In the previous day’s note, I looked at the three main predictions by Jesus of his Passion—his suffering, death and resurrection—in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 8:31 / Matt 16:21 / Luke 9:22 || Mark 9:31 / Matt 17:22-23 / Luke 9:44 || Mark 10:33-34 / Matt 20:18-19 / Luke 18:31-33). Today I will be exploring them together in a bit more detail.
As a way to proceed, it will be helpful to highlight some of the common elements:
The Son of Man—this expression (in Greek, o( ui(o$ tou= a)nqrwpou, ho huios tou anthrœpou) occurs numerous times in the Gospels, and is almost exclusively used by Jesus himself. It is extremely rare elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 7:56; Hebrews 2:6; and in Revelation 1:13; 14:14 where the anarthrous form ui(o$ a)nqrwpou is used). While it makes sense as a Greek construction (“the son of [the] man”, “the man’s son”), in the New Testament it corresponds to the Hebrew <d*a*Á/b# (ben-°¹d¹m) and Aramaic vn`a$Árb^ (bar-°§noš). In writings prior to (or contemporary with) the New Testament, this Hebrew/Aramaic expression is used three ways:
- With the simple meaning of “human being” or “mortal (person)”. It is used in this sense virtually everywhere it occurs in the Old Testament (Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Ps 8:4; 80:17; 144:3 [vwna /b]; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43). In nearly all of these instances it is used in (poetic) parallelism with other common words signifying “man” (vya!, vona$, rb#G#), and always in the second place (cf. Ps 8:4 [Heb v. 5]). This is also the meaning of the expression in extra-biblical Hebrew and Aramaic prior to the New Testament (8th cent. Sefire inscription III.16-17; 1QapGen 21:13; 11QtgJob 9:9; 26:2-3; 1QS 11:20; 1QH 4:30). For these references and a good discussion of the subject, cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays (Scholars Press: 1979), pp. 143-160.
- In the context of Divine address to a human messenger (Prophet). Here, too, it has basic meaning of “mortal”, but the situation is distinctive and unique—a human being who receives entry into the heavenly realm or is vouchsafed revelatory information through a heavenly vision (such as the situation in 1 Kings 22:19-22). “Son of Man” is used this way throughout the book of Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and in Daniel 8:17.
- Used of a heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13: “and see! with the clouds of heaven (one) like a Son of Man was coming…” Again, the basic meaning remains “human being, mortal”—the idea being that this (heavenly) messenger looks like, or appears (in the vision) in the form of, a human being. However, this occurrence of the expression in Daniel proved to have an enormous influence on subsequent eschatological thought. The figure of a heavenly (pre-existent) Redeemer (or “Messiah”) came to be associated with the title “Son of Man” in Apocalyptic literature at the time of the New Testament—cf. in the so-called “Similitudes” of the Book of Enoch (esp. chap. 48), where he is identified with the “Righteous/Elect One”.
One should also mention use of “Son of Man” as a circumlocution or substitute for the personal pronoun “I”. This is not so clearly attested in Aramaic (or Hebrew) at the time of the New Testament; however, there is some indication that Jesus may have used it this way (see, for example, Mark 8:27; 10:45; Matt 5:11; 10:32 and pars.). On the other hand, Jesus certainly has an exalted, heavenly figure in mind—with whom he identifies himself (certainly the Gospel writers so understood it)—who will appear to judge the world in the end-time: cf. Mark 8:38; 9:9; 13:26; 14:62; Matt 10:23; 12:40; 13:41; 16:28; 19:28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31; Luke 12:8; 17:22, 30; 18:8; 21:26 (and pars).
It is, however, Jesus’ use of “Son of Man” in the context of his suffering, death and resurrection which is of most interest here. In addition to the three main passion predictions under discussion (“Son of Man” occurs in all of them except Matt 16:21), see Mark 9:12; 14:21, 41 and pars; Matt 26:2; Luke 22:48; 24:7. Note also the usage in John (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31, and see below), where the emphasis is more on exaltation/glorification/ascension of the Son of Man. I do not think it misplaced to consider the title “Son of Man” in the theological/Christological sense of incarnation—that is, of Jesus taking on the form, flesh and blood of a human being. A number of “Son of Man” sayings relate to his suffering, humility and sacrificial service to others (cf. Mark 10:45; Matt 8:20; 11:19; Luke 6:22).
It is necessary—Greek dei= (dei), this verbal form (from de/w, “to bind”) is syntactically connected with an accompanying infinitive (“it is necessary to…”). It is used in only the first Passion prediction, but is implied in the Lukan form of the third (with the added phrase of “all things written through the Prophets…will be completed”). We find this same emphasis in other references by Jesus to his suffering and death, especially in Luke (Lk 17:25; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44; cf. also Matt 26:54)—that it was necessary in order to fulfill Scripture. Note also the occurrence of dei= in John 3:14 (see below).
Be given over—This verb (paradi/dwmi, paradídœmi) occurs in all three forms of the second and third Passion predictions. It has the basic meaning of “give along”, “pass (someone or something) along”, but with a wide range of application. The related noun para/dosi$ (parádosis) is usually translated “tradition”, that is, something passed along (from generation to generation). It can also be used in the sense of “giving over” or “handing over” someone to the authorities (or one’s enemies, etc); in such instances, it is often translated “betray”, and, indeed, it carries this specific meaning throughout the Passion narratives.
Into the hands of…—This expression only occurs in the second prediction; however, in all three predictions specific groups are designated to whom Jesus will be “given over (into their hands)”. In the first and third predictions, Jewish religious leaders are indicated: “Elders, Chief Priests [Sacred-officials], and Scribes [lit. Writers]” in the first, and “Chief Priests and Scribes” in the third (except for Luke, who omits this phrase). These three groups make up the Jewish ruling Council in Jerusalem—the “Sanhedrin” (transliteration of the Greek term sune/drion, i.e., a place where people sit together in assembly). It is they who will interrogate Jesus and bring him to the Romans for judgment. The third prediction also mentions “the nations/peoples” (ta e&qnh), by which is meant non-Jews or non-Israelites (i.e., “Gentiles”); in the context here, of course, the terms refers to the Roman government. All three forms of the second prediction use the expression “into the hands of men”—here “men” certainly refers both to the Jewish and Roman administrations, and may be used in a pejorative sense.
Kill/Be killed—All three predictions mention Jesus’ being put to death, using the verb a)poktei/nw (apokteínœ) (except for Matt 20:19 which uses stauro/w, “put to the stake”, i.e. “crucify”). This verb is an intensive form of ktei/nw (kteínœ, “kill, slay”), emphasizing the violent, negative character of the act. However, in a legal context, it can also mean “condemn/sentence to death”. In order to preserve something of this sense, I have translated it literally (and somewhat awkwardly), “set forth (or send away) to be killed”.
Third day…will be raised—All three predictions (except the shortened Lukan second) mention the resurrection in relation to “three days”. Mark uses “after three days” (meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$) and “he will stand up” (a)nasth/setai), while Matthew and Luke use “on the third day” (th=| tri/th| h(me/ra| or th=| h(me/ra| th=| tri/th|) and “he will be raised” (e)gerqh/setai). Matthew and Luke have the more standard early Christian phrasing (cf. 1 Cor 15:4).
It may be worth looking at these passages overall from a critical standpoint; this can be done at three interpretive levels:
1. The Historical. Some critical commentators have questioned whether the historical Jesus would have uttered predictions of this sort. These questions are, to a great extent, simply the product of doubts regarding Jesus’ possession and use of divine foreknowledge. A stronger argument can be made on the basis of the form and style of the predictions in the Gospels, which is suggestive of early Christian credal formulae, particularly the use of expressions such as “after three days / on the third day… he will be raised”, etc. At the very least, there is evidence of literary shaping of this material, including possible (intentional) additions and/or omissions by the Gospel writers. On the whole, however, the versions of each prediction are close enough that one could reconstruct a (hypothetical) Greek (or Aramaic) original for each. The similarity to early Christian phrasing and formulae could just as well be explained by positing that the traditions being preserved and memorized stem from Jesus himself. One other argument in favor of historical veracity is the use of “Son of Man”, which, apart from its frequent occurrence in the Gospels (the words of Jesus), hardly appears in the New Testament at all. Early Christians preferred “Anointed [Christ/Messiah]”, “Lord”, or “Son of God” as titles for Jesus; passion predictions ‘created’ by the early Church are perhaps more likely to read “it is necessary for the Anointed/Christ…” rather than “it is necessary for the Son of Man…”
2. The Traditional. Here the main question is: are we dealing with three separate predictions, or three variations of one underlying prediction. This same critical question has been applied, for example, to the separate miraculous feeding episodes (the 5000 and 4000), and to the different scenes of a woman who anoints Jesus. The feeding miracles are especially relevant in this regard, since they both appear together (as separate episodes) in Mark/Matthew, even though the similarity in overall structure and many details have led most critical scholars to see them as deriving from a single historical tradition. Ultimately it is impossible to answer this question on purely objective grounds. Certainly the Gospel writers would have understood them as three separate predictions uttered by Jesus on different occasions. For further reading on this issue in particular, from a (moderate) critical viewpoint, I would recommend the appendix in R. E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1994), pp. 1468-91 (in the second volume).
3. The Gospel Context. As mentioned in the previous note, in all three Synoptic Gospels these three Passion predictions occur in the same position—between the confession of Peter and the Entry into Jerusalem. Was this placement and structure the creation of one Gospel writer (i.e. Mark, according to the general Markan-priority hypothesis), or was it inherited already as a fixed arrangement of traditional material at the pre-Gospel level? The answer to this question depends, in part, on what one makes of the second question above. Luke has given the clearest narrative structure to the material by inserting a large block of teaching (sayings and parables)—Lk 9:51-18:14—and framing it all specifically as occurring during the journey to Jerusalem. This emphasis heightens the significance of the Passion predictions (see also the poignant lament for Jerusalem in Lk 13:34-35, which similarly foreshadows Jesus’ suffering and death). Luke also has included (or added?) in the third Passion prediction (Lk 18:31ff) the phrase “all the things written through the Prophets… will be completed”—an important theme which will be repeated (by Jesus) several more times in the Passion/Resurrection narratives (Lk 22:37; 24:44, cf. also 17:25; 24:7, 26) and again in the book of Acts.
As I previously indicated, there is nothing in the Gospel of John which corresponds with these Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptics; however, upon examination, one does find a parallel of sorts—namely, a set of three statements about the “Son of Man” which involve the use of the verb u(yo/w (hupsóœ, “raise/lift high”). Here are the three passages:
Kai\ kaqw\$ Mwu+sh=$ u%ywsen to\n o&fin e)n th=| e)rh/mw|, ou%tw$ u(ywqh=nai dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou
“And accordingly as Moses lifted high the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary (that) the Son of Man be lifted high”
o%tan u(yw/shte to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou, to/te gnw/sesqe o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi, kai\ a)p’ e)mautou= poiw= ou)de/n, a)lla\ kaqw\$ e)di/dace/n me o( path\r tau=ta lalw=
“When you should lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that ‘I Am’, and from myself I do nothing, but (rather) according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”
ka)gw\ e)a\n u(ywqw= e)k th=$ gh=$, pa/nta$ e(lku/sw pro\$ e)mauto/n
“And I, if I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself”
Some manuscripts read pa/nta (“all [things]”) instead of pa/nta$ (“all [people]”).
The expression “Son of Man” is only implied here; it is used previously in verse 23 and again in v. 34.
I will discuss these Johannine passages in more detail in the next daily note.