Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 6:13)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

In the early Christian and Gospel Tradition, the theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God is fundamentally eschatological in orientation. This has already been examined in a number of the prior studies. However, the eschatological aspect of the theme is particularly prominent in the Gospel of Matthew. This applies, in some degree, to the Kingdom-references in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. the earlier study), beginning with the Beatitudes (5:3, 10). In this regard, there is a significant eschatological thrust to the Lord’s Prayer (and the Kingdom-petition) that is often overlooked by modern readers and students. We have already explored the Kingdom-petition in last week’s study (and that of the prior week); but the eschatological orientation of the Prayer, particularly in the Matthean version, is perhaps best illustrated by an examination of the final petition(s) in verse 13. In preparation for our study of the remaining Kingdom-references in Matthew, I think it will be worth a brief analysis of the eschatological worldview expressed here in verse 13.

Matthew 6:13a

In the final petition(s) of the Lord’s Prayer (v. 13), the focus shifts from sin and evil at the social (and religious) level (v. 12), to encompass a wider, cosmic dimension. The petition found in all three versions of the Prayer, and which occurs in the same Greek form in each, is:

kai\ mh\ ei)sene/gkh|$ h(ma=$ ei)$ peirasmo/n
kai m¢ eisenengk¢s h¢mas eis peirasmon
“and (we ask that) you should not bring us into testing”

The verb used is ei)sfe/rw (or, more properly, ei)sene/gkw as an irregular verb form), meaning “carry into, bring into”. It is relatively rare in the New Testament (just 7 other occurrences), sometimes being used in the sense of bringing someone forcefully into a room, or into custody, etc (Lk 5:18-19; 12:11). The noun peirasmo/$, often translated “temptation”, properly means “test(ing)” (cf. the related verb peira/zw). The idea of believers being “tested” sometimes has the positive connotation of coming through the test as a proof of their character, their faith and trust, etc (James 1:12; 1 Pet 4:12-13; Rev 2:10); however, more commonly, the negative sense of temptation to sin and the danger of falling away from the faith is in view. Almost certainly, the latter aspect is intended primarily here in the Prayer. And, if the negative sense is intended, then it raises the problematic theological question of how (or why) God would bring someone into “temptation”. I have discussed the matter briefly in an earlier note on the Prayer.

One should keep in mind the conjunction kai/ which begins this petition, connecting it with the two prior. The Lukan sequence of three petitions (instead of the Matthean four) gives us a more concise set, which relate to different aspects of the life and existence of human beings (believers, in particular):

    • “may you give to us our bread…”
    • “may you release for us our sins…”
    • “may you not bring us into testing”

I would suggest that, in the Prayer itself, the word peirasmo/$ refers, not so much to temptation (to sin), as it does to suffering and distress. Consider the following thematic outline of the petitions in this regard:

    • Daily Life—Our daily needs for physical life and health, etc
    • Religion—Our moral and religious obligations, emphasizing the forgiveness of sin and guilt we hold before God
    • Suffering—The physical and spiritual distress we experience as disciples of Jesus (believers) in the world

This emphasis on peirasmo/$ as suffering and distress helps to explain, I think, the similarity between this petition in the Prayer, and the words of Jesus in the garden at the time of his Passion. Two traditions, in particular, should be noted:

    • First, the prayer Jesus makes to the Father:
      “Father…may you carry along [pare/negke] this drinking-cup from me…” (Mk 14:36 par, cf. verses 33-35 for an expression of his distress)

The verb parafe/rw (“carry along”) has a similar sense as ei)sfe/rw (“carry/bring into”), expressing the same idea of suffering, from two perspectives: (i) a time of suffering coming to Jesus (or the disciple), and (ii) the disciple coming into a time of suffering; in both instances God is the one who brings this about. And, just as Jesus prays that this time of suffering might not come to him (however necessary it might be), so it is right and proper that his disciples (believers) follow his example and pray that they might not come into the time of suffering.

    • Second, the instruction Jesus gives to his disciples:
      “You must keep awake and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], (so) that you might not come into testing” (Mk 14:38 par, cf. verses 34, 37)

The phrase “…might not come into testing” (mh\ e&lqete ei)$ peirasmo/n) is very close in form to that in the Prayer. The context suggests that peirasmo/$ here refers not to the temptation to sin per se, but, rather, that the disciples might find protection from the time of darkness and distress coming upon the world (v. 41; Lk 22:53). There is a strong eschatological aspect to this idea (cf. Mark 13:4-23 par) which is often lost for Christians reading the Gospels today. The (end-time) distress which is about to come upon Jesus’ followers includes the very real danger that people will be deceived and led astray, abandoning their faith as suffering and persecution intensifies (cp. Jesus’ prediction in Mk 14:27 par with 13:9-13, 22 par). Only the disciple who endures and remains true to the end will be saved (v. 13 par).

The line of interpretation given above more or less avoids the problematic notion, often discussed, that God might bring believers into temptation (i.e. to sin), quite contrary to other teaching we find in the New Testament (see the famous statement in James 1:13-14ff). However, if one decides that the petition does, in fact, refer to temptation (to sin) in the customary sense, it remains necessary to explain what this might mean in the context of the Prayer.
Temptation involves a legitimate testing by God of His people (for the Old Testament background of this, cf. Exod 16:4; 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16; 13:4; 33:8; Judg 2:22, etc); as a result, some will fail and fall away, but the true disciples, the faithful remnant, will pass the test. This petition, like others in the Prayer, refers not so much to the temptation of the individual believer as it does to the Community as a whole. There is a natural wish that the Community not have to experience the reality of temptation and sin with the effects it has on the communal identity of Christians. In other words, even if an individual is not immediately affected, sin brings suffering and distress to the Community.

For other possible ways of addressing the question, see my extended discussion (in an earlier, expanded version of this note).  

Matthew 6:13b

The final petition in the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer (followed by the Didache) reads:

a)lla\ r(u=sai h(ma=$ a)po\ tou= ponhrou/
alla rhusai h¢mas apo tou pon¢rou
“but may you rescue us from the evil”

This line is absent from the Lukan version of the Prayer, according to a diverse range of witness, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 a*2 B L f1 700 pc vg, and segments of the Syriac and Coptic tradition). As with the other parts of the Prayer where a shorter Lukan version is attested, the longer form is almost certainly secondary, representing a scribal harmonization (to Matthew), of the sort we see frequently in the manuscript tradition. Here the text-critical axiom lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferable”) holds good.

From the standpoint of the Matthean structure of the Prayer, it is better to consider this line as part of the previous petition (see above). This is indicated by the contrastive/adversative particle a)lla/ (“but, rather”), establishing a contrast with the previous request, which had been negative (i.e., what God should not do); here is the corresponding positive request:

    • “May you not bring us into testing
      • but (rather) may you (instead) rescue us from the evil”

The main interpretive difficulty involves the precise meaning of the word ponhro/$ (“evil”). There are three questions which must be addressed:

    1. Whether the article here is masculine or neuter
    2. The force of the definite article, and
    3. The nature of the “evil” referred to in the context of the Prayer

First, it is worth noting that the adjective ponhro/$ is much more frequent in Matthew than in the other Gospels. Mark has it (twice) in just one tradition (7:22-23), while it occurs just three times in John (3:19; 7:7; 17:5). It is a bit more common in Luke (12 times), with another 8 occurrences in Acts. By comparison it appears 25 times in Matthew, including 8 in the Sermon on the Mount; 5 of the 12 Lukan occurrences are in the parallel “Sermon on the Plain”. Overall, the adjective appears to be distinctive of the sayings of Jesus in the so-called “Q” material—sayings and traditions found in both Matthew and Luke, but not Mark.

1. The word with definite article is a substantive adjective (i.e. functioning as a noun), but the particular genitive form tou= ponhrou= is ambiguous in terms of gender: it can either be masculine or neuter. It is helpful to consider first the other 7 occurrences of the adjective in the Sermon on the Mount. It modifies masculine nouns in 5:45; 6:23; 7:11, 17-18— “man” (a&nqrwpo$ [implied]), “eye” (o)fqalmo/$), and “fruit” (karpo/$). In all these instances the adjective is used to describe the character of human beings, their attitude and actions. The same is probably the case in 5:39, where the substantive use (with the definite article) most likely refers to the person doing evil, rather than the evil itself. In 5:37 the substantive genitive tou= ponhrou= has the same ambiguity we see in here in the Prayer. The only certain occurrence of the neuter is in 5:11, where it refers to evil that is spoken against Jesus’ disciples. This neuter usage is similar to the plural substantive in Mark 7:23 (“these evil [thing]s”). Thus, it would appear that it is more common in the Sermon to use the adjective as characteristic of a person, rather than a reference to evil itself.

2. An interesting question is whether the definite article simply reflects a substantive use of the adjective (as a noun) generally, or whether it refers to evil in a specific sense. This us discussed further under point #3 below. However, it is worth keeping in mind the parallel with the noun peirasmo/$ (“testing”); the rhythm and structure of the petition is aided by the inclusion of the definite article—peirasmo/$ / o( ponhro/$—creating two nouns at the center of the contrast: “into testing” vs. “(away) from the evil”. But perhaps true definiteness is intended here as well, and meant to be emphasized, i.e. “the evil”. If so, then there are several possible meanings:

    • The evil which we experience or which comes upon us, specifically as sin, in the course of our life on earth
    • The (power of) evil which dominates the current Age, or, in an eschatological sense, is coming upon the world
    • The Evil One—the personification of evil, or the person most characterized by evil and responsible for it, i.e. the figure known as the Satan (/f*c*[h^]), dia/bolo$ (‘Devil’), or Belial (cf. 2 Cor 6:15 and the Qumran texts).

If we look at other occurrences in Matthew where the adjective is used with a definite article, we see that it is used two ways: (1) for specific person(s) who are evil, and (2) for the specific evil things a person says and does. There are actually two sections where these references occur: the teaching in 12:33-37 (cp. 7:15-20 and Mk 7:21-23), and the Kingdom parables in chapter 13. An examination of these is instructive.

    • Matt 12:35 presents a contrast between the person who is good and the one who is evil:
      “The good man casts out good (thing)s out of the good treasure (of his heart), and the evil man [o( ponhro/$ a&nqrwpo$] casts out evil (thing)s [ponhra/] out of the evil treasure [e)k tou= ponhrou= qhsaurou=] (of his heart).”

This wording echoes that of 5:37 in the Sermon and may provide the context for the more ambiguous expression there:

“And (so) your account must be ‘Yes, yes’ (and) ‘no, no’, and the thing over (beyond) these (words) is [i.e. comes] out of the evil [e)k tou= ponhrou=].”

It is often assumed that “the evil” that brings about the oath here is “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Devil; however, the parallel in 12:35 suggests that it may actually refer to the evil (treasure) that is in a person’s heart.

    • By contrast, twice in chapter 13, in Jesus’ explanation of both the parable of the Sower and of the Weeds (vv. 19, 38), the expression o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) almost certainly does refer to “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Satan. The evil human beings (“the evil [one]s”) who are separated from the good at the Last Judgment (v. 49) reflect the character of the Evil One himself, even as Jesus’ faithful disciples reflect the character of God Himself (cf. 5:48, etc).

3. Now let us consider further the use of o( ponhro/$ (or to\ ponhro/n) in the context of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount. As documented above, the adjective serves the dualistic contrast present in Jesus’ teaching—that is, as a way of characterizing persons who do not follow his teaching, and who act and think in a way that does not reflect God the Father in Heaven. This continues the dualism we noted in the opening petitions which emphasize God the Father as the One in the heavens. Jesus’ true disciples are those who, by following his teaching and example, actually do the will of God here on earth, even as it is done in heaven.

The opposite of God’s will on earth is the presence and manifestation of wickedness and evil, which characterizes much (if not the majority) of humankind (cf. 7:11). Most people act and think in an earthly manner, seeking after earthly (and not heavenly) things. This is a fundamental principle that runs through the Sermon and establishes the contrast for how Jesus disciples are supposed to conduct themselves in their daily life (on earth). At the same time, there is an eschatological dimension, to both the Sermon and the Prayer, which emphasizes the coming Judgment and also the suffering and persecution Jesus’ followers will face on earth from the wicked and the forces of evil.

The lines of interpretation for v. 13 encompass three basic semantic domains for the word ponhro/$ in the context of the Prayer (and the Sermon):

    • The evil we (i.e. Jesus’ disciples) experience generally, in various ways, during our daily life; this includes sin, misfortune, mistreatment, and persecution (on account of our faith).
    • Specifically the sin and wickedness to which we are tempted by “the Evil One”.
    • The evil which dominates the current Age, manifest especially in the coming suffering and distress (for Jesus’ disciples) at the end-time.

Arguments can be made for all three spheres of meaning:

    • The use of ponhro/$ in the Sermon favors the first option, as it tends to characterize the evil of humankind generally, and the wicked/evil things they do.
    • The common sense of peirasmo/$ as “temptation” (i.e. to sin) would favor the second option, along with the translation of o( ponhro/$ here as “the Evil (One)”, supported by 13:19, 38, and (possibly) 5:37 in the Sermon.
    • As noted above, I would argue that peirasmo/$ here is best understood in terms of the (eschatological) suffering and distress which Jesus’ disciples will (or may) have to endure. The Synoptic parallels with Jesus’ words in the garden during his Passion strongly point in this direction, as do the other eschatological aspects of the Prayer (discussed previously).

Indeed, the eschatological aspect makes better sense of the idea of God bringing believers “into testing”, especially in light of the parallels with Jesus’ words in Mk 14:36, 38 par (see above). It also provides a better context for the idea of God rescuing believers and very much corresponds with the New Testament (esp. Pauline) use of the verb r(u/omai (cf. below). Its climactic position in the Prayer requires something which matches the Kingdom of God the Father, etc, in the opening petitions.

This line of interpretation is, I believe, clinched by an examination of the verb r(u/omai used in the phrase. While often translated “deliver”, it more properly means “protect”, sometimes in the more active (and dramatic) sense of rescuing one from harm or danger. Unfortunately, it hardly occurs at all in the Gospels; indeed, it is only found here in the sayings and teachings of Jesus. The only other Gospel occurrences are in Luke 1:74 (the Hymn of Zechariah) and in Matthew 27:43. That latter reference, being from the Gospel of Matthew (and the only other occurrence in Matthew), is significant and must be given serious consideration. It is part of the taunts directed at Jesus (by the priests and elders, etc) while he is on the cross:

“He trusted upon God, (so) let Him rescue [r(usa/sqw] him now if He wishes—for he said that ‘I am (the) Son of God’!”

The context clearly is the same as that of Jesus’ Passion prayer in the garden (Mk 14:36ff par, see above), and the idea is that God might rescue Jesus from his moment of suffering (and death). The reference in Luke 1:74 touches upon the more concrete idea of being rescued from the control of one’s enemies. While this differs from the immediate situation in Matthew, it fits the language and imagery used by Paul in his letters, where the majority of occurrences of the verb are to be found—12 instances, including several in letters sometimes considered pseudonymous by critical commentators (Colossians, 2 Timothy). The verb is used two primary ways in the Pauline letters:

    1. References to Paul (and his fellow missionaries) being rescued (by God) from his enemies and opponents, persecution, dangers and perils on the way, etc—Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 1:10 [3 times]; 2 Thess 3:2; also 2 Tim 3:11; 4:17f.
    2. In a soteriological sense—i.e. of God rescuing believers from the power of evil that is at work in the world; this is expressed several ways, with different points of emphasis:
      (a) Rom 7:24: From the power of sin that currently dominates humankind, residing in the flesh—”who will rescue [r(u/setai] me out of this body of death?”
      (b) Rom 11:26: From the wickedness and ungodliness in the world, which currently envelops Israelites along with the rest of humanity (citation of Isa 59:20f): “the (one) rescuing [r(uo/meno$] will arrive out of Zion…”
      (c) 1 Thess 1:10: From the coming (end-time) Judgment by God upon the world (in its wickedness): “…Yeshua, the (one) rescuing [r(uo/meno$] us out of [i.e. from] the coming anger (of God)”.

The last two references have a strong eschatological and Messianic emphasis, shared by both early Christians and many Jews of the period: that the Anointed One (Messiah, according to several figure-types) will appear at the time of Judgment to rescue the faithful of God’s people from both the wickedness in the world and God’s Judgment upon it (see also 2 Pet 2:7, 9). Paul had a very unique way of expressing this idea, which he develops in Galatians and (more fully) in Romans (cf. especially chapters 5-8). Through the person and work of Jesus, God has rescued humankind (believers) from the power of sin (and evil) which currently dominates the world. Two additional passages, reflecting this outlook, are especially relevant to the wording in the Lord’s Prayer:

1. In Col 1:13, Paul refers to God the Father as the One

“who rescued [e)rru/sato] us out of the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness and set us over into the Kingdom of his (be)loved Son”

The identification of evil with “darkness”, as a kind of kingdom in opposition to the Kingdom of God, matches the language and thought of both the Lord’s Prayer and the garden scene of Jesus’ Passion (see above). In the Lukan parallel of the garden scene, Jesus’ declares the situation surrounding his Passion (and impending death) in exactly these terms: “…this is your hour and the authority of darkness” (Lk 22:53). According to the earliest Christian thought, the death and ultimate departure of Jesus ushers in an (eschatological) period of suffering and distress, which precedes the coming Judgment. It will be a time of significant suffering and persecution for Jesus’ followers (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc).

2. In 2 Tim 4:17-18, the idea of Paul (and other missionaries) being rescued from wicked people and opponents (v. 17, and cf. above) is broadened to include the end-time deliverance in general, expressed in v. 18 as follows:

“The Lord will rescue [r(u/setai] me from every evil work and will save [i.e. preserve] me into His Kingdom upon [i.e. above] (the) heaven(s).”

The italicized words are very close to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer:

    • “(may you) rescue us from the evil [a)po\ tou= ponhrou=]”
    • “(he will) rescue me from every evil work [a)po\ panto\$ e&rgou ponhrou=]”

There is one other passage in the New Testament which may shed some light on Matt 6:13—namely, John 17:15, where we find another prayer by Jesus to God the Father. This time it is a petition to the Father on behalf of Jesus’ disciples; it is also set prior to Jesus’ Passion (on this context, see above). He prays for his disciples as follows:

“I do not ask that you should take them out of the world, but that you should guard them out of [i.e. from] the evil [tou= ponhrou=].”

The genitive substantive (tou= ponhrou=) is the same as we have in the Lord’s Prayer; here, too, it is often translated “the Evil (One)”, but this may be debated. More appropriate in context would be “the evil (that is in the world)”, since the contrast is with “the world” or “world-order” (ko/smo$). Believers are not to be taken out of the world itself, but protected from the evil that is in it. On the parallel in 1 Jn 5:18-19, see my recent notes on the passage.

Similarly, “the evil” emphasized in the final petition of the Prayer refers primarily to the evil that dominates the current Age, the experience of which is to intensify as the end-time Judgment comes near. This idea of evil certainly includes the figure of the Satan/Devil/Belial (i.e., “the Evil one”), as the world-ruler who exercises dominion over the current wicked Age. This worldview, and its eschatological/Messianic dimension, is expressed in dozens of texts from Qumran (where the Prince/Spirit of Darkness is called “Belial”), and was more or less shared by Christians in the first century A.D. The prayer for protection/rescue from the power of evil in the world unquestionably means protection from the Evil One who is the effective world-ruler of the current Age of darkness. Much of this worldview, admittedly, is lost for Christians today; this does not change the fact that it governed much Jewish and early Christian thought at the time, and needs to be recognized in any serious study of the New Testament today. How it relates to current/modern views of eschatology is a separate issue, but one which also is vital as a point of discussion. I have examined the entire subject in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 6:10b)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

In the previous study, we examined the distinctiveness of the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13), in comparison with the Lukan. In particular, along with the first two petitions of the prayer (vv. 9b-10a), Matthew includes a third petition (“May your will come to be [done]”, v. 10b) not found in Luke (though it was added by copyists). This produces a triad of three petitions in the first section of the Matthean Prayer, with the Kingdom-petition at the center. Moreover, the two flanking petitions would seem to be parallel, both in form and meaning:

“May your name be made holy”
a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“May your will come to be”
genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou

In each instance, the petition begins with a passive (aorist) imperative, with the subject being a particular attribute/aspect of the God ‘who is in the heavens’. This could be taken as an example of the so-called divine passive (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. Since the petition addresses God, this would be a natural way to understand the wording. However, there can be little doubt that an emphasis is on the actions of human beings—both in treating God (and His name) with sanctity and honor, and in acting according to His will. Since the Kingdom-petition is at the center of these two flanking petitions, it is fair to assume (or at least consider) that these two petitions inform the meaning and significance of the Kingdom-petition.

The first petition (v. 9b) was examined in the previous study. Here, we must consider the third petition (v. 10b):

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.

In the previous study, 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 (“comes to be”) 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 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. Cf. further on 7:21, discussed below.

As mentioned above, this continues the contrast of heaven and earth which runs through the Sermon. 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. Particularly, it expounds the meaning of the Kingdom-petition in v. 10a. 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.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Kingdom of God is specifically associated with the “rightness” (or righteousness), dikaiosu/nh, of God. As previously discussed, a reference to the Kingdom of God frames the Beatitudes (5:3, 10). The one who belongs to the Kingdom, and who is able to enter (and inherit) the Kingdom, will be “poor” in their own spirit, devoting themselves, not to self-centered or worldly aims and desires, but to the will of God. For this same reason, those who are part of God’s Kingdom will often be persecuted (lit. pursued, with hostile intent) “on account of what is right” (e%neken dikaiosu/nh$)—that is, because of their desire for God’s righteousness.

At the beginning of the Sermon proper (5:17-20), Jesus associates “what is right” (right[eous]ness, dikaiosu/nh) with the precepts and regulations, etc, of the Torah. The followers of Jesus must exhibit a religious and ethical-moral “rightness” (upright character and conduct) which at least equals that of others who are devoted (religiously) to observing the Torah (vv. 19-20). The Pharisees and “writers” (i.e., scribes, literate persons with [expert] knowledge of the Scriptures) are specifically singled out as examples; even such people, who are not Jesus’ followers, will often exhibit strong religious devotion and upright moral conduct.

Jesus’ followers, however, are called to a right(eous)ness that surpasses the Pharisees’ fidelity to religious and ethical “rightness”. The teaching of Jesus in the Sermon expresses this. For example, in the Antitheses (5:21-48), six areas are addressed relating to the conventional righteousness established from the Torah and religious tradition. In each instance, Jesus requires of his followers that they go a step further. For a discussion on what this entails, see my earlier study on the Antitheses in the series “Jesus and the Law”. Similarly, in 6:1-18, Jesus focuses on three areas of customary religious behavior—acts of mercy (alms), prayer, and fasting—instructing his disciples that their conduct in such matters must focus on the heavenly (viz., the righteousness and will of God in heaven), rather than the earthly (i.e., how things are viewed by other people on earth). This same principle underlies the remainder of the practical instruction in chapter 6, culminating with the command in verse 33:

“You must first seek the kingdom [of God] and its right(eous)ness, and all these (other thing)s will be set toward you (as well).”

Finally, toward the close of the Sermon, Jesus effectively summarizes the teaching regarding the Kingdom, in 7:21 (cf. above):

“Not every(one) saying ‘Lord, Lord’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father th(at is) in the heavens.”

The Kingdom of God is here virtually identified with the will of God, and this confirms the similar close connection between the two in the Lord’s Prayer. The will of God is expressed in the Torah precepts, etc, but also (and more completely) in the teaching of Jesus—such as that preserved in the Sermon. The faithful follower of Jesus fulfills the will of God, and thus demonstrates that he/she belongs to the Kingdom.

This means that there is a strong evangelistic emphasis to the petitions in vv. 9-10. The Kingdom “comes” and God’s will “comes to be” when people throughout the world are following Jesus and his teachings. At the same time, in this regard, there is a vital eschatological component (noted above) that is often overlooked by Christians and students of the Gospels today. The coming of the Kingdom is fundamentally an eschatological event, as is clear from the very beginning of the theme in Matthew (and the Synoptic Tradition). The Kingdom-references in the Sermon, and continuing throughout the Gospel, develop the earlier references in 3:2 and 4:17, 23 par (see the discussion on these).

In the next study, we shall focus on this eschatological aspect of the Kingdom-theme in Matthew. We will start with the Lord’s Prayer (esp. its closing petition[s], v. 13), proceeding then to examine a number of the teachings and references in the following divisions of the Gospel.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matt 6:10, cont.)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

In the previous study, we explored the literary context of the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13, with its Kingdom-petition [v. 10a])—and, specifically, its position within the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7). In particular, the earlier Kingdom-references (including those in the Sermon) were examined. Now we turn to the Lord’s Prayer itself, considering the distinctiveness of the Matthean version of the Prayer (as it occurs in the Sermon), and how it relates to the Kingdom-theme.

Even the casual student of the New Testament will likely be aware of the differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions of the Prayer—with Luke containing a significantly shorter version. Later copyists tended to harmonize the two versions, reducing (or eliminating) the apparent differences; however, virtually all critical commentators recognize the originality of the shorter version for Luke. Whether the Lukan Prayer more accurately represents an original “Q” version is more difficult to determine. Even if it does reflect the original “Q” material, the Matthean ‘additions’ are best explained as being representative of the version of the Prayer familiar to the Gospel writer’s Community. Doubtless, even in the first century, the Prayer circulated widely, perhaps in several different iterations. The familiar lines “for thine is the kingdom and the power…”, etc, offers evidence (from the early centuries) for a continuing adaptation (and expansion) of the Prayer, for liturgical use.

The only ‘addition’ that is likely to come directly from the hand of the Matthean author is the qualifying phrase “the (One) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$) in the initial invocation to God: “Our Father, the (One) in the heavens” (Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). This wording is utterly distinctive of the Matthean Gospel, making it quite likely that it is an adaptation (expanding the simple Pa/ter h(mw=n, cp. Lk 11:2) by the Gospel writer. The possibility must also be considered that the wording could reflect usage by the author’s Community, rather than an independent modification by the author.

The distinctiveness of the expression (as a qualifying phrase for God the Father) was discussed in the previous study. The specific expression “my/your Father the (One) in the heavens” occurs six times in the Sermon on the Mount (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21), along with another 7 times in the Gospel (10:32-33; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10, 14, 19)—13 total (cf. also 23:9). By comparison, it occurs just once in all the other Gospel combined (Mk 11:25). Similarly, the parallel expression “(my/your) heavenly Father” occurs six times in Matthew, including 4 times in the Sermon on the Mount (5:48; 6:14, 26, 32; 15:13; 18:35), and nowhere else in the Gospels (but cf. Lk 11:13) or the rest of the New Testament. We must consider also the fact that use of the plural “heavens” (ou)ranoi/) and the expression “in the heavens” (e)n [toi=$] ou)ranoi=$) itself is especially prevalent in the Gospel of Matthew:

    • e)n [toi=$] ou)ranoi=$ occurs 15 times in Matthew, including 7 times in the Sermon on the Mount (5:12, 16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21), but only 6 in the other Gospels (Mk 11:25; 12:25; 13:25; Lk 10:20; 12:33; 18:22).
    • Matthew has “kingdom of the heavens” (basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n) instead of “kingdom of God” (basilei/a tou= qeou=) for a number of Synoptic (and “Q”) sayings of Jesus. The former expression is only found in Matthew (32 times), nowhere else in the New Testament (see also the discussion in the previous study); by contrast, “kingdom of God” is used only 5 times in Matthew, compared with 14 in Mark, 32 in Luke, and 16 times in John and the rest of the New Testament.

It is possible that Matthew preserves a Semitic mode of expression which may have been altered or omitted when presenting Jesus’ sayings in Greek (to a Greek audience), which could explain why it disappeared from the Synoptic tradition as a whole. The Synoptic saying in Mark 11:25 might be seen as confirming this (note the similar in content and style with the instruction by Jesus on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount and the “Q” material):

“And when you stand speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], you must release [i.e. forgive] (it) if you hold any(thing) against any(one), (so) that your Father the (One who is) in the heavens [o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$] might also release [i.e. forgive] for you your (moment)s of falling alongside [i.e. sins/trespasses]”

At the very least, this demonstrates that the expression on the lips of Jesus was not the invention of the Gospel writer. In a similar way, direct evidence for the use of the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°) by Jesus has disappeared from the Gospel tradition, except for one place in Mark (14:36) where it happens to be preserved.

The extensive use of the plural (ou)ranoi/) in Matthew may also reflect the corresponding word in Hebrew and Aramaic, which is always in the plural—<y]m^v* š¹mayim; Aram. /y]m^v= (always emphatic aY`m^v= š§mayy¹°, “the heavens”). A reconstruction of the Matthean phrase in Aramaic might be: aY`m^v=B! yD! an`Wba& (°A_»ûn¹° dî bišmayy¹°); cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901. Aramaic aY`m^v= has essentially the same range of meaning as oi( ou)ranoi/ in Greek. For Aramaic references in the Old Testament, where it refers to the abode of God, cf. Dan 2:18-19, 28, 37, 44; 4:31, 34; Ezra 5:11-12; 6:9-10, etc. The close association of God with “heaven” is indicated by the fixed (emphatic) expression “the God of Heaven” (aY`m^v= Hl*a$). It is possible that “…Father the (One) in the heavens” in Matthew reflects such a traditional expression in Aramaic.

Whether one attributes the phrase “our Father the (One) in the heavens” primarily to the Gospel writer or to Jesus himself (in Aramaic), there can be no doubt of the importance it has to the Sermon on the Mount, where it occurs six times (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21); the expression “in the heavens” itself occurs again in 5:12, and “the kingdom of the heavens” (par. to “kingdom of God”) also six times (5:3, 10, 19 [twice], 20; 7:21). In addition, we find the parallel expression “(your) heavenly Father” (o( path\r [u(mw=n] o( ou)ra/nio$) four times in the Sermon (5:48; 6:14, 26, 32), as noted above. Thus there is a definite (and concentrated) emphasis on associating God the Father with “the heavens” in the Matthean Sermon on the Mount, beyond anything we find elsewhere in the Gospel tradition. How is this to be understood?

The main point of emphasis appears to be the idea that the behavior of Jesus’ disciples on earth should follow the example of God the Father in heaven. This is clearly expressed in 5:16 and 45, and the principle is summarized powerfully in the declaration of verse 48, whereby, if Jesus’ teaching is followed:

“You shall then be complete, (even) as your heavenly Father is complete.”

When we turn to the instruction in 6:1-18 (of which the Lord’s Prayer is a part), we find a slightly different emphasis: that of a dualistic contrast between common religious behavior by people (on earth) and the behavior of Jesus followers (focused on God in heaven). The principle is well expressed in the opening verse: “you must not do (things) in front of men to be seen by them, otherwise you hold no wage [i.e. reward] from your Father the (One) in the heavens”. The earthly desire and inclination of human beings is to demonstrate one’s religious devotion publicly, and to receive recognition for it from other people. Such recognition, Jesus says, is the only reward such people will receive—i.e. earthly, not heavenly (vv. 2b, 5b, 16b). Jesus’ followers are instructed to behave in just the opposite way—to act privately (“in the hidden [place]”), being concerned only about being seen by God (who is in heaven), vv 3-4, 6, 17-18

In all of this there is an implicit spiritual dimension at work, even though the Spirit (Pneu=ma) is not specifically mentioned, neither in the Lord’s Prayer (the variant reading in Lk 11:2b has already been discussed), nor in the Sermon on the Mount as a whole. This is in contrast to the Lukan context of the Prayer, where the Spirit it is of the utmost importance (cf. the earlier study). I would, however, maintain that for the Matthean form of the Prayer, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the idea of the Spirit is embedded in the expression “in the heavens” —i.e. the heavenly dimension defined by God’s own Power and Presence. This will be discussed further.

In the first portion of the Prayer, in the Lukan version (11:2), there are two paired petitions: “May your name be made holy / May your Kingdom come”. These are also present in Matthew’s version (v. 9b-10a), with identical wording (a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou: e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou). However, Matthew includes a third petition (“May your will be done”, v. 10b) not found in Luke (though it was added by copyists). This produces a triad of three petitions in the first section of the Matthean Prayer, with the Kingdom-petition at the center. Moreover, the two flanking petitions would seem to be parallel, both in form and meaning:

“May your name be made holy”
a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“May your will be done”
genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou

In each instance, the petition begins with a passive (aorist) imperative, with the subject being a particular attribute/aspect of the God ‘who is in the heavens’. This could be taken as an example of the so-called divine passive (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. Since the petition addresses God, this would be a natural way to understand the wording. However, there can be little doubt that an emphasis is on the actions of human beings—both in treating God (and His name) with sanctity and honor, and in acting according to His will. Since the Kingdom-petition is at the center of these two flanking petitions, it is fair to assume (or at least consider) that these two petitions inform the meaning and significance of the Kingdom-petition.

Let us consider briefly the first petition. The verb used is a(gia/zw (“make pure/holy”). It can be used specifically in a ritual/ceremonial context, but also in a broader ethical-religious (or spiritual) sense, as with the adjective a(gno/$ (“pure, holy”, cp. a%gio$), from which the verb is derived. It is extremely rare in the Synoptic Gospels, occurring just once (Matt 23:17, 19) outside of the Lord’s Prayer. It is somewhat more common in the Gospel of John; cf. my recent note on 1 John 3:3.

When it comes to the specific idea of holiness, there are two aspects which should be delineated: (1) purity, and (2) setting something apart for special (religious) use. The Greek a%gio-/a(gno– word group emphasizes the former, while Hebrew/Aramaic vdq (qdš) the latter. Moreover, a fundamental religious principle is that: what we treat as holy in terms of religious behavior ultimately is an expression of how we view the nature and character of God. For Israel as the chosen people of God (YHWH), this is defined by the formula in Leviticus 19:2:

“You shall be holy, for I, YHWH your God, am Holy”

Jesus effectively restates this for his followers in the Sermon on the Mount—if they follow his teaching, then:

“…you shall be complete, as your Father the (One) in the heavens is complete” (Matt 5:48)

Thus, true religion requires that people act and think in a way that honors God and reflects His own Person and Character, including all the things He has done on behalf of humankind and His people (as Creator, Life-giver, Savior/Protector, Judge, etc).

According to the ancient religious mind-set, shared by Jews and Christians in the first century A.D., the “name” of God represented the Person and Nature of God manifest to human beings on earth. For more on this concept of names and naming, cf. the Christmas season series “And you shall call His Name…” The “name” of God the Father is more than simply the name expressed by the tetragrammaton (hwhy, YHWH, Yahweh)—it reflects the very Person of God Himself as He relates to His People. And, it is God’s “name” that is to be honored and treated as holy by His People—cf. Exod 20:7, etc. By the time of the Prophets, the emphasis had shifted away from a ritual honoring of God’s name, toward honoring it in terms of one’s overall behavior and conduct (see esp. Isa 29:23). Jesus, in his teaching (as in the Sermon on the Mount), moves even further in this direction, and this is certainly intended in the Lord’s Prayer. But why/how is it that we pray to God for this, when it is our (i.e. human beings’) responsibility to treat His Name as holy? The key to this lies in the eschatological orientation of the Prayer, which will be discussed as part of the next study.

For examples in Jewish tradition of invocations or petitions similar to those in the (Matthean) Lord’s Prayer, I point out several here:

    • “…their Father in heaven, the Holy One” (Mekilta on Exod 20:25; Fitzmyer, p. 900)
    • “Thou art holy and Thy name is holy, and the holy ones praise Thee every day. Selah. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, the holy God.” (Shemoneh Esreh [3rd benediction])
    • “Let his great name be magnified and hallowed in the world which he has created according to his will” (The Qaddiš [Kaddish] prayer; Betz, p. 390)

In the next study, we will look at the second of the two flanking petitions—the third petition in the Matthean version of the Prayer. By examining both of these petitions, we will gain a better idea of what the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker in the Matthean Gospel) understood with regard to the Kingdom-petition and the coming of God’s Kingdom (“May your Kingdom come”).

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





Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 6:10)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

Having explored the Kingdom-theme in the Gospel of Luke, including the specific idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God, we now turn to the Gospel of Matthew. Both Gospels contain the Lord’s Prayer (with its Kingdom-petition), but their positioning of the Prayer, and the overall literary and thematic context that surrounds it, differs notably. Moreover, the entire treatment and development of the Kingdom-theme is distinctive within each Gospel. While the Lukan and Matthean authors held many concepts and traditions in common, they each brought out specific aspects and points of emphasis that are unique or distinctive. In other words, the Matthean understanding of the Kingdom is not identical to the Lukan.

To begin with, in terms of the handling of the Kingdom-theme, the first distinctly Matthean feature is the regular use of the expression “the kingdom of the heavens” (h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n), rather than “the kingdom of God” (h( basilei/a tou= qeou=). The expression “the kingdom of the heavens” is exclusive to the Gospel of Matthew, occurring nowhere else in the New Testament. For some reason that has yet to be entirely explained, the Matthean author substituted the expression “kingdom of the heavens” for “kingdom of God” throughout. In only five instances (6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43), does the author retain the expression “kingdom of God”; the other 32 instances use “kingdom of the heavens”.

The locative or qualitative aspect of “the heavens” (i.e., heavenly) seems particularly important to the Gospel writer, since he also frequently uses the qualifying expression “the (One) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$) in reference to God (the Father). The Matthean author uses this circumlocution some fourteen times, compared with just once in the other Synoptics (Mark 11:25). Similarly, the expression “the heavenly Father” (o( path\r o( ou)ra/nio$) occurs six times in Matthew, and nowhere else in the New Testament (but cp. Luke 11:13). Thus there is a certain emphasis on the heavenly aspect of God and His Kingdom in Matthew that is not present in the other Gospels.

Also interesting is that Matthew is unique in attributing the Kingdom-theme to the preaching of John the Baptist, in a way that precisely anticipates the proclamation by Jesus (Mk 1:15 par) at the beginning of his ministry. Indeed, John’s words in 3:2 are identical to Jesus’ in 4:17:

“Change your mind! For the kingdom of the heavens has come near!”
metanoei=te h&ggiken ga\r h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n

These are the only references to the Kingdom prior to the Sermon on the Mount, with the exception of the summary notice in 4:23 describing the initial ministry activity of Jesus (vv. 23-25). In this, the author is very much following the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 1:32-34; Lk 4:40-41ff), by pairing Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom’s coming with the healing miracles he performed. In the Matthean narrative, this summary immediately precedes the Sermon on the Mount.

The Kingdom-Petition (Matthew 6:10) in its Literary Context

The Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer is set within the collection of teaching known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chapters 5-7). The arrangement of this material is primarily literary rather than historical-chronological. This can be seen by the fact that certain sayings/teaching that also occur in the Gospel of Luke (i.e., the so-called “Q” material) are set in a very different location within the Lukan narrative. In point of fact, the Matthean author has assembled much of Jesus’ teaching into a number of large sections or ‘Discourses’. These groupings are, for the most part, expansions of earlier traditional collections, such as (for example) the collection of parables in Mark 4 or the ‘Eschatological Discourse’ (Mark 13).

The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is by far the largest and most prominent of the Matthean Discourses, covering three full chapters. In this ‘Sermon’, Jesus lays out essential instruction for anyone who would wish to be his disciple. He presents a range of ethical and religious teaching that may be outlined as follows:

    • Introduction/Exordium (5:1-16)
      • The Beatitudes, outlining the ideals of discipleship, with promise of eschatological reward (vv. 1-12)
      • Two illustrations regarding discipleship (vv. 13-16)
    • Interpretation of the Torah and Religious Tradition, with practical application for Jesus’ Disciples (5:17-48)
      • Teaching regarding the Torah (vv. 17-20)
      • Exposition: The Antitheses (vv. 21-48)
    • Instruction regarding Religious Practice (6:1-18), with three examples:
      • Charitable Giving—Alms, Deeds of Mercy (vv. 1-4)
      • Prayer (vv. 5-15), with the Lord’s Prayer in vv. 9-13
      • Fasting (vv. 14-18)
    • Instruction relating to matters of Daily Life and Social interaction (6:19-7:12)
    • Final Exhortation and Warnings (7:13-27), with a concluding Parable (vv. 24-27)

The main body of the Sermon is comprised of the three divisions of practical instruction (5:17-48; 6:1-18; 6:19-7:12). The Lord’s Prayer (with its Kingdom-petition) occurs in the central division, in the section dealing with prayer (6:5-13, vv. 9-13).

There are eight specific references to the Kingdom (basilei/a) in the Sermon, beginning with the Beatitudes. Indeed, the Kingdom features prominently, as the eschatological goal/reward of the disciple, in the first and eighth Beatitude (vv. 3, 10), suggesting that it is a theme that guides and governs the entire section. That is to say, the ultimate blessing (and reward) for the faithful disciple is to enter (and to inherit) the Kingdom. The precise wording is “theirs is the kingdom of the heavens” (au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n)—that is, the Kingdom belongs to them (and they to it). The characteristic that enables the disciple to inherit/enter the Kingdom is two-fold: “poor in the spirit” (v. 3) and “having been pursued [i.e. persecuted] on account of righteousness” (v. 10). The faithful disciple will be humble and lowly in spirit, and, at the same time, will likely endure hostility and persecution because of their commitment to what is right. This “right-ness” (or righteousness, dikaiosu/nh) is embodied in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon. Faithfulness to his teaching will allow the disciple to inherit the Kingdom of the Heavens. This is precisely the point made by Jesus in vv. 19-20 (with three Kingdom-references, for emphasis).

Two further references, in later portions of the Sermon, only reinforce the basic premise—viz., that a commitment to righteousness, by faithfully following the teaching/instruction of Jesus in the Sermon, means that the disciple belongs to the Kingdom, and will enter/inherit it in the end. The climactic declaration in 6:33 (for the teaching in vv. 25-33) virtually identifies what is right (righteousness, as expounded by Jesus) with the Kingdom. The person who gives priority to this righteousness in his/her daily life, will find happiness and blessing (cf. the Beatitudes), both in this life, and in the life to come. The warning in 7:21ff recognizes that there will be some who claim (or pretend) to be Jesus’ true disciples, but who are not committed to what is right. It is only the person who regularly does what is right—defined as “doing the will of my Father (who is) in the heavens” —who will enter the Kingdom of the heavens.

In our next study, we will look closely at the Kingdom-petition (6:10) in the immediate context of the Matthean Lord’s Prayer.


“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Matthew, cont.)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Matthew, continued

In the initial portion of this article, we examined the “son of man” references that occur throughout the narrative sequence of the Gospel of Matthew. For the most part, the Gospel writer follows the Synoptic/Markan narrative (though with some re-ordering), and also includes a number of “Q” traditions (shared with the Gospel of Luke). The author’s treatment of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) similarly follows his use of this traditional material. The most original contributions are found in the way that Jesus’ declaration(s) in Mark 8:38-9:1 are adapted (16:27-28), and by the inclusion of the saying in 19:28 within the Synoptic tradition of Mk 10:17-30 par (cf. Lk 22:28-30).

If I may summarize the main results of our analysis of the narrative references:

    • The Matthean Gospel writer unquestionably saw the expression “the son of man” by Jesus primarily as a self-reference; the interchangeability between the expression and the personal pronoun (compare 16:13, 21 with Mk 8:27, 31), in the declarations by Jesus occurring at the heart of the Gospel, makes this especially clear.
    • In Matthew, as in Luke, the “son of man” sayings bring out the Gospel’s thematic emphasis on discipleship. Just as Jesus identifies with the human condition (and its suffering), so the disciple of Jesus must take on a similar cost (of hardship and self-sacrifice) in following him.
    • The suffering and death of Jesus is particularly in focus, but balanced (more so than in Luke) with an emphasis on the exaltation of Jesus.

The “son of man” saying in 19:28, in particular, blends together these last two thematic emphases.

The Matthean Sermon-Discourses

As was discussed, the Matthean narrative is punctuated by a series of Discourses (or ‘Sermons’), built up out of smaller discourse-sections, around which other teachings by Jesus (sayings, short parables, etc) have been added. The great ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7) is the first of these Discourses, in which Jesus presents a range of essential ethical-religious instruction for anyone would be his disciple. In chapter 10, Jesus subsequently instructs his disciples in preparation of their mission. Further on, in chapter 13, Jesus teaches his followers about the Kingdom of God, and (in chap. 18) on certain social aspects of being his disciple—viz., on belonging to the Kingdom, and how one is to relate to fellow members of the Kingdom. Finally, in chapters 24-25, the disciples are given further instruction on their mission (i.e., the early Christian mission), in connection with the coming end of the Age (and the Judgment).

The most significant Matthean occurrences of the expression “the son of man” (in 16:27-28 and 19:28), as noted above, have an eschatological orientation. This is also true for all of the occurrences of the expression in the Sermon-Discourses—10:23; 13:37, 41; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31.

Matthew 10:23

As part of the discourse (chap. 10) in which Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission—and, by extension, all believers for the coming early Christian mission—he instructs them in regard to the hostility and persecution that they will experience (vv. 16-25). In the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mk 13 par), this persecution (vv. 9-13) is framed in eschatological terms, as part of the end-time period of distress (vv. 19, 24). Matthew’s version of that Discourse (see below) has only a shortened form of the section related to the disciples’ mission (24:9, 13-14), having transferred the portion corresponding to Mk 13:9-12 largely to the chap. 10 discourse. This means, however, that there is a definite eschatological aspect to Jesus’ instruction here in chap. 10.

When facing persecution, the disciples are told to move (“flee”) from one city to the next (v. 23a). Jesus then adds the following declaration:

“For, amen, I say to you, that you shall (surely) not complete (going through) the cities of Yisrael, before [lit. until] the son of man should come.” (v. 23b)

This saying, like the instruction regarding persecution, is rather out of place in the narrative context—viz., the disciples’ initial mission during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. It is much more appropriate in the context of the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 24f), set in Jerusalem, not long before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Indeed, the eschatological reference to the son of man’s (i.e., Jesus’) end-time appearance makes almost no sense here, from a narrative standpoint, occurring as it does before he has even once told his disciples of his impending death and resurrection. The arrangement of the material in chapter 10, however, is topical, not chronological.

In any case, the imminence of the son of man’s end-time appearance would seem to be expressed quite clearly by Jesus here in v. 23. The implication is that not all that much time will pass before his coming—indeed, some (if not many) of the first disciples will still be alive at his parousia. The declaration by Jesus in 16:28, in the Matthean formulation of the saying (cp. Mk 9:1), carries the same implication, as does the famous statement in 24:34 par. We have already discussed the “son of man” reference in 16:28:

“Amen, I say to you, that there are some of the (one)s having stood here who (surely) shall not taste death, until they should see the son of man coming in his Kingdom!”

However problematic these statements may be for later generations of Christians (and for many of us today), the imminent eschatology held by first-century believers is well-established, and we should avoid the inclination to try and explain away their belief in this regard. For a thorough survey of the subject, see my earlier article (and specifically the portion covering the Gospels) in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Matthew 13:37, 41

In chapter 13, the Gospel writer has expanded the collection of Kingdom-parables in Mark 4:1-34, by including a number of additional parables and sayings—vv. 24-30, 32, 36-43, 44-50, 51-52—and by omitting (or otherwise not including) one of the parables found in Mark (4:26-29). The parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30) functions as a corollary to the parable of the Sower. As in that earlier parable, an explanation by Jesus is recorded for the parable of the Weeds (vv. 36-43). In this explanation, it is declared that sower of the seed is “the son of man” (v. 37)—that is, Jesus, in his ministry of proclaiming the Gospel (of the Kingdom). As is clear from chapter 10 (see above), the disciples (and other believers) will be continuing this mission of Jesus. It is noteworthy that in Matthew, these parables come after the disciples’ mission, whereas in Mark, the parables (chap. 4) come before the mission (6:7-13).

It is also explained that the harvest, involving the separation of the weeds from the grain, represents the end-time ‘harvest’, when the righteous will be separated from the wicked (vv. 39-43). The harvest, marking the end of the growing season, was a natural metaphor for the end of the Age—e.g., Joel 3:13ff; Matt 3:12 par; Rev 14:14-20. The parable of the Net (vv. 47-50) has a similar eschatological message.

In any case, in the parable of the Weeds, it is “the son of man” who will do the gathering (i.e., separating out the righteous), through the mediation of heavenly Messengers under his command (“his Messengers”), v. 41. Much the same scenario is described in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:27; par Matt 24:34). This eschatological reference to the Messengers (angels) confirms that the “son of man” declarations in 16:27-28 refer to the end-time appearance of Jesus (from heaven), i.e., his parousia (cf. 24:3, 27, 37, 39).

Matthew 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44

The Matthean Gospel writer has also expanded the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13 par), adding to it other eschatological sayings and parables of Jesus, including a number of “Q” traditions (vv. 43-44, 45-51, 26-27, 37-39, 40-41, 28) which Luke locates at different points of the narrative (12:39-40, 42b-46; 17:23-24, 26-27, 34-35, 37b). The expression “the son of man” occurs several times in this “Q” material (vv. 27, 37, 39, 44 par), and the references were examined in Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings.

The fundamental point in these references is that the coming of the son of man will coincide with the coming of the end-time Judgment. His appearance will be sudden and unexpected (v. 44 par), like lighting flashes that instantly light up the entire sky (v. 27 par). Matthew includes the Noah/Flood illustration, but not the Lot/Sodom illustration (Lk 17:28-29, 32). It is difficult to be certain whether or not the latter was originally part of the “Q” tradition inherited by the Gospel writer; it seems likely that it was, though, as a natural pairing (cf. 2 Peter 2:5ff), it might have been added at any point in the tradition. In Matthew, Jesus specifically utilizes the Noah/Flood reference as the type-pattern for the end-time Judgment, pointing out that the coming of the “son of man” will be just like the coming of the Flood (vv. 37, 39 par)—the righteous (believers) will be saved, while the rest of humankind will perish under the Judgment.

Naturally enough, Matthew also retains the climactic “son of man” reference in Mk 13:26f par (v. 30f), but includes certain details which are worth discussing briefly. The declaration in Mk 13:26 is preserved in v. 30b, with only slight variation:

“…they shall gaze with (open) eyes (at) the son of man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor.”

Mark has “in/with [e)n] the clouds”, while Matthew more clearly draws upon the ancient storm-theophany imagery, viz., of the deity coming (or ‘riding’) upon (e)pi/) the clouds. However, the precise wording here actually stems from Daniel 7:13 LXX, “upon the clouds of heaven” (e)pi\ tw=n nefelw=n tou= ou)ranou=). The Matthean version of the tradition thus conforms more precisely to the “son of man” reference in Dan 7:13f.

The Gospel writer has also included an additional detail, in v. 30a; prior to the actual appearance of the son of man:

“Then shall shine forth the sign of the son of man in heaven, and all the offshoots [i.e. tribes] of the earth shall beat themselves…”

There are differences of opinion regarding what is meant by the sign (shmei=on) of the son of man. It may simply refer to a brilliant theophanous light (the verb fai/nw literally meaning “shine”) that announces the son of man’s coming. Other commentators prefer to explain it is a visual symbol of something, such as Jesus’ crucifixion (i.e., cross), or even as a representation of Jesus himself (crucified). If the Gospel writer understands the reference to the peoples “beating themselves” (i.e., in mourning) as an allusion to Zech 12:10, then they may, indeed, be responding to the fact that the “son of man” (i.e., the exalted Jesus) had been crucified (cp. John 19:37). Revelation 1:7 similarly brings together Dan 7:13 and Zech 12:10. If the death (crucifixion) of Jesus is being specifically referenced here, then it provides us with another indication of how the Matthean author has balanced two primary Gospel contexts where the expression “the son of man” is used: (a) the suffering and death of Jesus, and (b) his exaltation and (future) return in glory.

Matthew 25:31

The Gospel writer has further expanded the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse, by including three eschatological parables in chapter 25. Two of these (vv. 1-13, 31-46) are unique to Matthew, while the other (vv. 14-30) is similar to the parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:12-27 (and may derive from a common [“Q”] tradition). All three of these parables refer in some way to the end-time Judgment, but only the third (vv. 31-46) specifically has a Judgment setting. Indeed, it can only marginally be described as a parable; it is more akin to some of the visions in the book of Revelation, providing a vivid portrait of the end-time Judgment.

In any case, it is clear from the opening (v. 31) that the Judgment takes place only after the coming of the son of man (see on 24:30f above):

“And, when the son of man should come in his splendor, and all the Messengers with him, then he shall sit upon (the) throne of his splendor, and the nations shall be gathered together in front of him, and he shall mark them off from each other, just as a herder marks off the sheep from the goats.” (vv. 31-32)

The idea of the separation of the righteous from the wicked was a central component of the Judgment parables in 13:24-30 (+ 36-43) and 47-50 (see above). Clearly, in this instance, though the holy Messengers (angels) are involved, it is the son of man himself who oversees the Judgment. The peoples (“nations”) are all brought together in front of him, as he sits upon his throne. As the exalted/heavenly ruler, the son of man (Jesus) will proceed to pass judgment upon humankind. Though it is not specifically indicated here, it is fair to assume that Jesus is acting as God the Father’s representative, acting with His authority, in overseeing the Judgment.

In all respects this scenario represents a more developed form of a line of tradition preserved elsewhere in the “son of man” sayings (16:27, etc), in which we find both the motif of the end-time Judgment, and the idea of the “son of man” appearing (in glory, with the angels) at the end-time.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Matthew)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Matthew

As discussed in the previous article on the Gospel of Luke, the most widely-accepted view regarding the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels posits that Matthew and Luke each made use of the Gospel of Mark and the so-called “Q” material as a common source. This approach, though not without its difficulties, remains the most plausible option for a functioning hypothesis, and so I have followed it for the purpose of this study. Thus, for the Gospel of Matthew (as for Luke), in examining the use of the expression “the son of man”, we must consider: (a) how the Markan and “Q” source material was included and adapted, as well as (b) references or aspects that are original or unique to Matthew.

From a structural standpoint, perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Matthean Gospel is the way that the author has grouped together teachings of Jesus—individual traditions, or clusters of traditions—into larger discourse-sections (or ‘sermons’). These discourses punctuate the Gospel—in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25 (to which one may add chap. 23)—and provide a certain theological framework that is interwoven with the narrative framework (drawn largely from the Markan narrative).

The Matthean Discourses actually represent expansions of previous, shorter discourse-sections. For example, the underlying “Q” material that formed the core of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7) likely corresponds, more or less, with the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:20-49). To this core, various other sayings and teachings of Jesus—some “Q” traditions, and others being unique to Matthew (“M” material)—have been added and arranged. The same is true with regard to chapters 10 (expanding the core tradition of Mk 6:7-13), 13 (expanding the sequence of parables in Mk 4:1-34), and 24-25 (expanding the “Eschatological Discourse” of Mk 13). To a lesser degree, chapters 18 and 23 are built up around core Synoptic/Markan and “Q” traditions, respectively.

The Matthean Gospel thus has a parallel arrangement running through the work: the narrative sequence (drawn from Mark), and the discourse/sermon sequence. With regard to the “son of man” references, it would seem best to analyze the data for each sequence in turn. We begin with the narrative sequence.

The Synoptic/Markan narrative, while generally followed by the Matthean Gospel writer, has also been disrupted and re-arranged at various points. The disruptions are largely due to the presence of the Discourses. For example, the Markan narrative is followed up to 1:20 (4:22), but then is interrupted to include the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7); when it resumes in chapters 8-9, the material from Mk 1:21-2:17 is presented, but in a different order (with the summary in 1:39 essentially being repositioned [and expanded] to introduce the Sermon on the Mount [4:23-25]).

The first occurrence of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) is at 8:20, following the Sermon on the Mount (the expression does not occur in the Sermon). Verses 18-22 are “Q” sayings (par Lk 9:57-60) on the theme of discipleship, and, in particular, on the cost involved in following Jesus. In the context of the narrative sequence, the two sayings of vv. 19-22 occur between the call of the first disciples (4:18-22) and the call of Matthew (9:9ff). In the intervening Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides a range of essential ethical-religious instruction for those who would be his disciples.

Let us briefly survey the references in the narrative prior to the central episode of Peter’s confession (16:13-20, par Mk 8:27-30); the sequence of references is as follows:

As in the Markan and “Q” source-material, these occurrences of the expression “the son of man” function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus (i.e., “this son of man”, namely himself). Any significance beyond this relates to Jesus’ identification with the human condition, especially with regard to human weakness and suffering. This extends to the anticipation of Jesus’ suffering and death that would occur in Jerusalem. The Matthean treatment of the “sign of Jonah” tradition (12:39-40ff) clearly brings this out—identifying the “sign” with Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection). The Lukan version—and the underlying “Q” tradition itself—focuses instead on the ministry (preaching) of Jesus. His preaching is contrasted with that of Jonah. The prophet Jonah’s preaching led to the repentance of the people of Nineveh; by contrast, Jesus’ own contemporaries (in Galilee) have not responded to him in a similar way, even though he is a far greater (and Messianic) Prophet.

In both 12:32 and 40, the expression (as a reference to Jesus) is connected with the theme of discipleship. Only the person who responds with trust to Jesus, and who, as a true disciple, will confess him publicly, will be able to pass through the Judgment and be saved. This thematic emphasis is intrinsic to the “Q” traditions themselves, and is brought out even more strongly in Luke’s treatment of the material (see the discussion in the previous article).

The focus on the suffering and death of Jesus comes more clearly into view with the central cluster of references in chapters 16-17ff. In this regard, the Matthean author is following the Synoptic/Markan narrative, and the three ‘Passion predictions’ by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). What is most interesting, however, is the way that the Gospel writer treats the expression “the son of man” so unequivocally as a self-reference by Jesus, entirely interchangeable with the use of the first person pronoun (“I”). Compare the question posed by Jesus to his disciples (in Mark and Matthew, respectively):

    • “Who do men count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:27)
    • “Who do men count/consider the son of man to be?” (Matt 16:13)

The Gospel writer clearly (it seems) does not consider the expression to be a Messianic or special Christological title per se, otherwise Jesus’ question would make no sense—viz., he would be giving his disciples the answer before he even finished asking the question (cf. Hare, p. 131f). Note the similar interchange, between expression and pronoun, in the first Passion prediction:

    • “And he began to teach them that it is necessary for the son of man to suffer many (thing)s…” (Mk 8:31)
    • “From then (on), Yeshua began to show to his learners that it is necessary for him to go forth to Yerushalaim and to suffer many (thing)s…” (Matt 16:21)

In chapters 16-20, references to Jesus’ suffering and death (17:9, 12, 22; 20:18, 28) alternate with references to his exaltation (and future return), 16:27-28; 17:9; 19:28. It will be useful to examine the original Matthean contributions to this presentation.

The saying in 16:27, though formulated differently, corresponds to Mark 8:38. It is possible that the saying was reworked (or replaced) because of the similar “Q” tradition that the author would include in 10:32-33 (where Jesus uses the personal pronoun instead of the expression “the son of man”). But the author has retained the motif of the “son of man” coming in glory:

    • “…the son of man…when he should come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with the holy Messengers” (Mk 8:38)
    • “For the son of man is about to come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with his/His Messengers…” (Matt 16:27)

The following saying in v. 28 also corresponds to the Markan parallel (9:1), being nearly identical, but with one key difference:

    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power!” (Mk 9:1)
    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the son of man coming in his kingdom!” (Matt 16:28)

The coming of the Kingdom is defined in terms of the coming of the son of man (Jesus) in glory. This clearly refers to the exaltation of Jesus, but also (it would seem) to his future (second) coming at the end-time. The saying in 10:23 (to be discussed) would indicate that the author had Jesus’ second coming (i.e., parousia) in mind. However, it is Jesus’ exalted position in heaven that is being emphasized in 19:28, a Matthean addition to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 10:17-31 (19:16-30) that has a loose parallel in Lk 22:28-30. The emphasis on the heavenly position of the son of man (on a ruling throne) anticipates the eschatological references in chaps. 24-25. It also reiterates the important discipleship context that attends a number of the “son of man” sayings (esp. the “Q” sayings) we have examined (see above):

“Amen, I say to you, that you, the (one)s having come on the path with [i.e. followed] me, in the (time of all things) coming to be (born) again, when the son of man should sit upon the throne of his honor/splendor [do/ca], you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

These sayings reflect the eschatological outlook of early Christians. As the Messiah, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven, Jesus will be sitting (in a ruling position) at the “right hand” of God, a position that he will continue to hold into the New Age. The end of the current Age was thought to be imminent, so that the New Age would very soon be ushered in—indeed, within the lifetime of some, if not most, of the first disciples. The exaltation of Jesus, followed by his subsequent return to earth (in glory), would mark the end of the current Age, and, with it, the final Judgment. This aspect of the “son of man” references will be discussed further in the continuation of this article, and again at the conclusion of this series.

Finally, the remaining “son of man” references in the narrative (26:2, 24, 45, 64) generally follow the Synoptic/Markan narrative, building upon the earlier association between the expression and the anticipation of Jesus’ impending suffering and death (in Jerusalem). Matthew is unique in the way that the Gospel writer opens the Passion narrative with a reiteration of the Passion-predictions:

And, when it came to be (that) Yeshua (had) completed all these words, he said to his learners: “You have seen [i.e. know] that after two days the Pesah [i.e. Passover] comes to be, and the son of man is given along to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified].” (26:1-2; cp. Mk 14:1)

Otherwise, the Gospel writer, in preserving the Synoptic/Markan references, emphasizes both the suffering of Jesus (including his betrayal, 26:24, 45) and his subsequent exaltation (26:64)—compare Mk 14:21, 41, 62. This balancing of the two aspects—suffering/death and exaltation—is, on the whole, typical of the use of the expression throughout the Gospel Tradition, but it is particularly significant (and noteworthy) in the Matthean presentation of the traditional material. In contrast with the Gospel of Luke, where the emphasis tends to be on the suffering aspect, Matthew gives somewhat greater prominence to Jesus’ exaltation.

References above marked “Hare” are to Douglas R. A. Hare, The Son of Man Tradition (Fortress Press: 1990).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 4)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

The remaining “son of man” references in the “Q” material (see Parts 1, 2 & 3) are eschatological, and deal with the idea of the end-time appearance of the “son of man”. In this regard, they are similar to the saying in Mark 13:26 par (discussed in Part 4 of the study on the Synoptic/Markan sayings). The use of the expression “the son of man” in these eschatological sayings is problematic, particularly if regarded as authentic usage by Jesus himself.

As we have seen, the expression seems to function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus. Yet there are serious difficulties when the expression is understood in this same way in the eschatological sayings, referring to the future (end-time) appearance of Jesus (as “the son of man”). Early Christians would have had no difficulty with this idea, as it simply reflects the conceptual (Christological) framework, whereby the exalted Jesus would return to earth, following his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. However, for people during Jesus’ own lifetime—including his disciples—they would not have readily understood the eschatological “son of man” references in terms of this sequence of Christological events. Indeed, for Jesus to speak of his future appearance (as the “son of man”), while he was still alive, prior to his death and resurrection, would surely have made little sense to most hearers.

Most critical commentators have approached this difficulty in one of two ways: (1) some (e.g., Hare) have denied the authenticity of the eschatological sayings, regarding them as early Christian creations (or adaptations), patterned after the other (authentic) “son of man” sayings; and, quite differently, (2) some (e.g., Tödt) have held that the eschatological sayings are authentic, but that Jesus was not identifying himself as this heavenly “son of man” figure (taken from Dan 7:13-14 and subsequent Jewish tradition, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Yet there are serious problems with both of these approaches, some of which have already been touched upon in the previous studies. At the close of this series, I will address the matter again, in a more comprehensive way.

In any case, we shall keep these longstanding (and much debated) critical issues in mind as we examine the eschatological “Q” sayings.

In the Gospel of Luke, there are two distinct blocks of eschatological teaching, separate from the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par), where these sayings are contained: 12:35-46 and 17:20-37. Matthew includes this “Q” material (12:39-40, 42b-46; 17:23-24, 26-27[ff?], 33, 34-35, 37b) within the framework of the “Eschatological Discourse” (24:43-44, 45-51, 26-27, 37-38, 40-41, 28, with the sole exception of 10:39).

Luke 12:40 / Matt 24:44

“(So) also you must come to be ready, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is) in the hour which you do not think, (that) the son of man comes!” (Lk 12:40)

The Matthean version of this statement (24:44) is virtually identical. In the Matthean context of the “Eschatological Discourse” (chap. 24f), the reference is clearly to Jesus’ future coming (using the early Christian term parousi/a, parousia, v. 3, see also vv. 27, 37, 39). In the Lukan context, however—viz., Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in chaps. 11-12—this is by no means quite so apparent. Indeed, within the immediate context of 12:35-46, it is not at all clear that the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in verse 40 is a self-reference by Jesus. Only in relation to the earlier “son of man” references (including in vv. 8-9f), can one infer that the Gospel writer understands the expression as referring to Jesus himself.

The illustration in verse 39 (par Matt 24:43) is meant to emphasize the unexpectedness of the son of man’s coming. The illustrative eschatological sayings in vv. 35-38, resembling those of Mark 13:33-36 par and Matt 24:42, 45-51 (cf. also the Wedding illustration in Matt 25:1-13), suggest that the end-time Judgment is in view. Those who remain faithful, in sober expectation of that moment, will be rewarded by God, while punishment awaits those who do not. The use of the verb grhgoreu/w (“stay/keep awake”) is regularly used in this eschatological context—Mk 13:34-37 par; 14:34ff par; Matt 24:42-43; 25:13; Lk 12:37; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:8; Rev 3:2-3; 16:15; cf. also 1 Cor 16:13. In Revelation 3:3, the Gospel parable/saying by Jesus has been translated into an unmistakable reference to his (Jesus’) future return (note also the context of 1 Thess 4-5).

As in Mk 13:26 par, so also here in Lk 12:40 par, the “son of man” comes (vb e&rxomai), appearing—presumably from heaven to earth—at the end-time. If this is taken as a self-reference by Jesus, it would have to refer to a second coming, from his exalted position in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56, etc), following his death and resurrection. This makes such an eschatological use of the expression “the son of man” problematic, as noted above. By all accounts, Jesus’ disciples, during his lifetime, would have had only a vague comprehension of this Christological framework—death, resurrection, ascension, exalted position in heaven, future coming—a framework otherwise so readily comprehended by early Christians (viz., at the time the Gospels were written).

Luke 17:22, 24, 26, 30 / Matt 24:27, 37

In Jesus’ eschatological teaching in Luke 17:20-37, the expression “the son of man” again occurs (4 times), though only in the last of these references (v. 30) is an end-time appearance of the son of man clearly indicated:

“…according to these (thing)s, (so) it shall be on the day when the son of man is uncovered [i.e. revealed]!”

The “things” Jesus speaks of are the illustrations given in vv. 22-29, as also (we may assume) those that follow in vv. 31-37. Elsewhere in this passage, the expression “the days of the son of man” is used (vv. 22, 26), with a comparable phrase (“the son of man in his day”) in v. 24. It is fair to assume that this wording refers to the time when the son of man will appear. The illustration of lightning flashes that instantly and vividly light up the entire sky (v. 24, par Matt 24:27) would seem to relate to the idea of the son of man’s appearance. In Mark 13:26 par, his appearance is preceded (and/or accompanied) by extraordinary celestial/meteorological phenomena (vv. 24-25ff) and disruptions of the natural order, drawing upon traditional eschatological imagery associated with the “day of YHWH” (Isa 13:10; 14:12; 24:23; 34:4; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Zeph 1:15; Ezek 32:7).

The Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are traditional images of catastrophic Divine judgment, which were both used as type-patterns to illustrate the coming end-time Judgment—cf. 2 Peter 2:5-10; 1 Peter 3:20ff; Jude 7; Luke 10:12 par; Matt 11:23-24. The Lot/Sodom illustration (vv. 28-29, 32) is not included by Matthew, so one cannot be sure that it originally was paired with the Noah/Flood illustration in the “Q” material; the two illustrations certainly do make for a natural pairing (as in 2 Pet 2:5ff). The point of the illustration(s) is that people were busy going about their daily affairs when the catastrophic judgment struck them, suddenly and unexpectedly. Only the righteous—the chosen ones—represented by Noah and Lot (and their families), respectively, were saved from the judgment. So it will be at the end-time. The appearance of the “son of man” thus coincides with the end-time Judgment.

While the reference in Mark 13:26 par clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 (and the heavenly figure “like a son of man”), it is not immediately apparent that the same point of reference informs the use of the expression in these “Q”/Lukan sayings. Apart from the use of the expression “son of man”, there are no other obvious allusions to Daniel, other than the broad context of the (eschatological) Judgment (cf. Dan 7:9-10f, 14, 26-27). To be sure, several other key Daniel references (9:27 par; 12:1ff) clearly influence the thought and wording of the “Eschatological Discourse”, but a comparable influence is harder to find in these “Q” sayings.

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the figure-types of the Davidic Messiah and the heavenly “Son of Man” from Daniel are blended together, and ultimately identified with the figure of a human being (Enoch) exalted to divine status in heaven (chap. 71). This certainly provides the closest parallel to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as both the Messiah and Son of Man. In the Similitudes, the Messianic “Son of Man” plays a central role in the end-time Judgment (46:4-6ff; 63:11; 69:26-29, etc), including the help and protection/salvation he gives to the righteous (48:4-7ff; 62:13-14, etc). For more on this subject, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The statement in Luke 17:22 (which is not part of the “Q” material) is the most peculiar of the “son of man” references in this passage:

“The days shall come when you will set your qumo/$ upon seeing one of the days of the son of man, and (yet) you shall not see [o&yesqe] (it).”

The expression “one [mi/a] of the days of the son of man” has long puzzled commentators. The basic expression “days of the son of man” is relatively straightforward, in context—it refers to the time when the son of man will appear. A possible parallel has been noted with the Rabbinic expression “the days of the Messiah” (m. Ber. 1:5, etc; cf. Strack-Billerbeck 2.237, 4.826-9; Fitzmyer, p. 1169), referring to the coming Messianic Age. A more likely explanation, perhaps, would attribute to the expression an emphatic/dramatic purpose, such as, e.g., (1) some indication that the son of man is about to come, (2) the onset of the end-time events which will immediately precede his coming, or (3) the beginning of the time of his appearing. This last (3) is probably closest to what the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) has in mind.

Verse 22 is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, whereas the prior vv. 20-21 (see my recent study) involve an exchange between Jesus and certain Pharisees. The verb e)piqume/w means “set one’s qumo/$ upon [e)pi/] (something)”. The noun qumo/$ roughly means “impulse”; in English idiom, we would probably use the term “heart” or “mind” as an approximation—i.e., “set one’s heart/mind on…”. However, one should not lose sight of the more intense idea of “impulse”, conveyed, e.g., by our words “longing”, “desire”, etc. The verb (and the related noun e)piqumi/a) can indicate a negative (sinful) desire, but it may also be used in a positive or neutral sense, as it is here.

What does it mean for the disciples to long (or desire) to “see” one of the “days of the son of man”. Based on parallels in the eschatological teaching of Jesus, the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par; Dan 12:1 LXX]), involving the disciples’ (believers) experience of persecution, is probably in view. This is certainly an emphasis in the “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13:9-13 par), but it can also be found, for example, in the context of the eschatological teaching of Luke 12:35-46 par (see above)—verses 4-7, 8-12, 52-53; cf. Matt 10:16-23ff. In the face of persecution and the end-time distress, Jesus’ disciples will long for his return. The end-time appearance of the “son of man” (Jesus) will usher in the Judgment, bringing salvation and reward for those who remain faithful.

The warning for them, however, is that they will not be able to see this moment coming, anymore than devout Pharisees, looking for the Kingdom of God, will be able to observe it coming (with their physical senses). Jesus specifically uses the verb o)pta/nomai, which implies physical sight (with one’s eyes); a literal rendering of the verb would be something like “gaze with (open) eyes (at)”. Interestingly, the same verb is used in both Mk 13:26 par and 14:62 par, where it refers to the visible appearance of the Son of Man.

Even for Jesus’ disciples (and all believers), the time of the end will come suddenly and unexpectedly—that is a principal point of emphasis in nearly all of these eschatological sayings. However much they may long for it, they will not be able to see it coming. It is for this reason, that all disciples/believers need to stay “awake”, remaining faithful and alert at all times, continuing to follow Jesus and to fulfill his mission, even in the face of growing darkness and persecution.

In the next (2-part) article of this series, we will examine the distinctive use of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, respectively. This involves the inclusion and adaptation of inherited traditions (Synoptic/Markan and “Q” material, etc), but also material that is original or unique to each Gospel.

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

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 1)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings

Having examined the Synoptic “son of man” references in the Gospel of Mark (see Parts 1, 2, 3, 4), we now turn to the references in the so-called “Q” material. The designation “Q” derives from the German quelle, meaning “source” —that is, the “Q” material is source-material, used by the Gospel writers. In particular, it refers to material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark. According to the most common and widespread theory regarding the relationship between the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke made use of the Gospel of Mark (as a source), but also a separate collection of material (the so-called “Q”). Many commentators assume that “Q” existed as a distinct written document, but the actual evidence for this is sketchy at best. Some portions of the “Q” material are so close in wording, between Matthew and Luke, that a common written source does seem likely; the Temptation scene (Matt 4:1-11 / Lk 4:1-13), or the episode involving the messengers from John the Baptist (Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35), are good examples of this. On the other hand, there are occasionally significant differences, which could represent differences in the source material; the portions common to the Matthean ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ are notable examples.

It seems best to define “Q” in the broadest possible terms—simply as a designation for the material shared by Matthew and Luke, but which is not present in Mark. This could represent a single source of tradition, or multiple sources, as the case may be. To the extent that “Q” does involve a single and/or distinct collection of material, it can be regarded as the product of a distinctive line of tradition, perhaps even stemming from a particular early Christian Community. Some reference will be made to the possible contours of such a “Q” Tradition.

In considering the “son of man” sayings of Jesus in this “Q” material, it will be necessary to compare them with the Synoptic/Markan sayings. If the occurrences of the expression “the son of man” (Grk o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) ultimately derive from its usage by the historical Jesus, then we would expect the “Q” sayings to be comparable, in their focus and emphasis, to the Markan sayings. By contrast, if the sayings have been created or shaped extensively within the Gospel Tradition by early Christians (including the Gospel writers), then it is reasonable that the use of the expression may reflect different religious, theological, and Christological emphases.

Luke 6:22

Some commentators have theorized that the Sermon on the Mount/Plain—that is, the common material between Matthew and Luke—beginning with the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-23ff; Matt 5:2-12), represented the opening section of “Q” (considered as a coherent written work, see above). If so, then the occurrence of the expression “the son of man” in the Lukan Beatitudes (v. 22) is significant. Even though the expression occurs here only in Luke, it is instructive with regard to how the Gospel writers understood the expression. The fourth (and final) Lukan Beatitude reads as follows:

“Happy/blessed [maka/rioi] are you when men should hate you, and when they should mark you off from (others), and should disparage and throw out your name as evil, on account of the son of man…”

The corresponding Beatitude in Matthew (the ninth, but similarly the final one) has a somewhat simpler (and more generalized) form:

“Happy/blessed [maka/rioi] are you when they should disparage you, and pursue [i.e. persecute] you, and say all (kinds of) evil against you, on account of me…” (5:11)

The differences have been explained variously, as Lukan adaptation, Matthean adaptation, some combination of both, or from differences in the (“Q”) source material used by each Gospel. Most significant, from the standpoint of our study, is the concluding phrase in each verse. Matthew has Jesus say “on account of me” (e%neken e)mou=), while Luke’s version reads “on account of the son of man” (e%neken tou= ui(ou= tou= anqrw/pou). It has been argued that, since Matthew uses the expression “the son of man” so frequently, if it were present in “Q” at this point, the author would not have changed it to the pronoun; it would be more likely, then, that the Lukan author substituted “the son of man” for “me” (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 635). Another possibility is that the variation stems from differences in the “Q” source-material, inherited by Matthew and Luke, respectively; on this, cf. Betz, p. 581, who suggests that “the son of man” was present here in the “Q” material of the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ which the Lukan author received.

The most significant point to note is that the expression “the son of man” is clearly regarded as a self-reference by Jesus, more or less equivalent to the first person pronoun (“me”). This is the case, whether Luke substituted the expression for the pronoun, Matthew the pronoun for the expression, or a substitution was made earlier within the “Q” line of tradition.

Another point of emphasis in this saying is the importance of the disciple confessing his/her trust in Jesus, along with the eschatological implications of this confession. As we shall see, this is a thematic feature of several other “Q” sayings where the expression “the son of man” occurs.

Luke 7:34 / Matt 11:19

At the close of the episode involving the messengers from John the Baptist (Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35), we find a “son of man” reference. Within the block of traditional material that comprises this episode, the final verses (vv. 31-35 par) represent a distinct tradition-unit. The episode as a whole deals with two important, related, themes: (1) Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, and (2) the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. These are themes firmly rooted in the early strands of the Gospel Tradition, and this episode is a key representation of them.

The comparison between John the Baptist, a prophetic forerunner of the Messiah, and Jesus himself, extends to the public’s reaction to each of them. Both were misunderstood, taunted, and regarded in a negative light by many people. Jesus presents this in a colorful rhetorical fashion, beginning with a question: “To what, then, shall I liken the men of this genea/, and what are they like?” (v. 31 par). Then he gives a proverbial illustration (v. 32) regarding the people’s reaction, indicating how they expected their prophets to respond to their superficial whims. If they play a happy tune, they expect people to dance, but if they play a mournful dirge, they expect people to be sorrowful. Neither John nor Jesus could satisfy the whims of the people; John was criticized for his ascetic abstinence (v. 33), while Jesus was criticized for his willingness to join with the common people eating and drinking (v. 34). In the end, the truth of God’s Wisdom, manifest in the Messianic prophet-figures of John and Jesus, will win out, being proven right (v. 35). God’s Wisdom transcends the vicissitudes of human thoughts and attitudes.

Again, as in Luke 6:22 (see above), Jesus refers to himself by the expression “the son of man”:

“For Yohanan the Dunker has come not eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say ‘he holds a daimon!’;
(meanwhile) the son of man has come eating and drinking, and you say ‘see! a man (who is) an eater and wine-drinker! a friend of toll-collectors and sinners!'” (vv. 33-34)

Clearly, this another use of the expression as a self-reference, such as we saw repeatedly in the Markan sayings. As he compares himself alongside John the Baptist, he uses this particular third-person form of expression, which, as we have discussed, is perhaps best understood as “this son of man”, i.e., this person, namely himself. Is there any other significance here to the expression? Three different thematic aspects of the “Q” pericope could be considered relevant:

    • Jesus’ identification with the human condition, viz., by eating and drinking together with the common people.
    • The implied theme of Jesus’ suffering, as reflected by an emphasis, in vv. 31-35 par, on the public’s negative reaction to him.
    • Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, which is the principal (and framing) theme of the entire episode (v. 19ff par).

We will keep these possibilities in mind as we continue through the “Q” sayings.

Luke 9:58 / Matt 8:20

This “Q” saying is one of a pair illustrating the cost involved in following Jesus. Matthew includes these (8:18-21) within the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, set not all that long after the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7). By contrast, Luke sets the pair of sayings (along with a third), 9:57-62, at the beginning of the period of Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:31). The Lukan setting is more coherent to the narrative, since the discipleship theme is central to his framing of the Journey. In particular, these sayings immediately precede the mission of the seventy(-two) disciples (10:1-12ff).

In each of the two illustrative encounters, a prospective disciple expresses his wish to follow Jesus, but is perhaps unprepared for the self-sacrifice that is involved. In the first of the pair (in Matthew), a devoted scribe/scholar tells Jesus “…I will come on the path with you, where ever you might go off (to)” (v. 19). Jesus responds to him with the following saying:

“The foxes have holes (to lurk in), and the birds of heaven ‘tents’ (to dwell in), but the son of man does not have (any)where he might recline his head!” (v. 20)

The Lukan version of this saying (9:58) is identical. Again, the expression “the son of man” is clearly a self-reference by Jesus, since he is responding to the man’s wish to follow him (“I will come on the path with you…”). By saying “the son of man does not have (any)where…”, he really means “I do not have (any)where…”. In identifying with the human condition, he is particularly emphasizing the experience of suffering and hardship. Yet it is also a hardship that is distinctive to the itinerant ministry of Jesus, which permits him (quite often) to have no regular or permanent dwelling-place. The idea of being without a home extends, conceptually, to include a willingness to cut-off all family ties for the sake of following Jesus. The second saying (Matt 8:22; Lk 9:60), famously, brings this across— “Leave the dead to bury their own dead!” —as does the third saying in the Lukan triad (9:62).

In Part 2 of this article, we will examine the tradition regarding the “insult (or ‘blasphemy’) against the Holy Spirit”, of which there is both a Markan (3:28-29, par Matt 12:31) and a “Q” version (Matt 12:32 / Luke 12:10).

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28 (1981).
Those marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount, Hermeneia Commmentary series (Fortress Press: 1995).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 2

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology, continued

This final division of our study (on John 1:14) is presented in three parts:

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts) [Part 1]
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology [Part 2]
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ [Part 3]

We turn now to Part 2:

The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology

In the earlier exegesis of John 1:14, we examined how the Gospel Prologue, and its underlying Logos-poem, draws heavily on Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition. The main Scriptural passage is Proverbs 8:22-31, in which Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*) is personified as a Divine entity that was present with God (YHWH) at the beginning of Creation (vv. 22-26), and who worked alongside Him in the creation process (vv. 27-30). The passage concludes with a reference (v. 31) implying Wisdom’s desire to dwell among human beings on earth.

The line of Wisdom-tradition expressed in this famous Scripture passage was developed by subsequent generations of Jewish authors and expositors. Most notable, from a New Testament standpoint, are certain key Hellenistic Jewish authors, writing in Greek, who expressed this Wisdom-theology in the language and idiom of Greek philosophy. The deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom is a prime example, as are the writings of Philo of Alexandria (a contemporary of early Christians in the mid-first century). Philo, in particular, subsumes the Hellenistic Jewish concept of Divine Wisdom (sofi/a) under the philosophical-theological use of the term lo/go$. On Philo’s use of lo/go$, and its parallels with the Johannine Prologue, cf. my recent article (in the “Ancient Parallels” feature).

As I have discussed, there is wide agreement, among commentators on the Johannine writings, that the Gospel Prologue draws upon Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition, under the term lo/go$, much in the manner that Philo does. The emphasis, in the Genesis Creation account, on God creating through the spoken word (1:3ff), also greatly facilitated this development. It is attested by Philo, and also is found in the Book of Wisdom—note, for example, the close (synonymous) parallel, between creation through the Divine Word (lo/go$) and Wisdom (so/fia) in 9:1-2. Thus the Logos/Wisdom connection with creation, expressed in the Prologue (vv. 1-5), was well-established when the Gospel (and the Logos-poem of the Prologue) was composed.

At least as important for the Prologue was the idea of the Divine Wisdom seeking to find a dwelling place among human beings (and especially God’s people Israel) on earth. The key references—esp. Prov 8:31; Wisd 7:27-28; 9:10; Sirach 24:7-8ff; 1 Enoch 42:1-2—have been discussed. In particular, the emphasis in 1 Enoch 42:2, on the failure of Wisdom to find a welcome place among human beings, is close to what we find in vv. 10-11 of the Prologue. The rejection of God’s Wisdom by the majority of people is a familiar motif in Wisdom tradition (cf. Sirach 15:7; Baruch 3:12, etc).

Thus, from the standpoint of the theology of the Prologue, Jesus is to be identified with the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God—indeed, this Word/Wisdom (Logos) became incarnate in the person of Jesus (1:14), so as to dwell among human beings in an entirely new (and unprecedented) way.

While this Wisdom background of the Johannine Prologue (and Gospel) has long been recognized by commentators, there has come to be an increasing awareness, among New Testament scholars in recent decades, of a similar, and more general, Wisdom influence on early Christology. Here we will examine briefly the evidence for this, to see how the Johannine Christology, identifying Jesus with the pre-existent Wisdom of God, relates to the wider Christology of the New Testament. Our study will focus on two areas: (1) the Synoptic Tradition, particularly the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and (2) the Pauline Letters, especially the references in 1 Corinthians 1-3 and Colossians 1:15-20.

1. The Synoptic Tradition (Matthew-Luke)

It was widely recognized, by the first believers and those who heard Jesus speak, that he possessed great wisdom (sofi/a). This is specifically emphasized in one tradition—the episode in the synagogue at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6 par)—where the people react with wonder at Jesus’ teaching: “From where (did) these (thing)s (come) to this (man)? and what (is) th(is) wisdom given to this (man)?” (6:2 [par Matt 13:54]; cp. 1:22 par). The implication is that Jesus has been gifted by a special wisdom from God.

The Lukan Infancy narrative also emphasizes the wisdom possessed by Jesus, referencing it, more generally, in the summary narrative statements of 2:40 and 52. Elsewhere in Luke-Acts, wisdom is specifically associated with the Spirit of God, indicating its Divine origin and inspired character (Lk 21:15; Acts 6:3, 10).

Particularly notable are several references in Matthew and Luke (part of the so-called “Q” material). First, at the close of the section Lk 7:18-35 (par Matt 11:1-19), we have the declaration by Jesus:

“And (yet) Wisdom is proven to be right from her offspring.” (v. 35)

The Matthean version (11:19c) differs in reading “her works,” instead of “her offspring”. Verse 35 may represent a separate wisdom-saying by Jesus; however, in the context of vv. 18-35 (esp. vv. 31-34), emphasizing the rejection of both Jesus and John the Baptist by the majority of people, the saying implies that Jesus and the Baptist are both “offspring” of Wisdom—that is, of Divine Wisdom personified (as in Prov 8:22-31, cf. above). The Matthean version implies, specifically, that they are doing the “works” of Wisdom—especially, viz., in their teaching/preaching. The rejection of Wisdom’s “offspring” (Jesus) should be viewed as part of the rejection of Divine Wisdom itself. The motif of the “offspring” of Wisdom relates to the feminine personification of Wisdom (the Hebrew word hm*k=j* and Greek sofi/a both being grammatically feminine)—Wisdom is like a woman who gives birth to children.

This begins to resemble the idea in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:35), of Jesus coming to be born as a result of the coming of the Spirit of God upon Mary, his mother. In a somewhat similar manner, Jesus is identified as God’s Son when the Spirit comes down upon him at the Baptism (3:21 par; cf. the discussion in Part 1). The Messianic motif of the coming of the Spirit upon the anointed/chosen one of God (Isa 42:1; 61:1), the “child” of God (pai=$, Isa 42:1 LXX), is a vital traditional source for the Baptism scene in the Gospels. In Isa 11:1-2ff, a similar Messianic passage, wisdom and the Spirit of God are closely connected (v. 2), so that one can fairly assume that Jesus, in the Gospel portrait, was fully endued with the wisdom of God when the Spirit came upon him.

Wisdom 7:27-28 suggests the possibility that this Gospel Christology involves, in at least a rudimentary way, the idea that the pre-existent Wisdom of God (vv. 25-26) came to dwell in the person of Jesus. He and John the Baptist both could be identified as among the holy ones, the chosen prophets and “friends of God”, in whom Wisdom came to reside (v. 27f) and work.

A second Q-passage is Luke 11:49-51 (par Matt 23:34-36), which begins:

“For this (reason), the Wisdom of God said: ‘I will send forth to them foretellers [i.e. prophets] and (those) sent forth from (me), and (some) of them they will kill off and pursue…'” (v. 49)

The context of this saying is the lament in vv. 46-48ff, condemning the religious teachers/leaders of the time, identifying them with those in past generations who persecuted and killed the representatives of God, the prophets. The implication is that Jesus is one of these messengers of God, a true teacher who proclaims the word of God to the people. Here, in the Lukan version, which probably reflects the ‘original’ version of the Q tradition, the inspired prophets are “sent forth” by the Wisdom of God—the Divine Wisdom being again personified. Interestingly, in the Matthean version (23:34), by omitting the Wisdom reference, the Gospel writer effectively makes Jesus the speaker of the statement spoken by Wisdom: “For this reason, see, I send forth to you…”. The implication may well be that Jesus himself represents the Divine Wisdom.

In a third Q tradition (Lk 11:29-32, par Matt 12:38-42), Jesus is identified as possessing wisdom far greater than that of Solomon (v. 31), just as his preaching is greater than that of Jonah (v. 32). This Wisdom-reference is connected with a Son of Man saying; in various ways, the title “Son of Man”, as applied by Jesus (to himself) in the Gospel Tradition, identifies Jesus with the exalted/heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14. In the Gospel of John, as we have seen, the Son of Man sayings are understood in the special Johannine theological sense of the pre-existent Son’s heavenly origin. Some scholars would see a similar theological significance in the Synoptic Son of Man sayings, but I find little or no evidence for this: some of the Synoptic sayings relate to the exaltation of Jesus, and of the (subsequent) end-time appearance of this exalted figure, but do not particularly indicate pre-existence.

It has been argued that the Gospel of Matthew evinces a Wisdom Christology that identifies Jesus as both the Wisdom and Word (i.e. the Torah) of God, in an incarnate manner that resembles, in certain respects, the view of Jesus in the Gospel of John. I find this line of argument to be overstated, but there are several Matthean passages that are worth mentioning. First, there is 11:25-30, which contains Q material (vv. 25-27, par Lk 10:21-22), to which was added the sayings in vv. 28-30. These verses have a strong Wisdom orientation, utilizing wording that suggests Jesus may be identified himself with the Wisdom of God (personified); note, for example the similar motifs and parallels of wording in Sirach 51:23-26ff. The call for people to come and learn from him resembles the call of Wisdom in, e.g., Prov 1:20ff; 8:1ff, etc.

The citation of Psalm 78:2 by Jesus in Matt 13:35 could be taken as implying that he is to be identified with the pre-existent Wisdom of Prov 8:22-31. See, similarly in this context, the statements in vv. 11 and 16-17; these verses represent traditional material (Synoptic/Markan and “Q”), but the Matthean presentation suggests a theological (and Christological) development of the tradition.

In the Matthean “Sermon on the Mount”, rooted at least partly in Q-material, there is a similar kind of theological development, in which Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah carries an authority which matches that of the Torah itself—cf. the sayings in 5:17-20, and throughout the Antitheses of vv. 21-48. For more on these passages, see the notes and articles in the series “Jesus and the Law”. The implication is (or may be) that Jesus, in his person, embodies the very Word (and Wisdom) of God.

2. The Pauline Letters

Paul refers to wisdom, using the word sofi/a, more often than any other New Testament author. However, these references tend to be concentrated in two main sections: (a) 1 Corinthians 1-3, and (b) in and around the ‘Christ-hymn’ of Colossians 1:15-20.

I have discussed these passages extensively in prior notes and articles (cf. the notes on 1 Cor 1:17-2:16, and the article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, along with the notes on Col 1:15-20), so I will deal with them in only a summary fashion here. The Colossians Christ-hymn will also be touched upon in Part 3.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, Paul, in expounding the main proposition of 1:17, develops the theme of the fundamental contrast between human/worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God. The Gospel, however foolish it may seem (in its emphasis on the cross), represents the Divine Wisdom, in contrast with the wisdom prized and valued by the world. The statement in verse 24 goes beyond this thought, seemingly identifying Jesus himself with the Divine Wisdom; this, however, can be misleading, since the context of v. 23 clearly indicates that the focus remains on the crucifixion of Jesus:

“But we proclaim (the) Anointed (One) having been put to the stake [i.e. crucified]—for (the) Yehudeans something (that) trips (them) up, and for (the) nations something foolish, but for the (one)s (who are) called, both Yehudeans and Greeks, (it is the) Anointed (One), (the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God” (vv. 23-24)

The further statement in v. 30 seems even to echo the Johannine idea of the incarnation of the pre-existent Wisdom:

“Out of [i.e. from] Him you are in (the) Anointed Yeshua, who was made to become [e)genh/qh] wisdom for us from God, and (also for us) righteousness, (the ability to) be made holy, and (the) loosing from (bondage)”

The same verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is used here as in Jn 1:14, yet the orientation is different: in Jn 1:14, the pre-existent Wisdom becomes a human being (in the person of Jesus), while here it is Jesus who becomes (lit. is made to become) the Wisdom of God. He “becomes” the Divine Wisdom through his death—painful and humiliating—on the cross. Certainly the resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus is also understood here, though the exaltation does not occur without first the experience of the low point of death. This is the profound paradox of Christian faith—exaltation through shameful suffering and death—in which the Wisdom of God is manifest.

Paul’s line of argument shifts in 2:6, as he begins to speak of wisdom that is discussed among those who are “complete”. The precise nature of this wisdom continues to be debated among commentators. Does it refer to something other than (or beyond) the Gospel of the cross of Christ? I have discussed the subject in the aforementioned article (in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), focusing on verses 10-15. This Wisdom is clearly related to the presence and activity of the Spirit. Note the relative lack of reference to the Spirit in 1:18-2:5ff (only in 2:4), compared to density of references in vv. 10-16. Believers receive the Spirit through trust in Jesus, and come to participate (spiritually) in the death and resurrection of Jesus, becoming united with him. The Wisdom manifest in his death thus becomes open to us, and, through the Spirit, we are able to delve the depths of the Divine Wisdom.

In my view, this Wisdom emphasis in 1 Corinthians is far removed from the Wisdom Christology of the Gospel of John. Much closer to the Johannine Christology are the references in Colossians, which demonstrate that such a Wisdom Christology was not foreign to Paul. The key reference is in 2:2-3, where we find the identification of Jesus himself with the “secret [musth/rion] of God” —

“in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden away.” (v. 3)

This statement goes beyond what we find in 1 Corinthians 1-3; the emphasis is not on the death of Jesus, but on his very person. The ‘Christ-hymn’ earlier in 1:15-20 is most significant in this regard (cf. my earlier series of notes), beginning with the opening declaration in verse 15, in which it is stated that the Son of God (Jesus) is the one—

“who is (the) image [ei)kw/n] of the unseen God…”

This philosophical-theological use of the term ei)kw/n occurs also in 2 Cor 3:18 and 4:4; the wording in these indisputably Pauline verses is almost certainly influenced by Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition, such as we find in Philo and the Book of Wisdom—note, in particular, the wording of Wisd 7:26:

“For she is a shining forth [a)pau/gasma, i.e. reflection] of eternal light,
a looking-glass [e&soptron, i.e. mirror] of the spotless working of God,
and (the) image [ei)kw/n] of His goodness.”

The phrase in Col 1:15b is clearly drawn from the tradition of the (personified) pre-existent Wisdom (of Prov 8:22-31, etc). What follows in 1:16-20 is a pre-existence Christology that resembles, in many ways that of the Johannine Gospel Prologue. Note the following parallels:

This passage will be discussed a bit further, in connection with the Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11, in Part 3.




March 24: Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:39-41 par

Jonah 1:17ff

“And YHWH numbered [i.e., appointed] a great fish to swallow Yonah; and Yonah was in (the) belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

On at least one occasion, Jesus references the famous episode from the book of Jonah, in which the reluctant prophet is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a “great fish” (1:17). This provides the narrative setting for the splendid lament-poem in chapter 2 (vv. 2-9), which, in many ways, forms the heart of the book. The reference occurs at Matthew 12:40, and suggests that the “sign of Jonah” (v. 39) is the miraculous episode of the fish, and that the ‘three days and three nights’ is to be taken as a prophetic allusion to the death and resurrection of Jesus. There can be no doubt that the Gospel writer, along with many other early Christians, understood the matter this way. However, it would seem that, in the original Gospel tradition, the “sign of Jonah” had nothing to do with the famous episode of the fish.

Matthew 12:39-42 has a parallel in Luke 11:29-32, part of the so-called “Q” material—narrative episodes and sayings common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. And yet, each Gospel handles this material in a slightly different way, setting it within a different location in the overall narrative. For Luke, it is part of a collection of teaching by Jesus set during the long journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:34). It is introduced in a very generic way, with little apparent connection to the preceding sections:

“And (with) the throng (of people) crowding upon (him), he began to say, ‘This (age of) coming-to-be [genea/] is an evil (age of) coming-to-be! (Its people) seek a sign, and (yet) no sign will be given to it, if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah’.” (11:29)

Matthew sets this tradition within the context of various controversy-episodes between Jesus and the religious authorities (‘Scribes and Pharisees’), all of which are rooted in the main Synoptic Tradition:

In addition, the teaching in 12:33-37, similar to other “Q” sayings (7:11, 16-20; Lk 6:43-45), assumes the same sort of controversy-setting (as v. 34 makes clear). The introduction to the “sign of Jonah” saying (v. 38) must be understood within this narrative context:

“Then some of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees gave forth (an answer) to him, saying: ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign [shmei=on] from you’.”

On the surface, this may seem like a simple and harmless request, and yet, the controversy-context of chapter 12 suggests that it must be read as a challenge, of sorts, to Jesus. This helps to explain Jesus’ rather harsh response:

“And, giving forth [an answer back] to them, he said: ‘[Only] an evil and unfaithful [i.e. adulterous] (age of) coming-to-be [genea/] seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it, if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah the Foreteller!'” (v. 39)

I have translated genea/ in an extremely literal way, as an age or period of “coming to be”; it is typically rendered as “generation”, emphasizing the people of the age. The fundamental meaning is of a group/collection of people who have “come to be” (i.e., have been born and lived) in a particular place and time. When Jesus refers, as he frequently does, to “this genea/,” it is aimed directly at those people whom he is addressing—i.e., those alive in Galilee and Judea, etc, at the time. The expression “this genea/” almost always has a harsh and negative connotation.

In Matthew’s version of this material, the allusion to the “great fish” episode in the book of Jonah (1:17ff), follows in v. 40, indicating that the “sign of Jonah” refers to the miraculous episode (and as a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection, cf. above). However, no such allusion occurs in Luke’s version, and most critical scholars would hold that the shorter Lukan version here represents the more original form of the “Q” tradition. Indeed, Luke’s version gives an entirely different meaning to the “sign of Jonah”:

“For, even as Yonah came to be a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this (age of) coming-to-be [genea/].”

There is no indication that the episode with the great fish had any bearing on Jonah’s mission to the people of Ninevah (chapter 3); indeed, the text nowhere suggests that they ever had occasion to hear of the matter. Rather, it was the prophetic message of Jonah, his preaching to the people, that constituted the “sign”. He warned them that, if they repented and trusted in God, the disaster coming upon them would be averted; the king and the people responded to this message, and they were saved from a disastrous judgment (by God), just as Jonah predicted.

This line of interpretation is confirmed by the second illustration offered by Jesus (Lk 11:31/Matt 12:42), regarding the “Queen of the South” (i.e., the Queen of Sheba), who traveled to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom (i.e., the inspired teaching) of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 10:1-29, par 2 Chron 9:1-12). This wisdom-aspect is related to the inspired message of the prophet—both being manifestations of the word of God given to a specially chosen/gifted individual.

The ultimate point of these illustrations is made clearly enough, with a bit of harsh and biting irony. Faraway heathen peoples (the Ninevites, the Queen of Sheba) responded to the word of God, and yet many people right here in Israel (i.e., in the cities of Galilee) are unable or unwilling to accept it! And how much more should it be accepted when Jesus is the messenger, since he (the Son of Man) represents something even greater than Solomon (or the prophet Jonah). The Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba will rise up (as witnesses) at the tribunal of the great Judgment, bringing condemnation to the Galileans who refuse to trust in Jesus (Matt 12:41-42; Lk 11:31a, 32).

It seems clear enough that, in the original form of Jesus’ teaching, the “sign of Jonah” was the inspired prophetic message that led to faith and repentance by the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3). Now Jesus, a Prophet far greater than Jonah (indeed, even more than a prophet), is bringing a message to the people of Israel—and many of them refuse to accept it!

Interestingly, the rebuke of those who “seek after a sign” would seem to downplay the importance of Jesus’ miracles as a sign of his Messianic/Prophetic identity. It would be a mistake to interpret the passage in this way. To be sure, the emphasis here is on Jesus’ preaching and teaching; however, there is another tradition (also part of the “Q” material) where Jesus rebukes the people of Galilee, in a similar manner, for refusing to respond to his miracles—cf. Matt 11:20-24 / Lk 10:13-15.

The accepted critical view would be that the reference to the fish-episode of Jonah 1:17ff (Matt 12:40) is a Matthean addition to the original “Q” material. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that the Gospel writer, apparently, does much the same thing with the comparable Synoptic/Markan saying of Jesus in Mk 8:11-12:

“And the Pharisees came out and began to seek to (question) him  together, seeking (from) alongside of him a sign from heaven, (and thus) testing him. And (to this), giving up a groan in his spirit, he says: ‘(For) what [i.e. why] does this (age of) coming-to-be [genea/] seek a sign? Amen, I say to you—(consider) if a(ny) sign shall be given to this (age of) coming-to-be!'”

This is similar in many respects to the “Q” episode, especially in the Matthean narrative setting of the controversy-scenes with the Scribes and Pharisees (cf. above). Indeed, many scholars would maintain that both Mk 8:11-12 and the “Q” episode derive from a single (common) historical tradition, having been preserved in two variant forms. Matthew seems to contain a version of this Synoptic/Markan tradition (16:1, 4a), combined with an additional illustration (vv. 2-3). As with the “Q” material, the Gospel writer has apparently added the Jonah reference to this tradition (perhaps to harmonize it with 12:39f): “…but no sign will be given to it, if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah” (v. 4b). Of course it is always possible that Jesus may have made the same reference on multiple occasions; however, there are enough instances in the Gospels where separate sayings/traditions are joined together based on a common theme or “catchword” bonding, that it seems likely that this has taken place at both 16:4 and 12:40.

To say that Matt 12:40 represents an ‘addition’ by the Gospel writer does not mean that it is not an authentic tradition or a genuine saying by Jesus. If the “three days” motif was an authentic part of the Synoptic passion-predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34 pars), it would have been simple enough for Jesus himself to latch on to the traditional motif as it occurred in the Jonah narrative (1:17ff). Along the same lines, one could scarcely fault the Gospel writer for including such an association where he does at Matt 12:40. The “three days” motif in Jonah 1:17 must have been readily applied by early Christians to the death and resurrection of Jesus (even apart from Matt 12:40), and all the more so if the motif was rooted in the early Gospel Tradition (through the passion predictions, etc).

Some commentators have suggested that, even if Luke 11:29-32 does not contain the allusion to Jonah 1:17, the Gospel writer understood (and intended) the association. This is intriguing, in light of the the way the Lazarus parable (in 16:19-31) ends. The Rich Man, in torment in Hades, pleads with Abraham that he be given the chance to warn his brothers, so that they might repent and avoid meeting the same terrible fate (vv. 27-28). This generally matches the idea of Jonah preaching to the Ninevites. Abraham responds that the man’s brothers already have “Moses and the Prophets [including Jonah!]” (v. 29)—the implication being that, if they will not repent their ways while they possess the inspired Scripture, they will likely not repent even if the man is able somehow to warn them. To this, the man further insists, “…if someone from the dead were to travel toward them, (then) they will change (their) mind-set [i.e. repent]” (v. 30). Abraham’s stinging reply is that not even the miracle of someone coming back from the dead is likely to cause them to repent!— “If they do not hear [i.e. listen to] Moshe and the Foretellers, (so) also they will not, even if one stood up out of the dead, be persuaded” (v. 31).