Note of the Day


Note of the Day – March 15

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Following close after the Transfiguration scene in Luke’s account (Lk 9:28-36, cf. the prior note), we find the second of the three Passion predictions by Jesus (Lk 9:43b-45). These three prophecies are fixed in the Synoptic tradition, being found in all three Gospels. The parallel versions of the second prediction are in Mark 9:30-32 and Matt 17:22-23. In Mark, these pronouncements by Jesus of his impending suffering, death and resurrection, punctuate the narrative fairly evenly (Mk 8:31ff; 9:30-32; 10:32-34); Luke, on the other hand, includes a considerable amount of material between the second and third prediction (Lk 18:31-34). I examined the first prediction (Lk 9:21-23) in a previous note.

Luke 9:43-45

“And as they all (were) wondering upon all the (thing)s which he was doing, he said toward his learners [i.e. his disciples]:
‘You must set/place these sayings into your ears: for the Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men‘ (Lk 9:43b-44)

The verb paradi/dwmi literally means “give along”, or, specifically, “give over”—i.e., hand over, deliver—and can be used in a positive, neutral, or negative sense. The latter is meant here; in the context of the Passion narrative, this refers to the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. Interestingly, Luke’s version of this saying refers only to the arrest/betrayal, while in Mark/Matthew the entire Passion is summarized (as in the first prediction):

Mark 9:31—”The Son of Man is being given along into the hands of men, and they will kill him off, and being killed off, with [i.e. after] three days he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again).”
Matt 17:22b-23—”The Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men, and they will kill him off, and on the third day he will be raised (up).”

It would appear that Luke has retained only the first part of the saying. In several ways, the author has enhanced the dramatic impact:

  • Jesus introduces the saying with a solemn instruction: “you must set/place these words/sayings into your ears”. In English idiom, we might say something like “let these words really sink in”. It is possible that this instruction is related to other sayings and teachings, but only the prediction of verse 44 is presented here in the narrative.
  • By retaining only the first part of the Synoptic saying, it results in an extremely terse and enigmatic announcement, which creates a sense of menace and foreboding, since it is not stated what the “men” will do to him.
  • The reaction by the disciples (v. 45) has also been expanded (cf. Mark 9:32), emphasizing their confusion and lack of understanding (and the reason for it).

It is worth considering this last point in a bit more detail, by examining the structure and syntax of verse 45:

  • “but they did not know [i.e. understand] this utterance”
    • “and [kai\] it was covered over [i.e. hidden] from them…”
      —”…(so) that [i%na] they should not perceive it”
    • “and [kai\] they feared to ask him about this utterance”

This may also be arranged as a chiasm:

  • did not know this utterance
    —it was covered over from them
    —they feared to ask him about (it)
  • about this utterance

The significance of this sentence hinges on the central, inner sub-clause: “that they should not perceive it”. The exact force of the connective particle i%na is uncertain; there are two main possibilities:

(a) it was covered over… and so (as a result) they could not perceive it
(b) it was covered over…so that they would not (be able) to perceive it

The second interpretation expresses purpose, and would certainly mark the passive form of the prior verb as a theological passive—i.e., it was hidden from them by God. The precise syntax here is almost impossible to render literally in English: an imperfect (h@n “it was [being]”) + perfect passive participle (parakekalumme/non “having been covered over”). In English we might say “it was being covered over” or “it had been covered over”, but we cannot really combine them—i.e., it had been covered over by God, and was now being covered over for the disciples in their experience. The idea that God and/or Christ would want to keep the truth hidden, or from being properly understood, may be troublesome to Christians, but it is very much present throughout the Gospel tradition (cf. Mark 4:11-12 par [citing Isa 6:9-10]), especially with regard to the so-called “Messianic secret” (Mark 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9 pars). It was not until after the resurrection that Jesus’ disciples were to understand just who he was and what many of his sayings truly meant (John 2:22, etc).

The second Passion prediction, like the first, is a saying involving the expression “Son of Man”. There is little here to add in relation to the first saying, other than to point out that the specific emphasis on the betrayal/arrest of Jesus enhances the idea of suffering—that the Son of Man should suffer. This may be meant to draw a contrast with the previous glory of the Transfiguration scene, just as the first Passion prediction could be contrasted with Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the Anointed (One)”. That the ‘Messiah’ should be given over to suffer and die would certainly be startling and difficult to understand. In this regard, note how Luke’s shortened version of the saying creates a striking (poetic) parallel:

  • the son of man (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou)
    —to be given over
    —into the hands of
  • men (a&nqrwpoi)

Earlier, I had pointed out that the main use of “son of man” in the Old Testament (Hebrew <d*a* /b#), was as a (poetic) synonym for “man” (<d*a*), as a way to express the nature and character of humankind, a human being, particularly with respect to mortality. Here we find a reverse parallel (“son of man… man”) which specifically emphasizes the suffering and death of Jesus.


Note of the Day – March 13

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Within the Synoptic tradition, the Transfiguration episode is part of a series that divides the Gospel narrative between the time of Jesus’ ministry (in Galilee) and his ministry in Jerusalem prior to his death. Using Mark as the reference point, I would outline these as follows:

  • Peter’s Confession of Jesus as “the Anointed” [Christ/Messiah] (Mk 8:27-30)
    —Instruction not to reveal it to anyone (v. 30)
  • Jesus’ first prediction of the Passion (Mk 8:31ff) [Son of Man saying]
  • Five sayings on discipleship (following Jesus), in an eschatological context (Mk 8:34-9:1) [Son of Man saying, v. 38]
  • The Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10), with reference by Jesus to his death/resurrection
    —Instruction not to reveal it to anyone (v. 9f)
  • Question and teaching regarding the (eschatological) coming of Elijah (Mk 9:11-13) [Son of Man saying, v. 12]
  • A healing miracle (Mk 9:14-28)
  • Jesus’ second prediction of the Passion (Mk 9:30-32) [Son of Man saying]
  • Question involving Jesus’ disciples and their position (Mk 9:33-34), leading to teaching regarding true discipleship and humility, including an illustration involving children (Mk 9:35-37ff, 10:13-16)
  • Request of a man [‘Rich Young Ruler’], culminates in a question of whether he will follow Jesus (Mk 10:17-22ff), followed by additional teaching for his disciples (10:23-31)
  • Jesus’ third prediction of the Passion (Mk 10:32-34) [Son of Man saying]
  • Question involving Jesus’ disciples and their position (Mk 10:35-40), leading to teaching regarding true discipleship and humility (Mk 10:41-45) [Son of Man saying, v. 45]
  • Request of a man [a blind beggar], culminates in his following Jesus (Mk 10:46-52)

We can see how the three Passion predictions punctuate and portion out fairly evenly the material in these chapters (Mark 9-10). In particular there is a loose, but clear pattern to the second and third sections. All three Synoptic Gospels share this basic outline, though, as I have already pointed out, Luke has greatly expanded the portion corresponding to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, ‘omitting’ Mk 9:42-10:12 par, and ‘adding’ all of Luke 9:51-18:14. Referring to the above outline, Luke 9:18-50 corresponds to Mark 8:27-9:41, and even more decisively marks division between the earlier (Galilean) ministry (Lk 3:23-9:17) and the journey to Jerusalem (9:51ff). This is important for an understanding of the Lukan version of the Transfiguration scene, which I will explore briefly here.

The Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36)

For students and readers of the Gospels, this episode should be quite familiar, at least in its basic outline. It is common to all three Synoptics (Mk 9:2-10; Matt 17:1-9), and Luke follows the common account, though adding a few significant and important details which are worth examining [for an additional reference to the Transfiguration, cf. 2 Peter 1:16-18].

  • Luke introduces the account with “and it came to be, eight days after these sayings…” (v. 28), instead of “and after six days…” (in Mk 9:2; Matt 17:10). The author appears to be intentionally dating the episode differently, the “eight days” perhaps being an allusion to the feast of Booths (Sukkoth, cf. Lev 23:36). This seems likely, given the greater emphasis given to motifs related to Moses and the Exodus in Luke’s version of the scene. The Sukkoth traditions (and the symbolism surrounding them) provide the context for Peter’s desire to build three tents (v. 33).
  • It is stated that Jesus went up into the mountain for the purpose of praying (v. 28b). The inclusion of this detail may be a foreshadowing of the garden scene in the Passion narrative (Lk 22:39-41ff par); prayer is also given particular emphasis throughout Luke-Acts.
  • The description of Jesus is modified slightly—Matthew and Luke (independently?) including a reference to the transformation of Jesus’ face (v. 29; Matt 17:2). Matthew states that his face “radiated (light)” [e&lamyen]; in Luke’s version “the visible-shape [ei@do$] of his face (became) other/different [e%tero$]”. It is not unlikely that an allusion to the transformation of Moses’ face (Ex 34:29) is involved here.
  • In the description of Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah, Luke adds two details (v. 31):
    (a) they were made visible before one’s eyes [vb. o)pta/nomai] in glory [e)n do/ca]—this may be an intentional echo of the Son of Man saying in v. 26 (note also v. 27 par)
    (b) they spoke with Jesus regarding “his way out [e&codo$, éxodos] which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem”—probably referring both to Jesus’ death (cf. 2 Pet 1:15) and resurrection/exaltation, which clearly connects with the surrounding (Son of Man) Passion predictions of vv. 22, 44. Use of the word e&codo$ is almost certainly an allusion to Moses and the Exodus (cf. Exod 19:1; Num 33:38; Heb 11:22).
  • Matthew and Luke each (independently?) give greater emphasis to the cloud that appears (vv. 34-35; Matt 17:5), perhaps as an allusion to the theophany at Sinai (Exod 19:16ff). This is far more likely in the Lukan version, which adds the detail that “they [i.e. the three disciples] went into the cloud“, just as Moses entered into the cloud on Sinai (Exod 24:18).
  • In Mark/Matthew (Mk 9:7; Matt 17:5), the (Divine) voice from the cloud echoes the voice at Jesus’ baptism (in Matthew they are identical)—”this is my (be)loved Son…” However, in Luke (v. 35, according to the best manuscript evidence [Ë45, 75 a B L etc]) the declaration reads “this is my Son, the One gathered out [o( e)klelegme/no$] (i.e. the Chosen One)”. Luke’s use of verb e)kle/gomai is distinctive (11 of the 22 NT occurrences are in Luke-Acts); especially noteworthy is the use of the related (verbal) adjective e)klekto/$ (“chosen”) in Luke 23:35—there o( e)klekto/$ (“the Chosen [One]”) is set parallel with o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed [One]”), being applied (mockingly by the onlookers) to Jesus while he is on the cross.

These details shape and color Luke’s version of the scene in two principal ways:

  1. Greater emphasis is given to motifs associated with Moses and the Exodus, and especially with the theophany (manifestation of God) at Sinai. This, in turn, creates a closer connection between Jesus and Moses, as well as with Elijah, who also experienced a theophany at Mt. ‘Sinai’ (Horeb) [cf. 1 Kings 19:11ff].
  2. The transfiguration is brought more clearly into the context of Jesus’ (impending) death and resurrection, as found in the surrounding Passion predictions and Son of Man sayings. Lk 9:31, in particular, effectively sets the stage for Jesus great journey to Jerusalem (to begin in v. 51ff).

Note of the Day – March 12

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Directly following the Passion prediction by Jesus (Luke 9:22, cf. the previous note), we find a sequence of five sayings (Lk. 9:23-27) which is very close to that in Mark 8:34-9:1 (par Matt 16:24-28):

  • “If any(one) wishes to come in back of [i.e. after] me, let him take up his stake [i.e. ‘cross’] according to (the) day [i.e. daily] and follow me” (v. 23, Mk 8:34 / Matt 16:24)
  • “Whoever wishes to save his soul [i.e. his life] will destroy it [i.e. cause it to perish], but whoever would destroy his soul [i.e. let it perish] will save it” (v. 24, Mk 8:35 / Matt 16:25)
  • “What [i.e. how] is a man aided [i.e. how does he benefit], gaining the whole world but destroying or injuring himself?” (v. 25, Mk 8:36 / Matt 16:26)
    [Note: a literal rendering here is somewhat misleading — the idiomatic language is that of commerce, i.e. financial profit vs. loss]
  • The Son of Man saying (discussed below) (v. 26, Mk 8:38 / Matt 16:27)
  • “There are some (indeed) standing on th(is) same (place) [i.e. here] who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see the kingdom of God!” (v. 27, Mk 9:1/ Matt 16:28)

It should be noted that Jesus need not have uttered all of these sayings together in sequence, on a single occasion. Early Gospel tradition developed largely by way of combining together sayings and teachings of Jesus on the basis of a common theme or wording. Here, the first four sayings all relate to what we might call the “cost of discipleship”, that is, of following Jesus. Originally, the sayings would have applied to those who would follow Jesus during his earthly ministry, but they soon were understood clearly in terms of being a Christian. The middle three sayings involved the idea of (heavenly) reward for following Jesus, certainly with the context of the divine tribunal and the end-time Judgment in mind. The eschatological emphasis is made abundantly clear in the last two sayings, though the apparent declaration of an imminent end in the final saying (less pronounced in the Lukan version) remains problematic for readers today.

It is the fourth saying which involves the expression “the Son of Man” [o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou], and this is what I will be looking at briefly in today’s note.

Luke 9:26 (par. Mark 8:38)

Here is Luke’s version of the saying:

“For whoever would feel shame on (account of) me and my words, the Son of Man will feel shame on (account of) this (person) when he should come in his glory and (that) of his Father and the holy Messengers”

For comparison, here is the version in Mark 8:38 (differences between the two being italicized):

“For whoever would feel shame on (account of) me and my words in th(is) adulterous and sinful (period of) coming to be [i.e. generation], the Son of Man also will feel shame on (account of) him [i.e. that person] when he should come in the glory of his Father with the holy Messengers”

On the (critical) theory that Luke has utilized Mark’s version, the author may be seen as simplifying the first half (omitting “in this adulterous and sinful generation”), and modifying the second. The second half of Mark’s version is far less awkward; it also would seem to make much better sense for Jesus to say “in the glory of his Father, with the holy Messengers”. Luke’s version of that clause may be intended to express a clearer sense that Jesus himself would be coming in (his own) glory—”in his (own) glory, and (that of) his Father and the holy Messengers”. A more traditional-conservative explanation might resort to the idea that both versions are (somehow) accurate translations from an Aramaic original; but exactly how this might be is rather hard to envision. The corresponding saying in Matt 16:27 is quite different:

“For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his holy Messengers, and then he will give from (him[self]) [i.e. give over, give away] to each (person) according to his actions/deeds”

Only the first clause is shared by Mark (and Luke). It is possible that Mark’s version reflects a merging of two (originally) separate sayings; or, perhaps, Matthew (if the author is utilizing Mark) has modified or replaced the saying to better fit the context of the prior verses. Interestingly, Luke has a parallel (doublet) version of verse 26 in 12:8-9 (also in Matt 10:32-33):

“…every one who would give account as one [i.e. agree/consent] on me in front of men, the Son of Man will give account as one [i.e. agree/consent] on him in front of the Messengers of God; but the one denying me in the eyes of [i.e. before] men will be denied in the eyes of [i.e. before] the Messengers of God”

This saying has the definite context of the heavenly court and divine tribunal (of the Last Judgment), with the holy Messengers (i.e. “Angels”) as witnesses. Here, however, it is not so clear that Jesus himself is meant to be taken as the same person as the “Son of Man”. If a saying such as that in Matt 16:27 were combined (in the early tradition) with a saying like Luke 12:8-9, it might well have resulted in an apparent conflate saying such as Luke 9:26/Mark 8:38. Consider that Matt 16:27 and Luke 12:8-9 are both clear and straightforward, expressing two different (but related) aspects of the end-time Judgment by God:

  • Matt 16:27—The Son of Man will appear in glory, along with the Angels, to oversee the Judgment, i.e., render to each human being according to his/her deeds in this life.
  • Luke 12:8-9—The human being appears in court (in Heaven), before the divine tribunal, and in presence of the Angels (members of the ‘Heavenly Court’); again the Son of Man oversees the Judgment. Here the basis of judgment is more clearly Christian—a person’s deeds are defined in terms of whether he/she publicly confessed or affirmed Christ, or, by contrast, whether he/she denied Christ. Very likely this test relates to persecution believers would face in their lifetime on account of Jesus.

It is readily apparent that Mark 8:38/Lk 9:26 combine both aspects:

  1. Mk 8:38a/Lk 9:26a generally matches the situation of Lk 12:8-9, though the test of affirming/denying Jesus is made only in the negative, as “feeling shame on (account of)” Jesus and his words (i.e. the Gospel).
  2. Mk 8:38b/Lk 9:26b corresponds with Matt 16:27a, emphasizing only the appearance of the Son of Man, in glory, along with the Angels at the end-time. However, the idea of judgment on the basis of a person’s deeds (Matt 16:27b) is clear enough from the context of Lk 9:23-25 par, and is defined in terms of faithfulness, devotion and perseverance in following Jesus.

In all of these instances, the Son of Man is present according to two distinct roles or images:

  1. Appearing in (Divine) glory along with the Angels at the end-time. The expression “in the glory of his Father” should be understood in two important respects:
    (a) The Son of Man functions as God’s own representative—that is, God himself is manifest to human beings at the end-time in the person of the Son of Man
    (b) There is an implication, at the very least, that the title “Son of Man” is related in some way to the “Son of God”
  2. As the One overseeing the end-time Judgment of God, which, according to Scriptural motifs and concepts, can be seen as taking place: (a) on earth (the “day of YHWH”, involving judgment/subjugation of the nations), or (b) in heaven before the Heavenly court and Divine tribunal.

Both of these roles will discussed in more detail later on. It is also worth noting here that, in these passages under examination (Luke 9:26 / Mark 8:38, along with Matt 16:27; Lk 12:8-9), it is not entirely clear that Jesus and the “Son of Man” are to be identified as the same person. This should be kept in mind, even though such an identification was, I believe, certainly made by Jesus himself (at the historical level) in at least a number of the Son of Man sayings, and was without question the understanding of early Christians and the developed Gospel tradition. These points and questions will be elucidated further in subsequent notes and articles.

Following the (eschatological) saying in Luke 9:27 (par Mk 9:1/Matt 16:28), all three Gospels record the Transfiguration episode. Even though this episode does not feature the expression “Son of Man”, it is vital to the structure of the Gospel narrative, leading (especially in the Lukan version) toward the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, and so will be examined in the next daily note.


Note of the Day – March 10

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

The first “Son of Man” saying in Luke which I will be examining in this Easter season note (cf. the prior introduction) is Luke 9:22—the first of three Passion predictions in Synoptic tradition where Jesus is recorded announcing (prophetically) his own suffering and death. For an earlier treatment of these Passion predictions, see the notes from April 10, 11, and 12 last year.

Luke 9:22

In all three Gospels, this first statement follows Peter’s confession of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$, ho christós, i.e. “the Christ”). I have just begun a series of articles on the idea of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (‘Christ, Messiah [j^yv!m* m¹šîaµ]’). The episode in Luke 9:18-20 (par Mark 8:27-29; Matt 16:13-16), culminating in Peter’s confession, is central to this identification in early Gospel tradition. Here, for the first time, Jesus’ own disciples begin to come to grips with who he is (note the question, “who do you count/reckon me to be?”); Peter clearly gives the answer. In fact, it may be possible to detect a development of Gospel tradition right in this passage. If we compare the three [Synoptic] versions (Mk 8:29 / Lk 9:20 / Matt 16:15-16), each has an identical question by Jesus: u(mei=$ de\ ti/na me le/get ei@nai; (“and who do you count/reckon me to be?”); however, Peter’s answer differs somewhat:

  • Mark has the shortest and simplest version:
    su\ ei@ o( xristo/$ “you are the Anointed (One)”
  • Luke’s version contains a bit more:
    to\n xristo\n tou= qeou= “(you are) the Anointed (One) of God
  • In Matthew it is expanded considerably:
    su\ ei@ o( xristo/$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= tou= zw=nto$
    “you are the Anointed (One), the son of the living God

In the view of many critical scholars, the italicized portions reflect subsequent belief about Jesus in the early Church, rather than Peter’s own words per se—that is, as a kind of gloss or commentary on Peter’s statement. Certainly it is most unlikely that Peter had in mind a developed doctrine of Christ’s deity at such an early stage; however, it is certainly possible for an Israelite or Jew in the first century to have understood an Anointed figure (Messiah) as the “son of God”, at least in a qualified sense. The Aramaic text 4Q246 from Qumran would seem to confirm this (col. ii, line 1, cf. Lk 1:32, 35). Bear in mind also that Matthew records Peter’s answer (stated by Jesus) to be an inspired utterance by God (Matt 16:17)—i.e. Peter may well have not understood the full force of what he was saying. Following this confession, the Synoptic tradition has the interesting notice that:

“putting a charge upon them, he gave along the message [i.e. instructed them] to tell this to no one” (Lk 9:21, par. Mk 8:20 / Matt 16:20)

On purely objective grounds, this instruction not to tell anyone he was the Anointed One (Messiah)—the so-called “Messianic secret”—must be historical and factual; it is extremely unlikely that such a tradition would have been produced (subsequently) by the early Church. Various suggestions have been made by commentators as to why Jesus would want to keep his identity a secret; perhaps the most reasonable (and best) explanation is that it would (prematurely) result in the expectation that he would fulfill a particular idea of the Messiah—i.e., as a Davidic ruler who would restore the (earthly) kingdom of Israel (cf. Lk 17:20; 19:11; Jn 6:15; Acts 1:6, etc). Many of Jesus’ sayings and teachings about the kingdom (of God) reflect a very different idea. In any event, a follower who expected Jesus to fulfill the eschatological role of a triumphant Messiah-king, would certainly have been shocked by the Passion prediction by Jesus which comes in the next verse. I set the Lukan version side-by-side with Mark/Matthew in the context of the Synoptic tradition:

Luke 9:22

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

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

Mark 8:31

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

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

Matthew 16:21

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

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

In the Lukan version, Jesus described four things which will happen, presented by a string of (aorist) infinitive forms. Here is the structure of the sentence:

  • dei= “it is necessary”
    • to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou “(for) the Son of Man”
      {the sequence of infinitives follows, linked by polla\ [“many things”, i.e. suffer many things]}
    • paqei=n “to suffer (many things)”
    • a)podokimasqh=nai “to be considered unworthy, i.e. be rejected”, literally something like “to be thrown out from the test”
      —rejected by [a)po\ lit. “from”] the Elders and Chief sacred-officials (“Chief priests”) and Writers (“Scribes”), i.e. members of the Council (Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem
    • a)poktanqh=nai “to be killed (off)”, that is, “set away to be put to death”
    • e)gerqh=nai “to be raised (up) in/on the third day

If we take this statement as authentic prophecy (by Jesus), then it provides an accurate summary of the events which would take place, as recorded in the Gospel narrative:

  • paqei=n—that he would suffer “many things” (polla/), covering the next two terms as well, but also including specifically Jesus’ suffering in the garden, along with his subsequent arrest (Luke 22:39-53 par).
  • a)podokimasqh=nai—the use of the verb (a)po)dikma/zw indicates an examination, someone or something being taken under consideration or put to the test, etc. This certainly fits Jesus’ appearance before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:54-65 par). Contrary to popular belief, the meeting of the Sanhedrin presumably was not an official trial, but an ad hoc tribunal of sorts, in response to what was deemed an urgent situation. The prefix a)po indicates someone being taken away from consideration, removed from the test, i.e. being rejected, in this instance by the members of the Sanhedrin (the Elders, Chief Priests and Scribes).
  • a)poktanqh=nai—his being “killed off”, or, more precisely, being taken away and put to death—which includes all of the proceedings of the Roman governor (Pilate) leading to the execution (at the stake, i.e. crucifixion), Luke 23:1-49 par.
  • e)gerqh=nai—the resurrection, his being raised (from the dead), Luke 24:1-12ff par.

What of Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) here? Given Peter’s declaration in verse 20, we might have expected him to have responded that “it is necessary for the Anointed (“Christ”) to suffer many things…”, which is the language he is recorded as using in Lk 24:25-26, 46f, after the resurrection. Instead here he uses “the Son of Man”, as also in the other two Passion predictions (Lk 9:44; 18:31-32 par; cf. also 24:7). For the moment, I can only offer a tentative interpretation—a more complete explanation must wait until the other two passages have been discussed; but there are several possibilities which may be considered:

  1. Jesus simply uses the expression as a way to refer to himself, i.e. “the son of man” is equivalent to “I”. In a number of the Son of Man sayings, Jesus is clearly speaking of himself, and that is likely how the early tradition understood it here, judging by the parallel in Matt 16:21. There is some evidence for the use of “son of man” (<da /b / vna rb) as a circumlocution for the pronoun “I” or “you” in direct address, but it is relatively slight, and it is by no means clear that it was common practice in Jesus’ time. Such usage stems from the general or indefinite sense of the expression, i.e. “a(ny) man”.
  2. He may be identifying himself specifically with humankind, that is, in terms of his own human ‘nature’—here, especially, of mortality, including suffering and death. The idea, then, might be a kind of representative or collective identification, such as would be developed doctrinally in the early Church (cf. Romans 5:12ff; 8:3f, 17; Heb 2:10-18, etc).
  3. If he is drawing upon the image of a divine/heavenly figure (taken primarily from Daniel 7:13f; 10:5, 15), as appears to be the case in a number of the Son of Man sayings we will be examining (cf. Lk 9:26, etc), then Jesus may be indicating a striking contrast—instead of coming in (eschatological) glory and power, the “Son of Man” (that is, Jesus himself) will first suffer and be put to death. Only with the resurrection, will he appear subsequently in a glorious, victorious form.
  4. There may also be a specific contrast with Peter’s identification of Jesus as “the Anointed One” (Christ/Messiah), especially if understood in the (traditional) sense of an end-time Davidic ruler who will judge the Nations and restore the kingdom to Israel. It is abundantly clear, both from the New Testament and other Jewish writings of the period, that there was no expectation that the ‘Messiah’ would suffer and be put to death. Such an idea appears to be unique to Jesus’ own teaching, and must have come as something of a shock to his followers at the time. This is presumably the basis for the sharp exchange with Peter in Mk 8:32-33 / Matt 16:22-23, which is omitted by Luke. Of course, we cannot be sure exactly what Peter may have said; the verb e)pitima/w (also used by Jesus in Mk 8:33 [to Peter], and previously in Lk 9:21 par), has a fairly wide range of meaning—to place honor (and/or blame) upon someone, to place a charge upon someone; more generally, to rebuke, admonish, threaten, forbid, etc., depending on the context.

Note of the Day – Easter Season

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

For the remainder of Easter Season, on through Holy Week, I will be looking at selected verses and passages from the Gospel of Luke, set around the journey to Jerusalem—specifically those which involve the expression “(the) Son of Man”. Most of the references containing “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in Luke were inherited from the wider Synoptic tradition, and parallel versions can be found in Matthew and Mark as well. They will be introduced below.

The Gospel of Luke is unique among the three Synoptics in the way that the narrative is structured around the journey to Jerusalem. The common view of many New Testament scholars is that Matthew and Luke both made use of Mark as a source document. The basic hypothesis is sound, though not without certain difficulties. It may, however, safely be said that, if Luke did not use Mark, then the author clearly drew upon a document (or a developed set of traditions) which, in terms of structure and content, was very similar to Mark. For most of chapters 3-9, Luke follows Mark (chs. 1-9) in its basic narrative and arrangement of episodes, including additional material at several points. Indeed, Luke 9:1-50 corresponds with Mark 8:1-9:41, has nothing matching Mk 9:42-10:13 (except the saying in Lk 17:1-2), and then ‘picks up’ the narrative thread of Mk 10:14ff, but only at Lk 18:15. All of Lk 9:51-18:14 (nearly nine full chapters) consists, for the most part, of material not found in Mark. Lk 9:51ff contains (1) sayings and narrative sections occurring also in Matthew (so-called “Q” material), and (2) material found only in Luke among the Synoptics (so-called “L”). The “L”-material in these chapters includes many of the most famous and beloved parables of Jesus.

The fact that the “Q” sayings, etc., often occur in very different locations in Matthew strongly suggests that we are dealing with a literary, rather than historical/chronological, arrangement. The narrative setting for this material in Lk 9:51-18:14 is the journey of Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem. The Synoptics, unlike the Gospel of John, record only one journey to Jerusalem—for the Passover of Holy Week, Jesus’ last week prior to his death. In Mark and Matthew, this journey is narrated very briefly (cf. Mark 10:1, 17, 32, 46; Matt 19:1; 20:17, 29); Luke, on the other hand, records Jesus giving a considerable amount of teaching—taking place, according to the narrative setting, on the way to Jerusalem.

“The Son of Man”

There are more than 85 occurrences of the expression [o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou (“the son of [the] man”), in the New Testament—every occurrence in the Gospels comes either from Jesus’ own lips or in reponse to his words (for the latter, cf. Lk 24:7; Jn 12:34). Outside of the Gospels it is only found in Acts 7:56; Heb 2:8 (quoting Ps 8:4); and Rev 1:13; 14:14 (alluding to Dan 7:13, also 10:5, 16; 14:4). In an upcoming article, I will examine in detail the background and meaning of this expression and how it applies to Jesus. For the moment, by way of introduction, I would simply note that the Greek expression corresponds to the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (ben-°¹d¹m), which occurs in the Old Testament more than 100 times. In ancient Semitic idiom (/B# ben, “son”) in the construct state (“son of…”) often has the meaning of belonging to a particular group or category, and of possessing such characteristics. In this instance, “son of man” simply means “a human being”, i.e. belonging to the human race. Specifically it can mean possessing human characteristics or qualities (especially mortality), contrasted with a heavenly or divine being (including God [YHWH] himself). The parallel, synonymous expression vona$ /B# (ben °§nôš), “son of (hu)mankind” occurs once (Ps 144:3); the corresponding Aramaic is vn`a$ rB^ (bar °§n¹š), only at Dan 7:13 in the OT, along with the variant forms vn rb, avn rb (as well as <da rb) attested in later Aramaic. The Biblical (and contemporary) usage can be summarized as follows:

  1. Generally (or indefinitely) of a human being (“a[ny] man”), in poetic language—with <da /b (ben °¹d¹m, “son of man”) set parallel to <da (°¹d¹m, “man”), cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. The dual-expression (“man…son of man…”) often is set in contrast to God [YHWH] and His nature.
  2. In divine/heavenly address to a human being (a Prophet), in Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and Daniel (Dan 8:17). The sense is something like “(as for) you, O mortal…”, again distinguishing a human being from the divine/heavenly being who addresses him.
  3. The apparently unique instance of Daniel 7:13—here “son of man” is used to describe a divine/heavenly/angelic(?) being who resembles a human. This famous passage will be discussed in more detail later on.

For a convenient summary of the topic, especially on the possible Aramaic forms of the expression which might relate to the concept and terminology in the 1st century A.D., see J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays, Chapter 6 (Scholars Press: 1979), pp. 143-160 (reprinted in The Semitic Background of the New Testament [Eerdmans: 1997]).

I will be beginning these notes with the Son of Man saying in Luke 9:22 (par Mark 8:31; Matt 16:21). Here is a list of prior sayings in the Gospel, along with their Synoptic parallels:

  • Luke 5:24 (Mk 2:10 / Matt 9:6)
  • Luke 6:5 (Mk 2:28 / Matt 12:8)
  • Luke 6:22 (cf. Matt 5:11)
  • Luke 7:34 (Matt 11:19)

Note of the Day – January 13

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

The octave of Epiphany (Jan 13) in the West has traditionally commemorated the baptism of Jesus. It is in the context of Jesus’ baptism, as recorded in the Gospels, that we find some of the most intriguing and provocative references to the “birth of the Son of God” (the theme of these Christmas season notes).

Mark 1:9-11 par

The core narrative, in its clearest form, is that of Mark 1:9-11:

  • In verse 9 it is simply stated that Jesus was dunked/dipped (i.e. baptized) in the Jordan river by John
  • In verse 10, a three-fold sequence of ascent/descent is narrated:
    • Jesus stepping up [a)nabai/nwn] out of the water
      —he saw the heavens splitting open
    • The Spirit as a dove stepping down [katabai/nwn] (out of heaven) into/unto him
  • In verse 11—”there came to be a voice out of the heavens: “You are my Son the (be)loved, I think/consider good in you [i.e. I think well of you, I have delight in you]”

Both Matthew and Luke include tradition(s) regarding John’s ministry (Matt 3:7-12; Lk 3:7-20), which expands the narrative. Luke’s account of the baptism itself (Lk 3:21-22) is rather brief, shorter even than that in Mark, with several extra details:

  • It is mentioned that, while being baptized, Jesus was praying (lit. “speaking out toward [God]”)
  • Instead of Jesus seeing the heavens split open, it is simply stated that “the heaven opened up”
  • It is said that the Spirit descends in bodily appearance as a dove
  • (For the textual variants involving the words of the heavenly voice, cf. below)

Matthew includes a brief exchange between John and Jesus (Matt 3:13-15), but otherwise his account of the baptism is essentially a blend of the wording in Mark and Luke. The heavenly voice differs slightly—”This is my Son the (be)loved, in whom I think/consider good“—as a declaration rather than a personal address to Jesus.

The Gospel of John does not given an account of the baptism as such—it is narrated indirectly as part of John the Baptist’s testimony in Jn 1:29-34. The concluding declaration essentially takes the place of the heavenly voice in identifying Jesus as God’s Son:

“and I have seen and have given witness that this is the Son of God” (v. 34)

The Johannine account (Jn 1:29-34) has been discussed in more detail in an earlier note last year.

Textual variants in Luke 3:22 and John 1:34

There are two key variant readings which are worth noting:

  1. In John 1:34 (cf. above), instead of “the Son of God” (o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=), several manuscripts and versions (Ë5vid a* b e ff2* syrs,c) read “the (one) gathered out [i.e. Chosen one] of God” (o( e)klekto\$ tou= qeou=) or the conflation “the Chosen Son of God” (a ff2c syrpal sah). The conflate reading is certainly secondary, but some scholars have argued that “the Elect/Chosen (One) of God” is original (cf. Ehrman, pp. 69-70). However, the external manuscript evidence, as well as Johannine usage, would seem to favor “the Son of God”.
  2. In Luke 3:22, a number of (Western) witnesses (D a b c d ff2 l r1) record the heavenly voice quoting Psalm 2:7—”You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)”—instead of the declaration “You are my (be)loved Son…” It is also attested by quite a few Church Fathers in the 2d-4th centuries, and a minority of textual critics accept it as original (cf. Ehrman, pp. 62-67). I have discussed the question in some detail in a previous note.

Psalm 2:7, of course, was one of the principal “Messianic” passages interpreted as referring to Jesus in the early Church, as I have noted on a number of occasions. The oldest application seems to have been to Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to heaven—i.e., the moment when he is “born” as God’s Son—as indicated by its use in Acts 13:32-33ff [note the similar use of Ps 110:1 in Acts 2:24-36]; cf. also Rom 1:4 and Rom 8:22-23, 29; Col 1:18; Rev 1:5. Orthodox Christology would come to understand Psalm 2:7 (along with Ps 110:1) in terms of Jesus’ eternal, pre-existent Sonship, as association which is already reflected in Heb 1:5ff. Actually, Hebrews seems to combine both views—Jesus as pre-existent Son and “Son” as a result of the resurrection/exaltation—based on a careful study of chapter 1 and the way Ps 2:7 and 110:1 are cited in chapter 5 (cf. also Heb 2:8-13, etc). We find a similar combination in Paul’s writings (cf. Rom 1:3-4; Phil 2:6-11).

The Transfiguration Scene (Mark 9:7; Matt 17:5; Lk 9:35)

There is a clear parallel with the Baptism of Jesus in the Transfiguration scene narrated in the Synoptics (Mark 9:2-8 / Matt 17:1-8 / Lk 9:28-36) and referenced in 2 Peter 1:17-18. In Mark 9:7, a voice from Heaven declares:

This is my Son the (be)loved, hear [i.e. listen to] him!”

The italicized portion is closest to the form of the divine voice in Matthew’s account of the Baptism (cf. above), also reflected in the Matthean Transfiguration scene (Matt 17:5):

This is my Son the (be)loved, in whom I think/consider good—hear him!”

The words in italics are identical to that of the voice in Matt 3:17, which strongly suggests that an original 2nd person address there was modified to match the form in the Transfiguration scene (and vice versa!). The Lukan version (Lk 9:35) matches the shorter form in Mark, with one major difference (noted by italics):

“This is my Son the (One) gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen One], hear him!”

Instead of the adjective a)gaphto/$ (“[be]loved”), Luke has the participle e)klelegme/no$ (“having been gathered out”). While many manuscripts of Lk 9:35, naturally enough, read a)gaphto/$ (harmonizing with Matt/Mark), e)klelegme/no$ is most likely original (cf. TCGNT, p. 124, and Ehrman, pp. 67-68). The verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”, i.e. “select, choose”) is relatively common in Luke-Acts (11 of the 22 NT occurrences), but is used elsewhere in the Synoptics only once (Mark 13:20).

Finally, we should mention the reference to the heavenly voice at the Transfiguration in 2 Peter 1:17, which, interestingly enough, matches the version in Matthew (specifically Matthew’s account of the Baptism):

“This is my Son, my (be)loved, in whom I think/consider good”
Differs from Matt 3:17 only in word order and inclusion of a second mou (“my”)

The Symbolism of Baptism

A number of key passages in the New Testament which refer either to believers as “sons/children” of God, or specifically as being “born”, are in a context relating in some way to baptism. Most of these have already been discussed in the previous Christmas season notes; I point out here again the most relevant passages:

  • John 3:3-8—especially significant is the expression “come to be (born) [gennhqh=|] out of water and (the) Spirit” (v. 5), parallel to “come to be (born) from above” in v. 3. Nearly all of the instances in the New Testament where water and Spirit are juxtaposed refer to baptism—either of Jesus or of believers (Mark 1:8-10 par; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 8:39; 10:47; 11:16; the reference in 1 John 5:6-8 is more complicated).
  • Galatians 3:26-27ff—the idea of believers as the “sons of God” (v. 26, cf. also v. 29) is connected specifically with baptism in verse 27.
  • Romans 6:3-4ff; 8:12-23, 29—In Paul’s thought, baptism is symbolic of the believer’s identification with, and participation in, the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6:3-4ff; cf. also Col 2:12). As pointed out above, it is through his resurrection (and exaltation) that Jesus was understood as God’s “Son” in early Christian preaching (Acts 13:32-33; Rom 1:4, etc), and it is also the means by which believers are “born” as “sons/children” of God, at least in one strand of Christian tradition (cf. Rom 8:12-23, 29; 1 Pet 1:3; Heb 2:10, also 1 Cor 15:20, 23, 36-37, 42ff). On the specific expression “firstborn of the dead” (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5), cf. the prior note.

This concludes the series of Christmas season notes, devoted to the theme of “the Birth of the Son of God”. During this season, it is right and proper that we should celebrate both Jesus own birth—whether from Mary, in the Baptism, by his Resurrection, or eternally from God—as well as our own birth as sons and daughters, children of God, in union with Christ. It is to be hoped that this survey and study of all the New Testament passages related to this theme has been informative and enriching, in at least some small way, for those who have followed it.

References above marked “TCGNT” are to the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition, 1994/2002); those marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford: 1993).


Note of the Day – January 12

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

One specific image related to the “birth of the Son of God” (the theme of these Christmas season notes) is the firstborn. In Greek, the word typically translated “firstborn” is prwto/toko$ (prœtótokos), which is more accurately rendered “first-produced“. The component word to/ko$ (tókos), like te/knon (téknon), both derive from the verb ti/ktw and refer fundamentally to something which is produced, as in the concrete sense of something coming out of the ground (from a seed) or out of the mother’s body. The word te/knon (plural te/kna) is normally translated “child”, but I have tried to preserve something of the etymology by rendering it as “offspring”. The term prwto/toko$ is used eight times in the New Testament (Luke 2:7; Rom 8:29; Col 1:15, 18; Heb 1:6; 11:28; 12:23; Rev 1:5, cf. also Lk 2:23). The corresponding Hebrew word is rokB=, referring to something which comes early (or first); the closely related plural word <yr!WKB! refers to the early/first ripened grain and fruit that is harvested (i.e. “firstfruits”). In Greek, a different word (a)parxh/) is used for “firstfruits”, unrelated to prwto/toko$ (“firstborn”); it specifically means the beginning of i.e. the harvest.

Significance of the Firstborn

The (theological) importance of “firstborn” in the New Testament and early Christian thought has to be understood in terms of the ancient cultural background of the idea, especially within the context of Israelite religion. Three aspects should be noted:

1. The uniqueness of the Firstborn

Until other children are born to a husband and wife, the firstborn is unique—an only child. This is a simple fact; and yet, the uniqueness of the firstborn/only child (especially of a son) becomes an important image in Judaism and early Christianity, in two respects—the uniqueness of Israel as God’s (chosen) people, and Jesus’ unique position as God’s “Son”. Both of these points are discussed below, but it is worth pointing out that an only child may be expressed in Greek by the term monogenh/$ (monogen¢¡s). Sometimes translated (rather inaccurately) as “only-begotten”, monogenh/$ literally means something like “(the) only (one who has) come to be”, and is often used in the general sense of “only (one), one of a kind, unique,” etc. It occurs in the New Testament with the basic meaning of “only (child)”—cf. Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Heb 11:17; however, in the Gospel of John it is used in reference to Jesus as the only/unique Son of God (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; also 1 Jn 4:9). In this regard, it is significant that neither the Gospel nor the Letters of John refer to believers as “sons [ui(oi] of God”, always using “offspring/children [te/kna] of God” instead—only Jesus is truly the Son [ui(o$] of God.

2. The special position of the Firstborn

Apart from any theological or religious significance, the firstborn child is bound to hold a special place for its parents (particularly the mother). In the ancient Near East, far more than in Western societies today, there was a decided negative stigma attached to the woman who was barren or otherwise childless (cf. for example, the sentiment expressed by Elizabeth in Luke 1:25). Consider also the far higher rate of infant mortality, along with inherent dangers of childbirth, in ancient cultures—the birth of the first living child would have been a particular source of joy and relief. Within the family and household, the firstborn held a position of prominence, with the first born son being regarded as the primary (or sole) heir (cf. Gen 27:19, 32; 29:26; 43:33; 48:18; 49:3, etc).

Beyond this, however, according to the ancient tradition recorded in the Pentateuch (and preserved as commands in the Torah), God declared that all firstborn—especially the first born males, of humans and animals alike—are set apart, belonging specially to Him (Exod 13:2, 12). This is expressed dramatically within the Exodus narrative (Exod 4:22-23; 11:5; chaps 12-13) and as a legal-religious principle throughout the Torah (Exod 22:29; 34:19-20; Lev 27:26; Num 3:12-13, etc). It would seem that, initially, the idea was that the firstborn sons would serve as priests before God for the family and community, eventually being replaced, within the priestly construct centered around the Tabernacle/Temple, by the members of the tribe of Levi (Num 3:40-50; 8:16-18). With the Levites now serving this role, but in order to preserve the consecrated status of the firstborn, a ritual was established by which the family would symbolically “buy back” the child—sometimes referred to as the redemption of the firstborn (cf. Num 3:46ff). Joseph and Mary fulfilled this regulation for Jesus at the Temple precincts (according to Luke 2:22b-23). Interestingly, Paul also connects sonship with redemption in Galatians 4:4-7, but in a different sense: Christ, through his sacrificial death, buys humankind out from bondage under the Law (and from slavery to sin), which makes it possible for believers (in Christ) to become sons of God. For more on this, see below.

3. Israel as God’s “Firstborn”

In several key Old Testament passages (Hos 11:1f; Isa 1:2ff; 30:1, 9; Mal 3:1, also Sirach 36:17), the people of Israel (collectively) are referred to as God’s “son” in a symbolic or spiritual sense. Twice, however, Israel is specifically called God’s firstborn son—in Exod 4:22 and Jer 31:9—the reference in Exodus begin connected with the death of the firstborn in Egypt. It was through the Exodus that Israel, in a very real sense, was “born” as God’s children. For more on this association, see the deutero-canonical Wisdom 18:5-19 (esp. verse 13). Eventually, the righteous would be described as God’s “son” (or “sons, children”) in a similar manner (cf. my earlier note on this point).

Jesus and Believers as “Firstborn”

To begin with, simply on the historical level, Mary gave birth to Jesus as her “firstborn” child (Luke 2:7, cf. Matt 1:25). According to Gospel tradition (in the Infancy narratives), Mary was a virgin prior to conceiving and giving birth to Jesus (Lk 1:27, 34; Matt 1:18-25); this, in and of itself, provides special significance to the idea of Jesus as “firstborn”. As mentioned above, his parents faithfully fulfilled the religious and legal requirement with regard to the consecration and redemption of the firstborn (Luke 2:22-23). The reference to Jesus as Mary’s “firstborn son” (Lk 2:7) has prompted a good deal of speculation on the question of whether Joseph and Mary and other (natural) children together, especially in the overall context of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. There are several other ways that Jesus may be understood as the “firstborn”, that is, of God:

  • The use of monogenh/$ in reference to Jesus as the only (true) Son of God (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9, and cf. above)—reflecting a special relationship to God the Father, indicating divine nature and pre-existence. Cf. also the use of “firstborn” (prwto/toko$) in Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:6.
  • The Anointed One (“Messiah/Christ”) as the “son of God”—drawing upon the ancient Near Eastern idea of the king as God’s “son”, a similar idea is expressed of the Israelite (Davidic) ruler in Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14, both passages coming to be interpreted in a Messianic sense in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. 4Q174; Acts 13:32-33; Heb 1:5; 5:5), where it was applied to Jesus. In Psalm 89:27, this Davidic ruler is further called God’s “firstborn”; there may be similar ‘Messianic’ reference to a king as (God’s) firstborn in the fragmentary Qumran text 4Q369 (cf. also 4Q458).
  • Jesus as “firstborn” (or “firstfruits”) in terms of the resurrection. As I have previously discussed, by all accounts, it is in the context of his resurrection (and exaltation to Heaven), that Jesus was understood to be “born” as God’s Son in the earliest layers of Christian preaching—cf. Acts 13:32-37 (citing Psalm 2:7, and note a similar use of Ps 110:1 in Acts 2:24-36, cp. Heb 1:5, 13; 5:5); and Romans 1:3-4. The same early kerygma would seem to underlie the references to Jesus as “firstborn” in Rom 8:29; Col 1:18; and Rev 1:5.

Along with the numerous passages in the New Testament where believers are called the “sons” (ui(oi/) or “offspring/children” (te/kna) of God, in several instances, the expression “firstborn” (prwto/toko$) is also used:

Romans 8:29

“…(the ones) whom He knew before(hand) He also marked (out) before(hand) (to be) together in (the) form/shape of the image of His Son, unto his [i.e. Jesus’] being the first-produced [prwto/toko$ i.e. ‘firstborn’] among many brothers”

Here the key phrase is summo/rfou$ th=$ ei)ko/no$ tou= ui(ou= au)tou= (“together in the form/shape of the image of His Son”). Paul elsewhere refers to Jesus as the ei)kw/n (“image”) of God in 2 Cor 4:4 and Col 1:15—the last of these is noteworthy since it combines ei)kw/n specifically with prwto/toko$—and cf. also 1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18, where likewise believers are said to become formed into the image of Christ. In Paul’s thought, this conformity with Christ is the result of our identification with, and participation in, the death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom 6:5-11; 8:9-11; Gal 2:19-20, etc). This takes place through trust/faith in Christ and by the work of the Spirit, symbolized in the ritual of baptism (Rom 6:3-4; Gal 3:26-27; Col 2:12). Earlier in Rom 8:18-25 Paul develops the image of creation groaning (like a woman in labor) waiting for the manifestation of (i.e. giving ‘birth’ to) the “sons of God” (believers); and we, too, groan within for the same thing (v. 23)—even though we are already God’s “sons/children” through faith in Christ and by the Spirit, this will not be fully realized until the resurrection at the end-time (described as “the redemption [lit. loosing from {bondage}] of our bodies”).

Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5

The expression prwto/toko$ e)k tw=n nekrw=n (“first-produced [i.e. firstborn] out of the dead [pl.]”) in Col 1:18; Rev 1:5 must be understood in a similar manner as the use of prwto/toko$ in Rom 8:29. Christ, in being raised from the dead, becomes the first of many “sons/children” (believers), who will likewise be raised at the end time—even now, we are united spiritually in his resurrection. In this sense, we, as believers, are not only “children of God”, but are in union with the true (firstborn) Son, and partake of this (collective) “firstborn” status.

Hebrews 12:23

The reference in Heb 12:22-24 is to the divine/heavenly inheritance that waits for believers, and that is already being experienced now, by faith (cf. chapter 11):

22but you have come toward mount ‚iyyôn {Zion} and (the) city of (the) living God, Yerûshalaim {Jerusalem} upon-the-Heaven(s), and the multitude of Messengers all gathered (in one place), 23and the assembly of the first-born having been written from (the list) in the Heavens, and God (the) judge of all, and the spirits of (the) just/righteous (one)s having been made complete, 24and Yeshua (the) mediator of the new (agreement) set forth, and the blood of (ritual) sprinkling…”

It may not be clear in translation, but the nouns throughout vv. 22-24 are in the dative case, each related back to the verb proselhlu/qate (“you have come toward…”)—that believers approaching Heaven will encounter:

  • Mount Zion, identified also as “city of the living God” and “Jerusalem upon the Heavens [i.e. Heavenly Jerusalem]”
  • The multitude of (heavenly) Messengers [i.e. Angels] all gathered together, as in the town/city square (a)gora/)
  • The assembly of the firstborn…the spirits of the just/righteous ones… (v. 23ff)

In context, the identification of the “firstborn” is not entirely certain. Some commentators have thought that it is parallel with the “multitude of (heavenly) Messengers” in v. 22, referring to the Angels. The reference to the firstborn being enrolled or registered (“written [down] from [the list]”) in Heaven, however, makes it more likely that human saints (believers) are meant—cf., for example, Exod 32:32; Psalm 69:29; Isa 4:3; Dan 12:1; Luke 10:20; Rev 13:18; 17:8. It is interesting the way that verses 23-24 are structured:

  • Assembly of the first born
    —written down in Heaven
  • God the Judge of all
  • Spirits of the just/righteous ones
    —made complete
  • Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant

The parallelism seems to make clear that the “firstborn” are the same as the “just/righteous” ones—i.e., human believers. The basic scenario is that of standing before God as Judge, with Jesus in his mediating role as Priest, who has established a new covenant between God and His people (believers), through his sacrificial and atoning death (note the qualifying phrase in verse 24, “the blood of [ritual] sprinkling”).





Note of the Day – January 11

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

As a follow-up to the recent notes on believers as “sons/children of God”, today I would like to examine the connection between sonship and the kingdom of God. It is not possible in this relatively brief discussion to provide a comprehensive treatment of the “kingdom of God” as a concept or topic; however, a number of key points and observations will be offered here.

The Kingdom

To begin with, contrary to some commentators, I find little distinction between the use or meaning of the expressions “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of Heaven (lit. ‘of the Heavens’)”. The latter is found exclusively in the Gospel of Matthew, and a comparison of parallel passages and sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics, demonstrates more or less decisively that the expressions are synonymous (and interchangeable). Which is not to say that the Gospel of Matthew does not have specific reasons for using “Heaven” instead of “God”. Exactly how, or to what extent, the different idioms (in Greek) relate to the actual words of Jesus (the ipsissima verba, probably spoken in Aramaic) continues to be debated.

The Kingdom-concept appears to have a fairly wide range of meaning, but it is possible, I believe, to isolate three primary aspects or elements:

  1. Rule and authority—that is to say, of God as king. While, from the human perspective, God rules and exercises sovereignty, primarily from heaven, he has also made his will known to people on earth—principally through the commands and communication revealed and preserved in the Scriptures. Eventually, God will enforce his rule more fully and directly upon the world (at the end time).
  2. Dominion—by this is meant the area (domain) that is subject to God and the means by which he rules; one may divide this into two additional aspects: (a) the people who are under his rule and obedient to it (i.e. the “righteous”), and (b) the rule of God in terms of the Law (or “laws”, i.e. commands, precepts, etc) under which the ‘Kingdom’ is governed. According to Pauline thought and terminology, especially, the “Law of God” is synonymous with the “Will of God”.
  3. Eschatology—at the time of the New Testament, and in Jesus’ own day, the “Kingdom of God” was understood primarily in terms of the rule of God which will be realized over humankind (and all things) and the end of the (present) Age. Several related ideas and expectations were brought together, variously, in this context: (a) God’s end-time Judgment of human beings, (b) the specific judgment against the wicked/idolatrous “Nations”, (c) the restoration of Israel, and (d) the reward of the righteous (who have been suffering during the current wicked Age). The expectation of an Anointed ruler (i.e. Messiah/Christ), from the line of David, whose appearance would attend (or govern) these eschatological events, appears to have been relatively common in the 1st centuries B.C/A.D.

The initial proclamation of Jesus was to announce that this coming Kingdom was now arriving: “The time has been (ful)filled, the Kingdom of God has come near…!” (Mark 1:15 par). The vast majority of references to “the kingdom of God/Heaven” in the New Testament, in fact, come from Jesus’ own teaching (and virtually all from the Synoptic Gospels, except for John 3:3-5). These can generally be divided into several categories:

  • Ethical and hortatory instruction in an eschatological context, i.e. his followers (believers) in relation to the Kingdom (inheriting the Kingdom, etc)—Matt 5:3, 10, 19-20; 7:21; 11:11-12; Mark 9:47; 10:14-15, 23-25 and pars, et al.
  • Parables and sayings illustrating the nature and character of the Kingdom (often with an eschatological orientation as well)—Matthew 13; Mark 3:24; 4:11, 26, 30 par, et al.
  • Specific eschatological sayings and teachings regarding the Kingdom—Mark 1:15; 9:1; 14:25; Luke 21:31 and pars, et al.

“Inheriting” and “Entering” the Kingdom

A principal metaphor, encompassing both ethical and eschatological aspects of the Kingdom concept, is that of inheriting or entering the Kingdom. The two idioms are, it would seem, generally synonymous, and are rooted clearly in the idea of believers (or the righteous) passing the (end-time) judgment before the heavenly/divine tribunal. This is especially so in terms of “entering” the Kingdom; whereas inheritance may also carry the connotation that believers (or the righteous) have already (previously) been appointed a share (i.e. lot) and place in the Kingdom. It is certainly true that one sees a kind of “realized” eschatology throughout much of the New Testament, drawn largely, I would say, from the basic idea of the covenant God established with his people (Israel)—if believers remain faithful, they will inherit that which God has prepared for them.

“Enter” the Kingdom (including parallels)—Mark 9:47; 10:15, 23-25; Luke 18:17, 24-25; Matthew 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; 19:23-24; 23:13; John 3:5; Acts 14:22; see also Mark 9:43, 45; Matt 7:13; 8:11; 18:8-9; 19:17; 25:21, 23; Lk 11:52; 13:24, 29; Heb 3:11, 18-19; 4:1-6, 10-11; 10:19; Rev 21:27; 22:14 and John 10:1-2, 9.

“Inherit” the Kingdom (including parallels)—Matthew 25:34; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5. For the parallel idea of inheriting eternal life, cf. Mark 10:17 par; and for similar language involving inheritance, cf. Mark 12:7 par; Lk 12:32; Acts 20:32; Gal 3:18ff; 4:30; Col 1:12; 3:24; Eph 1:11, 14, 18; Heb 1:14; 6:12; 9:15; 11:8; 1 Pet 1:4.

With regard to each of these expressions, there are two particular ideas or images which especially relate to believers as “sons/children of God”:

  • The sayings of Jesus that it is necessary to become like little children in order to enter the Kingdom—Mark 10:14-15 / Lk 18:16-17 / Matt 19:14; and Matt 18:3-4. Note especially reference to the Kingdom belonging to the children (cf. Matt 5:3, 10).
  • Believers as heirs of God

It is necessary to examine this last image in a bit more detail.

Believers as Heirs (to the Kingdom)

As indicated above, this motif is connected with the idea of believers (or the righteous) inheriting the Kingdom of God. It is the sons who inherit the father’s estate, and, especially the eldest/firstborn son. This is expressed in early Christian thought by the theological (and Christological) premise that Jesus is the true “Son” and heir of God (cf. Mark 12:7 par; Hebrews 1:2; Romans 8:17), which is further reinforced by reference to the Kingdom as belonging to Christ (“my Kingdom”, etc)—Luke 1:33; 22:29-30; 23:42; John 18:36; 1 Cor 15:24; Col 1:13; Eph 5:5; 2 Tim 4:1, 18; 2 Pet 1:11; Rev 11:15; 12:10; also Matthew 16:28; 26:29; Luke 19:12ff; Heb 1:8. Believers are heirs through Christ, and heirs together with him (Romans 8:17). The concept of believers as heirs of God is important within Paul’s argument in Galatians and Romans, contrasting the freedom of believers in Christ with slavery under the Law (the old covenant) and sin—cf. throughout Galatians 3-4 and Romans 4:13ff; 8:12-30. For other New Testament references, see James 2:5; 1 Pet 3:7; Eph 3:6; Tit 3:7; Heb 6:17; 11:7ff. At least once in the New Testament, in Jesus’ teaching, believers are specifically referred to as “sons of the Kingdom [ui(oi\ th=$ basilei/a$]” (Matt 13:38, but note the somewhat different use in Matt 8:12).

The specific motif of the firstborn son will be discussed in the next daily note.


Note of the Day – January 10

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

In the previous note, I looked at the theme of believers as “sons/children of God” in terms of birth—i.e., of being born—especially in the famous passage of John 3:3-8. Today, I will be surveying the New Testament references where believers are specifically called “sons” (or “children/offspring”) of God.

To begin with, we must look at the Old Testament and Jewish background of the idea. In several key passages, the people of Israel, collectively, are referred to as God’s “son”—Exod 4:22; Hos 11:1f; Isa 1:2ff; 30:1, 9; Jer 31:9; Mal 1:6. Eventually, largely through the influence of Wisdom traditions, the righteous generally are described, on various occasions, as God’s children—cf. Wisdom 2:13, 16, 18; 5:5; 16:10, 21, 26; 18:4-5; 19:6; Sirach 4:10; 23:1, 4; Jubilees 1:23-25; Psalms of Solomon 17:30. In Wisdom 2:18 and 18:13 there is a clear parallel between Israel and the righteous person: they are both called the “son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=).

In order to see how this was applied within the New Testament—both in the teaching of Jesus and as a theological/ethical motif in the Letters—let us look briefly at the relevant passages, in context:

1. “Sons of God” (ui(oi\ qeou=)

Matthew 5:9, 45; Luke 6:35

“Happy the peace-makers, (in) that they will be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9)

This is the 7th Beatitude from the set in Matthew (5:3-12), part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. In some ways it summarizes Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon (esp. that of Matt 5:21-48), as indicated by the parallel reference in Matt 5:45. As a conclusion of the command to love one’s enemies, Jesus states:

“…how as [i.e. so that] you might come to be [ge/nhsqe] sons of your Father in the heavens”

The verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), like the cognate genna/w (“come to be [born]”), can be used in the sense of birth/begetting, as previously indicated with regard to passages such as John 1:12-14; Rom 1:3-4; Gal 4:4ff, etc. The Lukan version of this saying is found in Lk 6:35:

“…and you will be [e&sesqe] sons of the Highest [ui(oi\ u(yi/stou]”

This expression matches that used of Jesus, by the heavenly Messenger (Gabriel) to Mary, in the context of Jesus’ birth:

“…and he will be [e&stai] great and (the) Son of the Highest [ui(o\$ u(yi/stou]” (Lk 1:32)

In the setting of the Beatitudes, coming to be (born) as sons of God, is effectively synonymous with inheriting/entering the Kingdom of God (in Matthew, “Kingdom of the Heavens”)—Matt 5:3, 10, cf. also 5:19-20; 6:10, 33; 7:21. I will discuss this particular image in more detail in the next Christmas season note.

Luke 20:36

Like the Beatitudes, which have a strong eschatological emphasis, the reference in Luke 20:36 is to believers (or the righteous), i.e. those considered worthy by God (v. 35), who, in their heavenly existence (in the Kingdom of God/Heaven), will be “equal to the angels”, and, like them, are “sons of God”:

“…for they are equal to (the) Messengers and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection”

It is through the resurrection that believers are ‘born’ as sons of God. For an understanding of the resurrection in terms of birth imagery, cf. also Acts 13:33 (citing Psalm 2:7); Rom 8:18-23, 29; 1 Cor 15:20-23; Col 1:18; Rev 1:5.

Galatians 3:26

“For you all are sons of God through the trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua”

In Galatians 3-4, Paul is drawing the Old Testament imagery of the children/descendants of Abraham, which he refers to as children of the promise. Christ is identified as the promised seed of Abraham (v. 16), and believers in Christ are the “sons of the promise” (v. 29). The reference to believers here as the “sons of God” draws upon the Old Testament background of the people Israel (collectively) as the “son of God” in a symbolic or spiritual sense.

Romans 8:14-15, 19, 23 (Gal 4:4-7)

Romans 8:12ff builds upon Paul’s earlier argument in Galatians 4:4-7, using similar language and phrasing at several points. In particular, Rom 8:14-15 is close to Gal 4:5b-6, as can be seen by comparison side by side:

Romans 8:14-15

“For as (many) as are led by (the) Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive (the) spirit of slavery again into fear, but (rather) you received (the) Spirit of placement as sons, in which we cry (out) ‘Abba, Father!'”

Galatians 4:5b-7a

“…(so) that we might receive from (God) placement as sons. And, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God set forth out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!’ So (too) then, you are no longer a slave, but a son…”

Here sonship is understood properly in terms of our (present) faith in Christ and the work of the Spirit. The future eschatological aspect of sonship (cf. above) comes out in vv. 19ff, with the image of creation itself waiting and groaning (in labor) to give birth. Creation (or the creature, lit. the thing formed), Paul states, is

“…looking to receive from (God) the uncovering [a)poka/luyi$] of the sons of God

The “sons of God” (i.e. believers, with/in Christ) are in the world, but their true nature and identity has not been manifested; this will only happen at the end time. Paul parallels the labor pains of creation with our own inward groaning as believers—we, too, long to see our identity realized in full:

“…and not only (this), but (we our)selves, holding the beginning from (the harvest) of the Spirit, we also (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking to receive from (God) placement as sons…” (v. 23)

Ultimately this realized in the final resurrection, which Paul describes as “the loosing from (bondage) of our bodies”.

2. “Sons” (ui(oi/)

In several other passages, believers are referred to as “sons” in a context where it seems clear that this is generally synonymous with fuller expression “sons of God” (above).

2 Corinthians 6:18

In 2 Cor 6:16-18, a chain (catena) of Old Testament references are cited: Leviticus 26:12, Isaiah 52:11, and (it would seem) 2 Samuel 7:14. The last of these has been adapted—originally, 2 Sam 7:14 read “I will be for a Father to him, and he will be for a son to me”; however, in 2 Cor 6:18 it has been modified as “I will be unto a Father to you [pl.], and you will be unto sons and daughters to me”. Originally, the reference was to the (Davidic) king as God’s “son” in a symbolic sense; here it now refers to believers—male and female—together, much as faithful Israel and the righteous could be thought of as God’s “son” (cf. above). In 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, sonship is conditional on proper religious and ethical behavior, much as the prophecy of 2 Sam 7:14 is conditional (cf. verses 14bff). See also the connection between sonship and righteousness in the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount (above).

Romans 9:26

Here we have another Scripture citation (from Hos 1:10), in the context of Gentiles (those who were “not My people”) coming to faith in Christ—”they will be called sons of the living God“. Sonship is based on acceptance of the Gospel and trust in Christ.

Hebrews 2:10

As part of a litany describing and extolling Christ’s work, the author includes: “leading many sons into glory“. The implication is that believers come to be “sons of God” along with Christ.

Hebrews 12:5-8

Believers are exhorted and disciplined by God as sons are by a father. If we are obedient and attentive, then we prove ourselves to be legitimate sons (vv. 8ff). Once again, we see the ethical basis and context of sonship clearly described.

Revelation 21:7

There is here another allusion to 2 Sam 7:14 (cf. above), within an obvious eschatological setting, with the ethical aspect now understood in terms of faithful endurance and victory in the face of intense persecution and suffering during the end time. It also draws on the traditional idea of inheriting the kingdom of God (above):

“The one being victorious will obtain as (his) lot [i.e. inherit] these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son

3. “Offspring/children of God” (te/kna qeou=)

This expression occurs numerous times in the Gospel and First Letter of John, generally in place of “sons of God” (which neither work uses). It is to be found in John 1:12; 11:52; and 1 John 3:1-2, 10; 4:4; 5:2. The ‘birth’ of believers as children of God is similar to Paul’s understanding of believers as “sons of God” (cf. above)—it is the result of trust/faith in Christ and the work of the Spirit (see the previous note for more on 1:12-14, along with 3:3-8, in this regard). 1 John 3:1-2 is interesting in the light of how names functioned in ancient thought:

  • 1 Jn 3:1: believers are called children of God (“that we might be called [klhqw=men] offspring/children of God”)—this is tied fundamentally to the idea and act of naming (i.e. naming a child), cf. Luke 1:32, 35; our being called “children of God” is specifically related to the love God showed to us (through the work of his Son, Jn 3:16, etc).
  • 1 Jn 3:1-2: believers now are children of God (“now we are [e)smen] offspring/children of God”)—in ancient thought, the name embodied and represented the essential identity of a person, often in a quasi-magical manner; in Old Testament tradition, naming scenes could have a prophetic quality, which carries over into the New Testament (see esp. Luke 1:13ff, 31-33; Matt 1:21, also 16:17-19, etc).
  • 1 Jn 3:2: believers will be sons of God (“…what we will be [e)so/meqa]”)—a person’s identity is fundamentally tied to his/her future destiny; ultimately believers will be something more than “offspring/children of God”—when Jesus appears again at the end time, we will see him in glory, and will be “like him”, i.e. like the Son (ui(o/$). This is perhaps part of the reason why 1 John (and the Gospel of John) does not use the expression “sons of God” (ui(oi\ qeou=)—believers may be born as offspring (te/kna) of God, but only Jesus is truly the Son.

Paul seems to use “sons of God” and “offspring/children of God” more or less interchangeably—for example, compare Romans 8:16-17, 21 (and 9:8) with 8:14-15, 19, 23; 9:26 (see above). For other Pauline use of the expression, see Philippians 2:15 and the near parallel in Ephesians 5:1.


Note of the Day – January 9

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

The next several daily notes will explore the idea of believers as “sons of God”, which ultimately cannot be separated in Christian thought from the idea of Jesus himself as the “Son of God”. I have discussed this relationship already in a number of the prior Christmas season notes (on the theme of the “Birth of the Son of God”), but it is necessary to examine in more detail just how this is expressed in the New Testament. Today I will look specifically at the motif of believers in Christ being born. This involves use of the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), which is related to the more general verb gi/nomai (“come to be”), as I have noted on a number of occasions previously. It is used once of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of John (Jn 18:37), along with a parallel use of gi/nomai in context of the incarnation (Jn 1:14, and vv. 15, 30). For the birth of believers, genna/w occurs in John 1:13—

“the (one)s who…came to be (born) [e)gennh/qhsan] out of God”

which is parallel to verse 12 (using gi/nomai):

“he gave them authority to come to be [gene/sqai] offspring [i.e. children] of God”

The spiritual birth of believers is described with more detail and involved imagery in the famous third chapter of John.

John 3:3-8

This is part of the great dialogue (3:1-21), that begins with the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus (3:1-10ff). Nicodemus starts with a polite and (semi-)reverent address (v. 2); Jesus’ response sparks the brief exchange that follows:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you (that) if one does not come to be (born) [gennhqh=|] from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God” (v. 3)

The use of genna/w, along with a&nwqen (“from above”), which Nicodemus understands in the sense of “again”, is the cause of his confusion—thinking that Jesus is referring to a second physical/biological birth (v. 4). Jesus’ answer is almost precisely parallel to his statement in verse 3:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you (that) if one does not come to be (born) [gennhqh=|] out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God” (v. 5)

In several respects, this is an example of synonymous (and/or synthetic) parallelism—first with regard to being born:

  • “from above” (a&nwqen)
  • “out of… (the) Spirit” (e)kpneu/mato$)

And, secondly, in terms of its result and effect:

  • “…(able) to see the kingdom of God”
  • “…(able) to come into [i.e. enter] the kingdom of God”

The inclusion of u%dato$ (“out of water and [the] Spirit”) is somewhat problematic (I have discussed various ways of interpreting the phrase in earlier notes); here it is sufficient to point out: (a) the traditional association between water and the Spirit (in the context of cleansing/holiness), and that (b) water and Spirit are connected in the New Testament primarily with the imagery surrounding baptism (Mark 1:8, 10 par; Jn 1:33; Acts 1:5; 8:39; 10:47). Originally, the water for ritual dipping/dunking (i.e. baptism) was associated with cleansing; but early in Christian application, especially related to the baptism of Jesus (cf. the Gospel accounts), water came to be symbolic of a new “birth”—i.e. entry into a new life and mode of being. In Pauline terms, one dies (symbolically, with Christ’s death) and is ‘reborn’ (with Christ’s resurrection); it is precisely in context of the resurrection that Jesus was understood to be ‘born’ as God’s Son in the earliest layers of Christian preaching and teaching (cf. the use of Ps 2:7 in Acts 13:32-33ff). The conjunction between water and the Spirit in 1 John 5:6 is more complex, and cannot be dealt with here. As far as the expression “from above” (a&nwqen) in John 3:3, this is part of the dualistic contrast in John between above and below (3:31; 8:23; 19:11), ascent and descent (Jn 1:51; 3:13; 6:62, etc), and so forth.

Within the context of the dialogue, this birth of believers is tied to the Son’s sacrificial death and exaltation (vv. 11-16), and to our trust/faith in Christ as the Son of God (vv. 17-21, cf. also 1 Jn 4:15; 5:10-13, etc). 1 John uses the same expression as in Jn 3:3, “come to be born out of God (or, out of Him)”, six (actually seven) times—always in connection with the adjectival particle pa=$ (“all, every”), to establish the condition or test for being “born of God”. This ‘birth’ has a two-fold aspect, in terms of: (a) ethical behavior (righteousness), and (b) faith/trust in Christ (as the Son of God):

  • 1 Jn 2:29—”every one doing right(eousness) has come to be born out of Him
  • 1 Jn 3:9—”every one having come to be born out of God does not do sin” (cf. also at the end of this verse)
  • 1 Jn 4:7—”every one loving has come to be born out of God
  • 1 Jn 5:1—”every one trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be born out of God
  • 1 Jn 5:4—”every (thing) having come to be born out of God is victorious (over) the world“—identified with faith/trust
  • 1 Jn 5:18—”every one having come to be born out of God does not sin” (cf. 3:9)

All six (or seven) occurrences of genna/w are perfect forms—that is, indicating a past action or condition that continues on through the present (and future). Three times (2:29; 4:7; 5:1) it is an indicative in the predicate position; the other three times (3:9; 5:4, 18) it is a participle substantively modifying pa=$ o( (“every one/thing th[at]…”).

Other New Testament Passages

Galatians 4:21-31

In Gal 4:21-31, Paul also refers to spiritual birth, in the context of the Abraham narratives in Genesis—specifically interpreting the promise to Abraham, which is inherited by believers through trust in Christ and through the Spirit (Gal 3:14-18, 29). The Hagar/Sarah allegory (cf. Gen 16-17) is used to symbolize slavery and freedom—the freedom in Christ vs. slavery under the Law (and sin). Verses 23 and 29 have parallel expressions:

“the one having come to be born [gege/nnhtai]…through the promise” (v. 23)
“the one coming to be born [gennhqei\$]…according to (the) Spirit” (v. 29)

1 Peter 1:3, 23

The expression “born from above” in Jn 3:3-8 is sometimes translated “born again”; while it can be understood this way (and it is part of Nicodemus’ misunderstanding of Jesus’ words), “born again” more properly renders the verb a)nagenna/w (“come to be [born] again”), which is used only in 1 Peter 1:3 and 23.

  • v. 3our being born again, which is followed by a chain of result/purpose clauses beginning with ei)$ (“into/unto”), vv. 3-5:
    • into [ei)$] a living hope—through the resurrection of Jesus
      • into [ei)$] a lot [i.e. inheritance]…in heaven
        • into [ei)$] salvation, to be uncovered [i.e. revealed] in the last time
  • v. 23having been born again
    • through the living word/account [lo/go$] of God (parallel with the “living hope” of v. 3)—this is qualified two ways:
      —not out of decaying [i.e. corruptible, perishing] seed
      —remaining/abiding [me/nonto$] (into the Age, v. 25)

The imperishable seed (spo/ra, literally, “[thing] sown”) from which believers are born is also mentioned (using the different word spe/rma) in 1 John 3:9 (above)—here is the full reference:

“Every one having come to be (born) out of God does not sin, (in) that [i.e. because] His seed is in him and he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) out of God”

Note the precise chiasm in this verse:

  • Come to be born out of God
    • Does not sin
      • God’s seed is in him
    • Not able to sin
  • Come to be born out of God

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul uses seed [spe/rma] to refer to believers under the image “seed of Abraham” (Rom 4:13, 16, 18; 9:7-8; Gal 3:16, 19, 29)—we come to be “children of the promise” through Christ (cf. above). Note also a similar expression in Heb 2:16.

The idea of spiritual ‘rebirth’ (or “regeneration”) is also expressed in Titus 3:5, using the nouns paliggenesi/a (“coming to be [i.e. born] back [again]”, cf. also Matt 19:28) and a)nakai/wsi$ (“being [made] new again, renewal”, cf. in Rom 12:2).