April 11 (2): Luke 23:44-45

In commemoration of Holy Saturday, I offer brief meditations on two interesting details which occurred at the time of Jesus’ death: (1) the darkness which covered the land, and (2) the veil of the Temple which was torn in two. Both of these details appear in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 27:45, 51; Mark 15:33, 38; Luke 23:44-45), but I will be commenting specifically on Luke’s account.

1. The Darkness

Luke 23:44 states: kai\ h@n h&dh w(sei\ w&ra e%kth kai\ sko/to$ e)ge/neto e)f’ o%lhn th\n gh=n e%w$ w%ra$ e)na/th$ (“and it was now as if [i.e. about] the sixth hour and darkness came to be upon the whole earth until the ninth hour”), which differs only slightly from the wording in Matthew and Mark. However Luke adds: tou= h(li/ou e)klipo/nto$ (“[at] the sun’s leaving out [its light]”); this is the best reading, but some manuscripts instead have kai\ e)skoti/sqe o( h%lio$ (“and the sun was darkened”). I translate here e)klei/pw literally as “leave out”, but it has the general sense of “be deficient, lack, fade, fail”; many versions translate “for the sun’s [light] failed”, or something similar. On the historical level, this may have been a simple natural phenomenon (such as an eclipse, see below); however, it seems clear that in the Gospel tradition, the darkness has a symbolic import, in connection with Jesus on the cross. In the Gospel of Mark and Matthew, it occurs right before Jesus’ cry of dereliction (quoting Psalm 22, with transliterated Hebrew/Aramaic preserved): “My God, my God, for what have you left me behind?”—here the darkness may be taken to symbolize God’s forsaking of Jesus, a sense of sheer abandonment (in Matthew/Mark, these are Jesus’ only words spoken from the cross). The Greek translated “left behind” is an intensive form of katalei/pw, related to the very word Luke uses for the failing [“leaving out”] of the sun. Interestingly, Luke records no such cry: rather, Jesus cries out [lit. “gives voice”] with a loud voice (quoting a different Psalm 31), “Father, into your hands I set alongside my breath [i.e. spirit]”. Here there is no specific sense of abandonment; indeed, Jesus’ words suggest the opposite!

In Luke’s account, the darkness could be understood principally one of two ways: (a) a sign of the (temporary) dominance of sin/evil/suffering, or (b) a sign of judgment against the land (and people). The only other mention of “darkness” (sko/to$) in this context in Luke is from the scene of Jesus’ arrest (22:53): “this is your hour and the authority of the darkness”, which would suggest (a). Jesus’ two-fold mention of peirasmo/$ (“testing”) in the earlier Passion episode (22:40, 46) may also have eschatological overtones involving darkness, signs in the sun and moon etc. (cf. the apocalyptic language of Luke 21:25ff and par.), which could fit either (a) or (b). The fact that Luke records the tearing of the Temple veil (see below), right after the darkness (and before Jesus’ actual death), suggests more strongly the motif of darkness as judgment.

From early times, commentators have thought that Luke is specifically referring to a (solar) eclipse. This is possible, of course, at the historical level; but, I think, totally irrelevant to Luke’s narrative. However, it is worth mentioning the archetypal symbolism which was occasionally applied to the crucifixion scene in Christian art: where the sun and moon appear on either side of the cross, flanking Jesus, in parallel to the “good” and “wicked” thief—the sun associated with the good side, moon with the bad. In this regard, I am reminded of the Sefirotic Tree structure of Jewish mystical tradition (Kabbalah)—loving-kindness and mercy (dsj) on the right side, strength and judgment (/d/hrwbg) on the left, with beauty (trapt) in the center column. Are not the two “sides” even represented by the two separate cries of Jesus (Matthew/Mark and Luke)?—one, a cry in the face of judgment and desolation, the other, a cry of loving trust in God. An ancient form of this archetypal symbolism depicted two eyes on either side of the central panel: would not the “eclipse” be the juxtaposition of these two?—one eye, in the Person of Christ, shining in the darkness.

2. The Temple Veil

In Luke 23:45 we read: e)sxi/sqe de\ to\ katape/tasma tou= naou= me/son (“and the spread of the shrine was split in the middle”); Matthew and Mark differ slighting in stating/adding that it was split “in two from above and downward [i.e. below]”. katape/tasma (lit. something “spread downward”) is used here of the Temple curtain (veil), of which especially there were two: one guarding off the holy place (the shrine or sanctuary [nao$] proper), and the other the innermost shrine (the “holy of holies”). Which curtain is meant? This would seem to depend on the overall context of the scene; there are three main possibilities:

a) Soteriological: the rending of the temple curtain allows for access into the holiest place (where God dwells), cf. Hebrews 9
b) Covenantal: the rending of the curtain symbolizes the ‘end’ of the old covenant (with the Temple) and the beginning of the new (in the Person of Christ)
c) Apocalyptic: the rending of the curtain represents a time of (Divine) Judgment on the land, in which even the Temple will not be spared (cf. Luke 21:5-6 par.)

It is possible that the symbolism involves all three aspects; the fact that Luke connects rending of the veil with the darkness over the land suggests that (b) and/or (c) are more likely for his account. Mark and Matthew only mention the rending of the veil after Jesus’ death, which might imply (b). If an Apocalyptic symbol (c) is involved, then it is probably the curtain of the holy place that is meant, for it was decorated, according to Josephus, as “a kind of image of the universe” (Jewish War 5 §212).

There is an interesting parallel in John’s account: though he does not mention the rending of the veil, it is worth noting his description of the dividing of Jesus’ garments (John 19:23-24). He states that the soldiers “made four parts” (divided four ways among them) of his garments, but when they came to Jesus’ tunic/shirt (xitw/n) they noticed it was “without seam” and woven “from above” (a&nwqen) “through the whole” (i.e. downward to the bottom); and they said “let us not split (sxi/swmen) it”.  This language echoes the account of the rending of the veil (especially in Matthew/Mark). Is it too much for one to consider Jesus’ seamless tunic as a symbol of his own Body (or at least of its curtain/garment)? While the curtain of the Temple was torn from top to bottom, the garment of his Body remained whole.

April 10 (3): Luke 2:34-35

In the year 2016, Good Friday coincided with the Annunciation—the celebration of the Angelic announcement to Mary. In most years the Annunciation comes close in time to Lent and/or Holy Week. This connection between the death of Christ on the cross, and his conception in the womb of Mary, may seem strange to most of us. We are perhaps not accustomed to meditating upon these two aspects together, but Church Fathers such as Ephrem the Syrian certainly were aware of the connection (especially the association with Passover):

Moses shut in the lamb in April
On the tenth day—a symbol of the Son
Who came into the womb and closed Himself up
On the tenth day…
(Hymn 5 on the Nativity st. 14, translation Kathleen E. McVey; cf. also Hymn 4 st. 31-34, etc)

The conception here is coordinated with the 10th of Nisan, at the time when the lambs are set aside in preparation of slaughtering for Passover (4 days later), cf. Exodus 12:3-6. Indeed, it may be most profitable on this day to consider the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), both the prophecy (arranged chiastically):

    • ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai
      • kai\ dw/sei au)tw=| ku/rio$ o( qeo\$ to\n qro/non Daui\d tou= patro/$ au)tou=
      • kai\ basileu/sei e)pi\ to\n oi@kon  )Iakw\b ei)$ tou\$ ai)w=na$
    • kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$

“This (one) shall be great and called Son of the Highest
and the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father
and he shall be king upon the house of Jacob into the Ages
and of his Kingdom there shall not be an end” (vv. 32-33)

and the answer to Mary’s question:

    • pneu=ma a%gion e)peleu/setai e)pi\ se
      • kai\ du/nami$ u(yi/stou e)piskia/sei soi:
    • dio\ kai\ to\ gennw/menon a%gion
      • klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou=

“(The) Holy Breath [i.e. Holy Spirit] shall come upon you
and (the) Power of the Highest will cast shadow upon you
through which the (one) coming-to-be (born) is holy
called the Son of God”
[the last portion can also be rendered as:]
through which the (one) coming-to-be (born)
shall be called holy, the Son of God” (v. 35)

However, I would like to look briefly here at another episode from the Lukan Infancy Narratives involving Mary: namely, the encounter with Simeon in the Temple (Luke 2:25-35), since it has traditionally been associated with the Passion of Christ. There are four parts to the narrative: (a) the purification of Mary / presentation of Jesus [2:22-24], (b) the introduction and Canticle of Simeon [2:25-32], (c) the Prophecy of Simeon [2:33-35], and (d) the presence of the prophetess Anna in the Temple [2:36-38], along with a concluding notice by Luke [2:39-40]. The Canticle of Simeon (known by its Latin translation as the Nunc Dimittis) is one of the most beautiful and cherished of New Testament hymns, and quickly became a fixed part of the liturgy: traditionally sung as part of the Daily Office (at Compline), as well as in funeral services, it holds a special place in the Holy Week Office.

I wish to focus on the second part of the Simeon episode, the prophecy (vv. 34-35). For the moment, I leave out the parenthetical prophecy regarding Mary, so that it is easier to see the prophecy in context:

i(dou\ ou!to$ kei=tai ei)$ ptw=sin kai\ a)na/stasin
    pollw=n e)n tw=|   )Israh/l
kai\ ei)$ shmei=on a)ntilego/menon
{prophecy regarding Mary}
  o%pw$ a*n a)pokalufqw=sin e)k pollw=n kardiw=n dialogismoi/

“See, this (one) is laid (down) unto the falling (down) and standing up
of many in Israel
and unto a sign being counted (i.e. spoken) against
{prophecy regarding Mary}
so that the countings-through (i.e. reasonings/reckonings) out of many hearts might be uncovered”

[or, in smoother, conventional translation:]

“See, this (one) is set for the falling and rising
of many in Israel
and for a sign to be spoken against
{prophecy regarding Mary}
so that the thoughts of many hearts might be uncovered”

The prophecy is fairly clear: Christ’s life and presence is set toward (and will lead to) the “falling down and standing up” of “many” in Israel. Are these separate groups of people, or separate conditions in which the same person may find him/herself? Or both? That there is some sort of division intended, I think is certain. And, indeed, throughout Jesus’ ministry, up to his death and resurrection, and for all the centuries thereafter, this prophecy seems to hold. Jesus himself speaks of bringing a “sword” (Matthew 10:34)—his life and teachings, indeed, his very presence, will cause division even between members of a family. There is a two-fold aspect to the second stanza as well: (a) a sign spoken against, (b) thoughts of many hearts uncovered. The adverb o%pw$ (used as a conjunction), links the two phrases into a purpose clause—i.e., the sign is spoken against “so as” or “so that” the reckonings of many hearts will be revealed. In other words, speaking against Christ (and what he signifies) is for the purpose of (and results in) the revealing of what is inside the human heart. Why “many” and not “all”? It is possible that the primary emphasis is directed toward believers, not all the people; that is, it is not a blanket expression of judgment, but of the sifting through and revealing of those who will come to believe.

What then of the difficult prophecy regarding Mary which is embedded in the oracle? The Greek reads:

kai\ sou= [de\] au)th=$ th\n yuxh\n dieleu/setai r(omfai/a
“[and] also of you (your)self a sword will go through your heart”

The precise meaning of the statement is difficult to determine. Traditionally, it has been seen as a prophecy of the suffering Mary will experience when she sees Jesus put to death on the cross—this is the popular “Sorrowful mother” (mater dolorosa) of the Stabat Mater and Pieta in Christian art. Some would treat this more generally in terms of the suffering and rejection Mary would experience (vicariously through Christ) or in her own person. Many scholars today tend to focus more specifically on Mary’s role elsewhere in Luke-Acts: she does not appear in the Passion scene at all; also several of the scenes in which she appears (2:19, 33, 51) in the Infancy narrative emphasize that she “treasured” [suneth/rei, lit. “guarded/kept together”] and “pondered” [sumba/llousa, lit. “threw/put together”] in her heart the things she has witnessed (v. 19). This, along with the position of the statement—right before “so that the thoughts of many might be uncovered”—has suggested that the “sword” is actually one of discernment or discrimination: that is, Mary herself will come to understand the reality of who Christ is, but only with struggle and difficulty. However, in the only other (Scriptural) reference to a sword “going through” (Ezekiel 14:17), it is clearly an invading sword of judgment, “cutting off” man and beast, leaving only a remnant to survive. Is it possible that Mary here is meant as a symbol (the “mother”) of all Israel (or at least the “many”), and the sword passing through her represents the very same judgment and uncovering of thoughts that will divide the people, leaving “alive” only a believing remnant?

Mary does, of course make an appearance at the cross in the Gospel of John (19:25-27), and this becomes the basis for her traditional role in the Passion. Both Byzantine and Western art, the image of the Mary and the “Beloved Disciple” (John) flanking the cross became standard.


However, in the West, by the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, a more popular image was the Mater Dolorosa at the foot of the cross, after the deposition, holding the dead body of Jesus (the Pieta). The visceral imagery and sheer pathos of the scene made it a favorite in Renaissance art, the most famous, of course, is that of Michelangelo.


Returning to the juxtaposition of the birth and death of Jesus, one should mention a type of combination icon which developed in Byzantine tradition—on one side, Mary with the baby Jesus (here the Virgin Hodegetria type), on the other, Jesus as the “Man of Sorrows”.

April 9 (2): John 6:51-58

All four Gospels record Jesus’ “Last Supper” with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23ff; John 13:1-30), but with a well-known chronological difference: the Synoptics indicate that it was a Passover meal (Matthew 15:7; Mark 14:12; and esp. Luke 22:7), the 14/15th of Nisan; while John records Jesus’ death during the preparation for Passover, 14th Nisan (John 19:14; also cf. 12:1). A number of solutions have been offered to explain or harmonize the difference between the accounts, none, I should say, entirely satisfactory. Much more interesting, however, is the fact that John records no institution of the sacrament (Lord’s Supper), attention rather being given to Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (13:3-20). In fact, the only mention of the bread and cup would seem to be in the “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6 (vv. 53-57); this has prompted many scholars to ask if perhaps vv. 51-58 have been inserted by the author/redactor into the current location from a traditional Last Supper setting. But this raises an even more significant question: do verses 51-58 in fact refer to the Eucharist (that is, to the material sacrament)? As I will discuss below, I do not think the primary reference is to the sacrament. However, here are some arguments in favor of a sacramental reference:

    1. Suddenly, in place of Jesus himself (or his words) identified with the Bread from Heaven (“the Bread [which] came down from Heaven”, o( e)k tou= ou)ranou= kataba/$, cf. esp. v. 51), we hear of “eating his flesh” (fa/ghte th\n sa/rka) and  “drinking his “blood” (pi/hte au)tou= to\ ai!ma) (vv. 53-56)
    2. The verb (trw/gw) used in verse 56, conveys a very concrete image of eating (literally “striking” or “crunching” away; in colloquial English it might be rendered “munching”). This would suggest a physical eating (of a material sacrament) and not simply a spiritual appropriation.
    3. It is most unlikely that the Gospel of John would not have some reference to the Eucharist, and this is the only passage which fits.
    4. The “embedded” reference to the Eucharist is parallel to a similar reference to the sacrament of Baptism in the Discourse with Nicodemus (see 3:5)
    5. The Bread of Life Discourse follows the Feeding of the Multitude, which, in all four Gospels, is described using Eucharistic language, and presumably was understood in connection with the Eucharist from earliest times.
    6. One critical argument is that a redactor of the final version of the Gospel intentionally added in more specific sacramental details in order to modify or qualify an otherwise “spiritualist” teaching.

What about the idea that the author (or redactor) added Eucharistic teachings of Jesus to the discussion of vv. 25-50? One can certainly see how verse 51(b) could have been a connection point with the prior teachings on the “Bread from Heaven” (expounding the Passover theme of the Manna), as well as teaching on the Eucharist. The mention of “flesh” (o( a&rto$ de\ o^n e)gw\ dw/sw h( sa/rc mou/ e)stin u(pe\r th=$ tou= kosmou/ zwh=$, “and the bread which I will give over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world is my flesh“) would lead naturally to discussion of the Eucharist. The real problem, however, is not so much vv. 51-58, but rather what follows: vv. 60-71, especially verse 63: to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin to\ zw|opoiou=n, h( sa\rc ou)k w)felei= ou)den (“the spirit is th[at which] makes live, the flesh profits nothing”). The tone of this portion seems to be at odds with a reference to the material sacrament in vv. 51-58. A number of critical scholars have noted that reading 6:25-50 and 60-71 in sequence makes good sense, while including vv. 51-58 creates an interpretive difficulty. R. E. Brown, in his commentary (Anchor Bible 29 pp. 302-303), takes the precarious step of assuming both that vv. 51-58 were added by a redactor, and that we should read vv. 60-71 as relating to vv. 25-50 but not to vv. 51-58.

In my view, it is important to look at the Gospel as it has come down to us, whether or not sayings of Jesus from different contexts have been combined together to give it its current form. I would outline the chapter as follows:

  • 6:1-14: The Miraculous Feeding, which includes Eucharist language and imagery [v. 11-13] + transitional verse 15
  • [6:16-21: The traditional episode of the Jesus’ Walking on the Water to meet his disciples]
  • [6:22-24: Transitional section which sets the scene]
  • 6:25-30: Discussion of the Miraculous Feeding, with a saying of Jesus on the “work of God” (tou=to/ e)stin to\ e&rgon tou= qeou=, i%na pisteu/hte ei)$ o^n a)pe/steilen e)kei=no$, “this is the work of God: that you should trust in the [one] whom that one sent”, v. 29)
  • 6:31-59: The Bread of Life Discourse, which I break down into four parts:
    a) The Scripture reference (“Bread from Heaven”), and Jesus’ initial exposition: 6:31-33
    b) Crowd (“Lord, give us this bread always”) and Jesus’ Response: e)gw/ ei)mi o( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (“I Am the bread of life…”), 6:34-40
    c) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “I am the Bread”/”which came down out of Heaven” and Jesus’ Response, 6:41-51
    d) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “The Bread that I will give…is my flesh” and Jesus’ Response, 6:52-58 + concluding note v. 59
  • 6:60-71: Discussion of the Bread of Life Discourse (the Disciples’ Reaction), in two parts:
    a) The reaction “This is a rough account [i.e. word/saying], who is able to hear it?” and Jesus’ Response, 6:60-65
    b) The turning away of many disciples, with Peter’s response (“you have words of life [of the] Age [i.e. eternal life]”), 6:66-71

Here I view vv. 51-58 as integral to the Discourse as we have it. The “flesh and blood” of vv. 53-56 is an intensification and expansion of the imagery in verse 51: the “bread that he gives” is his “flesh [and blood]”—compare verses 51 and 54:

e)a\n ti$ fa/gh| e)k tou/tou tou= a&rtou
(“If someone should [actually] eat out of [i.e. from] this bread…”)
o( trw/gwn mou th\n sa/rka kai\ pi/nwn mou to\ ai!ma
(“The [one] chewing [‘chopping at’] my flesh and drinking my blood…“)

zhsei ei)$ to\n ai)w=na (“…he shall live into the Age [i.e. have eternal life]”)
e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion (“…has life [of the] Age [i.e. has eternal life]”)

Jesus’ returns to mention just the bread again in the concluding verse 58, which also reiterates the OT scripture (and motif) that began the Discourse: ou!to/$ e)stin o( a&rto$ o( e)c ou)ranou= kataba/$, “this is the bread (which) came down out of heaven”.

Another way to read the core section of the discourse (6:35-58) is in parallel, as though verses 35-50 and 51-58 represented two aspects of the same message. Note the points of similarity:

    • Saying of Jesus: “I am the bread of life / living bread” which begins the section (v. 35a / 51a)
    • Teaching by Jesus expounding the “bread of life” in terms of “coming/believing” and “eating his flesh”, respectively (35b-40 / 51)
    • Question by “the Jews” (grumbling/disputing), reacting (with misunderstanding) to Jesus’ teaching (41-42 / 52)
    • Jesus’ Response: second exposition (43-47 / 53-57)
    • Concluding “Bread of Life” statement, comparing those who ate manna with those who eat the true bread from heaven (48-50 / 58)

Each of these sections follows the basic pattern of the discourses in the Gospel of John (see the previous day’s note). It is interesting that in vv. 35-50, eating as such is not mentioned (until the conclusion, vv. 49-50); rather the emphasis is on “coming toward” Jesus and “believing in [lit. trusting into/unto]” him, which is part of the initial statement in verse 35:

“The (one) coming toward me, no he shall not hunger; and the (one) trusting into/unto me, no he will not thirst, never”

This is contrasted with vv. 51-58 where the theme is specifically “eating” (Grk fa/gw):

“If (any) one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is my flesh, over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world” (v. 51b)

It is also interesting the way that “bread” clearly represents both food and drink in v. 35. This is paralleled in vv. 51-58, where the bread (“flesh”) of v. 51 quickly expands to include “blood” in verse 53ff; it signifies both aspects of human sustenance as well as both primary aspects of the human (physical) constitution, in conventional terms.

How should we relate these two main points of emphasis: “coming/believing” and “eating/drinking”? Is one sapiental (response to Jesus’ words as teaching/wisdom) and the other sacramental (participation in the ritual symbol [eucharist])? Or do they reflect two sets of images corresponding to the single idea of spiritual life in union with Christ? I prefer to regard them as signifying two “levels” for the believer. The first, that of coming/believing (vv. 35-50), is well served by the use of the two prepositions (pro$ “toward”, and ei)$ “unto/into”)—the believer approaches Christ through faith, coming, we could even say, “into” him. At the second level (vv. 51-58), believers commune and nourish themselves—now Christ comes “into” the believer, there is now life in us (cf. the powerful statement in verse 57). But is this second level specifically the Eucharist, in a ritual sense?

In the context of the Discourse, the sacrament of the Eucharist may be implied (a preshadowing), but I do not think it is at all primary to Jesus’ teaching. It is rather the Person of Jesus himself and the Life which he conveys—by means of the Spirit—which is central to the message; and it is this “word” (lo/go$) which the disciples find “rough” or difficult to hear. Too much has been made of verse 63, for it simply gives priority to the Spirit—especially in a sacramental context (Eucharist)—just as the Spirit takes priority in the context of Baptism (3:5-8). In other words, Spirit first, then sacrament; too often in Church history, Christians have made it the other way around, as though only through the tangible sacrament (as a “means of grace”), can one truly experience the Spirit. Consider the fierce fighting over the words of the institution (tou=to/ e)stin to\ sw=ma/ mou, “this is my body”, Mark 14:22 par.)—all of the ink (and blood) spilled over the significance of “is” (e)stin)—when it would have been better, I think, to focus on the demonstrative pronoun (“this”, tou=to): that is, not the reality of the sacrament, but the reality of what it signifies. In this regard, it is absolutely necessary to study and meditate carefully on the Bread of Life discourse in John.

April 8 (3): Mark 14:3-9 par

Traditionally, the anointing of Jesus at Bethany inaugurates the Passion as celebrated during Holy Week. In addition to its poignancy, and spiritual teaching, the episode (or episodes) are immensely instructive for studying the ways in which the Gospel writers may have dealt with early tradition. Each Gospel contains an Anointing episode: Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8. The account in Matthew and Mark, occurring after Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem, is virtually identical; John’s account is similar, but is placed prior to Jesus’ Entry; Luke’s account is, in most respects, quite different, and is set earlier in Jesus’ ministry. A strict traditional-conservative approach might end up positing three separate events, but this is quite improbable; the choice, rather, is between one event, or two. Many critical scholars posit a single incident which branched off in early tradition to form the kernel of the Gospel narratives we have now. A more reasonable critical approach, I think, is to assume two historical episodes: one matching Matthew/Mark and John, one matching that found in Luke. Very straightforward; however, the situation is actually more complicated than that. For, despite the very different setting of Luke’s account, there are details which curiously match John’s account (against Matthew/Mark), and even several which match the account in Matthew/Mark (against John). I offer some comparisons here below; since Matthew and Mark are nearly identical, I will use Mark’s account for comparison.

Details common to Mark/Matthew and John:

    1. Setting in Bethany, near the time of Passover, in proximity to the time of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Mark 14:1, 3; John 12:1, 9ff)
    2. A woman (apparently a disciple: in John it is Mary of Bethany) pours perfume on Jesus as he reclines (Mark 14:3; John 12:2)
    3. The perfume is very costly (Mark 14:3; John 12:2; John and Mark use almost exact language: perfume of costly “pure nard”)
    4. The disciples (in John it is Judas Iscariot) decry the waste (Mark 14:4-5; John 12:4-5)
    5. Mention is made of the cost, and that the money could be sold and given to the poor (Mark and John use almost identical language, including mention of the price [“300 denari”])
    6. Jesus rebukes the disciples and mentions that the perfume was intended to be used for his burial (Mark 14:6, 8; John 12:7)
    7. The saying “For the poor you always have with you…” (Mark 14:7; John 12:8)

Details common to John and Luke:

    1. The anointing/wetting is of the feet (John 12:3; Luke 7:38), instead of the head (Mark 14:3)
    2. Mention is specifically made of “anointing” (form of a)lei/fw, John 12:3; Luke 7:38), instead of “pouring [out]” (kataxe/w, Mark 14:3)
    3. Mention is made of wiping Jesus feet with her hair (however, in Luke the woman wipes her tears; in John, apparently, she wipes the perfume [?])

Details common to Mark/Matthew and Luke:

    1. The name of the man hosting the feast is, apparently, Simon (Mark 14:3; Luke 7:40ff)—apparently, two different men with the same name [?]
    2. Mention is made of the woman carrying an “alabaster box/jar” [a)la/bastron] (Mark 14:3; Luke 7:37)

How does one explain so many coincidental details across two very different story settings (Matthew/Mark & John vs. Luke)? Critical scholars generally assume details have been transferred/distorted during transmission (presumably in the early oral stage); but I wonder, at least in the case of Luke. It is noteworthy that Luke contains no Passion-week Anointing scene, which is strange, if, as many scholars assume, he knew and made use of Mark’s Gospel. It also seems most unlikely that he could have confused the story he records in 7:36-50 with the later Bethany scene. This, perhaps, could be seen as evidence that Luke did not use Mark; but, I think it at least possible that Luke has intentionally omitted the Bethany scene (from whatever common tradition he knew), and has merged details from it into his own account set earlier in the ministry. This might explain the curious detail of anointing Jesus’ feet (v. 38): tears falling on his feet makes more sense, but pouring perfume on the feet? Yet the author had to know as well how odd this might appear—either, then, he simply records an unusual fact, or he purposefully includes the detail from the Bethany scene in the context of the sinful woman. Even harder to explain is John’s mention of anointing the feet, since the parallel account in Matthew/Mark specifically mentions anointing the head (not the feet). Is it possible that John has intentionally modified his narrative, just as Luke has, but in the opposite direction?— details from the anointing by the ‘sinful Woman’ (which John does not record) have merged into his account of the Anointing at Bethany. Whether accidental (in early transmission) or intentional (by the Gospel writer), details between the two stories have somehow merged together. Is it justifiable or proper to read the texts this way?

From the standpoint of Church Tradition, of course, such a ‘merging’ clearly occurred. For the “Mary” of John’s account (who is Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus), became joined together with the “Sinful Woman” of Luke’s account, in the figure of Mary Magdalene. Under the influence of Luke 8:2 (and Mark 16:9), which states that “seven daimons went out of” her, the traditional story developed of Mary’s former life as a prostitute, from which she repented and became a follower of Jesus. When she appears at the tomb, the perfume she carries (for anointing Jesus’ body) is the same with which she anointed him once before!

Perhaps we should at least consider meditating on both women at the same time: the devout disciple (Mary) who anoints Jesus’ head (and feet?) as an act of worship and consecration; with the (anonymous) “sinful” woman who wipes tears and anoints Jesus’ feet as an act of worship and repentance. “Righteous and Sinner at the same time”, in Luther’s famous phrase (simul iustus et peccator). John’s Gospel sums up the scene (and result) of this offering beautifully: h( de\ oi)ki/a e)plhrw/qh e)k th=$ o)smh=$ tou= mu/rou, “and the house was filled of the smell of perfume” (12:3).

For more on the Anointing scene, see the notes on this episode in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

The image of the repentant Magdalene came to be very popular in the West, a symbol of penitence and the ascetic ideal—a visceral image to be sure, very suited to individual dynamism of the Renaissance (one thinks immediately of Donatello’s great sculpture, see right). The story of her life as prostitute, her conversion, repentance, and appearance at the tomb on Easter, expanded in legend over the years, culminating with her appearance (along with Martha and Lazarus) in southern France. The Magdalene story would go on to maintain a position in both art and ritual for centuries in the Western Church.

April 7 (2): Mark 8:31 par, etc

In the previous day’s note, I looked at the three main predictions by Jesus of his Passion—his suffering, death and resurrection—in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 8:31 / Matt 16:21 / Luke 9:22 || Mark 9:31 / Matt 17:22-23 / Luke 9:44 || Mark 10:33-34 / Matt 20:18-19 / Luke 18:31-33). Today I will be exploring them together in a bit more detail.

As a way to proceed, it will be helpful to highlight some of the common elements:

The Son of Man—this expression (in Greek, o( ui(o$ tou= a)nqrwpou, ho huios tou anthrœpou) occurs numerous times in the Gospels, and is almost exclusively used by Jesus himself. It is extremely rare elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 7:56; Hebrews 2:6; and in Revelation 1:13; 14:14 where the anarthrous form ui(o$ a)nqrwpou is used). While it makes sense as a Greek construction (“the son of [the] man”, “the man’s son”), in the New Testament it corresponds to the Hebrew <d*a*Á/b# (ben-°¹d¹m) and Aramaic vn`a$Árb^ (bar-°§noš). In writings prior to (or contemporary with) the New Testament, this Hebrew/Aramaic expression is used three ways:

    1. With the simple meaning of “human being” or “mortal (person)”. It is used in this sense virtually everywhere it occurs in the Old Testament (Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Ps 8:4; 80:17; 144:3 [vwna /b]; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43). In nearly all of these instances it is used in (poetic) parallelism with other common words signifying “man” (vya!, vona$, rb#G#), and always in the second place (cf. Ps 8:4 [Heb v. 5]). This is also the meaning of the expression in extra-biblical Hebrew and Aramaic prior to the New Testament (8th cent. Sefire inscription III.16-17; 1QapGen 21:13; 11QtgJob 9:9; 26:2-3; 1QS 11:20; 1QH 4:30). For these references and a good discussion of the subject, cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays (Scholars Press: 1979), pp. 143-160.
    2. In the context of Divine address to a human messenger (Prophet). Here, too, it has basic meaning of “mortal”, but the situation is distinctive and unique—a human being who receives entry into the heavenly realm or is vouchsafed revelatory information through a heavenly vision (such as the situation in 1 Kings 22:19-22). “Son of Man” is used this way throughout the book of Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and in Daniel 8:17.
    3. Used of a heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13: “and see! with the clouds of heaven (one) like a Son of Man was coming…” Again, the basic meaning remains “human being, mortal”—the idea being that this (heavenly) messenger looks like, or appears (in the vision) in the form of, a human being. However, this occurrence of the expression in Daniel proved to have an enormous influence on subsequent eschatological thought. The figure of a heavenly (pre-existent) Redeemer (or “Messiah”) came to be associated with the title “Son of Man” in Apocalyptic literature at the time of the New Testament—cf. in the so-called “Similitudes” of the Book of Enoch (esp. chap. 48), where he is identified with the “Righteous/Elect One”.

One should also mention use of “Son of Man” as a circumlocution or substitute for the personal pronoun “I”. This is not so clearly attested in Aramaic (or Hebrew) at the time of the New Testament; however, there is some indication that Jesus may have used it this way (see, for example, Mark 8:27; 10:45; Matt 5:11; 10:32 and pars.). On the other hand, Jesus certainly has an exalted, heavenly figure in mind—with whom he identifies himself (certainly the Gospel writers so understood it)—who will appear to judge the world in the end-time: cf. Mark 8:38; 9:9; 13:26; 14:62; Matt 10:23; 12:40; 13:41; 16:28; 19:28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31; Luke 12:8; 17:22, 30; 18:8; 21:26 (and pars).

It is, however, Jesus’ use of “Son of Man” in the context of his suffering, death and resurrection which is of most interest here. In addition to the three main passion predictions under discussion (“Son of Man” occurs in all of them except Matt 16:21), see Mark 9:12; 14:21, 41 and pars; Matt 26:2; Luke 22:48; 24:7. Note also the usage in John (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31, and see below), where the emphasis is more on exaltation/glorification/ascension of the Son of Man. I do not think it misplaced to consider the title “Son of Man” in the theological/Christological sense of incarnation—that is, of Jesus taking on the form, flesh and blood of a human being. A number of “Son of Man” sayings relate to his suffering, humility and sacrificial service to others (cf. Mark 10:45; Matt 8:20; 11:19; Luke 6:22).

(For more on the expression “Son of Man”, see the current series of notes on the Son of Man Sayings of Jesus, and also Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed.”)

It is necessary—Greek dei= (dei), this verbal form (from de/w, “to bind”) is syntactically connected with an accompanying infinitive (“it is necessary to…”). It is used in only the first Passion prediction, but is implied in the Lukan form of the third (with the added phrase of “all things written through the Prophets…will be completed”). We find this same emphasis in other references by Jesus to his suffering and death, especially in Luke (Lk 17:25; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44; cf. also Matt 26:54)—that it was necessary in order to fulfill Scripture. Note also the occurrence of dei= in John 3:14 (see below).

Be given over—This verb (paradi/dwmi, paradídœmi) occurs in all three forms of the second and third Passion predictions. It has the basic meaning of “give along”, “pass (someone or something) along”, but with a wide range of application. The related noun para/dosi$ (parádosis) is usually translated “tradition”, that is, something passed along (from generation to generation). It can also be used in the sense of “giving over” or “handing over” someone to the authorities (or one’s enemies, etc); in such instances, it is often translated “betray”, and, indeed, it carries this specific meaning throughout the Passion narratives.

Into the hands of…—This expression only occurs in the second prediction; however, in all three predictions specific groups are designated to whom Jesus will be “given over (into their hands)”. In the first and third predictions, Jewish religious leaders are indicated: “Elders, Chief Priests [Sacred-officials], and Scribes [lit. Writers]” in the first, and “Chief Priests and Scribes” in the third (except for Luke, who omits this phrase). These three groups make up the Jewish ruling Council in Jerusalem—the “Sanhedrin” (transliteration of the Greek term sune/drion, i.e., a place where people sit together in assembly). It is they who will interrogate Jesus and bring him to the Romans for judgment. The third prediction also mentions “the nations/peoples” (ta e&qnh), by which is meant non-Jews or non-Israelites (i.e., “Gentiles”); in the context here, of course, the terms refers to the Roman government. All three forms of the second prediction use the expression “into the hands of men”—here “men” certainly refers both to the Jewish and Roman administrations, and may be used in a pejorative sense.

Kill/Be killed—All three predictions mention Jesus’ being put to death, using the verb a)poktei/nw (apokteínœ) (except for Matt 20:19 which uses stauro/w, “put to the stake”, i.e. “crucify”). This verb is an intensive form of ktei/nw (kteínœ, “kill, slay”), emphasizing the violent, negative character of the act. However, in a legal context, it can also mean “condemn/sentence to death”. In order to preserve something of this sense, I have translated it literally (and somewhat awkwardly), “set forth (or send away) to be killed”.

Third day…will be raised—All three predictions (except the shortened Lukan second) mention the resurrection in relation to “three days”. Mark uses “after three days” (meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$) and “he will stand up” (a)nasth/setai), while Matthew and Luke use “on the third day” (th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| or th=| h(me/ra| th=| tri/th|) and “he will be raised” (e)gerqh/setai). Matthew and Luke have the more standard early Christian phrasing (cf. 1 Cor 15:4).

It may be worth looking at these passages overall from a critical standpoint; this can be done at three interpretive levels:

1. The Historical. Some critical commentators have questioned whether the historical Jesus would have uttered predictions of this sort. These questions are, to a great extent, simply the product of doubts regarding Jesus’ possession and use of divine foreknowledge. A stronger argument can be made on the basis of the form and style of the predictions in the Gospels, which is suggestive of early Christian credal formulae, particularly the use of expressions such as “after three days / on the third day… he will be raised”, etc. At the very least, there is evidence of literary shaping of this material, including possible (intentional) additions and/or omissions by the Gospel writers. On the whole, however, the versions of each prediction are close enough that one could reconstruct a (hypothetical) Greek (or Aramaic) original for each. The similarity to early Christian phrasing and formulae could just as well be explained by positing that the traditions being preserved and memorized stem from Jesus himself. One other argument in favor of historical veracity is the use of “Son of Man”, which, apart from its frequent occurrence in the Gospels (the words of Jesus), hardly appears in the New Testament at all. Early Christians preferred “Anointed [Christ/Messiah]”, “Lord”, or “Son of God” as titles for Jesus; passion predictions ‘created’ by the early Church are perhaps more likely to read “it is necessary for the Anointed/Christ…” rather than “it is necessary for the Son of Man…”

2. The Traditional. Here the main question is: are we dealing with three separate predictions, or three variations of one underlying prediction. This same critical question has been applied, for example, to the separate miraculous feeding episodes (the 5000 and 4000), and to the different scenes of a woman who anoints Jesus. The feeding miracles are especially relevant in this regard, since they both appear together (as separate episodes) in Mark/Matthew, even though the similarity in overall structure and many details have led most critical scholars to see them as deriving from a single historical tradition. Ultimately it is impossible to answer this question on purely objective grounds. Certainly the Gospel writers would have understood them as three separate predictions uttered by Jesus on different occasions. For further reading on this issue in particular, from a (moderate) critical viewpoint, I would recommend the appendix in R. E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1994), pp. 1468-91 (in the second volume).

3. The Gospel Context. As mentioned in the previous note, in all three Synoptic Gospels these three Passion predictions occur in the same position—between the confession of Peter and the Entry into Jerusalem. Was this placement and structure the creation of one Gospel writer (i.e. Mark, according to the general Markan-priority hypothesis), or was it inherited already as a fixed arrangement of traditional material at the pre-Gospel level? The answer to this question depends, in part, on what one makes of the second question above. Luke has given the clearest narrative structure to the material by inserting a large block of teaching (sayings and parables)—Lk 9:51-18:14—and framing it all specifically as occurring during the journey to Jerusalem. This emphasis heightens the significance of the Passion predictions (see also the poignant lament for Jerusalem in Lk 13:34-35, which similarly foreshadows Jesus’ suffering and death). Luke also has included (or added?) in the third Passion prediction (Lk 18:31ff) the phrase “all the things written through the Prophets… will be completed”—an important theme which will be repeated (by Jesus) several more times in the Passion/Resurrection narratives (Lk 22:37; 24:44, cf. also 17:25; 24:7, 26) and again in the book of Acts.

As I previously indicated, there is nothing in the Gospel of John which corresponds with these Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptics; however, upon examination, one does find a parallel of sorts—namely, a set of three statements about the “Son of Man” which involve the use of the verb u(yo/w (hupsóœ, “raise/lift high”). Here are the three passages:

John 3:14:

Kai\ kaqw\$ Mwu+sh=$ u%ywsen to\n o&fin e)n th=| e)rh/mw|, ou%tw$ u(ywqh=nai dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou
“And accordingly as Moses lifted high the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary (that) the Son of Man be lifted high”

John 8:28:

o%tan u(yw/shte to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou, to/te gnw/sesqe o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi, kai\ a)p’ e)mautou= poiw= ou)de/n, a)lla\ kaqw\$ e)di/dace/n me o( path\r tau=ta lalw=
“When you should lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that ‘I Am’, and from myself I do nothing, but (rather) according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”

John 12:32:

ka)gw\ e)a\n u(ywqw= e)k th=$ gh=$, pa/nta$ e(lku/sw pro\$ e)mauto/n
“And I, if I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself”
Some manuscripts read pa/nta (“all [things]”) instead of pa/nta$ (“all [people]”).
The expression “Son of Man” is only implied here; it is used previously in verse 23 and again in v. 34.

I will discuss these Johannine passages in more detail in the next daily note.

April 6 (2): Luke 17:21-24

The Eschatological Discourse (sometimes called the “Olivet Discourse” from Mark 13:3 par) refers to a block of teaching by Jesus on future events as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel setting presents this as a single discourse, spoken by Jesus during his last week in Jerusalem (Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21:5-36); however, it seems likely that different sayings and discourses of Jesus have been gathered together in the tradition, due to the common subject matter. On the other hand, one might argue that the days before his upcoming death would be an appropriate time for Jesus to address such matters. At the very least, the prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-2; Matthew 24:1-2) seems to fit in the current Gospel position.

Perhaps no portion of the Gospels is more controversial, or bristles with more (serious) interpretative difficulties, than these chapters. For now, I wish to look at a section of Jesus’ eschatological teaching in Luke, which the author presents as taking place prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Luke 17:20-27), though there are also parallels to portions of it in Matthew’s “Olivet” discourse (24:17, 23, 27, 28, 36-41). I will discuss the famous saying in verse 21, and then briefly touch upon an interesting phrase found in vv. 23-24ff.

Luke 17:21

In response to a question from the Pharisees asking when the kingdom of God would come (v. 20), Jesus responds first: ou)k e&rxetai h( basilei/a tou= qeou= meta\ parathrh/sew$, ou)de\ e)rou=sin: i)dou\ w!de h& e)kei=, “the kingdom of God does not come with close watching [lit. watching alongside], and they shall not say ‘See here!’ or ‘[See] there!'” (v. 20b, 21a). The same language (“See here, see there”) also occurs at v. 23 (with similar sayings in Mark 13:21; Matthew 24:23). In Matthew and Mark the reference is specifically to people saying “Here/there is the Messiah!”, whereas in Luke both references are unspecified: the first refers to the kingdom of God, the second presumably is to the Son of Man (or the “day” of the Son of Man [see below]). In all instances, we are dealing with people claiming that the Messiah (or the Kingdom of God / Son of Man) is to be found in a specific location or with a specific person. Regarding those who make such claims, Jesus warns “do not go from (where you are) and do not pursue (after them)” (Luke 17:23). The phrasing Jesus uses in v. 20b is interesting: does it mean “the kingdom does not come as the result of close watching” or “the kingdom does not come so as to be perceived through close watching”? The latter sense is probably to be preferred, as the point seems to be that the kingdom cannot be perceived visibly (by means of the senses); however, I think the verb also indicates the effort of watching closely which does not help one see (much less bring about) the kingdom of God (cf. John 3:3).

What of the concluding phrase (v. 21b)? — ga\r h( basilei/a tou= qeou= e)nto\$ u(mw=n e)stin, “for the kingdom of God is e)nto\$ you (pl.)” The main difficulty is how to understand e)nto/$, an adverb (used as a preposition) related to e)n (“in”), which would normally be translated “within, inside”. Where this word occurs elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 23:26) or in the Greek translation of Psalm 39:4; 103:1; 109:22; Isa 16:11, it is used rather concretely—the OT passages all refer to the heart or organs within/inside a person. It can also be used in a more general sense (spatially or temporally), “within the limits of” or “within reach of”. However, in nearly every instance a singular object is involved.

There are several possible interpretations:

  1. Mystical-spiritual: This involves a literal translation, i.e., the kingdom of God is within the heart/soul of believers, on the spiritual (or psychological) level. This certainly would make a suitable contrast to a visible/sensual coming of the kingdom. However, it is difficult to find many other passages in the Synoptic Gospels (Luke, in particular), where Jesus refers to the kingdom of God in this manner; but it may still be consonant with Jesus’ teaching (see references in John [3:3, 5; 18:36], and note the variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer [Luke 11:2] which connects the coming of the kingdom with the coming of the Spirit). A number of early translators (Old Latin, Vulgate, Peshitta) seem to have understood the verse this way, as did Church Fathers such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa (but no doubt influenced by their own orthodox ‘gnostic’ approach). The real difficulty with this interpretation is grammatical—the plural personal object (u(mw=n).
  2. Communal-collective: In light of the plural pronoun, one might better understand e)nto/$ as “among, within the limits/confines of”. Normally, this would be expressed more simply with the preposition e)n, which, when  the object involves a group of people, often means “among”; thus, the use of e)nto/$ to express this would be a bit strange. But if “among” is the correct sense, there are still several possibilities, one of which is that the kingdom refers to believers in the midst of the people at large.
  3. Hidden kingdom: The meaning could still be “among” or “in the midst of”, but with an emphasis on the invisible presence of the Kingdom—i.e., that God is working (in the person of Jesus, or by the Holy Spirit) in the midst of the people, but without it being readily apparent to the senses.
  4. Kingdom “at hand”: This interpretation understands e)nto/$ as “within reach, close”. This would fit the early Gospel message that the kingdom of God “has come near” (h&ggiken) (Mark 1:15 par., and esp. Luke 21:31). Or, perhaps it should be understood in a temporal sense: the kingdom of God will soon/suddenly appear.

All of these interpretations have merit, but I think that (3) probably comes closest to what Luke (and Jesus himself) originally intended.

There are several other parallel versions of this saying, which may (or may not) be derived from Luke 17:21:

    • (Coptic) Gospel of Thomas §3: Jesus said, “If those who lead you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (translation Thomas O. Lambdin)
    • Gospel of Thomas §113 (Coptic): His disciples said to Him, “When will the Kingdom come?” <Jesus said,> “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is.’ Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.” (Lambdin)
    • Gospel of Thomas (Greek):  Jesus said, “If those who attract you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is under the earth,’ then the fish of the sea will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom of God is inside of you, and it is outside of you. [Those who] become acquainted with [themselves] will find it; [and when you] become acquainted with yourselves, [you will understand that] it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 654.9-16, translation Grenfell-Hunt)

Luke 17:22-24

Verses 22-37 constitute another block of eschatological teaching, which may have originally been said in a different context from vv. 20-21 (these two portions were likely joined early on as a result of “catchword-bonding”). At first glance, this seems to present a more conventional “futurist” eschatology (as opposed to the “realized eschatology” of vv. 20-21). But here there are also some difficulties; I will mention just two:

  1. Jesus says to his disciples, e)leu/sontai h(me/rai o%te e)piqumh/sete mi/an tw=n h(merw=n tou= ui(ou= tou= a)nqrw/pou i)dei=n kai\ ou)k o&yesqe, “days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man and you will not look-with-eyes (upon it) [i.e. see it]”. What exactly are these “days of the Son of Man”? And what does it mean to refer to “one” (mi/a) of these days? The plural “days” (repeated in v. 26) is a bit peculiar—does it have any concrete significance, or is merely used as grammatical parallel (in context) to “the days of Noah” (v. 26) and “the days of Lot” (v. 28)? I wonder if the plural does indicate a general temporal period (similar to the “days” of Noah), which is in some sense contrasted with the “day” (singular) of the Son of Man in verse 24—the singular “day”, then, would not be a period of time as much as a specific representation of the Son of Man himself (in his appearing), much like the phrase “day of the Lord”. If so, then “one of the days” might indicate the possibility of deception (emphasized in v. 23)—in other words, a warning is implied: beware of seeking a specific temporal manifestation of the kingdom. The Son of Man in his day (e)n th=| h(me/ra| au)tou=, omitted in some MSS: Ë75 B D it) will appear suddenly and completely (like a lightning flash that fills the sky, v. 24).
  2. However, this image of the sudden, spectacular appearance of the Son of Man is itself difficult. The parallel saying in Matthew 24:27 prefaces the apocalyptic imagery of the Son of Man appearing in the cloud(s) with power and glory. Luke includes something of this, but in a quite modified form, later in 21:25-28; he also includes the parable of the fig tree (vv. 29-32), again in a very different form. Luke concludes this later eschatological discourse (v. 31) with a reprise of the early Gospel proclamation: ginw/skete o%ti e)ggu/$ e)stin h( basilei/a tou= qeou= (“know that the kingdom of God is close”). How does this relate to 17:21?—can the Kingdom of God be both “close” (e)ggu/$) and “within you” (e)nto\$ u(mw=n) already?

For more on these verses, see the discussion in the series on the “Son of Man Sayings of Jesus”.

April 6 (1): Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 par

As an inauguration of Holy Week, I will today look briefly at the three main predictions by Jesus of his suffering and death as they are preserved in (the Synoptic) Gospel tradition. This will be done with a minimum of comment, by presenting the versions side by side for comparison.

Note: The Lukan version of these sayings has been discussed in some detail in the recent notes on the Son of Man Sayings of Jesus.

In each instance, the saying itself is in bold, with significant differences or alterations by the Gospel writer in italics. Parentheses indicate words added for ease of reading; square brackets represent explanatory glosses.

The First Prediction (Mark 8:31; Matthew 16:21; Luke 9:22)

Mark 8:31

kai\ h&rcato dida/skein au)tou\$ o%ti dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou polla\ paqei=n kai\ a)podokimasqh=nai u(po\ tw=n prebute/rwn kai\ tw=n a)rxiere/wn kai\ tw=n grammate/wn kai\ a)poktanqh=nai kai\ meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$ a)nasth=nai

“and he began to teach them that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (things) and to be removed from examination [i.e. be rejected] under the Elders and the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers and to be (set forth to be) killed, and, after three days, to stand up (out of the dead).”

Matthew 16:21

a)po\ to/te h&rcato o(  )Ihsou=$ deiknu/ein toi=$ maqhtai=$ au)tou= o%ti dei= au)to\n ei)$  (Ieroso/luma a)pelqei=n kai\ polla\ paqei=n a)po\ tw=n presbute/rwn kai\ a)rxiere/wn kai\ grammate/wn kai\ a)poktanqh=nai kai\ th=| trith| h(me/ra| e)gerqh=nai

“from then Yeshua began to show his learners that it is necessary for him to go (away) from (there) into Yerushalaim and to suffer many (things) from the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials and Writers and to be (set forth to be) killed, and, on the third day, to be raised (from the dead)”

Luke 9:22

ei)pw\n o%ti dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou polla\ paqei=n kai\ a)podokimasqh=nai a)po\ tw=n presbute/rwn kai\ a)rxiere/wn kai\ grammate/wn kai\ a)poktanqh=nai kai\ th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| e)gerqh=nai

“…saying that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (things) and to be removed from examination [i.e. be rejected] from [i.e. by] the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials and Writers and to be (set forth to be) killed, and, on the third day, to be raised (from the dead)”

For more on the Lukan version (9:22), see the recent note.

The greatest differences are in the Matthean version of the saying, Mark and Luke here being nearly identical. There are two minor agreements between Matthew and Luke (against Mark): (a) the use of “on the third day” instead of “after three days”, and (b) the (divine) passive “to be raised” (e)gerqh=nai), instead of “to stand up” (a)nasth=nai). Both of these differences reflect more common early Christian usage. The elements unique to the saying in Matthew are:

    • Use of the 3rd person pronoun instead of “Son of Man”
    • Addition of the phrase “go away into Jerusalem”
    • Omission of “and be rejected” (kai\ a)podokimasqh=nai)

In three Gospels, this saying occurs directly after Peter’s confession of Jesus in Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30 par). Peter’s rebuke of Jesus (along with Jesus’ response: “get behind me Satan…!”) follows the saying in Mark and Matthew (Mk 8:32-33 par [Luke omits this episode]). With this is connected a block of sayings on discipleship (Mk 8:34-9:1 par), followed by the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-10 par).

The Second Prediction (Mark 9:31; Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:44)

Mark 9:31

e)di/dasken ga\r tou\$ maqhta\$ au)tou= kai\ e&legen au)toi=$ o%ti o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradi/dotai ei)$ xei=ra$ a)nqrw/pwn kai\ a)poktenou=sin au)to\n kai\ a)poktanqei\$ meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$ a)nasth/setai

“for he taught his learners and related to them that the Son of Man is (about to be) given over into the hands of men, and they will set him (forth) to be killed, and having been killed, after three days he will stand up (out of the dead)”

Matthew 17:22-23

ei@pen au)toi=$ o(  )Ihsou=$: me/llei o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradi/dosqai ei)$ xei=ra$ a)nqrw/pwn kai\ a)poktenou=sin au)to/n kai\ th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| e)gerqh/setai

“…Yeshua said to them: the Son of Man is about to be given over into the hands of men, and they will set him (forth) to be killed, and on the third day he will be raised (from the dead)”

Luke 9:44

qe/sqe u(mei=$ ei)$ ta\ w@ta u(mw=n tou\$ lo/gou$ tou/tou$: o( ga\r ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou me/llei paradi/dosqai ei)$ xei=ra$ a)nqrw/pwn

“set you these words into your ears: the Son of Man is about to be given over into the hands of men…”

For more on the Lukan version (9:44), see the recent note.

The differences are as follows:

    • Mark includes the additional phrase “and having been killed” (it is possible that Matthew omitted this)
    • Matthew and Luke both specify what the present indicative (“is given over”) in Mark implies by adding the verb me/llei + infinitive (“is about to be given over”)—i.e., this will happen very soon.
    • Luke omits the references to being killed and rising; this may be a simple abbreviation of the saying.
    • As in the first prediction, Matthew uses “on the third day” and “will be raised” instead of “after three days” and “will stand up”; the full saying in Luke presumably would use the same phrasing as Matthew.
    • Mention could also be made of the unusual introduction to the saying in Luke: “set you these words into your ears…” (i.e., “listen carefully to what I say”).

In all three Gospels, the second prediction follows closely upon the first—separated by the sayings on discipleship (Mk 8:34-9:1), the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10), the sayings regarding Elijah (Mk 9:11-13), and the extended episode of the healing of the epileptic/possessed boy (Mk 9:14-29).

The Third Prediction (Mark 10:33-34; Matthew 20:18-19; Luke 18:31-33)

Mark 10:33-34

o%ti i)dou\ a)nabai/nomen ei)$  (Ieroso/luma, kai\ o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradoqh/setai toi=$ a)rxiereu=sin kai\ toi=$ grammateu=sin, kai\ katakrinou=sin au)to\n qana/tw| kai\ paradw/sousin au)to\n toi=$ e&qnesin kai\ e)mpai/cousin au)tw=| kai\ e)mptu/sousin au)tw=| kai\ mastigw/sousin au)to\n kai\ a)poktenou=sin, kai\ meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$ a)nasth/setai

“see, we (are about to) step up into Yerushalaim, and the Son of Man will be given over to the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers and they will judge against him to death, and they will give him over to the nations and they will act as a child with him and will spit on him and will scourge him and will set him (forth) to be killed, and after three days he will stand up (out of the dead)”

Matthew 20:18-19

i)dou\ a)nabai/nomen ei)$  (Ieroso/luma, kai\ o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou paradoqh/setai toi=$ a)rxiereu=sin kai\ grammateu=sin, kai\ katakrinou=sin au)to\n qana/tw kai\ paradw/sousin au)to\n toi=$ e&qnesin ei)$ to\ e)mpai=cai kai\ mastigw=sai kai\ staurw=sai, kai\ th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| e)gerqh/setai

“see, we (are about to) step up into Yerushalaim, and the Son of Man will be given over to the Chief Sacred-officials and Writers, and they will judge against him to death and will give him over to the nations to be played with (as a child) and scourged and put to the stake [i.e. crucified], and on the third day he will be raised (from the dead)”

Luke 18:31-33

i)dou\ a)nabai/nomen ei)$  )Ierousalh/m, kai\ telesqh/setai pa/nta ta\ gegramme/na dia\ tw=n profhtw=n tw=| ui(w=| tou= a)nqrw/pou: paradoqh/setai ga\r toi=$ e&qnesin kai\ e)mpaixqh/setai kai\ u(brisqh/setai kai\ e)mptusqh/setai kai\ mastigw/sante$ a)poktenou=sin au)to/n, kai\ th=| h(me/ra| th=| tri/th| a)nasth/setai

“see, we (are about to) step up into Yerushalaim, and all the (things) written through the Foretellers about the Son of Man will be completed: for he will be given over to the nations and he will be played with (as a child) and will be insulted and will be spit on, and having scourged (him) they will set him (forth) to be killed, and on the third day he will be raised (from the dead)”

For more on the Lukan version (18:31-33), see the recent note.

Apart from several syntactical differences, the versions in Matthew and Mark are very close: Matthew omits mention of “spitting” but includes a reference to crucifixion (“be put to the stake”); and, as in the first two predictions, Matthew (along with Luke) uses “on the third day” and “will be raised” instead of “after three days” and “will stand up”. The specific Lukan differences are worth noting:

    • He has added the phrase “all the things written through the Prophets about {the Son of Man} will be completed”
    • The phrase mentioning the Chief Priests and Scribes is omitted.
    • In addition to the four verbs indicating the action of the nations against Jesus, Luke includes “will be insulted/abused” (u(brisqh/setai)

The three predictions punctuate fairly evenly the material in Mark 8:27-10:52 / Matthew 16:13-20:34. However, Luke has expanded greatly the corresponding section (Lk 9:18-50; 18:15-43) by adding 9:51-18:14: a lengthy collection of material (primarily of sayings and parables) found elsewhere in Matthew (part of so-called “Q”) or unique to the Gospel of Luke. This long section is framed as taking place during the journey to Jerusalem (see Lk 9:51). As such, when we get to the third prediction in Luke (Lk 18:31-33), after all of the intervening material, it has something of a different feel about it.

Interestingly, there are no corresponding passion predictions in the Gospel of John; however, we do find, among numerous allusions to Jesus’ death and resurrection a similar group of three specific references to the Son of Man being “raised/lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). These verses from John, along with some additional critical notes regarding the Synoptic passages presented above, will be discussed in the next day’s note.

April 5: Mark 11:9-10 par

The Sunday before Easter, marking the start of the Easter Week (or Holy Week), is traditionally called “Palm Sunday”, the day on which Jesus made his “triumphal” Entry into Jerusalem. This event is recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19), and clearly is based on a common tradition. Despite this, the precise historical circumstances, and even the basic interpretation of the episode, are disputed by commentators. For example, even though the Entry is set in the context of the Feast of Passover (see esp. John 12:1), certain details suggest that the Feast of Tabernacles might be more appropriate (e.g., the use of palm fronds [only in John], the application of Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9 [on which, see below]). As for the interpretation of the scene, this ought to be examined from three basic perspectives:

    1. How did Jesus (and his disciples) intend or understand the event?
    2. How did the crowds receiving him understand it?
    3. How did the Gospels writers (and early Christians) understand it?

This is particularly important with regard to: (1) The words shouted by the people, as recorded in each Gospel; and (2) The scripture passages applied to the event (by the people and/or the Gospel writers). I will here look at each of these in turn.

1. The words shouted by the crowds (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 19:38; John 12:13)

It is useful to compare each of these side by side (translated words in italics represent details unique to each Gospel):

Mark 11:9-10

eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou:
eu)loghme/nh h( e)rxome/nh basilei/a tou= patro\$ h(mw=n Daui/d:
w(sanna/ e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$

Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David
Hosha’-nâ in the highest (place)s

Matthew 21:9

w(sanna/ tw=| ui(w=| Daui/d:
eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou:
w(sanna/ e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$

Hosha’-nâ to the son of David
Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord
Hosha’-nâ in the highest (place)s

Luke 19:38

eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ o( basileu\$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou:
e)n ou)ranw=| ei)rh/nh kai\ do/ca e)n u(yi/stoi$

Blessed is the (one) coming—the king—in (the) name of (the) Lord
Peace in heaven and glory in (the) highest place(s)

John 12:13

eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou,
[kai\] o( basileu\$ tou=  )Israh/l

Blessed is the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord,
[and] the king of Israel

First, note what is common to all of the Gospels:

(a) w(sanna/—a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic an` uv^oh (hôša± nâ) (Hebrew aN` hu*yv!oh [hôšî±¹ (n)nâ]), which would be translated “Save, please…” or “Save, I pray…” (an being a particle of entreaty). This verb form (with or without the particle) reflects a real request from a petitioner (toward the king, or God) everywhere it occurs in the Old Testament; however, gradually, it came to be used as an acclamation or exclamation of praise (something like “God save the king!” in Britain). Its appearance here is certainly a result of its use in Psalm 118 (v. 25)—it may originally have indicated a prayer for victory and/or prosperity: in the context of Sukkoth (harvest festival) it is intended as a prayer for rain. Of the Gospels, only Luke omits any w(sanna/ exclamation.

(b) Psalm 118:26a—all four Gospels include the first half of verse 26, which is an exact quote from the Septuagint (and an accurate translation of the Hebrew): eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou, “blessed is the (one) coming in the name of the Lord” (Hebrew hwhy <v@B= aB*h^ EWrB*). The reference originally was most likely to the king returning from battle (see below), but it is possible that a more general festal setting is intended (at least for vv. 25-29). Certainly the verse came to be used in reference to pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the Feast (Sukkoth, Passover, etc). For more detail on the use of Ps 118, see below.

(c) Reference to king/kingdom—In all four Gospels, some mention is made of a king (basileu/$, John 12:13, Luke 19:38), a kingdom (basilei/a, Mark 11:10), or David (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:10). This would imply that the crowds (and/or the Gospel writer) had a Messianic context in mind.

(d) e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$—this phrase occurs in all three Synoptic accounts (though Luke is quite different, see below). Literally, the phrase would be rendered “in the highest (place)s”, i.e., in heaven, or in the highest heaven. The rare instances where this phrase occurs in the Septuagint (Psalm 148:1; Job 16:19), it translates <ym!orM=B^ (“in the heights”) parallel to “heaven” (<y]m^v*, ou)rano/$). The usage in Matthew and Mark (with w(sanna/) probably represents a climactic intensification of the acclamation.

Secondly, what is unique to each Gospel:

(a) Mark adds eu)loghme/nh h( e)rxome/nh basilei/a tou= patro\$ h(mw=n Daui/d (“blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David”), as a parallel to Psalm 118:26a—”blessed is the one coming…blessed is the kingdom coming”. Here the Messianic connotation could not be more explicit: not just the king, but the kingdom itself is coming; that is, the restored Davidic kingdom will be ushered in. One is reminded of the annunciation to Mary: “he shall be great and shall be called Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32).

(b) Matthew adds tw=| ui(w=| Daui/d to w(sanna/: “Hôsha’-nâ to the son of David”, so that the exclamation of praise (or entreaty, in the original Psalm) is addressed specifically to the “Son of David”. This is a clear Messianic title which is applied to Jesus on a number of occasions (only in the Synoptic Gospels, most frequently in Matthew). It should be noted that generally it is the crowds (or other individuals) who use this title, never Jesus himself: in fact, the only time Jesus mentions it occurs in a brief exposition of Psalm 110:1 (Mark 12:35-37; Matthew 21:41-45; Luke 20:41-44) the precise meaning of which remains difficult to determine. Matthew records the same phrase (w(sanna/ tw=| ui(w=| Daui/d) being uttered by children in the Temple; Luke has a similar notice (without the phrase) involving the disciples (Luke 19:39-40).

(c) John follows Psalm 118:26a with the phrase [kai\] o( basileu\$ tou=  )Israh/l (“and the king of Israel”). This addition seems to specify who the coming one is—”even the king of Israel”.

(d) Similar to John, Luke seems to have added o( basileu/$ to Psalm 118:26a; however, the text is uncertain. The majority text (ac A K L D Q P Y f1, 13 28 565 700 etc) reads o( e)rxo/meno$ basileu/$ (“the coming king”); a few manuscripts (W 1216), lectionaries and Church Fathers do not have basileu/$; Western witnesses (D a c d ff2 i r1 s) have a reading harmonized closer to that of John (transposing basileu/$ and repeating eu)loghme/no$); MS B with some versional witnesses ([arm, syr?]) reads o( e)rxo/meno$ o( basileu/$ (“the one coming, the king”). More notably, Luke has, apparently, modified and expanded the phrase e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$, so that it is a clear echo of the angelic announcement to the shepherds: “in heaven peace, and glory in the highest (place)s” (compare Luke 2:14). The climactic moment of Jesus entry into Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51) parallels the entry of Jesus into the world.

2. The Scripture passages applied to the event

Psalm 118 (esp. vv. 25-26)

This Psalm was discussed briefly above. The original context was, most likely, of the king returning victorious in battle (the victory being won by God, vv. 6-16ff), and welcomed as one “coming in the name of the Lord”. However, this is not certain, and a more general festal setting is possible (see esp. vv. 25-29). Certainly, by the Maccabean period, it would seem, this Psalm was included among the Hallel Psalms (113-118) recited by pilgrims during the great feasts (Sukkoth [Tabernacles], Passover, Pentecost, the Dedication). In this context, one who “comes in the name of the Lord” would refer to the pilgrim. Jesus cited this Psalm in relation to the (religious) opposition he faced—v. 26 (in Matthew 23:39), and v. 22-24 “the stone the builders rejected…” (Parable of the Tenants, Mark 12:10-11 & par.). If it is possible that the crowds and followers of Jesus are reviving the royal setting of the Psalm, welcoming Jesus as the Messiah who will restore the Davidic Kingdom, for Jesus the message seems to have undertones of his impending suffering and death.

Zechariah 9 (v. 9)

Only Matthew (21:4-5) and John (12:15) specifically apply this prophetic passage to the Triumphal Entry, but each not without difficulties. Matthew’s citation is tied to curious and problematic details (the two animals—ass and foal) which I will not go into here. The citation in John has actually been modified from Zech 9:9—instead of “rejoice much daughter of Zion” (LXX xai=re sfo/dra qu/gathr Siwn), the text reads mh\ fobou= quga/thr Siw/n, “do not fear daughter of Zion”.  R. E. Brown in his classic commentary (Anchor Bible 29 p. 458) suggests that this phrase may have been taken from Zephaniah 3:16, and that the earlier addition [kai\] o( basileu/$ (see above) may likewise have come in from Zeph 3:15. This passage in Zechariah (similar to what may have been the original setting of Psalm 118) depicts the surrounding hostile nations defeated and cowed by the power of God (vv. 1-8); with an even more destructive scene of judgment against the nations in vv. 13-15. In between we have the scene of the king coming to Jerusalem (v. 9) which ushers in a time of peace and prosperity (vv. 10-12, see also the reprise of this theme in vv. 16-17).

So, to return to the initial questions:

How do the crowds in the narrative understand Jesus’ entry?

It seems unmistakable that the people (the Synoptics seem to depict crowds following along with Jesus [Mark 11:7-9 par.], John describes crowds coming out to meet him [12:13]—two separate groups?) as their acclamations are recorded, have a definite Messianic idea in mind—that Jesus would be the coming Davidic king who will restore the kingdom of Israel. This seems most clear in John’s description of the crowd carrying palm branches—some have suggested that this indicates the time of Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles), but a nationalistic reference to the Maccabean revolt and the Dedication seems more appropriate (1 Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc. 10:7; cf. Brown, AB 29 p. 461).

How did Jesus understand the event and his own actions?

So much attention is given in the Synoptics to the acquisition of the colt, it would seem to have been of considerable importance to Jesus. Whether or not he was consciously fulfilling prophecy is difficult to say. The fact that Zech 9-14 seems to have had a considerable influence over Gospel Tradition (Jesus himself cites 13:7b [Mark 14:27 par.]), means that the earliest believers, at least, saw the connection. I think it likely that Jesus indeed identified himself with the king of Zech 9:9, “righteous and [himself] bearing salvation, poor and riding upon an ass”.  If the Synoptic position of the Cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15-19 [par]) is historically correct, Jesus also manifested judgment as well, but not at all the kind that would have fulfilled popular Messianic expectation.

How did the Gospel writers understand the event?

It is interesting to consider the possible connection in John between Zech 9 and Zeph 3 (see above)—many of the same themes appear, but with a different emphasis in the latter passage: the conversion of the nations (vv. 9-11), the purification of Israel (the “remnant”, v. 12-13), including a sanctification of the appointed feasts (v. 18). The passage parallel to Zech 9:9ff (vv. 14-17) is perhaps even more appropriate as applied to Christ, see v. 17: “the Lord your God is in your midst [or ‘within you’], strong he shall save, he will have joy over you with gladness, he will make quiet in his love, he will rejoice over you with shouting”.  For the rest, I would point to the discussion above, as well as encourage each believer toward a careful study of the passages.