April 10 (3): Luke 2:34-35

In the year 2016, Good Friday coincided with the Annunciation—the celebration of the Angelic announcement to Mary. In most years the Annunciation comes close in time to Lent and/or Holy Week. This connection between the death of Christ on the cross, and his conception in the womb of Mary, may seem strange to most of us. We are perhaps not accustomed to meditating upon these two aspects together, but Church Fathers such as Ephrem the Syrian certainly were aware of the connection (especially the association with Passover):

Moses shut in the lamb in April
On the tenth day—a symbol of the Son
Who came into the womb and closed Himself up
On the tenth day…
(Hymn 5 on the Nativity st. 14, translation Kathleen E. McVey; cf. also Hymn 4 st. 31-34, etc)

The conception here is coordinated with the 10th of Nisan, at the time when the lambs are set aside in preparation of slaughtering for Passover (4 days later), cf. Exodus 12:3-6. Indeed, it may be most profitable on this day to consider the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), both the prophecy (arranged chiastically):

    • ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai
      • kai\ dw/sei au)tw=| ku/rio$ o( qeo\$ to\n qro/non Daui\d tou= patro/$ au)tou=
      • kai\ basileu/sei e)pi\ to\n oi@kon  )Iakw\b ei)$ tou\$ ai)w=na$
    • kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$

“This (one) shall be great and called Son of the Highest
and the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father
and he shall be king upon the house of Jacob into the Ages
and of his Kingdom there shall not be an end” (vv. 32-33)

and the answer to Mary’s question:

    • pneu=ma a%gion e)peleu/setai e)pi\ se
      • kai\ du/nami$ u(yi/stou e)piskia/sei soi:
    • dio\ kai\ to\ gennw/menon a%gion
      • klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou=

“(The) Holy Breath [i.e. Holy Spirit] shall come upon you
and (the) Power of the Highest will cast shadow upon you
through which the (one) coming-to-be (born) is holy
called the Son of God”
[the last portion can also be rendered as:]
through which the (one) coming-to-be (born)
shall be called holy, the Son of God” (v. 35)

However, I would like to look briefly here at another episode from the Lukan Infancy Narratives involving Mary: namely, the encounter with Simeon in the Temple (Luke 2:25-35), since it has traditionally been associated with the Passion of Christ. There are four parts to the narrative: (a) the purification of Mary / presentation of Jesus [2:22-24], (b) the introduction and Canticle of Simeon [2:25-32], (c) the Prophecy of Simeon [2:33-35], and (d) the presence of the prophetess Anna in the Temple [2:36-38], along with a concluding notice by Luke [2:39-40]. The Canticle of Simeon (known by its Latin translation as the Nunc Dimittis) is one of the most beautiful and cherished of New Testament hymns, and quickly became a fixed part of the liturgy: traditionally sung as part of the Daily Office (at Compline), as well as in funeral services, it holds a special place in the Holy Week Office.

I wish to focus on the second part of the Simeon episode, the prophecy (vv. 34-35). For the moment, I leave out the parenthetical prophecy regarding Mary, so that it is easier to see the prophecy in context:

i(dou\ ou!to$ kei=tai ei)$ ptw=sin kai\ a)na/stasin
    pollw=n e)n tw=|   )Israh/l
kai\ ei)$ shmei=on a)ntilego/menon
{prophecy regarding Mary}
  o%pw$ a*n a)pokalufqw=sin e)k pollw=n kardiw=n dialogismoi/

“See, this (one) is laid (down) unto the falling (down) and standing up
of many in Israel
and unto a sign being counted (i.e. spoken) against
{prophecy regarding Mary}
so that the countings-through (i.e. reasonings/reckonings) out of many hearts might be uncovered”

[or, in smoother, conventional translation:]

“See, this (one) is set for the falling and rising
of many in Israel
and for a sign to be spoken against
{prophecy regarding Mary}
so that the thoughts of many hearts might be uncovered”

The prophecy is fairly clear: Christ’s life and presence is set toward (and will lead to) the “falling down and standing up” of “many” in Israel. Are these separate groups of people, or separate conditions in which the same person may find him/herself? Or both? That there is some sort of division intended, I think is certain. And, indeed, throughout Jesus’ ministry, up to his death and resurrection, and for all the centuries thereafter, this prophecy seems to hold. Jesus himself speaks of bringing a “sword” (Matthew 10:34)—his life and teachings, indeed, his very presence, will cause division even between members of a family. There is a two-fold aspect to the second stanza as well: (a) a sign spoken against, (b) thoughts of many hearts uncovered. The adverb o%pw$ (used as a conjunction), links the two phrases into a purpose clause—i.e., the sign is spoken against “so as” or “so that” the reckonings of many hearts will be revealed. In other words, speaking against Christ (and what he signifies) is for the purpose of (and results in) the revealing of what is inside the human heart. Why “many” and not “all”? It is possible that the primary emphasis is directed toward believers, not all the people; that is, it is not a blanket expression of judgment, but of the sifting through and revealing of those who will come to believe.

What then of the difficult prophecy regarding Mary which is embedded in the oracle? The Greek reads:

kai\ sou= [de\] au)th=$ th\n yuxh\n dieleu/setai r(omfai/a
“[and] also of you (your)self a sword will go through your heart”

The precise meaning of the statement is difficult to determine. Traditionally, it has been seen as a prophecy of the suffering Mary will experience when she sees Jesus put to death on the cross—this is the popular “Sorrowful mother” (mater dolorosa) of the Stabat Mater and Pieta in Christian art. Some would treat this more generally in terms of the suffering and rejection Mary would experience (vicariously through Christ) or in her own person. Many scholars today tend to focus more specifically on Mary’s role elsewhere in Luke-Acts: she does not appear in the Passion scene at all; also several of the scenes in which she appears (2:19, 33, 51) in the Infancy narrative emphasize that she “treasured” [suneth/rei, lit. “guarded/kept together”] and “pondered” [sumba/llousa, lit. “threw/put together”] in her heart the things she has witnessed (v. 19). This, along with the position of the statement—right before “so that the thoughts of many might be uncovered”—has suggested that the “sword” is actually one of discernment or discrimination: that is, Mary herself will come to understand the reality of who Christ is, but only with struggle and difficulty. However, in the only other (Scriptural) reference to a sword “going through” (Ezekiel 14:17), it is clearly an invading sword of judgment, “cutting off” man and beast, leaving only a remnant to survive. Is it possible that Mary here is meant as a symbol (the “mother”) of all Israel (or at least the “many”), and the sword passing through her represents the very same judgment and uncovering of thoughts that will divide the people, leaving “alive” only a believing remnant?

Mary does, of course make an appearance at the cross in the Gospel of John (19:25-27), and this becomes the basis for her traditional role in the Passion. Both Byzantine and Western art, the image of the Mary and the “Beloved Disciple” (John) flanking the cross became standard.


However, in the West, by the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, a more popular image was the Mater Dolorosa at the foot of the cross, after the deposition, holding the dead body of Jesus (the Pieta). The visceral imagery and sheer pathos of the scene made it a favorite in Renaissance art, the most famous, of course, is that of Michelangelo.


Returning to the juxtaposition of the birth and death of Jesus, one should mention a type of combination icon which developed in Byzantine tradition—on one side, Mary with the baby Jesus (here the Virgin Hodegetria type), on the other, Jesus as the “Man of Sorrows”.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 6 (Lk 23:47)

Luke 23:47

In the most recent note in this series, I discussed briefly the difference between the centurion’s declaration in Luke and that in the Synoptic tradition of Mark/Matthew. It is one of the most dramatic differences or discrepancies in the Synoptic Passion Narrative, and has resulted in a considerable amount of commentary, both from a critical and traditional-conservative viewpoint, much of which is foreign to the context of the Gospels.

To begin with, a simplistic harmonization to the effect that the centurion actually said both things, together or in sequence, would seem to be ruled out by the fact that the two versions of the declaration have virtually the same form:

    • a)lhqw=$ (Truly)
    • o&ntw$ (Really)
      • ou!to$ o( a&nqrwpo$ (this man)
      • o( a&nqrwpo$ ou!to$ (this man)
        • ui(o\$ qeou= ([the] Son of God)
        • di/kaio$ (just/righteous)
          • h@n (was)
          • h@n (was)

Critical commentators who hold that Luke made use of the Gospel of Mark would assume that the former has altered the Synoptic tradition at this point. On the other hand, if a change/development in the tradition took place, it is perhaps more likely that it was in the opposite direction—altering “righteous (one)” to the more exalted title “Son of God”, rather than the other way around. If one is determined to retain the historicity of both, conceivably the centurion could have said something like, “Surely this man was a righteous son [of God]”—however, this remains entirely a matter of speculation.

However one judges the historical-critical question, and whether or not Luke has altered the Synoptic tradition, we are left to consider what the Gospel writer intends to convey to us with this form of the centurion’s declaration. An important detail is preserved in the first half of the verse: “And seeing the (thing which) came to be, the chief-of-a-hundred [i.e. centurion] gave esteem/honor to God [e)do/cazen] saying…”. Thus the centurion is portrayed as a God-fearing Gentile who gives esteem [do/ca] to God—i.e. recognizes and worships the true God—much like the centurion in 7:2-5ff or the centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. This is an important theme in Luke-Acts, closely related to the early Gentile mission—cf. Lk 2:30-32; 3:6; Acts 10:34-35, 44-48; 11:18; 13:46-48; 15:7-11ff, etc. On the motif of giving honor/esteem (i.e. “glory”) to God, using the verb doca/zw, see Lk 2:20; 5:25-26; 13:13; 17:15; 18:43.

As far as the declaration itself in verse 47b, there are two other important aspects to consider in the use of the adjective di/kaio$ (“just, righteous”):

1. The Innocence of Jesus

In the LXX, di/kaio$ can be used to translate Hebrew yq!n` (“clean, without guilt”, etc), as in Gen 20:5; Prov 6:17; Joel 3:19; Jon 1:14. It seems to have this sense also in Matt 27:19 and Acts 16:39 D (cf. also 1 Pet 3:18). The innocence of Jesus is an important motif in the Passion Narrative, but is especially prominent in Luke’s version, running through the entirety of the Roman interrogation and crucifixion scenes of chapter 23—cf. especially vv. 4, 11, 14-15, 22, 41. In the dialogue between Jesus and the criminals on the cross, di/kaio$ referred to the just punishment given to the criminals, while the “good” thief declares that Jesus, on the other hand, has done “nothing out of place [i.e. nothing wrong]”. Jesus’ punishment then is not just, for he is innocent of any guilt, precisely as the centurion states in v. 47.

2. Jesus as the Just/Righteous One

The adjective di/kaio$, used as a substantive, occurs in the Lukan book of Acts as a title of Jesus—i.e., “the Just/Righteous One”, Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14. It is found similarly in the New Testament in 1 Jn 2:1, etc. The references in Acts reflect early Christian tradition, i.e. preaching and proclamation of the Gospel message by the first believers. It is natural that Luke would prepare his readers for it here at the end of the Gospel narrative. The early Christian use of the title may derive from Messianic passages in the Old Testament (Jer 23:5; Zech 9:9; also Isa 53:11) and later Jewish tradition (Ps Sol 17:32). We may also recall how in Luke’s version of the Crucifixion Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5; in verse 18 of the same Psalm, in a context evocative of the crucifixion scene, the sufferer is referred to as “the just/righteous one”.

Returning to the difference in the titles used by the centurion in the Markan and Lukan version of his confession—”Son of God” and “Righteous One”—it is worth considering the association of the righteous as “sons/children of God”. This derives from the Old Testament image of Israel as God’s “son”—more specifically, of the faithful ones in Israel as the sons/children of God. In Wisdom Literature, it was natural to extend this to the righteous ones generally. In the book of Wisdom, such an identification is made (cf. 2:13, 16, 18); moreover, in 3:1 there is a passage which would seem to apply well to the idea expressed by Jesus in his dying utterance (Lk 23:46): “the souls of the righteous is in the hand of God”.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 6 (Lk 23:26-49)

Luke 23:26-49

While Luke’s account of the Death of Jesus follows the basic Synoptic tradition (cf. the previous note), there are significant differences, as well as signs of development in the tradition, which must be examined. To begin with, there is a substantial difference in the overall tone of the episode, in terms of Jesus’ Passion. In the earlier Gethsemane scene, we previously noted that, if one regards 22:43-44 as secondary to the original text (a view that is probably correct), then Luke has eliminated the sense of Jesus’ distress and anguish which is otherwise found in the Synoptic version of the Prayer scene (compare Lk 22:39-46 [om. 43-44] with Mark 14:32-42 par). In a similar fashion, Luke seems to have removed (or at least downplays) the suffering of Jesus in the crucifixion episode. Consider that there is no reference to Jesus’ being whipped/scourged (to be inferred only from v. 22). Jesus’ great cry to God (Mk 15:34f par, citing Psalm 22:1), with its sense of anguish and despair, is also omitted. Throughout the episode Jesus appears to be calm and in control, offering instruction, exhortation and comfort to others, even as he hangs from the cross (cf. below). Luke retains the loud cry of Jesus at the moment of death, but without the parallel to the first cry of anguish, it comes across as more of a forceful command or declaration, all the more considering the words which Luke records.

In terms of the structure of the narrative, the Gospel writer has expanded the core episode with additional material, and, as a result, it is comprised of three distinct parts:

  1. The Way to the Cross—vv. 26-31
  2. Jesus on the Cross—vv. 32-43, which can also be divided into three portions:
    a. The scene of the crucifixion (vv. 32-34)
    b. The mocking of the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers (vv. 35-38)
    c. The dialogue of the two criminals with Jesus (vv. 39-43)
  3. The Death of Jesus—vv. 44-49

Each of these scenes has been modified in some way, compared with the Synoptic version in Mark/Matthew.

1. The Way to the Cross (Lk 23:26-31)

In the main Synoptic version, this is limited to the (historical) traditions surrounding Simon the Cyrenian who carries Jesus’ cross-piece to the place of execution (Mk 15:21), and the reference to the name of the location (“Golgotha, (the) Skull”, Mk 15:22). Luke includes both details, with little modification (vv. 26, 33), but adds a separate tradition involving the crowd of onlookers as Jesus proceeds on the way to the Cross (vv. 27-31). Among the crowd are specified certain women who were “cutting/beating [i.e. their breasts] and wailing”—apparently according to the manner of professional mourners. Their actions prompt a response by Jesus:

“Daughters of Yerushalaim, you must not weep upon [i.e. for] me—(all the) more upon yourselves you should weep, and upon your offspring” (v. 28)

Their apparent concern over his fate is directed away, back to their own situation as “daughters of Jerusalem”. This expression, derived from Old Testament tradition (2 Kings 19:21; Isa 4:4; 10:32; 37:22; 52:2; Lam 2:10, 13, 15; Mic 4:8; Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9, also Song of Songs 1:5; 2:7, etc), is a poetic figure for the city, the land (and its people) as a whole. In other words, the women represent the city of Jerusalem and the land of Judea. This is clear from the prophecy which follows in verses 29-30, echoing the eschatological suffering and distress announced by Jesus in Mark 13 par (esp. verses 14-20). For women and children, such suffering will be particularly acute; indeed, frequently the suffering of women and children (especially women in labor) is used to symbolize the experience of a people’s collective suffering. One of the most difficult aspects of New Testament interpretation is the question of whether the terrible events predicted by Jesus in Mark 13 (par Luke 21) should be understood in terms of the Jewish war (66-70 A.D.), distant future events, or both. Luke specifically sets Jesus’ prediction of suffering (corr. to Mk 13:14-20) in the context of the siege of Jerusalem (21:20ff). A similar siege description is part of Jesus’ prophecy-lament for Jerusalem in 19:41-44. If the Gospel of Luke is to be dated c. 70 A.D., as believed by many commentators, then it is likely that these 1st century events are foremost in the Gospel writer’s mind.

The precise meaning of the illustration in verse 31 is not entirely clear. Most likely the sense would be—if people do these things when conditions are not so bad (as they will be soon in the future), how will they act during the dry/severe time of tribulation that is to come?

2. Jesus on the Cross (Lk 23:32-43)

Several distinct Lukan features and details in this scene should be discussed.

The saying of Jesus in v. 34—Among the details of the crucifixion scene in Luke is a saying by Jesus, presumably just after he has been put upon the cross:

o( de  )Ihsou=$ e&legen: pa/ter, a&fe$ au)toi=$, ou) gar oi&dasin ti/ poiou=sin.
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, release [i.e. forgive] them, for they know not what they are doing.'”

This verse is absent in a wide range of manuscripts and versions (Ë75, ac, B, D*, W, Q, 0124, 579, 1241, and some Syriac and Coptic translations), including the early Bodmer papyrus (Ë75). At the same time, it is found in the majority text, including both family 1 & 13 MSS, and the entire later Koine text tradition, along with key early manuscripts (a*, C, Dc, L, G, D, 0117) and many early translations. Thus the manuscript evidence is fairly evenly divided, perhaps with a slight edge to the shorter reading. Even if secondary, the verse may well represent an authentic saying by Jesus that was inserted in this location by early scribes; certainly it is accord with the teaching and example of Jesus expressed elsewhere in the Gospels. I disagree with scholars who claim that it is easier to explain the omission of this saying than its insertion. Orthodox scribes, on the whole, appear to have been reluctant to delete Christologically significant sayings or details, and were more likely to add or preserve them.

The context of the narrative indicates that this prayer by Jesus—whether original or secondary to the Gospel—refers to the Jewish leaders who were primarily responsible for arranging his death. On this motif of ignorance, cf. Acts 3:17; 13:27; 17:30). Note also the similar prayer by Stephen in Acts 7:60b.

The Mocking of Jesus (vv. 36-38)—In Mark 15:29-32, first the people passing by generally (vv. 29-30), and then the Chief Priests and Scribes specifically (vv. 31-32), mock Jesus, taunting him to “come down” from the cross if he is the miracle-working “Anointed One, King of Israel”. As I discussed in the previous note, this parallels the Sanhedrin interrogation scene closely (cf. Mk 14:57-61ff par). Luke would seem to have modified this considerably. First, while people do pass by, it is only the religious leaders (“the chief [ruler]s”) who mock Jesus this way (v. 35). Second, they are joined in the taunts by Roman soldiers (vv. 36-37), a detail unique to Luke’s account. Both modifications would appear to be intentional and with a distinct narrative (and theological) purpose. This is confirmed by the fact that there is a similar modification in the earlier Roman “trial” scene. In Mark/Matthew, a crowd of the (Jewish) people demands Jesus’ death, while in Luke, it is only the group of Jewish leaders presenting the case to Pilate who are involved. The entire Roman trial scene in Luke has been composed in relation to Psalm 2:1-2 (cf. Acts 4:25-28). The Jewish and Roman leaders—i.e. Herod and Pilate, the Chief Priests etc and Roman soldiers—are the ones arranging and carrying out Jesus’ death. While they represent the people, it is not the people (as a whole) who are directly responsible.

Luke thus has a different sort of parallelism in this scene, which comes out especially when we examine the taunts directed at Jesus by the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, respectively:

    • Jewish leaders (v. 35):
      “He saved others—(so) let him save himself, if this (man) is the Anointed (One) of God, the (One) gathered out [i.e. Chosen One]!”
    • Roman soldiers (v. 37):
      “If you are the King of the Yehudeans {Jews}, save yourself!”

These two titles “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “King of the Jews” were combined together in Mk 15:31 par, as they also are in the charge against Jesus presented to Pilate in Luke 23:2. They reflect the Messianic figure-type of the coming (end-time) ruler from the line of David (cf. Parts 6-8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). It is the latter title (“King of the Jews”), with its more obvious political implications, which features in the Trial and Crucifixion scenes, as emphasized in the inscription on the cross (v. 38 par).

The title “Chosen One” (e)klekto/$, lit. “[one] gathered out”) is a different sort of Messianic title, being drawn primarily from Isaiah 42:1ff. The substantive adjective, along with the related verb (e)kle/gomai), only rarely occurs in the New Testament as a title or description of Jesus. Most often it is used as a title for believers. However, there is an important occurrence of the title in Luke 9:35, uttered by the heavenly voice at the Transfiguration scene: “This is my Son, the One (I have) gathered out [i.e. my Chosen One]” (cp. Mark 9:7 par). The same substantive adjective form used here in v. 35 is also uttered by John the Baptist (in relation to the Baptism of Jesus) in Jn 1:34 v.l.

The Dialogue with the Two Criminals (vv. 39-43)—In the Synoptic tradition, both of the criminals being crucified on either side of Jesus join in the taunts (Mk 15:32b). In Luke’s version, however, only one of the criminals acts this way, his words being recorded in v. 39. The other criminal rebukes him, and offers a declaration (confession) of Jesus’ innocence: “…this man has performed [i.e. done] nothing out of place” (v. 41). The entire dialogue is unique to Luke’s version, and concludes with the famous and moving exchange between the “good thief” and Jesus:

    • “Yeshua, remember me when you should come into your kingdom” (v. 42)
    • “Amen, I say to you (that) today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43)

On the textual issue in verse 42, cf. the critical discussion in a prior article.

This is a good example of the way that a simple historical tradition (Mk 15:27, 32b) is expanded and developed.

3. The Death of Jesus (Lk 23:44-49)

In this portion, Luke follows the Synoptic tradition in Mark/Matthew more closely, but with a number of small (yet significant) differences:

    • Jesus’ “cry of dereliction” (citing Psalm 22:1) is omitted
    • The darkness over the land is described in terms of an eclipse(?) of the sun (v. 45a)
    • The splitting of the Temple curtain takes place prior to Jesus’ death (v. 45b)
    • The final cry of Jesus before death is accompanied by the words: “Father, into your hands I set along my spirit” (v. 46)
    • The climactic declaration by the centurion is entirely different (v. 47, cf. below)
    • The action of the onlookers in v. 48 parallels that of the women following Jesus in v. 27 (cf. above); note also the reference to women followers of Jesus in v. 49 (cp. 8:2-3).

On the omission of the Synoptic cry of distress, cf. the discussion above. Instead of the quotation from Psalm 22:1, there is a different Scriptural quotation by Jesus in the cry prior to his death—from Psalm 31:5. It is possible that v. 45a is a creative reworking, in some fashion, of the tradition in Mk 15:34 par; note the points of similarity:

    • Elwiegkate/lipe/$ me
      elœiengkatelipes me
      “Eloi [My God]…(why have) you left me down (behind)?
    • tou\ h(li/ou e)klipo/nto$
      tou ¢liou eklipontos
      “at the sun’s being left out…”

If wordplay of this sort was intended, later scribes, unable to understand it, would have found the expression strange and been inclined to modify it to something like “and the sun was darkened“, which we see in a number of manuscripts. It is possible that, in terms of the natural phenomenon involved, Luke is referring to the occurrence of a solar eclipse.

Luke’s location of the Temple curtain event is curious, setting it prior to Jesus’ death. He may simply wish to connect it directly with the darkness over the land; as I discussed in the previous note, both events are symbols of God’s Judgment upon the land (and its people). The reordering also has the effect of setting Jesus’ cry to the Father in a more climactic position.

Most difficult of all is the confession of the centurion, which has a form in Luke so very different from that of Mark/Matthew:

    • “Truly this man was (the) Son of God” (Mk)
    • “This man really was just/righteous [di/kaio$]” (Lk)

The different in formula—and also emphasis—is striking indeed, so much so that is necessary to address the issue briefly in a separate note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 6 (Mk 15:21-41; Matt 27:32-56)

The Death of Jesus

The sixth and final episode of the Passion Narrative is the death (crucifixion) of Jesus. There is a core historical tradition which all four Gospels have inherited, including the following details:

    • The reference to the Aramaic name of the location of the crucifixion—gûlgalt¹° (Greek Golgoqa, Golgotha), “(Place of the) Skull”
    • Two others were crucified along with Jesus, one on either side
    • The inscription placed upon the cross, reading variously:
      “The King of the Jews” (Mk 15:26)
      “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)
      “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matt 27:37)
      “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19)
    • The soldiers casting lots and dividing Jesus’ clothes
    • Jesus given sour wine to drink while on the cross

Mark 15:21-41; Matthew 27:32-56

The Synoptic version of this episode, as represented by Mark’s account, is divided simply into two halves:

  • Narrative introduction—the man (Simon) standing nearby (v. 21)
    —He follows Jesus, carrying the cross (cf. Mk 8:34 par)
  • The Crucifixion and Mocking of Jesus (vv. 22-32)
  • The Suffering and Death of Jesus (vv. 33-39)
  • Conclusion—the women (Mary and the others) standing nearby (vv. 40-41)
    —They are followers of Jesus (cp. Lk 8:2-3)

The symmetry of this account is quite apparent, the two scenes being framed by narrative descriptions involving the theme of discipleship (following and suffering with Jesus). The historical notice regarding the passerby Simon (v. 21) has all the marks of authenticity, and yet would appear to be contradicted by Jn 19:17 where Jesus carries his own cross to the place of execution. Let us examine each of the principal scenes, considering the differences in Matthew’s version, which otherwise follows Mark closely (as it does throughout the Passion Narrative).

1. The Crucifixion and Mocking of Jesus (Mk 15:22-32 par)
Time: 3rd to 6th hour

If we look at the events and traditional details as they are presented, it is possible again to divide them into two parts:

    • Details surrounding the Crucifixion (vv. 22-25)
      The King of the Jews [inscription on the cross] (v. 26)
    • The Mocking of Jesus on the cross (vv. 27-32)

The main detail in vv. 22-25 is the description of people (i.e. soldiers) dividing Jesus’ garments and casting lots for them (v. 24). While not specified by Mark, this is doubtless included as an indication of the fulfillment of prophecy (Psalm 22:18), a point made specific in Jn 19:24. The central element of the scene is the reference to the inscription on the cross (v. 26); Mark states it as follows:

“And the writing of the cause (for death) written upon (the sign above) was
‘The King of the Jews'”

As noted above, each of the Gospels records this same tradition, but the exact wording of the inscription differs in each case. Matthew specifically mentions that the inscription was over Jesus’ head on the cross, which may be parallel with his emphatic version of the inscription—”This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (27:37). The official charge against Jesus, and the cause for his execution, involves the title (“King of the Jews”) featured in the earlier interrogation scene with Pilate (v. 2). It is a title more meaningful, in political terms, than the corresponding “Anointed One” (Messiah) used by the High Priest in the Sanhedrin scene (14:61), though in Jewish thought they both refer to the same fundamental Messianic idea (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). This is confirmed in the mocking of Jesus which follows, paralleling the Sanhedrin interrogation scene:

    • Report of the Temple-saying—14:58 / 15:29f
    • “Are you the Anointed One…?—14:61
      “Let the Anointed One, the ‘King of Israel’ step down…”—15:32

The challenge in v. 32 is made by the Chief Priests and Scribes (i.e. members of the Council), just as the question to Jesus in 14:61 was made by the Chief (High) Priest.

2. The Suffering and Death of Jesus (Mk 15:33-39 par)
Time: 6th to 9th hour

Before proceeding to the main points in the second scene, it is worth considering the symmetry of this episode:

    • Darkness over the whole land (v. 33)
      • Jesus cries out with a great voice (v. 34)
        • Mocking: “See, he calls (for) Elijah” (v. 35)
        • Mocking: “Let us see if Elijah comes…” (v. 36)
      • Jesus releases a great voice [i.e. cry] (v. 37)
    • The curtain of the Temple is torn, from top to bottom (v. 38)

With this structure in mind, I will briefly examine each element of the scene.

a. The Darkness (v. 33)—”darkness came to be upon the whole land” (Matthew: “all the land”). This is an essential image of God’s judgment against the earth—against this particular land and its people. Cf. Exodus 10:21-23 and the motif common in the Prophets—Jer 33:19-21; Amos 8:9-10; Zeph 1:15; Joel 2:2, 10, 31, etc. Often the reference is to the eschatological “Day of YHWH”, a day of judgment/darkness, which can be expressed in terms of the day becoming like night (cf. Deut 28:29, etc). In the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter 15, this motif is more explicit in the description of the crucifixion scene—i.e. darkness held Judea at mid-day.

b. Jesus’ loud cry (vv. 34, 37)—The first loud cry (lit. “great voice”) by Jesus is accompanied by a quotation from Psalm 22:1 [2]. Here the historical tradition in the Gospel has preserved the Aramaic (or Aramaic-Hebrew mix) of Jesus’ quotation. It is given a reasonably literal translation in Greek: “My God, my God, unto what [i.e. for what purpose, why] have you left me down (behind) [i.e. forsaken me]?” Many attempts have been made to interpret Jesus’ words, often reading in theological and Christological aspects which are essentially foreign to the Gospel tradition here. The natural explanation is that Jesus, in his suffering, pain and distress, is identifying with the sentiment and feeling expressed by the Psalmist. Indeed, the entire Crucifixion scene alludes to Psalm 22—not only the cry echoing verse 1, but also the mocking taunts of the onlookers (vv. 7-8), the dividing of the garments (v. 18), and the overall crucifixion setting (v. 16).

The words of the cry, with the sentiment expressed, is similar to Jesus’ prayer in the earlier Gethsemane scene (Mk 14:34-36ff par). The second loud cry at the moment of his death echoes this first cry, as he breathes out his last breath. It is a simple and powerful evocation of a human being experiencing the moment of death in the midst of extreme pain and suffering. It is hard to imagine a more direct testimony to Jesus’ own identification with the human condition (cf. Hebrews 5:5-8ff).

c. The association with Elijah (vv. 35-36)—In the context of the narrative, the historical tradition involves wordplay between the underlying Aramaic °E~l¹hî (“My God”) and °E~lîy¹hû (“Elijah”). Critical scholars have found certain historical and linguistic difficulties with this, but there can be no doubt that the Gospel tradition draws upon it for the important Messianic association with Elijah that is reflected throughout the early tradition. It is related to the identity both of John the Baptist and Jesus. The principal Scriptural reference underlying the Messianic tradition is Malachi 4:5 [3:23], a passage which establishes the connection between Elijah and the coming Judgment. The mocking by the crowd, parallel to that in the prior scene (cf. above), could indicate that Jesus was recognized by some as a Messianic Prophet in the manner of Elijah. The figure of Elijah was especially associated with the working of miracles, including the raising of the dead, and the crowd’s taunt calls on Jesus to work a miracles and to “come down” from the cross. For more on Elijah, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

d. The Temple curtain (v. 37)—The rending of the Temple curtain (katape/tasma), like the darkness, symbolizes the Judgment by God—only from a religious standpoint, as it involves the sacred Place (the Temple) in Jerusalem. Probably this refers to the curtain at the entrance to the innermost shrine (“Holy of Holies”), cf. Hebrews 6:19; 9:3; 10:20. The motif of Judgment would seem to be confirmed by the structural parallel with the darkness (cf. the outline above)—darkness over the whole land, the curtain torn from top to bottom. The passive form of the verb (e)sxi/sqe, “was split”) should be understood as a divine passive, with God as the implied actor. For Old Testament and Jewish parallels, cf. the departure of YHWH’s glory from the Temple in Ezekiel 10, also the imagery e.g., in 2 Baruch 6:7; 8:2, and Testament of Levi 10:3. Possibly there is here an allusion to the act of tearing one’s clothes in mourning (2 Kings 2:12); such an act is associated with the destruction of the Temple in the Talmud (b. Mo’ed Qatan 25b).

The letter to the Hebrews allows for a different sort of interpretation to the motif. Through his sacrificial death, Jesus (as High Priest) gives believers access, in a symbolic/spiritual sense, into the innermost shrine of God, effectively ‘splitting’ or removing the curtain (Heb 6:19-20; 9:3ff; 10:19-20). This makes for a beautiful application of the tearing of the curtain in the Passion narrative, but there is no real indication that such was in the mind of the Gospel writers. A more likely allusion, in the context of the Gospel narrative, is to the splitting of the heavens (using the same verb sxi/zw) at the Baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:10 par), when the Spirit (of God) comes unto/into/upon Jesus at the Baptism. In a similar manner, the Temple curtain is split at the time of Jesus’ death, when his own spirit (i.e. life breath) goes out of him (15:37b).

e. The Centurion’s words (v. 39)—The declaration by the centurion (“Truly this man was [the] Son of God”) is the climactic moment of the entire Passion Narrative. It is parallel to the question by the High Priest (14:61 par), and must be understood here in the context of the Judgment on the land (cf. above). A certain kind of irony is contained in this verse—a Gentile Roman confesses what the Jewish religious leaders are unwilling (or unable) to accept. Indeed, the centurion’s confession stands in stark contrast to the mocking taunts of the Jewish people and leaders at the scene (vv. 29-32). Occasionally commentators have tried to determine, at the historical level, what such a confession might have meant for such a Gentile Roman—that is, in what sense he might have understood the expression “Son of God”. While this is interesting speculation, it is generally irrelevant to the purpose of his confession in the context of the Gospel narrative. For the writer and his readers, as well as for all Christians today, the declaration is understood as a confession of belief in Christ’s true identity as Messiah and Son of God.

For several of the references given above, and for a detailed critical analysis of this episode in the Passion Narrative, cf. R. E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1994), pp. 1031-1198.

April 10 (2): John 10:1-21

To commemorate Friday of Holy Week (Good Friday), I will be exploring the “Good Shepherd” discourse of John 10:1-21, leading up to the climactic verses 17-18 which relate specifically to the Passion of Christ.

There are two main patterns for the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John: (1) partial-dialogue and (2) continuous exposition. The previously-discussed discourses in chapters 3, 7-8 and 12 follow the first pattern, where the people hearing Jesus’ words react and respond with a question that reflects some level of misunderstanding, prompting Jesus to respond in turn. John 10:1-21 follows the second pattern, which can be compared in some ways to the longer parables in the Synoptic Gospels; the Vine discourse of John 15 is another example.

Jesus begins with a compact illustration or “parable”—the word used by the Gospel writer here is paroimi/a (paroimía “along the path”, i.e. “by way of…”) rather than parabolh/ (parabol¢¡  “[something] cast/thrown alongside”, i.e. “comparison”). Paroimi/a could be rendered “metaphor” or “proverb”, presumably comparable to the Hebrew word lv*m* (m¹š¹l); it is rare in the New Testament, occurring elsewhere only in Jn 16:25, 29 and 2 Pet 2:22. The illustration consists of verses 1-5, with two main figures: (a) the door (qu/ra) to the sheep-pen (the au)lh/ or “open space” for the sheep, presumably surrounded by a wall), and (b) the shepherd (poimh/n, the “keeper/guardian” or “herder” of the sheep). These two figures are brought together in vv. 1-2 by way of two theologically significant verbs: (a) a)nabai/nw (anabaínœ, “step up”), used in v. 1 for the thieves or “false” shepherds who climb up into the sheep-pen; and (b) ei)se/rxomai (eisérchomai, “come/go into”) in v. 2 for the “true” shepherd who enters through the door. There are two main themes as well within the illustration:

(a) The “true” or ideal shepherd contrasted with the “false” or wicked shepherd (emphasized in vv. 1-2)
(b) The sheep follow the (true) shepherd, who calls them by name—they know his voice (vv. 3-5)

It is curious that Jesus identifies himself with both the door and the shepherd (cf. the exposition in vv. 7-18). It is clear that some early scribes had difficulty understanding this, for a number of textual witnesses (including the early MS Ë75) read poimh/n (“shepherd”) instead of qu/ra (“door”) in verse 7. I tend to interpret the door and the sheep-pen according to Jesus’ (i.e. the Son’s) relationship to (and identity with) the Father—going out and in of the door is illustrative of Jesus coming from and returning to the Father. As such, according to the theology in John, since Jesus is the way to the Father for believers (Jn 14:6), he is the door for them as well. From another aspect, the sheep-pen also reflects the unity of believers in/with God and Christ (cf. especially Jn 17:20-23ff).

In the exposition of the illustration which comes next (vv. 7-18), Jesus discusses both figures (door and shepherd): verses 7-10 deal with the door, and verses 11-18 with the shepherd. Each section follows a common pattern:

    • “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement of Jesus—v. 7 / 11
      • Contrast of “true” vs. “false” shepherd, emphasizing that only the true/ideal Shepherd cares for the sheep—v. 8 / 12-13
    • “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement of Jesus (repeated)—v. 9a / 14a
      • Emphasis on the shepherd leading the sheep, and the sheep following—v. 9b / 14b-16
    • Statement of salvific purpose and action of the Shepherd—v. 19 / 17-18

Comment should be made on the expression o( poimh\n o( kalo/$, usually translated “the good shepherd”, though a more literal rendering would be “the beautiful keeper/herder”. Here the adjective kalo/$ probably should be understood in the sense of “fine, noble”; it might, however, also have the connotation of “perfect” or “ideal”, especially in light of the contrast with the “false” shepherds (thieves/bandits and hirelings). In a society such as ancient Israel where pastoralism (herding) was a major part of the economy, the image of the herdsman would have been clear and powerful, much more so than for people in modern Western countries. In the ancient Near East, the shepherd was a common symbol for the ruler (as guardian) of the people, sheep being especially vulnerable and in need of protection. It appears frequently in the Old Testament (2 Sam 5:2; 7:7; [Eccl 12:11]; Isa 44:28; Jer 49:19; 50:44), often used of God as Shepherd (Gen 49:24; Ps 23:1ff; 28:9; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10; Ezek 37:24; Amos 3:12; Mic 7:14). Moses and David are examples of ‘ideal’ rulers who had served as shepherds (cf. the specific association with David in Ps 78:70-72), and on a number of occasions the people Israel are depicted as sheep lost without a shepherd (Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Jer 50:6; Zech 10:2-3; 13:7; cf. also Mk 6:34; 14:27 par). In the Prophets, the theme of judgment against the (religious) leaders as false (corrupt/wicked/failing) shepherds (Isa 56:11; Jer 2:8; 10:21; 12:10; 25:34-36; 50:6; Zech 10:2-3; 13:7) appears often, occasionally contrasted with the promise of restoration of true/faithful shepherds to lead Israel (Jer 3:15; 23:1-4; Ezek 37:24; Mic 5:4-6). The two Old Testament passages where this theme is most fully expounded are Ezekiel 34 and Zech 11; the last of these is thoroughly a message of judgment (v. 17 is close to 13:7, which Jesus quotes in Mk 14:27 par), whereas Ezek 34 is closer to the thought of the discourse here in Jn 10. Jesus as “Chief Shepherd” appears elsewhere in the New Testament (Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4), and Christian leaders are to follow his example as shepherd of a flock (cf. Jn 21:13-17; 1 Pet 5:2, etc). Paradoxially, in the Gospel of John, as well as elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus is both the Lamb (Jn 1:29, 36, et al.) and Shepherd—an association made explicit in Revelation 7:17.

Special attention should be given to principal theme of the “Good Shepherd” saying and exposition here in Jn 10:11-18:

o( poimh\n o( kalo\$ th\n yuxh\n au)tou= ti/qhsin u(pe\r tw=n proba/twn
“The beautiful keeper/herder sets (down) his soul [i.e. lays down his life] over the sheep” (v. 11b)

This can be understood concretely—the shepherd lays his body over the sheep to protect them—or figuratively—the shepherd gives up (i.e. risks) his life for the sake of protecting the flock. Clearly, in the context of Jesus’ teaching here, the image prefigures his upcoming death; note the use of similar language in the institution of the Lord’s Supper (“this is my blood of the testament/covenant th[at] is poured out over many”, Mark 14:24 and cf. par.). In the Old Testament shepherd imagery, this theme of risking one’s life is not especially emphasized, but only implied within the idea of protection and rescue of the flock (see also the Shepherd parable in Lk 15:3-7; Matt 18:12-14). It is a certain characteristic of the true/ideal/faithful shepherd as opposed to the mere hireling who does not really care for the sheep (vv. 12-13).  But there is even more is involved: the idea of setting/laying down one’s life; note again the structure of this section:

    • “I Am” saying (“I Am the Good Shepherd”), v. 11a
      • Theme: the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, v. 11b
      • Contrast between true shepherd and false shepherd (hireling), vv. 12-13
    • “I Am” saying repeated (“I Am the Good Shepherd”), v. 14a
      • Theme: “I know the (sheep that are) mine and the (sheep that are) mine know me”, v. 14b
      • Emphasis on the shepherd leading (a&gw) the sheep, and the sheep following (“hearing”, a)kou/w)—”knowing” explained in terms of hearing, v. 15-16

There are several important (Johannine) theological motifs embedded in the brief exposition of vv. 15-16:

    • The knowing between sheep (believers) and shepherd (Jesus/Son) is reciprocal
    • The relation between believers and Son parallels that of Son to the Father (ultimately Jesus leads them to the Father)
    • This knowing is salvific—it is intimately connected with the sacrifice of the shepherd laying down his life
    • This knowing involves “hearing” the “voice” of the Son (who only speaks what he has heard from the Father)
    • This hearing/knowing/leading involves the unity of all believers (v. 16, with the mission to the Gentiles implied)

The climax of the passage is the statement of salvific purpose and action (vv. 17-18, parallel to that in verse 10) for the Shepherd:

Dia\ tou=to/ me o( path\r a)gapa=| o%ti e)gw\ ti/qhmi th\n yuxh/n mou, i%na pa/lin la/bw au)th/n. ou)dei\$ ai&rei au)th\n a)p’ e)mou=, a)ll’ e)gw\ ti/qhmi au)th\n a)p’ e)mautou=. e)cousi/an e&xw qei=nai au)th/n, kai\ e)cousi/an e&xw pa/lin labei=n au)th/n: tau/thn th\n e)ntolh\n e&labon para\ tou= patro/$ mou
“Through [i.e. because of] this the Father loves me, (in) that I set (down) my soul (s0) that I receive it again. No one carries it (away) from me, but (rather) I set it (down) from myself. I have authority to set it (down) and I have authority to receive it again—this (charge) laid upon (me) [i.e. this command] I received (from) alongside my Father”

Here we have a powerful dualistic expression (setting-down/taking-up) of the two aspects of the Shepherd’s saving sacrifice—setting down life (i.e. death), and taking it up again (i.e. resurrection). There is some ambiguity in the verb lamba/nw, which can be understood either in the sense of “receive” or “take”; for consistency’s sake in the translation above, I rendered all three instances (indicated with italics) as “receive”, but in the first two instances “take” might be more appropriate. Even though Jesus is normally thought of as raised up from the dead by the Father (and not by himself), in the Gospel of John, we have the clear idea that Jesus receives life “in himself” from the (living) Father (see esp. Jn 6:57), and so has the power both to be—and to confer—life (Jn 6:57b; 10:10b; 11:25).

The setting down of Jesus’ life certainly covers the entire Passion, but we can see it vividly expressed especially at the moment of death, where, in John’s account, upon uttering his final word (tete/lestai, “it is completed”), we read:

kai\ kli/na$ th\n kefalh\n pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma
…and bending (down) the head, he gave along [i.e. gave up] the spirit [lit. breath]

For the taking/receiving his life back again, we must wait for Easter Sunday.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 5 (Jn 18:28-19:16)

John 18:28-19:16

The recent daily note in this series examined the Roman “Trial” of Jesus before Pilate, as preserved in the Synoptic Tradition. The version of this episode in the Gospel of John has certain unusual details and elements which require a separate study, however brief. Apart from the issues of chronology related to the Passover festival (cf. the historical detail in 18:28, 39, along with the recent supplemental note), the Johannine account has a unique structure, and line of tradition, centered on the two exchanges between Jesus and Pilate in 18:33-38 and 19:8-11. The remainder of the narrative here, while differing in detail from the Synoptic, is fully in accord with the essential (historical) tradition shared by both.

The Structure of the Episode
  • Pilate goes out to the J. L. to hear their accusation/charge against Jesus (vv. 29-32)
    • Pilate goes in to question Jesus [Exchange #1] (vv. 33-38a)
      • Pilate goes out to the J. L.—his finding (innocence) and their call for judgment (guilt) (vv. 38b-40)
        • Pilate takes Jesus and has him whipped/scourged—the mocking (19:1-3)
      • Pilate goes out to the J. L.—his finding (innocence) and their call for judgment (guilt/death) (vv. 4-7)
    • Pilate goes in to question Jesus [Exchange #2] (vv. 8-11)
  • Pilate goes out to the J. L.—he grants their demand for judgment/punishment against Jesus (vv. 12-16)

There is a very precise, symmetrical structure to this episode in John’s Gospel; from the standpoint of the narrative, it plays upon the image of Pilate going out to the Jewish leaders (J. L.), and going in (i.e. inside the Palace) to deal with Jesus, presented in alternating scenes:

Cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol 29, 29A, pp. 858-9.

Exchange #1—Jn 18:33-38

Each of the dialogue exchanges between Jesus and Pilate centers on a title which is part of the charge/accusation against Jesus by the Jewish embassy. The first is “King of the Jews”, which features in the Synoptic interrogation scene (Mk 15:2 par). As in the Synoptics, Pilate asks Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews?” (v. 33). Nothing in the narrative prepares us for this, since John does not have anything comparable to the Sanhedrin scene of the Synoptics in which the question of Jesus’ identity as the “Anointed One” (Messiah, presumably of the Davidic Ruler type) was addressed. The Lukan version of the interrogation before Pilate specifically makes this part of the accusation against Jesus (Lk 23:2). There is little reason to doubt that this political aspect of Jesus as the “Messiah” (and thus a would-be king of Judea) was the basis of the trial/interrogation by the Roman governor Pilate. John’s Gospel, unlike Luke’s, has little interest in the political implications. Rather, the author uses the title “King of the Jews” to emphasize a theological point related to Jesus’ true identity.

The dialogue begins from the political level of understanding; Pilate assumes that the title “king” (basileu/$) is being used in the customary ethnic and national/political sense—i.e. “king of the Jews“, of Judea. Jesus’ initial response in verse 34 plays on Pilate’s own understanding of the title, and of Jesus’ identity—”(Is it) from yourself (that) you say this, or did others say (it) to you about me?” The question draws out from Pilate the ethnic/national aspect of his way of thinking—i.e. Roman vs. Jew: “I am not a Jew, [am I]? Your (own) nation…gave you along to me” (v. 35). In his mind, Jesus’ actions must have similar national and political implications, as he asks “What (have) you do(ne)?”

This leads in to the dual statement by Jesus in vv. 36-37; it has the same place and function as the expositions of Jesus in the earlier Discourses, in which he explains the true, deeper meaning of his words. In this instance, he explains the sense in which he is a king—that is, the true nature of kingship and his own true identity. The first part of this exposition deals with the nature of kingship and the idea of a kingdom. The structure of Jesus’ statement is interesting in its logical symmetry:

    • “My kingdom is not out of this world(-order)”
      —”If my kingdom were out of this world(-order)…”
    • “But now my kingdom is not from this (place)”

The conditional, hypothetical statement in between (“If my kingdom were…”) reflects precisely what is denied by the surrounding declarations. The sort of political, partisan action assumed by the conditional statement is completely foreign, even antithetical to Jesus’ kingdom. This, of course, was illustrated vividly by the rash and violent action by Peter with the sword in the earlier Garden scene (vv. 10-11), and has, sadly, been repeated by Christians and non-Christians alike throughout the ages. Such violence and partisan power-struggles are part of the world—the current world-order, which is dominated by darkness (1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46; 13:30b; cf. also Lk 1:79; 22:53 and 23:44 par). Jesus declares flatly “My kingdom is not of/from this world”.

The second part of the exposition is introduced by another question from Pilate. Since Jesus speaks of “my kingdom”, Pilate naturally asks him “Are you not then a king?”. This moves the discussion more decidedly in the direction of Jesus’ identity (cf. below). With his response in verse 37, Jesus make no further mention of his kingdom or being a king, telling Pilate “You say that I am a king”; instead he makes a powerful statement regarding his purpose in the world, which epitomizes the theological portrait of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] I have come to be (born) and unto this I have come into the world that I might bear witness to the truth—everyone being out of [i.e. who is from] the truth hears my voice”

Exchange #2—Jn 19:8-11

The second exchange relates to the second title—”Son of God”—which is part of the Jewish Council’s charge against Jesus: “…according to the Law, he ought to die, (in) that he made himself (to be the) Son of God” (19:7). The mention of the title “Son of God” causes fear in Pilate—doubtless a superstitious kind of fear, but one which fits the Johannine portrait of Jesus, whose commanding (divine) presence and authority caused the soldiers in the Garden scene to shrink back and fall to the ground at the sound of his voice and the declaration “I am” (18:5-6). And, indeed, it is the very theme of authority (e)cousi/a) which is central to this portion of the dialogue. It begins with another question by Pilate—this time specifically addressing Jesus’ identity (cf. above): “Where are you (from)?” (v. 9), to which Jesus gives no answer (cf. Mark 14:61; 15:5 par). This provokes Pilate to make his own declaration, expressing his political (worldly) authority as Roman Imperial governor:

“Do you not see [i.e. know] that I hold (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to loose you from (custody) and I (also) hold the authority to put you to the stake?” (v. 10)

The noun e)cousi/a fundamentally refers to something which is in a person’s power, i.e. that he/she has the ability to do—literally it means something which is (or comes) out of [e)k] a person. Pilate refers specifically to the power/authority he holds (vb. e&xw) personally. However, quite often the noun is used in the sense of something which a person is allowed or permitted to do (i.e. by a higher authority). Jesus develops this aspect in his reply to Pilate:

“You (would) hold no authority (at all) against me, if it were not [i.e. had not been] given to you from above [a&nwqen]” (v. 11a)

The use of the adverb a&nwqen (“from above”) is of tremendous theological significance in the Gospel of John, being used in the Discourse of Jn 3:1-21 (vv. 3, 7)—i.e. the idea of a person (believer) coming to be born “from above”. It appears again in 3:31, part of a powerful Christological statement (by John the Baptist?) which is similar to Jesus words here, especially if they are combined with the earlier declaration in v. 37 (cf. above):

“The one coming from above is over (and) above all (thing)s; the one being out of [i.e. from] the earth is (indeed) out of the earth and speaks out of the earth. The one coming out of heaven [is above all things]; he witness of what he has seen and heard, and (yet) no one receives his witness”

With Jesus’ concluding statement, the scene returns to the traditional motif of the responsibility for Jesus’ death being upon the Jewish leaders, rather than Pilate (on this aspect of the Gospel tradition, cf. the recent daily note).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 5 (Mk 15:1-20 par)

The Interrogation (“Trial”) of Jesus before Pilate

Mark 15:1-20; Matthew 27:1-31; Luke 23:1-25

When we turn to the Roman “Trial” of Jesus—that is, his interrogation/examination before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate—we note immediately the parallelism between this episode and the earlier Sanhedrin scene. This comes out most clearly in the Synoptic version, as represented by Mark and Matthew. There is a basic similarity of structure/outline:

Even more precise is the structure of the interrogation scenes:

  • Testimony given against Jesus—14:56-59
    —Interrogator asks: “Do you answer nothing?” / Jesus is silent—14:60-61
    • Question: “Are you the Anointed One…?”—14:61b
      —Jesus’ answer: “You said (it)”—Matt 26:64a (cp. Mk 14:62a)
    • Question: “Are you the King of the Jews?”—15:2a
      —Jesus’ answer: “You say (that)”—15:2b
  • Testimony given against Jesus—15:3
    —Interrogator asks: “Do you answer nothing?” / Jesus is silent—15:4-5

There can be little doubt either of the close relationship between the titles “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) and “King of the Jews” in the questions asked by the High Priest and Pilate, respectively (they are connected in Lk 23:2). Both refer essentially to the same (Messianic) idea—of a ruler from the line of David who will appear (at the end-time) to deliver God’s people (the faithful of Israel) and bring Judgment on the nations. Any claim of kingship would have been viewed by the Roman government as a direct challenge to imperial authority in the provinces (of Judea, etc). The Gospel of John develops this theme of Jesus as “King of the Jews” considerably, as will be discussed in a separate note. It is also only in John’s account that the religious/theological charge emphasized in the earlier Sanhedrin scene is brought out again in this episode. These two aspects, the two halves of the Council’s question—Messiah/King and Son of God—define the structure of the Roman trial/interrogation in John’s version.

With regard to the Synoptic tradition in Mark/Matthew, the structure has been outlined above:

    • The Interrogation of Jesus by Pilate (“Are you the King of the Jews?”)—Mk 15:1-5
    • The Judgment, pronounced by the people/crowd—Mk 15:6-15
    • The Mocking/Mistreatment of Jesus (“Hail, King of the Jews!”)—Mk 15:16-20

There are here two important themes: (1) the motif of Jesus as “King of the Jews”, and (2) the emphasis on the crowd (i.e. the Jewish people) as the ones who pronounce judgment on Jesus. This latter theme is as clear in the Gospel (and early Christian) tradition as it is uncomfortable for most Christians today. There was a decided tendency by early (Gentile, non-Jewish) Christians to mitigate Pilate’s role in the death of Jesus, casting him as a sympathetic figure and placing the responsibility squarely on the Jewish leaders and people as a whole. The extent to which this is manifest in the Gospels is controversial and continues to be debated. Generally, however, the later Gospels (esp. Matthew, cf. below) seem to show evidence of this tendency in developing the tradition. Even in the (earlier) Gospel of Mark, the central role of the crowd in this episode is clear enough (15:8-15). It also helps to explain the prominent inclusion of the historical tradition regarding Barabbas. The Gospel writer goes out of his way to explain that Barabbas was a violent rebel who has committed murder (v. 7; Lk 23:19 [Matthew is less precise]). When given a choice between a murderer and Jesus, the people choose the murderer!

The sympathetic portrait of Pilate indicated by Mk 15:8-10ff is developed considerably in Matthew and Luke. Matthew includes two important additions:

    • The introduction of Pilate’s wife who refers to her auspicious dream (declaring Jesus’ innocence, 27:19), and
    • The vivid exchange between Pilate and the crowd in vv. 24-25; the crowd’s climactic declaration is ominous indeed:
      “(Let) his blood (be) upon us and upon our offspring!”
      No thoughtful Christian can read this today without, I think, feeling a bit uncomfortable about its inclusion in the Gospel.

Luke’s version (23:1-25) is more complex, with a number of important differences between the Synoptic account in Mark/Matthew:

    • The interrogation scene (vv. 1-5) includes more precise accusations about the danger Jesus poses to Roman authority and the peace of the region, involving both political (v. 2) and religious (v. 5) charges.
    • Luke is unique in including the tradition that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, to be judged (or examined) as one under Herod’s jurisdiction (vv. 6-12). In Luke’s version the mocking is done by Herod’s, not the Roman, soldiers (v. 11). Ironically, it is stated that this exchange resulted in friendship/reconciliation between Pilate and Herod (v. 12).
    • In the judgment scene (vv. 13-25), it is the group of Jewish leaders—representatives of the Council (v. 13)—and, apparently, not a crowd of the people as a whole, who demand Jesus’ death and the release of Barabbas. This emphasis, along with the inclusion of Herod (together with Pilate), is probably intended by the Gospel writer to bring Psalm 2:1-2 to mind, and is surely influenced by that Scripture (cf. Acts 4:25-28).

A significant point in the Synoptic versions is that the interaction between Jesus and Pilate is limited to the brief exchange in the interrogation scene (Mk 15:2-5 par), which, as noted above, was consciously shaped to match the Sanhedrin interrogation scene precisely. The situation is quite different in the Gospel of John, which records an extended dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, including some of the most memorable and striking verses in the entire Gospel. Because of this unique situation, I am devoting a separate note in this series to a discussion of John’s version of the Roman “Trial”.

April 10 (1): Lk 23:4, 14, 41, 47

Today’s note for Good Friday continues the series of notes on the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of Luke. There are no occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” (ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in the account of Jesus’ trial and death in Luke 23, nor in the Synoptic tradition, but there are several instances where the expression “this man” (a&nqrwpo$ ou!to$) is used, and these are especially significant in the Lukan context.

Luke 23:4, 14, 41, 47

The expression “this man” (a&nqrwpo$ ou!to$), or “this (one)” (ou!to$), occurs 5 times in four key verses, all of which specifically relate to Jesus’ innocence:

  • V. 4—Pilate states: “I do not find any cause (for guilt) in this man
  • V. 14—Pilate again: “I did not find any cause (for guilt) in this man
    • —contrasted with the Jewish authorities: “You brought this man to me… you spoke out [i.e. brought a charge] against him”
  • V. 41—Man on cross: “This (man) has not done anything without place [i.e. out of place, improper]”
    • —contrasted with the two on the cross, who have been judged/sentenced rightly/justly [dikai/w$]
  • V. 48: Centurion: “This man (truly/really) was just [di/kaio$]”

The first two instances use the substantive ai&tion (“cause”)—Pilate find no cause or basis for guilt in Jesus, even after examination; that is to say, Jesus is innocent of the accusation brought against him (vv. 1-3). The last two refer specifically to justice (using di/kaio$/dikai/w$)—not only was Jesus innocent, he was also just or righteous. This appears again in the use of the title “Just/Righteous One” (o( di/kaio$) of Jesus in Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14.

In addition, there are two important aspects to this expression, represented by the two words or elements which comprise it:

“This (one)” (ou!to$)—The use of the demonstrative pronoun becomes a way of referring to Jesus in the early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) as recorded in the sermon-speeches of the book of Acts:

Note also:

It indicates that it is specifically Jesus, in the context of his death and resurrection, in whom healing and salvation may be found.

“Man” (a&nqrwpo$)—The specific usage in Luke 23 is almost certainly an intentional echo of the Son of Man sayings related to his suffering and death, especially the Passion predictions by Jesus in Luke 9:22, 43-45; 18:31-34 (cf. the earlier notes on these). I have argued that in the use of “son of man” in such a context, Jesus is identifying himself with the human condition, in terms of mortality—i.e. weakness, suffering and death. Note, in particular, the Lukan version of the second Passion prediction (in 9:43b-45) with its precise parallel “son of man”–”men”:

“the Son of Man is about to be given over into the hands of men” (v. 44b)

The importance of the Son of Man in the Passion narrative has already been discussed (cf. the previous two notes), where the two main aspects of its association with Jesus are emphasized:

    1. The suffering (and death) of the Son of Man—Lk 22:22, 48
    2. His coming in glory as end-time Judge—Lk 22:69

The occurrence of “this man” in Lk 23:4, 14 (above) has a parallel in the Gospel of John:

    • John 18:29—”What charge do you bring against this man?”
    • John 19:5—”See—the man!”

In the latter reference, Pilate brings Jesus out (after the flogging) “…so that you may know that I find no cause (for guilt) in him” (cf. Lk 23:4, 14). The declaration in v. 5 may indicate contempt and ridicule, or even pity. However, it is also possible that, from the standpoint of the Gospel writer, there is a Messianic allusion (of sorts) at a deeper level for early believers. Consider the interesting parallel with Zechariah 6:12:

i)dou\ o( a&nqrwpo$ (“See—the man”)
i)dou\ a)nh/r (“See—a man”) [Zech 6:12 LXX]

Zech 6:11-12 is definitely a passage that would have been understood in a Messianic sense at the time of Jesus, based on evidence from the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the period. The key phrase is omv= jm^x# vya! hN@h! (“See, the man—’Sprout’ [is] his name”), cf. also in Zech 3:8. The Hebrew jm^x# refers to something springing up, i.e. a sprout (from the ground) or a branch (from the root of a tree). The use of the term in association with prophecies regarding David in Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15 (cf. also Isa 11:1) proved to be influential on Messianic thought and expression. The Messianic title “Sprout/Branch of David” [dw]d* jm^x#] appears 5 times in three different texts from Qumran. In the Septuagint (LXX) of Zech 6:12, the Hebrew jm^x# is translated literally by a)natolh/ (“springing up”), related to the verb a)nate/llw, which also occurs in this verse (a)natelei=, translating Hebrew jm*x=y]). As it happens, there is another important text where a)natolh//a)nate/llw is connected with the coming of a ManNumbers 24:17:

“a Star will march (forth) from Jacob, and a Staff will stand (up) [i.e. arise] from Israel”
which, in the LXX, reads—
“a Star will spring/rise up [a)natelei=] out of Jacob, and a Man [a&nqrwpo$] will stand up out of Israel”

Balaam’s prophecy of the Star and the Staff was a prime Messianic text in the 1st-century B.C./A.D. (see the current series “Yeshua the Anointed”), though, interestingly, it was not applied to Jesus in the New Testament, apart from a possible allusion in Matt 2:1-12.

The “man” of Zech 6:12 is also associated with building the Temple (“…and he will build the temple/palace of YHWH”), which creates another connection with Jesus’ death and the Passion narrative:

    • An accusation against Jesus during his appearance before the Sanhedrin involved a reported saying that he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days (Mk 14:58 / Matt 26:61, cf. also Acts 6:14). Mark and Matthew attribute this to false testimony, however, John records a similar saying by Jesus (Jn 2:19). Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13:1-2 par) also has a Passion setting in the Synoptic narrative.
    • The Temple-saying in Jn 2:19, along with the exposition in vv. 21-22, interprets the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple in terms of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Finally, we might also note another eschatological reference to “the man”, similar in some respects to Jesus’ usage of the title “Son of Man” in Lk 22:69 etc—namely, Acts 17:31:

“(God) has set [lit. made stand] a day in which he will [lit. is about to] judge the inhabited (world) in justice [dikaiosu/nh], in a man that he has (already) marked out [i.e. appointed, ordained], holding along as a trust (of this for us), standing him up [i.e. raising him] out of the dead”

In other words, Jesus is the man through whom God will judge the world at the end-time (i.e. the coming “Son of Man”); the sign/proof of this is that God has raised him from the dead (and exalted him to His right hand). Interestingly, we find in Acts 17, both aspects of the Son of Man outlined above:

    • This Jesus, the Anointed (One), who I announce to you…” (v. 3)
      —”the Anointed (One)…to suffer and to rise from the dead
    • The man through whom God is about to Judge the world, having raised him from the dead (v. 31)

It is the supreme paradox of the Gospel message and narrative that in Jesus, at the moment he his most fully identified with humankind and human weakness—at the time of his humiliation, suffering and death—we also find a declaration of his divine status and glory, both aspects being wrapped up in the powerful and challenging expression “the Son of Man”.

For more on the associations related to Zech 6:12 etc, above, cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29A), p. 876.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: On the Sanhedrin “Trial”

As was discussed in the recent section in this series, there are three different versions of the “Trial” (or examination/interrogation) of Jesus before the ruling authorities of the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin). In each of these versions there is a distinct order and arrangement of traditional material:

In Mark/Matthew, there is a night session of the Council, assembled quickly, it would seem (Mk 14:53), soon after Jesus’ arrest on the evening beginning the Passover (Nisan 15). It is presented as a formal trial, with witnesses and announcement of sentence. The central scene has the High Priest (identified as Caiaphas by Matthew, 26:57) questioning Jesus directly (Mk 14:60-62). A second session (consultation) is mentioned in 15:1, after which Jesus is sent to the governor Pilate, where the Council would present their case (and the criminal charge) against Jesus.

In Luke, by contrast, there is only one session of the Council recorded, corresponding to the night session of Mk 14:53-65 par, but Luke has it set specifically in the morning (“as it came to be day”, 22:66). This fits with the Lukan order of events, which has the session take place after Peter’s denial.

The Gospel of John has nothing corresponding to the Synoptic episode, but instead records a separate interrogation of Jesus (by the Chief Priest Annas, described as the father-in-law of Caiaphas, 18:13). There is very little in common between this scene and the Synoptic account, except a general similarity of outline with Mark/Matthew—questioning, Jesus’ response, mistreatment (striking) of Jesus. Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene, indicating that they are taking place simultaneously.

For those concerned with harmonizing the Gospel accounts, it is relatively simple to blend Luke’s version together with that of John, but extremely difficult to reconcile either Luke or John with the order/arrangement in Mark/Matthew. Consider how the events in Luke and John might be put together:

      • Jesus is bound and taken to the house of the Chief Priest Annas where he is held in custody—Jn 18:12-14
      • Peter is waiting the Chief Priest’s (Annas, not Caiaphas) courtyard outside—Jn 18:15-16; Lk 22:54-55
      • Peter’s First denial, while he waits—Jn 18:17-18; Lk 22:56-57
      • Jesus is interrogated by Annas—Jn 18:19-21
      • While this is going on(?), Peter’s second and third denials take place outside—Jn 18:25-27; Lk 22:58-62
      • Mistreatment/abuse of Jesus by the “police” holding him in custody—Jn 18:22-23; Lk 22:63-65 (details differ between the two at this point)
      • Jesus is bound and sent to Caiaphas—Jn 18:24
      • Jesus is question by the Council, led by the High Priest Caiaphas (to be inferred, cf. the Synoptic account)—Lk 22:66-70
      • [This may include witnesses/testimony as in the Synoptic account, cf. the wording in Lk 22:71]
      • Determination that Jesus is worthy of being sentenced to death—Lk 22:71
      • Jesus is bound and taken to the governor Pilate where the Council will present its case—Lk 23:1; Jn 18:28a

Insofar as it is possible to get back to the historical level of the tradition, in an objective sense, this would probably be a fair reconstruction. The problem lies in evaluating the Synoptic evidence of the Council session held at night (which Luke sets in the morning). Most critical scholars would hold that the Lukan order is almost certainly more accurate, and that, in many respects, John’s account, with its wealth of unique local detail (cf. Jn 18:10b, 12-13, 15b-16, 26, 28b, etc) may be closest to the original historical tradition. The reasons for preferring John’s chronology, in which all these events occur on the day before Passover (Nisan 14), rather than on Passover itself, have been discussed in an earlier note. At the same time, it is hard to explain the curious inclusion of the Synoptic Temple-saying report if it were not part of the historical tradition regarding an accusation/charge brought against Jesus by the Council. If Luke were aware of this tradition—which would be the case if he made use of the Gospel of Mark (cf. also Acts 6:14)—one can only guess as to why it was left out in his account. Perhaps the similarity of language and thought with portions of the speeches by Stephen (7:48-50) and Paul (17:24-25) in Acts prompted him to omit the “false” report of the saying (= a false saying by Jesus?) in Mk 14:58 par.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 4 (Mk 14:53-72 par)

The Interrogation (“Trial”) of Jesus before the Sanhedrin

The “trial” of Jesus, which the Gospel Tradition preserves in two episodes—(1) an interrogation by the Sanhedrin and (2) and examination by the Roman governor (Pilate)—has been one of the most hotly debated aspects of the Passion narrative, primarily in terms of the historicity of the differing Gospel accounts. I will not be dealing extensively with all the historical-critical questions, but will address certain points related specifically to the Sanhedrin episode in a supplemental note.

There would seem to be three primary lines of tradition preserved:

    1. What we may call the core Synoptic tradition, represented by Mark and Matthew
    2. The Lukan version, which only partly follows the Synoptic, and
    3. The Johannine, which differs considerably in various ways

Even though many critical scholars feel that John preserves the most accurate historical detail and ordering of events, I will continue the method in this series of beginning with the Synoptic Tradition, represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:53-72; Matthew 26:57-75; Luke 22:54-71

The Markan outline of the episode is as follows:

    • Vv. 53-54—Introduction, establishing the two scenes:
      • (a) The assembly of the Chief Priests, Elders and Scribes—i.e. the Council (Sanhedrin), v. 53
      • (b) Peter waiting outside in the courtyard of the High Priest, v. 54
    • Vv. 55-65—Jesus before the Council (sune/drion), which may be divided into three parts:
      • The (false) witnesses against Jesus, with a report of the “Temple-saying” (vv. 55-59)
      • The question by the High Priest, with Jesus’ response (vv. 60-62)
      • The judgment against Jesus, with the subsequent mocking/mistreatment of him (vv. 63-65)
    • Vv. 66-72—Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus

I will be discussing the scene of Peter’s denial in more detail in an upcoming note (on the Peter traditions in the Passion and Resurrection narratives). It is important to emphasize two facts:

    • The essential outline of the three denials, and the basic setting/location, are common to all four Gospels, indicating an extremely well-established and fixed tradition. The three-fold denial can be assumed (on objective grounds) to derive from a reliable historical tradition, since a single denial surely would have been sufficient in terms of its place and value in the narrative.
    • The specific details with regard to how each denial took place—where and when it occurred, who was involved, etc—differ considerably between Mark/Matthew, Luke and John. Even between Mark and Matthew, otherwise so close at this point, there are key differences. This indicates that the precise details surrounding the denials were not nearly so well-established, and remained fluid in the way they were presented by each Gospel writer. For a convenient comparative chart showing the many differences in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29, 29A (1970), pp. 830-1.

Each Gospel writer understood the dramatic power of the denial scene, and felt free to explore and express this creatively. Consider the slight but significant difference between the introduction in Mk 14:54 and Matt 26:58—the description of Peter in the courtyard is very close, except for the final words which set the dramatic tension:

    • Mark creates a vivid visual picture:
      “…and he was…warming himself toward the light [i.e. in front of the fire]”
    • While Matthew has a more psychological orientation:
      “..and he sat… (waiting) to see the completion [i.e. how things would end]”

The rooster crow of the original tradition is also extremely evocative, indicating that Peter suddenly awakes to realize what he has done. The effect is emphasized by his sudden weeping (in remorse/regret); Matthew and Luke share a detail in common here, specifically stating that Peter went away (outside of the courtyard): “…and going outside he wept bitterly” (Matt 26:72; par Lk 22:62). The rooster crow, together with Peter’s reaction, is the climactic moment of the episode in Mark/Matthew.

Luke (22:54-71) treats the scene differently in the way he has ordered events, placing it first in the episode, ahead of the interrogation of Jesus. The effect of this is two-fold:

    • It makes Jesus’ response to the Council (vv. 66-71) the climactic moment of the episode, and
    • It joins Peter’s denial to betrayal of Jesus by Judas (vv. 47-53 + 54-62), just as the author does in the Last Supper scene. In the earlier episode this appears to have been done, in part, to emphasize the theme of true and false discipleship, by connecting the prediction of Judas’ betrayal (vv. 21-23) to the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34) with a short block of teaching (vv. 24-30) between.

In contrast to the accounts in Luke and John, Mark and Matthew portray the scene of Jesus before the Council in terms of a formal trial, with witnesses and the delivery of a sentence. This portrait informs the structure of the scene, with its three parts.

Part 1—The Witnesses against Jesus (Mk 14:55-59; Matt 26:59-62)

The Synoptic tradition here records that the Council desperately sought to find witnesses against Jesus (to support a sentence of death), but they could find no reliable testimony. The only charge brought against Jesus was a report of a saying regarding the Temple (the so-called “Temple saying”); interestingly, Matthew and Mark differ in the wording of this (as it was reported in the narrative):

“I will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine made-with-hands, and through [i.e. after] three days I will build another (house) made-without-hands” (Mk 14:58)
“I am able to loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] the shrine of God, and through [i.e. after] three days to build (the house again)” (Matt 26:61)

Mark and Matthew both state that this report was made by false witnesses, presumably implying that the report was false (i.e. that Jesus never said any such thing). The closest we come in the Synoptics is Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction in Mark 13:2 par. However, the Gospel of John records a saying by Jesus rather similar to that which is reported by the “false” witnesses:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (again)!” (Jn 2:19)

If we accept this as an authentic saying by Jesus, occurring at the time of the Temple “cleansing” scene (located close to the Passion narrative in the Synoptics), then the report of the “false” witnesses could certainly reflect the memory of such a saying. The Gospel of John, of course, specifically interprets the saying in 2:19 as referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus himself (vv. 21-22)—an interpretation most appropriate in the context of the Passion narrative. For more on the Temple saying (and cleansing) traditions, cf. my earlier notes and article on the subject.

Part 2—The Question by the High Priest (Mk 14:60-62; Matt 26:62-64)

The initial question by the High Priest (identified in Matthew as Caiaphas) relates to the testimony of the “false” witnesses, and to this Jesus gives no answer (Mk 14:60-61a). The second question is central to the episode (and the entire Passion narrative), as well as serving as the climactic statement regarding the identity of Jesus within the Synoptic Tradition. In Mark, the exchange is:

    • High Priest: “Are you the Anointed One [o( xristo/$], the Son of the (One) spoken well of [i.e. Blessed One, God]?” (v. 61b)
    • Jesus: “I am—and you will see the Son of Man sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the Power and coming with the clouds of Heaven!” (v. 62)

For more on this saying, see my earlier notes and the article on the title “Son of Man” in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The Son of Man saying here is an allusion both to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1—Scripture passages which were enormously influential in shaping early Christian thought regarding the nature and identity of Jesus. As I have argued elsewhere, in the Son of Man sayings with an eschatological orientation, Jesus appears to identify himself specifically with the heavenly figure called “Son of Man” (from Daniel’s “one like a son of man”, 7:13)—who will appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and oversee the Judgment on humankind. Early Christian tradition associated it specifically with the image of the exalted Jesus seated at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56, etc).

Matthew’s version of the Son of Man saying (26:64) is close to that in Mark, but the question by the High Priest shows signs of development—i.e., it has been shaped to echo the confession by Peter in 16:16:

    • Peter: “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God”
    • Caiaphas: “I require an oath out of you, according to the Living God, that you would say (to us) if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God!”

For more on the differences in this scene, cf. below.

Part 3—The Judgment and mistreatment of Jesus (Mk 14:63-65; Matt 26:65-68)

The reaction to Jesus’ response—in particular, the identification of himself as the heavenly/divine “Son of Man”—results in the charge of blasphemy, i.e. that he has insulted (vb. blasfeme/w) God by claiming divine status and attributes. This is the basis for their decision that he is one who holds on him [i.e. against him] the (grounds for) death (e&noxo$ qana/tou e)stin). The mistreatment of Jesus is parallel to the more expanded tradition of his being mocked by the Roman guards (Mk 15:16-20 par), and would certainly be seen as a fulfillment of the Passion prediction in Mk 10:32-34 par.

Luke 22:54-71 and John 18:12-27

As noted above, Luke has the scenes in reverse order from that of Mark/Matthew, resulting in three distinct parts:

    • Peter’s Denial (vv. 54-62)
    • Mistreatment of Jesus (vv. 63-65)
    • Jesus before the Council (vv. 66-71)

The question of whether Luke has the more correct historical order of events will be discussed in the supplemental note on the Trial episode. I mentioned the significance for the author of joining together the failure of the two disciples—Judas (the Betrayal, vv. 21-23, 47-53) and Peter (the Denial, vv. 31-34, 54-62)—to bring out the theme of true discipleship, found in vv. 25-30 and the double exhortation of the Lukan Prayer scene (vv. 40, 46). The unique detail of Jesus turning to look at Peter following the rooster crow (v. 61a) probably should be taken as parallel to the words of Jesus to Peter in vv. 31-32—a sign of care and concern. The connection also serves to enhance the dramatic moment when Peter realizes what he has done, and how it had been foreseen by Jesus (v. 61b).

The Lukan version of the Council scene, though clearly drawing upon the same basic tradition as Mark/Matthew, is presented in a very different form. Apart from the morning setting (v. 66a, cf. the supplemental note), Luke’s version has the following differences:

    • There is no reference to the witnesses or Temple-saying (cf. above), thus removing the sense that this is a formal trial.
    • Luke presents the Council as a whole questioning Jesus, rather than the High Priest specifically (vv. 66b, 70a [“they all said…”]). The Council plays a similar collective role in Luke’s version of the Roman trial scene (23:13ff, 18ff).
    • The question involving the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” is divided into two distinct questions, separated by the Son of Man saying by Jesus (vv. 67-70):
      • “If you are the Anointed One, say (it) to [i.e. tell] us” (v. 67)
      • Jesus: “…but from now on the Son of Man will be sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the power of God” (v. 69)
      • “Then you are the Son of God…?” (v. 70)

Historical considerations aside, this arrangement may be intended to make a theological (and Christological) point—namely, that Jesus is something more than the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah) as understood by the traditional figure-types of an expected end-time Prophet or Davidic ruler. The allusion to Psalm 110:1 reminds us of the interesting tradition, set in the general context of the Passion (the last days in Jerusalem), in which Jesus discusses the meaning and significance of this verse (Mk 12:35-37 par). For more on this, cf. my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed” (esp. Part 8, and Part 12 on the title “Son of God”).

While the form of the Son of Man saying is relatively fixed between the Synoptic Gospels, that of Jesus’ initial answer to the question(s) by the Council differs markedly. In Mk 14:62, Jesus gives a clear affirmative answer: “I am”, while Matthew’s version (26:64) is much more ambiguous—”You said (it)”, and could be understood in the sense of “You said it, not me”. Because Luke records two separate questions, Jesus gives two answers:

    • To the question “If you are the Anointed One, tell us”:
      “If I say (it) to you, you will (certainly) not trust (it), and if I question you (about it), you (certainly) will not answer.” (vv. 67b-68)
    • To the question “Then are you the Son of God?”:
      You say that I am.” (v. 70b)

The second Lukan answer seems to combine both the Markan and Matthean forms—truly an interesting example of variation and development within the Gospel tradition.

John 18:12-27

John’s account of this episode differs again from the Synoptics (its relation to the Lukan order/arrangement of events will be discussed in the supplemental note). The two main points of difference are:

    • There is no scene of Jesus before the Council, as in the Synoptics; rather we find different interrogation scene in the house of the chief priest Annas (formerly the High Priest A.D. 6-15). The introductory notice (18:13) states that Annas was the father-in-law of the current Chief Priest Caiaphas (A.D. 18-36). Verse 19 is ambiguous, but the reference in v. 24 indicates that Annas is the “Chief Priest” interrogating Jesus (cf. also Luke 3:2).
    • Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene:
      • Scene 1—Jesus is arrested and let to Annas (vv. 12-14)
        —Peter’s First Denial (vv. 14-18)
      • Scene 2—Jesus is interrogated by Annas (vv. 19-24)
        —Peter’s Second and Third Denials (vv. 25-27)

Clearly John’s Gospel is drawing upon a separate line of tradition. The interrogation scene in vv. 19-24 is surprisingly undramatic, compared with the Synoptic version, but it fits the essential portrait of Jesus in the Johannine Passion narrative. As I discussed in the earlier note on Garden scene, the depiction of Jesus’ calm and commanding authority is set in contrast to Peter’s rash and violent act with the sword. The intercutting in verses 12-27, I believe, serves much the same purpose—to juxtapose Jesus’ calm and reasoned response to the interrogation (vv. 20-21) with Peter’s reaction to the ones interrogating him.

It is hard to tell how much development has gone into the tradition recorded in vv. 13-14, 19-24. We do find several Johannine themes present in Jesus’ response:

    • His presence in the world, speaking (the words of the Father)
    • His public teaching in the Synagogue and Temple, which reflects the great Discourses of chapters 6-8 and 10:22-39.
    • The emphasis on his followers (disciples) as those who bear witness to him

Overall, however, the development would seem to be slight, compared with the dialogue scenes between Jesus and Pilate in 18:33-38; 19:9-11 (to be discussed).