May 26: Acts 6:10; 8:38; 11:17, etc

No survey or study of the references to the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts is complete without some mention of the unique passages in the so-called ‘Western’ text of Acts. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, in New Testament textual criticism, ‘Western’ refers to manuscripts and versions which share a specific set of textual readings (or tendencies), distinct from other text-groupings (Alexandrian) and/or the ‘Majority’ text (the reading of the majority of manuscripts). In particular, it refers primarily to the readings common to the Codex Bezae [D] and a good number of Old Latin manuscripts. However the term “Western” is something of a misnomer, since ‘Western’ readings are also shared by various Greek MSS presumably covering a relatively wide/disparate geographical range, as well as by Syriac, Coptic (Egyptian), Georgian, etc, versions. While ‘Western’ readings are attested in the Gospels and other New Testament books, the distinctive readings in the book of Acts are extensive (and different) enough to constitute an entirely separate recension, or version, of the book. The relation of this recension to the Alexandrian/Majority text has been the topic of discussion and debate among commentators and textual scholars for decades. The ‘Western’ version is longer and more extensive, containing more (and more verbose) literary/historical detail, especially in the introductory and summary portions of the narrative episodes. Of the many theories scholars have put forward, the most noteworthy (and interesting) are:

    • The Alexandrian/Majority text is the original (or more closely so), while the ‘Western’ text represents a secondary expansion by scribes or an author/editor
    • The ‘Western’ text is closer to the original, while the Alexandrian/Majority text is a truncated or redacted version (by a later scribe or author/editor)
    • The original author (trad. Luke) produced two versions or drafts of the book, each of which (somehow) was published or came into circulation
    • The original work was incomplete, surviving in a draft form which included notes/annotations by the author; subsequent scribes/editors created the two versions working from this draft text

The last theory is especially intriguing and offers an attractive explanation for several especially difficult passages; however, it remains highly speculative. Most scholars today would opt for the first theory, that the ‘Western’ text is a secondary expansion. Generally, this would seem to be correct, since the scribal tendency was to expand/add to the text rather than reduce/omit from it—hence the text-critical rule of thumb lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferred”). Also, many of the longer narrative sections seem to have the purpose of clarifying the context in detail, to the point of becoming excessively redundant and pedantic.

Some scholars have also thought that the ‘Western’ version shows distinctive doctrinal/theological tendencies (including an anti-Jewish bias); this has been discussed in a number of studies, most notably in Eldon J. Epp, The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis in Acts (Cambridge: 1966). One feature of the ‘Western’ version of Acts is an increased emphasis on the Holy Spirit—including at least 10 distinct references, in addition to the 50+ in the Alexandrian/Majority text. It has been argued that this difference is theological as well—e.g., (a) the ‘Western’ author/editor wished to give greater prominence to the role of the Spirit (perhaps under Montanist influence), or (b) the Alexandrian/Majority text may have wished to reduce the role of the Spirit due to an anti-charismatic (or anti-Montanist) tendency. Matthew Black expounds this latter point in his article “The Holy Spirit in the Western Text of Acts” (in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger, eds. Eldon J. Epp & Gordon D. Fee [Oxford: 1981], pp. 159-70). I find such theories to be rather unlikely. Most of what I see in the ‘Western’ version can be explained simply as the result of a tendency to clarify and (over)explain the narrative context. If anything, there may have been a pious interest to enhance the role and prestige of the apostles by including reference to the Holy Spirit whenever possible.

Below I summarize the unique/distinctive passages in the ‘Western’ text which mention the Holy Spirit. I have made use of Black’s study as it provides a convenient compilation of the passages (the Western ‘additions’ are in italics):

  • Acts 6:10 (of Stephen)—”and they did not have strength to stand against the wisdom th(at) was in him and the holy Spirit in which he spoke” (D et al). The shorter text could be taken to mean “the wisdom and spirit“, but the Western version makes clear that this is a reference to the (Holy) Spirit; also the phrase “that was in him” likely is meant to emphasize the divine inspiration which resides within the early believers through the presence of the Spirit. There is a similar variant involving the specific adjective “holy” in Acts 8:18.
  • Acts 8:38—”and when they stepped up out of the water, the holy Spirit fell upon the chamber-official, and the Messenger of the Lord snatched up Philip” (Ac 1739 [and other minuscules] p w, the Harclean Syriac, and other versions/witnesses). It is perhaps incorrect to categorize this as a ‘Western’ reading, since it covers a rather wide and diverse range of textual witnesses. As noted previously, baptism in the book of Acts is always connected with believers receiving the Spirit, so the lack of any such reference in the Majority text of 8:38 is somewhat unusual. This could easily be the reason why a scribe or editor might have added it here; but it also could be an argument in favor of the longer text.
  • Acts 11:17 (Peter speaking)—”who was I powerful (enough) to [i.e. how could I possibly] cut off [i.e. block/prevent] God (so as) not to give (the) holy Spirit to them, the (one)s trusting in Him?” (D p vgms syrh etc). The longer text is curious in that it seems to misunderstand the context and central issue of the narrative in Acts 10-11—the inclusion of Gentile believers as part of the Christian Community. I.e., since the Holy Spirit came upon them miraculously (as a work of God), they certainly should be allowed admission to baptism and entry into the Community. Possibly the sense of Peter’s words underlying the longer reading is, “If I could not prevent God from giving them His Spirit, how could we (other Jewish Christians) dare to prevent them from being baptized?”
  • Acts 15:7—”Peter, standing up in the [holy] Spirit, said…” (D et al)
    Acts 15:29 (The decree)—”…from which [i.e. the things prohibited in the decree] watching (over) yourselves carefully, you (will) perform well carrying (yourselves) in the holy Spirit” (D etc)
    Acts 15:32 (of Judas/Silas)—”…and they, being Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] full of (the) holy Spirit, called the brothers along [i.e. encouraged them] with many words” (D)
    These additions (if such they be) presumably were intended to enhance the status and Spirit-inspired character of the Jerusalem Council, so central to the book of Acts and the account of the early mission to the Gentiles.
  • Acts 19:1—”Paul was wishing to travel unto Jerusalem according to his own plan/counsel (but) the Spirit said to him to turn back into Asia, and coming through…” (Ë38 D syrh mg etc). This is an example of the more expansive narrative introductions typical of the Western text; here it emphasizes the Spirit’s direction (and intervention) in Paul’s travels.
  • Acts 20:3 (of Paul)—”he wished to take up sail into Syria but the Spirit said to him to turn back through Macedonia…” (D syrh mg etc). A similar expanded introduction emphasizing the guiding direction of the Spirit.
  • Acts 26:1—”then Paul stretched out the hand, giving an account of himself, {confident and receiving help/encouragement in/by the holy Spirit}…” (syrh mg [the underlying Greek text is uncertain])

For more on the ‘Western’ version of Acts, consult any reputable critical Commentary. One of the earliest (and best) is The Beginnings of Christianity (5 vols), eds. F. J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (1920-33), also available from Biblesoft in electronic form. A popular, compact and very readable modern Commentary is that of J. A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible [AB] series (Vol. 31, 1998). Cf. also the commentaries by E. Haenchen (Westminster/Oxford: 1971) and F. F. Bruce (Tyndale: 1951, and in the NICNT series, 1954/1988), among others. There is a convenient summary of the topic in the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition), pp. 222-36.

May 25: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (Pt 3)

    1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
    2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
    3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

Today I am exploring the last of the three principal themes involving the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, listed above (see the prior notes on 1 and 2).

Guided/Led by the Spirit (“in the Spirit”)

This theme is already set in the portion of the Infancy Narrative involving Simeon, who, like John and his parents (Zechariah/Elizabeth) are transitional figures in the Gospel—representing the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new. In Lk 2:27, it is said that Simeon “came into the Temple in the Spirit [e)n tw=| pneu/mati]”—this presumably indicates a state of inspiration (cf. vv. 25-26 and the oracles in vv. 29-32, 34-35), but also that he was led into the Temple at just the right moment to encounter the child Jesus. This idea is expressed much more clearly in the case of Jesus himself, at the beginning of his ministry. Previously, I have noted the precise way the references to the Spirit help to structure the narrative in chapters 3-4:

    • Lk 3:22—The Holy Spirit came down upon [e)pi/] him (Baptism/Anointing)
      • Lk 4:1a—He turned back [u(pe/streyen] full of the Spirit
        • Lk 4:1b-2in the Spirit in the desert—being led by the Spirit—testing by the Devil
      • Lk 4:14—He turned back [u(pe/streyen] in the power of the Spirit
    • Lk 4:18—The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi/] him (Anointing)

Note especially the three central references to Jesus being led by the Spirit:

    • full of the holy Spirit he turned back…” (v. 1a)
    • “and he was led [h&geto] in the Spirit [e)n tw=| pneu/mati] in the desolate (land)” (v. 1b)
    • “he turned back in the power of the Spirit…” (v. 14)

Clearly, the Spirit is understood as guiding and directing Jesus’ steps. Elsewhere in the Gospel, the Spirit’s guidance is related to inspired speech (proclamation), in two respects:

    • The source of inspiration (“in the Spirit”):
      “In that same hour, he [i.e. Jesus] lept for joy [i.e. rejoiced] in the [holy] Spirit and said…” (Lk 10:21)
    • Inspiration as teaching:
      (Jesus to his disciples): “…for (the) holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s which it is necessary for you to say” (Lk 12:12)

These principal aspects of the Spirit’s guiding power continue, being developed in the book of Acts:

  • Acts 1:2—Jesus gave commands/instruction to his disciples through the Holy Spirit before he was taken up into heaven
  • Acts 2:4—The disciples speak in “other tongues” as the Spirit gave to them the ability to speak forth; this prefigures the believers fulfilling a role similar to the inspired Prophets of old (cf. Acts 1:16; 4:8, 25, 31; 11:28; 21:11; 28:25, etc). Speaking in foreign tongues also symbolizes the mission of the disciples out into the wider Greco-Roman (Gentile) world.
  • The Spirit gives direct communication to the disciples/apostles, especially in regard to the mission to the Gentiles—Acts 8:29; 10:44; 11:12; 13:2; 15:28
  • Acts 8:29ff—The Spirit guides and directs Philip in his missionary travels:
    —”And the Spirit said to Philip…” (v. 29), directing him to the Ethiopian official
    —”And when they stepped up out of the water, (the) Spirit of the Lord snatched (up) Philip and the (Ethiopian) chamber-official did not see him any longer” (v. 39)
  • Acts 13:2ff—The Spirit similarly provides guidance to Paul (and Barnabas, etc) throughout his journeys, cf. especially Acts 13:4; 16:6-7; 19:21; 20:22-23; 21:4, 11.
  • As a related (secondary) theme, we should mention references to the Spirit in the specific context of persecution or opposition, etc, to the disciples’ preaching and missionary work—Acts 4:31; 5:3, 9; 6:10; 7:51; 8:18ff; 13:9; cf. Luke 12:10-12.

In regard to these references, it is worth noting that the role of the Spirit takes on even greater prominence in the so-called “Western” version of the book of Acts, which I will discuss in the next daily note.

May 24: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (Pt 2)

    1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
    2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
    3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

In the previous day’s note, I discussed the first of the three principal themes involving the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, listed above. In the next two daily notes, I will be looking at the last two in turn.

Filled with/by the Spirit

This image (and vocabulary) is virtually unique to Luke-Acts in the New Testament; indeed, of the 24 occurrences of the verb plh/qw / pi/mplhmi (“fill [up]”), all but 22 are in Luke-Acts. There are 9 instances where people are said to be “filled” by the Spirit, and another 5 where they are said to be “full” of the Spirit (using the related adjective plh/rh$):

    • Luke 1:15 (of John)—”he will be filled [plhsqh/setai] by the holy Spirit” before he has even come out of his mother’s womb
    • Luke 1:41 (of Elizabeth)—”and Elisheba was filled [e)plh/sqh] by the holy Spirit…”
      Luke 1:67 (of Zechariah)—”and Zacharyah was filled [e)plh/sqh] by the holy Spirit…”
    • Luke 4:1 (of Jesus)—”And Yeshua, full [plh/rh$] of the Spirit, turned back…”
    • Acts 2:4 (of believers)—”and they all were filled [e)plh/sqhsan] by the holy Spirit…” (cf. also vv. 2, 13)
    • Acts 4:8 (of Peter)—”Then (the) Rock {Peter}, filled [plhsqei/$] by the holy Spirit, said…”
    • Acts 4:31 (of believers)—”…and they all (together) were filled [e)plh/sqhsan] by the holy Spirit…”
    • Acts 6:3 (of the Seven [incl. Stephen])—”…seven (who are) full [plh/rei$] of (the) Spirit and wisdom…”
    • Acts 6:5 (of Stephen)—”…a man full [plh/rh$] of trust [i.e. faith] and the holy Spirit”
    • Acts 7:55 (of Stephen)—”but being (in a state) full [plh/rh$] of the holy Spirit…”
    • Acts 9:17 (of Paul)—(Ananias): “…so that you might see again and be filled [plhsqh=|$] by the holy Spirit”
    • Acts 11:24 (of Barnabas)—”…he was a good man and full [plh/rh$] of the holy Spirit and trust [i.e. faith]”
    • Acts 13:9 (of Paul)—”But Shaûl, the one also (called) Paulus, filled [plhsqei/$] by the holy Spirit…”
    • Acts 13:52 (of believers)—”and the learners [i.e. disciples] were filled [e)plhrou=nto] with joy/delight and the holy Spirit”

In many, if not most of these instances, the filling by the Spirit produces inspired (prophetic) speech, just as the Prophets of Israel where inspired by God to speak. This is certainly the case with Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s parents, who each utter prophetic oracles (Lk 1:41ff, 67ff). It is said specifically of John the Baptist that he would have the spirit/power of a Prophet (i.e. Elijah, Lk 1:17, 76ff), which would be the source of the preaching/proclamation in his ministry (Lk 1:80; 3:2-3ff). Similarly, Jesus begins his public ministry with an inspired address in the synagogue at Nazareth, in which he identifies himself as the Anointed Prophet/herald of Isaiah 61:1ff (Lk 4:16-21ff). For the first believers, the filling of the Spirit was also principally for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, especially in the face of persecution (cf. Lk 12:11-12; 21:12-15 par). It would give to their proclamation a divine authority and power, both to bring about repentance and conversion but also it would also allow believers to resist the attacks of their opponents (Acts 4:8ff, 31; 6:10; 13:9, etc), just as Jesus withstood temptation by the Devil (Lk 4:1-13, 14).

The basic idea of filling comes originally from the fundamental meaning of pneu=ma (“spirit”) as “breath” or “wind” (cf. Acts 2:2, 4). However, the image of the Spirit as water is also clearly at work, in light of the central association with baptism. We see a play on the idea of believers filled with liquid in Acts 2:13; however, in Luke-Acts we do not find the symbolism of drinking associated with the Spirit as we do in the Gospel of John (Jn 4:7-15, 23-24; 6:53-55, 63; 7:37-39). In the account of Jesus giving the Spirit to his disciples in Jn 20:22, it is said that he “breathed in(to)” them, perhaps alluding to the creation account (Gen 2:7); in any case, it is certainly parallel to Acts 2:2-4, where the believers are filled by the Wind/Breath (Spirit) of God. We also find in Luke-Acts influence of the Old Testament/Jewish traditional imagery of being filled by Wisdom—i.e. the Wisdom of God—Lk 2:40; Acts 6:3 (cf. also Acts 6:5, 8; 9:36; 11:24). For the theme in the Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom literature, cf. Isa 11:9; 44:3; Psalm 107:9; Prov 3:19-20; 9:5; 18:4; Wisdom 1:7; Sirach 1:16; 2:16; 15:3; 17:7; 24:21; 39:6, 12, etc.

May 23: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (Pt 1)

Having discussed the Holy Spirit in the Lukan Infancy narrative in the previous daily note, today I will begin a short survey of how the theme/idea of the Spirit is used and developed throughout Luke-Acts. Luke has more specific references to the Spirit than any of the other Gospels (17/18 in Luke, compared with 6 in Mark, 12 in Matthew, and 15 in John), along with more than 50 occurrences in the book of Acts. These Spirit references can, I think, be divided into three basic categories:

    1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
    2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
    3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

Like a developing musical motif, these three aspects are found in conjunction already in the early passages of the Gospel, in the Infancy narratives and at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

The Infancy narratives

    • The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary (Lk 1:35, “will come upon you”)
    • John and his parents are filled by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:15, 41, 67); in the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth, this filling leads directly to an inspired (poetic) oracle
    • Simeon is led in the Spirit (Lk 2:27, cf. also vv. 25-26)

Similarly, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry

    • The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at the baptism (Lk 3:22, cf. also 4:18ff)
    • Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit following the baptism (Lk 4:1a)
    • Jesus is led in the (power of the) Spirit (Lk 4:1b, 14)

I begin with the theme of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus and believers, etc. The first such reference is found in the Angel’s annunciation to Mary (Lk 1:35, cf. the previous note). This prophecy is similar in many ways to the declaration by Jesus in Acts 1:8, with each announcement holding a comparable place in the Gospel and Acts, respectively:

    • The Angel to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon [e)peleu/setai e)pi] you”—which will result in the miraculous birth of Jesus
    • Jesus to his disciples: “you will receive…(at) the Holy Spirit’s coming upon [e)pelqo/nte$ e)pi] you” [i.e. when the Holy Spirit comes upon you]—which will result in the supernatural ‘new birth’ of the disciples (cf. Jn 1:12-13; 3:3-8)

Again, there is a clear parallel between Jesus and the disciples in the context of Baptism (Lk 3:16; Acts 1:5):

    • Jesus: “…the Holy Spirit stepping [i.e. coming] down in bodily appearance as a dove upon [e)pi] him”—baptism by John in water (Lk 3:22)
    • Disciples: “…tongues appeared as fire and sat (down) upon [e)pi] each one of them” (and they were all filled by the Holy Spirit)—baptism (by Jesus) in the Holy Spirit and fire (Acts 2:3-4)

For a detailed study of the Pentecost scene in Acts 2:1-4, cf. my earlier series of articles (to be posted here this coming Pentecost). On the saying that Jesus would baptize believers in the Holy Spirit (and fire), cf. this discussed in several of the previous notes. In addition to the association with baptism (i.e. the Spirit as water), there is also the fundamental association with anointing (i.e. the Spirit poured out on the chosen one[s] as oil). Luke gives greater emphasis to this than do the other Gospels, especially in the scene at Nazareth set at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Lk 4:14ff), where Jesus specifically identifies himself with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi] me, for (the sake) of which He anointed [e&xrisen] me…” (Lk 4:18-21ff). This passage is central to the idea of Jesus as the Anointed One [Christ/Messiah] in early Gospel Tradition (cf. Lk 7:19-23; par Matt 11:2-6, note also Matt 12:18 citing a different Isaian passage [Isa 42:1-3]), as I have discussed in detail elsewhere. The anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit is tied to his Baptism in Acts 10:38.

These two motifs—water (baptism) and oil (anointing)—are also combined in the image of the Spirit being “poured out” on believers in the book of Acts. The primary passage, of course, is the Pentecost speech by Peter in which Joel 2:28-32 is quoted, especially the key phrase (doubled in poetic parallel):

I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit
—upon [e)pi] all flesh…
—(yes,) even upon [e)pi] my (male) slaves and upon [e)pi] my (female) slaves
I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit in those days…” (Acts 2:17-18 / Joel 2:28-29)

This language is repeated in Acts 2:33; 10:45. The gift of the Holy Spirit coming on believers is usually connected with baptism in some way throughout the narratives in Acts (see the wording in Acts 2:38), though clearly as a distinct event:

    • In Acts 8:12-17, believers receive the Spirit subsequent to being baptized, through the laying on of hands by the Apostles (vv. 15-17)—cf. also Acts 19:2-6.
    • In Acts 10:44-48 (and 11:15-16), the Spirit comes upon believers prior to their being baptized, following the preaching of Peter

In both of these passage the sudden, dramatic experience of receiving the Spirit is described with the verb e)pipi/ptw (“fall [down] upon”)—”as Peter was yet speaking these words, the holy Spirit fell upon [e)pe/pesen e)pi] all the (one)s hearing…” (Acts 10:44, cf. 11:15). As in the case of Mary and Jesus (cf. above), the coming of the Spirit “upon” [e)pi] believers indicates the presence and power of God which has come near, transforming their entire life and being. It should be understood as the first, primary stage—the first of the three motifs listed above. The presence of the Spirit upon a person is necessarily prior to the filling and inspired leading/guiding by the Spirit. We also see this illustrated (and prefigured) in the brief account of Simeon in Luke 2:25-27:

    • The Holy Spirit was upon [e)pi] him (v. 25)
    • A special revelation was given to him by [lit. under] the Spirit regarding the Messiah (Christ) (v. 26)
    • He came (i.e. was led) in [e)n] the Spirit into the Temple (v. 27), where he encounters the child Jesus
    • He utters a pair of (inspired) oracles, prophesying as to the child’s future (vv. 29-32, 34-35)

May 22: Luke 1:35; Matt 1:18, 20

In this series of daily notes on the Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, it is now time to turn our attention to the Holy Spirit references in Luke-Acts. As we shall see, the Spirit is such an important theme, developed throughout the two-volume work, that it is important to study the Gospel and Acts in tandem. However, it is necessary first to begin with the Holy Spirit in relation to the key tradition of Jesus’ miraculous birth (properly, his conception).

The Conception/Birth of Jesus (Luke 1:35; Matt 1:18, 20)

It is generally agreed by commentators that the Infancy narratives in Matthew 1-2 & Luke 1-2 represent a later level of Gospel tradition than, for example, the Passion and Resurrection narratives or most of the sayings/parables of Jesus, etc. This does not mean that they are unhistorical, only that the traditions likely were collected, developed and given basic written/narrative form at a slightly later point in time. As a basic estimate, if the core Passion narrative took shape c. 30-40 A.D., then the Infancy narrative(s), by comparison, may have developed c. 50-60 A.D. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that no reference is made to the birth of Jesus in early preaching recorded in the book of Acts (at the historical level, c. 30-50+ A.D.), and is scarcely mentioned in the letters of Paul, etc. The story of Jesus’ birth would seem to have played little or no role in the earliest Christian preaching and instruction. Despite this fact, it is clear that both Matthew and Luke draw upon a common set of basic traditions regarding Jesus’ birth, which must pre-date by a number of years the written Gospels (i.e. sometime before 70 A.D.). A central tenet and belief in this Gospel tradition is the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ birth. This is recorded in three verses—twice in Matthew’s narrative, and once in Luke (part of the famous Angelic annunciation to Mary):

Matthew 1:18—Following an introductory genealogy (vv. 1-17), the Infancy narrative proper begins in verse 18:

“The coming-to-be [i.e. birth] of Yeshua (the) Anointed was thus: His mother Maryam being called to mind (for marriage) [i.e. betrothed/engaged] to Yôseph, (but) before their coming together, she was found holding (child) in (the) womb out of [i.e. from] (the) holy Spirit.”

Matthew 1:20—Verse 19 briefly narrates Joseph’s character (di/kaio$, “just/right[eous]”) and his decision to loose Mary from the engagement quietly/secretly. In verse 20, a Messenger of the Lord (i.e. Angel) appears to Joseph in a dream and makes the following declaration:

“Yôseph, son of Dawid, you should not fear to take along Maryam (as) your woman [i.e. wife]: for the (child) coming to be (born) in her is out of [i.e. from] (the) holy Spirit.”

Both passages use the specific phrase “out of the holy Spirit” [e)k pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou]. For the idea of being born out of the Holy Spirit, see the important references in John 3:5-6, 8, where it is applied to believers. Here it refers to Jesus, and to his actual (physical/biological) birth. When we turn to the Lukan narrative, we find the reference to the Holy Spirit in a very similar context—as part of an Angelic announcement, but to Mary rather than Joseph.

Luke 1:35—This is part of the famous Annunciation passage (Lk 1:26-38), which we may outline as follows:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 26-27)—summarizing the setting for the heavenly Messenger Gabriel’s appearance to Mary
    • The Angel’s Greeting (v. 28)
      —Mary’s response: surprise and uncertainty (v. 29)
    • The Angel’s announcement (vv. 30-33), prefaced by the traditional assurance (“Do not fear…”)
      —Mary’s response: question (“How will this be so…?” v. 34)
    • The Angel’s response: the sign (vv. 35-37)
      —Mary’s response: acceptance (v. 38)
    • Narrative conclusion (v. 38b)

This follows the basic narrative pattern in the Old Testament for Angelic appearances (including birth announcements), as I have discussed in prior notes (and cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]: 1977, 1993,  pp. 155-60, 296-8). The core announcement of verses 30-33 may further be divided:

    • Assurance (v. 30)—”Do not fear, Maryam, for you have found favor alongside [i.e. before] God”
    • Birth announcement (v. 31)—”And, see! you will take/receive together in (the) womb and you will produce a son, and you will call his name ‘Yeshua'”
    • Fivefold promise/prophecy of the child’s future (vv. 32-33)—
      • “he will be great”
      • “he will be called ‘Son of the Highest'”
      • “the Lord God will give to him the (ruling) seat of his father Dawid”
      • “he will rule as king upon [i.e. over] the house of Ya’aqob into the Age”
      • “there will be no completion [i.e. end] of his kingdom”

There are unquestionable Messianic phrases and concepts in the prophecy of vv. 32-33. Mary’s response (question) relates to the apparent impossibility of her having a child: “How will it be so, seeing (that) I do not know a man?” (v. 34). Here the verb “know” preserves a Semitic idiom for sexual relations, and expresses the tradition of Mary’s virginity prior to bearing Jesus (also found in Matt 1:18 [above]). In verses 35-37 the Messenger gives a three-fold sign, explaining or confirming the truthfulness of the announcement:

    • Prophecy regarding the Divine source of Jesus’ conception (v. 35)
    • The miraculous conception by Elizabeth, who (being old/barren) similarly could not naturally bear a child (v. 36)
    • A declaration of the power of God to bring about anything he has uttered, i.e. through His Messenger (v. 37)

The reference to the Holy Spirit is in the prophecy of verse 35:

“The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will cast shade upon you—therefore the (child) coming to be (born) also will be called Holy, (the) Son of God”

The first part of the verse presents two synonymous phrases in (poetic) parallel:

  • The holy Spirit—will come upon [e)pi] you
    The power of the Highest—will cast shade upon [e)pi] you

Despite an orthodox tendency to relate these two phrases with different members of the Trinity (“power” being associated with the Son), there can be little doubt that “holy Spirit” and “power of the Highest” are more or less synonymous expressions here. In Old Testament and Israelite tradition, the Spirit was not so much a distinct person as a manifestation of the presence and (life-giving) power of God (YHWH). This is important in light of how the concept and theme of the Holy Spirit is developed throughout Luke-Acts. The Infancy narratives preserve much of the Old Testament/Jewish background from which the new Faith (Christianity) would come forth—indeed, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the important religious forms and patterns found in Old Testament tradition. The reference in Matt 1:18, 20 (“out of the holy Spirit”) simply indicates the divine source of Jesus’ conception, without saying anything about how this takes place. By contrast, in Luke’s account, the Angel provides vivid and colorful imagery—but how exactly should we understand these two verbs (e)pe/rxomai [“come upon”], e)piskia/zw [“cast shade upon”]) as they are used here?

e)pe/rxomai (“come upon”)—of the nine New Testament occurrences of this verb, seven are in Luke-Acts, most notably a parallel reference to the Holy Spirit coming upon believers in Acts 1:8. This prophecy by Jesus, similar and with a position in Acts comparable to the prophecy of Gabriel, will be discussed in an upcoming note. The verb can have the sense of something literally (physically) coming upon a person, but more commonly in the general sense of something happening (i.e. coming near) which will dramatically affect the person. It is used several times in the Old Testament in a sense similar to that of Acts 1:8 (cf. 1 Sam 11:7; Isa 32:15 LXX).

e)piskia/zw (“cast shade upon”)—this verb really only occurs 3 times in the New Testament (with two parallel references), including twice in Luke-Acts in a context that is especially relevant to its use here:

  • Luke 9:34 par—the cloud in the Transfiguration scene is said to “cast shade/shadow upon” the three disciples; this image, of course, alludes to the Old Testament theophany of YHWH at Sinai and in the Desert (cf. Exod 13:21ff; 19:9, 16). For the verb used of the divine Cloud in the LXX, cf. Exod 40:34f.
  • Acts 5:15—it is related that Peter’s shadow was thought (by the people) to bring healing to the sick when it “cast shade/shadow upon” them. It is not clear from the context of the narrative whether this genuinely took place, or reflects a popular belief associated with Peter.

These two occurrences inform its use in Lk 1:35; the basic meaning is two-fold, as a vivid expression for the manifestation to human beings of (a) the presence of God (i.e. the Cloud), and (b) the power of God. It is unwise to read anything further than this into the text. The result of this divine “overshadowing”, of course, is declared in the last portion of verse 35: “therefore the (child) coming to be (born) also will be called Holy, the Son of God”. It is probably best to read the adjective a%gio$ (“holy”) as a substantive in apposition to “Son of God”, both being predicate to the verb “will be called”; in other words, we have here two names or titles which (will) belong to Jesus:

Where Did Jesus Go? – Critical Notes on the Ascension, Pt 3

In the first two parts (Pt 1 & 2)of this article, I discussed the main passages dealing with the Ascension of Jesus in Luke-Acts (Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11). Here I will briefly explore several additional New Testament passages, followed by a treatment of some key critical questions related to the Ascension.

Mark 16:19

This is the most straightforward account of the Ascension, presented in traditional, credal terms:

o( me\n ou@n ku/rio$  )Ihsou=$ meta\ to\ lalh=sai au)toi=$ a)nelh/mfqh ei)$ to\n ou)rano\n kai\ e)ka/qisen e)k deciw=n tou= qeou=
“therefore the Lord Jesus, after speaking to them, was taken up into the heaven and sat out of the ‘right-hand’ of God”

decio/$ is literally the hand/side “that takes” (or gives), the favored or auspicious side. The “right hand” (/ym!y`) of God occurs frequently in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:6, 12; Psalm 16:11; 17:7, etc; Isaiah 41:10; 48:13; 62:8; and others), usually as a symbol of God’s faithfulness and power. It is also the most common image of Jesus’ exaltation in the New Testament (Matthew 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; Luke 20:42; 22:69; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22)—all of these passages seem to have been influenced by Psalm 110:1 (many are direct citations). Even though this account in Mark is probably not original to the Gospel (part of the so-called “long ending”, 16:9-20), it no doubt here preserves an ancient tradition.

There is another reference to the ascension/exaltation of Jesus, in an unusual variant, earlier in the chapter. In verse 4, the Old Latin MS k begins: “but suddenly at the third hour of the day there was darkness over the whole circle of the earth, and angels descended from the heavens, and as he [the Lord] was rising [surgente eo] in the glory of the living God, at the same time they ascended with him; and immediately it was light. Then the women went to the tomb…” (translation from Meztger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, pp. 101-102). This represents a description of the actual resurrection of Jesus, similar to that found in the Gospel of Peter §35-40. However, it also reflects the principal manner in which the “Ascension” was understood in the early Church—that is, as an extension of the resurrection (on this, see below).

John 20:17

The only specific reference in John to anything like the traditional “Ascension” in Luke-Acts, occurs during the first resurrection appearance (to Mary Magdalene). Here Jesus says to her: mh/ mou a%ptou, ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father”; and, following the instruction to go to the other disciples (“my brothers”), tells her to say to them, a)nabai/nw pro\$ to\n pate/ra mou kai\ pate/ra u(mw=n kai\ qeo/n mou kai\ qeo\n u(mw=n (“I step up toward my Father and your [pl.] Father, and [toward] my God and your [pl.] God”). The chronology of this statement is difficult, for it does not seem to fit with the wider record of resurrection appearances in the Gospel tradition, nor with the ‘older’ view of an ascension as an immediate climax of the resurrection/exaltation. It is complicated even further by John’s highly symbolic use (primarily as presented in the Discourses of Jesus) of going/lifting up. For other similar uses of a)nabai/nw: John 3:13; 6:62; 1:51 (also the references of “going up” to the feast may involve an intentional wordplay); for u(yo/w (“lift high”) see John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34. Throughout the last discourses (John 13-17), Jesus also makes numerous references to going/returning to the Father (John 13:3, 33; 14:2, 4, 13, 28; 16:5, 7, 10, 17, 28). Since these are generally made in context of the coming/sending of the paraclete (lit. “one called alongside”, identified with the Holy Spirit [14:26]), it is almost certainly Jesus’ ‘final’ departure that is in view; however, other references to his return (14:18-20; 16:16-23) seem to fit better an immediate post-resurrection appearance.

I have discussed some of the symbolic and theological nuances of the appearance to Mary in a previous post. With regard to the authentic tradition that underlies this narrative, it is perhaps best to distinguish clearly between: (a) Jesus’ exaltation to the right-hand of the Father (as part of the resurrection), and (b) his final (earthly) departure from the disciples. Since “ascension” language can be used to describe both of these, one must be careful not to confuse them (on this, see in more detail below).

Ephesians 4:8-10

Here Paul (or the author of the epistle) cites Psalm 68:18a [MT 19a], which, early on in Christian tradition, seems to have been understood as referring to the ascension and exaltation of Christ. It quickly became embedded as part of the liturgy celebrating the ascension. However, as is often the case with scriptural citations in the New Testament, both the original text and context have been altered:

Hebrew (MT)

<d*a*B* tonT*m^ T*j=q^l* yb!V# t*yb!v* <orM*l^ t*yl!u*

“You have gone up to the heights, you have led captive captivity, you have taken gifts by man”

LXX (67:19a)

a)ne/bh$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/teusa$ ai)xmalwsi/an e&labe$ do/mata e)n a)nqrw/pw|

“You have stepped up into (the) height, you have led captive captivity, you have taken/received gifts among man”

Ephesians 4:8

a)naba\$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/eusen ai)xmalwsi/an e&dwken do/mata toi=$ a)nqrw/poi$

“Stepping up into (the) height, he led captive captivity, he gave gifts to men”

The LXX is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew. However, the citation in Ephesians differs markedly:

    • The first verb (a)naba\$) is a participle, which is not all that significant; this also occurs as a variant (MS B) in the LXX
    • The verbs have all been changed from 2nd person to 3rd person, which is a natural adaptation to the context in Ephesians (from a hymn addressing God, to a description of the work of Christ).
    • The collective “man” (<dah) has been changed to the plural “men”
    • The last verb has been changed from “take/receive” (jql, lamba/nw) to “give” (di/dwmi)

This last is most notable, for it entirely alters the sense of the passage. In the original Psalm, the justice and power of God are celebrated. Yahweh has gone out before His people, leading them in power and glory (vv. 7-18, also 21-23)—kings and armies flee before His might (v. 12, 14). He is depicted as going up into His mountain, leading captives from battle, and taking/receiving gifts (even from the rebellious [the ones who have “turned aside”], v. 18b). Verses 24-31 present the liturgical picture of peoples offering gifts to God. While all of this, of course, could fit the image of Christ being exalted to the right-hand of God, Ephesians has turned the image inside out: now God/Christ is the one offering gifts to believers.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It now remains to address several key questions related to the Ascension:

    1. Where did it occur?
    2. When did it occur?
    3. What is its exact nature?

1. Where Did the Ascension Occur?

This is part of a larger question related to the provenance of the resurrection appearances. If one takes all the Gospel narratives as they currently stand, it is actually quite difficult to harmonize them in detail, though of course many have attempted to do so. There are two fundamental differences in the accounts:

(a) In one line of tradition, the Messenger tells the women at the tomb to relate to the disciples (and Peter) that “he leads (the way) before you into Galilee; there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mark 16:7, par. Matthew 28:7). The implication is that Jesus is going ahead to Galilee, and it is there that the disciples (including Peter) will (first) see him. This is confirmed even more clearly by Jesus in Matthew 28:10, declaring that the disciples “should go from (here) into Galilee”. There is no suggestion that they should remain in Jerusalem; in fact, that could be said to contradict Jesus’ command. In Matthew, the subsequent appearance in Galilee (vv. 16-17), however brief, gives every indication that this is the first appearance to the disciples (note their “wavering” in v. 17, indications of doubt common to the other appearances in Luke and John).

By all accounts, the original ending of Mark has been lost (this is not certain, but I think it remains the best explanation); the so-called “long ending” (16:9-20), though added relatively early (it is known by the mid-2nd century), seems very much to be a secondary (scribal?) addition. While doubtless containing ancient/authentic traditions, I think it possible that an attempt has also been made to harmonize with the account in Luke. In any event, the resurrection appearance (and ascension, v. 19) seems to take place in Jerusalem (though this is not specified), which would be ‘contrary’ to the message in v. 7.

(b) The second line of tradition (preserved in Luke 24 and John 20) clearly has the resurrection appearances occurring in and around Jerusalem. In the Lukan account, Jesus actually commands the disciples to remain (kaqi/sate, “sit” or “dwell”) in the city (presumably Jerusalem) “until the (moment) in which you should be set in power out of (the) height” (24:49). The implication is that they should stay in Jerusalem for the approx. fifty days until Pentecost (when the Spirit comes upon them). There is no mention of going to Galilee; in fact, similar to the (opposite) situation in Matthew-Mark, that would contradict Jesus’ explicit command. It is interesting that, if Luke has made use of Mark (as scholars commonly believe), then he has quite altered the angelic announcement: in Luke 24:6 the two messengers still mention Galilee (cf. Mark 16:7), but in a very different context.

In John, too they are apparently in Jerusalem when Jesus appears and they receive the Spirit from him (20:19-23); similarly the appearance to Thomas eight days later (vv. 26-29) would presumably still be in Jerusalem. John 21 complicates the picture: for there (in verses 1-14 at least) we have a resurrection appearance in Galilee. However, since this chapter follows what seems to be the conclusion to the Gospel (20:30-31), many scholars would view it as a kind of “appendix”, possibly composed/included by a different author (though this is much disputed). Its exact origins and relation to the events recorded in chapter 20 are also uncertain, with a wide range of opinions on all sides.

Of course, according to Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:50-53 (assuming the longer reading), the Ascension of Jesus—that is, his final departure from the disciples—clearly takes place on the Mount of Olives, about 2000 cubits (or just over 1000 yards) east of Jerusalem (Acts 1:12). If the reference in Luke 24:50 is meant to be specific, then the Ascension might have occurred on the eastern slope somewhere near Bethany.

2. When Did the Ascension Occur?

This question, in relation to the seemingly divergent chronologies in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11, has been dealt with to some extent in the first two parts of this article. The basic question is, did it take place on Easter day as is (apparently) indicated in Luke 24 and the Markan “long ending”, or did it take place between 40 and  50 days later as narrated in Acts? My view is that the “separate” accounts in Luke-Acts probably describe the same event, but that in the Gospel the narrative has been greatly compressed, so that events which may have occurred days apart seem to take place on the same day. The same could perhaps be said of the Markan “long ending”, especially since everything seems to wrap up quickly in the last two verses.

However, a proper answer to the question also must address exactly what one means by the “Ascension”.

3. What Is the Nature of the Ascension?

As indicated above, there seem to be two separate traditions at work:

a) The first describes the “Ascension” in terms of Jesus’ resurrection—his being raised and glorified to the “right hand” of the Father.

b) The second relates it in terms of Jesus’ final (earthly) departure from his disciples.

One must be careful, I think, not to confuse or conflate the two traditions—for, both doctrinally, and even historically, they can be said to have quite different meanings. However, if one wishes to systematize or harmonize the scriptural details, it could possibly be done as follows:

    • Jesus’ being raised from the dead (evidence of the empty tomb and the angelic announcement[s])
    • His ascension to the Father is part of the resurrection/exaltation, which climaxes with his presence at the right hand of God (where also he receives the Spirit to give to his disciples)
    • From a temporal point of view, Jesus’ appearance to the women (cf. Matthew 28:9-10; [Mark 16:9]; John 20:11-18) could perhaps be seen as taking place prior to this ascent to the Father (John 20:17-18)—but that is not entirely clear.
    • Resurrection appearances of the glorified Christ, during which he instructed and commissioned the disciples (in John [20:22] he gives them the Spirit as well)
    • His final departure, recorded only in Luke-Acts, described as a visible Ascension
    • Mark 16:19 may represent a conflation of the two traditions (in a credal formula?), indicated above

Where Did Jesus Go? – Critical Notes on the Ascension, Pt 2

In the first part of this article, I discussed the critical passage which closes the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:50-53), comparing the “longer” reading (Majority text) which narrates the Ascension, with the “shorter” reading (Western text, but significantly also a*) which omits reference to his being “carried up into heaven”. Assuming for the moment that the longer reading is original, it does seem to conflict with the situation in Acts: for Luke 24:50-53 suggests that the Ascension took place late on Easter day, while Acts 1:2-11 records it occurring at least 40 days after the Resurrection. By scholarly consent, the same author (traditionally Luke, physician and companion of Paul) wrote both the Gospel and Acts—why would he create such an apparent discrepancy? A number of solutions have been offered to explain this:

    1. The Gospel and Acts record different events—an ‘intermediate’ ascension followed by a final departure into heaven 40 days later. I would regard this has highly unlikely. There is nothing to suggest that the ascension in Luke 24:51-52 is any other than Jesus’ ‘final’ departure from his disciples. A better solution in this regard would be to adopt the shorter reading—then separate events (but not separate ascensions) could be involved.
    2. After composing the Gospel, the author discovered the “correct” chronology (Ascension after 40 days), which he recorded in Acts, without altering the Gospel narrative.
    3. The author of Luke-Acts records separate traditions, without necessarily attempting to harmonize them. Admittedly, ancient (and/or traditional) authors may have been less bothered by apparent inconsistencies than modern readers and commentators; however, it is hard to gloss over such a glaring difference, in such relatively close proximity, within the same 2-volume work. Luke’s statement in the prologue of the Gospel (1:1-4) shows he was conscious of the need to narrate the traditions “accurately” (a)kribw=$) and in order (a)nata/casqai, v. 1; kaqech=$, v. 3), though we should not read too much into this. Prior to Augustine’s Harmony of the Gospels (III.25.77ff), there seems to be little (if any) comment on the apparent discrepancy by early Christian writers.
    4. The same event is consciously set in two different chronological contexts, without necessarily a regard for establishing which one is historically “correct”. This is a variation of #3, though with greater emphasis on the creative freedom of the author in setting the inherited tradition. In other words, while early tradition clearly believed in the exaltation/ascension of Jesus into heaven, specific details on location, timing, etc. may have differed as the story was told.
    5. In the Gospel, Luke has compressed the narrative so that events which may have occurred days apart are recorded as taking place at the same time. In my view, this is by far the best explanation. Many examples could be cited of this phenomenon in biblical (and other ancient) literature. Narrative episodes and sayings of Jesus are often connected together in the Gospels for many different reasons; one should not always read it as a simple historical/chronological sequence without further ado.

Acts 1:1-11

This is the opening section (1:1-11) of the book of Acts; some would extend it to include verses 12-14, but I believe these are best treated as transitional to what follows (the first days of the Church). In order to see how the Ascension fits into the structure of this passage, I provide a detailed outline below. Verses 1-5 can, and I think should, be read as a single long sentence: beginning with an address to Theophilus, shifting into a rather awkward (and textually difficult) narrative summary, and ending with direct discourse of Jesus to his disciples. Already here we see signs of the textual problems related to the “Western” text of Acts, which is different enough to be regarded as a separate recension of the book. I will likely be discussing possible solutions and explanations for this peculiar textual situation in an upcoming post.

Outline of Acts 1:1-11

Opening sentence: Verses 1-5

A. Verse 1: (secondary) Address to Theophilus (cf. Luke 1:1-4), referencing the “first account” (prw=ton lo/gon), i.e., the Gospel, about all (peri\ pa/ntwn)

Content of the Gospel: “Jesus began to do (poiei=n) and also to teach (dida/skein)”

B. Chronological summary (verse 2):
a&xri h!$ h(mera/$ “until which day…”

e)nteila/meno$ toi=$ a)posto/loi$ “having commanded the apostles

dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou “through the holy Spirit

ou^$ e)cele/catowhom he had chosen [lit. gathered out]”

a)nelh/mfqh “…he was taken up”

C. Historical summary (verses 3-4)—backward glance, beginning with the resurrection:
To whom (the Apostles, referent in verse 2) he “stood himself beside” (pare/sthsen) them “living” (zw=nta)

meta/ to\ paqei=n au)to/n “after his suffering”

e)n polloi=$ tekmhri/oi$ “in many fixed marks [or sure signs]”

di’ h(merw=n tessera/konta “through/during forty days” [i.e. an important symbolic period]
Events of “forty days” (marked by participles):

being seen (o)ptano/meno$) by them” and
recounting [i.e. speaking of] (le/gwn) the (things) about the kingdom of God” and
staying together (suna[u]lizo/meno$) with (them) he passed along a message to them”

Content of the message (transition into direct discourse):

a)po\  (Ierosolu/mwn “From Jerusalem”

mh\ xwri/zesqai “not to separate themselves” [i.e. depart]
a)lla\ perime/nein “but to remain around (for)”

th\n e)paggeli/an tou= patro/$ “the announcement [lit. message upon (you)] of/from the Father
–     h^n h)kou/sate mou/ “which you have heard of/from me

D. Statement of Jesus (direct discourse) to his disciples (verse 5)—tying together, in a different way, the beginning and end of his ministry (theme of the section)

o%ti “For…” indication of the (past) citation referring to John the Baptist (prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry)

“(me\n – on the one hand) John dipped/baptized in water
“(de\ – on the other hand) you shall be dipped/baptized (by God) in the Holy Spirit

ou) meta\ polla\$ tau/ta$ h(me/ra$ “after these few [lit. not many] days” (in 10 days, following the end of his earthly ministry)

Question regarding the Kingdom, and Jesus’ concluding statement: Verses 6-8

A. Disciples’ question regarding the Kingdom of God: “Lord, in this time do you set back down [i.e. restore] the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6)

B. Jesus’ answer: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set in his own authority” (v. 7)

C. Jesus’ concluding statement (v. 8), in two parts:

1) “But you shall receive (lh/myesqe) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you”

2) “and you shall be (e&sesqe) for me witnesses”

e)n te  )Ierousalh\m “in Jerusalem” (particle te governs what follows: “both in Jerusalem and…”)
–    kai\ [e)n] pa/sh| th=|  )Ioudai/a| “and [in] all Judea”
–    kai\ Samarei/a| “and Samaria”
–    kai\ e(w\$ e)sxa/tou th=$ gh=$ “and unto the end(s) of the earth”

The Ascension of Jesus: Verses 9-11

A. The Ascension narrated (v. 9)—compare with Luke 24:51:

kai\ e)ge/neto e)n tw=| eu)logei=n au)to\n au)tou\$ die/sth a)p’ au)tw=n kai\ a)nafe/reto ei)s to\n ou)ranon
“And it came to be, in his blessing them, he stood apart [i.e. parted] from them and was carried up into the heaven”

Acts 1:9: kai\ tau=ta ei)pw\n blepo/ntwn au)tw=n e)ph/rqh kai\ nefe/lh u(pe/laben au)to/n a)po\ tw=n o)fqalmw=n au)tw=n
“And having said these (things), in their seeing, he was lifted upon (the air) and a cloud took him under, (away) from their eyes”

B. The Appearance and message of the Two Men (vv. 10-11)

(Discussed below)

There are three aspects of the Ascension narrative (vv. 9-11) which are especially noteworthy:

    1. Apocalyptic imagery (esp. in verse 9)
    2. Parallel to the Lukan Resurrection scene (v. 10-11a)
    3. Eschatological image (v. 11)

1. Apocalyptic imagery. This refers to images and symbols associated with so-called Apocalyptic literature (a)pokalu/ptw is literally to “take the cover [away] from”)—works which record purported visions and revelations regarding the heavenly realms and/or future events. Here the imagery is simple and concise:

a) “Seeing” (blepo/ntwn au)tw=n, “[at/in] their seeing”)

b) “he was lifted up(on)” (e)ph/rqh)

b´) “a cloud took him under” (nefe/lh u(pe/laben au)to\n)

a´) “Not-seeing” (a)po\ tw=n o)fqalmw=n au)tw=n, “[away] from their eyes”)

The cloud, especially, typically symbolizes a heavenly manifestation and/or the Divine presence (Exodus 13:21 etc; 24:15-18; 40:34 etc; Leviticus 16:2; 1 Kings 8:10-12; Psalm 18:9-12; 68:4; Isaiah 19:1; Ezekiel 1:4; 10:3-4; Daniel 7:13; Revelation 10:1, 7; 14:14-16, and so forth). Jesus applies the early apocalyptic imagery from Daniel 7 to the (eschatological) appearance of the Son of Man (generally understood as Jesus’ own return): Luke 21:27 (par. Mark 13:24-27; Matthew 24:29-31); Mark 14:62 (par. Matthew 26:64). In addition, Luke seems to draw on the theophany at Sinai (Exodus 19:9, 16, etc) in his record of the Transfiguration scene (Luke 9:34-35; par. Mark 9:7; Matthew 17:5).

2. Parallels with the Lukan Resurrection scene. It is worth comparing the Ascension scene in Acts 1:9-11 with the initial Easter message at the empty tomb in Luke 24:1-8f:

Acts 1:10-12

  • Disciples gazing (into empty space)
  • Appearance of two men in white clothes
  • “(For) what have you stood looking into the heaven?”
  • “This Jesus, the one taken up from you into the heaven…”
  • …”(he shall come [again] just as you saw him go)”
  • They returned from the Mount
  • The disciples were all together in the room above

Luke 24:4-9

    • Women wondering (at the empty tomb)
    • Appearance of two men in flashing clothing
    • “(For) what do you seek the living with the dead?”
    • “He is not here, but he has been raised…”
    • …”(just as Jesus spoke to you while living)”
    • They returned from the tomb…
    • …to where the disciples were

3. Eschatological message. The conclusion of the message of the two men (verse 11b) is eschatological: “thus he shall come by the turning which [i.e. in the same manner] you perceived him traveling into the heaven”. It is a proclamation and promise of Jesus’ future return. The phrase o^n tro/pon (“by which turning”) has the sense of “in the same way/manner”, but is somewhat vague in context. Traditionally, however, there are two specific details involved:

a) Just as Jesus was taken up under the (heavenly) cloud, so he will return with the cloud(s) of heaven (cf. Daniel 7:13; Luke 21:27; Mark 14:62 and par.). This is more than an ordinary meteorological phenomenon—the cloud principally represents the presence of God.

b) So Jesus will also return to the Mount of Olives. This is not certain; admittedly, the author nowhere emphasizes it, but I believe it likely represents a common tradition in the early Church. There are two Old Testament references to the Mount of Olives which helped shape early Gospel tradition:

i. David’s departure from Jerusalem (following Absalom’s revolt), 2 Samuel 15:30. There seem to be echoes of this in the Synoptic narrative of Jesus’ passion and arrest.

ii. The eschatological appearance of Yahweh (day of YHWH) in Zechariah 14. He will appear to battle the nations and restore Jerusalem (vv. 1-3); His feet will stand on the Mount of the Olives, and the mount will be split into a great valley (v. 4, 5). This is part of the concluding visions of Zechariah 9-14—these difficult and highly evocative chapters exerted a profound influence on early Christian thought.

If the first of these references depicts the humiliation and suffering of Christ, the second portrays his exaltation and coming as Divine King.

Where Did Jesus Go? – Critical Notes on the Ascension, Pt 1

This post is an extended “Note of the Day” following the celebration of the Ascension of Jesus, traditionally commemorated 40 days after Easter (cf. Acts 1:3ff). There are surprisingly few direct references to the “Ascension”, either in the New Testament or in early Christian literature. More commonly, reference is made to Christ’s exaltation (usually involving either the verb u(yo/w, “to raise high” or adjective u(yhlo/$, “high”; cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31; Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 1:3; 7:26, etc), or to his being in heaven at the “right (hand)” (decio/$, that is, the giving/receiving hand) of God (cf. Mark 14:62 par.; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).

Only in Luke-Acts is an ascension described as a distinct event, perceivable in space and time. However, since there are numerous difficult text-critical (and interpretative) issues related to these passages, these will need to be discussed in some detail.

Luke 24:50-53

Luke’s Gospel concludes with a scene (apparently still on Easter day) which, in the “oldest and best” manuscripts (Ë75 a B C* L 1 33 579 etc), reads as follows:

50  )Ech/gagen de\ au)tou\$ [e&cw] e%w$ pro\$ Bhqani/an kai\ e)pa/ra$ ta\$ xei=ra$ au)tou= eu)lo/ghsen au)tou/$. 51 kai\ e)ge/neto e)n tw=| eu)logei=n au)to\n au)tou\$ die/sth a)p’ au)tw=n kai\ a)nefe/reto ei)$ to\n ou)rano/n.
“And he brought/led them out[side] until toward Bethany, and lifting over (them) his hands he spoke well to them [i.e. blessed them]; and it came to be, in his speaking well to them [i.e. blessing them], he stood (apart) from them and was carried up into the heaven.”
52 Kai\ au)toi\ proskunh/sante$ au)to\n u(pe/streyan ei)$  )Ierousalh\m meta/ xara=$ mega/lh$ 53 kai\ h@san dia/ panto\$ e)n tw=| i(erw=| eu)logou=nte$ to\n qeo/n.
“And they, kissing toward him [i.e. worshiping him], turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy, and they were through all [i.e. continually] in the sacred place [i.e. temple] speaking well to [i.e. blessing] God.”

(The Majority text differs slightly, primarily in reading ei)$ Bhqani/an instead of pro\$ Bhqani/an in v. 50, and adding kai\ ai)nou=nte$ or ai)nou=nte$ kai\ [“blessing and praising God”] in v. 53.)

There are, however, two major variants (omissions) in the key Western MSS (D, Old Latin a b d e ff2 l, and the Sinaitic Syriac):

    1. Verse 51 reads: kai\ e)ge/neto e)n tw=| eu)logei=n au)to\n au)tou\$ die/sth a)p’ au)tw=n “and it came to be, in his blessing them, he stood (apart) from them” (without kai\ a)nefe/reto ei)$ to\n ou)rano/n “and he was carried up into the heaven”). In other words, it relates that Jesus simply “parted” from them, without any reference to an ascension into heaven.
    2. Verse 52 continues: kai\ au)toi\ u(pe/streyan ei)$  )Ierousalh\m meta/ xara=$ mega/lh$ “and they turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy…” (without proskunh/sante$ au)ton “worshiping him”).
      See how this shorter version of vv. 50-53 reads, in context, in conventional translation:
      “And he led them out toward Bethany, and raising his hands over (them) he blessed them; and it came to be, in his blessing them, (that) he parted from them; and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple, blessing God.”

These are both so-called Western “Non-Interpolations”, i.e. instances where the shorter reading of the (usually longer and more expansive) Western text has been thought (by some scholars) to preserve the original reading in the face of superior manuscript evidence (I have discussed the other seven key “Non-Interpolations” in a previous post). The first of these two (in v. 51) is far more significant, especially since, in addition to the Western MSS, the shorter reading is also found in the Georgian version (group 1) and the original hand of Codex Sinaiticus (a*).

How is one to explain this variant? As indicated above, the vast majority of MSS, including all the early/best Greek MSS (Ë75, a [corrected], A, B, C, K, L, W, X, D, etc.) contain the words kai a)nefe/reto ei)$ ton ou)rano/n. The manuscript evidence would seem to be decidedly in favor of the longer reading, but internal considerations make it a bit less certain. In which direction did the change occur? There are a number of possibilities:

Reasons for Omission (in support of the longer text):

  1. To avoid contradiction with the chronology in Acts. It is certainly possible that scribes, noticing the apparent discrepancy between v. 51 and Luke’s own account of the Ascension in Acts 1:1-11, deleted the words. In the Gospel, it would seem that the Ascension takes place on the same night as the Resurrection, whereas in Acts (v. 3) it occurs 40 days later. This is probably the most popular explanation.
  2. A scribal mistake. A scribe may have skipped from a)p’ au)twn kai in v. 51 to ou)ranon kai au)toi at the end of v.51 & start of v. 52 (homoioarcton: each has the segment nkai). However, this would require that (the precursors of) a and D both made the same mistake, which is rather unlikely.
  3. Theological reasons. Some scholars have thought that the so-called “Non-Interpolations” (involving the Resurrection appearances and “Ascension”) exhibit a purposeful tendency in the Western text (in Luke-Acts) to eliminate concrete references to the resurrection body of Jesus, and physical nature of the Ascension, etc. With regard to the Ascension in particular, see especially Eldon J. Epp’s article “The Ascension in the Textual Tradition of Luke-Acts”, in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981, pp. 131-145.
  4. The support of Acts. Acts 1:2 would seem to indicate that the Gospel referenced the Ascension (a&xri h!$ h(me/ra$a)nelh/mfqh, “until which day…he was taken up”). Assuming this is the case, it could be (rightly) argued that the author would not say he described an event which he in fact did not record. It should be noted that several Western witnesses (gig, quotations in Augustine and Vigilius) also omit reference to the ascension (a)nelh/mfqh) in this verse.

Reasons for Addition (in support of the shorter text):

  1. Literary or Theological reasons. Although Luke-Acts may have been published together as a ‘two-volume’ work, by the mid-second century (at the latest), the Gospel of Luke was being copied and distributed bound together (in codex form) with the other Gospels; meaning that, as in nearly all printed New Testament editions today, it was separated from the book of Acts. The shorter reading, if original, would close the Gospel with the suggestion that Jesus simply “parted” from the disciples—a rather unexciting and possibly misleading conclusion. The scribal tendency was always to add Christological details, rather than remove them; it would have been natural to add the few extra words (both in v. 51 and 52), in order to exalt the portrait of Christ.
  2. The shorter text removes the chronological difficulty with Acts. This argument cuts both ways (see above), for the longer text could be said to be the more difficult reading (lectio difficilior potior). However, since Luke explicitly records the Ascension taking place at least 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3ff), would he (the same author of Luke-Acts, by general consensus) have created the confusion by recording the Ascension (apparently) taking place on the day of the Resurrection (Luke 24:50-53)?
  3. Additional support from Acts. It is possible that the phrase a&xri h!$ h(me/ra$a)nelh/mfqh (“until which day…he was taken up”) in Acts 1:2 should not be taken to imply that the Ascension was narrated in the Gospel, but only events which took place prior to that day. In this regard, to note the reference (v. 22) in Peter’s subsequent address (Acts 1:15-22), where nearly similar language is used. Could the author of Acts simply be reproducing the phrasing from v. 22, as part of his “prologue”, without specific reference to details in the Gospel?
  4. Evidence from the Church Fathers. The Ascension is referred to numerous times in writings of the 1st-3rd centuries, for example: Epistle of Barnabas 15; JUSTIN: 1 Apology 26, Dialogue with Trypho 82, 87, On the Resurrection ch. 9; IRENAEUS: Against Heresies I.10, III.17, IV.33.13, 34.3, V.31, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 41, 84; CLEMENT: Stromateis VI. ch. 15; ORIGEN: On First Principles Pref §1, II.6.1, 7.2, On Prayer §23, Against Celsus VII.8; TERTULLIAN: Against Marcion V.8, Against Praxeas 25, 30, Prescription Against Heretics 13, On the Resurrection 51; The Muratorian Canon; Epistle of the Apostles 18; Cyprian On the Lord’s Prayer §8, etc. (by no means an exhaustive list). Most of these references are to the narrative in Acts 1:9ff; Ephesians 4:9-10, or to the belief generally; however, I have not been able to find a single clear reference to the long text of Luke 24:51-52 cited in any writing up through the third century (outside of the Diatessaron [§55], a work with a singularly difficult textual history). Moreover, in Tertullian’s fourth book Against Marcion, in which he goes over many details of Luke’s Gospel, up through the Resurrection appearances (chapter 43), he does not cite the long text of v. 51 or 52, and makes no reference to the Ascension (cf. Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp. 257-8).
  5. The Western Non-Interpolations. Despite protests from scholars on both sides of the argument, it is hard to avoid the notion that the 9 key “non-interpolations”, eight of which are all found together in the same set of MSS (D a b d e ff2 l), stand or fall together—most likely, they are all original, or they are not. If one accepts the shorter text in the previous 7 Lukan instances, then one really ought to do so here as well.

Clearly, intrinsic/transcriptional arguments can be made for sides. Ultimately, it is difficult to ignore the overwhelming textual evidence. If the longer reading is, in fact, original, I suspect that the apparent discrepancy (with Acts) may be the result of Luke compressing/conflating the narrative, thereby giving the impression that it all happened on one night. This sort of handling of historical narrative was quite common with ancient writers, as unsatisfying as it might be to our modern sensibilities. On the other hand, the clear scribal tendency was to add significant Christological details to the Gospel narrative, rather than omit them (even when there are apparent discrepancies involved); it seems to have been much more acceptable to modify (instead of deleting) difficult words in the text. The presence of the longer reading(s) in the Bodmer Papyrus (Ë75, c. 200) have turned the tide decisively; however, I am by no means so certain the shorter reading(s) can be dismissed as easily as many commentators do today.

May 21: Luke 24:47-49, etc

Luke 24:47-49 and the Great Commission

Having discussed Matthew 28:18-20 (and especially the baptism formula of verse 19) in the previous notes, today I will look briefly at the ‘parallel’ Commission passages in the other Gospels—Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23; and [Mark 16:15-16ff]. It is clear that all four post-resurrection Commissions by Jesus to his followers stem from separate traditions, and yet, interestingly, they contain certain common elements. I would isolate these common features as follows:

  • Jesus sends out his disciples, as he is recorded doing earlier in his ministry (Mk 6:7-13 par; Lk 10:1-12)—that is, they become his apostles in the basic meaning of the word:
    • Matthew—”you are (to be) going/traveling (forth) [poreuqe/nte$]…”
    • [Mark]—”you are (to be) going/traveling (forth) [poreuqe/nte$] into the world…”
    • Luke—”to be preached… into all the nations, beginning from Yerushalaim {Jerusalem}”
    • John—”even as the Father has set me forth [a)pe/stalken, i.e. sent me], I also (am) send(ing) [pe/mpw] you”
  • Jesus gives to his disciples power/authority, which he received (from the Father):
    • Matthew—”all authority [e)cousi/a] in heaven and upon earth is given to me..” (it must be inferred that the same authority is given to the disciples, cf. Matt 9:35; 10:7-8)
    • [Mark]—”these signs will follow along… in my name”
    • Luke—”to be proclaimed upon his [i.e. my] name…. See, I set forth [i.e. send] the announcement/promise of the Father upon you”
    • John—”as the Father set me forth, so I send you…. For whomever you release…it will be released for them…”
  • There is an emphasis on repentance and release (forgiveness) of sin:
    • Matthew (also [Mark])—”dunking/baptizing them…”, i.e. the fundamental association of baptism with repentance and forgiveness (Matt 3:11 par)
    • Luke—”repentance [lit. change-of-mind] (is) to be proclaimed upon my name unto release of sins unto all the nations…”
    • John—”(For) whomever you release the(ir) sins, they have been released for them…”
  • Finally, there is an association with the Spirit:
    • Matthew—”dunking/baptizing them in the name of…the holy Spirit”
    • [Mark]—”…trusting and being dunked/baptized…these signs will follow along for the ones trusting…”; cf. the manifestation of the Spirit following (or in connection with) baptism in the book of Acts
    • Luke—”…the announcement/promise of the Father upon you”, clearly a reference to the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4, etc)
    • John—”he breathed in/on (them) and said to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit'”

This strongly suggests an underlying historical tradition regarding Jesus’ (final) instruction to his followers, which, it would seem, came to be preserved in two strands of the Gospel Tradition—one set in Galilee (Matthew/Mark) and one set in Jerusalem (Luke/John), with the Markan ‘Appendix’ (or long ending) apparently combining both. With regard to the Commission specifically, the versions in Matthew and the Markan ‘Appendix’ are clearly related—compare, in particular, Matt 28:19 with Mark 16:15-16. Similarly, it is clear that, in the resurrection (and post-resurrection) narratives, Luke and John have certain traditions in common. The accounts of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem in Lk 24:36-43 and John 20:19-20 are quite close, especially if one accepts the Alexandrian/Majority readings rather than the shorter ‘Western’ text of Luke 24. Though less obvious on the surface, the “Commission” accounts in Lk 24:47-49 and John 20:21-23 have a good deal in common as well:

    • The disciples as Jesus’ representatives (witnesses/’apostles’) whom he is sending out from Jerusalem into the wider world—Lk 24:47-48 / Jn 20:21
    • Mention of the Father in connection with Jesus’ “sending”—Lk 24:49a / Jn 20:21
    • The coming of the Spirit on/upon the disciples, with Jesus himself as the source—Lk 24:49a / Jn 20:22 (“I [am] send[ing]…” / “he breathed…”)
    • Reference to the release (i.e. forgiveness) of sins in connection with the work and preaching of the disciples—Lk 24:47 / Jn 20:23

By way of comparison with Matt 28:19, it is interesting that Luke/John also bring together Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The “Son” is implied by the presence of Jesus:

    • In Luke, compare verse 45 in context (referring to Jesus as the “Anointed” [Christ/Messiah]) with the earlier formulae using the expression “Son of Man” (24:7, also 9:22, 44; 18:31; 22:22).
    • The Gospel of John gives special emphasis to the idea of Jesus as “the Son”, in relation to God the Father—Jn 1:14; 3:35; 5:19-27; 6:27, 40; 8:28; 10:36; 14:31; 17:1ff; 20:17.

In many ways, the account in Lk 24:47-49 is closer to Matt 28:18-20 than the other Commission passages; note especially the parallels between verse 47 and Matt 28:19:

    • The disciples are to preach/proclaim the Gospel “into all the nations”—cp. Matt 28:19a (“make all the nations to be learners [i.e. disciples]”)
    • The wording and syntax also matches formulae related to baptism; cp. especially with Acts 2:38:
      “…repentance (is) to be proclaimed upon his name unto (the) release of sins unto all the nations” (Lk)
      “Repent and be dunked/baptized…upon the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed unto (the) release of your sins” (Acts)
    • In each, the Commission concludes with a promise by Jesus using the emphatic pronoun “I” (e)gw/) and beginning with the exclamation “see!” [i)dou/]:
      “and see! I set forth [i.e. send] the announcement/promise of my Father upon you…” (Lk 24:49 [some MSS omit i)dou])
      “and see! I am with you every day until the (full) completion of the Age” (Matt 28:20b)

Concluding note (on Matthew 28:19)

Returning for a moment to the question of the authenticity of the trinitarian baptismal formula in Matt 28:19, I would here note several arguments in favor of authenticity (on objective grounds):

    • The instruction regarding baptism itself, as well as most of Matt 28:18-20 in context, is fully compatible with the sayings and teaching of the historical Jesus, based on an entirely objective analysis of the Gospel Tradition. For a number of examples and references illustrating this, cf. the prior notes.
    • The common elements and parallels between the various post-resurrection Commission passages in the Gospels (cf. above), which surely represent separate strands of tradition (given their differences), strongly suggest an underlying historical core.
    • Luke 24:47-49 provides independent attestation for the inclusion of a baptismal ‘formula’ as part of the Commission, which is also associated with the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Acts 2:38) and the Father. The other points of similarity between Lk 24:47-49 and Matt 28:18-20 were noted above.

On the contrary, one must, I think, be willing to admit that:

    • Many of the parallels and similarities cited above are relatively loose, and could be said to be outweighed by the significant differences in detail. On the basis of traditional-conservative desire to harmonize, it would actually prove quite difficult to piece together all of these details (and separate Commission passages) into a genuinely convincing whole (judged honestly and objectively).
    • Assuming that Matt 28:19 is authentic, it is most strange that there really is no evidence for it (or its influence) anywhere else in the New Testament. By all accounts, based on the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, early believers were only ever baptized “in the name of Jesus“. If the apostles and early Christians were following Jesus’ example and instruction, then it is likely that Jesus’ original saying would have been something along the lines of: “baptizing them in my name…” (cf. Lk 24:47 / Acts 2:38)
    • The earliest attestation for the saying/instruction of Matt 28:19 is found in Didache 7:1, 3, which is typically dated from the early 2nd (or late 1st) century A.D. A fair date for the traditions in the Didache might be c. 70-80 A.D., which likely coincides with the completed form of the Gospel of Matthew. The trinitarian form (and formula) of baptism is attested in the second and third centuries, but, as far as we know, not earlier than c. 70 A.D.

May 20: Matthew 28:18-20 (concluded)

Matthew 28:18-20 (concluded)

In yesterday’s note I looked at the specific phrase “baptizing them into the name of [ei)$ to\ o&noma tou=]…”; today, I will proceed to examine the trinitarian phrase which follows: “…of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit“. Given the emphasis on baptism in the name of Jesus in the earliest Christian period (cf. the previous note), and based on the other sayings preserved in the Gospels, we might expect Jesus to have said simply, “…baptizing them into my name“. Many critical commentators consider the apparent trinitarian construct here to be a somewhat later formula retrojected into the words of the historical Jesus. This possibility will be addressed briefly after an examination of each portion of the three-fold phrase.

“of the Father” [tou= patro\$]

That Jesus would reference the Father in his final words to his disciples is hardly unusual, since God as Father was a central element of his teaching, as recorded throughout the Gospel Tradition. The idea, of course, is ancient, going back to Old Testament and Israelite tradition (Ex 4:22; Deut 32:6; Ps 89:26; Isa 1:2; 63:16; 64:8; Hos 11:1; Jer 3:19; 31:9; Mal 2:10, etc), and even earlier—virtually a universal religious concept. Jesus makes frequent use of the title “Father”—both in his own address to God, and in instruction to his followers—too many to list here, there being nearly 200 occurrences in the Gospels. Perhaps the most famous and well-known instance is to found in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9 / Lk 11:2), a passage which specifically refers to the Father’s name. There are an especially high number of references to the Father in Matthew—notably in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7, cf. 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, etc), but elsewhere through the Gospel as well (Matt 10:20, 29, 33; 12:50; 13:43; 15:13; 16:17, 27, et al). An even more distinctive (and frequent) use of “(my) Father” is found in the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John (more than 100 references), including several sayings which specifically relate to the name of the Father:

    • John 5:43; 10:3, 25—Jesus claims to have come in the Father’s name, working (miracles, etc) in His name; cf. also Jn 12:13 par
    • John 12:28—Jesus asks the Father to make His name honored/esteemed (i.e. glorified) through the Son
    • John 17—In the great prayer that concludes the Discourses of chaps. 13-17, Jesus declares that he has manifested and made known the Father’s name to his disciples (vv. 6, 26), and prays that they continue to be kept/guarded in His name (vv. 11-12)

There are also sayings which express the other side of the reciprocal relationship between Father and Son, where Jesus instructs his followers that, when they pray and bring petition to the Father, they should specifically make the request “in my name”—cf. John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23—the idea being that Jesus will be working/acting on their behalf with the Father. For indication of a similar relationship between Father and Son (Jesus) in the Synoptic Gospels, cf. Matt 11:25-27 par; Mark 13:32 par; 14:36. Especially significant are the sayings which connect Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John (cf. below).

References to God as Father are rather less frequent in the remainder of the New Testament. Paul often sets “God the Father” parallel with “the Lord Jesus Christ” in a basic creedal construction (Rom 1:7; 15:6; 1 Cor 1:3; 8:6; 2 Cor 1:2-3; 11:31; Gal 1:3f; Phil 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 3:11, 13; 2 Thess 1:1-2; 2:16; Philem 3; Col 1:3; 3:17; also Eph 1:2-3, 17; 5:20; 6:23, etc); and there are several other passages which reflect basic theological or Christological formulae (e.g., 1 Pet 1:2-3; Jude 1; Rev 1:6; and cf. throughout 1 John). However, with regard to the baptism formula in Matt 28:19, it is worth noting that: (a) there is virtually no reference to the name of the Father in the New Testament outside of the sayings by Jesus referenced above, and (b) there is no evidence that early believers were ever baptized “in the name of the Father”.

On the first point, from the traditional Israelite/Jewish point of view, the name of God the Father was YHWH/Yahweh, which, as Christianity spread among Greek-speakers, was typically expressed by the title “Lord” (Ku/rio$). Gradually, this title was applied more and more to Jesus, and its distinctive association with YHWH was largely lost to believers in the Greco-Roman world. As we have already seen, it was the name of Jesus that was of primary importance for early believers.

“of the Son” [tou= ui(ou=]

Every relevant passage in the New Testament refers to baptism in the name of Jesus (cf. the discussion in the previous note). Now, early Christians would automatically understand that being baptized into Jesus (or into his name) meant the same as being baptized into the Son; however, if we accept the authenticity of Matt 28:19, it is worth considering precisely what Jesus would have meant here by “Son”.

In the (Synoptic) Gospels, Jesus never uses the title “Son of God” of himself (only in Jn 3:18; 5:25; 9:35 v.l.; 10:36; 11:4)—it is applied to him by others (also Jn 1:34, 49; 11:27; 19:7), though there is no indication that he ever denied or contradicted its use (cf. Mark 14:62 for a relatively clear affirmation; but cp. Matt 26:64; Lk 22:67-70). In the sayings of the Synoptic Tradition, Jesus typically refers to himself by the Semitic expression “Son of Man”, which at times may be partially synonymous with “Anointed One” (Messiah), and, in certain passages, serves to identify Jesus as God’s heavenly representative (cf. Dan 7:13-14) who will appear at the end-time; but it always has a distinct range of meaning from “Son of God”. At best, there is an association between Jesus as “Son of Man” and “Son of God” in the juxtaposition of Mk 14:61-62a and 14:62b (par); which can also be inferred in the vision of Stephen in Acts 7:56. The “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel of John are unique in that they express (or assume) the idea of Jesus’ pre-existent deity—i.e., he is the Son who has come down from the Father (as the Son of Man); following his death and exaltation (glorification), he will return to the Father in heaven (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31). Elsewhere in John, Jesus simply refers to himself as “the Son”, usually in the context of his relationship to the Father (cf. above)—Jn 3:16-17, 35-36; 5:19-27; 6:40; 8:36-38; 14:13; 17:1; note also 1:14.

If Matt 28:19 is interpreted as a Christian formula, then it need not mean anything more than that the specific words “in the name of the Son”, etc, are to be recited in the performance of baptism (cf. below). Even so, it is worth noting, that this formula is never used elsewhere in the New Testament—believers are baptized “in the name of Jesus”, but never “in the name of the Son“. Indeed the very expression “name of the Son” is extremely rare, occurring only in the Johannine tradition—Jn 3:18; 1 Jn 3:23; 5:13, and cf. also Jn 20:31—where the emphasis is entirely on faith/trust in the name of the Son.

“of the holy Spirit” [tou= a(gi/ou pneu/mato$]

There is a clear association of the Spirit with the rite of baptism in early Christian tradition, as indicated in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 2:38-41; 8:12-17; 9:17-18; 10:44-48; 11:15-17; 19:2-6), where believers receive the Holy Spirit as an event parallel to, and coordinate with, the symbolic act of baptism. This clearly is understood as a fulfillment of the prediction uttered by John the Baptist (and/or Jesus himself) that, just as John baptized in water, so Jesus would baptize believers in the Holy Spirit (cf. the earlier note on Mark 1:8 par; Jn 1:26, 31, 33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). According to this parallel, the Spirit is symbolized by water, which is a relatively common motif in the Old Testament (cf. Joel 2:28ff, cited in Acts 2:17-18, 33—the Spirit “poured out” like water). Elsewhere in the New Testament (in Paul’s letters), the regular idiom is baptism into Christ—his death, his body, his name, etc. Paul generally does not associate the Spirit specifically with baptism, though the idea is certainly implied (cf. Rom 6:4; Gal 3:27); only in 1 Cor 12:13 is this made explicit—”for in one Spirit we are all dunked [i.e. baptized] into one Body”. Note the chiastic parallel in the syntax of the phrase:

    • in [e)n] one Spirit (i.e. the Holy Spirit)
      —we are all dunked/baptized
    • into [ei)$] one Body (i.e. the person of Jesus Christ, symbolized by the Community)

This effectively results in a two-fold baptismal ‘formula’, which could easily be supplemented by the (proto-)Trinitarian syntax in the earlier verses 4-6:

    • the same Spirit (v. 4)
    • the same Lord [i.e. Jesus, the Son] (v. 5)
    • the same God [i.e. the Father] (v. 6)

Again, as in the case of “the Father” and “the Son” (cf. above), believers in the New Testament are never baptized “in the name of the Holy Spirit”; indeed, the expression “name of the (holy) Spirit” never occurs outside of Matt 28:19. At best, there are several passages in which the Spirit is associated specifically with “the name of Jesus“—Acts 2:38; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 Pet 4:14; and, most notably, John 14:26. Of these, only Acts 2:38 has the context of baptism, but Jn 14:26 is certainly more relevant to a ‘trinitarian’ formulation: “…the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my [i.e. the Son’s] name“. This verse will be discussed, along with the other Spirit/Paraclete references (Jn 14:16; 15:26; 16:7), in an upcoming note.

The Didache 7

A study of Matt 28:19 cannot be complete without consideration of the similar formula in Didache 7:1, part of a brief instruction in chapter 7 regarding baptism. Verse 1 reads:

“…having said all these things before(hand) [i.e. informed/instructed the believer], ‘dunk [i.e. baptize] into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit’ in living [i.e. fresh, running] water”

The portion in single quotes is virtually identical with the formula in Matthew; only the form of the verb is different, as befitting the context. The main critical question is: Does the Didache simply quote Matthew 28:19, or does it preserve a separate version of the instruction, transmitted independently? If the latter, does this come down as an authentic saying from Jesus, or as an (apostolic) tradition? Unfortunately, the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-150) often do not give specific citations, so it can be difficult to know for certain if the authors are citing from a written Gospel (e.g. Matthew) or have preserved sayings of Jesus and Gospel traditions independently. The date assigned for the Didache (“Teaching [of the Twelve Apostles]”) has ranged from very early (1st century) to very late (3rd-4th century); most (critical) commentators today would place it in the first half of the 2nd century, with the possibility that it preserves teaching and tradition from the late 1st century (c. 70-100 A.D.). What is important to note, is that already by this time (c. 80-110 A.D.?), the passage corresponding to Matt 28:19 has come to be treated as a fixed formula. The Didache indicates that it would be recited as part of the baptism ritual, as the three-fold act mentioned in 7:3 demonstrates. A similar practice is attested in the second and third centuries (Justin, First Apology 61; Tertullian, Against Praxeas 26; Apostolic Constitutions 8:47 [canon 50]). As we have noted above, this contrasts with early Christian tradition recorded in the New Testament, where believers were, it would seem, only baptized “in the name of Jesus”. The traditions recorded in the book of Acts, if authentic, date from c. 30-60 (with the book itself completed some time after 70 A.D.), making them considerably earlier than the earliest date usually given for the Didache.

A final comment on the authenticity of Matt 28:19 must wait until we have considered the other post-resurrection Commission passages in the Gospels, especially that in Luke 24:45-49, which I will do in the next daily note.