Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Excursus (John 5 etc)

Having surveyed, however briefly, the different kinds of traditions in the Synoptics, and how they have been combined and arranged within the various Gospels—using just one segment of the narrative (from the Galilean period)—it now remains to compare how this may have taken place in the Gospel of John. The fact that the Fourth Gospel has inherited a distinct line of tradition, separate from the Synoptics, makes a comparative study extremely valuable. The presumption is that any similar or common traditions, between John and the Synoptics, would likely go back to a very early stage in the process of transmission—when the original historical traditions were (first) being preserved in written form. Such a comparison reveals numerous examples of tradition-units—sayings, miracle stories, and other episodes—in the Gospel of John which are similar (in certain respects) to those in the Synoptics, but have been set and developed within a very different narrative context. I have already discussed several of these in the earlier notes in this series on the Baptism of Jesus, the Calling of the Disciples, and a few other places as well.

Generally speaking, there is a fundamental difference between the way that traditions are handled in the Gospel of John. We have seen how the Synoptic narrative, especially in the Galilean period (i.e. Mk 1:14-8:30 par), has been built up by joining together various tradition-units. In the core Synoptic narrative, these involve: short narratives centered around a saying (or group of sayings), parables, miracle stories, and “encounter” episodes (often featured conflict/debate between Jesus and the religious authorities). In the previous two notes, we studied how these small units were joined together to form larger segments (about a chapter in length), and again, in the individual Gospels, into even larger sections or narrative divisions. The sequence of units and segments may be historical-chronological, but, more often than not, they appear to have been joined together by a thematic association. The many differences in order between the various units of the Synoptic Gospels prove decisively that they are not governed by a strict chronological arrangement.

The Gospel of John, by contrast, arranges its material—especially in the portion that corresponds (loosely) with the Galilean period in the Synoptics (2:1-7:1ff)—into extended Discourses by Jesus. These discourses utilize a dialogue format, similar to that found in Jewish and Greco-Roman literature, whereby there is an exchange between Jesus and various persons whom he encounters, or who see/hear the things he is saying and doing. There are discourses in each of chapters 3-6 of the Gospel. We may isolate three components of these discourses:

  • The setting, which is often based upon a particular traditional episode (miracle story, encounter story, etc)
  • The dialogue, which is sometimes limited to a simple two-part exchange, and is centered around a saying (statement or declaration) by Jesus
  • An exposition by Jesus, in which the true meaning of his statement is explained, at a deeper spiritual/theological level

Let us survey the four main discourses in chapters 3-6:

The setting (i.e. traditional episode)—

  • 3:1-2ff—Jesus and Nicodemus (encounter story)
  • 4:1-7ff—Jesus and the Samaritan woman (encounter story)
  • 5:1-14—Healing of the disabled man at the pool (miracle story)
  • 6:1-13—Feeding of the Five Thousand (miracle story)

The dialogue—

  • 3:2-5ff, 9-10ff—Jesus and Nicodemus (saying: verse 3)
  • 4:7-15ff—Jesus and the Samaritan woman (main saying: verse 10)
  • 5:15-18—Jesus and the “Jews” (saying: verse 17)
  • 6:25-34ff—Jesus and the “Jews” (central saying: verse 35)

The exposition—

  • 3:5-21, which is built into the dialogue to make three parts:
    —vv. 5-8, then after another question by Nicodemus (v. 9)
    —vv. 10-15, which is followed by a parallel exposition with a different emphasis:
    —vv. 16-21
  • 4:13-26, which covers a more detailed exchange (between Jesus and the woman):
    —vv. 13-14 (the woman’s response, etc, vv. 15-20)
    —vv. 21-24 (her response, v. 25)
    —v. 26 (Jesus’ final declaration)
  • 5:19-47, a single exposition, in two parts: vv. 19-30, 31-47 (cf. below)
  • 6:32-58, the most complex of the four discourses, to be discussed in an upcoming note (on the Feeding Miracle in the Gospel Tradition)

The discourses in chapters 5 and 6 are similar in that they derive from a miracle story similar to those we see in the Synoptic Gospels. I discussed the chapter 5 discourse in a recent note, but it is worth reviewing here.

The basic miracle story (the tradition) is found in verses 1-9a. Verse 9b introduces the motif of the reaction to the healing miracle by certain people (“Jews”) with a strict traditional-religious mindset. They are not identified specifically as Pharisees (compare 9:13ff), but the implication is that they are experts/authorities on Scripture and the Law; in the Synoptic tradition these ‘opponents’ of Jesus are typically referred to as “Scribes and Pharisees”. These two components—the miracle and the reaction—make up the traditional narrative in verses 1-14. As such, the episode resembles somewhat the healing miracle in Mark 2:1-12; the detail in verses 9b-14 also turns it into a “Sabbath controversy” episode, not unlike those in the Synoptics (Mark 3:1-6 par, and Luke 13:10-17; cf. also Lk 14:1-6, and the recent notes on these passages). However, it is clearly a Johannine tradition, and is narrated in the style of the Fourth Gospel. This can be seen by the close structural and thematic similarity between 5:1-14ff and 9:1-41.

Verses 15-16 are transitional, joining the tradition in vv. 1-14 with the saying (v. 17) and discourse which follows. As discussed in the earlier note, Jesus’ saying relates generally to the ancient tradition regarding the Sabbath, of God resting/ceasing from His work as Creator. The statement by Jesus makes two points—(1) the creative, live-giving work of God (the Father) continues to the present time, and (2) Jesus (the Son) does the same work as God. The reaction by the “Jews” is narrated in verse 18, after which comes the explanation of the saying by Jesus, where he expounds its true, deeper meaning. This exposition can be divided into two parts:

    • The Son performs the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
    • These works are a witness to the Son (and to the Father)—vv. 31-47

The first part (vv. 19-30) is also divided into two sections, like poetic strophes, in which the same theme and motifs and repeated:

    • The Son gives eternal/spiritual life to those who believe—vv. 19-24
    • The Son gives new life (resurrection) at the end time (to those who believe)—vv. 25-30

These two aspects of the resurrection power at work in Jesus will reappear in the great Lazarus episode of chapter 11—a more dramatic miracle story that is foreshadowed here.

This same sort of the development of traditional material can be seen in the “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. It has a much more complex (cyclical) structure, utilizing the dialogue format extensively in its narration. I have discussed this discourse in some detail in earlier notes, and will address it again in the next topic of this series—the tradition of the Miraculous Feeding—which begins in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Excursus (Lk 6:20-8:3 etc)

In the previous note, I presented the Synoptic narrative outline, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, along with a more detailed breakdown of the traditions in Mk 3:13-8:30, the second half of the Galilean period (1:14-8:30). Today, I want to look at how this material was developed by Luke and Matthew. In particular, I will focus on Luke’s treatment of the Synoptic/Markan traditions.

First, here again is the outline of Mk 3:13-6:13:

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

The green above indicates portions which Luke appears to have either re-worked or presents in a different order:

    • Luke reverses the order (6:12-16, 17-19) of the material corresponding to Mk 3:7-12, 13-19, reworking it to some extent
    • In 8:4-21, also the material corr. to Mk 3:31-35 & 4:1-25 is reversed and set in a different narrative context (omitting Mk 3:20-30)
    • Luke has a quite different (and expanded) version of the episode at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6a), and it is set in a different location—at the very beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Lk 4:16-30); cf. the earlier note on this passage

The dark red portions above indicate the Markan traditions which Luke has omitted, or otherwise does not include—Mk 3:20-30; 4:26-34.

Besides the ‘additions’ to the Nazareth episode (mentioned above), Luke has also included a considerable amount of material at a point corresponding to Mk 3:19. Here is the Lukan outline, with Markan parallels in parentheses:

From this point, Luke 8:22-9:6 follows Mk 4:35-5:43 + 6:6b-13. It is important to consider the additional Lukan material (6:20-8:3), which is comprised of six distinct units set in sequence. “Q” indicates the so-called Q-material, shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. “L” refers to traditions found only in Luke. There are three “L” traditions included here:

    • 7:11-17: a healing miracle story—the raising of the dead son of the widow at Nain.
    • 7:36-50: an encounter story (with a parable), involving the traditional motif of conflict/debate between Jesus and the Pharisees—the anointing of Jesus by the “sinful” woman. This tradition is quite similar to, but not identical with, Mk 14:3-19, and will be discussed in an upcoming note.
    • 8:1-3: a narrative summary, probably of Lukan composition, but containing traditional/historical information.

The traditions in 7:11-17 and 36-50 are very much in keeping with the episodes of the core Synoptic Tradition (cf. the previous note), though 7:36-50 shows definite signs of literary development. The “Q” material is rather different, and indicates that it has been derived from a separate (and early) line of tradition.

Many scholars believe that “Q” was an actual source document, comprised mainly of a collection of sayings by Jesus. These sayings, at an early point, were joined together, by way of thematic and “catchword” bonding, to form small units, which then could be collected/grouped into larger sections of sayings-material. “Q”, if it existed at all as a specific text, would have been made up of these larger sections, two of which are found at this point in Luke:

1. The “Sermon on the Plain” (Lk 6:20-49), which follows the basic outline of the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew (chapters 5-7). Despite the narrative setting in each Gospel, which presents the material as a single “sermon” given by Jesus, most (critical) commentators believe that it is better understood as a collection of sayings, parables, and teachings by Jesus, which represents the sort of instruction he gave regularly to his disciples. Matthew’s version contains considerably more material, some of which is found in a different location in Luke. Moreover, there are some significant differences in wording and emphasis, especially in the Beatitudes (cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes for more detail). Here is a breakdown of the Lukan “sermon”:

Luke and Matthew have each arranged several distinct units of “Q” material (sayings and parables, etc) to form a sermon or discourse. Notably, each Gospel writer (independently) has set this in the context of Jesus gathering his disciples together and instructing them (Matt 4:18ff; 5:1-2; Luke 6:12-16, 17)—though in each Gospel it occurs at a slightly different point in the narrative.

2. Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35). I have discussed this section briefly in the earlier notes of this series on the Baptism of Jesus. Again, while it would seem that the material in vv. 18-35 is all part of a single discourse by Jesus, this more likely reflects the thematic joining of a number of different traditions during the (early) process of collection and transmission. Clearly, the common theme involved is John the Baptist and his relation to Jesus. In my view, this is a mark of very early historical tradition, as the interest in John the Baptist soon faded among Christians in the New Testament period. There is less variation between the versions of this material in Matthew and Luke, than for the earlier “Sermon” (cf. above); both Gospels preserve it as a distinct block of tradition. Here is how it appears in Luke:

It is worth noting the portions in Matthew’s version which are not found in Luke (or occur in a different location):

Interestingly, while this Q-material in Luke follows generally after Jesus’ calling the Twelve (6:12-16) and the “Sermon” (6:20-49), in Matthew it occurs at a different (though similar) point in the narrative. The calling and subsequent mission of the Twelve is narrated together (Matt 10:1-5f), followed by an entirely separate collection of instruction (or “sermon”) for the disciples (10:5-42).

This brief, though detailed, analysis demonstrates the creative work of each Gospel writer in selecting, adapting, and arranging traditional material. Many of the themes and contours of the narrative are the same in each Gospel, but the overall presentation and thematic structure differs considerably. This is all the more true when we consider how the (historical) traditions have been developed and arranged in the Gospel of John. I will be examining this in the next note.

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

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

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

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

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

The Markan Outline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Mk 1:16-20; Lk 5:1-11)

Today’s note begins the next division of our series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, focusing on the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (cf. the Introduction). The first topic of study is on traditions related to the Call of the Disciples. There are four primary traditions found in the Gospel narrative:

    1. The call of the first Disciples—esp. two pair of brothers (Peter/Andrew, James/John)
    2. The call of Matthew/Levi
    3. The call and commission of the Twelve
    4. The naming of Peter

Only the first and third of these will be dealt with in detail.

The Call of the First Disciples

Mark 1:16-20 par

Following the baptism of Jesus (and the testing in the desert), the period of Galilean ministry, according to the Synoptic narrative, begins with announcement of Jesus’ activity. In the Gospel of Mark, this is found in 1:14-15:

“And with the giving along (of) Yohanan {John} (into custody), Yeshua {Jesus} came into the Galîl {Galilee} proclaiming the good message of God and giving account [i.e. declaring/saying] that ‘The time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near! Change your mind [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!'”

Matthew (4:17) generally follows Mark, though without the preceding message of John the Baptist’s arrest. Luke has set the notice of John’s imprisonment at a different point in the narrative (right before Jesus’ baptism, 3:18-20), and makes no mention of Jesus proclamation of the coming of the kingdom or need for repentance (but cf. Lk 4:43; 8:1). This has essentially been replaced by the narrative summary in 4:14-15, emphasizing the role of the Spirit and Jesus’ activity of teaching (in the Synagogue), which sets the scene for the episode at Nazareth in 4:16ff. In the quotation of Isaiah 61:1 (vv. 18-19), Jesus declares, as part of his mission, that he is to “give/proclaim the good message”, much as is stated in Mk 1:14-15.

Mark 1:16-20 records the call of the first disciples. The parallel in Matthew (4:18-22) is very close; while Luke, has supplemented the basic narrative (5:1b-2, 10-11) with a miracle story involving Peter and his co-workers (5:4-9). This unique handling and development of the tradition will be discussed below. The narrative in Mark is extremely simple, with action and dialogue kept to an absolute minimum:

    • Notice of the location, along the Sea of Galilee (v. 16a)
    • Jesus encounters a two pair of brothers—Simon/Andrew & James/John—in turn (vv. 16b, 19a)
    • These men are all fishermen, busy working their nets (vv. 16b, 19b)
    • Jesus calls to them (to follow him) (vv. 17, 20a)
    • They all leave their nets and boats (and family, etc) to follow Jesus (vv. 18, 20b)

The central element is the saying of Jesus in verse 17, and the structure of the narrative gives the impression that it was built up around the saying. Here is the saying (in Mark):

“Come (here) in back of me [i.e. follow me], and I will cause you to become salt-water (fisher)s of men” (Mk 1:17)

Matthew’s version (4:19) is virtually identical, reading “make you” instead of “cause you to become”. In Luke, the comparable saying is quite different:

“Do not be afraid! From now on you will be catching men alive” (Lk 5:10b)

What is striking about the main Synoptic tradition, as given simply in Mark/Matthew, is how the sparse narrative detail gives the impression of an immediate response by the disciples—at the very (first) word from Jesus, they leave everything and follow him. This, of course, will become a motif—i.e. of obedience and commitment in following Jesus—repeated on several occasions in the Synoptic narrative (Mk 2:14; 8:34; 10:21 par; Lk 9:57-62 par). The core saying itself contains certain elements which summarize and reflect the ministry of Jesus, and are worth noting:

Verse 17a—the emphasis and motif of discipleship:

    • The expression deu=te (“come [here]”) is as much an invitation or exhoration as it is a command, and indicates one’s coming close, toward Jesus—Matt 11:28; 25:34; cf. also 22:4; Mark 6:31.
    • The preposition o)pi/sw (“in back of, behind”) is often used specifically in terms of a disciple following a master (Mark 8:34 par, etc). Its occurrence in the saying(s) of John the Baptist (Mk 1:7 par; Jn 1:15, 27, 30) was discussed in previous notes.

Verse 17b—the illustration from daily life (cf. the parables of Jesus):

    • The word a(lieu/$ refers to someone who works on/in the salt-water, here meaning specifically a fisherman. The activity from daily life is applied to the religious/spiritual life of the disciple (believer) who follows Jesus.
    • The genitive “of men” (a)nqrw/pwn) establishes the point of contrast—instead of gathering in fish for the catch, the disciples will be gathering in human beings for the kingdom of God. This latter detail is not stated explicitly, but such a connotation is likely, given the frequent references to the kingdom of God/Heaven in the parables and teachings of Jesus.

Luke 5:1-11

As noted above, Luke’s version of this episode represents a significant development (cf. my earlier study on this passage), in which the core Synoptic narrative (found in vv. 1b-2, 10-11) has been expanded to include a distinct miracle story featuring Peter (vv. 4-9). Verses 1a & 3 may reflect Lukan editing/authorship in order to blend the two traditions effectively into a literary whole. In particular, they seem to echo the setting in Mk 4:1-2, which Luke may have transferred from that location in the (Synoptic) narrative. This is likely, since in 8:4ff, the passage parallel to Mk 4:1-2ff, there is no corresponding mention of Jesus teaching the crowd from a boat.

This is all relatively straightforward—the Synoptic narrative, supplemented by another (“L”) tradition related to the call of Peter—were it not for the fact that the miracle narrated in vv. 4-9 is remarkably similar to that found in John 21:1-8ff. The problem is that the Johannine episode is said to have occurred at a much later time, after the resurrection of Jesus. It is not just a question of a general similarity; rather, there are a number of specific details shared by the two narratives, which include:

    • Peter and his colleagues had fished all night and had caught nothing (v. 3, 5; Jn 21:3)
    • Jesus is standing on the shore of the lake (v. 1; 21:1, 4)
    • Jesus tells them to go and cast out their nets again (v. 4; 21:6)
    • The result is an enormous catch of fish (v. 6b; 21:6, 11)
    • Reference to the stress (tearing) on the nets, and to the help required to bring in the catch (vv. 6-7; 21:8, 11)
    • A reaction by Peter to(ward) Jesus as a result of the miracle (v. 8; 21:7)
    • Jesus is called “Lord” [ku/rio$] (v. 8; 21:7)
    • The catch of fish is symbolic of the work of Christian ministry, and is connected in the narrative to a (separate) tradition involving the commission of Peter and the other disciples (vv. 10-11; 21:11, 15ff)

Also notable is the use of the dual name “Simon Peter” in both narratives (v. 8; 21:7), as it is the only such occurrence in the Gospel of Luke (and only once elsewhere in the Synoptics, Matt 16:16); cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 28), p. 561.

These similarities have been explained various ways by commentators:

    • As two separate historical episodes, at different points in the life of Peter, during his time with Jesus—one at the beginning, and the other at the end. The shared details would be either coincidental or providential.
    • Two separate traditions have been shaped by a distinct miracle-story form—i.e. the miraculous catch of fish.
    • A tradition with an original post-resurrection setting (John) has been given an earlier setting at the time of Peter’s calling (Luke).
    • A tradition originally associated with Peter’s calling has been set after the resurrection. I.e. the reverse of the view above.
    • It is a piece of “floating” tradition, which came to the Gospel writers (and/or their sources) without a specific narrative (or chronological) context; each writer made use of the tradition at the most meaningful (or logical) point.

The first option generally follows the traditional-conservative view. Those who hold to it would quickly point out the many differences between the two narratives, in addition to the similarities. Critical scholars, on the other hand, are more likely to accept either the second, third, or fifth options (e.g., Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, pp. 561-2). The fact that Luke has apparently adapted an (earlier) Synoptic narrative, by adding/inserting the miracle episode, as a distinct unit (vv. 4-9), would perhaps favor (some form of) the critical view. For those who would argue between the Lukan and Johannine setting as the “original” setting of the historical tradition, the evidence seems to be fairly evenly divided. On the one hand, the fact that Luke and John (according to the Alexandrian/Majority text of Lk 24), have inherited common traditions related to the resurrection, supports the post-resurrection setting in John 21. On the other hand, the idea of Peter and the other disciples returning to the ordinary life of fishermen after the resurrection has always seemed a bit odd (even unlikely) to many. The overall milieu of the scene (esp. vv. 1a-8 in John) better fits the period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (as narrated in the Synoptics). It would be easy enough to adapt such an “earlier” or “floating” tradition to a post-resurrection setting, as could have been done in John simply by adding vv. 1 and 12b-14 (try reading the text without these framing verses) to an episode otherwise very close to Lk 5:4-9.

Speaking of the Gospel of John, it should be mentioned, in closing, that the Fourth Gospel has nothing like Mark 1:16-20 par, but records/preserves an entirely different tradition regarding the call of the first disciples (Peter/Andrew, etc). This will be discussed in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period

This is a good moment to stop and re-set the current series entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (cf. the Introduction). The first part of the this series has been devoted to a detailed examination of the Baptism of Jesus. This was chosen because it provides an ideal case study (using extensive evidence from all four canonical Gospels) for analyzing how the early (historical) traditions came to be developed and adapted over time, leading to the composition of the Gospel narratives as we have them. It was demonstrated rather clearly, I think, in these notes, how the account of Jesus’ baptism (and his relation to John the Baptist) were preserved (independently) in multiple strands of tradition. Each Gospel writer gave his own interpretation and treatment of the material, but was essentially obligated to hold to a basic narrative, and to the preservation of certain fundamental traditions.

The remaining two parts, or divisions, of this series will be focusing on: (1) the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (Pt  II) and (2) the Passion Narrative (Pt III). These are also useful as divisions since they reflect the basic two-part structure of the Synoptic narrative—(i) the Galilean ministry (Mk 1:28:30), and (ii) the journey to Judea/Jerusalem and the events there (Mk 8:3116:8). The other Synoptics have more complex structures; indeed, Luke rather clearly has a three (or four) part division:

    • [The Infancy Narrative]
    • The Galilean ministry (3:19:50)
    • The Journey to Jerusalem (9:5118:34)
    • The time in Judea/Jerusalem (18:3524:53)

However, it is easy enough to see how the core Synoptic narrative has been adapted and expanded. In the case of Luke, the Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2) has been added and the journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10) has been filled out by including a wide range of sayings/teachings of Jesus, and other episodes, most of which do not occur in the Gospel of Mark (i.e., so-called “Q” and “L” material).

Here is a preliminary list of some of the areas and topics I will be addressing in the next set of notes (for the remainder of February and into March), dealing with the Galilean Ministry of Jesus, traditions and passages related to:

    • The call of the Disciples
    • Jesus’ relatives and family
    • The Sabbath Controversies
    • Collection/joining of sayings, parables, and miracle stories
    • The Feeding miracle(s)
    • The Son of Man sayings

The next several notes will deal with the first topic—the Call of the (first) Disciples of Jesus.

It is worth mentioning, that these Galilean ministry passages and traditions are, for the most part, exclusive to the three Synoptic Gospels. The main reason for this is that a large percentage of scenes and dialogues in the Fourth Gospel are set in and around Jerusalem, so there is less material with which we can definitely work. However, it may be surprising how many parallels we will find between the Synoptic and Johannine traditions, and that the latter may well have included (and reworked) numerous episodes and traditions which are set in the “Galilean” section of the Synoptic narrative.

It may also be helpful to remind readers of the method I have adopted for this series. For each passage, narrative, or set of traditions being studied, I examine—

    • The basic Synoptic narrative (as represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark)
    • The so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark)
    • Traditions and details preserved only in Matthew and/or Luke (so-called “M” and “L” material), as well as original (literary) contributions by the authors
    • Johannine tradition and the Gospel of John

This order of study is roughly chronological, reflecting ‘layers’ of development—but not strictly so by any means. The Gospel of John certainly contains (separate) early/authentic historical traditions which are not found in the Synoptics. However, more often than not, the Fourth Gospel also shows the most evidence of extensive development, adaptation, and interpretation, of Gospel tradition. Indeed, this is a primary reason why it is usually regarded as the latest of the canonical Gospels—often dated around 90 A.D., in the form it has come down to us.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on the Son of Man Sayings

There is nearly unanimous agreement among scholars that the expression “the Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) in the Gospels, derives from its use (originally in Aramaic) by Jesus himself. All but a handful of the 80+ occurrences of “Son of Man” are from Jesus’ own words in the Gospels. By contrast, the expression only appears four times elsewhere in the New Testament, and only once as a title for Jesus (Acts 7:55-56, which is a reflection of Gospel tradition [Lk 22:69 par]). It is equally rare in the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings, the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-160 A.D.)—Ignatius, Ephesians 20:2; Epistle of Barnabas 12:10. In both of these passages “son of man” is understood in something like its generic sense (“human being”) to emphasize the human nature of Jesus—Ignatius stresses Jesus’ dual-nature (“…the [son] of Man and son of God”), while ‘Barnabas’, on the other hand, stresses that Jesus was not simply a human being (“see again Jesus: not son of man, but [rather] son of God”). We find “Son of Man” a bit more frequently in subsequent writings of the early Church, but usually in the context of commenting on, or attempting to explain, the use of the expression in the Gospels (or in Daniel 7). The most noteworthy occurrences in the 2nd century, are in the apologetic works of Justin Martyr—Dialogue with Trypho §§31, 32, 76, 79, 100, 126; and the First Apology §51.

All of this to say that the expression is found so frequently in the sayings of Jesus, and then virtually disappears from early Christian tradition—this makes the authenticity of its use in the sayings secure. However, when it comes to the eschatological Son of Man sayings by Jesus, where he appears to identify himself as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment, critical scholars tend to be a bit more cautious and skeptical. The authenticity of these sayings (as we have them in the Gospels) has been questioned, generally on the basis of two factors:

    1. They have been “Christianized” to varying degrees—that is to say, a number of the sayings have been tied in contextually to believers’ faith in, and confession of, Jesus (e.g. Luke 6:22; 9:26 [Mk 8:38]; 12:8). For critical scholars, this indicates that, at the very least, the sayings have been colored or modified in light of early Christian belief and practice.
    2. Jesus never specifically identifies himself as the “Son of Man”—this only occurs once in the Gospel tradition (in Matthew’s version of the first Passion prediction, Matt 16:21), and may be attributed to the author/narrator rather than Jesus. According to the view of a number of commentators, in the eschatological sayings, Jesus is referring to a separate divine/heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”, cf. Dan 7:13-14ff; 1 Enoch 37-71), and not to himself. In early Christian tradition, references to this figure were then interpreted as referring to Jesus and his end-time (second) coming, as we see in Matt 24:3.

With regard to the first point, the extent of the “Christianization” of these sayings certainly can be debated. If we consider the core sayings in the Synoptic tradition—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 and parallels—there is really very little evidence for this. The saying in Mark 8:34 has a more obvious “Christian” context, but, since the sayings in 8:34-9:1 have likely been appended together as part of the earliest Tradition, and need not have been uttered by Jesus in sequence on a single occasion, it is questionable whether one should equate it with the (original) context of v. 38. The same may be said for the narrative framework of chapter 13 (the Olivet or “Eschatological” Discourse), which is best understood as a collection of sayings, which may have been uttered by Jesus on different occasions, combined together on the basis of a common theme and subject—i.e. eschatological teaching and sayings by Jesus. Verses 9-13 are a prophecy of the persecution early believers will experience, and the “false Messiahs (or Christs)” in vv. 21-22 are connected with people claiming to be Christ (i.e. Jesus) in v. 6; however, only Matthew’s version of this discourse specifically connects the coming of the Son of Man (Mk 13:26 par) with the future/second coming of Jesus (Matt 24:3). In none of the Synoptics is the Son of Man saying itself modified or glossed, nor do we see any sign of this in Mark 14:62 par.

It is interesting to consider that Luke’s Gospel, apparently written for a wider Greco-Roman (Gentile) audience, and which occasionally translates or simplifies elements of the Gospel tradition into more conventional Greek language, never does this with the Son of Man sayings, even though the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as Jesus uses it, would have sounded strange indeed to Greeks unfamiliar with the Semitic idiom. Luke has considerably more eschatological sayings than Mark—in addition to the three core Synoptic sayings (cf. above), there are those in Lk 12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8; 21:36 (and cf. the parallels in Matt 24:27, 37, 39, 44). Not once, however, does the author narrate or explain the saying in such a way as to clarify that the coming of the Son of Man means the coming of Jesus himself. While early Christians may have assumed or understood this automatically, some in Luke’s intended audience likely would not have. That the Son of Man sayings were left ‘unexplained’ indicates that they were so deeply rooted and fixed in the Gospel tradition, the author simply could not alter them.

This brings us to the second point—that in these Son of Man sayings Jesus originally was not referring to himself, but a separate heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”). There are several problems with this view:

(a) There is little, if any, formal difference between the eschatological Son of Man sayings and those elsewhere in the Gospel tradition (i.e. Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 7:34; 9:58 par, etc), in which it is generally admitted that Jesus is referring to himself, perhaps using “son of man” idiomatically as a substitute for the pronoun “I”. Even in the context of the Passion, and the predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par) which critical scholars might regard as ex eventu prophecies produced by early Christians, there is little doubt that “the Son of Man” refers to Jesus himself. It is natural to assume that the eschatological sayings also are meant as a self-reference. If there was any intended distinction between the usage in these sayings, it has become completely confused in the Gospel tradition. In fact, there is some indication that Jesus’ use of the expression actually was confusing to some in his audience, if we accept the detail recorded in John 12:34.

(b) There is no clear evidence that the expectation of an end-time figure called “the Son of Man” was widespread or common at the time of Jesus; indeed, the situation is quite the opposite. As I indicated in Part 10, there is only one surviving document, likely contemporary with (or prior) to the time of Jesus, which describes a specific divine/heavenly being called “the Son of Man”—the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71). This “Son of Man”, also identified as “the Righteous One”, “the Elect/Chosen One” and also “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah), will serve as Judge over the nations at the end-time. This figure, like the “Son of Man” in Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62, is clearly inspired by, and derived from, Daniel 7; however, the Similitudes do not specifically emphasize his glorious appearance on earth at the end-time. There is little reason to think that Jesus was referring to common and popular image, though educated and devout Jews certainly would have recognized an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14. Turning again to John 12:34, we see that Jesus’ audience seems to understand “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah/Christ), presumably in terms of an end-time Davidic Ruler (cf. Parts 68), but they are noticeably less clear about the Son of Man (“…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”).

(c) If we combine the arguments of (a&b), along with the fact that there is little sign that any of the eschatological Son of Man sayings has been altered or glossed for the sake of clarity or as part of a Christological interpretation (cf. above), then there appears to be little reason to treat those sayings differently from Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” elsewhere. Even in the textual transmission, there is surprisingly little evidence for substantive variant readings involving the expression “Son of Man” (i.e., using a more familiar title “Lord”, “Christ”, “Son of God”, or even the pronoun “I”), one notable example being found in John 9:35 (“Son of Man” vs “Son of God”).

If, then, we accept the general authenticity of the Son of Man sayings by Jesus, and that they have been preserved with very little modification or alteration, it becomes necessary to step back and consider how the eschatological sayings fit within the overall use of the expression. I have already discussed this in prior notes and articles, but I will summarize the points here:

  • As a Hebrew/Aramaic idiom, the expression “son of man” simply refers to a human being or to the human condition. The poetic and formal usage in the Old Testament typically is related to the idea of human limitation (or weakness) and mortality, especially compared with the divine/heavenly nature of God and his Messengers (Angels).
  • Subsequently in Hebrew and Aramaic, this generic sense of the expression—i.e., a(ny) human being—merged into the specific use of the idiom as a self-reference, a substitute or circumlocution for the pronouns “I” or “you”. However, it is still debated whether, or to what extent, it was commonly used this way in the time of Jesus.
  • In many of the sayings, Jesus appears to use “son of man” as a self-reference, but in terms of his identity as a human being. Within the Synoptic tradition, see especially, Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 9:58 par.
  • This identification with human beings (and the human condition) also has a distinct soteriological emphasis in a number of sayings, both in the Synoptics and John—cf. Mark 10:45 par; Luke 19:10; John 3:13; 9:35.
  • He also identifies specifically with human weakness, suffering and death, expressed in the Gospel tradition in the context of his Passion (suffering/death) and subsequent resurrection—esp. the Passion predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 par), also Mark 9:9, 12; 14:21, 41 par; Matt 12:40; 26:2; Lk 22:48; 24:7, and cf. in the Gospel of John (Jn 3:14; 6:27, 33; 12:23, 34; 13:31).
  • Finally, he identifies himself with the “one like a son of man” (i.e. resembling a human being) in Daniel 7:13-14, as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear as God’s representative at the end-time Judgment—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 par, etc. Jesus draws on tradition and imagery (from Daniel 7) similar to that found in the Similitudes of Enoch (probably contemporary with Jesus’ time). In the Gospel and early Christian tradition, this Son of Man reference blends together with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (Mark 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56 etc). This exaltation motif is expressed somewhat differently in the Gospel of John, as a return, stepping (back) up into heaven to be with the Father—Jn 3:13; 6:27-52; 12:23; 13:31.

John the Baptist in Josephus’ Antiquities

The general historical accuracy of the Synoptic tradition regarding John the Baptist, including the background to the narrative in Mark 6:14-29 par, is confirmed by the information in Josephus’ Antiquities 18.116-119—the only other contemporary reference to John outside of the Gospels and book of Acts:

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness toward one another, and piety toward God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body: supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent as prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the citadel I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him. (LOEB translation)

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: Introduction

This series, entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition, will be a feature on this site. An initial series of notes and articles were originally posted on the earlier version of Biblesoft’s online study site in 2019, and are being reposted here (with some modification) leading up into Easter season 2020. Eventually, new articles will be added which expand and build upon these original notes.

This subject, in my view, is central to any proper study of the New Testament. Before proceeding, I would recommend that the reader consult my earlier article in which I discuss the meaning and use of the term “tradition“, as well as the expression “authentic tradition”. When specifically referring to “Gospel tradition”, this may be understood several ways:

  • Traditions related to Jesus which became part of the early Christian preaching and proclamation (kerygma) of what we call the Gospel—the “good news/message” of Christ.
  • Traditions which were combined and integrated to form a core Gospel narrative regarding the life and teachings of Jesus.
  • Traditions which came to be part of the written Gospels, as we have them.

When cited with capital letters—i.e., “Gospel Tradition”—it should be taken to mean that all three elements, or phenomena above, are included for consideration. An important aspect of this study, which I will especially be exploring in this series, is the development of the Gospel tradition. Contrary to the view, perhaps, of some traditional-conservative Christians in generations past, the four (canonical) Gospels as we know them did not come down out of heaven fully formed; rather, they are the product of a definite process of transmission and creative/artistic adaptation. Any serious view of the divine inspiration of the New Testament must take this into account. The three components of Gospel Tradition, listed above, hint at this developmental process; however, I would outline it even more precisely, here below, as follows:

    1. The words and actions of the historical Jesus and his contemporaries
    2. Jesus’ words/actions, etc, passed down (from eye/ear-witnesses) and transmitted orally among the first generation of Christians—i.e. early oral tradition
    3. Collected sayings of Jesus, and stories/episodes involving him, joined together thematically (catchword-bonding, etc) into somewhat larger traditional units—transmitted orally, but early on they began to be written down as well
    4. The first coherent and developed Gospel narratives and other related written texts. Many scholars would include the Gospel of Mark, as well as the so-called “Q” material, in this category (cf. below).
    5. The written Gospels—certainly Luke, Matthew, John, and perhaps others surviving (as fragments) from the 1st century. These larger, more complex works incorporate earlier existing source documents, as well as (perhaps) various developed oral traditions.

Admittedly, this sequence is largely theoretical, but there are many indications of it, I believe, preserved in the text of the Gospels as they have come down to us. Sometimes this requires a little detective work, but, as often as not, the process of development can be traced to some extent. What is unique about the New Testament—and the Gospels in particular—is how quickly this development took place, and how well documented it is, relatively speaking, for us today. If we consider the period of Jesus’ ministry as taking place during the few years around 30 A.D., the Gospels had all come to be written, more or less as we have them, by the end of the first century (c. 80-90 A.D., for the latest of them)—only a generation or two (30-60 years) after the events they record. The vast preserve of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (including a fair number from the 3rd century), along with the many versions (in Latin, Syriac, et al), and scores of citations in the early Church Fathers (2nd-3rd centuries), allows the dedicated scholar the unusual opportunity of studying the Gospels at a level of detail unparalleled for texts from the ancient world.

If we were to consider the five layers above from a chronological standpoint, they would be, roughly speaking:

    • Layer 1: The actual words, etc, of Jesus and the historical events—c. 28-35? A.D.
    • Layer 2: Early oral tradition—the period c. 30-50 A.D.
    • Layer 3: Gospel tradition, collected sayings and narrative units—sometime before 50 A.D.?
    • Layer 4: The first developed Gospel narratives and written texts—c. 50-60 A.D.
    • Layer 5: The written Gospels as we have them—60-90 A.D.

Throughout this series, I will be looking at many examples—passages in the Gospels—where this development may be studied. Why is this important? One of the great failings of a strict traditional-conservative view of Scripture, in the case of the Gospels, is that it tends to treat Layer 1 as essentially identical with Layer 5, often ignoring (or even denying) the layers of development in between. But it can be demonstrated rather clearly, at hundreds of different points, that the Gospels evince various layers of adaptation and interpretation, by which the historical words and events (taken in their concrete, documentary sense) have been transformed into something far greater than a mere stenographic record. I would maintain that any approach which downplays or ignores the developmental (and creative/artistic) process, risks severely misunderstanding and misreading the Gospels. I hope to encourage students of Scripture, along with all other interested believers, to look at the Gospel narratives in this light, with a fresh perspective, so as to explore more fully the depths of the truth and beauty which they possess.

I begin this study where the Gospels themselves begin, on the whole—with the account of the Baptism of Jesus. This episode, found in all four Gospels (and also in Acts), serves as an interesting and appropriate test case for our examination. This is particularly so since, as we shall see, the narrative of Jesus’ baptism preserves numerous historical details and associations which seem to have largely disappeared from Christian tradition during the first century. On the one hand, this confirms the fundamental historicity of the Gospel tradition(s); on the other, it makes it somewhat easier to distinguish between historical details and elements which possibly indicate an early Christian interpretation of them.

When referring to the four Gospels, in terms of the Gospel Tradition, scholars and commentators generally recognize three main strands: (1) the core Synoptic tradition, represented primarily by Mark; (2) the so-called “Q” material, common to Matthew and Luke; and (3) Johannine tradition, i.e., traditions preserved only in the Gospel of John.

As a method of study, I will be adopting the following approach whenever possible, examining in sequence:

    • The Synoptic tradition, as recorded in Mark
    • The “Q” material in Matthew-Luke
    • Details unique to Matthew
    • Details unique to Luke
    • Johannine tradition as developed in the Gospel of John

In preparing for the notes dealing with the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition, I will be using the following outline, which, first, isolates three primary components of the Baptism narrative—

    1. The ministry of John
    2. The relationship between John and Jesus
    3. Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), in comparison with John

and then, secondly, I will explore the place that the Baptism has in the structure of the Synoptic narrative—the two-part division, and the parallels between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes.

The initial set of notes will follow the sequence indicated above, beginning with an examination of the ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1:3-6 par).

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 7: The Davidic King (Detailed Analysis)

Having explored the background and development of the Messianic figure-type of Anointed (Davidic) King in the previous article, here I will proceed to examine a number key passages—first from Jewish writings of the 1st centuries B.C./A.D., then from the Gospels (and early Christian tradition).

Jewish Writings (c. 150 B.C. to 100 A.D.)

Sirach 47:11; 51:12ff (line 8 of the hymn)—The book of Sirach is dated from the early-mid 2nd century B.C., though the Hebrew hymn that is set after 51:12 is probably a later addition. Both verses refer to God exalting/raising the “horn” (Grk ke/ra$), an Old Testament idiom indicating power and prestige (2 Sam 22:3; Psalm 18:2; 75:4-5; Jer 48:25; Dan 7:8ff; 8:5ff, etc). The idea of God “exalting the horn” of the ruler (esp. of David and his line), reflects the divinely-appointed status of the king, who enjoys the power and protection of YHWH—see Psalm 89:17, 24; 92:10; 112:9. The announcement or promise of a future raising/sprouting of a horn for Israel is found in Psalm 132:17; 148:14; Ezek 29:21. A Messianic use of this idiom is also found in the New Testament (Luke 1:69). Interestingly, the book of Sirach generally accords greater prestige and importance to the figure of (High) Priest, rather than king—compare the description of David and the kings of chap. 47 with that of Moses, Aaron and Phineas in chap. 45 (and cf. also the praise of Simon ben Onias in chap. 50). The elevation of the Priestly figure over and against the King/Prince is a feature of a number of Jewish writings from the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. It can be seen in the book of Jubilees (Jub 31:4-32), the traditions underlying the Testament of Levi (cf. also Testament of Judah 21-22), and throughout the Qumran texts (the Community rule-texts CD/QD, 1QS, 1QSa-b, also 4QTLevi and 4Q541). This presumably reflects the reality of the situation in the post-Exilic period, where the High Priest was set more or less in an equal position with the Prince/King (cf. on Zerubbabel and Joshua and the “two sons of oil” in Zech 3:8-10; 4:1-14; 6:11-13). Indeed, throughout much of the Intertestamental and second-Temple periods, the High Priest (along with the great Priestly families) was the dominant figure in Judah/Judea. The texts and traditions of the 2nd-1st centuries B.C. likely also reflect an underlying polemic against the Hasmonean/Herodian rulers of the time. In lines 8-9 of the hymn in Sirach 51, the “horn of David” (as Ruler) and the chosen “sons of Zadok” (as Priest) are set in tandem.

Psalms of Solomon 17-18—Here we have the clearest pre-Christian expression of the traditional image of an Anointed Ruler who will defeat/subdue the nations and establish a (Messianic) Kingdom for Israel. The Psalms are to be dated in the mid-1st century, in the Hasmonean period, presumably sometime after Pompey’s invasion (63 B.C.). Ps Sol 17 begins with an address to God as King (and the source of kingship): “Lord, you are our king forever… the kingdom of our God is forever over the nations in judgment” (vv. 1-3). The covenant with David is mentioned in verse 4 (“you chose David to be king… that his kingdom should not fail before you”), contrasted with “sinners” (presumably the Maccabean/Hasmonean line) who arose and set up their own monarchy, and so “despoiled the throne of David” (v. 6). Then came “a man alien to our race”, a “lawless one” (vv. 7, 11ff)—most likely a reference to Pompey and the Romans—who invaded and desecrated Jerusalem, scattering its people. This inaugurated an era of sin and injustice (vv. 18b-20). In verse 21-25, the call goes out to God:

“See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God…”

The actions of this Davidic ruler will be two-fold: (1) he will judge and destroy the wicked nations (vv. 22-25, using language from Psalm 2 and Isa 11:1-4), and (2) he will gather/restore Israel as the people of God, establishing a new kingdom of righteousness and peace (vv. 26-32). This ruler is called “Anointed Lord” (xristo\$ kuri/ou) in verse 32, and his reign over Israel and the nations is further described throughout vv. 33-44; ultimately, however, it is God who is the true King of Israel, as stated in the concluding verse (“the Lord Himself is our king forevermore”, v. 46).

Ps Sol 18 is much briefer, but likewise offers a petition to God for cleansing, “…for the day of mercy in blessing, for the appointed day when his Anointed will reign” (v. 5). This rule will take place “under the rod of discipline of the Anointed Lord” (v. 7a).
(Translations by R. B. Wright, OTP 2:665-9, with modifications [in italics])

A generally similar description of the Messiah and his coming rule is found in the (late) 1st-century A.D. works—the Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch) and the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (also known as 4 Ezra). 2 Baruch 26-28 sets forth a twelve-part series of calamities to come upon the world, and then “when all that…has been accomplished, the Anointed One will begin to be revealed” (29:3)—his appearance will usher in an era of peace and prosperity, after which the resurrection will come (30:1). The Messiah’s role in judging and subduing the nations is described in 39:7ff (“…and his dominion will last forever until the world of corruption has ended”, 40:3). An even more detailed description is found as part of the Vision of the Clouds and Waters (2 Bar 53-76)—in 70:9, after the coming of many tribulations, “all will be delivered into the hands of my Servant, the Anointed One”; “he will call all nations, and some of them he will spare, and others he will kill” (72:2). After he has judged the nations and established rule, an idealized era of peace and security will commence (ch. 73). Translations by A. F. J. Klijn, OTP 1:630, 633, 645.

2/4 Esdras similarly has the image of a Messianic Kingdom which precedes the Resurrection and Last Judgment, and which will last 400 years (7:28-29). In the great “Eagle Vision” of chapters 11-12, the lion which appears is identified as “the Anointed (Messiah) whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the posterity of David” (12:32). He will judge and destroy the wicked, and deliver the remnant of Israel (12:34). Modified translation by B. M. Metzter in OTP 1:550.

The Qumran Texts—Here I focus on texts and passages which use the expressions “Prince of the Congregation” (hduh aycn) or “Branch of David” (dywd jmx), both of which are identified with the “Anointed One (of Israel)”, and almost certainly represent the same expected/eschatological Ruler-figure from the line of David (see the discussion in Part 6). Both expressions are found in the Commentary (Pesher) on Isaiah, 4QpIsaa [4Q161]. In column ii (fragments 2-6), on Isa 10:24-27, there is a reference to the “Prince of the Congregation”, and according to what follows, “…after(wards) he/it will be removed from them.” Since the context overall is that of the judgment on the wicked/nations and preservation of a remnant from Israel, the verse probably relates to this. The war against the Kittim (a cipher for Rome) is described in column 3 (fragments 7/8-10), along with a citation of Isaiah 11:1-5 (cf. above) as a Messianic prophecy—”…the interpretation of the word concerns the shoot/branch of David which will sprout in the final days… with the breath of his lips he will execute his enemy and God will support him… he will rule over all the peoples… his sword will judge all the peoples” [restored translation adapted from Martínez-Tigchelaar, 1:317]. The end-time war against the Kittim and the wicked/nations is described in much more detail in the famous War Rule [1QM, 4QM], where the “Prince of the Congregation is mentioned in at least one key passage: “upon the shield of the Prince of the whole Congregation they shall write his name…and the names of the twelve tribes…” etc (5:1 [Martínez-Tigchelaar, 1:121], see also 3:16 and 4Q496 col. 4 frag. 10). It is not clear in this document, whether, or to what extent, this Prince takes an active role in the war, which is what one would expect of the Davidic Ruler to come. This role as conqueror and/or judge of the wicked is more in view in the fragmentary 4Q285, which is likely related in some way to the War Rule; “Prince of the Congregation” appears four times (partly restored) in this text, twice identified specifically as the “Branch of David”. In fragments 6 + 4, the Prince is clearly involved in the war against the Kittim, and at some point “they shall bring him [i.e. leader of the Kittim?] before the Prince of the Congregation”; in fragment 5 (= 11Q14 1 1), in the context of Isa 11:1ff and the defeat of the Kittim, it is stated that “the Prince of the Congregation will kill him” [Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:643]. Cf. also 4Q376 (frag. 1, col. iii).

In the Community Rule documents—the Damascus Document [CD, QD], Rule of the Community [1QS] and the related 1QSa, 1QSb—the “Prince of the Congregation” and/or the “Anointed (of Israel)” is depicted in terms of his future/end-time role as leader of the Community. This is not particularly surprising, since the Qumran Community (and the Community of the Damascus Document) almost certainly saw itself as representing the faithful ones of the last days. Only those Israelites who join the Community and follow its ways will be saved from the Judgment and be part of the coming Kingdom (Rule over the Community = the Kingdom). In CD 7:19-20 (= 4Q266 3 col. iii), the “Prince of the Congregation” is said to be the fulfillment of Numbers 24:17, the Scripture being given a Messianic interpretation—he will destroy the wicked of Judah and the “sons of Seth” (cf. also CD 19:10-11). The Anointed of Israel is also mentioned in the context of judgment in CD 20:1; for other references to the Anointed, see CD 12:23-13:1; 14:19; 1QS 9:11; 1QSa 2:11-12, 14-15, 20-21. In 1QSb 5:20ff, after the announcement of blessing, the “Prince of the Congregation” will play a role in the renewal of the covenant and the establishment of the kingdom for his [i.e. God’s] people forever (note also the allusion to Isa 11:1-4 and judgment on the wicked in 5:24ff).

In the Florilegium [4Q174], as part of a string of messianic/eschatological Scripture passages, the “Branch of David” will arise as the fulfillment of 2 Sam 7:11-14 to deliver Israel from the “sons of Belial” (col. i, lines 7-11). The Commentary on Genesis [4Q252], on Gen 49:10 (col. v), interprets the “staff” as “the Anointed (One) of Righteousness” and “Branch of David”—”…to him and to his descendants has been given the covenant of kingship for everlasting generations” [Martínez-Tigchelaar, 1:505]. For other Messianic interpretation of the “staff/sceptre” of Gen 49:10 and Num 24:17, see 1QSb 5:27-28; 1QM 11:6-7; 4Q175 12; 4Q521 frag 2 col. iii, as well as the famous reference in the Jewish/Christian Testament of Judah (24:1-6).

The Gospels and the New Testament

Use of the term xristo/$ (“Anointed”)

Apart from the various uses of xristo/$ as a virtual second name for Jesus in early Christianity (reflected in the New Testament), I am examining here only those passages which refer to a specific coming/expected figure: “the Anointed” ([o(] Xristo/$), or with the transliteration “the Meshiyach [Messiah]” ([o(] Messi/a$). It is best to begin with the core Synoptic Tradition, looking especially at those instances which definitely (or are likely to) refer to an Anointed (Davidic) Ruler. There are four main passages:

Peter’s Confession (Mark 8:29 / Lk 9:20 / Matt 16:16)—The Markan version (“You are the Anointed [One]”), has been given expanded form in Luke (“…Anointed [One] of God“) and Matthew (“…Anointed [One], the Son of the living God“). The Matthean formula is somewhat problematic as an utterance by Peter in the historical context of the narrative. In any event, it is clear that something very distinct and special has been revealed. Note:

    • Here “Anointed” is in contrast with Jesus being identified as a Prophet (Elijah); as discussed previously (cf. Part 3), a number of instances where “Anointed” is used in the Gospels during the period of Jesus’ ministry, etc., better fit the idea of an Anointed Prophet to come, but this does not seem to be the case here.
    • Jesus gives a firm instruction that the disciples not make this identification known to anyone.
    • There seems to be an intentional contrast between this identification and the announcement of suffering and death which follows (Mk 8:31 par, similarly following the Transfiguration scene [Mk 9:12, 30-31 par]).
    • The relationship between the “Anointed” and the “Son of Man” (cf. the Passion predictions and other sayings that follow).
    • The Lukan and Matthean versions seem to relate in some way to the Divine voice in the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (Mk 1:11; 9:7 pars), indicating that Jesus, as the Anointed One, is specifically the Elect/Chosen One (and Son) of God, cf. Lk 9:35.

The Question regarding the Anointed and the “Son of David” (Mark 12:35-37 / Lk 20:41ff / Matt 22:42ff)—This difficult and somewhat ambiguous passage, set during Passion week in Jerusalem, will be discussed in some detail in Part 8.

The Question of the High Priest (Mark 14:61ff / Lk 22:67 ff / Matt 26:63ff)—This of course takes place during Jesus’ appearance (or “trial”) before the Council (the Sanhedrin), and would seem to denote something very specific. In Mark the question is: “Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (Matthew reads “…Anointed [One], the Son of God”); in Luke, it is simply “Are you the Anointed (One)?” In the context of the Synoptic narrative, this question serves as a parallel to Peter’s confession, especially if we consider the expanded version in Matthew:

“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God”
“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of God?”

The joining of “Anointed” and “Son of God” is particularly noteworthy. The Lukan scene is more developed:

    • High Priest’s question: “Are you the Anointed One?”
    • Jesus eventually responds, identifying himself with the coming Son of Man
    • High Priest follows: “Are you then the Son of God?”

In all three Gospels, there is the three-fold association: Anointed–Son of Man–Son of God. Jesus’ response to the question differs somewhat; only Mark records an unmistakable affirmative answer: “I am” (Mk 14:62). Regardless, Jesus’ response is enough for the High Priest to declare that it is blasphemy—i.e., slander/insult against God. Nowhere is the idea of an Anointed King mentioned, but the subsequent events of the Passion narrative (Mk 15:2ff, 16-20 etc) make it clear that this is in mind.

The Taunts while Jesus is on the Cross (Mark 15:32 / Luke 23:35 [+ 39])—Here the title “Anointed One” is linked directly to Jesus as a (supposed) king: “The Anointed (One), the King of Israel, let him step down now from the stake [i.e. cross] that we may see and trust [i.e. believe]!” (Mk 15:32). In Luke the taunt is recorded as: “…let him save himself, if this (man) is the Anointed (One), the Chosen [i.e. gathered out] (One) of God!” (cf. also verse 39). The expression “Elect/Chosen One” (o( e)klekto/$) in the Lukan context is an echo of the Divine voice in the Transfiguration scene (“My Son, the Elect/Chosen One [o( e)klelegme/no$]”, Lk 9:35). There is thus a loose association through the Synoptic Tradition: Anointed–King–Elect One–Son of God.

It is important to note that all of these instances are centered around the Passion events and narrative; in fact there are very few instances of the term “Anointed (One)” in the Gospel narrative which are set (chronologically) prior to Peter’s confession. In the Synoptics these are: Matthew 1:16-17; 2:4; 11:2; 16:20; Luke 3:15; 4:41—all of which are explanatory references by the narrator, and only Matt 1:16-17; 2:4 are clearly in the context of a Davidic Ruler (these are from the Infancy narratives, which will be treated separately in the next article). For other occurrences of xristo/$ in the context of the Passion narratives, cf. Matthew 23:10; 24:5, 23 par (sayings of Jesus set during Passion week); 27:17, 22. In the last two references, “Anointed” appears to be synonymous with “King (of the Jews)” [Lk 23:2]. In Luke 24:26, 46, “Anointed” is used by Jesus (after the Resurrection) as an identification of himself, parallel to “Son of Man” (v. 7; 9:22, 43-45, 18:31ff).

There are, in addition a number of references unique to the Gospel traditions recorded in the Gospel of John. The title “the Anointed (One)” is used in connection with John the Baptist in Jn 1:20, 25; 3:28 (cf. also Lk 3:15); and, as I have discussed previously, these likely refer to an Anointed Prophet figure, even though “the Anointed” and “the Prophet” seem to be distinguished in Jn 1:20ff. The same is true of Jn 4:25, 29—the “Messiah” of the Samaritans (the Tahêb) was a Prophet-like-Moses (Deut 18:15ff) rather than a Davidic Ruler. In Jn 7:26-27, 31; 9:22; 10:24; 12:34, the precise meaning of the expression is uncertain—though the context of the Shepherd theme in 10:24 might suggest a Davidic ruler (cf. Ezek 34:23-24); in 12:34 there is an association with the “Son of Man”. Only in Jn 7:41-42 is there a clear connection with David (allusion to Micah 5:2), distinct from “the (Anointed) Prophet”. John 1:41 and 11:27, represent identifications by disciples, similar to Peter’s confession in Synoptic tradition—note especially, Martha’s confession: “You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”.

Within early Christian tradition, there are also some notable references, especially those in the book of Acts, from Peter’s speeches: Acts 2:31, 36 (association with David in the context of the resurrection); and 3:18, 20. In Acts 4:25-27, Psalm 2 is cited and applied to the Passion and Resurrection. Similarly, we find a number of references where early believers are said to hold, as a tenet of belief, that Jesus was “the Anointed (One)”, proclaiming and demonstrating it from the Scriptures, etc—Acts 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28; 26:23 (cf. also Rom 9:5). This probably should be understood in terms of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection—i.e. that the Messiah (or Son of Man) must suffer and die (Lk 24:26, 46). The identification of Jesus as Anointed/Christ has become a test of orthodoxy by the time of 1 John 2:22; 5:1. Finally, we may note the statement in John 20:31, which concludes the Gospel.

Jesus as King and Davidic Ruler

There are, in fact, very few references to Jesus as King in the Gospel tradition outside of the Passion narrative. As I have discussed previously (see Parts 2 and 3), during the period of his ministry (in Galilee), especially in the Synoptic tradition, Jesus filled the Messianic role of Prophet rather than King. Here are the main passages (Lk 1:33 and the Infancy narratives will be treated separately, in Part 8):

  • Use of the expression “Son of David” (3 times) in the Gospel of Matthew—Matt 9:27 (cf. 20:30-31); 12:23; 15:22. In 12:23 we find the question of whether Jesus is the “Son of David”, a debate similar to the one in John 7:41-42 (cf. above).
  • The declaration by Nathanael in John 1:49: “You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!” This offers a formal parallel to the confession by Peter in Synoptic tradition—joining “King of Israel” with “Son of God”, just as Peter (in Matt 16:16) joins “Anointed (One)” with “Son of God”. Such a declaration is a bit unusual at this early position in the narrative.
  • John 6:15—following the feeding miracle, it is stated that Jesus knows people will come and attempt to make him king by force. Interestingly, however, in the narrative itself, the crowd declares Jesus to be the coming (end-time) Prophet, rather than a king (v. 14).
  • Matthew 16:28—in the Matthean version of this Synoptic saying (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26f), Jesus refers to the Son of Man “coming in his kingdom“.

This theme, and the association of Jesus with the Messianic (Davidic) Ruler type becomes more prominent as he approaches Jerusalem, and then, subsequently, throughout the Passion narrative:

In the scene of Jesus’ death, all four Gospels effectively present the image of him hanging on the cross, with the written charge fixed overhead (variously cited):

“This is (Jesus of Nazareth) the King of the Jews

In the book of Acts, we see a basic extension of the imagery and motifs from the Passion narratives, associating the death and resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus with David and certain key (Messianic) Psalms:

The accusation against early believers in Acts 17:7 reflects the charge made against Jesus (Lk 23:2)—i.e., that Jesus was considered to be a king, contrary (or in addition) to Caesar.

There are also a good number of references in the New Testament, reflecting early Christian belief and tradition, that Jesus was a King—among the most notable are:

However, it should be pointed out that most of these NT references are related more to the idea of the deity of Jesus—whether by way of his exaltation to the right hand of God, or according to a more general Christological belief, and have little connection to the earlier Jewish tradition of an Anointed Ruler from the line of David. This particular Davidic figure-type is largely limited to the Gospels, and the early strands of Christian tradition in the book of Acts (cf. also Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16). It is this association—Jesus as the “Son of David”—which will be discussed in more detail in the next part of this series.

References above marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 Vols.), ed. by James H. Charlesworth (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1983, 1985).
References marked “Martínez-Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (2 Vols.) (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental Note (“The One Coming”)

In examining the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus in Gospel tradition, special attention needs to be given to the expression o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the Coming [One]”, or “the [One who is] Coming”). This is a verbal noun from e&rxomai, a middle/deponent verb with the basic meaning “come, go”. It is used frequently in the New Testament, especially throughout the narratives of the Gospels and Acts. It plays a most important role in the message of John the Baptist, as recorded in the Gospels. The core declaration by John is firmly placed in the very earliest strands of (historical) Gospel tradition, being attested in at least five different places within the Gospels and Acts.

The Declaration by John the Baptist (Mk 1:7-8; Lk 3:16-17; Matt 3:11; John 1:27)

In the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:7-8) it is as follows:

“The (one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai] in back of [i.e. behind/after] me… I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”

Luke’s version (Lk 3:16) corresponds closely and reads:

“(On the one hand) I dunk you in water, but (on the other hand) the (one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai]… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and fire”

In Matthew 3:11 we have:

“(On the one hand) I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance], but (on the other hand) the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] is stronger than me… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and fire.”

Interestingly, Luke and Matthew agree with each other (against) Mark on several details: (1) both omit “in back of me” [o)pi/sw mou], (2) both use a me\nde/ construction [i.e. “on the one hand…on the other”], and (3) both add “and fire” [kai\ puri/]. Matthew differs from Mark/Luke, however, in the key phrase: “the one coming is stronger” vs. “the one stronger…comes”.

The truncated version in Acts 13:25, which may well be independent of Lk 3:16, is: “See! (one) comes [e&rxetai] after [met’] me…”

Finally we have the saying as recorded in Johannine tradition (John 1:26-27):

“I dunk you in water, (but one) has been stand(ing) in the midst of you whom you have not seen [i.e. known], the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] in back of me [o)pi/sw mou]…”

John’s version (independently) agrees with Mark in the inclusion of o)pi/sw mou (“in back of [i.e. behind/after] me”), and with Matthew in the verbal substantive (participle) o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”). It also contains detail not found in the Synoptic tradition, such as the idea that “the one coming” had been standing in the midst of the crowd (among those coming to be baptized by John), undetected by them. Keep in mind that the Johannine Gospel does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but has John the Baptist describe it after it had occurred (Jn 1:29-34). It would seem that a common (historical) tradition has been preserved in various forms.

Malachi 3:1

In the context of the Baptist’s message, this use of the verb e&rxomai almost certainly has eschatological significance, and is probably derived from Malachi 3:1, the last clause—”the Messenger of the covenant, whom you take pleasure in, see! he will come“. In the Greek [LXX] version, the form is e&rxetai, as in Mark/Luke (cf. above). In other words, “the one coming” [o( e)rxo/meno$] likely refers to the Messenger of Mal 3:1. Now, both the Hebrew Ea*l=m^ and Greek a&ggelo$ can mean either a human or divine/heavenly messenger—i.e. a prophet/herald or an Angel—depending on the context. Based on a comparison with Exodus 23:20, it seems most probable that the original reference in Mal 3:1 was to a heavenly Messenger (Angel), perhaps the “Messenger of YHWH” (virtually a personification of God Himself); note (the parallel elements being italicized)—

Exod 23:20: “See! I am sending a Messenger before you to guard you in the way, and to make you come [i.e. bring you] to the place which I have established”

Malachi 3:1: “See! I am sending my Messenger and he will (turn and) face [i.e. look at, examine] the way before me; and straightly [i.e. suddenly] he will come to his temple…”

Admittedly, the syntax of Mal 3:1 makes interpretation difficult, since there are two references to a Messenger. It is, I believe, best to view the structure of this verse chiastically, as follows:

    • See! I am sending my Messenger…and suddenly he will come (to his temple)
      —the Lord whom you are seeking
      —the Messenger of the covenant (in) whom you have pleasure
    • See! he is coming

We seem to be dealing with a single figure, a single Messenger (of the covenant), who is to be identified as “the Lord” [/doa*h*]. Now in the Old Testament and Israelite religious belief, God (YHWH) himself was represented by the Angel/Messenger of YHWH, and the appearance or manifestation of this “Messenger” signified the very appearance of YHWH. Here the appearance of the Messenger in Jerusalem, in the Temple, ushers in the great and terrible “Day of YHWH” (verse 2), whereby the people will be judged with fire. The righteous will be purified and refined (vv. 2-4), while the wicked will be consumed (vv. 5-6). This very clearly fits what John the Baptist describes of “the one coming” in Matt 3:11-12 / Lk 3:16-17.

However, by the time the book of Malachi was completed, an ‘appendix’ was added, which seems to identify the Messenger of Mal 3:1 with “Elijah” who will appear before the Day of YHWH (Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24]). From this interpretation developed the Messianic/eschatological Elijah-tradition—at the end-time, just prior to the Last Judgment, Elijah (himself or a Prophet like him) will appear in order to bring people to repentance. For more on this tradition, cf. the current article. In drawing, it would seem, upon Mal 3:1ff, did John have in mind a heavenly/divine Messenger (representing God himself) or an end-time Prophet-like-Elijah? There is perhaps a clue to be found in Luke’s account (Lk 3:15), where it is narrated that John’s declaration in vv. 16-17 is in response to speculation that he might be “the Anointed” (i.e. the ‘Messiah’), as we see also in Jn 1:20ff. Based on what we know of the Baptist’s appearance and his ministry, it is unlikely that anyone would have imagined him to be a Messiah of the Davidic-King type, whereas he easily could have been thought to be a Messianic Prophet according to the Elijah-tradition. As in Jn 1:20ff, he eschews such an identification, reserving it for another (Jesus).

Development in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:15, 30 etc)

In the Fourth Gospel, we find that the declaration of the Baptist has undergone an important theological/Christological development, which is expressed in the parallel statement in Jn 1:15, 30 (see my earlier note and study for a detailed exposition of these verses). This is part of an intentional effort by the author (and/or the tradition[s] he inherited) to subordinate John the Baptist to Jesus more completely and profoundly than we see in the Synoptic Gospels. We may note: (1) the references to John in the Prologue (Jn 1:1-18, vv. 6ff, 15), (2) his explicit testimony in three consecutive episodes (Jn 1:19-28, 29-34, 35ff), and (3) the juxtaposition of John and Jesus in Jn 3:22-30. Throughout the Gospel of John, the verb e&rxomai (“come, go”) often carries a special significance, related to the idea of Jesus (the Son) coming from God (the Father), and going back (returning) to Him. Particularly, in this respect, e&rxomai relates to what we would call the incarnation of the pre-existent Son. Many examples could be cited, but I will limit them here to instances where the participle [o(] e)rxo/meno$ (“[the one] coming”) is used—Jn 1:9, 15, 27; 3:31 (twice); 6:14; 11:27, also 12:13. The occurrences in Jn 3:31 are especially noteworthy since they follow right after the Baptist’s (final) statement, and are thought by some scholars to be a continuation of his words. It is also interesting that the parallel formulations of Jn 1:15, 30 vary between the participle (o( e)rxo/meno$ “the one coming”) and indicative (e&rxetai, “[he] comes”), just as we see the Baptist’s declaration in the Synoptic tradition (cf. above).

Psalm 118:26

There is an entirely different strand of Gospel tradition associating Jesus with “the one coming in the name of YHWH” of Psalm 118:26 (cf. Mark 11:9 [par Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38]; Matt 23:39 / Lk 13:35). Jesus is also connected with the king who comes in Zech 9:9ff—with both Zech 9:9 and Ps 118:26 being combined in the triumphal entry scene, most clearly in John 12:13, 15:

“…the (one) coming [o( erxo/meno$] in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel”
“…see! your king comes [e&rxetai]…”

In early Christian belief, and the developed Gospel tradition, Jesus’ identification as “the one coming in the name of the Lord” means more than that of the traditional Anointed King or Prophet. This is perhaps best seen by comparing Luke 13:34-35 (citing Psalm 118:26) with Luke 19:41-44 (a similar lament for Jerusalem, following his entry into the city, vv. 36-40). Here the appearance of God himself to his people is identified as taking place in the person of Jesus (v. 44). This brings us back to the language and symbolism of Malachi 3:1, as I understand its meaning and significance in the context of the original oracle.