June 27: On John the Baptist (conclusion)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 26: John 1:21, 25, etc

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

1. John’s testimony in Jn 1:21, 25

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

2. References to Jesus as “the Prophet”

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

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

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

4. The use of Isaiah 61:1ff

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

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

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

5. The Transfiguration

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

6. Mark 8:28 par

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

7. Mark 15:35-36 par

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The description of John the Baptist

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

3. The Herod/Herodias episode

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

4. Matthew 11:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

“…Spirit and Life”: John 4:21-24

John 4:21-24

In discussing the “living water” (u%dwr zw=n) which Jesus gives (4:10-14, cf. the previous note), I mentioned that it is to be identified with the giving of the Spirit. This can be inferred from a number of passages in the Gospel (beginning with the earlier statement in 3:34), but it also is confirmed if we continue on in the discourse of chapter 4. Following the Samaritan woman’s (second) reaction in verse 15, there is a second exposition by Jesus in vv. 16-26, which takes the form of a mini-dialogue, and which may be characterized as a “Messianic dialogue”. The woman’s reaction continues the motif of misunderstanding, common to all of the Johannine discourses; she continues to think of this “water” in an ordinary (physical) sense, though perhaps now with a glimmer of its deeper meaning:

“(My) lord, give to me this water, (so) that I might not thirst, and would not (have to) come through (here) in (this place) to take up (water).”

The dialogue-exposition by Jesus, in response, may be outlined as follows:

  • Miracle—demonstration of Jesus’ (divine) foreknowledge (vv. 16-18)
    • Declaration by the woman:
      “I look (on and perceive) that you are (the) Foreteller” (v. 19)
      and statement relating to the role of the Messiah (v. 20)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 21-24)
    • Declaration by the woman:
      “I see [i.e. know] that the Mashiaµ {Messiah} comes” (v. 25a)
      and statement regarding the role of the Messiah (v. 25b)
  • I Am saying—identification of Jesus as the Anointed One of God (v. 26)

As with several other episodes (and discourses) in the Gospel, a miracle, demonstrating Jesus’ God-given power, leads to an “I am” statement by which Jesus effectively declares his special status (and nature) in relation to God the Father. This is the framework for the dialogue in vv. 16-26, within which the portion spanning vv. 19-25 is, as I have already indicated, a kind of “Messianic dialogue”—with a central exposition by Jesus (vv. 21-24) flanked by two declarations by the woman. Each of these declarations has a Messianic significance.

There is some ambiguity regarding the first of these, as the word profh/th$ (“Foreteller”, i.e. Prophet), without the article, could mean either “a Prophet” or “the Prophet”. Jesus’ demonstration of foreknowledge in vv. 16-18 certainly would mark him as a prophet (lit. “foreteller”); yet the woman’s entire statement in vv. 19-20, taken as a whole (and in context) suggests that she believes that he might be the Prophet to Come—i.e. the end-time (Messianic) Prophet expected by the Samaritans. This Prophet-figure is derived from Deut 18:15-19, and the expectation of a “Prophet like Moses”, who would appear at the end time, was shared by many Israelites and Jews (cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). A number of references to “the Anointed One” (Xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) in the Gospels may refer to such a Prophet-figure, rather than the more familiar Davidic Ruler figure-type. Similarly, there are specific references to “the Prophet”, especially in the Gospel of John (1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40), which would seem to confirm this. Jesus is specifically identified as the Prophet of Deut 18:15ff in Acts 3:22-23.

In the second declaration (v. 25), the woman apparently uses the term M¹šîaµ (j^yv!m*), transliterated in Greek as Messi/a$ (and translated by the Gospel writer as Xristo/$, “Anointed One”). There is some question whether, at the historical level, a Samaritan would have used this title. According to (later) sources, the Samaritan “Messiah” had the title Taheb, presumably related to the root bWv (šû», Aramaic bWT, tû»), “turn (back), return”, and thus meaning either “the Returning One”, or “the One who returns/restores (things)”. For the Samaritans, this figure would have been related to the Messianic Prophet figure-type (from Deut 18:15ff), and not the Davidic Ruler type with its origins in Judean (Jewish) royal tradition. There is some thought that the Taheb was expected to restore true/proper religion for humankind, and this would seem to be reflected by the woman’s statements in vv. 20 and 25b. The sharp divisions between Israelites/Jews and Samaritans were both ethnic and religious in nature, most particularly, with regard to the central sacred location—Mt. Gerizim vs. Jerusalem (i.e. Mt. Zion). The woman brings out this religious difference in v. 20, perhaps expecting Jesus (if he is the Prophet) to arbitrate or judge the question. Her statement is worth citing in full:

“Our fathers kissed toward [i.e. worshiped] (God) in/on this mountain, and (yet) you [i.e. Jews] say that the place where it is necessary to kiss toward [i.e. worship] (God) (is) in Yerushalaim {Jerusalem}.”

This serves as the immediate basis for the exposition by Jesus in vv. 21-24. If she expects Jesus (as the Prophet) to explain/resolve this religious difference, it may be parallel to her statement in v. 25b regarding the role of the “Messiah” (Samaritan Taheb): “…when that (One) should come, he will offer up a message to us (about) all (thing)s”.

Let us now turn to the central exposition by Jesus, examining briefly, but carefully, the main statements. His initial statement in verse 21 is a direct response to the religious differences (between Samaritans and Jews) mentioned by the woman:

“Trust me, (my dear) woman, that an hour comes when (it will) not (be) in/on this mountain, and not in Yerushalaim {Jerusalem} (either), that you will kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father”.

This declaration essentially abrogates and removes the religious-cultural differences between Samaritans and Jews, as represented by the central difference regarding the place for worship. It is presented from an eschatological point of view—”an hour comes”, i.e. in the future. At that time, worship will transcend specific (sacred) places, etc, rooted in ancient ethnic and religious traditions. For the present—that is, at the moment when he is speaking with the woman—it would seem that Jesus recognizes (and even affirms!) the religious differences (v. 22). He appears to speak from the Israelite/Jewish standpoint, which represents the “correct” religious tradition, expressed in the Johannine (dualistic) vocabulary of “knowing” vs. “not knowing”—i.e., worship done in ignorance, without true knowledge. He even goes so far as to state that “salvation” comes “out of the Jews”—that is, out of the Jewish milieu and religious heritage (in which Jesus was born).

If Jesus seems to confirm the religious-cultural distinctions in v. 22, he eliminates them again, repeating (even more forcefully) his statement in v. 21:

“But an hour comes, and now is, when the true kissers toward (God) [i.e. worshipers] will kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father in (the) Spirit and (the) Truth—for (it is) even (that) the Father seeks these (very sorts of people) kissing toward him.” (v. 23)

I have translated the verb proskune/w literally, according to its probable fundamental meaning—to kiss (kune/w) toward (pro/$) someone, i.e. as a gesture of adoration, homage or respect. The ancient symbolism of the expression came to be used in the more general and abstract sense of “worship, adoration”, etc. However, I think it is worth preserving the sense of the action underlying the idiom. At any rate, what Jesus characterizes as true (a)lh/qino$) worship is said to occur, not in a specific place, but, rather, “in (the) Spirit and Truth” (e)n pneu/mati kai\ a)lhqei/a|).

Yet when and how will this true worship take place? Jesus has modified the eschatological orientation of v. 21; instead of saying “an hour comes”, he states: “an hour comes, and now is [kai\ nu=n e)stin]”—that is to say, it is here now, in the present. This is another example of the “realized” eschatology expressed numerous times in the Johannine discourses of Jesus. Believers experience now, in the present, what traditionally would be experienced by the righteous at the end time (in the Age to Come). The basis for this realized eschatology is trust in the person and work of Jesus. The Johannine Christological theme of Jesus (the Son) making God the Father known to believers is very much central to this passage. Worship in the Spirit, which is the only true worship (“in the Spirit and Truth”), can only be realized through the gift of the Spirit. Jesus (the Son) gives the Spirit, which is given to him by the Father (3:34-35)—the ultimate source of the Spirit is God the Father. Jesus expresses this clearly enough in the concluding verse 24:

“God (is) Spirit, and the (one)s kissing toward [i.e. worshiping] him, it is necessary (for them) to kiss toward [i.e. worship] (him) in (the) Spirit and Truth.”

We cannot truly worship God, who is Spirit, unless we are in the Spirit. This is not a temporary, charismatic phenomenon, but an essential and permanent condition—it is the very Life (eternal, divine Life) given to us by Jesus (the Son) from the Father.

April 25: John 11:27 (continued)

John 11:27, continued

o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= (“the Son of God”)

The second of the titles in Martha’s confession (see the previous note) is “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=). This, of course, came to be a regular title applied to Jesus by early Christians (Acts 9:20; Rom 1:4, etc), but its precise meaning in this period remains somewhat uncertain. The association with the title “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) in the Gospel tradition strongly suggests that the Messianic figure of the Davidic Ruler type is in view. The (Davidic) king as the “Son” of God, in a symbolic sense, is expressed most clearly in 2 Sam 7:14ff and Psalm 2:7. The latter verse came to be associated with Jesus, both from the standpoint of his resurrection/exaltation (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5, cf. also Rom 1:4, and note the context of Acts 4:25-28), but also in the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes in the Gospels (Mk 1:11 par [esp. Lk 3:22 v.l.]; 9:7 par). In this respect, it was unquestionably understood as a Messianic title that was applied to Jesus. It is part of the Matthean version of Peter’s confession (“Son of the living God”, Matt 16:16, cf. also 26:63 par), and is used of Jesus a number of times in the Synoptics, but never by Jesus himself.

The title takes on added theological and Christological significance in the Gospel of John, where Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as “the Son” (o( ui(o/$). This is analogous to his use of “Son of Man” as a self-reference in the Synoptic tradition, which also occurs in John (1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, etc). However, in the Fourth Gospel, the title “Son” is always used to express Jesus’ relationship to God the Father, and, in a number of passages, clearly indicates Jesus’ divine/eternal status. Thus it is essentially synonymous with the title “Son of God”, which Jesus also uses in 3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4. The idea that, in using the title “the Son (of God)”, Jesus was claiming deity—or even some kind of equality with God (Yahweh)—comes through in the hostile reaction to him (5:18; 8:58-59; 10:29-39; 19:7ff). I would point out three important occurrences of the title—at the beginning, middle, and end of the Gospel, respectively—which, I believe, show a progression or development of meaning:

    1. Jn 1:49—(Nathanael speaking to Jesus) “You are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel”
      Most likely, the title here was meant (by Nathanael) in a traditional Messianic sense, identifying Jesus as the coming Davidic Ruler.
    2. Jn 11:27—(Martha speaking to Jesus)
    3. Jn 20:31—the conclusion of the Gospel proper (cf. below)
o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”)

English translations here may obscure the fact that this is a descriptive title. It is also a specific Messianic title, but one which, at the traditional-historical level, relates not to the Davidic Ruler figure-type, but to that of a coming Prophet figure (for more on this, cf. Parts 2-3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as the supplemental note on “the one coming”). The title was important with regard to the identity of both Jesus and John the Baptist in the early Gospel tradition (Matt 3:11; 11:3 pars; Jn 1:27), but eventually its significance was lost for Christians, virtually disappearing from the later strands of the New Testament. This particular Messianic expectation is stated clearly in John 6:14:

“Truly this (man) is the Foreteller [i.e. Prophet], the (one) coming into the world!”

The italicized portion is nearly identical with the phrase in 11:27 (only the word order differs). Martha thus would seem to be declaring also that Jesus is this coming (Messianic) Prophet, just as Nathanael (cf. above) declared him to be the Davidic Ruler. In each instance, the distinct Messianic figure-type is associated with the title “Son of God”.

However, from the standpoint of the Johannine Gospel, the verb e&rxomai (“come”) has special theological (and Christological) significance, as does the expression ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”). We see this clearly enough at several points in the Prologue:

    • “…(this/he) is the true Light, which gives light to every man, coming into the world [e)rxo/menon ei)$ to\n ko/smon]” (v. 9)
    • “he came unto (his) own…” (v. 11)
    • “the one coming in back of me…” (v. 15, also vv. 27, 30)

This use of e&rxomai refers to what we would call the incarnation—according to three aspects:

    1. Jesus as the divine/eternal Son (and Word, Light, etc) of God who is sent forth from the Father, coming to earth
    2. Jesus taking on human form, being born a human being—i.e. his coming into the world
    3. His coming into the presence of his fellow human beings in the world—reflecting his work and ministry in the world

All three conceptual strands are wrapped up in the idea of Jesus coming into the world. The specific expression ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”) occurs numerous times in the Gospel:

    • “God se(n)t forth (his) Son into the world…” (3:17)
    • “the Light has come into the world…” (3:19)
    • “the (One) sending me is true, and the (thing)s which I heard (from) alongside of Him these I speak into/unto the world” (8:26)
    • “I have come (as) Light into the world…” (12:46)
    • “and (just) as you se(n)t me forth into the world, I also se(n)t them forth into the world” (17:18)
    • “unto this I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world…” (18:37)

Thus, even if, at the historical level, Martha identifies Jesus as a Messianic figure (in the traditional sense), from the standpoint of the Gospel, occurring as it does at a central mid-point of the book, her confession must be understood as expressing something much deeper with regard to Jesus’ identity. This is confirmed when we consider that the confession of 11:27 is essentially echoed at the conclusion of the Gospel proper (20:31)—a summary declaration by the Gospel writer which expresses his very purpose in writing:

“…these (thing)s have been written, (so) that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed One, the Son of God, and (that) in trusting you might hold life in his name.”

April 24: John 11:27

John 11:27

Verse 27 is the climax to the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, and it is her response to the question by Jesus in v. 26b—”do you trust this?” (cf. the prior note). As I discussed, the demonstrative pronoun “this” (tou=to) refers to Jesus’ statement in vv. 25-26a, which begins with the “I am” declaration (v. 25a). Thus Jesus is asking her about his identity—not only that she trusts in his word, but in who he is. In this regard, as I pointed out in the previous note, there is a basic similarity between the question to Martha, and that posed to Peter (and the other disciples) in Mark 8:29 par. In the Synoptic scene, the question is more direct in relation to Jesus’ identity—”But who do you consider me to be?”. The question of Jesus’ identity in the Johannine episode is framed differently, but, in many ways, remains quite the same—i.e. “do you trust what I have said (about who I am)?” Before proceeding to a detailed examination of verse 27, it is worth continuing the comparison with Peter’s confession. The beginning of both statements is identical:

su\ ei@ o( xristo/$
“You are the Anointed (One) [i.e. Messiah]…”

The Matthean version of Peter’s confession is closest to Martha’s:

“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of…God” (Matt 16:16)
“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God…” (John 11:27)

In some ways, Martha’s declaration takes a central place in the Gospel of John, much as Peter’s confession does in the Synoptics. The Fourth Gospel has nothing corresponding to the scene in Mark 8:27-30 par, though there is a rough parallel, with certain points of similarity, in Jn 6:66-71 (compare v. 69 with Mk 8:29 par). With Peter and Martha, here we have disciples, through an expression (confession) of faith, making a fundamental declaration regarding Jesus’ identity. Both passages are also positioned at a similar point in the Gospel narrative—the conclusion of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry and the start of his (final) period in Jerusalem.

If we turn specifically to Martha’s statement in verse 27, we see that there are three components to it, each of which involves a particular title applied to Jesus:

    • “You are
      • the Anointed One [o( xristo/$]
      • the Son of God [o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]
      • the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] into the world”

Each of these important titles will be discussed in turn.

o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”)

This, of course, is the title applied to Jesus by early Christians, so thoroughly that it came to function virtually as a second name—”Yeshua (the) Anointed”, i.e. Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 1:17; 17:3). I have discussed the significance and background of this title at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed“. It occurs less frequently in the Gospels than elsewhere in the New Testament, for obvious reasons. The historical tradition underlying the Gospel narratives reflects the fact that the title was applied to Jesus during the time of his ministry only on certain occasions, taking on greater prominence during the final period in Jerusalem. The title occurs 19 times in the Gospel of John, almost always on the lips of other people, not Jesus himself. The issue in these passages is whether Jesus might be the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah), a matter discussed and questioned by the people who saw and heard (about) him. A brief survey may be useful:

    • In 1:20 (also v. 25 and 3:28), John the Baptist declares that he is not the Anointed One
      By contrast, in v. 41, John’s followers (now disciples of Jesus) identity Jesus as this figure.
    • In 4:25, 29, the Samaritan woman refers to the expectation of the coming of the Anointed One (Messiah, Samaritan Taheb), and raises the possibility to her fellow villagers that it might be Jesus.
    • In 7:25-31, and again in vv. 40-44, people wonder, question and debate whether Jesus might be the Anointed One.
    • In 10:24 people want Jesus to tell them whether he truly claims to be the Anointed One.
    • In 12:34, again there are questions surrounding Jesus as the Anointed One, here connected with the title “Son of Man” so often used by Jesus in reference to himself.

There is some uncertainty as to the precise meaning of the title “Anointed One” in these passages, as there are a number of different Messianic figure-types to which it may refer. The type which came to be most prominent, that of the end-time Ruler from the line of David, is clearly in view only in 7:40-42, where “Anointed One” is contrasted with a Messianic Prophet figure. However, in 4:25ff and 7:25-31, the title seems to refer to an end-time Prophet. The references in chapter 1, in connection with John the Baptist, are harder to determine. As a result, we cannot be certain, at the historical level, just how Martha might have understood the title.

The remaining two titles, along with an interpretation of the verse as a whole, will be examined in the next daily note.

March 24: Luke 9:28-36

Within the Synoptic tradition, the Transfiguration episode is part of a series that divides the Gospel narrative between the time of Jesus’ ministry (in Galilee) and his ministry in Jerusalem prior to his death. Using Mark as the reference point, I would outline these as follows:

    • Peter’s Confession of Jesus as “the Anointed” [Christ/Messiah] (Mk 8:27-30)
      —Instruction not to reveal it to anyone (v. 30)
    • Jesus’ first prediction of the Passion (Mk 8:31ff) [Son of Man saying]
    • Five sayings on discipleship (following Jesus), in an eschatological context (Mk 8:34-9:1) [Son of Man saying, v. 38]
    • The Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10), with reference by Jesus to his death/resurrection
      —Instruction not to reveal it to anyone (v. 9f)
    • Question and teaching regarding the (eschatological) coming of Elijah (Mk 9:11-13) [Son of Man saying, v. 12]
    • A healing miracle (Mk 9:14-28)
    • Jesus’ second prediction of the Passion (Mk 9:30-32) [Son of Man saying]
    • Question involving Jesus’ disciples and their position (Mk 9:33-34), leading to teaching regarding true discipleship and humility, including an illustration involving children (Mk 9:35-37ff, 10:13-16)
    • Request of a man [‘Rich Young Ruler’], culminates in a question of whether he will follow Jesus (Mk 10:17-22ff), followed by additional teaching for his disciples (10:23-31)
    • Jesus’ third prediction of the Passion (Mk 10:32-34) [Son of Man saying]
    • Question involving Jesus’ disciples and their position (Mk 10:35-40), leading to teaching regarding true discipleship and humility (Mk 10:41-45) [Son of Man saying, v. 45]
    • Request of a man [a blind beggar], culminates in his following Jesus (Mk 10:46-52)

We can see how the three Passion predictions punctuate and portion out fairly evenly the material in these chapters (Mark 9-10). In particular there is a loose, but clear pattern to the second and third sections. All three Synoptic Gospels share this basic outline, though, as I have already pointed out, Luke has greatly expanded the portion corresponding to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, ‘omitting’ Mk 9:42-10:12 par, and ‘adding’ all of Luke 9:51-18:14. Referring to the above outline, Luke 9:18-50 corresponds to Mark 8:27-9:41, and even more decisively marks division between the earlier (Galilean) ministry (Lk 3:23-9:17) and the journey to Jerusalem (9:51ff). This is important for an understanding of the Lukan version of the Transfiguration scene, which I will explore briefly here.

The Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36)

For students and readers of the Gospels, this episode should be quite familiar, at least in its basic outline. It is common to all three Synoptics (Mk 9:2-10; Matt 17:1-9), and Luke follows the common account, though adding a few significant and important details which are worth examining [for an additional reference to the Transfiguration, cf. 2 Peter 1:16-18].

  • Luke introduces the account with “and it came to be, eight days after these sayings…” (v. 28), instead of “and after six days…” (in Mk 9:2; Matt 17:10). The author appears to be intentionally dating the episode differently, the “eight days” perhaps being an allusion to the feast of Booths (Sukkoth, cf. Lev 23:36). This seems likely, given the greater emphasis on motifs related to Moses and the Exodus in Luke’s version of the scene. The Sukkoth traditions (and the symbolism surrounding them) provide the context for Peter’s desire to build three tents (v. 33).
  • It is stated that Jesus went up into the mountain for the purpose of praying (v. 28b). The inclusion of this detail may be a foreshadowing of the garden scene in the Passion narrative (Lk 22:39-41ff par); prayer is also given particular emphasis throughout Luke-Acts.
  • The description of Jesus is modified slightly—Matthew and Luke (independently?) including a reference to the transformation of Jesus’ face (v. 29; Matt 17:2). Matthew states that his face “radiated (light)” [e&lamyen]; in Luke’s version “the visible-shape [ei@do$] of his face (became) other/different [e%tero$]”. It is not unlikely that an allusion to the transformation of Moses’ face (Ex 34:29) is involved here.
  • In the description of Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah, Luke adds two details (v. 31):
    (a) they were made visible before one’s eyes [vb. o)pta/nomai] in splendor [e)n do/ca]—this may be an intentional echo of the Son of Man saying in v. 26 (note also v. 27 par)
    (b) they spoke with Jesus regarding “his way out [e&codo$, éxodos] which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem”—probably referring both to Jesus’ death (cf. 2 Pet 1:15) and resurrection/exaltation, which clearly connects with the surrounding (Son of Man) Passion predictions of vv. 22, 44. Use of the word e&codo$ is almost certainly an allusion to Moses and the Exodus (cf. Exod 19:1; Num 33:38; Heb 11:22).
  • Matthew and Luke each (independently?) give greater emphasis to the cloud that appears (vv. 34-35; Matt 17:5), perhaps as an allusion to the theophany at Sinai (Exod 19:16ff). This is far more likely in the Lukan version, which adds the detail that “they [i.e. the three disciples] went into the cloud“, just as Moses entered into the cloud on Sinai (Exod 24:18).
  • In Mark/Matthew (Mk 9:7; Matt 17:5), the (Divine) voice from the cloud echoes the voice at Jesus’ baptism (in Matthew they are identical)—”this is my (be)loved Son…” However, in Luke (v. 35, according to the best manuscript evidence [Ë45, 75 a B L etc]) the declaration reads “this is my Son, the One gathered out [o( e)klelegme/no$] (i.e. the Chosen One)”. Luke’s use of verb e)kle/gomai is distinctive (11 of the 22 NT occurrences are in Luke-Acts); especially noteworthy is the use of the related (verbal) adjective e)klekto/$ (“chosen”) in Luke 23:35—there o( e)klekto/$ (“the Chosen [One]”) is set parallel with o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed [One]”), being applied (mockingly by the onlookers) to Jesus while he is on the cross.

These details shape and color Luke’s version of the scene in two principal ways:

  1. Greater emphasis is given to motifs associated with Moses and the Exodus, and especially with the theophany (manifestation of God) at Sinai. This, in turn, creates a closer connection between Jesus and Moses, as well as with Elijah, who also experienced a theophany at Mt. ‘Sinai’ (Horeb) [cf. 1 Kings 19:11ff].
  2. The transfiguration is brought more clearly into the context of Jesus’ (impending) death and resurrection, as found in the surrounding Passion predictions and Son of Man sayings. Lk 9:31, in particular, effectively sets the stage for Jesus great journey to Jerusalem (to begin in v. 51ff).
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is SonOfMan_header-small-1.png

March 19: Mark 9:2-10 par

Mark 9:2-10 (par Matt 17:1-9; Luke 9:28-36 )

The Transfiguration—from the Latin translation (transfiguratus) of the Greek (metamorfw/qh, “he was trans-formed”) in Mark 9:2—is one of the more famous episodes in the Gospels. It is part of the “Triple Tradition” (i.e., occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels: Mark 9:2-10; Matthew 17:1-9; Luke 9:28-36), and is to be found at the same point in the narrative framework: following Peter’s Confession, and in between the two pronouncements by Jesus of his upcoming betrayal and death (Mark 8:31; 9:31-32 par.); however only in the Lukan account, is it connected directly with the Passion (Luke 9:31, but see also the question concerning Elijah, Mark 9:11-13 par).

Still, the entire episode remains enigmatic; it has been, and continues to be, interpreted any number of ways. Particularly curious are the presence of Moses and Elijah (Peter apparently recognizes them without any explanation), “speaking with” (sullalou=nte$) Jesus (only Luke mentions their discussion, see below). The two Old Testament figures are commonly thought to represent the Law and the Prophets, with Jesus in the middle as a kind of fulfillment of the Scriptures. However, in the original context of the Gospels—and at the historical level—I think it is more likely that Moses and Elijah both represent prophetic figures. Jesus as a Prophet (or as the eschatological, coming Prophet) was an important concept during the time of his own ministry and in the earliest Christian period. That there was widespread (‘messianic’) expectation of an eschatological Prophet is confirmed by numerous passages in intertestamental Jewish literature (1 Maccabees 14:41, CD 6), the Qumran scrolls (1QS 9, 4Q175 [Testimonia], etc), and the New Testament (see esp. John 1:21, 25; [4:19, 25]; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). There were key Old Testament passages in this regard—(1) Deuteronomy 18:15ff (cf. Exodus 20:21 in the Samaritan Pentateuch), which speaks of a “prophet like Moses” who is to come; and (2) Malachi 3:1; 4:5 [MT 3:22], where a Messenger preceding the coming of the great Day of the Lord is mentioned, along with Elijah (cf. Sirach 48:10; Sibylline Oracles 2:187-189; Mark 9:11-13 par; Matthew 11:4; Luke 1:17; 9:8; John 1:21, 25; [Rev 11:1-13]). One might also mention a third prophetic paradigm from the Old Testament: the “Servant of the Lord” from the book of Isaiah (esp. Isa 61, which Jesus specifically applies to himself [Luke 4:17-21]); a text from Qumran (4Q521) describes an Elijah-like Messianic figure in language drawn from Isa 61 and Psalm 146. (For more on this subject, cf. especially Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”)

Of course, the climax of the Transfiguration scene is the Divine Voice (Mark 9:7; Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:35), speaking out of the cloud. It seems to come in response to Peter’s desire to build three “tents” (in imitation of the Sukkot, Feast of Booths); after the Voice has spoken, the cloud, along with Moses and Elijah, has vanished. I would like to examine briefly this verse, from two vantage points: one, text-critical, and the other, source-critical (or historical-critical).

1. Text-Critical: Luke 9:35 differs notably from the parallel text in Matthew and Mark—instead of the articular adjective o( a)gaphto/$ (“[the one] loved”), it reads the articular (passive) participle o( e)klelegme/no$ (“[the one] chosen”). This is almost certainly the original reading, found in Ë45, 75 a B L C (579) 892 1241 pc, and in a range of Latin, Syriac (syrs, hmg) and Coptic manuscripts. In numerous MSS it was harmonized to the text of Mark (A C* W f13 33 ª et al) or Matthew (C3 D Y pc), but not the other way around; in a few MSS we also find the more common adjective e)klekto/$ used instead. By all accounts, the reading o( e)klelegme/no$ is more unusual (and difficult—lectio difficilior potior); it is hard to imagine how it could have come about if the reading common to Matthew/Mark were original, whereas a scribal tendency to harmonize with the “easier” reading in the other two Gospels is quite natural. Literally, e)kle/gw/e)kle/gomai should be translated “gather out [of/from]” (le/gw in its original, primary sense of “gather, collect”), and was used quite often in the LXX, normally translating the Hebrew rjb (“choose, chosen”); and, as such, often with real theological significance—’anointed’ kings and priests, David, the city of Jerusalem, the “Servant of the Lord”, etc., were all chosen by God. Jesus, then, as o( e)klelegme/no$, is “the one [being] gathered out” from all other beings. It is perhaps easy to see how such a title might make scribes and commentators in the early Church uncomfortable: the text could have been modified for doctrinal reasons, in order to avoid an “adoptionistic” view of Christ.  However, it would be dangerous to read later Christological concerns very far into Luke’s account: more vital to him, surely, are the Old Testament parallels: just like the people Israel, David, Jerusalem, and the Prophets, so Jesus was chosen by God.

2. Source-Critical: In studying any one of the Synoptic Gospels, it is always worth holding up the common passages for comparison, to look carefully at the differences between them. Here, for example, is the best text in each Gospel for the Divine Voice:

Mark 9:7:
ou(to/$ e)stin o( ui(o\$ mou o( a)gaphto/$
“This is my (be)loved son”
Matthew 17:5b:
ou(to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$, e)n w!| eu)do/khsa
“This is my (be)loved son, in whom I have good regard”
Luke 9:35:
ou(to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( e)klelegme/no$
“This is my son the (one I have) gathered out [i.e. chosen]”
or, “This is my son the Chosen (One)”

In each Gospel, the voice concludes, a)kou/ete au)tou= (Lk. reverses the two words), “hear him!” The question of the text of Luke 9:35 was examined above. But what of the relationship between the three Gospels here? The common critical theory—that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark as a written source—encounters difficulties in the Transfiguration scene, as both Evangelists (Luke, in particular) use very different language in places and include numerous details not found in Mark’s account. This means, at the very least, that Matthew and Luke are drawing from other traditions (or their own inspired creativity), in telling the story. Luke, especially, seems to apply an extra layer of symbolism, drawn from the Old Testament, at key points in the narrative (on this again, see below). In Mark (and Matthew), the Divine Voice speaks much as it did at the climax of Jesus’ baptism, and Matthew may be intentionally drawing a closer connection (in Matthew the two pronouncements are identical). Is it possible to determine the text at the historical level? One might view Mark’s version as “original”, to which the other Evangelists have added details. From a traditional-conservative position, one may be tempted to combine all three, in which case the Voice would have said something like: “This is my (be)loved son, the Chosen one, in whom I have (good) pleasure”. However, there is really no basis for such a conflate reading, beyond a pious desire to avoid discrepancy. Instead, should we not consider that, at the level of the inspired received text, the Voice speaks all three ways?

Old Testament parallels in Luke:

In conclusion, I would like to note several details, unique to Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, which seem to be the result of specific Old Testament symbolism applied to the traditional text.

  1. Jesus’ Face (Luke 9:29):
    Instead of stating that Jesus metamorfw/qh (“was trans-formed”), Luke indicates that the ei@do$ [“sight” i.e., appearance] of his face [prosw/pon] was e%tero$ [“other, different”, i.e. altered]. Matthew also mentions Jesus’ face (one of several minor agreements between Matthew and Luke, against Mark); however, here, especially, a reference to the glorification (LXX dedo/castai) of Moses (Exodus 34:29-33) seems to be in mind. Luke also refers twice in this context to “splendor” [do/ca], once referring to the appearance of Moses and Elijah (v. 31). Also, as Moses speaks (LXX e)la/lhsen) to the (chosen) representatives of Israel (34:31), so he speaks with (sunela/loun) Jesus.
  2. The Conversation (Luke 9:31):
    Luke records something of the nature of the conversation Jesus has with Moses and Elijah, that they recounted [i.e. spoke of] th\n e&codon au)tou= h^n h&mellen plhrou=n e)n Ierousalh/m (“…his way out [i.e. departure], which he was about to [ful]fill in Jerusalem”). The Greek word e&codo$ (éxodos, lit. “way out [of/from]”) unmistakenly references the “Exodus” of the Israelites, under Moses, out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
  3. The Cloud (Luke 9:34-35):
    All three Gospels mention the cloud (nefh/lh), and the Divine Voice issuing out of it, as well as the cloud overshadowing (e)piskia/zw) them; but only Luke mentions the unusual detail: e)fobh/qhsan de\ e)n tw=| ei)selqei=n au)tou\$ ei)$ th\n nefe/lhn, “and they were afraid in their coming into the cloud”—apparently the disciples (with Jesus) enter into the cloud. This would seem to be an echo of Exodus 19:20, where God calls Moses up onto the mountain to the “thick cloud” (LXX nefe/lh, v. 16) where God Himself is; see also 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, in reference to the “pillar of cloud”. The image of believers “entering into” the dark cloud of God’s Presence, proved to be a powerful symbol in Christian mystical tradition (cf. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses II:162-169; Pseudo-Dionysius’ Mystical Theology §1ff; and many other references).

The archetypal imagery of the Transfiguration was particularly prominent in the mystical tradition of the Greek Church. Especially noteworthy is an episode in the Hesychast controversy of the 14th century. “Hesychasm” (from h(suxi/a, “quiet, stillness, silence”) was a characteristic term applied to mystic-ascetic monks and hermits in the Eastern Church, reflecting a life of contemplation and unceasing prayer [“prayer of the heart”], with the ultimate goal of union with God and qe/wsi$ (“deification”, i.e., man becoming like God, cf. John 1:12-13 and Athanasius’ famous axiom, On the Incarnation 54.3). Part of this mystical contemplation involved a special vision of the Divine “Light”—not the essence of God, but his “energy” (e)ne/rgeia)—an uncreated, “hypostatic” light, synonymous with the Glory of Christ (as manifested especially during the Transfiguration [traditionally on Mt. Tabor]), and sometimes referred to as the “Taboric light”. Famously, Barlaam of Calabria and Gregory of Akindynos opposed the possibility of such a transcendent vision, while the Hesychast position was powerfully defended by Gregory Palamas in his Triads.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Lk 4:16-30)

In the previous note I looked at the tradition of Jesus’ visit to his hometown (Nazareth) in Mark 6:1-6a. Matthew’s version (13:53-58) differs only slightly from that of Mark. Luke’s account, as I have already mentioned, has a number of details unique to his version, though it almost certainly is describing the same (historical) event and tradition. These differences I will be discussing today. Before proceeding, it is worth pointing out that neither Mark nor Matthew actually mentioned the name of the town, simply referring to it as Jesus’ patri/$ (patrís), “father(‘s) land”, i.e. the territory of his home town. We may assume that the Gospel writers both understood it to be Nazareth, based on earlier data they recorded (Mk 1:9; Matt 2:13; 4:13), but, in all likelihood, the original tradition as passed down did not include the name of the town. Luke specifically refers to it by name (4:16), and he has good reasons for doing so, as we shall see.

Luke 4:16-30

(See also my earlier study on this passage)

Let us first note the elements and details which are unique to Luke’s version of the episode, and which he most likely has added to the core Synoptic narrative. We may take these to be (authentic) historical traditions, and, if so, they would be considered part of the so-called “L” material (traditions found only in Luke). The significant additions are as follows:

    • A different narrative introduction (v. 16)
    • The detail of Jesus standing up to read a passage from the Prophets (v. 17)
    • The quotation of Isaiah 61:1, with Jesus’ explanation (vv. 18-21)
    • The proverb cited by Jesus in v. 23
    • The Scriptural examples involving the Prophets Elijah and Elisha (vv. 25-27)
    • The violent reaction by the people, with intent to do harm to Jesus (vv. 28-29f)

The core Synoptic tradition, as found in Mk 6:1-6a (cf. the previous note), can still be glimpsed by combining together vv. 14-15 (with 16), 22, 24, and (very loosely) 28, 30. Beyond the added details listed above, consider how the author has (apparently) modified the core tradition:

    • The details emphasized in verse 16 (cp. Mk 6:1-2a par):
      (a) The name of the town (Nazareth)
      (b) That it was the place where Jesus was nourished (i.e. raised, brought up)
      (c) That he was used to attending local Synagogues on the Sabbath (and teaching there)
    • A different formulation of the people’s reaction—that is, the summary of their words/thoughts (v. 22 / Mk 6:2-3 par)
    • A different version of Jesus’ saying (v. 24 / Mk 6:4)
    • The episode apparently ends with a rather different (more violent) result to Jesus’ visit (vv. 28-30)

Each of these will be examined briefly, going verse by verse.

Verse 16—The Lukan details mentioned above all relate to the distinctive purpose of the episode within the context of the Gospel narrative. Two major literary and thematic elements are clearly at work:

    • The reference to Nazareth as the place where Jesus was brought up (as a child) points back to the Infancy Narrative of chapters 1-2, especially 2:40-52, which share certain motifs and language with 4:16ff. I have discussed these in an earlier note on this passage.
    • This episode illustrates the summary of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry in verses 14-15—in particular, that of his teaching in the synagogues. The Synoptic tradition introduces the ministry of Jesus with a different episode (cf. Mark 1:21-28 par [this follows in Lk 4:31-37]). Note the way that both the initial Markan and Lukan episodes illustrate the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry:
      (1) Teaching/preaching (with a synagogue setting)—Mk 1:21-22, 27; Lk 4:14-16, 22
      (2) Working miracles—Mk 1:23-27; Lk 4:14a, 23-27

Verses 17-21—The quotation of Isaiah 61:1 is a tradition unique to Luke’s account. In verse 21, Jesus states that this prophecy has been fulfilled at the moment of his reading it. In other words, Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed herald/prophet figure of Isa 61:1ff, just as he does elsewhere, in the traditional “Q” material (Lk 7:22 / Matt 11:5). Luke’s inclusion of this reference probably offers the best explanation for his location of the Nazareth episode, set at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This can be explained on three levels:

    • A connection with the Baptism scene, with the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (3:22). This is to be understood as the moment when the Spirit came upon him and he was anointed by God (Isa 61:1 / 4:18).
    • A connection with the preceding Temptation scene (4:1-13) which is framed by important references to the presence/activity of the Spirit (vv. 1, 14). In other words, this also shows how Jesus has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of God.
    • Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah), which serves as a principal theme of the Lukan account of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (4:19:20). However, in this period he is not identified as the royal Messiah from the line of David, but as the Anointed herald/prophet of Isaiah 61. Matthew (4:12-17) introduces Jesus’ Galilean ministry with a different Messianic prophecy (Isa 9:1-2), one more in keeping with the Davidic figure-type.

Verse 22—Here it is worth comparing Luke’s account of the crowds reaction with that of Mark. Consider first the initial description of their reaction:

“and many hearing (him) were laid out (flat) [i.e. amazed], saying ‘From where (did) these things (come) to this (man), and what (is) th(is) wisdom…’?” (Mk 6:2)

“and all witnessed (about) him and wondered upon [i.e. at] the words of favor traveling out of his mouth” (Lk 4:22a)

The idea is roughly the same, but with a different emphasis. In Mark, the people recognize the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry—the wisdom (of his teaching) and his powerful deeds (miracles). In Luke’s account, it seems that they are responding to his gifts as a speaker, fulfilling a traditional religious role—that of reading the Scripture and offering a (pleasant) word of exhortation. It would seem that, while they may have recognized the Messianic significance of Isa 61:1ff, they certainly did not understand the implication of Jesus’ declaration in v. 21—that he was the Anointed One of the prophecy. Mark’s version may contain something of this idea as well, in the statement that the people of Nazareth were “tripped up” (the vb. skandali/zw) by Jesus (v. 3, cf. Lk 7:23 par)

The second part of the people’s reaction is even more significant. In Mark (6:3) the people find it hard to explain Jesus’ words and deeds, since they know all of his family—his mother, brothers, and sisters—as ‘ordinary’ people in the area. Luke has simplified this statement greatly, highlighting just one family member of Jesus:

“Is this not the son of Yoseph {Joseph}?”

This is reasonably close to the words in Matt 13:55: “Is this not the son of the craftsman [i.e. carpenter]?”, as well as being virtually identical to those in Jn 6:42. However, for Luke the reference to Joseph (as Jesus’ human father) has special importance, as can be seen clearly from two earlier passages:

    • The episode of the child Jesus in the Temple, in which Joseph as Jesus’ (human/legal) father is contrasted with God as his (true) Father (2:48-49)
    • The genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38), which begins “the son, as it was thought, of Joseph…” (v. 23), and ends “…the (son) of God” (v. 38). The implication, again, is that God is Jesus’ true Father (1:32, 35; 3:22b).

With these allusions in mind, it becomes apparent what the author is emphasizing here in this scene. The people of Nazareth are still thinking of Jesus as the ordinary, human/legal son of Joseph, and do not at all recognize him as the Anointed One and Son of God.

Verses 23-24—In Luke’s version, the Synoptic saying is preceded by an additional proverb (in v. 23). It functions as a provocative challenge to the townspeople. At this point, Luke does not mention the people taking offense at Jesus (cp. Mark 6:3); rather, Jesus seems to be taking the initiative in provoking them. The proverb brings to light the miracles performed by Jesus and plays upon the Synoptic tradition in Mk 6:5 par—that he was unable to perform many miracles in his home town (because of the people’s lack of faith). The proverb itself is relatively common, with parallels known from the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern world. However, in Luke, joined as it is with the saying of v. 24, it effectively creates a dual contrasting statement (physician/prophet). This, in fact, is how the saying has been preserved in at least one line of tradition, as recorded in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1 and the Gospel of Thomas (§31)—i.e. “a prophet is not… and a physician does not…”. The Lukan form of the saying in v. 24 also differs from the version in Mark/Matthew:

“A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land and among his relatives and in his (own) house” (Mk 6:4)

“Not one foreteller [i.e. prophet] is accepted in his father(‘s) land” (Lk 4:24)

Most likely, Luke’s version represents an abridgment and/or simplification of the Synoptic tradition. Again, it serves a distinct purpose in the Lukan context—it makes more direct the identification of Jesus as a prophet.

Verses 25-27—The prophetic association becomes even clearer with the references to Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:8-16; 2 Kings 5:1-19) and the miracles they worked. Jesus effectively is identifying himself with a prophet like Elijah/Elisha, a connection which appears a number of times in the Gospel tradition. For more on this, see parts 2 and 3 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Verses 28-30—Luke, quite in contrast with the narrative in Mark/Matthew, records an openly hostile, violent reaction to Jesus, provoked, it would seem, by Jesus’ own words in vv. 23-27. There is nothing quite like this in the core synoptic narrative, which ends rather uneventfully, with a laconic statement that Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in his home town, and that he marveled at the people’s lack of faith (Mk 6:5-6a). This is the only point at which the Lukan account really does not fit the Synoptic outline of the episode in Mark/Matthew. It does, however, fulfill two important themes within the narrative context of Luke’s Gospel:

    • It prefigures the opposition/violence that Jesus, as the Anointed One and Son of God, would face from the people, and serves as a parallel to the close of the Galilean period, and the Passion references which follow (9:21-22, 31, 43b-45, 51).
    • It also looks back to the Infancy Narrative, and the oracle by Simeon in 2:34-35, illustrating the opposition predicted by him most vividly.

Quite possibly, the original (historical) tradition contained more of this element of opposition to Jesus, but that it was not preserved in the Synoptic account of Mark/Matthew, retained (if at all) only in the statement at the end of Mk 6:3. If so, then Luke has developed and enhanced this aspect of the tradition.

John 6:42

Finally, it is worth noting, that, although the Gospel of John does not have anything corresponding to the Nazareth episode of the Synoptics, it does include at least one similar tradition—Jn 6:42, forming part of the great Bread of Life discourse in 6:22-59. As in the Synoptic episode under discussion, verse 42 reflects the people’s reaction to statements by Jesus regarding his identity. In Luke 4:16-30, he identifies himself with the Anointed (Messianic) herald/prophet of Isaiah 61:1ff (v. 21), and, by implication, as also being the Son of God (vv. 22ff, cf. above). In the discourse of John 6:22-59, Jesus draws upon different Scriptures—the Exodus traditions, especially that of the manna (as “bread from heaven”)—and identifies himself as the true Bread that comes down from heaven. This is expressed in verse 42 by one of the famous “I Am” declarations in John—”I am the bread th(at is) coming down [lit. stepping down] out of Heaven” (cf. also vv. 32-33, 35, 38, 48, 50-51, 58). In the Johannine context, this certainly refers to Jesus as the eternal (pre-existent) Son of God who has come (down) into the world to bring Life to those who would believe. Here Jesus’ sonship (in relation to God the Father) is understood at a much deeper level than in the Gospel of Luke. However, the basic contrast expressed is the same. The people recognize Jesus only at the ordinary, human level, and are troubled/offended by his words:

Is this not Yeshua, the son of Yoseph, of whom we have seen [i.e. known] his father and (his) mother? (So) now how (can) he say that ‘I have stepped down out of heaven?'”

The italicized portion is quite similar to the words of the people of Nazareth in Mark 6:3 par; indeed, the first phrase—”is this not…the son of Joseph?”—is virtually identical with Luke 4:22b. And, to be sure, John expresses the same aspect of opposition and misunderstanding among the people as Luke does. They view Jesus merely as the son of Joseph, when, in fact, his true identity is as the (eternal) Son of God the Father (Jn 6:27, 32, 37, 40, 44, 46, 57, etc).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 4 (Lk 9:28-36 etc)

This note follows up on the prior discussion, regarding the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-13 par), and its parallels with the Baptism of Jesus. Here I will be focusing on the meaning and significance of the episode, especially as presented in the Gospel of Luke. This will include a comparison of the variant readings in Lk 9:35, compared with those in John 1:34.

Interpretation of the Transfiguration scene

As I mentioned in the prior note, the Transfiguration begins the second half of the Synoptic narrative, much as the Baptism scene begins the first. The Baptism of Jesus marks the start of his ministry (in Galilee), while the Transfiguration marks the beginning of his Passion (i.e. in Judea/Jerusalem) and precedes his journey to Jerusalem. The parallels between the Baptism and Transfiguration (cf. the list in previous note) have to be understood in terms of these differing contexts within the narrative. Consider the following points:

1. The connection with John the Baptist and questions regarding the identity of the Messiah

This has been a central theme in our study of the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (discussed in detail in the prior notes). John the Baptist, of course, features prominently in the Baptism narrative, which opens with a description of John and his ministry, including the central association with the Isaiah 40:3ff prophecy (Mark 1:2-6 par). His presence in the Transfiguration scene is limited to the (separate?) tradition which appears at the end (Mk 9:11-13). It is generally assumed that Jesus is speaking of John in his reference to “Elijah” (cp. Matt 11:14), drawing a parallel between the Baptist’s mistreatment/arrest and his own (i.e. of the “Son of Man”, 8:31; 9:12, etc). Note the framing structure surrounding 8:27-9:13, forming an inclusio:

The question regarding the identity of “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) is given more prominence and clarity in Luke’s account of the Baptism (3:15; cp. John 1:19-27).

2. The heavenly declaration corrects/clarifies the Messianic identification

This is implicit by the phenomena attending Jesus at his baptism, especially the descent of the Spirit upon him; Luke brings out the Messianic association more directly, in the subsequent scene at Nazareth, where Jesus identifies himself with the “Anointed” figure of Isa 61:1ff (Lk 4:17-21, cf. also 7:22). This makes clear in what sense Jesus is the Messiah (3:15) and the “one [who is] coming” (3:16; 7:19 par). The heavenly declaration at the Baptism adds to this by identifying Jesus as God’s Son (3:22 par), drawing upon the image of the king (i.e. the Davidic ruler) as “Son of God” (the variant reading in Lk quotes [the Messianic] Psalm 2:7). Similarly, prior to the Transfiguration, Peter declares Jesus to be “the Anointed One (Messiah) [of God]” (Mk 8:27 / Lk 9:2). The exchange between Peter and Jesus which follows (Mk 8:31-33 par, but omitted by Luke) suggests that Peter had in mind the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic ruler (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), which would not have been compatible with the idea that Jesus must suffer and be put to death. It was Peter who also responds to the Transfiguration, without truly understanding the significance of what he sees (Mk 9:5-6 par, cf. below). Again, as at the Baptism, the heavenly voice declares Jesus to be the “Son of God”—but here, it would seem, not in the traditional Messianic sense, but hinting at something greater, tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:9, 12-13 par), which will lead to his exaltation to the right hand of God (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:32-35; 13:30-35 [citing Ps 2:7], etc).

3. The presence of Moses and Elijah—Jesus as a Prophet figure, specially chosen/anointed by God

That Jesus was seen as a Messiah of the Prophet figure-type seems clear enough from the Baptism scene, attested by different strands of tradition (Mk 1:7-8 par; Lk 3:15ff; 4:14-30; Jn 1:19-27), as well as the entirety of the period of his Galilean ministry, as recorded in the Synoptic narrative. Principally, he fulfilled the role of Spirit-endowed, miracle working Prophet (like Elijah), identified more specifically with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. It has been popular to interpret the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene as representing “the Law and the Prophets” which Jesus was fulfilling (Matt 5:17; Lk 16:16; 24:27, 44; Jn 1:45, etc). However, this does not seem to be correct. To begin with, Elijah is an odd choice to represent the Prophetic Scriptures (Isaiah would make more sense, cf. Jn 12:39-41). More importantly, Moses and Elijah each represent distinct Prophet-figures; and, in the original context of the Gospels, it is almost certain that Jesus, in the period of his Galilean ministry especially, was also seen as an Anointed Prophet. I would suggest that in the Transfiguration scene the significance of Moses and Elijah is two-fold:

    1. It identifies Jesus as a Messianic Prophet (like Moses and Elijah), marking the conclusion of his Galilean ministry in which this role was primarily being fulfilled, but also pointing to his eschatological role inaugurating a new era for the people of God. It is no coincidence that, in Jewish tradition by the time of Jesus, Moses and Elijah were seen as prophetic figures who would appear at the end-time, as a fulfillment of specific prophecies (Deut 18:15-20; Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6).
    2. Moses and Elijah each experienced a theophany—manifestation of God’s presence—upon the holy mountain (Sinai/Horeb); similarly, Jesus (and his disciples) on this mountain experience the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence and the divine Voice from heaven. This theophany, in relation to Jesus, is of a different sort, reflecting his divine Sonship. For more on this, cf. below.
4. The Transfiguration scene prefigures the coming Passion—the death and resurrection of the Son of Man

This is clear from the position of the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic narrative, as noted above. It marks the conclusion of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the beginning of his Passion—the upcoming journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10; Lk 9:5118:34), and the events which would take place there. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration brings out this aspect more clearly (cf. below).

The Transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36

Note the following details or characteristics of the Lukan version, and its place in the specific context of the Gospel narrative:

  • Luke has given special prominence to Jesus’ role as a Messianic, Spirit-endowed Prophet in the period of his Galilean ministry (4:149:22); this gives greater significance to the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene (see above).
  • Peter’s confession in Luke (9:20) reads “You are the Anointed One of God” which is parallel to the unique form of the heavenly declaration in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration “This is the Son of God, the Elect/Chosen (One)“. On this, see below.
  • Luke’s version of the Transfiguration brings out more clearly the association with Moses and the Exodus—especially the traditions regarding the cloud of God’s presence (9:29, 31a, 34-35, cf. Exod 13:21-22; 19:9, 16ff; 24:15-16ff; 33:9-10; 34:5; 40:34-38). In particular, note v. 34 which alludes to Moses entering the cloud (Exod 24:18, cf. also 33:9).
  • This also enhances the idea of the Transfiguration as a theophany, in which Jesus and his disciples experience the presence of God and see his glory/splendor (vv. 31-32, cf. also v. 27). In this context, the altered appearance of Jesus (v. 29) probably is meant to echo the tradition regarding Moses changed appearance in Exod 34:29-35.
  • Luke ties the Transfiguration more directly to the coming death and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, in two respects:
    (1) by the detail he includes in v. 31, using the word e&codo$ (exodos, “way out”, i.e. “exodus”), and
    (2) its relation to the journey to Jerusalem which follows, and which features so prominently in the structure of the Lukan narrative (9:51-18:34)

The textual question in Luke 9:35 and John 1:34

Finally, mention should be made again of the textual variants for the heavenly declaration in Luke 9:35. The majority text (including A C* W 33, etc) follows the version in Mark (9:7):

“This is my Son, the (one who is) loved”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$

However, many of the earliest/best manuscripts (Ë45,75 a B L, etc) instead read:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. elect/chosen]”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( e)klelegme/no$

Most commentators prefer this as the original reading, considering it much more likely, considering scribal tendencies, that the passage would be harmonized with Mark than the other way around. As it happens, there is a similar textual variant related to the declaration of Jesus’ identity at the Baptism, in John 1:34. The Baptist’s statement, in the vast majority of manuscripts and witnesses (including Ë66) reads—

“…this is the Son of God”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=

which, of course, is quite similar to the voice at the Transfiguration in the Synoptic tradition (cf. also the Matthean version of the Baptism, Matt 3:17). However, in a number of witnesses (Ë5,106vid a* b e ff2* etc) the reading is:

“…this is the (One) gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen] of [i.e. by] God”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( e)klekto/$ tou= qeou=

A few MSS have the longer (conflate) reading “…the elect/chosen Son of God”, which is surprisingly close to the heavenly voice in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration (according to many of the best MSS, cf. above). The adjective e)klekto/$ is closely related to the participle e)klelegme/no$ (both from the verb e)kle/gomai, “gather out of/from”), and has essentially the same meaning (“selected, elect, chosen”, etc). The adjective normally refers (in the plural) to believers (as the elect/chosen ones) in the New Testament, but the singular is used of Jesus (also as a title) in Luke 23:35; a few manuscripts likewise read the adjective, instead of the participle, in Lk 9:35. In the two Lukan references, and in Jn 1:34 v.l., the title “Elect/Chosen One” almost certainly must be understood in a Messianic context. The Lukan usage in 9:35, if original, suggests a parallel with the adjective a)gaphto/$ (“[the one] loved [i.e by God]”)—the one chosen by God is loved by God, and vice versa. It also indicates that the title “Son of God” should not be understood here in terms of later orthodox Christology (nor even the developed Christology of the Fourth Gospel). The immediate narrative context of the Gospel has rather a different, two-fold emphasis:

    • Jesus is the Son of God in a Messianic sense, according to the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 etc in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. Lk 1:32, 35, etc), and
    • The declaration points to the death, resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, by which he is considered to be God’s Son (and Anointed One) in a very special sense (Acts 13:33, etc). The Johannine idea of Jesus’ Sonship—i.e. as the pre-existent, eternal Son of the Father, plays little (if any) role in the Synoptic narrative, and represents a somewhat later development in the Gospel tradition.
The title “Elect/Chosen One of God” (ah*l*a$ ryj!B=) is found in an Aramaic text from Qumran (4Q534). It survives only as a fragmentary piece, so it is nearly impossible to determine the precise context, but it appears to be related in some way to the ancient Enoch traditions, most familiar as expressed in the work known as 1 Enoch. Column 1 lines 10-11 reads: “in that [i.e. because] he is the chosen (one) of God, his being born [i.e. his birth] and the spirit [jwr] of his life-breath [<vn] {…} his thinking/reckoning [pl. i.e., plans] will be to the distant age (to come) [i.e. for ever]…”. It may perhaps be debated to what extent the title “Elect/Chosen One” is Messianic (cp. Isa 42:1; Ps 89:3; 106:23); however, in the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (chap. 37-71), often dated roughly to the time of Jesus (early-mid 1st cent. A.D.), we find a heavenly figure (much like Jesus) who is variously given the titles “Son of Man”, “Anointed One” and “Elect/Chosen One”. All three of these titles appear together, in the context of the Transfiguration scene, in Luke 9 (vv. 20, 22, 26, 35 v.l., 44).