January 31: Galatians 1:6-11ff

In the previous note, I discussed Paul’s use of the eu)agge/l- word group in 1 Thessalonians (often considered the earliest of his surviving letters). We saw that, for the noun eu)agge/lion at least, by the late 40’s A.D. it had already come to have a definite technical meaning for early Christians—as the message regarding Jesus Christ, which ministers (such as Paul) were proclaiming to audiences, and which, through acceptance of it, people were led to become believers in Christ. At the same time, there is also evidence, we may say, of a distinctive Pauline development in the use and significance of the term. Among the points of emphasis appear to have been:

  • God as the source of the “good message”, who entrusted it specially to chosen ministers (such as Paul)
  • The content of the “good message” centered on what God has done through the person and work of Jesus.
  • The proclamation of the “good message” entails sacrificial service by the messengers (i.e. missionaries such as Paul), the two going hand in hand.
  • The effect of the proclamation is achieved through the power and work of the Spirit.

These defining aspects of the “good message” may not be original to Paul’s thought and expression, but there is no certain evidence for them prior to Paul’s (earliest) letters, with the possible exception of two or three Synoptic sayings of Jesus (to be discussed in an upcoming note).

The eu)aggel- word group is even more prominent in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, with the noun (eu)agge/lion) and verb (eu)aggeli/zomai) occurring 7 times each. The dating of Galatians remains disputed, with some commentators treating it as the earliest of his letters (mid/late-40s). This view is held primarily by traditional-conservative commentators, with an eye toward harmonizing the accounts in Galatians 2 and Acts 15. In terms of the subject matter, style, and rhetorical/polemic thrust of the letter, I find much in common with Romans and 2 Corinthians, and tend to think that it was probably written around the same time as those two letters. In any event, it may be argued that, in Galatians, we have Paul’s clearest (and most forceful) expression of what he means when he uses the eu)aggel- word group. The polemic character of the letter has much to do with this, since Paul is arguing against certain Jewish Christians who have a different sense of the religious identity for believers in Christ, and what that entails. Paul addresses this matter through his use of eu)agge/lion/eu)aggeli/zomai.

The bulk of occurrences in Galatians are found in the introductory section (exordium) of the letter (1:6-11), where the noun is used three times (vv. 6-7, 11) and the verb four (vv. 8-9, 11)—half (7) of all occurrences in the letter. Through this specific language, Paul establishes the importance of the terminology in relation to the conflict he addresses—eu)aggel- becomes a theological and rhetorical keyword. See, for example, how the exordium begins:

“I wonder that you (have) thus (so) quickly set (yourselves) over [metati/sesqe], (away) from the (one) calling you in (the) favor [of the Anointed], (and) into a different good message…” (v. 6)

The words in square brackets may not be original (e)n xa/riti instead of e)n xa/riti Xristou=); in that case, the reading would presumably be “the (one) calling you in (his) favor”—i.e. God calling believers in/through his own favor. The emphasis on believers’ identity in terms of the favor [i.e. grace] of God (rather than observance of the Torah) is, of course, developed strongly throughout the letter; however, note here how this is framed—the Galatians have, or are in danger of, setting themselves “into a different good message” (ei)$ e%teron eu)agge/lion). This rather neatly, and concisely, indicates that the religious views of those Paul is arguing against represent “a different Gospel” entirely. The prefix meta/ in the verb metati/qhmi indicates a change in position; as a political term, it can refer (in a negative sense) to a partisan viewpoint. The implication is that those who heed the message of these other Jewish Christians would be separating themselves from Paul and the Gospel message he preached to them. The line of rhetorical argument used by Paul, and beginning here in this verse, is meant to prevent that from happening.

Similar language is employed in verse 7, when Paul shifts from the Galatian believers, to the Jewish Christians who were proclaiming this “different Gospel”, stating that they are ones “wishing to turn over [metastre/yai] the good message of the Anointed”. The verb used (metastre/fw, “turn over/across”, i.e. pervert, change) is parallel to that used in v. 6 (metati/qhmi, “set over/across”), with its common prefix meta/ (indicating change of position or transferal). We already saw the expression “good message of the Anointed” (i.e. Gospel of Christ) used by Paul in 1 Thess 3:2; it also occurs in Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; 10:14; Phil 1:27, etc. It is best understood as an objective genitive indicating the content of the message—i.e. being about, or regarding, Jesus Christ.

The falsity of the “different Gospel” (of these Jewish Christians) is emphasized by Paul’s aside here in v. 7 that, in reality, there is no “other” Gospel besides the one he has proclaimed to the Galatians. In verses 8-9, Paul uses the verb (eu)aggeli/zomai, 3 times) to say much the same thing, even more forcefully, emphasizing that is the message that is proclaimed, not the pedigree of the messenger doing the proclamation, which is at issue. Noun and verb are used together, for special emphasis, at the conclusion of the exordium, in a declaration that also transitions into the narrative section (narratio) of the letter:

“For I (would) make known to you, brothers, the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] th(at was) being given as a good message [to\ eu)aggelisqe/n] under [i.e. by] me, that it is not according to man…” (v. 11)
Note the effective wordplay in this emphatic doubling—to euangelion / to euangelisthen.

The narratio (1:12-2:14) which follows brings out clearly two points outlined above: (1) that the good message comes from God as its source, and (2) Paul is one of the ministers specially entrusted with the good message (by God). These two points serve to confirm the truth of the (version of) the message proclaimed by Paul, and, by implication, the falseness of anything different. Paul’s situation is all the more unique because of his commission by Jesus himself through a special revelation (v. 12). The remaining four occurrences of the noun eu)agge/lion are all here in the narratio (2:2, 5, 7, 14 [along with the verb in 1:23]), beginning with verse 2:

“…the good message which I proclaim among the nations”

The context (i.e. second half of the narratio) is a meeting in Jerusalem (usually identified with that of Acts 15), in which Paul’s role as an (apostolic) missionary to the Gentiles (non-Jews) in Syria, Asia Minor and Greece, etc, was confirmed (cf. also v. 7). The statement in verse 5 is especially significant, in relation to the conflict regarding believers and observance of the Torah, whereby the expression “the truth of the good message” is essentially identified with “the freedom which we hold in the Anointed Yeshua”—i.e., freedom not be ‘enslaved’ again by any requirement to observe the Torah (v. 4). The same expression, “truth of the good message” occurs again at the close of the narratio (v. 14), where the point of conflict is stated most clearly, and, in rather practical religious terms.

The final occurrence (of the verb) is in 4:13; interestingly, it is the only instance where the eu)aggel- word group is used (directly) in the main body (probatio) of the letter, an indication, perhaps, of how powerfully Paul had already established the association—i.e., the truth of his position with the Gospel itself—so that there was really no need to clarify this point further. However, the rhetorical emphasis in 4:13 is interesting to note, as it stresses again that it is the content of the message, and not the messenger himself (i.e., Paul) that is important. Paul proclaimed the good message “through weakness [lit. lack of strength] in the flesh”, and yet, through faith/trust, the Galatian believers accepted him “as a messenger [a&ggelo$] of God”, even “as the Anointed Yeshua” himself (v. 14). Again, this is due, not to Paul’s own character, but to the power of the message of Christ which comes from God.

If the “good message” is not tied to observance of the Old Testament / Jewish Law (Torah), then, in terms of the religious identity of believers, it must be centered upon something else. This is not specified directly in connection with the term eu)agge/lion in Galatians (or 1 Thessalonians), but is implied throughout the letter, especially in the lengthy main section (the probatio) of chapters 3-4, where it is expounded in detail. The content of the “good message”, quite apart from the Torah and the (Old) Covenant, is based entirely on the person and work of Jesus—establishing a New Covenant with God’s people. Paul brings this theological matrix of meaning more directly in line with his use of the eu)aggel- word group in other letters, such as that to the Romans, which we will examine in the next note.

January 30: 1 Thess 1:5; 2:2, etc

In these notes on the earliest Christian usage of the eu)aggel- word group, we turn now to the letters of Paul. First Thessalonians is generally regarded as the oldest of his surviving letters, dated perhaps from the late 40s. Thus it represents important evidence for early Christian use of the noun (eu)agge/lion) and verb (eu)aggeli/zomai). The noun occurs 6 times (1:5; 2:2, 4, 8-9; 3:2) and the verb once (3:6). The first occurrence is in the opening section (exordium) of the letter, the conclusion of a long sentence in Greek, spanning verses 2-5, and which has the following outline:

  • “We give (thanks to God) for (his) good favor always about all of you… (v. 2)
    • remembering your work of trust/faith… (v. 3)
    • having seen/known…your (bei)ng gathered out (by God) (v. 4)
      • (in) that [o%ti, i.e. for/because] our good message [eu)agge/lion]…” (v. 5)

Verse 5 is a climactic o%ti-clause, though many translations will render it as a separate sentence in English. Here is the clause in full:

“that our good message did not come to be unto you in (an) account [i.e. word] only, but also in power and in the holy Spirit, [and] (very) much in the full carrying (out of it), even as you have seen what (kind of messenger)s we came to be [among] you, through you [i.e. on your behalf].”

There is a subtle chiasm to this complex clause:

    • the good message came to be unto you
      • in an account (i.e. word, preaching of the Gospel)
        • in power and
          • the Holy Spirit
        • the full carrying out of it (i.e. with confidence/assurance)
      • “what kind of…” (i.e. our character as ministers of the Gospel)
    • we came to be among you (as messengers)

From a chronological perspective, verses 2-5 work backward, indicating the effect of the Gospel message:

    • Believers in the present (“we give thanks…about you”)
      • Their work and demonstration of faith up to this point (“remembering…”)
        • Their election, lit. being “gathered out” by God [as believers in Christ] (“having seen…”)
          • The preaching of the Gospel (“our good message unto you…among you, through/for you”)

This, I think, provides a convenient snapshot of how Paul understands the word eu)agge/lion: it is the message regarding Christ, which Paul (and his fellow ministers) have been preaching, and which has led (through the work of the Spirit) to people becoming believers in Christ. The expression “our good message” can easily be misunderstood, as though Paul were taking an undue position of prominence; indeed, some copyists appear to have found it problematic, and modified it to “the good message of God“, used elsewhere in the letter (cf. below). But in verse 5, the emphasis is on Paul’s (and the other missionaries’) role in proclaiming the message, putting it (in the exordium of the letter) on a personal basis.

After this, the noun eu)agge/lion is used four times in the narratio (historical/narration section) of the letter, in verses 2, 4, 8, and 9, and again in 3:2. Contrary to the expression “our good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion u(mw=n) in 1:5, here we find instead “the good message of God” (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= qeou=). The genitive can be understood several ways: (a) possessive [i.e. belonging to God], (b) attributive/descriptive [i.e. having a divine character], (c) indicating content [i.e. about God], or (d) ablative [i.e. coming from God, as its source]. The New Testament usage overall suggests the latter—a subjective genitive in the sense that the “good message” comes from (i.e. sent or brought about by) God. Regarding Paul’s use of the noun here, we may note that:

    • the “good message” is something spoken (i.e. preached/proclaimed) by Paul and his fellow missionaries to others (v. 2)
    • the missionaries were entrusted with the message by God (v. 4), as a result of God’s own thought and consideration
    • the message is tied to the sacrificial service (on God’s behalf) of the messenger (v. 8)—”we thought it good to give over to [i.e. share with] you not only the good message of God, but also our own souls”
    • the proclamation of the message is something which takes place over a considerable period of time (not just in one or two meetings), and as the result of considerable labor (v. 9)

In the narratio of his letters, Paul’s often relates the background of his missionary labors, summarizing and reminding his readers of what was done (and is being done) on their behalf in the proclamation of the Gospel. In 1 Thessalonians there is less of a defined rhetorical structure (compared with Galatians, for example). A long narratio (2:1-3:5) is followed by the central message of the letter, which is rather brief (3:6-13), being primarily exhortational in nature, with no specific issues or controversies to be addressed. Additional instruction is provided in 4:1-5:11. The final occurrence of the noun eu)agge/lion is found at the close of the narratio (3:2), where the expression has again changed to be “the good message of Christ” (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= Xristou=). Here the genitive is best understood as meaning “about Christ, regarding Christ”, which will be discussed further in the next note.

Thus Paul uses the noun in three different genitival expressions, each of which refers to a different aspect of the meaning of the word:

  • our good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion u(mw=n)—i.e. the message which we were entrusted by God to proclaim
  • “the good message of God (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= qeou=)—i.e., the message which comes from God, and which comes about because of what God has done
  • “the good message of (the) Anointed {Christ} (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= qeou=)—i.e., the message is about Jesus as God’s Anointed, and what God has done through him.

What is clear, however, is that, by the late-40’s the noun eu)agge/lion appears to have a relatively well-defined technical meaning—i.e. as a message about Jesus Christ—which Paul does not need to clarify for his readers. Interestingly, the related verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used in 1 Thessalonians in the general sense (of good tidings generally, 3:6), and does not carry the same technical meaning as the noun. This contrasts with the frequent Lukan usage of the verb (discussed in the previous note).

The authorship of 2 Thessalonians remains disputed by (critical) commentators, with many believing the letter to be pseudonymous. However, if the Pauline authorship is genuine, the letter was presumably written around the same time as 1 Thessalonians, and may even be the earlier of the two letters. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs twice in 2 Thessalonians (1:8; 2:14). The usage in 2:14 follows that of 1 Thess 1:5 (cf. above), using the expression “our good message” as the means by which God “gathered out” (i.e. called/chose) the Thessalonian believers. In 1:8, we find the more expansive expression “the good message of our Lord Yeshua”, which seems to serve as a kind of shorthand for the (true) Christian faith as a whole. While a bit unusual, the use of eu)agge/lion in the undisputed letters occasionally approaches this comprehensive meaning and may reflect a genuine Pauline development of the term.

January 29: Luke 7:22 par

The the previous day’s note, we looked at the Lukan tradition embedded in the episode at Nazareth (4:16-30)—namely, Jesus’ citation of Isaiah 61:1f (vv. 18-19) and his identification with the Anointed (i.e. Messianic) herald of the passage (v. 21). The authenticity of this identification is confirmed by a separate line of tradition: the pericope, or block of tradition, involving Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35 / Matt 11:2-19). This is part of the so-called “Q” material—traditions/sayings shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. The setting of this passage is a question sent to Jesus from John the Baptist, asking:

“Are you the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$], or do we look toward (receiving) another?” (Lk 7:19 par)

The expression o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”) is a kind of Messianic code-word, though one which was largely lost for Christians by the end of the 1st century. I discuss it in some detail in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (soon to be posted here). It is an allusion, primarily, to the oracle in Malachi 3:1ff, possibly drawing upon other passages (such as Psalm 118:26 LXX) as well. John is essentially asking Jesus if he is indeed the Anointed representative of God who is to appear at the end-time. It is the same sort of question asked of the Baptist in Jn 1:19ff (cf. also Lk 3:15ff), to which John, in his response, also makes reference to “one coming” (Lk 3:16 par; Jn 1:27, also vv. 15, 30). The answer which Jesus gives to John in the passage we are examining here (vv. 22f) is essential to an understanding of Jesus’ own Messianic (self-)identity; it is a blending of Isaian passages (e.g. Isa 29:18; 35:5-6), including 61:1:

“Take away a message (back) to Yohanan, (about) the (thing)s which you saw and heard:

      • (the) blind see again
      • (the) crippled walk about
      • (those with) scaly skin [i.e. ‘leprosy’] are cleansed and
      • (those with hearing) cut off [i.e. deaf] hear (again)
      • (the) dead are raised (and)
      • (the) poor are given the good message [eu)aggeli/zontai]”

The first and last of the bulleted items are found in the (LXX) of Isaiah 61:1 (cf. the previous note), and cited by Jesus in Lk 4:18: “…to bring a good message to the poor…to proclaim…seeing again for the blind”. Here this is interpreted in terms of the two-fold (Galilean) ministry of Jesus: (1) teaching/preaching (regarding the Kingdom of God) and (2) working healing miracles, the latter being especially emphasized (v. 21). Thus, as in the Lukan Nazareth episode (cf. the prior note), here Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed figure of Isa 61, adding to it the character of the miracle-working prophet according to the (Messianic) figure-type of Elijah (4:25-27). The identification of Jesus with Elijah is discussed in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (to be posted here). The relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, in terms of Messianic expectation (and various Messianic figure types, cf. Jn 1:19-27, etc), was a vital question for the first believers and the earliest Gospel tradition. However, the importance of the topic soon disappeared from early Christianity, and is scarcely detectable in the New Testament outside of the Gospels.

It is this use of the verb eu)aggeli/zw in Isaiah 61:1, and other deutero-Isaian passages (40:9; 52:7; 60:6, cf. the earlier note) which, I believe, explains its importance for Luke. The verb (middle eu)aggeli/zomai) occurs 10 times in the Lukan Gospel (and another 15 in Acts); by contrast, it is found just once in the other Gospels—and in the same “Q” tradition discussed above (Matt 11:5). There is thus a quite limited, exclusive usage of the verb in the New Testament Gospels:

  • The “Q” saying of Jesus, citing/alluding to Isa 61:1 (par Lk 4:18ff)
  • The centrality of the Isaian passage for Luke, and his frequent use of the verb in both the Gospel and Acts.

As mentioned previously, Luke never once in the Gospel uses the related noun eu)agge/lion, which, by contrast, is central to Mark (1:1, 14-15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9; [16:15]; preserved in four parallel passages in Matthew). Instead, it is the Isaian usage of the verb, with its Messianic/eschatological connotations, which colors the Lukan narrative. Apart from the occurrences in Lk 4:18, 43 and 7:22, it appears seven more times:

  • Four times in relation to the public ministry of Jesus:
    • “And it came to be…(that) he (travel)ed on the way down through (each) city and village, proclaiming and bringing the good message [eu)aggelizo/meno$] of the kingdom of God, and the Twelve with him…” (8:1)
    • “And, going out, they [i.e. the Twelve] went down through the villages bringing the good message [eu)aggelizo/menoi], and healing everywhere” (9:6)
    • “And it came to be…(with) his teaching the people in the sacred place [i.e. Temple] and bringing the good message…” (20:1)
      (Note that all of these passages represent distinctly Lukan composition [narrative summary]; the use of the participle may reflect the usage in LXX Isaiah, cf. the earlier note)
  • Twice in reference to the ministry of John the Baptist (parallel to that of Jesus):
    • (Lukan narration): “also many other (things)s he brought as a good message [eu)hggeli/zeto] to the people, calling (them) alongside” (3:18)
    • (Saying of Jesus): “The Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] (were) until Yohanan; from then (on), the kingdom of God is brought as a good message [i.e. the message of the kingdom of God is announced]…” (16:16; cp. Matt 11:12-1)
  • Twice in the Infancy narrative (both Angelic announcements):
    • “I was se(n)t forth from (God) to speak toward you and to bring you the good message (of) these (thing)s” (1:19)
    • “I bring you a good message of great delight which will be for all the people” (2:10)

Thus, within the Lukan narrative as a whole, three different persons (or groups) function as heralds bringing the “good news”: (1) the Angels (lit. Messengers, a&ggeloi), (2) John the Baptist, and (3) Jesus and his (Twelve) disciples.

In the next note, we will shift away from the Gospels and turn toward the early Apostolic (spec. Pauline) use of the eu)aggel- word group.

January 28: Luke 4:18

In the previous note, I examined the tradition in Mark 1:14-15, with its two-fold use of the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”), specially the saying by Jesus in v. 15. I mentioned that Luke does not include this saying at the corresponding point in the narrative (right after the baptism and temptation), but rather includes something comparable at a slightly later point, by adapting the Synoptic tradition of Mk 1:38-39 (cp. Matt 4:23/9:35):

“Let us lead [i.e. go] away from (here) into (all) the (places) holding village-towns, so that there also I might proclaim (the message); for unto this [i.e. for this reason] I came out. And he went proclaiming…” (Mk 1:38f)

“It is necessary for me also to bring the good message of the kingdom of God to the other cities, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is) upon this [i.e. for this reason] (that) I am se(n)t forth. And he was proclaiming…” (Lk 4:43f)

For the expression “good message of the kingdom of God”, Matthew has the similar “good message of the Kingdom” (4:23/9:35). Luke has transferred mention of the “good message” to this later point because he wishes to use the episode in the Nazareth synagogue to introduce Jesus’ public ministry. Otherwise, it is clear that he is working from the same Synoptic narrative outline:

We can see again how the tradition has been adapted to prepare for the Nazareth scene:

“…Yeshua came into the Galîl, proclaiming…” (Mk 1:14) “and…coming into the synagogue he taught” (Mk 1:20)

“And Yeshua turned back in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl… and he taught in the synagogues…” (Lk 4:14-15)

By moving the reference to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue to a slightly earlier point in the narrative, it prepares the reader for his appearance in the Nazareth synagogue (4:16-30).

Luke 4:18

All three Synoptic Gospels record the episode at Nazareth, but the narrative is much briefer in Mark-Matthew (Mk 6:1-6; Matt 13:54-58) and is set at a later chronological position in the narrative outline. The Lukan account is much more expansive and detailed, including the quotation by Jesus of Isaiah 61:1-2. These differences have led many critical commentators to question the historical authenticity of the Lukan version. I discuss this episode, and the historical-critical question, in some detail in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (soon to be posted here), and I do not intend to go over the matter in these notes. It is certainly clear that, for the author (trad. Luke), the citation of Isaiah 61:1f on the lips of Jesus is central to the episode, effectively taking the place of the declaration in Mk 1:15.

Let us consider the verse from Isaiah—the opening words of the oracle in chapter 61—quoted by Jesus; first, a rendering of the Hebrew [MT] and Greek [LXX] side by side:

“The Spirit of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me,
because he (has) anointed me,
he sent me to bring (good) news (for the) oppressed,
to wrap tight the broken of heart,
to call (out) freedom for the (one)s taken captive,
and opening wide for the (one)s bound (in prison),
to call a year of pleasure for YHWH,
and a day of vengeance for our God,
to sigh deeply (with) all the (one)s (who) mourn”
“The Spirit of the Lord (is) upon me,
on account of which he anointed me to give a good message to the poor,
he has se(n)t me forth to heal the (one)s crushed together in the heart,
to proclaim release to the (one)s taken at spear-point [i.e. captive],
and seeing again for the blind,
to call a year received (favorably) by the Lord,
a day of giving out in exchange (for what was done),
to call alongside all the (one)s mourning”

The citation in Luke 4:18-19 does not match either the LXX nor any known Hebrew text, and appears to be an adaptation, presumably by the author. It generally follows the LXX, especially in the reference to the blind seeing again (tufloi=$ a)na/bleyin), which appears to reflect a misunderstanding of the Hebrew idiom j^oqÁhq^P=, an emphatic (doubled) form, “opening (the eyes?) wide” in the sense of being freed from bondage (i.e. from prison). The LXX reading (shared by Luke) could also indicate a variant underlying Hebrew, e.g. <yr!w+u! (“blind”) instead of <yr!Wsa& (“bound”). Certainly the idea of the blind seeing again was well suited to the miracles performed by Jesus during his ministry.

Regardless of the textual differences overall, the portion marked in bold above is what is most important for our study here. The Hebrew [MT] reads:

yn]j^l*v= <yw]n`u& rV@b^l= yt!a) hw`hy+ jv^m*
“…YHWH anointed me, he sent me to bring (good) news (for) the oppressed”

Compare the LXX:

e&xrise/n me eu)aggeli/sasqai ptwxoi=$ a)pe/stalken
“…anointed me to bring a good message to the poor, he has sent me…”

Two ideas are brought together: (1) anointing + (2) proclaiming good news; the Greek phrasing of the LXX/Luke puts these even more closely in context—i.e., the anointing is for the (primary) purpose of bringing/proclaiming the good news: “(he) anointed me to bring the good message” (e&xrise/n me eu)aggeli/sasqai). On the lips of Jesus, this is the Lukan version of the tradition in Mk 1:14-15; note:

    • The Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jesus (at the Baptism), Mk 1:10/Lk 3:22 (also Lk 4:1, 14), which functions as a kind of anointing (allusion to Ps 2, cf. Lk 3:22 v.l.).
    • Jesus proclaims the “good message” (Mk 1:14-15)

For Luke, presenting this in terms of Isa 61:1ff is most important, as he records Jesus identifying himself specifically with the anointed figure of the passage (v. 21). In some ways this is parallel with the initial words of Jesus in Mk 1:15:

    • “the time has been fulfilled [peplh/rwtai]” (Mk 1:15)
    • “this Writing has been fulfilled [peplh/rwtai]” (Lk 4:21)

The emphasis of the first declaration is eschatological, the emphasis of the second is prophetic, and, one may say, Messianic—Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed herald of the Isaian oracle. We know, on objective grounds, that this identification cannot be a Lukan creation, since it is preserved in a separate line of tradition, part of the so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but absent from Mark). We will examine this in the next daily note.

January 27: Mark 1:14-15

The first occurrence of the noun eu)agge/lion in the Gospel of Mark is found in the opening words of Mk 1:1, which function as a title for the work as a whole (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The next occurrence is in the fundamental tradition of 1:14-15—an early tradition which is central to the core Synoptic narrative, and, in the form which we have it, likely pre-dates the Markan Gospel by a number of years. It preserves a very simple form: (a) narrative introduction/summary, followed by (b) a saying of Jesus. This is the basic building-block structure for the Gospel narrative as a whole, only here the block of tradition consists of a single declaration by Jesus. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs in both portions, the first (narrative) perhaps being the result of the second (Jesus saying). Here is the Markan form of the tradition as a whole:

  • Narrative introduction/summary (v. 14):
    “And, with Yohanan being given along (into custody), Yeshua came into the Galîl, proclaiming the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] of God[, and saying]”
  • Saying by Jesus (v. 15):
    “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near—change your mind [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!”

This is clearly a rather different meaning of eu)agge/lion than we found in verse 1 (cf. the previous note), where it referred to the comprehensive message regarding the person and work of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel narrative. The meaning can be discerned at three distinct levels: (i) the historical saying (of Jesus), (ii) the saying as transmitted by the earliest Christians, and (iii) in the literary context of the Markan Gospel. Some critical commentators have expressed doubt as to the authenticity of the saying, at least in terms of the use of the noun eu)agge/lion, since it otherwise seems to have a developed Christian meaning, both in Mark and the remainder of the New Testament. However, while that may be true of other Markan passages, it does not appear to be the case here. If we consider the context of the tradition closely, the “good message” would seem to be the eschatological announcement that “the kingdom of God has come near”. That this is the essential content of the message, is, I think, confirmed by the chiastic bracketing in vv. 14-15:

    • “the good message of God”
      • “the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near
    • “…trust in the good message”

This eschatological message, with its twin announcement of judgment and deliverance, is fully rooted in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, and follows the tone and spirit of John the Baptist’s preaching. That the Baptist tradition(s) recorded in the Gospels are fundamentally authentic, on entirely objective grounds, is reasonably well established. I discuss this in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (soon to be posted here). That Jesus’ declaration is eschatological is all but certain from the wording (“the time has been fulfilled”), especially the use of the verb e)ggi/zw in the perfect (h&ggiken, “has come near”). I would maintain strongly that Jesus’ words here are in accord with traditional Jewish eschatology (and Messianic thought) of the period. The message may be summarized as follows: God is about to appear to bring Judgment upon humankind (the wicked/nations) and to rescue/deliver (the faithful ones of) his people from this current evil Age. In so doing, God establishes his Kingdom—his authority and rule over the earth and all humankind—and ushers in the New Age. There is here no trace of any specifically Christian content in the message, that is, no reference to Jesus’ own person and work. This fact, in my view (and on objective grounds), confirms the essentially authenticity of the saying.

At the historical level, Jesus likely would have done most, if not all, of his preaching and teaching in Aramaic. If the Greek of Mark 1:15 is an accurate rendering of Jesus’ words (in Aramaic), then the Greek noun eu)agge/lion may correspond to the Aramaic cognate of the Hebrew hr*c)B= (b®´œrâ), from the root verb rc^B*, “bring (good) news” (cf. the earlier note). The Palestinian Aramaic at*r=ocB= (“the [good] news”), which is the equivalent of to\ eu)agge/lion, is found, for example, in the M§gillat Ta±¦nît text (late 1st century A.D.?): “…on the 28th (day), (good) news came to the Yehudeans” (cf. Fitzmyer-Harrington, pp. 186-7). There is no reason why Jesus might not have used such language, given the Scriptural prophetic/eschatological connotation of rcb, though this is better attested for the verb than the related noun hr*c)B=.

If we wish to learn what Jesus understood his own role to be in regard to this “good news”, we must turn to a different line of early tradition, one involving the key passage of Isaiah 61:1ff. This we will do in the next daily note. However, before proceeding, it is worth considering how the Synoptic tradition in Mark 1:14-15 was preserved in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew includes the saying of Jesus, but only in its central portion, omitting mention of the “good message”:

“Change your mind [i.e. repent]! For the kingdom of the heavens has come near!” (Matt 4:17)

The expression “kingdom of the heavens”, in place of “kingdom of God”, is a feature unique to the Matthean Gospel. A narrative summary, roughly equivalent to that in Mk 1:14, occurs in a different position in Matthew, with developed features, most notable the expression “good message of the Kingdom” (eu)agge/lion th=$ basilei/a$). This occurs in Matt 4:23, and is repeated in 9:35 (cp. Mk 1:39). Luke does not record the saying of Jesus at the corresponding point in his narrative, though a similar declaration is made a bit later on, in 4:43:

“It is necessary for me to bring the good message [eu)aggeli/sasqai] of the kingdom of God to the other cities…”

Verse 44 is a short narrative summary (similar to Matt 4:23), and it would seem that Luke has blended the tradition from Mk 1:14-15 together with that of 1:38-39. The expression “the good message of the kingdom of God” is more precise than the Matthean “good message of the Kingdom”, and more closely encapsulates the saying in Mk 1:15. Two points, however, must be noted which are vital for a proper understanding of the Lukan saying:

  • In place of the Mk 1:15 tradition, Luke has included the episode at the synagogue in Nazareth, so that the first recorded words from Jesus’ ministry are a citation from Isaiah 61:1
  • Instead of the noun eu)agge/lion, Luke uses the verb eu)aggeli/zomai

It is conceivable, perhaps even likely, that Luke, in the 4:43 saying, preserves the more authentic phrasing by Jesus, utilizing the verb eu)aggeli/zw (Heb/Aram rc^B*). The key, I believe, is in Jesus’ own use of the Isaiah 61 passage. We will look at this more closely in the next daily note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer-Harrington” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Daniel J. Harrington, A Manual of Palestinian Aramaic Texts, Biblica et Orientalia 34 (Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Rome: 1978/1994).

January 26: Mark 1:1

Having looked at important aspects of the background and usage of the eu)aggel- word group in the previous notes, we will now examine a number of key verses and passages which indicate how early Christians made use of the word group. I will not treat every occurrence, but only those which are especially representative of usage within the earliest Christian and Gospel traditions. I begin with the opening words from the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 1:1

“(The) beginning of the good message of Yeshua (the) Anointed[, Son of God]”
a)rxh\ tou= eu)aggeli/ou  )Ihsou= Xristou= [ui(ou= qeou=]

The words in square brackets are absent from a number of manuscripts (a* Q 28c al) and may represent a scribal expansion. In any case, this opening statement functions essentially as the title of the work, which may be called the “good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion). Clearly, we have gone a step beyond the basic meaning of the word; though not yet at the point where eu)agge/lion refers to a Christian literary genre (“Gospel”), by referring to the entire book as to\ eu)agge/lion, it is pointing in that direction.

You may recall that the original meaning of the neuter noun eu)agge/lion had to do with the response to “good news”, such as the reward given to the messenger, or acts/offerings of celebration and thanks. The eu)aggel- word group was often used in the context of military action, the “(good) news” relating to the outcome of battle, deliverance from enemy forces, etc. As we shall see, for early Christians, [to\] eu)agge/lion came to have the technical meaning of the message of Jesus Christ—who he is and what he has done (or what God has done through him)—proclaimed by missionaries during the 1st century A.D. This is the meaning which attends the use of the noun here in Mk 1:1: eu)agge/lion refers to the Christian message regarding Jesus, in a thorough (and developed) written form—as a biographical and paraenetic narrative.

Thus, even though eu)agge/lion occurs here at the start of the Gospel (and the Synoptic narrative), it actually reflects the end of a process of development; it is this development which we will be examining in these daily notes, beginning with the saying of Jesus in Mk 1:15 par.

Some scholars have suggested that the use of the noun eu)agge/lion as a key word within the Gospel narrative itself, may be a specifically Markan innovation. As evidence in support of this, we may point out the following:

    • The position in Mk 1:1 as a title of the Markan Gospel (cf. above)
    • The occurrence at important points elsewhere in Mark (6/7 times): 1:14-15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9; [16:15]
    • The fact that the noun is rarer in Matthew, and only in passages that are part of the core Synoptic tradition (i.e. shared with Mark): 4:23/9:35; 24:14; 26:13
    • The noun does not occur at all in either the Gospel of Luke or John

This is not to say that the author of Mark (trad. John Mark) invented the use and significance of the word, only that he may have been the one who introduced it (as such) into the Gospel tradition, giving it a place of prominence.

The Lukan omission of the noun was already mentioned in the prior note; it occurs in Acts 15:7; 20:24, but is entirely absent from the Gospel. Given the fact that Matthew retains the noun in several passages that are part of the core Synoptic tradition (passages otherwise share by Luke), the Lukan omission must be intentional. However, if so, the reason for this has never been satisfactorily explained. It is conceivable that the author (trad. Luke) wished to avoid the noun eu)agge/lion because of its implicit association with the Roman emperor and the Imperial cult (cf. the previous note); however, this is unlikely, since he uses the related verb eu)aggeli/zomai (“bring/proclaim a good message”), which had similar associations with the Imperial cult. In fact, it is clear that Luke consciously prefers use of the verb over the noun. The noun never occurs in the Gospel (and only twice in Acts), while the verb is used 25 times in Luke-Acts (including 10 times in the Gospel), and the verb is never used in Mark (and only once in Matthew, nor is does it occur in John). Thus, it is fair to say that the use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is as distinctly Lukan as the use of the noun eu)agge/lion is Markan. Is Luke reacting against the Markan usage? Some commentators see this as a possibility, in the light of the semi-negative comparison with other Gospel accounts in the Lukan introduction (1:1ff). In other words, Luke has intentionally avoiding using eu)agge/lion as it occurs in Mark, preferring instead the verb eu)aggeli/zomai. The actual reason for preferring the verb, however, in this case seems clear: it is due to the usage in important Scriptural (Isaian) passages such as LXX Isa 40:9; 52:7; 60:6, and, especially, 61:1. This will be discussed further in upcoming notes.

If Matthew knew and utilized the Markan Gospel, as many suppose, he has eliminated the title line of Mk 1:1. This would be due to the practical consideration that he has included an Infancy narrative (1:18-2:23), prefaced by a genealogy of Jesus (1:2-17), ahead of the core Synoptic narrative. A title, similar in form to Mk 1:1, was adapted(?) and set at the beginning of the genealogy; compare:

“The (sc)roll of the coming-to-be of Yeshua the Anointed, son of Abraham, son of David” (Matt 1:1)
“The beginning of the good message of Yeshua the Anointed[, son of God]” (Mk 1:1)

As for Luke, he also includes an Infancy narrative, prefaced by a short introduction (1:1-4) to the work as a whole, written in good Greek literary style. There he calls his work, not eu)agge/lion, but a dih/ghsi$. This noun, which occurs only here at Lk 1:1 in the New Testament, is derived from the verb dihge/omai, which has the literal meaning “lead through”, here in the technical sense of bringing out an account (i.e. narrating something) through from beginning to end. The author compares his work with that of others (including the Markan Gospel?) who have attempted to set down the traditions regarding Jesus into a clear narrative form. He makes a point of his having sought to record everything accurately, and in order—implying, perhaps, that others have not done this so well. In any event, his use of dih/ghsi$ to characterize his work gives it an altogether different emphasis than the Markan title of eu)agge/lion.

On the (generally accepted) theory that Mark is the earliest of the four canonical Gospels, it is likely that that the conventional title attached to each of the four (“the eu)agge/lion according to [kata] …”) was inspired by the Markan title in Mk 1:1. By the mid-2nd century, at the very latest, the noun eu)agge/lion was being used as a (semi-)technical term for established written accounts such as the four canonical Gospels, with their rather unique blend of biographical, paraenetic and exhortative elements.

In the next daily note, we will examine the first words of Jesus, as recorded in the core Synoptic narrative—the saying in Mark 1:15.

January 25: Word study on “Gospel”

This note will focus on the second area involving the eu)aggel- word group which is important for an understanding of the early Christian usage. In the prior note, I looked at the use of the word group in the Old Testament (LXX); today, I will be discussing it as it relates to the Roman emperor (and the Imperial cult) in the 1st century A.D.

I mentioned previously how the nouns eu)aggeli/a and eu)agge/lion, along with the verb eu)aggeli/zw, tend to be used without any special religious significance per se. This is true in the LXX, certainly with regard to the two nouns, and follows the usage generally in Classical and Koine Greek. Most commonly the “good message”, brought by a messenger (a&ggelo$, i.e. “messenger of good [new]s”, eu)a/ggelo$), related to important public events such as the outcome of battle, birth of a child, death of significant persons, and so forth. Especially noteworthy is the “good news” which results from a military victory, often implying deliverance or “salvation” of the people from an enemy. Occasionally, the eu)a/ggelo$ may function as a prophet, or as one delivering the message of an oracle, in which case the “good message” has definite religious significance. Of course, in the ancient world, victory in battle, childbirth, and the like, were viewed as having been brought about by divine power(s)—i.e. by God or the gods. In a few instances, the idea of victory and deliverance is transferred to that of release from divine/demonic forces (TDNT 2:710-2).

While the feminine noun eu)aggeli/a refers to the “good message” proper, the neuter noun eu)agge/lion appears originally to have signified the response to good news—the reward given to the messenger, or celebration of the news itself (which might entail religious sacrifice or offerings of thanks). As mentioned above, it is typically used in the context of military victory, i.e. news of victory, and normally in the plural ([ta] eu)agge/lia). Offerings can also be made in response to religious oracles, but, again, usually in relation to military victory or similar important actions taken by rulers.

It is in regard to this last point that the eu)aggel- word group came to be used prominently in relation to the Roman emperor. The king, ruler, or other gifted leader, was seen as having a special connection to deity. In the ancient Near East, and, to a great extent, in the ancient world generally, the ruler represented symbolically (if not metaphysically) the divine presence and power on earth. This was all the more true in the Greco-Roman world in the case of the Emperor, who wielded such immense power over territory that spanned virtually the entire known world. Augustus (Gaius Octavius, Octavianus), as legal heir of the deified Caesar (recognized as ‘god’, Jan 1, 42 B.C.), effectively became “son of god” (divi filius). This status only increased in strength as he was proclaimed emperor (Imperator, ratified 29 B.C.) and given the title Augustus (27 B.C.). Royal (imperial) theology maintained that each successive emperor (Caesar) was likewise divine, being “son of god”.

I discussed the importance of this imperial theology in an earlier article on Augustus in relation to the birth of Jesus. It is worth summarizing that study and expanding on it here. First, let us consider again two important texts related to the birth of Augustus as “savior” (swth/r)—”savior of the whole world” (swth=ra tou= su/npanto$ ko/smou), Myra inscription (V. Ehrenberg and A. H. M. Jones, Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus and Tiberius [Oxford:1949], no. 72):

  1. A letter from proconsul Paulus Fabius Maximus (c. 9-5 B.C.) to the territories of Asia under his charge, regarding the new calendar (the Julian), established by the Roman government, which set the birthday of Augustus (Sept 23) as the start of the new year. It included a decree which reads, in part:
    “…Providence that orders all our lives has in her display of concern and generosity in our behalf adorned our lives with the highest good: Augustus, whom she has filled with arete for the benefit of humanity, and has in her beneficence granted us and those who will come after us [a Saviour] who has made war to cease and who shall put everything [in peaceful] order; and whereas Caesar, [when he was manifest], transcended the expectations of [all who had anticipated the good news], not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him, with the result that the birthday of our God signalled the beginning of good news for the world because of him …..”
  2. The famous Calendar Inscription (best known from Priene), in which it is likewise stated of Augustus that his brith was “the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him [h@rcen de\ tw=i ko/smwi tw=n di’ au)to\n eu)aggeli/wn h( gene/qlio$ tou= qeou=]”.

Both the birth, and, perhaps more importantly, the accession of each new emperor (as “son of god”) was similarly referred to as “good news”, often using the plural of eu)agge/lion ([ta] eu)agge/lia). Important in this regard is the idea of the acts of celebration/sacrifice which accompanied the “good message” of the emperor’s accession. We see this, for example, in the case of the emperors Gaius (A.D. 37, Philo Embassy to Gaius §§231-2, 356, cf. also §§18, 22, 99) and Vespasian (A.D. 60, Josephus War 6.618, 656; Stanton, pp. 28-9). This language (utilizing eu)aggelia/eu)agge/lion) was still being used in the third century (cf. G. H. R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, Vol. III, p. 12; Stanton, p. 32).

At least as significant was the idea of the emperor as public benefactor. Especially important to the image of Augustus as “savior” was the time of peace and prosperity which he is thought to have brought about during his reign (cf. his own Res gestae divi Augusti II.12-13 [34-45] and the famous altar ara pacis augustae proclaiming the ‘peace of Augustus’ [Pax Augusta]). This extended to all of the benefits which the imperial government provided to people throughout the world. It is important to keep in mind several aspects of the word swthri/a (usually translated “salvation”), in this regard, which are significant both for the imperial cult and for early Christian understanding of the term:

    1. Being saved or rescued from an enemy (or other disaster)
    2. Providing protection from future/potential harm
    3. Attending to the general health, safety and welfare of the population

This comprehensive notion of the emperor as benefactor is expressed by Philo (of Gaius) in Embassy §18ff, where the emperor’s recovery from illness is described as “good news”, his health essentially being identified as the swthri/a of each person in the empire. The emperor was considered to be “savior and worker of good [i.e. benefactor]” (o( swth\r kai\ eu)erge/th$) who was expected to shower down benefits “upon all Asia and Europe” (§22).

Given this documented use of the eu)aggel- word group in the context of the Imperial cult, which came to be increasingly prevalent and widespread during the 1st century A.D., it would have been virtually impossible for early Christians not to be aware of it. We can be fairly certain that their own usage of the terminology was, in part, a response to the Imperial cult. However, it is only in the Gospel of Luke that there is a clear and unmistakable contrast made between Jesus and the Emperor. The references to Augustus (and Tiberius) in Lk 2:1ff; 3:1 are more than simple historical notices. The Augustan setting for the announcement of Jesus’ birth (2:10-14) is especially striking, as I have discussed. The apparent reluctance by Luke to use the term eu)agge/lion (it occurs only in Acts 15:7; 20:24) has never been entirely explained, but it could conceivably be an implicit reaction against the imperial/cultic usage. Other possible instances of early Christian response will be discussed in the coming notes.

References above marked “Stanton” are to Graham N. Stanton, Jesus and Gospel, Cambridge: 2004.

Saturday Series: John 1:15, 30; 3:28

Last week, we looked at John 3:1-21 in the context of the prior chapter 2 (especially 2:13-25). Today, we will be looking ahead to the next section, 3:22-36. I do not intend to provide a similarly detailed comparison with 3:1-21, only to note the general correspondence. There is indeed a similarity between the discourse involving John the Baptist (vv. 25ff) and the earlier one between Jesus and Nicodemus. In particular, the language and thought of vv. 31-36 has much in common with Jesus’ exposition in vv. 11-21. According to the context of the narrative, John the Baptist is the one speaking in vv. 31ff (there is no certain indication of a change in speaker), and the similarity of expression between Jesus and the Baptist is very much part of the overall theme of the Gospel. This was established in chapter 1, going back to the Prologue (vv. 1-18). John the Baptist is one sent from God to bear witness to Jesus. As 1:7-8 describes, John is not the light, but gives witness to it—so well indeed, that he and Jesus use much the same language. They are essentially witnessing to the same thing—Jesus’ own person and identity. Only, after chapter 3, John the Baptist disappears from the scene, and from that point on in the Gospel, it is Jesus’ words and works alone which bear witness.

The discourse in 3:22-36 reflects the narrative in chapter 1 even more closely. This is part of the Johannine blending of details and elements from the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry, as we saw in the case of 1:51 and the episodes of chapter 2. The main dialogue in vv. 25-30 is parallel to 1:19-34. The clearest reference is found in verse 28, where the Baptist says to those with him:

“You (your)selves (can) witness for me, that I said [that] ‘I am not the Anointed One, but that I am (one) having been se(n)t forth in front of that (one)’.”

If we look back at chapter 1, there are several statements which, if taken together, are similar to the saying here in v. 28b:

    • “I am not the Anointed One [i.e. Messiah]” (1:20b)
    • “the (One) sending me…” (v. 33; see also verse 6)
    • “the (one) coming behind me…” (v. 27, compare with the Synoptic saying in Mark 1:7 par)
    • the saying in verse 15 and 30 (discussed below)

The idea that Jesus is the Anointed One (discussed further in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), and that he comes after (or behind) John the Baptist, is a basic historical tradition found in all four Gospels (and the book of Acts). Yet it is clear from Jn 3:27-30ff that there is a deeper theological significance to the statement in v. 28. This comes out most vividly when we examine the saying of the Baptist in 1:15 and 30. Let us look at the form in verse 30, given in a literal translation:

“Behind me comes a man who has come to be in front of me, (in) that he was the first of [i.e. for, before] me”

The significance of this saying, as recorded in the Gospel of John is rather obscured by most translations; consider the NIV rendering as typical:

“A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me”

The basic idea of Jesus’ superior rank and (divine) pre-existence comes through well enough, but the powerful sequence of verbs (marked by italics above), and the profound theological (and Christological) statement contained within it, is impossible to capture in conventional English. Here is an instance where something truly is lost if one does not (or is not able to) study carefully the actual Greek words that are used. The saying is made up of three phrases, each of which contains a key verb:

  • “A man comes [erchetai] in back of [i.e. behind] me”
  • “who has come to be [gegonen] in front of me”
  • “he was [¢n] first of [i.e. for, before] me”

These three phrases (and verbs) essentially refer to an aspect of Jesus’ identity, which can best be understood by consulting the Prologue (vv. 1-18). Indeed, this same saying appeared earlier in the Prologue (v. 15), in a slightly different form, stated more succinctly:

“the one coming [erchomenos] in back of me has come to be [gegonen] in front of me (in) that he was [¢n] first of [i.e. for, before] me”

Let us see how each of these verbs is used in the Prologue:

1. comes/coming (vv. 7, 9, 11)—the verb erchomai (e&rxomai), which refers to human beings (and Jesus as a human being) coming into the world. This covers a person’s birth, but also extends to the place in which he lives, his community, his work and career, etc. It is frequently used in the Gospel of John in the context of Jesus coming into the world, to those who will believe in him (his disciples, believers)—a comprehensive idea spanning his human life, ministry, witness, and sacrificial death. His baptism, where he appears on the scene after (behind) John the Baptist, marks the beginning of his ministry, and the moment in which he first comes into public view.

2. has come to be (vv. 3, 6, 10, 12, 14, 17)—this is the verb ginomai (gi/nomai), an existential verb meaning “come to be, become”. It occurs frequently in the New Testament, usually in a common, ordinary sense; but, in the Gospel of John, it often has special theological significance, due to its overlapping meaning with the related verb gennaœ (genna/w). This latter verb regularly means “come to be born“, and ginomai can carry this meaning as well. It is used several different ways in the Prologue: (1) for creatures (and the world) coming into existence (vv. 3 [three times], 10), (2) for a human being coming to be born (v. 6), and similarly (3) of believers coming to be born (spiritually) (v. 12), and finally (4) of Jesus (the Word/Light) coming to be born as a human being (v. 14). It is this latter sense that is in view in verse 15—the incarnation, Jesus’ birth and his coming into the world as a human being. There is also a reference to the incarnation in verse 18, but with the added connotation of the revelation of God the Father in the person of Jesus (the Son). We should understand the phrase in verse 15/30 in this light. This second phrase works backward from the first: from Jesus coming into the world (into his life and ministry, etc) to his coming to be born as a human being. It is this—the incarnation itself —which, paradoxically, puts Jesus “in front of” John the Baptist. The perfect form of the verb (gegonen, “has come to be”) often indicates a past action, condition, event, etc, which continues into the present.

3. was (vv. 1-2, 4, 8-10)—this is the primary verb of being (eimi, ei)mi), in the third person imperfect form ¢n (h@n, “he was”). As such it occurs 10 times in the Prologue, including three times in verse 1. In this context, it refers to Divine Being—that is the being of God, and expresses something of the manner in which Jesus (the Word/Light/Son) shares in it. It reflects more than pre-existence—rather, eternal, divine existence which the Son (Jesus) shares with the Father. This informs the climactic third phrase of the saying in verse 15/30, taking yet another step back: from the incarnation (the birth of the Son as a human being) to the eternal life and being shared between the Father and the Son. In this light, we may better understand the somewhat ambiguous wording of the phrase “he was first of me”. The word prœtos (“first”) here is something more than a comparative (i.e. “superior to me”), but ought to be understood in a fundamental sense—Jesus is first of all things (including John the Baptist), sharing with God the Father both the eternal Life and the work of Creation. In a sense, prœtos is synonymous with the words that begin the Gospel—en arch¢ (“in the beginning”).

Returning to 3:28, and with this study of 1:15, 30 in mind, I would encourage you to read verses 22-36 of chapter 3 most carefully. Even if you do not read Greek, or do not have access to the Greek text, you can probably notice some important words, ideas, and themes which have occurred throughout the first three chapters of the Gospel. If you read Greek, or are using Greek study tools (such as those available in PC Study Bible), try to pay attention to any recurring words and phrases. In the Gospel of John, these often have special significance. How do verses 27-30 relate to what follows in vv. 31-36? Look especially at the words translated “eternal life” in verse 36, and consider how they relate to this discourse (and chapter 3 as a whole). We will be discussing the Johannine theme of “eternal life” in several upcoming studies, so it will be good for you to be thinking and meditating upon its meaning in the Gospel.

Continue in your reading and study of the Scripture…and I will see you next Saturday.

January 24: Word study on “Gospel”

This note begins a short series of daily notes on the word eu)agge/lion (“good message”, often rendered as “gospel” from the [Old] English). I discussed the basic meaning of this word (and the English “gospel”) in a previous article. Here I wish to begin with a brief examination of two areas of usage which influenced the New Testament and early Christian thought:

    1. The occurrence of the related verb eu)aggeli/zw (eu)aggeli/zomai) in the Septuagint, especially key passages in the book of Isaiah.
    2. The use of both verb and noun in connection with the Roman Empire and the Imperial Cult.

As mentioned previously, the (neuter) noun eu)agge/lion occurs just once in the Greek LXX version of the Old Testament (2 Sam 4:10); the related (feminine) noun eu)aggeli/a occurs 5 times (2 Sam 18:20, 22, 25, 27; 2 Kings 7:9). Both nouns translate the (six) occurrences of the Hebrew hr*c)B= (from rc^B*, “bring [good] news”). The noun eu)aggeli/a is used in the context of (good) news regarding the outcome of battle or deliverance from the enemy. The noun eu)agge/lion (in the plural, [ta] eu)agge/lia) is properly used for the reward given to the messenger for the delivery of good news; indeed, this seems to be the primary original meaning of eu)agge/lion in Greek. This is common (secular) usage; there is no specifically religious connotation for these nouns in the LXX.

The situation is a bit different for the related verb eu)aggeli/zw (“bring/proclaim a good message”), which occurs more often (23 times) in the LXX, and is used to render the similar Hebrew verb rc^B* (“bring [good] news”, see above). In the historical books, the context is generally the same as for the nouns eu)aggeli/a/eu)agge/lion—it refers to a messenger who gives news regarding the outcome of battle, or other significant public event (1 Sam 31:9; 2 Sam 1:20; 4:10; 18:19-20, 31; 1 Ki 1:42; 1 Chr 10:9). From the ancient Israelite standpoint, God (YHWH) is responsible for deliverance from the enemy, etc (cf. Psalm 40:9; 68:11 [LXX 39:10; 67:12])—the reason for the good news—but there is not really a religious meaning for the verb per se.

In the Prophetic oracles, and subsequent writings, the verb rc^B*/eu)aggeli/zw comes to take on a deeper theological significance. In Jeremiah 51:10 [LXX A 28:10] and Joel 2:32 [LXX 3:5], eu)aggeli/zw is used in the more general sense of God’s deliverance of his people, and where there may be seen something of the eschatological context of the end-time Judgment or Day of YHWH; in neither instance is the underlying Hebrew rc^B* present. More important are several key passages in (Deutero-)Isaiah, where rc^B*/eu)aggeli/zw are used; as each was influential on early Christian thought and expression it is worth looking at each of these in a bit of detail.

Isaiah 40:9

“Go (take) you(rself) up upon the mountain-height, ‚iyyôn {Zion}, (the one) bringing (good) news [tr#C#b^m=];
your voice bringing (good) news [tr#C#b^m=], Yerûšalaim {Jerusalem}, lift (it) high!
You shall not be afraid! say to (the) cities of Yehûdah {Judah}, ‘See—your God!'”

The LXX renders the Hebrew quite closely:

“Step up upon a high mountain, ‚iyyôn {Zion}, the one bringing (the) good message [o( eu)aggelizo/meno$];
lift your voice high with strength, Yerûšalaim {Jerusalem}, the one bringing (the) good message [o( eu)aggelizo/meno$] !
Lift (it) high, do not fear! Say to the cities of cities of Yehûdah {Judah}, ‘See—your God!'”

The oracle in Isa 40:1-5 had a profound effect on early Christianity, almost certainly recognized already by John the Baptist and Jesus himself as a Messianic prophecy; it was central to the early Gospel tradition (Mk 1:2-3 par; John 1:23, etc). The pairing of Isa 40:3 with Mal 3:1ff (as Messianic passages) likely goes back to Jewish tradition in the 1st centuries B.C./A.D., and was present in the earliest/formative Christian thought. It would be no surprise if the verses which follow (vv. 6-11ff), including the use of rc^B*/eu)aggeli/zw in verse 9, had a similar effect and influenced the idea of the “good message” (eu)agge/lion) of Christ. Note the emphasis here on the messenger, with the (substantive) participle—”the one bringing good news” (o( eu)agelizo/meno$/rC@b^m=).

Isaiah 52:7

“How they are fine upon the mountains,
the feet of (one) bringing (good) news [rC@b^m=],
causing (them to) hear (news of their) welfare,
(indeed) bringing good news [bwf rC@b^m=],
causing (them to) hear (the news of) salvation,
saying to ‚iyyôn {Zion}, ‘Your God (rul)es as King!'”

The general similarity with 40:9 (above) should be readily apparent, even in translation. Again, the LXX follows the Hebrew rather closely:

“How fitting (the moment) as (they are) upon the mountains,
the feet of (one) bringing (the) good message [eu)aggelizome/nou],
causing (them) to hear (of) peace,
bringing (the) message of good (thing)s [eu)aggelizo/meno$ a)gaqa/],
causing (them) to hear that ‘I will make your salvation’,
saying to ‚iyyôn {Zion}, ‘Your God (rul)es as King!'”

Again, the use of the participle emphasizes the messenger (his feet, etc). Paul cites it, appropriately, in Romans 10:15 referring to missionaries such as himself, as preachers of the Gospel. At the time of the New Testament, Isa 52:7-10 was one of a number of (Deutero-)Isaian oracles which were understood in a Messianic (eschatological) light. For early Christians, the Gospel message was, fundamentally, both Messianic and eschatological—the person and work of Jesus marking the end of the current Age and the beginning of the New. This is seen clearly enough in the early tradition that opens the Synoptic narrative, regarding the proclamation by John the Baptist, picked up by Jesus following his Baptism. In Luke’s version (3:4-6), Isa 52:10 is combined with 40:3-5—the very two passages under discussion here which utilize the verb eu)aggeli/zw.

Isaiah 60:6

“…and shoutings (of joy) they will bring (as good) news [WrC@b^y+]”

Isa 60:1-6ff is an oracle announcing the future/end-time deliverance of God’s people, which will entail both the restoration of Israel and the conversion/submission of the Nations—two Messianic and eschatological themes which had an enormous influence on early Christian thought, especially once the mission to the Gentiles began in earnest. Verses 5-7 speak of the “wealth of the nations” which will come to God’s people (in Jerusalem), illustrated by the concrete image of the surrounding peoples (from Midian and Sinai/Arabia) bringing gifts in caravan trains (of camels), including gold and incense. Most probably, verse 6 (together with Psalm 72:10) influenced the Matthean Infancy narrative (2:1-11), as a Messianic prophecy which could be applied to Jesus even at the time of his birth.

Interestingly, the Septuagint reads rather differently, and may reflect a variant or corrupt text; however, the result is a reading which even more fits the idea of the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ:

“…and they will bring (the) good message [eu)aggeliou=ntai] (of) the salvation of the Lord.” (LXX)

Also worth mentioning is Isa 41:27, which has the verb rc^B*:

“First to Zion, ‘See! see them (here)!’—and to Jerusalem I will give (one) bringing (good) news [rC@b^m=]”

The first portion of the verse is textually uncertain and obscure; in any event, the LXX renders both portions rather differently:

“I will give a chief/ruler [or authority/rule, a)rxh] to Zion, and I will call Jerusalem alongside [parakale/sw, i.e. give help] into/onto the way.”

The famous passage in Isaiah 61:1ff will be considered in the upcoming note on Jesus’ declaration in Mark 1:15 par.

The second area of study—the use of eu)aggel- word group in reference to the Roman Emperor and the Imperial cult—will be discussed in the next note.

Gospel: Meaning and Background of the word

I am beginning a series of daily notes dealing with the word eu)agge/lion (euangélion) and the eu)aggel- word group in the New Testament and early Christianity. This series will lead into various notes and articles dealing with the ministry of Jesus and the related Gospel Tradition, to be posted in the time prior to the Lenten/Easter season. The very word “gospel” is central to any study of this Tradition—it features prominently in Jesus’ first recorded words in the core Synoptic tradition, and, indeed, introduces the Markan Gospel itself:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mk 1:1)
“The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near—repent and trust in the gospel” (Mk 1:13)

Let us begin with this English word “gospel”. It is a Germanic word, existing in Old English as gœdspel, meaning good (gœd) speech (spel), i.e. a good talk or telling (tale). As such, it corresponds reasonably well with the Greek word eu)agge/lion. The close correspondence between gœd and the word which came to express the idea of deity (god) was fortuitous, as it allowed for a bit of wordplay so that “godspel/gospel” could be understood as “talk/speech of/about God”.

English godspel/gospel would have been used to translate the Greek eu)agge/lion, already in the Old English/Saxon versions. Let us now consider this Greek term. Actually, there are three closely related words (or forms): the feminine noun eu)aggeli/a (euangelía), the neuter noun eu)agge/lion (euangélion), and the plural form of the latter, eu)agge/lia (euangélia). There is also the related verb eu)aggeli/zw (euangelízœ). These form the primary eu)aggel- word group.

The noun eu)aggeli/a is made up of two components: the noun a)ggeli/a (angelía) and the prefixed eu@ (eu), an adverb meaning “good, well”. The noun a)ggeli/a and the related verb a)gge/llw are part of an a)ggel- word group with the fundamental meaning “tell, declare, proclaim” (TDNT 1:56-57ff). The word a)ggeli/a refers to what is told or proclaimed, i.e. the message. Thus, eu)aggeli/a essentially means a good message, often rendered in English as “good news”. The neuter eu)agge/lion refers primarily to the response to a good message, i.e. a reward or offering of thanks, etc; it is thus fundamentally tied to both the messenger and the content/effect of the message. The plural form of eu)agge/lion ([ta] eu)agge/lia) is rather more common in Greek (though not in the New Testament!). The messenger (a&ggelo$, ángelos) is primary, and the one who brings the good message or tidings is called eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger [of] good [news]”). Interestingly, this noun does not occur in the New Testament; instead, we find eu)aggelisth/$, from the verb eu)aggeli/zw, i.e. “one who brings/proclaims the good message”.

When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the noun eu)aggeli/a was used to render hr*c)B= (b®´œrâ), which occurs 6 times in the Old Testament (2 Sam 4:10; 18:20, 22, 25, 27; 2 Kings 7:9); eu)aggeli/a renders it in all but one instance (2 Sam 4:10), where the neuter eu)agge/lion (plural) is used instead. The Hebrew noun is derived from the root rc^B*, a relatively common Semitic verb meaning “bring (good) news”. The verb is more frequent in the Old Testament (24 times), often used in a military context (reporting on the outcome of a battle, etc), or for other important events (such as the birth of a son). It is nearly always translated in Greek by eu)aggeli/zw (“give/bring a [good] message”), which occurs 23 times in the LXX (the middle form eu)aggeli/zomai being more common by the time of the New Testament). This Old Testament usage, and its influence on the New Testament and early Christian expression, will be discussed in the notes.

Largely due to the Christian usage, the Greek eu)agge/lion was borrowed in Latin as evangelium, and it is this Latinized form which made its way into English and our evangel word group, which has been used almost exclusively in a Christian context. The word “evangelism” is related to “evangelist” (properly from the Greek eu)aggelisth/$, euangelist¢¡s), and refers to preaching/proclaiming the Gospel. The word “evangelical” means “belonging, or related to, the Gospel”; unfortunately, this meaning has become somewhat distorted today, and often refers more to socio-political identity than to the Gospel message. The modern-day usage of “evangelical” ultimately stems from the Protestant Reformation, where it was essentially synonymous with “Protestant” and “Reformed”, and quickly took on partisan religious (and political) connotations. In the late-19th and 20th centuries, especially in America, it came to refer to a particular idea of mainstream (traditional-conservative) Protestant Christianity (and Christian identity). Currently, however, as noted above, it often connotes socio-political conservatism as much as anything to do with historical Christianity.