September 21: Revelation 4:1-7

Revelation 4:1-11

With chapter 4, a new division of the book—the beginning of the main body—is introduced. The vision of chapter 4-5 leads into the great vision cycles that make up the bulk of chapters 6-18. As has been previous noted, the book of Revelation is also structured as a letter, and, from the standpoint of epistolary (and rhetorical) form, the throne-vision in chaps. 4-5 functions something like the propositio, or main statement (proposition) of the case to argued or expounded in the main body of the letter, the probatio. The visions (and vision cycles) which follow serve as the probatio, demonstrating (or “proving”) what is represented in the vision of chaps. 4-5.

Rev 4:1

The structural shift is clear from verse 1, with its chiastic shape, marking a separation from the previous vision in 1:9-3:22:

“These things” refer specifically to what John heard and experienced in the previous visions, including the messages to the seven churches. The expression meta\ tau=ta (“after these [thing]s”) must be understood in this sense. Central to the verse is the description of the voice, which is again that of the risen Jesus, as in the earlier vision of 1:9ff:

“and the first voice which I heard as a trumpet speaking with me…”

It is Jesus who calls John to “step up” into heaven. The visionary motif of doors or gates opening into heaven is relatively common (cf. Gen 28:10ff; 1 Enoch 14:15ff; Testament of Levi 5:1, etc). An invitation to enter and experience the realm of the heavenlies is essentially a commonplace in apocalyptic literature (e.g., 1 Enoch 14:8ff; Testament of Levi 2:6ff; Martyrdom of Isaiah 7; cf. Koester, p. 359).

Rev 4:2-3

The parallel with the first vision is seen also in the language used in verse 2:

“(And) straightaway I came to be in the Spirit, and see!…”

With the shift to a new visionary location, the author mentions again being “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati, 1:10). This consistent reference to the Spirit is important in terms of understanding the source and (revelatory) nature of the visions as described by the seer. The central point of the vision is that of God’s ruling-seat or “throne” (qro/no$) in Heaven. It is here that the rhetorical (and polemical) thrust of the book of Revelation begins to come clearly into focus: the rule of God (and Christ) in Heaven contrasted with the false/wicked rule of earthly (spec. Roman imperial) government. Of course, the idea and image of God’s throne goes back to most ancient times, with the royal iconography (and ideology) of the ancient Near East, and continuing on to the time of the Roman empire. There are numerous references in the Old Testament (Psalm 9:7; 11:4; 103:19, etc), but the most prominent passages include visionary scenes of the heavenly court, such as 1 Kings 22:19ff (par 2 Chron 18:18ff); Isa 6:1-3; Ezek 1:4ff (v. 26); Dan 7:9-10. The “throne” represented the ruling power of God, and served as a graphical way of depicting or referring to God, and could almost be seen as a living/divine entity in itself. Note here in vv. 2-3, how closely connected God and the throne are:

“See! a seat of rule [i.e. throne] was set in the heaven, and upon the ruling seat [i.e. throne] (One was) sitting, and the (One) sitting (was) in vision [i.e. appearance] like a stone (of) iaspis and sardios, and a (rain)bow [i@ri$] circling round the ruling seat in vision [i.e. appearance] like a smaragdos (stone)”
[The words in italics indicate colored stones or gems—purplish(?), red {carnelian}, and green {emerald}]

In many ways, the throne (and its surroundings) simply reflects the manifest and glorious appearance of God—the divine/heavenly character reflected by the description, which resembles that of other theophanies in the Old Testament and later Jewish tradition (Exod 24:10; Ezek 1:26-28; 10:1, etc). In the developed Jewish mystical/visionary tradition of the Rabbinic and early medieval periods, the “throne-chariot” (merkabah, inspired largely from Ezek 1) was a fundamental symbol.

Rev 4:4

As the description of the throne vision continues, we move outward from the center of the throne itself, and a somewhat surprising detail emerges:

“And circling round the ruling seat [qro/no$] (were) twenty-four (other) ruling seats [qro/noi], and upon the ruling seats (were) sitting twenty-four Elder (One)s cast about [i.e. clothed] in white garments, and upon their heads (were) gold crowns.”

The description of these twenty-four seats as “seats of rule” (qro/noi), which circle around God’s throne (qro/no$), rather clearly indicates that the persons/beings on these seats share in God’s rule in some way. They are called by the common term presbu/tero$, referring to an old/elder person. It is not entirely clear whether these should be regarded as: (a) heavenly beings, or (b) glorified human beings. They do seem to be distinct from the heavenly Messengers (i.e. Angels) in that the Messengers are sent by God out into the world (as his “eyes” or to convey his word), while these “Elders” appear to have fixed places (of rule) around His throne. The use of the term presbu/tero$, along with the number twenty-four (12 x 2), suggests that they represent the people of God—perhaps as a heavenly counterpart, or corollary, to God’s people on earth. The specific number 24 suggests a combination of (a) the twelve tribes of Israel, and (b) the twelve apostles (i.e. the Church). Recall that Elders, representing Israel, were present at the covenant Theophany in Exod 24; similarly, Elders, representing believers in Christ, were appointed by the Twelve (apostles) who were present at the establishment of the “new covenant” (Mark 14:22-25 par), and who represent the new constitution of the people of God (cf. the symbolism in Acts 1:6ff, 15ff; chap. 2). The twelve apostles and the twelve tribes are closely connected in an (eschatological) saying of Jesus (Matt 19:28; par Lk 22:28-30), and also in the vision of the “new Jerusalem” at the end of the book of Revelation (21:12-14ff, to be discussed). The crowns on the heads of the elders similarly suggest a connection with believers, who will inherit the crown/wreath (ste/fano$) as a heavenly honor (and sign of eternal life), as well a sign that they have a share in the kingdom/rule of Christ (2:10; 3:11).

Rev 4:5-7

After the description of the Elders, the vision returns to more traditional theophanous imagery:

    • “(lightning) flashes and voices and thunderings”—this draws upon ancient Near Eastern storm theophany, most commonly applied to the ‘Lord’ (Baal) Haddu (the Storm [deity]) in Canaanite religion, but was found just as prominently in Israelite descriptions of El-Yahweh. In the Semitic/Hebrew idiom, the word for thunder is literally “voice” (loq), based on the idea of thunder as the “voice” of God.
    • “seven lamps of fire burning in the sight of the ruling-seat”—this repeats the description from 1:4, and again refers to these heavenly beings as “the seven Spirits of God”. That these “Spirits” should be understood as heavenly beings (Messengers/Angels) is clear from the explanation in 1:20 and 3:1, as well as various references in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition (Psalm 104:4; Ezek 1:12-13; Zech 4:2, 10; Tobit 12:15; 1 Enoch 20:1-7; 90:21, etc).
    • “a glassy sea like ice-crystal”—this is said to be “in the sight of [i.e. in front of] the throne”, and also is a traditional image (cf. Exod 24:10; Ezek 1:22, 26), which likely is related to ancient Near Eastern cosmology, i.e. the firmament and God’s throne above the waters (Gen 1:6-7; cf. Psalm 29:3; 93:4; 104:3; 148:4).
    • “four living (being)s (appear)ing full of eyes in front and in back”—these living [zw=|a] beings are similar in description to those in Ezek 1:4-10 (cf. also Isa 6:2-3). Here they are said to be “in the middle” of the throne, perhaps meaning “in the middle, where the throne is”, and also “in a circle” around the throne. They feature prominently in the remainder of the vision.

The appearance of each of the four “living beings” combines various human, animal, and hybrid/heavenly characteristics. This is common, from the standpoint of ancient or traditional religious iconography, when attempting to describe the Divine. The ancient Near East, in particular, made use of many images of winged animals or beings with human and/or animal faces. It is almost as though it was necessary to make use of all the characteristics of living creatures, and the attributes these characteristics represent (strength, power, beauty, wisdom, etc), in order provide even a remotely adequate description of God. These living beings, indeed, have as their main task the praise and worship of God (v. 8). This aspect of the vision will be discussed in the next note.

Much has been made of the specific appearance of each being, resembling, in turn: (a) “a lion”, (b) “a bull/calf”, (c) human (“face/appearance as a man”), and (d) “an air(borne eagl)e flying”. These have been interpreted numerous ways, including the famous (traditional) association with the four Gospels (Evangelists). However, it is probably best to interpret them (if one must) as representing all of creation—specifically, living creatures (animal and human). It is, in particular, the noblest and most regal (lion, bull, human, eagle) portions of the animal world (according to the traditional reckoning) which are represented. Special emphasis is given on the wings of these living beings (v. 8), and this will be addressed in the next daily note (on vv. 8-11).

September 12: Revelation 1:17-20

Revelation 1:9-20 (continued)

Revelation 1:17-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 11: Revelation 1:11-16

Revelation 1:9-20 (continued)

Revelation 1:11-16

In the previous note, I examined the introduction (vv. 9-10) to the first vision of the book of Revelation. Today, I will be discussing the vision itself, which as I noted, is presented as a theophany (i.e. manifestation of God). The figure who appears, and speaks to the seer John, though not specifically identified as Jesus Christ, is certainly to be understood as the rised/exalted Jesus. His appearance is described with both heavenly and divine characteristics, largely drawn from Old Testament tradition. Each of these will be discussed in turn:

1. “a great voice as a trumpet” (v. 10b)—cf. the previous note.

2. “and I turned about to see the voice that spoke with me” (v. 12a)—Here English translations tend to obscure what may well be an allusion to the Sinai theophany (Exod 20:18, cf. also Deut 4:12): “And all the people saw the voices…and the voice of the horn [i.e. trumpet]…” The plural “voices” refers to the sounds of thunder (i.e. thunder as the “voice” of God). Jewish tradition has explained this wording along the lines that the voice of God was so great as to seem visible to those who heard/witnessed it (cf. Philo Life of Moses II.213; On the Decalogue 46-47; Josephus Antiquities 1.285; 2. 267ff, etc; Koester, pp. 244-5ff, and for a number of the references below).

3. “seven golden lamp(stand)s” (v. 12b)—The author here repeats the verb e)pistre/yw (“turn upon/about”), adding dramatic suspense to his act of turning: “and, turning about, I saw…” These seven golden lamps are clearly parallel to the “seven Spirits” around God’s throne in verse 4 (cf. the earlier note), and again suggests that the manifestation of Jesus is very much like the manifestation of God himself. The most direct allusion is to Zechariah 4:2ff, where the lamps are explained as heavenly Messengers (“eyes”, v. 10b)—that is, Angels (“Spirits”)—but where there is also a connection with the presence of the Spirit of God (v. 6). The seven lamps may also allude to the golden lampstand, with seven branches, in the Tabernacle and (Second) Temple (Exod 25:31-40; 1 Macc 4:49-50; Josephus, Jewish War 5.217; the depiction on the Arch of Titus, etc).

4. “one like a son of man” (v. 13a)—This, of course, alludes to the famous description of the divine/heavenly being in Daniel 7:13-14 (also quoted earlier in verse 7 [cf. the note]):

“And see—with the clouds of heaven (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=] was coming…”
LXX: “And see—upon the clouds of heaven (one) as a son of man [w($ ui(o\$ a)nqrw/pou] came…”

While the Greek version of Dan 7:13 uses the general particle w($ (“as”), the description here in Rev 1:13 is a bit more precise, using the adjective o%moio$ (“similar [to]”), emphasizing likeness. Originally, the expression “son of man” (Aram. vn`a$ rB^) simply meant “human (being)”, part of “(hu)mankind”; and, thus, the reference in Daniel is to a heavenly being who has the appearance of a human being. The use of the expression as a distinct title (“Son of Man”), referring specifically to such a divine/heavenly being, is fundamental to the early Christian understanding of Jesus, and of the eschatological outlook in the New Testament. For more on this topic, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. It is important to note that, while Dan 7:13f is the primary basis for the eschatological/Messianic title “Son of Man”, here the book of Revelation does not use the title, but goes back to the underlying wording in Daniel. The opening phrase “in the middle of the lampstands” emphasizes the centrality of Jesus, but also echoes the presence of God (and his throne) in the middle of the (surrounding) “seven Spirits”.

5. “a golden girdle [i.e. belt]” (v. 13b)—The initial description of this figure “like a son of man” refers to his clothing: “having been sunk in(to a garment) to the feet, and girded about toward the breasts (with) a golden girdle [i.e. belt]”. From a socio-cultural standpoint, this clothing indicates a high, honored/dignified status; possibly also a priestly status is suggested (cf. Exod 28:4-5; Zech 3:4, etc). It is best to view this clothing, with its golden belt, simply as characteristic of a heavenly being (Dan 10:5; cf. also Ezek 9:2f, and note again the description in Rev 15:6).

6. “his head and hairs were white as wool, white as snow” (v. 14a)—This would seem to be drawn from the description of God (the “Ancient of Days”) in Daniel 7:9 (cf. also 1 Enoch 46:1; 71:10). It may be intended to reflect the divine/heavenly generally (white symbolizing purity, etc), and could refer to a heavenly being (Angel) such as in 1 Enoch 106; however, the context of Dan 7:13, and the other parallels with the appearance of God (theophany), suggests a comparison with the “Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:9).

7. “his eyes (were) as a flame of fire” (v. 14b)—Again, this description would be characteristic of a heavenly/divine being (Dan 10:6; 1 Enoch 106:5f); the detail occurs again in 19:12.

8. “his feet (were) similar to white copper” (v. 15a)—The word xalkoli/banon refers to white[ned] (li/bano$) copper (xalko/$), i.e. refined/burnished bronze, “as (if) having been burned in a furnace”. It appears to be unique to the book of Revelation (also in 2:18), but is presumably derived from the description of the heavenly being in Dan 10:6. A shining fiery appearance at the feet (or below the feet) is also part of the manifestation of God (on his throne) in the language of theophany.

9. “his voice (was) as the sound of many waters” (v. 15b)—This image most likely comes from Ezekiel 1:24; 43:2, where it describes the approach of God (preceded and surrounded by heavenly beings). There is probably also an allusion to Daniel 10:6, as well as the thundering “voices” of God in the Sinai theophany (Exod 19:16; 20:18).

10. “he (was) holding…seven stars” (v. 16a)—These stars are being held in his right (lit. “giving”) hand, i.e. the hand or side indicating favor and blessing, as well as power and authority, etc. Power over the stars could be attributed to heavenly beings, but more properly relates to God as the Creator and sustainer of the heavens—i.e. God as the one who “causes the (heavenly) armies [i.e. bodies/beings] to be/exist” (toxb*x= hwhy). Verse 20 explains that the stars are, in fact, heavenly Messengers, connected with the seven congregations to whom the epistle-book of Revelation is addressed.

11. “out his mouth traveled a sharp two-mouthed sword” (v. 16b)—A two-edged (lit. “two-mouthed”, di/stomo$) sword was a military weapon, to be used for cutting/killing in battle (the “mouth” of the sword eats/consumes its victims). The image specifically relates to the traditional military role of the Messiah at the end-time (defeating/subduing the wicked nations), especially in the light of Isa 11:4 and 49:2, as these passages were given a Messianic interpretation. The idea of the “word of God” as a sword (Heb 4:12) presumably comes from the same background (esp. Isa 11:4 LXX, “the word of his mouth”). This military imagery is applied to Jesus more graphically in Rev 2:16; 19:15, 21.

12. “the sight of him (was) as the sun shining in its power” (v. 16c)—I have translated o&yi$ here as “sight”, i.e. “visual (appearance)”, but can specifically refer to the face, which is presumably intended here. The immediate Scriptural allusion is, again, to the heavenly figure in Dan 10:6, but, certainly, the sun (light, shining, etc) is a natural symbol for deity, and this is indicated by the qualifying phrase “in his/its power”.

This concludes the vision—that is the visual description—of the figure who appears to John. What follows in verses 17-20 are the words which the figure speaks. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

References marked “Koester” above, and throughout these notes, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

September 10: Revelation 1:9-10

Revelation 1:9-20

Verse 9 introduces the first vision of the book of Revelation. It differs from the other visions and visionary cycles in that the seer is addressed directly by the risen/exalted Jesus, rather than a heavenly intermediary. It is, however, compatible with the subsequent vision-cycles, in that it also follows a seven-fold pattern. The vision is closely connected with the seven “letters” which follow in chapters 2-3—it is the risen/exalted Jesus of 1:9-20ff who addresses the seven congregations.

Insofar as the book of Revelation utilizes an epistolary (and rhetorical) framework, 1:9-20 could be regarded as the narratio—the section in which the facts and background of the case are narrated. This encompasses the “letters” in chaps. 2-3. The historical character of the section is certainly indicated from the initial declaration by the author:

Rev 1:9

“I, Yohanan, your brother and com(panion) together (with you) in the (di)stress, and (in) the kingdom and (our) remaining under [i.e. enduring] in Yeshua—(I) came to be in [i.e. on] the island called Patmos, through the word of God and the witness of Yeshua.”

This clearly establishes the setting for the visions of the book: a seer/prophet named Yohanan (Grk.  )Iwa/nnh$, “John”) was residing on the island of Patmos. This small island, in the Aegean off the coast of Asia Minor (approx. 40 miles SW of Miletus, and not too far from Ephesus), was scarcely deserted, as might sometimes be imagined. There were communities living there, with a thriving culture. Even so, according to tradition, “John” was banished to Patmos, and many commentators would concur with this. The use of the verb form e)geno/mhn (“I came to be”) suggests that Patmos was not John’s normal place of residence. His reason for being there is explained as “through the word of God and witness of Yeshua”. This could be understood two ways: (1) it was for the purpose of preaching/witnessing (i.e. missionary activity), or (2) it was the result, or consequence, of his preaching/witnessing. The latter seems most likely (the reference to “the distress” suggests some measure of persecution); if so, then he may have been relegated to the island by provincial authorities (Roman province of Asia), according to a known mode of punishment (relegatio ad insulum). Christian tradition provides numerous speculative details on how/why John was relegated to Patmos. For more on the background/setting, related to Patmos, etc, consult any reputable Commentary (e.g., Koester, pp. 239-43) or Bible dictionary.

This is the third time that the author/visionary of the book is identified as Yohanan (“John”), and it is worth examining briefly several possibilities as to just who this “John” might be:

    • It is a pseudonym, presumably referring to John the Apostle
    • It is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, in accordance with what came to be the established tradition
    • It is a different “Elder/Presybter” (presbu/tero$) named John, possibly the same person who authored the second and third Johannine letters (2 Jn 1; 3 Jn 1)
    • It is a separate and distinct John, an influential minister (and/or prophet) in Asia Minor

Critical commentators today are not as inclined (as past generations) to view the book as pseudonymous, despite the fact that much Apocalyptic literature is pseudepigraphic in nature (cf. my earlier article on these terms). The book is generally lacking in the kinds of details and references one might expect if the author were presenting himself as a famous (apostolic) figure. Some Christians chose the third option above, identifying the author with a second-generation Elder/Presbyter named John (cf. Eusebius, Church History III.39.4-6; VII.24.7ff). However, the main lines of Christian tradition identified the author as John the Apostle, an identification which appears to have been reasonably well-established by the end of the 2nd century (cf. Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 81.4; Irenaeus Against Heresies III.11.1, 16.5ff; V.30.3; Clement On the Rich Man §42, etc).

The problem with the traditional view is that there is simply nothing in the book to suggest that this “John” is an Apostle and one of the Twelve (i.e. John the son of Zebedee)—indeed, Rev 21:14 could be seen as indicating the contrary. Thus, it is probably simpler (and safer) to rely upon the detail which the book itself provides—this “John” was a minister of some influence in Asia Minor (the area around Ephesus, etc), toward the end of the first century A.D., and may have been specially gifted as a prophet.

In discussing verse 2 (cf. the earlier note), I pointed out that there the genitive case in the twin expression “the word of God and the witness of Jesus” was subjective—that is, God is the one giving the word and Jesus is the one witnessing (to it). Now, however, in verse 9, the same expression occurs in a slightly different context, indicating that the genitive has switched to the object—i.e., the believer’s witness to Jesus, and the proclamation of the word/account (lo/go$) of what God has done (through the person of Jesus). Both of these aspects continue through the remainder of the book.

Rev 1:10

The introduction to the first vision continues with verse 10:

“I came to be in (the) Spirit, in [i.e. on] the day belonging (to) the Lord, and in back of me I heard a great voice as a trumpet (saying)…”

This description of the setting in vv. 9-10 involves three elements with the expression “I came to be in/on…” (e)geno/mhn e)n):

    • “on the island called Patmos” (location)
    • “in the Spirit” (condition)
    • “on the day belonging to the Lord” (time)

Central to this scenario is the detail that John was “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati). This expression appears frequently in the New Testament, especially in Luke-Acts and the Pauline letters. It has a relatively wide range of significance, but often relates specifically to the prophetic aspect of God’s Spirit at work among his chosen people—cf. Mark 12:36; Luke 2:27; 4:1ff; 1 Cor 12:3ff; 14:2-3ff. The four occurrences in the book of Revelation (also at 4:2; 17:3; 21:10) are particularly important as they establish the spiritual basis—at four key points—for the prophetic legitimacy and authority of the visions. At each point, where there is a distinct change of setting in the visionary landscape, there is a note that this occurs “in the Spirit”. It is possible that the language itself may be drawing upon the book of Ezekiel (cf. 3:12; 8:3; 37:1; 43:5).

We should also here take note of the expression “on the day belonging to the Lord [e)n th=| kuriakh=| h(me/ra|]”. This “day belonging to the Lord”, using the adjective kuriako/$, occurs only here in the New Testament, but is found elsewhere in early Christian writings (Gospel of Peter 9:35; 12:50; Didache 14:1; Ignatius, Magnesians 9:1; Justin Martyr’s First Apology 67). It is typically translated “Lord’s Day”, and refers to Sunday, in association with the day of Jesus’ resurrection. However, we should also here recognize a deeper symbolism to the expression. The adjective kuriako/$ essentially means “belonging to the Lord [ku/rio$]”; and, while it is rare in the New Testament (elsewhere only at 1 Cor 11:20), in Greco-Roman usage it can relate to (Roman) imperial authority. Thus, it is likely that we have here a subtle, but significant, foreshadowing of the contrast, between the Kingdom of God and the (worldly) power of the Roman Empire, which is to become a major theme in the remainder of the book. Cf. Koester, p. 243.

Finally, which must consider the description which concludes the introduction in verse 10: “in back of me I heard a great voice as a trumpet”. In form, this seems to resemble Ezek 3:12 LXX, which is worth quoting:

“And the Spirit took me up, and down in back of me I heard (the) voice of a great shaking [i.e. earthquake] (saying)…”

Here the “great voice” is rather described “as a trumpet” (w($ sa/lpiggo$). In both Jewish (Old Testament) and early Christian tradition, the sounding of a trumpet often marks heavenly and eschatological phenomena (cf. Joel 2:1; Zech 9:14; Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16; and five more times in the book of Revelation, 4:1; 8:2, 6, 13; 9:14). In particular, a voice “like a trumpet” may be associated with the manifestation of God (Theophany), such as the famous appearance at Sinai—Exod 19:16; 20:18; Heb 12:19 (cf. also Psalm 47:5, etc). This is the first of several details in the vision which treat the appearance of the risen/exalted Jesus like a theophany. I list these here, to be discussed in more detail in the next daily note:

    • A great voice like a trumpet
    • The prophet turning to “see” the voice
    • The seven golden lamps
    • The white hair and fiery eyes
    • The shining/fiery appearance of the feet
    • The voice like the sound of rushing water
    • Holding (seven) stars in the right hand
    • Face shining like the sun

“…Spirit and Life”: John 3:7-8

John 3:7-8

Today’s note continues with the second half of Jesus’ exposition in Jn 3:5-8, part of the discourse covering verses 1-21. The first half (vv. 5-6) was discussed in the previous daily note. Both portions are meant to explain the central saying of Jesus in verse 3. If we consider each verse, or statement, of the exposition in its place, we see the following outline:

    • Verse 5—Re-statement of the central saying, explaining “from above” (a&nwqen) as “out of [i.e. from] the Spirit” (e)k pneu/mato$)
    • Verse 6—Contrast between being born “out of the flesh” (ordinary human birth) with being born “out of the Spirit” (birth from above)
    • Verse 7—Identification of “(born) out of the Spirit” back again with “(born) from above”
    • Verse 8—Illustration from the natural world, helping to explain “born out of the Spirit”

There is a certain parallelism between the two portions of this exposition:

    • Identification “from above” = “out of the Spirit” (v. 5)
      • Contrast between ordinary human birth and spiritual birth (v. 6)
    • Identification “out of the Spirit” = “from above” (v. 7)
      • Example illustrating how spiritual birth differs from ordinary birth, etc (v. 8)

The entire tone of vv. 7-8 is parabolic, beginning with the statement in verse 7:

“Do not wonder that I said to you (that) it is necessary (for) you to come to be (born) from above”

This sets the stage for the illustration in verse 8. As in the many parables of Jesus recorded in the Synoptic Tradition, simple illustrations from the natural world and daily life are used to convey deeper spiritual truth. Jesus himself makes this especially clear in Mark 4:11 par (addressed to his close followers): “To you has been given the secret [musth/rion] of the kingdom of God; but to those th(at are) outside, these (thing)s come to be (for them) in parables [lit. (saying)s cast alongside]”. A similar sort of example, taken from observation of the natural world, is given to Nicodemus:

“The blowing [i.e. of the wind] blows where it wishes and you hear its voice, but (yet) you have not seen where it comes (from) and where it leads (itself back) under—so (it) is (for) every one having come to be born out of the blowing (of God)”

This illustration involves a bit of wordplay in the Greek which is virtually impossible to capture in English translation. I have tried to preserve it here by translating pneu=ma in its fundamental sense of “(something) blowing” (i.e. wind, breath). In the first half of the saying, pneu=ma refers essentially to the wind, and the verb pne/w to the blowing of the wind. As mentioned previously, in ancient thought, the wind was often described as the breath of God, so the wind naturally serves as a correlative image for describing the Spirit of God. The main point of the illustration, often obscured in translation, is between hearing and seeing:

    • “you hear [a)kou/ei$] the voice [i.e. sound]” of the wind, but
    • “you have not seen [ou)k oi@da$] where it comes from”, etc

This contrast is precisely parallel to the ancient theophany experienced by Israel, whereby the people did not see God (YHWH) himself, but only heard his Voice (cf. Deut 4:12, 33ff). The expressions po/qen e&rxetai (“where it comes [from]”) and pou= u(pa/gei (“where it leads [itself] under [i.e. goes back]”) both refer to the source of the wind—i.e. coming and going back. In terms of the Spirit, obviously the source is God (the Father = YHWH). The upshot of the illustration is made explicit in the conclusion of the verse—”so it is (for) every one coming to be (born) out of the Spirit”. The emphasis is not so much on the mysterious (invisible) manner of the birth, but on the source of it—from God (i.e. “from above”). This same emphasis was made already in the Prologue, when the Gospel writer refers to the (spiritual) birth of believers:

“…to them he gave the authority to come to be (the) offspring [i.e. children] of God, to the ones trusting in his name, th(e one)s who, not out of blood and not out of the will of (the) flesh and not out of the will of man—but out of God—came to be (born)” (1:12-13)

Even though God the Father is the source of the Spirit, it comes to believers through the Son (Jesus)—he is the subject of vv. 12-13. The same idea, drawing upon the ancient Sinai theophany, is expressed at the conclusion of the Prologue (v. 18):

“No one has seen God, at any time, (but) the only (born) Son, the (one) being [i.e. who is] in the lap of the Father—that (one) has led Him out (to us)”

The Son’s revelation of the Father is closely tied to the giving/coming of the Spirit to believers—a connection which begins to become clear in the Last Discourse (chapters 14-17).

There is perhaps a special significance to the idea of hearing the voice of the wind (i.e. the Spirit of God). In Exodus 20:19, we have the tradition that the people were unable to bear hearing the voice of God (sounding like terrifying thunder). This, too, is referenced several times in the Johannine discourses, most notably in 5:37:

“And the Father (hav)ing sent me—that (One) has given witness about me; and his voice you have not heard at any time, and you have not seen his visible (form)…”

This lack of hearing/seeing God the Father, while drawing upon the Old Testament tradition, in the context of the discourse actually refers to the disbelief of the people—their failure (or unwillingness) to trust in Jesus:

“…and his Word you do not hold remaining in you, (in) that [i.e. because] the (one) whom that (One) [i.e. God the Father] se(n)t forth—in that (one) you do not trust!” (v. 38)

These same motifs of hearing and seeing run through the Gospel of John. We will encounter them again during the upcoming notes in this series.

Saturday Series: Exodus 32-34, concluded

Exodus 32-34 (continued)

In our discussion last week on chapters 32-34 in the book of Exodus, three primary themes, or motifs, were identified in chap. 32:

    • The role of Moses as leader and representative of the people before YHWH
    • The identity of Israel as the people of YHWH, and
    • The violation and invalidation of the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and His people

These same themes are developed in the narrative in chapters 33-34. The historical traditions, however they were incorporated into the original narrative, serve this purpose in the book as it has come down to us. As a result, certain details and peculiarities in the text, which might be analyzed variously from the standpoint of historical and source criticism (see the discussion two weeks ago), finally take on a distinctive narrative (and theological) coloring which must be examined carefully. This exegetical survey is intended to point the way toward such a study.

With the dissolution of the covenant agreement, as narrated in chap. 32, a new situation maintains, which is indicated at the beginning of chap. 33 (verses 1-6). This may be summarized as follows:

    • Israel was God’s people
    • With the invalidation of the covenant, they are no longer treated as His people; indeed, it is God’s intention to establish a new covenant, with Moses (32:10)
    • Through Moses’ intercession there is a partial restoration (vv. 11-14)

At the start of chapter 33, Israel is still not regarded as God’s people. Note the language YHWH uses in speaking to Moses in verse 1:

“Go, go up from this (place), you and the people which you brought up from the land of Egypt…”

It is Moses, not YHWH, who “brought up” the people from Egypt. This almost certainly reflects the violation of the covenant, as echoed in the wording of 32:1. In place of Moses, the people seek for a different sort of tangible indication of God’s presence—namely, the Golden calf:

“Stand (up and) make for us God(s) which will go before us; for, see, this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has come to be for him [i.e. what has happened to him]!”

This wording is repeated in the exclamation at the creation of the Golden Calf: “These are your Gods, (O) Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (v. 4). Even so, there has been a partial restoration of the covenant; certainly, YHWH will honor the agreement established with Abraham, regarding the promised Land (33:1-3a, see Gen 15). However, He will not travel or reside in the midst of the people (vv. 3b, 5), a detail which would otherwise be fundamental to the identity of Israel as His people (and He as their God). In vivid description, this announcement leads to mourning on the part of the people (vv. 4, 6). It also establishes the setting for verses 12ff, which are preceded by the (historical) tradition included here at vv. 7-11. It is important to examine briefly the way this tradition is utilized within the narrative.

A detail often neglected by commentators is that the Tent described in vv. 7-11 is set up outside the camp. While it is possible that, originally, this was a neutral indication of the tent’s location (note the wording in v. 7), in the context of the narrative, it can only mean that YHWH is forced to meet with Moses away from the people, since he can no longer reside among them due to their violation of the covenant. This serves to deepen Moses’ role as the people’s representative before God. The encounter on Sinai, which took place in the general vicinity of the people at large, now becomes an entirely private event. The same dark cloud, which indicated the presence of YHWH at the top of Mt. Sinai, now descends, in less dramatic form, to appear at the entrance of the Tent, where God would meet/speak with Moses. Even though the people could still see the tent, and the cloud, they were cut off from the event (this is true even of Joshua, though he was within the tent itself, v. 11).

In verses 12-23, following the setting established by the tradition in vv. 7-11, Moses intercedes again for the people (vv. 12-13). YHWH agrees to lead the camp in its travels, which partially mitigates his earlier refusal to dwell among the people. At the same time, the people are brought closer to God from a different direction—through Moses’ request in verse 13 that he more completely reflect the presence of YHWH for the people: “Let me know your way(s) and know You…”. This is expressed again, in even more daring form, in verse 18: “Let me see your weight [k¹bœd]!” The Hebrew word k¹»œd (db)K*), which I have rendered literally as “weight”, when used of God, more properly refers to His manifest Presence; it is customarily translated “glory” in most English versions. An example of such a Theophany is the vision accorded Moses and the elders/leaders of Israel in 24:9-11 (“they saw the God of Israel…”, v. 10). As previous discussed, this was related to the initial establishment of the covenant, just as with its re-establishment here. Moses is apparently asking for an even more direct and personal revelation by YHWH. This Presence had otherwise been covered by the dark cloud during Moses’ previous encounters.

At this point in the narrative, there is a theological transformation (and deepening) of the ancient Theophany motif (i.e. the storm cloud). YHWH promises to Moses a vision of His Presence which is not direct—i.e., not the face (p¹neh [plur. p¹nîm])—but which reveals it from behind (°¹µôr, that which follows or comes after). This entirely unique mode of revelation is characterized by four components or attributes, which really can be distilled into two aspects of a single dynamic:

    • God speaking/calling to Moses with the Name [YHWH]
    • God revealing “all (his) good(ness) [‰ôb]”
      • Showing (all of his) favor
      • Displaying (all of his) compassion

While this is referred to in terms of a vision, when the moment comes in the narrative it is described in terms of the spoken word. There can be no doubt, however, that the declaration in 34:6-7 is to be understood as the fundamental revelation of YHWH’s presence from within the dark cloud (v. 5). Even more important, from the standpoint of the narrative, is that this theological message is central to the idea of the restoration of the covenant in chapters 34ff. The Presence of God becomes transferred and accessible to the people through the ministry of Moses. Paul draws powerfully upon this idea in his famous discussion in 2 Corinthians 3; indeed, one may say that it is fundamental to a Christian understanding of the New Covenant in the person of Jesus (and the presence of the Spirit).

In Exod 34:1-9, there is a new Theophany on Sinai, but with several important differences from the previous encounter. This time Moses is to ascend entirely alone—there should be no one on or near the mountain at all (vv. 1-3). Moreover, special emphasis is given to the new set of stone tablets which were carved out by Moses (vv. 1, 4). In obedience, Moses follows this directive and encounters YHWH (vv. 4-9). The promised revelation, as noted above, is described as a spoken declaration, centered on the utterance of the Divine Name YHWH (hwhy), vv. 6-7. The encounter reaches its climax with Moses’ request that YHWH take the people again as His own. And, indeed, in verses 10-26, God responds by establishing the covenant again with Israel, after which they are once again regarded as His people (compare with v. 10). There are, however, some important points of difference with this second covenant, as expressed through details often overlooked by commentators. First, it is a covenant with Israel and with Moses (v. 27, Moses’ name is given first). This indicates the enhanced role of Moses in ministering the covenant, and in communicating God’s word and presence to the people. Second, the same basic idea is indicated by the difference in the character of the stone tablets which provide the written basis of the agreement. The first covenant was written on the tablets by the finger of God (31:18; 32:16); by contrast, the second is said specifically to be written by Moses (34:27-28). Some commentators are inclined to gloss over this apparent difference, or to attribute it simply to differences in the underlying traditions. While the latter is certainly possible, in my view it does not change the meaning of the difference in the overall narrative as we have it.

The remainder of chapter 34 further emphasizes, in vivid and dramatic fashion, the mediatorial role of Moses. The Divine Presence is marked and reflected on Moses’ own person (rays of light from his face), visibly and symbolically, as he descends from Mt. Sinai (vv. 29-30). In this glorified condition he communicates God’s instruction (Torah) to the people (vv. 31-33), a process which is repeated at regular points, at least until the Torah is complete and the communal Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) is built. Indeed, within the narrative structure and setting, this Torah (35:1-3) leads into specific instruction regarding the building of the Tent, through which the people would come to encounter YHWH. This is unquestionably meant as a parallel to the Tent “outside the camp” which only Moses would enter (34:34-35). After the great new Tent is established, God’s Presence fills it (40:34), effectively taking Moses’ place as the one who communicated the Presence to the people (v. 35). Here the Presence of YHWH would reside with Israel through all of the people’s travels (vv. 36-38).

I hope that this all-too brief survey is instructive in demonstrating how various details and points of emphasis in the text, which might otherwise be looked at (from a critical standpoint) as discrepancies or evidence of contrasting traditions, ultimately find their greatest significance in the way that they underscore and enhance the fundamental message in the narrative (as it has come down to us). This is especially important in the case of a passage such as Exodus 32-34 which is filled with so many famous traditions and details, and which also fits so precisely into the overall thematic structure of the book (particularly the second half, chapters 19-40).

Before leaving the Pentateuch, I wish to move ahead to the book of Deuteronomy, and spend a little time examining the great “Song of Moses” in chapter 32. I intend to use this particular passage as a way of introducing some of the critical and interpretive issues which are specific to the study of ancient Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament. I would ask that you read through the book of Deuteronomy, at your leisure, considering its overall structure, as well as some of the themes and language used by the author (and/or the underlying traditions). How does the “Song” in chapter 32 fit within this structure? Note any particular details which stand out to you or which you find especially of interest. God willing, we will begin to explore these together…next week.

June 1: Acts 2:1-13 (part 2)

For the second day of Pentecost (Pentecost Monday), I will be examining the the second of three primary themes related to the Pentecost Narrative of Acts 2:1-13 (cf. also Part 2 of the article “The Sending of the Spirit”):

    1. Theophany (Pentecost Sunday)
    2. Tongues of Fire
    3. The Restoration of Israel

2. Tongues of Fire

This phenomenon is described in verse 3:

kai\ w&fqhsan au)toi=$ diamerizo/menoi glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$ kai\ e)ka/qisen e)f’ e%na e%kaston au)tw=n
“and (there) was seen [i.e. appeared] to them divided throughout tongues as if of fire, and it sat upon each one of them”

It may be useful to examine several of the key words and expressions a bit more closely:

w&fqhsan (“was seen”)—the aorist passive of this verb (o)ptanomai, as an alternate for o(ra/w, etc), is used frequently in both the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and Luke-Acts in the context of theophany (i.e. “appearance/manifestation of God”, see the previous day’s note) or an otherwise divine/heavenly appearance: cf. Gen 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; Exod 3:2; Luke 1:11; 24:34; Acts 7:2, 26, 30, 35; 9:17; 13:31; 16:9; 26:16). In such a context, the plural form is rare—here it refers to the theophanic appearance of “tongues” (pl.).

diamerizo/menoi—this verb is a compound of meri/zw (“divide, separate, portion”) and the preposition dia/ (fundamentally, “through”); here the preposition serves as an intensive, or to convey a distributive sense. It is a feminine plural passive participle (modifying “tongues” glw=ssai), a compact way of describing the “tongues” suddenly/instantly (?) being distributed throughout the group of believers gathered in the house. In the New Testament, the verb occurs in the negative (or hostile) sense of separating/dividing something (Lk 11:17-18; 12:52-53; Mk 15:24 par [citing Psalm 17:14]), and similarly the noun diamerismo/$ (Lk 12:51). However, in Luke-Acts, there are three occurrences where the verb is used in a positive sense, i.e. of distributing something among a group of believers: in addition to the “tongues” in this verse, it is used (1) for the bread and cup of the last supper (Lk 22:17), and (2) for the distribution to the needy of the resources held in common by the early believers in Jerusalem (Acts 2:45).

glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$ (“tongues as if of fire”)—this expression will be discussed below; note the comparative particle w(sei (“as if”, i.e. “as, like”), to indicate the symbolic description of the manifestation of the Spirit. There is a similar use of w(sei in the Matthean account of Jesus’ baptism—the Spirit coming down upon Jesus w(sei (“like, as if”) a dove, i.e. in the apparent form of a dove.

e)ka/qisen (“sat”)—here the verb kaqi/zw (“set, sit [down]”) may have the sense of “settle, rest, hover”, etc; however, the semitic idiom “to sit” (Hebrew verb bv^y`) can also be understood figuratively as “settle [down], set [down roots], dwell”, and so a more permanent dwelling of the Spirit may be implied as well. Note the singular form of the verb (“it sat”, lit. “she sat”), though the subject “tongues” is plural.

e)f’ e%na e%kaston au)tw=n (“upon each one of them”)—the idea seems to be that a “tongue” of fire sets down individually on each of the (approximately) 120 believers in the house. This was already implied in the use of the verb diameri/zw in the distributive sense (see above), but here is made explicit with the involved expression, literally “upon (each) one separate(ly) of them”. So we have a powerful juxtaposition of: (a) the unity of the group (community) of believers together, and (b) the distinctiveness of each individual. This can be illustrated by a comparison of verse 1 and 3:

one (together) upon the same (thing/place)” (v. 1)
o(mou= e)pi\ to\ au)to/
“upon each one of them” (v. 3)
e)f’ e%na e%kaston au)tw=n

“…and they were all filled…” (v. 4)
kai\ e)plh/sqsan pa/nte$

Verse 4 continues in parallelism with verse 2b-3:

    • The Spirit filled (e)plh/rwsen) the whole house where they where sitting (kaqh/menoi) together (v. 2b)
      • and there appeared to them “tongues (glwssai) of fire”… which sat (e)ka/qisen) upon each of them individually (v. 3)
    • They were all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit (v. 4a)
      • and began to speak with other tongues (glwssai) as the (Holy) Spirit gave them to pronounce/speak forth (v. 4b)

Clearly, there is wordplay with “tongues (as if) of fire” [glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$] anticipating “with other tongues” [e(te/rai$ glw/ssai$] in v. 4. There is at least one other occurrence of the phrase “tongues of fire” from roughly the same period in a Qumran text (represented by fragments of 1Q29 and 4Q376: these with 4Q375 and 1Q22 may all be part of the same work). 1Q29 fragment 1 can be restored on the basis of 4Q376 (ellipses indicate gaps [lacunae] in the text):

“…the stone, like… they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire [va twnwvlb]; the stone which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after it [the cloud?] has been removed… and you shall keep and do all that he tells you. And the prophet … … who speaks apostasy … … YHWH, God of …”

Another tiny fragment reads: “… the right stone when the priest leaves … … three tongues of fire … … And after he shall go up and remove his shoes ….” (translations taken from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans 1997/2000, vol. 1 pp. 108-9). The words (possibly spoken by Moses) refer to an anointed Priest; the stones on the right and left (urim and thummim?) are associated both with light and the voice of the Priest as he addresses the assembly. It is possible the “three tongues” are also “divided out”, one over each stone, and one directly over the Priest in the middle. For other references to “tongues of fire”, see 1 Enoch 14:9ff; 71:5ff which are part of a description of the heavenly realm.

There is some uncertainty whether the “other tongues” refer to an ecstatic ‘heavenly’ language or ‘earthly’ foreign languages. Other New Testament references (Acts 10:46; 19:6, and those in 1 Cor. 12-14) suggest the former, while the context here (cf. Acts 2:11) indicates the latter. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, in order to reflect both: (a) heavenly origin, and (b) the languages of the nations. Returning to the Sinai theophany, there is an old Jewish tradition that as the Torah (each word of God) went forth it was split into the seventy languages of the nations (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 88b); that is, each nation could hear the voice of God (the “thunderings”) in its own language (cf. Exodus Rabbah V.9). A tradition along these lines seems to be at least as old as Philo of Alexandria (On the Decalogue §32-49), and so nearly contemporary with the book of Acts. In particular, Philo emphasizes an interesting relationship:

Sound/Voice (of God) (h@xo$, cf. Acts 2:2)
{changed into}
Fire (pu=r/puro/$, cf. Acts 2:3)
{changed into / understood as}
Human language (dia/lekto$, cf. Acts 2:6ff)

which generally seems to follow the same logical/narrative sequence in Acts.

In addition to the Sinai theophany, there would seem also to be an echo of the “confusion of tongues” episode in the Tower of Babel narrative (Gen 11:1-9); as we shall see in the next day’s note, the Pentecost narrative almost certainly draws upon the eschatological motif of the restoration of a common human language as part of the imagery surrounding the inauguration of a Christian world mission.

May 31: Acts 2:1-13 (part 1)

In celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, I will be exploring the Pentecost Narrative in the book of Acts (Acts 2:1-13, cf. also the article “The Sending of the Spirit”), with one of three central themes highlighted for each of the three days of Pentecost (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday):

    1. Theophany
    2. Tongues of Fire
    3. The Restoration of Israel

To see how these three themes fit together, it is important to look at the introductory verse (v. 1) of the Narrative. Here I break out the specific words of this short verse:

    • kai\ (“and”)
    • e)n tw=| sumplhrou=sqai (“in the being filled up” [su/n as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
    • th\n h(me/ran th=$ pentekosth=$ (“the Fiftieth day”)
    • h@san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
    • pa/nte$ (“all”—all of them, together)
    • o(mou= (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar o(moqumado\n [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
    • e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (“upon the [same] thing”—this phrase occurs repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts, though somewhat obscured by conventional translations; it is indicative of the unity of the believers)

Here is the verse in literal translation:

“And in the Fiftieth day’s being filled completely, they were all at one upon the (same) thing [or, place]”

And in a more conventional translation:

“And when the Fiftieth day had been fufilled, they were all together in the same place.”
[As C. C. Torrey and other scholars have noted, the Greek may reflect an Aramaic expression “when the Weeks had been fulfilled” (e.g., aY`u^Wbv* <l^v=m!b=W), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (toub%v*) in Israelite and Jewish tradition (cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12). Fifty days (seven weeks) are counted from the offering of the firstfruit sheaf of grain at the time of Passover. Traditionally, it was also the time associated with the Sinai theophany and giving of the Law (Ex. 19:1ff). In the Exodus narrative, the entire camp of Israel was gathered together beneath the mountain “to meet God” (Ex. 19:17). Here, the disciples, too are gathered together in the same place and will “meet God”. Elements of the Sinai theophany also have their parallel in the manifestation of the Spirit, as we shall see. Indeed, this brings us specifically to the first theme of the narrative which I would emphasize, the subject of today’s note.

1. Theophany

Here the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) is recorded in dramatic fashion, in the language and imagery of Theophany. A theophany is a manifestation (literally “shining [forth]”) of God—at the historical level of Scriptural narrative, of course, this means a manifestation in time and space, one which can be observed by God’s people. Within the Old Testament tradition, specific manifestations of God (YHWH), are typically described (and experienced) in terms of natural phenomena—light, wind, fire, thunder, earthquake, and so forth.

Since the manifestation of God at Sinai (occurring at Pentecost, by tradition) was mentioned above, and is perhaps the most prominent such manifestation recorded in Scripture, it is worth looking at elements of that theophany:

    • Thunders (lit. “voices”) and lightnings (19:16)
    • A thick cloud
    • Fire went down upon the mountain; smoke (as of a furnace) went up from it (19:18), perhaps parallel to the cloud in v. 16.
    • The mountain “trembled” (or “quaked”); in v. 16 it is said the people trembled (same verb, drj)
    • The sound (lit. “voice”) of a horn (rp*ov, shofar) (19:19, also mentioned in v. 16), which sounded long and grew louder

Consider also the theophany to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12):

    • A great and strong wind (or “breath”, “spirit” j^Wr = pneu=ma) which swept through and tore at the mountain
    • An earthquake (“quaking”, “shaking” vu^r^)
    • Fire (va@)

all of which occur as God (hwhy) is “passing over” (or “passing by” rb@u), but God Himself is not in (b) the wind, quaking or fire. Then comes a quiet, thin voice.

Here is the manifestation of the Spirit as recorded in Acts (note the theophanic details in italics, with specific parallels in bold):

    1. “And suddenly there came to be out of the heaven a sound as of a violent wind [pnoh/] being carried (along) and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting” (2:2)
    2. “And there was seen [i.e. appeared] unto them tongues as if of fire divided through(out), and it sat upon each one of them” (2:3)
    3. “And they all were filled of/by (the) holy Spirit [pneu=ma] and began to speak in other tongues even as the Spirit gave (to) them to utter forth” (2:4)

The parallels with the Sinai theophany, especially, make clear that, to the author of Acts at least (and/or the underlying tradition he inherited), the coming of the Spirit is meant to indicate the very power and presence of God Himself. In this respect, the Acts narrative is somewhat different from the account of the coming of the Spirit in the Gospel of John (Jn 20:19-23), which, in light of the earlier Paraclete passages of the Discourses of Jesus in Jn 13-17, emphasizes the Spirit as the continuing presence of Jesus in the hearts and lives of his disciples. This is just one of several fundamental differences between the Lukan and Johannine accounts; however, one important point of emphasis they hold in common is that the coming of the Spirit is central to the empowering and equipping of the disciples for the Christian mission. This mission is only touched upon briefly in Jn 20:19ff (and again in the ‘epilogue’ of Jn 21), but it encompasses almost the entirety of the book of Acts. As we shall see, the theme of the mission to the wider (Jewish and Gentile) world is a thread underlying the Pentecost Narrative.

Saturday Series: Exodus 32-34

Exodus 32-34

In the most recent Saturday discussion, we examined the covenant scene in Exodus 24, pointing out along the way the place of this episode in the structure of the book as a whole. The entire second half of the book, chapters 19-40, involves the idea of the binding agreement (covenant) established between God and his people at Mt. Sinai. From the standpoint of the narrative of the Pentateuch (or, at least the Tetrateuch, Genesis–Numbers), this extends to encompass the entire book of Leviticus and the opening chapters of Numbers (up to 10:10)—all of which is set at Sinai.

Chapters 32-33 (+ 34:1-9) of the book of Exodus have a special place in this narrative structure, set between two blocks of legal material (instruction, Torah), 20:1-23:33; 25:1-31:17 and 34:10-40:15. At the same time, there have been numerous critical questions surrounding these passages, which continue to be studied and debated in earnest today. As a result, Exod 32:1-34:9 is instructive for illustrating various aspects of Old Testament criticism. I wish to survey briefly each of the following areas:

    1. Textual Criticism
    2. Source Criticism
    3. Historical Criticism
    4. Exegetical analysis of the received Text

1. Textual Criticism

Generally speaking, the text of the Pentateuch is consistent and secure, as compared with other portions of Scripture. The numerous Dead Sea manuscripts tend to confirm the later Masoretic Text (MT), with a few notable exceptions, one of which is the ‘paleo-Hebrew’ manuscript from Qumran labeled 4QpaleoExodm. This (fragementary) copy of the book of Exodus covers the material spanning from 6:25 to 37:16. The text of this manuscript differs from the MT at a number of points, where it tends to agree with the Samaritan Pentateuch (against the MT). The differences are relatively minor, but they are significant enough to allow us to regard the manuscript as representing a distinct recension, or version, of the text. It appears to be the recension which, with some adaptation, was used by the Samaritans in their version of the Pentateuch. There is a particular example from our passage (Exod 32-34):

Exodus 32:10-11

The Masoretic Text (MT), following the BHS/Westminster critical editions, reads (in translation):

(YHWH speaking to Moses): “And now, bring rest to me [i.e. let me alone], and my anger [lit. nostril] will burn on [i.e. against] them and I will consume them, and I will make you to (be) a great nation!” And Moshe (trie)d to soften the face of YHWH his God, and said (to him), “For what [i.e. why], (O) YHWH, does your anger burn on your people…?”

Now, note the reading of 4QpaleoExodm, in agreement with the Samaritan text:

(YHWH speaking to Moses): “And now, bring rest to me [i.e. let me alone], and my anger [lit. nostril] will burn on [i.e. against] them and I will consume them, and I will make you to (be) a great nation!” And with Aharon YHWH was very angry, (enough) to destroy him, but Moshe interceded on behalf of Aharon. And Moshe (trie)d to soften the face of YHWH his God, and said (to him), “For what [i.e. why], (O) YHWH, does your anger burn on your people…?”

The portion in bold italics is not present in the MT. In such an instance, we must consider whether the longer text is original or represents an addition (interpolation). In this particular case, it is unlikely that the longer text is the result of an accident (copying mistake); nor can the shorter text be explained as an obvious mistake (omission). If, on the other hand, the change was at least partly intentional, then we must consider how or why it was made. The arguments cut both ways:

    • The longer text could be explained by the fact that the shorter text, if original, does not really record any reaction by God against Aaron, nor punishment, for his specific role in the Golden Calf incident; scribes thus might have been inclined to add such a detail, whether from authentic tradition or as a pious invention.
    • Scribes may also have been inclined to minimize Aaron’s role in the sin of the Golden Calf, and to eliminate specific details which cast him in too bad a light (esp. in comparison with Moses). This would be an argument in favor of the longer text.

It is not possible to make a definite determination on these grounds (though I tend to favor the shorter text at Exod 32:10-11a). In such cases, where there is corroborating evidence from Qumran to support either the Samaritan Pentateuch or the Greek Version(s), against the MT, we ought to give it serious consideration in our study.

2. Source Criticism

According to the common critical analysis of the Pentateuch (the so-called Documentary Hypothesis), Exodus 32-34 is a composite, made up of at least three distinct strands (or sources):

    • The core narrative of 32:1-33:23, usually assigned to the “E” (Elohist) source
    • The appearance of YHWH to Moses (34:1a, 2-13) and a parallel version of the Ten Commandments (34:14-28 [cp. 20:1-17]), assigned to the “J” (Jahwist/Yahwist) source
    • A layer of editing and additional material, referred to as the “Priestly” (P) layer or source—31:18; [34:1b]; 34:29-35ff (to the end of the book).

Interestingly, the “E” source was so labeled based on its presumed preference for the divine name Elohim over Yahweh (YHWH). However, chapters 32-33 consistently use YHWH throughout, the only exception being in 32:16. In this instance, the critical theory is more properly based on the presence of “doublet” traditions (two ascents by Moses, two sets of tablets, two versions of the Decalogue, etc), as well as historical considerations (see below). Traditional-conservative commentators, while often respectful of these analyses based on the Documentary Hypothesis, tend to accept the text at face value, as a unified composition reflected authentic historical tradition throughout. Even so, there are a number of apparent inconsistencies and peculiarities which require explanation. It is certainly possible to recognize the presence of various traditions which have been brought together in the narrative, without necessarily adopting the Documentary Hypothesis as a whole.

3. Historical Criticism

There are two aspects to what we call historical criticism: (1) analysis of the historical background of the text as we have it (including when it was authored, etc), and (2) consideration of the historicity of the events and traditions contained in the text. Both aspects have been somewhat controversial over the years, in the case of the Pentateuch, on the basis of two factors: (a) the detailed critical studies and hypotheses which indicate many different and varied traditions, and (b) the strong tradition identifying Moses as the effective author/source of the books. Students and scholars who adopt (or insist on) extreme positions regarding either of these two factors, in my view, end up distorting or neglecting important pieces of evidence related to the text. Let us briefly consider several critical approaches to Exod 32-34:

a. The blending of contrary or opposing traditions

Commentators who recognize different, distinct strands of tradition in the text, often claim that these are contrary or opposed to one another, in various ways. This may include:

    • Different wording or formulation of a tradition, such as in the two “versions” of the Decalogue—20:1-17 (usually assigned to “P”) and 34:14-28 (“J”).
    • Geographical distinctions—esp. interests of the Northern kingdom (Shechem, Bethel, Mushite priesthood), compared with those of the South (Jerusalem, the Temple, the Davidic legacy, Aaronid priesthood). The presumed source documents “E” and “J” are often thought to come from the North and South, respectively.
    • Religious and theological differences—e.g., the northern Bethel cultus vs. that of the Jerusalem (Temple), cherub-throne (the Ark) vs. bull-throne, the position of the priestly lines of Aaron and Moses, specific traditions associated with the religious centers of Gilgal, Shiloh, Shechem, etc.

As just one example, it is often though that the Golden Calf episode in chapter 32, along with Aaron’s involvement in the incident (vv. 1-5, 10-11 v.l., 21-24f), is intended as a (Northern) polemic against the religious establishment of Jeroboam (at the sites of Bethel and Dan, etc). There can be no doubt that an intentional parallel is at work. All one has to do is to consider the basic iconography (of the bull) and the words used to introduce it:

“These are your Gods, (O) Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Exod 32:4, cf. also verse 8)
“See, your Gods, (O) Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (1 Kings 12:28)

How should this parallel be explained? There are two main possibilities:

    • The declaration in 1 Kings 12:28, and/or the golden bulls of Jeroboam’s religious establishment themselves, are meant to reflect the earlier Exodus tradition.
    • The Exodus scene of the Golden Calf reflects the later development by Jeroboam, being projected back into the time of Moses and the Exodus. At the very least, one might say that the Exodus narrative has been shaped (its wording, etc) in light of the later history.
b. The tendency to include traditions with variant details

Apparent discrepancies in detail do not necessarily mean that traditions are unreliable or inaccurate. However one views the composition of the Pentateuch, the author/editor(s) of the books as they have come down to us has included many different traditions, and narratives, which seem to result in certain inconsistencies. Consider, for example, the shifts in setting and emphasis in chapters 32-34, which do not always flow smoothly in the text:

    • The details surrounding the Golden Calf, including the fact that it seems to be understood as representing both distinct “gods” (i.e. separate from YHWH), and YHWH himself (his throne?)—32:1, 4, 5-6
    • The different expressions of God’s anger, judgment, and the punishment of the people (with multiple intercessions by Moses), without a clear sense of how they relate to each other in the course of the narrative—(these will be discussed in the last section of this study [#4]). In particular, Aaron does not seem to face any definite punishment for his role in the Golden Calf incident (see above).
    • The differing descriptions of what God says to Moses on the mountain, and how it relates to what Moses writes, and to what is written on the “two tablets” of stone—24:3-4; 31:18; 32:15-16; 34:1-5, 28-29, etc.
    • In this regard, there are also some interesting repetitions in the sections of legal instruction (Torah)—examine the passages closely, 25:1-31:17; 34:10-35:3ff, as well as the earlier “book of the Covenant” (20:22-23:23).
    • Certain apparent inconsistencies regarding where/how God appears to Moses, etc—chap. 19; 20:18ff; 24:1-18; 33:7ff, 17-23; 34:5ff, 29ff.

Our modern ideals of composition would perhaps require a bit more clarity, harmonizing and smoothing out details in these various episodes and traditions. The ancient author (and/or editor[s]) did not compose and shape the text in quite this way. We must consider that the apparent rough edges and inconsistencies are intentional, meant to bring out certain details and aspects of the narrative which might otherwise be overlooked.

c. The unifying structure of the narrative

A number of the discrepancies or inconsistencies mentioned above, however one chooses to judge them from the standpoint of source– and historical-criticism (see the discussion above), can be explained, in large measure, when one considers carefully the structure of the narrative as it has come down to us. In this regard, the “doublet” and repeating elements, far from being problematic, are actually vital to a proper understanding of the narrative. Consider the basic outline:

    • Moses ascends Mount Sinai and receives instruction (Torah) from God, which includes material written down on two stone tablets (i.e. the covenant)—24:15-31:18
      • The people violate the covenant and Moses descends—chaps. 32-33
    • Moses re-ascends Mount Sinai and (again) receives instruction (Torah) from God, including that written down on two stone tablets (the covenant)—34:1-28
      • Moses descends and the covenant with the people is re-established34:29-35:1ff

The simplicity of this outline masks a richly-detailed structure of motifs and associations, particular points of emphasis, and the like. This is part of the uniquely inspired character of the text which cannot be reduced merely to questions of historicity. The fourth (final) section of this study on Exodus 32-34 will examine the structure of the narrative in more detail, from an exegetical standpoint. This we will do next Saturday. I hope that you will join me.

Saturday Series: Genesis 15

This week we will be looking at the first of three passages in the Pentateuch which involve the idea of a covenant made between God and his people. This idea is central to the thought (and theology) of the Old Testament, which early Christians inherited; and yet, the concept is altogether foreign to us today. This is an instance where a measure of historical criticism is required in order to understand the Scriptures. It is necessary to be aware of the ancient Near Eastern cultural and religious background of the covenant idea, and the language (and symbolism) used to express it.

To begin with, the Hebrew word usually translated as “covenant” is b§rî¾ (tyr!B=), most likely related to the Akkadian bir£tu/birtu, and the (Semitic) loanword bi-rí-ta in Egyptian. The fundamental meaning is “bond”, specifically in the sense of a “binding agreement”. Its use has been preserved in the record of various formal agreements or treaties, along with the parallel term °âl¹ (Akkadian a°¹lu/a°lu). Such agreements can be made either between equal parties (parity treaties), or between a superior (suzerain) and his loyal associates (vassals); sometimes in the latter case, only one of the parties would be bound by the agreement. A number of suzerain-vassal treaties are known from the ancient Near East; examples of both Assyrian and Hittite treaties, in particular, have come to light which help to elucidate the “covenant” form and language used in the Old Testament. For a good survey of the evidence, see F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard: 1973), pp. 265-73.

Genesis 15

There are two covenant episodes which are central to the Abraham (Abram) narratives in Genesis; the first of these is in chapter 15, which follows directly upon the war and Melchizedek episodes of chapter 14. Both chapters appear to derive from the same cluster of traditions and have many similarities of language. The term b§rî¾ appears in 14:13, where three Amorites (Mamre, Eshkol, Aner), who are allies of Abraham, are referred to as ba±¦lê b§rî¾ (“lords [i.e. men, chieftains] of a [binding] agreement”, i.e. with Abraham). One important consequence of both the war, and the Melchizedek episode, is the faithfulness (to God) shown by Abraham, and, especially, his refusal to receive any material benefit (i.e. spoils, reward) himself from the war (vv. 20b-24). This sets the stage for Abraham’s encounter with God (El-Yahweh) in chapter 15.

The actual encounter with God occurs at the prophetic, visionary level, as is clear from verse 1: “…the word of YHWH came to be unto Abram in a vision”, that is, where one sees and looks with the mind rather than the eyes. The oracle is simple and in three parts, the last of which declares to Abraham, “your payment [´¹k¹r] will increase very (much)”—i.e., in lieu of what he might have gained from the war, Abraham will receive an even greater reward. Verses 2-5 set forth the nature of this reward: that of progeny (children, offspring) which will keep his family line intact for generations to come. The covenant setting of this “reward” is clear from the way it is tied to Abraham’s faithfulness (to God), both the chapter 14 narrative, and also here, as the statement in verse 6 brings out: “And he was firm with [i.e. trusted in] YHWH, and it was counted as faithfulness [ƒ®d¹qâ] for him”. The noun ƒ®d¹qâ (hq*d*x=) is typically translated “righteousness, justice” but it can also signify someone who is victorious (on one’s behalf), trustworthy, faithful, loyal, etc. The covenant-context of the passage suggests a connotation of this sort. In other word, God considers Abraham as a loyal friend.

This relates to the idea of vassalage (and vassal treaties) in the ancient Near East. Loyal supporters (vassals) were bound to a superior (suzerain) by an agreement which was established and ratified through oath and symbolic ritual. Many such agreements involved a grant of land, and that is what occurs here between God and his loyal vassal (Abraham) as well (verse 7). A special ritual act establishes the agreement (vv. 9-21). The details of this episode doubtless seem most strange to readers today; however, they are part of the ritual process associated with treaties in the ancient world. The idiom in verse 18 (and elsewhere in the Old Testament) is “to cut an agreement”, using the verb k¹ra¾ (tr^K*), “cut”. This language is not merely figurative, but concrete. It was common practice for the establishment of a treaty to be accompanied by the ritual cutting up an animal. This is known by way of texts from Mari, Alalakh, and other sites, as well as parallels in Israelite and Old Testament tradition (Judges 19:11ff). The meaning of the ritual cutting is clear enough from Jeremiah 34:17-20 and the Aramaic Sefire treaty; it is a curse formula, meant to symbolize the fate which will befall the one who violates the agreement—i.e., “Just as this {animal} is cut up, thus {so-and-so} will be cut up” if he/they violate the treaty.

However, in Genesis 15, while the ancient ritual symbolism is preserved, it is infused with an entirely new meaning. For one thing, it is God (El-Yahweh) who is the sovereign, not an earthly ruler, giving the covenant-form a unique religious aspect. Moreover, there is no emphasis on the oath/curse associated with the symbolism of the cutting up of the animals. Instead, at the heart of the scene in verses 9-21, is a prophetic visitation and divine manifestation (theophany) of God to Abraham. Note the structure:

    • The cutting up of the animals and arrangement of the pieces (vv. 9-11)
    • The “word of YHWH” comes again to Abraham in a vision [at sundown] (vv. 12-16)
    • God manifests himself to Abraham, passing through the pieces [at night] (vv. 17-21)

Interestingly, there may be a subtle allusion to the curse-symbolism (see above) in the content of the prophetic message given to Abraham (vv. 12-16), as it foretells the suffering and exile of Abraham’s descendants.

In the ancient treaty-format, the party (or parties) bound by the agreement would pass between the cut-up pieces of the animal(s). Here it is God himself, through the vision-symbol of smoke and fire (see Exod 19:18; 20:15, etc). This effectively ratifies the agreement, confirming that the one(s) bound by it will fulfill their obligations. In this instance, the obligation involves the granting of land (i.e. the Promised Land) to Abraham and his descendants. God declares what he will do for his loyal friend/vassal Abraham; it is a one-sided agreement, in which superior’s binding obligation is established. What significance does this have for the ritual imagery of the cutting up (into two pieces) of the animals? If God is the one who takes on the covenant-obligation, and the associated ritual symbolism, is it possible to find any special theological significance for this episode?

I would ask that you think on these questions. Study the passage again in detail, making use of whatever tools you have available to examine the actual Hebrew text. Then continue reading through chapters 16 and 17. What similarities and differences do you find in the two covenant episodes in chapters 15 and 17, and how would you explain these?

Next week, we will be looking at Genesis 17 in detail, as well as introducing a third covenant episode (in Exodus 24). I would suggest that these represent three important aspects of the covenant-idea in the Old Testament, each of which exerted a major influence on the development of early Christian thought in the New Testament. It is thus worthwhile to spend the time necessary to study the passages thoroughly. This we have begun today, and will continue it…next Saturday.