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Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament: Messianic Expectation

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Messianic Interpretation and Expectation in the New Testament

The very name and title Christ (Xristo/$), “Anointed”, signifies the fundamental Christian belief that Jesus is the “Anointed One”, the Messiah (Heb. j^yv!m*). Early Christians generally followed Jewish tradition in their expectation of Messianic figures (Prophet, Davidic Ruler, Heavenly Deliverer), adopting many Scripture passages, which had been interpreted in a Messianic sense, and applying them to Jesus. We see this throughout the New Testament, and I have discussed the subject in considerable detail in my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed“. The process, in fact, goes back to the earliest layers of Gospel Tradition and the words of Jesus himself.

However, Christians today, in considering the “Messianic” passages and prophecies in the Old Testament, tend not to view them as eschatological. This is due to the time (2,000 years, and counting) which has passed since Jesus’ death and resurrection. The various Scripture passages may be seen as prophecies of Jesus (his birth, death, resurrection, etc), but it is difficult to regard them as referring to the End Time per se. The situation was quite different for the earliest believers, for whom Messianic and Eschatological expectation were closely connected. According to the Jewish belief and tradition at the time, the coming of the Anointed One—any/all of the Messianic figure-types—was linked to the end of the current Age. Early Christians generally retained this outlook, though adapting it in several key ways due to the unique circumstances of Jesus’ life, and, especially, his death, resurrection, and departure to God the Father in heaven. As he did not fulfill many of the traditional Messianic roles during his lifetime, these would have to wait until his subsequent return, which was felt would take place very soon, and could occur at any time.

In order, then, to understand the eschatology of the New Testament, it is important to include, and emphasize, the Messianic expectation of early Christians. This will be discussed at various points in this series, but it will be helpful to begin with a survey of the Scripture passages which had been interpreted in a Messianic sense during the first centuries B.C./A.D., and which were applied to Jesus by early believers. As most of these have been examined in some detail in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, I will address them only briefly here. There are, of course, many other passages which were understood as prophecies concerning Jesus, but I include here only those which clearly were regarded as Messianic by at least some Israelites and Jews of the time.

The Key Passages

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

In the Old Testament, especially in Deuteronomic tradition, Moses is viewed as a Prophet—indeed as the ideal and greatest Prophet (Deut 34:10-12). In Deuteronomy 18:15ff we find the famous prediction that another Prophet will (eventually) arise who is like Moses and who will take his place. In the same manner, Elisha took the place of Elijah, being anointed by his predecessor (1 Kings 19:16) and possessing his spirit and character (2 Kings 2:9, 15). Eventually, this prediction was given a future, eschatological interpretation—at the end-time, a Prophet-like-Moses would arise to instruct the faithful of Israel.

This expectation probably underlies the notice in 1 Maccabees 14:41 (“…until a trustworthy Prophet should arise”), as well as the reference to “the unique Prophet” in Testament of Benjamin 9:2. In the Qumran texts, Moses was clearly regarded as a Prophet, as in the “Apocryphon of Moses/Pentateuch” writings—cf. especially 4Q375 column 1 (in line 7 the phrase “trustworthy prophet” appears); in 4Q377 column 2, line 5, Moses is referred to as God’s “Anointed (One)” [jyvm]. Deut 18:18-19 is cited in 4QTestimonia [4Q175] lines 5-8, in what is likely an eschatological/Messianic context. The expected Prophet of 1QS 9:11 (“…until the coming of the Prophet and the Anointed [Ones] of Aaron and Israel”) presumably draws upon this Moses tradition as well.

The same may be said of passages in the New Testament which contain a reference to “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40; Luke 7:16, 36 v.l. etc); in Jn 1:21-25, “the Prophet” seems to be understood as a separate figure from “Elijah”, possibly an indication that the Moses-tradition is involved. John the Baptist explicitly denies being “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21), but that Jesus was thought to be so by people on numerous occasions is indicated by several of the references above. In Acts 3:18-24 (sermon-speech of Peter), Jesus is identified specifically with the coming “Prophet like Moses” of Deut 18:15ff (cf. also Acts 7:37). Within early Christian tradition, Jesus is identified or associated with Moses in a number of ways. For more on this, cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Malachi 3:1ff; 4:5-6

The Messianic “Elijah tradition” derives from Malachi 3:1, combined with the explanatory interpretation of Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] which many scholars consider to be a (later) editorial gloss (see my supplementary note on the original context of Mal 3:1). In any case, already by the time of the completion of Malachi (and, presumably, the collection of the Twelve Prophets [Hosea–Malachi] as a whole), the “Messenger” [Ea*l=m^] of Mal 3:1 was identified as Elijah, who will (re)appear just prior to the “Day of YHWH” to bring repentance to people before the Judgment. Over time, this belief was given greater eschatological emphasis—”Elijah” would appear at the end-time, prior to the last Judgment—expressed already in Sirach 48:10 (early-mid 2nd century B.C.). Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, evidence for this belief at Qumran is rather slight, though it is attested in the fragmentary 4Q558 (fragment 1), but is perhaps reflected more prominently in a text such as 4Q521 (cf. below). Evidence for this tradition is found specifically in Mark 9:11-13 (Matt 17:10-12), the citations and allusions to Mal 3:1; 4:5-6 in Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27; Matt 11:10-14, and may be inferred from other references listed below. Also worth noting is Sibylline Oracles 2:187ff (Christian expansion/adaptation of earlier Jewish material).

While Christians came to apply this Messianic figure to John the Baptist, there is some evidence in the earlier strands of Gospel Tradition that people also identified Jesus with the Prophetic figure-type. Indeed, Jesus is connected with Elijah in various ways in the Gospels. For a discussion of this subject, again cf. “Yeshua the Anointed” (Parts 2 and 3).

Psalm 2 (esp. verse 7-9)

This Psalm, drawing upon the ancient religious symbolism of the king as God’s “son” (vv. 7ff), was applied to Jesus at a very early stage of Christian belief. There are allusions to it in the account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11 par), and the voice from heaven actually quotes it in some manuscripts of Luke 3:22. More commonly, it was associated with Jesus’ resurrection (and exaltation) in early Christian preaching (Acts 13:33, cf. Rom 1:4 etc); the author of Hebrews continues to use it this way (1:5; 5:5), though, by this point, the idea of Jesus’ pre-existence and eternal Sonship was also in view. The overall context of the Psalm (vv. 1-2ff) fit the Messianic portrait, and was applied to Jesus as well (Acts 4:25-28, cf. also Luke 22:66-23:25).

2 Samuel 7:8-16 (cf. also 2 Sam 22:44-51 / Ps 18:44-51, and Psalm 89:3-4, 9-37ff)

The narrative in 2 Samuel 7, with the oracle by the prophet Nathan, is the primary Scripture passage which established the Messianic association with David—i.e., a ruler from the line of David who would appear at the end-time. Together with Psalm 2 (cf. above), it allowed the idea of the Messianic ruler-figure to be identified as “Son of God”. In Jewish tradition, this is best exhibited in the so-called Florilegium (4Q174) from Qumran, which blends together Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14 (along with other passages) in what is clearly both a Messianic and eschatological context. Another key Qumran text is the Aramaic 4Q246 (i. 9, ii. 1) with its striking parallels to Luke 1:32-35. There would seem to be references to Psalm 89 in 4Q252, and also (possibly) the fragmentary 4Q458. Important allusions are also to be found in the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (mid-1st century B.C.). For more on the Davidic ruler figure-type, and the title “Son of God”, cf. Parts 6-8 and 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Psalm 110:1-4

The opening verse(s) of this Psalm were central to early Christian understanding of Jesus as both the Messianic (Davidic) ruler and “Son of God”. It also was enormously influential in establishing the title “Lord” (ku/rio$), in a divine sense, for Jesus. As in the case of the title “Son of God” in Psalm 2:7, verse 1 of Psalm 110 was associated primarily with the resurrection of Jesus, following which he was exalted to the right hand of God the Father in heaven. The verse is quoted specifically in this context in Acts 2:34-35, but there are certainly allusions to it throughout the New Testament (Mark 14:62 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:25; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). The author of Hebrews quotes it, along with Psalm 2:7 (vv. 5ff), in 1:13, where the idea of divine pre-existence is also present (cf. also 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).

Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 in a definite Messianic context (Mark 12:36ff par), making it all but certain that Jews at the time were interpreting it this way. However, contemporary evidence for this is slight indeed. The Qumran text 11QMelchizedek [11Q13], drawing upon traditions regarding Melchizedek (in a Messianic context), would suggest some dependence on Psalm 110, but there are no specific quotations or allusions in the surviving fragments. The interpretation of the figure Melchizedek in Hebrews 7, relying heavily upon Psalm 110, also suggests that there were significant interpretative traditions, perhaps Messianic in nature, which might have been familiar to Jews and Christians of the time. It is also possible that Psalm 110 was influential in shaping the distinctive Messianic tradition, best seen in certain of the Qumran texts, of an Anointed Priestly figure, with a blending of royal and priestly characteristics.

Psalm 118:26

The fact that this verse is quoted both by Jesus (Matt 23:39; Luke 13:35), and by the crowds at his “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem (Mark 11:9 par), suggests that it was understood in a Messianic sense by Jews at the time. However, corresponding contemporary evidence outside of the New Testament is extremely slight. It would have related to the same (Davidic) royal figure-type discussed above.

Isaiah 9:1-6

This passage, along with 7:10-14ff (cf. Matt 1:22-23), came to be interpreted as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth (cf. Luke 2:11). Matthew specifically quotes Isa 9:1-2 as a way of introducing the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (4:14-16). The characteristics of a special royal birth, as well as the message of (future) promise, made Isa 9:1-6 a natural candidate for Messianic interpretation; however, there is little evidence for this in contemporary Jewish writings. Perhaps the closest example is the allusion to verse 6 in the Qumran Hymn 1QH 3.

Micah 5:2-4

Likewise, there is little contemporary evidence for a Messianic interpretation of Micah 5:2-4, though it is an obvious candidate. The context of Matthew 2:1-6ff makes no real sense if a Messianic understanding of this passage were not in existence among Jews in the 1st century B.C./A.D.

Amos 9:11

This verse is given a Messianic interpretation in both the Damascus Document (CD 7:14-21) and the Qumran Florilegium (4Q174 3-4). This helps to establish the background of its use in the speech of James (Acts 15:15-18), where it is quoted in very different sense, though still retaining something of a traditional Messianic (and eschatological) context.

Zechariah 9:9-10

The use of this passage, with its royal symbolism and eschatological orientation, in the Gospels, at the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus (Mark 11:2-10 par, with a specific citation in Matt 21:4-5 and John 12:14-15), would indicate that it may have been understood as a traditional Messianic passage. However, there is little or no contemporary Jewish evidence to support this. Moreover, the singular importance which Zech 9-14 holds in the Gospel Tradition, and the influence it had on shaping the (Passion) narrative, increases the likelihood that this is a uniquely Christian interpretation. This will be addressed a bit further in the upcoming articles.

Daniel 7:13-14; 9:24-27

These important eschatological (and Messianic) passages, so influential for Jews and early Christians both, will be discussed in detail in the upcoming articles.

The Servant Songs of Isaiah

Special attention must be given to the “Servant Songs” in the book of Isaiah (so-called “Deutero-Isaiah”), usually delineated by four passages: Isa 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12. Only the first and last of these played a central role in early Christian belief. However, it is worth noting that the Isaian “Servant” figure came to be understood and interpreted in a Messianic (or quasi-Messianic) sense by Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. The extent of this is indicated, not only by the many (and various) allusions (in the Dead Sea texts, etc), but by the way in which the thought and language of these passages has shaped and colored the texts themselves.

A good example of this may be found in the Qumran Hymns (1QH), especially those which are often attributed to the “Teacher of Righteousness”, an historical (but at least partly Messianic) figure with certain parallels to Jesus (cf. Part 4 of “Yeshua the Anointed”). In these hymns, the speaker repeatedly refers to himself as God’s servant (db#u#)—cf. Hymns IV. 11, 23ff; V. 24; VI. 8, 11, 25; VIII. 19, 21, 23ff; XIII. 15, 28; XV. 16; XVII. 11; XVIII. 29; XIX. 27, 30, 33; XXII. 16; XXIII. 6, 10 (Blenkinsopp, pp. 270-2). There are numerous allusions to the Servant songs, and related Isaian passages, throughout (cf. below).

Isaiah 42:1-9

It is verse 1 which has been most influential for Messianic thought:

“See, my servant—I hold on(to) him, my chosen (one whom) my soul favors; I have given my Spirit upon him, (and) he shall cause justice/judgment to come forth for the nations.”

The words in italics are particularly noteworthy. First, the substantive adjective yr!yj!B= (“my chosen [one]”), rendered in Greek as o( e)klekto/$ mou. This title is parallel, in many ways, with “my anointed [j^yv!m*] (one)”, and can serve as similar Messianic title, as is clear from texts such as the (fragmentary) Qumran 4Q534. There is unquestionably an allusion to Isa 42:1 in the words spoken by the voice from heaven in the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (Mark 1:11 par; Matt 17:5 par). In the Lukan version of the latter (according to the best manuscript evidence) we read:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [e)klelegme/no$, i.e. chosen]…” (9:35)

Similarly, in the Johannine description of the Baptism, we have the Baptist’s declaration (corresponding to the heavenly voice in the Synoptics):

“…this is the Son of God” (1:34)
though in some MSS the reading is:
“…this is the (one) gathered out [e)klekto/$, i.e. chosen one] of God”

In the New Testament, both the verb e)kle/gw (“gather out”) and the related noun e)klekto/$ are typically used in reference to believers, not Jesus. This suggests that the Gospel usage in such passages where it is applied to Jesus (cf. Luke 23:35) reflects early (Messianic) tradition.

On the second italicized portion above, cf. the discussion on Isa 61:1ff further below.

Isaiah 49:1-6

This Servant Song appears to have influenced Messianic thought and expression at two points: (1) the idea of a sword coming out of the Servant’s mouth (v. 2), and (2) the twin themes of restoration and salvation in v. 6. On the first point, the idea of the sword from the mouth overlaps with the (Messianic) portrait in Isa 11:4 (cf. below); there is an apparent allusion to this in Revelation 1:16 (cf. also Heb 4:12). It is possible that there is a general (Messianic) reference to verse 2 in the Qumran text 1QSb (5:23f).

The theme of the restoration of Israel in verse 6 certainly fits the main contours of traditional Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) thought, even though it is difficult to find contemporary use of the verse to support this. Early Christians, however, understood it in this light, including the second half of the verse, indicating that the Servant will be made “a light to the nations” (cf. Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47).

Isaiah 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12

These two songs introduce the theme of the Servant’s suffering, which early on was interpreted by believers as referring to the suffering and death of Jesus. The famous “Suffering Servant” passage in 52:13-53:12 is central to episode recorded in Acts 8:32-35 (and note the interesting critical question by the Ethiopian official in v. 34). In the Gospels, it is cited directly only at Matt 8:17, in the context of Jesus’ healing miracles, not his death. However, the passage likely influenced the way that the Passion narrative was told and understood, corresponding (rather clearly) in certain details to Isa 53:3-9. The identity of this Servant figure in Isaiah, in terms of its original context, continues to be debated by scholars and commentators.

There is relatively little evidence for the use of Isa 52:13-53:12 at Qumran; unfortunately, the surviving portions of the Commentary (pesher) on Isaiah do not cover 52:13-53:12. Nor would there seem to be any evidence for these Scriptures being interpreted in a Messianic sense prior to their use in the New Testament. The closest we find to a Messianic interpretation would appear be an allusion to Isa 53:3-5, 11-12 in the Qumran text 4Q491c (line 9), which is thought to be related to the Hodayot hymns (1QH) in some way (cf. 1QH 7:10; 8:26-27, 35-36; 9; Blenkinsopp, pp. 278-9ff). There is also an allusion to Isa 52:7 in 11QMelchizedek [11Q13] 2.16, where there is a connection with a Messianic interpretation of Isa 61:1ff, etc (cf. below).

In many ways, the emphasis on the suffering of the Messiah is uniquely applicable to Jesus. Early Christians had to explain how, and why, the Messiah would endure such suffering and the shameful death of crucifixion. This came to be an important point of emphasis in the Gospel Tradition (Mark 14:21, 49 par; Luke 18:31; 22:37; 24:25-26, 44-46), and the earliest (Jewish) Christian missionaries (such as Paul) would have to work hard to establish a sound Scriptural basis for such an idea (cf. Acts 5:42; 9:22; 13:26ff; 17:3; 18:5, 28, etc). Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is one of the only passages in the Old Testament which could be cited in this regard. For more on the idea of the suffering and death of Jesus, in a Messianic context, cf. Part 11 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as a supplementary article on the subject.

Other Passages

There are several key Messianic passages which are surprisingly absent from the New Testament; two of these are—Genesis 49:10, part of the blessing of Jacob over his sons (Judah, vv. 8-12), and Numbers 24:17-19, in Balaam’s fourth oracle (vv. 15-24). Both of these passages use the word tb#v@ (“stick, staff”), as a symbol of rule (i.e. “scepter”), and this came to be an important Messianic motif, in texts such as the Damascus Document (CD) 7:19-20 (= 4Q266 3 iv.9), and 1QSb 5:27-28; 1QM 11:6-7; 4Q161 ii 19; 4Q521 2 iii. 6, etc, at Qumran. Numbers 24:17 was especially prominent as a Messianic prophecy in the Qumran texts, with both “star” and “staff” serving as key symbols (CD 7:19-20; 4Q175 12, etc). Yet, this Scripture is not cited in the New Testament, though it may, possibly, form part of the background of the Star/Magi episode in Matthew 2. Somewhat later in time, but presumably reflecting older traditions, Num 24:17ff does appear as a Messianic prophecy in the Targums (Onkelos, Jonathan), and was famously applied to the quasi-Messianic revolutionary leader Ben-Kosiba (“Bar-Kokhba” = “Son of the Star”), cf. j. Ta’anit 68d.

The relative absence of Isaiah 11:1-9 in the New Testament is also a bit surprising, since this passage, along with Psalm 2, would be extremely influential in the development of the Davidic Ruler figure-type. The prophecy begins with the declaration “A branch [rf#j)] will go out from the stem of Jesse, a fresh/green (sprout) [rx#n@] will grow (out) from his roots”. These words and phrases became foundational motifs for beliefs regarding the coming Davidic ruler in Messianic thought. In particular, this passage associated the Davidic ruler with the defeat/subjugation of the nations and the end-time Judgment. Here also we find the idea of Judgment (vv. 3-4) followed by a new Age of peace (vv. 6-9), common to much Messianic thought.

Among the many texts in the 1st centuries B.C./A.D. which draw upon Isa 11:1ff, we may note the Qumran (pesher) commentary on Isaiah (4QpIsaa [4Q161] 11-12), as well as 1QSb 5:23ff, and important allusions in 4Q285 and 4Q534. The classic portrait of the militant Davidic ruler is found in the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (mid-1st cent. B.C.), and also features prominently in the 13th chapter of 2/4 Esdras (mid-late 1st cent. A.D.). It is perhaps this militant character of the Messiah which kept it from being applied to Jesus by early Christians; Paul does allude to verse 4b in 2 Thess 2:8, in a clear eschatological context. In relation to Jesus, more appropriate to the Gospel portrait, we may note the reference to the Spirit of YHWH resting upon him (v. 2a, cf. Isa 61:1, below).

The Davidic promise is given new form in the oracles of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in the historical context of the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile. Jer 23:5ff declares that God will raise for David “a righteous sprout [qyD!x* jm^x#]” who will rule as king. The same expression and message is found in Jer 33:14-16ff. That these prophecies point to the future, in contrast to the historical circumstances in the prophet’s own time, is indicated by the surrounding context (cf. Jer 22:30; 33:19-26). In Ezekiel 34:23-24, there is a similar promise that God raise up for Israel “one shepherd, my servant David”; cf. also Ezek 37:24-25. In the early post-Exilic period, Zerubbabel appears to have been seen as a fulfillment of the restoration of Davidic rule (Haggai 2:21-24; Zechariah 4:6-14, cf. also 3:8; 6:11-14). Ultimately, of course, the true fulfillment had to wait for a future coming King, as indicated in the (later) oracle Zech 9:9-10ff. All of these passages formed part of the fabric of Messianic thought in the first centuries B.C./A.D.

Isaiah 61:1ff

Of all the Messianic passages, regarded as such at the time, it is perhaps that of Isaiah 61:1ff which best fits the Gospel portrait of Jesus, especially during the time of his earthly ministry. In Luke 4:17-21, Jesus quotes vv. 1-2, and alludes to them again in 7:22 (“Q” par Matt 11:5). Thus, during his ministry (in Galilee), the Messianic figure with whom Jesus specifically identifies himself is the anointed Prophet/Herald of Isa 61. Luke’s positioning of the episode at Nazareth, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, almost certainly is meant to draw a connection between the Spirit-anointing of Isa 61:1 and the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism (3:22 par). Following the baptism, Jesus moves about in the guidance and power of the Spirit (4:1, 14).

The phrase “in the power of the Spirit” is probably meant to indicate Jesus’ own Prophetic status (cf. Lk 1:17; Acts 10:38)—specifically as an Anointed Prophet. Even though the noun jyv!m* [m¹šîaµ] / xristo/$ [christós], is not used in Isa 61:1 (rather it is the verb jv^m* / e&xrisen), this verse does seem to have been extremely influential toward the idea of a Messianic Prophet. The figure in Isa 61:1ff certainly does not appear to be a king or ruler of the Davidic mold, nor a priest, but rather a prophet like Isaiah himself. It describes a herald who announces a message of good tidings (in Hebrew, literally “fresh” tidings) to the poor and oppressed.

By the time of Jesus’ ministry, there is evidence that Isa 61:1ff was already being understood in an eschatological sense, with the anointed figure of verse 1 identified as a Prophet-Messiah. This is seen most clearly in the Qumran text 4Q521, where in fragment 2 (column ii, line 1) we read: “…[the heav]ens and the earth will listen to [i.e. obey] his Anointed (One)”. What follows in lines 2-14 etc is a blending of Isa 61:1ff and Psalm 146; but the idea of heaven and earth obeying God’s Anointed is suggestive of a Prophet in the manner of Elijah who “shut up the heavens” so that it would not rain and brought down fire from heaven (1 Kings 17:1ff; Sirach 48:2-3; James 5:17); Jesus of course exhibited a similar authority over the elements (Mark 5:35-41; 8:45-52 pars). Moreover, in column iii of fragment there is an allusion to Mal 4:5-6 and the (end-time) role of Elijah in bringing people to repentance.

Isaiah 40:1-5

Finally, we should note the famous prophecy in Isa 40:1-5 (esp. verses 3ff), which was foundational for the religious self-identity of both the Qumran Community and the earliest Christians. For the Community of the Qumran texts, the key passage is in the Community Rule (1QS) 8:14-15f, where Isa 40:3 is cited and applied to the Community. The association of the same verse with John the Baptist and his ministry (Mark 1:2-3 par; Matt 11:10 par; John 1:23; cf. also Luke 1:17, 76 and the connection with Mal 3:1ff) has, among other factors, led a number of scholars to posit some sort of relationship between John and the Qumran Community. For early Christians, it is likely that Isa 40:3 influenced the use of “(followers of) the Way” as a self-designation (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).

It should be noted that the use of Isa 40:3-5 in the Gospel Tradition, and among early Christians, is Messianic only in a special, qualified sense. For the most part, early believers identified the herald (“one crying out [in the desert]”), like the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff, with John the Baptist, rather than Jesus. And, while it is likely that some Jews at the time regarded John as a Messianic figure (Jn 1:19-27; 3:26-30, etc), the issue quickly disappeared from Christian thought. The twin passages of Isa 40:3-5 and Mal 3:1ff were interpreted, not in the original context of a chosen (Messianic) Prophet/Herald appearing before the coming of the Lord (YHWH), but in terms of John the Baptist preparing the way before the coming of the Lord (Jesus).

References above marked “Blenkinsopp” are to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Opening the Sealed Book: Interpretations of the Book of Isaiah in Late Antiquity (Eerdmans: 2006).

Note of the Day – June 26 (1 John 4:1-6)

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1 John 4:1-6

There is a shift in the letter of 1 John, beginning in chapter 4. Previously, the theme of love for one another was emphasized in chaps. 2-3; now, that of faith in Christ comes more clearly into view. These represent the two aspects of the two-fold “command” defined in 3:23 (for more on this, cf. the previous daily note). This shift is marked by the sudden and striking wording in 4:1:

“Loved (one)s, you must not trust every spirit, but consider the spirits (carefully)—if they are out of [i.e. from] God (or not)—(in) that [i.e. because] many false foretellers [i.e. prophets] have gone out into the world.”

This use of the word pneu=ma (“spirit”) follows upon the closing words of the previous section (3:24): “…out of the Spirit which he gave to us”. Thus there is a clear contrast between the Spirit (of God and Christ) given to believers, and other “spirits” in the world. Are these to be understood as spiritual beings or in a more abstract sense, i.e. representing generally views, ideas, teachings, etc, which are contrary to God and the truth? Most likely, the author has the former in mind. The reference to “false foretellers [i.e. prophets]” suggests that these other “spirits” are entities which inspire the false prophets just as the Spirit of God inspires and teaches believers in Christ. If so, then this marks the only portion of either the Gospel or Letters of John where the word pneu=ma refers to false or evil “spirits”.

The context indicates that these “false prophets” are people who claim to be Christians, speaking in the name of Christ and in the Spirit, but who are not true believers and actually speak against Christ and thus speak from a different “spirit”. This section (4:1-6) must be read in light of the earlier passage in 2:18-25, where the word an)ti/xristo$ is introduced, which literally means “against (the) Anointed”, and which has been preserved as a transliteration in the English “Antichrist”. We are accustomed to think of “Antichrist” as a grandiose end-time ruler, based on passages such as 2 Thess 2:1-12 and Rev 13-17; notably, however, the word an)ti/xristo$ does not appear in such passages, but only in the letters of John, where it has a quite different denotation.

It is clear in 1 Jn 2:18ff that the “antichrists” are to be identified with supposed believers who have “gone out from us”—i.e., from the Community/congregations (of true, faithful believers) with whom the author considers himself to belong. This identification with the Community is clearly stated in verse 19 (note the wordplay involving the preposition e)k, “out of”):

“They went out of [i.e. away from] us, but they were not out of [i.e. belonging to] us; for if they (had) been out of [i.e. belonging to] us, they would have remained with us, but (they left so) that it might be made to shine forth [i.e. be revealed] that they all are not out [i.e. belonging to] us.”

In conventional religious terminology, we would say that these were separatist Christians—i.e., those who separated from the ‘mainstream’ Johannine congregations, and, we may assume, had a somewhat different theological (and Christological) outlook. The false (“lying”) message referenced in 2:21-22 and 4:1ff is described as a)nti/xristo$ (“against the Anointed”, 2:18, 22; 4:3, also 2 Jn 7). As such, it clearly relates to Jesus’ own identity as “the Anointed (One)”, which, in the Gospel tradition, at a very early point, was closely connected with the title “Son of God”. These two titles, taken together, were part of a confessional statement among Johannine believers, as indicated by passages such as Jn 1:34; 11:27; 20:31, and 1 Jn 1:3; 3:23; 5:20, etc. It is noteworthy that they are part of the foundational “command” in 3:23: “…that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed” (cf. the previous note). Consider the way the names/titles are combined:

  • His Son [i.e. Son of God] —Yeshua/Jesus
  • The Anointed One

The titles are clearly parallel, and, in many ways, equivalent. But what, exactly, was meant by them? The history of Christology provides countless examples of how believers can declare Jesus to be the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) or “Son of God”, and yet each mean something slightly different. For the author of 1 John, the “antichrists” and “false prophets”, who separated from the Community, declare a different view of Jesus than he (and his Community) holds. This is stated in both of the passages under consideration:

  • “Who is the false (speaker) if not the (one) denying that Yeshua is the Anointed (One)? This is the (one who is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$], the (one) denying the Father and the Son.” (2:22)
  • “Every spirit which gives account as one [i.e. confesses together] (that) Yeshua (the) Anointed has come in the flesh is out of [i.e. from] God.
    And every spirit which does not give (this) account as one [i.e. confess together] (about) Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God—and this is the (spirit) th(at is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$]…” (4:2-3, cf. the similar statement in 2 Jn 7)

The implication would seem to be that the one who speaks falsely about Jesus’ identity is inspired by a false/lying spirit—and that both speaker and spirit are characterized as “against the Anointed” (a)nti/xristo$). Two distinct “false” statements regarding Jesus’ identity are indicated:

  • Jesus is not the Anointed One
  • Jesus, the Anointed One, has not come in the flesh

It is possible that these could represent the purported views of different groups or leaders. The second statement is much more precise, and suggests a kind of “docetic” view of Christ—that he did not come to earth as a true flesh-and-blood human being, or that his humanity needs to be qualified in some way. Yet, as there is a wide range of such views in early Christianity, we cannot be certain just what Christological belief these Johannine opponents or “separatists” held. Greater clarity can perhaps be provided from 5:6-12, which will be discussed in an upcoming note. The famous variant reading in 4:3 could conceivably shed light on the context; I discuss this in a separate note.

Regardless of the specific Christological view characterized as “against the Anointed”, it is clear that the author (and the congregations he represents) identifies himself, along with all true believers, as possessing the Spirit of God (and Christ), rather than the false/lying spirit(s) of the ‘separatists’, as indicated in verse 6:

We are out of [i.e. from] God, (and) the (one) knowing God hears us, (while) the (one) who is not out of [i.e. from] God does not hear us. Out of [i.e. from] this we know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error [lit. straying].”

According to tradition, the author of the letter is the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ close disciples, and, we must assume, among those addressed in the Last Discourse (Jn 13:31-16:33; chap. 17) and in the commission of Jn 20:21-23. This would give added weight to the idea of other believers hearing an Apostolic voice who represents Jesus for the congregations under his leadership. However, even if the traditional identification of authorship is not correct, the same authority would apply to the Community as a whole (i.e. “hearing us“)—all true believers who possessed the Spirit of God and Christ. According to the view of the author, one who separates from the Community of (true) believers, and proclaims a different (i.e. “false”) message regarding Jesus Christ, possesses a different “spirit”. Here in verse 6, the second occurrence of the word pneu=ma seems to be used in a more abstract sense—i.e., “the spirit of straying” (to\ pneu=ma th=$ pla/nh$). It could still refer to a spiritual entity, an evil/sinning spirit who leads would-be believers away from the true path. A pla/no$ is one who wanders about, straying from a path; figuratively, it can refer to one who is deceived/deluded or who misleads others. For the expression “Spirit of Truth” as a title for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and Christ, cf. John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13, and 1 Jn 5:6. There is a similar dualistic distinction between the “spirit of truth” and “spirit of falsehood” in the “Two Spirits” section of the Qumran ‘Community Rule’ text (1QS 3:13-4:26).

Note of the Day – May 21 (John 4:21-24)

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John 4:21-24

In discussing the “living water” (u%dwr zw=n) which Jesus gives (4:10-14, cf. the previous note), I mentioned that it is to be identified with the giving of the Spirit. This can be inferred from a number of passages in the Gospel (beginning with the earlier statement in 3:34), but it also is confirmed if we continue on in the discourse of chapter 4. Following the Samaritan woman’s (second) reaction in verse 15, there is a second exposition by Jesus in vv. 16-26, which takes the form of a mini-dialogue, and which may be characterized as a “Messianic dialogue”. The woman’s reaction continues the motif of misunderstanding, common to all of the Johannine discourses; she continues to think of this “water” in an ordinary (physical) sense, though perhaps now with a glimmer of its deeper meaning:

“(My) lord, give to me this water, (so) that I might not thirst, and would not (have to) come through (here) in (this place) to take up (water).”

The dialogue-exposition by Jesus, in response, may be outlined as follows:

  • Miracle—demonstration of Jesus’ (divine) foreknowledge (vv. 16-18)
    • Declaration by the woman:
      “I look (on and perceive) that you are (the) Foreteller” (v. 19)
      and statement relating to the role of the Messiah (v. 20)

      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 21-24)
    • Declaration by the woman:
      “I see [i.e. know] that the Mashiaµ {Messiah} comes” (v. 25a)
      and statement regarding the role of the Messiah (v. 25b)
  • I Am saying—identification of Jesus as the Anointed One of God (v. 26)

As with several other episodes (and discourses) in the Gospel, a miracle, demonstrating Jesus’ God-given power, leads to an “I am” statement by which Jesus effectively declares his special status (and nature) in relation to God the Father. This is the framework for the dialogue in vv. 16-26, within which the portion spanning vv. 19-25 is, as I have already indicated, a kind of “Messianic dialogue”—with a central exposition by Jesus (vv. 21-24) flanked by two declarations by the woman. Each of these declarations has a Messianic significance.

There is some ambiguity regarding the first of these, as the word profh/th$ (“Foreteller”, i.e. Prophet), without the article, could mean either “a Prophet” or “the Prophet”. Jesus’ demonstration of foreknowledge in vv. 16-18 certainly would mark him as a prophet (lit. “foreteller”); yet the woman’s entire statement in vv. 19-20, taken as a whole (and in context) suggests that she believes that he might be the Prophet to Come—i.e. the end-time (Messianic) Prophet expected by the Samaritans. This Prophet-figure is derived from Deut 18:15-19, and the expectation of a “Prophet like Moses”, who would appear at the end time, was shared by many Israelites and Jews (cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). A number of references to “the Anointed One” (Xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) in the Gospels may refer to such a Prophet-figure, rather than the more familiar Davidic Ruler figure-type. Similarly, there are specific references to “the Prophet”, especially in the Gospel of John (1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40), which would seem to confirm this. Jesus is specifically identified as the Prophet of Deut 18:15ff in Acts 3:22-23.

In the second declaration (v. 25), the woman apparently uses the term M¹šîaµ (j^yv!m*), transliterated in Greek as Messi/a$ (and translated by the Gospel writer as Xristo/$, “Anointed One”). There is some question whether, at the historical level, a Samaritan would have used this title. According to (later) sources, the Samaritan “Messiah” had the title Taheb, presumably related to the root bWv (šû», Aramaic bWT, tû»), “turn (back), return”, and thus meaning either “the Returning One”, or “the One who returns/restores (things)”. For the Samaritans, this figure would have been related to the Messianic Prophet figure-type (from Deut 18:15ff), and not the Davidic Ruler type with its origins in Judean (Jewish) royal tradition. There is some thought that the Taheb was expected to restore true/proper religion for humankind, and this would seem to be reflected by the woman’s statements in vv. 20 and 25b. The sharp divisions between Israelites/Jews and Samaritans were both ethnic and religious in nature, most particularly, with regard to the central sacred location—Mt. Gerizim vs. Jerusalem (i.e. Mt. Zion). The woman brings out this religious difference in v. 20, perhaps expecting Jesus (if he is the Prophet) to arbitrate or judge the question. Her statement is worth citing in full:

“Our fathers kissed toward [i.e. worshiped] (God) in/on this mountain, and (yet) you [i.e. Jews] say that the place where it is necessary to kiss toward [i.e. worship] (God) (is) in Yerushalaim {Jerusalem}.”

This serves as the immediate basis for the exposition by Jesus in vv. 21-24. If she expects Jesus (as the Prophet) to explain/resolve this religious difference, it may be parallel to her statement in v. 25b regarding the role of the “Messiah” (Samaritan Taheb): “…when that (One) should come, he will offer up a message to us (about) all (thing)s”.

Let us now turn to the central exposition by Jesus, examining briefly, but carefully, the main statements. His initial statement in verse 21 is a direct response to the religious differences (between Samaritans and Jews) mentioned by the woman:

“Trust me, (my dear) woman, that an hour comes when (it will) not (be) in/on this mountain, and not in Yerushalaim {Jerusalem} (either), that you will kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father”.

This declaration essentially abrogates and removes the religious-cultural differences between Samaritans and Jews, as represented by the central difference regarding the place for worship. It is presented from an eschatological point of view—”an hour comes”, i.e. in the future. At that time, worship will transcend specific (sacred) places, etc, rooted in ancient ethnic and religious traditions. For the present—that is, at the moment when he is speaking with the woman—it would seem that Jesus recognizes (and even affirms!) the religious differences (v. 22). He appears to speak from the Israelite/Jewish standpoint, which represents the “correct” religious tradition, expressed in the Johannine (dualistic) vocabulary of “knowing” vs. “not knowing”—i.e., worship done in ignorance, without true knowledge. He even goes so far as to state that “salvation” comes “out of the Jews”—that is, out of the Jewish milieu and religious heritage (in which Jesus was born).

If Jesus seems to confirm the religious-cultural distinctions in v. 22, he eliminates them again, repeating (even more forcefully) his statement in v. 21:

“But an hour comes, and now is, when the true kissers toward (God) [i.e. worshipers] will kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father in (the) Spirit and (the) Truth—for (it is) even (that) the Father seeks these (very sorts of people) kissing toward him.” (v. 23)

I have translated the verb proskune/w literally, according to its probable fundamental meaning—to kiss (kune/w) toward (pro/$) someone, i.e. as a gesture of adoration, homage or respect. The ancient symbolism of the expression came to be used in the more general and abstract sense of “worship, adoration”, etc. However, I think it is worth preserving the sense of the action underlying the idiom. At any rate, what Jesus characterizes as true (a)lh/qino$) worship is said to occur, not in a specific place, but, rather, “in (the) Spirit and Truth” (e)n pneu/mati kai\ a)lhqei/a|).

Yet when and how will this true worship take place? Jesus has modified the eschatological orientation of v. 21; instead of saying “an hour comes”, he states: “an hour comes, and now is [kai\ nu=n e)stin]”—that is to say, it is here now, in the present. This is another example of the “realized” eschatology expressed numerous times in the Johannine discourses of Jesus. Believers experience now, in the present, what traditionally would be experienced by the righteous at the end time (in the Age to Come). The basis for this realized eschatology is trust in the person and work of Jesus. The Johannine Christological theme of Jesus (the Son) making God the Father known to believers is very much central to this passage. Worship in the Spirit, which is the only true worship (“in the Spirit and Truth”), can only be realized through the gift of the Spirit. Jesus (the Son) gives the Spirit, which is given to him by the Father (3:34-35)—the ultimate source of the Spirit is God the Father. Jesus expresses this clearly enough in the concluding verse 24:

“God (is) Spirit, and the (one)s kissing toward [i.e. worshiping] him, it is necessary (for them) to kiss toward [i.e. worship] (him) in (the) Spirit and Truth.”

We cannot truly worship God, who is Spirit, unless we are in the Spirit. This is not a temporary, charismatic phenomenon, but an essential and permanent condition—it is the very Life (eternal, divine Life) given to us by Jesus (the Son) from the Father.

Note of the Day – May 10 (John 11:27 continued)

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John 11:27, continued

o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= (“the Son of God”)

The second of the titles in Martha’s confession is “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=). This, of course, came to be a regular title applied to Jesus by early Christians (Acts 9:20; Rom 1:4, etc), but its precise meaning in this period remains somewhat uncertain. The association with the title “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) in the Gospel tradition strongly suggests that the Messianic figure of the Davidic Ruler type is in view. The (Davidic) king as the “Son” of God, in a symbolic sense, is expressed most clearly in 2 Sam 7:14ff and Psalm 2:7. The latter verse came to be associated with Jesus, both from the standpoint of his resurrection/exaltation (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5, cf. also Rom 1:4, and note the context of Acts 4:25-28), but also in the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes in the Gospels (Mk 1:11 par [esp. Lk 3:22 v.l.]; 9:7 par). In this respect, it was unquestionably understood as a Messianic title that was applied to Jesus. It is part of the Matthean version of Peter’s confession (“Son of the living God”, Matt 16:16, cf. also 26:63 par), and is used of Jesus a number of times in the Synoptics, but never by Jesus himself.

The title takes on added theological and Christological significance in the Gospel of John, where Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as “the Son” (o( ui(o/$). This is analogous to his use of “Son of Man” as a self-reference in the Synoptic tradition, which also occurs in John (1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, etc). However, in the Fourth Gospel, the title “Son” is always used to express Jesus’ relationship to God the Father, and, in a number of passages, clearly indicates Jesus’ divine/eternal status. Thus it is essentially synonymous with the title “Son of God”, which Jesus also uses in 3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4. The idea that, in using the title “the Son (of God)”, Jesus was claiming deity—or even some kind of equality with God (Yahweh)—comes through in the hostile reaction to him (5:18; 8:58-59; 10:29-39; 19:7ff). I would point out three important occurrences of the title—at the beginning, middle, and end of the Gospel, respectively—which, I believe, show a progression or development of meaning:

  1. Jn 1:49—(Nathanael speaking to Jesus) “You are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel”
    Most likely, the title here was meant (by Nathanael) in a traditional Messianic sense, identifying Jesus as the coming Davidic Ruler.
  2. Jn 11:27—(Martha speaking to Jesus)
  3. Jn 20:31—the conclusion of the Gospel proper (cf. below)
o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”)

English translations here may obscure the fact that this is a descriptive title. It is also a specific Messianic title, but one which, at the traditional-historical level, relates not to the Davidic Ruler figure-type, but to that of a coming Prophet figure (for more on this, cf. Parts 2-3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as the supplemental note on “the one coming”). The title was important with regard to the identity of both Jesus and John the Baptist in the early Gospel tradition (Matt 3:11; 11:3 pars; Jn 1:27), but eventually its significance was lost for Christians, virtually disappearing from the later strands of the New Testament. This particular Messianic expectation is stated clearly in John 6:14:

“Truly this (man) is the Foreteller [i.e. Prophet], the (one) coming into the world!”

The italicized portion is nearly identical with the phrase in 11:27 (only the word order differs). Martha thus would seem to be declaring also that Jesus is this coming (Messianic) Prophet, just as Nathanael (cf. above) declared him to be the Davidic Ruler. In each instance, the distinct Messianic figure-type is associated with the title “Son of God”.

However, from the standpoint of the Johannine Gospel, the verb e&rxomai (“come”) has special theological (and Christological) significance, as does the expression ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”). We see this clearly enough at several points in the Prologue:

  • “…(this/he) is the true Light, which gives light to every man, coming into the world [e)rxo/menon ei)$ to\n ko/smon]” (v. 9)
  • “he came unto (his) own…” (v. 11)
  • “the one coming in back of me…” (v. 15, also vv. 27, 30)

This use of e&rxomai refers to what we would call the incarnation—according to three aspects:

  1. Jesus as the divine/eternal Son (and Word, Light, etc) of God who is sent forth from the Father, coming to earth
  2. Jesus taking on human form, being born a human being—i.e. his coming into the world
  3. His coming into the presence of his fellow human beings in the world—reflecting his work and ministry in the world

All three conceptual strands are wrapped up in the idea of Jesus coming into the world. The specific expression ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”) occurs numerous times in the Gospel:

  • “God se(n)t forth (his) Son into the world…” (3:17)
  • “the Light has come into the world…” (3:19)
  • “the (One) sending me is true, and the (thing)s which I heard (from) alongside of Him these I speak into/unto the world” (8:26)
  • “I have come (as) Light into the world…” (12:46)
  • “and (just) as you se(n)t me forth into the world, I also se(n)t them forth into the world” (17:18)
  • “unto this I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world…” (18:37)

Thus, even if, at the historical level, Martha identifies Jesus as a Messianic figure (in the traditional sense), from the standpoint of the Gospel, occurring as it does at a central mid-point of the book, her confession must be understood as expressing something much deeper with regard to Jesus’ identity. This is confirmed when we consider that the confession of 11:27 is essentially echoed at the conclusion of the Gospel proper (20:31)—a summary declaration by the Gospel writer which expresses his very purpose in writing:

“…these (thing)s have been written, (so) that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed One, the Son of God, and (that) in trusting you might hold life in his name.”

Note of the Day – May 9 (John 11:27)

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John 11:27

Verse 27 is the climax to the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, and it is her response to the question by Jesus in v. 26b—”do you trust this?” (cf. the prior note). As I discussed, the demonstrative pronoun “this” (tou=to) refers to Jesus’ statement in vv. 25-26a, which begins with the “I am” declaration (v. 25a). Thus Jesus is asking her about his identity—not only that she trusts in his word, but in who he is. In this regard, as I pointed out in the previous note, there is a basic similarity between the question to Martha, and that posed to Peter (and the other disciples) in Mark 8:29 par. In the Synoptic scene, the question is more direct in relation to Jesus’ identity—”But who do you consider me to be?”. The question of Jesus’ identity in the Johannine episode is framed differently, but, in many ways, remains quite the same—i.e. “do you trust what I have said (about who I am)?” Before proceeding to a detailed examination of verse 27, it is worth continuing the comparison with Peter’s confession. The beginning of both statements is identical:

su\ ei@ o( xristo/$
“You are the Anointed (One) [i.e. Messiah]…”

The Matthean version of Peter’s confession is closest to Martha’s:

“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of…God” (Matt 16:16)
“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God…” (John 11:27)

In some ways, Martha’s declaration takes a central place in the Gospel of John, much as Peter’s confession does in the Synoptics. The Fourth Gospel has nothing corresponding to the scene in Mark 8:27-30 par, though there is a rough parallel, with certain points of similarity, in Jn 6:66-71 (compare v. 69 with Mk 8:29 par). With Peter and Martha, here we have disciples, through an expression (confession) of faith, making a fundamental declaration regarding Jesus’ identity. Both passages are also positioned at a similar point in the Gospel narrative—the conclusion of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry and the start of his (final) period in Jerusalem.

If we turn specifically to Martha’s statement in verse 27, we see that there are three components to it, each of which involves a particular title applied to Jesus:

  • “You are
    • the Anointed One [o( xristo/$]
    • the Son of God [o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]
    • the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] into the world”

Each of these important titles will be discussed in turn.

o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”)

This, of course, is the title applied to Jesus by early Christians, so thoroughly that it came to function virtually as a second name—”Yeshua (the) Anointed”, i.e. Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 1:17; 17:3). I have discussed the significance and background of this title at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed“. It occurs less frequently in the Gospels than elsewhere in the New Testament, for obvious reasons. The historical tradition underlying the Gospel narratives reflects the fact that the title was applied to Jesus during the time of his ministry only on certain occasions, taking on greater prominence during the final period in Jerusalem. The title occurs 19 times in the Gospel of John, almost always on the lips of other people, not Jesus himself. The issue in these passages is whether Jesus might be the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah), a matter discussed and questioned by the people who saw and heard (about) him. A brief survey may be useful:

  • In 1:20 (also v. 25 and 3:28), John the Baptist declares that he is not the Anointed One
    By contrast, in v. 41, John’s followers (now disciples of Jesus) identity Jesus as this figure.
  • In 4:25, 29, the Samaritan woman refers to the expectation of the coming of the Anointed One (Messiah, Samaritan Taheb), and raises the possibility to her fellow villagers that it might be Jesus.
  • In 7:25-31, and again in vv. 40-44, people wonder, question and debate whether Jesus might be the Anointed One.
  • In 10:24 people want Jesus to tell them whether he truly claims to be the Anointed One.
  • In 12:34, again there are questions surrounding Jesus as the Anointed One, here connected with the title “Son of Man” so often used by Jesus in reference to himself.

There is some uncertainty as to the precise meaning of the title “Anointed One” in these passages, as there are a number of different Messianic figure-types to which it may refer. The type which came to be most prominent, that of the end-time Ruler from the line of David, is clearly in view only in 7:40-42, where “Anointed One” is contrasted with a Messianic Prophet figure. However, in 4:25ff and 7:25-31, the title seems to refer to an end-time Prophet. The references in chapter 1, in connection with John the Baptist, are harder to determine. As a result, we cannot be certain, at the historical level, just how Martha might have understood the title.

The remaining two titles, along with an interpretation of the verse as a whole, will be examined in the next daily note.

Saturday Series: John 1:15, 30; 3:28

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Last week, we looked at John 3:1-21 in the context of the prior chapter 2 (especially 2:13-25). Today, we will be looking ahead to the next section, 3:22-36. I do not intend to provide a similarly detailed comparison with 3:1-21, only to note the general correspondence. There is indeed a similarity between the discourse involving John the Baptist (vv. 25ff) and the earlier one between Jesus and Nicodemus. In particular, the language and thought of vv. 31-36 has much in common with Jesus’ exposition in vv. 11-21. According to the context of the narrative, John the Baptist is the one speaking in vv. 31ff (there is no certain indication of a change in speaker), and the similarity of expression between Jesus and the Baptist is very much part of the overall theme of the Gospel. This was established in chapter 1, going back to the Prologue (vv. 1-18). John the Baptist is one sent from God to bear witness to Jesus. As 1:7-8 describes, John is not the light, but gives witness to it—so well indeed, that he and Jesus use much the same language. They are essentially witnessing to the same thing—Jesus’ own person and identity. Only, after chapter 3, John the Baptist disappears from the scene, and from that point on in the Gospel, it is Jesus’ words and works alone which bear witness.

The discourse in 3:22-36 reflects the narrative in chapter 1 even more closely. This is part of the Johannine blending of details and elements from the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry, as we saw in the case of 1:51 and the episodes of chapter 2. The main dialogue in vv. 25-30 is parallel to 1:19-34. The clearest reference is found in verse 28, where the Baptist says to those with him:

“You (your)selves (can) witness for me, that I said [that] ‘I am not the Anointed One, but that I am (one) having been se(n)t forth in front of that (one)’.”

If we look back at chapter 1, there are several statements which, if taken together, are similar to the saying here in v. 28b:

  • “I am not the Anointed One [i.e. Messiah]” (1:20b)
  • “the (One) sending me…” (v. 33; see also verse 6)
  • “the (one) coming behind me…” (v. 27, compare with the Synoptic saying in Mark 1:7 par)
  • the saying in verse 15 and 30 (discussed below)

The idea that Jesus is the Anointed One (on this title, see my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed“), and that he comes after (or behind) John the Baptist, is a basic historical tradition found in all four Gospels (and the book of Acts). Yet it is clear from Jn 3:27-30ff that there is a deeper theological significance to the statement in v. 28. This comes out most vividly when we examine the saying of the Baptist in 1:15 and 30. Let us look at the form in verse 30, given in a literal translation:

“Behind me comes a man who has come to be in front of me, (in) that he was the first of [i.e. for, before] me”

The significance of this saying, as recorded in the Gospel of John is rather obscured by most translations; consider the NIV rendering as typical:

“A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me”

The basic idea of Jesus’ superior rank and (divine) pre-existence comes through well enough, but the powerful sequence of verbs (marked by italics above), and the profound theological (and Christological) statement contained within it, is impossible to capture in conventional English. Here is an instance where something truly is lost if one does not (or is not able to) study carefully the actual Greek words that are used. The saying is made up of three phrases, each of which contains a key verb:

  • “A man comes [erchetai] in back of [i.e. behind] me”
  • “who has come to be [gegonen] in front of me”
  • “he was [¢n] first of [i.e. for, before] me”

These three phrases (and verbs) essentially refer to an aspect of Jesus’ identity, which can best be understood by consulting the Prologue (vv. 1-18). Indeed, this same saying appeared earlier in the Prologue (v. 15), in a slightly different form, stated more succinctly:

“the one coming [erchomenos] in back of me has come to be [gegonen] in front of me (in) that he was [¢n] first of [i.e. for, before] me”

Let us see how each of these verbs is used in the Prologue:

1. comes/coming (vv. 7, 9, 11)—the verb erchomai (e&rxomai), which refers to human beings (and Jesus as a human being) coming into the world. This covers a person’s birth, but also extends to the place in which he lives, his community, his work and career, etc. It is frequently used in the Gospel of John in the context of Jesus coming into the world, to those who will believe in him (his disciples, believers)—a comprehensive idea spanning his human life, ministry, witness, and sacrificial death. His baptism, where he appears on the scene after (behind) John the Baptist, marks the beginning of his ministry, and the moment in which he first comes into public view.

2. has come to be (vv. 3, 6, 10, 12, 14, 17)—this is the verb ginomai (gi/nomai), an existential verb meaning “come to be, become”. It occurs frequently in the New Testament, usually in a common, ordinary sense; but, in the Gospel of John, it often has special theological significance, due to its overlapping meaning with the related verb gennaœ (genna/w). This latter verb regularly means “come to be born“, and ginomai can carry this meaning as well. It is used several different ways in the Prologue: (1) for creatures (and the world) coming into existence (vv. 3 [three times], 10), (2) for a human being coming to be born (v. 6), and similarly (3) of believers coming to be born (spiritually) (v. 12), and finally (4) of Jesus (the Word/Light) coming to be born as a human being (v. 14). It is this latter sense that is in view in verse 15—the incarnation, Jesus’ birth and his coming into the world as a human being. There is also a reference to the incarnation in verse 18, but with the added connotation of the revelation of God the Father in the person of Jesus (the Son). We should understand the phrase in verse 15/30 in this light. This second phrase works backward from the first: from Jesus coming into the world (into his life and ministry, etc) to his coming to be born as a human being. It is this—the incarnation itself —which, paradoxically, puts Jesus “in front of” John the Baptist. The perfect form of the verb (gegonen, “has come to be”) often indicates a past action, condition, event, etc, which continues into the present.

3. was (vv. 1-2, 4, 8-10)—this is the primary verb of being (eimi, ei)mi), in the third person imperfect form ¢n (h@n, “he was”). As such it occurs 10 times in the Prologue, including three times in verse 1. In this context, it refers to Divine Being—that is the being of God, and expresses something of the manner in which Jesus (the Word/Light/Son) shares in it. It reflects more than pre-existence—rather, eternal, divine existence which the Son (Jesus) shares with the Father. This informs the climactic third phrase of the saying in verse 15/30, taking yet another step back: from the incarnation (the birth of the Son as a human being) to the eternal life and being shared between the Father and the Son. In this light, we may better understand the somewhat ambiguous wording of the phrase “he was first of me”. The word prœtos (“first”) here is something more than a comparative (i.e. “superior to me”), but ought to be understood in a fundamental sense—Jesus is first of all things (including John the Baptist), sharing with God the Father both the eternal Life and the work of Creation. In a sense, prœtos is synonymous with the words that begin the Gospel—en arch¢ (“in the beginning”).

Returning to 3:28, and with this study of 1:15, 30 in mind, I would encourage you to read verses 22-36 of chapter 3 most carefully. Even if you do not read Greek, or do not have access to the Greek text, you can probably notice some important words, ideas, and themes which have occurred throughout the first three chapters of the Gospel. If you read Greek, or are using Greek study tools (such as those available in PC Study Bible), try to pay attention to any recurring words and phrases. In the Gospel of John, these often have special significance. How do verses 27-30 relate to what follows in vv. 31-36? Look especially at the words translated “eternal life” in verse 36, and consider how they relate to this discourse (and chapter 3 as a whole). We will be discussing the Johannine theme of “eternal life” in several upcoming studies, so it will be good for you to be thinking and meditating upon its meaning in the Gospel.

Continue in your reading and study of the Scripture…and I will see you next Saturday.

Note of the Day – April 17 (Mark 15:1-20 par)

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The Interrogation (“Trial”) of Jesus before Pilate

Mark 15:1-20; Matthew 27:1-31; Luke 23:1-25

When we turn to the Roman “Trial” of Jesus—that is, his interrogation/examination before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate—we note immediately the parallelism between this episode and the earlier Sanhedrin scene. This comes out most clearly in the Synoptic version, as represented by Mark and Matthew. There is a basic similarity of structure/outline:

Even more precise is the structure of the interrogation scenes:

  • Testimony given against Jesus—14:56-59
    —Interrogator asks: “Do you answer nothing?” / Jesus is silent—14:60-61

    • Question: “Are you the Anointed One…?”—14:61b
      —Jesus’ answer: “You said (it)”—Matt 26:64a (cp. Mk 14:62a)
    • Question: “Are you the King of the Jews?”—15:2a
      —Jesus’ answer: “You say (that)”—15:2b
  • Testimony given against Jesus—15:3
    —Interrogator asks: “Do you answer nothing?” / Jesus is silent—15:4-5

There can be little doubt either of the close relationship between the titles “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) and “King of the Jews” in the questions asked by the High Priest and Pilate, respectively (they are connected in Lk 23:2). Both refer essentially to the same (Messianic) idea—of a ruler from the line of David who will appear (at the end-time) to deliver God’s people (the faithful of Israel) and bring Judgment on the nations. Any claim of kingship would have been viewed by the Roman government as a direct challenge to imperial authority in the provinces (of Judea, etc). The Gospel of John develops this theme of Jesus as “King of the Jews” considerably, as will be discussed in a separate note. It is also only in John’s account that the religious/theological charge emphasized in the earlier Sanhedrin scene is brought out again in this episode. These two aspects, the two halves of the Council’s question—Messiah/King and Son of God—define the structure of the Roman trial/interrogation in John’s version.

With regard to the Synoptic tradition in Mark/Matthew, the structure has been outlined above:

  • The Interrogation of Jesus by Pilate (“Are you the King of the Jews?”)—Mk 15:1-5
  • The Judgment, pronounced by the people/crowd—Mk 15:6-15
  • The Mocking/Mistreatment of Jesus (“Hail, King of the Jews!”)—Mk 15:16-20

There are here two important themes: (1) the motif of Jesus as “King of the Jews”, and (2) the emphasis on the crowd (i.e. the Jewish people) as the ones who pronounce judgment on Jesus. This latter theme is as clear in the Gospel (and early Christian) tradition as it is uncomfortable for most Christians today. There was a decided tendency by early (Gentile, non-Jewish) Christians to mitigate Pilate’s role in the death of Jesus, casting him as a sympathetic figure and placing the responsibility squarely on the Jewish leaders and people as a whole. The extent to which this is manifest in the Gospels is controversial and continues to be debated. Generally, however, the later Gospels (esp. Matthew, cf. below) seem to show evidence of this tendency in developing the tradition. Even in the (earlier) Gospel of Mark, the central role of the crowd in this episode is clear enough (15:8-15). It also helps to explain the prominent inclusion of the historical tradition regarding Barabbas. The Gospel writer goes out of his way to explain that Barabbas was a violent rebel who has committed murder (v. 7; Lk 23:19 [Matthew is less precise]). When given a choice between a murderer and Jesus, the people choose the murderer!

The sympathetic portrait of Pilate indicated by Mk 15:8-10ff is developed considerably in Matthew and Luke. Matthew includes two important additions:

  • The introduction of Pilate’s wife who refers to her auspicious dream (declaring Jesus’ innocence, 27:19), and
  • The vivid exchange between Pilate and the crowd in vv. 24-25; the crowd’s climactic declaration is ominous indeed:
    “(Let) his blood (be) upon us and upon our offspring!”
    No thoughtful Christian can read this today without, I think, feeling a bit uncomfortable about its inclusion in the Gospel.

Luke’s version (23:1-25) is more complex, with a number of important differences between the Synoptic account in Mark/Matthew:

  • The interrogation scene (vv. 1-5) includes more precise accusations about the danger Jesus poses to Roman authority and the peace of the region, involving both political (v. 2) and religious (v. 5) charges.
  • Luke is unique in including the tradition that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, to be judged (or examined) as one under Herod’s jurisdiction (vv. 6-12). In Luke’s version the mocking is done by Herod’s, not the Roman, soldiers (v. 11). Ironically, it is stated that this exchange resulted in friendship/reconciliation between Pilate and Herod (v. 12).
  • In the judgment scene (vv. 13-25), it is the group of Jewish leaders—representatives of the Council (v. 13)—and, apparently, not a crowd of the people as a whole, who demand Jesus’ death and the release of Barabbas. This emphasis, along with the inclusion of Herod (together with Pilate), is probably intended by the Gospel writer to bring Psalm 2:1-2 to mind, and is surely influenced by that Scripture (cf. Acts 4:25-28).

A significant point in the Synoptic versions is that the interaction between Jesus and Pilate is limited to the brief exchange in the interrogation scene (Mk 15:2-5 par), which, as noted above, was consciously shaped to match the Sanhedrin interrogation scene precisely. The situation is quite different in the Gospel of John, which records an extended dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, including some of the most memorable and striking verses in the entire Gospel. Because of this unique situation, I am devoting a separate note in this series to a discussion of John’s version of the Roman “Trial”.

Note of the Day – April 16 (Mark 14:53-72 par)

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The Interrogation (“Trial”) of Jesus before the Sanhedrin

The “trial” of Jesus, which the Gospel Tradition preserves in two episodes—(1) an interrogation by the Sanhedrin and (2) and examination by the Roman governor (Pilate)—has been one of the most hotly debated aspects of the Passion narrative, primarily in terms of the historicity of the differing Gospel accounts. I will not be dealing extensively with all the historical-critical questions, but will address certain points related specifically to the Sanhedrin episode in a supplemental note.

There would seem to be three primary lines of tradition preserved:

  1. What we may call the core Synoptic tradition, represented by Mark and Matthew
  2. The Lukan version, which only partly follows the Synoptic, and
  3. The Johannine, which differs considerably in various ways

Even though many critical scholars feel that John preserves the most accurate historical detail and ordering of events, I will continue the method in this series of beginning with the Synoptic Tradition, represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:53-72; Matthew 26:57-75; Luke 22:54-71

The Markan outline of the episode is as follows:

  • Vv. 53-54—Introduction, establishing the two scenes:
    • (a) The assembly of the Chief Priests, Elders and Scribes—i.e. the Council (Sanhedrin), v. 53
    • (b) Peter waiting outside in the courtyard of the High Priest, v. 54
  • Vv. 55-65—Jesus before the Council (sune/drion), which may be divided into three parts:
    • The (false) witnesses against Jesus, with a report of the “Temple-saying” (vv. 55-59)
    • The question by the High Priest, with Jesus’ response (vv. 60-62)
    • The judgment against Jesus, with the subsequent mocking/mistreatment of him (vv. 63-65)
  • Vv. 66-72—Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus

I will be discussing the scene of Peter’s denial in more detail in an upcoming note (on the Peter traditions in the Passion and Resurrection narratives). It is important to emphasize two facts:

  • The essential outline of the three denials, and the basic setting/location, are common to all four Gospels, indicating an extremely well-established and fixed tradition. The three-fold denial can be assumed (on objective grounds) to derive from a reliable historical tradition, since a single denial surely would have been sufficient in terms of its place and value in the narrative.
  • The specific details with regard to how each denial took place—where and when it occurred, who was involved, etc—differ considerably between Mark/Matthew, Luke and John. Even between Mark and Matthew, otherwise so close at this point, there are key differences. This indicates that the precise details surrounding the denials were not nearly so well-established, and remained fluid in the way they were presented by each Gospel writer. For a convenient comparative chart showing the many differences in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29, 29A (1970), pp. 830-1.

Each Gospel writer understood the dramatic power of the denial scene, and felt free to explore and express this creatively. Consider the slight but significant difference between the introduction in Mk 14:54 and Matt 26:58—the description of Peter in the courtyard is very close, except for the final words which set the dramatic tension:

  • Mark creates a vivid visual picture:
    “…and he was…warming himself toward the light [i.e. in front of the fire]”
  • While Matthew has a more psychological orientation:
    “..and he sat… (waiting) to see the completion [i.e. how things would end]”

The rooster crow of the original tradition is also extremely evocative, indicating that Peter suddenly awakes to realize what he has done. The effect is emphasized by his sudden weeping (in remorse/regret); Matthew and Luke share a detail in common here, specifically stating that Peter went away (outside of the courtyard): “…and going outside he wept bitterly” (Matt 26:72; par Lk 22:62). The rooster crow, together with Peter’s reaction, is the climactic moment of the episode in Mark/Matthew.

Luke (22:54-71) treats the scene differently in the way he has ordered events, placing it first in the episode, ahead of the interrogation of Jesus. The effect of this is two-fold:

  • It makes Jesus’ response to the Council (vv. 66-71) the climactic moment of the episode, and
  • It joins Peter’s denial to betrayal of Jesus by Judas (vv. 47-53 + 54-62), just as the author does in the Last Supper scene. In the earlier episode this appears to have been done, in part, to emphasize the theme of true and false discipleship, by connecting the prediction of Judas’ betrayal (vv. 21-23) to the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34) with a short block of teaching (vv. 24-30) between.

In contrast to the accounts in Luke and John, Mark and Matthew portray the scene of Jesus before the Council in terms of a formal trial, with witnesses and the delivery of a sentence. This portrait informs the structure of the scene, with its three parts.

Part 1—The Witnesses against Jesus (Mk 14:55-59; Matt 26:59-62)

The Synoptic tradition here records that the Council desperately sought to find witnesses against Jesus (to support a sentence of death), but they could find no reliable testimony. The only charge brought against Jesus was a report of a saying regarding the Temple (the so-called “Temple saying”); interestingly, Matthew and Mark differ in the wording of this (as it was reported in the narrative):

“I will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine made-with-hands, and through [i.e. after] three days I will build another (house) made-without-hands” (Mk 14:58)
“I am able to loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] the shrine of God, and through [i.e. after] three days to build (the house again)” (Matt 26:61)

Mark and Matthew both state that this report was made by false witnesses, presumably implying that the report was false (i.e. that Jesus never said any such thing). The closest we come in the Synoptics is Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction in Mark 13:2 par. However, the Gospel of John records a saying by Jesus rather similar to that which is reported by the “false” witnesses:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (again)!” (Jn 2:19)

If we accept this as an authentic saying by Jesus, occurring at the time of the Temple “cleansing” scene (located close to the Passion narrative in the Synoptics), then the report of the “false” witnesses could certainly reflect the memory of such a saying. The Gospel of John, of course, specifically interprets the saying in 2:19 as referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus himself (vv. 21-22)—an interpretation most appropriate in the context of the Passion narrative. For more on the Temple saying (and cleansing) traditions, cf. my earlier notes and article on the subject.

Part 2—The Question by the High Priest (Mk 14:60-62; Matt 26:62-64)

The initial question by the High Priest (identified in Matthew as Caiaphas) relates to the testimony of the “false” witnesses, and to this Jesus gives no answer (Mk 14:60-61a). The second question is central to the episode (and the entire Passion narrative), as well as serving as the climactic statement regarding the identity of Jesus within the Synoptic Tradition. In Mark, the exchange is:

  • High Priest: “Are you the Anointed One [o( xristo/$], the Son of the (One) spoken well of [i.e. Blessed One, God]?” (v. 61b)
  • Jesus: “I am—and you will see the Son of Man sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the Power and coming with the clouds of Heaven!” (v. 62)

For more on this saying, see my earlier notes and the article on the title “Son of Man” in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The Son of Man saying here is an allusion both to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1—Scripture passages which were enormously influential in shaping early Christian thought regarding the nature and identity of Jesus. As I have argued elsewhere, in the Son of Man sayings with an eschatological orientation, Jesus appears to identify himself specifically with the heavenly figure called “Son of Man” (from Daniel’s “one like a son of man”, 7:13)—who will appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and oversee the Judgment on humankind. Early Christian tradition associated it specifically with the image of the exalted Jesus seated at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56, etc).

Matthew’s version of the Son of Man saying (26:64) is close to that in Mark, but the question by the High Priest shows signs of development—i.e., it has been shaped to echo the confession by Peter in 16:16:

  • Peter: “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God”
  • Caiaphas: “I require an oath out of you, according to the Living God, that you would say (to us) if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God!”

For more on the differences in this scene, cf. below.

Part 3—The Judgment and mistreatment of Jesus (Mk 14:63-65; Matt 26:65-68)

The reaction to Jesus’ response—in particular, the identification of himself as the heavenly/divine “Son of Man”—results in the charge of blasphemy, i.e. that he has insulted (vb. blasfeme/w) God by claiming divine status and attributes. This is the basis for their decision that he is one who holds on him [i.e. against him] the (grounds for) death (e&noxo$ qana/tou e)stin). The mistreatment of Jesus is parallel to the more expanded tradition of his being mocked by the Roman guards (Mk 15:16-20 par), and would certainly be seen as a fulfillment of the Passion prediction in Mk 10:32-34 par.

Luke 22:54-71 and John 18:12-27

As noted above, Luke has the scenes in reverse order from that of Mark/Matthew, resulting in three distinct parts:

  • Peter’s Denial (vv. 54-62)
  • Mistreatment of Jesus (vv. 63-65)
  • Jesus before the Council (vv. 66-71)

The question of whether Luke has the more correct historical order of events will be discussed in the supplemental note on the Trial episode. I mentioned the significance for the author of joining together the failure of the two disciples—Judas (the Betrayal, vv. 21-23, 47-53) and Peter (the Denial, vv. 31-34, 54-62)—to bring out the theme of true discipleship, found in vv. 25-30 and the double exhortation of the Lukan Prayer scene (vv. 40, 46). The unique detail of Jesus turning to look at Peter following the rooster crow (v. 61a) probably should be taken as parallel to the words of Jesus to Peter in vv. 31-32—a sign of care and concern. The connection also serves to enhance the dramatic moment when Peter realizes what he has done, and how it had been foreseen by Jesus (v. 61b).

The Lukan version of the Council scene, though clearly drawing upon the same basic tradition as Mark/Matthew, is presented in a very different form. Apart from the morning setting (v. 66a, cf. the supplemental note), Luke’s version has the following differences:

  • There is no reference to the witnesses or Temple-saying (cf. above), thus removing the sense that this is a formal trial.
  • Luke presents the Council as a whole questioning Jesus, rather than the High Priest specifically (vv. 66b, 70a [“they all said…”]). The Council plays a similar collective role in Luke’s version of the Roman trial scene (23:13ff, 18ff).
  • The question involving the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” is divided into two distinct questions, separated by the Son of Man saying by Jesus (vv. 67-70):
    • “If you are the Anointed One, say (it) to [i.e. tell] us” (v. 67)
    • Jesus: “…but from now on the Son of Man will be sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the power of God” (v. 69)
    • “Then you are the Son of God…?” (v. 70)

Historical considerations aside, this arrangement may be intended to make a theological (and Christological) point—namely, that Jesus is something more than the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah) as understood by the traditional figure-types of an expected end-time Prophet or Davidic ruler. The allusion to Psalm 110:1 reminds us of the interesting tradition, set in the general context of the Passion (the last days in Jerusalem), in which Jesus discusses the meaning and significance of this verse (Mk 12:35-37 par). For more on this, cf. my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed” (esp. Part 8, and Part 12 on the title “Son of God”).

While the form of the Son of Man saying is relatively fixed between the Synoptic Gospels, that of Jesus’ initial answer to the question(s) by the Council differs markedly. In Mk 14:62, Jesus gives a clear affirmative answer: “I am”, while Matthew’s version (26:64) is much more ambiguous—”You said (it)”, and could be understood in the sense of “You said it, not me”. Because Luke records two separate questions, Jesus gives two answers:

  • To the question “If you are the Anointed One, tell us”:
    “If I say (it) to you, you will (certainly) not trust (it), and if I question you (about it), you (certainly) will not answer.” (vv. 67b-68)
  • To the question “Then are you the Son of God?”:
    You say that I am.” (v. 70b)

The second Lukan answer seems to combine both the Markan and Matthean forms—truly an interesting example of variation and development within the Gospel tradition.

John 18:12-27

John’s account of this episode differs again from the Synoptics (its relation to the Lukan order/arrangement of events will be discussed in the supplemental note). The two main points of difference are:

  • There is no scene of Jesus before the Council, as in the Synoptics; rather we find different interrogation scene in the house of the chief priest Annas (formerly the High Priest A.D. 6-15). The introductory notice (18:13) states that Annas was the father-in-law of the current Chief Priest Caiaphas (A.D. 18-36). Verse 19 is ambiguous, but the reference in v. 24 indicates that Annas is the “Chief Priest” interrogating Jesus (cf. also Luke 3:2).
  • Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene:
    • Scene 1—Jesus is arrested and let to Annas (vv. 12-14)
      —Peter’s First Denial (vv. 14-18)
    • Scene 2—Jesus is interrogated by Annas (vv. 19-24)
      —Peter’s Second and Third Denials (vv. 25-27)

Clearly John’s Gospel is drawing upon a separate line of tradition. The interrogation scene in vv. 19-24 is surprisingly undramatic, compared with the Synoptic version, but it fits the essential portrait of Jesus in the Johannine Passion narrative. As I discussed in the earlier note on Garden scene, the depiction of Jesus’ calm and commanding authority is set in contrast to Peter’s rash and violent act with the sword. The intercutting in verses 12-27, I believe, serves much the same purpose—to juxtapose Jesus’ calm and reasoned response to the interrogation (vv. 20-21) with Peter’s reaction to the ones interrogating him.

It is hard to tell how much development has gone into the tradition recorded in vv. 13-14, 19-24. We do find several Johannine themes present in Jesus’ response:

  • His presence in the world, speaking (the words of the Father)
  • His public teaching in the Synagogue and Temple, which reflects the great Discourses of chapters 6-8 and 10:22-39.
  • The emphasis on his followers (disciples) as those who bear witness to him

Overall, however, the development would seem to be slight, compared with the dialogue scenes between Jesus and Pilate in 18:33-38; 19:9-11 (to be discussed).

Saturday Series: John 1:34

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John 1:34

Today we will be looking at another example from the first chapter of John, which involves a key textual variant (or variant reading), much as we saw last week with verse 18. A bit later on in the chapter, at verse 34, we find the following declaration (by John the Baptist):

“And I have seen and have given witness that this (man) is the <…> of God

The textual unit involving the variant is marked in bold, while the specific variant is indicated by the placeholder with angle brackets. There are two main variant readings for this unit:

  1. “…the Elect/Chosen One of God” (ho eklektos tou theou)
  2. “…the Son of God” (ho huios tou theou)

The conflated reading “…the Elect/Chosen Son of God”, found in a few witnesses, is clearly secondary and can be disregarded; however, it does show that both readings above were familiar to certain copyists. If you followed the study on Jn 1:18 the past two Saturdays, you are aware of the importance of analyzing such variant readings, so that our examination of the Scripture is founded upon a clear understanding of the text. Let us follow the approach taken in that earlier study, beginning with the external (manuscript) evidence.

1. The External Evidence. The manuscript evidence clearly favors the second reading above (“the Son [huios] of God”). It is the reading of the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, versions, and other textual witnesses. By contrast, the first reading (“the Elect/Chosen One [eklektos] of God”) is found in only a couple of manuscripts (Papyrus 5, and the original copyist of Codex Sinaiticus [a]), along with a few early translations (Latin and Syriac versions). Normally, such overwhelming external evidence would decide the question; however, in this case, the matter is not quite so straightforward.

2. Transcriptional Probability. This refers to the tendencies of copyists—i.e., which reading was more likely to be changed/altered during the process of copying? Unlike the situation with Jn 1:18, there is no real indication that the reading in v. 34 would have been changed by accident; almost certainly, the alteration was conscious and/or intentional. But in which direction is the change more likely? From “Elect/Chosen One” to “Son”, or the other way around? Here it would seem that the evidence decisively favors the first reading above (“Elect/Chosen One”), on the principle difficilior lectio potior (“the more difficult reading is preferred”). In other words, scribes are more likely to have changed a difficult or less familiar reading to one which is easier/familiar. Both in the Gospel of John, and throughout the New Testament, “Son of God” is far more common than the title “Elect/Chosen One of God”, and would be more easily understood as a title of Jesus by early Christians. It also fits better the parallel with the Baptism scene in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 1:11 par).

3. Style and Usage of the Author. The adjective eklektos (e)klekto/$, “elect/chosen”) does not occur elsewhere in the Gospel of John, but the related verb eklegomai (e)klegomai, “choose”, literally “gather out”) is used five times, all by Jesus, and always in reference to the disciples, i.e. as those chosen by him (6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19). Indeed, throughout the New Testament, both the adjective (as a noun) and the verb are typically used of believers (Matt 13:20; 22:14; Lk 6:13; 18:7; Acts 1:2; Rom 8:33; 1 Cor 1:27-28; Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:1, etc), and only rarely of Jesus (Lk 9:35; 23:35; cf. below). By contrast, Jesus refers to himself as “the Son” many times in the Gospel of John. The title “Son of God” is less frequent, but still occurs 8 times, declared by others (Jn 1:49; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31) as often as by Jesus himself (3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4). It is also relative common (7 times) in 1 John (3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10-13, 20). A consideration of style and vocabulary would thus tend to favor the reading “Son of God” in Jn 1:34.

4. The Context (1:19-51). Jn 1:19-51 is the first main section of the Gospel after the Prologue (vv. 1-18). It is comprised of four smaller sections, or narrative episodes, which are joined together, using the literary device of setting the four episodes on four successive days. This may be outlined as follows:

  • Day 1—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity (1:19-28)
  • Day 2—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus (1:29-34)
  • Day 3—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness (1:35-42)
  • Day 4—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness (1:43-51)

The first “Day” involves the question of John the Baptist’s identity. He specifically denies any identification with three figures or titles—”the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah), “Elijah”, and “the Prophet”. The last two relate to a Messianic Prophet figure-type, drawn from the Old Testament figures of Elijah and Moses (Deut 18:15-20); for more on this subject, see Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. It is not entirely clear whether “the Anointed One” refers to a Messiah generally, a Messianic Prophet, or the traditional Messianic ruler from the line of David; based on the overall context of vv. 29-51, the latter is more likely.

The second and third “Days” follow a similar pattern; each begin with John the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (vv. 29, 36). Each ends with a distinct declaration regarding Jesus’ identity. The declaration of the second day is that of verse 34; that of the third day again involves the title Messiah—”We have found the Messiah!” (v. 41), where the Hebrew word M¹šîaµ is transliterated as Messias (before being translated, “Anointed One” [Christos]). This common Messianic theme would perhaps suggest that the reading “Chosen/Elect One” is to be preferred, since this title (presumably derived from Isa 42:1) is more directly Messianic than is “Son of God”. This is certainly the case with its use in Lk 9:35 and 23:35, the only other occurrences in the New Testament where the title is applied to Jesus.

However, a careful examination of the fourth “Day” (vv. 43-51) points in the opposite direction. Here the declaration regarding Jesus’ identity, made by Nathanael (v. 49), is two-fold:

“You are the the Son of God, you are the King of Israel

The thematic and narrative structure suggests that these two titles are parallel to those in the declarations of the 2nd and 3rd days:

  • “Son of God” = “<Chosen | Son> of God” (v. 34)
  • “King of Israel” = “Messiah” (v. 41)

The parallelism would tend to favor “Son” in v. 34, if only slightly. This, along with the overwhelming external manuscript evidence (in favor of “Son”), makes it the preferred reading. Still, the matter is far from decisive, and it is worth keeping the variant “Elect/Chosen One” well in mind whenever you read this passage. Consider how the two titles (and concepts) are closely intertwined in Luke’s version of the Transfiguration scene, in which the voice from Heaven declares (according to the best manuscripts):

“This is my Son, the Elect/Chosen One [ho eklelegmenos]…” (9:35)

The Transfiguration scene, of course, parallels the earlier Baptism scene in the Synoptic Gospels, in which the voice from Heaven makes a similar declaration (in Matthew they are identical). Now, the Gospel of John only narrates the Baptism indirectly (vv. 29-34), through the testimony of John the Baptist, who witnesses the visionary phenomena. His declaration is in the same climactic position as the Divine/Heavenly voice in the Synoptics:

Yet consider, too, a comparison with the variant reading from John—

  • “You are My Son…” / “This is My Son…”
  • “This is the Chosen One of God” (Jn 1:34 v.l.)

which matches the words of the heavenly voice in Lk 9:35:

“You are my Son, the Chosen One”

This declaration, in turn, is an echo of Isaiah 42:1, where God speaks of “My Servant [±e»ed]…my Chosen (One) [baµîr]…”. In Greek, ±e»ed is translated by pais, which can also mean “child”—”my Child” is obviously close in meaning to “my Son“. At the same time, baµîr is translated by eklektos, the same word used in Jn 1:34 v.l. (and related to that in Lk 9:35).

By carelessly choosing one variant reading, and ignoring the other, we risk missing out on an important aspect of the text, and the historical (Gospel) traditions which underlie it. Next Saturday, I will be examining an even more difficult verse from the first chapter of John. It does not involve a variant reading; however, it, even more than verse 34, requires a careful study of the Greek words as they are used in context, in order to decipher its meaning. I recommend that you read and study the entire first chapter again, all the way through to verse 51. Think and meditate upon all that you find, and begin to ask yourself what Jesus’ enigmatic saying in verse 51 could mean…

…and I will see you next Saturday.

Note of the Day – March 1 (Luke 4:16-30)

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

In yesterday’s note I looked at the tradition of Jesus’ visit to his hometown (Nazareth) in Mark 6:1-6a. Matthew’s version (13:53-58) differs only slightly from that of Mark. Luke’s account, as I have already mentioned, has a number of details unique to his version, though it almost certainly is describing the same (historical) event and tradition. These differences I will be discussing today. Before proceeding, it is worth pointing out that neither Mark nor Matthew actually mentioned the name of the town, simply referring to it as Jesus’ patri/$ (patrís), “father(‘s) land”, i.e. the territory of his home town. We may assume that the Gospel writers both understood it to be Nazareth, based on earlier data they recorded (Mk 1:9; Matt 2:13; 4:13), but, in all likelihood, the original tradition as passed down did not include the name of the town. Luke specifically refers to it by name (4:16), and he has good reasons for doing so, as we shall see.

Luke 4:16-30

Let us first note the elements and details which are unique to Luke’s version of the episode, and which he most likely has added to the core Synoptic narrative. We may take these to be (authentic) historical traditions, and, if so, they would be considered part of the so-called “L” material (traditions found only in Luke). The significant additions are as follows:

  • A different narrative introduction (v. 16)
  • The detail of Jesus standing up to read a passage from the Prophets (v. 17)
  • The quotation of Isaiah 61:1, with Jesus’ explanation (vv. 18-21)
  • The proverb cited by Jesus in v. 23
  • The Scriptural examples involving the Prophets Elijah and Elisha (vv. 25-27)
  • The violent reaction by the people, with intent to do harm to Jesus (vv. 28-29f)

The core Synoptic tradition, as found in Mk 6:1-6a (cf. the previous note), can still be glimpsed by combining together vv. 14-15 (with 16), 22, 24, and (very loosely) 28, 30. Beyond the added details listed above, consider how the author has (apparently) modified the core tradition:

  • The details emphasized in verse 16 (cp. Mk 6:1-2a par):
    (a) The name of the town (Nazareth)
    (b) That it was the place where Jesus was nourished (i.e. raised, brought up)
    (c) That he was used to attending local Synagogues on the Sabbath (and teaching there)
  • A different formulation of the people’s reaction—that is, the summary of their words/thoughts (v. 22 / Mk 6:2-3 par)
  • A different version of Jesus’ saying (v. 24 / Mk 6:4)
  • The episode apparently ends with a rather different (more violent) result to Jesus’ visit (vv. 28-30)

Each of these will be examined briefly, going verse by verse.

Verse 16—The Lukan details mentioned above all relate to the distinctive purpose of the episode within the context of the Gospel narrative. Two major literary and thematic elements are clearly at work:

  • The reference to Nazareth as the place where Jesus was brought up (as a child) points back to the Infancy Narrative of chapters 1-2, especially 2:40-52, which share certain motifs and language with 4:16ff. I have discussed these in an earlier note on this passage.
  • This episode illustrates the summary of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry in verses 14-15—in particular, that of his teaching in the synagogues. The Synoptic tradition introduces the ministry of Jesus with a different episode (cf. Mark 1:21-28 par [this follows in Lk 4:31-37]). Note the way that both the initial Markan and Lukan episodes illustrate the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry:
    (1) Teaching/preaching (with a synagogue setting)—Mk 1:21-22, 27; Lk 4:14-16, 22
    (2) Working miracles—Mk 1:23-27; Lk 4:14a, 23-27

Verses 17-21—The quotation of Isaiah 61:1 is a tradition unique to Luke’s account. In verse 21, Jesus states that this prophecy has been fulfilled at the moment of his reading it. In other words, Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed herald/prophet figure of Isa 61:1ff, just as he does elsewhere, in the traditional “Q” material (Lk 7:22 / Matt 11:5). Luke’s inclusion of this reference probably offers the best explanation for his location of the Nazareth episode, set at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This can be explained on three levels:

  • A connection with the Baptism scene, with the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (3:22). This is to be understood as the moment when the Spirit came upon him and he was anointed by God (Isa 61:1 / 4:18).
  • A connection with the preceding Temptation scene (4:1-13) which is framed by important references to the presence/activity of the Spirit (vv. 1, 14). In other words, this also shows how Jesus has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of God.
  • Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah), which serves as a principal theme of the Lukan account of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (4:19:20). However, in this period he is not identified as the royal Messiah from the line of David, but as the Anointed herald/prophet of Isaiah 61. Matthew (4:12-17) introduces Jesus’ Galilean ministry with a different Messianic prophecy (Isa 9:1-2), one more in keeping with the Davidic figure-type.

Verse 22—Here it is worth comparing Luke’s account of the crowds reaction with that of Mark. Consider first the initial description of their reaction:

“and many hearing (him) were laid out (flat) [i.e. amazed], saying ‘From where (did) these things (come) to this (man), and what (is) th(is) wisdom…’?” (Mk 6:2)

“and all witnessed (about) him and wondered upon [i.e. at] the words of favor traveling out of his mouth” (Lk 4:22a)

The idea is roughly the same, but with a different emphasis. In Mark, the people recognize the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry—the wisdom (of his teaching) and his powerful deeds (miracles). In Luke’s account, it seems that they are responding to his gifts as a speaker, fulfilling a traditional religious role—that of reading the Scripture and offering a (pleasant) word of exhortation. It would seem that, while they may have recognized the Messianic significance of Isa 61:1ff, they certainly did not understand the implication of Jesus’ declaration in v. 21—that he was the Anointed One of the prophecy. Mark’s version may contain something of this idea as well, in the statement that the people of Nazareth were “tripped up” (the vb. skandali/zw) by Jesus (v. 3, cf. Lk 7:23 par)

The second part of the people’s reaction is even more significant. In Mark (6:3) the people find it hard to explain Jesus’ words and deeds, since they know all of his family—his mother, brothers, and sisters—as ‘ordinary’ people in the area. Luke has simplified this statement greatly, highlighting just one family member of Jesus:

“Is this not the son of Yoseph {Joseph}?”

This is reasonably close to the words in Matt 13:55: “Is this not the son of the craftsman [i.e. carpenter]?”, as well as being virtually identical to those in Jn 6:42. However, for Luke the reference to Joseph (as Jesus’ human father) has special importance, as can be seen clearly from two earlier passages:

  • The episode of the child Jesus in the Temple, in which Joseph as Jesus’ (human/legal) father is contrasted with God as his (true) Father (2:48-49)
  • The genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38), which begins “the son, as it was thought, of Joseph…” (v. 23), and ends “…the (son) of God” (v. 38). The implication, again, is that God is Jesus’ true Father (1:32, 35; 3:22b).

With these allusions in mind, it becomes apparent what the author is emphasizing here in this scene. The people of Nazareth are still thinking of Jesus as the ordinary, human/legal son of Joseph, and do not at all recognize him as the Anointed One and Son of God.

Verses 23-24—In Luke’s version, the Synoptic saying is preceded by an additional proverb (in v. 23). It functions as a provocative challenge to the townspeople. At this point, Luke does not mention the people taking offense at Jesus (cp. Mark 6:3); rather, Jesus seems to be taking the initiative in provoking them. The proverb brings to light the miracles performed by Jesus and plays upon the Synoptic tradition in Mk 6:5 par—that he was unable to perform many miracles in his home town (because of the people’s lack of faith). The proverb itself is relatively common, with parallels known from the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern world. However, in Luke, joined as it is with the saying of v. 24, it effectively creates a dual contrasting statement (physician/prophet). This, in fact, is how the saying has been preserved in at least one line of tradition, as recorded in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1 and the Gospel of Thomas (§31)—i.e. “a prophet is not… and a physician does not…”. The Lukan form of the saying in v. 24 also differs from the version in Mark/Matthew:

“A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land and among his relatives and in his (own) house” (Mk 6:4)

“Not one foreteller [i.e. prophet] is accepted in his father(‘s) land” (Lk 4:24)

Most likely, Luke’s version represents an abridgment and/or simplification of the Synoptic tradition. Again, it serves a distinct purpose in the Lukan context—it makes more direct the identification of Jesus as a prophet.

Verses 25-27—The prophetic association becomes even clearer with the references to Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:8-16; 2 Kings 5:1-19) and the miracles they worked. Jesus effectively is identifying himself with a prophet like Elijah/Elisha, a connection which appears a number of times in the Gospel tradition. For more on this, see parts 2 and 3 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Verses 28-30—Luke, quite in contrast with the narrative in Mark/Matthew, records an openly hostile, violent reaction to Jesus, provoked, it would seem, by Jesus’ own words in vv. 23-27. There is nothing quite like this in the core synoptic narrative, which ends rather uneventfully, with a laconic statement that Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in his home town, and that he marveled at the people’s lack of faith (Mk 6:5-6a). This is the only point at which the Lukan account really does not fit the Synoptic outline of the episode in Mark/Matthew. It does, however, fulfill two important themes within the narrative context of Luke’s Gospel:

  • It prefigures the opposition/violence that Jesus, as the Anointed One and Son of God, would face from the people, and serves as a parallel to the close of the Galilean period, and the Passion references which follow (9:21-22, 31, 43b-45, 51).
  • It also looks back to the Infancy Narrative, and the oracle by Simeon in 2:34-35, illustrating the opposition predicted by him most vividly.

Quite possibly, the original (historical) tradition contained more of this element of opposition to Jesus, but that it was not preserved in the Synoptic account of Mark/Matthew, retained (if at all) only in the statement at the end of Mk 6:3. If so, then Luke has developed and enhanced this aspect of the tradition.

John 6:42

Finally, it is worth noting, that, although the Gospel of John does not have anything corresponding to the Nazareth episode of the Synoptics, it does include at least one similar tradition—Jn 6:42, forming part of the great Bread of Life discourse in 6:22-59. As in the Synoptic episode under discussion, verse 42 reflects the people’s reaction to statements by Jesus regarding his identity. In Luke 4:16-30, he identifies himself with the Anointed (Messianic) herald/prophet of Isaiah 61:1ff (v. 21), and, by implication, as also being the Son of God (vv. 22ff, cf. above). In the discourse of John 6:22-59, Jesus draws upon different Scriptures—the Exodus traditions, especially that of the manna (as “bread from heaven”)—and identifies himself as the true Bread that comes down from heaven. This is expressed in verse 42 by one of the famous “I Am” declarations in John—”I am the bread th(at is) coming down [lit. stepping down] out of Heaven” (cf. also vv. 32-33, 35, 38, 48, 50-51, 58). In the Johannine context, this certainly refers to Jesus as the eternal (pre-existent) Son of God who has come (down) into the world to bring Life to those who would believe. Here Jesus’ sonship (in relation to God the Father) is understood at a much deeper level than in the Gospel of Luke. However, the basic contrast expressed is the same. The people recognize Jesus only at the ordinary, human level, and are troubled/offended by his words:

Is this not Yeshua, the son of Yoseph, of whom we have seen [i.e. known] his father and (his) mother? (So) now how (can) he say that ‘I have stepped down out of heaven?'”

The italicized portion is quite similar to the words of the people of Nazareth in Mark 6:3 par; indeed, the first phrase—”is this not…the son of Joseph?”—is virtually identical with Luke 4:22b. And, to be sure, John expresses the same aspect of opposition and misunderstanding among the people as Luke does. They view Jesus merely as the son of Joseph, when, in fact, his true identity is as the (eternal) Son of God the Father (Jn 6:27, 32, 37, 40, 44, 46, 57, etc).