May 11: Mark 1:7-8 par

The first passage referring to the (Holy) Spirit in the Synoptic Tradition comes from a saying/declaration by John the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), which is certainly among the very oldest/earliest to be preserved in Christian tradition (cf. the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). The age (and authenticity) of the saying is confirmed by the fact that it is recorded no fewer than six times in the Gospels and Acts, having been transmitted independently in at least two (or more) strands of tradition. Moreover, while John the Baptist has a central place in the earliest Gospel narrative, he soon disappeared from Christian tradition generally—he is never mentioned in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts, and only once in the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-150 A.D.), as part of a simple Gospel/creedal formula (Ignatius, Smyrneans 1:1, cf. Rom 1:3-4). Thus the prominence of John in the primitive Gospel narrative and kerygma is virtually a guarantee of authenticity.

Mark 1:7-8 (par Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16)

Mark’s short account of John the Baptist and his ministry (Mk 1:2-8), which precedes the Baptism of Jesus (vv. 9-11), climaxes with the core saying in vv. 7-8:

“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of (the shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit [e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|].”

Matthew and Luke provide a more extensive account, including additional sayings and teachings by John:

    • His words to the crowds (Matt 3:7-10 / Luke 3:7-9), exhorting them to repentance; in Matthew this is directed specifically to Pharisees and Sadducees in the crowd (v. 7).
    • The ethical instruction in Luke 3:10-14
    • The saying in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17 (cf. below).

The saying corresponding to Mk 1:7-8 is in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16. Here the three versions are presented side-by-side for comparison, with the main elements in Matthew/Luke which differ from Mark indicated by italics:

Mark 1:7-8Matthew 3:11Luke 3:16
“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit.”“I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]; but the (one) coming behind me is stronger than me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bear/carry the (shoe)s bound under (his feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”“I dunk you in water; but the (one) stronger than me comes, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”

The main difference between Mark and Matthew/Luke is twofold:

First, the syntax of the saying in Matthew/Luke sets the reference to Jesus as the one coming (who is greater than John) in the middle of the contrast between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit:

    • I dunk you in water
      —the one who comes (who is stronger)
    • He will dunk you in the Holy Spirit (and fire)

This contrast is further establish by the use of a me\nde/ construct (i.e., “on the one hand…on other hand…”), which I did not especially bring out in the translation(s) above. The result of this framework, by implication, is that baptism in the Spirit is based on the superiority of the person of Jesus as “the one (who is) coming”. For more on this, cf. below.

Secondly, Matthew and Luke both add “and (in) fire [kai\ puri/]”. This emphasizes the coming/future Judgment of God upon humankind (cf. Matt 3:7ff par), and leads in to the added saying in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17 (cf. below). It also results in the thematic triad:

WaterSpiritFire

all of which are associated with purification and cleansing in Old Testament tradition. Cleansing by water is common enough (Num 8:7; 19:12; Ps 51:2; Ezek 16:4; 36:25; Zech 13:1, etc), and the imagery is occasionally extended to the (symbolic) pouring out of the Spirit of God (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25-26). Fire is also used as a symbol of purification; in addition to the idea of burning up garbage and refuse, there is the metallurgic imagery, whereby base metal is refined and its impurities removed through fire—cf. Psalm 12:6; Isa 4:4-5; 48:10; Dan 11:35; 12:10; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3. Offerings and objects consecrated to God are also burned with fire (Ex 29:18, 34, etc; Deut 13:16; Josh 6:24). These three elements (water, fire, and the Holy Spirit) are combined in the text 1QS 4:20-21 from Qumran (cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX [AB vol. 28], p. 474); note the relevant details:

    • It will occur at the (end) time of God’s visitation—i.e., an eschatological setting
    • God will purge the deeds of humankind by His Truth
      • refining (by fire) a portion of humankind (i.e., the righteous/chosen ones)
      • removing every evil spirit from their flesh
      • cleansing them from wickedness with (the) holy Spirit
      • sprinkling them with the Spirit (as with water)
    • The righteous ones are cleansed with the Spirit of Truth

The fire in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17 more properly refers to the coming Judgment. The threshing/winnowing separates the righteous and the wicked—perhaps more accurately it separates the wicked from the righteous (cf. 2 Kings 13:7; Prov 20:8, 26; Isa 21:10; 27:12; 30:24; 41:16; Hos 13:3; Mic 4:12-13; Hab 3:12; Jer 4:11; 15:7; Dan 2:35). The ominous closing reference to being burned up “with fire unquenchable” (puri\ a)sbe/stw|) is likely an allusion to Isa 66:24 (cf. Mark 9:43, 48 par). It may draw upon the image of the garbage-burning and furnaces of the Ge-Hinnom (Valley of Hinnom).

The importance of the saying in Mark 1:7-8 par ultimately lies in the identification of Jesus as the (end-time) figure through whom God will visit His people and bring Judgment upon humankind. This is marked by three elements in the passage:

    • Jesus is the one who comes [e&rxetai] (or the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$]). This almost certainly derives from Malachi 3:1ff, which proved to be a central Messianic passage in the early Gospel tradition. I have discussed this in some detail in prior notes and articles.
    • He is greater/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$] than John. Luke sets the saying by John (Lk 3:16-17) in the narrative context of questions by the people as to whether John might be the Anointed One (Xristo/$, “Christ/Messiah”). As I have discussed previously, the term “Anointed One” here likely refers to an end-time Prophet according to the type of Elijah, who will precede the visitation and Judgment of God (Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6). Vv. 16-17 are said to be John’s answer to this (cf. Jn 1:19-27).
    • He will baptize people with the Holy Spirit. Already in the Old Testament Prophets, the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon His people is seen as a mark of the coming New Age (Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 39:29; cf. also Zech 12:10). For the association with the Judgment of God, cf. above. In Acts 2:14-21, the prophecy of Joel 2:28-29 is said to have been fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

It should be noted that the saying by John the Baptist is recorded twice more, in Acts 1:5 and again in Acts 11:16, though in both these passages it is presented as a saying of Jesus, which would seem to indicate a separate tradition:

“…that Yohanan {John} dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit after not many of these days [i.e. in a few days].” (Acts 1:5)

(Peter speaking) “and I remembered the utterance of the Lord as he said, ‘Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit’.” (Acts 11:16)

This raises the intriguing question as to whether (or to what extent) the words attributed to John in Mark 1:7-8 par in the Gospel narrative have been shaped by a saying of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is not possible to delve into this possibility in these notes; I leave it as something to ponder.

Finally, the Baptist’s saying is also attested in the Gospel of John, but with important differences, which will be dealt with in the next daily note.

The Holy Spirit and the Gospel Tradition: Introduction

In honor of Pentecost, celebrating the coming of the (Holy) Spirit upon the first believers (cf. Acts 2:1-13ff), I will be presenting a series of Daily Notes examining all the references to the Spirit in the Gospel Tradition—i.e., the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, as well as a survey of passages in the book of Acts. This series will continue through the month of May (2020) until the day of Pentecost (May 31).

With regard to the earliest layers of the Gospels and Christian tradition, it is sometimes difficult to be sure precisely what is meant when the word pneu=ma (pneúma) is used. This is due in large measure to the basic range of meaning in the word itself. The root verb pne/w fundamentally signifies “to blow”, as of the wind in nature, or the breath of a living being, these being generally related—according to the ancient (mythological) worldview, the wind could be understood or described as the “breath” of a deity. The noun pneu=ma, like the related pnoh/, refers to something blowing (or “breathing”); specifically this can mean: (a) wind or breeze, (b) breath of a living being (esp. a human being), (c) the life force/essence which animates a living being (i.e. soul/spirit), or (d) a personal/personified life-essence (“breath”), i.e. an invisible deity or “spirit-being” which animates the natural world. The Hebrew word j^Wr (rûaµ) has a similar range of meaning.

Frequently in the Old Testament, j^Wr refers to the “breath/wind/spirit” of God (YHWH)—Gen 1:2; 6:3; 41:38; Ex 31:3; 35:31; Num 24:2; Judg 3:10; 6:34, et al. Primarily this signifies the presence and power of YHWH in relation to his people, especially to the prophets and rulers of Israel. There is no real indication in Old Testament tradition that the “Spirit” of YHWH is a distinct person; however, according to the ancient mindset, the attributes (power, wisdom, holiness, etc) and/or manifestation of a deity were often personified. The “Messenger” of YHWH is perhaps the most common and notable example of this religious phenomenon in the Old Testament—often it is hard to know for certain whether the tradition understands this as separate being (“Angel”) or the manifestation of YHWH himself. Early Christians, including the Gospel writers, inherited this idea of the Spirit of God. Naturally, holiness was a fundamental attribute and characteristic of God’s Spirit, though the term “Holy Spirit” (lit. “Spirit of Holiness”) itself is quite rare (Psalm 51:11; Isa 63:10-11; cf. also Dan 4:8-9, 18; 5:11), becoming more common in later Jewish writings. It is quite in keeping with the phenomena of ancient Near Eastern religion that the Holiness of God would come to be personified or understood as a person.

In the New Testament, the word pneu=ma (as “breath, spirit”) is primarily used three ways:

    1. The animating life-breath or ‘soul’ of a human being, i.e. “spirit” (with a lower-case “s”)
    2. The Spirit of God (YHWH), according to Old Testament and Israelite/Jewish tradition
    3. A distinctive Christian understanding of God’s Spirit, in relation to the person of Jesus Christ and God the Father (YHWH)

For the most part, as we shall see, it is the second meaning that is most common in the Gospel tradition. Occasionally there is some uncertainty whether the first or second meaning is intended. Only in a few places do we find clear evidence for the third (Christian) meaning. By the time of the later New Testament writings (c. 70-95 A.D.), use of pneu=ma, with or without the qualifying adjective a%gio$ (“holy”), almost always indicates the Holy Spirit in the uniquely Christian sense.

In these Daily Notes, I will be adopting the following approach, looking at references to the Spirit in:

  • Passages or sayings of Jesus common to the Synoptic tradition (generally using the Gospel of Mark as a reference-point)
  • The Gospel of Luke (along with parallels in the Gospel of Matthew)
  • The Gospel of John
  • A survey of passages in the book of Acts, along with several key references from early Christian tradition elsewhere in the New Testament

Notes on Prayer: John 17:9-12

John 17:9-12

We are continuing to explore the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17 during these Monday Notes on Prayer. In verse 9, the focus shifts toward Jesus’ disciples, though in a manner that builds seamlessly upon the themes and language used previously in the prayer. We may observe something similar to the pattern used by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer (discussed previously in these Notes on Prayer). In the first portion of the Prayer (Matt 6:9-10 par), the believer is to address God, focusing on His honor and work; while in the second portion (6:11-13), the focus shifts to the needs of believers, making request to God the Father regarding them. This pattern generally holds, though with a decided difference in perspective, in the Prayer-Discourse:

    • Vv. 1-8: Addressing God, focusing on His honor (do/ca) and work (e&rgon)—based on the intimate relationship between Father and Son, the Father’s honor and work both belong to the (faithful) Son as well
    • Vv. 9-23: Addressing the needs of believers—not for ordinary daily needs (as in the Lord’s Prayer), but in light of their/our relationship to both Father and Son

The petitions of the second part (for the needs of believers) are made entirely with the statements of the first part (regarding the honor and work of God) in mind. The Lord’s Prayer begins with a statement involving the name of God the Father (“Father […], may your name be made holy”); and the Father’s name is likewise central to the Prayer-Discourse, beginning with verse 6 which opens the main section (discussed last week):

“I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave me out of the world”

This statement provides four distinct elements or components which run through the entire Prayer-Discourse:

    1. The name (o&noma) of God the Father
    2. The focus on Jesus’ followers (believers)—”the men whom…”
    3. The Father giving to the Son, using the key verb di/dwmi
    4. The contrast between believers and the world (ko/smo$, the [current] world-order)

All of these are present and feature prominently in verses 9-12 as Jesus begins addressing the needs of believers to God the Father. In verse 9 we find the first occurrence in the Prayer-Discourse of the verb e)rwta/w, “ask (about)”, used again at key points in vv. 15 and 20. Jesus uses this verb when he speaks of his making a request to the Father (16:26), whereas elsewhere in the Last Discourse, when instructing his disciples on their making requests to the Father, he uses the verb ai)te/w (14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24, and see both verbs used together in 16:26). The verb e)rwta/w fundamentally refers to a person seeking information about something (i.e. a point of discussion or interrogation), while ai)te/w properly refers to a specific request (or, more forcefully, a demand). When e)rwta/w is used in the Last Discourse, it is in the sense of the disciples asking questions of Jesus (to find out information). Here, in the Prayer-Discourse, the point is not the request itself, but what Jesus is asking about. This is expressed by the preposition peri/ (“around, about”), with the object being the disciples (believers): “I ask about them…” (e)gw\ peri\ au)tw=n e)rwtw=). A contrast with the “world” (ko/smo$) follows immediately:

“I ask about them—(it is) not about the world (that) I ask, but about the (ones) whom you have given [de/dwka$] to me…”

In verse 6 (cf. above), Jesus specifically refers to his disciples (believers) as the ones God gave to him “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou). There is a two-fold significance to this phrase in the context of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, playing on the semantic range of the preposition e)k (“out of, from”):

    • Jesus chose people who were in the world, so as to take them out of the world—i.e. as his followers, taking them (with him) to God the Father.
    • Believers respond to Jesus because they ultimate come from God the Father, belonging to him—they do not belong the world

This latter sense, generally corresponding to the idea of divine election, is primarily in view here in the Prayer-Discourse, as the final words of the verse make clear:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] they are [i.e. belong] to you” (o%ti soi/ ei)sin)

Much the same was already stated in verse 6:

“They were [i.e. belong] to you” (soi\ h@san)

This idea, that believers come from (e)k) God—even as Jesus himself does—is expressed at many points in the Gospel and First Letter of John. One of the clearest statements in this regard is in Jesus’ great declaration to Pilate in 18:37, which serves virtually as a summary of Johannine theology (and Christology):

“I have come to be (born) unto this [i.e. for this purpose], and unto this I have come into the world: that I might give witness to the truth; every (one) being out of [e)k, i.e. from, belonging to] the truth hears my voice.”

The message is clear: the person who hears and responds in faith to Jesus does so because he/she already belongs to God, coming from Him. Here in the Prayer this is expressed in terms of God the Father giving believers to Jesus (the Son). The verb di/dwmi occurs numerous times in chapter 17, as a key term summarizing the relationship between Father and Son (and the believer): the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to his followers (believers), who, as it happens, are among the very things given to the Son by the Father. The wonderfully elliptical logic does create some confusion in the text, since Jesus refers to two different primary objects the Father gives to him: (a) believers, and (b) His name. It is not always immediately clear which is being referred to, and several textual variants have arisen in the manuscript tradition as a result. Let us survey the use of di/dwmi in the Prayer up to this point:

    • “you gave [e&dwka$] to him [i.e. the Son] authority o(ver) all flesh” (v. 2)
    • “so that every [pa=$] (one) that you have given [de/dwka$] to him, he might give [dw/sh|] to them [pl.] the Life of the Age” (v.2)
    • “I honored you upon the earth, completing the work that you have given [de/dwka$] me (to do), that I should do it” (v. 4)
    • “…the men whom you gave [e&dwka$] to me out of the world” (v. 6a)
    • “they were [i.e. belong] to you and you gave [e&dwka$] them to me” (v. 6b)
    • “all (thing)s [pa/nta], as (many) as you have given [de/dwka$] to me, are (from) alongside of you” (v. 7)
    • “the words [lit. utterances] which you gave [e&dwka$] to me, I have given [de/dwka] to them” (v. 8)

The comprehensiveness of this language, using the verb di/dwmi, is confirmed by the declaration which follows in verse 10:

“and all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and the (thing)s (that are) yours (are) mine”

The reciprocal relationship between Father and Son is stated here concisely, more than English translation allows; in Greek it is:

kai\ ta\ e)ma\ pa/nta sa/ e)stin kai\ ta\ sa\ e)ma/

We find the same basic idea expressed elsewhere in the Gospel, perhaps most notably in 3:35:

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all (thing)s [pa/nta de/dwken] in(to) his hand.”

The concluding words of verse 10 state this in a slightly different manner, according to the theme of the Prayer: “all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and the (thing)s (that are) yours (are) mine, and I have been given honor in them [kai\ dedo/casmai e)n au)toi=$].” For more on the important verb doca/zw in chapter 17, see the discussion in the earlier note on vv. 1-5. At the start of the Prayer, Jesus asks the Father to given him honor, and yet here he declares that he has already been given honor (cp. with 12:28 and 13:31-32). This is a declaration of his fundamental identity as God’s Son; the request in vv. 1ff refers to the return of the Son to the Father following the completion of his work on earth, as is clear from v. 5b.

This powerful theological and Christological background is vital to a proper understanding of what follows in the Prayer, beginning with Jesus’ petition on behalf of his disciples (believers) in verse 11, which he expounds in verse 12. Let us consider this petition as a whole, before examining the individual parts of it:

“And (now) I am no longer in the world, and (yet) they are in the world, and I come toward you. Holy Father, keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, (so) that they may be one even as we (are).” (v. 11)

Anyone familiar with the Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 will recognize how the content and language of this primary petition is woven through the remainder of the text. It will aid our understanding greatly if we examine it carefully here, which we will do in next week’s study.