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Synoptic Gospels

“…Spirit and Life”

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For the next few weeks, leading into the celebration of Pentecost, I will be presenting a series of daily notes based on Jesus’ statement in John 6:63:

“the utterances [i.e. words] that I speak to you are Spirit and Life

This involves two key words (and concepts) in the New Testament—pneu=ma (“Spirit”) and zwh= (“Life”). Because these have such an important place in the Johannine writings, those works (especially the Gospel and First Letter) will be my primary focus. However, I will be examining key passages in the remainder of the New Testament as well.

Before proceeding, it will be helpful to define both of these Greek words.

pneu=ma

The fundamental meaning of pneu=ma (pneúma), derived from the verb pne/w (pnéœ), is that of blowing. This is usually understood either (1) of the wind (a natural phenomenon), or (2) of breath (a personal/physiological phenomenon). In ancient thought, of course, these were often combined, especially in the mythological/cosmological sense of wind as the breath of God. For human beings, the life-animating principle, divinely bestowed, was often identified with the breath. Thus pneu=ma came to be used in reference to this inward life-force—the “soul” or “spirit”. When speaking of God (or deity), the source of life given to human beings could likewise be understood as the “breath” or “spirit”—i.e. the life-giving Spirit of God.

zwh=

The noun zwh= (zœ¢¡) is somewhat easier to explain, being derived from za/w (záœ), a primary verb meaning “live”. Thus zwh= fundamentally means “life”—usually in the sense of natural, physical/biological life. Again, since God represents the source of life, zwh= could also be used to refer to the life possessed by God (or the Gods, in a polytheistic worldview). This divine life can be understood both in a qualitative and quantitative sense—both aspects are combined in the expression “eternal life”. Often, the divine life is contrasted with that of mortal beings, thus hinging on the idea of deathlessness (i.e. “without death”, a)qa/nato$). In ancient thought, the righteous or deserving among humans, either after death or following a final Judgment, could come to possess and share in the blessed life of (the) God(s).

The Synoptic Gospels

I begin this study with a survey of passages from the Synoptic Gospels, which include sayings of Jesus which are central to the early Gospel Tradition—thus reflecting one of the earliest (if not the earliest) layers of Christian thought. To someone who has not analyzed the evidence carefully, it may come as a surprise how rarely both words zwh= (“life”) and pneu=ma (“Spirit”) occur in the Synoptics, especially if we combine together the parallel passages. Admittedly the word pneu=ma itself is found relatively frequently, but often in the sense of a human “spirit” or of other “spirit”-beings (i.e. daimons, “demons”). Passages where the reference is clearly to the Spirit of God (or “Holy Spirit”) are far fewer. Let us survey these.

Pneu=ma in the core Synoptic Tradition

By this is meant the “Triple”-tradition, shared (generally) by all three Synoptics, and usually best represented by the Gospel of Mark. There are just six occurrences of pneu=ma (as “Spirit”) in Mark:

  • Three times in the context of the Baptism of Jesus:
    • The saying of John the Baptist:
      “I dunked [i.e. baptized] you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit” (Mk 1:8, par Matt 3:11 & Lk 3:16 [both add “and fire”])
    • The Baptism scene:
      “…stepping up out of the water he saw the heavens being split, and the Spirit as a dove stepping [i.e. coming] down unto him” (Mk 1:10; par Matt 3:16 [“Spirit of God”] and Lk 3:22 [“Holy Spirit”])
    • After the Baptism:
      “And straightway [i.e. immediately] the Spirit casts him out into the desolate (land)” (Mk 1:12; cp. Matt 4:1; Lk 4:1)
  • The saying regarding the “sin against the Holy Spirit”:
    “All (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men, the sins and the insults, however they might give insult; but whoever should give insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release [i.e. forgiveness] into the Age…” (Mk 3:28-29; cp. Matt 12:31-32; Lk 12:10)
  • In Mark 12:36 (par Matt 22:43), Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit as the source of David’s inspiration in the composition of Ps 110:1ff.
  • Mark 13:11 (par Matt 10:20; cp. Lk 12:12)—as part of the eschatological teaching given by Jesus to his disciples, he refers to the Holy Spirit:
    “…whatever shall be given to you in that hour, this you shall speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but (rather) the holy Spirit

It is only in the last of these (Mk 13:11), part of specific teaching by Jesus to his disciples, that something like the early Christian concept of the Holy Spirit appears to be in view. The sense of the “Holy Spirit” in the famous saying in Mk 3:28-29 is much more difficult to determine.

Pneu=ma in the “Q” material and the Gospel of Matthew

(References marked with an asterisk might be considered part of the so-called “Q” material, shared by Matthew and Luke [but not found in Mark])

  • In the Matthean Infancy narrative, the Holy Spirit is mentioned as the source of the supernatural (virginal) conception of Jesus—Matt 1:18, 20 (on the Lukan parallels, cf. below).
  • Matt 12:18—part of a citation of Isa 42:1-3, a (Messianic) prophecy applied to Jesus (“I will set my Spirit upon him…”)
  • *The saying of Jesus in Matt 12:28: “but if in [i.e. with/by] the Spirit of God I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God has (already) arrived upon you”. The parallel saying in Luke 11:20 reads “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God”.
  • *The saying regarding the “sin against the Holy Spirit” in Matt 12:31-32 and Lk 12:10 differs in certain respects from the Markan parallel, and may be derived from the “Q” tradition.
  • Matt 28:20—The famous statement by Jesus, part of the closing “Great Commission” refers to the Holy Spirit in something like a Trinitarian sense. Here it seems to reflect (or at least anticipate) early Christian thought and understanding regarding the relationship between the Spirit and Jesus.
Pneu=ma in Luke

The Gospel of Luke contains noticeably more references to the Spirit, representing a key theme and motif that continues on in the book of Acts. This will be discussed in a separate note in this series. Here it is necessary to survey the key Gospel references unique to Luke:

  • In the Infancy Narrative, John the Baptist, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon are said to be “filled with the Spirit”, or that the Spirit is (or will be) upon them, that they are “in the Spirit”, etc.—Lk 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27. This reflects both the traditional idea of Prophetic inspiration, as well as a foreshadowing of the role of the Spirit among Christians (e.g., in the book of Acts). In reference to the conception of Jesus (cf. Matt 1:18, 20), “the Holy Spirit” is parallel (and synonymous) with “the Power of the Highest” (Lk 1:35).
  • Luke has expanded the basic Synoptic tradition from Mark 1:12 (par Matt 4:1), describing in more precise terms, the relation between the Spirit and Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (before and after the Temptation scene):
    Lk 4:1: “And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden, and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land)”
    Lk 4:14: “And Yeshua turned back in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl…”
  • As part of this narrative recording the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (in Galilee), there is the citation of Isa 61:1 in Lk 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” This a fundamental passage regarding Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (“Anointed One”), both at the historical level, and in the Gospel of Luke.
  • This same aspect of Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit is reflected in the introduction to his saying in Lk 10:21:
    “In that hour he leapt (for joy) [in] the holy Spirit and said…”
  • The Lukan version of the saying in 11:13 (cp. Matt 12:34):
    “if you…have known (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will the Father out of Heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking him?”
  • Mention should also be made of Lk 24:49, which, though the word pneu=ma is not used, clearly refers to the Holy Spirit. On “Power” as a kind of synonym for the Spirit, cf. Lk 1:35.

Thus, even without considering the evidence from the book of Acts, it is clear that there has been a degree of development in the Gospel Luke, giving greater emphasis to the (Holy) Spirit, both in relation to believers and to Jesus himself.

Zwh= (“Life”) in the Synoptic Gospels

It is somewhat surprising that the word zwh= occurs just 16 times in the Synoptic Gospels (compared with 36 in the Gospel of John). If we exclude the Synoptic parallels as such, the actual number of distinct occurrences is even smaller. Found in the sayings of Jesus, they involve certain idiomatic expressions, generally with an eschatological orientation:

Only twice (in Luke 12:15 and 16:25) is zwh= used in the normal sense of an ordinary human life (or life-time). In all the other occurrences cited above, it can more properly be understood as eternal life—that is, the divine life which the righteous will come to possess (or enter) at the end-time (following the Judgment). This is important, as it indicates the background to the term as it came to be used regularly by early Christians. If we accept the fundamental authenticity (and historicity) of the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics, we would have to recognize that the early Christian usage has been shaped and influenced in important ways by Jesus’ own teaching.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative

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We now come to the third (and final) major section of the current series entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (cf. the Introduction). The first part of the this series was devoted to a detailed examination of the Baptism of Jesus. The second part dealt with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, especially as an organizing principle within the Synoptic Gospels. I had noted previously this basic two-part structure of the Synoptic narrative—(i) the Galilean ministry (Mk 1:28:30), and (ii) the journey to Judea/Jerusalem and the events there (Mk 8:3116:8). Luke, through his expanded treatment of the journey to Jerusalem, has a three-part division (+ the Infancy Narrative):

  • [The Infancy Narrative]
  • The Galilean ministry (3:19:50)
  • The Journey to Jerusalem (9:5118:34)
  • The time in Judea/Jerusalem (18:3524:53)

The Judean/Jerusalem period may likewise be divided into two main sections, along with shorter introductory and concluding episodes:

All three Synoptics essentially follow this basic outline, though it has been modified and expanded in places by Matthew and Mark (especially the Resurrection episodes in Luke). We may outline the Passion Narrative itself as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction (Mk 14:1-2)
  • The Anointing Scene (14:3-9)
  • Excursus 1: The betrayal by Judas introduced (14:10-11)
  • The Passover: Jesus with his Disciples (14:12-25):
    —The Preparation (vv. 12-16)
    —The Passover scene at mealtime (vv. 17-21)
    —Institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (vv. 22-25)
  • Excursus 2: The denial by Peter foretold (14:26-31)
  • The Passion Scene in Gethsemane (14:32-52)
    —Jesus’ Passion and Prayer (vv. 32-42)
    —The Arrest of Jesus (vv. 43-52)
  • The Jewish “Trial”: Jesus before the Sanhedrin (14:53-72)
    —The Scene before the Council (vv. 53-65)
    —Peter’s Denial (vv. 66-72)
  • The Roman “Trial”: Jesus before Pilate (15:1-20)
    —The Scene before Pilate (vv. 1-5)
    —The Judgment (vv. 6-15)
    —The Preparation for Crucifixion (vv. 16-20)
  • The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (15:21-40):
    —The Crucifixion Scene (vv. 21-32)
    —Jesus’ Death (vv. 33-40)
  • Narrative Conclusion (15:42-47)

There are six principal episodes, each of which will be discussed in turn, beginning with the Anointing Scene (Mark 14:3-9 par).

It is generally felt by most scholars that the Passion Narrative was the first (and earliest) part of the Gospel Tradition to be given a distinct narrative shape. This can be glimpsed by the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts, as well as by the kerygmatic elements common throughout the New Testament (especially the Pauline Letters). The death and resurrection of Jesus formed the center of the Gospel message, so it is natural that those traditions would be the first to take shape as a simple narrative, to make the details easier to communicate and commit to memory. This also means that a number of these traditions are relatively fixed, and evince less development than in other portions of the Gospel. Details such as Judas’ betrayal or Peter’s denial of Jesus simply had to be included in any telling of the story. Even so, each Gospel writer handles the material in his own distinctive way, “ornamenting”, if you will, around the core traditions.

In analyzing the Passion Narrative, I will continue utilizing the method I have adopted for this series. For each passage, narrative, or set of traditions being studied, I examine—

  • The basic Synoptic narrative (as represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark)
  • The so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark)
  • Traditions and details preserved only in Matthew and/or Luke (so-called “M” and “L” material), as well as original (literary) contributions by the authors
  • Johannine tradition and the Gospel of John

Generally speaking, this order of study is chronological, reflecting ‘layers’ of development—but not strictly so by any means. Indeed, there is some evidence that the Gospel of John, usually thought of as the latest of the canonical Gospels (c. 90 A.D.?), contains early/authentic historical traditions in a form that may be older than those of the Synoptics. Wherever possible, I will attempt to trace the manner of development in the Tradition, and how/why it may have taken place.

The next daily note in this series will begin examination of the first episode of the Passion Narrative—the scene of Jesus’ Anointing.

Note of the Day – March 10 (Mark 1:14-8:30)

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Before proceeding to the next main topic in this series on “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition“, focusing on the Galilean Ministry Period of Jesus, it may be useful to examine briefly, over the next few notes, how the various traditions came to be joined together. This study will deal primarily with the Synoptic Gospels—the Synoptic Tradition—since it provides the best evidence for how the original historical traditions may have been combined.

The various traditions may be classified in different ways. We can note generally the following types:

  • Sayings of Jesus, sometimes combined in fundamental groups or clusters of sayings, or set within a very simple narrative framework.
  • Parables of Jesus, often preserved in distinct blocks of parables.
  • Miracle stories, which also be joined/grouped into sequence; sometimes the miracle tradition is presented as a pronouncement story, in which the narrative climaxes with a saying or declaration by Jesus.
  • Encounter scenes, which, in the Synoptics, often involve conflict and debate between Jesus and the religious authorities (typically specified as “Scribes and Pharisees”). These traditional scenes occasionally take the form of pronouncement episodes as well.
  • Pronouncement stories of other kinds, often involving Jesus together with his disciples.

Other categories might be added, but these cover the majority of traditions, especially as they occur in the core Synoptic Tradition; for the purpose of this series, I have used the Gospel of Mark as representing this “Synoptic” material generally. If Matthew and Luke did not make use of the Gospel of Mark, then they must have used material which had a very similar outline and arrangement of content.

The Markan Outline

The Galilean Ministry period, which makes up the first half of the Synoptic narrative, is covered by 1:148:30 in Mark. There is evidence of a careful, thematic treatment of the traditional material, which indicates some degree of literary development, presumably by the Gospel writer. It is very difficult to tell how much of this occurred within the traditional material prior to its inclusion in Mark’s Gospel. Some signs are present, however. Consider, for example, Mk 2:1-3:6, a block of five traditions, or episodes, which are preserved, in sequence, by Luke (5:17-6:11) and also by Matthew (though separated in Mt, 9:2-17 and 12:1-14). All five episodes share the common theme of (negative) reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his miracles, teaching and the conduct of he and his disciples—by the religious authorities (“Scribes and Pharisees”, etc), or by people with a strict traditional-religious mindset. This thematic association could easily have taken place well before Mark’s Gospel was composed. Almost certainly this is the case with the last two episodes (2:23-28; 3:1-6) which involve the observance of the Sabbath, and the Sabbath regulations.

While it is possible that a sequence of events such as Mk 2:1-3:6 may be presented in its chronological order—i.e., as the events actually occurred—nothing in the text requires that it be read this way. There are many differences in the order of scenes and sections in the Gospels, and, in most instances, this reflects a literary, rather than historical/chronological, arrangement. In the case of the Sabbath Controversy episodes (Mk 2:23-28; 3:1-6 par, discussed in the previous notes), Mark gives the impression that these occurred on the same day, while Luke clearly states that they took place on different Sabbath days (Lk 6:6). At the historical level, the second episode conceivably could have occurred prior to the first episode. In a number of places, Luke has the same traditions as Mark, but in the reverse order, or even an entirely different arrangement (more common in Matthew).

An interesting example involves the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Jesus’ Walking on the Water. These two episodes are joined together in both the Synoptic (Mark/Matthew) and Johannine tradition—Mk 6:30-52; Matt 14:13-33, and John 6:1-21. The combination of the episodes in two entirely separate lines of tradition means that they were likely joined together prior to their inclusion in Mark. Moreover, since there is no obvious thematic association between the two episodes, this could indicate an original historical-chronological connection—Jesus’ walking on the water was remembered as occurring (right) after the feeding miracle. The association of the episodes was so strong that the Johannine Gospel writer (trad. John the apostle) was compelled to include the walking-on-water scene even though it interrupts the sequence of the Feeding miracle followed by the Bread of Life discourse. There is no clear and discernable reason why it was included, other than the strength of the early tradition which set the two episodes together.

As I have indicated, many traditions are joined together by a common theme, or sometimes a common word or phrase, referred to as “catchword bonding”. Most likely this took place at a very early point in the transmission of the material, perhaps even at the point of oral transmission, when such organization based on theme and key word or motif would have helped early believers retain disparate traditions in their memory, and make it easier to pass them along to others by word of mouth. However, while this traditional material is presumably at an earlier stage of development in Mark, than it is in the other Gospels, the precise literary arrangement still show considerable signs of development, by the writer (trad. Mark). I recognize four units which make up the Galilean Period material in Mk 1:148:30. I outline these as follows:

  • The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry—1:14-45. This includes:
    • The Call of the First Disciples—vv. 16-20 and
    • Four episodes, primarily of healing miracle stories—vv. 21-45
  • Reaction to Jesus’ Ministry: conflict/debate with religious authorities—2:1-3:6
  • [Transitional]—3:7-12
  • Jesus’ Ministry with the disciples (theme of discipleship)—3:13-6:13
  • Reaction to Jesus’ Ministry: including conflict/debate with religious authorities—6:14-8:30

This essentially divides the Galilean period into two main sections, which have a similar (and parallel) thematic structure. I take this to be largely a Markan development; and, to the extent that this outline is preserved in Matthew and Luke, it supports the critical hypothesis that those two Gospels each made use of Mark. Here is an expanded outline of the last two units, covering 3:13-8:30:

Mark 3:13-6:13
  • Calling the Twelve—3:13-19
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; 3 traditions joined together:
    3:20-21, 22-30, 31-35
  • Parables of Jesus—4:1-34, a distinct block (or sub-unit) of traditional material, organized as follows:
    • Introduction (vv. 1-2)
    • Parable of the Sower:
      –The Parable (vv. 3-9)
      –Saying to the Disciples (vv. 10-12)
      –Explanation of the Parable (vv. 13-20)
    • Three additional Parables (vv. 21-32)
    • Conclusion (vv. 33-34)
  • Miracle (Calming the Storm): Jesus with the Disciples together in the boat—4:35-41
  • Healing Miracles: 2 Episodes (3 miracles)—5:1-20, 21-43
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; episode at Nazareth—6:1-6a
  • Mission of the Twelve—6:6b-13

I have pointed out the symmetric (chiastic) structure of this section in an earlier note; it is framed by the two episodes involving the Twelve—their calling/naming, and their mission.

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

Again, there is a symmetric/chiastic structure, with parallel episodes involving (1) the public reaction to Jesus’ identity, (2) a feeding miracle with similar details and associated traditions, and (3) healing miracles. At the center is the debate of Jesus with the “Scribes and Pharisees” regarding religious tradition and ritual behavior.

A Point of Development: Mark 3:13-19 and 6:6b-13

The traditions involving Jesus’ calling of the Twelve (Disciples/Apostles), and their mission into the territory of Galilee as Jesus’ representatives, are instructive for examining how different lines of tradition were joined together, i.e. in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. I have already discussed Mk 3:13-19 and its Synoptic parallels in prior notes; here I want to point out again how the Gospels writers incorporated additional material into the Synoptic (Markan) outline at these points. As a result, the narrative was expanded and enhanced considerably, creating a more complex structure. This will be discussed further in the next daily note, focusing on the Lukan treatment of the Synoptic material corresponding to Mark 3:13-8:30.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Ministry Period

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This is a good moment to stop and re-set the current series entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (cf. the Introduction). The first part of the this series has been devoted to a detailed examination of the Baptism of Jesus. This was chosen because it provides an ideal case study (using extensive evidence from all four canonical Gospels) for analyzing how the early (historical) traditions came to be developed and adapted over time, leading to the composition of the Gospel narratives as we have them. It was demonstrated rather clearly, I think, in these notes, how the account of Jesus’ baptism (and his relation to John the Baptist) were preserved (independently) in multiple strands of tradition. Each Gospel writer gave his own interpretation and treatment of the material, but was essentially obligated to hold to a basic narrative, and to the preservation of certain fundamental traditions.

The remaining two parts, or divisions, of this series will be focusing on: (1) the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (Pt  II) and (2) the Passion Narrative (Pt III). These are also useful as divisions since they reflect the basic two-part structure of the Synoptic narrative—(i) the Galilean ministry (Mk 1:28:30), and (ii) the journey to Judea/Jerusalem and the events there (Mk 8:3116:8). The other Synoptics have more complex structures; indeed, Luke rather clearly has a three (or four) part division:

  • [The Infancy Narrative]
  • The Galilean ministry (3:19:50)
  • The Journey to Jerusalem (9:5118:34)
  • The time in Judea/Jerusalem (18:3524:53)

However, it is easy enough to see how the core Synoptic narrative has been adapted and expanded. In the case of Luke, the Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2) has been added and the journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10) has been filled out by including a wide range of sayings/teachings of Jesus, and other episodes, most of which do not occur in the Gospel of Mark (i.e., so-called “Q” and “L” material).

Here is a preliminary list of some of the areas and topics I will be addressing in the next set of notes (for the remainder of February and into March), dealing with the Galilean Ministry of Jesus, traditions and passages related to:

  • The call of the Disciples
  • Jesus’ relatives and family
  • The Sabbath Controversies
  • Collection/joining of sayings, parables, and miracle stories
  • The Feeding miracle(s)
  • The Son of Man sayings

The next several notes will deal with the first topic—the Call of the (first) Disciples of Jesus.

It is worth mentioning, that these Galilean ministry passages and traditions are, for the most part, exclusive to the three Synoptic Gospels. The main reason for this is that a large percentage of scenes and dialogues in the Fourth Gospel are set in and around Jerusalem, so there is less material with which we can definitely work. However, it may be surprising how many parallels we will find between the Synoptic and Johannine traditions, and that the latter may well have included (and reworked) numerous episodes and traditions which are set in the “Galilean” section of the Synoptic narrative.

It may also be helpful to remind readers of the method I have adopted for this series. For each passage, narrative, or set of traditions being studied, I examine—

  • The basic Synoptic narrative (as represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark)
  • The so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark)
  • Traditions and details preserved only in Matthew and/or Luke (so-called “M” and “L” material), as well as original (literary) contributions by the authors
  • Johannine tradition and the Gospel of John

This order of study is roughly chronological, reflecting ‘layers’ of development—but not strictly so by any means. The Gospel of John certainly contains (separate) early/authentic historical traditions which are not found in the Synoptics. However, more often than not, the Fourth Gospel also shows the most evidence of extensive development, adaptation, and interpretation, of Gospel tradition. Indeed, this is a primary reason why it is usually regarded as the latest of the canonical Gospels—often dated around 90 A.D., in the form it has come down to us.

Note of the Day – February 6 (Mark 1:3, 7-9, etc)

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We now proceed to the second main component, or theme, of the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition:

  1. The Ministry of John
  2. The Relationship between John and Jesus
  3. Jesus as the Anointed One, in comparison with John

This component—the relationship between John and Jesus—is more closely related to the process of development which seems to have taken place, moving beyond the simple historical tradition(s), to an early Christian interpretation regarding them.

Mark 1:3, 7-9 (Acts 1:5, etc)

According to the approach and method of study I am using, we begin here with the Synoptic tradition, represented by the Gospel of Mark, but looking also at a separate strand of tradition—namely, the early Gospel preaching as recorded in the book of Acts. Many critical commentators would seriously question whether, or to what extent, Acts genuinely preserves such early tradition. The sermon-speeches in the book are often thought to be largely the work of the author (trad. Luke), perhaps reflecting the sort of preaching familiar to him at the time (c. 70-80 A.D.). However, as I have discussed elsewhere (cf. my series on the Speeches of Acts), there are many signs that early preaching (kerygma) has, in fact, been preserved, even if one grants a substantial reworking of the material by the author (and/or the traditions he has inherited) to form the speeches as they appear in the book. The pieces related to John the Baptist prove to be useful examples in this regard, as they do not appear to be simple reproductions from the Lukan Gospel (and the Synoptics), and may, in fact, stem from a separate line of tradition. Moreover, if this truly reflects the earliest Gospel preaching, in substance, then it may allow us to glimpse something of how the Synoptic tradition came to be formed. Three key components, related to John and the Baptism of Jesus, are preserved separately in Acts:

  • 1:5 (and 11:16)—the saying attributed to John in Mark 1:8 par
  • 10:37-38—the coordination of John’s ministry (baptizing) with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Mk 1:4, 9, 14 par)
  • 13:24-25—the ministry of John and the saying in Mark 1:7 par

If we add to this the citation of Isa 40:3, these pieces effectively make up the Synoptic narrative. In the Gospel of Mark, the relationship between John and Jesus is expressed at three points:

  1. The citation of Isa 40:3—Mk 1:3
  2. The saying(s) of the Baptist in Mk 1:7-8
  3. The actual Baptism of Jesus—Mk 1:9

1. Mark 1:3

The central citation from Isaiah 40:3ff has been discussed in prior notes, and will be dealt with again in the next section (on Jesus as the Anointed One).

2. Mark 1:7-8

The Synoptic parallels for the saying(s) of John are Matt 3:11 and Luke 3:16. Versions of them are also found in Acts 1:5 (11:16) + 13:25, and in John 1:26-27. It is possible that two separate sayings have been combined; this might account for some of the differences between the versions. I will discuss, in turn: (a) the variations between the versions of the saying(s), (b) the original meaning of the sayings, and (c) how the Gospel writers understood them.

(a) The Variations

The saying in Mark 1:7 is made up of two phrases:

(1) “one stronger than me comes behind [o)pi/sw] me”
(2) “I am not fit [i(kano$] to loose the strap of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet) [i.e. his shoes]”

(1) The Greek in Mark is: e&rxetai o( i)sxuro/tero/$ mou o)pi/sw mou. Here are the other versions and variations:

  • Acts 13:25b—”(one) comes after [meta/] me”
  • Luke 3:16—”one stronger than me comes” {omits “behind me”}
  • Matt 3:11—”the one coming behind me is stronger than me”
  • John 1:27a—”the one coming behind me…”

The versions in Acts and John are simpler, with no reference to the comparative i)sxuro/tero$ (“stronger”). Matthew and Luke both seem to have reworked the phrase in different ways.

(2) Mark’s version has added the participle ku/ya$ (“bending [down]), probably for dramatic emphasis: “I am not fit, (even) bending (down), to loose the strap…”. The other versions:

  • Acts 13:25b—”I am not worth(y enough) [a&cio$] to loose the (shoe) bound under (his) feet”
  • Luke 3:16—nearly identical to Mark
  • Matt 3:11—”I am not fit to pick up the (shoe)s bound under (his feet)”
  • John 1:27a—”I am not worthy(y enough) [a&cio$] that I should (even) loose the strap of his (shoe)s bound under (his feet)”

Interestingly, as with the first phrase (1), John’s version has a point in common with the saying in Acts—a mark, perhaps, of an early detail which was preserved in two strands of tradition. It is conceivable that the variant i(kano/$ vs. a%cio$ could be the result of different ways of translating an original Aramaic version of the saying (cf. M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 3rd ed. [Oxford: 1967], pp. 144-6).

The saying in Mark 1:8, follows the second phrase of the saying in v. 7 by establishing a contrast between John and the “one coming”; here is the version in Mark:

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in [e)n] the holy Spirit”
e)gw/ e)ba/ptisa u(ma=$ u%dati, au)to\$ de\ bapti/sei u(ma=$ e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|

The other Synoptics (Matt 3:11 / Luke 3:16), are very close to the Markan saying, but share three key differences:

  • Both use a me\nde/ construction—i.e. “on the one hand…on the other…”
  • Each includes the saying corresponding to Mk 1:7 in the middle of the saying corr. to Mk 1:8—i.e. “I dunk you in water…, but the one coming… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”
  • Each adds “and (in) fire”—”he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and (in) fire

For those commentators who hold that Matthew and Luke have each made use of Mark, these common differences suggest that here they depend on a different source (so-called “Q”). This is likely since the saying which follows (Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17) is also “Q” material. Matthew has also included the words “unto repentance” (ei)$ meta/noian)—”I dunk you in water unto repentance [lit. change of mind], but he…”.

Interestingly, the version in Acts (1:5, par 11:16) represents a saying by Jesus, indicating something which Jesus had told his disciples about John:

“(On the one hand) John dunked in water, but (other other hand) you will be dunked in the holy Spirit” (1:5)

It uses the same me\nde/ comparative construction as the “Q” (Matt/Luke) version of the saying (cf. above). At the same time, the passive form of the second verb (baptisqh/sesqe, “you will be dunked”) is a bit surprising. Given the version in the Synoptics, we might have expected Jesus to say “I will dunk you…”. Instead, the passive verb suggests that a “divine passive” is meant—i.e. God as the assumed actor. With regard to the sending of the Spirit, early Christian tradition variously describes this as being both the work of God the Father and Jesus.

The version in John (Jn 1:26 & 33) shows a more substantial reworking of the tradition, which will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

The numerous differences and variations in these sayings may seem strange—even troubling—to readers who expect more uniformity in the inspired writings of the New Testament. However, in many instances, as here, it is actually a strong indication of the authenticity and historical reliability of the traditions (on objective grounds). The differences may be seen, in large part, as a marker of very early traditions (Levels 1-3, cf. the Introduction) which have been independently transmitted, and preserved, in multiple strands of the wider Gospel Tradition.

(b) The original meaning of the sayings &
(c) How the Gospel writers understood the sayings

These points will be discussed in the next daily note.

3. Mark 1:9

Mk 1:9 narrates the Baptism of Jesus itself, which will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming notes. The event is summarized simply:

“And it came to be in those days (that) Yeshua came from Nazaret in the Galîl and was dunked into the Yarden (river) under [i.e. by] Yohanan”

We will see how the Gospel writers adapt this basic account, beginning with Matthew (in the following note). The Baptism of Jesus, as recorded in the Synoptic tradition, is comprised of three distinct statements:

  • Reference to the Baptism itself (v. 9)
  • The visual/visionary phenomena which took place upon Jesus’ being baptized (v. 10)
  • The voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s son (v. 11)

The last two statements belong more properly to the third section of our study on the Baptism—Jesus as the Anointed One. Despite the theological (and Christological) aspects of these details, they are surprisingly consistent within the early Gospel tradition, and, in and of themselves, have undergone relatively little development. However, the Gospel writers have each handled them in distinctive ways, as we shall see.

Note of the Day – February 1 (Mark 1:3-6 etc)

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Today’s note is the first of several dealing with the Baptism of Jesus—the initial study in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (see the Introduction). According to the approach I set out there, the different strands of tradition will be examined in turn:

  • The core Synoptic tradition, represented by Mark
  • “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke)
  • Material unique to Matthew and Luke, respectively (“M” and “L”), and
  • Johannine tradition, i.e. the Gospel of John

I also presented three main components to the Baptism of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel Tradition:

  1. The Ministry of John
  2. The Relationship between John and Jesus, and
  3. Jesus as the Anointed One, in comparison with John

I begin with the first of these—The Ministry of John—and outline the following strands (cf. above):

Mark 1:3-6

The Synoptic parallels are Matt 3:1-6 and Luke 3:3-6. According to the generally accepted critical theory, Matthew and Luke both made use of the Gospel of Mark as a source. At the very least, they seem to have drawn upon a (traditional) source which has contents and a structure similar to that of Mark. The account in Matthew here corresponds closely to Mark, but with a few differences; Luke contains less Markan material at this point. Each of the four verses in Mk 1:3-6 makes a statement regarding a particular aspect of John’s ministry, as understood by early Christians. These will be discussed in turn, with the differences in Matthew and Luke being mentioned along the way.

Verse 3—The ministry of John the Baptist is introduced with a quotation from Isaiah 40:3. That this verse was connected closely with John at a very early point is indicated by how firmly it is embedded within the early Gospel tradition (cf. also Jn 1:23 and Lk 1:76). Luke has extended the citation to include vv. 4-5 (Lk 3:5-6), almost certainly to tie in verse 5 (adapted slightly) with the theme of salvation elsewhere within the Gospel (see esp. 2:30-31). Mark has joined a citation of Mal 3:1 (in v. 2) to that of Isa 40:3, bringing together the two principal Scriptures understood as prophecies of John the Baptist by early Christians. If Matthew and Luke made use of Mark, then they each (independently) eliminated that reference here, either for theological (and practical) reasons, or, perhaps, because the association was being made elsewhere (Lk 1:17; Matt 11:10). The significance of Isa 40:3 will be discussed further in the next note.

Verse 4—This is the primary statement regarding the nature and character of John’s ministry:

“and Yohanan came to be (present)[, the one] dunking [i.e. baptizing] in the desolate (land) [i.e. wilderness], and proclaiming (the need for) a change of mind [i.e. repentance] unto the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”

Several details are contained here: (1) his work took place in the desolate/desert region (of Judea), (2) it involved a kind of symbolic ritual cleansing (lit. dunking) in water, (3) it was aimed at bringing people to repentance, which (4) would lead to forgiveness of their sins by God. Matthew and Luke each have a slightly different way of presenting this same information:

  • Matthew abridges the corresponding Markan material, including it prior to the citation of Isa 40:3 (in Matt 3:1-2). He emphasizes the component of preaching/proclamation, adding the detail that John proclaimed (along with Jesus, Matt 4:17 par) the need for repentance because “the kingdom of God/Heaven has come near”. Critical commentators have questioned the historicity of this particular detail—i.e., the preaching of the kingdom by John—since it is not clearly attested anywhere else in the Gospels.
  • Luke has joined the information to a more elaborate narrative introduction (Lk 3:1-2), providing the historical/chronological setting for the appearance of John (and Jesus). Verse 3 is very close to Mk 1:4, but is preceded by the important Lukan addition, “the utterance [i.e. word] of God came to Yohanan son of Zakaryah…”, which connects the episode with the earlier Infancy narrative of chapters 1-2.

Verse 5—This verse summarizes John’s ministry as it took place, localizing it in the territory of Judea, around the Jordan river, relatively close to Jerusalem. It includes the specific detail that the people who were dunked (baptized) in the Jordan confessed (lit. gave out an account as one [regarding]) their sins. More or less the same statement is found in Matt 3:5-6, while Luke (3:3) has a briefer notice, perhaps because John’s ministry will be illustrated more properly by what follows (vv. 7-9ff, cf. below).

Verse 6—Here John’s striking appearance and lifestyle is described, which, apart from all other considerations, was almost certainly intended to evoke the image of Elijah in the desert (cf. 2 Kings 1:8). Matthew has the same essential information (3:4), but Luke gives no mention of it, perhaps because the association with Elijah was made more directly earlier in the Infancy narrative (1:17, cf. also vv. 76, 80). The identification of John with Elijah will be discussed in more detail in the third section, or motif, related to the Baptism of Jesus (cf. above).

Q Material—Matt 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-9

As mentioned in the Introduction, the abbreviation “Q” (for German quelle, “source”), essentially refers to material shared by Matthew and Luke, but which is not present in Mark. In terms of the Gospel Tradition, this is often called the “Double Tradition” (i.e., Matthew and Luke), rather than the “Triple Tradition” (all three Synoptic Gospels). The commonly-held “Two Source” theory posits that Matthew and Luke each (independently) made use of at least two sources—Mark and so-called “Q”. It is typically assumed that “Q” existed as a single, self-contained written document, but in my view this is far from certain. Some of the peculiarities and differences within the “Q” material are perhaps better explained by more than one traditional source, and which could include oral as well as written traditions.

With regard to the Baptism of Jesus, the Q material is limited to a single episode and (double) saying of the Baptist. It is noteworthy that here we find some of the strongest evidence for a written Q source, since the accounts in Matthew and Luke are almost identical—the closest such occurrence of comparable length in the Double Tradition. Whether or not one adopts entirely the critical theory that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, this “Q” episode clearly supplements the core Synoptic narrative represented by Mark 1:3-6. It vividly illustrates the preaching of John the Baptist with its emphasis on the need for repentance (Matt 3:8 par). John’s harsh and provocative message is framed by an (eschatological) warning of the coming Judgment of God on humankind (vv. 7, 10 par). Not even one’s ethnic-religious status as the ‘people of God’ (i.e. being Israelites or Jews) will save a person without true repentance. This is the first of two core sayings in the Q episode (v. 9 par). The second warns of the need for good and faithful behavior by God’s people, in light of the coming Judgment (v. 10 par). Both sayings are themselves illustrative and parabolic, drawing upon images and details from everyday life and the natural world, in a manner similar to the teaching of Jesus.

Before proceeding to the distinctive treatment of the ministry of John in Luke and the Fourth Gospel, it is necessary first to discuss the association with Isaiah 40:3 (cf. above, on Mk 1:3) in a bit more detail. This I will do in the next daily note.

The general historical accuracy of the Synoptic tradition regarding John the Baptist, including the background to the narrative in Mark 6:14-29 par, is confirmed by the information in Josephus’ Antiquities 18.116-119—the only other contemporary reference to John outside of the Gospels and book of Acts:

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness toward one another, and piety toward God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body: supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent as prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the citadel I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him. (LOEB translation)

 

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition

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This series, entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition, will be a feature on this site, running throughout the winter and spring up through the Lent/Easter season of 2019. A number of upcoming articles and daily notes will be devoted to this subject, which, in my view, is central to any proper study of the New Testament. Before proceeding, I would recommend that the reader consult my earlier article in which I discuss the meaning and use of the term “tradition“, as well as the expression “authentic tradition”. When specifically referring to “Gospel tradition”, this may be understood several ways:

  • Traditions related to Jesus which became part of the early Christian preaching and proclamation (kerygma) of what we call the Gospel—the “good news/message” of Christ.
  • Traditions which were combined and integrated to form a core Gospel narrative regarding the life and teachings of Jesus.
  • Traditions which came to be part of the written Gospels, as we have them.

When cited with capital letters—i.e., “Gospel Tradition”—it should be taken to mean that all three elements, or phenomena above, are included for consideration. An important aspect of this study, which I will especially be exploring in this series, is the development of the Gospel tradition. Contrary to the view, perhaps, of some traditional-conservative Christians in generations past, the four (canonical) Gospels as we know them did not come down out of heaven fully formed; rather, they are the product of a definite process of transmission and creative/artistic adaptation. Any serious view of the divine inspiration of the New Testament must take this into account. The three components of Gospel Tradition, listed above, hint at this developmental process; however, I would outline it even more precisely, here below, as follows:

  1. The words and actions of the historical Jesus and his contemporaries
  2. Jesus’ words/actions, etc, passed down (from eye/ear-witnesses) and transmitted orally among the first generation of Christians—i.e. early oral tradition
  3. Collected sayings of Jesus, and stories/episodes involving him, joined together thematically (catchword-bonding, etc) into somewhat larger traditional units—transmitted orally, but early on they began to be written down as well
  4. The first coherent and developed Gospel narratives and other related written texts. Many scholars would include the Gospel of Mark, as well as the so-called “Q” material, in this category (cf. below).
  5. The written Gospels—certainly Luke, Matthew, John, and perhaps others surviving (as fragments) from the 1st century. These larger, more complex works incorporate earlier existing source documents, as well as (perhaps) various developed oral traditions.

Admittedly, this sequence is largely theoretical, but there are many indications of it, I believe, preserved in the text of the Gospels as they have come down to us. Sometimes this requires a little detective work, but, as often as not, the process of development can be traced to some extent. What is unique about the New Testament—and the Gospels in particular—is how quickly this development took place, and how well documented it is, relatively speaking, for us today. If we consider the period of Jesus’ ministry as taking place during the few years around 30 A.D., the Gospels had all come to be written, more or less as we have them, by the end of the first century (c. 80-90 A.D., for the latest of them)—only a generation or two (30-60 years) after the events they record. The vast preserve of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (including a fair number from the 3rd century), along with the many versions (in Latin, Syriac, et al), and scores of citations in the early Church Fathers (2nd-3rd centuries), allows the dedicated scholar the unusual opportunity of studying the Gospels at a level of detail unparalleled for texts from the ancient world.

If we were to consider the five layers above from a chronological standpoint, they would be, roughly speaking:

  • Layer 1: The actual words, etc, of Jesus and the historical events—c. 28-35? A.D.
  • Layer 2: Early oral tradition—the period c. 30-50 A.D.
  • Layer 3: Gospel tradition, collected sayings and narrative units—sometime before 50 A.D.?
  • Layer 4: The first developed Gospel narratives and written texts—c. 50-60 A.D.
  • Layer 5: The written Gospels as we have them—60-90 A.D.

Throughout this series, I will be looking at many examples—passages in the Gospels—where this development may be studied. Why is this important? One of the great failings of a strict traditional-conservative view of Scripture, in the case of the Gospels, is that it tends to treat Layer 1 as essentially identical with Layer 5, often ignoring (or even denying) the layers of development in between. But it can be demonstrated rather clearly, at hundreds of different points, that the Gospels evince various layers of adaptation and interpretation, by which the historical words and events (taken in their concrete, documentary sense) have been transformed into something far greater than a mere stenographic record. I would maintain that any approach which downplays or ignores the developmental (and creative/artistic) process, risks severely misunderstanding and misreading the Gospels. I hope to encourage students of Scriptures, along with all other interested believers, to look at the Gospel narratives in this light, with a fresh perspective, so as to explore more fully the depths of the truth and beauty which they possess.

I begin this study where the Gospels themselves begin, on the whole—with the account of the Baptism of Jesus. This episode, found in all four Gospels (and also in Acts), serves as an interesting and appropriate test case for our examination. This is particularly so since, as we shall see, the narrative of Jesus’ baptism preserves numerous historical details and associations which seem to have largely disappeared from Christian tradition during the first century. On the one hand, this confirms the fundamental historicity of the Gospel tradition(s); on the other, it makes it somewhat easier to distinguish between historical details and elements which possibly indicate an early Christian interpretation of them.

When referring to the four Gospels, in terms of the Gospel Tradition, scholars and commentators generally recognize three main strands: (1) the core Synoptic tradition, represented primarily by Mark; (2) the so-called “Q” material, common to Matthew and Luke; and (3) Johannine tradition, i.e., traditions preserved only in the Gospel of John.

As a method of study, I will be adopting the following approach whenever possible, examining in sequence:

  • The Synoptic tradition, as recorded in Mark
  • The “Q” material in Matthew-Luke
  • Details unique to Matthew
  • Details unique to Luke
  • Johannine tradition as developed in the Gospel of John

In preparing for the notes dealing with the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition, I will be using the following outline, which, first, isolates three primary components of the Baptism narrative—

  1. The ministry of John
  2. The relationship between John and Jesus
  3. Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), in comparison with John

and then, secondly, I will explore the place that the Baptism has in the structure of the Synoptic narrative—the two-part division, and the parallels between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes.

The daily notes for this next week will follow the sequence indicated above, beginning with an examination of the ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1:3-6 par).

 

 

Women in the Church: Part 7 – The Gospels and Acts

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Having explored the subject of Women in the Church in the Pauline Letters, it is now time to turn and examine the relevant information from the Gospel Tradition, and in the book of Acts. I will be dividing this article according to the following outline:

  1. Sayings and Teachings of Jesus
  2. Jesus’ Interaction with Women (in the Gospel Narratives)
  3. Followers of Jesus in Gospel Tradition
  4. The Role of Mary
  5. Women in Luke-Acts

1. Sayings and Teachings of Jesus

There are actually very few sayings by Jesus involving women recorded in the canonical Gospels, and most of these are simply proverbial and tell us relatively little about his views on the position of women and gender relations. Women are featured in a couple of parables (Matt 13:33 par; Luke 15:8; 18:2-5) as stock characters. Two groups of sayings are perhaps a bit more significant:

(a) Traditional references to a woman’s pains in giving birth, symbolic of the suffering of the human condition—especially in association with the coming Judgment at the end-time (Mark 13:8, 17 par), which, in the Gospel narrative is set generally in the context of Jesus’ own suffering and death (cf. Luke 23:28-29; John 16:21).
(b) The illustrative image of the widow, again as a typical figure symbolizing human suffering and injustice—Mark 12:40-43 par; Luke 4:25-26; 18:2-5; cf. also Lk 7:12.

In several passages, Jesus addresses the topic of marriage, most notably in: (1) the sayings/discourse regarding divorce (Mark 10:2ff, par Matt 19:3ff; Matt 5:31-32; Luke 16:18); and (2) the case involving marriage and the resurrection (Mark 12:18-27 par). The latter passage seems to downplay the importance of marriage, to some extent; and, indeed, one detects an ascetic tinge in a number of Jesus’ sayings, such as Mark 10:29ff par; Matt 19:12. By all accounts, Jesus himself never married; and, according to the narrative context of Mk 10:29f, a number of his disciples had apparently left their families in order to follow Jesus (v. 28). In this regard, it is interesting to note an extra-canonical saying of Jesus which goes a step further in denying the significance of sexuality and gender distinction among believers. It is preserved in at least three sources—the (Coptic) Gospel of Thomas saying 22; 2 Clement 12; and in Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.13.[92] (attributed to the “Gospel of the Egyptians”). Gosp. Thom. 22 is presumably the earliest occurrence (late-1st/early-2nd century):

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to His disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the Kingdom.” They said to Him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the Kingdom?” Jesus said to them,

“When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter [the Kingdom].” (Translation by Thomas O. Lambdin)

This (purported) saying has similarities with mystic-ascetic and “Gnostic” thought, as attested, e.g., in the Gospel of Philip §73, 78, and Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.15 (citing teachings of the Naassene sect). In 2 Clement 12:5 the saying of Jesus is explained to the effect that a male believer should not look upon a female believer as a woman, that is, according to her sexuality or physical/biological gender (cf. Gal 3:28).

2. Jesus’ Interaction with Women

The Gospels record a number of episodes in which Jesus interacts with women. In some of these narratives he is depicted as disregarding or challenging certain social (and religious) conventions regarding the proper interaction of men and women—at least, the narratives may be read this way. Note, for example, the reaction of Jesus’ (male) disciples in Jn 4:27. Most significant, perhaps, is his friendship with Martha and Mary (the sisters of Lazarus, acc. to Jn 11:1-3); the authenticity of this relationship is confirmed by the fact that it is attested (independently) in at least two separate strands of tradition—Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1-44; 12:1-11. The declaration by Martha in Jn 11:27 regarding Jesus’ identity (as Anointed One [Messiah] and Son of God) holds a place in the Fourth Gospel similar to that of Peter’s confession in the Synoptics (Mk 8:29 / Lk 9:20 / Matt 16:16). At the very least, this indicates that Martha (and Mary) were believers and followers of Jesus (cf. below).

Many of the episodes show Jesus responding with compassion to the poor and outcast elements of society—a familiar and popular theme in the Gospel tradition. This produced some degree of negative reaction, even scandal, from onlookers and opponents, much as his willingness to associate with “sinners” (Mk 2:15-17 par; Lk 7:39; 19:7, etc). These are the episodes of note (“par” indicates parallel narratives in the other Synoptic Gospels; negative reactions are indicated by the verses in square brackets):

  • Healing of the women with a discharge of blood (hemorrhage)—Mark 5:25-34 par
  • Healing (exorcism) of the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman—Mark 7:24-30 par [note the exchange in vv. 27-28]
  • Healing (resurrection) of a widow’s son—Luke 7:11-17
  • Healing of a crippled woman—Luke 13:10-17 [v. 14]
  • Discussion with the Samaritan woman—John 4:1-42 [v. 27, a woman and a Samaritan no less!]
  • Response to the “adulterous” woman—John 7:53-8:11 [vv. 3-5] (an authentic tradition, if not part of the original Gospel)
  • Response to the “sinful” woman who anointed him—Luke 7:36-50 [vv. 39ff]
  • Response to the woman who anointed him at Bethany—Mark 14:3-9 par in Matt [vv. 4-5]; in John 12:1-8 the woman is identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus (the precise relationship between the two version, as well as Lk 7:36-50, remains much debated). Later tradition conflated the two figures—Mary and the “sinful” woman—with Mary Magdalene (also healed by Jesus according to Lk 8:2, and cf. below).

3. Followers of Jesus

By all accounts, the first followers of Jesus (those called by him) were all men. This is certainly true with regard to his closest disciples, the circle of Twelve in early Gospel tradition (Mark 3:13-19 par; Acts 1:13, 16ff). These were the men whom Jesus sent out, on at least one occasion, to preach and work miracles in his name (Mk 6:7-12 / Matt 10:5-15 / Lk 9:1-6; 22:35ff). This is the fundamental meaning of the word apostle, from a)poste/llw (“set/send forth”); and the Twelve were closely identified with this title in early Tradition (Mk 3:14; 6:30 par; Lk 22:14; Acts 1:2, 25-26, etc). Luke records a separate tradition (or version) where Jesus sends out a group of 70 (or 72) disciples on a similar mission (10:1-12); most likely these also were men, though this has to be inferred from the context. This limitation of discipleship and missionary work to men may simply be a product of historical circumstance, since the idea of itinerant female preachers and healers traveling about would have been shocking indeed to the cultural sensibilities of the time. And yet, we do have at least one notice that there were women followers of Jesus, in Luke 8:1-3, where it is stated that Jesus passed through the cities and villages “proclaiming the good message of the kingdom of God…”

“…and the Twelve (together) with him, and (also) some women th(at) had been healed from evil spirits and infirmities… who served/ministered to them [i.e. Jesus and the Twelve] out of the (thing)s under their (control) [i.e. their goods/possessions]”

These women are identified as: (1) Maryam {Mary} called Magdalene, (2) Ioanna {Joanna} wife of Chuzas, (3) Susanna, as well as “many others”. It would seem that their service was more or less limited to material aid and support. This same tradition is confirmed by (and may actually derive from) the notice in Mark 15:40-41. Indeed, the women followers of Jesus play an important role in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, part of the earliest Gospel narrative, and attested variously in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John):

  • There were women standing a distance away, watching the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:40-41, par Matt 27:55-56; Luke 23:49; also John 19:25). It is said that they had come with Jesus from Galilee, where they had helped in the work of ministry (Mk 15:41, cf. above). Mark and Matthew single out three who will take part in the next episode—Mary Magalene, Mary mother of James (and Joses), and Salome. Luke likewise mentions the first two (Lk 24:10), while John records a different set of four (or three) women who stand nearby: Mary (Jesus’ mother), Mary’s sister and/or Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
  • At least some of these women continued watching as Jesus was taken down from the cross, to see where he would be buried. Each of the Synoptics narrates this somewhat differently:
    Mark 15:47: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of (James and) Joses saw where Jesus was buried
    Matt 27:61: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting opposite the tomb
    Lk 23:55-56: The women followed and saw where/how he was buried, then returned to prepare spices and ointment
  • According to Synoptic tradition, Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James/Joses came early the next morning to see the tomb (Matt 28:1) and anoint the body (Mark 16:1-2; Lk 24:1). Mark mentions a third woman (Salome), while Luke may indicate the presence of others as well (Lk 24:10). The tradition(s) recorded in John differ in that Nicodemus brings the spices, etc to anoint Jesus before his burial (Jn 19:39-40) and Mary Magdalene is the only woman said to come to the tomb that morning (Jn 20:1ff).
  • The women (as variously mentioned): (a) see the empty tomb, (b) are greeted by angel(s) announcing the resurrection, and (c) encounter the resurrected Jesus. This common outline is old and reliable, but the specific details in the narrative (Mk 16:1-8, [9-11]; Matt 28:10; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1-2, 11-18) vary to an astonishing degree, and are actually extremely difficult to harmonize intelligibly (for those who wish to do so).
  • The women (or certain of them) report the empty tomb and the resurrection to the other disciples, including the Twelve (Matt 28:10, 11, 16; Luke 24:9-12, 22-24; John 20:2ff, 17-18; [Mark 16:9-11]).

It can be said that Mary Magdalene (and other of the women) were the first to see the resurrected Jesus, and the first to preach the Gospel (i.e. announce the resurrection). Understandably, this has been a popular point to make by modern-day preachers, in relation to the question of the role of women in the Church. The point is dramatized even further by the tradition of the disbelief of the disciples (including the Twelve) at hearing the news ([Mark 16:11, 14]; Luke 24:11). This detail is likely to be authentic (on objective grounds), since the later tendency was to downplay anything which cast the apostles in a negative light (but see how it also enhances Peter’s role, Lk 24:12 cf. Jn 20:3ff).

According to Acts 1:14, women were together (along with Jesus’ mother Mary) with the Twelve in the ‘upper room’ following Jesus’ ascension, and may have been present (at the historical level) in the post-resurrection scenes in which Jesus addresses and commissions his followers (Matt 28:16-20; Luke 24:33-49, 50-53; John 20:19-29). Acts 1:4-11 seems to assume only the Twelve (Eleven), as also in Mark [16:14-20]. In 1 Cor 15:6, Paul mentions an appearance by Jesus to more than 500 disciples, which certainly would have included a good number of women (cf. below). Somewhat surprisingly, Mary Magdalene does not seem to be part of early Christian tradition (outside of the resurrection accounts) and is not mentioned in the book of Acts.

4. The Role of Mary, Jesus’ Mother

Of all the women in Christian Tradition, (the Virgin) Mary, mother of Jesus is by far the most prominent. And yet, it is quite surprising how little she appears in the earliest strands of tradition. In the core Synoptic tradition, she hardly appears at all, briefly in one episode (Mark 3:31ff par); otherwise, she is only mentioned in Mk 6:3 / Matt 13:55. She has a somewhat larger role in two scenes in the Gospel of John—the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:3-5) and with the women and the ‘Beloved’ disciple at the cross (Jn 19:25-27). The latter episode presumably has greater symbolic meaning, perhaps suggesting that Mary is now the “mother” of the disciples (i.e. the Church). Of course, she is central to the Infancy narratives in Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2 (as well as in later extra-canonical Gospels), and this would be the primary basis for the subsequent Catholic/Orthodox veneration of Mary, already evidenced in the so-called Proto-Gospel (Protevangelium) of James (early-mid 2nd century).

It is the Lukan narrative in which Mary plays the most prominent role, in several significant scenes:

  • Lk 1:26-38—The Angelic announcement of Jesus’ coming conception (and birth), indicating how she has been favored by God (v. 30), and will be touched by the presence and power of God (vv. 35-37)
  • Lk 1:39-56—The visit to Elizabeth, who utters the inspired blessing (vv. 42-45), and which is the occasion/setting for the oracle by Mary (in a few MSS it is by Elizabeth), the so-called Magnificat (vv. 46-55)
  • Lk 2:1-20—The birth and visit of the Shepherds; most significant is the statement in verse 19 that Mary “kept all these utterances [i.e. by the shepherds, etc] (close) together, throwing (them) together in her heart”. This shows her in the process of considering the meaning and significance of Jesus’ birth and the wondrous events associated with it.
  • Lk 2:22-35ff—The encounter with Simeon set in the Temple precincts, in the context of fulfilling the purification ritual (following childbirth), etc (vv. 22-24). Such details are brought out, in part, to show the faithfulness/devotion of Joseph and Mary in religious matters (vv. 21, 39, 41ff, 51). A portion of Simeon’s oracle is directed to Mary (v. 35, cf. my earlier note for more detail).

We may also mention her role in 2:41-51, which contains at least one important point of emphasis—that Jesus’ natural (family) relations are subordinate to his relationship to God (the Father), cf. the juxtaposition in vv. 44, 46, 48, and Jesus’ famous statement in v. 49.

According to some commentators, Luke’s version of the episode in Mark 3:31-35 par has been (re)interpreted to show that Mary, along with Jesus’ natural family (brothers, etc), are among those who believe and follow him (cf. the separate note on Lk 8:19-21). Whether or not this view is correct, Mary is clearly depicted as a believer in Acts 1:14, where she appears together with the Twelve (Eleven) apostles, other women followers, and (notably) Jesus’ brothers (at least some of them). Interestingly, Mary is not mentioned by name elsewhere in the New Testament, being referenced only indirectly in Gal 4:4 (cf. also Rom 1:3), and possibly the scene in Revelation 12 (vv. 4b-6).

5. Women in Luke-Acts

Many scholars and commentators have noted that, generally, the Gospel of Luke gives more attention to women. In addition to the expanded role of Mary in the Infancy narratives, etc (cf. above), we may point out the following episodes or details unique to Luke:

  • The role of Elizabeth (Lk 1:5-7, 13, 18, 24-25, 36, 39-56, 57-60ff), set parallel to Mary (part of the wider John/Jesus parallel in the narrative); she, like her husband Zechariah (vv. 67-79) is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and utters a prophetic announcement (vv. 42-45). In a few manuscripts, she is also the one who delivers the Magnificat (vv. 46-55).
  • The mention and description of Anna (2:36-38), a (female) prophet, just as Simeon was inspired to utter a prophetic oracle. They both are aged figures, frequenting the Temple precincts, representative of the righteous/pious ones of Israel (i.e., the Old Covenant) who are looking forward to the coming redemption (vv. 25, 38).
  • Sayings, parables and healing miracles involving women (cf. above)—Lk 4:25-26; 7:11-17; 13:10-17; 15:8-10; 18:2-5. As indicated above (section 1), such episodes in the Gospel tradition tend to relate to human suffering and injustice, which often afflicts women who are in an especially vulnerable position (widows, etc). Luke gives greater emphasis to matters involving the poor/outcast and what today we would call social justice. To these we can add the scene of Jesus being anointed by a “sinful” woman (7:36-50), seemingly a parallel version or ‘doublet’ of Mark 14:3-9 par; John 12:1-8, but with many important differences. Note also the scene on the way to the cross in Lk 23:28-29.
  • References to Mary Magdalene and the other women who followed Jesus—Lk 8:1-3; 23:49, 55-56; 24:1-12, 22-24—which, for the most part, Luke inherited as part of the wider Gospel (and Synoptic) Tradition (cf. above).

When we turn to the book of Acts, right away we see women, including Jesus’ mother Mary, among the close followers of Jesus waiting together in Jerusalem, in the ‘upper room’ (Acts 1:13-14). Women are certainly to be counted among the 120 who are likewise gathered together (1:15ff), and present when the Spirit comes upon them all on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4ff). This interpretation of the scenario is confirmed by the use of Joel 2:28-32 in the great Pentecost sermon-speech by Peter which follows (2:14-36, vv. 17-21). In that Scripture God declares that (in the last days)

“…I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and daughters will prophesy…”
“(yes,) even upon my (male) slaves and my (female) slaves will I pour out from my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy…”

The implication is clear: God gives out his Spirit upon all believers equally, male and female alike, regardless of socio-economic position (i.e., even upon slaves). The implications of this equality are not really followed through in the narrative of Acts, but they are dealt with, to some extent, by Paul in his letters (cf. the earlier articles in this series, esp. Parts 1 and 3 on 1 Cor 11:2-16 and Gal 3:28). The only female prophets specifically mentioned in the book of Acts are the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). There are also several passages where believers are distinctly referenced as “men and women” (5:14; 8:3, 12; 9:2; 22:4; cf. also 17:4, 12). These references should not be limited to men and their wives—they are unquestionably to be read in the more general sense of male and female believers. Several of the verses refer to men and women sharing together in the persecution faced by believers (8:3; 9:2; 22:4). Elsewhere in the narratives, there are a number of episodes where specific women are involved; in at least some of these, we can infer that they likely played a significant role in the spread of Christianity and the establishment of churches:

  • 9:36-42—The disciple Tabitha/Dorcas, who was healed from a serious illness by Peter
  • 12:12ff—Mary the mother of John Mark, whose house apparently was used as a meeting-place for believers (a house-church? cf. Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15)
  • 16:11-15—Lydia, who along with other (prominent) women of Philippi, became believers during the missionary work of Paul and Silas (and Timothy, etc); she apparently hosted Paul and his companions in her house for a time (v. 15)
  • 17:34—Damaris, a woman specifically mentioned, apparently one of the few converts during Paul’s brief (and turbulent) stay in Athens
  • 18:2ff, 18, 26—Priscilla (or Prisca), with her husband Aquila, was a leader/minister in the churches of Corinth (1 Cor 16:19), Ephesus (cf. 2 Tim 4:19), and then (apparently) back in Rome (Rom 16:3). They hosted congregations in their house, and were close companions of Paul. Priscilla was a capable enough teacher in the faith to instruct Apollos “more accurately… (about) the Way [of God]” (Acts 18:26); the extent to which she may have done this in consort with her husband would seem to be of relatively little importance. However, it appears to have been troubling enough for the author/editor(s) of the “Western” version of Acts (D gig syr copsah arm al), that her name was either omitted from the text or placed after her husband’s (cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary [2nd edition], pp. 413-14). Some traditional-conservative commentators today might sense the same difficulty.

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.