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Son of David

December 29: Matthew 2:5-6, 16ff

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Matthew 2:5-6, 16ff

By all accounts, the tradition that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem stems from an interpretation of Micah 5:2ff, just as we see in the Matthean Infancy narrative. In the text, Herod brings together the leading religious officials (priests) and scribes (those learned in the Scriptures) and inquires of them “Where (is) the Anointed (One) [i.e. Messiah] to be born?” (Matt 2:4). Their answer (“in Bethlehem of Judea”), as presented in the narrative, is followed by a modified citation of Micah 5:2 [Heb v. 1]:

“And you, Bethlehem, (in) the land of Yehudah {Judah},
are not (in) one thing least among the leaders of Yehudah;
for (one) who leads [i.e. a leader] shall come out of you
who will shepherd my people Yisrael {Israel}.” (v. 6)

The portions in italics indicate points where the citation in Matthew differs from both the Hebrew (Masoretic) text and the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The last line is the result of joining 2 Sam 5:2 to the quotation from Micah. The differences otherwise are relatively slight, except for the first half of line 2, which alters entirely the sense of the original. It is hard to know whether this reflects a variant reading or an intentional change by the author; certainly, an early Christian such as the Gospel writer would be inclined here to emphasize the importance of Bethlehem.

The Messianic significance of Bethlehem relates to its association with David, as the “city of David”. This title normally applies to the original citadel of Jerusalem, as taken over and developed by David and his successors; however, in the New Testament, it refers to Bethlehem as David’s hometown (Lk 2:4; cf. Ruth 4:11; 1 Sam 17:12ff). The tradition of Bethlehem as the Messiah’s birthplace, presumably based on a similar interpretation of Micah 5:2ff as in Matt 2:4-6, is attested in John 7:40-42, where certain people express doubt that Jesus, coming out of Galilee, could be the Messiah:

“Does not the (sacred) Writing say that (it is) out of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem the town where David was, (that) the Anointed (One) comes?” (v. 42)

Matt 2:4-6ff sets the stage for the dramatic scene of the slaughter of the children (vv. 16-18) which functions as a parallel to the Moses Infancy narrative (cf. the previous day’s note). The connection is much more obvious when we consider elements added to the Exodus narrative (1:8-22) in later Jewish tradition. In Josephus’ Antiquities (2.205) the scribes make known to Pharaoh a prophecy regarding an Israelite leader/deliverer who was about to be born:

“One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events, truly told the king, that about this time there would be born a child to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages” [LOEB translation]

In Matthew’s version of the Micah quotation, the Messianic implications are heightened by every one of the changes made to the text:

  • “land of Judah” instead of “Ephrathah”—this second reference to Judah widens the scope of the scene to the (entire) territory of Judah/Judea; David’s kingdom was centered in Judah and Jerusalem, from which it extended its influence and authority. The coming Messianic rule would follow a similar pattern.
  • “not in one thing least among” instead of “(too) small to be among”—as noted above, the reference to Bethlehem’s ‘smallness’ has been eliminated; the adaptation (or reading) instead emphasizes Bethlehem’s greatness
  • “among the leaders of Judah” instead of “among the clans/thousands of Judah”—the comparison has shifted from clan and territory to the ruler of the territory. The ruler who comes from Bethlehem (i.e. the Davidic Messiah) will be greater than the other rulers of Judah.
  • “who will shepherd by people Israel”—this citation from 2 Sam 5:2 brings in another Messianic association with David: that of shepherd. David had been a shepherd, and, in the ancient Near East, kings and rulers were often referred to as a shepherd over the people, along with relevant symbolism (cf. Isa 44:28, etc). These two elements come together in passages such as Jer 23:1-6; Ezek 34 (esp. vv. 23-24); 37:24ff, which were influential in the development of Messianic thought.

In emphasizing the connection with Judah, one is reminded of the title earlier in v. 2 (“King of the Jews”). We are clearly dealing with the Messianic figure-type of a future ruler from the line of David. Let us consider how this has been brought out in the Matthean Infancy narrative:

  • The genealogy of Joseph (1:1-17), who is descended from David—vv. 1, 5-6, 17. In verse 20, the Angel addresses Joseph as “Son of David”, a (Messianic) title which would be applied to Jesus during his ministry. It occurs much more frequently in Matthew than the other Gospels (cf. Matt 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 22:42). That this is an authentic historical (Gospel) tradition is confirmed by the fact that the title appears nowhere else in the New Testament outside of the Synoptic Gospels. For the earliest (Messianic) use of the title, cf. Psalms of Solomon 17:23(21) (mid-1st century B.C.)
  • Joseph is established as Jesus’ (legal) father. This occurs through the completion of the marriage and his naming of the child (vv. 18, 20-21, 24-25). As a result, Joseph’s genealogy becomes that of Jesus as well (vv. 1, 16).
  • The birth in Bethlehem (2:1, cf. above)
  • Jesus’ identification as “King of the Jews” (v. 2) and “Anointed One” (v. 4)
  • The Star marking his birth (vv. 2, 7, 9-10)

For more on this Messianic figure-type, and the title “Son of David”, as related to Jesus, cf. Parts 68 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

That Joseph was a descendant of David should be considered completely reliable on objective grounds. If early Christians had been inclined to accept or “invent” a fictitious (Davidic) origin for Jesus, for doctrinal reasons, they likely would have made Mary a descendant of David. And, indeed, this is precisely what happened subsequently in Christian tradition (cf. already in Ignatius Trallians 9:1; also Smyrneans 1:1; Ephesians 18:2; 20:2). The distinction of a genealogy based on legal, rather than biological, paternity was soon lost for Christians, especially as the faith spread out into the wider Greco-Roman world. Quite contrary to later developments, there is no indication in the Gospels whatever that Mary was herself a descendant of David. If the information in Lk 1:5, 36 is regarded as historically accurate, then it is more likely that Mary came from the line of Levi, rather than Judah. The only New Testament reference which might suggest otherwise is Romans 1:3, especially when compared with Gal 4:4. It has been popular in traditional-conservative circles, as a way to harmonize the apparent discrepancies between the two lists, to treat the genealogies in Matthew and Luke as being that of Joseph and Mary, respectively. However, such a solution is flatly contradicted by the text itself—both genealogies belong to Joseph (Matt 1:16; Luke 3:23).

December 18: Luke 1:32-35

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Luke 1:32-35

Having discussed the Angelic appearance to Zechariah in the last two daily notes, today I will be looking at the parallel appearance to Mary in Lk 1:26-38. This annunciation pattern was outlined in the prior note. In both episodes, the “Messenger [a&ggelo$] (of the Lord)” who appears is named Gabriel. This is established in the narrative introduction to the scene (v. 26):

“And in the sixth month, the Messenger Gabrîel was se(n)t forth from God into a city of the Galîl {Galilee} (with the) name (of) Nazaret…”

The mention of the sixth month connects this episode with the prior notice of Elizabeth’s pregnancy in vv. 24-25 (i.e. the sixth month of her pregnancy). The parallel between Mary and Elizabeth is obvious, and, according to verse 36, the two women were also related. The main difference between them has to do with the reason that each was unable to bear a child at the time of the Angel’s appearance—Elizabeth was both sterile/barren (stei=ra) and past the normal age (v. 7); while Mary was a virgin (parqe/no$) and still in the period of engagement (°¢rûsîn) when, presumably, she was not yet living with Joseph (v. 27).

Even more significantly, there is a thematic shift from prophetic motifs (Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel, etc) to Davidic royal imagery (from 1-2 Samuel, etc). This is indicated right away with the notice (in v. 27) that Joseph was from the “house of David” (oi@ko$ Daui/d). In referring to Mary specifically as a virgin (parqe/no$) there may be an echo of the famous ‘Messianic’ reference in Isa 7:14 [LXX], as also by the phrasing in v. 28b. It is possible that there is also a (Messianic) allusion to Zeph 3:14-17 [LXX] in vv. 28ff, with the parallel greeting “Rejoice [xai=re]…daughter of Zion” (cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 345). The use of xai=re (chaíre) as a greeting in v. 28 is of greater importance for establishing the keyword motif of favor (xa/ri$, cháris) in the passage. It should be recalled the occurrence of this theme in the prior appearance to Zechariah, in which the Angel (Gabriel) appears on the right-hand side of the altar, indicating that God is responding with favor to Zechariah and Elizabeth. The very name Yôµ¹n¹n ( )Iwa/nnh$, i.e. John) means “Yah(weh) as shown favor [µnn]”. The same Hebrew word is at the root of the name Hannah („annâ, hN`j^), the mother of Samuel (1 Sam 1-2), who serves as an Old Testament type/pattern for Mary, both in this scene and the hymn (Magnificat) which follows in vv. 46-55. The Samuel narrative was already alluded to in the prior vv. 23-24 (cf. 1 Sam 1:19-20).

This favor (xa/ri$) is, after the initial greeting (xai=re), expressed in two statements by Gabriel to Mary:

  • “Favored one [kexaritwme/nh], the Lord (is) with you” (v. 28b)
  • “You have found favor [xa/ri$] (from) alongside God” (v. 30b)

These are essentially parallel statements expressing the same idea, given two-fold emphasis. The phrase “the Lord (is) with you” may allude to the name Immanuel from Isa 7:14, which will be discussed in the upcoming note on Matt 1:23. There can be little doubt that the announcement which follows in vv. 31-35 introduces a number of titles with Messianic (and theological) significance, beginning with the declaration of the name Yeshua (Jesus):

“See! you will take/receive together in the womb and will produce a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua.” (v. 31)

The statement contains the three key elements of the birth process: conception, the birth itself, and the giving of a name. Y¢šûa±, like Yôµ¹n¹n, is a Yahweh-name (cf. the earlier article), related to the idea of God’s salvation/deliverance of his people; it will be discussed in detail in the note on Matt 1:21. With regard to the titles in verses 32-33 and 35, there are two important passages which help to elucidate their Messianic and theological significance—(i) from the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 7, and (ii) the Qumran text 4Q246, which was inspired/influenced by the book of Daniel. I set forth the parallels from 2 Samuel 7 (following Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 338) here:

  • “a great name” (v. 9)
  • “the throne of his kingdom” (v. 13)
  • “he will be my son” (v. 14)
  • “your house and your kingdom” (v. 16)

That 2 Sam 7:11-14 was understood in a Messianic sense—that is, as a prophecy of a future Anointed ruler in the Davidic line—is confirmed by the Florilegium text (4Q174[Flor], lines 7-12) from Qumran, along with other writings of the period. On the Messianic Davidic-ruler type, and the early Christian understanding of Jesus as its fulfillment, cf. my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed” (Parts 6-8). I have discussed the important Qumran text 4Q246 in considerable detail in prior notes and articles (cf. also Part 6 of “Yeshua the Anointed”); the parallels of expression with Luke 1:32-35 are striking indeed.

In verses 32-33, we find a sequence of five statements by Gabriel regarding the child Jesus’ identity and (future) destiny; they are each governed by a verb in the future tense:

  • “he will be great [me/ga$]”
  • “he will be called son of the Highest [ui(o\$ u(yi/stou]”
  • “the Lord God will give him the ruling-seat of David his father”
  • “he will rule as king upon [i.e. over] the house of Jacob into the Ages”
  • “there will be no end/completion of his kingdom”

The last two statements are parallel, expressing the same basic idea—that Jesus will rule as king, and that his kingdom will last forever. This eternal aspect of his kingdom marks it as having the character of the Kingdom of God, with the expression “into the Age(s)” being the traditional Greek idiom related to the Hebrew word ±ôl¹m (<l*ou). For the Hebrew term as a name or title of God (±Ôl¹m, “The Ancient/Eternal One”), cf. my earlier discussion in the article on ±Elyôn.

The third statement defines Jesus’ kingship in traditional Messianic terms—i.e., as a future/eschatological ruler from the line of David. In early Christian tradition, this came to be expressed by the use of the title “Son of David” for Jesus; for more on its occurrence in the New Testament, cf. Part 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The first two statements (in v. 32a) are fundamental with regard to Jesus’ identity and future role in God’s plan of salvation. They govern not only the sequence in vv. 32-33, but also what follows in verse 35—that is, of the two halves of the annunciation taken together:

  • “he will be great“—Son of David (Messiah), i.e. ruling as God’s Anointed king upon the earth (vv. 32-33)
  • “he will be called son of the Highest“—Son of God (v. 35), i.e. with God in the highest places

The two implied spatial aspects (on earth / in the highest [heavens]) are expressed in the later Angelic announcement in 2:14 (to be discussed in a subsequent note). At the theological level, the titles Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) and Son of God are the two elements that make up the core early Christian understanding of Jesus (e.g. in Peter’s confession, esp. Matt 16:16 [par Luke 9:20]). Let us consider each of the titles that appear in Lk 1:32a:

“Great” (me/ga$)—The absolute use of this adjective is applied to God himself in the LXX (cf. Ps 48:1 [145:3]; 86:10; 135:5), while it is qualified when used of human beings (e.g., 2 Sam 19:33; Sir 48:22), as in its application to John the Baptist in Lk 1:15 (cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 347). Almost certainly a comparison between Jesus and John is intended here. That the title Great (One) essentially refers to God is also confirmed by the (likely) fundamental meaning of the old Semitic word °E~l, “Mighty (One)” (cf. the earlier article). Underlying the expression “Lord God” (ku/rio$ o( qeo/$) in verse 32b, is the ancient Israelite (religious) identification of Yahweh (the Lord [°Adôn]) with °E~l—that is, as the one true Creator God. This connects Jesus back past the time of David to that of the Patriarchs and the origins of Israel. The ancient God of Israel—the God of the Fathers—is the one who gives to Jesus kingship and the everlasting throne.

“Highest” (u%yisto$)—This Greek word translates, and, as a divine title, corresponds with, Hebrew ±Elyôn (/oyl=u#). On this ancient title, and its relation to °E~l, cf. the earlier article on ±Elyôn. It is at least partly synonymous with °E~l in the basic meaning “Mighty, Great, Exalted”, and of the plural °E_lœhîm used as an intensive (“Mightest, Greatest,” etc). In the Greco-Roman world, u%yisto$ was used as a title Zeus, just as “High/Exalted, Highest” might be applied to any deity associated with the Sky. Beyond the occurrences in the Old Testament (LXX) and New Testament, it is also used of Yahweh frequently in pre-Christian Jewish literature (Jubilees 16:18; 1 Enoch 9:3; 10:1; 46:7; 60:1, 22; 1QapGen 12:17; 20:12, 16, etc; cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 347-8).

Verse 35 in the second part of the Annunciation, following Mary’s question (“how will this be?”), relates to this latter name “Most High, Highest” and to Jesus as the Son of God. Note the pair of statements:

  • “the holy Spirit will come upon you”
  • “the power of the Highest will cast shade upon you”

Again, this reflects two aspects of one event or moment—the conception of the child Jesus (cf. verse 31). The declaration in v. 35b combines both aspects as well, in terms of the child’s birth and name (that is, his essential nature and identity):

  • “the (child) coming to be (born)…will be called”
    • “Holy”—i.e. Holy (One), related to the Holy Spirit (of God)
    • “Son of God”—son of the Highest

God as the Holy One, and his holiness, are emphasized frequently in the Scriptures, going back to the fundamental statement in Lev 19:2. The expression “Holy (One)” as a divine title will be discussed further in the note on 1:46ff. The title “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=) relates back to key passages such as Psalm 2 and 2 Sam 7 (cf. above), especially as they came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense by Jews and Christians. I have discussed the Messianic significance of the title, and its application to Jesus, at length in an earlier article (“Yeshua the Anointed” Part 12). Eventually, orthodox Christians came to understand the divine Sonship of Jesus in a metaphysical sense, but there is little clear evidence of this developed Christology in the New Testament itself. In the book of Acts, Jesus is understood as “Son of God” primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of the Father). However, in the Gospel, this identity is established from the very beginning of his earthly life (cf. also Lk 3:22 par). The relationship between Jesus and God the Father (Yahweh) will be examined further in the next note (on 1:43).

References above marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981).

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 8: The Son of David

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In Parts 6 and 7 of this series, I explored the background of the Messianic figure-type of King/Ruler from the line of David, examining the belief from the standpoint of Jewish writings in the 1st-centuries B.C./A.D., as well as the New Testament. In this part, I will be looking in more detail at the specific identification of Jesus as an Anointed Ruler from the line of David. This article will be divided into three areas of study:

  • The Gospel tradition—the Passion narratives and use of the expression “Son of David”
  • The association with David in early Christian Tradition (elsewhere in the New Testament)
  • The Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2)

The Gospel Tradition

For a survey and initial examination of the relevant and essential references, see the previous article. Here I will focus on: (1) The expression “Son of David”, (2) The question regarding the Messiah and the Son of David in Mark 12:35-37 par, and (3) The scene of the Triumphal Entry.

“Son of David”

Prior to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem (according to the Synoptic narrative), and apart from the Infancy narratives and genealogy of Jesus (cf. below), the expression “Son of David” occurs 9 times—six of which are from the single Synoptic episode of Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar on the way from Jericho (Mark 10:46-52, par Lk 18:35-43; Matt 20:29-34). In Mark’s account, this beggar (identified by name as Bartimaios, “Son of Timay” [Matthew refers to two beggars]), when he hears that Jesus is passing by, cries out: “Yeshua, (you) Son of David, show mercy (to) me!” (Mk 10:47, repeated in v. 48). The double-declaration, emphasizing the title “Son of David”, is more than just an historical circumstance; it reflects an important Gospel identification of Jesus, which will appear again in the Triumphal Entry scene and on through the Passion narrative. At the historical level, the beggar may simply have used the expression as an honorific title in addressing Jesus and does not necessarily indicate any particular Messianic belief (cf. verse 51 where he addresses Jesus as Rabbouni [on this title, cf. Part 4]).

Matthew records a similar (doublet) episode in Matt 9:27-31, where again two beggars cry out “show mercy to us, Son of David!” (v. 27); and similarly in Matthew’s version of Jesus healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman (Matt 15:22ff par). There thus appears, at least in Matthew’s Gospel, to be a connection between Jesus’ healing miracles and the address as “Son of David”. This is confirmed by the introductory narrative in Matt 12:22-23, where Jesus is said to have healed a demon-afflicted man who was blind (and mute); the reaction by the crowd is narrated as follows (v. 23):

“And all the throngs (of people) stood out of (themselves) [i.e. were amazed] and said, ‘This (man) is not the Son of David(, is he)?'”

The implication is that Jesus’ miracles lead the people to think that he might be the “Son of David”, almost certainly a reference to the Messianic figure of the Ruler (from the line of David) who is expected to appear at the end-time. Interestingly, however, there is little evidence, in Jewish writings of the period, for such an Anointed Ruler as a worker of (healing) miracles. As demonstrated previously (cf. Parts 6 and 7), the role of the Davidic Messiah was expressed in terms of the Scriptural motifs from Gen 49:10; Num 24:17ff; Psalm 2; Isa 11:1-4, etc—he who will judge and subdue/destroy the wicked nations and establish a Kingdom of peace and security for the people of God. Miracles, on the other hand, were more directly associated with the Prophet-figures of Elijah and Moses, and, especially, with the Anointed Prophet/herald of Isaiah 61:1ff (cf. Parts 2 & 3)—Jesus expressly identifies himself with this latter Messianic figure-type in Luke 4:18-20ff and 7:18-23 par. There is a loose parallel to Matt 12:23 in John 7:40-43, where people debate whether Jesus might be “the Prophet” or “the Anointed One”. In verse 42, some in the crowd declare: “Does not the Writing [i.e. Scripture] say that the Anointed (One) comes out of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem the town of David?” (for a list of the relevant Scriptures in this regard, cf. in Part 6). In Jn 7:41-42, the crowd is reacting to Jesus’ words (teaching), rather than his miracles.

Mark 12:35-37 / Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44

In this Synoptic episode (set during Passion week in Jerusalem), Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1. The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark and Luke, this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

  • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (Lk 20:41)
  • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (Lk 20:44)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)”—here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. the previous two articles). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42-43 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus (see the supplemental note).

In my view, Jesus uses Psalm 110:1 as a clever way to shift the meaning of “the Anointed (One)” from the Davidic King figure-type over to a different reference point—that of a coming Divine/Heavenly figure, generally referred to elsewhere by Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Daniel 7:13). This particular Messianic figure will be discussed in detail in an upcoming article in this series.

The Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11 / Matt 21:1-11 / Luke 19:28-40ff / John 12:12-19)

In the episode of Jesus’ (“Triumphal”) Entry into Jerusalem, recorded in all four Gospels—the Synoptic tradition and John—there are four distinctive Messianic elements to the narrative, the last three of which specifically relate to the idea of an Anointed (Davidic) King:

  • Malachi 3:1ff—the Messenger of the Lord coming to Jerusalem (and the Temple) at the time of Judgment (the Day of YHWH). I have argued that originally, this referred to a Divine/Heavenly being (Messenger of YHWH) who would appear as the personal representative (or embodiment) of YHWH himself. Eventually in the Gospels, by way of Mal 4:5-6 and subsequent Jewish tradition, the “Messenger” was interpreted as John the Baptist (“Elijah”) who prepares the way for the Lord (Jesus) to come into Jerusalem (and the Temple). In the Synoptic narrative, the disciples take over this role of “preparing the way” for Jesus (Mark 11:1-6 par, cf. also Lk 9:52; 10:1).
  • Zechariah 9:9ff—a future/eschatological King who will come to Jerusalem and establish a new reign of peace for Israel (Ephraim/Judah). The imagery in the Triumphal entry scene is a clear allusion to this passage, cited explicitly in Matt 21:4-7 and John 12:14-15. If we accept the historicity of Mark 11:2-6 par, then there is a strong likelihood that Jesus intentionally identified himself with the King of Zech 9:9-16. In any event, early Christians certainly made the connection.
  • The use of Psalm 118:26—In all four versions, the crowd recites Ps 118:26a: “Blessed is the (one) coming in the name of the Lord” (Mk 11:9/Matt 21:9/Lk 19:38/Jn 12:13). The original context and background of the Psalm had to do with the return of the (victorious) king to Jerusalem following battle (vv. 10ff), but early on it was used in a ritual/festal setting (vv. 26-27), and was recited as one of the ‘Hallel’ Psalms on the great feasts such as Passover and Sukkoth (Tabernacles). Jesus identified himself as the “one coming” in Luke 13:35 (par Matt 23:39), and there is very likely also a reference to this in Lk 19:41-44 (immediately following the Entry), blending, it would seem, the ancient traditions underlying Mal 3:1 and Psalm 118:26. Cf. also the use of Psalm 118:22f in Mark 12:10-11 par and elsewhere in early Christian tradition (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-7; Eph 2:20).
  • The Exclamation of the crowds—In addition to the use of Psalm 118:26, in all four Gospels, the crowds, in greeting Jesus, variously include references to David, King, or Kingdom:
    • Mark 11:10: “…blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
    • Matt 21:9: “Hosanna to the to the son of David…!”
    • Luke 19:38: “Blessed is the (One) coming, the King…[or, the coming King]”
    • John 12:13 “…[and] the King of Israel!”

We might also note the detail, unique to John’s account, of the use of palm branches by the crowds (Jn 12:13a), which could have a royal connotation (cf. 1 Maccabees 13:51; Testament of Naphtali 5:4). For a similar example of the crowds greeting an approaching sovereign, see Josephus, Wars of the Jews 7.100-103.

Early Christian Tradition (in the New Testament)

In the early Christian preaching (kerygma) as recorded in the first half of the book of Acts, Jesus is associated with David in several ways: (1) David prophesied in the Psalms regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection, (2) specific Psalms given a Messianic interpretation are applied to Jesus, and (3) Jesus is seen as fulfilling the covenant and promise to David. The most notable references are:

  • Acts 2:25-36, which cites Psalm 16:8-11 in the context of Jesus death and resurrection (vv. 25-28), and Psalm 110:1 in terms of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand God in Heaven (vv. 34-35). In verse 30, Jesus is seen as the descendant of David who would sit on the throne as King (cf. Ps 132:10-11 and 2 Sam 7:11-16 etc), and is specifically said to be the “Anointed (One)” of God in the concluding verse 36.
  • Acts 4:25-27, where Psalm 2:1-2 is cited and applied to the Passion of Jesus; again he is identified with the “Anointed (One)” of God.
  • Acts 13:22ff, 33-37—again Psalm 2 and 16 are cited (Ps 2:7; 16:10), as well as Isaiah 55:3, indicating that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise/covenant with David.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, there are several references to Jesus as a descendant of David:

  • Romans 1:3—”…about His Son, the (one) coming to be out of the seed of David according to (the) flesh”
  • 2 Timothy 2:8—”Remember Yeshua (the) Anointed (One), having been raised out of the dead, (and) out of the seed of David…”
  • Revelation 22:16—(Jesus speaking) “I am the root and the ge/no$ of David…” (cf. also Rev 5:5, and note 3:7)

In Rev 22:16, ge/no$ is literally the coming to be (cf. gi/nomai in Rom 1:3), in the sense of something which grows or comes forth (from the ground, womb, etc), i.e. “offspring”, but given the use of “root” (r(i/za) something like “sprout” or “branch” may be intended. Jesus declares that he is both the root of David and the branch/sprout coming out of the root. For the Messianic significance of such images (from Isa 11:1ff etc), see the discussion in Part 7.

While the Anointed Ruler in Messianic expectation was thought to be a fulfillment of the covenant with David, and a continuation/restoration of that line, it is not always clear that this was understood in a concrete, biological sense. However, many early Christians certainly believed that Jesus was born from the line of David, and this is reflected in Romans 1:3. It was a central aspect of the Infancy narratives in the Gospels, as well as the associated genealogies of Jesus; and it is these passages which we will look at next.

The Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2)

I am treating these famous portions of the Gospels (of Matthew and Luke) separately, since they seem to reflect a somewhat later, and more developed, Christological understanding than that found elsewhere in the Synoptic tradition. This does not mean that the events recorded are not historical or factual, but rather that they appear to have been carefully shaped by a layer of interpretation within the composition of the narrative. To judge from the book of Acts and the NT letters, Jesus’ birth appears to have played little or no role in early Christian preaching and teaching; indeed, outside of the Infancy narratives, it is scarcely mentioned at all in the New Testament. Even the belief in Jesus as a descendant of David (cf. above) does not play an especially prominent role in early Christian tradition. The matter is rather different in the Infancy narratives—Jesus’ birth, and his identification as the Anointed Ruler (from the line of David), are set within a dense matrix of Old Testament Scriptural parallels and allusions. In just four relatively short chapters, we find dozens of references, the most relevant of which are outlined here:

  • Both Infancy narratives are connected with (separate) genealogies of Jesus (Matt 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38), which show him to be a descendant of David (Matt 1:6, 17; Lk 3:31-32). Matthew begins his genealogy (and the Gospel)  with the title: “The paper-roll [i.e. book] of the coming-to-be [ge/nesi$] of Yeshua (the) Anointed, son of David, son of Abraham” (1:1).
  • There are additional references to Joseph (Jesus’ earthly, legal father) as “son of David” (in the Angel’s address to him, Matt 1:20), as being from the “house of David” (Lk 1:27) and from the “house and paternal descent of David” (Lk 2:4). Some traditional-conservative commentators, as a way of harmonizing the apparent (and rather blatant) discrepancies between the genealogies in Matthew of Luke, have claimed that they actually reflect the lines of Joseph and Mary, respectively. This is flatly contradicted by the text itself—both genealogies belong to Joseph (Matt 1:16; Lk 3:23). However, the belief that Mary was from the line of David, and that Jesus was thus a true biological descendant of David, came to be relatively widespread in the early Church; Paul himself may have held this view (cp. Rom 1:3 and Gal 4:4).
  • Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, attested by separate (and independent) lines of tradition, is recorded in Matthew 2:1ff and Lk 2:1-20 (cf. also John 7:41-42). Bethlehem is specifically called “the city of David” in Luke 2:4-11, and connected with the (Messianic) prophecy of Micah 5:2 in Matthew 2:5ff (and cf. Jn 7:42).
  • The expectation of a future/coming Davidic Ruler (“King of the Jews”) called “the Anointed (One)” is clearly attested in Matthew 2:1-8, with the citation (and Messianic interpretation) of Micah 5:2.
  • The Angelic announcement in Luke 2:10-12 links David (“the city of David”) with “(the) Anointed (One)” and “(the) Lord”, reinforcing the royal and Messianic implications of Jesus’ birth. For the parallel between the “good news” of Jesus’ birth and the birth of Augustus in the Roman world (contemporary with Jesus), cf. my earlier Christmas season note.
  • The shepherd motif in Lk 2:8ff etc, may contain an allusion to passages such as Micah 4:8; 5:4 (cf. Matt 2:6) and Ezekiel 34:11ff (vv. 23-24)—passages both connected to David and influential on Messianic thought.
  • In the hymn or canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus), the first strophe (Lk 1:68-69) reads:
    “He has come (to) look upon and make (a) loosing (from bondage) for his people,
    and he raised a horn of salvation for us in the house of David his child”
    This latter expression and image is derived from Scriptures such as 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 18:2; 132:17 and Ezekiel 29:21.
  • There are a number of other Scripture references or allusions in the Lukan hymns which should be noted—
    1 Sam 2:1-2; Psalm 35:9 (Lk 1:46-47)
    Psalm 89:10 (Lk 1:51-52)
    2 Sam 22:51 (Lk 1:55)
    1 Kings 1:48 (Lk 1:68a)
    Psalm 18:17 (Lk 1:71, 74)
    Psalm 89:3 (Lk 1:72-73)
    1 Kings 9:4-5 (Lk 1:74-75)
    {Num 24:17} (Lk 1:78)
    [On these and other references, cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library (ABRL 1977, 1993), pp. 358-60, 386-9, 456-9]

Most significant of all is the Angelic annunciation to Mary in Luke 1:30-37, especially the pronouncement or prophecy in vv. 32-33:

“This one [i.e. Jesus] will be great and will be called ‘Son of the Highest’, and the Lord God will give to him the seat (of power) [i.e. throne] of David his father, and he will be king upon the house of Jacob into the Age, and there will be no completion [i.e. end] of his kingdom

(and, also in v. 35b:)

“…therefore the (child) coming to be (born) will be called holy, (the) son of God

There is no clearer instance in all the New Testament of Jesus being identified as the coming/future Ruler from the line of David. As I have noted on several occasions, there is a remarkably close parallel, in the combination of these titles and expressions, in the Aramaic text 4Q246 from Qumran (see italicized phrases above):

  • “he will be great over the earth” [column i, line 7]
  • “he will be called son of God” [column ii, line 1a]
  • “and they will call him son of the Most High” [column ii, line 1b]
  • “his kingdom will be an eternal kingdom” [column ii, line 5]
  • “his rule will be an eternal rule” [column ii, line 9]

 

Note of the Day – December 31

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Continuing with the Christmas season theme of “The Birth of the Son of God”, the last two daily notes looked at Jesus as the “Son of God” within the context of early Christian preaching (i.e., the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts)—in Acts 2:29-36 and 13:26-41. Today I will examine Romans 1:3-4, often considered by scholars to be part of an early creed or hymn adapted and included by Paul within his greeting.

Romans 1:3-4

The opening and greeting (Epistolary Prescript [praescriptio]) of Romans 1:1-7 is actually a single sentence in Greek, framed by verses 1 and 7—”Paul…. to the (one)s in Rome…”—and the core of which is built upon the concluding words of verse 1: “the good message [i.e. Gospel] of God”. The syntax of vv. 2-6 may be outlined as follows:

“the good message of God”—

  • which [o^] He gave as a message [i.e. announced/promised] before(hand) through his Foretellers in (the) holy Writings (v. 2)
  • about [peri\] His Son [tou= ui(ou= au)tou=] (v. 3)
    • the (one) coming to be [tou= genome/nou] out of the seed of David (v. 3)
      —according to the flesh
    • the (one) marked (out) [tou= o(risqe/nto$] (as) Son of God [ui(ou= qeou=] in power (v. 4)
      —according to (the) spirit of holiness out of the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead
    • Yeshua (the) Anointed [xristou=] our Lord [tou= kuri/ou] (vv. 4-5)
      • through whom [di’ ou!]
        • we have received… (v. 5)
          • in [e)n] all the nations
          • in/among [e)n] whom (v. 6)
        • you also are called
      • of Yeshua (the) Anointed

Verses 3-6 represent the Christological kerygmatic statement that “fills” the epistolary prescript, in two portions:

  • vv. 3-4 are about Christ proper (i.e. the person of Christ)
  • vv. 5-6 are about believers in Christ (the result of his work)

Verses 3-4—this verse pair is made up of two participial phrases:

  • “the one coming to be” [tou= genome/nou] (v. 3)
    • “out of the seed of David” [e)k spe/rmato$ Daui\d]
    • “according to (the) flesh” [kata\ sa/rka]
  • “the one marked (out)” [tou= o(risqe/nto$] (v. 4)
    • “(as) Son of God in power” [ui(ou= qeou= e)n duna/mei]
    • “according to (the) spirit of holiness” [kata\ pneu=ma a(giwsu/nh$]
      • “out of (the) standing-up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead” [e)c a)nasta/sew$ nekrw=n]

The poetic parallelism is clear, with the possible exception of the last phrase. Let us look at each verse in detail.

Romans 1:3

First, it should be noted that manuscripts 51 61* 441 and later Byzantine MSS, read gennwme/nou (gennœménou) instead of genome/nou (genoménou), also reflected in some versional witnesses (Syriac and Old Latin MSS). The reading gennwme/nou, from genna/w (“come to be [born]”) rather than cognate gi/nomai (“come to be”), would more specifically emphasize Jesus’ birth, as mentioned in my discussion of genna/w/gi/nomai in prior notes. That such a reading could be seen as indicating the reality of Jesus’ human birth, can be seen from the arguments by Tertullian (On the Flesh of Christ §22) and Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.22.1) against their “gnostic” opponents. However, genome/nou is certainly the original reading. Occasionally, traditional-conservative scholars have cited the use of gi/nomai (instead of genna/w) here as evidence for Paul’s belief in the virgin birth, but this reads far too much into the text.

In terms of the reality of Jesus’ birth, this is already indicated with the phrase kata\ sa/rka (“according to [the] flesh”)—an expression normally used by Paul in a different theological/anthropological sense (part of a dualistic contrast between “flesh” and “spirit”), cf. Rom 8:4-9, 12-13; Gal 3:2-3; 5:16-19; 1 Cor 5:5; Phil 3:3. Here, it is used in an ‘ordinary’, conventional sense—of Jesus’ human nature, growth and upbringing, his ethnic/social background, etc—comparable to that in Rom 4:1; 9:3, 5. For similar early use of “flesh” (sa/rc) in this respect, applied to Christ, see 1 Pet 3:18, and the ‘credal/hymnic fragment’ in 1 Tim 3:16.

The phrase “out of the seed of David” (e)k spe/rmato$ Daui\d) is somewhat more problematic. That Jesus was a (real) descendant of David is evidenced by the Matthean/Lukan genealogies (Matt 1:1-17 [v. 6]; Luke 3:23-38 [v. 31]), as well as Acts 2:30; Luke 1:32, 69; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16, and may implied in Mark 12:35-37 par; John 7:42. Within the Infancy narratives, Joseph certainly is designated as a descendant of David (Luke 1:27; 2:4; Matt 1:20), and this is presumably how the genealogies are to be understood—i.e., Joseph as legal (but not biological) parent of Jesus. Here too, in Romans, “out of the seed of David, according to the flesh” could be viewed in this same legal/metaphorical sense, except that a comparison with Gal 4:4 suggests otherwise:

“coming to be [geno/menou] out of the seed of David [e)k spe/rmato$ Daui\d]” (Rom 1:3)
“coming to be [geno/menon] out of a woman [e)k gunaiko/$]” (Gal 4:4)

Did Paul (and/or the tradition he inherited) understand Mary as being of Davidic descent? It is hard to be certain, since he never actually mentions Mary anywhere in his letters, nor the birth of Jesus specifically apart from these two references. Of course, Mary as a descendant of David came to be a common-place belief in the early Church, attested already in the early 2nd century by Ignatius (Ephesians 18:2) and the so-called Proto-Gospel (Protevangelium) of James (§10). However, there is no indication of this in the New Testament itself; indeed, what little evidence we have (Luke 1:5) suggests descent from the tribe of Levi rather than from Judah. Traditional-conservative commentators have often sought to harmonize the (partially) discordant genealogies of Matt 1 and Lk 3 with the theory that they record the genealogies of Joseph and Mary, respectively; but this is flatly contradicted by the text itself—both genealogies are for Joseph (Matt 1:16; Lk 3:23), despite the apparent discrepancies.

The title “Son of David” is used of Jesus in numerous places in the Gospels—Mk 10:47-48 par; 12:35-37 par; Matt 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 21:9, 15. This title is used in conjunction with “Lord” (ku/rio$) in Matt 15:22; 20:30-31, and has a clear Messianic connection in Mark 12:35-37 par; Matt 12:23; 21:9 [par Mk 11:10].

What about Paul’s own understanding of Jesus as God’s Son? There is a strong likelihood that Rom 1:3 indicates something akin to the orthodox view of Jesus’ divine pre-existence. While this is not absolutely certain, such a general belief is expressed elsewhere in his writings (cf. Phil 2:6-7; Col 1:15ff). In examining Paul’s use of ui(o/$ (“son”) in relation to Jesus, these references can be divided more or less into three categories:

  1. Of a general relationship with God the Father—1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 1:19; Rom 1:9; 8:29
  2. Indicating his post-resurrection position and status in heaven (cf. Acts 13:33ff)—1 Thess 1:10; 1 Cor 15:28; Gal 1:16?; also Col 1:13
  3. Indicating divine status/nature in (or prior to) his death—Gal 2:20; Rom 5:10; 8:32

Galatians 4:4 is a close parallel to Rom 1:3 (cf. also Rom 8:3) which I have discussed in considerable detail in an earlier series of Advent Season notes.

Romans 1:4

The verb o(ri/zw has the basic meaning “mark out, mark off”, as of a limit, boundary, etc., and is often used in the sense of “determine, designate, appoint” and so forth. An early kerygmatic (Christological) signficance here is indicated by its use in:

  • Acts 2:23—referring to the role of Jesus’ death in God’s (predetermined) plan
  • Acts 10:42; 17:31—Christ is designated or appointed as eschatological/heavenly Judge

There are two principal ways the verb can be understood in Rom 1:4—Jesus is “marked out / appointed” as Son of God, either:

  1. By divine foreknowledge, prior to his death; as previously discussed, early Christians could speak of Jesus as God’s “Son” in terms of: (a) divine pre-existence, (b) birth, or (c) at his baptism
  2. Through his death and resurrection—i.e., by means of, or as a result of

The first view is more amenable to orthodoxy, as suggested by the common Latin rendering praedestinatus (instead of destinatus), which would seem to assume Greek proorisqe/nto$ (from proori/zw, “mark out [i.e. determine/appoint] beforehand”). This reading is not found in any manuscript, but it is used or mentioned by several Church Fathers—Eusebius, Against Marcellus 1:2; Epiphanius Panarion 54.6 (cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 234-5). The use of o(ri/zw in Acts 2:23 might otherwise confirm this meaning as well.

However, the overall context of Rom 1:3-4, as well as a comparison with the early Gospel preaching in Acts 2 and 13, etc (see the previous notes), strongly suggests option #2—that it is through his death and resurrection that Jesus is designated/appointed as “Son of God”. This would seem to be indicated by the qualifying phrase “in power” (e)n duna/mei) as well. There are two ways that “power” (du/nami$) is used in the preaching of Acts and in Paul’s letters: (a) of miraculous deeds, and (b) specifically in reference to the Spirit. These of course are related. Even though Jesus’ miracles during his ministry are referred to as “power” (Acts 10:38), it is in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ that God’s power is most prominently made manifest. The connection between the Spirit and the power of God is certainly clear (see esp. Luke 1:35; 4:14; Acts 1:8; 8:19; 10:38; Rom 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4, etc), and it is in his exalted position (at the right hand of God) that Jesus has this power (Acts 2:33; Mark 14:62 par), receiving the Spirit from the Father. In both Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, we find the idea of the raised/exalted Christ sending the Spirit (from the Father) to his disciples. There may be a parallel to the specific phrase “in power” (e)n duna/mei) in the ‘credal fragment’ of 1 Tim 3:16, where Jesus is said to have ascended “in glory” (e)n do/ch|).

There is some difficulty surrounding the expression “spirit of holiness” (pneu=ma a(giwsu/nh$). In his letters, Paul nearly always uses pneu=ma in reference to the the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God/Christ); that fact, plus the connection between “spirit” and “power” (cf. above) might lead one to assume that this is what is meant here as well. However, this is by no means certain. His very use of the particular expression “spirit of holiness” may be intended to draw a distinction with the more common “Holy Spirit”. As I mentioned above, pneu=ma is juxtaposed with sa/rc (“flesh”), but not in the typical Pauline sense; again this, in part, may be why Paul qualifies pneu=ma with a(giwsu/nh$ (“of holiness”). Is this meant to indicate the way in which Jesus is “appointed” Son of God—in terms of God’s holiness?

Interestingly, “holy” and “holiness” are only rarely used of Jesus specifically in the New Testament, being limited primarily to the earlier strands of Christian preaching—i.e. the appellation “Holy (One)”, using both a%gio$ and o%sio$, Acts 2:27; 3:14, and note Lk 1:35; cf. also Acts 4:27, 30; 13:34-35. In his letters, Paul almost never uses “holy/holiness” of Jesus (1 Cor 7:34 is close), though he certainly sees a close connection between Christ and the Holy Spirit, viewing the Spirit, to a large extent, as the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers. Holiness, of course, is often seen as a characteristic and attribute of God, but even this association is relatively rare in Paul’s writings. Somewhat surprisingly, the noun a(giwsu/nh (“holiness”) only appears 3 times in the New Testament, the other two occurrences also being from Paul’s letters:

  • 1 Thess 3:13—prayer/exhortation to establish the hearts of believers to be “blameless in holiness” before God at the (eschatological) appearance of Jesus
  • 2 Cor 7:1—believers are urged to cleanse themselves, “completing holiness in the fear of God”; here too we find a similar juxtaposition of “flesh” and “spirit”

Perhaps the best way to understand the expression in context is as the (personal) holiness of Jesus which is manifest by God in the resurrection—or, viewed another way, as the holiness of God being manifest in the person of Christ. This may be similar to the idea of the “righteousness of God” being manifest in his person (1 Cor 1:30; cf. Rom 1:17; 3:21ff, etc).

It is possible that the reference to the resurrection in Rom 1:4 should not be limited simply to Jesus’ own resurrection—there may be an association with the wider idea of resurrection, such as we see expressed by Paul in 1 Cor 15:20, 23, where Jesus, by his resurrection, is the “firstfruits” of the harvest, i.e., those who will be raised again to life at the end-time. Notably, Paul describes this in terms of sonship in Rom 8:23, 29 (cf. Gal 4:5). Even more significant for our Christmas season theme is the further image of birth within this same context—Jesus is the “firstborn” (prwto/toko$) out of the dead (Col 1:18; cf. Rev 1:5), and, as such, the “firstborn” of “many brothers” (Rom 8:28; cf. also Heb 1:6; 12:23). Once again we see a powerful statement of two-fold birth: Christ as the Son of God and believers as the “sons of God”.

References here marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, Romans (Anchor Bible [AB] volume 33, 1993).