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Sayings of Jesus

Note of the Day (Luke 8:19-21)

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Luke 8:19-21

Today’s note is supplemental to the discussion on the role of Mary in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (in Part 7 of the current series on Women in the Church). As I noted previously, Mary is mentioned only twice in the core Synoptic Tradition, appearing briefly in just one episode: Mark 3:31-35 (with parallels in Matthew and Luke). The Markan narrative sequence (essentially followed by Matthew) can be outlined as follows:

  • 3:19b-20—Narrative introduction; and cf. the context of Jesus’ healing (exorcism) miracles in vv. 10-12
  • 3:21—Notice regarding the (negative) reaction by Jesus’ companions/relatives (lit. “the ones alongside”), declaring “he stands out of (himself)”, i.e. is beside himself, out of his mind, etc
  • 3:22-30—Jesus/Beelzebul episode:
    (i) The reaction by Scribes from Jerusalem to Jesus: “He holds Baal-zebul!”, “In (the power of) the chief of the daimons he casts out the daimons!” (v. 22)
    (ii) Two sayings/illustrations by Jesus, the second of which refers to the blasphemy (lit. “insult”) against the Holy Spirit (vv. 23-29)
    (iii) Comment/explanation by the Gospel writer (v. 30)
  • 3:31-35—Jesus’ true family: (a) narrative setting (vv. 31-32), (b) reaction and illustrative statement by Jesus (vv. 33-35)

Note how this sequence draws upon two important themes from earlier in the narrative:

  • Miracles of healing by Jesus (vv. 1-5ff), which includes exorcism of evil spirits (or daimons [“demons”]) (vv. 10-12)
  • Opposition and hostile reaction to Jesus by the religious authorities (vv. 1-6)
  • Jesus together with his disciples (vv. 7ff, 13-19a)

In 3:20-35, the central episode combines the first two of these themes—(a) Jesus’ power over the daimons and (evil) spirits responsible for disease, etc, and (b) hostile reaction by the religious authorities. Framing or bracketing this episode are two shorter episodes involving the reaction to Jesus by his (natural) relatives and companions, identified as:

  • “the ones alongside of him” (oi( par’ au)tou=)—v. 20, and
  • “his mother and his brothers”—v. 31

In the first instance, “the ones alongside” Jesus may refer to his relatives and neighbors. Upon hearing the things he was saying and doing (the healing/exorcism miracles?), they “came out [e)ch=lqon] to grab/seize him”, thinking that he was ‘out of his mind’. At the very least, this indicates that Jesus’ relatives (or companions) did not understand who he was or the nature of his ministry. The second scene is less negative: Jesus’ family (his mother [Mary] and brothers) came [e&rxetai] and stood outside of the house (or room) where Jesus was staying and teaching, etc., and sent (a messenger) to call for him. Matthew’s version adds the detail that they were “wishing to speak to him” (v. 46), and narrates the words of the messenger (v. 47, missing in some manuscripts): “See, your mother and your brothers have (been) stand(ing) outside, looking to speak with you”; in Mark, the crowd around Jesus gives this information to him (3:32). Jesus response is:

“‘Who is my mother and [my] brothers?’ And looking around at the circle (of people) sitting around him, he said: ‘See!—(here is) my mother and my brothers! [For] whoever would do this will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.'” (vv. 33-35)

Jesus clearly is contrasting his natural family with those (his followers, etc) who do God’s will—i.e., his religious or spiritual family. Matthew’s version makes this even more clear: instead of “looking around” at the people, Jesus stretches out his hand over his disciples (12:49) before making the declaration.

Luke (8:19-21), it would seem, has changed the emphasis of this scene, in several ways:

  • It no longer occurs in the context of the Beelzebul episode (narrated in 11:14-23), thus removing it from the theme of hostile/negative reaction and opposition to Jesus. It also is no longer set parallel with the reaction of Jesus’ companions in Mk 3:20 (Luke and Matthew both omit or do not include this scene).
  • In the Lukan narrative context, the episode follows two Synoptic parables (8:4-18) which effectively emphasize faithful discipleship and response to the Gospel, in which the true disciples are contrasted with those who fall away or are not faithful. Moreover, the chapter begins with a notice (8:1-3) of Jesus’ close disciples who are sharing in his ministry work—this includes a number of women (vv. 2-3; cf. Mk 15:41).
  • In the episode itself, there is no contrast between Jesus’ natural family and his disciples; almost certainly Luke has omitted this detail on purpose.

Here is how the episode reads in Luke’s version:

“And his mother and his brothers came to be alongside [parege/neto] near [pro$, lit. “toward”] him, but were unable to hit [i.e. meet] together with him through the throng (of people); and the message was (sent) to him: ‘Your mother and your brothers have (been) stand(ing) outside wishing to see you’. And answering Jesus said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers—these are the (one) hearing and doing the word of God!'”

We find less of a contrast or division—his family outside, Jesus and his disciples inside—in this version. Moreover, his mother [Mary] and brothers have come near to Jesus and wish to see him, but are unable to reach him through the crowd. In the Lukan context, this suggests that Mary and his brothers wish to be together with Jesus, as disciples, like the Twelve and the women mentioned in 8:1-3. Luke would count them as followers of Jesus—that is, as believers—but they are separated from him by circumstances related to his ministry work (i.e. the crowds). Earlier in the Infancy narrative, we find a similar image of Mary responding in faith and obedience (Lk 1:38, 46ff; 2:21-24, 39, 41), wishing to understand the nature of the miraculous events surrounding Jesus’ birth (2:19); but true belief/understanding would not result without difficulty and struggle (and division) along the way (2:35, 44-50). That there was some degree of misunderstanding and opposition toward Jesus by his family and relatives is indicated, not only in Mark 3:20, but by the narrative detail in John 7:1-10 (cf. also Mk 6:1-6 par; Lk 4:22-30). Ultimately, the Lukan interpretation of the scene in chapter 8, suggested above, is confirmed by the notice in Acts 1:14, where Mary and Jesus’ brothers are there, as believers, together with the Twelve and the faithful women—all in the same room, with no separation.

Note of the Day – July 24

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In yesterday’s note, I looked at the basic setting of the saying in Mark 4:11 (and its Synoptic parallels); today, I will be examining a bit more closely the meaning and significance of the saying in context.

Mark 4:11 / Matt 13:11 / Luke 8:10

Here again is the saying in all three versions; for the sake of simplicity, this time I substitute “parable(s)” for the more literal “(illustrations) cast alongside”:

Mark Matthew Luke
“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God; but to those th(at are) outside, all th(ese thing)s come to be in parables.” “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of the Heavens, but to those (others) it has not been given.” “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but to the rest (of them, only) in parables…”

Several key points can be drawn from this saying in context:

Contrast between the disciples and other people—In all three versions, the pronoun “(to) you [u(mi=n]” is emphatic, set at the start of the sentence; and the narrative setting makes it clear that Jesus is addressing his followers (including the Twelve). They are contrasted with all the others who might hear Jesus’ words; this is expressed differently in each version:

  • Mark: “to you… to those th(at are) outside”
  • Matt: “to you… to those (others)”
  • Luke: “to you… to the rest (of them)”

But the contrast juxtaposing the two ‘groups’ is definite, by use of the (adversative) conjuction de/ (“but…”). It is of course a common feature of (religious) group identity to distinguish those within the circle of believers from those without. This was an important element of early Christian identity, and it is hardly surprising that it extends back to the earthly ministry of Jesus and his followers. Especially in the case of those who face persecution or marginalization by the wider society, a tightly held group identity becomes all the more prominent.

The parables are meant to establish and confirm this contrast—Interestingly, the idea of the parable would seem to point in the opposite direction—i.e. that the illustration would help to explain and clarify Jesus’ teaching regarding the Kingdom, etc. This is certainly the conventional thinking adopted by many commentators—i.e., that Jesus used simple illustrations from daily life to make his teaching easier for the common person to understand. The explanation offered by Jesus himself (in Mark 4:11-12 par) rather indicates that the parable was actually meant to hide the truth about the Kingdom from people at large. In this regard, we might observe that Jesus’ parables and stories are deceptively simple—they contain profound meaning and (spiritual) insight which centuries of study and interpretation have scarcely exhausted.

Only Jesus’ (close) followers are given an explanation of the parable—This is the whole point of the context of Mark 4:10-12, set in between the parable of the Sower (vv. 3-9) and its interpretation/explanation by Jesus (vv. 13-20). It is really the only parable (along with the similar parable of the Weeds in Matt 13:24-30, 36-43) for which such a detailed explanation is recorded. Some critical commentators have expressed doubt that Mark 4:13-20 par is authentic and represents the meaning of the parable as originally spoken by Jesus. It is not possible to address this issue in the space here, other than to state that I find little clear evidence to indicate that it is an early Christian product, rather than Jesus’ own teaching. There are, of course, many passages which depict Jesus’ followers (especially the Twelve) receiving information and insight from Jesus, apart from the crowds—cf. Matt 5:1ff (but contrast with 7:28); Mark 7:17ff; 8:14-21; 8:27-9:8ff; 9:30-32; 10:23-31, 32-34; 13:3ff; 14:12-31, etc, and pars.

Image of the Seed—All but one of the parables in Mark 4 use the image of a seed to describe the kingdom of God. The comparison is made directly in the two short illustrations in vv. 26-29, 30-32:

“So the kingdom of God is as (though) a man should cast the scattered (seed) [spo/ro$] upon the earth…”
“How should we liken the kingdom of God?… as a grain of (the) mustard plant, which when it should be scattered upon the earth…”

It is also central to the parable of the Sower:

“See! the one scattering (seed) went out to scatter (it), and it came to be, in the scattering (that)…” (vv. 3-4a)

In verse 14, in the explanation Jesus gives to his disciples, it is stated: “The one scattering (seed) scatters [i.e. sows] the word/account [lo/go$] (of God)”. The implied qualification is made explicit in the parallel of Lk 8:11—”The (seed) scattered is the word/account of God [lo/go$ tou= qeou=]”. Matthew’s version refers to it as the “word/account of the kingdom” (13:19a); it is perhaps likely that both Matthew and Luke have glossed an original lo/go$, each interpreting/explaining it in their own way. There are several important aspects to this image of the seed:

  • The seed is small and apparently insignificant (emphasized esp. in vv. 30-32)
  • It is effectively hidden, buried in the ground
  • The initial growth takes place unseen by human observers
  • The growth is gradual—before one realizes it, the plant has sprouted and shot up
  • Ultimately a large plant (or crop) comes from the tiny seed

The image of God (or Christ) as a man sowing seed also appears in Matthean parallel of the “parable of the Weeds” (13:24ff), and also in 25:24-26. Trust/faith (in God) is compared to a seed in Matt 17:20 / Lk 17:6. Most notably, Jesus ties the seed-image to his death (and resurrection/exaltation) in John 12:24; on this, cf. below.

What is the secret of the Kingdom?

In Matthew/Luke, the plural is used—”secrets [musth/ria] of the Kingdom…” They also qualify the verb used—”to you it has been given to know [gnw=nai] the secrets…” This seems to refer to knowledge regarding various details and aspects of the kingdom of God—its nature and growth, how it functions, its characteristics and manifestation, etc.—as illustrated in the various parables and other teachings of Jesus. The Markan version, on the other hand, suggests that the disciples themselves receive the Kingdom (or a key aspect of it): “to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God”. It is possible that the plural form has been influenced by the (Aramaic) expression “(the) secrets of God” (la@ yz@r`), which is found in several of the Qumran texts (1QpHab 7:8; 1QS 3:23; 1QM 3:9; 16:11, etc; cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 708). I would emphasize three fundamental ways of understanding this “secret”, in terms of:

1. The person of Jesus, his identity—As I discussed briefly in the previous note, the only real “secret” recorded in the Synoptic tradition has to do with who Jesus is, i.e. his identity as the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) and/or the “Son of God”. This is central to the core Synoptic narrative, best represented by the Gospel of Mark, and sometimes referred to as the “Messianic Secret”. In the Markan framework, Peter’s declaration (“You are the Anointed [One]”) comes at virtually the midpoint of the Gospel (Mk 8:29), and is set parallel with the declaration (from Heaven) in the Transfiguration scene (9:7); in both episodes Jesus directs the disciples not to tell anyone about they have seen and heard. These events also surround the first of the three Passion predictions (8:31, followed by 9:31f and 10:33-34), which likewise involve a certain amount of secrecy (9:30; 10:32); clearly, the disciples were not able to understand the significance of these things at first (8:32-33; 9:32; 10:32)—cf. also the wording in Lk 9:45; 18:34, which is similar in sense to the citation of Isa 6:10 in Mk 4:12 par. In a subsequent note I will examine the idea of Jesus “hidden” among the people of the world; for the basic image of the Kingdom being present among people without their realizing it, cf. Jesus’ famous saying in Lk 17:20-21.

2. The death and resurrection of Jesus—This too is only implied in the parables of Mark 4; however, from the early Christian standpoint, the “word/account of God” (Mk 4:14 / Lk 8:11) primarily involved the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. below). A number of parables have this theme as well—cf. Mark 12:1-12 par; Matt 12:38-42; Lk 15:3-7 (cf. John 10:11-18); 16:19-31 (vv. 30-31). As will be discussed in an upcoming note, Jesus’ death and resurrection also informs Paul’s use of the term “secret” (musth/rion) in 1 Corinthians. As noted above, even Jesus’ disciples at first did not understand what he told them regarding his death (and resurrection); to the rest of the populace it would have been completely hidden. Only the suffering and death of the Prophets of old (who also proclaimed the word of God) was available for comparison, by way of foreshadowing (Matt 5:12; 11:11-14; 12:39-40; 23:29-36, 37-39 pars; and cf. Mark 8:28 par).

3. The proclamation of the Gospel—This is certainly how Christians have understood the seed (“word of God”) in the parable of the Sower. From the standpoint of Jesus’ own teaching, the expression must be taken somewhat more broadly, to encompass his proclamation of the Kingdom (Mark 1:15 etc, par), and other teaching, in light of the Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition. But, ultimately, it is the early (Gospel) proclamation (kerygma) that comes into view, with its emphasis on who Jesus was (point 1 above), his death and resurrection (point 2), and the salvation/forgiveness which is available (in his name) to all who come to trust in him. The book of Acts plays out, in narrative form, this aspect of the (seed) parables—through the proclamation of the Gospel, knowledge of Christ gradually spreads throughout the territory of the Roman empire, transforming the hearts and lives of many. In the first chapters of Acts we find numerous statements which summarize this early Gospel—e.g., 1:1-4; 2:22-24, 32-33, 36, 38-39; 3:13-21; 4:10-12, 27-28; 5:30-32; 7:52; 10:37-43; 13:23-31. Only after the resurrection could the truth be understood and the “secret” proclaimed (Mark 9:9 par; Matt 10:27 (cp. Lk 12:3); Lk 24:6-9, 25-27, 44-47; John 2:22; 14:19-20, 26; 15:26-27; 16:13-15, 25-26ff).

A proper study of Mark 4:10-12 still requires an examination of the quotation from Isa 6:9-10 (in v. 12 par)—this will be done in the next note.

Note of the Day – July 23

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This is the first in a brief series of daily notes centered on the (Synoptic) saying of Jesus in Mark 4:11 par:

“To you has been given the secret [musth/rion] of the kingdom of God…”

I will start with this saying in the context of the Synoptic Gospels, before proceeding to examine the use of the word musth/rion (myst¢¡rion) elsewhere in the New Testament.

Mark 4:11 / Matt 13:11 / Luke 8:10

Here is the complete saying from Mark 4:11:

“And he said/related to them, ‘To you [pl.] has been given the secret of the kingdom of God; but to those outside all th(ese thing)s come to be in (illustration)s cast alongside”

The word translated “secret” is musth/rion (myst¢¡rion), presumably from the verb mu/w (“to close, shut”), i.e. something which is closed, hidden, etc. In the ancient Greek (religious) context, it implies something about which people are to keep silent. This is certainly the case in the so-called mystery cults (of Demeter, Dionysus, Isis, etc). The special (divine) knowledge and hidden things revealed to initiates during the ceremonies were not to be disclosed to outsiders. This is part of the reason that so little information survives about the mystery rites. Early Christians adopted a similar approach to the sacraments—the Lord’s supper/table and the initiatory rite of Baptism—though there is little of this emphasis yet in the New Testament itself. The religious theme of withholding ‘secret’ knowledge and revelation is almost entirely absent, with one notable exception—in the (Synoptic) Gospels, Jesus repeatedly commands that knowledge regarding his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) and Son of God not be made public (Mark 1:44; 8:30; 9:9, 30-31 par, etc). In the case of the unclean spirits which made (or might make) such a declaration, he specifically orders them to be silent (Mark 1:34; 3:11-12 par, etc).

The saying in Mark 4:11 par is set in the context of parables told by Jesus in chapter 4 (similarly in Matthew 13 and Luke 8:4-18). The English “parable” is a transliteration of the Greek word parabolh/ (parabol¢¡), from the verb paraba/llw (“cast, throw alongside”); the parabolh/ is thus something thrown alongside (i.e. set beside), often in the sense of offering a comparison. In English idiom we might also speak of setting something “side-by-side for comparison”. A parable, properly speaking, is a saying or short story which illustrates a particular topic or point by way of figure—i.e., “this is like…” Most of Jesus’ parables are meant to illustrate and describe the kingdom of God—”the kingdom of God is like what, then? with what shall I liken it?” (Lk 13:18). A similar statement begins several of the parables in Mark 4—”thus the kingdom of God is as (if)…” (v. 26), “how shall we liken the kingdom of God, or in what parable shall we set it?” (v. 30). This occurs more consistently with the parables in Matthew 13 (vv. 44-45, 47, 52, also in Matt 20:1; 25:1, and cf. Matt 18:3-4 par). Here is outline of Mark 4, which comprises a distinct narrative unit:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 1-2)
  • Parable of the Sower (vv. 3-9)
  • Explanatory saying (vv. 10-12)
  • Explanation of the Parable of the Sower (vv. 13-20)
  • Parable of the Lamp (vv. 21-25)
  • Parable of the Seed (1) (vv. 26-29)
  • Parable of the Seed (2) (vv. 30-32)
  • Narrative conclusion (vv. 33-34)

Matthew 13 contains additional parables and other material (vv. 24-30, 33, 34-35, 36-43, 44-50, 51-53), including a second explanation (with Scripture quotation) as to why Jesus taught using parables (vv. 34-35 [quoting Psalm 78:2]). Luke’s account (8:4-18) is shorter, corresponding to Mk 4:1-25 (but cf. also Lk 13:18-21). Mark 4:11 par is set between the parable of the Sower and its explanation:

And when he came to be down (where he was) remaining [i.e. ‘at home’, alone], the ones around him, together with the Twelve, asked him (about) the (illustration he) cast alongside [i.e. the parable]. And he said/related to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God; but to those th(at are) outside, all th(ese thing)s come to be in (illustration)s cast alongside [i.e. parables], (so) that ‘looking they might look and (yet) not see, and hearing they might hear and (yet) not put (it) together, (that) they might not ever turn (back) upon (God) and it be released for them [i.e. their sin be forgiven]’.”

There are three parts to this saying:

  • The notice of the disciples asking Jesus about the parable (v. 10)
  • The saying (v. 11), and
  • The citation from Isaiah 6:9-10 (v. 12)

Matthew and Luke both follow the same pattern as Mark’s account, but with a few notable differences:

  • The notice of the disciples asking Jesus about the parable
    Matt 13:10: “And coming toward (him), the learners [i.e. disciples] said to him, ‘Through what [i.e. why] do you speak to them in (illustration)s cast alongside [i.e. parables]?'”
    Luke 8:9: “And his learners [i.e. disciples] asked him ‘What could this (illustration) cast alongside [i.e. parable] be?'”

Matthew and Luke both omit any reference to the disciples coming to Jesus privately (i.e. alone). In Matthew’s account, they simply ask Jesus why he speaks in parables (the answer being given both in vv. 11-15ff [by Jesus] and vv. 34-35). Luke generally follows Mark, but specifically indicates that they are asking about the meaning of the parable.

  • The central saying
    Matt 13:11: “And judging from (this) [i.e. answering] he said to them, ‘(In) that it has been given to you to know the secrets of the kingdom of the Heavens, but to those (others) it has not been given'”
    Luke 8:10: “And he said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but to the rest (of them only) in (illustration)s cast alongside [i.e. parables]'”

Matthew and Luke agree in several details: (a) use of the plural “secrets” (musth/ria), (b) the expression “given to know [gnw=nai]” instead of simply “given”, and (c) no mention of the others as being “those outside”. Matthew characteristically uses the expression “kingdom of the Heavens” instead of “kingdom of God”; he has also included here another saying (v. 12), presumably moved from a separate location (Mk 4:25 / Lk 8:18, and cf. Matt 25:29 par) and joined to v. 11 by ‘catchword bonding’.

  • The citation of Isaiah 6:9-10
    Matthew (13:14-15) cites the LXX literally and in full, along with a characteristic citation formula (v. 14a). Mark’s version, which is an abridgment of Isa 6:9-10, is more likely to represent Jesus’ actual words as preserved in the tradition. Luke’s version (8:10b) is even simpler:
    “…(so) that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not put (it) together [i.e. understand]”
    The Markan form remains closer to the LXX:
    “(so) that looking they might look and (yet) not see, and hearing they might hear and (yet) not put (it) together, (that) they might not ever turn (back) upon (God) and it be released for them [i.e. their sin be forgiven]”

In omitting Isa 6:10 altogether, Luke has removed the (problematic) mention of conversion and forgiveness from the quotation.

The meaning and significance of this Synoptic passage will be discussed further in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – May 26

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Mark 3:28-29; Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10 (continued)

In the previous day’s note, I examined the saying of Jesus regarding the “sin/blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” in the Synoptic Tradition. Mark’s version includes an explanation of the saying (Mk 3:30), but it is necessary to look a bit closer at just how Matthew and Luke understood the saying—this I will do in today’s note.

Matthew includes the ‘Markan’ form of the saying, and also preserves the same narrative context. If one accepts the critical theory that the Gospel writer knew and made use of Mark, then it is surely significant that he did not include the explanation of Mk 13:30:

“(This was in) that [i.e. because] they said, ‘He has/holds and unclean spirit’.”

In Matthew’s account, certain Pharisees (in Mark they are referred to as “Scribes…from Jerusalem”), in response to Jesus’ healing/exorcism miracles, declare:

“This (man) does not cast out the daimons if not in [i.e. except by] ‘Baal-zebûl’ Chief of the daimons!” (Matt 12:24)

This differs slightly from Mark’s account, where the Scribes declare:

“He has/holds ‘Baal-zebûl'” and “(It is) in [i.e. by] the Chief of the daimons (that) he casts out the daimons!”

Matthew does not include the specific claim that Jesus has (lit. holds) the power of “Baal-zebul” (on this name, cf. “Did You Know?” below). The focus has shifted away from Jesus’ own person, and instead the emphasis is on the source of Jesus’ power to work healing miracles. The key interpretive verse for the passage is Matt 12:28, a saying added, it would seem, to the Synoptic/Markan narrative from the so-called “Q” material (par in Luke 11:20), which will be discussed below.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s note, Luke contains a different form of the Holy Spirit saying, corresponding to Matt 12:32 (“Q”) rather than Mark 3:28-29 / Matt 12:31. The narrative setting (Lk 12:8-12) is also very different. Actually, it would seem that the Lukan context involves a sequence of (originally separate) sayings that have been appended together, being joined by thematic or “catchword” bonding (indicated by the bold/italicized portions):

  • Lk 12:8-9—”Every one who gives account as one [i.e. confesses/confirms] in me in front of men, even (so) the Son of Man will give account as one in him in front of the Messengers of God; but the (one) denying/contradicting me in the sight of men, will be denied/contradicted in the sight of the Messengers of God.”
  • Lk 12:10—”Every one who will utter an (evil) word/account unto the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but for the (one) giving insult unto the holy Spirit, it will not be released.”
  • Lk 12:11-12—”When they carry [i.e. bring] you in upon the(ir) gatherings {synagogues} and the(ir) chiefs and the(ir) authorities, you should not be concerned (as to) how or (by) what you should give account for (yourselves), or what you should say—for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”

There is an important two-fold aspect to the sayings which bracket verse 10:

  • Publicly confessing (or denying) Jesus, the “Son of Man” (vv. 8-9)
  • The witness of believers being inspired by the Spirit (vv. 11-12)

This, I believe, informs the Lukan understanding of the saying in verse 10; I would summarize the interpretation as follows:

  • The person who speaks an evil (i.e. false, slanderous, mocking/derisive, etc) word or account to the Son of Man may be forgiven—this refers essentially to Jesus in the context of his earthly ministry, specifically his Passion/suffering (cf. Lk 22:54-62, 63-65; 23:2, 5, 10-11, 35-37, 39, etc).
  • The person who insults the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven—this refers primarily to the Spirit-inspired witness regarding the person and work of Jesus, i.e. the Gospel.

Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20

Turning back to Matthew’s version, it is necessary to consider the “Q” saying in 12:28 (along with its Lukan parallel). At the position between Mk 3:26 and 27 in the core Synoptic narrative, Matthew and Luke include the following (I use Matthew as the reference point, with the material corresponding to Mk 3:26-27 in italics):

“…if the Satan casts out Satan, he is separated/divided upon himself—how then will his kingdom stand?” (Matt 12:26 [Mk 3:26])

“And if I cast out the daimons in (the power of) ‘Baal-zebûl’, your sons—in what (power) do they cast (daimons) out? Through this(, then,) they will be your judges.” (Matt 12:27)

“But if I cast out the daimons in (the power of) the Spirit of God, then (surely) the kingdom of God has come first/already/suddenly [e&fqasen] upon you!” (Matt 12:28)

Or how is any(one) able to come into the house of the strong and seize his tools/vessels, if he does not first bind the strong (one)…?” (Matt 12:29 [Mk 3:27])

In many ways vv. 27-28 appear to be intrusive, inserted into the context of vv. 26, 29 (Mk 3:26-27); however, as we find the exact same sequence in Luke 11:18-21, the matter is far from clear. Also uncertain (and much disputed) is the precise force and meaning of the verb fqa/nw, which can be rendered here a number of ways:

  • “…has come suddenly/unexpectedly upon you”
  • “…has already come upon you”
  • “…has come near to you” [similar to the use of e)ggi/zw in Mk 1:15 etc]
  • “…has actually arrived for you”
  • “…has first come upon you [i.e. Jesus’ opponents, by way of Judgment?]”
  • “…has overcome/overtaken you”

The second option above probably best captures the meaning.

Luke 11:19-20 is virtually identical with Matt 12:27-28, the major difference being that in Luke it reads “finger [da/ktulo$] of God” rather than “Spirit of God”. Most likely, Luke has the more original form of the saying, with “Spirit of God” best understood as an interpretive gloss for the anthropomorphic idiom “finger of God” (cf. Exod 8:19, also Ex 31:18 / Deut 9:10). Jesus admits that other healers may perform certain kinds of exorcism—indeed, according to the ancient worldview, illness and disease was often seen as the result of angry/malevolent deities or spirits at work; healing acts and rites typically involved some form of ‘exorcism’. However, Jesus effectively claims that his healing acts (miracles) are performed through the power (i.e. the ‘finger’/Spirit) of God. To assert that it is the work of evil forces (the daimons/demons) themselves would be an insult to God’s holy Spirit.

Conclusion

It is possible to offer at least a basic interpretive summary of the Holy Spirit saying in each of its three Gospel settings:

Mark 3:28-29—The insult to the Holy Spirit is explained (v. 30) in terms of Jesus’ opponents claiming that he himself had (control of) an unclean spirit or daimon (“demon”).

Matthew 12:31-32—The explanation is similar to that in Mark, but it no longer emphasizes an insult to Jesus’ own person:

  • The claim by the Scribes/Pharisees that Jesus “has/holds Baal-zebûl” (Mk 3:22a) is not included
  • The variant/parallel “Q” saying involving the “Son of Man” (v. 32 / Lk 12:10) has been added to the ‘Markan’ version
  • The explanation of Mark 3:30 is not included

Rather, as discussed above, the issue involves the source of Jesus’ healing power and authority over the daimons and disease. To say that it comes from the Devil (“Baal-zebul”) or daimons themselves insults the very Spirit of God.

Luke 12:10—According to the Lukan context (Lk 12:8-12), the insult to the Holy Spirit is related to evil speaking and opposition to the Spirit-inspired testimony (of believers) regarding the person and work of Jesus. This theme is further illustrated and expounded through the persecution of believers and opposition to the Gospel recorded throughout the book of Acts.

There is, then, no one simple meaning to the saying—a proper and accurate interpretation involves careful study of the context of the saying in each Gospel. If an original (Aramaic) form of the saying ultimately derives from a different historical setting—a speculative proposition at best—this is no longer possible to reconstruct. We must deal with the Gospel Tradition as it has come down to us.

The Greek Beelzeb[o]u/l (Beelzeb[o]úl) is a transliteration of lWbz+ lu^B^, “(the) Lord (the) Exalted One” (or “Exalted Lord”), combining two titles regularly used for the Canaanite sky/storm deity Hadad/Haddu. As the main (pagan) Canaanite rival to YHWH in Israelite history, especially during the Kingdom period, it is not surprising that “Prince Baal” would come to represent all of the “demons”—that is the daimons, the (lesser) deities or spirits, which were relegated to the status of evil/unclean spirits in the context of Israelite/Jewish monotheism. The name bWbz+ lu^B^ (Baal-zebub, 2 Kings 1:2-3, 6, 16) is probably a polemic parody through the alteration of one letter, i.e. “Exalted Lord” becomes “Lord of the flies”.

Note of the Day – May 25

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Mark 3:28-29; Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10

The next passage to be discussed, in this Pentecost-season series of daily notes on the Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, is the famous (and controversial) saying of Jesus regarding the so-called “sin (or blasphemy) against the Spirit” in Mark 3:28-29 par. Over the centuries, this has proven to be one of the most challenging sayings of Jesus for commentators and believers generally to interpret and apply. The interpretive difficulties are complicated by the questions surrounding the differing forms of the saying (or sayings) as preserved in the Synoptic Tradition.

I begin with the version in Mark 3:28-29, which is set in the context of Jesus’ exorcism miracles (vv. 22-27, cf. verses 11-12, 15). This central section is framed by two episodes which express the misunderstanding and/or opposition to Jesus by his family and relatives:

  • vv. 20-21—”the ones alongside him”
  • vv. 31-35—”his mother and his brothers”

The pericope concludes with the declaration that Jesus’ followers are his true family (vv. 34-35). Here is the saying regarding the Holy Spirit in verses 28-29:

“All things will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and insults, whatever they may insult—but whoever gives insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin of the Age(s).”

This use of the Greek ai)w/n, indicating an age/era or (long) period of time, is hard to render meaningfully into English, often being generalized as “(for)ever, eternal(ly)”, etc.; however, in the Israelite/Jewish idiom and thought world, there is a strong eschatological aspect which must be preserved—”into the Age” specifically refers to the “Age to Come”, which is ushered in by God’s Judgment upon the world at the close of the present Age. Also, I would call attention to the Greek verb blasfhme/w, which is often simply transliterated into English as “blaspheme”, but this tends to gloss over and distort the fundamental meaning—to speak evil or abusive words, i.e. insult, revile, mock, slander, etc. I have translated blasfhme/w above simply as “insult”. At first glance, there would seem to be relatively little difficulty in the interpretation of this saying, since verse 30 which follows in Mark’s account gives a rather clear explanation:

“(This was in) that [i.e. because] they said ‘He has/holds an unclean spirit’.” (cf. verse 22)

Matthew essentially preserves the Markan narrative context—

  • Matt 12:22-30 corresponds with Mk 3:22-27
  • Matt 12:46-50 = Mk 3:31-35
  • with additional (“Q”) material in between (Matt 12:33-42)

Luke’s account differs even more, with the varied inclusion of (so-called) “Q” material:

  • Lk 11:14-23 = Matt 12:22-30 / par Mk 3:22-27
    —including a version of “Q” saying in Matt 12:28 (v. 20), cf. below
  • Lk 11:24-28 = Matt 12:43-45
  • Lk 11:29-32 = Matt 12:38-42
  • Lk 11:33-36 = Matt 5:15-16; 6:22-23, but holding a comparable position in the narrative to Matt 12:33-37

However, the Lukan version of the Holy Spirit saying occurs in a very different context—that of believers acknowledging/confessing Jesus (the Son of Man) publicly (Lk 12:8-12). The saying in verse 10 would seem to be based on a “Q” version that corresponds to Matt 12:32. Let us first examine Matthew 12:31-32 in terms of the Markan version:

Mark 3:28-29 Matthew 12:31-32
“All things will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and insults, whatever they may insult—but whoever gives insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin of the Age(s).” Every sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but the insult(ing) of the Spirit will not be released. And whoever should say an (evil) word/account against the Son of Man, it will be released for him; but whoever should say (evil) against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him—not in this Age and not in the (Age that) is about (to come).”

The italicized portions in Matthew indicate the portions shared by the saying in Mark. The saying regarding the “Son of Man” does not correspond to anything in Mark, but it is similar to the Lukan version of the saying (Lk 12:10):

“Every one who will speak an (evil) word/account unto the Son of Man, it will be released for him; but for the (one) giving insult unto the holy Spirit, it will not be released.”

According to the standard critical theory, Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, as well as a collection of sayings and traditions commonly referred to as “Q” (from German quelle, “source”). Luke 12:10 and the non-italicized portion of Matt 12:32 above represent the “Q” version of the saying. Matthew has apparently combined the Markan and Q versions. As always, when dealing with similar and/or parallel sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, the key critical question is: (a) do these represent separate sayings given by Jesus on different occasions, or (b) are they different versions of the same saying which were transmitted and preserved separately? Traditional-conservative commentators usually opt for (a), while critical scholars and commentators tend to choose (b). In most instances, valid arguments can be offered for each position, and it can be difficult to come up with a definitive solution on entirely objective grounds (i.e., without relying on doctrinal or ideological presuppositions). In the case of this particular saying, there is one strong argument that favors the common critical view, which can be illustrated by a comparison of the first portion of the Markan and “Q” versions respectively:

Saying/Version 1 (‘Mark’) Saying/Version 2 (“Q”)
“All/every sin(s) and insult(s) will be released for the sons of men [toi=$ ui(oi=$ tw=n a)nqrw/pwn]…” “Every one who speaks an (evil) word/account unto/against the Son of Man [to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou], it will be released for him…”

Mark has likely preserved the original wording “sons of men” (Matthew simply reads “men”). Is it possible that the Semitic idiom “son of man” was confused during the process of transmission? Originally, the Hebrew expression “son of man” (<d*a* /B#, Aramaic vn`a$ rB^) simply referred to human beings generally, as a parallel to “man” (<d*a*). The idiom is foreign to Greek—indeed, quite unusual—and the expression o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou (“[the] son of man”) is found in the New Testament only in the words of Jesus, and in a few citations of the Old Testament. With regard to the words of Jesus, the Greek is generally assumed to be a rendering of sayings originally spoken in Aramaic; and, by the time the Gospels came to be written (by 60 A.D. and following) and transmitted to the wider Greek-speaking world, many of the Semitic idioms and expressions had long since been translated or reworked into meaningful Greek. I have addressed the difficulties surrounding Jesus’ use of the expression “Son of Man” at length in earlier notes and articles.

Returning to the saying in question, did “son of man” in the “Q” version originally have the general/generic meaning—i.e., “whoever speaks (evil) against a(nother) human being…”? If so, then it would correspond roughly to the Markan version, and could conceivably be traced back to a single (Aramaic) saying by Jesus. However, it should be noted that Luke definitely understands this “Q” version of the saying as referring to Jesus himself (“the Son of Man”), as the context clearly indicates. Let me here summarize briefly Jesus’ self-identification as “Son of Man” in the Synoptic tradition, especially the Gospel of Luke, isolating the following usage:

  • In the generic sense—”human being”—but often, it would seem, as a substitute for the pronoun “I”, i.e. “this human being” (myself).
  • Many of the Son of Man sayings are related to Jesus’ earthly life and existence, by which he identifies himself with the human condition—especially in terms of its mortality, weakness and suffering.
  • A number of these sayings refer specifically to Jesus’ Passion—predictions of the suffering and death which he would face in Jerusalem.
  • There are also additional sayings where Jesus identifies himself with a heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”) who will appear, as God’s representative, at the end-time Judgment, largely influenced by Daniel 7:13-14 and resultant traditions.

In the next daily note, I will examine further how Matthew and Luke understand the Holy Spirit saying, as well as the additional (related) saying in Matt 12:28 / Lk 11:20.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on the Son of Man Sayings

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There is nearly unanimous agreement among scholars that the expression “the Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) in the Gospels, derives from its use (originally in Aramaic) by Jesus himself. All but a handful of the 80+ occurrences of “Son of Man” are from Jesus’ own words in the Gospels. By contrast, the expression only appears four times elsewhere in the New Testament, and only once as a title for Jesus (Acts 7:55-56, which is a reflection of Gospel tradition [Lk 22:69 par]). It is equally rare in the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings, the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-160 A.D.)—Ignatius, Ephesians 20:2; Epistle of Barnabas 12:10. In both of these passages “son of man” is understood in something like its generic sense (“human being”) to emphasize the human nature of Jesus—Ignatius stresses Jesus’ dual-nature (“…the [son] of Man and son of God”), while ‘Barnabas’, on the other hand, stresses that Jesus was not simply a human being (“see again Jesus: not son of man, but [rather] son of God”). We find “Son of Man” a bit more frequently in subsequent writings of the early Church, but usually in the context of commenting on, or attempting to explain, the use of the expression in the Gospels (or in Daniel 7). The most noteworthy occurrences in the 2nd century, are in the apologetic works of Justin Martyr—Dialogue with Trypho §§31, 32, 76, 79, 100, 126; and the First Apology §51.

All of this to say that the expression is found so frequently in the sayings of Jesus, and then virtually disappears from early Christian tradition—this makes the authenticity of its use in the sayings secure. However, when it comes to the eschatological Son of Man sayings by Jesus, where he appears to identify himself as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment, critical scholars tend to be a bit more cautious and skeptical. The authenticity of these sayings (as we have them in the Gospels) has been questioned, generally on the basis of two factors:

  1. They have been “Christianized” to varying degrees—that is to say, a number of the sayings have been tied in contextually to believers’ faith in, and confession of, Jesus (e.g. Luke 6:22; 9:26 [Mk 8:38]; 12:8). For critical scholars, this indicates that, at the very least, the sayings have been colored or modified in light of early Christian belief and practice.
  2. Jesus never specifically identifies himself as the “Son of Man”—this only occurs once in the Gospel tradition (in Matthew’s version of the first Passion prediction, Matt 16:21), and may be attributed to the author/narrator rather than Jesus. According to the view of a number of commentators, in the eschatological sayings, Jesus is referring to a separate divine/heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”, cf. Dan 7:13-14ff; 1 Enoch 37-71), and not to himself. In early Christian tradition, references to this figure were then interpreted as referring to Jesus and his end-time (second) coming, as we see in Matt 24:3.

With regard to the first point, the extent of the “Christianization” of these sayings certainly can be debated. If we consider the core sayings in the Synoptic tradition—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 and parallels—there is really very little evidence for this. The saying in Mark 8:34 has a more obvious “Christian” context, but, since the sayings in 8:34-9:1 have likely been appended together as part of the earliest Tradition, and need not have been uttered by Jesus in sequence on a single occasion, it is questionable whether one should equate it with the (original) context of v. 38. The same may be said for the narrative framework of chapter 13 (the Olivet or “Eschatological” Discourse), which is best understood as a collection of sayings, which may have been uttered by Jesus on different occasions, combined together on the basis of a common theme and subject—i.e. eschatological teaching and sayings by Jesus. Verses 9-13 are a prophecy of the persecution early believers will experience, and the “false Messiahs (or Christs)” in vv. 21-22 are connected with people claiming to be Christ (i.e. Jesus) in v. 6; however, only Matthew’s version of this discourse specifically connects the coming of the Son of Man (Mk 13:26 par) with the future/second coming of Jesus (Matt 24:3). In none of the Synoptics is the Son of Man saying itself modified or glossed, nor do we see any sign of this in Mark 14:62 par.

It is interesting to consider that Luke’s Gospel, apparently written for a wider Greco-Roman (Gentile) audience, and which occasionally translates or simplifies elements of the Gospel tradition into more conventional Greek language, never does this with the Son of Man sayings, even though the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as Jesus uses it, would have sounded strange indeed to Greeks unfamiliar with the Semitic idiom. Luke has considerably more eschatological sayings than Mark—in addition to the three core Synoptic sayings (cf. above), there are those in Lk 12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8; 21:36 (and cf. the parallels in Matt 24:27, 37, 39, 44). Not once, however, does the author narrate or explain the saying in such a way as to clarify that the coming of the Son of Man means the coming of Jesus himself. While early Christians may have assumed or understood this automatically, some in Luke’s intended audience likely would not have. That the Son of Man sayings were left ‘unexplained’ indicates that they were so deeply rooted and fixed in the Gospel tradition, the author simply could not alter them.

This brings us to the second point—that in these Son of Man sayings Jesus originally was not referring to himself, but a separate heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”). There are several problems with this view:

(a) There is little, if any, formal difference between the eschatological Son of Man sayings and those elsewhere in the Gospel tradition (i.e. Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 7:34; 9:58 par, etc), in which it is generally admitted that Jesus is referring to himself, perhaps using “son of man” idiomatically as a substitute for the pronoun “I”. Even in the context of the Passion, and the predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par) which critical scholars might regard as ex eventu prophecies produced by early Christians, there is little doubt that “the Son of Man” refers to Jesus himself. It is natural to assume that the eschatological sayings also are meant as a self-reference. If there was any intended distinction between the usage in these sayings, it has become completely confused in the Gospel tradition. In fact, there is some indication that Jesus’ use of the expression actually was confusing to some in his audience, if we accept the detail recorded in John 12:34.

(b) There is no clear evidence that the expectation of an end-time figure called “the Son of Man” was widespread or common at the time of Jesus; indeed, the situation is quite the opposite. As I indicated in Part 10, there is only one surviving document, likely contemporary with (or prior) to the time of Jesus, which describes a specific divine/heavenly being called “the Son of Man”—the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71). This “Son of Man”, also identified as “the Righteous One”, “the Elect/Chosen One” and also “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah), will serve as Judge over the nations at the end-time. This figure, like the “Son of Man” in Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62, is clearly inspired by, and derived from, Daniel 7; however, the Similitudes do not specifically emphasize his glorious appearance on earth at the end-time. There is little reason to think that Jesus was referring to common and popular image, though educated and devout Jews certainly would have recognized an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14. Turning again to John 12:34, we see that Jesus’ audience seems to understand “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah/Christ), presumably in terms of an end-time Davidic Ruler (cf. Parts 68), but they are noticeably less clear about the Son of Man (“…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”).

(c) If we combine the arguments of (a&b), along with the fact that there is little sign that any of the eschatological Son of Man sayings has been altered or glossed for the sake of clarity or as part of a Christological interpretation (cf. above), then there appears to be little reason to treat those sayings differently from Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” elsewhere. Even in the textual transmission, there is surprisingly little evidence for substantive variant readings involving the expression “Son of Man” (i.e., using a more familiar title “Lord”, “Christ”, “Son of God”, or even the pronoun “I”), one notable example being found in John 9:35 (“Son of Man” vs “Son of God”).

If, then, we accept the general authenticity of the Son of Man sayings by Jesus, and that they have been preserved with very little modification or alteration, it becomes necessary to step back and consider how the eschatological sayings fit within the overall use of the expression. I have already discussed this in prior notes and articles, but I will summarize the points here:

  • As a Hebrew/Aramaic idiom, the expression “son of man” simply refers to a human being or to the human condition. The poetic and formal usage in the Old Testament typically is related to the idea of human limitation (or weakness) and mortality, especially compared with the divine/heavenly nature of God and his Messengers (Angels).
  • Subsequently in Hebrew and Aramaic, this generic sense of the expression—i.e., a(ny) human being—merged into the specific use of the idiom as a self-reference, a substitute or circumlocution for the pronouns “I” or “you”. However, it is still debated whether, or to what extent, it was commonly used this way in the time of Jesus.
  • In many of the sayings, Jesus appears to use “son of man” as a self-reference, but in terms of his identity as a human being. Within the Synoptic tradition, see especially, Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 9:58 par.
  • This identification with human beings (and the human condition) also has a distinct soteriological emphasis in a number of sayings, both in the Synoptics and John—cf. Mark 10:45 par; Luke 19:10; John 3:13; 9:35.
  • He also identifies specifically with human weakness, suffering and death, expressed in the Gospel tradition in the context of his Passion (suffering/death) and subsequent resurrection—esp. the Passion predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 par), also Mark 9:9, 12; 14:21, 41 par; Matt 12:40; 26:2; Lk 22:48; 24:7, and cf. in the Gospel of John (Jn 3:14; 6:27, 33; 12:23, 34; 13:31).
  • Finally, he identifies himself with the “one like a son of man” (i.e. resembling a human being) in Daniel 7:13-14, as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear as God’s representative at the end-time Judgment—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 par, etc. Jesus draws on tradition and imagery (from Daniel 7) similar to that found in the Similitudes of Enoch (probably contemporary with Jesus’ time). In the Gospel and early Christian tradition, this Son of Man reference blends together with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (Mark 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56 etc). This exaltation motif is expressed somewhat differently in the Gospel of John, as a return, stepping (back) up into heaven to be with the Father—Jn 3:13; 6:27-52; 12:23; 13:31.

 

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 10: The Son of Man

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In this part I will be looking at the Messianic figure-type of Heavenly Judge and Redeemer, most commonly expressed in terms of the title “Son of Man”. Because of its importance within Gospel Tradition (the Sayings of Jesus), it is best to start with an examination of how this title is used in the Gospels.

Background and Use in Gospel Tradition

I have already discussed many of the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in Luke (and John) in some detail during my recent series of Easter season daily notes, and so will only describe them (and their Synoptic parallels) in summary form here.

The expression “son of man” in Hebrew (<d*a* /B# ben °¹d¹m, occasionally vona$ /B# ben °§nôš) and Aramaic (vn`a$ rB^ bar °§n¹š, with later variants avn rb, vn rb [also <da rb]) simply means human being—one belonging to the human race or possessing human characteristics. In the Old Testament (poetry) it is typically set parallel to “man” (<d*a*), often to convey specifically the idea of human mortality or its limited and imperfect nature (in contrast to God)—cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. In Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and Daniel (Dan 8:17), it is used when the divine/heavenly being addresses the visionary prophet—in formal English idiom, something like “(as for) you, O mortal…” Finally, there is the unique occurrence in Daniel 7:13, where it refers to a divine/heavenly figure who resembles a human being (“like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]”). I have discussed the interpretation of this famous reference in a supplemental note; given the overall context of the book of Daniel, most likely it originally referred to a heavenly being or Messenger (Angel) who represents the people of God, similar to the role Michael plays elsewhere in the book.

Outside of Daniel, the expression “son of man” is rare in Jewish writings of the intertestamental period, and is never used as the title of a distinct eschatological or Messianic figure. In the Qumran texts, there are only a few occurrences of the expression (1QS 11:20; 1QH 4:30 [Hebrew]; 1QapGen 21:13; 11QtgJob 9:9; 26:2f [Aramaic, citing the OT]) in the general sense of “human being, humankind” (cf. also Testament of Joseph 2:5). It is somewhat surprising that there are no clear references to the “Son of Man” of Daniel 7:13ff in the writings from Qumran, given the Community’s eschatological/apocalyptic orientation and their apparent interest in the book of Daniel, including a number of texts clearly influenced by it (esp. the so-called “Pseudo-Daniel” works 4Q242-246). As far as I am aware, there are no direct citations or allusions to Dan 7:13 in the extant Qumran scrolls and fragments, though this may simply be an accident of survival. The Aramaic text 4Q246 certainly was influenced by Daniel 7, especially in the way that the “everlasting kingdom” of the people of God follows the violent kingdoms of the nations (Assyria, et al). If the parallel between the (Messianic) King who arises (col. 1, lines 7ff) and the people of God that arises (col 2, lines 4ff) is meant to echo the parallel between the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13 and the people of God (7:22, 27), then that would be an indication that the “Son of Man” in Daniel was being interpreted in a eschatological and Messianic sense. However, based on the limited evidence that survives, it would seem that this specific concept of “the Son of Man” had not developed or become widely known prior to the 1st century A.D.

Of the 86 occurrences of “Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), in the New Testament, all but 4 are found in the Gospels, and virtually all of them from the words of Jesus. Indeed, “Son of Man” is never used as a title of Jesus in the New Testament, apart from Acts 7:56 which is a direct reflection of Gospel tradition (Lk 22:69 par). In Rev 1:13; 14:14, it is used of Jesus, but as a literal quotation of the expression in Dan 7:13 (“one like a son of man”). The striking absence of “Son of Man” as a title for Jesus in early Christian tradition must be noted, in contrast to the frequency with which Jesus used it. Generally speaking, Jesus uses it as a way to refer to himself, as a kind of substitute or circumlocution for the pronoun “I” (i.e. “this human being”), though in the context of his sayings, the expression often connotes more than this. In the core Synoptic tradition (as represent by the Gospel of Mark), the Son of Man sayings can be divided into three categories:

  • Those which emphasize the authority a human being (specifically Jesus) has over fundamental religious matters (forgiveness of sin, the Sabbath)—Mark 2:10, 28.
  • Those which refer to Jesus’ Passion, i.e. his suffering and death (and resurrection)—Mark 8:31; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33; 14:21, 41 (note also Mk 10:45).
  • Those which identify Jesus as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment—Mark 8:38; 13:26-27; 14:62. The idea of the Son of Man “coming in glory” or “with the clouds of heaven” indicates rather clearly a reference to Daniel 7:13ff.

When we turn to the material shared by Matthew/Luke (so-called “Q”), or unique to Matthew or Luke, we find a bit more diversity in the Son of Man sayings, but also a larger number with an eschatological emphasis. I categorize the sayings as follows:

  • A self-reference by Jesus regarding aspects of his own person and earthly ministry—Matt 8:20 [Lk 9:58]; Matt 11:19 [Lk 7:34]; Luke 19:10 [Matt 18:11 v.l.]. Cf. also the specific formula in Matt 16:13.
  • References to Jesus’ Passion (suffering and death), in the Synoptic tradition—Matt 12:40; 26:2; Luke 22:48; 24:7.
  • Those which identify Jesus as a divine/heavenly figure; these can be further divided:
    • Eschatological/Messianic (coming in Glory, for Judgment)—Matt 16:28 (addition to the Synoptic par of v. 27); Luke 21:36; Matt 13:41; 25:31.
    • Other references to his future/end-time “coming”—Matt 10:23; Luke 12:40; 17:22, 26, 30 [Matt 24:37, 39, 44]; Luke 18:8.
    • Other references to the Judgment—Luke 6:22; 11:30; 12:8, 10 [Matt 12:12].
    • His place/position in Glory—Matt 19:28; Acts 7:55-56.

(For the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John, see my recent note)

Given the way that the Sayings of this last group, emphasizing the Son of Man as a divine/heavenly figure associated with the glory of God, draw upon Scriptural passages such as Daniel 7:13ff and Psalm 110:1 (especially the core Synoptic saying of Mark 14:62 par), scholars have at times questioned their authenticity. I have addressed this issue in a supplemental note, and will only add here that the specific use of “Son of Man” in such a context very much has the mark of authenticity. Early believers, seeking to emphasize the exalted position or deity of Jesus, would, I think, have been inclined to gloss “Son of Man” with a more familiar title such as “Anointed” (Messiah/Christ), “Son of God” or simply “I” to clarify that it is Jesus who is coming (again) at the end-time. Such interpretive modification of the Son of Man sayings is extremely rare in the New Testament and its textual tradition. On objective grounds, we may be reasonably confident that Jesus did, in fact, identify himself with a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment, and who is largely patterned after the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7:13-14.

Son of Man in Contemporary Jewish Tradition

If we look at the Jewish writings (which have survived) from the first centuries B.C., there are only two which use the expression “Son of Man” in a sense similar to that used by Jesus in his eschatological sayings (cf. above); these are—the Similitudes of Enoch and the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras.

The Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71)

Though they are included in the Book of Enoch as it has come down to us (in the Ethiopic version[s], etc), the Similitudes do not appear to be part of the Book of Enoch as known and used at Qumran (in the 2nd-1st centuries B.C.). For at least a portion of their history, the Qumran Community regarded the Book of Enoch essentially as authoritative Scripture, preserving numerous copies (more survive than for many canonical OT books); however 1 Enoch 37-71 is not attested in these scrolls. Because of this, many scholars have concluded that the Similitudes had not yet been composed as a specific literary document by the turn of the era. The Son of Man passages were often thought to indicate Christian influence (cf. J. T. Milik’s edition and commentary, The Books of Enoch), but this is not necessarily the case, and the majority opinion today would date it sometime in the 1st-centuries B.C./A.D. Scholars such as J. H. Charlesworth (Qumran-Messianism, pp. 40-41) and J. J. Collins (Daniel, p. 79) have suggested a date corresponding roughly to the reign of Herod (37-4 B.C.) or in the early 1st century A.D.

The title “Son of Man” (Ethiopic walda sabe° etc) occurs around twenty times in the Similitudes, beginning with 1 En 46:1-4ff where Enoch has a vision of the Head/Ancient of Days, clearly patterned after Daniel 7:9-14. When Enoch asks who this One “like a human being” might be, he is told:

“This is the Son of Man, to whom belongs righteousness, and with whom righteousness dwells. And he will open all the hidden storerooms; for the Lord of the Spirits has chosen him (46:3)… He shall depose the kings from their thrones and kingdoms. For they do not extol and glorify him, and neither do they obey him, the source of their kingship” (46:5) [OTP 1:34]

The Son of Man in the Similitudes is a heavenly, pre-existent being (46:2; 48:2), the embodiment of righteousness and kingship, whom God has chosen, and whose identity has been hidden from the kings and nations of earth (62:7). Only to the righteous and chosen ones of God is he revealed (in particular, to Enoch). This same heavenly being is called by the titles Righteous One, Elect/Chosen One, as well as “Anointed One” (48:10; 52:4). Even though the Son of Man is connected with Kingship and called “Anointed One”, there is no real indication that he fulfills the role or figure-type of Davidic Ruler (cf. Parts 6 and 7). He does serve as (eschatological) Judge over the nations and will establish the rule of the elect/righteous ones (i.e. the people of God), as the Messiah-King does, for example, in Psalms of Solomon 17-18 and 2 Baruch; however, in the Similitudes, this seems to derive more from the themes and imagery of Daniel 7 etc, rather than the tradition of the covenant/promise to David.

For the idea of Enoch being exalted to the position of the Son of Man in chapters 70-71, cf. below.

2/4 Esdras (4 Ezra)

This deutero-canonical text is known as “4 Esdras” according to Catholic/Vulgate tradition, and as “2 Esdras” in most Protestant English Bibles (to add to the confusion, most scholars now refer to it as “4 Ezra” [specifically chapters 3-14]). It is typically dated to the late 1st-century A.D., but there is not much evidence of Christian adaptation. The vision of the Eagle and the Lion in 2 Esdras 11-12 is clearly influenced by Daniel 7—the text and author say as much in the interpretation of the vision (12:7-39, cf. vv. 11ff). In 12:31ff, the Lion is identified as the “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) “whom the Most High has kept until the end of days”. This generally matches the idea in the Similitudes of Enoch, that has kept the Son of Man (the Righteous/Elect/Anointed One) hidden from the world until the time of Judgment. However, unlike the Son of Man in Enoch, the “Anointed One” in 2/4 Esdras is clearly identified as one “who will arise from the posterity of David”.

In chapter 13, there is a similar vision (vv. 1-13) of “something like the figure of a man” that rises out of the sea who will make war against the people of earth (using language and imagery from Isa 11:1-4). In the interpretation of the vision which follows (13:21-56), this one “like a man” is clearly a Messianic figure just as the lion of chs. 11-12—”whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation”. This again appears to be a heavenly figure much like the Son of Man in the Similitudes of Enoch, who will appear to subdue and judge the nations, establishing the Kingdom/Rule of God on earth for the faithful remnant. Thus we find in 2/4 Esdras a combination two Messianic figure types—Anointed Ruler from the line of David, and heavenly “Son of Man”—just as we see in the case of Jesus in early Gospel/Christian tradition. Interestingly, this “man” is also referred to by God as “my Son” (13:32, 37, 52). Translations above are from OTP 1:550-2.

A Heavenly Redeemer Figure

There are a number of instances in Messianic thought of the period which suggest the figure of a Heavenly Redeemer and/or Judge, but which do not involve the title “Son of Man” nor refer specifically to Daniel 7. In the Qumran texts, the Messengers of God (Angels) play an important role in relation to the Community, which generally viewed itself as the holy/righteous ones on earth, corresponding to the “Holy Ones” in Heaven—the earthly and heavenly Communities were connected and interrelated. It is therefore no surprise to find this same parallel expressed vividly in eschatological terms, during the final end time battle: the “sons of Light”, i.e. the Qumran Community, led by the “Prince of the Congregation”, would be supported by Angelic armies led by the “Prince of Light” (1QM IX.15; XII-XIII; XVII). The chief Angel Michael, especially, was referred to as “prince” and protector of God’s people in Daniel 12:1 (cf. 10:13, 21), and comes to appear frequently in many subsequent Jewish writings (1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Testament of Abraham, 3 Baruch, etc). He is mentioned in several texts from Qumran (1QM 17:6-8; 4Q529 [6Q23]), and is often thought to be the same as the “Prince of Light” (1QS 3:22-23; 1QM 13, etc). Revelation 12:7ff draws upon a tradition similar to that of the Qumran War Scroll, where Michael and the Angels make war against the forces of darkness/wickedness.

Many scholars have held that “Melchizedek” in the Qumran text 11QMelch[izedek] (11Q13), who functions in the role of end-time Judge and Redeemer for the people of God, is a heavenly/angelic figure, based primarily on the application of Psalm 82:1-2 in the text (cf. the discussion in Part 9). Some have also thought that the king called “Son of God / Son of the Most High” in 4Q246 may also be an angel such as Michael, due to the apparent parallel with the “Son of Man” figure in Daniel 7:13-14ff.

Outside of the Qumran scrolls, we might cite the angelic figure of “Eremiel” in the Apocalypse of Zephaniah 6:11-15 (1st century B.C./A.D.?), and also the Testament (Assumption) of Moses 10:1-3ff, where a “Messenger” appears to subdue the enemies of God’s people at the time that His Kingdom “will appear throughout all His creation”.

The Exaltation of Jesus

When speaking of Jesus as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear in glory at the end-time, this can be understood two ways in Christian tradition, in terms of: (1) his exaltation to the right hand of God following the resurrection, or (2) his pre-existent deity. By all accounts, the earliest strands of Christian tradition associated Jesus’ divine/heavenly status specifically with the resurrection, evidenced by: (a) the entire Synoptic Gospel tradition, (b) early Gospel preaching preserved in the book of Acts, and (c) early kerygmatic elements in the letters of Paul, etc. This idea is especially prominent in the Gospel proclamation (kerygma) of the early sermon-speeches recorded in the book of Acts, where Jesus’ resurrection is often connected with his being exalted to the right hand of God in heaven (Acts 2:24-25, 32-33ff; 3:15-21; 5:30-31; 10:40, 42; 13:30-39). The image of Jesus at the right of God is well-established in early Christian tradition (Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2), almost certainly influenced by Psalm 110:1 (cf. Acts 2:33ff; Heb 1:13). In Acts 7:55-56, Jesus is specifically identified with the Son of Man of Dan 7:13-14, according to sayings of Jesus in Synoptic Tradition (Mark 13:26-27; 14:62 par).

The idea of a human being exalted to heavenly/divine status is attested in several Jewish writing of the period, prior to, or contemporary with, the time of Jesus. I cite here the most notable and relevant examples:

  • 4Q427, 471b, 491—In these fragmentary texts from Qumran, the author/speaker makes bold declarations such as “[to] my [glor]y no one compares…[my] office is among the gods [<yla]!” (4Q427 frag. 7 i.11), “for I have sat on a [thron]e in the heavens, and there is no one [ ]…. I am reckoned with the gods [<yla] and my abode is in the holy congregation” (4Q491 frag. 11 i.12-14). Commentators have been divided as to whether the speaker is an angel (such as Michael), or a human being, who in some manner claims to have achieved heavenly status so as to be counted among the °¢lîm (“gods”, i.e. heavenly beings, Angels). Most scholars consider 4Q427 to be part of the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hœdâyôt [1QH]), a number of which are often thought to have been composed by the “Teacher of Righteousness”, a leading figure of the Community whose position, it would seem, will ultimately be fulfilled by a future/eschatological Teacher. There are a number of general parallels between this Teacher-figure at Qumran and Jesus, and the Teacher may have achieved a special, exalted status by the time of his death (and thereafter). Cf. Martin J. Abegg, “Who Ascended to Heaven?…” (Eschatology, pp. 61-63).
  • 1 Enoch 70-71—As noted above, in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71, early 1st-century A.D.?), Enoch is shown several visions involving the “Son of Man”, a pre-existent and heavenly figure who will appear as Judge over the nations at the end-time. However, in chapters 70-71, Enoch himself is raised/elevated into heaven (cf. Gen 5:24), and appears to be identified with the Son of Man in some way. In 70:1, we read that the “living name” of the Son of Man (i.e. Enoch) was “raised up before that Son of Man and to the Lord…”. Then in 71:14 an Angel greets Enoch, addressing him “You, Son of Man, who are born in righteousness and upon whom righteousness has dwelt…”. The entire passage is difficult, but the Son of Man figure would seem to represent, in part at least, a kind of heavenly archetype (“Righteous One”) for the righteous ones on earth; Enoch, as the first of the righteous on earth to be raised into heaven, achieves a union or assimilation into the heavenly archetype.
  • 2 Enoch 71-72—As a child Melchizedek is taken up into Heaven by the angel Michael, where he will remain until the end time. In some ways, this is parallel to the dynamic between Enoch and the Son of Man (cf. above). See also the identification of Enoch with the angel “Metatron” in the later 3 (Hebrew) Enoch.

Within a generation after the resurrection of Jesus (before 60 A.D.), as the result of further thought, reflection (and revelation), Christians came to understand his divine/heavenly status somewhat differently—in terms of pre-existent deity. Probably the earliest evidence for this belief is the Christ-hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 (cf. also Col 1:15-20). It is attested in more developed form (and exalted language) in the Prologue of John (Jn 1:1-18) and is expressed throughout the Fourth Gospel (c. 70-90 A.D.?). The Letter to the Hebrews carefully combines the pre-existent deity of the Son with the (earlier) idea of Jesus’ exaltation following his death (cf. Heb 1:1-4; 2:5-18; 5:5-10, etc).

References above marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.), ed. by James H. Charlesworth (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1983, 1985)
Those marked “Qumran-Messianism” are to Qumran-Messianism: Studies on Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gebern S. Oegema (Mohr Siebeck: 1998).
Those marked “Daniel” are to the Commentary on Daniel by John J. Collins in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Eschatology” are to Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint (Eerdmans: 1997).

Note of the Day – April 3

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In today’s note for the third day of Easter (Easter Tuesday), I continue the study of the Son of Man saying in John 1:51, begun yesterday (for more on the Son of Man sayings in John, cf. the earlier note). Here I will be looking more specifically at the meaning of the saying in the context of the Gospel narrative.

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon the Son of Man”

In the previous note, I explored four images or traditions which seem to be especially relevant for an interpretation of the saying, based on similarities in language and concept: (1) the baptism of Jesus, (2) the resurrection/ascension, (3) his (future) coming in glory, and (4) the dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. It must be admitted, however, that none of these are sufficient, nor do they entirely fit the position and context of the saying in John. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the narrative and thematic structure of the Gospel, in order to gain a better understanding of the ultimate significance of the saying. I will proceed, briefly, according to the following outline:

  1. The location of the saying, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
  2. Its connection with the other Son of Man sayings in John
  3. Its possible purpose as a comprehensive symbol

1. The Location of the Saying

After the hymnic prologue of Jn 1:1-18, the first main section of the Gospel is Jn 1:19-51, which has, as its primary theme, the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus. The section may be divided as follows:

  • vv. 19-28—the Baptist’s testimony regarding himself (“I am not…”)
  • vv. 29-34—the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus
    • account of the Baptism (vv. 31-33)
  • vv. 35-42—disciples respond to the Baptist’s testimony and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Peter)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 41-42)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 42)
  • vv. 43-51—disciples respond to the testimony of other (disciple)s and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Nathanael)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47-51)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 51)

The saying in Jn 1:51 thus concludes this opening section of the Gospel. In the previous note, I mentioned several parallels with the Baptism of Jesus, and, given the position of the saying in relation to the Baptism (and the Baptist’s testimony) in this section, it is likely that some sort of allusion is intended. Interestingly, and altogether typical of John’s Gospel, the Baptism is not narrated as something that people observe directly—it is only “seen” through the verbal account (or word) of the Baptist. Similarly, throughout this section “seeing” Jesus is intimately connected with hearing and responding to the message of the Baptist and the first disciples (vv. 34, 36, 39, 46). In Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47ff), he also “sees” based on what Jesus says to him; note, in particular, the wording:

“Jesus responded and said to him, ‘(In) that [i.e. because] I said to you that I saw you underneath the fig-tree, you trust (in me)? (Thing)s greater than these you will see!” (v. 50)

This interplay between “seeing” and “saying” should caution us against the simple assumption that a concrete visible event is intended in v. 51. That the saying concludes the first section (1:19-51) means that it also marks the beginning of the next—that is to say, the core narrative of the Gospel spanning chapters 2-20. Commentators typically divide this into two main parts:

  1. Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”, in which the narrative alternates between accounts of miracles and teaching (discourses) by Jesus—the miracle (sign) often serving as the basis and starting point for the discourse which follows (cf. especially in chapters 5, 6, and 9). All but the first and last of the Son of Man sayings are found in these chapters.
  2. Chapters 13-20, which narrate the Passion (and Resurrection) of Jesus—chapter 13 (a Last Supper scene similar to that in the Synoptic tradition) leads into the great Discourses in 13:31-16:33, concluding with the remarkable Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17.

The last Son of Man saying in John (13:31) opens the Discourses which are set at the beginning of the last major section of the Gospel (chs 13-20). It seems likely that the first Son of Man saying (1:51) is meant to have a similar transitional role in the structure of the Gospel narrative.

2. The other Son of Man Sayings

For a survey of the other Son of Man sayings in John, cf. my earlier note. As mentioned above, all but the first and last sayings occur in chapters 2-12, which is significant for two reasons:

  • They are part of the Discourses of Jesus in these chapters, marked by a unique style of teaching—a statement or action by Jesus is misunderstood by the audience, leading to a pointed question, and the subsequent response (and exposition) by Jesus, answering the question at a deeper level of meaning. This process of redirection and reformulation always involves Jesus’ identity—his Person and Teaching—as the Son in relation to God the Father. Where they occur, the Son of Man sayings (esp. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 32, 34) are central and climactic to the Discourse.
  • They point toward the death and exaltation (resurrection, return to the Father) of Jesus described in chapters 13-20. Indeed, the principal sayings all have a dual-meaning, centered on Jesus’ death/resurrection. The sayings which refer to the Son of Man being “lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) or being “glorified” (Jn 12:23; also 13:31) have both aspects in mind.

The dualism of these sayings is best demonstrated in those which use the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (“step down”, “step up”), as in Jn 1:51. The saying in 3:13 is followed by that of v. 14 (which speaks of the Son of Man “lifted high”); the sayings in Jn 6:27, 53, 62 have a more complex reference matrix, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse (6:25-66). In schematic form, we might outline the dualism as follows:

  • With the Father in Heaven (Divine Pre-existence)
    • Descent (“stepping down”) from Heaven (Incarnation)
      • Death—being “lifted up” on the cross
        • Glorified—Life—Father-Son (Jn 13:31)
      • Resurrection—lifted/raised from the dead
    • Ascent (“stepping up”) into Heaven (Exaltation)
  • Return to the Father in Heaven

According to this outline, the last Son of Man saying (Jn 13:31) reflects the central, inner dynamic of the Father-Son relationship and identity, governed by the verb doca/zw (“give honor/esteem/glory”, i.e. “glorify”). If this is correct, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the first of the Son of Man sayings (Jn 1:51) is parallel to this in some way, and may reflect the outer dynamic—the ascent/descent. Again, this would seem to be correct considering the use of the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw in 1:51. However, in that first saying, it is not the Son of Man descending/ascending, but rather of Angels (“Messengers of God”) ascending/descending on the Son of Man.

3. A Comprehensive Symbol?

I am very much inclined to the view that the saying of John 1:51, in its particular position within the structure of the narrative, is intended primarily as a symbolic picture that effectively encompasses the entire Gospel—a framing device representing beginning and end, much like the “Alpha and Omega” (A and W) of Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 (another Johannine work, with definite parallels in thought and language to the Gospel). Here are some points I would cite in favor of this interpretation:

  • The clear parallels with the Baptism (cf. the previous note), which marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (descent/incarnation); the location of Jn 1:51 also strongly suggests an allusion to the Baptism.
  • Similar parallels with the Resurrection (ascension), which effectively marks the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.
  • Similarities to descriptions of the Son of Man coming in glory at the end-time (esp. in the Synoptic tradition); however, the Gospel of John understands the Son to have had this position and glory prior to his incarnation/birth as a human being (i.e. divine pre-existence). This means, in the Johannine context, that such images cannot refer only to Jesus’ exaltation and future return, but to a reality that encompasses and transcends the entire process of descent/ascent (cf. above).
  • The saying in Jn 1:51 is part of a parallel, between the beginning and end of the Gospel, expressed by the encounter of two disciples (Nathanael and Thomas) with Jesus, and involving parallel confessions:
    —Jn 1:49: “You are the Son of God | you are the King of Israel!”
    —Jn 20:28: “My Lord | my God!”
    It is possible that these confessions themselves together form a bracketing chiasm:
    “Son of God” (in a Messianic context)
    —”King of Israel” (i.e. Anointed Davidic Ruler)
    —”My Lord” (Jesus as Messiah/Lord, cf. Ps 110:1)
    “My God” (Deity)
    Each of the confessions also includes a response by Jesus (Jn 1:50-51; 20:29) related to disciples/believers seeing him.
  • In the Gospel of John, “seeing” often signifies a level of spiritual perception (or of faith/trust) that is different from visual observation (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:3; 6:36, 46; 9:37-41; 11:9, 40; 12:45; 14:7, 9, 17, 19; 17:24; 20:29, etc). It is likely that the declaration “you will see” (o&yesqe) does not refer to a concrete, visible event, but rather to the recognition and realization of Jesus’ true identity—the Son who reveals and leads the way to the Father. This, of course, is also related to “seeing” the Son in terms of being with him, in his presence, as other instances of the verb o)pta/nomai, o&ptomai/o&yomai would indicate (esp. Jn 16:16-17, 19, 22). As a concluding observation that “seeing” in Jn 1:51 signifies something more than a concrete vision, note the parallel with 20:29:
    • “because I said to you that I saw [ei@don] you… you trust?
      you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God… upon the Son of Man” (1:51)
    • “because you have seen [e(w/raka$] me you trust?
      Happy/blessed are the ones not seeing [i)do/nte$] and (yet) trusting!” (20:29)

In both Jn 1:51 and 20:29, the eventual seeing by the believer is contrasted with the disciple believing on the basis of an extraordinary or miraculous experience. Even the concrete evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (in the case of Thomas) should not be relied upon as the basis for faith and trust in Christ, but rather the word that bears witness to him and the Spirit that draws us to him.

 

 

Note of the Day – April 2

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Today, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), and following the theme of these seasonal daily notes, I will be examining the Son of Man saying in John 1:51. In an earlier note (for Holy Saturday), I surveyed all of the Son of Man sayings in John, noting three main categories:

  • Sayings which speak of the Son of Man being “lifted high” (using the verb u(yo/w)—Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34
  • Sayings involving the descent/ascent of the Son of Man (verbs katabai/nw, a)nabai/nw)—Jn 3:13; 6:22, 53, 62
  • Sayings which refer to the Son of Man being glorified (vb. doca/zw)—Jn 12:23, 31

John 1:51 generally belongs to the second category. All of these sayings refer in some way to Jesus’ death, and also relate to the two-fold sense in which the Son is “lifted up”, according to the symbolism and imagery in John—(1) his death on the cross, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father).

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon [e)pi] the Son of Man”

This saying has proven sufficiently difficult and obscure for commentators throughout the years, resulting in a wide range of possible interpretations. A fundamental question is whether the saying should be taken as a concrete prediction, or a symbolic picture. If the former, then one must ask to which specific event or episode it refers; there are three possibilities—(1) a supernatural event witnessed by the disciples (similar to the Transfiguration), but otherwise unrecorded, (2) the resurrection and/or ascension, or (3) the future/end-time appearance of Christ. Given the similarities with key eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics, the third option makes most sense; however, it does not especially seem to fit the context where the saying is set in John. If we are to understand the saying primarily as a symbolic picture—whether by the Gospel writer or Jesus himself—then there a number of possible associations or allusions which may be in mind. I summarize the most relevant and important of these here (cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, pp. 89-91):

The Baptism—There are two details in the (Synoptic) account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10 par) which are especially relevant:

  • The Holy Spirit, in the form/shape of a dove, descends [lit. “steps down”] upon Jesus, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51. Also, the versions in Matthew/Luke specifically use the preposition e)pi (“upon”) and narrate the episode as something observable by all the people (in contrast with Mark’s account). John does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but provides a comparable (indirect) description as part of the Baptist’s testimony (cf. Jn 1:32).
  • In the descent of the Spirit, the heavens are said to separate; in Matthew/Luke (Matt 3:16; Lk 3:21), the verb used is a)noi/gw (“open up”) as in Jn 1:51.

Matthew 16:27-28 par—Matthew’s version of a core Son of Man saying in Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) begins: “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his Messengers [i.e. Angels]…” and concludes with the specific formulation:

“…there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see [i&dwsin] the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (note the parallel in Lk 9:27: “…until they should see the Kingdom of God”, and also Lk 23:42 v.l.)

Several points should be made about the context and significance of this passage:

  • The reference is to the end-time Judgment, and (in the developed Gospel tradition) to the parousia (or second coming) of Jesus.
  • It is positioned directly between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (a vision of Jesus in glory witnessed by several of the disciples). Moreover, in both Synoptic tradition and Jn 1:19-51, the Son of Man saying follows soon after Jesus gives Peter his new name (Matt 16:18; Jn 1:42).
  • The Son of Man is associated with Angels in a number of sayings, all eschatological and emphasizing the end-time Judgment—Matt 13:41ff; 16:27 par; 24:30-31 par; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also Matt 4:6 par; 26:53.

The Resurrection/Ascension—Note especially the following:

  • In Mark 16:4 of the Old Latin MS Bobiensis (k), it is narrated that angels descend to Jesus and ascend with him (cf. also the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter §§36-40).
  • The appearance of Angels in the Synoptic tradition, associated with the Resurrection (variously described, Mk 16:5-7; Matt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7) and the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11) of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it is stated that the Angel “stepped down” out of heaven, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51 (cf. above).
  • John does not record a visible ascension of Jesus, but note Jn 20:17: “…I step up [a)nabai/nw] toward my Father”.

An allusion to Genesis 28:12—In Jacob’s dream-vision at Bethel, he sees Angels ascending and descending on the ladder; in the LXX “ascending and descending” uses the same verbs (a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw) as Jn 1:51.

  • There is a traditional Jewish interpretation which understands the Angels ascending/descending on him (i.e. Jacob), cf. Genesis Rabbah 69:3 (in 68:12 Jacob is seen as being simultaneously in heaven).
  • The Targums (cf. Onkelos) express the idea that the shekinah—the visible manifestation and/or personification of God’s glory—was on the ladder. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (mid-2nd century A.D.), we find the earliest evidence for the interpretation that Christ was on the ladder (86:2).
  • Bethel as the “House of God”, i.e. the rock/stone which symbolizes the Temple and its foundation. In Jn 2:19ff (not long after the saying in 1:51), the Temple is identified with Jesus’ own person (and body), specifically in connection with his death and resurrection.

These are the most plausible associations with Jn 1:51, based on similarities of language and imagery—(1) the account of Jesus’ baptism, (2) his resurrection/ascension, (3) his return in glory at the end-time Judgment, and (4) the theophanic dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. In the next note I will look a bit more closely at Jn 1:51 in terms of its likely meaning and purpose within the context and structure of the Gospel narrative.

Note of the Day – April 1 (Easter)

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Luke 24:6-7

The last occurrence of the expression “the Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke is found in the Resurrection narrative (Luke 24), as part of the Angelic announcement (vv. 5-7) to the women on Easter morning. Luke follows the early Gospel tradition of women (including Mary Magdalene) being the first to witness the empty tomb, and the authenticity of this tradition would seem to be quite secure (on entirely objective grounds). The Synoptics also record the presence of Angels at the tomb who announce the resurrection, but here the specific details vary considerably between the three accounts. Most notable is the difference in the announcement itself (cp. with Mark 16:6-7), which includes similar points of reference (in italics):

“Do not be astonished! You seek Yeshua the Nazarean, the (one) put to the stake [i.e. crucified], but he has been raised—he is not here!” (Mk 16:6)
“(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living (one) with the dead (ones)? [He is not here, but has been raised!]” (Lk 24:5b-6a)

So also in the second half of the declaration:

“but go under [i.e. go back] and say to his learners [i.e. disciples] and to ‘Rock’ {Peter} that he goes before you into the Galîl {Galilee}—there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mk 16:7)
“remember how he spoke to you while he was yet in the Galîl {Galilee}, saying… (Lk 24:6)

In Luke, the context and direction of the Angelic announcement has changed significantly—intead of referring to the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee (cf. Matt 28:16-20), it refers back to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Lk 9:22, 43-45; 18:31-34 par) while he and his disciples were still in Galilee. As discussed in previous notes, these Passion predictions all involve the identification of Jesus as the “Son of Man”. Let us compare the formula here in verse 7 with the three earlier statements by Jesus:

Lk 24:7

“saying (of) the Son of Man that it is necessary (for him) to be given along into the hands of sinful men and to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified], and to stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day”

Lk 9:22

it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s and to be removed from examination [i.e. rejected] from [i.e. by] the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials [i.e. Priests] and Writers [i.e. Scribes], and to be killed off [i.e. put to death], and to be raised on the third day

Lk 9:44

“For the Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men

Lk 18:31b-33

“…and all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] about the Son of Man will be completed: for he will be given along into (the hands of) the nations, and he will be treated in a childish (way) and will be abused and will be spat on, and whipping (him) they kill him off [i.e. put him to death], and he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day.

The formulation in Luke 24:7 blends elements from all three predictions, as indicated by the italicized portions above. The phrase “into the hands of sinful men” comes from the second prediction (Lk 9:44), but without the qualifying adjective “sinful” (cf. Mark 14:41 par). The phrase “be put to the stake” simply specifies the manner in which he is to be “killed off”, i.e. put to death (cf. Matt 20:19). The Lukan version of the third prediction (Lk 18:31-33) includes the detail that the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of Man (Jesus) is a fulfillment of Scripture (“the things written by the Prophets”). This becomes an important point of emphasis in the remainder of Luke 24, and subsequently throughout the book of Acts. Indeed, each of the three episodes in the Resurrection narrative includes a comparable statement regarding Jesus’ Passion in this manner:

  • Lk 24:1-12: The Disciples at the empty tomb — the Angels’ announcement (v. 7, cf. above)
  • Lk 24:13-35: The Appearance to Disciples on the road to Emmaus (v. 26)
  • Lk 24:36-49: The Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem (v. 46)

As discussed above, the first statement (echoing the Passion predictions) uses “Son of Man”, while the last two (by Jesus) instead use “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$):

  • Lk 24:26: “Was it not necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer these (thing)s and to come into his glory?”—Jesus is said to demonstrate this, explaining the Scripture passages in “Moses and all the Prophets” (v. 27)
  • Lk 24:46: “…thus it has been written (that it is necessary) for the Anointed (One) to suffer and to stand up out of the dead on the third day”—this also was explained to his disciples from passages “in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms” (vv. 44-45)

The last of these statements, in particular, echoes verses 6-7 and the earlier Passion predictions, especially if we include Jesus’ words from v. 44:

“These are the words which I spoke to you, being yet [i.e. while I was] with you, that it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (thing)s written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms….”

The declarations by Jesus in 24:26 and 44-46 make two points which are fundamental to the early Christian Gospel preaching (as recorded in the book of Acts):

  1. That Jesus is the Anointed One (o( Xristo/$), and in a sense rather different from the type-figure of Anointed Davidic Ruler (as typically understood in Messianic thought of the period). Cf. my current series “Yeshua the Anointed”, esp. Parts 68.
  2. That the suffering and death (and resurrection) of Jesus—that is, of the Anointed One—was prefigured and foretold in the Scriptures. This means that it can be demonstrated by a study and exposition of the relevant Scripture passages; Luke never indicates just what these are, but for a list of likely candidates, cf. my earlier article.

Of the numerous references in the narrative of Acts which indicate the importance of this theme, cf. especially Acts 1:16; 2:31ff; 3:18, 20; 8:32-35; 9:22; 10:43; 13:27; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:22-23; 28:23.