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Messiah

Note of the Day – February 16 (Luke 9:28-36, etc)

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Today’s note follows up on the discussion yesterday, regarding the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-13 par), and its parallels with the Baptism of Jesus. Here I will be focusing on the meaning and significance of the episode, especially as presented in the Gospel of Luke. This will include a comparison of the variant readings in Lk 9:35, compared with those in John 1:34.

Interpretation of the Transfiguration scene

As I mentioned in the prior note, the Transfiguration begins the second half of the Synoptic narrative, much as the Baptism scene begins the first. The Baptism of Jesus marks the start of his ministry (in Galilee), while the Transfiguration marks the beginning of his Passion (i.e. in Judea/Jerusalem) and precedes his journey to Jerusalem. The parallels between the Baptism and Transfiguration (cf. the list in yesterday’s note) have to be understood in terms of these differing contexts within the narrative. Consider the following points:

1. The connection with John the Baptist and questions regarding the identity of the Messiah

This has been a central theme in our study of the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (discussed in detail in the prior notes). John the Baptist, of course, features prominently in the Baptism narrative, which opens with a description of John and his ministry, including the central association with the Isaiah 40:3ff prophecy (Mark 1:2-6 par). His presence in the Transfiguration scene is limited to the (separate?) tradition which appears at the end (Mk 9:11-13). It is generally assumed that Jesus is speaking of John in his reference to “Elijah” (cp. Matt 11:14), drawing a parallel between the Baptist’s mistreatment/arrest and his own (i.e. of the “Son of Man”, 8:31; 9:12, etc). Note the framing structure surrounding 8:27-9:13, forming an inclusio:

The question regarding the identity of “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) is given more prominence and clarity in Luke’s account of the Baptism (3:15; cp. John 1:19-27).

2. The heavenly declaration corrects/clarifies the Messianic identification

This is implicit by the phenomena attending Jesus at his baptism, especially the descent of the Spirit upon him; Luke brings out the Messianic association more directly, in the subsequent scene at Nazareth, where Jesus identifies himself with the “Anointed” figure of Isa 61:1ff (Lk 4:17-21, cf. also 7:22). This makes clear in what sense Jesus is the Messiah (3:15) and the “one [who is] coming” (3:16; 7:19 par). The heavenly declaration at the Baptism adds to this by identifying Jesus as God’s Son (3:22 par), drawing upon the image of the king (i.e. the Davidic ruler) as “Son of God” (the variant reading in Lk quotes [the Messianic] Psalm 2:7). Similarly, prior to the Transfiguration, Peter declares Jesus to be “the Anointed One (Messiah) [of God]” (Mk 8:27 / Lk 9:2). The exchange between Peter and Jesus which follows (Mk 8:31-33 par, but omitted by Luke) suggests that Peter had in mind the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic ruler (cf. Parts 6-8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), which would not have been compatible with the idea that Jesus must suffer and be put to death. It was Peter who also responds to the Transfiguration, without truly understanding the significance of what he sees (Mk 9:5-6 par, cf. below). Again, as at the Baptism, the heavenly voice declares Jesus to be the “Son of God”—but here, it would seem, not in the traditional Messianic sense, but hinting at something greater, tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:9, 12-13 par), which will lead to his exaltation to the right hand of God (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:32-35; 13:30-35 [citing Ps 2:7], etc).

3. The presence of Moses and Elijah—Jesus as a Prophet figure, specially chosen/anointed by God

That Jesus was seen as a Messiah of the Prophet figure-type seems clear enough from the Baptism scene, attested by different strands of tradition (Mk 1:7-8 par; Lk 3:15ff; 4:14-30; Jn 1:19-27), as well as the entirety of the period of his Galilean ministry, as recorded in the Synoptic narrative. Principally, he fulfilled the role of Spirit-endowed, miracle working Prophet (like Elijah), identified more specifically with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. It has been popular to interpret the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene as representing “the Law and the Prophets” which Jesus was fulfilling (Matt 5:17; Lk 16:16; 24:27, 44; Jn 1:45, etc). However, this does not seem to be correct. To begin with, Elijah is an odd choice to represent the Prophetic Scriptures (Isaiah would make more sense, cf. Jn 12:39-41). More importantly, Moses and Elijah each represent distinct Prophet-figures; and, in the original context of the Gospels, it is almost certain that Jesus, in the period of his Galilean ministry especially, was also seen as an Anointed Prophet. I would suggest that in the Transfiguration scene the significance of Moses and Elijah is two-fold:

  1. It identifies Jesus as a Messianic Prophet (like Moses and Elijah), marking the conclusion of his Galilean ministry in which this role was primarily being fulfilled, but also pointing to his eschatological role inaugurating a new era for the people of God. It is no coincidence that, in Jewish tradition by the time of Jesus, Moses and Elijah were seen as prophetic figures who would appear at the end-time, as a fulfillment of specific prophecies (Deut 18:15-20; Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6).
  2. Moses and Elijah each experienced a theophany—manifestation of God’s presence—upon the holy mountain (Sinai/Horeb); similarly, Jesus (and his disciples) on this mountain experience the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence and the divine Voice from heaven. This theophany, in relation to Jesus, is of a different sort, reflecting his divine Sonship. For more on this, cf. below.
4. The Transfiguration scene prefigures the coming Passion—the death and resurrection of the Son of Man

This is clear from the position of the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic narrative, as noted above. It marks the conclusion of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the beginning of his Passion—the upcoming journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10; Lk 9:5118:34), and the events which would take place there. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration brings out this aspect more clearly (cf. below).

The Transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36

Note the following details or characteristics of the Lukan version, and its place in the specific context of the Gospel narrative:

  • Luke has given special prominence to Jesus’ role as a Messianic, Spirit-endowed Prophet in the period of his Galilean ministry (4:149:22); this gives greater significance to the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene (see above).
  • Peter’s confession in Luke (9:20) reads “You are the Anointed One of God” which is parallel to the unique form of the heavenly declaration in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration “This is the Son of God, the Elect/Chosen (One)“. On this, see below.
  • Luke’s version of the Transfiguration brings out more clearly the association with Moses and the Exodus—especially the traditions regarding the cloud of God’s presence (9:29, 31a, 34-35, cf. Exod 13:21-22; 19:9, 16ff; 24:15-16ff; 33:9-10; 34:5; 40:34-38). In particular, note v. 34 which alludes to Moses entering the cloud (Exod 24:18, cf. also 33:9).
  • This also enhances the idea of the Transfiguration as a theophany, in which Jesus and his disciples experience the presence of God and see his glory/splendor (vv. 31-32, cf. also v. 27). In this context, the altered appearance of Jesus (v. 29) probably is meant to echo the tradition regarding Moses changed appearance in Exod 34:29-35.
  • Luke ties the Transfiguration more directly to the coming death and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, in two respects:
    (1) by the detail he includes in v. 31, using the word e&codo$ (exodos, “way out”, i.e. “exodus”), and
    (2) its relation to the journey to Jerusalem which follows, and which features so prominently in the structure of the Lukan narrative (9:51-18:34)

The textual question in Luke 9:35 and John 1:34

Finally, mention should be made again of the textual variants for the heavenly declaration in Luke 9:35. The majority text (including A C* W 33, etc) follows the version in Mark (9:7):

“This is my Son, the (one who is) loved”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$

However, many of the earliest/best manuscripts (Ë45,75 a B L, etc) instead read:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. elect/chosen]”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( e)klelegme/no$

Most commentators prefer this as the original reading, considering it much more likely, considering scribal tendencies, that the passage would be harmonized with Mark than the other way around. As it happens, there is a similar textual variant related to the declaration of Jesus’ identity at the Baptism, in John 1:34. The Baptist’s statement, in the vast majority of manuscripts and witnesses (including Ë66) reads—

“…this is the Son of God”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=

which, of course, is quite similar to the voice at the Transfiguration in the Synoptic tradition (cf. also the Matthean version of the Baptism, Matt 3:17). However, in a number of witnesses (Ë5,106vid a* b e ff2* etc) the reading is:

“…this is the (One) gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen] of [i.e. by] God”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( e)klekto/$ tou= qeou=

A few MSS have the longer (conflate) reading “…the elect/chosen Son of God”, which is surprisingly close to the heavenly voice in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration (according to many of the best MSS, cf. above). The adjective e)klekto/$ is closely related to the participle e)klelegme/no$ (both from the verb e)kle/gomai, “gather out of/from”), and has essentially the same meaning (“selected, elect, chosen”, etc). The adjective normally refers (in the plural) to believers (as the elect/chosen ones) in the New Testament, but the singular is used of Jesus (also as a title) in Luke 23:35; a few manuscripts likewise read the adjective, instead of the participle, in Lk 9:35. In the two Lukan references, and in Jn 1:34 v.l., the title “Elect/Chosen One” almost certainly must be understood in a Messianic context. The Lukan usage in 9:35, if original, suggests a parallel with the adjective a)gaphto/$ (“[the one] loved [i.e by God]”)—the one chosen by God is loved by God, and vice versa. It also indicates that the title “Son of God” should not be understood here in terms of later orthodox Christology (nor even the developed Christology of the Fourth Gospel). The immediate narrative context of the Gospel has rather a different, two-fold emphasis:

  • Jesus is the Son of God in a Messianic sense, according to the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 etc in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. Lk 1:32, 35, etc), and
  • The declaration points to the death, resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, by which he is considered to be God’s Son (and Anointed One) in a very special sense (Acts 13:33, etc). The Johannine idea of Jesus’ Sonship—i.e. as the pre-existent, eternal Son of the Father, plays little (if any) role in the Synoptic narrative, and represents a somewhat later development in the Gospel tradition.
The title “Elect/Chosen One of God” (ah*l*a$ ryj!B=) is found in an Aramaic text from Qumran (4Q534). It survives only as a fragmentary piece, so it is nearly impossible to determine the precise context, but it appears to be related in some way to the ancient Enoch traditions, most familiar as expressed in the work known as 1 Enoch. Column 1 lines 10-11 reads: “in that [i.e. because] he is the chosen (one) of God, his being born [i.e. his birth] and the spirit [jwr] of his life-breath [<vn] {…} his thinking/reckoning [pl. i.e., plans] will be to the distant age (to come) [i.e. for ever]…”. It may perhaps be debated to what extent the title “Elect/Chosen One” is Messianic (cp. Isa 42:1; Ps 89:3; 106:23); however, in the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (chap. 37-71), often dated roughly to the time of Jesus (early-mid 1st cent. A.D.), we find a heavenly figure (much like Jesus) who is variously given the titles “Son of Man”, “Anointed One” and “Elect/Chosen One”. All three of these titles appear together, in the context of the Transfiguration scene, in Luke 9 (vv. 20, 22, 26, 35 v.l., 44).

Note of the Day – February 14 (John 1:19-27, etc)

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Today’s note will examine what is perhaps the final stage of development regarding the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition—the theme of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (and Son of God) in the Gospel of John. I have already discussed this to some extent in the earlier notes, but here I will be highlighting how this particular theme, or aspect, of the Tradition has been developed. To review the structure of the Gospel, chapter 1 is made up of five sections—(1) the Prologue (vv. 1-18), and (2) a sequence of four episodes, narrated as four “days”, during which the focus shifts from John the Baptist to Jesus (cf. Jn 3:30):

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

I begin with the two references to John the Baptist in the Prologue:

Jn 1:6-9

Here in the Prologue the lo/go$ (Logos, “Word”) of God is referred to as the “true Light” (to\ fw=$ to\ a)lhqino/n, vv. 5, 9), which, in the context of the Fourth Gospel, clearly refers to the divine nature and origin of Jesus, and to the primary purpose of his appearance (incarnation) on earth (vv. 5, 12, 14, 18, etc)—to reveal (make known, “shine forth”) God the Father to humankind (the elect/believers). In vv. 6-8 the statement is made specifically that John (the Baptist) was not the Light, but only came to be a witness to the Light. It is sometimes thought by commentators that this reference, taken together with the remainder of the narrative in chapter 1, as well as the episode in 3:22-23ff, indicates that there were followers of the Baptist who believed strongly that he was the Messiah (cf. Lk 3:15).

Jn 1:15, 30

Here in verse 15 (and repeated in v. 30) we have the saying by the Baptist (cp. Mk 1:7 par [cf. the earlier note]), which, it would seem, has been given a unique Christological interpretation in its context in the Gospel of John. This interpretation is based on a distinctly Johannine use of the three verbs appearing in sequence—e)rxomai (“come”), gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), and ei)mi (vb. of being, “am/is/was”, etc). It clearly points to Jesus’ identity as the pre-existent Son of God (vv. 14, 18, 34). For a detailed exposition, cf. the discussion in my earlier note (previously referenced).

When we turn to the next four sections (or “days”), the first “day” is the most significant in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah), in comparison with John.

Jn 1:19-27

The narrative structure of this episode consists of an exchange (dialogue form) between the Baptist and a deputation of religious leaders (Scribes, Levites, Pharisees), from Jerusalem, who have come to ask him “Who are you?” (v. 19). This question specifically relates to three eschatological/Messianic figures:

  • “The Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, v. 20)—It is worth noting that this is not asked of John, but, apparently, the statement comes from the Baptist’s initiative (perhaps anticipating the purpose of their question):
    “And he gave account as one [i.e. confessed], and did not deny (it)—indeed he gave account as one (saying) that ‘I am not the Anointed (One)’.”
  • “Elijah” (Eliyyah[û], Gk. Hli/a$, v. 21a)
  • “The Prophet” (o( profh/th$, v. 21b)—most likely a reference to the “Prophet like Moses” (Deut 18:15-20) who, in Jewish (eschatological) tradition, was expected to appear at/before the end-time.

John denies being each of these last two (Prophetic) figures, in response to the question, “What then? Are you…?” It is significant that John denies being “Elijah”, since this identification came to be so well-established among early Christians and, as we have seen, is attested in the Gospel (Synoptic) tradition. According to Mark 9:13 par (and Matt 11:14), it would seem that Jesus himself identified John as the “Elijah (who is) to come”. While, in the Fourth Gospel at least, John the Baptist denies being any of these Messianic figures, he does identify himself as the herald (the “voice”) of Isaiah 40:3ff, which, of course, is also the primary Scripture associated with him in the Gospel Tradition (Mk 1:3 par).

It is worth considering just what is meant here in this passage by o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”, i.e. Messiah). For many early Christians, at least at the time the Gospels were written (c. 60-90 A.D.), the primary association would be with the traditional figure of the coming Ruler, from the line of David, who would judge/subdue the nations and bring about the deliverance/restoration of Israel. Yet, it is hard to see how the Baptist could have been viewed in this light, if we accept the historical portrait of him in the Gospels (and Josephus). There are two other possibilities:

  1. The “Anointed One” here refers to a different Prophetic figure, possibly the one anointed by God in Isa 61:1ff, or the Messenger of the Lord in Mal 3:1ff. Both roles seem to have been applied to Jesus, either at the historical level (during his ministry), or in the earliest strands of Gospel tradition. In this case, there would still be three Messianic figures mentioned in the passage.
  2. It refers to a Messianic end-time (Prophet) figure more generally, whether the type of Elijah, Moses, or something else. According to this view, the figures of “Elijah” and “The Prophet” would only represent two specific Messianic figure types, while John denies being this Messiah in any sense.

If we accept the historicity of the scene, then it seems to me that the latter option is perhaps more likely; while, at the same time, the Gospel writer (and/or his readers) may have understood it as referring to three distinct figures, among which “the Anointed One” could have still meant the traditional Davidic Ruler type. It is also interesting that these Messianic figures are connected, in the mind of the questioners, with John’s baptizing ministry (v. 25). At first glance, this may appear somewhat strange, until we realize that John himself seems to have cast his ministry in eschatological and prophetic terms (as discussed in the prior notes). A version of the Baptist’s traditional sayings (cp. Mk 1:7-8 par) are included here, in the context of the narrative, at this point (vv. 26-27). One unique detail in the Johannine version should be pointed out—the following phrase from v. 26:

“…in your midst stands one whom you do not see [i.e. know]”

Here the historical tradition is given added significance from the standpoint of Johannine theology—that of people (believers) seeing/knowing Christ (as the [true] Light, etc).

Jn 1:29-51

The next three “days” each contain important declarations regarding Jesus’ identity, as well as a central narrative episode in which people encounter Jesus—the narrative being marked by a distinctive (Johannine) use of the verbs e&rxomai (“come”) and me/nw (“remain”), as well the motif of seeing/knowing:

Day 1 (1:29-34):

Declaration 1—”See! the Lamb of God…” (v. 29)

  • Jesus coming toward John (vv. 29-30)
  • John came to baptize (Jesus) (vv. 31, 33)

[The Baptism of Jesus, as described by John]

  • The Spirit stepping down (i.e. coming down) and remaining on Jesus (vv. 32-33)
  • Before this, John had not seen/known Jesus (i.e. recognized his identity) (vv. 31, 33)

Declaration 2—”This is the Son of God” (v. 34)
[Note: Some MSS read “this is the Elect/Chosen (One) of God”; on this, cf. the next daily note]

Day 2 (1:35-42):

Declaration 1—See! the Lamb of God!” (v. 36, repeating v. 29)

  • Jesus passing by—two of John’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus (v. 37)

[Disciples/Believers encountering Jesus]

  • Disciples ask Jesus: “Where do you remain/abide?” (v. 38)
  • Jesus responds to them: “Come and see” (v. 39)
    —They came and saw and remained with him

Declaration 2—”We have found the Messiah!” (v. 41)

Day 3 (1:43-51):

Declaration 1—”We have found the one of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote!” (v. 45, step-parallel with v. 41)

  • Disciples encourage others to follow Jesus (vv. 44-45), according to Jesus’ own example (v. 43)
  • Come and see” (v. 46)

[Disciples/Believers encountering Jesus]

  • Disciple asks Jesus: “From where do you know me?” (v. 48a)
  • Jesus responds to him: “I saw you…before he called you” (v. 48b)

Declaration 2—”You are the Son of God…the King of Israel!” (v. 49)

The declaration by Nathanael shows that, at the level of the early traditional material, we still find the identification of Jesus as the Anointed One or Messiah (“King of Israel”, i.e. the Davidic Ruler figure-type) and Son of God (in a Messianic sense). However, elsewhere in the narrative, it is clear that the identification has moved beyond this, to a deeper Christological interpretation—of Jesus as the One sent by God, of divine origin, even the pre-existent Son of God. This, of course, is the portrait we find in the Fourth Gospel, from the Prologue all the way to its very end (20:31).

Mention should also be made here of the concluding visionary statement (a declaration by Jesus) in verse 51: “You will see…”. I have discussed this verse at some length in an earlier study, but it is worth pointing out several clear parallels with the Baptism scene from Gospel tradition:

  • The heaven opening up [vb. a)noi/gw, compare Mk 1:10 par]
  • The descent of a heavenly/divine presence—Messengers (i.e. Angels) of God, vs. the (holy) Spirit of God (cf. verses 32-33 and the Synoptic par)
  • The use of the verb katabai/nw (“step down”, i.e. “come down”)
  • The Messengers/Spirit coming down upon [e)pi/] Jesus [Mk uses ei)$ “unto”]
  • Jesus is identified as a Messianic and/or Divine figure (“Son of God”)—these are effectively blended together in the figure “Son of Man”, as found in the sayings of Jesus throughout the Gospel tradition

 

Note of the Day – February 13 (Luke 3:15; 4:14-21ff)

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Today’s note continues the study of the Baptism of Jesus as developed in the Gospel Tradition, by looking at the theme of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (in comparison with John the Baptist), here within the Gospel of Luke.

There are three distinctive Lukan contributions to the Gospel tradition at this point:

  1. The addition of 3:15
  2. The specific emphasis on the Spirit and the heavenly voice in the Baptism narrative (3:21-22), and
  3. The episode with which the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is narrated (4:14-21ff)

Luke 3:15

The Lukan Baptism narrative (on the ministry of John the Baptist) contains the following information in verse 15:

“And (with) the people looking toward receiving (something) [i.e. being in expectation], and all (the people) gathering (it) through their hearts about th(is) Yohanan {John}—(if) not in some (way) [i.e. whether] he might be the Anointed One [o( xristo/$]…”

This leads into the Baptist’s sayings of vv. 16-17 (par Mark 1:7-8; Matt 3:11-12), which, in Luke’s version, are a direct response to the people’s reaction in v. 15. The detail in this verse is not found in the other Synoptic Gospels, but its general authenticity is perhaps confirmed by a comparison with Jn 1:19-27 (to be discussed in the next note). At any rate, it would not be at all surprising if such a unique, prophetic figure as John might be taken as an Anointed One of God (i.e. Messiah). However, it seems most unlikely that the traditional Messianic figure-type of the Davidic Ruler is in view here—it is hard to see how anyone would consider the Baptist in that light, based on the description of him and his ministry in the Gospels (however, cp. Jn 1:20ff). It is far more probable that the people thought he could be a Messianic Prophet figure—especially according to the type of Elijah, who would appear at the end-time before the Judgment. The main point to note is that John here deflects attention away from his Prophetic/Messianic role to that of the “one who is coming”, the one greater than he (i.e. Jesus).

Luke 3:21-22—The Baptism

I have already discussed the way that the Gospel writer has adapted the Synoptic narrative of Jesus’ baptism, in an earlier note. Today, I wish to look briefly at two specific points of emphasis which relate to the Lukan portrait of Jesus’ identity (as the Anointed One of God).

(1) The Descent of the Spirit (v. 22a)

Several details are worth noting. First, Luke’s description seems to give added emphasis to the descent of the Spirit as a concrete, visual event (note the words in italics):

“…and the holy Spirit stepping down [i.e. coming down] in bodily appearance as a dove upon him…”

Second, the word order joins the descent of the Spirit and the heavenly voice into an enclosed symmetry, connecting them in an artistic manner:

  • and stepping down
    —the Holy Spirit…upon him
    —and a voice out of heaven
  • coming to be

Third, after the baptism, the role of the Spirit and its relationship to Jesus is given much more prominence in the Lukan narrative (note the words in italics):

  • 4:1—”And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden {Jordan} (river) and was led in the Spirit in(to) the desolate (land)” (cp. Mk 1:12; Matt 4:1)
  • 4:14—”And Yeshua turned back [i.e. returned from the desert] in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl {Galilee}”

Finally, the use of Isa 61:1ff (in 4:17ff, cf. below) indicates that Jesus has been, in some sense, anointed by the Spirit, which almost certainly should be understood as having taken place at the Baptism.

(2) The Voice from Heaven (v. 22b)

I have already mentioned (in a prior note) how the Lukan syntax of vv. 21-22 has the effect of making the declaration by the heavenly voice the climactic focal point of the scene, in a distinctive way. Two additional points should be mentioned here:

(a) The idea of Jesus as the Son of God—how this is developed in Luke-Acts. Consider:

  • It is introduced in the Infancy narrative, at the Angelic announcement of his birth to Mary (1:32, 35)
  • The idea is implied in the scene of the child Jesus in the Temple—God as his (true) Father, contrasted with Joseph as his (human/legal) father (2:48-49)
  • The genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38), which directly follows the baptism (and the declaration of the heavenly voice), is included as a creative (literary) device to emphasize Jesus’ true identity as the “Son of God” (i.e. rather than the human son of Joseph)
  • The title “Son of God” plays a key role in the Temptation scene which follows (4:3, 9)
  • His identity as Joseph’s (human/legal) son is brought up again in the subsequent scene at Nazareth (4:22)
  • He is declared “Son of God” by demons during the first miracles of his public ministry (4:41, cf. also v. 34)

(b) The variant reading of the heavenly declaration—in the Beza MS [D], as well as in certain Latin MSS and writings of the early Church Fathers, instead of the traditional Synoptic version (identical with Mk 1:11), the voice from heaven cites Psalm 2:7 [LXX]:

ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron gege/nnhka/ se
“You are my Son—today I have caused you to be (born)”

I have discussed this reading (which some scholars consider to be original) in an earlier note. It certainly makes a Messianic association with the title “Son of God” more definite (cf. Acts 4:25-27; 13:32-33ff; Heb 1:5; 5:5).

Luke 4:14-21—The Episode at Nazareth

I will be discussing this episode in more detail at a later point in this series (when studying the Galilean ministry of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition); here I will simply point out several details which relate back to the earlier chapters and the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God:

  • The unique presence and power of the Spirit on/in Jesus as he begins his ministry (v. 14, cf. also v. 1)
  • The quotation from Isa 61:1, as read by Jesus in the narrative (vv. 17-19)—this refers to an anointing by God, and the presence of the Spirit upon this (prophetic) figure. Jesus’ comment in v. 21 would indicate that he is identifying himself with this Anointed One.
  • The crowd’s reaction in v. 22 plays on the idea of Jesus’ sonship—that he is the human/legal son of Joseph. In the Lukan context, this implies that the people have missed the essence of the Scripture and what Jesus has said. Rather than recognizing him as the Anointed One (and Son of God), they continue to see him in the ordinary sense as the son of Joseph and Mary. Luke has already introduced this contrast earlier in in chapters 2 and 3—the child Jesus in the Temple (esp. 2:48-49), and the genealogy of Jesus (esp. the framing verses 23 and 38).
  • In his response to the people’s reaction, Jesus identifies himself as a Prophet (v. 24, see also Mk 6:4 par).
  • The illustrations he gives in vv. 25-27 suggest that he may be specifically identifying himself as a Prophet in the manner of Elijah. The reference to working miracles (like Elijah and Elisha) is probably what is in view here, especially in light of the Isa 61:1 citation (cf. the parallel in Mk 6:5 and the reference in Lk 7:22-23).

These points of emphasis relate back to the Baptism narrative, in that they serve to identify Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), not of the Davidic ruler type, but as a Prophetic figure (i.e. “the one [who is] coming”), drawing upon two Messianic motifs: (1) Elijah, as a miracle-working Prophet, and (2) the one anointed by the Spirit of God in Isa 61:1ff. The connection here with Jesus as the Son of God is much less prominent, but I would argue that it still underlies the scene.

 

Note of the Day – February 12 (Matt 11:2ff, etc)

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Moving from the core Synoptic tradition (in Mark, cf. the previous note) to its development in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, there are several areas to consider:

  1. The development of the immediate Synoptic tradition—i.e. of the Baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
  2. The “Q” material in Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35, and
  3. Details or traditions found only in Luke

We begin today with the first two areas, leaving the third to be discussed in the next daily note. Remember that we are now examining the specific theme, or component, in the Tradition of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One.

Luke 3:21-4:1ff & Matt 3:16-4:1ff

Both Luke and Matthew, to the extent that they made use of Mark (or a similar Synoptic source), have independently—(1) adapted the basic narrative of the baptism, and (2) incorporated so-called “Q” material.

(1) Matt 3:13-17 and Luke 3:21-22

Matthew generally follows Mark closely in narrating the Baptism, with two main differences: (a) the description in Mk 1:9 (v. 13) has presumably been modified to allow for the insertion of the exchange between John and Jesus in vv. 14-15; and (b) the form of the declaration by the heavenly voice (v. 17) is different. Both of these changes seem to have, as a major (if not primary) purpose, a depiction of the baptism of Jesus as a sign to be observed by all the people (i.e. all Israel). The statement by Jesus in verse 15 indicates that, by submitting to baptism by John, he is fulfilling the religious forms and symbols, etc, of the Old Covenant (“all the righteousness [of God]”), stretching back through the Law and Prophets to the birth of the people Israel (cf. 11:13 par). The form of the heavenly declaration in v. 17 similarly functions as a public assertion regarding Jesus’ identity—”This is my Son…” It moves from a ‘simple’ record of events to include information about how people (believers) should understand them.

Luke has modified the Synoptic narrative somewhat differently, through arrangement and syntax. First, he has essentially ‘removed’ John from the scene (vv. 18-20), leaving Jesus on the stage alone. Secondly, the distinctive syntax of vv. 21-22 (a single sentence in Greek), drives the description forcefully ahead to make the heavenly declaration the definite focus of the narrative. The Lukan syntax here is quite difficult to translate literally, since it involves (an extreme) form of the construction e)ge/neto de/ (“and it came to be [that]”) + a sequence of infinitives (a construction used frequently in the Gospel). Here is a an approximation:

“And it came to be, in all of the people being dunked (by John), and Yeshua (also) being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and the holy Spirit’s stepping down [i.e. coming down] in bodily appearance as a dove, and (it was then that) a voice coming to be out heaven (said): ‘You are my Son, the (one) loved (by me)—in you I have good regard’.”

The three verbs in italics are all infinitives, which would typically be translated “to dunk”, “to step down”, and “to come to be”, but here have to be rendered differently, like participles or verbal nouns (gerunds), in order to make sense, and yet still capture the development of the sentence in its sequence, i.e.:

  • all the people (in their) being dunked
    • the Holy Spirit’s stepping/coming down
      • a voice out of heaven coming to be

The sequence builds, step by step, to the declaration by the heavenly voice, which emphasizes its significance and position in the Lukan narrative.

(2) Matt 4:1ff & Luke 4:1ff

Matthew and Luke each include so-called “Q” material following the Baptism account; this includes primarily the Temptation scene (Matt 4:1-11 / Lk 4:1-13), but also, as a way of transitioning to it from the Baptism, an expansion of the (Synoptic) narration in Mk 1:12, giving greater prominence to the role of the Spirit in relation to Jesus. Compare:

Mk 1:12—”And straightaway the Spirit casts him [i.e. Jesus] out into the desolate (land)…”
Matt 4:1—”Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit…”
Luke 4:1—”And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back…and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land)”

Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35 (“Q”)

This “Q” material, while unrelated to Jesus’ baptism as such, is important as another source for studying the relationship between John and Jesus. It is divided into three sections, each of which includes early traditional material, which has been joined together, based on common themes and language, to form a coherent whole. It may be outlined as follows:

  • John’s question to Jesus, with Jesus’ response (Matt 11:2-6)
  • Jesus’ testimony regarding John (vv. 7-15)
  • The (negative) reaction to John and Jesus, respectively (vv. 16-19)

For the purposes of this study, the first two sections have the greatest relevance, developing themes also found in the Baptism narrative.

Matt 11:2-6 (Lk 7:18-23)—The setting of the first section has John in prison, from whence he sends messengers (from among his disciples) to Jesus with an important question:

“Are you the one coming, or should we look toward receiving [i.e. expect] a different (person)?” (v. 3, Lk’s version [v. 19] is nearly identical)

As I discussed in the previous note, the use of the expression “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$) makes it all but certain that John is asking if Jesus is the Chosen/Anointed One (i.e. Messiah), sent by God. However, he probably does not have in mind the Anointed Ruler from the line of David, but rather a Prophetic figure-type—perhaps “Elijah” or “the Prophet (like Moses)”, or even the Messenger of YHWH from Mal 3:1ff (which seems most likely). On this, cf. Parts 2 & 3 from the series “Yeshua the Anointed” and the note on “The One Coming“. The plain sense of this question would indicate that John, at that particular moment in time, harbored some doubt as to whether Jesus was indeed the Chosen/Anointed one (“the one coming”) he had declared in his preaching (Mk 1:7-8 par, etc). Some Christians may be bothered by this idea, but it is straightforward enough, and does not need to be explained away.

Jesus’ response (Matt 11:4-6 / Lk 7:22-23) is essentially a quotation of Isa 61:1, along with allusions to Isa 26:19 and 35:5. This is significant, since here Jesus identifies himself specifically with the Isaian herald—the prophetic figure anointed by God (by/with the Spirit). The signs of his anointing are the miracles he works and the “good news” he proclaims to the poor, things characteristic of Jesus’ ministry and central to it. The same association is established even more directly in Lk 4:17-21ff, which will be discussed in the next note.

Matt 11:7-15 (Lk 7:24-30)—This second section is less uniform than the first, and may involve a collection of related sayings. Here Jesus gives testimony regarding the person and role of John the Baptist, identifying him specifically with the “Messenger” of Malachi 3:1ff (cf. above). Jesus does this first by stating that John is a prophet (v. 9a) and, indeed, exceedingly (more) than a prophet (v. 9b)—that is, something greater than a prophet. This is explained by the citation from Mal 3:1 which follows in v. 10 par, the same Scripture which is applied to John in Mk 1:2. In Matthew’s version of this material, Jesus is even more precise, declaring John to be “Elijah, the one being about to come”. This is an interpretation of Mal 3:1 based on 4:5-6 [Hebr 3:23-24]. Luke does not have this in his corresponding material, but it is established (indirectly) elsewhere in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 9:12-13 par).

The logic of these “Q” sections, then, seems to be as follows:

  • John asks whether Jesus truly is the Anointed Prophet of the end-time (“the one coming”), i.e. probably the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff.
  • Jesus, in his response, redirects the question—(implying) that he is not this messenger, but is to be identified (instead) with the Messianic figure of Isa 61:1ff
  • In a separate tradition(?), Jesus turns the question around, identifying John as the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff, and, specifically, “Elijah”, the Prophet “who is coming”.

This will be discussed further in tomorrow’s note, when dealing with the traditions and details only found in the Gospel of Luke.

Note of the Day – February 11 (Mark 1:2-3, 10-11)

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We now come to the third area of study regarding the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition:

  1. The Ministry of John
  2. The Relationship between John and Jesus
  3. Jesus as the Anointed One, in comparison with John

We might expect that this component would have undergone the most development in terms of early Christian interpretation. This is true to some extent, but, as we will see, much of the interpretive development stems directly from traditions established at a very early point. We begin, again, with the core Synoptic tradition, represented by the Gospel of Mark, bringing in as well one example from the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts. For a detailed study on the background of the title “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah/Christ), please consult my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed“.

Mark 1:2-3, 7-8, 10-11 (Acts 10:37-38)

The emphasis on Jesus’ identity (as the Anointed One) is found at three points in the Synoptic (Markan) narrative:

Mk 1:2-3—The citations of Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3

The use of Isa 40:3 has been discussed in several of the prior notes, as it is the primary Scripture (and prophecy) associated with John the Baptist in the early Gospel tradition. According to Jn 1:23, John himself quotes it in response to questions regarding his own identity. Indeed, on objective grounds, it is possible that Isa 40:3 entered into the early tradition, at the historical level, through the very preaching of John. If so, then we may detect a decided shift in meaning. For John himself, as for the Community of the Qumran texts, it is likely Isaiah 40:3ff had eschatological, but necessarily Messianic, significance. John, through his preaching and baptizing, was fulfilling the role of the Isaiah herald (the “voice”) by preparing people for the coming (end-time) Judgment of God on humankind. This emphasis is clear enough in the Gospel tradition (Mk 1:4; Matt 3:7-10, 11b-12 pars). However, by the time the Gospel of Mark was written (c. 60 A.D.?), the association with Isa 40:3 had been tied more directly to John’s role as forerunner of the Messiah (Jesus, the “Lord” [ku/rio$]).

Malachi 3:1ff, on the other hand, had a more definite Messianic significance at the time of John and Jesus, largely due to the interpretation given to the oracle at the end of the book of Malachi itself (4:5-6 [Heb 3:23-24]), which draws upon traditions involving the prophet Elijah. As part of the growing eschatological worldview among Jews of the Intertestamental period, there was an expectation that Elijah (or a prophet like Elijah) would appear at the end-time, prior to the “day of the Lord”, the day of YHWH’s coming to bring Judgment. Sirach 48:10 expresses this belief, and the Qumran Community envisioned the coming of an Anointed (i.e. Messianic) Prophet figure, drawing upon Deut 18:18-19, as well as the Elijah traditions, and important passages from Isaiah (61:1ff, etc). The text 4Q521 (fragment 2) appears to blend Isa 61:1ff with Elijah traditions and Mal 4:5-6, specifically. On these Messianic figure-types, see Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as my note discussing Mal 3:1ff (“the one coming”).

The Markan Gospel has joined Mal 3:1 to the (earlier) citation of Isa 40:3 in vv. 2-3, establishing the ministry (and identity) of John, in relationship to Jesus. John is the prophet (both “Elijah” and the Isaian herald) who prepares the way for the coming of the Lord’s Chosen/Anointed representative (i.e. the Messiah) at the end-time. This became the standard interpretation among Christians; however, the early Gospel tradition is actually much more complicated, as we shall see.

Mk 1:7-8—The Baptist’s sayings

These two sayings have also been discussed in the earlier notes of this series; however, it is worth emphasizing several points regarding each saying:

Verse 7—Mark’s version begins: e&rxetai o( i)sxuro/tero/$ mou o)pi/sw mou (“the one stronger than me comes behind me”). As already discussed, this is a well-established saying, attested in multiple strands of tradition. Luke’s version follows Mark in its opening words, but otherwise seems to reflect a separate “Q” version, shared by Matthew, and may involve a blending of the Markan and Q forms. Matthew (3:11) probably preserves the “Q” version as such—

o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$ i)sxuro/tero/$ mou
the one coming behind me (is) stronger than me”

which is also the form preserved in Johannine tradition: o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$ (“the one coming behind me…”). The parallel in Matt 11:3, also “Q” material (cf. Lk ), suggests that the Baptist is using an expression (“the one [who is] coming”) which has a specific eschatological and Messianic significance:

“Are you the one coming [o( erxo/meno$], or should we look toward receiving [i.e. expect] a different (person)?”

This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

Verse 8—The comparison in this saying has already been examined: “I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”. The “Q” version of this saying (Matt 3:11b / Lk 3:16b) emphasizes the association with the coming (end-time) Judgment, by adding “and (in) fire”, along with the saying that follows in Matt 3:12 par. In most of the Messianic thought of the period, the Anointed figure—whether of the Prophetic or Davidic-ruler type—functions as God’s representative who appears prior to, or at the time of, the great Judgment. In Jesus’ own eschatological sayings, it is the “Son of Man” figure (with whom Jesus identifies himself) who is associated especially with the coming Judgment. It is likely that John is also expressing a traditional (Messianic) association with the (Holy) Spirit of God, from passages such as Isa 11:1-9 and 61:1ff.

If we take these two sayings together, at both the historical and early Gospel level, John is prophesying the coming of an (eschatological) figure, anointed/chosen by God (i.e. Messianic), through whom God will exercise Judgment on humankind—saving the righteous ones (who repent), and destroying the wicked. John’s own ministry is preparing people for the coming of this greater/stronger figure.

Mk 1:10-11—The Baptism

The core Synoptic narrative of the baptism of Jesus itself is made up of three parts:

  • A summary description of Jesus coming to John for baptism (v. 9)
  • The descent of the Holy Spirit (as a dove) upon Jesus (v. 10)
  • The voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s Son (v. 11)

The differences in the Matthean and Lukan versions have already been mentioned, in part, and will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. It is interesting that, although the account in the Gospel of John (1:29-34) takes a very different form (cf. the previous note), the basic components are the same:

  • Jesus coming toward John, among those being baptized, etc (vv. 29, 31, 33)
  • The visual/visionary descent of the Spirit (as a dove) upon Jesus (vv. 32-33)
  • A declaration by God concerning Jesus (v. 33) and a declaration (by John) that Jesus is the Son of God, and/or the Chosen One (v. 34)

This indicates that the details became established and fixed in the Gospel tradition at an early date. Let us consider the two elements which point to Jesus’ identity:

Verse 10—Mark’s version of the visual/visionary phenomena is as follows:

“and straightaway, (at his) stepping up out of the water, he saw the heavens tearing (open), and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [i.e. coming down] unto [ei)$] him

Matthew and Luke (Matt 3:16 / Lk 3:21b-22a) are quite close to Mark, with only slight differences in style and emphasis. What is the significance of this image in the Synoptic tradition? There are few references to the Spirit in Mark, but those proximate to verse 10 suggest the following points:

  • The coming of the Spirit should be understood in relation to the earlier saying of v. 8, that the “one coming” would ‘baptize’ people in the holy Spirit. This indicates a special relationship between the Messianic figure (Jesus) and the Spirit of God, which is marked by the descent of the Spirit at his baptism.
  • In verse 12, the Spirit thrusts Jesus out into the desert, where he confronts the Devil and is tested. The language in Mark’s version (cp. Matt/Lk) sounds harsh, but it vividly indicates both the power, and the overriding direction of the Spirit. This episode precedes the beginning of Jesus’ own ministry.
  • Upon his return, and the start of his ministry, Jesus has power/control over the Devil and all unclean spirits—i.e. spiritual power, with the power of the Spirit being implicit.

Admittedly, the specific Messianic association with the Spirit is fairly slight in Mark’s account, but it will become much more prominent in the Gospels of Luke and John.

Verse 11—The voice from heaven (“and there came to be a voice out of the heavens”) declares:

su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n soi eu)do/khsa
“You are my Son, the (one) loved (by me)—
in you I have good regard [i.e. I think good/well of you]”

Luke’s version (3:22b) is identical, being a personal statement by God to Jesus; in Matthew (3:17), the formula is different, addressed to people generally (and presumably audible to them): “This is my Son…in whom I….” We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus as the Son of God in light of the Christology of a later period; but we should be extremely cautious about reading this into the Gospel account here without further ado. It is much more likely, in the earlier strands of Gospel tradition, and at the historical level, that the significance of this identification was Messianic. Some commentators would dispute this, but the parallel between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (to be discussed) would seem to confirm the Messianic significance of the heavenly declaration within the core Synoptic tradition. The idea of the Anointed One (Messiah) as God’s Son relates primarily, if not exclusively, to the Davidic ruler figure-type; for more on this, see Parts 6-8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (cf. also Part 12). The Messianic aspect of this scene is developed in Matthew, and, especially, in the Gospel of Luke.

Acts 10:37-38

On the basic theory that the sermon-speeches in Acts genuinely record pieces of early Gospel preaching (cf. my earlier discussion on this point), consideration must be given to this material as preserving a separate line of tradition, from an early stage of transmission. There are several references to the Baptism of Jesus in Acts, but the one most relevant to our discussion here is found in 10:37-38, part of Peter’s sermon-speech in the house of Cornelius (cf. my earlier article on this speech):

“You have seen [i.e. known] the word (which) came to be down (through) the whole of Yehudah {Judea}, beginning from the Galîl {Galilee} with the dunking [i.e. baptism] which Yohanan proclaimed—(of) Yeshua the (one) from Nazaret, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and (with) power, who came throughout (the land) working good and healing…(in) that God was with him.”

Here it is specifically stated that God anointed (e&xrisen) Jesus—that is, he was God’s Anointed One (xristo/$). This anointing is said to have been “with/in the Holy Spirit”, almost certainly an allusion to Isa 61:1ff, known as a Messianic passage at the time of Jesus. The only episode from the Gospels which suggests an anointing with the Spirit is the Baptism, and the immediate reference to baptism in v. 37 would seem to confirm this. We must be cautious in attributing this emphasis entirely to Peter (at the historical level), since it happens to be an important theme developed in the Gospel of Luke (as we shall see).

Note of the Day – February 7 (Mark 1:7-8, continued)

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As a follow-up to yesterday’s note, dealing with the sayings of John the Baptist recorded in Mark 1:7-8 par, it is worth discussing here the meaning of the sayings in their original historical-traditional context, as far as this can be determined. What is clear from the sayings, in all their versions (cf. the previous note), is that they intend to emphasize two points of contrast:

  1. The first (Mk 1:7) expresses a kind of irony, or reversal, marked by two words:
    o)pi/sw (“behind”)—Jesus comes/follows behind, or after, John
    i)sxuro/tero$ (“stronger [than]”)—at the same time, Jesus is stronger (i.e. more powerful, greater) than John
  2. The second (Mk 1:8) is more straightforward, contrasting baptism in water, with baptism in the holy Spirit

Mark 1:7

“one stronger [i)sxuro/tero$] than me comes behind [o)pi/sw] me”

For the variations of this saying in the Gospels, cf. the previous daily note. The portion which follows in v. 7b illustrates the statement in colorful, dramatic language. Each of the two key words will be analyzed in turn:

(a) o)pi/sw (“behind”)—this preposition more properly means “at the end or back” of something, but often in the sense of “behind”, as translated here. Typically it refers to position or location, though occasionally it can be used in a temporal sense (i.e. “after, later [than]”). Many Christians are inclined to understand o)pi/sw in the temporal sense here, since then all the saying would mean is that Jesus appeared on the scene after (i.e. later than) John. The version in Acts 13:25b is more amenable to this understanding, by using meta/ instead of o)pi/sw, and the developed Johannine tradition follows this line of interpretation as well (Jn 1:15, 30, etc). However, the more common use of o)pi/sw would indicate position—i.e. that Jesus had a position behind, or in back of, John, which is to say, a lesser position. This may simply mean that the “one coming” (Jesus) had not yet become prominent or well-known, in comparison with John. However, many commentators believe that a more precise relationship between Jesus and John is intended.

A popular interpretation, among critical commentators especially, is that Jesus had been a disciple of John. The use of o)pi/sw in the Gospels would tend to support this, as it is used frequently in reference to Jesus’ own disciples following him (Mk 1:17, 20; Matt 4:19; 10:38; Lk 14:27; Jn 6:66, cf. also 12:19). Such an historical reconstruction has been assumed to explain: (a) Jesus’ presence around John, (b) his being baptized by John, (c) the close correlation of the disciples of Jesus and John, as recorded in Johannine tradition (Jn 1:35ff; 3:22-23ff), and (d) certain points of similarity in the teaching of John and Jesus (note esp. Matt 3:2; 4:17). If this line of interpretation is valid, then, originally John may have been either: (a) declaring that one of his followers (Jesus) would have a destiny greater than his own, or (b) prophesying that one of his followers (as yet unknown) would have this greater role. The tradition recorded in Jn 1:29ff would indicate that John did not, at first, know who the “one coming after” him would be (vv. 26-27). It remains an open question, however, whether or not Jesus had been a disciple of John. Christians are doubtless uncomfortable with the idea, but there is nothing in it which is incompatible with orthordox theology or the New Testament witness as a whole. Even so, it is worth noting that Luke has apparently left out the expression “behind me” from the Baptist’s saying (Lk 3:16, cp. Acts 13:25), perhaps sensing the implication of the phrase in context and wishing to avoid it.

If Jesus had been a disciple of John, then it makes even more striking the contrast established in the saying—i.e. one who has been following me is actually far greater than I am! Consider, too, the graphic illustration in Mk 1:7b par, where John declares that he is not fit/worthy even to handle the shoes of the one coming. The act of loosening and/or picking up one’s shoes would have been the menial task of a servant or slave, but could also symbolize the behavior of a disciple to his master. In other words, this would signify an major reversal of role and position—the one leading now becomes less than a slave. For a similar thought expressed by John, cf. Jn 3:30.

(b) i)sxuro/tero$ (“stronger [than]”)—this is a comparative/superlative form of the adjective i)sxuro/$ (“capable, able, strong”). It is interesting to consider the significance of this word as used by John. As will be discussed in the next major section of this study on the Baptism of Jesus, an important component of the Gospel tradition here is the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One, in comparison with John. It should be considered possible, however, on objective grounds, that this was a point of importance in John’s own ministry at the time. Certainly, we must give the traditions recorded in Jn 1:19-27 and Lk 3:15 due consideration. If John denied that he himself was “Elijah” or “the Prophet/Messenger” to come (cf. Mal 3:1ff), then it makes sense to interpret the saying(s) of Mk 1:7f in that light. In other words, he may be granting this Prophetic/Messianic role to another—”the one coming”. This is the very question at issue, of course, in Matt 11:2ff par.

Moreover, if the sayings in Mk 1:7-8 are truly connected, at the historical level, then the greater strength/ability of the “one coming” should be related to the Spirit. Such an association with the Messiah (or a similar Prophet figure) would have been reasonably well-established at the time of John and Jesus, due in large part to the Messianic interpretation given to passages such as Isa 11:1-9 and 61:1ff. For similar associations in the Qumran texts, cf. CD 2:12; 1QS 4:20-21; 4Q521 frag. 2. Jesus, as this Anointed figure (Lk 4:1, 14, 18ff), is stronger because his ministry involves cleansing at a deeper level, through the work of the Spirit (cf. below).

Mark 1:8

“I dunk you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”

The contrast in this saying is made more precise in the “Q” and Johannine versions, through the use of a me\nde/ construction (cf. the previous note). The historical tradition is clear that water, in John’s ministry, signified cleansing from sin (Mk 1:4 par; Matt 3:11; Josephus, Ant. 18.117). There would have been two components, or aspects, to this symbolism:

  • repentance, and the good works which follow, and
  • release (forgiveness) of sins by God

The general similarity with the ritual washing practiced by the Qumran Community has already been mentioned, and the significance of such washing at Qumran is expressed in the Community Rule (1QS 3:7-12; 4:20-21ff; 5:13-14). This sort of water-symbolism, of course, is widespread, attested in many different religious and cultural traditions. For a sampling of relevant passages in the Old Testament, cf. Exod 29:4; 30:20; Lev 8:6; 11:32ff; 14:8-9; 15:5-11; 16:4; Num 8:7; 19:7-21; Deut 23:11; 2 Kings 3:11; 5:10-13; Psa 26:6; 51:2, 7; 66:12; Prov 30:12; Isa 1:16; Jer 4:14; Ezek 16:4, 9; Zech 13:1.

Likewise, the Old Testament refers to cleansing by the Spirit, or uses water-imagery to express the work and effect of God’s Spirit—cf. Isa 4:4-5; 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25-26. With regard to the addition of fire, parallel to the Spirit, in the “Q” version of the saying, purification by fire is also found as a symbol in the Old Testament—Psalm 12:6; Mal 3:2-3, etc (for an association between the Spirit and fire, cf. also Judg 15:14). The Malachi passage, of course, is directly relevant to the Gospel tradition regarding John the Baptist, but it also emphasizes that the cleansing—whether by water, fire, or the Spirit—is ultimately done by God. It is likely that John himself had in mind the end-time appearance of God (coming to bring Judgment), through the work and presence of God’s own Messenger (Mal 3:1ff), who would be identified with Jesus. The main point of the contrast would seem to be that John’s ministry of washing/cleansing (by water) was preparatory for the end-time purification to be brought about by God (by Spirit/fire). That this greater “cleansing” reflects two sides, or aspects, of the Judgment seems clear from the “Q” version (and the parallel in the saying of Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17)—God’s Spirit/fire will burn up the wicked, but the righteous (i.e. the faithful ones who have repented, etc) will be purified and saved.

The view of the Gospel writers

By the time the Gospels were written, a more precise identification of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (drawing on the David ruler and Son of Man figure-types) had been firmly established, along with John the Baptist as the Messenger (“Elijah”) of Mal 3:1ff (4:5-6) who prepares the way for his coming. As a result, the sayings by John in Mk 1:7-8 par came to take on a new significance. The author of Luke-Acts, in particular, would doubtless have in mind the scope of the Gospel story, culminating in the coming of the Spirit (as “tongues of fire”) upon the earliest believers (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4ff). The Fourth Gospel works from a different line of interpretation, emphasizing the greatness of Jesus from a more definite Christological standpoint, best seen in the way that the saying of Mk 1:7 (or something akin to it) is developed and expounded in the first chapter (to be discussed). The Gospels of Matthew and Luke, in drawing upon the “Q” material of Matt 11:2-19 par, had available another avenue by which to develop the relationship between John and Jesus. In particular, note the way that the saying of Mk 1:7 has been virtually restated (by Jesus) to apply, in an eschatological (and seminal Christian) sense, to all believers (Matt 11:11 par).

Note of the Day – February 3 (Isa 40:3, continued)

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Isaiah 40:3 (continued)

Having briefly discussed the key passage of Isa 40:3ff in the previous note, it remains to explore further the association with John the Baptist in Gospel tradition. To understand the original context and background of this association, it is helpful to turn to the texts from the Qumran Community (the Dead Sea Scrolls). I will be discussing here two principal aspects which shed light on the establishment of the early Christian tradition regarding John the Baptist (and his relationship with Jesus):

  1. The Eschatological interpretation of Isa 40:3, as evidenced in the Qumran texts, and
  2. The possible relationship between John the Baptist and the Qumran Community

1. The Eschatological Interpretation of Isa 40:3

While the original setting of Isa 40 would appear to be the promise of the restoration of Judah and the return from exile, certain features of the prophecy, like many in (Deutero-)Isaiah, came to be viewed from an eschatological standpoint—as a promise of what God would do for his people in the future, at the end-time. Interpreted in this light, the herald (or “voice”) of vv. 3ff is calling on people to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord (YHWH) at the end-time, when he will rescue/deliver his people and bring Judgment upon the world. This eschatological orientation is reflected strongly in the Community of the Qumran texts, written primarily between the period of 150 B.C. and the first years of the common era (A.D.). Many of these writings evince a belief that the end was near, and that the Community, as the faithful ones (or “remnant”) of Israel, held a central place in the work of God that was about to take place. This is expressed most clearly in two central documents which shape and define the history and character of the Community—the “Community Rule” [1QS, etc] and the so-called Damascus Document [CD/QD]. The importance of Isaiah 40:3 in terms of the Community’s self-identity is seen in the Community Rule [1QS] 8:12-16; 9:19-20:

“And when these have become /a community/ in Israel /in compliance with these arrangements/, they are to be segregated from within the dwelling of the men of sin, to walk to the desert in order to open there His path. As it is written: ‘In the desert, prepare the way of [YHWH], straighten in the steppe a roadway for our God’. This is the study of the Law which he commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age, and according to what the prophets have revealed through His holy Spirit.” (8:12-16a)

“This is the time for making ready the path to the desert, and he will teach them about all that has been discovered, so that they can carry it out in this moment…” (9:19-20)

The Community of these texts has separated from all other people, living apart together in the desert (presumably at the site of Khirbet Qumrân, among others[?]), devoting themselves to a strict communal lifestyle centered on the study and exposition/interpretation of the Law and Prophets. This Way (Heb. Er#D#) in the desert is a “way of holiness” (cf. Isa 35:8ff; 57:14), which also draws upon several important images and ideas from Israelite history and the oracles of the Prophets (esp. Deutero-Isaiah):

  • The return of exiles to the Land—defined in terms of the the coming of salvation from God (Isa 62:10-11)
  • This is parallel to the way of the Israelites through the wilderness (i.e. the Exodus traditions) into the Promised Land (Isa 11:16; 48:21; 51:10-11)
  • This same salvation is also understood more properly in an eschatological sense, in terms of the coming Judgment (Isa 1:27-31, etc)

These aspects play on the dual meaning of the verb bWv (šû», “turn, return”)—i.e., (1) the return from exile and the restoration of Israel, and (2) a return to God, that is, a turning back away from sin. The Qumran Community refers to itself at times as <yb!v* (š¹»îm), “ones turning/returning”, in two qualified senses:

  • The š¹»ê Yi´r¹°¢l—the faithful ones or “converts” of Israel, i.e. those who have joined the Community (CD 4:2-3; 6:3-7)
  • The š¹»ê peša±—the ones who have turned away (i.e. repented) from sin (CD 2:5; 20:17; 1QS 1:17; 10:20; 1QHa VI.24; X.9; XIV. 6); the expression is likely derived from Isaiah 59:20f.

By turning from sin and the wickedness/faithlessness of the world, and joining the Community, one follows the “way of holiness” and prepares for the end-time Judgment and the salvation God will bring for his faithful ones.

2. John and the Qumran Community

There are a number of similarities between the ministry of John the Baptist and the Community of the Qumran texts:

  • The desert location. Based on the evidence from the Gospels, as well as subsequent Christian tradition, much of John’s ministry would have taken place in the Judean desert, not all that far from the site of Qumrân.
  • The central importance of Isa 40:3 (cf. above). In Jn 1:23, it is John himself who makes the identification with Isa 40:3.
  • The practice of ritual washing/cleansing. For the importance of this for the Qumran Community, see esp. 1QS 2:25-3:12; 4:20-22; 5:8-23. Ritual washing marked the person’s entrance into the Community; in addition, there were regular washings for various times or occasions.
  • An eschatological emphasis. Warning of the coming Judgment (or anger/wrath) of God was a significant element in both the Qumran texts and in the preaching of John (according to the Gospels). For the Qumran evidence, see e.g., CD 1:5; 10:9; 1QHa VII.17; XI. 28; XXII.5; 1QpHab i.12; 4Q169 1-2.
  • The importance of repentance. Cf. the Qumran references cited directed above, as well as the self-identification based on the verb bWv (šû») listed earlier above. The related Hebrew word hb*WvT= (t®šû»â) generally corresponds to the Greek meta/noia (Mk 1:4 par, etc).
  • Opposition to Pharisees and other (religious) leaders. This is attested only indirectly in the Qumran texts, such as the pesher (commentary) on Nahum (4QpNah [4Q169] fragments 3-4); cf. also CD 5:13-14; 6:11-14, etc. In the Gospels, note Matt 3:7ff par, and Jn 1:19ff.
  • Fire and Spirit. The Baptist’s saying in Mk 1:8; Matt 3:11 par regarding cleansing/purification by fire and the (holy) Spirit has an interesting parallel, too, in the Community Rule (1QS 4:20-21):
    “the time appointed for Judgment… Then God will refine, with his truth, all men’s deeds, and will purify for himself the structure of man… and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every wicked deed. He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (in order to cleanse him) from all… defilement”

These points of similarity have prompted many commentators to allow at least the possibility that John the Baptist had some contact with the Qumran Community (usually identified, in various ways, with the Essenes). Josephus, according to his own testimony, had spent time with the Essenes, and describes an ascetic figure similar in certain respects to John (Life §§11-12). Moreover, Josephus also refers to the Essene practice of ‘adopting’ children and raising them according to their own teachings and practices (Jewish War 2.120, for more on the Essenes, cf. throughout 2.119-161). If one accepts the biographical details of the Lukan Infancy narrative, John came from a priestly family, and his parents, presumably, would have died when he was quite young. This would have made him a strong candidate, perhaps, for joining the Essenes (and/or the Qumran Community) as a youth. All of these factors make this at least a plausible scenario.

Summary

Whether or not John the Baptist had any real contact with the Qumran Community, if he identified himself with Isa 40:3 (cf. Jn 1:23), such as they did, then we are immediately transported beyond a specific Christian interpretation of the passage. At the earliest (historical) level of Gospel tradition, John would have viewed himself as fulfilling the role of the Isaian herald, and, through his preaching and ministry, he was preparing “the Way of the Lord”—that is, preparing God’s people for His end-time appearance and the coming Judgment on humankind. It is important to keep this possibility in mind as we explore the way that the earliest traditions were interpreted and developed within the Gospel heritage.

Translations of the Qumran texts given above (adapted slightly) are from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentino García Martínez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8 & 2000).

Note of the Day – February 2 (Isa 40:3)

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The central element to the portrait of John the Baptist in Gospel tradition is his association with Isaiah 40:3, which, in its original prophetic context, stands at the beginning of the second half of the book of Isaiah (so-called Deutero-Isaiah). It is generally understood to reflect a promise of restoration and return (from exile) for Judah. This is the message of comfort/consolation in verse 1, as well as the “good news” (rC@b^m=) in v. 9a. The message of the herald in vv. 9ff is preceded by two brief oracles (vv. 3-5, 6-8) which reference a voice (loq) that “cries/calls” out (arq)—the voice of a prophet uttering the word/message given to him by God. Luke’s account is the only one of the Gospels that applies this specific prophetic element to John (Lk 3:2b, cf. also 1:76). The original Hebrew of Isa 40:3, given in literal translation, reads:

“A voice (is) calling (out) in the wide open [i.e. remote/desert] (land): ‘Turn (your) face (to) the way/path of YHWH! Make straight in the (desert) plain a place (to walk) up for our God!'”

The verb hn`P* (p¹nâ), lit. “turn (your) face (to)”, often means “turn your attention to, give attention to”, in the sense of working at or preparing something. The noun Er#D# (derek) is typically translated “way” or “path”, but specifically means something trodden/trampled, i.e. where a person steps or walks. The parallel noun hL*s=m! (mislâ), from the verb lls, refers to a place that has been built or raised up—such as a ramp or staircase, and is often rendered as “highway”. The nouns rB*d=m! (mi¼b¹r) and hb*r*u& (±¦r¹»â) each refer to an open, remote area (i.e. desert, wilderness, pasture-land, etc), but with a slightly different nuance.

The Greek (LXX) translation is reasonably accurate, but interprets the Hebrew somewhat:

fwnh\ bow=nto$ e)n th=| e)rh/mw| e(toima/sate th\n o(do\n kuri/ou eu)qei/a$ poiei=te ta\$ tri/bou$ tou= qeou= h(mw=n
“(The) voice of (one) crying in the desolate (land): ‘(Make) ready the way of the Lord, make straight the broken (track)s of [i.e. for] our God!'”

Several of these differences resulted in making the verse more amenable for being applied to John the Baptist (and Jesus):

  • The opening construction—”voice of (one) crying”—points more directly to a particular person or figure (i.e. John).
  • The Greek word order allows the phrase “in the desert” to be associated with the voice crying (i.e., “voice crying in the desert”), rather than the location of the work (“make ready in the desert”).
  • The conventional rendering of the Divine name YHWH (hwhy, Yahweh) with Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) allowed Christians to interpret the passage as a reference to the coming of Jesus.
  • Instead of the idea of building up a ramp or pathway over the rough ground, the Greek conveys more the sense of smoothing out or leveling the rough places on road, etc., which better suits the image of John’s ministry urging people to repent of their sins.

All three Synoptic Gospels follow the LXX, except for the substitution of au)tou= (“his”) in place of tou= qeou= h(mw=n (“of our God”), which may have been an intentional (Christian) modification; in any case, it helps to make the passage apply to Jesus, rather than God the Father (YHWH).

One may understand the early Christian use and application of Isa 40:3 three ways, or on three distinct levels:

  1. At the historical level—i.e. what John said about himself, or how he was viewed by people at the time
  2. In an eschatological or Messianic sense—John as the herald who prepares people for the coming of God (and His Judgment) at the end-time, and
  3. In relationship to Christ—as the forerunner who prepares people for the appearance of Jesus

It is easy to conflate these and to jump immediately to the specifically Christian (or Christological) interpretation. This, of course, would have been the understanding of the Gospel writers; however, I am not so certain that it properly explains how the association of John with Isa 40:3 came to be established in the Gospel tradition in the first place. This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

January 6: Luke 3:22

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Luke 3:22

The John/Jesus parallel of the Lukan Infancy narrative continues on into the Gospel proper—the account of Jesus’ baptism as narrated in the wider Synoptic tradition (Mark 1:2-11 par). The main difference in Luke’s account is that he records the beginning and end of John’s ministry at the same point (cf. the detail in Lk 3:18-20). This effectively clears the way for the introduction of Jesus’ ministry in verse 23. The Lukan narrative describes the baptism of Jesus as part of the process—the people being baptized—but the author also sets Jesus apart from the crowd through a simple syntactical variation. Verses 21-22 utilize a construction e)geneto de/ (“and it came to be [that]”) + infinitive—which is almost impossible to translate literally in English. The action is described with a succession of infinitives:

  • all the people being dunked [i.e. baptized]
  • the heavens opening up
  • the holy Spirit stepping down upon him {Jesus}
  • a voice out of heaven coming to be

John the Baptist is a transitional figure, between the Old Covenant and the New, associated specifically with the Prophets (1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4-6; 7:26-28)—the completion of the Age of the Law and the Prophets (16:16 par). As discussed at numerous points in the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus was seen as fulfilling the types and forms of the Old Covenant—and this process is completed with the baptism. In Matthew’s account, this expressed in terms of fulfilling the righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God (“so it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”, Matt 3:15). In Luke’s version of the baptism scene, Jesus is among the crowd coming to be baptized, but is still set apart:

“And it came to be, among all the people being dunked, and (with) Yeshua being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and the heaven opening up and the holy Spirit stepping down upon him in bodily appearance as a dove, and a voice coming to be (from) out of heaven, (this voice said)…”

There is a definite Messianic significance to the baptism scene in Luke-Acts, indicated by several points:

  • The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus (4:18 [Isa 61:1f], cf. verse 1, 14)
  • The declaration of Jesus as God’s Son, especially in light of Psalm 2:7 (cf. below)
  • The parallel declaration in the Transfiguration scene
  • The gospel statement in Acts 10:37-38

While these are common to the Synoptic tradition, several of the details are given greater emphasis in the Lukan account.

The Voice from Heaven

In the majority of manuscripts, the words of the heavenly voice (3:22b) match those of the other Synoptic versions: “You are my Son [su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou], the (Be)loved One [o( a)gaphto/$]; I have good thought/consideration in you [e)n soi eu)do/khsa]”. There is probably an echo of Isa 42:1 here, a Messianic passage for which the parallel is even closer in the Lukan version of the voice at the Transfiguration (cf. below). However, in Codex Bezae [D], along with several Old Latin MSS and writings of the Church Fathers, the voice in Lk 3:22 actually quotes Psalm 2:7:

“You are my son; today I have caused you to be (born)”
ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se

This verse, of course, came to be a primary Messianic reference as applied to Christ, though usually in connection with the resurrection, not the baptism (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). The title “Beloved” (a)gaphto/$) in the Old Testament (LXX) tradition is associated especially with the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:2, 12; for a similar context, cf. Amos 8:10; Zech 12:10). For more on the text-critical issue in 3:22, cf. my note from a previous Christmas season.

The Transfiguration

The Messianic significance of the corresponding scene at the Transfiguration is due, in large part, to its position in the Synoptic narrative, following Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Anointed One (9:20) and Jesus’ first prediction of his coming death and resurrection (9:21-22). We also have the identification of Jesus with the Prophet figure-types of Moses and Elijah (cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). In many MSS, the heavenly voice in 9:35 matches that of the majority text of 3:22; however, the best reading shows a slight difference:

“You are my Son, the One Gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen One]; I have good thought/consideration in you”

The title e)klelegme/no$, parallel to a)gaphto/$ in 3:22, more properly aligns the declaration with the (Messianic) Servant song of Isa 42:1ff. A related title e)klekto/$ is used in 23:35, in close connection with xristo/$ (“Anointed One”); cf. also the variant reading in Jn 1:34, where it is used with the title “Son of God”.

Son of God

Drawing upon the earlier discussion of Jesus’ saying in Lk 2:49 (cf. the previous note), we may outline three ways of understanding Jesus as God’s Son in 3:22:

  • Identification with the people of Israel as God’s “Son” (Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1, etc). Jesus’ participation with the people in baptism may be intended to bring out such an association—cp. Lk 1:77 with Matt 1:21 (2:13-15ff).
  • The Messiah (the Davidic Ruler) as God’s Son (Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:12-16, etc)
  • Sonship in terms of exalted, heavenly position and status. In early Christian tradition, the use of Messianic Psalm passages such as Ps 2:7; 110:1 were applied to Jesus in the context of his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). Eventually, this was also understood in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent deity.

The parallel declaration in 9:35 suggests that the second option is the one primarily in view. According to Gospel tradition (cf. Acts 10:37-38), it was at the baptism that Jesus was (first) identified as the “Anointed One”, though the title was applied directly only with Peter’s confession (9:20).

The Geneaology in 3:23ff

The Lukan situation is complicated by the peculiar insertion of Jesus’ genealogy at 3:23, directly following the baptism account. Essentially, it serves to introduce Jesus at the time of the beginning of his (public) ministry, but it plays on the same idea of sonship addressed in 2:49. There, Joseph was referred to as Jesus’ parent (vv. 41, 48a) or father (v. 48b), establishing the contrast with the saying of v. 49, where Jesus identifies God as his Father. In a similar way, the genealogy of 3:23 is introduced:

“And Yeshua {Jesus} (him)self, beginning (his ministry), was as though (about) thirty years (old), being the son, as it was thought/considered, of Yoseph…”

The genealogy—his legal ancestry through Joseph—continues through verse 38, all the way back to the first human being (cf. the Genesis creation account):

“…the (son) of Enosh, the (son) of Seth, the (son) of Adam, the (son) of God”

The line is thus traced back to God himself, God the Father (Yahweh/El). This turns out to be a very clever way for the author to restate the idea that Jesus is the “Son of God”. It should be noted that the word “son” (ui(o/$) is only implied, and is not actually present throughout the genealogy of vv. 24-38. Nevertheless, the basic concept is certainly there—Jesus’ true genealogy goes back to God. A literal treatment of vv. 23-38 would simply indicate Jesus’ common human heritage—of the people Israel, stretching back through their ancestors to the Creation. But the author’s actual emphasis is on the point of contrast—Jesus was only the son of Joseph in a conventional (and legal) sense; his true sonship is divine. The framework of the Gospel narrative means that the author (trad. Luke) did not really bring out this aspect of Jesus’ sonship until after the resurrection and exaltation. Yet it is certainly foreshadowed earlier in the Infancy narrative (1:32-35; 2:41-50) and here at the baptism.

January 6th was the older date commemorating the birth of Jesus in the Eastern Church. It was referred to as Epiphany (e)pifa/neia), or, more properly, Theophany (qeofa/neia), the manifestation (“shining forth”) of God on earth in the person of Jesus Christ. When Dec 25 was adopted in the East, Jan 6 came to be devoted more exclusively to a celebration of the Baptism of Jesus. For more on this important theme in Eastern (Syrian) tradition, see my earlier Jan 6 note.

January 3: Luke 2:29-32

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Luke 2:29-32

Today’s note is on Luke 2:29-32, the Song of Simeon. I dealt with this passage extensively in a series of Advent notes. Here I will be looking it from the standpoint of the Messianic expectation, common among Jews and Christians of the period, and how it has been modified in the Lukan Infancy narrative, being reflective of early Christian belief and expression. The last two lines of the Song of Simeon (vv. 31-32), in particular, manifest this new understanding, much as we see also in the last lines of the hymn of Zechariah (the Benedictus, 1:78-79). The early Christian (and Lukan) interpretation is rooted in the use of certain key passages from the book of Isaiah, especially the so-called “Servant songs” of Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-55, etc).

In yesterday’s note, I mentioned again the parallels between Zechariah and Simeon, and the two oracle-hymns (Benedictus, Nunc Dimittis) attributed to each. It will be helpful to examine the relevant (concluding) lines of each hymn, to gain a better sense of how this Messianic expectation was applied to Jesus. There were a number of Messiah figure-types known from the Qumran texts and other writings of the period, but two were especially prominent in the Gospel tradition (cf. the series “Yeshua the Anointed“):

  1. The Prophet like Elijah who would appear prior to the great Judgment, bringing God’s people to repentance—drawn primarily from Malachi 3:1ff and the interpretation in 4:5-6 [Heb 3:23-24].
  2. A coming Ruler (King) from the line of David who will judge/subdue the nations, deliver God’s people, and bring about the restoration of Israel. For the Scriptural background of this figure, cf. Part 6 of the aforementioned series.

By the time the Gospels came to be written, early Christian tradition had identified these two figure-types as being fulfilled by John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively. Here in the Lukan Infancy narrative, the hymn of Zechariah focuses on John the Baptist, while the Song of Simeon is centered on the child Jesus.

In Luke 1:76 John the Baptist is clearly identified as the Messenger (Elijah, cf. verse 17) who prepares the way before the Lord, as we see well-established in the Gospel tradition (Mk 1:2-3ff par; Lk 7:27; Jn 1:19-23ff). Through his preaching and ministry of baptism, John turns the hearts and minds of people back to God, preparing them for the coming of the Lord, the Anointed One (Christ). This emphasis on repentance introduces the motif of salvation from sin—”to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins” (v. 77). The religious (and eschatological) background of this idea of salvation is very much related to the coming Judgment—only those who repent and return to God will escape (i.e. be saved from) the anger and judgment of God upon humankind. In verse 78, however, the emphasis shifts to salvation as an expression of God’s mercy; for similar wording, cf. the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Zebulun 8; Levi 4). The judgment imagery and vocabulary is transformed, centered here on the verb e)piske/ptomai (“look [carefully] upon”), which came to be a technical term for the end-time appearance (visitation) of God, both to help/save his people and to bring the Judgment. Only now, a different sort of visitation is described—of a revelatory light from heaven, shining upon human beings (God’s people) trapped in darkness. As previously discussed (cf. the note on vv. 69, 78-79) the “rising up” (a)natolh/) is best understood by the image of a sun or star which gives the light (of God) from out of heaven (Num 24:17; Isa 60:1ff; Mal 4:2, etc). The image of people—God’s people—sitting in darkness and shadow comes primarily from Isaiah 9:2; 42:6-7 (cf. also Psalm 107:9-10).

Similarly, in the Simeon episode, the child Jesus is identified as the Anointed One (2:26)—that is, the Messianic figure-type of the end-time ruler from the line of David (cf. 1:32-33, 69; 2:11). An interesting shift has taken place, however; instead of the idea of salvation from the wicked nations (the enemies of Israel, cf. 1:70-71) etc, this figure is now identified with salvation itself. Note the similarity of language between 2:26 and 30:

“…until he should see the Anointed of the Lord
“…my eyes have seen your Salvation

Two parallel expressions are involved:

  • the Anointed (One) [xristo/$] of the Lord
  • the Salvation [swthri/a] of the Lord

In other words, the salvation which the Lord (Yahweh) brings for his people is embodied in the person of the Anointed One (Jesus). The “Lord” in vv. 29ff is referenced, not by the regular Greek term ku/rio$ (ky¡rios), but by the less common despo/th$ (despót¢s). This word more properly means “master, owner”, and better fits the master-slave motif in verse 29. However, it is generally synonymous with the Hebrew °¹dôn (cf. the earlier article on this title), and, occasionally, like ku/rio$, was used to render the divine name YHWH (cf. the prior note on v. 29 and the article on Yahweh). Earlier in the hymn of Zechariah (v. 69), the Messiah (Jesus) was described as a “horn of salvation” raised up by the Lord—not just the means of deliverance, or the one who accomplishes it, but salvation itself, from the power of sin enslaving all of humankind. This reflects the essential meaning and character of the name Yeshua/Jesus (Matt 1:21 [note], and cf. Luke 2:11).

There are two aspects of this salvation-theme in verses 31-32 (cp. 1:77-79):

  • Light/Darkness imagery, and
  • The people (of God) / peoples on earth

Light—specifically light to/for the nations (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 52:10), an extension of the basic image in 1:78-79 (Isa 9:2ff, cf. Matt 4:15-16). This clearly relates to the early Christian motif of revelation through the proclamation of the Gospel (2 Cor 4:1-6). I have discussed the subject in considerable detail in a recent article, and you will find there an extensive listing of relevant Scripture references. In particular, note the strong identification of Jesus himself as light in the Gospel (and letters) of John—Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5-7; 2:8-10.

People(s)—In the Old Testament and Israelite religious tradition, the original idea of the “people of God” was based on the ethnic-religious premise that God chose Israel out of all the peoples (nations) on earth, and established a special covenant with them. That the Messiah (i.e. the Davidic ruler) would come out of Israel—that is, out of Judah (the line of David), to rule over all Israel—was axiomatic, and would scarcely have been questioned by anyone at the time. This meant that salvation and deliverance comes out of Israel (Isa 46:13; Rom 4:5; Jn 4:22, etc), and, in the traditional religious sense, was intended primarily, if not exclusively, for the faithful among God’s people (Israel). In the (later) Prophets, however—and, especially, in the second half of the book of Isaiah (‘Deutero-Isaiah’)—the idea becomes more prevalent that this covenant relationship will reach outward to the surrounding nations, and that other peoples will come to join Israel as part of God’s people (cf. Isa 49:6, 22; 56:3-8; 60:3-7; 66:18ff, etc).

This shift in focus was an important element of early Christian thought, associated with the mission to the Gentiles—cf. throughout the book of Acts, and, especially, in two key passages: (1) Paul’s statement regarding the inauguration of his mission to the Gentiles (13:46ff, citing Isa 49:6), and (2) the declaration by James in 15:14-17 (citing Amos 9:11-12). The reference to “all the peoples” in Lk 2:31 is parallel to the expression “all flesh” in 3:6: “all flesh will see the salvation of God” (cf. Isa 40:5). Thus it is declared that the nations will join with Israel—and this is to Israel’s honor/glory (v. 32)—to become the people of God. This new religious identity is no longer ethnic, but multi-national and trans-ethnic—it belongs to Jews and Gentiles equally, and is based on trust/belief in Jesus Christ. This, of course, will be developed considerably throughout the Gospel and Acts (not to mention the letters of Paul), but is foreshadowed and foretold by Simeon here. From the standpoint of the (historical) narrative, the process of people coming to trust in Christ begins with the people of Israel (Israelites and Jews). This is the basis of the second part of Simeon’s oracle in vv. 34-35:

“This (child) is laid out unto the falling and rising-up of many in Israel, and unto a sign being counted [i.e. spoken] against…so that the counting through [i.e. thoughts, reasoning] out of many hearts will be uncovered.”

We have come a long way here from the traditional Messianic figure-types (cf. above); the concept of salvation has even shifted from the idea of repentance and salvation from sin to something subtler and more universal—the very thought-process, the mind and thinking, of human beings. The light of Christ reveals the innermost thoughts and feelings of the person. The faithful ones, the believers, will respond to that light (Jn 3:19-21), and so become the true people of God in Christ.