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Jesus and the Law

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

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Matthew 12:9-14 (continued)

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

Point 1—Mk 3:2 / Matt 12:10b

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

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

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

Point 2—Matt 12:11-12

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

Luke 14:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 13:10-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mark 3:1-6 par—Sabbath Controversy #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 6:6-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The structure of the scene is reasonably simple and straightforward:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 1: Luke 2:23

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Luke 2:23

Verses 22-24 follow v. 21 (cf. the previous note), continuing the theme of fulfilling the requirements, etc, of the Law. Verse 22 begins with the same opening formula, marking the particular time—”when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled”. Here, the “days” being referenced are the forty days after childbirth (for a male child) when the mother is in a state of impurity (Lev 12:2-8). The plural pronoun “their” (au)tw=n) probably anticipates the verbal phrase which follows—”they [i.e. Jesus’ parents] brought him up into Jerusalem”. It is unlikely that the Gospel writer thought that both Joseph and Mary required cleansing in connection with childbirth. The period of time completes the “days” of verse 21—7 days before circumcision, 33 before purification. This detail also serves the narrative purpose of explaining why Joseph and Mary would be in Jerusalem at the Temple. Indeed, mention of the purification ritual frames the episode (vv. 22 and 24); in between, in verse 23, the focus is on the reason/purpose of Jesus’ presence in the Temple. This verse almost has the appearance of a secondary insertion; note how vv. 22 and 24 would otherwise join together:

“And when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled, they brought him [i.e. Jesus] up into Yerushalem, to stand (him) alongside the Lord…
…and to give a (ritual) slaughtering [i.e. sacrifice] according to the (regulation) stated (by God) in the Law of the Lord…”

This literary device creates the impression that the author has confused or conflated two different Torah laws—(1) those related to the mother’s purification after childbirth (the sacrifice is part of this regulation), and (2) the redemption of the firstborn male child (Num 3:44-51; 18:15-16). Yet it is never stated that the latter command was fulfilled at the Temple. Some commentators believe that the author had the mistaken idea that the firstborn male needed to be presented in Jerusalem (at the Temple). But, if this were the case, there would be little reason for him to confuse matters by introducing the detail of the purification ritual for Mary. In my view, it is much more likely that the author used the occasion of the purification ritual to introduce the motif of the consecration of the firstborn within that setting and context. The result is somewhat awkward, and certainly open to misunderstanding, but it very much suits the author’s creative purpose—of blending together several different fulfillment themes: (a) fulfillment of the Law, (b) fulfillment of Scripture, and (c) Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament.

The specific Scripture quoted in v. 23 is a adaptation of Exod 13:2 (cf. also v. 15b, Num 18:15). The centrality of this quotation puts the emphasis of the scene, not on the purification ritual, but rather the tradition of the consecration of the firstborn male child—as one dedicated to (religious/priestly) service to God. In Israelite religion and society, this role was taken over by the tribe of Levi (as a kind of priestly caste or class), with the 5-shekel payment (redemption) made to them in exchange. The passages in the Torah dealing with this issue (and its underlying theological principle) are Exod 13:1-2, 11-16; 22:29b-30; Lev 27:26-27; Num 3:11-13, 44-51; 8:14-18; 18:15-16ff.

This consecration motif is expressed by the author in the narrative as a presentation of the child before God (at the Temple), in a manner similar to that of Samuel in 1 Sam 1:22-24ff. The priority of this is indicated by the syntax in Lk 2:22-24, the two purpose infinitives:

  • parasth=sai tw=| qew=| “to stand (him) alongside God”
  • dou=nai qusi/an “to give sacrifice”

Both verbal phrases reflect religious offerings to God. The second (“give sacrifice”) refers to the sacrificial (burnt) offering of two doves/pigeons which completes the purification process for the mother (Mary) following childbirth (cf. above). The second is a separate (voluntary) offering of the child, dedicating it to the service of God. There is almost certainly an allusion to the Samuel Infancy narrative here, as already noted. In 1 Sam 1:22, Hannah declares her intention to bring the child to the Temple in Jerusalem, so that “he may be seen (before) the face of YHWH, and sit down [i.e. dwell/remain] there until (the most) distant (time) [i.e. for ever]”. This she fulfills at the appropriate time, according to vv. 24-28. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find a similar use of the verb pari/sthmi (“stand/place alongside”) in the sacrificial sense of believers presenting themselves before God as holy offerings (cf. Rom 6:13-19; 12:1; 2 Cor 11:2; Col 1:22, 28; Eph 5:27).

Looking at the central verse 23 a bit more closely, one finds three key elements which make up its structure, and which I would arrange as a chiastic outline:

  • “written in the Law of the Lord”—Scripture/Law (cp. “Law of Moses”, v. 22)
    —”every male child opening…”—the (physical) birth of the firstborn male child
  • “will be called holy to the Lord”—dedication/consecration of the child (naming)

The expression “will be called holy” (a%gion klhqh/setai) points back to the words of the Angel to Mary in 1:35: “the (child) coming to be (born) will be called Holy [a%gion klhqh/setai], (the) Son of God”. It is essentially a title of Jesus, as we see in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (Acts 2:27; 13:35 [both citing Ps 16:10]; Luke 4:34 par; John 6:69; 1 Jn 2:20; Rev 3:7; 16:5). It reflects an ancient Divine name or title—i.e. “Holy (One)” (vodq*, Q¹dôš)—that is, of Yahweh/El as the “Holy One (of Israel)”, cf. 2 Kings 19:22; Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa 1:4; 5:19, etc. There is an echo of this in the Magnificat (Lk 1:49, cf. Psalm 99:3). I would also mention again the theory, discussed in a recent note, that the Scripture cited in Matt 2:23 essentially is Isa 4:3 (“he will be called [a] holy one”), with wordplay involving the substitution Nazîr—”he will be called a Nazîr” (Nazirite–Nazorean). The Nazirite association may seen unusual at first, until one realizes that it is an element of both the Samuel and Samson birth narratives (1 Sam 1:9-15; Judg 13:4-7; 16:17), which find an echo in the Lukan narrative (e.g. Lk 1:13-15). Parallels with the Samuel story have already been mentioned here (above), and will be discussed again in the remaining notes.

The fundamental meaning of the root verb rz~n` (n¹zar) is to separate or “keep apart (from)”, often in a religious or ritual context. It is thus synonymous, to some extent, with the verb vd^q* (q¹daš), and a n¹zîr, a separated/consecrated person, can also be called q¹dôš (“holy one”). John the Baptist was set apart and consecrated to God (“filled by the holy Spirit”) from the womb (1:15), using language from the birth of Samson. Similarly, Jesus could be called “the Holy One” from even before the moment of his conception (1:32, 35), and was dedicated to God in the Temple, following the pattern of Samuel.

December 31: Luke 2:21

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Luke 2:21

Today’s Christmas season note will look at the circumcision and naming of Jesus, parallel to that which was narrated of John in Lk 1:59ff. In the case of Jesus, it is told simply, in a single sentence (2:21). Actually, the circumcision is mentioned primarily to establish the time at which the naming took place:

“And when the eight days of his (be)ing circumcised were (ful)filled…”

The Greek syntax, rendered quite literally here, can be misleading. The reference, of course, is to the period of eight days, after birth, before the male child was to be circumcised.

For more on the naming of a child taking place in connection with circumcision, cf. the earlier note on 1:57-66. The naming of John is given with greater detail due to the importance of the sign attached to his birth (Zechariah’s inability to speak); the naming of Jesus, by contrast, is told with virtually no detail at all:

“…(then) also his name was called Yeshua, the (name) called under [i.e. by] the Messenger before his [i.e. Jesus’] being received together in the belly (of his mother)”

The naming took place in fulfillment of the Angel’s directive (1:31), with no specific action by either parent being mentioned; the emphasis is rather on the heavenly origin of the name (given by the Angel) and that it had been given prior to Jesus’ conception. This is narrated in the passive, and there is no indication of which parent did the naming (cp. Matt 1:21, 25). Possibly this is meant to suggest or allude to a “divine passive”, where God is the implied actor, perhaps even as a foreshadowing of the scene in 2:41-50 (vv. 48-49).

Between the initial mention of the name by the Angel and the naming recorded here, the theme of salvation has been developed, primarily in the two hymns of Mary and Zechariah (the Magnificat and Benedictus). God is referred to as “Savior” (Swth/r) in 1:47, at the opening of the Magnificat, while the word “salvation” (swthri/a) occurs three times in the Benedictus (vv. 69, 71, 77). Lk 1:77 is close to the idea expressed in Matt 1:21, but the Lukan Gospel does not deal directly with the meaning (or interpretation) of the name Yeshua (Y¢šûa±). However, the child Jesus is called by the title Swth/r (“Savior”) in 2:11, in a context where the Messianic vocabulary is especially clear and prominent (cf. the note on 2:10-14). For more detail on the etymology and meaning of the name Yeshua, consult the recent note on Matt 1:21.

Circumcision—The mention of circumcision (lit. “cutting around”) here, and in 1:59, is important for the author’s theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament (the Old Covenant). Joseph and Mary, like John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, are said (and shown) to have been faithful in observing the commands and regulations of the Torah. Circumcision, as the principal sign (or mark) of the covenant between God and Israel, was in many ways the most important rite and religious-cultural practice in the Torah. Both children—John and Jesus—were circumcised according to the requirements laid down in the Law.

The circumcision of Jesus is not otherwise mentioned directly in the New Testament, but Paul, who addressed the issue of circumcision numerous times in his letters (esp. Galatians and Romans), gives a definite soteriological dimension to Jesus’ fullment/observance of the Law. The passage is Galatians 4:4-5, which also happens to refer to the birth of Jesus. Paul states that Jesus came to be “under the Law”—note how this is set parallel to his (human) birth:

  • “God se(n)t forth his Son”
    • “coming to be (born) out of a woman” (geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$)
    • “coming to be under the Law” (geno/menon u(po\ no/mon)

The purpose of Jesus’ birth and human life was to purchase out (of bondage) the ones who are “under the Law”. Paul’s unique (and controversial) view of the ultimate function and purpose of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) is too complex to address here. I recommend the interested reader consult the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”), which also includes a discussion of Gal 4:1-11. Paul frequently describes ‘salvation’ in terms of human beings (believers) set free from bondage (slavery) to the the power of sin—where sin is depicted as a hostile ruler or tyrant. Similarly in the Lukan Infancy narrative, in the Benedictus, the image of salvation/redemption starts in the conventional, dramatic context of human powers (i.e. enemies of Israel, Lk 1:71, 74), but is transferred to salvation from sin by the end of the hymn (1:77, cf. Matt 1:21). These same two aspects relate to the idea of redemption as part of the Messianic expectation of the period (2:25-26, 38).

More relevant to the Lukan Infancy narrative perhaps is Romans 15:8ff:

“The Anointed One {Christ} came to be a servant of circumcision over [i.e. on behalf of] the truth of God, to confirm the promises to the Fathers, and over (his) mercy (for) the nations to honor/glorify God…”

Here “circumcision” (peritomh/) is a shorthand for those who have been circumcised—i.e. Israelites and Jews. This would certainly imply that Jesus himself had been circumcised, especially when taken together with Gal 4:4 (cf. above). A major emphasis for Paul throughout Romans is the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Salvation from the power of sin, common to all human beings, is realized through faith in Christ. The thrust of this section has a general parallel with the Song of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32). Moreover, one of the Scriptures Paul cites (in v. 12) is from a passage (Isaiah 11) that was regularly given a Messianic interpretation. Isa 11:10 is similar to the first line of the prior (and related) oracle (vv. 1-9)—for a discussion of verse 1, cf. the previous note on Matt 2:23. We can see how this relates to the portrait of Jesus in the Lukan Infancy narrative:

  • He is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Savior of God’s people (2:11)
    • He is born and lives among the people Israel
      —He is under the Law—circumcised, etc—fulfilling God’s covenant
    • The Good News (Gospel) goes out to the nations
  • The salvation he brings is for all people—Jews and Gentiles both, as the people of God (v. 10)

This will be discussed further in the remaining notes of this series.

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 4: Teacher of Righteousness

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In this article I will be examining the idea of an Anointed Teacher, which, it must be said, reflects more of a specific role than a distinct Messianic figure-type. However, it is worth being treated as a separate category, due to certain terms and references in the literature associated with the Qumran Community (the Dead Sea Scrolls), and for the light that it may shed on important aspects of the presentation of Jesus in the Gospels.

“Teacher” and “Interpreter” at Qumran

There are several notable references to a special “Teacher” or “Instructor” (hr#om, môreh) in the Qumran texts, including those which use the specific expression hq*d*x=(h^) hr#om “(the) Teacher of Righteousness”. The genitive (construct) relationship in this expression can be understood as objective (i.e., one who teaches righteousness) or subjective (i.e., righteous teacher)—the former meaning is to be preferred. The full expression appears in the so-called Damascus Document (which exists in fragmentary copies from Qumran [QD] and in later copies/versions found at Cairo [CD]), as well as in several (pesher) commentaries (on Psalms, Habakkuk, Micah) which interpret Scripture in light of the Community and its history. Because of their importance, here is an outline of the references:

  • CD 1:11—as part of a historical survey (1:3-2:1) of the Damascus-group in the document (related in some way to the Qumran Community), it is said that God “…raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness in order to direct them in the path of his heart”. If this is a true historical reference, then, judging by the chronological indicators in the document, he might have appeared sometime in the early-mid 2nd-century B.C.
  • CD 19:35-20:1—we read here of the “gathering (in) of the one/unique [dyjyh] Teacher” (cf. 20:14), which has also been read “…of the Teacher of the Community [djyh]”. This is generally taken as a reference to the Teacher’s death, and is clearly set as a marker for future/end-time events “…until there stands (up) [i.e. arises] the Anointed (One) [jyvm] from Aaron and from Israel”.
  • CD 20:28, 32—the test for faithfulness to the covenant for those in the Community (the ones “coming into the covenant”) is two-fold: “to come/go upon the mouth of [i.e. according to] the Teaching [Torah]” and “to hear/listen to the voice of the Teacher”, along with confession of one’s sins before God (20:28). This is alluded to again in 20:32: “…give their ear to the voice of the Teacher of Righteousness“.
  • 1QpMicah [1Q14]—in fragment 10 line 6ff, Micah 1:5-6 is interpreted as relating to “the Teacher of Righteousness who [teaches the Teaching {Torah}]” to all who join the Community, who will be saved when judgment comes on Israel and Judah (Jerusalem).
  • 1QpHab [1Q15]—there are a number of references to the Teacher of Righteousness: 1:13 (on Hab 1:4), 2:2 (on Hab 1:5), 5:10 (on Hab 1:13), 7:4 (on Hab 2:2), 8:3 (on Hab 2:4), 9:9 (on Hab 2:8), 11:5 (on Hab 2:15). The emphasis is on conflict between the Teacher and the “Wicked Priest” (or “Man of the Lie”), which indicates persecution and the danger of ‘false teaching’ facing the Community. The position of the Teacher is indicated especially in 7:4, where it is stated that God made known to him “all the mysteries of the words of his servants the Prophets”, and 8:3 where we find the promise that those who have been loyal to the Teacher will be freed from Judgment by God.
  • 4QpPs a-b [4Q171, 173]—these fragments likewise emphasize the importance in the Community relying upon the Teacher (established by God) and of conflict with the “Wicked Priest”; for the references, cf. 4Q171 (on Ps 37) col. iii, lines 15, 19; col. iv, line 27; 4Q173 fragment 1, line 4; fragment 2, line 2.

Two other passages should be noted:

  • CD 6:2-11—this section is ostensibly a commentary on Numbers 21:18 combined with Isaiah 54:16, linking the inscribed/engraved “staff” [qqwjm] and the tools with which the people dug the well, and identifying it/them with the “Interpreter of the Law” [hr*oTh^ vr@oD] (v. 7). The word vrwd is a verbal noun from vrd, and refers to the act of searching something out intensively, the concrete idiom something like beating/cutting/digging a path. Figuratively it is used for searching out (an cutting through to) the underlying meaning of something—in this case, the correct meaning(s) of Scripture. In vv. 10-11 it is stated that the people (of the Community) are to walk according to this “staff” until “…the one teaching righteousness [i.e. Teacher of Righteousness] stands (up) [i.e. arises] in the (time) following the days [i.e. after the days / ‘end of days’]”.
  • 4QFlorilegium [4Q174]—in an eschatological collection of Scripture verses, as part of a Messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:11-14, it is stated that the “Branch of David” is the one who will appear along with the “Interpreter of the Law” [hrwth vrwd] at the end of days (col. i, lines 11-12).

Thus we see that the Qumran (and related) texts make reference to three figures:

  1. The Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness through whom God established the Community (in the past)
  2. The Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness who will appear at the end-time, and
  3. The “Interpreter” of the Torah, who may be a historical and/or eschatological figure

A Messianic Teacher?

Is it proper to speak of an Anointed (that is, ‘Messianic’) Teacher? In at least two respects the evidence from Qumran supports this:

  • Twice (in CD 6:10-11 and 4QFlor [cf. above]), the Teacher/Interpreter is identified as an eschatological figure who will appear at the “end of the days”. In the latter passages, he is specifically associated with a Messianic Davidic ruler (“the Branch of David”).
  • On various occasions (cf. the references above), it is said regarding the Teacher of Righteousness that he was specially appointed and established by God, and gifted with unique revelation. Even though anointing (“Anointed [One]”) itself is not mentioned, the corresponding idea of being uniquely chosen and set apart by God is clearly present. Moreover, we have the notion that faithfulness and obedience to the Teacher will preserve the Community from the coming Judgment—in various ways, all of the attested Messianic figure-types are associated with the end-time Judgment.

Moreover, for at least two of the Messianic figure-types I have outlined (see the Introduction), teaching and instruction play a prominent role. The first of these is the “Prophet like Moses” from Deut 18:15-20—that is, an Anointed Prophet according to the Moses-tradition (for more on this, see the previous article). As stated in Deut 18:18, this coming Prophet will command and instruct the people (being given the words to speak by God). In addition to being a great Prophet (Deut 34:10-12), Moses was the supreme Lawgiver in Israelite history and tradition, having received the commands and precepts of the Torah directly from God and delivered them to Israel. In the Qumran texts, Moses is referred to as God’s “Anointed” (4Q377 2 ii 4-5), along with the holy Prophets (Anointed Ones) of Israel (CD 5:21-6:1). The imagery and characteristics associated with Moses fit the descriptions of the Teacher of Righteousness very well (cf. above), and even moreso to Jesus (cf. Acts 3:18-24 and the discussion below).

The second Anointed figure is that of Priest. As will be discussed in an upcoming article, the idea of a coming eschatological/Messianic Priest, while rare in Judaism of the period, is attested at Qumran. Indeed, the Community reflected in the Qumran texts was, it would seem, originally founded by priests and they continued to hold the leading role. As we shall see, in terms of their eschatological expectation and Messianic thought, the (Anointed) king/prince is subordinate to the (Anointed) Priest. According to the fragmentary (pesher) commentary on Psalms (cf. above), the historical Teacher of Righteousness, naturally enough, was a priest (4QPs a col. iii, line 15). In the so-called Rule of the Community, there was to be at least one priest for every group of ten members, primarily to instruct them in the study and practice of the Torah, which was at the very heart of Community life and identity (1QS 6:3-7 etc).

With regard to the “Teacher of Righteousness” at Qumran, it is somewhat difficult to determine the relationship between the historical Teacher and the eschatological figure expressed in CD 6 / 4QFlor (cf. above). However, I believe that the statement in CD 6:10-11 probably reflects the original idea—of “one who will teach righteousness” appearing at the end-of-days, the phrase itself probably being an allusion to Hosea 10:12. Since the Qumran Community (and/or the community of the Damascus Document) almost certainly viewed itself as existing in the “last days”, it seems probable that the historical Teacher was thought to be fulfilling an eschatological role. Upon the death of the Teacher, this role was transferred to a future figure who was expected to appear (sometime soon). In the interim, the leading priests at Qumran would fulfill the role of Teacher—the little digging tools in relation to the great “staff” (cf. CD 6:2ff).

Apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is hard to find a comparable idea elsewhere in Jewish writings of the period. Perhaps the closest we come is to the basic priestly tradition centered around Levi and Aaron, as expressed formally and in elevated language (cf. Sirach 45:6-17). In the book of Jubilees, as at Qumran, priority was given to the Priest (Levi), and in the reworking of Jacob’s blessing on Levi, the first thing mentioned could be summarized as “teaching righteousness” (Jubilees 31:15). In several passages in the Qumran texts, where the role of Priests is being extolled and expounded, it is teaching that is often given emphasis—cf. 4QFlor 6-11 (citing Deut 33:10) and 4Q541 fragment 9, etc.

Jesus as Teacher

That Jesus was viewed as a special Teacher scarcely needs to be emphasized—it is found all throughout the Gospel tradition, from the earliest layers on. According to the Synoptic narrative, Jesus essentially begins his ministry by teaching in the Synagogues of Galilee (on the Sabbaths), Mark 1:21 par. The uniqueness and special quality of his teaching was practically the first thing people noticed about him (Mk 1:22 par):

“and they were struck out of (themselves) [i.e. were amazed] upon his teaching, for he was teaching them as (one) holding authority [e)cousi/a], and not as the Writers [i.e. Scribes]”

In Mark 1:23ff par, Jesus performs a healing (exorcism) miracle in the Synagogue, and these two aspects—teaching and working miracles—dominate the account of his ministry in Galilee in the Synoptic tradition. In light of the previous article, which examined Jesus as an Anointed Prophet, we might say that he is here fulfilling two main characteristics of the Moses and Elijah types—authoritative teaching (Moses) and miracles (Elijah).

That Jesus was identified largely in terms of his teaching can be seen in the frequency (more than 50 times) in the use of the title “Teacher” (dida/skalo$), or the corresponding honorific “Rabbi” (r(abbi/). This latter term is a transliteration of the Hebrew yB!r^ (rabbî).  br (rab) simply means “great”, and as a title is literally “Great (One)”, generally corresponding to “Lord”, “Master”, etc. Rabbi (“my Great [One]”, “my Lord/Master”) is a sign of honor and respect in address; the intensive /B*r^ (rabb¹n), in Aramaic /oBr^ (rabbôn), came to be used as a title for an honored/respected scholar and teacher. At the time of Jesus, the form of address (in Aramaic) would have been yn]oBr^/yn]WBr^ (Rabbônî/Rabbûnî), as preserved in Mark 10:51; John 20:16. The closest we come to Jesus being described as an Anointed/Messianic Teacher is in Nicodemus’ address to him (John 3:2):

“Rabbi, we see that you are a Teacher having come from God, for no one has power [i.e. is able] to do these signs which you do, if not [i.e. except] (that) God should be with him”

In light of the eschatological/Messianic-type figure attested in the Qumran texts (cf. above), it is worth considering Jesus in terms of the “Teacher of Righteousness” and “Interpreter of the Law”. First we should note the place that justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh, along with the dikai- word group) plays in Jesus’ recorded teachings. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ first words in public (to John during his baptism) are directly on this point: “…it is distinguishing [i.e. is right/proper] for us to (ful)fill all justice/righteousness” (Matt 3:15). The idea is also central to his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33), and in several other blocks of teaching (Matt 13:43, 49; 23:28-29, 35; 25:37, 46; and cf. also Matt 10:41; 21:32; Luke 18:9; John 16:8, 10). It is fair to say that much of Jesus’ teaching could be described as instruction in righteousness. In several places in the New Testament, Jesus himself is referred to as “the Just/Righteous (One)” [o( di/kaio$]—Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. also Matt 27:19. We might also note Acts 17:31, where Paul attributes to Jesus the end-time role in the Judgment, stating that he “…is about to judge the inhabited (world) in justice/righteousness”.

Regarding the second association, much of Jesus’ teaching clearly involved instruction and interpretation of God’s Law (i.e., the Torah). I have discussed this at length in earlier articles on “Jesus and the Law” (part of a series on “The Law and the New Testament”), and relevant links are provided below. Here are some of the aspects of Jesus’ fulfilling the role of “Interpreter of the Law”:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, cf. Luke 6:20-49)—especially the verses on the Law and righteousness (Matt 5:17-20) and the so-called Antitheses (Matt 5:21-48), on which see my earlier notes and articles.
  • The various controversies betwen Jesus and the religious leaders and scholars of the day often involved specific interpretation or understanding of the Law—the Pharisees and “Writers” (Scribes) were generally seen as authorities on the Torah. Cf. especially my articles on the so-called Sabbath Controversies.
  • In a number of passages, Jesus identifies himself—his person and/or his teachings—as the fulfillment of the Law and different related elements of Israelite religion. This is best seen in two respects:
    (1) Jesus’ relationship to the Temple [cf. “Jesus and the Law” parts 6-7] (2) His association with the great Holy/Feast days (Sabbath, Passover, Tabernacles, etc), especially in the episodes and discourses recorded in the Fourth Gospel [cf. “Jesus and the Law” parts 8-9]
  • In the Gospel of Luke, following the resurrection, Jesus is described as interpreting (in considerable detail, it would seem) the Scriptures (“Moses and the  Prophets”) for his followers (Lk 24:25-27, 32, 45; cf. also Acts 1:3). The emphasis in his teaching in these passages is on his suffering, death and resurrection as a fulfillment of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, Luke offers no detail as to which Scripture passages Jesus referenced; for a list of possible candidates, based on the overall evidence in the New Testament, cf. my earlier note.

For additional Gospel references related to Jesus as a teacher and his interpretation of the Law, cf. the introductory article of my series on “Jesus and the Law”.

Jesus and the Law, Part 10: Concluding Observations

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It is possible to draw some basic conclusions regarding Jesus’ view of the Old Testament Law (Torah), based on the narratives and sayings in the Gospels. I would reiterate the point that this analysis follows the methodological assumption that the sayings in the Gospels are substantially authentic, and that the narrative episodes likewise are derived from authentic tradition. The situation becomes more complex if one factors in critical questions and hypotheses regarding authenticity—I have touched upon some of these in the notes and articles, and may address them in more detail in future studies. Once sayings or episodes are taken out of consideration as being of doubtful authenticity or historicity, the picture will change somewhat; however, I regard such critical methodology as highly questionable. As an example, many critical scholars would doubt the authenticity of the Scripture citations (of Isa 56:7 / Jer 7:11) in the Synoptic account of Jesus’ Temple “cleansing” action, and yet this dual-citation provides the only explanation for Jesus’ action in the Synoptics; if it is ‘removed’, we are forced further into educated guess-work and speculation as to what the historical Jesus intended. While there may be value in such detective work (regarding the “historical Jesus”), it fairly well ignores the context of the Gospels themselves—thoughtful scholars and students should not be too quick to separate the historical and literary strands of the Gospel, for they are closely and carefully intertwined.

Source-criticism is helpful in outlining specific sources within the Gospels which should be taken into account when examining certain aspects of Jesus’ view of the Law:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) shows Jesus affirming the continued validity of the Torah commands (esp. Matt 5:17-20), though giving to them a new dimension and interpretation, pointing to a deeper sense (or level) of religious and ethical commitment. The Woes against the Scribes and Pharisees in Matt 23 appear to have a similar emphasis and viewpoint. Jesus’ followers are required to take the more difficult road, going beyond what is simply written in the Law. Though expanded and developed in Matthew, these portions largely stem from the so-called “Q” tradition—material common to Matthew and Luke (but not found in Mark). For a similar example in the wider Synoptic tradition, see Jesus’ instruction to the “Rich Young Ruler” (Mark 10:17-22 par). On Matt 5:17-20 and the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-47, see Part 3 of this series, along with a series of supplemental notes.
  • On the other hand, there are sayings and episodes unique to the Gospel of Matthew which seem to devalue or minimize the importance of the Law, at least in its ritual/ceremonial aspects. These include:
    (1) The citation of Hosea 6:6 in Matt 9:13; 12:7
    (2) The saying(s) regarding the Temple in Matt 12:5-6
    (3) The episode involving the Temple-tax in Matt 17:24-27 (esp. vv. 25-26)
    There are also certain sayings in the “Q” tradition which seem to relativize or limit the force of the Law, e.g. Matt 11:13/Lk 16:16; Matt 8:21-22/Lk 9:59-60.
  • The Synoptic (triple) tradition records numerous debates/disputes with “Scribes and Pharisees” regarding points of Law and/or Jesus and his disciples’ observance of religious custom, e.g. Mark 2:15-17, 18-20, 23-28; 3:1-6; 7:1-15; 10:1-12; 12:13-17; 12:28-34 etc. and pars. Especially noteworthy are the “Sabbath controversy” episodes (Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-6 par; also Lk 13:10-17; 14:1-6). These “controversy”-narratives serve as the setting for a saying or parable (often enigmatic or provocative) which provides an interpretation or comments on the Law in some way. The thrust of much of Jesus’ teaching in these episodes is to emphasize his personal authority and to stress the social-ethical aspect of religious matters. Jesus’ controversies and debates with religious authorities are narrated somewhat differently in the Gospel of John, but note the Sabbath-controversy framework of Jn 5 which has certain similarities with the Synoptic accounts. See Parts 4 & 5.
  • All four Gospels narrate the Temple action (“cleansing”, Mk 11:15-18 par; Jn 2:13-17) and Temple saying of Jesus (Jn 2:19ff; Mk 14:58 par, not in Lk but cf. Acts 6:14); the authenticity of both seems secure (entirely on objective grounds), but their meaning and significance continue to be debated (see Parts 6 & 7 of this series). At the very least, Jesus appears to: (a) emphasize the temporary nature of the current/earthly Temple, and (b) attack the machinery associated with the Temple ritual (and the way it is used/abused), in a manner similar to that of the Prophets (note the citations of Isa 56:7/Jer 7:11 in the Synoptic accounts). See also my prior series of notes on the Temple action and saying.
  • The Gospel of John provides a unique association of Jesus with the Israelite/Jewish holy (feast) days, in terms of: (a) the narrative framework of chapters 2-12ff centered on various feast days, and (b) the Discourses of Jesus in John. The Discourses combine and adapt Jesus’ sayings and teaching in a way that is very different from the Synoptics, while the narrative framework is used to incorporate the discourse-scenes in a festal setting. The result is that Jesus repeatedly ends up commenting on the various holy days (Sabbath and Feasts [Passover, Booths/Tabernacles, Weeks/Pentecost?, and Dedication/Hanukkah]), identifying himself (i.e. his own person and teaching) with many of their associated religious types and forms. This can be understood in terms of fulfillment and/or replacement (see Part 8 of this series).

I make the following summary notes, by way of response to hypothetical (but understandable) questions:

  • Did Jesus and his followers observe/obey the Torah commands and ordinances? It is likely that Jesus himself was observant, though it must be admitted that this is not indicated especially in the Gospels. According to the Gospel of Luke (Lk 2:21-24, 39, 41-42), Jesus’ parents were devout in religious/ritual matters, and presumably would have sought to raise him the same way (cf. Lk 2:51-52), so it can fairly be inferred that, as an adult, Jesus would have been similarly devout and “righteous” (in the traditional Jewish sense, cf. Matt 3:15; 5:6, 17-20). The Gospels depict Jesus attending the local synagogues on the Sabbath (Mk 1:21 par; Lk 4:16, etc), and the Temple in Jerusalem on the appointed (feast) days (Mark 11 par; Jn 2:13ff; 7-8; 10:22ff; 12:20ff, note also chap. 5). However, it is important to point out that Jesus is not depicted participating in the religious ritual as such (though at the historical level, he presumably would have); rather, he is always shown in the Synagogue and Temple in the role of teaching, and possessing a unique religious authority himself (cf. Mk 1:21-22; 12:35 par, et al; Jn 7:14 etc). It is even less clear from the Gospels that Jesus’ disciples observed the Torah, though there is evidence that the importance of the Torah was part of his teaching (see esp. Matt 5:17-20), and it is likely that they would have been devout in religious matters, though not necessarily according to every custom (cf. Mk 2:18; 7:1-5 par). In Luke-Acts, after the Resurrection/Ascension of Jesus, the disciples continued to frequent the Temple regularly (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42), though they are not depicted directly participating in the sacrificial ritual—the emphasis is rather on prayer and gathering together to worship God. Peter’s objection to the visionary command in Acts 10:9-16 (cf. v. 14f) would indicate that he faithfully observed the dietary regulations in the Torah. Indeed, it has been argued that the opposition among Jewish Christians to Paul’s teaching and missionary approach with the Gentiles regarding the Law (cf. Acts 15; Gal 2, etc) only makes sense if the early Jewish believers in Jerusalem had been strictly observant themselves.
  • Did Jesus specifically command his followers to continue to observe the Law? This is a difficult question to answer, since the Gospels do not specifically address it; Jesus’ teaching was entirely within a Jewish context, and it would have been customary for Jews to observe the Torah commands, if only as a matter of religious habit. In other words, for someone who already keeps the Sabbath or the dietary regulations, it would hardly be necessary to command that these be kept. What Jesus does—in the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere in his teaching)—is to point his followers to the deeper religious-ethical dimension which underlies the (written) Law. In terms of the ceremonial/ritual aspects of the Law, there is only one instance where Jesus directs a would-be follower to take part in the sacrificial ritual (Mk 1:44 par, cf. also Lk 17:4); in Matt 5:23-24 he appears to accept the validity of sacrificial offerings, or at least recognizes the practice. There is also the episode involving the half-shekel Temple tax (Matt 17:24-27), but in that instance the teaching is somewhat ambiguous. Similarly ambiguous is his teaching regarding the Sabbath (cf. above); interestingly, apart from a passing reference in Jn 7:22-23, he makes no mention of circumcision. With regard to the fundamental social-ethical commands of the Decalogue (Exod 20:12-17), the situation is somewhat different, for Jesus seems to treat these commands as binding (cf. Mark 10:19-20 par; Matt 5:21-30); likewise the underlying regulation related to divorce (Mk 10:1-12 par; Matt 5:31-32). Overall, Jesus’ teaching in Matt 5:17-20 would seem to support observance of the Torah; however, these verses are rife with difficulties of interpretation.
  • Did Jesus ever teach that his followers need not observe the commands/regulations in the Torah? It is hard to find a specific example of this, though there are a number of relevant instances which have been pointed out (cf. above and throughout this series), including: (a) the Sabbath controversy episodes, esp. Matt 12:1-8, (b) the teaching in Mark 2:19-22 and 7:14-23 pars, (c) the exchange in Matt 8:21-22/Lk 9:59-60, (d) the teaching regarding the Temple tax in Matt 17:25-26, and, perhaps, (e) the (apparent) temporal limitation of the Law in Matt 11:13/Lk 16:16.
  • Did Jesus draw a distinction between the “ritual” and “ethical” parts of the Law? The answer appears to be a qualified “yes”, though we must be cautious about making too great of a ‘separation’ in the Law. As mentioned above, it is primarily the social-ethical side of the Decalogue that Jesus emphasizes, both in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in his teaching. The ritual/ceremonial aspects of the Law also appear to relativized or devalued, in sayings such as Mark 2:27-28; 7:15-23 pars; Matt 9:13; 12:5-7, etc. In the Temple “cleansing” action and Temple saying, Jesus emphasizes the impending destruction of the entire Temple apparatus, along with its associated ritual; in Jn 2:19ff, it is Jesus himself, by his death and resurrection, who effectively ‘replaces’ the Temple. The two-fold “Greatest Commandment” (Mk 12:28-34 par) effectively reduces the Law to the love of God and love of neighbor (cf. Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18)—see especially the exchange in Mk 12:32-34 which places these two commands over and above all sacrificial ritual.
  • Did Jesus see himself as superseding or ‘replacing’ the Torah? This is a most sensitive question; for the most part, he does not do this directly, but much of his teaching and example could be said to point in this direction. It is clearest in the Gospel of John, where Jesus is seen to be fulfilling, in his own person, the Temple (Jn 2:19ff) and many aspects of the religious feasts (with their symbolism and sacrificial ritual, cf. above). In the Synoptic Gospels, it also may inferred (cautiously) from many of the passages cited above; in particular, Jesus’ personal authority may be said to supersede the written Law in the sense that: (a) he provides a definitive interpretation of it (which his followers are to observe), and (b) his words, action and example (in healing, associating with ‘sinners’, declaring forgiveness of sin, etc) stems from a divine source which surpasses the written Law itself.

This concludes the series on “Jesus and the Law”; the wider series (“The Law and the New Testament”) will continue according to the following outline:

  • The Law in the book of Acts (drawing also upon the Gospel of Luke)
  • Paul’s view of the Law
    • In Galatians
    • In Romans
    • Key references in the remaining epistles
    • Paul’s view of the Law in Acts compared with the Epistles
  • The Law in the Epistle of James
  • The Law in the Epistle to the Hebrews
  • The Law in the rest of the New Testament (with key references in the Apostolic Fathers)

Due to the length required, several of these articles may be divided into two or more parts.

 

 

Jesus and the Law, Part 9: The Gospel of John (continued)

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The outline for this article is:

  1. The Festal Setting of the Discourses and related Narratives
  2. The Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word
  3. The Farewell Discourses and the “Love Command”

The first heading was discussed in Part 8 of this series; here I will continue with the second and third sections.

2. The Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word

Since the Law and Torah (as Scripture) is sometimes identified as the “Word of God” it is worth exploring the distinctive manner in which “word” (lo/go$, and/or r(h=ma) is associated with Jesus in the Gospel of John—both the Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word. I will start with the second of these concepts.

(a) Jesus as the Word

[This section draws especially on the fine summary by R. E. Brown in his classic commentary on John (Anchor Bible vol. 29), Appendix II, pp. 519-24.]

This is found primarily in the Prologue to the Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), where Jesus is identified with the (divine) lo/go$ in verses 1 (3 times) and 14. There is no single satisfactory English translation for lo/go$—”word” being as good as any. From the standpoint of creation (vv. 3, 10), it could also be understood: (i) in the sense of the underlying creative principle giving order to things (already used this way by Heraclitus, 6th-early 5th cent. B.C.), or (ii) as reason, reflecting the (ordered) thought and mind of God (cf. the typical Stoic usage). Philo of Alexandria, representing Hellenistic (and Alexandrian) Judaism at the time of the New Testament, blends the Greek philosophical use of lo/go$ with Old Testament concepts, resulting in the idea of the Logos as a divine intermediary, used by God in creation and serving as a pattern for the human mind/soul. In recent decades, scholars have looked closer at the Jewish background to the Logos-concept in John in at least three respects—(i) the “word of YHWH” as a distinct hypostasis, (ii) the personification of (divine) Wisdom, and (iii) the pre-existence of the Torah.

(i) The “word of YHWH” (hw`hy+Árb^D=) in the Old Testament does not simply reflect a statement or utterance received (by the Prophets, etc), but represents a dynamic (revelatory) manifestation of God to human beings, especially in the formula “the word of YHWH came to {so-and-so}…” (Gen 15:1, 4; 1 Sam 15:10; 2 Sam 7:4; 24:11; 1 Kings 6:11, etc; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1, et al). According to Genesis 1:1ff, the universe (the heavens and the earth) was created by the word of God (by his speaking), and continues to be sustained/renewed by his word—cf. Psalm 33:6; 147:15ff; Isa 55:11; also Wisd 9:1, etc. Over time, and with an interest in safeguarding the idea of God’s transcendence, the “word of God” came to be used as a kind of substitute (or periphrasis) for God Himself, which would speak and act (toward human beings)—effectively becoming a distinct hypostasis (divine manifestation). In Aramaic, this term for “the word” of God was ar*m=ym@ (m¢mrâ).

(ii) Similarly, the Wisdom of God could be personified or treated as a distinct hypostasis (manifestation); originally, this personification need have been nothing more than a poetic representation in ancient Wisdom Literature, used for dramatic and didactic effect (cf. Prov 1:20-33; 9:1-12, etc). However, the practical usage came to take on added theological dimension, as we see already in the famous passage of Proverbs 8—especially vv. 23-31 which depict Wisdom as existing at the beginning with God and participating in the work of Creation. There is indeed a close parallel between the Wisdom and (personified) Word of God in Jewish tradition—both are involved in the process of creation, being with God in the beginning, reflecting His glory, and coming forth from (the mouth of) God (cf. Sir 1:1; 24:3ff; Wisd 7:22, 25–8:1; 9:1-2). The parallels with the Johannine prologue are strong enough to suggest a Wisdom background, possibly even involving the influence or adaptation of a hymn in praise of (divine) Wisdom. There are a number of passages which refer to Wisdom coming (from heaven) to dwell among human beings, or wishing to (Prov 8:31; Wisd 9:10; Sir 24:8ff), but with some doubt as to whether she will be welcome (Baruch 3:9ff, etc); in the book of Enoch (1 Enoch) chapter 42, we find an especially close parallel to the idea in John 1:10-11, 14—Wisdom wishes to make her dwelling among the children of men, but sadly can find no dwelling-place and must return to heaven.

(iii) In later Rabbinic and mystical tradition, this personification (or hypostasis) of the Word of God was extended specifically to the Torah, conceived of as God’s offspring (or daughter, as with Wisdom) and existing prior to the creation of the universe. This was a natural identification, since Scripture (and particularly the Torah) was regularly understood as the “Word of God”. Already in Wisdom literature, the Law (Torah) is specifically identified with personified (divine) Wisdom (cf. especially Baruch 4:1 and Sirach 24:23ff). There is a long history as well of referring to the the Law (Torah) as light, which serves to illuminate human beings with God’s own (holy and revelatory) light (Jn 1:4-5, 9)—cf. Psalm 119:105; Baruch 4:2; Wisd 18:4; Testament of Levi 14:4.

(b) The Word(s) of Jesus

As a theme and motif, the word (or words) of Jesus plays a key role in the Gospel of John, occurring frequently (more than 40 times). These can be categorized as follows (note that lo/go$ [“word, account”] and r(h=ma [“word, utterance”] appear to be used interchangeably, with little difference in meaning):

  • Jesus’ words identified as God’s words, i.e. that which the Father (the one who sent him) gave him to speak—Jn 3:34; 8:47, 55; 14:10, 24; 17:8, 14; cf. also 5:24, 38; 6:68; 12:49-50.
  • Jesus’ words treated as synonymous/parallel with Scripture—Jn 2:22; 5:47 (also vv. 39-40); 10:34-36; 18:9, 32.
  • Emphasis on keeping Jesus’ words, as one is to keep God’s own Word (i.e. keep the Law/Torah)—8:51-52, 55; 12:47; 14:23-24; 15:20; 17:6.
  • Similar language on hearing Jesus’ word, abiding in his word, etc.—Jn 5:24, 38; 8:31, 37, 43; 12:47-48; 15:7; 17:8; cf. also 10:3-5; 18:47.
  • Jesus’ words have life-giving power and effect, as God’s own Word—Jn 4:50; 6:64, 68; 8:31-32; 15:3, 7; 17:17, 20; cf. also 5:25, 28; 11:43.
  • Keeping Jesus’ words is a guarantee of (eternal) life, much as keeping/observing the Torah preserves the covenant with God (and guarantees future salvation) according to Jewish thought—Jn 5:24; 8:51-52; 12:47-48; cf. also 14:23; 17:6.

So we see evidence in the Gospel of John that: (a) according to the Prologue (1:1-18), Jesus is the incarnation of the eternal and pre-existent Word of God, which encompasses the idea of the Wisdom and Law (Torah) of God, and (b) Jesus’ words are to be treated and regarded as God’s own Word, including everything typically associated with the commands and ordinances of the Torah.

3. The Farewell Discourses and the “Love Command”

When discussing the sayings of Jesus in Matthew 5:17-20 (especially verse 19) in an earlier note, I brought up the important question as to the relationship between the command(ment)s of Jesus and those of the Torah. We find the same issue here in the Gospel of John (and will see it again when addressing 1 John). There are a dozen or so references to: (a) commandments Jesus received from God the Father, and (b) Jesus’ (own) commandments to his followers; conceptually these two are closely related, if not synonymous. The passages are:

(a) Commandments Jesus received from God the Father—Jn 10:18; 12:49-50; 14:31; 15:10

(b) Commandments given by Jesus (to his disciples)—Jn 13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10, 12, 14, 17

All of these instances involve the noun e)ntolh/ (or the related verb e)nte/llomai), which fundamentally refers to something “laid on (a person) to complete”, and is usually translated “command(ment)” or sometimes “charge, order,” and the like. In a Jewish religious context, of course, e)ntolh/ refers to the commands of the Law (Torah), the corresponding term in Hebrew being primarily hw`x=m! (from the verb hw`x*). Yet, here in the Gospel of John, it is not clear to what extent (if at all) the “commandments” are related to the Torah commands. Let us look briefly at the context of these passages:

(a) Commandments Jesus received from God the Father:
Jn 10:18—here the command (or charge) has to with the power/authority Jesus has to (willingly) lay down his life and then take it up again (his death and resurrection)
Jn 12:49-50—the emphasis is on what the Father (“the One who sent me”) has given Jesus to speak; again this indicates the divine source (and authority) of Jesus’ own words
Jn 14:31—the sense is much the same: that Jesus does just as (and only as) the Father has commanded him
Jn 15:10—here Jesus states that he has kept the Father’s commandments, and abides/remains in His love

(b) Commandments given by Jesus (to his disciples):
Jn 13:34—Jesus gives his disciples a “new” commandment, the “love command” (see below)
Jn 14:15, 21—In these two verses Jesus states that those who love him will keep his commandments (and vice versa); it is a general statement, with no specific indication what those commandments are
Jn 15:10—draws a parallel between keeping Jesus’ commandments and abiding/remaining in his love, just as Jesus does for the Father
Jn 15:12, 14, 17—verse 12 restates the “love command” (13:34), verse 14 generally restates 14:15, 21, and verse 17 brings both of these together into a single teaching

Of all the references above, only 15:10a could conceivably relate to the Torah commands specifically, but even that is highly uncertain; in light of the other passages in category (a), it is better to see 15:10a in terms of Jesus’ mission—what he is directed to say and do. The Torah commands are clearly referenced as such only in Jn 8:5, which is part of the passage on the woman caught in adultery (generally recognized as an interpolation, and likely not part of the original Gospel).

Many of these references come from the so-called Farewell Discourse (chapters 13-17), a cluster of discourses probably built up out of (separate) smaller blocks of teaching, in which Jesus gives definitive instruction (and exhortation) to his disciples. There are many sayings and teachings of Jesus—both in John and throughout the Synoptic Gospels—which may be regarded as commands; but the only command clearly identified and emphasized as such in the Farewell Discourse(s) is the so-called “love command” in 13:34; 15:12. In Jn 13:34 the command is:

“that you should love one another—even as I have loved you, (I say) that you should love one another”
(the aorist subjunctive forms of the verb having the force of imperatives)

Clearly this is related in some way to the “Great Commandment” (Mk 12:29-31 par)—complete love for God and one’s neighbor—the second half of which, in particular, would become central in Jesus’ teaching as preserved in the early Church (Rom 13:9-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8). Love for God—demonstrated by loving Jesus (whom God sent)—is effectively treated as a command elsewhere in John, particularly in terms of abiding/remaining in Christ (Jn 15:4, 9, etc); but it is love for one’s fellow (believer) that is stressed in Jn 13:34; 15:12ff, and specifically referred to as a commandment. Indeed, it is called a “new” (kaino/$) commandment in 13:34, though the precise meaning and force of this distinction remains uncertain. These and other related questions will be dealt with in more detail in an article on “The Commandments of Christ” later on in this series; for now, it will suffice to conclude with the following observations:

  1. Jesus’ commandments come directly from God the Father (stressing Jesus’ unique role and nature as Son of God)
  2. They relate primarily to his mission on earth—what he is to say (teaching and proclamation, etc) and do (miracles, his willing and sacrificial death [and resurrection], etc)
  3. By word and example, he transmits these commandments to his disciples, best exemplified in the Farewell Discourse(s)
  4. The primary and leading command is two-fold: (i) to love one another, and (ii) to abide/remain in Christ (and his love)

The Old Testament Law (Torah) as such does not appear to be an essential part of this, except insofar as it provides the religious and ethical background to the “love command” and other teachings of Jesus. In this respect, the Gospel of John differs somewhat from the Synoptic Gospels, which depict Jesus dealing more directly (and regularly) with questions derived from (and related to) the Law of Moses.

 

Jesus and the Law, Part 8: The Gospel of John

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The Gospel of John holds a unique and unusual position in New Testament studies, with critical scholars having mixed views as to the relationship between this Gospel and (authentic) traditions and sayings of Jesus. On the one hand, the lengthy and theologically-developed Discourses in John are really like nothing we find in the Synoptics; moreover, the language, style and thematic treatment of the Discourses is often extremely close to that of 1 John, making it seem rather unlikely that we are dealing simply with the unvarnished words of (the historical) Jesus. On the other hand, critical scholars have increasingly recognized numerous strands suggesting early (authentic) tradition, even within the most ‘developed’ sections of the Gospel, and many commentators are willing to admit a significant historical kernel (or core) to the Discourses.

In light of all this, and with regard to this overall series on “The Law and the New Testament”, one could either: (a) discuss the Gospel of John under “Jesus and the Law”, or (b) discuss it along with the Epistles of John under the wider heading. I have decided to treat the Gospel of John primarily as part of the sub-series “Jesus and the Law”, under the basic premise (for the purposes of these articles), that the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels (including the Discourses in John) reflect the authentic words and teachings of Jesus, at least in substance (the ipsissima vox if not the ipsissima verba). However, I recognize that many scholars would dispute this; it should be stated that I neither reject nor dismiss the more critical examination and scrutiny regarding authenticity, and realize fully that the question is even more difficult and complicated with regard to the Discourses of Jesus in John. Yet I believe that my approach is justified, all the more as I am quite convinced of the extreme difficulty (and precarious nature) of attempting to separate the “authentic” words of Jesus from subsequent early Christian interpretation and elaboration. Ultimately, we must work from the integral text of the Gospels as they have come down to us.

This article will proceed according to the following outline:

  1. The Festal Setting of the Discourses and related Narratives
  2. The Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word
  3. The Farewell Discourses and the “Love Command”

1. The Festal Setting of the Discourses and related Narratives

The Gospel of John is also unique (among the four canonical Gospels) in its presentation of Jesus appearing in Jerusalem on multiple occasions, in observance of the holy days—i.e. the Israelite/Jewish festivals (or “feasts”). This in contrast to the Synoptic Gospels, which record just one main journey to Jerusalem, for the Passover, shortly before Jesus’ death. The Johannine festal settings should be considered according to three principal aspects: (a) historical, (b) narrative, and (c) theological.

(a) Historical—The “feasts” are more properly referred to as appointed days or times, generally related to the harvest and seasons of the year, which the people of Israel were to observe with religious ritual, sacrifice and communal celebration. There were five main appointed times (cf. Lev 23:4), including three pilgrimage festivals—Pesach/”Passover” (Unleavened Bread), Shavuot/Weeks (‘Pentecost’), and Sukkot/Booths (‘Tabernacles’)—which (according to Deut 16:16) adult males were commanded to attend, bringing offerings for the Lord. An observant Israelite or Jew in Jesus’ time would journey to Jerusalem at least three times a year for the pilgrimage festivals. In this regard, the Johannine framework of Jesus appearing in Jerusalem on multiple occasions, more accurately reflects the historical situation than the single Passover journey of the Synoptics, as virtually all commentators recognize. Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem (and in the Temple) suggests a (religious) concern to observe the Torah commands, though this is nowhere so stated in the Gospels. Clearly it was not an important point to emphasize for the Gospel writers (or was simply taken for granted), otherwise there surely would have been some mention of Jesus’ religious devotion, such as we find in the Lukan Infancy narratives for Joseph/Mary and Zechariah/Elizabeth (Lk 1:6; 2:21-24, 39). The closest we come, perhaps, is Jesus’ statement in Lk 22:15, where he speaks of his fervent desire to share the Passover with his disciples; though the context rather emphasizes his impending suffering and death as the reason.

(b) Narrative—Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “book of Signs”, are primarily divided according to the occasions of the feasts, each of which are associated with a discourse by Jesus:

  • Passover (Jn 2:13-25)
  • Sabbath/Unspecified feast (Jn 5:1-47)
  • Passover (Jn 6:1-15, 22-65, [66-71])
  • Booths (Jn 7:1-52; 8:12-59)
  • Dedication (Jn 10:22-39)
  • Passover (Jn 12:1-13:30ff)

The Discourse-format in John is the primary method used to incorporate traditional material—sayings of Jesus, miracle stories, etc—into the narrative framework; it is likely that, to some extent, shorter discourses (or simple exchanges) have been combined into a larger discourse-structure. A basic outline of the discourse-format would be:

  • A question (from “the Jews”) posed to Jesus
  • A saying by Jesus, often enigmatic or provocative, in response
  • A further question or reaction indicating misunderstanding of the true meaning of Jesus’ words
  • An exposition by Jesus, in reply

In Jn 2:13-25, the shortest of the episodes listed above, we do not have a full-fledged discourse, but it still more or less follows the basic format:

  • Question from “the Jews” (v. 18), in response to the Temple “cleansing” action of Jesus (vv. 14-17)
  • Enigmatic/provocative saying by Jesus (v. 19)
  • Question/reaction misunderstanding the true meaning of Jesus’ words (v. 20)
  • Instead of an exposition by Jesus, there is an explanation provided by the author (vv. 21-22)

The narrative structure of the Discourses, with their festal settings, can be demonstrated further:

  • Passover (2:13-25)—including the Temple-saying (v. 19) which foreshadows and prefigures the death and resurrection of Jesus
    • Two discourses with a feast setting, each of which is preceded by a miracle similar to those in the Synoptic tradition, but neither takes place (entirely) in the Jerusalem Temple:
      Sabbath (& unspecified feast, 5:1-47)—miracle (healing of crippled man), vv. 1-15; discourse, vv. 16-18, 19-47
      Passover (6:1-65, [66-71])—miracle (feeding the multitude), vv. 1-15; discourse, vv. 25-65ff
    • Two discourses with a feast setting, each taking place in Jerusalem (and the Temple); these discourses are specifically centered on the theme of the identity of Jesus, and his relation to God the Father:
      Booths (7:1-52; 8:12-59)—a highly complex structure with a narrative introduction (7:1-13), followed by a sequence of five (or six) discourse-scenes, the last two of which (8:21-30, 31-59) identify Jesus with the Father
      Dedication (10:22-39)—a shorter combination of two discourse-sections (vv. 22-30, 31-38), each of which concludes by Jesus identifying himself with the Father
  • Passover (12:1-13:30)—a complex narrative and discourse structure in preparation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, leading into the “Farewell Discourse(s)” (13:31-16:33 and chap. 17) and the Passion narrative (chaps. 18-19)—all set during Passover

(c) Theological—It is not possible here to study each discourse (or discourse sequence) in detail, as they are dense and often complex, with an unbelievably rich thematic and symbolic texture. I will simply provide some basic observations which indicate the way in which Jesus is depicted as fulfilling (in his own person) certain Old Testament themes and symbols related to the feasts and holy days. I begin with the two “outer” sections in the chiastic outline above, both of which show Jesus in Jerusalem for the Passover:

John 2:13-25—This is John’s version of the symbolic Temple action (“cleansing”) by Jesus (vv. 13-17) and the Temple-saying (v. 19ff), each of which is attested in Synoptic tradition (Mark 11:15-19; 14:58 par); however, in John, the two are connected, with the clear implication (explained by the author in vv. 21-22) that Jesus fulfills (or replaces) the Temple itself, including the entire sacrificial/ritual apparatus associated with it. I have discussed this section in more detail in prior notes and earlier in this series.

John 12:1-13:30ff—Jesus’ death, presenting himself as a sacrificial offering, is suggested throughout this section (see esp. 12:23-24, 32f; 13:4-11ff) beyond what is found in the common Gospel tradition shared by the Synoptics (cf. 12:3-8, 27; 13:1-3, 21-30). John’s account of the Passion is unique in having the crucifixion occur on the very eve of Passover (19:14) when the lambs are slaughtered, and clearly identifies Jesus with the Passover lamb (19:31-33, 36; cf. also 1:29, 36).

The first pair of discourses of the “inner” sections (in the outline above) are:

John 5:1-47
Festal setting: The feast is unspecified, though commentators have frequently suggested the feast of Weeks (Shavuot, or ‘Pentecost’), which is traditionally associated with the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai (cf. Exod 19:1). This is likely, since it would relate to the Sabbath—the Sabbath command (Exod 20:8-11) being part of the Decalogue given to Moses on Sinai. More important to the author is the fact that the festal day coincides with the Sabbath.
Narrative setting: The section begins with a Sabbath healing miracle story (vv. 1-16ff) which has similarities to those in the Synoptics (Mark 3:1-6 par; Luke 13:10-17); the objection to Jesus healing on the Sabbath (vv. 10-16, 18) is central to the discourse which follows (vv. 17, 19-47) and serves to introduce it. The miracle took place at the pool of Bethesda (or Betzatha), a location close (just N/NE) to the Temple; the action then shifts to the Temple precincts (v. 14), with the discourse presumably understood as occurring in the Temple as well.
Structure of the Discourse: The principal saying of Jesus is in verse 17 (“my Father is even working until [now], and I [also] am working”). The bulk of the discourse (vv. 19-47) consists entirely of a lengthy exposition which can be divided into three sections:
—Jesus’ work: the Son does what the Father shows him (life-giving power), vv. 19-30
—Witness to Jesus’ work: four-fold witness (John the Baptist, the miracles themselves, the Word of God in the heart of believers, and Scripture), vv. 31-40
—Refusal of people to believe the witness (disbelief), vv. 41-47
Theological significance: The Sabbath theme is central, with Jesus identifying himself with God the Father in terms of his work as Creator (an important aspect of the Sabbath command itself, Exod 20:11). According to Jewish tradition (cf. b. Taanith 2a), God is understood to be continually at work, especially in the life-giving areas of: (a) rain, (b) birth, and (c) resurrection. It is the last of these (the power of resurrection) that Jesus particularly emphasizes (and claims for himself) in the discourse (vv. 21, 25, 28-29). According to the narrative (v. 18), some of “the Jews” who heard him recognized that Jesus was identifying himself with God the Father. It is not clear that Jesus here specifically fulfills (or replaces) the Sabbath, but the Synoptic saying in Mark 2:28 par would certainly take on added dimension in this context.

John 6:1-65ff—
Festal setting: It is close to the time of the festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread (v. 4).
Narrative setting: Verses 1-15 record the miracle of feeding the 5000, similar to the Synoptic accounts (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10 par); verses 16-21 have the episode of Jesus walking on the water, already joined to the feeding of the 5000 in early tradition (cf. Mk 6:45-51 par). Verses 22-24f serve as a narrative bridge leading into the discourse.
Structure of the Discourse: I have discussed the structure of chapter 6 in more detail elsewhere; the “Bread of Life” discourse proper I limit to verses 31-59.
Theological significance: Jesus himself fulfills two main symbols and motifs related to Passover and the Exodus:
—He identifies himself with God the Father who fed the hungry Israelites in the wilderness (cf. the miracle in vv. 1-15 and the discussion in vv. 25-30); note especially in this regard Scripture references such as Psalm 107:4-9.
—In the discourse (vv. 31-59) and the discussion which follows (vv. 60-71) he identifies himself with the manna (“bread from heaven”, cf. Exod 16:4, 15; Psalm 78:24; Wisd 16:20), specifying that he is the true bread which has come down from heaven.
The episode of Jesus walking on the water (vv. 16-21) may also be connected with God’s role in Israel’s crossing the sea (see esp. Psalm 77:19).

The second pair of discourses are as follows:

John 7:1-52; 8:12-59—
Festal setting: The feast of Booths (Tabernacles), as indicated in the narrative introduction (v. 2).
Narrative setting: This is provided by the narrative introduction in verses 1-13, which records a partial dialogue with Jesus and his brothers, and narrates Jesus’ (secret) journey to Jerusalem for the feast. Verse 14 shows him in the Temple, teaching.
Structure of the Discourse: The structure is lengthy and complex, spanning two whole chapters, and is further complicated by the presence of the pericope of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 7:53-8:11, generally recognized as an interpolation and not part of the original Gospel). I understand 7:14-8:59 (not including 7:53-8:11) as representing a cluster or sequence of five (possibly six) discourses combined into a single arc, which emphasizes different aspects of Jesus’ identity (and his relationship to the Father):
—Jesus as Teacher (7:14-24): his relation to the Law, with a reprise of the Sabbath question from chapter 5
—Jesus as Messiah (7:25-36): where he comes from and goes to (returns)
—Jesus as (living) Water and Light (7:37-39ff; 8:12 + vv. 13-20): motifs associated with the feast of Booths
—Jesus as I AM (8:21-30): he comes from the Father and goes (returns) to Him
—Jesus as Word of God (I AM) (8:31-59): juxtaposition of Abraham and God as Father
Theological significance: Here I will limit discussion to the discourse in 7:37-39ff; 8:12-20, and the two principal motifs, associated with the feast of Booths, with which Jesus identifies himself. Traditional themes and images are largely dependent on Zechariah 9-14 (on Jewish ritual and ceremony, from a slightly later period, see the Mishnah tractate Sukkah):
Water (7:37-39): Cf. Zech 12:10; 13:1; 14:8; also Isa 44:3; Jer 2:13. A festal ceremony developed, involving filling a golden pitcher with water from the Gihon spring, followed by a procession to the Temple, where the water was poured out and made to flow into the ground around the altar; during the ceremony Isa 12:3 and Psalm 118:25 were recited. The ritual itself reflects an agricultural background and involving a prayer for rain (cf. Zech 10:1; 14:17).
Light (8:12ff): Cf. Zech 14:8. For the traditional ceremony of lighting the four golden candlesticks, see m. Sukkah 5:2-4. The theme of Jesus as light continues in the next chapter (Jn 9), and see also the thematic reprise in 12:35-36.

John 10:22-39—
Festal setting: The feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), v. 22.
Narrative setting: It is likely that 10:1-21 is meant to be connected with this section (as chap. 9 is with the prior discourse); note the reprise of the “good shepherd” theme in vv. 25-28. The possibility has also been raised that Ezekiel 34 may have been a synagogue reading (haphtorah) from the Prophets around the time/season of Dedication, which means that the “good shepherd” discourse of 10:1-21 may have been delivered at that time. In verse 23, Jesus is shown in the Temple, the setting for the discourse which follows.
Structure of the Discourse: It can be divided simply into two sections: verses 22-30 and 31-38, with a short narrative summary in verse 39. The structure becomes more complex if one wishes to include the “good shepherd” discourse of vv. 1-21 are part of unified sequence.
Theological significance: Like the Tabernacles discourse(s) of chapters 7-8 (above), these two discourse sections specifically emphasize the identity of Jesus and his relationship to the Father, and each concludes with a specific identification:
—Jesus as Messiah (vv. 22-30): identification with the Father in verse 30 (“I and the Father are one”)
—Jesus as Son of God (vv. 31-38): identification with the Father in verse 38 (“the Father [is] in me and I [am] in the Father”)
The feast of Dedication commemorates the rebuilding of the altar and new dedication of the Temple (1 Maccabees 4:41-61); this theme of consecration is implicit in this section, emphasized only in verse 36. The implication is that Jesus is to be identified (in his person) with the sacrificial altar (and the Temple itself), much as we see in the Temple saying of Jn 2:19ff.

The remainder of this article will continue in the next part of this series.

For a number of points and references above, I am indebted to R. E. Brown’s excellent critical commentary (part of the Anchor Bible series, vol. 29), cf. especially pp. 212-230, 245, 255-6, 261-6, 277-80, 326-9, 343-4, 404-12.