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Note of the Day – April 3

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In today’s note for the third day of Easter (Easter Tuesday), I continue the study of the Son of Man saying in John 1:51, begun yesterday (for more on the Son of Man sayings in John, cf. the earlier note). Here I will be looking more specifically at the meaning of the saying in the context of the Gospel narrative.

John 1:51

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

In the previous note, I explored four images or traditions which seem to be especially relevant for an interpretation of the saying, based on similarities in language and concept: (1) the baptism of Jesus, (2) the resurrection/ascension, (3) his (future) coming in glory, and (4) the dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. It must be admitted, however, that none of these are sufficient, nor do they entirely fit the position and context of the saying in John. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the narrative and thematic structure of the Gospel, in order to gain a better understanding of the ultimate significance of the saying. I will proceed, briefly, according to the following outline:

  1. The location of the saying, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
  2. Its connection with the other Son of Man sayings in John
  3. Its possible purpose as a comprehensive symbol

1. The Location of the Saying

After the hymnic prologue of Jn 1:1-18, the first main section of the Gospel is Jn 1:19-51, which has, as its primary theme, the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus. The section may be divided as follows:

  • vv. 19-28—the Baptist’s testimony regarding himself (“I am not…”)
  • vv. 29-34—the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus
    • account of the Baptism (vv. 31-33)
  • vv. 35-42—disciples respond to the Baptist’s testimony and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Peter)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 41-42)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 42)
  • vv. 43-51—disciples respond to the testimony of other (disciple)s and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Nathanael)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47-51)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 51)

The saying in Jn 1:51 thus concludes this opening section of the Gospel. In the previous note, I mentioned several parallels with the Baptism of Jesus, and, given the position of the saying in relation to the Baptism (and the Baptist’s testimony) in this section, it is likely that some sort of allusion is intended. Interestingly, and altogether typical of John’s Gospel, the Baptism is not narrated as something that people observe directly—it is only “seen” through the verbal account (or word) of the Baptist. Similarly, throughout this section “seeing” Jesus is intimately connected with hearing and responding to the message of the Baptist and the first disciples (vv. 34, 36, 39, 46). In Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47ff), he also “sees” based on what Jesus says to him; note, in particular, the wording:

“Jesus responded and said to him, ‘(In) that [i.e. because] I said to you that I saw you underneath the fig-tree, you trust (in me)? (Thing)s greater than these you will see!” (v. 50)

This interplay between “seeing” and “saying” should caution us against the simple assumption that a concrete visible event is intended in v. 51. That the saying concludes the first section (1:19-51) means that it also marks the beginning of the next—that is to say, the core narrative of the Gospel spanning chapters 2-20. Commentators typically divide this into two main parts:

  1. Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”, in which the narrative alternates between accounts of miracles and teaching (discourses) by Jesus—the miracle (sign) often serving as the basis and starting point for the discourse which follows (cf. especially in chapters 5, 6, and 9). All but the first and last of the Son of Man sayings are found in these chapters.
  2. Chapters 13-20, which narrate the Passion (and Resurrection) of Jesus—chapter 13 (a Last Supper scene similar to that in the Synoptic tradition) leads into the great Discourses in 13:31-16:33, concluding with the remarkable Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17.

The last Son of Man saying in John (13:31) opens the Discourses which are set at the beginning of the last major section of the Gospel (chs 13-20). It seems likely that the first Son of Man saying (1:51) is meant to have a similar transitional role in the structure of the Gospel narrative.

2. The other Son of Man Sayings

For a survey of the other Son of Man sayings in John, cf. my earlier note. As mentioned above, all but the first and last sayings occur in chapters 2-12, which is significant for two reasons:

  • They are part of the Discourses of Jesus in these chapters, marked by a unique style of teaching—a statement or action by Jesus is misunderstood by the audience, leading to a pointed question, and the subsequent response (and exposition) by Jesus, answering the question at a deeper level of meaning. This process of redirection and reformulation always involves Jesus’ identity—his Person and Teaching—as the Son in relation to God the Father. Where they occur, the Son of Man sayings (esp. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 32, 34) are central and climactic to the Discourse.
  • They point toward the death and exaltation (resurrection, return to the Father) of Jesus described in chapters 13-20. Indeed, the principal sayings all have a dual-meaning, centered on Jesus’ death/resurrection. The sayings which refer to the Son of Man being “lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) or being “glorified” (Jn 12:23; also 13:31) have both aspects in mind.

The dualism of these sayings is best demonstrated in those which use the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (“step down”, “step up”), as in Jn 1:51. The saying in 3:13 is followed by that of v. 14 (which speaks of the Son of Man “lifted high”); the sayings in Jn 6:27, 53, 62 have a more complex reference matrix, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse (6:25-66). In schematic form, we might outline the dualism as follows:

  • With the Father in Heaven (Divine Pre-existence)
    • Descent (“stepping down”) from Heaven (Incarnation)
      • Death—being “lifted up” on the cross
        • Glorified—Life—Father-Son (Jn 13:31)
      • Resurrection—lifted/raised from the dead
    • Ascent (“stepping up”) into Heaven (Exaltation)
  • Return to the Father in Heaven

According to this outline, the last Son of Man saying (Jn 13:31) reflects the central, inner dynamic of the Father-Son relationship and identity, governed by the verb doca/zw (“give honor/esteem/glory”, i.e. “glorify”). If this is correct, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the first of the Son of Man sayings (Jn 1:51) is parallel to this in some way, and may reflect the outer dynamic—the ascent/descent. Again, this would seem to be correct considering the use of the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw in 1:51. However, in that first saying, it is not the Son of Man descending/ascending, but rather of Angels (“Messengers of God”) ascending/descending on the Son of Man.

3. A Comprehensive Symbol?

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 previous 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!”
    It is possible that these confessions themselves together form a bracketing chiasm:
    “Son of God” (in a Messianic context)
    —”King of Israel” (i.e. Anointed Davidic Ruler)
    —”My Lord” (Jesus as Messiah/Lord, cf. Ps 110:1)
    “My God” (Deity)
    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. This, of course, is also related to “seeing” the Son in terms of being with him, in his presence, as other instances of the verb o)pta/nomai, o&ptomai/o&yomai would indicate (esp. Jn 16:16-17, 19, 22). As a concluding observation that “seeing” in Jn 1:51 signifies something more than a concrete vision, 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)

In both Jn 1:51 and 20:29, the eventual seeing by the believer is contrasted with the disciple believing on the basis of an extraordinary or miraculous experience. Even the concrete evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (in the case of Thomas) should not be relied upon as the basis for faith and trust in Christ, but rather the word that bears witness to him and the Spirit that draws us to him.

 

 

Note of the Day – April 2

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Today, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), and following the theme of these seasonal daily notes, I will be examining the Son of Man saying in John 1:51. In an earlier note (for Holy Saturday), I surveyed all of the Son of Man sayings in John, noting three main categories:

  • Sayings which speak of the Son of Man being “lifted high” (using the verb u(yo/w)—Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34
  • Sayings involving the descent/ascent of the Son of Man (verbs katabai/nw, a)nabai/nw)—Jn 3:13; 6:22, 53, 62
  • Sayings which refer to the Son of Man being glorified (vb. doca/zw)—Jn 12:23, 31

John 1:51 generally belongs to the second category. All of these sayings refer in some way to Jesus’ death, and also relate to the two-fold sense in which the Son is “lifted up”, according to the symbolism and imagery in John—(1) his death on the cross, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father).

John 1:51

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

This saying has proven sufficiently difficult and obscure for commentators throughout the years, resulting in a wide range of possible interpretations. A fundamental question is whether the saying should be taken as a concrete prediction, or a symbolic picture. If the former, then one must ask to which specific event or episode it refers; there are three possibilities—(1) a supernatural event witnessed by the disciples (similar to the Transfiguration), but otherwise unrecorded, (2) the resurrection and/or ascension, or (3) the future/end-time appearance of Christ. Given the similarities with key eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics, the third option makes most sense; however, it does not especially seem to fit the context where the saying is set in John. If we are to understand the saying primarily as a symbolic picture—whether by the Gospel writer or Jesus himself—then there a number of possible associations or allusions which may be in mind. I summarize the most relevant and important of these here (cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, pp. 89-91):

The Baptism—There are two details in the (Synoptic) account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10 par) which are especially relevant:

  • The Holy Spirit, in the form/shape of a dove, descends [lit. “steps down”] upon Jesus, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51. Also, the versions in Matthew/Luke specifically use the preposition e)pi (“upon”) and narrate the episode as something observable by all the people (in contrast with Mark’s account). John does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but provides a comparable (indirect) description as part of the Baptist’s testimony (cf. Jn 1:32).
  • In the descent of the Spirit, the heavens are said to separate; in Matthew/Luke (Matt 3:16; Lk 3:21), the verb used is a)noi/gw (“open up”) as in Jn 1:51.

Matthew 16:27-28 par—Matthew’s version of a core Son of Man saying in Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) begins: “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his Messengers [i.e. Angels]…” and concludes with the specific formulation:

“…there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see [i&dwsin] the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (note the parallel in Lk 9:27: “…until they should see the Kingdom of God”, and also Lk 23:42 v.l.)

Several points should be made about the context and significance of this passage:

  • The reference is to the end-time Judgment, and (in the developed Gospel tradition) to the parousia (or second coming) of Jesus.
  • It is positioned directly between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (a vision of Jesus in glory witnessed by several of the disciples). Moreover, in both Synoptic tradition and Jn 1:19-51, the Son of Man saying follows soon after Jesus gives Peter his new name (Matt 16:18; Jn 1:42).
  • The Son of Man is associated with Angels in a number of sayings, all eschatological and emphasizing the end-time Judgment—Matt 13:41ff; 16:27 par; 24:30-31 par; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also Matt 4:6 par; 26:53.

The Resurrection/Ascension—Note especially the following:

  • In Mark 16:4 of the Old Latin MS Bobiensis (k), it is narrated that angels descend to Jesus and ascend with him (cf. also the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter §§36-40).
  • The appearance of Angels in the Synoptic tradition, associated with the Resurrection (variously described, Mk 16:5-7; Matt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7) and the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11) of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it is stated that the Angel “stepped down” out of heaven, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51 (cf. above).
  • John does not record a visible ascension of Jesus, but note Jn 20:17: “…I step up [a)nabai/nw] toward my Father”.

An allusion to Genesis 28:12—In Jacob’s dream-vision at Bethel, he sees Angels ascending and descending on the ladder; in the LXX “ascending and descending” uses the same verbs (a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw) as Jn 1:51.

  • There is a traditional Jewish interpretation which understands the Angels ascending/descending on him (i.e. Jacob), cf. Genesis Rabbah 69:3 (in 68:12 Jacob is seen as being simultaneously in heaven).
  • The Targums (cf. Onkelos) express the idea that the shekinah—the visible manifestation and/or personification of God’s glory—was on the ladder. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (mid-2nd century A.D.), we find the earliest evidence for the interpretation that Christ was on the ladder (86:2).
  • Bethel as the “House of God”, i.e. the rock/stone which symbolizes the Temple and its foundation. In Jn 2:19ff (not long after the saying in 1:51), the Temple is identified with Jesus’ own person (and body), specifically in connection with his death and resurrection.

These are the most plausible associations with Jn 1:51, based on similarities of language and imagery—(1) the account of Jesus’ baptism, (2) his resurrection/ascension, (3) his return in glory at the end-time Judgment, and (4) the theophanic dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. In the next note I will look a bit more closely at Jn 1:51 in terms of its likely meaning and purpose within the context and structure of the Gospel narrative.

Note of the Day – April 1 (Easter)

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Luke 24:6-7

The last occurrence of the expression “the Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke is found in the Resurrection narrative (Luke 24), as part of the Angelic announcement (vv. 5-7) to the women on Easter morning. Luke follows the early Gospel tradition of women (including Mary Magdalene) being the first to witness the empty tomb, and the authenticity of this tradition would seem to be quite secure (on entirely objective grounds). The Synoptics also record the presence of Angels at the tomb who announce the resurrection, but here the specific details vary considerably between the three accounts. Most notable is the difference in the announcement itself (cp. with Mark 16:6-7), which includes similar points of reference (in italics):

“Do not be astonished! You seek Yeshua the Nazarean, the (one) put to the stake [i.e. crucified], but he has been raised—he is not here!” (Mk 16:6)
“(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living (one) with the dead (ones)? [He is not here, but has been raised!]” (Lk 24:5b-6a)

So also in the second half of the declaration:

“but go under [i.e. go back] and say to his learners [i.e. disciples] and to ‘Rock’ {Peter} that he goes before you into the Galîl {Galilee}—there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mk 16:7)
“remember how he spoke to you while he was yet in the Galîl {Galilee}, saying… (Lk 24:6)

In Luke, the context and direction of the Angelic announcement has changed significantly—intead of referring to the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee (cf. Matt 28:16-20), it refers back to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Lk 9:22, 43-45; 18:31-34 par) while he and his disciples were still in Galilee. As discussed in previous notes, these Passion predictions all involve the identification of Jesus as the “Son of Man”. Let us compare the formula here in verse 7 with the three earlier statements by Jesus:

Lk 24:7

“saying (of) the Son of Man that it is necessary (for him) to be given along into the hands of sinful men and to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified], and to stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day”

Lk 9:22

it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s and to be removed from examination [i.e. rejected] from [i.e. by] the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials [i.e. Priests] and Writers [i.e. Scribes], and to be killed off [i.e. put to death], and to be raised on the third day

Lk 9:44

“For the Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men

Lk 18:31b-33

“…and all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] about the Son of Man will be completed: for he will be given along into (the hands of) the nations, and he will be treated in a childish (way) and will be abused and will be spat on, and whipping (him) they kill him off [i.e. put him to death], and he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day.

The formulation in Luke 24:7 blends elements from all three predictions, as indicated by the italicized portions above. The phrase “into the hands of sinful men” comes from the second prediction (Lk 9:44), but without the qualifying adjective “sinful” (cf. Mark 14:41 par). The phrase “be put to the stake” simply specifies the manner in which he is to be “killed off”, i.e. put to death (cf. Matt 20:19). The Lukan version of the third prediction (Lk 18:31-33) includes the detail that the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of Man (Jesus) is a fulfillment of Scripture (“the things written by the Prophets”). This becomes an important point of emphasis in the remainder of Luke 24, and subsequently throughout the book of Acts. Indeed, each of the three episodes in the Resurrection narrative includes a comparable statement regarding Jesus’ Passion in this manner:

  • Lk 24:1-12: The Disciples at the empty tomb — the Angels’ announcement (v. 7, cf. above)
  • Lk 24:13-35: The Appearance to Disciples on the road to Emmaus (v. 26)
  • Lk 24:36-49: The Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem (v. 46)

As discussed above, the first statement (echoing the Passion predictions) uses “Son of Man”, while the last two (by Jesus) instead use “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$):

  • Lk 24:26: “Was it not necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer these (thing)s and to come into his glory?”—Jesus is said to demonstrate this, explaining the Scripture passages in “Moses and all the Prophets” (v. 27)
  • Lk 24:46: “…thus it has been written (that it is necessary) for the Anointed (One) to suffer and to stand up out of the dead on the third day”—this also was explained to his disciples from passages “in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms” (vv. 44-45)

The last of these statements, in particular, echoes verses 6-7 and the earlier Passion predictions, especially if we include Jesus’ words from v. 44:

“These are the words which I spoke to you, being yet [i.e. while I was] with you, that it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (thing)s written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms….”

The declarations by Jesus in 24:26 and 44-46 make two points which are fundamental to the early Christian Gospel preaching (as recorded in the book of Acts):

  1. That Jesus is the Anointed One (o( Xristo/$), and in a sense rather different from the type-figure of Anointed Davidic Ruler (as typically understood in Messianic thought of the period). Cf. my current series “Yeshua the Anointed”, esp. Parts 68.
  2. That the suffering and death (and resurrection) of Jesus—that is, of the Anointed One—was prefigured and foretold in the Scriptures. This means that it can be demonstrated by a study and exposition of the relevant Scripture passages; Luke never indicates just what these are, but for a list of likely candidates, cf. my earlier article.

Of the numerous references in the narrative of Acts which indicate the importance of this theme, cf. especially Acts 1:16; 2:31ff; 3:18, 20; 8:32-35; 9:22; 10:43; 13:27; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:22-23; 28:23.

Note of the Day – Easter Season

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

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

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

“The Son of Man”

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

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

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

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

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

Note of the Day (Easter Tuesday)

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For the first two days of Easter (Sunday and Monday), I examined John 5:19-20 and 6:35-58—two passages in which Jesus identifies himself with the power of resurrection. Today, the third passage will be discussed: John 11:17-27ff, with attention paid primarily to the central verses 25-26.

This passage, of course, is part of the Lazarus narrative (Jn 11:1-44), one of the best-known portions of the Gospel of John. It can be outlined simply as follows:

  • The narrative introduction: a dialogue with Jesus and his disciples—11:1-16
  • Jesus with Martha, in which a short discourse (partial dialogue) is embedded—11:17-27
  • Jesus with Mary—11:28-36
  • The miracle: including a partial dialogue—11:37-44

The key verses (25-26) are from Jesus’ encounter with Martha, upon his arrival in Bethany. Here is an outline of this section:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 17-20)
  • Martha’s statement to Jesus, expressing faith in Jesus’ (divine) nature and person (v. 21-22)
  • Discourse (vv. 23-26)
  • Martha’s statement to Jesus, again expressing faith in Jesus (divine) nature/identity (v. 27)

The short discourse of verses 23-26 follows a general pattern found in many of the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John:

  • Saying of Jesus (v. 23): “Your brother will stand up (a)nasth/setai, i.e. ‘rise [from the dead]’)”
  • Response by Martha, reflecting a failure to understand the true/deeper meaning of Jesus’ words (v. 24):
    “I know that he will stand up in the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] in the last day”
  • Jesus’ Response, expounding the initial saying (v. 25-26)

Here is the text of Jesus response in verses 25-26:

e)gw/ ei)mi h( a)na/stasi$ kai\ h( zwh/: o( pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ka*n a)poqa/nh| zh/setai, kai\ pa=$ o( zw=n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ou) mh\ a)poqa/nh| ei)$ to\n ai)w=na
“I Am the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] and the life: the (one) trusting into me, even if he should die away, he will live; and every (one) th(at) lives and trusts into me, no he does not die away into the Age.”

In several textual witnesses (including the early Greek MS Ë45) the words “and the life” (kai\ h( zwh/) are not present; however, they are almost certainly original, and, indeed, seem essential to the fundamental sense of Jesus’ words. Martha’s statement in v. 24 reflects the popular Jewish belief of the time—of an end-time resurrection (by God) connected with the Judgment. This same basic idea is expressed by Jesus with the four instances of the phrase “and I will stand him up in the last day” in Jn 6:35-50 (see the previous day’s note). Jesus corrects Martha’s understanding in two respects:

  1. By identifying the resurrection not with a future event, but with his own person. As has generally been recognized by interpreters of the Gospel of John, the “I Am” (e)gw ei)mi) formula used by Jesus indicates his intimate relationship (and identity) with God the Father (YHWH).
  2. By identifying himself not just with the (future) bodily resurrection (“standing-up”, a)na/stasi$), but with “the life”. In the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, zw/h (“life”) nearly always refers to divine or eternal life, sometimes specified by the traditional Jewish expression (rendered in Greek as) “life of the Age(s)”.

In the previously discussed passages (Jn 5:19-29; 6:35-50), these two aspects are indicated by the verbs a)ni/sthmi (“stand up”) and zwopoie/w (“make alive”). The first verb (related to the noun a)na/stasi$) in this context primarily signifies physical/bodily resurrection, while the second verb is tied to the Johannine theological/spiritual understanding of “life” (zw/h). The power to give (eternal) life belongs to both Jesus (the Son, 5:21) and the Spirit (6:63). In order to see something of the logic running through 11:25-26, the following diagram might be helpful:

  • Resurrection (a)na/stasi$)—power to raise the dead (at the end of the Age)
    • Life (zw/h)—power to give (eternal) life
      • Trusting in(to) Jesus
        • Will live (zh/setai) [though dying phyisically]
        • Living (zw=n) [possession of eternal life through the Spirit]
      • Trusting in(to) Jesus
    • Life [implied]—believer will not ever die
  • Into the Age (to Come)

The chiastic outline moves from the external manifestation of Jesus on earth (as miracle worker and end-time judge) to the internal experience of the believer (union with Christ through the presence/power of the Spirit).

The Lazarus narrative as a whole also demonstrates these two aspects of Jesus’ resurrection and life-giving power:

  • The narrative introduction: physical death of Lazarus and arrival of Jesus in Bethany (11:1-16)
    • Encounter of the believer (Martha) with Jesus (11:17-24)
      • Life-giving words of Jesus, including the believer’s response (11:25-27)
    • Encounter of the believer (Mary) with Jesus (11:28-36)
  • The miracle: physical raising of Lazarus and restoration to life (11:37-44)

If we combine all three passages examined on the three days of Easter, we can see how the future and present dimensions of resurrection relate:

  • John 5:19-29: Raising the dead and Giving life—those who hear the voice of the Son will come out of the tomb
    • John 6:35-50 (vv. 39-40, 44, 54): Future (bodily) resurrection: “and I will raise him in the last day”
    • John 11:17-36 (esp. vv. 25-26): Present (spiritual/eternal) life-giving: “I Am the resurrection and the life”
  • Conclusion/Illustration: Lazarus hears Jesus’ voice and comes out of the tomb (John 11:37-44)

In light of Jesus’ own resurrection (celebrated on Easter), and these passages on the power of resurrection in the person of Jesus, the central question posed to the believer (Martha) at the end of Jesus’ words in Jn 11:25-26 is most significant:

pisteu/ei$ tou=to;
“Do you trust/believe this?”

Note of the Day (Easter Monday)

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For the second day of Easter (Easter Monday) I will be discussing the second of three passages in the Gospel of John where Jesus is associated with the power of resurrection. The previous note for Easter Sunday dealt with John 5:19-29; today’s note will look at one specific area of the Bread of Life discourse in Jn 6:35-58. For some background on this passage, I would recommend reading the earlier note I posted during Holy Week. There I demonstrated something of the parallelism that exists between verses 35-50 and 51-58. Today the focus will be upon one key phrase where Jesus states “…and I will stand {him} up in the last day”. This phrase appear four times in vv. 35-58, but they can be consolidated into two main sayings:

  • Verses 39-40—a dual formulation, where it appears twice and then is restated in v. 44.
  • Verse 54

John 6:39-40:

tou=to de/ e)stin to\ qe/lhma tou= pe/myanto/$ me, i%na pa=n o^ de/dwke/n moi mh\ a)pole/sw e)c au)tou=, a)lla\ a)nasth/sw au)to\ [e)n] th=| e)sxa/th| h(me/ra|
tou=to ga/r e)stin to\ qe/lhma tou= patro/$ mou, i%na pa=$ o( qewrw=n to\n ui(o\n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ au)to\n e&xh| zwh\n ai)w/nion, kai\ a)nasth/sw au)to\n e)gw\ [e)n] th=| e)sxa/th| h(me/ra|

“This is the will of the (one who) sent me: that all which he has given me, I should not have perish (anything) out of it, but I will stand it up in the last day.
“This is the will of my Father: that every (one) th(at) observes the Son and trusts into him should have life of-the-Age, and I will stand him up in the last day.”

Several points should be noted in this pair of closely related sayings:

  • The ultimate fate of believers—that of being raised—is expressed as the will or wish (qe/lhma) of God.
  • God is referred to with the parallel expressions most commonly used by Jesus in John: (a) “the one who sent me”, and (b) “my Father”.
  • Here there is the important theological idea, expressed on numerous occasions in the Gospel of John, of the Son receiving from the Father, i.e., the Father has given (dedwken, from didwmi); the Son, in turn, gives (what he received from the Father) to believers. In this instance, believers as a collective, are what was given to the Son.
  • The connection between salvation (that is, “life of the Age[s]”, i.e. “eternal life”) and not “perishing” (a)po/llumi) occurs elsewhere in the Gospel (Jn 3:16; 10:28; 17:12; cf. also 6:12; 12:25).
  • The motif of “seeing/beholding” the Son (and thereby seeing the Father) is a frequent and most important one in the Gospel—here using the verb qewre/w (Jn 2:23; 6:2, 62; 12:45; 14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-19; 17:24).
  • “Seeing” is intimately connected (being virtually synonymous) with “trusting/believing”, with the usual expression, lit. “trusting into (the Son)”

The theme of trusting/believing in Jesus is primary to the section 6:35-50, as is indicated in the main “Bread of Life” saying in verse 35:

“I Am the bread of life: the (one) coming toward me, no he should not hunger; and the (one) trusting into me, no he should not thirst ever.”

Coming to(ward) Jesus is described in terms of eating, while trusting/believing in Jesus is described in terms of drinking. If we add the statement of verse 44 to that in vv. 39-40, then the motif of coming to Jesus is connected with trusting in Jesus there as well.

“No one is powered [i.e. is able] to come toward me if the Father (who) sent me does not draw/drag him, and I will stand him up in the last day

And, again in verse 44, the will (implied) of the Father is emphasized as the source cause. If we arrange the central actions of vv. 39-40, 44 in order, one sees the thematic thread of vv. 35-50 spelled out:

  • Given (by the Father) to the Son, v. 39
  • Trusts in the Son (as a result of seeing/beholding), v. 40
  • Comes to the Son (drawn by the Father), 44

John 6:54:

o( trw/gwn mou th\n sa/rka kai\ pi/nwn mou to\ ai!ma e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion, ka)gw\ a)nasth/sw au)to\n th=| e)sxa/th| h(me/ra|
“The (one) chewing [i.e. eating] my flesh and drinking my blood has life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life], and I will stand him up in the last day

Just as vv. 39-40 (+ 44) connect with the theme of the main Bread of Life saying in v. 35, so here verse 54 connects with the main saying in v. 51:

” I Am the living bread th(at) came down out of Heaven: if (any) one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is my flesh over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world”

Instead of coming and trusting (the theme of vv. 35-50) we have eating [and drinking] (the theme of vv. 51-58 [but also implicit in the saying of v. 35]). Note the use of the verb trw/gw (“grind, crunch”, i.e. “chew/gnaw”) in v. 54 rather than the more general verbs (fa/gw/e)sqi/w) signifying eating. This seems intended to bring out the concrete sense of eating Jesus’ flesh in rather graphic fashion; whether this also is meant to stress the physical eating of the sacrament (Eucharist) is difficult to say. In any event, the image of eating/drinking Jesus is closely related to that of coming to him and believing in him. Verses 60-65 tie together both themes under the presence and life-giving power of the Spirit (v. 63).

The common expression “and I will stand him up in the last day” reflects a standard Jewish belief in resurrection, as would have been prevalent at the time. The only difference is that the Jewish belief would be stated as “and God will stand him up in the last day”. Here Jesus is claiming the power of resurrection (that is, of giving life [to the dead]). In Jn 5:21, 26 this power comes to Jesus by way of his relationship to the Father. Jn 6:63 indicates that the same power belongs to the Spirit as well—note the use of the verb zwopoie/w (“make alive”) in both 6:63 and 5:21. In the case of the resurrection power of Jesus, however, the formula “and I will stand him up in the last day” in chapter 6 is clearly eschatological—that is, it relates to the future (even if understood as the imminent future), to the Judgment and the end of the age. In this respect it differs from the resurrection power of Jesus in chapter 11, which I will discuss in the next Easter note.

Note of the Day (Easter Sunday)

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For the three days of Easter (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday), I will be looking at three passages in the Gospel of John (Jn 5:19-29; 6:35-58; 11:17-27ff) where Jesus is associated (and identified) with the power of resurrection. Of the Gospels, it is only John which specifically treats this as a theological motif, though, interestingly, not within the Resurrection narrative itself; the passages discussed here all come from the first half of the book—the so-called “Book of Signs” (chapters 2-12).

First a note on vocabulary.—There are two main verbs related to resurrection:

  • e)gei/rw (egeírœ), “rise/raise”, often in the sense of rising/awakening from sleep. In the New Testament, it is the word regularly use to refer to rising/raising from the dead (as in Jn 2:19-20, 22; 5:21; 12:1, 9, 17; 21:14), but it also occurs in the simple concrete sense of “get up” (Jn 5:8; 11:29; 13:4; 14:31), or abstractly (“appear”, “become prominent,” etc, Jn 7:52).
  • a)ni/sthmi (aníst¢mi), “stand up”. In the Gospels and Acts, this verb is mainly used in the general sense (“stand/get up”); however, occasionally, it refers to resurrection (“stand up [out of the dead / in the last  day]”), as in Mark 8:31; Luke 16:31; 24:7, 46. In John, too, it is primarily used in the sense of resurrection (Jn 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:23-24; 20:9). The related noun a)na/stasi$ (anástasis, “standing-up”) came to be the technical Greek term in Judaism (and Christianity) for bodily resurrection, in John (5:29; 11:24-25) and throughout the New Testament.

One should also mention the verb zwopoie/w (zœopoiéœ), “make alive” (i.e., give/bring life), which is used in Jn 5:21; 6:63, and in several New Testament epistles (Rom 4:17; 8:11; 1 Cor 15:22, 36, 45, etc). In addition, there are two other verbs in John which carry a special meaning related to the idea of Jesus’ ascension/exaltation, and where an association with the Resurrection is probably to be included: a)nabainw (“step up”), u(yo/w (“lift high”).

John 5:19-29

This passage is part of the extensive discourse (Jn 5:19-46) which follows the miracle of Jesus’ healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda/Bethzatha (Jn 5:1-8). In the narrative context, the miracle occurs on the Sabbath, and results in one of the Gospel “Sabbath Controversies”—this controversy is the main stimulus for the discourse, especially Jesus’ saying in v. 17 (“My Father works until now, and I also work”). Jesus’ identity, and his relationship to God the Father, is the dominant theme of the discourse. Verses 19-29 can be broken into three sections, each beginning with the expression “Amen, amen, I say/relate to you…”, and containing a principal saying followed by exposition; the middle section being much more succinct, limited to a single saying.

Verses 19-23: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the Son does not have power [i.e. is not able] to do anything if not [i.e. except] what he sees the Father doing; for whatever That (One) does, these (things) the Son also does likewise” (v. 19)

This is a familiar theme in the Gospel of John: the Son only does and says what he sees (and hears) the Father doing (and saying). It stems from the basic image of family business and training, where the child (son) learns to follow the trade or occupation of his father, gaining skill, knowledge and expertise. In the verses which follow (20-23), this relationship is described in more detail:

  • The works which the Father shows the Son are due to the Father’s love (file/w) for him, and, as a result, the Son’s work will be great and marvellous (v. 20)
    • The Father gives the Son the power to raise (e)gei/rw) the dead and make them alive (zwopoie/w) (v. 21)
    • The Father gives the Son the power of (the final) Judgment—i.e. to judge all people/things (v. 22)
  • The Son therefore deserves the same honor as the Father who sent him (v. 23)

Note here especially the eschatological thrust of vv. 21-22 which emphasizes the resurrection of the end-time—the power of which belongs to Jesus (the Son).

Verse 24: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the (one who) hears my word, and trusts the (one who) sent me, has life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped (from) out of death into life”

Here a number of Johannine words and motifs are present:

  • The specific association of “hearing” and “trusting/believing”—in particular, to hear (a)kou/w) has a special theological emphasis in John (Jn 3:29, 32; 5:24-25, 28, 30, 37; 6:45; 8:26, 38-47; 10:3, 27; 11:41-42; 12:47; 14:24; 15:15; 16:13; 18:37).
  • One hears the Word[s] and Voice of Jesus, and thus the Word/Voice of God. Here of course “word” is lo/go$, as in Jn 1:1ff.
  • The important teaching that Judgment depends on trust/belief (or lack thereof)—namely, trusting in Jesus, that he has come from the Father (thereby trusting in the Father who sent him); cf. especially Jn 3:16-21.
  • The theological use of compound verbs derived from bai/nw (“step, walk”): in particular, a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw (“step up” and “step down”) are frequently used to refer to the Son ascending/descending to/from the Father in Heaven. Here, metabai/nw has the sense of stepping from one place to another. There is frequent theological import to these prepositions e)k/ei)$ (“out of”/”into”) as well—”out of” death and “into” life.
  • The dualistic juxtaposition of life and death, as well as the specification of “eternal life” (“life of the Age[s]”)

Again, an association with resurrection is implied by the eschatological coupling of “Life of the Age” and “Judgment”. To see the association more clearly, it may be useful to compare Jn 3:16-21 with Jn 11:25-26.

Verses 25-29: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the hour comes—and now is—when the dead (ones) will hear the voice of the Son of God and the (one)s hearing will live” (v. 25)

Once again hearing (a)kou/w) is emphasized, joining with the saying in v. 24. There is also a clear thematic parallel with vv. 20-22 in the first section—the relation between Father and Son is demonstrated twofold:

  • The power to give life (i.e. resurrection/eternal-life), v. 26 [par. in v. 21]
  • The power (authority) for (the) Judgment, v. 27 [par. in v. 22]

The reciprocal phrasing of verse 26, so common in the Johannine discourses, is especially worth noting here:

“For just as the Father has life in himself, thus also he gave life to the Son to have in himself”

The relationship between Father and Son is intimately connected to the power of Life. The extension of the relationship (to include believers), stated clearly in other passages, has to be implied here. It could be rendered something like:

…so too the Son has the power to give life to those whom he wishes

The phrasing at the start of verse 25 is significant in framing this entire section:

  • The hour comes (e&rxetai w&ra)—eschatological imminence is here implied (i.e., “the day is coming [about to come]…”)
  • And now is (kai\ nu=n e)stin)—the present moment, with the presence/appearance of Jesus

Present and future are joined together in a way that is unique to the discourses of Jesus in John. Jesus will give life in the resurrection at the last day, but also gives life now to those who hear, believe and come to him. The power of resurrection will be demonstrated concretely in the present at the raising of Lazarus (ch. 11), and in Jesus’ own resurrection, but there is deeper spiritual significance as well, which I will touch on more in the next two posts. For now, it may be worth concluding with Jesus’ dramatic words in verses 28-29:

Do not wonder (at) this: that (the) hour comes in which all the (one)s in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out…

March 31 — Easter Week, continued

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This is the second of three Resurrection Appearances I will be discussing during the octave of Easter, and is perhaps the most well-known and beloved of all those recorded in the Gospels: the appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (centerpiece of the liturgical Officium Peregrinorum). The extraordinary narrative—one of the longest such narratives in the Gospels—is unique to Luke (24:13-35), although there is presumably a reference to it in the so-called “long ending” of Mark (16:12-13). While Luke may well have expanded and dramatized the core tradition, it remains thoroughly convincing and lived-in; on every objective ground, the basic historicity of the event, would be difficult to question. However, there is no doubt that, as a literary work, Luke has given to the narrative a careful interpretive structure. There are probably any number of ways this section could be outlined, but here is one  that I offer (arranged chiastically, to indicate parallel scenes and details):

A [vv. 13-14] The two disciples are
a) travelling from Jerusalem (a)po\  )Ierousalh/m) and
b) conversing with each other (pro\$ a)llh/lou$) about all the things that had “come together”

B [vv. 15-16] As the disciples are conversing and inquiring with each other
a) Jesus comes near to them, but
b) their eyes are “held” and they cannot recognize [lit. “know upon”] him

C [vv. 17-18] The exchange:
a) Jesus acts: He draws them out (asking “what are these logoi….?”)
b) The disciples [one, Cleopas] ask
** about Jesus’ as a stranger [“one who houses along”] ** mentioning the things coming to be in these days
c) Jesus acts: He draws closer into their conversation (asking “what [things]?”)

D [vv. 19-24] What things?
a) the recent events of Jesus’ death and (reports of his) resurrection
b) they hoped he was the Anointed One [“the one about to ransom/redeem Israel”] (v. 21)

[vv. 25-27] What things?
a) all that Moses and the Prophets said of his death (suffering) and resurrection (coming into glory)
b) what they say about him [the “Anointed One”]

[vv. 28-29] The exchange:
a) Jesus acts: He draws them out (making toward travelling further)
b) The disciples ask
** for Jesus to come into their house as guest [“remain with us”] ** mentioning that now the day has bent down [i.e. is almost over] c) Jesus acts: He draws closer, going in to “remain with them”

[vv. 30-31] The disciples are reclining (at meal) together with Jesus
a) Jesus takes (blesses and breaks) bread and gives to them
b) their eyes are “opened” and they recognize [“know upon”] him
[b´) Jesus comes to be invisible from them]

[vv. 32] The disciples
b) say to each other (pro\$ a)llh/lou$) “was not our heart burning in us as…?”
a) standing up immediately they return to Jerusalem (ei)$  )Ierousalh/m)

In a straightforward (linear, dramatic) reading of the passage, one might naturally view the recognition of Jesus during the breaking of bread as the climactic point. There is certainly truth to this (the sacramental symbolism is noteworthy and clear). However, as indicated in the outline above, I feel it is rather the exposition of Scripture (v. 25-27), in relation to the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 19-24), which is the central moment of the narrative. This would seem to be confirmed by the disciples ultimate response—they refer not to the revelatory moment at the breaking of bread, but to the earlier exposition: “was not our heart burning in us as he spoke with us in the way…?” (v. 32).

A few brief notes on this verse in particular:

(1) Instead of kaiome/nh (“burning”), other (primarily Western) witnesses read (or translate) kekalumme/nh (“covered”), bradei=a (“heavy”) or words indicating “hardened”, etc. However, kaiome/nh is almost certainly correct. The verb can indicate the condition (or process) of being burned (up), or it can have a causative meaning—i.e., to kindle, set on fire. The passive form here would seem to indicate a fire being kindled, but also the process—ongoing action, as indicated by the progressive periphrastic construction (kaiome/nh h@n).

(2) A few key early manuscripts (Ë75 B D) and versions do not include e)n u(mi=n (“in us”). This would be a natural addition, and possibly not original, though it is probably best to retain it in the text.

(3) It is said that Jesus “opened” (dih/noigen) the Writings [Scriptures] to them. This same verb (an intensive form of a)noi/gw) is used for the opening of the disciples’ eyes to recognize Jesus at the breaking of bread. Luke uses it again in v. 45, in a very similar context, where it is stated that he “opened” the mind (or understanding) of the disciples so as to understand the Scriptures. Earlier in the Emmaus narrative here (v. 27), a different verb is used: it says that Jesus “interpreted” (diermh/neusen) the things concerning himself in all the Writings (e)n pa/sai$ tai=$ grafai=$). This verb is an intensive form of e(rmhneu/w, rendered literally “explain through”, that is, to explain from one reference point (or language) to another.

(4) There may be a symbolic import to the phrase “in the way” (e)n th=| o)dw=|): “as he spoke with us in the way”. In the narrative context this simply means that Jesus spoke to them while they were travelling; however, “the way” appears also to have a been a (short-lived) term for the early Christian Community (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 12; cf. also the testimony of John the Baptist, Luke 1:76; 3:4; 7:27 and par.).

March 29 — Easter Week, continued

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The major text-critical question in the Resurrection Narratives involves the so-called “Western Non-Interpolations” in the Gospel of Luke. This rather awkward term stems from the analysis by Westcott & Hort (principally Hort) in their landmark The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881, vol. II pp.175-177), regarding situations where, despite superior manuscript evidence to the contrary, the Western Text may have the original reading. In general, the “Western Text” (as represented by Codex Bezae [D], key Old Latin [and Old Syriac] MSS, and other versional witnesses), was deemed inferior to the so-called “Neutral Text” (exemplified esp. by Codex Vaticanus [B])—this view, with some modification (and different language), continues to be held by most critical scholars today. Particularly in Luke-Acts, the “Western Text” tends to have longer readings at key variation-units—expanding or adding clarifying detail to the text. It is all the more noticeable, then, on those rare occasions when D (and other Western witnesses) happen to contain a shorter reading. When this fact (cf. the principle lectio brevio potior, “the shorter reading is preferrable”) is combined with intrinsic or transcriptional probability in favor of the shorter text, one must then contend with the possibility that the Western reading is original. Hence the term “Western Non-Interpolation”: i.e., the majority text contains an interpolation (an added verse or phrase), contrary to the shorter (original) Western text.

Westcott & Hort identified 27 shorter Western readings of note: six were deemed unlikely to be original, twelve others considered possibly (but probably not) original, and nine regarded as “probably original”. These nine (the “Non-Interpolations”) are: Matthew 27:49; Luke 22:19b-20; 24:3, 6, 12, 36, 40, 51, 52. For some time, critical scholars tended to favor this approach; however, in recent decades, with the discovery of the Bodmer Papyri (esp. Ë75), the pendulum has swung decidedly in the opposite direction—the majority of scholars, on the whole, now reject these shorter Western readings. Indeed, Ë75 (early 3rd century?) contains the longer (majority) reading for all 8 Lukan “Non Interpolations”, greatly strengthening the already impressive external evidence for them. On the other hand, the strongest argument in favor of the shorter readings is one of transcriptional probability—no one has really been able to offer a good explanation as to how (or why) the longer readings, if original, would have been deleted. Moreover, nearly all of the majority readings in these instances involve (possible) harmonizations to other portions of the New Testament (see notes below) as well as significant Christological details, both of which are more likely to represent scribal additions than details scribes would have ever deleted. For a fairly thorough defense in favor of the Lukan “Non-Interpolations”, see B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Oxford:1993, pp. 197-232.

There is the problem: on the one side, the external manuscript evidence is decidedly in favor of the longer readings, internal transcriptional evidence seems clearly to favor the shorter. Interestingly, all of the nine “Non-Interpolations” are from the Passion and Resurrection narratives (8 from the Lukan), and all but two (7) from the Resurrection/Ascension accounts in Luke 24 (common to virtually the same set of manuscripts). This cannot be coincidental, nor do I think it can be accidental. In other words, whichever set of readings (longer/shorter) is correct, the changes seem to have been both deliberate and consistent in Luke 24. Either scribes added text (interpolations), perhaps to harmonize with John’s account (see below) etc. and/or enhance the Christological portrait, or they deleted the text, for reasons that are as yet not entirely clear.

Luke 24:3

Here is a translation of the majority text of vv. 1-4, with the words in question italicized:

1And on (day) one of the week, of deep dawn [i.e. early at dawn], upon the memorial [i.e. tomb] they came carrying spices which they had made ready. 2And they found the stone having been rolled (away) from the memorial, 3but going into (it) they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to be in their being without a way-through [i.e. as they were at a loss] about this, and see!—two men stood upon [i.e. next to] them in flashing clothes…

Manuscripts D a b d e ff2 l r1 do not include the words tou= ku/riou  )Ihsou=. They may have been added to specify and make clear what would otherwise be implied: that it was truly Jesus’ body missing from the tomb. If the words did not drop out by accident, it is hard to explain why a scribe (on orthodox one, at least) would have removed them. A few manuscripts (579 1241 pc syrs, c, p bohms) read simply tou=  )Ihsou=.

Luke 24:6

The same group of Western manuscripts (along with Georgian MS B) do not include the words ou)k e&stin w!de a)lla\ e)ge/rqh from the angelic announcement. Here is a translation of the majority text (with italicized words):

5And at their [i.e. the women] coming to be afraid and bending th(eir) faces into the earth, they [i.e. the men/angels] said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living amid the dead? 6He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you…”

Luke 24:12

Almost the same group of Western MSS (along with several Syriac witnesses [and Marcion?]) do not include verse 12 at all. The majority text reads:

o( de\ Pe/tro$ a)nasta\$ e&dramen e)pi\ to mnmei=on kai\ paraku/ya$ ble/pei ta\ o)qo/nia [kei/mena] mo/na, kai\ a)ph=lqen pro\$ e(auto\n qauma/zwn to\ gegono/$

But Peter, standing up, ran upon [i.e. ran to] the memorial [i.e. tomb] and bending alongside he saw the cloths [laying] alone, and he went from (there) toward his own (home), wondering at the (thing which) had come to be [i.e. what had happened]

This is of course quite similar to the account in John 20:4-5f, enough that scholars who favor the shorter reading view the verse as a harmonizing interpolation. The word kei/mena (not in Ë75 a B W etc) is probably a simple harmonization; however, otherwise, there are enough differences (including all of 12b), that this is less likely for the verse as a whole. On the other hand, the sequence from verse 11 to 13 reads smoother without v. 12:

11and these words [i.e. the women’s report] shined in their face [i.e. appeared to them] as if idle-talk, and they [i.e. the apostles] did not trust them [i.e. the women]. 13And see—two of them [i.e. disciples/apostles] in the self(-same) day were travelling unto a village…

It is also much more effective dramatically without v. 12, leading up to the revelation at Emmaus; it can be argued that the announcement in v. 34 (“the Lord has been seen by Simon!”) is more dramatic this way as well. That being said, what of the (internal) evidence—the intrinsic or transcriptional probability—for inclusion/exclusion of the verse? I find the argument for simple harmonization with John to be weak; I am also unconvinced by the idea that the verse was added to make better sense of v. 34. A much stronger argument is that the verse was added (whether from John, or more likely a separate tradition) to soften the image of the unbelieving apostles in v. 11—not all of them mistrusted the women, Peter responded aggressively to see for himself! What of reasons for scribes’ deleting the verse? Apart from the fact that the narrative reads better without v.12 (the plural pronoun and copulative kai arguably connect more readily with v.11), it is hard to come up with a good explanation.

Luke 24:36

Here the opening of Jesus’ introduction—kai\ le/gei au)toi=$: ei)rh/nh u(mi=n—is not included by the same group of Western manuscripts (D a b d e ff2 l r1). Again, let us examine the context in translation (disputed words italicized):

36And as they spoke this, (Jesus) himself stood in the middle of them and says to them: “Peace to you”. 37But being terrified and coming to be in fear, they seemed to gaze at a ‘spirit’. 38And he said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] are you disturbed…?”

The scene makes more immediate sense without the words—Jesus suddenly appears in their midst and they are terrified (presumably not recognizing him, cf. v. 16ff). There would seem to be less reason for such sudden, extreme fear, after the words of greeting (“Peace to you”). In this instance, a harmonization with John (20:19) is perhaps more likely than in Luke 24:12. As for omission, if the words did not fall out accidentally, why would they have been deleted? Again, it is hard to come up with a reason.

Luke 24:40

Here, as at 24:12, and entire verse is missing from (the same group) of Western manuscripts, along with the Curetonian and Sinaitic Syriac. The verse reads:

kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e&deicen au)toi=$ ta\$ xei=ra$ kai\ tou\$ po/da$
“and having said this, he showed them the hands and the feet”

A harmonization with John 20:20 is certainly possible. On the other hand, I would say that there is at least a plausible reason for scribes omitting the words, as they may have appeared superfluous or redundant directly following v. 39.

Luke 24:51-52

These two variations units are, in some ways, even more controversial, and are better left to an (upcoming) article on the Ascension.

One of the reasons earlier scholars more readily favored the “Non-Interpolations” of vv. 12, 36, and 40, was the understandable assumption that these were scribal harmonizations (of a sort all too common in the manuscripts) with the parallel passage in John. However, commentators today tend to prefer the view that Luke and John (in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, at least) both draw from a common tradition, which explains their sharing certain details not found in Matthew-Mark.

From a text-critical point of view, however, it should be reiterated that the internal evidence favors all of the Lukan “Non-interpolations” (in chapter 24). The two overriding arguments:

  1. Scribes are more likely to have harmonized the text (to another Gospel passage) by adding to it, than to eliminate a harmonization by deleting the text.
  2. Scribes are more likely to add details enhancing or expanding the portrait of Christ, than to delete them. One indisputable fact is that for all seven instances in Luke 24, the longer (majority) text adds vivid or significant detail related to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection not found in the corresponding Western text.

All things considered, it is safest to defer to the overwhelming external evidence in favor of the longer readings. Yet, in studying and meditating upon the Resurrection accounts in Luke, I would urge care and consideration—if we wish to understand the inspired original text, such significant textual variants must be given their due.

March 27 — Easter Sunday (Easter Week)

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For the three days of Easter, I will be discussing three Resurrection Appearances of Jesus: (1) to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), (2) to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and (3) to Thomas. Interestingly, these persons are hardly even mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels. As for Mary Magdalene, her presence at the tomb, with Jesus’ early appearance to her, is a fixture in Gospel tradition—indeed, it is one of the indisputable facts in the Resurrection Narratives. And, while the basic outline may be the same in all four Gospels, how different are the precise details! John’s account is perhaps the best known, but is complicated by the presence of Peter and the Beloved Disciple (20:2-10)—the narrative makes more sense (and is more consistent with the Synoptics) if one reads 20:1 followed by vv. 11-18.

Looking at the episode in vv. 11-18, I highlight three principal motifs: First, an initial lack of recognition of the risen Jesus (vv. 14-15)—a motif which occurs in other Appearance stories (Luke 24:13-35; John 21:1-14). However, in John we also find repeatedly the motif of the audience misunderstanding what they see or hear Jesus saying or doing; in this instance, it is Jesus himself that Mary misunderstands (“…supposing that he is the gardener”). The verb here is doke/w, which has a fairly wide range of meaning: “think, consider, seem, appear, recognize”; a derived word is do/ca (usually translated “glory”), but which has the general sense of “thought, consideration, what seems (to be), what appears (to be)” (only secondarily does one speak of do/ca as “reputation, honor, glory, etc”). In the context of the Person of Christ, one naturally also relates the word to “docetic/docetism”—that Christ only appeared or seemed to be fully human. So, the word may have a deeper meaning here than it appears at first glance. It is only when Mary hears Jesus say her name, that she recognizes him.

This leads to the second Johannine motif of seeing and hearing. These appear frequently in both the narratives (miracle stories) and the discourses, and are often a source of misunderstanding (cf. 9:39-41, etc) for the audience. Jesus stresses repeatedly that he only says (and does) what he sees and hears the Father saying/doing (5:19-20, 30; 12:49-50, etc); similarly, believers will see and hear what Jesus says and does (5:24; 8:47; 12:47-49; 14:10, 24; 17:24, etc), which leads to the experience of (eternal) life in Christ (5:25, 28; 6:63, 68; 8:51; 12:50; and cf. the raising of Lazarus, 11:1-44). So, when Mary hears Jesus say her name, and recognizes his voice, it is not merely a dramatic narrative detail: one may say she is herself coming out of the tomb at the sound of his voice (5:25, 28); for she truly hears his voice (10:3-5, 16, 27; 18:37 [“all who are of the truth hear my voice”]). She also sees, that is, she recognizes Christ; just as only those who belong to the truth can hear God’s voice, so only those who are “born from above” can see the kingdom of God (3:3).

However, Mary’s understanding is not complete. This brings me to the third motif of ascension. Perhaps the most famous (and controversial) part of this narrative is in verse 17. Upon recognizing Jesus, Mary turns to him and calls to him (“Rabbi/Teacher”); Jesus’ response is: mh\ mou a%ptou ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for not yet have I gone up toward the Father”. The verb a%ptw generally means “connect, fasten, bind”, or, more figuratively, “touch”; in this regard, one may “touch” either lightly or strongly (“handle, cling to”, etc). The exact context and meaning of Jesus’ words here remain in dispute, with any number of suggested interpretations (many exotic or implausible); however, since the precise action is not specified, I believe they should be taken in a more symbolic fashion. Mary responds to Jesus in a natural, human way (addressing him as “Teacher”); whether or not she might actually try to embrace or “cling to” him physically, that would seem to be the underlying reality—she seeks to “touch” Jesus at the physical, rather than spiritual, level. So we have Jesus’ answer: “I have not yet gone up [i.e. ascended] to the Father”. This image of going up, taking up, lifting up, etc. occurs in Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospel, related to both his death and resurrection, and to his return to the Father. Particularly, in the last Discourses, does he refer to this “going away” (13:33-36; 14:2-4, 16-19, 26-31; 16:5-16, 19-24, 28; 17:11-13), back to the Father, which, in many instances at least, Jesus connects directly with the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete. It is by the Spirit that we are able to “touch” and “cling to” Christ, and only by the Spirit (being born from the Spirit, “from above”) that we can see and enter into the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is also reflected in the powerful language of union/unity expressed by Jesus throughout the Gospel (see especially chapter 17), and, I think, stated clearly again in Jesus’ closing words to Mary: “but go toward my brothers and say to them, ‘I go up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God‘”.