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Resurrection of Christ

Note of the Day (Easter Monday)

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For the second day of Easter (Easter Monday) I will be discussing the second of three passages in the Gospel of John where Jesus is associated with the power of resurrection. The previous note for Easter Sunday dealt with John 5:19-29; today’s note will look at one specific area of the Bread of Life discourse in Jn 6:35-58. For some background on this passage, I would recommend reading the earlier note I posted during Holy Week. There I demonstrated something of the parallelism that exists between verses 35-50 and 51-58. Today the focus will be upon one key phrase where Jesus states “…and I will stand {him} up in the last day”. This phrase appear four times in vv. 35-58, but they can be consolidated into two main sayings:

  • Verses 39-40—a dual formulation, where it appears twice and then is restated in v. 44.
  • Verse 54

John 6:39-40:

tou=to de/ e)stin to\ qe/lhma tou= pe/myanto/$ me, i%na pa=n o^ de/dwke/n moi mh\ a)pole/sw e)c au)tou=, a)lla\ a)nasth/sw au)to\ [e)n] th=| e)sxa/th| h(me/ra|
tou=to ga/r e)stin to\ qe/lhma tou= patro/$ mou, i%na pa=$ o( qewrw=n to\n ui(o\n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ au)to\n e&xh| zwh\n ai)w/nion, kai\ a)nasth/sw au)to\n e)gw\ [e)n] th=| e)sxa/th| h(me/ra|

“This is the will of the (one who) sent me: that all which he has given me, I should not have perish (anything) out of it, but I will stand it up in the last day.
“This is the will of my Father: that every (one) th(at) observes the Son and trusts into him should have life of-the-Age, and I will stand him up in the last day.”

Several points should be noted in this pair of closely related sayings:

  • The ultimate fate of believers—that of being raised—is expressed as the will or wish (qe/lhma) of God.
  • God is referred to with the parallel expressions most commonly used by Jesus in John: (a) “the one who sent me”, and (b) “my Father”.
  • Here there is the important theological idea, expressed on numerous occasions in the Gospel of John, of the Son receiving from the Father, i.e., the Father has given (dedwken, from didwmi); the Son, in turn, gives (what he received from the Father) to believers. In this instance, believers as a collective, are what was given to the Son.
  • The connection between salvation (that is, “life of the Age[s]”, i.e. “eternal life”) and not “perishing” (a)po/llumi) occurs elsewhere in the Gospel (Jn 3:16; 10:28; 17:12; cf. also 6:12; 12:25).
  • The motif of “seeing/beholding” the Son (and thereby seeing the Father) is a frequent and most important one in the Gospel—here using the verb qewre/w (Jn 2:23; 6:2, 62; 12:45; 14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-19; 17:24).
  • “Seeing” is intimately connected (being virtually synonymous) with “trusting/believing”, with the usual expression, lit. “trusting into (the Son)”

The theme of trusting/believing in Jesus is primary to the section 6:35-50, as is indicated in the main “Bread of Life” saying in verse 35:

“I Am the bread of life: the (one) coming toward me, no he should not hunger; and the (one) trusting into me, no he should not thirst ever.”

Coming to(ward) Jesus is described in terms of eating, while trusting/believing in Jesus is described in terms of drinking. If we add the statement of verse 44 to that in vv. 39-40, then the motif of coming to Jesus is connected with trusting in Jesus there as well.

“No one is powered [i.e. is able] to come toward me if the Father (who) sent me does not draw/drag him, and I will stand him up in the last day

And, again in verse 44, the will (implied) of the Father is emphasized as the source cause. If we arrange the central actions of vv. 39-40, 44 in order, one sees the thematic thread of vv. 35-50 spelled out:

  • Given (by the Father) to the Son, v. 39
  • Trusts in the Son (as a result of seeing/beholding), v. 40
  • Comes to the Son (drawn by the Father), 44

John 6:54:

o( trw/gwn mou th\n sa/rka kai\ pi/nwn mou to\ ai!ma e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion, ka)gw\ a)nasth/sw au)to\n th=| e)sxa/th| h(me/ra|
“The (one) chewing [i.e. eating] my flesh and drinking my blood has life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life], and I will stand him up in the last day

Just as vv. 39-40 (+ 44) connect with the theme of the main Bread of Life saying in v. 35, so here verse 54 connects with the main saying in v. 51:

” I Am the living bread th(at) came down out of Heaven: if (any) one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is my flesh over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world”

Instead of coming and trusting (the theme of vv. 35-50) we have eating [and drinking] (the theme of vv. 51-58 [but also implicit in the saying of v. 35]). Note the use of the verb trw/gw (“grind, crunch”, i.e. “chew/gnaw”) in v. 54 rather than the more general verbs (fa/gw/e)sqi/w) signifying eating. This seems intended to bring out the concrete sense of eating Jesus’ flesh in rather graphic fashion; whether this also is meant to stress the physical eating of the sacrament (Eucharist) is difficult to say. In any event, the image of eating/drinking Jesus is closely related to that of coming to him and believing in him. Verses 60-65 tie together both themes under the presence and life-giving power of the Spirit (v. 63).

The common expression “and I will stand him up in the last day” reflects a standard Jewish belief in resurrection, as would have been prevalent at the time. The only difference is that the Jewish belief would be stated as “and God will stand him up in the last day”. Here Jesus is claiming the power of resurrection (that is, of giving life [to the dead]). In Jn 5:21, 26 this power comes to Jesus by way of his relationship to the Father. Jn 6:63 indicates that the same power belongs to the Spirit as well—note the use of the verb zwopoie/w (“make alive”) in both 6:63 and 5:21. In the case of the resurrection power of Jesus, however, the formula “and I will stand him up in the last day” in chapter 6 is clearly eschatological—that is, it relates to the future (even if understood as the imminent future), to the Judgment and the end of the age. In this respect it differs from the resurrection power of Jesus in chapter 11, which I will discuss in the next Easter note.

Note of the Day (Easter Sunday)

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For the three days of Easter (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday), I will be looking at three passages in the Gospel of John (Jn 5:19-29; 6:35-58; 11:17-27ff) where Jesus is associated (and identified) with the power of resurrection. Of the Gospels, it is only John which specifically treats this as a theological motif, though, interestingly, not within the Resurrection narrative itself; the passages discussed here all come from the first half of the book—the so-called “Book of Signs” (chapters 2-12).

First a note on vocabulary.—There are two main verbs related to resurrection:

  • e)gei/rw (egeírœ), “rise/raise”, often in the sense of rising/awakening from sleep. In the New Testament, it is the word regularly use to refer to rising/raising from the dead (as in Jn 2:19-20, 22; 5:21; 12:1, 9, 17; 21:14), but it also occurs in the simple concrete sense of “get up” (Jn 5:8; 11:29; 13:4; 14:31), or abstractly (“appear”, “become prominent,” etc, Jn 7:52).
  • a)ni/sthmi (aníst¢mi), “stand up”. In the Gospels and Acts, this verb is mainly used in the general sense (“stand/get up”); however, occasionally, it refers to resurrection (“stand up [out of the dead / in the last  day]”), as in Mark 8:31; Luke 16:31; 24:7, 46. In John, too, it is primarily used in the sense of resurrection (Jn 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:23-24; 20:9). The related noun a)na/stasi$ (anástasis, “standing-up”) came to be the technical Greek term in Judaism (and Christianity) for bodily resurrection, in John (5:29; 11:24-25) and throughout the New Testament.

One should also mention the verb zwopoie/w (zœopoiéœ), “make alive” (i.e., give/bring life), which is used in Jn 5:21; 6:63, and in several New Testament epistles (Rom 4:17; 8:11; 1 Cor 15:22, 36, 45, etc). In addition, there are two other verbs in John which carry a special meaning related to the idea of Jesus’ ascension/exaltation, and where an association with the Resurrection is probably to be included: a)nabainw (“step up”), u(yo/w (“lift high”).

John 5:19-29

This passage is part of the extensive discourse (Jn 5:19-46) which follows the miracle of Jesus’ healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda/Bethzatha (Jn 5:1-8). In the narrative context, the miracle occurs on the Sabbath, and results in one of the Gospel “Sabbath Controversies”—this controversy is the main stimulus for the discourse, especially Jesus’ saying in v. 17 (“My Father works until now, and I also work”). Jesus’ identity, and his relationship to God the Father, is the dominant theme of the discourse. Verses 19-29 can be broken into three sections, each beginning with the expression “Amen, amen, I say/relate to you…”, and containing a principal saying followed by exposition; the middle section being much more succinct, limited to a single saying.

Verses 19-23: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the Son does not have power [i.e. is not able] to do anything if not [i.e. except] what he sees the Father doing; for whatever That (One) does, these (things) the Son also does likewise” (v. 19)

This is a familiar theme in the Gospel of John: the Son only does and says what he sees (and hears) the Father doing (and saying). It stems from the basic image of family business and training, where the child (son) learns to follow the trade or occupation of his father, gaining skill, knowledge and expertise. In the verses which follow (20-23), this relationship is described in more detail:

  • The works which the Father shows the Son are due to the Father’s love (file/w) for him, and, as a result, the Son’s work will be great and marvellous (v. 20)
    • The Father gives the Son the power to raise (e)gei/rw) the dead and make them alive (zwopoie/w) (v. 21)
    • The Father gives the Son the power of (the final) Judgment—i.e. to judge all people/things (v. 22)
  • The Son therefore deserves the same honor as the Father who sent him (v. 23)

Note here especially the eschatological thrust of vv. 21-22 which emphasizes the resurrection of the end-time—the power of which belongs to Jesus (the Son).

Verse 24: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the (one who) hears my word, and trusts the (one who) sent me, has life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped (from) out of death into life”

Here a number of Johannine words and motifs are present:

  • The specific association of “hearing” and “trusting/believing”—in particular, to hear (a)kou/w) has a special theological emphasis in John (Jn 3:29, 32; 5:24-25, 28, 30, 37; 6:45; 8:26, 38-47; 10:3, 27; 11:41-42; 12:47; 14:24; 15:15; 16:13; 18:37).
  • One hears the Word[s] and Voice of Jesus, and thus the Word/Voice of God. Here of course “word” is lo/go$, as in Jn 1:1ff.
  • The important teaching that Judgment depends on trust/belief (or lack thereof)—namely, trusting in Jesus, that he has come from the Father (thereby trusting in the Father who sent him); cf. especially Jn 3:16-21.
  • The theological use of compound verbs derived from bai/nw (“step, walk”): in particular, a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw (“step up” and “step down”) are frequently used to refer to the Son ascending/descending to/from the Father in Heaven. Here, metabai/nw has the sense of stepping from one place to another. There is frequent theological import to these prepositions e)k/ei)$ (“out of”/”into”) as well—”out of” death and “into” life.
  • The dualistic juxtaposition of life and death, as well as the specification of “eternal life” (“life of the Age[s]”)

Again, an association with resurrection is implied by the eschatological coupling of “Life of the Age” and “Judgment”. To see the association more clearly, it may be useful to compare Jn 3:16-21 with Jn 11:25-26.

Verses 25-29: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the hour comes—and now is—when the dead (ones) will hear the voice of the Son of God and the (one)s hearing will live” (v. 25)

Once again hearing (a)kou/w) is emphasized, joining with the saying in v. 24. There is also a clear thematic parallel with vv. 20-22 in the first section—the relation between Father and Son is demonstrated twofold:

  • The power to give life (i.e. resurrection/eternal-life), v. 26 [par. in v. 21]
  • The power (authority) for (the) Judgment, v. 27 [par. in v. 22]

The reciprocal phrasing of verse 26, so common in the Johannine discourses, is especially worth noting here:

“For just as the Father has life in himself, thus also he gave life to the Son to have in himself”

The relationship between Father and Son is intimately connected to the power of Life. The extension of the relationship (to include believers), stated clearly in other passages, has to be implied here. It could be rendered something like:

…so too the Son has the power to give life to those whom he wishes

The phrasing at the start of verse 25 is significant in framing this entire section:

  • The hour comes (e&rxetai w&ra)—eschatological imminence is here implied (i.e., “the day is coming [about to come]…”)
  • And now is (kai\ nu=n e)stin)—the present moment, with the presence/appearance of Jesus

Present and future are joined together in a way that is unique to the discourses of Jesus in John. Jesus will give life in the resurrection at the last day, but also gives life now to those who hear, believe and come to him. The power of resurrection will be demonstrated concretely in the present at the raising of Lazarus (ch. 11), and in Jesus’ own resurrection, but there is deeper spiritual significance as well, which I will touch on more in the next two posts. For now, it may be worth concluding with Jesus’ dramatic words in verses 28-29:

Do not wonder (at) this: that (the) hour comes in which all the (one)s in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out…

Note of the Day – April 12

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At the close of the previous day’s note, I presented the three passages in the Gospel of John which are, in some respects, parallel to the three Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Today I will examine them in more detail.

The passages are: John 3:13; 8:28; 12:32. They all involve the “Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as do the Synoptic predictions (see the prior note for more on the expression “Son of Man”). They also each use the verb u(yo/w (hupsóœ, “lift/raise high”). In the Gospels, this verb primarily appears in two contexts: (1) as a contrast with “making low[ly]”, i.e., humbling oneself, the ideal of humility expressed by Jesus in the Synoptics (Lk 14:11; 18:14; Matt 23:12; cf. also Matt 11:23 par. and Lk 1:52); and (2) in the context of these three passages in John. In the fourth Gospel, the references to “the Son of Man” usually have to do with the heavenly nature or exaltation/glorification of Jesus, often involving ascent/descent (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31). Only in Jn 5:27 and (probably) 9:35 is the expression used in the way it commonly is in the Synoptics. The three verses to be discussed below are each embedded in one of the famous discourses of Jesus which make up the bulk of the Gospel. Generally, these discourses follow a pattern: (a) Jesus makes a provocative statement, (b) those who hear him respond with a question which reflects misunderstanding and a failure to grasp the deeper sense of Jesus’ words, (c) Jesus responds in turn with an exposition of profound theological/christological significance. Often two or more sets of question-response are involved. Critical scholars continue to debate the origin, nature, and composition of these great discourses, which are not quite like anything we find in the Synoptic Gospels, and contain language and expressions often similar to that of, for example, the Johannine Epistles.

John 3:14

Kai\ kaqw\$ Mwu+sh=$ u%ywsen to\n o&fin e)n th=| e)rh/mw|, ou%tw$ u(ywqh=nai dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou
“And according as [i.e. just as] Moses lifted high the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary (that) the Son of Man be lifted high”

This is part of the discourse with Nicodemus which comprises John 3:1-21. I would outline it as follows:

  • Narrative introduction (Jn 3:1-2)
  • Statement by Jesus: “If one does not come to be (born) from above, he is not able [lit. powered] to see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3)
  • First question by Nicodemus: “How is a man able to come to be (born when) he is aged? he is not able to go into his mother’s belly and be (born) a second (time, is he)?” (Jn 3:4)
    • Jesus’ Response—regarding coming to be born out of [i.e. from] the Spirit (Jn 3:5-8)
  • Second question by Nicodemus: “How are these (things) able to come to be [i.e. how are these things possible]?” (Jn 3:9)
    • Jesus’ Response—regarding the witness of the Son of Man (Jn 3:10-15)
  • Further teaching by Jesus—regarding the Son of God sent into the world (Jn 3:16-21)

The saying under consideration here is part of the response by Jesus to Nicodemus’ second question, which may be divided in this way, according to a kind of step-parallelism:

  • The witness of what we have seen and known (which people do not accept)—v. 11
    • Contrast between witness of earthly and heavenly things—v. 12
      • Only the Son of Man ascends/descends to/from heaven (to give witness concerning heavenly things)—v. 13
        • The Son of Man will be lifted high (so people can see his witness)—v. 14
          • Those who see him and trust/believe have Life of-the-Ages [i.e. eternal life]—v. 15

We see embedded in this sequence examples of the well-known dualistic imagery in the Gospel of John: earthly/heavenly, above/below, etc. The verbs used in verse 13 for ascent/descent are a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw, literally “step up” and “step down”; they are common narrative verbs (Jesus and others “step up”, that is, “go up” to Jerusalem for the feasts, etc.), but have a deeper significance in the Gospel—they relate to Jesus’ heavenly/Divine nature, and the nature of his mission: to his being sent from, and returning to, the Father. As such, they are closely tied to the verb u(yo/w (“lift high”) in verse 14, which leads to a second sort of dualism, or two-fold aspect to Jesus as the Son of Man—namely, to his suffering and glorification (or, to put it in classical theological terms, his humiliation and exaltation). Being “lifted up” foreshadows Jesus’ death on the stake [i.e. his crucifixion], but it also suggests his ascension and exaltation: his return (“stepping up”) to the Father in Heaven.

The parallel to the symbolism of Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert is noteworthy, for it relates to a range of Exodus/Passover motifs in the Gospel. The episode referred to in Numbers 21:4-9 is a curious one: when the Israelites had complained of the lack of food and water, in response God sent poisonous snakes among them and many died; Moses interceded and prayed to God for the people, and was instructed to fashion a snake-image and set it upon a pole, so that all who looked upon it would be healed and live. Underlying the symbolic action is an ancient pattern of thought which might be described as therapeutic and sympathetic magic: the image represents the ailment and serves to draw it away in hope of healing. That God in the Old Testament frequently works through many apparently (from our viewpoint today) superstitious elements of the ancient world is an important principle of Biblical theology. However, already by the time of the New Testament, this passage was being interpreted at a deeper theological level. The book of Wisdom (16:6-7) makes the point that the saving symbol (the serpent-image) served to direct people’s attention to the person of the Savior (God). The Jewish Targums, too, interpret the looking on the serpent-image as turning (one’s heart) to the living and dynamic (hypostatic) Word/Name (Memra) of God. Cf. Brown, John (Anchor Bible 29), p. 133.

John 8:28

o%tan u(yw/shte to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou, to/te gnw/sesqe o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi, kai\ a)p’ e)mautou= poiw= ou)de/n, a)lla\ kaqw\$ e)di/dace/n me o( path\r tau=ta lalw=
“When you should lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that ‘I Am’, and from myself I do nothing, but (rather) according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”

This saying is part of the long, multi-faceted discourse (or series of discourses) set during Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles, Sukkoth), covering chapters 7 and 8 (excluding 7:53-8:11). The specific discourse here involves Jn 8:21-30, which I outline this way, according to the pattern indicated above:

  • {There is no narrative introduction; just a connecting phrase “therefore he said again to them…”}
  • Statement by Jesus: “I go under [i.e. away] and you will seek me, and (yet) you will die away in your sins; (the place) where I go under, you are not able to come” (Jn 8:21)
  • First question of the Jews: “He will not some(how) kill himself(, will he)?” failing to understand “where I go…you are not able to come” (Jn 8:22)
    • Jesus’ Response—emphasizing the nature of their unbelief; dualistic contrast (“above/below”, “not of this world / of this world”) highlights Jesus own identity (Jn 8:23-24)
  • Second question of the Jews: “Who are you?” (Jn 8:25a)
    • Jesus’ Response—emphasizing his identity and witness in two main aspects: (1) judgment, and (2) representing the one who sent him (the Father). (Jn 8:25b-26) There is also here an interesting wordplay in the difficult phrase in v. 25b which begins the response, and which I render literally “(from) the beginning that which even I have spoken to you”—cf. Jn 1:1-2; 8:43.
  • Further teaching by Jesus—clarification of Jesus’ relationship (and identity) with the Father (Jn 8:28-29)

The saying under consideration comes from this final pair of verses, which I arrange (and translate) together:

  • “When you should lift high the Son of Man then you will know that ‘I Am’
    • and from myself I do nothing, but according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”
  • “And the (one) sending me is with me [cf. Jn 1:1-2], he did not leave me alone
    • (in) that I always do the (things) pleasing to Him”

The first portion of each verse emphasizes the ontological/existential relationship; the second portion reflects the familiar Johannine theme of the Son (Jesus) doing and saying just those things he sees and hears the Father doing.

In Jn 3:14, lifting up the Son of Man was a sign and symbol of the salvation God would bring about through the Son; now in Jn 8:28, lifting up the Son of Man reveals God the Father himself. This, too, is a common refrain by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (cf. especially Jn 14:8-14). For the identification of Jesus with God the Father (YHWH) as “I Am”, see the culmination of the last discourse in this series, Jn 8:52-59.

John 12:32

ka)gw\ e)a\n u(ywqw= e)k th=$ gh=$, pa/nta$ e(lku/sw pro\$ e)mauto/n
“And I, if I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself”

This third and final passage comes from a discourse (Jn 12:20-36) that is set following Jesus Entry into Jerusalem. It does not follow the same pattern as the previous two discourses examined above. Here is an outline:

  • Narrative introduction (Jn 12:20-22)
  • Statement by Jesus (Jn 12:23-28a)—there are several portions to it:
    • “The hour has come so that the Son of Man should be glorified” (v. 23)
    • Parable of the kernel of wheat, illustrating the generative power of Jesus’ impending death (v. 24)
    • A saying on discipleship, similar to Mark 8:35 and pars. (v. 25)
    • A saying reflecting the familiar theme in the Gospel of the relationship Disciple-Jesus-Father (v. 26)
    • “Now my soul is troubled…” (v. 27)—another statement on the coming of the “hour” which serves as a parallel and inclusio with verse 23.
    • “Father, glorify your name!” (v. 28a)—the climax and conclusion to his words.
  • Voice from Heaven: “I have glorified (it) and again I will glorify” (Jn 12:28b)
    • Reaction by the Crowd: they heard the voice as thunder, and did not understand it (v. 29); note the apparent allusion to the Sinai Theophany (cf. Exodus 20:18-21)
    • Jesus’ Response (Jn 12:30-32)—he expounds and explains the voice with two sayings:
      (1) “Now is the judgment of this world, now the chief of this world will be cast out outside” (v. 31)
      (2) “And I, if I should be lifted high, will drag all (people/things) toward myself” (v. 32)
    • Additional narrative explanation (Jn 12:33)
  • Question from the crowd: “Who is this Son of Man?”—expressing confusion between the Anointed One (Messiah) and the “Son of Man”, apparently understanding “being lifted up” as related to death or going away.
    • Jesus’ Response—teaching using dualistic imagery of light/darkness: trust/believe in the light while it is here (Jn 12:35-36)

This is probably the most complex and difficult of the three discourses presented here, with wide-ranging and dramatic shifts in emphasis, as the Gospel narrative as a whole builds toward the Passion. The discourse begins with a powerful declaration regarding the Son of Man (v. 23), emphasizing his glorification. Underlying this statement is the teaching on the purpose and effect of Jesus’ impending death (v. 24), and the way in which it connects with the one who follows and believes in him (v. 25-26). The saying in verse 32 does not specifically mention “Son of Man”, but it is clearly implied in Jesus’ use of the pronoun “I” (e)gw). Indeed, the question by the crowd (v. 34) could be understood to relate to all three of the sayings being discussed here (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). Even for believers today, the challenge remains to grapple with these two aspects of the incarnate Christ’s identity, his revelatory message and saving work, as expressed in the Gospel: suffering and glorification, brought together in one extraordinary symbol of the Son of Man being “lifted high”. The power of this symbol is so great that it will draw [literally, “drag”] all people (or all things) to him.

Wednesday of Holy Week is traditionally associated with Mary Magdalene and the Anointing of Jesus at Bethany. Three different figures came to be united in Christian tradition: (1) the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany some days before his death (Mark 14:3-9; Matt 26:6-13; John 12:1-8), identified in John as Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus; (2) the ‘sinful’ woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7:36-50; and (3) Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus exorcised seven demons (according to Lk 8:2). In popular tradition, Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute who repented upon encountering Jesus, her repentance being demonstrated in the anointing scene. It is doubtless her presence in the Resurrection narratives which served to strengthen her association with the anointing scene in Holy Week. For more on Mary and anointing episodes in the Gospels, see my note from Wednesday in Holy Week last year.

Note of the Day – April 11

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In the previous day’s note, I looked at the three main predictions by Jesus of his Passion—his suffering, death and resurrection—in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 8:31 / Matt 16:21 / Luke 9:22 | Mark 9:31 / Matt 17:22-23 / Luke 9:44 | Mark 10:33-34 / Matt 20:18-19 / Luke 18:31-33). Today I will be exploring them together in a bit more detail.

As a way to proceed, it will be helpful to highlight some of the common elements:

The Son of Man—this expression (in Greek, o( ui(o$ tou= a)nqrwpou, ho huios tou anthrœpou) occurs numerous times in the Gospels, and is almost exclusively used by Jesus himself. It is extremely rare elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 7:56; Hebrews 2:6; and in Revelation 1:13; 14:14 where the anarthrous form ui(o$ a)nqrwpou is used). While it makes sense as a Greek construction (“the son of [the] man”, “the man’s son”), in the New Testament it corresponds to the Hebrew <d*a*Á/b# (ben-°¹d¹m) and Aramaic vn`a$Árb^ (bar-°§noš). In writings prior to (or contemporary with) the New Testament, this Hebrew/Aramaic expression is used three ways:

  1. With the simple meaning of “human being” or “mortal (person)”. It is used in this sense virtually everywhere it occurs in the Old Testament (Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Ps 8:4; 80:17; 144:3 [vwna /b]; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43). In nearly all of these instances it is used in (poetic) parallelism with other common words signifying “man” (vya!, vona$, rb#G#), and always in the second place (cf. Ps 8:4 [Heb v. 5]). This is also the meaning of the expression in extra-biblical Hebrew and Aramaic prior to the New Testament (8th cent. Sefire inscription III.16-17; 1QapGen 21:13; 11QtgJob 9:9; 26:2-3; 1QS 11:20; 1QH 4:30). For these references and a good discussion of the subject, cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays (Scholars Press: 1979), pp. 143-160.
  2. In the context of Divine address to a human messenger (Prophet). Here, too, it has basic meaning of “mortal”, but the situation is distinctive and unique—a human being who receives entry into the heavenly realm or is vouchsafed revelatory information through a heavenly vision (such as the situation in 1 Kings 22:19-22). “Son of Man” is used this way throughout the book of Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and in Daniel 8:17.
  3. Used of a heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13: “and see! with the clouds of heaven (one) like a Son of Man was coming…” Again, the basic meaning remains “human being, mortal”—the idea being that this (heavenly) messenger looks like, or appears (in the vision) in the form of, a human being. However, this occurrence of the expression in Daniel proved to have an enormous influence on subsequent eschatological thought. The figure of a heavenly (pre-existent) Redeemer (or “Messiah”) came to be associated with the title “Son of Man” in Apocalyptic literature at the time of the New Testament—cf. in the so-called “Similitudes” of the Book of Enoch (esp. chap. 48), where he is identified with the “Righteous/Elect One”.

One should also mention use of “Son of Man” as a circumlocution or substitute for the personal pronoun “I”. This is not so clearly attested in Aramaic (or Hebrew) at the time of the New Testament; however, there is some indication that Jesus may have used it this way (see, for example, Mark 8:27; 10:45; Matt 5:11; 10:32 and pars.). On the other hand, Jesus certainly has an exalted, heavenly figure in mind—with whom he identifies himself (certainly the Gospel writers so understood it)—who will appear to judge the world in the end-time: cf. Mark 8:38; 9:9; 13:26; 14:62; Matt 10:23; 12:40; 13:41; 16:28; 19:28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31; Luke 12:8; 17:22, 30; 18:8; 21:26 (and pars).

It is, however, Jesus’ use of “Son of Man” in the context of his suffering, death and resurrection which is of most interest here. In addition to the three main passion predictions under discussion (“Son of Man” occurs in all of them except Matt 16:21), see Mark 9:12; 14:21, 41 and pars; Matt 26:2; Luke 22:48; 24:7. Note also the usage in John (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31, and see below), where the emphasis is more on exaltation/glorification/ascension of the Son of Man. I do not think it misplaced to consider the title “Son of Man” in the theological/Christological sense of incarnation—that is, of Jesus taking on the form, flesh and blood of a human being. A number of “Son of Man” sayings relate to his suffering, humility and sacrificial service to others (cf. Mark 10:45; Matt 8:20; 11:19; Luke 6:22).

It is necessary—Greek dei= (dei), this verbal form (from de/w, “to bind”) is syntactically connected with an accompanying infinitive (“it is necessary to…”). It is used in only the first Passion prediction, but is implied in the Lukan form of the third (with the added phrase of “all things written through the Prophets…will be completed”). We find this same emphasis in other references by Jesus to his suffering and death, especially in Luke (Lk 17:25; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44; cf. also Matt 26:54)—that it was necessary in order to fulfill Scripture. Note also the occurrence of dei= in John 3:14 (see below).

Be given over—This verb (paradi/dwmi, paradídœmi) occurs in all three forms of the second and third Passion predictions. It has the basic meaning of “give along”, “pass (someone or something) along”, but with a wide range of application. The related noun para/dosi$ (parádosis) is usually translated “tradition”, that is, something passed along (from generation to generation). It can also be used in the sense of “giving over” or “handing over” someone to the authorities (or one’s enemies, etc); in such instances, it is often translated “betray”, and, indeed, it carries this specific meaning throughout the Passion narratives.

Into the hands of…—This expression only occurs in the second prediction; however, in all three predictions specific groups are designated to whom Jesus will be “given over (into their hands)”. In the first and third predictions, Jewish religious leaders are indicated: “Elders, Chief Priests [Sacred-officials], and Scribes [lit. Writers]” in the first, and “Chief Priests and Scribes” in the third (except for Luke, who omits this phrase). These three groups make up the Jewish ruling Council in Jerusalem—the “Sanhedrin” (transliteration of the Greek term sune/drion, i.e., a place where people sit together in assembly). It is they who will interrogate Jesus and bring him to the Romans for judgment. The third prediction also mentions “the nations/peoples” (ta e&qnh), by which is meant non-Jews or non-Israelites (i.e., “Gentiles”); in the context here, of course, the terms refers to the Roman government. All three forms of the second prediction use the expression “into the hands of men”—here “men” certainly refers both to the Jewish and Roman administrations, and may be used in a pejorative sense.

Kill/Be killed—All three predictions mention Jesus’ being put to death, using the verb a)poktei/nw (apokteínœ) (except for Matt 20:19 which uses stauro/w, “put to the stake”, i.e. “crucify”). This verb is an intensive form of ktei/nw (kteínœ, “kill, slay”), emphasizing the violent, negative character of the act. However, in a legal context, it can also mean “condemn/sentence to death”. In order to preserve something of this sense, I have translated it literally (and somewhat awkwardly), “set forth (or send away) to be killed”.

Third day…will be raised—All three predictions (except the shortened Lukan second) mention the resurrection in relation to “three days”. Mark uses “after three days” (meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$) and “he will stand up” (a)nasth/setai), while Matthew and Luke use “on the third day” (th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| or th=| h(me/ra| th=| tri/th|) and “he will be raised” (e)gerqh/setai). Matthew and Luke have the more standard early Christian phrasing (cf. 1 Cor 15:4).

It may be worth looking at these passages overall from a critical standpoint; this can be done at three interpretive levels:

1. The Historical. Some critical commentators have questioned whether the historical Jesus would have uttered predictions of this sort. These questions are, to a great extent, simply the product of doubts regarding Jesus’ possession and use of divine foreknowledge. A stronger argument can be made on the basis of the form and style of the predictions in the Gospels, which is suggestive of early Christian credal formulae, particularly the use of expressions such as “after three days / on the third day… he will be raised”, etc. At the very least, there is evidence of literary shaping of this material, including possible (intentional) additions and/or omissions by the Gospel writers. On the whole, however, the versions of each prediction are close enough that one could reconstruct a (hypothetical) Greek (or Aramaic) original for each. The similarity to early Christian phrasing and formulae could just as well be explained by positing that the traditions being preserved and memorized stem from Jesus himself. One other argument in favor of historical veracity is the use of “Son of Man”, which, apart from its frequent occurrence in the Gospels (the words of Jesus), hardly appears in the New Testament at all. Early Christians preferred “Anointed [Christ/Messiah]”, “Lord”, or “Son of God” as titles for Jesus; passion predictions ‘created’ by the early Church are perhaps more likely to read “it is necessary for the Anointed/Christ…” rather than “it is necessary for the Son of Man…”

2. The Traditional. Here the main question is: are we dealing with three separate predictions, or three variations of one underlying prediction. This same critical question has been applied, for example, to the separate miraculous feeding episodes (the 5000 and 4000), and to the different scenes of a woman who anoints Jesus. The feeding miracles are especially relevant in this regard, since they both appear together (as separate episodes) in Mark/Matthew, even though the similarity in overall structure and many details have led most critical scholars to see them as deriving from a single historical tradition. Ultimately it is impossible to answer this question on purely objective grounds. Certainly the Gospel writers would have understood them as three separate predictions uttered by Jesus on different occasions. For further reading on this issue in particular, from a (moderate) critical viewpoint, I would recommend the appendix in R. E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1994), pp. 1468-91 (in the second volume).

3. The Gospel Context. As mentioned in the previous note, in all three Synoptic Gospels these three Passion predictions occur in the same position—between the confession of Peter and the Entry into Jerusalem. Was this placement and structure the creation of one Gospel writer (i.e. Mark, according to the general Markan-priority hypothesis), or was it inherited already as a fixed arrangement of traditional material at the pre-Gospel level? The answer to this question depends, in part, on what one makes of the second question above. Luke has given the clearest narrative structure to the material by inserting a large block of teaching (sayings and parables)—Lk 9:51-18:14—and framing it all specifically as occurring during the journey to Jerusalem. This emphasis heightens the significance of the Passion predictions (see also the poignant lament for Jerusalem in Lk 13:34-35, which similarly foreshadows Jesus’ suffering and death). Luke also has included (or added?) in the third Passion prediction (Lk 18:31ff) the phrase “all the things written through the Prophets… will be completed”—an important theme which will be repeated (by Jesus) several more times in the Passion/Resurrection narratives (Lk 22:37; 24:44, cf. also 17:25; 24:7, 26) and again in the book of Acts.

As I previously indicated, there is nothing in the Gospel of John which corresponds with these Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptics; however, upon examination, one does find a parallel of sorts—namely, a set of three statements about the “Son of Man” which involve the use of the verb u(yo/w (hupsóœ, “raise/lift high”). Here are the three passages:

John 3:14:

Kai\ kaqw\$ Mwu+sh=$ u%ywsen to\n o&fin e)n th=| e)rh/mw|, ou%tw$ u(ywqh=nai dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou
“And accordingly as Moses lifted high the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary (that) the Son of Man be lifted high”

John 8:28:

o%tan u(yw/shte to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou, to/te gnw/sesqe o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi, kai\ a)p’ e)mautou= poiw= ou)de/n, a)lla\ kaqw\$ e)di/dace/n me o( path\r tau=ta lalw=
“When you should lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that ‘I Am’, and from myself I do nothing, but (rather) according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”

John 12:32:

ka)gw\ e)a\n u(ywqw= e)k th=$ gh=$, pa/nta$ e(lku/sw pro\$ e)mauto/n
“And I, if I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself”
Some manuscripts read pa/nta (“all [things]”) instead of pa/nta$ (“all [people]”).
The expression “Son of Man” is only implied here; it is used previously in verse 23 and again in v. 34.

I will discuss these Johannine passages in more detail in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – January 21

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This is the concluding portion of an extended note on the “Cleansing of the Temple” narrative in John 2:13-22, posted on Jan 19 and 20. Here I will discuss the Temple saying in vv. 19ff:

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

Connection to the question in verse 18. There is a parallel structure between the two verses:

  • Introduction: “Therefore the Judeans judged from (this) [a)pekri/qhsan] and said [ei@pan] to him”
    • Question: “What sign are you showing that you (should) do these (things)?” (v. 18)
  • Introduction: “Jesus judged from (this) [a)pekri/qh] and said [ei@pen] to them”
    • Answer: “Loose this shrine and in three days I will raise it” (v. 19)

The verb a)pokri/nomai indicates responding back to something one has considered (“judged”); in simple narrative, as here, we would say “answered/responded and said…”. Previously I mentioned the possibility that the saying in verse 19 was originally separate from the “cleansing” episode, and that the Gospel writer has joined the two traditions together. Whether or not this is the case, the parallelism indicated above demonstrates precise, careful handling of the material; one might extend the structure, by considering v. 18-19a as a chiasm introducing the saying:

  • The Judeans answered/responded and said
    • “What sign are you showing…?”
  • Jesus answered/responded and said…

It is a bit difficult to determine just how the saying relates to the Judeans’ question (whether at the historical level or in the Gospel narrative). In spite of the different (Johannine) vocabulary, the question would be similar to that in Mark 11:28 par (“in what authority are you doing these things?”). Jesus’ response could then be paraphrased as “I have authority/power even to (destroy and) rebuild the Temple”. The imperative lu/sate seems to put the challenge to the Judeans—i.e. “(Even) if you were to destroy/dissolve this Temple…” or perhaps “Go ahead and destroy this Temple…”—but there is some uncertainty that this represents the original form of the saying (see below).

Relation of this Saying to the later ‘charge’. The saying in Jn 2:19 is similar to that presented at Jesus’ ‘trial’ before the Sanhedrin, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark and Matthew). Here are the three sayings:

Mark 14:58

We heard him saying that
“I will loose down [katalu/sw] this shrine th(at is) made-with-hands and through [i.e. by/within] three days I will build another (house) made-without-hands”

Matthew 26:61

This (man) said
“I have power [i.e. am able] to loose down [katalu=sai] the shrine of God and through [i.e. by/within] three days to build (it again).”

John 2:19

Jesus answered and said to them
“Loose [lu/sate] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (up again).”

Even though the account in Mark/Matthew states that these were false and/or contradictory witnesses, most critical scholars would hold that Jesus made some declaration or prophecy along these lines. The charge was reasonably widespread (cf. also Mark 15:30 par, and Acts 6:14), and all three Synoptics record a prediction that the Temple would be destroyed (Mark 13:1-3 par.). And, of course, it would seem to be confirmed by the saying in Jn 2:19. What is the relationship between the Johannine saying and the Synoptic (false) saying? There are several possibilities:

  • They reflect separate sayings or traditions
  • It is the same saying—John records the exact form, the Synoptics show how it was misrepresented at the ‘trial’
  • It is the same saying, recorded by the Synoptic ‘witnesses’ with general accuracy, and modified slightly in John

The second option is probably closer to being correct, though critical arguments could be (and have been) made for the third. What do the Synoptics (Matthew/Mark) mean when they state that the saying as reported is “false” witness (Mk 14:57; Matt 26:60 [Luke omits the incident])? Do they deny that Jesus ever made such a statement (contrary to Jn 2:19)? Or is it a matter of misrepresenting what Jesus said? How then was it misrepresented? There are only a few ways this could have been done:

  • Altering the saying so that Jesus said he would destroy the Temple (“I will destroy/dissolve…”). By comparison, in John the imperative is used, directed at the Judeans (“[Go ahead and] destroy/dissolve…”). Interestingly, the version in Matthew (“I have power to destroy/dissolve…”), while differing in vocabulary, is not so different in meaning from the saying in John.
  • The reference to destroying the Temple that is made with hands (xeiropoi/hto$) and building in its place one made without hands (a)xeiropoi/hto$). These qualifiers are absent from the versions of the saying in Matthew and John. However, the sort of spiritual replacement of the Temple suggested by the terms is consonant with later New Testament theology, and could have originated with Jesus. For a somewhat comparable interpretation in the Gospel of John itself, see below.
  • There are two other small differences between the Synoptic and Johannine sayings: (1) the trial witnesses use the phrase “dia/ [through, i.e. by/within] three days”, while Jesus says “e)n [in] three days”; and (2) the trial witnesses use the verb oi)kodome/w (“build [a house]”), while Jesus uses the verb e)gei/rw (“raise”). It is hard to know how far these differences alter the meaning, other than that the language in John better fits the interpretation of the saying given in Jn 2:21 (see below).

The Reaction to the Saying in v. 20. One common element of the references to the Temple saying (with the possible exception of Mark 14:58) is that those who heard it assumed that Jesus meant he would destroy the actual (Herodian) Temple. The Synoptic Gospels record that Jesus, in fact, did predict its destruction (Mk 13:1-2 par). How people understood the second half of the saying is not as clear: the Markan version presented at the ‘trial’ indicates that Jesus would build a Temple “made without hands”, by which probably was meant a real (physical) building, but one produced miraculously (possibly coming down out of Heaven). In John, the Judeans naturally question how Jesus could rebuild something comparable to the Herodian Temple (which took “forty-six years to build”) in just three days. This is an example of the wordplay, and theme of misunderstanding, which appear frequently in the Fourth Gospel—Jesus’ audience takes his words at the (superficial) level of their apparent meaning, and miss their deeper (true, spiritual) significance. This is clear from the Johannine interpretation which follows in vv. 21-22.

It is worth noting that many critical scholars believe that (the historical) Jesus meant the words literally (more or less as presented in the Synoptic ‘trial’ narrative)—that he said he would destroy (or that God would destroy) the Herodian Temple, and a new (miraculous) Temple would rise in its place. A new/rebuilt Temple was certainly part of the exilic/post-exilic prophecies (already found in so-called Deutero-Trito-Isaiah [cf. Isa 44:28; 56:1-8; 60:3-14; 66:18-24], and see especially in Ezek 40-48), tied to the idea of the restoration of Israel and, in post-exilic Jewish writings, to the dawn of the Messianic age (e.g., Tobit 14:5ff; 1 Enoch 89-90; and the Qumran Temple Scroll). It is also certain that the Herodian Temple was far from the idealized Temple of the new age—witness the critiques of the Qumran sectarians, and the “Cleansing” by Jesus—and, therefore, the coming of the Messiah would require the rebuilding of a pure new Temple. While some of Jesus’ followers may have expected this of him, there is precious little evidence for such a conventional “Messianic” emphasis in the Gospel narratives as they stand. Indeed, by the time the later New Testament books were written (including, it would seem, the Gospels of Luke and John, c. 75-90 A.D.), there is hardly a trace to be found of expectation for a rebuilt Temple.

The Johannine Interpretation (vv. 21-22). These verses, by the Gospel writer, finally determine how one must interpret the saying in the text as it stands. This interpretation is summarized first in v. 21—

But that one [i.e. Jesus] related/spoke about the shrine [nao/$] of his body

and then is expounded (parallel with verse 17) in v. 22—

Therefore when he was raised [h)ge/rqh] out of [i.e. from] the dead (ones), his learners [i.e. disciples] remembered that he had said/related this, and they trusted in the Writing and the account [i.e. word] which Yeshua {Jesus} had said.

The Temple saying as recorded by the Synoptics (at the ‘trial’) also uses the word nao/$ (“shrine”), presumably for the Temple as a whole (also in v. 20 here), even though the word more properly applies to the inner Sanctuary (“Holy Place”). Similarly the term i(ero/n (“sacred-place”), though it also could be used for the entire Temple (precincts), in the “cleansing” episode almost certainly it refers to the outer court (i.e. of the Gentiles). By bringing these two traditions together, the Gospel writer here creates an important juxtaposition between i(ero/n and nao/$—the nao/$ Jesus was speaking of was the (inner) sanctuary/shrine of his body. In this regard, the significance in his use of e)gei/rw (“raise”) in v. 19 is obvious. Here, too, we see the Johannine theme of Jesus replacing, or fulfilling, the Old Testament religious types and symbols—the focus moves away from the physical Jerusalem Temple (both sacred-precincts and shrine) to the Person of Jesus. This theme will recur, in various forms, throughout chapters 3-12, as Jesus appears in Jerusalem during the various feasts and holy days (Sabbath, Passover [twice more], Sukkoth/Tabernacles, and Dedication/Hanukkah). Ultimately, Jesus will be depicted as the sacrificial (Paschal) Lamb slain (on the cross) on the eve of Passover (Jn 19:14, 31-36).

This diminishing of the Temple’s importance, of priority given to the Spirit over the physical/material, is reflected elsewhere in the Gospel of John (see esp. Jn 4:21-24; 6:63). In the Johannine book of Revelation, the Heavenly Temple of God is mentioned (Rev 7:15; 11:19; 14;15-17; 16:1, 17), virtually to the exclusion of the earthly (11:1-2). In the final vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem, it is stated that there is no Temple [nao/$] in it—for the Lord God Almighty is its Temple [nao/$], along with the Lamb (21:22).

Where Did Jesus Go? — Critical Notes on the Ascension, Part 3

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In the first two parts of this article, I discussed the main passages dealing with the Ascension of Jesus in Luke-Acts (Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11). Here I will briefly explore several additional New Testament passages, followed by a treatment of some key critical questions related to the Ascension.

Mark 16:19

This is the most straightforward account of the Ascension, presented in traditional, credal terms:

o( me\n ou@n ku/rio$  )Ihsou=$ meta\ to\ lalh=sai au)toi=$ a)nelh/mfqh ei)$ to\n ou)rano\n kai\ e)ka/qisen e)k deciw=n tou= qeou=
“therefore the Lord Jesus, after speaking to them, was taken up into the heaven and sat out of the ‘right-hand’ of God”

decio/$ is literally the hand/side “that takes” (or gives), the favored or auspicious side. The “right hand” (/ym!y`) of God occurs frequently in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:6, 12; Psalm 16:11; 17:7, etc; Isaiah 41:10; 48:13; 62:8; and others), usually as a symbol of God’s faithfulness and power. It is also the most common image of Jesus’ exaltation in the New Testament (Matthew 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; Luke 20:42; 22:69; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22)—all of these passages seem to have been influenced by Psalm 110:1 (many are direct citations). Even though this account in Mark is probably not original to the Gospel (part of the so-called “long ending”, 16:9-20), it no doubt here preserves an ancient tradition.

There is another reference to the ascension/exaltation of Jesus, in an unusual variant, earlier in the chapter. In verse 4, the Old Latin MS k begins: “but suddenly at the third hour of the day there was darkness over the whole circle of the earth, and angels descended from the heavens, and as he [the Lord] was rising [surgente eo] in the glory of the living God, at the same time they ascended with him; and immediately it was light. Then the women went to the tomb…” (translation from Meztger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, pp. 101-102). This represents a description of the actual resurrection of Jesus, similar to that found in the Gospel of Peter §35-40. However, it also reflects the principal manner in which the “Ascension” was understood in the early Church—that is, as an extension of the resurrection (on this, see below).

John 20:17

The only specific reference in John to anything like the traditional “Ascension” in Luke-Acts, occurs during the first resurrection appearance (to Mary Magdalene). Here Jesus says to her: mh/ mou a%ptou, ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father”; and, following the instruction to go to the other disciples (“my brothers”), tells her to say to them, a)nabai/nw pro\$ to\n pate/ra mou kai\ pate/ra u(mw=n kai\ qeo/n mou kai\ qeo\n u(mw=n (“I step up toward my Father and your [pl.] Father, and [toward] my God and your [pl.] God”). The chronology of this statement is difficult, for it does not seem to fit with the wider record of resurrection appearances in the Gospel tradition, nor with the ‘older’ view of an ascension as an immediate climax of the resurrection/exaltation. It is complicated even further by John’s highly symbolic use (primarily as presented in the Discourses of Jesus) of going/lifting up. For other similar uses of a)nabai/nw: John 3:13; 6:62; 1:51 (also the references of “going up” to the feast may involve an intentional wordplay); for u(yo/w (“lift high”) see John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34. Throughout the last discourses (John 13-17), Jesus also makes numerous references to going/returning to the Father (John 13:3, 33; 14:2, 4, 13, 28; 16:5, 7, 10, 17, 28). Since these are generally made in context of the coming/sending of the paraclete (lit. “one called alongside”, identified with the Holy Spirit [14:26]), it is almost certainly Jesus’ ‘final’ departure that is in view; however, other references to his return (14:18-20; 16:16-23) seem to fit better an immediate post-resurrection appearance.

I have discussed some of the symbolic and theological nuances of the appearance to Mary in a previous post. With regard to the authentic tradition that underlies this narrative, it is perhaps best to distinguish clearly between: (a) Jesus’ exaltation to the right-hand of the Father (as part of the resurrection), and (b) his final (earthly) departure from the disciples. Since “ascension” language can be used to describe both of these, one must be careful not to confuse them (on this, see in more detail below).

Ephesians 4:8-10

Here Paul (or the author of the epistle) cites Psalm 68:18a [MT 19a], which, early on in Christian tradition, seems to have been understood as referring to the ascension and exaltation of Christ. It quickly became embedded as part of the liturgy celebrating the ascension. However, as is often the case with scriptural citations in the New Testament, both the original text and context have been altered:

Hebrew (MT)

<d*a*B* tonT*m^ T*j=q^l* yb!V# t*yb!v* <orM*l^ t*yl!u*

“You have gone up to the heights, you have led captive captivity, you have taken gifts by man”

LXX (67:19a)

a)ne/bh$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/teusa$ ai)xmalwsi/an e&labe$ do/mata e)n a)nqrw/pw|

“You have stepped up into (the) height, you have led captive captivity, you have taken/received gifts among man”

 

Ephesians 4:8

a)naba\$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/eusen ai)xmalwsi/an e&dwken do/mata toi=$ a)nqrw/poi$

“Stepping up into (the) height, he led captive captivity, he gave gifts to men”

The LXX is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew. However, the citation in Ephesians differs markedly:

  • The first verb (a)naba\$) is a participle, which is not all that significant; this also occurs as a variant (MS B) in the LXX
  • The verbs have all been changed from 2nd person to 3rd person, which is a natural adaptation to the context in Ephesians (from a hymn addressing God, to a description of the work of Christ).
  • The collective “man” (<dah) has been changed to the plural “men”
  • The last verb has been changed from “take/receive” (jql, lamba/nw) to “give” (di/dwmi)

This last is most notable, for it entirely alters the sense of the passage. In the original Psalm, the justice and power of God are celebrated. Yahweh has gone out before His people, leading them in power and glory (vv. 7-18, also 21-23)—kings and armies flee before His might (v. 12, 14). He is depicted as going up into His mountain, leading captives from battle, and taking/receiving gifts (even from the rebellious [the ones who have “turned aside”], v. 18b). Verses 24-31 present the liturgical picture of peoples offering gifts to God. While all of this, of course, could fit the image of Christ being exalted to the right-hand of God, Ephesians has turned the image inside out: now God/Christ is the one offering gifts to believers.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It now remains to address several key questions related to the Ascension:

  1. Where did it occur?
  2. When did it occur?
  3. What is its exact nature?

1. Where Did the Ascension Occur?

This is part of a larger question related to the provenance of the resurrection appearances. If one takes all the Gospel narratives as they currently stand, it is actually quite difficult to harmonize them in detail, though of course many have attempted to do so. There are two fundamental differences in the accounts:

a) In one line of tradition, the Messenger tells the women at the tomb to relate to the disciples (and Peter) that “he leads (the way) before you into Galilee; there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mark 16:7, par. Matthew 28:7). The implication is that Jesus is going ahead to Galilee, and it is there that the disciples (including Peter) will (first) see him. This is confirmed even more clearly by Jesus in Matthew 28:10, declaring that the disciples “should go from (here) into Galilee”. There is no suggestion that they should remain in Jerusalem; in fact, that could be said to contradict Jesus’ command. In Matthew, the subsequent appearance in Galilee (vv. 16-17), however brief, gives every indication that this is the first appearance to the disciples (note their “wavering” in v. 17, indications of doubt common to the other appearances in Luke and John).

By all accounts, the original ending of Mark has been lost (this is not certain, but I think it remains the best explanation); the so-called “long ending” (16:9-20), though added relatively early (it is known by the mid-2nd century), seems very much to be a secondary (scribal?) addition. While doubtless containing ancient/authentic traditions, I think it possible that an attempt has also been made to harmonize with the account in Luke. In any event, the resurrection appearance (and ascension, v. 19) seems to take place in Jerusalem (though this is not specified), which would be ‘contrary’ to the message in v. 7.

b) The second line of tradition (preserved in Luke 24 and John 20) clearly has the resurrection appearances occurring in and around Jerusalem. In the Lukan account, Jesus actually commands the disciples to remain (kaqi/sate, “sit” or “dwell”) in the city (presumably Jerusalem) “until the (moment) in which you should be set in power out of (the) height” (24:49). The implication is that they should stay in Jerusalem for the approx. fifty days until Pentecost (when the Spirit comes upon them). There is no mention of going to Galilee; in fact, similar to the (opposite) situation in Matthew-Mark, that would contradict Jesus’ explicit command. It is interesting that, if Luke has made use of Mark (as scholars commonly believe), then he has quite altered the angelic announcement: in Luke 24:6 the two messengers still mention Galilee (cf. Mark 16:7), but in a very different context.

In John, too they are apparently in Jerusalem when Jesus appears and they receive the Spirit from him (20:19-23); similarly the appearance to Thomas eight days later (vv. 26-29) would presumably still be in Jerusalem. John 21 complicates the picture: for there (in verses 1-14 at least) we have a resurrection appearance in Galilee. However, since this chapter follows what seems to be the conclusion to the Gospel (20:30-31), many scholars would view it as a kind of “appendix”, possibly composed/included by a different author (though this is much disputed). Its exact origins and relation to the events recorded in chapter 20 are also uncertain, with a wide range of opinions on all sides.

Of course, according to Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:50-53 (assuming the longer reading), the Ascension of Jesus—that is, his final departure from the disciples—clearly takes place on the Mount of Olives, about 2000 cubits (or just over 1000 yards) east of Jerusalem (Acts 1:12). If the reference in Luke 24:50 is meant to be specific, then the Ascension might have occurred on the eastern slope somewhere near Bethany.

2. When Did the Ascension Occur?

This question, in relation to the seemingly divergent chronologies in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11, has been dealt with to some extent in the first two parts of this article. The basic question is, did it take place on Easter day as is (apparently) indicated in Luke 24 and the Markan “long ending”, or did it take place between 40 and  50 days later as narrated in Acts? My view is that the “separate” accounts in Luke-Acts probably describe the same event, but that in the Gospel the narrative has been greatly compressed, so that events which may have occurred days apart seem to take place on the same day. The same could perhaps be said of the Markan “long ending”, especially since everything seems to wrap up quickly in the last two verses.

However, a proper answer to the question also must address exactly what one means by the “Ascension”.

3. What Is the Nature of the Ascension?

As indicated above, there seem to be two separate traditions at work:

a) The first describes the “Ascension” in terms of Jesus’ resurrection—his being raised and glorified to the “right hand” of the Father.

b) The second relates it in terms of Jesus’ final (earthly) departure from his disciples.

One must be careful, I think, not to confuse or conflate the two traditions—for, both doctrinally, and even historically, they can be said to have quite different meanings. However, if one wishes to systematize or harmonize the scriptural details, it could possibly be done as follows:

  • Jesus’ being raised from the dead (evidence of the empty tomb and the angelic announcement[s])
  • His ascension to the Father is part of the resurrection/exaltation, which climaxes with his presence at the right hand of God (where also he receives the Spirit to give to his disciples)
  • From a temporal point of view, Jesus’ appearance to the women (cf. Matthew 28:9-10; [Mark 16:9]; John 20:11-18) could perhaps be seen as taking place prior to this ascent to the Father (John 20:17-18)—but this is not entirely clear.
  • Resurrection appearances of the glorified Christ, during which he instructed and commissioned the disciples (in John [20:22] he gives them the Spirit as well)
  • His final departure, recorded only in Luke-Acts, described as a visible Ascension
  • Mark 16:19 may represent a conflation of the two traditions (in a credal formula?), indicated above

Note of the Day: Easter Week, concluded

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Jesus’ appearance to Thomas (along with the other Disciples) is the last of three Resurrection appearances which I am discussing over Easter week (you can find the first two here and here). Commentators have been puzzled by this episode (John 20:24-29), unique to the Fourth Gospel. Critical scholars tend to regard it as a creation of the Evangelist, perhaps to personify the disciples’ doubt—note that in the earlier appearance (John 20:19-20ff) there is no mention of any doubt or surprise (compare Mark 16:13-14 [long ending]; Luke 24:11, 25, 37-38, 41; but note the odd juxtaposition of John 20:8-9). Traditional-conservative commentators, naturally, take the text at face value, as a second appearance which took place eight days later. However, the sequence does present certain chronological difficulties, particularly when one tries to harmonize the passage strictly with the Synoptic accounts. For what it’s worth, I suspect that, at the historical-chronological level, the sequence here in John perhaps should read: 20:19-20, 24-29, 21-23. But clearly, this sort of rearrangement would not be appropriate; for there is a definite purpose to the current placement of verse 24-29—they join the appearance and apostolic commission of vv. 19-23 to the concluding statement of vv. 30-31, “…but these (things) have been written so that you might trust that Jesus is the Anointed (One), the Son of God, and so that trusting you might have life in his name”.

There are two primary themes or motifs which divide this passage: (1) “seeing” and (2) “trusting”, along with an intermediate theme of the presence of Christ.

1. Seeing (vv. 24-25)

a) The other Disciples tell Thomas “we have seen (e(wra/kamen) the Lord!” This 3rd person plural perfect form (of o(ra/w) is only found in the Gospel (cf. also 3:11) and First Epistle of John (1:1-3), and is virtually a credal formula of faith and witness in the early Christian (Apostolic) community. For this reason, some scholars have found its use in John 3:11 (Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus) to be suspicious—is it from the early Community rather than the historical Jesus? Certainly in Johannine theology, the two are united: the Community speaks what they hear Jesus say (through the Spirit), just as Jesus speaks what he hears from the Father. The 1st person singular form also occurs almost exclusively in John, including the parallel exclamation of Mary “I have seen (e(w/raka) the Lord!” (20:18; cf. also 1:34; 8:38). The verb implies more than the simple act of seeing (i.e., “look at, perceive”, etc)—in the context of John’s Gospel, there is perhaps also a revelatory quality involved: “to see clearly/truly”.

b) Thomas responds, “if I should not see (i&dw) in his hands the tupos of the nails and cast my finger into the tupos of the nails and cast my hand into his side, no I shall not trust (pisteu/sw)!” Note the different manner of “seeing”—a different verb, and use of the subjunctive (“should/might see”) vs. the perfect indicative (“have seen”) along with the negative condition (“if I do not…”), also governing “trust/believe”. The combined negative particle (ou) mh) + aorist subjunctive indicates an extremely strong asseveration or denial, with a prohibitive quality: “by no means shall I trust!” I have left the word tupo$ untranslated above; it generally refers to a deep mark, as left when something is stamped or struck, but is used more commonly in the New Testament in a more abstract sense (“form, pattern”). There is some textual variation here: a few manuscripts read topo$ (“place”) or the plural form of tupo$/topo$.

c) Consider what it was that the Disciples saw (and which Thomas demanded to see): in vv. 19-20, when Jesus first appeared to the disciples, upon greeting them, he immediately (cf. the literary context, “and saying this…”) showed (e&deicen) them (his) hands and side. This actually takes place between his two-fold greeting “peace to [or with] you” (ei)rh/nh u(mi=n), repeated in verse 21. The verb deiknu/w/dei/knumi seems to have a special significance in the Gospel of John: everywhere else it is used in the context of revealing something of the Father (5:20; 10:32; 14:8-9). In the original tradition it may simply indicate a demonstration of Jesus’ identity and real body (see the similar account in Luke 24:40 [absent in key Western MSS]); but, in the Gospel of John, I would say it has a deeper meaning as well.

John makes a good deal of Jesus’ side, a detail not found in the other Gospels (in Luke 24:40 Jesus shows them his hands and feet, but see the textual variant [interpolation?] at Matthew 27:49). It is possible that here the piercing (“pricking”) of the side (John 19:34-37) has been emphasized merely for the purposes of introducing the prophecy from Zechariah 12:10 (v. 37); however, I do not think this is the case. The emphatic authorial/editorial aside (v. 35) seems to refer specifically to the piercing and the “blood and water” which came out. The exact force of this reference is not entirely clear; it could be: (a) apologetic, that is to demonstrate that Jesus died a true physical death; (b) sacramental, symbolic of the Eucharist; (c) spiritual, symbolic of life or the life-giving Spirit [found in Christ]; or some combination of these. I should say that (c) is closest to the mark. Blood only occurs in John within the most difficult portion of the Bread of Life Discourse (6:53-56), which probably also has eucharistic significance (but note the qualification in vv. 62-63). Water also is connected with the Spirit (the life-giving presence and power of Christ, “living water”) in the great Discourses (3:5ff; 4:7-15; 7:38), but again not without a possible sacramental meaning as well (at least in 3:5).

2. Trusting (vv. 27-29)

This theme is prefaced by Thomas’ declaration in verse 25 (“if I do not see…no I shall not trust [pisteu/sw]!”)

a) Jesus responds to Thomas, directing him to “touch” the hands and side. Scholars have sometimes been puzzled at this, since previously in the appearance to Mary Magdalene he ordered her not to touch him, and, according to the chronology of the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts), Jesus still has not ascended (cf. John 20:17). Any number of attempts to explain or harmonize these details have been made, most of which are highly questionable at best. It should be noted that, apart from the fact that the appearances to Mary and Thomas may stem from entirely separate traditions, both the context of the scenes and the language Jesus uses is very different. Mary, it would seem, is responding in a natural human way to her recognition of Jesus (her exclamation “Rabbi/Teacher!”), perhaps with the attempt to embrace him (see Matthew 28:9, where the women grasp his feet). In my prior notes on this scene, I discussed the possible significance of the verb a%ptomai (“bind, attach to, touch”) as well as Jesus “going up” (a)nabai/nw). In the context of John’s Gospel, a proper understanding of Jesus’ return/ascent to the Father must center on the discourse[s] of chapters 14-17 (and earlier references), rather than the Ascension narratives in Luke-Acts. Thomas, however, does not respond with the limited emotional/visceral trust exhibited by Mary (who “sees” Jesus); his is a lack of trust in the witness “we have seen the Lord”. Jesus puts Thomas to the test (note the use of imperatives in v. 27), with the disciple’s own formulation: “carry [fe/re] your finger here and see [i&de] my hands, and carry your hand and cast (it) [ba/le] into my side…” It is not indicated whether Thomas took up the challenge; perhaps in an early tradition he did, but the lack of any detail here is significant in the Gospel context, for it leads directly to the statements which follow—”…and do not be untrusting, but trusting.”

The Greek in 27b is rather obscured in many translations (“stop doubting” [NIV], “do not doubt” [NRSV]. “do not disbelieve” [ESV]). Literally, it reads kai\ mh\ gi/nou (“and do not come to be”) a&pisto$ (“untrusting”) a)lla\ pisto/$ (“but trusting”). However, this too is a bit misleading, for the present tense of gi/nomai (“become”) is probably durative—the negative + imperative would then have the sense of “do not continue to be”. As for pisto/$, it is typically translated “faithful, believing”, just as the noun pi/sti$ and verb pisteu/w are translated in terms of “faith” or “belief”. However, I feel that the English word “trust” is a better fit for the primary sense, although in most instances little harm is done to the meaning if one uses “belief/faith”. The adjective pisto/$ could also be rendered “trust-worthy”, but I think it is important here to emphasize the act/condition of trusting (or “believing”, if one prefers). a&pisto$ is the opposite, or negation, of pisto/$: un-trusting (or un-trustworthy). Jesus’ command here (“do not come/continue to be untrusting, but trusting!”) overrides decisively the earlier imperatives.

b) Thomas responds to Jesus in a most extraordinary fashion, with the exclamation o( ku/rio/$ mou kai\ o( qeo/$ mou (“My Lord and my God!”), v. 28. This is unquestionably a theological exclamation, and perhaps the most exalted in the all the Gospels; for o( kurio$ and o( qeo$, in the Jewish context, both refer to the one true God (YHWH). It also represents, arguably, the first time in the Gospels that Jesus is identified directly with the arthrous o( qeo$. (the God, as opposed to being “God, divine” more generally). In John 1:1, we do not find the article (kai\ qeo\$ h@n o( lo/go$ “and the logos was God”); both the article and the word qeo$ are textually uncertain in John 1:18. There can be no doubt, however, that in the Gospel of John, Jesus identified himself with God the Father (cf. esp. 8:58), and that even his opponents understood the implication (5:18, etc). And yet, Christians of a later time, influenced by Trinitarian doctrine, were very sensitive to this point—Christ (the Son) and the Father may have both been God (qeo/$), but they were not the same person. It is not surprising then, that a few MSS of John 20:28 omit the article. Such Christological issues are largely foreign to the Gospel; one need not look any further than Philip’s request to Jesus in 14:8 (“Lord, show [dei=con] the Father to us…”), to which Jesus responds o( e(wrakw\$ e)me\ e(w/raken to\n pate/ra (“the [one] having seen me has seen the Father”, v. 9).

c) This exclamation would seem to be a supreme testament to faith and trust; however, Jesus, without contradicting Thomas’ statement, responds in turn with an interesting question (assuming it is a question): “(now) that [i.e. because] you have seen (e(w/raka$) me you have trusted (pepi/steuka$)?” (verbs both perfect). Many commentators interpret it as a rebuke of Thomas; possibly, but I am not so convinced of this. Certainly, the disciple was rebuked earlier (v. 27) for his lack of trust; but, Jesus’ statement to him here should not be understood as a simple comparison of his trust (only after seeing) with a superior level of trust from those who have not seen. The conclusion of the statement: “happy the (one) not seeing (i)do/nte$) and trusting!” (verbs both aorist participles). It is tempting to insert “yet” (i.e., “not seeing and yet trusting”); this may be the sense intended. However, this happy state (maka/rio$) is not so much a blessing due to greater trust, but a result of the greater power and witness which will occur (through the disciples) by the Spirit after Jesus returns to the Father. To make the sense clear in English, I might translate Jesus’ words as follows: “you trust because you have seen me—how happy, then, will they be who trust without seeing!”

3. The intermediate appearance of Jesus (v. 26)

In between these two episodes of seeing (emphasizing lack of trust) and trusting (emphasizing lack of seeing), Jesus himself appears suddenly in the midst of the disciples. This repeats (pa/lin, “again”) the earlier appearance (vv. 19-20); in fact, the appearance itself is recorded in almost identical wording: the doors being closed, Jesus came and “stood in the middle and says/said to them, ‘Peace to you'” However, there are two small but significant points of difference:

a) In the first appearance, the doors were closed, where the disciples were, “through fear of the Jews”. Now, however, there is no mention of fear.

b) In this second appearance, it states that the disciples were (h@san) within (e&sw). Now, in the simple context of the narrative, this would mean nothing more than that the disciples were inside the room. However, in about half of the instances where the adverb e&sw is used in the New Testament (including all non-narrative uses in the Epistles [Rom 7:22; 1 Cor 5:12; 2 Cor 4:16; Eph 3:16]), the reference is to inward (spiritual) rather than outward (external) matters. Is it too much to understand something of that connotation here? The rest of the disciples, who have already seen (and trusted), are now within.

In conclusion of these Easter-season notes, I would like to suggest a possible chiastic outline, indicating certain thematic parallels in the appearances of Jesus to Mary and Thomas:

Exclamation (title of Jesus)—”Rabbi (Teacher)!” 20:16

“Do not touch…I am going up to my God (and your God)” (Jesus’ rebuke of the disciple) v. 17

Disciple’s exclamation—”I have seen (e(w/raka) the Lord!” v. 18

Disciples’ exclamation—”We have seen (e(wra/kamen) the Lord!” v. 25a

“If I do not place my finger…my Lord and my God!” (Disciple untrusting/trusting, with Jesus’ rebuke in between) v. 25b, 27-28

Exclamation (title of Jesus)—”My Lord and My God!” v. 28

The spear that pierced Jesus’ side (John 19:34ff, see above) found an interested place in subsequent tradition and legend. In the West, the soldier with the spear was given the name Longinus (from lo/gxh, “spear/lance”) and identified with the centurion who made the confession of faith (Mark 15:39 par.). A story popularized in the Golden Legend is that Longinus had been blind, but that in piercing Jesus, blood fell upon his eyes and he regained his sight. The spear, along with the cup from the Last Supper, was central to many Grail Legends—the spear made the wound, while the cup caught the blood that poured out (both objects were blended together with earlier pagan [Celtic] symbols).

In the Eastern (Syrian) Church, we find a novel and charming parallel between the spear and the sword guarding paradise (Gen 3:24). At the mystical-spiritual level, the spear that pierces Christ effectively removes the angel’s sword, and opens the way to paradise. This theme is most notable in the works of Ephrem the Syrian (cf. esp. his Commentary on the Diatessaron 21:10-11; Hymn 8 on the Nativity st.4; Hymn 9 on the Crucifixion st.2; and many others). The imagery of “entering” into the side of Jesus can also by found in Western mystical tradition as well.

March 31 — Easter Week, continued

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This is the second of three Resurrection Appearances I will be discussing during the octave of Easter, and is perhaps the most well-known and beloved of all those recorded in the Gospels: the appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (centerpiece of the liturgical Officium Peregrinorum). The extraordinary narrative—one of the longest such narratives in the Gospels—is unique to Luke (24:13-35), although there is presumably a reference to it in the so-called “long ending” of Mark (16:12-13). While Luke may well have expanded and dramatized the core tradition, it remains thoroughly convincing and lived-in; on every objective ground, the basic historicity of the event, would be difficult to question. However, there is no doubt that, as a literary work, Luke has given to the narrative a careful interpretive structure. There are probably any number of ways this section could be outlined, but here is one  that I offer (arranged chiastically, to indicate parallel scenes and details):

A [vv. 13-14] The two disciples are
a) travelling from Jerusalem (a)po\  )Ierousalh/m) and
b) conversing with each other (pro\$ a)llh/lou$) about all the things that had “come together”

B [vv. 15-16] As the disciples are conversing and inquiring with each other
a) Jesus comes near to them, but
b) their eyes are “held” and they cannot recognize [lit. “know upon”] him

C [vv. 17-18] The exchange:
a) Jesus acts: He draws them out (asking “what are these logoi….?”)
b) The disciples [one, Cleopas] ask
** about Jesus’ as a stranger [“one who houses along”] ** mentioning the things coming to be in these days
c) Jesus acts: He draws closer into their conversation (asking “what [things]?”)

D [vv. 19-24] What things?
a) the recent events of Jesus’ death and (reports of his) resurrection
b) they hoped he was the Anointed One [“the one about to ransom/redeem Israel”] (v. 21)

[vv. 25-27] What things?
a) all that Moses and the Prophets said of his death (suffering) and resurrection (coming into glory)
b) what they say about him [the “Anointed One”]

[vv. 28-29] The exchange:
a) Jesus acts: He draws them out (making toward travelling further)
b) The disciples ask
** for Jesus to come into their house as guest [“remain with us”] ** mentioning that now the day has bent down [i.e. is almost over] c) Jesus acts: He draws closer, going in to “remain with them”

[vv. 30-31] The disciples are reclining (at meal) together with Jesus
a) Jesus takes (blesses and breaks) bread and gives to them
b) their eyes are “opened” and they recognize [“know upon”] him
[b´) Jesus comes to be invisible from them]

[vv. 32] The disciples
b) say to each other (pro\$ a)llh/lou$) “was not our heart burning in us as…?”
a) standing up immediately they return to Jerusalem (ei)$  )Ierousalh/m)

In a straightforward (linear, dramatic) reading of the passage, one might naturally view the recognition of Jesus during the breaking of bread as the climactic point. There is certainly truth to this (the sacramental symbolism is noteworthy and clear). However, as indicated in the outline above, I feel it is rather the exposition of Scripture (v. 25-27), in relation to the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 19-24), which is the central moment of the narrative. This would seem to be confirmed by the disciples ultimate response—they refer not to the revelatory moment at the breaking of bread, but to the earlier exposition: “was not our heart burning in us as he spoke with us in the way…?” (v. 32).

A few brief notes on this verse in particular:

(1) Instead of kaiome/nh (“burning”), other (primarily Western) witnesses read (or translate) kekalumme/nh (“covered”), bradei=a (“heavy”) or words indicating “hardened”, etc. However, kaiome/nh is almost certainly correct. The verb can indicate the condition (or process) of being burned (up), or it can have a causative meaning—i.e., to kindle, set on fire. The passive form here would seem to indicate a fire being kindled, but also the process—ongoing action, as indicated by the progressive periphrastic construction (kaiome/nh h@n).

(2) A few key early manuscripts (Ë75 B D) and versions do not include e)n u(mi=n (“in us”). This would be a natural addition, and possibly not original, though it is probably best to retain it in the text.

(3) It is said that Jesus “opened” (dih/noigen) the Writings [Scriptures] to them. This same verb (an intensive form of a)noi/gw) is used for the opening of the disciples’ eyes to recognize Jesus at the breaking of bread. Luke uses it again in v. 45, in a very similar context, where it is stated that he “opened” the mind (or understanding) of the disciples so as to understand the Scriptures. Earlier in the Emmaus narrative here (v. 27), a different verb is used: it says that Jesus “interpreted” (diermh/neusen) the things concerning himself in all the Writings (e)n pa/sai$ tai=$ grafai=$). This verb is an intensive form of e(rmhneu/w, rendered literally “explain through”, that is, to explain from one reference point (or language) to another.

(4) There may be a symbolic import to the phrase “in the way” (e)n th=| o)dw=|): “as he spoke with us in the way”. In the narrative context this simply means that Jesus spoke to them while they were travelling; however, “the way” appears also to have a been a (short-lived) term for the early Christian Community (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 12; cf. also the testimony of John the Baptist, Luke 1:76; 3:4; 7:27 and par.).

March 29 — Easter Week, continued

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The major text-critical question in the Resurrection Narratives involves the so-called “Western Non-Interpolations” in the Gospel of Luke. This rather awkward term stems from the analysis by Westcott & Hort (principally Hort) in their landmark The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881, vol. II pp.175-177), regarding situations where, despite superior manuscript evidence to the contrary, the Western Text may have the original reading. In general, the “Western Text” (as represented by Codex Bezae [D], key Old Latin [and Old Syriac] MSS, and other versional witnesses), was deemed inferior to the so-called “Neutral Text” (exemplified esp. by Codex Vaticanus [B])—this view, with some modification (and different language), continues to be held by most critical scholars today. Particularly in Luke-Acts, the “Western Text” tends to have longer readings at key variation-units—expanding or adding clarifying detail to the text. It is all the more noticeable, then, on those rare occasions when D (and other Western witnesses) happen to contain a shorter reading. When this fact (cf. the principle lectio brevio potior, “the shorter reading is preferrable”) is combined with intrinsic or transcriptional probability in favor of the shorter text, one must then contend with the possibility that the Western reading is original. Hence the term “Western Non-Interpolation”: i.e., the majority text contains an interpolation (an added verse or phrase), contrary to the shorter (original) Western text.

Westcott & Hort identified 27 shorter Western readings of note: six were deemed unlikely to be original, twelve others considered possibly (but probably not) original, and nine regarded as “probably original”. These nine (the “Non-Interpolations”) are: Matthew 27:49; Luke 22:19b-20; 24:3, 6, 12, 36, 40, 51, 52. For some time, critical scholars tended to favor this approach; however, in recent decades, with the discovery of the Bodmer Papyri (esp. Ë75), the pendulum has swung decidedly in the opposite direction—the majority of scholars, on the whole, now reject these shorter Western readings. Indeed, Ë75 (early 3rd century?) contains the longer (majority) reading for all 8 Lukan “Non Interpolations”, greatly strengthening the already impressive external evidence for them. On the other hand, the strongest argument in favor of the shorter readings is one of transcriptional probability—no one has really been able to offer a good explanation as to how (or why) the longer readings, if original, would have been deleted. Moreover, nearly all of the majority readings in these instances involve (possible) harmonizations to other portions of the New Testament (see notes below) as well as significant Christological details, both of which are more likely to represent scribal additions than details scribes would have ever deleted. For a fairly thorough defense in favor of the Lukan “Non-Interpolations”, see B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Oxford:1993, pp. 197-232.

There is the problem: on the one side, the external manuscript evidence is decidedly in favor of the longer readings, internal transcriptional evidence seems clearly to favor the shorter. Interestingly, all of the nine “Non-Interpolations” are from the Passion and Resurrection narratives (8 from the Lukan), and all but two (7) from the Resurrection/Ascension accounts in Luke 24 (common to virtually the same set of manuscripts). This cannot be coincidental, nor do I think it can be accidental. In other words, whichever set of readings (longer/shorter) is correct, the changes seem to have been both deliberate and consistent in Luke 24. Either scribes added text (interpolations), perhaps to harmonize with John’s account (see below) etc. and/or enhance the Christological portrait, or they deleted the text, for reasons that are as yet not entirely clear.

Luke 24:3

Here is a translation of the majority text of vv. 1-4, with the words in question italicized:

1And on (day) one of the week, of deep dawn [i.e. early at dawn], upon the memorial [i.e. tomb] they came carrying spices which they had made ready. 2And they found the stone having been rolled (away) from the memorial, 3but going into (it) they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to be in their being without a way-through [i.e. as they were at a loss] about this, and see!—two men stood upon [i.e. next to] them in flashing clothes…

Manuscripts D a b d e ff2 l r1 do not include the words tou= ku/riou  )Ihsou=. They may have been added to specify and make clear what would otherwise be implied: that it was truly Jesus’ body missing from the tomb. If the words did not drop out by accident, it is hard to explain why a scribe (on orthodox one, at least) would have removed them. A few manuscripts (579 1241 pc syrs, c, p bohms) read simply tou=  )Ihsou=.

Luke 24:6

The same group of Western manuscripts (along with Georgian MS B) do not include the words ou)k e&stin w!de a)lla\ e)ge/rqh from the angelic announcement. Here is a translation of the majority text (with italicized words):

5And at their [i.e. the women] coming to be afraid and bending th(eir) faces into the earth, they [i.e. the men/angels] said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living amid the dead? 6He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you…”

Luke 24:12

Almost the same group of Western MSS (along with several Syriac witnesses [and Marcion?]) do not include verse 12 at all. The majority text reads:

o( de\ Pe/tro$ a)nasta\$ e&dramen e)pi\ to mnmei=on kai\ paraku/ya$ ble/pei ta\ o)qo/nia [kei/mena] mo/na, kai\ a)ph=lqen pro\$ e(auto\n qauma/zwn to\ gegono/$

But Peter, standing up, ran upon [i.e. ran to] the memorial [i.e. tomb] and bending alongside he saw the cloths [laying] alone, and he went from (there) toward his own (home), wondering at the (thing which) had come to be [i.e. what had happened]

This is of course quite similar to the account in John 20:4-5f, enough that scholars who favor the shorter reading view the verse as a harmonizing interpolation. The word kei/mena (not in Ë75 a B W etc) is probably a simple harmonization; however, otherwise, there are enough differences (including all of 12b), that this is less likely for the verse as a whole. On the other hand, the sequence from verse 11 to 13 reads smoother without v. 12:

11and these words [i.e. the women’s report] shined in their face [i.e. appeared to them] as if idle-talk, and they [i.e. the apostles] did not trust them [i.e. the women]. 13And see—two of them [i.e. disciples/apostles] in the self(-same) day were travelling unto a village…

It is also much more effective dramatically without v. 12, leading up to the revelation at Emmaus; it can be argued that the announcement in v. 34 (“the Lord has been seen by Simon!”) is more dramatic this way as well. That being said, what of the (internal) evidence—the intrinsic or transcriptional probability—for inclusion/exclusion of the verse? I find the argument for simple harmonization with John to be weak; I am also unconvinced by the idea that the verse was added to make better sense of v. 34. A much stronger argument is that the verse was added (whether from John, or more likely a separate tradition) to soften the image of the unbelieving apostles in v. 11—not all of them mistrusted the women, Peter responded aggressively to see for himself! What of reasons for scribes’ deleting the verse? Apart from the fact that the narrative reads better without v.12 (the plural pronoun and copulative kai arguably connect more readily with v.11), it is hard to come up with a good explanation.

Luke 24:36

Here the opening of Jesus’ introduction—kai\ le/gei au)toi=$: ei)rh/nh u(mi=n—is not included by the same group of Western manuscripts (D a b d e ff2 l r1). Again, let us examine the context in translation (disputed words italicized):

36And as they spoke this, (Jesus) himself stood in the middle of them and says to them: “Peace to you”. 37But being terrified and coming to be in fear, they seemed to gaze at a ‘spirit’. 38And he said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] are you disturbed…?”

The scene makes more immediate sense without the words—Jesus suddenly appears in their midst and they are terrified (presumably not recognizing him, cf. v. 16ff). There would seem to be less reason for such sudden, extreme fear, after the words of greeting (“Peace to you”). In this instance, a harmonization with John (20:19) is perhaps more likely than in Luke 24:12. As for omission, if the words did not fall out accidentally, why would they have been deleted? Again, it is hard to come up with a reason.

Luke 24:40

Here, as at 24:12, and entire verse is missing from (the same group) of Western manuscripts, along with the Curetonian and Sinaitic Syriac. The verse reads:

kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e&deicen au)toi=$ ta\$ xei=ra$ kai\ tou\$ po/da$
“and having said this, he showed them the hands and the feet”

A harmonization with John 20:20 is certainly possible. On the other hand, I would say that there is at least a plausible reason for scribes omitting the words, as they may have appeared superfluous or redundant directly following v. 39.

Luke 24:51-52

These two variations units are, in some ways, even more controversial, and are better left to an (upcoming) article on the Ascension.

One of the reasons earlier scholars more readily favored the “Non-Interpolations” of vv. 12, 36, and 40, was the understandable assumption that these were scribal harmonizations (of a sort all too common in the manuscripts) with the parallel passage in John. However, commentators today tend to prefer the view that Luke and John (in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, at least) both draw from a common tradition, which explains their sharing certain details not found in Matthew-Mark.

From a text-critical point of view, however, it should be reiterated that the internal evidence favors all of the Lukan “Non-interpolations” (in chapter 24). The two overriding arguments:

  1. Scribes are more likely to have harmonized the text (to another Gospel passage) by adding to it, than to eliminate a harmonization by deleting the text.
  2. Scribes are more likely to add details enhancing or expanding the portrait of Christ, than to delete them. One indisputable fact is that for all seven instances in Luke 24, the longer (majority) text adds vivid or significant detail related to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection not found in the corresponding Western text.

All things considered, it is safest to defer to the overwhelming external evidence in favor of the longer readings. Yet, in studying and meditating upon the Resurrection accounts in Luke, I would urge care and consideration—if we wish to understand the inspired original text, such significant textual variants must be given their due.

March 27 — Easter Sunday (Easter Week)

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For the three days of Easter, I will be discussing three Resurrection Appearances of Jesus: (1) to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), (2) to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and (3) to Thomas. Interestingly, these persons are hardly even mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels. As for Mary Magdalene, her presence at the tomb, with Jesus’ early appearance to her, is a fixture in Gospel tradition—indeed, it is one of the indisputable facts in the Resurrection Narratives. And, while the basic outline may be the same in all four Gospels, how different are the precise details! John’s account is perhaps the best known, but is complicated by the presence of Peter and the Beloved Disciple (20:2-10)—the narrative makes more sense (and is more consistent with the Synoptics) if one reads 20:1 followed by vv. 11-18.

Looking at the episode in vv. 11-18, I highlight three principal motifs: First, an initial lack of recognition of the risen Jesus (vv. 14-15)—a motif which occurs in other Appearance stories (Luke 24:13-35; John 21:1-14). However, in John we also find repeatedly the motif of the audience misunderstanding what they see or hear Jesus saying or doing; in this instance, it is Jesus himself that Mary misunderstands (“…supposing that he is the gardener”). The verb here is doke/w, which has a fairly wide range of meaning: “think, consider, seem, appear, recognize”; a derived word is do/ca (usually translated “glory”), but which has the general sense of “thought, consideration, what seems (to be), what appears (to be)” (only secondarily does one speak of do/ca as “reputation, honor, glory, etc”). In the context of the Person of Christ, one naturally also relates the word to “docetic/docetism”—that Christ only appeared or seemed to be fully human. So, the word may have a deeper meaning here than it appears at first glance. It is only when Mary hears Jesus say her name, that she recognizes him.

This leads to the second Johannine motif of seeing and hearing. These appear frequently in both the narratives (miracle stories) and the discourses, and are often a source of misunderstanding (cf. 9:39-41, etc) for the audience. Jesus stresses repeatedly that he only says (and does) what he sees and hears the Father saying/doing (5:19-20, 30; 12:49-50, etc); similarly, believers will see and hear what Jesus says and does (5:24; 8:47; 12:47-49; 14:10, 24; 17:24, etc), which leads to the experience of (eternal) life in Christ (5:25, 28; 6:63, 68; 8:51; 12:50; and cf. the raising of Lazarus, 11:1-44). So, when Mary hears Jesus say her name, and recognizes his voice, it is not merely a dramatic narrative detail: one may say she is herself coming out of the tomb at the sound of his voice (5:25, 28); for she truly hears his voice (10:3-5, 16, 27; 18:37 [“all who are of the truth hear my voice”]). She also sees, that is, she recognizes Christ; just as only those who belong to the truth can hear God’s voice, so only those who are “born from above” can see the kingdom of God (3:3).

However, Mary’s understanding is not complete. This brings me to the third motif of ascension. Perhaps the most famous (and controversial) part of this narrative is in verse 17. Upon recognizing Jesus, Mary turns to him and calls to him (“Rabbi/Teacher”); Jesus’ response is: mh\ mou a%ptou ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for not yet have I gone up toward the Father”. The verb a%ptw generally means “connect, fasten, bind”, or, more figuratively, “touch”; in this regard, one may “touch” either lightly or strongly (“handle, cling to”, etc). The exact context and meaning of Jesus’ words here remain in dispute, with any number of suggested interpretations (many exotic or implausible); however, since the precise action is not specified, I believe they should be taken in a more symbolic fashion. Mary responds to Jesus in a natural, human way (addressing him as “Teacher”); whether or not she might actually try to embrace or “cling to” him physically, that would seem to be the underlying reality—she seeks to “touch” Jesus at the physical, rather than spiritual, level. So we have Jesus’ answer: “I have not yet gone up [i.e. ascended] to the Father”. This image of going up, taking up, lifting up, etc. occurs in Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospel, related to both his death and resurrection, and to his return to the Father. Particularly, in the last Discourses, does he refer to this “going away” (13:33-36; 14:2-4, 16-19, 26-31; 16:5-16, 19-24, 28; 17:11-13), back to the Father, which, in many instances at least, Jesus connects directly with the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete. It is by the Spirit that we are able to “touch” and “cling to” Christ, and only by the Spirit (being born from the Spirit, “from above”) that we can see and enter into the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is also reflected in the powerful language of union/unity expressed by Jesus throughout the Gospel (see especially chapter 17), and, I think, stated clearly again in Jesus’ closing words to Mary: “but go toward my brothers and say to them, ‘I go up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God‘”.