The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Daniel 12:1ff

Daniel 12:1ff

The final article in this series focuses on Daniel 12:1-4. The book of Daniel was immensely influential on early Christian eschatology; this can be seen especially in the book of Revelation, and I have documented it throughout my earlier series of critical-exegetical notes on Revelation. But the influence is already evident earlier in the Gospel Tradition, most notably in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13 par).

The second half of the book of Daniel (chaps. 7-12) is fundamentally eschatological, and can be characterized, in many respects, as an example of early apocalyptic literature—a point that remains valid regardless of how one dates these chapters. Traditional-conservative commentators tend to take the historical setting of the visions at face value, treating them as authentic prophecies by Daniel (in the 6th century B.C.). Most critical commentators, on the other hand, regard chaps. 7-12 as pseudepigraphic, written during the period of 167-163 B.C. In point of fact, most Jewish apocalyptic writings are pseudepigraphic, presenting events leading up to the current moment (i.e., when the writing was composed) as a revelation by a famous figure of the past.

In any case, from the standpoint of the visions in chaps. 7-12, the years of 167-164 B.C. represent the climactic point of history. This can be seen most clearly in chapter 11, which contains a fairly detailed (and accurate) outline of history in the Hellenistic period—events involving the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties following the breakup of the Alexandrian empire. The reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes marks the onset of a great time of evil and suffering for God’s people in Judea. Verses 21-45 summarize the events of Antiochus IV’s reign (175-164 B.C.), especially his invasion of Israel and the notorious ‘reform’ policies enacted in Jerusalem (168-167, vv. 29-35).

That these are considered to be end-time events is clear from the wording in verse 40: “in (the) time of (the) end” (Jq@ tu@B=). The context is unquestionably eschatological, with the final years of Antiochus’ reign (167-164) marking the watershed moment. What follows in chapter 12 must be understood in this light.

Daniel 12:1

“And, in that time, Who-is-like-(the)-Mighty-One? {Mika’el} will stand (up), the great Prince, the (one) standing over (the) sons of your people, and there will come to be a time of distress which has not (yet) come to be, from (the) coming to be of (the) nation until that time; and, in that time, your people will be rescued, every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account.”

The initial expression “in that time” (ayh!h^ tu@b*) relates to the earlier expression “in (the) time of (the) end” (in 11:40, cf. above). What is described in chapter 12 is expected to take place in the period of 167-164 B.C., and in the years immediately following. Indeed, the chapter represents the conclusion of the eschatological vision-sequence of chaps. 10-12 (and of chaps. 7-12 as a whole). On the same temporal expression used in an eschatological sense, cf. also Joel 3:1 [4:1]; Jer 3:17; 4:11; 31:1.

There are two main eschatological themes established in this verse: (1) the appearance/rise of the heavenly being Michael as protector and deliverer of God’s people; and (2) a time of great “distress” for God’s people, making necessary the protective action by Michael. It is worth examining each of these themes.

1. The role of Michael

The Hebrew name la@k*ym! (mî½¹°¢l) is a traditional El-name, a sentence or phrase name in the form of a question— “Who-(is)-like-(the)-Mighty-(One)?” (i.e., Who is like God?). In the book of Daniel, it is the name of a heavenly being who functions as the (heavenly) protector and “prince” (rc^) for Israel (10:13, 21). He will fight on behalf of Israel, against the nations (who have their own heavenly “princes” on their side).

With the development of angelology in the post-exilic period, Michael came to feature prominently in Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic writings. He is consistently regarded as one of the chief Angels, with central cosmological and eschatological roles; the book of Enoch (1 Enoch) provides a useful compendium of references (9:1; 10:11; 20:5; 24:6; 40:9; 54:6; 60:4-5; 67:12; 68:2-4; 69:14-15; 71:3ff). Michael’s role as the protector of God’s people, who fights (along with other Angels) on behalf of God’s people, is an important component of the eschatological (and Messianic) world view of the Qumran community, best expressed in the War Scroll [1QM] (cf. 9:15-16; 17:6-7, etc). Many commentators on the Qumran texts believe that Michael is also to be identified with the “Prince of Light” and the figure of Melchizedek (cf. 11QMelchizedek).

Michael and the holy Angels fight against the “Prince of Darkness” and the evil Angels; this heavenly aspect of the great eschatological battle is parallel to the end-time conflict between the people of God and the wicked nations. This is very much the same role played by Michael in the vision of Revelation 12:7-9ff. Otherwise, however, Michael is not very prominent in early Christian eschatology (the only other NT reference being Jude 9). This can be explained by the fact that, for early Christians, Michael’s traditional role as heavenly deliverer was taken over by the exalted Jesus.

This heavenly deliverer figure, which I regard as a distinct Messianic figure-type (cf. the discussion in Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), is referenced in the Gospel Tradition—in the eschatological sayings of Jesus—by the expression “Son of Man”. Some commentators maintain that, in the original context of these sayings, Jesus is referring to a distinct heavenly being (such as Michael) separate from himself. While this is possible, it is rather unlikely, in my view, based on the consistent use of the expression “son of man” by Jesus as a self-reference. Moreover, the authenticity of this usage by the historical Jesus can be all but proven (on objective grounds)—a point that I have discussed elsewhere.

Even so, this eschatological role of the “Son of Man” figure almost certainly derives from Daniel 7:13-14; indeed, there can be no question of an allusion to that passage in Mk 13:26; 14:62 pars. While Dan 7:13-14 may be interpreted in several different ways (cf. my earlier study and article in this series), the angelic interpretation of the “one like a son of man” would seem to be the most likely explanation of the scene (in its original context). Indeed, some commentators would identify this heavenly figure specifically as Michael. The end-time appearance of Michael in Dan 12:1 certainly would seem to match the appearance of the “Son of Man” (= the exalted Jesus) in Mk 13:26 par.

2. The Time of “Distress”

“there will come to be a time of distress which has not (yet) come to be”

The Hebrew expression is hr*x* Ju@ (“time of distress”), translated in the LXX as h(me/ra qli/yew$ (“day of distress”). The noun hr*x* fundamentally means “tightness”, i.e., something narrow and confining that constricts or binds a person’s movement, etc. Figuratively, it refers to circumstances which create such tightness and pressure, and the English word “distress” is most appropriate for this connotation. The Greek word qli/yi$ has much the same meaning, though with perhaps the harsher sense of being pressed together, squeezed to the point of being crushed. On this eschatological idiom, cf. also Jeremiah 30:7, and note the wording in Exod 9:24.

Dan 12:1 makes clear that, with the events of 167-164 B.C., a time of great distress will come upon God’s people. The implication is that the persecution brought about by Antiochus IV is only the beginning of this period. It is by no means clear how long this period will last, but the outlook of the passage (and chaps. 7-12 as a whole) suggests that it will be relatively short (albeit intense). The expression “time, times, and a half” (= 3½ years, half a week, as a symbolic number) would seem to define this period (v. 7), even as it also corresponds to the time of persecution and evil under Antiochus IV (167-164).

The book of Daniel exercised a tremendous influence on early Christian eschatology, but if we limit our study to 12:1ff, and its influence on the Gospel Tradition, then we must turn to the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus. The wording in Mark 13:19 par unquestionably alludes to Dan 12:1 (LXX), being almost a loose quotation or paraphrase:

“For (in) those days there will be distress [qli/yi$], such as has not come to be like this from (the) beginning of (the) formation (of the world), which God formed, until th(is time) now, and shall not (ever) come to be.”

The end-time described in Daniel 7-12 has been transferred, from the time of Antiochus IV (167-164 B.C.) to the time of the Roman Empire in the mid-first century A.D. This is quite understandable, since the eschatological deliverance, described in Daniel 12, apparently did not take place in the years immediately following 164 B.C.; in any case, the prophecy was not fulfilled completely, and it was envisioned that this would occur during the lifetime of early believers (in the mid-late 1st century A.D.). The belief in Jesus as the Messiah means that his appearance on earth marks the end-time. And, for early Christians, the death of Jesus effectively marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress.

A central event of this time of distress is the destruction of the Temple; Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction forms the setting for the Discourse (Mk 13:1-2ff par), and is alluded to again in vv. 14ff (cf. especially the Lukan version, predicting the siege/destruction of Jerusalem, 21:20ff). All of this was largely fulfilled with the war of 66-70 A.D. The time of distress is tied primarily to this devastation of Jerusalem, but there are actually three parts, or aspects, to this period as outlined in the Discourse (using the Markan version, Mk 13):

    • Vv. 5-8: The distress for people in all the nations
    • Vv. 9-13: The distress for Jesus’ disciples (believers)
    • Vv. 14-19ff: The distress for the people of Judea and Jerusalem
The Deliverance of God’s People

“…and, in that time, your people will be rescued, every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account”

In the midst of the time of distress, the heavenly deliverer will appear, bringing deliverance to God’s people and ushering in the Judgment on the wicked (i.e., the nations). In the Eschatological Discourse, this is expressed in terms of the appearance of the “Son of Man” from heaven (Mk 13:24-27 par). For early Christians, this was understood as the return of the exalted Jesus from heaven. The Messianic identity of Jesus was complicated by the fact that he did not fulfill the expected eschatological role of the Messiah during his time on earth. The expectation thus had to adjust to the idea that this Messianic role would only be fulfilled upon Jesus’ return to earth (from his exalted position in heaven), after at least a short period of time (= the time of distress).

The end-time return of Jesus (the “Son of Man”) fits the pattern of the appearance of the heavenly deliverer (Michael) in Dan 12:1ff. Michael “stands over” (lu dmu) God’s people; this indicates a protective presence, but also may allude to Michael’s role in the Judgment. In any case, his presence means rescue from the time of distress. The Niphal (passive) form of the verb fl^m* literally means something like “be given a means of escape”. It is only the righteous ones among God’s people who will be rescued by Michael. This is clear from the qualifying phrase “every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account”.

The rp#s@ is literally an “account(ing)”, which should here be understood as a list of names, such as of citizens belonging to a particular place. The people whose names are listed in this account (or ‘book’) are those who truly belong as the people of God—that is, they are the faithful and righteous ones. This also means that they are destined for the blessed afterlife in heaven with God; on this traditional motif of the ‘Book of Life’, cf. Exod 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isa 4:3; Lk 10:20; Phil 4:3; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; on the Judgment-context of this ‘book’, cf. 7:10; 10:21; 1 Enoch 47:3; Rev 20:12-15.

In the Eschatological Discourse, while the Judgment setting is clear enough, the emphasis is on the salvation of the righteous from this Judgment (Mk 13:27 par, cf. also verse 13). It is the elect (lit. the ones “gathered out”) who are rescued by the heavenly deliverer (the exalted Jesus) at the climactic moment. This is an important distinction, limiting the concept of God’s people to the righteous ones, and it follows a definite line of prophetic tradition, the same which we see here in Dan 12:1-4.

Verses 2-4 and Conclusion

Other elements of the eschatology in Daniel 12:1ff were also influential on early Christian thought. Verse 2, for example, expresses a clear belief in the resurrection, which will occur at the end-time. This is arguably the only unambiguous Old Testament reference to resurrection. Moreover, it is striking that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised from the dead: the righteous will awake to life (yj^), while the wicked will awake to disgrace and an abhorrent fate. These contrasting fates are described as <l*ou—that is, lasting into the distant future. On the idea of the eschatological resurrection in the Gospel Tradition, cf. especially the key references in the Johannine Discourses of Jesus (Jn 5:19-29; 6:39-40ff; 11:23-27).

The blessed afterlife that awaits the righteous, following the Judgment and Resurrection, is further described in verse 3. The righteous are characterized by the verb lk^c*, by a descriptive participle in the Hiphil stem, meaning those who act in a wise and insightful manner. It is not only that they act wisely, but they lead others to behave in a similar way; specifically, they cause “many” (<yB!r^) to act rightly (vb qd^x* in the Hiphil causative stem). Because they are righteous themselves, they are able to turn others to the path of righteousness. The reward for this righteousness is a heavenly existence, compared with the celestial brightness (rh^z)) of the stars in heaven. This is an ancient and traditional idiom for the blessed afterlife, which is scarcely limited to Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Jesus may be alluding to v. 3 in Matt 13:43 (cf. also 22:30).

The final verse in this section (v. 4) emphasizes three key motifs that were influential on Jewish and early Christian eschatology:

    • The sealing of the prophetic account (in chapters 10-12, and presumably also chaps. 7-12 as a whole); this imagery obviously was developed in the book of Revelation (chaps. 5-6; 8:1; 10:4; 22:10). The motif also has the practical value of allowing for the fulfillment of the Danielic visions (with their setting c. 167-163 B.C.) at a later time (viz., in the NT setting of the mid-late 1st century A.D.)
    • The (end-time) chaos implied by the image of “many” people rushing/pushing about (vb. fWv); there is a certain futility indicated by this, especially if this is an allusion to Amos 8:12—i.e., people are going about seeking the word of YHWH, and do not find it.
    • The idea that wickedness will increase, that evil will become more abundant (vb hb*r*). The MT reads tu^D^ (“knowledge”)—that is, “knowledge will increase”; however, there is some reason to think that the text originally read hu*r* (“evil”), which appears to be the reading underlying the LXX (a)diki/a, “injustice,” i.e. wickedness), though admittedly Theodotion agrees with the MT (gnw=si$, “knowledge”). Confusion between the consonants d and r was relatively common, and led to a number of copying mistakes. The Dead Sea Scrolls might have decided the textual question, but, unfortunately, chapter 12 was not preserved among the surviving Qumran manuscripts. In my view, the increase in wickedness during the time when the prophecy is sealed (that is, during the time of distress) better fits the context of the passage; it also occurs as a persistent theme in Jewish and early Christian eschatology (see esp. the wording in Matt 24:12).

 

Notes on Prayer: Acts 2:42-46; 3:1

Acts 2:42-46; 3:1

Following the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples (Acts 2:1-4ff) and Peter’s sermon expounding this event (2:14-40), we find another notice regarding the unity of the first Christians (vv. 42-46). This is very much parallel to the initial narrative summary in 1:12-14 (cf. the prior study on v. 14). Many of the same points and themes are re-stated, but other important details are introduced as well. Here is the main statement in v. 42:

“And they were remaining strong toward the teaching of the (one)s sent forth, and (to) the common (bond), in the breaking of bread and the speaking out toward (God).”

The same verb (proskartere/w) and participle form was used in 1:14, and is a key term for expressing the unity of the early believers. They were “strong toward” each other, being at the same time “strong toward” those very things which are signs and marks of that unity. Foremost of these, in 1:14, was prayer (proseuxh/), literally the “speaking out toward (God)”. Prayer is again mentioned here in 2:42, but in the plural (proseuxai/), implying repeated instances of the Community praying together.

However, the first mark of unity mentioned in v. 42 is attention to the teaching (didaxh/) of the apostles (lit. the ones “sent forth” [by Jesus as his representatives]). The plural a)po/stoloi refers primarily to the circle of the Twelve. As noted in the previous study, the symbolism of the twelve is essential to the early narratives of Acts, as expressed by the key episode of the restoration of the Twelve (1:15-26), which symbolizes the eschatological concept of the restoration of Israel (i.e., the Twelve tribes). This restoration was realized for the author of Acts by the early Christian Community (in Jerusalem) and its missionary outreach into the Nations. The presence and work of the Spirit, along with the proclamation of the Gospel, represent the true fulfillment of the promise of the Kingdom for Israel (1:6-8).

The teaching by the apostles is centered on the proclamation of the Gospel, but also extends beyond it to include instruction for different areas of Christian life and belief. Apostolic teaching also touched upon issues of leadership and management of the Community. Paul’s letters represent an expanded form of this mode of teaching, whereas we have only small pieces of it contained within the narratives of Acts.

Parallel with the teaching (= preaching/proclamation of the Gospel) are the other aspects of unity summarized by the keyword koinwni/a, which is sometimes translated blandly as “fellowship”, but which in the New Testament more properly refers to the “common bond” between believers. The noun is only used here in the book of Acts, even though what it signifies pervades the entire book (especially the early chapters), and may rightly be highlighted as a central theme. The term is used relatively frequently by Paul in his letters (13 times, out of 19 NT occurrences), and 4 times in 1 John (1:3, 6-7). The common-bond between believers is further manifest, in daily life and practice, by two primary activities:

    • “the breaking of bread” —the expression refers to a common meal shared by the Community, but also alludes, most likely, to celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The eucharistic symbolism of the “breaking of bread” is well-rooted in the early tradition (Mk 14:22 par; Lk 24:30, 35; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 11:23ff).
    • “the speaking out toward (God)” —as noted above, the use of the plural here refers to regular times of prayer by the Community, when they are gathered together.

Verses 44-45 describe still another manifestation of the “common bond” (koinwni/a) between believers. The early Jerusalem Christians lived in a communal manner, holding property and assets in common. Land and possessions were sold, with the profits from the sale placed into a common fund. In many ways, this is a continuation of the lifestyle practiced by Jesus and his followers (Jn 12:5-6; 13:29; Lk 8:2-3). The importance of commitment to this communal approach is illustrated by the episode in 5:1-11. While this communalistic ideal was not maintained for long, nor was it continued to any great degree as Christianity spread out of Jerusalem, many believers have recognized the value of the ideal as a sign of Christian unity and mutual love.

Verse 46 repeats the thematic wording from v. 42 (and 1:14), combining the key terms proskarterou=nte$ (“[remain]ing strong toward”) and o(moqumado/n (“with one impulse,” i.e., with one heart, of one accord):

“and according to (each) day, remaining strong toward (each other), with one impulse, in the sacred (place), and breaking bread according to (each) house (where they dwelt), they took nourishment together in joyfulness and without a stone in (the) heart…”

Expressions of the united spirit of the Community here frame the summary description of the places where the Community gathers; this can be outlined, thematically, as follows:

      • “remaining strong toward (each other), with one impulse”
        • “in the sacred (place)” [i.e., the Temple precincts]
        • “according to (each) house” [i.e., the individual houses of believers]
      • “in joyfulness and smoothness [lit. without a stone] of heart”

The breaking of bread (communal meal and celebration of the Lord’s Supper) takes place in believers’ homes (early form of ‘house churches’), while the Temple continued as an important location for prayer and worship (and teaching) by the Jerusalem Community (cf. the concluding words of the Gospel of Luke, 24:53).

In particular, the reference to the Temple here prepares the way for the episode that follows in chapter 3, as does the statement regarding the miracles performed by the apostles (v. 43). Here is how the episode is introduced in 3:1:

“And (the) Rock {Peter} and Yohanan stepped up into the sacred place [i.e. Temple] upon the hour of speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/], the ninth (hour).”

Two details are most significant: (1) the location of the Temple precincts, and the fact that the early believers are coming to this location; and (2) the time of the episode, identified as “the hour of prayer”. The association with prayer (proseuxh/) is clearly important, relating to the prayer-references we have been examining (in 1:14, 24 and 2:42). From the standpoint of the Temple ritual, the ninth hour (comparable to 3:00 pm) is the time of the evening (afternoon) sacrifice (cf. Exod 29:39; Num 28:3-4, 8; Ezek 46:13-15; Dan 9:21; Josephus, Antiquities 14.65), when many Israelites and Jews would traditionally devote themselves to prayer.

This is the same time (and general locale) for the Angelic announcement to Zechariah in the Lukan Infancy narrative (Lk 1:8-10ff). Indeed, the Jerusalem Temple serves as an important symbolic location in Luke-Acts. While there was little opportunity for the author to develop this theme within the Synoptic Tradition proper, it features prominently in the Infancy narratives, which are thoroughly Lukan in composition. The Temple-setting features in three different narrative episodes: (1) the annunciation of John’s birth (1:8-23), (2) the revelation by Simeon (and Anna) regarding Jesus’ destiny and identity as the promised Messiah (2:23-38), and (3) the episode of the child Jesus in the Temple (2:41-51), with its climactic declaration (by Jesus) in v. 49.

As most commentators recognize, for the author of Luke-Acts, the Temple serves as an important point of contact (and continuity) between the Old and New Covenant. The old form is filled with new meaning—that is, by the revelation of Jesus (as the Messiah). While the Temple continues to be frequented by the Jerusalem Christians, it is given an entirely new emphasis (and role) for believers. In particular, the importance of the sacrificial ritual is replaced, almost exclusively, by the emphasis on teaching and prayer. This is established in Luke-Acts by the description of Jesus’ activity in the Temple (Lk 19:47; 20:1; 21:37-38 [cf. also the parable in 18:10ff]), and continues with the behavior of believers (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46, etc). For more on the subject, cf. my article “The Law in Luke-Acts” (Part 1).

The Temple precincts serve as the locale for three important episodes in Acts: (i) the miracle and sermon-speech by Peter in chapter 3; (ii) the following conflict-encounter and speech in 4:1-22; and (iii) and the similar conflict episode in 5:12-42. The Temple also features prominently in the Stephen episode (narrative and speech) in chaps. 6-7. The old form of the Temple is filled by the new message of Christ, manifest through the presence/work of the Spirit (healing miracles, etc) and the proclamation of the Gospel.

The central activity of prayer thus relates not only to the unity of early believers, but also to the early Christian mission. This will be discussed further in the next study, which will focus on the prayer-speech—a variation of the sermon-speech format in Acts—in 4:23-31.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 44 (Part 3)

Psalm 44, continued

In the first two parts of this Psalm (see the earlier studies on vv. 2-9 [1-8] and 10-17 [9-16]), the Psalmist recounts the great deeds performed by YHWH in protection of His people, and then the suffering and loss that came upon them when He removed that protection. Clearly, the latter involves conquest of the land and exile of the people, even if the precise historical circumstances indicated by the Psalm cannot be determined. At the very least,the conquest/exile of the Northern kingdom would have occurred, and we can fairly assume a time-frame no earlier than the end of the 8th century B.C.

The reason for YHWH removing His protection, and allowing the conquest/exile of the people, is not stated in the Psalm, but would have been known to anyone familiar with Israelite history (especially as it is presented in the Prophetic Scriptures). It was the flagrant (and repeated) sin by the people, the violation(s) of the covenant bond with YHWH, that led to the punishment of conquest/exile. The breach of covenant took the form, primarily, of idolatry—that is, the worship of deities other than YHWH.

While the Psalmist identifies with the people, he does not identify himself with the sin that brought about the exile. This suggests that he may belong to a younger generation, Israelites who had to endure the punishment (the suffering and shame of exile, etc), even though they were not directly responsible for the sin that led to it. Throughout the final section of the Psalm, the protagonist affirms his faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH, identifying himself with the righteous ones.

Verses 18-27 [17-26]

Verse 18 [17]

“All this has come (upon) us,
and (yet) we did not forget you,
and have not been false by (the) binding (agreement).”

This opening verse is (loosely) a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, emphasizing, as noted above, that the Psalmist is among those who have remained faithful to the covenant (tyr!B=, lit. “binding [agreement]”) with YHWH, even as he has to endure the suffering and disgrace of life in exile. This faithfulness is expressed by two verbs in the negative: jk^v* (“forget,” i.e., “we did not forget you”) and rq^v* (“be false, act falsely,” i.e., “we were not false regarding the covenant”).

Verse 19 [18]

“Our heart has not moved back behind,
and our footsteps (never) bent from your path.”

Both in their intention (“our heart”) and their daily conduct (“our footsteps”), the righteous have not strayed from the path of faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH. This image of walking the path or way of God is a common Wisdom motif, and occurs frequently in the Wisdom writings (including many Psalms). Here the jr^a) signifies a well-worn and traveled road, meaning primarily that the track is well-defined and clear. The allusion is to the commands and regulations of the Instruction (Torah), which represent the terms of the agreement (covenant) with YHWH.

Verse 20 [19]

“For you have crushed us in (the) place of monsters,
and (then) covered over us with (the) shadow of death.”

The emphasis in this couplet shifts back to the idea of the suffering of the righteous (in exile). The first line is uncertain. The Masoretic text has the expression <yN]T^ <oqm=B! (“in the standing-place of monsters”), which could stand as an apt description of the polytheistic heathen environment where the righteous now dwell (in exile, i.e., within the Assyrian/Babylonian empire). However, Dahood (p. 267) suggests that the consonantal text be divided differently, as <y]n~t=m* qomB=, “with decay (in the) loins”. Here the image is of a festering illness/sickness that can lead to death—a familiar motif in the Psalms, as we have seen.

In any case, the life of suffering and shame can be described as living “in the shadow of death [tw#m*l=x^]”; this idiom occurs with some frequency in Old Testament poetry—cf. the famous occurrence in Psalm 23:4; also 107:10, 14, and 10 times in the book of Job (3:5; 10:21-22; 12:22; 16:16; 24:17, etc).

Verses 21-22 [20-21]

“(Yet) if we had forgotten (the) name of our Mighty (One),
and stretched (out) our palms to a strange(r’s) Mighty (One),
would not (the) Mightiest (One) have searched this (out)?
for He (is One) knowing (the) hidden (place)s of (the) heart.”

Verse 21 [20] is related to v. 20 [19] as a confirmation of the Psalmist’s faithfulness. Even though YHWH has “crushed” him (and the other righteous ones now in exile), this was not due to his disloyalty to the covenant. He makes clear that he has not worshiped or recognized any deity besides YHWH. The divine name in the first and third lines is the plural <hy!l)a$ (Elohim), which I translate as “Mightiest (One)”, or, when with a possessive suffix, as “Mighty (One)”. The second occurrence here (in line 3, first line of v. 22 [21]) is likely an Elohist substitution for hwhy (YHWH).

In line 2, “Mighty (One)” translates the related singular noun la@, the common Semitic word for deity, and the title for the High Creator God (El). Here it is used in the general sense of deity (i.e., a[ny] god). The designation rz` means that it is a deity worshiped by the surrounding peoples; literally it refers to people who have “turned aside” to dwell (among the Israelites), but it is often used simply to designate a non-Israelite (i.e., a stranger/foreigner). Thus the connotation here is specifically a non-Israelite deity—that is, a deity other than YHWH.

There is no point in the Psalmist making such a confession if it were not true, that is, if he really had worshiped other gods (and thus would be deserving of punishment). Since YHWH knows the “hidden places” of every person’s heart, He would surely know if there were any inclination to idolatry (i.e., veneration of other deities) in the Psalmist’s heart. Such idolatry in Israel led to the punishment of conquest and exile, but the Psalmist denies that he is guilty of any such sin. This kind of affirmation of loyalty to YHWH is frequent in the Psalms, often featuring as part of an appeal to YHWH (as Judge) by the Psalmist that he is innocent of any violation of the covenant.

Verse 23 [22]

“(But it is) that over you we are being slain all the day (long),
considered as sheep (for the) slaughter.”

The prepositional expression ;yl#u* (“over you”) is emphatic, and can be understood a couple of different ways. It may carry the sense of “for your sake”, that is, because we are your people. Another possibility is that it refers to the purpose and action of YHWH— “because of you”, i.e, because you have done this or willed this. In any case, the current suffering of the Psalmist (and other righteous ones like him) is not because of any disloyalty to YHWH on his part; rather, it is because he belongs to the people that has endured the punishment from YHWH.

This punishment involves some measure of persecution by the nations in which Israel is exiled. Such persecution was described extensively, if in rather general terms, in the second section of the Psalm (cf. the previous study). Here it is described by the motif of slaughter. Two different roots are used for this: the first, gr^h*, is the regular verb for the slaying of a human being; the second, hb^f*, for the slaughtering/butchering of an animal (for food). The idea of sheep being slaughtered is used in a number of Old Testament (Prophetic) passages for the suffering of the people, and, in particular, of the judgment that comes upon them (cf. Isa 53:7; Jer 12:3; 25:34; Zech 11:3).

Probably this should be understood in a general, figurative sense here, rather than specifically to the idea of the people of Israel being killed. However, the experience of persecution may, in fact, involve instances of people being put to death, just as, sadly enough, we find it amply recorded in the long history of anti-Israelite and anti-Jewish violence.

Verse 24 [23]

“Rouse (yourself)! For what [i.e. why] do you sleep, my Lord?
Awaken! May you not reject (us) to (the) end!”

The Psalmist calls on YHWH to act, to end this condition of suffering and disgrace for His people. This is done utilizing the motif of rising/waking from sleep. To suggest that a deity is ‘asleep’ means that there is no obvious evidence that he is acting (on behalf of his adherents), which gives the impression that he is sleeping. This motif is used as part of the anti-Baal polemic in the Elijah narratives (cf. 1 Kings 18:27). As the true God, El-Yahweh cannot be “asleep” in that sense (Psalm 121:4); rather, his ‘sleep’ means that He seems to be inattentive to the prayers of His people (cf. Dahood, pp. 267-8).

Verse 25 [24]

“For what [i.e. why] have you hidden your face,
(so that) you forget our oppression and our distress?”

The apparent lack of response, to the prayers of the righteous for deliverance, can also be described by the image of God hiding (vb rt^s*) His face. Dahood (p. 268), here, and at other points in the Psalms, would read the verb as derived from the root rWs (“turn [aside]”); the meaning is comparable, since God “turns away” His face when He “hides” it. The suffering of the people is described by a pair of nouns with similar meaning: (1) yn]a(, “oppression”, with the fundamental meaning of being bent/pressed down; and (2) Jj^l^, “distress, pressure”, with the basic idea of being squeezed. The first root (hn`a*), in particular, occurs frequently in the Psalms, in reference to the righteous (and their suffering).

Verse 26 [25]

“For our soul is bent down to the dust,
and our belly sticks (hard) to the earth.”

Here the idea of being pressed down, from v. 25 [24], is described vividly, in terms of a person laying down on the ground. The people collectively, in spirit (“our soul”) as much as in body, are forced to bow down (i.e., are bent down, vb hj*v*) to the ground, to the point of crawling/laying down in the dust. The second line extends the image further, to that of a person laying flat on the ground (on his/her belly), a prostrate position that well symbolizes both weakness and humiliation.

Verse 27 [26]

“Stand (up now and) give help to us,
and ransom us as response to your goodness!”

The call in v. 24 [23] (cf. above) is repeated here, though in the more general terms of standing up (i.e. rising) to give help to one who is in need. Along with Dahood (p. 268) and other commentators I read htrzu as a verb (rather than noun) form, “give help”; it probably should be parsed as a precative perfect, parallel in meaning with the prior imperative (hm*Wq, “stand [up]!”).

The call for YHWH to act is based on the binding agreement (covenant). The Psalmist throughout has affirmed his loyalty to the covenant bond, and his faithfulness means that he is deserving of the protection that YHWH is obligated to provide. According to the terms of the covenant, YHWH must keep His loyal vassals safe from danger, rescuing and fighting on their behalf, just as He did for Israel in times past (cf. the study on the first section of the Psalm). As I have previously noted, the noun ds#j#, while having the basic meaning of “goodness, kindness”, is often used in a covenant context, where it connotes faithfulness and loyalty. That is very much its meaning here; the rescue (lit. “ransom,” vb hd*P*) that the Psalmist asks for is based on, and must come as a response to (/u^m^l=), YHWH’s own faithfulness to the covenant.

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).

Saturday Series: Luke 24:50-53

Here in the Saturday Series, I will be beginning a set of studies on the Book of Acts, looking at various critical issues and how they relate to a thorough and accurate interpretation of the book. Acts is essentially a history—of the early Christian movement, and the missionary activity of the apostles and other early believers. As such, there are many important historical-critical questions and issues to be addressed. These involve the historical background of the narrative, the historical reliability of the episodes recorded, and how that history is presented within the religious and literary framework of the book.

Of special importance are the sermon-speeches that appear throughout the book of Acts, featuring prominently within the narrative structure. The nature of these speeches raise a number of challenging critical questions. I have addressed most of these in considerable detail in my earlier series “The Speeches of Acts,” and will only be touching on a few of them in the current studies. The sermon-speeches are part of a complex literary and artistic structure, and can only be explained fully by commentary that takes into account the literary-critical scope of the work. Such analysis examines the composition of the book—how the narratives were put together, the style and rhetoric used, the development of the principal themes, the theological points of emphasis, and so forth.

With regard to the text of Acts, there is one major text-critical issue which all scholars and students of the book must confront. The book of Acts exists in two versions, or recensions: one represented by the majority text (including the “oldest and best” manuscripts), and the other by the so-called “Western Text”. The label “Western” refers primarily to the great uncial manuscript D (the Beza Codex, or Codex Bezae), along with a large number of Latin (and various other) manuscripts. There are important differences throughout the New Testament that mark these manuscripts as “Western”; however, they are much more pronounced in the book of Acts. The differences are often so great that one can rightly speak of a separate version or recension of the text.

Scholars continue to debate the nature and origins of the two ‘versions’ of Acts, with most commentators holding that the Bezae/Western version represents a secondary development. The Western text (of D, etc) tends to be much more expansive, and so is considered to be secondary, on the basis of the general critical principle that the shorter reading is more likely to be original (lectio brevior potior). However, in a few key instances, the ‘Western’ text has a markedly shorter reading; B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, in the notes to their critical edition to the New Testament, identified a number of these and referred to them by the rather confusing label “Western non-interpolations”. An interpolation is a technical-critical term for a secondary addition to the text. Westcott and Hort held that, in these selected occurrences where the Western text has the shorter reading, the Western reading is to be considered original, against the weight of evidence from the (longer) majority text.

Nearly all of these “Western non-interpolations” are in Luke-Acts, with most occurring in the Passion and Resurrection narratives of the Gospel of Luke. Previously, many critical commentators accepted the Westcott-Hort evaluation of these shorter readings; in more recent decades, however, the situation has changed, and most modern commentators now tend to accept the longer ‘majority’ text in these instances. Papyrus discoveries (such as the Bodmer Papyri) have added important manuscript support for the originality of the longer readings.

In this week’s study, as a way of introducing this area of critical analysis (of Luke-Acts), I wish to focus on the variant readings at the close of Luke’s Gospel.

Luke 24:50-53

Luke’s Gospel concludes with a scene (apparently still on Easter day) which, in the “oldest and best” manuscripts (Ë75 a B C* L 1 33 579 etc), reads as follows:

50  Ex¢¡gagen dé autoús [éxœ] héœs prós B¢thanían kaí epáras tás cheíras autoú eulóg¢sen autoús. 51 kaí egéneto en tœ¡ eulogeín autón autoús diést¢ ap’ autœ¡n kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón.
“And he brought/led them out[side] until toward Bethany, and lifting over (them) his hands he spoke well to them [i.e. blessed them]; and it came to be, in his speaking well to them [i.e. blessing them], he stood (apart) from them and was carried up into the heaven.”
52 Kaí autoí proskyn¢¡santes autón hypéstrepsan eis Ierousal¢¡m metá charás megál¢s 53 kaí ¢¡san diá pantós en tœ¡ hierœ¡ eulogoúntes tón Theón.
“And they, kissing toward him [i.e. worshiping him], turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy, and they were through all [i.e. continually] in the sacred place [i.e. temple] speaking well to [i.e. blessing] God.”

(The Majority text differs slightly, primarily in reading eis B¢thanían [“unto Bethany”] instead of prós B¢thanían [“toward Bethany”] in v. 50, and adding kaí ainoúntes or ainoúntes kaí [“blessing and praising God”] in v. 53.)

There are, however, two major variants (omissions) in the key Western MSS (D, Old Latin a b d e ff2 l, and the Sinaitic Syriac):

    1. Verse 51 reads: kaí egéneto en tœ¡ eulogeín autón autoús diést¢ ap’ autœ¡n “and it came to be, in his blessing them, he stood (apart) from them” (without kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón “and he was carried up into the heaven”). In other words, it relates that Jesus simply “parted” from them, without any reference to an ascension into heaven.
    2. Verse 52 continues: kaí autoí hypéstrepsan eis Ierousal¢¡m metá charás megál¢s “and they turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy…” (without proskyn¢¡santes auton “worshiping him”).
      See how this shorter version of vv. 50-53 reads, in context, in conventional translation:
      “And he led them out toward Bethany, and raising his hands over (them) he blessed them; and it came to be, in his blessing them, (that) he parted from them; and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple, blessing God.”

These are both so-called Western “Non-Interpolations” (see above). The first of the two (in v. 51) is far more significant, especially since, in addition to the Western MSS, the shorter reading is also found in the Georgian version (group 1) and the original hand of Codex Sinaiticus (a*).

How is one to explain this variant? As indicated above, the vast majority of MSS, including all the early/best Greek MSS (Ë75, a [corrected], A, B, C, K, L, W, X, D, etc.) contain the words “and he was carried up into the heaven” (kai anephéreto eis ton ouranón). The manuscript evidence would seem to be decidedly in favor of the longer reading, but internal considerations make it a bit less certain. In which direction did the change occur? There are a number of possibilities:

Reasons for Omission (in support of the longer text):

    1. To avoid contradiction with the chronology in Acts. It is certainly possible that scribes, noticing the apparent discrepancy between v. 51 and Luke’s own account of the Ascension in Acts 1:1-11, deleted the words. In the Gospel, it would seem that the Ascension takes place on the same night as the Resurrection, whereas in Acts (v. 3) it occurs 40 days later. This is probably the most popular explanation.
    2. A scribal mistake. A scribe may have skipped from a)p’ au)twn kai in v. 51 to ou)ranon kai au)toi at the end of v.51 & start of v. 52 (homoioarcton: each has the segment nkai). However, this would require that (the precursors of) a and D both made the same mistake, which is rather unlikely.
    3. Theological reasons. Some scholars have thought that the so-called “Non-Interpolations” (involving the Resurrection appearances and “Ascension”) exhibit a purposeful tendency in the Western text (in Luke-Acts) to eliminate concrete references to the resurrection body of Jesus, and physical nature of the Ascension, etc. With regard to the Ascension in particular, see especially Eldon J. Epp’s article “The Ascension in the Textual Tradition of Luke-Acts”, in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981, pp. 131-145.
    4. The support of Acts. Acts 1:2 would seem to indicate that the Gospel referenced the Ascension (áchri h¢¡s h¢mérasanel¢¡mphth¢, “until which day…he was taken up”). Assuming this is the case, it could be (rightly) argued that the author would not say he described an event which he in fact did not record. It should be noted that several Western witnesses also omit reference to the ascension (anel¢¡mphth¢) in this verse.

Reasons for Addition (in support of the shorter text):

    1. Literary or Theological reasons. Although Luke-Acts may have been published together as a ‘two-volume’ work, by the mid-second century (at the latest), the Gospel of Luke was being copied and distributed bound together (in codex form) with the other Gospels; meaning that, as in nearly all printed New Testament editions today, it was separated from the book of Acts. The shorter reading, if original, would close the Gospel with the suggestion that Jesus simply “parted” from the disciples—a rather unexciting and possibly misleading conclusion. The scribal tendency was always to add Christological details, rather than remove them; it would have been natural to add the few extra words (both in v. 51 and 52), in order to exalt the portrait of Christ.
    2. The shorter text removes the chronological difficulty with Acts. This argument cuts both ways (see above), for the longer text could be said to be the more difficult reading (lectio difficilior potior). However, since Luke explicitly records the Ascension taking place at least 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3ff), would he (the same author of Luke-Acts, by general consensus) have created the confusion by recording the Ascension (apparently) taking place on the day of the Resurrection (Luke 24:50-53)?
    3. Additional support from Acts. It is possible that the phrase áchri h¢¡s h¢mérasanel¢¡mphth¢ (“until which day…he was taken up”) in Acts 1:2 should not be taken to imply that the Ascension was narrated in the Gospel, but only events which took place prior to that day. In this regard, to note the reference (v. 22) in Peter’s subsequent address (Acts 1:15-22), where nearly similar language is used. Could the author of Acts simply be reproducing the phrasing from v. 22, as part of his “prologue”, without specific reference to details in the Gospel?
    4. Evidence from the Church Fathers. The Ascension is referred to numerous times in writings of the 1st-3rd centuries, for example:
      Epistle of Barnabas 15; JUSTIN: 1 Apology 26, Dialogue with Trypho 82, 87, On the Resurrection ch. 9; IRENAEUS: Against Heresies I.10, III.17, IV.33.13, 34.3, V.31, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 41, 84; CLEMENT: Stromateis VI. ch. 15; ORIGEN: On First Principles Pref §1, II.6.1, 7.2, On Prayer §23, Against Celsus VII.8; TERTULLIAN: Against Marcion V.8, Against Praxeas 25, 30, Prescription Against Heretics 13, On the Resurrection 51; The Muratorian Canon; Epistle of the Apostles 18; Cyprian On the Lord’s Prayer §8, etc. (by no means an exhaustive list). Most of these references are to the narrative in Acts 1:9ff; Ephesians 4:9-10, or to the belief generally; however, I have not been able to find a single clear reference to the long text of Luke 24:51-52 cited in any writing up through the third century (outside of the Diatessaron [§55], a work with a singularly difficult textual history). Moreover, in Tertullian’s fourth book Against Marcion, in which he goes over many details of Luke’s Gospel, up through the Resurrection appearances (chapter 43), he does not cite the long text of v. 51 or 52, and makes no reference to the Ascension (cf. Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp. 257-8).
    5. The Western Non-Interpolations. Despite protests from scholars on both sides of the argument, it is hard to avoid the notion that the 9 key “non-interpolations”, eight of which are all found together in the same set of MSS (D a b d e ff2 l), stand or fall together—most likely, they are all original, or they are not. If one accepts the shorter text in the previous 7 Lukan instances, then one really ought to do so here as well.

Clearly, intrinsic/transcriptional arguments can be made for both sides. Ultimately, it is difficult to ignore the overwhelming textual evidence. If the longer reading is, in fact, original, I suspect that the apparent discrepancy (with Acts) may be the result of Luke compressing/conflating the narrative, thereby giving the impression that it all happened on one night. This sort of handling of historical narrative was quite common with ancient writers, as unsatisfying as it might be to our modern sensibilities. On the other hand, the clear scribal tendency was to add significant Christological details to the Gospel narrative, rather than omit them (even when there are apparent discrepancies involved); it seems to have been much more acceptable to modify (instead of deleting) difficult words in the text. The presence of the longer reading(s) in the Bodmer Papyrus (Ë75, c. 200) have turned the tide decisively; however, I am by no means so certain the shorter reading(s) can be dismissed as easily as many commentators do today.

Notes on Prayer: Acts 1:24

Acts 1:24

In the previous study, we looked at the place of prayer in the depiction of the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem. The unity of these first believers was manifest and expressed through prayer (1:14). The setting of this episode—marking the real beginning of the Acts narrative—was the “upper room” in Jerusalem, where the believers were gathered together following Jesus’ departure (ascension) into heaven.

This first community was comprised of Jesus’ closest male disciples (the Twelve), along with a group of his close female followers (cf. Lk 8:1-3), as well as members of Jesus’ family (his mother and brothers, cp. Lk 8:19-21). These believers were united in location (in one room, in Jerusalem), in purpose (o(moqumado/n, “with one impulse”), and in their activity (prayer). The same narrative setting continues in the next episode (vv. 15-26). The community is still gathered together in one place (presumably the same “upper room”), now numbered at around 120 people (v. 15). This number has a vital symbolic importance for the Acts narrative, since 120 = 12 x 10, and so is tied to the concept of the twelve.

We may ask why the author chooses to include the episode in vv. 15-26, devoting attention to the selection of an apostle to take Judas’ place, introducing a person (Matthias) who is never mentioned again in the book of Acts. There are two reasons why the episode is important for the author, and they relate to the symbolism of the Twelve. First is the theme of the unity of believers. This sense of unity requires that the Community be made whole, and this cannot happen until the circle of the Twelve is restored.

The second reason involves the key eschatological theme of the restoration of Israel. There is a clear and unquestionable parallel between the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel. It is quite possible that Twelve were chosen (by Jesus himself) to represent, at least in part, the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

Based on this symbolism, the restoration of the Twelve represents the idea of the restoration of Israel (the Twelve Tribes). From the standpoint of the book of Acts, the restoration of Israel is realized through the early Christian mission—the proclamation of the Gospel and the manifestation/work of the Spirit among believers. This is made abundantly clear in the answer given by Jesus to the disciples’ (eschatological) question regarding the establishment of the Kingdom (vv. 6-8). Consider also this theme of restoration in light of the Pentecost narrative that follows in chapter 2:

    • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
      • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
        • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
      • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
    • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

Let us now consider the episode in vv. 15-26 and the place of prayer in it. Here is an outline of the episode:

    • Narrative introduction (v. 15)
    • Speech by Peter (vv. 16-22), which the central Scripture citation of Psalm 69:25 (and 109:8)
    • Selection of Matthias to restore the Twelve (vv. 23-26):
      • Presentation of the two candidates (v. 23)
      • Prayer regarding the selection (v. 24-25)
      • Selection of Matthias [by lot] (v. 26)

The importance (and symbolic significance) of the selection of this apostle, to complete/restore the Twelve, made it an occasion for praying to God. In this regard, the mention of prayer in v. 24 continues the thematic association between prayer and the unity of the early Community of believers. They are specifically praying for Divine guidance in establishing (and confirming) this unity. Here is how this is expressed in verse 24:

“And, speaking out toward (God), they said: ‘You Lord, (the) heart-knower of all, may you show (clearly for us) which one you (have) gathered [i.e. chosen] out of these two'”

This is the first occurrence in Acts of the verb proseu/xomai (“speak [out] toward [God],” i.e., pray); the related noun proseuxh/ was used in v. 14. The prayer acknowledges that the actual choice belongs to God, and that essentially He has already made the choice. As the One who ‘knows the heart’ of all people (and all things), God knows who is best suited to fill the apostolic role. The statement is also an acknowledgement that God is already aware of the needs and concerns of the Community, and of the reason why they are praying to him—a point Jesus makes in his teaching on prayer (Matt 6:8). The title kardiognw/sth$ (lit. “heart-knower”) may have been coined by Christians; in any case, it is only found in early Christian writings (Acts 15:8; Hermas Commandments 4.3.4; Clementine Homilies 10:13; Acts of Paul and Thecla 24; cf. Fitzmyer, p. 227), though the underlying idea is expressed in the Old Testament (Deut 8:2; 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; Psalm 44:22, etc).

Verse 25 emphasizes again the importance of filling the place vacated by Judas, as thus restoring the Twelve and creating a fully unified Community:

“… ‘to take the place of this service [diakoni/a] and being sent forth [a)postolh/], from which Yehudah stepped alongside to travel into his own place’.”

English translations do not always capture the point that is being stressed here: Judas stepped away from his place among the Twelve, going instead to his own place (the adjective i&dio$, “[his] own”, being in emphatic position). This has a double-meaning: (a) it refers simply to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, by which he departed from his place among Jesus’ circle of disciples, and (b) it also alludes to Judas’ ultimate fate—viz., his death and condemnation (see the parenthetical statement by the author in vv. 18-19).

I have translated the noun a)postolh/ according to its basic meaning of “being sent away” (or sent forth) by someone. It is, of course, related to the noun a)posto/lo$, which is typically transliterated in English as “apostle”. Thus the place that Judas abandoned (and will be filled by Matthias), and the service (diakoni/a) he had performed, was that of an apostle—one sent forth by Jesus to act as his representative and to proclaim the Gospel.

Prayer, as it is depicted in this episode, has special significance, not simply in relation to deciding on leadership roles within the Community (though that is of genuine importance); rather, the specific context of restoring the circle of the Twelve apostles means that it ultimately is tied to the central themes of Christian unity and the mission of believers (to proclaim the Gospel and act as Jesus’ representatives). These two themes remain fundamental to our identity as believers even today, and ought to be, also for us, the focus of our prayers.

References marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 31 (Doubleday/Yale: 1998).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 44 (Part 2)

Psalm 44, continued

The first part of this Psalm (vv. 2-9 [1-8]), cf. the previous study) emphasized the mighty deeds performed by YHWH for His people (Israel) in the past, from the Exodus to the military victories of the Conquest of Canaan, along with those in the time of the Judges and the early Kingdom period. The second part (vv. 10-17 [9-16]) focuses on Israel’s subsequent defeats, leading to their conquest and exile. In the final part (vv. 18-27 [17-26]), the people collectively affirm their loyalty to the covenant with YHWH and call on Him to deliver them from their current suffering and disgrace.

Here we are looking at the second part. The meter in this section tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) bicolon format, though there are certain exceptions, particularly several 3+2 couplets, which are noted below.

Verses 10-17 [9-16]

Verse 10 [9]

“But you rejected (us) and brought disgrace on us,
and you did not go forth with our armies.”

The opening particle [a^ is adversative, indicating a transition (and point of contrast) with the first section of the Psalm. YHWH’s support for Israel, including fighting battles on her behalf, has changed to rejection (vb jn~z`). He no longer travels with the armies of Israel to provide his Divine power on their behalf. This has led to military defeats, and to humiliation and disgrace (vb <l^K*).

Verse 11 [10]

“You made us turn back from (the) adversary,
and (the one)s hating us took plunder for themsel(ves).”

Here the context of military defeat is made clear; Israel’s defeat in battle reflects YHWH’s withdrawal of His support. As a result, Israel is forced to turn back from her enemies.

Verses 12 [11]

“You have given us, like sheep, (as something) eaten,
and among (the) nations you have scattered us.”

This 3+2 couplet combines herding and agricultural imagery—i.e., sheep raised to be slaughtered for meat, and grain tossed (threshed) about after harvest. Both reflect the idea that the people of Israel, following their military defeats, are overpowered and devoured/consumed by their enemies. The first line alludes to conquest, the second to exile. It is not possible to isolate a specific historical setting for the Psalm, but this reference to exile suggests a time no earlier than the late-8th/early-7th century B.C. (following the Assyrian conquest of the Northern kingdom and/or the southern conquests during the invasion of Sennacherib).

Verse 13 [12]

“You sold your people with no wealth (coming),
and did not think much by (the) price for them.”

The exile motif of v. 12 [11] continues here with the idea of YHWH selling off (vb rk^m*) His people—that is, like slaves. Not only that, but God sold them at a low price, with “no (real) wealth [/oh]” coming from the sale. Indeed, He did not even bother to set a significant price (ryj!m=, plural) for them, indicating that He did not “think much” (vb hb^r*) of their worth. The harsh and derisive wording here should be seen as rhetorical in nature, a kind of exaggeration to show how far Israel has fallen in God’s eyes.

Verse 14 [13]

“You set us (as) an insult for (those) dwelling (around) us,
(as) mocking and laughter for (those) surrounding us.”

It is possible that this couplet is meant to express life in exile. Certainly there are other people dwelling (vb /k^v*) around Israel, and the verb bb^s* (“[en]circle, surround”) in the second line may suggest that the Israelites are a minority, being surrounded by other nations and peoples. More important is the fact that Israel’s defeats—including conquest and exile—has led to them being an object of ridicule among the nations. Three nouns are used to express this, within the synonymous parallelism of the couplet: hP*r=j# (“insult, cast blame, treat with scorn”), gu^l* (“mocking, derision”), and sl#q# (something of no value, a target of laughter/derision, i.e. ‘laughing-stock’)—the latter two words being close in meaning.

Verse 15 [14]

“You set us (as) an example (of shame) among (the) nations,
(for) shaking of head(s) among (the) peoples.”

Another 3+2 couplet, which follows closely in meaning and tone after v. 14 [13]. Not only has Israel become a target for derision among the nations, they have turned into a veritable example for the shame and disgrace that can befall a people. The noun lv*m*, often translated flatly as “proverb”, fundamentally refers to a likeness, and here it seems to be used in the sense of a pattern or “example” of a people’s shame. The nations can only “shake (their) head” (a literal translation of the idiom var)-dogm=) at what has become of Israel. This is perhaps to be understood in light of the first section of the Psalm, with its references to the mighty deeds performed by YHWH (in the past) on behalf of Israel, things which caused amazement (and fear) among the nations. Now the nations are amazed in a different way: what has happened to this people who had God on their side?

Verse 16 [15]

“All the day (long) my humiliation is in front of me,
and (the) shame of my face has covered me.”

The wording of this couplet would seem to make clear that, in terms of the Psalm-setting, the shame (of exile) experienced by Israel is a present condition. The Psalmist counts himself among the people, shifting from the plural (“us”) to the singular (“me”). He experiences this humiliation and shame (tv#B)) “all the day (long)”. The sense of disgrace is complete and overwhelming, “covering” him. Dahood (p. 266) suggests that the problematic suffixed verb yntsk should be read as a Pual (passive) form, understood in a privative sense—i.e., “the shame of my face is uncovered (before) me.”

Verse 17 [16]

“(It is) from (the) voice of (the one) insulting and reviling,
(and) from (the) face of (the one) hostile and taking vengeance.”

The overwhelming shame and disgrace heaped upon Israel (in exile) is two-pronged: it comes from the voice of the nations (i.e., their speech), and their faces (i.e., their attitudes and how they treat Israel). The abusive speech is characterized by the verbs [r^j* and [d^G` which are similar in meaning (“insult, revile,” etc). While the nations’ attitudes and behavior toward Israel reflects hostility (vb by~a*) and a desire to take revenge (vb <q^n`). All four verbs are participle forms, indicating a situation that is continuous, and that is characteristic of the relationship between the nations and Israel.

This part of the Psalm makes for rather depressing reading, with its litany of suffering and repeated descriptions of the abuse Israel has suffered (from the nations) since YHWH has withdrawn His support. The reason God has ceased to support Israel is not stated, but anyone familiar with the Scriptural account of Israelite history would know that it was due to violation of the covenant bond—acts of wickedness and idolatry that led to YHWH bringing judgment upon His people.

Sadly, the abuse directed at Israel has not been limited to the Exilic period, but has continued, in a variety of ways, during the many centuries since—a long period which can be seen as a continuation of Israel’s exile and ‘dispersion’ among the nations. The “nations” have frequently mistreated the Israelites and Jews who dwelt in their territories, often in harsh and terrible ways. This is to the shame of the “nations” themselves, as much as it is for Israel.

Fortunately, the Psalm does not end here. In the final part (beginning with verse 18 [17]), we find expressed a profound hope for Israel’s restoration, for deliverance from their suffering among the nations. This expectation is tied to a collective affirmation by the people of a renewed loyalty to the covenant with YHWH. We will examine this section of the Psalm in next week’s study.

References marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).

Saturday Series: Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26-40

This week’s study is related to recent notes and articles on the famous ‘Servant Song’ of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, an important Scripture passage that was interpreted in a Messianic sense by early Christians, and applied to the person and work of Jesus. In the last part of the article on this passage in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”, I explored how the poem came to be understood by early Christians. Portions from it were cited in the New Testament, in Acts 8:32-33; 1 Peter 2:23-25; Matthew 8:17; John 12:38; Rom 10:16, along with several other possible allusions (see, for example, Mk 9:12).

In this study I wish to explore further how verses 7-8 of the poem were utilized in the Acts 8 episode (vv. 26-40). Scripture quotations are central to the Acts narratives, but feature most prominently within the sermon-speeches. For example, in the great Pentecost sermon-speech of Peter (2:14-41), there are three Scripture citations which are used: Joel 2:28-32 (vv. 17-21); Psalm 16:8-11 (vv. 25-28); and Psalm 110:1 (vv. 34-35). These passages are fundamental to the Gospel proclamation (kerygma), being expounded and applied to Jesus (his death and resurrection). For a study of these Scriptures in the context of the Pentecost sermon, see Parts 2 and 3 of the series “The Speeches of Acts”.

The episode in 8:26-40 does not contain a sermon-speech, but it does illustrate the early Christian mission and Gospel preaching in action. Thus it is appropriate that a Scripture citation (of Isa 53:7-8) occurs at the center of the episode. To demonstrate the centrality of the Scripture, it may be helpful to present an outline of the episode as a chiasmus:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 26-27ab): Philip encounters the Ethiopian
      • The mission: guidance by the Spirit (vv. 27c-29)
        • Question regarding the Scripture (vv. 30-31)
          • Scripture citation (vv. 32-33)
        • Explanation regarding the Scripture (vv. 34-35)
      • The mission: baptism and the work of the Spirit (vv. 36-39a)
    • Narrative conclusion (vv. 39-40): Philip and the Ethiopian separate

Clearly, the Scripture citation lies at the very heart of the episode. In this instance, an exposition of the lines from the Servant poem forms the basis for the Gospel preaching. No actual preaching is recorded, merely the summary statement that Philip “gave to him the good message (regarding) Yeshua” (v. 35). He did this by “beginning from this Scripture” that the Ethiopian was reading. That is to say, the Scripture formed the basis for the preaching of the Gospel.

From the standpoint of the Acts narratives, as they record the earliest Christian preaching and missionary work, this is most significant, for a number of reasons. Foremost is the importance of the use of the Scriptures by early believers to demonstrate two key points regarding Jesus: (1) that he was the Anointed One (Messiah), and (2) that the death (and resurrection) of the Messiah was prophesied in the sacred Writings.

The idea that the Messiah would suffer and die, especially in the painful and disgraceful manner of crucifixion, was so contrary (and repugnant) to Jewish expectations, it had to be explained. How could Jesus have endured such a death, if he is truly the Messiah? The early Christians worked hard to reconcile and explain this, as they began their missionary work among Israelites and Jews in the area. It was necessary to marshal Scriptural support for the idea that the Messiah would suffer and die (and then rise from the dead). This is an important point of emphasis in the overall narrative of Luke-Acts, and is mentioned, either directly or implicitly, on a number of occasions—see Luke 18:31; 22:37; 24:26-27, 32, 44-45ff; Acts 3:18; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 13:27; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 24:14; 26:22; 28:23.

As it happens, there are relatively few Old Testament passages which can be used in support of the idea that the Messiah would suffer and die. The Servant poem in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is certainly one of these; indeed, it may be regarded as the foremost such Scripture passage. It is thus quite proper that it should feature prominently in at least one of the missionary episodes in the book of Acts.

Before proceeding to an examination of how verses 7-8 of the poem are used within the narrative, we must briefly consider them from the standpoint of textual criticism. The text as it appears in Acts 8:32-33 is virtually identical to the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation. Only in the first line of v. 8 is there any difference. In some manuscripts of Acts, the reading is “in the humiliation of him” (i.e., “in his humiliation”), including the pronoun; but this is really only a minor variation, perhaps intended to bring greater clarity to the passage. The pronoun may be original, being omitted in certain manuscripts in order to conform the citation to the LXX.

Being a translation of poetry, it is not surprising that the Greek only loosely renders the Hebrew text. Here is a literal translation (in English) of the original Hebrew, with a corresponding translation of the Greek LXX, side by side:

Hebrew [MT]
LXX
“And he, being pressed (down), was (op)pressed,
and (yet) he did not open his mouth;
like a sheep to (the) slaughter he was carried (along),
and like a ewe before (the one) shaving her is bound,
and he did not open his mouth.
From oppression and from judgment he has been taken,
(and now) his (life) cycle—who thinks on it?
For he was cut off from (the) land of (the) living;
from (the) breaking (faith) by his people (the) touch (came) to him.”
“And he, through being ill-treated, did not open up the mouth;
as a sheep led upon the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the (one) shaving him (is) without voice,
so he did not open up his mouth;
in the humiliation, judgment [i.e. justice] for him was taken (away);
his (period of) coming to be, who brings (it) through [i.e. tells/declares it] (to us)?
(for it is) that his life is taken (away) from the earth;
from the lawlessness of the people, he was led to death.”

Only in the first line of verse 8 does the LXX differ substantially—in meaning and emphasis—from the Hebrew:

Hebrew:
“from oppression and from judgment he has been taken”
LXX/Acts:
“in the humiliation, judgment [i.e. justice] for him was taken (away)”

I understand the Hebrew to mean that the oppression and judgment (from YHWH) which fell upon the Servant led to his death (i.e., being “taken”). The sense in the LXX (and in the Acts citation), however, is that judgment/justice has been taken from the Servant—that is, he suffered and died unjustly. In this regard, the LXX translation provides a better fit to the circumstances of Jesus’ death. Early Christians took great pains to emphasize that the crucifixion of Jesus was an act of injustice, and that he himself was innocent and undeserving of such punishment.

If the citation of vv. 7-8 here is intended to illustrate the substance of the early Christian Gospel preaching, it seems clear that two aspects are most relevant to the message: (a) Jesus’ innocence and the injustice of his death, and (b) his meekness and humility (i.e., silence) in the face of this injustice. These two aspects are central to the understanding of Jesus as “the Righteous One” (ho díkaios), and we can see the importance of it for the earliest Gospel proclamation (kerygma)—cf. 3:13-15; 4:25-28; 5:28-31; 7:52, etc.

It is interesting that the aspect of the Servant’s vicarious/sacrificial suffering and death is not emphasized in the Acts episode (compare with 1 Peter 2:23-25), and the lines of the poem which bring out this aspect are not cited. This seems to reflect the thought of believers in the earliest period. While forgiveness of sin was made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus, this is expressed primarily through his exaltation (to heaven) by God, rather than through his death as an atoning sacrifice. While the latter is certainly part of the New Testament message, there is little or no evidence of it in the preaching recorded in the book of Acts. On this point, we may compare the reference to Jesus as the servant (of God) in 3:13.

Even more significant is the fact that the author of Acts cuts off the citation of Isa 53:7-8, omitting the final line that refers specifically to the vicarious, atoning nature of the Servant’s suffering. In Hebrew, this line reads:

“from (the) breaking (faith) by his people (the) touch [i.e. of death] (came) to him.”

The Greek translation, of the LXX, which would also have been used in Acts, reads:

“from the lawlessness [plur.] of the people, he was led to death.”

The reference is to the sin (and guilt) of the people. The Hebrew term (peša±) refers specifically to a violation of the covenant with YHWH (essentially an act of rebelliousness), while the Greek word (anomía) means “(act of) lawlessness”. Regardless of which aspect is being emphasized, it is the sin of the people that results in the death of the Servant. He is judged/punished by God for the people’s sins, not his own.

The author of Acts cannot have left out this line by accident; it must have been omitted on purpose. The best explanation is that the author simply did not wish to emphasize the vicarious/sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ death. As we have seen (above), that aspect was not an important part of the Gospel preaching in Acts, nor does it feature prominently in the theology of Luke-Acts as a whole. Only one reference in the book of Acts (20:28) could be viewed as expressing anything like a clear belief in the vicarious, atoning character of Jesus’ death.

An interesting historical-critical question is whether this lack of reference to the vicarious/sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ death is due to the early character of the preaching in Acts. If the sermon-speeches (in the early chapters, especially) represent authentic Gospel preaching from the period c. 35-50 A.D., then the relative lack of theological development would not be all that surprising. The focus of such early preaching was on the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection, the injustice of his death, and his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God. Forgiveness of sin was definitely part of this proclamation, but it does not appear to have been specifically tied to the nature of his death.

Even the traditional emphasis on the establishment of the new covenant through Jesus’ death (his blood, see Lk 22:20 par) does not feature prominently in the book of Acts (see 3:25-26). This contrasts notably with Paul’s letters, written in the period c. 52-62 A.D., where the various theological (and Christological) aspects of Jesus’ death are developed in complex and powerful ways.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (concluded)

Isaiah 52:13-53:12, concluded

In the final portion of this article we will examine the application of 52:13-53:12 to the person of and work of Jesus. There are three primary New Testament references which make clear that early Christians, by the year 70 A.D. (at the latest), were citing this passage as a prophecy of Jesus’ life (and death). In addition, there are several other minor quotations or allusions that should be mentioned. However, before proceeding with a study of all these references, it will be worth highlighting the lines, in the original poem, which are most applicable to the Gospel tradition and beliefs regarding Jesus in the early period (c. 30-60 A.D.).

  • “See, my servant will show (his) understanding” (52:13a, note)
    By the 1st century B.C./A.D., the Deutero-Isaian “Servant of YHWH” was viewed as a Messianic figure (esp. in 42:1ff, cf. the earlier article in this series). To be sure, the Servant is more properly understood as a Messianic Prophet (according to the figure-type of Moses or Elijah), rather than the royal/Davidic Messiah. However, as I discuss at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, all of the Messianic figure-types were applied to the person of Jesus by early Christians. This includes the Messianic Prophet types, such as the “Prophet like Moses” (Deut 18:15-19) who would appear at the end time.
  • “he will rise high and be carried up, and be very high [up]” (52:13b, note)
    The exaltation of the Servant to a heavenly position would obviously apply to the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, so central to the Gospel message and the earliest Christology. Somewhat surprisingly, this particular connection is not mentioned in the New Testament, nor is 52:13 cited.
  • “so destroyed from (that of) a man (was the) sight of him…” (52:14, note)
    This line could easily be applied to physical abuse of Jesus during his Passion—particularly the vicious whipping (verberatio) by the Romans prior to crucifixion. Admittedly, the whipping/scourging is barely even mentioned in the Passion narratives, but the effect of it would have been obvious (and striking) to eye-witnesses.
  • “—so will he sprinkle many nations” (52:14, note)
    Assuming that the rendering of “sprinkle” is correct, this could be seen as a prophecy of early Christian baptism, tied to the apostolic mission to the Gentiles.
  • “Who has been firm (in trust) to (what) we have caused to be heard…” (53:1, note)
    Cited twice in the New Testament (cf. below) as a prophecy of the Gospel message (by and regarding Jesus), as well as the reaction to it.
  • “(there was) no (fine) shape to him, and no adornment that we should look (at) him” (53:2, note)
    This could be understood in light of the humble/modest origins and social standing, etc, of Jesus.
  • “He was disregarded and forsaken by men…” (53:3, note)
    Almost certainly, this verse was interpreted in light of Jesus’ suffering and his being rejected by many Israelites and Jews at the time. Cf. especially the wording of the Passion prediction in Mark 9:12 par.
  • “Certainly he has lifted our weaknesses, and our sorrows, he has carried them” (53:4a, note)
    This can be understood in terms of Jesus’ identification with human weakness and suffering, interpreted as a prophecy either of (a) the earthly ministry of Jesus (cf. on Matt 8:17 below), or (b) his (vicarious) suffering and death as sacrificial offering for the guilt/sin of humankind.
  • “But he was pierced from our acts of breaking (faith)…” (53:5a, note)
    Assuming that “pierce” is the correct rendering of the Hebrew, this can be seen as a prophecy of the crucifixion of Jesus (cf. also the study on Zech 12:10). There may be an allusion to 53:5a by Paul in Rom 4:25, where the emphasis is on the vicarious/sacrificial character of Jesus’ suffering and death.
  • “…and with (the) binding of his (wound)s there is healing for us.” (53:5b, note)
    My translation understands the final line of v. 5 in light of Isa 1:6. However, the emphasis may be on the wounds themselves, rather than the binding of them. Again, this would make for an obvious connection with the whipping (scourging) of Jesus prior to crucifixion (cf. above). The idea that his suffering/death brings healing for us makes for an excellent statement of the vicarious suffering of Jesus. Cf. on the quotation in 1 Peter 2:24 below.
  • “All of us, like a flock (of sheep), we have wandered…” (53:6, note)
    Another expression of the vicarious/sacrificial suffering and death of Jesus, also cited in 1 Pet 2:24-25 (cf. below). On Jesus as the Shepherd of God’s people, with the Messianic and Divine implications of that motif, cf. Mk 6:34; 14:27 pars; Matt 2:6; Jn 10:1-18; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 5:2-4; Rev 7:17; and consult Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (on the Davidic Messiah).
  • “And he…was (op)pressed and (yet) he did not open his mouth….” (53:7, note)
    This was almost certainly understood as a prophecy of Jesus’ relative silence before his accusers in the (Synoptic) Passion narrative (Mk 14:60-61; 15:4-5 pars; cf. also Jn 19:9). 1 Peter (2:23) ties this aspect of Jesus’ character directly to Isa 53:7. Verses 7-8 are cited in Acts 8:32-33 (cf. below).
  • “For he was cut off from (the) land of (the) living” (53:8, note)
    A clear reference to the death of the Servant, forming an obvious parallel to the death of Jesus. The idea that the Messiah would suffer and die was highly controversial for Jews at the time, and it was virtually unique to the identification of Jesus as the Messiah.
  • “(even) though he (had) not done (any) violence, and (there was) no deceit in his mouth” (53:9, note)
    Verse 9a could conceivably be viewed as a prophecy of Jesus’ burial, though the idea of being buried “among the wicked” does not fit the circumstances of his burial particularly well. It applies better to the manner of his death (Mk 15:27f par). V. 9b would apply to Jesus’ innocence, that he was not deserving of such a painful and humiliating death.
  • “…with his knowledge my just servant shall bring justice for (the) many…” (53:11, note)
    Verses 10-12 emphasize again the vicarious nature of the Servant’s suffering and death, and how he took upon himself the guilt of the people. He is also characterized specifically as “just/righteous” (qyD!x^, Grk di/kaio$). On Jesus as the “righteous one” in the early tradition, cf. Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; also Lk 23:47. Justice/righteousness comes to believers through the just/right character of Jesus (cf. Rom 1:17; 3:21-22; 5:17ff; 10:4; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21, etc).

Acts 8:26-40 (vv. 7-8)

Verses 7-8 are featured at the heart of the episode of Philip’s missionary encounter with the Ethiopian official in Acts 8:26-40. The Scripture citation (in 8:32-33) follows the LXX Greek, the wording of which provides a more fitting application to Jesus. Here is how the LXX of vv. 7-8 reads:

“And he, through being ill-treated, did not open up the mouth;
as a sheep led upon the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the (one) shaving him (is) without voice,
so he did not open up his mouth;
in the humiliation, judgment [i.e. justice] for him was taken (away);
his (period of) coming to be, who brings (it) through [i.e. tells/declares it] (to us)?
(for it is) that his life is taken (away) from the earth.”

The LXX only loosely translates the Hebrew, as is often the case with the Old Testament poetry. However, the overall sense of the lines is preserved well enough. Only in the first line of v. 8 does the LXX (and Acts) differ noticeably from the original Hebrew. A rather literal translation of the line into English is:

“From oppression and from judgment he has been taken”

I understand this to mean that the oppression and judgment (from YHWH) which fell upon the Servant led to his death (i.e., being “taken”). The sense in the LXX, however, is that judgment/justice has been taken from the Servant—that is, he suffered and died unjustly. In this regard, the LXX translation provides a better fit to the circumstances of Jesus’ death. Early Christians took great pains to emphasize that the crucifixion of Jesus was an act of injustice, and that he himself was innocent and undeserving of such punishment.

If the citation of vv. 7-8 here is intended to illustrate the substance of the early Christian Gospel preaching, it seems clear that two aspects are most relevant to the message: (a) Jesus’ innocence and the injustice of his death, and (b) his meekness and humility (i.e., silence) in the face of this injustice. These two aspects are central to the understanding of Jesus as “the Righteous One” (o( di/kaio$), and we can see the importance of it for the earliest Gospel proclamation (kerygma)—cf. 3:13-15; 4:25-28; 5:28-31; 7:52, etc. It is perhaps no coincidence that the two key references to Jesus as the “Righteous One” both come in the Messianic context of Jesus as the ‘Prophet like Moses’ (3:17-23ff; 7:17-53). As discussed in the previous portion of this article, and in the exegetical notes on Isa 52:13-53:12, there are good reasons to think that the Servant figure is closely tied to the type-pattern of Moses.

It is interesting that the aspect of the Servant’s vicarious/sacrificial suffering and death is not emphasized in the Acts episode, and the lines of the poem which bring out this aspect are not cited. This seems to reflect the thought of believers in the earliest period. While forgiveness of sin was made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus, this is expressed primarily through his exaltation (to heaven) by God, rather than through his death as an atoning sacrifice. While the latter is certainly part of the New Testament message, there is little or no evidence of it in the preaching recorded in the book of Acts. On this point, we may compare the reference to Jesus as the servant (of God) in 3:13, and note how the author of Acts cuts off the citation of Isa 53:7-8 omitting the final line that refers specifically to the vicarious, atoning nature of the Servant’s suffering.

The only conceivable reference in the book of Acts to Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice (for sin) is at 20:28, where Paul speaks of the Christian congregations (the e)kklhsi/a) as something which God “made [i.e. gathered/acquired] around Him through the blood of His own [Son]”.

1 Peter 2:21-25 (vv. 4-7, 9, 11)

The same points of emphasis can be seen in 1 Peter’s use of the passage, but with a much stronger reference to the vicarious aspect of the Servant’s suffering—how he took upon himself the sin/guilt of the people. In the context of the letter, the author (Peter) is referring to situations where believers may suffer and undergo oppression unjustly (vv. 19-20). In such instances, we are to follow the example of Jesus:

“For unto this we were called, (in) that (the) Anointed (One) also suffered over us, leaving behind for us an underwriting, (so) that we might follow upon his (foot)steps” (v. 21)

The example of Jesus—literally, an “underwriting” (u(pogra/mmo$), i.e. a writing used as an exemplar for copying—is described in vv. 22-25 largely using words and phrasing (or paraphrasing) from the Servant Song. It begins in v. 22, which essentially quotes 53:9b (cf. the note):

“…who did not do (any) sin, and deceit [do/lo$] was not found in his mouth”

This emphasizes the innocence of Jesus (with regard to his death), but also his righteous and holy character generally. Such character is demonstrated by the fact that he did not respond in like manner when he was mistreated:

“…who, being abused, did not abuse (back) against (them); (though) suffering, he did not threaten, but gave (himself) along justly to the (one) giving judgment” (v. 23)

This almost reads like a explanatory comment on the more colorful description in 53:7. He suffered and did not resist or strike back, allowing himself to stand before the judgment (i.e., the interrogations before the Jewish and Council and the Roman tribunal of Pilate). He endured this suffering even to the point of death, and it is his death that is emphasized in verse 24:

“…who himself took up our sins on his own body (when) upon the tree, (so) that, coming to be (dead) from the sins, we should live to justice/righteousness—of which (it is said) ‘by the battle-marks you were healed’.”

The crucifixion of Jesus—that is, his death on the cross—is identified as the moment when he “took upon” himself the sin/guilt of the people (“our sins”). This clearly stands as a reference to the vicarious and atoning aspect of Jesus’s death (an aspect generally missing from the book of Acts, cf. above). It is related to the same idea expressed in the poem regarding the Servant’s suffering and death (probably vv. 4-5 are primarily in mind, cf. also v. 11). The author specifically cites the closing line of v. 5, an adaptation of the LXX version, which itself reads:

“…by his battle-marks we were healed”
tw=| mw/lwpi au)tou= h(mei=$ i)a/qhmen

The noun mw/lwy fundamentally refers to a mark (bruise, wound, etc) left as a result of fighting. The Hebrew term (hr*WBj^) is more enigmatic, referring to something that is bound or joined together. When used in the context of a wound, it may signify something that is cut into the flesh, though I tend to view the wording in light of Isa 1:6, and the idea of binding up one’s wounds (wordplay between rbj and vbj). For 1 Peter, however, it seems that the wounds themselves—as the marks of Jesus’ suffering (and death)—are a sign of our healing (from sin). This healing continues to be the subject of the concluding statement:

“For you were as sheep being made to wander, but you (have) been turned back now upon the herder and overseer of your souls.” (v. 25)

The sheep/shepherd motif is traditional, but it certainly alludes to v. 6 of the Servant song (cf. the note). The author (Peter) develops it further in the letter, at 5:1-5.

Matthew 8:17 (v. 4)

The Gospel writer in Matthew 8:17 also cites v. 4 of the poem, expressing the idea that Jesus took upon himself the suffering and weakness of the people. However, in the Gospel context where this is quoted, it has nothing whatever to do with Jesus’ death. Rather, it is related to the healing miracles performed by Jesus during his ministry in Galilee (8:2-16). The Hebrew term yl!j( literally means “weakness”, but this can be understood as resulting from sickness or illness—which would be appropriate for the healing ministry of Jesus.

The Gospel writer does not quote from the LXX, but a Greek translation that is closer to the original Hebrew. The Hebrew may be translated in English as follows (cf. the note on v. 4):

“Certainly he has lifted our weaknesses,
and our sorrows, he has carried them”

Here is a rendering of the Greek in Matt 8:17:

“he took our weaknesses and carried (about) our sicknesses”

Unless the association here with Isa 53:4 is purely superficial (based on the reference to sickness), it is necessary to understand Jesus’ “taking up” our weakness in a broader and more holistic sense. As the “son of man”, he identified himself with the human condition—including its weakness and mortality. This was an important part of his ministry (cf. the “Son of Man” sayings in Mk 2:10; 10:45 pars; Matt 8:20 par; Lk 19:10), and should not be limited to his suffering and death in Jerusalem.

John 12:38; Romans 10:16 (v. 1)

Finally, we should mention the citation of v. 1 in the Gospel of John (12:38) and Paul’s letter to the Romans (10:16). John’s citation (which matches the LXX) comes at the close of the first half of the Gospel (the so-called “Book of Signs”, chaps. 2-12), in a narrative summary that emphasizes how, even though Jesus had done great signs among the people, many of them refused (or were unable) to trust in him (12:37). This is then said to be a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in 53:1, treated as a rhetorical question, implying that few (if any) of the people will believe the report given about the Servant (cf. the note on v. 1).

The Gospel writer deals with this sensitive topic—that is, why so many Israelites and Jews at the time did not accept Jesus as the Messiah—by adding an explanation that became traditional among early Christians, citing Isa 6:10, a passage that is quoted, for this same purpose, twice more in the New Testament (Matt 13:14-15 par; Acts 28:26-27). The rejection of Jesus by his people was very much part of the suffering he experienced, and fairly represents the experience of the Servant in the poem.

Paul’s use of v. 1 (citing the first half of the verse, again according to the LXX) in Rom 10:16b is very similar. He states bluntly in v. 16a that “not all have heard under [i.e. listened and submitted to] the good message”. The context of chapters 9-11 is centered upon this very issue: how and why so many Israelites and Jews have failed/refused to accept the Gospel. It was a matter dear to Paul’s heart, as we can see from the way he opens each of the three chapters.

Paul’s reference implies that the suffering/rejection of Jesus extends also to his followers—that is, those who proclaim the message of Jesus to others. Paul experienced firsthand suffering and hardship from his fellow Israelites/Jews, as we see narrated throughout the book of Acts, and referenced on occasion in his letters (e.g., 1 Thess 2:14-16). Jesus predicted that his disciples would experience just this kind of suffering (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc), and would even be put to death. In experiencing such suffering, believers are, in their/our own way, following the example of Jesus (the Servant) himself (Mk 8:34 par, etc).

 

 

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (continued)

Isaiah 52:13-53:12, continued

Having concluded a detailed critical and exegetical study of the passage, verse by verse, in the recent daily notes, it remains to explore the specific lines of interpretation which may plausibly be applied to the figure of the Servant. I identify four primary lines of interpretation, each of which will be discussed in turn.

    1. The type-figure of Moses
    2. A specific Prophetic figure from history
    3. A collective figure for the Prophets of Israel
    4. A collective figure for the People of Israel

1. Moses. In an earlier article (on Isa 42:1ff) I discussed the strong possibility that the Servant of the Deutero-Isaian poems was patterned after the figure of Moses. It is worth summarizing the chief evidence for this:

    • Moses is specifically referred to as God’s “servant” (db#u#) on a number of occasions in Old Testament tradition: Exod 4:10; 14:31; Num 12:7-8; Deut 34:5; Josh 1:2, 7; 18:7; 1 Kings 8:53, 56; Psalm 105:26; Isa 63:11; Dan 9:11; Mal 4:4 [3:22]; Bar 2:28; cf. also Heb 3:5; Rev 15:3.
    • Moses was the pre-eminent Prophet and leader for the people of Israel, and possessed the spirit of prophecy (i.e., God’s Spirit); on this line of tradition, see my study on Numbers 11:10-30.
    • Moses led the people out of exile in Egypt, even as they are now to be led out their exile within the Babylonian empire; the return of the Exiles is clearly understood in the Deutero-Isaian poems as a ‘new Exodus’ (in chaps. 41-45, cf. especially 43:1-2, 16-17ff).
    • The role of bringing judgment to the nations, in the context of Israel’s release/return, would fit the archetypal pattern of Moses in his encounters with Pharaoh and the rulers of Egypt. This parallel applies more to 42:1ff, but see also the context of 52:14-15.
    • The servant functions as a judge and law-giver, which well fits the historical and traditional portrait of Moses.

I have discussed the parallels between 52:13-53:12 and the Moses traditions in the recent set of notes. Perhaps the strongest point is Moses role as intermediary and intercessor for Israel. By the very nature of this role (as YHWH’s servant) he identifies with the suffering of the people (cf. Exod 2:11ff; 3:7ff), and comes to bear their burdens, in many different ways, during the long Exodus journey through the wilderness (see esp. Num 11:10-14ff). On several occasions, Moses stood before YHWH on behalf of the people, interceding for them.

Two traditions are most pertinent to the argument here. The first is the Golden Calf episode, and its aftermath (Exod 32-34). The people broke the covenant bond in an egregious manner, and YHWH intended to destroy them in His anger, but Moses interceded for them (32:11-14, 30-34; 33:12-16; 34:8-9). In Exod 32:32, Moses essentially offers to taken upon himself the guilt (and punishment) that belonged to the people.

The second tradition to note is the episode at the “Waters of Strife [Meribah]” in Numbers 20. Provoked by the rebelliousness of the people, Moses speaks and acts in a way that does not give proper honor to YHWH; as a result, Moses shares the same punishment that fell upon the adult generation of the Exodus: he would die without entering the Promised Land. This may reflect the lines in our passage regarding the death of the Servant. On the possible allusions to Moses’ death and burial in the land of Moab (near Mt. Peor, Deut 34:5-8), cf. the recent note on verse 9.

If Moses is the type-pattern for the Servant figure, how should this be understood? There are several possibilities. Taking the scenario of the passage at face value, it would seem that Moses died and then was exalted to heaven. He then appeared before YHWH in the heavenly courtroom, where his righteous character and role as YHWH’s servant was confirmed, and he was then given a new heavenly position. Here he would continue in his role as the Servant, working and interceding on behalf of God’s people in the New Age (the period of the new covenant).

But could this association with Moses be merely figurative? On the one hand, a figurative interpretation would better fit the Deutero-Isaian theme of Israel’s restoration, which involves a new covenant and a renewed adherence to the Torah, echoing the ancient Moses/Exodus traditions (the Sinai covenant and the giving of the Law, cf. Exod 19-34). Subsequent Isaian poems and oracles (i.e., from chapters 56-66, so-called Trito-Isaiah) give special emphasis to the theme of the Law going out from Jerusalem, as a light to the nations (cf. on 42:5-9).

On the other hand, the passage seems to be dealing with a specific person—a person who, like Moses, will lead Israel back into the land (a “new Exodus”, cf. above) and play a central role in establishing the new covenant between YHWH and His people. In this regard, it is worth considering a particular eschatological tradition associated with Moses. Deuteronomy 18:15-19 records a prophecy regarding a “prophet like Moses” who will arise in Israel, essentially taking Moses’ place and functioning as a ‘new Moses’. By the 1st century B.C./A.D., this had developed into a clear belief in a Messianic prophetic figure, according to the figure-type of Moses, who would appear at the end-time, prior to the great Judgment.

This eschatological figure could be explained as Moses himself, having returned from heaven, or a separate Messianic Prophet patterned after Moses. Jesus was identified explicitly with this figure in Acts 3:22 (also 7:37), and there are other implicit references to “(the) Prophet” which likely have this same (Messianic) figure-type in mind (Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40). For more on this subject, and on the identification of Jesus with Moses, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

2. A specific Prophet-figure. Along the same lines, the Servant may refer to another Prophet from the history of Israel/Judah. The overall context, and the specific wording in v. 8, strongly indicates that the Servant (and his generation) belongs to the past. If we look to the Exilic setting of the Deutero-Isaian poems, there is no obvious candidate known to us from the historical record of the 6th century. To be sure, Jeremiah suffered at the hands of the people (and their leaders), and Uriah was put to death by Jehoiakim for prophesying the judgment against Judah and Jerusalem (Jer 26:20-23). According to Jewish tradition, the prophet Isaiah himself was killed by king Manasseh, and one version of this involved his being sawn in half (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho §120; cf. Heb 11:37). There are other historical traditions regarding the Prophets suffering oppression, persecution and death (cf. below).

Since the Deutero-Isaian poems seem to view the restoration of Israel (the ‘new Exodus’), and the establishment of the new covenant with YHWH, to be imminent, it is unlikely that the suffering and death of the Servant is meant to be understood as occurring in the future. The orientation of the passage as referring to a past event (that is, prior to the 6th century Exilic time-frame) should be taken seriously. His suffering reflects the failures of Israel/Judah, their violation of the first covenant—the covenant established at Sinai.

3. A collective figure for the Prophets of Israel. A stronger argument can be made for viewing the Servant as a collective figure for the Prophets of Israel. He embodies all of the true Prophets, from Moses to those of the 6th century. His suffering (and death) reflects the suffering experienced by many of the Prophets, whose call to deliver messages of judgment against the people of Israel/Judah, including harsh rebuke and condemnation of the rich and powerful in society, naturally made them unpopular and a target for hostile and violent reaction. Elijah and Jeremiah are probably the most famous examples of Prophets who suffered oppression and persecution at the hands of the people (and their leaders). The tradition of Isaiah’s martyrdom was noted above; we also have Zechariah son of Jehoiada being stoned to death as one of many similar examples (cf. Matt 23:34-37 par; Heb 11:35-38). On the idea of the Servant being “pierced” (v. 5), we may mention again how Uriah was killed by the sword (Jer 26:23).

This interpretation has the advantage of not being bound to the historical details of any one Prophet. At the same time, most of the description in the passage could apply to any number of the Prophets—or of all of them, taken together.

4. A collective figure for the People of Israel. This is perhaps the line of interpretation that is favored by many, if not most, critical commentators today. In its favor is the fact that Israel/Judah is specifically referred to as YHWH’s “servant” (db#u#) at a number of points in the Deutero-Isaian poems (41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4). Moreover, the general context relates to YHWH leading His chosen people out of their exile. The formula is established in 41:8-9:

“But you, Yisrael, my servant [yD!b=u^],
you, Ya’aqob, whom I have chosen,
seed of Abraham my loved (one),
you whom I have seized from (the) ends of the earth,
and called from her corners,
you to (whom) I have said
‘You (are) my servant,
I have chosen you and will not reject you,’
—do not be afraid, for I (am) with you…”

The same basic formula is used in 42:1, only there Israel is not specifically identified as the “servant” (except in the LXX).

But if Israel is the Servant, then it is difficult to explain the relationship between the Servant and the people that runs through the passage. One possibility is that the Servant is limited to the righteous ones of Israel, who suffer at the hands of the wicked people. A better fit to the context of the passage would be the relationship between Israel and the nations. The nations (and their rulers) are referenced in 52:14-15, and, according to this line of interpretation, it is they—and not the people of Israel—who offer the testimony regarding the Servant in 53:2-6. The nations mistreat and oppress the Servant (Israel), and it is the people of Israel (or at least the righteous among them) who suffer vicariously and bear the guilt of the nations. Through this suffering, and with the Servant’s restoration in the New Age, justice and righteousness will be brought to the nations through him—that is, through the righteous ministry of the restored Israel. This legitimately reflects a key Isaian theme (cf. 2:2-4) that was developed in the Deutero- (and Trito-) Isaian poems.

Summary. In my view, the overall evidence from the Deutero-Isaian poems strongly favors the first and fourth interpretations above. That is, the Servant should be understood as either: (1) a Prophetic leader patterned after the figure of Moses, or (2) as a collective figure for the people of Israel.

It may be possible to combine these approaches, given the close relationship between Moses and the people in the historical tradition. Moses represents the people before YHWH, and YHWH before the people. He has a central and foundational role in establishing the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. Indeed, following the episode of the Golden Calf, with the violation of the covenant, Israel ceases to be the people of YHWH. It is only through the intercession of Moses, that the covenant is restored; Israel is once again considered to be the people of YHWH, but only in a qualified sense, through the personal mediation of Moses.

The Deutero-Isaian theme of the New Age (of Israel’s restoration) involves the return of Israel/Judah to the Land (i.e., a ‘new Exodus’), with the establishment of a new covenant (cf. the following 54:1-17). It thus makes sense that the Prophetic leadership of the people would likewise be understood as a “new Moses”.

To the extent that the Servant is related to the figure of Moses, there are several ways of understanding this (cf. above):

    • Moses continues to act as the Servant of YHWH, on behalf of the people, through his new (exalted) position in heaven
    • Moses serves as the symbolic pattern for the Prophetic leadership of Israel/Judah in the New Age
    • The association relates to the (eschatological) tradition of the “Prophet like Moses” who will appear to lead and guide Israel into the New Age. This could further be understood as: (a) Moses himself appearing from heaven, or (b) a new chosen Prophet who resembles Moses. There was a similar Messianic/eschatological tradition regarding the figure of Elijah. Cf. Part 3 of “Yeshua the Anointed”.

It still remains to explore how Isa 52:13-53:12 was applied to the person of Jesus—specifically his Passion (suffering and death). This we will do in the concluding portion of this article.

Notes on Prayer: Acts 1:14

Acts 1:14

For the remainder of this Spring and Summer, the Monday Notes on Prayer feature will focus on references to prayer in the Book of Acts and the Pauline Letters. We begin with the first reference in Acts, which immediately follows the departure (ascension) of Jesus into heaven (1:9-11). In many ways, the ascension marks the beginning of the book of Acts proper, with 1:1-11 serving as the narrative introduction.

The main narrative of Acts truly begins with the return of the disciples to Jerusalem:

“Then they turned back into Yerushalaim from the hill called (the mount) of Olives, which is near (to) Yerushalaim holding a Sabbath (day’s) journey (away).” (v. 12)

They return to the house and room in the city which the disciples had been using as a gathering place. It is presumably the same place where they were gathered after Jesus’ death and was the locale of his resurrection appearance (Lk 24:33-49; cp. John 20:19ff). It is an upper story (or rooftop) room, much like the one used to celebrate the Passover (Lk 22:12 par). It may be located in the house of Mary the mother of John Mark (12:12). The importance of the location is emphasized in the narrative summary here:

“And when they came in, they stepped up into the room over(head), in which they were remaining [i.e. dwelling]…” (v. 13)

The remainder of verse 13 is a list of the twelve men who made up Jesus’ closest circle of disciples—that is the eleven who remain out of the twelve (minus Judas Iscariot). The list corresponds with the Synoptic tradition in Mk 3:13-19 par [Lk 6:12-16]. However, this is no mere incidental detail. The symbolism of the twelve is of vital importance for the narrative of Acts, and for the author’s portrayal of the early Christian Community and its mission. The early Christian mission cannot begin until the twelve are reconstituted. This relates symbolically to the eschatological idea of the restoration of Israel—i.e., the twelve tribes (= the twelve apostles).

One way that this theme of restoration is expressed in Acts is through the ideal of unity among the earliest believers. Not only were they together in Jerusalem, but they were gathered in the same room. Here is how this is introduced in verse 14:

“These all were being strong toward (each other) with one impulse…”
ou!toi pa/nte$ h@san proskarterou=nte$ o(moqumado\n

ou!toi pa/nte$ (“these all”)—that is, all of the apostles, along with the other believers who are with them (cf. below). The key word here is the adjective pa=$ (“all”). Fundamental to the ideal of early Christian unity is the requirement that all believers are joined together as one.

proskarterou=nte$—this participle is of the verb proskartere/w, which literally means “be strong toward” (someone or something). This emphasizes the strength of the bond between the first believers. The participial form here indicates something active, and which is occurring continuously.

o(moqumado/n—this adverb literally means something like “(with) one impulse”; in English idiom, we would probably say “with one heart” or “with one mind”. It is an important term throughout the book of Acts, being used repeatedly as a characteristic of early Christian unity. It is used again at 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6; 15:25; and, in a negative sense, for people being united in hostility/opposition against the believers, at 7:57; 18:12; 19:29.

The apostles in the ‘upper room’ are joined with a group of female believers, along with members of Jesus’ family (Mary his mother, and his brothers). This relates to the Synoptic episode of Mark 3:31-35 par, which, in Luke’s version (8:19-21) has a special significance. Mary and Jesus’ brothers wish to see Jesus, but are unable to come into the room where he and his followers were gathered. In the core Synoptic tradition, this reflects a pointed contrast between Jesus’ biological family and his true family (that is, his disciples). Luke gives to this episode a different meaning: Jesus’ mother and brothers are part of his true family (disciples/believers), only they are not yet able to come into the room to join with his disciples.

Now, however, the situation has changed, and we do see them in the same room with Jesus’ close disciples. Among these disciples are a number of women, which is also something that Luke particularly emphasizes (8:1-4, etc). It goes without saying, of course, that Mary (Jesus’ mother) has a special place in Luke’s Gospel as a female follower and believer in Jesus. There are a number of key references to this in the Infancy narratives (1:35-38, 45; 2:19, 34-35, 39, 51).

At the heart of the Christian unity described in verse 14 is prayer. The central wording is:

“…being strong toward (each other) with one impulse in speaking out toward (God) [th=| proseuxh/|]”

This can also be rendered in the sense that the believers were being strong together toward (pro$) their activity of prayer. In conventional English, we might say they were devoted to prayer.

I translate the noun proseuxh/ here quite literally as “speak (out) toward”; the Greek word is frequently used in the religious sense of speaking out toward God—that is, speaking to God in prayer. The unity of the early believers was expressed in prayer.

We tend to think of prayer in terms of specific requests we make to God, and of his answer to our requests. Our prayers thus tend to be goal and outcome oriented. Here in Acts, however, the focus is rather different. The emphasis is on prayer as a manifestation of our bond of unity as believers. Our prayer (together) thus reflects this bond, but it also serves to reinforce the bond. It is part of our continuing to “be strong toward (each other)” (vb proskartere/w). This bond is also directed toward our identity as believers, and our relationship to God (through Christ). It is also part of our “common impulse” (o(moqumado/n, cf. above), what drives us to act, speak, and feel as believers.

May the strength of our bond, and our driving impulse, with each other likewise be rooted in the act (and spirit) of prayer.