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Miracles of Jesus

Note of the Day – April 25 (John 11:23)

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John 11:23

In verse 23, Jesus responds to Martha (vv. 21-22, cf. the previous two daily notes). His declaration has a place similar to that of the central statement/saying in the major Discourses (e.g., 3:3; 4:10; 5:17, etc). According the Johannine discourse-format, Jesus’ saying brings about misunderstanding by the person(s) hearing it, which then serves as the basis for the exposition which follows. Given the apparent faith expressed by Martha in v. 22, Jesus’ statement in v. 23 seems somewhat abrupt; he declares simply to her, “Your brother will stand up (again)”. Martha’s misunderstanding of this statement will be discussed in the next note. It is, however, important to consider first the significance of the verb a)ni/sthmi (lit. “stand up”). The verb can be used either in a transitive (“make [someone] stand up”) or intransitive sense. By the time of Jesus, among Greek-speaking Jews, it had come to have a technical meaning in reference to the raising of the dead—with the related noun a)na/stasi$ (“resurrection”). It was used previously (four times), in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, in which Jesus identifies himself as “the Bread from Heaven”, i.e. which has come down out of Heaven. In verse 38 he declares:

“…I have stepped down from heaven, not (so) that I might do my (own) will, but the will of the (One) having sent me.”

This is followed by a dual (parallel) statement regarding the will of God (the Father):

  • “And this is the will of the (One) having sent me–
    • that every(thing) which he has given to me I shall not lose (anything) out of it
      • but I will make it stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 39)
  • “For this is the will of my Father—
    • that every(one) th(at is) looking (closely) at the Son and trusting in him might hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]
      • and I will make him stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 40)

This phrase “and I will make him stand up [i.e. raise him up] in the last day” is repeated in v. 44, and again in v. 54, where the reference is to eating (chomping) the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. Note the parallelism in these verses:

  • Everything (i.e. everyone) given to Jesus by the Father (v. 39)
    • Everyone seeing the Son (Jesus) and trusting him (v. 40)
  • (All) those drawn to Jesus by the Father (v. 44)
    • Those who eat his flesh and drink his blood (v. 54)

The second pair indicates a more immediate and dramatic experience by the believer—being drawn to Jesus, eating/drinking his flesh/blood—than the first, which reflects the essential dynamic of election (i.e. being chosen by God) and faith. That the eating/drinking of Jesus by the believer is primarily spiritual rather than sacramental is indicated by the overall context of the discourse, though there can be no doubt that there is a Eucharistic aspect to the language used.

The qualifying phrase of being raised “in the last day” is essentially eschatological, referring to the end-time resurrection, according to Jewish belief (to be discussed in the next daily note). However, it should not be understood exclusively in this sense. We can point back to the previous discourse in chapter 5, especially vv. 17-29, in which resurrection is a central theme, though there the verb e)gei/rw (“raise”) is used, rather than a)ni/sthmi. Jesus’ exposition in vv. 19-29 may be divided into two parts: (1) vv. 19-24, and (2) vv. 25-29. In the latter, it certainly is the end-time resurrection that is in view, but this would not appear to be the case in the former (vv. 19-24). There Jesus is referring to a more fundamental sense of the (eternal) life which he gives to the one who responds to his voice and trusts in him. The reality of this life is experienced even in the present by believers, and corresponds to the idea of being “born from above” (which can also be translated “born again“) in 3:3 (also “born of the Spirit” in v. 5). Thus the motifs of new life (from death) and spiritual life to believers (who not yet died) are interrelated and interchangeable in the Gospel of John. Both aspects will appear again, together, in the remainder of the Lazarus episode and the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, as we shall see.

Note of the Day – April 23 (John 11:21)

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For the days following Easter, I will be presenting a short series of notes on the Lazarus episode in the Gospel of John (11:1-44)—specifically, the dialogue between Martha and Jesus in verses 21-27. This exchange is similar in certain respects to the dialogue format used in the Discourses, as for example, in the scenes with Nicodemus (in chapter 3) and the Samaritan woman (in chapter 4).

John 11:21

The exchange between Martha and Jesus partially follows the pattern of Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus in 3:1-10ff. Martha’s initial address—”Lord [Ku/rie]…”—is not all that different from how Nicodemus addresses Jesus (“Rabbi…” v. 2, cf. 20:16 etc), with an honorific title. The use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) may indicate a level of deeper relationship—i.e. of a disciple to his/her master—but it should not be understood here in its full Christological sense (cp. 20:28). The occurrence of the second Ku/rie (“Lord…”) from Martha in v. 27, however, may be intended to show a greater degree of awareness as to Jesus’ true identity, and so is set in parallel with the first address in v. 21, to bring out the comparison.

There are several points to note in Martha’s statement. First, she is giving emphasis on Jesus’ miracle-working ability. It is this which marks her understanding and appreciation of him, and corresponds with her desire to see her brother Lazarus healed of his illness. By all accounts, the working of healing miracles was the basis for much of Jesus’ fame and notoriety during his lifetime and the period of his ministry, as the Gospels (esp. the Synoptic narrative) make abundantly clear. In so far as Jesus was regarded as an Anointed (i.e. Messianic) figure during the (Galilean) ministry period, it was primarily as a miracle-working Prophet in the manner of Elijah, or the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. Nicodemus certainly recognized this as well:

“Rabbi, we see [i.e. know] that you have come from God (as) a teacher, for no one is able to do these signs which you do, if God were not with him” (3:2)

While not used exclusively of miracles, the word shmei=on (“sign”) tends to have this meaning in John, as in the rest of the New Testament.

Second, the first half of her statement focus on the physical presence of Jesus in order to work miracles: “Lord, if you were [i.e. had been] here…” This is similar to the request by the official in 4:46ff, who asked “that (Jesus) come down and cure his son” (v. 47). Clearly he, like Martha, believes that Jesus is capable of working such a cure; yet, Jesus’ response, somewhat surprisingly, suggests that this indicates a lack of faith: “If you do not see signs and wonders, (surely) you do not trust” (v. 48). In fact, the man’s son is cured from a distance, without requiring Jesus’ presence, but only the power and effect of his word (vv. 50ff). In terms of the theology (and Christology) of the Gospel of John, the presence of Jesus is important, as he is the incarnate Son who makes the Father known to his disciples (believers), and yet an equally important message is that true faith (trust) in Jesus ultimately is not based on the observance of physical events and phenomena (such as miracles), but on acceptance of the living, eternal word [lo/go$] which Jesus speaks, and which is present in his person.

Third, it is significant here that Martha frames the question of healing and life by a negative. She might have said, “if you were here, my brother would have lived,”, etc; but, instead, her statement is, “…my brother would not have died away [ou)k a*n a)pe/qanen]”. In other words, life is not-death. This introduces the important interplay between life and death which runs through the dialogue of vv. 21-27 and the remainder of the episode. The verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away, die off”) first appears in the Gospel of John in the earlier episode of the official’s son who is healed (4:47), occurs in a number of the discourses which follow (6:49-50, 58; 8:21, 24, 52-53). The motif of the Son’s life-giving creative power, which even gives life to the dead (i.e. resurrection), is central to the discourse in 5:19-29 as well as the Bread of Life discourse (6:35-58). In both passages, it is fundamentally Jesus’ word (or words, command, “voice”) which gives life to the dead. As the Gospel progresses, the positive aspect—of Jesus’ word being not only life-giving, but life itself—becomes a more dominant motif. This shift is manifest in the very dialogue between Jesus and Martha, as we shall see.

Note of the Day – March 20 (Mk 2:10, 28, etc)

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The final topic in this series, dealing with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, involves the “Son of Man” references and sayings of Jesus. These play an important part in the Passion Narrative as well, but it makes sense to address them here, at this point in the series. I have dealt with the background of the expression “Son of Man” in some detail in earlier notes, as well an article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and so will not repeat that discussion here. However, it is worth outlining again the three ways that the expression may be used (by Jesus) in the Gospels:

  1. As a general reference to human beings, human nature, or the human condition. In the Old Testament, and in Hebrew/Aramaic usage, “son of man” often occurs in tandem with “man”—the parallel “man…son of man…” is a comprehensive expression representing humankind.
  2. As a self-reference, a kind of circumlocution for “I”—i.e., myself as a human being, this (particular) human being. However, as I have noted, evidence for this usage at, or prior to, the time of Jesus is very slight.
  3. Referring to a divine/heavenly being, who serves as God’s representative on earth, typically in an eschatological context. This usage would seem to derive largely, if not entirely, from the phrase “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13 (on this, see my note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

These different possible meanings, or points of reference, often make interpretation of the “Son of Man” sayings difficult. One must also consider what the expression would have meant originally, on the lips of Jesus, and how early Christians (including the Gospel writers) came to understand it. From the standpoint of this series, the “Son of Man” sayings have a special place, since we are able to determine, on objective grounds, that they are authentic traditions, going back to the words of Jesus himself. The expression hardly occurs at all outside the Gospels, indicating that it was not a title that early Christians typically used of Jesus—with “Son of God”, “Lord”, and, of course, “(the) Anointed [i.e. Christ]”, being far more common. Apart from the Gospels (and Acts 7:56, which draws upon Gospel tradition), “Son of Man” is found only in Rev 1:13 and 14:14, where the allusion is clearly to Dan 7:13. Moreover, all of the instances come from Jesus’ own words, or in response to them (cf. Jn 12:34). Taken together, this would confirm that the usage of the expression in the New Testament is derived solely from the words of the historical Jesus. This is not to say that the “Son of Man” sayings did not undergo development within the Gospel Tradition; however, in comparison with other areas of the Tradition, the discernible adaptation has been rather slight.

The Synoptic “Son of Man” Sayings

In the core Synoptic tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, there are 12 (or 13) Son of Man sayings, each of which has parallels in Matthew and Luke. The Markan references are: 2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 13:26; 14:21, 41, 62. Only two of these are found in the Galilean Ministry Period—Mk 2:10, 28 par. They have a certain similarity in setting (and meaning), both coming from the section 2:1-3:6 par, a block of traditions with the common theme of the reaction to Jesus’ ministry by the religious authorities (“Scribes and Pharisees”) and the debate/conflict with them which ensued.

Mark 2:10

This saying is central to the healing miracle episode of 2:1-12. Jesus’ declaration to the disabled man (“Your sins are released [i.e. forgiven]”, v. 5) provokes a reaction by some of the people standing by (“Scribes”, v. 6; Pharisees and “teachers of the Law”, Lk 5:17). Their thought seems to be that, by declaring the man’s sins forgiven (“released”), Jesus has taken on a right and power which is reserved for God:

“(For) what [i.e. why] does this (man) speak this (way)? He insults (God)! Who has power [i.e. is able] to release sins, if not [i.e. except] One only—God!” (v. 7)

In other words, a human being (Jesus) is declaring another person’s sin to be forgiven, entirely apart from any ritual activity (as prescribed in the Law), by his own word and authority. This was viewed as an insult (i.e. blasphemy) against God. The first part of Jesus’ response (v. 9) essentially makes the point that the authority to declare sin forgiven is tied to the (divine) power to bring healing. In Greek, the same verb sw/zw (sœ¡zœ, “save, preserve, protect”) can be used for healing from disease, as well as deliverance from the power/effect of sin and evil—two aspects of the concept of salvation. The Son of Man saying occurs in verse 10:

“But (so) that you may see [i.e. know] that the Son of Man holds authority [e)cousi/a] upon earth to release [i.e. forgive] sins…”

There is a fundamental interpretive difficulty at this point. Do the words in v. 10 belong to Jesus, or are they a comment by the narrator? In the first instance, the passage would read (words of Jesus in red):

“What works better [i.e. what is easier]: to say…’your sins are released’, or to say ‘rise and take (up) your mattress and walk about’? But (so) that you may see that the Son of Man holds authority upon earth to release sins…”—he says (then) to the paralyzed (man)—“I say to you, ‘Rise (and) take (up) your mattress…'”

According to the second option, it would read:

“What works better [i.e. what is easier]: to say…’your sins are released’, or to say ‘rise and take (up) your mattress and walk about’?” But (so) that you may see that the Son of Man holds authority upon earth to release sins, he [i.e. Jesus] says to the paralyzed (man): “I say to you, ‘Rise (and) take (up) your mattress…'”

Most commentators opt for the first interpretation above, in which case the reference to the “Son of Man” comes from Jesus’ own lips. Indeed, it is more likely that the narrator’s comment is limited to the words “he says to the paralyzed (man)”, simply to make clear to whom the following words in v. 11 are addressed. But what is the precise meaning of the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) here? An argument can be made for each of the three basic meanings outlined above. The Gospel writers may have understood it as a title of Jesus, though more feasible is the second meaning—as a self-reference (equivalent to “I”). However, I tend to think that Jesus may be using the expression here in the generic sense (meaning #1 above), as a reference to a human being, or humankind generally. According to this view, Jesus’ saying could be paraphrased as:

“But so that you may see that a son of man [i.e. human being] has authority (from God) upon earth to forgive sin…”

There is confirmation of this interpretation from Matthew’s version, which ends with the summary statement (9:8):

“And seeing (this) [i.e. the miracle], the throngs (of people) were afraid, and they esteemed/honored God the (one) giving such authority to men.”

This statement echoes and interprets the Son of Man saying in v. 6 (Mk 12:10). God has given the authority to forgive sins (on earth) to a human being—that is, to one human being, Jesus.

Mark 2:28

I have discussed this passage (the Sabbath controversy scene, 2:23-28 par) in an earlier note in this series. Here we will consider again briefly the Son of Man saying in v. 28. Actually, in Mark’s version, a dual saying is involved, and vv. 27-28 must be taken together:

“The Shabbat {Sabbath} came to be through [i.e. because of] man, and not man through the Shabbat” (v. 27)
“So then the Son of Man is also/even Lord of the Shabbat” (v. 28)

The parallel “man…son of man…” strongly suggests that the generic meaning of the expression “son of man” is intended here, in the original saying(s) by Jesus. For the numerous examples of this (poetic) parallelism in the Old Testament, cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. However, it is significant that Matthew and Luke both omit (or do not include) any saying corresponding to Mk 2:27, preserving only the second (“Son of Man”) saying (Matt 12:8; Lk 6:5). This increases the likelihood that both Gospel writers understand the expression, in the narrative context, as a (self)-title of Jesus. Matthew, in particular, gives emphasis to the authority and divine status of Jesus, through the added sayings in 12:5-7. By contrast, the emphasis in Mark is more squarely on the priority of caring for human need (i.e. hunger) over and against strict ritual observance of the Sabbath.

To these references one may add the saying on the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12:32 / Lk 12:10. The Synoptic saying in Mk 3:28-29 reads:

“they all will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men, the sins and insults, however they might (give) insult; but he who should give insult unto [i.e. against] the holy Spirit, he does not have release (of that sin) into the Age…”

Matthew preserves a version of this same saying in 12:31-32:

“every sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but the insult against the Spirit will not be released…not in this Age and not in the Coming (Age).”

However, the author also includes (in v. 32) a separate/parallel saying corresponding to that in Lk 12:10:

“whoever should say a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but whoever should say (anything) against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him…” (Matt 12:32)
“everyone who will utter a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but (for) the one who gives insult unto [i.e. against] the holy Spirit, it will not be released” (Lk 12:10)

Note the apparent confusion in these sayings between sons of men, men, and Son of Man. This may indicate that an original generic use of “son of man” has become (re)interpreted as the titular “Son of Man” in Matt 12:32/Lk 12:10. This latter usage involves a difficulty. If “Son of Man” here refers to Jesus, then it is necessary to explain why a word spoken against Jesus (presumably indicating hostility and unbelief) may be forgiven, but insult against the Holy Spirit would not be. I have addressed this subject elsewhere. The difficulty is alleviated somewhat if, in the original tradition, the contrast was between human beings and God (the Spirit of God).

These are the only Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics which may use the expression in the generic sense of human beings, human nature, etc. Elsewhere in the Tradition, it is clearly understood as a self-reference or title of Jesus. In such passages, it would seem that Jesus uses the expression as a distinctive way of identifying himself. As we shall see, this mode of expression proved to be somewhat difficult for early Christians; and, as the Gospel came to be rendered more regularly in Greek, the original meaning and significance of the Semitic idiom was largely lost. In the next note, I will survey a group of sayings which relate to the idea of Jesus’ suffering.

Note of the Day – March 17 (John 6:11ff, 16-21)

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Having discussed John’s version the Miraculous Feeding episode in the previous note, before proceeding to the Bread of Life discourse, it is necessary to examine briefly two aspects of the Feeding Miracle tradition:

  1. Its connection to the Walking on Water episode, and
  2. The eucharistic allusions in the tradition

The Walking on Water (Mk 6:45-52; Matt 14:22-33; Jn 6:16-21)

The episode of Jesus walking on the water follows directly after the Feeding miracle, both in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark/Matthew) and in John. Being thus preserved in two separate lines of tradition, it would seem that the Feeding miracle and the Walking on Water were connected at a very early point. Mark and Matthew follow the same basic narrative, the main difference being the Matthean addition in vv. 28-31 (involving Peter’s walking on the water out to Jesus). Mark certainly has the earlier form of the tradition, confirmed by the parallel in John. The common elements of the tradition are:

  • Jesus goes up the mountain (to be) alone—Mk 6:46 / Jn 6:15b; however, there are two (very) different explanations for Jesus’ departure:
    —Synoptic: Mk 6:45-46a
    —John: 6:14-15a
  • The disciples go out by boat across the lake, though with a different geographical location indicated:
    —to Bethsaida (Mk 6:45)
    —to Capernaum (Jn 6:16-17)
  • At evening, the boat is in the middle of the lake—the wind is rough and the disciples are (having difficulty) rowing—Mk 6:47-48a / Jn 6:16-19a
  • The separation between Jesus and the disciples is indicated
  • After a time/distance, they see Jesus coming to them, walking on the water—Mk 6:48b-49a / Jn 6:19a
  • The disciples are frightened by the sight of him—Mk 6:49b-50 / Jn 6:19b
  • Jesus tells them not to be afraid (Greek: e)gw\ ei)mi mh fobei=sqe)—Mk 6:50b / Jn 6:20
  • Jesus comes into the boat and a miracle occurs—Mk 6:51 / Jn 6:21

Mark’s ending probably reflects the original tradition. John’s account has been adapted to fit the verses following (22-23ff) which join the Bread of Life discourse to this episode. Mk 6:52 is an addition, most likely by the author, which points back to the feeding miracle.

The inclusion of the Walking-on-the-Water episode in John causes some difficulty for the author, in terms of joining the Bread of Life discourse to the Feeding miracle. The awkwardness of verses 22-23 is largely the result of his inclusion of the Walking-on-Water episode (vv. 16-21). He clearly felt compelled to include it, which indicates again the strength of the (early) Gospel tradition. Even so, there are several (subtle) details which demonstrate Johannine adaptation of this traditional episode:

  • When the disciples are out on the water, John specifically states that there was darkness [skoti/a] (v. 17). There is definite theological significance to this word in the Gospel of John, where darkness is contrasted with Christ as the light (1:5; 8:12; 12:35, 46; cf. also 20:1, and note 1 Jn 1:5; 2:8-11). The reason for the darkness is clearly stated: “Jesus had not yet come toward them”.
  • In the Synoptic version, the storm/wind is decidedly negative—it is something against which the disciples struggle (Mk 6:48), and which Jesus’ presence immediately calms (v. 51). These details are absent from John’s version; there the storm/wind seems to function as a kind of theophany, marking the presence and appearance of Jesus, prior to his coming near the boat (vv. 18-19).
  • The presence of Jesus is signified by his words to the disciples—e)gw ei)mi mh fobei=sqe (“It is I! do not be afraid!”). The words are identical in the Synoptics and John, being part of the original tradition. However, in John, they take on deeper significance. The expression e)gw ei)mi could also be rendered “I am (he)”, “I am (Jesus)”, or, literally, “I am”. As such, the expression appears numerous times in John, in the famous “I Am” sayings of Jesus, which begin with the Bread of Life discourse (v. 35). This is the second occurrence of e)gw ei)mi, spoken by Jesus, in the Gospel (cf. 4:26, and compare 1:20-21; 3:28).

The Eucharistic Allusions

Let us begin with Mark’s account (Mk 6:30-44); the key verse is v. 41:

“And taking [labw\n] the five bread-loaves and the two fish (and) looking up into the heaven, he gave good account to [i.e. blessed eu)lo/ghsen] (God) and broke down [kate/klasen] the bread-loaves and gave [e)di/dou] (them) to [his] learners [i.e. disciples] to set alongside them [i.e. the people], and the fish he divided (among) them all”

Matthew’s account (Matt 14:13-21, v. 19) is simpler, but shows only minor differences, most notably perhaps the use of kla/w (“break”) instead of the compound verb katakla/w (“break down”). Luke’s version (Lk 9:10-17) of this verse (v. 16) is almost identical with Mark.

On the surface, there might not seem to be much relation to the Eucharist here; after all, there is no mention of a cup, nothing to suggest symbolism of Jesus’ body (or blood), plus the mention of fish—is there actually a connection to the Lord’s supper? The answer is yes, and there are several reasons for this, which I will discuss in turn.

1. The Greek verbs used

Look at the Greek verbs indicated in square brackets in Mk 6:41 above, and you will see that, with just one slight variation, they are the same verbs (and in the same sequence) used to describe Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper (Mark 14:22 par):

“And in their eating, taking [labw\n] bread (and) giving good account [eu)logh/sa$] (to God), he broke [e&klasen] (it) and gave [e&dwken] (it) to them and said, ‘Take (it)—this is my body'”

The only difference is that there, instead of the verb katakla/w (kataklᜠ“break down”), the simple verb kla/w (klᜠ“break”) is used, as in Matthew’s account of the feeding of the five thousand (cf. above). As I pointed out in an earlier note, the same sequence of four verbs also is used in the Emmaus scene, when the disciples finally recognize the presence of Jesus in their midst:

Lk 24:30: “And it came to be, in his bending down [i.e. reclining] with them, taking [labw/n] the bread he gave good account [i.e. blessed eu)lo/ghsen] and, breaking [kla/sa$] (it), he gave [e)pedi/dou] (it) to them…”

2. Textual evidence from the Feeding of the Four Thousand

In some ways, the wording in the Markan account of the feeding of the Four thousand (Mk 8:1-9, v. 6) is even closer to that of Jesus’ acts of institution at the Last Supper:

“And taking [labw\n] the seven bread-loaves (and) giving (words of) good favor [i.e. giving thanks eu)xaristh/sa$] (over it), he broke [e)kla/sen] (them) and gave [e)di/dou] (them) to [his] learners [i.e. disciples] to set alongside (the people)…”

The parallel version in Matthew (Matt 15:32-39, v. 36) differs little. Interestingly, in Mark 8:7, in Jesus’ handling of the fish, there is a textual variant—some manuscripts read eu)xariste/w, others read eu)loge/w. The verb eu)xariste/w (eucharistéœ, “give/grant good favor, give thanks, be thankful/grateful”) also appears in Jesus’ acts of institution as recorded by Luke (Lk 22:17, 19) and Paul (1 Cor 11:24); it is also used in John’s account of miraculous feeding (Jn 6:11).

3. The Context in the Gospel of John

If we compare the wording in Jn 6:11

“Therefore Yeshua took [e&laben] the bread-loaves and giving (words of) good favor [i.e. giving thanks, eu)xaristh/sa$] (over it), he gave throughout [die/dwken] to the ones (having) lain back [i.e. lain/sat down]…

it is noteworthy that we do not find nearly so close a parallel to Jesus actions at the Last Supper. Noticeably missing is any mention of breaking the bread (though “broken pieces” [kla/smata] are mentioned in v. 12). This may well be an indication that John has inherited an early form of the tradition which was not yet shaped to fit the eucharistic imagery to the same extent (as we see it preserved in the Synoptics). However, the Johannine form of the narrative would have a considerable influence on Eucharistic formulae and imagery in the early Church, as we shall see below.

The miraculous feeding episode in John serves as the basic setting for the great “Bread of Life” discourse which follows in Jn 6:22-59, a discourse in which most commentators find at least some reference to the Eucharist (especially in vv. 53-58). This will be discussed in the next daily note.

4. Early Christian tradition

Here I will limit discussion to several points and one or two references which show that early Christians understood a definite Eucharistic aspect or element to the miraculous feeding episode.

  1. The Johannine context. As mentioned above, the miraculous feeding is followed by the Bread of Life discourse, which has certain eucharistic elements. While the extent to which the eucharistic aspect applies to the meaning and intent of Jesus’ original words may be debated, there can be no doubt that Christians early on made the association. The Gospel of John is best dated somewhere between 70-90, and may include a late (c. 90-95) redaction.
  2. As discussed in an earlier note, the “breaking (of) bread” appears to have served as a kind of shorthand reference to the Eucharist. In virtually every instance in the New Testament where the breaking of bread is mentioned, there appears to be some connection to the Lord’s Supper. By way of “catch-word (or catch-image) bonding”, any occurrence of breaking bread in the narrative would likely have been associated with the Eucharist from a very early time on.
  3. The use of the verb eu)xariste/w in John’s account (as in the Synoptic feeding of the four thousand) may have helped to increase the use of the verb in association with the Eucharist (a word which, of course, derives from a transliteration of the related noun eu)xaristi/a [eucharistía]).
  4. There are a number of parallels between John’s account of the miraculous feeding and references to the Eucharist in the so-called Didache (or “Teaching” [of the Twelve Apostles]).
  • The Bread is simply called kla/sma (plur. kla/smata), “broken (piece[s])” in Didache 9:3-4 as in the feeding miracle (cf. Jn 6:12)
  • Note especially the prayer in Did 9:4:

“As this broken (bread) was scattered throughout up above (on) the mountains and was brought together (and) became one, thus may your called-out (people) [i.e. church/ekklesia] be brought together from the ends/limits of the earth into your Kingdom…”

With the following details:

  • The bread scattered on the mountains (the mountain setting in Jn 6:3 [cf. also Matt 15:29]).
  • The verb translated “brought together” (suna/gw) is the same used in Jn 6:12-13 for the gathering up of the fragments (kla/smata). The same verb is also used in a Eucharistic setting in Did 14:1. The image of the (twelve) disciples gathering up the twelve baskets of fragments “so that nothing might be lost” [Jn 6:12b] was a suitable symbol of Church Unity, as the Didache clearly indicates.
  • The mention of the Kingdom (of God/Christ); perhaps coincidentally, John’s account is the only one which makes any reference to a king (v. 14f).
  • Note the three relevant details in succession in Didache 14:1:

“having been brought together [sunaxqe/nte$], break bread [kla/sate a&rton] and give good favor [eu)xaristh/sate—i.e. technically ‘celebrate the thanksgiving/eucharist‘]

Despite the name ascribed to the writing, the Didache is almost certainly not a product of the Apostles. It is typically dated sometime between 125-150 A.D., but may possibly preserve earlier tradition. It is a “church manual” of sorts, and provides at least a partial glimpse of what early Christianity may have been like in the first half of the second century (a generation or two after the later writings of the New Testament).

Note of the Day – March 16 (John 6:1-15)

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John 6:1-15

Having now discussed the miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic Gospels (cf. the previous two notes), it is time to examine the tradition as it appears in the Gospel of John. The corresponding passage in the fourth Gospel is found in Jn 6:1-15. The narrative setting of this episode in John is, of course, quite different:

  • Jesus has previously been in Jerusalem (Jn 5:1ff), and is now in Galilee (6:1); this abrupt shift would seem to indicate that we are dealing with the inclusion of traditional material, and no real attempt has been made by the author to smooth over the seam. Note the generic opening words, “After these things…” (meta\ tau=ta).
  • The occasion of Passover is mentioned (v. 4), which is almost certainly an insertion by the author to connect the miracle explicitly with the setting of the “Bread of Life” discourse which follows in 6:22-59.
  • Consider how the author includes the episode of Jesus’ walking on the water (6:16-20) right after the miraculous feeding, just as in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew), even though it doesn’t seem entirely to fit the narrative context in John (note the rather awkward transitional description in vv. 22-23). I take this as an indication that the two episodes were already coupled together at a very early point in the Gospel tradition. The connection with the walking-on-water episode will be discussed further in the next note.
  • There is, certainly, nothing at all like the Bread of Life discourse following the feeding miracle in the Synoptic Gospels—it appears to be a tradition unique to John.

As I mentioned previously, the account of the Miraculous Feeding in John is interesting in that it appears to contain details or elements from both miracle episodes in the Synoptics. Special details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic feeding of the 5000:

  • Crossing the Sea of Galilee (by boat) (v. 1; cf. Mk 6:32)
  • Reference to Jesus’ healing the sick (v. 2) [cf. Matt 14:14; Luke 9:11]
  • Jesus looks (up) and sees the “great crowd” [polu\$ o&xlo$] (v. 5; Mk 6:34)
  • Specific mention by the disciples of the cost of (at least) 200 denarii to feed so many people (v. 7; Mk 6:37)
  • The number of loaves (5) (v. 9)
  • The specific (round) number of men in the crowd (5000) (v. 10)
  • The mention of grass (v. 10; Mark 6:39, par Matt)
  • There are twelve baskets [kofino$] of fragments left over (v. 13)

Details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic (Matthew-Mark) feeding of the 4000:

  • The specific location along/across the Sea of Galilee (v. 1) [cf. Matt 15:29]
  • Jesus going up onto a mountain (v. 3) [cf. in Matt 15:29, but note also the mountain theme in Mk 6:46 par. Matt).
  • Jesus takes the initiative regarding the crowd (v. 5) [cf. Mark 8:2-3 par]—however this is more of an original/distinctive element of John’s narrative.
  • Jesus’ question (v. 5b) is quite similar to the question by the disciples in Matt 15:33 (par Mk 8:4). The author’s comment in verse 6 suggests that he was uncomfortable with such a question coming from Jesus.
  • The verb “sit/fall back” [a)napi/ptw] is used (v. 10) instead of “lay back/down” [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw]; also, there is no mention of the crowd sitting down in groups of fifty, etc.
  • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (v. 11) as in Matt 15:36 and MSS of Mk 8:7, instead of “bless” [eu)loge/w]
  • Jesus specifically directs the disciples to gather up the fragments (v. 12; cf. Mk 8:6, 8, but also note Matt 14:20)

The number of details in common with the feeding of the 4000 is striking—another indication, perhaps, that the two narrative episodes (of the 5000 & 4000) stem from a single historical tradition. It is also worth pointing out some details which are unique to John’s account:

  • The Passover setting (v. 4), though the mention of “green grass” (Mk 6:39) might generally indicate springtime.
  • Jesus’ specific question about buying food for the crowd (v. 5), described as intended to test the disciples (Philip) (v. 6)
  • The mention of specific disciples Philip (v. 5-7) and Andrew (v. 8), which may indicate a distinct Johannine tradition (cf. 1:40-46).
  • The boy with the loaves and fish (v. 9)
  • The loaves specified as “barley” [kriqino$] and the fish as “dried-fish” [o)yarion, instead of i)xqu$/i)xqudion]
  • Jesus’ command to his disciples to gather up the fragments (v. 12), along with the use of suna/gw (“bring together”) instead of ai&rw (“lift [up/away]”)
  • The reaction of the people to the miracle in vv. 14-15.

The significant number of details unique to John would seem to be incontrovertible evidence that John has not derived his account from any of the Synoptics, but has inherited an early Gospel tradition, some version of which is shared by the Synoptics as well. For a convenient chart comparing all of the miraculous feeding narratives in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible vol. 29: 1966), pp. 240-243.

Several of the details have a theological significance in the context of John’s Gospel. These include:

  • Reference to Jesus’ miracles as “signs” (semei=a) (v. 2, 14)
  • The reference to Jesus going up the mountain, using the verb a)ne/rxomai (v. 3)
  • The Passover connection (v. 4)
  • The people coming to(ward) Jesus, with the verb e&rxomai (v. 5)
  • The eucharistic allusions (v. 11), which are scarcely unique to John’s account, but which have special importance in connection with the Bread of Life discourse that follows.
  • The salvific context of Jesus’ words to his disciples in v. 12
  • Jesus’ identity in relation to popular Messianic conceptions—i.e. as Prophet (v. 14) and Davidic ruler (King, v. 15)

Some of these are especially important in terms of the discourse which follows in vv. 22-58. But before proceeding to that discussion, it is necessary first to address two topics related to the Miraculous Feeding tradition: (1) its connection with the walking-on-water episode, and (2) the eucharistic emphasis. These will be covered in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – March 15 (Matt 14:13-21; 15:32-39; Lk 9:10-17)

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In the previous daily note, I examined the two Miraculous Feeding episodes in the Gospel of Mark (6:30-44; 8:1-10), noting the similarities (and differences) between them, as well as their place within the Markan narrative (6:14-8:30). Today, I will look at how this tradition has been utilized and developed in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39

Matthew follows the Markan narrative in recording both Miraculous Feeding episodes (of the 5,000 and 4,000). Indeed, Matt 14:1-16:20 appears to follow the entire outline of Mk 6:14-8:30 fairly closely. The main differences are:

  • An expanded version of the walking on water episode (cf. 14:28-33)
  • The sayings of Jesus in 15:13-14 and 16:2-3
  • An expanded version of Peter’s confession (with Jesus’ response) in 16:16b-19

The structure of Mk 6:14-8:30, with its rather careful symmetry (cf. the prior note), I would attribute, on the whole, to the author of the Gospel (trad. Mark), rather than to an earlier stage in the Gospel Tradition. If so, then the presence of the same outline in Matthew would provide strong confirmation, at this point, of the critical hypothesis that Matthew made use of Mark’s Gospel. The author (trad. Matthew) has certainly included episodes corresponding to Mark 6:30-44ff and 8:1-10ff (Matt 14:13-21ff; 15:32-39ff), at more or less the same positions in the narrative. Notably, the basic information from Mk 8:11-21 is repeated in 16:5-12—i.e., Jesus’ own reference to both of the Feeding Miracles.

The differences between Matthew and Mark in the two Miraculous Feeding episodes are relatively slight, the most significant being:

Miracle #1 (14:13-21)

  • A simplified narrative introduction (vv. 13-14; compare with Mk 6:30-34), giving the basic information:
    —That Jesus departed to a “desolate” place, and crowds followed him there (v. 13)
    —and Jesus’ reaction to seeing the people, with the specific detail that he healed the sick among them (v. 14, cf. also Lk 9:11)
  • Matthew’s introduction (v. 13a) also makes a smoother transition with the Baptist episode immediately prior; Mark, by contrast, refers back to the mission of the Twelve.
  • The beginning of the narrative proper (vv. 15-16) is also simpler than in Mark. The author omits, or otherwise does not include, the disciples’ question (Mk 6:37) and Jesus’ question to them in response (6:38a, “How many loaves…?”); however, he also adds the words of Jesus in v. 16a: “They have no business going [i.e. there is no need for them to go] away…”.
  • There is no reference to the crowd sitting down in groups (Mk 6:39-40).
  • Verses 19-21 are very close to Mk, with a small addition in v. 21b.

Overall, Matthew’s narrative is simpler and smoother, with some of the dramatic and local detail of Mark’s account absent.

Miracle #2 (15:32-39)

  • Matthew’s version is framed by specific geographical references, in relation to the sea of Galilee (vv. 29, 39; cp. Mark 7:31).
  • We also have the detail of Jesus going up into the hill(s)/mountain (v. 29b)
  • The references to healing miracles (vv. 30-31) have been integrated more closely into the narrative of the miraculous feeding (cp. Mk 7:32-37).
  • The basic narrative of vv. 32-38 is quite close to Mk 8:1-9, with minor differences in wording.
  • There is a small difference in the geographical location at the close of the episode (v. 39; Mk 8:10).

Again, Matthew’s narrative is a bit simpler and more streamlined, by comparison with Mark. In both miracle episodes, the author adapts the tradition to set it more clearly within the context of Jesus’ ministry—especially the healing miracles of Jesus (cf. 14:13-14; 15:29-31). The second half of the Galilean Period in Matthew covers 10:1-16:20, and has a clearly defined theme of the disciples’ participation in Jesus’ ministry, along with the theme of discipleship. Matthew includes much more traditional material between the mission of the Twelve (10:1-5ff) and the confession of Peter (16:13-20) than do the other Gospels. The author retains the Synoptic (Markan) structure in 14:1-16:20, including the two Feeding Miracles, but sets them within a more developed and expansive narrative outline.

Luke 9:10-17

If Matthew appears to have used the Gospel of Mark at this point (cf. above), it is less clear in the case of Luke. The main reason for this is that the author has omitted (or has otherwise not included) the material corresponding to Mark 6:53-8:26, including the second Feeding Miracle (Mk 8:1-10). As a consequence, there is no way of knowing whether he knew of the second episode, and/or what he thought of it. If Luke made use of Mark’s Gospel, then he intentionally omitted that entire section; however, we must also consider the possibility that he inherited a Synoptic narrative that was simpler/shorter than Mark. Insofar as Luke records the Miraculous Feeding tradition, he follows a version that more or less corresponds to the first miracle in Mark (and Matthew). The following points of comparison may be noted:

  • Luke retains the Markan connection with the mission of the Twelve (v. 10; Mk 6:30); the importance of this will be indicated below.
  • Luke uniquely records the geographical reference which locates the miracle in the area around Bethsaida (cp. Mark 6:45).
  • Like Matthew (cf. above), Luke has a simpler narrative introduction (vv. 10-11) than does Mark. Verse 11 would seem to be simplified version of Mk 6:33.
  • As in Matthew, there is incorporated into the narrative a summary reference to Jesus healing the sick in the crowd (v. 11b; Matt 14:14).
  • Luke adds the specific detail that Jesus spoke to the people “about the Kingdom of God” (v. 11); this definitely would seem to be an (editorial) addition by the author (on this theme, and wording, cf. Acts 1:3, also Lk 4:43; 8:1; 9:2; 17:20; 19:11).
  • Verses 12-17 generally follows Mk 6:35-44, but with simpler narration; with Matthew, the two questions in Mk 6:37-38 are omitted. There are a number of other (minor) agreements in wording between Matthew and Luke (cf. vv. 11-14, 17 par).
  • Luke has set the mention of the crowd’s estimated size earlier in the narrative (v. 14); instead, his version of the episode closes with the gathering of the twelve baskets of leftovers (v. 17).

The ‘omission’ of the Synoptic traditions in Mk 6:53-8:26 means that the Lukan account of this portion of the Galilean Period looks very different than it does in Mark or Matthew. Consider that the section from the mission of the Twelve, through to the confession of Peter, takes up just twenty verses in Luke (9:1-20). By comparison, the same relative division of the narrative in Matthew covers nearly seven chapters (10:1-16:20). The outline for this portion of Luke is amazingly simple:

  • Jesus with his disciples—the Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
    The reaction to Jesus: the question of Herod (9:7-9)
    —The Twelve return to Jesus, telling him of their mission work (9:10)
    ——The Feeding Miracle (9:10-17)
    —The Twelve baskets gathered up (by the Twelve) (9:17)
  • Jesus with his disciples—praying together (with the Twelve) (9:18ff)
    The reaction to Jesus: the confession of Peter (9:18b-20)

The central section in bold represents the Feeding Miracle. Luke’s streamlined account, more than the other Gospels, uses the Feeding Miracle here to represent and summarize the ministry of Jesus. The connection with Jesus’ disciples (the Twelve) is more prominent as well. This is almost certainly the reason why mention of the estimated size of the crowd was moved back to verse 14—so that the feeding miracle would conclude with a reference to the twelve baskets gathered by the disciples (i.e. symbolic of the Twelve). Indeed, the Greek of verse 17 specifically ends with the word dw/deka (“twelve”).

For another comparison of the Feeding Miracle episode(s) in the Synoptic Gospels cf. my earlier note on this topic.

Having compared the versions of the Synoptic tradition(s), it now remains to turn to the account of the Feeding Miracle in the Gospel of John. In so doing, we will return to the critical question (i.e. originally one or two miracles?), as well as examine the unique way that the tradition has been adapted in the Fourth Gospel, through its connection with the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. This will be the topic of the next daily note.

Note of the Day – March 14 (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10)

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The next topic to be discussed in this series, dealing with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, is the tradition of the Miraculous Feeding (of the Five Thousand), surely one of the best known (and loved) of all Jesus’ miracles. Its appeal among early Christians is indicated by the fact that it is one of the only traditions to appear in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John). There has also been preserved a second Miraculous Feeding tradition (of Four Thousand) among the Synoptics. This latter point makes clear that, despite the popularity of the episode, it is surrounded by numerous critical questions and problems, which much be examined. Like the Baptism of Jesus (the first part of this series), the Miraculous Feeding makes for an ideal test-case in the study of the preservation and development of the Gospel Tradition.

Let us begin by addressing the most difficult question first—the occurrence of two Feeding Miracle episodes in the Synoptics (Mark/Matthew), each of which has a very similar outline, and many similar details as well (cf. below). The main question is: does this reflect two distinct historical events, or two versions of the same event? Most critical commentators hold to the latter view. Not only are the two episodes so closely alike, but, as we shall see, the account in John contains elements and details found in both Synoptic episodes. This would seem to confirm the critical view. However, at the same time, in the Synoptic narrative, Jesus himself refers to both of the miracles, mentioning distinct details from each. If the critical view is accepted, then the episode in Mk 8:14-21 par would have to be regarded as a kind of literary fiction. On the other hand, if one accepts the authenticity (and essential historicity) of Mk 8:14-21, then this would be proof that the two miracle stories reflect two historical episodes. Traditional-conservative commentators, naturally, are more inclined to accept the text—in this case, the Synoptic tradition (including Mk 8:14-21)—at face value.

In this study, I will proceed as follows:

  • Comparison of the two Feeding Miracles in Mark (without reference to Mk 8:14-21)
  • Analysis of the two Miracle-stories in the context of the Synoptic (Markan) narrative
  • A brief study of the differences in the tradition(s) as recorded/developed by Matthew and Luke, and
  • Examination of the tradition in John, in relation to the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6

Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10

First let us consider the similarities between the two episodes, as they are found in Mark:

  • Jesus and his disciples had traveled to a desolate place (6:31-32, 35; 8:4b)
  • A great crowd had followed Jesus there (6:30, 33f; 8:1)
  • Concern for the people, and how they could be fed (6:34-36; 8:2-4)
    —specifically Jesus is said to have had compassion on them
  • A question from the disciples regarding how food could be found for so many (6:37; 8:4)
  • Jesus asks his disciples “how many loaves do you have?” (6:38a; 8:5)
  • There are on hand only a small number of bread loaves and a few fish (6:38b ; 8:5b, 7a)
  • Jesus directs the people to sit down (6:39; 8:6a)
  • Jesus blesses, breaks and divides the loaves, along with the fish (6:41; 8:6-7)
  • All the people eat and are satisfied (6:42; 8:8a)
  • A number of baskets full of leftovers are gathered [by the disciples] (6:43; 8:8b)
  • The size of the crowd is identified by the (round) number of the men who ate—5000/4000 (6:44; 8:9)
  • Afterwards, Jesus and his disciples are described as getting into a boat, with a specific geographical location indicated, i.e. relative to the lake (6:45; 8:10)

There are also some notable differences:

  • The second episode contains no references to the travels and ministry work of Jesus, as in the first (6:30-34; but compare Matthew 15:29-31)
  • In the first episode, the disciples appear to initiate the concern/effort to feed the people (6:35-36), while in the second this is done by Jesus (8:2-3)
  • In the first episode, Jesus challenges the disciples to give the people something to eat (6:37)
  • The first episode contains detail regarding the people sitting down on the ground in groups (6:39-40)

Clearly, the similarities far outweigh the differences. The two episodes, of course, involve different specific numbers—5 loaves / 12 baskets / 5000 men vs. 7 loaves / 7 baskets / 4000 men—but these are rather minor compared with the overall points of agreement.

How does the Gospel of Mark make use of these two episodes in the context of the narrative? The author was clearly aware of the similarities between them; indeed, this is an important aspect of the symmetry and parallelism of the narrative in 6:14-8:30. I outlined this in a recent note; here it is again:

  • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the declaration by Herod—6:14-16
    [inclusion of an associated tradition, 6:17-29]
  • Feeding Miracle (5,000): the disciples/12 baskets—6:30-44
    Miracle on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—6:44-52
    (they did not understand about the miraculous loaves)
  • Healing Miracles6:53-56
  • Conflict/debate with religious authorities over tradition and ritual—7:1-23
    including a Parable and explanation by Jesus (vv. 14-16, 17-23)
  • Healing Miracles: 2 episodes—7:24-30, 31-37
  • Feeding Miracle (4,000): the disciples/7 baskets—8:1-10
    Teaching on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—8:11-21
    (they did not understand, re. the miraculous loaves)
  • Healing miracle—8:22-26
  • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the confession by Peter—8:27-30

In my view there is a definite (chiastic) symmetry to this section in Mark. Consider first—the framing episodes (6:14-16; 8:27-30) involving the question of Jesus’ identity, in which the general reaction by people to Jesus is noted (i.e. identifying him as “Elijah” or one of the Prophets). At the same time, Herod and Peter each make a declaration regarding Jesus’ identity:

  • Herod—he is John the Baptist raised from the dead (6:16)
  • Peter—”You are the Anointed One” (8:29)

The second pair of (parallel) episodes are the two Feeding Miracles:

  • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
    Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:30-44)
    Feeding of the Four Thousand (8:1-10)
  • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

The parallelism is reinforced by the inclusion, after the miracle, of an episode where Jesus and his disciples are together on the water (6:44-52; 8:11-21), and reference is made to the bread-loaves of the miraculous feeding (6:52; 8:19ff). The first episode involves a miracle (Jesus’ walking on the water), the second, teaching. A third parallel can be found in the healing miracles of 6:53-56 and 7:24-37:

  • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
    —Feeding of the Five Thousand
    ——Healing miracles narrated (6:53-56)
    ——Healing miracles: 2 episodes (7:24-37)
    —Feeding of the Four Thousand
  • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

Finally, at the center of the section, we find the debate between Jesus and the religious authorities (Scribes and Pharisees) regarding religious tradition and the interpretation of the Law (7:1-23). This theme carries through the remainder of the section, especially the instruction of Jesus to his disciples in 8:11-21, in which he warns them of “the leaven of the Pharisees [7:1ff] and Herod [6:14-16ff]” (v. 15). It is part of the reaction to Jesus’ ministry that is illustrated in this section. While the people may react to Jesus at one level—viewing him as a miracle working prophet like Elijah (note the allusions in the feeding miracle[s] to 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Kings 4:42-44), or otherwise—his true disciples ultimately will recognize him as “the Anointed One” (and Son of God).

Thus we can see that the two Feeding Miracle episodes play a pivotal role in the Markan narrative, and are important in demonstrating Jesus’ identity—the primary theme of 6:14-8:30. In the next daily note, I will examine how these traditions were utilized in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Note of the Day – March 12 (John 5, etc)

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Having surveyed, however briefly, the different kinds of traditions in the Synoptics, and how they have been combined and arranged within the various Gospels—using just one segment of the narrative (from the Galilean period)—it now remains to compare how this may have taken place in the Gospel of John. The fact that the Fourth Gospel has inherited a distinct line of tradition, separate from the Synoptics, makes a comparative study extremely valuable. The presumption is that any similar or common traditions, between John and the Synoptics, would likely go back to a very early stage in the process of transmission—when the original historical traditions were (first) being preserved in written form. Such a comparison reveals numerous examples of tradition-units—sayings, miracle stories, and other episodes—in the Gospel of John which are similar (in certain respects) to those in the Synoptics, but have been set and developed within a very different narrative context. I have already discussed several of these in the earlier notes in this series on the Baptism of Jesus, the Calling of the Disciples, and a few other places as well.

Generally speaking, there is a fundamental difference between the way that traditions are handled in the Gospel of John. We have seen how the Synoptic narrative, especially in the Galilean period (i.e. Mk 1:14-8:30 par), has been built up by joining together various tradition-units. In the core Synoptic narrative, these involve: short narratives centered around a saying (or group of sayings), parables, miracle stories, and “encounter” episodes (often featured conflict/debate between Jesus and the religious authorities). In the previous two notes, we studied how these small units were joined together to form larger segments (about a chapter in length), and again, in the individual Gospels, into even larger sections or narrative divisions. The sequence of units and segments may be historical-chronological, but, more often than not, they appear to have been joined together by a thematic association. The many differences in order between the various units of the Synoptic Gospels prove decisively that they are not governed by a strict chronological arrangement.

The Gospel of John, by contrast, arranges its material—especially in the portion that corresponds (loosely) with the Galilean period in the Synoptics (2:1-7:1ff)—into extended Discourses by Jesus. These discourses utilize a dialogue format, similar to that found in Jewish and Greco-Roman literature, whereby there is an exchange between Jesus and various persons whom he encounters, or who see/hear the things he is saying and doing. There are discourses in each of chapters 3-6 of the Gospel. We may isolate three components of these discourses:

  • The setting, which is often based upon a particular traditional episode (miracle story, encounter story, etc)
  • The dialogue, which is sometimes limited to a simple two-part exchange, and is centered around a saying (statement or declaration) by Jesus
  • An exposition by Jesus, in which the true meaning of his statement is explained, at a deeper spiritual/theological level

Let us survey the four main discourses in chapters 3-6:

The setting (i.e. traditional episode)—

  • 3:1-2ff—Jesus and Nicodemus (encounter story)
  • 4:1-7ff—Jesus and the Samaritan woman (encounter story)
  • 5:1-14—Healing of the disabled man at the pool (miracle story)
  • 6:1-13—Feeding of the Five Thousand (miracle story)

The dialogue—

  • 3:2-5ff, 9-10ff—Jesus and Nicodemus (saying: verse 3)
  • 4:7-15ff—Jesus and the Samaritan woman (main saying: verse 10)
  • 5:15-18—Jesus and the “Jews” (saying: verse 17)
  • 6:25-34ff—Jesus and the “Jews” (central saying: verse 35)

The exposition—

  • 3:5-21, which is built into the dialogue to make three parts:
    —vv. 5-8, then after another question by Nicodemus (v. 9)
    —vv. 10-15, which is followed by a parallel exposition with a different emphasis:
    —vv. 16-21
  • 4:13-26, which covers a more detailed exchange (between Jesus and the woman):
    —vv. 13-14 (the woman’s response, etc, vv. 15-20)
    —vv. 21-24 (her response, v. 25)
    —v. 26 (Jesus’ final declaration)
  • 5:19-47, a single exposition, in two parts: vv. 19-30, 31-47 (cf. below)
  • 6:32-58, the most complex of the four discourses, to be discussed in an upcoming note (on the Feeding Miracle in the Gospel Tradition)

The discourses in chapters 5 and 6 are similar in that they derive from a miracle story similar to those we see in the Synoptic Gospels. I discussed the chapter 5 discourse in a recent note, but it is worth reviewing here.

The basic miracle story (the tradition) is found in verses 1-9a. Verse 9b introduces the motif of the reaction to the healing miracle by certain people (“Jews”) with a strict traditional-religious mindset. They are not identified specifically as Pharisees (compare 9:13ff), but the implication is that they are experts/authorities on Scripture and the Law; in the Synoptic tradition these ‘opponents’ of Jesus are typically referred to as “Scribes and Pharisees”. These two components—the miracle and the reaction—make up the traditional narrative in verses 1-14. As such, the episode resembles somewhat the healing miracle in Mark 2:1-12; the detail in verses 9b-14 also turns it into a “Sabbath controversy” episode, not unlike those in the Synoptics (Mark 3:1-6 par, and Luke 13:10-17; cf. also Lk 14:1-6, and the recent notes on these passages). However, it is clearly a Johannine tradition, and is narrated in the style of the Fourth Gospel. This can be seen by the close structural and thematic similarity between 5:1-14ff and 9:1-41.

Verses 15-16 are transitional, joining the tradition in vv. 1-14 with the saying (v. 17) and discourse which follows. As discussed in the earlier note, Jesus’ saying relates generally to the ancient tradition regarding the Sabbath, of God resting/ceasing from His work as Creator. The statement by Jesus makes two points—(1) the creative, live-giving work of God (the Father) continues to the present time, and (2) Jesus (the Son) does the same work as God. The reaction by the “Jews” is narrated in verse 18, after which comes the explanation of the saying by Jesus, where he expounds its true, deeper meaning. This exposition can be divided into two parts:

  • The Son performs the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
  • These works are a witness to the Son (and to the Father)—vv. 31-47

The first part (vv. 19-30) is also divided into two sections, like poetic strophes, in which the same theme and motifs and repeated:

  • The Son gives eternal/spiritual life to those who believe—vv. 19-24
  • The Son gives new life (resurrection) at the end time (to those who believe)—vv. 25-30

These two aspects of the resurrection power at work in Jesus will reappear in the great Lazarus episode of chapter 11—a more dramatic miracle story that is foreshadowed here.

This same sort of the development of traditional material can be seen in the “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. It has a much more complex (cyclical) structure, utilizing the dialogue format extensively in its narration. I have discussed this discourse in some detail in earlier notes, and will address it again in the next topic of this series—the tradition of the Miraculous Feeding—which begins in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – March 8 (John 5:1-5ff)

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John 5:1-15ff

Having discussed the Sabbath Controversy episodes from the Synoptic Gospels—in particular, the healing miracle of Mark 3:1-6 par (see the previous notes)—it will be worth concluding this topic with a brief study of a (somewhat) similar miracle story in the Gospel of John. The Fourth Gospel actually contains two miracles stories, with a similar outline and structure—Jn 5:1-15 and 9:1-41. Each of these episodes is said to have occurred on a Sabbath day (5:9-10; 9:14-16), though only in the first does the Sabbath play a central role.

Actually, in the main section (vv. 1-9a), narrating the healing itself, the Sabbath is not mentioned. We are clearly dealing here with an authentic (historical) tradition, which includes several interesting local details (vv. 2-3, 5; also verse 4, which may not have been part of the original text). The reference to the Sabbath comes in verse 9b: “And the Shabbat {Sabbath} was on that day”. As in the Synoptic traditions, certain people object to “work” being done on the Sabbath. However, in the Johannine narrative, the people—they are not referred to as Scribes or Pharisees, simply other “Jews”—raise their objection, not to Jesus’ act of healing, but toward the man who was healed, for carrying his mat on the Sabbath (v. 10). The exchange between these “Jews” and the healed man (vv. 10-12) is similar to that which occurs in the later episode of chapter 9 (vv. 14-17), where the people interrogating the man are identified as Pharisees (vv. 13, 15). On the whole, the Sabbath healing episode of 5:1-14 is not all that different from similar traditions in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 2:1-12; 3:1-6 par; Lk 13:10-17). The tradition has been developed in John through its association with the discourse of Jesus that follows in 5:15-47.

A common feature of the great Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John is the way that they start with a specific (historical) tradition. The Johannine traditions are quite similar to episodes we find in the Synoptic Gospels; but in the narrative context of the Fourth Gospel, they serve as the launch-point for a discourse. These discourses follow a dialog format, which leads into an expository ‘sermon’ by Jesus; the basic structure may be outlined as follows:

  • Narrative setting, often in the context of a traditional episode (miracle story, etc)
  • A statement or declaration by Jesus
  • The reaction by those who hear him (sometimes including a question or exclamation), which indicates a lack of understanding, i.e. regarding the true meaning of Jesus’ words
  • An explanation by Jesus—a kind of sermon or homily—in which he expounds and elaborates on the (true) meaning of his earlier statement

Occasionally these elements are repeated, producing a discourse with a more complex, cyclical structure. In John 5, the basic structure has been maintained, but widened in scope:

  • Narrative setting—context of a healing miracle on a Sabbath (and festival) day (vv. 1-14)
  • Statement by Jesus (verse 17; vv. 15-16 are transitional)
  • Reaction by those who hear him (verse 18)
  • Explanation/Exposition by Jesus, in two parts:
    • The Son does the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
    • The work(s) as a witness of the Son (and the Father)—vv. 31-47

Verses 16 and 18 establish the connection between the discourse and the Sabbath healing episode; otherwise, there would seem to be little relation between the two. Jesus does not even mention the Sabbath in verses 19-47; rather, the theme, especially in verses 19-30, is on Jesus (the Son) doing the works of God (the Father). The statement by Jesus in verse 17 does, however, draw upon the ancient tradition that associates the Sabbath rest with God resting (ceasing) from his work (as Creator) on the seventh day. There are two components to Jesus’ saying, and each is provocative in its own right:

  • “My Father works (even) until (right) now…”—which implies that God’s work of creating (new) life actually continues right until the present moment. Jesus’ relationship to God (i.e. as Son) is also implied by his emphatic personalization, “my Father”.
  • “…and I (also) work”—the parallelism is intentional here, meaning that Jesus does the same kind of (life-creating) work as God. In the narrative context, this would refer to the healing of the disabled man; but in the discourse which follows (vv. 19-30ff), the emphasis is on resurrection—the granting of new life to those who are dead (literally and figuratively).

The implications of Jesus’ saying were not lost on his hearers, according to the reaction of the “Jews” narrated in verse 18:

“Through [i.e. because of] this, then, the Jews sought to kill him off, (in) that [i.e. because] not only did he loosen [i.e. break/violate] the Shabbat (law), he even counted God (as) his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

Do the Jews misunderstand Jesus’ statement, as the position of this reaction in the Johannine discourse format would suggest? Jesus never quite presents himself as equal (i&so$) to God in the Gospel. The closest he comes is in 8:58 and 10:30; but, in neither passage is the word i&so$ used. The word only occurs once in the New Testament in such a context—in the “Christ-hymn” of Philippians (2:6-11, v. 6), a passage which must read and studied carefully.

What, then, does Jesus actually say about his relationship to God in the discourse of Jn 5:19-30ff? It is precisely that of a Son to his Father. The principal idea stems from basic parental instruction, but, more specifically, from the common situation of the son who follows in the occupation of his father, and who must learn his trade by watching and listening to his father carefully. Jesus uses this motif repeatedly in the Gospel of John—the Son says and does (only) what he hears and sees his Father saying and doing (v. 19). It is a perfect imitation, and perfect obedience as well. Ultimately, the Son does the work that the Father does—the same work. This work essentially is to give life—new life—to those who are without it. The discourse moves from healing (vv. 1-14) to raising the dead (vv. 21-29)—resurrection both in a spiritual (vv. 21-24) and physical (vv. 25-29) sense. Verse 26 perhaps summarizes best Jesus’ own understanding of his relationship to God in this passage:

“For just as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave (it) to the Son to hold life in himself”

It is this life that the Son (Jesus) gives to others, to those who believe in him (vv. 24, 47, etc). It should be apparent how this idea relates to the miracle story (tradition) in vv. 1-15, and yet far transcends it, leading to a much deeper sense, and understanding, of Jesus’ life-giving power.

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

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Matthew 12:9-14 (continued)

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

Point 1—Mk 3:2 / Matt 12:10b

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

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

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

Point 2—Matt 12:11-12

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

Luke 14:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 13:10-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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