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Acts of the Apostles

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

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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 – February 24 (Acts 1:6-26)

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Acts 1:6-26 (and Matt 19:28 par)

The previous note dealt with the association of the Twelve and the coming of the Kingdom of God, in the context of Matthew 19:28 par (Lk 22:28-30) and the tradition in Acts 1:6ff. I pointed out that there is good reason to think that the number twelve and its symbolism—related to the twelve tribes of Israel—was introduced and applied by Jesus himself. The apparent authenticity (on objective grounds) of the Matt 19:28 saying would confirm this. It is not entirely clear whether the idea is of a concrete earthly kingdom, or a heavenly one. The Synoptic narrative context of Matt 19:28, as it reads in Mark (10:28-31), indicates a contrast between earthly sacrifice/suffering for Jesus’ sake (now) and eternal/heavenly reward (in the future). This contrast seems to have been a common emphasis in Jesus’ teaching, such as we see in the parables and, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-12; 6:1ff, 19-21; Lk 6:20-26, etc). Matthew’s version of the episode (19:27-30) has a different emphasis, but it would seem that a heavenly context is still implied; the use of the word paliggenhsi/a suggests a time following the resurrection. The parallel in Lk 18:28-30 is somewhat ambiguous, as is the context of 22:28-30 (cf. verse 18).

The problem is that traditional Israelite and Jewish eschatology variously envisioned the coming Kingdom (of God) in earthly and heavenly aspects, drawing upon imagery from both. This is also true in terms of Messianic expectation. Sometimes the establishment of the Kingdom was seen to follow the end-time Judgment and the Resurrection, in other instances a period of (Messianic) rule on earth is envisioned. Certain eschatological schemes combine both aspects, as we see, for example, in the book of Revelation. Paul says very little in his letters regarding a future Kingdom on earth; the imminent, expected return of Jesus seems to coincide with the resurrection (1 Thess 4:14-17), after which believers will remain with him (in heaven). On the other hand, in 1 Cor 6:2, Paul states the believers will play a role in the Judgment of the world, expressing an idea generally similar to the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28 par. Presumably, this ruling/judging position is thought to take place in heaven, since he also says that believers will judge the Angels (v. 3).

Jesus’ own teaching in this regard is not entirely clear, at least as it has been preserved in the Gospel Tradition. However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, early Christians had no choice but to believe that the coming of the Kingdom, in its full sense, in heaven and/or on earth (cf. Matt 6:10), was reserved for the time of Jesus’ future return. In the interim—however brief or long it may be—the Kingdom was realized (on earth) in two primary ways: (1) by the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, and (2) through the missionary work of early Christians, spreading the new faith (from Jerusalem) into the wider world. This is certainly the understanding expressed by the author of Luke-Acts; and, if we take the text at face value, it was also the true purpose and intention of Jesus.

In the prior note, I looked briefly at the question asked of Jesus by the disciples (i.e. the Twelve) in Acts 1:6. Their question indicates that they were thinking in traditional eschatological terms about the coming of the Kingdom—as a socio-political (and religious) entity on earth, headed by Jesus as God’s Anointed representative (i.e. a royal Messiah). By extension, it might have been thought that they (the Twelve) would be ruling this Kingdom as well (cf. again the context of Lk 22:28-30). Jesus does not answer their question directly, and so leaves open, perhaps, the possibility of such an earthly (Messianic) regime in the future; however, his response must be deemed an implicit rejection of their very way of thinking. He deftly redirects the entire thrust of the question (verse 7), and then effectively gives them their answer: instead of expecting the return of an Israelite Kingdom like that of David long ago, the disciples will usher a different kind of Kingdom, involving—(a) the coming of the Spirit in power, and (b) their witness and proclamation of the Gospel message (verse 8).

The Restoration of Israel (Acts 1:12-26)

The disciples’ question (1:6) involved the idea of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. The author of Acts, doubtless following the (historical) traditions which he inherited, has built upon this theme, which is central to the narrative which follows in the remainder of chapters 1-2. I have discussed this at length in an earlier set of notes (for Pentecost), and will only provide an outline of that study here.

The theme of the “Restoration of Israel” can be glimpsed already in verses 12-14:

  • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
    a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
    b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
  • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem, in one place (upper room), v. 13. This is a seminal image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
  • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related motifs, expressing the unity of believers together:
    ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
    pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
    h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
    o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al.
    th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)

As stated above, most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel; and, as such, their unity (and the unity of their mission work) similarly reflects the coming together of Israel (the true Israel). Consider, for example, the basic Gospel tradition of the sending out of the Twelve in Mark 6:6b-13 par. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist).

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. Note the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. There would seem to be a symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel.

The Pentecost Narrative (2:1-13ff)

This symbolism continues into the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. Note the following (chiastic outline):

  • The unity of the disciples (together in one place and/or for one purpose—e)pi\ to\ au)to/), verse 1.
    • The house/place of gathering is filled (e)plh/rwsen) with the Spirit, verse 2.
      • Appearance of tongues (glwssai) of fire upon each individual disciple (~120), verse 3
      • The disciples (each) begin to speak in other tongues (glwssai), verse 4
    • The disciples are all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit, verse 4
  • The unity of the crowd—devout Jews (from all nations) in Jerusalem come together in one place, verse 5ff

They way this scene builds upon the prior events of chapter 1 can be illustrated by expanding the outline:

  • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
    • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
      • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
    • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
  • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

This emphasizes more clearly the theme of the “restoration of Israel”, according to the eschatological imagery of the later Old Testament prophets and Judaism, which involves two related themes:

  1. The return of Israelites (Jews) from exile among the nations—this return is to the Promised Land, and, in particular, to Judah and Jerusalem.
  2. The Nations (Gentiles) come to Judah and Jerusalem, bringing tribute and/or worshiping the true God there.

The restoration of Israel in terms of a “regathering” of Israelites and Jews from the surrounding nations was expressed numerous times already in the Old Testament Prophets, especially the latter half of the book of Isaiah; this eschatological expectation was extended to include those of the nations (Gentiles) who come to Jerusalem and join the people of Israel—e.g., Isa 49:5ff; 56:1-8; 60:1-14; 66:18-24; Micah 4:2-5 (Isa 2:3-4). Cf. Sanders, p. 79. This theme became part of subsequent Israelite/Jewish eschatology and Messianic thought (Baruch 4-5; 2 Macc 1:27ff; Ps Sol 11, 17, etc), sometimes expressed specifically in relation to the regathering of the twelve tribesSirach 36:11; 48:10; Ps Sol 17:28-31ff; 1QM 2:2ff; 11QTemple 18:14-16; T. Sanh. 13:10; and also note the motif in Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-3ff (cf. Sanders, pp. 96-7).

Revelation 21:12-14ff

Finally, the connection between the Twelve Apostles and the Twelve Tribes of Israel is presented in the book of Revelation, but in a very different manner from the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28. It is part of the great vision of the new (heavenly) Jerusalem in 21:1-22:5, which serves as the climax of the book. The gates and walls of the city are described in 21:12-14ff, drawing upon the description in Ezek 48:30-35. Here we find:

  • Twelve gates, named after the Twelve Tribes—that is, the names of the tribes were inscribed on them (v. 12b). The Qumran community drew upon the same tradition (11QTemple 39-41; 4Q365a frag. 2 col. 2; 4Q554). The names on the gates commemorate the heritage of Israel as the people of God.
  • Twelve foundation stones for the city walls, named after the Twelve Apostles (v. 14). The image of Christ and the apostles as “foundation (stone)s” is found several times in the New Testament (1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20). There is also a similar idea expressed by the Qumran community, for the leaders of the community (esp. the twelve men of the Council), cf. 1QS 8:1-6; 11:8; 4Q154 frag. 1, col. 1). In the famous declaration of Jesus in Matt 16:17-19, Peter and the Twelve are depicted as stones which make up the foundation of the Church. Cf. Koester, p. 815.

Thus the New Jerusalem—that is, the heavenly/spiritual Jerusalem of the New Covenant (Gal 4:24-26)—honors the heritage and legacy of both Israel (representing the Old Covenant), and the Apostles (representing the beginning of the New). However, there is no idea here of the Apostles ruling—God alone (with Christ) is on the Throne (21:5).

References above marked “Sanders” are to E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985). Those marked “Koester” are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38a (Yale: 2014).

Note of the Day – February 23 (Matt 19:28; Acts 1:6ff)

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In the previous day’s note, I discussed the saying of Jesus in Matthew 19:28, with the parallel (or similar) saying in Luke 22:28-30, and the connection between the Twelve Disciples and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. There has been some question, among critical commentators, as to whether this particular association goes back to Jesus’ own words, reflecting something of his original purpose in designating the Twelve. On entirely objective grounds, there is reasonably strong evidence that it does. I would point to the following arguments:

  • An emphasis on the twelve tribes of Israel does not appear to have been especially prominent in early Christianity, all the more so as the faith spread into the Greco-Roman (Gentile) world. The few references in the New Testament come clearly from an (early) Jewish Christian context (Acts 26:7; James 1:1; cf. also Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5) or draw upon Old Testament tradition (Rev 7:4-8). The parallel in Rev 21:12ff will be discussed in the next note.
  • The very exclusiveness indicated by the association—Disciples/Israel—suggests a time-frame prior to the Gentile mission (i.e. prior to c. 45-50 A.D.). An early Christian formulation would likely reflect the inclusion of the Gentiles, taking it into account in some way.
  • The tradition regarding the Twelve is extremely early, being attested in multiple strands of tradition. This indicates that it was already firmly established well before 50 A.D.
  • The version of the saying in Matt 19:28 takes no account whatever of Judas’ betrayal, as the parallel in Luke clearly does (cf. also Jn 6:67-71). If the Lukan version of this saying has been modified in its context, eliminating the specific reference to twelve disciples (in light of Judas’ betrayal), then the earlier form would be reflected in Matthew’s version. Indeed, it is likely that Christians from a slightly later period would have qualified or explained the saying in some way, so as to factor in the situation regarding Judas.

Another sign of authenticity has to do with the emphasis on the coming Kingdom (of God). The concrete eschatological aspect of the Kingdom, so prominent in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, tends to disappear in early Christianity, being re-interpreted as a spiritual phenomenon (i.e. ‘realized’ eschatology)—the presence of God (and Christ) in and among believers, through the Holy Spirit. The imagery of Matt 19:28 par, on the other hand, preserves the idea of a real kingdom, with seats of rule—being specifically connected with the kingdom of Israel.

Commentators continue to debate the significance of Jesus’ preaching and teaching regarding the Kingdom (Mk 1:15 par, et al). On the one hand, many critical scholars hold that the historical Jesus believed that an end-time Messianic kingdom, in the socio-political (and religious) sense, was about to be ushered in by God, and that he would play the leading role in that process. According to this view, early Christians were forced to re-imagine and reinterpret Jesus’ words, as referring to the presence/work of the Spirit now, with the return of Jesus, establishing the Kingdom of God on earth in full, still reserved for a future moment. On the other side, traditional-conservative commentators would argue that Jesus intended this ‘Christian’ sense of the Kingdom from the first. The Gospel of Luke, along with the book of Acts, represents the only portion of the Gospel Tradition that deals with this question directly, in three passages: 17:20-21, 19:11ff, and Acts 1:6ff.

Luke 17:20-21 is part of a short collection of eschatological teaching (vv. 22-37ff) by Jesus, which the saying(s) of vv. 20-21 introduces, centered on the specific theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God. According to the narrative, certain Pharisees ask Jesus regarding “when the kingdom of God (would) come” (v. 20a). Jesus’ answer states that the Kingdom of God comes in a way that cannot be observed by human beings outwardly, at a particular moment or place (vv. 20b-21a). His response concludes with the famous declaration in v. 21b: “the kingdom of God is inside (of) you”. I have discussed this difficult statement at some length in an earlier note; commentators still debate the meaning, but at least three aspects may be emphasized: (1) the coming of the Kingdom will be hidden or invisible to people at large, (2) its coming/presence will be realized inwardly, and (3) it is to be understood as the presence of God/Christ among his people.

Luke 19:11 serves as the narrative setting of the parable by Jesus in vv. 12-27; it addresses the central question of the Kingdom even more precisely, stating that his reason for speaking the parable was:

“…through [i.e. because of] his being near Yerushalaim and their thinking that the kingdom of God was about (to come) along instantly to shine forth up(on them)”

At least some of Jesus’ followers thought that his arrival in Jerusalem (as the Anointed One) would usher in the Kingdom of God upon earth, in the socio-political and religious sense defined by the eschatological (and Messianic) expectation of the time. Certainly, people hailed Jesus as a Ruler from the line of David (i.e. a royal Messiah) during his entry into Jerusalem, according to the Gospel tradition (Mk 11:8-10 par). The Fourth Gospel even refers to the intent of some people to force Jesus into such a role and “make him king” (Jn 6:15). However, the parable in Lk 19:12ff makes clear that the well-born young noble (i.e. the Messiah), before he comes to exert his authority as ruler, will first go away into a “far-off country” for a time. This certainly reflects (or anticipates) the idea of Jesus’ death, resurrection and departure (to heaven) prior to his (subsequent) return. Note how, in the parable, the nobleman goes away for the purpose of “receiving a kingdom”—presumably this is to be understood in terms of Jesus’ receiving it (from the Father) upon his resurrection and exaltation to the “right hand” of God. When he returns, it will be as King and Judge.

Acts 1:6ff is the most important of the passages mentioned above, as in it Jesus answers a question from the disciples that is directly to the point:

“Then, the (disciple)s, (on) coming together, questioned him saying, ‘Lord, (is it) in this time that you (will) set down the kingdom to Yisrael from (where it was before)?'” (v. 6)

The disciples appear to understand the coming Kingdom according to the conventional/traditional Jewish eschatology of the time—as a socio-political (and religious) entity, like the Davidic kingdom of old, centered at Jerusalem. I have translated the verb a)pokaqi/sthmi here quite literally, i.e. to set/place down something from where, or in what condition, it was before. In simpler translation, we might say, “re-establish, restore”, etc; in other words, they are asking Jesus if he will restore the kingdom to Israel, like it was in the time of David. For more on the background of this aspect of the Kingdom, see Part 5 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as the supplemental study on Acts 1:3. In the next note, I will be exploring in some detail the way the author (trad. Luke) develops the theme of verses 6ff through the remainder of chapters 1-2 and as a key motif for the book as a whole.

Note of the Day – February 6 (Mark 1:3, 7-9, etc)

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We now proceed to the second main component, or theme, of the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition:

  1. The Ministry of John
  2. The Relationship between John and Jesus
  3. Jesus as the Anointed One, in comparison with John

This component—the relationship between John and Jesus—is more closely related to the process of development which seems to have taken place, moving beyond the simple historical tradition(s), to an early Christian interpretation regarding them.

Mark 1:3, 7-9 (Acts 1:5, etc)

According to the approach and method of study I am using, we begin here with the Synoptic tradition, represented by the Gospel of Mark, but looking also at a separate strand of tradition—namely, the early Gospel preaching as recorded in the book of Acts. Many critical commentators would seriously question whether, or to what extent, Acts genuinely preserves such early tradition. The sermon-speeches in the book are often thought to be largely the work of the author (trad. Luke), perhaps reflecting the sort of preaching familiar to him at the time (c. 70-80 A.D.). However, as I have discussed elsewhere (cf. my series on the Speeches of Acts), there are many signs that early preaching (kerygma) has, in fact, been preserved, even if one grants a substantial reworking of the material by the author (and/or the traditions he has inherited) to form the speeches as they appear in the book. The pieces related to John the Baptist prove to be useful examples in this regard, as they do not appear to be simple reproductions from the Lukan Gospel (and the Synoptics), and may, in fact, stem from a separate line of tradition. Moreover, if this truly reflects the earliest Gospel preaching, in substance, then it may allow us to glimpse something of how the Synoptic tradition came to be formed. Three key components, related to John and the Baptism of Jesus, are preserved separately in Acts:

  • 1:5 (and 11:16)—the saying attributed to John in Mark 1:8 par
  • 10:37-38—the coordination of John’s ministry (baptizing) with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Mk 1:4, 9, 14 par)
  • 13:24-25—the ministry of John and the saying in Mark 1:7 par

If we add to this the citation of Isa 40:3, these pieces effectively make up the Synoptic narrative. In the Gospel of Mark, the relationship between John and Jesus is expressed at three points:

  1. The citation of Isa 40:3—Mk 1:3
  2. The saying(s) of the Baptist in Mk 1:7-8
  3. The actual Baptism of Jesus—Mk 1:9

1. Mark 1:3

The central citation from Isaiah 40:3ff has been discussed in prior notes, and will be dealt with again in the next section (on Jesus as the Anointed One).

2. Mark 1:7-8

The Synoptic parallels for the saying(s) of John are Matt 3:11 and Luke 3:16. Versions of them are also found in Acts 1:5 (11:16) + 13:25, and in John 1:26-27. It is possible that two separate sayings have been combined; this might account for some of the differences between the versions. I will discuss, in turn: (a) the variations between the versions of the saying(s), (b) the original meaning of the sayings, and (c) how the Gospel writers understood them.

(a) The Variations

The saying in Mark 1:7 is made up of two phrases:

(1) “one stronger than me comes behind [o)pi/sw] me”
(2) “I am not fit [i(kano$] to loose the strap of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet) [i.e. his shoes]”

(1) The Greek in Mark is: e&rxetai o( i)sxuro/tero/$ mou o)pi/sw mou. Here are the other versions and variations:

  • Acts 13:25b—”(one) comes after [meta/] me”
  • Luke 3:16—”one stronger than me comes” {omits “behind me”}
  • Matt 3:11—”the one coming behind me is stronger than me”
  • John 1:27a—”the one coming behind me…”

The versions in Acts and John are simpler, with no reference to the comparative i)sxuro/tero$ (“stronger”). Matthew and Luke both seem to have reworked the phrase in different ways.

(2) Mark’s version has added the participle ku/ya$ (“bending [down]), probably for dramatic emphasis: “I am not fit, (even) bending (down), to loose the strap…”. The other versions:

  • Acts 13:25b—”I am not worth(y enough) [a&cio$] to loose the (shoe) bound under (his) feet”
  • Luke 3:16—nearly identical to Mark
  • Matt 3:11—”I am not fit to pick up the (shoe)s bound under (his feet)”
  • John 1:27a—”I am not worthy(y enough) [a&cio$] that I should (even) loose the strap of his (shoe)s bound under (his feet)”

Interestingly, as with the first phrase (1), John’s version has a point in common with the saying in Acts—a mark, perhaps, of an early detail which was preserved in two strands of tradition. It is conceivable that the variant i(kano/$ vs. a%cio$ could be the result of different ways of translating an original Aramaic version of the saying (cf. M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 3rd ed. [Oxford: 1967], pp. 144-6).

The saying in Mark 1:8, follows the second phrase of the saying in v. 7 by establishing a contrast between John and the “one coming”; here is the version in Mark:

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in [e)n] the holy Spirit”
e)gw/ e)ba/ptisa u(ma=$ u%dati, au)to\$ de\ bapti/sei u(ma=$ e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|

The other Synoptics (Matt 3:11 / Luke 3:16), are very close to the Markan saying, but share three key differences:

  • Both use a me\nde/ construction—i.e. “on the one hand…on the other…”
  • Each includes the saying corresponding to Mk 1:7 in the middle of the saying corr. to Mk 1:8—i.e. “I dunk you in water…, but the one coming… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”
  • Each adds “and (in) fire”—”he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and (in) fire

For those commentators who hold that Matthew and Luke have each made use of Mark, these common differences suggest that here they depend on a different source (so-called “Q”). This is likely since the saying which follows (Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17) is also “Q” material. Matthew has also included the words “unto repentance” (ei)$ meta/noian)—”I dunk you in water unto repentance [lit. change of mind], but he…”.

Interestingly, the version in Acts (1:5, par 11:16) represents a saying by Jesus, indicating something which Jesus had told his disciples about John:

“(On the one hand) John dunked in water, but (other other hand) you will be dunked in the holy Spirit” (1:5)

It uses the same me\nde/ comparative construction as the “Q” (Matt/Luke) version of the saying (cf. above). At the same time, the passive form of the second verb (baptisqh/sesqe, “you will be dunked”) is a bit surprising. Given the version in the Synoptics, we might have expected Jesus to say “I will dunk you…”. Instead, the passive verb suggests that a “divine passive” is meant—i.e. God as the assumed actor. With regard to the sending of the Spirit, early Christian tradition variously describes this as being both the work of God the Father and Jesus.

The version in John (Jn 1:26 & 33) shows a more substantial reworking of the tradition, which will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

The numerous differences and variations in these sayings may seem strange—even troubling—to readers who expect more uniformity in the inspired writings of the New Testament. However, in many instances, as here, it is actually a strong indication of the authenticity and historical reliability of the traditions (on objective grounds). The differences may be seen, in large part, as a marker of very early traditions (Levels 1-3, cf. the Introduction) which have been independently transmitted, and preserved, in multiple strands of the wider Gospel Tradition.

(b) The original meaning of the sayings &
(c) How the Gospel writers understood the sayings

These points will be discussed in the next daily note.

3. Mark 1:9

Mk 1:9 narrates the Baptism of Jesus itself, which will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming notes. The event is summarized simply:

“And it came to be in those days (that) Yeshua came from Nazaret in the Galîl and was dunked into the Yarden (river) under [i.e. by] Yohanan”

We will see how the Gospel writers adapt this basic account, beginning with Matthew (in the following note). The Baptism of Jesus, as recorded in the Synoptic tradition, is comprised of three distinct statements:

  • Reference to the Baptism itself (v. 9)
  • The visual/visionary phenomena which took place upon Jesus’ being baptized (v. 10)
  • The voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s son (v. 11)

The last two statements belong more properly to the third section of our study on the Baptism—Jesus as the Anointed One. Despite the theological (and Christological) aspects of these details, they are surprisingly consistent within the early Gospel tradition, and, in and of themselves, have undergone relatively little development. However, the Gospel writers have each handled them in distinctive ways, as we shall see.

Women in the Church: Part 7 – The Gospels and Acts

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Having explored the subject of Women in the Church in the Pauline Letters, it is now time to turn and examine the relevant information from the Gospel Tradition, and in the book of Acts. I will be dividing this article according to the following outline:

  1. Sayings and Teachings of Jesus
  2. Jesus’ Interaction with Women (in the Gospel Narratives)
  3. Followers of Jesus in Gospel Tradition
  4. The Role of Mary
  5. Women in Luke-Acts

1. Sayings and Teachings of Jesus

There are actually very few sayings by Jesus involving women recorded in the canonical Gospels, and most of these are simply proverbial and tell us relatively little about his views on the position of women and gender relations. Women are featured in a couple of parables (Matt 13:33 par; Luke 15:8; 18:2-5) as stock characters. Two groups of sayings are perhaps a bit more significant:

(a) Traditional references to a woman’s pains in giving birth, symbolic of the suffering of the human condition—especially in association with the coming Judgment at the end-time (Mark 13:8, 17 par), which, in the Gospel narrative is set generally in the context of Jesus’ own suffering and death (cf. Luke 23:28-29; John 16:21).
(b) The illustrative image of the widow, again as a typical figure symbolizing human suffering and injustice—Mark 12:40-43 par; Luke 4:25-26; 18:2-5; cf. also Lk 7:12.

In several passages, Jesus addresses the topic of marriage, most notably in: (1) the sayings/discourse regarding divorce (Mark 10:2ff, par Matt 19:3ff; Matt 5:31-32; Luke 16:18); and (2) the case involving marriage and the resurrection (Mark 12:18-27 par). The latter passage seems to downplay the importance of marriage, to some extent; and, indeed, one detects an ascetic tinge in a number of Jesus’ sayings, such as Mark 10:29ff par; Matt 19:12. By all accounts, Jesus himself never married; and, according to the narrative context of Mk 10:29f, a number of his disciples had apparently left their families in order to follow Jesus (v. 28). In this regard, it is interesting to note an extra-canonical saying of Jesus which goes a step further in denying the significance of sexuality and gender distinction among believers. It is preserved in at least three sources—the (Coptic) Gospel of Thomas saying 22; 2 Clement 12; and in Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.13.[92] (attributed to the “Gospel of the Egyptians”). Gosp. Thom. 22 is presumably the earliest occurrence (late-1st/early-2nd century):

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to His disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the Kingdom.” They said to Him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the Kingdom?” Jesus said to them,

“When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter [the Kingdom].” (Translation by Thomas O. Lambdin)

This (purported) saying has similarities with mystic-ascetic and “Gnostic” thought, as attested, e.g., in the Gospel of Philip §73, 78, and Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.15 (citing teachings of the Naassene sect). In 2 Clement 12:5 the saying of Jesus is explained to the effect that a male believer should not look upon a female believer as a woman, that is, according to her sexuality or physical/biological gender (cf. Gal 3:28).

2. Jesus’ Interaction with Women

The Gospels record a number of episodes in which Jesus interacts with women. In some of these narratives he is depicted as disregarding or challenging certain social (and religious) conventions regarding the proper interaction of men and women—at least, the narratives may be read this way. Note, for example, the reaction of Jesus’ (male) disciples in Jn 4:27. Most significant, perhaps, is his friendship with Martha and Mary (the sisters of Lazarus, acc. to Jn 11:1-3); the authenticity of this relationship is confirmed by the fact that it is attested (independently) in at least two separate strands of tradition—Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1-44; 12:1-11. The declaration by Martha in Jn 11:27 regarding Jesus’ identity (as Anointed One [Messiah] and Son of God) holds a place in the Fourth Gospel similar to that of Peter’s confession in the Synoptics (Mk 8:29 / Lk 9:20 / Matt 16:16). At the very least, this indicates that Martha (and Mary) were believers and followers of Jesus (cf. below).

Many of the episodes show Jesus responding with compassion to the poor and outcast elements of society—a familiar and popular theme in the Gospel tradition. This produced some degree of negative reaction, even scandal, from onlookers and opponents, much as his willingness to associate with “sinners” (Mk 2:15-17 par; Lk 7:39; 19:7, etc). These are the episodes of note (“par” indicates parallel narratives in the other Synoptic Gospels; negative reactions are indicated by the verses in square brackets):

  • Healing of the women with a discharge of blood (hemorrhage)—Mark 5:25-34 par
  • Healing (exorcism) of the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman—Mark 7:24-30 par [note the exchange in vv. 27-28]
  • Healing (resurrection) of a widow’s son—Luke 7:11-17
  • Healing of a crippled woman—Luke 13:10-17 [v. 14]
  • Discussion with the Samaritan woman—John 4:1-42 [v. 27, a woman and a Samaritan no less!]
  • Response to the “adulterous” woman—John 7:53-8:11 [vv. 3-5] (an authentic tradition, if not part of the original Gospel)
  • Response to the “sinful” woman who anointed him—Luke 7:36-50 [vv. 39ff]
  • Response to the woman who anointed him at Bethany—Mark 14:3-9 par in Matt [vv. 4-5]; in John 12:1-8 the woman is identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus (the precise relationship between the two version, as well as Lk 7:36-50, remains much debated). Later tradition conflated the two figures—Mary and the “sinful” woman—with Mary Magdalene (also healed by Jesus according to Lk 8:2, and cf. below).

3. Followers of Jesus

By all accounts, the first followers of Jesus (those called by him) were all men. This is certainly true with regard to his closest disciples, the circle of Twelve in early Gospel tradition (Mark 3:13-19 par; Acts 1:13, 16ff). These were the men whom Jesus sent out, on at least one occasion, to preach and work miracles in his name (Mk 6:7-12 / Matt 10:5-15 / Lk 9:1-6; 22:35ff). This is the fundamental meaning of the word apostle, from a)poste/llw (“set/send forth”); and the Twelve were closely identified with this title in early Tradition (Mk 3:14; 6:30 par; Lk 22:14; Acts 1:2, 25-26, etc). Luke records a separate tradition (or version) where Jesus sends out a group of 70 (or 72) disciples on a similar mission (10:1-12); most likely these also were men, though this has to be inferred from the context. This limitation of discipleship and missionary work to men may simply be a product of historical circumstance, since the idea of itinerant female preachers and healers traveling about would have been shocking indeed to the cultural sensibilities of the time. And yet, we do have at least one notice that there were women followers of Jesus, in Luke 8:1-3, where it is stated that Jesus passed through the cities and villages “proclaiming the good message of the kingdom of God…”

“…and the Twelve (together) with him, and (also) some women th(at) had been healed from evil spirits and infirmities… who served/ministered to them [i.e. Jesus and the Twelve] out of the (thing)s under their (control) [i.e. their goods/possessions]”

These women are identified as: (1) Maryam {Mary} called Magdalene, (2) Ioanna {Joanna} wife of Chuzas, (3) Susanna, as well as “many others”. It would seem that their service was more or less limited to material aid and support. This same tradition is confirmed by (and may actually derive from) the notice in Mark 15:40-41. Indeed, the women followers of Jesus play an important role in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, part of the earliest Gospel narrative, and attested variously in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John):

  • There were women standing a distance away, watching the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:40-41, par Matt 27:55-56; Luke 23:49; also John 19:25). It is said that they had come with Jesus from Galilee, where they had helped in the work of ministry (Mk 15:41, cf. above). Mark and Matthew single out three who will take part in the next episode—Mary Magalene, Mary mother of James (and Joses), and Salome. Luke likewise mentions the first two (Lk 24:10), while John records a different set of four (or three) women who stand nearby: Mary (Jesus’ mother), Mary’s sister and/or Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
  • At least some of these women continued watching as Jesus was taken down from the cross, to see where he would be buried. Each of the Synoptics narrates this somewhat differently:
    Mark 15:47: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of (James and) Joses saw where Jesus was buried
    Matt 27:61: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting opposite the tomb
    Lk 23:55-56: The women followed and saw where/how he was buried, then returned to prepare spices and ointment
  • According to Synoptic tradition, Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James/Joses came early the next morning to see the tomb (Matt 28:1) and anoint the body (Mark 16:1-2; Lk 24:1). Mark mentions a third woman (Salome), while Luke may indicate the presence of others as well (Lk 24:10). The tradition(s) recorded in John differ in that Nicodemus brings the spices, etc to anoint Jesus before his burial (Jn 19:39-40) and Mary Magdalene is the only woman said to come to the tomb that morning (Jn 20:1ff).
  • The women (as variously mentioned): (a) see the empty tomb, (b) are greeted by angel(s) announcing the resurrection, and (c) encounter the resurrected Jesus. This common outline is old and reliable, but the specific details in the narrative (Mk 16:1-8, [9-11]; Matt 28:10; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1-2, 11-18) vary to an astonishing degree, and are actually extremely difficult to harmonize intelligibly (for those who wish to do so).
  • The women (or certain of them) report the empty tomb and the resurrection to the other disciples, including the Twelve (Matt 28:10, 11, 16; Luke 24:9-12, 22-24; John 20:2ff, 17-18; [Mark 16:9-11]).

It can be said that Mary Magdalene (and other of the women) were the first to see the resurrected Jesus, and the first to preach the Gospel (i.e. announce the resurrection). Understandably, this has been a popular point to make by modern-day preachers, in relation to the question of the role of women in the Church. The point is dramatized even further by the tradition of the disbelief of the disciples (including the Twelve) at hearing the news ([Mark 16:11, 14]; Luke 24:11). This detail is likely to be authentic (on objective grounds), since the later tendency was to downplay anything which cast the apostles in a negative light (but see how it also enhances Peter’s role, Lk 24:12 cf. Jn 20:3ff).

According to Acts 1:14, women were together (along with Jesus’ mother Mary) with the Twelve in the ‘upper room’ following Jesus’ ascension, and may have been present (at the historical level) in the post-resurrection scenes in which Jesus addresses and commissions his followers (Matt 28:16-20; Luke 24:33-49, 50-53; John 20:19-29). Acts 1:4-11 seems to assume only the Twelve (Eleven), as also in Mark [16:14-20]. In 1 Cor 15:6, Paul mentions an appearance by Jesus to more than 500 disciples, which certainly would have included a good number of women (cf. below). Somewhat surprisingly, Mary Magdalene does not seem to be part of early Christian tradition (outside of the resurrection accounts) and is not mentioned in the book of Acts.

4. The Role of Mary, Jesus’ Mother

Of all the women in Christian Tradition, (the Virgin) Mary, mother of Jesus is by far the most prominent. And yet, it is quite surprising how little she appears in the earliest strands of tradition. In the core Synoptic tradition, she hardly appears at all, briefly in one episode (Mark 3:31ff par); otherwise, she is only mentioned in Mk 6:3 / Matt 13:55. She has a somewhat larger role in two scenes in the Gospel of John—the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:3-5) and with the women and the ‘Beloved’ disciple at the cross (Jn 19:25-27). The latter episode presumably has greater symbolic meaning, perhaps suggesting that Mary is now the “mother” of the disciples (i.e. the Church). Of course, she is central to the Infancy narratives in Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2 (as well as in later extra-canonical Gospels), and this would be the primary basis for the subsequent Catholic/Orthodox veneration of Mary, already evidenced in the so-called Proto-Gospel (Protevangelium) of James (early-mid 2nd century).

It is the Lukan narrative in which Mary plays the most prominent role, in several significant scenes:

  • Lk 1:26-38—The Angelic announcement of Jesus’ coming conception (and birth), indicating how she has been favored by God (v. 30), and will be touched by the presence and power of God (vv. 35-37)
  • Lk 1:39-56—The visit to Elizabeth, who utters the inspired blessing (vv. 42-45), and which is the occasion/setting for the oracle by Mary (in a few MSS it is by Elizabeth), the so-called Magnificat (vv. 46-55)
  • Lk 2:1-20—The birth and visit of the Shepherds; most significant is the statement in verse 19 that Mary “kept all these utterances [i.e. by the shepherds, etc] (close) together, throwing (them) together in her heart”. This shows her in the process of considering the meaning and significance of Jesus’ birth and the wondrous events associated with it.
  • Lk 2:22-35ff—The encounter with Simeon set in the Temple precincts, in the context of fulfilling the purification ritual (following childbirth), etc (vv. 22-24). Such details are brought out, in part, to show the faithfulness/devotion of Joseph and Mary in religious matters (vv. 21, 39, 41ff, 51). A portion of Simeon’s oracle is directed to Mary (v. 35, cf. my earlier note for more detail).

We may also mention her role in 2:41-51, which contains at least one important point of emphasis—that Jesus’ natural (family) relations are subordinate to his relationship to God (the Father), cf. the juxtaposition in vv. 44, 46, 48, and Jesus’ famous statement in v. 49.

According to some commentators, Luke’s version of the episode in Mark 3:31-35 par has been (re)interpreted to show that Mary, along with Jesus’ natural family (brothers, etc), are among those who believe and follow him (cf. the separate note on Lk 8:19-21). Whether or not this view is correct, Mary is clearly depicted as a believer in Acts 1:14, where she appears together with the Twelve (Eleven) apostles, other women followers, and (notably) Jesus’ brothers (at least some of them). Interestingly, Mary is not mentioned by name elsewhere in the New Testament, being referenced only indirectly in Gal 4:4 (cf. also Rom 1:3), and possibly the scene in Revelation 12 (vv. 4b-6).

5. Women in Luke-Acts

Many scholars and commentators have noted that, generally, the Gospel of Luke gives more attention to women. In addition to the expanded role of Mary in the Infancy narratives, etc (cf. above), we may point out the following episodes or details unique to Luke:

  • The role of Elizabeth (Lk 1:5-7, 13, 18, 24-25, 36, 39-56, 57-60ff), set parallel to Mary (part of the wider John/Jesus parallel in the narrative); she, like her husband Zechariah (vv. 67-79) is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and utters a prophetic announcement (vv. 42-45). In a few manuscripts, she is also the one who delivers the Magnificat (vv. 46-55).
  • The mention and description of Anna (2:36-38), a (female) prophet, just as Simeon was inspired to utter a prophetic oracle. They both are aged figures, frequenting the Temple precincts, representative of the righteous/pious ones of Israel (i.e., the Old Covenant) who are looking forward to the coming redemption (vv. 25, 38).
  • Sayings, parables and healing miracles involving women (cf. above)—Lk 4:25-26; 7:11-17; 13:10-17; 15:8-10; 18:2-5. As indicated above (section 1), such episodes in the Gospel tradition tend to relate to human suffering and injustice, which often afflicts women who are in an especially vulnerable position (widows, etc). Luke gives greater emphasis to matters involving the poor/outcast and what today we would call social justice. To these we can add the scene of Jesus being anointed by a “sinful” woman (7:36-50), seemingly a parallel version or ‘doublet’ of Mark 14:3-9 par; John 12:1-8, but with many important differences. Note also the scene on the way to the cross in Lk 23:28-29.
  • References to Mary Magdalene and the other women who followed Jesus—Lk 8:1-3; 23:49, 55-56; 24:1-12, 22-24—which, for the most part, Luke inherited as part of the wider Gospel (and Synoptic) Tradition (cf. above).

When we turn to the book of Acts, right away we see women, including Jesus’ mother Mary, among the close followers of Jesus waiting together in Jerusalem, in the ‘upper room’ (Acts 1:13-14). Women are certainly to be counted among the 120 who are likewise gathered together (1:15ff), and present when the Spirit comes upon them all on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4ff). This interpretation of the scenario is confirmed by the use of Joel 2:28-32 in the great Pentecost sermon-speech by Peter which follows (2:14-36, vv. 17-21). In that Scripture God declares that (in the last days)

“…I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and daughters will prophesy…”
“(yes,) even upon my (male) slaves and my (female) slaves will I pour out from my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy…”

The implication is clear: God gives out his Spirit upon all believers equally, male and female alike, regardless of socio-economic position (i.e., even upon slaves). The implications of this equality are not really followed through in the narrative of Acts, but they are dealt with, to some extent, by Paul in his letters (cf. the earlier articles in this series, esp. Parts 1 and 3 on 1 Cor 11:2-16 and Gal 3:28). The only female prophets specifically mentioned in the book of Acts are the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). There are also several passages where believers are distinctly referenced as “men and women” (5:14; 8:3, 12; 9:2; 22:4; cf. also 17:4, 12). These references should not be limited to men and their wives—they are unquestionably to be read in the more general sense of male and female believers. Several of the verses refer to men and women sharing together in the persecution faced by believers (8:3; 9:2; 22:4). Elsewhere in the narratives, there are a number of episodes where specific women are involved; in at least some of these, we can infer that they likely played a significant role in the spread of Christianity and the establishment of churches:

  • 9:36-42—The disciple Tabitha/Dorcas, who was healed from a serious illness by Peter
  • 12:12ff—Mary the mother of John Mark, whose house apparently was used as a meeting-place for believers (a house-church? cf. Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15)
  • 16:11-15—Lydia, who along with other (prominent) women of Philippi, became believers during the missionary work of Paul and Silas (and Timothy, etc); she apparently hosted Paul and his companions in her house for a time (v. 15)
  • 17:34—Damaris, a woman specifically mentioned, apparently one of the few converts during Paul’s brief (and turbulent) stay in Athens
  • 18:2ff, 18, 26—Priscilla (or Prisca), with her husband Aquila, was a leader/minister in the churches of Corinth (1 Cor 16:19), Ephesus (cf. 2 Tim 4:19), and then (apparently) back in Rome (Rom 16:3). They hosted congregations in their house, and were close companions of Paul. Priscilla was a capable enough teacher in the faith to instruct Apollos “more accurately… (about) the Way [of God]” (Acts 18:26); the extent to which she may have done this in consort with her husband would seem to be of relatively little importance. However, it appears to have been troubling enough for the author/editor(s) of the “Western” version of Acts (D gig syr copsah arm al), that her name was either omitted from the text or placed after her husband’s (cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary [2nd edition], pp. 413-14). Some traditional-conservative commentators today might sense the same difficulty.

Note of the Day – June 5

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No survey or study of the references to the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts is complete without some mention of the unique passages in the so-called ‘Western’ text of Acts. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, in New Testament textual criticism, ‘Western’ refers to manuscripts and versions which share a specific set of textual readings (or tendencies), distinct from other text-groupings (Alexandrian) and/or the ‘Majority’ text (the reading of the majority of manuscripts). In particular, it refers primarily to the readings common to the Codex Bezae [D] and a good number of Old Latin manuscripts. However the term “Western” is something of a misnomer, since ‘Western’ readings are also shared by various Greek MSS presumably covering a relatively wide/disparate geographical range, as well as by Syriac, Coptic (Egyptian), Georgian, etc, versions. While ‘Western’ readings are attested in the Gospels and other New Testament books, the distinctive readings in the book of Acts are extensive (and different) enough to constitute an entirely separate recension, or version, of the book. The relation of this recension to the Alexandrian/Majority text has been the topic of discussion and debate among commentators and textual scholars for decades. The ‘Western’ version is longer and more extensive, containing more (and more verbose) literary/historical detail, especially in the introductory and summary portions of the narrative episodes. Of the many theories scholars have put forward, the most noteworthy (and interesting) are:

  • The Alexandrian/Majority text is the original (or more closely so), while the ‘Western’ text represents a secondary expansion by scribes or an author/editor
  • The ‘Western’ text is closer to the original, while the Alexandrian/Majority text is a truncated or redacted version (by a later scribe or author/editor)
  • The original author (trad. Luke) produced two versions or drafts of the book, each of which (somehow) was published or came into circulation
  • The original work was incomplete, surviving in a draft form which included notes/annotations by the author; subsequent scribes/editors created the two versions working from this draft text

The last theory is especially intriguing and offers an attractive explanation for several especially difficult passages; however, it remains highly speculative. Most scholars today would opt for the first theory, that the ‘Western’ text is a secondary expansion. Generally, this would seem to be correct, since the scribal tendency was to expand/add to the text rather than reduce/omit from it—hence the text-critical rule of thumb lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferred”). Also, many of the longer narrative sections seem to have the purpose of clarifying the context in detail, to the point of becoming excessively redundant and pedantic.

Some scholars have also thought that the ‘Western’ version shows distinctive doctrinal/theological tendencies (including an anti-Jewish bias); this has been discussed in a number of studies, most notably in Eldon J. Epp, The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis in Acts (Cambridge: 1966). One feature of the ‘Western’ version of Acts is an increased emphasis on the Holy Spirit—including at least 10 distinct references, in addition to the 50+ in the Alexandrian/Majority text. It has been argued that this difference is theological as well—e.g., (a) the ‘Western’ author/editor wished to give greater prominence to the role of the Spirit (perhaps under Montanist influence), or (b) the Alexandrian/Majority text may have wished to reduce the role of the Spirit due to an anti-charismatic (or anti-Montanist) tendency. Matthew Black expounds this latter point in his article “The Holy Spirit in the Western Text of Acts” (in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger, eds. Eldon J. Epp & Gordon D. Fee [Oxford: 1981], pp. 159-70). I find such theories to be rather unlikely. Most of what I see in the ‘Western’ version can be explained simply as the result of a tendency to clarify and (over)explain the narrative context. If anything, there may have been a pious interest to enhance the role and prestige of the apostles by including reference to the Holy Spirit whenever possible.

Below I summarize the unique/distinctive passages in the ‘Western’ text which mention the Holy Spirit. I have made use of Black’s study as it provides a convenient compilation of the passages (the Western ‘additions’ are in italics):

  • Acts 6:10 (of Stephen)—”and they did not have strength to stand against the wisdom th(at) was in him and the holy Spirit in which he spoke” (D et al). The shorter text could be taken to mean “the wisdom and spirit“, but the Western version makes clear that this is a reference to the (Holy) Spirit; also the phrase “that was in him” likely is meant to emphasize the divine inspiration which resides within the early believers through the presence of the Spirit. There is a similar variant involving the specific adjective “holy” in Acts 8:18.
  • Acts 8:38—”and when they stepped up out of the water, the holy Spirit fell upon the chamber-official, and the Messenger of the Lord snatched up Philip” (Ac 1739 [and other minuscules] p w, the Harclean Syriac, and other versions/witnesses). It is perhaps incorrect to categorize this as a ‘Western’ reading, since it covers a rather wide and diverse range of textual witnesses. As noted previously, baptism in the book of Acts is always connected with believers receiving the Spirit, so the lack of any such reference in the Majority text of 8:38 is somewhat unusual. This could easily be the reason why a scribe or editor might have added it here; but it also could be an argument in favor of the longer text.
  • Acts 11:17 (Peter speaking)—”who was I powerful (enough) to [i.e. how could I possibly] cut off [i.e. block/prevent] God (so as) not to give (the) holy Spirit to them, the (one)s trusting in Him?” (D p vgms syrh etc). The longer text is curious in that it seems to misunderstand the context and central issue of the narrative in Acts 10-11—the inclusion of Gentile believers as part of the Christian Community. I.e., since the Holy Spirit came upon them miraculously (as a work of God), they certainly should be allowed admission to baptism and entry into the Community. Possibly the sense of Peter’s words underlying the longer reading is, “If I could not prevent God from giving them His Spirit, how could we (other Jewish Christians) dare to prevent them from being baptized?”
  • Acts 15:7—”Peter, standing up in the [holy] Spirit, said…” (D et al)
    Acts 15:29 (The decree)—”…from which [i.e. the things prohibited in the decree] watching (over) yourselves carefully, you (will) perform well carrying (yourselves) in the holy Spirit” (D etc)
    Acts 15:32 (of Judas/Silas)—”…and they, being Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] full of (the) holy Spirit, called the brothers along [i.e. encouraged them] with many words” (D)
    These additions (if such they be) presumably were intended to enhance the status and Spirit-inspired character of the Jerusalem Council, so central to the book of Acts and the account of the early mission to the Gentiles.
  • Acts 19:1—”Paul was wishing to travel unto Jerusalem according to his own plan/counsel (but) the Spirit said to him to turn back into Asia, and coming through…” (Ë38 D syrh mg etc). This is an example of the more expansive narrative introductions typical of the Western text; here it emphasizes the Spirit’s direction (and intervention) in Paul’s travels.
  • Acts 20:3 (of Paul)—”he wished to take up sail into Syria but the Spirit said to him to turn back through Macedonia…” (D syrh mg etc). A similar expanded introduction emphasizing the guiding direction of the Spirit.
  • Acts 26:1—”then Paul stretched out the hand, giving an account of himself, {confident and receiving help/encouragement in/by the holy Spirit}…” (syrh mg [the underlying Greek text is uncertain])

For more on the ‘Western’ version of Acts, consult any reputable critical Commentary. One of the earliest (and best) is The Beginnings of Christianity (5 vols), eds. F. J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (1920-33), also available from Biblesoft in electronic form. A popular, compact and very readable modern Commentary is that of J. A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible [AB] series (Vol. 31, 1998). Cf. also the commentaries by E. Haenchen (Westminster/Oxford: 1971) and F. F. Bruce (Tyndale: 1951, and in the NICNT series, 1954/1988), among others. There is a convenient summary of the topic in the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition), pp. 222-36.

Note of the Day – June 4

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  1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
  2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
  3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

Today I am exploring the last of the three principal themes involving the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, listed above.

Guided/Led by the Spirit (“in the Spirit”)

This theme is already set in the portion of the Infancy Narrative involving Simeon, who, like John and his parents (Zechariah/Elizabeth) are transitional figures in the Gospel—representing the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new. In Lk 2:27, it is said that Simeon “came into the Temple in the Spirit [e)n tw=| pneu/mati]”—this presumably indicates a state of inspiration (cf. vv. 25-26 and the oracles in vv. 29-32, 34-35), but also that he was led into the Temple at just the right moment to encounter the child Jesus. This idea is expressed much more clearly in the case of Jesus himself, at the beginning of his ministry. Previously, I have noted the precise way the references to the Spirit help to structure the narrative in chapters 3-4:

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

Note especially the three central references to Jesus being led by the Spirit:

  • full of the holy Spirit he turned back…” (v. 1a)
  • “and he was led [h&geto] in the Spirit [e)n tw=| pneu/mati] in the desolate (land)” (v. 1b)
  • “he turned back in the power of the Spirit…” (v. 14)

Clearly, the Spirit is understood as guiding and directing Jesus’ steps. Elsewhere in the Gospel, the Spirit’s guidance is related to inspired speech (proclamation), in two respects:

  • The source of inspiration (“in the Spirit”):
    “In that same hour, he [i.e. Jesus] lept for joy [i.e. rejoiced] in the [holy] Spirit and said…” (Lk 10:21)
  • Inspiration as teaching:
    (Jesus to his disciples): “…for (the) holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s which it is necessary for you to say” (Lk 12:12)

These principal aspects of the Spirit’s guiding power continue, being developed in the book of Acts:

  • Acts 1:2—Jesus gave commands/instruction to his disciples through the Holy Spirit before he was taken up into heaven
  • Acts 2:4—The disciples speak in “other tongues” as the Spirit gave to them the ability to speak forth; this prefigures the believers fulfilling a role similar to the inspired Prophets of old (cf. Acts 1:16; 4:8, 25, 31; 11:28; 21:11; 28:25, etc). Speaking in foreign tongues also symbolizes the mission of the disciples out into the wider Greco-Roman (Gentile) world.
  • The Spirit gives direct communication to the disciples/apostles, especially in regard to the mission to the Gentiles—Acts 8:29; 10:44; 11:12; 13:2; 15:28
  • Acts 8:29ff—The Spirit guides and directs Philip in his missionary travels:
    —”And the Spirit said to Philip…” (v. 29), directing him to the Ethiopian official
    —”And when they stepped up out of the water, (the) Spirit of the Lord snatched (up) Philip and the (Ethiopian) chamber-official did not see him any longer” (v. 39)
  • Acts 13:2ff—The Spirit similarly provides guidance to Paul (and Barnabas, etc) throughout his journeys, cf. especially Acts 13:4; 16:6-7; 19:21; 20:22-23; 21:4, 11.
  • As a related (secondary) theme, we should mention references to the Spirit in the specific context of persecution or opposition, etc, to the disciples’ preaching and missionary work—Acts 4:31; 5:3, 9; 6:10; 7:51; 8:18ff; 13:9; cf. Luke 12:10-12.

In regard to these references, it is worth noting that the role of the Spirit takes on even greater prominence in the so-called “Western” version of the book of Acts, which I will discuss in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – June 3

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  1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
  2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
  3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

In the previous day’s note, I discussed the first of the three principal themes involving the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, listed above. In the next two daily notes, I will be looking at the last two in turn.

Filled with/by the Spirit

This image (and vocabulary) is virtually unique to Luke-Acts in the New Testament; indeed, of the 24 occurrences of the verb plh/qw / pi/mplhmi (“fill [up]”), all but 22 are in Luke-Acts. There are 9 instances where people are said to be “filled” by the Spirit, and another 5 where they are said to be “full” of the Spirit (using the related adjective plh/rh$):

  • Luke 1:15 (of John)—”he will be filled [plhsqh/setai] by the holy Spirit” before he has even come out of his mother’s womb
  • Luke 1:41 (of Elizabeth)—”and Elisheba was filled [e)plh/sqh] by the holy Spirit…”
    Luke 1:67 (of Zechariah)—”and Zacharyah was filled [e)plh/sqh] by the holy Spirit…”
  • Luke 4:1 (of Jesus)—”And Yeshua, full [plh/rh$] of the Spirit, turned back…”
  • Acts 2:4 (of believers)—”and they all were filled [e)plh/sqhsan] by the holy Spirit…” (cf. also vv. 2, 13)
  • Acts 4:8 (of Peter)—”Then (the) Rock {Peter}, filled [plhsqei/$] by the holy Spirit, said…”
  • Acts 4:31 (of believers)—”…and they all (together) were filled [e)plh/sqhsan] by the holy Spirit…”
  • Acts 6:3 (of the Seven [incl. Stephen])—”…seven (who are) full [plh/rei$] of (the) Spirit and wisdom…”
  • Acts 6:5 (of Stephen)—”…a man full [plh/rh$] of trust [i.e. faith] and the holy Spirit”
  • Acts 7:55 (of Stephen)—”but being (in a state) full [plh/rh$] of the holy Spirit…”
  • Acts 9:17 (of Paul)—(Ananias): “…so that you might see again and be filled [plhsqh=|$] by the holy Spirit”
  • Acts 11:24 (of Barnabas)—”…he was a good man and full [plh/rh$] of the holy Spirit and trust [i.e. faith]”
  • Acts 13:9 (of Paul)—”But Shaûl, the one also (called) Paulus, filled [plhsqei/$] by the holy Spirit…”
  • Acts 13:52 (of believers)—”and the learners [i.e. disciples] were filled [e)plhrou=nto] with joy/delight and the holy Spirit”

In many, if not most of these instances, the filling by the Spirit produces inspired (prophetic) speech, just as the Prophets of Israel where inspired by God to speak. This is certainly the case with Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s parents, who each utter prophetic oracles (Lk 1:41ff, 67ff). It is said specifically of John the Baptist that he would have the spirit/power of a Prophet (i.e. Elijah, Lk 1:17, 76ff), which would be the source of the preaching/proclamation in his ministry (Lk 1:80; 3:2-3ff). Similarly, Jesus begins his public ministry with an inspired address in the synagogue at Nazareth, in which he identifies himself as the Anointed Prophet/herald of Isaiah 61:1ff (Lk 4:16-21ff). For the first believers, the filling of the Spirit was also principally for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, especially in the face of persecution (cf. Lk 12:11-12; 21:12-15 par). It would give to their proclamation a divine authority and power, both to bring about repentance and conversion but also it would also allow believers to resist the attacks of their opponents (Acts 4:8ff, 31; 6:10; 13:9, etc), just as Jesus withstood temptation by the Devil (Lk 4:1-13, 14).

The basic idea of filling comes originally from the fundamental meaning of pneu=ma (“spirit”) as “breath” or “wind” (cf. Acts 2:2, 4). However, the image of the Spirit as water is also clearly at work, in light of the central association with baptism. We see a play on the idea of believers filled with liquid in Acts 2:13; however, in Luke-Acts we do not find the symbolism of drinking associated with the Spirit as we do in the Gospel of John (Jn 4:7-15, 23-24; 6:53-55, 63; 7:37-39). In the account of Jesus giving the Spirit to his disciples in Jn 20:22, it is said that he “breathed in(to)” them, perhaps alluding to the creation account (Gen 2:7); in any case, it is certainly parallel to Acts 2:2-4, where the believers are filled by the Wind/Breath (Spirit) of God. We also find in Luke-Acts influence of the Old Testament/Jewish traditional imagery of being filled by Wisdom—i.e. the Wisdom of God—Lk 2:40; Acts 6:3 (cf. also Acts 6:5, 8; 9:36; 11:24). For the theme in the Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom literature, cf. Isa 11:9; 44:3; Psalm 107:9; Prov 3:19-20; 9:5; 18:4; Wisdom 1:7; Sirach 1:16; 2:16; 15:3; 17:7; 24:21; 39:6, 12, etc.

Note of the Day – June 2

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Having discussed the Holy Spirit in the Lukan Infancy narrative in the previous daily note, today I will begin a short survey of how the theme/idea of the Spirit is used and developed throughout Luke-Acts. Luke has more specific references to the Spirit than any of the other Gospels (17/18 in Luke, compared with 6 in Mark, 12 in Matthew, and 15 in John), along with more than 50 occurrences in the book of Acts. These Spirit references can, I think, be divided into three basic categories:

  1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
  2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
  3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

Like a developing musical motif, these three aspects are found in conjunction already in the early passages of the Gospel, in the Infancy narratives and at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

The Infancy narratives

  • The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary (Lk 1:35, “will come upon you”)
  • John and his parents are filled by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:15, 41, 67); in the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth, this filling leads directly to an inspired (poetic) oracle
  • Simeon is led in the Spirit (Lk 2:27, cf. also vv. 25-26)

Similarly, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry

  • The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at the baptism (Lk 3:22, cf. also 4:18ff)
  • Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit following the baptism (Lk 4:1a)
  • Jesus is led in the (power of the) Spirit (Lk 4:1b, 14)

I begin with the theme of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus and believers, etc. The first such reference is found in the Angel’s annunciation to Mary (Lk 1:35, cf. the previous note). This prophecy is similar in many ways to the declaration by Jesus in Acts 1:8, with each announcement holding a comparable place in the Gospel and Acts, respectively:

  • The Angel to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon [e)peleu/setai e)pi] you”—which will result in the miraculous birth of Jesus
  • Jesus to his disciples: “you will receive…(at) the Holy Spirit’s coming upon [e)pelqo/nte$ e)pi] you” [i.e. when the Holy Spirit comes upon you]—which will result in the supernatural ‘new birth’ of the disciples (cf. Jn 1:12-13; 3:3-8)

Again, there is a clear parallel between Jesus and the disciples in the context of Baptism (Lk 3:16; Acts 1:5):

  • Jesus: “…the Holy Spirit stepping [i.e. coming] down in bodily appearance as a dove upon [e)pi] him”—baptism by John in water (Lk 3:22)
  • Disciples: “…tongues appeared as fire and sat (down) upon [e)pi] each one of them” (and they were all filled by the Holy Spirit)—baptism (by Jesus) in the Holy Spirit and fire (Acts 2:3-4)

For a detailed study of the Pentecost scene in Acts 2:1-4, cf. my earlier series of articles. On the saying that Jesus would baptize believers in the Holy Spirit (and fire), cf. this discussed in several of the previous notes. In addition to the association with baptism (i.e. the Spirit as water), there is also the fundamental association with anointing (i.e. the Spirit poured out on the chosen one[s] as oil). Luke gives greater emphasis to this than do the other Gospels, especially in the scene at Nazareth set at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Lk 4:14ff), where Jesus specifically identifies himself with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi] me, for (the sake) of which He anointed [e&xrisen] me…” (Lk 4:18-21ff). This passage is central to the idea of Jesus as the Anointed One [Christ/Messiah] in early Gospel Tradition (cf. Lk 7:19-23; par Matt 11:2-6, note also Matt 12:18 citing a different Isaian passage [Isa 42:1-3]), as I have discussed in detail elsewhere. The anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit is tied to his Baptism in Acts 10:38.

These two motifs—water (baptism) and oil (anointing)—are also combined in the image of the Spirit being “poured out” on believers in the book of Acts. The primary passage, of course, is the Pentecost speech by Peter in which Joel 2:28-32 is quoted, especially the key phrase (doubled in poetic parallel):

I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit
—upon [e)pi] all flesh…
—(yes,) even upon [e)pi] my (male) slaves and upon [e)pi] my (female) slaves
I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit in those days…” (Acts 2:17-18 / Joel 2:28-29)

This language is repeated in Acts 2:33; 10:45. The gift of the Holy Spirit coming on believers is usually connected with baptism in some way throughout the narratives in Acts (see the wording in Acts 2:38), though clearly as a distinct event:

  • In Acts 8:12-17, believers receive the Spirit subsequent to being baptized, through the laying on of hands by the Apostles (vv. 15-17)—cf. also Acts 19:2-6.
  • In Acts 10:44-48 (and 11:15-16), the Spirit comes upon believers prior to their being baptized, following the preaching of Peter

In both of these passage the sudden, dramatic experience of receiving the Spirit is described with the verb e)pipi/ptw (“fall [down] upon”)—”as Peter was yet speaking these words, the holy Spirit fell upon [e)pe/pesen e)pi] all the (one)s hearing…” (Acts 10:44, cf. 11:15). As in the case of Mary and Jesus (cf. above), the coming of the Spirit “upon” [e)pi] believers indicates the presence and power of God which has come near, transforming their entire life and being. It should be understood as the first, primary stage—the first of the three motifs listed above. The presence of the Spirit upon a person is necessarily prior to the filling and inspired leading/guiding by the Spirit. We also see this illustrated (and prefigured) in the brief account of Simeon in Luke 2:25-27:

  • The Holy Spirit was upon [e)pi] him (v. 25)
  • A special revelation was given to him by [lit. under] the Spirit regarding the Messiah (Christ) (v. 26)
  • He came (i.e. was led) in [e)n] the Spirit into the Temple (v. 27), where he encounters the child Jesus
  • He utters a pair of (inspired) oracles, prophesying as to the child’s future (vv. 29-32, 34-35)

Note of the Day – April 4

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

Acts 7:55-56

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ saying (Lk 22:69):

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

The formula in Mark/Matthew is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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