Where Did Jesus Go? – Critical Notes on the Ascension, Pt 3

In the first two parts (Pt 1 & 2)of this article, I discussed the main passages dealing with the Ascension of Jesus in Luke-Acts (Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11). Here I will briefly explore several additional New Testament passages, followed by a treatment of some key critical questions related to the Ascension.

Mark 16:19

This is the most straightforward account of the Ascension, presented in traditional, credal terms:

o( me\n ou@n ku/rio$  )Ihsou=$ meta\ to\ lalh=sai au)toi=$ a)nelh/mfqh ei)$ to\n ou)rano\n kai\ e)ka/qisen e)k deciw=n tou= qeou=
“therefore the Lord Jesus, after speaking to them, was taken up into the heaven and sat out of the ‘right-hand’ of God”

decio/$ is literally the hand/side “that takes” (or gives), the favored or auspicious side. The “right hand” (/ym!y`) of God occurs frequently in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:6, 12; Psalm 16:11; 17:7, etc; Isaiah 41:10; 48:13; 62:8; and others), usually as a symbol of God’s faithfulness and power. It is also the most common image of Jesus’ exaltation in the New Testament (Matthew 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; Luke 20:42; 22:69; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22)—all of these passages seem to have been influenced by Psalm 110:1 (many are direct citations). Even though this account in Mark is probably not original to the Gospel (part of the so-called “long ending”, 16:9-20), it no doubt here preserves an ancient tradition.

There is another reference to the ascension/exaltation of Jesus, in an unusual variant, earlier in the chapter. In verse 4, the Old Latin MS k begins: “but suddenly at the third hour of the day there was darkness over the whole circle of the earth, and angels descended from the heavens, and as he [the Lord] was rising [surgente eo] in the glory of the living God, at the same time they ascended with him; and immediately it was light. Then the women went to the tomb…” (translation from Meztger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, pp. 101-102). This represents a description of the actual resurrection of Jesus, similar to that found in the Gospel of Peter §35-40. However, it also reflects the principal manner in which the “Ascension” was understood in the early Church—that is, as an extension of the resurrection (on this, see below).

John 20:17

The only specific reference in John to anything like the traditional “Ascension” in Luke-Acts, occurs during the first resurrection appearance (to Mary Magdalene). Here Jesus says to her: mh/ mou a%ptou, ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father”; and, following the instruction to go to the other disciples (“my brothers”), tells her to say to them, a)nabai/nw pro\$ to\n pate/ra mou kai\ pate/ra u(mw=n kai\ qeo/n mou kai\ qeo\n u(mw=n (“I step up toward my Father and your [pl.] Father, and [toward] my God and your [pl.] God”). The chronology of this statement is difficult, for it does not seem to fit with the wider record of resurrection appearances in the Gospel tradition, nor with the ‘older’ view of an ascension as an immediate climax of the resurrection/exaltation. It is complicated even further by John’s highly symbolic use (primarily as presented in the Discourses of Jesus) of going/lifting up. For other similar uses of a)nabai/nw: John 3:13; 6:62; 1:51 (also the references of “going up” to the feast may involve an intentional wordplay); for u(yo/w (“lift high”) see John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34. Throughout the last discourses (John 13-17), Jesus also makes numerous references to going/returning to the Father (John 13:3, 33; 14:2, 4, 13, 28; 16:5, 7, 10, 17, 28). Since these are generally made in context of the coming/sending of the paraclete (lit. “one called alongside”, identified with the Holy Spirit [14:26]), it is almost certainly Jesus’ ‘final’ departure that is in view; however, other references to his return (14:18-20; 16:16-23) seem to fit better an immediate post-resurrection appearance.

I have discussed some of the symbolic and theological nuances of the appearance to Mary in a previous post. With regard to the authentic tradition that underlies this narrative, it is perhaps best to distinguish clearly between: (a) Jesus’ exaltation to the right-hand of the Father (as part of the resurrection), and (b) his final (earthly) departure from the disciples. Since “ascension” language can be used to describe both of these, one must be careful not to confuse them (on this, see in more detail below).

Ephesians 4:8-10

Here Paul (or the author of the epistle) cites Psalm 68:18a [MT 19a], which, early on in Christian tradition, seems to have been understood as referring to the ascension and exaltation of Christ. It quickly became embedded as part of the liturgy celebrating the ascension. However, as is often the case with scriptural citations in the New Testament, both the original text and context have been altered:

Hebrew (MT)

<d*a*B* tonT*m^ T*j=q^l* yb!V# t*yb!v* <orM*l^ t*yl!u*

“You have gone up to the heights, you have led captive captivity, you have taken gifts by man”

LXX (67:19a)

a)ne/bh$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/teusa$ ai)xmalwsi/an e&labe$ do/mata e)n a)nqrw/pw|

“You have stepped up into (the) height, you have led captive captivity, you have taken/received gifts among man”

Ephesians 4:8

a)naba\$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/eusen ai)xmalwsi/an e&dwken do/mata toi=$ a)nqrw/poi$

“Stepping up into (the) height, he led captive captivity, he gave gifts to men”

The LXX is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew. However, the citation in Ephesians differs markedly:

    • The first verb (a)naba\$) is a participle, which is not all that significant; this also occurs as a variant (MS B) in the LXX
    • The verbs have all been changed from 2nd person to 3rd person, which is a natural adaptation to the context in Ephesians (from a hymn addressing God, to a description of the work of Christ).
    • The collective “man” (<dah) has been changed to the plural “men”
    • The last verb has been changed from “take/receive” (jql, lamba/nw) to “give” (di/dwmi)

This last is most notable, for it entirely alters the sense of the passage. In the original Psalm, the justice and power of God are celebrated. Yahweh has gone out before His people, leading them in power and glory (vv. 7-18, also 21-23)—kings and armies flee before His might (v. 12, 14). He is depicted as going up into His mountain, leading captives from battle, and taking/receiving gifts (even from the rebellious [the ones who have “turned aside”], v. 18b). Verses 24-31 present the liturgical picture of peoples offering gifts to God. While all of this, of course, could fit the image of Christ being exalted to the right-hand of God, Ephesians has turned the image inside out: now God/Christ is the one offering gifts to believers.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It now remains to address several key questions related to the Ascension:

    1. Where did it occur?
    2. When did it occur?
    3. What is its exact nature?

1. Where Did the Ascension Occur?

This is part of a larger question related to the provenance of the resurrection appearances. If one takes all the Gospel narratives as they currently stand, it is actually quite difficult to harmonize them in detail, though of course many have attempted to do so. There are two fundamental differences in the accounts:

(a) In one line of tradition, the Messenger tells the women at the tomb to relate to the disciples (and Peter) that “he leads (the way) before you into Galilee; there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mark 16:7, par. Matthew 28:7). The implication is that Jesus is going ahead to Galilee, and it is there that the disciples (including Peter) will (first) see him. This is confirmed even more clearly by Jesus in Matthew 28:10, declaring that the disciples “should go from (here) into Galilee”. There is no suggestion that they should remain in Jerusalem; in fact, that could be said to contradict Jesus’ command. In Matthew, the subsequent appearance in Galilee (vv. 16-17), however brief, gives every indication that this is the first appearance to the disciples (note their “wavering” in v. 17, indications of doubt common to the other appearances in Luke and John).

By all accounts, the original ending of Mark has been lost (this is not certain, but I think it remains the best explanation); the so-called “long ending” (16:9-20), though added relatively early (it is known by the mid-2nd century), seems very much to be a secondary (scribal?) addition. While doubtless containing ancient/authentic traditions, I think it possible that an attempt has also been made to harmonize with the account in Luke. In any event, the resurrection appearance (and ascension, v. 19) seems to take place in Jerusalem (though this is not specified), which would be ‘contrary’ to the message in v. 7.

(b) The second line of tradition (preserved in Luke 24 and John 20) clearly has the resurrection appearances occurring in and around Jerusalem. In the Lukan account, Jesus actually commands the disciples to remain (kaqi/sate, “sit” or “dwell”) in the city (presumably Jerusalem) “until the (moment) in which you should be set in power out of (the) height” (24:49). The implication is that they should stay in Jerusalem for the approx. fifty days until Pentecost (when the Spirit comes upon them). There is no mention of going to Galilee; in fact, similar to the (opposite) situation in Matthew-Mark, that would contradict Jesus’ explicit command. It is interesting that, if Luke has made use of Mark (as scholars commonly believe), then he has quite altered the angelic announcement: in Luke 24:6 the two messengers still mention Galilee (cf. Mark 16:7), but in a very different context.

In John, too they are apparently in Jerusalem when Jesus appears and they receive the Spirit from him (20:19-23); similarly the appearance to Thomas eight days later (vv. 26-29) would presumably still be in Jerusalem. John 21 complicates the picture: for there (in verses 1-14 at least) we have a resurrection appearance in Galilee. However, since this chapter follows what seems to be the conclusion to the Gospel (20:30-31), many scholars would view it as a kind of “appendix”, possibly composed/included by a different author (though this is much disputed). Its exact origins and relation to the events recorded in chapter 20 are also uncertain, with a wide range of opinions on all sides.

Of course, according to Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:50-53 (assuming the longer reading), the Ascension of Jesus—that is, his final departure from the disciples—clearly takes place on the Mount of Olives, about 2000 cubits (or just over 1000 yards) east of Jerusalem (Acts 1:12). If the reference in Luke 24:50 is meant to be specific, then the Ascension might have occurred on the eastern slope somewhere near Bethany.

2. When Did the Ascension Occur?

This question, in relation to the seemingly divergent chronologies in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11, has been dealt with to some extent in the first two parts of this article. The basic question is, did it take place on Easter day as is (apparently) indicated in Luke 24 and the Markan “long ending”, or did it take place between 40 and  50 days later as narrated in Acts? My view is that the “separate” accounts in Luke-Acts probably describe the same event, but that in the Gospel the narrative has been greatly compressed, so that events which may have occurred days apart seem to take place on the same day. The same could perhaps be said of the Markan “long ending”, especially since everything seems to wrap up quickly in the last two verses.

However, a proper answer to the question also must address exactly what one means by the “Ascension”.

3. What Is the Nature of the Ascension?

As indicated above, there seem to be two separate traditions at work:

a) The first describes the “Ascension” in terms of Jesus’ resurrection—his being raised and glorified to the “right hand” of the Father.

b) The second relates it in terms of Jesus’ final (earthly) departure from his disciples.

One must be careful, I think, not to confuse or conflate the two traditions—for, both doctrinally, and even historically, they can be said to have quite different meanings. However, if one wishes to systematize or harmonize the scriptural details, it could possibly be done as follows:

    • Jesus’ being raised from the dead (evidence of the empty tomb and the angelic announcement[s])
    • His ascension to the Father is part of the resurrection/exaltation, which climaxes with his presence at the right hand of God (where also he receives the Spirit to give to his disciples)
    • From a temporal point of view, Jesus’ appearance to the women (cf. Matthew 28:9-10; [Mark 16:9]; John 20:11-18) could perhaps be seen as taking place prior to this ascent to the Father (John 20:17-18)—but that is not entirely clear.
    • Resurrection appearances of the glorified Christ, during which he instructed and commissioned the disciples (in John [20:22] he gives them the Spirit as well)
    • His final departure, recorded only in Luke-Acts, described as a visible Ascension
    • Mark 16:19 may represent a conflation of the two traditions (in a credal formula?), indicated above

The Resurrection in Luke: The ‘Western’ Text

The major text-critical question in the Resurrection Narratives involves the so-called “Western Non-Interpolations” in the Gospel of Luke. This rather awkward term stems from the analysis by Westcott & Hort (principally Hort) in their landmark The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881, vol. II pp.175-177), regarding situations where, despite superior manuscript evidence to the contrary, the Western Text may have the original reading. In general, the “Western Text” (as represented by Codex Bezae [D], key Old Latin [and Old Syriac] MSS, and other versional witnesses), was deemed inferior to the so-called “Neutral Text” (exemplified esp. by Codex Vaticanus [B])—this view, with some modification (and different language), continues to be held by most critical scholars today. Particularly in Luke-Acts, the “Western Text” tends to have longer readings at key variation-units—expanding or adding clarifying detail to the text. It is all the more noticeable, then, on those rare occasions when D (and other Western witnesses) happen to contain a shorter reading. When this fact (cf. the principle lectio brevio potior, “the shorter reading is preferrable”) is combined with intrinsic or transcriptional probability in favor of the shorter text, one must then contend with the possibility that the Western reading is original. Hence the term “Western Non-Interpolation”: i.e., the majority text contains an interpolation (an added verse or phrase), contrary to the shorter (original) Western text.

Westcott & Hort identified 27 shorter Western readings of note: six were deemed unlikely to be original, twelve others considered possibly (but probably not) original, and nine regarded as “probably original”. These nine (the “Non-Interpolations”) are: Matthew 27:49; Luke 22:19b-20; 24:3, 6, 12, 36, 40, 51, 52. For some time, critical scholars tended to favor this approach; however, in recent decades, with the discovery of the Bodmer Papyri (esp. Ë75), the pendulum has swung decidedly in the opposite direction—the majority of scholars, on the whole, now reject these shorter Western readings. Indeed, Ë75 (early 3rd century?) contains the longer (majority) reading for all 8 Lukan “Non Interpolations”, greatly strengthening the already impressive external evidence for them. On the other hand, the strongest argument in favor of the shorter readings is one of transcriptional probability—no one has really been able to offer a good explanation as to how (or why) the longer readings, if original, would have been deleted. Moreover, nearly all of the majority readings in these instances involve (possible) harmonizations to other portions of the New Testament (see notes below) as well as significant Christological details, both of which are more likely to represent scribal additions than details scribes would have ever deleted. For a fairly thorough defense in favor of the Lukan “Non-Interpolations”, see B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Oxford:1993, pp. 197-232.

There is the problem: on the one side, the external manuscript evidence is decidedly in favor of the longer readings; but on the other, internal transcriptional evidence seems clearly to favor the shorter. Interestingly, all of the nine “Non-Interpolations” are from the Passion and Resurrection narratives (8 from the Lukan), and all but two (7) from the Resurrection/Ascension accounts in Luke 24 (common to virtually the same set of manuscripts). This cannot be coincidental, nor do I think it can be accidental. In other words, whichever set of readings (longer/shorter) is correct, the changes seem to have been both deliberate and consistent in Luke 24. Either scribes added text (interpolations), perhaps to harmonize with John’s account (see below) etc. and/or enhance the Christological portrait, or they deleted the text, for reasons that are as yet not entirely clear.

Luke 24:3

Here is a translation of the majority text of vv. 1-4, with the words in question italicized:

1And on (day) one of the week, of deep dawn [i.e. early at dawn], upon the memorial [i.e. tomb] they came carrying spices which they had made ready. 2And they found the stone having been rolled (away) from the memorial, 3but going into (it) they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to be in their being without a way-through [i.e. as they were at a loss] about this, and see!—two men stood upon [i.e. next to] them in flashing clothes…

Manuscripts D a b d e ff2 l r1 do not include the words tou= ku/riou  )Ihsou=. They may have been added to specify and make clear what would otherwise be implied: that it was truly Jesus’ body missing from the tomb. If the words did not drop out by accident, it is hard to explain why a scribe (on orthodox one, at least) would have removed them. A few manuscripts (579 1241 pc syrs, c, p bohms) read simply tou=  )Ihsou=.

Luke 24:6

The same group of Western manuscripts (along with Georgian MS B) do not include the words ou)k e&stin w!de a)lla\ e)ge/rqh from the angelic announcement. Here is a translation of the majority text (with italicized words):

5And at their [i.e. the women] coming to be afraid and bending th(eir) faces into the earth, they [i.e. the men/angels] said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living amid the dead? 6He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you…”

Luke 24:12

Almost the same group of Western MSS (along with several Syriac witnesses [and Marcion?]) do not include verse 12 at all. The majority text reads:

o( de\ Pe/tro$ a)nasta\$ e&dramen e)pi\ to mnmei=on kai\ paraku/ya$ ble/pei ta\ o)qo/nia [kei/mena] mo/na, kai\ a)ph=lqen pro\$ e(auto\n qauma/zwn to\ gegono/$

But Peter, standing up, ran upon [i.e. ran to] the memorial [i.e. tomb] and bending alongside he saw the cloths [laying] alone, and he went from (there) toward his own (home), wondering at the (thing which) had come to be [i.e. what had happened]

This is of course quite similar to the account in John 20:4-5f, enough that scholars who favor the shorter reading view the verse as a harmonizing interpolation. The word kei/mena (not in Ë75 a B W etc) is probably a simple harmonization; however, otherwise, there are enough differences (including all of 12b), that this is less likely for the verse as a whole. On the other hand, the sequence from verse 11 to 13 reads smoother without v. 12:

11and these words [i.e. the women’s report] shined in their face [i.e. appeared to them] as if idle-talk, and they [i.e. the apostles] did not trust them [i.e. the women]. 13And see—two of them [i.e. disciples/apostles] in the self(-same) day were traveling unto a village…

It is also much more effective dramatically without v. 12, leading up to the revelation at Emmaus; it can be argued that the announcement in v. 34 (“the Lord has been seen by Simon!”) is more dramatic this way as well. That being said, what of the (internal) evidence—the intrinsic or transcriptional probability—for inclusion/exclusion of the verse? I find the argument for simple harmonization with John to be weak; I am also unconvinced by the idea that the verse was added to make better sense of v. 34. A much stronger argument is that the verse was added (whether from John, or more likely a separate tradition) to soften the image of the unbelieving apostles in v. 11—not all of them mistrusted the women, Peter responded aggressively to see for himself! What of reasons for scribes’ deleting the verse? Apart from the fact that the narrative reads better without v.12 (the plural pronoun and copulative kai arguably connect more readily with v.11), it is hard to come up with a good explanation.

Luke 24:36

Here the opening of Jesus’ introduction—kai\ le/gei au)toi=$: ei)rh/nh u(mi=n—is not included by the same group of Western manuscripts (D a b d e ff2 l r1). Again, let us examine the context in translation (disputed words italicized):

36And as they spoke this, (Jesus) himself stood in the middle of them and says to them: “Peace to you”. 37But being terrified and coming to be in fear, they seemed to gaze at a ‘spirit’. 38And he said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] are you disturbed…?”

The scene makes more immediate sense without the words—Jesus suddenly appears in their midst and they are terrified (presumably not recognizing him, cf. v. 16ff). There would seem to be less reason for such sudden, extreme fear, after the words of greeting (“Peace to you”). In this instance, a harmonization with John (20:19) is perhaps more likely than in Luke 24:12. As for omission, if the words did not fall out accidentally, why would they have been deleted? Again, it is hard to come up with a reason.

Luke 24:40

Here, as at 24:12, and entire verse is missing from (the same group) of Western manuscripts, along with the Curetonian and Sinaitic Syriac. The verse reads:

kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e&deicen au)toi=$ ta\$ xei=ra$ kai\ tou\$ po/da$
“and having said this, he showed them the hands and the feet”

A harmonization with John 20:20 is certainly possible. On the other hand, I would say that there is at least a plausible reason for scribes omitting the words, as they may have appeared superfluous or redundant directly following v. 39.

Luke 24:51-52

These two variations units are, in some ways, even more controversial, and are better left to an (upcoming) article on the Ascension.

One of the reasons earlier scholars more readily favored the “Non-Interpolations” of vv. 12, 36, and 40, was the understandable assumption that these were scribal harmonizations (of a sort all too common in the manuscripts) with the parallel passage in John. However, commentators today tend to prefer the view that Luke and John (in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, at least) both draw from a common tradition, which explains their sharing certain details not found in Matthew-Mark.

From a text-critical point of view, however, it should be reiterated that the internal evidence favors all of the Lukan “Non-interpolations” (in chapter 24). The two overriding arguments:

    1. Scribes are more likely to have harmonized the text (to another Gospel passage) by adding to it, than to eliminate a harmonization by deleting the text.
    2. Scribes are more likely to add details enhancing or expanding the portrait of Christ, than to delete them. One indisputable fact is that for all seven instances in Luke 24, the longer (majority) text adds vivid or significant detail related to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection not found in the corresponding Western text.

All things considered, it is safest to defer to the overwhelming external evidence in favor of the longer readings. Yet, in studying and meditating upon the Resurrection accounts in Luke, I would urge care and consideration—if we wish to understand the inspired original text, such significant textual variants must be given their due.

April 15 (1): Luke 24:25ff, 44-47

A unique (and often overlooked) detail in the Lukan Resurrection narratives is the way in which the Risen Jesus interprets the Scriptures for the disciples, showing how his suffering, death, and resurrection were foretold (or prefigured) in the Sacred Writings. This is specifically narrated in two episodes: (1) on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27, 32), and (2) the Appearance to the Eleven (Luke 24:44-47).

1. On the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27, 32)

I discussed this episode in a prior post. In my view, it is the two-fold exposition of vv. 19-27 which is central to the scene:

(a) Vv. 19-24: The two disciples, in response to Jesus’ question (poi=a; “what [things]?”), unintentionally (in the narrative context) present a summary of the Gospel, an early bit of kerygma (cf. Acts 2:22-24): describing the death and resurrection (i.e. report of the empty tomb).
(b) Vv. 25-27: After rebuking the disciples,
a)rca/meno$ a)po\ Mwu+se/w$ kai\ a)po\ pa/ntw=n tw=n profhtw=n diermh/neusen au)toi=$ e)n pa/sai$ tai=$ grafai=$ ta\ peri\ e(autou=
“beginning from Moses and from all the Prophets he explained through [i.e. interpreted] to them the [things] about himself in all the Writings” (v. 27).

Once the disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (sacramental symbolism), and he becomes invisible to them (an interesting reversal of the symbolism), they specifically recall the earlier exposition (v. 32):

ou)xi\ h( kardi/a h(mw=n kaiome/nh h@n [e)n h(mi=n]
“was not our heart burning in us”

w($ e)la/lei h(mi=n e)n th=| o(dw=|
“as he spoke with us in the way”
w($ dih/noigen h(mi=n  ta\$ grafa/$;
“as he opened through [i.e. explained] to us the Writings?”

2. The Appearance to the Eleven (Luke 24:44-47)

There are two parts to this scene: (a) the Appearance (vv. 36-43, cf. John 20:19-20), and (b) Instruction/Commission to the Disciples (vv. 44-49). With regard to (b), I would structure it as follows:

i. v. 44 “These are the words/accounts [logoi] of mine which I spoke to [lit. toward] you, being yet with you:”

o%ti dei= plhrwqh=nai pa/nta ta\ gegramme/na
“that it was necessary to be fulfilled all the (things) having been written”

e)n tw=| no/mw| Mwu+se/w$
“in the law of Moses”
kai\ toi=$ profh/tai$ kai\ yalmoi=$
“and (in) the Prophets and Psalms”

peri\ e)mou=
“about me”

ii. v. 45-47 “Then he opened [lit. opened through] their mind for the(ir) putting-together [i.e. so as to understand] the Writings…” (indirect discussion)
“…and he said to them” (direct discourse):

ou%tw$ ge/graptai
“Thus it has been written”  (note the three clauses each beginning with an infinitive)

paqei=n to\n Xristo\n
to suffer the Anointed (One) [i.e., that the Anointed would suffer]”
kai\ a)nasth=nai e)k nekrw=n th=| tri/th| h(me/ra|
“and to stand up [i.e. rise] out of (the) dead ones in the third day”
kai\ khruxqh=nai e)pi tw=| o)no/mati au)tou= meta/noian
“and to proclaim upon his name change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]”

ei)$ a&fesin a(martiw=n
“unto release of sins”
ei)$ pa/nta ta\ e&qnh
“unto all nations”

iii. v. 47b Transitional clause: “(the ones/things) beginning from Jerusalem…”

iv. v. 48-49 The commission: “…you are witnesses of these (things)”

“and see—I set (forth) from (me) [i.e. send] the anouncement of my Father upon you”
“but you—sit [i.e. settle/remain] in the city until the (moment in) which you should be put in power out of (the) height [i.e. clothed in power from on high]”

The Scriptural exposition of vv. 44-47 leads to the Apostolic commission in vv. 48-49. The hinge is the transitional clause “beginning from Jerusalem…”; this also symbolizes the joining line of Luke’s two-volume work—the Gospel and Acts. With regard to the exposition of Scripture, as indicated above, this is presented in two aspects: (i) a reiteration of Jesus’ earlier teaching (“it is necessary…”) regarding the fulfillment of Scripture, and (ii) the “opening” the disciples mind to understand the Scriptures. For (ii) I would point out that this is likewise presented under two aspects:

First, the act of “opening” (v. 45)—here it is a specific moment, indicated by to/te (“then, at that time”). The verb (dianoi/gw, an intensive stem from a)noi/gw, “to open”) would be rendered literally, “opened through” or “thoroughly opened”; it is the same verb used in the Emmaus narrative: “their eyes were opened (dihnoi/xqhsan)” v. 31, and “as he opened (dih/noigen) the Scriptures to us” v. 32.

Second, a summary of the “opening” of the Scriptures (vv. 46-47, cf. v. 32)—under the declaration “thus it has been written” (ou%tw$ ge/graptai), what follows is a terse credal statement, a sequence of infinitives: “to suffer” (paqei=n), “to stand/rise up” (a)nasth=nai), “to be proclaimed” (khruxqh=nai).

Interestingly, neither in this episode, nor in the Emmaus narrative, is it ever demonstrated exactly what Jesus taught—just what Scriptures did he expound and explain to the disciples, and how was this done? It is this question, along with a further discussion of the theme of the fulfillment of Scripture (cf. v. 44 et al.), which I will address in an upcoming article.

For more on the Lukan Resurrection narrative in chap. 24, see my note on the key variant readings in the “Western” Text.

April 14 (2): John 20:24-29

Jesus’ appearance to Thomas (along with the other Disciples) is the last of three Resurrection appearances which I am discussing for the three days of Easter (in the afternoon—you can find the first two for Sunday and Monday). Commentators have been puzzled by this episode (John 20:24-29), unique to the Fourth Gospel. Critical scholars tend to regard it as a creation of the Evangelist, perhaps to personify the disciples’ doubt—note that in the earlier appearance (John 20:19-20ff) there is no mention of any doubt or surprise (compare Mark 16:13-14 [long ending]; Luke 24:11, 25, 37-38, 41; but note the odd juxtaposition of John 20:8-9). Traditional-conservative commentators, naturally, take the text at face value, as a second appearance which took place eight days later. However, the sequence does present certain chronological difficulties, particularly when one tries to harmonize the passage strictly with the Synoptic accounts. For what it’s worth, I suspect that, at the historical-chronological level, the sequence here in John perhaps should read: 20:19-20, 24-29, 21-23. But clearly, this sort of rearrangement would not be appropriate; for there is a definite purpose to the current placement of verse 24-29—they join the appearance and apostolic commission of vv. 19-23 to the concluding statement of vv. 30-31, “…but these (things) have been written so that you might trust that Jesus is the Anointed (One), the Son of God, and so that trusting you might have life in his name”.

There are two primary themes or motifs which divide this passage: (1) “seeing” and (2) “trusting”, along with an intermediate theme of the presence of Christ.

1. Seeing (vv. 24-25)

(a) The other Disciples tell Thomas “we have seen (e(wra/kamen) the Lord!” This 1st person plural perfect form (of o(ra/w) is only found in the Gospel (cf. also 3:11) and First Epistle of John (1:1-3), and is virtually a credal formula of faith and witness in the early Christian (Apostolic) community. For this reason, some scholars have found its use in John 3:11 (Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus) to be suspicious—is it from the early Community rather than the historical Jesus? Certainly in Johannine theology, the two are united: the Community speaks what they hear Jesus say (through the Spirit), just as Jesus speaks what he hears from the Father. The 1st person singular form also occurs almost exclusively in John, including the parallel exclamation of Mary “I have seen (e(w/raka) the Lord!” (20:18; cf. also 1:34; 8:38). The verb implies more than the simple act of seeing (i.e., “look at, perceive”, etc)—in the context of John’s Gospel, there is perhaps also a revelatory quality involved: “to see clearly/truly”.

(b) Thomas responds, “if I should not see (i&dw) in his hands the tupos of the nails and cast my finger into the tupos of the nails and cast my hand into his side, no I shall not trust (pisteu/sw)!” Note the different manner of “seeing”—a different verb, and use of the subjunctive (“should/might see”) vs. the perfect indicative (“have seen”) along with the negative condition (“if I do not…”), also governing “trust/believe”. The combined negative particle (ou) mh) + aorist subjunctive indicates an extremely strong asseveration or denial, with a prohibitive quality: “by no means shall I trust!” I have left the word tupo$ untranslated above; it generally refers to a deep mark, as left when something is stamped or struck, but is used more commonly in the New Testament in a more abstract sense (“form, pattern”). There is some textual variation here: a few manuscripts read topo$ (“place”) or the plural form of tupo$/topo$.

(c) Consider what it was that the Disciples saw (and which Thomas demanded to see): in vv. 19-20, when Jesus first appeared to the disciples, upon greeting them, he immediately (cf. the literary context, “and saying this…”) showed (e&deicen) them (his) hands and side. This actually takes place between his two-fold greeting “peace to [or with] you” (ei)rh/nh u(mi=n), repeated in verse 21. The verb deiknu/w/dei/knumi seems to have a special significance in the Gospel of John: everywhere else it is used in the context of revealing something of the Father (5:20; 10:32; 14:8-9). In the original tradition it may simply indicate a demonstration of Jesus’ identity and real body (see the similar account in Luke 24:40 [absent in key Western MSS]); but, in the Gospel of John, I would say it has a deeper meaning as well.

John makes a good deal of Jesus’ side, a detail not found in the other Gospels (in Luke 24:40 Jesus shows them his hands and feet, but see the textual variant [interpolation?] at Matthew 27:49). It is possible that here the piercing (“pricking”) of the side (John 19:34-37) has been emphasized merely for the purposes of introducing the prophecy from Zechariah 12:10 (v. 37); however, I do not think this is the case. The emphatic authorial/editorial aside (v. 35) seems to refer specifically to the piercing and the “blood and water” which came out. The exact force of this reference is not entirely clear; it could be: (a) apologetic, that is to demonstrate that Jesus died a true physical death; (b) sacramental, symbolic of the Eucharist; (c) spiritual, symbolic of life or the life-giving Spirit [found in Christ]; or some combination of these. I should say that (c) is closest to the mark. Blood only occurs in John within the most difficult portion of the Bread of Life Discourse (6:53-56), which probably also has eucharistic significance (but note the qualification in vv. 62-63). Water also is connected with the Spirit (the life-giving presence and power of Christ, “living water”) in the great Discourses (3:5ff; 4:7-15; 7:38), but again not without a possible sacramental meaning as well (at least in 3:5).

2. Trusting (vv. 27-29)

This theme is prefaced by Thomas’ declaration in verse 25 (“if I do not see…no I shall not trust [pisteu/sw]!”)

(a) Jesus responds to Thomas, directing him to “touch” the hands and side. Scholars have sometimes been puzzled at this, since previously in the appearance to Mary Magdalene he ordered her not to touch him, and, according to the chronology of the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts), Jesus still has not ascended (cf. John 20:17). Any number of attempts to explain or harmonize these details have been made, most of which are highly questionable at best. It should be noted that, apart from the fact that the appearances to Mary and Thomas may stem from entirely separate traditions, both the context of the scenes and the language Jesus uses is very different. Mary, it would seem, is responding in a natural human way to her recognition of Jesus (her exclamation “Rabbi/Teacher!”), perhaps with the attempt to embrace him (see Matthew 28:9, where the women grasp his feet). In my prior notes on this scene, I discussed the possible significance of the verb a%ptomai (“bind, attach to, touch”) as well as Jesus “going up” (a)nabai/nw). In the context of John’s Gospel, a proper understanding of Jesus’ return/ascent to the Father must center on the discourse[s] of chapters 14-17 (and earlier references), rather than the Ascension narratives in Luke-Acts. Thomas, however, does not respond with the limited emotional/visceral trust exhibited by Mary (who “sees” Jesus); his is a lack of trust in the witness “we have seen the Lord”. Jesus puts Thomas to the test (note the use of imperatives in v. 27), with the disciple’s own formulation: “carry [fe/re] your finger here and see [i&de] my hands, and carry your hand and thrust (it) [ba/le] into my side…” It is not indicated whether Thomas took up the challenge; perhaps in an early tradition he did, but the lack of any detail here is significant in the Gospel context, for it leads directly to the statements which follow—”…and do not be without trust, but (be) trust(ing).”

The Greek in 27b is rather obscured in many translations (“stop doubting” [NIV], “do not doubt” [NRSV]. “do not disbelieve” [ESV]). Literally, it reads kai\ mh\ gi/nou (“and do not come to be”) a&pisto$ (“without trust”) a)lla\ pisto/$ (“but trust[ing]”). However, this too is a bit misleading, for the present tense of gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) is probably durative—the negative + imperative would then have the sense of “do not continue to be”. As for pisto/$, it is typically translated “faithful, believing”, just as the noun pi/sti$ and verb pisteu/w are translated in terms of “faith” or “belief”. However, I feel that the English word “trust” is a better fit for the primary sense, and tend to translate the words this way, although in most instances little harm is done to the meaning if one uses “belief/faith”. The adjective pisto/$ could also be rendered “trust-worthy”, but I think it is important here to emphasize the act/condition of trusting (or “believing”, if one prefers). a&pisto$ is the opposite, indicating the lack or absence of pisto/$: “without trust”, un-trusting (or un-trustworthy). Jesus’ command here (“do not come/continue to be untrusting, but trusting!”) overrides decisively the earlier imperatives.

(b) Thomas responds to Jesus in a most extraordinary fashion, with the exclamation o( ku/rio/$ mou kai\ o( qeo/$ mou (“My Lord and my God!”), v. 28. This is unquestionably a theological exclamation, and perhaps the most exalted in the all the Gospels; for o( kurio$ and o( qeo$, in the Jewish context, both refer to the one true God (YHWH). It also represents, arguably, the first time in the Gospels that Jesus is identified directly with the arthrous o( qeo$. (the God, as opposed to being “God, divine” more generally). In John 1:1, we do not find the article (kai\ qeo\$ h@n o( lo/go$ “and the logos was God”); both the article and the word qeo$ are textually uncertain in John 1:18. There can be no doubt, however, that in the Gospel of John, Jesus identified himself with God the Father (cf. esp. 8:58), and that even his opponents understood the implication (5:18, etc). And yet, Christians of a later time, influenced by Trinitarian doctrine, were very sensitive to this point—Christ (the Son) and the Father may have both been God (qeo/$), but they were not the same person. It is not surprising then, that a few MSS of John 20:28 omit the article. Such Christological issues are largely foreign to the Gospel; one need not look any further than Philip’s request to Jesus in 14:8 (“Lord, show [dei=con] the Father to us…”), to which Jesus responds o( e(wrakw\$ e)me\ e(w/raken to\n pate/ra (“the [one] having seen me has seen the Father”, v. 9).

(c) This exclamation would seem to be a supreme testament to faith and trust; however, Jesus, without contradicting Thomas’ statement, responds in turn with an interesting question (assuming it is a question): “(now) that [i.e. because] you have seen (e(w/raka$) me you have trusted (pepi/steuka$)?” (verbs both in the perfect). Many commentators interpret it as a rebuke of Thomas; possibly, but I am not so convinced of this. Certainly, the disciple was rebuked earlier (v. 27) for his lack of trust; but, Jesus’ statement to him here should not be understood as a simple comparison of his trust (only after seeing) with a superior level of trust from those who have not seen. The conclusion of the statement: “happy the (one) not seeing (i)do/nte$) and trusting!” (verbs both aorist participles). It is tempting to insert “yet” (i.e., “not seeing and yet trusting”); this may be the sense intended. However, this happy state (maka/rio$) is not so much a blessing due to greater trust, but a result of the greater power and witness which will occur (through the disciples) by the Spirit after Jesus returns to the Father. To make the sense clear in English, I might translate Jesus’ words as follows: “you trust because you have seen me—how happy, then, will they be who trust without seeing!”

3. The intermediate appearance of Jesus (v. 26)

In between these two episodes of seeing (emphasizing lack of trust) and trusting (emphasizing lack of seeing), Jesus himself appears suddenly in the midst of the disciples. This repeats (pa/lin, “again”) the earlier appearance (vv. 19-20); in fact, the appearance itself is recorded in almost identical wording: the doors being closed, Jesus came and “stood in the middle and says/said to them, ‘Peace to you'” However, there are two small but significant points of difference:

(a) In the first appearance, the doors were closed, where the disciples were, “through fear of the Jews”. Now, however, there is no mention of fear.

(b) In this second appearance, it states that the disciples were (h@san) within (e&sw). Now, in the simple context of the narrative, this would mean nothing more than that the disciples were inside the room. However, in about half of the instances where the adverb e&sw is used in the New Testament (including all non-narrative uses in the Epistles [Rom 7:22; 1 Cor 5:12; 2 Cor 4:16; Eph 3:16]), the reference is to inward (spiritual) rather than outward (external) matters. Is it too much to understand something of that connotation here? The rest of the disciples, who have already seen (and trusted), are now within.

In conclusion of these Easter-season notes, I would like to suggest a possible chiastic outline, indicating certain thematic parallels in the appearances of Jesus to Mary and Thomas:

Exclamation (title of Jesus)—”Rabbi (Teacher)!” 20:16

“Do not touch…I am going up to my God (and your God)” (Jesus’ rebuke of the disciple) v. 17

Disciple’s exclamation—”I have seen (e(w/raka) the Lord!” v. 18

Disciples’ exclamation—”We have seen (e(wra/kamen) the Lord!” v. 25a

“If I do not place my finger…my Lord and my God!” (Disciple untrusting/trusting, with Jesus’ rebuke in between) v. 25b, 27-28

Exclamation (title of Jesus)—”My Lord and My God!” v. 28

April 13 (2): Luke 24:13-35

This is the second of three Resurrection Appearances I will be discussing during the three days of Easter (in the afternoon), and is perhaps the most well-known and beloved of all those recorded in the Gospels: the appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (centerpiece of the liturgical Officium Peregrinorum). The extraordinary narrative—one of the longest such narratives in the Gospels—is unique to Luke (24:13-35), although there is presumably a reference to it in the so-called “long ending” of Mark (16:12-13). While Luke may well have expanded and dramatized the core tradition, it remains thoroughly convincing and lived-in; on every objective ground, the basic historicity of the event would be difficult to question. However, there is no doubt that, as a literary work, Luke has given to the narrative a careful interpretive structure. There are probably any number of ways this section could be outlined, but here is one  that I offer (arranged chiastically, to indicate parallel scenes and details):

A [vv. 13-14] The two disciples are
a) travelling from Jerusalem (a)po\  )Ierousalh/m) and
b) conversing with each other (pro\$ a)llh/lou$) about all the things that had “come together”

B [vv. 15-16] As the disciples are conversing and inquiring with each other
a) Jesus comes near to them, but
b) their eyes are “held” and they cannot recognize [lit. “know upon”] him

C [vv. 17-18] The exchange:
a) Jesus acts: He draws them out (asking “what are these logoi….?”)
b) The disciples [one, Cleopas] ask
** about Jesus’ as a stranger [“one who houses along”]
** mentioning the things coming to be in these days
c) Jesus acts: He draws closer into their conversation (asking “what [things]?”)

D [vv. 19-24] What things?
a) the recent events of Jesus’ death and (reports of his) resurrection
b) they hoped he was the Anointed One [“the one about to ransom/redeem Israel”] (v. 21)

[vv. 25-27] What things?
a) all that Moses and the Prophets said of his death (suffering) and resurrection (coming into glory)
b) what they say about him [the “Anointed One”]

[vv. 28-29] The exchange:
a) Jesus acts: He draws them out (making toward travelling further)
b) The disciples ask
** for Jesus to come into their house as guest [“remain with us”]
** mentioning that now the day has bent down [i.e. is almost over]
c) Jesus acts: He draws closer, going in to “remain with them”

[vv. 30-31] The disciples are reclining (at meal) together with Jesus
a) Jesus takes (blesses and breaks) bread and gives to them
b) their eyes are “opened” and they recognize [“know upon”] him
[b´) Jesus comes to be invisible from them]

[vv. 32] The disciples
b) say to each other (pro\$ a)llh/lou$) “was not our heart burning in us as…?”
a) standing up immediately they return to Jerusalem (ei)$  )Ierousalh/m)

In a straightforward (linear, dramatic) reading of the passage, one might naturally view the recognition of Jesus during the breaking of bread as the climactic point. There is certainly truth to this (the sacramental symbolism is noteworthy and clear). However, as indicated in the outline above, I feel it is rather the exposition of Scripture (v. 25-27), in relation to the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 19-24), which is the central moment of the narrative. This would seem to be confirmed by the disciples ultimate response—they refer not to the revelatory moment at the breaking of bread, but to the earlier exposition: “was not our heart burning in us as he spoke with us in the way…?” (v. 32).

A few brief notes on this verse in particular:

(1) Instead of kaiome/nh (“burning”), other (primarily Western) witnesses read (or translate) kekalumme/nh (“covered”), bradei=a (“heavy”) or words indicating “hardened”, etc. However, kaiome/nh is almost certainly correct. The verb can indicate the condition (or process) of being burned (up), or it can have a causative meaning—i.e., to kindle, set on fire. The passive form here would seem to indicate a fire being kindled, but also the process—ongoing action, as indicated by the progressive periphrastic construction (kaiome/nh h@n).

(2) A few key early manuscripts (Ë75 B D) and versions do not include e)n u(mi=n (“in us”). This would be a natural addition, and possibly not original, though it is probably best to retain it in the text.

(3) It is said that Jesus “opened” (dih/noigen) the Writings [Scriptures] to them. This same verb (an intensive form of a)noi/gw) is used for the opening of the disciples’ eyes to recognize Jesus at the breaking of bread. Luke uses it again in v. 45, in a very similar context, where it is stated that he “opened” the mind (or understanding) of the disciples so as to understand the Scriptures. Earlier in the Emmaus narrative here (v. 27), a different verb is used: it says that Jesus “interpreted” (diermh/neusen) the things concerning himself in all the Writings (e)n pa/sai$ tai=$ grafai=$). This verb is an intensive form of e(rmhneu/w, rendered literally “explain through”, that is, to explain from one reference point (or language) to another.

(4) There may be a symbolic import to the phrase “in the way” (e)n th=| o)dw=|): “as he spoke with us in the way”. In the narrative context this simply means that Jesus spoke to them while they were travelling; however, “the way” appears also to have a been a (short-lived) term for the early Christian Community (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 12; cf. also the testimony of John the Baptist, Luke 1:76; 3:4; 7:27 and par.).

April 12 (2): John 20:11-18

For the three days of Easter (in the afternoon), I will be discussing three Resurrection Appearances of Jesus: (1) to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), (2) to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and (3) to Thomas. Interestingly, these persons are hardly even mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels. As for Mary Magdalene, her presence at the tomb, with Jesus’ early appearance to her, is a fixture in Gospel tradition—indeed, it is one of the indisputable facts in the Resurrection Narratives. And, while the basic outline may be the same in all four Gospels, how different are the precise details! John’s account is perhaps the best known, but is complicated by the presence of Peter and the Beloved Disciple (20:2-10)—the narrative makes more sense (and is more consistent with the Synoptics) if one reads 20:1 followed by vv. 11-18.

Looking at the episode in vv. 11-18, I highlight three principal motifs: First, an initial lack of recognition of the risen Jesus (vv. 14-15)—a motif which occurs in other Appearance stories (Luke 24:13-35; John 21:1-14). However, in John we also find repeatedly the motif of the audience misunderstanding what they see or hear Jesus saying or doing; in this instance, it is Jesus himself that Mary misunderstands (“…supposing that he is the gardener”). The verb here is doke/w, which has a fairly wide range of meaning: “think, consider, seem, appear, recognize”; a derived word is do/ca (usually translated “glory”), but which has the general sense of “thought, consideration, what seems (to be), what appears (to be)” (only secondarily does one speak of do/ca as “reputation, esteem, honor, glory, etc”). In the context of the Person of Christ, one naturally also relates the word to “docetic/docetism”—that Christ only appeared or seemed to be fully human. So, the word may have a deeper meaning here than it appears at first glance. It is only when Mary hears Jesus say her name, that she recognizes him.

This leads to the second Johannine motif of seeing and hearing. These appear frequently in both the narratives (miracle stories) and the discourses, and are often a source of misunderstanding (cf. 9:39-41, etc) for the audience. Jesus stresses repeatedly that he only says (and does) what he sees and hears the Father saying/doing (5:19-20, 30; 12:49-50, etc); similarly, believers will see and hear what Jesus says and does (5:24; 8:47; 12:47-49; 14:10, 24; 17:24, etc), which leads to the experience of (eternal) life in Christ (5:25, 28; 6:63, 68; 8:51; 12:50; and cf. the raising of Lazarus, 11:1-44). So, when Mary hears Jesus say her name, and recognizes his voice, it is not merely a dramatic narrative detail: one may say she is herself coming out of the tomb at the sound of his voice (5:25, 28); for she truly hears his voice (10:3-5, 16, 27; 18:37 [“all who are of the truth hear my voice”]). She also sees, that is, she recognizes Christ; just as only those who belong to the truth can hear God’s voice, so only those who are “born from above” can see the kingdom of God (3:3).

However, Mary’s understanding is not complete. This brings me to the third motif of ascension. Perhaps the most famous (and controversial) part of this narrative is in verse 17. Upon recognizing Jesus, Mary turns to him and calls to him (“Rabbi/Teacher”); Jesus’ response is: mh\ mou a%ptou ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for not yet have I gone up toward the Father”. The verb a%ptw generally means “connect, fasten, bind”, or, more figuratively, “touch”; in this regard, one may “touch” either lightly or strongly (“handle, cling to”, etc). The exact context and meaning of Jesus’ words here remain in dispute, with any number of suggested interpretations (many exotic or implausible); however, since the precise action is not specified, I believe they should be taken in a more symbolic fashion. Mary responds to Jesus in a natural, human way (addressing him as “Teacher”); whether or not she might actually try to embrace or “cling to” him physically, that would seem to be the underlying reality—she seeks to “touch” Jesus at the physical, rather than spiritual, level. So we have Jesus’ answer: “I have not yet gone up [i.e. ascended] to the Father”. This image of going up, taking up, lifting up, etc. occurs in Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospel, related to both his death and resurrection, and to his return to the Father. Particularly, in the last Discourses, does he refer to this “going away” (13:33-36; 14:2-4, 16-19, 26-31; 16:5-16, 19-24, 28; 17:11-13), back to the Father, which, in many instances at least, Jesus connects directly with the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete. It is by the Spirit that we are able to “touch” and “cling to” Christ, and only by the Spirit (being born from the Spirit, “from above”) that we can see and enter into the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is also reflected in the powerful language of union/unity expressed by Jesus throughout the Gospel (see especially chapter 17), and, I think, stated clearly again in Jesus’ closing words to Mary: “but go toward my brothers and say to them, ‘I go up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God‘”.