was successfully added to your cart.

Saturday Series: John 1:18

By | Saturday Series | One Comment

This is the first installment of the the new Saturday Series on this site. Each Saturday I will focus on a specific Scripture passage or area of study, with the intention of providing guidance for those who wish to learn the value of an in-depth critical-exegetical approach to studying Scripture, and how one might begin to go about it. As previously mentioned in the introduction to this Series, it is necessary to begin with the original text of Scripture—in the case of the New Testament, this means the original Greek. However, before one can do that, one must first know just what that text is. As you may be aware, no two manuscripts (hand-copies) of the New Testament are exactly alike; the copies contain many differences between each other. Most of these differences are slight and rather insignificant—i.e., variations of spelling, obvious copying mistakes, etc. However, others are more substantial, and some genuinely affect the meaning of a passage. In such cases, it is necessary to determine, as far as one is able, what the most likely original form or version of the text is.

This part of Biblical study (criticism) is called Textual Criticism—analysis of the text, its variants (differences) and determination of the original form (when possible). I have devoted an introductory article, in three parts, to this subject, which I recommend you read; it is entitled “Learning the Language” (Parts 1, 2, 3). In most English Bible translations (the reputable ones), substantial differences, or variant readings in the text are indicated by footnotes. The most likely original reading (according to the translators) appears in the main portion, while other known readings are given in the footnotes. Unfortunately, people tend to ignore or gloss over these textual footnotes; but I would urge you to get in the habit of paying attention to them and examining them. This is one of the first steps toward an in-depth study of the Scriptures.

Occasionally a situation arises where the evidence in favor of certain textual variants (variant readings) is more evenly divided. In such cases, it can be most difficult to determine which form of the text is more likely to be original. Here the student and commentator of Scripture (let us begin with the New Testament) must proceed carefully, considering all of the possibilities. To demonstrate this, I will use two examples from the first chapter of the Gospel of John. I like to use the Gospel of John, and the first chapter especially, because it tends to make the theological significance of the textual variants more readily apparent.

John 1:18

The first example comes from the famous “Prologue” to the Gospel (1:1-18)—indeed, from the climactic final statement in it. Here is verse 18, in a literal rendering, followed by a more conventional English translation:

“No one has ever yet seen God; (but) the only <..> (who has) come to be—the (one) being in the lap of the Father—that (one) has brought Him out (to us).”

“No one has ever yet seen God; (but) the only[-born] <..>, who is in the lap of the father, he has revealed him (to us).”

The words in parentheses technically are not in the text, but have been added to fill out the passage to make it more readable and intelligible in English. The angle brackets represent the point where the key textual variant occurs. There are three versions of this textual unit (in italics above):

  • monogen¢s theos (monogenh\$ qeo/$)
  • monogen¢s huios (monogenh\$ ui(o/$)
  • monogen¢s (monogenh/$)

All three versions contain the word monogen¢s, which happens to be quite tricky to translate. Literally, it means something like “(the) only one (who has) come to be”. Sometimes this specifically refers to a person coming to be born (i.e. a child or son); but often it means simply “only one, unique, one-of-a-kind”, or the like. The second version above is the most straightforward, as it essentially means “only son”, i.e. the only son born (to a mother/parent). This is presumably also the meaning where monogen¢s is used alone—”only (son)”. The first version above is more difficult, and has been translated three different ways:

  • monogen¢s theos =
    • “(the) only/unique God”
    • “(the) only-born [or only-begotten] God”
    • “God the only(-born) Son”

Which reading more likely represents the original text? And is there any significant difference between them? Let us address the first question, considering the arguments in favor of each reading, in reverse order from how they are listed above.

  • monogen¢s (monogenh/$)—”only (one) [born]”
    There is essentially no Greek manuscript support for this reading; it is attested in the writings of several early Church Fathers (commentators/theologians such as Origen, Epiphanius, and Cyril of Alexandria). However, it is attractive as a way to explain the other two readings (with “God” or “Son”). If the text originally read just monogen¢s, scribes (copyists) and commentators would have been inclined to explain it, expanding the text, more likely (and often) by adding “Son” as the natural meaning in context (“[the] only Son [born]”).
  • monogen¢s huios (monogenh\$ ui(o/$)—”only Son [born]”
    This is the most common and widespread reading, including that of some important early manuscripts (such Codex Alexandrinus [A]). It also happens to make the most sense. Jesus refers to himself (or is referred to) as “(the) Son [huios, ui(o/$]” quite often in the Gospel of John, and almost always in relation to (God) the Father. The word monogen¢s is used in this context earlier in the prologue (verse 14); moreover, elsewhere in the New Testament it is almost always used in combination with “son” (or “daughter”)—see Luke 7:12; 8:42; John 3:16, 18; Heb 11:17; 1 John 4:9.
  • monogen¢s theos (monogenh\$ qeo/$)—”only God [born]” or “God the only [born Son?]”
    This is the reading of some of “the earliest and best” manuscripts, including the early (Bodmer) papyri 66 and 75, Codex Vaticanus [B] and the original copyist of Codex Sinaiticus [a]. It must also be considered the most difficult reading—what exactly does the expression “only (born) God [theos, qeo/$]” mean? An important principle in textual criticism follows the saying difficilior lectio potior (“the more difficult reading is preferred”). The idea is that copyists would be more likely to change the text (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to a reading that was easier to understand or which made more sense. As noted above, “only (born) Son” is a much more natural expression.

I would ask you to consider and to meditate upon these three different readings, in the context of John 1:18 (and the Prologue as a whole—read through it carefully). Do you see any difference in meaning or emphasis, in terms of what the author may be trying to convey? If so, what are the differences? Next Saturday I will follow up on this discussion, by examining briefly certain details in verse 18 which I believe are essential to a proper understanding of the passage. At the same time, we will consider our second example from the Gospel of John.

Help from PC Study Bible
If you are a user of the PC (and Mac) Study Bible programs, and wish to learn more about a critical study of Scripture, and of Textual Criticism, in particular, Biblesoft offers a number of resources dealing with the subject, including two introductory textbooks you may find helpful:

A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis: Taking the Fear Out of the Critical Method, by Richard J. Erickson

A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible, by Paul D. Wegner

If you own a OneTouch Professional Series or Professional Reference Library (Version 5), you already have these two resources at your fingertips!

Note of the Day – March 8 (John 5:1-5ff)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

John 5:1-15ff

Having discussed the Sabbath Controversy episodes from the Synoptic Gospels—in particular, the healing miracle of Mark 3:1-6 par (see the previous notes)—it will be worth concluding this topic with a brief study of a (somewhat) similar miracle story in the Gospel of John. The Fourth Gospel actually contains two miracles stories, with a similar outline and structure—Jn 5:1-15 and 9:1-41. Each of these episodes is said to have occurred on a Sabbath day (5:9-10; 9:14-16), though only in the first does the Sabbath play a central role.

Actually, in the main section (vv. 1-9a), narrating the healing itself, the Sabbath is not mentioned. We are clearly dealing here with an authentic (historical) tradition, which includes several interesting local details (vv. 2-3, 5; also verse 4, which may not have been part of the original text). The reference to the Sabbath comes in verse 9b: “And the Shabbat {Sabbath} was on that day”. As in the Synoptic traditions, certain people object to “work” being done on the Sabbath. However, in the Johannine narrative, the people—they are not referred to as Scribes or Pharisees, simply other “Jews”—raise their objection, not to Jesus’ act of healing, but toward the man who was healed, for carrying his mat on the Sabbath (v. 10). The exchange between these “Jews” and the healed man (vv. 10-12) is similar to that which occurs in the later episode of chapter 9 (vv. 14-17), where the people interrogating the man are identified as Pharisees (vv. 13, 15). On the whole, the Sabbath healing episode of 5:1-14 is not all that different from similar traditions in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 2:1-12; 3:1-6 par; Lk 13:10-17). The tradition has been developed in John through its association with the discourse of Jesus that follows in 5:15-47.

A common feature of the great Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John is the way that they start with a specific (historical) tradition. The Johannine traditions are quite similar to episodes we find in the Synoptic Gospels; but in the narrative context of the Fourth Gospel, they serve as the launch-point for a discourse. These discourses follow a dialog format, which leads into an expository ‘sermon’ by Jesus; the basic structure may be outlined as follows:

  • Narrative setting, often in the context of a traditional episode (miracle story, etc)
  • A statement or declaration by Jesus
  • The reaction by those who hear him (sometimes including a question or exclamation), which indicates a lack of understanding, i.e. regarding the true meaning of Jesus’ words
  • An explanation by Jesus—a kind of sermon or homily—in which he expounds and elaborates on the (true) meaning of his earlier statement

Occasionally these elements are repeated, producing a discourse with a more complex, cyclical structure. In John 5, the basic structure has been maintained, but widened in scope:

  • Narrative setting—context of a healing miracle on a Sabbath (and festival) day (vv. 1-14)
  • Statement by Jesus (verse 17; vv. 15-16 are transitional)
  • Reaction by those who hear him (verse 18)
  • Explanation/Exposition by Jesus, in two parts:
    • The Son does the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
    • The work(s) as a witness of the Son (and the Father)—vv. 31-47

Verses 16 and 18 establish the connection between the discourse and the Sabbath healing episode; otherwise, there would seem to be little relation between the two. Jesus does not even mention the Sabbath in verses 19-47; rather, the theme, especially in verses 19-30, is on Jesus (the Son) doing the works of God (the Father). The statement by Jesus in verse 17 does, however, draw upon the ancient tradition that associates the Sabbath rest with God resting (ceasing) from his work (as Creator) on the seventh day. There are two components to Jesus’ saying, and each is provocative in its own right:

  • “My Father works (even) until (right) now…”—which implies that God’s work of creating (new) life actually continues right until the present moment. Jesus’ relationship to God (i.e. as Son) is also implied by his emphatic personalization, “my Father”.
  • “…and I (also) work”—the parallelism is intentional here, meaning that Jesus does the same kind of (life-creating) work as God. In the narrative context, this would refer to the healing of the disabled man; but in the discourse which follows (vv. 19-30ff), the emphasis is on resurrection—the granting of new life to those who are dead (literally and figuratively).

The implications of Jesus’ saying were not lost on his hearers, according to the reaction of the “Jews” narrated in verse 18:

“Through [i.e. because of] this, then, the Jews sought to kill him off, (in) that [i.e. because] not only did he loosen [i.e. break/violate] the Shabbat (law), he even counted God (as) his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

Do the Jews misunderstand Jesus’ statement, as the position of this reaction in the Johannine discourse format would suggest? Jesus never quite presents himself as equal (i&so$) to God in the Gospel. The closest he comes is in 8:58 and 10:30; but, in neither passage is the word i&so$ used. The word only occurs once in the New Testament in such a context—in the “Christ-hymn” of Philippians (2:6-11, v. 6), a passage which must read and studied carefully.

What, then, does Jesus actually say about his relationship to God in the discourse of Jn 5:19-30ff? It is precisely that of a Son to his Father. The principal idea stems from basic parental instruction, but, more specifically, from the common situation of the son who follows in the occupation of his father, and who must learn his trade by watching and listening to his father carefully. Jesus uses this motif repeatedly in the Gospel of John—the Son says and does (only) what he hears and sees his Father saying and doing (v. 19). It is a perfect imitation, and perfect obedience as well. Ultimately, the Son does the work that the Father does—the same work. This work essentially is to give life—new life—to those who are without it. The discourse moves from healing (vv. 1-14) to raising the dead (vv. 21-29)—resurrection both in a spiritual (vv. 21-24) and physical (vv. 25-29) sense. Verse 26 perhaps summarizes best Jesus’ own understanding of his relationship to God in this passage:

“For just as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave (it) to the Son to hold life in himself”

It is this life that the Son (Jesus) gives to others, to those who believe in him (vv. 24, 47, etc). It should be apparent how this idea relates to the miracle story (tradition) in vv. 1-15, and yet far transcends it, leading to a much deeper sense, and understanding, of Jesus’ life-giving power.

Note of the Day – March 7 (Matt 12:9-14; Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments
Matthew 12:9-14 (continued)

For the introduction to Matt 12:9-14 and the Sabbath Controversy episode (Mk 3:1-6 par), see the previous day’s note. I mentioned there the main difference between Matthew’s version and that in Mark/Luke (which we may call the basic Synoptic version). To illustrate the difference, let us compare Matt 12:10b-12 with Mark 3:2-4.

Point 1—Mk 3:2 / Matt 12:10b

Mark:
“And they [i.e. the Pharisees] watched alongside of him (to see) if he will heal [i.e. work healing] on (one of) the Sabbath (day)s, (so) that they might make a public (charge/complaint) against him”

Matthew:
“And they questioned him about (it), saying, ‘If it is [i.e. is it] permitted to heal [i.e. work healing] on the Sabbath (days)?’ (so) that they might make a public (charge/complaint) against him”

Instead of the Pharisees simply watching Jesus carefully, in Matthew’s version they specifically ask him the question whether it is permitted to heal someone on the Sabbath. This runs contrary to Luke’s version (6:8), in which Jesus responds to them by knowing their thoughts—i.e. without their saying or asking him anything.

Point 2—Matt 12:11-12

Between verses 10 and 13, corresponding to a point between Mk 3:2 and 3, Matthew includes (or ‘inserts’) an illustration and saying which effectively answers the Pharisees question in v. 10b. This is not in the Synoptic tradition of Mark/Luke. It would appear to represent a separate tradition. This might explain the difference between verse 10b and Mk 3:2 as well. In order to include the saying here, the Gospel writer likely modified the traditional context of Mk 3:2ff par, setting it as a response to a question by the Pharisees. As it happens, there is a parallel to Matt 12:10b-12 in the Gospel of Luke, in a similar episode, but in a different location.

Luke 14:1-6

Here we find another healing story, again on the Sabbath, and likewise involving the healing of a sick/disabled man (in the presence of Pharisees). This time, however, the episode is not set in the synagogue, but in the house of a leading Pharisee (v. 1). The man does not have a withered hand, but is said to suffer from a “watery appearance” (u(drwpiko/$)—i.e. “dropsy”, an excess of fluid due to a disease in the inner organs (kidneys, etc). Note first the similarities with the earlier (Synoptic) episode:

  • The Sabbath setting and the gathering of Scribes/Pharisees (vv. 1-2; 6:6-7a)
  • The presence of the sick/disabled man (v. 2; 6:6a, 8)
  • The question by Jesus whether it is permitted to heal on the Sabbath (v. 3; 6:9)
  • Their silence to his question (v. 4a, also 6; implied in the earlier episode, cf. Mk 3:4)
  • The healing of the man which follows (v. 4b; 6:10)
  • A concluding reaction by the Pharisees, showing their inability to cope with Jesus’ teaching and authority (v. 6; 6:11)

The basic outline is virtually the same, though specific details differ. The main difference is in the example Jesus gives in verse 5, which is very close to that of Matt 12:11 (set in the earlier healing episode); compare:

Matthew:
“What one is (there) out of [i.e. among] you that (if he) will hold [i.e. possess] a sheep, and this one should fall in a deep (hole) on (one of) the Sabbath (day)s, will he not grab hold of it (firmly) and raise it (out)?”

Luke:
“What (one) of you, (if) a son or (even) an ox will fall into a (deep) well, will he not also straight away pull him/it out on the Sabbath day?”
Note: Some witnesses read “donkey” (o&no$) instead of “son” (ui(o/$)

The wording is different, but the basic example (even the form of it) is much the same. Just as interesting is the similarity between the question of Jesus to the Pharisees in verse 3, as it is quite close in form to the question by the Pharisees to Jesus in Matt 12:10b. Again, let us compare the two:

Matthew:
e&cestin toi=$ sa/bbasin qerapeu=sai;
“is it allowed to heal on the Sabbath days?”

Luke:
e&cestin tw=| sabba/tw| qerapeu=sai h* ou&;
“is it allowed to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

Both of these points of similarity strongly indicate that Matthew has combined two distinct (separate) traditions into one episode, while Luke has retained them both as separate episodes. To complicate matters further, the Gospel of Luke contains a third Sabbath healing episode, which also has a number of points in common (with the other two).

Luke 13:10-17

In Lk 13:10-17 we find a miracle story which has many points in common with that in 6:6-11 par. Again Jesus is in a synagogue (teaching, in Luke’s version), on a Sabbath day, with a crippled person in attendance. This time it is a disabled woman, her body stooped and bent over, unable to straighten herself (v. 11). After Jesus heals her (“Woman, you are loosed from your disability”, v. 12), it is the leader of the synagogue who objects to Jesus performing this work on the Sabbath, framing the matter in traditional religious terms (v. 14). Jesus responds with an example that has a general similarity to the one in 14:5 (also Matt 12:11, cf. above):

“Does not each one of you, on the Sabbath, loose his ox or his donkey from the feeding-trough and lead it away to give it (a) drink?” (v. 15)

Then, just as in the earlier healing episode (in Matt 12:12), Jesus applies the illustration directly to the person who is healed (on the Sabbath). Each response brings home vividly the point of Jesus’ teaching—that care for human need takes priority over the (strict) observance of the Sabbath regulation. The statement in Matt 12:12 reads:

“How much then does (this) carry through (for) a man (more) than a sheep! So too is it allowed (for us) to do well [i.e. good] on the Sabbath days.”

In Luke 13:16, despite deriving from a different tradition, Jesus’ words have much the same sentiment:

“And this (woman), being a daughter of Abraham, whom the Satan has bound—see! (for) eighteen years—is it not necessary (for her) to be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

It is easy to see, I think, from these examples, how traditions, with similar details and thematic points of emphasis, could be joined together and combined within the Gospel Tradition. There were doubtless many stories—of healing miracles, and Sabbath controversy scenes, etc—which did not come down to us, but which may have been known to the Gospel writers at the time. Luke records three such traditions, all quite similar in many ways, and Matthew may have combined two of them into a single account, as I have documented above. If added confirmation of this dynamic were needed, one could point to yet another Sabbath healing episode—quite apart from the Synoptic tradition—from the Gospel of John. This example, which I will discuss in the next daily note, also demonstrates a further development of the original (historical) tradition, such as we often see in the Fourth Gospel.

The Damascus Document, generally associated with the Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), contains an example quite similar to the one used by Jesus in Matthew 12:11f (and Luke 14:5). Only it makes the opposite point:

“Let no one assist a beast in giving birth on the Sabbath day. Even if it drops (its newborn) into a cistern or into a pit, one is not to raise it up on the Sabbath” (CD 11:13-14) [translation by J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke AB 28a, p. 1040]

This strict interpretation of the Sabbath law, presumably accepted by the Qumran Community, almost directly contradicts the attitude assumed by the saying of Jesus.

Note of the Day – March 6 (Mark 3:1-6; Matt 12:9-14; Lk 6:6-11)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

Mark 3:1-6 par—Sabbath Controversy #2

Today’s note looks at the second of two “Sabbath Controversy” episodes in the Synoptic Gospels (see yesterday’s note for the first, Mark 2:23-28 par). These two traditions share a common theme, which doubtless explains why they were joined together in the core Synoptic Tradition. The theme they share is a contrast between a strict (one may say over-strict) observance of the Law (i.e. the Sabbath regulations) and the care for human needs. It has been noted by many commentators that no definite violation of the Sabbath was made by Jesus himself in either episode; certainly the healing in Mk 3:1-6 would not qualify as “work” that breaks the Sabbath Law. Even the act of the disciples plucking and eating grain would be a borderline transgression, by any manner of interpretation. This has caused many critical commentators to question the historicity/factuality of the episodes; one scholar refers to the “air of artificiality” and “unrealistic setting” of the scenes (Sanders, p. 265). For more on these historical-critical questions, and on the relevant Torah passages (and their interpretation), cf. my earlier series “Jesus and the Law“, especially the two articles on the Sabbath Controversies.

Once again, I begin the study with the Gospel of Mark, as representing, more or less, the basic Synoptic tradition. The narrative fits the Gospel pattern of many of the healing miracle stories; cf. the earlier episode in 2:1-12 for an immediate (and particularly relevant) example. The outline is as follows:

  • The narrative setting, told very simply (v. 1)—Jesus comes into a synagogue, and there is a man in attendance with a “dried out” (i.e. withered) hand. It is clearly a Sabbath day, though this is not indicated (in Mark) until verse 2.
  • The point of tension and conflict is stated in verse 2: “And they kept (watch) alongside him (to see) if he will work healing on (one of) the Sabbath (day)s…” For the reader who begins with chapter 3 here, it would not be clear who “they” are, but it certainly must be understood, in the traditional/literary context, as referring to the same (or some of the same) Pharisees mentioned in 2:24ff (see also v. 6). Their purpose for watching was “(so) that they might bring down a public (charge/complaint) against him”—i.e. for violating the Sabbath law. There is a similar sort of reaction by the “Writers” (i.e. the literate experts on Scripture and the Torah), often identified with Pharisees, against Jesus in the earlier miracle episode (2:7).
  • Verses 3-5—This will be discussed in more detail below, but here is the outline of the central scene:
    • Jesus calls to the sick man—”Stand in the middle” (v. 3)
    • Jesus’ question (to his opponents), i.e. the saying (vv. 4-5a)
      —Their reaction, keeping silent (v. 4b)
      —Jesus’ reaction to them (v. 5a)
    • Jesus calls to the sick man—”Stretch out (your) hand” (v. 5b)
      And as the man obeys, his hand is restored, i.e. made as it was before.
  • Narrative conclusion—the Pharisees “straightaway” (i.e. right away) take counsel together with certain Herodians to “destroy” Jesus. In the narrative context, their reaction is not merely due to this one episode, but represents the culmination of all that has occurred from 2:1 through 3:5, the result of growing tension and opposition to Jesus.

Two aspects of Mark’s account are worth considering. The first is the way Jesus’ reaction is narrated, both before and after the central question. Though not specifically stated, Jesus apparently recognizes their thoughts and intent (see 2:6-8a), and takes the initiative, presenting the challenging question to them. This takes place in the midst of his act of healing (right before it), with the man to be healed in the center of the stage; again this may be compared with the earlier miracle scene (2:8-9). His reaction after the healing is described vividly:

“And looking around at them with anger, and saddened with them upon [i.e. at/by] the hardness of their heart…” (v. 5a)

It is a mixture of anger and sadness he feels toward these religious leaders, the reason for which can be seen in their response (silence) to his question (v. 4)—the question being second aspect to be considered:

“Is it allowed (for us) on the Sabbath (day)s to do good or to do ill, to save a soul [i.e. life] or to kill (it) off?”

On the verb translated here as “allowed” (e&cesti), see the previous note. This saying (question) by Jesus is the central element of the narrative; and it cuts to the point of the episode. While the Pharisees were watching to see if Jesus might (technically) violate the Sabbath law by doing work (i.e. any work), his question emphasizes rather the kind of work involved—doing good or ill, saving or killing. The implication is that any work that is good or saves/preserves life does not violate the Sabbath. That there was considerable debate regarding what did (and did not) constitute “work” on the Sabbath is seen from subsequent Rabbinic tradition; but generally speaking, if human life and safety was involved, this situation would override the Sabbath restriction (m. Yoma 8:6; Strack-Billerbeck I.622-30, cf. Fitzmyer, p. 607).

Before we can determine just how this episode was understood within the Gospel Tradition, it is necessary to examine how it may have developed in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. I begin with Luke’s account (6:6-11), as it more or less follows the Markan narrative.

Luke 6:6-11

To the extent that Luke has inherited a (Synoptic) tradition corresponding to Mk 3:1-6, the ‘additions’ are limited to details which enhance, and make more vivid (and immediate), the dramatic elements of the scene:

  • V. 6—Luke specifies that this episode took place “on a different Sabbath” (i.e. from that of the previous episode in 6:1-5); Mark’s account could be read as though the two scenes took place on the same day. Luke mentions that Jesus entered the synagogue to teach (for this Lukan emphasis, cf. 4:15, 31-32; 5:17; 10:39; 13:10, etc). He also adds the detail that it was the man’s right hand that was withered.
  • V. 7—The ones watching Jesus are specified as “Writers” (i.e. the literate legal/Scriptural experts) and Pharisees—”Scribes and Pharisees”, often joined together in the Gospel Tradition, though it is not clear if this represents a single group with two attributes (hendiadys) or two separate groups.
  • V. 8—Luke specifies what has to be inferred in Mark’s narrative, that Jesus “had seen [i.e. knew] their thoughts”. The word usually rendered “thoughts” (pl. of Greek dialogismo/$), from the verb dialogi/zomai, essentially means the gathering of things through one’s mind (or heart); the words are used fairly often by Luke. The scene is further made more dramatic by Jesus directing the man to “rise and stand in the middle”.
  • V. 9—Jesus begins his question in a more formal fashion: “I (will) question you about (it/this)…” Otherwise, the Lukan version of the question is quite close to that of Mark (3:4, above), with only slight differences in vocabulary and syntax.
  • V. 10—Interestingly, Luke apparently does not include what is perhaps the most dramatic detail in Mark’s account—the reaction of Jesus (though it is preserved variously in some MSS). The italicized portion of Mk 3:5a represents what is in v. 10a of Luke’s narrative:
    And looking around at [Lk adds all of] them with anger, and saddened with them upon [i.e. at/by] the hardness of their heart, he says/said to the man [Lk to him]…”
  • V. 11—Luke’s version of the Pharisees’ climactic reaction to Jesus is more direct and generalized than in Mark: “And they were filled with mindless (anger) and spoke throughout toward [i.e. with] (one) another (about) what they might do to Jesus”. There is no specific mention here of wanting to “destroy” Jesus (Mk 3:6).
Matthew 12:9-14

When we turn to Matthew’s version of the scene, we find again the same core Synoptic tradition; however, it appears to have been modified at its central point. Matthew shares the basic outline with Mark/Luke; in fact, the concluding verses (13-14) are very close to Mk 3:5b-6. The remainder of the episode, however, differs in two major ways:

  1. The narrative introduction is much simpler (compare with Mk 3:1-2 par); verses 9-10a read:
    “And…he came into their synagogue, and see—a man (was there) having a dry/withered hand.”
  2. The central section (vv. 10b-12) is quite different from the account in Mark/Luke. Because this portion has similarities with two different episodes in Luke (13:10-17; 14:1-6), it will be necessary to discuss this in some detail in the next daily note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981). Those marked “Sanders” are to E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985).

Note of the Day – March 5 (Mark 2:23-28; Matt 12:1-8; Lk 6:1-5)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

Mark 2:23-28 par—Sabbath Controversy #1

Following the method I have adopted for this series, I begin with the Gospel of Mark, as generally representing the basic Synoptic tradition. However, in this instance, there are at least two points where a distinct Markan addition may be involved. For the context of this episode within the Gospel narrative, cf. the previous day’s note.

The structure of the scene is reasonably simple and straightforward:

  • The narrative setting and action—the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath (v. 23)
  • Reaction by certain Pharisees (v. 24)
  • Jesus’ answer to them—an example from Scripture (vv. 25-26)
  • Saying(s) of Jesus (vv. 27-28)

The saying (or pair of saying) in verses 27-28 provides the central significance of the scene and characterizes it as a pronouncement episode (the earlier scene in vv. 13-17 is another such episode). Let us briefly examine each of the four components in vv. 23-28:

Verse 23—The scene is set: “And it came to be (that)….”. Jesus and his disciples are traveling along, and, as they make their way through some fields, the disciples begin to pluck the heads of grain from the stalks. The centrality of the Sabbath setting is established by the relative emphatic position of the phrase “on (one of) the Shabbat (day)s” toward the beginning of the verse. The plural usage is fairly common, indicating the regularity of the day, as marking each week of the year.

Verse 24—Some Pharisees react with disapproval at the disciples’ behavior. The narrative leads one to imagine that they are right there standing in the fields watching; but it more plausibly represents the type of reaction that Jesus’ traditional-religious opponents (i.e. among the Pharisees) had to the (regular) behavior of he and his disciples. Their question to Jesus is “For what [i.e. why] do (your followers) do on the Sabbath (day)s th(at) which is not allowed?” The word translated “allowed” here is the verb e&cesti, which is difficult to render into English literally, but fundamentally refers to something which comes out of (e)c) a person—i.e. that one has the ability to do. From this is developed the idea of a person’s freedom to do something, and, by extension, that there are no obstacles against doing it—i.e. one is allowed or permitted to do it. Here, in the context of the Old Testament Law (Torah) this means what the Law permits (or does not permit). For the background to the Sabbath observance involved in this passage (cf. Exod 34:21, etc), consult my earlier discussion on the Sabbath controversy episodes in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

Verses 25-26—In response, Jesus cites an example from Scripture, from the life of David (1 Sam 21:1-6). Even though, in the context of that passage, the Temple had not yet been built, and the sanctuary (at the time) was located at the site of Nob, it is referred to as the “house of God” (o( oi@ko$ tou= qeou=), which could be applied easily enough to the Jerusalem Temple, as we see in Matthew’s version (below). The basic message is clear enough: caring for human need (in this case, hunger) takes precedence over religious regulations (i.e. the Temple ritual, cf. Lev 24:5-9).

Verses 27-28—The episode culminates with a saying by Jesus (or, possibly, a pair of sayings). It is not entirely clear whether the Gospel here has joined together separate sayings by Jesus, or whether they entered into the tradition originally as a dual-saying. In my view, the latter is more likely. Here is the two-fold saying as it reads in Mark:

“The Shabbat {Sabbath} (day) is through [i.e. because of] the man, and not the man through the Shabbat (day)”
“So too the S/son of M/man is L/lord also of the Shabbat (day)”

The saying in verse 27 is relatively straightforward, though commentators have not always grasped the full consequence of it. Jesus essentially reverses the original sense of the Sabbath Law (and tradition)—it was instituted to commemorate God ceasing (or “resting”) from His work of Creation (Exod 20:8-11, etc). Yet Jesus states that it was put in place “through [dia] man”—that is, on behalf of, for the purpose and benefit of, human beings. This, of course, is also part of the basic Sabbath Law (Exod 16:23-29, etc). But in this context—with the emphasis on the care and concern for the needs of human beings—the Sabbath regulation takes on a humanitarian, rather than ritual, purpose. Given the thrust of verse 27, it is possible that v. 28 is parallel to it. In the Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) idiom, the expression “son of man” is often synonymous with “man”, the two being set as parallel frequently in Hebrew poetry, i.e. “man…son of man…” (Num 23:19; Job 16:21; Psalm 8:4; Isa 51:12, et al). In such instances, it refers to humankind generally. If this is the sense in which Jesus uses it here, then the dual saying would be understood something like:

“The Sabbath was put in place for man, not man for the Sabbath
Even so, is man the lord of the Sabbath!”

In other sayings and situations, however, Jesus uses the expression “son of man” in a different sense—(1) in reference to himself, both as a human being, and/or as the Chosen One of God, and (2) specifically identifying himself as the divine/heavenly representative of God (“the Son of Man”) who will appear at the end-time Judgment. For more on this subject, cf. the article in my series “Yeshua the Anointed”. There can be little doubt that Matthew and Luke understood the expression here as a self-title of Jesus (cf. below).

Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5

This brings us to the tradition as it appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both Gospels generally follow the Markan narrative, with three notable differences:

  • They refer to the disciples plucking the heads of grain and eating (Matt 12:1; Lk 6:1) them. This has to be inferred from the narrative in Mark, but the detail places greater emphasis on the theme of caring for human needs (i.e. hunger)—indeed, Matthew specifically mentions that the disciples were hungry.
  • They each omit, or otherwise do not include, any mention of the (High) Priest who served at Nob (12:3f; 6:3f). Most critical commentators, who hold that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, believe that the reference was left out intentionally, since mention of Abiathar as the Priest would seem to represent an inaccuracy by Mark (consult the standard Commentaries for more on this point). It is less likely to be a Markan addition to the core Synoptic tradition, but that is still a possibility; even an early scribal addition or gloss might be considered.
  • Neither Matthew nor Luke has the saying corresponding to Mk 2:27.

This last detail is especially significant, since the lack of any reference to the first saying (about man) effectively removes the possibility that the expression “son of man” is meant in the generic sense in the second saying (12:8; 6:5, cf. above). In Matthew and Luke, almost certainly, it is understood as a (self-)title of Jesus and should be translated so—i.e., “Son of Man”. The saying then takes on a different emphasis; Jesus is identifying himself as the “Lord of the Sabbath”. The implication of this is clear enough—as the Lord over the Sabbath, Jesus’ words and actions, his ministry and personal presence, take precedence over the Sabbath laws. Whether or not the Pharisees properly interpret the regulations ultimately is beside the point; the emphasis is on Jesus’ authority over the Sabbath.

If there were any doubt in this regard, Matthew’s version makes it abundantly clear, by way of the ‘additions’ which are found in verses 5-7. These are three-fold:

  1. A second example from Scripture involving the Priesthood (v. 5), which makes the point in a different manner—the priests who work in the Temple on the Sabbath day are not guilty of violating the Sabbath.
  2. A saying involving the Temple (v. 6): “(one) greater than the Temple is here”. Compare the form of similar sayings (from the so-called “Q” material) in Matt 11:11; 12:41-42 par. Jesus takes the point a step further by essentially declaring himself to be greater than the Temple. The implication, in light of the example in v. 5, is that those who work in his service (i.e. his disciples) on the Sabbath do not violate it. It is but a small step to extend this principle to the entire Temple ritual, and, indeed, the Law (Torah) as a whole. On this, see the detailed discussions in the series “Jesus and the Law“.
  3. A citation from Hosea 6:6—(in Greek) “I wish (for) mercy, not (ritual) slaughter [i.e. sacrifice]”. Jesus quotes this same verse earlier (Matt 9:13 par), part of the core Synoptic tradition. Here it is even more pointed, in relationship to observance of the Law—”If you had known what (this) is [i.e. what the Scripture means]…you would not have brought down ju(dgment) (on) the (one)s (who are) without cause (of guilt)!” I.e., human beings (and, especially, Jesus’ own followers) who care for ordinary needs through ‘work’ on the Sabbath (even if it technically violates the regulations) are not guilty of any such violation.

Verse 5 would be categorized as “M” material (i.e. a tradition found only in Matthew); most likely this is so for the sayings in v. 6 and 7 as well, but these are harder to judge, on critical grounds. Regardless of the source of these traditions, their presence in Matthew’s version evinces an unmistakable development of the tradition. His version of the episode goes beyond the Markan and Lukan accounts, giving it a Christological resonance lacking in the other versions. Not only is Jesus the Son of Man and Lord of the Sabbath—but his authority is greater than even the Law and the Temple itself.

Note of the Day – March 4 (Mark 2:23-3:6, etc)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

Mark 2:23-3:6 (& par)

The next topic in this study on the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry, as recorded in the Gospel Tradition (cf. Introduction), looks at the “Sabbath Controversy” episodes. There are two main traditions recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, which were joined together, it would seem, at a relatively early point, since they are found in sequence in Mark 2:23-3:6 par. It presumably represents an example of thematic or “catchword” bonding—two traditions, each involving observance of the Sabbath, become linked together. The association is primarily thematic, rather than chronological. The two traditions are:

  1. The episode of Jesus’ disciples gathering (and eating) grain in a field on the Sabbath (Mk 2:23-28)
  2. The healing of a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Mk 3:1-6)

These two episodes are actually part of a larger sequence (of five) showing the reaction of the religious authorities (i.e. Pharisees and teachers/experts on the Law [and Scripture]) to Jesus, and depicting their (growing) opposition toward him. The sequence, as it appears in the Synoptic (Markan) narrative, makes up a distinctive block of traditions for the Galilean period, and can be arranged into flanking pairs:

  • Healing miracle (2:1-12)
    • Jesus and the disciples eating with “sinners” (2:13-17)
      • Question regarding fasting (2:18-22)
    • The disciples plucking/eating grain on the Sabbath (2:23-28)
  • Healing miracle on the Sabbath (3:1-6)

At the conclusion (3:6), in a climactic point of the narrative, the Pharisees start making plans to “destroy” Jesus.

The two miracle episodes show a similar structure, centered around an illustrative teaching by Jesus (2:8b-10; 3:4); likewise the two episodes in 2:13-17, 23-28 are both pronouncement scenes, which lead into a fundamental declaration by Jesus (vv. 17, 27-28). The central episode of 2:18-22, which perhaps most clearly shows the tension between Jesus and the religious mindset of the Pharisees, features a pair of proverbial teachings, functioning almost as short illustrative parables (vv. 19-20, 21-22). The five episodes may also be grouped in a different way, representing a thematic progression:

  • Jesus and sin/sinners (2:1-12, 13-17)—the forgiveness of sin (by Jesus)
  • Jesus and religious tradition (2:18-22)—the newness of Jesus’ teaching
  • Jesus and the Law (Sabbath) (2:23-28; 3:1-6)—the priority of Jesus and his mission

Each theme has in common the basic idea that Jesus’ own (personal) authority and presence (including his ministry work) supersedes the established traditional/religious forms governing Israelite and Jewish society.

Matthew’s Gospel has the same block of five episodes, but organizes them differently, separating the first three (9:2-8, 9-13, 14-17) from the last two (12:1-8, 9-14). In so doing, the author has rearranged the material and has included various other traditions (from the so-called “Q” and “M” material). The main organizing principle involves a division into two sections, each of which begins with Jesus gathering his disciples (5:1; 10:1-4) and providing instruction to them, in the form of a block of teaching (a kind of “sermon” in the literary context)—5:2-7:27 and 10:5-42, respectively. After this instruction, each section narrates episodes from the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry. The first section has a more clearly defined structure, with three groups of miracle stories (8:1-17; 8:23-9:8; 9:18-34) separated by teaching involving Jesus’ disciples and/or the theme of discipleship (8:18-22; 9:9-17). The second section appears to be structured more loosely, but the general emphasis is on the reaction of people to Jesus’ ministry. The Sabbath controversy episodes come from the second section of the Galilean period in Matthew (12:1-14).

Luke, by contrast, retains the Synoptic/Markan sequence and order of the five episodes, and also their general position in the narrative—Lk 5:17-6:11. However, as we shall see, Luke also includes two other episodes (13:10-17; 14:1-6) which are parallel to the Sabbath healing tradition of 6:6-11. This will be discussed in terms of the development of the core Synoptic tradition (Mk 3:1-6 par).

The next daily note will examine the first of the Sabbath controversy episodes—the scene of the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath.

Saturday Series (Introduction)

By | Saturday Series | No Comments

This post inaugurates a new Saturday Series on this website. In it I will be taking a somewhat lighter, introductory approach to the study of Scripture. Readers who may have found the level of (scholarly) detail in the notes and articles on this site a bit daunting, will, I think, appreciate the approach to be taken in this series—which will feature a new article each Saturday. Overall, the focus will be the same: biblical criticism and what has been called the grammatical-historical method. It may help to define both of these terms.

Biblical Criticism

The word “criticism” in modern English can be quite misleading, as it typically suggests something negative, even mean-spirited. But this is scarcely how the word should be understood here, in its proper sense. The word, ultimately derived from the Greek verb kri/nw (krínw), refers to judgment and discernment—i.e., the process of analysis, sorting, sifting, separating (the fundamental meaning of the verb). A person engaged in Biblical criticism is simply examining and analyzing the text of the Biblical passage in detail—separating out the words and phrases, the grammar, historical background, the purpose of the author, how the original audience would have understood it, how it has been understood and interpreted throughout the years, and so forth. Each element or aspect of the text is studied and analyzed in turn, so far as one is able, and to the extent that relevant information (for comparison, etc) is available.

Grammatical-Historical Method

This refers to a particular mode or orientation in the analysis and interpretation of Scripture. The first word (“grammatical“) means the language of the text, i.e. its syntax and grammar—the particular words and phrases, and how they are used. This really requires that the text be studied in its original language (Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament, Greek for the New). One cannot properly engage in Biblical criticism working from a translation. This presents a problem, since many Christians who earnestly desire to study the Scriptures at a deeper level do not know Hebrew and Greek, or have only a rudimentary familiarity with those languages, perhaps just beginning to learn them. One of the main purposes of this website is to help guide interested readers and students through those difficult first steps of Biblical study—the examination of the text in its original language. Here in the Saturday Series, I will refer to the Hebrew and Greek less often, focusing on specific verses in more detail, giving more explanation—through the use of both literal (glossed) translation and more conventional renderings—to the basic meaning of the words and phrases as they are used in context.

The second word (“historical“) can be taken several ways. Primarily it refers to the original historical context and setting of the passage (and the book) being studied. This means that attention must first be given toward, not what the text means to me, but what it meant to the author and (so far as it can be determined) to the original audience. Secondarily, “historical” refers to the historical background of certain words, phrases, images, and ideas in the text. Here it is important to consider, whenever possible, parallels in other writings contemporary with the Scriptures. It is also useful to examine how the meaning and significance of words and forms may have developed over time. This helps to highlight the specific and distinctive way the author makes use of them in a particular passage or setting. And, thirdly, some attention must be given to the process of composition of a text—how it has developed and taken shape over time. This is especially important because many of the books of Scripture are to be characterized as traditional literature;  that is to say, they are comprised of numerous traditions which have been passed down, in oral and/or written form, from person to person, generation to generation. This last aspect touches on a specific type of criticism, usually referred to as historical criticism.

This is not the only way to study and interpret the Scriptures. Other methods and approaches may be taken; however, it is best to begin with a thorough grammatical-historical approach to the text. From there, on that solid foundation, one may venture into more imaginative and creative modes of study.

The first study in this series will begin next Saturday (March 9th). Before you embark on this series with me, I strongly recommend that you read through the three-part article (“Learning the Language”) I wrote for this site some time ago. It covers all the main topics and terminology related to Biblical Criticism (and, in particular, Textual Criticism). It may help you to understand better the approach I am taking; and, if you have any fears or apprehensions about the idea of “Biblical Criticism”, that article may alleviate them.

Please consider joining me on this series, and I hope to see you here next Saturday.

Blessings, in Christ

Note of the Day – March 2 (Acts 1:14, etc)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

In the last several daily notes, I have been looking at the main Gospel traditions involving the family and relatives of Jesus. These early traditions occasionally put Jesus’ relatives in something of a negative light—suggesting a certain misunderstanding of who he is and the nature of his mission, and, at times, even reflecting opposition toward him. Such traditions soon would disappear; we can actually see this process at work, by noting that there is nothing corresponding to Mark 3:20-21 in either Matthew or Luke—the episode described briefly in those verses has ‘dropped out’ of the Gospel Tradition. At the same time, Jesus’ family came to achieve a revered position and status in the early Church. While we know virtually nothing of Jesus’ sisters (mentioned in Mk 6:3), his mother (Mary) and at least some of his brothers began to feature prominently in early Christian tradition by the end of the first century. Something of this is reflected already in the New Testament, and must, on objective grounds, go back to authentic (historical) tradition. Here I will briefly examine the New Testament references (1) to Mary, (2) to James, and finally (3) the important Lukan description in Acts 1:14.

1. Mary, the mother of Jesus

It is scarcely necessary to mention the revered position of Mary, as Jesus’ mother, well-established (with traditions full of fabulous details), by the early 2nd century A.D. It has always been somewhat surprising to Christians that the New Testament, on the whole, has so little to say about her. If we separate out the Infancy Narratives of Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, she is mentioned by name in just one passage—Mark 6:3 (par Matt 13:55). In several other places she is referred to as “his mother”, or otherwise indirectly (Mark 3:31-32ff par; John 2:3ff; 19:25-27; Gal 4:4). Given the importance of the virgin birth for Christians past and present, it is worth pointing out that even the birth of Jesus is scarcely mentioned in the New Testament, apart from the Infancy narratives.

Mary appears in the Matthean Infancy narrative , but it is really Joseph who is featured most prominently in those passages (1:16, 18-25; 2:13-15, 19-23). On the other hand, in the Gospel of Luke, Mary takes center stage. It is she who receives the Angelic message (1:26-38), is honored by Elizabeth (1:39-45), utters the Magnificat hymn [according to most MSS] (1:46-55), has a central place in the birth scene (2:5-7, 16-19), and in the purification ritual that brings the family to the Temple (2:22-24), and is addressed directly within Simeon’s oracle (2:34-35). I have discussed the Infancy narratives in considerable detail in a series of notes during Advent and Christmas season; here I will point out several verses in the Lukan narrative which indicate Mary’s faith, and, if we may say, her spiritual growth:

  • At the Angel’s initial appearance and greeting (1:28-29), Mary is thoroughly disturbed (vb. diatara/ssw) but also “gathers things through” (dialogi/zomai), i.e. in her mind. This use of dialogi/zomai is significant.
  • Following the Angel’s message, Mary responds with trust and obedience—”See, (I am) the slave-girl of the Lord; let it come to be for me according to your utterance [i.e. your word]” (v. 38)
  • Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary contains the declaration: “and happy [i.e. blessed] (is she) the one trusting that there will be a completion [i.e. fulfillment] to the (thing)s spoken to her (from) alongside the Lord” (v. 45). Again, this indicates Mary’s faith/trust in God.
  • After the birth of Jesus, and following the visit of the shepherds announcing the miraculous things they had seen and heard (i.e. Angels’ message, 2:10-14), it is said of Mary in verse 19, that “she kept all these (thing)s (close) together, throwing (them) together, in her heart”. This suggests that Mary is beginning to ponder the true nature and identity of the child born to her. The two verbs used here are parallel to the two in 1:29, following the Angel’s announcement:
    • diatara/ssw (pass. “[be] stirred/disturbed through[out]”)
      dialogi/zomai (“gather [i.e. consider] [things] through”)
    • sunthre/w (“keep [things] together”)
      sumba/llw (“cast/throw [things] together”, i.e. in one’s mind)
  • In 2:21-24, along with v. 39 and 41ff, Mary and Joseph are depicted as faithful in observing the religious requirements and regulations set down in the Old Testament/Jewish Law.
  • The statement by Simeon, in his oracle, addressed directly to Mary (in v. 35a): “and a sword also will come/go through your heart”. As I discussed in an earlier note, this declaration may possibly allude to Ezekiel 14:17, and the sword of God’s Judgment that will pass through the land. If Mary represents the people of Israel, at the transition point between the Old and New Covenants, then the sword that separates and divides (cf. the context of vv. 34-35) will also pass through Mary (her own heart). She, too, will have to come to terms with Jesus’ identity.
  • In the following episode (the child Jesus in the Temple, vv. 41-50), it is illustrated that Mary still does not fully understand who Jesus is—his true identity (as God’s Son) and the nature of his mission (to be in/among “the things of God”), cf. verses 48-49.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ mother (not mentioned by name) appears in two episodes. The first is the miracle at Cana (2:1-12), in which she requests Jesus to perform a miracle for the wedding party. This narrative, on objective grounds, has all the earmarks of an early (authentic) tradition, though one which is unique to John. There are also certain similarities between this episode and that of Luke 2:41-50. Each includes a question/request by Mary, and a response by Jesus, illustrating that his mother does not truly understand the nature and purpose of his mission. The second scene occurs at the crucifixion (19:25-27). Critical scholars are more likely to question the historicity of this tradition, since it would seem to have the (apologetic) purpose of giving prominence to the “disciple whom (Jesus) loved”, and is otherwise absent from the well-established Gospel traditions surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. It is sometimes thought to have symbolic significance—e.g., Mary as the “mother” of the disciples (i.e. the Church, represented by the beloved Disciple). However, I find it much more likely that the significance is literary, in terms of the overall structure of the Fourth Gospel. The two episodes involving Jesus’ mother are set at the very beginning and end of his ministry on earth, respectively—his first public miracle (in Galilee) and his death (in Jerusalem). In view of the portrait of Jesus in this Gospel—as the eternal Son of God who was sent to earth (as a human being)—Mary was only his mother during the short time of his incarnation and earthly ministry. At the time of Jesus’ death, it was necessary to transfer that (human) sonship to another—the one closest to him, the beloved Disciple.

2. James, the Brother of Jesus

In Mark 6:3 (and the parallel in Matthew), four of Jesus’ brothers are named, including Ya’aqob (Heb. bq)u&y~), transliterated into Greek as Ia/kwbo$, and into English as “Jacob” (the corresponding James comes into English through the Latinized form Iacomus). This is the only mention of James in the Gospels. It is not certain if he is to be counted among the brothers of Jesus in Mk 3:31ff par, or the ‘relatives’ in 3:21 (cf. the earlier note on these traditions). Jesus’ brothers are also part of the tradition recorded in Jn 7:1-9 (also discussed in an earlier note). If James was among the brothers mentioned in these passages, it would indicate that he did not understand or believe in Jesus, at least during the Galilean period of ministry.

The earliest New Testament tradition regarding James would appear to be Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:7, of a resurrection appearance by Jesus to James. Paul cites this as a well-established tradition, passed down to him (vv. 1-3ff), and the way he phrases vv. 3-7 would indicate a relatively fixed (traditional) formula, in place by at least 50 A.D. (if not earlier). In Galatians, Paul does not cite traditions but (his own) memory of recent events in Jerusalem and Antioch. The date of the letter, and the events recorded in chapters 1-2, have varied somewhat among commentators. Style and subject matter suggests a date (for the letter) around the same time as Romans and 2 Corinthians (i.e. early-to-mid-50s). At around 50 A.D., James was an important leader in the Jerusalem Church (1:19; 2:9), whom Paul associates with his Jewish(-Christian) opponents at Antioch and elsewhere (2:12). This generally relates to the controversy addressed at the so-called Jerusalem Council (in Acts 15). In Gal 1:19, Paul refers to James specifically as “the brother of the Lord”.

In the book of Acts, probably written around 70 A.D., but certainly containing many older (historical) traditions, James is mentioned as a leader of the Jerusalem Christians in 12:17. He is also featured in the Jerusalem Council episode (15:13-21), and is associated directly with the letter sent to believers in the region around Antioch (vv. 22-29). What is noteworthy for the author of Acts (trad. Luke) is that Peter and James both speak out in favor of allowing Gentile coverts to be considered part of the Church without requiring their observance of the Old Testament Law (with the exception of the points made in vv. 20-21 and 29). James thus plays a central role in the central episode of the book. After chapter 15, the Jerusalem Church gives way in the narrative to Paul’s missionary work. James does appear in one more episode (21:17-25), which confirms the validity of Paul’s work, but yet still declares the validity of the Law for Jews (and, by extension, Jewish believers). I have dealt with this topic extensively in my earlier series “The Law and the New Testament” (cf. the articles on Paul’s view of the Law, and the Law in Luke-Acts).

Later Christian writers preserve additional traditions regarding James, who was surnamed “the Righteous/Just”. Eusebius (Church History 2.1, 23) cites a (lost) writing by Hegesippus which recorded several such traditions, including (a) the great virtue of James, (b) that he was a Nazirite, (c) spent time in the Holy Place of the Temple (dressed in priestly clothing), (d) that Jesus gave special instruction to him following the resurrection appearance (cf. 1 Cor 15:7), and (e) that he was clubbed to death on the parapet of the Temple sanctuary. James’ death is also reported by Josephus in his Antiquities 20.200. Both Eusebius and Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men 2) consider James to have been Jesus’ half-brother (cf. Mk 15:40 par), and regard him as the first bishop of Jerusalem. James the brother of Jesus is also thought, by most commentators to be the “James” of the New Testament letter, whether such attribution is considered genuine (the traditional-conservative view) or pseudonymous (most critical scholars). Similarly, the “Jude” of the New Testament letter, called “brother of James”, is thought to refer to another of Jesus’ brothers (Mk 6:3 par).

3. Acts 1:14

That at least some of Jesus’ brothers (whether full-brothers, half-brothers, or cousins) had achieved a level of prominence in the early Church is indicated by Paul’s references in Gal 1:19 and 1 Cor 9:5. The latter reference indicates that they were thought of as distinct from the apostles (the Twelve, and others). Yet the brothers of Jesus appear in just one passage of the New Testament, outside of the Gospels—in Acts 1:14. Verses 12-14 are a narrative summary which serves as a transition between the ascension of Jesus (vv. 8-11) and the assembly of the (120) disciples in Jerusalem (vv. 15ff). We read that the disciples who witnessed the ascension returned to Jerusalem, to the (upper) room in which they were staying. Those present were: (a) the Twelve (minus Judas, i.e. Eleven), (b) the women who followed Jesus (cf. Lk 8:2-3; 23:49, 55), (c) his mother Mary, and (d) his brothers. These are precisely the characters who appear in the key section 8:1-21 of the Gospel (vv. 1-3, 19-21). In that passage, Jesus mother and brothers were contrasted with the (close) disciples of Jesus (in vv. 1-3ff). His mother and brothers want to come to Jesus, to meet him and be with him, but are unable to enter the room where he and his disciples are gathered (vv. 19-20)—they remain outside. In Acts, this situation has changed. Now the disciples of Jesus and his family (mother/brothers) are inside, together in the same room. The Jesus’ disciples and his natural family together form a single unified family of faith, a most beautiful picture which essentially fulfills the words of Jesus in Lk 8:21—”my mother and my brothers–these are the ones hearing and doing the word of God!”

Note of the Day – March 1 (Luke 4:16-30)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

In yesterday’s note I looked at the tradition of Jesus’ visit to his hometown (Nazareth) in Mark 6:1-6a. Matthew’s version (13:53-58) differs only slightly from that of Mark. Luke’s account, as I have already mentioned, has a number of details unique to his version, though it almost certainly is describing the same (historical) event and tradition. These differences I will be discussing today. Before proceeding, it is worth pointing out that neither Mark nor Matthew actually mentioned the name of the town, simply referring to it as Jesus’ patri/$ (patrís), “father(‘s) land”, i.e. the territory of his home town. We may assume that the Gospel writers both understood it to be Nazareth, based on earlier data they recorded (Mk 1:9; Matt 2:13; 4:13), but, in all likelihood, the original tradition as passed down did not include the name of the town. Luke specifically refers to it by name (4:16), and he has good reasons for doing so, as we shall see.

Luke 4:16-30

Let us first note the elements and details which are unique to Luke’s version of the episode, and which he most likely has added to the core Synoptic narrative. We may take these to be (authentic) historical traditions, and, if so, they would be considered part of the so-called “L” material (traditions found only in Luke). The significant additions are as follows:

  • A different narrative introduction (v. 16)
  • The detail of Jesus standing up to read a passage from the Prophets (v. 17)
  • The quotation of Isaiah 61:1, with Jesus’ explanation (vv. 18-21)
  • The proverb cited by Jesus in v. 23
  • The Scriptural examples involving the Prophets Elijah and Elisha (vv. 25-27)
  • The violent reaction by the people, with intent to do harm to Jesus (vv. 28-29f)

The core Synoptic tradition, as found in Mk 6:1-6a (cf. the previous note), can still be glimpsed by combining together vv. 14-15 (with 16), 22, 24, and (very loosely) 28, 30. Beyond the added details listed above, consider how the author has (apparently) modified the core tradition:

  • The details emphasized in verse 16 (cp. Mk 6:1-2a par):
    (a) The name of the town (Nazareth)
    (b) That it was the place where Jesus was nourished (i.e. raised, brought up)
    (c) That he was used to attending local Synagogues on the Sabbath (and teaching there)
  • A different formulation of the people’s reaction—that is, the summary of their words/thoughts (v. 22 / Mk 6:2-3 par)
  • A different version of Jesus’ saying (v. 24 / Mk 6:4)
  • The episode apparently ends with a rather different (more violent) result to Jesus’ visit (vv. 28-30)

Each of these will be examined briefly, going verse by verse.

Verse 16—The Lukan details mentioned above all relate to the distinctive purpose of the episode within the context of the Gospel narrative. Two major literary and thematic elements are clearly at work:

  • The reference to Nazareth as the place where Jesus was brought up (as a child) points back to the Infancy Narrative of chapters 1-2, especially 2:40-52, which share certain motifs and language with 4:16ff. I have discussed these in an earlier note on this passage.
  • This episode illustrates the summary of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry in verses 14-15—in particular, that of his teaching in the synagogues. The Synoptic tradition introduces the ministry of Jesus with a different episode (cf. Mark 1:21-28 par [this follows in Lk 4:31-37]). Note the way that both the initial Markan and Lukan episodes illustrate the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry:
    (1) Teaching/preaching (with a synagogue setting)—Mk 1:21-22, 27; Lk 4:14-16, 22
    (2) Working miracles—Mk 1:23-27; Lk 4:14a, 23-27

Verses 17-21—The quotation of Isaiah 61:1 is a tradition unique to Luke’s account. In verse 21, Jesus states that this prophecy has been fulfilled at the moment of his reading it. In other words, Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed herald/prophet figure of Isa 61:1ff, just as he does elsewhere, in the traditional “Q” material (Lk 7:22 / Matt 11:5). Luke’s inclusion of this reference probably offers the best explanation for his location of the Nazareth episode, set at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This can be explained on three levels:

  • A connection with the Baptism scene, with the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (3:22). This is to be understood as the moment when the Spirit came upon him and he was anointed by God (Isa 61:1 / 4:18).
  • A connection with the preceding Temptation scene (4:1-13) which is framed by important references to the presence/activity of the Spirit (vv. 1, 14). In other words, this also shows how Jesus has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of God.
  • Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah), which serves as a principal theme of the Lukan account of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (4:19:20). However, in this period he is not identified as the royal Messiah from the line of David, but as the Anointed herald/prophet of Isaiah 61. Matthew (4:12-17) introduces Jesus’ Galilean ministry with a different Messianic prophecy (Isa 9:1-2), one more in keeping with the Davidic figure-type.

Verse 22—Here it is worth comparing Luke’s account of the crowds reaction with that of Mark. Consider first the initial description of their reaction:

“and many hearing (him) were laid out (flat) [i.e. amazed], saying ‘From where (did) these things (come) to this (man), and what (is) th(is) wisdom…’?” (Mk 6:2)

“and all witnessed (about) him and wondered upon [i.e. at] the words of favor traveling out of his mouth” (Lk 4:22a)

The idea is roughly the same, but with a different emphasis. In Mark, the people recognize the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry—the wisdom (of his teaching) and his powerful deeds (miracles). In Luke’s account, it seems that they are responding to his gifts as a speaker, fulfilling a traditional religious role—that of reading the Scripture and offering a (pleasant) word of exhortation. It would seem that, while they may have recognized the Messianic significance of Isa 61:1ff, they certainly did not understand the implication of Jesus’ declaration in v. 21—that he was the Anointed One of the prophecy. Mark’s version may contain something of this idea as well, in the statement that the people of Nazareth were “tripped up” (the vb. skandali/zw) by Jesus (v. 3, cf. Lk 7:23 par)

The second part of the people’s reaction is even more significant. In Mark (6:3) the people find it hard to explain Jesus’ words and deeds, since they know all of his family—his mother, brothers, and sisters—as ‘ordinary’ people in the area. Luke has simplified this statement greatly, highlighting just one family member of Jesus:

“Is this not the son of Yoseph {Joseph}?”

This is reasonably close to the words in Matt 13:55: “Is this not the son of the craftsman [i.e. carpenter]?”, as well as being virtually identical to those in Jn 6:42. However, for Luke the reference to Joseph (as Jesus’ human father) has special importance, as can be seen clearly from two earlier passages:

  • The episode of the child Jesus in the Temple, in which Joseph as Jesus’ (human/legal) father is contrasted with God as his (true) Father (2:48-49)
  • The genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38), which begins “the son, as it was thought, of Joseph…” (v. 23), and ends “…the (son) of God” (v. 38). The implication, again, is that God is Jesus’ true Father (1:32, 35; 3:22b).

With these allusions in mind, it becomes apparent what the author is emphasizing here in this scene. The people of Nazareth are still thinking of Jesus as the ordinary, human/legal son of Joseph, and do not at all recognize him as the Anointed One and Son of God.

Verses 23-24—In Luke’s version, the Synoptic saying is preceded by an additional proverb (in v. 23). It functions as a provocative challenge to the townspeople. At this point, Luke does not mention the people taking offense at Jesus (cp. Mark 6:3); rather, Jesus seems to be taking the initiative in provoking them. The proverb brings to light the miracles performed by Jesus and plays upon the Synoptic tradition in Mk 6:5 par—that he was unable to perform many miracles in his home town (because of the people’s lack of faith). The proverb itself is relatively common, with parallels known from the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern world. However, in Luke, joined as it is with the saying of v. 24, it effectively creates a dual contrasting statement (physician/prophet). This, in fact, is how the saying has been preserved in at least one line of tradition, as recorded in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1 and the Gospel of Thomas (§31)—i.e. “a prophet is not… and a physician does not…”. The Lukan form of the saying in v. 24 also differs from the version in Mark/Matthew:

“A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land and among his relatives and in his (own) house” (Mk 6:4)

“Not one foreteller [i.e. prophet] is accepted in his father(‘s) land” (Lk 4:24)

Most likely, Luke’s version represents an abridgment and/or simplification of the Synoptic tradition. Again, it serves a distinct purpose in the Lukan context—it makes more direct the identification of Jesus as a prophet.

Verses 25-27—The prophetic association becomes even clearer with the references to Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:8-16; 2 Kings 5:1-19) and the miracles they worked. Jesus effectively is identifying himself with a prophet like Elijah/Elisha, a connection which appears a number of times in the Gospel tradition. For more on this, see parts 2 and 3 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Verses 28-30—Luke, quite in contrast with the narrative in Mark/Matthew, records an openly hostile, violent reaction to Jesus, provoked, it would seem, by Jesus’ own words in vv. 23-27. There is nothing quite like this in the core synoptic narrative, which ends rather uneventfully, with a laconic statement that Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in his home town, and that he marveled at the people’s lack of faith (Mk 6:5-6a). This is the only point at which the Lukan account really does not fit the Synoptic outline of the episode in Mark/Matthew. It does, however, fulfill two important themes within the narrative context of Luke’s Gospel:

  • It prefigures the opposition/violence that Jesus, as the Anointed One and Son of God, would face from the people, and serves as a parallel to the close of the Galilean period, and the Passion references which follow (9:21-22, 31, 43b-45, 51).
  • It also looks back to the Infancy Narrative, and the oracle by Simeon in 2:34-35, illustrating the opposition predicted by him most vividly.

Quite possibly, the original (historical) tradition contained more of this element of opposition to Jesus, but that it was not preserved in the Synoptic account of Mark/Matthew, retained (if at all) only in the statement at the end of Mk 6:3. If so, then Luke has developed and enhanced this aspect of the tradition.

John 6:42

Finally, it is worth noting, that, although the Gospel of John does not have anything corresponding to the Nazareth episode of the Synoptics, it does include at least one similar tradition—Jn 6:42, forming part of the great Bread of Life discourse in 6:22-59. As in the Synoptic episode under discussion, verse 42 reflects the people’s reaction to statements by Jesus regarding his identity. In Luke 4:16-30, he identifies himself with the Anointed (Messianic) herald/prophet of Isaiah 61:1ff (v. 21), and, by implication, as also being the Son of God (vv. 22ff, cf. above). In the discourse of John 6:22-59, Jesus draws upon different Scriptures—the Exodus traditions, especially that of the manna (as “bread from heaven”)—and identifies himself as the true Bread that comes down from heaven. This is expressed in verse 42 by one of the famous “I Am” declarations in John—”I am the bread th(at is) coming down [lit. stepping down] out of Heaven” (cf. also vv. 32-33, 35, 38, 48, 50-51, 58). In the Johannine context, this certainly refers to Jesus as the eternal (pre-existent) Son of God who has come (down) into the world to bring Life to those who would believe. Here Jesus’ sonship (in relation to God the Father) is understood at a much deeper level than in the Gospel of Luke. However, the basic contrast expressed is the same. The people recognize Jesus only at the ordinary, human level, and are troubled/offended by his words:

Is this not Yeshua, the son of Yoseph, of whom we have seen [i.e. known] his father and (his) mother? (So) now how (can) he say that ‘I have stepped down out of heaven?'”

The italicized portion is quite similar to the words of the people of Nazareth in Mark 6:3 par; indeed, the first phrase—”is this not…the son of Joseph?”—is virtually identical with Luke 4:22b. And, to be sure, John expresses the same aspect of opposition and misunderstanding among the people as Luke does. They view Jesus merely as the son of Joseph, when, in fact, his true identity is as the (eternal) Son of God the Father (Jn 6:27, 32, 37, 40, 44, 46, 57, etc).

Note of the Day – February 28 (Mark 6:1-6)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

The second primary tradition in the Gospels related to Jesus’ family and relatives is the episode at Nazareth, recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels—Mark 6:1-6a, Matthew 13:53-58, and Luke 4:16-30. There are a number of unique elements in Luke’s account, and it occurs in a different location—at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. These differences have led some traditional-conservative commentators to posit two separate events—that is, two visits to Nazareth, harmonizing the chronology of Luke with Mark/Matthew. However, there is no real basis in the text for such a harmonization; the Gospel writers each know of only one such visit by Jesus to his home town. The basic similarity of the episode makes it all but certain that the Synoptic accounts derive from a single historical tradition. Even though, at the historical level, Jesus conceivably could have made any number of trips back to Nazareth, the Synoptic Gospels record just one visit. I begin by looking at the core (Synoptic) narrative regarding this episode, as found in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 6:1-6a

The episode recorded in Mk 6:1-6a is rather straightforward:

  • V. 1—Narrative introduction, with two important details:
    (a) “he comes into his father(‘s) land” (i.e. his home territory and village)
    (b) “his learners [i.e. disciples] (are) follow(ing) him”
  • V. 2a—Jesus begins to teach in the Synagogue, and the people who hear him are amazed (lit. “laid out [flat]”)
  • Vv. 2b-3—A summary of the people’s reaction(s), presented as their words, in two parts:
    (1) “From where (did) these things (come) to this (man)?”—”these things” are clarified:
    —”What (is) th(is) wisdom given to this (man)?”
    —”(How is it) these (kind)s of powerful deeds come to be through his hands?”
    (2) “Isn’t this the craftsman [i.e. carpenter], the son of Maryam…?”
    With the concluding narrative statement, “And they were tripped up in [i.e. by] him”
  • V. 4—Saying by Jesus: “A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land…”
  • Vv. 5-6a—Narrative conclusion emphasizing two points:
    (a) Jesus was only able to perform a few healing miracles there, and
    (b) “and he wondered through [i.e. at, because of] their lack of trust”

We see referenced here the two main components of Jesus’ ministry—teaching/preaching and performing healing miracles—which are described and narrated throughout the Galilean period in the Synoptic Tradition. This was depicted, in seminal form, in the early episode of Mk 1:21-28 par, which also happens to take place at a local Synagogue (sunagwgh/, lit. a place where people “are brought [or come] together”). These same two aspects are also central to the townspeople’s initial reaction of amazement—the wisdom (i.e. of his teaching, v. 2a) and his powerful deeds (miracles).

The second part of the people’s reaction is significant as it mentions the names of Jesus’ family:

  • his mother Maryam (i.e. Mary)—”is this not the son of Maryam?”
  • four of his brothers—”the brother of…”—listed by name:
    (1) Ya’aqob (Jacob/James), (2) Yoseph (Joseph/Joses), (3) Yehuda (Juda[s]), and (4) Shim’on (Simon)
  • his sisters, mentioned generally—”are not his sisters here toward [i.e. with] us?”

Apart from Mary and Jacob/James (to be discussed in an upcoming note), very little is known of Jesus’ family. There has been much (rather idle) speculation and debate regarding whether Jesus’ “brothers” (and sisters) were full blood brothers, half-brothers, or perhaps even cousins. Much of this has been due to traditional doctrine(s) related to the veneration of Mary and a belief in her perpetual virginity (virginitas post partum, after giving birth [to Jesus]). Most Protestants have little problem with the idea that Joseph and Mary had other children together. Joseph himself is not mentioned here, but Jesus is referred to as “the craftsman/carpenter” (some witnesses read “the son of the craftsman/carpenter”, as in Matt 13:55), and, according to early Christian tradition, Joseph was a carpenter. In the Lukan version of this scene (4:22, cf. the next note), Jesus is called son of Joseph, as also in Jn 6:42. Here, Mk 6:3 (with the Matthean parallel) is the only mention of Mary by name in the Synoptic Gospels outside of the Infancy narratives. It is the people of Nazareth in general, rather than Jesus’ relatives specifically, who exhibit lack of belief/trust in him. We do not know the attitude of his family toward him from this particular account (cp. Mark 3:20-35 par, discussed in an earlier note).

What of the significance of this episode within the narrative context of the Markan Gospel? Its proximity to the subsequent mission of the Twelve (vv. 6b-13) is surely important. The two scenes are juxtaposed with one another, just as the episode(s) in 3:20-35 are with the calling of the Twelve in 3:13-19. The lack of faith/trust exhibited by Jesus’ relatives and hometown acquaintances is contrasted with that of his chosen (and close/faithful) followers. Consider the structure:

  • Calling of the Twelve—with authority to proclaim (the coming Kingdom) and work healing (exorcism) miracles (3:13-19)
    —The response of his relatives/acquaintances to his miracles, etc (3:20-35)
    ——Jesus Galilean ministry: teaching (4:1-34) and miracles (4:35-5:43)
    —The response of his hometown to his miracles, etc (6:1-6a)
  • Mission of the Twelve—authority to preach and work healing (exorcism) miracles (6:6b-13)

When we turn to the (proverbial) saying of Jesus in verse 4

“A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land and among his relatives [lit. those b(orn) together with (him)] and in his (own) house!”

a significant point to note is that he refers to himself as a prophet. This association, in the context of his ministry activity—as one who proclaims the Kingdom and works miracles—will be developed further in Luke’s version of this scene. Jesus as a prophet, in connection with his identity the Anointed One (Messiah) of God, will feature prominently in two of the scenes (the first and last) which make up the remainder of the Galilean ministry period in Mark’s narrative—Mk 6:14-15ff and 8:27-30.

Matthew 13:53-58

Matthew’s account follows that of Mark very closely. The differences are slight, and there is no evidence of any “Q” material being included—i.e. no sayings or details shared by Luke but not found in Mark. Overall the narrative is a bit simpler and smoother compared with Mark’s version. Here, then, we have a dual presentation of what I would call the core Synoptic tradition. Luke’s version of the scene, on the other hand, differs considerably at several points, which I will be discussing in the next daily note.