January 9: Baptism (Acts 2:38 etc)

Baptism in the Name of Jesus

Having considered the command by Jesus to disciples to baptize in the “Great Commission at the close of the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 28:18-20, cf. the previous note), it is worth looking a bit more closely at the references to baptism being performed “in the name of Jesus”, as this represents a unique early Christian development of the dunking/washing ritual. There are five such references in the book of Acts—2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16.

The Name

Ancient Near Eastern cultures treated names and naming in a quite different manner than modern Western society. The name had a dynamic, magical quality, effectively embodying the character and essence of the person. This was all the more true with regard to religious belief—to “call upon” or to invoke the name of a deity was fundamental to ancient religious practice and identity (Gen 4:26b, etc). The invocation and use of a divine name also had to be done with great care—there was considerable power involved, and danger if handled improperly; this is the situation which underlies the famous command regarding the name of YHWH/Yahweh (Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11). In addition to its use in religious ritual, the divine name would be invoked in oaths, treaties and other agreements—both for the purpose of guaranteeing truthfulness and fidelity, and also to bind the oath or agreement, etc, under the power of the god. There would be divine blessing for the one who fulfills and agreement, but divine curse or punishment for the one who violates it. Indeed, there was believed to be theurgic power and efficacy in the name, which could be invoked over just about any area of daily life.

The Name of Jesus

For early Christians, it was specifically the name of Yeshua (Jesus) which was central to religious belief and practice. Already in the earliest layers of Christian tradition, the belief in Jesus’ deity—as the Son of God who is now seated in glory at the right hand of God the Father (YHWH)—was well-established. All aspects of Christian religious life took place according to the name of Jesus. This is expressed clearly in the book of Acts; note the following examples:

In the Gospels, there are number of sayings and teachings by Jesus where he refers to “my name”—Mark 9:37-39; 13:6 pars; [16:17]; Matthew 18:20; also Luke 24:47. Especially significant is the teaching in the Discourses of John, cf. Jn 14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-26; also 3:18. The emphasis there is on believers requesting of God the Father in Jesus’ name. Also important is the related idea that Jesus himself has come—i.e. speaks, works and acts—in the name of the Father (Jn 5:43; 10:3, 25; 12:28; 17:6, 11-12, 26; cf. also Mk 9:37; 11:9 pars; Matt 23:39 par).

Baptism in Jesus’ Name

The central, intiatory act of baptism, marking one’s conversion and entry into the Community of believers, in the early Christian period was performed specifically “in the name of Jesus”. Given the religious importance and significance of this (divine) name (cf. above), this is hardly surprising. However, it is important to note that is especially prominent in the earlier Christian tradition (as recorded in the book of Acts), and is less commonly attested in later periods. Here are the key passages, where baptism is said to be:

    • Acts 2:38—”upon [e)pi/] the name of Yeshua into/unto a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]” (Note: some MSS read “in” [e)n] instead of “upon”). This follows precisely the formula in Luke 24:47.
    • Acts 8:16—”into [ei)$] the name of the Lord Yeshua”, after which they receive the Holy Spirit (v. 17)
    • Acts 10:48—”in [e)n] the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed”, after having received the Spirit prior (vv. 44ff)
    • Acts 19:5—”into [ei)$] the name of the Lord Yeshua”, parallel to believers trusting in(to) [ei)$] Jesus (v. 4)
    • Cf. also 1 Cor 1:13, 15—”into the name of…”

Acts 2:38; 19:5; 22:16

We can see how this detail expands the meaning of baptism by considering three of the references in Acts. In each instance, we find a distinct development from the earlier/original context of the dunkings performed by John. First, consider the wording by Peter in 2:38:

“You must change your mind(set) [i.e. repent, metanoh/sate] and be dunked [baptisqh/tw], each (one) of you, upon the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto (the) release of your sins…”

If we were to omit the italicized phrase, the wording would be virtually identical to the description of John’s baptisms in Mark 1:4 par. The dunking/baptism signified a “release” (a&fesi$) of sins, when accompanied by repentance (lit. a “change of mind”). How this would would function, in the new early Christian setting, is indicated by the prescriptive language in 22:16:

“And now, (for) what [i.e. why] are you (waiting) about to (act)? Standing up, you must be dunked [ba/ptisai] and wash your sins (away) from (you), calling upon his name.”

Here, it is expected that the believer would “call upon Jesus [i.e. his name]” while he/she was being dunked in the water, providing one of the only indications in the New Testament of how the early ritual would have been performed. Also, more clearly expressed is how the dunking effects the “release” (or putting away) of sins—the water “washes away” a person’s sins, bringing cleansing. Thus, in its basic form and significance, early Christian baptism differed little from the baptisms by John; this helps to explain the narrative detail in Acts 19:1-7, where baptism serves to distinguish believers in Jesus Christ from the followers of John. There are in fact two key points of difference: (1) that baptism is performed “in the name of Jesus”, and (2) that it involves the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. The second point is what is being emphasized in 19:2-6 (and will be discussed in the next daily note); however, the first is also and important part of the contrast that the narrative establishes:

“And Paul said, ‘Yohanan dunked with a dunking [ba/ptisma] of a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance], saying to the people that they should trust in the (one) coming after him—that is, in Yeshua’. And (hav)ing heard (this), they were dunked in the name of Yeshua.” (vv. 4-5)

Thus, the dunking still signifies a repentance and cleansing from sin, but now it is joined with a confession of one’s trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus as the Messiah. The point of the contrast between Jesus and John is Messianic, with the key title “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$, cf. my earlier note) being applied to Jesus, not John.

The early Christian Development

These references in Acts demonstrate how important the name of Jesus was to the early Christian understanding of baptism, and that it fundamentally signified belief in [ei)$] Jesus. Matthew 28:19 uses the same idiom of baptism “into [ei)$] the name of…”. It was also said of John’s baptism that it was “into [ei)$] a change-of mind [i.e. repentance]” (Matt 3:11, cf. Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38), where the preposition ei)$ indicates purpose or result. Elsewhere in Gospel tradition, John’s baptizing is described as being “of [i.e. for, leading to] repentance” and “into [ei)$] release [i.e. forgiveness]” (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4), i.e. for the purpose of (and resulting in) the forgiveness of sins. There are two key aspects of the use of ei)$ (“into”) with regard to baptism:

    1. It reflects trust/faith in(to) JesusMatt 18:6 par; Acts 10:43; 19:4-5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18. The idiom is especially frequent in the Gospel of John: Jn 2:11; 3:16, 18, 36; 4:39; 6:29, 40; 7:31, 38-39; 8:30; 9:35-36; 10:42; 11:25-26, 45, 48; 12:36-37, 44, 46; 14:1, 12; 16:9; 17:20. The parallel use of e)n (“in”) at Jn 3:15; 8:31 strongly suggests that the expressions “trust in” and “trust into” are virtually equivalent (cf. Mk 1:15; Acts 18:8). Also generally synonymous is the phrase “trust upon [e)pi] (the Lord) Jesus”, cf. Acts 3:16; 9:42; 11:17; 16:31.
    2. It signifies entrance into the Community and spiritual/symbolic union with Jesus. This theme is developed considerably by Paul in several of his letters, where we find the phrase “dunked/baptized into (the) Anointed {Christ}”. The key verse is Galatians 3:27—”as many of you (as) have been dunked into (the) Anointed, you have sunk in(to the) Anointed [i.e. put him on as a garment]”. The emphasis is no longer on the name of Jesus, even though Paul still uses this language (cf. 1 Cor 1:2, 10ff; 5:4; 6:11; Col 3:17; 2 Thess 1:12; 3:6, etc); rather, it is on the person of Christ. In Romans 6:3-4, baptism is interpreted as symbolizing the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus (cf. Col 2:12). Cf. also 1 Cor 10:2; 12:13—the latter reference specifically emphasizing baptism into one body (the Community as the body of Christ) and in one Spirit (Eph 4:4-5).

On the first point, early Christians were careful to ensure that the baptism ritual was tied to a confession of faith in Jesus; this explains the interpolation at Acts 8:36, with verse 37 being added by copyists (and preserved in a number of manuscripts and versions) to avoid any misunderstanding. The second point is more closely related to association of baptism with the Holy Spirit, and it is this aspect of the ritual that we will examine in the next note.

January 8: Baptism (John 3:22-23; 4:1-3; Matt 28:19)

Baptism by Jesus and his Disciples

Having considered the ministry of John the Baptist as the principal source of the early Christian practice of baptism (cf. the previous note), we must now look at how this developed in the Gospel Tradition. This could be examined in terms of the specific tradition regarding Jesus’ own baptism, or the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus; I have discussed those aspects at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (Division 1), and here will simply note the evidence for the continuation of the practice of ritual dunking/washing (i.e. baptism) as performed by Jesus and his disciples. The evidence for this is slight, but important.

John 3:22-23; 4:1-3

The Gospel of John contains the tradition that Jesus and his digsciples performed dunkings/washings (baptisms), apparently continuing the practice from John’s ministry:

“With [i.e. after] these (thing)s, Yeshua and his learners [i.e. disciples] came into the Yehudean {Judean} land, and there he wore through (a path) with them and performed dunkings [e)ba/tpizen]. And Yohanan also was (there) dunking [bapti/zwn] (people) in Aynon near Salim, (in) that [i.e. because] many waters were there, and (people) came to be alongside and were dunked [e)bapti/zonto]” (3:22-23)

“So when Yeshua knew that the Perushis {Pharisees} heard that ‘Yeshua makes and dunks [bapti/zei] more learners [i.e. disciples] than Yohanan’ —yet, indeed, Yeshua did not perform dunkings [e)ba/tpizen], but (only) his learners—he left Yehudah and went (away) from (there) again into the Galîl.” (4:1-3)

These are the only references in the Gospels which state that Jesus’ disciples performed baptisms during the period of his ministry. The use of the imperfect tense in 3:22 and 4:2 indicates that this was regular activity, done repeatedly. One may only guess as to why there is no other mention of this (and none in the Synoptic Gospels); it may be part of a general tendency among early Christians to separate themselves from followers of John the Baptist. Something of this rivalry is indicated in these very passages (cf. also Acts 18:25; 19:1-7), and is almost certainly related to the strong emphasis in chapters 1-3 on the contrast between John and Jesus, making clear the superiority of Jesus and his identity as the Messiah (1:6-9, 15, 19-27, 29-34, 35-37). This is very much the focus here in 3:22-36, where the historical notice in vv. 22-23 leads into the testimony of John (on his place in relation to Jesus, vv. 25-30), and the Christological exposition that follows (vv. 31-36).

Given this concern over subordinating John (and his ministry) to Jesus—something also seen, to a lesser extent, in the Synoptic Tradition—the detail that Jesus’ disciples continued to perform similar baptisms may be trusted as authentic (on entirely objective grounds). It is not the sort of thing that early Christians would be inclined to invent. That Jesus’ disciples would continue dunking people in the manner of John is not surprising, considering that, according to Jn 1:35ff, at least two of Jesus’ first disciples (Andrew being one) had previously been followers of John. Many critical commentators would go further that this, claiming that Jesus himself had begun as John’s disciple. In point of fact, from a theological standpoint, there is nothing at all unacceptable about this theory, though doubtless the idea will make many Christians uncomfortable. If Jesus had been a disciple of John, it was preparatory to the beginning of his own ministry, which also marks the start of the core Gospel narrative, in which we see John ‘passing the mantle’ over to Jesus.

Apart from the aforementioned critical theory, there are certain key similarities between the ministry of Jesus (especially in its beginnings) and that of John:

    • An emphasis on the need for repentance in light of the coming kingdom of God (and the Judgment)—Mark 1:4, 15 par, etc; Matt 3:7-8ff par; indeed, Matthew has John and Jesus declaring the same message (3:2; 4:17)
    • Both tended to frequent desert/wilderness locations
    • They both quickly gained popularity, drawing crowds around them
    • They each were similarly identified as Messianic figures, especially the Anointed Prophet according to the pattern of Elijah (cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”)

Given these basic similarities, there is every reason to think that the baptisms performed by Jesus and his disciples had the same religious and symbolic significance as those performed by John—that is, they symbolized the washing/cleansing from sin, when accompanied by confession and repentance.

Matthew 28:19

The only other Gospel reference to the disciples baptizing is in the “Great Commission” that closes the Gospel of Matthew (28:18-20). While this passage is unique to Matthew, it corresponds roughly to similar post-resurrection commission scenes in Luke (24:44-49) and John (20:21-23), as well as in the Markan ‘Long Ending’ ([16:14-18]). The central statement in the Matthean commission is verse 19 (cp. [Mk 16:16]):

“So (then), traveling (out) you must make all the nations (to be) learners [i.e. disciples], dunking [bapti/zonte$] them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

Many critical commentators are inclined to doubt or question the authenticity of the trinitarian formula here, regarding it instead as a reflection of early Christian belief (rather than Jesus’ own words at the time). I discuss this, along with other critical issues, in an earlier set of notes on Matt 28:18-20 and Lk 24:44-49 (Notes 1, 2, 3, 4). To repeat here several arguments in favor of authenticity (on objective grounds):

    • The instruction regarding baptism itself, as well as most of Matt 28:18-20 in context, is fully compatible with the sayings and teaching of the historical Jesus, based on an entirely objective analysis of the Gospel Tradition. For a number of examples and references illustrating this, cf. the aforementioned notes.
    • The common elements and parallels between the various post-resurrection Commission passages in the Gospels, which surely represent separate strands of tradition (given their differences), strongly suggest an underlying historical core.
    • Luke 24:47-49 provides independent attestation for the inclusion of a baptismal ‘formula’ as part of the Commission, which is also associated with the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Acts 2:38) and the Father. The other points of similarity between Lk 24:47-49 and Matt 28:18-20 were noted earlier.

On the contrary, one must, I think, be willing to admit that:

    • Many of the parallels and similarities cited (in the earlier note) are relatively loose, and could be said to be outweighed by the significant differences in detail. On the basis of traditional-conservative desire to harmonize, it would actually prove quite difficult to piece together all of these details (and separate Commission passages) into a genuinely convincing whole (judged honestly and objectively).
    • Assuming that Matt 28:19 is authentic, it is most strange that there really is no evidence for it (or its influence) anywhere else in the New Testament. By all accounts, based on the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, early believers were only ever baptized “in the name of Jesus” (to be discussed in the next daily note). If the apostles and early Christians were following Jesus’ example and instruction (as presumably they would be), then it is likely that Jesus’ original saying would have been something along the lines of: “baptizing them in my name…” (cf. Lk 24:47 / Acts 2:38)
    • The earliest attestation for the saying/instruction of Matt 28:19 is found in Didache 7:1, 3, which is typically dated from the early 2nd (or late 1st) century A.D. A fair date for the traditions in the Didache might be c. 70-80 A.D., which likely coincides with the completed form of the Gospel of Matthew. The trinitarian form (and formula) of baptism is attested in the second and third centuries, but, as far as we know, not earlier than c. 70 A.D.

In the next note, I will explore this idea of being baptized in the name of Jesus, which represents a distinctive early Christian development of baptism itself.

January 7: Baptism (Mark 1:4-5)

For those of you have been following by daily notes on the Book of Revelation, I have interrupted them for these Christmas-season themed notes; the notes on Revelation will continue on Jan 14.

In the Eastern Church, January 6 (Epiphany/Theophany) was originally the date commemorating the birth of Jesus; however, as the Western date of Dec 25 was gradually adopted, Jan 6 came to commemorate the baptism of Jesus instead. In the West, the octave of Epiphany (Jan 13) is the traditional day for celebrating the baptism. With these two dates in mind, during the week of January 7-13, I will be presenting a series of daily notes on the subject of baptism—how it was understood and practiced by early Christians. These notes will also serve as a word study on the bapt– word-group in Greek.

Background

The verb bapti/zw (baptízœ) is an intensive form of ba/ptw (báptœ), “dip”, as in a liquid. The simple verb occurs only four times in the New Testament (Luke 16:24; John 13:26 [twice]; Revelation 19:13). As an intensive form, bapti/zw thus means “plunge, submerge, dunk”. The masculine noun baptismo/$ (baptismós) and the neuter ba/ptisma (báptisma) are derived from bapt(iz)w, and refer to the act (and/or result) of “dipping” or “dunking”, while the related noun baptisth/$ (baptist¢¡s) is “dunker, one who dunks”. All of these have come down to us in English as transliterations (baptize, baptism, baptist), and, as a result, the original meaning of the words has largely been lost for English-speakers and readers of the New Testament. Whatever else one may want to say about the accepted or proper mode of Christian baptism, there can be no doubt that the verb bapti/zw signifies being submerged or immersed (“dunked”) in water.

The verb bapti/zw is common enough, but is quite rare in the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX), occurring just four times, most notably in 2 Kings 5:14, where it refers to Naaman washing/cleansing himself by going down seven times into the river Jordan. There is a similar idea of ritual washing in Sirach 34:25[30], while in Jdt 12:7 it refers to Judith’s bathing, in preparation for her climactic meeting with Holofernes. The verb is also rare, for example, in the works of Philo, and does not appear to have been especially significant in Hellenistic Judaism. Bapt(iz)w typically would translate the Hebrew lb^f* I (‰¹»al), with a similar meaning (“dip”) that also connotes washing or bathing, including in a ritual context. The Greek occurs several times in the early papyri, including the context of ceremonial washing (P. London 121 441), but also figuratively, in the sense of a person being overwhelmed and “submerged” by troubles, etc (P. Par 47 13, cf. Isaiah 21:4 LXX).

The noun baptismo/$ (“dipping, dunking”) is rare in Greek (e.g., Plutarch Moralia II.166a [On Superstition]), and does not occur at all in the LXX, and only once in Josephus (Antiquites 18.117, of John the Baptist, cf. below). The neuter ba/ptisma appears to be a uniquely Christian word, with no contemporary occurrences outside of the New Testament and early Christian literature. Ba/ptisma is the much more common word in the New Testament for dipping/dunking (i.e. baptism), occurring 19 times as opposed to 4 for baptismo/$. The specific Christian rite is properly referred to as ba/ptisma, while baptismo/$ is used more generally for ritual washing/bathing (Mark 7:4; Heb 6:2; 9:10); only in Col 2:12 is baptismo/$ unquestionably used for Christian baptism. The corresponding Hebrew term is hl*yb!f= (from lbf I, cf. above), which was used for the (later) Jewish ritual washing/bathing (“baptism”) of Gentile converts.

As for the noun baptisth/$ (“dipper, dunker, one who dunks”), it is used almost exclusively as a title for John the Baptist (cf. below), and is scarcely to be found outside of the early Christian writings.

John the Baptist (Mark 1:4-5 par)

Of the 77 occurrences of the verb bapti/zw (“dunk, submerge”) in the New Testament, 32 are used of Yohanan the Dunker (John the Baptist) and his ministry, which is recorded, in some detail, in all four Gospels, and is also referenced in the book of Acts. By all accounts, it is to be regarded as the principal basis for the tradition of Christian baptism. It is not clear whether there were other contemporary (or earlier) “dunking” movements, or if it was original and unique to John; the lack of contemporary evidence for similar movements suggests the latter. However, some scholars claim that the tradition of Jewish “proselyte baptism”, i.e. the ritual washing/bathing of Gentile converts, pre-dates the mid-first century A.D. The evidence for this is slight indeed, based largely on several questionable passages (e.g., Testament of Levi 14:6; Epictetus Dissertations 2.9.19).

Far more relevant, at least in terms of being a parallel to early Christian baptism, is the tradition of ritual washing/bathing practiced by the Qumran Community. According to certain key documents, the Community (of the Qumran texts) practiced ritual washings, which symbolized cleansing/purification from sin and entry/participation in the community (cf. 1QS 3:3ff; 5:13-14). This may also be confirmed by the excavations of the Khirbet Qumrân site, which includes cisterns and (apparently) miqw¹°ôt (pools/baths) for ritual washing. As such, it provides a distinct parallel with early Christian baptism, which is related in turn to the earlier baptism practiced by John. There is also an interesting juxtaposition of cleansing by water and the Holy Spirit (and fire) in 1QS 4:20-21, as we see expressed by John in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16.

With the discovery of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea scrolls), a number of scholars have theorized that John the Baptist may have been influenced by the beliefs and teachings of that Community, perhaps even that he had belonged to it for a time. I discuss this hypothesis in an earlier article.

John’s ministry is best (and most clearly) summarized in Mark 1:4-5:

“Yohanan [the] (one) dunking [bapti/zwn] came to be in the desolate (land), and (was) proclaiming a dunking [ba/ptisma] of a change-of-mind unto the release of sins. And all the Yehudean area [i.e. all Judea] and all the Yerushalaimis [i.e. people of Jerusalem] traveled out toward him and were dunked [ebapti/zonto] under him in the Yarden river, giving out an account together of their sins.”

Matthew and Luke more or less reproduce this same summary (Matt 3:5-6; Lk 3:3, 21a), but include additional examples of John’s preaching (Matt 3:7-10, 12; Lk 3:7-14, 17). What the description in Mk 1:4-5 par emphasizes is that the dunking in the Jordan river was meant to symbolize a cleansing from sin—that is, a washing away of sin (a “release” a&fesi$) that was connected with the person’s confession (of sin) and attitude of repentance (meta/noia, “change of mind[set]”). Given the obvious parallels between John and Elijah, it is quite possible that his practice of having people go into the Jordan is a direct imitation of the command given to Naaman by Elisha (2 Kings 5:10-14, cf. above).

The core Synoptic tradition regarding John the Baptist’s ministry has several key components in common:

    • The citation of Isa 40:3, identifying John as a prophetic herald preparing the way for the end-time visitation of God (through His Messiah) and the coming Judgment (Mk 1:3ff par)
    • The (Messianic) saying regarding “the one (who is) coming”, with the contrast between dunking in water and dunking in the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:7-8 par)
    • The tradition of Jesus being baptized by John, with the descent of the Spirit and the heavenly voice declaring Jesus to be God’s Son (Mk 1:9-11 par)

These elements are also found in the Gospel of John (1:19-34), though presented very differently. The Johannine tradition also sets the contrast between Jesus and John more sharply, emphasizing the superiority of Jesus and his identity as the Messiah (vv. 6-9, 15, 20-21, 25, 29ff, 35; 3:25-30ff; cp. Luke 3:15ff; Matt 3:14f). I have discussed the tradition of Jesus’ Baptism, and the relationship between Jesus and John, at length as part of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”. On the independent account of John the Baptist in Josephus’ Antiquities, cf. my earlier note.

Two details in the early Gospel tradition would greatly influence the significance of baptism as it would develop among early Christians, and so should be kept in mind as we continue through these notes:

    • The baptism of Jesus himself, as an imitative pattern for believers, participating in his divine life (and sonship), and
    • The association of baptism with the Holy Spirit, by way of the saying in Mk 1:8 par and the specific detail in the baptism narrative (Mk 1:10 par; Jn 1:32-33).

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Sayings of Jesus (Pt 1)

The Synoptic Gospels

The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus

We begin our study of the eschatology of the New Testament with the Synoptic Gospels—in particular, the sayings and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Synoptic Tradition. On the basic approach adopted here, see the introduction to my earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”. The shorter sayings and teachings of Jesus will be examined first, followed by the parables, and concluding with a study of the great “Eschatological Discourse”.

When dealing with the Sayings of Jesus, the situation is complicated considerably for many critical scholars, who, as a matter of principle (and method), seek to distinguish between sayings which are authentic (going back to the words of Jesus) and those which are thought to be largely the product of early Christians in light of their beliefs regarding Jesus, etc. Various “criteria of authenticity” have been developed which help scholars to determine, on objective grounds, the sayings which are more likely to be authentic. Traditional-conservative commentators, on the other hand, tend to accept the Gospel accounts at face value, viewing all (or nearly all) of the recorded sayings as reflecting the actual words of the historical Jesus, allowing for a modest amount of editing and translation (from Aramaic, etc). While I do not reject out of hand nor disregard the critical analyses and theories regarding authenticity—indeed, I often find them to be most helpful and insightful—however, for the purposes of this study, I work from the assumption that the Gospel Tradition preserves the genuine words of Jesus in substance. Only in special cases will I be discussing matters related to the question of authenticity.

Any discussion of the sayings of Jesus, relating to his (and early Christian) eschatology, must start with the declaration that begins his public ministry in the core Synoptic tradition.

Mark 1:15 par

Following his baptism by John (Mk 1:9-11), and his time of testing in the desert (1:12-13), we read of Jesus that he

“came into the Galîl proclaiming the good message of God [and saying] that ‘The time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near! Change your mind(set) [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!'” (1:14-15)

This theme which introduces Jesus’ public ministry generally follows the preaching of John the Baptist, as it is recorded in the Gospels (cf. also Josephus, Antiquities 18.116-119). Indeed, in Matthew’s version, John makes the very same declaration: “Change your mind(set) [i.e. repent]—for the kingdom of the Heavens has come near!” (3:2, using “kingdom of Heaven” instead of “…of God”, cp. 4:17). Even though this is not found precisely in the wider Synoptic tradition, it very much fits the tenor of his preaching—on the need for repentance in light of the coming Judgment of God upon humankind. The Synoptic summary of John’s ministry makes this clear:

“…Yohanan, the (one) dunking (people), came to be in the desolate (land) proclaiming a dunking of a change-of-mind(set) [meta/noia, i.e. repentance] unto the release of (one’s) sins. And all (the people in) the area (of) Yehudah and all the Yerushalaim (peop)le traveled out toward him, and were dunked under him in the Yarden river, giving out as one an account of [i.e. confessing/acknowledging] their sins.” (Mk 1:4-5 par)

The eschatological orientation of John’s ministry of baptism, and his preaching, is readily apparent from:

    • The citation of Isa 40:3 in Mk 1:2-3. This passage is one of a number in Isa 40-66 (Deutero-Isaiah) which had been given a Messianic interpretation by Jews in the 1st centuries B.C./A.D. (cf. the recent survey of Messianic passages). There is every reason to believe that John, much like the Community of the Qumran texts (1QS 8:14-16), identified himself with the herald “crying in the desert”, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord (at the end-time). This is made explicit in Jn 1:19-23. According to certain strands of traditional Jewish eschatology, this coming of the Lord (YHWH) for Judgment was realized through, or along with, the end-time appearance of YHWH’s chosen representative (Anointed One, “Messiah”).
    • Details from the traditions in Matthew and Luke (the so-called “Q” material):
      (a) John’s preaching of the need for repentance is specifically connected with “the anger (of God) (be)ing [i.e. that is] about (to come)” (Matt 3:7-9 / Lk 3:7-8), i.e. the coming Judgment
      (b) the images of the axe (cutting down the tree) and of the harvest (separating grain from chaff) also refer to this idea of God’s impending Judgment (Matt 3:10, 12 / Lk 3:9, 17)

Given these facts, there is little reason to think that Jesus’ declaration in Mark 1:15 par is meant in a fundamentally different sense than that of Matt 3:2 (as a summary of John’s preaching). Thus we can isolate three main elements, or aspects, of Jesus’ statement:

    1. The coming of God—his kingdom, i.e. God as king/ruler over the world
    2. The nearness of His Coming—that it is about to take place, and
    3. The need for repentance—in light of God’s coming rule (incl. Judgment on the wicked)

There can be little doubt that this reflected John’s proclamation to the people of Judea, and Jesus, it would seem, began his ministry with essentially the same message. However, in the case of Jesus, the situation is complicated greatly by the many and varied references to “the kingdom (of God)” in his sayings and parables, as recorded in the Gospels. He spoke quite often about this Kingdom, much of which has been preserved in the Gospel Tradition, bringing out a number of distinct points of emphasis; for Jesus, the Kingdom (basilei/a) was a multi-faceted concept and symbol. I have discussed this extensively in an earlier two-part article, as well as in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (Part 5). It will be worth summarizing that analysis briefly here.

These are the primary aspects most commonly found in the sayings and parables. As part of my earlier study, based on the entirety of the evidence, I isolated four basic senses of the term “Kingdom (of God)” in the New Testament:

    1. The eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
    2. An eschatological Kingdom (on earth), which can be understood in two different aspects:
      a. An absolute sense: New heavens and new earth (preceded by judgment on the World)
      b. A contingent sense: Messianic kingdom (preceded by judgment of the Nations)
    3. The presence of Christ—His life, work and teaching, death and resurrection
    4. The presence of God/Christ (through the Spirit) in the hearts, minds, and lives of believers

The fundamental idea informing the phrase “Kingdom of God” is that of the rule of God—that is, His governing power and authority—coming to be present, or made manifest, on earth, in a manner beyond what one sees in the natural order of things. In this regard, and in light of the range of meaning outlined above, it is possible to narrow the focus in Jesus’ usage to three primary aspects:

    • The coming Judgment of God upon the world, after which the righteous (believers) will enter the Divine/Eternal Life and receive heavenly reward [sense #2a above]
    • The establishment of an end-time Kingdom (rule of God) upon earth, however this is understood precisely, with judgment (of the wicked) and transformation of the social/religious order of things [sense #2b above]
    • The Kingdom of God is manifest and realized in the person and presence of Jesus [sense #3 above]

We must ask, which of these three aspects is being emphasized in the declaration of Mark 1:15 par? The first two aspects reflect different sides of traditional Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation—that is, of an (imminent) future eschatology. The third aspect represents what we may call “realized” eschatology—i.e., events and attributes understood as related to the future are realized (for believers) in the present. As discussed above, the parallel with John’s preaching strongly indicates that Jesus is drawing upon the common eschatological expectation—that the end-time appearance of God, coming to bring Judgment, was soon to take place.

This is the interpretation accepted by many, if not most, critical commentators today, and it serves to epitomize the fundamental difficulty in dealing with early Christian eschatology. For traditional-conservative scholars and readers of Scripture, the problem is particularly acute, and may be summarized this way:

    • If Jesus proclaimed that the coming of the Kingdom—and, with it, the end of the current Age—was close at hand, then it opens up the possibility of his being in error on that point.
    • Yet, at the same time, to understand his view differently (and to avoid the doctrinal problem), risks distorting or neglecting the straightforward sense of his words, and how they would have been understood by people at the time.

Before proceeding any further on this thorny interpretative question (one of the most difficult in modern New Testament studies), let us examine the actual words used by Jesus in Mark 1:15; there are three phrases, or components to his declaration:

1. peplh/rwtai o( kairo/$ (“the time has been [ful]filled”). The verb plhro/w has the basic meaning “fill (up)”, sometimes in the more general sense of “complete, bring to completion, fulfill,” etc. Here the expression means that the period of time (and all that it entails), leading up to the point (kairo/$) when a particular event will take place, has been filled (i.e. completed). For a similar example, using the related verb plh/qw, see Luke 2:21-22. It precludes the idea that Jesus is announcing something which is still to come in the (distant) future; the time is now, at his very speaking. There is doubtless also an allusion to the fulfillment of prophecy, where the verb plhro/w is frequently used (cf. Luke 4:21, etc).

2. kai\ h&ggiken h( basilei/a tou= qeou= (“and the kingdom of God has come near”). However one understands the expression “kingdom of God”, it is quite clear what Jesus says about it: “it has come near” (h&ggiken). The verb e)ggi/zw is related to the adverb e)ggu/$ (“close”), and means “come (or bring) close”; the intransitive usage is more common (“come close/near”). It can be understood either in a spatial or temporal sense. In a religious (and theological) context, it can refer to persons (i.e. priests, the righteous) approaching God, as well as the reverse—of God coming near to his people. For example, cf. Exod 3:5; Lev 21:21; Ezek 40:46 (all LXX); James 4:8; Heb 7:19; Eph 2:13, 17. One may also come near to God in a figurative sense (implying a religious attitude), as in Isa 29:13, etc. For the temporal usage, the time when something will occur (i.e. is about to take place), cf. LXX Num 24:17; Isa 26:17; Hab 3:2, etc.

The background to the eschatological use of e)ggi/zw is found in the (later) Prophets ([Deutero-]Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc LXX). It is used in reference to the coming of the “Day of YHWH”, which is the time of salvation and/or Judgment—Isa 13:6; 50:8; 51:5; 56:6; Ezek 7:4; 22:4; 30:3; cf. also Joel 1:5; 2:1; 3:14; Obad 15; Zeph 1:7, 14. The New Testament usage is primarily based on (Deutero-)Isaiah. There are 42 occurrences of the verb. Besides the ordinary sense of coming near (to a place, etc), it is used in three ways:

    • The eschatological sense—that the time of God’s appearance (the day [h(me/ra] of Judgment, salvation, etc) has come, or is coming, near. The third person perfect form h&ggiken is almost always used. Rom 13:12; Heb 10:25; James 5:8; 1 Pet 4:7; cf. also Acts 7:17 for the similar idea of a promised time coming to pass.
    • The sense of believers coming near and encountering God (cf. above)—James 4:8; Eph 2:13, 17. Note Philo’s use of the verb in On the Unchangableness of God §161; On the Special Laws II.57; cf. also Psalm 33:18; 119:151; 145:18 LXX.
    • The special sense of Jesus’ time (or “hour”), i.e. the time of his Passion, coming near—Matt 26:45-46 par; cf. also Lk 4:13.

Jesus’ use of the verb is unquestionably eschatological, along the lines indicated above. This is clear when one compares the declaration in Mark 1:15 (par Matt 4:17; cf. also 3:2; 10:7) with the statements in Luke 21:8, 20, 28. One should also note the distinctive (eschatological) use of the related adverb e)ggu/$ (“close/near”) in Mark 13:28-29 par; Luke 19:11; Rev 1:3; 22:10; cf. also Rom 13:11; Phil 4:5.

[For more on the verb e)ggi/zw, etc, see the article by H. Preisker in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TDNT], Vol 2, pp. 330-2.]

3. metanoei=te kai\ pisteu/ete e)n tw=| eu)aggeli/w| (“change your mind and trust in the good message”). There are two aspects to this statement: (a) people are to change their way of thinking (and acting), i.e. “repent”, and (b) they are to trust in the “good message” (eu)agge/lion) of salvation. The verb metaneu/w (lit. change [one’s] mind) and the idea of repentance featured prominently in the preaching of John the Baptist (cf. the discussion above). It is not especially common in Jesus’ own preaching, as recorded in the Gospels, but it is certainly present (cf. below). The word eu)agge/lion (“good message”, i.e. ‘gospel’) is also surprisingly rare, especially in the traditional Christian sense of the “good news” about Jesus (cf. Mark 8:35; 10:29; 14:9). For the righteous (and sinners who repent), the coming of the kingdom of God is good news, for several reasons:

    • It represents the coming of God and the establishment of his rule on earth—entailing the elimination of evil and wickedness.
    • The righteous will be delivered from the power and influence of the wicked (and of sin, etc).
    • The righteous will be saved/rescued from the coming Judgment, passing through it into eternal life.

This eschatological context of the “good message” is confirmed by the use of the term in Mark 13:10 par; the implications of this particular verse will be discussed in the upcoming article on the “Eschatological Discourse”.

Matthew’s version (4:17) of the declaration in Mark 1:15 is briefer and uses the expression “kingdom of the Heavens” rather than “kingdom of God”:

“Change your mind(set)—for the kingdom of the Heavens has come near!”

This matches the declaration by the Baptist (3:2), and is essentially repeated in 10:7. These words of Jesus are not present at a corresponding point in the Gospel of Luke, where the public ministry of Jesus is introduced from a different standpoint—the citation of Isa 61:1 and the episode at Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30). However, Luke does still depict Jesus as proclaiming the Kingdom during the Galilean ministry (4:43; 8:1, etc). In particular, the central declaration (of Mk 1:15 par) is preserved in Luke 10:9, 11: “The kingdom of God has come close [h&ggiken] upon you!” This reflects the Synoptic tradition of Jesus’ sending out his disciples to follow his example, as his representatives, doing the same work (healing miracles, etc) and proclaiming the same message—the coming of the Kingdom and the need for repentance (Mark 3:14f; 6:7-13 par; cf. Matt 10:7; Lk 9:2). Thus this message was not limited to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but continued on through much of the Galilean period (as recorded in the Synoptic Tradition).

The eschatological emphasis in Jesus teaching, as epitomized by the declaration in Mark 1:15 par, may not have defined entirely his teaching and understanding of the Kingdom of God (and its coming), but it was certainly the central starting point in his public ministry. It is important to keep this in mind as we proceed to examine the other sayings and parables found in the Synoptic Gospels.

June 27: On John the Baptist (conclusion)

In the previous three daily notes (note 1, 2, 3), in commemoration of the traditional birthday of John the Baptist (June 24), I examined the relationship between John and Jesus in terms of the figure of Elijah, looking specifically at evidence for both John and Jesus being identified with Elijah (as the end-time Prophet-to-Come). In today’s note I offer a concluding discussion of the topic, according to the following:

    1. Jesus as the Anointed/Eschatological Prophet in Gospel and early Christian tradition
    2. John in early Christian tradition and the disappearance of the Elijah motif

1. Jesus as the Anointed/Eschatological Prophet in Gospel and early Christian tradition

For specific references in the Gospels related to Jesus as Elijah and/or the eschatological Prophet, see the previous day’s note. Here, in summary, it is worth discussing a bit further: (a) Deuteronomy 18:15-19 as applied to Jesus, and (b) Jesus as the Prophet and Jesus as the Messiah.

(a) Deuteronomy 18:15-19—in its original context, this passage predicts (or promises) that YHWH will raise up another authoritative prophet to follow in Moses’ footsteps. The Hebrew word ayb!n` (n¹»î°). usually translated “prophet”, has the basic meaning of “spokesman”, i.e. someone who stands and represents (God) before the people, proclaiming the word/message of God; its meaning therefore overlaps with the Greek profh/th$ (proph¢¡t¢s), “one who speaks before” (usually understood as one who speaks beforehand, a “foreteller”). Since the people were unable (and/or unwilling) to hear God’s words directly (vv. 16-17), the presence of a spokesperson (such as Moses) was necessary. As God’s representative, his word is authoritative and must be obeyed (vv. 18-19). The passage goes on to warn against “false” prophets, with a test and instructions for dealing with them (vv. 20-22).

By the time of the New Testament, Deut 18:15-19 had come to be understood somewhat differently, as a prediction for a future “Prophet like Moses” who will arise at the end-time. Passages such as Num 24:17 (from Balaam’s oracle) were interpreted in much the same way, as referring to future, eschatological “Messianic” figures. The texts from Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) evince a belief in an (anointed) eschatological Prophet (cf. 1QS 9:11 etc); it is possible that this figure is related to the one who will “teach righteousness” at the end of days (CD 6:11, cf. Hos 10:12). The Florilegium/Testimonia of 4Q175 cites Deut 5:28-29 and Deut 18:18-19 (Exod 20:21 according to the Samaritan text) as one of a string of “Messianic”/eschatological passages. A similar expectation of an end-time Prophet can be found in passages such as 1 Maccabees 14:41. It should be remembered that the Qumran Community, like many Jews and most early Christian of the period, believed that they were living in the end times (or “last days”), so that the eschatological prophecies were specifically relevant to their situation, and so were being (or were about to be) fulfilled.

In Acts 3:22-23, Peter (in his sermon-speech), combines Deut 18:15, 18-19 and Lev 23:29, applying them to Jesus and identifying him as the Prophet to Come. Interestingly, the context of vv. 20-21 suggests that a future (though imminent) appearance of Jesus is in mind; and yet Peter uses the “Prophet” theme for a somewhat different purpose—to draw a connection between (i) the Prophets who spoke of and foresaw these things, and (ii) the Jews currently hearing him (“sons of the Prophets”), exhorting them to accept the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ (vv. 24-26). Deut 18:15 is cited again in Acts 7:37 as part of Stephen’s great speech, tracing Israel’s history.

(b) Jesus as the Prophet and the Messiah.—The evidence is, I should say, rather strong that there was an early historical (and Gospel) tradition which viewed Jesus as the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah) in terms of the Prophet, rather than the (Davidic) King. The latter association, however, proved to be much stronger, to the extent that the idea of Jesus as the end-time Prophet of God largely disappeared from Christian tradition. As I judge the evidence, Jesus as Anointed Prophet is more or less limited to the early ministry in Galilee; with the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the figure of Anointed (Davidic) King (i.e. the “Son of David”) takes over. Is this distinction and division (according to the Synoptic narrative outline) historical or literary?—I would argue that it is both. Indeed, I would go a step further and suggest that it is possible to trace a doctrinal development as well, perhaps best understood according to the idea of progressive revelation. This might be outlined as followed:

    • Jesus as (Anointed) Prophet—this is largely a result of the early miracles and preaching, centered in Galilee. The miracles, in particular, suggested an identification with Elijah. At the same time, there was an expectation of a “Prophet to Come” (like Moses, according to Deut 18:15-19); and Jesus was thought to fulfill this role as well. Counter to this, we have the association of John with Elijah (according to Mal 3:1; 4:5-6) also preserved in Gospel tradition, including sayings of Jesus specifically identifying John with Elijah—these sayings remain problematic and somewhat difficult to interpret (note also John’s denial that he is Elijah in the Gospel of John). For more, cf. Parts 2-3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.
    • Jesus as Anointed (Davidic) King—this becomes the main association in the Jerusalem portion of the Synoptic narrative, beginning with Mark 10:47-48 par, through the triumphal entry (Mk 11:10 par), and on through the Passion narrative. In this regard, note especially, Mark 12:35-37 par; Matt 21:15; Mark 14:61; Matt 24:5, 23; 26:63, 68; 27:17, 22; Lk 23:2; Mark 15:32 par; cf. also Jn 10:24; 11:27; 12:34 and Matt 16:16, 20. It is through the identification of Jesus as Anointed (Davidic) King that the title Xristo$ (“Anointed”), particularly following the Resurrection (cf. Lk 24:26, 46; Acts 2:36), came to be applied to Jesus (becoming virtually a proper name). Cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.
    • Jesus as Lord [ku/rio$]—this is fundamentally a product of the resurrection and the early Christian belief in Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God in Heaven. In early tradition, it went hand in hand with the title “Anointed” (cf. Acts 2:36); however, as “Anointed”/Christ came to be used increasingly as a proper name, “Lord” took over as the main title applied to Jesus in Christian tradition. References to “Lord”, like the title “Son of God”, can be found at earlier positions in the Gospel narrative, but it is doubtful whether (or to what extent) they would have been applied to Jesus earlier historically, in the sense (and with the meaning) that they came to be used by Christians later on; though key exceptions could be cited, such as Matt 16:16.
    • Jesus as (Anointed) Priest—this appears to reflect a late strand of Christian belief; apart from the epistle to the Hebrews, and several allusions in the Johannine writings, there is little evidence for this association in early Gospel tradition. Cf. Part 9 of “Yeshua the Anointed”.

2. John in early Christian tradition and the disappearance of the Elijah motif

Just as the belief in Jesus as the end-time Prophet was superseded by his identification as Anointed (King) and glorified Lord, so, too, did John’s role as Elijah disappear from Christian tradition. The reason for this is, I think, straightforward, the explanation being two-fold:

    • Belief in John as Elijah was based on early historical tradition; as belief in Jesus and Christological tradition developed and progressed, John’s role and position naturally was diminished (as represented by John’s own words in Jn 3:30).
    • The idea of Elijah and the eschatological Prophet-to-Come was based largely on the belief, shared by many Jews of the period and most early Christians, that the Kingdom of God was at hand—God’s end-time Judgment, preceded by Elijah (and/or “the Prophet”), was imminent (therefore the urgency of repentance and conversion). As the years passed, without a realization of the end, the importance of this eschatological view gradually lost strength. Already in the early Church, it had been replaced partially by the concept of Christ’s return—he would still bring about God’s (imminent/end-time) Judgment, but not in the role of “Elijah”. However, note the persistence of the eschatological Elijah motif in Revelation 11.

With the disappearance of the eschatological Elijah theme, and, correspondingly, John as Elijah (however that might be interpreted), the Baptist also disappeared largely from early Christian tradition. Apart from the Gospels and several historical/kerygmatic references in Acts, he is not mentioned at all the New Testament (nor is the Baptism of Jesus). Subsequently, in Christian thought, he is associated almost exclusively with the Gospel Narratives of Jesus’ baptism. This itself makes it difficult for Christians today to appreciate fully—and to interpret accurately—Jesus’ sayings regarding the Baptist, such as those in Matt 11:11-14; Mark 9:11-13; 11:30 pars; Lk 16:16; Jn 5:32-36.

June 26: John 1:21, 25, etc

In the previous day’s note, I looked at the Gospel evidence identifying John with Elijah. The connection is relatively strong in Synoptic tradition, largely due to the interpretation and application of Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6. Luke retains the association in Lk 1:16-17, 76-77; 7:27 (cf. also Lk 9:7-9), but he omits the specific identification made by Jesus in Matt 11:14 and Mark 9:11-13 / Matt 17:10-12. There are also, however, other strands of Gospel tradition which seem to identify Jesus with Elijah. The passages here will be discussed in turn, followed by a concluding notice.

1. John’s testimony in Jn 1:21, 25

The only reference to Elijah in the Gospel of John is found in Jn 1:21 and 25, where the Baptist responds to questions by Jewish leaders from Jerusalem (vv. 19ff). John specifically denies that he is Elijah, contrary to Synoptic tradition (and Jesus’ own words). He denies both that he is Elijah and “the Prophet” (i.e. the eschatological Prophet-to-Come)—these are apparently understood as separate figures, with “the Prophet” likely referring to the Prophet “like Moses” (cf. Deut 18:15-19). His denial would seem to imply that both roles are reserved for Jesus. For more on this, see below.

2. References to Jesus as “the Prophet”

In the Gospel of John, there are several references to Jesus as “the Prophet”—that is, the eschatological Prophet-to-Come: Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40 (also 7:52). It is noteworthy that in these, and similar, passages, it is the people who make the identification (cf. also Matt 21:11; Lk 7:16; 24:19; Jn 4:19; 9:17); however, there is no suggestion by the Gospel writer that this is in any way incorrect. Though not a connection with Elijah as such, it shows preserved in early tradition the idea that Jesus was the expected (Anointed) eschatological Prophet. In the early Gospel preaching of Acts, Jesus is specifically identified as the eschatological “Prophet like Moses” (Acts 3:22-23; 7:37, quoted from Deut 18:15-19).

3. The Synoptic saying of Jesus in Mark 6:4 / Matt 13:57 / Luke 4:24

In the scene of his rejection at Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6 / Matt 13:53-58 / Luke 4:16-30), Jesus refers to himself as a prophet (for a similar saying, see Luke 13:33). In Luke’s version of the episode, Jesus draws a specific parallel between himself (as a prophet) and Elijah/Elisha (Lk 4:25-27).

4. The use of Isaiah 61:1ff

In the previously mentioned Nazareth scene (Lk 4:16-30), in the synagogue Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 (vv. 18-19), applying the passage to himself (v. 21). In so doing, he identifies himself as an Anointed (Messiah) figure, gifted by the Spirit of God to proclaim good news, etc, and to work miracles. Remember that in this same narrative, Jesus refers to himself as a prophet (v. 24), and draws a parallel with Elijah/Elisha (vv. 25-27). The juxtaposition of these three elements is significant—i.e. Anointed-Prophet-Elijah.

An echo of Isa 61:1-2 can also be found in Matt 11:5 / Lk 7:22, Jesus’ response to a question from John (Lk 7:19 par): “Are you the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] or to we look toward (receiving) another?” The expression “the one coming” probably refers, not to the Davidic Messiah, but to the eschatological (Anointed) Prophet, who will be present to usher in the coming Judgment of God (as predicted by John in Lk 3:16-17 par, cf. Mal 3:1 etc, and my earlier note on this passage). If this is the reference, then Jesus’ response, drawing upon Isa 61:1-2 (cf. also Isa 29:18-19; 35:5-6), without providing a direct answer, makes clear that he is the Anointed (Messiah), but with an emphasis on: (a) proclaiming good news to the poor, and (b) working miracles of healing (including raising the dead). Of all the Old Testament Prophets, the power to work miracles (and even raise the dead) was associated almost exclusively with Elijah (with the anointing/gifting also bequeathed to his disciple Elisha). Of course, in the Matthean version of this (Q) section, in Matt 11:14 Jesus proceeds to identify John with Elijah; however, this is not found in the Lukan version.

An interesting parallel can be found in the fragmentary text 4Q521 from Qumran, where (in fragment 2 ii) we read: “…heaven and earth will hear/obey his Anointed (One) [i.e. Messiah]”. The passage which follows draws upon Isa 61:1f and Psalm 146:8-9, and includes a reference to raising the dead, as in Lk 7:22 par. The distinctive association of Elijah with resurrection is attested in later Jewish tradition (m. Sota 9 end; j. Sheqalim 3:3; Pesikta de R. Kahana 76a), and the reference to “heaven and earth hearing/obeying” also fits the Elijah tradition (Sirach 48:3). That the Anointed figure of 4Q521 is Elijah (or according to the type of Elijah) would seem to be confirmed by the additional fragment 2 iii, which cites Malachi 4:6 [3:24 Hebr]. For several of the references above, and additional discussion of this passage, cf. J. J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (ABRL 1995), pp. 117-122.

5. The Transfiguration

In the Transfiguration episode (Mark 9:2-8 / Matt 17:1-8 / Luke 9:28-36), Moses and Elijah appear alongside Jesus and converse with him (Mk 9:4 par). Moses and Elijah are typically thought to represent the Law and the Prophets, respectively; however, I feel it is more likely, at least at the earliest level of the tradition, that they both represent the Prophetic—in particular, the end-time Prophet-to-Come. This is a well-established association in Jewish tradition of the period for both figures—Moses by way of Deut 18:15-19 and Elijah by way of Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6. If so, then the narrative may present a visual, dramatic identification of Jesus as the Prophet (according to both types, Moses and Elijah). Here again, the Synoptic tradition proceeds to identify John with Elijah (in Mark 9:11-13 and Matt 17:10-12), though Luke does not include this subsequent passage. It should be pointed out that, at the historical level, Mk 9:11-13 par need not have taken place right after the transfiguration—the shared reference to Elijah would have been enough (by way of catch-word bonding) to join the two pieces in the tradition.

6. Mark 8:28 par

In the earlier scene of Peter’s confession (Mark 8:27-30 par), in response to Jesus’ question (“who do the men count me to be?”, i.e. “who do people say that I am?”), the disciples answer to the effect that Jesus is said to be one of the famous Prophets come back (from the dead), specifically mentioning two—John the Baptist and Elijah. At the very least, this would indicate that some people at the time thought that Jesus might be Elijah.

7. Mark 15:35-36 par

Following Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross (Mk 15:34 / Matt 27:46), preserved in Hebrew/Aramaic transliteration (with Greek translation), some of the bystanders, upon hearing it, exclaim “see, he calls (to) Elijah!” While the narrative suggests that this is simply a mishearing or misunderstanding of Jesus’ words, the reference to Elijah may have additional significance as well, especially if it was believed by some that Jesus was the eschatological Prophet (i.e. Elijah returned). There might then be additional bite to the taunt in verse 36, as if to say, “this one who was supposed to be the Prophet (Elijah), let’s see if Elijah will save him!”

This study will be concluded in the next day’s note.

(For more on the relationship between John and Jesus, and the Messianic idea of an Anointed Prophet, cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplemental note on Mal 3:1ff, and the first division of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” [The Baptism].)

* * * * * * *

Many critical scholars hold that Jesus began as a disciple of John the Baptist. Even though this is not stated as such in the Gospels, it is often thought to be implicit in the way that the Baptism of Jesus is preserved as a part of Gospel tradition. Early orthodox believers, having inherited the (strong) historical tradition that Jesus had been baptized by John, had some difficulty in explaining how and why this should have been. It is possible that there is already an apologetic thread in the Gospel narratives themselves; consider for example: (1) the added dialogue in Matt 3:14-15, (2) the way Luke has removed reference to John’s presence and role in Lk 3:21-22, (3) the narrative in Jn 1:29-34 where the Baptist testifies regarding Jesus but does not specifically baptize him. Even today, some might take offense at the idea that Jesus could have been John’s disciple, yet it is really not any more problematic than the baptism itself—following the explanation in Matt 3:14-15, Jesus could have been a follower of John as part of his “fulfilling justice/righteousness”. At the very least, tradition preserves:

    1. That Jesus himself was baptized by John
    2. That some of Jesus’ first disciples had previously been followers of John (Jn 1:35-37f)
    3. That there was some rivalry between the followers of John and Jesus (Jn 3:22-30, and implied, perhaps, in other passages as well).

June 25: Mark 1:3, 6 par, etc

This is the second of a short series of daily notes commemorating the birth of John the Baptist (trad. June 24). In the previous day’s note, two passages from the Lukan Infancy Narrative (Lk 1:16-17 and Lk 1:76-77) were discussed, from the standpoint of John as Elijah (or a prophet like Elijah). This is an important, if somewhat overlooked, association. Christians and readers of the Gospels are generally familiar with it, but it has long ceased to hold much real significance for believers. This is not the case in the earliest years of the Church, as can be seen upon a close and careful examination of early Gospel tradition. Two points are clear enough:

  • Early Christian and Gospel tradition drew upon the idea of Elijah as an eschatological (end-time) “Prophet to Come” which was already current in the Judaism of the period.
  • There is evidence for the figure (or role) of Elijah associated with both John the Baptist and Jesus.

By way of comparison, I will first look at the evidence for John as Elijah (today’s note), and then the evidence for Jesus as Elijah (next day’s note). With regard to John the Baptist, I will discuss each relevant point (and passage) in turn.

1. The introductory (Gospel) citation of Malachi 3:1

Anyone familiar with the canonical Gospels knows that a citation from Isa 40:3 effectively begins the Synoptic narrative, as in Mark 1:3; Matt 3:3; Luke 3:4ff:

“A voice crying out in the desert,
‘Make ready [e(toima/sate] the way of the Lord,
make straight his trodden (path)s!”

However, Mark (Mk 1:2) prefaces his version with a citation from Malachi 3:1:

“See—I set forth my Messenger before your face [prosw/pou],
who will pack down (fully) [kataskeua/sei, i.e. “properly prepare/equip”] your way”

The author has added in an association otherwise known from Synoptic tradition (see below). The “Messenger” of Mal 3:1 may have originally been understood as an angel (i.e. heavenly messenger), but in Mal 4:5-6 [3:23-24 Hebrew] (possibly a later/secondary addition], the Messenger is specifically identified with Elijah.

2. The description of John the Baptist

 The description of John in Mark 1:6 par seems to echo that of Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 1:8). While it is possible that this simply reflects a typical image of a Prophet (Zech 13:4), early Christians and other Jews of the period would certainly have recognized the identification with Elijah. The wilderness association may also be relevant (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-18).

3. The Herod/Herodias episode

Commentators have noted the loose parallel between the persecution suffered by Elijah at the hands of Ahab/Jezebel with that suffered by John at the hands of Herod/Herodias, as narrated (in flashback form) in Mark 6:14-29 (par Matt 14:1-12). Luke mentions the arrest and execution of John, but has nothing corresponding to the flashback narrative, having presumably omitted it intentionally (though admittedly a vivid and dramatic account, it is something of a digression in the narrative of Mark/Matthew). Luke 9:7-9 also may be relevant here, for this passage records rumors (in reference to the miracles of Jesus) that John had returned (from the dead), specifically in connection with the (traditional) idea of Elijah’s return.

4. Matthew 11:14

This is the first of two passages in which Jesus himself refers to John as Elijah: “and if you are willing to receive (it), he himself is Elijah, the ‘(one) who is about to come'”. This verse specifically identifies John as both (a) Elijah and (b) the end-time “Prophet to Come”. This association will be discussed in more detail in the next day’s note. Matthew 11:2-19 is part of so-called “Q” (material common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark); the corresponding passage is Luke 7:18-35. In both versions, we also find Malachi 3:1 cited (Matt 11:10; Lk 7:27), as part of Jesus’ affirmation that John is a prophet, but even more than a prophet—i.e. presumably Elijah of end-time tradition. However, in Luke there is no saying specifically identifying John with Elijah (as in Matt 11:14). It is possible that verse 14 is a Matthean addition; but it is just as possible that Luke has omitted it (see below). In all likelihood this “Q”-section represents a cluster of sayings/teaching related to John the Baptist, which may not have been given all on the same occasion.

5. Mark 9:11-13 / Matthew 17:10-12

In the Synoptic tradition, following the Transfiguration scene (in which Elijah appeared), Mark and Matthew record a question by the disciples as to why scribes/scholars say that “it is necessary first for Elijah to come” (Mk 9:11). By this certainly is meant the tradition as recorded in Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6; Sirach 48:10, etc., whereby the prophet Elijah will come before (that is, ahead of) the great and terrible “day of the Lord” (i.e. the end-time Judgment). Jesus’ response may seem somewhat odd (from a later Christian perspective):

“Indeed (it is necessary for) Elijah to come first (and) set down (again) [i.e. restore] all things, and how it is written upon [i.e. about] the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be made out (as) nothing…” (Mk 9:12)

This first statement juxtaposes two elements: (a) the traditional end-time appearance of Elijah, and (b) the (impending) suffering of the Son of Man (Jesus himself). The first is a conventional eschatological motif; the second is thoroughly unconventional—there is little (if any) evidence, either in the Old Testament, or in Jewish literature prior to the New Testament, that the Messiah (or Son of Man) would suffer. Moreover, though there are passages where Jesus (like many Jews of the period and most early Christians) suggests an imminent end-time Judgment, the idea that he envisioned this coinciding with his suffering and death is especially difficult for orthodox believers to accept, since nothing of the sort took place (except perhaps in a spiritual/symbolic sense); but note the position of the Eschatological discourse of Mark 13 par, etc. As for the association of these themes in Mark 9:12, they are expounded somewhat in verse 13:

“…but I say to you that (indeed) Elijah has come, and they did to him as much as they wished, even as it is written upon [i.e. about] him.”

Is Jesus here speaking of John? Certainly one understands a possible reference to John’s imprisonment and execution, but the language here seems to relate more properly to Jesus’ own (impending) suffering. Though somewhat difficult to discern entirely, Jesus’ approach to the disciples’ question seems to be:

    • Beginning with the traditional eschatological understanding of the prophet Elijah’s role, and, while affirming it
      • Shifts the focus to the Scriptural/prophetic role of the Son of Man, especially the (unusual) idea that he is to suffer
      • Though unspoken here, the passage is centered between the first two predictions by Jesus of his own (impending) Passion (Mark 8:31; 9:31 par)
    • An implicit identification of John with Elijah, but in terms of his suffering and death

Much the same thing takes place in Acts 1:6ff, where disciples ask Jesus if now, following his resurrection, he will “restore the kingdom to Israel”—this is a question, like the one in Mark 9:10, which is framed according to a traditional eschatological understanding. And, as in Mark 9:11-12, Jesus again partially affirms, but essentially redirects their question toward a much deeper, less conventional meaning—the impending reality of the coming of the Spirit and the beginning of the apostolic (Christian) mission.

It is noteworthy that Luke has omitted (or does not include) the section corresponding to Mark 9:11-12. It is possible that he, too, wishes to downplay a direct identification of John with Elijah. In the angelic announcement of the Infancy narrative (Lk 1:16-17) it is stated that John will go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah”—this is somewhat different than saying that John himself is actually Elijah come again.

For further study, you may wish to consult the special note (on Mal 3:1ff) in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and also the notes on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

* * * * * * *

The centrality and importance of Isa 40:3 for both John the Baptist (Mark 1:3 par) and the Community of the Qumran texts [Dead Sea Scrolls] (cf. the Community Rule [1QS] 8:12-16) has led to the suggestion that John may have been associated at some time with the Qumran Community (usually identified as Essenes). It is a speculative, but not implausible, theory; and the following points have advanced in support of it:

  • John was born into the priestly line (according to Luke 1:5), but (apparently) never served officially as a priest. Many of the leading figures of the Qumran community were priests opposed to the current religious (Temple) establishment in Jerusalem. John’s parents were quite old when he was born, and likely would have died while he was still young; a child orphaned from priestly parents would have made a strong candidate for adoption by the Qumran community, as Josephus states was occasionally done by the Essenes (Jewish War II.120). Moreover, as a serious, religious-minded youth, John may well have been attracted to the Qumran community, even as Josephus was drawn to the Essenes as a young man (Life §10-11).
  • The Qumran community practiced ritual washings, which symbolized cleansing/purification from sin and entry/participation in the community (cf. 1QS 3:3ff; 5:13-14). As such, it provides a distinct parallel with early Christian baptism, which is related in turn to the earlier baptism practiced by John. There is also an interesting juxtaposition of cleansing by water and the Holy Spirit (and fire) in 1QS 4:20-21, as we see expressed by John in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16.
  • John’s ministry along the Jordan river included the desert regions around the Dead Sea not all that far from the site of Qumran. It is certainly possible that John may have had some contact with members of the Community.

For a more detailed summary, see the recent article “John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Scrolls”.

June 24: Luke 1:16-17, 76-77

June 24 is the traditional date commemorating the birth of John the Baptist—six months prior to the birth of Jesus, according to Luke 1:26. Just as the traditional date for the Jesus’ birth corresponds generally to the winter solstice, so John’s birth corresponds to the summer. This synchronicity symbolizes the relationship between John and Jesus in the Gospel and early Christian tradition. There are a number of ways this relationship might be studied, ranging from the historical to the theological-christological; I will be looking at it here, over several daily notes, according to one aspect, centered around the figure of Elijah.

With regard to John’s birth, apart from a generic (and proverbial) reference in Matt 11:11 / Lk 7:28, it is treated only in the Lukan Infancy narratives (Lk 1) and there in significant detail. In fact, within Lk 1-2, the births of Jesus and John are presented as parallel and overlapping (or intercut) narratives (sometimes referred to as a narrative “diptych”); the parallelism is clear and striking—each contains:

    • An angelic appearance (by Gabriel) announcing the child’s birth—with a prophecy/declaration of the child’s future—to one of the parents (Zechariah/Mary), patterned after similar Old Testament annunciations (Lk 1:8-23, 26-38)
    • A short narrative with an utterance by Elizabeth (Lk 1:24-25, 39-45)
    • A canticle by one of the parents (Mary/Zechariah), of a similar character and style drawing heavily upon Old Testament imagery (Lk 1:46-55, 67-79)
    • A narrative of the birth of the child, involving the reaction by people nearby (Lk 1:57-66; 2:1-20)
    • A notice of the naming and circumcision of the child (Lk 1:59-60; 2:21)
    • A statement regarding the child’s growth and development, patterned after the Samuel narrative in the OT (Lk 1:80; 2:40, 52)

This prominence is offset by the fact that, upon the start of Jesus’ ministry, John disappears more completely from Luke than in the other Gospels—Luke has eliminated the flashback narrative of John’s arrest and execution (Mk 6:14-29 and Matt par), and, more significantly, reduced the narrative of Jesus’ baptism (Lk 3:21-22), removing any specific mention of John’s role. Perhaps there is implicit here what is made explicit in Jn 3:30.

There are two passages in the Infancy narratives which are prophetic of John’s relationship to Jesus—one in the angel’s announcement to Zechariah (Lk 1:16-17) and one in the canticle of Zechariah (Lk 1:76-77)—both involve the motif of John as Elijah (or a prophet like Elijah).

Luke 1:16-17

The prediction or prophecy by the heavenly Messenger (Gabriel) begins in verse 14, extending through verse 17. There are actually two separate predictions: (1) in vv. 14-16 and (2) in v. 17. For the first prediction, the points mentioned are—

    • You (Zechariah) will have joy and leaping (for joy), v. 14a
    • Many will rejoice upon the child’s birth, v. 14b
    • The child will be great (me/ga$) in the eyes/sight of the Lord, v. 15a
      (note the similar statement regarding Jesus in Lk 1:32, “he will be great [me/ga$]”, and cf. Lk 7:28)
    • He will not [i.e. is not to] drink wine or beer/liquor, v. 15b—presumably as a ‘Nazirite’, like Samuel and Samson, two figures for whom there also were heavenly birth announcements (cf. Judg 13:4-5)
    • He will be filled with the holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, v. 15c—perhaps echoing similar phrasing of Samson as a ‘Nazirite’ from his mother’s womb (Judg 13:7; 16:17)
    • He will turn many of the sons of Israel back to [lit. e)pi/ upon] the Lord their God, v. 16

Verse 16 is a clear reference to John’s role as a prophet—one whose preaching and proclamation (often warning of impending judgment) sought to bring about repentance and a return to faithfulness among the people. In this regard, the prophet himself was often understood as having an eschatological role or status (cf. for example, Hos 3:5). This, in turn, points toward the association of John with the messenger of Malachi 3-4, which is specified clearly in verse 17:

“And he will go before in His [i.e. the Lord’s] eyes/sight in (the) spirit and power of Eliyyah [i.e. Elijah], to turn the hearts of (the) fathers (back) upon (their) offspring, and (the) unpersuaded [i.e. unbelieving/disobedient] in [i.e. unto] (the) thoughtfulness of (the) just/righteous (ones), to make ready for the Lord a people packed down fully [i.e. properly equipped, prepared].”

Note the specific phrases:

    • He will “go before” the Lord, as the Messenger in Mal 3:1 “looks over (and prepares) the way before” the Lord. The Greek expressions [pro] e)nw/pion (in Lk 1:17) and pro prosw/pou (Mal 3:1), though slightly different, have generally the same meaning (“before the face/sight of”). This may also be reflected in the earlier v. 15a.
    • “(the) spirit and power of Elijah”—the identification of the prophet/messenger with “Elijah”, as in Mal 4:5 [3:23 Hebrew].
    • “turn the hearts of (the) fathers (back) upon (their) offspring”—this same idea is expressed in Mal 4:6 [3:24 Hebr], though with slightly different language. Again this would seem to be reflected in the earlier v. 15 (use of the same verb e)pistre/fw “turn back upon”, i.e. “return”).
    • “make ready for the Lord a people ‘prepared’ [kataskeuasme/non]”—that this is taken from Mal 3:1 is confirmed by the citation in Lk 7:27, where we see the same verb kataskeu/azw (lit. “pack down [fully]”, but in conventional English something like “prepare/equip properly”). For the phrase “make ready (e(toima/zw) a people”, cf. 2 Sam 7:24 [LXX 2 Kingdoms 7:24]; Sir 49:12.

The author of the Gospel (trad. Luke) may also have been familiar with Sirach 48:10, which cites Mal 4:6 in an eschatological context. For more on the Messianic interpretation of Mal 3:1ff, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with a supplementary study on the subject.

Luke 1:76-77

These verses represent a strophe in the hymn or canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus, Lk 1:67-79). Verses 67-75 extol the faithfulness and power of God in dealing with his people—his mercy and mighty works—much as we see in the parallel canticle of Mary (the Magnificat, Lk 1:46-55). Verses 76-77, however, are addressed (prophetically) to John:

“But also you, (little) child—you will be called Foreteller [i.e. Prophet] of the Highest,
for you will pass/travel before in the eyes/sight of the Lord to make ready His ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to His people in [i.e. by] the release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins”

Again we see here a citation from Mal 3:1 (cf. also Isa 40:3), which was, in Gospel tradition, generally understood as applying to John the Baptist (as will be discussed in the next day’s note). It is worth noticing the Jesus/John parallelism in the titles used:

    • John: “he will be great in the eyes/sight of the Lord” (e&stai me/ga$ e)nw/pion [tou=] kuri/ou), Lk 1:15
      Jesus: “he will be great” (e&stai me/ga$), Lk 1:32
    • John: “(you) will be called prophet of the Highest” (profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|), Lk 1:76
      Jesus: “(he) will be called son of the Highest” (ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai), Lk 1:32

This raises the somewhat difficult question of the meaning of ku/rio$ (“Lord”) when passages such as Mal 3:1 are applied to John—is the “Lord” Yahweh or Jesus? Presumably, in Lk 1:15-17, 76 it is God the Father (Yahweh) that is meant, in keeping with the Old Testament usage, as well as the literary context. However, Luke, like nearly all early Christians, would also understand “Lord” immediately has a title for Jesus, and this is certainly implicit here as well (involving literary foreshadowing). That there was some interpretive confusion is indicated by the textual variants which cropped up occasionally in such passages. It is safest to assume that Luke primarily intends to depict John as a Prophet who goes before the Lord (YHWH), in fulfillment of Old Testament tradition; but secondarily these verses are prophetic of John as the forerunner of the Lord (Jesus). This secondary meaning is hinted at in the evocative, though somewhat ambiguous, language of the strophe which closes the Benedictus (vv. 78-79):

“…through the (inner) organs of (the) mercy of our God,
in which a rising [a)natolh] out of (the) height has looked upon us,
to shine (forth) upon the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death,
to straighten down our feet into (the) way of peace.”

Here the mercy of God, depicted in vv. 67-75, culminates in a “rising up” (probably best understood as a rising sun/light), drawing from key Old Testament passages such as Psalm 107:9-10; Isa 9:1; 42:6-7; 60:1; Mal 4:2 [3:20 Hebr]; cf. also Num 24:17 (and later passages such as in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Zebulun 8:2; Levi 4:4; 18:3; Judah 24:1).

Images with Jesus and John the Baptist together as infants represented a popular theme in Renaissance painting, etc, part of a rich corpus of devotional, Marian art (such as in the Madonna d’Alba by Raphael [on right, and also used in the header above]). The Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke proved to be a prime source of thematic material for Western/Catholic artists in the Medieval and Renaissance periods (much more so than for the Eastern/Orthodox traditions); these included, especially—the Annunciation to Mary, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the journey of the Holy Family, and the boy Jesus in the Temple, as well as scenes from extra-canonical tradition (Infancy Gospels and Marian legends).

John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Scrolls

With the discovery and eventual publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls (particularly those from Qumran), scholars and commentators were eager to note any possible parallels with the New Testament and early Christianity. A wealth of theories sprung up, some less plausible than others, including attempts to connect Jesus of Nazareth with the Scrolls in various ways. One theory which continues to have some measure of popularity (and acceptance) today among New Testament scholars involves a possible connection or association between John the Baptist and the Qumran Community. Before proceeding, it will be helpful to define and explain what is meant by the expression “Qumran Community”. In terms of the site of Khirbet Qumrân, and scrolls found in the vicinity, we can identify three groups, which may (or may not) be identical:

    • Those who copied, used, and/or hid away the scrolls in the Qumran caves, assuming that they represent a coherent group
    • Those who resided on the hilltop site of Khirbet Qumran
    • A community whose organization, and history, etc, is described in the scrolls themselves

With regard to the last point, most scholars believe that there was an actual group, or community, in existence during the period c. 150 B.C. – 70 A.D. (the time-frame of the scrolls), which sought to organize and conduct itself according to the ideals, principles, regulations, etc, outlined in a number of key texts—most notably the “Community Rule” (1QS and other copies), the related rule-texts 1QSa and 1QSb, and the “Damascus Document” (CD/QD). It is important to emphasize this, since there is virtually no definite external evidence for this group’s existence. However, their existence would seem to be confirmed by the evidence within the scrolls themselves; I would point to several pieces of evidence in particular:

    • The numerous copies of the “community rule” texts, produced over a significant length of time (to judge by the surviving versions/recensions)—this indicates a functioning, well-established community which required these authoritative texts and rule-books for repeated use. The same may be said for the corpus of the Qumran texts as a whole—the many Scripture copies, liturgical texts, and so forth, presumably served the needs of a specific (religious) community.
    • Many of the Qumran texts evince a decided sectarian viewpoint and orientation, which is almost impossible to explain without an existing group (or groups) to read/write/copy these texts. While the views within the scrolls are not always consistent in detail, there are enough features in common, within a variety of texts written/copied over a period of decades, to confirm the existence of a distinctive group or community of adherents.
    • The history of a definite community would seem to be preserved within a number of different texts, including liturgical works, hymns, commentaries on Scripture, and other writings. Most notable is the so-called “Damascus Document”, originally known from the copy discovered in Cairo (CD), but subsequently attested from a number of copies among the Qumran scrolls (QD). This text traces the history, self-identity, rules, etc, of a definite Community, though one which is probably not limited to the area around Qumran (and the scrolls). It is possible that the “Qumran Community”, as such, may represent an offshoot of a larger/earlier movement.

Most scholars would identity the Qumran Community with the Essenes, or as an offshoot of that movement. While this is far from certain (and, unfortunately, many treat it as an established fact), it remains the most likely hypothesis. As far as the site of Khirbet Qumran goes, the prevailing opinion is that the Qumran Community resided in that fortified structure, though not all scholars or archeologists agree. There is actually very little tangible evidence to support the connection, beyond the proximity of the scroll deposits to the site.

John the Baptist

What, then, may we say about the idea that John the Baptist may have been connected in some way with the Qumran Community? There is some plausible evidence which could support the theory that John spent time in contact with the Community. I offer here some points for consideration (for another useful summary, cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins [Eerdmans: 2000], pp. 18-21).

1. To begin with, it must be noted that, by all accounts, John’s ministry along the Jordan river included the desert regions around the Dead Sea not all that far from the site of Qumran. In terms of geographical proximity, it is certainly possible that John may have had some contact with members of the Community (assuming that they dwelt/resided at or near that site).

2. The centrality and importance of Isa 40:3 for both John the Baptist (Mark 1:3 par) and the Community of the Qumran texts (cf. the Community Rule [1QS] 8:12-16) has led to the suggestion that John may have been associated at some time with the Qumran Community. According to Jn 1:22-23, the identification of John with the herald of Isa 40:3, comes from his own lips; it is likely that the wider Gospel tradition to this is also derived from John’s own ministry, rather than a reflection of subsequent early Christian belief about John. The importance of Isa 40:3 would seem to be the basis for John residing in the desert, just as it clearly was for the Qumran Community:

“And when these have become a community in Israel… they are to be separated from the men of sin, to walk to the desert in order to open there His path, as it is written: ‘In the desert prepare the way of [YHWH], straighten in the steppe a roadway for our God’. This is the study of the Law which He commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age…” (1QS 8:12-15)

Admittedly, the reasons for going into the desert are somewhat different, but they share at least two important features in common: (1) an ascetic-religious emphasis on separation from sin (holiness and repentance, etc), and (2) a religious self-identity with a strong eschatological (and Messianic) orientation (for more on this, cf. point 5 below).

3. John’s family circumstances (as recorded in the Gospel of Luke) would fit the idea of his becoming involved with the Qumran community; note the following:

    • According to Luke 1:5ff, John was born into the priestly line, but (apparently) never served officially as a priest. Many of the leading figures of the Qumran community were priests opposed to the current religious (Temple) establishment in Jerusalem. One detects in the Gospel tradition, at the very least, a measure of tension between John and the religious establishment (Jn 1:19-27; Matt 3:7-10 par) as well.
    • John’s parents were quite old when he was born (Lk 1:7, 18, 25, 36f, 58), and likely would have died while he was still young; a child orphaned from priestly parents would have made a strong candidate for adoption by the Qumran community, as Josephus states was occasionally done by the Essenes (Jewish War II.120).
    • Moreover, as a serious, religious-minded youth, John may well have been attracted to the Qumran community, even as Josephus was drawn to the Essenes as a young man (Life §10-11).

4. The Qumran community practiced ritual washings, which symbolized cleansing/purification from sin and entry/participation in the community (cf. 1QS 3:3ff; 5:13-14). As such, it provides a distinct parallel with early Christian baptism, which is related in turn to the earlier baptism practiced by John. There is also an interesting juxtaposition of cleansing by water and the Holy Spirit (and fire) in 1QS 4:20-21, as we see expressed by John in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16.

5. As noted above, the religious self-identity, of both John and the Qumran Community, had a strong eschatological (and Messianic) orientation. In the case of John, this is absolutely clear, though Christians are not always accustomed to thinking about his ministry this way; note the following:

    • the use of Isa 40:3, in tandem with Mal 3:1ff (Mk 1:2-3 par; Matt 11:10 par; Jn 1:23), the latter being a passage which came to have a definite eschatological emphasis for Jews and early Christians (cf. my earlier study on this)
    • in particular, John was identified as the “Elijah” who would appear at the end-time (Mal 4:5-6; cf. Mk 1:5-6; 6:15; 9:11-13 pars; Matt 11:14; Lk 1:17, 76; but cp. John’s own denial of this in Jn 1:21)
    • John’s preaching involved a proclamation of the coming (end-time) Judgment of God (Matt 3:7-10, 12 par), with repentance as a precursor (and warning) to the Judgment (see esp. Lk 1:17, 76-77)
    • this aspect of John’s ministry was distinctive enough to make people question whether he might be the “Anointed One” (Messiah), esp. in the sense of being the end-time Prophet (or “Elijah”)—Lk 3:15ff; Jn 1:19-27
    • his references to “the one coming” (Mk 1:7 par; Lk 3:16 & 7:18ff par; Jn 1:27, cf. also vv. 15, 30) almost certainly relate to a Messianic interpretation of Mal 3:1ff, as I have discussed in detail elsewhere

With regard to the eschatological and Messianic belief of the Qumran Community, its is far too large a subject to address here; I discuss it in considerable detail all throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. However, I would note one interesting parallel, in terms of Messianic expression, between the writings associated with the Qumran Community and John’s preaching (according to the “Q” Gospel tradition). In the Damascus Document (CD 2:11-12) we read:

“And…he raised up…a remnant for the land…and he taught them by the hand of the Anointed One(s) with his holy Spirit and through…the truth”

If we combine this with the words of 1 QS 4:20-21:

“…the time appointed for the Judgment…Then God will refine, with his truth, all man’s deeds, and will purify…ripping out all spirit of injustice…and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every wicked deed…”

we are not all that far removed from the language and imagery used by John, e.g., in Mark 1:8 par.

Thus we see that the theory of a connection between John and the Qumran Community, while quite speculative, is not entirely implausible, given the points in common and details noted above.

Translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls here have been taken, with some modification and abridgment, from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Eerdmans/Brill: 1997-8).

May 12: John 1:26-27, 30, 33

The saying of John the Baptist regarding Jesus and the Holy Spirit is found five times in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, as discussed in the previous note—three times as part of the triple tradition (Mark 1:7-8 / Matt 3:11 / Luke 3:16) and twice as a saying of Jesus in Acts (Acts 1:5; 11:16). It is also preserved independently in the Gospel of John.

John 1:26-27, 30, 33

The Fourth Gospel’s account of Jesus’ Baptism is unique in that it is only narrated indirectly as part of John the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus (1:19-34ff). Interestingly, the saying corresponding to Mark 1:7-8 par is presented as two (separate) sayings by the Baptist, in verses 26-27 (also v. 30) and 33:

John 1:26-27John 1:33
“I dunk you with water; (but) in your midst has stood (one) whom you have not seen [i.e. known], the (one) coming behind me, of whom I am not worth (enough) to loosen the straps of the (shoe) bound under (his) feet.”“And I did not see [i.e. know/recognize] him, but the (one) sending me to dunk in water, that one said to me, ‘(the one) upon whom you should see the Spirit stepping down and remaining upon him—this is the (one) dunking in (the) holy Spirit’.”

This may indicate that separate sayings have been combined together in the Synoptic tradition. The first saying has different wording in John, but it shares with Mark (and Matthew) especially the phrase “the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] behind me [o)pi/sw mou]”. The use of o)pi/sw mou (“behind me”) has suggested to some commentators that the historical Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist prior to embarking on his own ministry. However, the context of the Gospel narratives as they now stand indicates no more than that Jesus appeared in public later than John, and with less prominence. The Synoptic version(s) of the saying emphasize the actual superiority of Jesus three ways:

    • The declaration that Jesus is stronger/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$] than John
    • John’s admission that he is not (worthy) enough [i(kano/$] to handle the shoes of Jesus
    • The contrast (me\nde/ construct in Matthew/Luke) between John baptizing in water, and Jesus baptizing in the holy Spirit

The Johannine version of the sayings include all three as well, though it is the first that is emphasized, with quite different language. Instead of the (comparative) adjective “stronger/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$]”, it is stated that neither John the Baptist nor the people in the crowds have seen (i.e. recognized) Jesus. This is important, for it indicates that only by way of divine revelation is Jesus’ identity (and his presence) realized (cf. Matt 16:16-17 for a comparable passage in the Synoptics). This revelation is narrated in verse 33, followed by the Baptist’s testimony “I have seen and have witnessed…” (v. 34). The saying in verses 26-27, in which John declares the superiority of Jesus, is repeated in modified form in verse 30 (also earlier in v. 15), again using different language:

“The (one) coming [e)rxo/meno$] behind me has come to be in front of me, (in) that [i.e. because] he was first (ahead) of me” (v. 15)
“A man comes [e&rxetai] behind me who has come to be in front of me, (in) that [i.e. because] he was first (ahead) of me” (v. 30)

Here the saying has been given a deeper theological (and Christological) interpretation. This involves a sequence of three key verbs:

    • “he comes [e&rxetai] behind me”
    • “he has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of me”
    • “he was [h@n] first (ahead) of me”

I have discussed this construction in some detail in an earlier note; here I will simply point out the essential significance of these verbal phrases in the context of the Johannine view of the person of Jesus:

e&rxetai (“comes”)—there are two aspects to note:

(1) The Gospel of John frequently refers to Jesus as one who has come (using the vb. e&rxomai) from God; specifically, in the Johannine prologue it is used for the divine Logos coming into the world (Jn 1:9), which primarily means the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. Within the Gospel context, his public life and ministry begins with his baptism by John.
(2) The wider Gospel tradition inherited the Messianic title of “the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$]”, drawn largely from Malachi 3:1ff (cf. also Psalm 118:26) and applied it to Jesus. This is at the center of the question of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus in early Gospel tradition, which I have discussed in an earlier article (see also on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). Its use in the Baptism scene identifies Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), i.e. God’s representative (Prophet/Messenger) whose appearance will precede and usher in the end-time Judgment. In the later scene of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where Psalm 118:26 is cited, the title signifies Jesus as an Anointed King and Ruler from the line of David.

ge/gonen (“has come to be”)—in the Johannine prologue (Jn 1:1-18) the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) is used exclusively in the sense of created beings coming into existence (esp. being born); as applied to the pre-existent person of Christ, the divine Logos, it refers to his incarnation (“the Logos came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh”, Jn 1:14).

h@n (“was”)—again, in the prologue, the verb of being ei)mi is used essentially in relation to the life and presence of God (esp. Jn 1:1-2); within the content of Johannine Christology, it is a keyword indicating the deity of Jesus.

The portion of the saying dealing with Jesus dunking (baptizing) in the Holy Spirit differs from the Synoptic in two ways:

    • There is no mention of fire (Matt/Luke “…in the holy Spirit and fire“); indeed John has virtually removed the eschatological context of God’s coming Judgment (Mark 1:2-4; Matt 3:7-10, 12 par) from the narrative.
    • It follows directly after the reference to the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus (to be discussed in the next daily note). This emphasizes the presence of the Spirit (“coming down and remaining upon him”) in relation to Jesus’ identity—as Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God (v. 34).

Interestingly, it is only in the Gospel of John that we actually read of Jesus doing anything like baptizing his followers in the Spirit; this is in Jn 20:19-23, the climactic scene of Jesus with his disciples after the resurrection:

“…even as the Father has set me forth from (Him), so I (am) send(ing) you. And saying this, he blew [i.e. breathed] in/on (them) and said to them: ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit…'” (vv. 21b-22)

This should be taken as indicating what the Gospel writer (and/or his tradition) understood by ‘dunking/baptizing in the Spirit’. However, there are several other passages in the Gospel where Jesus refers to the Spirit in the context of water, and which may involve the symbolism of baptism. In Jn 4:7-26 and 7:37-39 Jesus declares that he is the source of living/eternal water, which may be identified with the Spirit (4:23-24; 7:39); here the emphasis is on the believer drinking of the water/Spirit. More directly relevant, perhaps, is Jn 3:5-6, where Jesus brings together the idea of being born out of water and out of the Spirit. Many commentators have seen here a reference to baptism—the believer is baptized both by water (the baptism ritual) and the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8:12-17, 38-39 v.l.; 10:44-48; 11:15-17; 19:2-7). I am inclined to give somewhat more weight to the specific narrative context of the passage, i.e. as referring to a contrast between physical birth out of the mother’s womb (i.e. out of water) and spiritual birth (cf. Jn 1:12-13). Even so, the water/Spirit parallel is clear enough, and the person of Jesus—his teaching, work, and life-giving power—is specifically associated with the giving of God’s Spirit.