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 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.

May 19: Matthew 28:18-20 (continued)

Matthew 28:18-20 (continued)

The previous note examined the “Great Commission” by Jesus at the close of the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 28:18-20), especially the command to baptize in vv. 19-20a. Today I will be looking in detail at the specific phrase “into the name of…” [ei)$ to\ o&noma tou=…].

The Name

Ancient Near Eastern cultures treated names and naming in a quite different manner than modern Western society. The name had a dynamic, magical quality, effectively embodying the character and essence of the person. This was all the more true with regard to religious belief—to “call upon” or to invoke the name of a deity was fundamental to ancient religious practice and identity (Gen 4:26b, etc). The invocation and use of a divine name also had to be done with great care—there was considerable power involved, and danger if handled improperly; this is the situation which underlies the famous command regarding the name of YHWH/Yahweh (Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11). In addition to its use in religious ritual, the divine name would be invoked in oaths, treaties and other agreements—both for the purpose of guaranteeing truthfulness and fidelity, and also to bind the oath or agreement, etc, under the power of the god. There would be divine blessing for the one who fulfills and agreement, but divine curse or punishment for the one who violates it. Indeed, there was believed to be theurgic power and efficacy in the name, which could be invoked over just about any area of daily life.

The Name of Jesus

For early Christians, it was specifically the name of Yeshua (Jesus) which was central to religious belief and practice. Already in the earliest layers of Christian tradition, the belief in Jesus’ deity—as the Son of God who is now seated in glory at the right hand of God the Father (YHWH)—was well-established. All aspects of Christian religious life took place according to the name of Jesus. This is expressed clearly in the book of Acts; note the following examples:

In the Gospels, there are number of sayings and teachings by Jesus where he refers to “my name”—Mark 9:37-39; 13:6 pars; [16:17]; Matthew 18:20; also Luke 24:47. Especially significant is the teaching in the Discourses of John, cf. Jn 14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-26; also 3:18. The emphasis there is on believers requesting of God the Father in Jesus’ name. Also important is the related idea that Jesus himself has come—i.e. speaks, works and acts—in the name of the Father (Jn 5:43; 10:3, 25; 12:28; 17:6, 11-12, 26; cf. also Mk 9:37; 11:9 pars; Matt 23:39 par). This latter point will be discussed further in the next daily note.

Baptism in Jesus’ Name

The central, intiatory act of baptism, marking one’s conversion and entry into the Community of believers, in the early Christian period was performed specifically “in the name of Jesus”. Given the religious importance and significance of this (divine) name (cf. above), this is hardly surprising. However, it is important to note that is especially prominent in the earlier Christian tradition (as recorded in the book of Acts), and is less commonly attested in later periods. Here are the key passages, where baptism is said to be:

    • Acts 2:38—”upon [e)pi/] the name of Yeshua into/unto a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]” (Note: some MSS read “in” [e)n] instead of “upon”). This follows precisely the formula in Luke 24:47.
    • Acts 8:16—”into [ei)$] the name of the Lord Yeshua”, after which they receive the Holy Spirit (v. 17)
    • Acts 10:48—”in [e)n] the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed”, after having received the Spirit prior (vv. 44ff)
    • Acts 19:5—”into [ei)$] the name of the Lord Yeshua”, parallel to believers trusting in(to) [ei)$] Jesus (v. 4)
    • Cf. also 1 Cor 1:13, 15—”into the name of…”

Matthew 28:19 uses the same idiom of baptism “into [ei)$] the name of…”. It was also said of John’s baptism that it was “into [ei)$] a change-of mind [i.e. repentance]” (Matt 3:11, cf. Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38), where the preposition ei)$ indicates purpose or result. Elsewhere in Gospel tradition, John’s baptizing is described as being “of [i.e. for, leading to] repentance” and “into [ei)$] release [i.e. forgiveness]” (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4), i.e. for the purpose of (and resulting in) the forgiveness of sins. There are two key aspects of the use of ei)$ (“into”) with regard to baptism:

    1. It reflects trust/faith in(to) JesusMatt 18:6 par; Acts 10:43; 19:4-5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18. The idiom is especially frequent in the Gospel of John: Jn 2:11; 3:16, 18, 36; 4:39; 6:29, 40; 7:31, 38-39; 8:30; 9:35-36; 10:42; 11:25-26, 45, 48; 12:36-37, 44, 46; 14:1, 12; 16:9; 17:20. The parallel use of e)n (“in”) at Jn 3:15; 8:31 strongly suggests that the expressions “trust in” and “trust into” are virtually equivalent (cf. Mk 1:15; Acts 18:8). Also generally synonymous is the phrase “trust upon [e)pi] (the Lord) Jesus”, cf. Acts 3:16; 9:42; 11:17; 16:31.
    2. It signifies entrance into the Community and spiritual/symbolic union with Jesus. This theme is developed considerably by Paul in several of his letters, where we find the phrase “dunked/baptized into (the) Anointed {Christ}”. The key verse is Galatians 3:27—”as many of you (as) have been dunked into (the) Anointed, you have sunk in(to the) Anointed [i.e. put him on as a garment]”. The emphasis is no longer on the name of Jesus, even though Paul still uses this language (cf. 1 Cor 1:2, 10ff; 5:4; 6:11; Col 3:17; 2 Thess 1:12; 3:6, etc); rather, it is on the person of Christ. In Romans 6:3-4, baptism is interpreted as symbolizing the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus (cf. Col 2:12). Cf. also 1 Cor 10:2; 12:13—the latter reference specifically emphasizing baptism into one body (the Community as the body of Christ) and in one Spirit (Eph 4:4-5).

This discussion on Matt 28:18-20 will conclude in the next daily note.

May 18: Matthew 28:18-20

Today’s note on the on the Holy Spirit, examines briefly the so-called “Great Commission” of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. This passage is altogether unique among the references to the Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, and is especially noteworthy as the only clear and specific Trinitarian passage in the Gospels (for other seminal trinitarian formulae in the New Testament, cf. 1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2).

Matthew 28:18-20

These verses which close the Gospel of Matthew represent Jesus’ (final) instruction to his followers. It is unnecessary to attempt to harmonize this post-resurrection appearance (in Galilee) with the very different tradition in Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, in which Jesus appears to his followers (giving final instructions to them) in Jerusalem. Many critical scholars would hold that the Gospel writer has simply created a narrative setting in Galilee, based on the tradition in Mk 16:7 (par Matt 28:7, 10; note the different reference to Galilee in Lk 24:6), for the words of Jesus in vv. 18-20 which would have been transmitted independently. Some commentators also consider the authenticity of Jesus’ words themselves to be suspect, especially the declaration in verse 19 which seems so much to reflect a Christian baptism formula. It is worth considering whether, on objective grounds, there is any validity to such a suspicion: has a later baptismal formula been retrojected into the Gospel? Before proceeding with an exegesis of verse 19, it will be helpful to summarize the context:

  • Verse 16:
    • “the eleven learners [i.e. disciples]”—the episode involves only the twelve specially chosen ones (Matt 10:1-4 par), minus Judas Iscariot
    • “travelled/departed into the Galîl {Galilee}”—they left Jerusalem and journeyed north (back) into Galilee, according to Matt 28:7, 10 par; it does not say precisely when this took place, but based on the narrative context, it surely would not have been long after they were informed by the women (v. 10). This, of course, would seem to be contrary to the tradition(s) in Luke 24:36-53 / Jn 20:19-23
    • “unto the hill/mountain which Yeshua arranged for them”—apparently referring to some specific instruction or preparation made by Jesus, which has not been recorded; in the narrative context, it may have been part of the information provided by the women (v. 10). According to the wider Synoptic tradition, the Twelve were originally chosen and commissioned upon a mount(ain), cf. Mark 3:13ff, though this detail is not in the parallel Matt 10:1ff; perhaps the mount(ain) in Matt 5:1ff is intended.
  • Verse 17:
    • “and seeing him”—possibly indicating a sudden or unexpected appearance by the resurrected Jesus (cf. Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19)
    • “they kissed toward (him)”—this verb (proskune/w) serves as a Greek idiom for giving homage, worship, etc. The appearance of the resurrected Jesus is not described, but his very presence would be enough to cause his followers to be in awe and to pay homage. The context here does not necessarily indicate a specific belief in Jesus’ deity on the part of his followers (but cf. Matt 14:33; 16:16; 27:54, etc).
    • “but the(y also) were of two (mind)s”—i.e. they had doubts or uncertainty that it was really Jesus; this could mean either (a) they harbored some doubt, or (b) some of them doubted. For a general parallel, cf. Luke 24:41, and note Jn 20:25ff.
  • Verse 18:
    • “And coming toward (them), Yeshua spoke to them”—introducing the words/saying of Jesus

The actual saying (Commission) by Jesus can be divided into three parts:

    • Verse 18—Declaration: “All authority [e)cousi/a] in heaven and upon earth is given to me”
    • Verse 19-20a—Instruction/Commission, governed by three participles (indicating regular/continual action), one primary (aorist), and the other two subordinate (present):
      • poreuqe/nte$ (“going, travelling”) make all the nations (my) learners [i.e. followers/disciples]
        • bapti/zonte$ (“dunking”, i.e. baptizing) them…
        • dida/skonte$ (“teaching”) them…
    • Verse 20b—Declaration/Promise: “See, I am with you every day until the (full) completion of the Age”

The central instruction, regarding baptism, is the portion to be examined in detail here:

Verse 19b:

bapti/zonte$ (“dunking”)—the verb bapti/zw literally means “dunk, submerge”, but in a Christian context is typically transliterated into English as “baptize”. As a technical term for the Christian rite, it does not necessarily indicate a full dunking or immersion in water. That the historical Jesus would have instructed his followers to ‘baptize’ is not at all unlikely; one may cite the following evidence, from the Gospels and the cultural background of the time:

    • The precedent and example of John the Baptist, central to the early Gospel tradition, and reliable on objective grounds. According to Jn 1:35ff, at least two of Jesus’ disciples were John’s followers before turning to Jesus. A number of (critical) commentators have suggested that Jesus himself may have begun as a disciple of John; at any event, he was baptized by John, and the brief dialogue in Matt 3:14-15 suggests that Jesus intended this as an example to follow, i.e. the fulfillment of righteousness (cf. Matt 5:6, 20; 6:1, 33, etc).
    • According to Jn 3:22-23; 4:1-3, Jesus’ disciples were baptizing people already during the early days of his ministry. Commentators readily admit the unusual nature of these details; according to the so-called “criteria of authenticity”, their historical reliability would seem to be confirmed—it is not at all the sort of thing that early Christians would emphasize or invent.
    • The central significance of baptism in John’s ministry was repentance (i.e. washing/cleansing) from sin, in preparation for the coming of the Lord (for Judgment). Jesus continued this emphasis throughout his own ministry—Mk 1:15; Matt 4:17; cf. also Matt 11:20-21; 12:41 par; Lk 5:32; 13:3ff; 15:7ff, etc. His disciples likewise followed the pattern in their own preaching (Mk 3:7-13 par, cf. Matt 10:7; Lk 10:9-11). Repentance was, from the beginning, a key element in accepting and following Jesus: Mk 1:17-18 (note the proximity to v. 15); 5:14-17 par; 10:21ff par; Matt 21:28-32 par; Lk 5:8ff; 19:7-10; Jn 8:11, etc. The early Christian preaching clearly followed the pattern of John and Jesus (Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19, etc).
    • The Community of the Qumran texts practiced ritual washing (ablution) in manner similar, and roughly parallel, to Johannine and early Christian baptism. It signified cleansing from sin/impurity, entry into the Community and participation in its (daily) life—cf. 1QS 3:4-5; 5:13-14. The practice of ritual baths would seem to be confirmed by the archeology of the site of Khirbet Qumran, i.e. the presence of cisterns and pools (miqw¹°ôt).
    • Ritual washing/bathing is widely attested in numerous ancient cultures and religions, prior to, or contemporary with, the time of Jesus. Going “into the water”, with the symbolism of washing and the start of a ‘new life’, played a role, for example, in the Greco-Roman “mystery cults” (cf. for example the Eleusinian rituals).

ei)$ to\ o&noma tou=… (“into the name of…”)—this important phrase will be discussed in the next daily note.

May 12: John 1:26-27, 30, 33

The saying of John the Baptist regarding Jesus and the Holy Spirit is found five times in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, as discussed in the previous note—three times as part of the triple tradition (Mark 1:7-8 / Matt 3:11 / Luke 3:16) and twice as a saying of Jesus in Acts (Acts 1:5; 11:16). It is also preserved independently in the Gospel of John.

John 1:26-27, 30, 33

The Fourth Gospel’s account of Jesus’ Baptism is unique in that it is only narrated indirectly as part of John the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus (1:19-34ff). Interestingly, the saying corresponding to Mark 1:7-8 par is presented as two (separate) sayings by the Baptist, in verses 26-27 (also v. 30) and 33:

John 1:26-27John 1:33
“I dunk you with water; (but) in your midst has stood (one) whom you have not seen [i.e. known], the (one) coming behind me, of whom I am not worth (enough) to loosen the straps of the (shoe) bound under (his) feet.”“And I did not see [i.e. know/recognize] him, but the (one) sending me to dunk in water, that one said to me, ‘(the one) upon whom you should see the Spirit stepping down and remaining upon him—this is the (one) dunking in (the) holy Spirit’.”

This may indicate that separate sayings have been combined together in the Synoptic tradition. The first saying has different wording in John, but it shares with Mark (and Matthew) especially the phrase “the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] behind me [o)pi/sw mou]”. The use of o)pi/sw mou (“behind me”) has suggested to some commentators that the historical Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist prior to embarking on his own ministry. However, the context of the Gospel narratives as they now stand indicates no more than that Jesus appeared in public later than John, and with less prominence. The Synoptic version(s) of the saying emphasize the actual superiority of Jesus three ways:

    • The declaration that Jesus is stronger/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$] than John
    • John’s admission that he is not (worthy) enough [i(kano/$] to handle the shoes of Jesus
    • The contrast (me\nde/ construct in Matthew/Luke) between John baptizing in water, and Jesus baptizing in the holy Spirit

The Johannine version of the sayings include all three as well, though it is the first that is emphasized, with quite different language. Instead of the (comparative) adjective “stronger/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$]”, it is stated that neither John the Baptist nor the people in the crowds have seen (i.e. recognized) Jesus. This is important, for it indicates that only by way of divine revelation is Jesus’ identity (and his presence) realized (cf. Matt 16:16-17 for a comparable passage in the Synoptics). This revelation is narrated in verse 33, followed by the Baptist’s testimony “I have seen and have witnessed…” (v. 34). The saying in verses 26-27, in which John declares the superiority of Jesus, is repeated in modified form in verse 30 (also earlier in v. 15), again using different language:

“The (one) coming [e)rxo/meno$] behind me has come to be in front of me, (in) that [i.e. because] he was first (ahead) of me” (v. 15)
“A man comes [e&rxetai] behind me who has come to be in front of me, (in) that [i.e. because] he was first (ahead) of me” (v. 30)

Here the saying has been given a deeper theological (and Christological) interpretation. This involves a sequence of three key verbs:

    • “he comes [e&rxetai] behind me”
    • “he has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of me”
    • “he was [h@n] first (ahead) of me”

I have discussed this construction in some detail in an earlier note; here I will simply point out the essential significance of these verbal phrases in the context of the Johannine view of the person of Jesus:

e&rxetai (“comes”)—there are two aspects to note:

(1) The Gospel of John frequently refers to Jesus as one who has come (using the vb. e&rxomai) from God; specifically, in the Johannine prologue it is used for the divine Logos coming into the world (Jn 1:9), which primarily means the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. Within the Gospel context, his public life and ministry begins with his baptism by John.
(2) The wider Gospel tradition inherited the Messianic title of “the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$]”, drawn largely from Malachi 3:1ff (cf. also Psalm 118:26) and applied it to Jesus. This is at the center of the question of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus in early Gospel tradition, which I have discussed in an earlier article (see also on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). Its use in the Baptism scene identifies Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), i.e. God’s representative (Prophet/Messenger) whose appearance will precede and usher in the end-time Judgment. In the later scene of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where Psalm 118:26 is cited, the title signifies Jesus as an Anointed King and Ruler from the line of David.

ge/gonen (“has come to be”)—in the Johannine prologue (Jn 1:1-18) the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) is used exclusively in the sense of created beings coming into existence (esp. being born); as applied to the pre-existent person of Christ, the divine Logos, it refers to his incarnation (“the Logos came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh”, Jn 1:14).

h@n (“was”)—again, in the prologue, the verb of being ei)mi is used essentially in relation to the life and presence of God (esp. Jn 1:1-2); within the content of Johannine Christology, it is a keyword indicating the deity of Jesus.

The portion of the saying dealing with Jesus dunking (baptizing) in the Holy Spirit differs from the Synoptic in two ways:

    • There is no mention of fire (Matt/Luke “…in the holy Spirit and fire“); indeed John has virtually removed the eschatological context of God’s coming Judgment (Mark 1:2-4; Matt 3:7-10, 12 par) from the narrative.
    • It follows directly after the reference to the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus (to be discussed in the next daily note). This emphasizes the presence of the Spirit (“coming down and remaining upon him”) in relation to Jesus’ identity—as Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God (v. 34).

Interestingly, it is only in the Gospel of John that we actually read of Jesus doing anything like baptizing his followers in the Spirit; this is in Jn 20:19-23, the climactic scene of Jesus with his disciples after the resurrection:

“…even as the Father has set me forth from (Him), so I (am) send(ing) you. And saying this, he blew [i.e. breathed] in/on (them) and said to them: ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit…'” (vv. 21b-22)

This should be taken as indicating what the Gospel writer (and/or his tradition) understood by ‘dunking/baptizing in the Spirit’. However, there are several other passages in the Gospel where Jesus refers to the Spirit in the context of water, and which may involve the symbolism of baptism. In Jn 4:7-26 and 7:37-39 Jesus declares that he is the source of living/eternal water, which may be identified with the Spirit (4:23-24; 7:39); here the emphasis is on the believer drinking of the water/Spirit. More directly relevant, perhaps, is Jn 3:5-6, where Jesus brings together the idea of being born out of water and out of the Spirit. Many commentators have seen here a reference to baptism—the believer is baptized both by water (the baptism ritual) and the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8:12-17, 38-39 v.l.; 10:44-48; 11:15-17; 19:2-7). I am inclined to give somewhat more weight to the specific narrative context of the passage, i.e. as referring to a contrast between physical birth out of the mother’s womb (i.e. out of water) and spiritual birth (cf. Jn 1:12-13). Even so, the water/Spirit parallel is clear enough, and the person of Jesus—his teaching, work, and life-giving power—is specifically associated with the giving of God’s Spirit.

May 11: Mark 1:7-8 par

The first passage referring to the (Holy) Spirit in the Synoptic Tradition comes from a saying/declaration by John the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), which is certainly among the very oldest/earliest to be preserved in Christian tradition (cf. the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). The age (and authenticity) of the saying is confirmed by the fact that it is recorded no fewer than six times in the Gospels and Acts, having been transmitted independently in at least two (or more) strands of tradition. Moreover, while John the Baptist has a central place in the earliest Gospel narrative, he soon disappeared from Christian tradition generally—he is never mentioned in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts, and only once in the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-150 A.D.), as part of a simple Gospel/creedal formula (Ignatius, Smyrneans 1:1, cf. Rom 1:3-4). Thus the prominence of John in the primitive Gospel narrative and kerygma is virtually a guarantee of authenticity.

Mark 1:7-8 (par Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16)

Mark’s short account of John the Baptist and his ministry (Mk 1:2-8), which precedes the Baptism of Jesus (vv. 9-11), climaxes with the core saying in vv. 7-8:

“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of (the shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit [e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|].”

Matthew and Luke provide a more extensive account, including additional sayings and teachings by John:

    • His words to the crowds (Matt 3:7-10 / Luke 3:7-9), exhorting them to repentance; in Matthew this is directed specifically to Pharisees and Sadducees in the crowd (v. 7).
    • The ethical instruction in Luke 3:10-14
    • The saying in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17 (cf. below).

The saying corresponding to Mk 1:7-8 is in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16. Here the three versions are presented side-by-side for comparison, with the main elements in Matthew/Luke which differ from Mark indicated by italics:

Mark 1:7-8Matthew 3:11Luke 3:16
“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit.”“I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]; but the (one) coming behind me is stronger than me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bear/carry the (shoe)s bound under (his feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”“I dunk you in water; but the (one) stronger than me comes, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”

The main difference between Mark and Matthew/Luke is twofold:

First, the syntax of the saying in Matthew/Luke sets the reference to Jesus as the one coming (who is greater than John) in the middle of the contrast between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit:

    • I dunk you in water
      —the one who comes (who is stronger)
    • He will dunk you in the Holy Spirit (and fire)

This contrast is further establish by the use of a me\nde/ construct (i.e., “on the one hand…on other hand…”), which I did not especially bring out in the translation(s) above. The result of this framework, by implication, is that baptism in the Spirit is based on the superiority of the person of Jesus as “the one (who is) coming”. For more on this, cf. below.

Secondly, Matthew and Luke both add “and (in) fire [kai\ puri/]”. This emphasizes the coming/future Judgment of God upon humankind (cf. Matt 3:7ff par), and leads in to the added saying in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17 (cf. below). It also results in the thematic triad:

WaterSpiritFire

all of which are associated with purification and cleansing in Old Testament tradition. Cleansing by water is common enough (Num 8:7; 19:12; Ps 51:2; Ezek 16:4; 36:25; Zech 13:1, etc), and the imagery is occasionally extended to the (symbolic) pouring out of the Spirit of God (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25-26). Fire is also used as a symbol of purification; in addition to the idea of burning up garbage and refuse, there is the metallurgic imagery, whereby base metal is refined and its impurities removed through fire—cf. Psalm 12:6; Isa 4:4-5; 48:10; Dan 11:35; 12:10; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3. Offerings and objects consecrated to God are also burned with fire (Ex 29:18, 34, etc; Deut 13:16; Josh 6:24). These three elements (water, fire, and the Holy Spirit) are combined in the text 1QS 4:20-21 from Qumran (cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX [AB vol. 28], p. 474); note the relevant details:

    • It will occur at the (end) time of God’s visitation—i.e., an eschatological setting
    • God will purge the deeds of humankind by His Truth
      • refining (by fire) a portion of humankind (i.e., the righteous/chosen ones)
      • removing every evil spirit from their flesh
      • cleansing them from wickedness with (the) holy Spirit
      • sprinkling them with the Spirit (as with water)
    • The righteous ones are cleansed with the Spirit of Truth

The fire in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17 more properly refers to the coming Judgment. The threshing/winnowing separates the righteous and the wicked—perhaps more accurately it separates the wicked from the righteous (cf. 2 Kings 13:7; Prov 20:8, 26; Isa 21:10; 27:12; 30:24; 41:16; Hos 13:3; Mic 4:12-13; Hab 3:12; Jer 4:11; 15:7; Dan 2:35). The ominous closing reference to being burned up “with fire unquenchable” (puri\ a)sbe/stw|) is likely an allusion to Isa 66:24 (cf. Mark 9:43, 48 par). It may draw upon the image of the garbage-burning and furnaces of the Ge-Hinnom (Valley of Hinnom).

The importance of the saying in Mark 1:7-8 par ultimately lies in the identification of Jesus as the (end-time) figure through whom God will visit His people and bring Judgment upon humankind. This is marked by three elements in the passage:

    • Jesus is the one who comes [e&rxetai] (or the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$]). This almost certainly derives from Malachi 3:1ff, which proved to be a central Messianic passage in the early Gospel tradition. I have discussed this in some detail in prior notes and articles.
    • He is greater/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$] than John. Luke sets the saying by John (Lk 3:16-17) in the narrative context of questions by the people as to whether John might be the Anointed One (Xristo/$, “Christ/Messiah”). As I have discussed previously, the term “Anointed One” here likely refers to an end-time Prophet according to the type of Elijah, who will precede the visitation and Judgment of God (Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6). Vv. 16-17 are said to be John’s answer to this (cf. Jn 1:19-27).
    • He will baptize people with the Holy Spirit. Already in the Old Testament Prophets, the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon His people is seen as a mark of the coming New Age (Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 39:29; cf. also Zech 12:10). For the association with the Judgment of God, cf. above. In Acts 2:14-21, the prophecy of Joel 2:28-29 is said to have been fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

It should be noted that the saying by John the Baptist is recorded twice more, in Acts 1:5 and again in Acts 11:16, though in both these passages it is presented as a saying of Jesus, which would seem to indicate a separate tradition:

“…that Yohanan {John} dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit after not many of these days [i.e. in a few days].” (Acts 1:5)

(Peter speaking) “and I remembered the utterance of the Lord as he said, ‘Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit’.” (Acts 11:16)

This raises the intriguing question as to whether (or to what extent) the words attributed to John in Mark 1:7-8 par in the Gospel narrative have been shaped by a saying of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is not possible to delve into this possibility in these notes; I leave it as something to ponder.

Finally, the Baptist’s saying is also attested in the Gospel of John, but with important differences, which will be dealt with in the next daily note.

Notes on Galatians 3:28, part 1

Galatians 3:28

The next three daily notes serve as a supplement to the recent article on Galatians 3:28 in the series Women in the Church, as well as to the study on the subject as it relates to the Pauline letters as a whole, and to the role of women from the standpoint of early Christianity and Gnosticism. Here I will be looking in more detail at three specific aspects of this verse—particularly, the declaration “there is no male and female”:

    1. The background and significance of the statement
    2. The logical consequences and possible interpretation(s), and
    3. Comparison with the Pauline teaching in 1 Cor 11:3ff; 14:34-35, etc

Today’s note treats the first of these topics.

1. Background and Significance

As previously discussed (cf. Part 3 of this series), the three-fold declaration in Gal 3:28 is clearly connected with the rite of baptism: “For as (many of) you as have been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed (One) {Christ}, you have sunk in(to) (the) Anointed [i.e. put him on as a garment]” (v. 27). There are parallels to Gal 3:27-28 in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11, also associated with baptism. Many commentators believe that this reflects an (earlier) baptismal formula; if so, it is probably not a specific formulation original to Paul, but rather something he cites to support his argument (and for dramatic effect), something which would be familiar (and dear) to recent converts. Let us compare these three passages (note the central statement in bold):

Galatians 3:27-281 Corinthians 12:13Colossians 3:9-11
“For as (many of) you as have been dunked [i.e. baptized] in the Anointed {Christ}, have sunk in(to) [i.e. put on] the Anointed;
in (Christ) there is no Yehudean {Jew} and no Greek, there is no slave and no free (person), there is no male and female
for you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Jesus Christ}.”
“For in one Spirit we all were dunked [i.e. baptized] into one Body—
(even) if Yehudeans {Jews} and if Greeks, if slaves and if free (person)s
and we all were given to drink of (the) one Spirit.”
“…having sunk out from the old man…and sinking in(to) [i.e. putting on] the new…
where in (Christ) there is no Greek and Yehudean {Jew}, circumcision and foreskin…, slave, free (person)
but the Anointed {Christ} is all (thing)s and in all (things).”

The basic setting is baptism as an initiation rite, similar to many other such religious rituals worldwide. The closest parallels would be from the Greco-Roman (pagan) mystery cults, though one can also cite similarities in a Jewish setting (such as the Qumran community of the Dead Sea Scrolls). We actually know relatively little about the specific ceremonies practiced by the mystery religions; however, note the reference in Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11:24, which involves an initiate in the mysteries of Isis, who has put on robes following the sacred ceremony (cf. also Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 352b; Firmicius Maternus, Error of the Profane Religions §§19, 22). For a (Hellenistic) Jewish use of the same kind of symbolism, cf. Philo, On Flight and Finding §§109-12; Joseph and Aseneth §§14-17. It is likely that early Christian tradition made use of (white) robes to symbolize the “putting on” of Christ.

In such religious initiation, the ritual signifies the establishment of a new identity, and all the more so in the case of Christian baptism—the believer enters the water, dying to the old, and being born (again, spiritually) to the new. Paul clearly connected baptism with the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Christ (Rom 6:3-11; 8:9-11; Col 2:12ff; cf. also Gal 2:19-20), and this must also inform the baptismal formula used in Gal 3:27-28, etc. Note the parallel between “putting on” (lit. “sinking in[to]”, vb. e)ndu/w) in Gal 3:27 and “putting off” (lit. “sinking out [from]”, vb. [a)p]ekdu/w) in Col 3:9—the believer “puts off” the ‘old man’, the old nature (like a snake shedding its skin), and “puts on” the new nature (Christ). It is this fundamental sense of a new religious (spiritual) identity which provides the context for the three-fold declaration in Gal 3:28 with its repeated use of e&ni (“there is in…”). The reference is to the preposition e)n (“in Christ”, e)n Xristw=|) at the end of the verse, but also to the earlier use of the verb e)ndu/w in v. 27. That verb is usually translated “put on”, “clothe [yourself]”, but, in order to preserve the wordplay (among other reasons), it is better to render it literally, “sink in(to)”. Note how this frames the central declaration:

    • “You have sunk in(to) [e)ndu/sasqe] Christ”—i.e., you are now in Christ (v. 27)
      “In (Christ) there is… [e&ni]”
    • “You are all one in Christ [e)n Xristw=|] (v. 28d)

Baptism symbolizes (ritually) the believer’s union in Christ, which is also to be understood as becoming part of a unity—that is, of all believers, as a single body. This is the point emphasized by the formula in 1 Cor 12:13:

    • “For we all were dunked [baptized] in one Spirit
      —”into one Body”
    • “…we all were given to drink of (the) one Spirit

A comparison between 1 Cor 12:13 and Gal 3:27-28 (perhaps written only a few years apart), indicates that the three-fold declaration in Gal 3:28 ought to be understood in terms of believers being part of the one body of Christ. In other words, the declaration is governed by the overriding idea of our union (together) in Christ; here is the formula:

    • V. 28a: “in (Christ) there is no Jew and no Greek”—religious/ethnic distinction
    • V. 28b: “in (Christ) there is no slave and no free (person)”—socio-economic distinction
    • V. 28c: “in (Christ) there is no male and female”—social (and biological) distinction

This makes for a powerful statement and strongly suggests that our new identity in Christ somehow transcends, or renders invalid, the normal distinctions and characteristics of our (previous) way of life. The problem is that Paul, in his letters, really only discusses the first of these—the religious (and ethnic/cultural) distinction between Jews and non-Jews (“Greeks”, i.e. Gentiles). This is a central theme, especially in Galatians and Romans, and Paul argues forcefully that the “new covenant” in Christ effectively abolishes the old. Perhaps the most direct declaration along these lines is in 2 Cor 3:1-18 (esp. verses 6-11, 12-16); while Ephesians 2:11-22 neatly sums up the Pauline teaching, with the idea that Jewish and Gentile believers have become “one new man” in Christ (vv. 15-16). Thus, while Jewish and Gentile believers, respectively, might (voluntarily) continue to observe certain customs, these cannot—and must not—create division or separation within the body of Christ (cf. Gal 2:11-14; Rom 14, etc). In every way that matters, there is no difference whatever between believers, from an ethno-religious or cultural point of view.

The same would certainly apply to socio-economic distinctions, such as slave vs. free, rich vs. poor, etc., though Paul says relatively little about this. According to the narratives in Acts, many of the earliest converts in Paul’s missionary work were from the upper levels of society (16:13-14; 17:4, 12, 34, etc), but certainly from the middle/lower classes as well (cf. 1 Cor 1:26ff, etc). In dealing with the social situation of slavery in the Greco-Roman world, Paul tends to downplay any possible revolutionary aspect to the Christian message (1 Cor 7:21-23; Col 3:22-4:1; cf. also Eph 6:5-9; 1 Tim 6:1-2; Tit 2:9-10); social change would occur naturally, through conversion to the Gospel, rather than by active efforts to change the laws and structure of society. More commonly, Paul uses slavery/freedom as a motif for the Gospel itself—human beings are in bondage under sin (and the Law), and only through trust in Christ and the work of the Spirit do we find freedom (cf. Rom 6:15-23; 8:1-17; Gal 2:4; 3:21-26; 4:1-7, 8ff, 21-31; 5:1). In the letter to Philemon, there is a moving account of a runaway slave (Onesimus) who has become a believer, and is now returning to his (Christian) master. This illustrates the dual (and somewhat paradoxical nature) of the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus—on the one hand (at the social level), they remain master and slave, but on the other (in Christ) they are brothers and equals.

This brings us to the thornier question regarding the social (and biological) distinction of male and female—do these no longer apply to believers in Christ, as the declaration in Gal 3:28c suggests? I have already addressed this in Part 3 of the series (“Women in the Church”), but it will be useful to supplement that discussion with a few points here.

  • The expression “male and female” (a&rsen kai\ qh=lu) refers not only to the conventional, social difference(s) between men and women, but also to the essential physical/biological differences.
  • Almost certainly it alludes to the creation account in Genesis (1:27; 5:2); the significance of this will be dealt with in the next note. It is interesting that in 1 Cor 11:2-16 (also 1 Tim 2:11-15) the creation narrative is used to make virtually the opposite point—that gender distinction is to be preserved in the Church, with women (it would seem) in a subordinate role.
  • The context in Galatians is important—Paul is arguing that believers are the true heirs of Abraham (to the promise of God), which means, according to the cultural background of the illustration, that believers are sons. But clearly, this is not to be taken literally; believers—men and women both—are “sons” in this sense. It is not a question of gender (in spite of the traditional gender-based language).
  • Beyond this, Paul is definitely speaking of a new situation for believers. Again, this is especially clear from the surrounding context:
    —Believers are no longer (ou)ke/ti) bound under the old way of things (3:25; 4:7)
    —This old condition is described as being under (u(po/) the authority (i.e., bound, enslaved) of the old order—the Law, sin, death, etc. (3:10, 22-23, 25; 4:2-5, etc)
    —The old order of things involves “the (arranged) elements [stoixei=a] of the world” (4:3, 9; cf. Col 2:8, 20), which certainly includes the (fallen, corrupt) order of creation
    —But believers are freed from the old order (3:21-26; 4:1-11, 21-31; 5:1ff, 13); this freedom is in relation to the presence and work of the Spirit (3:2ff, 14; 4:6, 29; 5:5, 16-18ff), which is not tied to the created order (cf. John 3:3-10)
    —This new condition (and identity) in Christ, and through the Spirit, is defined as a new creation (6:15; 2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:10, also Eph 2:15; 4:24)—which suggests that the old (created order) has passed away or been completely transformed (cf. also Rom 7:6; 8:19ff; 1 Cor 5:7)

All of this sounds impressive, but what does it actually mean for believers? What are the consequences of this new condition or new identity? This must be addressed in two parts: (a) how extensively should Gal 3:28 be applied at the religious (and spiritual) level, and (b) what are the practical implications for Christian life and community? These questions will be dealt with, in turn, in the next two notes.

Women in the Church, Part 3: Galatians 3:28

Galatians 3:28

The next passage to be discussed in this series is Paul’s famous statement in Gal 3:28. There is a definite tension (some would say contradiction) between the idea expressed in this verse, and Paul’s instruction elsewhere regarding the role/position of men and women in the Church. It is therefore necessary to study and explore the matter in some detail.

Historical and Literary Context

Galatians was written (by Paul) sometime in the 50’s; more precise dating has proven difficult, especially since it is not certain whether the churches he addresses are located in southern/south-central Asia Minor (modern Turkey), or in the central region. The former could have been in existence as early as the first missionary journey (cf. Acts 13:13-14:20), while the latter presumably would not have been founded until the second journey (Acts 16:6ff; 18:23). Some traditional-conservative commentators prefer an earlier date (late 40s), on the assumption that it was written prior to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and that Galatians 2 records a different meeting in Jerusalem. Most scholars, however, accept that Acts 15 and Gal 2:1-10 are separate accounts of the same basic event, and that Galatians was written after the Council. Internal evidence of style and subject matter strongly suggests that Galatians was written relatively close in time to Romans and 2 Corinthians (i.e. early-mid 50’s).

In the letter, Paul is opposing the view of certain Jewish Christians, who had maintained that Gentile (non-Jewish) believers ought to be circumcised and observe the Old Testament Law (Torah). The entire letter is written to persuade the believers in Galatia that such a religious step is not necessary—salvation and being made right (“justification”) in God’s eyes comes entirely through trust in Jesus. Moreover, in Christ, our life and ethical behavior is guided by the Spirit and the teaching/example of Jesus (the ‘love command’), not by observance of the Old Testament Law. We have true freedom in Christ, and are no longer in bondage to (i.e. bound/required to follow) the Law of the old Covenant. Of all the Pauline letters, Galatians has perhaps the clearest rhetorical structure: the main proposition (propositio) is stated in 2:15-16, along with a brief exposition in vv. 17-21. This restates the cause (causa) or purpose of his writing, as indicated in 1:6-7ff, and is prefaced by a narration (narratio) which illustrates the issues involved (1:122:14). The central section of the letter (chapters 34) is the probatio (“proof”), in which Paul produces arguments and illustrations in support of his point, and to convince the Galatians of the truth of it. The arguments Paul uses build upon one another—for example, in 3:6-14, he adduces an argument from Scripture (Gen 15:6, etc) to demonstrate that the covenant God made with Abraham is prior (and superior) to the introduction of the Law at Sinai, and that believers in Christ are the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. Now, in Gal 3:264:11, the argument has been refined and developed so that Paul can affirm, on the basis of Christian experience, that believers truly are the heirs of the blessings and promises to Abraham (realized in Christ).

Outline and Exegesis

Galatians 3:26-4:11 may be outlined as follows:

    • Argument: Believers are the sons/heirs of the divine blessing and promise (3:26-29)
      • Basic statement—sons/heirs through trust in Christ (v. 26)
      • Demonstration—symbolism of the Baptism ritual (vv. 27-28)
      • Conclusion—this is a fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham (v. 29)
    • Illustration (proof): The heir comes of age (in Christ) and is no longer treated like a slave (4:1-11)
      • No longer under the bondage of the Law (vv. 3-7)
      • No longer under bondage to the “elements” of the world (vv. 8-11)

The specific verse (28) under examination is part of the demonstration from Baptism, which must be understood in the context of the two statements in vv. 26 and 29:

V. 26: “For you are all sons of God through the trust [i.e. faith] in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Christ Jesus}”
V. 29: “And if you are of (the) Anointed {Christ}, then you are (the) seed of Abraham, heirs according to (the) promise [e)paggeli/a]”

The symbolism of Baptism in vv. 27-28 is introduced to illustrate/demonstrate that believers are the sons (and heirs) of God. Clearly, Paul’s use of “sons” here applies to all believers—male and female both. We could translate with inclusive language here and say “sons and daughters” or “children”, but that would distort somewhat the image he is using—that of the heir to the household, which typically would be the (eldest) son. The demonstration from Baptism has two parts:

    • V. 27—A fundamental formula indicating the believer’s new identity in Christ:
      “For as (many of) you as have been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed {Christ}, have sunk yourselves in(to the) Anointed {Christ} [i.e. put him on as a garment]”
    • V. 28—A (three-fold) formula expressing the essential character and nature of this identity:
      • “in (Christ) there is no Yehudean {Jew} and no Greek”
      • “in (Christ) there is no slave and no free (person)”
      • “in (Christ) there is no male and female”
    • —along with the concluding formula in 28b:
      “for you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Christ Jesus}”

The statement in v. 28b is also parallel to that in v. 26:

    • “For you are all sons of God through trust in Christ Jesus”
      “For you are all one in Christ Jesus”

It is certainly not an issue of maleness (“sons”) here—the expression “sons of God” is essentially synonymous with “one”, i.e. the unity of all believers in Christ. This is what the three-fold formula in v. 28 indicates. It is possible that Paul (or an earlier baptismal tradition) is playing on an old Jewish prayer formula, whereby the male Jew gives thanks to God that he was not created as a Gentile, slave (‘brute’) or woman (t. Ber. 7:18; b. Men. 43b; cf. Bruce, p. 187). Each of these elements is significant from the standpoint of the rhetorical context of Galatians:

    • Jew/Greek—this of course is central to the overall argument of Galatians (cf. also throughout Romans): there is no longer any ethnic or religious distinction in Christ between Jew and non-Jew (Gentile)
    • Slave/Free—Paul uses slavery/freedom imagery throughout the letter (2:4; 3:22-25; 4:1-11, 21-31; 5:1, 13), emphasizing the freedom believers have in Christ and through the Spirit; here he uses the terms in their literal/legal sense: the social distinctions of slave and free person have no meaning in Christ
    • Male/Female—as indicated above, Paul has repeatedly been using the image of son/sonship, but this is purely symbolic and illustrative: in a fundamental sense, the social/biological distinction between genders is irrelevant to the identity of believers in Christ.

Interpretation of Verse 28 (Male/Female)

How precisely does Paul intend this last point to be taken? In the case of the Jew/Greek and Slave/Free distinction, it would seem that these no longer apply even within the context of the organized life and worship of the congregation. In other words, there is no apparent restriction in terms of the roles or (religious-cultural) privileges in the Church—i.e., slave and free, Jew and Gentile, could participate in the meeting or hold leadership roles equally. But, as we saw in the earlier studies on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:33b-36, this does not seem to apply as completely to the distinction of gender. Does this reflect an inconsistency in Paul’s thought and teaching? Many commentators today think so. Perhaps Paul did not fully recognize the (logical) consequences of his statement in Gal 3:28; or, on the assumption that Galatians was written prior to 1 Corinthians (and, of course, the Pastoral letters), he may have changed or qualified his approach to the matter in the later writings (cf. Betz, p. 200). Traditional-conservative commentators are more sympathetic toward Paul, but there is still some tension between the two viewpoints: (a) there is no distinction between male and female in Christ, and yet (b) there are to remain clear distinctions in how men and women participate in the body of Christ (the Church).

Interestingly, Paul makes use of language similar to that of vv. 27-28 (referring to Baptism) elsewhere in his letters, in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11—and in both of these passages there is no mention of the male/female aspect. Since 1 Cor 12:13 is contextually relevant to the discussion of 11:2-16 and 14:33b-36, I cite it here for comparison:

“For in one Spirit we were all dunked [i.e. baptized] into one Body—even if Jews (and) even if Greeks, even if slaves (and) even if free (person)s—and we all were made to drink of one Spirit”

This could indicate that Paul was subsequently more guarded in his language, perhaps to avoid the suggestion that gender-distinction was eliminated (i.e. could be ignored/disregarded) for Christians. Indeed, a number of so-called Gnostic traditions in early Christianity seem to have emphasized this very thing. We may note, for example, the saying of Jesus in 2 Clement 12, also the (Coptic) Gospel of Thomas log. 22; the Gospel of the Egyptians 2 (in Clem. Alex. Stromateis 3.92.2); the Gospel of Philip 78, etc (cf. Betz, pp. 195-7). While such sayings and teachings were probably meant to be understood in a spiritual/symbolic (or “mystical”) sense, and were not necessarily advocating a radical social transformation, they would be scandalous enough for many believers. While it is possible that Paul wished to avoid certain extreme spiritual/gnostic implications, I believe that he actually held a rather radical view himself regarding the new religious identity which was assumed and realized by believers in Christ. This can be seen if we take seriously, not only his statements in Gal 3:27-28, but also the numerous passages which indicate that those who are in Christ are a “new creation”; cf. especially 2 Cor 5:17:

“And so if any(one) is in (the) Anointed {Christ}, he/she is a new ‘creation’ [kti/si$]: the beginning [i.e. old/earlier] (thing)s have gone along [i.e. passed away] (and) see—they have [all] become new!”

Humankind in the original creation was “male and female” (a&rsen kai\ qh=lu, Gen 1:27 LXX), the same expression Paul uses in Gal 3:28. Note that he does not say “in (Christ) there is no male and no female”, but specifically, “in (Christ) there is no male and female“, likely as a direct allusion to Gen 1:27 (cf. Bruce, p. 189). What then of the new creation? That this new identity in Christ is fundamental and must transform all aspects of human life, including gender and sexuality, seems clear—but how, and to what extent? In the earlier note on 1 Cor 11:10, I raised the possibility that this may be part of Paul’s formulation in 11:7-12; here, I further suggest the following interpretation for consideration:

    • 11:7-9: the original created order—hierarchical/vertical—man the head of woman, woman from/through man, etc
    • 11:11-12: the new (transformed) order (“new creation”)—reciprocal/horizontal—man and woman together, interconnected (and equal)

The complexity of Paul’s position is that he seeks to affirm and preserve both aspects for believers, at least within the organized (social and religious) setting of the Christian Community. Keeping this in mind may help us better understand Paul’s teaching and instruction regarding the role/position of women in the Church as expressed in his letters. I will be returning to this theme (and to Gal 3:28 specifically) in upcoming notes as part of this series. For the moment, in closing, I would state that, with regard to the apparent conflict between Gal 3:28 and the instruction involving women elsewhere in the Pauline letters, I agree wholeheartedly with F. F. Bruce, that the passages which seem to restrict the role of women “…are to be understood in relation to Gal. 3:28, and not vice versa” (Bruce, p. 190).

References marked “Bruce” above are to F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC]), Eerdmans/Paternoster Press: 1982.
Those marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians (in the Hermeneia series), ed. by Helmut Koester, Fortress Press: 1979.

April 2 (2): John 3:1-21

(From today on through Easter, I will be posting two daily notes—one in the morning, and another in the afternoon/evening.
The morning notes will continue the series on the Son of Man sayings.)

John 3:1-21 (Jesus and Nicodemus)

The scene between Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-21[?]) is the first of the great Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, containing some of the most famous (and extraordinary) verses in all the New Testament. And yet, as a formal matter, there are several basic questions regarding this passage, of which should perhaps be mentioned:

    1. How far does the actual discourse with Nicodemus extend in the passage? It appears to end at verse 21, but critical scholars have long had doubts about this. For the material from v. 13 to 21 does seem hard to relate precisely with what comes before. The shift from spiritual birth to the ascending/lifting-up of the Son of Man seems rather abrupt; however, one can find other similar abrupt shifts throughout the Gospels. Is it a product of Jesus the speaker or the way in which the author/redactor of the Gospel has assembled the material?
    2. When did the scene occur? In the Gospel sequence as it stands, the scene with Nicodemus takes place rather early in Jesus’ ministry. However, there are several indications that it may have actually occurred later on, perhaps during the last week in Jerusalem: (a) Verse 3 suggests that Jesus has performed many signs in Jerusalem and/or Judea; (b) the setting at night (cf. 13:30); (c) the discussion of lifting-up the Son (v. 14-15) seems more appropriate in the context of Jesus’ impending death. Of course, these details can otherwise be explained; but it is interesting that in Tatian’s harmony of the Gospels (Diatessaron, 2nd century) the scene occurs during the last week, following the Cleansing of the Temple (Arabic §32, and in the Codex Fuldensis). If John moved the Cleansing of the Temple episode to an ‘earlier’ position, he may also have done so for the discourse with Nicodemus; on the other hand, the Synoptic literary arrangement (with one final journey to Jerusalem) could naturally force all Jerusalem events into the final week, regardless of when they originally occurred. I suspect that the Diatessaron simply harmonized according to the Synoptic sequence.

There are so many wondrous and fascinating details in this passage—for the moment, I can only touch briefly on a few for which there is a particular textual or interpretive difficulty:

1. “Born again” (verse 3)

The Greek reads: e)a\n mh/ ti$ gennhqh=| a&nwqen ou) du/natai i)dei=n th\n basilei/an tou= qeou=, “if one does not come to be (born) a&nwqen, he is not able to see the kingdom of God”. The adverb a&nwqen is literally “from above”, but in a transferred temporal sense can also mean “from the beginning, again”. Jesus intends it primarily in the literal sense, but Nicodemus mistakenly understands it in the temporal sense, asking how one can come to be born (physically) a second (deu/tero$) time. This sort of wordplay on Jesus’ part, accompanied by misunderstanding from the hearer, occurs quite often in the Gospel of John; in this case, the wordplay, as many scholars have noted, is specific to the Greek. It is also an interesting response to Nicodemus’ statement in verse 2, where he specifically mentions the “signs” (shmei=a) Jesus has shown. Without any explanation, Jesus immediately points to something beyond what can be seen and judged in ordinary human terms—which must, at first, be met by incomprehension.

2. “Water and the Spirit” (verse 5)

Jesus follows his first statement in verse 3, with one similar: e)a\n mh/ ti$ gennhqh=| e)c u%dato$ kai\ pneu/mato$ ou) du/natai ei)selqei=n ei)$ th\n basilei/an tou= qeou=, “if one does not come to be (born) out of water and spirit he is not able to go into the kingdom of God” [differences from v. 3 in italics]. The parallel between a&nwqen (“from above”) and e)k pneu/mato$ (“out of [the] Spirit”) seems clear enough, which Jesus explains further in verses 6-8. Curious is the mention of water (u%dwr). Traditionally, this has been taken as a reference to baptism, and so critical scholars almost universally understand it here; for the critical view generally treats the passage according to the import it had for the early Christian Community. However, at the historical level, would Jesus here have referred to baptism, in the Christian sense, in speaking with Nicodemus? Perhaps the reference is to the “dipping/immersing” performed by John the Baptist—in the Synoptics, the Baptist prophecies of the One coming who will dip/immerse [i.e. baptize] e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w| (“in [the] holy Spirit”). If John’s dipping/immersing (with water) was for repentance, in preparation for the coming Kingdom, an immersing (by the Spirit) was necessary to see and enter into the Kingdom. The symbol of water to represent the Spirit of God was widespread, especially in early Christianity, but is also attested in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 36:25, implied) and in Judaism (see esp. 1QS 4:19-21)—for similar usage later in the Gospel, see John 4:14; 7:38-39. For a connection between the cleansing power of the Spirit and the coming of the Kingdom of God, see the variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2): e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$, “may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”)

3. “The Wind/Spirit” (verse 8)

Here we find another wordplay by Jesus—in Greek, but one which also has a Semitic parallel. The beginning phrase in Greek, to\ pneu=ma o%pou qe/lei pnei=, is virtually untranslatable: a consistent literal rendering would be “the breath breathes where it wishes” or “the blowing blows where it wishes”. Idiomatically, Jesus is referring to the “wind” (that which “blows”, or “breathes” [according to a dynamic anthropomorphic view of nature]). Indeed pneu=ma can mean specificially “wind” or “breath” (just like the Hebrew j^Wr)—it also, like jWr, can refer to the life-breath [i.e. the animating life-principle] within a person (the “spirit”). Pneu=ma also came, in a technical or popular sense, to refer to any living, animated, but incorporeal being (i.e., “ghost, spirit”). Here Jesus moves, by symbol and comparison, from a simple natural image (“the wind blows/breathes where it wishes”) to one revelatory and profound (“the [holy] Spirit blows/breathes where it wishes”)—ou%tw$ e)stin pa=$ o( gegennhme/no$ e)k tou= pneu/mato$, “thus it is (for) every (one) coming to be (born) out of the Spirit”. Notice too the specific Greek preposition—it is not just a matter of baptism (going down into) the Spirit, but a coming-to-be (a birth) out of [i.e. from] the Spirit.

4. “Has ascended” (verse 13)

The perfect form a)nabe/bhken is a bit unusual. The verse reads kai\ ou)dei\$ a)nabe/bhken ei)$ to\n ou)rano\n ei) mh\ o( e)k tou= ou)ranou= kataba=$ o( ui(o\$ tou= anqrw/pou, “and no one has stepped up [i.e. gone up, ascended] into the heaven if not [i.e. except] the (one) stepping down out of the heaven, the Son of Man”. The perfect form could be taken to imply that the one stepping down, the Son of Man, has already stepped up above into Heaven. Some critics view this as evidence that the Discourse stems more from the vantage-point of the post-resurrection Christian Community than from the historical Jesus. However, Jesus’ words here probably mean something like “No one has [as yet] stepped up into Heaven”, that is, no one has ascended into Heaven. The theme continues on, paradoxically—the Son of Man’s “stepping up” begins with his being u%ywsen (“brought/raised high” [i.e., lifted], just as Moses raised the ‘bronze serpent’) upon the Cross.

5. “in Him” (verse 15, 16)

This verse contains both a textual and interpretive question. First, textual: the more unsual reading, also found in some of the oldest and best manuscripts (Ë75 B T Ws 083 [579] pc aur c l r1 vg) is e)n au)tw=| (“in him”); however, the majority reading (Ë63vid a [A] Q Y 086 f1, 13 33 ª) is ei)$ au)ton (“in[to] him”), while a few MSS (Ë66 L pc) read e)p’ au)tw (“upon him”). Now, even though we conventionally speak of having faith “in” God, Christ, His Name, etc., the more common preposition is ei)$ or e)pi, rather than e)n—according to a literal translation, one “trusts into” or “trusts upon” someone, and normally does not “trust in” someone. Therefore, assuming that the more difficult e)n au)tw=| is correct, the sentence perhaps ought to punctuated so as to read: i%na pa=$ o( pisteu/wn, e)n au)tw=| e&xh| zwh\n ai)w/nion, “…that every (one) trusting, might have life (of the) age [i.e. eternal life] in Him”. Is this not a powerful, pregnant ambiguity?—we both trust in him, and have eternal life in him.

6. “Judge/judgment” (verse 17ff)

Another ambiguity lies in the words kri/nw/kri/si$ (“judge/judgment”), which have, as with their English counterparts, a wide range of meaning—judging/judgment can have a positive, neutral, or negative sense. Generally, in the Gospel of John, the negative sense of judging (sometimes rendered “condemn/condemnation”) is meant, and so it  is here. The words kri/nw and kri/si$ occur five times in verses 17-21, generally in the context of light and darkness—light shines in the darkness (cf. 1:5) and exposes (“convicts”, e)le/gxw) that which is evil (v. 20). Curious is Jesus statement that God did not send the Son to judge the world (a theme echoed elsewhere in John), while other passages clearly state that judgment is given to the Son. Here there seem to be two special points of emphasis: (a) the judging has already taken place (perfect passive ke/kritai, “has been judged” or “will have been judged”) when one does not trust in the Son, while those who do trust are not judged at all (v. 18); and (b) there is throughout a strong sense, introduced here, of what is traditionally referred to as “realized eschatology”. However, in this last respect, I prefer the idea of a dynamic-spiritual aspect to faith and salvation—all of these symbols which suggest a process (birth, ascent, light dispelling darkness, etc.), do in fact take place “in Him”. The concept of “eternal life” (literally, “life [of the] Age[s]”) sums up this dynamic—what we wait for as believers, is already realized “in Him”. Consider the last words of this passage, that one “comes to[ward] the light” (e&rxetai pro\$ to\ fw=$, suggesting ‘conversion’?) which will “make apparent” (fanerwqh=|, lit. “be made to shine”, suggesting ‘final judgment’?) that his works “have been worked” (perfect participle ei)rgasme/na) “in God” (e)n qew=|).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 2 (Mk 1:7-8, continued)

As a follow-up to the previous note, dealing with the sayings of John the Baptist recorded in Mark 1:7-8 par, it is worth discussing here the meaning of the sayings in their original historical-traditional context, as far as this can be determined. What is clear from the sayings, in all their versions (cf. the previous note), is that they intend to emphasize two points of contrast:

    1. The first (Mk 1:7) expresses a kind of irony, or reversal, marked by two words:
      o)pi/sw (“behind”)—Jesus comes/follows behind, or after, John
      i)sxuro/tero$ (“stronger [than]”)—at the same time, Jesus is stronger (i.e. more powerful, greater) than John
    2. The second (Mk 1:8) is more straightforward, contrasting baptism in water, with baptism in the holy Spirit

Mark 1:7

“one stronger [i)sxuro/tero$] than me comes behind [o)pi/sw] me”

For the variations of this saying in the Gospels, cf. the previous note. The portion which follows in v. 7b illustrates the statement in colorful, dramatic language. Each of the two key words will be analyzed in turn:

(a) o)pi/sw (“behind”)—this preposition more properly means “at the end or back” of something, but often in the sense of “behind”, as translated here. Typically it refers to position or location, though occasionally it can be used in a temporal sense (i.e. “after, later [than]”). Many Christians are inclined to understand o)pi/sw in the temporal sense here, since then all the saying would mean is that Jesus appeared on the scene after (i.e. later than) John. The version in Acts 13:25b is more amenable to this understanding, by using meta/ instead of o)pi/sw, and the developed Johannine tradition follows this line of interpretation as well (Jn 1:15, 30, etc). However, the more common use of o)pi/sw would indicate position—i.e. that Jesus had a position behind, or in back of, John, which is to say, a lesser position. This may simply mean that the “one coming” (Jesus) had not yet become prominent or well-known, in comparison with John. However, many commentators believe that a more precise relationship between Jesus and John is intended.

A popular interpretation, among critical commentators especially, is that Jesus had been a disciple of John. The use of o)pi/sw in the Gospels would tend to support this, as it is used frequently in reference to Jesus’ own disciples following him (Mk 1:17, 20; Matt 4:19; 10:38; Lk 14:27; Jn 6:66, cf. also 12:19). Such an historical reconstruction has been assumed to explain: (a) Jesus’ presence around John, (b) his being baptized by John, (c) the close correlation of the disciples of Jesus and John, as recorded in Johannine tradition (Jn 1:35ff; 3:22-23ff), and (d) certain points of similarity in the teaching of John and Jesus (note esp. Matt 3:2; 4:17). If this line of interpretation is valid, then, originally John may have been either: (a) declaring that one of his followers (Jesus) would have a destiny greater than his own, or (b) prophesying that one of his followers (as yet unknown) would have this greater role. The tradition recorded in Jn 1:29ff would indicate that John did not, at first, know who the “one coming after” him would be (vv. 26-27). It remains an open question, however, whether or not Jesus had been a disciple of John. Christians are doubtless uncomfortable with the idea, but there is nothing in it which is incompatible with orthodox theology or the New Testament witness as a whole. Even so, it is worth noting that Luke has apparently left out the expression “behind me” from the Baptist’s saying (Lk 3:16, cp. Acts 13:25), perhaps sensing the implication of the phrase in context and wishing to avoid it.

If Jesus had been a disciple of John, then it makes even more striking the contrast established in the saying—i.e. one who has been following me is actually far greater than I am! Consider, too, the graphic illustration in Mk 1:7b par, where John declares that he is not fit/worthy even to handle the shoes of the one coming. The act of loosening and/or picking up one’s shoes would have been the menial task of a servant or slave, but could also symbolize the behavior of a disciple to his master. In other words, this would signify an major reversal of role and position—the one leading now becomes less than a slave. For a similar thought expressed by John, cf. Jn 3:30.

(b) i)sxuro/tero$ (“stronger [than]”)—this is a comparative/superlative form of the adjective i)sxuro/$ (“capable, able, strong”). It is interesting to consider the significance of this word as used by John. As will be discussed in the next major section of this study on the Baptism of Jesus, an important component of the Gospel tradition here is the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One, in comparison with John. It should be considered possible, however, on objective grounds, that this was a point of importance in John’s own ministry at the time. Certainly, we must give the traditions recorded in Jn 1:19-27 and Lk 3:15 due consideration. If John denied that he himself was “Elijah” or “the Prophet/Messenger” to come (cf. Mal 3:1ff), then it makes sense to interpret the saying(s) of Mk 1:7f in that light. In other words, he may be granting this Prophetic/Messianic role to another—”the one coming“. This is the very question at issue, of course, in Matt 11:2ff par.

Moreover, if the sayings in Mk 1:7-8 are truly connected, at the historical level, then the greater strength/ability of the “one coming” should be related to the Spirit. Such an association with the Messiah (or a similar Prophet figure) would have been reasonably well-established at the time of John and Jesus, due in large part to the Messianic interpretation given to passages such as Isa 11:1-9 and 61:1ff. For similar associations in the Qumran texts, cf. CD 2:12; 1QS 4:20-21; 4Q521 frag. 2. Jesus, as this Anointed figure (Lk 4:1, 14, 18ff), is stronger because his ministry involves cleansing at a deeper level, through the work of the Spirit (cf. below).

Mark 1:8

“I dunk you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”

The contrast in this saying is made more precise in the “Q” and Johannine versions, through the use of a me\nde/ construction (cf. the previous note). The historical tradition is clear that water, in John’s ministry, signified cleansing from sin (Mk 1:4 par; Matt 3:11; Josephus, Ant. 18.117). There would have been two components, or aspects, to this symbolism:

    • repentance, and the good works which follow, and
    • release (forgiveness) of sins by God

The general similarity with the ritual washing practiced by the Qumran Community has already been mentioned, and the significance of such washing at Qumran is expressed in the Community Rule (1QS 3:7-12; 4:20-21ff; 5:13-14). This sort of water-symbolism, of course, is widespread, attested in many different religious and cultural traditions. For a sampling of relevant passages in the Old Testament, cf. Exod 29:4; 30:20; Lev 8:6; 11:32ff; 14:8-9; 15:5-11; 16:4; Num 8:7; 19:7-21; Deut 23:11; 2 Kings 3:11; 5:10-13; Psa 26:6; 51:2, 7; 66:12; Prov 30:12; Isa 1:16; Jer 4:14; Ezek 16:4, 9; Zech 13:1.

Likewise, the Old Testament refers to cleansing by the Spirit, or uses water-imagery to express the work and effect of God’s Spirit—cf. Isa 4:4-5; 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25-26. With regard to the addition of fire, parallel to the Spirit, in the “Q” version of the saying, purification by fire is also found as a symbol in the Old Testament—Psalm 12:6; Mal 3:2-3, etc (for an association between the Spirit and fire, cf. also Judg 15:14). The Malachi passage, of course, is directly relevant to the Gospel tradition regarding John the Baptist, but it also emphasizes that the cleansing—whether by water, fire, or the Spirit—is ultimately done by God. It is likely that John himself had in mind the end-time appearance of God (coming to bring Judgment), through the work and presence of God’s own Messenger (Mal 3:1ff), who would be identified with Jesus. The main point of the contrast would seem to be that John’s ministry of washing/cleansing (by water) was preparatory for the end-time purification to be brought about by God (by Spirit/fire). That this greater “cleansing” reflects two sides, or aspects, of the Judgment seems clear from the “Q” version (and the parallel in the saying of Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17)—God’s Spirit/fire will burn up the wicked, but the righteous (i.e. the faithful ones who have repented, etc) will be purified and saved.

The view of the Gospel writers

By the time the Gospels were written, a more precise identification of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (drawing on the David ruler and Son of Man figure-types) had been firmly established, along with John the Baptist as the Messenger (“Elijah”) of Mal 3:1ff (4:5-6) who prepares the way for his coming. As a result, the sayings by John in Mk 1:7-8 par came to take on a new significance. The author of Luke-Acts, in particular, would doubtless have in mind the scope of the Gospel story, culminating in the coming of the Spirit (as “tongues of fire”) upon the earliest believers (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4ff). The Fourth Gospel works from a different line of interpretation, emphasizing the greatness of Jesus from a more definite Christological standpoint, best seen in the way that the saying of Mk 1:7 (or something akin to it) is developed and expounded in the first chapter (to be discussed). The Gospels of Matthew and Luke, in drawing upon the “Q” material of Matt 11:2-19 par, had available another avenue by which to develop the relationship between John and Jesus. In particular, note the way that the saying of Mk 1:7 has been virtually restated (by Jesus) to apply, in an eschatological (and seminal Christian) sense, to all believers (Matt 11:11 par).