“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 2)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

Luke 12:10 / Matthew 12:32

One particularly interesting “son of man” reference in the “Q” material (see Part 1) is the saying by Jesus regarding the “insult against the Holy Spirit”. This occurs in the Lukan Gospel at 12:10:

“every(one) who shall speak an (insulting) word to the son of man, (the guilt) will be released for him; but for the (one hav)ing insulted the holy Spirit, it will not be released”

The Matthean version (12:32) is longer, with slightly different wording:

“whoever would speak a word against the son of man, (the guilt) will be released for him; but whoever would speak against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him, neither in this Age nor in the coming (Age)!”

The Matthean version does not use the verb blasfhme/w (“defame, insult”); instead, each contrasting clause uses the idiom “speak [vb e&pw] a word/account [lo/go$] against [kata/]”. The language is more general than in Luke, where the use of blasfhme/w makes it clear that an insulting, defamatory, or slanderous account is involved.

What is most interesting about this “Q” saying is that it corresponds to a similar saying in Mark (3:28-29):

“Amen, I say to you, that all (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and the insults [blasfhmi/ai], as (many) as ever they might give insult; but whoever should give insult to the holy Spirit, he does not hold (any) release (from it) into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin for the Ages [i.e. eternal sin]!”

This Markan saying is considerably longer (and wordier) than the “Q” saying, but seems to express the same basic idea. Scholars have debated whether these represent two different historical traditions, or different versions of the same underlying tradition. The fact that both sayings use the expression “the son of man”, in roughly the same position, suggests that a single underlying tradition (i.e., saying by Jesus) is ultimately involved. How, then, does one explain the fundamental difference in the way the expression is used? In “Q”, the expression is in the singular (“the son of man”, o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), and in the accusative (or genitive) case, meaning that the son of man is the object of the insults. In Mark, the expression is plural (“the sons of men”, oi( ui(oi\ tw=n an)qrw/pwn), and in the dative case, referring to the person(s) for whom the guilt (from giving insult) is forgiven (or not forgiven).

It is hard to believe that the occurrence of the expression “the son(s) of man/men” in both sayings is coincidental, or that Jesus would have used the same expression, in such totally different ways, in what is otherwise the same basic saying. How, then, is the matter to be explained?

One possibility is that the original saying by Jesus (presumably in Aramaic), utilizing the expression “(the) son of man” ([a]vna rb), was sufficiently ambiguous to allow early Christian transmitters of the tradition (and those translating it into Greek) to interpret it in different ways. As we have noted (see esp. the Introduction to this series), the expression “(the) son of man” simply means a human being, and is frequently used generically for human beings (or humankind), in a collective or general sense. At the same time, the definiteness of the expression (i.e., with the absolute/emphatic determinative marker [in Aramaic]), can also indicate a particular human being (“this son of man”). As we have seen, Jesus seems to have used the expression, somewhat frequently, in this latter sense. Thus, the same expression could, depending upon how the context was understood, be taken to refer to human beings generally, or to a specific human being (namely, Jesus himself). One can only speculate as to what syntactical or other factors could have resulted in such different renderings (i.e., Markan vs. “Q”) of a common saying by Jesus.

Another possibility is that the Markan version of the saying represents an interpretive modification of the original saying by Jesus. In this regard, it has been suggested that early Christians, scandalized by the idea that blasphemous insults against Jesus could be forgiven, either altered the saying or ‘corrected’ it, assuming that “the son of man” must refer to other human beings, or to human beings generally (i.e., “the sons of men”). This explanation has been posited by a number of commentators (e.g., Tödt, Hare).

What is striking is that the “Q” version of the saying actually makes perfect sense within the literary-historical context of the Markan saying—viz., the Beelzebul episode (Mk 3:22-30 par), on which cf. my earlier article and recent note (on Lk 11:20 par). Matthew seems to recognize the common meaning of both sayings, as he includes the “Q” saying (12:32) alongside the Markan (v. 31), at this very location. The Markan saying has been adapted and simplified, creating an elegant pairing:

“For this (reason), I say to you: every sin and insult will be released for men, but the insult of [i.e. against] the Spirit will not be released. And (also), whoever would speak a word against the son of man, (the guilt) will be released for him; but whoever would speak against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him, neither in this Age nor in the coming (Age).”

The Markan phrase “for the sons of men” has been simplified to “for men” (toi=$ a)nqrw/poi$), while the ‘addition’ to the end of “Q” saying seems to correspond to the end of the Markan saying in 3:29b (“..he does not hold (any) release (from it) into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin for the Ages”). Thus, the two sayings, it would seem, have been conflated in the Matthean Gospel. By contrast, in Luke’s Gospel, the author includes the “Q” saying in the general proximity of the Beelzebul episode (11:14-23), but clearly separated from it, and in a very different immediate context (see below). Luke has omitted, or otherwise does not include, the saying in Mark 3:28-39, perhaps recognizing it as a ‘doublet’ of the “Q” saying he inherited; indeed, the Lukan author tends to avoid such ‘doublets’ throughout his Gospel.

The setting of the Beelzebul episode is a fitting location for the saying, so much so that one is inclined to view it as the authentic historical setting for the original saying by Jesus. What does the “Q” saying, with its use of the expression “the son of man” (in the singular), mean in such a context? I would offer the following explanation:

As in the other “son of man” sayings we have examined, Jesus is using the expression primarily as a self-reference, but, in so doing, also identifies himself with the human condition, as a particular human being (“this son of man”). The distinction which Jesus is making in the saying, the point of the contrast, is that there is a difference between insulting (ad hominem) the person performing a miraculous act of Divine healing, and the Spirit of God that works through such a person. Slanderous or abusive insults against the person can be forgiven, but insults against God’s Spirit cannot be. The Markan Gospel writer seems to recognize this as the point of the saying, given the concluding comment in verse 30. Even in the case of Jesus, ad hominem attacks against him (as the human being performing the healing/exorcism), can be forgiven, but defaming or insulting the Spirit that works in/through him cannot be forgiven.

A word must be said about the Lukan context of this saying, in 12:8-12: a short set of teachings—a sequence of three traditions (sayings by Jesus)—dealing principally with the theme of discipleship, and the importance of confessing one’s faith in Jesus publicly. Two distinct “son of man” sayings (both “Q” sayings) have been brought together for this purpose, in vv. 8-9 and 10, followed by the instruction in vv. 11-12—another “Q” tradition, which occurs in a different location in Matthew (10:19-20).

As Luke joins together the sayings of vv. 8-9 and v. 10, Jesus seems to be making a rather different point than would be indicated by the Markan/Matthean context of the Beelzebul episode. Speaking a harsh or insulting word to Jesus (“the/this son of man”) is not the same as denying (trust in) him; in order to deny Jesus, one must go further, and effectively insult/slander the Spirit of God that fills and empowers him. Ultimately, human beings must choose whether to trust in Jesus and become his disciple, which then involves a willingness to confess him publicly, even in the face of persecution. The one who refuses to confess, or denies him, is not a true disciple, and will, in turn, be denied before God at the Judgment.

The “son of man” saying in vv. 8-9 will be discussed further in Part 3 of this article.

NOTE: In the translations above, I have rendered the verb a)fi/hmi (and the noun a&fesi$) as “release”. Quite literally, the verb means “send away”, but, in the religious-ethical sense in which it often occurs in the New Testament, it applies to the removal of sin—along with the guilt and effect(s) of sin—for human beings. It is primarily in terms of the guilt (from sin) that one may speak of being “released”, or of the guilt being “released” from a person.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Lk 12:31-32; 13:18ff))

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

In the previous studies, we began examining the Kingdom-petition, in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, in its literary context. The Lord’s Prayer itself is part of a block of teaching by Jesus on the subject of prayer (11:1-13), set in the early stages of the period of the Journey to Jerusalem. During this long Journey account, as the Lukan author presents it (9:51-18:31), Jesus gives extensive instruction to his disciples, preparing them for what will come in Jerusalem.

In the literary context of Luke-Acts, this teaching also anticipates the early Christian mission, and implicitly prepares the disciples for the coming mission-work. The Lukan account of the mission of the seventy(-two) disciples, in 10:1-12ff, serves as a type-pattern for the early Christian mission (narrated in the book of Acts), and effectively frames the Journey narrative. The Kingdom-references in 9:60, 62 are part of this framing emphasis on discipleship, focusing on what is involved in being a disciple of Jesus.

If the disciples’ mission is centered upon proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God (9:2, 11, 60; 10:9, 11), then it is natural that Jesus would teach them about the Kingdom. And, indeed, there are several blocks of teaching in the Lukan Journey narrative in which the idea of the Kingdom plays a prominent role. The prayer-section (in 11:1-13) is one such block of teaching, largely due to the prominence of the Kingdom-petition in the Lord’s Prayer. Another section is 12:13-34, which deals primarily with the theme of how one should respond to earthly needs and goods. This section may be divided into several tradition-units, which could represent sayings/teachings by Jesus given on different occasions:

    • Vv. 13-15—An encounter-episode, warning against pleoneci/a, i.e., the desire to always have/hold more (things).
    • Vv. 16-21—The parable of the ‘Rich Fool’, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the things of God, rather than on earthly goods and riches (v. 21).
    • Vv. 22-31f—The folly in being preoccupied with, and worrying about, earthly needs and goods.
    • Vv. 33-34—Illustrative instruction, contrasting earthly and heavenly treasure.

The Kingdom-reference in verse 31 has something of a climactic position in this block of teaching, effectively summarizing the message of Jesus’ teaching, and serving as the principal exhortation and example for his disciples to follow. Verses 22-31 are part of the “Q” material, shared by the Gospel of Matthew, where it is included as part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (6:25-33). The Kingdom-saying (v. 33) similarly concludes this “Q” unit in Matthew. The Lukan version of this saying, more than the Matthean, provides an integral (and syntactical) contrast with the previous statement, in which Jesus describes how most people (“all the nations of the world”) think and act:

“For these (thing)s (are what) all the nations of the world seek after, but your Father has (already) seen that you have need of these (thing)s.” (v. 30)

The demonstrative plural pronoun tau=ta (“these [thing]s”) frames the sentence, giving it a double-emphasis. The pronoun refers to what Jesus has been discussing in vv. 22-29, how his disciples should not be worried or preoccupied about meeting the needs of daily life—food, clothing, etc—things which also embody the earthly goods that most people are eager to accumulate. The disciples are not to seek after such things, even insofar as they represent genuine earthly needs, since God (their Father) already knows (“has seen”) what they need, and they may trust that He will provide it for them. The climactic saying in verse 31 builds upon this teaching:

“(But) more than (this), you must seek His kingdom, and (then) these (thing)s will be set toward you.”

Again, the demonstrative pronoun tau=ta (“these [thing]s”) refers to the earthly/material goods necessary for daily life. These things will be “set toward” (vb prosti/qhmi) the disciples, if they seek God’s Kingdom. Some manuscripts read “the kingdom of God [th\n basilei/an tou= qeou=]” rather than “His kingdom [th\n basilei/an au)tou=]”, but the latter is more likely to be original in Luke’s version; it also effectively connects with the reference to God as the disciples’ Father in v. 30His kingdom, i.e., your Father’s kingdom. The conjunction plh/n is both emphatic and contrastive, meaning something like “(but) more than (this)…”, emphasizing the need for the disciples actively and intentionally to seek God’s Kingdom.

Jesus here does not indicate what God’s Kingdom is (i.e., what it consists of or involves), only what it is not. It is not made up of material goods or earthly things, nor is it centered upon acquiring such things, even when they may be necessary for sustaining and protecting life.

Following verse 31, the Lukan author includes an additional Kingdom-saying that is not part of the “Q” block (at least as it is found in Matthew):

“(So) do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father thinks (it) good to give to you the Kingdom!” (v. 32)

In addition to being given the necessities of daily life, if Jesus’ disciples seek the Father’s Kingdom, He will give them the Kingdom as well! This idea is related to the traditional motif of the righteous (or believers) inheriting the Kingdom (Matt 25:34; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal 5:21). There may also be present here the connotation of Jesus’ disciples being entrusted with the Kingdom, which could relate, not simply to future/eternal blessing for believers, but also to the Christian mission itself—viz., establishing and extending the Kingdom on earth through the proclamation of the Gospel. The Kingdom, in this regard, has been given to believers, who thus play a pivotal role in its coming.

If 12:31f emphasizes what the Kingdom is not, the parables in 13:18-19 and 20-21 give us some idea about what the Kingdom is. These two parables are also part of the “Q” tradition, being found also in Matthew (13:31-33). The Matthean Gospel sets them in the same literary context (chap. 13) as the Synoptic/Markan Kingdom-parables (Mk 4:1-34); Luke also includes some of this Markan material (8:4-15). In the case of the mustard-seed parable, it would seem that it was preserved in both the Synoptic/Markan (Mk 4:30-32) and “Q” lines of tradition. The same parable is also found in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (§20).

The emphasis in both of these Kingdom-parables is on the growth and spread of the Kingdom. There is a slow, but natural process to this growth, and ultimately the spread is extensive and pervasive. In the first parable (vv. 18-19), “a man” sows a tiny mustard-seed into his garden. Based upon the parallel of the Sower-parable in Mark 4:3-9ff (par Lk 8:4-8ff), the “seed” may be interpreted as the word of God, understood in terms of the Gospel, while “the man” who sows it is the person proclaiming the Gospel—whether Jesus or (by extension) his disciples. Based on the literary context of 10:1-12ff, the Lukan author surely would have had the mission of the disciples (i.e., the early Christian mission) in mind. Over time, and as a result of its natural growth, the seed grows into a great tree with many inhabitants, much like the spread of early Christianity throughout the Greco-Roman world.

The second parable (of the leaven, vv. 20-21) makes a similar point, emphasizing how the proclamation of the Gospel does its work even when “mixed together” with other ingredients (flour, etc). In this sense, the growth and spread of the Kingdom occurs in a quiet, ‘hidden’ sort of way, which often cannot be perceived until the leavening/fermenting has taken place. Here, the effect of the Kingdom (and the early Christian mission) on society is being illustrated, something which the Lukan author also narrates, as part of his account, in the book of Acts. For another version of the leaven parable, cf. the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (§96).

The missionary figure in the first parable was “a man”, while in the second parable it was “a woman”. I do not think that this distinction is entirely coincidental. It seems likely that the Lukan author would have intended, in a subtle but significant way, to emphasize the role of female disciples of Jesus, and their work in the early Christian mission. Apart from the notice in 8:1-3 (note the context of the Kingdom-parable in 8:4-9ff), the author gives emblematic prominence to the figure of Mary (1:38ff; 2:19, 51; Acts 1:14), and clearly highlights, however quietly, in the Acts narratives the significant role women play (1:14; 2:17; 9:36ff; 16:13-15; 18:18, 26; 21:9).

Following these two parables, the author presents another short block of teaching by Jesus (vv. 22-30), framed as a distinct narrative episode during the Journey, and governed by the “narrow door” teaching in vv. 24ff. It contains two Kingdom-references (vv. 28-29), which clearly allude, within the Lukan context, to the early Christian mission throughout the Greco-Roman world. People will come from east and west, north and south, enter the Kingdom of God, joining in the feast held at God’s table (v. 29).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 102 (Part 1)

Psalm 102

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsa (vv. 1-2, 18-29 [1, 17-28]); 4QPsb (vv. 5, 10-29 [4, 9-28])

This Psalm is an extended lament, in the manner of others that we have studied thus far. Verses 2-12 represent the lament proper, in which the Psalmist-protagonist prays to YHWH for deliverance from his suffering. By describing his affliction in rather colorful and graphic language, it is hoped that YHWH will be moved to act on his behalf. The language suggests that the protagonist is suffering from a physical illness or sickness, serious enough to raise the possibility that it could lead to death. Many Psalms of lament seem to be characterized by a similar dramatic setting.

However, the motifs of illness and suffering can be applied to other poetic-narrative contexts as well, as we see here in the second stanza (vv. 13-23), where the protagonist’s suffering mirrors that of the people (and land) as a whole. Just as the Psalmist endures affliction stemming from the anger of YHWH, so the Israelite/Judean people have suffered under God’s Judgment. The reference to the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Zion) indicates an exilic (or post-exilic) date for this Psalm. The stanza conveys a sense of hope that restoration is possible, and may soon occur. In the first portion, the Psalmist expresses his trust in YHWH, framed within a hymn of praise, emphasizing at several points, the Kingship of YHWH—a theme that dominated the collection of Pss 93-100 (recently discussed). By emphasizing YHWH’s Kingship, there is an implicit expression of hope and expectation that the Israelite/Judean kingdom, centered at Jerusalem, will be restored.

These two thematic aspects—the individual deliverance of the protagonist, and the restoration of the people—are blended together in the final section (vv. 24-29). In the midst of this expression of hope for the people’s restoration, the Psalmist’s own petition for healing/deliverance is couched.

The Psalm was presumably composed during the exilic (or early post-exilic) period, though the lament-portion (vv. 2-12 + 24-25 [?]) could represent an adaptation of an earlier, existing psalm. However, it is equally possible that the lament was composed following the pattern of other examples in the genre.

The meter of Psalm 102 is irregular, though a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format tends to dominate. The heading simply designates the Psalm as a prayer/petition (hL*p!T=) of an oppressed (yn]u*) person, perhaps with the understanding that it could be recited by people on occasions of suffering and affliction. The adjective yn]u* (“pressed down, oppressed”) occurs frequently in the Psalms, and can function as a descriptive attribute of the righteous. The full heading is translated: “A prayer (belonging) to (one who is) oppressed, when he is languishing [or ‘perishing’, vb [f^u* II], and pours out (his) speech [j^yc!] before (the) face of YHWH”.

This relatively lengthy Psalms is preserved nearly complete between the two Qumran manuscripts 11QPsa and 4QPsb. There are a number of minor variant readings, compared with the MT, mainly in the latter manuscript (4QPsb).

First Stanza: Verses 2-12 [1-11]

Verse 2 [1]

“O YHWH, may you hear my prayer,
and my cry for help, may it come to you!”

In this initial couplet (3+3) of the lament, the Psalmist invokes YHWH, making his plea before him. As in the heading, the noun hL*p!T= (“prayer, petition, supplication”), the common term for the lamenting person’s plea to YHWH, is used. It is paired with the rarer noun hu*w+v^, which also occurs on a number of occasions in the Psalms (18:7[6]; 34:16[15]; 39:13[12]; 40:2[1]; 145:19), denoting a cry (for help).

Verse 3 [2]

“Do not hide your face from me
on (the) day of distress for me!
Stretch (out) to me your ear
on (the) day I call!
Hurry (and) answer me!”

What normally, according to the metrical pattern, would be a pair of 3+3 couplets, has here been expanded (for dramatic effect) into a 3+3 couplet followed by a 3+2 couplet and an additional (climactic) 2-beat line.

The couplets are in parallel, the essence of which is summarized in the final line—the Psalmist is calling on YHWH, with a sense of urgency (vb rh^m*, “hurry, hasten”), to answer his prayer. This is expressed by two regular, traditional idioms: (i) “do not hide [vb rt^s*] your face”, and (ii) “stretch out your ear”. The first idiom emphasizes that YHWH should not turn away from his plea, and the second, correspondingly, that He should turn (His ear) toward the plea (i.e., hear and answer it). The urgency of the prayer is indicated by the parallel second lines, establishing that the prayer is being made in a time (“day”) of distress (rx^), and that it is at this time, out of his distress, that the Psalmist “calls” to YHWH.

Verse 4 [3]

“For my days come to an end in smoke,
and my limbs are roasted like a burning (oven)!”

The descriptive lament begins here in verse 4. The protagonist can feel his life (potentially) coming to an end, in the midst of his distress. The language in these verses is suggestive of an intense physical suffering, presumably as the result of an illness or sickness. In the first line, he declares that the “days” of his life are “coming to an end”. The verb hl*K* (I) has the basic meaning “complete”, sometimes being applied to the end of a person’s life; in English idiom, we might say that a person’s life  (or strength) is “spent”. More indirectly, the same verb can connote the failing of a person’s strength/health, in the midst of sickness, etc, as one’s life approaches its end.

The intensity of the protagonist’s suffering means his “days” are coming to an end with burning (i.e., pain, etc). The image of “smoke” conveys this motif of a burning fire, but also suggests the brevity and transitory nature of human life—it vanishes like smoke. Dahood (III, p. 11) suggests that the preposition B= (on /v*u*B=, “in smoke”) has comparative force, paralleling the use of K= (“like”) in the second line; and thus the phrase should be read “come to an end like smoke”, or “…(quicker) than smoke”.

The burning-motif continues in the second line, as the protagonist expresses that he feels his ‘limbs’ roasting (vb rr^j*, Niphal passive-reflexive stem) like they were in a “burning” (dq^om) oven. The noun <x#u# properly denotes the strength in one’s limbs, sometimes referring specifically to the bone(s), cf. verse 6 below.

Verse 5 [4]

“Struck like the grass, so has dried up my heart—
indeed, I wither away from (the) devouring (heat)!”

The burning-motif from v. 4 continues here, with the idea that the protagonist has been “struck” (vb hk*n`, Hophal stem) by the sun’s heat, and, like the grass, burns up and withers away. Indeed, he declares that his heart has “withered” (lit., dried up, vb vb^y`) in the heat of his suffering. The allusion to the sun striking him anticipates the idea of his illness being brought about by God (in His anger), v. 11.

The initial yK! particle in the second line is emphatic. I follow Dahood (III, p. 11f), along with several other commentators, in treating the verb form yT!j=k^v* as belonging to a root jkv (II), separate from jkv I (“forget”), and cognate with Ugaritic ¾kµ, denoting the wilting/withering of something in the face of heat. Other occurrences have been posited for Psalm 31:13[12]; 59:12[11]; 77:10[9]; 137:5b; cf. HALOT, p. 1490-1. The “devouring” (verbal noun [infinitive] from lk^a*, “eat”) refers to the burning fire (with its heat) that seems to consume the Psalmist.

With Dahood (III, p. 12), I also transfer the final word of v. 5 to the beginning of v. 6 (see below). However, if one were to follow the MT, then the verse would presumably be read as follows:

“My heart was struck like the grass, and dried up,
(so) that I forgot about eating my bread.”

Cf. Job 33:20-21.

Verse 6 [5]

“(Tongue to) my jaws, from (the) voice of my groaning,
(so also) stick my bone(s) to my skin.”

I tentatively follow Dahood (III, p. 12) in reading ymjl (at the end of v. 5) as a (dual) form of yj!l= (“jaw[s]”), and include the word as part of the first line of v. 6. This yields the proper length (3-beats) for the first line, which I takes as employing the same imagery as in Psalm 22:16[15]—the Psalmist’s tongue “sticks” (vb qb^D*) to his jaws. According to this proposal, the verb qbd does double duty in verse 6: just as the Psalmist’s tongue sticks to his jaws, so also his bones (<x#u#, translated “limb[s]” in v. 4b) stick to his skin (cf. Ps 22:15[14]). Both of these are the result of the Psalmist’s suffering—the burning heat that dries him up, and the constant groaning he makes in the midst of such affliction.

The MT, as it stands, is an irregular 2+3 couplet:

“From (the) voice of my groaning
stick (even) my bone(s) to my skin.”

Verse 7 [6]

“I may be likened to (the) owl of (the) outback,
I have become like a desert owl of (the) dry-lands.”

The birds designated by the terms ta^q* and soK cannot be identified with certainty; presumably one or more kind of desert owl is being referenced. The desert image here brings together from prior verses the motifs of burning heat and being dried up. It also captures the Psalmist’s feeling of being alone and desolate in his suffering.

Verse 8 [7]

“I stay awake, and become like a little bird,
(chirp)ing alone on (the) rooftop.”

The bird-imagery from verse 7 continues here, along with the profound feeling of being alone. In his suffering, the protagonist remains awake (the verb dq^v* properly means “watch”). The image of a bird perched on the rooftop may allude to the idea that the Psalmist is unable to lay down and sleep. The noun roPx! denotes a chirping bird, which here is probably meant to echo the idea of constant groaning/sighing (noun hj*n`a& in v. 6). The verb dd^B* in line 2 specifically expresses being “separate” (i.e., alone).

Verse 9 [8]

“All the day (long), (those) hostile to me taunt me,
(and those) deriding me are sworn against me.”

This verse introduces a common theme of the lament-Psalms—namely, how the protagonist’s suffering is compounded by the ridicule and scorn he endures from other people (esp. his adversaries). Here, it is emphasized that he faces such derision “all the day (long)”. Emphasis is also made by the parallelism in the couplet, given with chiastic variation:

    • those hostile to me
      • taunt me
      • those deriding me
    • are sworn against me

The verb [r^j* I means “treat with scorn”, with the act of taunting or mocking being highlighted. Similarly, the verb ll^h* III (Poel stem) means “deride, mock, cause (someone) to look foolish”. The hostility of the Psalmist’s adversaries (line 1) is paralleled by the idea that they are his sworn enemies, utilizing the common (but somewhat difficult to translate) verb ub^v* (Niphal stem); this is the regular verb for swearing an oath.

Verse 10 [9]

“Ashes, indeed, like bread I have eaten;
and my drink with dripping (tears) I mix.”

The image of “ashes” echoes once again the burning and dried-up motifs from earlier in the lament, though here it brings out a different aspect of the Psalmist’s suffering. He is unable to enjoy his food; in fact, so pervasive is his suffering, that he feels like he is eating the ashes (of the hearth/oven, cf. verse 4), and ends up drinking the tears (from his weeping) along with his wine, etc. The idiom of eating/drinking tears is known from Old Testament (and Canaanite) tradition, see Psalm 42:4[3]; 80:6[5], but the idea of eating ashes is more unusual (cf. Isa 44:20).

Verse 11 [10]

“From (the) face of your anger and your rage,
see (how) you lift me (up) and throw me (down)!”

Here, at last, the Psalmist associates his suffering with the angry judgment of YHWH upon him. There is no admission of sin or guilt, only a recognition that it is the anger of YHWH that has brought about his affliction, which here is described in terms of being ‘thrown up and down’. Two different terms are used to express the idea of God’s anger. The first is <u^z~ which often refers to a expression of anger through speech—such as an angry denunciation, or even a curse. The second noun is [x#q#, which captures the idea of a burning anger (or rage), rather close in sense to words such as hm*j@ and /orj* which properly denote a hot or “burning” anger.

The initial yK! particle of the second line should be treated as emphatic; here I render it as “see (how)…!”

Verse 12 [11]

“My days (are) like a shadow stretched out,
and I, like (the) grass, am (now) dried up.”

Motifs from earlier in the lament are picked up here at the close. The idea of the Psalmist’s life (his “days”) extending like a shadow echoes the idiom of his “days” coming to an end “in smoke” (v. 4). In verse 5, the Psalmist compared himself to the grass that is dried up (vb vb^y`) and withers under the heat of the sun; the same imagery is used again here. As we have seen, the motifs of burning heat and being dried-up occur variously throughout the lament.

The second stanza (vv. 13-23) will be examined in next week’s study.

References marked “Dahood, I”, “Dahood, II” and “Dahood, III” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968), and Psalms III: 101-150, vol. 17A (1970).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 1)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings

Having examined the Synoptic “son of man” references in the Gospel of Mark (see Parts 1, 2, 3, 4), we now turn to the references in the so-called “Q” material. The designation “Q” derives from the German quelle, meaning “source” —that is, the “Q” material is source-material, used by the Gospel writers. In particular, it refers to material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark. According to the most common and widespread theory regarding the relationship between the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke made use of the Gospel of Mark (as a source), but also a separate collection of material (the so-called “Q”). Many commentators assume that “Q” existed as a distinct written document, but the actual evidence for this is sketchy at best. Some portions of the “Q” material are so close in wording, between Matthew and Luke, that a common written source does seem likely; the Temptation scene (Matt 4:1-11 / Lk 4:1-13), or the episode involving the messengers from John the Baptist (Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35), are good examples of this. On the other hand, there are occasionally significant differences, which could represent differences in the source material; the portions common to the Matthean ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ are notable examples.

It seems best to define “Q” in the broadest possible terms—simply as a designation for the material shared by Matthew and Luke, but which is not present in Mark. This could represent a single source of tradition, or multiple sources, as the case may be. To the extent that “Q” does involve a single and/or distinct collection of material, it can be regarded as the product of a distinctive line of tradition, perhaps even stemming from a particular early Christian Community. Some reference will be made to the possible contours of such a “Q” Tradition.

In considering the “son of man” sayings of Jesus in this “Q” material, it will be necessary to compare them with the Synoptic/Markan sayings. If the occurrences of the expression “the son of man” (Grk o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) ultimately derive from its usage by the historical Jesus, then we would expect the “Q” sayings to be comparable, in their focus and emphasis, to the Markan sayings. By contrast, if the sayings have been created or shaped extensively within the Gospel Tradition by early Christians (including the Gospel writers), then it is reasonable that the use of the expression may reflect different religious, theological, and Christological emphases.

Luke 6:22

Some commentators have theorized that the Sermon on the Mount/Plain—that is, the common material between Matthew and Luke—beginning with the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-23ff; Matt 5:2-12), represented the opening section of “Q” (considered as a coherent written work, see above). If so, then the occurrence of the expression “the son of man” in the Lukan Beatitudes (v. 22) is significant. Even though the expression occurs here only in Luke, it is instructive with regard to how the Gospel writers understood the expression. The fourth (and final) Lukan Beatitude reads as follows:

“Happy/blessed [maka/rioi] are you when men should hate you, and when they should mark you off from (others), and should disparage and throw out your name as evil, on account of the son of man…”

The corresponding Beatitude in Matthew (the ninth, but similarly the final one) has a somewhat simpler (and more generalized) form:

“Happy/blessed [maka/rioi] are you when they should disparage you, and pursue [i.e. persecute] you, and say all (kinds of) evil against you, on account of me…” (5:11)

The differences have been explained variously, as Lukan adaptation, Matthean adaptation, some combination of both, or from differences in the (“Q”) source material used by each Gospel. Most significant, from the standpoint of our study, is the concluding phrase in each verse. Matthew has Jesus say “on account of me” (e%neken e)mou=), while Luke’s version reads “on account of the son of man” (e%neken tou= ui(ou= tou= anqrw/pou). It has been argued that, since Matthew uses the expression “the son of man” so frequently, if it were present in “Q” at this point, the author would not have changed it to the pronoun; it would be more likely, then, that the Lukan author substituted “the son of man” for “me” (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 635). Another possibility is that the variation stems from differences in the “Q” source-material, inherited by Matthew and Luke, respectively; on this, cf. Betz, p. 581, who suggests that “the son of man” was present here in the “Q” material of the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ which the Lukan author received.

The most significant point to note is that the expression “the son of man” is clearly regarded as a self-reference by Jesus, more or less equivalent to the first person pronoun (“me”). This is the case, whether Luke substituted the expression for the pronoun, Matthew the pronoun for the expression, or a substitution was made earlier within the “Q” line of tradition.

Another point of emphasis in this saying is the importance of the disciple confessing his/her trust in Jesus, along with the eschatological implications of this confession. As we shall see, this is a thematic feature of several other “Q” sayings where the expression “the son of man” occurs.

Luke 7:34 / Matt 11:19

At the close of the episode involving the messengers from John the Baptist (Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35), we find a “son of man” reference. Within the block of traditional material that comprises this episode, the final verses (vv. 31-35 par) represent a distinct tradition-unit. The episode as a whole deals with two important, related, themes: (1) Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, and (2) the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. These are themes firmly rooted in the early strands of the Gospel Tradition, and this episode is a key representation of them.

The comparison between John the Baptist, a prophetic forerunner of the Messiah, and Jesus himself, extends to the public’s reaction to each of them. Both were misunderstood, taunted, and regarded in a negative light by many people. Jesus presents this in a colorful rhetorical fashion, beginning with a question: “To what, then, shall I liken the men of this genea/, and what are they like?” (v. 31 par). Then he gives a proverbial illustration (v. 32) regarding the people’s reaction, indicating how they expected their prophets to respond to their superficial whims. If they play a happy tune, they expect people to dance, but if they play a mournful dirge, they expect people to be sorrowful. Neither John nor Jesus could satisfy the whims of the people; John was criticized for his ascetic abstinence (v. 33), while Jesus was criticized for his willingness to join with the common people eating and drinking (v. 34). In the end, the truth of God’s Wisdom, manifest in the Messianic prophet-figures of John and Jesus, will win out, being proven right (v. 35). God’s Wisdom transcends the vicissitudes of human thoughts and attitudes.

Again, as in Luke 6:22 (see above), Jesus refers to himself by the expression “the son of man”:

“For Yohanan the Dunker has come not eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say ‘he holds a daimon!’;
(meanwhile) the son of man has come eating and drinking, and you say ‘see! a man (who is) an eater and wine-drinker! a friend of toll-collectors and sinners!'” (vv. 33-34)

Clearly, this another use of the expression as a self-reference, such as we saw repeatedly in the Markan sayings. As he compares himself alongside John the Baptist, he uses this particular third-person form of expression, which, as we have discussed, is perhaps best understood as “this son of man”, i.e., this person, namely himself. Is there any other significance here to the expression? Three different thematic aspects of the “Q” pericope could be considered relevant:

    • Jesus’ identification with the human condition, viz., by eating and drinking together with the common people.
    • The implied theme of Jesus’ suffering, as reflected by an emphasis, in vv. 31-35 par, on the public’s negative reaction to him.
    • Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, which is the principal (and framing) theme of the entire episode (v. 19ff par).

We will keep these possibilities in mind as we continue through the “Q” sayings.

Luke 9:58 / Matt 8:20

This “Q” saying is one of a pair illustrating the cost involved in following Jesus. Matthew includes these (8:18-21) within the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, set not all that long after the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7). By contrast, Luke sets the pair of sayings (along with a third), 9:57-62, at the beginning of the period of Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:31). The Lukan setting is more coherent to the narrative, since the discipleship theme is central to his framing of the Journey. In particular, these sayings immediately precede the mission of the seventy(-two) disciples (10:1-12ff).

In each of the two illustrative encounters, a prospective disciple expresses his wish to follow Jesus, but is perhaps unprepared for the self-sacrifice that is involved. In the first of the pair (in Matthew), a devoted scribe/scholar tells Jesus “…I will come on the path with you, where ever you might go off (to)” (v. 19). Jesus responds to him with the following saying:

“The foxes have holes (to lurk in), and the birds of heaven ‘tents’ (to dwell in), but the son of man does not have (any)where he might recline his head!” (v. 20)

The Lukan version of this saying (9:58) is identical. Again, the expression “the son of man” is clearly a self-reference by Jesus, since he is responding to the man’s wish to follow him (“I will come on the path with you…”). By saying “the son of man does not have (any)where…”, he really means “I do not have (any)where…”. In identifying with the human condition, he is particularly emphasizing the experience of suffering and hardship. Yet it is also a hardship that is distinctive to the itinerant ministry of Jesus, which permits him (quite often) to have no regular or permanent dwelling-place. The idea of being without a home extends, conceptually, to include a willingness to cut-off all family ties for the sake of following Jesus. The second saying (Matt 8:22; Lk 9:60), famously, brings this across— “Leave the dead to bury their own dead!” —as does the third saying in the Lukan triad (9:62).

In Part 2 of this article, we will examine the tradition regarding the “insult (or ‘blasphemy’) against the Holy Spirit”, of which there is both a Markan (3:28-29, par Matt 12:31) and a “Q” version (Matt 12:32 / Luke 12:10).

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28 (1981).
Those marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount, Hermeneia Commmentary series (Fortress Press: 1995).

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Lk 11:2, cont.)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
(Luke 11:2)

In the previous study, we began exploring the literary context of the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (and its Kingdom-petition). An important aspect of the Lukan handling of the Kingdom-theme is the way that the Gospel writer shifts the emphasis from Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom to the proclamation by the disciples. As we saw, the two mission-episodes (9:1-6; 10:1-12ff) play a central role in the framework of the Lukan narrative. The first of these episodes, which is part of the Synoptic tradition (Mk 6:7-13 par), comes toward the end of the Galilean period, while the second (the mission of the seventy[-two]), which is unique to Luke, occurs at the beginning of the Journey to Jerusalem.

The mission of the seventy(-two) disciples, sent out by Jesus as a continuation of his own mission, serves to frame the entire Journey narrative. The journey to Jerusalem has an important place in the Synoptic narrative; however, its role is transitional, serving primarily to join the Galilean and Jerusalem sections of the narrative. In Mark, the journey is essentially limited to chapter 10. However, by contrast, in Luke’s Gospel, the Journey covers more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31), thus forming a major division of the narrative in its own right. For the Lukan author, the Journey becomes the setting for a wide range of traditional material—sayings, teachings, and parables of Jesus—some of which occur in an entirely different location in the Synoptic/Markan narrative (or in Matthew). The arrangement of the material is primarily literary, rather than historical and chronological.

Given the emphasis on the disciples’ proclamation of the Kingdom, it is only natural that Jesus would take time to teach his disciples about the Kingdom. And, indeed, there are a number of Kingdom-teachings that can be found throughout the Journey narrative, as Jesus prepares his disciples for what will take place in Jerusalem. This teaching, in light of the framing episode of the disciples’ mission (10:1-12ff), also anticipates the early Christian mission narrated in the book of Acts. As we shall see, the Lukan author interprets the coming of the Kingdom largely in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Lord’s Prayer (11:2-4) represents the first Kingdom-teaching of the Journey narrative, following closely as it does after the mission episode (10:1-20). It is part of a block of teaching (11:1-13) by Jesus regarding prayer. I have discussed this section previously in the Monday Notes on Prayer feature, and will not repeat that exegesis here. The Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer is also part of a section on prayer (6:5-15), but in a very different location and narrative context.

It is worth considering the components of the Lukan block, isolating the elements and individual traditions according to the following outline:

    • Narrative Introduction, with a request by the disciples (v. 1)
    • The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 2-4)
    • A Parable illustrating the need for boldness in prayer (vv. 5-8)
    • Two additional sayings on prayer [Q material] (vv. 9-13):

The two sayings in vv. 9-13 follow the same order in Matthew (7:7-11), indicating that they were joined together at an early point in the tradition, perhaps having been originally spoken together (at the same time) by Jesus himself. The differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions of these sayings are relatively minor, except for the Lukan reference to the Holy Spirit (v. 13), the significance of which will be addressed below.

As for the Lord’s Prayer itself, the Lukan version (vv. 2-4) is noticeably shorter than the Matthean version (6:9-13), as also the version in the Didache (8:2), which is likely dependent on Matthew. The Lukan version has five petitions (governed by verbal imperatives), while the Matthew/Didache version has seven. Luke’s version also has a shorter invocation—simply “Father!” (vocative Pa/ter). As the phrase o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$ (“[who is] in the heavens”) is distinctive to the Gospel of Matthew, it is assumed by many commentators that the phrase here in the Prayer is a Matthean addition, and that Luke has the more original form.

The genitive pronoun h(mw=n (“our”) is far more likely to be original, since addressing God as “our Father” appears to have been common among Jews at the time—a usage that was continued by early Christians. It is found in the New Testament only in Paul’s letters, but as a fixed formula that would scarcely have been original to Paul (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 2 Thess 1:1-2; 2:16; Philem 3; also Eph 1:2). Even so, if the modifying pronoun was originally part of the invocation in the Prayer, it is not at all clear why Luke would have omitted it (especially considering the wording present in verse 13).

The reference to God as Father has an added significance within the Lukan context of the Prayer. Indeed, the theme of God as Father is central to second “Q” saying (vv. 11-13 par), which here concludes the block of Jesus’ teaching on Prayer. The illustration involves a human father’s relationship to his child, and how a loving father will give “good gifts” to his child when the child asks for them. Jesus’ application of this illustration involves the rhetorical qal wahomer (“light and heavy”) principle—viz., what applies in a lesser case should apply all the more in a greater case. What is true (in a positive sense) of a human father will certainly be true in the case of God as our Father. The Matthean version of the saying (7:11), which is no doubt closer to the original, brings out the parallel:

“If, then, you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring [i.e. children], how much more will the Father in the heavens give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him!”

The “good (thing)s” (a)gaqa/) would correspond to the third petition in the Lukan Lord’s Prayer (v. 3), and to the last three petitions (vv. 3-4) generally. Interestingly, Luke has apparently modified Jesus’ saying, so that it provides, instead, a climactic reference to the Holy Spirit:

“…how much more will the Father out of heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him!” (v. 13)

Otherwise, Luke’s version of the saying is close to the Matthean; the latter may have adapted “out of heaven” ([o(] e)c ou)ranou=) to the more distinctively Matthean “in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). It is not entirely clear whether the phrase e)c ou)ranou= (“out of heaven”), as Luke presents it in context, refers to the location from which God responds, or whether it means specifically that God will send the Spirit “from heaven”. The latter interpretation would anticipate the sending of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:2ff).

This reference to the Spirit has profound implications for the Lukan understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, and the Kingdom-petition in particular. In light of the way that the motif of God as Father frames the pericope, it is likely that the climactic reference to the Spirit functions in a similar manner. If there is a parallel, it is to be found in the first two petitions of the Prayer:

    • “May your name be made holy”
      a(giasqh/tw to\ o)noma/ sou
    • “May your Kingdom come”
      e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

The formal pattern of these two petitions indicates how close in thought and conception they are: i.e., the coming of His Kingdom is parallel to the making holy of His name. In Old Testament and Israelite religious tradition, the name of God represents God Himself—His manifest presence, character, power, and authority. A particular application of the name—for example, as it is called upon the people of Israel, or the Temple in Jerusalem—implies that the person (or thing) over whom God’s name is called belongs to Him. There is thus a conceptual relationship between God’s name and His kingdom—His name represents His dominion, all that belongs to Him, and which is under His authority.

There is a similar parallel between God’s name being made holy (vb a(gia/zw) and His kingdom coming (vb e&rxomai). The establishment of God’s kingdom (on earth) means that His dominion will be made complete and will be treated (by human beings on earth) with the honor and sanctity that it deserves.

The leading motif of “making holy” (in the first petition) guides the thought of the entire Prayer. Consider how the five petitions may be structured and outlined:

    • Petitions 1 and 2, regarding God and His Kingdom
      • Petition 3, regarding the earthly needs of human beings
    • Petitions 4 and 5, regarding the deliverance of human beings from the dominion of sin and evil

From an eschatological standpoint, the coming of God’s Kingdom marks the end of the wicked/evil kingdom(s) which dominate the current Age. The deliverance of human beings (spec. the righteous) is a natural consequence of the coming of God’s Kingdom upon earth at the end-time.

While Luke certainly preserves the eschatological aspect of the Kingdom theme, he expands the interpretation of it, particularly in light of the early Christian mission (see the discussion above). Here, the idea of the coming of the Kingdom blends with the theme of the coming of the Spirit. Given the climactic position of the Spirit-reference in verse 13, and the intentional Lukan adaptation of the underlying tradition, there can be little real doubt that the Gospel writer is implicitly interpreting the Kingdom petition in light of the coming of the Spirit.

We will be discussing this interpretive development in greater detail as we proceed; however, it is worth noting here a provocative variant reading of the Kingdom-petition in verse 2. In at least one minuscule manuscript (700), instead of e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou (“May your kingdom come”), the text reads:

e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$
“May your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”

The reading in manuscript 162 is similar; and a comparable reading is known to have been extant in Greek manuscripts in the 4th-5th centuries, as attested from quotations by Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus Confessor. Even earlier, Tertullian conceivably could be alluding to a Spirit-petition present in texts of Lk 11:2 (cf. Against Marcion IV.26), though this is not certain. It has been explained as a gloss, perhaps deriving from liturgical tradition, that inadvertently crept into the text. Cf. UBS/Metzger, p. 130f, who cites a similar prayer-petition from the Greek Acts of Thomas §27.

Whatever the origin of this variant reading, I would maintain that, at least in terms of the implicit identification of God’s Kingdom with the Holy Spirit, it corresponds with the Lukan interpretation. To be more precise, from a Lukan theological standpoint, there are two main components of the Kingdom as it begins to be established through the early Christian mission: (1) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (2) the coming of the Spirit. This understanding of the Kingdom is established at the beginning of the book of Acts (1:3-5, 6-8), and then is expounded throughout the remaining narrative.

References above marked “UBS/Metzer” are to Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament [4th revised edition] (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft / United Bible Societies, 1994).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 101

Psalm 101

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsa (vv. 1-8)

Following the set of Psalms (93-100) dealing with the theme of YHWH as King, this composition (a romz+m! attributed to David) returns to a situational framework found frequently in the prior Psalms. The protagonist presents himself before YHWH, affirming his devotion, loyalty, and upright conduct. There is both a judicial and ritual aspect to this protestation of innocence. It also draws upon Wisdom-tradition in its juxtaposition of the righteous and the wicked.

Many commentators would see the protagonist as a royal figure (viz., the Israelite/Judean king), who presents himself as a faithful servant of YHWH. This affirmation of covenant-loyalty means that YHWH is expected to fulfill His covenant obligation of providing protection and blessing. Many Psalms evince a royal background, and it is likely that Psalm 101 preserves something of this background. The king represents the people before YHWH, and this understanding would seem to be reflected in the final section of the Psalm (vv. 6-8).

I have theorized that a good number of Psalms have undergone a certain development, whereby an original royal background/setting has been adapted to a more general communal worship setting. The king as protagonist serves as a template for the more general figure of the righteous Israelite. The righteous/faithful Psalmist, like the king in the (earlier) royal theology, represents the people before God. The Wisdom-traditions, which seem to influence this development as they are applied to the Psalm, further emphasize this communal aspect. The Psalmist is one of the righteous/faithful, and thus represents the people of God.

There would seem to be a relatively simple three-part structure to Psalm 101:

    • An opening section (vv. 1-2), in which the Psalmist calls upon YHWH, affirming his righteousness and loyalty.
    • The Psalmist then presents evidence for his faithfulness, on an individual basis (vv. 3-5)
    • The same is then done on a communal basis (vv. 6-8), whereby the protagonist represents the people and identifies with the faithful ones among them.

This Psalm presumably dates from sometime in the pre-exilic (monarchic) period, at least in its earliest form. The apparent Wisdom influence, however, could also reflect subsequent development and adaptation, as noted above.

Metrically, the Psalm tends to follow a 3+2 couplet format.

It is interesting to note that Psalm 101 is preserved largely intact in the Qumran manuscript 11QPsa. Though this manuscript is fragmentary throughout, all 8 verses of the Psalm are present, requiring very limited restoration. This is a relatively unusual situation for the Psalms in the Qumran MSS. The text of Ps 101 matches the MT, except for one small variant.

Verse 1

“(Of your) goodness and justice I will sing,
to you, O YHWH, will I make music!”

In typical fashion, the Psalmist’s invocation to YHWH has a musical focus, his address taking the form of a musical composition sung to YHWH; the verbs ryv! (“sing”) and rm^z` (“make music”) are in parallel. The noun pair ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) and fP*v=m! (“judgment, justice”) establishes both the covenantal and judicial aspects of the Psalmist’s address. The noun ds#j# regularly connotes “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”, particularly in a covenantal context, such as is almost always the case in the Psalms. YHWH’s faithfulness to the covenant means that He will act to protect and bless the servant who is similarly loyal.

Verse 2a

“I perform with skill in (your) way complete—
when will you come to me?”

The final line enhances the sense of the Psalmist’s invocation; he quite literally is calling on YHWH to come to him. There is a certain impatience implied by the question. Given the Psalmist’s righteous conduct and devotion to the covenant, it is expected that YHWH will respond favorably, with blessing and protection.

Use of the verb lk^c* effectively blends together the idea of the Psalmist’s musical talent and his upright/faithful conduct (in the religious and moral sphere). The verb can indicate that a person acts with wisdom and insight, but also that he/she is able to perform a certain task or art with skill; indeed, the verb in the Hiphil stem (as it occurs here) occasionally refers specifically to the artful/skillful playing of music.

The preposition B= prefixed to the noun Er#D# is also somewhat ambiguous, and may contain a dual meaning here. It can continue the sense from verse 1, that the Psalmist is singing “of/about” God’s way (of truth and devotion, etc); at the same time, it anticipates the idea (in v. 2b) of the righteous person walking “in” the way of God. In this regard, the adjective <ym!T* (“complete”) connotes the idea of personal integrity, specifically in terms of faithfulness/loyalty to the covenant.

Verse 2b

“I walk about in (the) completeness of my heart,
in (the) inmost part of my house.”

Just as the Psalmist sings of the righteous way of YHWH, in its completeness (adj. <ym!T*), so he also “walks about” in/on that same path. The verb El^h* (“walk”), especially in the reflexive (Hithpael) stem, is frequently used as an idiom for a person’s habitual, characteristic behavior—in an ethical-religious sense (e.g., Psalm 1:1; 15:2; 26:1, 3, 11, and many other examples). It occurs in the specific context of obedience to the Torah precepts and regulations (Psalm 119:1ff, etc). The noun <T) (“completeness”) is related to the adjective <ym!T* (also <T*), referring to the integrity and upright conduct of a person.

Upright conduct is a result of the inner condition of one’s heart. The motif of walking about in the center (br#q#, “near[est], inner[most] part”) of one’s “house” could be seen as an idiom parallel to the idea in line 1, of the integrity (“completeness”) of the person’s heart. However, the “house” can also represent a person’s daily life and (habitual) conduct.

Verse 3

“I do not (ever) set in front of my eyes
an object of worthlessness;
(the) making of perverse (thing)s I do hate,
and it will not cling (up)on me!”

As noted above, in verses 3-5, the protagonist presents the case for his faithfulness, in terms of his personal integrity. As an individual, he affirms his loyalty to YHWH, offering evidence on an ethical and religious basis. Here in verse 3, he references two things, in particular, which he detests and always tries to avoid:

    • “an object of worthlessness” (lu*Y`l!B= rb^D=)
    • “making of perverse (thing)s” (<yf!s@ hc)u&)

While both of these expressions could refer to wickedness and immorality generally, they allude specifically to the veneration of deities other than YHWH and, in particular, to the images (idols) of such deities. The plural noun <yf!s@, which occurs only here in the Old Testament, is presumably derived from the root fWs as a byform of fWc (cf. also hf*c*), “turn/run away (from)”. In this polemical context, the noun presumably refers to something “deviant” or “perverse”, and to activity which has moved far away from the path of God.

The avoidance of images (of deity) and the refusal to venerate (in any way) deities other than YHWH are fundamental characteristics of the person who is faithful to the covenant.

Verse 4

“A crooked heart also turns away from me,
(and) an evil (person) I will not know.”

Not only does the protagonist avoid what is perverse, his righteous heart and conduct also makes it so that a “crooked” (vQ@u!) person will avoid him. The crooked/twisted heart of such a person clearly contrasts with the complete heart of the righteous. A person with such a crooked heart is, at his/her core, “evil” (ur^). The Psalmist avoids such people, and does not wish even to know them; the idiom of “knowing” here (expressed by the verb ud^y`) implies a certain closeness and familiarity, comparable to the use of the verb qb^D* (“cling/cleave [to]”) in v. 3.

Verse 5

“(The one) wagging tongue in secret (on) his companion,
him I would reduce to silence;
(the one) high of eyes and wide of heart,
him I am not able (to endure)!”

The Psalmist’s attitude to the wicked, introduced in verse 4, is developed here. The two couplets express two different kinds of wicked conduct, and the Psalmist’s opposition to them. The first involves using the tongue (vb /v^l*, denominative from /ovl*, “tongue”, cf. Prov 30:10) in a decidedly negative or derogatory sense, i.e., slandering, ‘backbiting’, etc. Such a person speaks “in secret” against his neighbor or would-be companion (u^r@), and the Psalmist would “reduce to silence” (vb tm^x*) all such ‘tongue-waggers’; the verb tm^x* can carry the more dramatic sense of “destroy, exterminate”. There may be a bit of subtle (contrastive) wordplay here between the adjective ur^ (“evil [person]”) from v. 4 and the noun u^r@ II (“companion”).

The second couplet describes a certain characteristic attitude and bearing of the wicked: being “high of eyes” and “wide of heart”. Both of these expressions refer to a certain negative kind of pride—haughtiness, arrogance, etc. The Psalmist insists that he is not able (vb lk)y`) to endure such people. Dahood’s emendation (or revocalization) of the MT (III, p. 5) is interesting, but unconvincing; he would parse lka as a Piel imperfect form of the verb hl*K* (“finish [off]”), viz., “I finished him (off)”.

Verse 6

My eyes are on (the one)s of (the) land firm (in faith),
(wishing them) to sit along with me;
(the one) walking in (the) way (that is) complete,
he (it is who) will serve me.”

While the eyes of the wicked are raised high in self-pride (v. 5), the Psalmist’s eyes are focused on others—the community of faithful ones throughout the land. The root /ma, denoting being firm, is frequently used in the sense of faithfulness, loyalty, devotion, etc, especially in the context of the covenant. The passive (Niphal) stem of the verb /m^a* here carries the idea of a person being trustworthy; as a substantive (participle), it represents a fundamental characteristic of the righteous—viz., that they are faithful to YHWH. The same idea is expressed in the second couplet by the traditional idiom of “walking in the way” of God (cf. verse 2b above).

The Psalmist desires to keep company with such people (and not with the wicked). He would have them “sit alongside” him, implying table fellowship, and that they would be the ones who would serve him. This imagery, including the use of the verb tr^v* (“serve, attend to”), certainly suggests that it is the king’s table being referenced. Even if the Psalm originally stems from a royal background and setting (see the introduction above), where the protagonist is the king, faithful to YHWH, this imagery could easily be applied to the righteous person generally. The righteous person, like the king, represents the the people as a whole—and, in particular, is to be identified with the faithful ones among the people.

Verse 7

“(But) he shall not sit in (the) inmost part of my house,
(the one) acting (with) deceit;
(the one) speaking false (word)s
shall have no firm place in front of my eyes!”

The contrast between the righteous and the wicked continues here. While the protagonist would have other faithful ones sitting at the table with him, he will not allow untrustworthy and deceitful persons to sit with him in his house. The same expression “(the) innermost part of (the) house” was used in verse 2b (see above). The deceitfulness of the wicked is in stark contrast to the trustworthiness of the righteous (cf. the use of the verb /m^a* in v. 6).

The couplets of v. 7 are best treated as a chiastic unit, with a 3+2+2+3 meter (reflected in the translation above). The two inner lines are parallel, expressing the deceitfulness of the wicked. In the first of these lines, the verb hc^u* (“make, do”, translated as “act”) is used with the noun hY`m!r= (“deceit,” sometimes with the more forceful connotation of “treachery”). The implication is that such persons have deceitful intent, pretending to be faithful/loyal, but actually plotting treachery—an aspect of meaning which has greater impact in a royal context. Their wicked intent is demonstrated by the fact that they speak false words, again under the pretense of being loyal (to YHWH, the king, and to the faithful ones as a whole).

There is a bit of conceptual wordplay in the final line, as the verb /WK has a meaning similar to /m^a* (used in v. 6); both verbs essentially mean “be firm”. The righteous prove themselves to be firm (i.e., loyal and faithful), while the wicked have shown themselves to be untrustworthy, and thus are to have no “firm (or fixed) place” before the king (or before the righteous). The wicked are like the “worthless thing” that the protagonist will not allow to be placed before his eyes (v. 3).

Verse 8

“At the break of day I will make silent all (the) wicked of (the) land,
to cut off from (the) city of YHWH
all (those) making trouble!”

In this final couplet (or tricolon), the protagonist expresses his intention to “reduce to silence” (vb tm^x*, also used in verse 5a [see above]) all the wicked of the land. As noted above, this verb can have the more forceful connotation of “destroy, exterminate”. Its use is limited largely to the Psalms (11 of 14 occurrences), cf. most recently in 94:23; possibly the range of meaning (“make silent” vs. “destroy, wipe out”) reflects two distinct tmx roots (see HALOT, p. 1036).

I prefer to see the plural <yr!q*B= (“daybreaks”, i.e., “mornings”) as an intensive plural; the initial prepositional expression would thus be rendered, with dramatic effect, as “at daybreak…”, marking the decisive moment when the righteous (king) will eliminate (and silence) the wicked. The symbolism is appropriate, since night represents the time when the wicked would naturally flourish; by contrast, the coming of light (to dispel the darkness) at the break of day represents the elimination of wickedness.

The “land” inhabited by the faithful/righteous ones is also expressed as the “city” of YHWH—i.e., the place where God’s people, those loyal to the covenant, will dwell. The wicked will be “cut off” (vb tr^K*) from this place. The royal background of this Psalm, evident most strongly in vv. 6-8, would naturally include, as part of its royal theology, the motif of Jerusalem (as the “city of God”).

In the final line, the wicked are further described, rather bluntly, as “(those) making trouble” (/w#a* yl@u&P), a traditional expression that occurs with some frequency in the Psalms (5:6[5]; 6:9[8]; 14:4; 28:3; 36:13[12]; 53:5[4]; 59:3[2]; 64:3[2]; 92:8, 10; 94:4, etc). This brings out the social-justice aspect of the Psalm, in keeping with the royal background. A faithful king will strive to remove wickedness from his realm, resulting in a stable and secure social order. This duty is all the more important when, as is emphasized here in the Psalm, the king is himself a faithful servant of YHWH, obligated to walk (and rule) according to the Torah and the way of God.

References marked “Dahood, I”, “Dahood, II” and “Dahood, III” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968), and Psalms III: 101-150, vol. 17A (1970).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 100

Psalm 100

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsb (vv. 1-2)

This is the final Psalm of the collection Pss 93-100, all of which deal with the central theme of the Kingship of YHWH. Various thematic links from the Psalms of this collection converge in the brief hymn of praise that comprises Psalm 100. These links have been analyzed thoroughly by Howard in his study (pp. 105-65).

There is a simple three-part structure to Psalm 100, being composed of three tricola. The first and third tricola (vv. 1-2, 4) have a common 3-beat (3+3+3) meter, while the second (central) tricolon (v. 3) has an extended/expanded meter (4+4+3). Verse 3 may be considered as a bridge between the two praise strophes of vv. 1-2 and 4. This bridge-verse describes the reason for praising YHWH, emphasizing His relationship (as God) to His people (Israel). The praise strophes deal with two key themes found elsewhere in the collection: (1) the universality of YHWH’s Kingship, which demands that all people everywhere (indeed, even all of creation) worship Him; and (2) the (ritual) praise that is expected of His people, focused on the Temple in Jerusalem. The final couplet (v. 5) serves as a concluding doxology, both for Psalm 100 and the collection as a whole.

As with other Psalms in this collection, a pre-exilic date (in the monarchic period) seems likely, though it is impossible to be any more precise than this. Parallels (in Pss 93-100) to the Deutero-Isaian poems suggest a late pre-exilic time-frame. Both the Temple-setting and the Kingship theme are fully compatible with the Judean royal theology of the monarchic period. The Psalm itself may have been part of ritual worship in the Temple from early times, or, at least, draws upon such traditions.

Psalms 98 and 100 are the only Psalms of the collection which contain a heading, simply designating the work as musical composition (romz+m!). Psalm 100 adds the detail that it is “for confession” (hd*otl=), i.e., a confession of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Verses 1-2

“Make a shout to YHWH, all the earth!
May you serve YHWH with gladness!
Come before His face with a ringing cry!”

The Psalms of this collection (93-100) typically begin with a call to worship, often emphasizing the universality of YHWH’s Kingship. His Rule extends over all the earth, and so all peoples and nations—even all of creation itself—are to give Him praise. See, for example, this theme highlighted in the prior studies on Psalm 98 (vv. 4-6ff) and 99 (vv. 1-2). The call for “all the earth” to shout (vb u^Wr) praise to God closely resembles the call in 98:4 (see also 96:1, 11; 97:1). Within the collection, the verb uWr occurs in 95:1-2 and 98:4, 6. The noun hn`n`r= is quite rare, but the verb /n~r* is quite frequent in the Psalms (e.g., 95:1; 96:12; 98:4, 8) and the later Prophetic poetry. Both verbs uwr and /nr denote the giving of a ringing shout or cry (viz., of praise).

Verse 3

“Know that YHWH, He (is the) Mightiest!
He made us, and (it is) to Him we (belong),
(we) His people and flock of His pasture.”

The central tricolon of the Psalm gives the principal reason for praising YHWH. This is indicated in line 1: He is the Mightiest (One) [<yh!l)a$]—that is, the greatest of all gods (“mighty [one]s”, <yh!l)a$), the Sovereign over all other divine/heavenly beings. This theological declaration refers to the universal aspect of YHWH’s kingship (emphasized in vv. 1-2), alluding to the Prophetic promise that eventually all peoples will recognize and worship YHWH as their God. However, it also relates to the emphasis in the third tricolon (v. 4), focusing on the worship to be given to YHWH by Israel—He is their God (“Mighty [One]”, <yh!l)a$), and they His people.

Indeed, this covenant-emphasis, occurring so frequently in the Psalms, is specified in lines 2 and 3, using traditional language and imagery. The declaration in line 2, that YHWH “made” Israel, alludes to His role as Creator, but also to the way that he formed Israel, as a distinct nation and people, when He brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. This same language occurs, notably, in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:6ff).

The Kethib of the Masoretic Text reads “and not [al)w+] we”, which gives a contrastive emphasis to the line: “He (it is who) made us, and not we (ourselves)”. However, the Qere indicates that, instead of the negative particle al), the text should correctly be read as ol (“to/for him”)—the preposition l= and the third person singular suffix. Along with other commentators (e.g., Howard, p. 92; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 492), I follow the Qere. For a different way of understanding the text, see Dahood II, p. 371f.

The third line builds upon the point made in the second line—namely, that Israel is YHWH’s chosen people (“[we are] His people”), i.e., “we (belong) to Him”. This is central to the covenant-bond that informs the Israelite religious-cultural identity. The pronoun Wnj=n~a& (“we”) could be treated as part of either the second or third line; we may also regard it as doing double-duty, serving as a kind of join between the two lines:

“(belong) to Him we

Wnj=n~a&

we (are) His people”

It is also possible that the pronoun occurred in both lines, as attested, apparently, by the LXX (Codex A). If the pronouns occurred in sequence, at the end of the second line and also the beginning of third, then the loss of one could easily be explained as a scribal error (haplography). Adding to the attractiveness of this hypothesis is the fact that restoring a second pronoun results in a more consistent (4-beat, 4+4+4) meter for the verse. Cf. the discussion in Howard, p. 95.

The motif of YHWH as a shepherd to Israel, with the people thus as His flock of sheep (/ax)), occurs frequently in Old Testament tradition. This includes numerous examples in the Psalms—28:9; 44:12[11], 23[22]; 68:11[10]; 74:1; 77:21[20]; 78:52, 71; 79:13; 80:2[1]; 95:7; 119:176, and the entirety of Psalm 23. This shepherd-motif connotes the care and guidance that YHWH provides for His people; indeed, both of these aspects are embedded in the the image of the tyu!rm!—literally, a place for grazing/feeding the sheep, translated typically (and here, for poetic concision) as “pasture”. The shepherd guides the flock to a place where they may graze, and guiding them to such place demonstrates the shepherd’s concern to nurture and care for his flock.

Verse 4

“Come (into) His gates with praise,
and in His enclosures with joyful song!
Give praise to Him and bless His name!”

The final tricolon, like the first (vv. 1-2, above), has a 3+3+3 meter. Both strophes express a call to praise YHWH; however, while the first strophe had a universal orientation (“all the earth”), the focus in this third strophe is on the worship given to YHWH by His people Israel. As noted above, this shift occurs in the second tricolon (lines 2&3). The call to worship here in verse 4 assumes a ritual setting in the Jerusalem Temple. Both the “gates” (ru^v^, plur.) and the “enclosures” (rx@j*, plur.), i.e., courtyards, are traditional allusions to the Temple precincts and its Jerusalem locale (Zion). This strophe may reflect an actual ritual procession when the Psalm itself would have been sung.

The regular nouns hd*oT (line 1) and hL*h!T= (line 2) have similar meaning—the former refers to a confession (vb hd*y` II), viz., of praise or thanksgiving (to God), while the latter (vb ll^h* II) indicates the giving forth of a bright and joyous song. The same verbal root (hd*y`) from line 1 also occurs in line 3. One is called on both to praise YHWH and to bless (vb Er^B*) Him—indicating two distinct, but related, aspects of worship. To bless the name of God essentially means the same as blessing Him; on the significance of names and naming in ancient Near Eastern thought, see the introduction to my earlier series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. The reference here may allude to the specific tradition of YHWH’s name residing in the Jerusalem Temple; this is most prominent in the Deuteronomic writings (Deut 12:5, 11, 21; 14:23-24, et al.), as, for example, throughout Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8, vv. 16-20, 29, 33, 35, 42-44, 48)—on which, cf. my recent series of notes.

Verse 5

“For good (is) YHWH—
His loyalty to (the) distant (future),
and His firmness unto cycle and cycle!”

The final couplet forms a concluding doxology—both for Psalm 100, and the collection (93-100) as a whole. The 4+3 meter of this couplet is difficult to capture in translation, though it can be approximated somewhat by a more conventional rendering:

“For good (is) YHWH—His loyalty (lasts) forever,
and His firmness to generation and generation!”

The implicit theme of the second half of the Psalm (vv. 3b-4)—namely, the covenant bond between YHWH and His people—is emphasized also here in the final couplet. The terms ds#j# and hn`Wma$ (or the related tm#a#), paired with some frequency in the Psalms (e.g., 36:6[5]; 40:11-12[10-11]; 57:4[3], 11[10]; 69:14[13]; 85:11[10]; 86:15; 88:12[11]; 89:2-3[1-2], 15[14], 29[28], 34[33]; 92:3; 98:3, etc), are part of this covenant-context. The noun ds#j# properly means “goodness, kindness”, but, in such a context as we find here, connotes “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. As for hn`Wma$, it means “firmness”, but often in the sense of “faithfulness”. The adjective bof (“good”) similarly here connotes “faithful, loyal”.

This loyalty of YHWH effectively lasts forever—He Himself will never violate the binding agreement (covenant) with His people. This abiding, durative aspect of YHWH’s faithfulness is expressed by two regular idioms: <l*oul= (“into [the] distant [future]”), and rd)w+ rD)-du^ (“unto cycle and cycle”). The noun <l*ou can refer to either the distant past or the distant future; here it clearly refers to the future. The expression rd)w+ rD) (lit., “circle and circle”, or “cycle and cycle”) indicates both continuity and perpetuity—that is, as each cycle (rD)) of time passes, and, with it, each circle (rD)) of people (i.e., ‘generation’) living during that period. YHWH will remain loyal, over time, to each generation of His people.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 4)

The Climactic Sayings of Mark 13:26 and 14:62

Of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, most relate in some way to the human suffering of Jesus—and, particularly, to the suffering and death (viz., his Passion) which he would experience in Jerusalem. This is the focus of the three Synoptic Passion-predictions by Jesus (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f), but also clearly applies to the other occurrences of the expression in 9:9, 12; 10:45, and 14:21, 41. As I discussed (in Parts 2 and 3), the expression “the son of man” in these sayings, in addition to serving as a self-reference by Jesus, likely alludes to the poetic use of the expression in the Old Testament. The relevant references, given previously in the Introduction, are: Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:5[4]; 80:18[17]; 144:3 ; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43. In this poetic usage, the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (once vona$ /B#), “son of man”, is paired with “man” (<d*a*, vona$, vya! or rb#G#), as a way of referring to humankind or a human being generally (Psalm 146:3; cf. Part 1 on the sayings in Mk 2:10, 28), often emphasizing the limitation and weakness of the human condition.

In Mark 8:38, is the expression “the son of man” used in a rather different context—implying an eschatological judgment setting, as well as an exalted position for Jesus in heaven (alongside God the Father). This same emphasis features, even more prominently, in 13:26 and 14:62. These two sayings represent the climactic “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, and both are particularly important (and distinctive) in the way that they allude to the heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13-14.

I have discussed this Scripture passage in prior articles, as a supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and, more recently, in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. These articles can be consulted for discussion on the context and interpretation of Dan 7:13f. The relevant portion of the prophetic vision begins:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

The Aramaic vn`a$ rB^, corresponding to the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (or vona$ /B#), here simply refers to the human appearance (“like a son of man”, i.e., like a human being) of the heavenly figure in the vision. The human appearance of this figure is in marked contrast to the beasts elsewhere in the vision. Those beasts symbolize wicked/corrupt earthly power (i.e., kings and their kingdoms), while this “(one) like a son of man” represents heavenly power (and a corresponding king/kingdom). Indeed, the figure comes “with the clouds of the Heaven(s)”, drawing upon ancient storm-theophany imagery, such as is applied to YHWH in numerous Scriptural poems; for the motif of God coming/riding on the clouds, see Psalm 18:10-13; 104:3ff; Isa 19:1; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:4ff; Nah 1:3b.

This heavenly figure, with human appearance, approaches the throne of YHWH:

“…(he) was coming, and unto (the) Ancient of Days he approached, and they brought him near in front of Him.”

This heavenly figure is then given an everlasting Kingdom, with authority over all peoples and nations on earth (v. 14).

Mark 13:26

The “son of man” saying in Mark 13:26 is part of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (chap. 13 par), coming at a climactic point in the Discourse. The narrative setting for this collection of eschatological teaching is significant, preceding as it does the Passion Narrative (chaps. 14-15). It strongly indicates that there is a profound eschatological significance to Jesus’ suffering and death; indeed, his suffering/death may be said to mark the beginning of the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Dan 12:1 LXX]). Note, for example, the implications of Jesus’ wording in 14:38, 41 (cf. especially the Lukan formulation in 22:53b). This period of distress represents the “birth pains” of the New Age (Mk 13:8 par); and Jesus, in the Discourse, describes the things which will occur before the end (of the current Age), from three vantage points: (a) the nations and people on earth generally (vv. 5-8), (b) his disciples (vv. 9-13), and (c) the people of Jerusalem and Judea (vv. 14-23).

Following the period of distress, with all its attendant travail and suffering, the end will be ushered in (vv. 24-27) by the appearance of “the son of man” from heaven:

“And then they shall see the son of man coming on (the) clouds, with much power and splendor.” (v. 26)

The wording clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13, even though the scenario has a different orientation. In the Daniel 7 vision, the “(one) like a son of man” is coming on the clouds toward God, in heaven. By contrast, here in Mk 13:26 par,  the “son of man” is coming on the clouds to earth, to gather up the righteous (v. 27) and to usher in the end-time Judgment (implied by vv. 24-25). Yet the eschatological context for both references is essentially the same: they refer to the establishment of a Divine/heavenly kingdom, entailing the judgment of the nations, the destruction of the wicked, and the exaltation/reward of the righteous (cf. Dan 7:14, 23-27). The framing of this scenario within the Eschatological Discourse owes much to the conclusion of the book of Daniel (12:1-4ff).

Of all of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, the occurrence of the expression in 13:26 could most plausibly be interpreted as referring to a heavenly being separate from Jesus himself. Indeed, a number of commentators have explained the saying, at least in its original form (as spoken by Jesus), in precisely this way. This interpretative approach was mentioned previously, in connection with the saying in 8:38; however, here it is rather more plausible. From the standpoint of Jesus’ first hearers, it is by no means obvious that he is referring to himself by the expression “the son of man”. Nothing in the Gospel, up to this point, suggests that Jesus has been using the expression with Daniel 7:13 in mind.

Early Christians, of course, reading the passage with Christological hindsight, could understand verse 26 perfectly well as a reference to the future return of Jesus, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven; but what sense would this have made to Jesus’ own disciples (or to others) at the time? Admittedly, the reference is somewhat problematic, if viewed as an authentic saying by Jesus, with “the son of man” as a self-reference. And yet, the expression is clearly used as a self-reference everywhere else in the Gospel—Jesus refers to himself as “th(is) son of man”, i.e., this person (namely, myself). It must be regarded so here as well, both from Jesus’ own standpoint (as speaker), and from the standpoint of the early Gospel Tradition.

What, then, are we to make of its usage here by Jesus? Before proceeding to give an answer, let us first examine the final “son of man” saying.

Mark 14:62

The saying in Mark 14:62 par occurs at the climax of the Sanhedrin interrogation scene (vv. 53-65), a key episode within the Passion narrative. In the Markan version, the high priest asks Jesus:

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (v. 61)

Jesus responds with bold affirmation (“I am”), and then adds:

“…and you shall see the son of man being seated at (the) right-hand of the power (of God), and coming with the clouds of the heaven!” (v. 62)

Again, the expression “the son of man” functions as a self-reference—i.e., “you shall see th(is) son of man…”, “you shall see me…”. At the same time, however, there is a definite allusion (even more clear than in 13:26) to Dan 7:13f, where the expression “(one) like a son of man” occurs. Here, certainly, Jesus’ use of the expression as a self-reference, identifying himself with the human conditions, dovetails with the expression from Dan 7:13; not only does he identify with the human condition (on earth), but also with exalted position of the human-like figure in heaven. That is to say, Jesus here is identifying himself with the heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13ff, the one who receives the kingdom and rule over all humankind. In this exalted position, he is also associated specifically with the “holy ones” among God’s people, just as the “son of man” in 13:26f comes with the holy angels (from heaven) and then gathers together the holy ones (righteous/believers) on earth (cp. Dan 7:27; 12:1-3).

There are a number of critical interpretative questions surrounding 14:62 par, not the least of which involve the small but significant differences in detail between the three Synoptic versions.

In Matthew, for example, the question by the high priest (26:63) is phrased so that it more closely mirrors the confession by Peter (16:16; cp. Mk 8:29); indeed, the two are virtually identical:

You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God.”
su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= tou= zw=nto$

“…I would require an oath of you…(to say)
if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God!”
ei) su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=

Otherwise, the Matthean version of Jesus’ response (26:64) closely follows Mark. The Gospel writer gives Jesus’ initial affirmation an ironic twist; instead of the bold Markan “I am”, Jesus points back to the high priest’s own question (mirroring Peter’s confession): “You (have) said (it) [su\ ei@pa$]”. Matthew expands the beginning of the remainder of the response, but the core of it is essentially identical with Mark’s version. The two notable points of difference are: (1) it is introduced by the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti (“from now [on]”), and (2) the preposition e)pi/ is used rather than meta/, i.e., “…coming upon [e)pi/] the clouds of heaven”. The difference in preposition is minor, corresponding to the same difference between the LXX (e)pi/) and Theodotion (meta/) Greek versions of Dan 7:13 (the Aramaic preposition [<u!] is better rendered by the meta/ in Theodotion and Mark). As for the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti, which matches the corresponding a)p’ tou= nu=n (“from now”) in Luke’s version (22:69), it serves to position more clearly the “son of man” saying in relation to the impending death of Jesus. After his death (and resurrection), “from now on”, Jesus will have an exalted position (at God’s right hand) in heaven.

In both of the “son of man” sayings under investigation here, Luke’s version either eliminates or downplays the association with Daniel 7:13-14. In the saying corresponding to Mark 14:62 par, the Daniel allusion is omitted altogether, leaving only an implicit reference to Psalm 110:1 (i.e., Jesus at God’s right hand):

“But, from now (on), you shall see the son of man sitting at (the) right-hand of the power of God!” (22:69)

In 21:27 (corresponding to Mk 13:26 par), the wording is altered slightly, possibly to bring out the parallel with Jesus’ ascension (in Acts 1:9-11). Just as Jesus is taken up (to heaven) in a cloud (singular), so he will return (from heaven) in/on a cloud (again, singular). The plural “clouds” brings out more clearly than in Luke’s version an allusion to Daniel 7:13f (cf. above).

The main point of reference, as Luke’s version of the climactic saying (22:69 [Mk 14:62]) so clearly highlights, is the exaltation of Jesus to heaven, following his death and resurrection, where he will have an exalted place at God’s right hand. While evidence for the influence of Dan 7:13f on the earliest Christian understanding of Jesus’ exaltation is extremely slight, the motif of his position at “the right hand of God” (Ps 110:1) was a frequent and widespread component of the Christological portrait—[Mk 16:19]; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. In Acts 7:55-56, the Lukan author essentially records the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in 22:69. Even though it is Stephen, a believer, who sees the exalted Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God, this occurs (based on the narrative context) as part of an interrogation before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), mirroring the Gospel account of Jesus’ own interrogation before the Council.

Thus, the principal point of the “son of man” saying in Mark 14:62 par is not the (future) return of Jesus from heaven, but his exaltation to heaven; indeed, this orientation matches the the setting of the Daniel passage. How, then, did this aspect of Dan 7:13f, applied to Jesus’ exaltation, become applied to the idea of his future return (in Mk 13:26 par)? For early Christians, considering the matter after Jesus’ resurrection (and departure/ascension), this would have been an obvious extension—viz., Jesus’ exaltation would naturally be followed by his (imminent) return to earth at the end-time Judgment (cf. Revelation 1:7).

But could this same usage reasonably be attributed to Jesus himself, speaking to his disciples during his earthly ministry? The literary context of Daniel 7:13-14 certainly assumes an eschatological framework. After the judgment of the nations (and their kingdoms), the kingdom bestowed upon the heavenly figure will be an eternal/everlasting dominion, ruling over all people on earth. There will never be another kingdom, implying that human history, as it had previously been known, has effectively come to an end. The human people of God (“holy ones”) will, in their own way, also rule over this kingdom—note the parallels in wording between vv. 14 and 27. Moreover, as has been noted previously, the thought, wording, and imagery of Dan 12:1-4ff had a tremendous influence on early Christian eschatology, and on the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, in particular. The heavenly figure “Michael” (v. 1) will appear at the end-time, in the midst of a period of great distress (qli/yi$, cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par), ushering in (it is implied) the end-time judgment, which also involves the salvation (and ultimate exaltation) of the righteous (vv. 2-3).

If Jesus identified himself with the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14, then it would not be surprising if he also saw himself essentially as fulfilling the role of “Michael” in 12:1ff—that is, the exalted heavenly being who will appear at the end-time to usher in the Judgment and bring salvation to the righteous (for more on this eschatological/Messianic figure-type, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Admittedly, presenting this portrait to his disciples prior to his death and resurrection would, almost certainly, have created a good deal of confusion. However, at least two possibilities should be considered in this regard. First, the eschatological “son of man” reference in Mk 13:26 par, with its allusion to Dan 7:13ff, could have been made (originally) in a vague or ambiguous manner, referring clearly to the end-time appearance of the heavenly redeemer-figure of Daniel 7ff, but not (yet) referring clearly to Jesus himself as that figure. Second, one must at least entertain the possibility that some of the eschatological sayings/teachings of Jesus could have been made after the resurrection, in which case, an eschatological “son of man” saying such as Mk 13:26 par would presumably have made more sense to Jesus’ disciples (cf. the context of Acts 1:9-11). The current position of the eschatological sayings in the Gospels is primarily topical, rather than historical/chronological. This can be seen by the way that such material is grouped together in distinct (literary) sections of the Gospels (including the “Eschatological Discourse” itself), and also by Matthew’s inclusion (in the Discourse) of eschatological (“Q”) material that occurs in an entirely different location/setting in Luke (cf. the discussion in Parts 2 and 3 of my earlier article on the “Eschatological Discourse”).

For the next article in this series, we will explore the “son of man” sayings and references that occur in the so-called “Q” material shared by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 99

Psalm 99

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsk (vv. 1-2, 5); 4QPsv (v. 1); 4QPsb (vv. 5-6)

Like other Psalms in the collection Pss 93-100, Psalm 99 praises YHWH as King. The universality of His Kingship is likewise emphasized. Other thematic links and common vocabulary are shared by these Psalms; in the case of Psalm 99, one may note, in particular, the connections with Psalms 97 (see the earlier study) and 98 (previous study). For a relatively detailed examination of these links, see the analysis by Howard, pp. 157-9, 161-2, 164-5.

This Psalm has a strophic structure, comprised of three strophes, each of which concludes with a declaration of YHWH’s holiness (“Holy [is] He!” in strophes 1 and 2). The strophes are similar in form, but are far from consistent in rhythm. Verses 6-7 represent an interlude, drawing upon Israelite history, and establish the thematic transition to the final strophe. The meter is irregular throughout, and it is impossible to say whether the Psalm, in an earlier form, had more consistent rhythm in its strophes.

As with other Psalms in this collection, a pre-exilic date (in the monarchic period) seems likely. As Howard notes (p. 192), the use of zu) as a substantive (Divine) title (“Strong/Mighty [One]”, v. 4) occurs in early poetry (Exod 15:2; cf. Psalm 29:1), which suggests the possibility that Psalm 99 was composed at a relatively earlier point (in the monarchic period) than others in the collection.

The Qumran manuscript 4QPsk includes a heading, which designates the Psalm as a “musical composition” (romz+m!), as in Psalm 98 MT; it also (probably) included the attribution dw]d*l= (“belonging to David”), as the the letter d can be read prior to romzm.

First Strophe: verses 1-3

Verse 1

“YHWH is king—let (the) peoples tremble!
Seated (upon the) kerû»s—let the earth stagger!”

The theme of YHWH’s kingship is established in this initial (4-beat, 4+4) couplet. Again, as in other Psalms of this collection (see above), YHWH is presented as King over all creation—all of the earth and its inhabitants. We find often, as here, a call for the nations to worship YHWH, acknowledging Him as King. There is a clear parallelism between each half-line:

    • “YHWH reigns as King [vb El^m*]”
    • “being seated (on the) kerubs”

The “kerubs” (plur. <yb!WrK=) refer to the winged creatures on the golden chest (ark) of the covenant, which was situated in the Temple sanctuary, functioning as the symbolic/ritual ‘throne’ of YHWH. Thus, even though He is King over the entire universe (ruling from heaven), he is also ‘enthroned’ on earth in the Temple sanctuary.

The response of humankind to YHWH’s Kingship is indicated in the second half-line:

    • “let (the) peoples quake/tremble [vb zg~r*]”
    • “let the earth wobble/stagger [vb fWn]”

All peoples everywhere—and even all of creation itself—should shake and tremble before YHWH as King. There may be an allusion here to the eschatological notion that the nations will come to Jerusalem (and the Temple) to pay homage to YHWH (cf. Micah 4:1-3 [par Isa 2:2-4], etc).

The verb fWn occurs only here in the Old Testament. It is doubtless similar in meaning to Ugaritic n‰‰ (ffn), “wobble, totter”; as Dahood (II, p. 368) notes, weak verbs that share the same two base consonants (in this case, fn) typically have a common/similar meaning.

Verse 2

“(Indeed,) YHWH in ‚iyyôn is great—
raised high (is) He over all (the) peoples!”

This second couplet (3-beat, 3+3) emphasizes the greatness and majesty of YHWH, as he reigns (as King) from His throne in Jerusalem (Zion). The verbs ld^G` (“be great”) and <Wr (“be high”) are used. The implicit idea in verse 1, of YHWH’s reign extending over all the nations (and peoples) of earth, is expressed more clearly here. I treat the initial w-conjunction in the second line as emphatic, and, for poetic concision, I have essentially transferred it to the start of the first line in my translation (above).

Verse 3

“Let them praise your name,
O Great and Fearsome (One)!
Holy (indeed is) He!”

Rhythmically, the initial couplet (v. 1) has four beats, the second (v. 2) three beats, and the third (v. 3) here 2 beats (2+2). The couplets thus increasingly narrow their focus, becoming terser and more direct. Here, the call (for all people) to praise YHWH is essentially repeated from v. 1. Praising the name of YHWH means praising YHWH Himself. However, there may be a specific allusion to the idea that YHWH is present in the Temple sanctuary particularly through His name. This is a key Deuteronomic theme (Deut 12:5ff; 26:2, etc), found extensively, for example, throughout Solomon’s prayer (at the Temple dedication) in 1 Kings 8 (vv. 16-20, 29, 33, 35, 42-44, 48), a passage which I have discussed in a recent series of notes.

The adjectives lodG` (“great”) and ar*on (“fearsome”, or “(to) be feared”) are best understood here as descriptive epithets of YHWH, though they could just as well be applied to His name (cf. Deut 28:58).

The strophe ends with the two-beat refrain, “Holy (is) He!” (aWh vodq*). In context, this declaration could also apply to YHWH’s name (i.e., “Holy it [is]!”).

Second Strophe: Verses 4-5

Verse 4a

“Indeed, (the) Strong (One is) King! He loves justice!
You make (it) firm (with) straight (judgment)s.”

The first couplet of the second strophe has, apparently, an irregular 4+3 meter (cp. 4+4 in strophe 1). The thematic focus is on the judgment rendered by YHWH as King (and thus, also as Judge). By His straight (i.e., fair, even) decisions, He establishes justice throughout. Here, the noun fP*v=m! means both “judgment” and “justice”. The sudden shift from third person (line 1) to second person (line 2) address may seem a bit strange and off-putting, but it is not all that uncommon in the Psalms.

I follow Howard (p. 85f) and other commentators in reading zu) (“strength”) as a Divine title (i.e., “Strong [One]”); the sense could be adverbial, i.e., the One who rules with strength. The initial w-conjunction of the first line, opening the strophe as it does, should be taken as emphatic.

Verse 4b

“Justice and righteousness in Ya’aqob
(indeed) you make (stand)!”

Again, this (second) couplet has irregular meter (3+2, cp. 3+3 in strophe 1). It follows upon the first (v. 4a), expounding the justice which YHWH, as King, “makes firm” on earth. In particular, He establishes justice (and righteousness) in Israel (“Jacob”), among His people. This refers to the covenant-bond between YHWH and Israel, and His faithfulness and loyalty to that bond.

It is conceivable that a word has dropped out from the second line of v. 4b, as the short line t*yc!u* hTa^ (“you do/make”) reads somewhat oddly. Unfortunately, the three fragmentary Qumran manuscripts which contain this Psalm do not preserve verse 4, so there is no way to confirm the MT at this point.

Verse 5

“Lift high YHWH our Mighty (One),
and bow before (the) stool of His feet!
Holy (indeed is) He!”

The third strophe is a 3-beat couplet (as in strophe 1), calling on people to give praise and worship to YHWH. Here, the focus is specifically on the people of Israel (cf. verse 4), who are to worship YHWH as their King and God. The motif of the “stool [<d)h&] for His feet” probably alludes to the Ark (as YHWH’s ‘throne’) located in the Temple sanctuary (see v. 1b, above). Thus, a Temple worship setting is implied, and could indicate a ritual (liturgical) setting for the Psalm.

Transitional Verses (6-7)

Verse 6a

“Moše and Aharon (were) among His priests,
and Šemû’el among (those) calling His name.”

These transitional verses refer, in a general and summary way, to Israelite religious history—in particular, to those priestly/prophetic leaders who served YHWH. Moses and Aaron (in the Exodus period) are paired with Samuel (period of the Judges).

Verse 6b

“(They were) calling to YHWH,
and He answered them.”

This short two-beat (2+2) couplet follows the three-beat (3+3) couplet of v. 6a. It summarizes the dynamic relationship between YHWH and the faithful priestly/prophetic leaders: they call to YHWH, and He answers them.

Verse 7

“In a standing (mass) of cloud He spoke to them;
they guarded His repeated (command)s,
and (the) engraved (law) He gave to them.”

This long prosaic couplet (4-beat, 4+4) I have extended in translation as three lines (4+2+2). It again summarizes the dynamic for the faithful ones of God’s people, in their covenantal relationship to YHWH. Moses and Samuel, as leaders, represent the people. Their faithfulness (and covenant loyalty) serve as the ideal pattern and example for the people to follow. YHWH gave His commands (i.e., the Torah regulations) to Moses (and thus to the people) out of the cloud. The faithful ones guarded (vb rm^v*) His commands, and took care to obey them. The noun qj) denotes something engraved or inscribed, usually in the sense of an authoritative, governing rule or statute; the term here alludes the theme of YHWH’s kingship.

I have translated the plural of hd*u@ according to its fundamental meaning of “something repeated”. YHWH’s commands are to be repeated, in terms of obedience to them (their fulfillment, etc), but also in the sense of repeating them (and their importance) for subsequent generations.

Third Strophe: Verses 8-9

Verse 8

“(Yes,) YHWH, our Mighty (One), you answered them—
a Mighty (One) lifting (guilt) you were for them,
and (as the) avenging (Most) High dealt with them.”

The historical setting established in the transitional vv. 6-7 (above) leads into the third (and final) strophe. The structure and rhythm differs from the the first two strophes, reflecting the prosaic (and didactic) tone of the transitional lines. Instead of a pair of couplets, we have here an irregular (4+3+3) tricolon. The first line picks up from verse 7.

The theme of YHWH’s Kingship has been translated into the idiom of the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. In this binding agreement, YHWH is the Sovereign, and the people His servants. They are obligated to serve Him faithfully, by following the terms of the agreement (i.e., the Torah precepts and regulations, v. 7). YHWH would respond to them based on whether or not they fulfilled their covenant obligations. If they fulfilled them faithfully, then YHWH would be a merciful and forgiving Sovereign, one who “lifts” (vb ac*n`) away sin and guilt, and who “lifts” His people, carrying them with His (Divine) protection and blessing. This is expressed in line 2.

However, if they were unfaithful and refused to follow the terms of the covenant, then YHWH would become an avenging (vb <q^n`) Ruler, dealing (root llu) with His people as their disobedience deserves. This negative side is the focus of line 3. I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 369), in treating lu as a Divine title (“High [One], [Most] High”); this establishes a clear parallel between the lines:

“Mighty [One] lifting…” | “High [One] avenging…”

The final word is problematic. The MT reads “their dealing”; in such a context, the noun hl*yl!a& usually has a decidedly negative connotation, i.e. “evil dealing” —that is, wicked/improper behavior and treatment of others. However, it is probably better to view the suffix here as reflecting a dative of (dis)advantage (cf. Dahood, II, p. 370), and with the noun retaining the verbal force of its root (with YHWH as the subject)—viz., “(His) dealing with them”, meaning God dealt with them harshly, as their disobedience deserved.

Verse 9

“Lift (up) high YHWH our Mighty (One),
and bow before (the) hill of His holiness!”
For Holy (indeed is) YHWH our Mighty (One)!”

The final couplet corresponds with that of the earlier two strophes; it is particularly close to the second strophe (see verse 5, above). Indeed, it is almost identical, only, instead of bowing down before the “stool of His feet”, the people are directed to bow before “the hill of His holiness” (i.e., His holy hill). The Temple ‘mount’ of Zion is certainly intended in both instances, referring to the location of the Temple and its sanctuary, where YHWH is ‘enthroned’ and reigns as King.

The final refrain is given in an expanded form. Instead of “Holy (is) He!”, we have the fuller phrase “Holy (is) YHWH our Mighty (One)!”. The longer phrase, with its honorific expansion, allows the Psalm to end on a dramatic, climactic note.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 3)

The Literary Setting of the Passion Predictions

The three Passion-predictions (see the discussion in Parts 1 and 2) provide a framework for the opening section of the second half of the Gospel narrative (the Judean/Jerusalem period). This opening section is centered on the journey of Jesus to Jesus to Jerusalem (covered by chapter 10 of Mark). The Passion-predictions are rather evenly divided within the section, marking the beginning, middle, and end. The second prediction marks the mid-point of the section, dividing it into two distinct parts. We may outline this as follows:

    • First Passion-Prediction (and the disciples’ reaction)—8:30-32
    • PART 1 (Preparation: Teaching the Disciples):
      • Teaching/sayings on Discipleship, with an eschatological theme (8:33-9:1)
      • The Transfiguration: Revelation to the Disciples (9:2-8)
      • Teaching the Disciples, with an eschatological theme (9:9-13)
      • Exorcism miracle episode, in the context of teaching the Disciples (9:14-29)
    • Second Passion-Prediction (and disciples’ reaction)—9:30-32
    • PART 2 (The Journey to Jerusalem):
      • Teaching his disciples: theme of ‘entering the Kingdom of God’ (9:33-50)
      • Teaching the crowds: focus on a discussion with Pharisees on a point of Law (10:1-12)
      • Teaching his disciples: theme of ‘entering the Kingdom of God’ (10:13-31)
    • Third Passion-Prediction (and disciples’ reaction)—10:32-34

The first part of this section centers on Jesus’ teaching his close disciples, in a manner that we may say is in preparation for the journey to Jerusalem. The Transfiguration episode effectively brings his Galilean ministry period to a close, and marks an end to his primary Messianic role during this period—as an Anointed Prophet, fulfilling the type-patterns of Moses and Elijah. Following this episode, Jesus once again alludes to his coming suffering and death (9:9-13). All of the teaching in this section has a strong eschatological emphasis, indicating quite clearly that his death and resurrection also has a profound eschatological significance (something many Christians today are unable or unwilling to recognize).

At verse 30, the narrative transitions into the second Passion-prediction, with an echo of Jesus’ earlier prohibition on revealing his identity as the Messiah (8:30):

“And from that (place), going out, they traveled along through the Galîl, and he did not wish that anyone should know (it)…”

Here, however, the sense of prohibition is rather different. Jesus simply wishes to avoid the crowds, keeping his presence hidden from the surrounding populace while he travels (south) through Galilee. The reason for avoiding any crowds is made clear in the opening words of verse 31:

“…for he taught his learners [i.e. disciples]”

Again, this echoes the context of the first Passion-prediction (“And he began to teach them…”). The teaching he was doing with his (close) disciples was of such importance, that Jesus wished to avoid attracting crowds around him that might distract from his work. And what is the subject, the focus of this teaching? It is the message of his coming suffering and death in Jerusalem. That the Passion-prediction fundamentally represents the substance of his teaching here is indicated by the wording of v. 31a:

“for he taught his learners [i.e. disciples] and said to them…”

What Jesus “said to them” is the Passion-prediction proper. As noted above, the statement of the prediction can be divided into two parts. The first predicts Jesus’ betrayal (an aspect of his Passion not specified in the first prediction), while the second restates the message of his coming death and resurrection.

The Other Son of Man Sayings

With this narrative framework in mind, we can examine the remaining “son of man” references in the Synoptic narrative, particularly those which are woven around the Passion-predictions that frame the narrative.

Mark 8:38

The first saying to be considered occurs in the first block of teaching (8:33-9:1) in the First Part (see the outline above). This block of material can be summarized as: Teaching/sayings on Discipleship, with an eschatological theme. There are at least three distinct traditions that comprise this unit: (i) verse 34b, (ii) verses 35-37, and (iii) verse 38. The last of these gives to the section a decided eschatological emphasis:

“For whoever would be ashamed over me and my words, in this adulterous and sinful genea/, the son of man also will be ashamed over him, when he should come in the splendor of his Father, (along) with the holy Messengers.”

It is understandable why some commentators have suggested that, originally in this saying (as well as several others), the “Son of man” was a heavenly being (cf. Dan 7:13-14) separate and distinct from Jesus himself. And, indeed, this saying is rather problematic (as an authentic saying by Jesus) if “son of man” is intended as a self-reference. Early Christians would have had no difficulty in understanding such a saying, in hindsight, as referring to the impending future return to earth of the exalted Christ. However, this point of reference would, it seems, have made little sense to Jesus’ disciples during the time of his ministry indicated by the position of this saying in the Gospel narrative.

The theory that Jesus was referring to someone else by the expression “the son of man” is undercut by the parallel saying in Matt 10:32-33:

“(So) then, everyone who will give account as one* with me in front of men, I also will give account as one with him in front of my Father th(at is) in [the] heavens.”
* The verb o(mologe/w, rendered more conventionally, agree with, acknowledge, affirm, confess (i.e., in agreement with others).

This saying is part of the “Q” material shared with Luke; the Lukan version (12:8-9), however, appears to conflate the “Q” and Markan versions, even though Luke also preserves the Synoptic/Markan saying separately (in 9:26). Verse 8 represents the “Q” version:

“Every one who would give account as one with me in front of men, also the son of man will give account as one with him in front of the Messengers of God”

A strong argument can be made that the Markan and “Q” sayings represent variations of a single tradition—and that argument becomes stronger if the Lukan formulation of the “Q” saying, using the expression “the son of man”, is the more original form. The parallelism of “me” / “son of man” suggests that the expression, again, is being used principally, if not exclusively, by Jesus as a self-reference. The Matthean version of the “Q” saying would tend to confirm this point.

What of the apparent inconcinnity (incongruity) of Jesus referring to his future coming in this way, at this point in the Gospel narrative? The problem may be resolved, to some extent, if Jesus was originally referring, not to a future return, but to his exaltation, after his death and resurrection. In his exalted position, he would be able to speak, before God the Father, regarding those who claimed to be his disciples. If they felt shame over him, or refused to acknowledge him publicly (“before men”), then he, too, would feel shame over them, and refuse to acknowledge them publicly (before God and the heavenly beings) as his disciples. A heavenly Judgment-scene is certainly intended.

There are additional such eschatological “son of man” references in Matthew and Luke (from the “Q” tradition, and otherwise), but this is the only one in the Synoptic/Markan narrative (apart from the key references in 13:26 and 14:62).

Mark 9:9, 12

There are two further “son of man” references in 9:9-13, a section with a similar emphasis as 8:33-9:1—viz., Jesus teaching the Disciples, with an eschatological theme (9:9-13). This unit follows immediately after the Transfiguration scene (9:2-8). The narrator indicates that Jesus warned his disciples not to reveal anything of what they had seen (v. 9), even as he did after Peter’s confession (8:30); this implies that the Transfiguration was a manifestation of Jesus’ Messianic identity (spec. a Messianic Prophet, fulfilling the type-figures of Elijah and Moses). The statement in verse 9 essentially repeats and summarizes the Passion-prediction of 8:31. Again, Jesus’ impending suffering and death (as “son of man”) is in marked contrast to the Messianic glory which was revealed about him in the Transfiguration.

The second “son of man” reference, in verse 12, is perhaps the closest example we have, in the Synoptic narrative, of the expression being used specifically as a reference to the Messiah. It occurs in the context of an eschatological question posed by the disciples, regarding the appearance of “Elijah” prior to the end of the Age: “(Why is it) that the writers say that ‘it is necessary (for) ‘Eliyyah to come first’?” (v. 11). Almost certainly, the tradition derived from Malachi 4:5-6, in the eschatological context of 3:1ff and 4:1ff, is in view. On this end-time figure of ‘Elijah’, as a Messianic Prophet, see Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. In the Transfiguration scene, and elsewhere in the early Gospel Tradition, Jesus is identified as this figure; and, yet, there is another line of early Christian tradition that clearly identifies John the Baptist as the ‘Elijah to come’. The Synoptic Gospels attest to both lines of tradition, with the identification of John as ‘Elijah’ being somewhat more prominent (cf. the allusion in v. 13).

More significance for our study here is the formulation of the “son of man” saying in verse 12. Jesus responds to the disciples, as he often does, by redirecting their question. Without denying the traditional eschatological belief expressed by their question, he positions it in a different way:

“‘Eliyyah, (hav)ing come first, will (indeed) set down all (thing)s from (what they were before) [i.e. restore them], and (yet) how is it (then) written about the son of man, that he should suffer many (thing)s and be made out as nothing?”

The expression “the son of man”, in the phrase “written about the son of man”, seems to be more or less equivalent to “the Anointed (one)” (i.e., the Messiah). However, the apparent equivalence may be misleading. Jesus’ wording may simply assume, as his disciples now realize, that he is the Messiah—the Divine Messenger of the end-time, who will usher in the Kingdom of God. The saying can be understood quite well if “the son of man” is, again, primarily regarded as a self-reference by Jesus; to paraphrase— “how is it then written about me, as the Messiah, that I should suffer many things…?”

In any case, as with the Passion predictions, it is Jesus’ human suffering that is being emphasized, in association with the expression “son of man”. He continues to teach his disciples, preparing them for the suffering that he is to endure in Jerusalem.

Mark 10:45

The same emphasis can be found in the “son of man” saying in Mark 10:45, occurring at the conclusion of an episode (vv. 35-45) set toward the end of the journey to Jerusalem (and after the third Passion-prediction [vv. 33-34]). Jesus’ teaching in verses 42-45, which may originally have circulated as separate sayings, stresses the need for humility and self-sacrifice among his disciples. They are to follow his own example, in this regard. Here the use of “the son of man” in verse 45 clearly functions as a self-reference:

“For even the son of man did not come to be served, but (rather) to serve, and to give himself as (the means of) loosing (from bondage), in exchange for many.”

In the narrative context, this saying certainly alludes, again, to Jesus’ impending suffering (and death) in Jerusalem. The phrase “to give himself…in exchange for many” indicates an act of self-sacrifice, as we also see in the wording of Jesus at the Last Supper (14:24 par). It is the first time in the Gospel narrative that Jesus’ death is described in salvific terms—referred to as a lu/tron, that is, the means of loosing (i.e., freeing, vb lu/w) someone from bondage. Jesus gives himself, sacrificially, “in exchange” for many others, in order to set them free.

Mark 14:21, 41

Finally, though they occur at a later point in the narrative—in the heart of the Passion narrative—the “son of man” references in Mark 14:21 and 41 obviously serve, for Jesus, as a self-reference, but one that is closely associated with his suffering and death. In a sense, these two references serve to frame the narrative of Jesus’ suffering (passion) prior to his arrest. The betrayal of Jesus, alluded to (by the verb paradi/dwmi) in the second and third Passion predictions, is the focus here, emphasized most dramatically in verse 21:

“(On the one hand, it is) that the son of man goes under just as it has been written about him; and (yet,) for that man, through whom the son of man is given along [paradi/dotai], (it would be) fine for him, that man, if he had not come to be (born)!”

As in 9:12 (see above), Jesus’ suffering is described as something foretold (prophesied) in the Scriptures. Following his agony in Gethsemane (vv. 32-41), the time of his betrayal finally comes, the moment that sets in motion the process leading to his death. The wording Jesus used to announce this, in verse 41, indicates that it is a moment of eschatological significance:

“It holds off (no longer)—the hour has come! See, the son of man is given into the hands of sinful (men)!”

This climactic declaration brings to fulfillment the “son of man” statements by Jesus dealing with the idea of his suffering (and death) as a “son of man”. As I have discussed, this usage likely alludes to the poetic tradition whereby the expression connotes the weakness and mortality of the human condition. At the same time, Jesus clearly is using it as a self reference: “this son man” —namely, himself.

In the fourth (and last) part of this article on the Synoptic (Markan) sayings, we will look at a seemingly quite different context for the expression “the son of man” —namely, the sayings in 13:26 and 14:62 par, with their reference to the exalted/heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14.