Notes on Prayer: Matthew 6:5-8

Matthew 6:5-8

The main section of teaching by Jesus on prayer, in the Gospel of Matthew, is in chapter 6 (part of the “Sermon on the Mount”). In Matt 6:1-18, Jesus gives instruction to his disciples regarding their religious behavior and attitudes, drawing upon three basic components of conventional (Jewish) religion—(1) charitable giving to the needy (vv. 2-4), (2) prayer (vv. 5-6ff), and (3) fasting (vv. 16-18). All three are discussed according to the pattern laid out in verse 1:

“You must hold (yourself carefully) toward your right(eous)ness [dikaiosu/nh], not to do (it) in front of men, (and) toward it being looked at by them, and if not [i.e. if you are not careful], (then) you hold no payment [misqo/$] (from) alongside your Father in the heavens.”

This statement illustrates the problem with translating dikaiosu/nh as “justice” or “righteousness”; something like “right-ness” would be more appropriate. Here it is used, in a conventional religious sense, of a person who lives and acts (or would so act) in a right way before God; or, perhaps more to the point—that such persons, through their behavior, would show themselves to be right and just. In this regard, Jesus’ teaching to his followers is as clear as it is striking: such religious behavior should not be done publicly in front of others. Actually there are two components to this injunction: (a) it should not be done in front of others, and (b) it should not be done for the purpose of being seen by others; this second aspect clarifies the meaning of the first, and represents a more serious situation. Jesus warns them that, if they are not careful in this matter, they will receive no recognition from God for their religious way of life. The word misqo/$ refers to payment made for the work a person does (and is hired to do)—that is, a wage, though sometimes it can also be used in the sense of a reward. Here, the basic idea is that a person would normally expect to receive recognition (payment, reward) from God for right and proper religious behavior.

This teaching by Jesus is illustrated through three examples of typical religious behavior, as noted above. The expository pattern followed is precise for each case, with the exception of the ‘added’ teaching on prayer in vv. 7-15. The pattern may be outlined as:

    • The u(pokritai/
      • Warning against behaving like them
      • Description of how they behave
      • They already have all the payment they will receive
    • Jesus’ disciples
      • Description of how they should behave
      • If so, they will receive future/heavenly payment from God

The noun u(pokrith/$ is difficult to translate accurately; it is often simply given in the transliterated form which has passed into English—hypocrite—but this is generally inappropriate and can be misleading due to the negative value-judgment built into this word. Originally, the verb u(pokri/nw (middle/passive u(pokri/nomai) literally would have meant something like “separating out from under”, generally in the sense of bringing out an answer or explanation. This came to be applied widely in the technical sense of an actor or poet interpreting a role or work (before an audience), and along with this basic meaning, the more negative connotation of acting falsely/deceptively by “playing a part”, “play-acting”, etc. Here, Jesus draws upon this idea of a person playing a role, and doing it in front of others—note in v. 1 the verb qea/omai (“look [upon]”) from which comes the noun qe/atron (our “theater” in English), lit. a place for viewing (looking at) something.

With this in mind, let us consider Jesus’ illustration of the teaching with regard to prayer—first, a description of the u(pokritai/:

“And when you would speak out toward (God), you shall not be as th(ose who) respond under (a mask) [oi( u(pokritai/], (in) that they are fond (of being) in the (place)s of gathering together (to worship) and in the corners of the wide (street)s, having stood to speak out toward (God), (and) how they might be made to shine forth (so) to men—Amen, I relate to you, they (already) hold their payment from (this).” (v. 5)

The verb typically translated “pray” (proseu/xomai) literally means “speak out toward”, which, in a religious context, obviously refers to addressing God. To preserve something of the literal meaning of the noun u(pokrith/$, I have translated the plural here as “the (one)s responding under (a mask)”, with the added detail of a mask capturing the image of the stage-actor playing a role. Who are these ‘actors’? In context, it can only refer to those who seek public recognition or affirmation for their righteous/religious behavior; implied in this, is that many (or most) religiously-minded people, to some extent, would fit under the description—that is, it is typical of conventional religion. It is said that such people “are fond” (filou=sin) of two things related to their prayer:

    • First, of being around other people, either in the buildings where people are brought together to worship (the sunagwgh/, or “synagogue”), or outside in the open (“wide”, platei=a) streets and squares.
    • Second, of standing (e(stw=te$) when they pray, which enhances their visibility

Both are done so that these persons “might be made to shine forth” (fanw=sin) as righteous and devout, and to be recognized as such by others. It should be pointed out that this portrait by Jesus is something of an exaggeration, one that is meant to illustrate typical religious behavior—one concerned with appearances and what others think about what we do—in a rather extreme manner. By contrast, Jesus’ instruction for his followers points to the very opposite extreme:

“But when you would speak out toward (God), you must go into your (own) place (where things are) gathered, and, closing your entrance, you must speak out toward (God) in the hidden (place); and (then) your Father, the (One) looking in the hidden (place), will give forth (payment) to you.” (v. 6)

There is, I think, an intentional contrast here, based on the motif of “gathering together”, which is largely lost in translation. I have tried to preserve this above by rendering the noun tam[i]ei=on most literally as a place where things are collected/gathered together (for use)—i.e. a store-room, closet, etc. Here this is understood to be a private room in a person’s own house, in contrast to a public place (or building) where groups of people gather together (i.e. sunagwgh, “synagogue”). Moreover, the door is to be shut, so that the person is entirely hidden (krupto/$) from all other people. The contrast could not be more definite. Is this meant to be taken concretely, as though one should avoid all public contact or gathering when one prays? Or does it rather symbolize the overall attitude and outlook Jesus’ followers (believers) should have? Probably the latter, with the specific details representing the same extreme or exaggerated portrait with which it is contrasted in v. 5. At the same time, Jesus absolutely emphasizes the “hidden” vs. the public—that is, recognition from God alone, since it is only He who can see into the hidden place. Ultimately this hiddenness is a matter of the heart—of inner attitudes and intention—rather than any sort of external behavior. Paul uses much the same language, though with a different purpose and emphasis, in Romans 2:28-29:

“For (one) is not a Jew in the shining forth [e)n tw=| fanerw=|] (to others), and circumcision (is not) in the shining forth in the flesh, but a (true) Jew (is so) in the hidden [e)n tw=| kruptw=|] (place), and circumcision (is) of the heart—in the Spirit, not the letter—the praise of which (comes) not out of men, but out of God.”

Interestingly, the conclusion is the same: praise and reward for one’s religious behavior is to come entirely from God, not other human beings. Jesus casts this in an eschatological light—the outward-oriented behavior of most religious people is rewarded in the present, from the public praise and recognition they receive; but, for Jesus’ followers, there will be a heavenly/eternal reward from God in the future.

Jesus’ teaching in verses 7-15

As noted above, the pattern for all three areas illustrated by Jesus—charitable giving, prayer, and fasting—is precise, and very nearly identical (vv. 2-6, 16-18). However, the prayer-illustration has been expanded to include additional teaching on prayer. While it is possible that this association could be part of the earliest tradition—that is, made by Jesus himself in his preaching—most critical commentators would hold that this section, like the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, represents a collection of Jesus’ teaching, originally given on different occasions (presumably), which has been gathered together based on theme and “catchword-bonding”. The disruption of the teaching pattern of 6:1-18, along with the fact that some of the teaching in vv. 7-15 (such as the Lord’s Prayer itself) occurs in a different narrative location (in Luke), would seem to confirm this. At any rate, this ‘additional’ teaching on prayer may be divided into four distinct sayings or traditions, including the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9-13). As I have discussed the Lord’s Prayer extensively in prior notes, I will here address, briefly, only the sayings in vv. 7-8, 14-15.

Verse 7

“And (in your) speaking out toward (God), you should not give a stuttering account, just as the (one)s (among the) nations (do), for they consider that in the many (words of) their account they will be listened to (by God).”

Here the contrast is specifically with the way that people in the surrounding nations pray; as in vv. 5-6, this again is certainly an exaggerated portrait of pagan prayer, characterized by two related terms:

    • The verb battologe/w, the first portion of which is of uncertain derivation but is usually understood to mean something like “stammering, babbling”, etc; I translate the verb above as “give a stuttering account”. It possibly refers to the tendency to extend or enhance prayer with ‘magical’ or strange-sounding words. Such use of ‘tongues’ can give a false impression of the special/inspired character of the prayer; cp. Paul’s careful instruction regarding the use of ‘tongues’ in (public) worship in 1 Cor 14.
    • The noun polulogi/a, “account/speech” (logi/a) of “many” (polu/$) words; again, there is a common religious tendency to extend the length and complexity of prayer with words, phrases, petitions, epithets, etc.
      (For more on both terms, and what they may signify, with examples from Greco-Roman literature and religion, cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 364-7.)
Verse 8

“(So) then you should not be like them: for your Father has (already) seen [i.e. known] the (thing)s which you hold as need(s) (even) before your asking him (for them).”

The first portion of v. 8 clearly relates as much to the saying in v. 7 as what follows; I suspect that vv. 7-8, at least, belong together from the earliest (or very early) layer of Gospel tradition. Even if the core of v. 8 represents a separate saying, together here they form a contrast for how Jesus’ disciples should conduct themselves in prayer, as in vv. 5-6—it should not be the way most people (whether Jew [vv. 5-6] or Gentile [vv. 7-8]) typically do. In particular, there should be recognition of God’s providential foreknowledge regarding what His people (the righteous/believers) need, and that he will not fail to provide. There is a general parallel to this idea elsewhere in the Sermon (5:45; 6:25-34; 7:7-11; par Lk 11:9-13; 12:22-31). As such, this teaching is fundamentally theological—Jesus’ disciples are to understand this aspect of God’s nature and character. Indeed, it is this very awareness that shapes our prayer and also serves as a fitting introduction to the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9-13).

Verses 14-15

“For, if you would release for (other) men their (moment)s of falling alongside, your heavenly Father will also release (them) for you; but if you would not release (them) for (other) men, (then) your Father also will not release your (moment)s of falling alongside.”

This dual-saying has a parallel in the wider Synoptic tradition (Mark 11:25[-26]), and has been included here (whether by Jesus as speaker or as a traditional association) because of its similarity to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (v. 12). Moreover, it also relates back to earlier instruction in the Sermon itself (5:23-24), which similarly connects forgiveness/reconciliation toward others with the legitimacy of our (external) religious behavior—with the point that forgiveness takes priority over even our dearest offerings and prayer to God. The parallelism in this teaching is precise and absolute in its reciprocity—as we do (to others), so it will be done to us (by God). This is a core teaching of Jesus’, central to the Sermon (7:12, etc) as well as found in parables, etc, throughout the Gospel Tradition, and yet one that remains most challenging for us to follow. For more on the Gospel parallels and the relation of this saying to the Lord’s Prayer, see my earlier note on Matt 6:12 / Lk 11:4a.

References above marked “Betz, Sermon” are to the outstanding critical commentary on The Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz, in the Hermeneia Series (Fortress Press: 1995).

Notes on Prayer: Mark 1:35; 6:46; 11:25ff, etc

In these Monday Notes on Prayer, I am beginning a series exploring Jesus’ own teaching (and example) regarding prayer. We have already explored the famous “Lord’s Prayer” in some detail (cf. the earlier series), as well as the great Prayer-discourse in John 17 (cf. those notes). Now, as a follow-up, we will examine other key passages in the Gospels. Using the same critical approach adopted in other study series on the Gospels (esp. the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”), I will begin with the Synoptic Tradition, as represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark, before turning to passages and details that are unique to Matthew and Luke, as well as the separate Johannine Tradition (Gospel of John).

As a point of departure, it is worth noting the Greek word (group) which is commonly translated into English by “pray(er)”. Most frequently it is the noun proseuxh/ (proseuch¢¡) and related verb proseu/xomai (proseúchomai, mid. deponent). Both are compound prefixed forms of eu)xh/ (euch¢¡) and eu&xomai (eúchomai) respectively. Fundamentally, this root refers to speaking out, especially in the sense of making one’s wishes known, expressing them out loud. Early on, this word group came to be used frequently in a religious context, i.e. of speaking out to God—either in the specific sense of a vow, or more generally as prayer. The noun eu)xh/ is rare in the New Testament (just 3 occurrences), but is used in both primary senses (Acts 18:18; 21:23; James 5:15); the verb eu&xomai is likewise relatively rare (Acts 26:29; 27:29; Rom 9:3; 2 Cor 13:7, 9; James 5:16; 3 John 2). The compound forms, with the prefixed preposition/particle pro$ (“toward”), focuses the meaning more precisely in context—i.e. of speaking out toward God, addressing the deity in prayer or with a specific vow. As such, both noun and verb occur frequently in the New Testament (36 and 85 times, respectively).

If we look at the Gospel of Mark, either in Jesus’ own recorded words (sayings), or in the narrative describing his behavior, there are 12 occurrences of the proseux- word group (10 vb, 2 noun), of which the most relevant passages (within the Gospel tradition) may fairly be divided into five groups, which we will survey here, noting in each case the Synoptic parallels.

1. Mark 1:35; 6:46 (cf. also 9:29)

In these two passages, the narrative mentions Jesus’ practice of going off to a deserted place, to be alone, and spending the time in communication (prayer) with God. In each instance, this is mentioned following a period of ministry activity in which Jesus performed healings or other miracles in public (1:29-34; 6:30-44 par). Matthew does not preserve the episode of Mark 1:35ff (cp. Matt 8:18); Luke does have it (4:42-44), but curiously makes no mention of Jesus in prayer, despite the fact that this is a relatively common theme in his Gospel (compare 5:15-16 and 6:12).

The implication of these references is likely twofold: (1) the need for Jesus to spend time away from the crowds, and (2) the juxtaposition of miracles–prayer suggests that there is a connection between the efficacy of healing power and prayer to God. Jesus makes this quite explicit in the exorcism episode of Mark 9:14-29, which concludes (v. 29) with his declaration that “this kind [i.e. of evil spirit] is not able to come out in [i.e. by] anything if not [i.e. except] in speaking out toward (God) [i.e. by prayer]”. Matthew has this same episode (17:14-20), though ending with an entirely different saying (v. 20) drawn from a separate tradition involving Jesus’ teaching on prayer (cf. 21:21 = Mark 11:22-23). Luke also records a version of the episode (9:37-43), but without any such climactic saying, and thus (again, strangely) no reference to prayer. It is possible that the Lukan Gospel seeks overall to give a different emphasis to the role and purpose of prayer. I shall discuss this further in the upcoming notes.

2. Mark 11:17

In the Temple “cleansing” episode, Jesus cites Isaiah 56:7 (together with Jer 7:11); this detail is found in all three Synoptic versions (the Johannine version draws upon a different line tradition [and Scripture citation]). The juxtaposition of the two quotations (in Greek, generally corresponding with the LXX) reads [Isaiah in bold]:

My house shall be called a house of speaking out toward (God) [i.e. prayer] for all the nations,
but you have made it a cave of (violent) robbers!”

Matthew and Luke each have a shortened version of Isa 56:7, omitting the phrase “for all the nations”, which is especially curious for the latter, given the central importance of this theme (i.e. the mission to the Gentiles) in Luke-Acts. The use of Isa 56:7 in the context of the Temple action by Jesus, with its disruption of the apparatus of the Temple ritual, suggests a new purpose for the Temple—prayer (i.e. direct communication with God), rather than the ritual of sacrificial offerings, etc. The extent to which Jesus himself intended this is much debated, but there can be little doubt that this re-interpretation of the Temple (its meaning and significance) took firm root in early Christianity, and is evidenced at many points in the New Testament. For more on this subject, see my articles in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (both in “Jesus and the Law” and “The Law in Luke-Acts”).

3. Mark 11:24-25

“Through [i.e. because of] this I say to you: all (thing)s, as (many) as you speak out toward (God) and ask (for), you must trust that you received (it), and it will be (so) for you.”
“And when you stand speaking out toward (God), release (it) if you hold (anything) against any(one), (so) that your Father the (One) in the heavens should also release for you your (moment)s of falling alongside.”

Here we have a pair of teachings (sayings) by Jesus, brought together. Only the first of these is found in the same context (cursing of the fig-tree) in Matthew (21:21), while the second is close to the saying in Matt 6:14f (in the Sermon on the Mount, cf. also 5:23-24). There is no parallel for either saying in the Gospel of Luke, though the idea of trusting that a person will receive what he/she asks for from God is found at a number of points throughout the Gospel tradition (Matt 7:7-11 [par Lk 11:9-13]; John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24ff, etc). In these sayings two things are said to hinder prayer from being answered by God: (1) a lack of trust in God, and (2) unresolved sin, especially that which involves a broken relationship with other people. Both are points of emphasis made by Jesus at various places throughout his teaching.

4. Mark 12:40

The reference to prayer here is part of a larger tradition whereby Jesus attacks conventional religious behavior, establishing a contrast for his followers—how they should think and behave in their religious conduct. The location of 12:38-40 in Mark, right before the episode of the widow’s offering (vv. 41-44), seems to be the result of “catchword bonding”, the two (originally separate) blocks of tradition being joined together because of the common reference to widows. At the same point in the Matthean narrative, in place of the “widow’s offering” scene, there is a much more extensive attack on the religious leaders (spanning all of chapter 23), much of which is drawn from a separate line of tradition (with parallels in Luke, cf. 11:39-52). By comparison, the (synoptic) tradition in Mark 12:38-40 is quite brief, directed against “the writers”, i.e. those literate men who are expert in written matters, especially the Scriptures and Torah, and all the religious authority (and prestige) that goes along with that expertise. They seem to be identified, in large measure (and typically in the Gospel tradition), with the Pharisee party (Matt 23:2).

The emphasis in vv. 38-39 is on their concern for worldly recognition and enhanced social status, along with the superficial trappings which mark such success and influence. The statement in verse 40 is more difficult, as it is not entirely clear how the two actions being described relate to one another:

    • “they eat down the houses of the widows”
    • “shining before (people as) speaking out long toward (God)”

The meaning of second phrase remains a bit uncertain, but the general idea seems to be that, even as they “consume” the houses of widows, these would-be religious leaders, at the same time, appear as highly devout persons engaged in much prayer (compare the Lukan portrait of the Pharisee in 18:10-14). To say that they “eat down” (consume/devour) the houses of widows is probably something of an extreme exaggeration, for effect. As those with knowledge of the law, and influential leaders, they should have been looking out for the poor in society—such as widows, who might be taken advantage of, to the point of being cheated out of their husband’s estate. A similar idea is implicit in the judgment against the rich man in Luke 16:19-31.

As for the rejection of prayer that is made publicly, to create and reinforce the impression of religious devotion, as opposed to true and earnest prayer made before God in private, that is the theme of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:5-8), which will be discussed again briefly in the next note.

5. Mark 14:32-39

The final Markan/Synoptic passage on prayer is the garden scene from the Passion narrative, found in all three Gospels. Even though the Passion/garden scene in John is quite different, there are interesting parallels to Mk 14:32ff elsewhere in that Gospel (12:23-28). I discussed this passage in the earlier studies on the Lord’s Prayer, in the context of the petition in Matt 6:13. In many ways, this episode summarizes Jesus’ teaching on prayer:

    • He is by himself, in a desolate place, speaking out earnestly and intensely to the Father
    • The moment represents the cumulation of his public ministry and work on earth
    • Though separate, his disciples (especially those closest to him) remain nearby, and his behavior is meant to serve as an example for them to follow (as with the Lord’s Prayer, etc)
    • Interspersed between his moments/sessions of prayer, Jesus gives instruction (regarding prayer) to his disciples, exhorting them essentially to follow his example
    • This need (for prayer) is especially acute as the moment of his passion and death draws near—an eschatological time of darkness to come upon the world (and his followers)

With this (all too brief) survey of the Markan/Synoptic passages, we can now explore the references to prayer which are unique to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. The next Monday study will focus on prayer in the Gospel of Matthew.

Monday Notes on Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer

I am introducing a new feature on this site: Monday Notes on Prayer—a brief critical and exegetical study on a verse or passage related to prayer, to be posted each Monday, as a supplement to the regular Daily Notes and Exegetical Study Series, etc. This first Monday Prayer Note will actually begin a week-long set of daily notes on the Lord’s Prayer—for Christians, certainly the most famous and well-known prayer in all the Scriptures. And yet, there are many textual and interpretive difficulties surrounding this prayer of which the average reader is largely unaware. Translations slant and gloss over some the difficulties, in order to provide a readable and understandable text. For the faithful commentator and exegete, however, it is necessary to dig into the original Greek of the Lord’s Prayer, critically analyzing the language, style, and context within the Gospel narrative. This we will do in this series of notes.

To begin with, as most students of the New Testament realize, there are two different forms, or versions, of the “Lord’s Prayer”—one in Matthew (6:9-13, part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’) and another in Luke (11:2-4). There is actually a third instance of the Prayer in early Christian literature—in the writing known as the Didache (“Teaching [of the Twelve Apostles]”), 8:2, a work which, in the form we have it, likely dates from c. 125-150 A.D., but which may contain earlier traditional material. Some commentators regard Didache 8:2 as a third version of the Prayer, transmitted independently of those in Matthew and Luke. However, a close examination of the text shows, I think, that the Didache form of the Prayer is the same as the Matthean. It follows the Matthean version closely, differing in wording only slightly, so that it can be considered as an adaptation of it. The only question is whether the author/compiler of the Didache (and/or his underlying source material), made use of the Gospel of Matthew directly, or is drawing upon a tradition shared by that Gospel. The former view seems more likely.

That still leaves the two distinct versions of the Prayer, in Matthew and Luke, respectively. The Lukan version is noticeably shorter, and there are a number of other significant differences. This has led commentators to discuss and debate the precise relationship between the two versions. Since the Lord’s Prayer occurs in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark, it technically belongs to the so-called “Q” material. Many commentators regard “Q” as a specific document, rather than a set of traditions considered more broadly; and, for these scholars, it remains something of a question whether the Lord’s Prayer belongs to such a Q-document, or was preserved through a separate line of tradition. This also brings up the historical critical question of whether Jesus himself uttered two different forms of the Prayer, or whether the differences are the result of the transmission and adaptation of a single historical tradition. There are thus several possibilities which must be considered:

    • Matthew and Luke record different historical scenarios, and Jesus spoke a distinct version of the Prayer in each. This takes the text at face value and harmonizes the two accounts, in a manner popular among many traditional-conservative commentators. The substance of the Prayer is largely the same, but Jesus, according to this view, did not adhere to one fixed form when he instructed his disciples on prayer.
    • There is one Prayer—that is, a single historical tradition—which came to be transmitted (and included in the Gospels) in two different versions. According to this view, the differences are primarily traditional, and not the result of editing by the Gospel writers.
    • There is a single “Q” Prayer form (historical tradition), which Matthew and Luke each handled differently; here there are two possibilities:
      • Luke represents the more original form, to which Matthew has added wording, etc, either by his own composition or from a known traditional/liturgical adaptation, or both.
      • Matthew has the fuller (original) form, which Luke has abridged/shortened, modifying the language, perhaps to make it more understandable for a Gentile audience.

The harmonizing approach (first option above) is problematic, for a variety of reasons. One simple difficulty seems obvious, and has been noticed by many commentators: if Jesus gave the instruction in Matt 6:5-13ff to his disciples at the point, and in the manner, described in the Matthean account, how is that the disciples subsequently (at the point in the Lukan account) would have felt the need to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, as they do in Lk 11:1? More to the point, such harmonizing efforts founder on the basic fact that in each Gospel there is just one (historical) account of the Lord’s Prayer. That it occurs at different points in the narrative, and in different contexts, is best explained as the result of a literary, not historical-chronological, arrangement of material.

Each Gospel writer has set the Prayer (a single historical tradition) within a distinctive collection of teachings/sayings of Jesus, according to their own literary/narrative framework. For Matthew, it is part of the great collection of teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), which is set at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry—a compendium of the kind of instruction Jesus gave to his disciples during his (Galilean) period of ministry. Luke places it at a different point in the narrative—during the journey to Jerusalem, which the author has expanded (9:51-18:30; cp. Mk 10) to include a wide range of sayings, parables, and other teaching by Jesus (to his disciples). The journey to Jerusalem provides the narrative framework for these Gospel traditions in Luke.

From the standpoint of the development of the historical tradition, Lk 11:1-13 probably reflects an early collection of Jesus’ instruction on prayer (“Q” material), which Matthew has chosen to incorporate within the wider context of his “Sermon on the Mount” framework in a different manner. Indeed, the Matthean location of the Prayer appears to be intrusive. The Sermon structure in Matt 6:1-18 follows a consistent pattern: three areas of religious behavior are addressed—(1) almsgiving (vv. 2-4), (2) prayer (vv. 5-6), and (3) fasting (vv. 16-18)—each according to the principle taught in verse 1. Verses 7-15 (on prayer) disrupt this pattern, suggesting that separate traditions have been included by the author at this point; these may be outlined as follows:

    • Saying[s] of Jesus on prayer (v. 7-8)
    • The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9b-13), introduced by v. 9a
    • Saying/teaching of Jesus on forgiveness (vv. 14-15)

This sequence (vv. 7-15) makes for a powerful little homily in its own right. The thematic significance of this setting is discussed below. First, let us compare the Lukan sequence in outline:

    • The Lord’s Prayer (11:2-4), introduced by the narrative summary in v. 1 with the request by the disciples
    • Parable by Jesus (vv. 5-8)
    • Sayings of Jesus on the theme of asking God (to provide for one’s needs, etc), “Q” material (vv. 9-13, cp. Matt 7:7-11)

Each Gospel writer has incorporated traditional material in a different way. We must be careful not to confuse literary arrangement with a strict historical-chronological sequence. Moreover, this literary arrangement gives to the Lord’s Prayer, in each Gospel setting, a different thematic emphasis or thrust.

In Matthew, the main point of the teaching in 6:1-18 is a contrast between religion practiced in front of others, for the purpose (in part at least) of receiving recognition, and true religious devotion which is done privately (“in the hidden/secret [place]”) to be seen only by God the Father. The contrast is between things done ‘on earth’ (in front of other people), and things done in the sight of God the Father, “the One [who is] in the heavens“. The expression “the One (who is) in the heavens” is an important key phrase of the Sermon on the Mount, a fact that must be remembered when examining the Matthean Lord’s Prayer. This contrast between public religious expression (by the masses) and the private devotion expressed by true followers of Jesus informs the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer in context.

The Lukan setting of the Prayer has a rather different emphasis; the structure of the Journey narrative is much more complex than the Sermon on the Mount, but the immediate context (of chapters 10-11) provides several important themes:

    • Disciples following the example of Jesus, in ministry, etc (10:1-12, 16)
    • The presence and power of the Spirit (10:19-20, 21)
    • Authority, revelation, etc, given to the Disciples by Jesus, and, in turn, by God the Father (10:16, 19f, 21-22ff)

These themes govern the presentation of the instruction on prayer in chapter 11—note:

    • The Disciples see Jesus in prayer, and, seeking to follow his example, request that he teach them to pray (as he does) (v. 1)
    • When they ask of God (in prayer) as Jesus does, the Father will answer and give to them (vv. 5-13)
    • The ultimate goal of prayer for Jesus’ followers is the Holy Spirit which God the Father will give to them (v. 13)

There is a deeper theological dimension to the Lukan setting of the Prayer (and one that is more distinctly Christian). Again, it is important to keep these points in mind when examining the Lord’s Prayer, and not to treat it apart from its Gospel context. While it is possible that, at the historical level, the Lord’s Prayer may have originally been uttered by Jesus to his disciples in a different setting, we must admit that, if so, this is now lost to us. What has been preserved is the form of the Prayer as it appears within the narrative setting of the Matthean and Lukan Gospels. The setting of the Prayer in the Didache is secondary, but may be worth noting here in passing. The work is divided into two main parts: (1) The “Two Ways” (1:1-6:2), a dualistic instruction derived largely from the teaching of Jesus (esp. the Sermon on the Mount), and (2) a kind of Church Manual (6:3-16:8) providing instruction for congregations on a variety of religious and practical matters. The Church Manual begins with a brief warning against involvement with pagan culture (in terms of food sacrificed to idols, cf. Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Cor 8-10; Rev 2:14, 20), followed by teaching regarding baptism (chap. 7), fasting (8:1), prayer (8:2-3), and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist, chaps. 9-10). The Lord’s Prayer is cited, almost verbatim, from Matt 6:9-13 (8:2), including the preceding teaching in verse 7 (8:2a), increasing the likelihood that a citation from Matthew is involved. There is really no theological or thematic context to the Prayer in the Didache—it is simply quoted as an authoritative (fixed) prayer, to be recited three times daily (8:3).

The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic?

If we accept that the Lord’s Prayer essentially derives from the words and teaching of Jesus himself (as even critical commentators almost universally admit), then we must consider the likelihood that the Prayer would originally have been spoken (by Jesus) in Aramaic. Even though an Aramaic original of the Prayer is now lost to us, being preserved only in Greek in the New Testament, it is not particularly difficult to reconstruct the Prayer back into Aramaic, such as it might have been spoken by Jesus and the earliest (Jewish) Christians in Palestine and Syria. I will be touching upon this at various points in these notes; however, I though it might be good here, in closing, to provide at least one possible Aramaic reconstruction. For the sake of simplicity, I limit this here to the Lukan version of the prayer; I am also, for the moment, following the Aramaic given by Joseph A. Fitzmyer (something of an Aramaic specialist among New Testament scholars) in his Commentary on Luke (Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28A, p. 901):

°Abb¹°
yitqaddaš š§mak
t¢°têh malkût¹k
laµmán¹° dî mist§y¹° hab
lán¹h yôm¹° d§n¹h
ûš§buq lán¹h µôbayn¹°
k§dî š§báqn¹° l§µayy¹bayn¹°
w§°al ta±¢linnán¹° l§nisyôn

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on Psalm 110:1

In the current article (Part 8) of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, I briefly examined the episode in Mark 12:35-37 par, where Jesus discusses the relationship between “the Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”. Central to the episode is Jesus’ citation of Psalm 110:1, which in the Greek version (LXX) begins:

ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w|
eípen ho kúrios tœ kuríœ
“The Lord said to my Lord…”

The dual use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) at first glance is confusing, and is due to specific circumstances surrounding the recitation (and translation) of the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH, Yahweh). The original Hebrew reads,

yn]d)al^ hw`hy+ <a%n+
n®°¥m YHWH la°dœnî
“Utterance of YHWH to my Lord:…”

Early on in Jewish tradition, the Tetragrammaton hwhy (YHWH) was replaced with “(my) Lord” (ynda) when the text was recited; this, in turn, generally led to the common practice of translating hwhy with Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) in Greek, and to the double-use of ku/rio$ in LXX Psalm 110:1. A similar wordplay could be attested for Aramaic—ya!r=m*l= ar@m* rm^a& °¦mar m¹r¢° l®m¹r°î (cf. Fitzmyer, WA p. 90).

In the original context of the Psalm, the Lord (YHWH) speaks to “my Lord” (the king). Most scholars would hold that the setting (as in Psalm 2) involves the enthronement or inauguration of the (new) king, a time at which nobles and vassals might choose to rebel or to gain power and independence for themselves (Ps 2:1-3; 110:1). God gives to the king assurance of His protection and support, including victory over all enemies, i.e. the surrounding nations (Ps 2:4-11; 110:2-3, 5-7). As noted in Parts 6 and 7 of this series, Psalm 2 was interpreted and applied to the coming/future Anointed King (from the line of David) in a number of Jewish writings of the period (such as the 17th Psalm of Solomon). However, apart from its use in the New Testament, there is little evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 at the time of Jesus. In one text from Qumran (11QMelch [11Q13]), Melchizedek (Ps 110:4) appears as a Divine/Heavenly figure who functions as Judge against the wicked (Belial), but this scenario (col ii, lines 9-13) is derived from Psalm 82:1-2 rather than 110:1. His appearance (as Judge and Deliverer) is also connected with the Anointed One of Daniel 9:25 and the Messenger of Isa 52:7 who brings the good news of salvation (col ii, lines 15-25). A similar paradigm may underlie the “Elect/Righteous One” and “Son of Man” figure in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), which many scholars hold to be roughly contemporary with Jesus and the early New Testament writings.

In any case, Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as though a Messianic interpretation were understood, but he shifts the meaning of “Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) away from the royal Davidic figure-type and toward a different reference point—a Divine/Heavenly figure, closer, perhaps, to the “Son of Man” of 1 Enoch and Jesus’ own sayings (cf. Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 pars; Luke 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, and pars in Matthew; also John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:62). Certainly, it was understood this way in early Christian tradition, associated specifically with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God in Acts 2:34-36 (cf. also Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the Synoptic saying of Jesus in Mark 14:62 par, he identifies himself (as “the Son of Man”) who will appear at the right hand of God, in connection with the coming/end-time Judgment (Mk 13:26 par). Thus Jesus may be identifying himself with a pre-existent Heavenly/Divine figure akin to that in 1 Enoch 37-71. In Hebrews 1:13, Psalm 110:1 is cited in the context of belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, though in Heb 5:6 an association with the resurrection (and exaltation) seems to be more in mind.

References marked “Fitzmyer, WA” above are from J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays (Scholars Press: 1979).

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 5: The Kingdom of God

Having examined the idea of Jesus as an Anointed (Messianic) Teacher in the previous article, here I will be looking at one specific (central) theme of Jesus’ teaching—the Kingdom of God. It is not possible to cover all of the aspects of this theme in one relatively short article; I have already addressed certain points and references in some detail in earlier notes and articles, and will cite these below.

The importance of the Kingdom (of God) in Jesus’ teaching is indicated by the fact that, of the approx. 125 occurrences of “kingdom” (basilei/a, basileía) in the Gospels, all but one or two relate to Jesus and his teaching, with more than a hundred recorded in Jesus’ own words. In addition, we may note the following:

  • In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus’ first recorded words of his public ministry are: “the time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15; par Matt 4:17).
  • This is also the primary declaration Jesus gives to his disciples when they are sent out (according to Matt 10:7; Luke 10:11).
  • In Luke 4:43, preaching the Kingdom is stated by Jesus as the primary purpose of his ministry travels through Galilee and the surrounding regions—”I was set forth [i.e. sent] from (God) unto this [i.e. for this purpose]” (cf. also Matt 4:23).
  • In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ first recorded words of instruction to his disciples are a declaration (beatitude/macarism) involving the Kingdom of God (Matt 5:3 [also v. 11], par Luke 6:20). For more on this passage, see my series of notes on the Beatitudes.
  • While references to the Kingdom are rare in the Gospel of John, it plays an important role in two key scenes (John 3:3ff; 18:36), set at the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry (according to the structure of the narrative).

A major difficulty that commentators face when analyzing and interpreting the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching, is that he appears to use “Kingdom” as a multivalent expression in a fairly wide range of contexts. However, I believe that it is possible to separate Jesus’ sayings, teachings and parables on the Kingdom into three formal categories, those which involve:

    1. The Kingdom coming upon the earth
    2. People coming into the Kingdom, and
    3. Descriptions/illustrations of the character and nature of the Kingdom

In terms of the sense in which “Kingdom” is used, again we may divide this into several categories:

    • As God’s dwelling/domain in Heaven
    • As an end-time domain on earth ruled by God(‘s representative)
    • As an expression of God’s rule—the will/law of the King, the character of its citizens, etc

For a fairly thorough survey and outline of references to the Kingdom in the Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament), see my earlier article “…the things about the Kingdom of God“. With regard to Messianic thought in Judaism at the time of Jesus (1st centuries B.C./A.D.), the Kingdom theme is associated with it and expressed several ways:

  • The belief that a future/end-time Anointed (Davidic) ruler will restore the kingdom to Israel, subjugating her enemies and ushering in the Age to Come.
  • The idea of God’s impending end-time Judgment coming upon the earth (the Day of YHWH motif in the Old Testament Prophets). As we have seen, this may involve related traditions of an Anointed Prophet (Elijah) who will come and bring people to repentance prior to the Judgment. A separate strand of tradition (to be discussed) seems to involve an Angelic/Heavenly figure who will come as God’s representative to usher in and oversee the Judgment. By the end of the first century, the Messianic figures of Davidic ruler and Heavenly Judge appear to have merged (attested in at least three strands of Jewish/Christian tradition). The Gospel motifs of “inheriting”, “receiving” and “entering” the Kingdom all stem from the basic concept of the faithful/righteous passing through God’s Judgment.
  • In the Qumran texts, we find the idea that only those who remain faithful to the Covenant—understood as adherence within the Community to the Torah and the words of the “Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness”—will pass through the Judgment of God. The Qumran Community, which almost certainly viewed itself as the faithful of the last days, is to be identified generally with the Kingdom of God (spec. the Covenant)—the law/rule of the Community is essentially the law of the Kingdom. As pointed out in the previous article, this “Teacher of Righteousness” (probably to be identified also with the “Interpreter of the Law”), is a quasi-Messianic figure. In at least two passages, his future/end-time appearance is emphasized, and in one text he is associated specifically with the coming “Anointed (One) of Aaron and Israel”.

Before turning again to the place of the Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching, let us first explore several passages from Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. which mention the Kingdom, or are otherwise relevant in this regard:

  • In the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon) 6:1-11, the earthly rule of kings is seen as coming from the sovereignty of God; as a result, rulers should follow God’s Law and Wisdom. In 6:20; 10:10, following Wisdom and the way of Righteousness leads one to the Kingdom of God.
  • In Jubilees 23:24-31, as part of a (prophetic) summary of Israelite/Jewish history, according to the Old Testament model, the punishment/judgment of the Exile will ultimately be followed by an age of peace and restoration for Israel, in which God himself will reign (vv. 30-31).
  • The third book of the Sibylline Oracles (Sib Or 3:652ff) prophecies that God will send a king “from the sun” who will subdue the nations (i.e. the Roman Empire) and establish a rule of peace over the world.
  • The 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (Ps Sol 17:3ff) vividly describes the coming of a Davidic Ruler (called Anointed/Messiah) who will come to Jerusalem, subdue the nations, and establish the (Messianic) Kingdom of God on earth.
  • Specific references to the Kingdom of God are rare in the Qumran texts, but at least two are worth noting:
    • The so-called War Rule (1QM, 4QM), which throughout refers to the coming war of the “Sons of Light” (the faithful of Israel, i.e. the Community) against the “sons of darkness” (the nations/unbelievers, especially the Kittim [cipher for Rome, cf. Dan 11:30]). See especially 1QM 1:4f, the hymns in 1QM 10, 12, 14, 19, and the citation of Num 24:17ff in 1QM 11:7ff. Other texts also refer to this end-time battle.
    • The Aramaic 4Q246, inspired by the book of Daniel (and/or its underlying traditions), predicts the coming of a great king (column 1, lines 7-9 [restored]) who will subdue the nations (and bring peace). Parallel to the rise of this ‘Messianic’ figure (called “son of God” and “son of the Most High” col. 2, line 1, cf. Lk 1:32, 35), we find the rise of the People of God (line 4), and the establishment of the everlasting (Messianic?) kingdom of God (lines 5-9).
  • The Testament of Moses 10:1ff describes the end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God, in terms of the great Judgment of God upon the earth, with a new age of peace and dominion for Israel (vv. 8-9).
  • In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the heavenly “Righteous/Elect One” or “Son of Man” exercises God’s judgment against kings and rulers on earth (cf. 45:3ff; 46:4-6; 52:4-9; 55:4; 61:8-9; 62:3-5ff; 69:27-29); the establishment of a future dominion for the righteous/Israel is indicated in 53:6-7, etc. The contrast between earthly rulers and God as king is expressed in 1 Enoch 63:1-9ff.
  • In 2 Baruch 70-72 the end-time Judgment by God coincides with the coming of the Messiah; chapters 73-74 describe the establishment of the (Messianic) Kingdom of God.
  • In 2/4 Esdras 2:10-14, God’s control over the kingdom of Israel/Judah is expressed. Throughout the core chapters of the book (chaps. 4-13), there are numerous eschatological visions and prophecies of the coming Judgment and the subsequent new Age; especially notable are the description of the ‘Messianic kingdom’ in 7:26ff, the vision and interpretation in chaps. 11-12 (drawing on Daniel 7), and the final vision of chap. 13. The Messianic Kingdom (of God) is presented vividly in 12:22-39.
  • In the Testament of Judah (Christian, but drawing upon earlier Jewish material), God’s control over the kingdom of Israel/Judah is described in chapters 21-22. In 24:1-6, the prophecy of Balaam (Num 24:17ff) is cited (cf. above): “then will the scepter of my kingdom shine forth…and from it will spring a staff of righteousness for the Gentiles, to judge and save all who call upon the Lord” (vv. 5-6).

These passages generally draw upon three distinct traditions from the Old Testament Scriptures:

  1. The coming Day of YHWH, when God will appear to bring Judgment upon the nations of the earth. Perhaps the latest reference to this is found in Malachi 3:1ff, a passage which, as we have seen, proved to have tremendous influence on eschatological/Messianic thought at the time of Jesus.
  2. The kingdom-visions of Daniel 2 and 7—in which a series of earthly empires is ultimately succeed by an everlasting Kingdom (of God) which is given to the People of God (Dan 7:24-27). These motifs are played out in the later visions of chapters 10-12, and the basic motifs—contrasting earthly and Divine rule—are also expressed in the account of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4, see esp. the hymn of praise in vv. 34-35), the episode of Belshazzar and the handwriting (Dan 5), the declaration by Darius in Dan 6:26-27, and Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9.
  3. The hope/promise for a coming end-time/ideal Age of peace and security, as described most vividly in the oracles of (Deutero-)Isaiah, as well as elsewhere throughout the Prophets. In Zechariah 9:9-17, the age of peace is brought about by a coming King, making this a seminal prophecy for the subsequent idea of a Messianic Kingdom established by God on earth.

Now let us return to the Kingdom of God as expressed in Jesus’ teaching. It will be useful here, in conclusion, to examine how the three categories of his sayings/teachings on the Kingdom relate to Messianic thought of the period.

1. The Kingdom as Coming (upon the earth)

Here we have the primary declaration from the start of Jesus’ ministry (“the kingdom of God has come near”, Mark 1:15 par), also in Matt 10:7; Luke 10:9, 11. There is little reason to think that this declaration does not stem from the lines of Old Testament and Jewish tradition cited above, in the sense that—(a) the context is eschatological (cf. Luke 21:31), and that (b) it relates to the end-time Judgment by God (the OT “Day of YHWH”). This latter was perhaps expressed more clearly in John the Baptist’s preaching (cf. Matt 3:2, 7), but the same emphasis on repentance can be found in Jesus’ preaching as well (Matt 4:17 / Mk 1:15). The coming of the Kingdom is not limited to Judgment, but is also proclaimed as a “good message” (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16)—reflecting the other side of the Day of YHWH, in terms of salvation/deliverance for the people of God (the faithful/righteous). In the context of early Gospel tradition, this aspect is closely tied to the (healing) miracles of Jesus (Matt 11:5 / Lk 7:22, cf. also Lk 9:1-2 etc), and is almost certainly inspired by Isaiah 61:1 and its Anointed Prophet-figure (Lk 4:18ff).

It should be pointed out that while there definitely appears to be an imminent expectation of the Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching (and throughout early Christian tradition), and while it clearly has associations with the appearance of Messiah-figures (cf. above), he does not seem to identify the Kingdom specifically (or entirely) in terms of his own person and presence. Though the kingdom may have “come/drawn near” in Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matt 12:28/Lk 11:20), it is yet to come, as expressed in the petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10/Lk 11:2). According to Luke 19:11, Jesus attempts to avert the expectation that the Kingdom would come immediately upon his arrival in Jerusalem (cf. Mark 11:10 par), and goes so far to deny that the Kingdom will appear with concrete visible signs (Lk 17:20-21). This last reference seems to suggest that the Kingdom is present (invisibly) among people by the presence of Jesus himself, but there are considerable difficulties in interpreting this saying. At any event, Jesus does clearly teach that the Kingdom of God is near through his words and actions (cf. also Mark 12:34).

Did Jesus envisage the Kingdom as a temporal, earthly kingdom, which was about to be established by God? There are several passages which point in this direction (Mark 10:29-30, 35-40 par; Matt 19:28/Lk 22:28-30), but it is by no means clear that a concrete earthly kingdom is involved, and the weight of Jesus’ other sayings, taken together, suggests rather the opposite. His response to the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6 purposely avoids discussion of the conventional idea of an earthly kingdom being restored to Israel, emphasizing rather the disciples’ role in proclaiming the Gospel. In a number of instances, the Gospel (“good message/news”, cf. above) and the Kingdom are closely intertwined, nearly synonymous.

2. People coming into (receiving, inheriting, etc) the Kingdom

Jesus frequently uses the motif of “coming into” (entering) the Kingdom (Mark 9:47; 10:23-25 pars; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 8:11 [implied, par]; 21:31; cf. also Lk 23:42). Similar in sense and meaning are the idea of “inheriting” or “receiving (being given)” the Kingdom (cf. Mk 4:11; 10:15 pars; Matt 5:3, 10; 8:11-12; 13:38, 41, 43; 21:43; 25:34; Lk 22:29-30). Along the same lines are sayings which refer to believers/disciples “belonging” to the Kingdom, or of being fit/worthy for it (Mark 10:14; Matt 5:3, 10, 20; 7:21; 13:38, 52 and pars; Lk 9:62, etc). All of these references draw upon a separate image of the Judgment—human beings appearing before the Divine/Heavenly tribunal after death or at the end-time. This is also the context generally of the Beatitude form—those who are deemed worthy to pass through the Judgment and enter the heavenly realm are called “happy/blessed”. In at least one saying of Jesus, we see the Son of Man (identified with Jesus himself) overseeing the heavenly tribunal (Lk 12:8-9, cf. also Matt 7:21-23). Similarly, in the Similitudes of Enoch, the Messianic “Righteous/Elect One” and “Son of Man” serves as heavenly Judge over humankind. We may also recall that in the Qumran texts we find the idea that faithfulness/loyalty to the “Teacher of Righteousness” will be the basis for being freed from the Judgment by God. The sayings of Jesus in Gospel tradition make faithfulness in following Christ and the Gospel the basis for entering/inheriting the Kingdom. A particularly Christian emphasis is on suffering for the sake of the Kingdom (= for the sake of the Gospel), cf. Matt 5:10; 19:12; Luke 18:29 par, and also Mark 9:47. This is, of course, patterned after Jesus’ own suffering (Mark 8:31, 34-37; 9:12-13; Matt 8:19-20; 10:17ff pars, etc). It is to be expected that the Kingdom (that is, the proclamation of the Gospel) should endure violence and persecution (Mk 10:29-30; 12:1-12 par; Lk 19:14, 27; Matt 11:12; 23:13, etc, and see Acts 14:22).

3. Descriptions of the Kingdom

Jesus’ unique understanding and proclamation of the Kingdom is given deeper expression in the numerous parables and illustrations (Mark 4:26-32 par; Matt 13:24-30, 33 [par Lk 13:20-21], 44-50; 20:1-16; 22:2-14; 25:1-30; cf. also Mk 3:23-27; 4:3-8, 14-20; Lk 14:16-24 and pars). Many of these have an eschatological context; others prefigure his own suffering and death, the spread of the Gospel, and so forth. Especially worthy of note are the teachings and illustrations which describe the character of the Kingdom (and those belonging to it). Here the emphasis is on meekness, humility, mercy and forgiveness, self-sacrifice, a desire for righteousness, etc—all summarized powerfully and concisely in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12). Jesus also symbolizes these Kingdom-traits in the figure of a little child (Mark 10:14-15 par, etc)—the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than the most prominent and influential person in the current age (Matt 11:11/Lk 7:28). Jesus frequently uses this reversal-of-fate motif in his teaching—the poor and humble will pass through the Judgment, while the rich and powerful will not (cf. especially the Lukan Beatitudes [Lk 6:20-26]).

As mentioned previously, there are few references to the Kingdom in the Gospel of John; but one major passage is found in Jn 3:3-8, part of the discourse with Nicodemus. There Jesus makes two parallel statements:

“unless a person comes to be (born) from above, he is not able to see the Kingdom of God” (v. 3)
“unless a person comes to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into [i.e. enter] the Kingdom of God” (v. 5)

The Synoptic idea of faithfulness in following the example and teaching of Jesus (= the Gospel), has been deepened still further in meaning and symbolism—defined as coming to be born from above and from the Spirit. This rather indicates a personal transformation, an entirely new identity: as children/offspring born from God (Jn 1:12-13). The new birth, of course, is dependent upon receiving/accepting Christ as the unique Apostle and Son of God. The other passage in the Gospel of John occurs during the exchange/discourse between Jesus and Pilate (Jn 18:33-38, part of the Passion narrative). In v. 36, in response to Pilate’s question “are you the king of the Jews?”, Jesus ultimately answers:

“My Kingdom is not out of [i.e. from, belonging to] this world…”

When Pilate asks again “You are not (really) then a king, (are you)?”, Jesus defines his kingship in unexpected terms (v. 37):

“Unto this I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world:
that I should witness to the truth—every one that is out of [i.e. from, belonging to] the truth hears my voice”

Jesus’ role and position as King will be discussed further as part of a study on the Messiah as King/Ruler, to begin in the next article (Part 6 of this series). For more on these passages from the Gospel of John, see the second half of my earlier article on the Kingdom of God.

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 4: Teacher of Righteousness

In this article I will be examining the idea of an Anointed Teacher, which, it must be said, reflects more of a specific role than a distinct Messianic figure-type. However, it is worth being treated as a separate category, due to certain terms and references in the literature associated with the Qumran Community (the Dead Sea Scrolls), and for the light that it may shed on important aspects of the presentation of Jesus in the Gospels.

“Teacher” and “Interpreter” at Qumran

There are several notable references to a special “Teacher” or “Instructor” (hr#om, môreh) in the Qumran texts, including those which use the specific expression hq*d*x=(h^) hr#om “(the) Teacher of Righteousness”. The genitive (construct) relationship in this expression can be understood as objective (i.e., one who teaches righteousness) or subjective (i.e., righteous teacher)—the former meaning is to be preferred. The full expression appears in the so-called Damascus Document (which exists in fragmentary copies from Qumran [QD] and in later copies/versions found at Cairo [CD]), as well as in several (pesher) commentaries (on Psalms, Habakkuk, Micah) which interpret Scripture in light of the Community and its history. Because of their importance, here is an outline of the references:

  • CD 1:11—as part of a historical survey (1:3-2:1) of the Damascus-group in the document (related in some way to the Qumran Community), it is said that God “…raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness in order to direct them in the path of his heart”. If this is a true historical reference, then, judging by the chronological indicators in the document, he might have appeared sometime in the early-mid 2nd-century B.C.
  • CD 19:35-20:1—we read here of the “gathering (in) of the one/unique [dyjyh] Teacher” (cf. 20:14), which has also been read “…of the Teacher of the Community [djyh]”. This is generally taken as a reference to the Teacher’s death, and is clearly set as a marker for future/end-time events “…until there stands (up) [i.e. arises] the Anointed (One) [jyvm] from Aaron and from Israel”.
  • CD 20:28, 32—the test for faithfulness to the covenant for those in the Community (the ones “coming into the covenant”) is two-fold: “to come/go upon the mouth of [i.e. according to] the Teaching [Torah]” and “to hear/listen to the voice of the Teacher”, along with confession of one’s sins before God (20:28). This is alluded to again in 20:32: “…give their ear to the voice of the Teacher of Righteousness“.
  • 1QpMicah [1Q14]—in fragment 10 line 6ff, Micah 1:5-6 is interpreted as relating to “the Teacher of Righteousness who [teaches the Teaching {Torah}]” to all who join the Community, who will be saved when judgment comes on Israel and Judah (Jerusalem).
  • 1QpHab [1Q15]—there are a number of references to the Teacher of Righteousness: 1:13 (on Hab 1:4), 2:2 (on Hab 1:5), 5:10 (on Hab 1:13), 7:4 (on Hab 2:2), 8:3 (on Hab 2:4), 9:9 (on Hab 2:8), 11:5 (on Hab 2:15). The emphasis is on conflict between the Teacher and the “Wicked Priest” (or “Man of the Lie”), which indicates persecution and the danger of ‘false teaching’ facing the Community. The position of the Teacher is indicated especially in 7:4, where it is stated that God made known to him “all the mysteries of the words of his servants the Prophets”, and 8:3 where we find the promise that those who have been loyal to the Teacher will be freed from Judgment by God.
  • 4QpPs a-b [4Q171, 173]—these fragments likewise emphasize the importance in the Community relying upon the Teacher (established by God) and of conflict with the “Wicked Priest”; for the references, cf. 4Q171 (on Ps 37) col. iii, lines 15, 19; col. iv, line 27; 4Q173 fragment 1, line 4; fragment 2, line 2.

Two other passages should be noted:

  • CD 6:2-11—this section is ostensibly a commentary on Numbers 21:18 combined with Isaiah 54:16, linking the inscribed/engraved “staff” [qqwjm] and the tools with which the people dug the well, and identifying it/them with the “Interpreter of the Law” [hr*oTh^ vr@oD] (v. 7). The word vrwd is a verbal noun from vrd, and refers to the act of searching something out intensively, the concrete idiom something like beating/cutting/digging a path. Figuratively it is used for searching out (an cutting through to) the underlying meaning of something—in this case, the correct meaning(s) of Scripture. In vv. 10-11 it is stated that the people (of the Community) are to walk according to this “staff” until “…the one teaching righteousness [i.e. Teacher of Righteousness] stands (up) [i.e. arises] in the (time) following the days [i.e. after the days / ‘end of days’]”.
  • 4QFlorilegium [4Q174]—in an eschatological collection of Scripture verses, as part of a Messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:11-14, it is stated that the “Branch of David” is the one who will appear along with the “Interpreter of the Law” [hrwth vrwd] at the end of days (col. i, lines 11-12).

Thus we see that the Qumran (and related) texts make reference to three figures:

  1. The Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness through whom God established the Community (in the past)
  2. The Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness who will appear at the end-time, and
  3. The “Interpreter” of the Torah, who may be a historical and/or eschatological figure

A Messianic Teacher?

Is it proper to speak of an Anointed (that is, ‘Messianic’) Teacher? In at least two respects the evidence from Qumran supports this:

  • Twice (in CD 6:10-11 and 4QFlor [cf. above]), the Teacher/Interpreter is identified as an eschatological figure who will appear at the “end of the days”. In the latter passages, he is specifically associated with a Messianic Davidic ruler (“the Branch of David”).
  • On various occasions (cf. the references above), it is said regarding the Teacher of Righteousness that he was specially appointed and established by God, and gifted with unique revelation. Even though anointing (“Anointed [One]”) itself is not mentioned, the corresponding idea of being uniquely chosen and set apart by God is clearly present. Moreover, we have the notion that faithfulness and obedience to the Teacher will preserve the Community from the coming Judgment—in various ways, all of the attested Messianic figure-types are associated with the end-time Judgment.

Moreover, for at least two of the Messianic figure-types I have outlined (see the Introduction), teaching and instruction play a prominent role. The first of these is the “Prophet like Moses” from Deut 18:15-20—that is, an Anointed Prophet according to the Moses-tradition (for more on this, see the previous article). As stated in Deut 18:18, this coming Prophet will command and instruct the people (being given the words to speak by God). In addition to being a great Prophet (Deut 34:10-12), Moses was the supreme Lawgiver in Israelite history and tradition, having received the commands and precepts of the Torah directly from God and delivered them to Israel. In the Qumran texts, Moses is referred to as God’s “Anointed” (4Q377 2 ii 4-5), along with the holy Prophets (Anointed Ones) of Israel (CD 5:21-6:1). The imagery and characteristics associated with Moses fit the descriptions of the Teacher of Righteousness very well (cf. above), and even moreso to Jesus (cf. Acts 3:18-24 and the discussion below).

The second Anointed figure is that of Priest. As will be discussed in an upcoming article, the idea of a coming eschatological/Messianic Priest, while rare in Judaism of the period, is attested at Qumran. Indeed, the Community reflected in the Qumran texts was, it would seem, originally founded by priests and they continued to hold the leading role. As we shall see, in terms of their eschatological expectation and Messianic thought, the (Anointed) king/prince is subordinate to the (Anointed) Priest. According to the fragmentary (pesher) commentary on Psalms (cf. above), the historical Teacher of Righteousness, naturally enough, was a priest (4QPs a col. iii, line 15). In the so-called Rule of the Community, there was to be at least one priest for every group of ten members, primarily to instruct them in the study and practice of the Torah, which was at the very heart of Community life and identity (1QS 6:3-7 etc).

With regard to the “Teacher of Righteousness” at Qumran, it is somewhat difficult to determine the relationship between the historical Teacher and the eschatological figure expressed in CD 6 / 4QFlor (cf. above). However, I believe that the statement in CD 6:10-11 probably reflects the original idea—of “one who will teach righteousness” appearing at the end-of-days, the phrase itself probably being an allusion to Hosea 10:12. Since the Qumran Community (and/or the community of the Damascus Document) almost certainly viewed itself as existing in the “last days”, it seems probable that the historical Teacher was thought to be fulfilling an eschatological role. Upon the death of the Teacher, this role was transferred to a future figure who was expected to appear (sometime soon). In the interim, the leading priests at Qumran would fulfill the role of Teacher—the little digging tools in relation to the great “staff” (cf. CD 6:2ff).

Apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is hard to find a comparable idea elsewhere in Jewish writings of the period. Perhaps the closest we come is to the basic priestly tradition centered around Levi and Aaron, as expressed formally and in elevated language (cf. Sirach 45:6-17). In the book of Jubilees, as at Qumran, priority was given to the Priest (Levi), and in the reworking of Jacob’s blessing on Levi, the first thing mentioned could be summarized as “teaching righteousness” (Jubilees 31:15). In several passages in the Qumran texts, where the role of Priests is being extolled and expounded, it is teaching that is often given emphasis—cf. 4QFlor 6-11 (citing Deut 33:10) and 4Q541 fragment 9, etc.

Jesus as Teacher

That Jesus was viewed as a special Teacher scarcely needs to be emphasized—it is found all throughout the Gospel tradition, from the earliest layers on. According to the Synoptic narrative, Jesus essentially begins his ministry by teaching in the Synagogues of Galilee (on the Sabbaths), Mark 1:21 par. The uniqueness and special quality of his teaching was practically the first thing people noticed about him (Mk 1:22 par):

“and they were struck out of (themselves) [i.e. were amazed] upon his teaching, for he was teaching them as (one) holding authority [e)cousi/a], and not as the Writers [i.e. Scribes]”

In Mark 1:23ff par, Jesus performs a healing (exorcism) miracle in the Synagogue, and these two aspects—teaching and working miracles—dominate the account of his ministry in Galilee in the Synoptic tradition. In light of the previous article, which examined Jesus as an Anointed Prophet, we might say that he is here fulfilling two main characteristics of the Moses and Elijah types—authoritative teaching (Moses) and miracles (Elijah).

That Jesus was identified largely in terms of his teaching can be seen in the frequency (more than 50 times) in the use of the title “Teacher” (dida/skalo$), or the corresponding honorific “Rabbi” (r(abbi/). This latter term is a transliteration of the Hebrew yB!r^ (rabbî).  br (rab) simply means “great”, and as a title is literally “Great (One)”, generally corresponding to “Lord”, “Master”, etc. Rabbi (“my Great [One]”, “my Lord/Master”) is a sign of honor and respect in address; the intensive /B*r^ (rabb¹n), in Aramaic /oBr^ (rabbôn), came to be used as a title for an honored/respected scholar and teacher. At the time of Jesus, the form of address (in Aramaic) would have been yn]oBr^/yn]WBr^ (Rabbônî/Rabbûnî), as preserved in Mark 10:51; John 20:16. The closest we come to Jesus being described as an Anointed/Messianic Teacher is in Nicodemus’ address to him (John 3:2):

“Rabbi, we see that you are a Teacher having come from God, for no one has power [i.e. is able] to do these signs which you do, if not [i.e. except] (that) God should be with him”

In light of the eschatological/Messianic-type figure attested in the Qumran texts (cf. above), it is worth considering Jesus in terms of the “Teacher of Righteousness” and “Interpreter of the Law”. First we should note the place that justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh, along with the dikai- word group) plays in Jesus’ recorded teachings. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ first words in public (to John during his baptism) are directly on this point: “…it is distinguishing [i.e. is right/proper] for us to (ful)fill all justice/righteousness” (Matt 3:15). The idea is also central to his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33), and in several other blocks of teaching (Matt 13:43, 49; 23:28-29, 35; 25:37, 46; and cf. also Matt 10:41; 21:32; Luke 18:9; John 16:8, 10). It is fair to say that much of Jesus’ teaching could be described as instruction in righteousness. In several places in the New Testament, Jesus himself is referred to as “the Just/Righteous (One)” [o( di/kaio$]—Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. also Matt 27:19. We might also note Acts 17:31, where Paul attributes to Jesus the end-time role in the Judgment, stating that he “…is about to judge the inhabited (world) in justice/righteousness”.

Regarding the second association, much of Jesus’ teaching clearly involved instruction and interpretation of God’s Law (i.e., the Torah). I have discussed this at length in earlier articles on “Jesus and the Law” (part of a series on “The Law and the New Testament”), and relevant links are provided below. Here are some of the aspects of Jesus’ fulfilling the role of “Interpreter of the Law”:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, cf. Luke 6:20-49)—especially the verses on the Law and righteousness (Matt 5:17-20) and the so-called Antitheses (Matt 5:21-48), on which see my earlier notes and articles.
  • The various controversies betwen Jesus and the religious leaders and scholars of the day often involved specific interpretation or understanding of the Law—the Pharisees and “Writers” (Scribes) were generally seen as authorities on the Torah. Cf. especially my articles on the so-called Sabbath Controversies.
  • In a number of passages, Jesus identifies himself—his person and/or his teachings—as the fulfillment of the Law and different related elements of Israelite religion. This is best seen in two respects:
    (1) Jesus’ relationship to the Temple [cf. “Jesus and the Law” parts 6-7]
    (2) His association with the great Holy/Feast days (Sabbath, Passover, Tabernacles, etc), especially in the episodes and discourses recorded in the Fourth Gospel [cf. “Jesus and the Law” parts 8-9]
  • In the Gospel of Luke, following the resurrection, Jesus is described as interpreting (in considerable detail, it would seem) the Scriptures (“Moses and the  Prophets”) for his followers (Lk 24:25-27, 32, 45; cf. also Acts 1:3). The emphasis in his teaching in these passages is on his suffering, death and resurrection as a fulfillment of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, Luke offers no detail as to which Scripture passages Jesus referenced; for a list of possible candidates, based on the overall evidence in the New Testament, cf. my earlier note (“He opened to us the Scriptures…“).

For additional Gospel references related to Jesus as a teacher and his interpretation of the Law, cf. the introductory article of my series on “Jesus and the Law”.

Birth of the Son of God: Matt 5:9, 45; Lk 6:35, etc

This Christmas series was intended to run through the Baptism of Jesus, which is commemorated on Epiphany (Jan 6) in the Eastern Churches; in Western tradition, Jesus’ Baptism is celebrated on the octave of Epiphany (Jan 13).

In the previous article, I looked at the theme of believers as “sons/children of God” in terms of birth—i.e., of being born—especially in the famous passage of John 3:3-8. Today, I will be surveying the New Testament references where believers are specifically called “sons” (or “children/offspring”) of God.

To begin with, we must look at the Old Testament and Jewish background of the idea. In several key passages, the people of Israel, collectively, are referred to as God’s “son”—Exod 4:22; Hos 11:1f; Isa 1:2ff; 30:1, 9; Jer 31:9; Mal 1:6. Eventually, largely through the influence of Wisdom traditions, the righteous generally are described, on various occasions, as God’s children—cf. Wisdom 2:13, 16, 18; 5:5; 16:10, 21, 26; 18:4-5; 19:6; Sirach 4:10; 23:1, 4; Jubilees 1:23-25; Psalms of Solomon 17:30. In Wisdom 2:18 and 18:13 there is a clear parallel between Israel and the righteous person: they are both called the “son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=).

In order to see how this was applied within the New Testament—both in the teaching of Jesus and as a theological/ethical motif in the Letters—let us look briefly at the relevant passages, in context:

1. “Sons of God” (ui(oi\ qeou=)

Matthew 5:9, 45; Luke 6:35

“Happy the peace-makers, (in) that they will be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9)

This is the 7th Beatitude from the set in Matthew (5:3-12), part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. In some ways it summarizes Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon (esp. that of Matt 5:21-48), as indicated by the parallel reference in Matt 5:45. As a conclusion of the command to love one’s enemies, Jesus states:

“…how as [i.e. so that] you might come to be [ge/nhsqe] sons of your Father in the heavens”

The verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), like the cognate genna/w (“come to be [born]”), can be used in the sense of birth/begetting, as previously indicated with regard to passages such as John 1:12-14; Rom 1:3-4; Gal 4:4ff, etc. The Lukan version of this saying is found in Lk 6:35:

“…and you will be [e&sesqe] sons of the Highest [ui(oi\ u(yi/stou]”

This expression matches that used of Jesus, by the heavenly Messenger (Gabriel) to Mary, in the context of Jesus’ birth:

“…and he will be [e&stai] great and (the) Son of the Highest [ui(o\$ u(yi/stou]” (Lk 1:32)

In the setting of the Beatitudes, coming to be (born) as sons of God, is effectively synonymous with inheriting/entering the Kingdom of God (in Matthew, “Kingdom of the Heavens”)—Matt 5:3, 10, cf. also 5:19-20; 6:10, 33; 7:21. I will discuss this particular image in more detail in the next article in this series.

Luke 20:36

Like the Beatitudes, which have a strong eschatological emphasis, the reference in Luke 20:36 is to believers (or the righteous), i.e. those considered worthy by God (v. 35), who, in their heavenly existence (in the Kingdom of God/Heaven), will be “equal to the angels”, and, like them, are “sons of God”:

“…for they are equal to (the) Messengers and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection”

It is through the resurrection that believers are ‘born’ as sons of God. For an understanding of the resurrection in terms of birth imagery, cf. also Acts 13:33 (citing Psalm 2:7); Rom 8:18-23, 29; 1 Cor 15:20-23; Col 1:18; Rev 1:5.

Galatians 3:26

“For you all are sons of God through the trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua”

In Galatians 3-4, Paul is drawing the Old Testament imagery of the children/descendants of Abraham, which he refers to as children of the promise. Christ is identified as the promised seed of Abraham (v. 16), and believers in Christ are the “sons of the promise” (v. 29). The reference to believers here as the “sons of God” draws upon the Old Testament background of the people Israel (collectively) as the “son of God” in a symbolic or spiritual sense.

Romans 8:14-15, 19, 23 (Gal 4:4-7)

Romans 8:12ff builds upon Paul’s earlier argument in Galatians 4:4-7, using similar language and phrasing at several points. In particular, Rom 8:14-15 is close to Gal 4:5b-6, as can be seen by comparison side by side:

Romans 8:14-15

“For as (many) as are led by (the) Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive (the) spirit of slavery again into fear, but (rather) you received (the) Spirit of placement as sons, in which we cry (out) ‘Abba, Father!’

Galatians 4:5b-7a

“…(so) that we might receive from (God) placement as sons. And, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God set forth out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!’ So (too) then, you are no longer a slave, but a son…”

Here sonship is understood properly in terms of our (present) faith in Christ and the work of the Spirit. The future eschatological aspect of sonship (cf. above) comes out in vv. 19ff, with the image of creation itself waiting and groaning (in labor) to give birth. Creation (or the creature, lit. the thing formed), Paul states, is

“…looking to receive from (God) the uncovering [a)poka/luyi$] of the sons of God

The “sons of God” (i.e. believers, with/in Christ) are in the world, but their true nature and identity has not been manifested; this will only happen at the end time. Paul parallels the labor pains of creation with our own inward groaning as believers—we, too, long to see our identity realized in full:

“…and not only (this), but (we our)selves, holding the beginning from (the harvest) of the Spirit, we also (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking to receive from (God) placement as sons…” (v. 23)

Ultimately this realized in the final resurrection, which Paul describes as “the loosing from (bondage) of our bodies”.

2. “Sons” (ui(oi/)

In several other passages, believers are referred to as “sons” in a context where it seems clear that this is generally synonymous with fuller expression “sons of God” (above).

2 Corinthians 6:18

In 2 Cor 6:16-18, a chain (catena) of Old Testament references are cited: Leviticus 26:12, Isaiah 52:11, and (it would seem) 2 Samuel 7:14. The last of these has been adapted—originally, 2 Sam 7:14 read “I will be for a Father to him, and he will be for a son to me”; however, in 2 Cor 6:18 it has been modified as “I will be unto a Father to you [pl.], and you will be unto sons and daughters to me”. Originally, the reference was to the (Davidic) king as God’s “son” in a symbolic sense; here it now refers to believers—male and female—together, much as faithful Israel and the righteous could be thought of as God’s “son” (cf. above). In 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, sonship is conditional on proper religious and ethical behavior, much as the prophecy of 2 Sam 7:14 is conditional (cf. verses 14bff). See also the connection between sonship and righteousness in the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount (above).

Romans 9:26

Here we have another Scripture citation (from Hos 1:10), in the context of Gentiles (those who were “not My people”) coming to faith in Christ—”they will be called sons of the living God“. Sonship is based on acceptance of the Gospel and trust in Christ.

Hebrews 2:10

As part of a litany describing and extolling Christ’s work, the author includes: “leading many sons into glory“. The implication is that believers come to be “sons of God” along with Christ.

Hebrews 12:5-8

Believers are exhorted and disciplined by God as sons are by a father. If we are obedient and attentive, then we prove ourselves to be legitimate sons (vv. 8ff). Once again, we see the ethical basis and context of sonship clearly described.

Revelation 21:7

There is here another allusion to 2 Sam 7:14 (cf. above), within an obvious eschatological setting, with the ethical aspect now understood in terms of faithful endurance and victory in the face of intense persecution and suffering during the end time. It also draws on the traditional idea of inheriting the kingdom of God (above):

“The one being victorious will obtain as (his) lot [i.e. inherit] these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son

3. “Offspring/children of God” (te/kna qeou=)

This expression occurs numerous times in the Gospel and First Letter of John, generally in place of “sons of God” (which neither work uses). It is to be found in John 1:12; 11:52; and 1 John 3:1-2, 10; 4:4; 5:2. The ‘birth’ of believers as children of God is similar to Paul’s understanding of believers as “sons of God” (cf. above)—it is the result of trust/faith in Christ and the work of the Spirit (see the previous article for more on 1:12-14, along with 3:3-8, in this regard). 1 John 3:1-2 is interesting in the light of how names functioned in ancient thought:

  • 1 Jn 3:1: believers are called children of God (“that we might be called [klhqw=men] offspring/children of God”)—this is tied fundamentally to the idea and act of naming (i.e. naming a child), cf. Luke 1:32, 35; our being called “children of God” is specifically related to the love God showed to us (through the work of his Son, Jn 3:16, etc).
  • 1 Jn 3:1-2: believers now are children of God (“now we are [e)smen] offspring/children of God”)—in ancient thought, the name embodied and represented the essential identity of a person, often in a quasi-magical manner; in Old Testament tradition, naming scenes could have a prophetic quality, which carries over into the New Testament (see esp. Luke 1:13ff, 31-33; Matt 1:21, also 16:17-19, etc).
  • 1 Jn 3:2: believers will be sons of God (“…what we will be [e)so/meqa]”)—a person’s identity is fundamentally tied to his/her future destiny; ultimately believers will be something more than “offspring/children of God”—when Jesus appears again at the end time, we will see him in glory, and will be “like him”, i.e. like the Son (ui(o/$). This is perhaps part of the reason why 1 John (and the Gospel of John) does not use the expression “sons of God” (ui(oi\ qeou=)—believers may be born as offspring (te/kna) of God, but only Jesus is truly the Son.

Paul seems to use “sons of God” and “offspring/children of God” more or less interchangeably—for example, compare Romans 8:16-17, 21 (and 9:8) with 8:14-15, 19, 23; 9:26 (see above). For other Pauline use of the expression, see Philippians 2:15 and the near parallel in Ephesians 5:1.