was successfully added to your cart.

Tag

Christology

Note of the Day – November 6 (John 14:4-7)

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

John 14:4-7 (continued, v. 6)

In response to the disciples’ question in verse 5 regarding where Jesus is going (v. 4, cf. the previous day’s note), he answers with the declaration of verse 6, one of the most famous statements in the New Testament:

“Yeshua says [le/gei] to him {Thomas}, ‘I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the way, and the truth and the life—no one comes toward the Father if not [i.e. except] through me.”

Both the statement in v. 4, and the question of v. 5, use the word o(do/$ (“way”) with an adverb/particle (of place) derived from the pronoun po/$ (“who/what/which”):

  • “the (place) which/where [o%pou] I am going…you have seen/known the way [o(do/$]” (v. 4)
  • “we have not seen/known what(ever place where) [pou=] you are going…how can we see/know the way [o(do/$]?” (v. 5)

It seems to suggest a specific location with a distinct path that leads to it (cf. Jesus’ illustration in Matt 7:13-14 par). However, Jesus’ response in verse 6 makes clear that he himself (emphatic pronoun e)gw/, “I”) is the path or way (o(do/$). This point of emphasis is all the more solemn in its use of the pronoun + verb of being (e)gw\ ei)mi, “I am”), with its Johannine connotation of identifying Jesus with God the Father (YHWH). For other “I am” sayings of Jesus in John, cf. 6:35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 24; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11; 11:25; 13:19; 15:1, 5; 18:5; and note also the foreshadowing of the expression in 1:20ff; 3:28, and the distinctive use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in 1:1-15. Especially worth noting, is the parallel with 14:4-5 in 7:33ff, where Jesus says:

“(It is only) a little time yet (that) I am [ei)mi] with you, and I go away [u(pa/gw] toward the (one who) sent me. You will seek (for) me and you will not find [me], and the (place) where [o%pou] I am [ei)mi] you are not able to come (there).” (vv. 33-34)

There is an interesting parallelism within this saying:

  • ei)mi (“I am”)—Jesus’ presence with the people (i.e. his disciples)
    u(pa/gw (“I go under/away”)—his departure back to the Father
    o%pou (“the [place] where”)—where he is, with the Father
  • ei)mi (“I am”)—His presence with God the Father (1:1ff)

The statement that Jesus goes “toward” (pro/$) the Father is important, and the basic expression occurs numerous times in Gospel of John. In the prologue, the orientation of the eternal Word (Lo/go$) is toward (pro/$) God the Father (1:1-2), and the Son ultimately goes back toward Him (13:1, and throughout the Last Discourse). Similarly, the preposition is used for people (believers) who come to Jesus—toward him, toward the light, etc., as in 3:20-21; 5:40; 6:35, 37, 44-45, et al. It is only in coming toward the Son (Jesus), that is, by believing/trusting in him, that one is able to come toward the Father. This dynamic is not spelled out in detail, but the basic image in the Last Discourse is that Jesus will return (future eschatology) to bring believers with him to the Father (14:3; 17:24, etc). However, at the same time, in a different sense (‘realized’ eschatology), the Father (with the Son) is already present with believers, residing in them (14:23, etc). Both aspects are found in chapter 14, and both should be understood as relating to the idea of Jesus as the way to the Father. That he is the only way was expressed already in the parable/illustration of the shepherd and sheep-fold in chapter 10 (vv. 1-5)—Jesus is both the door leading into the sheepfold (vv. 7-9) and the shepherd who guides the sheep into the fold (vv. 11-16). Something of the same image of the door is certainly implied in 14:6, since Jesus speaks of believers as coming to the Father through (dia/) him.

The motif of the way (o(do/$) was extremely important in the earliest Christian tradition, though, without the book of Acts, this fact would have been almost completely lost to us. One of the earliest names or labels for Christians and Christianity was, collectively, “the Way” (o( o(do/$)—cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22. This is perhaps the most distinctive and precise parallel between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), since both referred to themselves this way. Both traditions would seem to derive from an interpretation of (and identification with) Isaiah 40:3ff, which, in combination with Mal 3:1ff, would be associated with the early Gospel traditions regarding John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—cf. Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4; Jn 1:23. For Isa 40:3 and the religious identity of the Qumran Community, cf. especially the ‘Community Rule’ [1QS] 8:12-16.

Jesus’ declaration in Jn 14:6 expands upon the identification of Jesus with “the way”:

“I am the way, and the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the life [zwh/]…”

Both words are important and occur frequently in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John. Probably here they are best understood as epexegetical, qualifying and characterizing Jesus as the Way—i.e., the “way of truth“, “way of life“—though certainly they can also be viewed as separate (related) “I am” declarations. For the idea of a way leading to life, see Gen 3:24; Psalm 16:11; Prov 6:23; 15:24; 16:17, as well as Jer 21:8 (also Ezek 3:18; 13:22) which prefigures Matt 7:14 and the “Two Ways” religious-ethical tradition that developed in early Christianity (Didache 1-6; Barnabas 18-21). Similarly, the “way of truth” has its background in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—cf. Psalm 86:11; 119:30; Tob 1:3; Wisdom 5:6; 1QS 4:15-16, etc.; the expression is found in 2 Pet 2:2 (cf. also v. 15). The Gospel message is called the “way of salvation” in Acts 16:17; cf. also 18:25-26. There is an echo of Jn 14:6 in the Gnostic text known as the Gospel of Truth (mid-2nd century?):

“This is the gospel of the one who is searched for, which was revealed to the ones who are perfect through the mercies of the Father—the hidden mystery, Jesus, the Christ. Through it he enlightened those who were in darkness. Out of oblivion he enlightened them, he showed (them) a way. And the way is the truth which he taught them.” (translation G. W. MacRae in the Nag Hammadi Library [NHL], ed. James M. Robinson)

Here we see one of the clearest differences between the Gospel of John and the Gnosticism of the 2nd century A.D. In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus himself (i.e. the person of Christ, the Son) is the way. By contrast, in the ‘Gospel of Truth’, the way is the gospel (message), the revelation of truth which Jesus brings to the Elect (believers). This is a seemingly small, but very significant difference, and it thoroughly colors how one understands “knowledge” (gnw=si$) from a Christian (and Christological standpoint). The emphasis on knowledge will be addressed in relation to the final verse (14:7) to be discussed here, in the next day’s note.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Knowledge and Revelation in John

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

Because of the very distinctive—and extensive—use of terms related to knowledge and revelation in the Johannine writings, it has been necessary to devote a separate supplemental article to this topic. The vocabulary, language and imagery used in the discourses of Jesus in Gospel are so close, at many points, to that in the letters, that most scholars ascribe them to a single Christian community or “school” of authorship. Tradition establishes the apostle John as the author of the Gospel and letters both, though, strictly speaking, they are all anonymous works. Regardless of how one theorizes the actual authorship of the writings, there is strong evidence that, in the discourses of Jesus, the actual words of Jesus—i.e. the historical sayings/teachings—have been edited and given an added interpretative layer within a literary dialogue (and homiletic) format.

I have previously discussed the specific vocabulary related to knowledge and revelation (cf. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series). The extent to which they occur in the Gospel and letters of John is striking:

  • The verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ, “know”) occurs 56 times in the Gospel, and 26 in the letters—more than a third of all occurrences in the NT (222). Interestingly, the related noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”), is not used (on this, cf. the following special note).
  • The verb ei&dw (oi@da) (“see”), which is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw in Greek at the time of the New Testament, occurs 85 times in the Gospel, and another 16 in the letters—again, more than a third of all occurrences in the NT.
  • Other verbs for seeing are used frequently in the Gospel and letters:
    o(ra/w (“see, perceive”, 31/8); ble/pw (“look [at], see”, 17/1); qewre/w and qea/omai (“look with wonder, look [carefully] at, behold”, 24/1 & 6/3)
  • The noun fw=$ (“light”), 23 times in the Gospel, 6 in the letters (29 out of 73 in the NT); in addition, we have the related verbs for giving/shining light: fai/nw (3), emfani/zw (2), fanero/w (15).

Knowing and Seeing (& Hearing)

Fundamentally, the references involving knowing and seeing (taken together) can be divided into several categories:

  1. Jesus (the Son) knows the Father, and makes Him (his word, his truth, etc) known to his disciples
  2. Disciples/believers know him (the Son), and the Father through him; by contrast, the “world” does not know
  3. Jesus knows his disciples (believers), who are also known by the Father

1. The Son knows/sees the Father

The main passages expressing this knowledge of the Father are: Jn 5:32; 7:29; 8:14, 19, 55; 10:15; 12:50; 13:3; 15:15; 17:25. Frequent in the discourses of Jesus is the idea that the Son has seen and heard the Father, and does/says what he sees/hears the Father doing/saying. This is expressed in Jn 3:32; 5:19ff; 6:46; 8:26, 38, 40; 12:49-50; 15:15 (cf. also 10:18, 37; 14:10; 17:6-8). The basic image derives from daily life—the dutiful son, as a pupil or apprentice, imitates his father, following the pattern and example of behavior. In 16:13, it is extended to the Spirit, who, like the Son (and as the abiding presence of the Son in the believer), will speak (only) the things he hears from the Father.

In turn, the Son makes known the Father to humankind, especially to his followers (believers). It is for this purpose that he was sent into the world by the Father (cf. below). The specific verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) occurs in Jn 15:15:

“…all the (thing)s that I heard (from) alongside my Father I (have) made known [e)gnw/risa] to you”

It is also found (twice) in the prayer-discourse of Jesus in chapter 17 (v. 26):

“and I made known [e)gnw/risa] to them Your name, and will make (it) known [gnwri/sw], (so) that the love with which you loved me might be in them, and I (also) in them”

An interesting example is Jn 1:18, where the verb e)chge/omai (“lead/bring out”) is used. The statement (by the author) emphasizes that no one has ever seen God, but that Jesus, the unique Son (of God) “…the (one) being [i.e. who is/dwells] in the lap of the Father, this (one) has brought (Him) out”—i.e. brought God out in the sense of declaring and making Him known.

More common is the verb fanero/w (“make/cause [to] shine [forth]”), where it refers to Jesus making God known (17:6)—especially His work and power (through miracles, etc), as in 2:11; 9:3; the same is expressed by the verb deiknu/w in 10:32; 14:8. It is also used in reference to Jesus’ appearing to his disciples—1:31; 14:21f; cf. also 7:4. In 1 John, it occurs in the more traditional sense of Jesus’ appearance (and future appearance) on earth (1:2; 2:28; 3:2, 5, 8, also 4:9).

Closely related is the key motif of Jesus as light (fw=$)—Jn 1:5-9; 3:19ff; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:35-36, 46; and cf. also 1 Jn 1:5-7; 2:8-11. John the Baptist is also a light (5:35) , but only insofar as he reflects and reveals the true light (1:5ff). The verb fai/nw (“shine light”) occurs in 1:5; 5:35; 1 John 2:8; while e)mfani/zw (“make [light] shine in”) is used in Jn 14:21-22 associated with the personal (abiding) presence of Jesus in the believer.

2. Believers know/see the Son

It is specifically Jesus’ disciples (believers) who come to know him (the Son). The main references are Jn 6:69; 8:28; 10:4-5, 14-15, 27, 38; 14:9, 17, 20; 17:3, 7-8, 23; cf. also 3:11; 18:21. People see the signs (miracles, etc) which Jesus does (2:23; 4:19, 48; 6:2, 14, 26; 11:45), and also come to see him (on this narrative motif, cf. below). They also hear his voice—cf. 3:29; 5:25, 28, 37; 12:29f; 18:37, and note 4:42; 11:43f; 20:16. Through the Son, believers see and hear the Father—this motif is frequent (cf. above), but emphasized particularly in Jn 14:7-8ff; 17:3.

By contrast, the “world”—that is, unbelievers—do not know him. Even Jesus’ own disciples have difficulty understanding, and are unable to know completely. This is a theme which runs throughout the narrative; of the many references, cf. 1:10, 26, 31, 33; 4:32; 7:27-28; 8:14, 19, 55; 9:29; 12:35; 14:9, 17; 15:15, 21; 16:3; 17:25; 20:14. The contrast is part of the dualism in the Johannine writings (to be discussed in Part 6). It is also expressed through the contrast of seeing vs. not-seeing (i.e. blindness)—chapter 9; 12:40; 1 Jn 2:11.

In the letters of John, knowing Christ essentially functions as a central point of religious identification, marked especially by the presence and manifestation of Christian love—cf. 1 Jn 2:3ff, 13-14; 4:2, 6-8, 16; 5:19-20; it also includes the same dualistic contrast found in the Gospel (1 Jn 2:11; 3:1, 6, etc). Likewise, the twin motif of seeing/hearing occurs (1 Jn 1:1-3; 3:11; 4:14; 2 Jn 6), as well as the specific idea of knowing the Father by way of the Son (4:8ff, 12, 14; cf. also 2:23; 5:9; 2 Jn 9).

3. Believers known by Jesus (and the Father)

Jesus’ knowledge of his disciples (believers), as those chosen and given to him by God (cf. below), is emphasized in Jn 2:25; 6:64; 10:14, 27; 13:11, 18. Within the narrative, the various references of Jesus coming to his disciples (cf. below) and, specifically, seeing them (1:42, 48; 11:33; 19:26, etc), take on added meaning. A reciprocal relationship is expressed—Jesus sees (and comes to) believers, who also see (and come to) him. Ultimately, these passages are tied to an overriding sense of Christian identity, for believers as those who come from (or out of) God, just as Jesus himself comes from God. This motif will be discussed next.

Other concepts and expressions

The rich treasury of Johannine language and imagery can only be surveyed partially here. I will endeavor to point out a few of the most relevant ideas and expressions used in the Gospel and letters.

Coming from God

This often involves the specific preposition e)k (lit. “out of”). Frequently Jesus speaks of himself (the Son) as coming from, or “out of”, God—Jn 7:17; 8:42; 16:28ff, and cf. also 1:14; 3:2; 17:5; 1 Jn 1:2. More or less synonymous is the idea of his coming out of heaven (or “above”), as in Jn 3:13, 27, 31; 6:32-33ff; 8:23. The (spatial) dualism of above/below, heaven/earth, etc., is related to the conceptual dualism of Jesus “stepping down” and “stepping (back) up”, using the related verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw. As Jesus came down out of heaven (from God), so he will be returning back into heaven (to the Father). At the same time, those who believe in him, are also said to be “(out) of God”, especially under the image of being born from Him—Jn 1:12-13; 3:3ff; 8:47; 18:37. This will be discussed further in Part 5 (on Election/Predestination). Being “of God” is important in the Johannine letters as signifying Christian identity—cf. 2:16, 29; 3:9-10, 19; 4:2-3ff; 5:1, 4, 18-19; 3 Jn 11.

Coming into the world

Related to the concept of Jesus coming from God, out of heaven, is the specific motif of his coming into the world. This is expressed most clearly in Jn 1:9, 11; 3:31; 5:43; 8:14; 9:39; 11:27; 12:46-47; 18:37. For the closely connected use of the verb fanero/w (“make to shine, make manifest, cause to appear”) to describe this appearance of Jesus on earth, cf. above. Coming into the world also means coming to the people—to human beings generally, but also to the people Israel, and, more specifically, to the people (believers) chosen by God.

Coming to the disciples / Disciples coming to Jesus

This twin motif occurs frequently in the Gospel narrative, but the “coming” carries a deeper significance in John, due to the previously mentioned concepts, as well as to the added motif of seeing. The references here which include the element of sight/seeing are marked with an asterisk:

Two other, related, concepts should be mentioned:

Sending

In the Gospel, Jesus is identified as (the Son) who was sent by God the Father, using both verbs a)poste/llw and pe/mpw: the references are too numerous to mention them all—3:17, 34; 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36ff; 6:38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, et al. The Spirit is also sent by the Father (and the Son) to believers, 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; and Jesus sends forth his disciples (believers), just as the Father sent him (4:38; 17:18; 20:21).

Abiding/remaining in

As in the Pauline letters, the Johannine writings frequently refer to believers being “in” (e)n) Christ, just as Christ is “in” the believer. Sometimes this is specified in terms of truth, love, or the word(s) (logo$, r(hma) of Jesus. Most frequently, it involves the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), which becomes a distinctly Johannine theme and unique for an understanding of both revelation and the believer’s religious identity (in Christ). For more on this latter point, cf. the discussion in Part 4.

The frequency with which both aspects are mentioned together, side-by-side, is striking.

Giving & Receiving

One other way revelation is expressed in the Gospel of John is with the verbs di/dwmi (“give”) and lamba/nw (“take [hold of], receive”). These two verbs occur together at the beginning of the Gospel, in 1:12, 16-17 (cf. the note on these), and again at several points throughout. God the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to his followers (believers). At the same time, believers themselves are among the things given by God to Christ (17:2ff). Those who trust in Christ and come to him also receive him. In 17:8, the verbs lamba/nw and di/dwmi are used together, along with ginw/skw (“know”); I discuss this verse in a separate daily note. For more on the prayer-discourse of chapter 17, cf. my earlier note on 17:3.

Glory/Splendor

Finally, we should mention the numerous occurrences of the term do/ca (“esteem, honor”, i.e. “glory, splendor”, esp. when used of God), along with the related verb doca/zw. While do/ca is related to the idea of divine revelation throughout the New Testament, it carries special significance in the Gospel of John, as it is distinctly tied to the person of Christ, and his identity with God the Father. This glory/splendor is at the center of the two-sided presentation of Christ in the Gospel—his descent (stepping down) from God the Father, and his ascent (stepping up) back to the Father. The death and resurrection/exaltation of Jesus stands between these two points, much as the vision described in Jn 1:51, which is offered as a vision of glory of God/Christ promised to believers (cf. also 3:3, 36). For the key passages referring to do/ca, cf. Jn 1:14; 2:11; 5:44; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4; 12:23, 28, 41, 43; 13:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1ff, 22ff. These cover virtually the entire range of meaning connected with the idea of revelation in John.

Note of the Day – October 31 (Col 2:2-3)

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

Colossians 2:2-3 (continued)

In the previous daily note, I explored the context and setting of Col 2:2-3 in the letter, examining the structure, language and imagery being employed. Today, I will look more closely at these specific verses.

“…being lifted [i.e. brought/joined] together in love and into all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind), into the (full) knowledge about the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One), in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away.”

As I discussed previously, the language used here echoes and repeats that of the exordium (introduction), especially in the first sentence (spanning vv. 9-20), which is sometimes referred to as the “Christ hymn” of Colossians. Let us begin by comparing 2:2-3 with 1:9.

Col 1:9 opens with an expression of Paul’s wish (and prayer) for the Colossians, and similarly in 2:1:

  • “Through this [i.e. for this reason] we…do not cease speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying]…over you” (1:9)
  • “For I wish you (could) have seen [i.e. could know]…” (2:1)

His wish is expressed through the subjunctive, involving the word “fill, fullness”:

  • “that [i%na] you might be filled [plhrwqh=te]…” (1:9)
  • “that [i%na] their [i.e. your] hearts might be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted]…into…the full [plhro-]…” (2:2)

In 2:2, he uses the word plhrofori/a, which is somewhat difficult to translate. Literally, it indicates something which is carried or brought out fully, often in the sense of something being demonstrated convincingly; it thus connotes the idea of confidence or assurance i.e., that something is true or will be accomplished, etc. This “fullness” Paul wishes for the Colossians is defined and qualified with prepositional phrases and genitive chains using the key words gnw=si$/e)pi/gnwsi$ (“knowledge”), su/nesi$ (‘comprehension’) and sofi/a (“wisdom”).

  • “{filled} (with) the knowledge [e)pi/gnwsi$] of His will in all wisdom [sofi/a] and spiritual comprehension [su/nesi$]” (1:9)
  • “{into…full} understanding [su/nesi$], into knowledge [e)pi/gwsi$] of the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One)” (2:2)
    “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom [sofi/a] and knowledge [gnw=si$] hidden away” (2:3)

The word su/nesi$, which I here translate as “comprehension” and “understanding”, literally means the putting together of things, i.e. in the mind. In 2:2 the use of this noun together with plhrofori/a (cf. above), functions as a kind of hendiadys (two words for a single concept). They form a genitive chain modifying the noun plou=to$ (“rich[ness], riches, wealth”)—plou=to$ th=$ plhrofori/a$ th=$ sune/sew$. My attempt to capture something of the literal meaning (cf. the translation at the top of this note) is:

“(the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”

As always, the parentheses indicate glosses which make the translation more readable. From the standpoint of the Greek syntax, a better rendering would be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full conviction and understanding (given to us)”

In terms of hendiadys, the translation might be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full understanding (we have)”

I would suggest that each of these translations captures aspects of what the author (Paul) is genuinely saying. Another important point of syntax in 2:2 is the use of parallel prepositional phrases governed by ei)$ (“into/unto”), indicating the goal for believers as they are “lifted/joined together in love”:

  • “into [ei)$] all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”
  • “into [ei)$] (true/complete) knowledge of the secret of God”

These two phrases are parallel and apposite (placed side-by-side), the second explaining the first—that which is fully brought together in the mind of believers is the knowledge of the secret of God. This begins with the hearing of the Gospel, but continues through the Christian life, through the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned here in 2:2-3, but it may be inferred from the wording of 1:9 where the comprehension/understanding (su/nesi$) is characterized as pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual, of the Spirit”). In 2:2 (as in 1:9-10) the word translated “knowledge” is e)pi/gnwsi$ rather than the simpler gnw=si$ (which is used in 2:3). The compound form often signifies a more thorough, complete, or intimate knowledge about something (or someone). It can also carry the sense of recognition or acknowledgment. The distinction and range of meaning can be difficult to translate effectively in English without losing the etymological connection.

Of special importance is the expression “secret [musth/rion] of God”. Often in Paul’s letters this secret is identified with the Gospel; here, however, it is more properly identified with Christ himself. The syntax and word order caused some difficulty for scribes copying Colossians, as there are a number of variant readings at this point among the manuscripts, which attempt to clarify the (presumed) meaning. Along with most commentators and textual critics, I assume the reading of Ë46 B as original. The words “God” and “Christ” follow after each other, both in the genitive case (qeou= xristou=). There being no punctuation in the earliest manuscripts, the syntax was somewhat ambiguous; we can approximate this in English translation as “the secret of God of Christ”. The word xristou= (“of [the] Anointed”, “of Christ”) is best understood as being apposite the expression “of the secret of God”, with “Christ” related to “the secret” rather than “God”. In other words, Christ is the secret, hidden away from the ages and generations past, but now revealed through the proclamation of the Gospel (1:26-27). Verse 3 provides an interesting parallel use of the verb a)pokrup/tw (“hide [away] from”)—while Christ is the secret hidden away, at the same time, God has hidden away in him “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. The parallel expressions in vv. 2 and 3 are clear enough:

  • “all [pa=$] the riches [sing.]…of understanding…knowledge of the secret” (v. 2)
  • “all [pa/nte$] the treasures [plur.] of wisdom and knowledge hidden away” (v. 3)

For another parallel to the syntax of verse 3, we must turn again to the exordium (introduction), to 1:14, where the Son (Christ) is described with the following phrase: “…in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the release of sins”. Note the formal similarity:

  • “in whom [e)n w!|] we hold [e&xomen]…” (1:14)
  • “in whom [e)n w!|] are [ei)sin]…” (2:3)

If we press the parallel further, it is possible to tie the verses together conceptually. In other words, the things that are in Christ are those things which we have/hold in him (and vice versa). This would mean that the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” can, and perhaps should, be identified with the saving work of Christ referenced in 1:14, which is again described by two phrases set in tandem:

  • “loosing from (bondage)” (a)polu/trwsi$)
  • “release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins” (a&fesi$ tw=n a(martiw=n)

This association would tend to negate any sort of markedly gnostic interpretation of the Christian message, by connecting knowledge with the sacrificial death of Christ. Though this particular soteriological aspect is not brought out in Colossians until the main portion of the letter (see vv. 8-15), it is central to Paul’s own understanding of the Gospel. One need only consult the discussion and line of argument in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 to find this expressed most vividly—that it is in the Gospel as the “word of the cross” that God’s wisdom is most perfectly conveyed, destroying the empty and inferior “wisdom” and “knowledge” of the world.

Note of the Day – October 30 (Col 2:2-3)

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

Colossians 2:2-3

“…being lifted [i.e. brought/joined] together in love and into all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind), into the (full) knowledge about the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One), in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away.”

Col 2:1-3 concludes with a powerful Christological statement that uses both the noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) and the compound e)pi/gnwsi$ (epígnœsis, “knowledge upon/about”); as such, it is an important reference related to the idea of knowledge in the New Testament. It also contains the words musth/rion (“secret”) and the adjective a)po/krufo$ (from a)pokru/ptw, “hide [away] from”), which connotes the aspect of revelation tied to the verb a)pokalu/ptw (“take the cover [away] from”, “uncover”). All of this is centered in the person of Christ, making it one of the strongest Christological statements regarding knowledge and revelation in the New Testament. For more on these points, cf. Part 3 of my current series “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

In order to understand better the context of this reference, it will help to summarize the structure of Colossians, from a rhetorical and epistolary standpoint. After the opening prescript (greeting) in 1:1-2, and the exordium (introduction) of 1:3-23, we have the narratio (narration) in which the author (Paul) presents a personal, autobiographical address to his readers, emphasizing his labor and concern as a minister of the Gospel. It may be divided into two parts—a statement of his work (1:24-29), and its application for the believers of Colosse (2:1-5); the statement of 2:1-3 belongs to this latter portion. The central proposition (propositio) of the letter occurs in 2:6-7, followed by the main probatio (2:8-3:4), utilizing three arguments or illustrations meant to convince and encourage his readers. Then comes the exhortatio (3:5-4:6), with ethical and practical instruction, presented in three parts, and the final conclusion or postscript (4:7-18).

Let us consider the narratio more closely. The first part (1:24-29), describes the work of Paul as minister of the Gospel, written as a single sentence in Greek. Two themes or aspects of the Gospel ministry are brought forward:

  • Paul’s suffering for the sake of the church—”I rejoice in the sufferings over you…over his [i.e. Christ’s] body…” (vv. 24-25); the goal and purpose of this suffering and labor is two-fold:
    (1) to “fill up” (i.e. complete) the affliction which Christ experienced in the flesh (i.e. in his body), and
    (2) to “(ful)fill” the account (lo/go$) of God (i.e. the Gospel) which was given to him as a servant of Christ and of Christ’s “body” (the Church)
  • The Gospel of Christ as a secret (musth/rion) which is now being revealed by ministers such as Paul (vv. 26-29)

Note the important wording in vv. 25-27:

“…to fulfill the account of God, the secret th(at) has been hidden away from the Ages and from the (generation)s coming-to-be, but now is made to shine (forth) [e)fanerw/qh] to His holy (one)s, to whom God wished to make known [gnwri/sai] among the nations what (is) the rich(ness) of the splendor of this secret, which is—(the) Anointed in you, the (very) hope of splendor…”
On the verbs fanero/w and gnwri/zw, and the two different aspects of revelation conveyed by them, cf. Part 3 of “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

There is considerable similarity of vocabulary and phrasing here with 2:2-3, which is understandable, since in the second part of the narratio (2:1-5), Paul’s work as minister of the Gospel is applied to the believers he addresses. Here is how this portion begins:

“For I wish you (could) have seen (what a) big struggle/fight I hold over you, and (over) the (one)s in Laodicea, and as (many) as have not looked (on) my face in the flesh, (so) that their hearts might be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted], being lifted together in love…” (2:1-2a)

Paul’s labor and suffering (i.e. his struggle) is related specifically to the believers in Colosse, Laodicea, and elsewhere in Asia Minor. Before examining 2:2-3 again a bit more closely, it will be helpful to consider the structure of the preceding exordium (1:3-23), since it establishes the key themes of the letter, and leads into the narration (cf. especially the transitus [transition] in v. 23). After the thanksgiving in vv. 3-8, the remainder of the introduction functions as a statement (and exposition) of the causa, or reason/purpose of the letter (vv. 9-23). It is comprised of two sentences in Greek, the first of which is extremely long and developed, spanning 12 verses (vv. 9-20). The theme of knowledge again is central to the purpose of the letter: “…that you might be filled (with) the (true) knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension” (v. 9b). This first sentence emphasizes the person of Christ, as the chain of (relative) pronouns and prepositional phrases makes clear in impressive fashion. This complex syntax is generally lost in translation, but it is important to be aware of how it functions. The knowledge (e)pi/gwsi$) mentioned in verse 9 is clarified in v. 10 as “the knowledge of God“, that is, of an intimate knowledge and awareness of Him. In verse 12, the character and work of God is applied more closely to believers with the use of the term “Father”, which is the reference point for the syntactical chain that follows in vv. 13ff:

  • “…to the Father…”
    • who [o%$] rescued us out of the authority of darkness and making us stand together (away from there and) into the kingdom of the Son of His love”
      • “in whom [e)n w!|] we hold the loosing from (bondage), the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”
      • who [o%$] is the image of the invisible God…”

This chain continues on, emphasizing: (a) the Son as head/first of all creation [vv. 15b-17], (b) the head of the Church [v. 18], and finally (c) embodying the fullness of all [v. 19]. Verse 20 summarizes the saving work of Christ, which is the theme of the second sentence (vv. 21-23). When looking at the specific wording and structure of 2:2-3, there are two verses from the first sentence of the exordium which ought to be examined especially for comparison—v. 9 and 14. This I will do in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – July 30

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

The next two occurrences of the word musth/rion (“secret”) to be discussed are found in 1 Timothy 3:9 and 16. The Pastoral Epistles (especially 1 Timothy), like Ephesians, are considered by many critical commentators to be pseudonymous. This issue is complex and much debated, and I will not attempt to address it here. However, it certainly may be argued that 1 Timothy evinces a more developed sense of what we would call Christian tradition—a distinct, and relatively fixed, body of (‘orthodox’) beliefs and teachings which is to be preserved and carefully guarded against false teachers and other ‘heterodox’ outsiders. This, at least, suggests a relatively late date (sometime after 60 A.D.); those who regard 1 Timothy as pseudonymous would probably date it c. 90 A.D. It is not possible in the space here to offer a complete list of relevant passages, but a couple will be mentioned in passing.

1 Timothy 3:9, 16

These two references come from the end of the first half of the letter (cf. my outline of 1 Timothy below). The first is part of the instruction regarding ministers (lit. “servants”, diakonoi) in the congregation (3:8-13). The main criteria given for persons to serve in this ministerial role are outlined in two parts: (a) ethical/moral qualifications (vv. 8-10), and (b) head of a proper and well-run household (vv. 11-12).

NOTE: The possibility that verse 11 refers to female ministers, rather than simply to the wives of (male) ministers, will be dealt with in an upcoming article in the series Women in the Church.

The following phrase is included within the moral qualifications of vv. 8-10:

“…holding the secret of the faith in a clean/pure sunei/dhsi$” (v. 9)

Normally, in early Christian language, pi/sti$ is to be rendered “trust”, i.e. trust in Christ, as also throughout the Pauline letters. However, gradually, the term came to have the semi-technical meaning “the (Christian) Faith”—Christianity itself as a religious designation. Something of this latter sense appears here in 1 Tim 3:9. As is clear from what follows in 3:14-16 and 4:1-5ff, the “secret of the faith” (to\ musth/rion th=$ pi/stew$) involves all of the core traditions and teachings which the minister must pass along and preserve/protect from corrupting influences. The word sunei/dhsi$ literally means “seeing (things) together”, i.e. a complete perception and understanding, often with a moral aspect, such as would correspond generally to the English word “conscience”. The moral/ethical sense is clear from vv. 8, 10, but it certainly also relates to a proper understanding of the Christian faith.

The first half concludes with vv. 14-16, and a Christological declaration (v. 16) that is the central point of the letter. It runs parallel to the exhortation to preserve correct teaching in 4:1-5 (and 6-10). Verses 14-15 relate to the (apparent) context of the letter—Paul is writing to Timothy, the written instruction serving an apostolic role in place of Paul’s appearance in person. The purpose of the writing is summed up with these words: “so that you might see [i.e. know] how it is necessary to turn (yourself) up (again) in the house of God”. The subjunctive perfect form ei)dh=|$ (eid¢¡s, “you might/should have seen”) could relate back to sunei/dhsi$ (suneíd¢sis, “see [things] together”) in v. 9 (cf. above). Also, in 3:11-12, it is said that the minister should be able to manage his own household, as a kind of prerequisite to serving in the house(hold) of God (i.e. the congregation), as stated here in v. 15. The verb a)nastre/fw (“turn up [again]”) in this context has the basic meaning of “return, go back (again)”, i.e. to show up repeatedly and work continually in “God’s house”. This “house of God” (originally used of the Temple) is specifically defined as the “congregation/assembly [e)kklhsi/a] of the living God”, and further characterized as “the pillar [stu=lo$] and base/ground [e)drai/wma] of the truth”. Again this truth relates back to the expression “secret of the faith” in v. 9, and, in verse 16, is centered in the core truth of the Gospel (regarding the person of Christ).

1 Timothy 3:16

This is one of the principal early Christian statements summarizing the Gospel message. In all likelihood, Paul (or the author) is drawing upon an earlier hymn or creedal formula. It is introduced this way:

“And being counted as one [i.e. we can acknowledge/confess together] (that) great (indeed) is the secret of good reverence [eu)se/beia]…”

The word eu)se/beia has no good translation in English; often it is rendered “religion, piety, godliness”, or something similar, but none of these are especially accurate. The related root verb se/bomai has to do with showing fear or reverence, esp. before God; and the compound verb eu)sebe/w essentially means showing good (that is, proper) reverence toward God. The eu)seb- word group is not used at all in the undisputed letters of Paul, but occurs more than a dozen times in the three Pastoral letters (1 Tim 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 5:4; 6:3, 5-6, 11; 2 Tim 3:5, 12; Tit 1:1; 2:12)—one of the differences in vocabulary which leads many commentators to doubt Pauline authorship. Apart from the Pastorals, the word group is found only in 2 Peter (1:3, 6-7; 2:9; 3:11) and the book of Acts (3:12; 10:2, 7; and 17:23 [spoken by Paul in the narrative]). It suggests the beginning of an understanding which regards (early) Christianity as a distinct religion. Here in 1 Timothy, the expression “secret of good reverence” (musth/rion th=$ eu)sebei/a$) is generally synonymous with the “secret of the faith” (musth/rion th=$ pi/stew$) from 3:9. The fundamental declaration of this “secret” in v. 16 is expressed in a hymnic statement, beginning with a relative pronoun (o%$, “who”) and consisting of six parallel lines:

o^$
“…[i.e. Jesus Christ] who
e)fanerw/qh e)n sarki/
was made to shine (forth) in (the) flesh
e)dikaiw/qh e)n pneu/mati
was made right/just in (the) Spirit
w&fqh a&gge/loi$
was seen (among the) Messengers
e)khru/xqh e)n e&qnesin
was proclaimed among (the) nations
e)pisteu/qh e)n ko/smw|
was trusted in (the) world
a)nelh/mfqh e)n do/ch|
was taken up in honor/glory

Each line contains an aorist passive verb followed by the preposition e)n (“in, among”) + dative; the preposition is missing in the third line, but probably should be assumed there as well. This simple, rhythmic structure would allow for easy memorization and use as a hymn or confessional formula. It consists of a set of three related pairs:

  • In the Flesh / Spirit
  • Among the Messengers (Angels) / Nations
  • In the World / Glory

It is also possible to read it as a chiasm:

Clearly these lines narrate the basic facts and elements of the Gospel, but not according to a chronological arrangement, as we might expect.

Perhaps most difficult is the use of the verb dikai/ow in the first line. It literally means “make right/just”, and is often used in the sense of a person being made (or declared) right/just before God, a sense which would not seem entirely appropriate applied to the person of Jesus. However, the verb may also be understood in the more general sense of “making (things) right”. An important aspect of the early Christian view of Jesus was that his death on the cross took place even though he was righteous and innocent of any crime; as such, on a basic level, his death was a terrible miscarriage of justice, one which God “made right” through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to His right hand in heaven. This working-out of justice was done through the Spirit of God—the same (Holy) Spirit which makes believers right before God through trust in Christ.

Mention should be made of the important textual variant in 1 Tim 3:16. At the start of the hymn-formula, the majority of manuscripts read qeo/$ (“God”) instead of the relative pronoun o%$ (“who”). In spite of some opposition, most commentators (correctly) recognize that the relative pronoun is almost certainly original. It is appropriate to the hymnic/confessional form, and transcriptional probability overwhelming supports the alteration from o%$ to qeo/$, rather than the other way around. In the uncial Greek letters, o%$ would appear as os, which was then mistaken for qs, an abbreviated form of qeo$ (qeos). This “sacred name” abbreviation would be marked by an overline (+q+s), making it extremely unlikely that it would have been mistaken for the relative pronoun os. The change is probably also to be explained by the difficulty of syntax with the relative pronoun: “the secret of good reverence…who was…”; this difficulty is alleviated somewhat if we read the remainer of v. 16 essentially as a quotation: “…the secret of good reverence: (of Jesus Christ) ‘who was etc etc…'” On the other hand, if the majority reading turned out to be correct, then the “secret” would be localized specifically (primarily) in the incarnation of Christ (“God manifest in the flesh”).

Outline of 1 Timothy
  • Greeting (1:1-2)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (1:3-20), regarding
    —Preservation of correct teaching and tradition (vv. 3-11)
    —Paul’s own example as minister of the Gospel (vv. 12-20)
  • Guidelines for the Churches (2:1-3:13)
    —General instruction on Prayer and Worship (2:1-8)
    —continuation, emphasizing the role and position of Women (2:9-15)
    —Regarding “Overseers” (3:1-7)
    —Regarding “Servants/Ministers” (3:8-13)
  • Central declaration (3:14-16)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (4:1-16), regarding
    —False teaching (4:1-5)
    —Preservation of correct teaching and (ethical) conduct (4:6-10)
    —Example of Timothy as minister and apostolic representative (4:11-16)
  • Guidelines for the Churches (5:1-6:2)
    —General instruction related to the handling of men and women (5:1-2)
    —Regarding (female) “Widows” (5:3-16)
    —Regarding (male) “Elders” (5:17-20)
    —[Miscellaneous/personal instruction] (5:21-25)
    —Regarding those in the churches who are Slaves (6:1-2)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (6:1-19), regarding
    —False teaching and ethical conduct (vv. 1-10)
    —Example/encouragement for Timothy as minister of the Gospel (vv. 11-16)
    —The use of riches (vv. 17-19)
  • Conclusion (final instruction) and benediction (6:20-21)

Note of the Day – June 7

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13

In the previous daily note, I surveyed the passages in the Gospel of John which mention the (Holy) Spirit; today I will focus in a bit more detail on the so-called “Paraclete” passages in chapters 1416 (Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; cf. also 1 Jn 2:1). Of all the references to the Holy Spirit in the Gospels (and Acts), it is here that we perhaps come closest to the idea of the Spirit as a distinct person. This will be addressed further below, at the end of the note.

The Greek noun para/klhto$ (parákl¢tos) is derived from the verb parakale/w (parakaléœ, “call alongside”). Literally, the noun means “one (who is) called alongside” (passive) or “one (who) calls alongside” (active). The “calling alongside” normally implies the sense of giving help—i.e. aid, comfort, encouragement, etc. Sometimes it carries the technical meaning of a legal advocate. This semantic range has made interpretation and translation of para/klhto$ somewhat difficult in these passages, being rendered variously as “Comforter”, “Counselor”, “Advocate”, or simply transliterated as “Paraclete”. In ordinary English, the word is probably best translated as “Helper”.

A number of (critical) commentators have felt that, in the underlying Gospel tradition, this Paraclete/Helper originally referred to a being or figure separate from the Holy Spirit (as understood by early Christians). This is rather questionable, though it must be admitted that, in all three passages, the Paraclete is identified by the title “the Spirit of Truth”, and only once as “the Holy Spirit”. The expression “Spirit of Truth” is not found elsewhere in the New Testament outside of the Johannine tradition (1 Jn 4:6; cf. 5:6; Jn 4:23-24), but it does appear several times in the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), especially in the so-called Community Rule [1QS] 3:18-19; 4:21, 23, the portion sometimes referred to as the “Treatise of the Two Spirits” (cf. also 4Q177 12-13 i 5; 4Q542 1 i 10, and note in 1QM 13:10). These “Spirits”—one of Truth, and one of Falsehood/Deceit—correspond to heavenly beings, i.e. Angels (cf. 1QS 3:24), opposed to one another, according to the dualistic worldview expressed in the Qumran texts (as also in the Testament of Judah ch. 20). Thus, at the time of Jesus (and early Gospel tradition), the expression “Spirit of Truth” as referring to a guarding/helping Angel, would have been current and familiar to some. It is also thought that the Paraclete idea in Jn 14-16 may have been influenced by Jewish Wisdom tradition, in which Divine Wisdom, personified or described as a person, gives help and guidance to the righteous. For a convenient survey and discussion of these topics, cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29A, pp. 1135-43 (Appendix V).

There are three basic Paraclete passages in John 14-16:

1. John 14:15-24 (& v. 26)—the Spirit in the disciples.

Here the emphasis is on the abiding presence of Jesus (the Son)—and, by extension, God the Father—in believers. Jesus is going away (back) to the Father, but will come again and be seen by his followers:

  • The world will no longer see (physically)
    —but believers will see (through the Spirit), v. 19 (cf. 9:39; 20:29, etc)
  • The world cannot receive the Spirit, v. 17; only those who trust in the Son can/will do so

The Paraclete/Helper is called:

  • The Spirit of Truth“—whom the Father sends, at Jesus’ request (v. 17), and also
    The Holy Spirit“—whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name (v. 26)

The last reference gives specific emphasis on the Spirit/Paraclete teaching the disciples, so that Jesus’ words will remain/abide in them.

2. John 15:18-16:4a—the disciples speaking by the Spirit.

In this passage, the emphasis is on the Divine presence, i.e. of the Son (and the Father), for believers in the face of persecution (hatred by the world), so that they may testify on Jesus’ behalf—i.e., believers as Jesus’ representatives (cf. Mark 13:9-13 par; Matt 10:16-23; Luke 12:10-12). The disciples (indeed, all believers) are chosen out of the world, and do not belong to the world (v. 19).

The Paraclete/Helper is called:

  • The Spirit of Truth“—whom Jesus will send from the Father (v. 26)
3. John 16:4b-15the Spirit speaking through the disciples.

Here, in this third section, the emphasis is on the witness by the Spirit (against the world), through the testimony of believers. It is Jesus (the Son), and, by extension, the Father, who is speaking by way of the Paraclete (Matt 10:20; Lk 21:15). This is a profound reflection of the relationship between Father and Son (vv. 12-15), which, through the Spirit/Paraclete, results in the triadic unity: Father—Son—Believers (cf. 14:20-21, 23; 15:9-10; 17:20-26).

The Paraclete/Helper is called:

  • The Spirit of Truth“—who will come, from the Father and Son together (implied) (v. 13)
Reference to the Trinity?

Commentators and readers are often anxious to find expression of the orthodox formulation of the Trinity in the pages of the New Testament. In all fairness, it must be admitted that is really only present in a very rudimentary, seminal form—e.g., in passages such as 1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2; and Matt 28:19 (on this last, cf. my earlier notes). The basis for the orthodox belief, however, is found in the various statements which relate Jesus to the Father and/or the Spirit. There are two main sources in the New Testament which would shape the development of Christological and Trinitarian thought—(1) the letters of Paul, and (2) the Gospel (and First letter) of John, i.e. Pauline and Johannine theology. The Paraclete passages in the Discourses of Jn 13-17 are central to the Johannine view, which, I believe, may be summarized as follows:

  • The Spirit/Paraclete essentially represents the abiding (spiritual) presence of Jesus in believers, while he himself remains in heaven with the Father. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the expression “Spirit of Jesus” or “Spirit of Christ” is effectively synonymous with the “Spirit of God” or the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 16:7; Rom 8:9; Phil 1:19; 1 Pet 1:11; and note also “Spirit of the Lord” in Acts 5:9; 8:39; 2 Cor 3:17).
  • The Son (Jesus) was sent by the Father; once he returns to the Father, he, in turn, will send the Spirit/Paraclete to his disciples in his place. The Son will continue to act and work alongside the Father (in Heaven), but will, at the same time, be present with believers through the Spirit. This is described at several points within the Discourses (cf. above), and in the narrative context of Gospel is referenced (briefly) in Jn 20:17, 22.
  • The (reciprocal) relationship between Father and Son is such that the Son, in turn, does what the Father is doing (or has done). This is expressed throughout the Discourses in the Gospel, and is emphasized all the more in the context of the Son returning to a position alongside the Father in chs. 14-17. An interesting effect of this is that the sending of the Spirit can alternately be said to take place: (a) by the Father, in Jesus’ name (or at his request), or (b) by Jesus, from the Father.
  • This same relationship is extended to believers, in a two-fold manner:
    (1) The Father comes to abide in believers, just as the Son (Jesus) does—the presence of both (together) is realized for believers through the Spirit
    (2) The Son ‘prepares a place’ with the Father in Heaven for believers—he is the way to the Father and believers, insofar as they are faithful, will follow the Son to abide in union with the Father. This is marked by the other side of the Spirit’s presence—just as the Son abides in believers, so also believers abide in the Son.

Thus, we do not see a Trinitarian formula, properly speaking; but rather a triadic unity marked by the Spirit, which one might diagram (however imperfectly) in the following manner:

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 12: Messiah and Son of God (continued)

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

In continuing this Part of the series, we may summarize the instances in the Gospels where the titles “Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$) and “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=) are combined or set in context with each other:

  • Mark 1:1, as the heading of the Gospel—”…of Yeshua (the) Anointed, the Son of God”
  • The association of Jesus’ Baptism with his being anointed (as well as being God’s Son)—Acts 10:37-38; Luke 3:22 v.l. (quoting Psalm 2:7).
  • Luke 4:41 (par Mk 1:34; Matt 8:16)—the author explicitly connects the exclamation by the unclean spirits (that Jesus is the Son of God) with his identity as the Anointed One (cf. Mk 3:11; Matt 8:29 / Lk 8:28).
  • Matthew’s version of Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16)—”You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God” (cf. the prior discussion).
  • John 11:27, a similar confession by Martha during the Lazarus scene—”You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world”.
  • Mark 12:35-37 par, where Jesus’ argument (based on Psalm 110:1) could be taken to mean that the Anointed One is something more than the “Son of David”, i.e. the Son of God (so early Christians would have understood it). The question Jesus initially asks in Matthew’s version of the scene—”What/how does it seem to you about the Anointed (One)? Whose son is (he)?” (Matt 22:42)—may even foreshadow such an interpretation.
  • Mark 14:61; Matt 26:62; Luke 22:67, 70, the question/adjuration put to Jesus by the Sanhedrin (cf. the earlier discussion on this).
  • In the scene before Pilate, the title “Anointed (One)” appears specifically in Matt 27:17, 22; Luke 23:2, associated with the accusation that Jesus considered himself to be a King; John’s Gospel adds, parallel to this, Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God (Jn 19:7).
  • Matt 27:40, 43, where the taunts of the crowd use “Son of God”, in place of “Anointed (One)”, cf. Mark 14:32; Lk 23:35ff, 39.
  • John 20:31, at the close of the Gospel, similar to Mark 1:1—”…so that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God”.

We should also include here the important references in the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke:

  • References to Jesus as the Anointed One, and a “son”, in the context of his miraculous (virginal) conception by the Holy Spirit—Matt 1:1, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25; 2:4ff; 15; Luke 1:26-38; 2:7, 10-11, 26.
  • The genealogies (Matt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-38) clearly show Jesus to be a descendant of David (legally, by way of Joseph, cf. also Matt 1:20; Lk 1:27; 2:4), i.e. the Anointed One as a “son of David” (cf. Lk 1:32; 2:11). The Lukan genealogy, which traces backward, ends with the phrase “the son of God”—referring directly to Adam, but on the theological level, to Jesus his descendant.
  • The Angelic Annunciation to Mary, more clearly than any other passage in the Gospels, associates the titles “Son of God” and “Son of the Highest” with the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic King (Luke 1:32-35)—for the remarkable parallels with the Qumran text 4Q246, see parts 78 and my earlier note.

The Gospel of John

The idea of Jesus as both the Anointed One (Christ/Messiah) and Son of God can be found in several places in the Gospel of John:

  • John 1:34—the Baptism of Jesus, narrated indirectly (by John the Baptist), is connected with John’s own identity in relation to Jesus (vv. 6-9, 15, 19-27, 30ff). Note especially in verses 20-25, where John denies being the Anointed One or “the one coming” (vv. 27, 30). In verse 34, at the climax of the Baptism narration, John declares “I have seen and have witnessed that this (one) is the Son of God!”.
  • John 1:49—the confession by Nathanael: “…you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!” Here “king of Israel” certainly refers to the expectation of an Anointed Ruler from the line of David; moreover, there is definitely a Messianic context to this scene (v. 45).
  • John 11:27—the confession by Martha (cf. above): “you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world.”
  • John 19:7, in the context of Jesus’ trial (cf. above).
  • John 20:31—the conclusion of the Gospel proper (cf. above).

Also noteworthy are the passages which connect the titles “Son of God” and “Son of Man”:

  • John 1:51—Jesus’ famous Son of Man saying, which follows Nathanael’s confession in verse 49.
  • John 3:13-14, 18—twin sayings of the Son of Man descending/ascending and being “lifted up” (vv. 13-14), followed by a reference to belief in Jesus as the Son of God (v. 18).
  • John 5:25, 27—parallel between the Son of God and Son of Man in the context of the end-time Judgment and Resurrection.
  • John 9:35—”Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (some MSS read “…in the Son of God”, cf. 3:18).
  • John 12:23; 13:31 refer to the Son of Man being glorified (through his death and resurrection/exaltation); John 11:4 refers to the Son of God being glorified (through the death and raising of Lazarus).

One should also mention John 12:34, where the titles “the Anointed (One)” and “the Son of Man” are related. Throughout the Gospel tradition, Jesus uses the title “Son of Man”, referring to himself, in an eschatological and/or Messianic context. Cf. my earlier note for more on the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John.

In addition to the passages above, Jesus frequently refers to himself as “the Son”, specifically in relation to (God) the Father—John 3:16-17, 35-36; 5:19-27; [6:40]; 8:36; 10:36; 14:13; 17:1, etc. Almost all of these are found in the great Discourses of Jesus, and there the Christological language and imagery has gone far beyond traditional Messianic interpretation (of Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:11-14, etc)—we find, in the words of Jesus, a clear expression of his pre-existent Deity. However, it is interesting that the title “Son” is only used of the incarnate Christ, in the sense that he makes God the Father known to humankind (cf. Jn 1:14, 18 [v.l.]); in John 1:1-14a it is rather Lo/go$ (“Word”) that is used. Also connected with the Sonship of Jesus and the purpose of the incarnation is the idea that all who trust/believe in him should come to be sons/children of God (cf. Jn 1:12; 12:36; 1 Jn 3:1ff).

Christological Development

In examining the idea of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in early Christian thought and expression, we begin with the Gospel preaching by the apostles and disciples in the book of Acts. The title “Son of God” occurs only once, in Acts 9:20, where the converted Paul’s first preaching in Damascus included the declaration regarding Jesus—”this one [ou!to$] is the Son of God!” The statement is parallel with his demonstration to the Jews in Damascus that Jesus is the Messiah—”this one [ou!to$] is the Anointed (One)” (cf. Acts 3:18, 20; 5:42; 17:3; 18:5, 28). The only other reference to Jesus as God’s Son involves the use of Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be [born]”) in Acts 13:33. This is part of Paul’s speech at Antioch, which is parallel in many respects with Peter’s great Pentecost speech in Acts 2. Paul cites Psalm 2:7, while Peter cites Psalm 110:1, applying them both to the resurrection of Jesus. These Scriptures are not interpreted in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent deity—i.e., of his birth/generation as Son by God in eternity—rather, they are related specifically to his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. It is after his death that Jesus is “born” as God’s Son, being raised and exalted to heaven. Interestingly, Psalm 2:7 was applied to Jesus three different ways in early Christian tradition:

  1. In reference to his resurrection and exaltation—Acts 13:33; Hebrews 5:5
  2. In the context of his Baptism—Luke 3:22 v.l. (D a b c d ff2 l r1, and attested by a number of Church Fathers)
  3. In terms of his pre-existent deity and relationship to God the Father—Hebrews 1:5; 5:5

Turning to Paul’s letters, the most notable passage is Romans 1:3-4, which, as I have previously discussed, may reflect an earlier creed or Gospel formula:

“…about His Son, the (one) coming to be (born) out of the seed of David according to the flesh, the (one) marked out [i.e. appointed/designated] as Son of God in power according to (the) spirit of holiness out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead, Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord”

The reference to the “seed of David” is derived from Messianic tradition, reflecting the figure-type of the expected/end-time Davidic Ruler. We can see how these terms and titles are brought together and connected in one statement: Son—son of David—Son of God—Anointed. Generally, however, Paul does not make much use of traditional Messianic thought and imagery, and almost never uses “Anointed (One)” as a specific title—in his letters (50s and early 60s A.D.) “Anointed” [Xristo/$] has already been thoroughly assimilated, becoming part of Jesus’ name (“Yeshua [the] Anointed”). Nor is the title “Son of God” especially common, occurring just three times in the Pauline corpus (in addition to Rom 1:4), each of which has the title set in tandem with “Anointed” or “Yeshua [the] Anointed”:

  • 2 Corinthians 2:19—”the Son of God, Yeshua (the) Anointed, the (one) proclaimed among you through us…”
  • Galatians 2:20—”…(the) Anointed lives in me… I live in trust of the Son of God…”
  • Ephesians 4:13—”…the (full) knowledge of the Son of God… the measure of stature of the fullness of the Anointed.”

More frequently, Paul refers to Jesus simply as “(the) Son”, by which God’s Son is meant, as in the Gospel of John (cf. above). Often these occur specifically in the context of Jesus’ sacrificial death—i.e., of God sending his own Son, etc (Rom 5:10; 8:3, 32; Gal 4:6)—as well as generally in terms of the Gospel message (Rom 1:3, 9; Gal 1:6). The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus is particularly in view in Rom 8:29; 1 Thess 1:10. There is, no doubt, an association with Messianic tradition in those few passages which refer to the kingdom of the Son, and to the promise of salvation (from the end-time Judgment, etc)—1 Cor 15:28; 1 Thess 1:10; Col 1:13. Paul also shares with the Johannine tradition the idea of believers in Christ becoming sons/children of God, through his death/resurrection and the work of the Spirit—Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 1:9; Gal 4:6.

Apart from the letter to the Hebrews and the Johannine writings, references to Jesus as Son (of God) are quite rare (2 Peter 1:17, referring to the Transfiguration). Hebrews, like the Gospel of John, understands Jesus’ Sonship in terms of pre-existent Deity (Heb 1:2, 5, 8, etc), but also in the (earlier) context of his sacrificial death and resurrection (Heb 4:14; 5:5; 7:28, etc). The title “Son of God” occurs in Heb 4:14; 6:6; 7:3; 10:29. Overall, we find here a more developed matrix of belief regarding the Person of Christ. This is even more so in the case of the Letters of John, so closely matching the language and thought of the Gospel (esp. the Discourses of Jesus). “Son” occurs 24 times (including twice in 2 John), with the specific title “Son of God” used in 1 John 3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12-13, 20. Interestingly, “(the) Anointed” is used as a distinct title twice in 1 John as well (1 Jn 2:22; 5:1), but it is no longer a traditional Messianic title; rather, it now identifies Jesus in terms of a very definite set of Christian (and Christological) beliefs, corresponding to the presentation of Jesus in the Gospel, which includes:

  • That Jesus is the Son (of God) and has been sent by the Father (2:22-23, etc)
  • That he has come to earth and appeared in human flesh (4:2, etc)
  • That he gave himself sacrificially for the salvation and life of the world (“…the one coming through water and blood“, 5:6 etc)

For perhaps the first time in the New Testament writings we find such beliefs about Jesus turned into a direct test for correct belief—i.e. orthodoxy (or, perhaps better, proto-orthodoxy). Note the repeated use of the pa=$ o( formula in 1 John (“every one who…”):

  • 1 Jn 2:23—”Every one denying the Son does not have the Father; the (one) giving account of [i.e. acknowledging] the Son also has the Father”
  • 1 Jn 2:29—”Every one doing justice/righteousness has come to be (born) out of Him”
  • 1 Jn 3:9—”Every one who has come to be (born) out of God does not do sin…” (also 5:18)
  • 1 Jn 4:7—”Every one loving (each other) has come to be born out of God and knows God”
  • 1 Jn 5:1—”Every one trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) has come to be born out of God…”

Cf. also 3:3-4, 6, 10, 15; 5:4, as well as the similar formulation in 1 Jn 4:3: “Every spirit which does not give account of [i.e. acknowledge/confess] Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God”. It is important to notice the way that the correct confession (or acknowledgement) of Christ is related (a) to moral and upright behavior, and (b) to the idea of believers also being born as Sons (Children) of God—cf. John 1:12 (also 11:52; 12:36); 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2.

Jesus as the Son (of God) is rare in the book of Revelation, occurring only once (Rev 2:18), though otherwise Messianic imagery, in connection with an exalted view of Christ (in Heaven), abounds throughout the book. The reference to Jesus as the “firstborn” out of the dead (cf. Rom 8:28; Col 1:18) may indicate that Jesus’ Sonship here, as in the earliest Christian preaching, is connected specifically with his resurrection.

The Apostolic Fathers

Finally, if we briefly examine the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-160 A.D.), the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings, we find essentially a summary and (re-)formulation of what is otherwise expressed in the New Testament; among the more noteworthy passages are:

  • 1 Clement 36:4—citation of Psalm 2:7-8 (cf. above), possibly also an allusion to Hebrews 1:5.
  • Ignatius to the Smyrneans 1:1—part of a creedal summary, either quoting Romans 1:3-4 or drawing upon the underlying tradition; likewise in Ephesians 20:2, where Ignatius offers an early formulation of the dual-nature of Christ, “Son of Man [i.e. human] and Son of God [i.e. Divine]”.
  • Ignatius, Magnesians 8:2, seemingly drawing upon Johannine language regarding the Person of Christ, and suggesting his pre-existent Deity.
  • Epistle of Polycarp 12:2, where the title Son of God is connected with Jesus as “eternal High Priest”, perhaps indicating familiarity with Hebrews.
  • Martyrdom of Polycarp 17:3—”we worship this one [i.e. Jesus] as (being the) Son of God”, cf. Acts 9:20.
  • The Epistle of Barnabas 5:9, 11; 7:2, 9; 12:8; 15:5, where there is a strong emphasis on the Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who fulfills (and replaces) the Old Testament types and forms, similar in certain ways to Hebrews and the Gospel of John.

Cf. also Didache 16:4, the Epistle to Diognetus 7:4; 9:2, 4; 10:2, and numerous passages in Hermas (Vision 2.2:8; Similitude 5.2:6, 8, 11; 8.3:2, 11:1; 9.1:1; 12:1, et al). In all of these early Christian works, traditional Messianic thought and interpretation has generally disappeared, having been replaced by a distinctly Christian point of reference, based on early Tradition and the writings of the New Testament. By the middle of the second century, Jesus as the Son of God became part of a wider Christological (and Apologetic) argument involving the Person of Christ. Proto-orthodox writers and theologians such as Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Irenaeus felt compelled to explain and defend their understanding of Christ on several fronts:

  1. Against Jewish opponents, e.g. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho §43, 48, 100-2, 118, 126-9, etc. In the context of such works, Christians were still forced to argue or demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah, though in a somewhat different manner than we see in the earlier book of Acts.
  2. Against Greco-Roman (pagan) misunderstanding and misrepresentation—cf. Justin, First Apology §§21-23, 31, 54, 60, 63, etc; Athenagoras’ Plea for the Christians §10; Origen Against Celsus 6:11, etc.
  3. Against alternate/heterodox (or “heretical”) Christian views of Christ, i.e. by so-called “Gnostics”, etc—cf. Irenaeus Against Heresies III.16-18ff; IV.5-11, 40-1, etc.

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 12: Messiah and Son of God

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

In this part of the series, I will be exploring the idea of the Messiah as the Son of God. This, of course, has enormous implications for the early Christian understanding of Jesus—how, and in what way (or ways), he is believed to be God’s Son. This article will be divided as follows:

  • Old Testament and Jewish Background
  • The Qumran texts and Jewish writings of the 1st century B.C./A.D.
  • The (Synoptic) Gospel Tradition
  • The Gospel of John
  • Christological Development in the New Testament and Other Early Writings

The Old Testament and Jewish Background

There are three relevant concepts or traditions in the Old Testament related to the expression “son of God”:

1. The plural “sons of God” as a reference to heavenly beings (‘Angels’):

  • <yh!ýa$h* yn}B= (b®nê-h¹°§lœhîm)—certain in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7, and virtually certain in Gen 6:2, 4; cf. also in Deut 32:8 LXX and 4QDt
  • <yl!a@ yn}B= (b®nê °¢lîm)—Psalm 29:1; 89:6
  • /olu# yn}B= (b®nê ±elyôn, i.e. “sons of the Most High”)—Psalm 82:6, though the interpretation of this passage is disputed, thought by some commentators to refer to human beings (judges)

The only occurrence of the singular is in Daniel 3:25, Aramaic /yh!l*a$ rB^ (bar-°§l¹hîn). Cf. the supplemental note on this verse.

2. The people of Israel as God’s “sons” or (collectively) as “Son”, in a symbolic or spiritual sense—”My (firstborn) son” (Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9); “sons of the living God” (Hos 1:10 [Hebrew 2:1]); “(My/His) sons” (Deut 14:1; 32:19; Isa 1:2-3; 30:1; 43:19; Jer 3:22). For YHWH as the “Father” of Israel, cf. Deut 32:6; Isa 64:8, etc. The only direct reference to Israel as “son of God” is in the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom (Grk ui(o\$ qeou=, Wis 18:13).

3. The king as God’s “son” in a symbolic or ritual sense—Psalm 2:7; 89:26-27; 2 Sam 7:14.

The last of these had the clearest influence on Messianic thought, especially with regard to the figure-type of the Davidic Ruler who was expected to appear at the end-time. For more on the Messianic interpretation and development of these passages, cf. Parts 6 and 7 of this series. The first two aspects developed and were combined several ways in Jewish tradition:

  • The Messiah was associated with the end-time Judgment of God on the wicked/nations of the world—only the righteous and/or repentant of God’s people would pass through the judgment and enter/inherit the Kingdom. This follows the tendency, especially in Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period, to refer specifically to the righteous as God’s “sons”, cf. Sir 4:10; Wisd 2:18; 5:5; Esth 16:16, etc.
  • Beginning at least with the book of Daniel (depending on how one dates it), a distinct parallel and connection formed in Jewish thought, between the people of God (i.e. the righteous/holy ones on earth) and the “Sons of God” (Holy Ones) in Heaven. This is perhaps best expressed in the 7th chapter of Daniel—the precise parallel between the heavenly “one like a son of man” (vv. 13-14) and the “(people of the) holy ones” (vv. 22, 26-27). For other expressions of the relationship between Angels and the righteous in Daniel, cf. Dan 3:25ff; 8:15-17; 10:10-21; 12:1-3.
  • In the Qumran texts (primarily from the 1st century B.C.), the righteous remnant of the end-time is identified specifically with the Community—i.e. those who have joined together, correctly observing the Torah and following the instruction passed down by the “Teacher of Righteousness”. As we have seen, there were strong eschatological and Messianic components to this self-identity; the Community Rule documents, along with other texts, show that they expected the appearance of several end-time (Messianic) figures who would serve as rulers/leaders (the Community itself being the effective embodiment of the Kingdom). In addition, the heavenly beings (“Holy Ones”) were seen as functioning in tandem with the “holy ones” (the Community) on earth, and would join together more closely at the end-time.
  • This inter-connection between the righteous/holy ones on earth and heaven, was made even more precise in the figure of the “Son of Man” (also called “Righteous One”, “Elect One” and “Anointed One”) in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st century A.D.?). For more detail, see Part 10 of this series.

There are definite similarities in thought and expression between the Qumran texts, the Similitudes of Enoch, and early Christian tradition. It is significant, perhaps, that the latest of the Qumran writings, and probably the Similitudes, were roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus and the Gospel tradition.

The Qumran texts and Jewish writings of the Period

In examining these writings (c. 150 B.C. – 100 A.D.), it is important to focus on texts which: (1) specifically use the expression “son of God” or similar wording, (2) mention “son” or sonship in a distinctly Messianic context, and (3) are either pre-Christian or show little sign of Christian influence. There are, in fact, very few surviving texts which are directly relevant to the discussion. Apart from traditional references to the heavenly beings (Angels) as “sons of God” in Wisdom 5:5; Jubilees 1:24-25; 1 Enoch 69:4-5; 71:1, etc., I highlight here passages from seven documents, including five from the Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls.

Qumran Texts (cf. Evans, Qumran-Messianism, pp. 137-47)—First, from the Florilegium (4Q174), a collection of Scripture verses with glossed interpretations, which have a clear eschatological and Messianic orientation. In lines 10-13, the Davidic promise of 2 Sam 7:11-14 is explained as referring to “the Sprout/Branch of David who will…sit on the throne in Zion at the end of days”. For “Branch of David” (dywd jmx) as a Messianic title, cf. Parts 67. This indicates the possibility of understanding the Royal/Davidic Messiah of the end-time as “God’s son”. Next, there are two passages which appear to speak of the “birth” (by God) of a Messianic figure:

  • 1QSa [1Q28a] 2:11-12—”[This is the sit]ting of the men of the name [i.e. of renown] [called] to the appointed place (of meeting) for the council of the Community, when He [i.e. God] will cause the Anointed One to be born with [i.e. among] them…” The verb restored as “cause to be born” i.e. “beget” (d[yl]wy) has proven somewhat controversial, having been read by other scholars as “bring [forward]” (iylwy), and other restorations have also been suggested. If the verb dly is correct, then the idea presumably derives from Psalm 2:7, where, in its original context, the king is begotten/born as God’s “son” (symbolically) upon his enthronement; here it would be his installment as ruler over the Community that is the occasion of his being “born”.
  • 4Q534 frag. 3 col. i, lines 8-11:
    “[and] he will know the secrets of man. And his wisdom will reach all the peoples. And he will know the secrets of all living things. [And al]l their plans against him will come to nothing, although the opposition of all living things will be great. […] his [p]lans. Because he is the Elect of God, his birth and the spirit of his breath […] his [p]lans shall be for ever.” Translation Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:1071 (italics mine).
    It has been suggested that the lacuna in lines 10-11 be restored “his birth and the spirit of his breath [are of God…]”, which is certainly plausible and is favored by a number of scholars (Evans, Qumran-Messianism, pp. 144-5).

In the highly fragmentary text 4Q369, which appears to be an apocalyptic/eschatological work, there is reference to what certainly seems to be a Messianic (and presumably Davidic) figure in column ii of fragment 1:

“…for his seed according to their generations an eternal possession, and al[l…] and your good judgments you explained to him to […] in eternal light, and you made him for you a first-bo[rn] son […] like him, to (be) a prince and ruler in all /your/ inhabited world […] the c[row]n of the heavens, and the glory of the clouds you have placed [on him …] and the angel of your peace in his congregation and… […] […] for him (?) righteousness rules, as a father to [his] s[on…]” (lines 4-10) Translation Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:731 (italics mine).

Unfortunately, the surviving portions are too incomplete (especially the tiny fragments 2-4) to be certain of the context. Finally, we must note the now-famous Aramaic (Pseudo-Daniel) 4Q246, the so-called “Son of God text”. I have discussed this document in some detail, especially with regard to the parallels with Luke 1:32, 35, in earlier posts. That the context is eschatological and Messianic (influenced, in large measure, by Daniel 7) seems reasonably clear to me. A coming Ruler, parallel to the “rise” of the people of God, is called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High”. His rule is contrasted with that of the nations, and his kingdom is connected with the “everlasting Kingdom” and dominion of the people of God.

Other Jewish Writings—I find only two other writings from the period to be especially relevant:

  • In Joseph and Aseneth 6:3-5ff; 13:13(10), Joseph is referred to as God’s “son”, probably in the sense that this can be said, from a symbolic and ethical standpoint, of righteous Israelites and Jews (cf. above). However, it is somewhat unique to have the idea or expression applied this way to a specific exemplary person, and may hint at something deeper. It is also not clear whether, or to what extent, this has been colored by Christian influence; scholars today typically date the book somewhere in the 1st century B.C./A.D.
  • In the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (or 4 Ezra), the Anointed One (Messiah) is called God’s “Son” in 2 Esdr 7:28-29; 13:32, 37, 52. The introduction to this work is Christian (cf. 2 Esdr 2:42), but the core of chapters 3-14 (late 1st-century A.D.) is Jewish and shows little or no Christian influence. Chapter 11-13 are clearly influenced by Daniel 7, merging together the Son of Man and Davidic Messiah traditions, much as we see in the Gospels and early Christian writings.

In none of these Jewish passages does “son” indicate deity in the developed Christian (Christological) sense. At most we see: (a) the “Messiah” as a heavenly/angelic figure, or (b) righteous human beings identified in some manner with heavenly beings.

Gospel Tradition

According to the approach taken throughout this series, I begin with the core Synoptic tradition as represented by the Gospel of Mark; the title “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=) occurs four times:

  • Mk 1:1, in the heading to the Gospel—”(The) beginning of the good message {Gospel} of Yeshua (the) Anointed, [Son of God]”. Some manuscripts (a* Q 28c al) do not have “Son of God” (cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 62).
  • Mk 3:11, where it is narrated that the unclean spirits, when cast out by Jesus during healing (exorcism) miracles, would cry out “You are the Son of God [su\ ei@ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]!”; par Lk 4:41, and similarly in Mk 5:7 / Matt 8:29 / Lk 8:28 (Luke has “Son of the Highest”).
  • Mark 15:39, at the death of Jesus, the centurion standing nearby exclaims “Truly this man was (the) son of God!”; par Matt 27:54, but Luke’s version is quite different—”This man really was just/righteous [di/kaio$]!” (Lk 23:47).

We should also note the following five passages in the triple-tradition:

  • Mark 1:11 par, the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism—”You are my (be)loved Son…”; several MSS of Lk 3:22 instead have a quotation from Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be born”). The voice at the Transfiguration, Mk 9:7 par, is very similar (esp. the form in Matt 17:5, while Lk 9:35 is somewhat different).
  • Mark 8:29 par, the confession by Peter (cf. below).
  • Mark 12:6ff par, in the parable of the ‘Wicked Tenants’.
  • Mark 14:61-62 par, the question of the High Priest / Sanhedrin to Jesus (cf. below).

To these may be added:

  • Matt 4:3, 6 (par Lk 4:3, 9), by the Devil in the Temptation scene—”If (indeed) you are the Son of God…”.
  • Matt 14:33, the disciples declare “Truly you are the Son of God”, matching the declaration by the centurion in Matt 27:54. This is an addition to the miracle scene (Mk 6:51, cf. Jn 6:21), and is unusual in the way it precedes Peter’s confession, contrary to the literary and dramatic development of the narrative in Mark-Luke.
  • Matt 27:40, 43, where the identification of Jesus as Son of God (by way of the High Priest’s question in Matt 27:63f) has carried forward into the taunts by the crowd delivered against Jesus while he is on the cross.

Interestingly, in all of these instances, the expression “Son of God” is used by others, not Jesus himself; indeed, a number of the occurrences are actually by persons or beings hostile to Jesus (the Devil, unclean spirits, the Sanhedrin, mocking crowds). Not once does Jesus use the title himself in the Synoptic Gospels. The closest we come to a direct affirmation by Jesus are in two (parallel) episodes—the confession by Peter, and the interrogation of Jesus before the Sanhedrin:

The confession by Peter (Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20; Matthew 16:16)

In all three Gospels, Jesus’ question to his disciples is the same: “but who do you count/consider me to be?” The pronoun “you” (u(mei=$) is emphatic—others have said that he is a Prophet (Elijah, etc), but now Jesus asks his own followers directly. In Mark, Peter’s response is simply “You are the Anointed (One)”. It is not entirely clear what Peter means by “Anointed One” in this context. As we have seen throughout this series, there were several Messianic figure-types which could be in mind; many of the references throughout the period of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry seem to involve an Anointed Prophet figure—Moses, Elijah or the Anointed of Isa 61:1ff. It is the latter that Jesus identifies himself with directly in Lk 4:18-21; 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6), etc. If Peter has in mind a Messiah of the Davidic Ruler type, this is by no means obvious from the text. It is interesting to see how Peter’s confession appears to expand, almost before our eyes, through the Synoptic tradition:

Mark 8:29
“You are the Anointed One”
Luke 9:20
“(You are) the Anointed One of God
Matthew 16:16
“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God

Critical commentators have questioned the historicity of Matthew’s version, the idea being that Peter (or any of the disciples) would not have formulated such an apparently advanced statement of Jesus’ deity at this early stage in the narrative. However, this perhaps reads a bit too much into the text. While it is certainly possible that Matt 16:16 represents an early Christian gloss or explanation of Peter’s statement, on the other hand, Peter need not have had in mind an especially advanced idea of Jesus’ deity (cf. Hosea 1:10 [Hebrew 2:1]). Also, it should be noted that in Matt 16:17 Jesus’ declares that Peter’s confession is the result of inspiration by God; in all likelihood, then, Peter would not have understood the full significance of his own words.

Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:61-62; Matt 26:63-66; Luke 22:66-71)

In Mark (and Matthew), the High Priest addresses Jesus, either as a question (Mk) or an adjuration (Matt):

Mk 14:61
“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?”
Matt 26:63
“I require an oath of you according to the living God, that you say to us
if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”

In Luke’s version, it is the Council collectively which asks the question, divided into two parts in the narrative:

Luke 22:67
“Are you the Anointed (One)?”
Luke 22:70
“Then you are the Son of God?”

There is an obvious parallel between this question and Peter’s confession, which in Matthew’s version is made all but explicit:

Jesus’ question / Peter’s confession
“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God” (16:16)
“…by the living God… if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God” (26:63)
Jesus’ declaration / Peter’s denial (26:64ff)

In examining Jesus’ response to the Sanhedrin’s question, we find two points in common between the three accounts—(1) some form of affirmation by Jesus, and (2) his identification with the heavenly “Son of Man” figure. Here is a comparison of Jesus’ response:

Mark 14:61-62

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?”

“I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi)
Son of Man saying—”and you will see the Son of Man…”

Matthew 26:63-64

“…that you tell us if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”

“You said (it)” (su\ ei@pa$)
Son of Man saying—”from now on you will see the Son of Man…”

Luke 26:67-69

“If you are the Anointed (One), tell us”

“If I tell you, you will not trust/believe (it)…”
Son of Man saying—”but from now on the Son of Man will be…”

“Then you are the Son of God?”

“You say that I am” (u(mei=$ le/gete o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi)

Here it is possible that Luke preserves a more complete account, and that Mark and Matthew (independently?) record a simplified version. Certainly Jesus’ ultimate response in Luke (“You say that I am”) seems to combine the versions in Mark-Matthew (“I am” + “you say/said”). In Mark, this response is an unqualified affirmation (“I am”); not so in Matthew-Luke, and commentators have various opinions as to how this should be understood, with three main possibilities:

  • As an affirmation—i.e., “You have said it (and it is the truth)”, “You have said (correctly)”, etc
  • As a reluctant/defiant response—i.e. “That is what you say”, “You said it, not me”, “(Those are) your words, not mine”
  • As a qualified affirmation—i.e., “You say it, but…”, perhaps in the sense of “Yes, but more than that…”

Jesus’ initial response in Lk 22:67-68, and his general silence before the Sanhedrin, makes an unqualified affirmation rather unlikely. Many modern commentators are inclined toward the second interpretation, i.e. that Jesus is unwilling to affirm the question as they have put it, turning their own words back on them. The use of the conjunctive particle plh/n by Jesus in Matthew to introduce the Son of Man saying suggests the third view—instead of answering their question directly, he shifts the focus to the eschatological image of the Son of Man. It is a difficult and sensitive matter, since this is the passage in the Synoptic tradition which most clearly expresses Jesus’ own view of his identity as the Anointed One (Christ/Messiah) and Son of God. Again, there are several possibilities that should be considered:

  • In referring to himself, in the Synoptics Jesus always uses the title/expression “Son of Man”, never “Anointed” or “Son (of God)”, and continues to do so here, answering their question in terms of the “Son of Man”
  • They will get their answer when the see him in his glorious/exalted state, presumably at his end-time appearance
  • It is meant as a warning of the impending Judgment by God, marked by the appearance of the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus himself)
  • In a number of passages, Jesus’ clearly does not want his identity as the Anointed One (or Son of God) to be made known publicly prior to his death and resurrection, perhaps to avoid popular misconception and misunderstanding

In my view, the some combination of the first and fourth options provides the best interpretive solution. This will be discussed further in the concluding sections to this Part, which, due to the length required, will continue in a second article. For more on the Son of Man sayings of Jesus, see my earlier Easter season notes and Part 10 of this series.

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 11: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

Having just recently celebrated the resurrection of Jesus, it is appropriate in this series of Easter season articles (on “Yeshua the Anointed”) to examine how his death and resurrection specifically relate to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah (i.e. the Christ). This article will be divided as follows:

  • Use of the term “the Anointed (One)”, as well as specific Messianic language/imagery, associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel tradition.
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus in the earliest Christian tradition—i.e., in the sermon-speeches of Acts and the kerymatic elements of the Pauline letters, etc.
  • Christological development in the New Testament

Gospel Tradition

If we examine the core Synoptic tradition, as represented principally in the Gospel of Mark, we find that “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$) does not appear as a distinct Messianic title or expression until Peter’s confession in Mk 8:29—”You are the Anointed (One)”. Immediately after this point, in all three Synoptics, there is recorded the first of three Passion predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 par), connected with the end of the Galilean ministry and the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem. In other words, Peter’s confession inaugurates the Passion of Jesus within the narrative framework, and is set parallel with the question of the High Priest to Jesus (Mk 14:61). This parallelism is even more precise in Matthew, where the confession/question is nearly identical:

“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16)
“I require an oath of you according to the living God,
that you say to us if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God” (Matt 26:63)

Most of the other Synoptic occurrences of the expression “the Anointed (One)” are set in Jerusalem prior to the Passion (Mk 12:35; 13:21-22 par; Matt 24:5), or specifically in the context of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion (Mk 14:61; 15:32 par; Matt 26:68; 27:17, 22; Lk 23:2, 39). According to Luke 23:2, the Jewish authorities connect the title “Anointed (One)” directly with the idea of kingship, drawing upon the (Messianic) figure-type of the expected Davidic Ruler who will establish a future/end-time kingdom for Israel (cf. Parts 6, 7, 8). Whether or not the Roman administration recognized this association, any pretense of kingship on the part of Jesus would have prompted them to act. If we accept the historicity of this scenario, the Jewish delegation to Pilate was shrewd to tie Jesus’ claim (or apparent claim) to be “the Anointed One” (Mk 14:61-62 par) with the idea that he thus claimed to be a king. This is reflected, it would seem, in the use of “the Anointed One” in Matt 27:17, 22, as well as in the taunts directed at Jesus (Mk 15:32 par; Matt 26:68; Lk 23:39). Indeed, it is the only way to explain the written charge against Jesus, recorded in all four Gospels (in slightly different forms): “This is (Jesus [of Nazareth]) the King of the Jews”—the one common element being “King of the Jews”. There is virtually nothing else recorded of Jesus’ life and ministry to justify the idea that he claimed to be the “King of the Jews”. Only the ‘Triumphal Entry’ into Jerusalem, with its association with Zech 9:9ff and Psalm 118:25-26, could be taken as a Messianic (Royal) claim by Jesus, though it is the crowds (and/or the Gospel writer) who explicitly make such an identification.

In the Gospel of John, the title “the Anointed (One)” is only associated obliquely with the death (and resurrection) of Jesus—cf. Jn 10:24; 11:27; 12:34 (note also 17:3), the most direct reference being in 12:34. We might also point out the concluding verse of the Gospel proper (Jn 20:31), which of course follows the death and resurrection. In Luke, we also find the title used (by Jesus) in two of the post-resurrection scenes—both in the context of Jesus explaining to his disciples that, according to the Scriptures, it was necessary for the Anointed One to suffer, die and rise again from the dead (Lk 24:26, 46). These passages are precisely parallel to the Passion predictions (Lk 9:22, 44-45; 18:31-34, cf. also 24:7) and clearly connect “the Anointed One” with “the Son of Man”.

If we consider other Messianic terms and images, related to the death and resurrection of Jesus, there are several which stand out:

  • The interpretation and application of Malachi 3:1 to Jesus. Cf. Part 3 and the supplemental note on Mal 3:1ff.
  • The Triumphal entry scene, with its use of Zechariah 9:9ff and Psalm 118:25-26, and the various references to “David”, “King” or “Kingdom” in the exclamation of the crowd.
  • The use of the title “Son of David” and various motifs associated with David in the Passion narrative (cf. Part 8).
  • The specific use of the expression “Son of Man” by Jesus in relation to his Passion and Resurrection/Exaltation (cf. Part 10 and the supplemental note on the Son of Man sayings). See also the note on the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John.

Early Christian (New Testament) Tradition

Use of the title “the Anointed (One)” in early Christian tradition is complicated by the fact that, within a generation after Jesus’ death and resurrection (20-30 years at the latest), it had become completely assimilated into Jesus’ own name—”Yeshua (the) Anointed (One)”, i.e. “Jesus Christ”. This itself tells us something about how the earliest believers understood it—they so completely identified Jesus with “the Anointed (One)” that it soon became part of his name. Here I will focus primarily on two areas: (1) the early Gospel preaching (kerygma) as recorded in the sermon-speeches of the book of Acts, and (2) kerygmatic elements in the letters of Paul and other New Testament writings.

1. The Sermon-Speeches of Acts

The passages where “the Anointed (One)” still functions as a distinct title referring to a Messianic figure are—Acts 2:31, 36; 3:18, 20; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28; (24:24); 26:23. Overall there is a strong apologetic context to these references, where mention is made repeatedly of the early believers arguing and demonstrating (to other Jews) that Jesus was in fact the “Anointed One” (i.e. the Messiah). Probably the figure-type of the Davidic Ruler is in mind throughout (cf. Parts 68), which is why it was so important for the early Christians to argue that there was a Scriptural basis for the Messiah suffering and being put to death. There is virtually no evidence for any such expectation regarding the Messiah in Judaism of the period, as virtually all commentators now admit; the very idea must have been shocking to Jews at the time (see Peter’s reaction [and Jesus’ response] in Mark 8:32f par). The theme of Jesus’ Passion being prefigured and predicted in the Scriptures was introduced and emphasized specifically in the Lukan Gospel (Lk 18:31ff; 22:37; 24:27, 32, 45-46) and continues throughout the book of Acts (1:16; 8:32ff; 17:2, 11; 18:28). It is doubtless central to the demonstration of Jesus as the Anointed One in Acts 5:42; 9:22; 18:5, 28, etc.

If we consider specifically the sermon-speeches by the disciples in the book of Acts, several passages stand out:

  • Acts 2:22-36, from Peter’s great Pentecost sermon, which effectively encapsulates the early Christian kerygma (proclamation of the Gospel). As I have discussed this sermon-speech in considerable detail as part of a series on the Speeches of Acts, I will here outline the most important points:
    • The Gospel summary in vv. 22-24, emphasizing Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection
    • The citation of Psalm 16:8-11 and its application to Jesus—his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God (vv. 25-33)
    • The citation of Psalm 110:1 and its similar application to Jesus, emphasizing specifically his exaltation to God’s right hand (vv. 34-36)
    • The speech concludes with the declaration that “God made him both Lord [ku/rio$] and (the) Anointed [xristo/$], this Jesus whom you put to the stake!” (v. 36). The idea that God made Jesus to be Lord and Christ is striking, and somewhat problematic from the standpoint of orthodox Christology, but it fairly and accurately reflects the earliest Christian belief about Jesus, in which his identity as “the Anointed One” is the result of his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God (cf. Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, etc).
  • Acts 3:12-26, another sermon-speech by Peter. The core of the speech again includes a Gospel summary (vv. 13-15), emphasizing Jesus’ death and resurrection, this time in the context of the power of Jesus’ name to work miracles (vv. 12-13, 16). In vv. 18-21, Peter also summarizes two aspects of Jesus as “the Anointed One”—(1) his suffering and death, foretold by the Prophets (v. 18, cf. Luke 18:31; 24:7, 26, 46), and (2) his exaltation to heaven (v. 21). To this is added the idea of Jesus’ (future) coming, as “the Anointed One” (v. 20).
  • Acts 4:24-30, a prayer by the early Christians, which more or less follows the same basic pattern as the other sermon-speeches in Acts. Psalm 2:1-2 is cited (vv. 25-26) and applied to death of Jesus (vv. 27-28) and the resultant community of believers following his resurrection (vv. 29-30). Jesus is thus identified as the “Anointed One” of Psalm 2, specifically in the context of his death (and resurrection). As previously discussed, the second Psalm was enormously influential in shaping Messianic thought and belief in Judaism and early Christianity. It probably influenced the shape of the Passion narrative as well (cf. especially Luke’s version, which brings together the Sanhedrin, Herod and Pilate).
  • Acts 10:34-42, another sermon-speech by Peter, part of the Cornelius narrative in chapters 10-11. Here Jesus’ anointing is placed at the beginning of his ministry (v. 38), presumably at the Baptism (v. 37, cf. Lk 3:22 and the variant reading which cites Psalm 2:7), and is associated with his working miracles. In a similar manner, the early believers were “anointed” by God and empowered to work miracles. This reference is part of a Gospel summary emphasizing Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 39-40).
  • Acts 13:26-39, part of the sermon-speech by Paul at Antioch, which is parallel in many ways with Peter’s Pentecost speech. Once again, we find a Gospel summary centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv. 27-31). As in Peter’s speech, verses from the Psalms (and Prophets) are cited and applied to Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (to heaven):
    • Psalm 2:7 (v. 33)—”You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)”
    • Isaiah 55:3 (v. 34)—”I will give to you the holy and trustworthy (thing)s of David”
    • Psalm 16:10 (vv. 35-36)—”You will not give your Holy One to see (complete) decay”
  • Acts 17:3, part of the narrative in which Paul is said to have argued and demonstrated that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die (cf. above). Here however, a notable declaration (by Paul) is added: “This is the Anointed (One)—Yeshua, whom I give down (clearly) as a message to you!”

2. Kerygmatic elements in the New Testament

New Testament scholars have isolated certain passages from the letters of Paul, for example, which appear to preserve older and established formulations of belief about Jesus, reflecting the kerygma (Gospel preaching) of the earliest Christians. These formulae may have been preserved and transmitted as hymns or affirmations of belief (creedal statements) recited at the time of Baptism or within the context of Community worship. They often contain vocabulary or language not commonly used in the letters. Paul cites or incorporates them in somewhat the same way that he does the Scriptures, occasionally in the context of tradition, i.e. that which has been “given along” (passed down) to believers. Perhaps the most noteworthy (and widely recognized) of these “kerygmatic fragments” is found at the start of Romans:

“…about His Son, the (one) coming to be (born) out of (the) seed of David according to (the) flesh, the (one) marked of [i.e. designated by] God in power according to (the) spirit of holiness out of (the) standing up [i.e. rising] from the dead—Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord” (Rom 1:3-4)

Most scholars agree that Paul here is quoting an earlier creedal formula, perhaps modifying or adapting it slightly in context. It expresses two fundamental beliefs about Jesus which are otherwise not found in Paul’s writing:

  • The idea of Jesus being born from the line of David—As we have seen, this is basic to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), according to the figure-type of the Davidic Ruler who was expected to appear at the end-time (cf. Parts 6, 7, 8). Paul almost never refers to this in the letters (nor mentions David), but it was important in the early Gospel tradition, and the association with David was central to early Christian preaching (as recorded in the sermon-speeches of Acts, cf. above). The only similar reference in the Pauline corpus is 2 Tim 2:8, almost certainly another early creedal formula.
  • That Jesus was appointed/designated the Messiah (and Lord)—Paul never uses this verb (o(ri/zw, “mark out, set bounds, limit”. i.e. appoint, designate, determine), but it is part of the early Gospel tradition (in Luke-Acts) related to the identity of Jesus (as Messiah/Lord), and specifically to his death and resurrection, etc (Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 17:31). Nor does Paul make much reference to Jesus’ status as the Anointed One (or as Lord) being the result of the resurrection and exaltation to heaven, but, again, this was central to the earliest Christian preaching (cf. above).

Other examples of possible older creedal fragments and kerygmatic formulae in the Pauline letters may be cited, the most relevant of which are:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:3-5—this simple summary reflects the basic early kergymatic formulations attested in Luke-Acts (cf. Lk 24:7, 26, 46; Acts 1:2-4; 2:22-24, 32; 3:18; 4:25-28; 5:30-32; 10:38-41).
  • Philippians 2:6-11—here Paul is probably quoting or drawing upon an early hymn, which contains certain language and ideas not found in his letters. While this passage does not have a specific Messianic emphasis, it shares with Rom 1:3-4 the idea that Jesus’ position as Lord is the result of his exaltation (following his sacrificial death) to heaven by God. It also contains a more developed sense of Jesus’ deity, including a belief in his pre-existence (vv. 6-7). For a similar hymnic passage, cf. Col 1:15-20.
  • 1 Timothy 3:16—the emphasis again is on the resurrection and exaltation (ascension) of Jesus

In general, Paul makes little use of traditional Messianic thought and expression in referring to Jesus, nor does he use “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$) as a title in that sense. By the time that most of the (undisputed) Pauline letters were written (in the 50’s A.D.), Jesus had come to be identified so completely with the title “Anointed (One)” that it was assimilated as part of his name. He uses “Yeshua (the) Anointed” {Jesus Christ}, “(the) Anointed Yeshua” {Christ Jesus}, and “(the) Anointed” {Christ} interchangeably, as a name, without any distinction. There was no need for Paul to justify or explain its use to believers. The Messianic elements in the Pauline letters are generally limited to the related ideas of: (a) Jesus as King, and (b) his position as Judge over humankind, but even these motifs are not expressed with much frequency—cf. 1 Cor 15:24; 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 2:16; Col 1:13; Eph 5:5; 2 Tim 4:18. Two verses deserve mention:

  • Romans 8:34—the image of Jesus “at the right hand of God”, following his death and resurrection, which was a basic element of early Christian preaching (cf. above); and see also Col 3:1; Eph 1:20
  • 2 Timothy 4:1—the image of Jesus appearing (at the end-time) in his kingdom/glory to judge the world, which reflects the “Son of Man” sayings of Jesus in Gospel tradition

In turning to the remainder of the New Testament writings there are only a few passages which clearly indicate early kerygmatic formulae and/or Messianic thought applied to Jesus:

  • Cf. the summary statements and allusions in 1 Peter 1:10-11, 20-21; 3:18, 21b-22; 4:5
  • The image of the exalted Jesus at the right hand of God—1 Peter 3:22; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2. As indicated previously, this image was certainly influenced by the Davidic Psalm 110:1 (Heb 1:13).
  • Occasionally the basic idea of Jesus as King is expressed in terms similar to the Messianic thought and imagery of the period; not surprisingly, this is perhaps best glimpsed in the (apocalyptic) Book of Revelation—cf. Rev 1:5; 11:15; 12:10; 17:14; 19:19, etc.

Christological development in the New Testament

Throughout the second half of the 1st-century A.D., the idea of Jesus as “the Anointed One” was transformed by a combination of Messianic images and figure-types, applied in the context of more distinctive and developed belief in the exalted status and Person of Jesus.

The Letter to the Hebrews

As mentioned in previous articles, Hebrews combines two strands of tradition related to Jesus’ identity as the “Anointed (One)”—(a) as a result of his exaltation to heaven, and (b) his pre-existent deity. This is expressed already in the introduction (Heb 1:1-4) and in a number of passages throughout the letter, most notably in Heb 1:5-13 which is bracketed by citations of the well-established Messianic Psalm texts Ps 2:7; 110:1 (cf. also in Heb 5:5-6). With regard to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the author has greatly expanded the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrificial offering (cf. 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19-20; John 1:29, etc), applying to Jesus—more clearly and directly than anywhere else in the New Testament—the figure of High Priest who administers the sacrifice for sin (on the Day of Atonement, etc). Central to this illustration is the figure of the Priest-King Melchizedek (Gen 14:18ff; Psalm 110:4), around whom quasi-Messianic tradition and interpretation had developed by the 1st-century A.D. For a detailed discussion, see Part 9 and the supplemental study on Hebrews.

The Gospel and Epistles of John

The Johannine writings evince a sophisticated and advanced Christological framework, using language and vocabulary that has been given a distinct meaning in the context of the writings. I have already discussed the “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel of John in earlier notes, and will examine Jesus as the “Son” in Part 12 of this series. The great Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel are like nothing we find in the Synoptics, and, in many ways, have more in common with the First Letter of John. Already in the Prologue to the Gospel (John 1:1-18) there is encapsulated a dense set of Christological beliefs and associations, and therefore, when the author at the end of the book states it has been written so that “you may trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God…”, this is no ‘ordinary’ Messianic figure-type, but something very different. This helps us to understand 1 John 2:22 and 5:1, where it speaks of those who either confess or deny that Jesus is “the Anointed (One)” [o( xristo/$]:

“Who is the liar, if not the (one) denying/rejecting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One)?” (2:22)
“Every one trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) has come to be (born) out of God…” (5:1)

In the context of Johannine theology and Christology, the identification of Jesus as the Anointed One involves several elements: (1) that Jesus is the Son (of God) and has come from the Father (1 Jn 2:23-24), (2) that he came in human flesh (1 Jn 4:2), and (3) that he came “through water and blood” (1 Jn 5:6ff), that is, sacrificially, to give himself as life for all who believe. This last point relates specifically to his death, and the (eternal) life which it brings.

The Book of Revelation

In the book of Revelation a considerable number of Messianic motifs and images are combined and re-asserted into a new and grandiose picture of the exalted Christ. It is not possible here to examine these all in detail; I would only point to the most relevant, in terms of Jesus’ death and resurrection (and exaltation):

  • The Ruler who subdues and judges the nations (Rev 11:15-18; 12:7-12; 13-14; 17:7-14; 19:11-21)
  • The heir/descendant of David (Rev 3:7; 5:5ff; 21:16)
  • The Daniel 7 tradition (Rev 1:7, 12-20; 14:14ff)
  • The Messianic Kingdom (of God) (Rev 11:15-18; 12:10; 20-22)

Along with this, we might especially mention those passages which refer to the establishment of a kingdom based the sacrificial death of Jesus—Rev 1:5-6; 5:6-14; 7:9-17; 12:10-11.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Hebrews

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Supplemental Study | No Comments

When discussing Jesus as a Priest (cf. Part 9), special attention must be given to this theme as it is presented in the Letter to the Hebrews. As previously discussed, references where Jesus is described or depicted as a priest are rare in the New Testament—more common is the image of Jesus as a sacrificial offering, rather than the priest who administers the sacrifice. However, in Hebrews, the theme of Jesus as Priest appears in a complex and highly developed manner, set in the very heart of the book (chapters 4-10). It is not possible to give a thorough exposition of these passages in one relatively short article, but I hope to present and outline and survey of how the author treats the theme.

To begin with, the Christological paradigm is set already in the prologue or introduction (Heb 1:1-4):

  • The Son as “heir of all things”—divine pre-existence—role in Creation (vv. 2b-3a)
    • His sacrificial and atoning death—”cleansing of sins”
  • The Son inherits a name and position greater than the Angels—exaltation to the right hand of God (vv. 3b-4)

The Son’s greatness over the other divine/heavenly beings (Angels) is not due to a special (eternal, pre-existent) relationship with God the Father (as would be the case in the Gospel of John and later Trinitarian orthodoxy), but rather as the result of his sacrificial death for the sins of humankind. Thus the atoning death (and resurrection) of Christ is the central tenet of the Christology in Hebrews, one that the author describes in terms of the Priesthood of ancient Israel. Interestingly, there is no attempt to define this in Messianic terms, for, in Hebrews, the Messianic elements of early Christianity (titles, terminology, Scripture passages) have already been fully assimilated into a Christological matrix. Note, for example, that there is not one instance where “the Anointed (One)” [o( xristo/$] occurs as a title (apart from the citation of Psalm 45:6-7 in 1:9); instead, it is used as a name, virtually identical with “Jesus” (Heb 3:6, 14; 5:5, et al). Similarly, “Son of Man” does not appear, except in the general sense of the expression as cited (Ps 8:4-6) in Heb 2:6, though the basic identification of Jesus with a heavenly/divine figure at the right hand of God is assumed throughout.

The Priestly motif is introduced at several points in the first two chapters, most notably in Hebrews 2:5-18:

  • Heb 2:11—where Jesus is referred to as “the (one who) makes holy”, and believers as “the (one)s (who) are made holy”. There is a strong incarnational aspect to the argument in 2:5-18—i.e. the extent to which Jesus shares and identifies with human weakness and suffering. This underlies the power and significance of Jesus’ death and is the basis for his Priesthood.
  • Heb 2:17—the climactic declaration of this section: “…he was obligated to be(come) like one (among) the brothers according to all things, so that he might come to be a merciful and trust(worthy) Chief Priest, unto [i.e. so as to be] providing acceptance [vb. i(la/skomai] (with God) (regarding) the sins of the people”.

The verb i(la/skomai (hiláskomai, found only in Heb 2:17 and Lk 18:13) is almost impossible to translate literally in English—in a religious/ritual context it has the sense of making God (or the gods) friendly/gracious to human beings, and is thus somewhat similar to the verb katalla/ssw (i.e. change, make things [completely] different), including the idea of reconciliation or restoration of the relationship (broken by sin) between humans and God. Equally rare are the related nouns i(lasmo/$ (hilasmós, 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10) and i(lasth/rion (hilast¢¡rion, Rom 3:25; Heb 9:5), which indicates the general lack of sacrificial language and terminology in the New Testament. For sacrificial offerings, Hebrews typically uses the concrete noun qusi/a (lit. the animal that is slaughtered), along with the verb prosfe/rw (“bring/carry toward”), i.e. of the priest bringing the offering toward God (by way of the altar).

In chapters 3 and 4 (Heb 3:1-4:13), the historical context and setting of the Wilderness period—Moses, Aaron, the Tabernacle and the establishment of the (Old) Covenant—provides the basis for the comparisons with Jesus (Old Covenant vs. New Covenant) which follows. The two main sections which describe Jesus as a (High) Priest are Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and 6:20/7:1-10:18.

Hebrews 4:14-5:10

Here Jesus is identified as the Great High Priest (4:14), partly on the basis of his exaltation to heaven and his status as the Son of God, but more properly as the result of his sacrificial death (the sufferings of which are due to his identification with, and sharing of, our human nature). The following points are made in this section:

  • 4:14-16: Jesus’ association with human weakness—incarnation and sacrifice
  • 5:1-4: Priests are appointed by God to sacrifice for sin
  • 5:5-10: God appointed Jesus to be High Priest (of the order of Melchizedek), atoning for sin by way of human weakness—suffering and submission of the Son

Hebrews 7:1-10:18

The association of Jesus with Melchizedek in Heb 5:5-10 (citation of Ps 110:1 in vs. 6) is stated again in 6:20—a transitional verse which concludes one section and leads into the next (7:1ff). The figure of Melchizedek, (Canaanite) Priest-King of ancient Salem, passed into Jewish and early Christian tradition through two Scriptural texts: (1) the Abraham narrative in Gen 14:17-20, and (2) the reference in Psalm 110:4. The original context of Psalm 110:4 is instructive for an understanding of how the figure had come to be interpreted by the 1st century A.D. (cf. below). here is an outline indicating how the author of Hebrews develops the Jesus/Melchizedek parallel:

  • 7:1-10—Melchizedek: introduction and summary from the Abraham narrative
    7:11-22—Application to Jesus (‘High Priest of the order of Melchizedek’, Ps 110:4)
  • 7:23-28—Jesus as Priest is greater than human priests
    8:1-13—He is High Priest of a New Covenant
  • 9:1-10—The service of priests in the Sanctuary, esp. sacrifice and the Day of Atonement
  • 9:11-14—Jesus as Priest is greater than human priests—replaces the sacrificial offerings
    9:15-28—He is High Priest of a New Covenant—Sacrifice
  • 10:1-18—Concluding statement on Christ’s Priesthood and Sacrifice

For additional references to the Priesthood theme in the remainder of the book, cf. Heb 12:24; 13:10-16, 20.

Jesus and Melchizedek

The reference to Melchizedek in Psalm 110 is somewhat obscure, but it seems to be based on an underlying royal theology in the Psalm, deriving from ancient Near Eastern tradition. Taking the old Abraham narrative in Genesis 14:17-20 at face value, “Melchizedek” was an historical figure, a Canaanite Priest-King. His name (qd#x# yK!l=m^ malkî-ƒedeq), vocalized originally as malk£-ƒidqu (according to Cross, p. 209) would have meant something like “my king is (the) Righteous (One)”, where “Righteous” (‚idqu) is a Divine name or epithet. Later Israelite/Jewish tradition rendered or interpreted “Melchizedek” as “just/righteous king” (in Greek basileu$ dikaio$), while Hebrews 7:2 translates it as basileu\$ dikaiosu/nh$ (“king of justice/righteousness”). He is said to have been the King of Salem, generally identified with the ancient site of Jerusalem (for the different understanding of šlm by W. F. Albright, cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 231-2) and Priest of °E~l ±Elyôn. la@ (°E~l, Canaanite/Amorite °Il[u]) was the name/epithet of the high Deity in ancient Canaan; the name originally would have meant something like “Mighty (One)”, and already in early Israelite tradition, it was identified with YHWH. The way Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek is narrated in these few brief verses suggests that it refers to a longer tale or tradition now entirely lost to us.

If the reference in Ps 110:4 is genuinely to the “Melchizedek” of Gen 14 (for a differing view, cf. M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150 Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 17A, p. 117), then we must ask just what the Psalmist meant by it. In the ancient Near East, kings typically functioned as priests as well, officiating on certain ceremonial occasions—palace and temple complexes being closely connected. This was also the case in ancient Israel, where kings and princes fulfilled a priestly role in the offering of sacrifices, and so forth (cf. 2 Sam 6:17-18; 8:18; 1 Kings 8:63-64; 2 Kings 16:12-13, etc). It would seem that only traces of this historical situation are preserved in the Old Testament, while in the Torah and Chronicles (both with a strong priestly/Levitical orientation) we find opposition to the idea of rulers appropriating the Priest’s role (cf. especially the episodes in Numbers 16 and 2 Chron 26:16-20). In all likelihood, Psalm 110 preserves a bit of the royal theology surrounding the kings of Israel/Judah, associated with Jerusalem and the Davidic line—i.e. they are priests, not according to the lineage of Levi and Aaron, but according to the pattern of Melchizedek, to whom even Abraham gave homage. It is possible that the Hasmonean (Maccabean) rulers drew upon this tradition as well (cf. 1 Macc 14:41) when they assumed the position of High Priest (1 Macc 10:18-21; 13:42; 14:4-47; Josephus Antiquities 13.299-300; 16.162, etc). In this regard, Psalm 110:4 appears to have played a role in Messianic thought, specifically in shaping the figure of the exalted Priest or Priest-King to come (cf. Jubilees 32:1; Testament of Levi 8:14-15).

If the interpretation of Psalm 110:4 suggested above is correct, then the author of Hebrews has made use of Melchizedek in a somewhat similar way, applying it of course to Jesus, within a very specific Christological matrix (cf. above). He lays out the line of argument in the opening verses (Heb 7:1-10):

  • Melchizedek is both Priest and King (vv. 1-2)
  • He has no genealogy (vv. 3ff)

In my view, these two points derive from the same basic royal theology that underlies the use of Melchizedek in Psalm 110 (cf. above); but note how the author develops these:

  • Jesus, like the Davidic rulers, is King and from the line of Judah, yet he is also Priest (the High Priest), even though he is not from the tribe of Levi or a descendant of Aaron. The priesthood of Melchizedek preceded that of Levi, and is thus superior to it.
  • Melchizedek, in fact, is a High Priest (i.e. Priest of the Most High), though there is no priestly lineage ascribed to him anywhere in the Old Testament. This argument from silence is given a very specific interpretation: that he has no natural, traceable genealogy. More importantly, this means that his (and Jesus’) qualification for the (High) Priesthood is not based on an earthly line of descent.

The specific way the author frames this last point has led commentators to question whether it is an imaginative (midrashic) application of the simple absence of any genealogy for Melchizedek, or whether he believed that Melchizedek was a divine/heavenly being of some sort. The phrasing and force of verse 3, along with the comparison in verse 8, perhaps suggest the latter:

“without father, without mother, without (any) account of (his) coming-to-be [i.e. genealogy], having no beginning of days (and) no completion of life, but having been made (very much) like [a)fwmoiwme/no$] the Son of God, remaining (the) Sacred-official [i.e. Priest] into the carrying-through [dihnke$, i.e. continually, unbroken]” (v. 3)

“…and (on the one hand) here men dying-away [i.e. who die] receive the tenth, but (on the other hand) there it is witnessed that he lives” (v. 8)

There are two possibilities: (1) the sketchy figure of Melchizedek has been fashioned according to what the author already believes about Jesus, in order to make the comparison fit, or (2) it reflects an existing tradition or belief that Melchizedek was a divine/heavenly (and immortal) being. The latter possibility is strengthened by several references in texts from the two centuries B.C./A.D.:

  • The Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek) [11Q13] (late 1st cent. B.C.?), in which Melchizedek is described as a Messianic (end-time) figure who will appear as Deliverer of the people of God and Judge of the wicked (Belial) who held his people captive. The application of Psalm 82:1-2, especially, has led many commentators to believe that Melchizedek here is Heavenly/Angelic being, similar to Michael (cf. 1QM 17:6-8; 4QAmram 3:2).
  • In 2 (Slavonic) Enoch 71-72, Melchizedek (as a child) is taken up by Michael into heaven and thus achieves an exalted status similar to Enoch in Jewish tradition, and Jesus following the resurrection in the earliest Christian tradition (Acts 2:33ff; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34, etc). The text of 2 Enoch is difficult to date, but its core probably stems from the late-1st or early 2nd century A.D.
  • We find the idea of a Heavenly/Messianic Priest in several writings of the period—e.g., the Testament of Levi 18; Assumption of Moses 10:2; and the earlier Qumran text 4Q541.
  • In Jewish tradition, the Angels are often depicted functioning as priests in Heaven—cf. 1 Enoch 9:1-11; 15:2; 40:6; 47:2; 99:3; 104:1; Jubilees 31:14; Testament of Levi 3:4-6, etc; and note especially the so-called Angelic Liturgy (or “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”) from Qumran, 4Q400-407, 11Q17.

We might also note the allegorical image of the High Priest as symbolizing the Logos/Word of God in Philo—On Flight and Finding §117-8, The Migration of Abraham §102ff, On Dreams 1.215, etc.
For a number of the references above, cf. Attridge, Hebrews, pp. 97-103, 192-5.

In conclusion, let us see how the author of Hebrews expounds the Jesus/Melchizedek parallel in the remainder of chapter 7 (vv. 11-28):

  • 7:11-14—Two facts or points of belief are combined:
    (a) Jesus was from the royal line of Judah, not the priestly line of Levi (i.e. the priesthood according to the Law), and
    (b) Jesus is a (High) Priest by way of his sacrificial death => his priesthood must be of a different origin (i.e. a different Law or Covenant)
  • 7:14-19—Jesus’ priesthood comes through Melchizedek, however:
    (a) it is not by way of physical/biological or earthly lineage
    (b) it is according to (Divine) Power and (Eternal) Life
    This qualification is supported by the author’s gloss on Psalm 110:4—the phrase “the ta/ci$ [order/arrangement/succession] of Melchizedek” (v. 17) is interpreted as “the o(moio/th$ [likeness/resemblance] of Melchizedek” (v. 15). In all likelihood this means that Jesus is an Exalted/Heavenly being, just like Melchizedek (cf. above).
  • 7:20-28—Jesus’ (eternal) priesthood is confirmed and demonstrated by:
    (a) God’s own promise (oath), and
    (b) The holiness and sinlessness of Jesus

In spite of the comparison with Melchizedek, it is clear that, for the author of Hebrews, Jesus’ position as (true) High Priest is ultimately based on: (1) his position as the (pre-existent) Son of God, and (2) his death as an atoning sacrifice. This is emphasized in the concluding verse of this section, and is tied in with the idea of God’s oath regarding Jesus, that is, the word which He speaks (cf. Heb 1:1):

“but the word [lo/go$] of the oath th(at is) after the Law [i.e. changes the Law, cf. v. 12] has completed the Son into the Age”

This completion/perfection of the Son is the result of his sacrificial death for the sins of humankind (2:10ff; 5:8-10; 9:11-14), which, in turn, completes and perfects those who believe in him (10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:2, 23).

References marked “Cross” above are to F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History and Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).
Those marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament (Scholars Press: 1974)
Those marked “Attridge, Hebrews” are to Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia Commentary Series (Fortress Press: 1989)