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Synoptic Gospels

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.

 

Note of the Day – March 12

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Directly following the Passion prediction by Jesus (Luke 9:22, cf. the previous note), we find a sequence of five sayings (Lk. 9:23-27) which is very close to that in Mark 8:34-9:1 (par Matt 16:24-28):

  • “If any(one) wishes to come in back of [i.e. after] me, let him take up his stake [i.e. ‘cross’] according to (the) day [i.e. daily] and follow me” (v. 23, Mk 8:34 / Matt 16:24)
  • “Whoever wishes to save his soul [i.e. his life] will destroy it [i.e. cause it to perish], but whoever would destroy his soul [i.e. let it perish] will save it” (v. 24, Mk 8:35 / Matt 16:25)
  • “What [i.e. how] is a man aided [i.e. how does he benefit], gaining the whole world but destroying or injuring himself?” (v. 25, Mk 8:36 / Matt 16:26)
    [Note: a literal rendering here is somewhat misleading — the idiomatic language is that of commerce, i.e. financial profit vs. loss]
  • The Son of Man saying (discussed below) (v. 26, Mk 8:38 / Matt 16:27)
  • “There are some (indeed) standing on th(is) same (place) [i.e. here] who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see the kingdom of God!” (v. 27, Mk 9:1/ Matt 16:28)

It should be noted that Jesus need not have uttered all of these sayings together in sequence, on a single occasion. Early Gospel tradition developed largely by way of combining together sayings and teachings of Jesus on the basis of a common theme or wording. Here, the first four sayings all relate to what we might call the “cost of discipleship”, that is, of following Jesus. Originally, the sayings would have applied to those who would follow Jesus during his earthly ministry, but they soon were understood clearly in terms of being a Christian. The middle three sayings involved the idea of (heavenly) reward for following Jesus, certainly with the context of the divine tribunal and the end-time Judgment in mind. The eschatological emphasis is made abundantly clear in the last two sayings, though the apparent declaration of an imminent end in the final saying (less pronounced in the Lukan version) remains problematic for readers today.

It is the fourth saying which involves the expression “the Son of Man” [o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou], and this is what I will be looking at briefly in today’s note.

Luke 9:26 (par. Mark 8:38)

Here is Luke’s version of the saying:

“For whoever would feel shame on (account of) me and my words, the Son of Man will feel shame on (account of) this (person) when he should come in his glory and (that) of his Father and the holy Messengers”

For comparison, here is the version in Mark 8:38 (differences between the two being italicized):

“For whoever would feel shame on (account of) me and my words in th(is) adulterous and sinful (period of) coming to be [i.e. generation], the Son of Man also will feel shame on (account of) him [i.e. that person] when he should come in the glory of his Father with the holy Messengers”

On the (critical) theory that Luke has utilized Mark’s version, the author may be seen as simplifying the first half (omitting “in this adulterous and sinful generation”), and modifying the second. The second half of Mark’s version is far less awkward; it also would seem to make much better sense for Jesus to say “in the glory of his Father, with the holy Messengers”. Luke’s version of that clause may be intended to express a clearer sense that Jesus himself would be coming in (his own) glory—”in his (own) glory, and (that of) his Father and the holy Messengers”. A more traditional-conservative explanation might resort to the idea that both versions are (somehow) accurate translations from an Aramaic original; but exactly how this might be is rather hard to envision. The corresponding saying in Matt 16:27 is quite different:

“For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his holy Messengers, and then he will give from (him[self]) [i.e. give over, give away] to each (person) according to his actions/deeds”

Only the first clause is shared by Mark (and Luke). It is possible that Mark’s version reflects a merging of two (originally) separate sayings; or, perhaps, Matthew (if the author is utilizing Mark) has modified or replaced the saying to better fit the context of the prior verses. Interestingly, Luke has a parallel (doublet) version of verse 26 in 12:8-9 (also in Matt 10:32-33):

“…every one who would give account as one [i.e. agree/consent] on me in front of men, the Son of Man will give account as one [i.e. agree/consent] on him in front of the Messengers of God; but the one denying me in the eyes of [i.e. before] men will be denied in the eyes of [i.e. before] the Messengers of God”

This saying has the definite context of the heavenly court and divine tribunal (of the Last Judgment), with the holy Messengers (i.e. “Angels”) as witnesses. Here, however, it is not so clear that Jesus himself is meant to be taken as the same person as the “Son of Man”. If a saying such as that in Matt 16:27 were combined (in the early tradition) with a saying like Luke 12:8-9, it might well have resulted in an apparent conflate saying such as Luke 9:26/Mark 8:38. Consider that Matt 16:27 and Luke 12:8-9 are both clear and straightforward, expressing two different (but related) aspects of the end-time Judgment by God:

  • Matt 16:27—The Son of Man will appear in glory, along with the Angels, to oversee the Judgment, i.e., render to each human being according to his/her deeds in this life.
  • Luke 12:8-9—The human being appears in court (in Heaven), before the divine tribunal, and in presence of the Angels (members of the ‘Heavenly Court’); again the Son of Man oversees the Judgment. Here the basis of judgment is more clearly Christian—a person’s deeds are defined in terms of whether he/she publicly confessed or affirmed Christ, or, by contrast, whether he/she denied Christ. Very likely this test relates to persecution believers would face in their lifetime on account of Jesus.

It is readily apparent that Mark 8:38/Lk 9:26 combine both aspects:

  1. Mk 8:38a/Lk 9:26a generally matches the situation of Lk 12:8-9, though the test of affirming/denying Jesus is made only in the negative, as “feeling shame on (account of)” Jesus and his words (i.e. the Gospel).
  2. Mk 8:38b/Lk 9:26b corresponds with Matt 16:27a, emphasizing only the appearance of the Son of Man, in glory, along with the Angels at the end-time. However, the idea of judgment on the basis of a person’s deeds (Matt 16:27b) is clear enough from the context of Lk 9:23-25 par, and is defined in terms of faithfulness, devotion and perseverance in following Jesus.

In all of these instances, the Son of Man is present according to two distinct roles or images:

  1. Appearing in (Divine) glory along with the Angels at the end-time. The expression “in the glory of his Father” should be understood in two important respects:
    (a) The Son of Man functions as God’s own representative—that is, God himself is manifest to human beings at the end-time in the person of the Son of Man
    (b) There is an implication, at the very least, that the title “Son of Man” is related in some way to the “Son of God”
  2. As the One overseeing the end-time Judgment of God, which, according to Scriptural motifs and concepts, can be seen as taking place: (a) on earth (the “day of YHWH”, involving judgment/subjugation of the nations), or (b) in heaven before the Heavenly court and Divine tribunal.

Both of these roles will discussed in more detail later on. It is also worth noting here that, in these passages under examination (Luke 9:26 / Mark 8:38, along with Matt 16:27; Lk 12:8-9), it is not entirely clear that Jesus and the “Son of Man” are to be identified as the same person. This should be kept in mind, even though such an identification was, I believe, certainly made by Jesus himself (at the historical level) in at least a number of the Son of Man sayings, and was without question the understanding of early Christians and the developed Gospel tradition. These points and questions will be elucidated further in subsequent notes and articles.

Following the (eschatological) saying in Luke 9:27 (par Mk 9:1/Matt 16:28), all three Gospels record the Transfiguration episode. Even though this episode does not feature the expression “Son of Man”, it is vital to the structure of the Gospel narrative, leading (especially in the Lukan version) toward the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, and so will be examined in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – Easter Season

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For the remainder of Easter Season, on through Holy Week, I will be looking at selected verses and passages from the Gospel of Luke, set around the journey to Jerusalem—specifically those which involve the expression “(the) Son of Man”. Most of the references containing “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in Luke were inherited from the wider Synoptic tradition, and parallel versions can be found in Matthew and Mark as well. They will be introduced below.

The Gospel of Luke is unique among the three Synoptics in the way that the narrative is structured around the journey to Jerusalem. The common view of many New Testament scholars is that Matthew and Luke both made use of Mark as a source document. The basic hypothesis is sound, though not without certain difficulties. It may, however, safely be said that, if Luke did not use Mark, then the author clearly drew upon a document (or a developed set of traditions) which, in terms of structure and content, was very similar to Mark. For most of chapters 3-9, Luke follows Mark (chs. 1-9) in its basic narrative and arrangement of episodes, including additional material at several points. Indeed, Luke 9:1-50 corresponds with Mark 8:1-9:41, has nothing matching Mk 9:42-10:13 (except the saying in Lk 17:1-2), and then ‘picks up’ the narrative thread of Mk 10:14ff, but only at Lk 18:15. All of Lk 9:51-18:14 (nearly nine full chapters) consists, for the most part, of material not found in Mark. Lk 9:51ff contains (1) sayings and narrative sections occurring also in Matthew (so-called “Q” material), and (2) material found only in Luke among the Synoptics (so-called “L”). The “L”-material in these chapters includes many of the most famous and beloved parables of Jesus.

The fact that the “Q” sayings, etc., often occur in very different locations in Matthew strongly suggests that we are dealing with a literary, rather than historical/chronological, arrangement. The narrative setting for this material in Lk 9:51-18:14 is the journey of Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem. The Synoptics, unlike the Gospel of John, record only one journey to Jerusalem—for the Passover of Holy Week, Jesus’ last week prior to his death. In Mark and Matthew, this journey is narrated very briefly (cf. Mark 10:1, 17, 32, 46; Matt 19:1; 20:17, 29); Luke, on the other hand, records Jesus giving a considerable amount of teaching—taking place, according to the narrative setting, on the way to Jerusalem.

“The Son of Man”

There are more than 85 occurrences of the expression [o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou (“the son of [the] man”), in the New Testament—every occurrence in the Gospels comes either from Jesus’ own lips or in reponse to his words (for the latter, cf. Lk 24:7; Jn 12:34). Outside of the Gospels it is only found in Acts 7:56; Heb 2:8 (quoting Ps 8:4); and Rev 1:13; 14:14 (alluding to Dan 7:13, also 10:5, 16; 14:4). In an upcoming article, I will examine in detail the background and meaning of this expression and how it applies to Jesus. For the moment, by way of introduction, I would simply note that the Greek expression corresponds to the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (ben-°¹d¹m), which occurs in the Old Testament more than 100 times. In ancient Semitic idiom (/B# ben, “son”) in the construct state (“son of…”) often has the meaning of belonging to a particular group or category, and of possessing such characteristics. In this instance, “son of man” simply means “a human being”, i.e. belonging to the human race. Specifically it can mean possessing human characteristics or qualities (especially mortality), contrasted with a heavenly or divine being (including God [YHWH] himself). The parallel, synonymous expression vona$ /B# (ben °§nôš), “son of (hu)mankind” occurs once (Ps 144:3); the corresponding Aramaic is vn`a$ rB^ (bar °§n¹š), only at Dan 7:13 in the OT, along with the variant forms vn rb, avn rb (as well as <da rb) attested in later Aramaic. The Biblical (and contemporary) usage can be summarized as follows:

  1. Generally (or indefinitely) of a human being (“a[ny] man”), in poetic language—with <da /b (ben °¹d¹m, “son of man”) set parallel to <da (°¹d¹m, “man”), cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. The dual-expression (“man…son of man…”) often is set in contrast to God [YHWH] and His nature.
  2. In divine/heavenly address to a human being (a Prophet), in Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and Daniel (Dan 8:17). The sense is something like “(as for) you, O mortal…”, again distinguishing a human being from the divine/heavenly being who addresses him.
  3. The apparently unique instance of Daniel 7:13—here “son of man” is used to describe a divine/heavenly/angelic(?) being who resembles a human. This famous passage will be discussed in more detail later on.

For a convenient summary of the topic, especially on the possible Aramaic forms of the expression which might relate to the concept and terminology in the 1st century A.D., see J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays, Chapter 6 (Scholars Press: 1979), pp. 143-160 (reprinted in The Semitic Background of the New Testament [Eerdmans: 1997]).

I will be beginning these notes with the Son of Man saying in Luke 9:22 (par Mark 8:31; Matt 16:21). Here is a list of prior sayings in the Gospel, along with their Synoptic parallels:

  • Luke 5:24 (Mk 2:10 / Matt 9:6)
  • Luke 6:5 (Mk 2:28 / Matt 12:8)
  • Luke 6:22 (cf. Matt 5:11)
  • Luke 7:34 (Matt 11:19)

Note of the Day – June 22

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In the previous day’s note, I offered a comparison of the miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic Gospels, including a comparison of the similarities between the feedings of the 5000 and the 4000 in Mark/Matthew—similarities which serve as a reasonably strong argument in favor of the critical view that the two narrative episodes are based on a single historical tradition (or event). I also mentioned at least one good argument (on objective grounds, apart from any particular view of inspiration/inerrancy) in favor of the traditional-conservative view that these really do represent a record of separate events. This will be discussed in the second half of today’s note; however, to begin with, let me offer a comparison of the miraculous feeding narrative in John vs. the Synoptics. The corresponding passage in the fourth Gospel is found in Jn 6:1-15. The narrative setting of this episode in John is, of course, quite different:

  • Jesus has previously been in Jerusalem (Jn 5:1ff), and is now in Galilee (6:1); this abrupt shift would seem to indicate that we are dealing with the inclusion of traditional material, and no real attempt has been made by the author to smooth over the seam.
  • The occasion of Passover is mentioned (v. 4), which is almost certainly an insertion by the author to connect the miracle explicitly with the setting of the “Bread of Life” discourse which follows in 6:22-59.
  • Note how the author includes the episode of Jesus’ walking on the water (6:16-20) right after the miraculous feeding, just as in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew), even though it doesn’t seem entirely to fit the narrative context in John (note the rather awkward transitional description in vv. 22-23). I take this as an indication that the two episodes were already coupled together at a very early point in the Gospel tradition.
  • There is, certainly, nothing at all like the Bread of Life discourse following the feeding miracle in the Synoptic Gospels—it appears to be a tradition unique to John.

Special details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic feeding of the 5000:

  • Reference to Jesus’ healing the sick (v. 2) [cf. Matt 14:14; Luke 9:11]
  • Specific mention by the disciples of the cost of (at least) 200 denarii to feed so many people (v. 7; Mk 6:37)
  • The number of loaves (5) (v. 9)
  • The specific (round) number of men in the crowd (5000) (v. 10)
  • The mention of grass (v. 10; Mark 6:39, par Matt)
  • There are twelve baskets [kofino$] of fragments left over (v. 13)

Details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic (Matthew-Mark) feeding of the 4000:

  • The specific location along/across the Sea of Galilee (v. 1) [cf. Matt 15:29]
  • Jesus going up onto a mountain (v. 3) [cf. in Matt 15:29, but note also mountain theme in Mk 6:46 par. Matt).
  • Jesus takes the initiative regarding the crowd (v. 5) [cf. Mark 8:2-3 par]—however this is more of an original/distinctive element of John’s narrative
  • Philip’s response to Jesus question (v. 7) shows a partial similarity to Matt 15:33 (but also Mk 6:37, see above)
  • The verb “sit/fall back” [a)napi/ptw] is used (v. 10) instead of “lay back/down” [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw]; also, there is no mention of the crowd sitting down in groups of fifty, etc.
  • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (v. 11) as in Matt  15:36 and MSS of Mk 8:7, instead of “bless” [eu)loge/w]

The number of details in common with the feeding of the 4000 is striking—another indication, perhaps, that the two narrative episodes (of the 5000 & 4000) stem from a single historical tradition. It is also worth pointing some details which are unique to John’s account:

  • The Passover setting (v. 4), though the mention of “green grass” (Mk 6:39) might generally indicate springtime.
  • Jesus specific question about buying food for the crowd (v. 5), described as intended to test the disciples (Philip) (v. 6)
  • The mention of specific disciples Philip (v. 5-7) and Andrew (v. 8).
  • The boy with the loaves and fish (v. 9)
  • The loaves specified as “barley” [kriqino$] and the fish as “dried-fish” [o)yarion, instead of i)xqu$/i)xqudion]
  • Jesus’ command to his disciples to gather up the fragments (v. 12), along with the use of suna/gw (“bring together”) instead of ai&rw (“lift [up/away]”)
  • The reaction of the people to the miracle in vv. 14-15.

The significant number of details unique to John would seem to be incontrovertible evidence that John has not derived his account from any of the Synoptics, but has inherited an early Gospel tradition, some version of which is shared by the Synoptics as well. For a convenient chart comparing all of the miraculous feeding narratives in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible vol. 29: 1966), pp. 240-243.

What, then, of the traditional-conservative view which would regard the miraculous feedings of the 5000 and 4000 as authentic separate historical events? As I mentioned above, there is one main piece of objective evidence in its favor: namely, the tradition recorded in Mark 8:14-21 (par Matthew 16:5-12). Actually, according to standard methods of analysis for the Gospels, one should distinguish three elements in this passage, which follow a relatively common pattern:

  • Narrative setting (v. 14)
  • Saying of Jesus (v. 15)
  • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 17-21), following the question/misunderstanding of the disciples (v. 16)

The saying of Jesus about the “leaven of the Pharisees” is found in all three Synoptics—it is part of the parallel sequence in Matt 16:5-12 (v. 6), perhaps inherited from Mark, and is also found in Luke 12:1 but there in a very different context. It is Jesus’ exposition in Mk 8:17-21 which is of particular interest here, for he refers to both feeding miracles (in some detail!) If one is to regard vv. 17-21 as being in any way an authentic dialogue, then one is also forced to admit that the two miraculous feeding narratives both reflect historical events. This creates something of a dilemma for critical commentators—for if, on the other hand, the two feeding miracles are versions of a single event, then the entire dialogue of vv. 17-21 must effectively be regarded as an early Christian creation. Indeed, many critical scholars, I am sure, are inclined to accept the authenticity of the saying in v. 15 much more so than the expository dialogue in vv. 17-21.

It is interesting that there also appears to be literary significance to the parallel presentation of the two miraculous feedings, at least in the Gospel of Mark; note the following structure:

  • Feeding miracle (of the 5000)—Mk 6:30-44
    • Episode in a boat at sea (miracle of Jesus)—vv. 45-51
      • Statement about the loaves; disciples’ lack of understanding—v. 52
  • Feeding miracle (of the 4000)—Mk 8:1-10
    • Episode in a boat at sea (saying of Jesus)—vv. 14-15ff
      • Discussion of the loaves; disciples’ lack of understanding—vv. 16-21

While not constructed as carefully as similar arrangements of narrative episodes in, say, the Gospels of Luke or John, the parallelism is clear enough. There are then, other concerns besides historical accuracy/reliability that make it important to maintain a distinction between the two miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic tradition.

Note of the Day – June 21

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In the previous day’s note I introduced some of the critical issues (source- and historical-critical) surrounding the miraculous feeding of the multitude (5000 & 4000) narratives in the Gospels. To demonstrate several points more clearly, today I will present a modest comparative study of the passages. To begin with, it is worth noting just how close are the three Synoptic accounts of the feeding of the Five thousand. The passages to compare are: Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14:13-21, and Luke 9:10-17. The introductory/transition portion of the narrative (Mk 6:30-34; Matt 14:13-14; Lk 9:10-11) shows much greater variance:

  • Occasion/setting: the return of the Twelve from their mission (Mark/Luke) vs. Jesus hearing about the fate of John (Matthew)
  • The extended narrative in Mark (vv. 31-34) including additional dialogue and a longer mention of Jesus’ compassion for the crowd
  • Matthew and Luke do not have the narrative portion of Mark 6:31-34, presenting a simpler narrative setting—Matthew/Luke agree (against Mark) in mentioning Jesus’ healing the sick in the crowd

There are other minor differences as well, such as Luke specifying the location as Bethsaida (Lk 9:10) and the mention of Jesus speaking about the kingdom of God (v. 11). The common elements are: (a) Jesus withdrawing (to a secluded place) with his disciples, (b) the crowd following him, (c) an expression of Jesus’ care/compassion for the crowd. Here is a comparison of the core narrative which follows (using the NASU translation), with significant differences (additions, modification or reordering of material) italicized (note also the simpler descriptions in Matthew/Luke compared with Mark):

Mark 6:35-44

35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But He answered them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” 38 And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.

Matthew 14:15-21

15 When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” 17 They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” 18 And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 19 Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, 20 and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21 There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

Luke 9:12-17

12 Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place.” 13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 (For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each.” 15 They did so, and had them all sit down. 16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full.

Let us now turn to the two accounts of the miraculous feeding of the Four thousand, in Mark 8:1-9 and Matthew 15:32-39. Luke does not record this separate feeding episode, which may not be all that significant since here in the narrative he has nothing corresponding to the entire section of Mark 6:45-8:26. As in the case of the feeding of the Five thousand, Matthew’s version is simpler than Mark’s, but, apart from slight differences in wording and arrangement, is otherwise extremely close. In many ways, the feeding of the 4000 gives the impression (according to the critical view) of being closer to the earliest historical tradition of the feeding miracle—it is a more streamlined narrative, with fewer signs of editing. The historical critical question, of course, is very much in dispute (for traditional-conservative commentators at least); but consider just how close the two narrative episodes actually are—in each we have:

  • A large crowd has followed Jesus, and is now in a deserted/distant place with no opportunity to obtain food
  • Jesus has compassion on the crowd
  • Mention of sending the crowd away
  • Question of the disciples about trying to feed such a large number of people
  • Jesus asks what food they have—just a small number of bread loaves and fish
  • Jesus instructs the crowd to sit down
  • Jesus blesses/gives-thanks and gives the food to the disciples to distribute to the crowd
  • All in the crowd eat and are satisfied
  • Baskets full of fragments remain and are gathered up
  • The (round) number of men in the crowd is stated (5000/4000)

There are, of course, notable differences—both substantive and in detail—but the similarities are striking; it is a fairly strong argument in favor of the critical view that we are dealing with two versions of the same underlying historical tradition. That two separate events would have occurred—and been narrated—in such a similar fashion seems rather unlikely. As critical commentators are fond of mentioning, there is also the historical implausibility of the disciples, having recently witnessed the first dramatic feeding miracle, having the same doubts again about being able to feed such a large crowd (but cf. the notice in Mark 6:52). The main differences between the two narrative episodes can be summarized:

Feeding the 5000

  • It is stated that Jesus had compassion on the crowd
  • The disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away (to find food)
  • Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd something to eat
  • The disciples tell Jesus what food they have (response to Jesus inquiry in Mk)
  • Five loaves, and two fish
  • Jesus commands the crowd to lay-back/recline [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw] in groups
  • Jesus “blesses” [eu)loge/w] the food
  • Twelve baskets [ko/fino$] of fragments left over

Feeding the 4000

  • Jesus states that he has compassion for the crowd
  • Jesus says he is unwilling to send them away (to find food)
  • The disciples question how they can feed such a large crowd
  • Jesus asks the disciples what food they have (as in Mk’s version of feeding the 5000)
  • Seven loaves, a few (small) fish
  • Jesus has the crowd sit down [a)napi/ptw] (no mention of groups)
  • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (in Matt; “bless” [eu)loge/w] in Mk some MSS)
  • Seven woven-baskets [spuri/$] of fragments left over

To a large extent, these differences are variations in vocabulary and specific detail, of the sort that might naturally occur during the development and transmission of ancient tradition. If the critical view holds, then, at some point early on, two versions of the story (with differing details and vocabulary) crystalized, developing to become distinct enough to be preserved as separate narratives in the Synoptic tradition. In fairness I think it can be said that, without the need to safeguard a particular view of the inspiration (and/or inerrancy) of Scripture—that is, if such a narrative ‘doublet’ occurred in any other ancient writing—there would be little question that a single historical tradition underlay both narratives. However, there is at least one strong argument (on objective grounds) in favor of the traditional-conservative view, and this will be discussed in the next day’s note—along with a comparison of the miraculous feeding narratives in John and the Synoptics.

Note of the Day – June 20

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In yesterday’s note, partly in commemoration of the traditional feast of Corpus Christi (first Sunday after Trinity), I examined the New Testament expression of “breaking (of) bread” (as in Acts 2:42, 46; Luke 24:35, etc) in relation to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) in the early Church. There is one other major passage where this image occurs—the miraculous feeding of the multitude by Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. The tradition surrounding this miracle is unique in that: (a) it is one of the only episodes recorded in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John); (b) it is one of the only instances where something like the same narrative occurs twice in the same Gospel (Matthew/Mark). For this reason (among others), it proves to be an interesting ‘test case’ in terms of how early Gospel traditions may have developed, as well as being illustrative of the key differences between traditional-conservative and critical viewpoints in this regard.

I will divide the discussion into three main sections, each of which will be treated in a daily note:

  • Survey of the passages, with a brief study of the source-critical and historical-critical questions
  • A more detailed comparative study of the narratives
  • An examination of the Eucharistic elements of the traditional narrative—their possible origins and influence in the early Church

Today’s note will is devoted to the first of these—namely, a survey of the passages, study of key source-critical and historical-critical questions. To begin with, a miraculous feeding of five thousand men (plus women and children) is narrated in Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15. As will be seen, all four narratives are quite close, both in outline and much detail as well; typically the the three Synoptic accounts are extremely close, while there are more substantial differences between the Synoptics and John. This brings up two separate, but related, source-critical questions:

  1. What is the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels?
  2. What is the relationship between the Synoptics and John?

The first question is usually addressed in the wider context of the so-called “Synoptic Problem”—how to explain the substantial agreement (including wording, order, other detail) between two and/or all three Synoptic Gospels. Today, there is a rough consensus among many (if not most) critical scholars that corresponds with the so-called “Two-Document” and “Markan priority” hypotheses, according to which:

  • Mark was written first, and both Matthew and Luke made (extensive) use of Mark, including the overall narrative plan and arrangement.
  • Matthew and Luke also made use of a second major (written) source, primarily consisting of blocks of Jesus’ sayings and teachings—this is the so-called “Q” source. Usually this is assumed to be a distinct written document, but it is perhaps safer to refer to it more generally as a collection of shared tradition(s).
  • Matthew and Luke also each made use of other sources—collections of tradition, whether written or oral—not found in the other Gospels, and often labeled “M” and “L” respectively.

While not without difficulties, this does, I believe, represent a reasonably sound working hypothesis. At the very least, if Matthew and Luke did not make use of Mark, then they must have made use of an early Gospel framework very similar in both content and arrangement. In particular, the position of the feeding miracle within the overall Gospel framework is similar between the Synoptics. Assuming, for the moment, the “Markan priority” hypothesis, here is the position of the episode in Mark:

1. Mk 6:1-6: The rejection of Jesus at Nazareth (saying in v. 4)
2. Mk 6:7-13: Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve (saying/commission in vv. 10-11)
3. Mk 6:14-29: Herod and the death of John the Baptist
4. Mk 6:30-44: The feeding of the Five thousand
5. Mk 6:45-52: Episode at sea—Jesus walking on water (reference to the feeding miracle in v. 52)
6. Mk 6:53-56: Summary references to healing miracles by Jesus
7. Mk 7:1-23: Sayings of Jesus in context of disputes with Pharisees and Scribes (at least two blocks of sayings, vv. 6-13 and 14b-23)
8. Mk 7:24-37: Two healing miracles

If we compare the position in the Gospel of Matthew, it is nearly identical; the only structural difference is that Jesus’ commission and sending out the Twelve occurs somewhat earlier (Matt 10:5ff) and serves as the introduction and narrative focus for a lengthy block of sayings vv. 16-42 added to the portion (vv. 5-15) he presumably inherited from Mark. The arrangement in the Gospel of Luke differs even more considerably:

  • The story of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth occurs earlier (at the beginning of his ministry), and in different/expanded form, in Lk 4:16-30
  • The material corresponding to Mark 6:45-8:26 for the most part is not found in Luke; as a result the confession of Peter, Jesus’ first Passion prediction (with related sayings), and the Transfiguration (Lk 9:18-36) follow immediately after the miraculous feeding episode in Lk 9:10-17

Notable differences between the Synoptic accounts of the feeding of the Five thousand will be mentioned in the comparative study in the next day’s note.

The second question (see above) has to do with the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels and John. Even though there is relatively little common material between John and the Synoptics, scholars have at times proposed that the author of the fourth Gospel utilized one (or more) of the other three. For example, there are some notable details in common between the Passion/Resurrection narratives of Luke and John, but other (apparent) minor points of agreement as well. However, in my view, most of these similarities are best explained by a shared common tradition rather than literary borrowing. I would concur with a good number of scholars today that there is very little (if any) clear evidence that the author of the fourth Gospel even knew (let alone used) any of the other three Gospels. At least one strand of evidence to this effect will be presented in the comparative study offered in the next day’s note. This means that, if we take Mark as the earliest Synoptic (and partial exemplar for the other two), then, at several key points, the Gospels of Mark and John are both drawing from an early tradition (or block of tradition), such as that involving the feeding of the Five thousand. By all accounts the “common portion” shared by John here is modest, limited to the traditions corresponding to Mark 6:30-52.

There is a far more serious historical-critical issue related to these passages, one which demonstrates a rather clear divide between traditional-conservative and critical approaches to the Gospels. The difficulty can be summarized by the fact that, in the Gospel of Mark (and in Matthew) there are two different miraculous feedings which are largely identical, differing mainly in specific vocabulary and other detail. This second episode is a feeding of Four (instead of Five) thousand men, as narrated in Mark 8:1-10 (par Matthew 15:32-39). The traditional-conservative view would tend to take these at face value as separate historical episodes; however, the number of similarities makes this hard to maintain in the light of objective analysis. The critical view would generally hold that these are separate versions of the same episode which have been preserved in different form; but there are difficulties with this view as well, as we shall see. Critical scholars are most reluctant to harmonize differences and discrepancies in Scriptural narrative by positing separate (similar, or nearly identical) events. For example, because of the different apparent chronology between John and the Synoptics, some traditional-conservative commentators would hold that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice; however, I regard this as highly unlikely—apart from the variant position of the episode (‘early’ vs. ‘late’), there is virtually no evidence to support a tradition of two (largely identical) Temple-cleansings. The situation is more complex with the “Anointing of Jesus” episodes in the Gospels; there it is likely that we are dealing with two traditions—one represented largely by Luke 7:36-50, the other primarily by Mark 14:3-9 and the Matthean parallel. As in the case of the miraculous feeding narratives, the Johannine account shows a mixture of details found in the other versions, which is somewhat hard to explain if we are dealing with different historical events (or traditions). This will be explored in greater detail in the next note.

Note of the Day – April 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 3:14:

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

John 8:28:

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

John 12:32:

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

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

Note of the Day – April 10

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As an inauguration of Holy Week, I will today look briefly at the three main predictions by Jesus of his suffering and death as they are preserved in (the Synoptic) Gospel tradition. This will be done with a minimum of comment, by presenting the versions side by side for comparison.

In each instance, the saying itself is in bold, with significant differences or alterations by the Gospel writer in italics. Parentheses indicate words added for ease of reading; square brackets represent explanatory glosses.

The First Prediction (Mark 8:31; Matthew 16:21; Luke 9:22)

Mark 8:31

kai\ h&rcato dida/skein au)tou\$ o%ti dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou polla\ paqei=n kai\ a)podokimasqh=nai u(po\ tw=n prebute/rwn kai\ tw=n a)rxiere/wn kai\ tw=n grammate/wn kai\ a)poktanqh=nai kai\ meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$ a)nasth=nai

“and he began to teach them that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (things) and to be removed from examination [i.e. be rejected] under the Elders and the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers and to be (set forth to be) killed, and, after three days, to stand up (out of the dead).”

Matthew 16:21

a)po\ to/te h&rcato o(  )Ihsou=$ deiknu/ein toi=$ maqhtai=$ au)tou= o%ti dei= au)to\n ei)$  (Ieroso/luma a)pelqei=n kai\ polla\ paqei=n a)po\ tw=n presbute/rwn kai\ a)rxiere/wn kai\ grammate/wn kai\ a)poktanqh=nai kai\ th=| trith| h(me/ra| e)gerqh=nai

“from then Yeshua began to show his learners that it is necessary for him to go (away) from (there) into Yerushalaim and to suffer many (things) from the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials and Writers and to be (set forth to be) killed, and, on the third day, to be raised (from the dead)”

Luke 9:22

ei)pw\n o%ti dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou polla\ paqei=n kai\ a)podokimasqh=nai a)po\ tw=n presbute/rwn kai\ a)rxiere/wn kai\ grammate/wn kai\ a)poktanqh=nai kai\ th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| e)gerqh=nai

“…saying that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (things) and to be removed from examination [i.e. be rejected] from [i.e. by] the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials and Writers and to be (set forth to be) killed, and, on the third day, to be raised (from the dead)”

The greatest differences are in the Matthean version of the saying, Mark and Luke here being nearly identical. There are two minor agreements between Matthew and Luke (against Mark): (a) the use of “on the third day” instead of “after three days”, and (b) the (divine) passive “to be raised” (e)gerqh=nai), instead of “to stand up” (a)nasth=nai). Both of these differences reflect more common early Christian usage. The elements unique to the saying in Matthew are:

  • Use of the 3rd person pronoun instead of “Son of Man”
  • Addition of the phrase “go away into Jerusalem”
  • Omission of “and be rejected” (kai\ a)podokimasqh=nai)

In three Gospels, this saying occurs directly after Peter’s confession of Jesus in Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30 par). Peter’s rebuke of Jesus (along with Jesus’ response: “get behind me Satan…!”) follows the saying in Mark and Matthew (Mk 8:32-33 par [Luke omits this episode]). With this is connected a block of sayings on discipleship (Mk 8:34-9:1 par), followed by the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-10 par).

The Second Prediction (Mark 9:31; Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:44)

Mark 9:31

e)di/dasken ga\r tou\$ maqhta\$ au)tou= kai\ e&legen au)toi=$ o%ti o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradi/dotai ei)$ xei=ra$ a)nqrw/pwn kai\ a)poktenou=sin au)to\n kai\ a)poktanqei\$ meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$ a)nasth/setai

“for he taught his learners and related to them that the Son of Man is (about to be) given over into the hands of men, and they will set him (forth) to be killed, and having been killed, after three days he will stand up (out of the dead)”

Matthew 17:22-23

ei@pen au)toi=$ o(  )Ihsou=$: me/llei o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradi/dosqai ei)$ xei=ra$ a)nqrw/pwn kai\ a)poktenou=sin au)to/n kai\ th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| e)gerqh/setai

“…Yeshua said to them: the Son of Man is about to be given over into the hands of men, and they will set him (forth) to be killed, and on the third day he will be raised (from the dead)”

Luke 9:44

qe/sqe u(mei=$ ei)$ ta\ w@ta u(mw=n tou\$ lo/gou$ tou/tou$: o( ga\r ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou me/llei paradi/dosqai ei)$ xei=ra$ a)nqrw/pwn

“set you these words into your ears: the Son of Man is about to be given over into the hands of men…”

The differences are as follows:

  • Mark includes the additional phrase “and having been killed” (it is possible that Matthew omitted this)
  • Matthew and Luke both specify what the present indicative (“is given over”) in Mark implies by adding the verb me/llei + infinitive (“is about to be given over”)—i.e., this will happen very soon.
  • Luke omits the references to being killed and rising; this may be a simple abbreviation of the saying.
  • As in the first prediction, Matthew uses “on the third day” and “will be raised” instead of “after three days” and “will stand up”; the full saying in Luke presumably would use the same phrasing as Matthew.
  • Mention could also be made of the unusual introduction to the saying in Luke: “set you these words into your ears…” (i.e., “listen carefully to what I say”).

In all three Gospels, the second prediction follows closely upon the first—separated by the sayings on discipleship (Mk 8:34-9:1), the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10), the sayings regarding Elijah (Mk 9:11-13), and the extended episode of the healing of the epileptic/possessed boy (Mk 9:14-29).

The Third Prediction (Mark 10:33-34; Matthew 20:18-19; Luke 18:31-33)

Mark 10:33-34

o%ti i)dou\ a)nabai/nomen ei)$  (Ieroso/luma, kai\ o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradoqh/setai toi=$ a)rxiereu=sin kai\ toi=$ grammateu=sin, kai\ katakrinou=sin au)to\n qana/tw| kai\ paradw/sousin au)to\n toi=$ e&qnesin kai\ e)mpai/cousin au)tw=| kai\ e)mptu/sousin au)tw=| kai\ mastigw/sousin au)to\n kai\ a)poktenou=sin, kai\ meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$ a)nasth/setai

“see, we (are about to) step up into Yerushalaim, and the Son of Man will be given over to the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers and they will judge against him to death, and they will give him over to the nations and they will act as a child with him and will spit on him and will scourge him and will set him (forth) to be killed, and after three days he will stand up (out of the dead)”

Matthew 20:18-19

i)dou\ a)nabai/nomen ei)$  (Ieroso/luma, kai\ o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradoqh/setai toi=$ a)rxiereu=sin kai\ grammateu=sin, kai\ katakrinou=sin au)to\n qana/tw kai\ paradw/sousin au)to\n toi=$ e&qnesin ei)$ to\ e)mpai=cai kai\ mastigw=sai kai\ staurw=sai, kai\ th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| e)gerqh/setai

“see, we (are about to) set up into Yerushalaim, and the Son of Man will be given over to the Chief Sacred-officials and Writers, and they will judge against him to death and will give him over to the nations to be played with (as a child) and scourged and put to the stake [i.e. crucified], and on the third day he will be raised (from the dead)”

Luke 18:31-33

i)dou\ a)nabai/nomen ei)$  )Ierousalh/m, kai\ telesqh/setai pa/nta ta\ gegramme/na dia\ tw=n profhtw=n tw=| ui(w=| tou= a)nqrw/pou: paradoqh/setai ga\r toi=$ e&qnesin kai\ e)mpaixqh/setai kai\ u(brisqh/setai kai\ e)mptusqh/setai kai\ mastigw/sante$ a)poktenou=sin au)to/n, kai\ th=| h(me/ra| th=| tri/th| a)nasth/setai

“see, we (are about to) step up into Yerushalaim, and all the (things) written through the Foretellers about the Son of Man will be completed: for he will be given over to the nations and he will be played with (as a child) and will be insulted and will be spit on, and having scourged (him) they will set him (forth) to be killed, and on the third day he will be raised (from the dead)”

Apart from several syntactical differences, the versions in Matthew and Mark are very close: Matthew omits mention of “spitting” but includes a reference to crucifixion (“be put to the stake”); and, as in the first two predictions, Matthew (along with Luke) uses “on the third day” and “will be raised” instead of “after three days” and “will stand up”. The specific Lukan differences are worth noting:

  • He has added the phrase “all the things written through the Prophets about {the Son of Man} will be completed”
  • The phrase mentioning the Chief Priests and Scribes is omitted.
  • In addition to the four verbs indicating the action of the nations against Jesus, Luke includes “will be insulted/abused” (u(brisqh/setai)

The three predictions punctuate fairly evenly the material in Mark 8:27-10:52 / Matthew 16:13-20:34. However, Luke has expanded greatly the corresponding section (Lk 9:18-50; 18:15-43) by adding 9:51-18:14: a lengthy collection of material (primarily of sayings and parables) found elsewhere in Matthew (part of so-called “Q”) or unique to the Gospel of Luke. This long section is framed as taking place during the journey to Jerusalem (see Lk 9:51). As such, when we get to the third prediction in Luke (Lk 18:31-33), after all of the intervening material, it has something of a different feel about it.

Interestingly, there are no corresponding passion predictions in the Gospel of John; however, we do find, among numerous allusions to Jesus’ death and resurrection a similar group of three specific references to the Son of Man being “raised/lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). These verses from John, along with some additional critical notes regarding the Synoptic passages presented above, will be discussed in the next day’s note.