May 17: Mark 13:11; Matt 10:19-20; Lk 12:11-12

In discussing the saying on the Holy Spirit in Mark 3:28-29 par (cf. the previous days’ notes), I pointed out the distinctive setting of the Lukan version (Lk 12:10). It so happens that this section (Lk 12:8-12) contains another reference to the Holy Spirit (v. 12), which I will be examining today.

Mark 13:11; Matthew 10:19-20; Luke 12:11-12

This saying is part of instruction given by Jesus to his disciples, relating to the persecution that he declares (and predicts) that his followers will face. In Mark, it is part of the so-called Eschatological (“Olivet”) Discourse (Mk 13)—a collection of sayings and teachings with an eschatological theme and orientation, set during Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. Mark 13:9-13 summarizes the persecution which will come upon believers; the corresponding section in Luke’s version of the ‘Discourse’ (Lk 21) is found in vv. 12-19, that of Matthew in Matt 24:9-14, both with a number of significant differences. Here are the three versions side by side (marked by ellipses):

Mark 13:9-13 Matt 24:9-14 Luke 21:12-19
“…they will give you along into (their place)s of sitting-together {sanhedrins} and (their place)s of gathering-together {synagogues} (and) you will be beaten, and upon [i.e. before] governors and you will be (made to) stand, for my sake, unto [i.e. as] a witness to them…and when they shall lead you, giving you along, do not be concerned before(hand) (about) what you should speak, but whatever should be given to you in that hour, this you should speak—for it is not you (who are) the (one)s speaking, but the holy Spirit. … And you will be hated under [i.e. by] all people through my name. But the (one) remaining under [i.e. enduring] unto completion, this (one) will be saved.” “Then they will give you along into distress/oppression and will kill you off, and you will be hated under [i.e. by] all the nations through my name. … but the (one) remaining under [i.e. enduring] unto completion, this (one) will be saved….” “…they will cast their hands upon you and pursue (you), giving (you) along into th(eir place)s of gathering-together {synagogues} and guard-rooms [i.e. prisons], leading (you) away upon [i.e. before] kings and governers, for my name’s sake—and it will step away [i.e. turn out] for you into a witness. Set then in your hearts not to have care [i.e. give thought] before(hand) to giving account of (yourselves), for I will give you (a) mouth and wisdom, for which all the (one)s stretched (out) against you will not have power to stand against or say (anything) against (you). …and you will be hated under [i.e. by] all through my name…(but) in your remaining under [i.e. enduring] you will acquire your souls.”

Matthew’s version effectively omits the italicized portion corresponding to the Holy Spirit saying (in Mark). However, a similar saying is found in Matt 10:17-20 with a parallel in Luke 12:11-12. It would appear that it has been preserved separately in two strands of tradition, presumably deriving from a single saying (or group of sayings) by Jesus. According to the standard critical view, Matt 10:17-20 / Lk 12:11-12 are part of the so-called “Q” material; Luke has made use of both Mark (with some modification) and Q, while Matthew has preserved only the Q version of the saying. The substantial differences between the version in Lk 21:14-15 and Mk 13:11 can be explained several ways:

    • Luke has reworked the Markan version, using his own wording (cf. Acts 6:10)
    • Luke has substituted in an entirely different (third) saying/version (“L”)
    • Mark has modified a saying corresponding to the Lukan version, substituting in a saying akin to Matt 10:17-20.
    • Luke and Mark (independently) preserve variant forms of the same Synoptic tradition

The most notable difference is that in Mark 13:11 the Holy Spirit is identified as the source of inspiration; in Luke 21:14-15, Jesus declares that he himself (“I” e)gw/ emphatic) will give his followers the ability to speak. Of course, Luke also preserves a version of the saying which emphasizes the role of the Spirit, Lk 12:11-12, which I here present in comparison with the ‘parallel’ in Matt 10:17-20:

Luke 12:11-12Matt 10:17-20
“And when they carry [i.e. bring] you in upon the(ir place)s of gathering-together {synagogues} and the(ir) chiefs and the(ir) authorities, do not be concerned (as to) how or (by) what you should give account of (yourselves), or what you should say—for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”“…they will give you along into (their place)s of sitting-together {sanhedrins} and in the(ir place)s of gathering-together {synagogues}…. but when they give you along, do not be concerned (as to) how or what you should speak, for you will be given in that hour what you should speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but the Spirit of your Father (is) the (one) speaking in you.”

Again there are a number of minor differences—Matthew’s version is quite close to Mk 13:11, and may represent the same saying/version set in a different location. Interestingly, Luke does not include here the specific idea of inspiration—that is, of the Spirit actually speaking through believers—even though we see this idea illustrated quite often throughout Luke-Acts. Instead, in Luke’s version here Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will teach his followers what they are to say. This reflects a different theme in Luke-Acts—that of the guidance of the Spirit. Both of these themes will be discussed further in upcoming notes.

May 16: Mark 3:28-29 par (continued)

Mark 3:28-29; Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10 (continued)

In the previous day’s note, I examined the saying of Jesus regarding the “sin/blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” in the Synoptic Tradition. Mark’s version includes an explanation of the saying (Mk 3:30), but it is necessary to look a bit closer at just how Matthew and Luke understood the saying—this I will do in today’s note.

Matthew includes the ‘Markan’ form of the saying, and also preserves the same narrative context. If one accepts the critical theory that the Gospel writer knew and made use of Mark, then it is surely significant that he did not include the explanation of Mk 3:30:

“(This was in) that [i.e. because] they said, ‘He has/holds and unclean spirit’.”

In Matthew’s account, certain Pharisees (in Mark they are referred to as “Scribes…from Jerusalem”), in response to Jesus’ healing/exorcism miracles, declare:

“This (man) does not cast out the daimons if not in [i.e. except by] ‘Baal-zebûl’ Chief of the daimons!” (Matt 12:24)

This differs slightly from Mark’s account, where the Scribes declare:

“He has/holds ‘Baal-zebûl'” and “(It is) in [i.e. by] the Chief of the daimons (that) he casts out the daimons!”

Matthew does not include the specific claim that Jesus has (lit. holds) the power of “Baal-zebul” (on this name, cf. “Did You Know?” below). The focus has shifted away from Jesus’ own person, and instead the emphasis is on the source of Jesus’ power to work healing miracles. The key interpretive verse for the passage is Matt 12:28, a saying added, it would seem, to the Synoptic/Markan narrative from the so-called “Q” material (par in Luke 11:20), which will be discussed below.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s note, Luke contains a different form of the Holy Spirit saying, corresponding to Matt 12:32 (“Q”) rather than Mark 3:28-29 / Matt 12:31. The narrative setting (Lk 12:8-12) is also very different. Actually, it would seem that the Lukan context involves a sequence of (originally separate) sayings that have been appended together, being joined by thematic or “catchword” bonding (indicated by the bold/italicized portions):

    • Lk 12:8-9—”Every one who gives account as one [i.e. confesses/confirms] in me in front of men, even (so) the Son of Man will give account as one in him in front of the Messengers of God; but the (one) denying/contradicting me in the sight of men, will be denied/contradicted in the sight of the Messengers of God.”
    • Lk 12:10—”Every one who will utter an (evil) word/account unto the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but for the (one) giving insult unto the holy Spirit, it will not be released.”
    • Lk 12:11-12—”When they carry [i.e. bring] you in upon the(ir) gatherings together {synagogues} and the(ir) chiefs and the(ir) authorities, you should not be concerned (as to) how or (by) what you should give account for (yourselves), or what you should say—for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”

There is an important two-fold aspect to the sayings which bracket verse 10:

    • Publicly confessing (or denying) Jesus, the “Son of Man” (vv. 8-9)
    • The witness of believers being inspired by the Spirit (vv. 11-12)

This, I believe, informs the Lukan understanding of the saying in verse 10; I would summarize the interpretation as follows:

    • The person who speaks an evil (i.e. false, slanderous, mocking/derisive, etc) word or account to the Son of Man may be forgiven—this refers essentially to Jesus in the context of his earthly ministry, specifically his Passion/suffering (cf. Lk 22:54-62, 63-65; 23:2, 5, 10-11, 35-37, 39, etc).
    • The person who insults the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven—this refers primarily to the Spirit-inspired witness regarding the person and work of Jesus, i.e. the Gospel.

Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20

Turning back to Matthew’s version, it is necessary to consider the “Q” saying in 12:28 (along with its Lukan parallel). At the position between Mk 3:26 and 27 in the core Synoptic narrative, Matthew and Luke include the following (I use Matthew as the reference point, with the material corresponding to Mk 3:26-27 in italics):

“…if the Satan casts out Satan, he is separated/divided upon himself—how then will his kingdom stand?” (Matt 12:26 [Mk 3:26])

“And if I cast out the daimons in (the power of) ‘Baal-zebûl’, your sons—in what (power) do they cast (daimons) out? Through this(, then,) they will be your judges.” (Matt 12:27)

“But if I cast out the daimons in (the power of) the Spirit of God, then (surely) the kingdom of God has come first/already/suddenly [e&fqasen] upon you!” (Matt 12:28)

Or how is any(one) able to come into the house of the strong and seize his tools/vessels, if he does not first bind the strong (one)…?” (Matt 12:29 [Mk 3:27])

In many ways vv. 27-28 appear to be intrusive, inserted into the context of vv. 26, 29 (Mk 3:26-27); however, as we find the exact same sequence in Luke 11:18-21, the matter is far from clear. Also uncertain (and much disputed) is the precise force and meaning of the verb fqa/nw, which can be rendered here a number of ways:

    • “…has come suddenly/unexpectedly upon you”
    • “…has already come upon you”
    • “…has come near to you” [similar to the use of e)ggi/zw in Mk 1:15 etc]
    • “…has actually arrived for you”
    • “…has first come upon you [i.e. Jesus’ opponents, by way of Judgment?]”
    • “…has overcome/overtaken you”

The second option above probably best captures the meaning.

Luke 11:19-20 is virtually identical with Matt 12:27-28, the major difference being that in Luke it reads “finger [da/ktulo$] of God” rather than “Spirit of God”. Most likely, Luke has the more original form of the saying, with “Spirit of God” best understood as an interpretive gloss for the anthropomorphic idiom “finger of God” (cf. Exod 8:19, also Ex 31:18 / Deut 9:10). Jesus admits that other healers may perform certain kinds of exorcism—indeed, according to the ancient worldview, illness and disease was often seen as the result of angry/malevolent deities or spirits at work; healing acts and rites typically involved some form of ‘exorcism’. However, Jesus effectively claims that his healing acts (miracles) are performed through the power (i.e. the ‘finger’/Spirit) of God. To assert that it is the work of evil forces (the daimons/demons) themselves would be an insult to God’s holy Spirit.

Conclusion

It is possible to offer at least a basic interpretive summary of the Holy Spirit saying in each of its three Gospel settings:

Mark 3:28-29—The insult to the Holy Spirit is explained (v. 30) in terms of Jesus’ opponents claiming that he himself had (control of) an unclean spirit or daimon (“demon”).

Matthew 12:31-32—The explanation is similar to that in Mark, but it no longer emphasizes an insult to Jesus’ own person:

    • The claim by the Scribes/Pharisees that Jesus “has/holds Baal-zebûl” (Mk 3:22a) is not included
    • The variant/parallel “Q” saying involving the “Son of Man” (v. 32 / Lk 12:10) has been added to the ‘Markan’ version
    • The explanation of Mark 3:30 is not included

Rather, as discussed above, the issue involves the source of Jesus’ healing power and authority over the daimons and disease. To say that it comes from the Devil (“Baal-zebul”) or daimons themselves insults the very Spirit of God.

Luke 12:10—According to the Lukan context (Lk 12:8-12), the insult to the Holy Spirit is related to evil speaking and opposition to the Spirit-inspired testimony (of believers) regarding the person and work of Jesus. This theme is further illustrated and expounded through the persecution of believers and opposition to the Gospel recorded throughout the book of Acts.

There is, then, no one simple meaning to the saying—a proper and accurate interpretation involves careful study of the context of the saying in each Gospel. If an original (Aramaic) form of the saying ultimately derives from a different historical setting—a speculative proposition at best—this is no longer possible to reconstruct. We must deal with the Gospel Tradition as it has come down to us.

The Greek Beelzeb[o]u/l (Beelzeb[o]úl) is a transliteration of lWbz+ lu^B^, “(the) Lord (the) Exalted One” (or “Exalted Lord”), combining two titles regularly used for the Canaanite sky/storm deity Hadad/Haddu. As the main (pagan) Canaanite rival to YHWH in Israelite history, especially during the Kingdom period, it is not surprising that “Prince Baal” would come to represent all of the “demons”—that is the daimons, the (lesser) deities or spirits, which were relegated to the status of evil/unclean spirits in the context of Israelite/Jewish monotheism. The name bWbz+ lu^B^ (Baal-zebub, 2 Kings 1:2-3, 6, 16) is probably a polemic parody through the alteration of one letter, i.e. “Exalted Lord” becomes “Lord of the flies”.

May 15: Mark 3:28-29; Matt 12:31-32; Lk 12:10

Mark 3:28-29; Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10

The next passage to be discussed, in this Pentecost-season series of daily notes on the Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, is the famous (and controversial) saying of Jesus regarding the so-called “sin (or blasphemy) against the Spirit” in Mark 3:28-29 par. Over the centuries, this has proven to be one of the most challenging sayings of Jesus for commentators and believers generally to interpret and apply. The interpretive difficulties are complicated by the questions surrounding the differing forms of the saying (or sayings) as preserved in the Synoptic Tradition.

I begin with the version in Mark 3:28-29, which is set in the context of Jesus’ exorcism miracles (vv. 22-27, cf. verses 11-12, 15). This central section is framed by two episodes which express the misunderstanding and/or opposition to Jesus by his family and relatives:

    • vv. 20-21—”the ones alongside him”
    • vv. 31-35—”his mother and his brothers”

The pericope concludes with the declaration that Jesus’ followers are his true family (vv. 34-35). Here is the saying regarding the Holy Spirit in verses 28-29:

“All things will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and insults, whatever they may insult—but whoever gives insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin of the Age(s).”

This use of the Greek ai)w/n, indicating an age/era or (long) period of time, is hard to render meaningfully into English, often being generalized as “(for)ever, eternal(ly)”, etc.; however, in the Israelite/Jewish idiom and thought world, there is a strong eschatological aspect which must be preserved—”into the Age” specifically refers to the “Age to Come”, which is ushered in by God’s Judgment upon the world at the close of the present Age. Also, I would call attention to the Greek verb blasfhme/w, which is often simply transliterated into English as “blaspheme”, but this tends to gloss over and distort the fundamental meaning—to speak evil or abusive words, i.e. insult, revile, mock, slander, etc. I have translated blasfhme/w above simply as “insult”. At first glance, there would seem to be relatively little difficulty in the interpretation of this saying, since verse 30 which follows in Mark’s account gives a rather clear explanation:

“(This was in) that [i.e. because] they said ‘He has/holds an unclean spirit’.” (cf. verse 22)

Matthew essentially preserves the Markan narrative context—

Luke’s account differs even more, with the varied inclusion of (so-called) “Q” material:

However, the Lukan version of the Holy Spirit saying occurs in a very different context—that of believers acknowledging/confessing Jesus (the Son of Man) publicly (Lk 12:8-12). The saying in verse 10 would seem to be based on a “Q” version that corresponds to Matt 12:32. Let us first examine Matthew 12:31-32 in terms of the Markan version:

Mark 3:28-29Matthew 12:31-32
“All things will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and insults, whatever they may insult—but whoever gives insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin of the Age(s).”Every sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but the insult(ing) of the Spirit will not be released. And whoever should say an (evil) word/account against the Son of Man, it will be released for him; but whoever should say (evil) against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him—not in this Age and not in the (Age that) is about (to come).”

The italicized portions in Matthew indicate the portions shared by the saying in Mark. The saying regarding the “Son of Man” does not correspond to anything in Mark, but it is similar to the Lukan version of the saying (Lk 12:10):

“Every one who will speak an (evil) word/account unto the Son of Man, it will be released for him; but for the (one) giving insult unto the holy Spirit, it will not be released.”

According to the standard critical theory, Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, as well as a collection of sayings and traditions commonly referred to as “Q” (from German quelle, “source”). Luke 12:10 and the non-italicized portion of Matt 12:32 above represent the “Q” version of the saying. Matthew has apparently combined the Markan and Q versions. As always, when dealing with similar and/or parallel sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, the key critical question is: (a) do these represent separate sayings given by Jesus on different occasions, or (b) are they different versions of the same saying which were transmitted and preserved separately? Traditional-conservative commentators usually opt for (a), while critical scholars and commentators tend to choose (b). In most instances, valid arguments can be offered for each position, and it can be difficult to come up with a definitive solution on entirely objective grounds (i.e., without relying on doctrinal or ideological presuppositions). In the case of this particular saying, there is one strong argument that favors the common critical view, which can be illustrated by a comparison of the first portion of the Markan and “Q” versions respectively:

Saying/Version 1 (‘Mark’) Saying/Version 2 (“Q”)
“All/every sin(s) and insult(s) will be released for the sons of men [toi=$ ui(oi=$ tw=n a)nqrw/pwn]…” “Every one who speaks an (evil) word/account unto/against the Son of Man [to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou], it will be released for him…”

Mark has likely preserved the original wording “sons of men” (Matthew simply reads “men”). Is it possible that the Semitic idiom “son of man” was confused during the process of transmission? Originally, the Hebrew expression “son of man” (<d*a* /B#, Aramaic vn`a$ rB^) simply referred to human beings generally, as a parallel to “man” (<d*a*). The idiom is foreign to Greek—indeed, quite unusual—and the expression o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou (“[the] son of man”) is found in the New Testament only in the words of Jesus, and in a few citations of the Old Testament. With regard to the words of Jesus, the Greek is generally assumed to be a rendering of sayings originally spoken in Aramaic; and, by the time the Gospels came to be written (by 60 A.D. and following) and transmitted to the wider Greek-speaking world, many of the Semitic idioms and expressions had long since been translated or reworked into meaningful Greek. I have addressed the difficulties surrounding Jesus’ use of the expression “Son of Man” at length in earlier notes and articles.

Returning to the saying in question, did “son of man” in the “Q” version originally have the general/generic meaning—i.e., “whoever speaks (evil) against a(nother) human being…”? If so, then it would correspond roughly to the Markan version, and could conceivably be traced back to a single (Aramaic) saying by Jesus. However, it should be noted that Luke definitely understands this “Q” version of the saying as referring to Jesus himself (“the Son of Man”), as the context clearly indicates. Let me here summarize briefly Jesus’ self-identification as “Son of Man” in the Synoptic tradition, especially the Gospel of Luke, isolating the following usage:

    • In the generic sense—”human being”—but often, it would seem, as a substitute for the pronoun “I”, i.e. “this human being” (myself).
    • Many of the Son of Man sayings are related to Jesus’ earthly life and existence, by which he identifies himself with the human condition—especially in terms of its mortality, weakness and suffering.
    • A number of these sayings refer specifically to Jesus’ Passion—predictions of the suffering and death which he would face in Jerusalem.
    • There are also additional sayings where Jesus identifies himself with a heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”) who will appear, as God’s representative, at the end-time Judgment, largely influenced by Daniel 7:13-14 and resultant traditions.

In the next daily note, I will examine further how Matthew and Luke understand the Holy Spirit saying, as well as the additional (related) saying in Matt 12:28 / Lk 11:20.

May 7: Luke 8:19-21

Luke 8:19-21

Today’s note is supplemental to the discussion on the role of Mary in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (in Part 7 of the current series on Women in the Church). As I noted previously, Mary is mentioned only twice in the core Synoptic Tradition, appearing briefly in just one episode: Mark 3:31-35 (with parallels in Matthew and Luke). The Markan narrative sequence (essentially followed by Matthew) can be outlined as follows:

    • 3:19b-20—Narrative introduction; and cf. the context of Jesus’ healing (exorcism) miracles in vv. 10-12
    • 3:21—Notice regarding the (negative) reaction by Jesus’ companions/relatives (lit. “the ones alongside”), declaring “he stands out of (himself)”, i.e. is beside himself, out of his mind, etc
    • 3:22-30—Jesus/Beelzebul episode:
      (i) The reaction by Scribes from Jerusalem to Jesus: “He holds Baal-zebul!”, “In (the power of) the chief of the daimons he casts out the daimons!” (v. 22)
      (ii) Two sayings/illustrations by Jesus, the second of which refers to the blasphemy (lit. “insult”) against the Holy Spirit (vv. 23-29)
      (iii) Comment/explanation by the Gospel writer (v. 30)
    • 3:31-35—Jesus’ true family: (a) narrative setting (vv. 31-32), (b) reaction and illustrative statement by Jesus (vv. 33-35)

Note how this sequence draws upon two important themes from earlier in the narrative:

    • Miracles of healing by Jesus (vv. 1-5ff), which includes exorcism of evil spirits (or daimons [“demons”]) (vv. 10-12)
    • Opposition and hostile reaction to Jesus by the religious authorities (vv. 1-6)
    • Jesus together with his disciples (vv. 7ff, 13-19a)

In 3:20-35, the central episode combines the first two of these themes—(a) Jesus’ power over the daimons and (evil) spirits responsible for disease, etc, and (b) hostile reaction by the religious authorities. Framing or bracketing this episode are two shorter episodes involving the reaction to Jesus by his (natural) relatives and companions, identified as:

    • “the ones alongside of him” (oi( par’ au)tou=)—v. 20, and
    • “his mother and his brothers”—v. 31

In the first instance, “the ones alongside” Jesus may refer to his relatives and neighbors. Upon hearing the things he was saying and doing (the healing/exorcism miracles?), they “came out [e)ch=lqon] to grab/seize him”, thinking that he was ‘out of his mind’. At the very least, this indicates that Jesus’ relatives (or companions) did not understand who he was or the nature of his ministry. The second scene is less negative: Jesus’ family (his mother [Mary] and brothers) came [e&rxetai] and stood outside of the house (or room) where Jesus was staying and teaching, etc., and sent (a messenger) to call for him. Matthew’s version adds the detail that they were “wishing to speak to him” (v. 46), and narrates the words of the messenger (v. 47, missing in some manuscripts): “See, your mother and your brothers have (been) stand(ing) outside, looking to speak with you”; in Mark, the crowd around Jesus gives this information to him (3:32). Jesus response is:

“‘Who is my mother and [my] brothers?’ And looking around at the circle (of people) sitting around him, he said: ‘See!—(here is) my mother and my brothers! [For] whoever would do this will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.'” (vv. 33-35)

Jesus clearly is contrasting his natural family with those (his followers, etc) who do God’s will—i.e., his religious or spiritual family. Matthew’s version makes this even more clear: instead of “looking around” at the people, Jesus stretches out his hand over his disciples (12:49) before making the declaration.

Luke (8:19-21), it would seem, has changed the emphasis of this scene, in several ways:

    • It no longer occurs in the context of the Beelzebul episode (narrated in 11:14-23), thus removing it from the theme of hostile/negative reaction and opposition to Jesus. It also is no longer set parallel with the reaction of Jesus’ companions in Mk 3:20 (Luke and Matthew both omit or do not include this scene).
    • In the Lukan narrative context, the episode follows two Synoptic parables (8:4-18) which effectively emphasize faithful discipleship and response to the Gospel, in which the true disciples are contrasted with those who fall away or are not faithful. Moreover, the chapter begins with a notice (8:1-3) of Jesus’ close disciples who are sharing in his ministry work—this includes a number of women (vv. 2-3; cf. Mk 15:41).
    • In the episode itself, there is no contrast between Jesus’ natural family and his disciples; almost certainly Luke has omitted this detail on purpose.

Here is how the episode reads in Luke’s version:

“And his mother and his brothers came to be alongside [parege/neto] near [pro$, lit. “toward”] him, but were unable to hit [i.e. meet] together with him through the throng (of people); and the message was (sent) to him: ‘Your mother and your brothers have (been) stand(ing) outside wishing to see you’. And answering Jesus said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers—these are the (one) hearing and doing the word of God!'”

We find less of a contrast or division—his family outside, Jesus and his disciples inside—in this version. Moreover, his mother [Mary] and brothers have come near to Jesus and wish to see him, but are unable to reach him through the crowd. In the Lukan context, this suggests that Mary and his brothers wish to be together with Jesus, as disciples, like the Twelve and the women mentioned in 8:1-3. Luke would count them as followers of Jesus—that is, as believers—but they are separated from him by circumstances related to his ministry work (i.e. the crowds). Earlier in the Infancy narrative, we find a similar image of Mary responding in faith and obedience (Lk 1:38, 46ff; 2:21-24, 39, 41), wishing to understand the nature of the miraculous events surrounding Jesus’ birth (2:19); but true belief/understanding would not result without difficulty and struggle (and division) along the way (2:35, 44-50). That there was some degree of misunderstanding and opposition toward Jesus by his family and relatives is indicated, not only in Mark 3:20, but by the narrative detail in John 7:1-10 (cf. also Mk 6:1-6 par; Lk 4:22-30). For more on this, see the relevant notes and articles in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”. Ultimately, the Lukan interpretation of the scene in chapter 8, suggested above, is confirmed by the notice in Acts 1:14, where Mary and Jesus’ brothers are there, as believers, together with the Twelve and the faithful women—all in the same room, with no separation.

April 20: John 11:25

John 11:25

Jesus’ response to Martha in vv. 25-26, which also expounds the meaning of his saying in v. 23, can be divided into four parts, though it makes up a single sentence:

    • “I am the standing up [i.e. resurrection] and the life”
    • “the (one) trusting in me, even if he should die away, he will live”
    • “every (one) living and trusting in me, no he does not die away into the age”
    • “do you trust [i.e. believe] this?”

Each of these will be discussed in turn, beginning with the declaration in v. 25a:

e)gw/ ei)mi h( a)na/stasi$ kai\ h( zwh/
“I am the standing-up and the life”

There are three elements to this saying: (1) pronoun (subject), (2) verb, and (3) dual predicate. The first two are taken together, as the phrase “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) marks this as one of the famous “I am”-sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

e)gw/ ei)mi—There are at least 17 “I am” sayings or statements by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, and these can be divided into: (a) those with a predicate, and (b) those without a (specific) predicate. I begin with the latter, since they are necessary for a proper understanding of the former. There are three important occurrences in the discourse of Jesus set in Jerusalem during the festival of Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) in chapters 7-8:

    • “for if you do not trust that I am [e)gw ei)mi], you will die away in your sins” (8:24)
    • “when you lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [e)gw ei)mi]…” (8:28)
    • “…before Abraham(‘s) coming to be [gene/sqai], I am [e)gw ei)mi]” (8:58)

To these may be added Jesus’ wording in verses 18 (“I am the one witnessing about myself…”) and 23 (“I am out of [i.e. from] the things above”), which have more in common with the sayings with a predicate (below). The statement in 13:19 is similar in aspects of thought and vocabulary with the three sayings above:

“From now I say (this) to you before (its) coming to be, (so) that you may trust, when it comes to be, that I am [e)gw ei)mi]”

In two other instances, the expression e)gw/ ei)mi is understood, in the context of the narrative, as “I am he“—6:20 and 18:5.

The background for this Johannine usage of e)gw/ ei)mi by Jesus is to be found in the self-declaration by God (YHWH) in the Old Testament: “I am YHWH…”. This formula of divine revelation, occurs in key passages such as Gen 28:13; Exod 6:6-7; 7:5; 15:26; 20:2, 5; Lev 18:5; Isa 45:18; Hos 13:4; Joel 2:27, etc. This involves the pronoun yn]a& (“I”) but no specific verb (a verb of being is implied). A similar declaration, “I am He” (aWh yn]a&), occurring in Deut 32:39 and frequently in (Deutero-)Isaiah (41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12; 51:12; 52:6) is translated in the Greek version (LXX) as e)gw/ ei)mi—”I am“. For Greek-speaking Jews in the post-Exilic period, “I Am”, e)gw/ ei)mi, could function effectively as the Divine name (i.e. YHWH), and this is important in the context of the portrait of Jesus in the Gospel of John.
For more on the name YHWH and the explanation provided in Exod 3:14, cf. the earlier Christmas season note.

A central theme throughout the Gospel, in the discourses of Jesus, is that Jesus (the Son) is making known the name of the Father to his disciples (i.e. to believers). In ancient thought, to make known a person’s name is essentially the same thing as making known the person himself. Thus the “I Am” sayings of Jesus should be understood in terms of theophany—the manifestation of God to human beings on earth. In this regard, even the sayings typically translated “I am he” (Jn 6:20; 18:5) still have the character of a theophany. This is especially clear in the case of 6:20, which is part of the walking-on-water episode, where Jesus appears to the disciples, in the midst of wind and storm (typical elements of a theophany), and declares: “I am (he) [e)gw ei)mi]—do not be afraid!”

A recognition of this religious and theological background of the expression e)gw/ ei)mi will help us understand the sayings which involve a specific predicate. In most of these, Jesus is identifying himself with a particular image or symbol:

    • “I am the bread of life” / “I am the living bread” (6:35, 51)
    • “I am the light of the world” (8:12, cf. also 9:5)
    • “I am the door of the sheep(-fold)” (10:7, 9)
    • “I am the excellent (shep)herd” (10:11, 14)
    • “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5)

Jesus appears to be taking details from the natural world and daily life, much as he does in the (Synoptic) parables, and interpreting them from a spiritual and divine standpoint—he is the true [i.e. eternal/divine] bread, water, vine, shepherd, etc. However, the saying closest in form to 11:25a is found in the famous declaration of 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life”. Both statements take the pattern “I am…the life”.

a)na/stasi$—This noun, derived from the verb a)ni/sthmi, literally means “standing up”, but is commonly used in the technical sense of “resurrection”, i.e. standing up from the dead. Martha uses it in the conventional religious sense of the end-time resurrection, as discussed in the previous note. Indeed, it is always used this way elsewhere in the Gospels (Mark 12:18, 23 par; John 5:29; and cf. also Acts 23:6, 8; 24:15). Eventually, early Christians applied it specifically to the resurrection of Jesus, as in Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2, 33, and throughout the letters. There is an interplay of both meanings in Acts 24:21 and 26:23 (cf. also 17:18, 32). Jesus’ statement to Martha in 11:25 combines these meanings and transcends them. By using the e)gw/ ei)mi formulation—”I am the resurrection”—Jesus is identifying himself with the effective power (of God) to raise the dead, and with God Himself who will raise them.

There are two aspects to Jesus’ correction of Martha’s misunderstanding, reflected in each of the two predicate nouns. First, he corrects her understanding of the resurrection (h( a)na/stasi$) by identifying himself as the resurrection—it is not simply something which will take place in the future, it is present now, in the person of Jesus. Second, he adds to it the life (h( zwh/).

zwh/—This word occurs quite frequently in the Johannine writings: 36 times in the Gospel, and 13 times in the letters; if we include the book of Revelation (17 times), that makes nearly half of all occurrences (135) in the New Testament. Based on the context of the narrative (the death of Lazarus), it would seem that ordinary physical life is in view. Certainly Martha has this in mind, thinking of the resurrection from the dead at the end time (v. 24). And yet, the word zwh/ almost always carries a deeper meaning throughout the Gospel and letters of John. In the Gospel, zwh/ occurs 17 times (nearly half of the 36) within the expression [h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh/, “[the] life of the age”, usually translated as “eternal life”. Even when it is used alone, it tends to denote eternal life, in the qualitative sense of spiritual and divine life—i.e., the life which is found in God the Father and the Son (Jesus). This fundamental identification is confirmed by the use of the e)gw/ ei)mi formula (cf. above), and is clarified by Jesus’ statement in 14:6. Jesus (the Son) reveals the life, truth, etc, of the Father and points/leads the way to Him.

I will be discussing the expression “life of the age” (i.e. eternal life) in more detail in upcoming notes. Here it is important to realize how Jesus (and the Gospel writer) makes use of the word “life”, and the idea of it, moving from the conventional understanding of the disciple (Martha), to a profound revelatory expression which even the committed believer can only begin to grasp. This will be examined as we proceed through the remainder of vv. 25-26 in the next few daily notes.

April 18: John 11:23

John 11:23

In verse 23, Jesus responds to Martha (vv. 21-22, cf. the previous two daily notes). His declaration has a place similar to that of the central statement/saying in the major Discourses (e.g., 3:3; 4:10; 5:17, etc). According the Johannine discourse-format, Jesus’ saying brings about misunderstanding by the person(s) hearing it, which then serves as the basis for the exposition which follows. Given the apparent faith expressed by Martha in v. 22, Jesus’ statement in v. 23 seems somewhat abrupt; he declares simply to her, “Your brother will stand up (again)”. Martha’s misunderstanding of this statement will be discussed in the next note. It is, however, important to consider first the significance of the verb a)ni/sthmi (lit. “stand up”). The verb can be used either in a transitive (“make [someone] stand up”) or intransitive sense. By the time of Jesus, among Greek-speaking Jews, it had come to have a technical meaning in reference to the raising of the dead—with the related noun a)na/stasi$ (“resurrection”). It was used previously (four times), in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, in which Jesus identifies himself as “the Bread from Heaven”, i.e. which has come down out of Heaven. In verse 38 he declares:

“…I have stepped down from heaven, not (so) that I might do my (own) will, but the will of the (One) having sent me.”

This is followed by a dual (parallel) statement regarding the will of God (the Father):

  • “And this is the will of the (One) having sent me—
    • that every(thing) which he has given to me I shall not lose (anything) out of it
      • but I will make it stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 39)
  • “For this is the will of my Father—
    • that every(one) th(at is) looking (closely) at the Son and trusting in him might hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]
      • and I will make him stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 40)

This phrase “and I will make him stand up [i.e. raise him up] in the last day” is repeated in v. 44, and again in v. 54, where the reference is to eating (chomping) the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. Note the parallelism in these verses:

    • Everything (i.e. everyone) given to Jesus by the Father (v. 39)
      • Everyone seeing the Son (Jesus) and trusting him (v. 40)
    • (All) those drawn to Jesus by the Father (v. 44)
      • Those who eat his flesh and drink his blood (v. 54)

The second pair indicates a more immediate and dramatic experience by the believer—being drawn to Jesus, eating/drinking his flesh/blood—than the first, which reflects the essential dynamic of election (i.e. being chosen by God) and faith. That the eating/drinking of Jesus by the believer is primarily spiritual rather than sacramental is indicated by the overall context of the discourse, though there can be no doubt that there is a Eucharistic aspect to the language used.

The qualifying phrase of being raised “in the last day” is essentially eschatological, referring to the end-time resurrection, according to Jewish belief (to be discussed in the next daily note). However, it should not be understood exclusively in this sense. We can point back to the previous discourse in chapter 5, especially vv. 17-29, in which resurrection is a central theme, though there the verb e)gei/rw (“raise”) is used, rather than a)ni/sthmi. Jesus’ exposition in vv. 19-29 may be divided into two parts: (1) vv. 19-24, and (2) vv. 25-29. In the latter, it certainly is the end-time resurrection that is in view, but this would not appear to be the case in the former (vv. 19-24). There Jesus is referring to a more fundamental sense of the (eternal) life which he gives to the one who responds to his voice and trusts in him. The reality of this life is experienced even in the present by believers, and corresponds to the idea of being “born from above” (which can also be translated “born again“) in 3:3 (also “born of the Spirit” in v. 5). Thus the motifs of new life (from death) and spiritual life to believers (who not yet died) are interrelated and interchangeable in the Gospel of John. Both aspects will appear again, together, in the remainder of the Lazarus episode and the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, as we shall see.

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.

April 13 (1): John 1:51

Today, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), and following the theme of these seasonal daily notes, I will be examining the Son of Man saying in John 1:51. In an earlier note (for Holy Saturday), I surveyed all of the Son of Man sayings in John, noting three main categories:

    • Sayings which speak of the Son of Man being “lifted high” (using the verb u(yo/w)—Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34
    • Sayings involving the descent/ascent of the Son of Man (verbs katabai/nw, a)nabai/nw)—Jn 3:13; 6:22, 53, 62
    • Sayings which refer to the Son of Man being glorified (vb. doca/zw)—Jn 12:23, 31

John 1:51 generally belongs to the second category. All of these sayings refer in some way to Jesus’ death, and also relate to the two-fold sense in which the Son is “lifted up”, according to the symbolism and imagery in John—(1) his death on the cross, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father).

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 [e)pi] the Son of Man”

This saying has proven sufficiently difficult and obscure for commentators throughout the years, resulting in a wide range of possible interpretations. A fundamental question is whether the saying should be taken as a concrete prediction, or a symbolic picture. If the former, then one must ask to which specific event or episode it refers; there are three possibilities—(1) a supernatural event witnessed by the disciples (similar to the Transfiguration), but otherwise unrecorded, (2) the resurrection and/or ascension, or (3) the future/end-time appearance of Christ. Given the similarities with key eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics, the third option makes most sense; however, it does not especially seem to fit the context where the saying is set in John. If we are to understand the saying primarily as a symbolic picture—whether by the Gospel writer or Jesus himself—then there a number of possible associations or allusions which may be in mind. I summarize the most relevant and important of these here (cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, pp. 89-91):

The Baptism—There are two details in the (Synoptic) account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10 par) which are especially relevant:

    • The Holy Spirit, in the form/shape of a dove, descends [lit. “steps down”] upon Jesus, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51. Also, the versions in Matthew/Luke specifically use the preposition e)pi (“upon”) and narrate the episode as something observable by all the people (in contrast with Mark’s account). John does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but provides a comparable (indirect) description as part of the Baptist’s testimony (cf. Jn 1:32).
    • In the descent of the Spirit, the heavens are said to separate; in Matthew/Luke (Matt 3:16; Lk 3:21), the verb used is a)noi/gw (“open up”) as in Jn 1:51.

Matthew 16:27-28 par—Matthew’s version of a core Son of Man saying in Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) begins: “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his Messengers [i.e. Angels]…” and concludes with the specific formulation:

“…there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see [i&dwsin] the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (note the parallel in Lk 9:27: “…until they should see the Kingdom of God”, and also Lk 23:42 v.l.)

Several points should be made about the context and significance of this passage:

    • The reference is to the end-time Judgment, and (in the developed Gospel tradition) to the parousia (or second coming) of Jesus.
    • It is positioned directly between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (a vision of Jesus in glory witnessed by several of the disciples). Moreover, in both Synoptic tradition and Jn 1:19-51, the Son of Man saying follows soon after Jesus gives Peter his new name (Matt 16:18; Jn 1:42).
    • The Son of Man is associated with Angels in a number of sayings, all eschatological and emphasizing the end-time Judgment—Matt 13:41ff; 16:27 par; 24:30-31 par; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also Matt 4:6 par; 26:53.

The Resurrection/Ascension—Note especially the following:

    • In Mark 16:4 of the Old Latin MS Bobiensis (k), it is narrated that angels descend to Jesus and ascend with him (cf. also the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter §§36-40).
    • The appearance of Angels in the Synoptic tradition, associated with the Resurrection (variously described, Mk 16:5-7; Matt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7) and the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11) of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it is stated that the Angel “stepped down” out of heaven, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51 (cf. above).
    • John does not record a visible ascension of Jesus, but note Jn 20:17: “…I step up [a)nabai/nw] toward my Father”.

An allusion to Genesis 28:12—In Jacob’s dream-vision at Bethel, he sees Angels ascending and descending on the ladder; in the LXX “ascending and descending” uses the same verbs (a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw) as Jn 1:51.

    • There is a traditional Jewish interpretation which understands the Angels ascending/descending on him (i.e. Jacob), cf. Genesis Rabbah 69:3 (in 68:12 Jacob is seen as being simultaneously in heaven).
    • The Targums (cf. Onkelos) express the idea that the shekinah—the visible manifestation and/or personification of God’s glory—was on the ladder. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (mid-2nd century A.D.), we find the earliest evidence for the interpretation that Christ was on the ladder (86:2).
    • Bethel as the “House of God”, i.e. the rock/stone which symbolizes the Temple and its foundation. In Jn 2:19ff (not long after the saying in 1:51), the Temple is identified with Jesus’ own person (and body), specifically in connection with his death and resurrection.

These are the most plausible associations with Jn 1:51, based on similarities of language and imagery—(1) the account of Jesus’ baptism, (2) his resurrection/ascension, (3) his return in glory at the end-time Judgment, and (4) the theophanic dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. In the next note I will look a bit more closely at Jn 1:51 in terms of its likely meaning and purpose within the context and structure of the Gospel narrative.

April 12 (1): Luke 24:6-7

Luke 24:6-7

The last occurrence of the expression “the Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke is found in the Resurrection narrative (Luke 24), as part of the Angelic announcement (vv. 5-7) to the women on Easter morning. Luke follows the early Gospel tradition of women (including Mary Magdalene) being the first to witness the empty tomb, and the authenticity of this tradition would seem to be quite secure (on entirely objective grounds). The Synoptics also record the presence of Angels at the tomb who announce the resurrection, but here the specific details vary considerably between the three accounts. Most notable is the difference in the announcement itself (cp. with Mark 16:6-7), which includes similar points of reference (in italics):

“Do not be astonished! You seek Yeshua the Nazarean, the (one) put to the stake [i.e. crucified], but he has been raised—he is not here!” (Mk 16:6)
“(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living (one) with the dead (ones)? [He is not here, but has been raised!]” (Lk 24:5b-6a)

So also in the second half of the declaration:

“but go under [i.e. go back] and say to his learners [i.e. disciples] and to ‘Rock’ {Peter} that he goes before you into the Galîl {Galilee}—there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mk 16:7)
“remember how he spoke to you while he was yet in the Galîl {Galilee}, saying… (Lk 24:6)

In Luke, the context and direction of the Angelic announcement has changed significantly—instead of referring ahead to the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee (cf. Matt 28:16-20), it refers back to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Lk 9:22, 43-45; 18:31-34 par) while he and his disciples were still in Galilee. As discussed in previous notes, these Passion predictions all involve the identification of Jesus as the “Son of Man”. Let us compare the formula here in verse 7 with the three earlier statements by Jesus:

Lk 24:7

“saying (of) the Son of Man that it is necessary (for him) to be given along into the hands of sinful men and to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified], and to stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day”

Lk 9:22

it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s and to be removed from examination [i.e. rejected] from [i.e. by] the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials [i.e. Priests] and Writers [i.e. Scribes], and to be killed off [i.e. put to death], and to be raised on the third day

Lk 9:44

“For the Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men

Lk 18:31b-33

“…and all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] about the Son of Man will be completed: for he will be given along into (the hands of) the nations, and he will be treated in a childish (way) and will be abused and will be spat on, and whipping (him) they kill him off [i.e. put him to death], and he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day.

The formulation in Luke 24:7 blends elements from all three predictions, as indicated by the italicized portions above. The phrase “into the hands of sinful men” comes from the second prediction (Lk 9:44), but without the qualifying adjective “sinful” (cf. Mark 14:41 par). The phrase “be put to the stake” simply specifies the manner in which he is to be “killed off”, i.e. put to death (cf. Matt 20:19). The Lukan version of the third prediction (Lk 18:31-33) includes the detail that the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of Man (Jesus) is a fulfillment of Scripture (“the things written by the Prophets”). This becomes an important point of emphasis in the remainder of Luke 24, and subsequently throughout the book of Acts. Indeed, each of the three episodes in the Resurrection narrative includes a comparable statement regarding Jesus’ Passion in this manner:

    • Lk 24:1-12: The Disciples at the empty tomb — the Angels’ announcement (v. 7, cf. above)
    • Lk 24:13-35: The Appearance to Disciples on the road to Emmaus (v. 26)
    • Lk 24:36-49: The Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem (v. 46)

As discussed above, the first statement (echoing the Passion predictions) uses “Son of Man”, while the last two (by Jesus) instead use “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$):

    • Lk 24:26: “Was it not necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer these (thing)s and to come into his glory?”—Jesus is said to demonstrate this, explaining the Scripture passages in “Moses and all the Prophets” (v. 27)
    • Lk 24:46: “…thus it has been written (that it is necessary) for the Anointed (One) to suffer and to stand up out of the dead on the third day”—this also was explained to his disciples from passages “in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms” (vv. 44-45)

The last of these statements, in particular, echoes verses 6-7 and the earlier Passion predictions, especially if we include Jesus’ words from v. 44:

“These are the words which I spoke to you, being yet [i.e. while I was] with you, that it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (thing)s written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms….”

The declarations by Jesus in 24:26 and 44-46 make two points which are fundamental to the early Christian Gospel preaching (as recorded in the book of Acts):

    1. That Jesus is the Anointed One (o( Xristo/$), and in a sense rather different from the type-figure of Anointed Davidic Ruler (as typically understood in Messianic thought of the period). Cf. my current series “Yeshua the Anointed”, esp. Parts 68.
    2. That the suffering and death (and resurrection) of Jesus—that is, of the Anointed One—was prefigured and foretold in the Scriptures. This means that it can be demonstrated by a study and exposition of the relevant Scripture passages; Luke never indicates just what these are, but for a list of likely candidates, cf. the article “He opened to us the Scriptures“.

Of the numerous references in the narrative of Acts which indicate the importance of this theme, cf. especially Acts 1:16; 2:31ff; 3:18, 20; 8:32-35; 9:22; 10:43; 13:27; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:22-23; 28:23.

April 11 (1): John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, etc

Today for Holy Saturday and the Vigil of Easter, I am moving away from the Gospel of Luke to explore the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. In examining the expression “Son of Man” in Luke (and the Synoptic tradition), we have seen it used by Jesus four different ways—(1) as a self-reference, a substitute for “I”; (2) to identify himself as a human being or with the human condition, especially in terms of weakness, suffering and death; (3) in reference to his Passion; and (4) as a heavenly being who will come (again) to judge the world at the end-time. In some ways, all four uses are interrelated or connected in the Synoptics, and so also in the Gospel of John; however the sayings in John tend to have a more specific Christological emphasis, and may be grouped into three main categories:

1. The Son of Man “lifted high”—Here the verb used is u(yo/w (“make/place high”, i.e. “raise, lift up”):

    • John 3:14: “so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai]”—the comparison is with the ‘fiery’ copper/bronze serpent lifted by Moses (on a pole) which brought healing (from the burning snakebite) to all who looked at it (Num 21:9); the reference is primarily to Jesus’ death (on the stake/cross), but almost certainly has his resurrection and exaltation in mind as well (cf. below). This is described in terms of salvation: “…so that every one trusting in him might have (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”.
    • John 8:28: “when you (have) lifted high [u(yw/shte] the Son of Man…”—the formulation here (“when you…”) indicates more precisely Jesus being put to death (on the stake/cross), but again the subsequent exaltation is also in view. Throughout the discourse(s) of chapters 7-8, Jesus has been expressing, in various ways, his relationship to (and identification with) God the Father; here specifically Jesus states that when they have lifted up the Son of Man “…then you will know that I am, and I do nothing from myself, but just as the Father taught me, (so) I speak these things”. In verse 26, this is also described in terms of judgment, which is associated with the eschatological Son of Man figure of many of Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptics.
    • John 12:32: “and if I am lifted high [u(ywqw=] I will drag all (people/things) toward me”—this is related to the previous sayings (especially 3:14), as well as to the Son of Man saying in 12:23 (cf. below). The context is specifically that of Jesus’ impending death (and resurrection), again relating to the promise of salvation and eternal life (vv. 24-25, 27-28, 33, 36).
    • John 12:34: “you say that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high…”—this is part of a question to Jesus from the crowd, referring (in context) to verse 32, but more properly it cites the saying in 3:14 (above). There is a clear connection with the “Anointed (One)”, and expresses some confusion on the part of the people in the crowd as to just what Jesus means by the expression Son of Man—”…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

These are the only instances of the verb in John; for similar usage elsewhere, cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31.

2. The Son of Man “descending and ascending”—The verbs involved are katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (literally “step down” and “step up”), and are commonly used in the Gospel narrative (“go up” etc), especially a)nabai/nw for “going up” to Jerusalem. However, they take on an important theological/Christological connotation in John; apart from these Son of Man sayings, cf. Jn 1:32-33; 20:17, and the play on words in Jn 2:12-13; 6:16; 7:8, 10, 14; 10:1; 11:55; 12:20.

    • John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”—on this saying, cf. below.
    • John 3:13: “no one has stepped up into heaven if not the one stepping down out of heaven, the Son of Man”—this saying is obviously related to that of verse 14 (cf. above); it identifies/contrasts a person being raised/exalted to heavenly status with one who has (first) come down out of heaven. The implication is that Jesus is not simply a human being who has been (or will be) raised to a heavenly/divine position, but was previously in heaven (with God) before coming to earth. This, of course, is stated clearly in the Prologue of John (1:1ff) and indicated throughout the Gospel by Jesus; in precise theological terms, it refers to the (divine) pre-existence of Jesus. This is made even more definite in the manuscripts which read “…the Son of Man, the (one) being in Heaven”.
    • John 6:27: “work…for the food th(at) remains in the Life of Ages [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man will give to you”
      John 6:53: “if you do not consume the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not hold Life in yourself”
      John 6:62: “then (what) if you should behold the Son of Man stepping up [a)nabai/nonta] (to) where he was (at) the first?”
      These sayings are part of the great Bread of Life discourse in John 6:27-71, which I have discussed in considerable detail in prior articles. Especially noteworthy are the references to the bread that has come down (lit “stepped down”) from Heaven (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58), which in context clearly symbolizes Jesus (the Son of Man) who has stepped down from Heaven (i.e. the incarnation), and who will soon step back up into Heaven (back to the Father) from whence he came (v. 62). As in 3:13 (above), this indicates a pre-existent, heavenly status in relationship to God, and must be understood in light of the many references throughout the Gospel—especially in the discourses of chapters 13-17—where Jesus speaks of the Son coming from and going (back) to the Father. There is, of course, eucharistic symbolism in the bread—broken down into the dual image of eating his body and drinking his blood—which connects these sayings specifically with Jesus’ sacrificial death.

3. The Son of Man “glorified”—These sayings (using the verb doca/zw, “esteem, honor”, i.e. “give glory, glorify”) combine elements of categories 1 and 2 above, and also unite more precisely the two aspects of the Son of man being lifted up—(a) his death (on the cross), and (b) his exaltation (resurrection/ascension) and return to the Father:

    • John 12:23: “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified [docasqh=]”—as indicated above, the primary context in this passage is to Jesus’ upcoming death.
    • John 13:31: “Now the Son of Man is glorified [e)doca/sqh], and the Father is glorified in him”—this saying effectively begins the great Discourses of chapters 13-17, and is tied throughout to the idea that Son is about to go away: a dual-layered reference to his death and his return to the Father. Similarly, Jesus’ coming again (and the disciples’ seeing him again) should be understood on these two levels—i.e., (1) of his appearance after the resurrection, and (2) his future (and permanent) appearance, either in terms of the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete or Jesus’ own end-time/future return (or both).

For additional occurrences of the verb doca/zw in reference to Jesus (or the Son) being glorified, cf. John 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10.

There are only two other Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John:

    • John 5:26-27: “For (even) as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave the Son to hold life in himself; and he [i.e. the Father] gave him authority [e)cousi/a] to make judgment, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the Son of Man”
    • John 9:35: “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (other manuscripts read “…in the Son of God“)

Both of these are set in the context of healing miracles, and thus are perhaps closer to the Son of Man sayings which occur in the Synoptics (from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative) during the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The first saying draws on the on the figure of Son of Man as Divine/Heavenly Judge, familiar from a number of the Synoptic sayings (in Luke) we have been examining during this series. The second saying also has a reference to Jesus’ role in judgment (vv. 39-41), but overall the emphasis is on his healing/saving power.

Finally, we must mention John 1:51, which is almost certainly the most difficult of all these sayings:

“You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”

There have been many and varied attempts at interpreting this apparently ambiguous utterance by Jesus. Because of its important position as the first Son of Man saying in John, and because, in my view, it is meant (by the Gospel writer) as a specific image that frames/binds the start of Jesus’ ministry (chapter 2) with the end of it (his Passion/Resurrection/Exaltation), I will be commenting on it in detail in an upcoming note (during the three days of Easter).