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Death of Christ

Note of the Day – April 11 (John 13:3-17)

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John 6:51-58; 13:1-38 (continued)

Yesterday, in regard to the lack of any reference to the Lord’s Supper in John’s account of the Passover meal (Last Supper) scene, I looked at the possible references to the Eucharist in Jn 6:51-58. Today, I will examine the other major difference in John’s version.

The Foot-Washing (Jn 13:3-17)

Assuming that both John and the Synoptic are referring to the same essential historical tradition—the (Passover) meal with Jesus and his close disciples (the “Last Supper”)—it is striking that, not only has the author left out any reference to the institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (cf. the previous note), but has included a very different sort of sacramental scene. This, of course, is the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus in vv. 3-17. In order to gain a better understanding of the possible significance of this tradition (that is, why the author chose to include it so prominently), a quick survey of the structure of the episode may be helpful:

  • Narrative introduction (v. 2), which spotlights the betrayal by Judas (as in the Synoptic tradition, Mk 14:10-11 par). Verse 1 serves as the narrative (and thematic) introduction to the Passion narrative as a whole.
  • The Foot-Washing tradition (vv. 3-17) which functions as a short discourse in the style of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus:
    —The narrative description of Jesus’ act (vv. 3-5)
    —The Dialogue with Peter (vv. 6-11)
    —The Exposition by Jesus (vv. 12-17)
  • The Prediction of the Betrayal (vv. 18-30a)
  • Concluding statement (v. 30b): “And it was night”

Thus the foot-washing is one of two main components to the episode; as such, it clearly takes the place of the “Lord’s Supper” in the Synoptic tradition. Each of the three parts of the foot-washing scene provides important information as to its significance and importance for the Gospel writer (and/or the tradition he inherited).

Description of Jesus’ act (vv. 3-5)—Here the author sets the act precisely in context:

“Seeing [i.e. knowing] that the Father gave all (thing)s into his hand, and that he came out from God and that toward God he leads (himself) under [i.e. back]…” (v. 3)

This introductory statement is a veritable epitome of Johannine theology and the portrait we see of Christ in the Gospel. The entire scope of the Passion is under the guidance of God the Father, and takes place completely according to his purpose. Jesus, as the Son sent by the Father, is fully aware of this, that the process of his glorification (cf. verse 31ff)—his death, resurrection, and return to the Father—is about to commence. Seeing/knowing all this, Jesus

“…rises out of the dining and sets (aside) his garments and, taking a linen-towel, girded himself thoroughly…” (v. 4)

It is tempting to see this action as a kind of symbolic picture of the incarnation itself—in which Jesus “sets aside” his glory and takes on the role of a human servant (slave), whose duty it would be to perform such menial tasks as washing the feet of guests. Certainly, it is meant to depict the sacrificial service which Jesus’ was about to perform (i.e. his death) on behalf of those (the disciples/believers) whom God the Father had given to him. The wording suggests determination and purpose by Jesus in performing this act. Moreover, the participial labw/n (“taking…”) is also used in the Synoptic description of Jesus’ action with the bread and cup, and strongly indicates a similar allusion to Jesus’ sacrificial death.

“…then (after this) he throws [i.e. pours] water into a wash-basin and began to wash the feet of the learners [i.e. disciples] and to wipe it off with the towel with which he had been thoroughly girded” (v. 5)

Jesus’ action here reflects that of the woman (Mary) who anointed him in John’s version of the Anointing scene (12:1-11, v. 3; cf. also Lk 7:38). As that action was associated with Jesus’ coming death, so we should recognize a similar connection here. Only Jesus’ act of washing the feet of the disciples emphasizes the purpose of his death (i.e. that it is on their behalf), and that it is a sign of his willing self-sacrifice (cf. 10:11, 15, 17-18). There is an interesting parallel to this in the Synoptic tradition (cf. below).

The Dialogue with Peter (vv. 6-11)—The exchange between Jesus and Peter has always been seen as somewhat enigmatic. Is the point of it sacramental (i.e. the need for baptism), ethical (tied to repentance/penance), spiritual/mystical (participation in Jesus’ death), or something else entirely (e.g., a portrait of the need to show love)? A bit too much traditional theological and doctrinal weight has been given to the exchange. The key to it, I think, lies in the Johannine discourse format and style, which typically involves three basic components: (1) a saying or action by Jesus, (2) the person’s reaction which indicates a lack of understanding, and (3) an explanation by Jesus of its true/deeper meaning:

  1. Jesus’ action (cf. above) symbolizing his humble and sacrificial service (death) on behalf of those whom he loves (Peter and the other disciples/believers)
  2. Peter misunderstands on two levels:
    (a) Vv. 6, 8: it is not worthy of Jesus (his Lord/Master) to wash his feet (cp. the Synoptic tradition in Mk 8:32f par)
    (b) V. 9: it is a question of ordinary washing/bathing with water
    Jesus’ declares outright to Peter in v. 7 that he does not (and cannot) understand now the significance of the act
  3. Explanation by Jesus. The principal statement is v. 8b: “If I should not wash you, you have/hold no part with me”

The statement in v. 8b indicates that acceptance of Jesus’ sacrificial act is necessary in order to join and be united with him. The further illustrative exposition in verse 10 has caused commentators some difficulty, mainly, I think, because they have focused too much on the first half of the verse, rather than the second. The first half corrects Peter’s misunderstanding (v. 9)—i.e., that is not simply a question of bathing oneself with water. The true meaning is declared in the second half (v. 10b):

“…(the) whole (body/person) is clean; and (indeed) you are clean—but not all of you”

There is a clever conceptual play on words here:

  • the whole (of you) is clean
    —you [pl.] are clean
  • not all of you (are clean)

The implication is that all those whom God/Christ has chosen (disciples/believers) are fully clean; there is no need for any cleansing—physical, sacramental, or otherwise—in addition (cf. 15:3). Judas, however, is not one of the true believers chosen by God; Jesus chose him to be one of the Twelve (6:70-71), but his ultimate association is with the Devil and darkness (13:2, 30b; cf. also Lk 22:3, 53).

The Exposition by Jesus (vv. 12-17)—Here we have Jesus’ own explanation of the action. The disciples are to follow Jesus’ example, and give themselves (even their own lives) in sacrificial service to each other, as a sign of love. This comes to be an important theme in the Last Discourse (13:31-17:26) which follows the Supper scene.

Synoptic Parallel—While the Synoptics do not record the foot-washing episode as such, there is a general parallel, perhaps, in Luke 22:25-27. There, after the Passover meal (Last Supper), the author includes a block of teaching on discipleship (vv. 25-30, also 35-38). Because the sayings in vv. 25-27 have corresponding Synoptic versions in Mark 10:42-45 par, commentators have questioned their place in the Last Supper scene. However, the orientation of the Johannine foot-washing is roughly similar to vv. 25-27, with its emphasis on humility and sacrificial service. Interestingly, though Luke has nothing corresponding to it at this point, the saying in Mk 10:45 (in the context of vv. 42-44) is strikingly similar in tone and theme to what we see in John:

“For indeed the Son of Man [i.e. Jesus himself] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul [i.e. life] as a (means of) loosing (from bondage) in exchange for many” (Mk 10:45)

Such a saying would have fit well in the Last Supper scene (cf. Mk 14:22-25 par).

Note of the Day – March 28 (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 8:38; 12:23, etc)

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Having discussed the various Son of Man sayings and references in the Synoptic Gospels in the previous notes, today I will survey the sayings in the Gospel of John. None of the Synoptic sayings occur, as such, in John; as in most cases, the Fourth Gospel draws upon a separate line of tradition. However, there are some interesting parallels. As in the Synoptics, the Son of Man sayings have undergone relatively little development in John. Any adaptation that has taken place has primarily been to emphasize particular words or concepts which are common to the Gospel’s unique mode of expression. There are twelve distinct Son of Man sayings, the first of which is perhaps the most difficult.

John 1:51

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

I have discussed this enigmatic verse in some detail in an earlier note, and will deal with it again this Saturday (as part of the running “Saturday Series”). Here I summarize the results of the study previously published.

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

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

The comprehensive nature of the Son of Man reference in 1:51 is paralleled by two key sayings toward the end of the ministry period (in John, the so-called “Book of Signs” chaps 2-12), which also serve to introduce the great Last Discourse (chs. 13-17) and Passion Narrative. Both of these sayings use the verb doca/zw (doxázœ), “give (or regard with) esteem, honor”, etc, i.e. “glorify”, related to the noun do/ca (dóxa, usually translated “glory”).

John 12:23; 13:31

  • John 12:23: “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be honored/glorified [docasqh=]”—the primary context in this passage is to Jesus’ upcoming death (cf. below).
  • John 13:31: “Now the Son of Man is honored/glorified [e)doca/sqh], and the Father is honored/glorified in him”—this saying effectively begins the great Discourses of chapters 13-17, and is tied throughout to the idea that Son is about to go away: a dual-layered reference to his death and his return to the Father.

For additional occurrences of the verb doca/zw in reference to Jesus (or the Son) being glorified, cf. John 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10. This “glory” covers both aspects of Jesus’ Passion—his death and his resurrection. In classic Christian theology this duality is often referred to as the two “states” of Christ—his humiliation and exaltation. However, in Johannine terminology, it is better understood as a descent to earth (i.e. the incarnation) leading all the way to death, followed by an ascent to heaven (including the resurrection), back to the Father.

This two-fold process of Jesus’ glorification is expressed in two distinct groups of Son of Man sayings. The first group involves the verb u(yo/w (hypsóœ, “make/place high”, i.e. “raise, lift up”); the second uses the related pair of verbs a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw (“step up” and “step down”, i.e. “ascend”, “descend”).

John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34: “lift (up) high”

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

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

John 3:13; 6:62 (with 6:27, 53): “descend / ascend”

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

    • John 6:27: “work…for the food th(at) remains in the Life of Ages [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man will give to you”
    • John 6:53: “if you do not consume the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not hold Life in yourself”

All of these sayings which speak of Jesus’ glorification through the dualistic imagery of death and resurrection, descent and ascent, along with the two-fold meaning of being “lifted (up) high”, as they run through the Gospel narrative, have a general parallel with the Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (cf. the earlier note). In those declarations, reference to the suffering and death of the Son of Man is followed by the announcement of his resurrection. In a similar way, the death of Jesus, indicated by his “trial” before the Sanhedrin, prefigures his exaltation (cf. Mk 14:62 par). The Synoptic Gospels use these three Passion predictions (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par) as a framing device for the narrative. However, in the Gospel of John, the Son of Man sayings serve rather a different purpose, which is primarily theological and Christological. However, there are two Son of Many sayings in John which draw more clearly upon the traditional imagery found in the Synoptics.

John 5:27; 9:35

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

The first saying (5:27) identifies the Son of Man with the end-time Judgment, as we see in many of the Synoptic sayings (cf. the previous two notes). Yet consider the way Jesus expounds this traditional association in the Johannine discourse. The statement in v. 27 essentially identifies Jesus with the heavenly “Son of Man” figure-type (Dan 7:13, etc), much as we find in the Synoptics:

  • V. 27—”He [i.e. God the Father] gave him [i.e. Jesus] authority to make judgment, because he [i.e. Jesus] is the Son of Man

At the same time, the statement in v. 26 brings out the distinctly Johannine idea of Jesus as the divine/eternal Son (of God), in his unique relation to (God) the Father:

  • V. 26—”Just as the Father holds Life in himself, so also he gave (it) to the Son to hold Life in himself”

The saying in 9:35 is rather different; Jesus addresses the man whose sight was restored: “Do you trust in the Son of Man?”. As noted above, some manuscripts read “Son of God” instead of “Son of Man”, perhaps reflecting a point in time when copyists no longer understood the expression “Son of Man” and wished to stress the deity of Christ as the point of belief. However, as we have seen, Jesus often used the expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference, as if to say, in this instance, “Do you trust in me?” Yet, even people at the time seem to have had difficulty understanding Jesus’ use of the expression “Son of Man”, if we accept the authenticity of the crowd’s response in 12:34, and the question of the healed man here in v. 36: “Who is he, (my) lord, that I may trust in him?” Jesus’ immediate answer (v. 37) perfectly encapsulates the Johannine theology which associates belief (and salvation) with seeing Jesus—that is, coming to recognize just who Jesus is, his true identity.

It is worth noting that each of these last two sayings are set in the context of traditional healing miracle episodes, and thus are perhaps closer to the Son of Man sayings which occur in the Synoptics (from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative) during the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. With these sayings we bring this portion of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, dealing with the Galilean Period, to a close. It may serve as yet another reminder of the many rich and powerful ways that the traditions were developed—a fact, and a theme, that we will continue to explore as we enter into the next major portion of this series: the Passion Narrative.

Note of the Day – August 10

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 1:21]

1 Corinthians 1:23-24

“…but we proclaim (the) Anointed (One) put to the stake—for the Yehudeans {Jews}, something (which) trips (them up), and for the nations [v.l. Greeks] (some)thing stupid; but for the ones called (by God), Yehudeans {Jews} and Greeks (both), (it is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God…”

In verse 22, Paul has expanded upon the declaration of v. 21 (cf. the prior note) by introducing the distinction, frequent in his letters, between Jews and Greeks (or the “nations”, i.e. non-Jews, Gentiles):

“the Yehudeans {Jews} ask (for) a sign, and the Greeks seek (after) wisdom…”

We can see how this parallel plays out in verses 23-24:

  • Israelites/Jews
    • ask for a sign [shmei=on]
      • the proclamation of the cross is
        • something which trips (them) up [ska/ndalon]
  • Greeks/Nations
    • seek after wisdom
      • the proclamation of the cross is
        • something stupid/foolish [mwri/a]

Here the “sign” (shmei=on) for Jews probably should be understood in relation to their Messianic expectations. As in much eschatological thinking, the coming of the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) and the end-time Judgment by God would be marked by various signs, from the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies to various natural phenomena, as well as the appearance of certain figures in history (coinciding with specific historical events). For the use of shmei=on in this context in the New Testament, cf. Mark 13:4, 22 (par Matt 24:3, 24, 30; Lk 21:7, 11, 25); John 6:14; Rev 12:1, 3. On several occasions in the Gospels, people ask Jesus for a sign to demonstrate that he is one chosen by God (as a Prophet, etc), probably also in a specific Messianic sense—Mark 8:11-12 par; Lk 11:16, 29-30 par; 23:8; John 2:18; 6:30 [cf. verse 14]; 12:18 (for more on this subject, cf. my recent series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Often by shmei=on is meant specifically a miraculous or supernatural event. In this regard, it is interesting that Paul himself refers to a demonstration of (God’s) power as ‘proof’ of the Spirit working/speaking through him (1 Cor 1:24; 4:19-20; 2 Cor 13:3-4).

The “sign”—that Jesus, a crucified man, is actually the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ)—turns out to be a ska/ndalon for Jews, something that “trips them up” (in a figurative sense). That Jews found the identification of Jesus as the Messiah highly problematic is clear enough from the many references in the book of Acts where the apostles and other early missionaries take pains to proclaim and demonstrate this fact (from the Scriptures)—cf. Acts 2:36; 3:18, 20; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:23, and also earlier in the Lukan Gospel (Lk 24:26-27, 44-47). In Paul’s line of argument, this Jewish dynamic (sign vs. ‘stumbling-block’) is parallel to the (main) contrast between wisdom (sofi/a) and “stupidity” (mwri/a). For non-Jews (Greeks/Gentiles), unfamiliar with the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the veneration of a man put to death by crucifixion was simply absurd. Such a death, nailed to the stake (cross), was an agonizing and humiliating punishment, reserved for slaves and the lower classes, as well as for rebels and traitors against the state, and was often inflicted to make a particularly public example of such criminals. Paul, of course, was fully aware of the shameful stigma attached to crucifixion and makes powerful use of the fact, for example, in Galatians 3:10-14.

In verse 24, Paul neatly ties together both strands of his comparison:

“but for the (one)s called (by God), Jews and Greeks (both)…”

This summarizes one his most cherished theological points: that for believers in Christ, the ethnic/religious distinction of Jew vs. non-Jew has been completely eliminated. The doctrine is at the core of his letters to the Galatians and the Romans, especially; though the formula expressed in Gal 3:28, 1 Cor 12:13, and Col 2:12 (with its baptismal context) may have existed earlier. Perhaps the clearest Pauline statement to this effect is found in Ephesians 2:11-22. The second half of v. 24 also expresses a kind of union:

“…the Anointed {Christ} (is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God”

There are two ways to consider this joining of expressions:

1. “power of God” (du/nami$ tou= qeou=) relates to the Jewish strand, while “wisdom of God” (sofi/a tou= qeou=) relates to the Greek strand. The latter point seems clear enough. And, if we understand the “sign” in v. 23 in terms of a supernatural manifestation of God in the person of the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), according to Jewish expectation, then the identification fits here as well. From a Christian standpoint the “power of God” is manifest primarily in two respects:

  • In the resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, which, in turn, relates to his death (crucifixion) in two ways:
    (a) It defeats/overcomes the power of death, preserving the life of Jesus
    (b) It makes right again (justifies/vindicates) the injustice of Jesus’ suffering and death
  • In the power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) to effect salvation for those who trust in him. This relates to Paul’s idea of believers being “in Christ” (and Christ in the believer), with the symbolic/spiritual participation of the believer in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

2. The “power of God” and “wisdom of God” are two aspects of the Gospel message which are summed up in the person of Christ. In Romans 1:16, the Gospel (“good message”, eu)agge/lion) is called “the power of God unto salvation [du/nami$ qeou= ei)$ swthri/on]”. The essential identification of the Gospel with the wisdom of God has already been made here in 1 Corinthians, and continues as a central theme of 1:18-2:16. The terms power (du/nami$) and wisdom (sofi/a) are both associated with the Gospel in various ways in this passage.

The force of the declaration in verse 24b should not be missed—it is not the Gospel (or account/proclamation) per se which is the power and wisdom for believers, but Christ himself. This helps to explain Paul’s statement in v. 17, that to rely upon human wisdom in the communication of the Gospel (i.e. how the message is delivered) effectively risks “emptying” the content (and power) of the message—it shifts attention away from the central point of the message: the person of Jesus, who he is, and what God has done for humankind through him. And it is Jesus’ death (by crucifixion) which is the most difficult and challenging part of this message. It may be somewhat hard for us to recognize this last point today, so far removed from the historical and cultural context of crucifixion, and so familiar with the idea of Jesus’ death on the cross; but in Paul’s day, so close in time to the events, and influenced by the vital Messianic and eschatological expectations of the period, it has a very special significance. A Messiah who would be put to death (especially a death by crucifixion) was totally foreign to Jewish thought, as is clear enough from the evidence in the Gospels (and the book of Acts) and contemporary Jewish writings (I have discussed this in my series “Yeshua the Anointed”, cf. the supplemental article on the suffering and death of the Messiah). This meant that, for Christians, Jesus was (and had to be) understood as a very different kind of Savior/Redeemer figure: one who delivered people from bondage (to sin and evil) at a spiritual level, through his sacrificial and atoning death on the cross.

Note of the Day – August 9

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note looked at 1:18, the first statement in the section]

1 Corinthians 1:21

“For thereupon, (since) in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through the wisdom, God considered (it) good, through the ‘stupidity’ of the proclamation, to save the (one)s trusting.”

The basic contrast set in verse 18 (cf. the previous note), and strengthened by the citation of Isa 29:14 in verse 19, culminates in the rhetorical challenge in verse 20:

“…has not God made dull/stupid [e)mw/ranen] the wisdom of the world?”

The verb mwrai/nw is related to the noun mwri/a, and continues the contrast between “wisdom” (swfi/a) and “dullness, stupidity” (mwri/a).

The use of the compound particle e)peidh/ which opens verse 21 is meant to give emphasis to a particular statement or conclusion; in English, we would say something like “now then, since…”. The first half of the verse uses a delightful bit of (elliptical) wordplay which is easily lost in translation:

  • “in the wisdom of God [e)n th=| sofi/a| tou= qeou=]”
    —”the world did not know”
  • “through the wisdom, God [dia\ th=$ sofi/a$ to\n qeo/n]”

The central phrase is important—”the world did not know”, emphasizing ignorance and lack of (true) knowledge. An interesting question involves whether, or to what extent, this refers to the world’s unwillingness to know, as opposed to a natural blindness/ignorance placed on it (by God). I would suggest that both aspects are indicated by the parallel phrases which bracket the statement:

“in the wisdom of God” (e)n th=| sofi/a| tou= qeou=)
“God through the wisdom” (dia\ th=$ sofi/a$ to\n qeo/n)

However, much depends on the exact force of the second use of “the wisdom”; in context, it can be read two ways:

  • “they did not know God through th(is) wisdom [i.e. through the wisdom of God]”, or
  • “they did not know God through the(ir) wisdom [i.e. through their own human wisdom]”

Both make sense, but I feel that the first option better fits the contrast with the second half of the verse (though perhaps only slightly so). Let us examine the basic outline of the sentence:

  • in the wisdom of God
    • the world did not know God
      • through th(is) wisdom
  • God considered it good
    • to save the ones trusting
      • through the stupidity (of the proclamation)

This does not represent the syntax of the Greek so much as the logic of the statement. According to the first interpretation (above), the world was unable (and/or unwilling) to know God by way of God’s own wisdom. It is possible that this assumes or alludes to the Jewish tradition of Wisdom (that is, God’s wisdom personified) looking to find a dwelling place among human beings on earth, and finding no welcome (1 Enoch 42:2; cf. also Prov 8:31; Sirach 24:8-12, and the likely influence on John 1:10-12). Jewish (and early Christian) Wisdom traditions would have affirmed a basic sense of what we call “natural revelation”—i.e., the manifestation of God’s nature and character through the works of creation, etc. Paul, in his own way, draws upon such thinking in Romans 1:18-23 (cf. also the speech in Acts 17:22-31 [esp. verses 26-28]). The second interpretation (above) yields a somewhat different emphasis:

  • in the wisdom of God
    • the world did not know God
      • through the wisdom (of the world), i.e. their own wisdom

This is more amenable to modern ways of thinking, and, certainly Paul makes reference to the world’s unwillingness/refusal to recognize God (esp. in Rom 1:18-23ff); however, the emphasis on human responsibility, if you will, is perhaps a bit out of place here. When Paul speaks of human ignorance (being “without knowledge”) prior to the introduction of the Gospel, it tends to be in the context of what God Himself specifically has established or has allowed—cf. Acts 14:16f; 17:30; Rom 14:16. In 1 Cor 2:8, the death of Christ is attributed to human ignorance, due to the fact that God has hidden his wisdom away from them; this will but touched on in a subsequent note (cf. also Acts 3:17). The emphasis of God’s action and purpose is perhaps expressed most forcefully in Galatians 3:22, which has a structure similar to 1 Cor 1:21:

  • he (God, through the Scripture, i.e. the Law)
    • closed all things together under sin
  • so he might give the promise (“it might be given”)
    • to the ones trusting
      • through [lit. out of] trust in Jesus Christ

The phrase “he closed all things together under sin” is parallel to “the world did not know”; similarly, “trust in Jesus Christ” is parallel with “the proclamation”. However one interprets 1 Cor 1:21, priority must be given to the will and purpose of God governing these things (“in the wisdom of God” / “God considered [it] good”). Let me summarize the two main interpretations presented above:

  1. The world did not know God through the wisdom of God, so:
    He chose to save the ones trusting (in Him) through something “stupid/foolish”
    —This expresses a kind of (divine) irony
  2. The world did/could not know God through its own wisdom, so:
    He decided to save the ones trusting through something the world itself considers “stupid/foolish”
    —An example of the popular “reversal of fortune” theme, and likewise ironic in its own way

In some ways, the most striking part of this verse is Paul’s expression “the stupidity of the proclamation”—that is, the proclamation of the Gospel. In what way is this proclamation “stupid”?—in that it has at its core the message of man put to death through the disgraceful punishment of crucifixion. This is made clear by Paul in vv. 23ff, which I will be discussing in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – August 8

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note examined 1:17, the concluding statement of the narratio, which leads into the first main section of the letter]

1 Corinthians 1:18

“For the account of the stake [i.e. cross] is (mere) stupidity to the (one)s being lost/destroyed; but to us the (one)s being saved, it is the power of God.”

This declaration by Paul begins the section 1:18-2:16, the first section of the probatio—the main body of the letter, which presents arguments and illustrations in support of the central proposition (in 1:10ff). It builds immediately off of the closing words in verse 17 (cf. the previous note):

“…the Anointed (One) set me forth…to give the good message, (and) not in (the) wisdom of (the) account, (so) that the stake [i.e. cross] of (the) Anointed (One) should not be emptied.”

The Gospel (“the good message”) is identifying as “the account of the stake” (o( lo/go$ [o(] tou= staurou=)—that is, a declaration or proclamation of the death of Jesus on the cross. We typically translate stauro/$ as “cross”, but it really means a stake or post set in the ground, such as that upon which a prisoner or executed man might be hung or impaled. It graphically signifies the punishment of crucifixion. In verse 17, Paul is stating that the significance is in the message itself, not in the way it is delivered or presented. The preacher ought to declare the fact of Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection), and what it means for humankind, without relying upon the style and technique of the oration, or clever/persuasive reasoning, etc. This Paul refers to by the expression “(the) wisdom of the account”—i.e. the intelligence and cleverness, etc, with which the message is proclaimed. The word lo/go$ (“account”) often means specifically the Gospel message (“the account/word of God”), but can also mean more generally the use of speech itself (“word[s]”)—Paul is playing on both of these meanings in vv. 17-18. According to the statement in v. 17, to rely on “wisdom” (that is, human wisdom) in proclaiming the Gospel risks emptying it of its true significance. One must admit that there is a bit of (rhetorical) exaggeration at work here, since, as any reading of the letters (and the speeches, etc., in the book of Acts) makes clear, Paul was himself a gifted speaker in many respects, and was more than willing to make use of “wisdom” to persuade men and women of the truth of the Gospel. However, the stark contrast has a definite purpose—to focus our attention on the content of the message, to the death (and resurrection) of Christ.

In verse 18, a different kind of contrast is established, with regard to the purpose and effect of the Gospel message (“the account of the cross/stake”), involving two distinct groups or classes of persons:

  • “the ones being lost/destroyed” (oi( a)pollume/noi)
  • “the ones being saved” (oi( swzome/noi)

Each group is identified by a verbal participle:

(1) The verb a)po/llumi (compound of o&llumi + the preposition a)po/ [“from”]) fundamentally means suffering loss from (someone/something). In the intransitive (middle) form, it often has the sense of “perish, be ruined, destroyed”. A strict rendering of the middle voice would indicate “lose/ruin oneself, lose one’s (own life)”, etc, implying that the loss is the fault or responsibility of the one who suffers it.

(2) The form here is a passive participle of sw/zw (“[to] save”)—i.e. “being saved”. Clearly the passive form here is an example of the passivum divinum (“divine passive”), used frequently in the Scriptures, in which God is assumed to be the one who acts. Both participles are present forms, indicating something which occurs generally or is going on at the present.

The message of the death of Christ has a different effect on each group:

  • the ones being lost/destroyed—”it is stupidity [mwri/a]”
  • the ones being saved—”it is (the) power of God [du/nami$ qeou=]”

Conventional Christian thinking associates being saved or lost with the person’s response to the Gospel; however, here Paul sets a different priority—the one (already) being saved/lost responds differently to the Gospel message. Salvation or destruction is realized and confirmed by how a person is affected by the message; the two responses may be compared:

(1) mwri/a—the word fundamentally means “dull(ness)”, which is typically applied to a human being in the sense of being “dim(-witted)”, often in the pejorative sense of “stupid, silly, foolish”, etc. The five occurrences in the the New Testament all come from 1 Cor 1:18-4:21, and are used in tandem (by way of contrast) with sofi/a (“wisdom”).

(2) du/nami$ qeou=—the word du/nami$ (“power”) also appears frequently (7 times) in 1:18-4:21, providing a different kind of contrast with “wisdom [sofi/a]” (that is, human wisdom). It is also a word that may be implied already in verse 17, in Paul’s statement that relying on “(human) wisdom” risks emptying the Gospel message (“the cross/stake of Christ”)—i.e. emptying it of its power. I prefer to understand the verb keno/w in the more ‘literal’ sense of emptying the message of its content; however, in Paul’s mind, the two aspects are probably connected rather closely. Certainly, he writes elsewhere (Rom 1:16) of the Gospel as being “the power of God”, which normally connotes the ability of God to effect a miraculous transformation of (human) nature. In 1 Cor 1:24 (to be discussed), the power of God is identified with the person of Christ himself.

The dualism established in 1:18 provides the basic framework for the line of argument running through this section. It is hard to say how far this was influenced by Isaiah 29:14, which Paul cites in v. 19:

“For it has been written:
‘I will destroy/ruin the wisdom of the wise (one)s,
and the understanding of the understanding (one)s I will unset [i.e. set aside]'”

The quotation follows the LXX—particularly in its substitution of the 1st person for the 3rd (“the wisdom of the wise will perish…”)—but with, it would seem, a free gloss or adaptation in the second half using the verb a)qete/w (“unset, set aside”) in place of kru/ptw (“hide” = Hebrew rt^s*). At any rate, the use of Isa 29:14 is fitting and confirms two basic points in Paul’s argument:

  1. The salvation and destruction are ultimately the result of God’s own will and action, and
  2. It is particularly human wisdom and knowledge which are destroyed or “set aside” in the proclamation of the Gospel

These are important to keep in mind as one reads the verses which follow, especially as Paul begins to play with the various aspects of the word “wisdom” (sofi/a)—alternating between divine and human wisdom—in verse 21, which is the subject of the next daily note.

Note of the Day – August 7

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note looked especially at the earlier statement—the central proposition (propositio) of the letter—in 1:10]

1 Corinthians 1:17

Verses 11-17 of chapter 1 make up the narratio of the letter; following the main proposition in verse 10, the basic facts of the case are narrated. The reason (causa) for his writing to the Corinthians is given in verse 11: Paul has been informed (“it was made clear/plain to me”) by those “under Chloe” (a house church which she hosted/presided as minister? cf. Rom 16:1-2) about the situation in Corinth—”…that there are disputes/quarrels [e&ride$] among you”. Here Paul uses a different word in place of “splits/divisions” (sxi/smata) in verse 10. The basic of meaning of e&ri$ is some sort of fighting or contest—i.e. strife, quarrel, dispute, etc; it can also carry the specific sense of “rivalry”, which perhaps fits the context of what is described in vv. 12ff. Apparently, a tendency has developed whereby Christians in Corinth are identifying themselves as ‘belonging’ to a particular leading (apostolic) figure—”I am of Paul/Peter/Apollos…”, while some were simply identifying themselves as being “of the Anointed {Christ}”. Paul, it would seem, objects even to this last designation, which suggests that we are dealing with a sectarian tendency—believers identifying themselves with a specific group or congregation within the wider Church, to the exclusion of, or in contrast to, the others. In verses 13ff, Paul seeks immediately to shift the focus away from a sectarian label, and back toward the Gospel message that should be unifying believers. Verses 14-16 offer autobiographical information by way of example. The illustration can be outlined as followed:

  • You were not baptized in the name of an apostle (such as Paul), but in the name of Jesus [cf. v. 10] (v. 13)
    • I (Paul) myself have hardly baptized anyone (v. 14 & 16)
      • I have avoided doing this so that no one should say that I baptized anyone in my (own) name (v. 15)
        • I was sent not to baptize, but to proclaim the Gospel (“give the good message”) (v. 17)

This is a rather subtle (and clever) way to shift attention away from the personal action/role of the minister (i.e. Paul) and toward the message which the minister proclaims. Verses 13 and 17 effectively set the nature and content of this message, as being centered primarily upon the death (the stake/cross) of Christ. Note the substance of v. 13:

  • (Christ, not Paul) was put to the stake [i.e. crucified] over you
  • You were dunked [i.e. baptized] into the name (of Jesus, not Paul)

For the connection of baptism with the death of Christ, cf. Romans 6:3-4; Col 2:12, etc. Paul was perhaps the first to give a definite theological expression to baptism as symbolizing the believer’s identification with, and participation in, the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Baptism and the death of Christ are connected differently in verse 17:

“for (the) Anointed (one) {Christ} did not set me forth [a)pe/steile/n] to dunk {baptize} (people), but to give the good message—(and) not in (the) wisdom of (the) account, so that the stake {cross} of (the) Anointed should not be emptied.”

A simple reading of this verse in translation may obscure the clarity of its structure; Paul makes a very precise parallel:

  • the good message [eu)agge/lion] (here he uses the related verb eu)aggeli/zw)
    —not in (the) wisdom of (the) account [ou)k e)n sofi/a| lo/gou]
  • the stake/cross of Christ [o( stauro\$ tou= Xristou=] (i.e. the death of Christ)
    —should not be emptied [mh\ kenwqh=|]

The parallel is clear in two respects: (1) that the Gospel message is identified specifically with the death of Christ (on the cross), and (2) that the message must be protected from damage or distortion. This last point is indicated by his use of the two negative statements:

not in (the) wisdom of (the) account [ou)k e)n sofi/a| lo/gou]”—this is the first occurrence of the word sofi/a (“wisdom”) in 1 Corinthians; it occurs 14 more times in 1:18-2:16 (and once more in 3:19). Paul plays with the various nuances and senses of the word throughout the passage, and these instances must be read with care. The same applies to the word lo/go$, which (like the related verb le/gw) has a wide semantic range. It is typically translated “word”, but its more fundamental meaning is “account” (with the verb le/gw often “[to] give [an] account”); this is usually understood to be an oral account, that is, by speech (words). In the New Testament, and particularly in Paul’s letters, there are two primary senses to the word lo/go$: (a) the mode or manner of the account (i.e. in words/speech), and (b) as “the account of God”, i.e. the Gospel message regarding the person and work of Christ, which is proclaimed by Christian ministers and believers generally. Here in verse 17, Paul uses the word in the first sense, and the phrase basically means “not in the clever way, by techniques of oration, etc, that the message is told”—i.e., the emphasis is on the message itself, not the way he (or any other preacher) delivers the message. Paul will return to this theme in 2:1ff.

“(so) that the stake/cross of Christ should not be emptied [mh/ kenwqh=]”—by Paul’s reasoning, to rely on a clever/skillful delivery of the Gospel message effectively “empties” the message of its fundamental content: the death of Christ on the cross. He makes a similar argument in Galatians 5:11, using the verb katarge/w (“make inactive/ineffective”). The verbs keno/w (“[make] empty”) and katarge/w are used together in Rom 4:14, where the point is that, if being made right/just in God’s eyes comes about through observance of the (Old Testament/Jewish) Law, then trust (in God/Christ) is emptied of meaning and is of no effect (cf. also Gal 2:21). For other occurrences of keno/w, cf. 1 Cor 9:15; 2 Cor 9:3; the verb is connected to the (sacrificial) death of Christ in a very different way in Phil 2:7. One should also note the use of the related word keno/$ (“empty”) in 1 Cor 15:14; there Paul relates it not to the death of Christ, but to his resurrection—if Jesus was not truly raised from the dead, then the proclamation of the Gospel has been empty, to no purpose.

The juxtaposition of the words lo/go$ and stauro/$ in v. 17b is picked up again right at the start of the next section, in verse 18: “For the account [o( lo/go$] of the stake [o( tou= staurou=]…”. This verse will be the subject of the next daily note.

Yeshua the Anointed: Suffering and Death of the Messiah

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One final topic remains to be discussed in this series, in light of Jesus’ death—the idea of that the Messiah would suffer and be put to death. This was of vital importance to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, and appears to have been an entirely original Christian development of Messianic thought and belief. However, given the centrality of Jesus’ death in the early Gospel proclamation, to his identity as the “Anointed One”, as well as to the Christology of the New Testament as a whole, it is worth examining this aspect in relation to Messianic expectation of the period.

Fundamental to the Gospel Tradition are the three Passion predictions by Jesus, the first of which begins “it is necessary [dei=] for the Son of Man to suffer many things…” (Mark 8:31 par). In these, and other similar sayings by Jesus, he uses the expression “the Son of Man” in referring to himself; however, in Luke 24:26, 46, after the resurrection, this changes and “the Anointed (One) [o( xristo/$]” is used instead. Luke’s version of the 3rd Passion prediction includes the important addition—”all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers {Prophets} (regarding) the Son of Man will be completed”. This is the first occurrence in the Synoptic Tradition of the theme that Jesus’ death and resurrection has been foretold and/or prefigured in Scripture. It is found again (by Jesus) in Mark 9:13; 14:21, 49 pars; Matt 26:54; Luke 22:37, as well as being implied by the citations from Scripture in the Passion narrative—Mark 12:10; 14:27 pars; Matt 27:9-10; John 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9; cf. also Mark 14:34 par and John 2:22. This becomes an important element of the early Christian witness, as recorded in Luke-Acts—cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-49; Acts 1:16, 20; 3:18-24; 8:32-35; 10:39-43; 13:29-37; 17:2-3; 26:22-23.

The Scriptural Evidence

Where exactly was it foretold that the “Anointed One” (Messiah) would suffer and be put to death? We are not told which Scriptures Jesus “opened up” to his disciples (Lk 24:25-27, 44-46ff), but in an earlier note I provided a list of the most relevant candidates, based on evidence from the New Testament and early Christian tradition. It must be admitted, however, that it is difficult to find passages which clearly refer to the suffering and/or death of a Messianic figure. The only conceivable passage which actually uses the term “Anointed (one)” [j^yv!m*] is Daniel 9:26, where it is said that “(the) anointed (one) will be cut off and (there will be) nothing/no-one for him”. I have discussed this reference as part of a detailed note on Dan 9:24-27. It is by no means certain that j^yv!m* in vv. 25-26 denotes a Messiah as typically understood (cf. the introduction to this series for a definition); it is better to read it in the general sense of the person (king and/or high priest) who is serving as leader of the (Israelite/Jewish) people. However, there can be no doubt that, by the 1st century A.D., the prophecy of Dan 9:20-27 was being interpreted in an eschatological and Messianic sense (cf. the Qumran text 11QMelch [11Q13]), and that early Christians certainly would have applied it to Jesus, particularly in light of the allusion to Dan 9:27 in the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13:14 par), even though the passage is not otherwise attested in the New Testament writings (but cf. 2 Thess 2:1-12). I find only two other Scriptures which could fairly be understood as referring to a Messianic figure:

  • Zechariah 12:10, interpreted as referring to the death (crucifixion) of Jesus in John 19:37; Rev 1:7, and see also Matthew’s version of the Son of Man saying in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Matt 24:30). In the original context, however, it is by no means clear that this refers to anything like a Messianic figure; also that he was “stabbed/pierced” (rqd) more likely refers to someone slain by the sword, i.e. in battle, etc. Cf. below on the later Jewish tradition.
  • Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the famous “Suffering Servant” passage, which early on was interpreted by believers as referring to the suffering and death of Jesus, cf. the famous episode recorded in Acts 8:32-35 (and note the interesting critical question by the Ethiopian official in v. 34). In the Gospels, it is cited directly only at Matt 8:17, in the context of Jesus’ miracles, not his death; however, the Isaian passage likely influenced the way that the Passion narrative was told and understood, corresponding (rather clearly) in certain details to Isa 53:3-9. The identity of this Servant figure in Isaiah, in terms of its original context, continues to be debated by scholars and commentators.

It should be pointed out that neither of these passages appears to have been used or cited in the texts from Qumran; the surviving portions of the Commentary (pesher) on Isaiah do not cover 52:13-53:12. Nor would there seem to be any evidence for these Scriptures being interpreted in a Messianic sense prior to their use in the New Testament. as noted, there is an allusion to Dan 9:25 in 11QMelch, but with no suggestion of a Messianic figure suffering or dying; rather, it is the people who suffer, being held captive by the forces of wickedness (Belial), waiting for the announcement of salvation and deliverance by the “Anointed” One.

Jewish Tradition

Indeed, as most commentators today will admit, there does not appear to be any evidence for a suffering/dying Messiah in Jewish tradition before the time of Jesus and the New Testament writings. The earliest witness is probably to be found in the Dialogue with Trypho by Justin Martyr (mid-2nd century A.D.): §68, 90.1 (alluding to Isa 53:7), cf. also 36.1, 39.7. Scholars are, however, skeptical regarding the extent to which this (quasi-)fictional “Trypho” accurately represents Jewish thought of the period. The theme is not really attested in Jewish writings until the later Rabbinic period (cf. the references in Strack-Billerbeck II.273-299), where two Messiahs are distinguished—a Messiah ben-David, and a Messiah ben-Joseph (or ben-Ephraim). In some passages the Messiah ben-David is said to suffer, but he does not die; it is the Messiah ben-Joseph who is said to die (cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 1565-6). In the Babylonian Talmud (b. Sukkah 52), Zechariah 12:10 is interpreted as referring to the death of Messiah ben-Joseph, who is killed in battle. It has been suggested that this tradition is related to the defeat and death of the quasi-Messianic leader Bar-Kokhba during the second Jewish Revolt (132-135 A.D.), cf. Collins, p. 126. In the Aramaic Targum (Pseudo-)Jonathan, the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isa 52:13-53:12 is given a Messianic interpretation, though in such a way, it would seem, as to contrast with the typical Christian understanding—the sufferings of the Messiah represent the suffering of Israel. For more on this subject, cf. J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (Allen and Unwin: 1956), esp. pages 483-501.

Occasionally, scholars have suggested that the idea of suffering/dying Messiah figure may be found (or at least implied) in several of the Qumran texts, e.g.:

  • 4Q285—In fragment 5, line 4 the text (partially restored) reads: […dywd j]mx hduh aycn wtymhw, which was originally understood by some scholars as “they will put to death the Prince of the Congregation, the Branc[h of David…]”. However, today there is virtually unanimous agreement that this is incorrect, and that it should be rendered “the Prince of the Congregation, the Branc[h of David] will put him to death…”. In other words, it is not the Messianic figure who is put to death, but rather he is the one who puts to death the leader of the Kittim—this is the most natural identification based on the context. The Kittim represent the (wicked) nations, and typically serves as a cipher for the Roman Empire. This text is now considered to be part of the War Scroll (1QM, 4QM); the passage in fragment 5 provides an interpretation of Isaiah 10:34-11:1ff (cf. 4QpIsa [4Q161] 8-10:2-9).
  • 4Q541—This text seems to refer to a Priestly figure. In fragment 9, it is said that “he will atone for all the children of his generation…”, which could easily be interpreted from a Christian standpoint; however, this does not reflect the sacrificial death of a Messiah, but rather the work of an ideal eschatological/Messianic Priest. It is primarily his word and teaching which “will burn in all the ends of the earth…” and cause darkness to “vanish from the earth”. Lines 5-7 indicate suffering of a sort, in terms of lying and disparaging opposition to his teaching. This very likely reflects the history and experience of the Qumran Community. There is a difficult and obscure section in fragment 24, which has been translated (as one of several possible renderings) “…do not afflict the weak by wasting or hanging… [Let] not the nail approach him” (cf. Collins, p. 125). It has been suggested that “the nail” is a reference to crucifixion, but even if this is correct, the passage scarcely refers to the crucifixion of a Messiah.
  • A number of “Thanksgiving Hymns” (Hodayot) are thought to have been composed by, or written from the standpoint of, the Teacher of Righteousness, and possibly describe sufferings that he experienced (cf. 1QH 7:10; 8:26-27, 35-36; 9). These hymns are written using a style and language similar to that of the Old Testament Psalmist; given that a number of OT Psalms were understood by Christians as Messianic, interpreted and applied to Jesus’ suffering and death (esp. Pss 22, 41, 69), it is not surprising that commentators might interpret the hymns in a similar manner in relation to the Teacher of Righteousness. Several other texts speak of persecution and opposition to the Teacher (and the Community), especially by the “Wicked Priest” and the “Man of the Lie”.

Outside of the New Testament, the only passage from the 1st century B.C./A.D. which refers to the Messiah dying is 2/4 Esdras 7:28-29. The core of this deutero-canonical text (chaps. 3-14) is Jewish, dating from the late 1st century A.D. However, there is no indication whatever that the Messiah suffers or is put to death; it seems to be a natural death, along with a return to heaven following his 400-year reign on earth (cf. also 2 Baruch 30:1). After his departure, there will be seven days of silence, followed by the resurrection and Last Judgment (vv. 30-43). There is, perhaps, a general parallel to Jesus, in his ascension (and subsequent return), and to the idea of a Messianic Kingdom on earth (Rev 20:1-6).

Somewhat more common in Jewish writings of the period is the idea that the sufferings of the righteous have a vicarious aspect, which may bring salvation and atonement to the people. This is expressed in passages such as 2 Maccabees 7:37-38; 4 Maccabees 7:27-30; 17:19-22; among the passages from the Qumran texts that might be cited, note 1QS 5:6; 8:3f, 10; 9:4 (cf. H. Anderson, “4 Maccabees”, OTP 2:539). Messianic figures are often depicted as representatives or types of the righteous on earth, with roots going back into the Old Testament and ancient Israelite tradition, where the Anointed King (or Priest), who represents the people, and the righteous of Israel collectively, could both be referred to as God’s “Son”. Note also the precise parallel between the “Son of Man” and the people of God in Daniel 7:13ff, which proved to be so influential on Messianic thought. In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71), the Messianic and heavenly Son of Man (also called the Righteous One), is the archetype for the righteous on earth.

Evidence from Jesus and the Gospel

If there were any doubt that the idea of a suffering/dying Messiah was generally unknown in the time of Jesus, one needs to look no further than the New Testament itself. I note the following evidence from the Gospels:

  • Peter’s reaction to the first Passion prediction by Jesus
  • Passages which indicate that the disciples did not understand that Jesus (the Son of Man, Messiah) had to suffer and die and then rise from the dead—Mark 9:32; Lk 9:45; 18:34; Jn 2:21-22; 12:16; 20:9
  • The confusion expressed by Jesus’ audience in John 12:33-34—note especially the expectation that the Anointed One (Messiah) will remain “into the Age” (i.e. forever).
  • Other passages in John which show confusion regarding the idea that Jesus must go away—Jn 8:21ff; 14:1-5; 16:16-19.
  • The taunts leveled at Jesus while on the cross, implying that the Messiah would not be allowed (or would not allow himself) to die that way—Mark 15:29-32 par; Matt 27:43; Luke 23:39ff.

More important is the way that Jesus emphasizes repeatedly, that was necessary for the Messiah (Jesus, the Son of Man) to suffer and die, and that this was foretold in the Scriptures—Mark 8:31 par; Mark 9:13; 14:21, 49 pars; Matt 26:54; Luke 22:37; 24:26, 46. The disciples do not seem to have been aware of this; even after the resurrection, they do not seem to have understood or expected it (Lk 24:19-25; Jn 20:9, etc), until Jesus himself explains it to them, “opening up” the Scriptures (and their minds). The two key passages are Luke 24:25-27 and 24:44-49:

“…all the things which the Foretellers spoke—was it not necessary (for) the Anointed (One) to suffer and to come into his honor/glory?” And beginning from Moshe and from all the Foretellers, he explained to them throughout the (thing)s about him in all the Writings. (24:25-27)
…and they said, “Was our heart not (set) on fire [in us] as he spoke with us on the way, as he opened the Writings through to us?” (v. 32)

…”it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (thing)s written about me in the Law of Moshe, and the Foretellers {Prophets} and Odes {Psalms} .” Then he opened their mind through to put together [i.e. understand] the Writings; and he said to them, “Thus it has been written (that it was necessary for) the Anointed (One) to suffer and to stand up out of the dead on the third day…” (24:44-46)

The idea that the Messiah would suffer, die and rise again was so unusual that it required special explanation (and revelation) by Jesus, with examination of the Scriptures in the light of his teaching. We find much the same dynamic at work in the book of Acts—the death of the Messiah had to be emphasized specially, and demonstrated from the Scriptures. The key references are Acts 3:18-24; 8:32-35; 10:39-43; 13:29-37; 17:2-3; 26:22-23. Moreover, it can be fairly well inferred that this would have been central to the instances where the early Christians are recorded as arguing and demonstrating that Jesus is the Anointed One (Acts 2:36; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28). So contrary would the suffering and death (crucifixion) of the Messiah have been to the expectation of Jews at the time that it absolutely required a good deal of explanation and proof that the idea could be found in Scripture.

References above marked “Collins” are to J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]: 1995).
References marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer’s Commentary on Luke in the Anchor Bible [AB], Volume 28A (1985).
References marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. by J. H. Charlesworth, 2 volumes (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]: 1983, 1985).

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Daniel 9:25-27

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Overview of Daniel 9

Daniel 9 may be outlined as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction: Context of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years (vv. 1-2)
  • Daniel’s Prayer (vv. 3-19)
  • The Prophetic Revelation (by Gabriel) to Daniel (vv. 20-27)

The revelation of verses 20-27 is connected with both the setting of Jeremiah’s prophecy and Daniel’s prayer, a fact that is sometimes neglected by commentators. In examining the prayer (vv. 3-19), we find three main divisions or points of emphasis:

  1. Confession on behalf of the people’s sin, especially in terms of their disobedience to the instruction and righteousness of God (vv. 5-11)
  2. Acknowledgment of the righteous Judgment of God (vv. 12-14)
  3. Supplication to God for mercy and redemption, in two aspects:
    (a) turning away of God’s wrath (vv. 15-16), and
    (b) that God will hear and deliver his people (Israel) and city (Jerusalem) (vv. 17-19)

The setting of the narrative is the (Judean) exile in the early Persian period (v. 1), but the revelation in vv. 20-27, as well as the visions which follow in chapters 10-11, relate to future events (from the standpoint of the narrative). This involves the destiny of God’s people and the city of Jerusalem. The prophecy of Jeremiah mentioned in v. 2, is found in Jer 25:11-12; 29:10—the land will be laid waste for 70 years by Babylon, with the peoples sent into exile, but after these 70 years God promises to visit his people and bring them back to the land (of Judah). In the context of the book of Jeremiah, this can be seen as an accurate prediction, though the “seventy years” almost certainly represents a symbolic, general time frame. However, here in Daniel, the revelation by Gabriel in 9:20-27 has given a new interpretation (or application) to Jeremiah’s prophecy—the 70 years are (re-)intepreted as 490 (70 x 7) years. Again, 490 should be taken here as a symbolic (round) number; the Community of the Dead Sea scrolls seems to have understood it in relation to the Sabbatical year-cycle and the Jubilee year (cf. 11QMelch, etc). This time period is divided as follows (vv. 25-27):

  • From the word to restore and build Jerusalem until (there is) an anointed leader—7 weeks (49 years)
  • Jerusalem will be built and fortified, but in a time of distress—62 weeks (434 years)
  • The anointed one will be “cut off” and a ruler will come to destroy the city and Temple, leading to war and sacrilege, until his destruction—1 week (7 years)

This passage teems with difficulties, and it will not be possible to address them all here. However, I believe a correct interpretation depends on three factors:

  1. Whether the 70 weeks (490 years) should be taken literally or are symbolic—the latter is certainly to be preferred, removing any need to fit the prophecy into a precise and rigid time-frame.
  2. To what does the “going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” refer? Should this be identified with the edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4), of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:12-26), or an earlier date (c. 586) which would allow for ~49 years until the rebuilding of Jerusalem? The context of the passage here rather suggests that it refers to the “going forth” of the word/command of God, coinciding with Daniel’s prayer (v. 23). From the standpoint of the narrative, the 490 years begins with the setting in v. 1 (“the first year of Darius…”).
  3. The context of the revelation, set in verse 24, must be kept in mind, whereby the 70 weeks have been cut/decreed by God, according to the following purpose for his city and people:
    (a) to finish the rebellion, i.e. of the people against God; probably this should be understood as the period of rebellion
    (b) to complete the sins, i.e. of the people, to bring them all to completion
    (c) to cover/wipe (out) evil/iniquity, using the language of priestly, ritual sacrifice
    (d) to bring in (ever)lasting righteousness
    (e) to seal (the) vision, i.e. the prophecy by Jeremiah (v. 2), but also presumably also the visions to Daniel, etc. in the book
    (f) to anoint (the) holy of holy (place)s, i.e. the Temple and its inner sanctuary

However one chooses to interpret this passage, there can be no doubt that its orientation is eschatological—it assumes that the 70 weeks will bring about the end of the current sinful age, and the beginning of a new everlasting period (or Kingdom) of righteousness.

Interpretation and Identity of the “Anointed” in Dan 9:25-26

There are actually two figures who are called “anointed” (j^yv!m*) in this passage, which strongly indicates that the word here does not refer to a specific future/end-time figure subsequently to be known as “the Anointed (One)” (Messiah). Rather, it would seem to apply more generally to the particular leader—king and/or priest—of the people who return to the land following the exile. On the basis of the known history of the early post-exilic period in the Old Testament, the “anointed” leader who is established after the first seven weeks would likely represent the High Priest Joshua, or the (Davidic) ruler Zerubbabel, or both. For the dual-leadership of these two, cf. Zechariah 3-4; 6:9-15; their anointed status is suggested by the phrase “sons of oil” in Zech 4:14. This figure is specifically called “anointed leader [dyg]n`]”; this term often denotes a (military) commander, but can refer to any prominent person who has an (official) position of leadership “in front of” the people.

The second figure in verse 26 is more problematic; it tersely states that “following the sixty-two weeks, (the) anointed (one) will be cut off [tr@K*y], and there will be nothing/no-one [/ya@] for him”. Modern critical commentators generally consider this a reference to the High Priest Onias III, who was murdered by Menelaus c. 171 B.C. in the reign of Antiochus IV (according to 2 Maccabees 4:23-34). This is based on the view that the final seven years in Dan 9:26-27 refer to reign of Antiochus IV and the rise of the Maccabees (i.e. 171-163 B.C.). The critical view is supported by the earliest surviving interpretation of Dan 9:20-27 (1 Maccabees 1, cf. verse 54). The earliest reference to the “anointed” one (of 9:25) would seem to be in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek) [11Q13], where he is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” (Isa 61:1, also 52:7) who brings the good news of salvation and deliverance to God’s people (col. ii, lines 18-20ff). As far as I am aware, this is the only quotation or allusion to Dan 9:25-26 in the scrolls, and there do not appear to be any other references in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. Jerome, in his Commentary on Daniel (the oldest critical treatment of vv. 24-27), gives a confusing summary of what he considers the Jewish view of the passage, but indicates that vv. 26-27 referred to the Roman defeat of the two Jewish revolts (during the reigns of Vespasian and Hadrian). The latter relates to the quasi-Messianic leader Bar-Kokhba (132-135 A.D.).

Christians, of course, came to interpret the “anointed leader” or “anointed (one)” in vv. 25-26 as a prophecy regarding Jesus, especially of his death, when he was “cut off” and “there was none for him”. However, there is really no evidence in the New Testament itself for this association, and vv. 24-27 are not cited apart from Jesus’ mention of the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/ew$ (with narrator’s comment) in Mark 13:14 par (on this, cf. below). In the Greek version of Theodotion, the seven weeks and sixty-two weeks are combined (i.e. 69 weeks), which allows for the references in vv. 25 and 26 to be understood in terms of a single Anointed figure. Christian commentators followed this way of reading the text, applying it to Jesus. However, the Masoretic Hebrew clearly separates the seven weeks from the sixty-two weeks, and is almost certainly correct, as recognized by most translations and commentaries today, and which I follow in the outline above. For more on the Christian interpretation of the passage, cf. below.

The bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn (Dan 9:27)

In Dan 9:27, we read:

“…for half of the week he will make cease the slaughtering (of animals) and (the) offering, <m@v)m= <yx!WQv! [n~K= lu^w+, until the end/finish (that has been) cut is poured out upon (the one) laying waste”

After the “anointed” one is cut off, a ruler will come with his army to bring war and destruction upon Jerusalem (and the Temple). In v. 27a, it is stated that this conquering ruler will establish a firm agreement with the multitudes (i.e. of Judah/Jerusalem) for one week (7 years). During the first half of the week (~3+ years), he will do two notable things: (1) cause the sacrificial offerings and the Temple cultus to cease operation, and (2) the phrase left untranslated in Hebrew. Difficulties abound regarding this latter phrase; literally, the Masoretic text reads:

“and upon the wing [[nk] of despicable (thing)s he lays waste”
or, perhaps:
“and upon the wing of despicable (thing)s (the one) laying waste (comes)”

This does not make particularly good sense in the context of the verse, complicated further by the interpretation/translation in the Greek versions:

“and upon the Temple there will be a stinking (thing) of desolations [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn]”

The Hebrew suggests a person, whereas the Greek, perhaps understanding the “wing” [[nk] to be the side or pinnacle of the Temple (cf. Lk 4:9), seems to indicate something (an idolatrous object?) placed on the Temple structure. The earliest interpretation is found in 1 Maccabees 1:54, following the Greek rendering—the “stinking thing of desolations” [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn] is identified with a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5). In light of this, some critical commentators have proposed emending the Hebrew [nk (“wing”) to <nk (“their place”), with the expression then being <nk lu (“upon their place”, cf. Dan 11:38), i.e. the pagan altar with its sacrifices in place of the prescribed sacrificial offerings of the Temple (Collins, Daniel, p. 358). This is very reasonable, but it involves the always questionable step of emending the text (with no other external support, unfortunately 9:20-27 is not present in the Daniel scroll fragments from Qumran); it also depends on the particular interpretation of vv. 26-27 as describing the reign of Antiochus IV.

The Greek expression “the stinking (thing) of desolation [sing.]” [bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$] is found in the New Testament, in the so-called Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mark 13:14 / Matt 24:15), along with the same narrator’s aside in both passages. According to the standard critical hypothesis, Matthew is reproducing Mark’s text verbatim. As part of his description of the time of intense suffering and distress about to come upon Judea and Jerusalem, the Gospel tradition records this declaration by Jesus:

“But when you see ‘the stinking (thing) of desolation’ having stood where it certainly should not (be)”—the one reading must have (this) in mind—”then the (one)s in Judea must flee into the hills…” (Mk 13:14)

While the expression clearly comes from Dan 9:27, it is by no means certain precisely what Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer[s]) understand this to be. The closest we have to an interpretation is found in Luke’s version, which seems to have transformed the reference (note the portions identical with Mark/Matthew in italics):

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by swaths of soldiers, then know that her desolation has come near” (Lk 21:20)

It now refers simply to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, which was fulfilled in the war of 66-70 A.D. Given the fact that so much of the Eschatological Discourse was more or less accurately fulfilled in the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Gospel writers (and Jesus himself) may well have had this in mind—(re-)interpreting Dan 9:26-27 into the (current) context of the Roman Empire. Commentators, however, continue to debate whether the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$ is intended to describe a particular act of desecration by Rome. Among the possibilities are:

  • The emperor Gaius’ (Caligula) establishment of the imperial cult, including his statue which was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (c. 40 A.D., Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had similarly set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple.
  • The destruction and despoiling of the Temple by Titus in 70 A.D.
  • The transformation of Jerusalem into a (pagan) Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) in the reign of Hadrian, following the suppression of the Jewish (Bar-Kochba) revolt in 132-135 A.D.

For those who interpret Dan 9:26-27 from a modern-day futurist standpoint (cf. below), the setting up of the “stinking thing of desolation” in Jerusalem is yet to occur. If Paul has Dan 9:27 in mind in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (vv. 3-4), then he understands it as a person, who will take his place in the Temple, which accords with the wording of the Masoretic Hebrew text (above). Modern futurist interpretation typically identifies this figure with the “Antichrist” (1 Jn 2:18) and the Beast of Rev 13-19.

Christian Interpretation and Eschatology

The earliest surviving interpretation of Jesus as the “Anointed” of Dan 9:25-26 is probably in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis (Bk 1, chap. 21, late 2nd century), though it is also implied somewhat earlier in the treatment of verse 27 in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas 16 and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies V.25ff. From the early 3rd century, cf. also Tertullian’s Answer to the Jews §8, 13, and Origen, Against Celsus 6:46. For these Church Fathers, the time of Antichrist (v. 27) was represented by the false teaching and “Gnostic” views of the period, which they so eagerly sought to combat. Unfortunately, the Commentary of Hippolytus on Daniel (early-mid 3rd century) does not survive complete, but in at least one fragment (on the “abomination of desolation” in v. 27, cf. above), he provides a two-fold interpretation: it relates (1) to that set up by Antiochus IV, and (2) to that which will yet take place when Antichrist comes. Many thoughtful readers and commentators today will likely end up adopting a similar view (cf. below). In Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, in his lengthy (and critical) discussion of vv. 24-27, he quotes from Hippolytus as well as a lengthy extract from Eusebius’ Demonstration of the Gospel (8:2). Another important citation from Hippolytus is found in the much later Commentary of Dionysius bar-Salibi on Revelation (Rev 11:2). For other relevant passages in the writings of the Church Fathers in the 4th and 5th centuries, see e.g., Eusebius’ Church History 1.6.11; 3.5.4; Theophania 4:35-36; Athanasius’ History of the Arians §§76-77; Cyril of Jerusalem, Lecture 12.19; Aphrahat, Demonstration 17.19; 21.

As indicated above, the standard modern critical view holds that Daniel 9:26-27 refers to the period of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), the Seleucid Greco-Syrian king who ruled c. 175-164 B.C. On the whole, this is likely to be correct, given the way that the subsequent visions in chapters 10-11 seem to describe the rise and history of the Greek (Alexandrian/Hellenistic) Empire, which is usually understood as the fourth Kingdom/Beast of the visions in chapters 2 and 7 as well. Fitting the historical events precisely into the prophetic scheme of Dan 9:20-27 is rather more difficult. Identifying the “anointed” one who is “cut off” with the High Priest Onias III is certainly plausible, but far from certain. Also, as discussed above, it is not entirely clear that the actions of the coming ruler of vv. 26-27 truly match those of Antiochus in detail. Far more problematic, however, at least for those who take the inspiration of Scripture seriously, is that the eschatological Age did not come with the death of Antiochus, the re-establishment of Jewish rule under the Maccabees, and the re-dedication/consecration of the Temple. The period of the Maccabees was by no means a time of “everlasting righteousness” (9:24), as the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. make abundantly clear.

It is not surprising, then, that the Qumran Community and the early Christians would interpret and apply the passage according to their own eschatological viewpoint. For the earliest believers in Jesus, the coming of the end-time Judgment (and with it the return of Christ) appeared to be imminent, marked by the “birth pains” described by Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse—Roman imperial control of Judea, threat of rebellion and war, the appearance of Messianic pretenders, the persecution and arrest of believers, etc—which would culminate in the war of 66-70 A.D. with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (and the Temple). Much, if not most, of what Jesus predicts in Mark 13 par, can be seen as more or less accurately being fulfilled in this period. It is certainly possible to understand the “stinking thing [i.e. abomination] of desolation” in this context as well, as I discuss above. However, there remains the same problem—the end did not come with these events, not after the destruction of the war of 66-70, nor the revolt of 132-5 A.D. Even if Jesus were correctly understood as the “Anointed” one of Dan 9:26, to what extent has a period of “everlasting righteousness” been established on earth?

This, in turn, has led some modern-day commentators to posit a time gap between the first 69 weeks (483 years) and the last week (7 years)—the last week is yet to be fulfilled, and will occur some time (very soon) in the future. While this may seem like a good way to harmonize Scripture and preserve its historical accuracy, unfortunately there is no support for it in the text of Daniel itself. Nothing in Dan 9:20-27 suggests any sort of gap in time (let alone of 2000+ years) before the final week. More feasible, in my view, is the idea that the events of vv. 20-27 are fulfilled at two levels—(1) the historical fulfillment culminating in the period c. 170-163 B.C., and (2) the typological fulfillment in the life and person of Jesus. According to the second (Christological) aspect, the 70 weeks have an even more pronounced symbolic sense—rather than attempting to fit them into a chronological scheme, it is better to view them as representing the fulfillment of God’s determined plan for His people. The period of distress, war, and religious persecution in vv. 26-27 is likewise representative of events which have been played out countless times throughout history, even in the case of the city of Jerusalem itself.

Returning to the original context of Daniel 9:20-27, it may be fair to ask in what sense it is eschatological. As I see it, there are two possibilities:

  1. The eschatology is real—i.e., verses 26-27 describe events which mark the end-time and the completion of the current Age.
  2. The situation of Israelite/Jewish history (regardless of how one dates the book) is being described, symbolically, using eschatological language and imagery, to express the hope and belief in God’s deliverance of his people.

The apparent chronological calculations in the passage would suggest that it is meant to show the fulfillment of historical events. According to the mainstream critical view, the book of Daniel (esp. chapters 7-12) dates from a time c. 165 B.C., and that the visions and revelations are, for the most part, ex eventu prophecies—descriptions of events which have already occurred. Traditional-critical commentators, on the other hand, are much more inclined to take the setting of the narrative at face value, holding that Dan 9:20-27 is an authentic revelation from the time of the historical Daniel (early 6th century). Neither approach, however, has been able to explain entirely how the events in vv. 25-27 have been, or will be, fulfilled in history. One should therefore take seriously the symbolic aspect of the passage, especially in its use of the Sabbatical year-cycle to mark its chronology. The year of Jubilee begins in the middle of the seventh Sabbatical year (i.e. the last “week”), on the 10th day of the 7th month, which is the Day of Atonement (cf. Daniel’s prayer and v. 24). Forty-nine (49) years precede the Jubilee, corresponding to the 490 years (49 x 10) in vv. 20-27. All of this symbolism was clearly recognized and expounded in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek), which happens to contains the earliest surviving direct allusion to Dan 9:25-26 (cf. above).

The text 11QMelch may also be seen as providing an interesting bit of evidence in support of viewing Jesus as the “anointed” one of Dan 9:25. As noted above, in col. ii lines 18-20, this figure in Daniel is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” in Isa 61:1ff—the same Messianic figure with which Jesus identifies himself in Luke 4:18-20; 7:19-23 par. This demonstrates that, by the time of Jesus, there were at least some Jews who interpreted the “anointed” of Dan 9:25 as one who would bring the good news of salvation to God’s people.

References above marked “Collins, Daniel” are to the Commentary on Daniel by John J. Collins in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993).

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

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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.

Note of the Day – April 4

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

Acts 7:55-56

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ saying (Lk 22:69):

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

The formula in Mark/Matthew is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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