Saturday Series: 2 John 4-11 (continued)

2 John 4-11, continued

As mentioned in last week’s study, the author of 2 John (“the Elder”) frames his message in terms of the dual-theme of truth (al¢¡theia) and love (agáp¢). These are primary themes in the Johannine writings, occurring throughout the Gospel and First Letter . They are established here in the opening of 2 John (vv. 1-3), and then are subsequently developed/expounded in the body of the letter.

Of particular importance is the positioning of the truth-love thematic pair in relation to the keyword entol¢¡, another important Johannine term that is used throughout the Gospel and First letter. The noun entol¢¡ denotes a duty that is placed on a person, which he/she is then obligated to complete. It is often translated flatly as “command(ment)”, but this can be somewhat misleading, especially in the Johannine theological context. The term is introduced at the start of the body of the letter (v. 4), with particular reference being made to the entol¢¡ of believers loving one another. For more on how the author establishes this in vv. 4-5, see the discussion in the previous study.

In actuality, the author divides his message (vv. 4-11) in two parts, focusing first on the thematic component of love (vv. 4-6), and then on truth (vv. 7-9ff). The author of First John (if he is not the same person), does much the same thing, alternating between the themes of trust (pístis) and love in the body of his work:

In First John, it is clear that trust and love represent the two components of a single entol¢¡the great duty that all believers are required to fulfill. Indeed, the author states this quite plainly at the end of the central section (3:23f). The author of 2 John would seem to hold a similar outlook, only he utilizes the Johannine keyword al¢¡theia (“truth”) in place of pístis (“trust”). However, the meaning and focus is essentially the same. The Gospel (esp. the Last Discourse of Jesus, 13:31-16:33) likewise affirms a single (two-fold) entol¢¡, defined in terms of remaining in Jesus’ word (lógos/rh¢¡ma) and in his love (agáp¢).

 

As mentioned above, verses 4-6 focus on the entol¢¡ of love. However, in verse 6, the author begins transitioning to the theme of truth/trust. This is done rather cleverly, using an elliptical and illusive style that is typical of the Johannine writings. Keeping in mind that the noun entol¢¡, in this context, refers, not to customary ethical-religious ‘commands’ (such as the Ten Commandments), but specifically to the duty of believers to love each other, the author seems to be using circular language in verse 6:

    • “And this is the love—
      • that we should walk about according to his entolaí;
    • this is the entol¢¡
      • that we should walk about in it [i.e. the love]”

If believers love, then they will live/act (“walk about”) fulfilling the duty required of them; but the duty is that they love. Actually, as mentioned above, love is only one aspect of the two-fold entol¢¡; the second aspect is trust, referenced here in 2 John under the label “truth” (al¢¡theia).

The final phrase of verse 6 (“that we should walk about in it”) is ambiguous, since the feminine pronoun aut¢¡ could refer to any one of three prior nouns, all of which are feminine, also being closely interrelated in Johannine thought: agáp¢ (“love”), al¢¡theia (“truth”), and entol¢¡ (the duty believers are required to fulfill). All three are valid as a referent for the pronoun, and this ambiguity has led to considerable disagreement among commentators as to which is intended. The immediate context of verse 6 suggests that “it” refers to love; however, the overall arc of vv. 4-6, and the transition here to vv. 7-9, argues in favor of a reference to truth. Von Wahlde (p. 223f) effectively illustrates the chiastic framework of vv. 4-6, whereby the initial phrase “walking about in (the) truth” in v. 4 has a natural parallel in the final phrase of v. 6 (“we should walk about in it”).

From a Johannine theological standpoint, the term “truth” covers both components of the great duty—(i) trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and (ii) love for fellow believers, according to Jesus’ example. One cannot fulfill this duty without fulfilling both components; moreover, violation of either aspect means violation of the entire command. When the author speaks of the need for believers to love one another, this also entails the affirmation (and confirmation) of genuine trust in Jesus among believers.

The conflict within the Johannine Commmunity involving the “antichrist” opponents forced apostolic leaders and missionaries (such as the “Elder”) to define the great entol¢¡ (trust and love) in relation to this conflict. For the first time in recorded Church history, we find Christians in disagreement over what trust in Jesus specifically entails. In other words, this is the first known Christological controversy. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God? Where is the dividing line between a true confession of faith and one that is false?

For the author(s) of 1 and 2 John, as well as (we may assume) many others in the Johannine churches, the view(s) expressed by the opponents were false, demonstrating that the opponents were actually false believers. By promoting a false view of Christ, they could be considered “against Christ” (antichrist). It is likely that the opponents held the author and his circle in similarly low regard.

While First John gives us an extensive treatment of the conflict, it is presented in a more seminal way here in Second John. This probably means that 2 John was written prior to 1 John, but this is far from certain; indeed, some commentators would argue just the opposite. In any case, the author states the matter quite simply and directly in verse 7:

“(For it is) that many plánoi (have) gone out into the world, the (one)s not giving common account of Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this [i.e. such a person] is (the) plános and the antíchristos!”

The author refers to the opponents by two labels. The first (used twice) is plános, which means someone who leads people astray. The second is antíchristos, literally “against (the) Anointed”, where the prefix anti– can connote both opposition and the idea of a (false) replacement. The term antíchristos was used of the opponents in 1 John (2:18, 22; 4:3). While the other term (plános) was not used in 1 John, the basic idea (going astray and leading people astray) is certainly present, through the related noun plán¢ (4:6) and verb planᜠ(1:8; 2:26; 3:7).

The great error of these people, according to the author, is that they do not confess Jesus Christ as “coming in the flesh”. The precise nature of their view of Christ has been the subject of longstanding debate among commentators and historians of doctrine. I have discussed the matter at length in a number of recent articles and series of notes (links to which you will find below). For the purposes of this study I wish to focus, not so much on the nature of the opponents’ Christology, but on the author’s response to it, and how this shapes the message of 2 John.

An important detail of the statement in verse 7 is the notice that a number of these opponents have “gone out into the world”. Given the distinctiveness of the noun kósmos (“world-order, world”) as a Johannine keyword, this phrase can be understood two different ways. First, it can mean that the opponents have left the Community of true believers, and, like Judas (Jn 13:30), have gone out into the darkness of the world (in opposition to God and Christ); cf. 1 Jn 2:19. Second, it can be understood in the neutral sense of traveling about, acting as missionaries, spreading their beliefs into other areas and among other congregations. Both of these aspects of meaning are doubtless intended by the author. Compare the same wording in 1 Jn 4:1.

What follows in vv. 8-11 makes clear that some of the opponents (i.e., people holding their views) are traveling about as missionaries and representatives, and that congregations (such as those of the “Lady”) are likely to encounter them. As false teachers (1 John calls them false prophets, 4:1ff) who would lead people astray, the author perceives a serious threat posed by the opponents traveling among the various Johannine congregations (house-churches), where, as Christian travelers and missionaries, some might be inclined to give them hospitality (and a hearing).

The author’s warning is given in verse 8, and then he proceeds (in verse 9) effectively to declare that the opponents—and all those who follow their view of Jesus—are not true believers in Christ. The author does this with a typically Johannine formulation:

“Every one leading forward and not remaining in the teaching of (the) Anointed, does not have/hold God…” (v. 9a)

The use of a substantive participle (with definite article) preceded by the adjective pás (“all/every”) is typical of Johannine style, and occurs frequently in 1 John. It is a way of describing the essential nature/character of a person or group, i.e., “everyone doing/being {such}”. The verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) is another important Johannine keyword, occurring many times in the Gospel, and with even greater relative frequency in 1 John. The person who remains in Christ (that is, as a true believer) will remain in both his word and his love; conversely, anyone who does not remain in his word or love, does not remain in him (and thus, is not a true believer).

The author expounds this Johannine idea of remaining in Jesus’ word in terms of holding to a true view of Christ (i.e., true faith), one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel Tradition (viz., the Discourses and Jesus’ own witness regarding his identity as the Son). By not remaining in the truth, the opponents have left it, leading the way forward (vb proágœ), in a negative sense. Only the person who remains in the true teaching, and who thus possesses true faith/trust in Jesus, is a true believer, holding union with the Son (Jesus) and God the Father (v. 9b). All of this is expressed in traditional Johannine language, applied to the specific context of the conflict involving the opponents.

The body of the letter concludes (vv. 10-11) with instruction on what should be done when encountering the opponents (as travelers/missionaries). Here the themes of love (vv. 4-6) and truth (vv. 7-9) merge together again. The response to the opponents demonstrates fidelity to the truth (i.e., trust in Jesus) but also love for fellow believers, by protecting them from the opponents’ false teaching. The author’s advice is straightforward:

“If any(one) comes to you and does not carry this [i.e. the true] teaching, do not receive him into (the) house, even a ‘glad tidings’ you must not say to him” (v. 10)

In other words, give no hospitality to such people, and do not even offer any good wishes to them. The use of the noun oikía (“house”) could refer to a private home, but probably the congregation (house-church, meeting in a home) is primarily in view. In any case, the purpose of the instruction is clearly to prevent the opponents from further spreading their views throughout the churches. This is the purpose of First John as well, but here we see the instruction (and warning) being addressed to a specific congregation (and/or church leader).

The author concludes by emphasizing again that the opponents must be avoided, as thoroughly as possible. Even to offer such a person words of greeting or well-wishes, in the author’s view, means that you are “…making common bond with his evil deeds” (v. 11).

It is interesting that in 3 John, the same author condemns this practice of refusing hospitality to traveling Christians (v. 10, cf. vv. 5-8). The author’s view of the matter was thoroughly dualistic in this regard: all true believers are to be welcomed, while all false believers are not to be welcomed. In the Johannine writings, love (agáp¢) refers primarily (if not exclusively) to the love between believers (i.e., true believers). As note above, by shunning false believers, other (true) believers are protected, and the unity of the Church (that is, the Community of true believers) as a whole is maintained. In this regard, the shunning of false believers is actually an act of love. This, I am sure, is how the author of 2 John would view the matter.

Next week, we shall look at this same conflict (involving the “antichrist” opponents) as it is dealt with in First John, and how the author’s response to the conflict shapes the distinctive theological expression of that work.

For discussion on the Christology of the opponents, see my earlier studies on 1 Jn 2:22 (parts 1, 2, 3) and 4:2-3 (parts 1, 2, 3), as well as the article in the series “Spritualism in the New Testament”.

References above marked “von Wahlde” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 3: Commentary on the Three Johannine Letters, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (2010).

 

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Matthew)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Matthew

As discussed in the previous article on the Gospel of Luke, the most widely-accepted view regarding the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels posits that Matthew and Luke each made use of the Gospel of Mark and the so-called “Q” material as a common source. This approach, though not without its difficulties, remains the most plausible option for a functioning hypothesis, and so I have followed it for the purpose of this study. Thus, for the Gospel of Matthew (as for Luke), in examining the use of the expression “the son of man”, we must consider: (a) how the Markan and “Q” source material was included and adapted, as well as (b) references or aspects that are original or unique to Matthew.

From a structural standpoint, perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Matthean Gospel is the way that the author has grouped together teachings of Jesus—individual traditions, or clusters of traditions—into larger discourse-sections (or ‘sermons’). These discourses punctuate the Gospel—in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25 (to which one may add chap. 23)—and provide a certain theological framework that is interwoven with the narrative framework (drawn largely from the Markan narrative).

The Matthean Discourses actually represent expansions of previous, shorter discourse-sections. For example, the underlying “Q” material that formed the core of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7) likely corresponds, more or less, with the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:20-49). To this core, various other sayings and teachings of Jesus—some “Q” traditions, and others being unique to Matthew (“M” material)—have been added and arranged. The same is true with regard to chapters 10 (expanding the core tradition of Mk 6:7-13), 13 (expanding the sequence of parables in Mk 4:1-34), and 24-25 (expanding the “Eschatological Discourse” of Mk 13). To a lesser degree, chapters 18 and 23 are built up around core Synoptic/Markan and “Q” traditions, respectively.

The Matthean Gospel thus has a parallel arrangement running through the work: the narrative sequence (drawn from Mark), and the discourse/sermon sequence. With regard to the “son of man” references, it would seem best to analyze the data for each sequence in turn. We begin with the narrative sequence.

The Synoptic/Markan narrative, while generally followed by the Matthean Gospel writer, has also been disrupted and re-arranged at various points. The disruptions are largely due to the presence of the Discourses. For example, the Markan narrative is followed up to 1:20 (4:22), but then is interrupted to include the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7); when it resumes in chapters 8-9, the material from Mk 1:21-2:17 is presented, but in a different order (with the summary in 1:39 essentially being repositioned [and expanded] to introduce the Sermon on the Mount [4:23-25]).

The first occurrence of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) is at 8:20, following the Sermon on the Mount (the expression does not occur in the Sermon). Verses 18-22 are “Q” sayings (par Lk 9:57-60) on the theme of discipleship, and, in particular, on the cost involved in following Jesus. In the context of the narrative sequence, the two sayings of vv. 19-22 occur between the call of the first disciples (4:18-22) and the call of Matthew (9:9ff). In the intervening Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides a range of essential ethical-religious instruction for those who would be his disciples.

Let us briefly survey the references in the narrative prior to the central episode of Peter’s confession (16:13-20, par Mk 8:27-30); the sequence of references is as follows:

As in the Markan and “Q” source-material, these occurrences of the expression “the son of man” function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus (i.e., “this son of man”, namely himself). Any significance beyond this relates to Jesus’ identification with the human condition, especially with regard to human weakness and suffering. This extends to the anticipation of Jesus’ suffering and death that would occur in Jerusalem. The Matthean treatment of the “sign of Jonah” tradition (12:39-40ff) clearly brings this out—identifying the “sign” with Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection). The Lukan version—and the underlying “Q” tradition itself—focuses instead on the ministry (preaching) of Jesus. His preaching is contrasted with that of Jonah. The prophet Jonah’s preaching led to the repentance of the people of Nineveh; by contrast, Jesus’ own contemporaries (in Galilee) have not responded to him in a similar way, even though he is a far greater (and Messianic) Prophet.

In both 12:32 and 40, the expression (as a reference to Jesus) is connected with the theme of discipleship. Only the person who responds with trust to Jesus, and who, as a true disciple, will confess him publicly, will be able to pass through the Judgment and be saved. This thematic emphasis is intrinsic to the “Q” traditions themselves, and is brought out even more strongly in Luke’s treatment of the material (see the discussion in the previous article).

The focus on the suffering and death of Jesus comes more clearly into view with the central cluster of references in chapters 16-17ff. In this regard, the Matthean author is following the Synoptic/Markan narrative, and the three ‘Passion predictions’ by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). What is most interesting, however, is the way that the Gospel writer treats the expression “the son of man” so unequivocally as a self-reference by Jesus, entirely interchangeable with the use of the first person pronoun (“I”). Compare the question posed by Jesus to his disciples (in Mark and Matthew, respectively):

    • “Who do men count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:27)
    • “Who do men count/consider the son of man to be?” (Matt 16:13)

The Gospel writer clearly (it seems) does not consider the expression to be a Messianic or special Christological title per se, otherwise Jesus’ question would make no sense—viz., he would be giving his disciples the answer before he even finished asking the question (cf. Hare, p. 131f). Note the similar interchange, between expression and pronoun, in the first Passion prediction:

    • “And he began to teach them that it is necessary for the son of man to suffer many (thing)s…” (Mk 8:31)
    • “From then (on), Yeshua began to show to his learners that it is necessary for him to go forth to Yerushalaim and to suffer many (thing)s…” (Matt 16:21)

In chapters 16-20, references to Jesus’ suffering and death (17:9, 12, 22; 20:18, 28) alternate with references to his exaltation (and future return), 16:27-28; 17:9; 19:28. It will be useful to examine the original Matthean contributions to this presentation.

The saying in 16:27, though formulated differently, corresponds to Mark 8:38. It is possible that the saying was reworked (or replaced) because of the similar “Q” tradition that the author would include in 10:32-33 (where Jesus uses the personal pronoun instead of the expression “the son of man”). But the author has retained the motif of the “son of man” coming in glory:

    • “…the son of man…when he should come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with the holy Messengers” (Mk 8:38)
    • “For the son of man is about to come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with his/His Messengers…” (Matt 16:27)

The following saying in v. 28 also corresponds to the Markan parallel (9:1), being nearly identical, but with one key difference:

    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power!” (Mk 9:1)
    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the son of man coming in his kingdom!” (Matt 16:28)

The coming of the Kingdom is defined in terms of the coming of the son of man (Jesus) in glory. This clearly refers to the exaltation of Jesus, but also (it would seem) to his future (second) coming at the end-time. The saying in 10:23 (to be discussed) would indicate that the author had Jesus’ second coming (i.e., parousia) in mind. However, it is Jesus’ exalted position in heaven that is being emphasized in 19:28, a Matthean addition to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 10:17-31 (19:16-30) that has a loose parallel in Lk 22:28-30. The emphasis on the heavenly position of the son of man (on a ruling throne) anticipates the eschatological references in chaps. 24-25. It also reiterates the important discipleship context that attends a number of the “son of man” sayings (esp. the “Q” sayings) we have examined (see above):

“Amen, I say to you, that you, the (one)s having come on the path with [i.e. followed] me, in the (time of all things) coming to be (born) again, when the son of man should sit upon the throne of his honor/splendor [do/ca], you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

These sayings reflect the eschatological outlook of early Christians. As the Messiah, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven, Jesus will be sitting (in a ruling position) at the “right hand” of God, a position that he will continue to hold into the New Age. The end of the current Age was thought to be imminent, so that the New Age would very soon be ushered in—indeed, within the lifetime of some, if not most, of the first disciples. The exaltation of Jesus, followed by his subsequent return to earth (in glory), would mark the end of the current Age, and, with it, the final Judgment. This aspect of the “son of man” references will be discussed further in the continuation of this article, and again at the conclusion of this series.

Finally, the remaining “son of man” references in the narrative (26:2, 24, 45, 64) generally follow the Synoptic/Markan narrative, building upon the earlier association between the expression and the anticipation of Jesus’ impending suffering and death (in Jerusalem). Matthew is unique in the way that the Gospel writer opens the Passion narrative with a reiteration of the Passion-predictions:

And, when it came to be (that) Yeshua (had) completed all these words, he said to his learners: “You have seen [i.e. know] that after two days the Pesah [i.e. Passover] comes to be, and the son of man is given along to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified].” (26:1-2; cp. Mk 14:1)

Otherwise, the Gospel writer, in preserving the Synoptic/Markan references, emphasizes both the suffering of Jesus (including his betrayal, 26:24, 45) and his subsequent exaltation (26:64)—compare Mk 14:21, 41, 62. This balancing of the two aspects—suffering/death and exaltation—is, on the whole, typical of the use of the expression throughout the Gospel Tradition, but it is particularly significant (and noteworthy) in the Matthean presentation of the traditional material. In contrast with the Gospel of Luke, where the emphasis tends to be on the suffering aspect, Matthew gives somewhat greater prominence to Jesus’ exaltation.

References above marked “Hare” are to Douglas R. A. Hare, The Son of Man Tradition (Fortress Press: 1990).

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 13:24ff; 16:16)

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

In examining the literary context of the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (with its Kingdom-petition, 11:2), it is necessary to look at the specific idiom of entering the Kingdom. We may regard this language (using the verb ei)se/rxomai, “come into”) as traditional, even though its occurrence is relatively rare in the New Testament, and limited almost entirely to sayings by Jesus in the Gospels (Mk 9:47; 10:15, 23-25 pars; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 23:13 par; John 3:5). The concept of entering the kingdom (of God) is clearly related to, and largely synonymous with, that of entering into life (i.e., eternal life)—Mk 9:43, 45 (cp. v. 47); Matt 7:14 (cf. v. 21); Matt 19:17 (vv. 23-24); cf. also John 10:9.

There are four passages in the Gospel of Luke where this idiom occurs in Jesus’ teaching, and all four are located in the Journey period (9:51-18:31)—13:24-30; 16:16f; 18:16-17, and 18:24-25ff. The last two are part of the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 10:14-15, 23-25ff), and appear to be closely connected; in any case, the Synoptic (Markan) narrative has them follow in sequence. They function as teaching on the nature of discipleship, and provide two different lessons on what is required in following Jesus.

The Lukan presentation of this Synoptic material (18:16-17, 24-25ff) differs little from the Markan. The context makes clear that “entering the Kingdom of God” is defined in terms of following Jesus (i.e., being his disciple). This is particularly apparent from the juxtaposition between the question by the ‘ruler’ (Mk 10:17 / par Lk 18:18) and Jesus’ answer (“come, join with me on the path [i.e. follow me]”, Mk 10:21 / par Lk 18:22), along with the subsequent instruction to his disciples (Mk 10:23-25ff / par Lk 18:24-25ff). What Jesus particularly emphasizes is the cost of following him (cf. the sayings in Lk 9:58-62 par, at the beginning of the Journey narrative). This is very much in keeping with the Lukan thematic focus on discipleship (and the mission of the disciples).

A rather different lesson is taught in Mk 10:14-15 / par Lk 18:16-17. Only the person who receives the Kingdom, in the manner that a little child does, will be able to enter it:

“who ever would not receive [de/chtai] the kingdom of God as a little child, shall (surely) not come into it.” (Lk 18:17)

The idea of receiving (vb de/xomai) the Kingdom implies that the Kingdom is something that comes, or is currently present. Given the context of Jesus’ illustration (vv. 15-16), it is quite clear that the Kingdom is being identified implicitly with the personal presence of Jesus himself. The little children are responding to Jesus, with simple trust and acceptance, and thus are ‘receiving’ him. The true disciple will respond to Jesus in a similar way.

The introduction to the tradition (v. 15 par) presents this dynamic also in a slightly different way—with the image of the children coming (i.e., being brought) to Jesus. This emphasizes the active component of entering (coming into) the Kingdom. These two sides of the equation—the Kingdom coming in the person of Jesus, and of people coming to Jesus (and thus [in]to the Kingdom)—effectively summarize the dynamic of the early Christian mission, only with the disciples (believers) functioning as representatives of Jesus himself.

Luke 13:24-30

This apostolic mission is also prefigured by the Kingdom-parable in 13:24-30, part of a short sequence of parables (vv. 18-21ff). The particular narrative unit in vv. 22-30 is only found in Luke, though parts of it resemble other sayings/teachings of Jesus. The parable itself is prefaced by a narrative introduction (v. 22), followed by a question posed to Jesus (v. 23): “(is it that) only a few are being saved?”. Jesus’ initial response resembles the saying in Matt 7:13-14:

“You must struggle [vb a)gwni/zomai] to come in [ei)selqei=n] through the narrow gate, (in) that (there are) many, I say to you, (who) will seek to come in, and will not have the strength [i.e. be able] (to do so).” (v. 24)

The “narrow gate” represents the entrance to the Kingdom, which also connotes finding salvation (v. 23). In the early Christian (and Lukan) context, these concepts are defined in terms of responding to the Gospel and trusting in Jesus. The parable that follows implies that the window for responding will only be open for a limited time; at some point, it will be shut—i.e., the gate/door will be shut. There are some even who claim to be Jesus’ followers, and may have appeared to be his disciples, but who never actually entered the “narrow door” to the Kingdom—that is, never truly trusted in Jesus, nor were willing to take on the cost of following him. This part of the parable (vv. 25-28) also has parallels in the Matthean ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (7:21-23), and in the later parable of 25:10-12.

The universal, worldwide aspect of the early Christian mission—so vital a theme to the narrative of Luke-Acts as a whole—is alluded to in verse 29. People from different regions and nations, extending from the east to the west, all will come into the Kingdom of God, residing and feasting there at the King’s table.

Luke 16:16

The final Kingdom reference to be examined, and certainly the most difficult, is the saying by Jesus in Luke 16:16—a “Q” tradition which has a corresponding Matthean version (11:12-13). The two versions clearly derive from a single underlying tradition, but they differ in several important respects. Most notably, each version contains the verb bia/zw (“[use] force”), but the way it is used would seem to differ considerably. In Matthew, the emphasis is on the violence and persecution which the Kingdom of God experiences—beginning with John the Baptist and continuing through the early Christian missionaries (cf. the context of chapter 10). Here is how the Matthean version reads:

“from the days of Yohanan the Dunker until now, the kingdom of God is treated with force [bia/zetai], and forceful [biastai/] (men) seize it. For all the Foretellers and the Law foretold until Yohanan…” (vv. 12-13)

The Lukan version (16:16) has the same middle/passive verb form (bia/zetai). In Matthew, it is clearly passive (“is forced, treated with force”), with the Kingdom of God as the subject. In Luke, by contrast, the Kingdom of God is the prepositional object (viz., that into which people enter), and the singular/collective adjective pa=$ (“every[one]”) is the subject—viz., every one who enters the Kingdom. In this regard, it makes most sense to read the verb in the middle voice (though a passive reading is still possible):

“The Law and the Foretellers (were) until Yohanan; from then (on), (the) good message (of) the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and every(one) forces (himself) [bia/zetai] into it.” (v. 16)

The phrase “the good message…is proclaimed” translates the verb eu)aggeli/zw, which Luke prefers to the construction khru/ssw (“proclaim”) + the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”). The way the Lukan version is framed, the focus is on the period of the proclamation of the Gospel (after John the Baptist), and refers to people making their way into the Kingdom—which, in the Lukan context, can only mean trusting in Jesus and becoming his disciple. In this regard, the middle voice of bia/zw (“[use] force”) is best understood in relation to 13:24 (see above, par Matt 7:13-14), and the idea that the disciple must struggle to enter through the “narrow gate” of the Kingdom.

It is, however, possible to read the Lukan version with bia/zetai as a passive form, though a literal rendering of this (“everyone is forced into it”) could be very misleading. The meaning has been explained as “every one is pressed [i.e. urged to come] into it”, viz., by the proclamation of the Gospel. However, a better expository rendering of the passive verb might be: “everyone experiences force/pressure (as they come) into it”. This would be in line with the statement by Paul in Acts 14:22:

“it is necessary for us to come into [ei)selqei=n] the kingdom of God through (experience)s of distress”

Thematically, this statement reflects the Lukan emphasis on discipleship (and the mission of disciples), in at least three respects: (i) the focus on trusting in Jesus, and remaining faithful to him (v. 22a); (ii) the cost of being a disciple, which involves self-sacrifice, hardship, and suffering; and (iii) the real possibility of experiencing violence and persecution, particularly in connection with the Christian mission. The noun translated (in the plural) as “(experience)s of distress” is qli/yi$, which was commonly used by early Christians as an eschatological term, viz., for the end-time period of distress (cf. Daniel 12:1 LXX; Mark 13:19, 24 par, etc). As we have seen, there is a strong eschatological component to the Lukan presentation of the Kingdom-theme.

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 102 (Part 3)

Psalm 102, continued

The first stanza of Psalm 102 (vv. 2-12), discussed in Part 1, involves the individual sickness and suffering of the Psalmist/protagonist, while the second stanza (vv. 13-23, see Part 2) focuses on the suffering of the people as a whole (and their land). The two themes come together in the concluding section (vv. 24-29), with the affliction of the Psalmist thus serving as an emblem for the people as whole. His prayer for healing and deliverance parallels the hope for Israel’s restoration and the rebuilding of Zion.

Second Stanza, continued

Verse 19 [18]

“This shall be inscribed for (the) circle (coming) after,
and a people being created shall give praise to YH(WH):”

This couplet establishes the expectation the Psalmist has, that YHWH will answer his prayer and will deliver/restore the people. I take the inscription (vb bt^K*) to refer to what follows in vv. 20-23 (cf. Dahood, III, p. 18). In other words, the deliverance which YHWH will provide is to be recorded, ahead of time, as a testimony for generations to come (“people being created”, i.e., yet to be born). The imperfect verb form bt#K*T! can be read as having jussive force, i.e., “Let this be inscribed…”. The noun roD (“circle”), understood in a temporal sense in v. 13 (and there rendered “cycle”), here refers more properly to the people living in a particular period of time (viz., a ‘generation’). The w-conjunction beginning the second line indicates the purpose/result, in relation to the first clause: “and (then)…”, i.e., “so that…”.

Verse 20 [19]

“That He looked over from (the) heights of His holy (place),
(did) YHWH,
(and) from (the) heavens to (the) earth did look (down),”

The meter of this couplet, like the first (v. 19), is 4+3; however, it is perhaps best to render this symmetrically, in a 3+1+3 format, with hwhy at the center, serving as the subject of both lines. Indeed, the entire verse is a chiasm:

    • “He looked over
      • from the heights of His holy place
        • YHWH
      • from the heavens to the earth
    • He looked on”

The first line portrays YHWH as looking out the window of His palace, leaning out over the window sill, to look down at the earth below. The second line makes clear that He is looking from heaven, and gazing down onto the earth. The first verb is [q^v*, while the second is fb^n`. On this basic imagery, cf. Psalm 14:2; 53:3[2].

The perfect verb forms should be understood here as prophetic perfects—speaking of what will be (or is expected to take place) as though it has already happened.

Verse 21 [20]

“to hear (the) groaning of (the one) bound,
(and) to open (up for the) sons of death,”

As He looks down on the earth, YHWH will hear the groaning (hq*n`a&) of the prisoner (lit, one “bound”, rys!a*), and will respond by setting them free—that is, “opening” their bonds (and/or the prison doors). The prisoners are referred to as “sons of death”, perhaps indicating specifically those who have been sentenced to death. There is doubtless an aspect of social justice that is being emphasized here, but the imagery may also be intended to describe the human condition generally, and the suffering of God’s people (the righteous) specifically.

The meter of this couplet has switched to 3+3.

Verse 22 [21]

“to recount in ‚iyyôn (the) name of YHWH,
and (the) praise of Him in Yerushalaim,”

Those who are released from their bonds (and saved from death) will give worship and praise to YHWH in Jerusalem. This applies not only to the people of Israel/Judah, but to all humankind (see v. 23; cf. Isa 42:6-7). The scenario implies the restoration of Judah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Indeed, given the context and contours of the stanza, this restoration is part of the comprehensive deliverance described in v. 21. On the significance of the name of YHWH, particularly in relation to Jerusalem and the Temple, see the discussion on v. 16 in Part 2.

Verse 23 [22]

“with (the) peoples being gathered as one,
and (the) kingdoms (set) to serve YHWH.”

As noted above, it is not only the people of Israel/Judah who are among those delivered/saved, who worship YHWH in the restored Zion. Members of all the nations (“peoples” and “kingdoms”) will come to Jerusalem to worship YHWH. This is a frequent theme in the exilic and post-exilic Prophets, one which appears to have arisen in the late monarchic (pre-exilic) period—cf. Micah 4:1-5 [Isa 2:2-4]; Isa 49:6, 22ff; 56:6-8; 60:3ff; 66:12ff, 18; Zech 2:11-12; 8:22-23; 14:16ff. The theme was discussed in the recent studies on Pss 93-100; as in those Psalms, the expectation here is that all the nations will acknowledge YHWH, worshiping Him as their God, and serving Him as their King. They will join with the people of Israel in this regard, becoming one with them.

As a textual note, some of the Greek MSS and versions read “kings” (basilei/$), rather than “kingdoms” (basilei/a$), and Dahood (III, p. 19f) would explain the Hebrew plural tokl*m=m^ (“kingdoms”) in the same way (as here denoting “kings”); though this would not have much affect on the overall meaning.

Conclusion: Verses 24-29 [23-28]

Verse 24 [23]

“He bent down my strength in (its) stride,
(and) a shortening of my days He announced.”

Suddenly, the Psalmist returns to the theme of the first stanza—viz., the individual suffering and affliction experienced by the protagonist. While this, as noted above, is emblematic of the people’s suffering (in exile), it is in stark contrast to the hope for deliverance and restoration expressed in the second stanza (see above).

It seems preferable to vocalize rxq as a noun (rx#q), “shortness, shortening”) rather than a verb form (rX^q!, “he cut short”) as in the MT. Then, by moving rma from the beginning of v. 25 to the end of v. 24, and vocalizing as a third person form (“he said”, rather than “I said”), a full and well-balanced couplet is achieved; cf. Allen, p. 16. The verb rm^a* (“say, show [forth]”) here is used in the sense of “announce” —viz., YHWH seems to have announced a shortening of the protagonist’s life, as a result of his sickness. The illness has already “bent down” (vb hn`u* II/III) the Psalmist’s once-vigorous strength (“my strength,” MT qere yjk) in ‘mid-stride’ (lit. “in the step [of it]”), and now it threatens to end his life as well.

For a very different parsing and explanation of vv. 24-25, see Dahood, III, pp. 20-21.

Verse 25 [24]

“My Mighty (One)—
do not take me up in the half of my days,
in (the) cycle and cycles of your years!”

The meter of verse 25 (with the initial word repositioned, see above) is 4+3; however, I prefer to treat the first word (the Psalmist’s invocation to YHWH) as an introductory single-beat line, followed by a 3+3 couplet. The shortness of the Psalmist’s life is contrasted with the incredible length of YHWH’s existence. As indicated in v. 24, the protagonist feels his life coming to an end abruptly, at a time when he should still be strong; here this is expressed in terms of being half-way through his expected life-time. By contrast, YHWH’s existence last for cycles and cycles, i.e., ages and ages, utilizing the noun roD again in temporal sense (as in v. 13). As a traditional idiom, applied to God, this sense of duration means something like “forever”.

The idea of the Psalmist’s death is expressed by the verb hl*u* (“go up”) in the Hiphil (causative) stem, i.e., “take up”, in the sense of God taking away his life.

Verse 26 [25]

“At (the) front, the earth you did found,
and the work of your hands, the heavens—”

The initial prepositional expression <yn]p*l= can be a bit tricky to translate. The basic meaning is “at/to the front”, but, in context, it could also be rendered “before (all thing)s”; in any case, the sense is temporal, i.e., in/at the beginning, referring to the creation of the universe by YHWH. The motif of founding the earth, i.e., laying it as a foundation (or laying down its foundation, using the verb ds^y`, is traditional (Job 38:4; Psalm 24:2; 78:69, etc). Also traditional is the expression “the work of your hands”, especially in reference to the heavens (e.g., Psalm 19:1).

The thought in this verse builds upon the prior line, emphasizing the vast extent of YHWH’s existence, encompassing and surpassing that of all the cosmos.

Verses 27-28 [26-27]

they shall pass away, while you shall stand!
Indeed, all of them, like the garment, wear out;
like the clothing, you remove them and they move (on).
Yes, you (are) He—and your years do not end!”

These couplets continue the thought from verse 26, but it is difficult to express the syntactical relationship of the lines in English. Yet the idea expressed and the imagery are quite clear. In contrast to all created things, which wear out and pass away, YHWH remains forever. Two different verbs are employed to express this sense of passing away: (a) db^a*, and (b) [l^j*. The first verb can mean “wander off”, connoting the idea of becoming lost; the second typically carries the meaning of replacement—of something giving way and being replaced by another. For this reason, [l^j* is particularly appropriate for the idea of changing clothes, which is the idiom being used here. The verb occurs twice in the third line (of vv. 27-28), once in the Hiphil (causative) stem, with YHWH as the subject, and once in the ordinary Qal stem, with the heavens and earth as the (plural) subject. For lack of any better option, I have translated this sequence in English as “You remove them and they move (on)”.

The first phrase of v. 28 contains very terse syntax, aWh aT*a^w+ (“and you he”), which needs to be filled out in translation. I would explain the initial w-conjunction as emphatic (i.e., “indeed…”, or “yes…”), while the sequence of pronouns represents an essential predication: “You (are) He”, that is, YHWH is identified as the Creator, as the very One who is thus able to remove/replace created things when they ‘wear out’. This declaration also confirms the idea that YHWH’s existence lasts forever, far transcending the creation itself.

Verse 29 [28]

“(So the) sons of your servants shall dwell (secure),
and their seed before your face shall be set firm.”

Here in the final couplet, the Psalmist brings together, definitively, the two main themes of the Psalm: (i) the healing/deliverance of the protagonist, and (ii) the restoration of the people (rebuilding of Zion). The first theme, from the first stanza (and here in vv. 24-28), is joined with the second theme, from the second stanza. Like the people as a whole, the protagonist hopes that he will be made firm (i.e., in health) and will dwell secure in God’s presence (enjoying His favor). This motif of dwelling (vb /k^v*), of course, also relates specifically to the hope of Israel/Judah’s restoration to the land (and the rebuilding of Jerusalem). As YHWH Himself stands firm for eternity, so also God’s people will remain firmly in place, dwelling secure in the restored kingdom.

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).
References marked “Allen” are to Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (Revised edition), Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21 (Zondervan: 2002/2014).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Luke)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke

In our study of the expression”the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in the Synoptic Gospels, we have examined the core sayings in the Gospel of Mark (Pt 1, 2, 3, 4), and also those in the so-called “Q” material (Pt 1, 2, 3, 4). According to the most widely-accepted view regarding the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke each made use of the Gospel of Mark and the “Q” material. I have followed this approach, as a functioning hypothesis, for this study. Thus in examining the use of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we must consider: (a) how the Markan and “Q” source material was included and adapted, as well as (b) references or aspects that are original or unique to the particular Gospel.

We begin with the Gospel of Luke. First, we may note that Luke, in following the Synoptic/Markan outline, includes nearly all of the Markan “son of man” references, with the exception of those in Mk 9:9, 12, and the saying in 10:45 (cp. Lk 19:10). During the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry, there occur the first two Synoptic/Markan sayings (5:24; 6:5 / Mk 2:10, 28), the “Q” saying in 7:34 (par Matt 11:19), and the first two Passion-predictions (9:22, 44 / Mk 8:31; 9:31), along with the intervening saying in 9:26 (Mk 8:38). The only original Lukan contribution, apparently, is the use of the expression “the son of man” in the final Beatitude (6:22; cp. Matt 5:11), though it is possible that the expression was present in the “Q” material that the Gospel writer inherited.

Between the second and third Passions-predictions (9:44; 18:31 / Mk 9:31; 10:33), there is the Journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10 par), which Luke has expanded into a major division—indeed, the central (and longest) division of the Gospel, covering more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31). The Journey serves as the setting for a wide range of teaching by Jesus, including many traditions which occur at an earlier point (i.e., the Galilean period) in Mark and Matthew. With one exception, the “son of man” references in this division are derived from, or are related to, the “Q” material shared with the Gospel of Matthew.

Also, with the exception of the first saying (9:58; par Matt 8:20), all of the “son of man” references in the Journey period have an eschatological orientation or aspect. Either they relate to the end-time Judgment (11:30; 12:8, 10; par Matt 12:40; 10:32; 12:32), or refer to the end-time appearance of the “son of man” (12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8). The references in 12:40 and 17:24, 26 represent “Q” sayings which Matthew has included as part of the “Eschatological Discourse” in chap. 24f (vv. 44, 27, 37). It is not entirely clear whether the Lot/Sodom illustration (Lk 17:28-30, 32, absent from Matthew) was part of the original “Q” material, or was added by the Lukan author (from another source). As discussed (in Part 4 on the “Q” sayings), the Lot/Sodom illustration makes for a natural pairing with the Noah/Flood illustration (cf. 2 Peter 2:5ff)—both being Scriptural type-patterns for the coming end-time Judgment.

The two “son of man” sayings, set during the Journey period, which are most original to the Gospel of Luke are: the introductory eschatological saying in 17:22, and the saying in 18:8. The reference in 17:22 reflects the manner of expression in vv. 24ff, using the specific expression “the days of the son of man” (v. 26, cf. the comparable expression “the son of man in his day”, v. 24). This expression refers to the time when the son of man will appear; however, in v. 22, there seems to be a particular allusion to the coming suffering and persecution of Jesus’ disciples, during the end-time period of distress.

This reflects an important thematic emphasis by the Lukan author, with regard to the “son of man” sayings—viz., an emphasis on Jesus’ suffering and death, and, by extension, the suffering and hardship which must be endured by Jesus’ followers (believers) during their end-time mission. A key detail which the Gospel writer includes, within the eschatological teaching in 17:20-37, and amid the eschatological (“Q”) son of man sayings, is another reference to Jesus’ impending suffering and death (v. 25), echoing the earlier Passion-predictions (9:22, 44). Note the way that the declaration of the son of man’s (i.e., Jesus’) future coming (in glory, at the Judgment) is tied back to his present suffering:

“just as the (lightning) flashes flashing shine light, out of the (one area) under the heaven unto the (other areas) under the heaven, so will be the son of man [in his day]—but first, it is necessary (for) him to suffer many (thing)s, and to be removed from consideration [i.e. be rejected] (by) this genea/.” (vv. 24-25)

This has the added (practical) effect of making clear—for both Jesus’ disciples (in the narrative) and for the Gospel writer’s audience—that the “son of man” (identified as Jesus himself) cannot come to earth (in glory) at the end-time, until after his death and resurrection. As we have discussed, this incongruity represents a difficult aspect of the eschatological “son of man” sayings, when the expression is understood as an authentic self-reference by Jesus.

The saying in 18:8 is rather difficult to interpret in its immediate context, though it brings to the fore, even more clearly than in 17:22, the expectation that Jesus’ followers (believers) will experience suffering (and persecution) during the end-time period of distress. The parable (vv. 1-5) illustrating the need to persevere in prayer to God, is interpreted in this eschatological context:

“Hear (now) what the judge (acting) without justice says. And shall not God (then) make the working out of justice for His elect/chosen (one)s, the (one)s shouting to him day and night? and will His impulse (to do so) be long over them [i.e. will He wait long to help them]?” (vv. 6-7)

God is contrasted with the unjust (human) judge of the parable, one who acts “without justice” (a)diki/a). If an unjust human judge will respond to someone in need who makes a persistent request of him, how much more will the just and righteous God do so for his chosen ones (i.e., the righteous/believers)? The motif of the righteous/believers, shouting to God day and night, suggests a period of intense suffering. Within the Gospel context, the end-time period of distress, which will involve the persecution of believers, is certainly in view.

The answer, already implicit within Jesus’ question, is made explicit in verse 8: “(Yes,) I say to you that He will make a working out of justice for them with (great) speed!” But then, Jesus adds a final challenging question:

“Yet [plh/n] the son of man, (hav)ing come, will he find trust upon the earth?”

The connection of v. 8b to vv. 7-8a suggests that the deliverance which God will provide for believers, during the end-time period of distress, will be realized through the coming of the son of man (cf. Mk 13:27 par; Lk 21:28). For the Lukan author, this unquestionably refers to Jesus’ second coming (i.e. return) to earth, though some commentators have raised the possibility that, originally, Jesus would have been referring to a heavenly figure (Dan 7:13-14) separate from himself. I discussed this critical theory briefly in Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings, and will address it more fully at the end of this series.

The question itself implies that there could be a considerable loss of faith, a falling away, during the end-time period of distress. In a general sense, this was part of the eschatological expectation of Jews and early Christians, as we see in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mk 13 par). The repeated warnings by Jesus (to his disciples) very much suggest the possibility that even a genuine disciple (or believer) could be led astray and lose faith (Mk 13:5, 13, 20-21, 22-23, 33ff).

In the final division of the Lukan Gospel, the Jerusalem Period, the author includes the Synoptic/Markan “son of man” sayings from 13:26; 14:21, and 14:62 (21:27; 22:22, 69). To these have been added a reference at the close of the “Eschatological Discourse” (21:36), one during the Garden-scene of the Passion narrative (22:48), and a summary reference (24:7), at the beginning of the Resurrection narrative, which echoes the earlier Passion-predictions. In addition to these, we may also mention the saying in 19:10, set at the end of Jesus’ journey, on his approach to Jerusalem; in some ways, it holds a comparable position to the Synoptic/Markan saying in 10:45.

If we consider these few Lukan additions and adaptations, they seem to bring out two key thematic points of emphasis: (1) the suffering and death of Jesus, and (2) the suffering of disciples (believers), and the need to remain faithful during the end-time period of distress. Jesus’ suffering and death is alluded to in the 19:10 saying (“For the son of man came to seek and to save the [one] having been lost”), is emphasized during the Passion narrative at the focal point of the betrayal (“Yehudah, with a mark of fondness [i.e. a kiss] you give over the son of man?” 22:48, cp. Mk 14:41 par), and is summarized (after the resurrection) in 24:7.

The second theme is expressed in the saying that concludes the Lukan version of the “Eschatological Discourse” (21:5-36):

“(So) then, you must remain awake, in every time expressing (your) need (to God), (so) that you might be strong against (that day), (and so) to flee [i.e. escape] out of all these (thing)s being about to come to (pass), (and) to stand in front of the son of man.” (v. 36)

The Discourse concludes with an exhortation to “keep awake” (vb a)grupne/w), Mk 13:32-37 par, but the Lukan version adds this pointed reference emphasizing believers’ salvation—that is, of their/our escaping the coming Judgment, and of standing before the son of man, i.e., having passed through the Judgment. This will only happen if believers remain faithful to the end (v. 19; Mk 13:13). The blending of this discipleship emphasis with the motif of the Last Judgment can also be seen in the earlier (“Q”) son of man sayings, particularly as they have been positioned within the Lukan narrative—cf. again, in context, 11:30; 12:8, 10, 40.

If we may summarize the most salient points regarding the distinctive Lukan treatment of the “son of man” sayings:

    • The Gospel writer understood the expression primarily as a self-reference by Jesus. This can be seen, particularly, in 6:22 and 12:8, where the Matthean version (of the “Q” saying) has a personal pronoun (“I/me”) instead of the expression. The basic understanding is also attested by the way that the author has utilized the Synoptic/Markan sayings (see above).
    • The tradition of the Passion-predictions, and the related use of the expression in this context, referring to the suffering and death of Jesus, is clearly emphasized by the Lukan author, more so than in the other Synoptic Gospels.
    • Similarly, the Gospel writer brings out the discipleship-theme in relation to such sayings, emphasizing the hardship and suffering that the true disciple must endure in following Jesus. This extends to the end-time period of distress, beginning with the suffering/death of Jesus, during which time, in connection with the early Christian mission, believers will face intense suffering and persecution.
    • Sayings related to both the end-time Judgment and the end-time appearance of the son of man (i.e., the second coming or return of Jesus) are framed to bring out the discipleship theme—viz., the need for believers to remain faithful, willing to confess faith in Christ, even in the midst of persecution.

Overall the Lukan Gospel writer’s use of the expression reflects a coherent and comprehensive Christological outlook, balancing Jesus’ earthly ministry, suffering/death, resurrection/exaltation, and future return. The expression “the son of man” is used in all of these contexts, as a reference to the person of Jesus. For the most part, the Gospel writer has relied upon inherited traditions, but there are some original contributions as well, mainly in terms of arrangement and adaptation of the material.

Saturday Series: 2 John 4-11

Beginning in May, and continuing through the Summer, the Saturday Series will focus on the role that cultural-religious conflict has played in shaping early Christian belief and practice, as expressed in the New Testament Scriptures. This involves historical criticism—examining the historical background of the texts—but also various aspects of literary criticism, including rhetorical criticism—analyzing the author’s purpose in writing, the central proposition(s), the arguments and literary-rhetorical devices used in support, and so forth.

We will begin with the conflict that is at the heart of the Letters of John (esp. 1-2 John). These writings attest to the existence and activity of a group of opponents, whom the author considers antíchristoi, people who are “against the Anointed”, i.e., “antichrists”. In recent notes and articles—including the Saturday Series studies on the subject of sin in the Johannine Writings—the views of these opponents have been discussed. It is my contention that the conflict involving these “antichrist” opponents is central to First John, and represents the principal reason and purpose for the author writing as he does.

The same is true of Second John, though, in some ways, the brevity and relative simplicity of the letter allows us to obtain a clearer glimpse of the situation. Second John also provides an excellent test case for a study on the influence of religious conflict on early Christian thought and practice. For this reason, our studies will begin with 2 John.

It is quite possible that the same author who penned 2 and 3 John (“the Elder”) also wrote 1 John. However, even if he did not, 1 and 2 John clearly derive from the same religious and theological setting—Christians with a shared culture, language, and belief system. It is generally assumed that this involved a number of congregations throughout a particular geographical region (usually identified with Asia Minor, and the area centered around Ephesus), and which is typically referred to by scholars as the Johannine Community—the Community within which the Johannine Writings (Gospel, Letters, and [probably] the book of Revelation) were first produced and distributed.

More than this, the authors of 1 and 2 John, if they are not the same person, also share a distinctive language, style, and manner of expression, utilizing a common vocabulary, syntax, and so forth. The two letters also clearly are addressing issues related to a common group of opponents. That is to say, the same basic historical, cultural, and religious conflict is at the heart of both writings.

The Conflict in 2 John

Because of how short 2 John is, it is very easy to outline its structure:

    • Epistolary Prescript (Introduction/Greeting), vv. 1-3
    • Body of the Letter, vv. 4-11
    • Epistolary Postscript (Conclusion), vv. 12-13

Two aspects of the Introduction are important to note, as they relate to the body of the letter and the author’s purpose (causa) in writing. The first of these is the addressee of the letter: “the chosen Lady and her offspring”. The adjective eklektós (lit. “gathered out”) identifies this “Lady” as a believer (or group of believers). The denotation (of being “selected out, elect, chosen”) reflects early Christian usage and the distinctive religious identity of believers in Christ—see Rom 16:13; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:4ff; Rev 17:14; cf. also Mark 13:20, 27 par.

It seems clear that the author is writing to a Christian congregation, though there remains uncertainty as to whether the “Lady” refers to a specific individual, or is figurative for the congregation itself. In the former instance, she would to be regarded as a prominent figure in congregation, perhaps the host of a house-church. Similarly, her “offspring” could refer to the actual children of a particular woman, but, more likely, the term “offspring” is a way of designating the members of the congregation/community. The same term (tékna, “offspring, children”) is used in such a figurative sense by the author of 1 John (3:1-2, 10; 5:2; cf. also 3 John 4).

The congregation of the “Lady” would seem to be some distance removed from the author and his circle, but still closely aligned with it in thought and practice. The idea of a “sister-church” may be appropriate. In any case, it suggests a network of relations between Johannine congregations, across a particular geographic area. In this regard, the “Elder” is functioning in the manner of an apostolic missionary, similar to Paul, for example. Like Paul, he seems to be concerned with establishing and maintaining a sense of unity among the congregations. First John likely reflects a similar purpose—that is, uniting the Johannine churches, exhorting them in their identity as believers in Christ, and warning them against the opponents.

Such a network of churches would have to be maintained through a combination of letters and personal visits (see v. 12). The letters themselves would be delivered by traveling missionaries (or other trusted believers). Paul’s letters reflect this dynamic in vivid detail, and we can see it clearly in 2 and 3 John as well. The opponents also would have written and traveled to many of the churches as well, something which the author regarded as representing a dangerous (and nefarious) influence on the Johannine churches. His own efforts are meant to counteract the opponents’ influence.

The second important feature in the Introduction is the author’s use of the words love (agáp¢, vb agapáœ) and truth (al¢¡theia). These are key Johannine terms, which occur extensively throughout the Gospel and First Letter. Though common terms, they take on a special theological (and Christological) significance within the Johannine writings. This vocabulary is fundamental for defining what it means to be true believer in Christ. The author’s use of the terminology in the Introduction effectively positions the “Lady” congregation, along with himself (and his own circle/congregation), as true believers:

“…to the gathered out [i.e. chosen/elect] Lady and her offspring, whom I love in (the) truth—and not only I, but also all th(ose) having known the truth—through the truth th(at) remains in us, and (which) shall be with us into the Age” (vv. 1-2)

He concludes with a blessing (v. 3) that ends, emphatically, with the expression “…in truth and love”.

This terminology is especially important since, in the author’s view, the opponents do not manifest either truth or love—indeed, they fundamentally violate the duty of the believer, that duty which defines a person as a genuine believer: viz., to remain in the truth (i.e., true faith) and in love.

The Johannine language used by the author existed prior to the conflict with the opponents, and is used to address that conflict; but, in the process, the theological meaning and significance of the language would develop and be further clarified. In the body of 2 John, we are able to see something of this interaction between the Johannine theology and the conflict that surrounded the Johannine opponents.

2 John 4-11

The author’s rhetoric is carefully crafted, built up through several short discourse-units, each of which reflect the Johannine language and style, especially as one sees it expressed in 1 John. He begins by praising the members of the “Lady” congregation, effectively identifying them as true believers:

“I was very glad that I have found your offspring walking about in (the) truth [peripatoúntas en al¢theía], just as we received the (charge) laid on (us) to fulfill, (from) alongside the Father.” (v. 4)

The phrase “offspring walking about in the truth” is Johannine language that clearly identifies people as true believers. The very expression “in the truth” (en al¢theía) serves this purpose—i.e., referring to believers as those who are, and who remain, “in the truth”. At the same time, the use of the verb peripatéœ (“walk about”) reflects a traditional ethical-religious idiom for the regular/habitual behavior of people. The one who “walks about” in the truth, fulfills the Christian identity throughout his/her daily life (see 1 John 1:6-7; 2:6, 11). The substantive use of a participle, to express the essential identity and character of a person—here, for example, one “walking about in the truth” —is typical of Johannine style.

The author of 1 John similarly treats his audience as if they are, effectively, true believers—as opposed to false believers, such as the opponents. This is an important aspect of the author’s rhetoric, both in 1 and 2 John.

Another important Johannine keyword is the noun entol¢¡, which is often translated flatly as “command(ment)”, but which properly refers to a duty placed on (en-) someone which they are obligated to complete (the component –tol¢¡ is related to the noun télos and the verb téllomai, “complete, fulfill”). The true believer fulfills the duty that God has placed on us. The characteristic conduct of “walking in the truth” is defined specifically in terms of fulfilling this duty (entol¢¡) that we have received from God.

In verse 5, the author’s tone shifts from praise to exhortation:

“And now, I would ask (of) you, (dear) Lady, not as a new entol¢¡ being written to you, but (as one) which we hold from (the) beginning: that we would love (each) other.”

The duty required of the (true) believer is to love one another. In the Johannine tradition, this duty (entol¢¡) goes back to the words of Jesus himself (Jn 13:34-35; 15:9-13, 17) and is emphasized extensively throughout 1 John. There are actually two components to the great duty (or ‘command’, entol¢¡) required of every believer: (i) trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and (ii) love for fellow believers, following the example of Jesus. The author of 1 John expresses this quite clearly in 3:23-24, and the alternation of themes trust-love-trust-love-trust is an organizing principle for the main body of his treatise (2:18-5:12). Much the same is true, though on a smaller scale, for the author of 2 John. He divides the body of his letter between the themes of love (vv. 4-6) and trust (vv. 7-9ff). The theme of truth covers both components of the entol¢¡, but applies more directly, in 2 John, to the aspect of trust in Jesus.

Next week, as we continue this study, we shall see how the author of 2 John positions the conflict with the opponents in this love-truth / love-trust matrix. This will also allow us to glimpse ways in which such conflicts worked to shape and develop the early Christian theology.

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

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

The remaining “son of man” references in the “Q” material (see Parts 1, 2 & 3) are eschatological, and deal with the idea of the end-time appearance of the “son of man”. In this regard, they are similar to the saying in Mark 13:26 par (discussed in Part 4 of the study on the Synoptic/Markan sayings). The use of the expression “the son of man” in these eschatological sayings is problematic, particularly if regarded as authentic usage by Jesus himself.

As we have seen, the expression seems to function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus. Yet there are serious difficulties when the expression is understood in this same way in the eschatological sayings, referring to the future (end-time) appearance of Jesus (as “the son of man”). Early Christians would have had no difficulty with this idea, as it simply reflects the conceptual (Christological) framework, whereby the exalted Jesus would return to earth, following his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. However, for people during Jesus’ own lifetime—including his disciples—they would not have readily understood the eschatological “son of man” references in terms of this sequence of Christological events. Indeed, for Jesus to speak of his future appearance (as the “son of man”), while he was still alive, prior to his death and resurrection, would surely have made little sense to most hearers.

Most critical commentators have approached this difficulty in one of two ways: (1) some (e.g., Hare) have denied the authenticity of the eschatological sayings, regarding them as early Christian creations (or adaptations), patterned after the other (authentic) “son of man” sayings; and, quite differently, (2) some (e.g., Tödt) have held that the eschatological sayings are authentic, but that Jesus was not identifying himself as this heavenly “son of man” figure (taken from Dan 7:13-14 and subsequent Jewish tradition, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Yet there are serious problems with both of these approaches, some of which have already been touched upon in the previous studies. At the close of this series, I will address the matter again, in a more comprehensive way.

In any case, we shall keep these longstanding (and much debated) critical issues in mind as we examine the eschatological “Q” sayings.

In the Gospel of Luke, there are two distinct blocks of eschatological teaching, separate from the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par), where these sayings are contained: 12:35-46 and 17:20-37. Matthew includes this “Q” material (12:39-40, 42b-46; 17:23-24, 26-27[ff?], 33, 34-35, 37b) within the framework of the “Eschatological Discourse” (24:43-44, 45-51, 26-27, 37-38, 40-41, 28, with the sole exception of 10:39).

Luke 12:40 / Matt 24:44

“(So) also you must come to be ready, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is) in the hour which you do not think, (that) the son of man comes!” (Lk 12:40)

The Matthean version of this statement (24:44) is virtually identical. In the Matthean context of the “Eschatological Discourse” (chap. 24f), the reference is clearly to Jesus’ future coming (using the early Christian term parousi/a, parousia, v. 3, see also vv. 27, 37, 39). In the Lukan context, however—viz., Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in chaps. 11-12—this is by no means quite so apparent. Indeed, within the immediate context of 12:35-46, it is not at all clear that the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in verse 40 is a self-reference by Jesus. Only in relation to the earlier “son of man” references (including in vv. 8-9f), can one infer that the Gospel writer understands the expression as referring to Jesus himself.

The illustration in verse 39 (par Matt 24:43) is meant to emphasize the unexpectedness of the son of man’s coming. The illustrative eschatological sayings in vv. 35-38, resembling those of Mark 13:33-36 par and Matt 24:42, 45-51 (cf. also the Wedding illustration in Matt 25:1-13), suggest that the end-time Judgment is in view. Those who remain faithful, in sober expectation of that moment, will be rewarded by God, while punishment awaits those who do not. The use of the verb grhgoreu/w (“stay/keep awake”) is regularly used in this eschatological context—Mk 13:34-37 par; 14:34ff par; Matt 24:42-43; 25:13; Lk 12:37; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:8; Rev 3:2-3; 16:15; cf. also 1 Cor 16:13. In Revelation 3:3, the Gospel parable/saying by Jesus has been translated into an unmistakable reference to his (Jesus’) future return (note also the context of 1 Thess 4-5).

As in Mk 13:26 par, so also here in Lk 12:40 par, the “son of man” comes (vb e&rxomai), appearing—presumably from heaven to earth—at the end-time. If this is taken as a self-reference by Jesus, it would have to refer to a second coming, from his exalted position in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56, etc), following his death and resurrection. This makes such an eschatological use of the expression “the son of man” problematic, as noted above. By all accounts, Jesus’ disciples, during his lifetime, would have had only a vague comprehension of this Christological framework—death, resurrection, ascension, exalted position in heaven, future coming—a framework otherwise so readily comprehended by early Christians (viz., at the time the Gospels were written).

Luke 17:22, 24, 26, 30 / Matt 24:27, 37

In Jesus’ eschatological teaching in Luke 17:20-37, the expression “the son of man” again occurs (4 times), though only in the last of these references (v. 30) is an end-time appearance of the son of man clearly indicated:

“…according to these (thing)s, (so) it shall be on the day when the son of man is uncovered [i.e. revealed]!”

The “things” Jesus speaks of are the illustrations given in vv. 22-29, as also (we may assume) those that follow in vv. 31-37. Elsewhere in this passage, the expression “the days of the son of man” is used (vv. 22, 26), with a comparable phrase (“the son of man in his day”) in v. 24. It is fair to assume that this wording refers to the time when the son of man will appear. The illustration of lightning flashes that instantly and vividly light up the entire sky (v. 24, par Matt 24:27) would seem to relate to the idea of the son of man’s appearance. In Mark 13:26 par, his appearance is preceded (and/or accompanied) by extraordinary celestial/meteorological phenomena (vv. 24-25ff) and disruptions of the natural order, drawing upon traditional eschatological imagery associated with the “day of YHWH” (Isa 13:10; 14:12; 24:23; 34:4; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Zeph 1:15; Ezek 32:7).

The Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are traditional images of catastrophic Divine judgment, which were both used as type-patterns to illustrate the coming end-time Judgment—cf. 2 Peter 2:5-10; 1 Peter 3:20ff; Jude 7; Luke 10:12 par; Matt 11:23-24. The Lot/Sodom illustration (vv. 28-29, 32) is not included by Matthew, so one cannot be sure that it originally was paired with the Noah/Flood illustration in the “Q” material; the two illustrations certainly do make for a natural pairing (as in 2 Pet 2:5ff). The point of the illustration(s) is that people were busy going about their daily affairs when the catastrophic judgment struck them, suddenly and unexpectedly. Only the righteous—the chosen ones—represented by Noah and Lot (and their families), respectively, were saved from the judgment. So it will be at the end-time. The appearance of the “son of man” thus coincides with the end-time Judgment.

While the reference in Mark 13:26 par clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 (and the heavenly figure “like a son of man”), it is not immediately apparent that the same point of reference informs the use of the expression in these “Q”/Lukan sayings. Apart from the use of the expression “son of man”, there are no other obvious allusions to Daniel, other than the broad context of the (eschatological) Judgment (cf. Dan 7:9-10f, 14, 26-27). To be sure, several other key Daniel references (9:27 par; 12:1ff) clearly influence the thought and wording of the “Eschatological Discourse”, but a comparable influence is harder to find in these “Q” sayings.

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the figure-types of the Davidic Messiah and the heavenly “Son of Man” from Daniel are blended together, and ultimately identified with the figure of a human being (Enoch) exalted to divine status in heaven (chap. 71). This certainly provides the closest parallel to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as both the Messiah and Son of Man. In the Similitudes, the Messianic “Son of Man” plays a central role in the end-time Judgment (46:4-6ff; 63:11; 69:26-29, etc), including the help and protection/salvation he gives to the righteous (48:4-7ff; 62:13-14, etc). For more on this subject, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The statement in Luke 17:22 (which is not part of the “Q” material) is the most peculiar of the “son of man” references in this passage:

“The days shall come when you will set your qumo/$ upon seeing one of the days of the son of man, and (yet) you shall not see [o&yesqe] (it).”

The expression “one [mi/a] of the days of the son of man” has long puzzled commentators. The basic expression “days of the son of man” is relatively straightforward, in context—it refers to the time when the son of man will appear. A possible parallel has been noted with the Rabbinic expression “the days of the Messiah” (m. Ber. 1:5, etc; cf. Strack-Billerbeck 2.237, 4.826-9; Fitzmyer, p. 1169), referring to the coming Messianic Age. A more likely explanation, perhaps, would attribute to the expression an emphatic/dramatic purpose, such as, e.g., (1) some indication that the son of man is about to come, (2) the onset of the end-time events which will immediately precede his coming, or (3) the beginning of the time of his appearing. This last (3) is probably closest to what the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) has in mind.

Verse 22 is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, whereas the prior vv. 20-21 (see my recent study) involve an exchange between Jesus and certain Pharisees. The verb e)piqume/w means “set one’s qumo/$ upon [e)pi/] (something)”. The noun qumo/$ roughly means “impulse”; in English idiom, we would probably use the term “heart” or “mind” as an approximation—i.e., “set one’s heart/mind on…”. However, one should not lose sight of the more intense idea of “impulse”, conveyed, e.g., by our words “longing”, “desire”, etc. The verb (and the related noun e)piqumi/a) can indicate a negative (sinful) desire, but it may also be used in a positive or neutral sense, as it is here.

What does it mean for the disciples to long (or desire) to “see” one of the “days of the son of man”. Based on parallels in the eschatological teaching of Jesus, the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par; Dan 12:1 LXX]), involving the disciples’ (believers) experience of persecution, is probably in view. This is certainly an emphasis in the “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13:9-13 par), but it can also be found, for example, in the context of the eschatological teaching of Luke 12:35-46 par (see above)—verses 4-7, 8-12, 52-53; cf. Matt 10:16-23ff. In the face of persecution and the end-time distress, Jesus’ disciples will long for his return. The end-time appearance of the “son of man” (Jesus) will usher in the Judgment, bringing salvation and reward for those who remain faithful.

The warning for them, however, is that they will not be able to see this moment coming, anymore than devout Pharisees, looking for the Kingdom of God, will be able to observe it coming (with their physical senses). Jesus specifically uses the verb o)pta/nomai, which implies physical sight (with one’s eyes); a literal rendering of the verb would be something like “gaze with (open) eyes (at)”. Interestingly, the same verb is used in both Mk 13:26 par and 14:62 par, where it refers to the visible appearance of the Son of Man.

Even for Jesus’ disciples (and all believers), the time of the end will come suddenly and unexpectedly—that is a principal point of emphasis in nearly all of these eschatological sayings. However much they may long for it, they will not be able to see it coming. It is for this reason, that all disciples/believers need to stay “awake”, remaining faithful and alert at all times, continuing to follow Jesus and to fulfill his mission, even in the face of growing darkness and persecution.

In the next (2-part) article of this series, we will examine the distinctive use of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, respectively. This involves the inclusion and adaptation of inherited traditions (Synoptic/Markan and “Q” material, etc), but also material that is original or unique to each Gospel.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28A (1985).

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 17:20-21)

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

In the previous studies, we have been looking at the Kingdom-petition of the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, within the literary context of the Gospel of Luke (and Luke-Acts) as a whole. As I have noted, the Gospel writer has used Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (cf. Mark 10 par) as the setting for a wide range of teaching by Jesus. In the framework of the Lukan narrative, the Journey becomes a period during which Jesus gives extensive instruction to his disciples, preparing them for what is to come. The Kingdom of God, as a subject, features prominently at a number of points in this narrative. In teaching his disciples about the Kingdom, Jesus’ instruction anticipates the early Christian mission, the template for which is provided by the author in the mission of the seventy(-two) disciples (10:1-12ff), occurring at the beginning of the Journey narrative.

Throughout these studies, we have noted the eschatological aspect of the Kingdom-concept in Jesus’ teaching (and in the Gospel Tradition). In this regard, the saying by Jesus in 17:20-21 is particularly significant, as it introduces a block of eschatological teaching (vv. 22-37), located (within the Journey narrative) near the end of the journey, as Jesus and his disciples draw near to Jerusalem. The tradition in vv. 20-21 deals squarely with the Kingdom, and the idea of its coming. Thus, it would seem to be of considerable importance for an understanding of the coming of the Kingdom, and should elucidate, in particular, the Lukan view of the subject.

However, the saying is best by a number of interpretive difficulties, especially with regard to the precise meaning of the Greek wording in v. 21.

Luke 17:20-21

To begin with, it should be noted that, as Luke sets the tradition, Jesus’ Kingdom-saying is addressed, not to his disciples, but to a question posed by certain Pharisees. Throughout the Gospel Tradition, the Pharisees feature as regular opponents of Jesus, who engage in disputes, often with a hostile or adversarial tone. Thus, verse 20b-21 (and the eschatological teaching that follows) is framed in the manner of many conflict/controversy episodes that occur elsewhere in the Gospels.

“When does the kingdom of God come?”

It is in response to this question from the Pharisees, asking when the kingdom of God would come (v. 20a), that Jesus responds. His response begins:

ou)k e&rxetai h( basilei/a tou= qeou= meta\ parathrh/sew$
“The kingdom of God does not come with close watching [lit. watching alongside]” (v. 20b)

The verb parathre/w means “watch along(side)”, in the sense of watching closely, observing carefully. The noun parath/rhsi$, which occurs only here in the New Testament (and LXX), denotes the act of watching along closely. The whole assumption underlying the Pharisees’ question is that there may be certain visible indicators, or signs, that the Kingdom of God has come, or is in the process of coming, about to come, etc. Thus, by watching for them closely, attentive people should be able to detect when the Kingdom arrives.

Jesus, however, declares that the Kingdom does not come in such an observable way. The phrasing used in v. 20b is interesting: does it mean “the kingdom does not come as the result of close watching” or “the kingdom does not come so as to be perceived through close watching”? The latter sense is probably to be preferred, as the point seems to be that the Kingdom cannot be perceived visibly (by means of the senses); however, I think the verb also indicates the effort of watching closely which does not help one see (much less bring about) the Kingdom of God (cf. John 3:3).

It is interesting that Jesus’ declaration in v. 20b, in the primary sense that the Kingdom of God cannot be perceived visually (with the senses), seems to contradict earlier statements regarding the Kingdom (9:27; 10:9, 11; 11:20).

Jesus continues, expanding upon his main point:

ou)de\ e)rou=sin: i)dou\ w!de h& e)kei=
“and they shall not say ‘See here!’ or ‘[See] there!'” (v. 21a).

The same language (“See here, see there”) also occurs at v. 23 (with similar sayings in Mark 13:21; Matthew 24:23). In Matthew and Mark, the reference is specifically to people saying “Here/there is the Messiah!”, whereas in Luke both references are unspecified: the first refers to the kingdom of God, the second presumably is to the Son of Man (or the “day” of the Son of Man). In all instances, we are dealing with people claiming that the Messiah (or the Kingdom of God / Son of Man) is to be found in a specific location or with a specific person. Regarding those who make such claims, Jesus warns “do not go from (where you are) and do not pursue (after them)” (Luke 17:23).

In verse 20b-21a, Jesus gives us idea what the Kingdom is not; in the concluding phrase (v. 21b), he finally touches upon what the Kingdom is (e)stin):

ga\r h( basilei/a tou= qeou= e)nto\$ u(mw=n e)stin
“for the kingdom of God is e)nto/$ you (pl.)”

This seems to be a clear predicative statement, and yet it contains a fundamental interpretive difficulty, a longstanding subject of debate among commentators—namely, how to understand the rather rare particle e)nto/$, which I have temporarily left untranslated above.

The word e)nto/$ is an adverb, used as a preposition, and related to e)n (“in”). It would normally be translated “within, inside”. Where this word occurs elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 23:26) or in the LXX (Psalm 39:4[3]; 103:1; 109:22; Isa 16:11), it is used rather concretely—the OT passages all refer to the heart or organs within/inside a person. It can also be used in a more general sense (spatially or temporally), “within the limits of” or “within reach of”. However, in nearly every instance a singular object is involved. Its use with a plural object (“you” [pl.], u(mw=n), referring to a group of people, is both rare and peculiar.

It is worth summarizing several lines of interpretation, which have been suggested by commentators over the years:

1. Mystical-spiritual: This involves a literal translation, i.e., the kingdom of God is within the heart/soul of believers, on the spiritual (or psychological) level. This certainly would make a suitable contrast to a visible/sensual coming of the kingdom. However, it is difficult to find many other passages in the Synoptic Gospels (Luke, in particular), where Jesus refers to the kingdom of God in this manner; but it may still be consonant with Jesus’ teaching (see references in John [3:3, 5; 18:36], and note the variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer [Luke 11:2], mentioned previously in these notes, which connects the coming of the kingdom with the coming of the Spirit). A number of early translators (Old Latin, Vulgate, Peshitta) seem to have understood the verse this way, as did Church Fathers such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa (but no doubt influenced by their own orthodox ‘gnostic’ approach). The real difficulty with this interpretation is grammatical—the plural personal object (u(mw=n).

2. Communal-collective: In light of the plural pronoun, one might better understand e)nto/$ as “among, within the limits/confines of”. Normally, this would be expressed more simply with the preposition e)n, which, when  the object involves a group of people, often means “among”, or the expression e)n me/sw| (“in the midst of”); thus, the use of e)nto/$ to express this would be a bit strange. But if “among” is the correct sense, there are still several possibilities, one of which is that the kingdom refers to believers in the midst of the people at large.

3. Hidden kingdom: The meaning could still be “among” or “in the midst of”, but with an emphasis on the invisible presence of the Kingdom—i.e., that God is working (in the person of Jesus, or by the Holy Spirit) in the midst of the people, but without it being readily apparent to the senses.

4. Kingdom “at hand”: This interpretation understands e)nto/$ as “within reach, close”. This would fit the early Gospel message that the kingdom of God “has come near” (h&ggiken) (Mark 1:15 par., and esp. Luke 21:31). Or, perhaps it should be understood in a temporal sense: the kingdom of God will soon/suddenly appear.

All of these interpretations have merit, but I think that (3) probably comes closest to what Luke (and Jesus himself) originally intended. The Kingdom of God is present in the person of Jesus—and the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) that works through him (11:20; par Matt 12:28). This spiritual manifestation of the Kingdom continues, through the inspired work of the disciples, acting in extension of Jesus’ own ministry, and in the early Christian mission (narrated throughout the book of Acts). We shall explore this (Lukan) understanding of the Kingdom further in upcoming studies.

There are several other parallel versions of this saying, which may (or may not) be derived from Luke 17:21:

    • (Coptic) Gospel of Thomas §3: Jesus said, “If those who lead you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (translation Thomas O. Lambdin)
    • Gospel of Thomas §113 (Coptic): His disciples said to Him, “When will the Kingdom come?” <Jesus said,> “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is.’ Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.” (Lambdin)
    • Gospel of Thomas (Greek):  Jesus said, “If those who attract you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is under the earth,’ then the fish of the sea will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom of God is inside of you, and it is outside of you. [Those who] become acquainted with [themselves] will find it; [and when you] become acquainted with yourselves, [you will understand that] it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.”
      (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 654.9-16, translation Grenfell-Hunt)

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 102 (Part 2)

Psalm 102, continued

There are two main stanzas to Psalm 102: the first (vv. 2-12), discussed in Part 1, involves the individual sickness and suffering of the Psalmist/protagonist, while the second (vv. 13-23) focuses on the suffering of the people as a whole (and their land). The affliction of the Psalmist thus serves as an emblem for the people as whole, presumably in the exilic (or early post-exilic) period. In the first portion of the second stanza, vv. 13-18, the protagonist expresses his trust in YHWH, lauding His greatness and His Kingship, anticipating, as he does, the restoration of the Israelite/Judean kingdom (centered at Jerusalem). Just as the Psalmist’s suffering parallels that of the people as a whole, so his hope for healing and deliverance parallels the expectation for the restoration of Zion.

Second Stanza: Verses 13-23 [12-22]

Verse 13 [12]

“But you, YHWH, for (the) distant (future) sit (as King),
and mention of you (lasts) for cycle and cycle!”

This initial (4+3) couplet, praising YHWH as King, is nearly identical with Lamentations 5:19, the notable difference being “your memorial” (;r=k=z]) instead of “your throne” (;a&s=K!). It is possible that Lamentations here quotes the Psalm, making the natural substitution of “throne” for “memorial”. The noun rk#z@, from the root rkz I (“mention, have in mind, call to mind”), here relates to YHWH’s renown and glory as King, which makes Him worthy to be spoken of (and invoked) for all generations to come. The pairing of the temporal expressions, <l*oul= (“for/[in]to the distant [future]”) and rd)w` rd)l= (“for cycle and cycle”), is traditional and occurs frequently in the Psalms. The noun roD (rD)) means “circle”, indicating, in this context, a cycle of time (“age”), or the circle of people (“generation”) living during a particular cycle. YHWH’s reign as King lasts “into the far distant future” —i.e., forever.

Verse 14 [13]

“You (surely) will stand up (and) have mercy (on) Ṣiyyôn—
for (the) time to show her favor,
indeed has come, (the) appointed time!”

The pronoun hT*a^ (“you”) at the beginning of this verse matches that of v. 13; here, in particular, its occurrence is emphatic. The Psalmist urges YHWH to act, expressing confidence that God, in His ruling power (as King, v. 13), will surely now (or soon) take action. The idea is that YHWH will stand up (from His throne) and exercise His royal authority, so as to deliver Zion and restore the kingdom to the people of Israel/Judah. This restorative act is referenced in terms of “showing mercy/compassion” (vb <j^r*, Piel), implying YHWH’s deep love for His people (and the city of Jerusalem). The act is particularly described as that of a sovereign who shows favor (vb /n~j*) to a subordinate.

The Psalmist is convinced that this, indeed, is the time—considered as the “appointed (time)” (du@om)—for the restoration to occur, now, after a period of suffering and desolation (i.e., exile), which parallels the individual suffering and sickness of the Psalmist/protagonist (see above, and the exegesis of the first stanza in Part 1).

Metrically, this verse is a long 4-beat (4+4) couplet; however, the poetic rhythm seems better served by parsing it as a 4+2+2 tricolon.

Verse 15 [14]

“Indeed, your servants are favorable (toward) her stones,
and (even to) her dust they would show favor.”

If YHWH’s servants are eager to show favor to Jerusalem (in her ruins), then how much more should YHWH Himself wish to show her favor! There is also a certain chain of relationship at work here: YHWH is the Sovereign who shows favor to His servants, and they, in turn, would show favor to the ruined city (i.e., its stones and dust) by rebuilding it. But the servants can only convey this favor to the city if YHWH first bestows it upon them; in so doing, YHWH is effectively showing favor Himself upon the city.

The verbs hx*r* and /n~j* (also used in v. 14) are conceptually related in this regard. The first verb (hx*r*) indicates that a person has a favorable attitude or disposition toward someone (or something), while the second (/n~j*) denotes showing favor or bestowing a favor.

Even today, in an entirely different time period and generation, devout Israelites and Jews show favor to the ruins of Jerusalem, e.g., by spending time in prayer and meditation before the Western (‘Wailing’) Wall.

Metrically, this verse returns to the 3-beat (3+3) couplet format that tends to dominate the two main stanzas.

Verse 16 [15]

“And (even) the nations will fear (the) name of YHWH,
and all (the) kings of the earth your weight.”

The devotion that God’s people show to YHWH, acknowledging Him as King (v. 13), will eventually be shared by all the nations. This expectation, of the nations joining Israel in recognizing YHWH as their Sovereign and God, was an important theme of the Kingship Psalms 93-100. It is a key component of the eschatological prophecies of the exilic and post-exilic period, but a rudimentary form of the theme seems to have developed already by the late kingdom-period.

In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represents and embodies the person, in a magical sort of way. This is all the more true in the religious sphere, with regard to God. A deity is understood to be present (and manifest) through his/her name; and Israel shared this basic belief with regard to YHWH. The people were able to have contact with YHWH, in a symbolic and ritual manner, through His name. This was realized in a number of different ways and context, but, most notably, through the idea that YHWH’s name was present in the Temple sanctuary. The presence of God’s name applied to (was “called over/upon”) the entire building complex; the entire structure belonged to YHWH, and His name fully pervaded its precincts. This is a key theme in the Deuteronomic Writings; see, in particular, the Prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8 par), and my recent notes on this passage. On the significance of names and naming in ancient Near Eastern thought, cf. the Introduction to the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”.

YHWH is also manifest through His dobK* (“weight”)—viz., His attributes, etc, all that makes Him ‘weighty’ and worthy of honor and praise, etc. This dobK* came to conceptualized visually, drawing upon storm-theophany and various kinds of light-imagery; it was envisioned as a brilliant splendor that covered and surrounded YHWH. In 1 Kings 8 (see above), the dobK* of YHWH, manifest in the Temple, is described briefly (using traditional imagery) in vv. 10-11f; in the remainder of the passage, the emphasis is on the name of YHWH.

The meter of v. 16 is 4+3, as in the first couplet (v. 13).

Verse 17 [16]

“Indeed, (when) YHWH has built Ṣiyyôn,
(and) is seen (there) in (all) His weight,”

The precise syntactical relationship of vv. 16-18 may be debated. It is possible to read verse 17 as a continuation of v. 16:

“Even the nations will fear (the) name of YHWH,
and all (the) kings of the earth your weight,
when YHWH has built Ṣiyyôn (again),
(and) is seen (there) in (all) His weight”

That is to say, it is the restoration of Israel (including the rebuilding of Jerusalem) which will lead to the nations revering YHWH (as their God). Indeed, the coming of the nations to Jerusalem is a key theme in a number of Prophetic passages (e.g., Micah 4:1-5, par Isa 2:1-4), and is particularly prominent in connection with the eschatological theme of Israel’s restoration.

This approach is altogether valid. And yet, at the same time, one can also read verse 18 as a continuation of v. 17 (see below). I am more inclined to emphasize the relationship between vv. 17 and 18, indicated by the alliterative wordplay between the verbs hn*B* (b¹nâ, “build”) and hn*P* (p¹nâ, “turn, face”); on this point, cf. Dahood, III, p. 17f.

In any case, this verse clearly expresses the expectation for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. By all accounts, such a rebuilding has not yet occurred, but is viewed as a real possibility (in the near future). This would be accord with an exilic (or early post-exilic) date for the Psalm.

The meter of verse 17 is 3+2, followed by 3+3 in v. 18.

Verse 18 [17]

“(then) He will have turned to (the) prayer of the naked,
and (indeed) will not have disregarded their prayer.”

The implication of the Psalmist’s wording here is that the rebuilding of Jerusalem will be proof that YHWH has heard and answered (“turned to”) his prayer—and, collectively, the prayer of all other faithful and devout ones, who currently suffer (like the Psalmist) in the face of the kingdom’s ruin. The Psalmist’s purpose, again, is to urge YHWH to take action, beginning the chain of events that will lead to Israel’s restoration and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

The righteous ones, who are currently suffering, are designated here, collectively, as “the naked” (ru*r=u^h*). An implicit allusion to the suffering of the protagonist (in stanza 1) is probably intended. If so, then it anticipates the concluding section of the Psalm (vv. 24-29), in which the protagonist’s suffering (and his deliverance from suffering) is paired with that of the people as a whole. The conclusion, along with the remainder of the second stanza (vv. 19-23) will be examined in Part 3.

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).

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

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

The Gospel of Luke contains three “Q” sayings in close proximity, in the general context of the Beelzebul episode (11:14-23) and the prior block of teaching on prayer (11:1-13). These sections are part of the broader thematic emphasis on discipleship (9:57-62)—and on the mission of the disciples (see 10:1-12ff)—which frames the long Journey narrative (9:51-18:31).

Luke 11:30 / Matt 12:40

The first “son of man” reference, within this context, is the statement in 11:30, part of the “Q” tradition-unit 11:29-32 (par Matt 12:38-42). As the Lukan author introduces the unit (v. 29), in his narrative setting, the crowds surrounding Jesus are increasing; the response that follows implies that they are gathering in the hopes of witnessing a miracle, or perhaps, to observe some confirming indication (‘sign’) that Jesus is the Messiah. The Matthean introduction (12:38) frames the unit as part of the continuing conflict between Jesus and the “Pharisees and scribes”, who here request from him some “sign” (shmei=on)— “we wish to see from you a sign”. The saying of Jesus follows:

“This genea/ is an evil genea/! It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it, if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah!” (v. 29)

Matthew has the same saying in a slightly expanded form (12:39). Jesus continues:

“For, just as Yonah came to be a sign to the Ninevites, so also shall the son of man be to this genea/.” (v. 30)

Within the implicit context of this tradition, the “sign” referenced by Jesus would involve some visible indication that he spoke and acted with Divine authority—specifically confirming his identity as a Messianic Prophet. Jesus condemns this lack of trust among his contemporaries, referring to them as an evil genea/ (‘generation’); the Matthean version has “…evil and adulterous genea/,” thus bringing out the idea of their faithlessness.

Jesus declares that no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah (the Prophet), and compares himself to Jonah in this regard. The expression “the son of man” here would seem to be, again, primarily a self-reference by Jesus—i.e., “this son of man”, namely, Jesus himself. It is as though he said, “…so shall I be to this genea/.”

In what way is Jesus shown to be like Jonah, and what is the significance of the “sign of Jonah”? Matthew’s version makes this clear, explaining it in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus:

“For, just as Jonah was in the belly of the cavernous (sea-creature) three days and three nights, so the son of man shall be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” (12:40)

It is hard to be certain, but it would seem that Luke more likely preserves the original (and much simpler) “Q” saying; the Matthean version is perhaps best seen as an interpretive gloss on the saying—explaining in what way Jesus will be a sign (like Jonah) to his generation. The remainder of the tradition (vv. 31-32, Matt 12:41-42), however, suggests a rather different significance for the original saying. The emphasis, clearly, is upon the preaching of Jonah, which led to the people’s repentance (see the book of Jonah, chap. 3). The added illustration of the Queen of Sheba (“Queen of the South”), v. 31 par, confirms this aspect of the saying. Both the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba are examples of foreign people (i.e., non-Israelites), who responded positively, with a certain trust, to the word/wisdom of God as manifest in the persons of Jonah and Solomon, respectively.

By contrast, Jesus’ own people have not responded to him in the same kind of way, even though he is far greater Prophet than Jonah, and a greater manifestation of God’s Wisdom than ever was present in Solomon. For this reason, the Queen of Sheba and the people of Nineveh will serve as witnesses against the Israelite/Jewish people of Jesus’ generation (genea/) at the Judgment.

This eschatological Judgment-context is also part of the second “son of man” reference.

Luke 12:8-9 / Matt 10:32-33

“whoever should give account as one [o(mologh/sh|] with me in front of men, the son of man also shall give account as one [o(mologh/sei] with him in front of the Messengers of God; but, (for) the (one) denying me in the sight of men, he shall be denied in the sight of the Messengers of God.” (Lk 12:8-9)

The Matthean version (10:32-33) is more uniform, with the first person pronoun used consistently by Jesus, rather than the expression “the son of man”:

“every(one) who shall give account as one with me in front of men, I also shall give account as one with him in front of my Father th(at is) in [the] heavens; but whoever shall deny me in front of men, I also shall deny him in front of my Father th(at is) in [the] heavens.”

Whether or not “the son of man” was present in the first part of the original “Q” tradition, this variation between the Lukan and Matthean versions only confirms the expression as a self-reference by Jesus—essentially as a surrogate for the first-person pronoun (“I”).

The emphasis in this saying is on confessing one’s trust in (and allegiance to) Jesus. The verb o(mologe/w means “give account as one”, i.e., be in agreement with another person; it can be used in the more general sense of “assent, consent, admit, acknowledge”, and is a regular term in the New Testament for the common (and public) acknowledgement of Jesus among early Christians. Here, one’s fate in the Judgment is made to depend upon whether or not one confesses faith in Jesus Christ, as being his true disciple. The lex talionis principle is involved, with a correspondence between earthly action and heavenly consequence. If a person acknowledges Jesus on earth (“before men”), then he/she will be acknowledged by Jesus in heaven (before God and His Messengers). Similarly, if one denies Jesus on earth, he/she will be denied (by Jesus) in heaven.

It is no small matter to confess Jesus (as the Messiah) publicly in this way, since it can result in persecution (and even death) for the disciple. This is made clear from the Lukan context of Jesus’ instruction for his disciples, i.e., the sayings in the prior vv. 4-7, and also the subsequent teaching in vv. 11-12. The theme of persecution is very much emphasized in the Matthean context as well (see 10:16-31, 34-39).

Both of these “son of man” references involve an eschatological orientation, along with a definite allusion to the end-time Judgment. This has led some commentators to posit that the expression “the son of man”, in these (and other) references, specifically connotes a heavenly figure (drawn primarily from Daniel 7:13-14) who will appear at the end-time and play a leading role in the final Judgment. As was discussed previously, the Synoptic/Markan “son of man” sayings in Mk 13:26 par and 14:62 par, certainly do allude to the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14. We will examine this point of reference further in Part 4 of this article, as we look at the remaining (eschatological) “Q” sayings.

Luke 12:10 par

This saying was discussed extensively in Part 2, but it is worth addressing again, in relation to the Lukan context of the sayings in 11:30 and 12:8-9. Nearly all of the teaching in chapter 12 has an eschatological orientation, focusing on the coming end-time Judgment and the events which precede it. The opposition by the religious leaders (Pharisees, etc) to Jesus is framed as part of this end-time scenario (see the context of 11:37-54 and 12:1); indeed, the persecution of Jesus and his disciples, beginning with his death, marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress. By this teaching, Jesus is effectively preparing his disciples for what will come.

This, then, underscores the setting for the teaching in chapter 12 (see the introductory saying in verse 2f), as Jesus exhorts his followers, stressing the importance of remaining faithful in the midst of opposition and persecution (vv. 4-7). The three “Q” traditions in vv. 8-12 provides us a glimpse of how these blocks of sayings/teaching came to be assembled and compiled by early Christians. Traditions were often gathered and joined together based on topic, but also by means of “catchword bonding” —that is, a common word or phrase shared by two distinct traditions.

Here, the topic/subject involves discipleship and the cost of following Jesus, emphasizing the public confession of faith in Jesus, within an eschatological framework (involving persecution). The sayings are joined together as follows:

    • Saying 1 (vv. 8-9) which contains the expression “the son of man”, shared by =>
      • Saying 2 (v. 10) which contains a reference to the Holy Spirit, shared by =>

It is this thematic and catchword bonding which, apparently, led the Lukan author to include the saying regarding the insult against the Holy Spirit (v. 10) here in this context (rather than within the earlier Beelzebul episode, as in Mark-Matthew). It gives to that particular tradition a distinctive eschatological orientation and emphasis, related to the early Christian mission, which it does not otherwise have in the Synoptic narrative. The early Christian mission is, as we have seen, a particular point of emphasis and a central theme for the Lukan narrative.

By placing the saying on the insult to the Holy Spirit (v. 10) within the confessional context of vv. 8-9 and 11-12, Luke gives to the saying a distinct interpretation and nuance of meaning. Now, the insult to the Holy Spirit is to be understood in the confessional sense of denying Jesus (as the Messiah). This, of course, is the dividing line between believer and un-believer, between the true and false disciple. Denying Jesus, in this sense, means more than an ad hominem attack, speaking against his person (as a man, i.e. “son of man”); rather, it entails a denial of God’s own Spirit that is at work in Jesus, marking him as the Messiah (cf. 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18ff). This is essentially the same point made in the Markan/Synoptic setting (of the Beelzebul episode, cf. the author’s comment in 3:3o), but Luke effectively ties this use of the expression “the son of man” to the eschatological (Judgment) setting of vv. 8-9ff. As we shall see (in Part 4), this is an important aspect of the expression as it occurs in the remaining “Q” sayings (12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30 pars).