Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Excursus (John 5 etc)

Having surveyed, however briefly, the different kinds of traditions in the Synoptics, and how they have been combined and arranged within the various Gospels—using just one segment of the narrative (from the Galilean period)—it now remains to compare how this may have taken place in the Gospel of John. The fact that the Fourth Gospel has inherited a distinct line of tradition, separate from the Synoptics, makes a comparative study extremely valuable. The presumption is that any similar or common traditions, between John and the Synoptics, would likely go back to a very early stage in the process of transmission—when the original historical traditions were (first) being preserved in written form. Such a comparison reveals numerous examples of tradition-units—sayings, miracle stories, and other episodes—in the Gospel of John which are similar (in certain respects) to those in the Synoptics, but have been set and developed within a very different narrative context. I have already discussed several of these in the earlier notes in this series on the Baptism of Jesus, the Calling of the Disciples, and a few other places as well.

Generally speaking, there is a fundamental difference between the way that traditions are handled in the Gospel of John. We have seen how the Synoptic narrative, especially in the Galilean period (i.e. Mk 1:14-8:30 par), has been built up by joining together various tradition-units. In the core Synoptic narrative, these involve: short narratives centered around a saying (or group of sayings), parables, miracle stories, and “encounter” episodes (often featured conflict/debate between Jesus and the religious authorities). In the previous two notes, we studied how these small units were joined together to form larger segments (about a chapter in length), and again, in the individual Gospels, into even larger sections or narrative divisions. The sequence of units and segments may be historical-chronological, but, more often than not, they appear to have been joined together by a thematic association. The many differences in order between the various units of the Synoptic Gospels prove decisively that they are not governed by a strict chronological arrangement.

The Gospel of John, by contrast, arranges its material—especially in the portion that corresponds (loosely) with the Galilean period in the Synoptics (2:1-7:1ff)—into extended Discourses by Jesus. These discourses utilize a dialogue format, similar to that found in Jewish and Greco-Roman literature, whereby there is an exchange between Jesus and various persons whom he encounters, or who see/hear the things he is saying and doing. There are discourses in each of chapters 3-6 of the Gospel. We may isolate three components of these discourses:

  • The setting, which is often based upon a particular traditional episode (miracle story, encounter story, etc)
  • The dialogue, which is sometimes limited to a simple two-part exchange, and is centered around a saying (statement or declaration) by Jesus
  • An exposition by Jesus, in which the true meaning of his statement is explained, at a deeper spiritual/theological level

Let us survey the four main discourses in chapters 3-6:

The setting (i.e. traditional episode)—

  • 3:1-2ff—Jesus and Nicodemus (encounter story)
  • 4:1-7ff—Jesus and the Samaritan woman (encounter story)
  • 5:1-14—Healing of the disabled man at the pool (miracle story)
  • 6:1-13—Feeding of the Five Thousand (miracle story)

The dialogue—

  • 3:2-5ff, 9-10ff—Jesus and Nicodemus (saying: verse 3)
  • 4:7-15ff—Jesus and the Samaritan woman (main saying: verse 10)
  • 5:15-18—Jesus and the “Jews” (saying: verse 17)
  • 6:25-34ff—Jesus and the “Jews” (central saying: verse 35)

The exposition—

  • 3:5-21, which is built into the dialogue to make three parts:
    —vv. 5-8, then after another question by Nicodemus (v. 9)
    —vv. 10-15, which is followed by a parallel exposition with a different emphasis:
    —vv. 16-21
  • 4:13-26, which covers a more detailed exchange (between Jesus and the woman):
    —vv. 13-14 (the woman’s response, etc, vv. 15-20)
    —vv. 21-24 (her response, v. 25)
    —v. 26 (Jesus’ final declaration)
  • 5:19-47, a single exposition, in two parts: vv. 19-30, 31-47 (cf. below)
  • 6:32-58, the most complex of the four discourses, to be discussed in an upcoming note (on the Feeding Miracle in the Gospel Tradition)

The discourses in chapters 5 and 6 are similar in that they derive from a miracle story similar to those we see in the Synoptic Gospels. I discussed the chapter 5 discourse in a recent note, but it is worth reviewing here.

The basic miracle story (the tradition) is found in verses 1-9a. Verse 9b introduces the motif of the reaction to the healing miracle by certain people (“Jews”) with a strict traditional-religious mindset. They are not identified specifically as Pharisees (compare 9:13ff), but the implication is that they are experts/authorities on Scripture and the Law; in the Synoptic tradition these ‘opponents’ of Jesus are typically referred to as “Scribes and Pharisees”. These two components—the miracle and the reaction—make up the traditional narrative in verses 1-14. As such, the episode resembles somewhat the healing miracle in Mark 2:1-12; the detail in verses 9b-14 also turns it into a “Sabbath controversy” episode, not unlike those in the Synoptics (Mark 3:1-6 par, and Luke 13:10-17; cf. also Lk 14:1-6, and the recent notes on these passages). However, it is clearly a Johannine tradition, and is narrated in the style of the Fourth Gospel. This can be seen by the close structural and thematic similarity between 5:1-14ff and 9:1-41.

Verses 15-16 are transitional, joining the tradition in vv. 1-14 with the saying (v. 17) and discourse which follows. As discussed in the earlier note, Jesus’ saying relates generally to the ancient tradition regarding the Sabbath, of God resting/ceasing from His work as Creator. The statement by Jesus makes two points—(1) the creative, live-giving work of God (the Father) continues to the present time, and (2) Jesus (the Son) does the same work as God. The reaction by the “Jews” is narrated in verse 18, after which comes the explanation of the saying by Jesus, where he expounds its true, deeper meaning. This exposition can be divided into two parts:

    • The Son performs the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
    • These works are a witness to the Son (and to the Father)—vv. 31-47

The first part (vv. 19-30) is also divided into two sections, like poetic strophes, in which the same theme and motifs and repeated:

    • The Son gives eternal/spiritual life to those who believe—vv. 19-24
    • The Son gives new life (resurrection) at the end time (to those who believe)—vv. 25-30

These two aspects of the resurrection power at work in Jesus will reappear in the great Lazarus episode of chapter 11—a more dramatic miracle story that is foreshadowed here.

This same sort of the development of traditional material can be seen in the “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. It has a much more complex (cyclical) structure, utilizing the dialogue format extensively in its narration. I have discussed this discourse in some detail in earlier notes, and will address it again in the next topic of this series—the tradition of the Miraculous Feeding—which begins in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Excursus (Lk 6:20-8:3 etc)

In the previous note, I presented the Synoptic narrative outline, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, along with a more detailed breakdown of the traditions in Mk 3:13-8:30, the second half of the Galilean period (1:14-8:30). Today, I want to look at how this material was developed by Luke and Matthew. In particular, I will focus on Luke’s treatment of the Synoptic/Markan traditions.

First, here again is the outline of Mk 3:13-6:13:

  • Calling the Twelve—3:13-19
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; 3 traditions joined together:
    3:20-21, 22-30, 31-35
  • Parables of Jesus—4:1-34, a distinct block (or sub-unit) of traditional material, organized as follows:
    • Introduction (vv. 1-2)
    • Parable of the Sower:
      —The Parable (vv. 3-9)
      —Saying to the Disciples (vv. 10-12)
      —Explanation of the Parable (vv. 13-20)
    • Three additional Parables (vv. 21-32)
    • Conclusion (vv. 33-34)
  • Miracle (Calming the Storm): Jesus with the Disciples together in the boat—4:35-41
  • Healing Miracles: 2 Episodes (3 miracles)—5:1-20, 21-43
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; episode at Nazareth—6:1-6a
  • Mission of the Twelve—6:6b-13

The green above indicates portions which Luke appears to have either re-worked or presents in a different order:

    • Luke reverses the order (6:12-16, 17-19) of the material corresponding to Mk 3:7-12, 13-19, reworking it to some extent
    • In 8:4-21, also the material corr. to Mk 3:31-35 & 4:1-25 is reversed and set in a different narrative context (omitting Mk 3:20-30)
    • Luke has a quite different (and expanded) version of the episode at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6a), and it is set in a different location—at the very beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Lk 4:16-30); cf. the earlier note on this passage

The dark red portions above indicate the Markan traditions which Luke has omitted, or otherwise does not include—Mk 3:20-30; 4:26-34.

Besides the ‘additions’ to the Nazareth episode (mentioned above), Luke has also included a considerable amount of material at a point corresponding to Mk 3:19. Here is the Lukan outline, with Markan parallels in parentheses:

From this point, Luke 8:22-9:6 follows Mk 4:35-5:43 + 6:6b-13. It is important to consider the additional Lukan material (6:20-8:3), which is comprised of six distinct units set in sequence. “Q” indicates the so-called Q-material, shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. “L” refers to traditions found only in Luke. There are three “L” traditions included here:

    • 7:11-17: a healing miracle story—the raising of the dead son of the widow at Nain.
    • 7:36-50: an encounter story (with a parable), involving the traditional motif of conflict/debate between Jesus and the Pharisees—the anointing of Jesus by the “sinful” woman. This tradition is quite similar to, but not identical with, Mk 14:3-19, and will be discussed in an upcoming note.
    • 8:1-3: a narrative summary, probably of Lukan composition, but containing traditional/historical information.

The traditions in 7:11-17 and 36-50 are very much in keeping with the episodes of the core Synoptic Tradition (cf. the previous note), though 7:36-50 shows definite signs of literary development. The “Q” material is rather different, and indicates that it has been derived from a separate (and early) line of tradition.

Many scholars believe that “Q” was an actual source document, comprised mainly of a collection of sayings by Jesus. These sayings, at an early point, were joined together, by way of thematic and “catchword” bonding, to form small units, which then could be collected/grouped into larger sections of sayings-material. “Q”, if it existed at all as a specific text, would have been made up of these larger sections, two of which are found at this point in Luke:

1. The “Sermon on the Plain” (Lk 6:20-49), which follows the basic outline of the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew (chapters 5-7). Despite the narrative setting in each Gospel, which presents the material as a single “sermon” given by Jesus, most (critical) commentators believe that it is better understood as a collection of sayings, parables, and teachings by Jesus, which represents the sort of instruction he gave regularly to his disciples. Matthew’s version contains considerably more material, some of which is found in a different location in Luke. Moreover, there are some significant differences in wording and emphasis, especially in the Beatitudes (cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes for more detail). Here is a breakdown of the Lukan “sermon”:

Luke and Matthew have each arranged several distinct units of “Q” material (sayings and parables, etc) to form a sermon or discourse. Notably, each Gospel writer (independently) has set this in the context of Jesus gathering his disciples together and instructing them (Matt 4:18ff; 5:1-2; Luke 6:12-16, 17)—though in each Gospel it occurs at a slightly different point in the narrative.

2. Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35). I have discussed this section briefly in the earlier notes of this series on the Baptism of Jesus. Again, while it would seem that the material in vv. 18-35 is all part of a single discourse by Jesus, this more likely reflects the thematic joining of a number of different traditions during the (early) process of collection and transmission. Clearly, the common theme involved is John the Baptist and his relation to Jesus. In my view, this is a mark of very early historical tradition, as the interest in John the Baptist soon faded among Christians in the New Testament period. There is less variation between the versions of this material in Matthew and Luke, than for the earlier “Sermon” (cf. above); both Gospels preserve it as a distinct block of tradition. Here is how it appears in Luke:

It is worth noting the portions in Matthew’s version which are not found in Luke (or occur in a different location):

Interestingly, while this Q-material in Luke follows generally after Jesus’ calling the Twelve (6:12-16) and the “Sermon” (6:20-49), in Matthew it occurs at a different (though similar) point in the narrative. The calling and subsequent mission of the Twelve is narrated together (Matt 10:1-5f), followed by an entirely separate collection of instruction (or “sermon”) for the disciples (10:5-42).

This brief, though detailed, analysis demonstrates the creative work of each Gospel writer in selecting, adapting, and arranging traditional material. Many of the themes and contours of the narrative are the same in each Gospel, but the overall presentation and thematic structure differs considerably. This is all the more true when we consider how the (historical) traditions have been developed and arranged in the Gospel of John. I will be examining this in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 3 (Mt 12:9-14; Lk 13:10-17; 14:1-6)

Matthew 12:9-14 (continued)

For the introduction to Matt 12:9-14 and the Sabbath Controversy episode (Mk 3:1-6 par), see the previous note. I mentioned there the main difference between Matthew’s version and that in Mark/Luke (which we may call the basic Synoptic version). To illustrate the difference, let us compare Matt 12:10b-12 with Mark 3:2-4.

Point 1—Mk 3:2 / Matt 12:10b

Mark:
“And they [i.e. the Pharisees] watched alongside of him (to see) if he will heal [i.e. work healing] on (one of) the Sabbath (day)s, (so) that they might make a public (charge/complaint) against him”

Matthew:
“And they questioned him about (it), saying, ‘If it is [i.e. is it] permitted to heal [i.e. work healing] on the Sabbath (days)?’ (so) that they might make a public (charge/complaint) against him”

Instead of the Pharisees simply watching Jesus carefully, in Matthew’s version they specifically ask him the question whether it is permitted to heal someone on the Sabbath. This runs contrary to Luke’s version (6:8), in which Jesus responds to them by knowing their thoughts—i.e. without their saying or asking him anything.

Point 2—Matt 12:11-12

Between verses 10 and 13, corresponding to a point between Mk 3:2 and 3, Matthew includes (or ‘inserts’) an illustration and saying which effectively answers the Pharisees question in v. 10b. This is not in the Synoptic tradition of Mark/Luke. It would appear to represent a separate tradition. This might explain the difference between verse 10b and Mk 3:2 as well. In order to include the saying here, the Gospel writer likely modified the traditional context of Mk 3:2ff par, setting it as a response to a question by the Pharisees. As it happens, there is a parallel to Matt 12:10b-12 in the Gospel of Luke, in a similar episode, but in a different location.

Luke 14:1-6

Here we find another healing story, again on the Sabbath, and likewise involving the healing of a sick/disabled man (in the presence of Pharisees). This time, however, the episode is not set in the synagogue, but in the house of a leading Pharisee (v. 1). The man does not have a withered hand, but is said to suffer from a “watery appearance” (u(drwpiko/$)—i.e. “dropsy”, an excess of fluid due to a disease in the inner organs (kidneys, etc). Note first the similarities with the earlier (Synoptic) episode:

    • The Sabbath setting and the gathering of Scribes/Pharisees (vv. 1-2; 6:6-7a)
    • The presence of the sick/disabled man (v. 2; 6:6a, 8)
    • The question by Jesus whether it is permitted to heal on the Sabbath (v. 3; 6:9)
    • Their silence to his question (v. 4a, also 6; implied in the earlier episode, cf. Mk 3:4)
    • The healing of the man which follows (v. 4b; 6:10)
    • A concluding reaction by the Pharisees, showing their inability to cope with Jesus’ teaching and authority (v. 6; 6:11)

The basic outline is virtually the same, though specific details differ. The main difference is in the example Jesus gives in verse 5, which is very close to that of Matt 12:11 (set in the earlier healing episode); compare:

Matthew:
“What one is (there) out of [i.e. among] you that (if he) will hold [i.e. possess] a sheep, and this one should fall in a deep (hole) on (one of) the Sabbath (day)s, will he not grab hold of it (firmly) and raise it (out)?”

Luke:
“What (one) of you, (if) a son or (even) an ox will fall into a (deep) well, will he not also straight away pull him/it out on the Sabbath day?”
Note: Some witnesses read “donkey” (o&no$) instead of “son” (ui(o/$)

The wording is different, but the basic example (even the form of it) is much the same. Just as interesting is the similarity between the question of Jesus to the Pharisees in verse 3, as it is quite close in form to the question by the Pharisees to Jesus in Matt 12:10b. Again, let us compare the two:

Matthew:
e&cestin toi=$ sa/bbasin qerapeu=sai;
“is it allowed to heal on the Sabbath days?”

Luke:
e&cestin tw=| sabba/tw| qerapeu=sai h* ou&;
“is it allowed to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

Both of these points of similarity strongly indicate that Matthew has combined two distinct (separate) traditions into one episode, while Luke has retained them both as separate episodes. To complicate matters further, the Gospel of Luke contains a third Sabbath healing episode, which also has a number of points in common (with the other two).

Luke 13:10-17

In Lk 13:10-17 we find a miracle story which has many points in common with that in 6:6-11 par. Again Jesus is in a synagogue (teaching, in Luke’s version), on a Sabbath day, with a crippled person in attendance. This time it is a disabled woman, her body stooped and bent over, unable to straighten herself (v. 11). After Jesus heals her (“Woman, you are loosed from your disability”, v. 12), it is the leader of the synagogue who objects to Jesus performing this work on the Sabbath, framing the matter in traditional religious terms (v. 14). Jesus responds with an example that has a general similarity to the one in 14:5 (also Matt 12:11, cf. above):

“Does not each one of you, on the Sabbath, loose his ox or his donkey from the feeding-trough and lead it away to give it (a) drink?” (v. 15)

Then, just as in the earlier healing episode (in Matt 12:12), Jesus applies the illustration directly to the person who is healed (on the Sabbath). Each response brings home vividly the point of Jesus’ teaching—that care for human need takes priority over the (strict) observance of the Sabbath regulation. The statement in Matt 12:12 reads:

“How much then does (this) carry through (for) a man (more) than a sheep! So too is it allowed (for us) to do well [i.e. good] on the Sabbath days.”

In Luke 13:16, despite deriving from a different tradition, Jesus’ words have much the same sentiment:

“And this (woman), being a daughter of Abraham, whom the Satan has bound—see! (for) eighteen years—is it not necessary (for her) to be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

It is easy to see, I think, from these examples, how traditions, with similar details and thematic points of emphasis, could be joined together and combined within the Gospel Tradition. There were doubtless many stories—of healing miracles, and Sabbath controversy scenes, etc—which did not come down to us, but which may have been known to the Gospel writers at the time. Luke records three such traditions, all quite similar in many ways, and Matthew may have combined two of them into a single account, as I have documented above. If added confirmation of this dynamic were needed, one could point to yet another Sabbath healing episode—quite apart from the Synoptic tradition—from the Gospel of John. This example, which I will discuss in the next note, also demonstrates a further development of the original (historical) tradition, such as we often see in the Fourth Gospel.

The Damascus Document, generally associated with the Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), contains an example quite similar to the one used by Jesus in Matthew 12:11f (and Luke 14:5). Only it makes the opposite point:

“Let no one assist a beast in giving birth on the Sabbath day. Even if it drops (its newborn) into a cistern or into a pit, one is not to raise it up on the Sabbath” (CD 11:13-14) [translation by J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke AB 28a, p. 1040]

This strict interpretation of the Sabbath law, presumably accepted by the Qumran Community, almost directly contradicts the attitude assumed by the saying of Jesus.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 3 (Mk 3:1-6; Mt 12:9-14; Lk 6:6-11)

Mark 3:1-6 par—Sabbath Controversy #2

Today’s note looks at the second of two “Sabbath Controversy” episodes in the Synoptic Gospels (see the previous note for the first, Mark 2:23-28 par). These two traditions share a common theme, which doubtless explains why they were joined together in the core Synoptic Tradition. The theme they share is a contrast between a strict (one may say over-strict) observance of the Law (i.e. the Sabbath regulations) and the care for human needs. It has been noted by many commentators that no definite violation of the Sabbath was made by Jesus himself in either episode; certainly the healing in Mk 3:1-6 would not qualify as “work” that breaks the Sabbath Law. Even the act of the disciples plucking and eating grain would be a borderline transgression, by any manner of interpretation. This has caused many critical commentators to question the historicity/factuality of the episodes; one scholar refers to the “air of artificiality” and “unrealistic setting” of the scenes (Sanders, p. 265). For more on these historical-critical questions, and on the relevant Torah passages (and their interpretation), cf. my earlier series “Jesus and the Law“, especially the two articles on the Sabbath Controversies.

Once again, I begin the study with the Gospel of Mark, as representing, more or less, the basic Synoptic tradition. The narrative fits the Gospel pattern of many of the healing miracle stories; cf. the earlier episode in 2:1-12 for an immediate (and particularly relevant) example. The outline is as follows:

  • The narrative setting, told very simply (v. 1)—Jesus comes into a synagogue, and there is a man in attendance with a “dried out” (i.e. withered) hand. It is clearly a Sabbath day, though this is not indicated (in Mark) until verse 2.
  • The point of tension and conflict is stated in verse 2: “And they kept (watch) alongside him (to see) if he will work healing on (one of) the Sabbath (day)s…” For the reader who begins with chapter 3 here, it would not be clear who “they” are, but it certainly must be understood, in the traditional/literary context, as referring to the same (or some of the same) Pharisees mentioned in 2:24ff (see also v. 6). Their purpose for watching was “(so) that they might bring down a public (charge/complaint) against him”—i.e. for violating the Sabbath law. There is a similar sort of reaction by the “Writers” (i.e. the literate experts on Scripture and the Torah), often identified with Pharisees, against Jesus in the earlier miracle episode (2:7).
  • Verses 3-5—This will be discussed in more detail below, but here is the outline of the central scene:
    • Jesus calls to the sick man—”Stand in the middle” (v. 3)
    • Jesus’ question (to his opponents), i.e. the saying (vv. 4-5a)
      —Their reaction, keeping silent (v. 4b)
      —Jesus’ reaction to them (v. 5a)
    • Jesus calls to the sick man—”Stretch out (your) hand” (v. 5b)
      And as the man obeys, his hand is restored, i.e. made as it was before.
  • Narrative conclusion—the Pharisees “straightaway” (i.e. right away) take counsel together with certain Herodians to “destroy” Jesus. In the narrative context, their reaction is not merely due to this one episode, but represents the culmination of all that has occurred from 2:1 through 3:5, the result of growing tension and opposition to Jesus.

Two aspects of Mark’s account are worth considering. The first is the way Jesus’ reaction is narrated, both before and after the central question. Though not specifically stated, Jesus apparently recognizes their thoughts and intent (see 2:6-8a), and takes the initiative, presenting the challenging question to them. This takes place in the midst of his act of healing (right before it), with the man to be healed in the center of the stage; again this may be compared with the earlier miracle scene (2:8-9). His reaction after the healing is described vividly:

“And looking around at them with anger, and saddened with them upon [i.e. at/by] the hardness of their heart…” (v. 5a)

It is a mixture of anger and sadness he feels toward these religious leaders, the reason for which can be seen in their response (silence) to his question (v. 4)—the question being second aspect to be considered:

“Is it allowed (for us) on the Sabbath (day)s to do good or to do ill, to save a soul [i.e. life] or to kill (it) off?”

On the verb translated here as “allowed” (e&cesti), see the previous note. This saying (question) by Jesus is the central element of the narrative; and it cuts to the point of the episode. While the Pharisees were watching to see if Jesus might (technically) violate the Sabbath law by doing work (i.e. any work), his question emphasizes rather the kind of work involved—doing good or ill, saving or killing. The implication is that any work that is good or saves/preserves life does not violate the Sabbath. That there was considerable debate regarding what did (and did not) constitute “work” on the Sabbath is seen from subsequent Rabbinic tradition; but generally speaking, if human life and safety was involved, this situation would override the Sabbath restriction (m. Yoma 8:6; Strack-Billerbeck I.622-30, cf. Fitzmyer, p. 607).

Before we can determine just how this episode was understood within the Gospel Tradition, it is necessary to examine how it may have developed in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. I begin with Luke’s account (6:6-11), as it more or less follows the Markan narrative.

Luke 6:6-11

To the extent that Luke has inherited a (Synoptic) tradition corresponding to Mk 3:1-6, the ‘additions’ are limited to details which enhance, and make more vivid (and immediate), the dramatic elements of the scene:

    • V. 6—Luke specifies that this episode took place “on a different Sabbath” (i.e. from that of the previous episode in 6:1-5); Mark’s account could be read as though the two scenes took place on the same day. Luke mentions that Jesus entered the synagogue to teach (for this Lukan emphasis, cf. 4:15, 31-32; 5:17; 10:39; 13:10, etc). He also adds the detail that it was the man’s right hand that was withered.
    • V. 7—The ones watching Jesus are specified as “Writers” (i.e. the literate legal/Scriptural experts) and Pharisees—”Scribes and Pharisees”, often joined together in the Gospel Tradition, though it is not clear if this represents a single group with two attributes (hendiadys) or two separate groups.
    • V. 8—Luke specifies what has to be inferred in Mark’s narrative, that Jesus “had seen [i.e. knew] their thoughts”. The word usually rendered “thoughts” (pl. of Greek dialogismo/$), from the verb dialogi/zomai, essentially means the gathering of things through one’s mind (or heart); the words are used fairly often by Luke. The scene is further made more dramatic by Jesus directing the man to “rise and stand in the middle”.
    • V. 9—Jesus begins his question in a more formal fashion: “I (will) question you about (it/this)…” Otherwise, the Lukan version of the question is quite close to that of Mark (3:4, above), with only slight differences in vocabulary and syntax.
    • V. 10—Interestingly, Luke apparently does not include what is perhaps the most dramatic detail in Mark’s account—the reaction of Jesus (though it is preserved variously in some MSS). The italicized portion of Mk 3:5a represents what is in v. 10a of Luke’s narrative:
      And looking around at [Lk adds all of] them with anger, and saddened with them upon [i.e. at/by] the hardness of their heart, he says/said to the man [Lk to him]…”
    • V. 11—Luke’s version of the Pharisees’ climactic reaction to Jesus is more direct and generalized than in Mark: “And they were filled with mindless (anger) and spoke throughout toward [i.e. with] (one) another (about) what they might do to Jesus”. There is no specific mention here of wanting to “destroy” Jesus (Mk 3:6).
Matthew 12:9-14

When we turn to Matthew’s version of the scene, we find again the same core Synoptic tradition; however, it appears to have been modified at its central point. Matthew shares the basic outline with Mark/Luke; in fact, the concluding verses (13-14) are very close to Mk 3:5b-6. The remainder of the episode, however, differs in two major ways:

    1. The narrative introduction is much simpler (compare with Mk 3:1-2 par); verses 9-10a read:
      “And…he came into their synagogue, and see—a man (was there) having a dry/withered hand.”
    2. The central section (vv. 10b-12) is quite different from the account in Mark/Luke. Because this portion has similarities with two different episodes in Luke (13:10-17; 14:1-6), it will be necessary to discuss this in some detail in the next note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981). Those marked “Sanders” are to E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 3 (Mk 2:23-28; Mt 12:1-8; Lk 6:1-5)

Mark 2:23-28 par—Sabbath Controversy #1

Following the method I have adopted for this series, I begin with the Gospel of Mark, as generally representing the basic Synoptic tradition. However, in this instance, there are at least two points where a distinct Markan addition may be involved. For the context of this episode within the Gospel narrative, cf. the previous note.

The structure of the scene is reasonably simple and straightforward:

    • The narrative setting and action—the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath (v. 23)
    • Reaction by certain Pharisees (v. 24)
    • Jesus’ answer to them—an example from Scripture (vv. 25-26)
    • Saying(s) of Jesus (vv. 27-28)

The saying (or pair of saying) in verses 27-28 provides the central significance of the scene and characterizes it as a pronouncement episode (the earlier scene in vv. 13-17 is another such episode). Let us briefly examine each of the four components in vv. 23-28:

Verse 23—The scene is set: “And it came to be (that)….”. Jesus and his disciples are traveling along, and, as they make their way through some fields, the disciples begin to pluck the heads of grain from the stalks. The centrality of the Sabbath setting is established by the relative emphatic position of the phrase “on (one of) the Shabbat (day)s” toward the beginning of the verse. The plural usage is fairly common, indicating the regularity of the day, as marking each week of the year.

Verse 24—Some Pharisees react with disapproval at the disciples’ behavior. The narrative leads one to imagine that they are right there standing in the fields watching; but it more plausibly represents the type of reaction that Jesus’ traditional-religious opponents (i.e. among the Pharisees) had to the (regular) behavior of he and his disciples. Their question to Jesus is “For what [i.e. why] do (your followers) do on the Sabbath (day)s th(at) which is not allowed?” The word translated “allowed” here is the verb e&cesti, which is difficult to render into English literally, but fundamentally refers to something which comes out of (e)c) a person—i.e. that one has the ability to do. From this is developed the idea of a person’s freedom to do something, and, by extension, that there are no obstacles against doing it—i.e. one is allowed or permitted to do it. Here, in the context of the Old Testament Law (Torah) this means what the Law permits (or does not permit). For the background to the Sabbath observance involved in this passage (cf. Exod 34:21, etc), consult my earlier discussion on the Sabbath controversy episodes in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

Verses 25-26—In response, Jesus cites an example from Scripture, from the life of David (1 Sam 21:1-6). Even though, in the context of that passage, the Temple had not yet been built, and the sanctuary (at the time) was located at the site of Nob, it is referred to as the “house of God” (o( oi@ko$ tou= qeou=), which could be applied easily enough to the Jerusalem Temple, as we see in Matthew’s version (below). The basic message is clear enough: caring for human need (in this case, hunger) takes precedence over religious regulations (i.e. the Temple ritual, cf. Lev 24:5-9).

Verses 27-28—The episode culminates with a saying by Jesus (or, possibly, a pair of sayings). It is not entirely clear whether the Gospel here has joined together separate sayings by Jesus, or whether they entered into the tradition originally as a dual-saying. In my view, the latter is more likely. Here is the two-fold saying as it reads in Mark:

“The Shabbat {Sabbath} (day) is through [i.e. because of] the man, and not the man through the Shabbat (day)”
“So too the S/son of M/man is L/lord also of the Shabbat (day)”

The saying in verse 27 is relatively straightforward, though commentators have not always grasped the full consequence of it. Jesus essentially reverses the original sense of the Sabbath Law (and tradition)—it was instituted to commemorate God ceasing (or “resting”) from His work of Creation (Exod 20:8-11, etc). Yet Jesus states that it was put in place “through [dia] man”—that is, on behalf of, for the purpose and benefit of, human beings. This, of course, is also part of the basic Sabbath Law (Exod 16:23-29, etc). But in this context—with the emphasis on the care and concern for the needs of human beings—the Sabbath regulation takes on a humanitarian, rather than ritual, purpose. Given the thrust of verse 27, it is possible that v. 28 is parallel to it. In the Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) idiom, the expression “son of man” is often synonymous with “man”, the two being set as parallel frequently in Hebrew poetry, i.e. “man…son of man…” (Num 23:19; Job 16:21; Psalm 8:4; Isa 51:12, et al). In such instances, it refers to humankind generally. If this is the sense in which Jesus uses it here, then the dual saying would be understood something like:

“The Sabbath was put in place for man, not man for the Sabbath
Even so, is man the lord of the Sabbath!”

In other sayings and situations, however, Jesus uses the expression “son of man” in a different sense—(1) in reference to himself, both as a human being, and/or as the Chosen One of God, and (2) specifically identifying himself as the divine/heavenly representative of God (“the Son of Man”) who will appear at the end-time Judgment. For more on this subject, cf. the article in my series “Yeshua the Anointed”. There can be little doubt that Matthew and Luke understood the expression here as a self-title of Jesus (cf. below).

Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5

This brings us to the tradition as it appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both Gospels generally follow the Markan narrative, with three notable differences:

    • They refer to the disciples plucking the heads of grain and eating (Matt 12:1; Lk 6:1) them. This has to be inferred from the narrative in Mark, but the detail places greater emphasis on the theme of caring for human needs (i.e. hunger)—indeed, Matthew specifically mentions that the disciples were hungry.
    • They each omit, or otherwise do not include, any mention of the (High) Priest who served at Nob (12:3f; 6:3f). Most critical commentators, who hold that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, believe that the reference was left out intentionally, since mention of Abiathar as the Priest would seem to represent an inaccuracy by Mark (consult the standard Commentaries for more on this point). It is less likely to be a Markan addition to the core Synoptic tradition, but that is still a possibility; even an early scribal addition or gloss might be considered.
    • Neither Matthew nor Luke has the saying corresponding to Mk 2:27.

This last detail is especially significant, since the lack of any reference to the first saying (about man) effectively removes the possibility that the expression “son of man” is meant in the generic sense in the second saying (12:8; 6:5, cf. above). In Matthew and Luke, almost certainly, it is understood as a (self-)title of Jesus and should be translated so—i.e., “Son of Man”. The saying then takes on a different emphasis; Jesus is identifying himself as the “Lord of the Sabbath”. The implication of this is clear enough—as the Lord over the Sabbath, Jesus’ words and actions, his ministry and personal presence, take precedence over the Sabbath laws. Whether or not the Pharisees properly interpret the regulations ultimately is beside the point; the emphasis is on Jesus’ authority over the Sabbath.

If there were any doubt in this regard, Matthew’s version makes it abundantly clear, by way of the ‘additions’ which are found in verses 5-7. These are three-fold:

    1. A second example from Scripture involving the Priesthood (v. 5), which makes the point in a different manner—the priests who work in the Temple on the Sabbath day are not guilty of violating the Sabbath.
    2. A saying involving the Temple (v. 6): “(one) greater than the Temple is here”. Compare the form of similar sayings (from the so-called “Q” material) in Matt 11:11; 12:41-42 par. Jesus takes the point a step further by essentially declaring himself to be greater than the Temple. The implication, in light of the example in v. 5, is that those who work in his service (i.e. his disciples) on the Sabbath do not violate it. It is but a small step to extend this principle to the entire Temple ritual, and, indeed, the Law (Torah) as a whole. On this, see the detailed discussions in the series “Jesus and the Law“.
    3. A citation from Hosea 6:6—(in Greek) “I wish (for) mercy, not (ritual) slaughter [i.e. sacrifice]”. Jesus quotes this same verse earlier (Matt 9:13 par), part of the core Synoptic tradition. Here it is even more pointed, in relationship to observance of the Law—”If you had known what (this) is [i.e. what the Scripture means]…you would not have brought down ju(dgment) (on) the (one)s (who are) without cause (of guilt)!” I.e., human beings (and, especially, Jesus’ own followers) who care for ordinary needs through ‘work’ on the Sabbath (even if it technically violates the regulations) are not guilty of any such violation.

Verse 5 would be categorized as “M” material (i.e. a tradition found only in Matthew); most likely this is so for the sayings in v. 6 and 7 as well, but these are harder to judge, on critical grounds. Regardless of the source of these traditions, their presence in Matthew’s version evinces an unmistakable development of the tradition. His version of the episode goes beyond the Markan and Lukan accounts, giving it a Christological resonance lacking in the other versions. Not only is Jesus the Son of Man and Lord of the Sabbath—but his authority is greater than even the Law and the Temple itself.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 3 (Mk 2:23-3:6 etc)

Mark 2:23-3:6 (& par)

The next topic in this study on the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry, as recorded in the Gospel Tradition (cf. Introduction), looks at the “Sabbath Controversy” episodes. There are two main traditions recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, which were joined together, it would seem, at a relatively early point, since they are found in sequence in Mark 2:23-3:6 par. It presumably represents an example of thematic or “catchword” bonding—two traditions, each involving observance of the Sabbath, become linked together. The association is primarily thematic, rather than chronological. The two traditions are:

  1. The episode of Jesus’ disciples gathering (and eating) grain in a field on the Sabbath (Mk 2:23-28)
  2. The healing of a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Mk 3:1-6)

These two episodes are actually part of a larger sequence (of five) showing the reaction of the religious authorities (i.e. Pharisees and teachers/experts on the Law [and Scripture]) to Jesus, and depicting their (growing) opposition toward him. The sequence, as it appears in the Synoptic (Markan) narrative, makes up a distinctive block of traditions for the Galilean period, and can be arranged into flanking pairs:

  • Healing miracle (2:1-12)
    • Jesus and the disciples eating with “sinners” (2:13-17)
      • Question regarding fasting (2:18-22)
    • The disciples plucking/eating grain on the Sabbath (2:23-28)
  • Healing miracle on the Sabbath (3:1-6)

At the conclusion (3:6), in a climactic point of the narrative, the Pharisees start making plans to “destroy” Jesus.

The two miracle episodes show a similar structure, centered around an illustrative teaching by Jesus (2:8b-10; 3:4); likewise the two episodes in 2:13-17, 23-28 are both pronouncement scenes, which lead into a fundamental declaration by Jesus (vv. 17, 27-28). The central episode of 2:18-22, which perhaps most clearly shows the tension between Jesus and the religious mindset of the Pharisees, features a pair of proverbial teachings, functioning almost as short illustrative parables (vv. 19-20, 21-22). The five episodes may also be grouped in a different way, representing a thematic progression:

  • Jesus and sin/sinners (2:1-12, 13-17)—the forgiveness of sin (by Jesus)
  • Jesus and religious tradition (2:18-22)—the newness of Jesus’ teaching
  • Jesus and the Law (Sabbath) (2:23-28; 3:1-6)—the priority of Jesus and his mission

Each theme has in common the basic idea that Jesus’ own (personal) authority and presence (including his ministry work) supersedes the established traditional/religious forms governing Israelite and Jewish society.

Matthew’s Gospel has the same block of five episodes, but organizes them differently, separating the first three (9:2-8, 9-13, 14-17) from the last two (12:1-8, 9-14). In so doing, the author has rearranged the material and has included various other traditions (from the so-called “Q” and “M” material). The main organizing principle involves a division into two sections, each of which begins with Jesus gathering his disciples (5:1; 10:1-4) and providing instruction to them, in the form of a block of teaching (a kind of “sermon” in the literary context)—5:2-7:27 and 10:5-42, respectively. After this instruction, each section narrates episodes from the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry. The first section has a more clearly defined structure, with three groups of miracle stories (8:1-17; 8:23-9:8; 9:18-34) separated by teaching involving Jesus’ disciples and/or the theme of discipleship (8:18-22; 9:9-17). The second section appears to be structured more loosely, but the general emphasis is on the reaction of people to Jesus’ ministry. The Sabbath controversy episodes come from the second section of the Galilean period in Matthew (12:1-14).

Luke, by contrast, retains the Synoptic/Markan sequence and order of the five episodes, and also their general position in the narrative—Lk 5:17-6:11. However, as we shall see, Luke also includes two other episodes (13:10-17; 14:1-6) which are parallel to the Sabbath healing tradition of 6:6-11. This will be discussed in terms of the development of the core Synoptic tradition (Mk 3:1-6 par).

The next note will examine the first of the Sabbath controversy episodes—the scene of the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath.

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

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

Luke 4:16-30

(See also my earlier study on this passage)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 6:42

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

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

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

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Mk 6:1-6)

The second primary tradition in the Gospels related to Jesus’ family and relatives is the episode at Nazareth, recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels—Mark 6:1-6a, Matthew 13:53-58, and Luke 4:16-30. There are a number of unique elements in Luke’s account, and it occurs in a different location—at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. These differences have led some traditional-conservative commentators to posit two separate events—that is, two visits to Nazareth, harmonizing the chronology of Luke with Mark/Matthew. However, there is no real basis in the text for such a harmonization; the Gospel writers each know of only one such visit by Jesus to his home town. The basic similarity of the episode makes it all but certain that the Synoptic accounts derive from a single historical tradition. Even though, at the historical level, Jesus conceivably could have made any number of trips back to Nazareth, the Synoptic Gospels record just one visit. I begin by looking at the core (Synoptic) narrative regarding this episode, as found in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 6:1-6a

The episode recorded in Mk 6:1-6a is rather straightforward:

  • V. 1—Narrative introduction, with two important details:
    (a) “he comes into his father(‘s) land” (i.e. his home territory and village)
    (b) “his learners [i.e. disciples] (are) follow(ing) him”
  • V. 2a—Jesus begins to teach in the Synagogue, and the people who hear him are amazed (lit. “laid out [flat]”)
  • Vv. 2b-3—A summary of the people’s reaction(s), presented as their words, in two parts:
    (1) “From where (did) these things (come) to this (man)?”—”these things” are clarified:
    —”What (is) th(is) wisdom given to this (man)?”
    —”(How is it) these (kind)s of powerful deeds come to be through his hands?”
    (2) “Isn’t this the craftsman [i.e. carpenter], the son of Maryam…?”
    With the concluding narrative statement, “And they were tripped up in [i.e. by] him”
  • V. 4—Saying by Jesus: “A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land…”
  • Vv. 5-6a—Narrative conclusion emphasizing two points:
    (a) Jesus was only able to perform a few healing miracles there, and
    (b) “and he wondered through [i.e. at, because of] their lack of trust”

We see referenced here the two main components of Jesus’ ministry—teaching/preaching and performing healing miracles—which are described and narrated throughout the Galilean period in the Synoptic Tradition. This was depicted, in seminal form, in the early episode of Mk 1:21-28 par, which also happens to take place at a local Synagogue (sunagwgh/, lit. a place where people “are brought [or come] together”). These same two aspects are also central to the townspeople’s initial reaction of amazement—the wisdom (i.e. of his teaching, v. 2a) and his powerful deeds (miracles).

The second part of the people’s reaction is significant as it mentions the names of Jesus’ family:

    • his mother Maryam (i.e. Mary)—”is this not the son of Maryam?”
    • four of his brothers—”the brother of…”—listed by name:
      (1) Ya’aqob (Jacob/James), (2) Yoseph (Joseph/Joses), (3) Yehuda (Juda[s]), and (4) Shim’on (Simon)
    • his sisters, mentioned generally—”are not his sisters here toward [i.e. with] us?”

Apart from Mary and Jacob/James (to be discussed in an upcoming note), very little is known of Jesus’ family. There has been much (rather idle) speculation and debate regarding whether Jesus’ “brothers” (and sisters) were full blood brothers, half-brothers, or perhaps even cousins. Much of this has been due to traditional doctrine(s) related to the veneration of Mary and a belief in her perpetual virginity (virginitas post partum, after giving birth [to Jesus]). Most Protestants have little problem with the idea that Joseph and Mary had other children together. Joseph himself is not mentioned here, but Jesus is referred to as “the craftsman/carpenter” (some witnesses read “the son of the craftsman/carpenter”, as in Matt 13:55), and, according to early Christian tradition, Joseph was a carpenter. In the Lukan version of this scene (4:22, cf. the next note), Jesus is called son of Joseph, as also in Jn 6:42. Here, Mk 6:3 (with the Matthean parallel) is the only mention of Mary by name in the Synoptic Gospels outside of the Infancy narratives. It is the people of Nazareth in general, rather than Jesus’ relatives specifically, who exhibit lack of belief/trust in him. We do not know the attitude of his family toward him from this particular account (cp. Mark 3:20-35 par, discussed in an earlier note).

What of the significance of this episode within the narrative context of the Markan Gospel? Its proximity to the subsequent mission of the Twelve (vv. 6b-13) is surely important. The two scenes are juxtaposed with one another, just as the episode(s) in 3:20-35 are with the calling of the Twelve in 3:13-19. The lack of faith/trust exhibited by Jesus’ relatives and hometown acquaintances is contrasted with that of his chosen (and close/faithful) followers. Consider the structure:

  • Calling of the Twelve—with authority to proclaim (the coming Kingdom) and work healing (exorcism) miracles (3:13-19)
    • The response of his relatives/acquaintances to his miracles, etc (3:20-35)
      Jesus’ Galilean ministry: teaching (4:1-34) and miracles (4:35-5:43)
    • The response of his hometown to his miracles, etc (6:1-6a)
  • Mission of the Twelve—authority to preach and work healing (exorcism) miracles (6:6b-13)

When we turn to the (proverbial) saying of Jesus in verse 4

“A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land and among his relatives [lit. those b(orn) together with (him)] and in his (own) house!”

a significant point to note is that he refers to himself as a prophet. This association, in the context of his ministry activity—as one who proclaims the Kingdom and works miracles—will be developed further in Luke’s version of this scene. Jesus as a prophet, in connection with his identity the Anointed One (Messiah) of God, will feature prominently in two of the scenes (the first and last) which make up the remainder of the Galilean ministry period in Mark’s narrative—Mk 6:14-15ff and 8:27-30.

Matthew 13:53-58

Matthew’s account follows that of Mark very closely. The differences are slight, and there is no evidence of any “Q” material being included—i.e. no sayings or details shared by Luke but not found in Mark. Overall the narrative is a bit simpler and smoother compared with Mark’s version. Here, then, we have a dual presentation of what I would call the core Synoptic tradition. Luke’s version of the scene, on the other hand, differs considerably at several points, which I will be discussing in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Matt 19:28; Acts 1:6ff)

In the previous note, I discussed the saying of Jesus in Matthew 19:28, with the parallel (or similar) saying in Luke 22:28-30, and the connection between the Twelve Disciples and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. There has been some question, among critical commentators, as to whether this particular association goes back to Jesus’ own words, reflecting something of his original purpose in designating the Twelve. On entirely objective grounds, there is reasonably strong evidence that it does. I would point to the following arguments:

    • An emphasis on the twelve tribes of Israel does not appear to have been especially prominent in early Christianity, all the more so as the faith spread into the Greco-Roman (Gentile) world. The few references in the New Testament come clearly from an (early) Jewish Christian context (Acts 26:7; James 1:1; cf. also Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5) or draw upon Old Testament tradition (Rev 7:4-8). The parallel in Rev 21:12ff will be discussed in the next note.
    • The very exclusiveness indicated by the association—Disciples/Israel—suggests a time-frame prior to the Gentile mission (i.e. prior to c. 45-50 A.D.). An early Christian formulation would likely reflect the inclusion of the Gentiles, taking it into account in some way.
    • The tradition regarding the Twelve is extremely early, being attested in multiple strands of tradition. This indicates that it was already firmly established well before 50 A.D.
    • The version of the saying in Matt 19:28 takes no account whatever of Judas’ betrayal, as the parallel in Luke clearly does (cf. also Jn 6:67-71). If the Lukan version of this saying has been modified in its context, eliminating the specific reference to twelve disciples (in light of Judas’ betrayal), then the earlier form would be reflected in Matthew’s version. Indeed, it is likely that Christians from a slightly later period would have qualified or explained the saying in some way, so as to factor in the situation regarding Judas.

Another sign of authenticity has to do with the emphasis on the coming Kingdom (of God). The concrete eschatological aspect of the Kingdom, so prominent in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, tends to disappear in early Christianity, being re-interpreted as a spiritual phenomenon (i.e. ‘realized’ eschatology)—the presence of God (and Christ) in and among believers, through the Holy Spirit. The imagery of Matt 19:28 par, on the other hand, preserves the idea of a real kingdom, with seats of rule—being specifically connected with the kingdom of Israel.

Commentators continue to debate the significance of Jesus’ preaching and teaching regarding the Kingdom (Mk 1:15 par, et al). On the one hand, many critical scholars hold that the historical Jesus believed that an end-time Messianic kingdom, in the socio-political (and religious) sense, was about to be ushered in by God, and that he would play the leading role in that process. According to this view, early Christians were forced to re-imagine and reinterpret Jesus’ words, as referring to the presence/work of the Spirit now, with the return of Jesus, establishing the Kingdom of God on earth in full, still reserved for a future moment. On the other side, traditional-conservative commentators would argue that Jesus intended this ‘Christian’ sense of the Kingdom from the first. The Gospel of Luke, along with the book of Acts, represents the only portion of the Gospel Tradition that deals with this question directly, in three passages: 17:20-21, 19:11ff, and Acts 1:6ff.

Luke 17:20-21 is part of a short collection of eschatological teaching (vv. 22-37ff) by Jesus, which the saying(s) of vv. 20-21 introduces, centered on the specific theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God. According to the narrative, certain Pharisees ask Jesus regarding “when the kingdom of God (would) come” (v. 20a). Jesus’ answer states that the Kingdom of God comes in a way that cannot be observed by human beings outwardly, at a particular moment or place (vv. 20b-21a). His response concludes with the famous declaration in v. 21b: “the kingdom of God is inside (of) you”. I have discussed this difficult statement at some length in an earlier note; commentators still debate the meaning, but at least three aspects may be emphasized: (1) the coming of the Kingdom will be hidden or invisible to people at large, (2) its coming/presence will be realized inwardly, and (3) it is to be understood as the presence of God/Christ among his people.

Luke 19:11 serves as the narrative setting of the parable by Jesus in vv. 12-27; it addresses the central question of the Kingdom even more precisely, stating that his reason for speaking the parable was:

“…through [i.e. because of] his being near Yerushalaim and their thinking that the kingdom of God was about (to come) along instantly to shine forth up(on them)”

At least some of Jesus’ followers thought that his arrival in Jerusalem (as the Anointed One) would usher in the Kingdom of God upon earth, in the socio-political and religious sense defined by the eschatological (and Messianic) expectation of the time. Certainly, people hailed Jesus as a Ruler from the line of David (i.e. a royal Messiah) during his entry into Jerusalem, according to the Gospel tradition (Mk 11:8-10 par). The Fourth Gospel even refers to the intent of some people to force Jesus into such a role and “make him king” (Jn 6:15). However, the parable in Lk 19:12ff makes clear that the well-born young noble (i.e. the Messiah), before he comes to exert his authority as ruler, will first go away into a “far-off country” for a time. This certainly reflects (or anticipates) the idea of Jesus’ death, resurrection and departure (to heaven) prior to his (subsequent) return. Note how, in the parable, the nobleman goes away for the purpose of “receiving a kingdom”—presumably this is to be understood in terms of Jesus’ receiving it (from the Father) upon his resurrection and exaltation to the “right hand” of God. When he returns, it will be as King and Judge.

Acts 1:6ff is the most important of the passages mentioned above, as in it Jesus answers a question from the disciples that is directly to the point:

“Then, the (disciple)s, (on) coming together, questioned him saying, ‘Lord, (is it) in this time that you (will) set down the kingdom to Yisrael from (where it was before)?'” (v. 6)

The disciples appear to understand the coming Kingdom according to the conventional/traditional Jewish eschatology of the time—as a socio-political (and religious) entity, like the Davidic kingdom of old, centered at Jerusalem. I have translated the verb a)pokaqi/sthmi here quite literally, i.e. to set/place down something from where, or in what condition, it was before. In simpler translation, we might say, “re-establish, restore”, etc; in other words, they are asking Jesus if he will restore the kingdom to Israel, like it was in the time of David. For more on the background of this aspect of the Kingdom, see Part 5 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as the supplemental study on Acts 1:3. In the next note, I will be exploring in some detail the way the author (trad. Luke) develops the theme of verses 6ff through the remainder of chapters 1-2 and as a key motif for the book as a whole.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Matt 19:28; Lk 22:28-30)

Here I will be looking specifically at the tradition of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles), in terms of the significance (and symbolism) of the number twelve.

As mentioned in the previous note, the tradition of Twelve Disciples, representing the circle of Jesus’ closest followers, is extremely well established in early Christian tradition. The number is clearly fixed, even if the specific names which make up the list differ. Apart from the references to the calling of the Twelve (discussed in prior notes), they are mentioned as a group numerous times in the Synoptic Gospels, in passages which almost certainly derive from more than one strand of tradition. They are also mentioned twice in the Gospel of John, in 6:67-71 (cf. the previous note) and 20:24. Beyond the passage in Acts 1:12-26, they are mentioned as a group in 6:2, and are likely to be meant by the use of the expression “the apostles” (oi( a)po/stoloi), at least in the first half of the book (cf. 1:2; 2:42-43; 4:33ff; 5:2, etc). Paul also refers to “the Twelve” in 1 Cor 15:5.

The Significance of the Twelve

An obvious explanation as to the significance of the number Twelve, lies in an association with the twelve Tribes of Israel. Indeed, this is the only explanation which the New Testament itself offers. An intriguing critical question has been whether (or to what extent) this association (with its symbolism) goes back to Jesus himself. A careful examination of the evidence, however slight, suggests that, on objective grounds, it most likely does. There is one tradition in the Synoptic Gospels which makes a connection between the Apostles and the Tribes of Israel clear.

Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30

Here we have a parallel saying by Jesus, which, according to most (critical) commentators, is part of the so-called “Q” material—that is, traditions shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. The two ‘versions’ appear in very different locations of the Gospel narrative, but share the same basic meaning and significance—referring to the reward which will come to Jesus’ close disciples (i.e. the Twelve) for following him faithfully, to the end. The setting in Matthew is the discussion Jesus has with Peter and the other disciples (19:23ff) in the aftermath of the encounter with the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ (19:16-22). Both episodes are part of the wider Synoptic tradition, as represented by Mark 10:17-31 (cp. Lk 18:18-30). The Matt 19:28 saying is essentially ‘inserted’ between Mk 10:28 & 29; compare:

“And the Rock {Peter} began to give account [i.e. relate/say] to him [i.e. Jesus], ‘See, we released [i.e. left] all (thing)s and have followed you.’ Yeshua said (to him), ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. relate/say] to you: (that) there is no one who (has) released [i.e. left] house or brothers or sisters or mother or offspring or fields on behalf of me…'” (Mk 10:28-29)

“Then the Rock {Peter}, giving forth (an answer), said to him, ‘See, we released all (thing)s and followed you. What, then, will there be for us?’ And Yeshua said to him, ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. say/relate] to you: that you, the ones following me (will) …. judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael. And every one who (has) released [i.e. left] houses…on behalf of my name…'” (Matt 19:27-29)

The Matthean ‘additions’ are marked in blue—consisting of the saying in v. 28, and the additional words by Peter which allow for the saying to make sense in the narrative context. Here is the saying in full:

“You, the ones following me, in the (time of) coming to be (born) back (again), when the Son of Man should sit upon his seat (of rule) (in) splendor, you also will sit upon twelve (ruling) seats, judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The idea is clear enough—the reward of the Twelve will be to rule over the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the Age to Come. The Greek word paliggenesi/a literally means “coming to be back (again)”, in the sense of coming to be born again, i.e. rebirth (or regeneration). It occurs only once elsewhere in the New Testament (Titus 3:5), where it carries the specific idea of spiritual rebirth (by the Spirit) for believers. Already in ancient Greek (esp. Stoic) philosophy, it was used in an eschatological sense for the renewal of the world at the end of the (current) Age. It also had the basic denotation of “rebirth” for the human soul, whether concretely (reincarnation/metempsychosis) or in a spiritual/symbolic sense (in the Mystery religions, etc). For Greek-speaking Jews, both aspects came to be combined into the idea of the resurrection which would take place at the end of the Age, following the time of God’s Judgment upon the world.

The parallel saying in Luke (22:28-30) is set during the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus and his close followers in Jerusalem. Again, this appears to be a Lukan ‘insertion’ into the core Synoptic narrative. It is actually part of a collection of teaching and instruction, given by Jesus to his disciples, which is unique to Luke’s Gospel in this particular context. Verses 24-30, with the joining v. 23, are included after the narrative corresponding to Mark 14:17-25 (22:14-22). Similarly, verses 35-38 come after Mk 14:26-31 (22:31-34). Whatever else one may say about it, the location of vv. 28-30 is striking, occurring just after the saying(s) of vv. 25-27, for which there is a Synoptic parallel (the episode of Mk 10:35-45 par), albeit in a different narrative setting. The dispute between the disciples in v. 24, along with the teaching (on discipleship) which follows in vv. 25-27, are juxtaposed with Jesus’ woe against the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-23). These verses appear after the dedication of the bread/cup, instead of before (as in Mark/Matthew). Note the way this juxtaposition appears in Luke:

    • Saying of Woe for the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-22)
      —the disciples begin to discuss/debate among one another as to who this betrayer could be (v. 23)
      —the disciples begin to dispute which one of them should be considered the greatest (v. 24)
    • Instruction for the disciples—the ideal/importance of humility and sacrificial service (vv. 25-27)

Whether or not this order of events is strictly historical, it certainly creates a powerful literary (and artistic) effect. The implication of the teaching in vv. 25-27 is that the disciple who rejects it, seeking his own interests and importance, is like the disciple who betrays Jesus. The saying corresponding to Matt 19:28 follows in vv. 28-30:

“But you, the ones having remained throughout with me, in the (time)s of my testing, I will also set through(out) for you—even as my Father set through for me—a kingdom, (so) that you might eat and drink upon my table in my kingdom, and you will sit upon seats (of rule), judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The italicized portions correspond most directly with Matt 19:28, the remainder being unique to the Lukan version. Some critical commentators would hold that the non-italicized words simply reflect the author’s adaptation of the “Q” saying to the context of the Last Supper. If so, then the reading “seats” instead of “twelve seats” is likely also an adaptation to account for the betrayal by Judas. A more traditional-conservative approach to the matter would, almost certainly, require that two distinct sayings, which just happen to be similar to one another, are involved.

Regardless of the historical-critical question, the essential meaning of the core saying in both ‘versions’ is the same. This raises an entirely different problem of interpretation, which I will address in the next note.