Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 14:25; 15:2)

We have seen how the king/kingdom theme in the Synoptic narrative (Mark 11-13 par), following the Triumphal Entry scene, was developed in a number of important ways. A conflict paradigm provides the narrative means by which an understanding of the kingship (and Messianic identity) of Jesus shifts: from the Davidic/royal Messiah to God’s own Divine/Heavenly Messenger—the Son of Man (from Daniel 7:13f) and the very Son of God. Instead of fulfilling the nationalistic expectations of the crowds for their Messiah, by fighting and subduing the nations (as in Psalm 118), Jesus finds himself in an internal conflict—as the king (Jesus) faces hostility and rebellious opposition from his own people.

In the Passion narrative that follows (Mark 14-15 par), the contrastive juxtaposition, of two different understandings of Jesus’ kingship, becomes even more pronounced. Two contrasting themes become prominent in the narrative:

    • The heavenly kingdom that Jesus will inherit (as king), following his death, and (by contrast):
    • The earthly kingdom, with its nationalistic political implications, connected with the title “king of the Jews”

These themes are expressed at two key points in the narrative, represented (in Mark) by 14:25 and 15:2ff.

Mark 14:25 par

In the Last Supper (Passover) scene, 14:12-25, the episode closes with the following statement by Jesus:

“Amen, I relate to you that I shall not again drink of the produce of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (v. 25)

The implication is that Jesus will not drink again with his disciples until after his death and resurrection. In spite of the concrete imagery of drinking (wine), there is every reason to think that the reference here is to a heavenly setting. The Matthean version (26:27) brings out this aspect a bit more clearly:

“…until that day when I shall drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.”

The kingdom which Jesus receives, as the Messiah, is in heaven, with God the Father. The Lukan Gospel presents this sense of the kingdom—and of the kingship of Jesus—even more prominently. This begins even prior to the Passion narrative, with the saying in 17:20-21 and the notice at the beginning of the parables of the Minas (19:11). The Lukan version of the Triumphal Entry scene has to be understood in the context of these references. The kingdom which Jesus will rule (as Messiah) will not be established on earth in a socio-political (and nationalist) manner, contrary to the expectation of the crowds who acclaimed Jesus (as king) upon his entry into the city.

In Luke’s Gospel, the coming of the kingdom of God is ultimately an eschatological event (21:31)—the kingdom will be established only after Jesus has been raised from the death and exalted (to God’s right hand) in heaven. This reflects the core Christology of the early believers, and it is expressed most precisely in Luke-Acts. The idea of Jesus departing to receive his kingdom/kingship is expressed in the parable of the Minas (19:12), just prior to the Triumphal Entry scene. It then defines Jesus’ kingship throughout the remainder of the narrative.

Let us first note the Lukan handling of the tradition in Mark 14:25 par (see above). To begin with, the basic idea expressed in the Synoptic saying (Lk 22:18) is included as well at the beginning of the Last Supper (Passover) episode (v. 15-16)—thus framing the entire episode under the same interpretive motif. Consider how this is formulated:

    • “For I relate to you, that I shall not eat it [i.e. the Passover] (again) until (the time) when it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (v. 16)
    • “For I relate to you, that, from now (on), I shall not drink from the produce of the vine, until (the time) when the kingdom of God should come.” (v. 18)

The Passover ritual finds its ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of God. Jesus will feast again with his disciples only when the Kingdom comes. This reflects a traditional eschatological theme of the heavenly banquet which the righteous will attend, as an eternal reward—dining (in a figurative sense) with God in His Kingdom, at the King’s table. This motif was introduced earlier in the Gospel (cf. 13:29; 14:15). On its background in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, cf. Isa 25:6-8; 55:1-2; 65:13-14; 1 Enoch 62:14; 2 Baruch 29:4; Pirqe Aboth 3:20; it is also utilized in the book of Revelation (3:20; 19:19). Cf. Fitzmyer, p. 1026.

The kingdom-banquet theme is further developed within the Last Supper scene, by the Lukan inclusion of the material in vv. 24-30 (cp. Mk 10:42-45 par; Matt 19:28). In verses 28-30, Jesus promises to his disciples—those who remain faithful to him through the time of distress—that they will receive a kingship of their own, ruling alongside Jesus himself, under his royal authority:

“I will set through to you, just as my Father set through to me, a kingdom, (so) that you might eat and drink upon my table, in my kingdom, and you will sit upon thrones, judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.” (vv. 29-30)

Jesus will receive a kingdom from God the Father, ruling as King alongside God Himself; similarly, Jesus will establish for his close disciples (the Twelve) ruling seats within his kingdom. Again, the Lukan narrative emphasizes that Jesus will receive this eternal/heavenly kingdom only after his death; this point is made at a climactic moment in the Passion narrative (23:42; on the textual issue in this verse, see my earlier discussion), and is reiterated toward the close of the Gospel, in the Resurrection narrative (24:26). This last reference shows clearly how the Gospel writer understood the true nature of Jesus’ Messianic kingship:

“Was it not necessary (for) the Anointed (One) to suffer these (thing)s, and (then) to come into his honor/splendor [do/ca]?”

Jesus receives his kingship, and his kingdom is established, only after his death and resurrection.

Mark 15:2ff

If the tradition in Mark 14:25 par represents one side of the kingdom theme in the Passion narrative, the other is represented by the Roman interrogation of Jesus in 15:2 par:

“And Pilatus inquired of him, ‘Are you the king of the Yehudeans?'”

The only response Jesus gives to this direct question is “You say (so) [su\ le/gei$]”. The Synoptic tradition is unified at this point, and there is essentially no difference in the parallel versions (Matt 27:11; Lk 23:3). Jesus gives no further answer to Pilate, contrary to the presentation in the Gospel of John (18:33-19:11). However, the Johannine version of this scene shares with the Synoptic the important thematic contrast, between an earthly (national/political) kingdom and the heavenly Kingdom of God. Jesus’ kingdom is heavenly, and thus, for this reason, he refuses to admit to being “king of the Jews” in the nationalistic sense that Pilate understood the title.

This contrast is developed as the narrative proceeds. We may point out the following details, which are generally common to the Gospel Tradition, and which show, most discordantly, how the earthly and heavenly models for kingship are incompatible:

    • The crowds reject Jesus as their king, and call for his death as ‘king of the Jews’ (vv. 8-15); this, of course, represents a reversal of the popular reaction in the Triumphal Entry scene.
    • The mocking treatment of Jesus by the soldiers (vv. 16-19), in which they dress him up and taunt him as ‘king of the Jews’.
    • The inscription placed above Jesus’ head (on the cross), effectively giving the charge for which he was being crucified—viz., that he was, or claimed to be, “king of the Jews”, a political rival to Roman authority (v. 26).
    • Jesus is further taunted by the religious leaders, while he is on the cross, as ‘king of the Jews’ (v. 32).

The conflict theme, developed throughout chapters 11-14, between the people and their king (Jesus), comes to a climax in the interrogation and crucifixion scenes (of chap. 15). The people, for the most part, were unable to understand and accept Jesus in the true sense of his kingship, but could only see him as king in an earthly (nationalistic-political) sense. Their understanding of his Messianic identity was thus quite limited and distorted; the same may be said for how they understood the nature of the Kingdom of God, and what they thought its coming entailed. Even after the resurrection, Jesus’ own disciples still held an imperfect (and limited) conception of the Kingdom, as their question in Acts 1:6 clearly indicates.

In upcoming studies within this series, we will explore further the Kingdom-theme within Luke-Acts, as we consider the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer within the context of the Lukan Gospel (and the book of Acts) as a whole. The same will be done for the petition in the context of the Matthean Gospel.

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

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


Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 12:13-44)

In the previous note, we examined how the king/kingdom theme from the Triumphal Entry scene is developed within the Synoptic narrative (using Mark 11-12f) as the primary point of reference. The entire sense of Jesus’ Messianic identity, as expressed by the crowds quotation of Psalm 118:26a, is reinterpreted, in a number of subtle but quite dramatic ways. We saw this development at work in the episodes of 11:11-12:12; now we will turn our attention to the next block of material, 12:13-44.

This portion of the Synoptic (Markan) narrative is comprised of four principal episodes, each of which involves a discussion between Jesus and some of the religious leaders (and experts on the Scriptures)—Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes—who were present in Jerusalem. In each instance, at issue is a question of interpretation. The narrative block concludes with a further episode that illustrates the essential conflict between Jesus (as God’s Messenger) and the religious leaders. We may outline this block as follows:

    • Question regarding paying the census-tax [kh=nso$] to Rome—12:13-17
    • Question regarding the resurrection [rel. to a point of Scriptural interpretation, Deut 25:5]—12:18-27
    • Question regarding which commandment (in the Torah/Scripture) is greatest—12:28-34
    • Question regarding Psalm 110:1 and the “Son of David” —12:35-37 (see below)
    • Warning against oppression by the religious leaders (with an illustrative example of its effects)—12:38-44

While all of these episodes develop the theme, established in 11:11-12:13, of the internal conflict between the king (Jesus) and his people, it is the first and last (fourth) which relate most directly to the idea of Jesus’ kingship. Kingship is, of course, implicit in the question regarding whether it is proper for Israelites/Jews to pay the poll-tax (kh=nso$) to their Roman overlords (v. 14). This question touches upon the very sort of nationalism expressed by the crowds in the Triumphal Entry scene.

The Gospel Tradition records that the question was intended as a trap for Jesus (v. 13). Does Jesus accept giving allegiance (through the tax payment) to the Roman king (i.e., the emperor, Caesar), or does he advocate a revolutionary refusal to pay the tax, with its implications of Israelite/Jewish independence and self-rule (involving their own king)? Without committing to one ‘side’ or the other, Jesus effectively redirects their question. Caesar may rule kingdoms on earth, but ultimately God is the Great King; and, while it may be important (and/or necessary) to give to Caesar what ‘belongs’ to him, it is far more important (and necessary) to give to God (as King) all that belongs to Him (v. 17). Jesus’ answer to his opponents actually serves as an implicit message regarding the Kingdom of God.

Mark 12:35-37  (par Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44)

The final question/answer episode of this section also relates to Jesus’ identity as the Messianic King, by focusing on the nature of the Davidic Messiah (“Son of David”), by way of an interpretation of a particular Scripture passage.  Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1.

The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark (12:35-37) and Luke (20:41-44), this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

    • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (v. 35)
    • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (v. 37)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)” —here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. Parts 6, 7 and 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Mk 12:36 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus (see the supplemental note in the aforementioned series).

It is significant that, even though the crowds who acclaimed him at his entry into Jerusalem may have considered him to be a Messianic king in the nationalistic political sense, what Jesus actually does, when he arrives in Jerusalem, is to teach—including providing an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. The authority of the Scriptures (here, the Psalms) is realized for believers, in the teaching of Jesus, through his interpretation. The meaning of the text itself can be debated (which is the very point of the scholarly discussion in this episode), and so an authoritative interpretation is required.

In the original context of the Psalm, the Lord (YHWH) speaks to “my Lord” (the Israelite king). Most scholars would hold that the setting (as in Psalm 2) involves the enthronement or inauguration of the (new) king, a time at which nobles and vassals might choose to rebel or to gain power and independence for themselves (Ps 2:1-3; 110:1). God gives to the king assurance of His protection and support, including victory over all enemies, i.e. the surrounding nations (Ps 2:4-11; 110:2-3, 5-7). Much like Psalm 2, this Psalm refers to the king in exalted, ‘divine’ language, very much in keeping with ancient (Near Eastern) ideas of kingship. I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Declaration (utterance/oracle) of YHWH— “Sit at my right-hand…” (verse 1)
      • Promise by YHWH of (divine) power/victory over the king’s enemies (verses 2-3)
    • Declaration (oath) of YHWH— “You are a priest…” (verse 4)
      • Promise of the king’s power/victory over the peoples, in terms of YHWH’s judgment against the nations (verses 5-6)
    • Concluding declaration of YHWH’s establishment of the king’s rule (verse 7)

It should be noted that much of the vocabulary and syntax of this Psalm remains obscure, with verses 4 and 7 being especially difficult to interpret. Apart from its use in the New Testament, there is little evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 at the time of Jesus.

In one text from Qumran (11QMelch [11Q13]), Melchizedek (Ps 110:4) appears as a Divine/Heavenly figure who functions as Judge against the wicked (Belial), but this scenario (col ii, lines 9-13) is derived from Psalm 82:1-2 rather than 110:1. His appearance (as Judge and Deliverer) is also connected with the Anointed One of Daniel 9:25 and the Messenger of Isa 52:7 who brings the good news of salvation (col ii, lines 15-25). A similar paradigm may underlie the “Elect/Righteous One” and “Son of Man” figure in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), which many scholars hold to be roughly contemporary with Jesus and the early New Testament writings.

In any case, Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as though a Messianic interpretation were understood, but he shifts the meaning of “Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) away from the royal Davidic figure-type and toward a different reference point—a Divine/Heavenly figure, closer, perhaps, to the “Son of Man” of 1 Enoch and Jesus’ own sayings (cf. Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 pars; Luke 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, and pars in Matthew; also John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:62). Certainly, it was understood this way in early Christian tradition, associated specifically with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God in Acts 2:34-36 (cf. also Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; 1 Pet 3:22, etc).

As we shall see, the kingship theme does, indeed, split apart as the Synoptic Tradition continues through the Passion narrative. Jesus is put to death on political grounds, as though he claimed to be the very sort of revolutionary “king of the Jews” the crowds had acclaimed. Yet, in the process of the narrative, Jesus makes no claims of being such a royal figure; instead, at the climactic moment (14:62), he identifies himself with the exalted/heavenly “Son of Man” figure from Daniel 7:13-14.

The Matthean Version

Matthew (chaps. 22-23), again, generally follows the Markan narrative, but expands it with two major additions, each of which enhances both the emphasis on Jesus’ kingship and the sense of conflict between the king and his people:

    • The Kingdom-parable in 22:1-11, following upon the Vineyard parable of 21:33-44; again, God is the great Lord/King, and Jesus the King’s son (and heir)
    • The Woes against the religious leaders, in 23:1-36, which expands upon the Synoptic/Markan conclusion (12:38-44; par Lk 20:45-21:4)

The Matthean narrative further concludes with Jesus’ lament for the coming fate of Jerusalem (vv. 37-39), punctuated by a quotation (of his own) from Psalm 118:26. This corresponds to Luke 19:41-44, immediately following the Triumphal Entry, and also, more closely, 13:34-35 (from an earlier point in the narrative). Matthew’s placement of the lament both emphasizes the use of Psalm 118:26, and also provides a more vivid and dramatic transition to the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 24f).

As for the Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13 par), it develops further the conflict and judgment themes from chapters 11-12 par, beginning with Jesus’ prophecy regarding the Temple’s destruction (vv. 1-2). It also furthers the shift, from Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah, to that of the heavenly Son of Man (v. 26f, from Dan 7:13-14, cf. the discussion above). Matthew’s version of the Discourse, however, keeps Jesus’ identity as this Son of Man rooted in a Kingship-framework, through the additional parables in chapter 25:

    • Vv. 1-13—The parable of the Virgins waiting for the Bridegroom, presented as a Kingdom-parable (v. 1)
    • Vv. 14-30—The parable of the Talents; cp. the Lukan parable of the Minas (19:11-27) with its strong Kingdom-emphasis
    • Vv. 31-46—The parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which actually features the exalted/heavenly Son of Man sitting on his throne (as king, v. 31); the end-time Judgment is clearly being illustrated.

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 11:11-12:13)

This note is supplemental to the recent discussion on the ‘Triumphal Entry’ scene in the Gospels, as it explores how the Synoptic narrative (and the underlying Gospel Tradition) develops the king/kingdom theme that is introduced with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. As I have previously discussed, in the first half of the Synoptic narrative (Jesus’ ministry in Galilee), he is portrayed as fulfilling the role of Messianic Prophet—whether the type patterned after Moses, Elijah, or the anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff. However, in the second half of the narrative (the period in Jerusalem), the focus shifts to his identity as the Messianic King (from the line of David). This shift is presaged by the reference in Mk 10:47-48 par to Jesus as the “Son of David”, and then comes to the fore in the Triumphal Entry scene (as discussed in the prior two-part note [1, 2]).

The crowd who came out to acclaim Jesus seems to have been fired by nationalistic Messianic expectations, which inform their use of Psalm 118:26a and the w(sanna/ (Aramaic hôša±-n¹°) exclamation [v. 25], and also their use of the branches (esp. the use of palm-branches in the Johannine version [12:13]). According to the background of Psalm 118, the “one coming in the name of YHWH” was the king, returning to Jerusalem following victory in battle. Even though the Psalm (and esp. verse 26) came to be applied to the ordinary devout Israelite or Jew, coming to Jerusalem for the great pilgrimage festivals, the royal background was certainly not lost on those using it to greet Jesus as king.

The narrative episodes that follow—in Mark 11-12f, using the Markan Gospel as a guide to the Synoptic narrative—represent an implicit response by Jesus to this popular understanding of his Messianic identity. The response begins, it would seem, with the Temple episode that immediately follows Jesus’ entry. The framework of the overall Gospel narrative (informed as it is by the underlying Tradition), suggests that Jesus’ appearance in the Temple represents the climactic moment, fulfilling the promise of Jesus as the “one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$, cf. the parallels to Mark 1:7f). A strong argument is made for interpreting this expression, in context, as containing an allusion to Malachi 3:1ff—and, thus, to Jesus as the Messenger of YHWH. For more on this point, see my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Through His Divine representative, God Himself will appear, bringing the (end-time) Judgment upon humankind. There are certain indications that, in early Christian belief, and within the developed Gospel tradition, Jesus’ identification as “the one coming in the name of the Lord” means more than that of the traditional Anointed King or Prophet. This is perhaps best seen by comparing Luke 13:34-35 (citing Psalm 118:26) with Luke 19:41-44 (a similar lament for Jerusalem, following his entry into the city, vv. 36-40). Here the appearance of God Himself to His people is identified as taking place in the person of Jesus (v. 44).

The Temple-action by Jesus has been explained as a “cleansing” of the Temple, and this is accurate enough, to a point. Certainly, the idea of purification is present in the Malachi 3:1ff oracle (vv. 2-4), and so it would be fitting that the one “coming in the name of YHWH” would purify the Temple. But Jesus also, by his action, indicates that he is establishing a new role and orientation for the Temple—as a place for prayer (Mark 11:17 par), rather than sacrificial offerings. Another nuance of meaning, particularly with regard to the violence of Jesus’ action, is that it foreshadows the Temple’s destruction, as part of the end-time period of distress that attends the coming Judgment (Mark 13:1-2ff par).

All three of these aspects are significant for the Synoptic narrative in Mark 11-12 par, for they demonstrate a very different sense of Jesus’ Messiahship than would have been expected by the people who greeted him upon his entry to the city. Let us outline these three aspects, to see how they relate to the narrative:

    • Reinterpretation of “the one coming in the name of the Lord” in reference to Mal 3:1ff, and Jesus’ identity as the Divine Messenger who represents YHWH, and whose appearance ushers in the Judgment.
    • The Temple, transformed by Jesus’ presence, now becomes a place devoted primarily to prayer—and, by extension, preaching and teaching—rather than cultic ritual and sacrifice.
    • The foreshadowing of the Temple’s destruction, as part of the coming Judgment, is connected with the people’s opposition to Jesus. This sense of internal conflict underlies the entire Jerusalem-division of the narrative. The crowd that initially praised him (as king) eventually would shout for his death.

While these three thematic emphases are woven throughout the narrative, it is also possible to align them with three different sections of material:

    1. The Temple action and the sense of conflict that came about in its aftermath—Mark 11:11-12:12 par
    2. Jesus’ teaching (in the Temple precincts)—Mark 12:13-44 par
    3. The prophecy of the Temple’s destruction, which frames the Eschatological Discourse—Mark 13 par

The first section may be further divided as follows:

    • Introduction: Jesus’ arrival at the Temple (11:11)
    • The cursing of the Fig-tree (11:12-14)
    • The ‘cleansing’ of the Temple (11:15-19)
    • The lesson of the Fig-tree (11:20-25)
    • Question regarding Jesus’ authority (11:27-33)
    • The Vineyard-parable—conflict between the master and tenant-workers (12:1-11)
    • Conclusion (12:12)

Matthew (21:12-46) largely follows the Markan narrative, though an additional vineyard-parable is included (vv. 28-32), and there are also several details which serve to keep more clearly in view Jesus’ identity as Messianic king—vv. 15-16 (“Son of David”), and references to the “kingdom of God” (vv. 31, 43), which includes a heightening of the narrative framework for the Vineyard-tenants parable (vv. 32, 43). Luke’s version (19:45-20:18) of this Synoptic material is simpler and shorter, omitting the entire fig-tree episode, and with a much abbreviated Temple-cleansing scene, and a shorter Vineyard-tenants parable as well. The most notable addition is the expansion (19:47-48) of the summary notice in Mk 11:18, which emphasizes Jesus’ activity of teaching in the Temple precincts.

The Fig-tree episode, in the Markan narrative, frames the Temple-cleansing scene. In this regard, it captures two of the key themes outlined above: (1) the Temple-action as symbolic of the coming Judgment (i.e., the cursing/withering of the tree), and (2) the new role of the Temple as a place for prayer (i.e., the teaching on prayer in 11:24-25). The question of Jesus’ authority to perform such actions then comes to the fore, in vv. 27-33, with the implicit message that his authority comes from God in heaven.

If the motif of authority (e)cousi/a) relates to Jesus’ identity as king, then it is just as much present, however implicitly, in the Vineyard-parable that follows (12:1-11). This parable climaxes with a quotation from the same Psalm (118) which the crowd cited at his entry into the city. The master/owner of the vineyard is symbolic, in the parable, of God as Sovereign. The servants whom he sends to the tenants can be said to symbolize the different prophets whom God has sent to the people. The son is sent as a similar messenger, but as one who, as the owner’s son, is a more direct and close representative of the owner himself. The son, of course, symbolizes Jesus, as God’s last (and greatest) Messenger (see the discussion on Mal 3:1ff, above), a Divine representative of God Himself, who also happens to be God’s own Son.

Both the Matthean and Lukan versions of this parable suggest, somewhat more clearly than the Markan, an illustration of Jesus’ kingship. Matthew brings this out by the way the parable is framed (21:32, 43), including a specific reference to the “kingdom of God”. In the case of the Lukan narrative, the parable reinforces the earlier the parable of the Minas (19:11-27), which immediately precedes the Triumphal Entry scene, and which has (in its Lukan form) a strong kingdom-emphasis. Both of these parables indicate opposition and hostility by the people toward their king (Jesus).

As noted above, the context of Psalm 118 originally involved the return of the king to Jerusalem, following victory in battle over his (and Israel’s) enemies. These enemies, however, belonged to the surrounding nations (vv. 10ff), and the ‘cornerstone’ illustration of verse 22f must be understood in this context. Israel (and its king) was rejected by the rulers of the surrounding nations, and yet, through YHWH’s strength and protection, the kingdom was exalted and brought to a position of power and dominance (over the nations). Whether this thematic emphasis reflects an actual historical event, or an idealized situation, it does not change the theological outlook of the Psalmist.

The Gospel context for the application of this verse is quite different. The king (Jesus) does not combat the nations, even though this would have represented the sort of nationalistic Messianic expectation which many the crowd (shouting verse 26a) were doubtless hoping to see fulfilled. Instead, the opposition to the king comes from his own people. It is his own people who reject him, refusing to recognize him as their king. This, obviously, is a key theme that is developed throughout the remainder of the Gospel narrative.

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou


Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mk 11:9-10, cont.)

This note continues the previous discussion on the ‘Triumphal Entry’ scene in the Gospels. We saw how the Tradition here has certain fixed elements, around which the Gospel writers enhanced the material, bringing out certain distinctive features or points of emphasis. The quotation from Psalm 118:26 (first line), in the crowd’s acclamation at Jesus’ entry, is a fixed tradition, found in all four Gospels. The w(sanna/ exclamation (Aram. an` uv^oh [hôša±-n¹°], Heb. an` hu*yv!oh), stemming from v. 25 of the same Psalm, is another relatively fixed element.

Psalm 118 was part of the Hallel collection (113-118) of hymns which were sung on the occasion of the great pilgrimage Festivals (such as Passover and Sukkot). In particular, verse 26, with its festal setting (cf. the procession indicated in vv. 19-23ff, and the celebratory ornamentation in v. 27), was used as a greeting for pilgrims arriving for the festival. However, the Psalm itself evinces a strong royal background and setting, involving the arrival of the king to the city, returning, it would seem, from battle (in which he was victorious)—as indicated by the context of vv. 14-21; cf. also the militaristic language and imagery in vv. 6-13. See my earlier article on verse 26 (in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”).

It may well be that this royal background, with its nationalistic implications (i.e., the Israelite/Judean kingdom’s victory over its enemies, and the surrounding nations [vv. 10-11]), was not at all lost on the crowd who greeted Jesus so enthusiastically. Indeed, there are other historical details within this tradition which suggest a highly-charged political atmosphere. The branches (stoiba/$ plur. [kla/doi in Matt 21:8], brought by the people, are evocative of the festival of Sukkot, as well as a natural echo of Ps 118:27. However, they also suggest the nationalistic fervor of the crowds, fueled, it would seem, by the thought that their Messianic expectations might be on the verge of being fulfilled.

Particularly in the Johannine version, where the crowd actively goes out to meet Jesus (12:13), carrying/waving palm branches (bai+/a, from the foi=nic [palm] tree), this aspect of the scene is almost certainly being emphasized. As Brown (p. 461) notes, this use of palm-fronds is reminiscent of symbolic gestures associated with the Maccabean revolt (cf. 1 Macc 13:51; 2 Macc 10:7). The palm tree (and branches) also appear on coins from the Bar-Kochba revolt (132-135 A.D.), and palm-fronds are mentioned as a symbol of (royal) power over the (unified) nation of Israel in Testament of Naphtali 5:4. Brown also mentions the political implications of the specific use of the expression ei)$ u(pa/nthsin, in the context of the “joyful reception of Hellenistic sovereigns into a city” (p. 462, citing an example from Josephus War 7.100). With this in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that Luke omitted any mention of the branches, in accordance with his apparent tendency to downplay the political implications of Jesus’ identity as the (Davidic) Messiah; cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 1243ff on this point. This Lukan understanding of the coming of the Kingdom (as expressed in 17:20-21; 19:11ff, etc) will be discussed as we proceed further in our study.

How did Jesus himself, at the historical level of the scene, regard his Messianic identity, particularly in relation to the popular expectation (of the crowds)? If we take the preparatory episode (in the Synoptic account, Mark 11:1-6 par) at face value, then Jesus may have purposefully sought to draw attention to the prophecy in Zech 9:9ff. While only verse 9 of this prophecy is cited (in Matthew [21:4-5] and John [12:15]), the entire section of the poem (9:9-13), taken as a whole (and particularly in the full context of chapters 9-14), has a strong national-political—and militaristic—emphasis.

The Johannine treatment of this part of the Gospel tradition is distinctive. In John’s account, Jesus apparently obtains the donkey in response to the nationalistically-charged crowd’s approach. While this could be seen as an affirmation, by Jesus, of their Messianic expectations, the Gospel writer’s handling of the Scripture prophecy seems to redirect the interpretation. The first line of the quotation apparently blends together Zech 9:9 with Zeph 3:14/16; in so doing, the prophecy counterbalances the nationalistic emphasis of Zech 9:9-13 with the more universal outlook of Zeph 3:14-20—emphasizing the end-time restoration of Israel, the gathering in of all God’s people (especially the weak and outcast). Cf. the discussion by Brown, p. 462f; he notes how this orientation of Jesus’ Kingship aligns with the Johannine theology, as expressed, for example, in 11:52.

The comment of the Pharisees on the scene, in 12:19 (“See, the [whole] world goes forth after him!”), carries a theological irony similar to that of Caiaphas’ prophecy, echoing the Johannine language of, e.g., 12:32— “…I will draw all (people) toward me”. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, any thought of Jesus’ Kingship is subordinated to his mission, which he, as the Son sent to earth by the Father, is obligated to complete. The completion of this mission occurs with the death (19:30), and the ‘lifting up’, of Jesus; his exaltation (as King) begins with his death.

All of the Gospel writers, in shaping their narratives, engaged in some measure of re-interpretation of Messianic expectations, as applied to the person of Jesus, and as fulfilled by him. Some of this interpretation is intrinsic to the historical tradition itself—see, for example, how Jesus deals with certain Messianic expectations, in relation to Psalm 110:1 (i.e., the Messiah as the “son of David”), in Mark 12:35-37 par. This is just one of several passages, in the Jerusalem Period section of the Synoptic narrative, dealing with the theme of kingship, the kingdom of God, and of Jesus’ identity as the (Davidic) Messiah. In commemoration of Holy Week, I will be examining these passages, as a way of supplementing our study on the coming of the Kingdom of God—viz., the petition from the Lord’s Prayer that is the focus of this series:

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 28A (1985).
Those marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John (I-XII), Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 11:9-10)

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

In considering this petition from the Lord’s Prayer, and the idea of the coming of God’s Kingdom, an important piece of the Gospel Tradition is the episode of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem. This narrative episode has been preserved in at least two main lines of tradition—the Synoptic (Mark 11:1-10; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-40) and the Johannine (12:12-19). In this regard, the episode has the distinction of being one of the very few that is found in all four of the New Testament Gospels. The main outline of the episode is relatively fixed and consistent; even so, there are many differences and variations in detail, even between the three Synoptic accounts.

We see this perhaps most clearly in the crowd’s acclamation at Jesus’ entry (in)to the city. In all four versions (Mk 11:9-10; Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38; Jn 12:13), the crowd quotes the first line of Psalm 118:26, which reads, in the Hebrew and Greek (LXX), respectively:

hwhy <v@B= aB*h^ EWrB*
“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of YHWH!”
eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou

The Gospel Tradition follows the wording of the LXX. Also in common, between the Synoptic (Mark-Matthew) and Johannine tradition, is a transliteration of the Aramaic acclamation an` uv^oh (hôša±-n¹°, in Greek, w(sanna/); only Luke omits this word. The Aramaic, corresponding to the Hebrew an` hu*yv!oh, which occurs in verse 25 of the Psalm, means something like “save (us), please!”. The imperative hu*yv!oh itself occurs, notably, in 2 Samuel 14:4, as an address to the king, and, similarly, in Psalm 20:10, to YHWH as the King. Though it originally would have functioned as a prayer (or an entreaty) to God (or to the human king), it seems that an` hu*yv!oh eventually came to serve equally as an exclamation of praise. A modern parallel, in the British exclamation “God save the king/queen!”, has been noted (Fitzmyer, p. 1251).

In the Synoptic version, the w(sanna/ is repeated after the quotation from Psalm 118:26, in a more dramatic and intensive form: w(sanna\ e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$ (“Hôša±-n¹° in the highest [place]s!”). This amplification indicates that the term hôša±-n¹° was, in fact, intended here primarily as an expression of praise. Luke’s version has adapted this phrase, in a way that likely is meant as an intentional parallel to the Angelic announcement in the earlier Infancy narrative (2:14):

“In heaven peace, and honor in (the) highest (place)s!”
“Honor in (the) highest (place)s to God, and on earth peace…!”

The expression e)n [toi=$] u(yi/stoi$ (“in the highest [place]s”) makes clear that Luke is dependent upon the Synoptic tradition, even though he (again) omits the w(sanna/.

Even more interesting than this relatively fixed tradition, is the way that the different versions all variously add details which specifically identify Jesus’ arrival with that of a king or a kingdom. The details differ, but the underlying idea is the same: Jesus is the Messianic King, coming to the holy city, with the implication that he will be ushering in the end-time Kingdom for Israel. The Gospel writers, in this regard, may simply be using creative license to make explicit what was implicit in the crowd’s acclamation.

The variation between the Gospels suggests that there was no fixed or firm tradition on this point. The writers filled the gap in various ways.

Luke (19:38), for example, simply expands the quotation from Psalm 118:26:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming, the king [o( basileu/$], in (the) name of (the) Lord!”

The Johannine Gospel (12:13), independently, does much the same thing:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord, [even] the king of Israel!”

The idea that Jesus was to be identified as a king, coming to Jerusalem at the end time, is preserved in the Tradition in another way: through the specific allusion to Zechariah 9:9ffan association which the Matthean and Johannine narratives, (again) independently, make explicit through a Scripture citation (Matt 21:4-5; Jn 12:15). How this prophetic connection is to be interpreted, among the Gospels is most intriguing, as is the question of what Jesus himself intended (at the historical level). This will be discussed in a follow-up note.

John and Luke each, in different ways, tend to downplay the Messianic implications of the episode—that is, in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah. The Johannine narrative, at this point, makes little mention of this aspect of Jesus’ Messianic identity. In the Lukan account, the identification is present only implicitly, through the aforementioned connection with the Infancy narrative (2:14), which contains numerous references and allusions to Jesus as the Davidic Messiah (1:32-33, 43, 69; 2:1ff, 4, 8ff, 11ff).

Mark and Matthew, by contrast, make the Davidic association quite explicit. The Matthean version (21:9) does this simply by expanding the initial w(sanna/ exclamation:

Hôša±-n¹° to the son of David!”

This formulation provides further evidence that Hôša±-n¹° here functions principally as an exclamation of praise: i.e., “Praise (be) to the son of David!” or, perhaps, drawing again upon on the modern British parallel (see above), “(God) save [i.e. bless] the son of David!”. The fullest expression of Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah, however, comes in the Markan version (11:9-10), where the quotation from Psalm 118:26 is expounded (or glossed) with a parallel line:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord!
Blessed (be) the coming kingdom of our father David!”

Only in Mark’s version is there a clear expression of the expectation that, with the coming of Jesus (as King) to Jerusalem, the Messianic Kingdom will be established.

This Gospel Tradition, for all its familiarity, is rife with historical and literary-interpretive questions.  A central issue involves the two very different (and distinct) Messianic types that Jesus was seen as fulfilling. In the previous note (on Luke 11:20 par), we saw how it was in Jesus’ activity as a Messianic prophet—with his teaching/preaching and healing miracles—that the Kingdom of God was being established on earth. Actually, the Synoptic narrative rather clearly is divided into two halves, each of which corresponds to a different understanding of Jesus’ Messianic identity:

    • First Half—Period of Ministry in Galilee:
      Jesus is portrayed and recognized as a Messianic Prophet, according to the figure-types of Moses and Elijah (as well the anointed Herald of Isaiah 61:1ff, cf. also 42:1ff). This is vividly depicted in the climactic Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:2-8 par), which thus also informs Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (8:29 par).
    • Second Half—In Jerusalem
      Here, Jesus’ identity as the Davidic/Royal Messiah comes to the fore, supplanting his role as Messianic Prophet. It is introduced in Mk 10:47-48 par, on the approach to Jerusalem, through the use of the title “Son of David”, and then is presented, more dramatically, in the Triumphal Entry scene. Once established, it dominates the remainder of the Synoptic narrative, concluding with Jesus’ execution as “King of the Jews”.

The miracles performed by Jesus seem more suited to the figure of a Messianic Prophet, and yet, there is some indication that they may have led certain people to regard him as the Davidic Messiah. The notice at the end of the Johannine account of the miraculous Feeding episode (6:1-15) indicates how popular fervor, in the wake of Jesus’ miracles, could have led some to go beyond seeing him as a prophet (v. 14) to, instead, as a potential king (v. 15).

Even in Mark 10:47-48, where the title “Son of David”, implying Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah, is introduced, it is in the context of a healing miracle. Matthew’s Gospel utilizes this title more extensively, applying it to Jesus throughout the narrative, even during the Galilean ministry period (e.g., 9:27; 12:23; 15:22). Particularly in 12:23, which is part of the same Beelzebul episode discussed in the previous note (v. 28 being parallel to Lk 11:20), Jesus’ miracles, which are a sign that the Kingdom of God has come, lead some people to wonder whether he might be the Davidic Messiah (“Son of David”).

Jesus’ own apparent ambivalence toward identifying himself as the Davidic Messiah adds a further complexity to the Gospel Tradition. It also is most relevant for an understanding of how he saw the Kingdom of God coming. Was it in accordance with popular expectations, or in opposition to them? This will be discussed, in connection with the Triumphal Entry scene, in a follow-up note.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 1

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology

Our final area of study in this series is the relation of John 1:14 to the wider view of Christ, held by early believers, and as expressed in the New Testament. To what extent does the Johannine Christology of the Prologue (and its underlying Logos-poem) reflect the beliefs and thought of first-century Christians? In what ways does this Christology represent a natural development of the early Gospel traditions, or should it be characterized more as a distinctly Johannine creative expression?

Due to the scope of the study, which involves much of the New Testament, I will not be going into the kind of exegetical detail that I did in the first two divisions. Rather, the study will proceed as a survey, looking at the more salient points and citing certain references and phrasing when appropriate. This study will build upon the results from the prior articles, framed in terms of the Johannine Christology found in the Prologue (and particularly verse 14). It is to be divided into three parts, focusing on:

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts)
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ

Here, in Part 1, we begin with the first of these topics.

The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels

John 1:14 speaks of the incarnation (“became flesh”) of the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, even though, throughout the remainder of the Gospel (and in the Letters), the principal identification is of Jesus as the Son of God. The word lo/go$ has considerable theological importance in the Johannine writings, but, outside of the Gospel Prologue, the profound Christological use of the term is, at best, only indirectly alluded to or implied. By contrast, the Gospel repeatedly refers to Jesus as the Son (ui(o/$) who was sent (by God the Father) from heaven to earth. This theology implies the idea of the Son’s pre-existence; Jesus’ words in 8:58 and 17:5, 24 state the Christological point even more directly.

In the Prologue, the Gospel writer appears to have taken an existing ‘Logos-poem’, developing and applying it to the context of the Gospel he was composing (or had composed). The Logos-poem itself draws upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition, involving the personification of Divine Wisdom (cf. Prov 8:22-31), but expressed through the philosophical/theological use of the term lo/go$, rather than utilizing the term sofi/a (“wisdom”) itself. This usage of the word lo/go$ in the Johannine Logos-poem has much in common with the way the term is used, for example, in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, as we have discussed.

In verses 14-18 of the Prologue, the Gospel writer makes the transition from the term lo/go$ (i.e., the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God) to the term ui(o/$ (i.e., the Son of God). This transition is enabled through the use of the adjective monogenh/$ (“only [Son]”) in v. 14 (cf. also v. 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9). The idea of Jesus as the incarnate Logos is absent from the Synoptic Gospels; nor does the term monogenh/$ occur (in this theological/Christological sense). However, the idea that Jesus is the unique Son of God is found at various points in the wider Gospel Tradition, going back to the early historical tradition and the earliest expressions of Christian belief.

In this article, we will examine the outlines of this belief in the Divine Sonship of Jesus, considering how it may relate to the Johannine Christology (of the Prologue, etc). I wish to focus on three areas:

    • The early exaltation Christology—viz., the Sonship of Jesus defined by his resurrection and exaltation (to God’s right hand in heaven)
    • The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism
    • The birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives
1. The early exaltation Christology

By all accounts, the earliest Christology can be characterized as an exaltation Christology—that is, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was defined primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. This exaltation resulted in his obtaining a status and position at the “right hand” of God in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The early Gospel proclamation (kerygma), as we find it preserved in the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts (and elsewhere in the New Testament), tends to define the Sonship of Jesus primarily in terms of this exaltation—see, for example, the declaration in Acts 2:36, the citations of Ps 110:1 and 2:7 (in the specific context of the resurrection) in Acts 2:34-35 and 13:33 (cp. Heb 1:5; 5:5), and Paul’s statements in 1 Thes 1:10 and Rom 1:3-4 (the latter perhaps quoting from an early credal statement).

Within the Gospel Tradition itself, the identification of Jesus as the exalted Son tends to be framed by way of the title “(the) Son of Man” (cf. Mk 13:26, 32; 14:61-62 par; Matt 16:27-28; 19:28; 24:36ff pars; 25:1). This Gospel usage of the expression “(the) Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), which unquestionably derives from authentic historical tradition (and Jesus’ own usage), is a complex matter. Four aspects of its use must be recognized:

    • As a self-reference, a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”, so that, when Jesus speaks of “the son of man”, he is simply referring to himself
    • The Son of Man sayings, where Jesus uses the expression to identify with the suffering and mortality of the human condition
    • The Passion statements and predictions, where the human mortality of Jesus (the Son of Man) refers specifically to his own impending death (and resurrection)
    • The eschatological Son of Man sayings, in which Jesus seems to identify himself with a heavenly figure who will appear on earth and usher in the end-time Judgment

All four of these aspects are combined in the famous declaration by Jesus in Mk 14:62 par, which is clearly influenced by Daniel 7:13-14, and thus refers indirectly to the idea of Jesus’ exaltation. For more on the Gospel use of the title “Son of Man”, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with my series on the Son of Man sayings; see also my note on Dan 7:13-14.

The Gospel of John preserves this exaltation Christology, but adds to it a highly developed pre-existence Christology. The two aspects of Jesus’ Sonship are thus balanced, much as we see, for example, in the ‘Christ hymn’ of Phil 2:6-11. In the Johannine theological idiom, the exalted status which Jesus receives (following his death and resurrection) is understood as a return—that is, to the glory which he, the Son, possessed in the beginning (17:5). The “Son of Man” references in the Gospel of John are instructive in this regard (1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31). They refer not only to the exaltation (“lifting high”) of the Son of Man, but to his coming down to earth (from heaven)—i.e., during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The pairing of the related verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”) highlight this dual-aspect. In the Johannine Gospel, the emphasis is squarely on the Son’s heavenly origin.

The Son’s heavenly origin is clearly the focus in the Gospel Prologue as well. The emphasis on his pre-existent glory (do/ca) balances the traditional idea of Jesus’ post-resurrection exaltation, as does the specific image of the Logos/Son possessing this glory “alongside” (para/) the Father. One is immediately reminded of the traditional idiom of the exalted Jesus standing “at the right hand” (i.e., alongside) God in heaven (cf. above).

2. The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism

The Gospel Tradition also expresses the idea of Jesus’ Divine Sonship through the specific tradition(s) surrounding his baptism. In particular, the heavenly voice at the baptism declares, quite unequivocally, that Jesus is God’s Son (Mk 1:11; par Matt 3:17; Lk 3:22), a declaration that is essentially repeated in the Synoptic Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:7 par Matt 17:5 [where the declarations are identical]; Lk 9:35).

In my view, this idea of Jesus’ Sonship should be understood in a Messianic sense. This seems particularly clear by the Lukan version of the declaration in the Transfiguration scene:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e., chosen]…”

The use of the participle e)klelegme/no$ (from the verb e)kle/gomai) unquestionably has Messianic significance, referring to Jesus as the “Chosen (One)”. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) has this in mind, given the occurrence of the related adjective e)klekto/$ in 23:35: “…the Anointed [xristo/$] of God, the Chosen (One)”. Interestingly, in some manuscripts, the Johannine version of the heavenly declaration at the baptism (Jn 1:34) also uses the substantive adjective e)klekto/$ rather than the noun ui(o/$ (“Son”):

    • “This is the Son [ui(o/$] of God”
      [Majority Text]
    • “This is the Chosen (One) [e)klekto/$] of God”
      [the reading of Ë5vid a* and other versional witnesses]
    • “This is the Chosen Son of God”
      [a conflation of the two readings attested in a number of versional witnesses]

The original Gospel tradition almost certainly alludes to Isaiah 42:1, Jesus’ baptism (marking the beginning of his time of ministry) being seen as a fulfillment of this prophetic passage—the heavenly declaration corresponding to v. 1a, and the descent of the Spirit to v. 1b. For more on this connection, cf. my earlier study in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. Jesus is thus identified with the Deutero-Isaian Servant figure, and as a Messianic Prophet, chosen by God and anointed by His Spirit. Again, it is Luke’s Gospel that brings out this Messianic identification most clearly, identifying Jesus, in particular, with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff (4:18-19, cf. also 7:22 par). Cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

By the time the Gospels were completed, Jesus’ Messianic identity as the royal/Davidic figure type (cf. Parts 68 of “Yeshua the Anointed”) had completely eclipsed that of the Prophet figure-types. It is thus not surprising that the Sonship emphasized in the baptism scene would come to be understood in terms of the royal/Davidic type as well. The textual tradition of the Lukan version of the heavenly declaration (3:22) contains a variant reading to this effect, whereby the heavenly voice quotes Psalm 2:7. Certainly, in the Lukan and Matthean Infancy Narratives (cf. below), Jesus is identified exclusively as the Davidic Messiah, with his Sonship defined on those terms.

The place of the baptism of Jesus (and the heavenly declaration) within the Johannine Christology is problematic and remains debated by scholars. The main event at the baptism (in all four Gospel accounts) is the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (Jn 1:32-33). In the Synoptics, the clear implication is that the presence of the Spirit is tied to Jesus’ Messianic identity (Isa 42:1; 61:1), empowering him to fulfill his ministry, working miracles as a Spirit-anointed Messianic Prophet (according to figure-types of Elijah and Moses). Luke’s Gospel particularly emphasizes this role of the Spirit, in relation to Jesus’ identity as a Messianic Prophet (4:1ff, 14, 18-19ff, 24ff [note the Elijah/Elisha references in vv. 25-27]).

However, in the Gospel of John, both Jesus’ Sonship and the role of the Spirit are described very differently, and the traditional material preserved in the baptism scene thus needs to be interpreted and explained accordingly. I am devoting an extensive supplemental note to this subject.

3. The Birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives

In the detailed exegesis of Jn 1:14 given previously, in the articles of the first two divisions of our study, I discussed the evidence in support of the expression “became flesh” (sa/rc e)ge/neto) as referring to a human birth—viz., of the birth of the Logos as a human being. For many Christians, this would simply be taken for granted, given the tendency to harmonize 1:14 with the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives—thus assuming that 1:14 refers to Jesus’ birth.

There is, however, no real indication that the Gospel of John, in any way, has been influenced by the Matthean and/or Lukan narrative (or any of their underlying traditions). The Gospel writer certainly was aware of the expectation that the royal/Davidic Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (7:42), but there is no evidence that he understood Jesus to have been born there—indeed, the author’s handling of the matter in 7:41-43 could be taken as suggesting the opposite.

More seriously, there are two ways in which the Gospel of John differs markedly from the Infancy Narratives: (1) the lack of emphasis on Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, and (2) the Johannine emphasis on Jesus’ birth as an incarnation. As we conclude Part 1 of this article, let us briefly consider each of these points.

The identification of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (xristo/$), that is, the Messiah, is central to the Johannine theology—as, indeed, it was for virtually all early Christians. However, as I have discussed (particularly in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), there were a number of different Messianic figure-types present in Judaism during the first centuries B.C./A.D., and these should not be reduced to the single (royal/Davidic) type that subsequently came to dominate eschatological and Messianic thought. In 7:40-43 (discussed above), there is a distinction made between “the Prophet” (that is, a Messianic Prophet, patterned after Moses) and “the Anointed One” (the Davidic Messiah). Similar distinctions are made in 1:20-25.

It is not clear whether the title o( xristo/$, throughout the Gospel, refers strictly to Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, or whether it has broader or more general Messianic significance. In any case, Johannine Christians would have identified Jesus with all relevant Messianic figure-types, both “the Prophet” (esp. patterned after Moses) and the Davidic Messiah. The Gospel explicitly identifies Jesus as “the King of Israel” (1:49), and, like the Synoptic tradition, beginning with the ‘triumphal entry’ and throughout the Passion narrative, gives certain emphasis to the theme of Jesus’ kingship (12:13, 15; 18:33ff, 39; 19:3, 12-21). In my view, the title o( xristo/$, in the Gospel of John, entails both Prophet (Moses) and Kingly (Davidic) aspects; overall, however, it is the association with Moses that is specifically established in the Prologue, and which is more dominant which the thematic structure and theology of the Gospel.

This is to be contrasted with the Infancy Narratives, where the Davidic Messiahship of Jesus is unquestionably given emphasis, and which is tied directly to Jesus’ birth—Matt 1:1ff, 20; 2:1-6ff (citing Mic 5:2), 15; Luke 1:27ff, 69; 2:1-4ff, 10-11ff. In the Lukan narrative, the Sonship of Jesus is defined by this particular Messianic paradigm, as the statements in 1:32-33 and 35 make abundantly clear. There is no real sense, in either narrative, that Jesus’ birth represents the incarnation of a pre-existent Divine being; to be sure, the Lukan and Matthean accounts are typically read that way, but this largely under the harmonizing influence of Jn 1:14.

The Johannine confessional statements (cf. especially in 11:27 and 20:31) effectively summarize the Johannine theology: Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) and the Son of God. He is, indeed, the Messiah (both Prophet and King), but also something more—the eternal and pre-existent Son of God. In Parts 2 and 3, we will consider the New Testament parallels to this pre-existence Christology, focusing (in Part 2) on the influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and evidence for this outside of the Johannine writings.

January 6: Psalm 89:51-53

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:50-53, continued

(Verse 50 was discussed in the previous note.)

Verses 51-52 [50-51]

“Remember, my Lord, (the) scorn of your servants!
I bear in my bosom all (the) shots of (the) peoples,
(by) which your hostile (one)s cast scorn, O YHWH,
(by) which they scorn (the) heel-steps of your anointed!”

In addition to calling on YHWH to remember His binding agreement (covenant), and the sacred oath by which He made it (v. 50), the Psalmist now appeals to the shameful treatment which God’s people have received from the surrounding nations. Such taunting and disgraceful insults, toward God’s people, ultimately reflect on God Himself. By insulting YHWH’s people (“your servants”), the nations are also insulting YHWH.

The term used to express this shameful treatment is hP*r=j# (“scorn”), referring to a taunting insult, often in the sense of casting blame on someone. The word is frequently used in the Psalms, in the context of attacks on the protagonist (by his wicked adversaries), or of the suffering of the righteous generally. Part of the taunt doubtlessly involves rebuking Israel for its trust in YHWH, since the people have endured defeat and destruction, exile and disgrace, in spite of their trust.

The related verb [r^j* (“cast blame/scorn”) is used twice in verse 52, emphasizing two specific points which are intended (by the Psalmist) to prompt YHWH to take action: (1) those who are casting scorn on His people are His enemies (“your hostile ones,” those hostile to you), and (2) they cast scorn on the one whom He has anointed as His chosen servant. The last point presumably refers to mockery that is specifically leveled at the Davidic king, who, in the person of Jehoiachin, was led off in exile to Babylon; the expression “(the) heel-steps (or heel-prints) of your anointed” may refer, somewhat literally, to the king’s tracks as he is taken off to Babylon. It would be natural for the enemies of Israel/Judah to mock the defeated and exiled monarch.

The Psalmist personalizes this suffering, in the second line of verse 51, by declaring that he bears the pain (in his own “bosom”) of such taunts. The author-protagonist of the Psalms frequently functions as a figure representing the people as a whole (particularly the righteous ones of the people). As such, he feels the suffering of his people; and, indeed, throughout history, many Israelites and Jews have been so inclined to personalize the communal and corporate suffering of the people.

I follow Dahood (II, p. 320) in reading MT <yB!r^ as a form of br^ III, denoting a projectile, something “shot/cast” (vb bb^r* II), such as an arrow. The vocalization would then be yB@r^, with the <– explained as an enclitic suffix—easily to be confused with the sufformative <– (<y-) that marks the plural. The Psalmist feels the arrows (of scorn) cast by the nations/peoples, as they have penetrated (figuratively) into his bosom.

Verse 53 [52]

“Blessed (be) YHWH into (the) distant (future)!
/m@a*w+ /m@a*!”

The Psalm concludes with a benediction, giving blessing to YHWH. The simple traditional form, however, is more significant thematically than it might at first seem. Two points of vocabulary find an echo throughout the Psalm.

First is the temporal expression <l*oul=, “into/unto (the) distant (future)”, which was used to express the enduring character of the Davidic kingship (vv. 5, 29, 37-38), even as the heavens themselves endure (v. 2-3). The enduring character of the heavens is due to the firmness/faithfulness of YHWH Himself, and this is also true of the promise(s) to David.

Second, we have the final word, /m@a* (°¹m¢n), repeated as a couplet (/m@a*w+ /m@a*). The term defies easy translation, and so is often simply transliterated in English— “Amen and amen!”. However, this obscures the derivation of /m@a* from the root /ma (“be/make firm”), and its relation to the noun hn`Wma$. The noun hn`Wma$ (“firmness”) is the central keyword of the Psalm, occurring 7 times (vv. 2-3, 6, 9, 25, 34, 50), while the verb /m^a* occurs twice (vv. 29, 38), and the related noun tm#a# (also with the basic meaning “firmness”) once (v. 15).

The rhetorical purpose of this repeated use of the /ma word-group relates to the context of the Psalmist’s prayer to YHWH. He hopes to see reaffirmed God’s covenant-promise to David, regarding the kingship (and thus also the kingdom for Israel). In terms of the exilic (and/or post-exilic) setting of the Psalm (in its final form), this is another way of referring to the restoration of Israel, presented in an early Messianic framework. The final words of the Psalm thus represent one last prayer-wish: that YHWH would act to bring about the restoration for His people. As an exclamatory declaration, the adjective /m@a* (“firm,” i.e., reliable, trustworthy) allows the hearer to affirm the validity of a statement (or agreement, etc). There is no good way to translate such an exclamation precisely; rough approximations would be “surely!”, “certainly!”, and the like, while, as an imprecation, something like “may it be so!” or “let it truly be (so)!” captures the basic sense.

Comments for Christmas

Essential to the Messianic expectation of Israelites and Jews in the first century B.C./A.D. was the idea that God’s people would be delivered from the oppression of those who are hostile to them—especially by the wicked and godless ones among the nations who have been dominate over them for centuries. The Gospel Infancy narratives reflect this aspect of the Messianic hope in various ways. The hostility toward God’s people is expressed vividly as an integral part of the narrative in Matthew 2. The specific idea of hostility toward God’s anointed (m¹šîaµ, v. 52b) is certainly a key element in the narrative, as Herod seeks to eliminate the promised Davidic Messiah by killing all of the infants born in and around Bethlehem.

Closer to the thought and expression of the Psalm are certain verses in the Lukan hymns—the Magnificat and Benedictus—such as we looked at briefly in the previous note. The theme of deliverance for God’s people from their enemies is clearly present in the first section of the Benedictus (vv. 68-75), being part of the salvation and redemption (vv. 68-69) which God is bringing about through the promised Davidic Messiah (“in the house of David His child”). The thought is made explicit in verse 71:

“…salvation out of our enemies, and out of (the) hand of all (those) hating us”

The syntax of the poem clearly ties this deliverance to the person of the Davidic Messiah, connecting verse 71 with v. 69 (v. 70 being parenthetical):

“And He (has) raised a horn of salvation for us, in the house of David His child…
salvation out of [i.e. from] our enemies…”

The thought is repeated in verse 74, this time with the deliverance being connected to the covenant made by YHWH (and made binding by an oath):

“…to remember His holy agreement,
(the) oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
(and thus) to give us (to be) without fear,
(hav)ing been rescued out of (the) hand of our enemies…” (vv. 72-74)

Finally, the closing benediction of the Psalm (v. 53) also finds a parallel in the Benedictus, in its opening lines (v. 68):

“Blessed [eu)loghto/$] (is the) Lord, the God of Yisrael,
(in) that He (has) looked upon and (has) made a loosing from (bondage) for His people”

The term lu/trwsi$ (“loosing from [bondage]”) has Messianic significance, referring to the restoration of Israel, as can be seen by its use in Lk 2:38 (with the parallel in v. 25). In the person of Jesus, this deliverance of God’s people from their/our adversaries will be realized, even if not in quite the way that many Israelites and Jews (and even some early Christians) had expected.

All of the hymns, rather naturally, contain a blessing or praise of God, though expressed in different terms, such at the beginning of the Magnificat (vv. 46-47)—

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit leaps (for joy) upon God my Savior!”

or the famous lines of the Angels’ Song (“Gloria in excelsis”):

“Glory to God in the highest (place)s,
and on earth peace among men of (His) good will!”

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

January 1: Psalm 89:36-38

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:29-38, continued

(Verses 31-35 [30-34] were discussed in the previous note.)

Verse 36 [35]

“Once I confirmed (it) sevenfold (by oath), on my holiness—
(see) if I can (now) lie to David!”

The binding agreement (tyr!B=, covenant) has its binding force due to its being ‘hallowed’ by an oath, made before God. Since YHWH Himself is a party to the covenant with David (like that with Israel), He gives the binding oath (swearing “by seven,” vb ub^v*, i.e., with sevenfold force) before Himself, its sacred character being based on His own holiness. If YHWH swore such an oath to David, then how can He now lie to him by saying that the covenant is no longer valid?

The idea of God swearing an oath also defines His very promise here to David; indeed, the second line of v. 36 can be understood as the oath which He swears (line 1). The particle <a!, used as to introduce a conditional clause in vv. 31-32 (cf. the previous note), also is used in oath-formulae, to introduce a solemn declaration (asseveration). I translate it here as “(see) if I…!” — “(see) if I can lie to David!”, meaning “I surely cannot lie to David”.

Verse 37 [36]

“His seed, into (the) distant (future), shall be,
and his throne like the sun before me!”

YHWH confirms again the substance of His oath-promise to David—namely, that both the Davidic line (dynasty) and its kingship will endure, lasting into the far distant future. In the 2 Samuel 7 narrative, this same promise is expressed in vv. 13, 16:

“…and I will set firm [vb /WK] (the) throne of his kingdom unto (the) distant (future)” (v. 13)
“And will be (made) firm [vb /m^a*] your house and your kingdom unto (the) distant (future);
before your face, your throne shall be fixed [vb /WK] unto (the) distant (future).” (v. 16)

Clearly, the language here in the Psalm is patterned after this wording.

Verse 38 [37]

“Like (the) moon, it shall be fixed (into the) distance,
and a royal seat set firmly in (the) cloud(s)!”

The firmness (hn`Wma$) theme of the Psalm continues here in the conclusion of the strophe (and the second division), with the verbs /WK and /m^a* (both essentially meaning “be/set firm”) in parallel, as also in v. 3 (and see the usage in 2 Sam 7:13, 16, above). The imagery and thematic emphasis of this couplet continues from verse 37 (cf. above); indeed, the comparison with the moon here in line 1 matches that with the sun in line 2 of v. 37.

In other respects, the couplets of vv. 37-38 are parallel. In each first line, the promise that the Davidic line (“seed”) would endure is expressed with the noun <l*ou, conceptually representing a period of time lasting far into the distance (i.e., the distant future). However, Dahood (II, p. 318) suggests that in v. 38, <lwy should be vocalized <l!Wu (= <yl!Wu), “infants, children,” in the general sense of “offspring”, i.e., David’s descendants. This would, indeed, be a fitting parallel with the noun “seed” in v. 37.

The second lines in each couplet also match, referring to the seat of rule for David (and his descendants), in exalted imagery that locates this seat in the heavens (much like YHWH’s own throne). This thematic parallelism, between the firmness of the heavens and that of YHWH’s covenant/promise to David, was established in the introduction of the Psalm (vv. 2-5), and characterizes the first two divisions, respectively—i.e., the heavens and God’s heavenly throne, from which He rules over the cosmos (vv. 6-19; esp. 6-9, 14-15); the earthly throne of David, established by God, from which he rules over Israel and the nations (vv. 20-38).

The imagery is clear enough with regard to the noun aS@K! (“throne”) in v. 37; however, the situation is more complicated in v. 38. The noun parallel to aS@K! is du, vocalized in the MT as du@, “witness”. According to this identification, the final line would presumably be understood as: “and (as) a witness set firmly in (the) cloud(s)”, with the participle /m*a$n# (cf. verse 29) also connoting the idea of a faithful and trustworthy witness.

But Dahood (II, p. 318) identifies du here (as in v. 30, cf. the earlier note) with Ugaritic ±d  II, a noun apparently meaning something like “throne, throne room, (royal) dais” (cf. Gordon’s Ugaritic Textbook [UT], Glossary, p. 453, entry 19.1814). Even in the Ugaritic texts, this noun appears to be rare, attested principally from one occurrence in the Kirta epic (Tablet III, column 6, line 22). Whether this same noun (cognate in Hebrew) occurs in the Old Testament remains uncertain, though the occurrences claimed by Dahood, here in vv. 30 and 38, would seem to be warranted by the context. He also notes Ps 60:11; 94:15; 110:1; Isa 47:7; 57:15; Zeph 3:8; Jer 22:30 as possible instances. The Kohler-Baumgartner Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament [HALOT] gives a separate entry (p. 788) for this noun du (vocalized du^?), while admitting the appropriate reservations regarding its occurrence in the Scriptures.

With some reservation as well, I have adopted the suggested identification by Dahood, given the definite (and precisely formal) parallel between aS@K! (“throne”) and du (probably to be vocalized du^). Just as the Davidic throne endures, like the sun in heaven, before God, so his “royal seat” (du) is set firm, like the heavens themselves.

Comments for Christmas

The Messianic interpretation of Davidic covenant, as applied to the person of Jesus by early Christians, gave to the language and imagery of these verses (as also of 2 Sam 7:13-16) an entirely new significance. Two thematic motifs, in particular, may be noted: (1) the idea that Davidic kingship will endure, lasting into the distant future; and (2) the heavenly locale and setting, drawing parallels between the Davidic throne and the throne of YHWH Himself.

On the first point, the tendency to understand the noun <l*ou in the more abstract (and cosmic) sense of “forever, everlasting, eternal/eternity”, allowed for the terminology to be applied to the kingship of Jesus in a different way. The king may have been called God’s “son” in a symbolic sense, but, from the standpoint of early Christology, Jesus’ status as the Son of God was quite different, defined by his exaltation to heaven, where he now resides (and rules) at God’s right hand. This exalted position, and the Christological significance of the Messianic sonship-motif, are established in the Gospel Infancy narratives, long before the resurrection—and even before Jesus’ birth. We can see how the traditional language has been reinterpreted, and applied to Jesus, in Luke 1:32:

“He will be great, and will be called Son of (the) Highest, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father.”

In Greek idiom, an expression such as <l*oul= (“into [the] distant [future]”, i.e., “for ever”) can be rendered as ei)$ tou\$ ai)w=na$ (“into/unto the Ages”), as in Lk 1:33:

“And he will reign as king over the house of Ya’aqob unto the Ages, and of his kingdom there will not be (any) end.”

The Davidic covenant has been transformed: the promise is no longer regarding a continuous line of kingship for David’s descendants, but of an eternal/everlasting kingship for the one exalted Messianic descendant, Jesus Christ.

On the second point noted above, there are only allusions to the heavenly aspect of the Davidic throne (expressed in vv. 37-38 of the Psalm, cf. above). It is, of course, implicit in the exalted status of Jesus (as the Son of God), residing/ruling at God’s right hand in heaven. Otherwise, in the Gospel tradition, this heavenly-dwelling motif applies more to certain of the Son of Man sayings, and to that particular Messianic figure-type (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), rather than to the Davidic Messiah. One might, however, detect this theme in the Angelic announcement in Luke 2:10-14. The “good news” of the cosmic ruler’s birth (echoing traditional language used in relation to the birth of Augustus [cf. my earlier note on the parallel]) comes from heaven. Moreover, both heaven and earth are referenced in the canticle of v. 14 (“Gloria in excelsis”), suggesting that the Messiah’s kingdom spans both the heavens (realm of the angels) and the earth (realm of human beings):

“(All) honor (be) in the highest (place)s to God,
and on earth among men of (His) good will [i.e. whom He thinks well of]!”

This kingdom, indeed, matches God’s own dominion as Ruler of the entire cosmos.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

December 31: Psalm 89:31-35

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:29-38, continued

(Verses 29-30 [28-29] were discussed in the previous note.)

Verses 31-32 [30-31]

“If his sons should leave behind my instruction,
and by my just (decision)s should not walk,
if my engraved (decree)s they would violate,
and my commands would not guard,”

This section deals with the question of what happens to YHWH’s binding agreement (covenant) with David, if his royal descendants violate the agreement. The tradition in 2 Samuel 7 (vv. 14-15) also deals with this aspect of the covenant, and these verses in the Psalm function as an exposition of that tradition.

The pair of couplets in vv. 31-32 form a double-conditional clause, each couplet beginning with the conditional particle <a! (“if…”). The covenant is broken when its terms are violated. With regard to the broader covenant, between YHWH and His people Israel, the terms of the covenant are embodied by the commands, regulations, and precepts laid down in the Instruction, or Torah (hr*oT), given by God to Moses, beginning with the “Ten Words”. The covenant with David (and his descendants) is dependent upon the binding agreement made with Israel.

Verse 31 makes clear that violation of the Davidic covenant is defined as violating the Torah, expressed in terms of “leaving” (vb bz~u*, i.e., forsaking, abandoning) it. This is traditional language (e.g., Deut 31:16-17), as is the wording that is used in the following lines of vv. 31-32. The Instruction (Torah) is described and characterized by three nouns: fP*v=m!, hQj%, and hw`x=m!.

All three of these terms refer principally to the authority exercised by rulers and governments, and characterize the Torah as regulations laid down by a ruler (i.e., YHWH as King and Judge). A fP*v=m! is an (authoritative) decision rendered by a ruler or judge; hQ*j% (or qj)) denotes a ruling that is engraved (or inscribed), meaning that it applies to all people in the realm, with the implication that it is permanent; a hw`x=m! refers, more generally, to any command or order that is given. All these terms are regularly used in the Scriptures, in reference to the Torah; however, here in Psalm 89, the theme of YHWH as Sovereign—both over the universe as a whole, and over His people Israel—is specifically emphasized.

The couplets in vv. 31-32 are parallel in presentation. In the first line, the breaking of the Torah is presented as a direct action, defined either as—abandoning it (vb bz~y`) or by profaning it (vb ll^j* II), the latter connoting the dissolution of the agreement in its binding and sacred force. In the second line, violation of the Torah is expressed through a negative—i.e., what one does not do—with the verbs El^h* (“walk”) and rm^v* (“guard”). These verbs are customary in religious and ethical instruction, in reference to keeping the regulations of the Torah, etc.

As a textual note, it is worth mentioning that, in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsx, verse 31 follows v. 28; however, at this point, the MS breaks off, so there is no way of knowing if vv. 29-30 are missing, or if they occur somewhere after v. 31.

Verse 33 [32]

“then with a rod I will deal with their breaking (of the bond),
and with blows (will punish) their crookedness.”

The apodosis (result clause) of the conditional statement is given here: if David’s descendants violate the terms of the covenant, then… (here the w-conjunction is to be translated “then”).

YHWH makes clear that He will, indeed, punish such violations of the covenant quite severely—as indicated by the parallel reference to use of a “rod” (fb#v@) with which one makes harsh physical contact (ug~n#, i.e., a “blow”). The noun uv^P# denotes the breaking of an agreement, or breaking faith—i.e., being disloyal, sometimes in the more extreme sense of being rebellious. The parallel noun /ou*, refers to the “crookedness” of the one breaking the covenant, often in the religious-ethical sense of “perversion”, or, more generally, as “deviation” from what is right.

The governing verb of the clause is dq^P*, a verb with a wide semantic range, and (notoriously) one of the most difficult to translate in all the Old Testament. The basic meaning appears to be something like “attend to”, “deal with”, “take care of”; however, it frequently is used in a number of specialized contexts, one of which involves a person (in a position of authority) exercising supervision over a subordinate. There are several variations of this aspect of meaning; when YHWH is the subject, the verb often is used in the context of YHWH, as King and Judge, disciplining and punishing those who defy His authority. Here, the verb could be translated “punish”, or “visit (punishment on)”; however, I feel it is just as well to retain the base meaning (i.e., “attend to, deal with”), understanding it in a harshly ironic sense—viz., YHWH will “deal with” the transgressors, and will “take care of” them.

Verse 34 [33]

“And (yet) my loyal devotion I will not break with him—
indeed, I will not be false in my firmness!”

Even if David’s descendants break faith with YHWH, He Himself will not break with David—viz., with the promises that He has made to him (cf. 2 Sam 7:8-16). The verb rr^P* (II), “break”, is here parallel with the root uvP used in v. 33; indeed, the conjunction of r^rP* with ds#j#/hn`Wma$ captures the basic meaning of uvP (“break [faith]”). The noun pair ds#j#/hn`Wma$, introduced in vv. 2-3, has been used repeatedly in the Psalm, to express the idea of YHWH’s faithfulness and loyalty (the noun hn`Wma$ denoting “firmness”).

Verse 35 [34]

“I will not violate my (own) binding (agreement),
and (what) goes forth (from) my lips, I will not change.”

Here, in the first line, YHWH states directly the point made in v. 34: that He will not violate His binding agreement (tyr!B=) with David. This creates a certain ambiguity with regard to the Davidic covenant. On the one hand, if David’s descendants break the agreement, then it has been nullified (for them, on their account). At the same time, since YHWH Himself does not break the agreement, then it remains in force—at least in terms of the promise(s) that He made to David. This aspect of the covenant is particularly emphasized here in the second line: “(what) goes forth (from) my lips” (i.e., His spoken promise).

The ambiguity surrounding the Davidic covenant, which goes back to the traditions of 2 Samuel (as presented in that narrative), will be discussed in the next note (on vv. 36-38).

Comments for Christmas

The juxtaposition of the failure of David’s royal descendants (to uphold the covenant), against the enduring force of YHWH’s promises to David, is directly relevant to figure-type of the royal/Davidic Messiah. The historical reality of the fall of the Israelite/Judean kingdom (and the Exile) clearly demonstrates how the covenant was violated by David’s descendants. At the same time, the promise to David remains, to be fulfilled by the Messiah. As previously noted, this is clearly relevant to the early Christian identification of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah—a theme that features prominently in the Gospel Infancy narratives. The fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, in the person of Jesus, is most clearly expressed in Luke 1:32-33 (cf. the previous note).

December 29: Psalm 89:29-30

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:29-38 [28-37]
Verse 29 [28]

“Into (the) distant (future) will I guard for him my devotion,
with my binding agreement holding firm for him.”

In this second strophe of the second division (vv. 20-38) of the Psalm, the emphasis is on YHWH’s binding agreement (tyr!B=) with David, and, in particular, on its firm and enduring character. This strophe continues (and develops) the key theme of God’s firmness (hn`Wma$), both in the sense of His strength and His faithfulness. The theme, with its keyword(s), was established at the beginning of the Psalm (vv. 2-3), expressed by the word-pair ds#j# and hn`Wma$. The same pairing is present here in v. 29, but with the verb /m^a* in place of the noun hn`Wma$.

As previously noted, even though ds#j# fundamentally means “goodness, kindness”, it frequently (and especially in the Psalms) carries the connotation of faithfulness and loyalty (i.e., to the covenant)—a meaning comparable to that of hn`Wma$ (or the related tm#a#). I have translated ds#j# in the sense of “loyal devotion”, alternating between the renderings “loyalty” and “devotion”.

YHWH’s devotion (ds#j#) for David will last “into (the) distant (future)” —a literal, if somewhat verbose, translation of the expression <l*oul=. This means that His devotion applies, not only to David himself, but to subsequent sons of his line. This devotion will be preserved (“guarded”, vb rm^v*) into the future, for the generations to come.

YHWH’s loyal devotion to David (and his descendants) is defined in terms of a “binding agreement” (tyr!B=), rendered more conventionally as “covenant”. It is important to emphasize the etymological aspect of the binding force of the agreement (or covenant). At least from God’s own standpoint, His agreement with David is binding—He Himself will not violate it. This is important, since from the Psalmist’s frame of reference, writing in the exilic (or post-exilic) period, the promises in the Davidic covenant would seem to have been nullified. The question of how the agreement could still be binding (and in effect) is dealt with in the third division (vv. 39-52). For the promises of this covenant, as rooted and expressed in the Davidic traditions, see 2 Samuel 7:8-16, with vv. 12b-13 and 15-16 being most relevant to this unit in the Psalm.

Here, in the second division—and in this strophe—the focus is on the binding character of the agreement, which YHWH (speaking prophetically in the Psalm) declares will be “holding firm” for David’s line. This is expressed by the participle tn#m#a$n#, from the verb /m^a* (“be firm”), and from which also the noun hn`Wma$ is derived. The participle indicates a regular/continuing condition, while the passive (Niphal) stem suggests that this characteristic (“holding firm”) of the covenant is due to the action of YHWH (i.e., His guarding it), giving to the covenant its fundamental character.

Verse 30 [29]

“And I will set his seed (to be enduring) for ever,
and his throne like (the) days of (the) heavens!”

Both the dynastic line (“seed”) and the kingship (“throne”) of David will be preserved, according to the binding agreement, lasting into the far distant future. This temporal aspect is here expressed by du^l*, parallel to <l*oul= in v. 29. The noun du^ is a bit difficult to translate, essentially denoting something (i.e., a period of time) going on (and on); “for ever” is as good a translation of du^l* as any, the expression being somewhat more abstract in meaning than <l*oul=.

Dahood (II, p. 317) interprets du^ (±ad) here (and in v. 38) in relation to Ugaritic ±d  II. The precise meaning of that Canaanite term is not entirely clear, but in at least one instance (Kirta III, col. 6, line 22) the expression l±dh (comparable to du^l* in the Psalm) is clearly parallel to lksi mlk (“at/on [the] throne of kingship”), and also lkµ¾ drkt (“at/on [the] seat of dominion”), lines 23-24. Based on this parallel, one could see du^l* and having a meaning like “on the seat of rule”, corresponding with “his throne” in the second line. The essence of the promise would then be that there will always be a descendant of David (his “seed”) on the throne.

The Davidic kingship will be like “the days of the heavens” in its continuity and enduring character. The “firmness” of the heavens, reflecting YHWH’s own hn`Wma$ (as Creator), was a key theme in the opening section (vv. 6-9). The parallel between the heavens and the Davidic covenant was specifically established in the introduction (vv. 2-3, 4-5). This parallel is all the more significance since YHWH’s throne is in/over the heavens (vv. 8-9, 15); He is the King over the entire universe (heaven and earth), while the (Davidic) king, correspondingly, is the ruler on earth (over the people of God, and the nations).

Comments for Christmas

The identification of Jesus as the promised royal Messiah from the line of David is a key component of the Gospel Infancy narratives, particularly the Lukan narrative. This has been discussed in the prior notes. Here, in relation to vv. 29-30 of the Psalm, we must focus on three specific elements: (1) Jesus as David’s “seed”, (2) the motif of the ruler’s throne, and (3) the enduring character of this rule.

The first element is basic to the Gospel tradition in the Infancy narratives, establishing Jesus’ Davidic ancestry—from a legal, rather than biological standpoint—through his father Joseph (Matt 1:1, 6, 17, 20; Lk 1:27; 2:4; 3:31). The specific expression “seed of David” occurs in the New Testament, in a Messianic sense, in Rom 1:3, Jn 7:42 and 2 Tim 2:8, clearly being applied to the person of Jesus. The parallel between Rom 1:3 and Gal 4:4

    • “(hav)ing come to be out of (the) seed of David”
    • “(hav)ing come to be out of a woman”

raises the possibility that Paul may have understood Jesus’ mother (Mary) as being of Davidic descent—a belief which came to be accepted among early Christians, but which is absent from the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives. For further discussion on Jesus as the “son of David,” cf. Part 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The second and third elements mentioned above are hinted at at various points in the Infancy narratives; see, for example, the citation of Micah 5:2 in Matt 2:6, in light of the remainder of v. 2 and v. 4b (which are not cited). However, those themes are dealt with directly only in one passage—the Angelic announcement to Mary in Luke 1:26-38. Verses 32b-33 could almost be read as a Christian commentary on vv. 29-30 of the Psalm:

“…the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father,
and he will reign as king over the house of Ya’aqob into the Age,
and of his kingdom there will not be (any) end!”

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).