June 8: Luke 10:21-22

Luke 10:21-22

In the previous note, we examined the section on prayer in Luke 11:1-13, especially the saying in vv. 11-13 which contains a reference to the Holy Spirit not found in the corresponding Matthean version (7:9-11). It appears to be a clear example of a Lukan development of the Gospel Tradition, in accordance with the greater emphasis on the Spirit in Luke-Acts. There is a similar instance in the tradition at Lk 10:21-22 which needs to be discussed as part of our study.

Before proceeding, it is worth pointing out a peculiarity in the location of these references to the Spirit in the Gospel of Luke. As we have seen, there is a cluster in chapters 3-4 (3:16, 22; 4:1, 14, 19), focused on the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (in Galilee). After this, there are no references until 10:21, the first of several in chaps. 10-12 (11:2 v.l., 13; 12:10, 12). Then, there are again no further references until the allusion to the Spirit at the close of the Gospel (24:49). The nature of this distribution would seem to have something to do with the structure of the core Synoptic narrative, which divides rather neatly into two parts: (1) the Galilean period, and (2) the journey to Jerusalem and the events (in Jerusalem) leading to Jesus’ Passion. The references to the Spirit are focused in the early section(s) of each part.

The Transfiguration episode marks the end of the first division and the start of the second, a fact confirmed by the obvious parallels between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes. The Lukan narrative follows this basic outline, with the Transfiguration episode occurring at 9:28-36. The journey to Jerusalem is introduced at 9:51-56, followed by a sayings-tradition regarding discipleship (vv. 57-62), and a second mission outing by Jesus’ disciples (seventy[-two], found only in Luke), which may be divided as follows:

    • Narrative introduction and commission by Jesus (10:1-12, par 9:1-6ff)
    • Woes against the towns of Galilee (10:13-15 [“Q”] par Matt 11:20-24)
    • Saying on how people respond to the disciples, as representatives of Jesus (10:16 [“Q”] par Matt 10:40)
    • Declaration by Jesus at the return of the disciples (10:17-20)

The sayings in 10:21-22 occur immediately after this section, and thus have an important place at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, which spans all of 9:51-18:34 in the Lukan narrative. Like the sayings in vv. 13-16, it is part of the so-called “Q” material (found in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark), the Matthean version (11:25-27) occurring at a comparable location in the narrative. The block of sayings in 10:21-24 is more or less identical to those in Matt 11:25-30. Here is how the saying in Matt 11:25-26 reads:

“In that time Yeshua, giving forth (an answer), said: ‘I give out an account as one to [i.e. I acknowledge] you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, (in) that you hid these (thing)s from (those who are) wise and able to put (thing)s together [i.e. intelligent], and (have) uncovered them (instead) to infants. Yes, Father! (for) so (it is) that (this) good consideration came to be in front of you’.”

The Lukan version is very nearly word-for-word identical, making it an especially good example of the “Q” double-tradition. However, Luke does introduce the saying in a very different manner:

“In that hour, he lept (for joy) in the holy Spirit and said…”

Instead of the bland statement that Jesus “gave forth (an answer)”, Luke has a much more dramatic reference to Jesus “leaping” for joy (vb a)gallia/w) while he is “in the holy Spirit”. The definite article and the adjective a%gio$ (“holy”) are absent in a number of manuscripts (Ë45 A W D Y) and versions, which raises the possibility that originally the text here referred to Jesus experiencing delight within his own spirit (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 871). However, this seems rather unlikely, given the importance of the (holy) Spirit in the Lukan Gospel, expressed by a tendency to adapt the Gospel tradition at key points to emphasize the role of the Spirit. We saw this, for example, in the summary descriptions at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (4:1), including a specific reference to his being “in” the Spirit (4:14, cp. 2:27). We also have the clear example of a specific reference to the holy Spirit in a saying (11:13, cf. the previous note) where it is not to be found in the Matthean version. The omission of the adjective “holy” here, in certain witnesses, would seem to be the ‘easier’ reading, and may reflect a harmonization with the Matthean version, much as a number of manuscripts read “a good spirit” instead of “holy Spirit” at 11:13, to harmonize with “good gifts” in Matthew.

All of this would tend to confirm that the reading “in the holy Spirit” is original, and that Luke is depicting Jesus in an inspired state, much as in 4:1ff. The use of the verb a)gallia/w in 1:47 (the only other occurrence in the Gospel) adds to the suggestion that prophetic inspiration is in view, and that Jesus, like Elizabeth (1:41ff, cf. also Zechariah and Simeon, 1:67ff; 2:27ff), is giving out a Spirit-inspired utterance before his disciples. This reflects a further early Christian development of the ancient tradition of prophetic inspiration, discussed at length in recent notes. The main difference in how Luke expresses this is that the unique presence of the Spirit with Jesus extends to the people of God (i.e. believers) as a whole. This is foreshadowed in the Infancy narrative, as well as in the concluding statement in the section on prayer (11:13, discussed in the previous note). It will not be realized truly for believers (i.e. Jesus’ disciples) until the narratives in the book of Acts.

In this regard, it is worth considering the place of the saying in 10:22, combined as it is with that of v. 21 (and the Lukan reference to the Spirit). Again, the Matthean and Lukan versions are virtually identical, the only real difference being Matthew’s use of the verb e)piginw/skw (“know about”) instead of the simple ginw/skw (“know”) in Luke. Here is the saying:

“All (thing)s were given along to me under [i.e. by] the Father, and no one knows who the Son is if not the Father, and who the Father is if not the Son, and to whomever the Son wishes to uncover [i.e. reveal] it.”

This is essentially the only instance in the Synoptic Gospel where Jesus speaks in the manner he does in the Gospel of John. The most notable parallels are in Jn 10:15 and 17:2, but other passages may be noted as well (3:35; 6:65; 7:29; 13:3; 14:7, 9-11; 17:25; cf. Fitzmyer, p. 866). It thus opens a window onto an entire line of tradition that is otherwise absent from the Synoptics and found only in the Gospel of John, where it is expressed in a developed (and highly literary) form in the great Johannine Discourses. Three main aspects of Johannine theology are alluded to in this saying:

    • The Father giving “all things” to the Son
    • The inter-relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son)
    • The chain of relation: Father => Son => disciples/believers

Combining these aspects leads to the specific idea of the Father giving to the Son, who, in turn, gives (the same) to his disciples. This theological framework is expressed repeatedly (and clearly) throughout the Gospel of John, but it has to be inferred here. Moreover, based on the reference to the Holy Spirit here (v. 21), we can assume that the Spirit is among the “all things” that the Father gives to the Son—i.e., He gives the Spirit to the Son, who, in turn, gives the Spirit to his disciples. Admittedly, this idea, as such, is nowhere to be found in the Synoptics, but the fundamental associations may be pieced together from parts of the Gospel Tradition. Let us consider several key elements that we have already encountered in these notes:

    • Jesus as the anointed, end-time representative of God, through whom the Spirit will come upon humankind—as a fire of Judgment that both purifies the righteous and consumes the wicked. This idea is rooted in eschatological (and Messianic) traditions involving the coming of God’s Spirit in the New Age, and expressed specifically as part of the Baptist’s preaching and dunking (baptizing) ministry. Cf. the earlier note on Mk 1:7-8 par.
    • Jesus gives to his disciples the same power and authority he possesses—to teach/proclaim and work healing miracles (Mk 3:14-15; 6:7-13 pars, etc). In the case of Jesus, this power clearly is derived from God’s holy Spirit (cf. especially Luke 4:1ff, 14ff; Mark 3:22-29 par; Matt 12:28 par). Though it is nowhere stated explicitly, we may infer that the disciples’ power likewise comes from the “spirit of God” (Matt 12:28). An ancient Old Testament parallel may be found in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), in which seventy elders (cp. Luke 10:1ff) come to have a share in the same divine Spirit that is upon Moses.
    • In the saying(s) of Mark 13:11 par, apparently referring to a time after Jesus’ departure, the continuation of his ministry by his disciples will specifically involve speaking/preaching under the inspired guidance/influence of the Holy Spirit.

Again, it is in the Gospel of John that this dynamic is clarified and expressed more precisely. Certainly the theological statement in 3:34-35 indicates that God the Father gives the Spirit to Jesus the Son, who then will give it to believers. Much the same is implied elsewhere in the discourses—cf. 4:10-15 + 23-24; 6:63; 7:37-39. The situation is a bit more complicated in the Last Discourse, where we have specific references to the coming of the Spirit—but the Spirit is variously said to be sent

    1. by the Father (at Jesus’ request or in his name)—14:16, 26
    2. by Jesus (but also from the Father)—15:26
    3. by Jesus (directly?)—16:7

This reflects the inter-relationship of Father and Son (cf. above) that is central to the Johannine theology, but it is also part of a unique Christological development in the idea of the Spirit of God among early Christians (to be discussed in upcoming notes), whereby the Spirit of God is also understood as the Spirit of Christ. In any case, Jesus clearly gives the Spirit to his disciples in the post-resurrection scene of 20:19-23 (v. 22), described in language that seems to echo the role of God’s spirit (breath) in the creation of humankind (cf. the earlier note on Gen 2:7; Job 33:4). To be sure, the Johannine narrative of the coming of the Spirit differs markedly from that in the book of Acts; for readers interested in the critical questions surrounding the two accounts, I have discussed them in an earlier set of articles. In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to the historical traditions (regarding the Spirit) in the book of Acts.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 28A (1985).

 

June 7: Luke 11:2, 9-13

Luke 11:2, 9-13

In our study of how the traditions regarding the Spirit of God developed in the New Testament, among early Christians, we have been considering the evidence from the historical traditions preserved in the Synoptic Gospels. As we move from the core Synoptic Tradition to its (later) developments in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we find an increasing number of references to the Spirit—most notably in the Lukan Gospel. This has already been discussed in a previous note (on Lk 4:1, 14ff)—the way that the references to the Spirit at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry have been developed and adapted, with an eye toward the role of the Spirit in the larger narrative of Luke-Acts.

A similar sort of example can be found in chapter 11 (vv. 1-13), where the author has brought together several different traditions—sayings and parables—on the subject of prayer. This is typical of the thematic and “catchword” bonding by which Gospel traditions often came to be combined together. In the Lukan Gospel, the journey to Jerusalem provides the literary framework within which a large amount of material has been included, as though it were simply a record of all that Jesus taught along the way. The fact that much of this material is found in different narrative locations in the other Gospels makes clear that the Lukan arrangement is literary, rather than historical and chronological. In 11:1-13, the unifying theme is prayer; at least three different tradition-units make up this pericope:

    • A version of the “Lord’s Prayer” (vv. 2-4), following the narrative introduction in verse 1
    • The Parable of the man who calls on his friend in the middle of the night (vv. 5-8), and
    • A short block of sayings—at least two distinct traditions (vv. 9-10, 11-13)—part of the so-called “Q” material, also found in Matthew (7:7-11)

The emphasis in vv. 5-13 is on the assurance that God, as the “heavenly Father”, will answer the prayers of His children, and that they should not be afraid to petition God in their time of need. In particular, let us examine the sayings in vv. 9-13—the first of which is virtually identical with the Matthean version:

And I say to you: you must ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened up to you; for every (one) asking receives, the (one) seeking finds, and to the (one) knocking it is [or, it will be] opened up.” (vv. 9-10)

Luke has apparently made no change to the “Q” tradition, other than perhaps the inclusion of the introductory phrase (in italics). The situation is different with regard to the tradition in vv. 11-13; it is instructive to compare the Lukan and the Matthean (7:9-11) versions phrase by phrase:

    • “Or, what man is (there) out of [i.e. among] you” (Matt)
      “And for what father out of [i.e. among] you” (Lk)
      It is possible that Luke has glossed “man” as “father” to make the immediate context of the illustration more clear, but it would also be appropriate to the overall context of vv. 1-13, which is framed by references to God as the heavenly Father (vv. 2, 13). It also establishes a precise contrast between an earthly father and God the Father, which is very much to the point of the illustration. The Lukan syntax would seem to confirm its character as a gloss—i.e., “what (man) among you, as a father…”.
    • “whom, (when) his son will ask (for) bread, he will (surely) not give over to him a stone(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “the son will ask (for) a fish and, in exchange (for) a fish, will he give over to him a snake (instead)?” (Lk)
      The Lukan syntax is simpler, emphasizing that the harmful item (snake) is given in place of (a)nti/) the beneficial thing requested by the son (a fish). The initial pairing in Matthew is bread/stone, rather than fish/snake, but it similarly establishes the pattern for the illustration.
    • “or even will ask (for) a fish, he will not give over to him a snake(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “or even will ask (for) an egg, will he give over to him a stinging (creature) [i.e. scorpion] (instead)?” (Lk)
      Matthew’s second pairing is the first in the Lukan illustration; in place of it, the Lukan version juxtaposes egg/scorpion, which makes for a more extreme (and ridiculous) contrast.
    • “So (then), if you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Matt)
      “So (then), if you, beginning (now) as evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Lk)
      The two versions are nearly identical here; the use of the verb u(pa/rxw (lit. “begin under”), instead of the simple verb of being (ei)mi), would seem to be an indication of Lukan style. Of the 46 occurrences of the verb u(pa/rxw, 31 are found in Luke-Acts, and it is not used in any of the other Gospels.
    • “how much more will your Father, the (One) in the heavens, give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him?” (Matt)
      “how much more will your Father out of heaven give (the) holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him?” (Lk)
      Again the two versions are quite close here, the most notable difference being that Luke reads “holy Spirit” in place of “good (thing)s”. Assuming that we are dealing with a common saying, which certainly seems to be the case, the two versions here cannot both be an accurate representation of the original. Almost certainly, Matthew preserves the original saying (or close to it), which Luke has adapted in light of the special emphasis on the role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (cf. above). Several manuscripts (Ë45 L, etc) read “(a) good spirit” instead of “holy Spirit”, most likely in an attempt to harmonize the two versions.

The Lukan reference to the holy Spirit as the “good thing(s)” that God will give to His offspring effectively centers the saying within an early Christian context, anticipating the “gift” of the Spirit that will come upon Jesus’ disciples in Acts 2:1-4ff. It serves as the climax to Jesus’ teaching on prayer in this passage, implying that it is the Holy Spirit that will truly be the answer to his disciples’ prayer. In this regard, it is interesting to note a fascinating variant reading within the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, found in a small number of witnesses. The majority text of the second petition (in v. 2) reads “may your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), just as in the Matthean version, though Codex Bezae (D) adds e)f’ h(ma=$ (“upon us”). However, in two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) and in the writings of at least two Church Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus Confessor), we find a very different petition which substantially reads:

“may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”
e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$

Some commentators have suggested that this is a gloss interpreting the coming of God’s “Kingdom” as a reference to the coming of the Spirit, and that it may have originated as a liturgical adaption of the Prayer in a baptismal setting. Interestingly, an identification of God’s Kingdom with the Spirit, within the narrative of Luke-Acts, may be justified on the basis of Jesus’ answer to the question posed by his disciples in Acts 1:6-8. A more precise Christian identification is made by Paul in Romans 14:17. If we go back to the sayings and words of Jesus, a similar association, between Kingdom and Spirit, can be found in the Matthean version of the saying at Matt 12:28 / Lk 11:20 (cf. the prior note); the Lukan version of this saying, which uses “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God” occurs just shortly after the section on prayer in chap. 11. We may also note the association made by Jesus in the Johannine discourse of chap. 3 (v. 5).

Though this variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer is certainly secondary (and not original), it provides an intriguing enhancement to a genuine Lukan theme in this passage. It offers a parallel, at the beginning of the section (v. 2), to the reference to the Spirit at the conclusion (v. 13), thus framing the entire pericope, and emphasizing all the more the point that the coming of the Spirit represents the ultimate goal and answer to the prayer of believers. There is a similar connection between prayer and the Spirit running through the Johannine Last Discourse—cf. 14:13-17, 25-26; 15:7ff, 26; 16:7ff, 23-24.

The variant reading itself represents a distinctly Christian adaptation of an established Old Testament/Jewish tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age. Drawing upon the natural association between God’s (holy) Spirit and cleansing, the sixth century Prophets, as part of their overall message regarding the restoration of Israel (and return from exile), emphasize the role of the Spirit that God will “pour out” upon His people, cleansing them and giving to them a “new heart” and a new spirit which will allow them to remain obedient to the Covenant. The Qumran Community further developed this idea, applying it to their own religious identity as the faithful ones of the end-time. The Qumran Community viewed itself as a “community of holiness”, made up completely of “men of holiness”, led by a “council of holiness”, and established by God’s own “spirit of holiness” (1QS 8:20-9:3). The water-ritual for entrants into the Community symbolized the cleansing of the person’s spirit by the “spirit of [God’s] holiness”, so that the individual’s own spirit was made entirely holy (1QS 3:5-9), allowing him to become part of the holy Community. The parallel with early Christian baptism is clear enough, and the variant reading of Luke 11:2, if it indeed stems from a baptismal setting, would indicate that early Christians used similar traditional language, regarding the cleansing role of the Spirit in the Community.

Before proceeding further to consider how this Lukan emphasis on the Spirit reflects the historical traditions surrounding the earliest believers (in Luke-Acts), it will be worth examining one additional Gospel tradition where the Lukan version, apparently, makes reference to the Holy Spirit. In the next daily note, we will look briefly at the saying in Lk 10:21-22 (par Matt 11:25-27).

 

June 5: Mark 13:11 par

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

One of the clearest indications of a development of the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God, within the earliest layers of the Gospel tradition, is the idea that the coming of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration will occur through Jesus, as God’s Anointed representative. As a Spirit-inspired Prophet, uniquely empowered by the holy Spirit of God, Jesus will communicate that same Spirit to others. This is reflected in the saying of the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), discussed in a prior note, and it is also implied in the way that the relationship between Jesus and his disciples is depicted in the Gospels.

The references to the Spirit in the Synoptic account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (esp. in the Lukan version, cf. the prior note on Lk 4:1, 14ff) make clear that his teaching/preaching and his ability to work healing miracles are the result of his being ‘anointed’ by the Spirit (see esp. the use of Isa 61:1ff in Luke 4:17-19ff, also 7:18-23 par). Having gathered around him a group of close disciples, to share in his ministry (Mk 3:13-19 par), Jesus gives to them a share of the same power to preach and work miracles (Mk 6:7-13 par). His disciples thus function as anointed prophets in a manner similar to Jesus himself. We must assume that this activity is likewise Spirit-inspired, even though there is no specific reference to the Spirit in these passages. The situation is comparable to the episode in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), where God allows a group of seventy Israelite elders to share in the same divine Spirit that is “upon” Moses. The Spirit comes upon them, and they each function as a ayb!n` (inspired spokesperson/representative for God, i.e. “prophet”), in a manner similar to Moses. The emphasis in that narrative is on leadership, but it is also clear that the activity of the inspired men includes proclamation and certain kinds of ministry performed throughout the camp (vv. 17, 26ff).

Though no direct mention is made of the Spirit in the Gospel passages dealing with the disciples’ activity during Jesus’ ministry, it is fair to assume that their preaching and miracles, like those of Jesus, were done with the “Spirit/finger of God” (Matt 12:28; Lk 11:20). The only instance where this ministry activity of the disciples is explicitly said to be inspired by the Spirit is the saying in Mark 13:11, for which there is a corresponding version in Matt 10:19-20 / Lk 12:11-12.

The Markan saying is part of the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 13 = Matthew 24 / Luke 21:5-36), the literary setting of which, in the Synoptic narrative, is in Jerusalem, not long before Jesus’ death. The Discourse thus foretells things that will occur after Jesus’ own death and departure. There will be a time of great distress (qli/yi$) for humankind (especially those in Jerusalem and Judea), and this will mean suffering and persecution for Jesus’ disciples as well (vv. 9-13). Jesus announces that his disciples will arrested and interrogated before government tribunals (both Jewish and non-Jewish), but his exhortation to them is that, when this occurs, they should not be anxious about how they are to respond or what they are to say; instead, he assures them:

“…whatever should be given to you in that hour (to say), so you must speak; for you are not the (one)s speaking, rather (it is) the holy Spirit.” (v. 11)

The corresponding saying in Matthew/Luke occurs at a different location in the narrative, but the context would seem to be the same—it relates to things that will take place in the near future, following Jesus’ departure. This fact is obscured by Matthew’s location of it in the setting of the mission of the Twelve (10:5-15). In one sense that location is anachronistic, but it reflects a different organizing principle for the traditional (sayings) material—as with the Eschatological Discourse, it is a literary, rather than a historical/chronological, arrangement. In any case, the Matthean version reads as follows:

“And when they give you along [i.e. over to the authorities], you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should speak; for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but (rather) the Spirit of your Father is the (one) speaking in you.” (10:19-20)

Luke has this saying in yet a different location, at 12:11-12, joined by way of “catchword-bonding” with the saying on the Spirit in 12:10 (discussed in the previous note). The Lukan wording is clearer and cast in a form that would better relate to early Christians in the author’s own time; the relevant portion reads:

“…you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should give forth as an account (of yourself), 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.”

The distinctly Lukan elements (glosses) are given in italics—these include the use of the verb a)pologe/omai (“give forth an account”), the emphasis on teaching (vb dida/skw), and the verb form dei= (“it is necessary…”). This must be understood as a Christianized form of the saying, made to apply more directly to the life situation and experience of early Christians. Jesus’ prediction, of course, was admirably fulfilled during the period prior to 70 A.D., as documented by the experience of the apostles and other missionaries in the book of Acts. At several points in the Acts narratives, it is specifically stated that the early Christians respond as inspired spokespersons (i.e. prophets), being moved or “filled” with the Spirit—4:8, 31; 6:3, 5ff; 7:55; 13:9, etc. It goes without saying that this represents a distinctly Christian development of the Old Testament tradition(s) regarding prophetic inspiration. The juxtaposition of the Spirit-inspired prophecy of David (in the Psalms, 4:25, cp. Mk 12:36), with that of the early Christians (4:8, 31), demonstrates that they are parallel concepts of inspiration.

What is especially noteworthy about these references in the book of Acts is how they are specifically tied to the early Christian mission and the proclamation of the Gospel. The “good message”, which had already been proclaimed during the period of Jesus’ ministry (Mk 1:14-15; 6:12; 13:10 par, etc), is now framed in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The primary purpose for the holy Spirit coming upon the early Christians in Jerusalem was their mission to the surrounding nations and the proclamation of the Gospel (1:8; 2:1-4ff), a point that will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. As this proclamation is centered on a basic narration of the events of Jesus’ life (and death), it may be seen as providing a seminal basis for the idea of the inspiration of the Gospels, and even of the New Testament as a whole.

June 4: Mark 3:28-29; Matt 12:31-32; Luke 12:10

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

These June notes continue those of the earlier series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, examining how the Old Testament concepts and traditions were developed by early Christians in the New Testament. When we turn to consider what Jesus said about the Spirit during his ministry, the evidence is surprisingly slight, especially within the Synoptic tradition. Indeed, there are just three instances in the Gospel of Mark:

    • The saying on the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (3:28-29)
    • A notice within the Messianic question/debate of 12:35-37 (v. 36)
    • A saying on the coming persecution of his disciples during the time of distress, part of the Eschatological Discourse of chap. 13—13:9-13 (v. 11)

The second of these simply affirms the Spirit-inspired character of the Prophetic Scriptures (which includes the Psalms, and David as a prophet). In the post-exilic period, there came to be an increasing emphasis on the role of God’s Spirit in both the composition of the Scriptures and their interpretation—cf. the earlier note on Neh 9:20, 30, etc, and the article on the Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This emphasis is less prominent among early Christians than it was, for example, in the Qumran Community, but it is still present in the New Testament—a point to be discussed in the upcoming notes.

The references to the Spirit in Mk 3:29 and 13:11 are more substantial and distinctly Christian in character. The situation, however, is complicated by the fact that, for each of these sayings, there appear to be two distinct forms—one Markan (i.e. occurring in Mark), and the other part of the so-called “Q” material (found in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark). Let us begin with the saying in Mark 3:28-29, which has both Markan and “Q” forms. In such instances, there is a question of whether we are dealing with two distinct historical traditions, or variant forms a single historical tradition. Traditional-conservative commentators tend to opt for the former, while critical commentators typically assume the latter. The situation is further complicated by additional differences between versions of the Markan and “Q” sayings, the possibility of variation as a result of translation from an Aramaic original, and other factors.

Matthew contains both the Markan and “Q” forms, joined together at 12:31-32, while Luke has only the “Q” saying (12:10). Let us compare the Markan saying as it is found in Mk 3:28-29 and Matt 12:31, respectively:

“Amen, I relate to you that all (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and the insults, as many (thing)s as they may give insult—but whoever would give insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not hold release [i.e. forgiveness] into the Age, but is holding on (himself) a sin of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal sin].” (Mk 3:28-29)
“Through this I relate to you (that) all (kind)s of sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but an insult of [i.e. against] the Spirit will not be released.” (Matt 12:31)

Matthew clearly has a simpler version, but this may be a result of the combination with the second (“Q”) form/saying in 12:32. The point of the contrast is that all sins and insults will be forgiven, except for an insult directed against the Spirit of God (Mk uses the expression “holy Spirit”). The term “insult” (blasfhmi/a, vb blasfhme/w) is often used in a religious sense—i.e., something which is an insult or offense to God (thus our English word “blasphemy”). Jesus is speaking of a person insulting God’s Spirit directly. The Markan context for this saying (with the explanation in verse 30) is likely original. Certain religious leaders were attributing Jesus’ power over the evil spirits (or daimons, “demons”) to a certain kind of special demonic power (holding [i.e. possessing] Baal-zebul, the “prince of daimons”). Since Jesus’ ministry, including his healing miracles, was actually empowered and specially inspired by the Spirit of God (cf. the previous note), to claim that it was the result of demonic power was a direct insult to God’s own Spirit.

The Spirit-inspired character of Jesus’ healing miracles is implied throughout the Gospel narratives, but it is given specific expression in at least one saying, found in Matthew and Luke (i.e. “Q” material), with a slight but significant variation. In Matthew, it is part of the same narrative block as 12:31-32, dealing with the same dispute over the origins of Jesus’ miracle-working power. In verse 28, he states most dramatically:

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the Spirit of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

In Luke 11:20, this saying reads:

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

Almost certainly, Luke has the more original form, using the expression “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God”. However, the point is the same: it refers to the Divine source of Jesus’ power to work miracles over the spirits of disease, etc (cf. Exod 8:19). The Matthean form is likely a gloss to make this point clear. The connection of this manifestation of God’s Spirit with the coming of His Kingdom suggests a continuation of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the restoration of Israel and the New Age for God’s people (cf. the recent notes on the key passages from Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and [Deutero-]Isaiah).

What of the “Q” form of the ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’ saying? Here are the Matthean and Lukan versions:

“And whoever would speak a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but whoever would speak against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him—not in this Age, and not in the coming Age.” (Matt 12:32)
“And every (one) who shall utter a word unto [i.e. against] 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.” (Luke 12:10)

Luke’s version occurs in an entirely different context, a clear indication that the saying was preserved separately, and it was the Matthean Gospel writer who included it as part of the ‘Beelzebul Controversy’ pericope, alongside the parallel (Markan) saying of 12:31. The fact that the Markan saying has the expression “sons of men”, and the “Q” saying “Son of Man”, can hardly be coincidental. It raises the possibility that an original (Aramaic) saying of Jesus came to be understood two different ways, as it was preserved and translated (into Greek), where the meaning of the underlying Semitic idiom “son of man” would have been lost, in favor of its familiar use as a title by Jesus (for more, cf. my earlier note on this saying).

In any event, in the “Q” saying, “Son of Man” clearly is a self-reference by Jesus. Such use by Jesus in the Gospels is complex and requires a separate detailed study (cf. my earlier series on the “Son of Man Sayings of Jesus”). It occurs extensively throughout the Synoptic tradition, with several different categories of “Son of Man” sayings. Most frequently, it is a self-reference, whereby Jesus especially identifies himself with the suffering of the human condition. Remember that Matt 12:32 occurs in the context of Jesus’ public ministry, in which he worked to heal people of their suffering and affliction from illness and disease, which, according to the ancient understanding, were caused by evil/harmful spirits. This was an important part of his work as “Son of Man”, especially during the Galilean period of his ministry (in the Synoptic narrative).

The point Jesus is making in the “Q” saying is: to slander his miracle-working power is to insult (directly) the Spirit of God. It is one thing to speak against him personally, as he ministers among the people, but quite another to insult the source of his miracle working power, which is God’s own holy Spirit.

There is yet another version of this saying, preserved in the “Gospel of Thomas” (saying §44), which clearly represents a still later development (and a more Christianized version). It appears to be a superficial expansion of the “Q” saying, given in a trinitarian form:

“Whoever blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the Son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either on earth or in heaven.”

This version grossly distorts the sense and thrust of the original saying, as though a direct insult against God the Father (or against Jesus as the Son of God) will be forgiven. Neither the Markan nor “Q” sayings suggest anything of the sort; in any case, taken thus out of context, the saying is far removed from the point Jesus himself was making at the time. As a miracle working Anointed Prophet—God’s own representative (ayb!n`), who was also His Son—Jesus was specially empowered by the holy Spirit of God. To slander or insult that power is to insult God Himself. This reflects a development of the Prophetic tradition(s) regarding the Spirit, focused uniquely on the inspired person of Jesus himself, as Messiah, Prophet, and Son of God.

 

March 28: John 12:9-19, 34

John 12:9-19, 34

The episode of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem directly precedes the discourse in Jn 12:20-36 (discussed in the previous daily notes), and so, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, the crowd-setting of the discourse (vv. 29, 34) must be read with the earlier episode in mind. It perhaps should be understood as a rather large crowd, given the detail in vv. 9ff. The notoriety of the raising of Lazarus (chap. 11) apparently caused a significant number of people to be drawn to Jesus; in the Gospel of John, the crowd’s reaction is explained as the result, primarily, of the Lazarus miracle (verse 12, following vv. 9-11). If the narrative setting assumes that the discourse in vv. 20-36 took place not long after Jesus’ entry into the city, then it is likely that a considerable crowd was gathered around him (perhaps this explains the difficulty the Greeks had in reaching Jesus, v. 20f).

The response by the crowd to Jesus’ words, in verse 34 (discussed briefly in a prior note), involves the identity of Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Messiah), and the Triumphal Entry scene holds an important place within the Gospel Tradition in this regard. In the Synoptic Narrative, the first half of the Gospel is focused on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and, in this part of the Tradition, Jesus was identified primarily as an Anointed (Messianic) Prophet, according to the type-pattern of Elijah (and Moses), or of the Anointed herald in Isaiah 61:1ff. By contrast, during his time in Jerusalem, and all through the Passion narrative, it is the Royal Messiah, the Davidic ruler figure-type that is in view, and this association begins with the Triumphal Entry scene (Mark 11:1-10 par). All of the details in the Synoptic narrative bear this out:

    • The spreading of the garments, etc, indicating the welcome for royalty (Mk 11:8 par)
    • The citation of Psalm 118:25-26 (Mk 11:9 par), with its original context of the victorious king returning from battle
    • The references to David and the kingship/kingdom (Mk 11:10 par)
    • The allusion to Zech 9:9ff (cited in Matt 21:4-5)
    • The climactic appearance in the Temple (Mk 11:11ff), cf. again the context of the royal procession in Psalm 118:19-27

The Johannine version contains all of these same elements, with the exception of the Temple scene (the Temple “cleansing” episode occurring at a different point in the Gospel narrative, 2:12-22). However, this Gospel deals with the Messianic identity of Jesus somewhat differently, introducing the royal (Davidic) aspect as part of the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6; indeed, there is a formal parallel:

    • Historical tradition (miracle):
      —Feeding the multitude (6:1-13)
      —Raising of Lazarus (chap. 11)
    • Reaction of the People (Jesus as the Messiah)
      — “Truly this is the Prophet…”, attempt to make Jesus king (6:14-15, 22ff)
      —The Triumphal Entry (12:9-19)
    • Discourse, with Passion elements, in the context of a key Son of Man saying:
      —Allusion to the Eucharistic bread and cup (6:51-58, v. 53)
      —Reference to the “hour” of suffering/death, and of his prayer to God (12:23, 27, cp. Mk 14:35-36)

Perhaps even more than in the Synoptic tradition, the Johannine version of the Triumphal Entry scene brings out the nationalistic hope of the people for a Davidic (royal) Messiah—a king who would deliver the people from foreign (Roman) rule. The specific detail of the palm-branches, found only in John’s version (and the basis for the “Palm Sunday” label), is unmistakable in this regard:

“…they took the twigs/branches of the foi=nic [i.e. palm] (tree) and went out unto (the) u(pa/nthsi$ with him, and cried (out)…” (12:13a)

The noun u(pa/nthsi$, difficult to translate literally in English, refers to a face-to-face meeting with someone, coming opposite to them. It was used as a technical political term for the representatives of a city who would go out to meet/greet an arriving king (cf. Josephus Antiquities 11.327; Wars 7.100). The nationalistic implications of the palm-branches derives from the Maccabean uprising (and the rededication of the Temple)—cf. 1 Macc 13:51; 2 Macc 2:7—and was used again during the bar-Kokhba revolt (appearing on coins, A.D. 132-135). Cf. also the symbolism in Testament of Naphtali 5:4 (Brown, p. 461). All of this suggests that the crowds regard Jesus as a victorious king, a Messianic deliverer who will again establish an independent Israelite/Jewish kingdom, centered at Jerusalem.

How does this relate to the discourse that follows in vv. 20-36? Let us consider again the response by the crowd in verse 34:

“…We (have) heard out of the Law that ‘the Anointed (One) remains into the Age’, and (so) how (can) you say that ‘it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high’? Who is this Son of Man?”

The confusion stems from Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man”, as well as the somewhat cryptic reference to his death/departure. Apparently, the crowd understood the idea that Jesus was speaking of his departure from the world, before the (Messianic) kingdom of the New Age would be established. In any case, this was the very point of difficulty for early Christians who identified Jesus as the royal/Davidic Messiah—how could the Messiah die and leave the earth without fulfilling the traditional end-time role expected of him?

This idea is clear enough in the phrase “the Anointed One remains into the Age [i.e. the New Age to Come]”, even if it is unclear exactly where this is to be found in the Law (the Torah/Pentateuch, or, more broadly, the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole). The closest passage would seem to be Psalm 89:36, in which it is stated that the seed (ur^z#, i.e. offspring/descendant) of David will continue to exist “(in)to the distant (future)”; the Greek version (LXX) reads: “his seed remains [me/nei] into the Age”, wording that is quite close to that of the crowd here in v. 34. The belief is that the Davidic Messiah will be present into the Age to Come, and will remain as ruler during the New Age.

Adding to the confusion is the peculiar way that Jesus uses the expression “the Son of Man” as a self-reference; two types of such sayings were especially difficult: (1) those referring to his impending suffering and death, and (2) the eschatological sayings, of the Son of Man’s appearance (from heaven) at the end-time. For more detail, consult my earlier series on the “Son of Man Sayings of Jesus”. If it is not feasible for Jesus (as the Messiah) to die/depart without establishing the Kingdom, then perhaps he is referring (in vv. 23 and 32, cp. 3:14; 8:28) to someone else? This seems to be the sense of the question “Who is this Son of Man?” —is Jesus speaking of himself, or someone else?

Again, it must emphasized that for early Christians—and especially for the disciples and other early Jewish believers—the death of Jesus posed a serious problem for their identification of him as the Messiah. So acute was the problem that the Gospels and Acts repeatedly stress the importance of demonstrating from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah, and that his suffering and death was foretold in the Law and the Prophets. For more, cf. the article on the “Suffering and Death of the Messiah” in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

There is a parallel in the Synoptic Tradition, centered on Peter’s famous confession (Mk 8:27-30ff). After the declaration identifying Jesus as the Messiah (v. 29), we find the first of the three Son of Man sayings by Jesus (v. 31), in which he announces/predicts his upcoming suffering and death. Clearly, this was difficult for Peter to accept (v. 32), and his reaction generally represents that of all the disciples (and believers) of the time. The reaction of the crowd in Jn 12:34 is comparable, and fully in keeping with the early Gospel tradition.

In the next few daily notes, during Holy Week, I will be exploring other key passages and references in the Passion Narrative of the Gospel of John, giving further study to the uniquely Johannine portrait of Jesus as the Messiah. The uniqueness of this portrait can be seen in the answer Jesus gives (in vv. 35-36) to the question by the crowd (discussed in the previous note). The traditional Messianic expectation gives way to a powerful Christological statement—Jesus the Son as an eternal manifestation of God the Father. This Christology is developed throughout the Johannine Passion Narrative.

 

March 27: John 12:35-36

John 12:35-36

“Then Yeshua said to them: ‘Yet a little time the light is among you. You must walk about as you hold the light, (so) that darkness should not take you down; and the (one) walking about in darkness has not seen [i.e. known] where he leads (himself) under. As you hold the light, you must trust in the light, (so) that you would come to be sons of (the) light.’ Yeshua spoke these (thing)s, and (then), going away from (there), he hid (himself) from them.”

From the literary standpoint of the discourse, Jesus’ words in vv. 35-36 represent his response to the misunderstanding (and question) of the crowd in v. 34 (cf. the previous note). Yet it is not at all clear how this response answer’s the crowd’s question, or relates to their misunderstanding. Possibly, vv. 35-36 was originally an independent tradition, uttered by Jesus on a separate occasion; however, even if this were so, we still have to deal with these verses in their current literary context. In terms of the discourse format, Jesus’ statement in vv. 35-36 is part of the exposition—the explanation of the true and deeper meaning of his initial saying (in v. 23); each exchange with his audience serves to build and develop this exposition.

The initial words in verse 23 refer to the hour in which the Son of Man will be given honor; much the same is said in verse 32, only Jesus there uses the pronoun “I” instead of the title “Son of Man” (cp. 3:14; 8:28). Clearly the crowd around him, including his followers and other interested hearers, has difficulty understanding this self-use of the expression “Son of Man”, and they ultimately ask the question in v. 34: “Who is this Son of Man?” How does Jesus’ response address this question? Fundamentally it is a Christological question, regarding the identity of Jesus, and his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God.

If we consider the three prior references to the expression “Son of Man” in the Gospel, two essentially restate the Son of Man saying cited by the crowd in verse 34—8:28 and 12:23. The third occurs at the climax of the healing episode in chapter 9, when Jesus asks the former blind man “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (v. 35). Some manuscripts read “…Son of God” but this likely is a correction to the more conventional title among early Christians, being more appropriate to a confession of faith (cf. 20:31, etc). Almost certainly, “Son of Man” is the correct original reading. The theme of the episode is that of seeing, with the establishment of sight tied to the idea of Jesus as light (fw=$)—the true light of God—even as he declares in 9:5, “I am the light of the world” (repeated from 8:12), an identification that is found again in 11:9f:

“…if any (one) should walk about in the day, he does not strike (his foot) against (anything) [i.e. does not trip/stumble], (in) that [i.e. because] he looks (by) the light of this world…”

An ordinary illustration is infused with theological meaning, and this infused imagery is recaptured here in 12:35-36—Jesus, the Son of God, is the light that shines in this world, so that people (believers) may see it and walk by it. The expression “this world” is the current world-order, the current Age of darkness and evil—darkness in which the light of God shines. This light/darkness motif is part of the theological vocabulary of the Johannine Gospel, going back to the Prologue (1:4-9), in which the Son (Jesus) is described as the “true light” (v. 9), the eternal life of God that gives light to people in the world (vv. 4, 9); the wording in verse 5 of the Prologue is especially significant here:

“…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not take it down [kate/laben]”

The same verb katalamba/nw is used here in 12:35, and, literally, it means “take down”, but can be understood in a positive, neutral, or negative sense; the latter is primarily intended in both passages, but certainly so in the saying here—emphasizing the danger of the person being “taken down” (or “overtaken”) by the darkness of the world. The dualistic light/darkness imagery also occurs in the chapter 3 discourse (vv. 19-20).

Thus, even if Jesus’ response might be obscure, from the standpoint of the audience (the crowd) in the discourse, it would be understandable for readers of the Gospel, who would recognize the earlier motifs. Who is this Messianic “Son of Man”? It is the Son of God, the true/eternal Light that shines in the darkness of this world. Here, the Gospel may well be redirecting traditional Messianic expectations of the time toward the unique Johannine Christology—revealing the true, deeper meaning of these titles and expressions as applied to Jesus. Like the healed blind man of chapter 9, believers see Jesus and come to him, responding with a declaration of trust. This refers specifically to the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth (in the world), a brief period of time (xro/no$) that is now coming to an end. The Light is “among” the people, and, as such, they “hold” it—but only believers will truly see and walk (“walk about”) by it (cp. 1 John 1:7).

The imperatives in verse 35 are a call for believers to come to him, and those who belong to God will respond in trust: “you must walk about as you hold the light…as you hold the light you must trust in the light”. Here the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) captures the discipleship-theme from earlier in the discourse—the believer comes toward Jesus and follows him, i.e. walks about with him; this, in turn, leads to trust (pi/sti$) and the believer remains with Jesus. This remaining involves union with Jesus (the Son) and with God the Father, and means that the believer has the same divine/eternal character as Father and Son. Thus, believers in Christ can properly be called “sons [i.e. children] of Light”, a title more or less synonymous with being called “children [lit. offspring] of God” (cf. 1:12; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2). The expression “sons of light” is traditional, being used, for example, by the Community of the Qumran texts, and comparable usage is found elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 16:8; 1 Thess 5:5; Eph 5:8); however, it has a deeper significance in the Johannine context, corresponding with the Christological light-imagery of the Gospel (cf. above).

The message of vv. 35-36 provides a suitable conclusion to the discourse, and to Jesus’ teaching in the first half of the Gospel; it completes the idea foreshadowed in the opening of the discourse—the Greeks (i.e. believers from the nations) who wish to come and see Jesus. In its own way, this is entirely a Messianic theme, prefigured, for example, in the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah (e.g., 42:6; 49:5-6; 52:10; 60:3). Early Christians would apply such (Messianic) imagery to the first-century mission to the Gentiles. The Johannine outlook in this regard is somewhat broader—the universal ideal of all believers in Christ, united together through the Spirit (see esp. Jn 17:20-26).

Verse 36 brings the narrative of the “Book of Signs” (chaps. 2-12) to a close, with the notice that Jesus went away and “hid himself” from the people. The same is stated in 8:59, at the end of the great chap. 7-8 Discourse (cf. also 10:40); apart from historical concerns, it is essentially a literary device, closing the curtain on a particular narrative (episode), and preparing readers for the next (the Last Supper scene and the Passion Narrative). Even so, chapter 12 only reaches it final close with two additional summary sections, in vv. 37-43 and 44-50. The last of these provides a kind of summary of all Jesus’ teaching from the great Discourses in chaps. 2-12, emphasizing, in particular, his relationship (as the Son) to God the Father. The light theme (of vv. 35-36, etc) is reprised here as well, in verse 46:

“I have come (as) light into the world, (so) that every (one) trusting in me should not remain in the darkness.”

This is the last occurrence of the noun fw=$ (“light”) in the Gospel, after serving as a key-word in the first half (23 times in chaps. 1-12). Implicit in this shift may be the idea of a time of darkness surrounding the Passion of Christ (cp. Lk 22:53 and Mk 15:33 par, and note Jn 13:30, “And it was night”), along with the promise that the light, even in the midst of the darkness, cannot be overcome (1:5).

March 26: John 12:31-34

John 12:31-34

“‘Now is (the) judgment of this world, now the chief (ruler) of this world shall be thrown out(side); and I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself.’ And he (was) say(ing) this, signifying [shmai/wn] what sort of death he (was) about to die away from.” (vv. 31-33)

In the discourse as we have it, the dual-saying of Jesus in vv. 31-33 follows directly after the sounding of the voice from heaven—the declaration of God the Father in response to Jesus’ request (cf. the previous note on vv. 27-30). Thus, Jesus’ own declaration in v. 31 must be understood here in that context: “Now is (the) judgment of this world…”. The hour of Jesus’ death—which is also the moment when he (the Son of Man) will be given honor/glory—marks the judgment (kri/si$) of the world. This is an example of the “realized” eschatology that is so prominent in the Gospel of John. The events which were believed to occur at the end of the current Age—the resurrection, the great Judgment, and eternal life for the righteous who pass through the Judgment—are already being experienced now, in the present, especially for believers in Christ. Indeed, there are several places in the Discourses where Jesus clearly states that those who trust in him have already passed through the Judgment, and, by contrast, those who are unable/unwilling to trust have already been judged—cf. 3:19; 5:22-24 [cp. 27-30]; 9:39; 12:47-48; 16:8-11. For more on this, see the recent article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

In the Johannine theology and religious outlook, the term “world” (ko/smo$, perhaps better rendered “world order“) refers to the current Age (i.e. the current order of things) that is dominated by darkness and wickedness and fundamentally opposed to God. The end-time Judgment—already being experienced in the present—involves the judgment/defeat of these forces of evil, led and embodied by the figure here called “the chief [a&rxwn] of this world”, perhaps also personified as “the Evil (One)” (o( ponhro/$, cf. 1 John 5:18-19; John 17:15, etc). In more traditional religious language, this figure would be identified as the Satan/Devil. This expression “the chief of this world” also occurs at 14:30 and 16:11:

“…the chief of the world comes, and he holds nothing in/on me” (14:30)
(the Spirit will demonstrate [the truth] to the world) …about (the) Judgment, (in) that the chief of this world has been judged” (16:11)

The statement in 16:11 corresponds closely with that in 12:31; in terms of the context of the narrative, 14:30 and 16:11 are ‘located’ before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus, which confirms the idea that his death/resurrection is the moment when the “ruler of this world” is judged. The actual verb used is e)kba/llw (“throw/cast out”), with the adverb e&cw giving added emphasis (“thrown outside“). This means that the power/control of the Evil One is broken and he no longer has dominion over the world. Revelation 12 similarly sets the Satan’s expulsion from heaven (being thrown out/down) in the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 5-9ff). The saying of Jesus in Luke 10:18 (“I observed the Satan [hav]ing fallen as a flash [of lightning] out of heaven”) relates to the time of his earthly ministry, and the authority he has (over evil spirits, etc), the same power/authority he gives to his disciples (i.e. believers) over the forces of evil (cp. the statement on the purpose of Jesus’ mission in 1 Jn 3:8). His death, of course, represents the completion of his mission on earth, and is to be seen especially as the moment of the Evil One’s defeat. This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

To this statement is added, in v. 32, an apparently separate saying which resembles, and repeats the message of, that in 3:14f:

“…even as Moshe lifted high the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him would hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].” (3:14-15)

“…and I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself” (12:32)

As previous noted, the verb u(yo/w (“lift/raise high”) in these Johannine passages (cf. also 8:28) has a dual meaning: (1) Jesus’ death, being lifted up on the stake, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father). The author’s comment in v. 33 specifies that the first of these is primarily in view, as is fitting for the Passion-context of the narrative at this point. To come toward (pro/$) Jesus means to trust in him, even as the Greeks who wish to “come toward” Jesus and see him (vv. 20-22) represent all the believers from the surrounding nations who will come to trust in him.

A sense of election/predestination (to use the traditional theological terminology) is connoted by the verb e(lku/w (“drag”), a verb that is rare in the New Testament, being used in 21:6, 11 in the context of fishing (i.e. pulling/dragging in the nets). It is also used in the judicial context of ‘hauling’ someone into court, etc, which would fit the judgment theme in verse 31 (cf. Acts 16:19; James 2:6). The most relevant parallel, however, is found in 6:44, in the Bread of Life discourse, as Jesus speaks of the dynamic of people “coming” to him (i.e. to trust in him):

“No (one) is able to come toward me, if (it is) not (that) the Father, the (One) sending me, should drag [e(lku/sh|] him (there)…”

The language almost suggests someone being pulled against his/her will, which would be a bit too strong of an interpretation; however, there is a definite emphasis in the Johannine Discourses on what we would call election or predestination—believers come to Jesus because they (already) belong to God, and have been chosen. The inclusive language in 12:32— “…I will drag all (people)” —is best understood in terms of all believers, especially in light of the presence of Greek (i.e.  non-Jewish) believers here in the narrative context; that is to say, believers from all the nations/peoples will come to him.

Verse 34

The response of the crowd in verse 34 is another example of the motif of misunderstanding that is built into the Johannine discourse format. Which is not say that these instances do not reflect authentic historical details, but only that they have been tailored to fit the literary context of the discourse. Indeed, the response of the crowd here is entirely believable. It refers primarily to the main line of the discourse—the saying in verse 23, along with the latter statement in v. 32—that is to say, the core tradition regarding the death of the “Son of Man”:

Then the throng (of people) gave forth (an answer) to him: “We heard out of the Law that ‘the Anointed (One) remains into the Age’, and (so) how (can) you say that ‘it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

This is best understood as a summary of different questions Jesus’ followers (and other interested hearers) had regarding his message. It reflects two basic issues, in terms of Jesus’ Messianic identity:

    • The idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, would die (and/or depart) before establishing the kingdom of God (on earth) in the New Age.
    • The manner in which he identified himself with the “Son of Man” figure—in two respects:
      • The Son of Man sayings which refer to his upcoming suffering and death
      • The eschatological Son of Man sayings, which refer to the appearance of a heavenly deliverer at the end-time

This will be discussed further in the upcoming note for Palm Sunday; you may also wish to consult my earlier series on the Son of Man Sayings of Jesus.

 

March 24: John 12:26

John 12:26

“If any (one) would serve me, he must follow (the same path as) me, and where I am, there also my servant will be; (and) if any (one) would serve me, the Father will value him (greatly).”

This is the third of the three sayings which follow the initial declaration in verse 23. They all relate to the theme of discipleship—of following Jesus, even to the point of imitating (or participating in) his sacrificial death. As previously noted, there are similar sayings (and parables) in the Synoptic Gospels; indeed, there is a general parallel between 12:23-26ff and the discourse-block in Mark 8:31-9:1 par, which contains a similar cluster of discipleship-sayings. The saying here in verse 26 corresponds, more or less, to that of Mk 8:34 par, with the emphasis on following Jesus, using the same verb a)kolouqe/w:

“If any (one) wishes to follow [a)kolouqei=n] in back of me, (surely) he must deny himself and take up his stake [i.e. cross-piece] and follow [a)kolouqei/tw] me.”

The fundamental meaning of this verb entails following the same road or path (ke/leuqo$) that another person takes. The Synoptic saying uses the regular prepositional expression o)pi/sw (“in back of, behind”). In the Johannine saying, the emphasis is not on following behind Jesus, but on ending up in the same place that he does. Thus, we have a rather different aspect of discipleship here—one which corresponds entirely with the distinctive Johannine theology of the Gospel. The same basic point is made in Last Discourse (Jn 14:3-4):

“And if I should travel and make ready a place for you, I (will) come and will take you along toward myself, (so) that where [o(pou=] I am, (there) also you would be. And (the place) where [o(pou=] I lead (the way) under [u(pa/gw], you have seen [i.e. you know] the way (there).”

In both 12:26 and 14:3-4, the locational particle o(pou= (indicating “at whichever [place]”, i.e. “[the place] where”) is used. The lack of the preposition o)pi/sw is significant—the believer does not follow behind Jesus, but exists, united with him, in the same place. This all occurs with Jesus’ death and resurrection, as the Passion-context of these sayings would indicate. After this—that is, following his death, resurrection, and return to the Father—believers are united with him through the Spirit (in the present), and ultimately will be together with him in heaven (in the future). This does not eliminate the traditional idea of discipleship (cp. the Synoptic sayings), but, rather, gives to it a new and deeper meaning.

Significant also is the way that the Johannine saying here introduces the idea of serving (vb diakone/w). The verb is used in the Gospel of John only here in chapter 12—the Passion narrative setting of the Anointing of Jesus (v. 2), and twice here in v. 26. The related noun dia/kono$ (“servant”) is equally rare, occurring outside of this verse only in early Cana miracle-episode (2:5, 9). The terminology is more common in the Synoptics, including the idea that following Jesus (as a disciple) entails serving him (cf. Mark 15:41 par; Luke 8:3). Elsewhere, the emphasis is on Jesus acting as a servant—giving of himself to serve others—and on the need for his disciples to follow the same example (Mk 10:43-45; par Matt 20:26-28; Lk 17:7-10; 22:26-27, cf. also 12:37). While the Gospel of John does not contain any comparable sayings, the idea is expressed clearly in the Last Supper scene in chapter 13—the washing of the disciples’ feet (vv. 4-11), along with the explanation of what this signifies (vv. 12-20); there is a definite parallel with the setting of Lk 22:26-27.

Thus, in the Johannine context especially, the idea of serving is closely connected with the sacrificial death of Jesus, even as it is in a saying such as Mk 10:45 par. We may well infer here, in Jn 12:26, that for the disciple to serve Jesus means participation in his death, just as the parable in v. 24 also indicates. One is reminded of the statement by Ignatius of Antioch, in the early second century; himself following Jesus’ example, on his way to being put to death for his faith in Christ, he calls himself “the (grain of) wheat of God” (Romans 4:1). Indeed, with his death he declares “then I will be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ” (v. 2).

It is this aspect of the believer’s participation in Jesus death that explains the relationship of these sayings to the initial Son of Man statement in v. 23 (as well as the narrative introduction of vv. 20-22). I will be discussing this further in the next daily note. The reference to God the Father at the close of v. 26 is also of special importance, since it serves to unite the discipleship-sayings with what follows in vv. 27-30, to be studied in the next note.

March 23: John 12:24-25

John 12:24-25

Within the structure of 12:20-36, the main line moves from the initial saying in verse 23 to vv. 27-28ff. In between, there is a trio of sayings (vv. 24-26) which, on the surface, appear to be only marginally related to the main line of the discourse. Actually, there is an interesting parallel to this section in the Synoptics (Mark 8:31-9:1 par), in which there is a statement regarding the glory (do/ca) of the Son of Man (v. 38) in the context of his upcoming suffering and death (v. 31). Indeed, there is a reasonably close parallel for two of the Johannine sayings here in that Synoptic section (vv. 25-26, cp. Mk 8:34-35 par), sharing the basic discipleship-theme—of the willingness to give up one’s life to follow Jesus, even to the point of imitating his sacrificial death. This suggests that, quite independently, sayings-material has been combined in a similar way, in the Synoptic and Johannine Tradition respectively. In today’s note, we will be examining the first two of the sayings, in verses 24 and 25.

Verse 24

“Amen, amen, I relate to you: if the kernel of wheat falling into the earth should not die away, it remains alone; but if it should die away, it bears much fruit.”

This saying is an illustration (or short parable) utilizing agricultural (farming/planting) imagery, like many others we find in the Synoptic tradition. Several of these deal specifically with a grain or kernel (of wheat, etc), that is planted in the ground—most notably, the famous parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9 par) and the parable of the mustard seed (4:26-29), the latter being closer to the Johannine illustration here.

The agricultural imagery is used to illustrate a basic premise: that new life comes as the result of death. This observation from the natural world has been noted and expressed many times by philosophers, theologians, and mystics around the world, regarding the interconnected mystery of life, death, and rebirth in the universe. Here, of course, it relates specifically to the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also—and more precisely—to the new (i.e. eternal) life that his death brings to those who trust in him.

The application of such agricultural symbolism to the person of a divine being is hardly unique to Jesus (as the Son of God); there are many ancient parallels of this sort, especially within (seasonal) cosmological and religious myths. One thinks, for example, of the Sumerian tales involving Dumuzi, who personified the life-giving power within the fruit-trees, etc, as well as that which enables the animals of the herd/flock to give birth; he ‘dies’ in the heat of summer, only to come back to life again in the spring-time. Similarly, we might note the daughter of Demeter in the myths at the core of the Greek Eleusinian mysteries; indeed, the mystery religions tended to make ritual of this symbolism, in a somewhat comparable manner to the early Christian baptism rite, in which believers participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. below). There are agricultural life/death/rebirth aspects to the Canaanite Baal Haddu, the Egyptian Osiris, and many other examples could be cited.

Jesus’ illustration makes an important contrast that can be easily overlooked—if it enters the ground, but does not die, the seed “remains alone” (an alliterative expression, mo/no$ me/nei). The verb me/nw (“remain”) is particularly significant within the Johannine theological vocabulary, being used repeatedly (in the Discourses, etc) to express the union of believers with Jesus. To “remain alone” is the opposite of this union, of separation from the life-giving power of Jesus (cp. the Vine illustration in chap. 15)—a power that is realized through the Spirit, but defined primarily by his sacrificial death. Thus, the illustration transitions from the idea of Jesus’ own death, to that of the believer who is united with Jesus’ through participation in his death. The effect of this union is depicted in the second part of the contrast—if the seed does die, then it becomes part of the natural process of bringing life and growth. This relates to the life-giving power of Jesus, but also to the way that this power is experienced by the believer.

VERSE 25

“The (one) being fond of his (own) soul [i.e. life] suffers loss from it, but the (one) hating his soul in this world will guard it into (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

This saying is quite similar to that of Mark 8:35 par (cf. above); in fact, there are several versions (or variations) of this saying in the Synoptic Tradition. In such instances, the critical view tends to be that the different versions go back to a single historical tradition, with the variations being primarily due to the process of transmission and (literary) adaptation; however, here it seems much more likely that the variations go back to Jesus himself. The saying is so simple, the the contrast so fundamental, that one can easily envision Jesus using it repeatedly in his teaching, in slightly different forms.

It is a dual-saying, each part with its own contrast—a conditional phrase (protasis) followed by the result statement (apodosis). Let us consider the first part of the saying, in its three Synoptic variations:

“Who ever would wish to save [sw=sai] his soul will suffer loss from it” (Mk 8:35; cf. also Lk 9:24)
“The (one) finding [eu(rw=n] his soul will suffer loss from it” (Matt 10:39)
“Who ever would wish to make his soul (secure) about (him) [peripoih/sasqai] will suffer loss from it” (Lk 17:33)

The version here in Jn 12:25 is:

“The (one) being fond of [filw=n] his soul will suffer loss from it”

Formally, the Johannine version is closer to Matt 10:39, with its use (in Greek) of the articular particple (“the one finding” / “the one being fond of”). The pattern of Jesus’ saying allows for four different verbs, each with its own nuance; however, in each version, the result-statement uses the verb a)po/llumi, which can be translated “lose”, “ruin”, “destroy”, but which I render more literally above as experiencing “loss from” something. Taken on its own (and out of context), the significance of the saying is not immediately clear, though its basic meaning (as a proverb) is straightforward—the person who is concerned about the welfare of his/her own life will end up experiencing the loss of (or from) it.

The second part of the saying is as follows:

“…but who ever suffers loss from his soul, for my sake and (for) the good message, will save it” (Mk 8:35)
“…and the (one) suffering loss from his soul, for my sake, will find it” (Matt 10:39)
“…but who ever would suffer loss from (his soul) will cause it to be [i.e. remain] alive” (Lk 17:33)

In Jn 12:25 it is:

“…and the (one) hating his soul in this world will guard it into (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life”

The Johannine version differs primarily in that the saying does not reverse itself, pivoting on a repeated use of the verb a)po/llumi; instead, a formal contrast is made between the verb file/w (“the one being fond of…”) and mise/w (“the one hating…”). This emphasis resembles the thought and language of the Synoptic sayings in Luke 14:26 and Matt 10:37. The thrust of this is explained by an additional layer of contrast in the saying: “this world” vs. eternal life (“life of the Age [to Come]”). The use of ko/smo$ (“world order, world”), in the context of Johannine theology, indicates that Jesus is not merely speaking of a concern for ordinary daily matters, but of involvement in the darkness and wickedness that is intrinsic to the current world order.

The opposite of losing/ruining one’s soul (vb a)po/llumi) is to guard it (vb fula/ssw)—i.e. protect it and keep it from harm. The verb fula/ssw is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, with the synonymous thre/w (“keep watch [over]”) being much more common. In 12:47, fula/ssw is used to describe the believer as one who “guards” Jesus’ words; while, in the great Prayer-discourse (17:12), it refers to the work of Jesus in guarding his disciples (believers) while he is present with them (a protection that will continue through the presence of the Spirit). The specific wording is worth noting, in light of 12:25:

“When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in the name that you have given to me, and I guarded [e)fu/laca] (them), and not one out of them was lost/ruined [a)pw/leto]…”

The same juxtaposition of fula/ssw and a)pollumi occurs here as in 12:25, and we may infer here a similar meaning—it is Jesus who guards believers and keeps them from harm, when they unite with his life-giving (and preserving) power through participation in his sacrificial death. The Johannine theological context has shifted the emphasis somewhat from the straightforward discipleship motif (i.e. in Mark 8:34-38 par), to the idea of trusting in Jesus with the idiom of seeing and remaining (i.e. being united with him). However, the more traditional theme of discipleship—following Jesus—is still present in the Johannine discourse, as we will examine in the next daily note.

 

 

March 22: John 12:20-23

John 12:20-23

The daily notes here leading into Holy Week will focus on John 12:20-36. In the previous note, I discussed the place of this section in the context of chapters 11-12, as the conclusion to the first half of the Gospel (the “Book of Signs”, 1:19-12:50).

“And there were some Greeks out of the (one)s stepping [i.e. coming] up (to Jerusalem so) that they might kiss toward [i.e. worship] (God) in the festival. So (then) these (persons) came toward {Philip}, the (one) from Beth-Saida of the Galîl, and inquired (of) him, saying: ‘Lord [i.e. Sir], we wish to see Yeshua’. (Then) {Philip} comes and relates (this) to {Andrew}, (and) {Philip} and {Andrew} come and relate (it) to Yeshua. And Yeshua gives forth (an answer) to them, saying:

‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be honored’.”

This is the historical tradition that serves as basis for the discourse. Verses 20-22 provide the narrative introduction, while the remainder of the discourse essentially functions as an exposition of the initial saying of Jesus in verse 23. The regular discourse-feature of the audience response (and misunderstanding) is introduced further on in the discourse (vv. 29, 33-34). In terms of the Johannine discourses, this one is rather loosely constructed. It takes the form of a sequence of individual sayings, which may well have originally been uttered by Jesus on separate occasions, but gathered together and connected based on common theme and wording (i.e. catchword bonding). This is typical of many discourse-blocks in the Synoptic Gospels, while the Johannine discourses, by comparison, tend to be more developed literary pieces.

Almost certainly we can determine that verses 20-22 represent an authentic historical tradition. The details appear, on the surface, to be irrelevant to the sayings that follow in vv. 23ff. The references to Philip and Andrew, while characteristic of the Johannine tradition (1:40-48; 6:5-8; 14:8-9), are entirely incidental to the passage here. Apparently the Gospel writer has drawn from a specific historical tradition to introduce the discourse, without altering it significantly to fit the scenario. Even the mention of the “Greeks” who wish to see Jesus is not followed through in the discourse—they disappear without further mention (did they ever actually meet with Jesus?). This is rather typical of the Johannine discourses; note, for example, how Nicodemus, after his involvement in the opening of that discourse (3:1-9), is not mentioned again in the remainder, which consists entirely of exposition by Jesus.

The detail of these “Greeks” coming to see Jesus is actually more significant that it might seem at first glance. Here the word  (Ellhne/$ refers, not simply to Greek-speakers, but to non-Israelite Greeks (and Romans), i.e. Gentiles. Their statement “we wish to see Yeshua”, and the idea of their “stepping up” (vb a)nabai/nw) and “coming toward” (vb prose/rxomai) him, expressed in the idiom of the Johannine theological vocabulary, indicates that these are believers—Gentiles who would come to trust in Jesus. In the Gospel of John, to “see” (i)dei=n) is an idiomatic way of referring to trust in Jesus, and of union with God the Father through Jesus the Son. Even in ordinary Greek expression seeing and knowing are interconnected, with the verb ei&dw (“see”) used interchangeably with ginw/skw (“know”); this is all the more so in the Johannine writings, where one sees/knows God the Father through Jesus the Son.

The immediate context of the passage, too, tends to confirm this theological aspect of the Greeks coming to Jesus. We would note, for example, the declaration by Jesus in 10:16, where he states that

“…I hold other sheep which are not out of [i.e. from] this yard, and it is necessary for me to lead them also, and they will hear my voice—and they will come to be a single herd [i.e. flock], (and) one herder [i.e. shepherd].”

There can be little doubt that this is an allusion to believers coming to Jesus from the surrounding nations and peoples (i.e. other yards). The discourse that follows here also contains a saying of Jesus that reflects this idea more directly, when he declares

“and I, if [i.e. when] I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward me.” (12:32)

It is perhaps significant that we are never told whether those Greek actually were able to meet with Jesus—that is, to come toward [pro/$] him. The scene gives a foreshadowing of what will occur after (and as a result of) Jesus’ death and resurrection; in other words, believers from the other nations/peoples will only be able to come toward Jesus, when his work on earth is complete (19:30).

This leads us to the initial saying of Jesus in verse 23:

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be honored.”

This is one of the few “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel of John; while frequent in the Synoptic tradition, such Johannine sayings are less common, though the ones which occur are notable—1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28, etc. The sayings with an eschatological context are quite rare (5:27); most follow the Synoptic line of tradition, of sayings whereby Jesus refers to his impending suffering and death. The statement here involves the lifting/raising high (vb u(yo/w) of the Son of Man, essentially repeating that from the earlier discourse in 3:14f:

“And, even as Moshe lifted high the snake in the desolate land [i.e. desert], so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him would hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The allusion to the episode in Numbers 21:4-9 makes rather clear that the idea of Jesus’ death on the stake (crucifixion) is in view. The snake raised on the pole brings healing, to everyone who sees it; so also Jesus’ death (his body raised on the stake) brings salvation to every one who sees—that is, trusts in—him. The coming of the Greeks toward him indicates, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, that the moment for his death is close at hand. This is made explicit in the saying here: “The hour has come…”. The word w%ra (“hour”) has this specific connotation in the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mark 14:35, 41 par; cf. also Luke 22:53). Indeed, a nearly identical declaration is made in Mk 14:41: “the hour came [i.e. has come]—see, the Son of Man is given along into the hands of sinful (men)”. The same idiom occurs in the Gospel of John, in the narration (7:30; 8:20; 13:1), but also in the parallel saying of Jesus in 2:4—one statement occurring at the beginning of the “Book of Signs”, the other at its conclusion:

“My hour has not yet arrived” (2:4)
“The hour has come…” (12:23)

The moment of his death is further explained here as the time when the Son of Man will be honored. The verb doca/zw fundamentally means “esteem, treat/regard with honor”. It is a distinctive Johannine word, occurring 23 times in the Gospel, compared with 14 in all three Synoptic Gospels combined. It is especially prevalent in chapters 13-17 (13 of the 23 occurrences), in the context of the Passion Narrative; its use in the saying here was anticipated in the Lazarus episode (11:4), and again in the narrative aside at 12:16. The word do/ca essentially refers to how a person regards or considers something, i.e., the regard or esteem one has for it. When applied to God, in a religious context, it relates to the honor and respect one ought to show Him; moreover, by extension, it also signifies to the attributes and characteristics which make Him worthy of honor—His greatness, holiness, purity, etc. These may be summarized as His “splendor” or “glory” (the customary English translation of do/ca). What applies to God the Father applies just as well to Jesus the Son—however, here, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, it refers to two distinct aspects of Jesus’ work on earth: (1) the completion of his mission (with his sacrificial death, 19:30 etc), and (2) his exaltation following his death (resurrection and return to the Father). These two aspects play on the common motif of Jesus being “lifted up” —his death (lifted up on the cross), and his exaltation (raised from the death and lifted to heaven).

This will be discussed further on the saying in verse 28, where the verb doca/zw is again used.