was successfully added to your cart.

Tag

Passover

Note of the Day – May 24 (John 6:27ff)

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

John 6:27-58

The motif of “life” (zwh=) is especially prominent in the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. This discourse is similar to that of chapter 5 (cf. the previous daily notes), in being centered on a miracle story—in this case, the Miraculous Feeding episode, which is also found in the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 6:30-44 par, cf. also 8:1-10 par). I have discussed the Bread of Life discourse in a number of prior notes and articles, most recently as part of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (cf. the relevant notes). The discourse, in the context of the chapter as a whole, is quite complex; I would outline it as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction—the Feeding Miracle Episode:
    • Narrative setting (vv. 1-4)
    • Tradition: The Feeding Miracle (vv. 5-14)
    • Transitional statement (v. 15)
    • Associated Tradition: The Walking on Water (vv. 16-21)
  • Introduction to the Discourse (vv. 22-24)
  • Part 1—The Bread from Heaven [Passover/Manna theme] (vv. 25-34)
    • Encounter scene—Question from the crowd (vv. 25-26)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 27)
    • Initial reaction by the people (v. 28)
    • Exposition (second saying) by Jesus (v. 29)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 30-31)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 32-33)
    • Concluding/transitional response by the people (v. 34)
  • Part 2—The Bread of Life [exposition of Bread from Heaven theme] (vv. 35-50)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 35), with exposition (vv. 36-40)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 41-42)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 43-50)
  • Part 3—The Living Bread [exposition of Bread of Life theme] (vv. 51-58)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 51)
    • Reaction by the people (v. 52)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 53-58)
  • Narrative Conclusion (v. 59)

There are thus three separate divisions to the discourse proper (vv. 25-58), each of which follows the basic discourse format: saying (by Jesus)–reaction (by the people)–exposition (by Jesus). In each instance, the exposition builds upon the central saying (vv. 27, 35, 51), explaining the true meaning of Jesus’ words. The word zwh= (“life”), along with related verb za/w (“live”), occurs repeatedly throughout these verses; these references may be grouped as follows:

  • The expression “Bread of Life“, in two forms:
    bread of Lifeo( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (vv. 35, 48)
    living breado( a&rto$ o( zwh=n (v. 51)
  • The expression “Life of the Age” (vv. 27, 40*, 47*, 53-54*, also v. 68*)
    the asterisk indicates that the expression involves the verb e&xw (“hold, have”)
    —i.e. “hold the Life of the Age”
  • The noun “Life” without modification:
    —giving Life to/for the world (v. 33)
    —over the life of the world (v. 51)
  • The verb “Live” (participle “Living“):
    —will live into the Age (v. 51, 58)
    —Living Father…I live…that one will live (v. 57)

All told, there are 13 occurrences over a span of 32 verses—quite a high number. The expression “Bread of Life” (once “Living Bread”) features in the second and third sayings of Jesus, both of which relate back to the first saying (in verse 27):

“Do not work for the food th(at is) going to ruin, but (for) food th(at is) remaining into (the) Life of the Age, which the Son of Man will give to you—for God the Father has set (his) seal (on) this (person).”

Jesus begins from the context of the feeding miracle—the eating of bread-loaves by the people—to establish a contrast between ordinary bread (which perishes) and the bread (or “food”, brw=si$) which the Son of Man (Jesus) gives. This is precisely parallel to the contrast between ordinary water and the “living water” which Jesus gives (4:7-15ff)—one involves eating, the other drinking. During this portion of the discourse, the motif shifts to another kind of “bread” provided miraculously to the people—the manna of ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition (Exod 16:31ff; Num 11:6ff; Deut 8:3, etc). This manna is referred to as “bread from heaven” in Exod 16:4; Psalm 105:40; Neh 9:15—some combination of these may be intended by the general Scripture citation in v. 31 (“He gave them bread out of heaven to eat”). This reference, given by the people in their reaction to Jesus’ statement(s), almost certainly should be seen as relating to the Passover setting of the feeding miracle (v. 4). The people’s reaction should be understood according to the context of the following points in the saying/exposition by Jesus:

  • Jesus’ identification with the Son of Man who gives eternal food/bread
  • The divine/heavenly source of this—”God the Father set (his) seal”
  • Obtaining this food involves doing (working) the “work of God” (as in the gathering of the manna by the Israelites)
  • Jesus defines this “work” more precisely in v. 29b:
    “…that you would trust in th(e one) whom that (One) [i.e. God the Father] se(n)t forth”

The reaction by the people in vv. 30-31 is thus similar to the question by the Samaritan woman in 4:12. It also touches upon the contrast between Jesus and Moses (the Torah/Scriptures) in 5:39ff. The wording of verse 31 is significant:

“Our fathers ate manna in the desolate (land), even as it has been written…”

One can envision an implied question/challenge along the lines of 4:12—i.e., “you are not greater than Moses, through whom God gave us this food to eat, are you?” Jesus makes the contrast definite in v. 32:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, (it was) not Moshe (who) has given to you the ‘bread out of heaven’, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.”

This bread coming down from heaven is said to “give Life to the world” (v. 33). Jesus has gone a step beyond the discourse with the Samaritan woman; now, rather than being simply one who gives Life, Jesus identifies himself (the “Son of Man”) with that very Life itself. This is clear enough from the saying which begins the second portion of the discourse:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Bread of Life; the one coming toward me should not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting in me will not (ever) thirst.”

The blending of hunger and thirst (eating and drinking) suggests that Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) has the earlier “living water” discourse in mind, though the specific image of bread would seem to apply only to eating. The “I am” declaration is repeated in verse 48 (“I am the Bread of Life”), where it is connected back to the manna tradition (“Bread out of Heaven”). In the intervening exposition, Jesus makes absolutely clear that eating this “Bread of Life” means trusting in him:

  • “every one looking (closely) at the Son and trusting [pisteu/wn] in him holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 40)
  • “the one trusting [pisteu/wn] in me holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 47)

As in the earlier discourses, the expression “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life) is primarily eschatological, referring to the life which the righteous (believers) will come to possess in the end-time, following the resurrection (v. 40b, etc). Within the context of the Johannine discourses, however, this is blended with a “realized” eschatology for believers in Jesus—they experience in the present the very Life which the righteous are thought to inherit at the end-time. This is the main significance of the expression “holds the Life of the Age”—i.e. the believer already possesses it now.

The third portion of the discourse runs parallel to the second, and begins with a parallel saying by Jesus:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Living Bread th(at is) stepping down out of Heaven; and if any one should eat out of this Bread, he will live into the Age…” (v. 51)

If the second portion of the discourse expounds the theme of the first (“Bread from Heaven”), the third portion also expounds the theme of the second (“Bread of Life”). Now, it is designated as “living Bread” (similar to the “living water” of 4:10ff), and the spiritual significance of the exposition is deepened by the introduction of eucharistic language and motifs. I have discussed this controversial aspect of the discourse at length in prior notes, and will be addressing it again in this week’s Saturday series post. The eucharistic association is established already in the second half of the verse 51 saying:

“…and the Bread which I will give is my flesh, over [u(pe/r] the life of the world”

One need not look any further than words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel tradition:

  • Mark 14:22-24:
    “this is my body…this is my blood…th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many”
  • Luke 22:19-20 [MT]:
    “this is my body given over [u(pe/r] you…”

If there were any doubt as to an apparent eucharistic allusion here, verses 53-54 make it all but certain:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if you would not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold Life in yourself. (But) the one chomping my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) Life of the Age, and I will stand him up in the last day.”

It is interesting to consider the three aspects of (eternal) Life present in this statement:

  • Life which the believer holds in him/herself—i.e. through the essential presence of Jesus (his “flesh” and “blood”)
  • The Life of the Age which the believer holds (now, in the present)—”realized” eschatology
  • The Life which the believer will possess at the end time, following the Resurrection—traditional (future) eschatology

While the last two aspects have been present in the prior discourses (in chaps. 3-5), the first aspect is new to the Gospel here, though it has been implied, to some extent, both in the prologue and, perhaps, in verses 5-8 of chapter 3. It refers to the essential unity between the believer and Jesus, and this is a theme which will be developed considerably as one proceeds through the Gospel.

Supplemental Note: On Passover and the Passion Narrative

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Supplemental Study | No Comments

On Passover and the Passion Narrative

One of the most certain traditions regarding the Passion Narrative is that the arrest and death of Jesus occurred around the time of the Passover festival. This is confirmed by multiple lines of tradition—in both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John, as well as in subsequent Jewish tradition (e.g., the Talmudic baraitha in b. Sanhedrin 43a). However, there is a distinct difference between John and the Synoptics in the precise dating and relationship to the day of Passover (Nisan 15).

According to the Synoptic Tradition, the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus and his disciples was a Passover meal which took place on the evening (after sundown) which begins the day of Passover (Nisan 15). This is stated explicitly in Mark 14:1, 12, 14, 16 par. The dating makes clear that we are dealing with the day of 14/15 Nisan—prior to the feast after sundown, on the daytime eve (of the 14th), the Passover lambs would be sacrificed (Mk 14:12; Luke 22:7).

However, according to the Gospel of John, the Last Supper (Jn 13:1-17ff) occurred some time before the day of Passover proper. This is indicated specifically by:

  • The introduction to the Passion narrative and the Last Supper scene in 13:1:
    “And before the festival of Pesah [i.e. Passover]…”
  • Jn 18:28 and 19:14 make clear that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus both took place on the day of Passover eve (Nisan 14), before sundown and the start of Passover. On the 15th of Nisan Jesus was already dead (and buried).

This creates an obvious chronological discrepancy between John and the Synoptics. Commentators have tried to solve the issue in a number of ways, none of which are entirely satisfactory. Many critical scholars would simply admit that two different (variant) traditions regarding the precise dating, in relation to Passover, have been preserved. For those interested in determining the “correct” historical tradition, or in harmonizing the two lines of Gospel tradition, there are several possibilities which must be considered:

  1. Either John or the Synoptics record the “correct” dating, while the other has adapted and interpreted it, giving the association with Passover a special theological or Christological application.
  2. Both traditions, in their own way, are giving a specific interpretation (or application) to the original historical tradition which generally recorded Jesus’ death as occurring around the time of Passover.
  3. Each tradition is following a different way of dating Passover—i.e. is using a different calendar.

The last of these has been a favored way of solving the problem, especially for traditional-conservative commentators eager to harmonize John and the Synoptics. The idea is that two different calendars were in use in Palestine at the time of Jesus—for example, a 364-day solar calendar, along with a lunar (or lunar-solar) calendar. According to this theory, popularized by the work of A. Jaubert (accessible in English as The Date of the Last Supper [Alba House: 1965]), the Synoptics, along with Jesus and his disciples, are following the solar calendar, by which the Last Supper was celebrated, as a Passover meal, the evening beginning Nisan 15, while Jesus would have been crucified and buried on Nisan 17/18. John, by contrast, is following the official lunar-solar calendar, whereby the Last Supper occurred on Nisan 12. Evidence for use of an alternate (solar) calendar has been found in the Qumran writings (Dead Sea Scrolls)—e.g. 1QpHab 11:4ff and 11QPsa 27—as well as in other Jewish writings such as the book of Jubilees. Nevertheless, despite its attractiveness and convenience, this theory has fallen out of favor somewhat in recent decades, largely because commentators do not see any real evidence (apart from our desire to harmonize the accounts) that there are two different calendars used in the Gospels.

Options 1 and 2 above posit the alternative view that either John or the Synoptics (or both) have made the dating specific so as to bring out a particular theological/Christological connection with Passover:

  • In making the Last Supper unquestionably a Passover meal, the Synoptic tradition, which records Jesus’ words of institution (of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper), associates the impending sacrificial death of Jesus with the sacrificial offering(s) drawn from the Exodus narratives (Exod 24:8), by which the Covenant with God’s people was established. Jesus’ own body and blood (i.e. his death) will similarly establish a (new) Covenant with believers.
  • John identifies Jesus with the Passover lamb (19:31, cf. also 1:29, 36), which is why the Gospel writer dates the crucifixion to Nisan 14, when the lambs are prepared for slaughter (19:14). The mention of “hyssop” (19:29 MT) may also be an allusion to the ancient Passover tradition (Exod 12:22). Paul offers a similar identification of Jesus with the Paschal Lamb in 1 Cor 5:7 (and cf. also 1 Pet 1:19).

We should perhaps consider a fourth option, which, while it does not solve all of the chronological problems, may offer a simpler way of harmonizing the two lines of tradition. It is possible that Jesus and his disciples observed the Passover meal—or a meal with Passover characteristics—ahead of time, i.e. on Nisan 14, or even earlier. Several details in the Gospels could be cited in favor of this solution:

  • The dating of the Last Supper in John 13:1ff.
  • The Synoptic tradition which records that the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) did not wish to have Jesus arrested on the feast of Passover, indicating that they would have done this before sundown on Nisan 14/15 (cf. Mark 14:1-2 par).
  • It has always seemed somewhat implausible that the Sanhedrin would have met to interrogate Jesus on Passover. This removes the difficulty, preserving the (accurate) information in John 18:28, 39—i.e., that the trial and execution of Jesus took place prior to sundown Nisan 14/15.
  • The language and wording of Luke 22:15 could be taken to indicate that the meal is prior to Passover.

The main argument against this view is the specific dating indicated by Mark 14:1, 12. It would end up as a variation of option 1 above, implying that the Synoptic Gospels redated the historical tradition in order to make the Last Supper more clearly a celebration of Passover.

Note of the Day – April 5 (Mk 14:12-25)

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

The Passover: Jesus with his Disciples

The second episode of the Passion Narrative in the Synoptics is the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his disciples the night of his arrest. In the Synoptic tradition, this “Last Supper” was unquestionably part of the Passover celebration. This setting was established in the narrative introduction (Mk 14:1 par), and is affirmed again at the start of this episode (vv. 12ff). The Passover setting of the Passion narrative is just as clear in the Gospel of John (12:1; 13:1, etc); however, as you may be aware (and as we shall see), there are significant chronological differences between John and the Synoptics on this point.

Mark 14:12-25 (par Matt 26:17-29; Lk 22:7-39)

There is a clear and simple three-part division to this episode in the Synoptics, as illustrated first by the Gospel of Mark:

  1. The Preparation (vv. 12-16)
  2. The Passover scene at mealtime (vv. 17-21)
  3. Institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (vv. 22-25)

Each of these parts has a specific thematic association:

  • Vv. 12-16—The Passover
  • Vv. 17-21—The Betrayal by Judas
  • Vv. 22-25—The Suffering and Death of Jesus

This thematic structure was probably inherited by the Gospel writer from the early tradition, though it is possible that he played a significant role in emphasizing it within the narrative. Each of the parts will be discussed in turn, beginning with Mark and then examining the parallels in Matthew and Luke to see how the tradition(s) may have been modified or developed.

Mark 14:12-16 / Matt 26:17-19 / Luke 22:7-13

There are two basic elements to the tradition in vv. 12-16 which, we may assume, caused it to be included in the core narrative: (1) the significance and importance of the Passover, and (2) an early historical tradition regarding the specific location (the “upper room”) in which the meal took place. With regard to the first point, the importance of Passover is indicated by the careful preparations that are made for it. Jesus gives specific instructions to his disciples (vv. 13-15), though it is not entirely clear whether this reflects arrangements which had already been made or, in particualar, special foreknowledge by Jesus as to how things would come about. The parallel with the preparations for his “triumphal entry” (11:2-6 par) suggest that the Gospel writer(s) understood it in the latter sense.

Matthew and Luke both follow the Markan narrative with relatively little variation. Matthew’s account (26:17-19) is briefer and simpler, as is typically so for this writer when developing the Tradition. Luke (22:7-13) follows Mark much more closely, including the detail of the Passover sacrifice (v. 7). However, there are a couple of notable differences (in v. 8):

  • Jesus appears to take the initiative with the disciples (cp. Mk 14:12b), and
  • The two disciples are identified as Peter and John; this detail most likely represents a development of the tradition, according to the early Christian tendency toward identifying otherwise unnamed figures.

The initial directive by Jesus in Luke’s version also serves to give added emphasis to the Passover theme.

Mark 14:17-21 / Matt 26:20-25 / Luke 22:14-38

The Passover meal itself is the setting for vv. 17-21ff, though the meal itself is really only described (partially) in Luke’s version. The primary focus of this scene in the Synoptic tradition is the dramatic moment of the identification of Judas as the betrayer. This may be outlined as follows:

  • The narrative setting (v. 17)
  • The initial declaration by Jesus (v. 18)
  • The disciples’ reaction (v. 19)
  • The second declaration by Jesus (v. 20)
  • The Son of Man saying (v. 21)

Note how the dramatic purpose of Jesus’ twin declaration is to identify the betrayer:

  • “…one out of you will give me along [i.e. betray me], the one eating with me” (v. 18)
  • “(It is) one of the Twelve, the one dipping in with me into the dish” (v. 20)

The first declaration indicates that it is one of Jesus’ disciples who is present, eating at the table with him. The second further identifies the man as one of the Twelve—i.e. one of Jesus’ closest disciples. This level of intimacy is also indicated by the parallel: “eating with me”—”dipping into the dish with me”. Possibly there is an allusion here to Psalm 41:9, an association specifically made (by Jesus) in John’s Gospel (13:18), and one which would doubtless have been recognized by early Christians familiar with the Scriptures. The Son of Man saying in verse 21 is the most distinctive element of the narrative, and unquestionably reflects a very early and well-established tradition:

“(On the one hand) the Son of Man leads (himself) under [i.e. goes away] even as it has been written about him, but (on the other hand) woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is given along [i.e. betrayed]! Fine for him if that man had not come to be (born) (at all)!”

As in the earlier scene, Matthew (26:20-25) follows Mark closely, but again narrates in simpler fashion. He includes one detail which would seem to reflect a development of the tradition: in verse 25, Judas (identified by the author as “the one giving him [i.e. Jesus] along”) asks “Is (it) I, Rabbi?”, to which Jesus responds “You (have) said (it)”. It is rather an odd detail; its inclusion may be meant, in part, as a foreshadowing of Judas’ greeting at the moment of the arrest, where he also uses the honorific title “Rabbi” (v. 49).

Luke’s Gospel shows far more extensive development of the tradition here. The main differences are: (1) the identification of Judas and Son of Man saying occur after the institution of the Lord’s Supper (22:21-23), and (2) two blocks of teaching are included (vv. 24-30, 35-38)—one after the Lord’s Supper and the other after the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34). These differences will be discussed in the upcoming note on Luke 22:14-38.

Mark 14:22-25 / Matt 26:26-29 / Luke 22:17-20

These verses preserve the important early Christian tradition of the institution of the “Lord’ Supper”. Their significance will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming note, but here will be helpful to observe the basic tradition as it is preserved by Mark (and Matthew). The outline is very simple:

  • Action by Jesus (the bread):
    “taking bread (and) giving a good account [i.e. blessing] (to God), he broke (it) and gave (it) to them” (v. 22a)

    • Words of Jesus:
      “Take (it)—this is my body” (v. 22b)
  • Action by Jesus (the cup/wine):
    “taking (the) drinking-cup (and) giving good words of (thanks for God’s) favor, he gave (it) to them and they all drank out of it” (v. 23)

    • Words of Jesus:
      “This is my blood of the diaqh/kh [i.e. ‘covenant’] th(at) is poured out over many” (v. 24)

An additional saying/declaration by Jesus (v. 25) concludes the solemn moment:

“Amen, I say to you that, no—I will not drink yet (again) out of the produce of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

This saying, with its “Amen, I say to you” (a)mh\n le/gw u(mi=n) formula (a well-attested mark of Jesus’ own style), is parallel to the declaration in v. 18.

Once again, Matthew (26:26-29) follows Mark, though with a couple of key differences (marked by italics):

  • “Take (it and) eat…”
  • “…poured out unto the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins
  • “…that day when I should drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father

Generally these details (along with a couple of other small modifications) appear to reflect a degree of development, an expanding of the core tradition with added information or emphasis. This will be discussed further, along with Luke’s unique presentation of this material, and the parallel tradition recorded by Paul (in 1 Cor 11:23-26), over the next two daily notes.

Note of the Day – March 18 (John 6:22-59)

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

John 6:22-59

Today’s note will look at the relationship between the Feeding Miracle tradition (6:1-15) and the Bread of Life discourse (6:22-59) in the Gospel of John. There are three motifs from the Miracle tradition which are developed in the following discourse:

  1. The Passover setting—which is unique to John’s account, though Mk 6:39 could also indicate springtime.
  2. The eating of Bread, and
  3. The Eucharist (on these allusions, cf. the previous note)

These three themes run through the discourse, but it may be said that each dominates one of the three main sections. Verses 22-24 serve as the narrative introduction to the discourse, and are transitional, joining the discourse with the Feeding Miracle, etc, in vv. 1-21. Each of the three main sections builds on the dialogue/discourse format used in the Gospel—

  • Saying of Jesus
  • Reaction/question by the people, indicating some level of misunderstanding
  • Explanation/Exposition by Jesus

In addition, the three sections are joined together, forming a larger discourse, by way of a step-parallel thematic technique:

  • Miracle of the bread-loaves —>
    • Passover: manna / bread from heaven —>
      • Eating bread: Jesus the “bread from heaven”, Bread of Life —>
        • Jesus the Living Bread —>
          • Eucharist: eating his flesh/blood leads to (eternal) Life

Section 1 (vv. 25-34)

  • Principal saying by Jesus—verse 27:
    “Do not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food remaining into (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]…”
  • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 29
  • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 28-31
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 32-33
  • Theme: transition from the Feeding Miracle (v. 26) to the Passover motif (i.e. the manna, “bread from heaven”, vv. 31-33)

Section 2 (vv. 35-50)

  • Saying by Jesus—verse 35:
    “I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the Bread of Life—the one coming toward me (no) he will not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting into me (no) he will not ever thirst. …”
  • [Explanation by Jesus]—vv. 36-40
  • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 41-42
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 44-50
  • Theme: Eating Bread—Jesus as the “Bread of Life”, the Bread come down from Heaven

Section 3 (vv. 51-58)

  • Saying by Jesus—verse 51a (parallel to v. 35):
    “I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the Living Bread stepping down [i.e. coming down] out of Heaven—if any one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age (to Come)…”
  • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 51b
  • Reaction/question by the people—v. 52
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 53-58
  • Theme: transition from Bread (of Life) to the Eucharist motifs (vv. 53-56ff)

I will not here discuss the rich texture and theology of the discourse; this has been done in some detail in an earlier note. The outline above is meant to demonstrate how the Gospel writer has developed the Feeding Miracle tradition, by making it part of the larger Bread of Life discourse, much as he did with healing miracle (and Sabbath controversy) episode in chapter 5. The Discourses of Jesus in John are complex and difficult to analyze, due to the sophisticated way that authentic historical traditions have been adapted and interpreted within the Johannine literary style/format (i.e. of the Discourses). This compositional style can be seen at many different points in the Gospel. Compare, for example, the close similarity of structure, language and ideas, between Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman (4:9-15) and that of 6:25-34 (above, cf. also Brown, p. 267). The parallel between Jesus as the living water (ch. 4) and the living bread (ch. 6) is unmistakable, and is clearly intentional within the context of the Gospel.

Also most difficult is the relation between the Bread of Life and Eucharist symbolism in second and third sections (vv. 35-58) of the discourse. As challenging as these passages have been for Christians throughout the ages, Jesus’ words must have been completely baffling to the first hearers, if we accept the essential historicity of the discourse (v. 59). Indeed, this is a prominent theme of the Discourses in John—the misunderstanding of his words by the people who hear him. The explanation by Jesus, within in the discourse format, expounds the true (and deeper) meaning of his words, much as we see him, on occasion in the Synoptics, explaining his sayings and parables to the disciples in private (Mk 4:10-20 par, etc).

John 6:60-65ff

As it happens, John records a similar sort of “private” explanation by Jesus to the disciples in vv. 60-65. This comes in addition to the exposition(s) within the discourse proper; as such, vv. 60ff functions as an epilogue or appendix to the discourse. There is a loose parallel, perhaps, to this in 4:31-38. Verses 60-65 have greatly complicated interpretation of the discourse (particularly the eucharistic motifs in vv. 51-58), since they contain a distinctly spiritual explanation of Jesus’ words. This section may be outlined as follows:

  • Reaction by the disciples (i.e. to the discourse)—v. 60
    “This account [i.e. word/discourse] is hard/harsh; who is able to hear it?”
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 61-65, which is framed by a question and a statement directed toward his disciples:
    “Does this trip you (up)?” (v. 61b)
    “But there are some of you that do not trust (in me)” (v. 64a)

The explanation in vv. 62-63 is comprised of three sayings, which must be taken together:

“Then if you should look upon the Son of Man stepping up to where he was at (the) first(, how will you react)?” (v. 62)
“The Spirit is th(at which) makes (one a)live; the flesh does not help (in) anything” (v. 63a)
“The utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you (they) are Spirit and Life” (v. 63b)

The first saying (a rhetorical question) emphasizes the divine origin of the “Son of Man” (Jesus), and foreshadows his departure back to the Father. It is at the time of his departure that the Spirit will come to the disciples (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:13-15; 20:22-23; cf. also 8:39). The second saying clearly states that the Spirit (of God, and Christ) is that which gives life; the flesh plays no role, or is of no use in this. In the third saying, Jesus identifies his words with the Spirit and with the life the Spirit gives. The disciples, at this point in the narrative, could not possibly understand the significance of these things, since they foreshadowed events which had not taken place. They simply had to trust Jesus. This is the emphasis of verses 64-65, and in the tradition which follows (vv. 66-71). Not all of Jesus’ disciples truly trust in him, but only those chosen and given to Jesus by the Father (i.e. the Elect believers). Here the author seems to have joined to the discourse a separate tradition, with similarities to several found in the Synoptics—i.e., the calling of the Twelve (cf. Mk 3:13-19 par) and the confession by Peter (vv. 68-69; cp. Mk 8:29 par). On the latter point, compare Peter’s words in Mk 8:29/Lk 9:20 and Jn 6:69 respectively:

“You are the Anointed One [xristo$] of God”
“You are the Holy One [a%gio$] of God”

It is another example (among many) of how the Synoptic and Johannine traditions are so very similar, and yet, at the same time, so very different.

References marked “Brown” above are to R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29 (1966).

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 9: The True Priest

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

In this article, I will be exploring the Messianic figure-type of Anointed Priest. This type appears to be less widely known or expressed in Judaism during the first centuries B.C./A.D., compared with the figures of Prophet (cf. parts 2 & 3) and King (parts 68). Our best evidence for it comes from the Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls and related texts (such as the Damascus Document), and, in at least several respects, it was influential on Messianic thought in the time of Jesus and the New Testament.

Background

In ancient Israel and Near East, priests and kings were both ceremonially consecrated and set apart through the ritual of anointing. This is described or expressed in the Old Testament (Torah) in numerous places—Exodus 28:41; 29:7, 21, 29; 30:30; 40:13, 15; Leviticus 6:20; 7:36; 8:12; 16:32; 21:10, 12; Numbers 3:3; 35:25; including use of the substantive noun j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ, “anointed”) in Lev 4:3, 5, 16; 6:22[15]. The special place and position of the Priest is indicated by the epithet “holy, holiness” [vd#q)]—Exod 28:36; 31:10; 35:19; 39:30, 41; 40:13; Lev 14:13; 21:6-8; 22:14; 23:20; Num 5:9-10; 6:20; 18:9-10; Ezra 8:28, etc. In early Israelite tradition, Moses and Aaron—Ruler/Lawgiver and Priest—provided two-fold leadership for the community. Following the era of kingship—where the anointed Ruler was dominant—with the fall of the kingdoms of Israel/Judah and the Exile, this dual leadership was restored in the early Post-exilic community—see especially the equal position of Zerubbabel (ruler from the line of David) and Joshua (the High Priest) indicated in Hag 1:1, 12, 14; 2; Zech 3-4 (esp. the two “sons of oil” in Zech 4:14); 6:9-14.

During much of the Post-exilic period, the High Priest was unquestionably the dominant ruling figure in Judah/Judea, which doubtless explains the prominence of the Priesthood in certain writings of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. In the book of Sirach (early-mid 2nd cent.), at least as much praise is given to the Priestly figures (Aaron, Phineas, Simon son of Onias) as to the Kings (David etc)—cp. Sirach 47 with Sirach 45, 50. The Hebrew hymn at Sir 51:12 offers thanks to the (Messianic) “horn” sprouting for the house of David and the chosen “sons of Zadok” in tandem. The book of Jubilees has Levi (Priest) and Judah (Ruler) in the leading position among the tribes of Israel, with priority given to Levi (Jubilees 31, cf. Deut 33:8-11). A number of the texts from Qumran, such as 4QTLevi (related in some way to the later Jewish/Christian Testament of Levi), likewise give clear priority to the Priest (cf. below).

This elevation of the Priesthood, emphasizing its superiority over secular rule, may have a polemic role—i.e., against the Hasmonean (Maccabean) rulers of the 2nd-1st centuries B.C., who also obtained to the position of High Priest (until the time of Hyrcanus II c. 40 B.C.), despite the fact that they were not from line of Aaron/Zadok (nor were they kings from the tribe of Judah). This probably underlies much of the critique against the Priesthood and the Temple cultus in the Qumran texts. The situation became even worse after Pompey’s invasion (63 B.C.) and the installation of Herod as king with Roman support. This historical background is expressed vividly in the so-called Psalms of Solomon (mid/late-1st century B.C.), especially the Messianic Ps Sol 17. Given the corruption of the Priesthood and the nepotistic power of the leading Priestly families (also clearly targeted in the Gospels and Acts), it is not surprising that many devout Israelites and Jews at the time of Jesus would hope for a coming Priest or Ruler who would restore (or rebuild) the religious sanctity and prestige of the Temple, etc.

The Qumran Community

There are three prominent Messianic themes or motifs which can be found in the Qumran (and related) texts, related to the Priesthood: (1) the dual-leadership of Priest and King, (2) the figure of an Anointed Priest-King, and (3) the priority and superiority of Priesthood over Kingship.

1. Dual-Leadership of Priest and King

This is expressed primarily in the Community Rule documents—the Rule of the Community (1QS) and the Damascus Document (CD, QD), where there appears to be an expectation of two future/end-time Messianic figures: “the Anointed (One)s of Aaron and Israel [larvyw /wrha yjyvm]” (1QS 9:11). In the Damascus Document, we find a similar expression, but with the singular “Anointed (One) of/from Aaron and Israel” (CD 12:23-13:1; 14:19 [= 4Q266 10 i 12]; 19:10-11; 20:1). Scholars continue to debate whether this use of the singular is the same as the plural in 1QS 9:11—i.e. refers to separate Messiahs—or rather reflects the belief in a single Anointed Priest-King (cf. below). In the related rule-documents 1QSa and 1QSb, for the future/ideal Community envisaged in the texts, a leading High Priest appears to officiate in tandem with the Anointed Prince/Ruler—cf. 1QSa 2:11-22; 1QSb 5:20-21ff. Moreover, the Testimonia [4Q175, lines 1-18] seems to envision distinct eschatological figures—Prophet (Deut 18:18-19), Ruler (Num 24:15-17), Priest (Deut 33:8-11). In the Florilegium [4Q174], the Anointed Ruler (“Branch of David”) will arise along with the “Interpreter of the Law” at the end-time; this latter title would appear to be generally synonymous with the “Teacher of Righteousness” (CD 6:10-11), representing the same eschatological figure. The historical Teacher was a priest (4QPs a col. iii, line 15), and the future Teacher/Interpreter would certainly have been understood as a Priest as well (cf. the context of CD 6:2-11). This dual-Messiah paradigm may have been influenced by the “two sons of oil” in Zech 4:14.

2. An Anointed Priest-King

The possibility that the “Anointed of Aaron and Israel” in the Damascus Document (cf. above) refers to a single Priest-King figure receives support from the text 11QMelch(izedek) [11Q13]. In this fragmentary pesher-style commentary (on various Scriptures), “Melchizedek” represents an end-time figure who will bring freedom for those held captive by Belial (theme of the Jubilee, Lev 25:13; Deut 15:2). He will judge the nations (Psalm 82:1-2; 7:8-9) and carry out punishment/vengeance on the wicked (Belial). This figure is further associated with an Anointed Messenger (Isa 52:7; Dan 9:25) who will announce salvation (and judgment) for God’s people. According to the narrative in Genesis, Melchizedek was the Priest-King of Salem-Jerusalem (Gen 14:18ff) in the time of Abraham. Though the Torah, and much of the Prophetic tradition, would condemn the appropriation of the Priestly role by rulers (as the Hasmoneans later did)—see the examples in Numbers 16; 2 Chronicles 26:16-20—it is recorded that David and other Israelite kings/princes did, on occasion, function as priests (cf. 2 Sam 6:17-18; 8:18; 1 Kings 8:63-64; 2 Kings 16:12-13, etc). This was very much in accord with the ancient Near Eastern view of Kingship (as attested in the case of Melchizedek), where the ruler held priestly privileges and prerogatives, and would exercise them, at least on certain occasions. Indeed, it is this sort of royal theology which presumably underlies the mention of Melchizedek in Psalm 110:4—in its original historical context.

Many scholars would hold that Melchizedek in 11QMelch is a Heavenly/Angelic Redeemer figure, such as Michael in the book of Daniel, or the “Son of Man” in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71). This view is probably influenced largely by the reference to Psalm 82:1-2 in column ii, lines 9-10; however, as is clear from the Qumran texts, the Enoch literature, as well as of Jesus in the Gospels, there can be a fine line between the conception of a Heavenly being and an eschatological (human) King/Redeemer appointed by God to bring about the end-time Judgment and establishment of the Kingdom for the people of God.

3. The priority/superiority of Priesthood over Kingship

Given the fact that the Qumran Community (and/or the community of the Damascus Document) was likely founded by priests, and the central/leading role that priests held in the Community, it is not surprising that “Aaron” (and the Anointed One of Aaron) would come ahead of “Israel” (and the Anointed One of Israel) in their eschatology and Messianic thought. In 1QSa 2:11ff, the (Anointed?) Priest enters and is seated ahead of the Anointed One of Israel. The “Levi” documents (4Q[T]Levi) at Qumran give to the Priesthood an exalted status and position, and in 4QLevia ar [4Q213] fragments 1+2 col. ii, Levi appears to be connected with both the priesthood and the kingdom (cf. also the language in 4Q541 frag. 9, col. i). These Levi texts are likely representative of the kind of Jewish source material that underlies the later Jewish/Christian Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. For a similar exalted view of the priesthood, see Testament of Levi 18; and, for the priority of Priest over King, cf. Testament of Judah 21-22.

Priestly Themes and motifs in the Gospels

It must be admitted that the Priesthood and Priestly motifs are not especially prominent in the Gospels, by comparison with some of the Qumran texts cited above. On a number of occasions, Jesus is shown as being at odds with the ruling Priestly authorities, but only in connection with the events surrounding his Passion (cf. the predictions in Mk 8:31; 10:33 par, also 11:18, 27; 14:1 par, etc), and they play a leading role in the opposition to him prior to his death (cf. especially the scene before the Sanhedrin, Mk 14:53-65 par). Elsewhere in Synoptic tradition, Jesus refers to the priesthood only twice—once in the positive context of fulfilling the ceremonial aspects of the Law (Mk 1:44 par), and once in the context of the Sabbath-controversies (Mk 2:26 par). Throughout the Gospels and Acts, positive references to the priesthood are rare, found only in the Infancy narratives (the parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth [Lk 1:5-25, 67-79]), and the brief notice in Acts 6:7 that many priests in Jerusalem became obedient to the Christian faith.

Jesus’ relationship to the Temple and the cultic/ritual apparatus of sacrificial offerings, etc., overseen by the Priests, is rather more complex. The principal passages are: (1) the Temple action by Jesus (i.e. the “cleansing” of the Temple), and (2) the Temple saying, variously reported in the Gospels and Acts. As I have discussed these in some detail in an earlier article, I will only give a brief outline here:

  1. The Temple “cleansing” is recorded in all four Gospels—Mark 11:15-18; Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-58; John 2:13-17. Commentators continue to debate the precise interpretation and significance of the episode. Certainly, Jesus shows great concern for the sanctity and holiness of the Temple, but there is no indication that he is acting in the role of a Priest. However, he does level a definite objection to the current apparatus surrounding the Temple sacrifices (if not to idea of sacrificial offerings themselves), and, with it, a harsh critique against the priesthood. The citation of Isa 56:7 may indicate that he envisions a somewhat different purpose for the Temple—as a place of prayer, rather than of sacrificial offerings (bound up in commercial transactions).
  2. The Synoptic tradition (Mk 14:58; Matt 26:61) records an alleged claim by witnesses, during Jesus’ appearance before the Sanhedrin, that he claimed he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Mark/Matthew regards this as false testimony, but a similar saying by Jesus is recorded in John 2:19. Luke does not include this in the Passion narrative, but there would seem to be a reference to it in Acts 6:14. The Markan version of the (alleged) saying states that the physical Temple (“made with hands”) would be destroyed and a new Temple (“made without hands”) will be built in its place. The idea that Jesus might build a different kind of Temple, or that he effectively replaces it in his own person, seems to underlie the polemic against the Temple in Stephen’s speech, where the idea of being “made with/without hands” is central (Acts 7:40-41, 43, 48, 50; cf. also Acts 17:24). In John’s account, the Temple saying (Jn 2:19ff) is connected with the Temple cleansing (Jn 2:14-17), and given a specific interpretation: the “Temple” is Jesus himself (his body), and the destruction/rebuilding is a reference to his death and resurrection. Thus, while it does not depict Jesus as a Priest, he is viewed in a spiritual/symbolic sense as the sacred Place where the Priesthood operates. Cf. Matthew 12:4-6 for a similar idea in the Synoptics.

Jesus as (High) Priest

Here we will explore: (1) Sayings of Jesus which might identify him as a Priest in some way, (2) Narrative episodes or actions where he may be fulfilling a Priestly role, and (3) Other motifs in the New Testament and early Christian thought which specifically relate to Jesus as a Priest.

First, with regard to specific sayings of Jesus, there are only a few which seem to refer to the Priesthood in some meaningful way:

  • Jesus’ words in Mark 2:5-10 par, etc—the power/authority to declare forgiveness of sin, apart from the ritual means outlined in the Law, could be taken to imply that Jesus was fulfilling a Priestly role in this regard
  • Matthew 12:3-8 par—part of the Sabbath Controversy episode in Mk 2:23-28 par, in which Jesus compares himself and his disciples with the Priests of the Holy Place. The sequence of sayings in Matthew’s version strongly suggests, that, in some sense, Jesus (in his own person and teaching) takes the place of the Temple and Priesthood:
    —”He entered the House of God…” etc (vv. 3-4)
    —”the priests in the Temple cross over [i.e. violate] the Sabbath and are without cause (for guilt)” (v. 5)
    —”(Something) greater than the Temple is here (in this place)” (v. 6)
    —”I wish for mercy and not slaying (of sacrificial offerings)” (v. 7)
    —”For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 8)
  • The words of institution at the Last Supper (Mark 14:22-24 par), associated with the (Priestly) act of blessing/benediction (cf. below). It is the words over the cup which are especially significant, in reference to:
    (1) The (new) Covenant—the ritual/ceremonial aspects and elements of the (old) Covenant were administered by the Priests
    (2) The Blood—the sprinkling and pouring out of blood was connected with the consecration of the Priesthood, etc, and the administration of sacrificial offerings
    (3) “Over many (for the forgiveness of sins)”—the atoning aspect of sacrifice, especially that of the sin offering, and the sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonement (for the entire Community)
  • The great Prayer-Discourse in John 17 is sometimes referred to as the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus, but this is rather misleading, since there are few specific priestly images or allusions in the prayer. Only in a loose sense—in terms of Jesus representing his disciples before God, and interceding on their behalf—can it be interpreted in this way. Perhaps the closest we come to a direct priestly reference is in vv. 17-19:
    “Sanctify them in the truth…even as I sanctify myself over them, that they also might be sanctified in the truth”

Similarly, examples in the Gospel narrative where Jesus fulfills a Priestly role are few; I highlight what I consider to be the three most notable areas:

  • Jesus role in blessing the bread and the cup of the Last Supper (Mk 14:22-23 par). In Matthew and Mark, the verbs eu)loge/w and eu)xariste/w are used for the bread and cup, respectively (Lk 22:17-20 uses eu)xariste/w for both). While this need not mean anything more than the head of table giving the blessing for the (Passover) meal, Jesus’ words associated with the cup (“my blood of the [new] Covenant which is poured out…”) certainly indicates something deeper (cf. above). Jesus is depicted in a similar act of blessing during the (two) feeding miracles (Mk 6:41; 8:7 par), and cf. also in Lk 24:30.
  • In Luke 24:50-51, the Gospel writer clearly depicts Jesus in the role of Priest delivering the blessing/benediction to the people. This is confirmed by the parallel with Zechariah (father of John the Baptist, and priest serving in the Temple) in Lk 1:21-22. In that episode (the first in the Gospel), the Priest (Zechariah) is unable to give the expected benediction to the waiting crowd; here, in the last episode of the Gospel, Jesus finally does so—giving the blessing to his disciples before his departure (and ascension to the Father).
  • In the Gospel of John, Jesus frequently identifies himself (i.e. his own person and teaching) in various ways with: the Temple (Jn 2:13-22, cf. above), the Sabbath (Jn 5), and elements of the great Feast-days such as Passover and Sukkoth/Tabernacles (Jn 2:13-22; 6; 7-8)—all representing ritual/ceremonial aspects of the Law which were administered and officiated by Priests. Most notable, are several key details which identify Jesus specifically with the sacrificial offering at Passover—the Paschal Lamb:
    • The Baptist’s declaration of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” in Jn 1:29-36. Most likely, the lamb sacrificed for Passover is intended, though the qualifying phrase in v. 29 “…the (one) taking away the sin of the world” perhaps better fits the sacrificial animal of the sin offering (Lev 4:3). There is also a plausible connection with Isaiah 53:4-7, 12. Cf. also 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:18-19; Rev 5:6, 9 etc.
    • In John, Jesus is crucified on the eve of Passover (Jn 19:14) at the time the lambs would be slaughtered (cf. also Mark 14:12 par).
    • John 19:31-32, 36 is a clear reference to the Passover lamb (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12, cf. also Psalm 34:20).
    • The mention of hyssop in Jn 19:26 may possibly be an allusion to the blood applied to the door frame in Exod 12:22.

In light of the fact that the eschatological/Messianic figure of the “Teacher of Righteousness” and the “Interpreter of the Law” in the Qumran texts has certain definite parallels with Jesus as Teacher (of the Law) in the Gospels (cf. Part 4), it is worth pointing out again that this figure-type very likely would have been understood as an (Anointed) Priest.

Finally, we should consider other priestly motifs or descriptions of Jesus as a Priest in the remainder of the New Testament. It must be admitted that, here again, these are very few, apart from the notable exception of the letter to the Hebrews. We have:

  • The association with Passover sacrifice (cf. above) in 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Pet 1:18-19; however, it should be noted that Jesus is identified with the sacrificial Lamb, not the Priest who administers the sacrifice. Similarly in Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.
  • In 2 Corinthians 3:6-18 Paul speaks of the “new covenant” for believers in Christ (marked by the Spirit), which supersedes and replaces the old (governed by Moses, the Priesthood, and the Law); cf. also Gal 3:15-18ff. In Romans 11:27, Paul speaks of this New Covenant in Christ in atoning/sacrificial terms (“when I take away their sins”, citing Isa 59:20-21); note also his citation of Jesus’ words over the cup at the Last Supper in 1 Cor 11:25 (cf. above).
  • The language of sacrificial offering (administered by priests) is also used in Romans 15:16; Phil 2:17; 4:18; Eph 5:2; 2 Tim 4:6; 1 Pet 2:5. 9, but these references have more to do with the idea of believers as sacrificial offerings, or functioning as priests in the service of Christ and the Gospel.

It is only in the Letter to the Hebrews that we see the image of Jesus as a Priest (High Priest) clearly expressed, and in considerable detail, reflecting a decree of theological/Christological development in the theme that is simply not found elsewhere in the New Testament. For a detailed survey and examination, see the Supplemental Study on Hebrews. In terms of Messianic thought at the time of Jesus, there are two aspects of the treatment in Hebrews which are noteworthy:

  1. The emphasis on the Priest offering sacrifice for the atonement/forgiveness of sins—Where a Messianic Priest-figure appears in Jewish writings of the period (cf. above), it tends to be associated with Teaching/Instruction, Blessing and the (joint) role of Ruler. However, in at least one text from Qumran (4Q541, fragment 9), it is said that this Priest “will atone for the children of his generation” and “…darkness will disappear from the earth” (cf. Testament of Levi 18:4).
  2. The figure of Melchizedek as (Heavenly) Priest-King—Melchizedek plays a central role in the fragmentary text 11Q13 (11QMelch[izedek]) from Qumran (late 1st-cent. B.C.?), as an end-time Deliverer of the people of God and Judge of the wicked (Belial). He is connected with the Anointed (One) of Isa 61:1 (cf. Isa 52:7) and Dan 9:25-26, and is often viewed by commentators as a Divine/Heavenly figure. In 2 Enoch 71-72, Melchizedek also has an exalted position alongside the Angels in Heaven.

For other early Christian reference to Jesus as a High Priest, see Ignatius Philadelphians 9:1; Epistle of Polycarp 12:2; Martyrdom of Polycarp 14:3; and also 1 Clement 61:3; 64:1, which may be influenced by the language of Hebrews.

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

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

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

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

This article will proceed according to the following outline:

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

1. The Festal Setting of the Discourses and related Narratives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second pair of discourses are as follows:

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

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

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

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

Note of the Day – January 20

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

(For the first three sections of this extended discussion of the “Cleansing of the Temple” in John 2:13-22, see the previous day’s note)

4. The Gospel Tradition of the “Cleansing”. As mentioned above, all four Gospel accounts appear to be based on a single historical tradition. Luke provides the simplest version (Lk 19:45-46):

45And coming into the sacred place he began to cast out the (ones) selling, 46saying to them, “It has been written: ‘My house will be a house for speaking-out toward (God) [i.e. prayer], and you have made it a cavern for plunderers’.”

Additional details found in Mark and Matthew (Mk 11:15; Matt 21:12):

  • Jesus casts out the (ones) selling and the (ones) buying
  • He overturns (lit. turns [upside] down) the tables of the coin-changers and seats of the (ones) selling doves

Additional details found only in Mark:

  • He did not allow (any)one to carry a vessel through the sacred-place (v. 16)
  • The quotation from Isa 56:7 is extended: “…will be called a house of prayer to/for all the nations” (v. 17)

The Johannine account (2:14-17), on the one hand, creates a more vivid and dramatic scene with the inclusion of several details:

  • The mention of cattle and sheep in the Temple precincts (v. 14f)
  • Jesus’ use of a whip made of cords (v. 15)—it is not entirely clear whether he uses it to drive out the sellers, the cattle/sheep, or both.
  • In overturning (lit. upturning) the coin-changers tables, the coin-pieces pour out (v. 15)

On the other hand, instead of the Scripture citation (from Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11), Jesus replies more matter-of-factly (to the ones selling doves): “Take up/away these (things from here) on this (side and that)! do not make the house of my Father a house of commerce!” (v. 16). Is the Synoptic quotation an ‘exposition’ of Jesus’ words as recorded here in John? Or does John’s account ‘explain’ the quotation? A (different) Scripture passage is cited in John, which will be discussed below.

There can be no doubt that the compound Scripture citation is the key to interpreting the Synoptic accounts as they stand. The first portion comes from Isaiah 56:7: “…My House will be called a house of petition/prayer [hL*p!T=] for all the peoples”. The message of Isa 56:1-8 is that all people who adhere to the Law of God (including Gentiles and foreigners) will become part of God’s people gathered in from exile. It is interesting to note the difference of emphasis:

  • Jesus: “My house will be (called) a house of prayer
  • Isa 56:7: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples

Mark does include the last phrase, but, it would seem, with any special emphasis. However, considering that the commerce would have likely been taking place in the outer Court of the Gentiles (implied by the use of i(ero/n and not nao/$), the Isaian context of foreigners (Gentiles) joining to become part of the (Messianic) restoration of Israel is surely significant. Primarily though, Jesus contrasts “house of prayer” with “cavern of thieves/plunderers”. This portion comes from Jeremiah 7:11, which also has something of a different meaning in its original context. Jer 7:1-29 is a lengthy oracle condemning the evils committed throughout Judah (delivered by the prophet while standing in the gate of the Temple, v. 2); this includes a familiar prophetic denunciation of those who commit evil and yet come to the Temple to participate in the sacred ritual (vv. 8ff). The bitter question is asked in verse 11:

“Has it become a cave of violent (men), this house of which My Name is called upon it, in your eyes?”

The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew literally, using the approximate phrase “cavern of plunderers” (sph/laion lh|stw=n); Jesus’ quotation follows the LXX phrase. By way of dramatic hyperbole, any “profane” business, even that associated with maintaining the Temple, was tantamount to turning the sacred place into a “cave of violent robbers”! In all four Gospels, but especially in John (v. 16b), Jesus seems to be objecting to commerce taking place anywhere within the Temple precincts. This also would be confirmed by the curious detail in Mark (v. 16),  that Jesus “did not allow (any)one to carry a vessel through the sacred-place”. This probably is an echo of Zech 14:20-21, a passage which almost certainly colors the Gospel account, even as Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem (as the coming/Anointed King) is shaped by Zech 9:9ff. Another relevant (Messianic) passage would be Mal 3:1ff, which speaks of the Lord coming suddenly to His Temple, where he will purify the priests and their offerings (vv. 3-4). That Mal 3:1 was understood to apply to Jesus (with John the Baptist as his messenger) in Gospel Tradition is clear from Mark 1:2 (cf. also Matt 11:10ff and Luke 1:76).

5. The Johannine Passage (Jn 2:13-22). The structure of the passage overall should first be noted, for it supplies the framework necessary for interpretation:

  • The Temple action (vv. 13-16)
    • Parenthesis (v. 17): “His disciples remembered…”—citation of Psalm 69:9
  • The Question (v. 18): “What sign do you show us…?”
  • The Temple saying (vv. 19-20[21])
    • Parenthesis (v. 21-22): “His disciples remembered…”—in between (1) interpretation of the saying, and (2) a statement of the disciples’ later belief

The Temple action (vv. 13-17). The account of the “cleansing” derives from the same historical tradition that underlies the Synoptic version. This has been discussed above; there is little indication that the episode itself has a fundamentally different meaning here. If the quotation of Isa 56:7/Jer 7:11 was part of the common tradition, the Gospel writer has omitted it—replacing it with different/historical words of Jesus, or, perhaps, ‘explaining’ the quotation. Another Scripture appears in the parenthesis, from Psalm 69:9: “The ‘zeal’ of [i.e. for] your house has eaten me (up)”. The word usually translated “zeal/jealousy” (ha*n+q!) has the basic sense of “(burning) red”, the Greek word zh=lo$ properly “heat/fervor”. The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew quite literally, and the quotation in John follows the LXX (B), reading the future tense (katefa/getai “will eat me down [i.e. devour me]”). The future form, of course, betters suited the verse as a prophecy related to Jesus; indeed, reflection on Psalm 69 helped shape the Gospel tradition of his Passion (as indicated in v. 17a), and is doubtless one of the key texts used to show that the Messiah must suffer and die (see especially Luke 24:25-27, 44-46). There is a slight ambiguity here in the Psalm: while the ‘zeal’ is generally understood of the protagonist (or Psalmist)—that he is consumed with (righteous) fervor—it could also be taken to mean, in the overall context of suffering, that his righteous zeal has caused him to be “eaten up” by his enemies. The citation in the Gospel could be interpreted, or made to apply, either way. Since it is associated with Jesus’ “cleansing” action, the image primarily would be the intense nature (all-consuming fire) of his ‘zeal’ for God’s house; but it is also possible that a bit of wordplay is involved—a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death that connects with the Temple saying in vv. 19-22.

The Question (v. 18). The highlighting of this verse is based, in part, on the theory that the Gospel writer has joined together separate traditions. However, even looking at the narrative (2:13-22) as a whole, the question the “Jews” ask remains central. It is similar to the question asked by the religious authorities in Mark 11:28 par.—”In (what) such authority [e)cousi/a] are you doing these (things)?”—but the difference in wording here is especially significant:

Therefore the Judeans {Jews} judged from (this) [i.e. responded back] and said to him:
“What sign [shmei=on] do you show [deiknu/ei$] that you (should) do these (things)?”

The noun shmei=on and verb deiknu/w (which occur in sequence in the Greek of v. 18) are both important words in the Gospel of John, carrying theological-christological meaning. With regard to deiknu/w, the closely related (and more common) verb dei/knumi is used in reference to what the Father shows the Son, and, in turn, what the Son shows (the world) from the Father (Jn 5:20; 14:8-9; also note 10:32; 20:20). Shmei=on (pl. shmei=a) is used frequently in John—Jesus’ symbolic actions (particularly the miracles) are called “signs” (Jn 2:23; 3:2; 4:48; 6:2, 14, 26, 30; 7:31; 9:16; 11:47; 12:18, 37; 20:30); on the basis of the references in Jn 2:11; 4:54, chapters 2-12, with their alternation of miracle and dialogue/discourse, are sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”. The use of shmei=on and deiknu/w here serve to transition from the traditional “cleansing” action to the deeper meaning of the Temple saying.

The Temple saying (vv. 19-22). What remains is to treat this powerful and provocative saying of Jesus (v. 19):

“Loose [i.e. dissolve] this shrine [nao/n] and in three days I will raise it (up again).”

(This saying will be discussed in detail in a concluding note.)