The Speeches of Acts, Part 4: Acts 3:11-26

Acts 3:11-26 represents the third speech in the book of Acts, and the third given by Peter. Just as the speech in Acts 2:14-40 follows the Pentecost narrative (with the miraculous manifestation of the Spirit) in 2:1-13, so this speech follows the narrative in 3:1-10: the healing of the lame man at the ‘Beautiful Gate’ of the Temple precincts. In analyzing the previous two speeches, I laid out a basic pattern for these sermon-speeches—Peter’s speech in 3:11-26 shows some variation, but it can still be outlined according to the same pattern:

    • Narrative introduction: verse 11, which joins the narrative in vv. 1-10; it is phrased somewhat awkwardly, and the Western recension (Codex D) is noticeably different. The majority text reads:
      “And (with) his [i.e. the healed man] holding firmly (onto) Peter and John, all the people ran together toward them upon [i.e. in/at] the columned porch called “Solomon’s”, (in extreme) wonderment”
    • Introductory Address (verses 12-16), which includes:
      (a) A kerygmatic statement, vv. 13-15 and
      (b) An application to the current situation, v. 16
    • Citation from Scripture (verses 17-18)—there is no central Scripture quotation, though two passages will be cited in the Exhortation below; here, however there is reference to the fulfillment of Scripture, which also serves to open the Exhortation.
    • {Exposition and Application—there is no exposition of a central Scripture citation}
    • Concluding Exhortation (verses 19-26), with kerygmatic elements (vv. 20-21) and two embedded Scripture citations:
      (a) Deuteronomy 18:15, 19 + Leviticus 23:29 (vv. 22-23)
      along with a joining verse emphasizing the fulfillment of prophecy (v. 24)
      (b) Genesis 22:18/26:4 (v. 25)
      Followed by a concluding declaration (v. 26)
    • Narrative Summary (4:1-4)—this leads into a second narrative block (4:5ff)

There are thus two main sections to the speech: the Introductory Address (vv. 12-16 + 17-18) and the Concluding Exhortation (vv. 19-26). Each of these will be examined in detail.

Introductory Address (Acts 3:12-16)

The Address (v. 12)—Peter uses the same vocative form as in the Pentecost speech: “Men, Israelites!” (cf. 2:22, also v. 14, 29). This is followed by a pair of rhetorical questions:

(For) what [i.e. why] do you wonder upon this? or
(for) what [i.e. why] do you stretch (to look) [i.e. look intently] to us?
—as though by (our) own power or good reverence/respect [i.e. religious conduct, piety] we have made this man to walk around

Peter starts from the crowd’s wonderment at the miracle and seeks to shift the focus away from he and John (the workers of the miracle) to the power behind the miracle. This leads right into a—

Kerygmatic statement (vv. 13-15)—here I will break out and comment on each element:

o( qeo\$ “The God of Abraham, [the God] of Yitschaq [i.e. Isaac], [the God] of Ya’akob [i.e. Jacob]—the God of our Fathers”—this is a solemn, fundamental way of referring to God (YHWH) in an Israelite/Jewish context (v. 12), cf. Exodus 3:6, 15 etc.

e)do/casen “has given esteem/honor (to)”—the verb doca/zw is typically rendered “give glory, glorify”, and is used in the New Testament almost exclusively in the traditional religious sense of giving glory/honor to God. It is also used of believers being honored/glorified (Rom 8:30; 11:13; 1 Cor 12:26), but, somewhat surprisingly, is almost never applied directly to Jesus (cf. 1 Pet 4:11; Heb 5:5; Rev 15:4 for qualified references). It is used of Jesus only in the Gospel of John (Jn 7:39; 12:16; and by Jesus himself in 8:54; 11:4; 12:23; 13:31-32; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, also 14:13) and here in the book of Acts. Outside of the Gospel of John, Jesus’ glorification is tied specifically to his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God the Father in heaven (cf. Lk 24:26, 1 Tim 3:16, etc)

to\n pai=da au)tou=  )Ihsou=n “his child Yeshua”—pai=$ is fundamentally a child, but often specifically refers to a servant (who would typically be young). It is used of Jesus only in the early Gospel preaching in Acts (3:13, 26; 4:27, 30), being derived from the Old Testament (LXX), especially the “Servant Songs” of (Deutero-)Isaiah, e.g. Isa 42:1; 49:6; 50:10; 52:13. The specific idea of the child/servant being “glorified” likely comes via Isa 52:13.

o^n u(mei=$ me\n paredw/kate kai\ h)rnh/sasqe “whom you gave along and denied”—the verb paradi/dwmi (“give along, give over”) is the used typically of Jesus’ betrayal—he is “given over” into the hand of wicked men (the Jewish/Roman leaders)—and marks the beginning of the process that would lead to his death. Ironically, in the context of Jesus’ Passion, the verb a)rne/omai (“refuse, deny”) is primarily used for Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus—is this an indication that the speech is authentically Petrine?

kata\ pro/swpon Pila/tou kri/nanto$ e)kei/nou a)polu/ein “according to the face/presence of Pilate (in) that one having judged to loose him from (bondage) [i.e. set him free]”—Pilate’s role was preserved in the early kerygmatic formulae, as can be seen in Acts 3:13; 4:27; 13:28 (cf. also 1 Tim 6:13), and was retained even into the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. Pilate’s desire (or willingness) to free Jesus became a particular point of emphasis in Christian tradition over time, a development which, perhaps, can already be glimpsed in the Gospels (cf. especially Lk 23:4, 14-15, 22, 25).

u(mei=$ de\ to\n a%gion kai\ di/kaion h)rnh/sasqe “but you denied the holy and just One and asked (that) a murdering man be given (as a) favor/gift to you”—the particle de/ relates to the particle me/n in verse 13, i.e.: “on the one hand, you gave over and denied…before Pilate…, on the other hand, you denied the holy and just One and (even) asked that a murder be given to you (instead)!” Barabbas is not mentioned by name, but simply referred to (probably for dramatic effect) as a “killing/murdering man”. The substantives “Holy One” (o( a%gio$) and “Just/Righteous One” (o( di/kaio$) are relatively rare titles for Jesus, here indicative of the very earliest Gospel preaching. The same pair of adjectives was used of John the Baptist in Mark 6:20. For relevant examples from the LXX, see Gen 6:9; 2 Kings 4:9; Psalm 106:16; Sirach 44:17, etc.

to\n de\ a)rxhgo\n th=$ zwh=$ a)pektei/nate “and the leader of life you killed off”—the expression a)rxhgo/$ th=$ zwh=$ is somewhat difficult to translate, a)rxhgo/$ (arch¢gós “one who leads first”) either in the sense of originator (sometimes rendered “author”) or pioneer (i.e. one who leads the way). The latter is almost certainly meant here—not so much “author of life” (i.e. one who causes or brings it about) but rather one who leads the way (“into life”). That the genitive construction is intended to be understood this way, compare e.g. Jn 5:29; 2 Macc 7:14 (LXX), where the context is resurrection, as here. The idea that Jesus is the “first to rise” (i.e. the “firstfruits”) is well attested in early Christian proclamation (cf. Acts 26:23; 1 Cor 15:20-23; 1 Clement 24:1). There is likely also a connotation of “chief” (or “ruler”) in the term a)rxhgo/$ as well, judging by its use in Acts 5:31. In Hebrews 2:10 and 12:2, the word there may be more properly understood as “author/originator” (“author of salvation”, “author of our faith”); and note also the reference in 2 Clement 20:5.

o^n o( qeo\$ h&geiren e)k nekrw=n ou! h(mei=$ ma/rture/$ e)smen “whom God raised out of the dead (ones), of which we are witnesses”—a fundamental piece of Gospel proclamation, here in climactic position. The importance of the apostles and other contemporary believers as witnesses of the resurrection (that is, of the resurrected Jesus) is emphasized in Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 5:32; 10:41; 13:31.

Application to the current situation (v. 16)—the Greek syntax of this verse is extremely awkward, leading to any number of theories such as mistranslation or variant translation from an Aramaic source. C. F. D. Moule, according to the theory that Acts was left in unfinished form, offers the interesting suggestion that drafts of several different sentences were present and (accidentally) combined (cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary [2nd ed.] pp. 270-2). Rendered literally, the majority text reads (explanatory gloss in braces):

“And upon trust/faith in his {Jesus’} name, this one {the healed man} whom you behold and know—his {Jesus’} name has made firm/strong, and the trust/faith which through him {Jesus} has given to him {the healed man} this wholeness in front of you all”

Central Reference to Scripture (3:17-18)

This short passage joins the introductory address to the main Exhortation in vv. 19-26. With two pieces:

(a) An appeal to the crowd in response to the kerygmatic statement of vv. 13-15. The emphasis is on the people’s ignorance—they did not realize what they were doing in their opposition to Jesus:

“And now, brothers, I see [i.e. realize/know] that according to lack of knowledge [i.e. ignorance] you acted even as your leaders [oi( a&rxonte$] (did)”

For this theme of ignorance, see also Acts 13:27; 17:30; 1 Cor 2:8, and also the logion (missing from key early MSS) in Luke 23:24.

(b) A statement that the sufferings of Jesus were the fulfillment of Scripture revealed by God beforehand through the Prophets. This is a common and popular theme in Luke-Acts—cf. Lk 24:26, 46; Acts 17:3; 26:23.

Concluding Exhortation (3:19-26)

Verse 19: “Therefore change (your) mind/understanding [i.e. repent] and turn (back) upon (God) unto [ei)$, but pro$ in some MSS] the wiping out/away of your sins”

The two verbs metanoe/w (“change [one’s] mind/understanding”) and e)pistre/fw (“turn [back] upon, return”) appear frequently in the early Gospel preaching in Acts (2:38; 5:31; 9:35; 20:21; 28:27), and are used together in Acts 26:20; cf. also Acts 11:18, 21; 14:15; 17:30. The verb e)calei/fw (“wipe out”) is unusual in this context; the much more common expression is “release [a&fesin] of sins” as in Acts 2:38.

Kerygmatic/Eschatological declaration (vv. 20-21)—note the parallelism, with emphasized phrases in italics:

    • How as [i.e. so that] seasons of refreshing might come from the face/presence of the Lord,
      • and he might set forth from (himself) the (one) prepared/appointed beforehand to you, (the) Anointed Yeshua,
    • whom it is necessary (for) heaven to receive until the times of restoration of all (things),
      • which God spoke through the mouth of his Holy Ones from (the) Age, (the) Prophets

It is also possible to view vv. 20-21a as a chiasm:

    • Seasons of refreshing
      • from the face/presence of the Lord
        • Jesus to be sent forth
      • present in heaven (at the right hand of God)
    • Times of restoration

Let us examine the parallel expressions (in italics above):

kairoi\ a)nayu/cew$ (kairoi anapsy¡xeœs). The first word is the plural of kairo/$, which seems to relate fundamentally to the idea of measure—i.e. of a particular or definite point, either in a spatial or temporal sense. Temporally, it came to have the meaning of “the proper time”, “the right/decisive moment”, “an opportune time”, and so forth. A general match in English is the word “season”, and so it is often translated. However, it is partially synonymous with xro/no$ as well (see below). The noun a)na/yuci$ is derived from a)nayu/xw (“make cool again” or “breathe again”), often with the sense of “recover, refresh (oneself), find relief”, etc. The noun usually translated “soul” (yuxh/) is related to yu/xw (“cool, blow, breathe”). The noun a)na/yuci$ only occurs here in the New Testament (also in the LXX Exod 8:11), with the verb used in 2 Tim 1:16; a similar noun a)na/pausi$ (“rest [again]”) appears in Matt 11:28-29, etc. The expression kairoi\ a)nayu/cew$ could be rendered attractively (and fairly literally) in English as “time to breathe again”.

xronoi\ a)pokatasta/sew$ (chronoi apokatastáseœs). Xro/no$ is a common word for time, often, as here, a fixed measure or point in time (similar to kairo/$, “[opportune] time, occasion, season”); the plural xro/noi can also refer to a long period of time. The noun a)pokata/stasi$ is derived from a)pokaqi/sthmi, “to set (something) down [or make it stand] from (where it was [before])”, i.e. “restore, re-establish”; hence the noun is typically rendered “restoration, restitution”. Occurring only here in the New Testament, a)pokata/stasi$ (along with the related verb) became a technical eschatological term in early Christianity, at least partly due to the use of the verb in the LXX of Malachi 4:6 [3:24] (cf. Mark 9:12; Matt 17:11). The verb also is used in reference to the restoration of Israel/Judah (from exile) in the Prophets (Jer 16:15; 24:6; Ezek 16:55; and cf. Acts 1:6).

Interesting is the idea of the imminent but clearly future sending of Jesus as the Messiah (“Anointed”). This may help explain the use of xristo$ earlier in Acts 2:36—there it is stated that God made Jesus to be “Anointed” (Xristo$), following the resurrection. We are accustomed to think of Jesus as the Messiah/Christ in a more general sense, related to his divine nature (as Son of God) and role as savior (through his atoning death); here, however, we may see preserved an earlier (Jewish Christian) emphasis—of Jesus as the Anointed One who will (soon) come at the end time to restore “all things” and usher in the Kingdom and Judgment of God. The concept of the restoration of “of all things” (pantw=n) is probably derived from eschatological passages such as Isa 65:17; 66:22; cf. also 1 Enoch 45:4b-5; 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 7:75, etc; and New Testament passages such as Rom 8:19-22; Rev 21-22.

Scripture citations (vv. 23-25)—Here the Scripture is not central to the kerygma, but rather is at the heart of the concluding exhortation. Note the interesting way these are combined and interconnected in short space:

    • Deuteronomy 18:15, 19 (+ Lev 23:29?)—Jesus as the Prophet to Come
      • All of the Prophets announced these days beforehand
      • You are the offspring (“children”) of the Prophets and the Covenant
    • Genesis 22:18/26:4 (also 12:3)—promise to Abraham that through his offspring (“seed”) all the families of earth will be blessed

The first citation is drawn from Deut 18:15-19 (also quoted in Acts 7:37), identifying Jesus as the Prophet “like Moses” whom God will raise up. In Judaism at the time of the New Testament, there was the expectation of an eschatological (end-time) Prophet who would appear before the great day of the Lord; there were two patterns to this figure—(1) Elijah (based on Mal 3:1; 4:5-6) and (2) Moses (based on Deut 18:15-19). Later Christians have tended not to think of Jesus in terms of an (Anointed) Prophet of the end-times, but it was much more prominent in early belief and tradition (on this, see Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The second citation, with the emphasis on Jesus as the promised “seed” of Abraham, is more familiar to us today, by way of Paul’s writings (cf. Gal 3-4).

The Jews in the audience are referred to as: (a) “sons of the Prophets”, and (b) “(sons) of the Covenant”. The first expression was used as a technical term in the Old Testament (<ya!yb!n+h^ yn@B=) to describe someone who was a member of the Prophet class or order (1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 15). Peter, however, uses it in an ethnic and spiritual sense—Jews will truly be sons of the Prophets if they hear and accept Jesus (the Great Prophet), v. 23. The second expression (“sons of the Covenant”, in Hebrew tyr!B=h^ yn@B=) does not occur as such in the Old Testament (cf. Ezek 30:5), but the underlying idea is present throughout, with the emphasis of faithfulness, of belonging to the Covenant God made with Israel and the Fathers (especially Abraham, v. 25). For the equivalent of this expression in Judaism of the period, see the Qumran texts 1QM 17:8; 4Q501; 4Q503 7-9; also CD 12:11 and Ps Sol 17:15.

Concluding declaration (v. 26)four kerymatic elements are repeated here: (1) God having raised (a)nasth/sa$) Jesus from the dead, (2) Jesus as the child (or servant, pai=$) of God, (3) turning back to God (here turning away from [a)postre/fein] sin), and (4) the release/forgiveness of sin (here implied). The unique detail in this verse is the idea (echoed from vv. 20-21) that God will send forth Jesus to bless (eu)loge/w) his people (that is, those who hear and accept the Gospel proclamation). This blessing, of course, is connected back to the citation from Genesis 22:18/26:4.

Previously in this series I have mentioned the critical view that the speeches in Acts are largely the creation of the author (trad. Luke); I also observed that is better (and more accurate) to hold that, while the speeches as we have them are part of a literary work (and so reflect much Lukan style and vocabulary), they certainly preserve core features of the early apostolic preaching. This can be seen in Peter’s speech in Acts 3:11-26 by the use of numerous expressions, as well as terms and titles for Jesus, that are not at all common in later Christian writing. In summary, I cite some notable examples:

  • Terms and titles for Jesus—child/servant (pai=$), holy one (a%gio$), just/righteous one (di/kaio$), leader of life (a)rxhgo\$ th=$ zwh=$), prophet (profh/th$), and also Anointed (xristo$, i.e. of the future/coming Messiah).
  • Other unusual or significant expressions—God “glorifying” Jesus (v. 13), the formula of the disciples as witnesses of the resurrection (v. 15b), faith specifically related to the name of Jesus (v. 16), forgiveness of sin expressed as “wiping out” (v. 19), that God will send forth Jesus (as end-time Messiah, v. 20, 26), the expressions “seasons of refreshing” and “times of restoration” (vv. 20-21), the citation of Deut 18:15-19 applied to Jesus as end-time Prophet (v. 22-23), the expressions “sons of the Prophets”/”sons of the Covenant” (v. 25), Jesus as the “seed of Abrahram” (v. 25).

June 16: Mark 6:30-44 par, continued

In the previous day’s note I introduced some of the critical issues (source- and historical-critical) surrounding the miraculous feeding of the multitude (5000 & 4000) narratives in the Gospels. To demonstrate several points more clearly, today I will present a modest comparative study of the passages. To begin with, it is worth noting just how close are the three Synoptic accounts of the feeding of the Five thousand. The passages to compare are: Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14:13-21, and Luke 9:10-17. The introductory/transition portion of the narrative (Mk 6:30-34; Matt 14:13-14; Lk 9:10-11) shows much greater variance:

    • Occasion/setting: the return of the Twelve from their mission (Mark/Luke) vs. Jesus hearing about the fate of John (Matthew)
    • The extended narrative in Mark (vv. 31-34) including additional dialogue and a longer mention of Jesus’ compassion for the crowd
    • Matthew and Luke do not have the narrative portion of Mark 6:31-34, presenting a simpler narrative setting—Matthew/Luke agree (against Mark) in mentioning Jesus’ healing the sick in the crowd

There are other minor differences as well, such as Luke specifying the location as Bethsaida (Lk 9:10) and the mention of Jesus speaking about the kingdom of God (v. 11). The common elements are: (a) Jesus withdrawing (to a secluded place) with his disciples, (b) the crowd following him, (c) an expression of Jesus’ care/compassion for the crowd. Here is a comparison of the core narrative which follows (using the NASU translation), with significant differences (additions, modification or reordering of material) italicized (note also the simpler descriptions in Matthew/Luke compared with Mark):

Mark 6:35-44

35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But He answered them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” 38 And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.

Matthew 14:15-21

15 When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” 17 They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” 18 And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 19 Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, 20 and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21 There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

Luke 9:12-17

12 Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place.” 13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 (For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each.” 15 They did so, and had them all sit down. 16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full.

Let us now turn to the two accounts of the miraculous feeding of the Four thousand, in Mark 8:1-9 and Matthew 15:32-39. Luke does not record this separate feeding episode, which may not be all that significant since here in the narrative he has nothing corresponding to the entire section of Mark 6:45-8:26. As in the case of the feeding of the Five thousand, Matthew’s version is simpler than Mark’s, but, apart from slight differences in wording and arrangement, is otherwise extremely close. In many ways, the feeding of the 4000 gives the impression (according to the critical view) of being closer to the earliest historical tradition of the feeding miracle—it is a more streamlined narrative, with fewer signs of editing. The historical critical question, of course, is very much in dispute (for traditional-conservative commentators at least); but consider just how close the two narrative episodes actually are—in each we have:

    • A large crowd has followed Jesus, and is now in a deserted/distant place with no opportunity to obtain food
    • Jesus has compassion on the crowd
    • Mention of sending the crowd away
    • Question of the disciples about trying to feed such a large number of people
    • Jesus asks what food they have—just a small number of bread loaves and fish
    • Jesus instructs the crowd to sit down
    • Jesus blesses/gives-thanks and gives the food to the disciples to distribute to the crowd
    • All in the crowd eat and are satisfied
    • Baskets full of fragments remain and are gathered up
    • The (round) number of men in the crowd is stated (5000/4000)

There are, of course, notable differences—both substantive and in detail—but the similarities are striking; it is a fairly strong argument in favor of the critical view that we are dealing with two versions of the same underlying historical tradition. That two separate events would have occurred—and been narrated—in such a similar fashion seems rather unlikely. As critical commentators are fond of mentioning, there is also the historical implausibility of the disciples, having recently witnessed the first dramatic feeding miracle, having the same doubts again about being able to feed such a large crowd (but cf. the notice in Mark 6:52). The main differences between the two narrative episodes can be summarized:

Feeding the 5000

  • It is stated that Jesus had compassion on the crowd
  • The disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away (to find food)
  • Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd something to eat
  • The disciples tell Jesus what food they have (response to Jesus inquiry in Mk)
  • Five loaves, and two fish
  • Jesus commands the crowd to lay-back/recline [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw] in groups
  • Jesus “blesses” [eu)loge/w] the food
  • Twelve baskets [ko/fino$] of fragments left over

Feeding the 4000

  • Jesus states that he has compassion for the crowd
  • Jesus says he is unwilling to send them away (to find food)
  • The disciples question how they can feed such a large crowd
  • Jesus asks the disciples what food they have (as in Mk’s version of feeding the 5000)
  • Seven loaves, a few (small) fish
  • Jesus has the crowd sit down [a)napi/ptw] (no mention of groups)
  • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (in Matt; “bless” [eu)loge/w] in Mk some MSS)
  • Seven woven-baskets [spuri/$] of fragments left over

To a large extent, these differences are variations in vocabulary and specific detail, of the sort that might naturally occur during the development and transmission of ancient tradition. If the critical view holds, then, at some point early on, two versions of the story (with differing details and vocabulary) crystalized, developing to become distinct enough to be preserved as separate narratives in the Synoptic tradition. In fairness I think it can be said that, without the need to safeguard a particular view of the inspiration (and/or inerrancy) of Scripture—that is, if such a narrative ‘doublet’ occurred in any other ancient writing—there would be little question that a single historical tradition underlay both narratives. However, there is at least one strong argument (on objective grounds) in favor of the traditional-conservative view, and this will be discussed in the next day’s note—along with a comparison of the miraculous feeding narratives in John and the Synoptics.

June 15: Mark 6:30-44 par

In yesterday’s note, partly in commemoration of the traditional feast of Corpus Christi (first Sunday after Trinity), I examined the New Testament expression of “breaking (of) bread” (as in Acts 2:42, 46; Luke 24:35, etc) in relation to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) in the early Church. There is one other major passage where this image occurs—the miraculous feeding of the multitude by Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. The tradition surrounding this miracle is unique in that: (a) it is one of the only episodes recorded in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John); (b) it is one of the only instances where something like the same narrative occurs twice in the same Gospel (Matthew/Mark). For this reason (among others), it proves to be an interesting ‘test case’ in terms of how early Gospel traditions may have developed, as well as being illustrative of the key differences between traditional-conservative and critical viewpoints in this regard. You will also find this episode discussed in detail as part of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

I will divide the discussion into three main sections, each of which will be treated in a daily note:

    • Survey of the passages, with a brief study of the source-critical and historical-critical questions
    • A more detailed comparative study of the narratives
    • An examination of the Eucharistic elements of the traditional narrative—their possible origins and influence in the early Church

Today’s note will is devoted to the first of these—namely, a survey of the passages, study of key source-critical and historical-critical questions. To begin with, a miraculous feeding of five thousand men (plus women and children) is narrated in Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15. As will be seen, all four narratives are quite close, both in outline and much detail as well; typically the the three Synoptic accounts are extremely close, while there are more substantial differences between the Synoptics and John. This brings up two separate, but related, source-critical questions:

    1. What is the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels?
    2. What is the relationship between the Synoptics and John?

The first question is usually addressed in the wider context of the so-called “Synoptic Problem”—how to explain the substantial agreement (including wording, order, other detail) between two and/or all three Synoptic Gospels. Today, there is a rough consensus among many (if not most) critical scholars that corresponds with the so-called “Two-Document” and “Markan priority” hypotheses, according to which:

    • Mark was written first, and both Matthew and Luke made (extensive) use of Mark, including the overall narrative plan and arrangement.
    • Matthew and Luke also made use of a second major (written) source, primarily consisting of blocks of Jesus’ sayings and teachings—this is the so-called “Q” source. Usually this is assumed to be a distinct written document, but it is perhaps safer to refer to it more generally as a collection of shared tradition(s).
    • Matthew and Luke also each made use of other sources—collections of tradition, whether written or oral—not found in the other Gospels, and often labeled “M” and “L” respectively.

While not without difficulties, this does, I believe, represent a reasonably sound working hypothesis. At the very least, if Matthew and Luke did not make use of Mark, then they must have made use of an early Gospel framework very similar in both content and arrangement. In particular, the position of the feeding miracle within the overall Gospel framework is similar between the Synoptics. Assuming, for the moment, the “Markan priority” hypothesis, here is the position of the episode in Mark:

1. Mk 6:1-6: The rejection of Jesus at Nazareth (saying in v. 4)
2. Mk 6:7-13: Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve (saying/commission in vv. 10-11)
3. Mk 6:14-29: Herod and the death of John the Baptist
4. Mk 6:30-44: The feeding of the Five thousand
5. Mk 6:45-52: Episode at sea—Jesus walking on water (reference to the feeding miracle in v. 52)
6. Mk 6:53-56: Summary references to healing miracles by Jesus
7. Mk 7:1-23: Sayings of Jesus in context of disputes with Pharisees and Scribes (at least two blocks of sayings, vv. 6-13 and 14b-23)
8. Mk 7:24-37: Two healing miracles

If we compare the position in the Gospel of Matthew, it is nearly identical; the only structural difference is that Jesus’ commission and sending out the Twelve occurs somewhat earlier (Matt 10:5ff) and serves as the introduction and narrative focus for a lengthy block of sayings vv. 16-42 added to the portion (vv. 5-15) he presumably inherited from Mark. The arrangement in the Gospel of Luke differs even more considerably:

  • The story of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth occurs earlier (at the beginning of his ministry), and in different/expanded form, in Lk 4:16-30
  • The material corresponding to Mark 6:45-8:26 for the most part is not found in Luke; as a result the confession of Peter, Jesus’ first Passion prediction (with related sayings), and the Transfiguration (Lk 9:18-36) follow immediately after the miraculous feeding episode in Lk 9:10-17

Notable differences between the Synoptic accounts of the feeding of the Five thousand will be mentioned in the comparative study in the next day’s note.

The second question (see above) has to do with the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels and John. Even though there is relatively little common material between John and the Synoptics, scholars have at times proposed that the author of the fourth Gospel utilized one (or more) of the other three. For example, there are some notable details in common between the Passion/Resurrection narratives of Luke and John, but other (apparent) minor points of agreement as well. However, in my view, most of these similarities are best explained by a shared common tradition rather than literary borrowing. I would concur with a good number of scholars today that there is very little (if any) clear evidence that the author of the fourth Gospel even knew (let alone used) any of the other three Gospels. At least one strand of evidence to this effect will be presented in the comparative study offered in the next day’s note. This means that, if we take Mark as the earliest Synoptic (and partial exemplar for the other two), then, at several key points, the Gospels of Mark and John are both drawing from an early tradition (or block of tradition), such as that involving the feeding of the Five thousand. By all accounts the “common portion” shared by John here is modest, limited to the traditions corresponding to Mark 6:30-52.

There is a far more serious historical-critical issue related to these passages, one which demonstrates a rather clear divide between traditional-conservative and critical approaches to the Gospels. The difficulty can be summarized by the fact that, in the Gospel of Mark (and in Matthew) there are two different miraculous feedings which are largely identical, differing mainly in specific vocabulary and other detail. This second episode is a feeding of Four (instead of Five) thousand men, as narrated in Mark 8:1-10 (par Matthew 15:32-39). The traditional-conservative view would tend to take these at face value as separate historical episodes; however, the number of similarities makes this hard to maintain in the light of objective analysis. The critical view would generally hold that these are separate versions of the same episode which have been preserved in different form; but there are difficulties with this view as well, as we shall see. Critical scholars are most reluctant to harmonize differences and discrepancies in Scriptural narrative by positing separate (similar, or nearly identical) events. For example, because of the different apparent chronology between John and the Synoptics, some traditional-conservative commentators would hold that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice; however, I regard this as highly unlikely—apart from the variant position of the episode (‘early’ vs. ‘late’), there is virtually no evidence to support a tradition of two (largely identical) Temple-cleansings. The situation is more complex with the “Anointing of Jesus” episodes in the Gospels; there it is likely that we are dealing with two traditions—one represented largely by Luke 7:36-50, the other primarily by Mark 14:3-9 and the Matthean parallel. As in the case of the miraculous feeding narratives, the Johannine account shows a mixture of details found in the other versions, which is somewhat hard to explain if we are dealing with different historical events (or traditions). This will be explored in greater detail in the next note.