February 19: Luke 4:16-30

Over the next few days I will be looking at the Lukan narrative of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30), focusing on two areas: (1) the Scripture quotation (Isa 61:1-2), and (2) the reaction of the townspeople to Jesus’ words.

This episode is part of the common Gospel Tradition shared by the Synoptics, though in the Gospel of Luke it has been expanded considerably, and placed at a different point in the ministry (compare Mark 6:16; Matt 13:54-58). The chronological position, along with other apparent differences, have led some traditional-conservative commentators to posit two separate incidents. This is rather unlikely; the accounts in Luke and Mark-Matthew are close enough in outline that we should regard them as deriving from a single historical tradition. Were it not for a pious interest in harmonizing the chronologies, I doubt that anyone would have thought that two different episodes were involved. The Gospel writer (trad. Luke) has recorded the Nazareth event here (directly following the Baptism and Temptation), to mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It holds a similar position as the narrative summary in Matthew 4:13-16—both passages contain a ‘Messianic’ Scripture (Isa 9:1-2 in Matt 4:15-16), and look backward to the Infancy Narrative while looking forward to the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Here, indeed, there are several points of contact with the Luke Infancy narrative(s) (1:5-2:52):

    • The Nazareth setting “where he had been nourished/nurtured [i.e. brought up]” (v. 16)
    • The Isaian Scripture passage—cf. especially the allusions to deutero-/trito-Isaiah (Isa 40-55, 56-66) in 2:25-38 (discussed in an earlier Christmas season note).
    • Here Jesus is filled with the (power of the) Spirit (4:1, 14) just as the young Jesus grew and was filled with wisdom, with the favor of God being upon him (2:40)—these two motifs are reflected in the opening words of Isa 61:1 (“the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”).
    • We may also see here a reflection of the wisdom and favor Jesus has with/before [lit. alongside] men (2:52)—cf. 4:15, 22.
    • The reaction of the people to Jesus (v. 22ff) may be understood as illustrative of Simeon’s prophecy in 2:34-35 (for more on this, cf. the next days’ notes).
    • A parallel may also be intended between (the boy) Jesus in the Temple (2:41-51) and (the adult) Jesus in the Synagogue.

Before discussing the Scripture passage (Isaiah 61:1-2) specifically, it is worth noting the way Luke joins the narrative here to that of the Baptism/Temptation (3:21-22; 4:1-13):

  • “And Yeshua turned back [i.e. returned] in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl {Galilee}” (4:14a)
    • “and (the) talk/report went out down (through) all the surrounding area about him” (4:14b)
    • “and he taught in their (places-of-)bringing-together {synagogues}” (4:15a)
  • “and being (highly) esteemed [i.e. honored/glorified] by all” (4:15b)

The ‘outer’ phrases (v. 14a, 15b) could be said to reflect the wisdom/favor Jesus has with God and men, respectively (two aspects, cf. 2:52). The ‘inner’ phrases perhaps illustrate two aspects of Jesus’ public ministry: (a) his teaching among the people (v. 15a), and (b) the reaction of the people to him (v. 14b). In particular, the emphasis on the Spirit is most important, and is especially characteristic of Luke-Acts (cf. the earlier references in Lk 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27; 3:16, 22; 4:1).

The Scripture Passage: Isaiah 61:1-2

Luke indicates that the Scripture Jesus recites in the Synagogue is from Isaiah 61:1-2. It is not clear whether this was an assigned reading (haphtarah) from the Prophets (connected with a particular section [parashah] of the Torah), or if Jesus selected it himself. A comparison between the Hebrew, Septuagint (LXX) and Luke is instructive:

Hebrew (MT)

1The Spirit of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me,
because YHWH has anointed me—
He has sent me to bring (a good) message (to) the poor/lowly (ones),
to wrap up (the pieces) for the (ones) broken of heart,
to call (out) ‘freedom’ for the captives
and ‘open wide’ for the (ones) who are bound,
2to call (out) ‘a year of acceptance for YHWH’
and ‘a day of vengeance for our God’,
to bring comfort (for) all mourners.

Septuagint (LXX)

1(The) Spirit of the Lord (is) upon me,
on account of which He anointed me
to bring (a) good message to the poor (ones);
He has sent me to heal the (ones) crushed together in the heart,
to proclaim ‘release’ to the (ones) taken by spear-point [i.e. prisoners]
and ‘seeing again’ to the (ones who are) blind,
2to call ‘an acceptable year of the Lord’
and ‘a day of giving (back) in return’,
to call alongside [i.e. help/comfort] the (ones) mourning.

Luke 4:18-19

18(The) Spirit of the Lord (is) upon me,
on account of which he anointed me
to bring (a) good message to the poor (ones);
He has sent me
{some MSS include the line here corresponding to the LXX}
to proclaim ‘release’ to the (ones) taken by spear-point [i.e. prisoners]
and ‘seeing again’ to the (ones who are) blind,
to set forth in release [i.e. freedom] the (ones who) have been crushed,
19to proclaim ‘an acceptable year of the Lord’.

The LXX translates the Hebrew fairly accurately, the main difference being the rendering of the somewhat obscure phrase j^oqÁjq^P= <yr!Wsa&l^w+ at the end of v. 1 (the LXX understands it as “opening [wide]” the eyes of the blind, but cf. a similar interpretation in 4Q521 frag. 2.ii line 8). The citation in Lk 4:18-19 follows the LXX, with several differences:

    • The phrase i)a/sasqai tou\$ suntetrimme/nou$ th=| kardi/a| (“to heal the ones crushed together in the heart”) is omitted (though it is retained/restored in some MSS).
    • A line, apparently taken from Isa 58:6 (LXX), is added at the end of v. 1.
    • V. 2 repeats khru/cai (“to proclaim”) instead of LXX kale/sai (“to call”)—this may simply match the consistent use of ar)q=l! in both verses, or may be meant to emphasize the idea of (Christian) proclamation (of the Word/Gospel).
    • Only the first part of v. 2 is cited, noticeably omitting the reference to “a day of vengeance/payback”; only the positive side of the proclamation is included (“an acceptable year”).

These facts would seem to indicate that the Scripture, as it is recorded here in Luke, does not represent exactly what Jesus would have spoken (at the historical level), but rather is a literary presentation of it (at the level of the Gospel writer).

Much more important is the significance of the passage, which will be examined in the next day’s note.

The “Messianic Apocalypse” (4Q521)

For students of the New Testament, and other interested Christians  today, the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran provide many examples which shine a light on the religious world and thought inherited by early Christians from the Judaism of the time. Two texts, in particular, are tantalizing in the mode of Messianic thought expressed, and their possible relation to the understanding of Jesus as the Messiah in the New Testament and early Christian tradition. The first of these texts, which I discuss here in this article, is labeled 4Q521.

The customary title, “Messianic Apocalypse”, was applied by the editor Émile Puech—’Une apocalypse messianique (4Q521), Revue de Qumrân 15 (1992), pp. 475-519—who also prepared the critical edition published in Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) Vol. XXV, 1-38, pls. I-III. The title is rather misleading, though the thrust of the surviving fragments certainly appears to be eschatological and Messianic. The handwriting is recognized as being from the Hasmonean period, and the text itself was likely written at the beginning of the 1st century B.C. (or perhaps late in the 2nd century). Like nearly all of the Qumran texts, 4Q521 is highly fragmentary; the intelligible surviving portions are represented by five principal fragments, of which the most substantial are numbers 2 and 7. Even so, there are many gaps, and no way of knowing (or even guessing) the extent of the work as a whole, nor where precisely these fragments fit into its outline and structure.

Overall, the fragments suggest a work of exhortation and instruction (for members of the Community) in light of coming end-time events. This may be glimpsed in the surviving pieces of fragment 1 (col. 1), where the importance of listening to wisdom/instruction, the need for repentance from sin, remaining in the fear of God and love, etc, appears to be in view. More practical instruction is indicated in fragment 5 (col. 1 + 6): “…do not serve with those [… with] his frie[nd] and with [his] neighbor […] good to you and fortify the [po]wer […] sustenance, the faithful ones will grow…” (transl. García Martínez & Tigchelaar).
Note: in these translations, square brackets indicate reconstructions, square brackets with ellipsis mark lacunae (gaps) in the text.

It is the larger fragment 2 (cols. 2 & 3) which has most intrigued scholars. The surviving portion of column 2 begins (lines 1-2):

“[for the heav]ens and the earth will hear {i.e. listen} to his anointed (one), [and all wh]ich (is) in them will not turn (away) from the commands of his holy (one)s.”

At first glance the use of j^yv!m* (“anointed”) need not refer to anything beyond the priest (or prophet) who instructs the people (i.e. the Community). The plural <yv!odq= (“holy [one]s”) could refer to the Prophets of old, but, more properly, to the faithful ones in Israel, i.e. the members of the Community, who hold to the tox=m! (commands/precepts of the Torah) and teach them to others. The ancient idea of the universe (heavens and earth) obeying God’s word has joined the religious-ethical concept of faithfulness to the Torah (and to the Community)—both are aspects of a single dynamic which is about to come more clearly into view at the end-time. Indeed, the context suggests an eschatological orientation, and that the “anointed (one)” is a Messianic figure who is (about) to appear. This is confirmed by a careful reading of the remainder of the fragment.

Following the exhortation in lines 3-4, the remaining lines (5-14) record a promise of what God will do for his people, inspired by the beginning of the famous oracle in Isaiah 61, blended with a citation of Psalm 146:7-8, and allusions to eschatological/Messianic passages such as Daniel 7. In applying this chain of Scripture passages, it is clear that the “poor” and suffering ones are synonymous with the pious and devout ones (<yd!ys!j&)—the faithful Community in the midst of the wicked and corrupt world. It is they who receive the “good news” proclaimed by the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. Note how these associations are worked out in the wording of the text here:

“For my Lord will consider the devout (one)s and will call the righteous/faithful (one)s by name, and his Spirit will hover upon the poor/afflicted (one)s, and he will renew with his strength the (one)s firm (in trust). For he will give weight to {i.e. honor} the devout (one)s (by putting them) upon the seat of a kingdom unto (the Ages)…” (lines 5-7)

Four different plural nouns are used to describe the people who will be thus blessed by God: (1) <yd!y!sj&, µ¦sîdîm [“devout/faithful ones”], (2) <yq!yd!x~, ƒadîqîm [“righteous/loyal ones”], (3) <yw]n`u&, ±¦n¹wîm [“poor/afflicted ones”], (4) <yn]Wma$, °§mûnîm [“trustworthy ones”]. What follows in lines 8-9 echoes Psalm 146:7-8, referring to the freeing of prisoners, opening eyes, straightening the twisted, etc. Unfortunately there is a gap in line 10, but it indicates an imminent eschatological expectation: God is about to “do weighty (thing)s which have not (yet) been” (line 11). These deeds of deliverance will, it seems, be performed by an Anointed representative, such as is mentioned in line 1, identified with the herald of Isa 61:

“…according to that which he spoke, [for] he will heal the wounded (one)s, and will make (one)s dead to live (again), and will bring (good) news for the poor/afflicted (one)s…” (lines 11-12)

To this, in the badly preserved third column of same fragment, is added an allusion to Malachi 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] and the end-time role of “Elijah” as the Messenger who prepares things for God’s appearance on earth to bring the Judgment (3:1ff). Thus, we find here two key passages—Isa 61:1 and Mal 4:5-6—understood in an eschatological and Messianic sense, referring to the coming Judgment and deliverance of the faithful. The eschatological/Judgment context is even clearer in fragment 7, despite the many gaps in the text; lines 4-15 appear to be a portrait of the Last Judgment, sharing features with apocalyptic works such as 1 Enoch, with its description of the heavenly geography, the role of the Angels, etc.

Isaiah 61:1 and Mal 3:1; 4:5-6 also feature prominently in the Gospel Tradition, relating to the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah). Both passages came to be understood in Jewish tradition as referring to Messianic Prophet figure-types—”Elijah” and the herald of Isa 61. Both figure-types were applied to Jesus in the earliest Gospel tradition, though eventually the role of “Elijah” was seen as being fulfilled by John the Baptist. Jesus identifies himself specifically with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1 in two distinct lines of tradition (Lk 7:22 par [“Q”] and Lk 4:18ff). I discuss these matters in considerable detail in Parts 2 & 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. An especially interesting point in common between the Gospel tradition and 4Q521 is that the Isaian oracle has been adapted to include a reference to raising the dead (line 12, Matt 11:5b par), which, in Jewish tradition, came to be associated particularly with Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24; Sirach 48:5, [11]; m. Sota 9; j. Sheqalim 3:3; Pesikta de R. Kahana 76a). By the end of the 1st century A.D., resurrection came to be connected with the appearance of the Messiah generally (2 Baruch 30:2; 2/4 Esdras 7) [cf. Collins, pp. 119-20].

The Qumran text 4Q521 demonstrates that similar Messianic associations were already being made early in the 1st century B.C., whereby an Anointed figure was expected to appear at the end-time, a divinely-appointed representative who would act on God’s behalf, able to work miracles, control/alter the natural order, and who would bring aid and deliverance to the faithful ones among God’s people.

References above marked “Garcia Martinez & Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).
References marked “Collins” are to John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (Doubleday: 1995).

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental Note (“The One Coming”)

In examining the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus in Gospel tradition, special attention needs to be given to the expression o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the Coming [One]”, or “the [One who is] Coming”). This is a verbal noun from e&rxomai, a middle/deponent verb with the basic meaning “come, go”. It is used frequently in the New Testament, especially throughout the narratives of the Gospels and Acts. It plays a most important role in the message of John the Baptist, as recorded in the Gospels. The core declaration by John is firmly placed in the very earliest strands of (historical) Gospel tradition, being attested in at least five different places within the Gospels and Acts.

The Declaration by John the Baptist (Mk 1:7-8; Lk 3:16-17; Matt 3:11; John 1:27)

In the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:7-8) it is as follows:

“The (one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai] in back of [i.e. behind/after] me… I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”

Luke’s version (Lk 3:16) corresponds closely and reads:

“(On the one hand) I dunk you in water, but (on the other hand) the (one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai]… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and fire”

In Matthew 3:11 we have:

“(On the one hand) I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance], but (on the other hand) the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] is stronger than me… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and fire.”

Interestingly, Luke and Matthew agree with each other (against) Mark on several details: (1) both omit “in back of me” [o)pi/sw mou], (2) both use a me\nde/ construction [i.e. “on the one hand…on the other”], and (3) both add “and fire” [kai\ puri/]. Matthew differs from Mark/Luke, however, in the key phrase: “the one coming is stronger” vs. “the one stronger…comes”.

The truncated version in Acts 13:25, which may well be independent of Lk 3:16, is: “See! (one) comes [e&rxetai] after [met’] me…”

Finally we have the saying as recorded in Johannine tradition (John 1:26-27):

“I dunk you in water, (but one) has been stand(ing) in the midst of you whom you have not seen [i.e. known], the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] in back of me [o)pi/sw mou]…”

John’s version (independently) agrees with Mark in the inclusion of o)pi/sw mou (“in back of [i.e. behind/after] me”), and with Matthew in the verbal substantive (participle) o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”). It also contains detail not found in the Synoptic tradition, such as the idea that “the one coming” had been standing in the midst of the crowd (among those coming to be baptized by John), undetected by them. Keep in mind that the Johannine Gospel does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but has John the Baptist describe it after it had occurred (Jn 1:29-34). It would seem that a common (historical) tradition has been preserved in various forms.

Malachi 3:1

In the context of the Baptist’s message, this use of the verb e&rxomai almost certainly has eschatological significance, and is probably derived from Malachi 3:1, the last clause—”the Messenger of the covenant, whom you take pleasure in, see! he will come“. In the Greek [LXX] version, the form is e&rxetai, as in Mark/Luke (cf. above). In other words, “the one coming” [o( e)rxo/meno$] likely refers to the Messenger of Mal 3:1. Now, both the Hebrew Ea*l=m^ and Greek a&ggelo$ can mean either a human or divine/heavenly messenger—i.e. a prophet/herald or an Angel—depending on the context. Based on a comparison with Exodus 23:20, it seems most probable that the original reference in Mal 3:1 was to a heavenly Messenger (Angel), perhaps the “Messenger of YHWH” (virtually a personification of God Himself); note (the parallel elements being italicized)—

Exod 23:20: “See! I am sending a Messenger before you to guard you in the way, and to make you come [i.e. bring you] to the place which I have established”

Malachi 3:1: “See! I am sending my Messenger and he will (turn and) face [i.e. look at, examine] the way before me; and straightly [i.e. suddenly] he will come to his temple…”

Admittedly, the syntax of Mal 3:1 makes interpretation difficult, since there are two references to a Messenger. It is, I believe, best to view the structure of this verse chiastically, as follows:

    • See! I am sending my Messenger…and suddenly he will come (to his temple)
      —the Lord whom you are seeking
      —the Messenger of the covenant (in) whom you have pleasure
    • See! he is coming

We seem to be dealing with a single figure, a single Messenger (of the covenant), who is to be identified as “the Lord” [/doa*h*]. Now in the Old Testament and Israelite religious belief, God (YHWH) himself was represented by the Angel/Messenger of YHWH, and the appearance or manifestation of this “Messenger” signified the very appearance of YHWH. Here the appearance of the Messenger in Jerusalem, in the Temple, ushers in the great and terrible “Day of YHWH” (verse 2), whereby the people will be judged with fire. The righteous will be purified and refined (vv. 2-4), while the wicked will be consumed (vv. 5-6). This very clearly fits what John the Baptist describes of “the one coming” in Matt 3:11-12 / Lk 3:16-17.

However, by the time the book of Malachi was completed, an ‘appendix’ was added, which seems to identify the Messenger of Mal 3:1 with “Elijah” who will appear before the Day of YHWH (Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24]). From this interpretation developed the Messianic/eschatological Elijah-tradition—at the end-time, just prior to the Last Judgment, Elijah (himself or a Prophet like him) will appear in order to bring people to repentance. For more on this tradition, cf. the current article. In drawing, it would seem, upon Mal 3:1ff, did John have in mind a heavenly/divine Messenger (representing God himself) or an end-time Prophet-like-Elijah? There is perhaps a clue to be found in Luke’s account (Lk 3:15), where it is narrated that John’s declaration in vv. 16-17 is in response to speculation that he might be “the Anointed” (i.e. the ‘Messiah’), as we see also in Jn 1:20ff. Based on what we know of the Baptist’s appearance and his ministry, it is unlikely that anyone would have imagined him to be a Messiah of the Davidic-King type, whereas he easily could have been thought to be a Messianic Prophet according to the Elijah-tradition. As in Jn 1:20ff, he eschews such an identification, reserving it for another (Jesus).

Development in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:15, 30 etc)

In the Fourth Gospel, we find that the declaration of the Baptist has undergone an important theological/Christological development, which is expressed in the parallel statement in Jn 1:15, 30 (see my earlier note and study for a detailed exposition of these verses). This is part of an intentional effort by the author (and/or the tradition[s] he inherited) to subordinate John the Baptist to Jesus more completely and profoundly than we see in the Synoptic Gospels. We may note: (1) the references to John in the Prologue (Jn 1:1-18, vv. 6ff, 15), (2) his explicit testimony in three consecutive episodes (Jn 1:19-28, 29-34, 35ff), and (3) the juxtaposition of John and Jesus in Jn 3:22-30. Throughout the Gospel of John, the verb e&rxomai (“come, go”) often carries a special significance, related to the idea of Jesus (the Son) coming from God (the Father), and going back (returning) to Him. Particularly, in this respect, e&rxomai relates to what we would call the incarnation of the pre-existent Son. Many examples could be cited, but I will limit them here to instances where the participle [o(] e)rxo/meno$ (“[the one] coming”) is used—Jn 1:9, 15, 27; 3:31 (twice); 6:14; 11:27, also 12:13. The occurrences in Jn 3:31 are especially noteworthy since they follow right after the Baptist’s (final) statement, and are thought by some scholars to be a continuation of his words. It is also interesting that the parallel formulations of Jn 1:15, 30 vary between the participle (o( e)rxo/meno$ “the one coming”) and indicative (e&rxetai, “[he] comes”), just as we see the Baptist’s declaration in the Synoptic tradition (cf. above).

Psalm 118:26

There is an entirely different strand of Gospel tradition associating Jesus with “the one coming in the name of YHWH” of Psalm 118:26 (cf. Mark 11:9 [par Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38]; Matt 23:39 / Lk 13:35). Jesus is also connected with the king who comes in Zech 9:9ff—with both Zech 9:9 and Ps 118:26 being combined in the triumphal entry scene, most clearly in John 12:13, 15:

“…the (one) coming [o( erxo/meno$] in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel”
“…see! your king comes [e&rxetai]…”

In early Christian belief, and the developed Gospel tradition, Jesus’ identification as “the one coming in the name of the Lord” means more than that of the traditional Anointed King or Prophet. This is perhaps best seen by comparing Luke 13:34-35 (citing Psalm 118:26) with Luke 19:41-44 (a similar lament for Jerusalem, following his entry into the city, vv. 36-40). Here the appearance of God himself to his people is identified as taking place in the person of Jesus (v. 44). This brings us back to the language and symbolism of Malachi 3:1, as I understand its meaning and significance in the context of the original oracle.

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 3: The Prophet to Come (Moses & Elijah)

In the previous article, I looked at the concept of an eschatological/Messianic Prophet in Jewish thought, and of evidence in the New Testament identifying Jesus as a Prophet. In this article I will examine the main (Messianic) Prophet figure-types that apply to Jesus; there are two main traditions involving: (1) Moses and (2) Elijah.

The Moses Tradition (Deut 18:15-20)

In the Old Testament, especially in Deuteronomic tradition, Moses is viewed as a Prophet—indeed as the ideal and greatest Prophet (Deut 34:10-12). In Deuteronomy 18:15ff we find the famous prediction that another Prophet will (eventually) arise who is like Moses and who will take his place. In the same manner, Elisha took the place of Elijah, being anointed by his predecessor (1 Kings 19:16) and possessing his spirit and character (2 Kings 2:9, 15). Eventually, this prediction was given a future, eschatological interpretation—at the end-time, a Prophet-like-Moses would arise to instruct the faithful of Israel. This expectation probably underlies the notice in 1 Maccabees 14:41 (“…until a trustworthy Prophet should arise”), as well as the reference to “the unique Prophet” in Testament of Benjamin 9:2. In the Qumran texts, Moses was clearly regarded as a Prophet, as in the “Apocryphon of Moses/Pentateuch” writings—cf. especially 4Q375 column 1 (in line 7 the phrase “trustworthy prophet” appears); in 4Q377 column 2, line 5, Moses is referred to as God’s “Anointed (One)” [jyvm]. Deut 18:18-19 is cited in 4QTestimonia [4Q175] lines 5-8, in what is likely an eschatological/Messianic context. The expected Prophet of 1QS 9:11 (“…until the coming of the Prophet and the Anointed [Ones] of Aaron and Israel”) presumably draws upon this Moses tradition as well.

The same may be said of passages in the New Testament which contain a reference to “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40; Luke 7:16, 36 v.l. etc); in Jn 1:21-25, “the Prophet” seems to be understood as a separate figure from “Elijah”, possibly an indication that the Moses-tradition is involved. John the Baptist explicitly denies being “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21), but that Jesus was thought to be so by people on numerous occasions is indicated by several of the references above. In Acts 3:18-24 (sermon-speech of Peter), Jesus is identified specifically with the coming “Prophet like Moses” of Deut 18:15ff (cf. also Acts 7:37). Within early Christian tradition, Jesus is identified or associated with Moses in a number of ways:

    • Parallels with the birth of Moses (and the Exodus) in the Matthean Infancy narrative (Matt 2:1-21)
    • Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness (Matt 4:2 par) just as Moses was on Sinai for 40 days (Exod 24:18); in the arrangement of Matthew’s narrative, Jesus likewise returns to deliver/expound the Law/Torah (Matt 5:17ff)
    • The association with Moses in the Transfiguration scene (on this, cf. below)
    • In various ways, Jesus words and actions followed the type/pattern of Moses:
      • Cf. the detailed summary of Moses’ life in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:17-44) and its parallel to Jesus (7:45-53)—cp. “this Moses” (7:35, 37, 40) with the frequent use of “this Jesus” in Acts (1:11; 2:23, 32, 36; 4:11; 6:14 etc)
      • Moses and the ‘bronze serpent’ as a pattern of Jesus’ death (and exaltation), Jn 3:14
      • Moses and the manna (Jesus as the “bread from heaven”), Jn 6:32ff
      • Moses and the rock in the wilderness (Christ as the rock), 1 Cor 10:2-5

Elsewhere in the New Testament, we also find a juxtaposition contrasting Jesus and Moses—e.g., John 1:17; 5:45-46 (cf. Lk 16:29-31); 9:28-29; 2 Cor 3:13ff; Heb 3:2-5. Interestingly, these points of contrast are still based on a similarity between Jesus and Moses, the emphasis being on Jesus’ superiority or on how he fulfills/completes the “Old Covenant” represented by Moses.

The Elijah Tradition (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6)

This Messianic tradition derives from Malachi 3:1, combined with the explanatory interpretation of Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] which many scholars consider to be a (later) editorial gloss (see my supplementary note on the original context of Mal 3:1). In any case, already by the time of the completion of Malachi (and, presumably, the collection of the Twelve Prophets [Hosea–Malachi] as a whole), the “Messenger” [Ea*l=m^] of Mal 3:1 was identified as Elijah, who will (re)appear just prior to the “Day of YHWH” to bring repentance to people before the Judgment. Over time, this belief was given greater eschatological emphasis—”Elijah” would appear at the end-time, prior to the last Judgment—expressed already in Sirach 48:10 (early-mid 2nd century B.C.). Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, evidence for this belief at Qumran is rather slight, though it is attested in the fragmentary 4Q558 (fragment 1), but is perhaps reflected more prominently in a text such as 4Q521 (cf. below). Evidence for this tradition is found specifically in Mark 9:11-13 (Matt 17:10-12), the citations and allusions to Mal 3:1; 4:5-6 in Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27; Matt 11:10-14, and may be inferred from other references listed below. Also worth noting is Sibylline Oracles 2:187ff (Christian expansion/adaptation of earlier Jewish material).

An important question within the earliest (historical) strands of Gospel tradition was whether John the Baptist or Jesus was Elijah (and/or the Anointed Prophet) to Come. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, and, even more so as Christianity spread into the Greco-Roman (Gentile) world, this issue ceased to have any meaning, and disappeared almost entirely from Christian thought. At the same time, early tradition had more or less fixed the relationship between John and Jesus, reflected in the Gospels (c. 60-90 A.D.) as we have them. However, the situation is somewhat different when we examine the earliest Gospel tradition.

First, John the Baptist as Elijah

    • John’s appearance seems to echo the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8
    • During his lifetime (and after his death), he was believed to be a great Prophet (Mk 11:32 par; Matt 14:5; and cf. 11:11 par)
    • The messengers (priests and Levites) who come to him in Jn 1:19ff ask him directly if he is Elijah (v. 21); however—
    • John explicitly denies that he is Elijah (Jn 1:21, 25)
    • By contrast, Jesus explicitly affirms John as the Elijah-to-Come in Matthew 11:10, 14 (cf. Luke 7:27) [citing Mal 3:1], with a similar identification recorded in Mark 9:11-13 (Matt 17:10-12)
    • The identification, by way of Mal 3:1 and 4:5-6, is also found in Mark 1:2 and the Lukan Infancy narrative (Luke 1:17, 76ff); in Lk 1:17 it is specifically stated (by the Angel) that John would have “the spirit and power of Elijah” (cf. 2 Kings 2:9, 15)

According to the belief ultimately expressed in the Gospels, Mal 3:1; 4:5-6 was given a specific interpretation: John was the Messenger (“Elijah”) who would prepare the way (by his preaching and ministry of baptism) before the coming of the Lord (Jesus). However, elsewhere in the tradition, there is some evidence that Jesus himself might be identified as Elijah.

Jesus as Elijah

    • In Jn 1:21, 25, John the Baptist denies being Elijah—the implication, then, is that this is reserved for someone else (Jesus).
    • John identifies himself primarily as the voice/herald of Isa 40:3-5 (Jn 1:23)—this is also the core tradition recorded at the start of the Synoptic Gospel narrative (Mark 1:3; Matt 3:3; Lk 3:4-6)—though a possible identification with the Messenger of Mal 3:1 may be found in Jn 3:28.
    • John’s own testimony in Mark 1:7-8 (par Matt 3:11-12/Lk 3:15-17) seems to suggest that Jesus is the Messenger to Come of Mal 3:1, as does his question to Jesus in Matt 11:3/Lk 7:19.
    • As with John, people apparently thought that Jesus might be Elijah—Mark 6:15 (Lk 9:8); Mark 8:28 (Matt 16:14; Lk 9:19).
    • In the Lukan version of the scene at Nazareth, where Jesus identifies himself as a Prophet (Lk 4:24), in the illustrations which follow (vv. 25-26) he effectively compares himself with Elijah and Elisha. The “Anointed” Prophet of Isa 61:1ff, with whom Jesus identifies himself (vv. 18-21), could also be understood in connection with Elijah (on this, cf. below).
    • Jesus is associated with Elijah in the Transfiguration scene (see below).
    • The episode(s) of the feeding of the multitude (Mark 6:30-44 / 8:1-9 pars) seem to echo a similar miracle(?) performed by Elisha (who possessed the spirit of Elijah) in 2 Kings 4:42-44.
    • The mocking response by observers while Jesus was on the cross (Mark 15:35-36 / Matt 27:47, 49) may reflect a belief that Jesus was (supposed to be) Elijah.

For more on this issue, see the accompanying supplementary note.

Moses and Elijah: The Transfiguration Scene (Mark 9:2-8; Matt 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36)

In one especially important passage—the Transfiguration episode in the Synoptic Gospels (also mentioned in 2 Peter 1:16-18)—Jesus is associated directly (and at the same time) with both Moses and Elijah. It is customary and popular for Christians to interpret Moses and Elijah here as representing “the Law and the Prophets”—that is, Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture. However, this does not seem to be correct. For one thing, Elijah is not an especially appropriate figure to represent the written books of the Prophets, since he apparently wrote nothing, and did not utter any ‘Messianic’ prophecies that might be fulfilled by Jesus. At the same time, Moses, in addition to his connection with the Law (Torah), was viewed as perhaps the greatest of Prophets (cf. above)—indeed, Moses and Elijah together represent: (a) the two great Prophet figures of Israel’s history, and (b) each served as the type of a end-time Prophet-to-Come. Secondarily, perhaps, one might note that Moses and Elijah each experienced a special manifestation of God (theophany) on Mt. Sinai/Horeb, and that there are clear echoes and allusions to the Sinai theophany in the Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration (esp. in Luke’s version).

Therefore, I would suggest that, if there is any definite symbolism in the presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus here, it is to confirm Jesus’ role as Anointed Prophet of God. We might say that Jesus is the true fulfillment of the two strands of tradition (cf. above), and, in turn, far exceeds and transcends them both. Ultimately, Jesus is a different kind of Prophet: not simply a herald of God’s message, a teacher/preacher and miracle-worker in the manner of Moses and Elijah, but the Elect/Chosen One of God (as well as God’s Son), Luke 9:35 par. Indeed, it is Luke’s version of the Transfiguration scene which sets it most clearly in the context of Jesus’ impending death and exaltation—cf. especially verse 31, and the parallel between v. 35 and 23:35.

The Anointed Prophet of Isaiah 61

If we really wish to understand Jesus as the Anointed Prophet, we must turn to Isaiah 61:1-3, the passage which, according to Luke’s account, was read by Jesus on his visit to the Synagogue of Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30, vv. 17-20). The passage begins (rendering the Greek of Lk/LXX):

“(The) Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because of which he (has) anointed me to bring a good message…”

The presence of the Spirit precedes, and is the reason for, the person being anointed. In the case of Jesus, Luke narrates this very thing, stating that, upon his return to Galilee, Jesus was “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk 4:14). This phrase is probably meant to indicate Jesus’ own Prophetic status (cf. Lk 1:17; Acts 10:38)—specifically as an Anointed Prophet. Even though the noun jyv!m* [m¹šîaµ] / xristo/$ [christós], is not used in Isa 61:1 (rather it is the verb jv^m* / e&xrisen), this verse does seem to have been extremely influential toward the idea of a Messianic Prophet. The figure in Isa 61:1ff certainly does not appear to be a king or ruler of the Davidic mold, nor a priest, but rather a prophet like Isaiah himself. It describes a herald who announces a message of good tidings (in Hebrew, literally “fresh” tidings) to the poor and oppressed. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, there is evidence that Isa 61:1ff was already being understood in an eschatological sense, with the anointed figure of verse 1 identified as a Prophet-Messiah. This is seen most clearly in the Qumran text 4Q521, where in fragment 2 (column ii, line 1) we read: “…[the heav]ens and the earth will listen to [i.e. obey] his Anointed (One)”. What follows in lines 2-14 etc is a blending of Isa 61:1ff and Psalm 146; but the idea of heaven and earth obeying God’s Anointed is suggestive of a Prophet in the manner of Elijah who “shut up the heavens” so that it would not rain and brought down fire from heaven (1 Kings 17:1ff; Sirach 48:2-3; James 5:17); Jesus of course exhibited a similar authority over the elements (Mark 5:35-41; 8:45-52 pars). Moreover, in column iii of fragment there is an allusion to Mal 4:5-6 and the (end-time) role of Elijah in bringing people to repentance.

Thus, when Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed figure of Isa 61:1, it is almost certainly not to a Messianic King in the manner of David, but to a Prophet like Elijah. In Luke 4:24, Jesus specifically identifies himself as a Prophet, and the illustrations in vv. 25-26 further connect him with Elijah (and Elisha). Along the same lines, when we see references to “the Anointed” (o( xristo/$) in the early chapters of the Gospels (during the period of John and Jesus’ ministries), it is very probably an Anointed Prophet, and not a Davidic “Messiah”, that is in view. Similarly, when John (and others) speak of “the Coming One” [o( e)rxo/meno$] or “one who comes [e&rxetai]” (Mark 1:7; Matt 3:11; 11:3; Jn 1:15, 27 etc, cf. also Mark 11:9 par [citing Psalm 118:26]), this likely refers to a Prophetic Messiah. In this regard, it is important to note the Baptist’s question sent to Jesus (Matt 11:3 / Lk 7:20):

“Are you the Coming (One) [o( e)rxo/meno$], or should we look toward receiving [i.e. expect] another?”

Jesus, in his response (Matt 11:4-6 / Lk 7:21-23), again identifies himself with the Anointed (Prophet) of Isa 61:1-3, alluding to that passage, combined with elements of Isa 26:19; 29:20; 35:5. The blending of miracle-working with Isa 61:1ff, brings Jesus’ response more closely in line with 4Q521 frag. 2 col. ii (cited above); interestingly, both passages, right before the proclaiming of good news to the poor, specifically mention raising the dead (line 12, Matt 11:5b par), which, in Jewish tradition, came to be associated particularly with Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24; Sirach 48:5, [11]; m. Sota 9; j. Sheqalim 3:3; Pesikta de R. Kahana 76a). By the end of the 1st century A.D., resurrection came to be connected with the appearance of the Messiah generally (2 Baruch 30:2; 2/4 Esdras 7) [cf. Collins, pp. 119-20]. For more on the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, cf. my supplementary note.

Based on Jesus’ own words and actions during the period of his ministry (in Galilee), he is to be identified primarily, if not exclusively, as an Anointed Prophet. There is little evidence, especially in the Synoptic Gospels, that he saw himself as a Davidic King-Messiah, nor did others who observed him seem to view him this way. The turning point, as recorded in Synoptic tradition, can be seen in two episodes:

    1. The Transfiguration, during which the Prophet-figures Moses and Elijah appear alongside Jesus, conversing with him, and, in so doing, confirm his role as the ultimate Anointed Prophet of God. The voice from the cloud, echoing the Divine voice at Jesus’ baptism, declares Jesus to be the Son of God (and, in the Lukan version, the Elect/Chosen One of God).
    2. Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the Anointed (One)”, an identification here set implicitly in contrast to a Prophet such as Elijah; the special status of this Anointed figure is further indicated by the formulations in Luke (“the Anointed One of God”, similar to “the Chosen One of God”) and in Matthew (“the Anointed One, the Son of the living God”, i.e. “Son of God”)

Beginning with the (final) journey to Jerusalem a new understanding of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) emerges in the Synoptic tradition, that of Anointed King and “Son of David”, which dominates the episodes in Jerusalem, through to Jesus’ death and resurrection. This particular Messianic role will be discussed in upcoming articles.

Citations marked “Collins” above are to J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]) 1995.

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Yeshua the Anointed, Part 2: The Prophet to Come

In the previous Introduction to this series (“Yeshua the Anointed”), I discussed how the expression or title “Anointed (One)”—Heb. j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ, “Messiah”) and Grk. xristo/$ (christós, “Christ”)—did not have a single predefined meaning in Jewish thought in the 1st-century B.C./A.D. Rather, several different concepts emerged, drawn from certain key Scripture passages, some of which had a decided eschatological emphasis—a future/end-time figure, appointed by God, and through whom God would bring about the restoration of Israel. In my introductory article, I outlined five distinct ‘Messianic’ figure-types or roles which are relevant to an understanding of Jesus (Yeshua) as the Anointed One (Messiah) in early Christian belief and tradition. Of these five types, it is that of Prophet which I will be examining first, since it seems to fit Jesus best during the time of his ministry on earth.

To begin with, the word “prophet” is simply an anglicized transliteration of the Greek profh/th$ (proph¢¡t¢s), and refers to telling or declaring something (verbal stem fh-) before (pro/). The prefix pro (pro) can be understood two different ways: (1) declaring something beforehand (i.e. before it takes place), or (2) declaring something before (i.e. in front of) an audience. The noun (and its derived verb) are used in the former sense throughout the New Testament, and, in literal translation, I always render profh/th$ as “foreteller”. However, the latter sense better fits the basic meaning of the corresponding word ayb!n` (n¹»î°) in Hebrew. A ayb!n` is essentially a spokesperson—one who announces or declares the message (of God) to the people. If related to Akkadian nabû, then the word would also indicate someone called or appointed (by God), i.e. as an authoritative representative. In other words, in terms of ancient Near Eastern religion and society, the ayb!n` represented God before the community and made known His word to them. This role could be filled at any level of society, all the way up to the royal court. Contrary to popular tradition, prophets could be highly educated, literate people (such as Isaiah), and might possess considerable prestige and influence in the community.

Prophets as “Anointed”

In the Old Testament, we find very little evidence for prophets being ceremonially anointed (as were kings and priests). The only clear example is in 1 Kings 19:16, where Elijah is commanded by God to anoint [jv^m* m¹šaµ] Elisha as prophet in his place (cf. also 2 Kings 2:9, 15), just as he was to anoint Hazael as king of Syria (similarly the prophet Samuel anointed Saul and David as king, and Nathan did for Solomon). In Psalm 105:15 / 1 Chron 16:22, “my anointed one(s)” [yjyvm] is set parallel with “my prophets“, where the Prophets of God are referred to collectively. A similar usage may be found in the later Qumran texts (c. 1st century B.C.), where the plural “anointed ones” [<yjyvm] seems to refer to the historical Prophets—cf. 1QM 11:7-8; 4Q270 2 ii 13-14; 4Q287 10 13; 4Q521 8 9; also CD 5:21-6:1 (= 4Q267 2 6 | 6Q15 3 4); and the singular in 1Q30 1 2 probably also refers to a Prophet. In this regard, Moses also appears to have been viewed as an anointed Prophet (4Q377 2 ii 4-5, cf. CD 5:21-6:1). The important text 4Q521 will be discussed in the next article.

Jesus as a Prophet

Christians are not accustomed to thinking of Jesus as a Prophet, but in the Gospel tradition—at least in terms of his time of ministry (prior to the final journey to Jerusalem)—this is the ‘Messianic’ designation that best applies to him. In the Synoptic narrative, which divides neatly between Jesus’ ministry [in Galilee and the surrounding regions] (Mark 1-9 par) and the time in Jerusalem (Mark 11-16 par), there are virtually no references to Jesus as a Davidic ruler or ‘Messianic’ king (cf. Matt 9:27) during the period of ministry. Even references to “the Anointed One” [o( xristo/$] are quite rare, and almost non-existent prior to Peter’s confession (“you are the Anointed One…”, Mk 8:29 par). There are considerably more references to Jesus as “the Anointed One” in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:41; 3:28; 4:25, 29; 7:26-27, 31, 41-42; 10:24; 11:27), but, apart from the explicit identification in Jn 7:42, it is by no means clear that “Anointed One” in these passages always refers to a ‘Messiah’ of the Davidic-ruler type. There is actually better evidence for Jesus as a Messianic Prophet, though it takes a bit of detective work to see the extent of this.

Additional evidence for Jesus as a Prophetic figure in the type/pattern of Moses and Elijah will be discussed in detail in the next article. In passing, it should be noted that the idea of Jesus as a Prophet is entirely based on early Gospel tradition, and is really only found in the Gospel narratives themselves. Apart from Acts 3:18-24 (cf. also 7:37), it does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament, and is virtually non-existent in early Christian doctrine and theology as well. All of this is strong evidence for the historical veracity of the Gospel references, on entirely objective grounds—the identification of Jesus as a Prophet is not something the early Church would have invented. In spite of the fact that Prophet is one of the customary “offices of Christ” in standard theological terms, it has played very little role in Christian thought since the first century.

The Coming Prophet

As noted in the previous article, I define a “Messiah” as: a ruler or leader, specially appointed by God, and through whom God will bring about the restoration of Israel, in a political and/or religious sense. According to this definition one may properly speak of a Messianic Prophet. The roots of this idea go back to the exile and post-exilic period, during which time the role and office of Prophet [Hebrew ayb!n`, cf. above] had begun to fade out of importance, to the point that a general belief developed regarding the “cessation of prophecy” in what we would call the Intertestamental period. Just as Israelites and Jews expected the future appearance of a king like David, it is not surprising that they would also hope for a Prophet like the great Prophets of old. It is hard to say just how widespread this expectation was—the evidence for it in Jewish writings prior to, or contemporary with, the time of Jesus is relatively slight, but clear enough for us to detect several strands of tradition. Three in particular will be discussed, all of which stem from specific Scripture passages:

  • The Elijah-Tradition—either Elijah himself, or another Prophet in his mold, will appear at the time of the Last Judgment (or just prior to it); through his preaching and signs (miracles) he will bring people to repentance. This is derived from Malachi 3:1 and the concluding verses 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24].
  • The Moses-Tradition—similarly, at the end-time a “Prophet like Moses” will appear, who will instruct the faithful just as Moses did. This tradition clearly comes from Deuteronomy 18:15-20 (cf. also Deut 34:10-12).
  • The Isaiah-Tradition—this refers specifically to the “Anointed” Prophet of Isaiah 61:1ff, a passage which, I believe, was highly influential on the idea of a Prophet as “Messiah”.

All three of these traditions were current, to varying degrees, in Judaism during the 1st centuries B.C./A.D., and each is important in understanding how Jesus was viewed in the earliest Gospel tradition. They will be discussed in the next article. First, let us look at passages which indicate belief in a coming (future or end-time) Prophet:

  • 1 Maccabees 14:41, part of an official record of thanksgiving (vv. 27-45), in honor of the high priest Simon; verse 41 reads (in conventional translation): “…the Jews and the(ir) priests thought it good (for) Simon to be their leader and chief priest into the Age [i.e. forever], until a trust(worthy) Prophet should arise“.
  • Testament of Benjamin 9:2 refers to the coming of “the unique Prophet”. The Testaments (of the Twelve Patriarchs) are difficult to date, as they represent Christian expansions/adaptation of earlier Jewish material, ranging from the mid-2nd century B.C. to the early-mid 2nd century A.D. For example, here verse 3 is a clear Christian addition (drawing upon Mal 3:1).
  • There are two passages in the Qumran texts (both to be dated sometime in the 1st cent B.C.):
    • The so-called ‘Community Rule’ 1QS 9:11, which has the famous phrase “…until the coming of the Prophet and the Anointed (One)s of Aaron and Israel”.
    • 4QTestimonia [4Q175] lines 5-8, citing Deut 18:18-19 (cf. above); for more on the Moses-type of Prophet, cf. also 4Q375 and 377 (the “Apocryphon of Moses” B, C).
  • It is likely that 4Q521 describes a Messianic Prophet, combining elements of the Elijah- and Isaiah-traditions (see the next article for more on this text). A combination of elements is also found in the Messianic figure of 11QMelchizedek, including that of an anointed herald (or Prophet).
  • The tradition of Elijah’s appearance at the end time is attested by Sirach 48:10f (alluding to Mal 4:5-6), and also in the “Sibylline Oracles” 2:187ff (Christian, but drawing upon earlier Jewish material).

Several passages in the New Testament demonstrate a similar belief in the appearance of an end-time (Messianic) Prophet, indicated by references to “the Prophet”—John 1:21, 25, and with whom Jesus is identified in John 6:14; 7:40; Luke 7:16, 39 v.l., and (possibly) also Matt 14:5; 21:11. Probably “the Prophet” here refers to the expected “Prophet like Moses” of Deut 18:18ff, as likely also for the “trustworthy” or “unique” Prophet in 1 Macc 14:41; Test. Benj. 9:2 (above). Jesus is specifically identified as the Prophet of Deut 18 in Acts 3:18-24 (cf. also Acts 7:37), and is associated with Moses in various ways throughout early Christian tradition.

As for the eschatological appearance of Elijah, this belief (derived from Mal 3:1; 4:5-6) is expressed several places in the Gospels—Mark 1:2; 6:15; 8:28 pars; 9:11-13 par; Matt 11:14; John 1:21, 25; Luke 1:17, 76ff. In all likelihood the Elijah-tradition also underlies the expression o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [One who is] Coming”) which occurs at several important points in the Gospels. It is closely related to the vital early question as to whether John the Baptist or Jesus was “Elijah” and/or the Anointed Prophet (to Come). This specific issue will be discussed in detail in a supplementary note. Regarding the Elijah/Moses-traditions in relation to Jesus, this is the subject of the next article.

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Yeshua the Anointed, Part 1: Introduction

This series, originally designed for Easter season, is entitled “Yeshua the Anointed” (in conventional rendering, “Jesus the Messiah”) – focusing specifically on Jesus as the Anointed One, or Messiah. Within a generation (less than 30 years) after his death and resurrection, the term Xristo/$ (Christos, “Anointed [One]”) was being applied to Jesus virtually as a second name. Through the generations, right up to the present day, believers have been so accustomed to referring to him as “Jesus Christ” or “Christ”, that much of the original meaning of the title has been lost or forgotten. This began to change, to some extent, in the 20th century, largely as a result of more thorough critical study of the Jewish background of the New Testament (aided considerably by the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls), and we are now able to gain a clearer sense of what the term might have meant or signified for Jews and early Christians in the 1st century A.D.

The word “Messiah” is simply an Anglicized transliteration of the Hebrew j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ), a substantive noun derived from the root jv^m* (m¹šaµ), which has the basic meaning to wipe, rub or otherwise apply a substance (such as paint or oil). It came to be used in the technical or ceremonial sense of the application of oil to persons or objects, as a means of consecration. More generally, in ancient Near Eastern culture, anointing with oil was often a way of bestowing honor or dignity upon a person (the use of oil typically being a sign and symbol of wealth), e.g. Psalm 23:5; Amos 6:6; Mic 6:15; Luke 7:46. Anointing with oil was also thought to be a means and medium for healing, i.e. of illness or disease (James 5:14; cf. Isa 1:6, etc); in addition, there was the ceremonial practice of anointing (or “embalming”) associated with burial ritual (cf. especially regarding Jesus’ burial in Mark 16:1; Matt 26:12; Luke 23:56; John 19:39).

Hebrew jv^m* is typically rendered in Greek by the corresponding verb a)lei/fw (aleíphœ), which likewise has the meaning “rub, wipe, smear” (used 8 times in the NT—Matt 6:17; Mk 6:13; 16:1; Lk 7:38, 46 [twice]; Jn 11:2; 12:3; Jas 5:14). However, when referring to the ritual/ceremonial practice of anointing rulers, priests, sacred objects, and the like, the verb xri/w (chríœ) is more common (LXX Exod 30:26; 40:10; Lev 8:11ff, et al); xri/w occurs 5 times in the NT (Lk 4:18 [quoting Isa 61:1]; Acts 4:27; 10:38; 2 Cor 1:21; and Heb 1:9 [quoting Ps 45:7]), with the compound forms e)pixri/w and e)gxri/w in Jn 9:6, 11 and Rev 3:18. The derived noun xristo/$ (christós) corresponds to j^yv!m*—both mean literally “anointed (one or thing)” (i.e. person or object). The related noun xri=sma (chrísma) refers to the application or anointing itself (LXX Ex 29:7; 30:25, etc), and is used in the NT (of believers) only in a symbolic, spiritual sense (1 Jn 2:20, 27, cf. 2 Cor 1:21).

Use of the noun j^yv!m*

The substantive noun j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ) occurs 39 times in the Old Testament Scriptures (cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 76-77), and always in the ritual/ceremonial sense of a consecrated person (or object):

  • Most commonly it refers to the reigning/ruling King generally—1 Sam 2:10, 35; 16:6; Psalm 2:2; 20:7; 84:10 (and Psalm 28:8; Hab 3:13 ?), or to a specific ruler, such as:
    • Saul—1 Sam 24:7, 11; 26:9, 11, 16, 23; 2 Sam 1:14, 16, 21 (?), and cf. also 1 Sam 12:3, 5
    • David—2 Sam 19:22; 22:51; 23:1; Psalm 18:51; 89:39, 52; 132:10, 17 (and/or the Davidic line)
    • Solomon—2 Chron 6:42
    • Zedekiah—Lam 4:20 (cf. 2 Kings 25:4-5)
  • It may also be used of an ordained/officiating Priest (or High Priest)—Lev 4:3, 5, 16; 6:15
  • References to anointed Prophets in the OT are rare or uncertain, but note 1 Chron 16:22, Psalm 105:5, and cf. also 1 Kings 19:16
  • Only twice does the term clearly refer to a future, expected figure:
    • Isaiah 45:1 (the Persian ruler Cyrus)
    • Daniel 9:25-26 (of a military commander or “prince” [dyg]n`])—this famous passage will be discussed in due course

There are, of course, many references to the anointing of kings and rulers, priests, and sacred objects (i.e. of the Tabernacle), not all of which necessarily use the verb jv^m*: e.g., Gen 31:13; Ex 28:41; 29:7, 21, 29, 36; 30:25ff; 40:9-11ff; Lev 6:20, 22; 7:36; 8:10-12; 10:7; 16:32; 21:10, 12; Num 3:3; 7:1, 10, 84, 88; Judg 9:8, 15; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, 12-13; 2 Sam 2:4, 7; 3:39; 5:3, 17; 12:7; 19:10; 1 Kings 1:34, 39, 45; 5:1; 19:15f; 2 Kings 9:3, 6, 12; 11:12; 23:30; 1 Chron 11:3; 14:8; 29:22; 2 Chron 22:7; Psalm 45:7; 89:20; Dan 9:24; and cf. also Zech 4:14.

The concept of anointing and anointed persons need not be limited to the use of the noun j^yv!m* (or the verb jv^m*), but it is helpful indeed to begin with these terms (and/or their Greek equivalents) when analyzing the idea of a “Messiah” in Jewish and early Christian thought.

Definition of Basic Terms

  • “Messiah”—As a basic concept, I define the term as: a ruler or leader, specially appointed by God, and through whom God will bring about the restoration of Israel, in a political and/or religious sense. To this definition, several additional or qualifying points should be made:
    • (1) The distinctive concept of a “Messiah” is primarily a product of the historical circumstances of the Exile, with the end of the old Israelite/Judean kingdoms, the conquest of the territory (and people), and the destruction of the Temple. Only in the Exilic and Post-exilic periods does the idea of the restoration of Israel come into view, and with it the hope of a divinely-appointed figure who will bring it about.
    • (2) This future hope gradually came to be understood in an eschatological context—that is, the appearance of a “Messiah” (or the “Messiah”) will precede, or coincide with, the end-time Judgment of God, and will usher in the Age to Come.
    • (3) While a “Messiah” may correspond to a number of different images or ideas (cf. below), the primary figure which developed in Israelite/Jewish thought was that of a Davidic ruler (i.e. from the dynasty or line of David) who will arise at some point (in the future) and restore the kingdom of Israel, subjugating the nations, and inaugurating a (worldwide) reign of peace.
    • (4) It is worth noting the virtually all of the traditions associated with the idea of a “Messiah” in Jewish and early Christian thought are derived from a relatively small set of Old Testament passages. Apart from the verses where the specific word j^yv!m* is used (cf. above), these include Gen 49:10; Num 24:15-19; 2 Sam 7:11-17; 22:44-51 (= Ps 18:44-51); 23:1-3, 5; Isa 11:1-9; Amos 9:11; Jer 22:4-5; 23:5-6; 30:9, 21; 33:14-22; Ezek 17:3-4, 22-23; 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Zech 3:8; 4:11-14; 6:12-13; Dan 7:13ff, and perhaps a few others. These will all be discussed at various points in this series. Extra-Scriptural influence on the Messiah concept would seem to be slight indeed.
  • “Messianic”: any belief, teaching, image, or motif which relates to, or is characteristic of, the idea of a “Messiah” as defined above.
  • “Messianism”: a distinct set of “Messianic” beliefs or concepts which is relatively consistent, and may be expressed as such (with some degree of clarity) in tradition or writing. I do not find the term to be particularly helpful, and it really ought to be used sparingly, as little as possible.

Some authors and scholars, on occasion, will apply the terms “Messianic” and “Messianism” to similar religious-cultural phenomena outside of Judaism—i.e. ancient Persian, Egyptian (in the Roman period), Hindu, Islamic, etc. While one may legitimately consider “Messianism” or “Messiah” concepts under the larger umbrella of the Phenomenology of Religion—and, admittedly, there are any number of parallels in other cultures—it is best to reserve “Messiah” and “Messianic” specifically for Jewish (and early Christian) thought. The only (partial) exception is that I would, without hesitation, include Samaritan beliefs (associated with a future/coming Taheb [bht]) as “Messianic”.

Sources for Messianic thought (in the 1st century A.D.)

I would group these into four categories:

  • The Old Testament Scriptures—for a list of the most relevant passages, see above.
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls (from Qumran)—These texts span the period roughly 150 B.C. to 50 A.D., with the majority to be dated somewhere in the 1st century B.C. It is generally assumed that the scrolls found in the various caves belonged to a Community which resided at the site of Khirbet Qumrân. The corpus represented by the scrolls comprises a wide range of writings: documents related to the organization of the Community, copies of Scripture, commentaries, pseudepigrapha and other interpretive treatments of Scripture, and much more. A number of texts contain definite eschatological and/or Messianic passages, which will be introduced and discussed throughout this series.
  • Other Jewish writings c. 250 B.C.–100 A.D.—These include:
    • Pseudepigraphic works with an apocalyptic and/or eschatological emphasis, especially—
      • The Psalms of Solomon (mid-late 1st century B.C. [sometime after 63 B.C.]), esp. the 17th and 18th psalms
      • The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which appears to be a Christian expansion (or adaptation) of earlier Jewish source material (mid-2nd century B.C.?). The presumed Christian additions likely date from the early/mid-2nd century A.D. The Qumran text 4QTLevi is related in some way to the Testament of Levi.
      • The Sibylline Oracles (esp. portions of Books 3 and 5), which contain much Jewish material (variously dated from the mid-2nd century B.C. to the late 1st century A.D.), along with Christian additions and adaptation.
      • The Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), date uncertain, probably early-mid 1st century A.D.
      • The Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch), late 1st century A.D.
      • The deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (or “4 Ezra”), late 1st century A.D.
    • Several passages in the books of Jubilees and Sirach (both typically dated early/mid-2nd century B.C.)
    • Philo of Alexandria shows little interest in eschatology or Messianic ideas (but cf. On Rewards and Punishments §§165-9). As for Josephus, his pro-Roman viewpoint made him averse to popular Messianic expectation, but he does bear witness to several would-be “Messiah”-type figures who appeared and had some influence (Antiquities 18.85; 20.97, 169-172; War 7.437ff). That Messianic expectation was relatively widespread is indicated by Josephus’ report of a prophecy that a world-ruler would come out of Judea (War 6.312ff, and cf. Tacitus, Histories 5.13.2; Suetonius, Vespasian 4.5).
    • We might also include texts and inscriptions associated with the Bar-Kokhba rebellion (132-135 A.D.)
  • Later Jewish Literature, from the 2nd century A.D. on into the middle ages—these writings may contain earlier traditions, but one must be extremely cautious about trying to read them back into the time of Jesus. There is a wide range of material, including:
    • Later Pseudepigrapha, such as so-called “Hebrew Enoch” (3 Enoch)
    • The Targums, Aramaic translations of Scripture which are often highly interpretative and expansive
    • Traditions contained in the Midrash and Talmuds
    • Collections of Midrashim (such as the Midrash Rabbah) and other Rabbinic writings

j^yv!m* in Jewish writings 1st-century B.C./A.D.

It is instructive to list the relevant passages where the noun j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ), or the corresponding Greek xristo/$ (christós) etc., is used in Jewish writings of the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D. (including the New Testament). For Old Testament passages using j^yv!m, cf. above.

The Dead Sea (Qumran) Texts (cf. “Qumran-Messianism”, pp. 191-4), including the so-called “Damascus Document” which, in addition to the fragments from Qumran (QD), is attested also in later versions or copies found previously in Cairo [CD]:

  • It is often used of a political/military leader (presumably, if not explicitly, Davidic):
    • Anointed (One) of Israel
      CD 12:23-13:1; 14:19 (= 4Q266 10 i 12); 19:10-11; 20:1
      1QS 9:11 (passage apparently missing from 4Q259 1 iii 6)
      1QSa 2:14-15, 20-21; and also 4Q382 16 2
    • Anointed (One)
      1QSa 2:11-12; 4Q252 5:3-4; 4Q381 15 7; 4Q458 2 ii 6
  • It is used similarly of a priestly leader (Priest/High-priest):
    • Anointed (One) of Aaron
      CD 12:23-13:1; 14:9; 19:10-11; 20:1; 1QS 9:11 (all parallel to “Anointed [One] of Israel”)
    • Anointed Priest
      4Q375 1 i 9; 4Q376 1 i 1
  • It frequently refers to the (historical) Prophets, always in the plural (“Anointed Ones”):
    • CD 2:12; 5:21-6:1 (= 4Q267 2 6 / 6Q15 3 4); 1QM 11:7-8; 4Q270 2 ii 13-14; 4Q287 10 13; 4Q521 8 9
    • And similarly of Moses: 4Q377 2 ii 4-5, and cf. CD 5:21f
  • It is used of an Elijah-like Prophet figure in 4Q521 1 ii 1, 7 3 (drawing upon Isa 61:1ff and Ps 146)
  • It is used of an Anointed “herald” (r?bm) in 11QMelch 2:18, referring specifically to Daniel 9:25

Pseudepigrapha (cf. “Qumran-Messianism”, pp. 29-43)—the key passages are:

  • Psalms of Solomon 17:32[36]; 18:5, 7 (and cf. the context of 17:21-33)
  • The Similitudes of Enoch—1 Enoch 48:10; 52:4 [Ethiopic]
  • The Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch) 29:3; 30:1; 39:7; 40:1; 70:9; 72:2 [Syriac]; and note esp. the context of chs. 72-74.
  • 2/4 Esdras (4 Ezra) 7:28-29ff (throughout ch. 7); 11:37-12:34; and see also 13:3-14:9

New Testament—here I list out only those verses where xristo/$ is clearly used in the general sense of an expected (future or end-time) figure; square brackets indicate references which are slightly less certain, or which may be colored more by early Christian belief about Jesus. Naturally enough, nearly all of these come from the Gospels and Acts.

In John 1:41; 4:25, j^yv!m* is transliterated (as Messi/a$), rather than translated by Xristo/$.

Messianic Figures or Types

I would highlight five distinct figures or types associated with the Messiah-concept in Jewish and early Christian tradition:

  1. The Davidic King—a political/military ruler, usually understood to be a ‘descendent’ of David, though this does not necessarily mean biological descent.
  2. The True or Ideal Priest—a priestly ‘descendent’ of Levi/Aaron who will oversee the religious restoration of Israel; this figure is associated especially with the Messianic beliefs and expectations of the Qumran Community.
  3. The Coming Prophet—an end-time miracle-working and/or teaching prophet whose appearance will precede the Judgment of God; there are two strands of tradition which developed:
    (a) A Moses-figure (from Deut 18:15-19)
    (b) An Elijah-figure (from Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6)
  4. A Teacher of Righteousness/Holiness—who will bring divine revelation and instruction, especially with regard to a proper understanding of the Law (Torah); a distinctive feature of the Qumran texts.
  5. A Heavenly/Angelic Deliverer—associated as well with the end-time Judgment of God; best known in terms of the “Son of Man” concept, as developed (it would seem) from the brief reference in Daniel 7:13f.

These are best understood as specific types or roles—it may be possible for a single person or figure to fulfill more than one role. As we shall see, all five of these can be seen as being fulfilled by Jesus in various ways, and this as been expressed at different points throughout the history of Christian belief and tradition.

Outline for this Series

Here is the outline I will be following for this series:

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2: The Coming Prophet
  • Part 3: The Coming Prophet: Moses and Elijah
  • Part 4: The Teacher of Righteousness
  • Part 5: The Kingdom of God
  • Part 6: The Davidic King: Overview and Background
  • Part 7: The Davidic King: Detailed Analysis
  • Part 8: The Son of David
  • Part 9: The True Priest
  • Part 10: The Son of Man
  • Part 11: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus
  • Part 12: Messiah and the Son of God

In each article I will attempt to examine: (a) the Old Testament background, (b) Jewish believers or traditions which are likely to have been in existence during the 1st century A.D., (c) how it relates or applies to Jesus at the historical level and in Gospel tradition, and (d) how it further was understood in early Christian thought.

Bibliographic Note: There are many books and articles which survey Messianic beliefs in the Qumran Texts (Dead Sea Scrolls); I found three to be especially useful, which I will be citing frequently during this series:
* John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1995)—referenced as “Collins”.
* Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins ([Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature], Eerdmans: 2000), esp. pp. 73-110—referenced as “Fitzmyer”.
* James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gerbern S. Oegema, editors, Qumran Messianism: Studies on the Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Mohr Siebeck: 1998)—referenced as “Qumran-Messianism”.

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