How Well Do You Know the Story? Part 1 (Saturday Series)

Textual Issues in the Passion & Resurrection Narratives

The Gospel accounts of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are among the most familiar and widely-read of all the Scriptures. Indeed, to judge from the early preaching in the book of Acts, along with other historical evidence, these were probably the first Gospel narratives to take shape — as such, they stem from the most ancient layers of the New Testament witness. And yet, any careful, unbiased study of these remarkable passages reveals a range of surprising and fascinating detail: divergences between the Gospels, apparent discrepancies, odd synchronisms, questions of chronology, along with some of the most difficult (and profound) Christological statements in the New Testament. Here I will be exploring just one of these many areas of study: the variant readings in the text of these Gospel passages.

Many of the notes and articles on this Study Site involve what we call Biblical Criticism, and on (New Testament) Textual Criticsm in particular. I discuss all the main terms and concepts of Textual Criticism in a separate three-part article (“Learning the Language”), which I recommend that you read, if you have not already done so. In these Saturday Series studies I endeavor to show how the ideas and methods of criticism work in practice, using specific passages as examples to introduce the entire exegetical-critical approach for reader and students for whom it may be unfamiliar. Thus far, we have been focusing on different parts of the Gospel of John. Today, I present the first of two studies on the Passion and Resurrection Narratives in the Gospels.

A particular area of importance in New Testament and Gospel studies involves the “variant readings”, that is, textual variants, where the text differs between the various Greek manuscripts (and other witnesses), which are at the heart of the matter. Most variants are negligible or insignificant; but others are substantive—they genuinely affect the sense and meaning of the text. Nearly all of the variants in the Passion and Resurrection narratives which I discuss below are substantive—indeed many involve the question of interpolation. An interpolated passage has been added to the original text, from another source, during the process of copying and transmission. It is a special category of variants where a word or phrases is added/omitted, though an interpolation normally involves at least an entire verse. As such these variants are of the utmost significance.

It is sometimes said that variant readings in the manuscripts do not affect theology or Christian doctrine. Such a claim is misleading and inaccurate, as it is only partly true (as will be discussed in more detail in a future article). Many of the variants discussed below do affect, to a greater or lesser extent, key points of doctrine—Christological and Soteriological. They are also among the most disputed variant readings in the New Testament.

Luke 22:19-21

The first variant I will explore comes from the Lukan version of the Last Supper. To begin with, it might be useful to look at the three Synoptic accounts side-by-side, along with Paul’s traditional account from 1 Corinthians (notable add/omit variants are in square brackets):

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, the translation is my own, quite literal in style. Parentheses indicate helping English words; a slash indicates two alternates for rendering the same word, for the sake of clarity. Italicized words are left untranslated, as there is no single English word quite appropriate in context. The noun diath¢¡k¢ (diaqh/kh) literally means something that is “set/placed through(out)”, i.e. an “arrangement”. It is often used in the context of a “disposition” or “testament” (such as a last will). In the New Testament, the usage follows the Greek version(s) of the Old Testament, where diath¢¡k¢ translates the Hebrew b§rî¾ (tyr!B=), a word which fundamentally refers to a binding agreement—especially in the religious-theological sense of the agreement established by God with the people of Israel (Abraham and his descendants).

Mark 14:22-25 Matthew 26:26-29 Luke 22:14-23 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
       
22And (at) their eating, taking bread (and) blessing, he broke (it) and gave to them and said: “Take, this is my body.” 23And taking (the) cup (and) expressing gratitude, he gave (it) to them, and all drank out of it. 24And he said to them, “This is my blood, of the [new] diatheke, which is (being) poured out for (the sake of) many. 25Amen, I say to you that no, no longer shall I drink out of the produce of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26And (at) their eating, taking bread (and) blessing, Jesus broke (it), and, giving to the learners, said: “Take (and) eat, this is my body.” 27And taking [the] cup and expressing gratitude, he gave (it) to them, saying: “Drink out of it, all (of you), 28for this is my blood, of the [new] diatheke, which is (being) poured out around/concerning many unto the release/forgiveness of sins. 29And I say to you, I shall not drink again from the produce of the vine until that day when it drink it new, with you, in the kingdom of my Father.” 14And when the hour came to be, he fell/sat down (to eat), and the apostles with him. 15And he said to(ward) them, “With longing, I have longed to eat this pascha with you, before by suffering. 16For I say to you that I shall not eat it until that (time) it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17And receiving/taking (the) cup (and) expressing gratitude, he said: “Take this and divide (it) unto yourselves; 18for I say to you [that] no[, no longer] shall I drink from the produce of the vine from now on, until the (time) when the kingdom of God comes.” 19And taking bread (and) expressing gratitude, he broke (it) and gave to them, saying: “This is my body [that is given for you: do this unto my remembrance.” 20And like(wise) the cup, with/after the dining, saying: “This the cup is the new diatheke in my blood, that is poured out for you.] 21But more—see, the hand of the one giving me over (is) with me upon the table. 22That the Son of Man indeed travels according to that which was marked-out/determined, but more—woe to that man by whom he is given over!” 23And they began to question toward themselves (as to) the one of them who perhaps it might be, the (one) about to do this. 23For I took over from the Lord that which I also have given over to you: that the Lord Jesus, in the night that he was given over, took bread 24and, expressing gratitude, broke (it) and said: “This is My body which is [broken/given] for you. Do this unto my remembrance.” 25Like(wise) the cup, with/after the dining, saying: “This the cup is the new diatheke in my blood: do this, how often if you drink, unto my remembrance.” 26For, how often if you eat this bread and drink this cup, you announce the death of the Lord until the (time) when he comes.

Note especially the yellow highlighted text above, to demonstrate how close 1 Cor. 11:24-25 is to the disputed portion (vv. 19b-20) of Luke 22.

The textual tradition of Luke 22:17-20 is somewhat confused, as is indicated by the fact that six major variants are attested for this passage. The Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (second edition, pp. 148-150) provides a nice table summary, which I include here captured out of Biblesoft’s electronic version:

Actually, these six variants really can be reduced down to two: a long version, which includes vv. 19b-20, and a short version, which does not have the verses. The text-critical question then is: which of these is most likely the original reading? Was vv. 19b-20 added (an interpolation) by scribes at some point in the process of transmission, or were they deleted?

Interestingly, the manuscript evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the long version, as it is the reading found in every Greek MS except one. It is found in the oldest relevant papyrus (Bodmer, Ë75) and the major uncials (a A B C K L T W, etc.) as well as most miniscules and ancient Versions (translations). It is decidedly the Majority reading, including the entire early Alexandrian Tradition. On the other hand, the short version is only found in Codex Bezae (D) and in five Old Latin manuscripts (a d ff2 i l). Didache chap. 9 might also be a witness to an original cup-bread sequence (i.e., the short version).

The superior external (manuscript) evidence would seem to clinch the decision in favor of the long version, were it not for the fact that no one has been able to provide a good explanation as to how the shorter text ever could have happened. It does not appear to be the result of (any obvious) scribal accident. Moreover, a scribe, puzzled by Luke’s cup-bread-cup sequence, would more likely have remove the first mention of the cup, rather than the second, and thereby bring the sequence into harmony with the other Gospels (see above). Beyond this, it is a general rule of textual criticism that, in a choice between two readings, the shorter version is more likely to be original (lectio brevior potior)—though there are exceptions, of course. The long version has sometimes been called the more difficult reading (which generally is to be preferred); but I tend to regard both, in their own way, equally difficult. I must confess, it is a bit hard to imagine a pious scribe deleting vv. 19b-20, with their vital soteriological content. On the other hand, it is a bit easier to imagine a scribe adding these verses, given their obvious similarity to 1 Cor. 11:24-25—such familiar verses could have quickly taken root in the manuscript tradition, to be forever preserved in the Majority text.

One of the strongest modern advocates for the short text has been Bart Erhman, who devotes a lengthy discussion to the question in his book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford: 1993, pp. 197-209). While I disagree with much of his view of Lukan theology, he makes some excellent points regarding this passage. Here I cite a diagram (p. 206) which shows, from his point of view, the natural structure and continuity of the shorter text:

(A) And taking bread, giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body (v. 19a)

(B) But (pl¢¡n) behold, the hand of the one who betrays (tou paradidóntos) me is on the table (v. 21)

(A1) For (hóti, continuation!) the Son of Man goes as it was ordained for him (v. 22a);

(B1) But (pl¢¡n) woe to that man through whom he is betrayed (paradídontai) (v. 22b)

In the late 19th and early 20th century, influenced by Westcott and Hort’s analysis (this passage was one of their “Western non-Interpolations”), more scholars were willing to regard the short text as original; today, very few are willing to do so. Joseph Fitzmyer’s discussion of the issue in his classic 2-volume commentary (Anchor Bible 28A pp. 1386-1392) is as good as any. Fitzmyer, among others, brings out how Luke’s unusual cup-bread-cup sequence may simply preserve more of an original (historical) Passover context. There would have been (at least) three cups in the ceremony: a first cup (qiddûš) to sanctify the feast day, a second (hagg¹d¹h) following the liturgy, and a third (“cup of blessing”, kôs šel b§r¹k¹h) following the meal proper. In this scenario, the cup of vv. 17-18 could be the first or second cup, with the cup of the diatheke (‘new covenant’) in vv. 19b-20 would be the third. While it does not at all explain the omission of vv 19b-20 in the short version, this is a most attractive interpretation.

Overall, it is impossible to ignore the external (manuscript) evidence for the long reading, and I would tend to accept it as original. However, I do not regard it nearly as certain as many do today.

Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28

A much smaller, related variant was noted in the table above. Quite a few manuscripts, in both passages, read t¢s kain¢s diath¢k¢s (“the new covenant/testament”) instead of t¢s diath¢k¢s (“the covenant/testament”). As in the case of Luke 22:19-20 above, it is important to note that a high percentage of substantive textual variants involve the question of harmonization between passages (especially in the Gospels). Scribes were prone, intentionally or unintentionally, to modify the text of a Gospel to match that of another (also to modify an Old Testament quotation to match that of the Seputagint, and so forth). As a result, in choosing between variant readings, the one which more closely harmonizes with another passage, typically is less likely to be original. In this instance, kain¢¡s (“new”) is probably not original, and is most likely a harmonization, either from Luke 22:20 or 1 Cor. 11:25. It is also worth noting that scribes (orthodox ones, at least) were more apt to add a significant soteriological or Christological detail than to remove it.

Join me next Saturday for a discussion of additional variant readings which are important for a critical study of the Passion and Resurrection Narratives.

March 27: Luke 9:57-62

The next Son of Man saying in the Gospel of Luke is found in Lk 9:58, part of a sequence of three sayings (9:57-62) regarding the “cost of discipleship” in following Jesus (cf. the prior note on Lk 9:23-27). The first two sayings are also found in Matthew (Matt 8:18-22, part of the so-called “Q” material), but in a different location within the narrative.

Luke 9:57-62

Here is an outline of the passage:

  • Narrative setting (v. 57a)—”And (on) their traveling in/on the way…” [i.e. “as they traveled along the way”]
  • 1st Encounter with a follower (v. 57 b) and Jesus’ response (Saying 1, v. 58)
  • 2nd Encounter with a follower (v. 59) and Jesus’ response (Saying 2, v. 60)
  • 3rd Encounter with a follower (v. 61) and Jesus’ response (Saying 3, v. 62)

The reference to the “Son of Man” is found in the first saying, in response to the first would-be follower who approaches Jesus and declares: “I will follow you wherever you should go from (here) [i.e. from here on]”. Jesus answers him:

“The foxes have holes/burrows (to live in), the birds of the heaven [i.e. the sky] (have) ‘tents’ put down [i.e. nests] (for them), but the Son of Man does not have (any)where to bend (down) his head [i.e. to sleep/reside].”

The saying has a proverbial feel about it, and certainly draws upon the same common-place imagery from nature regularly used by Jesus in his parables and illustrations. As in a number of the Son-of-Man sayings, there are two points of emphasis at work:

    1. Jesus identifies himself with humankind, especially in its weakness and lowliness. It is possible that, at the historical level, Jesus is simply using “Son of Man” in place of “I” (as a self-reference). The (Aramaic and/or Hebrew) expression is known to have been used this way, but its currency at the time of Jesus is quite uncertain.
    2. He particularly stresses the suffering and/or humiliation endured by the “Son of Man”. If, by this expression, a coming heavenly/Messianic figure is meant (cf. the note on Lk 9:26f), then it offers a striking contrast to his power/glory, as appears to be the case in the earlier Passion predictions (Lk 9:21, 43-45).

On the more practical, ethical level, Jesus presents himself as an example of self-denial and poverty, having abandoned everything, and now with nothing, no place to call his own—not even a pillow for his head! Those who would follow him must be willing to live the same way.

Now let us briefly consider the last two sayings. Each is set as an encounter with a would-be follower, but in a slightly different format—(1) Jesus calls the person to follow him, (2) the person requests time first to deal with family business, and (3) Jesus answers with a stark (even harsh) saying regarding the cost of following him. Here are the two encounters in outline:

    • Jesus: “Follow me”
      Response: “[Lord,] turn/give upon me (permission) to go from (here) first (and) to bury my father” (v. 59)
      Jesus’ saying: “Leave/release the dead to bury their (own) dead; but you, go from (here and) give throughout the message (of) [i.e. declare/announce] the kingdom of God!” (v. 60)
    • Jesus: (“Follow me”)
      Response: “Lord, I will follow you, but first turn/give upon me (permission) to arrange (things and depart) from the (one)s in my house” (v. 61)
      Jesus’ saying: “No one casting a hand upon the plough and looking (back) to the (thing)s behind is set (very) well for the kingdom of God!” (v. 62)

On the surface, both men make very reasonable requests of Jesus—they are apparently willing to leave their homes to follow Jesus, but ask permission to go and set their affairs in order first. In each instance, however, Jesus responds with a striking proverb illustrating the cost of discipleship and the requirement to follow him immediately. Each saying also makes mention of the “kingdom of God”. The latter saying is more in keeping with Jesus’ parables regarding the kingdom, and the typical imagery from nature and agriculture used so often in them; it is also relatively simple and straightforward to understand. The former saying is far more difficult, and has proven quite problematic (even troubling) for Christians over the centuries, especially since Jesus appears to be telling the man to abandon his filial obligation toward his parents, seemingly in violation of the commandment to honor one’s father and mother (Exod 19:12 par). This is not the place to survey the history of interpretation and the various attempts to explain (away) the difficulty of the saying, other than to note that it is best to take the saying at face value and to allow its full impact. In my view, there are two primary ways to read the saying:

    • “Let the dead bury themselves”—i.e. forget about the obligation to bury the dead, you must follow me right now!
    • “Let those who are dead (figuratively) bury their own people”—i.e., for you, following me takes priority over the ordinary (family/community) activities of (living and) dying; a deeper theological/spiritual interpretation along these same lines might be, e.g. “those who do not (or refuse to) follow me are dead; as for you, follow me and be among the living” (cf. Lk 24:5, also Lk 9:24; 17:18-22 par, etc).
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March 26: Luke 9:51-56

Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem begins with Lk 9:51-56. As previously noted, Luke gives more prominence to this journey than the other Gospels, using it as the setting for all of Lk 9:51-19:27 (nearly ten full chapters), during which he places considerable teaching by Jesus, including a number of famous parables found only in Luke, as well as material found in different locations in Matthew. Let us consider these introductory verses in more detail.

Luke 9:51-56

Verse 51 provides the narrative setting, and displays several clear signs of Lukan composition. Two phrases in the first clause are particularly noteworthy:

    • “the filling together of the days”—the verb being a passive infinitive of sumplhro/w (“fill together, fill up”), with the prefixed element sun- functioning as an intensive (i.e. “fill up completely”). The expression “fill up the days (or the time)”, using the simpler verb plhro/w (or the related plh/qw/pimplhmi), is an idiom found frequently in Luke-Acts (Luke 1:23, 57; 2:6, 21, 22; 21:21, 24; Acts 2:1; 7:23, 30; 9:23; 24:27). The phrase in Acts 2:1 is nearly identical with that here in Lk 9:51. It is a temporal phrase, indicating that a specific set time is approaching—”in the filling together of the days” (i.e., as the time was approaching).
    • “of his being taken up”—the noun a)na/lhyi$ (occurring only here in the NT) is derived from the verb a)nalamba/nw (“take/receive up”), used specifically for Jesus’ departure (“ascension”) to God the Father in Acts 1:2, 11, 22 (also Mark 16:19; 1 Tim 3:16); in Lk 24:51 [MT] the similar verb a)nafe/rw (“carry up”) is used. Here in Lk 9:51 it refers to all the events which will take place in Jerusalem, up to and including the ‘ascension’. In this regard it functions similarly to e&codo$ (“way out”, i.e. departure) in 9:31.

If the first clause establishes the temporal and dramatic setting, the second clause sets the narrative in motion:

“he firmly set (his) face to travel into Jerusalem”
au)to\$ to\ pro/swpon e)sth/risen tou= poreu/esqai ei)$  )Ierousalh/m

The definite article before the infinitive specifies the travelling—i.e., “…to the journey into Jerusalem”. For the use of the verb sthri/zw in Luke-Acts, cf. Lk 16:26; 22:32; Acts 18:23. Here the expression may be derived from LXX Ezek 6:2; 13:17; 14:8.

In verse 52, we find an allusion to Malachi 3:1 as set in Gospel tradition: John the Baptist is the Messenger (Elijah, cf. Mal 4:5-6) who prepares the way for the Lord’s (i.e. Jesus’) coming. This is expressed in Mark 1:2-3 par, as well as Lk 1:17, 76ff; 7:27 par. Note the parallel:

Mal 3:1 [LXX]:
“…I set out forth [i.e. send out] from (me) [e)caposte/llw] my Messenger [a&ggelon]…before my face [pro\ prosw/pou mou]”
Luke 9:52
“and he set forth from (him) [a)pe/steilen] messengers [a)gge/lou$] before his face [pro\ prosw/pou au)tou=]”

From the standpoint of the Gospel narrative (and tradition), the disciples take over the role of “Messenger” from John the Baptist—cf. Luke 7:28 par; John 1:35-37; 3:28-30. Moreover, they go specifically “to make (things) ready” [e(toima/sai] for Jesus. Consider the development of Mal 3:1 in this respect:

    • The original Hebrew—the Messenger turns (and faces) [hn`P*] the way, the use of the causative stem perhaps carrying the sense of turning things/people out of the way (i.e. clearing the way).
    • The Greek LXX—the Messenger “looks upon” the way, using the verb e)pible/pw, with the sense of paying close attention to something, showing concern/respect for it, examining it, etc.
    • Mark 1:2; Lk 7:27 pars—the Messenger “prepares” the way, that is, equips it for use, supplies/furnishes what is necessary, etc. The verb is kataskeua/zw (an intensive form of skeua/zw).

Now the other Old Testament passage applied to John the Baptist is Isaiah 40:3ff—the voice which declares “make ready the way of the Lord”. As with Mal 3:1, the Hebrew uses the causative (piel) form of hn`P* (“turn, face”); while both the LXX and the Gospels translate with e(toima/zw (“make ready”, imperative e(toima/sate)—the same verb used in Luke 9:51. In Mark 1:2-3, both OT references are combined, bringing together the verbs kataskeua/zw and e(toima/zw (“prepare…” / “make ready…”); the same combination is found in Luke 1:17, applied to John the Baptist. All of this simply reinforces the idea that the disciples are here fulfilling John’s role, as described in Mal 3:1 / Isa 40:3ff.

The disciples “prepare the way” before Jesus also in Luke 10:1, but more notably in the preparations made prior to Jesus’ (triumphal) entry into Jerusalem, as recorded in Synoptic tradition (Lk 19:28-34 par). In some respects, this provides an even closer parallel to Malachi 3:1, since the narrative depicts Jesus entering Jerusalem and coming into the Temple (19:45-48 par).

If Isaiah 40:3-5 is in mind in Luke 9:51-56, as seems likely (only Luke cites vv. 4-5, cf. Lk 3:5), then the narrative may also be illustrating the obstacles (Isa 40:4-5a) in the way—embedded within the phrase “…into a village of Samaritans” (v. 52). Here the “obstacles” and barriers are expressed in terms of religious and ethnic prejudice—i.e. between Jews and Samaritans (cf. John 4:9; Matt 10:5, and the general context of Lk 10:29-37; 17:11-19; John 4:1-42; 8:48; Acts 8:4-25). The precise history of the division and animosity between Jews and Samaritans remains uncertain, but the roots of it presumably go back to the different groups which settled in Palestine following the Assyrian/Babylonian exile (cf. 2 Kings 17:5-6, 24-40; Ezra 4). This prejudice and animosity is expressed two-fold in the narrative (verses 53-56):

    • Verse 53: on the part of the Samaritans—refusal to offer hospitality
    • Verse 54: on the part of the disciples—seeking revenge for this affront

The Samaritans’ refusal is based entirely on the religious/ethnic division: “they did not receive him because his face was (set toward) traveling to Jerusalem” (v. 53 [cf. v. 51]). However, it is the disciples’ (James and John’s) behavior in response which reflects an even more serious and egregious expression of prejudice (tending toward violence), all the more extreme in they way that their vengeance is couched in grand biblical imagery (echoing Elijah, cf. 2 Kings 1:10-12). The association with Elijah is made explicit in certain manuscripts of verse 54, which add “…even as Elijah did”. It is possible to outline verses 53-56 as a chiasm:

    • The Samaritans—refusal to offer hospitality (v. 53)
      —The Disciples—seeking revenge (v. 54)
      —Jesus’ response—lays blame upon them (v. 55)
    • Jesus’ response—travels into another village (v. 56) [Lk 9:4-5 par; cf. 10:5-11]

There is an interesting two-fold variant here in v. 55-56a (D Q Koine):

    • Verse 55—Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples is enhanced with a harsh declaration to them: “and he said, ‘You do not know of what spirit you are'”. This indicates that their desire for (violent) revenge/punishment on the Samaritans does not come from the Spirit of God, but from another (evil) spirit (cf. Mark 8:33 par, also Matt 5:37; 6:13).
    • Verse 56(a)—There is added a Son of Man saying by Jesus, similar to that in Luke 19:10 (cf. John 3:17): “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy the souls of men, but to save (them)”.

If original, this saying sets the “Son of Man” (identified with Jesus himself) in the context of suffering and sacrifice (with an emphasis on salvation). This would then be contrasted with the (Anointed) Prophet who brings judgment (cf. the reference to Elijah). In the same way, the Passion predictions—announcing the coming suffering and death of the Son of Man—appear to be offered (in part, at least) as an intentional contrast to the image and expectation of a glorious Messiah-figure. In Luke, the first Passion prediction follows Peter’s declaration of Jesus as “the Anointed One” (Lk 9:20, 21); the second Passion prediction follows the Transfiguration scene, where Jesus appears in glory with the Messianic Prophet-figures of Moses and Elijah and the voice from heaven declares him to be God’s “Son” and “the Elect/Chosen One” (Lk 9:30-35, 43-45). Before the Son of Man can appear in glory, he must first experience suffering and death.

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March 25: Luke 9:43-45

Following close after the Transfiguration scene in Luke’s account (Lk 9:28-36, cf. the prior note), we find the second of the three Passion predictions by Jesus (Lk 9:43b-45). These three prophecies are fixed in the Synoptic tradition, being found in all three Gospels. The parallel versions of the second prediction are in Mark 9:30-32 and Matt 17:22-23. In Mark, these pronouncements by Jesus of his impending suffering, death and resurrection, punctuate the narrative fairly evenly (Mk 8:31ff; 9:30-32; 10:32-34); Luke, on the other hand, includes a considerable amount of material between the second and third prediction (Lk 18:31-34). I examined the first prediction (Lk 9:21-23) in a previous note.

Luke 9:43-45

“And as they all (were) wondering upon all the (thing)s which he was doing, he said toward his learners [i.e. his disciples]:
‘You must set/place these sayings into your ears: for the Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men‘ (Lk 9:43b-44)

The verb paradi/dwmi literally means “give along”, or, specifically, “give over”—i.e., hand over, deliver—and can be used in a positive, neutral, or negative sense. The latter is meant here; in the context of the Passion narrative, this refers to the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. Interestingly, Luke’s version of this saying refers only to the arrest/betrayal, while in Mark/Matthew the entire Passion is summarized (as in the first prediction):

Mark 9:31—”The Son of Man is being given along into the hands of men, and they will kill him off, and being killed off, with [i.e. after] three days he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again).”
Matt 17:22b-23—”The Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men, and they will kill him off, and on the third day he will be raised (up).”

It would appear that Luke has retained only the first part of the saying. In several ways, the author has enhanced the dramatic impact:

    • Jesus introduces the saying with a solemn instruction: “you must set/place these words/sayings into your ears”. In English idiom, we might say something like “let these words really sink in”. It is possible that this instruction is related to other sayings and teachings, but only the prediction of verse 44 is presented here in the narrative.
    • By retaining only the first part of the Synoptic saying, it results in an extremely terse and enigmatic announcement, which creates a sense of menace and foreboding, since it is not stated what the “men” will do to him.
    • The reaction by the disciples (v. 45) has also been expanded (cf. Mark 9:32), emphasizing their confusion and lack of understanding (and the reason for it).

It is worth considering this last point in a bit more detail, by examining the structure and syntax of verse 45:

    • “but they did not know [i.e. understand] this utterance”
      • “and [kai\] it was covered over [i.e. hidden] from them…”
        —”…(so) that [i%na] they should not perceive it”
      • “and [kai\] they feared to ask him about this utterance”

This may also be arranged as a chiasm:

    • did not know this utterance
      —it was covered over from them
      —they feared to ask him about (it)
    • about this utterance

The significance of this sentence hinges on the central, inner sub-clause: “that they should not perceive it”. The exact force of the connective particle i%na is uncertain; there are two main possibilities:

(a) it was covered over… and so (as a result) they could not perceive it
(b) it was covered over…so that they would not (be able) to perceive it

The second interpretation expresses purpose, and would certainly mark the passive form of the prior verb as a theological passive—i.e., it was hidden from them by God. The precise syntax here is almost impossible to render literally in English: an imperfect (h@n “it was [being]”) + perfect passive participle (parakekalumme/non “having been covered over”). In English we might say “it was being covered over” or “it had been covered over”, but we cannot really combine them—i.e., it had been covered over by God, and was now being covered over for the disciples in their experience. The idea that God and/or Christ would want to keep the truth hidden, or from being properly understood, may be troublesome to Christians, but it is very much present throughout the Gospel tradition (cf. Mark 4:11-12 par [citing Isa 6:9-10]), especially with regard to the so-called “Messianic secret” (Mark 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9 pars). It was not until after the resurrection that Jesus’ disciples were to understand just who he was and what many of his sayings truly meant (John 2:22, etc).

The second Passion prediction, like the first, is a saying involving the expression “Son of Man”. There is little here to add in relation to the first saying, other than to point out that the specific emphasis on the betrayal/arrest of Jesus enhances the idea of suffering—that the Son of Man should suffer. This may be meant to draw a contrast with the previous glory of the Transfiguration scene, just as the first Passion prediction could be contrasted with Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the Anointed (One)”. That the ‘Messiah’ should be given over to suffer and die would certainly be startling and difficult to understand. In this regard, note how Luke’s shortened version of the saying creates a striking (poetic) parallel:

    • the son of man (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou)
      —to be given over
      —into the hands of
    • men (a&nqrwpoi)

Earlier, I had pointed out that the main use of “son of man” in the Old Testament (Hebrew <d*a* /b#), was as a (poetic) synonym for “man” (<d*a*), as a way to express the nature and character of humankind, a human being, particularly with respect to mortality. Here we find a reverse parallel (“son of man… man”) which specifically emphasizes the suffering and death of Jesus.

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March 24: Luke 9:28-36

Within the Synoptic tradition, the Transfiguration episode is part of a series that divides the Gospel narrative between the time of Jesus’ ministry (in Galilee) and his ministry in Jerusalem prior to his death. Using Mark as the reference point, I would outline these as follows:

    • Peter’s Confession of Jesus as “the Anointed” [Christ/Messiah] (Mk 8:27-30)
      —Instruction not to reveal it to anyone (v. 30)
    • Jesus’ first prediction of the Passion (Mk 8:31ff) [Son of Man saying]
    • Five sayings on discipleship (following Jesus), in an eschatological context (Mk 8:34-9:1) [Son of Man saying, v. 38]
    • The Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10), with reference by Jesus to his death/resurrection
      —Instruction not to reveal it to anyone (v. 9f)
    • Question and teaching regarding the (eschatological) coming of Elijah (Mk 9:11-13) [Son of Man saying, v. 12]
    • A healing miracle (Mk 9:14-28)
    • Jesus’ second prediction of the Passion (Mk 9:30-32) [Son of Man saying]
    • Question involving Jesus’ disciples and their position (Mk 9:33-34), leading to teaching regarding true discipleship and humility, including an illustration involving children (Mk 9:35-37ff, 10:13-16)
    • Request of a man [‘Rich Young Ruler’], culminates in a question of whether he will follow Jesus (Mk 10:17-22ff), followed by additional teaching for his disciples (10:23-31)
    • Jesus’ third prediction of the Passion (Mk 10:32-34) [Son of Man saying]
    • Question involving Jesus’ disciples and their position (Mk 10:35-40), leading to teaching regarding true discipleship and humility (Mk 10:41-45) [Son of Man saying, v. 45]
    • Request of a man [a blind beggar], culminates in his following Jesus (Mk 10:46-52)

We can see how the three Passion predictions punctuate and portion out fairly evenly the material in these chapters (Mark 9-10). In particular there is a loose, but clear pattern to the second and third sections. All three Synoptic Gospels share this basic outline, though, as I have already pointed out, Luke has greatly expanded the portion corresponding to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, ‘omitting’ Mk 9:42-10:12 par, and ‘adding’ all of Luke 9:51-18:14. Referring to the above outline, Luke 9:18-50 corresponds to Mark 8:27-9:41, and even more decisively marks division between the earlier (Galilean) ministry (Lk 3:23-9:17) and the journey to Jerusalem (9:51ff). This is important for an understanding of the Lukan version of the Transfiguration scene, which I will explore briefly here.

The Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36)

For students and readers of the Gospels, this episode should be quite familiar, at least in its basic outline. It is common to all three Synoptics (Mk 9:2-10; Matt 17:1-9), and Luke follows the common account, though adding a few significant and important details which are worth examining [for an additional reference to the Transfiguration, cf. 2 Peter 1:16-18].

  • Luke introduces the account with “and it came to be, eight days after these sayings…” (v. 28), instead of “and after six days…” (in Mk 9:2; Matt 17:10). The author appears to be intentionally dating the episode differently, the “eight days” perhaps being an allusion to the feast of Booths (Sukkoth, cf. Lev 23:36). This seems likely, given the greater emphasis on motifs related to Moses and the Exodus in Luke’s version of the scene. The Sukkoth traditions (and the symbolism surrounding them) provide the context for Peter’s desire to build three tents (v. 33).
  • It is stated that Jesus went up into the mountain for the purpose of praying (v. 28b). The inclusion of this detail may be a foreshadowing of the garden scene in the Passion narrative (Lk 22:39-41ff par); prayer is also given particular emphasis throughout Luke-Acts.
  • The description of Jesus is modified slightly—Matthew and Luke (independently?) including a reference to the transformation of Jesus’ face (v. 29; Matt 17:2). Matthew states that his face “radiated (light)” [e&lamyen]; in Luke’s version “the visible-shape [ei@do$] of his face (became) other/different [e%tero$]”. It is not unlikely that an allusion to the transformation of Moses’ face (Ex 34:29) is involved here.
  • In the description of Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah, Luke adds two details (v. 31):
    (a) they were made visible before one’s eyes [vb. o)pta/nomai] in splendor [e)n do/ca]—this may be an intentional echo of the Son of Man saying in v. 26 (note also v. 27 par)
    (b) they spoke with Jesus regarding “his way out [e&codo$, éxodos] which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem”—probably referring both to Jesus’ death (cf. 2 Pet 1:15) and resurrection/exaltation, which clearly connects with the surrounding (Son of Man) Passion predictions of vv. 22, 44. Use of the word e&codo$ is almost certainly an allusion to Moses and the Exodus (cf. Exod 19:1; Num 33:38; Heb 11:22).
  • Matthew and Luke each (independently?) give greater emphasis to the cloud that appears (vv. 34-35; Matt 17:5), perhaps as an allusion to the theophany at Sinai (Exod 19:16ff). This is far more likely in the Lukan version, which adds the detail that “they [i.e. the three disciples] went into the cloud“, just as Moses entered into the cloud on Sinai (Exod 24:18).
  • In Mark/Matthew (Mk 9:7; Matt 17:5), the (Divine) voice from the cloud echoes the voice at Jesus’ baptism (in Matthew they are identical)—”this is my (be)loved Son…” However, in Luke (v. 35, according to the best manuscript evidence [Ë45, 75 a B L etc]) the declaration reads “this is my Son, the One gathered out [o( e)klelegme/no$] (i.e. the Chosen One)”. Luke’s use of verb e)kle/gomai is distinctive (11 of the 22 NT occurrences are in Luke-Acts); especially noteworthy is the use of the related (verbal) adjective e)klekto/$ (“chosen”) in Luke 23:35—there o( e)klekto/$ (“the Chosen [One]”) is set parallel with o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed [One]”), being applied (mockingly by the onlookers) to Jesus while he is on the cross.

These details shape and color Luke’s version of the scene in two principal ways:

  1. Greater emphasis is given to motifs associated with Moses and the Exodus, and especially with the theophany (manifestation of God) at Sinai. This, in turn, creates a closer connection between Jesus and Moses, as well as with Elijah, who also experienced a theophany at Mt. ‘Sinai’ (Horeb) [cf. 1 Kings 19:11ff].
  2. The transfiguration is brought more clearly into the context of Jesus’ (impending) death and resurrection, as found in the surrounding Passion predictions and Son of Man sayings. Lk 9:31, in particular, effectively sets the stage for Jesus great journey to Jerusalem (to begin in v. 51ff).
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March 23: Luke 9:26

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.

March 22: Luke 9:22

The first “Son of Man” saying in Luke which I will be examining in this Easter season note (cf. the prior introduction) is Luke 9:22—the first of three Passion predictions in Synoptic tradition where Jesus is recorded announcing (prophetically) his own suffering and death.

Luke 9:22

In all three Gospels, this first statement follows Peter’s confession of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$, ho christós, i.e. “the Christ”); for more on the idea of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (‘Christ, Messiah [j^yv!m* m¹šîaµ]’), cf. throughout the study series “Yeshua the Anointed“. The episode in Luke 9:18-20 (par Mark 8:27-29; Matt 16:13-16), culminating in Peter’s confession, is central to this identification in early Gospel tradition. Here, for the first time, Jesus’ own disciples begin to come to grips with who he is (note the question, “who do you count/reckon me to be?”); Peter clearly gives the answer. In fact, it may be possible to detect a development of Gospel tradition right in this passage. If we compare the three [Synoptic] versions (Mk 8:29 / Lk 9:20 / Matt 16:15-16), each has an identical question by Jesus: u(mei=$ de\ ti/na me le/get ei@nai; (“and who do you count/reckon me to be?”); however, Peter’s answer differs somewhat:

  • Mark has the shortest and simplest version:
    su\ ei@ o( xristo/$ “you are the Anointed (One)”
  • Luke’s version contains a bit more:
    to\n xristo\n tou= qeou= “(you are) the Anointed (One) of God
  • In Matthew it is expanded considerably:
    su\ ei@ o( xristo/$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= tou= zw=nto$
    “you are the Anointed (One), the son of the living God

In the view of many critical scholars, the italicized portions reflect subsequent belief about Jesus in the early Church, rather than Peter’s own words per se—that is, as a kind of gloss or commentary on Peter’s statement. Indeed, it is most unlikely that Peter had in mind a developed doctrine of Christ’s deity at such an early stage; however, it is certainly possible for an Israelite or Jew in the first century to have understood an Anointed figure (Messiah) as the “son of God”, at least in a qualified sense. The Aramaic text 4Q246 from Qumran would seem to confirm this (col. ii, line 1, cf. Lk 1:32, 35). Bear in mind also that Matthew records Peter’s answer (stated by Jesus) to be an inspired utterance by God (Matt 16:17); Peter may well have not understood the full force of what he was saying. Following this confession, the Synoptic tradition has the interesting notice that:

“laying a charge upon them, he gave along the message [i.e. instructed them] to tell this to no one” (Lk 9:21, par. Mk 8:20 / Matt 16:20)

On purely objective grounds, this instruction not to tell anyone he was the Anointed One (Messiah)—the so-called “Messianic secret”—must be historical and factual; it is extremely unlikely that such a tradition would have been produced (subsequently) by the early Church. Various suggestions have been made by commentators as to why Jesus would want to keep his identity a secret. Perhaps the most reasonable (and best) explanation is that it would (prematurely) result in the expectation that he would fulfill a particular idea of the Messiah—i.e., as a Davidic ruler who would restore the (earthly) kingdom of Israel (cf. Lk 17:20; 19:11; Jn 6:15; Acts 1:6, etc). Many of Jesus’ sayings and teachings about the kingdom (of God) reflect a very different idea. In any event, a follower who expected Jesus to fulfill the eschatological role of a triumphant Messiah-king, would certainly have been shocked by the Passion prediction by Jesus which comes in the next verse. I set the Lukan version side-by-side with Mark/Matthew in the context of the Synoptic tradition:

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)”

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)”

In the Lukan version, Jesus described four things which will happen, presented with a string of (aorist) infinitive forms. Here is the structure of the sentence:

  • dei= “it is necessary”
    • to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou “(for) the Son of Man”
      {the sequence of infinitives follows, linked by polla\ [“many things”, i.e. suffer many things]}
      • paqei=n “to suffer (many things)”
      • a)podokimasqh=nai “to be considered unworthy, i.e. be rejected”, literally something like “to be thrown out from the test”
        —rejected by [a)po\ lit. “from”] the Elders and Chief sacred-officials (“Chief priests”) and Writers (“Scribes”), i.e. members of the Council (Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem
      • a)poktanqh=nai “to be killed (off)”, that is, “se(n)t away to be put to death”
      • e)gerqh=nai “to be raised (up) in/on the third day

If we take this statement as authentic prophecy (by Jesus), then it provides an accurate summary of the events which would take place, as recorded in the Gospel narrative:

    • paqei=n—that he would suffer “many things” (polla/), covering the next two terms as well, but also including specifically Jesus’ suffering in the garden, along with his subsequent arrest (Luke 22:39-53 par).
    • a)podokimasqh=nai—the use of the verb a)po)dikma/zw indicates an examination, someone or something being taken under consideration or put to the test, etc. This certainly fits Jesus’ appearance before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:54-65 par). Contrary to popular belief, the meeting of the Sanhedrin presumably was not an official trial, but an ad hoc tribunal of sorts, in response to what was deemed an urgent situation. The prefix a)po indicates someone being taken away from consideration, removed from the test, i.e. being rejected, in this instance by the members of the Sanhedrin (the Elders, Chief Priests and Scribes).
    • a)poktanqh=nai—his being “killed off”, or, more precisely, being taken away and put to death—which includes all of the proceedings of the Roman governor (Pilate) leading to the execution (at the stake, i.e. crucifixion), Luke 23:1-49 par.
    • e)gerqh=nai—the resurrection, his being raised (from the dead), Luke 24:1-12ff par.

What of Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) here? Given Peter’s declaration in verse 20, we might have expected him to have responded that “it is necessary for the Anointed (“Christ”) to suffer many things…”, which is the language he is recorded as using in Lk 24:25-26, 46f, after the resurrection. Instead here he uses “the Son of Man”, as also in the other two Passion predictions (Lk 9:44; 18:31-32 par; cf. also 24:7). For the moment, I can only offer a tentative interpretation—a more complete explanation must wait until the other two passages have been discussed; but there are several possibilities which may be considered:

    1. Jesus simply uses the expression as a way to refer to himself, i.e. “the son of man” is equivalent to “I”. In a number of the Son of Man sayings, Jesus is clearly speaking of himself, and that is likely how the early tradition understood it here, judging by the parallel in Matt 16:21. There is some evidence for the use of “son of man” (<da /b / vna rb) as a circumlocution for the pronoun “I” or “you” in direct address, but it is relatively slight, and it is by no means clear that it was common practice in Jesus’ time. Such usage stems from the general or indefinite sense of the expression, i.e. “a(ny) man”.
    2. He may be identifying himself specifically with humankind, that is, in terms of his own human ‘nature’—here, especially, of mortality, including suffering and death. The idea, then, might be a kind of representative or collective identification, such as would be developed doctrinally in the early Church (cf. Romans 5:12ff; 8:3f, 17; Heb 2:10-18, etc).
    3. If he is drawing upon the image of a divine/heavenly figure (taken primarily from Daniel 7:13f; 10:5, 15), as appears to be the case in a number of the Son of Man sayings we will be examining (cf. Lk 9:26, etc), then Jesus may be indicating a striking contrast—instead of coming in (eschatological) glory and power, the “Son of Man” (that is, Jesus himself) will first suffer and be put to death. Only with the resurrection, will he appear subsequently in a glorious, victorious form.
    4. There may also be a specific contrast with Peter’s identification of Jesus as “the Anointed One” (Christ/Messiah), especially if understood in the (traditional) sense of an end-time Davidic ruler who will judge the Nations and restore the kingdom to Israel. It is abundantly clear, both from the New Testament and other Jewish writings of the period, that there was no expectation that the ‘Messiah’ would suffer and be put to death. Such an idea appears to be unique to Jesus’ own teaching, and must have come as something of a shock to his followers at the time. This is presumably the basis for the sharp exchange with Peter in Mk 8:32-33 / Matt 16:22-23, which is omitted by Luke. Of course, we cannot be sure exactly what Peter may have said; the verb e)pitima/w (also used by Jesus in Mk 8:33 [to Peter], and previously in Lk 9:21 par), has a fairly wide range of meaning—to place honor (and/or blame) upon someone, to place a charge upon someone; more generally, to rebuke, admonish, threaten, forbid, etc., depending on the context.

The Son of Man Sayings: Introduction

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.

(These daily notes also serve as a complement to the Study Series currently being posted—Jesus and the Gospel Tradition—the third part of which covers the Passion Narrative.)

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 article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, I examine in detail the background and meaning of this expression and how it applies to Jesus. Here, 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:

Saturday Series: 1 John 5:18

1 John 5:18

Today we follow up on last week’s study on John 17:11-12, with a brief examination of 1 John 5:18, perhaps the Johannine passage closest to Jn 17:11ff. The statement made by the author (trad. John the Apostle) is notoriously difficult to interpret, as evidenced by several key textual variants. Especially problematic is the central phrase, which has been read several ways:

    • “the one coming to be (born) out of God keeps/guards him”
      ho genn¢theís ek tou Theou t¢reí auton
    • “the one coming to be (born) out of God keeps/guards himself”
      ho genn¢theís ek tou Theou t¢reí h(e)auton
    • “the coming to be (born) [i.e. birth] out of God keeps/guards him”
      ho génn¢sis ek tou Theou t¢reí auton

Each reading has a different emphasis:

    1. The “one born out of God” (presumably Jesus, the Son) guards the believer
    2. The believer, as “one born out of God”, guards himself/herself (see verse 21)
    3. The (spiritual) birth itself guards the believer

The reading with the noun génn¢sis (i.e., “birth”) is almost certainly not original, but reflects a modification of the participle, most likely in an attempt to clarify the meaning of the passage.

Typically, in the Gospel and First Letter of John, the verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”) is applied to the believer, not to Jesus—see Jn 1:13; 3:3-8; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, and all of these references use the same expression “(born) out of God” [or, “…out of Him”]. It is thus reasonable to assume that both occurrences of the participle in 1 Jn 5:18 apply to the believer. On the other hand, the use of the aorist (genn¢theis) for the second participle is a bit unusual (compare the perfect gegenn¢menos for the first participle). This has led many commentators to suspect that there is an important distinction intended by the author. Though the verb gennᜠonly refers to Jesus’ birth (his human birth) only once elsewhere in the Gospel and 1 John (in Jn 18:37), the basic idea of Jesus as the Son makes the idea of a “birth” from God the Father entirely appropriate. Given the wordplay so common in the Johannine writings, it is likely that something similar is intended here in 1 Jn 5:18, with a dual meaning of “the one born out of God”—both the believer (i.e. child of God) and Jesus (the Son of God). If so, then the most likely original reading would be as follows:

“We see that every (one) th(at) has come to be (born) out of God does not sin, but the (one who has) come to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him, and the evil (one) does not touch him.”

The parallels with Jn 17:11-12 (and 15) are obvious. Yet, in that passage, as I indicated above, it would seem that the Spirit is in view. Upon Jesus’ departure (back to the Father), the Spirit takes his place in and among believers—thus it is the Spirit which continues the word of keeping/guarding believers in the Father’s name (which is also the name given to the Son). How might this relate to 1 Jn 5:18? The idea of coming to be “born out of God” is closely related to the Spirit, especially in John 3:3-8, where we read of coming to be born “out of the Spirit”. Now the Spirit comes to believers from the Father, but through Jesus—he is the direct source of the Spirit (Jn 3:34; 7:37-39; 15:26-27; 16:7; 20:22). Thus, it may be that the dual use of gennᜠin 1 Jn 5:18 is meant to indicate the shared birth we have with Jesus as Son/Children of God, a relationship which we have through the Spirit. The importance of the Spirit in earlier in chapter 5 makes such an inference all the more likely.

Let us examine this difficult verse in more detail.

“We have seen [i.e. known] that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin [ouch hamartánei]…”

I have intentionally stopped after the first clause, since it is this particular statement which has proven difficult to interpret, from a theological standpoint. First, the perfect participle (with the article)—ho gegenn¢ménos, “the one having come to be born” (i.e. born “…out of God“)—is used by the author as a descriptive title for believers (also in 3:9). The verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”) is used repeatedly this way (2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4; cf. also Jn 1:13; 3:3-8). This statement essentially repeats the earlier declarations in 3:9

“Every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not do/make sin [i.e. act sinfully]…”

and also in the prior v. 6:

“Every (one) remaining in him does not sin…”

At the same time, it is quite clear that believers in Christ do sin (1:8-10; 2:1-2, etc). How is this evidence to be reconciled? There are several possibilities:

    • The statements in 3:9 & 5:18 reflect prescriptive, rather than descriptive, language—i.e., expressing how things ought to be, the ideal, rather than how things actually are.
    • The present tense of the verb hamartánœ in 3:6-9 and 5:18 specifically indicates a practice of sinning—i.e. continual or habitual. According to this interpretation, true believers do sin, but do not continually sin.
    • The “sinlessness” of believers expressed in 3:6, 9 and 5:18 reflects the essential reality of our union with Christ, but not necessarily the daily life and practice of practice of believers, which entails the regular dynamic of both sin and forgiveness.

There are, perhaps, elements of truth in all three of these interpretive approaches. The first option is the simplest, but, in my view, is something of an artificial (modern) distinction. Probably the majority of commentators (and translators) adopt the second option, but, again, there is little clear indication of such a distinction in the text itself. The use of the present tense of hamartánœ scarcely need be limited to the idea of repeated or continual sin; much more likely is a simple distinction between past sins (cleansed upon coming to faith in Jesus) and present sins committed during the time now that one is a believer.

In my view, the third option above best fits the thought (and theology) of the letter, and is likely to be closest to the mark. Note, in particular, the way that the “sinlessness” is worded and qualified:

    • “the one having come to be born of God…”
    • “the one remaining/abiding in him…”

To understand this better, let us examine the context of each of the statements in 3:6, 9, and 5:18.

1 Jn 3:6. The statement is: “Every one remaining in him does not sin”. This is contrasted with the parallel statement in v. 6b: “every one sinning has not looked upon [i.e. seen] him and has not known him”. The combination of these statements would suggest that, if a believer commits sin, then he/she has not seen/known Christ, and (thus) is not a true believer. However, that is not quite the logic of the verse; consider the structure of it, outlined as follows:

    • The one remaining in Christ [i.e. the believer]
      —does not sin [i.e. characteristic of the believer]
      —the one who does sin (“sinning”) [i.e. characteristic of the unbeliever]
    • The one who has not seen/known Christ [i.e. the non-believer]

The thrust of the statement is the kind of dualistic contrast so common in Johannine thought and expression—seeing/not-seeing, knowing/not-knowing, believer/non-believer. How, then, should we regard the similar contrast between not-sinning and sinning? This is made more clear when we look at the prior statements in vv. 3-5, working backward:

    • “in him [i.e. Jesus Christ] there is not (any) sin” (v. 5b)
      —this is a fundamental statement of Jesus’ sinlessness; the “sinlessness” of believers must be understood first, and primarily, through this.
    • “and you have seen/known that that (one) [i.e. Jesus] was made to shine forth [i.e. revealed], (so) that he might take up [i.e. take away] sin” (v. 5a)
      —a central aspect of Jesus’ mission and work on earth, esp. his sacrificial death, was to “take away” sin (cf. Jn 1:29, etc); it is through this work of Jesus that we (believers) are cleansed from sin (1 Jn 1:7).
    • “The one doing sin does/acts without law [anomía], and sin is (being/acting) without law [anomía]” (v. 4)
      —on the surface, this seems simply to reflect the traditional principle that “sin” entails the violation of religious and ethical standards (“law”, “commandments”); however, the Gospel and Letters of John understand and interpret the “commandments” (entolai) for believers in a distinctive way (cf. especially the two-fold ‘commandment’ in 1 Jn 3:23-24). If “sin” is defined as being “without the commandments” then, here in the letter, this essentially means being without (real) trust in Jesus and without (true) love.
    • “Every one holding this hope upon him makes himself pure, even as that one [i.e. Jesus] is pure.” (v. 3)
      —this statement focuses more on the attitude and behavior of believers, with the expression “makes himself pure” (agnízei heautón); it functions as an exhortation for believers to live and act according to their true identity (in Christ). Paul does much the same thing when he exhorts his readers, e.g., “If we live in/by the Spirit, we should also ‘walk in line’ in/by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25).
    • “Loved (one)s, (even) now we are offspring [i.e. children] of God, but it is not yet made to shine forth [i.e. revealed] what we will be…” (v. 2)
      —this declaration is vital to an understanding of the author’s perspective here in the letter; it reflects the two aspects of a “realized” and “future” eschatology, applying it to our identity as believers (“children of God”). Already now, in the present, we are “born of God”, yet this will not be experienced fully for us until the end time. Thus, while we partake of the sinlessness of Christ, we do not act sinlessly at every point of our lives on earth.

1 Jn 3:9. At first glance, throughout verses 2-6ff, the author seems to be speaking generally about “sin”, and it is easy to insert a conventional religious and ethical sense of the word, as though he were simply summarizing traditional immorality such as we see in the Pauline “vice lists” (Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21, etc). Yet, a careful reading of the letter itself indicates that this really is not what he is describing. Indeed, apart from 2:15-17 and (possibly) 5:21, there is very little evidence of traditional ethical teaching in the letter. Which is not to say that the Johannine congregations were careless about such things; however, the emphasis in the letter is specifically on the two-fold “commandment” for believers stated in 3:23-24, etc—of (proper) trust in Jesus and (true) love for fellow believers. We must keep in mind the rhetorical background of the letter, which is directed against the would-be believers (“antichrists”) who have separated from the Johannine congregations. The author views them as breaking both of these “commandments”, and are thus sinning in a fundamental way that the remainder of the faithful are not.

In verse 10, the author begins transitioning his discussion toward the two-fold commandment, beginning with the duty to love one another, according to Jesus’ own example (Jn 13:34-35, etc). This is prefaced by the dualistic contrast of righteousness/sin and God vs. Devil, sharpening and intensifying the line of rhetoric. These characterize true believers, against those who are not (e.g. the Johannine separatists):

    • “the one doing justice/righteousness” vs. “the one doing sin” (vv. 7-8a)
    • “(the works of God)” vs. “the works of the Devil” (v. 8b)
    • “the one born out of God” vs. “the one (born) out of the Devil” (vv. 8a, 9a)

It is thus not merely a question of committing (or not committing) particular sins, but of attributes and qualities characterizing two different “groups” of human beings (and supposed Christians). Again, it is the purity and sinlessness of Jesus himself, the Son of God, by which we come to be made pure and ‘without sin’—i.e. “born of God”, “offspring of God”. The essence and character of this fundamental identity is clearly expressed in verse 7:

“the (one) doing justice is just, even as that (one) [i.e. Jesus] is just”

Doing justice does not make a person just; quite the reverse—the believer’s “just-ness” in Christ results in his/her acting justly. Note how this is expressed in verse 9; it will be useful to look at each component in the verse:

    • “Every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not do sin”
      • “(in) that [i.e. because] His seed remains in him”
      • “and he is not able to sin”
        • “(in) that [i.e. because] he has come to be (born) out of God”

This is one of the most elliptical statements in the letter:

    • “the one having come to be born out of God”
      —”he does not sin”
      ——”His seed remains in him”
      —”he is not able to sin”
    • “he has come to be born out of God”

Central to the “sinlessness” of believers is the essential reality that God’s seed (spérma) remains/abides [ménei] in us. We may fairly interpret this “seed” as the living/abiding Spirit of His Son (which is also His own Spirit). Just as there is no sin in the Son, even so there is no sin abiding/remaining in us.

This brings us again to the statement in 1 Jn 5:18; let us now examine the verse in its entirety:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin, but (rather) the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him, and the evil does not attach (itself) to him.”

The difficulty of the wording (and meaning) is reflected by several key variant readings, which were discussed briefly above. The main question is whether the second occurrence of the verb gennᜠ(aorist pass. participle, genn¢theís) refers to Jesus, as the Son of God, or the believer as child/offspring of God. Commentators and textual critics are divided on this question, which involves three different major variants, two involving the object pronoun, and one involving the form of the verb:

    • ho genn¢theis ek tou theou t¢rei auton
      “the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him”
    • ho genn¢theis ek tou theou t¢rei heauton
      “the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) himself”
    • ho genn¢sis ek tou theou t¢rei auton
      “the coming to be (born) [i.e. birth] out of God keeps watch (over) him”

It would seem that the first reading best explains the rise of the other two, and, in my view, is more likely to be original. Though the verb gennáœ, used in a symbolic or spiritual sense, otherwise always applies to the believer rather than Jesus (Jn 18:37 refers more properly to his physical/human birth), the emphasis in the letter on Jesus on the Son of God, and on that as the basis for our being “born of God”/”offspring of God”, makes it highly likely that the author is playing on such a dual-meaning here. This would also seem to be confirmed by 3:9 (cf. above), which speaks of God’s “seed” (i.e. son/offspring) abiding in the believer. It is this seed, this “offspring” born of God, which guards believers, keeping and protecting us from evil.

This concludes our exploration of the Gospel of John in these Saturday discussions. I have used this particular book as a way to demonstrate, inductively, many important aspects of Biblical (i.e., New Testament) criticism. Soon, I will begin introducing some of the special problems and issues involved in study and criticism of the Old Testament. However, next week, in commemoration of Easter season, I will be presenting the first of two studies on some of the important textual variants (and text-critical issues) in the Passion and Resurrection narratives in the Gospels. I hope that you will be here to embark on this exploration with me…next Saturday.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 1 (Jn 12:1-8)

John 12:1-8

Having discussed the Synoptic (Mark/Matthew) and Lukan versions of the Anointing of Jesus (cf. the previous two posts), it now remains to examine the version in John (12:1-8). Anyone who studies these three versions carefully will immediately recognize how close John’s version is to the Synoptic account (esp. that of Mark, 14:3-9). Indeed, the similarities far outweigh the differences. This marks the (Bethany) Anointing tradition as both early and authentic (on objective grounds), having been preserved in two distinct lines of Gospel tradition (John and the Synoptic). However, there are several significant differences in John’s account:

    • John’s episode is set six days before Passover (v. 1), compared with two days before in the Synoptic version (Mk 14:1 par).
    • The woman who anoints Jesus is identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus (v. 3, cf. verse 2 and 11:1ff). In the Synoptics, the woman is unnamed (Mk 14:3 par).
    • She anoints the feet of Jesus (v. 3), rather than his head (Mk 14:3 par).
    • The person who voices objection to this action is identified as Judas Iscariot (vv. 4ff); cp. Mk 14:4-5 and Matt 26:8-9.
    • The beautiful image in v. 3b of the smell of the perfume filling the house is unique to John’s account.

Each of these will be discussed briefly, in turn.

1. Six days—”Then six days before the Pesah {Passover}, Yeshua came into Beth-Ananyah {Bethany}…” The context in Mk 14:1 par indicates that the Anointing took place two days before Passover. More significantly, John clearly sets the Anointing before Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem (12:12ff), while in the Synoptics (Mk/Matt) it takes place after. Which chronology is correct, or more accurately reflects the original historical event (and tradition)? On the one hand, the Synoptic version may have relocated it, setting it within the Passion narrative, in order to bring out the association with Jesus’ death and burial (Mk 14:8-9 par; Jn 12:7). On the other hand, it is possible that John has intentionally placed it earlier in the narrative, in order to bring out the association with Lazarus and Mary in chapter 11. The traditional commemoration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, one week prior to Easter, is based on the chronology in John.

2. Mary—John is unique among the Gospels in identifying the woman with Mary, sister of Lazarus (v. 3). The episode follows immediately after the resurrection of Lazarus in chapter 11, in which both Mary and her sister Martha play significant roles in the narrative (vv. 5, 19-27, 31-33, 45). All three siblings appear at the dinner in chapter 12 (vv. 2-3), which may have taken place in the family’s house. Outside of John 11-12, Martha and Mary appear in Lk 10:38-42, but without any mention of Bethany or Lazarus. The identification of the woman with Mary is likely a secondary development, in line with the early Christian (and Jewish) tendency of identifying unnamed figures in the Scriptures with specific persons. Almost certainly, Mark reflects an earlier version of the tradition in this regard.

3. Judas Iscariot—Similarly, John identifies the person objecting to the anointing as Judas Iscariot (v. 4). Here, we can actually trace the development:

    • Persons present at the dinner, otherwise unidentified (Mk 14:4)

Interestingly, Matthew’s identification of the people with Jesus’ disciples is presumably meant to be positive—they object to the extravagant ‘waste’ of costly perfume which could otherwise have been put to the more practical use of caring for the poor. However, in John, the identification with Judas turns this around and is decidedly negative—Judas was a ‘thief’ and did not really have any concern for the poor. Here we must separate out for consideration two specific details (or traditions) which John includes:

    1. The person voicing objection was Judas (v. 4)
    2. Judas was a thief and did not care for the poor (v. 6)

The first of these fits with the information in Matt 26:8, that Jesus’ disciples were the ones objecting to the waste of perfume. The second is more difficult. Many scholars are naturally suspicious of such a detail since it seems to follow the early Christian tendency to vilify Judas and depict him in an increasingly negative and hostile light. This will be discussed further in an upcoming note on the traditions surrounding Judas in the Passion Narrative.

4. The feet of Jesus—In the Synoptic version, the woman anoints Jesus’ head (Mk 14:3 par), however, in John’s account, somewhat strangely, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with the perfume (12:3). Traditional-conservative commentators might be inclined to harmonize here, and say that she anointed both the head and feet, but the Markan account would seem to rule this out. In Mk 14:3 it is stated that the women shattered the alabaster jar—the implication being that she poured all the perfume over Jesus’ head. This helps to explain the objection to the “waste”—she used it all up in one extravagant action. More to the point, in each of the versions, the woman anoints either Jesus’ head (Mk/Matt) or his feet (Jn), but never both. Curiously, in Luke’s version of the Anointing, the woman’s action matches that of Mary’s in Jn 12:3:

“and standing behind (him) alongside his feet (and) weeping, she began to wet his feet with (her) tears and she wiped (them) out with the hairs of her head, and she ‘kissed’ his feet and anointed (them) with the myrrh-ointment” (Lk 7:38)

John’s description of the action is simpler (indicated by the words in bold above), but appears to follow the same basic tradition:

“Then Maryam…anointed the feet of Yeshua and wiped out [i.e. off] his feet with her hair…” (v. 3)

Some critical commentators feel that this represents the original tradition—i.e. anointing Jesus’ feet—and that, in the Synoptic version, it has been modified to the more understandable act of anointing Jesus’ head. The latter, of course, is more fitting for Jesus’ identity and dignity as the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) and King. However, the anointing of the feet is actually more appropriate, in some ways, for the symbolic embalming of a dead body (Mk 14:8-9 par; Jn 12:7).

5. The house was filled—It is likely that this beautiful and evocative detail in v. 3b is meant to symbolize the faith and devotion of Mary (and disciples/believers like her). In some ways this is parallel to the scene with Martha in the Lazarus narrative (11:20-27, esp. her declarations in v. 21 and 27). R. E. Brown (The Gospel According to John [AB vol. 29], p. 453) notes a (later) Jewish parallel from the Midrash Rabbah on Ecclesiastes 7:1: “The fragrance of a good perfume spreads from the bedroom to the dining room; so does a good name spread from one end of the world to the other” (translation his). This quotation also seems to suggest a relationship between v. 3 and the declaration by Jesus in Mk 14:9 par.