Notes on Prayer: Luke 11:1-13

As we continue this survey of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, having already explored the core Synoptic traditions, as well as the passages and references unique to the Gospel of Matthew, we now turn to the Gospel of Luke. In considering the Lukan evidence, one is first struck by the emphasis given to prayer as a detail in the narrative, where it is mentioned, by the author (trad. Luke), quite apart from any specific traditions he has inherited. This will be touched on further in a future study on prayer in the book of Acts, but here it suffices to point out how this emphasis on prayer is expressed in the Gospel narrative.

First, prayer is associated with the Temple at several key points in the Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2). The angelic appearance to Zechariah in the opening episode takes place, in the Temple sanctuary, at a time when people are praying in the precincts, coinciding with the evening (afternoon) sacrifice and the offering of incense (1:10). This is the same public “hour of prayer” which serves as the narrative setting in Acts 3:1ff. Moreover, the angel’s visitation is said to be in response to Zechariah’s own prayer to God (1:13). In a later episode, we read of the aged prophetess Anna, that she was regularly in the Temple precincts (2:37), doing service to God with fasting and prayer (de/hsi$, request, petition, supplication). These details are important in establishing the idea of the Temple as a place for worship, prayer, and teaching—rather than for cultic ritual and sacrificial offerings (see also 18:10ff). While this is part of the wider Synoptic tradition (cf. the discussion in Parts 6 and 7 of “Jesus and the Law”), it is given special emphasis in Luke-Acts, where the early believers in Jerusalem are portrayed as continuing to frequent the Temple (24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:20ff, 42; cf. also the article on “The Law in Luke-Acts”). This new, purified role and purpose for the Temple (in the New Covenant) provides a point of contact between early Christianity and the finest elements of Israelite/Jewish religion in the Old Covenant (as represented by the figures of Zechariah/Elizabeth, Joseph/Mary, and Simeon/Anna in the Infancy narratives).

Second, the Lukan Gospel provides a number of introductory/summary narrative statements which include the detail that Jesus was engaged in prayer, indicating that it was typical of his practice during the period of his ministry. The pattern of these notices, while again related to the wider Gospel tradition, is distinctively Lukan:

    • Lk 3:21—Of all the Gospel descriptions of the Baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:9-11 par), only Luke includes the detail that Jesus was praying when the Spirit descends, etc:
      “And it came to be, in the dunking of all the people, and Yeshua also being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and (at) the opening up of the heaven…”
    • Lk 5:16—Curiously, in 4:42f which is parallel to the Synoptic Mk 1:35ff there is no mention of Jesus praying; this detail is given separately, at 5:16, following the call of the disciples and cleansing of the Leper (par Mk 1:16-20, 40-45):
      “and he was making space (for himself) down under in the desolate places, and (was) speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying]”
    • Lk 6:12—Only Luke mentions Jesus praying on the mountain at the time of his selecting the Twelve disciples/apostles (Mk 3:13ff par):
      “And it came to be in those days, with his going out onto the mountain to speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], he was spending (time all) through the night in th(is) speaking out toward God.”
    • Lk 9:18—Again it is only Luke who mentions Jesus in prayer prior to his question to the disciples regarding his identity (Mk 9:27ff par):
      “And it came to be, in his being down alone speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], his learners [i.e. disciples] were (there) with him and…”
    • Lk 9:28-29—Similarly, in the Transfiguration episode (Mk 9:2-8 par), Luke is alone in stating that the purpose in going up on the mountain was to pray:
      “And it came to be, as if [i.e. about] eight days after these sayings, [and] (with) his taking along (the) Rock {Peter} and Yohanan and Ya’aqob, he stepped up onto the mountain to speak out toward God [i.e. pray]. And it came to be, in his speaking out toward (God)…”
      As in the Baptism narrative, the divine manifestation (and voice) comes after Jesus has been praying.
    • Lk 11:1—The narrative introduction prior to Jesus’ teaching on prayer (cf. below).

Luke 11:1-13

The major section in the Lukan Gospel dealing with Jesus’ teaching on prayer is 11:1-13. It includes the famous Lord’s Prayer, which I discussed in detail in earlier notes in this series. I will not repeat that study here, but will make mention of place of the Lord’s Prayer in the section of the Gospel as we have it. This may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction, with a request by the disciples (v. 1)
    • The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 2-4)
    • A Parable illustrating the need for boldness in prayer (vv. 5-8)
    • Additional sayings on prayer [Q material] (vv. 9-13)

The narrative introduction is entirely Lukan in style and vocabulary; moreover, it evinces an interest in prayer (and the background detail of Jesus engaged in prayer) that is distinct to Luke among the Synoptics (cp. the passages noted above).

Verse 1

“And it came to be, in his being in a certain place (and) speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], as he ceased [i.e. finished], one of his learners [i.e. disciples] said to him, ‘Lord, teach us (how) to speak out toward (God), even as Yohanan also taught his learners’.”

In spite of the Lukan syntax and specific prayer-emphasis, there is an important matrix of traditional Gospel elements here in this narrative summary:

    • Jesus in the (regular) act of prayer (see above)
    • His disciples observing him, wishing to follow his example (i.e. to pray like he does)
    • The significance of disciples following the pattern of religious behavior established by their master is emphasized by mention of John the Baptist
    • The reference to John the Baptist teaching his disciples how to pray (cf. 5:33 par) indicates the importance of (a certain manner of) prayer within Jewish tradition

This positioning of prayer within the wider Jewish (religious) tradition, is comparable to the teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15 (cf. the previous study), which also contains a version of the Lord’s Prayer. While Jesus’ instruction on prayer generally continues the Jewish tradition—indeed, there is very little that is distinctively ‘Christian’ in the Lord’s Prayer, etc—he gives to it a number of different points of emphasis and interpretation. This was perhaps more clearly evident in the Matthean teachings (in the Sermon on the Mount), but it is very much at work in this Lukan passage as well.

Verses 2-4

(On the Lord’s Prayer, consult the notes, for both the Matthean and Lukan versions, previously posted as part of this Notes on Prayer series.)

Verses 5-8

This parable is unique to Luke’s Gospel (so-called “L” material). It may well have been told on a separate occasion originally, and included here by way of the thematic association (prayer); either way, in its Lukan context, it serves to illustrate further the disciples’ request on how they should pray. If the Lord’s Prayer presented the proper form and content of prayer, this parable in vv. 5-8 stresses the need for boldness in prayer, regardless of the circumstances. Several points or details in this parable are worth noting:

    • The characters involved are not strangers, but friends—people dear (fi/lo$) to each other, at least to some extent (v. 5, 8)
    • The person making the request does not do so for himself (cp. the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, v. 3), but on behalf of another friend (v. 6)
    • The request is made at an inopportune time (“the middle of the night”), otherwise there would be no problem in meeting the request; moreover, the house is locked up and everyone is in bed (v. 7)
    • Commentators question the significance of the scenario depicted in verse 7, especially the householder’s statement to his friend that “I am not able, standing up (out of bed), to give (anything) to you”; how would this relate to God the Father? The details of the parable should not be pressed so far; it functions as a qal wahomer illustration—if a human being will respond this way, how much more so will God do so for his friends!

In verse 8, Jesus brings out the point of his illustration:

“I relate to you, if he will not even give to him, standing up (to do so), through being [i.e. because he is] his dear (friend), yet through his lack of respect [a)nai/deia], rising he will give to him as (many thing)s as he needs.”

The key word is a)nai/deia, which I translated as “lack of respect”, but it could be rendered even more forcefully as “(being) without shame, shameless(ness)”. Respect for the time and situation ought to have prompted the person making the request to wait until a more appropriate time (i.e. in the morning), yet he went ahead, regardless of the situation, and woke up is friend in the middle of the night to make his request—which, one might add, was not particularly urgent. Thus, contrary to the way this parable is portrayed by many commentators, the stress is not on persistence in prayer (cp. with 18:1-8), but, rather on boldness—or, perhaps, better, that we should be willing to make our request to God without concern for the situation or what people would consider proper. This is surely to be regarded as an aspect of faith in prayer. We ought never to imagine that God is too ‘busy’ or that it might be better to wait until a more opportune moment; rather, when there is a need at hand, we should make our request boldly, at that very moment.

Verses 9-13

The sayings on prayer in these verses have their parallel in Matthew (Sermon on the Mount, 7:7-11), and thus are part of the so-called “Q” material common to both Gospels. Despite the difference in location, these sayings almost certainly stem from a single historical tradition, though, possibly, they may represent separate sayings combined (by theme) at a very early point in the collection of Gospel traditions. I tend to think that, in this particular instance, they were probably spoken together by Jesus.

The saying in vv. 9-10 corresponds with Matt 7:7-8:

“(You must) ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened up for you; for everyone asking receives, and the one seeking finds, and for the one knocking it [will be] opened up.”

The two versions are identical; the only difference being whether the final verb in Luke’s version is present (“it is opened up”) or future (“it will be opened up”, as in Matthew). The message is clear enough: God will answer those who pray to him. The three-fold idiom only emphasizing this point. God’s faithfulness in responding to prayer is further indicated through the illustration in vv. 11-12 (= Matt 7:9-10):

“And for what (one) out of you will the son ask the father (for) a fish and, in exchange for a fish, will give over a snake? or also—will he ask (for) an egg, and (the father) will give over a stinging (creature) [i.e. scorpion] (instead)?”

Here the emphasis is on a father giving a son what he needs (and would naturally ask for), i.e. food and sustenance (cp. the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, v. 3). The point is driven home through exaggeration—the father not only not giving the son what he needs, but giving what is actually harmful (and deadly) for him! Clearly, no human father would behave this way; most would genuinely wish to give their children what they need and request (much like the friend in the previous parable). In Matthew’s version the illustration is a bit different, though the basic point is certainly the same; the first comparison is a rock instead of bread, while the second is the same as the first Lukan comparison (a snake instead of a fish).

In verse 13 (Matt 7:11), Jesus explains the illustration in vv. 11-12 (as if the explanation and application were not obvious enough). It is here that the Lukan version differs most significantly from the Matthean; I give Matthew’s version first:

“So if you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will your Father in the heavens give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him!”

Here the emphasis is on God giving “good (thing)s” (a)gaqa/), or “good gifts” (do/mata a)gaqa/), in a general sense. God will answer requests in prayer, by giving people what they need and which is truly beneficial for them. The Lukan version follows the Matthean rather closely, but there are a couple of key differences (points of difference indicated by italics):

“So if you, beginning under (as) evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will your Father out of heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him!”

It is worth considering each of these points of difference:

1. For the descriptive participle, Luke uses the verb u(pa/rxw (u(pa/rxonte$) instead of the verb of being ei)mi (o&nte$). It is possible that u(pa/rxw was used to soften the implication that the disciples of Jesus were called “evil” (ponhro/$). Literally, the verb means “begin under”, i.e. begin under a particular situation or condition, etc. Frequently it was used in an existential sense, of a person (or thing) coming into being, or for an existing condition, etc. As such, the verb could also be used, loosely, as an equivalent for the ordinary verb of being. Luke appears to have been particularly fond it, as more than half of the New Testament occurrences (31 out of 46) are in Luke-Acts (7 in the Gospel, 24 in Acts). Possibly the use here may relate to the idea of the disciples as human beings (who, generally speaking, are “evil”), without implying that they, specifically, are evil in character.

2. The description of God the Father in Luke’s version is “out of heaven” (e)c ou)ranou=), while in Matthew it the more proper title “the (One) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). This latter title is virtually unique to Matthew’s Gospel (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:21, etc), and, as such, likely reflects the distinctive Matthean vocabulary and style (nearly half of all NT occurrences of the expression “in the heavens [pl.]” are in Matthew). If the wording were characteristic of the wider Gospel tradition (in Greek) of Jesus’ sayings, we would expect to see more evidence of it in the other Gospels (it is found elsewhere only at Mk 11:25).

While it is possible that the expression in the Lukan version (“out of heaven”, e)c ou)ranou=) reflects a stylistic difference (in Greek), it seems much more likely that it is meant to stress that the “good gifts” God the Father gives to Jesus’ disciples (believers) come from out of heaven. The manuscript tradition shows some uncertainty in this regard, with some key witnesses including a definite article (Ë75 a L 33), and others not. The presence of a definite article would indicate that the expression should be understood as a title (as in Matthew), i.e. “the Father the (One giving) out of Heaven”, or, perhaps even o( path\r o( as an abbreviation for “the Father the (One in Heaven)”. The lack of a definite article would best be understood as the source/origin for the Holy Spirit—the Father gives the Spirit from out of Heaven.

3. Most notably, Luke’s version makes specific (“[the] holy Spirit”) what is general in Matthew’s version (“good [thing]s”). If both sayings stem from a single historical tradition, as seems likely, it is hard to see how they both could accurately reflect what Jesus said (at the same time). Most critical commentators would regard the Lukan version as an interpretive or explanatory gloss (by the author), reflecting the idea of the Holy Spirit as the “gift” (do/ma) sent by the Father (Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17; Lk 24:49; cf. also John 4:10), and which, in turn, is the source of all (spiritual) “gifts” for believers (1 Cor 12; 14:1ff, etc). The Lukan evidence (from Acts), in particular, is strong confirmation for the critical view. This does not necessarily contradict a sound view of the Gospel’s inspiration, since it is simple enough to consider the Lukan version here as preserving an inspired interpretation of Jesus’ original words. Many similar such examples could be cited, both in Luke and elsewhere.

This emphasis on the Holy Spirit is significant for Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, in a number of ways:

    • It signifies the climax of this teaching—i.e., for the disciples of Jesus who remain faithful, and continue in prayer, following Jesus’ example and instruction, the end result will be the gift of the Spirit.
    • Ultimately, it is the Spirit (of God and Christ) that should be the focus of our prayer, i.e. it is the Spirit (its power, manifestation, etc) that we should be requesting from God the Father (cf. John 15:16, 26, etc); this is a key lesson, one which here is presented in terms of the initial sending of the Spirit (to the first believers).
    • The statement in verse 13, in its literary context, connects back to the Lord’s Prayer, and the request for the coming of God’s Kingdom. As I have noted previously, on several occasions, the framework of Luke-Acts associates the Kingdom with the coming of the Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. especially Acts 1:6-8). There is also the interesting variant reading of Lk 11:2 which reads (or glosses) the coming of the Kingdom as the coming of the Spirit.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 3)

The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 3)

We have already examined the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” as presented in Mark (Part 1) and Matthew (Part 2); now it is time to complete the picture with a study of the version in the Gospel of Luke. It was seen how the Matthean version followed the Markan version rather closely, with relatively minor differences in wording, but, at the same time, including additional material which significantly expanded the Discourse. The Lukan version also follows Mark, preserving the (original) scope of the Discourse, but with a simpler and more streamlined structure, as well as a distinctive historical emphasis and context. In many ways, the Lukan Discourse is most instructive for an understanding of the eschatology of the New Testament.

Luke 21:5-36

Lk 21:5-7—Introduction

The literary treatment of the material in Luke is smoother and more elegant, as is typically the case. Consider how the corresponding narrative in Mk 13:1 is summarized:

“And as some (were) relating about the sacred (place) [i.e. Temple], that (it was built) with (such) fine stones and arranged (with gift)s set up (for God), he [i.e. Jesus] said…” (v. 5)

A specific statement by the disciples has been turned into a generalized reference to the beauty and splendor of the Temple complex. The actual saying by Jesus predicting the Temple’s destruction (v. 6), though tailored to fit this syntax, remains close to the Synoptic/Markan form, but with two significant differences:

    • Jesus provides a time setting for the Temple’s destruction: “(the) days will come in which…”
    • The key verbs are given in future indicative, rather than aorist subjunctive, forms; this removes any sense of a threat by Jesus, making it a simple prediction of what will occur. This may relate to the Lukan omission of any reference to the reported saying that Jesus would destroy (and rebuild) the Temple (Mk 14:58 par), though the author surely was aware of the tradition (cf. Acts 6:14).

More substantial is the difference in the wording of the question by the disciples which follows (v. 7); here is a comparison of the three Synoptic versions:

    • “When will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign when all these (thing)s shall be about to be completed together [suntelei=sqai]?” (Mk 13:4)
    • “When will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign of your coming to be alongside [parousi/a] and of the completion (all) together [sunte/leia] of th(is) Age?” (Matt 24:3b)
    • “So when will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign when these (thing)s shall be about to come to be [gi/nesqai]?” (Lk 21:7)

This seems strong evidence in favor of the common Synoptic theory that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, adapting the Gospel material in various ways. Clearly, Matthew’s version expounds/explains the eschatological phrase “when all these things are about to be completed together” as “the completion of th(is) Age” marked by Jesus’ return (the noun parousi/a in its technical Christian sense). Luke follows the Markan form of the question much more closely, with two small differences: (a) “these things” instead of “all these things”, and (b) the simple verb gi/nomai (“come to be”) instead of the more technical suntele/w. Both changes appear to soften the eschatological impact of the question, and also limiting its scope to the more immediate issue of the fate of the Temple.

Lk 21:8-11—The sign(s) of what is to come

In this section, the same set of signs is given, as in Mk 13:5-8, and much of the wording is the same as well. The differences are relatively minor, but again rather significant:

    • In the reference to persons who come falsely in Jesus’ name (or claiming to be Jesus himself), verse 8 is almost identical with Mk 13:5-6, but has a different conclusion: “…saying ‘I am (he)’ and ‘the time has come near!’ You should not travel behind [i.e. follow after] them”. The claim “I am he” is paired with “the time has come near”, indicating the false message which might otherwise deceive Jesus’ disciples. The implications are that the period of trouble, prior to the destruction of the Temple, does not represent the actual coming of the end itself (cp. 2 Thess 2:2ff). Note the interesting parallel in wording (“the time has come near”) with the (eschatological) proclamation by Jesus himself in Mk 1:15 par (“the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near”); significantly, Luke does not record this (but cf. 10:9-11).
    • When referring to the period of warfare among the nations, the Lukan form of Jesus’ explanation differs slightly:
      “…it is necessary (that these things) come to be, but the completion (is) not yet (here)” (Mk 13:7b)
      “…for it is necessary (that) these (thing)s first come to be, but the completion (does) not (come) straightaway” (Lk 21:9b)
      Luke’s version here establishes, in a subtle way, a more precise sequence of events.
    • The description of natural disasters/phenomena (Mk 13:8b) is expanded in Luke’s version: “…and there will be great shakings and (time)s of hunger and pestilence down (in many) places, and there will be fearful (thing)s and great signs from heaven” (v. 11). These serve, in large measure, to enhance the (eschatological) significance of the coming destruction of the Temple (cf. below).
    • Luke omits, or does not include, the final statement in Mark that “these are the beginning of (the birth) pains”
Lk 21:12-19—The persecution (of the disciples) which is to come

Compared with Matthew (cf. Part 2), the Lukan version follows Mark (13:9-13) quite closely in this section. Again, however, there are some important differences, beginning with the opening words of verse 12: “But before all these (thing)s (occur)…”. This makes clear what otherwise has to be inferred in Mark, that persecution of the disciples will take place even before the destruction of the Temple (and the signs preceding it). Obviously, this corresponds completely with the record in the book of Acts, all of which takes place prior to the war in 66-70. Luke also identifies the arrest/interrogation of believers in terms of the persecution of believers (“and they will pursue [diw/cousin] [you]”). There is an interesting shift in emphasis as well, regarding the purpose and effect of this persecution:

    • In Mark (13:9b), the arrest/interrogation of the disciples was allowed (by God) for the purpose of providing a witness to people on behalf of Jesus (i.e. proclamation of the Gospel)—”…unto a witness for/to them”
    • In Luke (v. 13), by contrast, this persecution serves as a witness for the disciples, i.e. their role as witnesses of Christ—”…it will step away [i.e. come out] for you unto a witness”

There is some question as to why Luke does not include the statement in Mk 13:10, given its obvious application to the narrative of the early Christian mission in the book of Acts. Fitzmyer, in his classic commentary (p. 1340) claims that this simply reflects the Lukan tendency to avoid using the noun eu)agge/lion, and does not have any eschatological significance per se. This is certainly possible; however, if the Gospel was composed after 70 A.D., it may also have been omitted to avoid any suggestion that the Christian mission would be completed entirely before the destruction of the Temple.

Most intriguing is the difference between verse 15 and Mk 13:11. The Markan form of the promise/exhortation to the disciples emphasizes the role of the Spirit, whereas in Luke it is the personal work of Jesus—”For I will give you a mouth and wisdom…”. This difference may be due to the fact that a similar statement, involving the Spirit, had already been presented earlier in the Gospel (12:11-12, par Matt 10:9-10). There are also a couple of differences in the concluding words of this section:

    • The addition of the proverbial saying in verse 18: “And (yet) a (single) hair out of your head shall not suffer loss from (this)”.
    • The wording of the final promise:
      “(It is) in your remaining under (that) you must acquire your souls” (v. 19)
      “…but the (one) remaining under unto the completion—this (one) will be saved!” (Mk 13:13b)

Given the reference to the disciples enduring persecution (and death), the saying in v. 18 seems somewhat out of place. In its proverbial sense (cf. 1 Sam 14:45; 2 Sam 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52; Acts 27:34), it is a generalized saying reflecting God’s care and protection for believers. However, the context of the parallel saying in 12:7 (par Matt 10:30), suggests that here it refers to the soul of the disciple/believer—though the body may be harmed, the soul will suffer no loss. The following statement in v. 19 would certainly confirm this. The same sentiment is expressed beautifully in the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom:

“But the souls of the just (one)s are in the hand of God,
and the torment [ba/sano$] shall (certainly) not touch them” (3:1)

The wording of verse 19 would appear to be another example of the Lukan softening of the eschatological implications for the disciples. The Markan form clearly indicates that the disciples are expected to continue faithfully, enduring persecution and the time of distress, until the end comes. In Luke, by contrast, it takes the form of a more general exhortation applicable to all believers. Both versions, however, emphasize the necessity for remaining faithful—it is only the faithful disciple who will be saved (i.e. “acquire [thei]r souls”) in the end.

Lk 21:20-24—The period of great distress before the end

It is here in this section that the Lukan version differs most noticeably from Mark and the Synoptic Discourse as a whole. The differences, compared with Mark-Matthew, may be summarized as follows:

    • The allusion to Dan 9:27 (Mk 13:14 par) has been replaced/explained entirely in terms of the coming military siege of Jerusalem (v. 20)
    • The statement regarding the “(great) distress [qli/yi$]” in Mk 13:19 par has similarly been ‘replaced’ by a more specific reference to the suffering and judgment to be faced by the people of Judea (v. 23b), mirrored by the additional saying in v. 22.
    • The references to the coming of false Messiahs/prophets and the role of the Elect in the time of distress (Mk 13:20-23 par) have all been omitted, or are otherwise not included.
    • Instead, the section concludes with a distinctive prophecy regarding the siege/destruction of Jerusalem (v. 24), following upon the initial warning in v. 20.

Thus, in Luke, the “time of distress” is made more precise and localized—it refers specifically to the judgment which will come upon Judea, centered in the form of a military siege of Jerusalem, leading to its conquest/destruction, and, with it, the destruction of the Temple. This naturally brings about a number of critical questions in terms of the relation of this Lukan version to the Synoptic Tradition.

First, we must consider v. 20 in relation to the Daniel allusion in Mk 13:14 par, discussed in Parts 1 & 2, the supplemental study on the influence of the book of Daniel on New Testament eschatology, as well as the earlier study on Dan 9:24-27. There are several possibilities:

    • Jesus made two different statements together, and the Gospel writers (Mark/Matt and Luke, respectively) each record only one. This would be a strict harmonization, perhaps favored/required by some traditional-critical commentators; it is, however, most unlikely. Three other options remain:
    • Luke has inserted a somewhat similar eschatological prediction (by Jesus) in place of the Synoptic (Mark/Matt) reference to Dan 9:27
    • Luke is explaining/interpreting an original saying by Jesus
    • Luke has the original saying by Jesus (in context), which the Synoptic tradition (in Mark/Matthew) has couched within a cryptic allusion to Dan 9:27

The second and third options are, in my view, the only viable alternatives. Both receive confirmation from the earlier words of Jesus in 19:41-44, located at the fateful moment of his approach to Jerusalem. If we accept vv. 43-44 as authentic, then Jesus, on at least one occasion, prophesied a horrific military siege of the city. The wording is similar to both the prediction of the Temple’s destruction (21:6 par), as well as that here in v. 20. And yet, the evidence cuts both ways; on the one hand, it supports the authenticity of such a prediction by Jesus, but, at the same time, it demonstrates the Gospel writer’s interest for including such detail (regarding the siege of Jerusalem) not found in any of the other Gospels. While the destruction of Jerusalem is certainly implied in the framework of the Eschatological Discourse, as well as in Lk 13:34-35 / Matt 23:37-39 (“Q” tradition), only in Luke do we find detail describing a specific military siege. The best explanation for this remains the critical assumption that the Lukan Gospel was written (shortly) after 70 A.D. This does not, by any means, invalidate the authenticity of the sayings; it does, however, explain why the Gospel writer chose to include them as he did.

The use of the word e)rh/mwsi$ (“desolation”) certainly derives from the LXX of Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11 and the Hebrew expression <m@v) JWQv! (“detestable [thing] causing devastation”), rendered in Greek as to\ bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$ (“stinking [thing] of desolation”). The idea of causing (or intending to cause) desolation certainly fits well with the Roman siege/destruction of Jerusalem; even Josephus uses this sort of language, referring to the “desolation” (e)rhmi/a) coming upon the city and its people (War 6.288-96). As for the expression “days of (work)ing out justice” (h(me/rai e)kdikh/sew$), it may be drawn from Hos 9:7 LXX, with “justice” in the sense of punishment or retribution. In Hosea it refers to the judgment which is about to come upon Israel, and that is precisely the same context here in the Eschatological discourse—punishment upon Judea and Jerusalem. For similar language, cf. Deut 32:35; Jer 46:10 [LXX 26:10], and note the various oracles prophesying Jerusalem’s earlier destruction (Mic 3:12; Jer 6:1-8; 26:1-9).

The expression of woe in verse 23 is similar in theme to the prophecy by Jesus in 23:27-31, almost certainly referring to the same ‘time of distress’—the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (“the days are coming…”). For the language used by Jesus in that latter prophecy, cf. Isa 37:22; 54:1ff; Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9. The idea of people calling to the mountains to cover them and put an end to their suffering, comes from Hos 10:8; its eschatological significance, as a reference to the end-time Judgment, is found in Rev 6:16. The setting in Lk 23:27-31 also makes clear a connection between the death of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem, however uncomfortable this might be for Christians today. The kindling/burning of the dry wood is a traditional symbol of judgment (Isa 10:16-19; Ezek 20:47, etc). Again, the suffering/judgment in the Lukan version of the Discourse is focused specifically on Judea (“this land” / “this people”).

The nature and reason for this punishment is explained by the allusions to Deut 28:64 (cf. also Sir 28:18) in verse 24. The context in Deuteronomy involves the curse/punishment which will come upon the people for disobedience (i.e. violating the covenant), as expressed similarly in Ezek 32:9; Ezra 9:7, etc. In the original historical tradition, siege/destruction led to exile among the nations; however, Zechariah 12:2-3ff describes things in the reverse direction—the nations gathering together for a siege of Jerusalem, in an eschatological setting. This language likely influenced the description in verse 24 of Jerusalem being “trampled under the nations” (cf. also Rev 11:2, and the [upcoming] daily note that verse). The closing phrase “until the [moment] at which the times of the nations should be fulfilled” gives a distinctive chronological setting to the Discourse which is unique to Luke’s version, and one which depends entirely on the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. as a point of reference. This will be discussed further in the conclusion to our study on the Discourse (Part 4). There is a reasonably close parallel to this language in Tob 14:5, and Paul uses a similar manner of speaking (Rom 11:25), though in terms of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles.

Luke 21:25-28—The coming of the Son of Man

Here the Lukan version follows Mark fairly closely, though with a somewhat different emphasis. The celestial phenomena (and the Scriptural allusions to them, cf. Part 1) in vv. 25f are no longer simply an indication of the Son of Man’s appearance (theophany). Rather, they now represent an extension of the Judgment coming upon humankind—in vv. 25-26 the Synoptic tradition has been adapted to include humanity’s reaction (fear and astonishment), in traditional language from the Old Testament (Psalm 46:4; Isa 24:19; cf. also Ps 65:8; 89:10). This brings the scene close in tone and feel to the sixth-seal vision in the book of Revelation (6:12-17). Also important is the shift in location from Judea to the whole “inhabited world” (oi)kome/nh); if verses 20-24 refer the Judgment coming upon Judea, vv. 25ff describe that coming upon the whole world. It is possible that the omission of the phrase “in those days” (Mk 13:24) is meant to emphasize this distinction of two periods of Judgment—one for Judea (culminating in the destruction of the Temple), and one for all the nations.

Luke’s version also has quite different wording in reference to the deliverance which the Son of Man brings. In Mk 13:27 par, we have the traditional eschatological imagery of Angels gathering the elect from the ends of the earth; by contrast, here we find a more general promise of salvation, though one with Messianic implications:

“And (when) these (thing)s are beginning to come to be, you must bend (your necks) up and lift up your heads, for (the reason) that [i.e. because] your loosing from (bondage) [a)polu/trwsi$] comes near!” (v. 28)

We may recall that Luke earlier had omitted the proclamation by Jesus that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mk 1:15 par, but cp. Lk 10:11); similarly, the declaration “the time has come near” is the mark of false Messiahs (v. 8). It is only with the appearance of the Son of Man, at the end-time, that the Kingdom truly “comes near” (vb. e)ggi/zw). The Anointed One now brings the long-awaited deliverance (lit. “loosing from [bondage]”) for the faithful ones among God’s people (on this expectation, cf. 1:68-77; 2:25-26, 38; 23:51). For the word a)polu/trwsi$ in this sense, as adapted by early Christians, see Acts 3:19-21; Rom 8:23; Eph 4:30.

Luke 21:29-33—Illustrations regarding the time of the End

A small but significant difference in the Lukan version here is the reference to the “Kingdom of God” in v. 31: “when you see these (thing)s coming to be, (then) know that the kingdom of God is near” (Mk 13:29 par, simply, “…know that it is near”). This repeats the point noted above—that in Luke, the coming of the Kingdom is specifically linked to the end-time, and is defined in terms of the appearance of the Son of Man (i.e. the return of Jesus, for early Christians). The Kingdom will not be fully realized until that time (cf. Acts 1:6-8). Another small difference is in the saying of v. 33, where Luke has “all things [pa/nta]” instead of “all these things [tau=ta pa/nta]” (Mk 13:30). In a subtle way, this deflects away from the signs of the end to its actual fulfillment—the coming of the Kingdom. The difficult saying in v. 33 par itself will be discussed in a separate article on imminent eschatology in the Gospels.

Luke 21:34-36—Concluding exhortation

Here Luke demonstrates a simplification/modification of the Synoptic discourse in Mk 13:33-37 par, with two notable results: (1) it emphasizes the idea of the coming Judgment, and (2) it becomes a more direct ethical exhortation for believers. The first point is brought out especially in verse 34b-35, making clear that the end-time Judgment will begin suddenly, without warning:

“…and that day will stand upon you without shining (in advance) [i.e. unexpectedly], as a trap—for it will come (suddenly) upon all the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the face of all the earth!”

The Judgment scene is described even more clearly in verse 36, moving from the experience of humankind on earth, to the heavenly court: “…to stand in front of the Son of Man [i.e. as Judge]” (cf. Matt 25:31-46, etc). Only the faithful disciple (believer) will be able to stand in the final Judgment, and pass through it. For the earliest Christians, this was the fundamental context and meaning of salvation—being saved from the coming Judgment.

The exhortation for believers here also specifically involves prayer (a special emphasis in Luke): “And (so) you must be without sleep [i.e. awake/alert], making request [i.e. praying] (to God) in every time…” It is this combination of alertness and devotion to God (in prayer) which marks the faithful disciple. The closing words encompass the entire discourse, as instruction for believers on how to be prepared for “all these (thing)s th(at) are about to come to be”—i.e. all that Jesus has mentioned in the Discourse. The seriousness of this is indicated by the exhortation to stay awake and in prayer (as in subsequent Passion scene in the garden, 22:40, 45-46 par). The time of distress, including temptation and persecution for believers, will require “strength against” it (vb. katisxu/w), and believers must be prepared to “flee out of” it (vb. e)kfeu/gw). This is very much the sort of idea expressed famously by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13; Lk 11:4b), and provides confirmation for scholars who see a definite eschatological dimension to the prayer—there, too, Jesus speaks of the coming of the Kingdom (Matt 6:10/Lk 11:2), as here in v. 31.

For a number of references and insights mentioned above, I am indebted to the fine commentary on Luke by J. A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible series (Vol 28A: 1985); for the Lukan “Eschatological Discourse”, cf. pp. 1323-56.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Parables of Jesus (Part 3)

The Parables of Jesus (Part 3)

The eschatological and “Kingdom” parables in Matthew and Luke are being examined according to five themes:

    1. The Matthean ‘additions’ to the Synoptic tradition in Mark 4
    2. Vineyard Parables
    3. Banquet/Feast Parables
    4. The Eschatological Parables in Matthew 25
    5. The “Delay of the Parousia” in Luke

The first three of these were treated in Part 2; here we will study the remaining two.

4. The Eschatological Parables in Matthew 25

Following the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (chap. 24), Matthew records three additional eschatological parables:

Matthew 25:1-13: Parable of the Bridesmaids

Both of the parables in Matt 25:1-30 are Kingdom parables, as is specified in verse 1: “the kingdom of the heavens will be considered (to be) like…”. As in several of the parables we have already examined (Parts 1 and 2 of this study), the setting involves a man who has gone away and is expected to come (back). In the Bridesmaids-parable, this motif has been simplified to that of the bridegroom in a marriage/wedding-ceremony who is coming to fetch the bride and take her to his house. A rather different wedding scenario appears in Luke 12:35-38 (cf. below). There is some question whether, in the original context of the parable(s), the man/bridegroom represented Jesus or God the Father (YHWH). The setting here in Matt 25, following the Eschatological Discourse in chap. 24, naturally would have led early Christians to associate it with Jesus’ return. However, more properly the image refers to God’s end-time appearance for Judgment, and to deliver the faithful ones among his people; this appearance was understood in terms of his heavenly/divine representative—Messenger of the Lord and/or Son of Man—identified with Jesus in the Gospel Tradition.

There is again a distinction between two groups, juxtaposed against one another, as in the parable of the Weeds and the Net (cf. the discussion in Part 2). The two groups are together in one body (community or collection of people), but reflect very different characteristics. In the Bridesmaids-parable, there are ten virgins (maidens)—five of whom are described as mindful/thoughtful (fro/nimo$), while the other five are “dull” (mwro/$). They are together in one place, attending the bride, a detail which has to be inferred from the context (the variant reading in v. 1 indicates that copyists may have misunderstood the setting of the parable). The bride, who belongs to the bridegroom (having been betrothed to him, by a binding agreement [covenant]), is similar in many respects to the field in the Weeds-parable which belongs to the Sower (the Son of Man). The bride/bridegroom imagery, based on ancient Near Eastern (and Old Testament) tradition, more specifically suggests the religious relationship between God and his people Israel. In addition to the general milieu of ancient love poetry and marital imagery, which may be interpreted in this light (cf. Song of Songs 4:8-5:1), it is found, e.g., in Isaiah 49:18; 61:10; 62:5. The theme of love between husband and wife, in terms of marital faithfulness and loyalty, was used in the Prophets as a way of expressing Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, violating the binding (marriage) agreement, or covenant. We see this most famously in Hosea 1-3, but also in a number of other places, such as Joel 1:8 and Jer 2:2. On the wedding feast (verse 10), cf. Rev 19:7-9 and the discussion on the Feast/Banquet parables in Part 2.

Typically the servants/workers as characters in Jesus’ parables are meant as instructive examples for his disciples—the disciple of Jesus will see himself (or herself) in the position of the faithful servant. The parable functions as an exhortation (and a warning) for the disciple to behave in the manner of the positive character, rather than the negative. The “lamps” carried by the maidens is a figurative expression of the disciple’s behavior and faithful devotion, as stated more generally in Matt 5:14-16, etc. The brief Lamp-parable in the Synoptic tradition (Mark 4:21-22) has an eschatological orientation, which is echoed here as well. There is a sense in which the light from the lamps is defined as the message of the Kingdom which has been given to the disciples.

Apart from the fundamental setting of the coming/return of the man (bridegroom), the eschatological aspect is emphasized by other details in the parable, such as the use of the noun u(pa/nthsi$ / a)pa/nthsi$ (vv. 1, 6). The related verbs u(panta/w and a)panta/w are virtually synonymous—both have the basic meaning of going away to come opposite (i.e. to meet, come face-to-face) with another person. Paul uses a)pa/nthsi$ specifically to refer to believers meeting Jesus in the air at his return (1 Thess 4:17). However, in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the primary idea was that the people must be prepared to meet their God—i.e. the end-time Judgment. This eschatological judgment motif—involving the separation of the righteous and wicked, as of the true and false disciple (cf. the chap. 13 parables)—is vividly expressed by the climactic scene of the parable (vv. 11-12), which has similarities to the sayings/parables of Jesus in 7:21-23 and Luke 13:25-27.

The suddenness of the bridegroom’s appearance is emphasized in vv. 6, 10, in which he comes “in the middle of the night” when many, like the dull/foolish bridesmaids, might naturally be asleep. This reflects the imminent expectation of the end-time Judgment, held by early Christians (and other Jews of the time), though tempered, perhaps, by the motif of a ‘delay’ in v. 5: “But (while) the bridegroom (was) taking (his) time…”. This could provide support for the idea of a significant period of time (some years, at least) which could pass before the end-time Judgment (and return of Jesus). For more on the “delay of the Parousia”, see section 5 below.

There are certain parallels between the Bridesmaids-parable and the brief parable in Luke 12:35-38; despite differences in detail, the general outline and message are much the same: the servants (disciples) are to keep their lamps lit and remain watchful for their master’s return.

Matthew 25:14-30: Parable of the Talents (par Lk 19:11-27)

The Matthean Parable of the Talents is quite similar to the Lukan Parable of the Minas (19:11-27); many scholars consider them to be part of a shared tradition (“Q” material), though the significant differences make this less than certain. There are several ways of understanding the relationship between the two:

    • They reflect two different, but similar, parables of Jesus
    • It is the same parable, preserved in two different lines of tradition
    • It is the same parable (“Q”), modified by one or both of the Gospel writers

In favor of the latter is the fact a common core parable can be obtained by a simple removal or modification of several elements unique to each version:

    • Matthew:
      • Addition of the concluding line (v. 30), which is especially common as a refrain in the Matthean sayings/parables
    • Luke:
      • The narrative introduction in v. 11
      • The reference to the man as of noble origins, and the reason for his departure (“to receive a kingdom of himself”), v. 12
      • The verses/details related to this Lukan kingship motif—vv. 14-15a, 25, 27

Apart from these separable components, the differences between the two versions of the parable are minor—most notably, the difference in the amount of money involved (talents vs. minas). Curiously, Luke’s version specifies ten servants, though the parable itself, like Matthew’s version, only deals with three. Perhaps the reference to ten servants is meant to give the impression that the faithless servant (1 of 10), like Judas Iscariot (1 of 12), is relatively rare among the disciples of Jesus.

If we examine the parable in Matthew, we see that it is included together with the previous Bridesmaids-parable as another parable of the Kingdom (vv. 1, 14); Luke’s version makes this explicit (cf. below). We have the familiar motif of servants/workers and the landowner or household master who goes away. The money entrusted to the three servants resembles the lamps held by the bridesmaids—both symbolize the disciple’s faithful service to God and Jesus. Instead of two groups, there are three distinct characters, yet still reflecting two kinds of characteristics—those who deal faithfully with the money for their master, and those who do not (through fear and inaction). The end-time Judgment is expressed through several details in the parable:

    • The return of the master who settles the accounts (v. 19)
    • The reward given to the two faithful servants (vv. 20-23)—note the traditional reference to “entering” the divine/heavenly life (i.e. entering the Kingdom)
    • The judgment against the wicked/unfaithful servant (vv. 26ff)
    • The separation of the wicked—thrown into the “outer darkness” (v. 30)

As noted above, the Lukan version contains a kingship narrative line running through the parable:

    • The narrative introduction (v. 11), establishing the reason for Jesus’ uttering the parable (cf. Section 5 below)
    • The man is described as “well-born”—he goes away specifically “to receive a kingdom for himself” (v. 12)
    • The parable is interrupted, it would seem, by the notice in v. 14, introducing the theme of the rebellious citizens who do not want the man to rule over them as king
    • When the man returns, he is said to have “received the kingdom”, i.e. authority to rule (v. 15a)
    • Again, at the end of the parable, we find another reference to the people who did not wish the man to rule—now they are characterized as “enemies” (v. 27).

It must be admitted that verses 14 and 27 seem out of place in the parable, which otherwise generally matches the version in Matthew. It has been suggested that two separate parables are blended together in Luke’s version: (1) a parable similar to Matt 25:14-30, and (2) a parable involving a king and his subjects. The two strands fit uneasily, making two very different statements: (1) exhortation to faithful discipleship, and (2) Jesus’ role/position as Messiah. Interestingly, the Lukan version, like Matthew’s, ends with a harsh declaration of Judgment (v. 27), though the two differ considerably in form and emphasis.

Both versions also include a motif suggesting a ‘delay’ in the coming of the end-time Judgment (and return of Jesus). Luke expresses this by way of the introduction in v. 11, and also with the detail that the man travels into a “far-off place” (v. 12). For Matthew, a similar idea is indicated in the parable when it is stated that master returns “after much time” (25:19). This will be discussed in Section 5 below.

Matthew 25:31-46: Parable of the Sheep and Goats

The last of the three parables in Matthew 25 has much the character of a vision-scene with symbolic/figurative elements, rather than a parable properly speaking. Indeed, it is not a Kingdom-parable, but a description of the Kingdom of God in heaven. It is, in fact, a scene of the great Judgment, set in the heavenly court. The eschatological key phrase is found in the opening words:

“And when the Son of Man should come in his splendor, and all the Messengers with him…” (v. 31a)

This virtually restates the Synoptic saying in Mark 8:38 par, referring to the appearance of the Son of Man at the end-time Judgment, viewed as imminent. The corresponding saying in Matthew at this point highlights the theme of the Judgment:

“For the Son of Man is about to come in the splendor of his Father, with his Messengers, and then he will give forth to each (person) according to his deed(s)” (16:27)

For more on this end-time appearance of the Son of Man—a tradition deriving primarily from Daniel 7:13-14ff—cf. Mark 13:26-27; 14:62 pars, and the recent study on the eschatological Sayings of Jesus. The opening verse of the parable emphasizes the exalted status and position of Jesus (at God’s right hand), as the divine/heavenly Son of Man. The depiction of the Judgment scene is altogether traditional, at least in its basic framework:

    • The judgment of the Nations (v. 32)—traditionally, the Messiah would play a prominent role in this process; in 1 Enoch, as in the Gospels and early Christian tradition, the Danielic Son of Man figure was identified as God’s Anointed One (Messiah), the two figure-types being blended together.
    • The separation of the righteous from the wicked (vv. 32ff)—this is stated generally (“he will mark them off from [each] other”), which could give the misleading impression that nations are being separated from another. Rather, it is the people (humankind) generally who are being separated.
    • The separation is expressed through the symbolic designation of “sheep” and “goats”; this simply reflects shepherding imagery, like the fishing imagery in the Net-parable (13:47-49), and one should not read too much into the sheep and goat as distinctive symbols.
    • The basis for the separation (righteous vs. wicked) is ethical (rather than theological), though with a uniquely Christian emphasis (cf. below).
    • The final Judgment (reward/punishment) likewise is stated in traditional language:
      “and these [i.e. the wicked] will go away into punishment of the Ages [i.e. eternal punishment], but the just/righteous (one)s into (the) Life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life]” (v. 46)

What is especially distinctive, and most memorable, about the parable is the basis for the judgment/separation, which is set forth in considerable detail (unlike the parables of the Weeds and Net, where is left unstated). It is described entirely in terms of how one has responded to people who are in need (of food, clothing, comfort, care/treatment of sickness, etc)—i.e. to the poor and unfortunate in society. This has caused some consternation for Christians accustomed to viewing salvation strictly, or primarily, in terms of faith in Jesus, i.e. acceptance of him as Messiah and Son of God. However, the emphasis in the parable here is not much different from that in the Sermon on the Mount (see esp. the Beatitudes [5:3-12] and the Antitheses [5:21-47]), where traditional religious and ethical standards have been given a new, deeper interpretation. The true and faithful disciple of Jesus will follow this new ethic, and the declaration by Jesus in 5:20 is very much of a kind with the parable of the Sheep and Goats:

“For I relate to you that if your justice/righteousness does not go over (and above, even) more than (that) of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees, you (certainly) will not go into the kingdom of the heavens!”

5. The “Delay of the Parousia” in Luke

A final topic which must be addressed, related to the parables in Matthew and Luke, involves several key references which suggest a period of time which is to pass before the coming of final Judgment and the return of Jesus. This would seem to contrast with the language of imminence which otherwise is found in most/many of Jesus’ sayings (cf. the earlier study of the Sayings). The specific (and difficult, from our viewpoint) aspect of imminent eschatology in Jesus’ sayings/teaching will be discussed in more detail in the next study (on the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse”), as well as a separate study devoted to the topic. However, it is worth mentioning here these important references in the parables to what is typically called “the delay of the Parousia”—i.e. a recognition among early Christians, after several decades, that the coming of the end (and the return of Jesus) might not occur for some time. In this regard, the relative dating of the Gospels could be significant. Mark is usually recognized as the earliest of the four canonical Gospels, dated perhaps c. 60 A.D., with Luke somewhat later (after 70 A.D.), and Matthew, perhaps, later still (c. 80 A.D.). Apart from the statement in 13:7b (to be discussed), there is little in Mark to suggest anything other than an imminent expectation of the end—i.e. within the lifetime of the disciples. If the conventional dating of Luke and Matthew is correct, they would have been written at a time when a number of the disciples—i.e. the first generation of believers—were beginning to die off. It must be admitted that this issue is not specifically addressed in any of the Synoptic Gospels, but only in the Gospel of John, usually thought to be the latest of the four (c. 90-95 A.D.?)—cf. the tradition (and the way it is presented) in Jn 21:20-23. It is natural that the later, more developed Gospel tradition would reflect the concern of this “delay”, and seek to explain it, at least in a rudimentary way.

Even so, it must be stated that evidence of this sort is rather slight in Matthew and Luke. Neither Gospel writer felt it necessary to alter, to any real extent, the various Synoptic sayings and traditions which indicate an imminent expectation of the end-time Judgment. For example, they all leave the statement by Jesus in Mark 13:30 par in place without any real modification or explanation. Similarly, references indicating a significant ‘delay’ are relatively rare, and should not be overstated. We saw above, details in two of the parables which are worthy of note:

    • It is said of the Bridegroom that he was “taking (his) time” (xroni/zonto$), which led some of the maidens carelessly to fall asleep (25:5)
    • In the Parable of the Talents, it is only “after much time” (meta\ polu\n xro/non) that the master returns (25:19)

Both details, it would seem, reflect the same basic idea, though the latter more clearly indicates a significant period of time. If these parables properly refer to the return of Jesus, then it could, perhaps, express the idea (or at least allow for the possibility) that Jesus might not return within the lifetime of the first disciples.

The Gospel of Luke contains more details of this sort, which, indeed, is more fitting for the context of the combined work of Luke-Acts, with its emphasis on a period of mission work among the Gentiles that must take place before the end comes (Acts 1:6-8, etc). The parables also express this in various ways; there are two which need to be examined here: (a) the Parable of the Judge and the Widow, and (b) the Parable of the Minas.

Luke 18:1-8: The Parable of the Judge and the Widow

The purpose of this parable is expressed by the Gospel writer in the opening words (narrative introduction, v. 1): the necessity of the disciples “always to speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] and not to act out of a bad (heart) [i.e. be weak, cowardly]”. In other words, Jesus exhorts his followers to be persistent in prayer, even in the face of difficult and trying circumstances, where it may seem as though God does not hear them. This is certainly the primary message of the parable (vv. 2-6); however, if we read between the lines, the chronological dimension of the parable could be taken to suggest a delay in the end-time deliverance of God’s people (i.e. the Judgment), which early believers (along with many devout Jews) were fervently expecting. The woman in the parable “would come toward him [i.e. the judge]” (v. 3), i.e. would come repeatedly; and the judge was apparently not willing to hear her complaint “upon [i.e. for] (some) time” (v. 4). The explanation of the parable by Jesus in verse 7, and its application to the disciples (believers), suggests more is involved here than simply the question of unanswered prayer:

“And would God (then) not (all the more) make out justice for his (chosen one)s (which he) gathered out, the (one)s crying to him day and night, and is his impulse (to answer) long upon them [i.e. is he long in answering them]?”

There seems to be an echo here of the eschatological (and Messianic) hope expressed, for example, in 2:25, 38. Moreover the persecution which Jesus’ disciples will face, also implied here in the parable, is often presented in an eschatological context (21:12-19 par, etc). Luke is fully aware that at least thirty years would pass, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, without the end coming, and that, during this time, the early Christians (especially missionaries such as Paul and Barnabas) would face persecution. This parable may have been included by the Gospel writer, in part, with just this context in mind. The eschatological orientation of the parable would seem to be confirmed by the concluding declaration by Jesus in verse 8b, which may have circulated originally as a separate saying: “All the more, the Son of Man (at) his coming, will he find trust upon the earth?”. Disciples are to continue following Jesus faithfully, trusting in God, for the period (however brief or long) that lasts until the Son of Man comes. Verse 8a suggests that this period of time will not be all that long, preserving the basic sense of imminence—”I relate to you that he [i.e. God] will make out justice for them in (all) speed!”. On the language of imminence here—i.e. the expression e)n ta/xei, “in [i.e. with] (all) speed”—cf. the separate study in this series on imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

Luke 19:11-27: The Parable of the Minas

The parable itself was discussed above, in connection with the Matthean Parable of the Talents. Here, it is necessary to focus on two elements of the Lukan version: (a) the narrative introduction in verse 11, and (b) the description of the man who goes away in verse 12. First consider the setting indicated in the narrative introduction, which also serves as a transition from the Zaccheus narrative in vv. 1-10:

“And (at) their hearing these (thing)s, (Yeshua,) putting (this also) toward (them), said (it as) an (illustration) cast alongside [i.e. parable], through [i.e. because of] his being near to Yerushalaim, and their considering that the kingdom of God was about to shine forth [i.e. appear] paraxrh=ma.”

The syntax is somewhat complex, but what the author is describing is clear enough. Jesus was aware that many people (among his disciples and other followers) were thinking/expecting that the Kingdom of God would suddenly appear and be realized (on earth) once they arrived in Jerusalem. The adverb paraxrh=ma is difficult to translate literally; fundamentally, it refers to something which comes along (para/) just as it is needed (xrh=ma)—i.e. just at the right time. Sometimes it carries the sense of “at that very moment”, “immediately”. The “triumphal entry” narrative in the Gospel tradition (Mark 11:1-10 par) indicates that many people envisioned Jesus as the Messiah (Davidic-ruler type) who would establish the Kingdom in Jerusalem—presumably an earthly (Messianic) Kingdom, according to popular tradition. The questions posed to him in Lk 17:20 and Acts 1:6 reflect a similar eschatological expectation. In response to those questions, Jesus redirects his audience, pointing them toward a different (and deeper) understanding. Much the same is done here, through the parable which follows in vv. 12ff. The Kingdom of God will not be established immediately at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

This brings us to the beginning of the parable, which differs from the Matthean version in the description of the man who goes away. Here is how it is stated in the Parable of the Talents:

“…a man going away from his own people…” (25:14)

This simple phrase likely reflects the core parable (cf. above); however, in the Lukan Parable of the Minas, it is expanded considerably:

“A certain well-born man traveled into a far(-off) area to receive a kingdom for himself and (then) turn back [i.e. return].” (19:12)

I noted above that there is some ambiguity in these parables whether the figure of the master/landowner who goes away properly refers to Jesus or God the Father (YHWH). Probably in their original context it is God who is in view, though early Christians certainly would have come to interpret such eschatological parables in terms of Jesus’ return at the end-time. The Matthean Parable of the Talents could be understood either way; however, in the Lukan Parable of the Minas there is no question at all—the man who goes away has to be identified with Jesus. This is abundantly clear from the details in verse 12:

    • a well-born man (but not yet a King)
    • travels into a far-away land
    • to receive a kingdom for himself
    • and then returns back to his own land

This action in the story refers to a local ruler (prince, etc) who travels to the land/court of a powerful sovereign (king) to be granted the title and status of king (i.e., vassal of the greater sovereign). When he returns to his own land he now rules as king under the authority of the sovereign who granted him that title. From the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, this process described in verse 12 can only refer to the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. Having being raised to the right hand of God the Father, when Jesus returns, it will be as a divine King ruling with God’s own authority.

There is nothing in the parable which indicates exactly the time that the man (Jesus) is away; the designation of “far-off land” is best understood in terms of location (i.e. with God in Heaven). The Matthean parable does state that it is only “after much time” that the man returns. If we are faithful to the Lukan parable itself, all that we can say is that the Kingdom of God will not be established until some time after Jesus’ death, resurrection and departure to the Father. In the context of the wider narrative of Luke-Acts, this allows at least for a period of missionary work among the nations (Gentiles), as indicated in Acts 1:6-8ff; however, beyond this, there is no indication of the amount of time that is involved. This will be discussed further when we study the eschatology in the book of Acts.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Parables of Jesus (Part 2)

The Parables of Jesus (Part 2)

Part 1 of this study examined the parables in the core Synoptic (triple) tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark. We looked primarily at the Kingdom-parables in chapter 4, along with the parable of the Wicked Tenants in 12:1-12. Now we turn to the parables found in Matthew and Luke (but not Mark); some of these parables are unique to each Gospel, while others occur in both (i.e. material commonly designated “Q”). These eschatological and “Kingdom” parables will be examined according to five themes:

    1. The Matthean ‘additions’ to the Synoptic tradition in Mark 4
    2. Vineyard Parables
    3. Banquet/Feast Parables
    4. The Eschatological Parables in Matthew 25
    5. The “Delay of the Parousia” in Luke

1. The Matthean ‘additions’ to the Synoptic Tradition in Mark 4

Matthew 13 clearly draws upon the same tradition as Mark 4—a sequence of Kingdom-parables, according to an established (thematic) arrangement. However, Matthew includes several parables and sayings not found in Mark (nor the corresponding version in Luke [8:4-18])—these are:

    • The dual-saying in vv. 16-17 (“Q”, cf. Luke 10:23-24)
    • The Parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30, 36-43)
    • The Parable of the Leaven (v. 33)
    • The Parables of the Treasure and Pearl (vv. 44-46)
    • The Parable of the Net (vv. 47-50)
    • The concluding saying in vv. 51-52

The additional parables all illustrate the Kingdom of God (“Kingdom of Heaven“, in Matthew)—vv. 24, 33, 44, 45, 47, and also v. 52. They also serve to enhance the eschatological orientation of the sequence of Kingdom-parables; in particular, the Parables of the Weeds and Net have a clear reference to the end-time Judgment.

The Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43)

The “Parable of the Weeds” is similar in theme and scope to the Synoptic Parable of the Sower (13:3-9 par); both parables include an explanation of the parable by Jesus given to his close disciples (vv. 18-23 par, 36-43; cf. verse 11ff). Many critical commentators express doubt that the explanations come from Jesus himself, but rather reflect early Christian interpretation. It is hard to find clear objective evidence for such a distinction, and the explanations are generally consistent with the language and style of Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptic tradition. The question, for our study, is especially significant in the case of the Parable of the Weeds, since the explanation of that parable, if coming from Jesus, would reflect his own eschatological understanding.

Unlike the parable of the Sower, the Weeds-parable is marked specifically as a Kingdom parable: “The kingdom of the heavens is (consider)ed to be like a man scattering fine seed in his field” (v. 24). However, in the explanation to the parable of the Sower, Jesus does indicate that it, too, relates to the Kingdom, identifying the seed as “the word/account [lo/go$] of the kingdom”. The context of that parable suggests that the sower is Jesus (proclaiming the message of the Kingdom); while the explanation of the Weeds-parable identifies him as “the Son of Man” (v. 37). This expression, or title, is used frequently by Jesus, often as a self-designation. The eschatological usage, drawn primarily from Daniel 7:13-14, features prominently in the Weeds-parable, and will be discussed in more detail in the study on the “Eschatological Discourse”.

Interestingly, while the seed in the Sower-parable is identified as the message or “word” of the Kingdom, in the Weeds-parable it is the “sons” (ui(oi/, i.e. children) of the Kingdom (v. 38). The reference to “sons”, in terms of the Semitic idiom which Jesus would have understood, has two principal aspects:

    • In the literal sense of (royal/aristocratic) sons who will inherit their father’s estate, and
    • Indicating those (as a group) who belong to the Kingdom—i.e. members of the Kingdom. The Hebrew /B@ (“son”) is often used in the sense of someone who belongs to a particular group or category, possessing certain attributes or characteristics, etc.

By contrast, the “weeds” (ziza/nia) are identified as “the sons of the evil (one)”. It is possible to translate this expression as “the sons of evil”, but the context suggests a person (or personification)—”the evil one” (i.e. the Satan or ‘Devil’); Jesus’ usage elsewhere would seem to confirm this (cp. in the Lord’s Prayer, 6:13). This sort of stark dualism is less common in the Synoptic sayings of Jesus than in the Johannine discourses, where it features prominently (Jn 3:19-20; 5:29; 8:39-47). First John presents a contrast very close to that of the parable here (3:8-10, “the children of God and the children of the devil”, v. 10). A similar dualistic contrast (“sons of light” and “sons of darkness”) is found in the Qumran texts. The ziza/nion, a Greek word of uncertain derivation, would typically be translated as “weed”, but seems to refer primarily to a type of grass or stalk which resembles the grain itself, but yields no produce.

The “field” (a)gro/$) in the parable is said to be the sower’s own field (“his field”, v. 24), while in the explanation it is identified as o( ko/smo$ (“the world-order”, v. 38a), i.e. creation, the created order. This emphasizes the cosmic aspect of the parable, and also indicates that the Son of Man, as God’s heavenly/divine representative, has authority and control over the world. Here ko/smo$ is used in a neutral sense—i.e. the world and all the people in it—much as in the parable of the Sower, where there are different types of soil, representing different responses of people to the message of the Kingdom. A different sort of illustration, but along similar lines, is presented in this parable: the Son of Man sows the good seed, while the enemy (e)xqro/$, the ‘devil’, dia/bolo$) sowed in the weeds (the false seed) secretly, at night. The explanation suggests two levels at which this may be interpreted:

    • True and false disciples of Jesus, both part of the same group of people identifying themselves as his followers. This certainly would have been the immediate understanding of the parable by early Christians.
    • The “weeds” as intrusive attempts to stifle the spread and growth of the Kingdom—this would include both people (false believers, persecutors), and other sorts of obstacles, temptations to sin, etc (v. 41)

The crux of the parable is its eschatological orientation—the harvest motif (vv. 28-30) used in parable, with the explanation in verses 39ff. The climactic statement of the parable would have immediately evoked the idea of the end-time judgment, as seen from the words of the Baptist in 3:12 par, echoed here:

“Release [i.e. allow] both to grow together until the reaping [o( qerismo/$], and in the time of the reaping I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the weeds and bind them into bundles toward the burning down (of) them, but bring together the grain into my building where (the grain is) put away!'” (v. 30)

In the explanation, there is no doubt left as to what Jesus means:

“The reaping [i.e. harvest] is the completion (all)together of th(is) Age, and the reapers are the (heavenly) Messengers” (v. 39b)

He is referring to the end of the current Age, and the idea, expressed elsewhere in the Gospel tradition, of the role of the Angels (assisting the Son of Man) in the end-time Judgment (Mk 8:38; 13:27 par; Matt 16:27; 25:31, etc). Verses 40-41f drive this home emphatically:

“…so it will be in the completion (all)together of th(is) Age—the Son of Man will set forth his Messengers, and they will gather together out of his kingdom all the (thing)s tripping (people) up, and the (one)s doing (things) without law, and he will cast them into the burning chamber [i.e. furnace] of fire…”

The kingdom of the Son of Man (“his kingdom”, par “his field”) involves: (a) the proclamation of the message of the Kingdom in the world, and (b) those who belong to the Kingdom and respond to this message (i.e. the true disciples of Jesus). All that does not belong to the Kingdom, or which hinders its proclamation and establishment on earth, will be burned up at the end-time Judgment. The divine/heavenly dimension of the end-time Kingdom is made clear in the concluding words of the parable (v. 43, cf. Daniel 12:3):

“Then the just/righteous (one)s will give out (rays of) light as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

The Parable of the Net (Matt 13:47-50)

The parable of the Fish-Net is much shorter and simpler, but has essentially the same theme as the parable of the Weeds. Instead of seed cast into a field, it uses the image of a fishing-net cast into the sea (v. 47). Fundamentally, it is the end-time Judgment which is in view here; first in the parable—

“…and when it was filled, they stepped it up upon the shore, and, sitting (down), they gathered together the fine (fish) into containers, but the rotten (one)s they threw away” (v. 48)

and then in the explanation (v. 49):

“So it will in the completion (all)together of th(is) Age—the Messengers will come out and will mark off the evil (one)s out of the midst of the just/righteous (one)s.”

The dualistic contrast here is simpler, drawing upon the traditional religious-ethical distinction of good/bad, righteous/wicked. Jesus’ statement in John 5:29 reflects the same traditional language:

“…and they will (all) travel out [i.e. from the dead]—the (ones hav)ing done good into a standing-up [i.e. resurrection] of life, but the (ones hav)ing acted foul(ly) into a standing-up of judgment.”

2. Vineyard Parables

Jesus appears to have regularly used the image of workers in a vineyard in his teaching. Many in his audience likely would have identified themselves with the servants, laborers, and tenants of these parables. The illustrations seem to play especially upon the idea of the absentee landowner—a man who travels away or lives elsewhere while the land itself is worked by hired laborers and tenant farmers. This proved useful for instruction on the theme of responsible discipleship—working faithfully while God is ‘away’ (in Heaven). The same storyline and setting could easily be applied—both in the authentic tradition, and in early Christian interpretation—to the idea of Jesus as the master who goes away (i.e., his death, resurrection, and departure to the Father). In several of the parables with an eschatological emphasis, this latter setting seems to be in view.

We have already looked at the (Synoptic) parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12; par Matt 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-19). It remains to examine two other parables found in the Gospel of Matthew, both of which occur in the general context of (end-time) reward and judgment—cf. 19:13-30; 20:20-28; 21:33ff.

Matthew 20:1-16: Payment of Laborers in the Vineyard

This is marked specifically as another Kingdom-parable:

“For the kingdom of the heavens is like a man (who is) master of a house(hold), who went out before (daytime) [i.e. in the early morning] to arrange (for) workers in his vineyard (to work) for wages…” (v. 1)

The eschatological aspect of this parable has to be inferred from the fundamental idea of the work in the vineyard being done over the course of an entire day (these being day-laborers, with a harvesting context implied). At the end of the day (v. 8), i.e. at the end-time (end of the current Age), the agreed-upon wage (misqo/$) for each worker is paid. There is an obvious parallel here to the idea of heavenly reward for the faithful/righteous ones at the end-time Judgment, being implicit in the parable (vv. 9ff). Early Christians certainly would have understood the workers in the vineyard as faithful disciples of Jesus, who came to be disciples at different points in time. For all such disciples the payment/reward is the same, which is the primary theme of the parable—believers do their work in common, as disciples of Jesus, without expecting any special priority or status based on when or how long one has been a disciple. This is emphasized by the concluding, paradoxical words in verse 16, which may have originated as a separate saying: “So will the first be last, and the last first”. The saying could easily be interpreted a different way, according the reversal-of-fortune motif found in a number of Jesus’ sayings. Here, by contrast, an egalitarian principle is established, one which softens or re-works the traditional eschatological language of the Judgment (cf. above). However, since it is disciples of Jesus (i.e. believers) who are the subject of the parable (not the wicked), this emphasis is more appropriate.

Matthew 21:28-32: The Two Sons

The contrast between righteous and wicked—true and false disciple—is expressed more clearly in the “Two Sons” parable. Here it is a Father (i.e. God) who asks each of his two sons to work in the vineyard (v. 28). As in the parable of the Sower, there are different responses to this word from the Master (vv. 29-30, note the interesting textual variants of wording and order found in the manuscripts). While not designated specifically as a Kingdom-parable, the Kingdom (of God) is clearly in view, when Jesus essentially gives an explanation of the parable to the religious leaders who were questioning his authority (vv. 23-27):

“…Amen, I relate to you that the toll-collectors and the prostitutes lead (the way) before you into the kingdom of God!” (v. 31b)

This is effectively an application of the statement in 20:16 (above), according to the reversal-of-fortune motif: sinners in the present age will enter the Kingdom, while the ‘righteous’ (according to traditional religious and morality) may not. A more precise application would follow the Vineyard-laborer parable—the religious leaders may still enter the Kingdom, but only after the lowly/wretched sinners have done so!

There is not an obvious eschatological aspect to this parable, other than what can be inferred from its basic setting, along with the narrative context—much of Jesus’ teaching in Jerusalem (chapters 21-25) is eschatological in orientation.

3. Banquet/Feast Parables

There are three such parables to consider, the first two of which may derive from the same line of tradition (the so-called “Q” material). They draw upon the older traditional motif of the heavenly/eschatological banquet, inspired by passages such as Isa 25:6-8; 55:1-2; 65:13-14; cf. 1 Enoch 62:14; 2 Baruch 29:4, etc (Fitzmyer, p. 1026). It is alluded to at several points in the book of Revelation (3:20; 19:9). At times this banquet/feast is specifically associated with the Messiah (and/or a “Messianic Age”). Jesus applies the idea to himself, and his closest disciples, in Luke 22:16ff, 29-30 par.

a. Matthew 22:1-14 / Luke 14:15-24

Matthew and Luke appear to be dealing with a common parable by Jesus (“Q” material), though the differences are significant enough that one must allow for the possibility of ‘separate’ parables coming from two distinct lines of tradition. However, the basic outline is the same—that of a (wealthy/prominent) man who invites people to a great feast. As in the parable of the Sower, there are different responses to this message, but initially they are all negative—everyone invited declines to attend, offering various reasons to be excused. These reasons all relate to the business of daily life, and would seem to parallel the the third soil-type in the parable of the sower and “the concerns/distractions of the world” (Mark 4:19, Jesus’ explanation). As a result, the man extends his invitation further afield, reaching to the poorer segments of society. This aspect echoes the parable of the Two Sons (cf. above), and the contrast between the repentant sinners/outcasts and the ‘righteous’ who fail to respond to Jesus’ message. In what appears to be the core parable, the invitation goes out to the streets of the city (Matt 22:8 / Lk 14:22); however, in Luke’s version, this is further extended to the crowded narrow lanes (where the poor and disabled are commonly found), and even further out into the roadways and fenced-off lands. This latter detail allows for (Lukan) application in terms of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles.

Both versions treat this as a Kingdom-parable, though in different ways:

    • In Matthew, it is so designated by Jesus (“the kingdom of the heavens is [to be] considered like a man…”, 22:2). Moreover, the man is specifically referred to as a king, and the feast identified as a wedding banquet for his son (further giving the parable a Messianic dimension). The people being invited are thus members of his kingdom.
    • Luke introduces the parable in the narrative context of a feast Jesus is attending (14:15), at which a man declares to him: “Happy the (one) who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This is similar to Jesus’ own words to his disciples at the Last Supper, where he speaks of drinking from “the produce of the vine” (i.e. wine) in the Kingdom of God (Mark 14:25 par). These motifs of eating/drinking should not taken too concretely; they are simply idioms referring to partaking in a meal. However, these references are eschatological, and relate to the feast/banquet motif mentioned above. As we see often in the Gospels, Jesus redirects his audience away from a simple traditional understanding (without entirely rejecting it), and points them toward a deeper meaning.

In Luke’s version, the poor and outcast take the place of the ‘righteous’ who refuse to attend, just as Jesus states in the Two Sons parable. Matthew’s version presents this quite differently, according to more traditional imagery associated with the end-time Judgment (cf. the chap. 13 parables above). Instead of the poor and afflicted, the call goes out to all people in the city, and a crowd comes to the feast—good and evil alike (22:10). This is very much akin to the parable of the Net, where good and bad fish are gathered up together in the net, to be separated out at the end-time Judgment. That is very much what the parable describes here in vv. 11-12, though in a most distinctive and memorable way, isolating on a single individual.

The Matthean version is thus more complex than the Lukan, and seems to be describing more distinct stages:

    • The well-to-do members of the kingdom (i.e. religious Israelites/Jews) who do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and/or fail to respond to his message
    • The disciples of Jesus who respond to his message, coming from all segments of the city—though not all are true, faithful disciples
    • At the end of the Age, at the time of the great feast, it is then that the true and false disciples will be separated

Finally, it is also worth mentioning a third version of this parable, in the Gospel of Thomas (saying/section 64); some critical commentators consider the Thomas version to be the more primitive, original form of the parable (Fitzmyer, pp. 1050-2).

Luke 13:23-30 (esp. verses 28-30)

There is a brief parable or illustration in the Gospel of Luke which is part of a block of teaching with an eschatological orientation. The section may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative introduction (v. 22)
    • Question by someone (disciple?) in the crowd (v. 23):
      “(is it that) the (one)s being saved (are only) a few?”
    • Illustration of the Narrow Door (v. 24)
    • Illustration of the Master of House standing at the Door (vv. 25-27)
    • Illustration of the Kingdom Feast (vv. 28-29)
    • Concluding saying (v. 30):
      “see, there are the last who will be first, and the first who will be last” (cp. Matt 20:16, above)

The setting in vv. 22-23 introduces the eschatological context of these illustrations. For the association with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, cf. on Luke 19:11 below (Part 3); the context of question in verse 23 relates salvation to entering/inheriting the Kingdom at the end-time. In contrast to the belief expressed in Jewish tradition, that “all Israelites have a share in the world to come” (m. Sanhedrin 10:1; Fitzmyer, p. 1022), a number of Jesus’ sayings seem to suggest that only a small percentage of the people (i.e. those accepting and following him) will be saved. The two Door parables (compare with Matt 7:13-14, 21-23) seem to emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ (eschatological) message:

    • Entering the kingdom requires struggle (a)gw/n), due to the narrowness (ste/no$) of the door or gate, the result of the many obstacles which surround it (cf. the Parable of the Weeds above). Jesus declared and emphasized on numerous occasions to his disciples (and would-be disciples) that considerable hardship was involved in following him—a lifestyle which demanded an ethic even more stringent than that of the Pharisees (cf. the Sermon on the Mount, etc); and also a faith/trust in God which is rare indeed among people (cf. on Luke 18:8 below [Part 3]).
    • Moreover, the door is open only for a (short) period; at some point (the end-time) the Master of the house/kingdom, will decide to close the door. It will be impossible for anyone to enter at that point, regardless of the claims or petitions they may make (i.e. that they were followers of Jesus, etc).

This leads into the Feast parable of vv. 28-29—entering the Kingdom at the end-time means joining in this great feast, at which all the righteous attend (the Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel, etc). There are two components to this illustration:

    1. Many Israelites will not join Abraham and Isaac, etc, in the Kingdom, but will be “thrown outside” (v. 28)
    2. Others will come from all the surrounding nations, from all directions (east, west, north, south) and will “lean back (to dine)” in the Kingdom (v. 29)

Given the overall narrative of Luke-Acts, it is not surprising that the Lukan parables and teachings of Jesus emphasis this more inclusive aspect—allowing even for the inclusion of Gentiles (through the early Christian mission) into the Kingdom.

(to be continued in Part 3)

References marked “Fitzmyer” above are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB] 28A (1985)

Gnosis and the New Testament, supplement: Luke 2:29-32

Luke 2:29-32

An interesting passage which connects salvation with knowledge and revelation is the “Song of Simeon” in Luke 2:29-32. Like the hymn of Zechariah (the Benedictus, Lk 1:67-79), it functions in the narrative as a prophetic oracle. There are actually two oracles uttered by Simeon, the other being addressed to Mary in vv. 34-35. All of the canticles, or hymns, in the Lukan Infancy narrative, draw heavily upon the Old Testament Scriptures, quoting or alluding to various passages in nearly every line. The very poetry, and the underlying mode of expression, has assimilated the language of the Old Testament Songs, Psalms and poetic oracles of the Prophets. The Song of Simeon is comprised of four lines. In the first line (v. 29), Simeon addresses himself to God:

“Now you (can) loose your slave from (his bonds), O Master, according to your utterance, in peace”

The second line (v. 30), in the context of the narrative, relates to Simeon’s revelatory experience of seeing the child Jesus:

“(in) that [i.e. because] my eyes saw your salvation”

The third line (v. 31) connects this revelation back to the prophecies and promises in the Old Testament, the (old) covenant between God and his people:

“which you made ready down upon the face [i.e. in the presence] of all the people”

The fourth line (v. 32) indicates the goal and purpose of this revelation:

“a light unto the uncovering of the nations, and (the) honor/splendor of your people Yisrael”

The theme of salvation is emphasized in the first two lines:

“Now you (can) loose your slave from (his bonds), O Master, according to your utterance, in peace,
(in) that [i.e. because] my eyes saw your salvation [swthri/a]”

The narrative context would associate the words a)polu/w (“loose from [bondage]”) and dou=lo$ (“slave”) with Simeon’s earthly life, lived in service to God (YHWH) as his Lord/Master (despo/th$), that is, the lord/master of the house who is the owner of the slave. However, the hymn itself can (and should) also be read more generally in terms of salvation from slavery to sin, etc, which is otherwise associated with the birth of Jesus in Lk 1:77, and more directly in Matt 1:21. The mention of peace [ei)rh/nh] also well fits the idea of salvation.

In the last two lines the theme of revelation is emphasized:

“which you made ready down upon the face [i.e. in the presence] of all the people:
a light unto the uncovering of the nations, and (the) honor/splendor of your people Yisrael”

This is already suggested by the use of ei&dw (“see”) and o)fqalmoi/ (“eyes”) in v. 30; the verb ei&dw (oi@da) in Greek is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw (“know”) and often indicates knowing as well as seeing. The expression kata\ pro/swpon (“down on the face”, “against the face”, i.e. “before the face”) also suggests something that is seen; the word translated “face” (pro/swpon) literally means “toward the eye”, i.e. before one’s eyes, facing, and so the face or “appearance” of a person, etc. For the words fw=$ (“light”) and a)poka/luyi$ (“taking the cover from”, “uncovering”) used for revelation, cf. Part 2 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. The noun do/ca refers to the esteem or honor which a person receives, or which is due to that person (especially God), often described in terms of visual splendor (light-imagery, etc); it is frequently associated with divine revelation in the New Testament. For more on the connection between salvation and revelation, cf. Part 3 in “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

I discuss the Song of Simeon elsewhere, examining each verse (each line) in considerable detail.

As my translation above is an extremely literal (glossed) rendering, the rhythm and feel of the poetry has been obscured; here below, in closing, is a more poetic rendering:

“Now, Master, you can release your slave, according to your word, in peace,
(now) that my eyes have seen your salvation
which you prepared before the face of all (the) people—
a light to uncover (for) the nations,
and (the) splendor of your people Israel.”

“Gnosis” in the NT: Luke 10:22 par

This is the first in a set of notes that are supplemental to the current series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. These notes, to begin with, will treat select verses where the words gnw=si$, ginw/skw, and other related terms, are used.

Luke 10:22 (par Matt 11:27)

The saying of Jesus in Luke 10:22 (with its parallel in Matt 11:27) is unique, and especially significant as being one of the few Synoptic sayings which appears to be closely aligned with the language used by Jesus in the Gospel of John. Here is verse 22 in translation:

“All things were given along to me under my Father, and no one knows who the Son is if not [i.e. except] the Father, and who the Father is if not [i.e. except] the Son, and the (one) to whom the Son should wish to uncover [i.e. reveal] (it)”.

As mentioned above, this sort of reciprocal relationship between Father and Son (and believer) is common in the Gospel of John, but rare by comparison in the Synoptics. The section Lk 10:21-24 represents a sequence of three (or four) sayings by Jesus which are also found in Matthew (but not Mark); as such, they are part of the so-called “Q” material. That they were originally separate sayings is indicated by the fact that vv. 23-24 occur in a different location in Matthew (13:16-17). However, it is possible that vv. 21 and 22 also reflect distinct sayings which were joined together at the earliest levels of Gospel tradition (by thematic “catchword” bonding). The sayings of Lk 10:21-24 all share the common theme of God (the Father) revealing things (and Himself) specially to the followers of Jesus:

    • v. 21: The Father has hidden things away from the wise and learned (of the world) and uncovered (i.e. revealed) them for the “infants”—that is, to Jesus’ followers, many of whom come from the lower (and relatively uneducated) segments of society.
    • v. 22: Only the “Son” knows the Father, and uncovers (reveals) the Father to those whom he wished (i.e. the followers of Jesus).
    • v. 23: The followers of Jesus are happy/blessed (maka/rio$) to have seen these things.
    • v. 24: The mighty/great persons of the world (“kings and prophets”) were not able to see/hear these things, however much they may have wished to do so.

In Luke, this unit is structured carefully enough to function as a chiasm:

    • Hidden away from the wise/learned of the world (v. 21)
      —Uncovered/revealed by the Son to those whom he wishes/chooses (v. 22)
      —Jesus’ followers see and hear, and so are greatly blessed (v. 23)
    • Kept away from the mighty of the world, who had longed to experience such a blessing (v. 24)

The two parts each have a common keyword:

    • Vv. 21-22: The verb a)pokalu/ptw (apokalúptœ)—lit. “remove the cover from”, i.e. “uncover, reveal”
    • Vv. 23-24: The verb(s) ble/pw/ei&dw—”see, look, perceive,” etc

Within the wider Lukan context, these verses also contain two basic themes which run through the section spanning 9:5118:34, set during Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem:

    • The nature and requirements of discipleship, of following Jesus, and
    • The revelation of Jesus (the Son [of Man]) as the Anointed One and Chosen (Son) of God, which will occur following his death and resurrection

The two themes blend together neatly in 10:21-24. If we consider the Matthean form of the saying in v. 22 (Matt 11:27), there are two small but significant differences worth noting: (a) the use of the compound verb e)piginw/skw instead of ginw/skw, and (b) an apparently simpler form of the saying without the repeated element ti/$ e)stin (“who…is”) found in Luke:

“All things were given along to me under my Father, and no one has knowledge about the Son if not [i.e. except] the Father, and n(either does) any (one) have knowledge about the Father if not [i.e. except] the Son, and the (one) to whom the Son should wish to uncover [i.e. reveal] (it)”

The compound verb e)piginw/skw (epiginœ¡skœ) literally means “to know (or have knowledge) upon [e)pi/] something”, in the fundamental sense of “looking upon” it (and understanding), i.e., perceiving, recognizing, gaining knowledge, etc. The preposition can also serve as an intensive element—i.e. to know something (or someone) completely, thoroughly, intimately, etc. It is possible to interpret the verb here in three ways: (i) the intimate knowledge the Father and Son have of each other; (ii) an emphasis on recognition, especially that of the disciples recognizing the Father in the Son (Jesus); and (iii) and emphasis on gaining knowledge, particularly that of the disciples coming to know the Father (through Jesus). Luke uses the simpler verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ), and this version of the saying also makes clear the nature of the knowledge: “who (the Son/Father) is” (ti/$ e)stin). In this regard, the version of the saying in Matthew is presumably closer to an original (Aramaic) form, which would not have included a specific verb of being corresponding to Greek e)stin (ei)mi). Interestingly, Matthew still has one occurrence of the indefinite pronoun (ti/$), but used rather differently, in the sense of “whoever, any (person) who”.

There has been some question among commentators as to whether the historical Jesus would have used the (absolute) expression “the Son” (o( ui(o/$). While this occurs rather frequently in the Gospel of John (some 15 times) it is hardly found at all the Synoptic Gospels; apart from the passage under discussion, it occurs only in Mark 13:32 (par Matt 24:36) and the baptismal formula in Matt 28:19. In the Synoptics, Jesus almost always refers to himself as “(the) Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou). The title “Son of God” is applied to Jesus, but by others (Mk 3:11; 5:7; 14:61; 15:39 and pars; Matt 4:3, 6 par; 14:33; 16:16; 27:40, 43; Lk 1:32, 35), never by Jesus himself (but note Matt 27:43). Though admittedly rare in the Synoptics, the fact that the expression “the Son” occurs in two distinct sayings, transmitted, apparently, through different lines of tradition—the Synoptic (Markan) tradition (Mk 13:32 par), and the double tradition of Matthew-Luke (“Q”)—argues for its historicity. Indeed, this is strengthened by the Johannine usage (a third line of tradition), and its similarities with the very saying under discussion here (cf. below).

It is significant that use of “the Son” in the Gospels virtually always occurs in direct connect to a reference to God as “the Father”, both in John (Jn 3:35-36; 5:19-27; 8:36ff; 14:13; 17:1ff) and the rare Synoptic sayings. I think it likely that the idea (and idiom) behind the usage is the general illustration of a son (“the son“) and his relationship to his father (“the father“), especially in the sense of a dutiful son who learns (as a pupil or apprentice, etc) by following the example of his father, imitating what he says and does. This is certainly the case in the Gospel of John, where Jesus states repeatedly that he (the Son) is only doing and saying what he sees/hears his Father doing and saying. Almost certainly, this is also the background of the illustrative language in Luke 10:22 par. The verb paradi/dwmi (“give along[side]”) is often used for the transmission of traditional teaching and instruction, etc, from one generation to the next; it occurs frequently in this sense in early Christianity (Luke 1:2; Acts 16:4; Rom 6:17; 1 Cor 11:2, 23a; 15:3; 2 Pet 2:21; Jude 3), along with the related noun para/dosi$ (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6, etc).

If this line of interpretation is correct, then it also helps to clarify the meaning of the pronouns pa/nta (“all [thing]s”) and tau=ta (“these [thing]s”) in vv. 21-22—they are (all) the things which the Son (Jesus) has learned from the Father, including the working of miracles, but especially in respect to the Father’s revelation of Himself (i.e. who He is). Through the Son (Jesus), the Father has now revealed these to the chosen ones (believers, followers of Jesus) as well—”all things” is a comprehensive term, but it is centered specifically in the knowledge of God. The saying in Mark 13:32 par is noteworthy in that Jesus emphasizes that there is at least one thing (the time of the end and the Last Judgment) which the Son has not learned from the Father, i.e. which the Father has not (yet) revealed to him.

The similarity of language and idiom between Luke 10:22 par and the Gospel of John has been noted several times above. The main passages to consider in a comparative study are: John 3:35; 6:65; 7:29; 10:15; 13:3; 14:7-11; 17:2ff, 25; and also 20:21 (cf. Mark 9:37 par). The common wording/phrases and concepts can be seen by a literal translation of several of these passages (note the italicized portions):

    • Jn 3:35: “The Father loves the Son, and all things [pa/nta] have been given in(to) his hand”
    • Jn 7:29: “I see/know Him [i.e. the Father], (in) that I am (from) alongside [para/] (of) Him, and that One has se(n)t me forth from (Him)”
    • Jn 10:15: “Even as the Father knows [ginw/skei] me, (so) I also know [ginw/skw] the Father…”
    • Jn 14:7: “If you have/had known me, you would/will [have] know[n] the Father also; but from now (on) you know him and have seen him”
    • Jn 17:2: “Even as You [i.e. the Father] gave [e&dwka$] him [i.e. the Son] (the) authority/ability o(ver) all flesh, (so) that (for) every (one) th(at) You have given [de/dwka$] to him [i.e. the Son], he might give [dw/sh|] to them Life of-the-Ages [i.e. eternal life]”
    • Jn 17:25: “O just/righteous Father, (indeed) the world did not know you, but I knew you, and these [i.e. Jesus’ followers] have (come to) know that you se(n)t me forth from (you)”

Jn 10:15 and 17:2 are the closest to the Synoptic saying.

The Law in Luke-Acts, Part 1: The Temple and Torah Observance

The question of the Old Testament Law (Torah) in the Gospel of Luke has already been addressed in the series “Jesus and the Law”; in this article I will be looking at the overall treatment of the subject by the author of Luke-Acts (traditionally Luke, the physician and companion of Paul). The article will be divided into two parts:

    1. The Temple and Torah observance
    2. The early Mission to the Gentiles, with special emphasis on the “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15

The Temple and Torah Observance

This part will be further divided into two main sections:

    • The Temple setting and theme in Luke-Acts
    • Torah observance by the Apostles and other disciples in Acts

The Temple setting and theme in Luke-Acts

This can be examined according to three aspects—narrative, theological, and apologetic—which are interconnected and impossible to separate out entirely; these will be discussed at the appropriate points below. To begin, with one may isolate several main narrative sections in Luke-Acts where the Temple setting and theme is central:

    • The Infancy Narratives (Lk 1-2)
    • The Passion Narrative (Lk 19:28 through chapter 23)
    • The Sanhedrin “trial” scenes in Acts 3-7
    • The Arrest of Paul (Acts 21-22)

The Infancy Narratives (Lk 1-2)

The Temple in Jerusalem provides the setting for three episodes in the Lukan Infancy narratives:

The Angelic annunciation to Zechariah (Lk 1:5-23)—The conception/birth of John the Baptist is announced by the heavenly Messenger Gabriel to John’s father Zechariah, during his priestly duty in the Temple sanctuary (vv. 8-10, 21ff). Gabriel appears to Zechariah standing on the right side of the altar (of incense).

The “Presentation” of Jesus at the Temple (Lk 2:22-38)—Two different rituals are combined in the narrative (vv. 22-24)—the sacrifice for purification after childbirth, and the ‘redemption’ of the firstborn male child—the latter being described in terms of Jesus being presented/dedicated to God in the Temple. This setting also serves as the dramatic stage for the encounters with Simeon (vv. 25-35) and Anna (vv. 36-38).

The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:41-51)—This famous and dramatic narrative is set in the Temple, following the observance of Passover in Jerusalem (v. 41). The twelve-year old Jesus remains behind—when his parents find him again, he is in the Temple precincts, sitting (as a pupil) with the teachers (of the Law). The exchange between Jesus and his parents in vv. 48-49 is the climax of the episode.

Besides providing a dramatic narrative setting for these episodes, the Temple serves a theological and apologetic purpose for the author (and/or his traditional source[s]). An important point of emphasis is the religious devotion and faithfulness of Zechariah/Elizabeth (1:6) and Joseph/Mary (2:21, 22-24, 27, 39, 41), which includes the prescribed ritual activities (priestly duty, sacrificial offering, observance of Passover) in the Temple. This theme runs through the infancy narrative, culminating in Jesus’ declaration to his parents in verse 49: “…did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in/among the (thing)s of my Father?” Jesus stands in the midst of the Old Testament religious forms and fulfills the righteousness of the Torah and Temple. From an early Christian perspective, he is connected to the older Israelite/Jewish religious world, to venerable figures such as Zechariah/Elizabeth or Simeon/Anna (see esp. Lk 2:25ff, 37-38). This also reflects a positive view of the Temple, which we see throughout Luke (and Acts), more so than in the other Gospels.

The Passion Narrative

There are three traditional elements in the Passion narrative(s) of the Gospels involving the Temple: (1) the symbolic “cleansing” of the Temple by Jesus, (2) the Temple as a setting for Jesus’ teaching during the days before his death, and (3) the tearing of the Temple veil at Jesus’ death. With regard to the Lukan handling of these details, the following should be noted:

    • The Temple “cleansing” scene is greatly abbreviated (Lk 19:45-46), compared with the account in Mark
    • Luke makes no mention of the “Temple saying” during the ‘trial’ of Jesus (Mk 14:58, Matt 26:60-61, presented as false witness, but cf. Jn 2:19); however, he presumably was aware of the tradition (cf. Acts 6:14), so the omission here is likely intentional
    • Special emphasis is given to Jesus’ presence teaching in the Temple (Lk 19:47; 20:1, 21:5, 37)
    • In Lk 23:45 the Temple veil is torn prior to Jesus’ actual death (cp. Mk 15:38; Matt 27:51)

The Sanhedrin “Trial” scenes in Acts 3-7

The Temple setting and theme is prominent in three different narrative episodes in the early chapters of Acts:

  • Acts 3:1-4:31—a narrative arc including: (a) the healing of a crippled beggar by Peter and John in the Temple precincts (3:1-10), (b) a sermon-speech by Peter (3:11-26), (c) the arrest of Peter and John and their appearance before the Sanhedrin (4:1-22), including a second speech by Peter (vv. 8-12)
  • Acts 5:12-42—a similar narrative arc, involving: (a) additional healing miracles, including mention of the disciples again in the Temple precincts (vv. 12-16), (b) a second arrest of Peter and others, with their miraculous release and instruction (by the Angel) to go and preach in the Temple (vv. 17-21a); (c) search for the disciples, who are found teaching in the Temple (vv. 21b-26); (d) a second appearance before the Sanhedrin (vv. 27-42), with twin speeches by Peter (vv. 29-32) and Gamaliel (vv. 35-39)
  • Acts 6:8-8:1a—a narrative arc involving the arrest (6:8-15) and death (7:54-8:1a) of Stephen, in between which is the speech (set before the Sanhedrin) in 7:1-53; the Temple plays a key role in both the charges against Stephen (6:11-14) and the climactic sections of his speech (7:35-53)

The Arrest of Paul (Acts 21-22)

During Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem, he took part in a purification ritual in the Temple (21:23-26), where he was recognized and seized by the hostile crowd (vv. 27-30) and removed from the Temple precincts, being taken into custody by Roman authorities. This sets the stage for the speech by Paul in 22:1-21.

The Significance of the Temple setting and theme

This can be summarized under two basic thematic headings related to early Christianity and Judaism—continuity and conflict:

1. Early Christianity as a continuation of Israelite/Jewish religion (centered on the Temple)
  • This an important theme in the Infancy narratives (cf. above)—the parents of John the Baptist and Jesus are shown as righteous (in the traditional Jewish sense), faithfully observing the commands and ordinances of the Law, including participation in the prescribed Temple ritual. Jesus and his parents encounter similar examples of Israelite/Jewish piety in the figures of Simeon and Anna who regularly frequent the Temple. It is following the pilgrimage festival of Passover in Jerusalem, that Jesus stays behind in the Temple.
  • The theme of teaching in the Temple precincts, extending from Jesus (Lk 2:46; 19:47; 20:1; 21:37; 22:53) to the apostles (Acts 3:12; 4:2; 5:20-21, 25, 28, 42).
  • After the Resurrection/Ascension of Jesus, the early believers continue to frequent the Temple (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42).
  • Paul, the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ (in Acts 13-20), willingly takes part (along with observant Jewish Christians) in a Temple ritual (Acts 21:23-26).
2. The Temple as a source and symbol of conflict between early Christianity and Judaism
  • The Temple action (“cleansing”) and saying by Jesus, though minimized in the Lukan narrative (cf. above), clearly serve as a point of conflict and controversy in the early Church. The substance of the charge (that Jesus would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days) in Mk 14:58 par is retained in the accusation against Stephen (Acts 6:14, below).
  • The Temple setting is central to the twin narratives (in Acts 3-5), where Peter and the apostles are arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin; it serves to heighten the sense of conflict (especially in 5:20-25ff).
  • The accusations and charges against Stephen (Acts 6:11-14) are:
    • “we heard him speaking abusive/slanderous words unto [i.e. against] Moses and God” (v. 11)
    • “this man does not cease speaking words against [this] holy Place and the Law” (v. 13)
    • “we have heard him say that Jesus the Nazarean will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this place and make different [i.e. change/alter] the customs which Moses gave along to us” (v. 14)
      The last two are said to have been made by “false witnesses”, and are clearly related to the charge made against Jesus at his ‘trial’ (Mk 14:58 par).
  • The speech of Stephen remarkably draws a connection between the Temple and idolatry (the episode of the Golden Calf, etc) in 7:39-43ff, and questions the value and purpose of the Temple itself (especially with the citation of Isa 66:1-2) in vv. 44-50. The improper approach to God (and His “dwelling”) is further wrapped up in the counter-charge that the Jewish leaders (i.e. the Sanhedrin, implied) are the ones who have not kept the Law (v. 53). I have discussed this at length in the series on the Speeches of Acts.
  • Paul’s arrest in Acts 21-22 (above) is similarly related to accusations against him, that he speaks against the Jewish Law and religious customs (21:20-21). While it is hard to say whether such claims have any basis with regard to Stephen, they could more plausibly be made against Paul, according to his argument in Galatians (and parts of Romans). However, the author of Acts, in presenting the episode of chaps. 21-22, takes pains to emphasize that this is not true of Paul. James’ recommendation for Paul to participate in the purification ritual is specifically made so that other Jews (and Jewish Christians) will know that “(the things) sounded down about you are nothing [i.e. are not true], but (rather) you walk in line and (your)self (are) keeping the Law” (v. 24). When Paul is recognized by the crowd, the accusation is stated: “this is the man teaching everyone everywhere against the Law and this Place” (note the similarity to 6:13). All of this takes place in the setting of the Temple precincts.

Torah observance by the Apostles and other Disciples in Acts

The episode in Acts 21 (discussed above) brings out more clearly the fundamental issue of whether, or to what extent, the early Christians faithfully observed the commands and ordinances of the Law (Torah). Though the evidence is relatively slight, the book of Acts suggests that the early believers in Jerusalem (Jewish Christians) were observant. The following passages may be noted:

    • The Apostles and early Christians continued to frequent the Temple (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42); though they are not depicted especially participating in the Temple ritual, it is likely that they did so as well (cf. Acts 3:1; 21:23-26).
    • The charge that Stephen speaks against the Law (Acts 6:13) is presented as false testimony; there is no clear evidence that he ever did such, though there does appear to be an anti-Temple theme in his sermon-speech (cf. Acts 7:35-53).
    • Peter’s objection to the command in the vision of Acts 10:9-16 suggests that he faithfully observed the dietary regulations in the Torah; on this, see below.
    • The conflict leading to the “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15 clearly shows that many, if not most, Jewish Christians were strictly observant, and some wished that Torah observance be required of Gentile converts as well (v. 1, 5); cf. also 11:1-3ff. This will be discussed in more detail in the next part of this series.
    • The circumcision of Timothy (Acts 17:3), in apparent contrast with Gal 2:3-5 (and the argument throughout Galatians, etc).
    • James, the leading figure of the Jerusalem Church, is depicted as a staunch supporter of the Torah, both in Acts 21:17-26 and (to a lesser extent) in 15:12-29. Other Jewish believers in Jerusalem are described as “zealous for the Law” (21:20; cf. also 22:12) and as those who would regularly take part in the required Temple ritual (vv. 23-24). James is concerned to quash any rumors that Paul opposed the Law and Jewish religious custom (vv. 21ff), and so recommends that Paul participate in the ritual.
    • In addition to Paul’s participation in the ritual of Acts 21:23-26, he makes several direct statements in his subsequent defense speeches regarding his support and observance of the Law—cf. Acts 22:3, 17; 24:11-14, 17; 25:8. The question of Paul’s observance of the Torah, as well as the portrait of Paul in Acts compared with the Epistles, will be addressed later in this series.

A treatment of the mission to the Gentiles and the “Jerusalem Council” will come in the second part of this article; here, however, it is necessary to discuss briefly Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9-16 (cf. also 11:5-10).

Peter’s Vision (Acts 10:6-16; 11:5-10)

The vision involved the descent of a vessel filled with all kinds of animals—clean and unclean (cf. the dietary regulations in Lev 11:1-47; Deut 14:3-20). A voice commanded Peter to “stand up… slay (the animals) and eat” (v. 13), the implication being that he should eat the unclean animals as well. To this Peter objects saying, “not so, Lord, (in) that I have not ever eaten any (thing) common and unclean” (v. 14). In response, the (heavenly) voice declares: “(that) which God has cleansed you must not consider common” (v. 15). It is a striking and powerful scene, but how is it to be understood? Is it simply about food (dietary regulations), or is it symbolic—or both?

Some commentators have tried to suggest that the vision does not abolish the dietary laws, but is simply meant as an example that the Gentiles should be accepted into the Church. I find this most unlikely, even though it is the primary interpretation given in 11:18. While the symbolism regarding acceptance of the Gentiles is certainly correct (see vv. 28b, 35, 45 and 11:1ff), the argument related to the dietary laws themselves seems abundantly clear and specific. It may be helpful to distinguish between the meaning of the vision itself (as a possible independent historical tradition) and the role it plays in Acts 10-11. Taken at face value, the vision appears to be about food and the dietary restrictions of the Torah regarding “clean and unclean” animals; if so, then declaration in verse 15 means that God has declared all animals clean and that they may be eaten without restriction. This would effectively abolish the dietary laws in Lev 11, etc.; however, it must be admitted that the specific logical consequences of the vision do not play any role further in Acts, nor in the rest of the New Testament. Apart from the behavior of Peter narrated in Gal 2:12, it is hard to find evidence of any apostolic sanction for Jewish Christians to disregard the dietary regulations. Upon hearing Peter’s account of the vision (and subsequent events), the Jewish believers accept that Gentiles have come to salvation, but make no comment about the implications related to clean and unclean food. This certainly accords with the purpose of Acts—the emphasis is on the inclusion of the Gentiles, not a commentary on the Torah regulations per se.

The force of the vision itself may be appreciated by a closer examination of the actual language and symbolism used; first, there appears to be a two-fold aspect to the symbolism of the vision, marked by the adjective pa=$ (“all”):

    • “All [pa/nta] kinds of animals” (v. 12)—this indicates a removal of the clean/unclean distinction in the dietary laws; note Peter’s objection (“I have never eaten anything [pa=n] common or unclean”).
    • “All parts of the earth”—as symbolized by the vessel as a “great sheet” with four corners set down upon the earth (v. 11); this indicates the universality of the Christian mission (to the Gentiles), cf. Lk 24:47; Acts 1:8; 2:5ff; 9:15.

In addition, note the careful structure of Peter’s objection (following the dietary laws) and the divine response (vv. 14-15):

    • Not anything common [koino/$]
      • Not anything unclean [a)ka/qarto$]
      • God has cleansed [kaqari/zw]
    • Do not call/consider common [koino/w]

It is a clear, symmetric argument, which certainly appears to undo or abolish the dietary regulations in the Torah. If the vision originally (at the historical-traditional level) addressed the food laws specifically, the author of Acts has deftly incorporated it into the Cornelius narrative of chapters 10-11. This is indicated by the presence of several details—for example, the three-fold vision (10:16) coincides with the appearance of three men (vv. 17-19); similarly, just as the visionary scene “steps down” from heaven to meet Peter (v. 11), so Peter “steps down” (vv. 20-21) to meet his visitors (the same verb katabai/nw is used). This complex thematic interweaving is appropriate, for the question of the dietary laws is ultimately interwoven with the early Christian mission to the Gentiles, as is made abundantly clear in the episode at Antioch narrated in Galatians 2 (cf. the recent notes on Gal 2:11-21). For Jewish-Christian missionaries, to continue observing the dietary restrictions of the Torah meant that Gentiles would effectively be required to do the same if they wished to enjoy proper table fellowship with their fellow (Jewish) believers. Paul saw the serious problem this created, both at the practical and deeper theological levels.

The next part of this article will deal specifically with the mission to the Gentiles and the central episode of the “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15.

June 14 (2): Acts 2:42-46

This Sunday (the first after Trinity Sunday), in Roman Catholic tradition, represents the feast (celebration) of Corpus Christi—that is, the body of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). Protestants generally do not recognize this feast day in the Church Year, since it is tied to a belief in the “real presence” of Christ (i.e. his body present miraculously, but materially in the consecrated bread and wine) and the concept of transubstantiation (the substance/essence of the bread and wine is transformed into his body/blood). Ever since the Renaissance and Reformation period, Western Christians—Protestants in particular—have struggled to preserve something of the ancient mystic-symbolic sense of the sacred ritual in light of the more scientific-materialistic age in which they live. The crux of the disputes in the Reformation period was the declaration by Jesus in the Last Supper scene of the Synoptic Gospels—”this is my body / this is my blood” (Mark 14:22, 24 par)—and how precisely it should be understood. However, perhaps even more interesting, from my viewpoint, is the question of exactly how early believers may have applied eucharistic language and symbolism to their communal meals. In this regard, the crucial, seminal passage is found in the book of Acts, in the narrative summary of Acts 2:42-47:

42And they were strong/steadfast toward (each other) in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion, in the breaking of bread and the speaking out toward (God) [i.e. prayers]…
44and all the ones trusting/believing were (together) upon the same (place) [e)pi\ to\ au)to/] and had all things in common…
46and according to (the) day [i.e. daily], being strong/steadfast toward (each other) with one impulse in the sacred place [i.e. Temple], and breaking bread according to (the) house, they took food with (one another) in joy and smoothness/simplicity [lit. without stone/pebble] of heart…
47…and the Lord set toward [i.e. added to] the ones being saved according to (the) day [i.e. daily] e)pi\ to/ au)to/.

Here I would focus on the expression kla/si$ tou= a&rtou (klásis tou ártou), “breaking of bread” in verse 42, which is mentioned again in verse 46 in slightly different form: “breaking bread according to house”. The modifying expression “according to (the) house” (kat’ oi@kon) means that the “breaking of bread” took place in one house, then another—presumably an indication that the larger group/community met in the houses of different believers in turn. But what of this “breaking of bread”?—does it represent: (a) ordinary meals, or (b) a celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist)? On the surface, it would seem that ‘ordinary’ communal meals are meant, as in v. 46 where it says that the believers “took food/nourishment with (one another) [metala/mbanon trofh=$]”. However, most scholars today would, I think, hold that some form of the Lord’s Supper is meant, and in this they are probably correct. One could, perhaps, distinguish between the terminology of the earliest believers (c. 35 A.D.) with that of the author of Acts (c. 70-80) [cf. also references in Acts 20:7, 11; 27:35]; but for the author of Luke-Acts, at least, it is extremely likely that “breaking (of) bread” served as a kind of shorthand reference and image for the Eucharist. This would seem to be confirmed by the narrative of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35), where Jesus comes to be known/recognized in the breaking of the bread (cf. verse 35, the only other occurrence of the noun kla/si$ [klásis, “breaking, fracture”] in the New Testament). For more on this passage, see below.

The symbolism, of course, originates with that used by Jesus in the Synoptic accounts of the Last Supper:

Mark 14:22: “And in their eating, taking [labw\n] bread (and) blessing [eu)logh/sa$] he broke [e&klasen] (it) and gave [e&dwken] (it) to them and said, ‘Take (it)—this is my body'”

The version in Matthew 26:26 differs very little, the majority text of Luke 22:19 somewhat more so, with the addition in 19b (missing in some key ‘Western’ manuscripts) of: “…th(at is) given over you; do this in my memory/remembrance”. From a period presumably in between that of the earliest believers and the author of Luke-Acts, we have Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, which includes a citation of Jesus words of institution (vv. 24-26) fairly close to the formula in Luke. While the exact context and circumstances are not entirely clear, Paul’s is describing a situation where the significant (or “sacred”, i.e. eucharistic) aspects of the communal meal are effectively being ignored or disregarded in practice. This indicates (clearly enough to me) that the eucharistic elements simply serve as a ritual, symbolic aspect of what is otherwise an (ordinary) communal meal. Paul warns strongly against those who eat and drink without “judging/discerning throroughly” (diakri/nwn) the body (of Christ) (v. 30, and note the warning against eating and drinking unworthily in v. 27). Some commentators have interpreted verse 30 in light of later disputes regarding the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, but this almost certainly reads too much into the text. I believe Paul’s point in this passage is two-fold:

    1. Those who participate in the meal in an unworthy manner are, whether consciously or not, disregarding the sacred/symbolic aspect of the meal—it is not possible to reconstruct the ancient ritual element with certainty, but originally it probably centered upon a specific act of “breaking bread”, in imitation of Jesus’ own act.
    2. The nature of the problems at Corinth involved a lack of unity among believers, and this was reflected in the way they came together to celebrate the eucharistic meal (see v. 17-19ff). Here divisions in the body of Christ (the congregation) are juxtaposed against the body of Christ (bread and wine) broken/divided in ritual (but serving to promote unity and spiritual life).

Previously, I mentioned the Emmaus scene in Luke 24, where Jesus joins the two disciples for a meal (in their house or a lodging on the way). All throughout the scene (vv. 15-29), the disciples had failed to recognize the resurrected person of Jesus; that is, until the moment of the common meal:

30And it came to be, in his bending down [i.e. reclining] with them, taking [labw/n] the bread he blessed [eu)lo/ghsen] and, breaking [kla/sa$] (it), he gave [e)pedi/dou] (it) to them…

The same set of four verbs, in sequence, appears in Jesus’ words at the Lord’s Supper (see above)—the eucharistic connection could not be clearer! Note, too, that upon the breaking of the bread, “their eyes were thoroughly opened and they recognized [lit. knew upon] him”, an aspect of the scene important enough to be repeated in verse 35, where it is mentioned, in conclusion, “how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread”. This, I believe, is not unrelated conceptually to Paul’s statement regarding the importance of “discerning” (diakri/nw) the body of Christ during the meal. The importance of the breaking of the bread, which, as I pointed out, was probably a single ritual act of breaking (accompanied by simple liturgical wording) is emphasized in the so-called Didache (or “Teaching” of the Twelve Apostles), which likely dates from the early-mid second-century; in the Eucharistic passage in chap. 9-10, the bread is specifically referred to as “broken (piece[s])” (kla/sma) (9:3-4). In the Didache, the associated prayers have already developed considerably beyond anything likely to have been used by the earliest believers (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-26); but note the powerful image of Christian unity expressed in verse 4:

“As this broken (bread) was scattered throughout up above (on) the mountains and was brought together (and) became one, thus may your called-out (people) [i.e. church/ekklesia] be brought together from the ends/limits of the earth into your Kingdom…”

This draws upon the other major passage in the New Testament which specifically refers to the breaking of bread—namely, the miraculous feeding of the multitude—which I will discuss in the next few daily notes.

The feast of Corpus Christi was officially established by Pope Urban IV in 1264 A.D., associated with the so-called miracle of Bolsena in which the eucharistic wafer (host) was said to have bled and imprinted bloody images of the host upon the surplice of the officiating priest—therefore removing any doubts the priest (or others) may have had about the doctrine of transubstantiation and the Real Presence! The scene was commemorated most famously by Raphael in the Stanza (reception room) d’Elidoro in the Vatican palace

Jerusalem and the Unity of Believers (part 1)

As indicated in the previous days’ notes on the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-13), the setting of Jerusalem holds a central place in the narrative, both as a location and a theological motif. Indeed, the first chapters of Acts—up to and including the death of Stephen (chapters 1-7)—are devoted entirely to the early Christians living and ministering in Jerusalem. Only with the onset of severe persecution (Acts 8:1-4ff), do the disciples spread outward into the surrounding territories and nations—this notice is emphasized again in Acts 11:19, in order to introduce the Christians of Antioch and to set the stage for Paul’s missionary journeys. Once the Pauline narratives begin, the Jerusalem Church largely fades from view, only to reappear associated with two important episodes: (1) the ‘council’ held in Jerusalem (Acts 15) to discuss the role and place of the Gentile mission, and (2) the arrest of Paul upon his visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21, extending to the middle of chap. 23).

A proper understanding of the significance of Jerusalem in the early chapters of Acts, I believe, requires that one study the role it plays in the Gospel as well. Since, by general consensus, the third Gospel and Acts (as a 2-volume work) were written by the same author (trad. Luke), one would expect a fair degree of continuity in thought—both theological and artistic expression—in the two books. What follows is a summary of Jerusalem as a narrative setting and theological/spiritual theme in the Gospel of Luke. It is necessary to compare that which Luke has inherited as part of the wider Synoptic tradition with those elements unique to his Gospel.

Jerusalem in the wider Synoptic tradition

Within the Gospels of Matthew and Mark there are relatively few references to Jerusalem. Let us begin with:

1. What Matthew and Mark share in common. This is fairly simple:

    • General summary references to people coming from all around (including Jerusalem) to see Jesus—Mark 1:5; 3:8 (par Matt 3:5; 4:25, and, adapted somewhat in Luke 5:17; 6:17).
    • Reference to religious leaders (Scribes [and Pharisees]) coming from Jerusalem to see/question Jesus—Mark 3:22; 7:1 (par [latter reference only] Matt 15:1; no parallel in Luke)
    • The journey to Jerusalem, including a prediction by Jesus of his Passion which will take place there—Mark 10:32-33 (par. Matt 20:17-18, with a similar notice earlier in 16:21; partial parallel Luke 18:31 [cf. below])
    • Beginning with the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1ff; par Matt 21:1ff; Luke 19:28ff), Jesus remains in Jerusalem (or nearby Bethany) until his death and resurrection. All of the events of the Passion take place in Jerusalem; however, according to Matthew and (apparently) originally in Mark (cf. 16:1-8), Jesus’ (first) resurrection appearance to the disciples does not take place in Jerusalem, but rather in Galilee (Matt 28:7, 10, 16ff; Mark 16:7), contrary to what is narrated in Luke and John.

2. Details unique to Matthew. Apart from several minor additions to the Synoptic narrative (Matt 16:21; 21:10, etc), and a unique proverbial reference in Matt 5:35, there are only three significant episode or sayings involving Jerusalem:

    • The Infancy narrative (setting of Matt 2:1-8, 16), related to both the visit of the Magi and the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem in chapter 2.
    • The Jerusalem Temple setting in the Temptation scene—Matt 4:5ff (shared by Luke 4:9ff).
    • Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem—Matt 23:37ff, included at the end of the “Woes” against the religious leaders (Scribes and Pharisees) in chapter 23. The saying is part of the so-called Q tradition, for it also found in Luke 13:34f.

Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke (beyond the Synoptic tradition)

This can be outlined as follows:

    • Jerusalem as a setting in the Infancy narratives
    • The expanded Journey to Jerusalem
    • Eschatological predictions by Jesus, set during Passion week
    • Post-resurrection appearances of Jesus

Jerusalem as a setting in the Infancy narratives

There are three episodes, each of which draws significantly upon Old Testament narrative and imagery:

  1. The angelic annunciation to Zechariah (Luke 1:5-23). This takes place while Zechariah is serving in the Temple (v. 8ff); indeed, the author has taken care (in v. 6) to emphasize that Zechariah and Elizabeth were both “just” (di/kaioi) and “without fault” (a&memptoi) in observing God’s commandments, and this faithful religious service in the Temple is a vital motif. The appearance of the heavenly Messenger, announcing the birth of John (vv. 11-17), like the announcement to Mary in 1:26-38, follows a pattern of similar angelic annunciations in the Old Testament, which I discussed in treating this passage in an earlier Advent season note.
  2. Jesus’ parents with the child in the Temple precincts (Luke 2:22-38). In establishing the setting for this narrative, the Gospel writer has combined (or conflated) two separate details: the purification offering for Mary following childbirth (v. 22a, cf. Leviticus 12), and the consecration of the firstborn (v. 23, cf. Exod 13:2-16) which Luke narrates (whether at the historical or literary level) as a presentation/dedication of the child before God (v. 22b, such as in 1 Sam 1:22ff). There are three important themes in this passage:
    a) The faithfulness of Joseph and Mary (similar to Zechariah and Elizabeth) in fulfilling their religious duties (cf. v. 39). That is, they represent devout, just/righteous Israelites.
    b) The encounters with Simeon (vv. 25-35) and Anna (vv. 36-38), two aged figures (in many ways parallel to Zechariah and Elizabeth) who reflect and represent devout, faithful Israelites—those who are looking toward receiving “the help/comfort of Israel” (v. 25) and “the ransom/redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38), two expressions with strong Messianic and eschatological resonance.
    c) The central prophecy (oracle) of Simeon (vv. 29-32), which predicts the child Jesus’ future role as savior and light to both Jews and Gentiles (the second prediction in vv. 34-35 is darker and more difficult to interpret). Simeon’s oracle draws upon language especially from several key passages in so-called deutero-/trito-Isaiah (chs. 40-66). I have also discussed Lk 2:22-38 in some detail in an earlier Advent note.
  3. The child Jesus in the Temple precincts (Luke 2:41-51). This dramatic and challenging narrative centers upon the climactic words of Jesus to his parents (v. 49): “did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in/among the (thing)s of my Father?” The centrality of the Temple is the key to this episode, which I have discussed in prior notes.

The Journey to Jerusalem

Unlike the Gospel of John, which depicts Jesus making a number of different trips to Jerusalem (for the holy/feast days), the Synoptic Gospels record just one journey—that made prior to the events of Jesus’ Passion. In Mark and Matthew, this journey is mentioned only briefly, encompassing less than a single chapter (Mk 10:32-52; Matt 20:17-34). However, in the Gospel of Luke, this journey has been framed quite differently, extending from Lk 9:51 (which follows the corresponding point of Mk 9:41) all the way to Lk 18:15 (which corresponds again to Mk 10:13)—in other words, in place of the Mk 9:42-10:12, we have Lk 9:51-18:14 which comprises: (a) material located elsewhere in Matthew/Mark, and (b) sayings and parables only found in Luke. This enhances the journey scene greatly, for it depicts Jesus preaching and teaching extensively. But there are other important ways that the journey to Jerusalem is heightened. Note the following details and specific references to Jerusalem:

    1. In the transfiguration scene (Lk 9:28-36), the significance of the journey is foreshadowed in verses 30-31, where it is mentioned that Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah (a detail unique to Luke’s account), speaking “of his way out [e&codo$, “exodus”, i.e. departure] which he was about to complete in Jerusalem”.
    2. In Lk 9:51, the journey is effectively inaugurated with the statement that Jesus “set his face/sight strong(ly) toward traveling [or, to travel] into Jerusalem”. This is mentioned again in verse 53, and it is the reason (i.e. his intention to go to Jerusalem) that he found no welcome in the Samaritan village. Though Samaritans are involved, this can probably be taken as a literary foreshadowing of the hostility Jesus would face in Jerusalem.
    3. This Lukan material covering the journey (Lk 9:51-19:27), is punctuated by three summary references to his journeying to Jerusalem: Lk 13:22; 17:11; and 19:11 (cf. also v. 28). The first two of these can be coordinated with a specific saying or prediction by Jesus regarding Jerusalem, and each can be related to significant eschatological teaching. Note how these correlate to divide the material:
    • Lk 13:22: “And he traveled (lit. passed [through]) accordingly down through the cities and villages, teaching and making passage into/unto Jerusalem”
      • Lk 13:34-35—a lament for Jerusalem (corresponding to Matt 23:37ff), which emphasizes the persecution/killing of prophets (cf. also the separate saying in Lk 13:33), with an eschatological prediction of judgment (v. 35)
    • Lk 17:11: “And it came to be in (his) passing (through) into/unto Jerusalem…”
      • Lk 18:31-33—the third (Synoptic) passion prediction by Jesus (par. Mk 10:32-34; Mt 20:17-19), which, unlike the two previous predictions, specifically mentions Jerusalem. In context here, it may also be worth noting the eschatological material (partially found in a different location in Matthew) earlier in Lk 17:20-37.
    • Lk 19:11, 28: these two narrative statements bracket the parable of the ten minas (19:12-27), effectively concluding the travel narrative, and leading into the Triumphal entry (19:28ff). Note the eschatological context of v. 11, similar to that of 17:20-37 above.

Eschatological predictions by Jesus

These are recorded as being uttered by Jesus in or near Jerusalem during Passion week (punctuating the narrative at three points):

    1. Lk 19:41-44 (just following the Triumphal entry)—a lament over Jerusalem with a (graphic) prediction of its destruction
    2. Lk 21:20-24 (partway during Passion week)—Jesus specifically (and again graphically) predicts the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, details not found elsewhere in the so-called Eschatological (Olivet) discourse shared by all three Synoptics (Mk 13; Matt 24), which only refer more generally to the suffering and travail of the time (but with destruction of the Temple indicated, Mk 13:2 par).
    3. Lk 23:28-31 (on the way to crucifixion)—a lament for the women/mothers of Jerusalem, for the great suffering they are about to endure during the siege/destruction of the city (implied).

Clearly, by combining and inserting this material as he has done, the Gospel writer has interwoven the fates of Jesus and Jerusalem in a most dramatic and moving way.

Post-resurrection appearances of Jesus

Unlike the Gospel of Matthew (and as one can infer from Mark 16:1-8), the Gospel of Luke records the first resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples as taking place in Jerusalem. The traditions in Luke are partially confirmed by the Gospel of John (Jn 20:1-10, 19-20), and, it would seem, from the long ending of Mark (Mk 16:9-13), though text-critical questions make it difficult to establish both parallels decisively. There are two main episodes:

  • The appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35)—this extended, highly dramatic narrative is set in proximity to Jerusalem (v. 13, 18), and contains several key themes and motifs found throughout the Gospel and which are developed in the next episode.
  • The appearance to the Twelve (eleven) and larger group of disciples, along with their commission (Lk 24:36-53). This can, in turn, be divided into three parts:
    1) The appearance scene itself, vv. 36-43—this has a parallel in Jn 20:19-20.
    2) The exposition/commission by Jesus, vv. 44-49
    3) Jesus’ blessing and departure, vv. 50-53
    The last two sections are the most original to the Gospel of Luke, and each contain a key reference to Jerusalem:
    • VV, 47-49: the emphasis on Jerusalem as the beginning point of the Gospel proclamation, with the clear directive for the disciples to remain in the city until the coming of the Spirit (“power from out of the height”). This commission is tied in closely to an exposition of the Scriptures (vv. 44ff), in which Jesus “opened their mind/understanding” to recognize that the events of his suffering, death and resurrection were the fulfillment of Scripture (note the similar description and language in 24:25-27, 32).
    • V. 52-53: following the departure/ascension of Jesus, these two short verses narrate:
      • The disciples’ return to Jerusalem (see Acts 1:12 for the same motif)
      • That they were in the sacred place (the Temple) “through (it) all” (dia\ panto/$, i.e. continually), blessing/worshiping God. For similar references in Acts, see 1:14; 2:1, 42, and esp. 46-47 (which refer to their presence in the Temple precincts). Luke clearly intends to depict the early Christians as faithful and devout in matters of religion (like Zechariah/Elizabeth, Joseph/Mary, and Simeon/Anna in the Infancy narratives), by their presence in Jerusalem and association with the Temple—the new believers in Christ represent a continuation (and fulfillment) of the Old Testament patterns of religion.

(The article is part of the periodic series Jews & Gentiles and the People of God.)

“…Spirit and Life”

For the next few weeks, in celebration of Pentecost, I will be presenting a series of word study notes based on Jesus’ statement in John 6:63:

“the utterances [i.e. words] that I speak to you are Spirit and Life

This involves two key words (and concepts) in the New Testament—pneu=ma (“Spirit”) and zwh/ (“Life”). Because these have such an important place in the Johannine writings, those works (especially the Gospel and First Letter) will be my primary focus. However, I will be examining key passages in the remainder of the New Testament as well.

Before proceeding, it will be helpful to define both of these Greek words.

pneu=ma

The fundamental meaning of pneu=ma (pneúma), derived from the verb pne/w (pnéœ), is that of blowing. This is usually understood either (1) of the wind (a natural phenomenon), or (2) of breath (a personal/physiological phenomenon). In ancient thought, of course, these were often combined, especially in the mythological/cosmological sense of wind as the breath of God. For human beings, the life-animating principle, divinely bestowed, was often identified with the breath. Thus pneu=ma came to be used in reference to this inward life-force—the “soul” or “spirit”. When speaking of God (or deity), the source of life given to human beings could likewise be understood as the “breath” or “spirit”—i.e. the life-giving Spirit of God.

zwh/

The noun zwh/ (zœ¢¡) is somewhat easier to explain, being derived from za/w (záœ), a primary verb meaning “live”. Thus zwh/ fundamentally means “life”—usually in the sense of natural, physical/biological life. Again, since God represents the source of life, zwh/ could also be used to refer to the life possessed by God (or the Gods, in a polytheistic worldview). This divine life can be understood both in a qualitative and quantitative sense—both aspects are combined in the expression “eternal life”. Often, the divine life is contrasted with that of mortal beings, thus hinging on the idea of deathlessness (i.e. “without death”, a)qa/nato$). In ancient thought, the righteous or deserving among humans, either after death or following a final Judgment, could come to possess and share in the blessed life of (the) God(s).

The Synoptic Gospels

I begin this study with a survey of passages from the Synoptic Gospels, which include sayings of Jesus which are central to the early Gospel Tradition—thus reflecting one of the earliest (if not the earliest) layers of Christian thought. To someone who has not analyzed the evidence carefully, it may come as a surprise how rarely both words zwh/ (“life”) and pneu=ma (“Spirit”) occur in the Synoptics, especially if we combine together the parallel passages. Admittedly the word pneu=ma itself is found relatively frequently, but often in the sense of a human “spirit” or of other “spirit”-beings (i.e. daimons, “demons”). Passages where the reference is clearly to the Spirit of God (or “Holy Spirit”) are far fewer. Let us survey these.

Pneu=ma in the core Synoptic Tradition

By this is meant the “Triple”-tradition, shared (generally) by all three Synoptics, and usually best represented by the Gospel of Mark. There are just six occurrences of pneu=ma (as “Spirit”) in Mark:

  • Three times in the context of the Baptism of Jesus:
    • The saying of John the Baptist:
      “I dunked [i.e. baptized] you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit” (Mk 1:8, par Matt 3:11 & Lk 3:16 [both add “and fire”])
    • The Baptism scene:
      “…stepping up out of the water he saw the heavens being split, and the Spirit as a dove stepping [i.e. coming] down unto him” (Mk 1:10; par Matt 3:16 [“Spirit of God”] and Lk 3:22 [“Holy Spirit”])
    • After the Baptism:
      “And straightway [i.e. immediately] the Spirit casts him out into the desolate (land)” (Mk 1:12; cp. Matt 4:1; Lk 4:1)
  • The saying regarding the “sin against the Holy Spirit”:
    “All (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men, the sins and the insults, however they might give insult; but whoever should give insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release [i.e. forgiveness] into the Age…” (Mk 3:28-29; cp. Matt 12:31-32; Lk 12:10)
  • In Mark 12:36 (par Matt 22:43), Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit as the source of David’s inspiration in the composition of Ps 110:1ff.
  • Mark 13:11 (par Matt 10:20; cp. Lk 12:12)—as part of the eschatological teaching given by Jesus to his disciples, he refers to the Holy Spirit:
    “…whatever shall be given to you in that hour, this you shall speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but (rather) the holy Spirit

It is only in the last of these (Mk 13:11), part of specific teaching by Jesus to his disciples, that something like the early Christian concept of the Holy Spirit appears to be in view. The sense of the “Holy Spirit” in the famous saying in Mk 3:28-29 is much more difficult to determine.

Pneu=ma in the “Q” material and the Gospel of Matthew

(References marked with an asterisk might be considered part of the so-called “Q” material, shared by Matthew and Luke [but not found in Mark])

    • In the Matthean Infancy narrative, the Holy Spirit is mentioned as the source of the supernatural (virginal) conception of Jesus—Matt 1:18, 20 (on the Lukan parallels, cf. below).
    • Matt 12:18—part of a citation of Isa 42:1-3, a (Messianic) prophecy applied to Jesus (“I will set my Spirit upon him…”)
    • *The saying of Jesus in Matt 12:28: “but if in [i.e. with/by] the Spirit of God I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God has (already) arrived upon you”. The parallel saying in Luke 11:20 reads “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God”.
    • *The saying regarding the “sin against the Holy Spirit” in Matt 12:31-32 and Lk 12:10 differs in certain respects from the Markan parallel, and may be derived from the “Q” tradition.
    • Matt 28:20—The famous statement by Jesus, part of the closing “Great Commission” refers to the Holy Spirit in something like a Trinitarian sense. Here it seems to reflect (or at least anticipate) early Christian thought and understanding regarding the relationship between the Spirit and Jesus.
Pneu=ma in Luke

The Gospel of Luke contains noticeably more references to the Spirit, representing a key theme and motif that continues on in the book of Acts. This will be discussed in a separate note in this series. Here it is necessary to survey the key Gospel references unique to Luke:

    • In the Infancy Narrative, John the Baptist, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon are said to be “filled with the Spirit”, or that the Spirit is (or will be) upon them, that they are “in the Spirit”, etc.—Lk 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27. This reflects both the traditional idea of Prophetic inspiration, as well as a foreshadowing of the role of the Spirit among Christians (e.g., in the book of Acts). In reference to the conception of Jesus (cf. Matt 1:18, 20), “the Holy Spirit” is parallel (and synonymous) with “the Power of the Highest” (Lk 1:35).
    • Luke has expanded the basic Synoptic tradition from Mark 1:12 (par Matt 4:1), describing in more precise terms, the relation between the Spirit and Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (before and after the Temptation scene):
      Lk 4:1: “And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden, and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land)”
      Lk 4:14: “And Yeshua turned back in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl…”
    • As part of this narrative recording the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (in Galilee), there is the citation of Isa 61:1 in Lk 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” This a fundamental passage regarding Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (“Anointed One”), both at the historical level, and in the Gospel of Luke.
    • This same aspect of Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit is reflected in the introduction to his saying in Lk 10:21:
      “In that hour he leapt (for joy) [in] the holy Spirit and said…”
    • The Lukan version of the saying in 11:13 (cp. Matt 12:34):
      “if you…have known (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will the Father out of Heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking him?”
    • Mention should also be made of Lk 24:49, which, though the word pneu=ma is not used, clearly refers to the Holy Spirit. On “Power” as a kind of synonym for the Spirit, cf. Lk 1:35.

Thus, even without considering the evidence from the book of Acts, it is clear that there has been a degree of development in the Gospel Luke, giving greater emphasis to the (Holy) Spirit, both in relation to believers and to Jesus himself.

Zwh/ (“Life”) in the Synoptic Gospels

It is somewhat surprising that the word zwh/ occurs just 16 times in the Synoptic Gospels (compared with 36 in the Gospel of John). If we exclude the Synoptic parallels as such, the actual number of distinct occurrences is even smaller. Found in the sayings of Jesus, they involve certain idiomatic expressions, generally with an eschatological orientation:

Only twice (in Luke 12:15 and 16:25) is zwh/ used in the normal sense of an ordinary human life (or life-time). In all the other occurrences cited above, it can more properly be understood as eternal life—that is, the divine life which the righteous will come to possess (or enter) at the end-time (following the Judgment). This is important, as it indicates the background to the term as it came to be used regularly by early Christians. If we accept the fundamental authenticity (and historicity) of the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics, we would have to recognize that the early Christian usage has been shaped and influenced in important ways by Jesus’ own teaching.

For more on references to the Holy Spirit in the Synoptic Gospels, consult the notes in the recent series “The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition”.