by Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13). The remainder of the book (chapters 8-28), on the other hand, narrates the spread of Christianity outside of Judea, out into the wider Greco-Roman world, and thus focuses more precisely on the message (the Gospel) of Jesus, and how people respond to it. If Stephen saw a vision of heaven “opened”, that is, the revelation of God in the person of Jesus, so also do believers have their hearts and minds “opened” to the truth, and, in turn, proclaim the message of Christ to others, “opening” and explaining the Scriptures.

Note of the Day – April 3

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

In today’s note for the third day of Easter (Easter Tuesday), I continue the study of the Son of Man saying in John 1:51, begun yesterday (for more on the Son of Man sayings in John, cf. the earlier note). Here I will be looking more specifically at the meaning of the saying in the context of the Gospel narrative.

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon the Son of Man”

In the previous note, I explored four images or traditions which seem to be especially relevant for an interpretation of the saying, based on similarities in language and concept: (1) the baptism of Jesus, (2) the resurrection/ascension, (3) his (future) coming in glory, and (4) the dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. It must be admitted, however, that none of these are sufficient, nor do they entirely fit the position and context of the saying in John. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the narrative and thematic structure of the Gospel, in order to gain a better understanding of the ultimate significance of the saying. I will proceed, briefly, according to the following outline:

  1. The location of the saying, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
  2. Its connection with the other Son of Man sayings in John
  3. Its possible purpose as a comprehensive symbol

1. The Location of the Saying

After the hymnic prologue of Jn 1:1-18, the first main section of the Gospel is Jn 1:19-51, which has, as its primary theme, the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus. The section may be divided as follows:

  • vv. 19-28—the Baptist’s testimony regarding himself (“I am not…”)
  • vv. 29-34—the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus
    • account of the Baptism (vv. 31-33)
  • vv. 35-42—disciples respond to the Baptist’s testimony and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Peter)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 41-42)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 42)
  • vv. 43-51—disciples respond to the testimony of other (disciple)s and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Nathanael)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47-51)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 51)

The saying in Jn 1:51 thus concludes this opening section of the Gospel. In the previous note, I mentioned several parallels with the Baptism of Jesus, and, given the position of the saying in relation to the Baptism (and the Baptist’s testimony) in this section, it is likely that some sort of allusion is intended. Interestingly, and altogether typical of John’s Gospel, the Baptism is not narrated as something that people observe directly—it is only “seen” through the verbal account (or word) of the Baptist. Similarly, throughout this section “seeing” Jesus is intimately connected with hearing and responding to the message of the Baptist and the first disciples (vv. 34, 36, 39, 46). In Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47ff), he also “sees” based on what Jesus says to him; note, in particular, the wording:

“Jesus responded and said to him, ‘(In) that [i.e. because] I said to you that I saw you underneath the fig-tree, you trust (in me)? (Thing)s greater than these you will see!” (v. 50)

This interplay between “seeing” and “saying” should caution us against the simple assumption that a concrete visible event is intended in v. 51. That the saying concludes the first section (1:19-51) means that it also marks the beginning of the next—that is to say, the core narrative of the Gospel spanning chapters 2-20. Commentators typically divide this into two main parts:

  1. Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”, in which the narrative alternates between accounts of miracles and teaching (discourses) by Jesus—the miracle (sign) often serving as the basis and starting point for the discourse which follows (cf. especially in chapters 5, 6, and 9). All but the first and last of the Son of Man sayings are found in these chapters.
  2. Chapters 13-20, which narrate the Passion (and Resurrection) of Jesus—chapter 13 (a Last Supper scene similar to that in the Synoptic tradition) leads into the great Discourses in 13:31-16:33, concluding with the remarkable Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17.

The last Son of Man saying in John (13:31) opens the Discourses which are set at the beginning of the last major section of the Gospel (chs 13-20). It seems likely that the first Son of Man saying (1:51) is meant to have a similar transitional role in the structure of the Gospel narrative.

2. The other Son of Man Sayings

For a survey of the other Son of Man sayings in John, cf. my earlier note. As mentioned above, all but the first and last sayings occur in chapters 2-12, which is significant for two reasons:

  • They are part of the Discourses of Jesus in these chapters, marked by a unique style of teaching—a statement or action by Jesus is misunderstood by the audience, leading to a pointed question, and the subsequent response (and exposition) by Jesus, answering the question at a deeper level of meaning. This process of redirection and reformulation always involves Jesus’ identity—his Person and Teaching—as the Son in relation to God the Father. Where they occur, the Son of Man sayings (esp. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 32, 34) are central and climactic to the Discourse.
  • They point toward the death and exaltation (resurrection, return to the Father) of Jesus described in chapters 13-20. Indeed, the principal sayings all have a dual-meaning, centered on Jesus’ death/resurrection. The sayings which refer to the Son of Man being “lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) or being “glorified” (Jn 12:23; also 13:31) have both aspects in mind.

The dualism of these sayings is best demonstrated in those which use the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (“step down”, “step up”), as in Jn 1:51. The saying in 3:13 is followed by that of v. 14 (which speaks of the Son of Man “lifted high”); the sayings in Jn 6:27, 53, 62 have a more complex reference matrix, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse (6:25-66). In schematic form, we might outline the dualism as follows:

  • With the Father in Heaven (Divine Pre-existence)
    • Descent (“stepping down”) from Heaven (Incarnation)
      • Death—being “lifted up” on the cross
        • Glorified—Life—Father-Son (Jn 13:31)
      • Resurrection—lifted/raised from the dead
    • Ascent (“stepping up”) into Heaven (Exaltation)
  • Return to the Father in Heaven

According to this outline, the last Son of Man saying (Jn 13:31) reflects the central, inner dynamic of the Father-Son relationship and identity, governed by the verb doca/zw (“give honor/esteem/glory”, i.e. “glorify”). If this is correct, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the first of the Son of Man sayings (Jn 1:51) is parallel to this in some way, and may reflect the outer dynamic—the ascent/descent. Again, this would seem to be correct considering the use of the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw in 1:51. However, in that first saying, it is not the Son of Man descending/ascending, but rather of Angels (“Messengers of God”) ascending/descending on the Son of Man.

3. A Comprehensive Symbol?

I am very much inclined to the view that the saying of John 1:51, in its particular position within the structure of the narrative, is intended primarily as a symbolic picture that effectively encompasses the entire Gospel—a framing device representing beginning and end, much like the “Alpha and Omega” (A and W) of Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 (another Johannine work, with definite parallels in thought and language to the Gospel). Here are some points I would cite in favor of this interpretation:

  • The clear parallels with the Baptism (cf. the previous note), which marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (descent/incarnation); the location of Jn 1:51 also strongly suggests an allusion to the Baptism.
  • Similar parallels with the Resurrection (ascension), which effectively marks the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.
  • Similarities to descriptions of the Son of Man coming in glory at the end-time (esp. in the Synoptic tradition); however, the Gospel of John understands the Son to have had this position and glory prior to his incarnation/birth as a human being (i.e. divine pre-existence). This means, in the Johannine context, that such images cannot refer only to Jesus’ exaltation and future return, but to a reality that encompasses and transcends the entire process of descent/ascent (cf. above).
  • The saying in Jn 1:51 is part of a parallel, between the beginning and end of the Gospel, expressed by the encounter of two disciples (Nathanael and Thomas) with Jesus, and involving parallel confessions:
    —Jn 1:49: “You are the Son of God | you are the King of Israel!”
    —Jn 20:28: “My Lord | my God!”
    It is possible that these confessions themselves together form a bracketing chiasm:
    “Son of God” (in a Messianic context)
    —”King of Israel” (i.e. Anointed Davidic Ruler)
    —”My Lord” (Jesus as Messiah/Lord, cf. Ps 110:1)
    “My God” (Deity)
    Each of the confessions also includes a response by Jesus (Jn 1:50-51; 20:29) related to disciples/believers seeing him.
  • In the Gospel of John, “seeing” often signifies a level of spiritual perception (or of faith/trust) that is different from visual observation (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:3; 6:36, 46; 9:37-41; 11:9, 40; 12:45; 14:7, 9, 17, 19; 17:24; 20:29, etc). It is likely that the declaration “you will see” (o&yesqe) does not refer to a concrete, visible event, but rather to the recognition and realization of Jesus’ true identity—the Son who reveals and leads the way to the Father. This, of course, is also related to “seeing” the Son in terms of being with him, in his presence, as other instances of the verb o)pta/nomai, o&ptomai/o&yomai would indicate (esp. Jn 16:16-17, 19, 22). As a concluding observation that “seeing” in Jn 1:51 signifies something more than a concrete vision, note the parallel with 20:29:
    • “because I said to you that I saw [ei@don] you… you trust?
      you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God… upon the Son of Man” (1:51)
    • “because you have seen [e(w/raka$] me you trust?
      Happy/blessed are the ones not seeing [i)do/nte$] and (yet) trusting!” (20:29)

In both Jn 1:51 and 20:29, the eventual seeing by the believer is contrasted with the disciple believing on the basis of an extraordinary or miraculous experience. Even the concrete evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (in the case of Thomas) should not be relied upon as the basis for faith and trust in Christ, but rather the word that bears witness to him and the Spirit that draws us to him.

 

 

Note of the Day – April 2

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Today, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), and following the theme of these seasonal daily notes, I will be examining the Son of Man saying in John 1:51. In an earlier note (for Holy Saturday), I surveyed all of the Son of Man sayings in John, noting three main categories:

  • Sayings which speak of the Son of Man being “lifted high” (using the verb u(yo/w)—Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34
  • Sayings involving the descent/ascent of the Son of Man (verbs katabai/nw, a)nabai/nw)—Jn 3:13; 6:22, 53, 62
  • Sayings which refer to the Son of Man being glorified (vb. doca/zw)—Jn 12:23, 31

John 1:51 generally belongs to the second category. All of these sayings refer in some way to Jesus’ death, and also relate to the two-fold sense in which the Son is “lifted up”, according to the symbolism and imagery in John—(1) his death on the cross, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father).

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon [e)pi] the Son of Man”

This saying has proven sufficiently difficult and obscure for commentators throughout the years, resulting in a wide range of possible interpretations. A fundamental question is whether the saying should be taken as a concrete prediction, or a symbolic picture. If the former, then one must ask to which specific event or episode it refers; there are three possibilities—(1) a supernatural event witnessed by the disciples (similar to the Transfiguration), but otherwise unrecorded, (2) the resurrection and/or ascension, or (3) the future/end-time appearance of Christ. Given the similarities with key eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics, the third option makes most sense; however, it does not especially seem to fit the context where the saying is set in John. If we are to understand the saying primarily as a symbolic picture—whether by the Gospel writer or Jesus himself—then there a number of possible associations or allusions which may be in mind. I summarize the most relevant and important of these here (cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, pp. 89-91):

The Baptism—There are two details in the (Synoptic) account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10 par) which are especially relevant:

  • The Holy Spirit, in the form/shape of a dove, descends [lit. “steps down”] upon Jesus, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51. Also, the versions in Matthew/Luke specifically use the preposition e)pi (“upon”) and narrate the episode as something observable by all the people (in contrast with Mark’s account). John does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but provides a comparable (indirect) description as part of the Baptist’s testimony (cf. Jn 1:32).
  • In the descent of the Spirit, the heavens are said to separate; in Matthew/Luke (Matt 3:16; Lk 3:21), the verb used is a)noi/gw (“open up”) as in Jn 1:51.

Matthew 16:27-28 par—Matthew’s version of a core Son of Man saying in Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) begins: “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his Messengers [i.e. Angels]…” and concludes with the specific formulation:

“…there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see [i&dwsin] the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (note the parallel in Lk 9:27: “…until they should see the Kingdom of God”, and also Lk 23:42 v.l.)

Several points should be made about the context and significance of this passage:

  • The reference is to the end-time Judgment, and (in the developed Gospel tradition) to the parousia (or second coming) of Jesus.
  • It is positioned directly between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (a vision of Jesus in glory witnessed by several of the disciples). Moreover, in both Synoptic tradition and Jn 1:19-51, the Son of Man saying follows soon after Jesus gives Peter his new name (Matt 16:18; Jn 1:42).
  • The Son of Man is associated with Angels in a number of sayings, all eschatological and emphasizing the end-time Judgment—Matt 13:41ff; 16:27 par; 24:30-31 par; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also Matt 4:6 par; 26:53.

The Resurrection/Ascension—Note especially the following:

  • In Mark 16:4 of the Old Latin MS Bobiensis (k), it is narrated that angels descend to Jesus and ascend with him (cf. also the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter §§36-40).
  • The appearance of Angels in the Synoptic tradition, associated with the Resurrection (variously described, Mk 16:5-7; Matt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7) and the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11) of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it is stated that the Angel “stepped down” out of heaven, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51 (cf. above).
  • John does not record a visible ascension of Jesus, but note Jn 20:17: “…I step up [a)nabai/nw] toward my Father”.

An allusion to Genesis 28:12—In Jacob’s dream-vision at Bethel, he sees Angels ascending and descending on the ladder; in the LXX “ascending and descending” uses the same verbs (a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw) as Jn 1:51.

  • There is a traditional Jewish interpretation which understands the Angels ascending/descending on him (i.e. Jacob), cf. Genesis Rabbah 69:3 (in 68:12 Jacob is seen as being simultaneously in heaven).
  • The Targums (cf. Onkelos) express the idea that the shekinah—the visible manifestation and/or personification of God’s glory—was on the ladder. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (mid-2nd century A.D.), we find the earliest evidence for the interpretation that Christ was on the ladder (86:2).
  • Bethel as the “House of God”, i.e. the rock/stone which symbolizes the Temple and its foundation. In Jn 2:19ff (not long after the saying in 1:51), the Temple is identified with Jesus’ own person (and body), specifically in connection with his death and resurrection.

These are the most plausible associations with Jn 1:51, based on similarities of language and imagery—(1) the account of Jesus’ baptism, (2) his resurrection/ascension, (3) his return in glory at the end-time Judgment, and (4) the theophanic dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. In the next note I will look a bit more closely at Jn 1:51 in terms of its likely meaning and purpose within the context and structure of the Gospel narrative.

Note of the Day – April 1 (Easter)

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Luke 24:6-7

The last occurrence of the expression “the Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke is found in the Resurrection narrative (Luke 24), as part of the Angelic announcement (vv. 5-7) to the women on Easter morning. Luke follows the early Gospel tradition of women (including Mary Magdalene) being the first to witness the empty tomb, and the authenticity of this tradition would seem to be quite secure (on entirely objective grounds). The Synoptics also record the presence of Angels at the tomb who announce the resurrection, but here the specific details vary considerably between the three accounts. Most notable is the difference in the announcement itself (cp. with Mark 16:6-7), which includes similar points of reference (in italics):

“Do not be astonished! You seek Yeshua the Nazarean, the (one) put to the stake [i.e. crucified], but he has been raised—he is not here!” (Mk 16:6)
“(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living (one) with the dead (ones)? [He is not here, but has been raised!]” (Lk 24:5b-6a)

So also in the second half of the declaration:

“but go under [i.e. go back] and say to his learners [i.e. disciples] and to ‘Rock’ {Peter} that he goes before you into the Galîl {Galilee}—there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mk 16:7)
“remember how he spoke to you while he was yet in the Galîl {Galilee}, saying… (Lk 24:6)

In Luke, the context and direction of the Angelic announcement has changed significantly—intead of referring to the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee (cf. Matt 28:16-20), it refers back to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Lk 9:22, 43-45; 18:31-34 par) while he and his disciples were still in Galilee. As discussed in previous notes, these Passion predictions all involve the identification of Jesus as the “Son of Man”. Let us compare the formula here in verse 7 with the three earlier statements by Jesus:

Lk 24:7

“saying (of) the Son of Man that it is necessary (for him) to be given along into the hands of sinful men and to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified], and to stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day”

Lk 9:22

it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s and to be removed from examination [i.e. rejected] from [i.e. by] the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials [i.e. Priests] and Writers [i.e. Scribes], and to be killed off [i.e. put to death], and to be raised on the third day

Lk 9:44

“For the Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men

Lk 18:31b-33

“…and all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] about the Son of Man will be completed: for he will be given along into (the hands of) the nations, and he will be treated in a childish (way) and will be abused and will be spat on, and whipping (him) they kill him off [i.e. put him to death], and he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day.

The formulation in Luke 24:7 blends elements from all three predictions, as indicated by the italicized portions above. The phrase “into the hands of sinful men” comes from the second prediction (Lk 9:44), but without the qualifying adjective “sinful” (cf. Mark 14:41 par). The phrase “be put to the stake” simply specifies the manner in which he is to be “killed off”, i.e. put to death (cf. Matt 20:19). The Lukan version of the third prediction (Lk 18:31-33) includes the detail that the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of Man (Jesus) is a fulfillment of Scripture (“the things written by the Prophets”). This becomes an important point of emphasis in the remainder of Luke 24, and subsequently throughout the book of Acts. Indeed, each of the three episodes in the Resurrection narrative includes a comparable statement regarding Jesus’ Passion in this manner:

  • Lk 24:1-12: The Disciples at the empty tomb — the Angels’ announcement (v. 7, cf. above)
  • Lk 24:13-35: The Appearance to Disciples on the road to Emmaus (v. 26)
  • Lk 24:36-49: The Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem (v. 46)

As discussed above, the first statement (echoing the Passion predictions) uses “Son of Man”, while the last two (by Jesus) instead use “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$):

  • Lk 24:26: “Was it not necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer these (thing)s and to come into his glory?”—Jesus is said to demonstrate this, explaining the Scripture passages in “Moses and all the Prophets” (v. 27)
  • Lk 24:46: “…thus it has been written (that it is necessary) for the Anointed (One) to suffer and to stand up out of the dead on the third day”—this also was explained to his disciples from passages “in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms” (vv. 44-45)

The last of these statements, in particular, echoes verses 6-7 and the earlier Passion predictions, especially if we include Jesus’ words from v. 44:

“These are the words which I spoke to you, being yet [i.e. while I was] with you, that it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (thing)s written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms….”

The declarations by Jesus in 24:26 and 44-46 make two points which are fundamental to the early Christian Gospel preaching (as recorded in the book of Acts):

  1. That Jesus is the Anointed One (o( Xristo/$), and in a sense rather different from the type-figure of Anointed Davidic Ruler (as typically understood in Messianic thought of the period). Cf. my current series “Yeshua the Anointed”, esp. Parts 68.
  2. That the suffering and death (and resurrection) of Jesus—that is, of the Anointed One—was prefigured and foretold in the Scriptures. This means that it can be demonstrated by a study and exposition of the relevant Scripture passages; Luke never indicates just what these are, but for a list of likely candidates, cf. my earlier article.

Of the numerous references in the narrative of Acts which indicate the importance of this theme, cf. especially Acts 1:16; 2:31ff; 3:18, 20; 8:32-35; 9:22; 10:43; 13:27; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:22-23; 28:23.

Note of the Day – March 31

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Today for Holy Saturday and the Vigil of Easter, I am moving away from the Gospel of Luke to explore the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. In examining the expression “Son of Man” in Luke (and the Synoptic tradition), we have seen it used by Jesus four different ways—(1) as a self-reference, a substitute for “I”; (2) to identify himself as a human being or with the human condition, especially in terms of weakness, suffering and death; (3) in reference to his Passion; and (4) as a heavenly being who will come (again) to judge the world at the end-time. In some ways, all four uses are interrelated or connected in the Synoptics, and so also in the Gospel of John; however the sayings in John tend to have a more specific Christological emphasis, and may be grouped into three main categories:

1. The Son of Man “lifted high”—Here the verb used is u(yo/w (“make/place high”, i.e. “raise, lift up”):

  • John 3:14: “so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai]”—the comparison is with the ‘fiery’ copper/bronze serpent lifted by Moses (on a pole) which brought healing (from the burning snakebite) to all who looked at it (Num 21:9); the reference is primarily to Jesus’ death (on the stake/cross), but almost certainly has his resurrection and exaltation in mind as well (cf. below). This is described in terms of salvation: “…so that every one trusting in him might have (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”.
  • John 8:28: “when you (have) lifted high [u(yw/shte] the Son of Man…”—the formulation here (“when you…”) indicates more precisely Jesus being put to death (on the stake/cross), but again the subsequent exaltation is also in view. Throughout the discourse(s) of chapters 7-8, Jesus has been expressing, in various ways, his relationship to (and identification with) God the Father; here specifically Jesus states that when they have lifted up the Son of Man “…then you will know that I am, and I do nothing from myself, but just as the Father taught me, (so) I speak these things”. In verse 26, this is also described in terms of judgment, which is associated with the eschatological Son of Man figure of many of Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptics.
  • John 12:32: “and if I am lifted high [u(ywqw=] I will drag all (people/things) toward me”—this is related to the previous sayings (especially 3:14), as well as to the Son of Man saying in 12:23 (cf. below). The context is specifically that of Jesus’ impending death (and resurrection), again relating to the promise of salvation and eternal life (vv. 24-25, 27-28, 33, 36).
  • John 12:34: “you say that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high…”—this is part of a question to Jesus from the crowd, referring (in context) to verse 32, but more properly it cites the saying in 3:14 (above). There is a clear connection with the “Anointed (One)”, and expresses some confusion on the part of the people in the crowd as to just what Jesus means by the expression Son of Man—”…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

These are the only instances of the verb in John; for similar usage elsewhere, cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31.

2. The Son of Man “descending and ascending”—The verbs involved are katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (literally “step down” and “step up”), and are commonly used in the Gospel narrative (“go up” etc), especially a)nabai/nw for “going up” to Jerusalem. However, they take on an important theological/Christological connotation in John; apart from these Son of Man sayings, cf. Jn 1:32-33; 20:17, and the play on words in Jn 2:12-13; 6:16; 7:8, 10, 14; 10:1; 11:55; 12:20.

  • John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”—on this saying, cf. below.
  • John 3:13: “no one has stepped up into heaven if not the one stepping down out of heaven, the Son of Man”—this saying is obviously related to that of verse 14 (cf. above); it identifies/contrasts a person being raised/exalted to heavenly status with one who has (first) come down out of heaven. The implication is that Jesus is not simply a human being who has been (or will be) raised to a heavenly/divine position, but was previously in heaven (with God) before coming to earth. This, of course, is stated clearly in the Prologue of John (1:1ff) and indicated throughout the Gospel by Jesus; in precise theological terms, it refers to the (divine) pre-existence of Jesus. This is made even more definite in the manuscripts which read “…the Son of Man, the (one) being in Heaven”.
  • John 6:27: “work…for the food th(at) remains in the Life of Ages [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man will give to you”
    John 6:53: “if you do not consume the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not hold Life in yourself”
    John 6:62: “then (what) if you should behold the Son of Man stepping up [a)nabai/nonta] (to) where he was (at) the first?”
    These sayings are part of the great Bread of Life discourse in John 6:27-71, which I have discussed in considerable detail in prior articles. Especially noteworthy are the references to the bread that has come down (lit “stepped down”) from Heaven (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58), which in context clearly symbolizes Jesus (the Son of Man) who has stepped down from Heaven (i.e. the incarnation), and who will soon step back up into Heaven (back to the Father) from whence he came (v. 62). As in 3:13 (above), this indicates a pre-existent, heavenly status in relationship to God, and must be understood in light of the many references throughout the Gospel—especially in the discourses of chapters 13-17—where Jesus speaks of the Son coming from and going (back) to the Father. There is, of course, eucharistic symbolism in the bread—broken down into the dual image of eating his body and drinking his blood—which connects these sayings specifically with Jesus’ sacrificial death.

3. The Son of Man “glorified”—These sayings (using the verb doca/zw, “esteem, honor”, i.e. “give glory, glorify”) combine elements of categories 1 and 2 above, and also unite more precisely the two aspects of the Son of man being lifted up—(a) his death (on the cross), and (b) his exaltation (resurrection/ascension) and return to the Father:

  • John 12:23: “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified [docasqh=]”—as indicated above, the primary context in this passage is to Jesus’ upcoming death.
  • John 13:31: “Now the Son of Man is glorified [e)doca/sqh], and the Father is glorified in him”—this saying effectively begins the great Discourses of chapters 13-17, and is tied throughout to the idea that Son is about to go away: a dual-layered reference to his death and his return to the Father. Similarly, Jesus’ coming again (and the disciples’ seeing him again) should be understood on these two levels—i.e., (1) of his appearance after the resurrection, and (2) his future (and permanent) appearance, either in terms of the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete or Jesus’ own end-time/future return (or both).

For additional occurrences of the verb doca/zw in reference to Jesus (or the Son) being glorified, cf. John 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10.

There are only two other Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John:

  • John 5:26-27: “For (even) as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave the Son to hold life in himself; and he [i.e. the Father] gave him authority [e)cousi/a] to make judgment, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the Son of Man”
  • John 9:35: “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (other manuscripts read “…in the Son of God“)

Both of these are set in the context of healing miracles, and thus are perhaps closer to the Son of Man sayings which occur in the Synoptics (from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative) during the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The first saying draws on the on the figure of Son of Man as Divine/Heavenly Judge, familiar from a number of the Synoptic sayings (in Luke) we have been examining during this series. The second saying also has a reference to Jesus’ role in judgment (vv. 39-41), but overall the emphasis is on his healing/saving power.

Finally, we must mention John 1:51, which is almost certainly the most difficult of all these sayings:

“You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”

There have been many and varied attempts at interpreting this apparently ambiguous utterance by Jesus. Because of its important position as the first Son of Man saying in John, and because, in my view, it is meant (by the Gospel writer) as a specific image that frames/binds the start of Jesus’ ministry (chapter 2) with the end of it (his Passion/Resurrection/Exaltation), I will be commenting on it in detail in an upcoming note (during the three days of Easter).