June 17: John 6:1-15

In the previous day’s note, I offered a comparison of the miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic Gospels, including a comparison of the similarities between the feedings of the 5000 and the 4000 in Mark/Matthew—similarities which serve as a reasonably strong argument in favor of the critical view that the two narrative episodes are based on a single historical tradition (or event). I also mentioned at least one good argument (on objective grounds, apart from any particular view of inspiration/inerrancy) in favor of the traditional-conservative view that these really do represent a record of separate events. This will be discussed in the second half of today’s note; however, to begin with, let me offer a comparison of the miraculous feeding narrative in John vs. the Synoptics. The corresponding passage in the fourth Gospel is found in Jn 6:1-15. The narrative setting of this episode in John is, of course, quite different:

    • Jesus has previously been in Jerusalem (Jn 5:1ff), and is now in Galilee (6:1); this abrupt shift would seem to indicate that we are dealing with the inclusion of traditional material, and no real attempt has been made by the author to smooth over the seam.
    • The occasion of Passover is mentioned (v. 4), which is almost certainly an insertion by the author to connect the miracle explicitly with the setting of the “Bread of Life” discourse which follows in 6:22-59.
    • Note how the author includes the episode of Jesus’ walking on the water (6:16-20) right after the miraculous feeding, just as in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew), even though it doesn’t seem entirely to fit the narrative context in John (note the rather awkward transitional description in vv. 22-23). I take this as an indication that the two episodes were already coupled together at a very early point in the Gospel tradition.
    • There is, certainly, nothing at all like the Bread of Life discourse following the feeding miracle in the Synoptic Gospels—it appears to be a tradition unique to John.

Special details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic feeding of the 5000:

    • Reference to Jesus’ healing the sick (v. 2) [cf. Matt 14:14; Luke 9:11]
    • Specific mention by the disciples of the cost of (at least) 200 denarii to feed so many people (v. 7; Mk 6:37)
    • The number of loaves (5) (v. 9)
    • The specific (round) number of men in the crowd (5000) (v. 10)
    • The mention of grass (v. 10; Mark 6:39, par Matt)
    • There are twelve baskets [kofino$] of fragments left over (v. 13)

Details in common between John’s account (of the 5000) and the Synoptic (Matthew-Mark) feeding of the 4000:

    • The specific location along/across the Sea of Galilee (v. 1) [cf. Matt 15:29]
    • Jesus going up onto a mountain (v. 3) [cf. in Matt 15:29, but note also mountain theme in Mk 6:46 par. Matt).
    • Jesus takes the initiative regarding the crowd (v. 5) [cf. Mark 8:2-3 par]—however this is more of an original/distinctive element of John’s narrative
    • Philip’s response to Jesus question (v. 7) shows a partial similarity to Matt 15:33 (but also Mk 6:37, see above)
    • The verb “sit/fall back” [a)napi/ptw] is used (v. 10) instead of “lay back/down” [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw]; also, there is no mention of the crowd sitting down in groups of fifty, etc.
    • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (v. 11) as in Matt  15:36 and MSS of Mk 8:7, instead of “bless” [eu)loge/w]

The number of details in common with the feeding of the 4000 is striking—another indication, perhaps, that the two narrative episodes (of the 5000 & 4000) stem from a single historical tradition. It is also worth pointing out some details which are unique to John’s account:

    • The Passover setting (v. 4), though the mention of “green grass” (Mk 6:39) might generally indicate springtime.
    • Jesus specific question about buying food for the crowd (v. 5), described as intended to test the disciples (Philip) (v. 6)
    • The mention of specific disciples Philip (v. 5-7) and Andrew (v. 8).
    • The boy with the loaves and fish (v. 9)
    • The loaves specified as “barley” [kriqino$] and the fish as “dried-fish” [o)yarion, instead of i)xqu$/i)xqudion]
    • Jesus’ command to his disciples to gather up the fragments (v. 12), along with the use of suna/gw (“bring together”) instead of ai&rw (“lift/take [up/away]”)
    • The reaction of the people to the miracle in vv. 14-15.

The significant number of details unique to John would seem to be incontrovertible evidence that John has not derived his account from any of the Synoptics, but has inherited an early Gospel tradition, some version of which is shared by the Synoptics as well. For a convenient chart comparing all of the miraculous feeding narratives in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible vol. 29: 1966), pp. 240-243.

What, then, of the traditional-conservative view which would regard the miraculous feedings of the 5000 and 4000 as authentic separate historical events? As I mentioned above, there is one main piece of objective evidence in its favor: namely, the tradition recorded in Mark 8:14-21 (par Matthew 16:5-12). Actually, according to standard methods of analysis for the Gospels, one should distinguish three elements in this passage, which follow a relatively common pattern:

    • Narrative setting (v. 14)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 15)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 17-21), following the question/misunderstanding of the disciples (v. 16)

The saying of Jesus about the “leaven of the Pharisees” is found in all three Synoptics—it is part of the parallel sequence in Matt 16:5-12 (v. 6), perhaps inherited from Mark, and is also found in Luke 12:1 but there in a very different context. It is Jesus’ exposition in Mk 8:17-21 which is of particular interest here, for he refers to both feeding miracles (in some detail!) If one is to regard vv. 17-21 as being in any way an authentic dialogue, then one is also forced to admit that the two miraculous feeding narratives both reflect historical events. This creates something of a dilemma for critical commentators—for if, on the other hand, the two feeding miracles are versions of a single event, then the entire dialogue of vv. 17-21 must effectively be regarded as an early Christian creation. Indeed, many critical scholars, I am sure, are inclined to accept the authenticity of the saying in v. 15 much more so than the expository dialogue in vv. 17-21.

It is interesting that there also appears to be literary significance to the parallel presentation of the two miraculous feedings, at least in the Gospel of Mark; note the following structure:

    • Feeding miracle (of the 5000)—Mk 6:30-44
      • Episode in a boat at sea (miracle of Jesus)—vv. 45-51
        • Statement about the loaves; disciples’ lack of understanding—v. 52
    • Feeding miracle (of the 4000)—Mk 8:1-10
      • Episode in a boat at sea (saying of Jesus)—vv. 14-15ff
        • Discussion of the loaves; disciples’ lack of understanding—vv. 16-21

While not constructed as carefully as similar arrangements of narrative episodes in, say, the Gospels of Luke or John, the parallelism is clear enough. There are then, other concerns besides historical accuracy/reliability that make it important to maintain a distinction between the two miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic tradition.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 5: Acts 4:5-12

Acts 4:5-12 represents the fourth speech in the book of Acts (as well as the fourth given by Peter). As chapters 3 and 4 in Acts form a complete narrative arc, it may be helpful, prior to discussing the speech in 4:5-12, to see how the two speeches of Peter fit within these chapters:

    • Introductory/Core Narrative—the healing Miracle (3:1-10)
    • First speech by Peter (3:12-26), with narrative introduction in v. 11 joining to v. 1-10
    • Narrative Summary (4:1-4)
    • Second Narrative (introduction)—Peter and John brought before the Sanhedrin (4:5-7)
    • Second speech by Peter (4:8-12)
    • Narrative Conclusion/Summary (4:13-22)
    • Third Narrative (introduction)—Disciples gather together (4:23)
    • Speech (Prayer) by the Disciples, addressed to God (4:24-30)
    • Narrative Summary (4:31)

As you can see, there are three distinct narrative pieces, each with a speech at its center. Interestingly, the three narrative episodes show a kind of chronological parallel with three phases of the Gospel as told up to this point:

    1. The healing miracle—parallel to Jesus’ earthly ministry with the miracles he performed, and narrated in a similar fashion
    2. Peter and John before the Sanhedrin—par. to Jesus’ appearance before the Sanhedrin (representing the Passion narrative)
    3. The Disciples gathered together in worship—a clear parallel to the Pentecost narrative itself (2:1-13), even with a repeat of the Spirit’s manifestation (4:31).

Here is an outline of Peter’s speech in chapter 4, following the pattern I previously set for analyzing the sermon-speeches of Acts:

    • Narrative Introduction (4:5-7), following upon the narrative summary in vv. 1-4, and culminating with a question by the Jewish leaders in v. 7.
    • Introductory Address (vv. 8-10), with kerygmatic elements (v. 10b).
    • Scripture Citation (v. 11)—taken from Psalm 118:22.
    • {There is no specific exposition or application of the passage}
    • Concluding Exhortation (v. 12)
    • {There is no simple narrative summary; instead the narrative picks up and develops/concluding in vv. 13-22}

I will briefly discuss each of these sections in turn.

Narrative Introduction (vv. 5-7)

Verses 1-4 serve as the narrative summary for the previous speech of Peter and also set the stage for what follows in vv. 5ff. The Jewish leaders react to the miracle (narrated in 3:1-10) and the effect it had on the people (along with Peter’s speech of 3:11-26). This introduction (a single sentence) can be divided into three parts, or clauses:

The Introduction proper (verse 5) which mentions the Jewish leaders/rulers (a&rxonto$) being led/brought together (suna/gw)—note the use of this verb in Psalm 2:2 cited in Acts 4:26. Two groups are mentioned: “elders” (presbu/teroi) probably made up largely from the Sadducean party, and “scribes” (grammate/w$), primarily Pharisees, experts on Scripture and the Law. Note the specified location of Jerusalem, even though this would seem to be obvious from the context—is this an example of the way different pieces of tradition may have been joined together? The Sanhedrin setting is important for the overall context of the narrative here in Acts—it looks back to Jesus’ ‘trial’ and his conflicts with the religious leaders, and also looks ahead to the opposition early Christians would face (cf. throughout Acts 5:17-8:4).

Reference to the leading/chief priests (verse 6)—four names are mentioned, as members of the high-priestly family, two of which (Annas and Caiphas) are known from the Gospels accounts of the ‘trial’ of Jesus.

The Question (verse 7)—”and having made them stand in the middle…”, presumably the members of the Sanhedrin seated in a semi-circle with Peter and John (and the healed man, v. 10) in the middle of them; “they sought to learn/hear” (e)punqa/nato), that is, by inquiry/interrogation; then follows the question:

In what (sort of) power [e)n poi/a| duna/mei] or in what name [e)n poi/a| o)no/mati] have you done this?”

Note the similarity to the question asked of Jesus in Mark 11:28 par:

In what (sort of) authority [e)n poi/a| e)cousi/a|] do you do these (things)?…”

Introductory Address (vv. 8-10)

This is a key moment in the book of Acts, as indicated by the notice that Peter was “filled of/with the Holy Spirit” (plhsqei\$ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou). The author of Luke-Acts was well aware of the saying of Jesus recorded in Synoptic tradition (Lk 12:11f par) that the disciples would be brought into the synagogues and before the Jewish leaders to be interrogated in this manner, with the promise not to fear, that the Holy Spirit will give the disciples what they need to say. This is reflected in the keyword parrhsi/a, “speaking with all (freedom/boldness etc)”, i.e. “outspokenness”, cf. verse 13 (and already used in 2:29). Here Peter begins with an address to the leaders/rulers and elders (v. 8b), and makes specific mention of the occasion for his being interrogated (with John)—the miraculous healing of the ailing man (v. 9). He frames the issue on two points: (a) the healing described as a “good work” (eu)ergesi/a), and (b) the emphasis of how (by what means or power) the healing was done (“in what [way] that one has been saved [i.e. healed]”). This latter question was addressed by Peter in the opening of his earlier speech (3:12f). Both of these points represent key themes of the book—(i) that the Apostles (and other faithful believers) are not guilty of any wrongdoing, even when placed under arrest by authorities, etc (an important apologetic aspect for the author); and (ii) that it is the power of God working through Christ (and by Jesus’ name) that people are saved (the verb sw/zw can also mean “heal, make whole”). The rhetorical thrust of Peter’s response is forceful:

“If we today are (going to be) judged (thoroughly) upon a good work (done) for a man without strength—in what (way) that one has been saved [i.e. healed]—let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Yisrael…”

Verse 10 continues with a kerygmatic declaration (10b), applied to the current situation (i.e. the healing, 10a), similar to that uttered by Peter in Acts 3:13-16—there it was addressed to the people, here to the leaders (as summarized in v. 8b, 10a). There is a clear kerygmatic formula present in the declaration:

    • “in the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed, the Nazarean
      • whom [o^n] you put to the stake [i.e. crucified]
      • whom [o^n] God raised out of the dead (ones)
    • in this one [i.e. Jesus]—that man [i.e. the healed man] stands alongside (us) in your eyes/sight (made) whole

Scripture Citation (v. 11)

As with other sermon-speeches in Acts, the Scripture here is central, however it is not directly applicable to the circumstances of the speech. Rather, as in the previous speech by Peter, the citation is intended to buttress the kerygma and lead into the exhortation (v. 12). The Scripture cited is from Psalm 118:22 [LXX 117:22], but the quotation is quite different from the LXX, perhaps reflecting a rather free translation or adaption:

Hebrew MT (Psalm 118:22)

hN`P! var)l= ht*y+h* Wsa&m* /b#a#
“(The) stone the builders despised/rejected is (now) for the head of (the) corner”

LXX (Psalm 117:22)

li/qon, o^n a)pedoki/masan oi( oi)kodomou=nte$, ou!to$ e)genh/qh ei)$ kefalh\n gwni/a$
“(the) stone which the ones building removed from consideration,
this (one) has come to be into (the) head of (the) corner”

Acts 4:11

ou!to/$ e)stin o( li/qo$, o( e)couqenhqei\$ u(f’ u(mw=n tw=n oi)kodo/mwn, o( geno/meno$ ei)$ kefalh\n gwni/a$
“This is the stone, the (one) made out (to be) nothing under [i.e. by] you the (ones) building,
the (one now) having come to be into (the) head of (the) corner”

The LXX is a fairly accurate rendering of the Hebrew; the syntax of the quotation in Acts differs considerably from the LXX, but there are only two major adaptations: (a) the use of the verb e)couqene/w, which emphasizes “despise” more than “reject” in the original Hebrew (a variation of this verb appears in a similar context in Mk 9:12); and (b) the identification of the builders (“the [one]s building”) with “you [pl.]” (i.e. the current Jewish leaders/rulers). This same verse is cited in Synoptic tradition, in the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mk 12:10, par Lk 20:17), and also in 1 Peter 2:4-7. It was applied to the two aspects of Jesus’ Passion, referred to in technical theological terms as the two “states” of Christ—humiliation (despised/rejected) and exaltation (becoming the head)—the very two aspects (crucifixion/resurrection) emphasized in verse 10. The “cornerstone” was the main support stone at the joining of two walls; though not specified here, within the overall context of the early Christian mission in Acts, it could be taken to symbolize Christ as Lord and Savior for both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph 2:11-12 for this very imagery).

In its original context, Psalm 118 appears to have been a (royal) hymn of thanksgiving to YHWH for military victory; however, largely due to the ritual language of the concluding verses 26-29, it came to be used as one of the “Hallel” pilgrimage Psalms recited on the great holy days such as Passover and Booths/Tabernacles. Verse 26 was cited by Jesus (against the religious leaders) in Lk 13:35 / Matt 23:39, and by the crowds greeting Jesus on his (triumphal) entry into Jerusalem in Mk 11:9 / Matt 21:9 / Lk 19:38.

Concluding Exhortation (v. 12)

This is stated as a solemn soteriological proclamation, in two main clauses:

kai\ ou)k e&stin e)n a&llw| ou)deni\ swthri/a
“and (so) there is salvation in no other one [i.e. no one else]”

ou)de\ ga\r o&noma/ e&stin e%teron u(po\ to\n ou)rano\n to\ dedeme/non e)n a)nqrw/poi$ e)n w! dei= swqh=nai h(ma=$
“for there is also no other name under the heaven th(at is) given in/among men in which it is necessary (for) us to be saved”

Note the parallels:

    • there is no one / there is no name
    • no other [a&llo$] / no other [e%tero$]
    • salvation [swthri/a] / be saved [swqh=nai]
    • salvation in [e)n] Jesus / saved in [e)n] his name

The second clause is more complicated than the first:

    • there is no other name
      —under heaven
      —given among men
    • in which… be saved

The syntax of the concluding phrase may seem a bit unusual rendered literally; in conventional English we would say “…by which we must (or need to) be saved”. But the precise syntax here is important: dei= (“it is necessary”) is fundamentally impersonal—it reflects a (universal) condition, established by the work of God in Christ. This is more than an exhortation (“save yourselves”, “get saved”), it is, in every respect, a fundamental doctrinal statement. One might be inclined to paraphrase Peter’s words as “you can’t be saved without accepting Jesus”—this is very much a modern way of putting the matter, and, while not incorrect, the declaration here actually says a great deal more than that. Remember the context of the healing miracle, where the lame man was healed [lit. “saved”, v. 9] by the name of Jesus (cf. 3:16). This reflects an ancient way of thinking that is rather foreign to us today—the name of a person conveyed and communicated (in a quasi-‘magical’ way) that person’s essence (or nature) and character. The nature/character of God himself is expressed—here in terms of healing/salvation—through Jesus: just as Jesus and God (YHWH) are both now Lord [ku/rio$], so we experience and promise and power of salvation through the name of Jesus (even as we ‘call’ on the name of YHWH, Acts 2:21 [citing Joel 2:32a]). True faith and trust [pi/sti$] are intimately connected with this name that is communicated to us (3:16).