Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Messianic Expectation

Messianic Interpretation and Expectation in the New Testament

The very name and title Christ (Xristo/$), “Anointed”, signifies the fundamental Christian belief that Jesus is the “Anointed One”, the Messiah (Heb. j^yv!m*). Early Christians generally followed Jewish tradition in their expectation of Messianic figures (Prophet, Davidic Ruler, Heavenly Deliverer), adopting many Scripture passages, which had been interpreted in a Messianic sense, and applying them to Jesus. We see this throughout the New Testament, and I have discussed the subject in considerable detail in my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The process, in fact, goes back to the earliest layers of Gospel Tradition and the words of Jesus himself.

However, Christians today, in considering the “Messianic” passages and prophecies in the Old Testament, tend not to view them as eschatological. This is due to the time (nearly 2,000 years, and counting) which has passed since Jesus’ death and resurrection. The various Scripture passages may be seen as prophecies of Jesus (his birth, death, resurrection, etc), but it is difficult to regard them as referring to the End Time per se. The situation was quite different for the earliest believers, for whom Messianic and Eschatological expectation were closely connected. According to the Jewish belief and tradition at the time, the coming of the Anointed One—any/all of the Messianic figure-types—was linked to the end of the current Age. Early Christians generally retained this outlook, though adapting it in several key ways due to the unique circumstances of Jesus’ life, and, especially, his death, resurrection, and departure to God the Father in heaven. As he did not fulfill many of the traditional Messianic roles during his lifetime, these would have to wait until his subsequent return, which was felt would take place very soon, and could occur at any time.

In order, then, to understand the eschatology of the New Testament, it is important to include, and emphasize, the Messianic expectation of early Christians. This will be discussed at various points in this series, but it will be helpful to begin with a survey of the Scripture passages which had been interpreted in a Messianic sense during the first centuries B.C./A.D., and which were applied to Jesus by early believers. As most of these have been examined in some detail in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, I will address them only briefly here. There are, of course, many other passages which were understood as prophecies concerning Jesus, but I include here only those which clearly were regarded as Messianic by at least some Israelites and Jews of the time.

The Key Passages

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

In the Old Testament, especially in Deuteronomic tradition, Moses is viewed as a Prophet—indeed as the ideal and greatest Prophet (Deut 34:10-12). In Deuteronomy 18:15ff we find the famous prediction that another Prophet will (eventually) arise who is like Moses and who will take his place. In the same manner, Elisha took the place of Elijah, being anointed by his predecessor (1 Kings 19:16) and possessing his spirit and character (2 Kings 2:9, 15). Eventually, this prediction was given a future, eschatological interpretation—at the end-time, a Prophet-like-Moses would arise to instruct the faithful of Israel.

This expectation probably underlies the notice in 1 Maccabees 14:41 (“…until a trustworthy Prophet should arise”), as well as the reference to “the unique Prophet” in Testament of Benjamin 9:2. In the Qumran texts, Moses was clearly regarded as a Prophet, as in the “Apocryphon of Moses/Pentateuch” writings—cf. especially 4Q375 column 1 (in line 7 the phrase “trustworthy prophet” appears); in 4Q377 column 2, line 5, Moses is referred to as God’s “Anointed (One)” [jyvm]. Deut 18:18-19 is cited in 4QTestimonia [4Q175] lines 5-8, in what is likely an eschatological/Messianic context. The expected Prophet of 1QS 9:11 (“…until the coming of the Prophet and the Anointed [Ones] of Aaron and Israel”) presumably draws upon this Moses tradition as well.

The same may be said of passages in the New Testament which contain a reference to “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40; Luke 7:16, 36 v.l. etc); in Jn 1:21-25, “the Prophet” seems to be understood as a separate figure from “Elijah”, possibly an indication that the Moses-tradition is involved. John the Baptist explicitly denies being “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21), but that Jesus was thought to be so by people on numerous occasions is indicated by several of the references above. In Acts 3:18-24 (sermon-speech of Peter), Jesus is identified specifically with the coming “Prophet like Moses” of Deut 18:15ff (cf. also Acts 7:37). Within early Christian tradition, Jesus is identified or associated with Moses in a number of ways. For more on this, cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Malachi 3:1ff; 4:5-6

The Messianic “Elijah tradition” derives from Malachi 3:1, combined with the explanatory interpretation of Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] which many scholars consider to be a (later) editorial gloss (see my supplementary note on the original context of Mal 3:1). In any case, already by the time of the completion of Malachi (and, presumably, the collection of the Twelve Prophets [Hosea–Malachi] as a whole), the “Messenger” [Ea*l=m^] of Mal 3:1 was identified as Elijah, who will (re)appear just prior to the “Day of YHWH” to bring repentance to people before the Judgment. Over time, this belief was given greater eschatological emphasis—”Elijah” would appear at the end-time, prior to the last Judgment—expressed already in Sirach 48:10 (early-mid 2nd century B.C.). Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, evidence for this belief at Qumran is rather slight, though it is attested in the fragmentary 4Q558 (fragment 1), but is perhaps reflected more prominently in a text such as 4Q521 (cf. below). Evidence for this tradition is found specifically in Mark 9:11-13 (Matt 17:10-12), the citations and allusions to Mal 3:1; 4:5-6 in Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27; Matt 11:10-14, and may be inferred from other references listed below. Also worth noting is Sibylline Oracles 2:187ff (Christian expansion/adaptation of earlier Jewish material).

While Christians came to apply this Messianic figure to John the Baptist, there is some evidence in the earlier strands of Gospel Tradition that people also identified Jesus with the Prophetic figure-type. Indeed, Jesus is connected with Elijah in various ways in the Gospels. For a discussion of this subject, again cf. “Yeshua the Anointed” (Parts 2 and 3).

Psalm 2 (esp. verse 7-9)

This Psalm, drawing upon the ancient religious symbolism of the king as God’s “son” (vv. 7ff), was applied to Jesus at a very early stage of Christian belief. There are allusions to it in the account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11 par), and the voice from heaven actually quotes it in some manuscripts of Luke 3:22. More commonly, it was associated with Jesus’ resurrection (and exaltation) in early Christian preaching (Acts 13:33, cf. Rom 1:4 etc); the author of Hebrews continues to use it this way (1:5; 5:5), though, by this point, the idea of Jesus’ pre-existence and eternal Sonship was also in view. The overall context of the Psalm (vv. 1-2ff) fit the Messianic portrait, and was applied to Jesus as well (Acts 4:25-28, cf. also Luke 22:66-23:25).

2 Samuel 7:8-16 (cf. also 2 Sam 22:44-51 / Ps 18:44-51, and Psalm 89:3-4, 9-37ff)

The narrative in 2 Samuel 7, with the oracle by the prophet Nathan, is the primary Scripture passage which established the Messianic association with David—i.e., a ruler from the line of David who would appear at the end-time. Together with Psalm 2 (cf. above), it allowed the idea of the Messianic ruler-figure to be identified as “Son of God”. In Jewish tradition, this is best exhibited in the so-called Florilegium (4Q174) from Qumran, which blends together Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14 (along with other passages) in what is clearly both a Messianic and eschatological context. Another key Qumran text is the Aramaic 4Q246 (i. 9, ii. 1) with its striking parallels to Luke 1:32-35. There would seem to be references to Psalm 89 in 4Q252, and also (possibly) the fragmentary 4Q458. Important allusions are also to be found in the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (mid-1st century B.C.). For more on the Davidic ruler figure-type, and the title “Son of God”, cf. Parts 68 and 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Psalm 110:1-4

The opening verse(s) of this Psalm were central to early Christian understanding of Jesus as both the Messianic (Davidic) ruler and “Son of God”. It also was enormously influential in establishing the title “Lord” (ku/rio$), in a divine sense, for Jesus. As in the case of the title “Son of God” in Psalm 2:7, verse 1 of Psalm 110 was associated primarily with the resurrection of Jesus, following which he was exalted to the right hand of God the Father in heaven. The verse is quoted specifically in this context in Acts 2:34-35, but there are certainly allusions to it throughout the New Testament (Mark 14:62 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:25; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). The author of Hebrews quotes it, along with Psalm 2:7 (vv. 5ff), in 1:13, where the idea of divine pre-existence is also present (cf. also 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).

Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 in a definite Messianic context (Mark 12:36ff par), making it all but certain that Jews at the time were interpreting it this way. However, contemporary evidence for this is slight indeed. The Qumran text 11QMelchizedek [11Q13], drawing upon traditions regarding Melchizedek (in a Messianic context), would suggest some dependence on Psalm 110, but there are no specific quotations or allusions in the surviving fragments. The interpretation of the figure Melchizedek in Hebrews 7, relying heavily upon Psalm 110, also suggests that there were significant interpretative traditions, perhaps Messianic in nature, which might have been familiar to Jews and Christians of the time. It is also possible that Psalm 110 was influential in shaping the distinctive Messianic tradition, best seen in certain of the Qumran texts, of an Anointed Priestly figure, with a blending of royal and priestly characteristics.

Psalm 118:26

The fact that this verse is quoted both by Jesus (Matt 23:39; Luke 13:35), and by the crowds at his “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem (Mark 11:9 par), suggests that it was understood in a Messianic sense by Jews at the time. However, corresponding contemporary evidence outside of the New Testament is extremely slight. It would have related to the same (Davidic) royal figure-type discussed above.

Isaiah 9:1-6

This passage, along with 7:10-14ff (cf. Matt 1:22-23), came to be interpreted as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth (cf. Luke 2:11). Matthew specifically quotes Isa 9:1-2 as a way of introducing the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (4:14-16). The characteristics of a special royal birth, as well as the message of (future) promise, made Isa 9:1-6 a natural candidate for Messianic interpretation; however, there is little evidence for this in contemporary Jewish writings. Perhaps the closest example is the allusion to verse 6 in the Qumran Hymn 1QH 3. Cf. my earlier Advent/Christmas season study on 9:5-6.

Micah 5:2-4

Likewise, there is little contemporary evidence for a Messianic interpretation of Micah 5:2-4, though it is an obvious candidate. The context of Matthew 2:1-6ff makes no real sense if a Messianic understanding of this passage were not in existence among Jews in the 1st century B.C./A.D.

Amos 9:11

This verse is given a Messianic interpretation in both the Damascus Document (CD 7:14-21) and the Qumran Florilegium (4Q174 3-4). This helps to establish the background of its use in the speech of James (Acts 15:15-18), where it is quoted in very different sense, though still retaining something of a traditional Messianic (and eschatological) context.

Zechariah 9:9-10

The use of this passage, with its royal symbolism and eschatological orientation, in the Gospels, at the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus (Mark 11:2-10 par, with a specific citation in Matt 21:4-5 and John 12:14-15), would indicate that it may have been understood as a traditional Messianic passage. However, there is little or no contemporary Jewish evidence to support this. Moreover, the singular importance which Zech 9-14 holds in the Gospel Tradition, and the influence it had on shaping the (Passion) narrative, increases the likelihood that this is a uniquely Christian interpretation. This will be addressed a bit further in the upcoming articles.

Daniel 7:13-14; 9:24-27

These important eschatological (and Messianic) passages, so influential for Jews and early Christians both, will be discussed in detail in the upcoming articles.

The Servant Songs of Isaiah

Special attention must be given to the “Servant Songs” in the book of Isaiah (so-called “Deutero-Isaiah”), usually delineated by four passages: Isa 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12. Only the first and last of these played a central role in early Christian belief. However, it is worth noting that the Isaian “Servant” figure came to be understood and interpreted in a Messianic (or quasi-Messianic) sense by Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. The extent of this is indicated, not only by the many (and various) allusions (in the Dead Sea texts, etc), but by the way in which the thought and language of these passages has shaped and colored the texts themselves.

A good example of this may be found in the Qumran Hymns (1QH), especially those which are often attributed to the “Teacher of Righteousness”, an historical (but at least partly Messianic) figure with certain parallels to Jesus (cf. Part 4 of “Yeshua the Anointed”). In these hymns, the speaker repeatedly refers to himself as God’s servant (db#u#)—cf. Hymns IV. 11, 23ff; V. 24; VI. 8, 11, 25; VIII. 19, 21, 23ff; XIII. 15, 28; XV. 16; XVII. 11; XVIII. 29; XIX. 27, 30, 33; XXII. 16; XXIII. 6, 10 (Blenkinsopp, pp. 270-2). There are numerous allusions to the Servant songs, and related Isaian passages, throughout (cf. below).

Isaiah 42:1-9

It is verse 1 which has been most influential for Messianic thought:

“See, my servant—I hold on(to) him, my chosen (one whom) my soul favors; I have given my Spirit upon him, (and) he shall cause justice/judgment to come forth for the nations.”

The words in italics are particularly noteworthy. First, the substantive adjective yr!yj!B= (“my chosen [one]”), rendered in Greek as o( e)klekto/$ mou. This title is parallel, in many ways, with “my anointed [j^yv!m*] (one)”, and can serve as similar Messianic title, as is clear from texts such as the (fragmentary) Qumran 4Q534. There is unquestionably an allusion to Isa 42:1 in the words spoken by the voice from heaven in the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (Mark 1:11 par; Matt 17:5 par). In the Lukan version of the latter (according to the best manuscript evidence) we read:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [e)klelegme/no$, i.e. chosen]…” (9:35)

Similarly, in the Johannine description of the Baptism, we have the Baptist’s declaration (corresponding to the heavenly voice in the Synoptics):

“…this is the Son of God” (1:34)
though in some MSS the reading is:
“…this is the (one) gathered out [e)klekto/$, i.e. chosen one] of God”

In the New Testament, both the verb e)kle/gw (“gather out”) and the related noun e)klekto/$ are typically used in reference to believers, not Jesus. This suggests that the Gospel usage in such passages where it is applied to Jesus (cf. Luke 23:35) reflects early (Messianic) tradition.

On the second italicized portion above, cf. the discussion on Isa 61:1ff further below.

Isaiah 49:1-6

This Servant Song appears to have influenced Messianic thought and expression at two points: (1) the idea of a sword coming out of the Servant’s mouth (v. 2), and (2) the twin themes of restoration and salvation in v. 6. On the first point, the idea of the sword from the mouth overlaps with the (Messianic) portrait in Isa 11:4 (cf. below); there is an apparent allusion to this in Revelation 1:16 (cf. also Heb 4:12). It is possible that there is a general (Messianic) reference to verse 2 in the Qumran text 1QSb (5:23f).

The theme of the restoration of Israel in verse 6 certainly fits the main contours of traditional Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) thought, even though it is difficult to find contemporary use of the verse to support this. Early Christians, however, understood it in this light, including the second half of the verse, indicating that the Servant will be made “a light to the nations” (cf. Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47).

Isaiah 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12

These two songs introduce the theme of the Servant’s suffering, which early on was interpreted by believers as referring to the suffering and death of Jesus. The famous “Suffering Servant” passage in 52:13-53:12 is central to episode recorded in Acts 8:32-35 (and note the interesting critical question by the Ethiopian official in v. 34). In the Gospels, it is cited directly only at Matt 8:17, in the context of Jesus’ healing miracles, not his death. However, the passage likely influenced the way that the Passion narrative was told and understood, corresponding (rather clearly) in certain details to Isa 53:3-9. The identity of this Servant figure in Isaiah, in terms of its original context, continues to be debated by scholars and commentators.

There is relatively little evidence for the use of Isa 52:13-53:12 at Qumran; unfortunately, the surviving portions of the Commentary (pesher) on Isaiah do not cover 52:13-53:12. Nor would there seem to be any evidence for these Scriptures being interpreted in a Messianic sense prior to their use in the New Testament. The closest we find to a Messianic interpretation would appear be an allusion to Isa 53:3-5, 11-12 in the Qumran text 4Q491c (line 9), which is thought to be related to the Hodayot hymns (1QH) in some way (cf. 1QH 7:10; 8:26-27, 35-36; 9; Blenkinsopp, pp. 278-9ff). There is also an allusion to Isa 52:7 in 11QMelchizedek [11Q13] 2.16, where there is a connection with a Messianic interpretation of Isa 61:1ff, etc (cf. below).

In many ways, the emphasis on the suffering of the Messiah is uniquely applicable to Jesus. Early Christians had to explain how, and why, the Messiah would endure such suffering and the shameful death of crucifixion. This came to be an important point of emphasis in the Gospel Tradition (Mark 14:21, 49 par; Luke 18:31; 22:37; 24:25-26, 44-46), and the earliest (Jewish) Christian missionaries (such as Paul) would have to work hard to establish a sound Scriptural basis for such an idea (cf. Acts 5:42; 9:22; 13:26ff; 17:3; 18:5, 28, etc). Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is one of the only passages in the Old Testament which could be cited in this regard. For more on the idea of the suffering and death of Jesus, in a Messianic context, cf. Part 11 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as a supplementary article on the subject.

Other Passages

There are several key Messianic passages which are surprisingly absent from the New Testament; two of these are—Genesis 49:10, part of the blessing of Jacob over his sons (Judah, vv. 8-12), and Numbers 24:17-19, in Balaam’s fourth oracle (vv. 15-24). Both of these passages use the word tb#v@ (“stick, staff”), as a symbol of rule (i.e. “scepter”), and this came to be an important Messianic motif, in texts such as the Damascus Document (CD) 7:19-20 (= 4Q266 3 iv.9), and 1QSb 5:27-28; 1QM 11:6-7; 4Q161 ii 19; 4Q521 2 iii. 6, etc, at Qumran. Numbers 24:17 was especially prominent as a Messianic prophecy in the Qumran texts, with both “star” and “staff” serving as key symbols (CD 7:19-20; 4Q175 12, etc). Yet, this Scripture is not cited in the New Testament, though it may, possibly, form part of the background of the Star/Magi episode in Matthew 2. Somewhat later in time, but presumably reflecting older traditions, Num 24:17ff does appear as a Messianic prophecy in the Targums (Onkelos, Jonathan), and was famously applied to the quasi-Messianic revolutionary leader Ben-Kosiba (“Bar-Kokhba” = “Son of the Star”), cf. j. Ta’anit 68d.

The relative absence of Isaiah 11:1-9 in the New Testament is also a bit surprising, since this passage, along with Psalm 2, would be extremely influential in the development of the Davidic Ruler figure-type. The prophecy begins with the declaration “A branch [rf#j)] will go out from the stem of Jesse, a fresh/green (sprout) [rx#n@] will grow (out) from his roots”. These words and phrases became foundational motifs for beliefs regarding the coming Davidic ruler in Messianic thought. In particular, this passage associated the Davidic ruler with the defeat/subjugation of the nations and the end-time Judgment. Here also we find the idea of Judgment (vv. 3-4) followed by a new Age of peace (vv. 6-9), common to much Messianic thought.

Among the many texts in the 1st centuries B.C./A.D. which draw upon Isa 11:1ff, we may note the Qumran (pesher) commentary on Isaiah (4QpIsaa [4Q161] 11-12), as well as 1QSb 5:23ff, and important allusions in 4Q285 and 4Q534. The classic portrait of the militant Davidic ruler is found in the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (mid-1st cent. B.C.), and also features prominently in the 13th chapter of 2/4 Esdras (mid-late 1st cent. A.D.). It is perhaps this militant character of the Messiah which kept it from being applied to Jesus by early Christians; Paul does allude to verse 4b in 2 Thess 2:8, in a clear eschatological context. In relation to Jesus, more appropriate to the Gospel portrait, we may note the reference to the Spirit of YHWH resting upon him (v. 2a, cf. Isa 61:1, below).

The Davidic promise is given new form in the oracles of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in the historical context of the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile. Jer 23:5ff declares that God will raise for David “a righteous sprout [qyD!x* jm^x#]” who will rule as king. The same expression and message is found in Jer 33:14-16ff. That these prophecies point to the future, in contrast to the historical circumstances in the prophet’s own time, is indicated by the surrounding context (cf. Jer 22:30; 33:19-26). In Ezekiel 34:23-24, there is a similar promise that God raise up for Israel “one shepherd, my servant David”; cf. also Ezek 37:24-25. In the early post-Exilic period, Zerubbabel appears to have been seen as a fulfillment of the restoration of Davidic rule (Haggai 2:21-24; Zechariah 4:6-14, cf. also 3:8; 6:11-14). Ultimately, of course, the true fulfillment had to wait for a future coming King, as indicated in the (later) oracle Zech 9:9-10ff. All of these passages formed part of the fabric of Messianic thought in the first centuries B.C./A.D.

Isaiah 61:1ff

Of all the Messianic passages, regarded as such at the time, it is perhaps that of Isaiah 61:1ff which best fits the Gospel portrait of Jesus, especially during the time of his earthly ministry. In Luke 4:17-21, Jesus quotes vv. 1-2, and alludes to them again in 7:22 (“Q” par Matt 11:5). Thus, during his ministry (in Galilee), the Messianic figure with whom Jesus specifically identifies himself is the anointed Prophet/Herald of Isa 61. Luke’s positioning of the episode at Nazareth, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, almost certainly is meant to draw a connection between the Spirit-anointing of Isa 61:1 and the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism (3:22 par). Following the baptism, Jesus moves about in the guidance and power of the Spirit (4:1, 14).

The phrase “in the power of the Spirit” is probably meant to indicate Jesus’ own Prophetic status (cf. Lk 1:17; Acts 10:38)—specifically as an Anointed Prophet. Even though the noun jyv!m* [m¹šîaµ] / xristo/$ [christós], is not used in Isa 61:1 (rather it is the verb jv^m* / e&xrisen), this verse does seem to have been extremely influential toward the idea of a Messianic Prophet. The figure in Isa 61:1ff certainly does not appear to be a king or ruler of the Davidic mold, nor a priest, but rather a prophet like Isaiah himself. It describes a herald who announces a message of good tidings (in Hebrew, literally “fresh” tidings) to the poor and oppressed.

By the time of Jesus’ ministry, there is evidence that Isa 61:1ff was already being understood in an eschatological sense, with the anointed figure of verse 1 identified as a Prophet-Messiah. This is seen most clearly in the Qumran text 4Q521, where in fragment 2 (column ii, line 1) we read: “…[the heav]ens and the earth will listen to [i.e. obey] his Anointed (One)”. What follows in lines 2-14 etc is a blending of Isa 61:1ff and Psalm 146; but the idea of heaven and earth obeying God’s Anointed is suggestive of a Prophet in the manner of Elijah who “shut up the heavens” so that it would not rain and brought down fire from heaven (1 Kings 17:1ff; Sirach 48:2-3; James 5:17); Jesus of course exhibited a similar authority over the elements (Mark 5:35-41; 8:45-52 pars). Moreover, in column iii of fragment there is an allusion to Mal 4:5-6 and the (end-time) role of Elijah in bringing people to repentance.

Isaiah 40:1-5

Finally, we should note the famous prophecy in Isa 40:1-5 (esp. verses 3ff), which was foundational for the religious self-identity of both the Qumran Community and the earliest Christians. For the Community of the Qumran texts, the key passage is in the Community Rule (1QS) 8:14-15f, where Isa 40:3 is cited and applied to the Community. The association of the same verse with John the Baptist and his ministry (Mark 1:2-3 par; Matt 11:10 par; John 1:23; cf. also Luke 1:17, 76 and the connection with Mal 3:1ff) has, among other factors, led a number of scholars to posit some sort of relationship between John and the Qumran Community. For early Christians, it is likely that Isa 40:3 influenced the use of “(followers of) the Way” as a self-designation (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).

It should be noted that the use of Isa 40:3-5 in the Gospel Tradition, and among early Christians, is Messianic only in a special, qualified sense. For the most part, early believers identified the herald (“one crying out [in the desert]”), like the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff, with John the Baptist, rather than Jesus. And, while it is likely that some Jews at the time regarded John as a Messianic figure (Jn 1:19-27; 3:26-30, etc), the issue quickly disappeared from Christian thought. The twin passages of Isa 40:3-5 and Mal 3:1ff were interpreted, not in the original context of a chosen (Messianic) Prophet/Herald appearing before the coming of the Lord (YHWH), but in terms of John the Baptist preparing the way before the coming of the Lord (Jesus).

References above marked “Blenkinsopp” are to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Opening the Sealed Book: Interpretations of the Book of Isaiah in Late Antiquity (Eerdmans: 2006).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 2

Psalm 2

The second Psalm is, in many respects the first Psalm proper of the collection, with Psalm 1 (discussed previously) being better viewed as a prologue or introduction to the Psalter. This is likely reflected in the variant reading of Acts 13:33; at the very least, there is some confusion in the manuscript tradition regarding how the Psalms were numbered. Psalm 1 is a piece of Wisdom literature, as the analysis given last week demonstrates, and likely dates from a later period, after most (if not all) of the Psalms had already been composed. Psalm 2, on the other hand, clearly stems from the kingdom period and, in both substance and language, may date back very nearly to the time of Solomon (10th century B.C.). It is thus fitting as the first Psalm of the collection; moreover, the royal theology reflected in it can be found in many of the Psalms, and is a central component of the Psalter (and to our understanding of it). This aspect was preserved in subsequent Israelite and Jewish tradition and informed Messianic beliefs regarding a future/end-time Davidic Ruler (on this, cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Psalm 2, given a Messianic interpretation, was applied to Jesus already in the very earliest stages of Christian tradition; its widespread application is seen at numerous points in the New Testament (Mark 1:11 par [Lk 3:22 v.l.]; 9:7 par; Acts 4:25-26ff; 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5).

In many ways, Psalm 2 is the royal Psalm par excellence—certainly, nowhere else is the Israelite/Judean royal theology presented so concisely and forcefully. It is generally recognized by most scholars that the setting of the Psalm is the accession (coronation/enthronement) of the new king; however, there are few clear signs of a specific ritual use of the Psalm. Thematically, Psalm 2 has a basic three-part structure, which may be outlined as follows:

    • Depiction of the surrounding nations and their rulers (at the time of the king’s coronation)—vv. 1-3
    • The Enthronement: YHWH and the King—vv. 4-9
    • Warning to the nations and their rulers (with the new king now enthroned)—vv. 10-12

The Psalm more or less follows the typical 3 + 3 bicola meter—i.e. three stressed syllables for each half line (colon).

Verses 1-3

The first two verses run parallel and show what the nations and their rulers are doing; in verse 3 they declare their intentions, climaxing in a sudden act of rebellion. In the ancient world, the accession of a new king (especially if he happened to be a child or young man) provided an opportunity, at this time of transition, for vassals and rulers of surrounding territories to seek to gain independence and/or power of their own. Acts of rebellion and warfare were not uncommon at such moments. This is what we see depicted in verse 1-3. At the time of accession, before the new (Israelite/Judean) king has the chance to establish/consolidate his rule, vassals and other surrounding nations are plotting to take action. Let us examine the structure of these lines, and some of the key words involved.

hM*l* (“for what”, i.e. “for what purpose, why”)—the opening word summarizes the wickedness and futility of such plans for rebellion. Despite the youth and/or inexperience of the new king, and the apparent vulnerability of the Israelite/Judean kingdom at this moment, king and kingdom have the protection of God (YHWH) himself. This is the point made in verses 4-9.

There is a chiastic parallelism to the remainder of words in verse/line 1:

    • “they throng (together)” [Wvg+r*]
      • “(the) nations” [<y]og]
      • “and (the) peoples” [<yM!u%l=W]
    • “they mutter empty (threats)” [qyr!-WGh=y#]

Moreover, the final word (qy!r, “emptiness, empty [thing]”) echoes the futility of the first (“for what, why”). The two verbs are certainly parallel, in a synonymous or synthetic manner:

    • vg~r* (r¹gaš)—this relatively rare verb, often translated “rage” here, more properly refers to a group or throng of people coming together, with a hostile intent or purpose (cf. also Psalm 55:14; 64:2).
    • hg`h* (h¹gâ)—this basic verb seems to refer to someone (or something) making a low/deep sound, as of a person moaning or an animal growling (Isa 31:4; 38:14; 59:11). It is used in the context of mourning in Isa 16:7; Jer 48:31. Figuratively, it can be used of words or thoughts coming from the heart, often in a negative or hostile sense (Prov 24:2; Isa 8:19; 59:3, 13; Lam 3:62), but also for the thoughts/words of the righteous and devout (Ps 1:2; 19:15; 35:28; 63:7; Prov 15:28, etc). Typically it is understood here in terms of negative/hostile thoughts (i.e. plans for rebellion, etc); however, Dahood (p. 7) cites the cognate usage in the Canaanite Kirta text (lines 90-91) where the root seems to be used in the sense of counting/numbering military troops. This meaning would fit the context of the Psalm as well.

The two nouns are also parallel and complementary, forming a hendiadys: “nations” (<y]og) and “peoples” (<yM!u%)—i.e. all of the surrounding people who are (and have been) under the influence and authority of the Israelite/Judean king, including individuals, socio-political and ethnic groups, vassal states, and separate kingdoms. This comprehensive depiction sets the stage for the warning—to any and all who might seek to rebel at the time of the new king’s coronation—at the end of the Psalm (vv. 10-12). In verse 2, the rulers of these nations/peoples are in view, following a similar poetic parallelism as in verse 1; note the sequence of words:

    • “they set/place themselves” (Wbx=y~t=)
      • “(the) kings of (the) earth” (Jr#a#-yk@l=m^)
      • “and (the) honored (one)s” (<yn]z+orw+)
    • “they are set/established” (Wds=on)

These parallel and partially synonymous verbs need to be considered:

The verb /z~r* should also be noted; it is similar in meaning to db^k*, “(be) weighty, worthy, honored/honorable” (cf. Judg 5:3; Prov 8:5; 31:4; Isa 40:23; Hab 1:10. Here the participle is parallel to “kings of the earth” and refers to persons who have a commanding presence or position, i.e. ruler, prince, etc; a related noun has a similar meaning (Prov 14:28). With all this in mind, here are verses 1-2 in full translation:

“For what [i.e. why] do the nations throng together,
and for (what) do the peoples mutter empty (threats)?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the honored (one)s are set (firmly),
against YHWH and against his Anointed.”

The rebellious plans and actions are directed against the new king (“[the] anointed [one]”, j^yv!m*), but, at the same time, also against Yahweh Himself; this is to be expounded in vv. 4-9. The drama of the scene continues to build in verse 3, where the rulers speak and declare their rebellious intent:

“We shall pull off their (cord)s binding (us)
and we shall throw away their ropes from (off of) us!”

This is a typical example of synonymous parallelism in Hebrew poetry, in which the second line heightens and intensifies the first. The verbs qt^n` (“pull, drag, draw [away]”) and El^v* (“throw, drag [away]”), along with the nouns rs@m) (from rs^a*, i.e. something which binds) and tb)u& (“woven [strands]”, i.e. rope), create a doubling which underlines the hostile intent of the rulers, but also, in a sense, the futility of their efforts. From the standpoint of the historical setting, the pronoun suffix “their” (o[m]) could simple refer to the Israelites; however, based on the context of what preceded in verse 2, the plural certainly refers to “YHWH and his Anointed” (i.e. God and the new king, together). The rebellious hostility of the rulers is directed specifically, and ultimately, against Yahweh and the anointed King of Israel/Judah.

Verses 4-9

In these verses, the focus shifts to the coronation and enthronement of the new king, who is under the protection of YHWH. This ruler is referred to specifically as “his [i.e. Yahweh’s] Anointed”. There would have been an actual anointing ceremony involved at the accession/coronation of the king, but here we see expressed the religious and theological dimension—the king is anointed by God, and belongs under His authority and protection. The power ruling Israel/Judah ultimately belongs to God, not the king. This is the basis for the Israelite royal theology in the Psalms, which we see expounded throughout vv. 4-9. It begins in striking fashion, emphasizing not the king’s enthronement, but that of God’s own throne in Heaven:

“The (One) sitting in the heavens laughs,
My Lord [yn`d)a&] chatters at them”

Both verbs indicate mocking derision: (a) qj^c* (equivalent to qj^x*), “laugh (at)”, perhaps in the sense of “play/toy (with)”; and (b) gu^l*, apparently a kind of stuttering/stammering, done in a mocking manner. In verse 5, the mockery gives way to more direct action against the rebels; but does God act by speaking, or by driving away and scattering his enemies in a more primal and concrete sense? Based on a customary reading of the MT, verse 5 begins:

“Then he speaks to them…” (omyl@a@ rB@d^y+ za*)

where omyla is read as the preposition la + object suffix; however, Dahood reads this as the noun lya (“ram”) with defective spelling, the expression “their rams” being a reference to the valiant warriors and commanders of the rebellious rulers. At the same time, Dahood understands the verb rbd not in the ordinary sense of “open the mouth, speak, say”, but according to the Akkadian duppuru/dubburu, “pursue, drive (away)” (p. 9; citing Chicago Assyrian Dictionary [CAD] III (D), p. 188a). For other Old Testament examples, he cites Psalm 56:5; 116:10; 127:5; Jer 9:20-21; Lam 5:9. According to this reading, v. 5 would be:

“Then he drives away their ‘rams’ [i.e. warriors]…”

Most notably, in support of this reading, I would point out Exodus 15:15, in the Song of the Sea; cf. also 2 Kings 24:15; Job 19:22 (Dahood, p. 9). The parallel use of the verb lh^B* (also in Ex 15:15) would seem to support this sense as well; it adds to the idea of God creating a disturbance which alarms and frightens the rebels, causing them move quickly (run away, etc). The nouns [a^ (lit. “nostril”, fig. “anger”) and /orj* (“burning”) add to the graphic depiction of the scene, often obscured in conventional English translation. Here is my rendering (using Dahood’s reconstruction of v. 5a for the moment):

“Then he drives away their ‘rams’ with his nostril(s flaring),
he frightens them (all) with his burning (anger)”

Verse 6 has proven even more problematic for commentators. As it stands, the Masoretic text reads:

“And I have placed [yT!k=s^n~] my king upon ‚iyyon,
upon (the) mountain of my holiness”

However, this has been frequently emended, based largely upon the reading of some Greek manuscripts, whereby it is the king speaking rather than God: “I have been placed (as) his king [Heb. oKl=m^ yT!k=S^n]?] upon ‚iyyon…”. Dahood (p. 10) repoints the MT to give a slightly different reading, along the same lines: “But I have been anointed [yT!k)s%n+] (as) his king upon ‚iyyon…”. According to this interpretation the waw (w+) at the beginning of the verse is contrastive: “Then he drives away their ‘rams’…but I have been set/anointed (as) his king…”. Following the traditional MT, the conjunction would indicate a dramatic climax to God’s action in v. 5: “Then he drives away…he frightens them…and (then says), ‘(See) I have placed my king upon ‚iyyon…”. If we keep to the understanding of the verb rbd in verse 5 as “speak”, then verse 6 represents what YHWH says to the rebels.

If it is God speaking in verse 6, then verse 7, in which the king is (again) clearly the speaker, suggests a dramatic dialogue, of sorts, within the Psalm. If the king is the speaker in verse 6, then v. 7 simply builds upon this scenario:

“But I have been placed (as) his king upon ‚iyyon,
upon (the) mountain of his holiness,
(and) I will recount the inscribed (decree) of YHWH
(in which) he said to me
‘You (are) my Son—I have given birth to you th(is) day!
…’

Whichever is the precise scenario envisioned in vv. 6-7, all commentators can agree that vv. 7b-9, the remainder of the section, represents the “inscribed (decree)” [qj)] of Yahweh, in which God lays out His relationship with the Israelite/Judean king. God is the Ruler of All, enthroned in Heaven, and it is He, through His own written (inscribed/engraved) decree, who gives ruling power and authority to the king. This authority includes rule over the surrounding peoples and nations, extending even to “the ends of the earth”. It is this idea of the Israelite/Judean king’s authority over all the nations which influenced certain aspects of Messianic thought—i.e. the coming Davidic Ruler who will subdue the wicked nations and usher in God’s (end-time) Judgment against them. The influence of verses 7-9 can be seen both in the New Testament (Luke 3:22 v.l.; Acts 4:25-26ff; Heb 1:5; 5:5; Rev 2:27; 12:5), and in other Jewish writings of the period (e.g. Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25; 2/4 Esdras 13:33ff). For more on the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 2 (esp. verse 7) by early Christians, see Parts 6-8 and 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Here is my rendering of verses 7b-9:

“You (are) my Son—I have given birth to you th(is) day!
As (for it) from me, and I will give the nations (for) your inheritance,
and the ends of the earth (as land) seized for your (possession).
You will break them with a staff of iron,
(and) shatter them (to) pieces like vessel(s) shaped (from clay).”

Verses 10-12

A precise interpretation of these closing verses of the Psalm depend much on the textual question surrounding the last two words of v. 11 and the first two of v. 12. Because of the complexities involved, I have devoted a separate note to a discussion of the matter. Fortunately, a general interpretation is still possible, and, indeed, clear enough from the overall context. If the enthronement of the new king is the focus in vv. 4-9, here in verses 10-12 we have a warning to the surrounding nations, now that the king is on the throne. This time-indicator is present in the opening word of verse 10, hT*u^w+, which means something like “and (so) at (this) time”, i.e., “and now…”. I take the context of the warning which follows to be two-fold: (a) you missed your chance to rebel before the enthronement, (b) now that he is enthroned you must not dare to rebel against him. However one ultimately understands the first two words of verse 12 (customarily read as “kiss the son…”, cf. the supplemental note), there can be no doubt of the idea, central to the royal theology, that the Israelite king is under the protection of YHWH, and any action against the king is effectively taken against God Himself. Thus we have the forceful warning (and exhortation) for the surrounding nations, with their rulers, to submit to the rule of YHWH—who is ultimately the one on the throne (in Heaven). The closing line of the Psalm makes clear that the orientation of the work, as it has come down to us, transcends the original (historical) setting with its Israelite royal theology. Indeed, we find an echo of the beatitude that begins the first Psalm (cf. the earlier study):

“(The) happiness of all (the one)s trusting in Him!”

Thus, the second Psalm, despite the historical origins of its content, is not addressed merely to the rulers of the nations, but to the nations themselves—to all people everywhere. The one who serves as God’s representative on earth, among the people, is rightly called His “son”, being the heir to God’s own ruling power, with the privileges and protections that come from such a position. The central message of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is that divine representative, the Son of God, in the fullest possible sense, and all the ones who trust in him have the happiness and blessedness of knowing that they, too, share in that same status and position—of being children of God.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 16 (1965).

“He opened to us the Scriptures”

This article is a supplement to the recently posted series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”. In a previous post, I discussed two striking scenes in the Lukan Resurrection Narratives which speak of Jesus’ “opening the Scriptures” to his disciples (24:27, 32) or “opening their mind” to understand the Scriptures (24:45ff). It is clearly indicated in these passages that Jesus expounded or explained the Sacred Writings, in relation to their foretelling (or prefiguring) his suffering, death, and resurrection (cf. esp. v. 26 and 46). However, it is never specified exactly which Old Testament passages he used, or what manner of exposition he applied. This silence is tantalizing, and perhaps worth exploring a bit further, which I shall do directly below. First, a follow-up note on verse 44, where Jesus reiterates earlier teaching to the disciples that “it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (things) having been written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms about me”. This theme of the fulfillment (literally “to be made full, to be filled [up]”) of Scripture is a key theme throughout the Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament as well). A concrete sense of the metaphor would depict the Writings (Scriptures) as a space or container which is filled up—that is, up to the brim, leveled off. Implied in this image, is that the Life and Person of Christ is what “fills up” the space. A more abstract sense of “filling up” is to “complete” or “accomplish” some goal or task; “filling” can also have an intensive connotation (i.e., “abundance”, “fullness”). I should wish to consider this “filling up” of Scripture from two vantage points:

    1. Details in the Gospels (esp. related to his death/resurrection) which Jesus himself speaks of as, in some sense, fulfilling Scripture
    2. Use of specific Old Testament passages by the Gospel writers (or their underlying sources)

1. Details in the Gospels which “fulfill Scripture”, according to Jesus’ recorded words:

To which, one might also add:

  • Matthew 5:17f — Jesus specifically states he has come to fulfill the Law and Prophets
  • John 5:39 — Jesus says of the Scriptures that they “bear witness about me”
  • Matthew 11:10; par. Luke 7:27 — John the Baptist as “My Messenger” (Mal. 3:1, cf. Mark 1:2-3)
  • Matthew 12:8 & par. — Jesus (the Son of Man) is “Lord of the Sabbath” (a ‘fulfillment’ of the Sabbath?)
  • Luke 9:31 — during the Transfiguration Jesus is described as conversing with Moses and Elijah about his way out [“going out”, e&codo$] which was about to “be fulfilled” in Jerusalem (the language is Luke’s, not necessarily Jesus’ own)
  • Mark 10:18-21 & par. — following Jesus can be seen as a kind of ‘fulfillment’ of the commandments (law of love/sacrifice)
  • Mark 11:2-3 & par. — Jesus’ instructions may be intended to fulfill Zech 9:9ff
  • Mark 11:17 & par. — Jesus ties his ‘cleansing’ of the Temple with Isa 56:7 (his actions could also relate to Zech 14:20-21); the parallel account in John has a slightly different Scripture import
  • Mark 12:35-37 & par. — Jesus’ short, cryptic, discussion of Psalm 110:1 (see a similar discussion involving Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34ff)
  • Mark 14:24f & par. — Jesus identifies his blood as the “blood of the [new] covenant”
  • Mark 14:62 & par. — reference to the future appearance of the Son of Man (cf. Daniel 7:13 ff)

Perhaps also:

  • Mark 1:15 — “the time/season is fulfilled” and the Kingdom of God has come near (in the Person of Christ)
  • John 7:38 — belief in Christ related to “rivers of living water” (but the exact Scripture reference is unclear)
  • John 18:9, 32 — the reference is to Jesus’ word being fulfilled; whether this refers also to a Scripture passage is unclear

Others could perhaps be added to the list. For Scriptural references in the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, see below.

2. Use of Old Testament passages by the Gospel writers (and/or their sources):

MATTHEW: This Gospel makes by far the most extensive use of a citation-formula to indicate the fulfillment of specific Old Testament passages. A number of these citations state directly that what has occurred fulfills Scripture (1:22; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 21:4). A fair number are also unique to Matthew among the (canonical) Gospels (1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18; 4:14-16; 12:17-21; 21:4-5; 27:9-10). However, there can be no doubt that the basic citation-formula was part of the common Gospel tradition. Even John has a distinctive use of it: in addition to a cluster of citations in the Crucifixion scene (19:24, 28, 36-37), there are several verses (2:22; 12:16; 20:9) stating that the disciples did not at first understand that what they hear or witnessed was a fulfillment of Scripture (even upon witnessing the empty tomb [20:9]!).

JOHN: A different approach is utilized throughout the fourth Gospel, particularly in the great Discourses—at every turn Jesus identifies himself with key themes and images (we might call them “types”) from Scripture. This occurs at two levels:

(1) The Feasts, which are the setting for most of the Discourses and a number of narratives:

  • Three different Passover settings: (a) Cleansing of the Temple (2:13-22), (b) Feeding of the Multitude & Bread of Life Discourse (chapter 6), (c) Passion Week (chaps. 12-13, [14-17], 18-20). John also makes clear allusions to Passover in the Crucifixion scene (19:14, 29, 31-36).
  • Sukkoth (Feast of Booths/Tabernacles): This is the setting of chapter 7, and, presumably 8:12-59; the motifs of “living water” and light definitely seem to echo ritual imagery associated with Tabernacles (cf. esp. Zech 14:8).
  • Dedication/Hanukkah (e)gkai/nia, “renewal”) is the setting of 10:22-39
  • An unspecified Feast (Pentecost?) is the setting of chapter 5; more important is detail that it was a Sabbath, emphasizing the work of the Son and the Father, especially in regard to the life-giving power (5:19-29) they both share.

(2) Archetypal Old Testament motifs and symbols (others could probably be included):

One should also note the following:

(3) In a number of passages, Jesus seems to be identified with Scripture itself (see especially 5:39). The Light/Darkness motif would appear to echo traditional OT/Jewish language for the Torah, which is often identified with Divine/personified Wisdom (the Word of God). This association is clearest in the Gospel’s prologue-hymn (1:1-18).

(4) Finally, of course, we have the famous “I Am” (e)gw\ ei)mi/) sayings of Jesus, which certainly could have been included in the lists above. It is not always clear how often this usage is meant to be taken absolutely (as an identification with the Name of God, cf. Exodus 3:14), but in passages such as 8:58 it is unmistakable.

LUKE: This Gospel adopts what I would call a literary-creative approach, whereby the core narrative traditions (inherited from Mark and/or other sources) have been given an interpretive layer shaped largely by Old Testament language and images. This is perhaps seen most clearly in the Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:5-2:52): the canticles are replete with Scriptural references (the Magnificat echoes Hannah’s song [1 Sam 2:1-10]), the angelic appearances (as in Matthew) follow Old Testament patterns, and overall the narratives seem to have been influenced and shaped especially by the stories of Samuel’s birth/youth (1 Sam 1-3). One could point to many other passages; for example, details unique to Luke’s presentation of the Transfiguration (cf. 9:29, 31, 34). In the Passion and Resurrection narratives, perhaps the following details might be noted:

  • The context of the Last Supper (22:14-23) may more closely reflect the Passover ritual (especially if vv. 19b-20 are original)
  • The angelic appearance to Jesus in the garden (if verses 43-44 are original)
  • Emphasis of the role of Herod during Jesus’ trial is possibly influenced by OT passages such as Psalm 2:1-2 (cf. Acts 4:25-26)
  • The placement of the rending of the Temple curtain—right after mention of the darkness (and before Jesus’ death)—is probably meant to enhance the apocalyptic imagery of the scene and to emphasize the theme of judgment (rel. to the destruction of the Temple—cf. Ezek. 10, etc. and later Pseudepigraphic passages such as 2 Baruch 6, 8).
  • Instead of the cry of dereliction from the cross (quoting Psalm 22:1), Luke records (23:46) quite a different utterance of Jesus (quoting Psalm 31:6). This shows clearly how selection/application of various Scriptural allusions or details can create a very different (though not necessarily contradictory) portrait.

What Scripture passages did Jesus “open” for his disciples in Luke 24:26-27, 32, 45ff? We have no way of knowing for certain; however, based on other New Testament passages and ancient Jewish traditions, here are some likely candidates (esp. those related to Jesus’ Suffering, Death and Resurrection):

  • Genesis 22:1-14: The Binding/Sacrifice of Isaac (Aqedah). It is not entirely clear if the NT writers themselves made the association here between Isaac and Jesus, but by the middle of the 2nd century Christians clearly had done so (cf. Barnabas 7:2, Melito of Sardis [On the Pascha]).
  • Exodus 12: The Passover ritual and sacrifice (in the context of the “Exodus”, cf. Luke 9:31). There can be no doubt that the Synoptic tradition and the Gospel of John both saw the connection (cf. especially John 19:14, 29, 31-36).
  • Numbers 21:4-9: The bronze serpent (cf. John 3:14-15).
  • Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (esp. vv. 15, 18-19 [Exod 20:21 SP]): The “Prophet like Moses” whom God will raise up. By Jesus’ time, this passage had been understood to refer to an eschatological Prophet, in a quasi-Messianic context (see esp. the Qumran testimonia 4Q175; also 1QS 9; CD 6; and John 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40). It was definitely understood as a prophecy of Christ (Acts 3:22; 7:37-38). The refusal to listen to the Prophet (Deut 18:19) is tied in both to the Passion of Christ (Acts 7:39ff, 51-53) and the coming eschatological judgment (Acts 3:23).
  • 2 Samuel 15:13-37: The narrative structure and sequence of the Passion (on the Mount of Olives) seems (at the level of the common tradition) to have been influenced by the story of David’s departure from Jerusalem. Matthew’s account of Judas’ death (27:3-5), in this context, may have been influenced by 2 Sam 17:23 (death of Ahithophel).
  • Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (Servant Song): The chapters of so-called Deutero-Isaiah (40-66) were a rich trove for early Christian interpretation. Already John the Baptist had made use of Isa 40:3-5; Jesus applied Isa 61:1-2 to himself as he spoke in the Nazareth Synagogue (Luke 4:16-21ff); Matthew (12:18-20) cites Isa 42:1-4 (another “Servant Song”). As far as 52:13-53:12 is concerned, there can be no doubt that: (a) early believers recognized details related to the Passion, and also (b) that these details helped to shape the Passion narratives. A parallel can be found in nearly every verse (esp. vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12). In Acts 8:26-39, Philip interprets Isa 52:13-53:12 to the Ethiopian Eunuch in much the same manner, perhaps, as Jesus instructed the Disciples.
  • Psalm 2:1-2 (see Acts 4:25-27): Very likely these verses also influenced Luke to emphasize the role of Herod in Jesus’ trial (a detail not found in the other Gospels). Luke 23:13 especially may echo verse 2 of the Psalm.
  • Psalm 16:8-11: Cited in Acts 2:25-28ff (and again in Acts 13:35) as a prophecy of the death and Resurrection of Christ.
  • Psalm 22: There can be no question that this Psalm had a profound influence on early Christians’ understanding of the Passion and Death of Jesus. In addition to Jesus’ own cry of dereliction (quoting Psalm 22:1-2) as recorded in Matthew-Mark, verses 7, 16, 18 offer explicit parallels to specific details.
  • Psalm 31: In Luke 23:46, instead of the cry of abandonment, Jesus addresses the Father by quoting Psalm 31:5 [Heb./LXX v. 6]. Other verses in the Psalm (e.g., 7-8, 11, 13, 17-18, 22) also may have been related to the Passion.
  • Psalm 41:9 [Heb./LXX v. 10]: Already cited (on Jesus’ lips) in John 13:18 as a prophecy/prefiguring of Judas’ betrayal
  • Psalm 42:5, 11 [Heb./LXX v. 6, 12]: These verses seem be a source both for Jesus’ own words (Mark 14:34 par.) and the overall atmosphere of the Passion scene in Gethsemane.
  • Psalm 69 (esp. verse 21 [Heb./LXX v. 22])
  • Psalm 110:1: Jesus’ himself cites this verse (Mark 12:35-37 par.); but certainly early Christians saw in it a reference to the Resurrection and Exaltation of Christ (Acts 4:34-35, etc).
  • Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders rejected”, applied by Jesus to himself (Mark 12:10-11 and par.); also verse 26 is used by the crowds (a festal/pilgrimage setting) at the Triumphal Entry, and by Jesus himself in a word of lament and judgment toward Jerusalem (Matthew 23:39).
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14: The ‘Valley of Dry Bones’ prophecy likely was viewed early on as prefiguring the Resurrection (see Matthew 27:52-53 and the language in John 5:25-29)
  • Daniel 7:13: Jesus draws upon the Son of Man imagery in the session before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62 par.) and in the Eschatological Discourse (set during Passion week, Mark 13:24-27 par.)
  • Daniel 9:24-27 [esp. v. 26]: “the Anointed (One) shall be cut off…”
  • Zechariah 9-14: As with Psalm 22 and Isa 52:13-53:12, these chapters had a tremendous influence on the interpretation of the Passion, and in shaping the narratives. (a) Zech 9:9: Seen as a prophecy/prefiguring of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem (cited directly in Matthew 21:5; John 12:15). Jesus’ own detailed instructions (as recorded by the Synoptics, Mark 14:13-16 par.) may indicate that he himself had this passage in mind. (b) Zech 9:11: a reference to the “blood of [your] covenant” (cf. Mark 14:24 par.) (c) Zech 9:16 and chapters 10-11: true/false Shepherd imagery (see John 10:1-18, 25-30, with reference to Christ’s death/resurrection in vv. 11, 15, 17-18); see also on Zech 13:7. (d) Zech 11:12-13: the “thirty pieces of silver” thrown into the “house of the Lord, to the potter” (Matthew 26:15; 27:5-10). (e) Zech 12:10: “they shall look on me whom they have pierced…” (John 19:34-37) (f) Zech 13:7: cited by Jesus as a Passion prediction (Mark 14:17 par.); see also Zech 11:17. (g) Zech 13:1; 14:8: a fountain and “living water” in Jerusalem (see the discourse of Jesus in John 7-8 [esp. 7:37-39]). The Sukkot/Tabernacles setting pervades these chapters (14:16-19; cf. also the request for rain in 10:1). (h) Zech 14:20-21: These verses would seem to provide the background for Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (esp. Mark 12:15-18); did Jesus himself have them in mind?

Jesus must have expounded at least some (if not all) of the above passages. Often the interpretation described by Jesus in Luke 24:26-27, 32, 45ff has been overlooked by scholars. Critical commentators will look long and hard for explanations as to how early Christians came to associate certain Old Testament passages with the death and resurrection of Christ. Perhaps they have missed another possible explanation: that the disciples could have been introduced to them by Jesus himself.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on Psalm 110:1

In the current article (Part 8) of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, I briefly examined the episode in Mark 12:35-37 par, where Jesus discusses the relationship between “the Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”. Central to the episode is Jesus’ citation of Psalm 110:1, which in the Greek version (LXX) begins:

ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w|
eípen ho kúrios tœ kuríœ
“The Lord said to my Lord…”

The dual use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) at first glance is confusing, and is due to specific circumstances surrounding the recitation (and translation) of the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH, Yahweh). The original Hebrew reads,

yn]d)al^ hw`hy+ <a%n+
n®°¥m YHWH la°dœnî
“Utterance of YHWH to my Lord:…”

Early on in Jewish tradition, the Tetragrammaton hwhy (YHWH) was replaced with “(my) Lord” (ynda) when the text was recited; this, in turn, generally led to the common practice of translating hwhy with Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) in Greek, and to the double-use of ku/rio$ in LXX Psalm 110:1. A similar wordplay could be attested for Aramaic—ya!r=m*l= ar@m* rm^a& °¦mar m¹r¢° l®m¹r°î (cf. Fitzmyer, WA p. 90).

In the original context of the Psalm, the Lord (YHWH) speaks to “my Lord” (the 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). As noted in Parts 6 and 7 of this series, Psalm 2 was interpreted and applied to the coming/future Anointed King (from the line of David) in a number of Jewish writings of the period (such as the 17th Psalm of Solomon). However, 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). In the Synoptic saying of Jesus in Mark 14:62 par, he identifies himself (as “the Son of Man”) who will appear at the right hand of God, in connection with the coming/end-time Judgment (Mk 13:26 par). Thus Jesus may be identifying himself with a pre-existent Heavenly/Divine figure akin to that in 1 Enoch 37-71. In Hebrews 1:13, Psalm 110:1 is cited in the context of belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, though in Heb 5:6 an association with the resurrection (and exaltation) seems to be more in mind.

References marked “Fitzmyer, WA” above are from J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays (Scholars Press: 1979).

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 3:22

Luke 3:22

The John/Jesus parallel of the Lukan Infancy narrative continues on into the Gospel proper—the account of Jesus’ baptism as narrated in the wider Synoptic tradition (Mark 1:2-11 par). The main difference in Luke’s account is that he records the beginning and end of John’s ministry at the same point (cf. the detail in Lk 3:18-20). This effectively clears the way for the introduction of Jesus’ ministry in verse 23. The Lukan narrative describes the baptism of Jesus as part of the process—the people being baptized—but the author also sets Jesus apart from the crowd through a simple syntactical variation. Verses 21-22 utilize a construction e)geneto de/ (“and it came to be [that]”) + infinitive—which is almost impossible to translate literally in English. The action is described with a succession of infinitives:

    • all the people being dunked [i.e. baptized]
    • the heavens opening up
    • the holy Spirit stepping down upon him {Jesus}
    • a voice out of heaven coming to be

John the Baptist is a transitional figure, between the Old Covenant and the New, associated specifically with the Prophets (1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4-6; 7:26-28)—the completion of the Age of the Law and the Prophets (16:16 par). As discussed at numerous points in the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus was seen as fulfilling the types and forms of the Old Covenant—and this process is completed with the baptism. In Matthew’s account, this expressed in terms of fulfilling the righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God (“so it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”, Matt 3:15). In Luke’s version of the baptism scene, Jesus is among the crowd coming to be baptized, but is still set apart:

“And it came to be, among all the people being dunked, and (with) Yeshua being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and the heaven opening up and the holy Spirit stepping down upon him in bodily appearance as a dove, and a voice coming to be (from) out of heaven, (this voice said)…”

There is a definite Messianic significance to the baptism scene in Luke-Acts, indicated by several points:

  • The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus (4:18 [Isa 61:1f], cf. verse 1, 14)
  • The declaration of Jesus as God’s Son, especially in light of Psalm 2:7 (cf. below)
  • The parallel declaration in the Transfiguration scene
  • The gospel statement in Acts 10:37-38

While these are common to the Synoptic tradition, several of the details are given greater emphasis in the Lukan account.

The Voice from Heaven

In the majority of manuscripts, the words of the heavenly voice (3:22b) match those of the other Synoptic versions: “You are my Son [su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou], the (Be)loved One [o( a)gaphto/$]; I have good thought/consideration in you [e)n soi eu)do/khsa]”. There is probably an echo of Isa 42:1 here, a Messianic passage for which the parallel is even closer in the Lukan version of the voice at the Transfiguration (cf. below). However, in Codex Bezae [D], along with several Old Latin MSS and writings of the Church Fathers, the voice in Lk 3:22 actually quotes Psalm 2:7:

“You are my son; today I have caused you to be (born)”
ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se

This verse, of course, came to be a primary Messianic reference as applied to Christ, though usually in connection with the resurrection, not the baptism (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). The title “Beloved” (a)gaphto/$) in the Old Testament (LXX) tradition is associated especially with the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:2, 12; for a similar context, cf. Amos 8:10; Zech 12:10). For more on the text-critical issue in 3:22, cf. the daily note for January 13.

The Transfiguration

The Messianic significance of the corresponding scene at the Transfiguration is due, in large part, to its position in the Synoptic narrative, following Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Anointed One (9:20) and Jesus’ first prediction of his coming death and resurrection (9:21-22). We also have the identification of Jesus with the Prophet figure-types of Moses and Elijah. In many MSS, the heavenly voice in 9:35 matches that of the majority text of 3:22; however, the best reading shows a slight difference:

“You are my Son, the One Gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen One]; I have good thought/consideration in you”

The title e)klelegme/no$, parallel to a)gaphto/$ in 3:22, more properly aligns the declaration with the (Messianic) Servant song of Isa 42:1ff. A related title e)klekto/$ is used in 23:35, in close connection with xristo/$ (“Anointed One”); cf. also the variant reading in Jn 1:34, where it is used with the title “Son of God”.

Son of God

Drawing upon the earlier discussion of Jesus’ saying in Lk 2:49 (cf. the previous note), we may outline three ways of understanding Jesus as God’s Son in 3:22:

  • Identification with the people of Israel as God’s “Son” (Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1, etc). Jesus’ participation with the people in baptism may be intended to bring out such an association—cp. Lk 1:77 with Matt 1:21 (2:13-15ff).
  • The Messiah (the Davidic Ruler) as God’s Son (Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:12-16, etc)
  • Sonship in terms of exalted, heavenly position and status. In early Christian tradition, the use of Messianic Psalm passages such as Ps 2:7; 110:1 were applied to Jesus in the context of his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). Eventually, this was also understood in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent deity.

The parallel declaration in 9:35 suggests that the second option is the one primarily in view. According to Gospel tradition (cf. Acts 10:37-38), it was at the baptism that Jesus was (first) identified as the “Anointed One”, though the title was applied directly only with Peter’s confession (9:20).

The Geneaology in 3:23ff

The Lukan situation is complicated by the peculiar insertion of Jesus’ genealogy at 3:23, directly following the baptism account. Essentially, it serves to introduce Jesus at the time of the beginning of his (public) ministry, but it plays on the same idea of sonship addressed in 2:49. There, Joseph was referred to as Jesus’ parent (vv. 41, 48a) or father (v. 48b), establishing the contrast with the saying of v. 49, where Jesus identifies God as his Father. In a similar way, the genealogy of 3:23 is introduced:

“And Yeshua {Jesus} (him)self, beginning (his ministry), was as though (about) thirty years (old), being the son, as it was thought/considered, of Yoseph…”

The genealogy—his legal ancestry through Joseph—continues through verse 38, all the way back to the first human being (cf. the Genesis creation account):

“…the (son) of Enosh, the (son) of Seth, the (son) of Adam, the (son) of God”

The line is thus traced back to God himself, God the Father (Yahweh/El). This turns out to be a very clever way for the author to restate the idea that Jesus is the “Son of God”. It should be noted that the word “son” (ui(o/$) is only implied, and is not actually present throughout the genealogy of vv. 24-38. Nevertheless, the basic concept is certainly there—Jesus’ true genealogy goes back to God. A literal treatment of vv. 23-38 would simply indicate Jesus’ common human heritage—of the people Israel, stretching back through their ancestors to the Creation. But the author’s actual emphasis is on the point of contrast—Jesus was only the son of Joseph in a conventional (and legal) sense; his true sonship is divine. The framework of the Gospel narrative means that the author (trad. Luke) did not really bring out this aspect of Jesus’ sonship until after the resurrection and exaltation. Yet it is certainly foreshadowed earlier in the Infancy narrative (1:32-35; 2:41-50) and here at the baptism.

Birth of the Son of God: Acts 13:26-41

In the previous note, I looked at Acts 2:29-36 (the last section of Peter’s Pentecost sermon) from the standpoint of the earliest Christian view of Jesus—focusing on the Christological statement in verse 36 and citation of Psalm 110:1 in vv. 34-35. Today, I turn to another major sermon-speech in Acts: that by Paul in Acts 13:16-41. As I have discussed earlier, in my series of articles on the Speeches in the book of Acts, these sermon-speeches by Peter and Paul are remarkably similar in many respects, both in terms of structure and content. Verses 26-41 form the major Christological/kerygmatic section of the speech, parallel to 2:29-36; similarly, this section contains a principal Scripture passage from the Psalms, Ps 2:7, parallel to Ps 110:1—both of which represent key “Messianic” prophecies applied to Jesus.

Acts 13:26-41

Here there is a similar identification of Jesus as Savior and (Messianic) descendant of David in verse 23:

“of this (man)’s [i.e. David’s] seed [tou/toua)po\ tou= spe/rmato$]… a Savior, Yeshua [swth=ra  )Ihsou=n]”

Verse 26 emphasizes again the Gospel as the message of salvation (“the account/word of salvation”, o( lo/go$ th=$ swthri/a$). The centrality of the resurrection is also clear, in vv. 30ff, but also (perhaps) within verse 23:

“of this (man)’s seed, God, according to (His) announcement/promise, led/brought (forth) to Yisrael a Savior Yeshua”

There are two elements which are italicized above:

  • kata\ e)paggeli/an (“according to [his] announcement/promise”)—which should be understood according to three aspects in early Christian thought:
    • God’s promise(s) to Abraham and “the Fathers”, i.e. to Israel—the covenant, including the promised land
    • The (Messianic) promise of salvation/restoration—realized in the person and work of Jesus
    • The Holy Spirit specifically as the “promise of God” (cf. Acts 1:4; 2:33; Gal 3:14)
    • —all three aspects come together in Acts 2:39; 13:32; Rom 1:2; Gal 3:14ff, etc
  • h&gagen tw=|  )Israh/l (“he led/brought [forth] to Israel”)—this primarily refers to the appearance of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry; however, a number of manuscripts read h&geiren (“he raised”) instead of h&gagen, perhaps influenced by the presence of this verb in v. 22.

In verse 32, the promise of God (to the Fathers) is connected more specifically to the resurrection, as indicated by the Scripture citations which follow, beginning with Psalm 2:7:

“…that God has fulfilled this to us [their] offspring, making Yeshua stand up (again) [i.e. raising Jesus], even as it has been written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son, I have caused you to be (born) this day'” (v. 33)

The chain of references helps to illustrate how the speaker/author understood Ps 2:7:

  • “Son” of God (“My Son”)
    —Davidic heir (v. 34, Isa 55:3)
    —Holy One (of God) (v. 35, Ps 16:10)—connection with David (the Psalmist)

There is a similar associative matrix in Acts 2:29-36 (drawing upon the earlier citation of Ps 16:8-11 in vv. 25-28):

  • “Lord” (ku/rio$)—connection with YHWH, God the Father (vv. 25, 34, Ps 16:8; 110:1)
    —Descendent/offspring of David (v. 30)
    —Holy One (of God) (v. 27, Ps 16:10)

With the use of Ps 2:7 in Acts 13:32ff, there is evidence of a transition having taken place between:

  1. The original context of Psalm 2, and
  2. Its application to Jesus as an exalted/divine figure

Originally, the 2nd Psalm referred to the (human) king as God’s “son” in a symbolic or ritual sense, the setting of the Psalm (as with Ps 110) being the coronation/inauguration/enthronement of the (new) king. Israel shared this basic idea as part of the thought-world of the Ancient Near East, where exalted/divine imagery and epithets were frequently applied to rulers; at times, kings were thought to achieve a divine status, at least after death. Only in the royal theology of Egypt do we find anything like Divine Sonship ascribed to rulers in the metaphysical sense. Certainly in ancient Israel, this “sonship” was only symbolic, tied to the idea of God’s covenantal protection of the ruler; even so, reference to it in Scripture is rare, limited mainly to several key passages—especially Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7:8-16. In the latter passage, the context is a promise (by God) regarding the Davidic line and kingdom, which we also see expressed in Psalm 89. These two elements—the king as God’s “son” and promise of kingship for David’s descendents—coalesced into a “royal Messiah” concept, such as we find coming into prominence within Jewish tradition and literature in the 2nd-1st centuries B.C. Jeremiah 33:14-26 is the main prophetic passage which influenced the idea. There is no special comment on Psalm 2:7 in the surviving texts from Qumran, but 4QFlorilegium(174) does provide a Messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:10-14 (cf. lines 10-13). Acts 13:33 is probably the oldest surviving “Messianic” use of Psalm 2:7, with the possible exception of the variant reading at Luke 3:22 (cf. below).

Orthodox Christians may be accustomed to reading Ps 2:7 in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent Deity, and this does seem to be assumed in Hebrews, where Ps 2:7 is cited (along with 2 Sam 7:14 and Ps 110:1) in Heb 1:5ff and 5:5f. However, in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts, the context is clearly that of Jesus’ resurrection. After the resurrection, Jesus is exalted and made to sit at the right hand of God the Father (YHWH) in heaven—this is the setting for the citation of Ps 2:7 in Acts 13:33 (as well as of Ps 110:1 in Acts 2:34-35). Almost certainly, then, the focal point of the conceptual transition regarding Ps 2:7 (cf. above) was not a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity, but rather his resurrection and exaltation. Only subsequently, as the result of further thought and (progressive) revelation, was this Christological connection widened. Interestingly, if Ps 2:7 is applied to the resurrection in Acts 13:33, and (it would seem) to Jesus’ divine pre-existence in Hebrews, there is a kind of ‘intermediate’ application—to Jesus’ baptism—attested in certain manuscripts and textual witnesses for Luke 3:22 [D a b c d ff2 etc and a number of Church Fathers], where, instead of the generally accepted reading—

su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n soi\ eu)do/khsa
“You are my Son the (be)loved (one) [i.e. my beloved Son], I think good in [i.e. think well of, take delight in] you”

the voice from Heaven quotes Ps 2:7:

ui(o\$ mou ei@ su e)gw\ sh/meron gege/nnhka/ se
“You are my son, I have caused you to be (born) today”

In such a context, the implication might be that Jesus “becomes” God’s Son during the baptism (with the descent of the Spirit upon him). Whatever the origins of the variants in this verse, it clearly demonstrates that early Christians were beginning to apply Ps 2:7—along with the idea of Jesus as the “Son of God”—outside of the traditional Messianic (Davidic) setting. However, as I have indicated in these notes, the early preaching preserved in Acts 2 and 13 still maintains a vital connection with the earlier setting, emphasizing Jesus as a descendant of David (“son of David”). This will be explored further in the next article of ths series.

I have consistently translated the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) in the transitive/causative sense as “caused to be (born)”. It hardly need be said that the precise, technical meaning in context differs slightly depending on whether the subject is male or female. In conventional English expression (and from a biological standpoint), only the female (mother) bears and gives birth, while the male (father) contributes toward conception. Older English had a convenient verb for rendering genna/w from the male standpoint—”to beget“—but, unfortunately, this no longer part of the regular vocabulary. Instead, we have to use inaccurate and awkward phrasing such as “become (the) father”, etc. It is indeed tempting to translate Psalm 2:7 along the lines of the old KJV (“…this day I have begotten thee”), still maintained in translations like the ESV (“…today I have begotten you”); however, I have tried to keep my (glossed) translations excessively literal, preserving, as far as possible, the fundamental meaning and etymology of each word.

Birth of the Son of God: Acts 2:29-36

In this series of Christmas season daily notes on the theme “The Birth of the Son of God”, I now turn to examine what the earliest Christian preaching may have said about Jesus as the “Son of God”. Based on the assumption that the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts, to a greater or lesser extent, genuinely reflect early preaching and Gospel proclamation (kerygma), I will be looking at passages in two of the most prominent sermons in the book—the Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-41) and the speech by Paul in Acts 13:16-41. I discuss both of these, each in considerable detail, as a part of a series on the Speeches in the book of Acts (soon to be posted); here I will focus only several elements related to early Christological belief. I begin with one section of Peter’s Pentecost sermon.

Acts 2:29-36

This is the last of the three sections, or divisions, of the sermon—vv. 14-21, 22-28, and 29-36—each of which includes a central citation from Scripture (Joel 2:28-32 and Psalm 16:8-11 in the first two sections). The concluding statement in verse 36 offers a concise and effective summary of early Christology:

“…let all (the) house of Yisrael know that God made him (both) Lord and Anointed, this Yeshua whom you put to the stake”

The key phrase is indicated by italics—God made [e)poi/hsen] Jesus to be both Lord [ku/rio$] and (the) Anointed [xristo/$]. What is most important to note here is that this statement is centered (and predicated) clearly upon the resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus. God’s act of raising Jesus from the dead is even more prominent in the kerygma of the second section (vv. 22-28), with its climactic quotation (and application) of Psalm 16:8-11. Apart from the association with Jesus’ resurrection (especially in the interpretation of verse 10 of the Psalm), there are several key details which carry on into the next section of the sermon, and which should be noted:

  • Being in the presence of the Lord [o( ku/rio$], i.e. YHWH (v. 25)
  • The appellation “Holy (One)”—the adjective o%sio$ as a substantive (v. 27)
  • The connection with David (the Psalmist)

Let us now examine the two titles used in verse 36:

“Lord” (ku/rio$)—The Scripture cited in this section (in vv. 34-35) is Psalm 110:1, a key “Messianic” passage in early Christian tradition. Jesus himself cites it (Mark 12:36 par) in the context of a Scriptural discussion regarding the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) as the “son of David” (cf. below); the precise interpretation of this discussion, as it has come down to us in Gospel tradition, remains difficult and much debated. Later, v. 1b is cited in the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 1:13; cf. also 10:12-13 and the use of Ps 110 in chapters 5, 7). The first “Lord” (ku/rio$) in v. 1, of course, is YHWH (hwhy); originally, the second “Lord” (ku/rio$, Heb. /oda*), referred to the (human) king—the original context of the Psalm being the king’s coronation/inauguration/enthronement. However, early on, Christians understood the second “Lord” as a reference to Jesus, in his divine status and/or nature; this was made possible as soon as the distinction between the original Hebrew words was lost, and the same Greek word (ku/rio$) was used twice—ku/rio$ being the typical word used to render hwhy/YHWH (see the earlier article on the Divine name). Eventually, Christians would come to interpret Ps 110:1 in the light of Jesus’ divine pre-existence—a belief already assumed, it would seem, in Hebrews 1:13 (where Ps 110:1 is cited, but note the rather different context of Heb 10:12-13). In Acts, however, Psalm 110:1 is applied specifically in relation to Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation; the interpretive setting clearly is that of the exalted Jesus sitting at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33). This status/position next to God the Father (YHWH) means that Jesus is able to carry the same divine name (“Lord”, ku/rio$), cf. Phil 2:9ff. It may also be the basis for understanding Jesus as God’s Son—note the reference in v. 33 to Jesus receiving the “promise of the Spirit” from the Father (lit. “alongside [para/] the Father”, cf. Jn 1:14, discussed in an earlier note). Also related, perhaps, to the idea of Jesus as God’s Son is the use of o%sio$ (as a substantive title, “Holy One”) in verse 27 [Ps 16:10], parallel to the substantive a%gio$ (also typically render “holy”) in Luke 1:34—”(he) will be called Holy, the Son of God”.

“Anointed” (xristo/$)—This particular title, in context, relates to Jesus’ role as descendant of David (vv. 29-34, esp. v. 30). From the standpoint of Jewish tradition, this means, especially, the “Messiah” (jyvm = xristo$, “Anointed”)—i.e., the eschatological (Davidic) ruler who would bring about the salvation/restoration of Israel. This “messianic” expectation is clearly indicated in a number of New Testament passages (e.g., Luke 2:25, 38; Acts 1:6). It is within this same background that we should understand the title “Son of David”, which is applied to Jesus on a number of occasions. This particular title will be discussed in more detail in upcoming notes, but I would point out here that, within the Gospel tradition, it seems to come to the fore in the Passion narratives, beginning with the entry into Jerusalem. However, in the Infancy narratives Jesus as “Son of David” takes on special significance, in connection with his birth. To judge from contemporary Jewish material, we would not necessarily expect an immediate identification of the “Anointed” (Christ/Messiah) with the title “Son of God”, except in light of Psalm 2; 2 Sam 7, and the ancient ritual/symbolic tradition of the king as God’s “son” that underlies the Messiah concept—this will be discussed more in upcoming notes.

Both of these titles—”Lord” and “Anointed”—are brought together in the Lukan Infancy narrative at the birth of Jesus: “…produced [i.e. born] for you today a Savior which is (the) Anointed, (the) Lord [xristo/$ ku/rio$] in the city of David” (Luke 2:11; cf. also Psalms of Solomon 17:36 for a similar conjunction). Note the way that these two titles qualify Jesus as the Davidic savior:

  • A Savior (swth/r), who is
    —(the) Anointed (xristo/$)
    —(the) Lord (ku/rio$)
  • in the city of David

Interestingly, we find this same sort of combination in Philippians 3:20, only there the reference is more properly to Jesus as an eschatological Savior who will come from the ‘heavenly city’ (i.e. Heaven).

Fundamentally, of course, it is the message of salvation that is central to the Gospel proclamation, such as we see in Peter’s Pentecost speech in Acts 2. In conclusion, I would note the elements here that can be found, generally, in the announcement of Good News to Mary and Joseph in Lukan/Matthean Infancy narratives:

  • Salvation from the coming judgment, involving repentance and forgiveness of sin
  • The name of Jesus (note the traditional etymology in Matt 1:21, cf. the earlier note in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”)
  • Receiving the Holy Spirit—cp. Acts 1:8 with Luke 1:35, where the Holy Spirit will “come upon” [e)pe/rxomai] believers just as the Spirit will “come upon” [e)pe/rxomai] Mary

This last point of comparison is especially important—ultimately the birth of the Son of God (Christ) cannot be separated from the birth of believers (in Christ) as sons/children of God.