Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 1 (Isa 40:3, continued)

Isaiah 40:3 (continued)

Having briefly discussed the key passage of Isa 40:3ff in the previous note, it remains to explore further the association with John the Baptist in Gospel tradition. To understand the original context and background of this association, it is helpful to turn to the texts from the Qumran Community (the Dead Sea Scrolls). I will be discussing here two principal aspects which shed light on the establishment of the early Christian tradition regarding John the Baptist (and his relationship with Jesus):

    1. The Eschatological interpretation of Isa 40:3, as evidenced in the Qumran texts, and
    2. The possible relationship between John the Baptist and the Qumran Community

1. The Eschatological Interpretation of Isa 40:3

While the original setting of Isa 40 would appear to be the promise of the restoration of Judah and the return from exile, certain features of the prophecy, like many in (Deutero-)Isaiah, came to be viewed from an eschatological standpoint—as a promise of what God would do for his people in the future, at the end-time. Interpreted in this light, the herald (or “voice”) of vv. 3ff is calling on people to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord (YHWH) at the end-time, when he will rescue/deliver his people and bring Judgment upon the world. This eschatological orientation is reflected strongly in the Community of the Qumran texts, written primarily between the period of 150 B.C. and the first years of the common era (A.D.). Many of these writings evince a belief that the end was near, and that the Community, as the faithful ones (or “remnant”) of Israel, held a central place in the work of God that was about to take place. This is expressed most clearly in two central documents which shape and define the history and character of the Community—the “Community Rule” [1QS, etc] and the so-called Damascus Document [CD/QD]. The importance of Isaiah 40:3 in terms of the Community’s self-identity is seen in the Community Rule [1QS] 8:12-16; 9:19-20:

“And when these have become /a community/ in Israel /in compliance with these arrangements/, they are to be segregated from within the dwelling of the men of sin, to walk to the desert in order to open there His path. As it is written: ‘In the desert, prepare the way of [YHWH], straighten in the steppe a roadway for our God’. This is the study of the Law which he commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age, and according to what the prophets have revealed through His holy Spirit.” (8:12-16a)

“This is the time for making ready the path to the desert, and he will teach them about all that has been discovered, so that they can carry it out in this moment…” (9:19-20)

The Community of these texts has separated from all other people, living apart together in the desert (presumably at the site of Khirbet Qumrân, among others[?]), devoting themselves to a strict communal lifestyle centered on the study and exposition/interpretation of the Law and Prophets. This Way (Heb. Er#D#) in the desert is a “way of holiness” (cf. Isa 35:8ff; 57:14), which also draws upon several important images and ideas from Israelite history and the oracles of the Prophets (esp. Deutero-Isaiah):

    • The return of exiles to the Land—defined in terms of the the coming of salvation from God (Isa 62:10-11)
    • This is parallel to the way of the Israelites through the wilderness (i.e. the Exodus traditions) into the Promised Land (Isa 11:16; 48:21; 51:10-11)
    • This same salvation is also understood more properly in an eschatological sense, in terms of the coming Judgment (Isa 1:27-31, etc)

These aspects play on the dual meaning of the verb bWv (šû», “turn, return”)—i.e., (1) the return from exile and the restoration of Israel, and (2) a return to God, that is, a turning back away from sin. The Qumran Community refers to itself at times as <yb!v* (š¹»îm), “ones turning/returning”, in two qualified senses:

    • The š¹»ê Yi´r¹°¢l—the faithful ones or “converts” of Israel, i.e. those who have joined the Community (CD 4:2-3; 6:3-7)
    • The š¹»ê peša±—the ones who have turned away (i.e. repented) from sin (CD 2:5; 20:17; 1QS 1:17; 10:20; 1QHa VI.24; X.9; XIV. 6); the expression is likely derived from Isaiah 59:20f.

By turning from sin and the wickedness/faithlessness of the world, and joining the Community, one follows the “way of holiness” and prepares for the end-time Judgment and the salvation God will bring for his faithful ones.

2. John and the Qumran Community

There are a number of similarities between the ministry of John the Baptist and the Community of the Qumran texts:

  • The desert location. Based on the evidence from the Gospels, as well as subsequent Christian tradition, much of John’s ministry would have taken place in the Judean desert, not all that far from the site of Qumrân.
  • The central importance of Isa 40:3 (cf. above). In Jn 1:23, it is John himself who makes the identification with Isa 40:3.
  • The practice of ritual washing/cleansing. For the importance of this for the Qumran Community, see esp. 1QS 2:25-3:12; 4:20-22; 5:8-23. Ritual washing marked the person’s entrance into the Community; in addition, there were regular washings for various times or occasions.
  • An eschatological emphasis. Warning of the coming Judgment (or anger/wrath) of God was a significant element in both the Qumran texts and in the preaching of John (according to the Gospels). For the Qumran evidence, see e.g., CD 1:5; 10:9; 1QHa VII.17; XI. 28; XXII.5; 1QpHab i.12; 4Q169 1-2.
  • The importance of repentance. Cf. the Qumran references cited directed above, as well as the self-identification based on the verb bWv (šû») listed earlier above. The related Hebrew word hb*WvT= (t®šû»â) generally corresponds to the Greek meta/noia (Mk 1:4 par, etc).
  • Opposition to Pharisees and other (religious) leaders. This is attested only indirectly in the Qumran texts, such as the pesher (commentary) on Nahum (4QpNah [4Q169] fragments 3-4); cf. also CD 5:13-14; 6:11-14, etc. In the Gospels, note Matt 3:7ff par, and Jn 1:19ff.
  • Fire and Spirit. The Baptist’s saying in Mk 1:8; Matt 3:11 par regarding cleansing/purification by fire and the (holy) Spirit has an interesting parallel, too, in the Community Rule (1QS 4:20-21):
    “the time appointed for Judgment… Then God will refine, with his truth, all men’s deeds, and will purify for himself the structure of man… and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every wicked deed. He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (in order to cleanse him) from all… defilement”

These points of similarity have prompted many commentators to allow at least the possibility that John the Baptist had some contact with the Qumran Community (usually identified, in various ways, with the Essenes). Josephus, according to his own testimony, had spent time with the Essenes, and describes an ascetic figure similar in certain respects to John (Life §§11-12). Moreover, Josephus also refers to the Essene practice of ‘adopting’ children and raising them according to their own teachings and practices (Jewish War 2.120, for more on the Essenes, cf. throughout 2.119-161). If one accepts the biographical details of the Lukan Infancy narrative, John came from a priestly family, and his parents, presumably, would have died when he was quite young. This would have made him a strong candidate, perhaps, for joining the Essenes (and/or the Qumran Community) as a youth. All of these factors make this at least a plausible scenario.


Whether or not John the Baptist had any real contact with the Qumran Community, if he identified himself with Isa 40:3 (cf. Jn 1:23), such as they did, then we are immediately transported beyond a specific Christian interpretation of the passage. At the earliest (historical) level of Gospel tradition, John would have viewed himself as fulfilling the role of the Isaian herald, and, through his preaching and ministry, he was preparing “the Way of the Lord”—that is, preparing God’s people for His end-time appearance and the coming Judgment on humankind. It is important to keep this possibility in mind as we explore the way that the earliest traditions were interpreted and developed within the Gospel heritage.

Translations of the Qumran texts given above (adapted slightly) are from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentino García Martínez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8 & 2000).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 1 (Isa 40:3)

The central element to the portrait of John the Baptist in Gospel tradition is his association with Isaiah 40:3, which, in its original prophetic context, stands at the beginning of the second half of the book of Isaiah (so-called Deutero-Isaiah). It is generally understood to reflect a promise of restoration and return (from exile) for Judah. This is the message of comfort/consolation in verse 1, as well as the “good news” (rC@b^m=) in v. 9a (cf. the recent note on the background of the eu)aggel- word group). The message of the herald in vv. 9ff is preceded by two brief oracles (vv. 3-5, 6-8) which reference a voice (loq) that “cries/calls” out (arq)—the voice of a prophet uttering the word/message given to him by God. Luke’s account is the only one of the Gospels that applies this specific prophetic element to John (Lk 3:2b, cf. also 1:76). The original Hebrew of Isa 40:3, given in literal translation, reads:

“A voice (is) calling (out) in the wide open [i.e. remote/desert] (land): ‘Turn (your) face (to) the way/path of YHWH! Make straight in the (desert) plain a place (to walk) up for our God!'”

The verb hn`P* (p¹nâ), lit. “turn (your) face (to)”, often means “turn your attention to, give attention to”, in the sense of working at or preparing something. The noun Er#D# (derek) is typically translated “way” or “path”, but specifically means something trodden/trampled, i.e. where a person steps or walks. The parallel noun hL*s=m! (mislâ), from the verb lls, refers to a place that has been built or raised up—such as a ramp or staircase, and is often rendered as “highway”. The nouns rB*d=m! (mi¼b¹r) and hb*r*u& (±¦r¹»â) each refer to an open, remote area (i.e. desert, wilderness, pasture-land, etc), but with a slightly different nuance.

The Greek (LXX) translation is reasonably accurate, but interprets the Hebrew somewhat:

fwnh\ bow=nto$ e)n th=| e)rh/mw| e(toima/sate th\n o(do\n kuri/ou eu)qei/a$ poiei=te ta\$ tri/bou$ tou= qeou= h(mw=n
“(The) voice of (one) crying in the desolate (land): ‘(Make) ready the way of the Lord, make straight the broken (track)s of [i.e. for] our God!'”

Several of these differences resulted in making the verse more amenable for being applied to John the Baptist (and Jesus):

  • The opening construction—”voice of (one) crying”—points more directly to a particular person or figure (i.e. John).
  • The Greek word order allows the phrase “in the desert” to be associated with the voice crying (i.e., “voice crying in the desert”), rather than the location of the work (“make ready in the desert”).
  • The conventional rendering of the Divine name YHWH (hwhy, Yahweh) with Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) allowed Christians to interpret the passage as a reference to the coming of Jesus.
  • Instead of the idea of building up a ramp or pathway over the rough ground, the Greek conveys more the sense of smoothing out or leveling the rough places on road, etc., which better suits the image of John’s ministry urging people to repent of their sins.

All three Synoptic Gospels follow the LXX, except for the substitution of au)tou= (“his”) in place of tou= qeou= h(mw=n (“of our God”), which may have been an intentional (Christian) modification; in any case, it helps to make the passage apply to Jesus, rather than God the Father (YHWH).

One may understand the early Christian use and application of Isa 40:3 three ways, or on three distinct levels:

    1. At the historical level—i.e. what John said about himself, or how he was viewed by people at the time
    2. In an eschatological or Messianic sense—John as the herald who prepares people for the coming of God (and His Judgment) at the end-time, and
    3. In relationship to Christ—as the forerunner who prepares people for the appearance of Jesus

It is easy to conflate these and to jump immediately to the specifically Christian (or Christological) interpretation. This, of course, would have been the understanding of the Gospel writers; however, I am not so certain that it properly explains how the association of John with Isa 40:3 came to be established in the Gospel tradition in the first place. This will be discussed further in the next note.

The “Messianic Apocalypse” (4Q521)

For students of the New Testament, and other interested Christians  today, the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran provide many examples which shine a light on the religious world and thought inherited by early Christians from the Judaism of the time. Two texts, in particular, are tantalizing in the mode of Messianic thought expressed, and their possible relation to the understanding of Jesus as the Messiah in the New Testament and early Christian tradition. The first of these texts, which I discuss here in this article, is labeled 4Q521.

The customary title, “Messianic Apocalypse”, was applied by the editor Émile Puech—’Une apocalypse messianique (4Q521), Revue de Qumrân 15 (1992), pp. 475-519—who also prepared the critical edition published in Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) Vol. XXV, 1-38, pls. I-III. The title is rather misleading, though the thrust of the surviving fragments certainly appears to be eschatological and Messianic. The handwriting is recognized as being from the Hasmonean period, and the text itself was likely written at the beginning of the 1st century B.C. (or perhaps late in the 2nd century). Like nearly all of the Qumran texts, 4Q521 is highly fragmentary; the intelligible surviving portions are represented by five principal fragments, of which the most substantial are numbers 2 and 7. Even so, there are many gaps, and no way of knowing (or even guessing) the extent of the work as a whole, nor where precisely these fragments fit into its outline and structure.

Overall, the fragments suggest a work of exhortation and instruction (for members of the Community) in light of coming end-time events. This may be glimpsed in the surviving pieces of fragment 1 (col. 1), where the importance of listening to wisdom/instruction, the need for repentance from sin, remaining in the fear of God and love, etc, appears to be in view. More practical instruction is indicated in fragment 5 (col. 1 + 6): “…do not serve with those [… with] his frie[nd] and with [his] neighbor […] good to you and fortify the [po]wer […] sustenance, the faithful ones will grow…” (transl. García Martínez & Tigchelaar).
Note: in these translations, square brackets indicate reconstructions, square brackets with ellipsis mark lacunae (gaps) in the text.

It is the larger fragment 2 (cols. 2 & 3) which has most intrigued scholars. The surviving portion of column 2 begins (lines 1-2):

“[for the heav]ens and the earth will hear {i.e. listen} to his anointed (one), [and all wh]ich (is) in them will not turn (away) from the commands of his holy (one)s.”

At first glance the use of j^yv!m* (“anointed”) need not refer to anything beyond the priest (or prophet) who instructs the people (i.e. the Community). The plural <yv!odq= (“holy [one]s”) could refer to the Prophets of old, but, more properly, to the faithful ones in Israel, i.e. the members of the Community, who hold to the tox=m! (commands/precepts of the Torah) and teach them to others. The ancient idea of the universe (heavens and earth) obeying God’s word has joined the religious-ethical concept of faithfulness to the Torah (and to the Community)—both are aspects of a single dynamic which is about to come more clearly into view at the end-time. Indeed, the context suggests an eschatological orientation, and that the “anointed (one)” is a Messianic figure who is (about) to appear. This is confirmed by a careful reading of the remainder of the fragment.

Following the exhortation in lines 3-4, the remaining lines (5-14) record a promise of what God will do for his people, inspired by the beginning of the famous oracle in Isaiah 61, blended with a citation of Psalm 146:7-8, and allusions to eschatological/Messianic passages such as Daniel 7. In applying this chain of Scripture passages, it is clear that the “poor” and suffering ones are synonymous with the pious and devout ones (<yd!ys!j&)—the faithful Community in the midst of the wicked and corrupt world. It is they who receive the “good news” proclaimed by the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. Note how these associations are worked out in the wording of the text here:

“For my Lord will consider the devout (one)s and will call the righteous/faithful (one)s by name, and his Spirit will hover upon the poor/afflicted (one)s, and he will renew with his strength the (one)s firm (in trust). For he will give weight to {i.e. honor} the devout (one)s (by putting them) upon the seat of a kingdom unto (the Ages)…” (lines 5-7)

Four different plural nouns are used to describe the people who will be thus blessed by God: (1) <yd!y!sj&, µ¦sîdîm [“devout/faithful ones”], (2) <yq!yd!x~, ƒadîqîm [“righteous/loyal ones”], (3) <yw]n`u&, ±¦n¹wîm [“poor/afflicted ones”], (4) <yn]Wma$, °§mûnîm [“trustworthy ones”]. What follows in lines 8-9 echoes Psalm 146:7-8, referring to the freeing of prisoners, opening eyes, straightening the twisted, etc. Unfortunately there is a gap in line 10, but it indicates an imminent eschatological expectation: God is about to “do weighty (thing)s which have not (yet) been” (line 11). These deeds of deliverance will, it seems, be performed by an Anointed representative, such as is mentioned in line 1, identified with the herald of Isa 61:

“…according to that which he spoke, [for] he will heal the wounded (one)s, and will make (one)s dead to live (again), and will bring (good) news for the poor/afflicted (one)s…” (lines 11-12)

To this, in the badly preserved third column of same fragment, is added an allusion to Malachi 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] and the end-time role of “Elijah” as the Messenger who prepares things for God’s appearance on earth to bring the Judgment (3:1ff). Thus, we find here two key passages—Isa 61:1 and Mal 4:5-6—understood in an eschatological and Messianic sense, referring to the coming Judgment and deliverance of the faithful. The eschatological/Judgment context is even clearer in fragment 7, despite the many gaps in the text; lines 4-15 appear to be a portrait of the Last Judgment, sharing features with apocalyptic works such as 1 Enoch, with its description of the heavenly geography, the role of the Angels, etc.

Isaiah 61:1 and Mal 3:1; 4:5-6 also feature prominently in the Gospel Tradition, relating to the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah). Both passages came to be understood in Jewish tradition as referring to Messianic Prophet figure-types—”Elijah” and the herald of Isa 61. Both figure-types were applied to Jesus in the earliest Gospel tradition, though eventually the role of “Elijah” was seen as being fulfilled by John the Baptist. Jesus identifies himself specifically with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1 in two distinct lines of tradition (Lk 7:22 par [“Q”] and Lk 4:18ff). I discuss these matters in considerable detail in Parts 2 & 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. An especially interesting point in common between the Gospel tradition and 4Q521 is that the Isaian oracle has been adapted to include a reference to raising the dead (line 12, Matt 11:5b par), which, in Jewish tradition, came to be associated particularly with Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24; Sirach 48:5, [11]; m. Sota 9; j. Sheqalim 3:3; Pesikta de R. Kahana 76a). By the end of the 1st century A.D., resurrection came to be connected with the appearance of the Messiah generally (2 Baruch 30:2; 2/4 Esdras 7) [cf. Collins, pp. 119-20].

The Qumran text 4Q521 demonstrates that similar Messianic associations were already being made early in the 1st century B.C., whereby an Anointed figure was expected to appear at the end-time, a divinely-appointed representative who would act on God’s behalf, able to work miracles, control/alter the natural order, and who would bring aid and deliverance to the faithful ones among God’s people.

References above marked “Garcia Martinez & Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).
References marked “Collins” are to John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (Doubleday: 1995).

January 29: Luke 7:22 par

The the previous day’s note, we looked at the Lukan tradition embedded in the episode at Nazareth (4:16-30)—namely, Jesus’ citation of Isaiah 61:1f (vv. 18-19) and his identification with the Anointed (i.e. Messianic) herald of the passage (v. 21). The authenticity of this identification is confirmed by a separate line of tradition: the pericope, or block of tradition, involving Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35 / Matt 11:2-19). This is part of the so-called “Q” material—traditions/sayings shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. The setting of this passage is a question sent to Jesus from John the Baptist, asking:

“Are you the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$], or do we look toward (receiving) another?” (Lk 7:19 par)

The expression o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”) is a kind of Messianic code-word, though one which was largely lost for Christians by the end of the 1st century. I discuss it in some detail in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (soon to be posted here). It is an allusion, primarily, to the oracle in Malachi 3:1ff, possibly drawing upon other passages (such as Psalm 118:26 LXX) as well. John is essentially asking Jesus if he is indeed the Anointed representative of God who is to appear at the end-time. It is the same sort of question asked of the Baptist in Jn 1:19ff (cf. also Lk 3:15ff), to which John, in his response, also makes reference to “one coming” (Lk 3:16 par; Jn 1:27, also vv. 15, 30). The answer which Jesus gives to John in the passage we are examining here (vv. 22f) is essential to an understanding of Jesus’ own Messianic (self-)identity; it is a blending of Isaian passages (e.g. Isa 29:18; 35:5-6), including 61:1:

“Take away a message (back) to Yohanan, (about) the (thing)s which you saw and heard:

      • (the) blind see again
      • (the) crippled walk about
      • (those with) scaly skin [i.e. ‘leprosy’] are cleansed and
      • (those with hearing) cut off [i.e. deaf] hear (again)
      • (the) dead are raised (and)
      • (the) poor are given the good message [eu)aggeli/zontai]”

The first and last of the bulleted items are found in the (LXX) of Isaiah 61:1 (cf. the previous note), and cited by Jesus in Lk 4:18: “…to bring a good message to the poor…to proclaim…seeing again for the blind”. Here this is interpreted in terms of the two-fold (Galilean) ministry of Jesus: (1) teaching/preaching (regarding the Kingdom of God) and (2) working healing miracles, the latter being especially emphasized (v. 21). Thus, as in the Lukan Nazareth episode (cf. the prior note), here Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed figure of Isa 61, adding to it the character of the miracle-working prophet according to the (Messianic) figure-type of Elijah (4:25-27). The identification of Jesus with Elijah is discussed in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (to be posted here). The relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, in terms of Messianic expectation (and various Messianic figure types, cf. Jn 1:19-27, etc), was a vital question for the first believers and the earliest Gospel tradition. However, the importance of the topic soon disappeared from early Christianity, and is scarcely detectable in the New Testament outside of the Gospels.

It is this use of the verb eu)aggeli/zw in Isaiah 61:1, and other deutero-Isaian passages (40:9; 52:7; 60:6, cf. the earlier note) which, I believe, explains its importance for Luke. The verb (middle eu)aggeli/zomai) occurs 10 times in the Lukan Gospel (and another 15 in Acts); by contrast, it is found just once in the other Gospels—and in the same “Q” tradition discussed above (Matt 11:5). There is thus a quite limited, exclusive usage of the verb in the New Testament Gospels:

  • The “Q” saying of Jesus, citing/alluding to Isa 61:1 (par Lk 4:18ff)
  • The centrality of the Isaian passage for Luke, and his frequent use of the verb in both the Gospel and Acts.

As mentioned previously, Luke never once in the Gospel uses the related noun eu)agge/lion, which, by contrast, is central to Mark (1:1, 14-15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9; [16:15]; preserved in four parallel passages in Matthew). Instead, it is the Isaian usage of the verb, with its Messianic/eschatological connotations, which colors the Lukan narrative. Apart from the occurrences in Lk 4:18, 43 and 7:22, it appears seven more times:

  • Four times in relation to the public ministry of Jesus:
    • “And it came to be…(that) he (travel)ed on the way down through (each) city and village, proclaiming and bringing the good message [eu)aggelizo/meno$] of the kingdom of God, and the Twelve with him…” (8:1)
    • “And, going out, they [i.e. the Twelve] went down through the villages bringing the good message [eu)aggelizo/menoi], and healing everywhere” (9:6)
    • “And it came to be…(with) his teaching the people in the sacred place [i.e. Temple] and bringing the good message…” (20:1)
      (Note that all of these passages represent distinctly Lukan composition [narrative summary]; the use of the participle may reflect the usage in LXX Isaiah, cf. the earlier note)
  • Twice in reference to the ministry of John the Baptist (parallel to that of Jesus):
    • (Lukan narration): “also many other (things)s he brought as a good message [eu)hggeli/zeto] to the people, calling (them) alongside” (3:18)
    • (Saying of Jesus): “The Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] (were) until Yohanan; from then (on), the kingdom of God is brought as a good message [i.e. the message of the kingdom of God is announced]…” (16:16; cp. Matt 11:12-1)
  • Twice in the Infancy narrative (both Angelic announcements):
    • “I was se(n)t forth from (God) to speak toward you and to bring you the good message (of) these (thing)s” (1:19)
    • “I bring you a good message of great delight which will be for all the people” (2:10)

Thus, within the Lukan narrative as a whole, three different persons (or groups) function as heralds bringing the “good news”: (1) the Angels (lit. Messengers, a&ggeloi), (2) John the Baptist, and (3) Jesus and his (Twelve) disciples.

In the next note, we will shift away from the Gospels and turn toward the early Apostolic (spec. Pauline) use of the eu)aggel- word group.

January 28: Luke 4:18

In the previous note, I examined the tradition in Mark 1:14-15, with its two-fold use of the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”), specially the saying by Jesus in v. 15. I mentioned that Luke does not include this saying at the corresponding point in the narrative (right after the baptism and temptation), but rather includes something comparable at a slightly later point, by adapting the Synoptic tradition of Mk 1:38-39 (cp. Matt 4:23/9:35):

“Let us lead [i.e. go] away from (here) into (all) the (places) holding village-towns, so that there also I might proclaim (the message); for unto this [i.e. for this reason] I came out. And he went proclaiming…” (Mk 1:38f)

“It is necessary for me also to bring the good message of the kingdom of God to the other cities, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is) upon this [i.e. for this reason] (that) I am se(n)t forth. And he was proclaiming…” (Lk 4:43f)

For the expression “good message of the kingdom of God”, Matthew has the similar “good message of the Kingdom” (4:23/9:35). Luke has transferred mention of the “good message” to this later point because he wishes to use the episode in the Nazareth synagogue to introduce Jesus’ public ministry. Otherwise, it is clear that he is working from the same Synoptic narrative outline:

We can see again how the tradition has been adapted to prepare for the Nazareth scene:

“…Yeshua came into the Galîl, proclaiming…” (Mk 1:14) “and…coming into the synagogue he taught” (Mk 1:20)

“And Yeshua turned back in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl… and he taught in the synagogues…” (Lk 4:14-15)

By moving the reference to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue to a slightly earlier point in the narrative, it prepares the reader for his appearance in the Nazareth synagogue (4:16-30).

Luke 4:18

All three Synoptic Gospels record the episode at Nazareth, but the narrative is much briefer in Mark-Matthew (Mk 6:1-6; Matt 13:54-58) and is set at a later chronological position in the narrative outline. The Lukan account is much more expansive and detailed, including the quotation by Jesus of Isaiah 61:1-2. These differences have led many critical commentators to question the historical authenticity of the Lukan version. I discuss this episode, and the historical-critical question, in some detail in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (soon to be posted here), and I do not intend to go over the matter in these notes. It is certainly clear that, for the author (trad. Luke), the citation of Isaiah 61:1f on the lips of Jesus is central to the episode, effectively taking the place of the declaration in Mk 1:15.

Let us consider the verse from Isaiah—the opening words of the oracle in chapter 61—quoted by Jesus; first, a rendering of the Hebrew [MT] and Greek [LXX] side by side:

“The Spirit of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me,
because he (has) anointed me,
he sent me to bring (good) news (for the) oppressed,
to wrap tight the broken of heart,
to call (out) freedom for the (one)s taken captive,
and opening wide for the (one)s bound (in prison),
to call a year of pleasure for YHWH,
and a day of vengeance for our God,
to sigh deeply (with) all the (one)s (who) mourn”
“The Spirit of the Lord (is) upon me,
on account of which he anointed me to give a good message to the poor,
he has se(n)t me forth to heal the (one)s crushed together in the heart,
to proclaim release to the (one)s taken at spear-point [i.e. captive],
and seeing again for the blind,
to call a year received (favorably) by the Lord,
a day of giving out in exchange (for what was done),
to call alongside all the (one)s mourning”

The citation in Luke 4:18-19 does not match either the LXX nor any known Hebrew text, and appears to be an adaptation, presumably by the author. It generally follows the LXX, especially in the reference to the blind seeing again (tufloi=$ a)na/bleyin), which appears to reflect a misunderstanding of the Hebrew idiom j^oqÁhq^P=, an emphatic (doubled) form, “opening (the eyes?) wide” in the sense of being freed from bondage (i.e. from prison). The LXX reading (shared by Luke) could also indicate a variant underlying Hebrew, e.g. <yr!w+u! (“blind”) instead of <yr!Wsa& (“bound”). Certainly the idea of the blind seeing again was well suited to the miracles performed by Jesus during his ministry.

Regardless of the textual differences overall, the portion marked in bold above is what is most important for our study here. The Hebrew [MT] reads:

yn]j^l*v= <yw]n`u& rV@b^l= yt!a) hw`hy+ jv^m*
“…YHWH anointed me, he sent me to bring (good) news (for) the oppressed”

Compare the LXX:

e&xrise/n me eu)aggeli/sasqai ptwxoi=$ a)pe/stalken
“…anointed me to bring a good message to the poor, he has sent me…”

Two ideas are brought together: (1) anointing + (2) proclaiming good news; the Greek phrasing of the LXX/Luke puts these even more closely in context—i.e., the anointing is for the (primary) purpose of bringing/proclaiming the good news: “(he) anointed me to bring the good message” (e&xrise/n me eu)aggeli/sasqai). On the lips of Jesus, this is the Lukan version of the tradition in Mk 1:14-15; note:

    • The Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jesus (at the Baptism), Mk 1:10/Lk 3:22 (also Lk 4:1, 14), which functions as a kind of anointing (allusion to Ps 2, cf. Lk 3:22 v.l.).
    • Jesus proclaims the “good message” (Mk 1:14-15)

For Luke, presenting this in terms of Isa 61:1ff is most important, as he records Jesus identifying himself specifically with the anointed figure of the passage (v. 21). In some ways this is parallel with the initial words of Jesus in Mk 1:15:

    • “the time has been fulfilled [peplh/rwtai]” (Mk 1:15)
    • “this Writing has been fulfilled [peplh/rwtai]” (Lk 4:21)

The emphasis of the first declaration is eschatological, the emphasis of the second is prophetic, and, one may say, Messianic—Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed herald of the Isaian oracle. We know, on objective grounds, that this identification cannot be a Lukan creation, since it is preserved in a separate line of tradition, part of the so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but absent from Mark). We will examine this in the next daily note.

January 24: Word study on “Gospel”

This note begins a short series of daily notes on the word eu)agge/lion (“good message”, often rendered as “gospel” from the [Old] English). I discussed the basic meaning of this word (and the English “gospel”) in a previous article. Here I wish to begin with a brief examination of two areas of usage which influenced the New Testament and early Christian thought:

    1. The occurrence of the related verb eu)aggeli/zw (eu)aggeli/zomai) in the Septuagint, especially key passages in the book of Isaiah.
    2. The use of both verb and noun in connection with the Roman Empire and the Imperial Cult.

As mentioned previously, the (neuter) noun eu)agge/lion occurs just once in the Greek LXX version of the Old Testament (2 Sam 4:10); the related (feminine) noun eu)aggeli/a occurs 5 times (2 Sam 18:20, 22, 25, 27; 2 Kings 7:9). Both nouns translate the (six) occurrences of the Hebrew hr*c)B= (from rc^B*, “bring [good] news”). The noun eu)aggeli/a is used in the context of (good) news regarding the outcome of battle or deliverance from the enemy. The noun eu)agge/lion (in the plural, [ta] eu)agge/lia) is properly used for the reward given to the messenger for the delivery of good news; indeed, this seems to be the primary original meaning of eu)agge/lion in Greek. This is common (secular) usage; there is no specifically religious connotation for these nouns in the LXX.

The situation is a bit different for the related verb eu)aggeli/zw (“bring/proclaim a good message”), which occurs more often (23 times) in the LXX, and is used to render the similar Hebrew verb rc^B* (“bring [good] news”, see above). In the historical books, the context is generally the same as for the nouns eu)aggeli/a/eu)agge/lion—it refers to a messenger who gives news regarding the outcome of battle, or other significant public event (1 Sam 31:9; 2 Sam 1:20; 4:10; 18:19-20, 31; 1 Ki 1:42; 1 Chr 10:9). From the ancient Israelite standpoint, God (YHWH) is responsible for deliverance from the enemy, etc (cf. Psalm 40:9; 68:11 [LXX 39:10; 67:12])—the reason for the good news—but there is not really a religious meaning for the verb per se.

In the Prophetic oracles, and subsequent writings, the verb rc^B*/eu)aggeli/zw comes to take on a deeper theological significance. In Jeremiah 51:10 [LXX A 28:10] and Joel 2:32 [LXX 3:5], eu)aggeli/zw is used in the more general sense of God’s deliverance of his people, and where there may be seen something of the eschatological context of the end-time Judgment or Day of YHWH; in neither instance is the underlying Hebrew rc^B* present. More important are several key passages in (Deutero-)Isaiah, where rc^B*/eu)aggeli/zw are used; as each was influential on early Christian thought and expression it is worth looking at each of these in a bit of detail.

Isaiah 40:9

“Go (take) you(rself) up upon the mountain-height, ‚iyyôn {Zion}, (the one) bringing (good) news [tr#C#b^m=];
your voice bringing (good) news [tr#C#b^m=], Yerûšalaim {Jerusalem}, lift (it) high!
You shall not be afraid! say to (the) cities of Yehûdah {Judah}, ‘See—your God!'”

The LXX renders the Hebrew quite closely:

“Step up upon a high mountain, ‚iyyôn {Zion}, the one bringing (the) good message [o( eu)aggelizo/meno$];
lift your voice high with strength, Yerûšalaim {Jerusalem}, the one bringing (the) good message [o( eu)aggelizo/meno$] !
Lift (it) high, do not fear! Say to the cities of cities of Yehûdah {Judah}, ‘See—your God!'”

The oracle in Isa 40:1-5 had a profound effect on early Christianity, almost certainly recognized already by John the Baptist and Jesus himself as a Messianic prophecy; it was central to the early Gospel tradition (Mk 1:2-3 par; John 1:23, etc). The pairing of Isa 40:3 with Mal 3:1ff (as Messianic passages) likely goes back to Jewish tradition in the 1st centuries B.C./A.D., and was present in the earliest/formative Christian thought. It would be no surprise if the verses which follow (vv. 6-11ff), including the use of rc^B*/eu)aggeli/zw in verse 9, had a similar effect and influenced the idea of the “good message” (eu)agge/lion) of Christ. Note the emphasis here on the messenger, with the (substantive) participle—”the one bringing good news” (o( eu)agelizo/meno$/rC@b^m=).

Isaiah 52:7

“How they are fine upon the mountains,
the feet of (one) bringing (good) news [rC@b^m=],
causing (them to) hear (news of their) welfare,
(indeed) bringing good news [bwf rC@b^m=],
causing (them to) hear (the news of) salvation,
saying to ‚iyyôn {Zion}, ‘Your God (rul)es as King!'”

The general similarity with 40:9 (above) should be readily apparent, even in translation. Again, the LXX follows the Hebrew rather closely:

“How fitting (the moment) as (they are) upon the mountains,
the feet of (one) bringing (the) good message [eu)aggelizome/nou],
causing (them) to hear (of) peace,
bringing (the) message of good (thing)s [eu)aggelizo/meno$ a)gaqa/],
causing (them) to hear that ‘I will make your salvation’,
saying to ‚iyyôn {Zion}, ‘Your God (rul)es as King!'”

Again, the use of the participle emphasizes the messenger (his feet, etc). Paul cites it, appropriately, in Romans 10:15 referring to missionaries such as himself, as preachers of the Gospel. At the time of the New Testament, Isa 52:7-10 was one of a number of (Deutero-)Isaian oracles which were understood in a Messianic (eschatological) light. For early Christians, the Gospel message was, fundamentally, both Messianic and eschatological—the person and work of Jesus marking the end of the current Age and the beginning of the New. This is seen clearly enough in the early tradition that opens the Synoptic narrative, regarding the proclamation by John the Baptist, picked up by Jesus following his Baptism. In Luke’s version (3:4-6), Isa 52:10 is combined with 40:3-5—the very two passages under discussion here which utilize the verb eu)aggeli/zw.

Isaiah 60:6

“…and shoutings (of joy) they will bring (as good) news [WrC@b^y+]”

Isa 60:1-6ff is an oracle announcing the future/end-time deliverance of God’s people, which will entail both the restoration of Israel and the conversion/submission of the Nations—two Messianic and eschatological themes which had an enormous influence on early Christian thought, especially once the mission to the Gentiles began in earnest. Verses 5-7 speak of the “wealth of the nations” which will come to God’s people (in Jerusalem), illustrated by the concrete image of the surrounding peoples (from Midian and Sinai/Arabia) bringing gifts in caravan trains (of camels), including gold and incense. Most probably, verse 6 (together with Psalm 72:10) influenced the Matthean Infancy narrative (2:1-11), as a Messianic prophecy which could be applied to Jesus even at the time of his birth.

Interestingly, the Septuagint reads rather differently, and may reflect a variant or corrupt text; however, the result is a reading which even more fits the idea of the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ:

“…and they will bring (the) good message [eu)aggeliou=ntai] (of) the salvation of the Lord.” (LXX)

Also worth mentioning is Isa 41:27, which has the verb rc^B*:

“First to Zion, ‘See! see them (here)!’—and to Jerusalem I will give (one) bringing (good) news [rC@b^m=]”

The first portion of the verse is textually uncertain and obscure; in any event, the LXX renders both portions rather differently:

“I will give a chief/ruler [or authority/rule, a)rxh] to Zion, and I will call Jerusalem alongside [parakale/sw, i.e. give help] into/onto the way.”

The famous passage in Isaiah 61:1ff will be considered in the upcoming note on Jesus’ declaration in Mark 1:15 par.

The second area of study—the use of eu)aggel- word group in reference to the Roman Emperor and the Imperial cult—will be discussed in the next note.