Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 1)

The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 1)

The most extensive eschatological teaching by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels is found in the so-called “Eschatological Discourse” in Mark 13 (par Matthew 24 & Luke 21:5-36). Within the Synoptic framework, it is presented as a sermon or discourse by Jesus; however, many scholars feel that this arrangement is literary (and traditional) rather than historical. That is to say, it represents a collection of eschatological teaching by Jesus which may have originally been uttered on separate occasions. This view would seem to be confirmed by the evidence from Matthew and Luke, where eschatological sayings recorded in other locations (in Luke) are incorporated as part of the “discourse” (in Matthew). It is useful, however, to begin with the Gospel of Mark, as representing the core Synoptic Tradition. The distinctive features and elements of the Matthean and Lukan versions will be examined in Parts 2 and 3 of this study, respectively.

Mark 13

An outline of the Markan version of the Eschatological Discourse gives some indication, I think, of how different sayings or traditions might have been combined. This is not to say that Jesus might not have given a longer discourse, dealing with eschatological matters, which resembles the Synoptic Discourse; but the thematic arrangement of the sayings and parables of Jesus is, on the whole, better viewed as a result of the early collection and transmission of the material. On this basis alone, however, there is no (objective) reason to doubt the authenticity of any of the sayings. Here is an outline of the Markan Discourse:

    • Vv. 1-2—Narrative introduction, including:
      • Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple (v. 2)
    • Vv. 3-4—Introduction to the Discourse: Question by the disciples
    • Vv. 5-8—”Birth Pains”: Things which will occur before the end
      —Appearance of false Messiahs/Christs (v. 6)
      —Wars among the nations (vv. 7-8a)
      —Natural disasters and famine (v. 8b)
    • Vv. 9-13—Persecution of the Disciples which will occur before the end, reflecting missionary work among both Jews and Gentiles
    • Vv. 14-23—Sayings regarding the affliction which will come upon Judea
      —Saying concerning the “abomination of desolation” (v. 14)
      —Warning of the coming suffering (vv. 15-20)
      —Repeated reference to the appearance of false Messiahs/Christs (vv. 21-22)
      —Concluding exhortation (v. 23)
    • Vv. 24-27—The appearance of the Son of Man
    • Vv. 28-31—Sayings on the time when the end will come
      —Illustration of the fig-tree (vv. 28-29)
      —Two sayings with the verb pare/rxomai (vv. 30-31)
    • Vv. 32-37—Concluding Parable (and Sayings)
Mark 13:1-2

The narrative introduction provides the general setting for the discourse, in the vicinity of the Jerusalem Temple:

“And (at) his traveling out of the Sacred Place, one of his learners [i.e. disciples] says to him, ‘Teacher, (do you) see what sort of stones and what sort of buildings (these are)?'”

This expression of amazement reflects the grandeur of the Herodian Temple in Jesus’ day, which is described extensively by Josephus (Antiquities 15.380-425; Wars 5.184-227). The size and beauty of the building, and its great stones, would have been impressive indeed; Jesus, however, declares:

“(Are) you look(ing) at these great buildings? (Yet) there shall not be here (even one) stone left upon (another) stone which shall not be loosed down!” (v. 2)

This must be regarded as a prediction of the Temple’s destruction, which, of course, came to pass in 70 A.D. as a result of the Jewish revolt and Roman siege of Jerusalem. It is important as a general time-frame for the Eschatological Discourse. The Lukan version gives much greater emphasis to the Roman attack on the city.

For more on the eschatological aspects of the Temple—especially the Temple action and saying(s) by Jesus—cf. the supplemental article on this subject.

Mark 13:3-4

With these verses, the Discourse begins, though the introduction clearly continues from where the narrative introduction in vv. 1-2 leaves off—with its connection to the Temple (note the similar structure):

“And (at) his sitting (down near) unto the Mount of the Olive-trees, down opposite to the Sacred Place [i.e. Temple], on their own [i.e. privately]…they asked him…” (v. 3)

The introductory statement, as in verse 1, culminates with a question by the disciples—here the ones who ask are identified as Peter, James, John and Andrew. Their question must be understood, in context, in relation to Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction. It is actually a two-fold question which serves the (literary) purpose of joining Jesus’ Temple saying with the eschatological instruction which follows:

    • “when will these (thing)s be?”
    • “what (shall be) the sign when all these (thing)s are about to be completed together?”

In Matthew’s version, the disciples’ second question is more precisely eschatological, framed in more obvious Christian terms: “what is the sign of your (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] and (of) the completion (all) together of th(is) Age?”. In Mark, however, the question is more general and ambiguous—to what “things” exactly are the disciples referring? Is it simply to the destruction of the Temple, or does it imply other eschatological teaching by Jesus? The literary context of the Discourse requires the latter, and points to the very teaching which follows in vv. 5ff.

Mark 13:5-8

Jesus’ initial response deals more with the disciples’ second question (“what shall be the sign…?”) rather than the first (“when…?”). He offers three such “signs”, which are summarily described as “the beginning of the (birth) pains” (v. 8); these are:

1. Persons claiming to be Jesus and/or speak in his name, causing many to go astray (vv. 5-6). Here is how this is stated in Mark’s version:

And Yeshua began to say to them, “You must look (carefully so that) someone should not lead you astray—(for) many will come upon my name saying that ‘I am (he)’, and will lead many astray.”

There is some confusion in the Gospel tradition here as to whether Jesus is speaking of people claiming to be him (i.e. Jesus) and speak for him, or whether they are claiming to be the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ). Early Christians would have treated these essentially as identical situations, but it is not so clear how this might have been framed by (the historical) Jesus to his followers. This will be discussed further when we examine the Matthean and Lukan versions, and when we come to verses 21-22 below.

2. A period of warfare among the nations (vv. 7-8a). Syntactically, the second and third signs should be discussed together; however, thematically, it is useful to keep them distinct:

“And when you should hear of wars and the hearings [i.e. rumors] of wars, you must not be frightened (by these things)—they need to come to be, but the completion (of them) is not yet (here). For nation will rise upon nation and kingdom upon kingdom…”

This would seem to refer to a period of relatively widespread warfare, involving a number of different nations and kingdoms. The book of Revelation describes something similar in the visions of the first four seals (i.e. the four horses and riders) in 6:2-8—they represent an intense period of war which has a devastating effect upon society. For those eager to place these verses in a more precise time-frame, it is virtually impossible to do so, as there have been many periods of widespread warfare from the first century A.D. down to the present time in the 21st century. Also, it may be claimed that Jesus is here referring to a mindset and outlook, reflecting human wickedness and violence, and its effects, as much as to any specific events.

3. Natural disaster and famine (v. 8b). This continues from the description of the period of warfare:

“…(and) there will be shakings [i.e. earthquakes] down in (many) places, (and) there will (also) be (time)s of hunger [i.e. famine]…

In the seal visions of Revelation, famine and food-shortage also follows the period of warfare among the nations (6:5-6, 8b), as well as “shakings” of the earth (vv. 12-13ff). Interestingly, there is no real indication that the book of Revelation is consciously following the Eschatological Discourse, even though both passages express the same basic message and traditional sequence. Jesus describes all of these signs in vv. 5-8 with the declaration that “these (are the) beginning of (the birth) pains” (a)rxh\ w)di/nwn tau=ta). Childbirth was frequently used as a metaphor for human suffering, either in the negative sense of pain (and possible death) or the positive sense of the joy which replaces the pain when the child is delivered. Of the many relevant passages in Scripture, cf. Gen 3:16-17; Psalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17-19; 42:14; 66:7-8; Jer 4:31; 22:23; 48:41; 49:22ff; John 16:21; Gal 4:19. Several other passages in the New Testament use the motif of childbirth, and the pains associated with it, in an eschatological sense or context:

    • The suffering of Judea/Jerusalem predicted by Jesus in Luke 23:28-31, which will be touched on briefly in the study on the Lukan version of the Eschatological discourse.
    • Paul’s statement in Romans 8:22: “we see that all creation groans together and is in pain together until now”.
    • The vision of the Woman and the Dragon in Revelation 12.

In fact, the eschatological motif is traditional; the time of suffering, marking the end of the current Age, came to be referred to as “the birth pains of the Messiah”.

Mark 13:9-13

Surely to be included among the “signs” of things which must occur before the end is the prediction of persecution and suffering of Jesus’ disciples, implying a period of missionary work which would extend outside the confines of Judea into the Gentile world. This idea was fundamental to New Testament eschatology at the time the Gospels were written (c. 60-80 A.D.), and especially so in the Gospel of Luke. It is less pronounced and developed in Mark, but it is still present (v. 10), as part of the Synoptic tradition. Verses 9-10 outline the missionary work and reflects the experience (narrated in the book of Acts) of a number of the disciples who were arrested and interrogated by government officials:

    • 9a: Among Jews (in Judea and beyond)—given over to the ruling bodies (“sitting together”, sune/drion, i.e. sanhedrin) & beaten in the places of gathering (“being brought together”, sunagwgh/, i.e. synagogue)
    • 9b: Into the wider world, which presumably include the Gentile kingdoms—made to stand before governors and kings, as a witness to them on behalf of Jesus

The period of early Christian mission is stated succinctly in verse 10:

“And first it is necessary to proclaim the good message into all the nations.”

It is easy to misunderstand the significance of this, as though it required an extensive worldwide mission (in the modern sense) before the end would come. Matthew’s version (24:14) does suggest something of the kind, but we must be cautious about reading that wording into Mark’s account. The use of the adverb prw=ton (“first”) here in Mark, I believe, is intended primarily to make clear what might seem obvious—before the disciples will experience these things, they must first begin to proclaim the Gospel (“good message”). It establishes the need for the early Christian mission, without any real indication of the time-period involved.

The persecution which Jesus’ disciples will experience is further summarized in three distinct sayings:

    • A promise that the Holy Spirit will inspire the disciples, giving them the ability to speak and offer a defense (v. 11)
    • Following Jesus will lead to violent splits within families (v. 12)
    • A declaration of the hatred believers will face from people, along with an exhortation to endure and remain faithful (v. 13)

This last saying involves an eschatological promise of salvation—i.e. the heavenly reward of (eternal) Life:

“But the one remaining under unto the completion, this (one) will be saved.”

We are accustomed to viewing this as a promise to all believers, and, indeed this is appropriate; however, if we consider it strictly in terms of the historical situation (i.e. the disciples whom Jesus was actually addressing at the time), it would tend to support the expectation that the end was to come within the lifetime of the first disciples.

It is interesting to note that the seal-visions in Revelation also include a reference to the persecution of believers (cf. the fifth seal, 6:9-11) in a roughly similar sequence.

Mark 13:14-23

Another intense period of suffering and distress is described in vv. 14-23, with certain similarities to what has gone before in the Discourse. This raises the question as to whether the three sections—vv. 5-8, 9-13, and 14-23—are meant to describe sequential events or are different ways of describing the same general period (i.e. of events to occur before the end). Verses 9-13, referring to the persecution of believers, presumably is not meant to be taken as a period of time separate from the suffering in vv. 5-8 and 14-23. If these various sayings were originally uttered in different settings, this can no longer be reconstructed; we must work from the arrangement in the Discourse as it has come down to us. I suspect that vv. 5-13 are meant to be taken together as referring to the same ‘stage’, if you will; the exact relationship to vv. 14-23 is less certain. From a literary standpoint, the wording in verse 14 is transitional, creating a point of contrast with the promise of salvation in v. 13 (“But when you see…”). The exact setting or scenario described in this section is rather vague and allusive, at least in the Markan version of the Discourse. Several points can be determined with certainty:

    • It involves an allusion to Daniel 9:27 (v. 14)
    • It refers to something which will be localized in Judea
    • It involves suffering and trauma which will upset much, or all, of society (vv. 14b-19)
    • It will be an especially intense, though brief, period of suffering (v. 20)
    • In the midst of it, there will be false Messiahs and false prophets (vv. 21-22)

In Luke’s version (to be discussed), this is all presented in terms of a military invasion of Jerusalem. However, it is poor method simply to read this into Mark’s version, which otherwise makes no clear reference to such an invasion (apart, possibly, from the allusion to Dan 9:27). Even so, it must be said that nearly all of vv. 14-22 could well fit the setting of the war of 66-70 A.D. and the ultimate siege and destruction of Jerusalem, according to the historical accounts narrated by Josephus. This will be discussed in the concluding part of our study.

In my view, all of verses 5-22 describe a single, intense (and relatively brief?) period of suffering and distress which precedes the coming of the end. It is the same period, with three different points of focus:

    • The effect on the world (nations) and people in general (vv. 5-8)
    • The effect on the disciples (believers) (vv. 9-13)
    • The effect on Judea (and Jerusalem) (vv. 14-22)

Jesus’ concluding words in verse 23 are often overlooked, but they are important in the way that they clearly summarize and mark off the events preceding the end from the end itself: “And (now) you must look (closely): (for) I have spoke all (thing)s to you before(hand)”. The disciples now have all they need to recognize the signs that the end is about to come.

Mark 13:24-27

The description of the end itself begins in verse 24, as indicated clearly by the opening words:

“But in those days after that (time of) distress [qli=yi$]…”

The period covered by vv. 5-22 is called qli=yi$ (“crushing [force], pressure, [dis]tress”), the same word used, in a very similar sense, in Revelation 1:9 and 7:14. In translation, the word has taken on a life of its own in modern eschatology as “the Great Tribulation” (from the phrase in Rev 7:14). It is important, however, to stay rooted to the Greek text, and remain focused, for the moment, on the Eschatological Discourse here in Mark. Nothing more is said about this “distress”, only what comes after it—namely, the appearance of the Son of Man. This appearance is accompanied by an upheaval of the natural order of things in the universe, drawing upon the ancient/traditional language of theophany—i.e. the manifestation of God within creation. Nature itself can not withstand the appearance of God, falling and submitting before him; moreover, the forces of nature and the heavens are obedient to God and work as servants on His behalf. This sort of imagery is expressed numerous times in the Old Testament, especially in Prophets, where it begins to take on an eschatological coloring. The description in vv. 24-26 by Jesus is taken from passages such as Isaiah 13:10; 14:12; 34:4; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; and Ezek 32:7. The sixth seal-vision in Revelation 6:12-14ff describes similar cosmic phenomena, but without culminating in the appearance of the Son of Man. That moment is described here as follows:

“Then they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man coming in/on (the) clouds with much power and splendor.” (v. 27)

This is largely drawn from Daniel 7:13-14, but apparently with a difference in orientation—instead of the Son of Man coming toward God (v. 13), he comes to earth as God’s representative to judge humankind and deliver the faithful ones among God’s people (more closely related to v. 14). It is the latter aspect of deliverance which is emphasized by Jesus in verse 28:

“And then he will send forth the Messengers and they will bring together upon (one place) [his] (chosen one)s gathered out, (from) out of the four winds, from the (farthest) point of earth unto the (farthest) point of heaven.”

This is salvation in the proper New Testament sense—deliverance from sin and wickedness at the end-time and being saved from the final Judgment. Only in the later strands of the New Testament do we see a definite shift from final (eschatological) salvation to the experience of believers in the present (i.e. ‘realized’ eschatology).

For more on the influence of Daniel in the Eschatological Discourse, cf. the supplemental study on 7:13-14 and 9:27.

Mark 13:28-31

Here we encounter two of the more controversial pieces in the Eschatological Discourse: (a) the illustration of the fig tree (vv. 28-29) and (b) the saying on “this generation” in v. 30.

On the surface the parable/illustration of the fig tree is simple and straightforward, being similar in style to the mustard seed/tree parable (Mk 4:30-32 par). It also resembles the illustration on interpreting the ‘signs of the time’ in Luke 12:54-56 / Matt 16:1-3. As in a number of Jesus’ parables, it uses an easily understandable observation from farming and the natural world to describe some aspect of the Kingdom. Though not specifically indicated here as a Kingdom-parable, it may fairly be characterized as relating to the end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God. The comparison is clear enough:

    • When the branch is soft and puts out leaves, you can tell that summer is near (v. 28)
    • When the disciples see “these things [tau=ta]” coming to pass, they will know that “it is near” (v. 29)

In context, “these (thing)s” can only refer to the signs Jesus has spoken of in vv. 5-22—the things which are to take place before the end comes. Similarly, the generic statement “it is near…”, refers to the coming of the end—specifically, the coming of the Son of Man which ushers in the final Judgment. The exact phrase used is “it is near upon the gates”, which could be an allusion to the gates of the city (Jerusalem), though it need not be taken that concretely.

It has become popular in some circles to identify the fig tree as a particular symbol of Israel (the people or nation/state). This, however, is misplaced. The fig tree and vine together serve as symbols of blessing and fruitfulness, but in a general, proverbial sense; it can, of course, be applied to Israel as God’s people, but only in Hosea 9:10 is there anything like a direct connection (fig tree = Israel). The blossoming fig branch here refers not to Israel, but to the coming of the end and the appearance of the Son of Man.

In verses 30-31 we have two seemingly unrelated sayings; they are connected by common use of the verb pare/rxomai (“come/go along[side]”). This is an example of what commentators call “catchword-bonding”, and serves as evidence in support of the view that the Discourse is a collection of sayings, etc, which may originally have been uttered by Jesus on different occasions. Early Christians brought this material together, arranging it by theme (eschatology) or on the basis of common words and phrases. This would have begun to occur at the level of oral tradition, helping the earliest believers to remember and transmit the teachings of Jesus, and continued as the first collections were written down. It is possible that Jesus did utter both sayings together, and that the wordplay is his own, but given the many examples of “catchword-bonding” in the Gospel tradition, the critical view seems more likely. Here are the two sayings taken together:

    • “Amen, I relate to you that this (period of) coming to be [genea/] shall (certainly) not go along [pare/lqh|] until the (time at) which all these (thing)s shall come to be.” (v. 30)
    • “The heaven and the earth will go along [pareleu/sontai], but my words [lo/goi] will not (ever) go along [pareleu/sontai].” (v. 31)

The first saying uses the verb in connection with the noun genea/, which fundamentally refers to something coming to be (born) [vb. gi/nomai], often in the sense of (1) a group of people from a common line of birth, or (2) an age or period when people were born (and lived). In both cases, the English word “generation” (itself related to the Greek) is typically used to translate. Here, for the first time in the Discourse, Jesus addresses the initial question posed by the disciples in verse 4: “When will these (thing)s be?” As the saying in verse 30 makes clear, “these things” will take place before “this generation” goes away. A more precise interpretation of the time indicated here is difficult and has proven controversial, for a variety of reasons (and cf. verse 32 as a word of caution). It will be discussed in more detail in the article on “imminent eschatology” in the sayings of Jesus.

The second saying (v. 31), in context, serves to reinforce the reliability of Jesus’ teaching regarding the coming of the end. His words will last longer than heaven and earth themselves (i.e. the created order), remaining after the physical universe has disappeared. There may be an allusion to Scriptures such as Isa 40:8; 51:6; Psalm 119:89; cf. also Jesus’ statement in Matt 5:18.

Mark 13:32-37

The Discourse concludes with a short block of material that centers around a parable by Jesus, utilizing the familiar setting of the master who goes away and the servants who work in his absence. Jesus used this story framework repeatedly, including a number of other parables (discussed earlier in Parts 2 and 3 of the study on the Parables) which have an eschatological orientation. The parable itself occurs in verses 34-36; we may outline this section as follows:

    • Saying on the day and hour when the end will come (v. 32)
    • Exhortation for the disciples to watch and stay alert (v. 33)
    • Parable of the Returning Master (vv. 34-36)
    • Second Exhortation to stay alert (v. 37)

On the whole, the section continues Jesus’ answer of the disciples’ question “When will these things be?” Beyond the basic declaration that they will occur before “this generation” goes away, Jesus makes clear in verse 32 that the disciples cannot know the time with any more precision: “About that day or th(at) hour, no one has seen [i.e. no one knows]”. Commentators and students can be tripped up by reading too much theological (and Christological) significance in the the second half of the saying, which states that neither the (heavenly) Messengers nor the Son (of Man) know the time, but only God the Father. It makes for interesting speculation, but all Jesus is really saying is that the disciples cannot know the exact time—it is one of the “secrets of the Kingdom” (4:11) which has not been revealed to them. Indeed, the overriding message of this section, driven home by the parable and the double-exhortation to stay awake, is that “these things” could occur at any time:

“(So) then you must keep awake—for you have not seen [i.e. do not know] when the lord of the house comes…” (v. 35a)

The figure of the returning master, can be interpreted at several levels, based on one’s view of the development of the Gospel tradition:

    • A general reference to God’s appearance to bring the end-time Judgment
    • This divine visitation as taking place through the Son of Man as God’s appointed/anointed representative
    • The return of Jesus, who is identified as the Son of Man

By the time the Gospels were written, among early Christians the latter would certainly have been in view. For more on the background of the expression and title “Son of Man”, and the identification of Jesus with this heavenly/Messianic figure, cf. Part 10 of the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Notes on Prayer: Mark 1:35; 6:46; 11:25ff, etc

In these Monday Notes on Prayer, I am beginning a series exploring Jesus’ own teaching (and example) regarding prayer. We have already explored the famous “Lord’s Prayer” in some detail (cf. the earlier series), as well as the great Prayer-discourse in John 17 (cf. those notes). Now, as a follow-up, we will examine other key passages in the Gospels. Using the same critical approach adopted in other study series on the Gospels (esp. the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”), I will begin with the Synoptic Tradition, as represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark, before turning to passages and details that are unique to Matthew and Luke, as well as the separate Johannine Tradition (Gospel of John).

As a point of departure, it is worth noting the Greek word (group) which is commonly translated into English by “pray(er)”. Most frequently it is the noun proseuxh/ (proseuch¢¡) and related verb proseu/xomai (proseúchomai, mid. deponent). Both are compound prefixed forms of eu)xh/ (euch¢¡) and eu&xomai (eúchomai) respectively. Fundamentally, this root refers to speaking out, especially in the sense of making one’s wishes known, expressing them out loud. Early on, this word group came to be used frequently in a religious context, i.e. of speaking out to God—either in the specific sense of a vow, or more generally as prayer. The noun eu)xh/ is rare in the New Testament (just 3 occurrences), but is used in both primary senses (Acts 18:18; 21:23; James 5:15); the verb eu&xomai is likewise relatively rare (Acts 26:29; 27:29; Rom 9:3; 2 Cor 13:7, 9; James 5:16; 3 John 2). The compound forms, with the prefixed preposition/particle pro$ (“toward”), focuses the meaning more precisely in context—i.e. of speaking out toward God, addressing the deity in prayer or with a specific vow. As such, both noun and verb occur frequently in the New Testament (36 and 85 times, respectively).

If we look at the Gospel of Mark, either in Jesus’ own recorded words (sayings), or in the narrative describing his behavior, there are 12 occurrences of the proseux- word group (10 vb, 2 noun), of which the most relevant passages (within the Gospel tradition) may fairly be divided into five groups, which we will survey here, noting in each case the Synoptic parallels.

1. Mark 1:35; 6:46 (cf. also 9:29)

In these two passages, the narrative mentions Jesus’ practice of going off to a deserted place, to be alone, and spending the time in communication (prayer) with God. In each instance, this is mentioned following a period of ministry activity in which Jesus performed healings or other miracles in public (1:29-34; 6:30-44 par). Matthew does not preserve the episode of Mark 1:35ff (cp. Matt 8:18); Luke does have it (4:42-44), but curiously makes no mention of Jesus in prayer, despite the fact that this is a relatively common theme in his Gospel (compare 5:15-16 and 6:12).

The implication of these references is likely twofold: (1) the need for Jesus to spend time away from the crowds, and (2) the juxtaposition of miracles–prayer suggests that there is a connection between the efficacy of healing power and prayer to God. Jesus makes this quite explicit in the exorcism episode of Mark 9:14-29, which concludes (v. 29) with his declaration that “this kind [i.e. of evil spirit] is not able to come out in [i.e. by] anything if not [i.e. except] in speaking out toward (God) [i.e. by prayer]”. Matthew has this same episode (17:14-20), though ending with an entirely different saying (v. 20) drawn from a separate tradition involving Jesus’ teaching on prayer (cf. 21:21 = Mark 11:22-23). Luke also records a version of the episode (9:37-43), but without any such climactic saying, and thus (again, strangely) no reference to prayer. It is possible that the Lukan Gospel seeks overall to give a different emphasis to the role and purpose of prayer. I shall discuss this further in the upcoming notes.

2. Mark 11:17

In the Temple “cleansing” episode, Jesus cites Isaiah 56:7 (together with Jer 7:11); this detail is found in all three Synoptic versions (the Johannine version draws upon a different line tradition [and Scripture citation]). The juxtaposition of the two quotations (in Greek, generally corresponding with the LXX) reads [Isaiah in bold]:

My house shall be called a house of speaking out toward (God) [i.e. prayer] for all the nations,
but you have made it a cave of (violent) robbers!”

Matthew and Luke each have a shortened version of Isa 56:7, omitting the phrase “for all the nations”, which is especially curious for the latter, given the central importance of this theme (i.e. the mission to the Gentiles) in Luke-Acts. The use of Isa 56:7 in the context of the Temple action by Jesus, with its disruption of the apparatus of the Temple ritual, suggests a new purpose for the Temple—prayer (i.e. direct communication with God), rather than the ritual of sacrificial offerings, etc. The extent to which Jesus himself intended this is much debated, but there can be little doubt that this re-interpretation of the Temple (its meaning and significance) took firm root in early Christianity, and is evidenced at many points in the New Testament. For more on this subject, see my articles in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (both in “Jesus and the Law” and “The Law in Luke-Acts”).

3. Mark 11:24-25

“Through [i.e. because of] this I say to you: all (thing)s, as (many) as you speak out toward (God) and ask (for), you must trust that you received (it), and it will be (so) for you.”
“And when you stand speaking out toward (God), release (it) if you hold (anything) against any(one), (so) that your Father the (One) in the heavens should also release for you your (moment)s of falling alongside.”

Here we have a pair of teachings (sayings) by Jesus, brought together. Only the first of these is found in the same context (cursing of the fig-tree) in Matthew (21:21), while the second is close to the saying in Matt 6:14f (in the Sermon on the Mount, cf. also 5:23-24). There is no parallel for either saying in the Gospel of Luke, though the idea of trusting that a person will receive what he/she asks for from God is found at a number of points throughout the Gospel tradition (Matt 7:7-11 [par Lk 11:9-13]; John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24ff, etc). In these sayings two things are said to hinder prayer from being answered by God: (1) a lack of trust in God, and (2) unresolved sin, especially that which involves a broken relationship with other people. Both are points of emphasis made by Jesus at various places throughout his teaching.

4. Mark 12:40

The reference to prayer here is part of a larger tradition whereby Jesus attacks conventional religious behavior, establishing a contrast for his followers—how they should think and behave in their religious conduct. The location of 12:38-40 in Mark, right before the episode of the widow’s offering (vv. 41-44), seems to be the result of “catchword bonding”, the two (originally separate) blocks of tradition being joined together because of the common reference to widows. At the same point in the Matthean narrative, in place of the “widow’s offering” scene, there is a much more extensive attack on the religious leaders (spanning all of chapter 23), much of which is drawn from a separate line of tradition (with parallels in Luke, cf. 11:39-52). By comparison, the (synoptic) tradition in Mark 12:38-40 is quite brief, directed against “the writers”, i.e. those literate men who are expert in written matters, especially the Scriptures and Torah, and all the religious authority (and prestige) that goes along with that expertise. They seem to be identified, in large measure (and typically in the Gospel tradition), with the Pharisee party (Matt 23:2).

The emphasis in vv. 38-39 is on their concern for worldly recognition and enhanced social status, along with the superficial trappings which mark such success and influence. The statement in verse 40 is more difficult, as it is not entirely clear how the two actions being described relate to one another:

    • “they eat down the houses of the widows”
    • “shining before (people as) speaking out long toward (God)”

The meaning of second phrase remains a bit uncertain, but the general idea seems to be that, even as they “consume” the houses of widows, these would-be religious leaders, at the same time, appear as highly devout persons engaged in much prayer (compare the Lukan portrait of the Pharisee in 18:10-14). To say that they “eat down” (consume/devour) the houses of widows is probably something of an extreme exaggeration, for effect. As those with knowledge of the law, and influential leaders, they should have been looking out for the poor in society—such as widows, who might be taken advantage of, to the point of being cheated out of their husband’s estate. A similar idea is implicit in the judgment against the rich man in Luke 16:19-31.

As for the rejection of prayer that is made publicly, to create and reinforce the impression of religious devotion, as opposed to true and earnest prayer made before God in private, that is the theme of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:5-8), which will be discussed again briefly in the next note.

5. Mark 14:32-39

The final Markan/Synoptic passage on prayer is the garden scene from the Passion narrative, found in all three Gospels. Even though the Passion/garden scene in John is quite different, there are interesting parallels to Mk 14:32ff elsewhere in that Gospel (12:23-28). I discussed this passage in the earlier studies on the Lord’s Prayer, in the context of the petition in Matt 6:13. In many ways, this episode summarizes Jesus’ teaching on prayer:

    • He is by himself, in a desolate place, speaking out earnestly and intensely to the Father
    • The moment represents the cumulation of his public ministry and work on earth
    • Though separate, his disciples (especially those closest to him) remain nearby, and his behavior is meant to serve as an example for them to follow (as with the Lord’s Prayer, etc)
    • Interspersed between his moments/sessions of prayer, Jesus gives instruction (regarding prayer) to his disciples, exhorting them essentially to follow his example
    • This need (for prayer) is especially acute as the moment of his passion and death draws near—an eschatological time of darkness to come upon the world (and his followers)

With this (all too brief) survey of the Markan/Synoptic passages, we can now explore the references to prayer which are unique to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. The next Monday study will focus on prayer in the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 3 (Mk 14:32-52 par)

The Garden/Gethsemane Episode

The next (third) episode of the Passion Narrative is the scene in Gethsemane, so identified as the location in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew). In this episode, Jesus’ suffering (his Passion) truly begins, climaxing in his arrest. For the basic outline and treatment of the Synoptic tradition, we begin with the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:32-52

The outline of this episode is quite simple, being comprised of two scenes:

  1. The scene of Jesus in Prayer—vv. 32-41b
  2. The Arrest of Jesus—vv. 43-52

The declaration of Jesus in vv. 41b-42 is at the center of the episode, joining both scenes and effectively announcing the beginning of his Passion:

“…the hour came—see, the Son of Man is (being) given along into the hands of sinful (men)! Rise (up)! we should lead (ourselves) away—see, the (one) giving me along has come near!”

With the aorist form of h@lqen (“came”) Jesus may be telling his disciples “the hour came i.e. while you were sleeping” (cf. verses 37, 40-41a).

The arrest of Jesus itself can be divided into two portions:

    • The arrival of Judas and his kiss identifying Jesus (vv. 43-45)
    • The seizure (arrest) of Jesus (vv. 46-52), which contains two traditions:
      • A disciple strikes off with his sword the ear of the High Priest’s servant (v. 47)
      • The description of the young man who represents the fleeing disciples (vv. 51-52)

Neither Matthew nor Luke records the tradition in vv. 51-52, and it may be a local detail unique to Mark’s Gospel. However, it seems clear that both traditions, in different ways, are meant to reflect Jesus’ prophetic prediction in verse 27 (citing Zech 13:7). In between these two traditions, a saying (declaration) by Jesus is recorded (vv. 48-49):

“Did you come out as (you would) upon a (violent) robber, with swords and sticks, to take me (in) together? (Day) by day I was (facing) toward you in the sacred place [i.e. Temple] and you did not take (firm) hold of me (then), but (only now so) that the Writings [i.e. Scriptures] might be fulfilled!”

When we turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we can see that, while the basic Synoptic (Markan) outline is followed, there are certain signs of development in the Tradition.

Matthew 26:36-56

The main differences in Matthew (compared with Mark) are:

    • The form and presentation of Jesus’ words during the Prayer scene (vv. 36-42, cf. below)
    • An expansion of the Judas tradition in vv. 49-50
    • The additional saying of Jesus in vv. 52-54
    • There is no reference to the disciple (young man) of Mk 14:51-52

The differences which appear to be unique to Matthew are in verses 49-50, 52-54:

The Judas tradition—This will be discussed further in a separate note on Judas, but Matthew has ‘expanded’ this scene with additional details not found in Mark:

    • The crowd with Judas is described as a throng/crowd of many [polu/$] people
    • The Chief Priests and Elders are identified as being “of the people” [tou= laou=]
    • Judas’ greeting to Jesus includes the salutation xai=re
    • Jesus’ words to Judas (v. 50a), which could be read either as (a) a statement or (b) a question:
      “(My) companion, (act) upon that which you are along (to do)”
      “(My) companion, upon what [i.e. for what purpose] are you along (here)?”

The Saying of Jesus—Following the violent act of Jesus’ disciple (who is not identified) with the sword (v. 51), Matthew records an extensive saying by Jesus which clearly reflects ethical teaching—not only for Jesus’ disciples, but for believers in general:

“Turn away your sword (back) into its place! for all the (one)s taking sword (in hand) in [i.e. by] (the) sword (they) will destroy (themselves). Or do you consider that I am not able to call my Father alongside and will he (not) stand more than twelve legions of Messengers alongside of me? (But) then how would the Writings be fulfilled (which declare) that it is necessary (for things) to come to be this (way)?”

Luke 22:39-53

In some ways, Luke’s account is simpler and shorter, and yet includes a considerable number of details not found in the other Synoptics. These include:

    • The prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34) is made part of the Last Supper scene, so the reference to their journey to the Mount of Olives (v. 39) becomes part of the Gethsemane/Garden episode (Luke does not mention the place name “Gethsemane”).
    • The Prayer scene is greatly abridged, especially if one omits the disputed verses 43-44 for which there is considerable uncertainty in the textual tradition (addressed in a supplemental note).
    • Luke, like Matthew, has developed the arrest scene, further expanding and emphasizing the role of Judas and eliminating any mention of the disciples’ flight.

Generally, the arrest scene in Luke is narrated in a simpler fashion, but there are a number of added details unique to Luke:

    • The kiss (lit. “[mark of] affection”) by Judas is not actually mentioned (only “he came near to give Yeshua the mark of affection”). Apparently before Judas kisses him, Jesus, in Luke’s version, says to him: “Yehudah, you give along [i.e. betray] the Son of Man with a mark of affection?” (v. 48)
    • Before the actual seizure of Jesus, some of the disciples ask him: “Lord, shall we strike (them) in [i.e. with] (the) sword?” (v. 49). This refers to one of the two swords mentioned earlier in v. 38—a violent and improper application of Jesus’ teaching, to be sure!
    • Luke records (a) Jesus’ response to his disciples, and (b) his act of healing the ear that was severed (v. 51), identified specifically as the man’s right ear. Jesus’ words of rebuke are difficult to interpret and translate precisely. It may be understood as a sharp rebuke (i.e. “No more of this!”), or in terms of an explanation as to why they must not act—”Let (things) be (even) until this [i.e. my arrest]!” The tenor of the tradition overall would favor the latter, but the specific teaching in vv. 24-27ff may indicate that Luke has something like the former in mind.
    • Jesus’ address to Judas and the crowd (vv. 52-53) follows the Synoptic tradition in Mark 14:48-49, except for the concluding statement, which is quite different:
      “but (it is so) that the Writings [i.e. Scriptures] might be fulfilled” (Mk 14:49)
      “but this is your hour and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness!” (Lk 22:53)
      The word “hour” (w%ra) refers to the time of Jesus’ Passion and links back to the start of the Last Supper scene in Luke (v. 14). This time of darkness also reflects the opening of the Passion narrative, in which Luke records that Satan entered Judas (v. 3). For similar associations with the Devil and darkness, cf. John 13:2, 30b. The Gospel of John also uses the word “hour” in a similar way, to introduction the Passion narrative (13:1).

In the next note, I will examine the differences in the Prayer scene between the Synoptic versions, and also look briefly at the unique tradition presented in John’s Gospel.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 2 (Mk 14:12-25)

The Passover: Jesus with his Disciples

The second episode of the Passion Narrative in the Synoptics is the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his disciples the night of his arrest. In the Synoptic tradition, this “Last Supper” was unquestionably part of the Passover celebration. This setting was established in the narrative introduction (Mk 14:1 par), and is affirmed again at the start of this episode (vv. 12ff). The Passover setting of the Passion narrative is just as clear in the Gospel of John (12:1; 13:1, etc); however, as you may be aware (and as we shall see), there are significant chronological differences between John and the Synoptics on this point.

Mark 14:12-25 (par Matt 26:17-29; Lk 22:7-39)

There is a clear and simple three-part division to this episode in the Synoptics, as illustrated first by the Gospel of Mark:

    1. The Preparation (vv. 12-16)
    2. The Passover scene at mealtime (vv. 17-21)
    3. Institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (vv. 22-25)

Each of these parts has a specific thematic association:

    • Vv. 12-16—The Passover
    • Vv. 17-21—The Betrayal by Judas
    • Vv. 22-25—The Suffering and Death of Jesus

This thematic structure was probably inherited by the Gospel writer from the early tradition, though it is possible that he played a significant role in emphasizing it within the narrative. Each of the parts will be discussed in turn, beginning with Mark and then examining the parallels in Matthew and Luke to see how the tradition(s) may have been modified or developed.

Mark 14:12-16 / Matt 26:17-19 / Luke 22:7-13

There are two basic elements to the tradition in vv. 12-16 which, we may assume, caused it to be included in the core narrative: (1) the significance and importance of the Passover, and (2) an early historical tradition regarding the specific location (the “upper room”) in which the meal took place. With regard to the first point, the importance of Passover is indicated by the careful preparations that are made for it. Jesus gives specific instructions to his disciples (vv. 13-15), though it is not entirely clear whether this reflects arrangements which had already been made or, in particualar, special foreknowledge by Jesus as to how things would come about. The parallel with the preparations for his “triumphal entry” (11:2-6 par) suggest that the Gospel writer(s) understood it in the latter sense.

Matthew and Luke both follow the Markan narrative with relatively little variation. Matthew’s account (26:17-19) is briefer and simpler, as is typically so for this writer when developing the Tradition. Luke (22:7-13) follows Mark much more closely, including the detail of the Passover sacrifice (v. 7). However, there are a couple of notable differences (in v. 8):

    • Jesus appears to take the initiative with the disciples (cp. Mk 14:12b), and
    • The two disciples are identified as Peter and John; this detail most likely represents a development of the tradition, according to the early Christian tendency toward identifying otherwise unnamed figures.

The initial directive by Jesus in Luke’s version also serves to give added emphasis to the Passover theme.

Mark 14:17-21 / Matt 26:20-25 / Luke 22:14-38

The Passover meal itself is the setting for vv. 17-21ff, though the meal itself is really only described (partially) in Luke’s version. The primary focus of this scene in the Synoptic tradition is the dramatic moment of the identification of Judas as the betrayer. This may be outlined as follows:

  • The narrative setting (v. 17)
    • The initial declaration by Jesus (v. 18)
    • The disciples’ reaction (v. 19)
    • The second declaration by Jesus (v. 20)
    • The Son of Man saying (v. 21)

Note how the dramatic purpose of Jesus’ twin declaration is to identify the betrayer:

    • “…one out of you will give me along [i.e. betray me], the one eating with me” (v. 18)
    • “(It is) one of the Twelve, the one dipping in with me into the dish” (v. 20)

The first declaration indicates that it is one of Jesus’ disciples who is present, eating at the table with him. The second further identifies the man as one of the Twelve—i.e. one of Jesus’ closest disciples. This level of intimacy is also indicated by the parallel: “eating with me”—”dipping into the dish with me”. Possibly there is an allusion here to Psalm 41:9, an association specifically made (by Jesus) in John’s Gospel (13:18), and one which would doubtless have been recognized by early Christians familiar with the Scriptures. The Son of Man saying in verse 21 is the most distinctive element of the narrative, and unquestionably reflects a very early and well-established tradition:

“(On the one hand) the Son of Man leads (himself) under [i.e. goes away] even as it has been written about him, but (on the other hand) woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is given along [i.e. betrayed]! Fine for him if that man had not come to be (born) (at all)!”

As in the earlier scene, Matthew (26:20-25) follows Mark closely, but again narrates in simpler fashion. He includes one detail which would seem to reflect a development of the tradition: in verse 25, Judas (identified by the author as “the one giving him [i.e. Jesus] along”) asks “Is (it) I, Rabbi?”, to which Jesus responds “You (have) said (it)”. It is rather an odd detail; its inclusion may be meant, in part, as a foreshadowing of Judas’ greeting at the moment of the arrest, where he also uses the honorific title “Rabbi” (v. 49).

Luke’s Gospel shows far more extensive development of the tradition here. The main differences are: (1) the identification of Judas and Son of Man saying occur after the institution of the Lord’s Supper (22:21-23), and (2) two blocks of teaching are included (vv. 24-30, 35-38)—one after the Lord’s Supper and the other after the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34). These differences will be discussed in the upcoming note on Luke 22:14-38.

Mark 14:22-25 / Matt 26:26-29 / Luke 22:17-20

These verses preserve the important early Christian tradition of the institution of the “Lord’ Supper”. Their significance will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming note, but here will be helpful to observe the basic tradition as it is preserved by Mark (and Matthew). The outline is very simple:

  • Action by Jesus (the bread):
    “taking bread (and) giving a good account [i.e. blessing] (to God), he broke (it) and gave (it) to them” (v. 22a)
    • Words of Jesus:
      “Take (it)—this is my body” (v. 22b)
  • Action by Jesus (the cup/wine):
    “taking (the) drinking-cup (and) giving good words of (thanks for God’s) favor, he gave (it) to them and they all drank out of it” (v. 23)
    • Words of Jesus:
      “This is my blood of the diaqh/kh [i.e. ‘covenant’] th(at) is poured out over many” (v. 24)

An additional saying/declaration by Jesus (v. 25) concludes the solemn moment:

“Amen, I say to you that, no—I will not drink yet (again) out of the produce of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

This saying, with its “Amen, I say to you” (a)mh\n le/gw u(mi=n) formula (a well-attested mark of Jesus’ own style), is parallel to the declaration in v. 18.

Once again, Matthew (26:26-29) follows Mark, though with a couple of key differences (marked by italics):

    • “Take (it and) eat…”
    • “…poured out unto the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins
    • “…that day when I should drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father

Generally these details (along with a couple of other small modifications) appear to reflect a degree of development, an expanding of the core tradition with added information or emphasis. This will be discussed further, along with Luke’s unique presentation of this material, and the parallel tradition recorded by Paul (in 1 Cor 11:23-26), over the next two notes.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 1 (Mk 14:3-9; Matt 26:6-13)

The Anointing of Jesus

As indicated in the introduction to this portion of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, the scene of the Anointing of Jesus (by a woman) is the first episode in the Synoptic Passion Narrative, as represented by the Gospel of Mark (14:3-9). Actually there is a similar Anointing episode in all four Gospels. The version in Matthew (26:6-13) follows Mark closely, both those in Luke (7:36-50) and John (12:1-8) contain significant differences. This has caused commentators to question whether we are dealing with one, two, or even three distinct historical traditions (and events). Only the scene in Mark/Matthew is part of the Passion Narrative proper, though John’s version still evinces a connection with the death/burial of Jesus that must have been part of the tradition from an early point. The many points of difference between Luke’s account and the Synoptic scene in Mark/Matthew, may seem to leave little doubt that at least two separate historical traditions are involved. However, the Anointing Scene in all four Gospels follows the same basic narrative outline:

    • Jesus is dining (as a guest) in a particular house, and his he is reclining at the table
    • A women enters, or is present, who anoints Jesus with perfume
    • Others who are present react negatively to this
    • Jesus rebukes them for this reaction, and
    • He speaks on behalf of the woman, in support of her, etc

This common outline has convinced a number of scholars that ultimately we are dealing with multiple versions of the same historical tradition. It may be worth recalling that there were similar questions related to the Miraculous Feeding episode(s) (cf. the earlier notes), as well as the scene of Jesus at Nazareth (cf. also these notes).

I begin this study with the episode as it is found in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:3-9

This episode, the first in the Passion Narrative, follows the narrative introduction in vv. 1-2. This brief notice contains two primary elements which run thematically through the narrative: (1) the Passover setting, and (2) the plans to arrest Jesus and put him to death. Mark sets the second element within the first, enveloping it:

    • “It was the festival of Pesah (Passover) and the Unleavened Bread after [i.e. in] two days”
      —”The chief sacred officials [i.e. Priests] and writers [i.e. Scribes] searched (out) how, grabbing hold of him in a (cunning) trap (right away), they might kill him off”
    • “For they said, ‘Not on the festival (day), (so) there will not be any clamor of [i.e. from] the people'”

The idea clearly is that the religious authorities wish to arrest and deal with Jesus prior to the day of Passover itself.

The narrative of the Anointing scene is generally simple and straightforward; it may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative introduction/setting—the action of the woman (v. 3)
    • The reaction of those present (vv. 4-5)
    • Jesus’ response (vv. 6-9), including a climactic saying

This basic outline is common to many traditional narratives in the Synoptics, especially those which depict Jesus in dispute/conflict with religious authorities (on questions of Law and other beliefs)—cf. Mark 2:1-3:6 par, etc. It is worth noting that neither the woman nor those who respond negatively to her are identified. In this respect, Mark most likely preserves the earlier form of the tradition (compared with Matthew [cf. below] and John). Jesus’ response is comprised of four sayings or parts:

    • V. 6—”Leave her (alone)! (for) what [i.e. why] do you hold [i.e. bring] along trouble for her? It is a fine work she has worked on me.”
    • V. 7—”The poor you have with you always…but you do not always have me.”
    • V. 8—”She did that which she held (in her to do)—she took (the opportunity) before(hand) to apply ointment (to) my body, unto [i.e. for] the placing (of it) in the grave.”
    • V. 9—”Amen, I say to you, (that) wherever the good message is proclaimed, into the whole world, even th(at) which this (woman) did will be spoken unto her memorial [i.e. as a memorial for her].”

These may be divided into two groups, reflecting two aspects of the narrative:

    • The costliness of the anointing—Christian ideals of poverty and humility (represented by the onlookers’ objection) required that some explanation of this “waste” be given. The answer comes in vv. 6-7, especially Jesus’ saying regarding the poor in v. 7.
    • The connection with the death of Jesus—it is doubtless this aspect in vv. 8-9 which caused the episode to be set within the context of the Passion narrative. As we shall see, there is some indication that the original tradition/event may have originally occurred at an earlier point in the Gospel narrative.

Matthew 26:6-13

Matthew follows the Markan account rather closely. The Gospel writer has, in other respects, expanded the Passion Narrative considerably, such as can be seen in the narrative introduction (cp. vv. 1-5 with Mk 14:1-2). The main difference is found in vv. 1-2, which contain a transitional statement (v. 1) and a declaration by Jesus (v. 2) which echoes the earlier Passion predictions (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19 par). However, the Anointing scene itself shows relatively little development. Typically, Matthew’s version is smoother and simpler, lacking some of the specific detail and color of Mark’s account. It also contains certain details not found in Mark:

    • Those who object to the woman’s action are identified as Jesus’ disciples (v. 8). This is a significant development; John’s version is even more specific.
    • In v. 10a there is the possible indication that Jesus is aware of the disciples’ thoughts/hearts (cf. 9:4, etc).
    • The woman’s action (v. 12) is described by Jesus through a somewhat different formulation:
      “For this (woman), casting [i.e. pouring] the myrrh-ointment upon my body, did (this) toward [i.e. for] my being placed in the grave.”
      Matthew’s version emphasizes the allusion to the process of embalming, prior to burial.

Two of the four sayings by Jesus here—the second and the last (vv. 11, 13 / Mk 14:7, 9)—seem to be especially fixed in the tradition, with little variation:

    • Mk 14:7 / Matt 26:11—in the saying regarding the poor, Matthew’s version is shorter (an abridgment?), but otherwise the wording is very close.
    • Mk 14:9 / Matt 26:13—the authenticity of the closing statement regarding the woman would seem to be confirmed (on objective grounds), by: (a) the nearly identical wording, and (b) the formula “Amen, I say to you…” (a)mh\n le/gw u(mi=n), which is most distinctive and a sign of an early Jesus tradition. The solemnity of the saying was certainly influential in the preservation of the episode within the Gospel tradition.

There is more variation (between Matthew and Mark) in the other two sayings, especially that in Mk 14:8 par which associates the woman’s action with Jesus’ burial. This fluidity would suggest that the saying was not as well established in the tradition. As indicated above, Matthew’s version enhances the association between the anointing and the (symbolic) embalming of Jesus after death.

In the next note, I will examine the quite different Anointing scene recorded by Luke (7:36-50).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (Mk 8:38; 13:26; 14:62)

One major group of Son of Man sayings are eschatological—they refer to the coming of the Son of Man at the end-time, in connection with God’s (final) Judgment upon the world. Early Christians, along with most believers today, understood these sayings as referring to the future return of Jesus. However, viewed in this light, the sayings would have made little or no sense to people in Jesus’ own time. Even his close disciples could scarcely grasp the idea of his death and resurrection, prior to their occurrence; in this context, reference to his future return would have been unintelligible. Some critical commentators would treat such sayings as creations of the Church which have been projected back and set on Jesus’ lips. I find this to be most unlikely, given the apparent authenticity of the Son of Man sayings (on objective grounds), as discussed previously.

More plausible is the critical theory that, at the historical level, Jesus, in these sayings, is not referring to himself, but to a separate heavenly/divine figure called “the Son of Man”, inspired by Daniel 7:13 (and subsequent tradition). A close examination of the eschatological sayings (cf. below) shows, I think, that this view is possible; however, there are still serious problems with it. In what is arguably the best-established tradition (Mk 14:62 par, discussed below), Jesus is clearly identifying himself with this heavenly/divine figure. The same may be said for any number of the other eschatological sayings.

The “Son of Man” figure in these sayings is clearly derived from the being “like a son of man” (vn`a$ rb^K=, k§»ar °§n¹š) in Dan 7:13. While the book of Daniel was immensely influential on Jewish thought and belief in the first centuries B.C.-A.D., reference to this passage (and the “Son of Man” figure) is surprisingly absent from the Qumran texts, and other writings of the period. There is really only one contemporary parallel to the eschatological usage by Jesus: the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), often dated by scholars to the time of Jesus and the early Gospel tradition (early-mid 1st cent. A.D.). Equally inspired by Daniel, the Similitudes depict a heavenly figure, called by the title “Son of Man” (among other titles), who will function both as divinely-appointed Redeemer and Judge. There are definite parallels to the figure-type with whom Jesus identifies himself in the Gospels. For more on this subject, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplemental note on Dan 7:13.

There are three eschatological Son of Man sayings in the core Synoptic tradition—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 par—the last two of which are closely connected and relate to the Passion narrative. Each of these will be discussed in turn.

Mark 8:38

“For whoever would feel shame (because) of me and my [words] in this adulterous and sinful (period of) coming-to-be [i.e. generation], even (so) the Son of Man will feel shame (because) of him when He should come in the splendor of His Father with the holy Messengers”

This saying follows the first Passion prediction by Jesus (v. 31), and is part of a short block of teaching on the theme of discipleship (8:34-9:1). We see how it is conceivable that Jesus might be referring to a heavenly being separate from himself. However, the parallelism within the saying, together with Jesus’ frequent use of the expression “son of man” as a self-reference, makes this somewhat unlikely here. At any rate, it is clear that the “Son of Man” plays a role in the Judgment, as a witness, it would seem, for or against the human being. The basis of the Judgment, and the Son of Man’s witness, is the reaction of the person to Jesus and his words. The verb e)paisxunomai essentially means “bring shame [ai)sxunomai] upon [e)pi] (oneself)”, but sometimes in the sense of experiencing or feeling shame (within oneself) because of someone or something. The person—that is, the one who is supposed to be a disciple—who feels shame because of Jesus, will suffer a similar (reciprocal) fate in the time of Judgment.

The parallel passage in Luke (9:23-27) follows Mark closely, including the saying in v. 26. Two small differences are worth noting:

    • Instead of phrase “in the splendor of his Father”, Luke reads “in his splendor and (that of) the Father”, emphasizing the Son of Man’s own glory, which he has together with the Father. This formulation could indicate a slight Christological adaptation.
    • In the following (concluding) verse (27), Luke’s version generalizes the saying somewhat. Mark reads “…will not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power”. Luke omits the qualification “…having come in power”, softening the eschatological emphasis.

Matthew has a rather different Son of Man saying at this point (Matt 16:27); it may stem from a separate tradition, or it may simply represent a generalization of the saying in Mk 8:38 par—regarding the role of the Son of Man in the Judgment.

In addition, we find a saying similar to the Synoptic version in the so-called “Q” material—in Matt 10:32-33 and Lk 12:8-9. Quite possibly, the Synoptic and “Q” versions each stem from a single historical tradition. The Q saying is more extensive and preserves a clearer sense of the Judgment scene:

“Every one who should give account as one [i.e. acknowledge/confess] on (behalf of) me in front of men, even (so) the Son of Man will give account as one on (behalf of) him in front of the Messengers of God. And the one refusing to speak (on behalf of) [i.e. who denies/disavows] me, he will not be given (any) speech (on his behalf) [i.e. will be denied/disavowed] in the sight of the Messengers of God” (Lk 12:8-9)

Here it is not a question of feeling shame, but of publicly affirming (or refusing to affirm) faith in Jesus. The would-be disciple’s behavior and attitude “in front of” other people will be reciprocated “in front of” the heavenly tribunal at the end-time.

Mark 13:26

This saying is part of the collection of eschatological teaching by Jesus which is set as taking place, in Jerusalem, in the days prior to his death. It is presented as a sermon (or discourse) given on a specific occasion, but it is more likely that the arrangement is traditional and thematic, based on the common eschatological theme(s). This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Matthew includes eschatological sayings (“Q” material) which occur in Luke at an entirely different location (17:20-37). The saying in Mk 13:26, occurs at a climactic (central) point in the “discourse”, covering verses 24-27. It is preceded by a quotation/adaptation of Scripture (Isa 13:10; 34:4) which vividly depicts the heavenly phenomena which will occur at the end-time (vv. 24-25). This marks the sudden appearance of the Son of Man:

“And then they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man, coming in (the) clouds with much power and splendor” (v. 26)

The expression “coming in/with the clouds (of heaven)” clearly derives from the ancient theophanous motif associated with “the one like a son of man” in Dan 7:13. The Judgment setting of vv. 24-27 is certain, though it must be inferred somewhat in this particular verse. It is the role of the Son of Man in the act of saving/redeeming the Elect people of God which is emphasized in v. 27:

“And then he will set forth the (heavenly) Messengers and they will bring together upon (one place) (all) his (people who are) gathered out [i.e. chosen] (from) out of the four winds, from the (furthest) tip of the earth until the (furthest) tip of heaven.”

Matthew (24:29-31) generally follows Mark, but adds/includes certain details in vv. 30-31:

    • A separate(?) Son of Man saying in v. 30a, which seems to allude to Zech 12:10 (cf. Jn 19:37; Rev 1:7); if so, it introduces the context of Jesus’ impending suffering which is absent from the tradition in Mk 13:24-27 par.
    • v. 30b fills out the expression “…clouds of heaven” (cf. Dan 7:13)
    • v. 31a adds the phrase “with a great trumpet”
    • in v. 31b, the spatial/geographic image for the gathering of the Elect is more straightforward than in Mk 13:27

The corresponding section in Luke (21:25-28) differs considerably, and may reflect an interpretive development of the Synoptic tradition. Note:

    • The detail of the Isaian passages cited in Mk 13:24-25 is summarized briefly in v. 25a & 26b
    • The reaction of humankind to the heavenly phenomena is included/inserted in vv. 25b-26a
    • In place of Mk 13:27 par, it would seem that Luke has included a separate saying of Jesus (v. 28), which more clearly brings out the idea of the coming redemption/deliverance of God’s people (i.e. believers)

The actual Son of Man saying in 21:27, however, follows the Synoptic/Markan version closely—another indication of its established/fixed position within the Tradition.

Mark 14:62

Even better established is the saying in Mark 14:62, which, if we accept as authentic and derived from Jesus’ actual words (on objective grounds), must have exerted a profound influence on every other eschatological reference to the Son of Man in the earliest Christian tradition. This is seen clearly enough from the way that the death of Stephen is narrated in the book of Acts, where the visionary scene in 7:55-56 obviously relates back to the Synoptic tradition of Mk 14:62 par. The setting of this saying—Jesus’ appearance before the Jerusalem Council (Sanhedrin)—will be discussed in the next part of this series, on the Passion Narrative. Here it is enough to look at the saying itself in its immediate context. It is presented as Jesus’ response to a question by the Council (the High Priest in Mark/Matthew):

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the ‘Blessed’ (One)?” (Mk 14:61)

Matthew’s version of this question (26:63) has added Christological resonance, in the way that it closely echoes the confession of Peter in 16:16. Jesus’ initial response to this question differs significantly in all three Gospels, but the declaration involving the Son of Man is generally fixed in the tradition. Mark’s version (v. 62) is:

“you will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man, sitting out of the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven!”

The context makes clear that Jesus is identifying himself with the heavenly Son of Man figure (from Dan 7:13 etc); nowhere else in the Gospel tradition is this so readily apparent. However one may interpret the other eschatological Son of Man sayings, there is no mistaking the self-identification of Jesus here. It is also the clearest reference to the exaltation of Jesus, in the way that it blends the reference to Dan 7:13 together with Psalm 110:1. The image of the exalted Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, so prevalent in early Christian tradition (Mk 16:19; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 1 Pet 3:22, etc), is prefigured here.

Again, it should be pointed out that, despite the numerous differences in how the Sanhedrin scene is narrated in the Synoptics, this particular Son of Man tradition is extremely well-established and fixed. Matthew and Luke (Matt 26:64; Lk 22:69) follow it closely, each including one small temporal phrase at the start—”from now (on)…”—which serves to contrast the current situation with that of the (future) end-time. Now Jesus is being judged under the power/authority of a human council, but from this point on (i.e. after his death and resurrection), the exalted Christ (the Son of Man) will be seated in the ultimate position of authority and judgment, at God’s right hand. We have seen how there is often a motif of reciprocity or reversal-of-fortune in the Son of Man sayings which deal with the Judgment—a person’s fate in the end-time Judgment will mirror his/her attitude and behavior on earth. Just as the Council is judging Jesus, so too will they be judged.

It is possible that Luke’s version of the saying is meant to objectify Jesus’ exaltation. Instead of “you will look with (open) eyes [i.e. see, gaze] at the Son of Man…”, the Lukan version reads simply “the Son of Man will be…”. It is no longer a question of something people will see, but of an objective reality which transcends one’s perception. People will see the Son of Man in glory at God’s right hand because that is where he will be after the resurrection.

The remainder of the Son of Man sayings in Matthew and Luke (from the “Q” material, etc) will be discussed in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 etc)

This note will examine the Synoptic “Son of Man” sayings which relate to the suffering of Jesus. The best explanation for these sayings is that Jesus is consciously identifying with the human condition (as a “son of man”), especially in terms of the experience of hardship, suffering, and death. A particular group of these sayings specifically refer to the sacrificial death of Jesus. If we consider the core Synoptic sayings of the Triple Tradition (Mark, with parallels in Matthew and Luke), more than half of the Son of Man sayings by Jesus refer to his (impending) suffering and death; these include:

None of these sayings are Messianic, as such, but relate specifically to Jesus’ unique experience of suffering and death. The sacrificial, atoning character of this suffering is implied, but stated clearly only in Mk 10:45 par:

“for (so) also the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul [i.e. his life] in exchange for [a)nti] many (others) as a way (to) loose (them from bondage)”

In such passages, it is hard to see the expression “son of man” as anything other than a kind of self-reference—i.e., a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”. Yet the original sense of identification with humankind should not be missed: Jesus, as a human being (on earth), gives himself (his own life) on behalf of other human beings.

The Passion Predictions (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par)

The three predictions by Jesus of his upcoming suffering and death are a central component of the Synoptic narrative, and are found in all three Gospels. They follow the conclusion of the “Galilean Period“, marked by Peter’s confession (Mk 8:27-30 par), and precede the journey to Jerusalem (covered by Mk 10), with the third prediction set as they approach Jerusalem. As such, they are transitional, leading into the Judean/Jerusalem period and the Passion narrative (Mk 11-15). Mark and Matthew essentially follow the same outline; however, Luke has expanded greatly the period of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, filling the span of 9:5118:34 (nearly 9 full chapters) with much traditional material—sayings, teaching, parables, etc. I discuss the three Passion predictions in considerable detail in an Easter season series (soon to be posted here Easter season 2020).

Just as we saw with the two Feeding Miracles (5000 and 4000), there is some question, among critical commentators, whether the three Passion predictions by Jesus reflect separate sayings (and historical traditions) or different versions of the same tradition. The general similarity of the sayings would tend to support the critical view that they derive from a single historical tradition. On the other hand, the three predictions are clearly distinct in the Synoptic narrative, providing the framework for the period prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). It seems likely that this structure was did not originate with the Gospel of Mark, but rather, already existed as an organizing principle for the narrative prior to its inclusion. In Luke, the periodic symmetry of this outline has been altered, due the enormous amount of material between the first two predictions (Lk 9:22, 43b-45) and the last (18:31-34).

There are certain differences between the versions of these three sayings (cf. the earlier study cited above for comparisons); however, the use of the expression “Son of Man” is consistent throughout. The key phrase in the first saying (Mk 8:31 par) is “it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s…” Matthew’s version of this saying is the only one which does not use “Son of Man”, being presented indirectly by the narrator: “Jesus began to show his disciples that it is necessary for him…to suffer many things” (Matt 16:21). This indicates that the Gospel writer clearly understood the expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus.

The second saying (Mk 9:31 par) is shorter, focusing upon a particular aspect of the suffering, presented in a three-part chain—betrayal, execution, resurrection:

“The Son of Man is (being) [i.e. about to be] given along into the hands of men, and they will kill him off, and being killed off, after three days, he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again)”.

Matthew’s version (17:22-23) is simpler, but generally follows the Markan version. Luke’s version is simpler still (9:44b), but is given a more detailed (and dramatic) narrative setting.

The third Passion prediction saying (Mk 10:33) effectively brings together the first and second, expanding upon them, describing the suffering in more vivid and precise detail. Indeed, Jesus’ statement summarizes the scenes which will be narrated in 14:43-15:20ff. Again, Matthew (20:18-19) follows Mark closely; while the formulation in Luke (18:31ff) is quite different, suggesting here a development of the tradition:

“…and all things written through the Foretellers [i.e. by the Prophets] will be completed for the Son of Man; for he will be given along…”

This emphasis on Jesus’ suffering as a fulfillment of Scripture and the Prophets becomes an important Lukan theme in the remainder of the Gospel (and the book of Acts).

Mark 9:9, 12

In between the first two Passion predictions, and following the Transfiguration scene, Jesus again refers (twice) to the suffering of the Son of Man:

“And, at their stepping down out of the mountain, he set through to them [i.e. to his disciples] that they should not bring through [i.e. reveal] (even) one (thing) of what they saw, if not [i.e. except] (until the time) when the Son of Man should stand up [i.e. rise] out of the dead.” (Mk 9:9)

Matthew (17:9) narrates this as a direct quotation by Jesus: “You should not say (anything) to anyone (about) this sight until the (time at) which the Son of Man should rise out of the dead”. Luke paraphrases the tradition (9:36b), making no reference to the “Son of Man”.

The saying which follows in Mk 9:12 is tied to a separate tradition, involving the eschatological/Messianic figure of Elijah (who is to come), vv. 11-13. It is not certain whether this saying occurred at the same time as v. 9, or has been joined to it thematically. Certainly the Markan v. 10 joins them together in the narrative. The original context of vv. 11-13 is not easy to determine; but, from the standpoint of the wider Gospel Tradition, Jesus would be seen here as identifying John the Baptist with “Elijah”, and referencing John’s suffering (and death) as foreshadowing his own (cf. 1:14a; 6:14-29). This association is made more specific in Matthew’s version of the “Q” material in 11:2-15 (vv. 11-15). In 17:10-13, Matthew follows Mark, but again makes the identification between John and Elijah definite (v. 13). Luke omits the tradition entirely, perhaps because he has already associated John with Elijah elsewhere (Lk 1:17, 76-77; 7:27).

Mark 14:21, 41

The expression “Son of Man” is used by Jesus again (twice) on the night of his Passion. The first (Mk 14:21 par) is set in the context of a woe against the betrayer (Judas); the verb indicating betrayal, paradi/dwmi (“give along”), is also used in the Son of Man Passion prediction sayings (cf. above). The expression “Son of Man” occurs twice in verse 21, as if to emphasize the experience of his suffering (through the betrayal). Matthew (26:24) follows Mark closely, whereas Luke (22:22) has simplified the saying somewhat.

The second saying is set in the garden, just prior to the ‘arrest’ of Jesus (Mk 14:41):

“the hour (ha)s come—see, the Son of Man is given along into the hands of sinful (men)!”

This essentially quotes the second Passion prediction (9:31), substituting “sinful (men)” for “men”. Again, Matthew (26:45) follows Mark, while Luke omits the saying (cf. 22:46).

Along with these Synoptic traditions, Matthew and Luke each include an additional Son of Man saying in the Passion narrative—Matthew’s occurs at the very beginning of the narrative, as a kind of thematic introduction (26:2), while Luke’s occurs in response to the kiss of Judas (22:22). Both of these sayings follow very much in accordance with the main Synoptic tradition summarized above.

In the next note, I will be looking at a different kind of Son of Man saying by Jesus—those which refer to a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment. I will discuss the two Synoptic references (Mk 13:26; 14:62), along with a survey other Son of Man sayings in Matthew and Luke (the “Q” material, etc).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (Mk 2:10, 28 etc)

The final topic in this series, dealing with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, involves the “Son of Man” references and sayings of Jesus. These play an important part in the Passion Narrative as well, but it makes sense to address them here, at this point in the series. I have dealt with the background of the expression “Son of Man” in some detail in earlier notes (to be published here as daily notes for Easter season, beginning March 21), as well an article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and so will not repeat that discussion here. However, it is worth outlining again the three ways that the expression may be used (by Jesus) in the Gospels:

  1. As a general reference to human beings, human nature, or the human condition. In the Old Testament, and in Hebrew/Aramaic usage, “son of man” often occurs in tandem with “man”—the parallel “man…son of man…” is a comprehensive expression representing humankind.
  2. As a self-reference, a kind of circumlocution for “I”—i.e., myself as a human being, this (particular) human being. However, as I have noted, evidence for this usage at, or prior to, the time of Jesus is very slight.
  3. Referring to a divine/heavenly being, who serves as God’s representative on earth, typically in an eschatological context. This usage would seem to derive largely, if not entirely, from the phrase “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13 (on this, see my note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

These different possible meanings, or points of reference, often make interpretation of the “Son of Man” sayings difficult. One must also consider what the expression would have meant originally, on the lips of Jesus, and how early Christians (including the Gospel writers) came to understand it. From the standpoint of this series, the “Son of Man” sayings have a special place, since we are able to determine, on objective grounds, that they are authentic traditions, going back to the words of Jesus himself. The expression hardly occurs at all outside the Gospels, indicating that it was not a title that early Christians typically used of Jesus—with “Son of God”, “Lord”, and, of course, “(the) Anointed [i.e. Christ]”, being far more common. Apart from the Gospels (and Acts 7:56, which draws upon Gospel tradition), “Son of Man” is found only in Rev 1:13 and 14:14, where the allusion is clearly to Dan 7:13. Moreover, all of the instances come from Jesus’ own words, or in response to them (cf. Jn 12:34). Taken together, this would confirm that the usage of the expression in the New Testament is derived solely from the words of the historical Jesus. This is not to say that the “Son of Man” sayings did not undergo development within the Gospel Tradition; however, in comparison with other areas of the Tradition, the discernible adaptation has been rather slight.

The Synoptic “Son of Man” Sayings

In the core Synoptic tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, there are 12 (or 13) Son of Man sayings, each of which has parallels in Matthew and Luke. The Markan references are: 2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 13:26; 14:21, 41, 62. Only two of these are found in the Galilean Ministry Period—Mk 2:10, 28 par. They have a certain similarity in setting (and meaning), both coming from the section 2:1-3:6 par, a block of traditions with the common theme of the reaction to Jesus’ ministry by the religious authorities (“Scribes and Pharisees”) and the debate/conflict with them which ensued.

Mark 2:10

This saying is central to the healing miracle episode of 2:1-12. Jesus’ declaration to the disabled man (“Your sins are released [i.e. forgiven]”, v. 5) provokes a reaction by some of the people standing by (“Scribes”, v. 6; Pharisees and “teachers of the Law”, Lk 5:17). Their thought seems to be that, by declaring the man’s sins forgiven (“released”), Jesus has taken on a right and power which is reserved for God:

“(For) what [i.e. why] does this (man) speak this (way)? He insults (God)! Who has power [i.e. is able] to release sins, if not [i.e. except] One only—God!” (v. 7)

In other words, a human being (Jesus) is declaring another person’s sin to be forgiven, entirely apart from any ritual activity (as prescribed in the Law), by his own word and authority. This was viewed as an insult (i.e. blasphemy) against God. The first part of Jesus’ response (v. 9) essentially makes the point that the authority to declare sin forgiven is tied to the (divine) power to bring healing. In Greek, the same verb sw/zw (sœ¡zœ, “save, preserve, protect”) can be used for healing from disease, as well as deliverance from the power/effect of sin and evil—two aspects of the concept of salvation. The Son of Man saying occurs in verse 10:

“But (so) that you may see [i.e. know] that the Son of Man holds authority [e)cousi/a] upon earth to release [i.e. forgive] sins…”

There is a fundamental interpretive difficulty at this point. Do the words in v. 10 belong to Jesus, or are they a comment by the narrator? In the first instance, the passage would read (words of Jesus in red):

“What works better [i.e. what is easier]: to say…’your sins are released’, or to say ‘rise and take (up) your mattress and walk about’? But (so) that you may see that the Son of Man holds authority upon earth to release sins…”—he says (then) to the paralyzed (man)—“I say to you, ‘Rise (and) take (up) your mattress…'”

According to the second option, it would read:

“What works better [i.e. what is easier]: to say…’your sins are released’, or to say ‘rise and take (up) your mattress and walk about’?” But (so) that you may see that the Son of Man holds authority upon earth to release sins, he [i.e. Jesus] says to the paralyzed (man): “I say to you, ‘Rise (and) take (up) your mattress…'”

Most commentators opt for the first interpretation above, in which case the reference to the “Son of Man” comes from Jesus’ own lips. Indeed, it is more likely that the narrator’s comment is limited to the words “he says to the paralyzed (man)”, simply to make clear to whom the following words in v. 11 are addressed. But what is the precise meaning of the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) here? An argument can be made for each of the three basic meanings outlined above. The Gospel writers may have understood it as a title of Jesus, though more feasible is the second meaning—as a self-reference (equivalent to “I”). However, I tend to think that Jesus may be using the expression here in the generic sense (meaning #1 above), as a reference to a human being, or humankind generally. According to this view, Jesus’ saying could be paraphrased as:

“But so that you may see that a son of man [i.e. human being] has authority (from God) upon earth to forgive sin…”

There is confirmation of this interpretation from Matthew’s version, which ends with the summary statement (9:8):

“And seeing (this) [i.e. the miracle], the throngs (of people) were afraid, and they esteemed/honored God the (one) giving such authority to men.”

This statement echoes and interprets the Son of Man saying in v. 6 (Mk 12:10). God has given the authority to forgive sins (on earth) to a human being—that is, to one human being, Jesus.

Mark 2:28

I have discussed this passage (the Sabbath controversy scene, 2:23-28 par) in an earlier note in this series. Here we will consider again briefly the Son of Man saying in v. 28. Actually, in Mark’s version, a dual saying is involved, and vv. 27-28 must be taken together:

“The Shabbat {Sabbath} came to be through [i.e. because of] man, and not man through the Shabbat” (v. 27)
“So then the Son of Man is also/even Lord of the Shabbat” (v. 28)

The parallel “man…son of man…” strongly suggests that the generic meaning of the expression “son of man” is intended here, in the original saying(s) by Jesus. For the numerous examples of this (poetic) parallelism in the Old Testament, cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. However, it is significant that Matthew and Luke both omit (or do not include) any saying corresponding to Mk 2:27, preserving only the second (“Son of Man”) saying (Matt 12:8; Lk 6:5). This increases the likelihood that both Gospel writers understand the expression, in the narrative context, as a (self)-title of Jesus. Matthew, in particular, gives emphasis to the authority and divine status of Jesus, through the added sayings in 12:5-7. By contrast, the emphasis in Mark is more squarely on the priority of caring for human need (i.e. hunger) over and against strict ritual observance of the Sabbath.

To these references one may add the saying on the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12:32 / Lk 12:10. The Synoptic saying in Mk 3:28-29 reads:

“they all will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men, the sins and insults, however they might (give) insult; but he who should give insult unto [i.e. against] the holy Spirit, he does not have release (of that sin) into the Age…”

Matthew preserves a version of this same saying in 12:31-32:

“every sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but the insult against the Spirit will not be released…not in this Age and not in the Coming (Age).”

However, the author also includes (in v. 32) a separate/parallel saying corresponding to that in Lk 12:10:

“whoever should say a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but whoever should say (anything) against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him…” (Matt 12:32)
“everyone who will utter a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but (for) the one who gives insult unto [i.e. against] the holy Spirit, it will not be released” (Lk 12:10)

Note the apparent confusion in these sayings between sons of men, men, and Son of Man. This may indicate that an original generic use of “son of man” has become (re)interpreted as the titular “Son of Man” in Matt 12:32/Lk 12:10. This latter usage involves a difficulty. If “Son of Man” here refers to Jesus, then it is necessary to explain why a word spoken against Jesus (presumably indicating hostility and unbelief) may be forgiven, but insult against the Holy Spirit would not be. The difficulty is alleviated somewhat if, in the original tradition, the contrast was between human beings and God (the Spirit of God).

These are the only Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics which may use the expression in the generic sense of human beings, human nature, etc. Elsewhere in the Tradition, it is clearly understood as a self-reference or title of Jesus. In such passages, it would seem that Jesus uses the expression as a distinctive way of identifying himself. As we shall see, this mode of expression proved to be somewhat difficult for early Christians; and, as the Gospel came to be rendered more regularly in Greek, the original meaning and significance of the Semitic idiom was largely lost. In the next note, I will survey a group of sayings which relate to the idea of Jesus’ suffering.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 4 (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10)

The next topic to be discussed in this series, dealing with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, is the tradition of the Miraculous Feeding (of the Five Thousand), surely one of the best known (and loved) of all Jesus’ miracles. Its appeal among early Christians is indicated by the fact that it is one of the only traditions to appear in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John). There has also been preserved a second Miraculous Feeding tradition (of Four Thousand) among the Synoptics. This latter point makes clear that, despite the popularity of the episode, it is surrounded by numerous critical questions and problems, which much be examined. Like the Baptism of Jesus (the first part of this series), the Miraculous Feeding makes for an ideal test-case in the study of the preservation and development of the Gospel Tradition.

Let us begin by addressing the most difficult question first—the occurrence of two Feeding Miracle episodes in the Synoptics (Mark/Matthew), each of which has a very similar outline, and many similar details as well (cf. below). The main question is: does this reflect two distinct historical events, or two versions of the same event? Most critical commentators hold to the latter view. Not only are the two episodes so closely alike, but, as we shall see, the account in John contains elements and details found in both Synoptic episodes. This would seem to confirm the critical view. However, at the same time, in the Synoptic narrative, Jesus himself refers to both of the miracles, mentioning distinct details from each. If the critical view is accepted, then the episode in Mk 8:14-21 par would have to be regarded as a kind of literary fiction. On the other hand, if one accepts the authenticity (and essential historicity) of Mk 8:14-21, then this would be proof that the two miracle stories reflect two historical episodes. Traditional-conservative commentators, naturally, are more inclined to accept the text—in this case, the Synoptic tradition (including Mk 8:14-21)—at face value.

In this study, I will proceed as follows:

    • Comparison of the two Feeding Miracles in Mark (without reference to Mk 8:14-21)
    • Analysis of the two Miracle-stories in the context of the Synoptic (Markan) narrative
    • A brief study of the differences in the tradition(s) as recorded/developed by Matthew and Luke, and
    • Examination of the tradition in John, in relation to the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6

Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10

First let us consider the similarities between the two episodes, as they are found in Mark:

    • Jesus and his disciples had traveled to a desolate place (6:31-32, 35; 8:4b)
    • A great crowd had followed Jesus there (6:30, 33f; 8:1)
    • Concern for the people, and how they could be fed (6:34-36; 8:2-4)
      —specifically Jesus is said to have had compassion on them
    • A question from the disciples regarding how food could be found for so many (6:37; 8:4)
    • Jesus asks his disciples “how many loaves do you have?” (6:38a; 8:5)
    • There are on hand only a small number of bread loaves and a few fish (6:38b ; 8:5b, 7a)
    • Jesus directs the people to sit down (6:39; 8:6a)
    • Jesus blesses, breaks and divides the loaves, along with the fish (6:41; 8:6-7)
    • All the people eat and are satisfied (6:42; 8:8a)
    • A number of baskets full of leftovers are gathered [by the disciples] (6:43; 8:8b)
    • The size of the crowd is identified by the (round) number of the men who ate—5000/4000 (6:44; 8:9)
    • Afterwards, Jesus and his disciples are described as getting into a boat, with a specific geographical location indicated, i.e. relative to the lake (6:45; 8:10)

There are also some notable differences:

    • The second episode contains no references to the travels and ministry work of Jesus, as in the first (6:30-34; but compare Matthew 15:29-31)
    • In the first episode, the disciples appear to initiate the concern/effort to feed the people (6:35-36), while in the second this is done by Jesus (8:2-3)
    • In the first episode, Jesus challenges the disciples to give the people something to eat (6:37)
    • The first episode contains detail regarding the people sitting down on the ground in groups (6:39-40)

Clearly, the similarities far outweigh the differences. The two episodes, of course, involve different specific numbers—5 loaves / 12 baskets / 5000 men vs. 7 loaves / 7 baskets / 4000 men—but these are rather minor compared with the overall points of agreement.

How does the Gospel of Mark make use of these two episodes in the context of the narrative? The author was clearly aware of the similarities between them; indeed, this is an important aspect of the symmetry and parallelism of the narrative in 6:14-8:30. I outlined this in a recent note; here it is again:

    • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the declaration by Herod—6:14-16
      [inclusion of an associated tradition, 6:17-29]
    • Feeding Miracle (5,000): the disciples/12 baskets—6:30-44
      Miracle on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—6:44-52
      (they did not understand about the miraculous loaves)
    • Healing Miracles6:53-56
    • Conflict/debate with religious authorities over tradition and ritual—7:1-23
      including a Parable and explanation by Jesus (vv. 14-16, 17-23)
    • Healing Miracles: 2 episodes—7:24-30, 31-37
    • Feeding Miracle (4,000): the disciples/7 baskets—8:1-10
      Teaching on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—8:11-21
      (they did not understand, re. the miraculous loaves)
    • Healing miracle—8:22-26
    • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the confession by Peter—8:27-30

In my view there is a definite (chiastic) symmetry to this section in Mark. Consider first—the framing episodes (6:14-16; 8:27-30) involving the question of Jesus’ identity, in which the general reaction by people to Jesus is noted (i.e. identifying him as “Elijah” or one of the Prophets). At the same time, Herod and Peter each make a declaration regarding Jesus’ identity:

    • Herod—he is John the Baptist raised from the dead (6:16)
    • Peter—”You are the Anointed One” (8:29)

The second pair of (parallel) episodes are the two Feeding Miracles:

    • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
      Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:30-44)
      Feeding of the Four Thousand (8:1-10)
    • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

The parallelism is reinforced by the inclusion, after the miracle, of an episode where Jesus and his disciples are together on the water (6:44-52; 8:11-21), and reference is made to the bread-loaves of the miraculous feeding (6:52; 8:19ff). The first episode involves a miracle (Jesus’ walking on the water), the second, teaching. A third parallel can be found in the healing miracles of 6:53-56 and 7:24-37:

    • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
      • Feeding of the Five Thousand
        —Healing miracles narrated (6:53-56)
        —Healing miracles: 2 episodes (7:24-37)
      • Feeding of the Four Thousand
    • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

Finally, at the center of the section, we find the debate between Jesus and the religious authorities (Scribes and Pharisees) regarding religious tradition and the interpretation of the Law (7:1-23). This theme carries through the remainder of the section, especially the instruction of Jesus to his disciples in 8:11-21, in which he warns them of “the leaven of the Pharisees [7:1ff] and Herod [6:14-16ff]” (v. 15). It is part of the reaction to Jesus’ ministry that is illustrated in this section. While the people may react to Jesus at one level—viewing him as a miracle working prophet like Elijah (note the allusions in the feeding miracle[s] to 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Kings 4:42-44), or otherwise—his true disciples ultimately will recognize him as “the Anointed One” (and Son of God).

Thus we can see that the two Feeding Miracle episodes play a pivotal role in the Markan narrative, and are important in demonstrating Jesus’ identity—the primary theme of 6:14-8:30. In the next note, I will examine how these traditions were utilized in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Excursus (Mk 1:14-8:30)

Before proceeding to the next main topic in this series on “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition“, focusing on the Galilean Ministry Period of Jesus, it may be useful to examine briefly, over the next few notes, how the various traditions came to be joined together. This study will deal primarily with the Synoptic Gospels—the Synoptic Tradition—since it provides the best evidence for how the original historical traditions may have been combined.

The various traditions may be classified in different ways. We can note generally the following types:

  • Sayings of Jesus, sometimes combined in fundamental groups or clusters of sayings, or set within a very simple narrative framework.
  • Parables of Jesus, often preserved in distinct blocks of parables.
  • Miracle stories, which also be joined/grouped into sequence; sometimes the miracle tradition is presented as a pronouncement story, in which the narrative climaxes with a saying or declaration by Jesus.
  • Encounter scenes, which, in the Synoptics, often involve conflict and debate between Jesus and the religious authorities (typically specified as “Scribes and Pharisees”). These traditional scenes occasionally take the form of pronouncement episodes as well.
  • Pronouncement stories of other kinds, often involving Jesus together with his disciples.

Other categories might be added, but these cover the majority of traditions, especially as they occur in the core Synoptic Tradition; for the purpose of this series, I have used the Gospel of Mark as representing this “Synoptic” material generally. If Matthew and Luke did not make use of the Gospel of Mark, then they must have used material which had a very similar outline and arrangement of content.

The Markan Outline

The Galilean Ministry period, which makes up the first half of the Synoptic narrative, is covered by 1:148:30 in Mark. There is evidence of a careful, thematic treatment of the traditional material, which indicates some degree of literary development, presumably by the Gospel writer. It is very difficult to tell how much of this occurred within the traditional material prior to its inclusion in Mark’s Gospel. Some signs are present, however. Consider, for example, Mk 2:1-3:6, a block of five traditions, or episodes, which are preserved, in sequence, by Luke (5:17-6:11) and also by Matthew (though separated in Mt, 9:2-17 and 12:1-14). All five episodes share the common theme of (negative) reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his miracles, teaching and the conduct of he and his disciples—by the religious authorities (“Scribes and Pharisees”, etc), or by people with a strict traditional-religious mindset. This thematic association could easily have taken place well before Mark’s Gospel was composed. Almost certainly this is the case with the last two episodes (2:23-28; 3:1-6) which involve the observance of the Sabbath, and the Sabbath regulations.

While it is possible that a sequence of events such as Mk 2:1-3:6 may be presented in its chronological order—i.e., as the events actually occurred—nothing in the text requires that it be read this way. There are many differences in the order of scenes and sections in the Gospels, and, in most instances, this reflects a literary, rather than historical/chronological, arrangement. In the case of the Sabbath Controversy episodes (Mk 2:23-28; 3:1-6 par, discussed in the previous notes), Mark gives the impression that these occurred on the same day, while Luke clearly states that they took place on different Sabbath days (Lk 6:6). At the historical level, the second episode conceivably could have occurred prior to the first episode. In a number of places, Luke has the same traditions as Mark, but in the reverse order, or even an entirely different arrangement (more common in Matthew).

An interesting example involves the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Jesus’ Walking on the Water. These two episodes are joined together in both the Synoptic (Mark/Matthew) and Johannine tradition—Mk 6:30-52; Matt 14:13-33, and John 6:1-21. The combination of the episodes in two entirely separate lines of tradition means that they were likely joined together prior to their inclusion in Mark. Moreover, since there is no obvious thematic association between the two episodes, this could indicate an original historical-chronological connection—Jesus’ walking on the water was remembered as occurring (right) after the feeding miracle. The association of the episodes was so strong that the Johannine Gospel writer (trad. John the apostle) was compelled to include the walking-on-water scene even though it interrupts the sequence of the Feeding miracle followed by the Bread of Life discourse. There is no clear and discernable reason why it was included, other than the strength of the early tradition which set the two episodes together.

As I have indicated, many traditions are joined together by a common theme, or sometimes a common word or phrase, referred to as “catchword bonding”. Most likely this took place at a very early point in the transmission of the material, perhaps even at the point of oral transmission, when such organization based on theme and key word or motif would have helped early believers retain disparate traditions in their memory, and make it easier to pass them along to others by word of mouth. However, while this traditional material is presumably at an earlier stage of development in Mark, than it is in the other Gospels, the precise literary arrangement still show considerable signs of development, by the writer (trad. Mark). I recognize four units which make up the Galilean Period material in Mk 1:148:30. I outline these as follows:

  • The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry—1:14-45. This includes:
    • The Call of the First Disciples—vv. 16-20 and
    • Four episodes, primarily of healing miracle stories—vv. 21-45
  • Reaction to Jesus’ Ministry: conflict/debate with religious authorities—2:1-3:6
  • [Transitional]—3:7-12
  • Jesus’ Ministry with the disciples (theme of discipleship)—3:13-6:13
  • Reaction to Jesus’ Ministry: including conflict/debate with religious authorities—6:14-8:30

This essentially divides the Galilean period into two main sections, which have a similar (and parallel) thematic structure. I take this to be largely a Markan development; and, to the extent that this outline is preserved in Matthew and Luke, it supports the critical hypothesis that those two Gospels each made use of Mark. Here is an expanded outline of the last two units, covering 3:13-8:30:

Mark 3:13-6:13
  • Calling the Twelve—3:13-19
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; 3 traditions joined together:
    3:20-21, 22-30, 31-35
  • Parables of Jesus—4:1-34, a distinct block (or sub-unit) of traditional material, organized as follows:
    • Introduction (vv. 1-2)
    • Parable of the Sower:
      —The Parable (vv. 3-9)
      —Saying to the Disciples (vv. 10-12)
      —Explanation of the Parable (vv. 13-20)
    • Three additional Parables (vv. 21-32)
    • Conclusion (vv. 33-34)
  • Miracle (Calming the Storm): Jesus with the Disciples together in the boat—4:35-41
  • Healing Miracles: 2 Episodes (3 miracles)—5:1-20, 21-43
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; episode at Nazareth—6:1-6a
  • Mission of the Twelve—6:6b-13

I have pointed out the symmetric (chiastic) structure of this section in an earlier note; it is framed by the two episodes involving the Twelve—their calling/naming, and their mission.

Mark 6:14-8:30
  • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the declaration by Herod—6:14-16
    [inclusion of an associated tradition, 6:17-29]
  • Feeding Miracle (5,000): the disciples/12 baskets—6:30-44
    Miracle on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—6:44-52
    (they did not understand about the miraculous loaves)
  • Healing Miracles6:53-56
  • Conflict/debate with religious authorities over tradition and ritual—7:1-23
    including a Parable and explanation by Jesus (vv. 14-16, 17-23)
  • Healing Miracles: 2 episodes—7:24-30, 31-37
  • Feeding Miracle (4,000): the disciples/7 baskets—8:1-10
    Teaching on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—8:11-21
    (they did not understand, re. the miraculous loaves)
  • Healing miracle—8:22-26
  • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the confession by Peter—8:27-30

Again, there is a symmetric/chiastic structure, with parallel episodes involving (1) the public reaction to Jesus’ identity, (2) a feeding miracle with similar details and associated traditions, and (3) healing miracles. At the center is the debate of Jesus with the “Scribes and Pharisees” regarding religious tradition and ritual behavior.

A Point of Development: Mark 3:13-19 and 6:6b-13

The traditions involving Jesus’ calling of the Twelve (Disciples/Apostles), and their mission into the territory of Galilee as Jesus’ representatives, are instructive for examining how different lines of tradition were joined together, i.e. in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. I have already discussed Mk 3:13-19 and its Synoptic parallels in prior notes; here I want to point out again how the Gospels writers incorporated additional material into the Synoptic (Markan) outline at these points. As a result, the narrative was expanded and enhanced considerably, creating a more complex structure. This will be discussed further in the next note, focusing on the Lukan treatment of the Synoptic material corresponding to Mark 3:13-8:30.