September 12: Revelation 1:17-20

Revelation 1:9-20 (continued)

Revelation 1:17-20

The previous daily note examined the visual details of the initial vision in verses 9-20 (vv. 12-16). There I pointed out that the figure of the vision was depicted and described with both heavenly and divine characteristics. The details (and language used to describe them) are drawn largely from four passages in the Old Testament:

Central to the vision, with its identification of the figure as “(one) like a son of man” (v. 13; Daniel 7:13f), is the description of “the Ancient of Days” in Dan 7:9-10. In this regard, there is an interesting variant reading in the Greek of Dan 7:13, for the Aramaic

“…(one) like a son of man was coming and reached unto [du^] the Ancient of Days”

where the preposition du^ is translated by the corresponding e%w$ (“unto, until”). However, some manuscripts of the LXX instead read the particle w%$ (“as”):

“…(one) as a son of man was coming and came near as [w($] the Ancient of Days”

which could be taken to mean that he had the likeness or appearance of the Ancient of Days.

In the verses which follow (vv. 17-20), the heavenly/divine figure addresses the seer John. It is introduced with a notice of the traditional reaction of fear to seeing a heavenly being (Ezek 1:28; Dan 8:17; 10:9-10; Tob 12:15-16; Mark 16:5 par; Luke 1:12; 24:5, etc), followed by the similarly traditional words of reassurance mh fobou= (“you must not be afraid”, “do not fear”), as in Lk 1:13, 30; 2:10; John 6:20 par; Acts 18:9; 27:24, etc.

The figure makes a declaration (“I am”, e)gw/ ei)mi) which is associated with God (YHWH) and which reflects divine attributes, following the pattern in 1:4, 8 (cf. also 21:6). There are two specific titles involved:

Two points must be noted in relation to this declaration: (1) this heavenly/divine figure is identified (implicitly) with the risen Jesus, and (2) the declaration is defined in terms of Jesus’ resurrection:

“…and I came to be dead, and see! I am living [zw=n] into the Ages of the Ages”

This is important, as it reflects the early Christian mode of thinking which identified Jesus’ deity primarily with his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). This can be seen especially in examples of the earliest Christian preaching and (Gospel) proclamation—e.g., Acts 2:24-36; 3:15-16; 7:55-56; 13:30-37ff; Rom 1:4; Phil 2:9-11, etc. Being exalted to divine/heavenly status, Jesus shares divine attributes and titles, such as “the Living One”. He also shares precisely the eternal Life which God possesses, and, as such, he lives “into the Ages of Ages” (i.e. forever)—cf. Dan 4:34; 6:26; 12:7, etc.

The final phrase of this declaration sharpens the eschatological context, touching upon the idea of the end-time Judgment. The risen Jesus how has authority over death and the dead (i.e. those who are dead):

“…and I hold the keys of Death and of the Unseen world (of the dead)”

Death is depicted primarily as a place—the traditional Hades (a)i+/dh$, or ai%dh$, a%|dh$), the “unseen” realm (below ground) where the dead reside. In figurative (and mythological) language, this realm is ruled over by a figure personifying Death itself. To say that Jesus “holds the keys” is a symbolic way of describing the power/authority he has (cf. Isa 22:22; Rev 3:7), as the living one, over death. In traditional Jewish thought, a heavenly being (Angel) typically had power over Death/Hades (cf. Apocalypse of Abraham 10:11, etc), an idea with a very long history (cf. Exod 12:23ff; Num 22:23ff; 1 Chron 21:12ff; and many other passages). This specific image of Jesus holding the key of Death is repeated in 9:1; 20:1, emphasizing its eschatological significance. The end-time Judgment was often closely connected with the resurrection of humankind, which by the time of the book of Revelation was typically applied to both the righteous and wicked together.

Following this declaration, in verse 19, John is given (again, v. 11) the command to write down the things he sees and hears: “Therefore you must write the (thing)s you see…” The verb ei@de$ is an aorist form, which often indicates past action (“saw”), and might, from the standpoint of the book and its publication, refer to the things which John saw. Along these lines, it is probably better to view the aorist form as referring to the visions taken as a whole, reflecting an “external” view. These visions are qualified here two ways:

    • “the (thing)s which are” (a^ ei)si/n)—present
    • “the (thing)s which are about to come to be” (a^ me/llei gene/sqai)—immediate future

The context makes clear that the “future” events should be understood as occurring (close) after events of the present time (i.e., from the standpoint of the author and his original audience). Note the wording: “…are about to come to be with [i.e. after] these (thing)s”.

Finally, in the concluding words of verse 20, the risen Jesus offers a partial explanation of the first vision, its secret (musth/rion). This is an important aspect of eschatological (and apocalyptic) language—the revealing of something which has been secret, or hidden. In this instance, as in the parables of Jesus (Mark 4:11ff par), it is the specific symbols which are interpreted; two symbols are involved:

    • “the seven stars…upon my right hand”
      = “(the) Messengers of the seven congregations”
    • “the seven gold lamp(stands)
      = “the seven congregations” (contrast this with Zech 4:2ff)

There is a close connection here with the earlier reference to “the seven Spirits” in verse 4, which, as I have previously discussed, are best understood as heavenly beings (i.e. Angels). Note the symmetry:

    • Seven Spirits [Angels] before the throne of God (i.e. the ‘Ancient of Days’)
      —Seven stars (= heavenly Messengers) in the right hand of Jesus
    • Seven Lamps [Believers] surrounding the heavenly/divine figure (i.e. ‘one like a son of man’)

As in the introduction (vv. 1-3), Jesus serves as the intermediary:

    • God gives the message to
      • Jesus Christ, who gives it (through his Messenger[s]) to
        • Believers (through a chosen prophet)

This interplay continues into the “letters” which follow in chapters 2-3, as will be discussed in the next note. In the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, Angels are often ‘assigned’ to particular peoples or nations (Dan 10:13, 20-21; 12:1), and also to specific individuals (cf. Tob 12:14-16; 1 Enoch 100:5; Matt 18:10; Acts 12:15, etc). The idea that certain heavenly Messengers are designated to groups of believers (congregations) in various locations is fully in accordance with this line of tradition. As previously noted, the picture of seven Angels is also traditional (1 Enoch 20:1-7; Tob 12:15; 4Q403).

September 8: Revelation 1:4-6

Revelation 1:4-6

Verses 4-6 represent the standard greeting of the epistolary introduction. The author, already mentioned in verse 1, introduces himself and addresses his audience:

“Yohanan, to the seven (gatherings of believer)s in Asia (that are) called out (to assemble): Favor and Peace to you from the (One) being and the (One who) was and the (One) coming, and from the seven Spirits which (are) in the sight of His throne, and from Yeshua (the) Anointed, the trust(worthy) witness, the first-produced of the (ones who are) dead, and the chief (ruler) of the kings of the earth.” (vv. 4-5a)

The author identifies himself by the Hebrew name Yohanan (/n`j*oy), transliterated in Greek ( )Iwa/nnh$) and Anglicized as “John”. Traditionally, this person as been equated with John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, with the ‘Johannine’ Gospel and Letters being similarly ascribed to him. However, the Gospel and Letters are actually anonymous, and, indeed, as I have discussed previously (cf. my recent note) there are certain indications that the letters were not written by an Apostle. Only in the book of Revelation does the name “John” appear as author or source of the writing. However, nowhere is he identified as John the Apostle; in fact, here, too, there is evidence indicating that the author was not an Apostle. This will be discussed further in the note on verse 9.

John addresses his epistle-book to Christians in seven cities in Asia (the Roman province of Asia [Minor]), the same cities to whom the “letters” in chapters 2-3 are addressed. The word e)kklhsi/a, in its distinctive early Christian usage, is perhaps best rendered “congregation”, but I have given it an excessively literal (glossed) translation above, so as to capture its basic meaning. It is derived from the verb e)kkale/w (“call out”), and typically refers to citizens, or members of a community, who are summoned (“called out”) to public assembly. However, in Greco-Roman society, e)kklhsi/a appears rarely to have been used for religious assemblies or associations. This particular Christian usage stems largely from the idea of the corporate assembly (lh^q^) of the people Israel in Old Testament tradition. Almost certainly, there is also an allusion to believers being chosen (i.e. “called”) by God, whereby the connotation of the verb e)kkale/w (“call out”) blends with that of e)kle/gw (“gather out”, i.e. “choose”).

There is unquestionably a religious context to the greeting, as in most of the letters in the New Testament, where the “favor” (xa/ri$) and “peace” (ei)rh/nh) comes from God and Christ (together), being invoked as a kind of blessing upon the believers who are addressed (cf. Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Philem 3; 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 1:2). Note the dual-formula, in the uniquely expanded form it occurs here in the book of Revelation:

    • from (a)po/) the (One) being and the (One who) was and the (One) coming [i.e. the Living God]
      —and from the seven Spirits which (are) in the sight of His throne
    • from (a)po/) Yeshua (the) Anointed, the trust(worthy) witness…

At first glance, it might seem that this is a three-fold formula, with the “seven Spirits” as a source of blessing parallel to God and Jesus; but this would probably be incorrect. It is best to view the phrase “and from the seven Spirits…” as subordinate to the Living God who sits on the throne. There is, however, a kind of synonymous parallelism between God and Jesus, which needs to be emphasized (cf. below).

Instead of the more traditional “God the Father”, here we have the peculiar triadic phrase in italics above:

o( w*n kai\ o( h@n kai\ o( e)rxo/meno$

The initial title o( w&n (“the [One] being [i.e. existing/living]”) derives primarily from Exodus 3:14 [LXX]: e)gw/ ei)mi o( w&n (“I am the [One] being/existing”)—cf. further, Josephus Antiquities 8.350; Philo Life of Moses I.75; Allegorical Interpretation III.181. However, there are also parallels in Greco-Roman literature, including a similar three-fold description of Deity which encompasses past, present, and future (e.g., Homer Iliad 1.70; Hesiod Theogony 1.38; Plutarch Moralia 354C); especially noteworthy is the triadic formula in Pausanias (Description of Greece 10.12.10), “Zeus was, Zeus is, Zeus shall be” (cf. Koester, p. 215).

The elegant customary translation, “the one who is and who was and who is to come”, glosses over the difficulty of the Greek syntax. The phrase is actually comprised of two articular participles, with an indicative verb (+ article) in between:

    • “the [one] being” (o( w&n)
    • “the [one who] was” (o( h@n)
    • “the [one] coming” (o( erxo/meno$)

Rhythmically, it is appealing, but grammatically it is quite awkward. The use of the definite article with an indicative verb (literally, “the was”) is strange indeed. Also unusual is the fact that there is no case inflection following the preposition a)po/ (“from”), as though the expressions, being Divine titles, were undeclinable. I would suggest that this phrase (repeated in verse 8 and 4:8, and echoed again in 11:17; 16:5) be understood in three ways:

    1. In the traditional sense of comprehensive existence—past, present, future.
    2. As a chiastic formula, in which the two participial expressions emphasize the eternal Life and Being possessed by God:
      —”the One being/existing”
      —”the One coming (to be)”
      With the indicative verb reflecting God’s presence and action in history.
    3. In an historical sense:
      (i) “the One being”—eternal existance
      (ii) “the One who was”—(past) manifestation in history
      (iii) “the One coming”—i.e. (present/future) coming to bring Judgment and to deliver His people

With regard to the “seven Spirits [pneu/mata]” in the presence (lit. “in the sight”) of God’s throne, these are best understood as heavenly beings (i.e. ‘Angels’), as I discussed in a previous note. The throne of God, emphasizing kingship and (royal) power, features prominently in Apocalyptic writings, and, often in such visionary literature, a description of the throne and its (heavenly) surroundings is included. There are specifically seven Angels mentioned in Tobit 12:15 and 1 Enoch 20:1-7. Of course, seven, as a symbolic number, representing completeness, etc, is especially frequent in the book of Revelation. Clearly, there is a thematic connection between these seven “Spirits” and the seven congregations of the greeting and the subsequent letters in chapters 2-3.

The blessing invoked by the author comes from God (the Father), but also, equally, from Jesus Christ (“Yeshua [the] Anointed”). On the particular title Xristo/$ (“Anointed [One]”), here used as a virtual second name of Jesus (according to established Christian convention), see my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”. As in the case of God, Jesus is also referred to with a three-fold expression (drawn from Psalm 89, especially vv. 19-37):

    • “the trust(worthy) witness” (Ps 89:37)—We typically do not tend to think of Jesus as a witness (it is believers who do the witnessing), but this characteristic was certainly applied to him by early Christians, and appears frequently in the Gospel of John. It was already used in verse 1 (cf. the previous note), in the expression “the witness of Jesus Christ”, which, as I discussed, does not mean witness about Jesus, but rather witness by Jesus (subjective genitive).
    • “the first-produced of the dead” (Ps 89:27a)—The adjective prwto/toko$ is often translated “firstborn”, but literally means “first-produced“, as of a plant coming up out of the ground. Here, it has nothing whatever to do with Jesus as the (pre-existant) Son of God (in a Johannine or Nicene sense), but, rather, relates specifically to his resurrection from the dead (i.e. of those who are dead). The adjective is used in this sense in Romans 8:29 (see v. 23); Col 1:18 (cp. verse 15); and cf. also Heb 12:23. This association is explained clearly in Acts 26:23. Jesus himself touches on the imagery in the beautiful illustration of Jn 12:24.
    • “the chief (ruler) of the kings of the earth” (Ps 89:27b)—This reflects the standard Messianic association, by which early Christians applied the Davidic ruler figure-type to Jesus. Again, the earliest Christian preaching connected this precisely (if not exclusively) with his resurrection and exaltation to heaven (Acts 2:24ff, 36, etc). However, it was also in his exaltation (to God’s right hand) that Jesus possessed a status virtually identical to that of God the Father, sharing his kingly rule (as Son and Heir). In early Christian thought, Jesus’ Sonship was defined primarily in terms of the resurrection (cf. Acts 13:33f; Rom 1:4; Heb 5:5ff). The book of Revelation expresses this in a most distinctive way, as we shall see.

The concluding portion of the greeting switches to a declaration of praise—to both God and Christ, though it is primarily the latter who is being addressed, as the wording indicates:

“To the (one) loving us and loosing us out of our sins, in his blood, and (so that) he made us (to be) a kingdom, sacred officials [i.e. priests] to his God and Father—to him be honor and strength into the Ages [of the Ages]. Amen.” (vv. 5b-6)

That Jesus’ death (his blood) served as a sacrificial offering which brought release (and/or cleansing) from sin, is a central tenet of Christian belief, expressed numerous times in the New Testament. There are several striking references among the relevant passages in the Johannine writings—Jn 1:29; 6:51, 53ff; (19:34); 1 Jn 1:7, 9; 2:2; 3:5; 4:10; 5:6, 8. As we shall see, this is also a theme that features prominently in the book of Revelation. It should be noted that some manuscripts read “washing us” instead of “loosing us”, understanding the verb to be lou/w rather than lu/w. This appears to be a ‘correction’, since the idea of washing (i.e. cleansing from sin) better fits the natural image of blood (and cf. the usage in 1 Jn 1:7, etc). However “loosing” is almost certainly correct, and reflects a different, primary aspect of Christ’s sacrificial work—loosing us from debt/bondage to sin. A similar idea, in relation to sin, is expressed by the verb a)fi/hmi (“set [free] from, release”), often translated in this context as “forgive”.

The idea that believers in Christ constitute a kingdom—i.e. the kingdom of God, ruled by Christ—appears many times in the New Testament, usually in terms of receiving or inheriting the kingdom (1 Cor 15:50; 1 Thess 2:12; 2 Thess 1:5; Col 1:13; Heb 12:28; James 2:5, etc). The twin concept of believers as priests of God is specifically drawn from ancient Israelite/Old Testament tradition (Exod 19:6; cf. also Isa 61:6). We find this also occasionally in the New Testament (1 Pet 2:5, 9; cf. also Rom 12:1; 15:16; 2 Cor 3:6ff, etc).

The praise and “glory” (do/ca, esteem/honor) here accorded to Jesus is precisely that which is given to God, and this a most important theological (and Christological) emphasis in the book. We will be exploring this further in the notes on verses 9-20. However, first it is necessary to examine the final portion of the epistolary introduction—the declarations in vv. 7 and 8—which we will do in the next daily note.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 19:30, 34; 20:22

John 19:30, 34; 20:22

This note looks at three verses in the closing chapters of the Gospel of John (the Passion and Resurrection narratives) which refer, or may allude, to the Spirit. This note is also preparatory for the study of the relevant passages in this series from the Johannine Letters, which will begin with the next study.

John 19:30

This verse records the last words of Jesus, at the moment of his death, one of the traditional “Seven Words” from the Cross. It reads:

“Then, when he (had) taken the sharp [i.e. sour] (wine), Yeshua said ‘It has been completed’, and, bending the head, he gave along the spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

The description of Jesus’ actual death is similar to that in the Synoptic Gospels, and certainly reflects the wider Gospel Tradition. Compare:

    • Mark 15:37: “And Yeshua, releasing [a)fei\$] a great voice [i.e. cry], breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired]”
    • Matt 27:50: “And Yeshua, crying (out) again with a great voice, released the spirit/breath [a)fh=ken to\ pneu=ma].”
    • Luke 23:46: “And, giving voice [i.e. crying out] with a great voice, Yeshua said, ‘Father, into your hands I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit [to\ pneu=ma/ mou]’. And, saying this, he breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired].”

It is clear that all three verses derive from a common (Synoptic) tradition; the versions in Mark and Matthew certainly are simple variants of a shared tradition. Luke’s version, however, has interesting points of similarity with John’s account:

    • Both record actual words of Jesus, marking the conclusion of his earthly life and ministry (compared with the wordless “great cry” in the Synoptic tradition)
    • They use a similar expression:
      Luke (Jesus speaking): “I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit
      John (Gospel writer): “He gave along [pare/dwken] the spirit
    • Most surprising of all is the close similarity between the Gospel writer’s words at the end of Lk 23:46 and that in John 20:22:
      Luke: “And, saying this, he breathed out” (tou=to de\ ei)pw\n e)ce/pneusen)
      John: “And, saying this, he blew/breathed in” (kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e)nefu/shsen)

This last similarity increases the likelihood that more than a simple description of Jesus’ death is intended in John 19:30. While, on the basic level of the historical narrative, the expression “he gave along the spirit” could merely mean “he died”, much like the archaic English expression “he gave up the ghost”, or, more commonly in modern idiom, “he expired (i.e. breathed out)” ,”he breathed his last”. Yet, the frequent wordplay in the Gospel of John, along with the important emphasis on the Spirit, makes it likely indeed that there is a double meaning here. Almost certainly there is an allusion to Jesus’ giving the Spirit (cf. 3:34; 15:26; 16:7, etc) to believers. Thus, while it is not the primary meaning, we could also translate (in a secondary sense) as:

“…and, bending the head, he gave along the Spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

John 19:34

The Gospel of John records a famous detail following the death of Jesus. It is tied to the tradition in vv. 31-37, in which the soldiers are directed to break the legs of the crucified victims in order to hasten their death. But when they come to Jesus, we read:

“but coming upon Yeshua, as they saw (that) he had already died, they did not break down his legs, but (instead) one of the soldiers nudged in(to) his side with the spear-point, and straightaway water and blood came out [e)ch=lqenai!ma kai\ u%dwr].” (vv. 33-34)

This information, especially the detail in v. 34, is unique to John’s Gospel, though it may still have derived from the wider Gospel Tradition. The fact that a narrative statement akin to v. 34 is found following Matt 27:49 in a number of manuscripts makes this a definite possibility. Yet only the writer of the Fourth Gospel has included it as a significant element of the Passion narrative.

At the historical level, many attempts have been made to give a physiological explanation for the “water and blood” which came out of Jesus’ side. While such speculation is interesting, it is far removed from the Gospel writer’s interest. In the context of the narrative, the main point would seem to be a confirmation that Jesus had experienced a real (human) death. Yet, for the author, both the detail regarding the breaking of Jesus’ legs (spec. that they were not broken), and the pricking/piercing of his side, were also regarded as the fulfillment of prophecy (vv. 36-37). The citing of the Scriptures (Psalm 34:20 [cf. Exod 12:10, 46; Num 9:12] and Zech 12:10) follows verse 35, in which the author explicitly states the importance of these details:

“And the one having seen (this) clearly has given witness, and his witness is true, and that (one) has seen [i.e. known] that he relates (it) true(ly), (so) that you also might trust.”

While the recognition of the fulfillment of Scripture certainly could lead one to trust in Jesus, there seems to be special importance given to the detail of the “water and blood” coming out—it is this, primarily, which the trustworthy witness has seen and reported. How would this particular detail lead to trust in Jesus? Many commentators feel that there is a deeper theological meaning to the image of water and blood coming out of Jesus’ side.

Certainly, the idea of blood shed (“poured out”) at Jesus’ death was given sacrificial and soteriological significance in the earliest Gospel tradition (Mark 14:24 par; Acts 20:28; Rom 5:9; 1 Cor 10:16, etc). While there is nothing comparable to Jesus’ words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel of John, there is strong eucharistic language and imagery in the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 (esp. verses 51-58); indeed, vv. 53-56 provide the only other reference to Jesus’ blood (and the only other use of the word ai!ma, apart from 1:13) in the Gospel.

As there is nothing unusual about blood coming out from the pierced side, it is likely that the appearance of water, along with the blood, is what makes the event particularly noteworthy. And, if we consider how water—the word (u%dwr) and the image—is used within the discourses of Jesus, we note its close association with the Spirit:

    • John 3:5: “if one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit…”
    • John 4:10ff: “living water…the water that I will give [v. 14]…in the Spirit and the Truth [vv. 23-24]”
    • John 7:37ff: “come to me and drink…rivers of living water…(He said this about the Spirit)”

The last two passages refer specifically to water which Jesus gives (i.e. to believers), and, elsewhere, that which Jesus so gives is identified with the Spirit (3:34; 6:63; cf. also 15:26; 16:7). There may be an even closer connection between 7:38 and 19:34, if “his belly” refers to Jesus rather than the believer—i.e. it is out of Jesus’ belly/stomach that rivers of living water flow to the believer. Many commentators would interpret 7:38 this way and hold that the Gospel writer has this in mind in 19:34.

It is possible that an association between water and blood may also be found in the Cana miracle scene in 2:1-11 (i.e. wine as symbolic of blood). If so, then there is a parallel between episodes at the very beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry; interestingly, Jesus’ mother Mary appears in both episodes (2:1-5; 19:25-27).

That water, blood, and the Spirit are closely connected in the thought of the Gospel writer would seem to be confirmed by 1 John 5:6-8ff. While the Letter may (or may not) have been written by the same author as the Gospel, at the very least the two works draw upon the same language, imagery and theology. This passage will be discussed in an upcoming note in this series.

John 20:22

Finally, toward the close of the Gospel, we find the actual moment when Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples:

“and, (hav)ing said this, he blew/breathed in(to them) and says to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit'”

For Christians accustomed to thinking of the coming/sending of the Spirit in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4ff), it can be difficult to know what to make of the description in John 20:22. Is this a ‘preliminary’ or ‘partial’ giving of the Spirit, prior to the day of Pentecost? Or perhaps it is a special gifting for Jesus’ closest followers (the Twelve), compared with the wider audience of Acts 1-2? I have discussed these critical and interpretive questions in my earlier four-part article “The Sending of the Spirit”. We must avoid the temptation of comparing John with Luke-Acts, and attempting to judge or harmonize on that basis. If we look simply at the Gospel of John, and how the Gospel writer understood things, and what he intended to convey, the following points become clear:

    • There is nothing in the Gospel to suggest that 20:22 is anything other than the fulfillment of what Jesus described and promised in 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15, and what the author himself refers to in 7:39. Indeed, there is no suggestion of a ‘second’ giving/sending of the Spirit. Not even in the “appendix” of chapter 21 (which might otherwise correspond to Acts 1:3) is there any indication that an event like Acts 2:1-4 is to be expected.
    • Jesus’ statement to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 suggests that, for the Gospel writer, Jesus “ascends” to the Father prior (logically and/or chronologically) to his appearance to the disciples in vv. 19-23, thus fulfilling his statements in the Last Discourse.
    • This giving of the Spirit in 20:22 is described in terms which almost certainly allude to the Creation narrative—God breathing/blowing life into the first human being (Gen 2:7). As such, there would seem to be a definite connection to the “new birth” which believers experience (3:5-8)—”born from above” and “born out of the Spirit”.
    • The giving of the Spirit is connected with two aspects of Jesus’ “commission” for the disciples (and, by extension, to all believers):
      (1) He is sending them out (i.e. into the world) just as the Father sent him—i.e. the are literally “apostles” (ones sent forth), and function as Jesus’ representatives (in his place). This explains the role and importance of the Spirit, who effectively takes Jesus’ place in and among believers.
      (2) He grants to them the power/authority to “hold” and “release” sins. Again, it would seem that this is a result of Jesus’ presence through the Spirit (cf. 16:8-11, etc).
    • There is nothing to suggest that 20:21-23 applies only to the original disciples (apostles), and not to all believers. The language used throughout the Gospel, including the Last Discourse (addressed specifically Jesus’ closest followers), whom seem to confirm this—Jesus is effectively addressing all believers.

“Gnosis” in the NT: Phil 3:8-10

Philippians 3:8-10

Another important occurrence of the words gnw=si$ (“knowledge”) and ginw/skw (“know”) is Philippians 3:8-10. Verses 7-11 are central to the discussion in chapter 3, where Paul establishes an autobiographical illustration to exhort the believers in the Philippian churches to endure in the face of persecution. The harsh language he uses to describe (at least some of) his Jewish opponents in verse 2, is, we may say, regrettable. While altogether typical of the polemical style of the time, it is ultimately unnecessary for the point he is making. Nevertheless, it is in referring to Jewish (and Jewish Christian) opponents, that Paul unleashes some of his most severe rhetorical outbursts (cf. 1 Thess 2:14-16; Gal 5:7-12; 6:12-14; 2 Cor 11:1-12:13). Beginning with the issue of circumcision (v. 3), so important to the early disputes among Jewish Christians (Acts 15:1ff; 21:21; Gal 2; 5:1-12; 6:12-16; Rom 2:25-29; 4:9-12; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Col 2:11), he extends the symbolism by use of the word flesh (sa/rc), which is set in contrast with the Spirit (pneu=ma), as often in Paul’s letters (Rom 7:14; 8:3-4ff, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:1ff; 6:16-17; 15:39, 44-46; Gal 3:3; 4:29-31; 5:16-25; 6:8). In verse 4, he describes his (Jewish) religious experience, prior to his conversion, and the religious status which he achieved, as being of the flesh—”and (indeed) I am (one) holding persuasion [i.e. confidence/assurance] in the flesh [e)n sarki/]”—using the same kind of rhetorical “boasting” as he does in 1 Cor 11-12. Here, too, Paul engages in exaggeration or hyperbole:

“If any other (person) considers (himself) to have persuasion [i.e. confidence] in the flesh, I rather (have even) more: cut around [i.e. circumcised] (on the) eighth (day), coming to be (born) out of Israel, of the offspring of Benjamin, a Hebrew out of Hebrews, a Pharisee according to the Law, pursuing [i.e. persecuting] the congregation [e)kklhsi/a] (of Christ) according to (my) burning (zeal), coming to be without fault according to the justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] th(at is) in the Law” (vv. 4b-6)

He boasts of achieving a nearly perfect fulfillment of the religious “righteousness” as it was understood in the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). That this was of the flesh (and not the Spirit) is clear from that the fact that he vigorously persecuted the early Christians (cf. Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-22), fulfilling the same conflict expressed in Gal 4:29: “but just as (it was) then (that) the (one) coming to be (born) according to the flesh pursued [i.e. persecuted] the (one born) according to the Spirit, so also (it is this way) now”. This fleshly religious achievement Paul ultimately rejects or devalues in verses 7-10, utilizing the language of commerce—profit/gain (ke/rdo$) and damage/loss (zhmi/a):

“[But] the (thing)s which were profit for me, those (same thing)s through (the) Anointed {Christ} I have (since) brought out as damage(d) [i.e. regarded as loss]” (v. 7)

The word zhmi/a fundamentally means something like “disadvantage”—i.e., the religious experience and status which Paul thought was to his advantage actually is to one’s harm or disadvantage in Christ (cf. Gal 5:2-4). Again, he widens the scope of his statement, from the things related to religion to all things (pa/nta); note the parallelism:

    • “these things [tau=ta] I have brought out [h%ghmai] as damage/loss [zhmi/an] through Christ [dia\ to\n Xristo/n]” (v. 7)
    • “all things [pa/nta] I (now) bring out [h(gou=mai] to be damaged/lost [zhmi/an] through…of Christ [dia\ to\Xristou=]” (v. 8)

The last two expressions are parallel, but, perhaps, not exactly equivalent:

dia\ to\n Xristo/n (“through the Anointed”)—the perfect verbal form h%gmai (“I have brought [out]”, i.e. in my mind, “I have considered/regarded”) suggests Paul’s conversion experience, similar to the believer’s response to the Gospel message, something which took place in the past but continues on into the present. Thus I would take the expression “through Christ” as encapsulating and summarizing the Gospel message (of Christ) and its effect on the believer.

dia\ to\ u(pere/xon th=$ gnw/sew$ Xristou=  )Ihsou= tou= kuri/ou mou (“through the overriding [greatness] of the knowledge of [the] Anointed Yeshua my Lord”)—the very length of this expression suggests knowledge, i.e. the believer (Paul) comes to understand the greatness of Jesus and who he is (the Anointed One and [my] Lord). For a similar genitive chain (also using the word gnw=si$, “knowledge”, cf. 2 Cor 4:6 and my study on this verse). The verb u(pere/xw literally means “holding (oneself) over”, often in the more abstract sense of something being above, i.e. excellent, superior, etc. I have tried to preserve the literal meaning of the participle here with the translation “overriding (greatness)”, but the basic idea is that the knowledge of Christ far surpasses all other things we may come to know or experience. Just what does Paul mean by the “knowledge of Christ”? He clarifies this in the remainder of verse 8 and 9, which functions virtually as an exposition of the Gospel:

    1. That he is “my Lord” (ku/rio$ mou)—for Paul, as for most Christians, this has a two-fold meaning: (a) he is Lord in the basic sense of “master, guide, teacher, etc”, and (b) he is identified with God (YHWH), the Lord (see esp. Phil 2:9-10).
    2. I have experienced the loss/damage/disadvantage of all (other) things through him—cf. verse 7; not only have all things (outside of Christ) become lost/damaged for Paul, he actually considers them to be sku/balon, a somewhat obscure word which can refer to scraps to be thrown out, food for animals, rotten food, even excrement—perhaps “garbage” is a good modern equivalent. This is a bit of rhetorical exaggeration, to be sure, but the point of it is clear.
    3. That I might gain Christ, and/or profit from him—continuing the language of profit/loss; the verb here could be understood in two different aspects: (a) gaining the blessing and benefit from knowing Christ (as a believer), and (b) gaining the experience of knowing Christ in full, at the end-time. Presumably, Paul has the latter primarily in mind.
    4. That I might be found in him—parallel to the previous phrase, drawing upon the familiar (Pauline) idiom of being “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|); according to this expression, believers are united with Christ in three aspects: (1) through the presence of the Spirit, (2) the symbolism of baptism, and (3) the communal experience of believers together (the “body of Christ”). However, it is the eschatological sense which Paul again has in mind here, perhaps drawing upon the idea expressed in Col 3:1-4.
    5. Holding the justice/righteousness of God—here we have the familiar Pauline contrast between the righteousness of God and the righteousness that comes through observing the Law. In his earlier religious experience, Paul had something of the latter, but not the former (cf. Rom 10:1-4 which well expands upon the statement here). The expression e)k qeou= specifies that true righteousness is that which comes from God (lit. out of him). It comes only by way of faith/trust (pi/sti$) in Christ, another fundamental Pauline teaching, which he expresses here two ways: “through [dia/] (the) trust” and “upon [e)pi/] the trust”.

The syntactical relation of verse 10 with the previous verses is not entirely clear. It begins with the articular infinitive tou= gnw=nai (“the knowing [of], to know”), which I prefer to view as epexegetical with verse 8a, forming an inclusive parallel:

    • “through the overriding (greatness) of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (8a)
      —”through whom…” (8b)
      —”and I…in him…through faith…” (9)
    • “the knowing (of) him…” (10a)

What follows in vv. 10-11 reflects a somewhat different sense of “knowing” Christ; if the knowledge in vv. 8-9 relates fundamentally to the message of the Gospel, that in vv. 10-11 is symbolic of the believer’s union with Christ—i.e., participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is clearly expressed at the start of v. 10: “knowing him and the power of his standing up [i.e. resurrection] (from the dead)”. The logic here is as straightforward as it is profound:

    • to know the power of his resurrection, which is experienced by:
      —sharing in his sufferings (“the common [shar]ing [koinwni/a] of his sufferings”)
      —being (con)formed to his death (“being shaped together with his death”)
    • to come into the resurrection from the dead

By sharing in the suffering and death of Christ—symbolized in baptism, and experienced throughout the Christian life with its share of trials and persecution—one has the promise of sharing in his resurrection at the end-time. This eschatological sense is parallel with the expressions in vv. 8b-9a, marked by use of the subjunctive:

    • “that I might gain Christ” (8b)
      “and might be found in him” (9a)
    • “if (some)how I might come down into the resurrection…” (11)

I have here translated the verb katanta/w (“come down [against]”) quite literally, in order to preserve the idea of participating in the death (and burial) of Jesus. It also carries the sense of coming to meet someone, or to meet/arrive at a goal, etc. The eschatological context is clear enough—the believer rises to meet Christ at the end-time (1 Thess 4:16-17; Col 3:1-4).

One final aspect of knowledge, not stated in vv. 7-11, but implied throughout the passage, is that one comes to know Christ (and God the Father) through the Spirit. The contrast between the flesh and the Spirit is central to Paul’s discussion (cf. above), though the Spirit (pneu=ma) is only mentioned directly at the start, in verse 3. That the presence of the Spirit is central, and parallel with the believer’s knowledge of Christ, I demonstrate with a chiastic outline:

    • “For we are the circumcision
      —”the (one)s doing service for God in the Spirit
      —”and speaking (out) loud [i.e. rejoicing/’boasting’] in Christ Jesus
    • “and not having been persuaded [i.e. having confidence] in (the) flesh

“…Spirit and Life”: John 10:10, 28; 12:25

Not long ago (May 21, 2020) we celebrated the ascension of Jesus—i.e. 40 days after Easter, based on the information in Acts 1:3ff. The “ascension” of Jesus is referred to differently in the Gospels and Acts, and can be understood several ways, based upon the particular narrative under consideration. Most Christians have the scene in Acts 1:9-11 in mind, but there are other references to Jesus’ ascension/departure from the disciples in Luke 24:50-51 [MT] and the “long ending” of Mark (16:19), and, because of the differences in the narrative location and setting, it is not entirely clear if these passages are supposed to refer to the same event as Acts 1:9-11. The situation is further complicated by mention of an ‘ascension’ by Jesus in John 20:17. I have discussed these matters in a prior article.

The earliest Christians, in their preaching and proclamation of the Gospel, did not refer to specifically to the Ascension as such, but rather, the resurrection of Jesus was connected closely to his exaltation by the Father, to a place in Heaven at the Father’s right hand. The emphasis is not so much on Jesus’ actual departure from earth, as to his position in glory in Heaven following the resurrection. The Gospel of John preserves this early view, but it is expanded and developed in the discourses of Jesus in several ways:

    1. The motif of the Son’s ascent is set parallel to his descent—i.e. his coming to earth (as a human being). This ascent/descent theme appears numerous times throughout the Gospel and is related to the dualistic imagery of above/below, etc. The motif is expressed primarily through use of the related verbs a)nabai/nw (“step up”) and katabai/nw (“step down”)—Jesus (the Son) has stepped down (descended) from heaven, and again steps up (ascends) back to the Father in heaven.
    2. There is a strong emphasis on the Son’s return to the Father—he was sent (into the world) by the Father, and returns back to Him.
    3. In the Last Discourse (chaps. 14-17), the theme of Jesus’ departure becomes prominent, though it had been introduced earlier in the Gospel as well (6:62; 7:33-34; 8:21-22ff). It has a two-fold meaning, referring to: (1) Jesus’ death, and (2) his ultimate return to the Father.

Of all the New Testament writings, it is in John that the death, resurrection and ‘ascension’ of Jesus are most thoroughly combined—and by Jesus himself, in the great discourses which make up the core of the Gospel. One of the ways this is expressed is by the verb u(yo/w (“raise/lift high”). In 3:14 and 8:28, Jesus refers to himself being “lifting high”, with the title “Son of Man”; while in 12:32, he makes the same essential declaration, but with the personal pronoun:

“And I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (person)s toward myself”

In 3:14, it is the death of Jesus (i.e. lifted up on the cross) which is most clearly in view, as also in 8:28; however, the same verb in 12:32 seems rather to refer to Jesus’ exaltation. He speaks of being “lifted high out of the earth“. This can refer concretely to being raised out of the tomb, but also, more properly, in the sense of his departure from earth. Just as the Father sent him into the world, so also he will be going out of it. Both aspects are likely in view here in this reference.

This series of notes is dealing with the themes of Life (zwh/) and the Spirit (pneu=ma). The theme of life in connection with resurrection features prominently in the Lazarus episode of chapter 11, especially the dialogue between Jesus and Martha in vv. 20-27. However, I have discussed these verses at length in an earlier series, and so will not be addressing them here. Instead, I wish to consider briefly three verses from the surrounding chapters (10 and 12) where Jesus makes use of the word zwh/ (“life”).

John 10:10

This is part of the “Good Shepherd” parable-discourse in chapter 10. It is here in this discourse that the sacrificial death of Jesus comes more clearly into view. The structure generally follows the Johannine discourse format and may be outlined simply as follows:

    • Saying (parable) of Jesus (vv. 1-5)
    • Reaction by the people indicating a lack of understanding (v. 6)
    • Exposition by Jesus, which may be divided into three parts (each beginning with an “I am” declaration):
      • Jesus as the door/gate of the sheepfold (vv. 7-10): “I am…”
      • Jesus as the herdsman of the sheep (vv. 11-13): “I am…”
      • What Jesus as herdsman does for the sheep (vv. 14-18): “I am…”
    • Narrative conclusion [reaction by the people] (vv. 19-21)

Verse 10 concludes the first expository section (on Jesus as the door or entrance [qu/ra] to the sheepfold). It is only the shepherd, with charge over the sheep, who opens and closes this door; thus this verse provides the transition to the next section, in which Jesus is no longer the door, but the shepherd. Only the shepherd is able to open/close the door, and, when it is closed, any other person who enters presumably does so only to steal or harm the sheep. This effectively distinguishes the shepherd from all other persons. Jesus makes this contrast clear in verse 10:

“The (one) stealing does not come if not [i.e. except] that he might steal and slaughter and bring to ruin; (but) I came that they [i.e. the sheep] might hold life, and might hold (it) over (and) above (all else)”

This involves the familiar expression “hold life”, using the verb e&xw (“hold”); elsewhere in the Gospel, as we have seen, this life is often specified as “the Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life). The role of herdsman is to protect the sheep (from harm) and to guide them where they can find life-giving sustenance. In both respects he is saving/preserving their lives—the sheep have/hold life under his care.

John 10:28

This verse is from the second half of chapter 10 (vv. 22-39), which comprises a second discourse, but one which shares important themes with vv. 1-21, and it is possible to read the passages in tandem as part of a single discourse-scene. Verses 25-30 reprise the “Good Shepherd” illustration—but here there is a more definite contrast between those sheep who belong to the shepherd and those who do not. For the religious leaders and others who are unable (or refuse) to accept Jesus, he designates them as those who are not part of his flock (vv. 25-26). By contrast, those who do trust in him are part of the flock:

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them (the) Life of the Age, and no, they should not (ever) come to ruin into the Age, and no one will seize them out of my hand.” (vv. 27-28)

This motif, of Jesus giving to believers the “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life), occurred in the earlier discourses, as has been discussed in prior notes. In the context of the Johannine discourses, this Life which Jesus gives is to be identified primarily with the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35; 4:10ff, 24; 6:27ff, 63; 7:37-39). This is an important theological development of the traditional expression “life of the Age”, as we have discussed. That this Life is connected with the very presence and power of God is clear from vv. 28f, where God (the Father) is the ultimate source of this life (and its preservation/protection) for believers:

“My Father, who has given (them) to me, is greater than all, and no one is able [i.e. has power] to seize (anything) out of the Father’s hand.” (v. 29)

For the chain of relationship between Father and Son, see especially 3:34-35 and 5:26. This will become a central theme in the Last Discourse, in particular the great prayer-discourse of chapter 17.

John 12:25

The theme of Jesus’ sacrificial death, so central to the Good Shepherd discourse (10:11-18)—the laying down of his soul/life and taking it up again—takes on even greater significance as we approach the start of the Passion narrative. In the Gospel of John, the (triumphal) entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is narrated in 12:12-19; Jerusalem is the setting, from verse 20 on, into the beginning of the Passion (chap. 13). There is an interesting parallel here between 12:20-36a (set in Jerusalem) and the Synoptic tradition at the transition point between the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem. Consider the following points of similarity:

Indeed, the saying of Jesus in 12:25 is close in thought to the Synoptic saying in Mk 8:35 par:

“For whoever would wish to save his soul will bring it to ruin, but whoever will bring his soul to ruin for my sake and (for) the good message [i.e. Gospel] will save it.” (Mk)
“The one loving his soul brings it to ruin, and the one hating his soul in this world will watch/guard it into (the) Life of the Age.” (Jn)

However one would explain the development of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (on this, cf. my recent series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”), there can be no doubt that the Johannine version of this traditional saying—this particular form of it—has certain elements which are distinctive to the Fourth Gospel. We may note the use of the articular participle, so frequent in John, to describe the disciple (believer)—”the (one) …ing”—as well as his opposite. Even more important are the qualifying expressions which enhance the point of contrast:

    • “in this world”—with the use of ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”)
    • “into the Life of the Age”—for this expression, cf. the previous notes of this series

The believer is one who “hates” his soul [i.e. his human life] insofar as it is in the world—that is, in the current age and world-order dominated by sin and darkness. The non-believer, by contrast, loves the darkness (3:19), and thus loves his life in the darkness. The contrast to the world and its darkness is the Life and Light of God found in the person of Jesus. This aspect of (eternal) Life will be discussed further in the next daily note, on 12:50.

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 14 (3): John 11:17-27ff

For the first two days of Easter (Sunday and Monday), I examined John 5:19-20 and 6:35-58—two passages in which Jesus identifies himself with the power of resurrection. Today, the third passage will be discussed: John 11:17-27ff, with attention paid primarily to the central verses 25-26.

This passage, of course, is part of the Lazarus narrative (Jn 11:1-44), one of the best-known portions of the Gospel of John. It can be outlined simply as follows:

    • The narrative introduction: a dialogue with Jesus and his disciples—11:1-16
    • Jesus with Martha, in which a short discourse (partial dialogue) is embedded—11:17-27
    • Jesus with Mary—11:28-36
    • The miracle: including a partial dialogue—11:37-44

The key verses (25-26) are from Jesus’ encounter with Martha, upon his arrival in Bethany. Here is an outline of this section:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 17-20)
    • Martha’s statement to Jesus, expressing faith in Jesus’ (divine) nature and person (v. 21-22)
    • Discourse (vv. 23-26)
    • Martha’s statement to Jesus, again expressing faith in Jesus (divine) nature/identity (v. 27)

The short discourse of verses 23-26 follows a general pattern found in many of the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John:

    • Saying of Jesus (v. 23): “Your brother will stand up (a)nasth/setai, i.e. ‘rise [from the dead]’)”
    • Response by Martha, reflecting a failure to understand the true/deeper meaning of Jesus’ words (v. 24):
      “I know that he will stand up in the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] in the last day”
    • Jesus’ Response, expounding the initial saying (v. 25-26)

Here is the text of Jesus’ response in verses 25-26:

e)gw/ ei)mi h( a)na/stasi$ kai\ h( zwh/: o( pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ka*n a)poqa/nh| zh/setai, kai\ pa=$ o( zw=n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ou) mh\ a)poqa/nh| ei)$ to\n ai)w=na
“I Am the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] and the life: the (one) trusting into me, even if he should die away, he will live; and every (one) th(at) lives and trusts into me, no he does not die away into the Age.”

In several textual witnesses (including the early Greek MS Ë45) the words “and the life” (kai\ h( zwh/) are not present; however, they are almost certainly original, and, indeed, seem essential to the fundamental sense of Jesus’ words. Martha’s statement in v. 24 reflects the popular Jewish belief of the time—of an end-time resurrection (by God) connected with the Judgment. This same basic idea is expressed by Jesus with the four instances of the phrase “and I will stand him up in the last day” in Jn 6:35-50 (see the previous day’s note). Jesus corrects Martha’s understanding in two respects:

    1. By identifying the resurrection not with a future event, but with his own person. As has generally been recognized by interpreters of the Gospel of John, the “I Am” (e)gw ei)mi) formula used by Jesus indicates his intimate relationship (and identity) with God the Father (YHWH).
    2. By identifying himself not just with the (future) bodily resurrection (“standing-up”, a)na/stasi$), but with “the life”. In the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, zw/h (“life”) nearly always refers to divine or eternal life, sometimes specified by the traditional Jewish expression (rendered in Greek as) “life of the Age(s)”.

In the previously discussed passages (Jn 5:19-29; 6:35-50), these two aspects are indicated by the verbs a)ni/sthmi (“stand up”) and zwopoie/w (“make alive”). The first verb (related to the noun a)na/stasi$) in this context primarily signifies physical/bodily resurrection, while the second verb is tied to the Johannine theological/spiritual understanding of “life” (zw/h). The power to give (eternal) life belongs to both Jesus (the Son, 5:21) and the Spirit (6:63). In order to see something of the logic running through 11:25-26, the following diagram might be helpful:

    • Resurrection (a)na/stasi$)—power to raise the dead (at the end of the Age)
      • Life (zw/h)—power to give (eternal) life
        • Trusting in(to) Jesus
          • Will live (zh/setai) [though dying phyisically]
          • Living (zw=n) [possession of eternal life through the Spirit]
        • Trusting in(to) Jesus
      • Life [implied]—believer will not ever die
    • Into the Age (to Come)

The chiastic outline moves from the external manifestation of Jesus on earth (as miracle worker and end-time judge) to the internal experience of the believer (union with Christ through the presence/power of the Spirit).

The Lazarus narrative as a whole also demonstrates these two aspects of Jesus’ resurrection and life-giving power:

    • The narrative introduction: physical death of Lazarus and arrival of Jesus in Bethany (11:1-16)
      • Encounter of the believer (Martha) with Jesus (11:17-24)
        • Life-giving words of Jesus, including the believer’s response (11:25-27)
      • Encounter of the believer (Mary) with Jesus (11:28-36)
    • The miracle: physical raising of Lazarus and restoration to life (11:37-44)

If we combine all three passages examined on the three days of Easter, we can see how the future and present dimensions of resurrection relate:

    • John 5:19-29: Raising the dead and Giving life—those who hear the voice of the Son will come out of the tomb
      • John 6:35-50 (vv. 39-40, 44, 54): Future (bodily) resurrection: “and I will raise him in the last day”
      • John 11:17-36 (esp. vv. 25-26): Present (spiritual/eternal) life-giving: “I Am the resurrection and the life”
    • Conclusion/Illustration: Lazarus hears Jesus’ voice and comes out of the tomb (John 11:37-44)

In light of Jesus’ own resurrection (celebrated on Easter), and these passages on the power of resurrection in the person of Jesus, the central question posed to the believer (Martha) at the end of Jesus’ words in Jn 11:25-26 is most significant:

pisteu/ei$ tou=to;
“Do you trust/believe this?”

(These verses will be picked up and discussed in even greater detail in a series of daily notes this week)

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 14 (1): John 1:51

In today’s note for the third day of Easter (Easter Tuesday), I continue the study of the Son of Man saying in John 1:51, begun yesterday (for more on the Son of Man sayings in John, cf. the earlier note). Here I will be looking more specifically at the meaning of the saying in the context of the Gospel narrative.

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon the Son of Man”

In the previous note, I explored four images or traditions which seem to be especially relevant for an interpretation of the saying, based on similarities in language and concept: (1) the baptism of Jesus, (2) the resurrection/ascension, (3) his (future) coming in glory, and (4) the dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. It must be admitted, however, that none of these are sufficient, nor do they entirely fit the position and context of the saying in John. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the narrative and thematic structure of the Gospel, in order to gain a better understanding of the ultimate significance of the saying. I will proceed, briefly, according to the following outline:

    1. The location of the saying, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
    2. Its connection with the other Son of Man sayings in John
    3. Its possible purpose as a comprehensive symbol

1. The Location of the Saying

After the hymnic prologue of Jn 1:1-18, the first main section of the Gospel is Jn 1:19-51, which has, as its primary theme, the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus. The section may be divided as follows:

    • vv. 19-28—the Baptist’s testimony regarding himself (“I am not…”)
    • vv. 29-34—the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus
      • account of the Baptism (vv. 31-33)
    • vv. 35-42—disciples respond to the Baptist’s testimony and follow Jesus
      • a disciple (Peter)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 41-42)
      • saying of Jesus (v. 42)
    • vv. 43-51—disciples respond to the testimony of other (disciple)s and follow Jesus
      • a disciple (Nathanael)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47-51)
      • saying of Jesus (v. 51)

The saying in Jn 1:51 thus concludes this opening section of the Gospel. In the previous note, I mentioned several parallels with the Baptism of Jesus, and, given the position of the saying in relation to the Baptism (and the Baptist’s testimony) in this section, it is likely that some sort of allusion is intended. Interestingly, and altogether typical of John’s Gospel, the Baptism is not narrated as something that people observe directly—it is only “seen” through the verbal account (or word) of the Baptist. Similarly, throughout this section “seeing” Jesus is intimately connected with hearing and responding to the message of the Baptist and the first disciples (vv. 34, 36, 39, 46). In Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47ff), he also “sees” based on what Jesus says to him; note, in particular, the wording:

“Jesus responded and said to him, ‘(In) that [i.e. because] I said to you that I saw you underneath the fig-tree, you trust (in me)? (Thing)s greater than these you will see!” (v. 50)

This interplay between “seeing” and “saying” should caution us against the simple assumption that a concrete visible event is intended in v. 51. That the saying concludes the first section (1:19-51) means that it also marks the beginning of the next—that is to say, the core narrative of the Gospel spanning chapters 2-20. Commentators typically divide this into two main parts:

    1. Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”, in which the narrative alternates between accounts of miracles and teaching (discourses) by Jesus—the miracle (sign) often serving as the basis and starting point for the discourse which follows (cf. especially in chapters 5, 6, and 9). All but the first and last of the Son of Man sayings are found in these chapters.
    2. Chapters 13-20, which narrate the Passion (and Resurrection) of Jesus—chapter 13 (a Last Supper scene similar to that in the Synoptic tradition) leads into the great Discourses in 13:31-16:33, concluding with the remarkable Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17.

The last Son of Man saying in John (13:31) opens the Discourses which are set at the beginning of the last major section of the Gospel (chs 13-20). It seems likely that the first Son of Man saying (1:51) is meant to have a similar transitional role in the structure of the Gospel narrative.

2. The other Son of Man Sayings

For a survey of the other Son of Man sayings in John, cf. my earlier note. As mentioned above, all but the first and last sayings occur in chapters 2-12, which is significant for two reasons:

    • They are part of the Discourses of Jesus in these chapters, marked by a unique style of teaching—a statement or action by Jesus is misunderstood by the audience, leading to a pointed question, and the subsequent response (and exposition) by Jesus, answering the question at a deeper level of meaning. This process of redirection and reformulation always involves Jesus’ identity—his Person and Teaching—as the Son in relation to God the Father. Where they occur, the Son of Man sayings (esp. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 32, 34) are central and climactic to the Discourse.
    • They point toward the death and exaltation (resurrection, return to the Father) of Jesus described in chapters 13-20. Indeed, the principal sayings all have a dual-meaning, centered on Jesus’ death/resurrection. The sayings which refer to the Son of Man being “lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) or being “glorified” (Jn 12:23; also 13:31) have both aspects in mind.

The dualism of these sayings is best demonstrated in those which use the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (“step down”, “step up”), as in Jn 1:51. The saying in 3:13 is followed by that of v. 14 (which speaks of the Son of Man “lifted high”); the sayings in Jn 6:27, 53, 62 have a more complex reference matrix, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse (6:25-66). In schematic form, we might outline the dualism as follows:

  • With the Father in Heaven (Divine Pre-existence)
    • Descent (“stepping down”) from Heaven (Incarnation)
      • Death—being “lifted up” on the cross
        • Glorified—Life—Father-Son (Jn 13:31)
      • Resurrection—lifted/raised from the dead
    • Ascent (“stepping up”) into Heaven (Exaltation)
  • Return to the Father in Heaven

According to this outline, the last Son of Man saying (Jn 13:31) reflects the central, inner dynamic of the Father-Son relationship and identity, governed by the verb doca/zw (“give honor/esteem/glory”, i.e. “glorify”). If this is correct, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the first of the Son of Man sayings (Jn 1:51) is parallel to this in some way, and may reflect the outer dynamic—the ascent/descent. Again, this would seem to be correct considering the use of the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw in 1:51. However, in that first saying, it is not the Son of Man descending/ascending, but rather of Angels (“Messengers of God”) ascending/descending on the Son of Man.

3. A Comprehensive Symbol?

I am very much inclined to the view that the saying of John 1:51, in its particular position within the structure of the narrative, is intended primarily as a symbolic picture that effectively encompasses the entire Gospel—a framing device representing beginning and end, much like the “Alpha and Omega” (A and W) of Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 (another Johannine work, with definite parallels in thought and language to the Gospel). Here are some points I would cite in favor of this interpretation:

    • The clear parallels with the Baptism (cf. the previous note), which marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (descent/incarnation); the location of Jn 1:51 also strongly suggests an allusion to the Baptism.
    • Similar parallels with the Resurrection (ascension), which effectively marks the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.
    • Similarities to descriptions of the Son of Man coming in glory at the end-time (esp. in the Synoptic tradition); however, the Gospel of John understands the Son to have had this position and glory prior to his incarnation/birth as a human being (i.e. divine pre-existence). This means, in the Johannine context, that such images cannot refer only to Jesus’ exaltation and future return, but to a reality that encompasses and transcends the entire process of descent/ascent (cf. above).
    • The saying in Jn 1:51 is part of a parallel, between the beginning and end of the Gospel, expressed by the encounter of two disciples (Nathanael and Thomas) with Jesus, and involving parallel confessions:
      Jn 1:49: “You are the Son of God | you are the King of Israel!”
      Jn 20:28: “My Lord | my God!”
      It is possible that these confessions themselves together form a bracketing chiasm:
      “Son of God” (in a Messianic context)
      —”King of Israel” (i.e. Anointed Davidic Ruler)
      —”My Lord” (Jesus as Messiah/Lord, cf. Ps 110:1)
      “My God” (Deity)
      Each of the confessions also includes a response by Jesus (Jn 1:50-51; 20:29) related to disciples/believers seeing him.
    • In the Gospel of John, “seeing” often signifies a level of spiritual perception (or of faith/trust) that is different from visual observation (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:3; 6:36, 46; 9:37-41; 11:9, 40; 12:45; 14:7, 9, 17, 19; 17:24; 20:29, etc). It is likely that the declaration “you will see” (o&yesqe) does not refer to a concrete, visible event, but rather to the recognition and realization of Jesus’ true identity—the Son who reveals and leads the way to the Father. This, of course, is also related to “seeing” the Son in terms of being with him, in his presence, as other instances of the verb o)pta/nomai, o&ptomai/o&yomai would indicate (esp. Jn 16:16-17, 19, 22). As a concluding observation that “seeing” in Jn 1:51 signifies something more than a concrete vision, note the parallel with 20:29:
      • “because I said to you that I saw [ei@don] you… you trust?
        you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God… upon the Son of Man” (1:51)
      • “because you have seen [e(w/raka$] me you trust?
        Happy/blessed are the ones not seeing [i)do/nte$] and (yet) trusting!” (20:29)

In both Jn 1:51 and 20:29, the eventual seeing by the believer is contrasted with the disciple believing on the basis of an extraordinary or miraculous experience. Even the concrete evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (in the case of Thomas) should not be relied upon as the basis for faith and trust in Christ, but rather the word that bears witness to him and the Spirit that draws us to him.