Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 4 (Mk 14:53-72 par)

The Interrogation (“Trial”) of Jesus before the Sanhedrin

The “trial” of Jesus, which the Gospel Tradition preserves in two episodes—(1) an interrogation by the Sanhedrin and (2) and examination by the Roman governor (Pilate)—has been one of the most hotly debated aspects of the Passion narrative, primarily in terms of the historicity of the differing Gospel accounts. I will not be dealing extensively with all the historical-critical questions, but will address certain points related specifically to the Sanhedrin episode in a supplemental note.

There would seem to be three primary lines of tradition preserved:

    1. What we may call the core Synoptic tradition, represented by Mark and Matthew
    2. The Lukan version, which only partly follows the Synoptic, and
    3. The Johannine, which differs considerably in various ways

Even though many critical scholars feel that John preserves the most accurate historical detail and ordering of events, I will continue the method in this series of beginning with the Synoptic Tradition, represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:53-72; Matthew 26:57-75; Luke 22:54-71

The Markan outline of the episode is as follows:

    • Vv. 53-54—Introduction, establishing the two scenes:
      • (a) The assembly of the Chief Priests, Elders and Scribes—i.e. the Council (Sanhedrin), v. 53
      • (b) Peter waiting outside in the courtyard of the High Priest, v. 54
    • Vv. 55-65—Jesus before the Council (sune/drion), which may be divided into three parts:
      • The (false) witnesses against Jesus, with a report of the “Temple-saying” (vv. 55-59)
      • The question by the High Priest, with Jesus’ response (vv. 60-62)
      • The judgment against Jesus, with the subsequent mocking/mistreatment of him (vv. 63-65)
    • Vv. 66-72—Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus

I will be discussing the scene of Peter’s denial in more detail in an upcoming note (on the Peter traditions in the Passion and Resurrection narratives). It is important to emphasize two facts:

    • The essential outline of the three denials, and the basic setting/location, are common to all four Gospels, indicating an extremely well-established and fixed tradition. The three-fold denial can be assumed (on objective grounds) to derive from a reliable historical tradition, since a single denial surely would have been sufficient in terms of its place and value in the narrative.
    • The specific details with regard to how each denial took place—where and when it occurred, who was involved, etc—differ considerably between Mark/Matthew, Luke and John. Even between Mark and Matthew, otherwise so close at this point, there are key differences. This indicates that the precise details surrounding the denials were not nearly so well-established, and remained fluid in the way they were presented by each Gospel writer. For a convenient comparative chart showing the many differences in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29, 29A (1970), pp. 830-1.

Each Gospel writer understood the dramatic power of the denial scene, and felt free to explore and express this creatively. Consider the slight but significant difference between the introduction in Mk 14:54 and Matt 26:58—the description of Peter in the courtyard is very close, except for the final words which set the dramatic tension:

    • Mark creates a vivid visual picture:
      “…and he was…warming himself toward the light [i.e. in front of the fire]”
    • While Matthew has a more psychological orientation:
      “..and he sat… (waiting) to see the completion [i.e. how things would end]”

The rooster crow of the original tradition is also extremely evocative, indicating that Peter suddenly awakes to realize what he has done. The effect is emphasized by his sudden weeping (in remorse/regret); Matthew and Luke share a detail in common here, specifically stating that Peter went away (outside of the courtyard): “…and going outside he wept bitterly” (Matt 26:72; par Lk 22:62). The rooster crow, together with Peter’s reaction, is the climactic moment of the episode in Mark/Matthew.

Luke (22:54-71) treats the scene differently in the way he has ordered events, placing it first in the episode, ahead of the interrogation of Jesus. The effect of this is two-fold:

    • It makes Jesus’ response to the Council (vv. 66-71) the climactic moment of the episode, and
    • It joins Peter’s denial to betrayal of Jesus by Judas (vv. 47-53 + 54-62), just as the author does in the Last Supper scene. In the earlier episode this appears to have been done, in part, to emphasize the theme of true and false discipleship, by connecting the prediction of Judas’ betrayal (vv. 21-23) to the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34) with a short block of teaching (vv. 24-30) between.

In contrast to the accounts in Luke and John, Mark and Matthew portray the scene of Jesus before the Council in terms of a formal trial, with witnesses and the delivery of a sentence. This portrait informs the structure of the scene, with its three parts.

Part 1—The Witnesses against Jesus (Mk 14:55-59; Matt 26:59-62)

The Synoptic tradition here records that the Council desperately sought to find witnesses against Jesus (to support a sentence of death), but they could find no reliable testimony. The only charge brought against Jesus was a report of a saying regarding the Temple (the so-called “Temple saying”); interestingly, Matthew and Mark differ in the wording of this (as it was reported in the narrative):

“I will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine made-with-hands, and through [i.e. after] three days I will build another (house) made-without-hands” (Mk 14:58)
“I am able to loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] the shrine of God, and through [i.e. after] three days to build (the house again)” (Matt 26:61)

Mark and Matthew both state that this report was made by false witnesses, presumably implying that the report was false (i.e. that Jesus never said any such thing). The closest we come in the Synoptics is Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction in Mark 13:2 par. However, the Gospel of John records a saying by Jesus rather similar to that which is reported by the “false” witnesses:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (again)!” (Jn 2:19)

If we accept this as an authentic saying by Jesus, occurring at the time of the Temple “cleansing” scene (located close to the Passion narrative in the Synoptics), then the report of the “false” witnesses could certainly reflect the memory of such a saying. The Gospel of John, of course, specifically interprets the saying in 2:19 as referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus himself (vv. 21-22)—an interpretation most appropriate in the context of the Passion narrative. For more on the Temple saying (and cleansing) traditions, cf. my earlier notes and article on the subject.

Part 2—The Question by the High Priest (Mk 14:60-62; Matt 26:62-64)

The initial question by the High Priest (identified in Matthew as Caiaphas) relates to the testimony of the “false” witnesses, and to this Jesus gives no answer (Mk 14:60-61a). The second question is central to the episode (and the entire Passion narrative), as well as serving as the climactic statement regarding the identity of Jesus within the Synoptic Tradition. In Mark, the exchange is:

    • High Priest: “Are you the Anointed One [o( xristo/$], the Son of the (One) spoken well of [i.e. Blessed One, God]?” (v. 61b)
    • Jesus: “I am—and you will see the Son of Man sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the Power and coming with the clouds of Heaven!” (v. 62)

For more on this saying, see my earlier notes and the article on the title “Son of Man” in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The Son of Man saying here is an allusion both to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1—Scripture passages which were enormously influential in shaping early Christian thought regarding the nature and identity of Jesus. As I have argued elsewhere, in the Son of Man sayings with an eschatological orientation, Jesus appears to identify himself specifically with the heavenly figure called “Son of Man” (from Daniel’s “one like a son of man”, 7:13)—who will appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and oversee the Judgment on humankind. Early Christian tradition associated it specifically with the image of the exalted Jesus seated at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56, etc).

Matthew’s version of the Son of Man saying (26:64) is close to that in Mark, but the question by the High Priest shows signs of development—i.e., it has been shaped to echo the confession by Peter in 16:16:

    • Peter: “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God”
    • Caiaphas: “I require an oath out of you, according to the Living God, that you would say (to us) if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God!”

For more on the differences in this scene, cf. below.

Part 3—The Judgment and mistreatment of Jesus (Mk 14:63-65; Matt 26:65-68)

The reaction to Jesus’ response—in particular, the identification of himself as the heavenly/divine “Son of Man”—results in the charge of blasphemy, i.e. that he has insulted (vb. blasfeme/w) God by claiming divine status and attributes. This is the basis for their decision that he is one who holds on him [i.e. against him] the (grounds for) death (e&noxo$ qana/tou e)stin). The mistreatment of Jesus is parallel to the more expanded tradition of his being mocked by the Roman guards (Mk 15:16-20 par), and would certainly be seen as a fulfillment of the Passion prediction in Mk 10:32-34 par.

Luke 22:54-71 and John 18:12-27

As noted above, Luke has the scenes in reverse order from that of Mark/Matthew, resulting in three distinct parts:

    • Peter’s Denial (vv. 54-62)
    • Mistreatment of Jesus (vv. 63-65)
    • Jesus before the Council (vv. 66-71)

The question of whether Luke has the more correct historical order of events will be discussed in the supplemental note on the Trial episode. I mentioned the significance for the author of joining together the failure of the two disciples—Judas (the Betrayal, vv. 21-23, 47-53) and Peter (the Denial, vv. 31-34, 54-62)—to bring out the theme of true discipleship, found in vv. 25-30 and the double exhortation of the Lukan Prayer scene (vv. 40, 46). The unique detail of Jesus turning to look at Peter following the rooster crow (v. 61a) probably should be taken as parallel to the words of Jesus to Peter in vv. 31-32—a sign of care and concern. The connection also serves to enhance the dramatic moment when Peter realizes what he has done, and how it had been foreseen by Jesus (v. 61b).

The Lukan version of the Council scene, though clearly drawing upon the same basic tradition as Mark/Matthew, is presented in a very different form. Apart from the morning setting (v. 66a, cf. the supplemental note), Luke’s version has the following differences:

    • There is no reference to the witnesses or Temple-saying (cf. above), thus removing the sense that this is a formal trial.
    • Luke presents the Council as a whole questioning Jesus, rather than the High Priest specifically (vv. 66b, 70a [“they all said…”]). The Council plays a similar collective role in Luke’s version of the Roman trial scene (23:13ff, 18ff).
    • The question involving the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” is divided into two distinct questions, separated by the Son of Man saying by Jesus (vv. 67-70):
      • “If you are the Anointed One, say (it) to [i.e. tell] us” (v. 67)
      • Jesus: “…but from now on the Son of Man will be sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the power of God” (v. 69)
      • “Then you are the Son of God…?” (v. 70)

Historical considerations aside, this arrangement may be intended to make a theological (and Christological) point—namely, that Jesus is something more than the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah) as understood by the traditional figure-types of an expected end-time Prophet or Davidic ruler. The allusion to Psalm 110:1 reminds us of the interesting tradition, set in the general context of the Passion (the last days in Jerusalem), in which Jesus discusses the meaning and significance of this verse (Mk 12:35-37 par). For more on this, cf. my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed” (esp. Part 8, and Part 12 on the title “Son of God”).

While the form of the Son of Man saying is relatively fixed between the Synoptic Gospels, that of Jesus’ initial answer to the question(s) by the Council differs markedly. In Mk 14:62, Jesus gives a clear affirmative answer: “I am”, while Matthew’s version (26:64) is much more ambiguous—”You said (it)”, and could be understood in the sense of “You said it, not me”. Because Luke records two separate questions, Jesus gives two answers:

    • To the question “If you are the Anointed One, tell us”:
      “If I say (it) to you, you will (certainly) not trust (it), and if I question you (about it), you (certainly) will not answer.” (vv. 67b-68)
    • To the question “Then are you the Son of God?”:
      You say that I am.” (v. 70b)

The second Lukan answer seems to combine both the Markan and Matthean forms—truly an interesting example of variation and development within the Gospel tradition.

John 18:12-27

John’s account of this episode differs again from the Synoptics (its relation to the Lukan order/arrangement of events will be discussed in the supplemental note). The two main points of difference are:

    • There is no scene of Jesus before the Council, as in the Synoptics; rather we find different interrogation scene in the house of the chief priest Annas (formerly the High Priest A.D. 6-15). The introductory notice (18:13) states that Annas was the father-in-law of the current Chief Priest Caiaphas (A.D. 18-36). Verse 19 is ambiguous, but the reference in v. 24 indicates that Annas is the “Chief Priest” interrogating Jesus (cf. also Luke 3:2).
    • Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene:
      • Scene 1—Jesus is arrested and let to Annas (vv. 12-14)
        —Peter’s First Denial (vv. 14-18)
      • Scene 2—Jesus is interrogated by Annas (vv. 19-24)
        —Peter’s Second and Third Denials (vv. 25-27)

Clearly John’s Gospel is drawing upon a separate line of tradition. The interrogation scene in vv. 19-24 is surprisingly undramatic, compared with the Synoptic version, but it fits the essential portrait of Jesus in the Johannine Passion narrative. As I discussed in the earlier note on Garden scene, the depiction of Jesus’ calm and commanding authority is set in contrast to Peter’s rash and violent act with the sword. The intercutting in verses 12-27, I believe, serves much the same purpose—to juxtapose Jesus’ calm and reasoned response to the interrogation (vv. 20-21) with Peter’s reaction to the ones interrogating him.

It is hard to tell how much development has gone into the tradition recorded in vv. 13-14, 19-24. We do find several Johannine themes present in Jesus’ response:

    • His presence in the world, speaking (the words of the Father)
    • His public teaching in the Synagogue and Temple, which reflects the great Discourses of chapters 6-8 and 10:22-39.
    • The emphasis on his followers (disciples) as those who bear witness to him

Overall, however, the development would seem to be slight, compared with the dialogue scenes between Jesus and Pilate in 18:33-38; 19:9-11 (to be discussed).

Jesus and the Law, Part 7: The Temple (continued)

In Part 6, I looked at the episode of Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple, as well as the “Temple saying” in John 2:19 par; in this part, I will conclude the article on “Jesus and the Temple” with an examination of other sayings related to the Temple, followed by a summary discussion.

3. Other sayings and teachings related to the Temple

References with an asterisk (*) indicate sayings related to sacrificial offerings (associated with the Temple cult), but do not refer to the Temple itself.

Luke 2:49

In the episode from the Lukan Infancy narratives (Lk 2:41-51), of the twelve-year old Jesus remaining behind in Jerusalem (following the Passover observance), when his parents (Mary and Joseph) find him and ask (v. 48)—

“Child, what [i.e. why] have you done thus to us? See, your father and I, being in pain, search [for] you”

Jesus responds:

ti/ o%ti e)zhtei=te me; ou)k h&|deite o%ti e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou dei= ei@nai/ me;
“What that [i.e. why do] you search [for] me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in/among the (thing)s of my Father?”

The precise meaning and rendering of the Greek phrase e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou is debated, as I have discussed in a prior note. It is sometimes translated as “in my Father’s house”, but this is rather inaccurate and misleading. The expression e)n toi=$ tou= {person} (“in/among the things/people of {so-and-so}”) can indeed have the wider sense of “in/among the possessions of …”, translated conventionally as “in the house(-hold) of…”. Such a basic meaning is attested in the Greek version of the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 41:51), and elsewhere in Greek texts of the period; a close parallel is found in Josephus (Against Apion I.118: e)n toi=$ tou= Dio$ “in the house-(hold) [i.e. temple] of Zeus”). However, if Jesus (or the Gospel writer) had wished to emphasize the Temple (building) as such, he certainly could have used the common word oi@ko$ (“house, building”). The AV/KJV translation “about my Father’s business” reflects the basic sense “in the affairs of my father”—that is, the things in an abstract sense, again referring, one would assume, to the teaching of the Torah and temple activity. Sometimes cited supporting this basic meaning is Luke 20:25, but better Mark 8:33/Matthew 16:23. The specific Greek phrase in verse 49 may be intended to capture both of these senses.

Overall, we see here a positive view of the Temple, which fits the key role and setting it plays in the Lukan Infancy narratives (chs. 1-2). However, it is important to note that Jesus’ saying does not emphasize the Temple, but rather God the Father (“my Father”)—he is in/among the things (and/or people) belonging to his Father. This clearly is meant as a juxtaposition between Jesus’ earthly parents and his (true) heavenly Father in the narrative scene. The specific wording may also imply that the Temple is only the “house(hold) of God” insofar as the things truly belonging to God take place there. Though the Temple ritual is implied in the festal (Passover) setting of the narrative, Jesus is specifically taking part (as a pupil) in teaching and instruction. This is an important emphasis throughout the Gospels (and Acts)—the role of teaching and prayer in the Temple seems to have priority over that of the sacrificial ritual.

Matthew 5:23-24*

In the first of the so-called Antitheses (Matt 5:21-47) of the Sermon on the Mount, the teaching on murder/anger (vv. 21-26), Jesus offers two practical examples of the importance of reconciling with one’s fellow neighbor, etc. The first of these (vv. 23-24) describes a situation where a person is in the midst of presenting a (sacrificial) offering at the altar (i.e. of the Temple), and realizes that he/she has an unresolved conflict with another person (“your brother holds something against you”); Jesus’ instruction is to leave the offering and first be reconciled with (lit. “be thoroughly changed”  toward) the other person. The implied principle is that fundamental ethical matters take priority over fulfilling the sacrificial/ceremonial requirements of the Law. This generally follows the common criticism leveled by the Prophets, denouncing those who participate in the religious ritual despite otherwise behaving in a wicked or faithless manner toward God and neighbor (see below). I have discussed the Antitheses at some length earlier in this series.

Matthew 9:13; 12:7* (citing Hosea 6:6a)

I have discussed both of these verses in a recent note. Jesus’ teaching follows in line with the practical example from the Antitheses (above); and see also, especially, on Mark 12:33 below.

Matthew 12:5-6

This pair of verses was also discussed, along with v. 7, in the previous note.

Mark 12:33*

In the Markan version of the so-called “Great Commandment” (Mk 12:28-34; par Matt 22:34-40; Lk 10:25-28), in response to a question from a certain scribe (“which [thing] laid upon [us] to complete [i.e. commandment] is first of [them] all?”), Jesus answers by citing Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18 together, emphasizing (total) love toward God and neighbor (“there is no other [thing] laid upon [us] to complete [i.e. no commandment] greater than these”, v. 31b). The scribe then responds to Jesus as follows (v. 33):

“Upon truth [i.e. truly] you have said (it) beautifully, Teacher… to love Him out of (one’s) whole heart and out of (one’s) whole understanding and out of (one’s) whole strength—and to love (one’s) neighbor as himself—is over (and) above [i.e. far more than] all the whole burnt (offering)s and (ritual) slayings [i.e. sacrifices]” (vv. 32-33)

Jesus affirms the substance of the scribe’s comment by saying “you are not far from the kingdom of God” (v. 34). So here Jesus effectively teaches that the two-fold “love command” far surpasses the ritual/ceremonial aspects of the Law. This reflects other sayings of Jesus in the Sermon the Mount (and elsewhere, cf. above), and would become a cornerstone teaching in the early Church (see esp. Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14).

Luke 18:10ff

Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the “Tax collector” takes place in the Temple (v. 10), though it is not entirely clear if there is any special significance to this setting; the emphasis is rather on the contrast between the approach and conduct of the two men. The Pharisee is apparently scrupulous and devout in religious matters, observing the Torah, but also is self-assured (“self-righteous”), justifying himself in prayer before God. The tax collector, on the other hand, is humble and contrite before God, confessing that he is a sinner and asking for mercy. The parable is typical of other “reversal of fortune” sayings and parables by Jesus, such as in the Lukan Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26) or the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). Indeed, the Beatitudes (see Matt 5:3-12) especially emphasize the characteristics of meekness and humility. Beyond this, it is hard to ignore the apparent contrast also present in the Lukan parable between external religious observance and inward purpose or intention—without the second, the first is of little or no value. An implicit connection with the Temple, in this regard, has already been noted in the sayings above. A similar passage, with a Temple setting, is found in Mark 12:41-44, with Jesus’ comments on the widow’s offering.

Mark 13:2 par

In Mark 13:1-2 (and the parallel in Matt 24:1-2; Lk 21:5-6) we have Jesus predicting/foretelling the destruction of the Temple. This begins a collection of teachings and sayings (in the Synoptic tradition) known as the “Eschatological” (or Olivet) Discourse (Mk 13 / Matt 24 /Lk 21:5-36 [cf. also Lk 17:20-37]). A foretelling of the coming siege and destruction of Jerusalem runs through this section; the Gospel of Luke, in particular, shows Jesus predicting the siege (more or less fulfilled in the war of 66-70 A.D.) in fairly graphic detail (Lk 19:41-44; 21:20-24; cf. also 23:28-31). This prediction may be related to one or both of the main traditions involving Jesus and the Temple—(1) Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple, and (2) the “Temple saying” of Jn 2:19; Mk 14:58 par (on both of these, see Part 6 of this series). One possible interpretation of the Temple “cleansing” event is that Jesus meant to symbolize the destruction of the current (earthly) Temple; if so, then the prediction in Mk 13:2 par should be read in this light. Similarly, the “Temple saying” may indicate a belief or expectation (whether by Jesus or others) that the current Temple would be destroyed and replaced with something new.

The prediction in Mark 13:2 par does not necessarily indicate a particular view (positive or negative) of the Temple on the part of Jesus; however, at least two points may be fairly inferred:

    1. Jesus did not see the current (earthly) Temple as permanent—the building itself would be destroyed. The “Temple saying”, however understood or interpreted, could conceivably mean that something new would take its place.
    2. The destruction likely means that God’s judgment—against Jerusalem and/or the Temple establishment—was involved.

Jesus is responding to comments by his disciples (Mk 13:1 par) admiring the physical/material grandeur of the Temple building; this certainly would suggest a devaluing of the building itself, along with the accompanying Temple ritual—a view which would conform with a number of the sayings above.

Mark 14:49 par

In Mark 14:49 (and the parallel in Matt 26:55; Lk 22:53) Jesus refers to the fact that he had spent considerable time in the Temple, teaching. The Synoptic narrative tradition records just one main visit by Jesus to Jerusalem—during the Passover season just prior to his death. During the time between his (triumphal) entry into the city and his arrest, the Gospels present Jesus as spending most of his time teaching in the Temple (emphasized repeatedly in Luke, cf. 19:47; 20:1; 21:5, 37-38). In the Gospel of John, which records multiple visits by Jesus to Jerusalem (for the holy days), there too the image is of Jesus teaching in the Temple (for more on this see in Part 8). Though the picture painted by the Gospels is rather simplistic, two clear observations can be made:

    1. Jesus presumably was observing the Torah commands in coming to Jerusalem (and the Temple) during the holy (feast) days (such as Passover, Sukkot/Booths, etc)
    2. He is not depicting as participating the sacrificial/ceremonial Temple ritual (though presumably, at the historical level, he would have); rather, he is consistently shown in the role and act of teaching.

Summary Observations

In concluding this study on Jesus and the Temple, it may be useful to summarize the results and highlight several key observations which will be important to keep in mind as we proceed further in the series of “Jesus and the Law”:

The Temple action (“cleansing”)—the four Gospel accounts of this scene all stem from a single historical tradition, a dramatic event which had already begun to be interpreted differently in the various Gospels. By his provocative action, Jesus appears to be following the Old Testament Prophets (cf. the citation of Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11) who occasionally leveled harsh criticism against the sacrificial ritual of the Temple (especially when it was not accompanied by proper ethical and religious behavior). The action by Jesus was primarily symbolic, in two main respects:

  • Driving out the buyers and sellers, etc. likely was meant to be a kind of “cleansing”, at least in the sense of emphasizing the intended holiness of the Temple as the house/dwelling of God. In this respect, the symbolic action strikes against the Temple machinery and apparatus associated with the sacrificial ritual—the very aspect of the Temple most likely to become corrupted through its customary use (and misuse).
  • Turning over the tables, etc. probably was meant to symbolize the impending destruction of the Temple—either as a prediction or a warning. Early Gospel tradition may have connected the “Temple saying” (below) with the “cleansing” episode in various ways, as we see in John 2; the emphasis in the saying is on the destruction of the Temple.

If one gives credence to the quotation of Isa 56:7, especially, in the Synoptic accounts, it is also possible that Jesus was establishing (or at least suggesting) a different (symbolic) role for the Temple, in a two-fold sense:

  1. Emphasizing prayer, rather than sacrificial offering, as the basis for proper worship of God
  2. Inclusion of Gentiles (“a house of prayer for all nations“)—at the historical level, the buying/selling probably would have taken place in the Court of Gentiles; by driving out the buyers/sellers, Jesus may have been declaring the holiness of the entire Temple precincts, extending its sanctity to the Gentiles

There was probably also a definite eschatological dimension to Jesus’ action—ushering in a “new age” with the coming of the (end-time) kingdom of God meant that the old religious forms would either be replaced or given a new significance. If we accept the Johannine version (and context) of the “temple saying” (Jn 2:19ff), then Jesus had already consciously connected the Temple action with his own (sacrificial) death and resurrection.

The Temple saying—it seems certain (on entirely objective grounds) that Jesus made a statement similar to that reported during his trial (Mark 14:58; Matt 26:61; cf. also Mk 15:29 par; Acts 6:14)—that he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it (in three days)—even though Mark and Matthew report this as “false” testimony. John 2:19 perhaps records this very statement, accepting the Gospel record at face value: “loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (up again)”. Most likely this saying is related in some way to the Temple action (above), though only in John 2:13-22 is a specific connection made. It is also only in John (vv. 20-22) that we have a direct interpretation of the saying, made by the Gospel writer (or his underlying sources) and not by Jesus himself. The author clearly states that Jesus was speaking of “the shrine of his (own) body”, though the disciples did not understand this until after the resurrection. In Acts 6:14ff this saying places a role in the charges made against Stephen and provides the setting for his great speech in Acts 7:2-53 (discussed in detail in the series “The Speeches of Acts” [to be posted here]). Stephen’s speech climaxes with a rhetorical (and polemic) argument against the Temple itself, comparing it in some sense with idolatry, in part through repeated use of the phrase “made with hands” (“work of [their] hands”, etc). Whether this, in any way, reflects authentic teaching of Jesus is uncertain.

Other teaching regarding the Temple and its Ritual—Jesus says relatively little about the Temple elsewhere in the Gospels, but the sayings and teachings which have been preserved (see above) would seem to suggest, or reflect, several related themes:

  • Jesus’ presence in the Temple occurs mainly in the context of teaching, rather than in the performance of sacrificial ritual (e.g. Lk 2:46ff; Mark 14:49 par). In several other sayings, teaching or prayer in the Temple is also emphasized (cf. the citation of Isa 56:7 in Mk 11:17 par; also Lk 18:10).
  • In several sayings and teachings, Jesus clearly states the importance and priority of love (for God and neighbor) over sacrificial offerings (Matt 5:23-24; the citation of Hos 6:6a in Matt 9:13 and 12:7; Mark 12:28-34 par; cf. also Lk 18:10ff).
  • Similarly, one may fairly adduce in such sayings a principle emphasizing inward intention and attitude over against external observance of the ritual (though the latter may still be deemed important).
  • The prediction of the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13:1-2 par) would seem to confirm an important aspect of both the Temple action (“cleansing”) and Temple saying—that the current (earthly) Temple was about to be destroyed, as part of God’s (end-time) Judgment.
  • The sayings in Matt 12:5-6, could be understood in a Christological sense, somewhat similar to the Temple saying (and explanation) in John 2:19ff, whereby Jesus (in his own person) surpasses (and/or replaces) the religious authority and position of the Temple. As there is relatively little evidence for this idea elsewhere in Jesus’ teaching (at least in the Synoptic Gospels), one must be cautious about such an interpretation; on the other hand, neither should it be dismissed simply as a product of early Christian belief.

It is possible—even likely, I should say—that early Christian belief more strongly influences the way that Gospel traditions are presented and narrated in the Gospel of John, and it is here (the Fourth Gospel) that we will now turn for the next part in this series.

Jesus and the Law, Part 6: The Temple

Jesus’ relationship to the Jerusalem Temple is sometimes treated separately from his view of the Law (Torah); however, the Temple ritual is an important part of the commands and ordinances in the Law, so it will be discussed appropriately within the series “Jesus and the Law”. This article will proceed according to the following outline:

    1. Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple
    2. The “Temple saying” of Jesus
    3. Other sayings and teachings related to the Temple

1. The “Cleansing” of the Temple

I have discussed this episode in some detail in earlier notes, and here will primarily repeat or summarize the results of those studies.

a. The Synoptic Accounts (Mark 1:15-19; Matthew 21:12-16; Luke 19:45-47)

Luke provides the simplest version (Lk 19:45-46):

45And coming into the sacred place he began to cast out the (ones) selling, 46saying to them, “It has been written: ‘My house will be a house for speaking-out toward (God) [i.e. prayer], and you have made it a cavern for plunderers’.”

Additional details found in Mark and Matthew (Mk 11:15; Matt 21:12):

    • Jesus casts out the (ones) selling and the (ones) buying
    • He overturns (lit. turns [upside] down) the tables of the coin-changers and seats of the (ones) selling doves

Additional details found only in Mark:

    • He did not allow (any)one to carry a vessel through the sacred-place (v. 16)
    • The quotation from Isa 56:7 is extended: “…will be called a house of prayer to/for all the nations” (v. 17)

There can be no doubt that the compound Scripture citation is the key to interpreting the Synoptic accounts as they stand. The first portion comes from Isaiah 56:7: “…My House will be called a house of petition/prayer [hL*p!T=] for all the peoples”. The message of Isa 56:1-8 is that all people who adhere to the Law of God (including Gentiles and foreigners) will become part of God’s people gathered in from exile. It is interesting to note the difference of emphasis:

    • Jesus: “My house will be (called) a house of prayer
    • Isa 56:7: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples

Mark does include the last phrase, but, it would seem, with any special emphasis. However, considering that the commerce would have likely been taking place in the outer Court of the Gentiles (implied by the use of i(ero/n and not nao/$), the Isaian context of foreigners (Gentiles) joining to become part of the (Messianic) restoration of Israel is surely significant. Primarily though, Jesus contrasts “house of prayer” with “cavern of thieves/plunderers”. This portion comes from Jeremiah 7:11, which also has something of a different meaning in its original context. Jer 7:1-29 is a lengthy oracle condemning the evils committed throughout Judah (delivered by the prophet while standing in the gate of the Temple, v. 2); this includes a familiar prophetic denunciation of those who commit evil and yet come to the Temple to participate in the sacred ritual (vv. 8ff). The bitter question is asked in verse 11:

“Has it become a cave of violent (men), this house of which My Name is called upon it, in your eyes?”

The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew literally, using the approximate phrase “cavern of plunderers” (sph/laion lh|stw=n); Jesus’ quotation follows the LXX phrase. By way of dramatic hyperbole, any “profane” business, even that associated with maintaining the Temple, was tantamount to turning the sacred place into a “cave of violent robbers”! In all four Gospels, but especially in John (v. 16b), Jesus seems to be objecting to commerce taking place anywhere within the Temple precincts (see below). This also would be confirmed by the curious detail in Mark (v. 16),  that Jesus “did not allow (any)one to carry a vessel through the sacred-place”. This probably is an echo of Zech 14:20-21, a passage which almost certainly colors the Gospel account, even as Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem (as the coming/Anointed King) is shaped by Zech 9:9ff. Another relevant (Messianic) passage would be Mal 3:1ff, which speaks of the Lord coming suddenly to His Temple, where he will purify the priests and their offerings (vv. 3-4). That Mal 3:1 was understood to apply to Jesus (with John the Baptist as his messenger) in Gospel Tradition is clear from Mark 1:2 (cf. also Matt 11:10ff and Luke 1:76).

b. The Johannine Account (Jn 2:14-17)

In the Synoptic Gospels, the “cleansing” episode is narrated near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, just after the Entry into Jerusalem; in John, on the other hand, it appears to take place at the beginning of his ministry. Some traditional-conservative commentators, taking the apparent chronologies literally, harmonize by positing two separate “cleansing” incidents. This is highly unlikely. The narratives (in the Synoptics and John) are close enough that we can be relatively certain that a single historical tradition underlies both accounts. If this is so, then which ‘chronology’ is more accurate? The Synoptics really only record one visit of Jesus to Jerusalem (at the end of his ministry); on the basis of this arrangement, various traditions which take place within a Jerusalem setting, might naturally be included as part of this last visit. Many scholars would view the multiple visits to Jerusalem (with three different Passover settings) as technically and historically more accurate, and thus favor an earlier date for the “cleansing”. On the other hand, the dramatic nature of the episode, which (at the historical level) must have greatly increased opposition to Jesus from the religious authorities, fits better a time closer to his death. If the saying in 2:18-22 was actually uttered at the time of the “cleansing” (on this see below), then again a moment nearer to his trial and crucifixion is to be preferred.

The Johannine account (2:14-17), on the one hand, creates a more vivid and dramatic scene with the inclusion of several details:

    • The mention of cattle and sheep in the Temple precincts (v. 14f)
    • Jesus’ use of a whip made of cords (v. 15)—it is not entirely clear whether he uses it to drive out the sellers, the cattle/sheep, or both.
    • In overturning (lit. upturning) the coin-changers tables, the coin-pieces pour out (v. 15)

On the other hand, instead of the Scripture citation (from Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11), Jesus replies more matter-of-factly (to the ones selling doves): “Take up/away these (things from here) on this (side and that)! do not make the house of my Father a house of commerce!” (v. 16). Is the Synoptic quotation an ‘exposition’ of Jesus’ words as recorded here in John? Or does John’s account ‘explain’ the quotation? A (different) Scripture passage is cited in John, from Psalm 69:9: “The ‘zeal’ of [i.e. for] your house has eaten me (up)”. The word usually translated “zeal/jealousy” (ha*n+q!) has the basic sense of “(burning) red”, the Greek word zh=lo$ properly “heat/fervor”. The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew quite literally, and the quotation in John follows the LXX (B), reading the future tense (katefa/getai “will eat me down [i.e. devour me]”). The future form, of course, betters suited the verse as a prophecy related to Jesus; indeed, reflection on Psalm 69 helped shape the Gospel tradition of his Passion (as indicated in v. 17a), and is doubtless one of the key texts used to show that the Messiah must suffer and die (see especially Luke 24:25-27, 44-46). There is a slight ambiguity here in the Psalm: while the ‘zeal’ is generally understood of the protagonist (or Psalmist)—that he is consumed with (righteous) fervor—it could also be taken to mean, in the overall context of suffering, that his righteous zeal has caused him to be “eaten up” by his enemies. The citation in the Gospel could be interpreted, or made to apply, either way. Since it is associated with Jesus’ “cleansing” action, the image primarily would be the intense nature (all-consuming fire) of his ‘zeal’ for God’s house; but it is also possible that a bit of wordplay is involved—a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death that connects with the Temple saying in vv. 19-22.

c. Significance of the “Cleansing” (at the Historical level)

On the basis of an objective analysis of the Gospel accounts, there would seem to be two main possibilities with regard to what Jesus intended to convey by his action:

1. Cleansing/Purifying the Temple. This is the most common interpretation, and is suggested particularly by the Synoptic accounts (see below). But cleansing in what sense? It can be understood several ways:

  • Jesus was focusing on the presence of the sellers of animals and money-changers in the Temple precincts. The general language used in the Synoptic accounts would suggest that he was targeting any commerce taking place in the Temple precincts (“the [ones] selling and the [ones] buying” Mark 11:15 par). Even though these transactions would have occurred in the outer court (of the Gentiles), and not the sanctuary, Jesus may have objected to their taking place in the Temple precincts at all. The symbolism might be understood in terms that the entire Temple (complex) should be holy.
  • Jesus was targeting not the Temple commerce per se, but rather the corruption and profiteering which was taking place. This is a popular view, but there is little evidence for it in the texts beyond a superficial reading of the second part of the saying in Mark 11:17 par (from Jer 7:11). More plausibly, Jesus is targeting the burden which the Temple commerce places upon the poor—cf. the emphasis on overturning the tables of the money-changers and sellers-of-doves (the sacrificial animal of the poor).
  • Jesus’ emphasis was on the Temple ritual as a whole. Since the system of sacrifice, and the tax to fund the Temple, could not exist without the purchase of animals and exchange of coinage, Jesus’ driving out the sellers and money-changers could be viewed as an attack on the Temple ritual itself. However, apart from this episode, there it little evidence in the Gospels for such an explicit attack on the Temple. It will become more prominent later on (cf. the speech of Stephen in Acts 7 [esp. vv. 38-50], the epistle to the Hebrews, and, possibly, within the Gospel of John [see below]). Still, the quotation of Isa 56:7 in Mark 11:17 par. could indicate that Jesus had a different role for the Temple in mind.
  • Jesus was attacking the current Temple administration. This was characteristic of the Community of the Qumran texts, which did not oppose the Temple as such, but rather the illegitimacy and corruption of the ruling Priesthood that oversaw the Temple machinery. In the Gospels certainly we find more instances of Jesus speaking out against the current religious authorities than against the Temple; however, it is hard to find much evidence of that in the episode here.
  • It was a general symbol of cleansing related to the idea of the Temple’s holiness. In other words, the Temple as symbolic of the place where people encounter the Presence of God, requires (at its fundamental religious and spiritual level) the removal of anything profane. I think it quite possible that this is closer to Jesus’ intention than the other interpretations mentioned above.

2. Destruction of the Temple. Here more emphasis is placed on the overturning of tables, etc. as a symbol of judgment. We have additional evidence that Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple on more than one occastion (Mark 14:58; Matt 26:61, also Mark 15:29 par.; Mark 13:1-2 par. [esp. Lk 21:5-6]). As mentioned above, if the saying in Jn 2:18-22 originally took place at the time of the the Temple action, then it makes this interpretation more likely. Again, one may consider several different aspects to the theme of judgment/destruction:

  • The corruption of the current Temple/priesthood. This view is similar to several of the “cleansing” interpretations offered above. The current apparatus will be destroyed and replaced with a new, pure Temple (whether real or symbolic).
  • The Restoration of Israel. In the exilic and post-exilic Prophets, as well as in later Judaism, a new (ideal) Temple is part of the (Messianic) restoration of Israel. See the Temple description in Ezekiel 40-48, and especially Isa 56:1-8 and Zech 14:16-21, both of which are reflected in the Gospel accounts. Also, note that Mark, in particular, connects the Temple episode with the withering of the fig tree (an Old Testament symbol for Israel), Mk 11:12-14, 20-21.
  • Jesus himself replaces the Temple (cult). This is more appropriate as an early Christian interpretation (which will be discussed); however, it is noteworthy in the Synoptic accounts that, after this episode, Jesus spends much of the time teaching within the Temple precincts. At the historical level, Jesus appears to have consciously identified himself with the (Messianic) king of Zech 9-14 (cf. Mark 11:1-11 par.), and may have intentionally tied his presence in Jerusalem (and the Temple) to Zech 14:16-21 (see the curious detail found only in Mk 11:16).

Is it possible that symbolism both of cleansing and destruction apply equally to the event? If we take the Gospel accounts at face value, there are two elements to Jesus’ action (Luke only mentioned the first of these):

    • Driving out the buyers and sellers
    • Overturning the tables of the money-changers (and sellers of doves)

2. The “Temple-saying” of Jesus

This is known in two forms: (a) as a (false) charge against Jesus at his “trial”, and (b) in John 2:19ff.

a. The charge made during the “trial” of Jesus

According to the accounts in Mark and Matthew (Luke does not include this part), false witnesses came forward to testify that Jesus had claimed he would destroy the Temple. Here the statements are presented side by side, along with Jn 2:19 for comparison (cf. below):

Mark 14:58

We heard him saying that
“I will loose down [katalu/sw] this shrine th(at is) made-with-hands and through [i.e. by/within] three days I will build another (house) made-without-hands”

Matthew 26:61

This (man) said
“I have power [i.e. am able] to loose down [katalu=sai] the shrine of God and through [i.e. by/within] three days to build (it again).”

John 2:19

Jesus answered and said to them
“Loose [lu/sate] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (up again).”

Even though the account in Mark/Matthew states that these were false and/or contradictory witnesses, most critical scholars would hold that Jesus made some declaration or prophecy along these lines. The charge was reasonably widespread (cf. also Mark 15:30 par, and Acts 6:14), and all three Synoptics record a prediction that the Temple would be destroyed (Mark 13:1-3 par.). And, of course, it would seem to be confirmed by the saying in Jn 2:19. What is the relationship between the Johannine saying and the Synoptic (false) saying? There are several possibilities:

    • They reflect separate sayings or traditions
    • It is the same saying—John records the exact form, the Synoptics show how it was misrepresented at the ‘trial’
    • It is the same saying, recorded by the Synoptic ‘witnesses’ with general accuracy, and modified slightly in John

The second option is probably closer to being correct, though critical arguments could be (and have been) made for the third. What do the Synoptics (Matthew/Mark) mean when they state that the saying as reported is “false” witness (Mk 14:57; Matt 26:60)? Do they deny that Jesus ever made such a statement (contrary to Jn 2:19)? Or is it a matter of misrepresenting what Jesus said? How then was it misrepresented? There are only a few ways this could have been done:

    • Altering the saying so that Jesus said he would destroy the Temple (“I will destroy/dissolve…”). By comparison, in John the imperative is used, directed at the Judeans (“[Go ahead and] destroy/dissolve…”). Interestingly, the version in Matthew (“I have power to destroy/dissolve…”), while differing in vocabulary, is not so different in meaning from the saying in John.
    • The reference to destroying the Temple that is made with hands (xeiropoi/hto$) and building in its place one made without hands (a)xeiropoi/hto$). These qualifiers are absent from the versions of the saying in Matthew and John. However, the sort of spiritual replacement of the Temple suggested by the terms is consonant with later New Testament theology, and could have originated with Jesus. For a somewhat comparable interpretation in the Gospel of John itself, see below; and note my discussion of the motif in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.
    • There are two other small differences between the Synoptic and Johannine sayings: (1) the trial witnesses use the phrase “dia/ [through, i.e. by/within] three days”, while Jesus says “e)n [in] three days”; and (2) the trial witnesses use the verb oi)kodome/w (“build [a house]”), while Jesus uses the verb e)gei/rw (“raise”). It is hard to know how far these differences alter the meaning, other than that the language in John better fits the interpretation of the saying given in Jn 2:21 (see below).

b. The Saying in John 2:19

“Loose [i.e. dissolve] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (up again).”

Connection to the question in verse 18. There is a parallel structure between the two verses:

  • Introduction: “Therefore the Judeans gave forth (an answer) [a)pekri/qhsan] and said [ei@pan] to him”
    • Question: “What sign are you showing that you (should) do these (things)?” (v. 18)
  • Introduction: “Jesus gave forth (an answer) [a)pekri/qh] and said [ei@pen] to them”
    • Answer: “Loose this shrine and in three days I will raise it” (v. 19)

The verb a)pokri/nomai indicates responding back to something one has considered, literally, “separating” out from oneself a response. In simple narrative, as here, we would say “answered/responded and said…”.  It is possible that the saying in verse 19 was originally separate from the “cleansing” episode, and that the Gospel writer has joined the two traditions together. Whether or not this is the case, the parallelism indicated above demonstrates precise, careful handling of the material; one might extend the structure, by considering v. 18-19a as a chiasm introducing the saying:

    • The Judeans answered/responded and said
      • “What sign are you showing…?”
    • Jesus answered/responded and said…

It is a bit difficult to determine just how the saying relates to the Judeans’ question (whether at the historical level or in the Gospel narrative). In spite of the different (Johannine) vocabulary, the question would be similar to that in Mark 11:28 par (“in what authority are you doing these things?”). Jesus’ response could then be paraphrased as “I have authority/power even to (destroy and) rebuild the Temple”. The imperative lu/sate seems to put the challenge to the Judeans—i.e. “(Even) if you were to destroy/dissolve this Temple…” or perhaps “Go ahead and destroy this Temple…”—but there is some uncertainty that this represents the original form of the saying.

The Reaction to the Saying in v. 20. One common element of the references to the Temple saying (with the possible exception of Mark 14:58) is that those who heard it assumed that Jesus meant he would destroy the actual (Herodian) Temple. The Synoptic Gospels record that Jesus, in fact, did predict its destruction (Mk 13:1-2 par). How people understood the second half of the saying is not as clear: the Markan version presented at the ‘trial’ indicates that Jesus would build a Temple “made without hands”, by which probably was meant a real (physical) building, but one produced miraculously (possibly coming down out of Heaven). In John, the Judeans naturally question how Jesus could rebuild something comparable to the Herodian Temple (which took “forty-six years to build”) in just three days. This is an example of the wordplay, and theme of misunderstanding, which appear frequently in the Fourth Gospel—Jesus’ audience takes his words at the (superficial) level of their apparent meaning, and miss their deeper (true, spiritual) significance. This is clear from the Johannine interpretation which follows in vv. 21-22.

It is worth noting that many critical scholars believe that (the historical) Jesus meant the words literally (more or less as presented in the Synoptic ‘trial’ narrative)—that he said he would destroy (or that God would destroy) the Herodian Temple, and a new (miraculous) Temple would rise in its place. A new/rebuilt Temple was certainly part of the exilic/post-exilic prophecies (already found in so-called Deutero-Trito-Isaiah [cf. Isa 44:28; 56:1-8; 60:3-14; 66:18-24], and see especially in Ezek 40-48), tied to the idea of the restoration of Israel and, in post-exilic Jewish writings, to the dawn of the Messianic age (e.g., Tobit 14:5ff; 1 Enoch 89-90; and the Qumran Temple Scroll). It is also certain that the Herodian Temple was far from the idealized Temple of the new age—witness the critiques of the Qumran sectarians, and the “Cleansing” by Jesus—and, therefore, the coming of the Messiah would require the rebuilding of a pure new Temple. While some of Jesus’ followers may have expected this of him, there is precious little evidence for such a conventional “Messianic” emphasis in the Gospel narratives as they stand. Indeed, by the time the later New Testament books were written (including, it would seem, the Gospels of Luke and John, c. 75-90 A.D.), there is hardly a trace to be found of expectation for a rebuilt Temple.

The Johannine Interpretation (vv. 21-22). These verses, by the Gospel writer, finally determine how one must interpret the saying in the text as it stands. This interpretation is summarized first in v. 21

But that one [i.e. Jesus] related/spoke about the shrine [nao/$] of his body

and then is expounded (parallel with verse 17) in v. 22

Therefore when he was raised [h)ge/rqh] out of [i.e. from] the dead (ones), his learners [i.e. disciples] remembered that he had said/related this, and they trusted in the Writing and the account [i.e. word] which Yeshua {Jesus} had said.

The Temple saying as recorded by the Synoptics (at the ‘trial’) also uses the word nao/$ (“shrine”), presumably for the Temple as a whole (also in v. 20 here), even though the word more properly applies to the inner Sanctuary (“Holy Place”). Similarly the term i(ero/n (“sacred-place”), though it also could be used for the entire Temple (precincts), in the “cleansing” episode almost certainly it refers to the outer court (i.e. of the Gentiles). By bringing these two traditions together, the Gospel writer here creates an important juxtaposition between i(ero/n and nao/$—the nao/$ Jesus was speaking of was the (inner) sanctuary/shrine of his body. In this regard, the significance in his use of e)gei/rw (“raise”) in v. 19 is obvious. Here, too, we see the Johannine theme of Jesus replacing, or fulfilling, the Old Testament religious types and symbols—the focus moves away from the physical Jerusalem Temple (both sacred-precincts and shrine) to the Person of Jesus. This will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming article on “The Law in the Gospel of John” (part of the series on “Jesus and the Law”).

The remainder of this article—presenting additional sayings by Jesus related to the Temple, and concluding with an interpretive summary—will be found in the next part in this series.

January 22: John 2:13-22 (continued)

This is the concluding portion of an extended note on the “Cleansing of the Temple” narrative in John 2:13-22, posted on Jan 19 and 20. Here I will discuss the Temple saying in vv. 19ff:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (up again).”

Connection to the question in verse 18. There is a parallel structure between the two verses:

  • Introduction: “Therefore the Judeans gave forth (an answer) [a)pekri/qhsan] and said [ei@pan] to him”
    • Question: “What sign are you showing that you (should) do these (things)?” (v. 18)
  • Introduction: “Jesus gave forth (an answer) [a)pekri/qh] and said [ei@pen] to them”
    • Answer: “Loose this shrine and in three days I will raise it” (v. 19)

The verb a)pokri/nomai involves the root verb kri/nw in the fundamental sense of “separate”, i.e. to give out from (a)po/) oneself a response (or answer, defense, etc). Occasionally the legal idea of “judgment” (or a decision) is meant, perhaps indicating a response back to something one has considered (“judged”). However, typically it refers to giving an answer, in the general sense; in simple narrative, as here, we would say “answered/responded and said…”. Previously I mentioned the possibility that the saying in verse 19 was originally separate from the “cleansing” episode, and that the Gospel writer has joined the two traditions together. Whether or not this is the case, the parallelism indicated above demonstrates precise, careful handling of the material; one might extend the structure, by considering v. 18-19a as a chiasm introducing the saying:

    • The Judeans answered/responded and said
      • “What sign are you showing…?”
    • Jesus answered/responded and said…

It is a bit difficult to determine just how the saying relates to the Judeans’ question (whether at the historical level or in the Gospel narrative). In spite of the different (Johannine) vocabulary, the question would be similar to that in Mark 11:28 par (“in what authority are you doing these things?”). Jesus’ response could then be paraphrased as “I have authority/power even to (destroy and) rebuild the Temple”. The imperative lu/sate seems to put the challenge to the Judeans—i.e. “(Even) if you were to destroy/dissolve this Temple…” or perhaps “Go ahead and destroy this Temple…”—but there is some uncertainty that this represents the original form of the saying (see below).

Relation of this Saying to the later ‘charge’. The saying in Jn 2:19 is similar to that presented at Jesus’ ‘trial’ before the Sanhedrin, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark and Matthew). Here are the three sayings:

Mark 14:58

We heard him saying that
“I will loose down [katalu/sw] this shrine th(at is) made-with-hands and through [i.e. by/within] three days I will build another (house) made-without-hands”

Matthew 26:61

This (man) said
“I have power [i.e. am able] to loose down [katalu=sai] the shrine of God and through [i.e. by/within] three days to build (it again).”

John 2:19

Jesus answered and said to them
“Loose [lu/sate] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (up again).”

Even though the account in Mark/Matthew states that these were false and/or contradictory witnesses, most critical scholars would hold that Jesus made some declaration or prophecy along these lines. The charge was reasonably widespread (cf. also Mark 15:30 par, and Acts 6:14), and all three Synoptics record a prediction that the Temple would be destroyed (Mark 13:1-3 par.). And, of course, it would seem to be confirmed by the saying in Jn 2:19. What is the relationship between the Johannine saying and the Synoptic (false) saying? There are several possibilities:

    • They reflect separate sayings or traditions
    • It is the same saying—John records the exact form, the Synoptics show how it was misrepresented at the ‘trial’
    • It is the same saying, recorded by the Synoptic ‘witnesses’ with general accuracy, and modified slightly in John

The second option is probably closer to being correct, though critical arguments could be (and have been) made for the third. What do the Synoptics (Matthew/Mark) mean when they state that the saying as reported is “false” witness (Mk 14:57; Matt 26:60 [Luke omits the incident])? Do they deny that Jesus ever made such a statement (contrary to Jn 2:19)? Or is it a matter of misrepresenting what Jesus said? How then was it misrepresented? There are only a few ways this could have been done:

  • Altering the saying so that Jesus said he would destroy the Temple (“I will destroy/dissolve…”). By comparison, in John the imperative is used, directed at the Judeans (“[Go ahead and] destroy/dissolve…”). Interestingly, the version in Matthew (“I have power to destroy/dissolve…”), while differing in vocabulary, is not so different in meaning from the saying in John.
  • The reference to destroying the Temple that is made with hands (xeiropoi/hto$) and building in its place one made without hands (a)xeiropoi/hto$). These qualifiers are absent from the versions of the saying in Matthew and John. However, the sort of spiritual replacement of the Temple suggested by the terms is consonant with later New Testament theology, and could have originated with Jesus. For a somewhat comparable interpretation in the Gospel of John itself, see below.
  • There are two other small differences between the Synoptic and Johannine sayings: (1) the trial witnesses use the phrase “dia/ [through, i.e. by/within] three days”, while Jesus says “e)n [in] three days”; and (2) the trial witnesses use the verb oi)kodome/w (“build [a house]”), while Jesus uses the verb e)gei/rw (“raise”). It is hard to know how far these differences alter the meaning, other than that the language in John better fits the interpretation of the saying given in Jn 2:21 (see below).

The Reaction to the Saying in v. 20. One common element of the references to the Temple saying (with the possible exception of Mark 14:58) is that those who heard it assumed that Jesus meant he would destroy the actual (Herodian) Temple. The Synoptic Gospels record that Jesus, in fact, did predict its destruction (Mk 13:1-2 par). How people understood the second half of the saying is not as clear: the Markan version presented at the ‘trial’ indicates that Jesus would build a Temple “made without hands”, by which probably was meant a real (physical) building, but one produced miraculously (possibly coming down out of Heaven). In John, the Judeans naturally question how Jesus could rebuild something comparable to the Herodian Temple (which took “forty-six years to build”) in just three days. This is an example of the wordplay, and theme of misunderstanding, which appear frequently in the Fourth Gospel—Jesus’ audience takes his words at the (superficial) level of their apparent meaning, and miss their deeper (true, spiritual) significance. This is clear from the Johannine interpretation which follows in vv. 21-22.

It is worth noting that many critical scholars believe that (the historical) Jesus meant the words literally (more or less as presented in the Synoptic ‘trial’ narrative)—that he said he would destroy (or that God would destroy) the Herodian Temple, and a new (miraculous) Temple would rise in its place. A new/rebuilt Temple was certainly part of the exilic/post-exilic prophecies (already found in so-called Deutero-Trito-Isaiah [cf. Isa 44:28; 56:1-8; 60:3-14; 66:18-24], and see especially in Ezek 40-48), tied to the idea of the restoration of Israel and, in post-exilic Jewish writings, to the dawn of the Messianic age (e.g., Tobit 14:5ff; 1 Enoch 89-90; and the Qumran Temple Scroll). It is also certain that the Herodian Temple was far from the idealized Temple of the new age—witness the critiques of the Qumran sectarians, and the “Cleansing” by Jesus—and, therefore, the coming of the Messiah would require the rebuilding of a pure new Temple. While some of Jesus’ followers may have expected this of him, there is precious little evidence for such a conventional “Messianic” emphasis in the Gospel narratives as they stand. Indeed, by the time the later New Testament books were written (including, it would seem, the Gospels of Luke and John, c. 75-90 A.D.), there is hardly a trace to be found of expectation for a rebuilt Temple. The role of the Temple in Jewish and early Christian eschatology is addressed in more detail in the series “Eschatology and Prophecy in the New Testament” (soon to be posted here).

The Johannine Interpretation (vv. 21-22). These verses, by the Gospel writer, finally determine how one must interpret the saying in the text as it stands. This interpretation is summarized first in v. 21—

But that one [i.e. Jesus] related/spoke about the shrine [nao/$] of his body

and then is expounded (parallel with verse 17) in v. 22—

Therefore when he was raised [h)ge/rqh] out of [i.e. from] the dead (ones), his learners [i.e. disciples] remembered that he had said/related this, and they trusted in the Writing and the account [i.e. word] which Yeshua {Jesus} had said.

The Temple saying as recorded by the Synoptics (at the ‘trial’) also uses the word nao/$ (“shrine”), presumably for the Temple as a whole (also in v. 20 here), even though the word more properly applies to the inner Sanctuary (“Holy Place”). Similarly the term i(ero/n (“sacred-place”), though it also could be used for the entire Temple (precincts), in the “cleansing” episode almost certainly it refers to the outer court (i.e. of the Gentiles). By bringing these two traditions together, the Gospel writer here creates an important juxtaposition between i(ero/n and nao/$—the nao/$ Jesus was speaking of was the (inner) sanctuary/shrine of his body. In this regard, the significance in his use of e)gei/rw (“raise”) in v. 19 is obvious. Here, too, we see the Johannine theme of Jesus replacing, or fulfilling, the Old Testament religious types and symbols—the focus moves away from the physical Jerusalem Temple (both sacred-precincts and shrine) to the Person of Jesus. This theme will recur, in various forms, throughout chapters 3-12, as Jesus appears in Jerusalem during the various feasts and holy days (Sabbath, Passover [twice more], Sukkoth/Tabernacles, and Dedication/Hanukkah). Ultimately, Jesus will be depicted as the sacrificial (Paschal) Lamb slain (on the cross) on the eve of Passover (Jn 19:14, 31-36).

This diminishing of the Temple’s importance, of priority given to the Spirit over the physical/material, is reflected elsewhere in the Gospel of John (see esp. Jn 4:21-24; 6:63). In the Johannine book of Revelation, the Heavenly Temple of God is mentioned (Rev 7:15; 11:19; 14:15-17; 16:1, 17), virtually to the exclusion of the earthly (11:1-2). In the final vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem, it is stated that there is no Temple [nao/$] in it—for the Lord God Almighty is its Temple [nao/$], along with the Lamb (21:22).

The Temple-action and saying of Jesus is discussed further in the series “The Law and the New Testament” and “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (both soon to be posted here).

January 21: John 2:13-22 (continued)

(For the first three sections of this extended discussion of the “Cleansing of the Temple” in John 2:13-22, see the previous day’s note)

4. The Gospel Tradition of the “Cleansing”. As mentioned above, all four Gospel accounts appear to be based on a single historical tradition. Luke provides the simplest version (Lk 19:45-46):

45And coming into the sacred place he began to cast out the (ones) selling, 46saying to them, “It has been written: ‘My house will be a house for speaking-out toward (God) [i.e. prayer], and you have made it a cavern for plunderers’.”

Additional details found in Mark and Matthew (Mk 11:15; Matt 21:12):

    • Jesus casts out the (ones) selling and the (ones) buying
    • He overturns (lit. turns [upside] down) the tables of the coin-changers and seats of the (ones) selling doves

Additional details found only in Mark:

    • He did not allow (any)one to carry a vessel through the sacred-place (v. 16)
    • The quotation from Isa 56:7 is extended: “…will be called a house of prayer to/for all the nations” (v. 17)

The Johannine account (2:14-17), on the one hand, creates a more vivid and dramatic scene with the inclusion of several details:

    • The mention of cattle and sheep in the Temple precincts (v. 14f)
    • Jesus’ use of a whip made of cords (v. 15)—it is not entirely clear whether he uses it to drive out the sellers, the cattle/sheep, or both.
    • In overturning (lit. upturning) the coin-changers tables, the coin-pieces pour out (v. 15)

On the other hand, instead of the Scripture citation (from Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11), Jesus replies more matter-of-factly (to the ones selling doves): “Take up/away these (things from here) on this (side and that)! do not make the house of my Father a house of commerce!” (v. 16). Is the Synoptic quotation an ‘exposition’ of Jesus’ words as recorded here in John? Or does John’s account ‘explain’ the quotation? A (different) Scripture passage is cited in John, which will be discussed below.

There can be no doubt that the compound Scripture citation is the key to interpreting the Synoptic accounts as they stand. The first portion comes from Isaiah 56:7: “…My House will be called a house of petition/prayer [hL*p!T=] for all the peoples”. The message of Isa 56:1-8 is that all people who adhere to the Law of God (including Gentiles and foreigners) will become part of God’s people gathered in from exile. It is interesting to note the difference of emphasis:

  • Jesus: “My house will be (called) a house of prayer
  • Isa 56:7: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples

Mark does include the last phrase, but, it would seem, with any special emphasis. However, considering that the commerce would have likely been taking place in the outer Court of the Gentiles (implied by the use of i(ero/n and not nao/$), the Isaian context of foreigners (Gentiles) joining to become part of the (Messianic) restoration of Israel is surely significant. Primarily though, Jesus contrasts “house of prayer” with “cavern of thieves/plunderers”. This portion comes from Jeremiah 7:11, which also has something of a different meaning in its original context. Jer 7:1-29 is a lengthy oracle condemning the evils committed throughout Judah (delivered by the prophet while standing in the gate of the Temple, v. 2); this includes a familiar prophetic denunciation of those who commit evil and yet come to the Temple to participate in the sacred ritual (vv. 8ff). The bitter question is asked in verse 11:

“Has it become a cave of violent (men), this house of which My Name is called upon it, in your eyes?”

The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew literally, using the approximate phrase “cavern of plunderers” (sph/laion lh|stw=n); Jesus’ quotation follows the LXX phrase. By way of dramatic hyperbole, any “profane” business, even that associated with maintaining the Temple, was tantamount to turning the sacred place into a “cave of violent robbers”! In all four Gospels, but especially in John (v. 16b), Jesus seems to be objecting to commerce taking place anywhere within the Temple precincts. This also would be confirmed by the curious detail in Mark (v. 16),  that Jesus “did not allow (any)one to carry a vessel through the sacred-place”. This probably is an echo of Zech 14:20-21, a passage which almost certainly colors the Gospel account, even as Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem (as the coming/Anointed King) is shaped by Zech 9:9ff. Another relevant (Messianic) passage would be Mal 3:1ff, which speaks of the Lord coming suddenly to His Temple, where he will purify the priests and their offerings (vv. 3-4). That Mal 3:1 was understood to apply to Jesus (with John the Baptist as his messenger) in Gospel Tradition is clear from Mark 1:2 (cf. also Matt 11:10ff and Luke 1:76).

5. The Johannine Passage (Jn 2:13-22). The structure of the passage overall should first be noted, for it supplies the framework necessary for interpretation:

  • The Temple action (vv. 13-16)
    • Parenthesis (v. 17): “His disciples remembered…”—citation of Psalm 69:9
  • The Question (v. 18): “What sign do you show us…?”
  • The Temple saying (vv. 19-20[21])
    • Parenthesis (v. 21-22): “His disciples remembered…”—in between (1) interpretation of the saying, and (2) a statement of the disciples’ later belief

The Temple action (vv. 13-17). The account of the “cleansing” derives from the same historical tradition that underlies the Synoptic version. This has been discussed above; there is little indication that the episode itself has a fundamentally different meaning here. If the quotation of Isa 56:7/Jer 7:11 was part of the common tradition, the Gospel writer has omitted it—replacing it with different/historical words of Jesus, or, perhaps, ‘explaining’ the quotation. Another Scripture appears in the parenthesis, from Psalm 69:9: “The ‘zeal’ of [i.e. for] your house has eaten me (up)”. The word usually translated “zeal/jealousy” (ha*n+q!) has the basic sense of “(burning) red”, the Greek word zh=lo$ properly “heat/fervor”. The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew quite literally, and the quotation in John follows the LXX (B), reading the future tense (katefa/getai “will eat me down [i.e. devour me]”). The future form, of course, betters suited the verse as a prophecy related to Jesus; indeed, reflection on Psalm 69 helped shape the Gospel tradition of his Passion (as indicated in v. 17a), and is doubtless one of the key texts used to show that the Messiah must suffer and die (see especially Luke 24:25-27, 44-46). There is a slight ambiguity here in the Psalm: while the ‘zeal’ is generally understood of the protagonist (or Psalmist)—that he is consumed with (righteous) fervor—it could also be taken to mean, in the overall context of suffering, that his righteous zeal has caused him to be “eaten up” by his enemies. The citation in the Gospel could be interpreted, or made to apply, either way. Since it is associated with Jesus’ “cleansing” action, the image primarily would be the intense nature (all-consuming fire) of his ‘zeal’ for God’s house; but it is also possible that a bit of wordplay is involved—a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death that connects with the Temple saying in vv. 19-22.

The Question (v. 18). The highlighting of this verse is based, in part, on the theory that the Gospel writer has joined together separate traditions. However, even looking at the narrative (2:13-22) as a whole, the question the “Jews” ask remains central. It is similar to the question asked by the religious authorities in Mark 11:28 par.—”In (what) such authority [e)cousi/a] are you doing these (things)?”—but the difference in wording here is especially significant:

Therefore the Judeans {Jews} judged from (this) [i.e. responded back] and said to him:
“What sign [shmei=on] do you show [deiknu/ei$] that you (should) do these (things)?”

The noun shmei=on and verb deiknu/w (which occur in sequence in the Greek of v. 18) are both important words in the Gospel of John, carrying theological-christological meaning. With regard to deiknu/w, the closely related (and more common) verb dei/knumi is used in reference to what the Father shows the Son, and, in turn, what the Son shows (the world) from the Father (Jn 5:20; 14:8-9; also note 10:32; 20:20). Shmei=on (pl. shmei=a) is used frequently in John—Jesus’ symbolic actions (particularly the miracles) are called “signs” (Jn 2:23; 3:2; 4:48; 6:2, 14, 26, 30; 7:31; 9:16; 11:47; 12:18, 37; 20:30); on the basis of the references in Jn 2:11; 4:54, chapters 2-12, with their alternation of miracle and dialogue/discourse, are sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”. The use of shmei=on and deiknu/w here serve to transition from the traditional “cleansing” action to the deeper meaning of the Temple saying.

The Temple saying (vv. 19-22). What remains is to treat this powerful and provocative saying of Jesus (v. 19):

“Loose [i.e. dissolve] this shrine [nao/n] and in three days I will raise it (up again).”

(This saying will be discussed in detail in a concluding note.)

January 20: John 2:13-22

The second episode in John 2 is the “cleansing” of the Temple (for the first [the miracle at Cana] see the previous day’s note), which here is comprised of two parts: (1) the action in the Temple (2:13-17) and (2) the saying about the Temple (2:18-22). A proper treatment of this passage requires that one touch upon historical-critical questions more than I would normally do in these notes and articles. I will briefly discuss each relevant point, in sequence.

    1. The Chronology of the Passage
    2. The Relation between Temple Action (Sign) and Saying
    3. Significance of the Temple Action (at the Historical level)
    4. The Gospel Tradition regarding the Temple Action
    5. The Johannine Narrative

1. The Chronology of the Passage. In the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:12-16; Luke 19:45-47), the “cleansing” episode is narrated near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, just after the Entry into Jerusalem; in John, on the other hand, it appears to take place at the beginning of his ministry. Some traditional-conservative commentators, taking the apparent chronologies literally, harmonize by positing two separate “cleansing” incidents. This is highly unlikely. The narratives (in the Synoptics and John) are close enough that we can be relatively certain that a single historical tradition underlies both accounts. If this is so, then which ‘chronology’ is more accurate? The Synoptics really only record one visit of Jesus to Jerusalem (at the end of his ministry); on the basis of this arrangement, various traditions which take place within a Jerusalem setting, might naturally be included as part of this last visit. Many scholars would view the multiple visits to Jerusalem (with three different Passover settings) as technically and historically more accurate, and thus favor an earlier date for the “cleansing”. On the other hand, the dramatic nature of the episode, which (at the historical level) must have greatly increased opposition to Jesus from the religious authorities, fits better a time closer to his death. If the saying in 2:18-22 was actually uttered at the time of the “cleansing” (on this see below), then again a moment nearer to his trial and crucifixion is to be preferred.

2. Relation between Temple Action (Sign) and Saying. Most critical scholars would hold that the historical “cleansing” episode (2:13-17) and the saying in 2:18-22 likely took place on separate occasions, or, at least, reflect separate traditions which the Gospel writer has joined together here. I think that this is quite possible. The Temple setting would be enough to bring them together, which could be done simply by way of adding verse 18 (cf. Mark 11:28 par. for a similar question). The Synoptic accounts of the “cleansing” make no mention of such a statement by Jesus, which is curious, considering that a similar saying is brought up as an accusation in the ‘trial’ before the Sanhedrin narrated just a few chapters later (cf. Mark 14:58; Matt 26:61, also Mark 15:29 par). However, it clear enough from these references (by multiple attestation between John and the Synoptics) that Jesus must have made some statement which involved destroying and rebuilding the Temple. Indeed, that he predicted the destruction of the Temple is virtually certain (on purely objective grounds), cf. the references above and Mark 13:1-2 par. [esp. Lk 21:5-6].

3. Significance of the “Cleansing” (at the Historical level). On the basis of an objective analysis of the Gospel accounts, there would seem to be two main possibilities with regard to what Jesus intended to convey by his action:

a. Cleansing/Purifying the Temple. This is the most common interpretation, and is suggested particularly by the Synoptic accounts (see below). But cleansing in what sense? It can be understood several ways:

    • Jesus was focusing on the presence of the sellers of animals and money-changers in the Temple precincts. The general language used in the Synoptic accounts would suggest that he was targeting any commerce taking place in the Temple precincts (“the [ones] selling and the [ones] buying” Mark 11:15 par). Even though these transactions would have occurred in the outer court (of the Gentiles), and not the sanctuary, Jesus may have objected to their taking place in the Temple precincts at all. The symbolism might be understood in terms that the entire Temple (complex) should be holy.
    • Jesus was targeting not the Temple commerce per se, but rather the corruption and profiteering which was taking place. This is a popular view, but there is little evidence for it in the texts beyond a superficial reading of the second part of the saying in Mark 11:17 par (from Jer 7:11). More plausibly, Jesus is targeting the burden which the Temple commerce places upon the poor—cf. the emphasis on overturning the tables of the money-changers and sellers-of-doves (the sacrificial animal of the poor).
    • Jesus’ emphasis was on the Temple ritual as a whole. Since the system of sacrifice, and the tax to fund the Temple, could not exist without the purchase of animals and exchange of coinage, Jesus’ driving out the sellers and money-changers could be viewed as an attack on the Temple ritual itself. However, apart from this episode, there it little evidence in the Gospels for such an explicit attack on the Temple. It will become more prominent later on (cf. the speech of Stephen in Acts 7 [esp. vv. 38-50], the epistle to the Hebrews, and, possibly, within the Gospel of John [see below]). Still, the quotation of Isa 56:7 in Mark 11:17 par. could indicate that Jesus had a different role for the Temple in mind. See the earlier Christmas season article on the Temple.
    • Jesus was attacking the current Temple administration. This was characteristic of the Community of the Qumran texts, which did not oppose the Temple as such, but rather the illegitimacy and corruption of the ruling Priesthood that oversaw the Temple machinery. In the Gospels certainly we find more instances of Jesus speaking out against the current religious authorities than against the Temple; however, it is hard to find much evidence of that in the episode here.
    • It was a general symbol of cleansing related to the idea of the Temple’s holiness. In other words, the Temple as symbolic of the place where people encounter the Presence of God, requires (at its fundamental religious and spiritual level) the removal of anything profane. I think it quite possible that this is closer to Jesus’ intention than the other interpretations mentioned above. For more on this view in relation to the Gospel accounts, see down below.

b. Destruction of the Temple. Here more emphasis is placed on the overturning of tables, etc. as a symbol of judgment. We have additional evidence that Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple on more than one occastion (Mark 14:58; Matt 26:61, also Mark 15:29 par.; Mark 13:1-2 par. [esp. Lk 21:5-6]). As mentioned above, if the saying in Jn 2:18-22 originally took place at the time of the the Temple action, then it makes this interpretation more likely. Again, one may consider several different aspects to the theme of judgment/destruction:

    • The corruption of the current Temple/priesthood. This view is similar to several of the “cleansing” interpretations offered above. The current apparatus will be destroyed and replaced with a new, pure Temple (whether real or symbolic).
    • The Restoration of Israel. In the exilic and post-exilic Prophets, as well as in later Judaism, a new (ideal) Temple is part of the (Messianic) restoration of Israel. See the Temple description in Ezekiel 40-48, and especially Isa 56:1-8 and Zech 14:16-21, both of which are reflected in the Gospel accounts. Also, note that Mark, in particular, connects the Temple episode with the withering of the fig tree (an Old Testament symbol for Israel), Mk 11:12-14, 20-21.
    • Jesus himself replaces the Temple (cult). This is more appropriate as an early Christian interpretation (which will be discussed); however, it is noteworthy in the Synoptic accounts that, after this episode, Jesus spends much of the time teaching within the Temple precincts. At the historical level, Jesus appears to have consciously identified himself with the (Messianic) king of Zech 9-14 (cf. Mark 11:1-11 par.), and may have intentionally tied his presence in Jerusalem (and the Temple) to Zech 14:16-21 (see the curious detail found only in Mk 11:16).

Is it possible that symbolism both of cleansing and destruction apply equally to the event? If we take the Gospel accounts at face value, there are two elements to Jesus’ action (Luke only mentioned the first of these):

  • Driving out the buyers and sellers
  • Overturning the tables of the money-changers (and sellers of doves)

(To be continued in the next day’s note)

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 2:49

Luke 2:49

Today’s note looks at the final episode of the Lukan Infancy narrative (vv. 41-50), and, in particular, the saying of Jesus in verse 49. I have discussed this in some detail during a prior Christmas season note, and will not repeat all of that analysis here. Today I will be examining the saying from the standpoint of the current series—in terms of the names and titles of Jesus, especially that of “Son (of God)”. This is a title that really only occurs in the Annunciation scene, twice, in 1:32 and 35:

“He [i.e. the child Jesus] will be great and will be called ‘Son of the Highest’…” (v. 32)
“therefore the (child) coming to be (born) will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” (v. 35)

Somewhat surprisingly, there is no suggestion of it in the birth narrative itself, not even in the Angelic announcement to the shepherds, which otherwise makes use of exalted (and Messianic) language. For the remainder of the Infancy narrative proper, Jesus is referred to in realistic (human) terms as the “baby” (bre/fo$) or “(little) child” (paidi/on)—cf. 2:12, 16, 17, 27. To the extent that Jesus’ sonship is mentioned, it is entirely in reference to his human parents, Joseph and Mary (2:22-23, 27, 39, 41ff, 51). Verse 51a, in particular, emphasizes how Jesus was submissive to his parents, as a dutiful son—and this, in spite of the declaration in v. 49 (cf. below).

It is only here, in the account of this episode of Jesus at the age of twelve, that there is any kind of tension between Jesus as the son of Joseph/Mary and his identity as the Son of God. The realistic detail of the narrative brings out the human familial relationship:

  • The repeated mention of Jesus’ parents (gonei=$) in vv. 41, 43 (cf. also 48, 51). The word, which literally relates to a child coming-to-be (i.e. born), is used generally, even when it is a matter of legal (rather than biological) parentage.
  • The cultural setting of the pilgrimage festival (Passover)—vv. 41-42
  • The traveling caravan of relatives and friends (v. 44)
  • The parental concern (and rebuke) expressed by Mary (v. 48, cf. vv. 44-45)
  • The specific reference to Joseph as Jesus’ father, and Mary as his mother (vv. 38, 51b)

Set within this narrative framework is the central detail of Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem, while the rest of his family had set off on their return trip (vv. 43-44). When Joseph and Mary find him again, after three days’ searching and travel, Jesus is said to be

“in the sacred place [i.e. Temple], sitting in the middle of the ones teaching [i.e. Teachers], both hearing them and asking them (question)s” (v. 46b)

Pious tradition has interpreted this scene as Jesus himself teaching the adult teachers, but there really is little (if any) indication of this in the text. There is no reason to see Jesus here as anything other than an interested pupil, albeit one most gifted, with a special understanding of the Scriptures and the Law (Torah). The general location is important to the symbolism of the scene, as Jesus is sitting “in the middle [e)n me/sw|] of the ones teaching”. The emphasis is not on Jesus’ position (i.e. student vs. teacher) but on exactly where he is located—among those teaching/discussing the Law of God. This is significant when we come to Jesus’ saying (v. 49), in response to his mother’s rebuke:

“(For) what [i.e. why] did you do this to us? See, your father and I, being distressed, (have been) search(ing for) you!” (v. 48)

“(For) what [i.e. why] (is it) that you (are) search(ing for) me? Did you not see [i.e. know] that it is necessary for me to be among the (thing)s of my Father?” (v. 49)

The contrast between “your father and I” (Joseph/Mary) and “my Father” (God/Yahweh) is certainly clear. Even more interesting is the notice that Joseph and Mary had been searching among the things of their relatives and neighbors, rather than among the “things of God”. This parallel is generally lost in translation, but a literal rendering of the Greek brings it out:

  • e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$ (v. 44)
    among the (thing)s of the ones coming to be together (with them) and the ones known (to them) [i.e. relatives and acquaintances]”
  • e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (v. 49)
    among the (thing)s of my Father”

Jesus’ phrase is often translated “in my Father’s house”, but it should be noted that the word corresponding to “house” (oi@ko$), i.e. the Temple as God’s house, is not present. If the author (or Jesus as the speaker) wanted to emphasize the Temple precincts or building as such, it would have been easy enough to do. More accurate would be “in the household of my Father”—i.e. the “things” referring to household belongings (like the belongings of the caravan in v. 44), generally and collectively. Such an interpretation must also include the people—that is, those spending time in the Temple, devoted to the Scriptures and the “things of God” (cf. the description of Simeon and Anna in vv. 25-27, 37-38).

With regard to the precise meaning of the expression “my Father” by Jesus, we must consider three possibilities:

  • His identification with the faithful/righteous of Israel as God’s “Son”—cf. Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6; Isa 43:6; 64:8; Hos 1:10; 11:1; Jer 31:19; Wisd 2:16-18; 18:13, etc. This association is much more direct in the Matthean Infancy narrative, Matt 1:21; 2:13-15ff, but note the positioning of the Lukan genealogy which follows in 3:23ff.
  • As a firstborn child consecrated to the service of God. The parallels with the Samuel story, that run through the Lukan narrative (cf. 1:46-47ff; 2:22ff, 40, 52, etc), make it highly likely that this aspect of the scene is intended by the author. While Samuel would spend his childhood in the Temple precincts, this can only be represented symbolically in the case of Jesus, who otherwise grew up with his parents in Nazareth (vv. 39, 51-52; 4:16ff).
  • As the unique Son of God in something like the orthodox Christological sense. This is hinted at already in the Angelic annunciation, though the parallels with the Qumran text 4Q246 (cf. the earlier discussion) should caution us against reading a developed Christology too quickly into this passage. Overall, the emphasis—in both Luke 1:32-35 and 4Q246—would appear to be Messianic. The situation is, I should say, somewhat different in the baptism scene which follows in Lk 3:21-22. And this will be discussed further in the next note, the final one of this Christmas season series.

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 2:26

Luke 2:26

Verses 25-26 introduce the Simeon episode, following vv. 22-24 (cf. the previous note) and also continuing the important Temple-setting of the Lukan narrative. I have already discussed this passage as part of an earlier Advent series of notes on Lk 2:29-32. With regard to the figure of Simeon, there is a definite parallel with Zechariah, as there is between the hymn of Zechariah (Benedictus, 1:67-79) and the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis, 2:29-32). Here are the main points in common:

  • Devout, aged men who serve in the Temple or frequent it (1:8-9ff; 2:25-27)
  • Each is specifically referred to as “just/righteous” (di/kaio$) (1:6; 2:25)
  • Each man is touched/filled by the Spirit and utters an inspired oracle (1:67; 2:27)
  • Each oracle includes a prophecy regarding the destiny of the respective child (John/Jesus) and the role he will play in God’s deliverance of His people (1:76-79; 2:30ff, 34-35)
  • In the narrative, each man is associated with a corresponding female figure (Elizabeth/Anna) who also is inspired or functions as a prophet (1:5, 41ff; 2:36ff)
  • Linguistically, their names have a similar meaning:
    • Z§½aryâ[hû] (Why]r=k^z+)—”Yah(weh) has remembered”
    • Šim®±ôn, presumably shortened for Š§ma±-°E~l or Š§ma±-Yah—”El/Yah has heard”

Indeed, both pairs of aged figures—Zechariah/Elizabeth and Simeon/Anna—represent faithful Israel of the Old Covenant (1:6; 2:25, 37), those who are waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Looking more closely at verse 25, we find three significant characteristics of Simeon:

  • “just/righteous [di/kaio$] and taking good (care) [eu)labh/$] (i.e. in religious matters)”
  • “(look)ing toward receiving the para/klhsi$ of Israel”
  • “the holy Spirit was upon him”

These three phrases may be further explained or summarized:

  • Faithfulness to the Torah and the religion of Israel—the Old Covenant
  • Expectation of the coming Anointed One (Messiah) and the restoration of Israel—the Messianic Age
  • Foreshadowing of the new Age of the Spirit—the New Covenant in Christ

These are then three aspects—past, present and future—of God’s saving work and relationship with his people. Simeon stands at a transition point between the old (Torah) and new (Christ), a meeting which takes places as he holds the child Jesus in his arms, in the precincts of the Temple.

In the earlier note, I discussed the meaning and significance of the word para/klhsi$ (lit. “calling [someone] alongside”), which is parallel to the word lu/trwsi$ in v. 38; note how this fills out the Simeon/Anna parallel (cp. with Zechariah/Elizabeth):

  • V. 25—Simeon was “(look)ing toward receiving the para/klhsi$ of Israel”
  • V. 38—Anna was “(look)ing toward receiving the lu/trwsi$ of Jerusalem”

Both terms refer to a belief in God’s coming (future/end-time) deliverance of his people—para/klhsi$ meaning “help, aid, assistance” more generally, and lu/trwsi$ specifically as the “redemption” (payment, etc) made to free his people from debt/bondage. As I had noted, both expressions stem from portions of (Deutero-)Isaiah—40:1; 52:9; 61:2; 66:12-13—which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense in Jewish and early Christian tradition. The Song of Simeon likewise makes use of several such passages from Isaiah. Simeon and Anna essentially function like the Isaian herald, announcing the good news for God’s people (cf. Isa 40:9; 41:27; 52:7).

The Messianic context of the scene here in Luke comes clearly into view in verse 26:

“And the matter was made (known) to him, under the holy Spirit, (that he was) not to see death until he should see the Anointed of the Lord.”

This is the second occurrence in Luke of the title “Anointed (One)” (xristo/$), the first being in the Angel’s annunciation to the shepherds in 2:11 (cf. the note on 2:10-14). Each word of that brief declaration carries Messianic significance, especially the names and titles involved:

  • “Savior” (Swth/r)
  • “Anointed One” (Xristo/$)
  • “Lord” (Ku/rio$)
  • “city of David” (po/li$ Daui/d)

The titles “Anointed One” and “Lord” are combined also here in v. 26, but in the more traditional genitive/construct expression “Anointed (One) of the Lord” (xristo\$ [tou=] kuri/ou). In verse 11, on the other hand, according to the best reading, the titles are in apposition—”(the) Anointed (One), (the) Lord”. In the former (v. 26), the “Lord” is Yawheh/El, God the Father; for instances of this expression, cf. 1 Sam 24:7, 11; 26:9, 11, 16, 23, etc., as well as the important reference in Psalm 2:2. In the latter instance (v. 11), the Anointed One (Messiah) himself is identified as “Lord”, almost certainly under the influence of the (Messianic) interpretation of Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42 par; Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13). As previously discussed, early Christians could use the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”) equally of God the Father (Yahweh) and Jesus. Such usage, in and of itself, does not necessarily indicate a specific view of Jesus’ deity, which was understood by early Christians in a variety of ways. In the early preaching of Acts (2:36), for example, the titles xristo/$ and ku/rio$ are applied to Jesus in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. Eventually, both titles virtually became second names of Jesus (Acts 11:17; 15:26; 20:21; 28:31, et al), reflecting both his identity as the Messiah (Christ) and his (divine) nature and status as the Son of God.

The use of xristo/$ here in Lk 2:26 should be understood strictly in the sense of the expected ruler (from the line of David) who would deliver God’s people and bring about the restoration of Israel. Many Jews at the time would have viewed this in terms of a socio-political and cultural restoration (cf. Acts 1:6; Ps Sol 17-18), much as we see expressed in the hymn of Zechariah. There the Messiah (to be identified with Jesus) is referred to as a “horn of salvation” raised up by God, by which God has “made redemption [lu/trwsi$, cf. above]” for his people (vv. 68-69). This deliverance is described first in terms of rescue from human enemies (vv. 71ff), but, by the end of the hymn, this has shifted to the idea of salvation from sin (vv. 77ff). Based on the Zechariah-Simeon parallel, I am inclined to see the Song of Simeon (2:29-32) as corresponding generally with the last strophe (vv. 76-79) of the Benedictus. In particular, verses 78-79 have a good deal in common with 2:30-32. This will be examined in a bit more detail in the next Christmas season note.

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 2:23

Luke 2:23

Verses 22-24 follow v. 21 (cf. the previous note), continuing the theme of fulfilling the requirements, etc, of the Law. Verse 22 begins with the same opening formula, marking the particular time—”when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled”. Here, the “days” being referenced are the forty days after childbirth (for a male child) when the mother is in a state of impurity (Lev 12:2-8). The plural pronoun “their” (au)tw=n) probably anticipates the verbal phrase which follows—”they [i.e. Jesus’ parents] brought him up into Jerusalem”. It is unlikely that the Gospel writer thought that both Joseph and Mary required cleansing in connection with childbirth. The period of time completes the “days” of verse 21—7 days before circumcision, 33 before purification. This detail also serves the narrative purpose of explaining why Joseph and Mary would be in Jerusalem at the Temple. Indeed, mention of the purification ritual frames the episode (vv. 22 and 24); in between, in verse 23, the focus is on the reason/purpose of Jesus’ presence in the Temple. This verse almost has the appearance of a secondary insertion; note how vv. 22 and 24 would otherwise join together:

“And when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled, they brought him [i.e. Jesus] up into Yerushalem, to stand (him) alongside the Lord…
…and to give a (ritual) slaughtering [i.e. sacrifice] according to the (regulation) stated (by God) in the Law of the Lord…”

This literary device creates the impression that the author has confused or conflated two different Torah laws—(1) those related to the mother’s purification after childbirth (the sacrifice is part of this regulation), and (2) the redemption of the firstborn male child (Num 3:44-51; 18:15-16). Yet it is never stated that the latter command was fulfilled at the Temple. Some commentators believe that the author had the mistaken idea that the firstborn male needed to be presented in Jerusalem (at the Temple). But, if this were the case, there would be little reason for him to confuse matters by introducing the detail of the purification ritual for Mary. In my view, it is much more likely that the author used the occasion of the purification ritual to introduce the motif of the consecration of the firstborn within that setting and context. The result is somewhat awkward, and certainly open to misunderstanding, but it very much suits the author’s creative purpose—of blending together several different fulfillment themes: (a) fulfillment of the Law, (b) fulfillment of Scripture, and (c) Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament.

The specific Scripture quoted in v. 23 is a adaptation of Exod 13:2 (cf. also v. 15b, Num 18:15). The centrality of this quotation puts the emphasis of the scene, not on the purification ritual, but rather the tradition of the consecration of the firstborn male child—as one dedicated to (religious/priestly) service to God. In Israelite religion and society, this role was taken over by the tribe of Levi (as a kind of priestly caste or class), with the 5-shekel payment (redemption) made to them in exchange. The passages in the Torah dealing with this issue (and its underlying theological principle) are Exod 13:1-2, 11-16; 22:29b-30; Lev 27:26-27; Num 3:11-13, 44-51; 8:14-18; 18:15-16ff.

This consecration motif is expressed by the author in the narrative as a presentation of the child before God (at the Temple), in a manner similar to that of Samuel in 1 Sam 1:22-24ff. The priority of this is indicated by the syntax in Lk 2:22-24, the two purpose infinitives:

  • parasth=sai tw=| qew=| “to stand (him) alongside God”
  • dou=nai qusi/an “to give sacrifice”

Both verbal phrases reflect religious offerings to God. The second (“give sacrifice”) refers to the sacrificial (burnt) offering of two doves/pigeons which completes the purification process for the mother (Mary) following childbirth (cf. above). The second is a separate (voluntary) offering of the child, dedicating it to the service of God. There is almost certainly an allusion to the Samuel Infancy narrative here, as already noted. In 1 Sam 1:22, Hannah declares her intention to bring the child to the Temple in Jerusalem, so that “he may be seen (before) the face of YHWH, and sit down [i.e. dwell/remain] there until (the most) distant (time) [i.e. for ever]”. This she fulfills at the appropriate time, according to vv. 24-28. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find a similar use of the verb pari/sthmi (“stand/place alongside”) in the sacrificial sense of believers presenting themselves before God as holy offerings (cf. Rom 6:13-19; 12:1; 2 Cor 11:2; Col 1:22, 28; Eph 5:27).

Looking at the central verse 23 a bit more closely, one finds three key elements which make up its structure, and which I would arrange as a chiastic outline:

  • “written in the Law of the Lord”—Scripture/Law (cp. “Law of Moses”, v. 22)
    —”every male child opening…”—the (physical) birth of the firstborn male child
  • “will be called holy to the Lord”—dedication/consecration of the child (naming)

The expression “will be called holy” (a%gion klhqh/setai) points back to the words of the Angel to Mary in 1:35: “the (child) coming to be (born) will be called Holy [a%gion klhqh/setai], (the) Son of God”. It is essentially a title of Jesus, as we see in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (Acts 2:27; 13:35 [both citing Ps 16:10]; Luke 4:34 par; John 6:69; 1 Jn 2:20; Rev 3:7; 16:5). It reflects an ancient Divine name or title—i.e. “Holy (One)” (vodq*, Q¹dôš)—that is, of Yahweh/El as the “Holy One (of Israel)”, cf. 2 Kings 19:22; Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa 1:4; 5:19, etc. There is an echo of this in the Magnificat (Lk 1:49, cf. Psalm 99:3). I would also mention again the theory, discussed in a recent note, that the Scripture cited in Matt 2:23 essentially is Isa 4:3 (“he will be called [a] holy one”), with wordplay involving the substitution Nazîr—”he will be called a Nazîr” (Nazirite–Nazorean). The Nazirite association may seen unusual at first, until one realizes that it is an element of both the Samuel and Samson birth narratives (1 Sam 1:9-15; Judg 13:4-7; 16:17), which find an echo in the Lukan narrative (e.g. Lk 1:13-15). Parallels with the Samuel story have already been mentioned here (above), and will be discussed again in the remaining notes.

The fundamental meaning of the root verb rz~n` (n¹zar) is to separate or “keep apart (from)”, often in a religious or ritual context. It is thus synonymous, to some extent, with the verb vd^q* (q¹daš), and a n¹zîr, a separated/consecrated person, can also be called q¹dôš (“holy one”). John the Baptist was set apart and consecrated to God (“filled by the holy Spirit”) from the womb (1:15), using language from the birth of Samson. Similarly, Jesus could be called “the Holy One” from even before the moment of his conception (1:32, 35), and was dedicated to God in the Temple, following the pattern of Samuel.