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 27: Mark 1:14-15

The first occurrence of the noun eu)agge/lion in the Gospel of Mark is found in the opening words of Mk 1:1, which function as a title for the work as a whole (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The next occurrence is in the fundamental tradition of 1:14-15—an early tradition which is central to the core Synoptic narrative, and, in the form which we have it, likely pre-dates the Markan Gospel by a number of years. It preserves a very simple form: (a) narrative introduction/summary, followed by (b) a saying of Jesus. This is the basic building-block structure for the Gospel narrative as a whole, only here the block of tradition consists of a single declaration by Jesus. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs in both portions, the first (narrative) perhaps being the result of the second (Jesus saying). Here is the Markan form of the tradition as a whole:

  • Narrative introduction/summary (v. 14):
    “And, with Yohanan being given along (into custody), Yeshua came into the Galîl, proclaiming the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] of God[, and saying]”
  • Saying by Jesus (v. 15):
    “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near—change your mind [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!”

This is clearly a rather different meaning of eu)agge/lion than we found in verse 1 (cf. the previous note), where it referred to the comprehensive message regarding the person and work of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel narrative. The meaning can be discerned at three distinct levels: (i) the historical saying (of Jesus), (ii) the saying as transmitted by the earliest Christians, and (iii) in the literary context of the Markan Gospel. Some critical commentators have expressed doubt as to the authenticity of the saying, at least in terms of the use of the noun eu)agge/lion, since it otherwise seems to have a developed Christian meaning, both in Mark and the remainder of the New Testament. However, while that may be true of other Markan passages, it does not appear to be the case here. If we consider the context of the tradition closely, the “good message” would seem to be the eschatological announcement that “the kingdom of God has come near”. That this is the essential content of the message, is, I think, confirmed by the chiastic bracketing in vv. 14-15:

    • “the good message of God”
      • “the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near
    • “…trust in the good message”

This eschatological message, with its twin announcement of judgment and deliverance, is fully rooted in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, and follows the tone and spirit of John the Baptist’s preaching. That the Baptist tradition(s) recorded in the Gospels are fundamentally authentic, on entirely objective grounds, is reasonably well established. I discuss this in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (soon to be posted here). That Jesus’ declaration is eschatological is all but certain from the wording (“the time has been fulfilled”), especially the use of the verb e)ggi/zw in the perfect (h&ggiken, “has come near”). I would maintain strongly that Jesus’ words here are in accord with traditional Jewish eschatology (and Messianic thought) of the period. The message may be summarized as follows: God is about to appear to bring Judgment upon humankind (the wicked/nations) and to rescue/deliver (the faithful ones of) his people from this current evil Age. In so doing, God establishes his Kingdom—his authority and rule over the earth and all humankind—and ushers in the New Age. There is here no trace of any specifically Christian content in the message, that is, no reference to Jesus’ own person and work. This fact, in my view (and on objective grounds), confirms the essentially authenticity of the saying.

At the historical level, Jesus likely would have done most, if not all, of his preaching and teaching in Aramaic. If the Greek of Mark 1:15 is an accurate rendering of Jesus’ words (in Aramaic), then the Greek noun eu)agge/lion may correspond to the Aramaic cognate of the Hebrew hr*c)B= (b®´œrâ), from the root verb rc^B*, “bring (good) news” (cf. the earlier note). The Palestinian Aramaic at*r=ocB= (“the [good] news”), which is the equivalent of to\ eu)agge/lion, is found, for example, in the M§gillat Ta±¦nît text (late 1st century A.D.?): “…on the 28th (day), (good) news came to the Yehudeans” (cf. Fitzmyer-Harrington, pp. 186-7). There is no reason why Jesus might not have used such language, given the Scriptural prophetic/eschatological connotation of rcb, though this is better attested for the verb than the related noun hr*c)B=.

If we wish to learn what Jesus understood his own role to be in regard to this “good news”, we must turn to a different line of early tradition, one involving the key passage of Isaiah 61:1ff. This we will do in the next daily note. However, before proceeding, it is worth considering how the Synoptic tradition in Mark 1:14-15 was preserved in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew includes the saying of Jesus, but only in its central portion, omitting mention of the “good message”:

“Change your mind [i.e. repent]! For the kingdom of the heavens has come near!” (Matt 4:17)

The expression “kingdom of the heavens”, in place of “kingdom of God”, is a feature unique to the Matthean Gospel. A narrative summary, roughly equivalent to that in Mk 1:14, occurs in a different position in Matthew, with developed features, most notable the expression “good message of the Kingdom” (eu)agge/lion th=$ basilei/a$). This occurs in Matt 4:23, and is repeated in 9:35 (cp. Mk 1:39). Luke does not record the saying of Jesus at the corresponding point in his narrative, though a similar declaration is made a bit later on, in 4:43:

“It is necessary for me to bring the good message [eu)aggeli/sasqai] of the kingdom of God to the other cities…”

Verse 44 is a short narrative summary (similar to Matt 4:23), and it would seem that Luke has blended the tradition from Mk 1:14-15 together with that of 1:38-39. The expression “the good message of the kingdom of God” is more precise than the Matthean “good message of the Kingdom”, and more closely encapsulates the saying in Mk 1:15. Two points, however, must be noted which are vital for a proper understanding of the Lukan saying:

  • In place of the Mk 1:15 tradition, Luke has included the episode at the synagogue in Nazareth, so that the first recorded words from Jesus’ ministry are a citation from Isaiah 61:1
  • Instead of the noun eu)agge/lion, Luke uses the verb eu)aggeli/zomai

It is conceivable, perhaps even likely, that Luke, in the 4:43 saying, preserves the more authentic phrasing by Jesus, utilizing the verb eu)aggeli/zw (Heb/Aram rc^B*). The key, I believe, is in Jesus’ own use of the Isaiah 61 passage. We will look at this more closely in the next daily note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer-Harrington” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Daniel J. Harrington, A Manual of Palestinian Aramaic Texts, Biblica et Orientalia 34 (Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Rome: 1978/1994).

Gospel: Meaning and Background of the word

I am beginning a series of daily notes dealing with the word eu)agge/lion (euangélion) and the eu)aggel- word group in the New Testament and early Christianity. This series will lead into various notes and articles dealing with the ministry of Jesus and the related Gospel Tradition, to be posted in the time prior to the Lenten/Easter season. The very word “gospel” is central to any study of this Tradition—it features prominently in Jesus’ first recorded words in the core Synoptic tradition, and, indeed, introduces the Markan Gospel itself:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mk 1:1)
“The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near—repent and trust in the gospel” (Mk 1:13)

Let us begin with this English word “gospel”. It is a Germanic word, existing in Old English as gœdspel, meaning good (gœd) speech (spel), i.e. a good talk or telling (tale). As such, it corresponds reasonably well with the Greek word eu)agge/lion. The close correspondence between gœd and the word which came to express the idea of deity (god) was fortuitous, as it allowed for a bit of wordplay so that “godspel/gospel” could be understood as “talk/speech of/about God”.

English godspel/gospel would have been used to translate the Greek eu)agge/lion, already in the Old English/Saxon versions. Let us now consider this Greek term. Actually, there are three closely related words (or forms): the feminine noun eu)aggeli/a (euangelía), the neuter noun eu)agge/lion (euangélion), and the plural form of the latter, eu)agge/lia (euangélia). There is also the related verb eu)aggeli/zw (euangelízœ). These form the primary eu)aggel- word group.

The noun eu)aggeli/a is made up of two components: the noun a)ggeli/a (angelía) and the prefixed eu@ (eu), an adverb meaning “good, well”. The noun a)ggeli/a and the related verb a)gge/llw are part of an a)ggel- word group with the fundamental meaning “tell, declare, proclaim” (TDNT 1:56-57ff). The word a)ggeli/a refers to what is told or proclaimed, i.e. the message. Thus, eu)aggeli/a essentially means a good message, often rendered in English as “good news”. The neuter eu)agge/lion refers primarily to the response to a good message, i.e. a reward or offering of thanks, etc; it is thus fundamentally tied to both the messenger and the content/effect of the message. The plural form of eu)agge/lion ([ta] eu)agge/lia) is rather more common in Greek (though not in the New Testament!). The messenger (a&ggelo$, ángelos) is primary, and the one who brings the good message or tidings is called eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger [of] good [news]”). Interestingly, this noun does not occur in the New Testament; instead, we find eu)aggelisth/$, from the verb eu)aggeli/zw, i.e. “one who brings/proclaims the good message”.

When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the noun eu)aggeli/a was used to render hr*c)B= (b®´œrâ), which occurs 6 times in the Old Testament (2 Sam 4:10; 18:20, 22, 25, 27; 2 Kings 7:9); eu)aggeli/a renders it in all but one instance (2 Sam 4:10), where the neuter eu)agge/lion (plural) is used instead. The Hebrew noun is derived from the root rc^B*, a relatively common Semitic verb meaning “bring (good) news”. The verb is more frequent in the Old Testament (24 times), often used in a military context (reporting on the outcome of a battle, etc), or for other important events (such as the birth of a son). It is nearly always translated in Greek by eu)aggeli/zw (“give/bring a [good] message”), which occurs 23 times in the LXX (the middle form eu)aggeli/zomai being more common by the time of the New Testament). This Old Testament usage, and its influence on the New Testament and early Christian expression, will be discussed in the notes.

Largely due to the Christian usage, the Greek eu)agge/lion was borrowed in Latin as evangelium, and it is this Latinized form which made its way into English and our evangel word group, which has been used almost exclusively in a Christian context. The word “evangelism” is related to “evangelist” (properly from the Greek eu)aggelisth/$, euangelist¢¡s), and refers to preaching/proclaiming the Gospel. The word “evangelical” means “belonging, or related to, the Gospel”; unfortunately, this meaning has become somewhat distorted today, and often refers more to socio-political identity than to the Gospel message. The modern-day usage of “evangelical” ultimately stems from the Protestant Reformation, where it was essentially synonymous with “Protestant” and “Reformed”, and quickly took on partisan religious (and political) connotations. In the late-19th and 20th centuries, especially in America, it came to refer to a particular idea of mainstream (traditional-conservative) Protestant Christianity (and Christian identity). Currently, however, as noted above, it often connotes socio-political conservatism as much as anything to do with historical Christianity.