May 18: Matthew 28:18-20

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

Matthew 28:18-20

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 19b:

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

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

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

May 16: Mark 3:28-29 par (continued)

Mark 3:28-29; Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10 (continued)

In the previous day’s note, I examined the saying of Jesus regarding the “sin/blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” in the Synoptic Tradition. Mark’s version includes an explanation of the saying (Mk 3:30), but it is necessary to look a bit closer at just how Matthew and Luke understood the saying—this I will do in today’s note.

Matthew includes the ‘Markan’ form of the saying, and also preserves the same narrative context. If one accepts the critical theory that the Gospel writer knew and made use of Mark, then it is surely significant that he did not include the explanation of Mk 3:30:

“(This was in) that [i.e. because] they said, ‘He has/holds and unclean spirit’.”

In Matthew’s account, certain Pharisees (in Mark they are referred to as “Scribes…from Jerusalem”), in response to Jesus’ healing/exorcism miracles, declare:

“This (man) does not cast out the daimons if not in [i.e. except by] ‘Baal-zebûl’ Chief of the daimons!” (Matt 12:24)

This differs slightly from Mark’s account, where the Scribes declare:

“He has/holds ‘Baal-zebûl'” and “(It is) in [i.e. by] the Chief of the daimons (that) he casts out the daimons!”

Matthew does not include the specific claim that Jesus has (lit. holds) the power of “Baal-zebul” (on this name, cf. “Did You Know?” below). The focus has shifted away from Jesus’ own person, and instead the emphasis is on the source of Jesus’ power to work healing miracles. The key interpretive verse for the passage is Matt 12:28, a saying added, it would seem, to the Synoptic/Markan narrative from the so-called “Q” material (par in Luke 11:20), which will be discussed below.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s note, Luke contains a different form of the Holy Spirit saying, corresponding to Matt 12:32 (“Q”) rather than Mark 3:28-29 / Matt 12:31. The narrative setting (Lk 12:8-12) is also very different. Actually, it would seem that the Lukan context involves a sequence of (originally separate) sayings that have been appended together, being joined by thematic or “catchword” bonding (indicated by the bold/italicized portions):

    • Lk 12:8-9—”Every one who gives account as one [i.e. confesses/confirms] in me in front of men, even (so) the Son of Man will give account as one in him in front of the Messengers of God; but the (one) denying/contradicting me in the sight of men, will be denied/contradicted in the sight of the Messengers of God.”
    • Lk 12:10—”Every one who will utter an (evil) word/account unto the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but for the (one) giving insult unto the holy Spirit, it will not be released.”
    • Lk 12:11-12—”When they carry [i.e. bring] you in upon the(ir) gatherings together {synagogues} and the(ir) chiefs and the(ir) authorities, you should not be concerned (as to) how or (by) what you should give account for (yourselves), or what you should say—for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”

There is an important two-fold aspect to the sayings which bracket verse 10:

    • Publicly confessing (or denying) Jesus, the “Son of Man” (vv. 8-9)
    • The witness of believers being inspired by the Spirit (vv. 11-12)

This, I believe, informs the Lukan understanding of the saying in verse 10; I would summarize the interpretation as follows:

    • The person who speaks an evil (i.e. false, slanderous, mocking/derisive, etc) word or account to the Son of Man may be forgiven—this refers essentially to Jesus in the context of his earthly ministry, specifically his Passion/suffering (cf. Lk 22:54-62, 63-65; 23:2, 5, 10-11, 35-37, 39, etc).
    • The person who insults the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven—this refers primarily to the Spirit-inspired witness regarding the person and work of Jesus, i.e. the Gospel.

Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20

Turning back to Matthew’s version, it is necessary to consider the “Q” saying in 12:28 (along with its Lukan parallel). At the position between Mk 3:26 and 27 in the core Synoptic narrative, Matthew and Luke include the following (I use Matthew as the reference point, with the material corresponding to Mk 3:26-27 in italics):

“…if the Satan casts out Satan, he is separated/divided upon himself—how then will his kingdom stand?” (Matt 12:26 [Mk 3:26])

“And if I cast out the daimons in (the power of) ‘Baal-zebûl’, your sons—in what (power) do they cast (daimons) out? Through this(, then,) they will be your judges.” (Matt 12:27)

“But if I cast out the daimons in (the power of) the Spirit of God, then (surely) the kingdom of God has come first/already/suddenly [e&fqasen] upon you!” (Matt 12:28)

Or how is any(one) able to come into the house of the strong and seize his tools/vessels, if he does not first bind the strong (one)…?” (Matt 12:29 [Mk 3:27])

In many ways vv. 27-28 appear to be intrusive, inserted into the context of vv. 26, 29 (Mk 3:26-27); however, as we find the exact same sequence in Luke 11:18-21, the matter is far from clear. Also uncertain (and much disputed) is the precise force and meaning of the verb fqa/nw, which can be rendered here a number of ways:

    • “…has come suddenly/unexpectedly upon you”
    • “…has already come upon you”
    • “…has come near to you” [similar to the use of e)ggi/zw in Mk 1:15 etc]
    • “…has actually arrived for you”
    • “…has first come upon you [i.e. Jesus’ opponents, by way of Judgment?]”
    • “…has overcome/overtaken you”

The second option above probably best captures the meaning.

Luke 11:19-20 is virtually identical with Matt 12:27-28, the major difference being that in Luke it reads “finger [da/ktulo$] of God” rather than “Spirit of God”. Most likely, Luke has the more original form of the saying, with “Spirit of God” best understood as an interpretive gloss for the anthropomorphic idiom “finger of God” (cf. Exod 8:19, also Ex 31:18 / Deut 9:10). Jesus admits that other healers may perform certain kinds of exorcism—indeed, according to the ancient worldview, illness and disease was often seen as the result of angry/malevolent deities or spirits at work; healing acts and rites typically involved some form of ‘exorcism’. However, Jesus effectively claims that his healing acts (miracles) are performed through the power (i.e. the ‘finger’/Spirit) of God. To assert that it is the work of evil forces (the daimons/demons) themselves would be an insult to God’s holy Spirit.

Conclusion

It is possible to offer at least a basic interpretive summary of the Holy Spirit saying in each of its three Gospel settings:

Mark 3:28-29—The insult to the Holy Spirit is explained (v. 30) in terms of Jesus’ opponents claiming that he himself had (control of) an unclean spirit or daimon (“demon”).

Matthew 12:31-32—The explanation is similar to that in Mark, but it no longer emphasizes an insult to Jesus’ own person:

    • The claim by the Scribes/Pharisees that Jesus “has/holds Baal-zebûl” (Mk 3:22a) is not included
    • The variant/parallel “Q” saying involving the “Son of Man” (v. 32 / Lk 12:10) has been added to the ‘Markan’ version
    • The explanation of Mark 3:30 is not included

Rather, as discussed above, the issue involves the source of Jesus’ healing power and authority over the daimons and disease. To say that it comes from the Devil (“Baal-zebul”) or daimons themselves insults the very Spirit of God.

Luke 12:10—According to the Lukan context (Lk 12:8-12), the insult to the Holy Spirit is related to evil speaking and opposition to the Spirit-inspired testimony (of believers) regarding the person and work of Jesus. This theme is further illustrated and expounded through the persecution of believers and opposition to the Gospel recorded throughout the book of Acts.

There is, then, no one simple meaning to the saying—a proper and accurate interpretation involves careful study of the context of the saying in each Gospel. If an original (Aramaic) form of the saying ultimately derives from a different historical setting—a speculative proposition at best—this is no longer possible to reconstruct. We must deal with the Gospel Tradition as it has come down to us.

The Greek Beelzeb[o]u/l (Beelzeb[o]úl) is a transliteration of lWbz+ lu^B^, “(the) Lord (the) Exalted One” (or “Exalted Lord”), combining two titles regularly used for the Canaanite sky/storm deity Hadad/Haddu. As the main (pagan) Canaanite rival to YHWH in Israelite history, especially during the Kingdom period, it is not surprising that “Prince Baal” would come to represent all of the “demons”—that is the daimons, the (lesser) deities or spirits, which were relegated to the status of evil/unclean spirits in the context of Israelite/Jewish monotheism. The name bWbz+ lu^B^ (Baal-zebub, 2 Kings 1:2-3, 6, 16) is probably a polemic parody through the alteration of one letter, i.e. “Exalted Lord” becomes “Lord of the flies”.

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.

March 8: Matthew 6:10b

Matthew 6:10b

In the previous notes, we examined the first two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, which are the same in both Luke and Matthew. In the Lukan version, these two petitions form a clear and definite pair—syntactically, thematically, and conceptually. In Matthew’s version of the Prayer, however, there is a third petition not found in (what must be regarded as) the original text of Luke:

genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou
w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$
gen¢th¢tœ to thel¢ma sou
hœs en ouranœ kai epi g¢s
“May your will come to be—
as in heaven (so) also upon (the) earth”

NOTE: The majority of witness here in Luke include this petition, including important uncials such as A C D W D Q. However, it is missing from a diverse range of witnesses, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 B L f1 1342 etc), a fact that is nearly impossible to explain if the longer text in Luke were original. Almost certainly the longer text is secondary, representing the kind of harmonization between Gospels that we find frequently in the manuscript tradition.

The inclusion/addition of this line gives a different structure and rhythm to the Prayer. Some commentators who regard the shorter Lukan version as representing the (original) historical tradition (or, at least closer to it) consider the line to be an addition by the Gospel writer, perhaps drawn from early liturgical tradition. However one judges its status at the historical level, the petition in Matt 6:10b is vital to the Prayer as it appears in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. This point must be discussed.

In an earlier note, I mentioned how the expression “(our) Father the (One) in the heavens” in the Matthean invocation is distinctive of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a dualistic contrast that runs through the Sermon—between (a) the religious behavior of the majority of people on earth, and (b) the behavior of Jesus’ followers which should reflect the character of God the Father in heaven. It is just this contrast which underlies the expression in verse 10b.

As in the first petition, we have here a 3rd person (aorist) passive imperative (“it must [be]…”) rendered as an exhortative request (“may/let it [be]…”). The Greek verb used is gi/nomai (“come to be, become”)—”May it come to be…”. Five of the seven occurrences of this imperative are in the Gospel of Matthew (also 8:13; 9:29; 15:28; 26:42), the other two are in citations from Scripture (LXX); thus, it reflects a distinctive Matthean vocabulary.

The traditional rendering “may your will be done” is somewhat misleading, since there is no actual mention of doing God’s will; rather, the request is that God would see to it that His will comes to pass on earth. This touches upon the complex philosophical/theological question of the will of God. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, then by its very nature His will always comes to pass in all things. At the same time, there is clear and abundant evidence that all things on earth do not always (or often) conform to the declared will (or wish) of God; in particular, human beings typically do not act according to His will. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not address this philosophical dimension directly, but the very point of his teaching throughout is centered on the idea that human beings must (choose to) live and act in a way that conforms with God’s own nature and character (including His will). Thus, there is implicit in this request the concept of doing (or fulfilling) the will of God the Father.

As mentioned above, this continues the contrast of heaven and earth which runs through the Sermon (cf. the previous notes). God’s will is done in heaven, but it is often not done by people on earth. Again, the will (qe/lhma) here refers to something which God has declared for people—i.e., his word or instruction (Torah) which reveals his intention for humankind, to act and think in a way that corresponds with his own character and example. This is unquestionably how qe/lhma is used in most of the occurrences in the Gospel, in the sayings/teachings of Jesus. Most notable in this regard is the Synoptic saying in Mark 3:35 (par Matt 12:50, the Lukan form is rather different):

“Whoever would do the will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.”
i.e. Jesus’ true family consists of his followers who do the will of God; Matt 12:50 reflects the distinctive Matthean wording:
“For whoever would do the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Three other occurrences of qe/lhma in Matthew express the same basic idea (7:21; 18:14; 21:31); the first of these is also from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone saying to me ‘Lord, Lord…’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens.” (Matt 7:21)

Also noteworthy is the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32 par), which draws upon a similar dualistic contrast: those who do the will of God the Father (i.e. followers of Jesus) and those who do not (i.e. conventional/false religious behavior). In many ways, the closest parallel to the petition in Matt 6:10b is found in Jesus’ prayer in the garden at the beginning of his Passion. In Mark, this (Synoptic) saying reads:

“Abba, Father, all (thing)s are possible for you: (please) carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! But (yet), not what I wish [qe/lw], but what you (wish).” (Mk 14:36)

In Matthew’s version of this scene, this saying is preserved, generally following the Markan phrasing (Matt 26:39); however, words from the second session of prayer are also included which match more closely the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (the words in italics are identical):

“My Father, if it is not possible (for) this (cup) to go along (from me) if I do not drink (it), may your will come to be [genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou] .” (v. 42)

It would appear that the Gospel writer, noting the similarity to the petition in 6:10b, shaped this particular tradition to match it. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Luke records essentially the same saying by Jesus, but with different wording:

“Father, if you wish, carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! (But all the) more—may not my will, but yours, come to be.” (Lk 22:42)

The best explanation for this apparent blending of details is that Matt 26:42 represents a “Q” tradition which Matthew and Luke have each combined with the Synoptic saying (Mk 14:36) in different ways. The Gospel of John, though drawing upon an entirely separate line of tradition, also records numerous statements by Jesus describing how he, as Son, does the will (qe/lhma) of the Father—Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40. The one who follows Jesus likewise does the Father’s will even as he himself does (Jn 7:17; 9:31).

Thus there is a well-established basis in the Gospel tradition, and particularly in Matthew, for the idea that Jesus’ disciples (believers) are to obey the will of God the Father, as expressed especially in the teaching and example of Jesus (the Son). This is the central principle in the Sermon on the Mount. By this faithful obedience of the disciple, God’s will is done on earth, even as it is done in heaven—i.e reflecting the nature and character of the Father who is in the heavens. Somewhat surprisingly, the petition in 6:10b uses the singular (ou)rano/$) instead of the plural (ou)ranoi/). Most likely, this simply reflects the fact there is little difference in meaning between singular and plural forms of this noun in Greek. The singular in 6:26 refers to the (physical) skies, as probably also in 5:18, while v. 34 may have the primitive (cosmological) meaning of the vault of heaven; however, in 6:20 it refers to the realm or domain of God, much as the use of the plural does elsewhere in the Sermon. The traditional pairing of heaven and earth may explain the specific use of the singular here (cf. in 5:18, etc).

As noted above, the third petition contains and envelops the first two. As the disciples of Jesus follow him faithfully, the will of God is fulfilled on earth—a foreshadowing or beginning of the eschatological moment when the declared will of God comes to pass and is realized for all on earth, when his Kingdom is established truly over all humankind, and people everywhere treat Him with sanctity and honor.

For parallels to Matt 6:10b in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, cf. Psalm 103:21; 135:6, and especially 1 Macc 3:60 (“as the will might be in heaven, so shall it be done”). In Rabbinic literature, note b. Ber. 17a, 29b; t. Ber. 3.7; Pirke Abot 2.4; Abot R. Nathan (B) 32. For these and other references, cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 392-6.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (“Q” sayings, etc)

Having examined the Son of Man sayings in the core Synoptic (Triple) Tradition (cf. the previous note), it will be useful here to survey the additional sayings and references found in Matthew and Luke (but not in Mark). While these most likely derive from separate lines of tradition, they all relate fundamentally to the sayings already discussed. I begin with the so-called “Q” material—sayings and traditions found in Matthew and Luke.

The “Q” Sayings

There are between 7 and 9 distinct sayings from the “Q” material. The first three (as they occur in Luke) tend to focus on the earthly life and suffering of Jesus, while the remainder have an eschatological (Judgment) emphasis.

Luke 7:34 / Matt 11:19—Here we seem to have a simple self-reference by Jesus, dealing with his behavior/lifestyle during his ministry on earth. However, the expression “the Son of Man has come…” may allude to a certain eschatological and/or Messianic expectation (cf. below). In both Luke and Matthew, this saying is part of a (fixed) block of material dealing with the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35 par).

Luke 9:58 / Matt 8:20—The emphasis is on the poverty and hardship endured by Jesus during his earthly ministry:

“The foxes have holes/lairs (for dwelling), and the birds of the heaven(s) (have place)s to put down house [lit. tent], but the Son of Man does not have (any)where to bend (down) his head (for the night)” (Lk 9:58)

This also is part of a (fixed) sequence of sayings on the theme of discipleship. A motif of self-sacrifice is tied to the suffering and hardship of Jesus—i.e., his identification with the human condition.

Luke 11:30 / Matt 12:40—In this saying, Jesus draws upon the Old Testament story of Jonah, as a type or figure of his upcoming death. The saying is formulated quite differently in Luke and Matthew, but it clearly derives from a common tradition. It combines the idea of suffering (his death) with the scene of Judgment in Lk 11:29-32 par—two important aspects of the Son of Man sayings in the Gospels.

Luke 12:8-9 / Matt 10:32-33—This saying presents a vivid scene of the Judgment and the heavenly tribunal, or courtroom, with the Son of Man playing a central role in the proceedings. It was discussed briefly in the previous note, in relation to the corresponding saying in Mk 8:38 par.

Luke 12:10 / Matt 12:32—Another Son of Man saying follows immediately in Luke (by way of “catchword” bonding), while in Matthew it is found in a different location, joined to the Synoptic parallel in v. 31 (Mk 3:28-29). As I noted previously, the Synoptic saying in Mark raises the possibility that “Son of Man” could have originally been intended (by Jesus) in the general sense of “human being(s)”. However, in the context of the “Q” version in Matthew and Luke, it is almost certainly understood as a (self-)title of Jesus. Luke has more clearly preserved the eschatological/Judgment setting of the saying.

Luke 12:40 / Matt 24:44—Here the Son of Man saying is part of a short parable (Lk 12:39-40 par), and has a definite eschatological emphasis, warning Jesus’ disciples of the suddenness of the Son of Man’s appearance:

“(So) you also must come to be prepared, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is at) an hour of which you are not thinking/aware (that) the Son of Man comes!” (Lk 12:40)

Luke has included it as part of the eschatological material in chapter 12, while Matthew has set it in the eschatological “discourse” (chaps. 24-25 = Lk 21:5-36) during the final period in Jerusalem.

Luke 17:24, 26, 30 / Matt 24:27, 37, 39—There are three references to the Son of Man in the eschatological “Q” material of Lk 17:24-37. Matthew has included these sayings as part of the Jerusalem eschatological “discourse”, in a different arrangement:

Again, in both versions, the emphasis is on the suddenness of the Son of Man’s appearance at the end time:

“Very (much) as the flash (of lightning) flashing out of the (one place) under the heaven(s) into the (other place) under the heaven(s), so it will be (with) the Son of Man [in his day]” (Lk 17:24)

Matthew’s version is expressed in more conventional imagery—parousi/a (parousia) being a common early Christian (technical) term for the return of Jesus:

“For just as the flash (of lightning) comes out from the rising up (of the sun) [i.e. the east] and shines unto the sinking (of the sun) [i.e. in the west], so will be the Son of Man’s (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a, i.e. his coming/return]” (Matt 24:27)

The Son of Man’s appearance will be both sudden and all-encompassing, like a flash of lightning which fills the sky from one end to the other. The Scriptural allusions in Lk 17:26-30 par—Noah and Lot [Matthew only refers to Noah]—involve Judgment by God upon humankind, expressed through natural disaster and destruction. Such natural phenomena were typically seen as accompanying the end-time Judgment (the “Day of YHWH”) in the Scriptural prophecies, such as those cited by Jesus in Mk 13:24-25 par (Isa 13:10; 34:4). It essentially reflects the idea of theophany—the presence of God breaking through into the natural world.

Luke includes certain elements in this section which are unique to his Gospel, such as the two references to Lot (vv. 28-29, 32-33). Both are likely part of the original tradition. Matthew may have omitted the reference (cp. Matt 24:37-39) for the sake of brevity. Similarly, a reference to Lot’s wife is a natural illustration for the saying in v. 31, which has a parallel in Mk 13:15-16. More significant is the Son of Man saying in verse 22:

“The days will come when you will set (your) impulse [i.e. heart/desire] upon seeing one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see (it)”

The expression “days of the Son of Man” probably is meant to fit the pattern of the sayings which follow—”days of Noah”, “days of Lot” (vv. 27-28). It refers to the time of the Son of Man’s appearing. More curious is the formulation “one of the days of…”, the precise meaning of which remains uncertain. Perhaps it serves to intensify the dramatic tension of the illustration—i.e., people will not be able to see anything, not even a glimpse, of the Son of Man’s appearance, no matter how much they long for it. As the following sayings make clear, this will be due to the death and destruction which will come upon human beings at the time of the Judgment. Only the elect/chosen ones (i.e., believers in Jesus) will be saved from this fate. Here seeing the Son of Man is synonymous with experiencing the salvation/deliverance which he brings (cf. Lk 21:28, etc).

Sayings and References found only in Luke

Apart from Lk 17:20, mentioned above, the following occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” are found only in Luke:

  • Lk 6:22—This is the Lukan Beatitude corresponding to Matt 5:11; while in Matthew Jesus uses the expression “on account of me“, the Lukan form is “on account of the Son of Man“. It is a clear example of “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus, being readily understood as such in the early Tradition. It also draws upon the motif of suffering and persecution which is central to a number of the Son of Man sayings. The Judgment setting of the Beatitude form (on this, cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes) comes across more clearly in Luke’s version (6:20-26).
  • Lk 18:8—The parable in vv. 1-8a concludes with a Son of Man saying (v. 8b) which may originally have been given in a separate context. It serves as a kind of eschatological warning, and an exhortation, to Jesus’ followers, that they remain faithful despite the hardship and persecution they may experience in the current wicked Age:
    “The Son of Man, (at his) coming, will he (truly) find (any) trust (in God) upon the earth?”
    The coming of the Son of Man, in the context of the Lukan narrative, must be understood in light of the earlier eschatological material in chap. 17 (cf. above).
  • Lk 19:10—This saying appears to be a “floating” tradition, which is found in different locations (i.e., Lk 9:55; Matt 18:11) in the various manuscripts. Its inclusion at the end of the Zaccheus episode (19:1-9) may be a Lukan adaptation of the tradition. The saying itself refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus, with a possible allusion to his (sacrificial) suffering and death (cf. Mk 10:45). The emphasis on salvation—the Son of Man’s role in saving sinners—is unique here among these sayings in the Synoptics, being more prominent in the Son of Man sayings in John (to be discussed in the next note).
  • Lk 21:36—The end-time Judgment and the heavenly tribunal are certainly in view in this saying (cf. 12:40 par), with the Son of Man even more clearly in the position of Judge—”…to stand in front of the Son of Man”.
  • Lk 22:48—On this addition to the Son of Man references in the Passion narrative, cf. the earlier note.
  • Lk 24:7—The words of the Angel in the Lukan resurrection scene refer back directly to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par).

Sayings and References found only in Matthew

  • Matt 10:23—In Matthew’s narrative, this saying is part of Jesus’ instruction to the Twelve prior to being sent out on their mission (vv. 5ff). It includes sayings and teaching which are found in different locations in the other Gospels. While it all fits thematically, portions such as vv. 17-23 seem decidedly out of place. Indeed the instruction/exhortation in verses 17-23 is much more appropriate to a setting closer to Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection (cf. Mk 13:9-13 and the Last Supper Discourses [chs. 13-17] in John). In its original context, v. 23 almost certainly was eschatological, referring to the end-time coming of the Son of Man, as in many of the passages discussed above. However, the narrative setting here in Matthew creates an obvious chronological difficulty.
  • Matt 13:37, 41—There are two Son of Man references in the parable of the Weeds (i.e., Jesus’ explanation in vv. 36-43, cf. vv. 24-30). Verse 37 is unique in the Synoptic Gospels with its apparent allusion to the divine pre-existence of the Son of Man (otherwise found only in the Gospel of John). It no doubt also refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus. Verse 41 draws upon the image of the Son of Man as God’s representative overseeing the end-time Judgment (cf. the passages discussed above, and in the prior note).
  • Matt 16:13—In the episode of Peter’s confession, Jesus (in Matthew’s version) asks, “Who do men count [i.e. consider] the Son of Man to be?”. In Mk 8:27 par it is: “Who do men count me to be?”. Cf. on Lk 6:22 above, for the interchangeability with “Son of Man” as a self-reference of Jesus.
  • Matt 16:28—Matthew’s version of the saying in Mk 9:1 par may reflect an adaptation influenced by the earlier Son of Man reference in v. 27 (cf. Mk 8:38). Compare:
    “…until they should see the Kingdom of God having come in power” (Mk)
    “…until they should see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (Mt)
    The result is a saying with a more pronounced Christological emphasis (cf. Lk 23:42, etc).
  • Matt 19:28—This saying has been discussed in an earlier note. It may properly belong to the “Q” material (cp. Lk 22:29-30), but the reference to the Son of Man is unique to Matthew’s version. It draws upon the image of Jesus’ exaltation, which is otherwise found in the Son of Man sayings only in Mk 14:62 par, though it may also be inferred from the very idea of the Son of Man coming to earth (from Heaven) at the time of Judgment.
  • Matt 25:31—The eschatological image of the Son of Man, at the beginning of the parable (vv. 31-46), very much follows the Synoptic sayings in Mk 8:38; 13:26 par, etc. This is the clearest Judgment scene involving the Son of Man in the Gospels.
  • Matt 26:2—This saying by Jesus, echoing the earlier Passion predictions, has been utilized by Matthew in his introduction of the Passion narrative.

The next note will survey the dozen or so Son of Man sayings and references in the Gospel of John.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 4 (Matt 14:13-21; 15:32-39; Lk 9:10-17)

In the previous note, I examined the two Miraculous Feeding episodes in the Gospel of Mark (6:30-44; 8:1-10), noting the similarities (and differences) between them, as well as their place within the Markan narrative (6:14-8:30). Today, I will look at how this tradition has been utilized and developed in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39

Matthew follows the Markan narrative in recording both Miraculous Feeding episodes (of the 5,000 and 4,000). Indeed, Matt 14:1-16:20 appears to follow the entire outline of Mk 6:14-8:30 fairly closely. The main differences are:

    • An expanded version of the walking on water episode (cf. 14:28-33)
    • The sayings of Jesus in 15:13-14 and 16:2-3
    • An expanded version of Peter’s confession (with Jesus’ response) in 16:16b-19

The structure of Mk 6:14-8:30, with its rather careful symmetry (cf. the prior note), I would attribute, on the whole, to the author of the Gospel (trad. Mark), rather than to an earlier stage in the Gospel Tradition. If so, then the presence of the same outline in Matthew would provide strong confirmation, at this point, of the critical hypothesis that Matthew made use of Mark’s Gospel. The author (trad. Matthew) has certainly included episodes corresponding to Mark 6:30-44ff and 8:1-10ff (Matt 14:13-21ff; 15:32-39ff), at more or less the same positions in the narrative. Notably, the basic information from Mk 8:11-21 is repeated in 16:5-12—i.e., Jesus’ own reference to both of the Feeding Miracles.

The differences between Matthew and Mark in the two Miraculous Feeding episodes are relatively slight, the most significant being:

Miracle #1 (14:13-21)

    • A simplified narrative introduction (vv. 13-14; compare with Mk 6:30-34), giving the basic information:
      —That Jesus departed to a “desolate” place, and crowds followed him there (v. 13)
      —and Jesus’ reaction to seeing the people, with the specific detail that he healed the sick among them (v. 14, cf. also Lk 9:11)
    • Matthew’s introduction (v. 13a) also makes a smoother transition with the Baptist episode immediately prior; Mark, by contrast, refers back to the mission of the Twelve.
    • The beginning of the narrative proper (vv. 15-16) is also simpler than in Mark. The author omits, or otherwise does not include, the disciples’ question (Mk 6:37) and Jesus’ question to them in response (6:38a, “How many loaves…?”); however, he also adds the words of Jesus in v. 16a: “They have no business going [i.e. there is no need for them to go] away…”.
    • There is no reference to the crowd sitting down in groups (Mk 6:39-40).
    • Verses 19-21 are very close to Mk, with a small addition in v. 21b.

Overall, Matthew’s narrative is simpler and smoother, with some of the dramatic and local detail of Mark’s account absent.

Miracle #2 (15:32-39)

    • Matthew’s version is framed by specific geographical references, in relation to the sea of Galilee (vv. 29, 39; cp. Mark 7:31).
    • We also have the detail of Jesus going up into the hill(s)/mountain (v. 29b)
    • The references to healing miracles (vv. 30-31) have been integrated more closely into the narrative of the miraculous feeding (cp. Mk 7:32-37).
    • The basic narrative of vv. 32-38 is quite close to Mk 8:1-9, with minor differences in wording.
    • There is a small difference in the geographical location at the close of the episode (v. 39; Mk 8:10).

Again, Matthew’s narrative is a bit simpler and more streamlined, by comparison with Mark. In both miracle episodes, the author adapts the tradition to set it more clearly within the context of Jesus’ ministry—especially the healing miracles of Jesus (cf. 14:13-14; 15:29-31). The second half of the Galilean Period in Matthew covers 10:1-16:20, and has a clearly defined theme of the disciples’ participation in Jesus’ ministry, along with the theme of discipleship. Matthew includes much more traditional material between the mission of the Twelve (10:1-5ff) and the confession of Peter (16:13-20) than do the other Gospels. The author retains the Synoptic (Markan) structure in 14:1-16:20, including the two Feeding Miracles, but sets them within a more developed and expansive narrative outline.

Luke 9:10-17

If Matthew appears to have used the Gospel of Mark at this point (cf. above), it is less clear in the case of Luke. The main reason for this is that the author has omitted (or has otherwise not included) the material corresponding to Mark 6:53-8:26, including the second Feeding Miracle (Mk 8:1-10). As a consequence, there is no way of knowing whether he knew of the second episode, and/or what he thought of it. If Luke made use of Mark’s Gospel, then he intentionally omitted that entire section; however, we must also consider the possibility that he inherited a Synoptic narrative that was simpler/shorter than Mark. Insofar as Luke records the Miraculous Feeding tradition, he follows a version that more or less corresponds to the first miracle in Mark (and Matthew). The following points of comparison may be noted:

    • Luke retains the Markan connection with the mission of the Twelve (v. 10; Mk 6:30); the importance of this will be indicated below.
    • Luke uniquely records the geographical reference which locates the miracle in the area around Bethsaida (cp. Mark 6:45).
    • Like Matthew (cf. above), Luke has a simpler narrative introduction (vv. 10-11) than does Mark. Verse 11 would seem to be simplified version of Mk 6:33.
    • As in Matthew, there is incorporated into the narrative a summary reference to Jesus healing the sick in the crowd (v. 11b; Matt 14:14).
    • Luke adds the specific detail that Jesus spoke to the people “about the Kingdom of God” (v. 11); this definitely would seem to be an (editorial) addition by the author (on this theme, and wording, cf. Acts 1:3, also Lk 4:43; 8:1; 9:2; 17:20; 19:11).
    • Verses 12-17 generally follows Mk 6:35-44, but with simpler narration; with Matthew, the two questions in Mk 6:37-38 are omitted. There are a number of other (minor) agreements in wording between Matthew and Luke (cf. vv. 11-14, 17 par).
    • Luke has set the mention of the crowd’s estimated size earlier in the narrative (v. 14); instead, his version of the episode closes with the gathering of the twelve baskets of leftovers (v. 17).

The ‘omission’ of the Synoptic traditions in Mk 6:53-8:26 means that the Lukan account of this portion of the Galilean Period looks very different than it does in Mark or Matthew. Consider that the section from the mission of the Twelve, through to the confession of Peter, takes up just twenty verses in Luke (9:1-20). By comparison, the same relative division of the narrative in Matthew covers nearly seven chapters (10:1-16:20). The outline for this portion of Luke is amazingly simple:

    • Jesus with his disciples—the Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
      The reaction to Jesus: the question of Herod (9:7-9)
      • The Twelve return to Jesus, telling him of their mission work (9:10)
        —The Feeding Miracle (9:10-17)
      • The Twelve baskets gathered up (by the Twelve) (9:17)
    • Jesus with his disciples—praying together (with the Twelve) (9:18ff)
      The reaction to Jesus: the confession of Peter (9:18b-20)

The central section in bold represents the Feeding Miracle. Luke’s streamlined account, more than the other Gospels, uses the Feeding Miracle here to represent and summarize the ministry of Jesus. The connection with Jesus’ disciples (the Twelve) is more prominent as well. This is almost certainly the reason why mention of the estimated size of the crowd was moved back to verse 14—so that the feeding miracle would conclude with a reference to the twelve baskets gathered by the disciples (i.e. symbolic of the Twelve). Indeed, the Greek of verse 17 specifically ends with the word dw/deka (“twelve”).

Having compared the versions of the Synoptic tradition(s), it now remains to turn to the account of the Feeding Miracle in the Gospel of John. In so doing, we will return to the critical question (i.e. originally one or two miracles?), as well as examine the unique way that the tradition has been adapted in the Fourth Gospel, through its connection with the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. This will be the topic of the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 3 (Mt 12:9-14; Lk 13:10-17; 14:1-6)

Matthew 12:9-14 (continued)

For the introduction to Matt 12:9-14 and the Sabbath Controversy episode (Mk 3:1-6 par), see the previous note. I mentioned there the main difference between Matthew’s version and that in Mark/Luke (which we may call the basic Synoptic version). To illustrate the difference, let us compare Matt 12:10b-12 with Mark 3:2-4.

Point 1—Mk 3:2 / Matt 12:10b

Mark:
“And they [i.e. the Pharisees] watched alongside of him (to see) if he will heal [i.e. work healing] on (one of) the Sabbath (day)s, (so) that they might make a public (charge/complaint) against him”

Matthew:
“And they questioned him about (it), saying, ‘If it is [i.e. is it] permitted to heal [i.e. work healing] on the Sabbath (days)?’ (so) that they might make a public (charge/complaint) against him”

Instead of the Pharisees simply watching Jesus carefully, in Matthew’s version they specifically ask him the question whether it is permitted to heal someone on the Sabbath. This runs contrary to Luke’s version (6:8), in which Jesus responds to them by knowing their thoughts—i.e. without their saying or asking him anything.

Point 2—Matt 12:11-12

Between verses 10 and 13, corresponding to a point between Mk 3:2 and 3, Matthew includes (or ‘inserts’) an illustration and saying which effectively answers the Pharisees question in v. 10b. This is not in the Synoptic tradition of Mark/Luke. It would appear to represent a separate tradition. This might explain the difference between verse 10b and Mk 3:2 as well. In order to include the saying here, the Gospel writer likely modified the traditional context of Mk 3:2ff par, setting it as a response to a question by the Pharisees. As it happens, there is a parallel to Matt 12:10b-12 in the Gospel of Luke, in a similar episode, but in a different location.

Luke 14:1-6

Here we find another healing story, again on the Sabbath, and likewise involving the healing of a sick/disabled man (in the presence of Pharisees). This time, however, the episode is not set in the synagogue, but in the house of a leading Pharisee (v. 1). The man does not have a withered hand, but is said to suffer from a “watery appearance” (u(drwpiko/$)—i.e. “dropsy”, an excess of fluid due to a disease in the inner organs (kidneys, etc). Note first the similarities with the earlier (Synoptic) episode:

    • The Sabbath setting and the gathering of Scribes/Pharisees (vv. 1-2; 6:6-7a)
    • The presence of the sick/disabled man (v. 2; 6:6a, 8)
    • The question by Jesus whether it is permitted to heal on the Sabbath (v. 3; 6:9)
    • Their silence to his question (v. 4a, also 6; implied in the earlier episode, cf. Mk 3:4)
    • The healing of the man which follows (v. 4b; 6:10)
    • A concluding reaction by the Pharisees, showing their inability to cope with Jesus’ teaching and authority (v. 6; 6:11)

The basic outline is virtually the same, though specific details differ. The main difference is in the example Jesus gives in verse 5, which is very close to that of Matt 12:11 (set in the earlier healing episode); compare:

Matthew:
“What one is (there) out of [i.e. among] you that (if he) will hold [i.e. possess] a sheep, and this one should fall in a deep (hole) on (one of) the Sabbath (day)s, will he not grab hold of it (firmly) and raise it (out)?”

Luke:
“What (one) of you, (if) a son or (even) an ox will fall into a (deep) well, will he not also straight away pull him/it out on the Sabbath day?”
Note: Some witnesses read “donkey” (o&no$) instead of “son” (ui(o/$)

The wording is different, but the basic example (even the form of it) is much the same. Just as interesting is the similarity between the question of Jesus to the Pharisees in verse 3, as it is quite close in form to the question by the Pharisees to Jesus in Matt 12:10b. Again, let us compare the two:

Matthew:
e&cestin toi=$ sa/bbasin qerapeu=sai;
“is it allowed to heal on the Sabbath days?”

Luke:
e&cestin tw=| sabba/tw| qerapeu=sai h* ou&;
“is it allowed to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

Both of these points of similarity strongly indicate that Matthew has combined two distinct (separate) traditions into one episode, while Luke has retained them both as separate episodes. To complicate matters further, the Gospel of Luke contains a third Sabbath healing episode, which also has a number of points in common (with the other two).

Luke 13:10-17

In Lk 13:10-17 we find a miracle story which has many points in common with that in 6:6-11 par. Again Jesus is in a synagogue (teaching, in Luke’s version), on a Sabbath day, with a crippled person in attendance. This time it is a disabled woman, her body stooped and bent over, unable to straighten herself (v. 11). After Jesus heals her (“Woman, you are loosed from your disability”, v. 12), it is the leader of the synagogue who objects to Jesus performing this work on the Sabbath, framing the matter in traditional religious terms (v. 14). Jesus responds with an example that has a general similarity to the one in 14:5 (also Matt 12:11, cf. above):

“Does not each one of you, on the Sabbath, loose his ox or his donkey from the feeding-trough and lead it away to give it (a) drink?” (v. 15)

Then, just as in the earlier healing episode (in Matt 12:12), Jesus applies the illustration directly to the person who is healed (on the Sabbath). Each response brings home vividly the point of Jesus’ teaching—that care for human need takes priority over the (strict) observance of the Sabbath regulation. The statement in Matt 12:12 reads:

“How much then does (this) carry through (for) a man (more) than a sheep! So too is it allowed (for us) to do well [i.e. good] on the Sabbath days.”

In Luke 13:16, despite deriving from a different tradition, Jesus’ words have much the same sentiment:

“And this (woman), being a daughter of Abraham, whom the Satan has bound—see! (for) eighteen years—is it not necessary (for her) to be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

It is easy to see, I think, from these examples, how traditions, with similar details and thematic points of emphasis, could be joined together and combined within the Gospel Tradition. There were doubtless many stories—of healing miracles, and Sabbath controversy scenes, etc—which did not come down to us, but which may have been known to the Gospel writers at the time. Luke records three such traditions, all quite similar in many ways, and Matthew may have combined two of them into a single account, as I have documented above. If added confirmation of this dynamic were needed, one could point to yet another Sabbath healing episode—quite apart from the Synoptic tradition—from the Gospel of John. This example, which I will discuss in the next note, also demonstrates a further development of the original (historical) tradition, such as we often see in the Fourth Gospel.

The Damascus Document, generally associated with the Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), contains an example quite similar to the one used by Jesus in Matthew 12:11f (and Luke 14:5). Only it makes the opposite point:

“Let no one assist a beast in giving birth on the Sabbath day. Even if it drops (its newborn) into a cistern or into a pit, one is not to raise it up on the Sabbath” (CD 11:13-14) [translation by J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke AB 28a, p. 1040]

This strict interpretation of the Sabbath law, presumably accepted by the Qumran Community, almost directly contradicts the attitude assumed by the saying of Jesus.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 3 (Matt 11:2ff etc)

Moving from the core Synoptic tradition (in Mark, cf. the previous note) to its development in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, there are several areas to consider:

    1. The development of the immediate Synoptic tradition—i.e. of the Baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
    2. The “Q” material in Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35, and
    3. Details or traditions found only in Luke

We begin today with the first two areas, leaving the third to be discussed in the next note. Remember that we are now examining the specific theme, or component, in the Tradition of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One.

Luke 3:21-4:1ff & Matt 3:16-4:1ff

Both Luke and Matthew, to the extent that they made use of Mark (or a similar Synoptic source), have independently—(1) adapted the basic narrative of the baptism, and (2) incorporated so-called “Q” material.

(1) Matt 3:13-17 and Luke 3:21-22

Matthew generally follows Mark closely in narrating the Baptism, with two main differences: (a) the description in Mk 1:9 (v. 13) has presumably been modified to allow for the insertion of the exchange between John and Jesus in vv. 14-15; and (b) the form of the declaration by the heavenly voice (v. 17) is different. Both of these changes seem to have, as a major (if not primary) purpose, a depiction of the baptism of Jesus as a sign to be observed by all the people (i.e. all Israel). The statement by Jesus in verse 15 indicates that, by submitting to baptism by John, he is fulfilling the religious forms and symbols, etc, of the Old Covenant (“all the righteousness [of God]”), stretching back through the Law and Prophets to the birth of the people Israel (cf. 11:13 par). The form of the heavenly declaration in v. 17 similarly functions as a public assertion regarding Jesus’ identity—”This is my Son…” It moves from a ‘simple’ record of events to include information about how people (believers) should understand them.

Luke has modified the Synoptic narrative somewhat differently, through arrangement and syntax. First, he has essentially ‘removed’ John from the scene (vv. 18-20), leaving Jesus on the stage alone. Secondly, the distinctive syntax of vv. 21-22 (a single sentence in Greek), drives the description forcefully ahead to make the heavenly declaration the definite focus of the narrative. The Lukan syntax here is quite difficult to translate literally, since it involves (an extreme) form of the construction e)ge/neto de/ (“and it came to be [that]”) + a sequence of infinitives (a construction used frequently in the Gospel). Here is a an approximation:

“And it came to be, in all of the people being dunked (by John), and Yeshua (also) being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and the holy Spirit’s stepping down [i.e. coming down] in bodily appearance as a dove, and (it was then that) a voice coming to be out heaven (said): ‘You are my Son, the (one) loved (by me)—in you I have good regard’.”

The three verbs in italics are all infinitives, which would typically be translated “to dunk”, “to step down”, and “to come to be”, but here have to be rendered differently, like participles or verbal nouns (gerunds), in order to make sense, and yet still capture the development of the sentence in its sequence, i.e.:

    • all the people (in their) being dunked
      • the Holy Spirit’s stepping/coming down
        • a voice out of heaven coming to be

The sequence builds, step by step, to the declaration by the heavenly voice, which emphasizes its significance and position in the Lukan narrative.

(2) Matt 4:1ff & Luke 4:1ff

Matthew and Luke each include so-called “Q” material following the Baptism account; this includes primarily the Temptation scene (Matt 4:1-11 / Lk 4:1-13), but also, as a way of transitioning to it from the Baptism, an expansion of the (Synoptic) narration in Mk 1:12, giving greater prominence to the role of the Spirit in relation to Jesus. Compare:

Mk 1:12—”And straightaway the Spirit casts him [i.e. Jesus] out into the desolate (land)…”
Matt 4:1—”Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit…”
Luke 4:1—”And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back…and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land)”

Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35 (“Q”)

This “Q” material, while unrelated to Jesus’ baptism as such, is important as another source for studying the relationship between John and Jesus. It is divided into three sections, each of which includes early traditional material, which has been joined together, based on common themes and language, to form a coherent whole. It may be outlined as follows:

    • John’s question to Jesus, with Jesus’ response (Matt 11:2-6)
    • Jesus’ testimony regarding John (vv. 7-15)
    • The (negative) reaction to John and Jesus, respectively (vv. 16-19)

For the purposes of this study, the first two sections have the greatest relevance, developing themes also found in the Baptism narrative.

Matt 11:2-6 (Lk 7:18-23)—The setting of the first section has John in prison, from whence he sends messengers (from among his disciples) to Jesus with an important question:

“Are you the one coming, or should we look toward receiving [i.e. expect] a different (person)?” (v. 3, Lk’s version [v. 19] is nearly identical)

As I discussed in the previous note, the use of the expression “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$) makes it all but certain that John is asking if Jesus is the Chosen/Anointed One (i.e. Messiah), sent by God. However, he probably does not have in mind the Anointed Ruler from the line of David, but rather a Prophetic figure-type—perhaps “Elijah” or “the Prophet (like Moses)”, or even the Messenger of YHWH from Mal 3:1ff (which seems most likely). On this, cf. Parts 2 & 3 from the series “Yeshua the Anointed” and the note on “The One Coming“. The plain sense of this question would indicate that John, at that particular moment in time, harbored some doubt as to whether Jesus was indeed the Chosen/Anointed one (“the one coming”) he had declared in his preaching (Mk 1:7-8 par, etc). Some Christians may be bothered by this idea, but it is straightforward enough, and does not need to be explained away.

Jesus’ response (Matt 11:4-6 / Lk 7:22-23) is essentially a quotation of Isa 61:1, along with allusions to Isa 26:19 and 35:5. This is significant, since here Jesus identifies himself specifically with the Isaian herald—the prophetic figure anointed by God (by/with the Spirit). The signs of his anointing are the miracles he works and the “good news” he proclaims to the poor, things characteristic of Jesus’ ministry and central to it. The same association is established even more directly in Lk 4:17-21ff, which will be discussed in the next note.

Matt 11:7-15 (Lk 7:24-30)—This second section is less uniform than the first, and may involve a collection of related sayings. Here Jesus gives testimony regarding the person and role of John the Baptist, identifying him specifically with the “Messenger” of Malachi 3:1ff (cf. above). Jesus does this first by stating that John is a prophet (v. 9a) and, indeed, exceedingly (more) than a prophet (v. 9b)—that is, something greater than a prophet. This is explained by the citation from Mal 3:1 which follows in v. 10 par, the same Scripture which is applied to John in Mk 1:2. In Matthew’s version of this material, Jesus is even more precise, declaring John to be “Elijah, the one being about to come”. This is an interpretation of Mal 3:1 based on 4:5-6 [Hebr 3:23-24]. Luke does not have this in his corresponding material, but it is established (indirectly) elsewhere in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 9:12-13 par).

The logic of these “Q” sections, then, seems to be as follows:

    • John asks whether Jesus truly is the Anointed Prophet of the end-time (“the one coming”), i.e. probably the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff.
    • Jesus, in his response, redirects the question—(implying) that he is not this messenger, but is to be identified (instead) with the Messianic figure of Isa 61:1ff
    • In a separate tradition(?), Jesus turns the question around, identifying John as the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff, and, specifically, “Elijah”, the Prophet “who is coming”.

This will be discussed further in the next note, when dealing with the traditions and details only found in the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 2 (Matt 3:11-15; Lk 3:16-17)

In studying the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus in the Baptism narrative, as preserved in the Gospel tradition, we looked at the core Synoptic tradition in the previous note; here we will examine how the aspect was developed in the so-called “Q” material and in the Gospel of Matthew.

Matt 3:11-12; Lk 3:16-17 (“Q”)

As I discussed in the earlier note, the saying(s) of John, corresponding with Mark 1:7-8, have a different form in Matthew and Luke (Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16). In terms of critical source-analysis, it is likely that this derives from a source other than Mark (i.e., the so-called “Q” material), and also includes the saying in the following verse (Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17), which is not found in Mark. The main addition to the Mk 1:8 saying are the words “and (in) fire” (kai\ puri/), which enhances the aspect of (the end-time) Judgment central to the saying which follows:

“the ‘spitting’-shovel is in his hand, and he will cleanse through(out) [i.e. thoroughly] his (place for) rolling [i.e. threshing] (grain), and he will bring together his grain into the place (where it is) set away [i.e. stored], but the husk(s) he will burn down [i.e. completely] with fire (that is) n(ever) quenched”

Luke’s version is nearly identical, the only real difference being in the form of the first two verbs, which are infinitives (expressing the purpose of the winnowing) rather than future forms. In both versions, this saying is joined to the previous ones by use of the relative pronoun ou! (“of whom”)—it refers back to “the one stronger than me” who is coming (Matt: “the one coming [i.e. who] is stronger than me”). Interestingly, there is some indication that the saying in Matt 3:12 par may have originally been separate from those in v. 11, and that the relative pronoun ou! is perhaps better explained in terms of the joining/collection of the saying in the early process of transmission. This is all the more likely given the fact that the saying(s) in v. 11 were preserved, independently (without the “Q” saying), in several strands of tradition (Mark [Synoptic], Acts [kerygma], and the Gospel of John).

Conceptually, the action in v. 12 seems to be that done by God in the end-time Judgment. However, by the time of John and Jesus, the idea was becoming reasonably well established in Jewish thought and writing that a chosen/anointed representative of God (whether human or angelic) would play a major role in the ushering in of this time of Judgment on humankind. This is expressed various ways in the Messianic thought of the period, as I have discussed in considerable detail in my series Yeshua the Anointed. It is thus easy to imagine John associated this role in the Judgment with a Messianic or Prophetic figure such as we find in Malachi 3:1ff. The original context of the Malachi passage probably referred to a heavenly Messenger, i.e. the “Messenger/Angel of YHWH” (but cp. Mal 4:4-5); on this, cf. my earlier note in the aforementioned series. In Jesus’ teaching as recorded in the (Synoptic) Gospels, this role in the end-time Judgment is filled by “the Son of Man”, a heavenly figure with whom Jesus identifies himself (see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

This saying (in Matthew/Luke) culminates the teaching/preaching of John as recorded in the Synoptics. The baptism of Jesus follows (directly, in Matthew).

Matthew 3:13-15 (“M”)

Scholars often refer to material in Matthew that is not found in the other Gospels, and is presumably inherited from a source other than Mark (or comparable Synoptic source) and “Q”, as “M” (i.e. Matthean) material. The only portion of the Baptism narrative in Matthew which qualifies as “M” material is the exchange between John and Jesus in 3:13-15. In order to include this material, the author, it would seem, has adapted the core Synoptic statement describing Jesus’ baptism:

Mk 1:9: “And it came to be in those days (that) Yeshua came from Nazareth of the Galîl and was dunked into the Yarden (river) under [i.e. by] Yohanan”

Matt 3:13: “Then Yeshua came to be along, from the Galîl, upon the Yarden (river), (coming) toward Yohanan to be dunked under [i.e. by] him”

It was necessary for the author to interrupt the reference to Jesus being baptized, narrating instead his purpose in coming to John. This allows the Baptist to react and respond to Jesus. The dialogue format is brief and simple, with a narrative frame enclosing the two declarations, in turn:

    • John “cuts off” [i.e. prevents/restrains] Jesus (completely), i.e. from submitting to baptism —John’s objection: “I hold (the) obligation [xrei/a] to be dunked by you…” —Jesus’ response: “…it is proper for us to fulfill all justice/righteousness”
    • John “releases” [i.e. allows] Jesus to undergo baptism

Critical commentators are skeptical as to the authenticity of this tradition, since it is not found in any other Gospel, and would seem to fit an obvious apologetic purpose for early Christians. I.e., if John’s baptizing was primarily meant to bring people to repentance, resulting in the forgiveness of sin, then why would Jesus (who was without sin) have undergone baptism? The tradition of Jesus’ baptism was so well-established—and, historically, a virtual certainty (on objective grounds)—that no Gospel writer could omit the episode, especially considering the important details of the Spirit’s descent and the voice from heaven, and their place in the Gospel narrative. Yet, as time went on, it would seem to require some explanation. The same question is handled, in a different way, in an extra-canonical work called the “Gospel of the Hebrews” (identified by some scholars as the “Gospel of the Nazoreans”), preserved only in quotations by the Church Fathers; note the following extract from Jerome (Against the Pelagians 3:2):

“Behold, the mother of the Lord and his brothers were saying to him, ‘John the Baptist is baptizing for the remission of sins. Let us go and be baptized by him’. But he replied to them, ‘What sin have I committed that I should go to be baptized by him?…'” (translation by B. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures [Oxford: 2003], p. 9)

This is a rather simplistic expansion of the Synoptic narrative, ‘filling in’ details in a manner common to the (later) extra-canonical Gospels (Infancy Gospels, etc). However, it does make clear (if somewhat crudely) the problem with the tradition for early Christians.

Returning to Matt 3:14-15, it is important to give proper consideration to what Jesus says in response to John, especially if we accept the tradition recorded here as authentic. John’s objection in v. 14 is, in some ways, the inverse of the saying in v. 11 (Mk 1:7 par):

    • The one coming behind me is greater than me —I am not fit/worthy to handle his shoes
    • I have the obligation to be baptized by you —and yet you come toward me

In other words, John declares that the situation should be reversed—he should be submitting to Jesus (to be baptized under him, i.e. under his authority). The core of Jesus’ response is:

“it is distinguishing for us to fulfill all justice/righteousness”

It is difficult to determine precisely what Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) meant by this statement; however, I would suggest three aspects which should be considered:

  • In being baptized, Jesus identifies himself with the (Israelite/Jewish) people, those coming to be baptized. The evidence for this is slight, but I believe it can be affirmed, at the very least, from the similarity of language in vv. 5 and 13: “Then [to/te] Jerusalem and all Judea…traveled out toward [pro/$] him” “Then [to/te] Yeshua from Galilee came along… toward [pro/$] John”
  • This is meant to be a sign that would stand out for everyone to see. The verb pre/pw is difficult to translate literally, and carries a fairly wide range of nuance, but fundamentally refers to something which can be seen or heard, etc, clearly; often in the sense of something which is excellent, distinguished, fitting for the (ceremonial) occasion, etc.
  • The purpose was to “fulfill the justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] (i.e. of God)”. This broad concept, central to Jesus’ teaching, esp. in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33), includes the fulfillment of a range of (religious) symbols and forms from the Old Testament (the Old Covenant)—the Law and Prophets, all the way down to John the Baptist (Matt 11:13 par). His baptizing ministry represents the end of the old, which Jesus fulfills, bringing about, in his own person and ministry, the beginning of a new era.

Matt 11:2-19 par (“Q”)

Mention should also be made of the material involving John the Baptist in Matt 11:2-19 and Luke 7:18-35, a “Q” section which almost certainly is to be regarded as a collection of related episodes and sayings. This material is not part of the Baptism of Jesus, and relates more properly to the next area we will be studying (Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One) in the Baptism narrative; however, it is worth noting the structure and organization of the traditions contained in the passage, in terms of the relationship between John and Jesus:

    • A question by John to Jesus regarding his identity as “the one (who is) coming”, along with Jesus’ response (vv. 2-6)
    • Jesus’ testimony regarding John (vv. 7-15)
    • The people’s (negative) reaction to Jesus and John, respectively (vv. 16-19)

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3 (continued)

Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20b, continued

Luke:      Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/, o%ti u(mete/ra e)sti/n h( basilei/a tou= qeou=
“Happy the poor (ones), that yours is the kingdom of God
Matthew:  Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati, o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Happy the poor (ones) in the spirit, that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens

The first Beatitude (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20b) was discussed in the previous article; today, both versions will be examined in more detail, focusing on several areas of interpretation:

    1. The Meaning of “Poor in (the) spirit”
    2. Poor vs. Rich in the Lukan Beatitude
    3. “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God”

1. The Meaning of “Poor in (the) spirit”

The basic meaning of this difficult phrase was addressed in the prior article; however, it is worth looking at it more closely here. As I indicated, the nearest parallel is found in the Qumran texts—jwr ywnu (±anwê rûaµ), “poor/afflected of spirit” (see especially 1 QM 14:7, where it is applied to the “sons of light” [roa yn@B=]; cf. also 1 QM 14:3, 1 QH 5:21-22, CD 19:9, and parallel expressions in 1 QM 7:5, 11:10, etc). The nearest expressions in the LXX and New Testament are found in Psalm 34:18 [LXX 33:19] (oi( tapeinoi\ tw=| pneu/mati, translating Hebr. j^WrÁa@K=D^) and Matthew 11:29 (tapeino\$ th=| kardi/a| “lowly [in] the heart”). The Hebrew word wn`u* (from hn`u*) more properly means “lowly, afflicted” rather then “poor” (i.e. poverty per se), which is close to the Greek adjective tapeino/$ (tapeinós, “low[ly], humble”). It is also noteworthy that in the Qumran texts (and elsewhere in Judaism of the period), the <yw]n`u& (±an¹wîm, “lowly/afflicted [ones]”) were identified largely with the <ynoyb=a# (°e»yônîm, “poor/wanting [ones]”), with both used as terms for the righteous. So here in the Beatitude, there would seem to be a clear identification of poor (ptwxo/$) with lowly (tapeino/$). But poverty/lowliness in exactly what sense? There are number of possibilities for interpretation:

  • It involves a recognition and acceptance of the essential poverty inherent in the human condition. This interpretation is argued cogently by Betz, Sermon, pp. 112-119, largely on the basis of parallels in Greek philosophy and wisdom literature.
  • It is a spiritualizing motif which expresses that the righteous (or the wise and virtuous) person is truly rich, even in the midst of his/her material poverty. Indeed, material poverty actually serves as an aid to gaining wisdom; Socrates was a prototypical example, cf. Plato Apol. 23c, etc, and frequently in later Stoic and Cynic teaching.
  • It implies freedom from care and desire (a)pa/qeia, apátheia), largely as a result of a life devoted to abstinence and self-control (e)gkra/teia, enkráteia). This was tied closely to the idea that the happiness/blessedness [ma/kar] of the gods involved a lack of want or desire (reflecting a divine “poverty”). It is fairly typical of most Greek ascetic philosophy (again Socrates was a prime example, cf. Xenophon Mem. 1.5, 6ff). The concept and goal of a)pa/qeia was a prominent feature of Christian mysticism and monasticism (especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition).
  • The “lowliness” of spirit contrasts specifically with “highness” of spirit—that is, of pride, vanity, haughtiness, worldly ambition, desire for power, and so forth. Instead, the humility of the follower of Christ eschews all these things.
  • The “lowliness” is to be understood specifically in relationship to God—to place one’s life and thought completely in trust and dependence on God.

Arguments can be made for each of these avenues of interpretation (and others as well), however, I would say that the last two are closest to the mark. A warning against what we could call “highness” of spirit appears frequently, in various forms, throughout the New Testament. Of the examples in the Gospels alone, see Mark 10:42-45 par; Matt 18:3-4 par; Lk 9:23-25; 10:19-20; 12:13-21; 14:7-11; 16:15; 17:7-10; 18:9-14. In the Gospel of Luke, especially, this emphasis on the humble and lowly is prominent—see particularly, in the parables (esp. Lk 18:9-14), and the example of Mary in Lk 1:38, 46-55. Cf. also the Christian maxim uttered by John the Baptist in Jn 3:30.

2. Poor vs. Rich in the Lukan Beatitude

The principal difference between the Matthean and Lukan forms of the first Beatitude is striking. Instead of oi( ptwxoi\ tw=| pneu/mati (“the poor [in] the spirit”), it is simply oi( ptwxoi/ (“the poor”). The exact relationship between the two versions continues to be debated. However, it is all but certain that the Lukan version essentially refers to poverty in the customary sense (i.e., material/economic poverty); the corresponding Woe in v. 24 would confirm this. Also, it is noteworthy that Luke references the “rich” (plou/sio$) and “riches” more often than the other Gospels, and always in a negative sense, or in contrast to the followers of Jesus (i.e., the “poor”)—see Lk 1:53; 8:14; 12:16-21; 16:9, 11-13, 19-23ff, etc. Even in the case of traditions shared by Matthew/Mark, Luke’s version occasionally adds the detail of riches to a negative portait, cf. in the parable of the Sower (8:14), the emphasis of the man being rich [plou/sio$] in 18:23 (in relation to v. 25), and also the narration in 21:1. Only in the case of Zaccheus (Lk 19:2ff) are riches shown in anything like a positive sense.

Even so, the stark juxtaposition of the “poor” and the “rich” in 6:20, 24 is jolting (especially for modern-day Western Christians). Here is the “woe” of v. 24:

Plh\n ou)ai\ u(mi=n toi=$ plousi/oi$, o%ti a)pe/xete th\n para/klhsin u(mw=n.
“(All the) more, woe to you the rich (one)s!—that you have your help/comfort (from riches)!”

Plh\n is an adversative particle, placing the woe in contrast to the beatitude of v. 20—i.e., “happy the poor… but woe to you the rich!” It also serves as an intensive particle, perhaps in the sense of “happy the poor…even more so woe to you the rich!” It could even indicate that there is nothing more for the rich, who (in the end) only receive the help/comfort of their riches. This is certainly the basic idea expressed here—the rich have already received their reward. On the surface, this seems unduly harsh, almost over-simplistic, as though riches and poverty as such were all that mattered. Jesus’ famous parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) presents the same sort of dualism (rich vs. poor), which is also expressed in the Magnificat (esp. 1:52-53); and, for comparison, see similarly harsh descriptions in the epistle of James (1:9-11; 2:6-7; 5:1-6). What are we to make of this? For the moment, I leave this as an open question, which I will address more thoroughly in an upcoming discussion of the Lukan Woes.

3. “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God”

There are two other differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions:

Matthew: au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n (“theirs is kingdom of the heavens“)
Luke: u(mete/ra e)sti/n h( basilei/a tou= qeou (“yours is the kingdom of God“)

With regard to the personal pronoun, all of the Beatitudes in Matt 5:3-10 use the 3rd-person plural form, while those in Luke use 2nd-person plural forms. If we accept the critical assumption that the Matthean and Lukan forms ultimately derive from a single set of sayings by Jesus (rather that two sets of sayings), then it stands to reason that one or the other has been modified at some point. The Beatitude form suggests that the 3rd person pronoun/verb is more likely to be ‘original’. In preserving and transmitting the sayings as part of a basic core of Christian instruction (catechesis/catechism), adaptation to the 2nd-person—addressing the believer directly—would only be natural.

The expression “kingdom of the heavens” (h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n, usually translated “kingdom of Heaven”) is unique to the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. Even in parallel passages within the Synoptic tradition (shared by Mark and/or Luke), where “kingdom of God” (h( basilei/a tou= qeou=) occurs, Matthew nearly always uses “kingdom of the Heavens”. Only on five (certain) occasions (Matt 6:3; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43) does he use “kingdom of God”. Despite claims to the contrary, there would seem to be little difference in meaning between the two expressions. It remains uncertain just why Matthew opts for “kingdom of the Heavens”. However, perhaps it is appropriate to consider here two aspects of the Kingdom, related in turn with two key points of emphasis in the Beatitude:

  1. It is of God—that is, it belongs to God. As discussed in an earlier article, a seminal aspect of the Beatitude was its declaration that the righteous person (or initiate in the mysteries, believer, etc) would become like God (or the gods)—this would occur in the afterlife, but was already “realized” in the present. From the standpoint of ethical and philosophical instruction, the disciple is effectively encouraged and exhorted to become more like God (cf. Matthew 5:48).
  2. It is of the Heavens—that is, it is identified with the heavenly realm where God dwells (“above the [physical] heavens”); cf. the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, the [one] in the Heavens…”, Matt 6:9). The eschatological background and setting of the Beatitude clearly relates to the idea of the righteous person entering into heavenly bliss in the afterlife. In the earlier discussion on the Beatitude format of Psalm 1, I emphasized the locative element—that is the place or domain of the wicked (Ps 1:1) against the place of Judgment (i.e. the heavenly/divine Court) where the righteous gather (Ps 1:5). This, too, in addition to the promise of future destiny, may be “realized” in the present (cf. Ps 1:3). In terms of the ethical instruction of Jesus’ teaching, his followers are exhorted to seek after this heavenly kingdom or domain (where God dwells, and the righteous belong); cf. Matt 5:20, 48; 6:10, 19-20, 32-33; 7:7-11, 13-14.

Another small difference between the Matthean and Lukan versions related to the form of the pronoun: Matt 5:3 has the pronoun in the genitive case (“of them” = “theirs”), while Lk 6:20 uses the possessive pronoun (or adjective, “yours”). This difference is minimal, but it serves to point out the emphasis of the Kingdom belonging to the righteous (to the one declared “happy/blessed”). Perhaps it is better to consider it the other way around: the righteous as belonging to the Kingdom. The identification is such that both sides of the relationship are true.