Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Lk 4:16-30)

In the previous note I looked at the tradition of Jesus’ visit to his hometown (Nazareth) in Mark 6:1-6a. Matthew’s version (13:53-58) differs only slightly from that of Mark. Luke’s account, as I have already mentioned, has a number of details unique to his version, though it almost certainly is describing the same (historical) event and tradition. These differences I will be discussing today. Before proceeding, it is worth pointing out that neither Mark nor Matthew actually mentioned the name of the town, simply referring to it as Jesus’ patri/$ (patrís), “father(‘s) land”, i.e. the territory of his home town. We may assume that the Gospel writers both understood it to be Nazareth, based on earlier data they recorded (Mk 1:9; Matt 2:13; 4:13), but, in all likelihood, the original tradition as passed down did not include the name of the town. Luke specifically refers to it by name (4:16), and he has good reasons for doing so, as we shall see.

Luke 4:16-30

(See also my earlier study on this passage)

Let us first note the elements and details which are unique to Luke’s version of the episode, and which he most likely has added to the core Synoptic narrative. We may take these to be (authentic) historical traditions, and, if so, they would be considered part of the so-called “L” material (traditions found only in Luke). The significant additions are as follows:

    • A different narrative introduction (v. 16)
    • The detail of Jesus standing up to read a passage from the Prophets (v. 17)
    • The quotation of Isaiah 61:1, with Jesus’ explanation (vv. 18-21)
    • The proverb cited by Jesus in v. 23
    • The Scriptural examples involving the Prophets Elijah and Elisha (vv. 25-27)
    • The violent reaction by the people, with intent to do harm to Jesus (vv. 28-29f)

The core Synoptic tradition, as found in Mk 6:1-6a (cf. the previous note), can still be glimpsed by combining together vv. 14-15 (with 16), 22, 24, and (very loosely) 28, 30. Beyond the added details listed above, consider how the author has (apparently) modified the core tradition:

    • The details emphasized in verse 16 (cp. Mk 6:1-2a par):
      (a) The name of the town (Nazareth)
      (b) That it was the place where Jesus was nourished (i.e. raised, brought up)
      (c) That he was used to attending local Synagogues on the Sabbath (and teaching there)
    • A different formulation of the people’s reaction—that is, the summary of their words/thoughts (v. 22 / Mk 6:2-3 par)
    • A different version of Jesus’ saying (v. 24 / Mk 6:4)
    • The episode apparently ends with a rather different (more violent) result to Jesus’ visit (vv. 28-30)

Each of these will be examined briefly, going verse by verse.

Verse 16—The Lukan details mentioned above all relate to the distinctive purpose of the episode within the context of the Gospel narrative. Two major literary and thematic elements are clearly at work:

    • The reference to Nazareth as the place where Jesus was brought up (as a child) points back to the Infancy Narrative of chapters 1-2, especially 2:40-52, which share certain motifs and language with 4:16ff. I have discussed these in an earlier note on this passage.
    • This episode illustrates the summary of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry in verses 14-15—in particular, that of his teaching in the synagogues. The Synoptic tradition introduces the ministry of Jesus with a different episode (cf. Mark 1:21-28 par [this follows in Lk 4:31-37]). Note the way that both the initial Markan and Lukan episodes illustrate the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry:
      (1) Teaching/preaching (with a synagogue setting)—Mk 1:21-22, 27; Lk 4:14-16, 22
      (2) Working miracles—Mk 1:23-27; Lk 4:14a, 23-27

Verses 17-21—The quotation of Isaiah 61:1 is a tradition unique to Luke’s account. In verse 21, Jesus states that this prophecy has been fulfilled at the moment of his reading it. In other words, Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed herald/prophet figure of Isa 61:1ff, just as he does elsewhere, in the traditional “Q” material (Lk 7:22 / Matt 11:5). Luke’s inclusion of this reference probably offers the best explanation for his location of the Nazareth episode, set at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This can be explained on three levels:

    • A connection with the Baptism scene, with the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (3:22). This is to be understood as the moment when the Spirit came upon him and he was anointed by God (Isa 61:1 / 4:18).
    • A connection with the preceding Temptation scene (4:1-13) which is framed by important references to the presence/activity of the Spirit (vv. 1, 14). In other words, this also shows how Jesus has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of God.
    • Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah), which serves as a principal theme of the Lukan account of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (4:19:20). However, in this period he is not identified as the royal Messiah from the line of David, but as the Anointed herald/prophet of Isaiah 61. Matthew (4:12-17) introduces Jesus’ Galilean ministry with a different Messianic prophecy (Isa 9:1-2), one more in keeping with the Davidic figure-type.

Verse 22—Here it is worth comparing Luke’s account of the crowds reaction with that of Mark. Consider first the initial description of their reaction:

“and many hearing (him) were laid out (flat) [i.e. amazed], saying ‘From where (did) these things (come) to this (man), and what (is) th(is) wisdom…’?” (Mk 6:2)

“and all witnessed (about) him and wondered upon [i.e. at] the words of favor traveling out of his mouth” (Lk 4:22a)

The idea is roughly the same, but with a different emphasis. In Mark, the people recognize the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry—the wisdom (of his teaching) and his powerful deeds (miracles). In Luke’s account, it seems that they are responding to his gifts as a speaker, fulfilling a traditional religious role—that of reading the Scripture and offering a (pleasant) word of exhortation. It would seem that, while they may have recognized the Messianic significance of Isa 61:1ff, they certainly did not understand the implication of Jesus’ declaration in v. 21—that he was the Anointed One of the prophecy. Mark’s version may contain something of this idea as well, in the statement that the people of Nazareth were “tripped up” (the vb. skandali/zw) by Jesus (v. 3, cf. Lk 7:23 par)

The second part of the people’s reaction is even more significant. In Mark (6:3) the people find it hard to explain Jesus’ words and deeds, since they know all of his family—his mother, brothers, and sisters—as ‘ordinary’ people in the area. Luke has simplified this statement greatly, highlighting just one family member of Jesus:

“Is this not the son of Yoseph {Joseph}?”

This is reasonably close to the words in Matt 13:55: “Is this not the son of the craftsman [i.e. carpenter]?”, as well as being virtually identical to those in Jn 6:42. However, for Luke the reference to Joseph (as Jesus’ human father) has special importance, as can be seen clearly from two earlier passages:

    • The episode of the child Jesus in the Temple, in which Joseph as Jesus’ (human/legal) father is contrasted with God as his (true) Father (2:48-49)
    • The genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38), which begins “the son, as it was thought, of Joseph…” (v. 23), and ends “…the (son) of God” (v. 38). The implication, again, is that God is Jesus’ true Father (1:32, 35; 3:22b).

With these allusions in mind, it becomes apparent what the author is emphasizing here in this scene. The people of Nazareth are still thinking of Jesus as the ordinary, human/legal son of Joseph, and do not at all recognize him as the Anointed One and Son of God.

Verses 23-24—In Luke’s version, the Synoptic saying is preceded by an additional proverb (in v. 23). It functions as a provocative challenge to the townspeople. At this point, Luke does not mention the people taking offense at Jesus (cp. Mark 6:3); rather, Jesus seems to be taking the initiative in provoking them. The proverb brings to light the miracles performed by Jesus and plays upon the Synoptic tradition in Mk 6:5 par—that he was unable to perform many miracles in his home town (because of the people’s lack of faith). The proverb itself is relatively common, with parallels known from the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern world. However, in Luke, joined as it is with the saying of v. 24, it effectively creates a dual contrasting statement (physician/prophet). This, in fact, is how the saying has been preserved in at least one line of tradition, as recorded in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1 and the Gospel of Thomas (§31)—i.e. “a prophet is not… and a physician does not…”. The Lukan form of the saying in v. 24 also differs from the version in Mark/Matthew:

“A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land and among his relatives and in his (own) house” (Mk 6:4)

“Not one foreteller [i.e. prophet] is accepted in his father(‘s) land” (Lk 4:24)

Most likely, Luke’s version represents an abridgment and/or simplification of the Synoptic tradition. Again, it serves a distinct purpose in the Lukan context—it makes more direct the identification of Jesus as a prophet.

Verses 25-27—The prophetic association becomes even clearer with the references to Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:8-16; 2 Kings 5:1-19) and the miracles they worked. Jesus effectively is identifying himself with a prophet like Elijah/Elisha, a connection which appears a number of times in the Gospel tradition. For more on this, see parts 2 and 3 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Verses 28-30—Luke, quite in contrast with the narrative in Mark/Matthew, records an openly hostile, violent reaction to Jesus, provoked, it would seem, by Jesus’ own words in vv. 23-27. There is nothing quite like this in the core synoptic narrative, which ends rather uneventfully, with a laconic statement that Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in his home town, and that he marveled at the people’s lack of faith (Mk 6:5-6a). This is the only point at which the Lukan account really does not fit the Synoptic outline of the episode in Mark/Matthew. It does, however, fulfill two important themes within the narrative context of Luke’s Gospel:

    • It prefigures the opposition/violence that Jesus, as the Anointed One and Son of God, would face from the people, and serves as a parallel to the close of the Galilean period, and the Passion references which follow (9:21-22, 31, 43b-45, 51).
    • It also looks back to the Infancy Narrative, and the oracle by Simeon in 2:34-35, illustrating the opposition predicted by him most vividly.

Quite possibly, the original (historical) tradition contained more of this element of opposition to Jesus, but that it was not preserved in the Synoptic account of Mark/Matthew, retained (if at all) only in the statement at the end of Mk 6:3. If so, then Luke has developed and enhanced this aspect of the tradition.

John 6:42

Finally, it is worth noting, that, although the Gospel of John does not have anything corresponding to the Nazareth episode of the Synoptics, it does include at least one similar tradition—Jn 6:42, forming part of the great Bread of Life discourse in 6:22-59. As in the Synoptic episode under discussion, verse 42 reflects the people’s reaction to statements by Jesus regarding his identity. In Luke 4:16-30, he identifies himself with the Anointed (Messianic) herald/prophet of Isaiah 61:1ff (v. 21), and, by implication, as also being the Son of God (vv. 22ff, cf. above). In the discourse of John 6:22-59, Jesus draws upon different Scriptures—the Exodus traditions, especially that of the manna (as “bread from heaven”)—and identifies himself as the true Bread that comes down from heaven. This is expressed in verse 42 by one of the famous “I Am” declarations in John—”I am the bread th(at is) coming down [lit. stepping down] out of Heaven” (cf. also vv. 32-33, 35, 38, 48, 50-51, 58). In the Johannine context, this certainly refers to Jesus as the eternal (pre-existent) Son of God who has come (down) into the world to bring Life to those who would believe. Here Jesus’ sonship (in relation to God the Father) is understood at a much deeper level than in the Gospel of Luke. However, the basic contrast expressed is the same. The people recognize Jesus only at the ordinary, human level, and are troubled/offended by his words:

Is this not Yeshua, the son of Yoseph, of whom we have seen [i.e. known] his father and (his) mother? (So) now how (can) he say that ‘I have stepped down out of heaven?'”

The italicized portion is quite similar to the words of the people of Nazareth in Mark 6:3 par; indeed, the first phrase—”is this not…the son of Joseph?”—is virtually identical with Luke 4:22b. And, to be sure, John expresses the same aspect of opposition and misunderstanding among the people as Luke does. They view Jesus merely as the son of Joseph, when, in fact, his true identity is as the (eternal) Son of God the Father (Jn 6:27, 32, 37, 40, 44, 46, 57, etc).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Mk 6:1-6)

The second primary tradition in the Gospels related to Jesus’ family and relatives is the episode at Nazareth, recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels—Mark 6:1-6a, Matthew 13:53-58, and Luke 4:16-30. There are a number of unique elements in Luke’s account, and it occurs in a different location—at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. These differences have led some traditional-conservative commentators to posit two separate events—that is, two visits to Nazareth, harmonizing the chronology of Luke with Mark/Matthew. However, there is no real basis in the text for such a harmonization; the Gospel writers each know of only one such visit by Jesus to his home town. The basic similarity of the episode makes it all but certain that the Synoptic accounts derive from a single historical tradition. Even though, at the historical level, Jesus conceivably could have made any number of trips back to Nazareth, the Synoptic Gospels record just one visit. I begin by looking at the core (Synoptic) narrative regarding this episode, as found in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 6:1-6a

The episode recorded in Mk 6:1-6a is rather straightforward:

  • V. 1—Narrative introduction, with two important details:
    (a) “he comes into his father(‘s) land” (i.e. his home territory and village)
    (b) “his learners [i.e. disciples] (are) follow(ing) him”
  • V. 2a—Jesus begins to teach in the Synagogue, and the people who hear him are amazed (lit. “laid out [flat]”)
  • Vv. 2b-3—A summary of the people’s reaction(s), presented as their words, in two parts:
    (1) “From where (did) these things (come) to this (man)?”—”these things” are clarified:
    —”What (is) th(is) wisdom given to this (man)?”
    —”(How is it) these (kind)s of powerful deeds come to be through his hands?”
    (2) “Isn’t this the craftsman [i.e. carpenter], the son of Maryam…?”
    With the concluding narrative statement, “And they were tripped up in [i.e. by] him”
  • V. 4—Saying by Jesus: “A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land…”
  • Vv. 5-6a—Narrative conclusion emphasizing two points:
    (a) Jesus was only able to perform a few healing miracles there, and
    (b) “and he wondered through [i.e. at, because of] their lack of trust”

We see referenced here the two main components of Jesus’ ministry—teaching/preaching and performing healing miracles—which are described and narrated throughout the Galilean period in the Synoptic Tradition. This was depicted, in seminal form, in the early episode of Mk 1:21-28 par, which also happens to take place at a local Synagogue (sunagwgh/, lit. a place where people “are brought [or come] together”). These same two aspects are also central to the townspeople’s initial reaction of amazement—the wisdom (i.e. of his teaching, v. 2a) and his powerful deeds (miracles).

The second part of the people’s reaction is significant as it mentions the names of Jesus’ family:

    • his mother Maryam (i.e. Mary)—”is this not the son of Maryam?”
    • four of his brothers—”the brother of…”—listed by name:
      (1) Ya’aqob (Jacob/James), (2) Yoseph (Joseph/Joses), (3) Yehuda (Juda[s]), and (4) Shim’on (Simon)
    • his sisters, mentioned generally—”are not his sisters here toward [i.e. with] us?”

Apart from Mary and Jacob/James (to be discussed in an upcoming note), very little is known of Jesus’ family. There has been much (rather idle) speculation and debate regarding whether Jesus’ “brothers” (and sisters) were full blood brothers, half-brothers, or perhaps even cousins. Much of this has been due to traditional doctrine(s) related to the veneration of Mary and a belief in her perpetual virginity (virginitas post partum, after giving birth [to Jesus]). Most Protestants have little problem with the idea that Joseph and Mary had other children together. Joseph himself is not mentioned here, but Jesus is referred to as “the craftsman/carpenter” (some witnesses read “the son of the craftsman/carpenter”, as in Matt 13:55), and, according to early Christian tradition, Joseph was a carpenter. In the Lukan version of this scene (4:22, cf. the next note), Jesus is called son of Joseph, as also in Jn 6:42. Here, Mk 6:3 (with the Matthean parallel) is the only mention of Mary by name in the Synoptic Gospels outside of the Infancy narratives. It is the people of Nazareth in general, rather than Jesus’ relatives specifically, who exhibit lack of belief/trust in him. We do not know the attitude of his family toward him from this particular account (cp. Mark 3:20-35 par, discussed in an earlier note).

What of the significance of this episode within the narrative context of the Markan Gospel? Its proximity to the subsequent mission of the Twelve (vv. 6b-13) is surely important. The two scenes are juxtaposed with one another, just as the episode(s) in 3:20-35 are with the calling of the Twelve in 3:13-19. The lack of faith/trust exhibited by Jesus’ relatives and hometown acquaintances is contrasted with that of his chosen (and close/faithful) followers. Consider the structure:

  • Calling of the Twelve—with authority to proclaim (the coming Kingdom) and work healing (exorcism) miracles (3:13-19)
    • The response of his relatives/acquaintances to his miracles, etc (3:20-35)
      Jesus’ Galilean ministry: teaching (4:1-34) and miracles (4:35-5:43)
    • The response of his hometown to his miracles, etc (6:1-6a)
  • Mission of the Twelve—authority to preach and work healing (exorcism) miracles (6:6b-13)

When we turn to the (proverbial) saying of Jesus in verse 4

“A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land and among his relatives [lit. those b(orn) together with (him)] and in his (own) house!”

a significant point to note is that he refers to himself as a prophet. This association, in the context of his ministry activity—as one who proclaims the Kingdom and works miracles—will be developed further in Luke’s version of this scene. Jesus as a prophet, in connection with his identity the Anointed One (Messiah) of God, will feature prominently in two of the scenes (the first and last) which make up the remainder of the Galilean ministry period in Mark’s narrative—Mk 6:14-15ff and 8:27-30.

Matthew 13:53-58

Matthew’s account follows that of Mark very closely. The differences are slight, and there is no evidence of any “Q” material being included—i.e. no sayings or details shared by Luke but not found in Mark. Overall the narrative is a bit simpler and smoother compared with Mark’s version. Here, then, we have a dual presentation of what I would call the core Synoptic tradition. Luke’s version of the scene, on the other hand, differs considerably at several points, which I will be discussing in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Jn 7:1-9)

The past two notes have examined the traditions regarding the family/relatives of Jesus in Mark 3:20-21, 31-35 par. While the Gospel of John does not preserve these specific episodes, it does contain a separate tradition which has a rough similarity to Mk 3:20-21.

John 7:1-9

In John 7:1, we find Jesus in Galilee, presumably somewhere near his home town (Capernaum? cf. Jn 6:17, 59). It is about the time of the Sukkoth festival (Booths/Tabernacles), and the celebration of this festival, in Jerusalem, will serve as the setting for the discourses of Jesus in chapters 7-8ff. Verses 1-9 serve as an introduction to traditional material and sayings/discourses which follow. Within this framework, the Gospel writer appears to have included a tradition regarding the insensitivity of Jesus’ family (his brothers) to his ministry, much as we see in Mk 3:21. This is recorded in vv. 3-8 as a simple dialogue; note the overall structure of the opening section (which I give here as a chiasm):

  • The narrative setting—Jesus in Galilee (Capernaum?) prior to the festival (vv. 1-2)
    • Statement by Jesus’ brothers (vv. 3-4)
      • Central comment by the narrator (v. 5)
    • Response of Jesus to his brothers (vv. 6-8)
  • Narrative conclusion—Jesus remains in Galilee (v. 9)

Verse 9, along with v. 10, is transitional to the main section(s) which follows in vv. 11ff. The narrator’s comment in verse 5 is central to the episode:

“For even his brothers did not trust in him”

This states simply and directly what was only implied in the Synoptic tradition of Mark 3:20-35 par (and also in the Nazarath episode of Mk 6:1-6a par, to be discussed). Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him, at least during this (Galilean) period of his ministry. Four such brothers are mentioned by name in Mk 6:3, but there is no way of knowing if those are specifically the ones meant in Jn 7:3ff. There is perhaps a derisive tone to the brothers’ words in vv. 3-4; however, more important for the Gospel writer is that their words reflect an ordinary, human (wordly) mindset. The implication is that the festival of Sukkoth, with so many pilgrims and others gathered in Jerusalem, would be an ideal opportunity for Jesus to make a name for himself, both with his own disciples and to people at large. The reference to the “works” (e&rga) that he is doing (i.e. in Galilee) suggest that they are urging him to perform his miracles publicly in Jerusalem, before a wide audience. Cf. Matt 4:3-7 par for a interesting comparison with the Temptation scene.

Jesus’ response to his brothers in vv. 6-8 is full of details and language common to the discourses of Jesus in John, and involves wordplay with some key vocabulary. I will treat these here briefly, in order of occurrence:

    • The contrast between “my” and “your” (e(mo/$/u(me/tero$). This is part of the dualism we find throughout the discourses of Jesus in John—i.e. Jesus vs. the (unbelieving) people around him, the Son sent by the Father vs. those belonging to the world. Perhaps the most pointed example of this imagery is found in 8:31-59, the climax of chapters 7-8.
    • The expression “my time (ha)s not yet (come) along” (o( kairo\$ o( e)mo\$ ou&pw pa/restin). Jesus frequently uses language of this sort in the Gospel of John, though always with the word “hour” (w%ra) instead of “time” (kairo/$). This will be touched on further below.
    • The important theme of the relationship between Jesus and the world, and the world’s hostility/hatred of him (cf. 3:20; 15:18-25; 17:14). This is part of the dualism mentioned above.
    • Along with this is the idea of Jesus’ witness again the world and its evil works. The verb marture/w (“[give/bear] witness”) has special theological significance in John, occurring 33 times (out of 76 in the NT).
    • The use of the verb a)nabai/nw (“step up”), i.e. “go up”. There is a definite play on words here. On the surface, Jesus seems to be saying simply that he will not be “going up” (i.e. traveling) to Jerusalem for the festival. But he is actually using it in a deeper sense, referring to (the time of) his eventual death and exaltation (including his return to the Father). For the specific theological and Christological meaning of this (otherwise common) verb, cf. 1:51; 3:13; 6:62; 20:17. This alternates with the “ordinary” usage in 2:13; 5:1; 7:10; 11:55, etc, though here too the double-meaning is no doubt implied.

Of special interest is Jesus’ use of the word kairo/$ in verses 6 & 8, in which the same basic idea is repeated:

“my time (ha)s not yet (come) along” (v. 6)
“my time has not yet been (ful)filled” (v. 8)

From the Gospel context (including similar usage in the Synoptics), it is clear that Jesus is referring to the time of his death, exaltation and return to the Father. However, as I noted above, in the Gospel of John, this is always expressed with the term w%ra (“hour”) rather than kairo/$ (“time”). The expression is “my/the hour has come (or has not yet come)”—7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1. The similar idea of an hour coming, related to the person and work of Jesus, is found in 4:21, 23; 5:25, 28; 16:2, 4, 21, 25, 32. The word “hour” is also used in reference to believers (i.e. the disciples) being in the presence of Jesus (5:35; 11:9). In all of these instances, w%ra (hœ¡ra) refers to a specific moment in time which is to come. The word kai/ro$ (kairós), we may say, has a somewhat different nuance of meaning—a particular point (and place) in time, i.e. during which a specific event takes place. In English, the word is often rendered as “season”. In the Gospel of John, kairo/$ occurs only here, whereas it appears more frequently in the Synoptic Gospels, in the teaching of Jesus, often in an eschatological context (Mk 1:15; 10:30; 11:13; 12:2; 13:33 par; also Lk 19:44; 21:8, 24, etc). Luke uses it in 4:13, at the Temptation scene, as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ future testing (i.e. during his Passion), even as the word occurs in Matt 26:18 (“my time is [now] near”). Elsewhere in the Synoptics, and in John, the time of Jesus’ suffering and death is expressed by w%ra (“hour”)—Mk 14:35, 37, 41 par; Matt 26:55; Lk 22:14, 53.

The use of kairo/$ in John 7:6, 8, may be due to the setting of the Sukkoth festival—”the (time of the) festival was near…” (v. 2). Essentially, Jesus is saying that this particular festival, in Jerusalem, was not to be the occasion of his glorification—i.e. of his death and resurrection/exaltation. His brothers may have been urging him to put on a public display of miracle-working, etc, in Jerusalem, but, for Jesus, the only such public display in that city would be his death on the cross—cf. 3:14; 8:58; 12:32, 34. That event truly would “draw all people” to him. It is interesting to consider the dualistic contrast Jesus makes, between himself and his brothers, in verse 6:

    • my time (ha)s not yet (come) along, but”
      your time is always ready”

The time of his (unbelieving) brothers is that of the world, which is constant and always present, in its evil and darkness. Even the occurrence of regular religious festivals does not change this. Jesus, however, as the eternal Son sent by the Father, is only present in the world for a short time, for the purpose of making the Father known, and bringing salvation, to those who will believe. There is an interesting parallel here with the statement Jesus makes to his mother in 2:4:

“my hour does not come here yet”
ou&pw h%kei h( w%ra mou

There is a general similarity. In both episodes, members of Jesus’ family essentially ask him to perform public miracles, albeit for different reasons. In each instance, Jesus’ response is not so much a refusal as it points to something deeper—to the time of his death and exaltation. All of his miracles lead to that great event, just as the Cana episode (2:1-12) directly precedes the Temple scene in Jerusalem (2:13-22) with its veiled prediction of death and resurrection (vv. 19-22).

Even though the Gospel of John does not contain narratives corresponding with the Synoptics at these points, it seems all but certain, on objective grounds, that the writer (trad. John) has inherited historical traditions quite similar, in many respects, to those of the Synoptics. They have been adapted and set within a very specific Johannine framework (involving repeated festival-trips to Jerusalem), using distinctive theological language. Yet something of the early traditional narrative is definitely preserved. Consider the loose parallel between John and Mark here, in which each Gospel has joined together:

    • Reference to the calling of the Twelve, featuring Peter, and concluding with the mention of Judas’ betrayal—Jn 6:67-71 / Mk 3:13-19
    • An episode involving the family/relatives of Jesus which shows misunderstanding (even hostility) toward his ministry work, etc—Jn 7:1-9 / Mk 3:20-21, 31-35

Even the basic division of the Synoptic narrative—divided into Galilean and Judean (Jerusalem) periods, can be glimpsed through the Johannine structure:

  • Jesus’ Galilean ministry (punctuated, in John, by trips to Jerusalem)—2:1-6:71
    • Which opens with a scene in Galilee involving Jesus’ family (mother), performing miracles, and a saying: “My hour does not come here yet”
    • And concludes with a great miracle (feeding the multitude), which is connected with
    • A confession (by Peter) regarding Jesus’ identity (6:68-69)
  • Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem—7:1-11:54?
    • Which opens with a scene in Galilee involving Jesus’ family (brothers), etc, along with the saying: “My time has not yet (come) along”
    • And concludes with a great miracle (raising Lazarus), which also is connected with
    • A confession (by Martha) regarding Jesus’ identity (11:27)

The points of similarity should be readily apparent.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Matt 12:46-50; Lk 8:19-21)

In the previous note, I discussed the two episodes in Mark 3:20-21 and 31-35, in which Jesus’ natural family and relatives are contrasted with the true family of his faithful disciples. I mentioned how Matthew and Luke do not contain anything corresponding to the first episode, but each has a version of the second—in Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21, respectively.

Matthew 12:46-50

Matthew’s version has a very different setting. Not only is the scene from Mk 3:20-21 absent, but the “Beelzebul controversy” episode (12:22-32) is kept separate from the scene contrasting Jesus’ natural and true family (12:46-50). This is the result of the ‘insertion’ of three sections of teaching (vv. 33-37, 38-42, 43-45) in between. The last two sections are part of the so-called “Q” material, found also in Luke, in a slightly different location and order (Lk 11:29-32, 24-26). Overall, the inclusion of vv. 22-45 makes the section function as a condemnation of the faithlessness and wickedness of the Age—including the cities and towns (of Galilee) in which Jesus has been preaching and working miracles. This narrative block begins with verses 15-21, and the Scripture citation of Isaiah 42:1-4 (vv. 18-21), which holds a similar place in Matthew’s narrative as does the citation of Isa 61:1 in Luke 4:17-21. Many people have not responded as they should to God’s Chosen One, who has been marked (and anointed) by the Spirit. It is by the Spirit of God that Jesus works miracles and casts out demons (12:28). This emphasis in v. 28 is one of the Matthean additions (Q material, cf. Lk 11:20) to the core Synoptic tradition, along with verses 22-23 and 30. They also give the section a stronger eschatological orientation—i.e., Jesus’ miracles are a sign that the Kingdom of God has come.

We can see how these additions, along with their distinctive emphasis, has modified the sense of the episode in verses 46-50 as well. There is the same contrast as in Mark—Jesus’ natural family vs. his true/spiritual family—but it yields a different implication in the Matthean context. The idea seems to be that not even Jesus’ own (natural) family will escape the Judgment, on the basis of their family ties; rather, only those who follow him faithfully (to the end) will be saved. There is an echo of this teaching (with a similar contrast) earlier in 10:34-39, and it is almost certainly implied in vv. 46-50 as well. Matthew’s version of the scene is presented in a more public, dramatic fashion; note some key differences (compared with Mark’s version):

    • Jesus is speaking to the crowd (v. 46a); this serves to join the narrative to the ‘inserted’ blocks of teaching in vv. 33-45.
    • It is narrated specifically that Jesus’ mother and brothers were seeking him out to speak with him (v. 46b).
    • The double use of the pronoun ti$ (“who”) in Jesus’ rhetorical question (v. 48) gives it a more solemn, formal sound.
    • Jesus delivers an emphatic gesture—stretching out his hand to those around him (v. 49, Mk has “looking around”). The gesture is also directed specifically toward his disciples.
    • In the final declaration (v. 50) Jesus uses “My Father (in the heavens)” instead of “God”; this gives added emphasis to the family aspect of the scene (cp. Lk 2:48-49).

Luke 8:19-21

The Lukan narrative context is different again. Not only is the scene of Mk 3:20-21 absent, but the “Beelzebul controversy” episode has been set in an entirely different location, at a later point in the narrative (Lk 11:14-23). As in Matthew, this episode is connected with the teaching on the “return of the unclean spirit” (vv. 24-26; Matt 12:43-45) and the “sign of Jonah” (vv. 29-32; Matt 12:38-42), and may reflect a traditional ordering of the “Q” material used by both Gospels. In any event, the Beelzebul scene, with its hostility toward Jesus’ ministry, has been removed completely from the context of 8:19-21. Another major change is that the parable of the Sower has been placed ahead of the scene in 8:19-21, contrary to the (Synoptic order) of Mark/Matthew. Luke has also added the important narrative summary in 8:1-3. Let us see how these changes have altered the outline of the narrative (in relation to vv. 19-21):

    • 8:1-3—Summary of the ministry work of Jesus (preaching the Good News and working healing miracles), and of the close disciples (the Twelve and others) who are following him. Luke uses the very language of Mk 3:14 (the calling of the Twelve), stating that these disciples were with him (met’ au)tou=).
    • 8:4-15—The Parable of the Sower, including the traditional elements:
      —vv. 4-8: The parable itself
      —vv. 9-10: The statement that the “secrets of the Kingdom” are only given to his (close) disciples
      —vv. 11-5: An explanation of the parable
    • 8:16-18—The Parable/illustration of the Lamp, with the two-fold (eschatological) warning in vv. 17-18
    • 8:19-21—The Scene/Saying regarding Jesus’ mother and brothers

Very little remains of the stark contrast presented in Mk 3:20-35; instead, the emphasis is primarily on the disciples of Jesus, their faithfulness to him, and the reward that will result from it. Several small, but significant, changes to the episode in 8:19-21 follow this general theme:

    • In verse 19, Jesus’ mother and brothers themselves desire to come to Jesus and meet with him (using the vb. suntugxa/nw). They are physically unable to reach him “through the crowd”.
    • Luke retains the image of Jesus’ mother and brothers “standing outside”, but their purpose is not merely to “speak” to Jesus, but to meet/be together with him (v. 19) and to see him (v. 20). The motif of seeing Christ is important in the Gospel of Luke (2:26, 30; 3:6, etc), as also in the Gospel of John, and frequently has theological/Christological significance.
    • The formulation of Jesus’ declaration (v. 21) is different. In Mark/Matthew, Jesus looks/motions to his disciples, and says regarding them:
      See, (here are) my mother and my brothers!” (Mk 3:34).
      The saying in v. 35 follows:
      [For] whoever would do the will of God—this (one) is my brother and sister and mother

Luke’s version of the climactic declaration, on the other hand, has largely removed (or has avoided) the basic contrast between Jesus’ natural and true/spiritual family, through a simple modification/abridgment of the saying:

“My mother and my brothers—these are the ones hearing and doing the account [i.e. word] of God”

This allows one to understand the saying to include Jesus’ mother and brothers as being among the faithful ones. We will see how this relates to the overall portrait of Jesus’ mother (Mary) and brothers in Luke-Acts in an upcoming note.

Luke 11:27-28

As it happens, there is a parallel saying of Jesus in Luke which preserves a bit more of the original contrast found in Mk 3:20-35 par. In Luke 11:27-28, a simple tradition is recorded, in which a woman utters a blessing (macarism) to Jesus (v. 27):

“Happy the belly [i.e. womb] carrying you and the nipples that you (have) sucked!”

Jesus responds with a blessing of his own (v. 28):

“(Indeed) but then (all the more) happy (are) the (one)s hearing the account [i.e. word] of God and guarding (it)!”

The woman’s blessing refers to Jesus’ mother in a concrete physical/biological sense. While Jesus does not exactly reject this statement, he certainly downplays its significance and redirects it. This is done with the compound particle menou=n(ge), which is rather difficult to render in English; it probably should be understood as something like “yes, but then all the more…” or “indeed, but now, truly…” Natural family ties mean relatively little compared with faithfulness to God (and Jesus). It is possible that the expression “the account [i.e. word, lo/go$] of God” from this saying, along with the specific idea of hearing the word of God, has been used to modify the (Lukan) form of the earlier, parallel saying in 8:21. A version of the saying in 11:27-28 has also been preserved in the “Gospel of Thomas” (§79), which likely is derived from Luke (along with 23:29).

Before proceeding to the episode at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6a par), it is necessary to examine one rare passage in the Gospel of John which seems to have some relationship to the Synoptic traditions in Mk 3:20-21 and 31-35 par. This will be discussed in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Mk 3:20-34)

The next topic to be discussed in this section, on the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (cf. the Introduction), are the traditions involving Jesus’ family and relatives. This is a simpler study, in that only a very few passages in the Gospels relate to it. However, it is most interesting for our study of the development of the Gospel Tradition, since it demonstrates how traditions, expressing a different point of view or emphasis, can develop alongside one another.

In the early Church, Jesus’ natural family—his brothers and mother (Mary)—held a prominent and revered position, which, by the first half of the 2nd century, had become quite well-established. This is indicated already in the New Testament in several places (1 Cor 9:5; Acts 1:14; Luke 1:26-56), especially with regard to the position of James among the Christians in Jerusalem (Gal 1:19; Acts 12:17; 15:13ff, etc). However, the early Gospel tradition tells rather a different story. There are scant references to Jesus’ family and relatives, but those which have come down to us are characterized by misunderstanding, even hostility, to Jesus’ ministry. There are two main passages to be discussed:

    1. Mark 3:20-35 (vv. 20-21, 31-35) and parallels
    2. The Episode at Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6a par)

According to the method I have adopted in this series, I begin with the Gospel of Mark as representing the basic Synoptic tradition. This is not to say that Mark’s account is always the earliest or simplest version, but it generally shows fewer signs of (secondary) development, compared with Matthew and Luke.

Mark 3:20-35

As it happens, this section follows directly after the calling of the Twelve (Apostles) by Jesus (3:13-19), as discussed extensively in the prior notes. In the Markan narrative this provides a clear and distinct contrast between Jesus’ relatives (his natural family) and his followers (his true/spiritual family). Two episodes are brought together in this section—verses 20-21 and 31-35, respectively. In the middle of these we find the “Beelzebul controversy” (vv. 22-30), a (hostile) encounter between Jesus and certain ‘experts’ on Scripture (the Law/Torah) who have come down from Jerusalem to see him. This controversy scene centers on the healing miracles performed by Jesus (cf. the immediate context of verses 7-12 & 15), which involved the exorcism (casting out) of the (semi-)divine beings (daimons), or spirits, understood as being responsible for many diseases and ailments.

According to the monotheistic view of Israelites and Jews, true deity only existed in God the Father (El/Yahweh [YHWH]). As a natural consequence, all other ‘lesser’ deities, recognized by the surrounding nations, were relegated to the position of evil spirits. The famous Canaanite deity of Baal (i.e. the “Lord/Master”, Haddu), so well-known from ancient tradition, was fittingly viewed as the “Prince” of these daimons (or “demons”). This designation was preserved in the Gospels, transliterated in Greek as Beelzebou/l (Beelzeboúl, “Baal-Zebul, originally “Baal [the] Exalted [One]”).

The thematic connection between the Beelzebul episode and verses 20-21 is important to note. Consider the sequence of events narrated in these two verses:

    • A crowd of followers has gathered around Jesus at the house where he was residing (v. 19b-20). No doubt this was due to the many healing miracles he had been performing (vv. 7-12).
    • Certain friends/relatives/acquaintances of Jesus (lit. “the ones alongside [of] him”), hearing about the miracles, and, it would seem, shocked by the sensation caused by his ministry, respond dramatically (v. 21):
      (a) they went out to “grasp hold” of him (i.e. seize him)
      (b) they declared “he stands out of (himself)”, i.e. is “out of his mind”

To cite a modern parallel, Jesus’ relatives and/or acquaintances wish to have him taken into custody (committed) on the grounds of insanity. In the ancient world, such “madness” was typically seen as being caused by the presence of divine beings/spirits (daimons, or “demons”). This was essentially the claim made by the religious experts in verses 22ff—that Jesus “holds Baal-Zebul”, and so performs healing miracles through the power of “the prince of demons”. Jesus’ response in verses 23-27 takes the form of a parable, illustrating the practical impossibility of such a claim. This leads into the famous saying on the Holy Spirit in vv. 28-29. The Gospel writer makes the connection clear by the explanation in verse 30—the religious leaders claimed that Jesus worked miracles through a demon-spirit rather than the Holy Spirit of God. This fundamental lack of understanding regarding Jesus’ ministry provides the setting for the episode in verses 31-35.

Mark 3:31-35

Here, Jesus’ mother and brothers are mentioned (also his sisters in v. 32 v.l.), creating a more specific and detailed situation than that of vv. 20-21. This also establishes a more direct contrast—between Jesus’ natural family and his true family (of followers/believers). The contrast is clear enough by the repeating elements of the verses in sequence:

  • His mother and brothers come (seeking him) (v. 31)
    • A crowd of followers is sitting around him (v. 32a)
      • Messengers report about his mother and brothers (v. 32b)
  • Jesus’ asks: “Who is my mother and [my] brothers?” (v. 33)
    • He looks at the followers round about him (v. 34a)
      • Declaration of his (true) mother and brothers (vv. 34b-35)

There is a possible play on words in v. 31, where it is said that Jesus’ mother and brothers were “standing outside” (e&cw sth/konte$), i.e. outside of the house/room where Jesus and his followers were gathered. Etymologically, this expression is related to the verb used in v. 21, where Jesus’ relatives declare that “he stands out of (himself)” (e)ce/sth); on this, cf. above. Note that this passage also contains certain vocabulary that alludes back to the calling of the Twelve in vv. 13-19:

  • In vv. 13-14, Jesus calls the Twelve toward [proskalei=tai] him, and they come toward [pro/$] him, so that he might send them forth [a)poste/llh|] as his representatives (i.e. apostles)
    • Jesus’ mother and brothers come to him, and send forth [a)pe/steilan] messengers toward [pro/$] him, calling [kalou=nte$] him (v. 31)
  • In v. 14, Jesus makes [vb. poie/w] the Twelve to be his close followers, to be with him (i.e. as his true family)
    • Jesus’ statement that the one who does [vb. poie/w] the will of God is (or becomes) part of his true family (v. 35); compare the reference to his (natural) ‘relatives’ as those who are alongside of him (v. 21)
  • The context in v. 15 of Jesus and the Twelve casting out daimons (vb. e)kba/llw)
    • This is also part of the narrative setting of vv. 31-35—verses 22ff, with the repeated used of e)kba/llw

All of these parallels serve to emphasize the contrast established between Jesus’ natural family, and the true family made up of his faithful followers (disciples). The subsequent passage, the parable of the Sower and its explanation (4:1-9, 10-20), confirms this point. In verse 11 Jesus’ disciples are contrasted with “the ones outside [e&cw]”, just as his mother/brothers are “standing outside [e&cw]” the room where Jesus and his disciples are gathered.

As we shall see (in the next note), the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have each handled this episode in a different way, both adapting the core tradition and expanding the narrative with other traditional material. One point in common is that neither Matthew or Luke includes anything corresponding to Mk 3:20-21. There are two possibilities; either (a) both Gospels have omitted it from Mark (or a similar Synoptic source), or (b) Mark has added the verses to the core Synoptic tradition. In either case, the Matthean and Lukan narratives omit any reference to actual hostility by Jesus’ natural family toward his ministry in this scene. This reflects a general tendency within the Gospel Tradition to downplay or eliminate details which cast Jesus’ family members in a negative light.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Acts 1:6-26)

Acts 1:6-26 (and Matt 19:28 par)

The previous note dealt with the association of the Twelve and the coming of the Kingdom of God, in the context of Matthew 19:28 par (Lk 22:28-30) and the tradition in Acts 1:6ff. I pointed out that there is good reason to think that the number twelve and its symbolism—related to the twelve tribes of Israel—was introduced and applied by Jesus himself. The apparent authenticity (on objective grounds) of the Matt 19:28 saying would confirm this. It is not entirely clear whether the idea is of a concrete earthly kingdom, or a heavenly one. The Synoptic narrative context of Matt 19:28, as it reads in Mark (10:28-31), indicates a contrast between earthly sacrifice/suffering for Jesus’ sake (now) and eternal/heavenly reward (in the future). This contrast seems to have been a common emphasis in Jesus’ teaching, such as we see in the parables and, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-12; 6:1ff, 19-21; Lk 6:20-26, etc). Matthew’s version of the episode (19:27-30) has a different emphasis, but it would seem that a heavenly context is still implied; the use of the word paliggenhsi/a suggests a time following the resurrection. The parallel in Lk 18:28-30 is somewhat ambiguous, as is the context of 22:28-30 (cf. verse 18).

The problem is that traditional Israelite and Jewish eschatology variously envisioned the coming Kingdom (of God) in earthly and heavenly aspects, drawing upon imagery from both. This is also true in terms of Messianic expectation. Sometimes the establishment of the Kingdom was seen to follow the end-time Judgment and the Resurrection, in other instances a period of (Messianic) rule on earth is envisioned. Certain eschatological schemes combine both aspects, as we see, for example, in the book of Revelation. Paul says very little in his letters regarding a future Kingdom on earth; the imminent, expected return of Jesus seems to coincide with the resurrection (1 Thess 4:14-17), after which believers will remain with him (in heaven). On the other hand, in 1 Cor 6:2, Paul states that believers will play a role in the Judgment of the world, expressing an idea generally similar to the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28 par. Presumably, this ruling/judging position is thought to take place in heaven, since he also says that believers will judge the Angels (v. 3).

Jesus’ own teaching in this regard is not entirely clear, at least as it has been preserved in the Gospel Tradition. However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, early Christians had no choice but to believe that the coming of the Kingdom, in its full sense, in heaven and/or on earth (cf. Matt 6:10), was reserved for the time of Jesus’ future return. In the interim—however brief or long it may be—the Kingdom was realized (on earth) in two primary ways: (1) by the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, and (2) through the missionary work of early Christians, spreading the new faith (from Jerusalem) into the wider world. This is certainly the understanding expressed by the author of Luke-Acts; and, if we take the text at face value, it was also the true purpose and intention of Jesus.

In the prior note, I looked briefly at the question asked of Jesus by the disciples (i.e. the Twelve) in Acts 1:6. Their question indicates that they were thinking in traditional eschatological terms about the coming of the Kingdom—as a socio-political (and religious) entity on earth, headed by Jesus as God’s Anointed representative (i.e. a royal Messiah). By extension, it might have been thought that they (the Twelve) would be ruling this Kingdom as well (cf. again the context of Lk 22:28-30). Jesus does not answer their question directly, and so leaves open, perhaps, the possibility of such an earthly (Messianic) regime in the future; however, his response must be deemed an implicit rejection of their very way of thinking. He deftly redirects the entire thrust of the question (verse 7), and then effectively gives them their answer: instead of expecting the return of an Israelite Kingdom like that of David long ago, the disciples will usher a different kind of Kingdom, involving—(a) the coming of the Spirit in power, and (b) their witness and proclamation of the Gospel message (verse 8).

The Restoration of Israel (Acts 1:12-26)

The disciples’ question (1:6) involved the idea of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. The author of Acts, doubtless following the (historical) traditions which he inherited, has built upon this theme, which is central to the narrative which follows in the remainder of chapters 1-2. I have discussed this at length in a set of notes (for Pentecost, soon to be posted on this site), and will only provide an outline of that study here.

The theme of the “Restoration of Israel” can be glimpsed already in verses 12-14:

  • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
    a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
    b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
  • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem, in one place (upper room), v. 13. This is a seminal image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
  • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related motifs, expressing the unity of believers together:
    ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
    pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
    h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
    o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al.
    th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)

As stated above, most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel; and, as such, their unity (and the unity of their mission work) similarly reflects the coming together of Israel (the true Israel). Consider, for example, the basic Gospel tradition of the sending out of the Twelve in Mark 6:6b-13 par. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist).

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. Note the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. There would seem to be a symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel.

The Pentecost Narrative (2:1-13ff)

This symbolism continues into the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. Note the following (chiastic outline):

  • The unity of the disciples (together in one place and/or for one purpose—e)pi\ to\ au)to/), verse 1.
    • The house/place of gathering is filled (e)plh/rwsen) with the Spirit, verse 2.
      • Appearance of tongues (glwssai) of fire upon each individual disciple (~120), verse 3
      • The disciples (each) begin to speak in other tongues (glwssai), verse 4
    • The disciples are all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit, verse 4
  • The unity of the crowd—devout Jews (from all nations) in Jerusalem come together in one place, verse 5ff

The way this scene builds upon the prior events of chapter 1 can be illustrated by expanding the outline:

  • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
    • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
      • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
    • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
  • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

This emphasizes more clearly the theme of the “restoration of Israel”, according to the eschatological imagery of the later Old Testament prophets and Judaism, which involves two related themes:

    1. The return of Israelites (Jews) from exile among the nations—this return is to the Promised Land, and, in particular, to Judah and Jerusalem.
    2. The Nations (Gentiles) come to Judah and Jerusalem, bringing tribute and/or worshiping the true God there.

The restoration of Israel in terms of a “regathering” of Israelites and Jews from the surrounding nations was expressed numerous times already in the Old Testament Prophets, especially the latter half of the book of Isaiah; this eschatological expectation was extended to include those of the nations (Gentiles) who come to Jerusalem and join the people of Israel—e.g., Isa 49:5ff; 56:1-8; 60:1-14; 66:18-24; Micah 4:2-5 (Isa 2:3-4). Cf. Sanders, p. 79. This theme became part of subsequent Israelite/Jewish eschatology and Messianic thought (Baruch 4-5; 2 Macc 1:27ff; Ps Sol 11, 17, etc), sometimes expressed specifically in relation to the regathering of the twelve tribesSirach 36:11; 48:10; Ps Sol 17:28-31ff; 1QM 2:2ff; 11QTemple 18:14-16; T. Sanh. 13:10; and also note the motif in Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-3ff (cf. Sanders, pp. 96-7).

Revelation 21:12-14ff

Finally, the connection between the Twelve Apostles and the Twelve Tribes of Israel is presented in the book of Revelation, but in a very different manner from the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28. It is part of the great vision of the new (heavenly) Jerusalem in 21:1-22:5, which serves as the climax of the book. The gates and walls of the city are described in 21:12-14ff, drawing upon the description in Ezek 48:30-35. Here we find:

    • Twelve gates, named after the Twelve Tribes—that is, the names of the tribes were inscribed on them (v. 12b). The Qumran community drew upon the same tradition (11QTemple 39-41; 4Q365a frag. 2 col. 2; 4Q554). The names on the gates commemorate the heritage of Israel as the people of God.
    • Twelve foundation stones for the city walls, named after the Twelve Apostles (v. 14). The image of Christ and the apostles as “foundation (stone)s” is found several times in the New Testament (1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20). There is also a similar idea expressed by the Qumran community, for the leaders of the community (esp. the twelve men of the Council), cf. 1QS 8:1-6; 11:8; 4Q154 frag. 1, col. 1). In the famous declaration of Jesus in Matt 16:17-19, Peter and the Twelve are depicted as stones which make up the foundation of the Church. Cf. Koester, p. 815.

Thus the New Jerusalem—that is, the heavenly/spiritual Jerusalem of the New Covenant (Gal 4:24-26)—honors the heritage and legacy of both Israel (representing the Old Covenant), and the Apostles (representing the beginning of the New). However, there is no idea here of the Apostles ruling—God alone (with Christ) is on the Throne (21:5).

References above marked “Sanders” are to E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985). Those marked “Koester” are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38a (Yale: 2014).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Matt 19:28; Acts 1:6ff)

In the previous note, I discussed the saying of Jesus in Matthew 19:28, with the parallel (or similar) saying in Luke 22:28-30, and the connection between the Twelve Disciples and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. There has been some question, among critical commentators, as to whether this particular association goes back to Jesus’ own words, reflecting something of his original purpose in designating the Twelve. On entirely objective grounds, there is reasonably strong evidence that it does. I would point to the following arguments:

    • An emphasis on the twelve tribes of Israel does not appear to have been especially prominent in early Christianity, all the more so as the faith spread into the Greco-Roman (Gentile) world. The few references in the New Testament come clearly from an (early) Jewish Christian context (Acts 26:7; James 1:1; cf. also Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5) or draw upon Old Testament tradition (Rev 7:4-8). The parallel in Rev 21:12ff will be discussed in the next note.
    • The very exclusiveness indicated by the association—Disciples/Israel—suggests a time-frame prior to the Gentile mission (i.e. prior to c. 45-50 A.D.). An early Christian formulation would likely reflect the inclusion of the Gentiles, taking it into account in some way.
    • The tradition regarding the Twelve is extremely early, being attested in multiple strands of tradition. This indicates that it was already firmly established well before 50 A.D.
    • The version of the saying in Matt 19:28 takes no account whatever of Judas’ betrayal, as the parallel in Luke clearly does (cf. also Jn 6:67-71). If the Lukan version of this saying has been modified in its context, eliminating the specific reference to twelve disciples (in light of Judas’ betrayal), then the earlier form would be reflected in Matthew’s version. Indeed, it is likely that Christians from a slightly later period would have qualified or explained the saying in some way, so as to factor in the situation regarding Judas.

Another sign of authenticity has to do with the emphasis on the coming Kingdom (of God). The concrete eschatological aspect of the Kingdom, so prominent in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, tends to disappear in early Christianity, being re-interpreted as a spiritual phenomenon (i.e. ‘realized’ eschatology)—the presence of God (and Christ) in and among believers, through the Holy Spirit. The imagery of Matt 19:28 par, on the other hand, preserves the idea of a real kingdom, with seats of rule—being specifically connected with the kingdom of Israel.

Commentators continue to debate the significance of Jesus’ preaching and teaching regarding the Kingdom (Mk 1:15 par, et al). On the one hand, many critical scholars hold that the historical Jesus believed that an end-time Messianic kingdom, in the socio-political (and religious) sense, was about to be ushered in by God, and that he would play the leading role in that process. According to this view, early Christians were forced to re-imagine and reinterpret Jesus’ words, as referring to the presence/work of the Spirit now, with the return of Jesus, establishing the Kingdom of God on earth in full, still reserved for a future moment. On the other side, traditional-conservative commentators would argue that Jesus intended this ‘Christian’ sense of the Kingdom from the first. The Gospel of Luke, along with the book of Acts, represents the only portion of the Gospel Tradition that deals with this question directly, in three passages: 17:20-21, 19:11ff, and Acts 1:6ff.

Luke 17:20-21 is part of a short collection of eschatological teaching (vv. 22-37ff) by Jesus, which the saying(s) of vv. 20-21 introduces, centered on the specific theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God. According to the narrative, certain Pharisees ask Jesus regarding “when the kingdom of God (would) come” (v. 20a). Jesus’ answer states that the Kingdom of God comes in a way that cannot be observed by human beings outwardly, at a particular moment or place (vv. 20b-21a). His response concludes with the famous declaration in v. 21b: “the kingdom of God is inside (of) you”. I have discussed this difficult statement at some length in an earlier note; commentators still debate the meaning, but at least three aspects may be emphasized: (1) the coming of the Kingdom will be hidden or invisible to people at large, (2) its coming/presence will be realized inwardly, and (3) it is to be understood as the presence of God/Christ among his people.

Luke 19:11 serves as the narrative setting of the parable by Jesus in vv. 12-27; it addresses the central question of the Kingdom even more precisely, stating that his reason for speaking the parable was:

“…through [i.e. because of] his being near Yerushalaim and their thinking that the kingdom of God was about (to come) along instantly to shine forth up(on them)”

At least some of Jesus’ followers thought that his arrival in Jerusalem (as the Anointed One) would usher in the Kingdom of God upon earth, in the socio-political and religious sense defined by the eschatological (and Messianic) expectation of the time. Certainly, people hailed Jesus as a Ruler from the line of David (i.e. a royal Messiah) during his entry into Jerusalem, according to the Gospel tradition (Mk 11:8-10 par). The Fourth Gospel even refers to the intent of some people to force Jesus into such a role and “make him king” (Jn 6:15). However, the parable in Lk 19:12ff makes clear that the well-born young noble (i.e. the Messiah), before he comes to exert his authority as ruler, will first go away into a “far-off country” for a time. This certainly reflects (or anticipates) the idea of Jesus’ death, resurrection and departure (to heaven) prior to his (subsequent) return. Note how, in the parable, the nobleman goes away for the purpose of “receiving a kingdom”—presumably this is to be understood in terms of Jesus’ receiving it (from the Father) upon his resurrection and exaltation to the “right hand” of God. When he returns, it will be as King and Judge.

Acts 1:6ff is the most important of the passages mentioned above, as in it Jesus answers a question from the disciples that is directly to the point:

“Then, the (disciple)s, (on) coming together, questioned him saying, ‘Lord, (is it) in this time that you (will) set down the kingdom to Yisrael from (where it was before)?'” (v. 6)

The disciples appear to understand the coming Kingdom according to the conventional/traditional Jewish eschatology of the time—as a socio-political (and religious) entity, like the Davidic kingdom of old, centered at Jerusalem. I have translated the verb a)pokaqi/sthmi here quite literally, i.e. to set/place down something from where, or in what condition, it was before. In simpler translation, we might say, “re-establish, restore”, etc; in other words, they are asking Jesus if he will restore the kingdom to Israel, like it was in the time of David. For more on the background of this aspect of the Kingdom, see Part 5 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as the supplemental study on Acts 1:3. In the next note, I will be exploring in some detail the way the author (trad. Luke) develops the theme of verses 6ff through the remainder of chapters 1-2 and as a key motif for the book as a whole.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Matt 19:28; Lk 22:28-30)

Here I will be looking specifically at the tradition of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles), in terms of the significance (and symbolism) of the number twelve.

As mentioned in the previous note, the tradition of Twelve Disciples, representing the circle of Jesus’ closest followers, is extremely well established in early Christian tradition. The number is clearly fixed, even if the specific names which make up the list differ. Apart from the references to the calling of the Twelve (discussed in prior notes), they are mentioned as a group numerous times in the Synoptic Gospels, in passages which almost certainly derive from more than one strand of tradition. They are also mentioned twice in the Gospel of John, in 6:67-71 (cf. the previous note) and 20:24. Beyond the passage in Acts 1:12-26, they are mentioned as a group in 6:2, and are likely to be meant by the use of the expression “the apostles” (oi( a)po/stoloi), at least in the first half of the book (cf. 1:2; 2:42-43; 4:33ff; 5:2, etc). Paul also refers to “the Twelve” in 1 Cor 15:5.

The Significance of the Twelve

An obvious explanation as to the significance of the number Twelve, lies in an association with the twelve Tribes of Israel. Indeed, this is the only explanation which the New Testament itself offers. An intriguing critical question has been whether (or to what extent) this association (with its symbolism) goes back to Jesus himself. A careful examination of the evidence, however slight, suggests that, on objective grounds, it most likely does. There is one tradition in the Synoptic Gospels which makes a connection between the Apostles and the Tribes of Israel clear.

Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30

Here we have a parallel saying by Jesus, which, according to most (critical) commentators, is part of the so-called “Q” material—that is, traditions shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. The two ‘versions’ appear in very different locations of the Gospel narrative, but share the same basic meaning and significance—referring to the reward which will come to Jesus’ close disciples (i.e. the Twelve) for following him faithfully, to the end. The setting in Matthew is the discussion Jesus has with Peter and the other disciples (19:23ff) in the aftermath of the encounter with the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ (19:16-22). Both episodes are part of the wider Synoptic tradition, as represented by Mark 10:17-31 (cp. Lk 18:18-30). The Matt 19:28 saying is essentially ‘inserted’ between Mk 10:28 & 29; compare:

“And the Rock {Peter} began to give account [i.e. relate/say] to him [i.e. Jesus], ‘See, we released [i.e. left] all (thing)s and have followed you.’ Yeshua said (to him), ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. relate/say] to you: (that) there is no one who (has) released [i.e. left] house or brothers or sisters or mother or offspring or fields on behalf of me…'” (Mk 10:28-29)

“Then the Rock {Peter}, giving forth (an answer), said to him, ‘See, we released all (thing)s and followed you. What, then, will there be for us?’ And Yeshua said to him, ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. say/relate] to you: that you, the ones following me (will) …. judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael. And every one who (has) released [i.e. left] houses…on behalf of my name…'” (Matt 19:27-29)

The Matthean ‘additions’ are marked in blue—consisting of the saying in v. 28, and the additional words by Peter which allow for the saying to make sense in the narrative context. Here is the saying in full:

“You, the ones following me, in the (time of) coming to be (born) back (again), when the Son of Man should sit upon his seat (of rule) (in) splendor, you also will sit upon twelve (ruling) seats, judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The idea is clear enough—the reward of the Twelve will be to rule over the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the Age to Come. The Greek word paliggenesi/a literally means “coming to be back (again)”, in the sense of coming to be born again, i.e. rebirth (or regeneration). It occurs only once elsewhere in the New Testament (Titus 3:5), where it carries the specific idea of spiritual rebirth (by the Spirit) for believers. Already in ancient Greek (esp. Stoic) philosophy, it was used in an eschatological sense for the renewal of the world at the end of the (current) Age. It also had the basic denotation of “rebirth” for the human soul, whether concretely (reincarnation/metempsychosis) or in a spiritual/symbolic sense (in the Mystery religions, etc). For Greek-speaking Jews, both aspects came to be combined into the idea of the resurrection which would take place at the end of the Age, following the time of God’s Judgment upon the world.

The parallel saying in Luke (22:28-30) is set during the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus and his close followers in Jerusalem. Again, this appears to be a Lukan ‘insertion’ into the core Synoptic narrative. It is actually part of a collection of teaching and instruction, given by Jesus to his disciples, which is unique to Luke’s Gospel in this particular context. Verses 24-30, with the joining v. 23, are included after the narrative corresponding to Mark 14:17-25 (22:14-22). Similarly, verses 35-38 come after Mk 14:26-31 (22:31-34). Whatever else one may say about it, the location of vv. 28-30 is striking, occurring just after the saying(s) of vv. 25-27, for which there is a Synoptic parallel (the episode of Mk 10:35-45 par), albeit in a different narrative setting. The dispute between the disciples in v. 24, along with the teaching (on discipleship) which follows in vv. 25-27, are juxtaposed with Jesus’ woe against the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-23). These verses appear after the dedication of the bread/cup, instead of before (as in Mark/Matthew). Note the way this juxtaposition appears in Luke:

    • Saying of Woe for the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-22)
      —the disciples begin to discuss/debate among one another as to who this betrayer could be (v. 23)
      —the disciples begin to dispute which one of them should be considered the greatest (v. 24)
    • Instruction for the disciples—the ideal/importance of humility and sacrificial service (vv. 25-27)

Whether or not this order of events is strictly historical, it certainly creates a powerful literary (and artistic) effect. The implication of the teaching in vv. 25-27 is that the disciple who rejects it, seeking his own interests and importance, is like the disciple who betrays Jesus. The saying corresponding to Matt 19:28 follows in vv. 28-30:

“But you, the ones having remained throughout with me, in the (time)s of my testing, I will also set through(out) for you—even as my Father set through for me—a kingdom, (so) that you might eat and drink upon my table in my kingdom, and you will sit upon seats (of rule), judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The italicized portions correspond most directly with Matt 19:28, the remainder being unique to the Lukan version. Some critical commentators would hold that the non-italicized words simply reflect the author’s adaptation of the “Q” saying to the context of the Last Supper. If so, then the reading “seats” instead of “twelve seats” is likely also an adaptation to account for the betrayal by Judas. A more traditional-conservative approach to the matter would, almost certainly, require that two distinct sayings, which just happen to be similar to one another, are involved.

Regardless of the historical-critical question, the essential meaning of the core saying in both ‘versions’ is the same. This raises an entirely different problem of interpretation, which I will address in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16; Acts 1:1)

This note examines again the tradition of the calling of the Twelve—specifically, the list of their names, and several details relating to them.

Mark 3:16-19; Matt 10:2-4; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13

There is a list of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles) in all three Synoptic Gospels, as well as the book of Acts. None of these lists are exactly alike, differing in some way from each other. However, it would seem that two distinct lines of tradition have been preserved—one in Mark/Matthew and the other in Luke-Acts. The lists in Mark (3:16-19) and Matthew (10:2-4) contain the same 12 names, differing only slightly in the order they are presented. There is also, however, a variant reading in Matt 10:3—some witnesses read “Lebbaeus” (Lebbai=o$) instead of “Thaddeus” (Qaddai=o$), or even a combination of the two names.

The list in Luke 6:14-16 shares nine of the twelve names with Matt/Mark, but differs noticeably in the 10th and 11th names:

    • Luke:
      Shim’ôn (Simon) the (one) called “Hot/Fiery” (i.e. ‘Zealot’)
      Yehudah (Judas) (son) of Ya’qob (Jacob/James)
    • Mark/Matt:
      Thaddaios (Matt v.l. Lebbaios)
      Shim’ôn (Simon) the Kananean

Most likely, the Shim’ôn (Simon) of each list represents the same person, on the theory that Kananai=o$ (Kananaíos) is a Greek transliteration of Aramaic an`a*n+q^ (Qan°¹nâ), from the basic root anq, referring typically to a hot/burning emotion—i.e., zeal, jealousy—similar in meaning to the word zh=lo$ (z¢¡los, from which comes the English zeal), and also zhlwth/$ (z¢lœt¢¡s, “zealot”). This would leave just one major difference between the two lists—Judas son of Jacob vs. Thaddeus (or Lebbaeus). The list in Acts 1:13 is essentially the same as that in Luke, except that Judas Iscariot has been left off, for obvious reasons (cf. below).

The variation in both order, and even specific names, is interesting considering the apparent importance of the Twelve in early Christian tradition. One would expect a fixed, well-established formula listing out the names—but this is only partly so in the Gospel Tradition as it has come down to us. It is perhaps an indication that, while the idea of the Twelve, and that designation, was fixed in the Tradition (to be discussed in the next note), the specific list of names for the persons who constituted the Twelve was less definite, remaining somewhat fluid, at the time the Gospels were written.

I have already discussed how the tradition of the calling of the Twelve (and the list of names) was more extensive in the Markan version (3:13-19, cf. the earlier note); especially with regard to the list of names, we see:

    • “he set [i.e. gave] a (new) name for Shim’on {Simon}—'(the) Rock [i.e. Peter]'” (v. 16b)
    • “and Ya’qob {Jacob/James} the (son) of Zabdi, and Yohanan {John} the brother of Ya’qob, he also set for them name(s)—Bene-Regez, that is, ‘Sons of Thunder'” (v. 17)
    • “and Yehudah Ish-Kerioth {Judas Iscariot}, who also gave him along [i.e. betrayed Jesus]” (v. 19a)

In Matthew and Luke (Matt 10:2-4; Lk 6:14-16), this is presented in a simpler fashion. There is no mention of the names given to James and John, and Peter’s naming is merely mentioned in passing: “Shim’on, the (one) counted (as) [i.e. called] ‘(the) Rock {Peter}'” (Matt 10:2). Similarly, the reference to Judas’ betrayal is preserved (Matt 10:4 par). Thus, in the list of the Twelve as it came to be passed down (i.e. at the time Matthew and Luke were composed), extra detail, of any sort, was included only for two of the names—the first and last in the list—Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot.

The Naming of Simon Peter

The giving to Simon (Shim’on) of the name Pe/tro$ (Pétros, “[the] Rock”) is a well-established tradition in the Gospels, being attested in multiple sources, both in the Synoptics and the Gospel of John, as well as evidence for it in the letters of Paul. The dual name “Shim’on (the) Rock” (i.e. Simon Peter), occurs frequently in the Gospel of John (15 times, 13:6, 9, 24, et al), but only twice elsewhere in the New Testament (in Matt 16:16; Lk 5:8). However, it is also worth noting that the tradition of Jesus giving the name Peter (Pe/tro$) to Simon occurs at different points in the Gospel narrative, indicating that it may represent a “floating” tradition—authentic and well-established, but not necessarily tied to one definite episode. Note:

    1. The context of Mark 3:16 par suggests that the name was given when the Twelve were called/appointed by Jesus.
    2. However, the use of the dual name in Luke 5:8 would indicate that it was given at an earlier point, at the call of the first disciples Andrew/Simon and James/John (compare Mk 1:16-20 par).
    3. In John 1:42, it is likewise associated within the initial calling of Simon (cf. below), but according to an entirely separate line of tradition (as discussed in an earlier note).
    4. In Matthew 16:16ff, it is set at a later point, at the time of Simon (Peter)’s confession of Jesus (cp. Mark 8:29 par).

The last two of these are given specific narration, and should be touched on briefly.

John 1:42

In the immediate context (vv. 40-42), Jesus’ words to Simon take place virtually at the moment he and Simon first meet:

“looking on him Yeshua said, ‘You are Shim’on, the son of Yohanan, (but) you will be called Kepha‘ [Khfa=$], which is explained (as) ‘(the) Rock’ [Pe/tro$]”

The idea seems to be that Jesus recognizes and identifies Simon without having met him (as in the case of Nathanael, vv. 47-48), and, at the same time, gives him a new name. The original Aramaic, presumably as spoken by Jesus and his disciples, is preserved here—ap*yK@, K¢¸â, transliterated in Greek as Khfa=$ (K¢phás) and, similarly, in English as Cephas. Paul refers to him also by this Aramaic name in 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Gal 2:9, 11, 14. If the Johannine tradition is accepted as authentic (and factual), then Simon was given his new name Peter at the very beginning. It was assigned to him by Jesus, quite before Peter had done anything to deserve it.

Matthew 16:16ff

The tradition in Matthew is quite different. Here it is localized at the moment of (Simon) Peter’s confession, which, in the version recorded by Matthew, has its most extensive form—”You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God”. Jesus gives the new name to Simon as part of a blessing (or, more properly, a macarism), in response to this confession:

“Happy [i.e. blessed] are you, Shim’on bar-Yonah… and (so) also I say to you that you are ‘(the) Rock [pe/tro$]’, and upon this (great) Rock [pe/tra] I will build the house (of) my e)kklhsi/a…”

It is not necessary to plunge into the many interesting (and controversial) details in this statement; only to recognize the close connection between Peter and the ones “called out” by God—that is, the followers of Jesus, the gathered assembly of believers (i.e., the Church). Peter (the Rock [Pe/tro$, Pétros]) is not precisely the same as the great mass (of Rock [Pe/tra, Pétra]) that serves as the foundation for the house (the Church). Probably the latter should be associated with the Twelve as a group, Peter being one stone—albeit the chief and foremost stone—of the rocky mass.

The Judas Tradition(s)

Finally, mention must be made regarding the tradition(s) associated with Yehudah ish-Keryoth (man [from] Kerioth?), or Judas Iscariot. Almost nothing is known of him from the Gospel Tradition beyond his role as the one who betrayed Jesus (lit. gave him along, i.e. handed him over) to the authorities. Otherwise, he is mentioned in the Gospels only in the list of the Twelve (cf. above), and in John 12:4ff, as the disciple who objected to the woman ‘wasting’ expensive ointment on Jesus (compare Mk 14:4-5 par).

The betrayal by Judas is one of the best attested traditions in the Gospels, the basic outline of which is unquestionably authentic (on objective grounds). Matthew has the most developed version, including the details of (a) the words of Judas in 26:15, 25, (b) the thirty silver pieces (v. 15b), (c) the suicide (hanging) of Judas (27:3-8), and (d) the Scripture (still problematic) cited along with his death (vv. 9-10). However, all three of the Gospels, those usually regarded as later than Mark in composition—Luke, Matthew, and John—have all developed and enhanced the Judas tradition(s) in various ways. This will be discussed in more detail when addressing the Passion Narrative in upcoming notes, as we draw closer to Easter.

As most informed readers of the New Testament are aware, the book of Acts records a quite different version of the death of Judas, in 1:16-20 (vv. 18-19). There are two basic elements in common between the accounts—(1) the tragic/unfortunate death of Judas, and (2) the piece of land called Akeldama[x], presumably a transliteration of the Aramaic „¦q¢l D§mâ, “Field of Blood”. Otherwise, the details of the two narratives differ considerably. Traditional-conservative commentators have sought to harmonize them, but such efforts have not been especially convincing. We seem to be dealing with variant traditions which have been preserved separately, in Matthew and Luke-Acts, respectively. For a summary of the critical questions see K. Lake, “The Death of Judas” in The Beginnings of Christianity, Volume 5 (1933), pp. 22-30. Later traditions, which describe Judas’ demise in more repulsive detail, seem to be influenced primarily by the Acts account.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Lk 6:12-16; Jn 67-71)

This note continues the previous discussion on the tradition of the call/commission of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles). Here we will explore the tradition as found in the Gospels of Luke and John.

Luke 6:12-16

The Lukan version of the call of the Twelve, like that in Matthew, is simpler than Mark’s version. It is possible that Luke has abbreviated the earlier tradition, though, in this instance, it is perhaps more likely that each Gospel writer has, in his own way, developed the core Synoptic tradition independently. Luke has also, it would seem, modified the tradition so as to emphasize certain themes which he brings out elsewhere in his Gospel. Consider the following observations:

  • Luke has the unique detail of Jesus first being alone on the mountain, in prayer (v. 12). A similar detail is found in the Lukan version of the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (3:21; 9:28-29).
  • It is stated that Jesus gathered out (i.e. chose) the Twelve from among his disciples. Luke uses the verb e)kle/gomai, which, along with the related adjective e)klekto/$, is used of Jesus elsewhere in the Gospel (9:35 [v.l.], the Transfiguration scene; and 23:35), referring to him as the “Elect/Chosen One (of God)”—parallel to the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” (cf. also Jn 1:34 [v.l.]). Similarly in the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the verb in reference to his call/choosing of his disciples (cf. below). Elsewhere in the New Testament, both verb and adjective came to be applied to believers generally as the “chosen ones” (i.e. the elect), according to the pattern of the people of Israel in Old Testament tradition. Note how this verb is central to the statement in Lk 6:13 (re-translating slightly, to bring out the symmetry of the word order):
    • he called [lit. gave voice] toward
      —his disciples
      ——and gathering out from them twelve
      —whom also (were) “apostles
    • (so) he named (them)
  • Luke specifically refers to Jesus naming the Twelve, i.e. designating them, as apostles—lit. “ones (who are) se(n)t forth”. The majority text also reads this at Mk 3:14, but, as it is not present in certain manuscripts, and is perhaps suspect textually as a harmonization with Lk 6:13b, it remains in question.
  • There is no mention here of Jesus giving them authority, etc, to work miracles (cp. Mark 3:15; Matt 10:1)
  • The list of the Twelve in vv. 14-16 differs little from the main Synoptic tradition, except for the variant names for the 10th and 11th apostles, compared with those in Mark/Matthew.

As in Matthew 5:1ff and 10:1-4ff, a sermon (or collection of teaching) follows the call/gathering of Jesus’ disciples to him. In Matthean narrative, the “Sermon on the Mount” is placed earlier than the call of the Twelve. By contrast, in Luke, the corresponding “Sermon on the Plain” does follow Jesus’ calling of the Twelve.

In the Gospel of Luke, moreso than in the other Synoptics, the call of the Twelve lies at the center of the Galilean ministry period, especially as it begins in 4:14. The Nazareth episode (4:16-30) precedes the ministry narratives (4:31-6:11) corresponding to Mk 1:16-2:28. The call of the Twelve, and their parallel mission (9:1-6ff), each culminate (and mark off) the two periods of the Galilean ministry, as narrated by Luke. Here is an outline for all that comes after the opening Nazareth episode:

  • First period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry—miracles and teaching (4:31-6:11)
    • Calling of the Twelve (6:12-16)
      • and Jesus’ teaching them (6:20-49)—the “Sermon on the Plain”
      • with the example of his authority to cast out spirits/disease (6:17-19)
  • Second period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry—miracles and teaching (7:1-8:56)
    • Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
      • and Jesus’ teaching them (9:10-17)—the Feeding miracle
      • with the question of Jesus’ identity as one who acts with the authority to work miracles, etc (9:7-9)

The Galilean period culminates with Peter’s confession regarding Jesus’ identity (9:18-20)

John 6:67-71

There is no corresponding passage narrating the calling of the Twelve in the Gospel of John; however, there is at least one reference to this general tradition, occurring at the end of the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. It would appear that a distinct tradition (vv. 67-70) has been joined to the end of the discourse. Thematically, a reference to “the Twelve” at this point would make sense, in light of the narrative context of the Feeding miracle (in 6:1-13f). Within the Synoptic tradition, the two Feeding miracles (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10, 14-21 par), are closely associated, in various ways, with the Twelve. The Bread of Life discourse which follows in vv. 22ff is typical of the Johannine narrative structure, whereby a miracle and/or saying by Jesus leads into a complex (and theologically significant) discourse between Jesus and the people (sometimes including his disciples) who hear him. The audience misunderstands the words and actions of Jesus, interpreting them on a superficial or conventional level, which brings about an explanation (exposition) by Jesus as to their true/deeper meaning. The core Bread of Life discourse—the most complex in the Gospel (outside of chapters 13-17)—is contained in verses 22-59. A second, simpler discourse, specifically involving Jesus’ disciples, follows in vv. 60-65, reprising the motifs and imagery of the earlier discourse—much as Jesus is recorded explaining his parables to his close disciples (the Twelve) in the Synoptics (Mk 4:10-11ff par).

As noted above, it seems likely that a (separate?) tradition (vv. 67-70) was joined to the discourse, creating a fitting (and striking) climax to the entire narrative of chap. 6. Verse 66 provides the transitional joining point:

“Out of this [i.e. as a result of his words, from this point on] many of his learners [i.e. disciples] went (away) from (him) into the back, and did not any (more) walk about with him [met’ au)tou=].”

The last phrase is reminiscent of Mk 3:14 (cf. the previous note), where it is stated that a main purpose in Jesus’ calling the Twelve was “that they might be with him [met’ au)tou=]”. Then in the following verse 67 we read:

“Then Yeshua said to the Twelve: ‘You do not also wish to bring (yourselves) under [i.e. go back, sink/sneak away], (do you)?'”

The tradition, such as it may have existed earlier, has been shaped into a Johannine (mini-)discourse, which also (as it happens) has a general similarity to the scene of Peter’s confession in the Synoptic tradition:

    • Jesus asks the disciples a question, regarding his identity—i.e. their relationship to him (as followers/believers) [v. 67; Mk 8:27-29]
    • Peter responds with a declaration regarding Jesus’ identity [vv. 68-69; Mk 8:30]
    • Jesus responds in turn (or afterward) with a statement involving the “Devil” and teaching regarding discipleship [v. 70; Mk 8:33, 34-37f]

What is most striking about the tradition(s) in Jn 6:67-71 is that they involve details otherwise attested in the Synopic call of the Twelve:

    • An introductory reference to “the Twelve” (v. 67; Mk 3:14a, par)
    • The reference to Jesus’ disciples as those who were “with him” (v. 66; Mk 3:14b, cf. above)
    • The primary/leading position of Peter (v. 68; Mk 3:16 par)
    • The use of the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”) to refer to Jesus call/choice of the Twelve (v. 70a; Lk 6:13)
    • A concluding reference to Judas Iscariot as the one who betrayed Jesus (vv. 70b-71)

This presentation (of the traditional material) in John is also significant for the way it foreshadows the scene in chapter 13, with strands relating to: (a) the disciples (the Twelve) and their relationship to Jesus, (b) the betrayal of Jesus, (c) the central presence/position of Peter, and (d) the idea of Jesus choosing his followers, again using the verb e)kle/gomai (v. 18).