“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 4)

The Climactic Sayings of Mark 13:26 and 14:62

Of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, most relate in some way to the human suffering of Jesus—and, particularly, to the suffering and death (viz., his Passion) which he would experience in Jerusalem. This is the focus of the three Synoptic Passion-predictions by Jesus (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f), but also clearly applies to the other occurrences of the expression in 9:9, 12; 10:45, and 14:21, 41. As I discussed (in Parts 2 and 3), the expression “the son of man” in these sayings, in addition to serving as a self-reference by Jesus, likely alludes to the poetic use of the expression in the Old Testament. The relevant references, given previously in the Introduction, are: Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:5[4]; 80:18[17]; 144:3 ; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43. In this poetic usage, the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (once vona$ /B#), “son of man”, is paired with “man” (<d*a*, vona$, vya! or rb#G#), as a way of referring to humankind or a human being generally (Psalm 146:3; cf. Part 1 on the sayings in Mk 2:10, 28), often emphasizing the limitation and weakness of the human condition.

In Mark 8:38, is the expression “the son of man” used in a rather different context—implying an eschatological judgment setting, as well as an exalted position for Jesus in heaven (alongside God the Father). This same emphasis features, even more prominently, in 13:26 and 14:62. These two sayings represent the climactic “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, and both are particularly important (and distinctive) in the way that they allude to the heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13-14.

I have discussed this Scripture passage in prior articles, as a supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and, more recently, in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. These articles can be consulted for discussion on the context and interpretation of Dan 7:13f. The relevant portion of the prophetic vision begins:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

The Aramaic vn`a$ rB^, corresponding to the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (or vona$ /B#), here simply refers to the human appearance (“like a son of man”, i.e., like a human being) of the heavenly figure in the vision. The human appearance of this figure is in marked contrast to the beasts elsewhere in the vision. Those beasts symbolize wicked/corrupt earthly power (i.e., kings and their kingdoms), while this “(one) like a son of man” represents heavenly power (and a corresponding king/kingdom). Indeed, the figure comes “with the clouds of the Heaven(s)”, drawing upon ancient storm-theophany imagery, such as is applied to YHWH in numerous Scriptural poems; for the motif of God coming/riding on the clouds, see Psalm 18:10-13; 104:3ff; Isa 19:1; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:4ff; Nah 1:3b.

This heavenly figure, with human appearance, approaches the throne of YHWH:

“…(he) was coming, and unto (the) Ancient of Days he approached, and they brought him near in front of Him.”

This heavenly figure is then given an everlasting Kingdom, with authority over all peoples and nations on earth (v. 14).

Mark 13:26

The “son of man” saying in Mark 13:26 is part of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (chap. 13 par), coming at a climactic point in the Discourse. The narrative setting for this collection of eschatological teaching is significant, preceding as it does the Passion Narrative (chaps. 14-15). It strongly indicates that there is a profound eschatological significance to Jesus’ suffering and death; indeed, his suffering/death may be said to mark the beginning of the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Dan 12:1 LXX]). Note, for example, the implications of Jesus’ wording in 14:38, 41 (cf. especially the Lukan formulation in 22:53b). This period of distress represents the “birth pains” of the New Age (Mk 13:8 par); and Jesus, in the Discourse, describes the things which will occur before the end (of the current Age), from three vantage points: (a) the nations and people on earth generally (vv. 5-8), (b) his disciples (vv. 9-13), and (c) the people of Jerusalem and Judea (vv. 14-23).

Following the period of distress, with all its attendant travail and suffering, the end will be ushered in (vv. 24-27) by the appearance of “the son of man” from heaven:

“And then they shall see the son of man coming on (the) clouds, with much power and splendor.” (v. 26)

The wording clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13, even though the scenario has a different orientation. In the Daniel 7 vision, the “(one) like a son of man” is coming on the clouds toward God, in heaven. By contrast, here in Mk 13:26 par,  the “son of man” is coming on the clouds to earth, to gather up the righteous (v. 27) and to usher in the end-time Judgment (implied by vv. 24-25). Yet the eschatological context for both references is essentially the same: they refer to the establishment of a Divine/heavenly kingdom, entailing the judgment of the nations, the destruction of the wicked, and the exaltation/reward of the righteous (cf. Dan 7:14, 23-27). The framing of this scenario within the Eschatological Discourse owes much to the conclusion of the book of Daniel (12:1-4ff).

Of all of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, the occurrence of the expression in 13:26 could most plausibly be interpreted as referring to a heavenly being separate from Jesus himself. Indeed, a number of commentators have explained the saying, at least in its original form (as spoken by Jesus), in precisely this way. This interpretative approach was mentioned previously, in connection with the saying in 8:38; however, here it is rather more plausible. From the standpoint of Jesus’ first hearers, it is by no means obvious that he is referring to himself by the expression “the son of man”. Nothing in the Gospel, up to this point, suggests that Jesus has been using the expression with Daniel 7:13 in mind.

Early Christians, of course, reading the passage with Christological hindsight, could understand verse 26 perfectly well as a reference to the future return of Jesus, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven; but what sense would this have made to Jesus’ own disciples (or to others) at the time? Admittedly, the reference is somewhat problematic, if viewed as an authentic saying by Jesus, with “the son of man” as a self-reference. And yet, the expression is clearly used as a self-reference everywhere else in the Gospel—Jesus refers to himself as “th(is) son of man”, i.e., this person (namely, myself). It must be regarded so here as well, both from Jesus’ own standpoint (as speaker), and from the standpoint of the early Gospel Tradition.

What, then, are we to make of its usage here by Jesus? Before proceeding to give an answer, let us first examine the final “son of man” saying.

Mark 14:62

The saying in Mark 14:62 par occurs at the climax of the Sanhedrin interrogation scene (vv. 53-65), a key episode within the Passion narrative. In the Markan version, the high priest asks Jesus:

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (v. 61)

Jesus responds with bold affirmation (“I am”), and then adds:

“…and you shall see the son of man being seated at (the) right-hand of the power (of God), and coming with the clouds of the heaven!” (v. 62)

Again, the expression “the son of man” functions as a self-reference—i.e., “you shall see th(is) son of man…”, “you shall see me…”. At the same time, however, there is a definite allusion (even more clear than in 13:26) to Dan 7:13f, where the expression “(one) like a son of man” occurs. Here, certainly, Jesus’ use of the expression as a self-reference, identifying himself with the human conditions, dovetails with the expression from Dan 7:13; not only does he identify with the human condition (on earth), but also with exalted position of the human-like figure in heaven. That is to say, Jesus here is identifying himself with the heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13ff, the one who receives the kingdom and rule over all humankind. In this exalted position, he is also associated specifically with the “holy ones” among God’s people, just as the “son of man” in 13:26f comes with the holy angels (from heaven) and then gathers together the holy ones (righteous/believers) on earth (cp. Dan 7:27; 12:1-3).

There are a number of critical interpretative questions surrounding 14:62 par, not the least of which involve the small but significant differences in detail between the three Synoptic versions.

In Matthew, for example, the question by the high priest (26:63) is phrased so that it more closely mirrors the confession by Peter (16:16; cp. Mk 8:29); indeed, the two are virtually identical:

You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God.”
su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= tou= zw=nto$

“…I would require an oath of you…(to say)
if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God!”
ei) su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=

Otherwise, the Matthean version of Jesus’ response (26:64) closely follows Mark. The Gospel writer gives Jesus’ initial affirmation an ironic twist; instead of the bold Markan “I am”, Jesus points back to the high priest’s own question (mirroring Peter’s confession): “You (have) said (it) [su\ ei@pa$]”. Matthew expands the beginning of the remainder of the response, but the core of it is essentially identical with Mark’s version. The two notable points of difference are: (1) it is introduced by the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti (“from now [on]”), and (2) the preposition e)pi/ is used rather than meta/, i.e., “…coming upon [e)pi/] the clouds of heaven”. The difference in preposition is minor, corresponding to the same difference between the LXX (e)pi/) and Theodotion (meta/) Greek versions of Dan 7:13 (the Aramaic preposition [<u!] is better rendered by the meta/ in Theodotion and Mark). As for the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti, which matches the corresponding a)p’ tou= nu=n (“from now”) in Luke’s version (22:69), it serves to position more clearly the “son of man” saying in relation to the impending death of Jesus. After his death (and resurrection), “from now on”, Jesus will have an exalted position (at God’s right hand) in heaven.

In both of the “son of man” sayings under investigation here, Luke’s version either eliminates or downplays the association with Daniel 7:13-14. In the saying corresponding to Mark 14:62 par, the Daniel allusion is omitted altogether, leaving only an implicit reference to Psalm 110:1 (i.e., Jesus at God’s right hand):

“But, from now (on), you shall see the son of man sitting at (the) right-hand of the power of God!” (22:69)

In 21:27 (corresponding to Mk 13:26 par), the wording is altered slightly, possibly to bring out the parallel with Jesus’ ascension (in Acts 1:9-11). Just as Jesus is taken up (to heaven) in a cloud (singular), so he will return (from heaven) in/on a cloud (again, singular). The plural “clouds” brings out more clearly than in Luke’s version an allusion to Daniel 7:13f (cf. above).

The main point of reference, as Luke’s version of the climactic saying (22:69 [Mk 14:62]) so clearly highlights, is the exaltation of Jesus to heaven, following his death and resurrection, where he will have an exalted place at God’s right hand. While evidence for the influence of Dan 7:13f on the earliest Christian understanding of Jesus’ exaltation is extremely slight, the motif of his position at “the right hand of God” (Ps 110:1) was a frequent and widespread component of the Christological portrait—[Mk 16:19]; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. In Acts 7:55-56, the Lukan author essentially records the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in 22:69. Even though it is Stephen, a believer, who sees the exalted Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God, this occurs (based on the narrative context) as part of an interrogation before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), mirroring the Gospel account of Jesus’ own interrogation before the Council.

Thus, the principal point of the “son of man” saying in Mark 14:62 par is not the (future) return of Jesus from heaven, but his exaltation to heaven; indeed, this orientation matches the the setting of the Daniel passage. How, then, did this aspect of Dan 7:13f, applied to Jesus’ exaltation, become applied to the idea of his future return (in Mk 13:26 par)? For early Christians, considering the matter after Jesus’ resurrection (and departure/ascension), this would have been an obvious extension—viz., Jesus’ exaltation would naturally be followed by his (imminent) return to earth at the end-time Judgment (cf. Revelation 1:7).

But could this same usage reasonably be attributed to Jesus himself, speaking to his disciples during his earthly ministry? The literary context of Daniel 7:13-14 certainly assumes an eschatological framework. After the judgment of the nations (and their kingdoms), the kingdom bestowed upon the heavenly figure will be an eternal/everlasting dominion, ruling over all people on earth. There will never be another kingdom, implying that human history, as it had previously been known, has effectively come to an end. The human people of God (“holy ones”) will, in their own way, also rule over this kingdom—note the parallels in wording between vv. 14 and 27. Moreover, as has been noted previously, the thought, wording, and imagery of Dan 12:1-4ff had a tremendous influence on early Christian eschatology, and on the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, in particular. The heavenly figure “Michael” (v. 1) will appear at the end-time, in the midst of a period of great distress (qli/yi$, cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par), ushering in (it is implied) the end-time judgment, which also involves the salvation (and ultimate exaltation) of the righteous (vv. 2-3).

If Jesus identified himself with the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14, then it would not be surprising if he also saw himself essentially as fulfilling the role of “Michael” in 12:1ff—that is, the exalted heavenly being who will appear at the end-time to usher in the Judgment and bring salvation to the righteous (for more on this eschatological/Messianic figure-type, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Admittedly, presenting this portrait to his disciples prior to his death and resurrection would, almost certainly, have created a good deal of confusion. However, at least two possibilities should be considered in this regard. First, the eschatological “son of man” reference in Mk 13:26 par, with its allusion to Dan 7:13ff, could have been made (originally) in a vague or ambiguous manner, referring clearly to the end-time appearance of the heavenly redeemer-figure of Daniel 7ff, but not (yet) referring clearly to Jesus himself as that figure. Second, one must at least entertain the possibility that some of the eschatological sayings/teachings of Jesus could have been made after the resurrection, in which case, an eschatological “son of man” saying such as Mk 13:26 par would presumably have made more sense to Jesus’ disciples (cf. the context of Acts 1:9-11). The current position of the eschatological sayings in the Gospels is primarily topical, rather than historical/chronological. This can be seen by the way that such material is grouped together in distinct (literary) sections of the Gospels (including the “Eschatological Discourse” itself), and also by Matthew’s inclusion (in the Discourse) of eschatological (“Q”) material that occurs in an entirely different location/setting in Luke (cf. the discussion in Parts 2 and 3 of my earlier article on the “Eschatological Discourse”).

For the next article in this series, we will explore the “son of man” sayings and references that occur in the so-called “Q” material shared by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 3)

The Literary Setting of the Passion Predictions

The three Passion-predictions (see the discussion in Parts 1 and 2) provide a framework for the opening section of the second half of the Gospel narrative (the Judean/Jerusalem period). This opening section is centered on the journey of Jesus to Jesus to Jerusalem (covered by chapter 10 of Mark). The Passion-predictions are rather evenly divided within the section, marking the beginning, middle, and end. The second prediction marks the mid-point of the section, dividing it into two distinct parts. We may outline this as follows:

    • First Passion-Prediction (and the disciples’ reaction)—8:30-32
    • PART 1 (Preparation: Teaching the Disciples):
      • Teaching/sayings on Discipleship, with an eschatological theme (8:33-9:1)
      • The Transfiguration: Revelation to the Disciples (9:2-8)
      • Teaching the Disciples, with an eschatological theme (9:9-13)
      • Exorcism miracle episode, in the context of teaching the Disciples (9:14-29)
    • Second Passion-Prediction (and disciples’ reaction)—9:30-32
    • PART 2 (The Journey to Jerusalem):
      • Teaching his disciples: theme of ‘entering the Kingdom of God’ (9:33-50)
      • Teaching the crowds: focus on a discussion with Pharisees on a point of Law (10:1-12)
      • Teaching his disciples: theme of ‘entering the Kingdom of God’ (10:13-31)
    • Third Passion-Prediction (and disciples’ reaction)—10:32-34

The first part of this section centers on Jesus’ teaching his close disciples, in a manner that we may say is in preparation for the journey to Jerusalem. The Transfiguration episode effectively brings his Galilean ministry period to a close, and marks an end to his primary Messianic role during this period—as an Anointed Prophet, fulfilling the type-patterns of Moses and Elijah. Following this episode, Jesus once again alludes to his coming suffering and death (9:9-13). All of the teaching in this section has a strong eschatological emphasis, indicating quite clearly that his death and resurrection also has a profound eschatological significance (something many Christians today are unable or unwilling to recognize).

At verse 30, the narrative transitions into the second Passion-prediction, with an echo of Jesus’ earlier prohibition on revealing his identity as the Messiah (8:30):

“And from that (place), going out, they traveled along through the Galîl, and he did not wish that anyone should know (it)…”

Here, however, the sense of prohibition is rather different. Jesus simply wishes to avoid the crowds, keeping his presence hidden from the surrounding populace while he travels (south) through Galilee. The reason for avoiding any crowds is made clear in the opening words of verse 31:

“…for he taught his learners [i.e. disciples]”

Again, this echoes the context of the first Passion-prediction (“And he began to teach them…”). The teaching he was doing with his (close) disciples was of such importance, that Jesus wished to avoid attracting crowds around him that might distract from his work. And what is the subject, the focus of this teaching? It is the message of his coming suffering and death in Jerusalem. That the Passion-prediction fundamentally represents the substance of his teaching here is indicated by the wording of v. 31a:

“for he taught his learners [i.e. disciples] and said to them…”

What Jesus “said to them” is the Passion-prediction proper. As noted above, the statement of the prediction can be divided into two parts. The first predicts Jesus’ betrayal (an aspect of his Passion not specified in the first prediction), while the second restates the message of his coming death and resurrection.

The Other Son of Man Sayings

With this narrative framework in mind, we can examine the remaining “son of man” references in the Synoptic narrative, particularly those which are woven around the Passion-predictions that frame the narrative.

Mark 8:38

The first saying to be considered occurs in the first block of teaching (8:33-9:1) in the First Part (see the outline above). This block of material can be summarized as: Teaching/sayings on Discipleship, with an eschatological theme. There are at least three distinct traditions that comprise this unit: (i) verse 34b, (ii) verses 35-37, and (iii) verse 38. The last of these gives to the section a decided eschatological emphasis:

“For whoever would be ashamed over me and my words, in this adulterous and sinful genea/, the son of man also will be ashamed over him, when he should come in the splendor of his Father, (along) with the holy Messengers.”

It is understandable why some commentators have suggested that, originally in this saying (as well as several others), the “Son of man” was a heavenly being (cf. Dan 7:13-14) separate and distinct from Jesus himself. And, indeed, this saying is rather problematic (as an authentic saying by Jesus) if “son of man” is intended as a self-reference. Early Christians would have had no difficulty in understanding such a saying, in hindsight, as referring to the impending future return to earth of the exalted Christ. However, this point of reference would, it seems, have made little sense to Jesus’ disciples during the time of his ministry indicated by the position of this saying in the Gospel narrative.

The theory that Jesus was referring to someone else by the expression “the son of man” is undercut by the parallel saying in Matt 10:32-33:

“(So) then, everyone who will give account as one* with me in front of men, I also will give account as one with him in front of my Father th(at is) in [the] heavens.”
* The verb o(mologe/w, rendered more conventionally, agree with, acknowledge, affirm, confess (i.e., in agreement with others).

This saying is part of the “Q” material shared with Luke; the Lukan version (12:8-9), however, appears to conflate the “Q” and Markan versions, even though Luke also preserves the Synoptic/Markan saying separately (in 9:26). Verse 8 represents the “Q” version:

“Every one who would give account as one with me in front of men, also the son of man will give account as one with him in front of the Messengers of God”

A strong argument can be made that the Markan and “Q” sayings represent variations of a single tradition—and that argument becomes stronger if the Lukan formulation of the “Q” saying, using the expression “the son of man”, is the more original form. The parallelism of “me” / “son of man” suggests that the expression, again, is being used principally, if not exclusively, by Jesus as a self-reference. The Matthean version of the “Q” saying would tend to confirm this point.

What of the apparent inconcinnity (incongruity) of Jesus referring to his future coming in this way, at this point in the Gospel narrative? The problem may be resolved, to some extent, if Jesus was originally referring, not to a future return, but to his exaltation, after his death and resurrection. In his exalted position, he would be able to speak, before God the Father, regarding those who claimed to be his disciples. If they felt shame over him, or refused to acknowledge him publicly (“before men”), then he, too, would feel shame over them, and refuse to acknowledge them publicly (before God and the heavenly beings) as his disciples. A heavenly Judgment-scene is certainly intended.

There are additional such eschatological “son of man” references in Matthew and Luke (from the “Q” tradition, and otherwise), but this is the only one in the Synoptic/Markan narrative (apart from the key references in 13:26 and 14:62).

Mark 9:9, 12

There are two further “son of man” references in 9:9-13, a section with a similar emphasis as 8:33-9:1—viz., Jesus teaching the Disciples, with an eschatological theme (9:9-13). This unit follows immediately after the Transfiguration scene (9:2-8). The narrator indicates that Jesus warned his disciples not to reveal anything of what they had seen (v. 9), even as he did after Peter’s confession (8:30); this implies that the Transfiguration was a manifestation of Jesus’ Messianic identity (spec. a Messianic Prophet, fulfilling the type-figures of Elijah and Moses). The statement in verse 9 essentially repeats and summarizes the Passion-prediction of 8:31. Again, Jesus’ impending suffering and death (as “son of man”) is in marked contrast to the Messianic glory which was revealed about him in the Transfiguration.

The second “son of man” reference, in verse 12, is perhaps the closest example we have, in the Synoptic narrative, of the expression being used specifically as a reference to the Messiah. It occurs in the context of an eschatological question posed by the disciples, regarding the appearance of “Elijah” prior to the end of the Age: “(Why is it) that the writers say that ‘it is necessary (for) ‘Eliyyah to come first’?” (v. 11). Almost certainly, the tradition derived from Malachi 4:5-6, in the eschatological context of 3:1ff and 4:1ff, is in view. On this end-time figure of ‘Elijah’, as a Messianic Prophet, see Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. In the Transfiguration scene, and elsewhere in the early Gospel Tradition, Jesus is identified as this figure; and, yet, there is another line of early Christian tradition that clearly identifies John the Baptist as the ‘Elijah to come’. The Synoptic Gospels attest to both lines of tradition, with the identification of John as ‘Elijah’ being somewhat more prominent (cf. the allusion in v. 13).

More significance for our study here is the formulation of the “son of man” saying in verse 12. Jesus responds to the disciples, as he often does, by redirecting their question. Without denying the traditional eschatological belief expressed by their question, he positions it in a different way:

“‘Eliyyah, (hav)ing come first, will (indeed) set down all (thing)s from (what they were before) [i.e. restore them], and (yet) how is it (then) written about the son of man, that he should suffer many (thing)s and be made out as nothing?”

The expression “the son of man”, in the phrase “written about the son of man”, seems to be more or less equivalent to “the Anointed (one)” (i.e., the Messiah). However, the apparent equivalence may be misleading. Jesus’ wording may simply assume, as his disciples now realize, that he is the Messiah—the Divine Messenger of the end-time, who will usher in the Kingdom of God. The saying can be understood quite well if “the son of man” is, again, primarily regarded as a self-reference by Jesus; to paraphrase— “how is it then written about me, as the Messiah, that I should suffer many things…?”

In any case, as with the Passion predictions, it is Jesus’ human suffering that is being emphasized, in association with the expression “son of man”. He continues to teach his disciples, preparing them for the suffering that he is to endure in Jerusalem.

Mark 10:45

The same emphasis can be found in the “son of man” saying in Mark 10:45, occurring at the conclusion of an episode (vv. 35-45) set toward the end of the journey to Jerusalem (and after the third Passion-prediction [vv. 33-34]). Jesus’ teaching in verses 42-45, which may originally have circulated as separate sayings, stresses the need for humility and self-sacrifice among his disciples. They are to follow his own example, in this regard. Here the use of “the son of man” in verse 45 clearly functions as a self-reference:

“For even the son of man did not come to be served, but (rather) to serve, and to give himself as (the means of) loosing (from bondage), in exchange for many.”

In the narrative context, this saying certainly alludes, again, to Jesus’ impending suffering (and death) in Jerusalem. The phrase “to give himself…in exchange for many” indicates an act of self-sacrifice, as we also see in the wording of Jesus at the Last Supper (14:24 par). It is the first time in the Gospel narrative that Jesus’ death is described in salvific terms—referred to as a lu/tron, that is, the means of loosing (i.e., freeing, vb lu/w) someone from bondage. Jesus gives himself, sacrificially, “in exchange” for many others, in order to set them free.

Mark 14:21, 41

Finally, though they occur at a later point in the narrative—in the heart of the Passion narrative—the “son of man” references in Mark 14:21 and 41 obviously serve, for Jesus, as a self-reference, but one that is closely associated with his suffering and death. In a sense, these two references serve to frame the narrative of Jesus’ suffering (passion) prior to his arrest. The betrayal of Jesus, alluded to (by the verb paradi/dwmi) in the second and third Passion predictions, is the focus here, emphasized most dramatically in verse 21:

“(On the one hand, it is) that the son of man goes under just as it has been written about him; and (yet,) for that man, through whom the son of man is given along [paradi/dotai], (it would be) fine for him, that man, if he had not come to be (born)!”

As in 9:12 (see above), Jesus’ suffering is described as something foretold (prophesied) in the Scriptures. Following his agony in Gethsemane (vv. 32-41), the time of his betrayal finally comes, the moment that sets in motion the process leading to his death. The wording Jesus used to announce this, in verse 41, indicates that it is a moment of eschatological significance:

“It holds off (no longer)—the hour has come! See, the son of man is given into the hands of sinful (men)!”

This climactic declaration brings to fulfillment the “son of man” statements by Jesus dealing with the idea of his suffering (and death) as a “son of man”. As I have discussed, this usage likely alludes to the poetic tradition whereby the expression connotes the weakness and mortality of the human condition. At the same time, Jesus clearly is using it as a self reference: “this son man” —namely, himself.

In the fourth (and last) part of this article on the Synoptic (Markan) sayings, we will look at a seemingly quite different context for the expression “the son of man” —namely, the sayings in 13:26 and 14:62 par, with their reference to the exalted/heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 2)

Mark 8:31 / 9:31 / 10:33, continued
The First Passion-Prediction: Mk 8:31

“And he began to teach them that ‘It is necessary (for) the son of man to suffer many (thing)s, and to be removed from examination [i.e. rejected] under the Elders and the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers [i.e. Scribes], and to be killed off, and (then), after three days, to stand up (again).”

The principal action that will take place is indicated by the verbal infinitive paqei=n (“to suffer“)—that is, there will be considerable suffering for Jesus in Jerusalem. The extent (and severity) of this suffering is suggested by the substantive adjective polla/ (“many [thing]s”). This is informative for an understanding of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as it is used here.

On the surface, this prediction of suffering is completely at odds with Peter’s confession identifying Jesus as the “Anointed One” (v. 29), especially if that title was referring to the royal Messiah of the Davidic Ruler figure-type (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). It was certainly not thought that the Davidic Messiah would experience intense suffering when he arrived in Jerusalem; rather, he was expected to subdue the nations and establish a new (Messianic) kingdom on earth, centered at Jerusalem. The context in Luke 17:20-21 and 19:11ff suggests that at some of Jesus’ followers and observers expected the establishment of this Messianic kingdom when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. The entire Triumphal Entry scene reflects this same expectation (cf. the recent notes on this scene, in this context of the Synoptic narrative).

With regard to the Passion-prediction, there may be an intentional distinction being made (by Jesus) between the title “Anointed (One)” and “Son of Man”. Peter’s confession emphasizes Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah (who was to appear in victory and glory), while the Passion-prediction, emphasizing Jesus’ impending suffering, focuses on his identity as “Son of Man”.

There can be no doubt that “son of man” in the Passion-prediction is a self-reference by Jesus (on the basis for this usage of the expression, see the Introduction, and Part 1). In other words, for Jesus to say “it is necessary for the son of man to suffer”, this is much as if he had said “it is necessary for me to suffer” (cf. the Matthean version of the prediction mentioned below, and discussed briefly in Part 1). At the same time, “Son of Man” here also functions as a kind of title, especially insofar as the Passion-prediction represents a response to Peter’s confession identifying Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Messiah). While Jesus affirms Peter’s confession, he also, at the same time, points the disciples in a different direction, emphasizing his suffering as the “Son of Man” (see the Summary section below).

Even as there was no expectation of a “suffering Messiah” in Judaism at this time (for more on this, cf. my article in the series “Yeshua the Messiah”), so also there is no evidence for the idea of a “suffering Son of Man”. Conceivably, the idea could have developed from reflection on the famous ‘Suffering Servant’ passage in Isa 52:13-53:12, which early Christians did apply to Jesus’ suffering and death (Lk 22:37; Acts 3:13; 8:32-33, etc); but it hard to see how this passage would have related to the specific title “Son of Man”, prior to its application to Jesus.

In my view, a better explanation for Jesus’ usage here in the Passion-prediction involves the fundamental significance of the expression (cf. references in the Introduction)—as relating to the human condition, especially in its limitation, weakness, and mortality. By applying the expression “son of man” to himself in the context of his Passion, Jesus is identifying with the human condition, particularly with regard to the experience of weakness, suffering and death. For an objective statement to this same effect, cf. the wording in the famous Christ-hymn in Philippians (2:6-11).

The use of the modal verbal form dei= (“it is necessary”) to introduce this announcement of the Son of Man’s suffering is also significant. It is relatively rare in the core Synoptic tradition, occurring only several times in the words of Jesus. The verb is more frequent in Luke, including several important instances in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, where the necessity of Jesus’ suffering is predicated upon the fact that it was prophesied in the Scriptures (22:37; 24:7, 44). This idea, however, was scarcely a Lukan invention; it reflects early Christian belief, and is stated equally clearly (by Jesus) in the Matthean Passion narrative (26:54). Indeed, it seems likely that the force of dei= in the Passion-prediction relates to the same prophetic mandate, and that this is how Jesus intended it to be understood.

As I have noted, the form of the Passion-prediction is relatively fixed within the Gospel Tradition. There are some notable differences, however. Matthew’s version (16:21), in its initial wording, reads:

“…that it is necessary (for) him to go away into Yerushalaim and to suffer many (thing)s”

The italicized portion marks the variation from the (shorter) Markan version. Since the prediction is couched within the Synoptic narration, the Gospel writer has a bit more freedom to add explanatory detail, such as the phrase “go away into Jerusalem”, which also serves to emphasize the location where these events will take place (and the goal of the coming journey). Also noteworthy is the way that the author essentially explains the title/expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus. Luke’s version (9:22) here, by contrast, is identical to Mark.

The Second Passion-Prediction: Mk 9:31

The second prediction begins as the first did, with a warning by Jesus (8:30), not to tell anyone about his Messianic identity. In this instance (9:30), he warns his disciples not to inform anyone about his travels. The reason, indicated by the opening words of v. 31, is that he wanted privacy so that he could teach his disciples about what was to come in Jerusalem. This provides the setting for the second Passion-prediction:

“For he was teaching his learners [i.e. disciples], and said to them that ‘The son of man is (about to be) given along into (the) hands of men, and they will kill him off, and, (hav)ing been killed off, after three days, he will stand up (again).'” (9:31)

This second prediction has a simpler and shorter form, omitting mention (except in an indirect way) of the suffering the “son of man” will experience in Jerusalem. Here, the focus is not on suffering, but on process of death and resurrection. The process has three connected components:

    • “he will be given along into the hands of men” —alluding to his betrayal, arrest, and interrogation/trial
    • “they will kill him off” —his death at the “hands of men”
    • “he will stand up (again)” —his resurrection

The last two components are most closely connected, as indicated by the temporal/relational clause between them: “and, (hav)ing been killed off…”. Matthew’s version (17:22-23) differs only slightly in wording, while the Lukan version (9:44) is abbreviated, including only the first statement (“the son of man is about to be given along into [the] hands of men”), along with a solemn introduction by Jesus (“You must set these words into your ears…”).

The Third Passion-Prediction: Mk 10:33f

The third prediction is the longest, and appears to be a conflation of the first two, but with other expanded detail as well. In the context of the narrative, it has a climactic position, marking Jesus’ impending approach to Jerusalem:

“See, we step up (soon) to Yerushalaim, and the son of man will be given along to the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers, and they will judge against him to death, and (then) will give him along to the nations, and they will toy with him and spit on him, and they will scourge him and kill him off, and (then), after three days, he will stand up (again).” (10:33-34)

The expansions give more detail to both the suffering the “son of man” will experience, and the process of his being put to death. Thus, suffering and death are the main points of emphasis. The Matthean (20:17-19) and Lukan (18:31-33) versions generally follow the Markan, but in a simpler and more streamlined form. Luke notably frames the saying in terms of Jesus’ suffering (and death) as a fulfillment of Scripture (v. 31). This introduces a theme that will play an important role in the narrative of Luke-Acts: the need, as part of the early Christian mission, to offer Scriptural support for the problematic idea that the Messiah (identified as Jesus) would suffer and die.

Summary

Scholars have debated whether the three Synoptic Passion-predictions should be regarded as three separate traditions, or variations of a single tradition. The similarity in formulation would tend to argue in favor of a single underlying tradition, which could be transmitted or presented in various forms. This variation may reflect Markan literary handling of the tradition, or it may pre-date the Gospel writer. One might be inclined to explain the second prediction as a simpler or abbreviated form of the first, and the third as a more expansive version (including more detail from the wider Passion tradition).

In any case, the use of the expression “the son of man” would appear to be the same in all three sayings. It is probably best to focus on the first saying, as I have done above, in the context of the Synoptic tradition. If the connection between the first saying and Peter’s confession (8:29f) is original, then it could indicate that the expression “the son of man” connotes something significant, beyond its use as a self-reference by Jesus (see above).

If so, what is this significance? The idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, would suffer and be put to death in Jerusalem seems to have shocked and scandalized the disciples—as represented in the tradition by Peter’s response (and rebuke) to Jesus (8:32 par [omitted by Luke]). The teaching Jesus gives in v. 31, following as it does Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, may be intended as a point of contrast (and warning). He would not arrive in Jerusalem in glory, victoriously establishing the kingdom of God on earth—at least, not in a way that would conform to popular expectations. Instead, as a “son of man”, he would experience suffering and death.

If the expression connotes anything specific in these sayings, it surely involves an allusion to the poetic tradition, by which the parallel “man / son of man” indicates the weakness and mortality of the human condition (cf. again the references in the Introduction). By calling himself “the son of man”, Jesus is identifying himself with this aspect of the human condition.

At the same time, one could argue that the expression was primarily intended by Jesus as a self-reference, and that, on this basis, the expression came to be preserved in the Greek text of the Passion prediction(s). The definiteness of the articular expression in Greek (or the determinate state in Aramaic, av*n`a&-rB^) could carry much the same meaning (and emphasis) as in the earlier sayings of 2:10 and 28 (discussed in Part 1). Jesus would then be referring to himself as “this son of man” —i.e., as for myself, as this son of man… .

The centrality of the Passion-predictions, among of the Synoptic “son of man” sayings, is significant in this regard. For they emphasize both the suffering of Jesus, and his subsequent exaltation. The primary focus is on Jesus’ suffering, yet the promise of exaltation (in the resurrection) is also present. Still, the association of the expression “son of man” with this latter aspect will not come clearly into view until the climactic sayings, in 13:26 and 14:62 par.

In Part 3 of this article, we will give consideration to  the Passion predictions as they govern the Synoptic (Markan) narrative (in chaps. 9-10), while also examining the other “son of man” sayings that occur in the narrative (prior to 14:62).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 1)

The Synoptic “Son of Man” Sayings

When considering the use of the expression “(the) son of man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) in the Gospels (see the Introduction), we shall begin with the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptic Tradition. The core tradition is represented by the Gospel of Mark. All of the “son of man” sayings in Mark are also found in the Gospels of Matthew and/or Luke.

Before proceeding, we should revisit the three main uses of the expression “son of man” (Heb. <d*a* /B#, Aram. an`a$ rB^) which would likely inform, or relate to, the usage (as spoken by Jesus) in the Gospels:

    • The indefinite usage (i.e., “a person…”, “one…”), whereby the speaker/author can refer to him/herself in the third person.
    • The generic usage, whereby the expression simply means “a human being”; in Old Testament poetry, where the expression is paired with “man” (using one the four nouns, <d*a*, vona$, vya!, or rb#G#), the emphasis tends to be on the limitations and weakness (including the mortality) of the human condition.
    • A special reference to the exalted figure in Daniel 7:13-14 (“[one] like a son of man”).

In the Gospel of Mark, we find a progression involving these three lines of tradition:

    • The first two sayings (2:10, 28) involve, rather simply, the indefinite and/or generic use.
    • The seven sayings in the heart of the narrative (also in 14:21, 41) involve the indefinite use, but drawing, it would seem, upon the emphasis the expression conveys in Old Testament poetry—viz., alluding to the weakness and mortality of the human condition.
    • Two of the final sayings (13:26; 14:62) clearly allude to the exalted figure of Dan 7:13-14.
Mark 2:10 & 28

The first “son of man” saying occurs in the context of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic in Capernaum (2:1-12; par Matt 9:1-8; Lk 5:17-26). This episode represents one of the first recorded miracles in the Synoptic narrative, and it introduces a conflict theme—between Jesus and the religious leaders, in response to his ministry—that is developed over the course of the narrative. Here, the particular issue—and the point of objection for the religious leaders (‘scribes’)—is the declaration by Jesus to the paralyzed man in verse 5: “your sins are put away”. By this declaration, Jesus indicates that he has the authority (and ability) to remove the guilt and effects of a person’s sins—an authority which, in their mind, belongs to God alone (v. 6). For a human being to take on the authority of God in such a way was, effectively, to give insult (vb blasfhme/w) to God.

This provides the background (and context) for Jesus’ use of the expression “the son of man” at the climactic moment of the episode (v. 10), just before he heals the paralyzed man:

“…but (so) that you might see [i.e. know] that the son of man holds authority [e)cousi/a] to put away [vb a)fi/hmi] sins upon the earth…”

At the historical level, it is most unlikely that Jesus uses the expression “the son of man” here as an exalted title for himself (in allusion to Dan 7:13, etc), even though many early Christians might have understood the reference in that way. The issue in the episode, as noted, is that a human being (“son of man”) dares to take the place of God in removing sin for an individual (cf. the comment in Matt 9:8). Thus, it would seem that Jesus is using the expression in its generic sense (see above).

However, the expression occurs with the definite article in Greek, which suggests, on the assumption that the saying would have originally been uttered by Jesus in Aramaic, that the expression was given in the determinate state, with the a– sufformative. Presumably, the Aramaic would have been av*n`a&-rB^, where the a– sufformative would either stand for the definite article or as an emphatic marker.

How does this relate to the statement by Jesus in verse 10? The particular form of the expression, suggested above, could either indicate definiteness or emphasis. In the latter case, Jesus would be saying, “…a son of man [i.e. human being] can forgive sin on earth”; in the former, the point would be that “this son of man [i.e. this particular human being] can (indeed) forgive sin”. In either case, Jesus is identifying himself as the person who can forgive/remove sin, acting on God’s behalf.

The second saying, in 2:28, seems to have a similar focus. It, too, is part of a conflict-episode—the first of the Sabbath-controversy episodes (2:23-28 par), which I discuss in an earlier article (in the series “Jesus and the Law”). Again certain religious leaders raise an objection—this time in response to the conduct of Jesus’ disciples on the Sabbath (v. 24). Jesus answers their objection with an example from Scripture (vv. 25-26) that illustrates how human need (such as hunger) supersedes the Sabbath regulations. This leads to the maxim, in verse 27, which states the principle more directly: “the Šabbat came to be for the man, and not the man for the Šabbat”. That is to say, the Sabbath regulations are for the benefit and service of human beings, and not the other way around. Humankind is referenced by the noun a&nqrwpo$ (with the definite article), lit. “the man” [i.e., mankind].

The saying that follows in verse 28, builds upon this maxim, and brings the episode to a climax:

“And so the son of man is lord even of the Šabbat.”

The case for a generic use of the expression “the son of man” is even stronger here than it was in v. 10, given the clear parallelism between “man” (v. 27) and “son of man” (v. 28). One might paraphrase the relation between the sayings as follows:

“The Šabbat came to be for man…
and so the son of man is even lord of the Šabbat!”

Yet, it is likely that here, as in verse 10, Jesus is referring to himself, specifically, by the definite/determinate “the son of man” (Aramaic av*n*a& rB^). In this regard, one might translate vv. 27-28 as:

“The Šabbat came to be for man…
and this son of man is even lord of the Šabbat!”

Mark 8:31 / 9:31 / 10:33

As noted above, there are seven “son of man” sayings at the heart of the Markan Gospel, and these are anchored by the three Passion-predictions by Jesus—in 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33, respectively. In the Markan version of these sayings, they all use the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou). In each instance, it is quite clear that Jesus is using the expression in reference to himself.

The first of these Passion-predictions occurs in 8:31, following Peter’s confession of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (i.e., Messiah), in verse 29. He warns his disciples not to tell anyone about his Messianic identity (v. 30), and then proceeds to inform them of his impending suffering and death. The first Passion-prediction is couched within the Gospel narration:

“And he began to teach them that ‘It is necessary (for) the son of man to suffer many (thing)s, and to be (remov)ed from consideration by the elders and the chief sacred officials [i.e. priests] and the writers [i.e. scribes], and to be killed off, and (then), after three days, to stand up (again)’.” (v. 31)

This “son of man” reference resembles that of 2:10 in the way it stems from the narration. It is possible to read the syntax so that the use of the expression “son of man” comes from the narrator, rather than from Jesus:

“And, (so) that you might see that the son of man holds authority to put away sins on earth, he says to the paralytic: ‘To you I say, rise up!…'”

Similarly, 8:31 could be treated entirely as narration, or, perhaps, as an indirect quotation:

“And he began to teach them that it is necessary for the son of man to suffer…”

This raises an interesting question regarding the early development of the “son of man” sayings within the tradition. How much are they the product of the Gospel narrative, as the various traditions are presented, in hindsight, with knowledge of Jesus’ identity as the exalted Messiah (and Son of God)? Is it possible that the Synoptic narrative preserves a vestige of this sort of development?

Indeed, there are a number of critical commentators who would regard many, or even all, of the “son of man” sayings as, effectively, the creation of early Christians. That is to say, a Messianic (or Christological) title, identifying Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Dan 7:13f), is placed on the lips of Jesus, even though he did not (necessarily) utter it himself. I find such a theory to be most improbable, on objective grounds. The main argument against it is the utter lack of evidence for such a title (“the Son of Man”) being used by Christians in the first century (see my discussion on this point in the Introduction). The presence of the expression in the Gospel Tradition is best explained as being due to the use of it by Jesus himself.

It is another matter whether the Gospel writers (and their readers) understood the expression principally as a Christological (or Messianic) title. There is some evidence that they did. We should be careful to distinguish between the original use of the expression by Jesus, and how that usage was, subsequently, interpreted and applied by early Christians.

In Parts 2 and 3 of this article on the Synoptic/Markan sayings, we will examine the place of the expression in the Passion-predictions in more detail. Variations in the Matthean and Lukan versions will be noted, and the other “son of man” sayings, connected with the three main Passion-predictions, will also be examined.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Introduction

“Who Is This Son of Man?”
ti/$ e)stin ou!to$ o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou;
John 12:34

This question, asked by people in the crowd who saw and heard Jesus, could just as well be asked by many readers of the New Testament Gospels today—students and scholars alike. Indeed, the use (by Jesus) in the Gospels of the expression “(the) son of man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) has been, and continues to be, one of the most challenging areas of New Testament study.

There are a number of reasons for this. In the first place, the expression occurs with considerable frequency in the Gospels—almost always from the lips of Jesus himself—and yet, it is scarcely to be found at all in the rest of the New Testament. Out of 86 New Testament occurrences, there are just four outside of the Gospels. The instance of Acts 7:56 can still be regarded as part of the Gospel tradition (echoing Mk 14:62 par), and perhaps Revelation 1:3 as well; certainly Rev 1:3 and 14:14 seem to be dependent upon the allusion to Daniel 7:13-14 from Mk 13:26; 14:62 par. As for the only other occurrence, in Hebrews 2:6, this is the result of a citation from Psalm 8:4-6, though it, too, has been shaped by the Gospel tradition.

The form of the Greek expression o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou suggests that it is a title, which is applied to Jesus—and which Jesus applies to himself—in the Gospels. This impression is enhanced by comparisons with other titles such as “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=), or “King of the Jews” (o( basileu\$ tw=n Ioudai/wn), etc. However, if “Son of Man” is meant as a title, it is one which, it would seem, early Christians hardly ever used, and which was not considered particularly important. The lack of usage throughout the New Testament attests to this. The expression “(the) son of man” does not occur once in all of Paul’s letters, nor does it appear as a title, referring to Jesus, anywhere else in the New Testament; the only possible instance, in Acts 7:56, would seem to be dependent upon the tradition in Mark 14:62 par, as noted above.

Every critical theory and proposal, which attempts to explain the usage of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels, struggles to make sense of this disparate, and seemingly contradictory, evidence. The challenges are complicated by two further facts, which may be considered to be related. First, there are two different broad groupings of “son of man” sayings: (i) those which clearly apply to Jesus and his earthly ministry, and (ii) those which refer to a heavenly being who will appear at the end-time, in connection with the coming Judgment. The contexts of these groups would seem to be very different, and yet, Jesus seems to use the expression “the son of man” the same way—and, apparently, with much the same meaning—in each group of sayings.

Second, there continue to be serious disagreements regarding the fundamental meaning and significance of the expression, as it is used by Jesus. There are at least three factors which complicate study and interpretation of the expression:

    1. the relation of the Greek expression to a presumed Aramaic (and/or Hebrew) original
    2. lines of Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition which inform the use of the expression, and
    3. possible development within the Gospel tradition, ranging from the historical level (viz., the actual words/usage of Jesus) to the final literary presentation (including layers of interpretation and theological treatment) of the sayings.

It is worth touching upon these points briefly.

As for the expression “son of man” (Grk [o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) itself, it is a Semitic idiom, found in Hebrew and Aramaic. In Hebrew, the expression is <d*a*-/B# (ben-°¹¼¹m), while, the corresponding Aramaic is (with some variation) vn`a$-rB^ (bar-°§n¹š). The Semitic idiom simply denotes a human being, with the word “son” (/B#/rB^) used in a categorical sense—that is, referring to a member (‘son’) belonging to a particular category or group, with certain distinct characteristics or attributes. In the Old Testament, <d*a* /B#, without the definite article, often occurs in parallel with simple <d*a* (“man[kind]”), as if to give confirmation that “son of man” is another way of saying “man” (i.e., human).

When we consider the way that the Hebrew (or Aramaic) expression was used, prior to (or contemporary with) the time of Jesus, we find three distinctive uses which would seem to applicable to Jesus’ own usage (in the Gospels). These are:

    1. As a self-reference, used in a generic or indefinite sense. This would be comparable to the generic use of “a man” or “one” in English. Referring to oneself this way, in the third person, reflects a certain politeness or modesty, but also allows a person to apply a general principle to one’s own situation. An even closer parallel might be found in the generic/indefinite use of man (related to mann) in German.
    2. The general sense of “a human being”, which is in accordance with the Old Testament usage (Psalm 146:3, etc), and also the earliest extra-biblical attestation for the expression in Aramaic (Sefire Inscription III, lines 16-17). As noted above, “son of man” (<d*a* /B#) is frequently paired with “man” (<d*a*, vona$, vya! or rb#G#) in Old Testament poetry (Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:5[4]; 80:18[17]; 144:3 [vona$ /B#]; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43). Often the emphasis is on the limitation and weakness of the human condition, especially in comparison with God; this can even include the specific idea of human mortality.
    3. The use of the Aramaic vn`a$ rB^ in Daniel 7:13, referring to the human appearance (“[one] like a son of man”) of an exalted/heavenly being who comes before YHWH; this human appearance is in marked contrast to the beasts of the vision (i.e., earthly rulers and kingdoms) in vv. 2-8.

To this may be added a fourth line of tradition:

    • The 93 occurrences of the expression in the book of Ezekiel (see also Dan 8:17), instances where Divine/heavenly beings address the prophet, i.e., as a mortal human being (“son of man”). As in usage #2 (above), there is a distinction drawn between the human being (prophet) and the Divine being who encounters him.

New Testament scholars have attempted, in various ways, to delineate between the original sayings of Jesus (and thus his use of the expression “son of man”) and how early Christians (including the Gospel writers) would have understood and explained this usage. As we proceed in this series, such critical theories and analysis will be referenced, along with a careful consideration of possible development within the Gospel Tradition.

In the first two parts of this series, we will examine the occurrences of the expression “son of man” in the Gospel of Mark.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 3

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology, continued

We now turn to the final part of this final division of our study (on John 1:14):

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts) [Part 1]
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology [Part 2]
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ [Part 3]

The Divine Pre-existence of Jesus Christ

Nearly all commentators recognize that the Gospel of John contains a strong pre-existence Christology—identifying Jesus Christ as the pre-existent Son of God. In the Prologue, he is identified as the incarnate Logos; however, in vv. 14-18, the Gospel writer transitions from the Logos concept to the Son concept that dominates the remainder of the Gospel.

In Part 1, I discussed the exaltation Christology that tended to define the Sonship of Jesus in the early Christian Tradition. By the year 60 A.D., a pre-existence Christology had begun to take hold in Christian thought, developing in a number of ways. Believers came to understand that Jesus must have been God’s Son even prior to his earthly life and ministry. However, in my view, there is very little clear evidence for such a pre-existence Christology much before 60 A.D. It is virtually absent from the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts, and notably absent from the early Gospel preaching recorded in Acts. Some commentators would see a pre-existence Christology in the Synoptic Son of Man sayings (cf. Hamerton-Kelly, pp. 22-102), but this is questionable at best.

1. The Pauline Letters

By all accounts, the earliest evidence for the idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus is found in Paul’s letters, but it is far from a dominant or prominent theme. Perhaps the earliest Pauline reference where this idea of pre-existence is indicated is 1 Corinthians 8:6:

“…one God, the Father, out of whom all (thing)s (came to be), and we unto Him; and one Lord, Yeshua (the) Anointed, through [dia/] whom all (thing)s (came to be), and we through him.”

A role is assigned to Jesus Christ in creation—both the original creation (of “all things”), and the new creation (of “we” as believers). There is no verb specified, but it would seem appropriate to fill in the verb of becoming (gi/nomai), which would make this statement by Paul nearly identical with the Johannine Gospel Prologue (1:3): “all (thing)s came to be [e)ge/neto] through [di/a] him”.

Like the Johannine Prologue, Paul may be drawing here upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition, which assigned to the Divine Wisdom (personified) a pre-existent place and involvement in the Creation (Prov 8:22-31). In some Hellenistic Jewish circles, the idea of God creating the universe by his word (Gen 1:3ff) was interpreted in light of the philosophical implications of the term lo/go$. Philo of Alexandria blended together the Wisdom and Logos (Word) conceptions (cf. the earlier supplemental article), as did the Hellenistic-Jewish Book of Wisdom, and it would seem that the author of the Johannine Prologue did much the same, identifying the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God with the person of Jesus. Given the Wisdom-emphasis in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, and the specific wording by Paul in 1:24, he may have similarly identified Jesus with the pre-existent Wisdom.

Also of interest is Paul’s interpretation of the Exodus traditions (spec. Exod 17:1-6 and Num 20:7-11 [cf. Psalm 78:15-16]) in 1 Cor 10:1-10. In verse 4, Paul identifies Jesus Christ as the Rock from which water flowed, and which (according to tradition) followed the Israelites all during their journeys: “and the Rock was [h@n] the Anointed (One)”. If Paul understands this in a literal-historical sense, rather than an allegorical-typological sense, then it would clearly attest to a belief in Jesus’ (Divine) pre-existence. Again, Paul may be influenced by Jewish Wisdom tradition in this regard; in On Allegorical Interpretation II.86, Philo interprets the Rock as representing both the Wisdom and the Word (Logos) of God (cf. also III.162, and The Worse Attacks the Better §§115, 118; Hamerton-Kelly, p. 132).

Occasionally, Paul makes a statement such as in 1 Cor 15:47, which could imply a heavenly origin for Christ (“the second man [i.e. Christ] is out of heaven”), much as in the Johannine Gospel; however, it could just as easily be understood in terms of an exaltation Christology—indeed, the context of Jesus’ resurrection in chap. 15 suggests that this is the case (see esp. verse 45, i.e., the exalted Jesus “became” a live-giving Spirit). Much clearer as evidence for belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is the wording in 2 Corinthians 4:4, where Jesus Christ is declared to be “the image [ei)kw/n] of God”. This also could be understood from the standpoint of an exaltation Christology; however, the parallel statement in Col 1:15 makes it all but certain that Paul has Divine pre-existence in mind. This is confirmed by the evidence of further influence of Wisdom-theology in shaping Paul’s manner of expression; compare, for example, the wording in Col 1:15 and 2 Cor 3:18 with Wisdom 7:26.

In Galatians 4:4, and again in Romans 8:3, Paul refers to God “sending His Son”, using language which resembles that of John 3:16-17. Now, in the Johannine Gospel it is clearly understood that God the Father has sent His Son from heaven, and that the Son has Divine pre-existence. It is not as clear, in these references, that Paul holds the same view. However, it is probably the best way to understand his view of Jesus’ Sonship. Particularly in Gal 4:4, the wording seems to indicate that Jesus was God’s Son prior to his human birth (compare Rom 1:3).

Probably the most famous Pauline passage evincing a belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is the ‘Christ-hymn’ of Philippians 2:6-11. I have discussed this passage at length in an earlier series of notes. There I addressed the possibility that Paul may have adapted an earlier hymn, incorporating it into his letter. If so, then the hymn, with its balancing of pre-existence (vv. 6-8) and exaltation (vv. 9-11) Christologies, would have been written some time earlier than Philippians itself (i.e., before c. 60 A.D.). It is conceivable that this Christ-hymn predates the Pauline references in Corinthians and Galatians (mid/late-50s). Even if Paul did not compose the hymn proper, he certainly affirmed the Christology it contains; this is confirmed by the references already mentioned above, but also, it would seem, by 2 Cor 8:9, which probably alludes to something like the ‘kenosis’ idea of Phil 2:6-8:

“…for you [i.e. your sake], (though) being rich, he became poor”

Almost certainly, Paul is not speaking here in socio-economic terms; rather, “rich” and “poor” are to be understood figuratively, for Jesus’ Divine status and his incarnate human state (after he “emptied” himself), respectively.

The Pauline authorship of Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters remains disputed. Even if one regards any (or all) of these letters as pseudonymous, they unquestionably reflect Pauline thought and tradition. While there is a strong predestination emphasis in Ephesians, I do not find any clear references which would require a belief in Jesus’ pre-existence, and could not be explained just as well in terms of an exaltation Christology; but cf. the references discussed by Hamerton-Kelly, pp. 178-187. Much the same holds true for the Pastoral Letters (cf. the predestination emphasis in 2 Tim 1:9-10; Titus 1:2). However, the ‘Christ-hymn’ in 1 Tim 3:16 (treated in earlier notes) may, like Phil 2:6-11 and the other Pauline references discussed above, assume the incarnation of a pre-existent Christ; at the very least, the implication is that something Divine (from God) was made to “shine forth” (i.e., appear, made manifest) in human flesh, in the person of Jesus.

2. The Remainder of the New Testament

I do not find any references to the pre-existence of Christ in the letters of James, 2 Peter, or Jude, although mention should be made of Jude 5. If one excepts the majority text reading, then the author is attributing the Exodus of Israel to the guidance of Jesus (presumably, a reference to the pre-existent Christ’s presence in earlier history, cp. 1 Cor 10:4 [see above]); however, a strong argument can be made for the minority reading “[the] Lord”, with God/YHWH as the likely referent.

1 Peter 1:20 is an interesting case study. It clearly refers to Jesus as having been “known beforehand” (vb proginw/skw) by God, even before the creation of the cosmos. But does this refer to Divine pre-existence, in the way we typically understand it? After all, the verb proginw/skw is just as easily applied to believers (Rom 8:29)—being known by God beforehand, even before the creation (cf. Eph 1:4; Rev 13:8; 17:8). It is certainly possible that Peter (or the author) held a belief in Jesus’ pre-existence, but this is not clearly expressed in the letter; however, cf. the references discussed by Hamerton-Kelly, pp. 258-62.

The situation surrounding 1 Peter 1:20 seems to apply to many different references in the book of Revelation. The exalted and Divine status of Jesus is expressed throughout the book, to the point where titles of God (the Father) can be applied equally, without qualification, to Christ (the Son). For example, the declarative “I am” title “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8; 21:6) is spoken by Jesus in 22:13. The title certainly implies Divine pre-existence, as the qualifying existential phrase-title “the (One) being, and the (One who) was, and the (One) coming” (cf. also 1:4; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5) indicates. Jesus qualifies his Divine title differently in 22:13: “…the beginning and the end”, without applying the three-fold existential title (unless Jesus is also identified as the speaker in 1:8).

The author of the book of Revelation (and/or John as the seer) probably held a belief in the Divine pre-existence of Jesus; yet, on the whole, this is not emphasized in the book. There is, however, a strong pre-existence aspect to the entire range of eschatological symbolism and imagery of the visions. By this I mean that one may identify heavenly archetypes which are manifested (on earth) at the end time. One notes the many references to things or persons “coming down” from heaven, which echoes the Christological language of the Johannine Gospel (esp. the repeated use of the verb katabai/nw, “step down”), referring to Son’s heavenly origin. If the book of Revelation is regarded as a product of the same Johannine churches which produced the Gospel and Letters, then it is all but certain that the author and readers would have held a definite pre-existence Christology.

The Letter to the Hebrews

The introduction (exordium) of Hebrews (1:1-4) clearly evinces a pre-existence Christology, to match that of the Gospel of John and the ‘Christ-hymns’ of Phil 2:6-11 and Col 1:15-20 (see above). Indeed, it would appear that the author is utilizing a comparable ‘Christ-hymn’ in his prologue; at the very least, vv. 2b-4 possess a verse-structure and elements consonant with the other Christ-hymns found in the New Testament. The Divine pre-existence of the Son (Jesus) is indicated in vv. 2b-3a, to be balanced with an expression of the older exaltation Christology in vv. 3b-4. For more on this passage, see my earlier set of notes, along with the recent note on 2:10ff.

This pairing of pre-existence and exaltation corresponds with the thematic structure of Phil 2:6-8, 9-11. Yet chapter 1 of Hebrews definitely is emphasizing Jesus’ Divine pre-existence, as the author’s use of the Scripture chain (catena) in vv. 5-14 indicates. In particular, the quotation of Psalm 102:25-27 in vv. 10-12 is meant to allude to the Son’s role in the Creation (cp. verse 2). Psalm 2:7 [also 2 Sam 7:14] and 110:1 (vv. 5, 13) are references which had previously been given a Messianic interpretation, and then applied to Jesus by early Christians. However, originally Psalm 2:7 and 110:1 were applied in the context of the resurrection (see the discussion in Part 1), whereas here in Hebrews they seem to be understood in terms of the Son’s Divine pre-existence (however, note the exaltation-context of Ps 2:7 & 110:1ff in 5:5-6).

Interestingly, though there is a strong pre-existence emphasis in chapter 1, this aspect of the author’s Christology does not appear to be particularly prominent in the remainder of his work. The superiority of the Son continues to be argued and demonstrated, drawing upon a range of Old Testament traditions, yet the focus tends to be on Jesus’ earthly mission—especially his sacrificial death. This is particularly so for the central line of argument, whereby Jesus fulfills the sacrificial apparatus of the old covenant, which had been administered by the priestly officials. Indeed, Jesus is identified as the great High Priest, who fulfills the sacrifices of the old covenant and ushers in the new covenant. This is the great theme of chapters 5-10. But, of particular interest for us here is the author’s use of the figure of Melchizedek in chapter 7 (introduced in 5:6ff, and again in 6:19-20).

The main significance of Melchizedek (cf. the original historical tradition in Gen 14:18ff) for the author of Hebrews, as it is for the author of Psalm 110, is that it demonstrates a person can be a (high) priest of God without being a descendant of Aaron and the Levites. This is the point of the summary in vv. 1-10. Yet, as the argument continues in vv. 11-26, it would seem that the author imbues the figure of Melchizedek with a deeper significance. There is an indication that Melchizedek possessed a certain Divine power and perfection (v. 16, 26ff). Moreover, the implication is that Melchizedek has an eternal existence (already suggested in verse 3), which makes him the ideal archetype for the Priesthood of the Son of God.

There is some contemporary Jewish precedent for such an exalted view of Melchizedek. For example, Philo treats Melchizedek as a symbol of the Divine Logos in On Allegorical Interpretation III.82. However, it is more likely the author of Hebrews has something like the view of the Qumran text 11QMelchizedek in mind. In this fragmentary text, Melchizedek is identified as a heavenly Redeemer-figure who will appear at the end-time, to rescue God’s people and defeat the forces of wickedness. Possibly he is to be equated with the angel Michael; but, in any case, this text provides evidence that, at least in some Jewish circles, Melchizedek was treated as a heavenly/angelic figure. Probably the author of Hebrew shared this general view, which made the application of the figure (and the reference in Psalm 110:4) to the person of Jesus all the more appropriate. As the pre-existent Son of God, Jesus is a heavenly being much like Melchizedek, though, as the Son, he is far superior.

In spite of these aspects of the figure of Melchizedek, it should be noted that the idea of Jesus’ pre-existence is not particularly emphasized by the author in chapter 7. Rather, it is the exaltation of Jesus, following his sacrificial death (and resurrection), that is primarily in view. For more on the Messianic and Christological aspects of the author’s use of Melchizedek, cf. the supplemental article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

References above marked “Hamerton-Kelly” are to R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man: A Study of the Idea of Pre-Existence in the New Testament, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series, vol. 21 (Cambridge: 1973).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 2

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology, continued

This final division of our study (on John 1:14) is presented in three parts:

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts) [Part 1]
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology [Part 2]
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ [Part 3]

We turn now to Part 2:

The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology

In the earlier exegesis of John 1:14, we examined how the Gospel Prologue, and its underlying Logos-poem, draws heavily on Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition. The main Scriptural passage is Proverbs 8:22-31, in which Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*) is personified as a Divine entity that was present with God (YHWH) at the beginning of Creation (vv. 22-26), and who worked alongside Him in the creation process (vv. 27-30). The passage concludes with a reference (v. 31) implying Wisdom’s desire to dwell among human beings on earth.

The line of Wisdom-tradition expressed in this famous Scripture passage was developed by subsequent generations of Jewish authors and expositors. Most notable, from a New Testament standpoint, are certain key Hellenistic Jewish authors, writing in Greek, who expressed this Wisdom-theology in the language and idiom of Greek philosophy. The deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom is a prime example, as are the writings of Philo of Alexandria (a contemporary of early Christians in the mid-first century). Philo, in particular, subsumes the Hellenistic Jewish concept of Divine Wisdom (sofi/a) under the philosophical-theological use of the term lo/go$. On Philo’s use of lo/go$, and its parallels with the Johannine Prologue, cf. my recent article (in the “Ancient Parallels” feature).

As I have discussed, there is wide agreement, among commentators on the Johannine writings, that the Gospel Prologue draws upon Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition, under the term lo/go$, much in the manner that Philo does. The emphasis, in the Genesis Creation account, on God creating through the spoken word (1:3ff), also greatly facilitated this development. It is attested by Philo, and also is found in the Book of Wisdom—note, for example, the close (synonymous) parallel, between creation through the Divine Word (lo/go$) and Wisdom (so/fia) in 9:1-2. Thus the Logos/Wisdom connection with creation, expressed in the Prologue (vv. 1-5), was well-established when the Gospel (and the Logos-poem of the Prologue) was composed.

At least as important for the Prologue was the idea of the Divine Wisdom seeking to find a dwelling place among human beings (and especially God’s people Israel) on earth. The key references—esp. Prov 8:31; Wisd 7:27-28; 9:10; Sirach 24:7-8ff; 1 Enoch 42:1-2—have been discussed. In particular, the emphasis in 1 Enoch 42:2, on the failure of Wisdom to find a welcome place among human beings, is close to what we find in vv. 10-11 of the Prologue. The rejection of God’s Wisdom by the majority of people is a familiar motif in Wisdom tradition (cf. Sirach 15:7; Baruch 3:12, etc).

Thus, from the standpoint of the theology of the Prologue, Jesus is to be identified with the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God—indeed, this Word/Wisdom (Logos) became incarnate in the person of Jesus (1:14), so as to dwell among human beings in an entirely new (and unprecedented) way.

While this Wisdom background of the Johannine Prologue (and Gospel) has long been recognized by commentators, there has come to be an increasing awareness, among New Testament scholars in recent decades, of a similar, and more general, Wisdom influence on early Christology. Here we will examine briefly the evidence for this, to see how the Johannine Christology, identifying Jesus with the pre-existent Wisdom of God, relates to the wider Christology of the New Testament. Our study will focus on two areas: (1) the Synoptic Tradition, particularly the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and (2) the Pauline Letters, especially the references in 1 Corinthians 1-3 and Colossians 1:15-20.

1. The Synoptic Tradition (Matthew-Luke)

It was widely recognized, by the first believers and those who heard Jesus speak, that he possessed great wisdom (sofi/a). This is specifically emphasized in one tradition—the episode in the synagogue at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6 par)—where the people react with wonder at Jesus’ teaching: “From where (did) these (thing)s (come) to this (man)? and what (is) th(is) wisdom given to this (man)?” (6:2 [par Matt 13:54]; cp. 1:22 par). The implication is that Jesus has been gifted by a special wisdom from God.

The Lukan Infancy narrative also emphasizes the wisdom possessed by Jesus, referencing it, more generally, in the summary narrative statements of 2:40 and 52. Elsewhere in Luke-Acts, wisdom is specifically associated with the Spirit of God, indicating its Divine origin and inspired character (Lk 21:15; Acts 6:3, 10).

Particularly notable are several references in Matthew and Luke (part of the so-called “Q” material). First, at the close of the section Lk 7:18-35 (par Matt 11:1-19), we have the declaration by Jesus:

“And (yet) Wisdom is proven to be right from her offspring.” (v. 35)

The Matthean version (11:19c) differs in reading “her works,” instead of “her offspring”. Verse 35 may represent a separate wisdom-saying by Jesus; however, in the context of vv. 18-35 (esp. vv. 31-34), emphasizing the rejection of both Jesus and John the Baptist by the majority of people, the saying implies that Jesus and the Baptist are both “offspring” of Wisdom—that is, of Divine Wisdom personified (as in Prov 8:22-31, cf. above). The Matthean version implies, specifically, that they are doing the “works” of Wisdom—especially, viz., in their teaching/preaching. The rejection of Wisdom’s “offspring” (Jesus) should be viewed as part of the rejection of Divine Wisdom itself. The motif of the “offspring” of Wisdom relates to the feminine personification of Wisdom (the Hebrew word hm*k=j* and Greek sofi/a both being grammatically feminine)—Wisdom is like a woman who gives birth to children.

This begins to resemble the idea in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:35), of Jesus coming to be born as a result of the coming of the Spirit of God upon Mary, his mother. In a somewhat similar manner, Jesus is identified as God’s Son when the Spirit comes down upon him at the Baptism (3:21 par; cf. the discussion in Part 1). The Messianic motif of the coming of the Spirit upon the anointed/chosen one of God (Isa 42:1; 61:1), the “child” of God (pai=$, Isa 42:1 LXX), is a vital traditional source for the Baptism scene in the Gospels. In Isa 11:1-2ff, a similar Messianic passage, wisdom and the Spirit of God are closely connected (v. 2), so that one can fairly assume that Jesus, in the Gospel portrait, was fully endued with the wisdom of God when the Spirit came upon him.

Wisdom 7:27-28 suggests the possibility that this Gospel Christology involves, in at least a rudimentary way, the idea that the pre-existent Wisdom of God (vv. 25-26) came to dwell in the person of Jesus. He and John the Baptist both could be identified as among the holy ones, the chosen prophets and “friends of God”, in whom Wisdom came to reside (v. 27f) and work.

A second Q-passage is Luke 11:49-51 (par Matt 23:34-36), which begins:

“For this (reason), the Wisdom of God said: ‘I will send forth to them foretellers [i.e. prophets] and (those) sent forth from (me), and (some) of them they will kill off and pursue…'” (v. 49)

The context of this saying is the lament in vv. 46-48ff, condemning the religious teachers/leaders of the time, identifying them with those in past generations who persecuted and killed the representatives of God, the prophets. The implication is that Jesus is one of these messengers of God, a true teacher who proclaims the word of God to the people. Here, in the Lukan version, which probably reflects the ‘original’ version of the Q tradition, the inspired prophets are “sent forth” by the Wisdom of God—the Divine Wisdom being again personified. Interestingly, in the Matthean version (23:34), by omitting the Wisdom reference, the Gospel writer effectively makes Jesus the speaker of the statement spoken by Wisdom: “For this reason, see, I send forth to you…”. The implication may well be that Jesus himself represents the Divine Wisdom.

In a third Q tradition (Lk 11:29-32, par Matt 12:38-42), Jesus is identified as possessing wisdom far greater than that of Solomon (v. 31), just as his preaching is greater than that of Jonah (v. 32). This Wisdom-reference is connected with a Son of Man saying; in various ways, the title “Son of Man”, as applied by Jesus (to himself) in the Gospel Tradition, identifies Jesus with the exalted/heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14. In the Gospel of John, as we have seen, the Son of Man sayings are understood in the special Johannine theological sense of the pre-existent Son’s heavenly origin. Some scholars would see a similar theological significance in the Synoptic Son of Man sayings, but I find little or no evidence for this: some of the Synoptic sayings relate to the exaltation of Jesus, and of the (subsequent) end-time appearance of this exalted figure, but do not particularly indicate pre-existence.

It has been argued that the Gospel of Matthew evinces a Wisdom Christology that identifies Jesus as both the Wisdom and Word (i.e. the Torah) of God, in an incarnate manner that resembles, in certain respects, the view of Jesus in the Gospel of John. I find this line of argument to be overstated, but there are several Matthean passages that are worth mentioning. First, there is 11:25-30, which contains Q material (vv. 25-27, par Lk 10:21-22), to which was added the sayings in vv. 28-30. These verses have a strong Wisdom orientation, utilizing wording that suggests Jesus may be identified himself with the Wisdom of God (personified); note, for example the similar motifs and parallels of wording in Sirach 51:23-26ff. The call for people to come and learn from him resembles the call of Wisdom in, e.g., Prov 1:20ff; 8:1ff, etc.

The citation of Psalm 78:2 by Jesus in Matt 13:35 could be taken as implying that he is to be identified with the pre-existent Wisdom of Prov 8:22-31. See, similarly in this context, the statements in vv. 11 and 16-17; these verses represent traditional material (Synoptic/Markan and “Q”), but the Matthean presentation suggests a theological (and Christological) development of the tradition.

In the Matthean “Sermon on the Mount”, rooted at least partly in Q-material, there is a similar kind of theological development, in which Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah carries an authority which matches that of the Torah itself—cf. the sayings in 5:17-20, and throughout the Antitheses of vv. 21-48. For more on these passages, see the notes and articles in the series “Jesus and the Law”. The implication is (or may be) that Jesus, in his person, embodies the very Word (and Wisdom) of God.

2. The Pauline Letters

Paul refers to wisdom, using the word sofi/a, more often than any other New Testament author. However, these references tend to be concentrated in two main sections: (a) 1 Corinthians 1-3, and (b) in and around the ‘Christ-hymn’ of Colossians 1:15-20.

I have discussed these passages extensively in prior notes and articles (cf. the notes on 1 Cor 1:17-2:16, and the article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, along with the notes on Col 1:15-20), so I will deal with them in only a summary fashion here. The Colossians Christ-hymn will also be touched upon in Part 3.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, Paul, in expounding the main proposition of 1:17, develops the theme of the fundamental contrast between human/worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God. The Gospel, however foolish it may seem (in its emphasis on the cross), represents the Divine Wisdom, in contrast with the wisdom prized and valued by the world. The statement in verse 24 goes beyond this thought, seemingly identifying Jesus himself with the Divine Wisdom; this, however, can be misleading, since the context of v. 23 clearly indicates that the focus remains on the crucifixion of Jesus:

“But we proclaim (the) Anointed (One) having been put to the stake [i.e. crucified]—for (the) Yehudeans something (that) trips (them) up, and for (the) nations something foolish, but for the (one)s (who are) called, both Yehudeans and Greeks, (it is the) Anointed (One), (the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God” (vv. 23-24)

The further statement in v. 30 seems even to echo the Johannine idea of the incarnation of the pre-existent Wisdom:

“Out of [i.e. from] Him you are in (the) Anointed Yeshua, who was made to become [e)genh/qh] wisdom for us from God, and (also for us) righteousness, (the ability to) be made holy, and (the) loosing from (bondage)”

The same verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is used here as in Jn 1:14, yet the orientation is different: in Jn 1:14, the pre-existent Wisdom becomes a human being (in the person of Jesus), while here it is Jesus who becomes (lit. is made to become) the Wisdom of God. He “becomes” the Divine Wisdom through his death—painful and humiliating—on the cross. Certainly the resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus is also understood here, though the exaltation does not occur without first the experience of the low point of death. This is the profound paradox of Christian faith—exaltation through shameful suffering and death—in which the Wisdom of God is manifest.

Paul’s line of argument shifts in 2:6, as he begins to speak of wisdom that is discussed among those who are “complete”. The precise nature of this wisdom continues to be debated among commentators. Does it refer to something other than (or beyond) the Gospel of the cross of Christ? I have discussed the subject in the aforementioned article (in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), focusing on verses 10-15. This Wisdom is clearly related to the presence and activity of the Spirit. Note the relative lack of reference to the Spirit in 1:18-2:5ff (only in 2:4), compared to density of references in vv. 10-16. Believers receive the Spirit through trust in Jesus, and come to participate (spiritually) in the death and resurrection of Jesus, becoming united with him. The Wisdom manifest in his death thus becomes open to us, and, through the Spirit, we are able to delve the depths of the Divine Wisdom.

In my view, this Wisdom emphasis in 1 Corinthians is far removed from the Wisdom Christology of the Gospel of John. Much closer to the Johannine Christology are the references in Colossians, which demonstrate that such a Wisdom Christology was not foreign to Paul. The key reference is in 2:2-3, where we find the identification of Jesus himself with the “secret [musth/rion] of God” —

“in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden away.” (v. 3)

This statement goes beyond what we find in 1 Corinthians 1-3; the emphasis is not on the death of Jesus, but on his very person. The ‘Christ-hymn’ earlier in 1:15-20 is most significant in this regard (cf. my earlier series of notes), beginning with the opening declaration in verse 15, in which it is stated that the Son of God (Jesus) is the one—

“who is (the) image [ei)kw/n] of the unseen God…”

This philosophical-theological use of the term ei)kw/n occurs also in 2 Cor 3:18 and 4:4; the wording in these indisputably Pauline verses is almost certainly influenced by Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition, such as we find in Philo and the Book of Wisdom—note, in particular, the wording of Wisd 7:26:

“For she is a shining forth [a)pau/gasma, i.e. reflection] of eternal light,
a looking-glass [e&soptron, i.e. mirror] of the spotless working of God,
and (the) image [ei)kw/n] of His goodness.”

The phrase in Col 1:15b is clearly drawn from the tradition of the (personified) pre-existent Wisdom (of Prov 8:22-31, etc). What follows in 1:16-20 is a pre-existence Christology that resembles, in many ways that of the Johannine Gospel Prologue. Note the following parallels:

This passage will be discussed a bit further, in connection with the Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11, in Part 3.

 

 

 

John 1:14 and the Baptism of Jesus

John 1:14 and the Baptism of Jesus

(This note is supplemental to the article on Jn 1:14 and New Testament Christology [see Part 1].)

“And the Word became flesh…”
kai\ o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

In the exegesis and critical analysis of Jn 1:14, presented thus far in this series, I have discussed how, in my view, the phrase sa\rc e)ge/neto (“came to be flesh”) refers to the birth of the Logos as a human being. Whether this emphasis on a human birth was present in the underlying ‘Logos-poem’ of the Prologue, it would seem be in view for the Gospel writer, particularly given the birth-motif that is in focus in the prior vv. 12-13. Even many commentators who might downplay the birth-aspect of the wording in verse 14, would still include a human birth as part of the incarnation of the Logos—that is, his life and existence as a human being (in the person of Jesus).

However, it should be pointed out, that not all scholars accept this traditional incarnational understanding of the Johannine Christology. While it remains a minority view, there have been, since the beginning of the 20th century (and the Le Quatrième Évangile of A. Loisy, first edition 1903), a small number of commentators and theologians who would maintain that 1:14 refers to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus during the Baptism event (vv. 29-34). Francis Watson offers a clear, if rather brief, survey of the main lines of evidence in support of this view, in his article “Is John’s Christology Adoptionistic?” (in The Glory of Christ in the New Testament: Studies in Christology in Memory of George Bradford Caird, eds. L. D. Hurst and N. T. Wright [Clarendon Press: 1987], pp. 113-24).

Certainly, the references to John the Baptist in the Prologue (vv. 6-8, 15), surrounding as they do vv. 9-12a, 14, would tend to support an association between the manifestation of the Logos on earth (in the person of Jesus) and the Baptism scene. The addition of these Baptist-verses to the Logos-poem places the Logos Christology of the poem more clearly within the context of the Gospel (chaps. 1-3). With the preceding verses 6-8 in view, verses 9-12a can be read as referring to (or at least foreshadowing) the appearance of the Logos in the person of Jesus:

“The true Light, which gives light to every man, was coming [e)rxo/menon] into the world.” (v. 9)
“He was [h@n] in the world…” (v. 10)
“the Logos came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh and set up tent among us…” (v. 14)

The three verbs emphasized in these verses are the same three featured in the Baptist-saying of verse 15; the repetition of this saying in v. 30 clearly positions it as part of the Baptism scene. The implication could then be that the manifestation of the Logos, in the person of Jesus, occurred at the Baptism—this was the moment when the Logos “came to be flesh”, viz., was manifest as a human being.

Perhaps the strongest evidence in favor of this view of the Baptism is the use of the verb katabai/nw (“step down,” i.e., come down, descend) in vv. 32-33. The use of this verb is part of the broader Gospel tradition regarding the Baptism scene, since it also occurs in the Synoptic account(s):

“And straightaway, stepping up out of the water, he [i.e. Jesus] saw the heavens splitting (open), and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [katabai=non] unto him.” (Mk 1:10 par)

This traditional account contains both the verb katabai/nw and the related a)nabai/nw (“step up,” i.e., go up, ascend). These are common verbs, used frequently in narrative; however, in the Gospel of John, they have special theological (and Christological) significance. Within the theological idiom of the Gospel, the verb a)nabai/nw refers to the exaltation of the Son (Jesus)—a process that entails his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. The verb katabai/nw, correspondingly, refers to the coming of the Son to earth (from heaven), in order to fulfill the mission for which he was sent by God the Father.

These verbs feature in the Discourses of chapters 3 and 6, in connection with the Johannine “Son of Man” sayings by Jesus. The first of these sayings is in 1:51, where the descent-ascent motif in the visionary scene effectively summarizes the entire Johannine theology (and Gospel narrative). The verb-pair occurs again in the Son of Man saying in 3:13:

“…no one has stepped up [a)nabe/bhken] into the heaven, if not [i.e. except] the (one hav)ing stepped down [kataba/$], the Son of Man.”

The heavenly origin of the Son (Jesus) is thus quite clearly implied, as well a foreshadowing of his exaltation (and heavenly return), cf. verse 14. Similarly, in the chapter 6 Bread of Life Discourse, there are repeated references and allusions to Jesus’ (i.e., the Son’s) heavenly origin, having “come down” to earth, using the verb katabai/nw (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 51, 58); the Father/Son relationship is emphasized throughout the Discourse, while the expression “Son of Man” also occurs in vv. 27 and 53. The corresponding verb a)nabai/nw is used in another Son of Man saying, outside of the Discourse proper (but still clearly related to it in the narrative context), in verse 62. The verb a)nabai/nw is one of several Johannine verbs (e.g., u(yo/w, “lift up high”, doca/zw, “[give] honor to, glorify”) used to express the idea of the Son’s exaltation (and return to the Father)—cf. the Son of Man sayings in 8:28; 12:23 [and 34]; 13:31; and note the further use of a)nabai/nw in 20:17.

Given this important Christological usage of the verb katabai/nw, where the verb specifically refers to the descent of the Son from heaven, it would be plausible to suggest that the same meaning is implied in the Baptism scene as well. That is to say, the use of the verb in 1:32-33, where the Spirit of God is described as coming down upon Jesus, is another way of referring to the Son’s descent. Now, in the Prologue, it is the pre-existent Logos that is manifest as a human being; however, throughout the Gospel, the emphasis is on the manifestation of the pre-existent Son, and, in vv. 14-18 of the Prologue, the Gospel writer clearly transitions from the Logos concept to that of Son. Thus the Gospel writer could affirm that it was the pre-existent Son of God who was manifest in the person of Jesus.

The Son could be seen as coming down upon Jesus, through the presence of the Spirit, at the Baptism, and thus being manifest in the person of Jesus throughout the time of his ministry. This would be in keeping with the wider Gospel tradition, since, even in the Synoptics, the identification of Jesus as God’s Son is connected prominently with the Baptism scene (Mark 1:11 par; cp. Jn 1:34 [MT]). Cf. also the discussion in Part 1 of the main article.

Given the references/allusions to the departure of the Spirit in 19:30, 34, and the Johannine idea of Jesus’ death on the cross as marking the beginning of the Son’s departure (back to the Father), it would also be plausible to infer that the Son departed from Jesus, even in the manner that He came upon him, through the ‘ascending’ of the Divine Spirit. In traditional Christological terminology, such a view of Christ is referred to as a “separationist” Christology. That is to say, the Divine Christ (i.e., the Son) and the man Jesus are regarded two separate entities, who were joined together at the Baptism, and then separated at the moment of Jesus’ death.

Apart from the Prologue, it would be conceivable to read the Johannine Gospel narrative as reflecting a “separationist” Christology—viz., the Son, through the Spirit, descends upon the man Jesus, remaining with him throughout his ministry, then ascends/departs from him at the moment of his death. Regardless of whether the Gospel writer could have had anything like this in mind, there is a strong possibility that at least some Johannine Christians did hold such a view of Jesus. Indeed, it may well be represented by the Christological view of the opponents in 1 and 2 John. A rudimentary separationist Christology is attributed to Cerinthus by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1.26.1); and Cerinthus was connected, according to tradition, with the apostle John (and thus the early Johannine Community [in Ephesus]). In prior notes and articles, I have discussed the possibility that the opponents in 1-2 John held a similar separationist Christology.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 1

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology

Our final area of study in this series is the relation of John 1:14 to the wider view of Christ, held by early believers, and as expressed in the New Testament. To what extent does the Johannine Christology of the Prologue (and its underlying Logos-poem) reflect the beliefs and thought of first-century Christians? In what ways does this Christology represent a natural development of the early Gospel traditions, or should it be characterized more as a distinctly Johannine creative expression?

Due to the scope of the study, which involves much of the New Testament, I will not be going into the kind of exegetical detail that I did in the first two divisions. Rather, the study will proceed as a survey, looking at the more salient points and citing certain references and phrasing when appropriate. This study will build upon the results from the prior articles, framed in terms of the Johannine Christology found in the Prologue (and particularly verse 14). It is to be divided into three parts, focusing on:

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts)
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ

Here, in Part 1, we begin with the first of these topics.

The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels

John 1:14 speaks of the incarnation (“became flesh”) of the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, even though, throughout the remainder of the Gospel (and in the Letters), the principal identification is of Jesus as the Son of God. The word lo/go$ has considerable theological importance in the Johannine writings, but, outside of the Gospel Prologue, the profound Christological use of the term is, at best, only indirectly alluded to or implied. By contrast, the Gospel repeatedly refers to Jesus as the Son (ui(o/$) who was sent (by God the Father) from heaven to earth. This theology implies the idea of the Son’s pre-existence; Jesus’ words in 8:58 and 17:5, 24 state the Christological point even more directly.

In the Prologue, the Gospel writer appears to have taken an existing ‘Logos-poem’, developing and applying it to the context of the Gospel he was composing (or had composed). The Logos-poem itself draws upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition, involving the personification of Divine Wisdom (cf. Prov 8:22-31), but expressed through the philosophical/theological use of the term lo/go$, rather than utilizing the term sofi/a (“wisdom”) itself. This usage of the word lo/go$ in the Johannine Logos-poem has much in common with the way the term is used, for example, in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, as we have discussed.

In verses 14-18 of the Prologue, the Gospel writer makes the transition from the term lo/go$ (i.e., the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God) to the term ui(o/$ (i.e., the Son of God). This transition is enabled through the use of the adjective monogenh/$ (“only [Son]”) in v. 14 (cf. also v. 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9). The idea of Jesus as the incarnate Logos is absent from the Synoptic Gospels; nor does the term monogenh/$ occur (in this theological/Christological sense). However, the idea that Jesus is the unique Son of God is found at various points in the wider Gospel Tradition, going back to the early historical tradition and the earliest expressions of Christian belief.

In this article, we will examine the outlines of this belief in the Divine Sonship of Jesus, considering how it may relate to the Johannine Christology (of the Prologue, etc). I wish to focus on three areas:

    • The early exaltation Christology—viz., the Sonship of Jesus defined by his resurrection and exaltation (to God’s right hand in heaven)
    • The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism
    • The birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives
1. The early exaltation Christology

By all accounts, the earliest Christology can be characterized as an exaltation Christology—that is, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was defined primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. This exaltation resulted in his obtaining a status and position at the “right hand” of God in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The early Gospel proclamation (kerygma), as we find it preserved in the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts (and elsewhere in the New Testament), tends to define the Sonship of Jesus primarily in terms of this exaltation—see, for example, the declaration in Acts 2:36, the citations of Ps 110:1 and 2:7 (in the specific context of the resurrection) in Acts 2:34-35 and 13:33 (cp. Heb 1:5; 5:5), and Paul’s statements in 1 Thes 1:10 and Rom 1:3-4 (the latter perhaps quoting from an early credal statement).

Within the Gospel Tradition itself, the identification of Jesus as the exalted Son tends to be framed by way of the title “(the) Son of Man” (cf. Mk 13:26, 32; 14:61-62 par; Matt 16:27-28; 19:28; 24:36ff pars; 25:1). This Gospel usage of the expression “(the) Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), which unquestionably derives from authentic historical tradition (and Jesus’ own usage), is a complex matter. Four aspects of its use must be recognized:

    • As a self-reference, a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”, so that, when Jesus speaks of “the son of man”, he is simply referring to himself
    • The Son of Man sayings, where Jesus uses the expression to identify with the suffering and mortality of the human condition
    • The Passion statements and predictions, where the human mortality of Jesus (the Son of Man) refers specifically to his own impending death (and resurrection)
    • The eschatological Son of Man sayings, in which Jesus seems to identify himself with a heavenly figure who will appear on earth and usher in the end-time Judgment

All four of these aspects are combined in the famous declaration by Jesus in Mk 14:62 par, which is clearly influenced by Daniel 7:13-14, and thus refers indirectly to the idea of Jesus’ exaltation. For more on the Gospel use of the title “Son of Man”, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with my series on the Son of Man sayings; see also my note on Dan 7:13-14.

The Gospel of John preserves this exaltation Christology, but adds to it a highly developed pre-existence Christology. The two aspects of Jesus’ Sonship are thus balanced, much as we see, for example, in the ‘Christ hymn’ of Phil 2:6-11. In the Johannine theological idiom, the exalted status which Jesus receives (following his death and resurrection) is understood as a return—that is, to the glory which he, the Son, possessed in the beginning (17:5). The “Son of Man” references in the Gospel of John are instructive in this regard (1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31). They refer not only to the exaltation (“lifting high”) of the Son of Man, but to his coming down to earth (from heaven)—i.e., during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The pairing of the related verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”) highlight this dual-aspect. In the Johannine Gospel, the emphasis is squarely on the Son’s heavenly origin.

The Son’s heavenly origin is clearly the focus in the Gospel Prologue as well. The emphasis on his pre-existent glory (do/ca) balances the traditional idea of Jesus’ post-resurrection exaltation, as does the specific image of the Logos/Son possessing this glory “alongside” (para/) the Father. One is immediately reminded of the traditional idiom of the exalted Jesus standing “at the right hand” (i.e., alongside) God in heaven (cf. above).

2. The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism

The Gospel Tradition also expresses the idea of Jesus’ Divine Sonship through the specific tradition(s) surrounding his baptism. In particular, the heavenly voice at the baptism declares, quite unequivocally, that Jesus is God’s Son (Mk 1:11; par Matt 3:17; Lk 3:22), a declaration that is essentially repeated in the Synoptic Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:7 par Matt 17:5 [where the declarations are identical]; Lk 9:35).

In my view, this idea of Jesus’ Sonship should be understood in a Messianic sense. This seems particularly clear by the Lukan version of the declaration in the Transfiguration scene:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e., chosen]…”

The use of the participle e)klelegme/no$ (from the verb e)kle/gomai) unquestionably has Messianic significance, referring to Jesus as the “Chosen (One)”. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) has this in mind, given the occurrence of the related adjective e)klekto/$ in 23:35: “…the Anointed [xristo/$] of God, the Chosen (One)”. Interestingly, in some manuscripts, the Johannine version of the heavenly declaration at the baptism (Jn 1:34) also uses the substantive adjective e)klekto/$ rather than the noun ui(o/$ (“Son”):

    • “This is the Son [ui(o/$] of God”
      [Majority Text]
    • “This is the Chosen (One) [e)klekto/$] of God”
      [the reading of Ë5vid a* and other versional witnesses]
    • “This is the Chosen Son of God”
      [a conflation of the two readings attested in a number of versional witnesses]

The original Gospel tradition almost certainly alludes to Isaiah 42:1, Jesus’ baptism (marking the beginning of his time of ministry) being seen as a fulfillment of this prophetic passage—the heavenly declaration corresponding to v. 1a, and the descent of the Spirit to v. 1b. For more on this connection, cf. my earlier study in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. Jesus is thus identified with the Deutero-Isaian Servant figure, and as a Messianic Prophet, chosen by God and anointed by His Spirit. Again, it is Luke’s Gospel that brings out this Messianic identification most clearly, identifying Jesus, in particular, with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff (4:18-19, cf. also 7:22 par). Cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

By the time the Gospels were completed, Jesus’ Messianic identity as the royal/Davidic figure type (cf. Parts 68 of “Yeshua the Anointed”) had completely eclipsed that of the Prophet figure-types. It is thus not surprising that the Sonship emphasized in the baptism scene would come to be understood in terms of the royal/Davidic type as well. The textual tradition of the Lukan version of the heavenly declaration (3:22) contains a variant reading to this effect, whereby the heavenly voice quotes Psalm 2:7. Certainly, in the Lukan and Matthean Infancy Narratives (cf. below), Jesus is identified exclusively as the Davidic Messiah, with his Sonship defined on those terms.

The place of the baptism of Jesus (and the heavenly declaration) within the Johannine Christology is problematic and remains debated by scholars. The main event at the baptism (in all four Gospel accounts) is the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (Jn 1:32-33). In the Synoptics, the clear implication is that the presence of the Spirit is tied to Jesus’ Messianic identity (Isa 42:1; 61:1), empowering him to fulfill his ministry, working miracles as a Spirit-anointed Messianic Prophet (according to figure-types of Elijah and Moses). Luke’s Gospel particularly emphasizes this role of the Spirit, in relation to Jesus’ identity as a Messianic Prophet (4:1ff, 14, 18-19ff, 24ff [note the Elijah/Elisha references in vv. 25-27]).

However, in the Gospel of John, both Jesus’ Sonship and the role of the Spirit are described very differently, and the traditional material preserved in the baptism scene thus needs to be interpreted and explained accordingly. I am devoting an extensive supplemental note to this subject.

3. The Birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives

In the detailed exegesis of Jn 1:14 given previously, in the articles of the first two divisions of our study, I discussed the evidence in support of the expression “became flesh” (sa/rc e)ge/neto) as referring to a human birth—viz., of the birth of the Logos as a human being. For many Christians, this would simply be taken for granted, given the tendency to harmonize 1:14 with the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives—thus assuming that 1:14 refers to Jesus’ birth.

There is, however, no real indication that the Gospel of John, in any way, has been influenced by the Matthean and/or Lukan narrative (or any of their underlying traditions). The Gospel writer certainly was aware of the expectation that the royal/Davidic Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (7:42), but there is no evidence that he understood Jesus to have been born there—indeed, the author’s handling of the matter in 7:41-43 could be taken as suggesting the opposite.

More seriously, there are two ways in which the Gospel of John differs markedly from the Infancy Narratives: (1) the lack of emphasis on Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, and (2) the Johannine emphasis on Jesus’ birth as an incarnation. As we conclude Part 1 of this article, let us briefly consider each of these points.

The identification of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (xristo/$), that is, the Messiah, is central to the Johannine theology—as, indeed, it was for virtually all early Christians. However, as I have discussed (particularly in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), there were a number of different Messianic figure-types present in Judaism during the first centuries B.C./A.D., and these should not be reduced to the single (royal/Davidic) type that subsequently came to dominate eschatological and Messianic thought. In 7:40-43 (discussed above), there is a distinction made between “the Prophet” (that is, a Messianic Prophet, patterned after Moses) and “the Anointed One” (the Davidic Messiah). Similar distinctions are made in 1:20-25.

It is not clear whether the title o( xristo/$, throughout the Gospel, refers strictly to Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, or whether it has broader or more general Messianic significance. In any case, Johannine Christians would have identified Jesus with all relevant Messianic figure-types, both “the Prophet” (esp. patterned after Moses) and the Davidic Messiah. The Gospel explicitly identifies Jesus as “the King of Israel” (1:49), and, like the Synoptic tradition, beginning with the ‘triumphal entry’ and throughout the Passion narrative, gives certain emphasis to the theme of Jesus’ kingship (12:13, 15; 18:33ff, 39; 19:3, 12-21). In my view, the title o( xristo/$, in the Gospel of John, entails both Prophet (Moses) and Kingly (Davidic) aspects; overall, however, it is the association with Moses that is specifically established in the Prologue, and which is more dominant which the thematic structure and theology of the Gospel.

This is to be contrasted with the Infancy Narratives, where the Davidic Messiahship of Jesus is unquestionably given emphasis, and which is tied directly to Jesus’ birth—Matt 1:1ff, 20; 2:1-6ff (citing Mic 5:2), 15; Luke 1:27ff, 69; 2:1-4ff, 10-11ff. In the Lukan narrative, the Sonship of Jesus is defined by this particular Messianic paradigm, as the statements in 1:32-33 and 35 make abundantly clear. There is no real sense, in either narrative, that Jesus’ birth represents the incarnation of a pre-existent Divine being; to be sure, the Lukan and Matthean accounts are typically read that way, but this largely under the harmonizing influence of Jn 1:14.

The Johannine confessional statements (cf. especially in 11:27 and 20:31) effectively summarize the Johannine theology: Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) and the Son of God. He is, indeed, the Messiah (both Prophet and King), but also something more—the eternal and pre-existent Son of God. In Parts 2 and 3, we will consider the New Testament parallels to this pre-existence Christology, focusing (in Part 2) on the influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and evidence for this outside of the Johannine writings.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 5

“…the splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth”
do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$ plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$

We now turn to an examination of the final two phrases of 1:14 in the light of the Johannine Gospel (and First Letter) as a whole, just as was done for the three main phrases (in parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). These last two phrases qualify the third main phrase: “and we looked upon his splendor” (discussed in part 4), describing the nature of this Divine splendor (do/ca) that is manifest in the person of the incarnate Logos (Jesus). I wish to examine briefly three aspects of these two phrases, in the context of the Johannine theology:

    • The identity of Jesus as the “only Son” of God
    • His relation to God the Father, and
    • The (Divine) attributes and characteristics that are manifested in him
1. Jesus as the “only Son” of God

In verse 14, this identification is made using the adjective monogenh/$, which literally means something like “(the) only one who has come to be”, preserving the full etymological force of the components mo/no$ (“only, alone, sole”) and ge/no$, the latter derived from the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”). This verb of becoming can refer specifically to birth (i.e., coming to be born), and, in this regard, the noun ge/no$ typically has a familial aspect to its meaning—viz., referring to a person’s offspring, a family or ethnic line, etc.

Sometimes this idea of a “family” can be understood in a more general or abstract sense—as a group with common members (class, kind, sort, etc). Thus, monogenh/$ can simply mean “only one of its kind” (i.e., unique); however, in the New Testament, the adjective is always used in the context of someone who has been born—that is, an “only child”. Outside of the Johannine writings, monogenh/$ refers generally to an “only” child, either adding the specification of a “son” (Luke 7:12; 9:38), “daughter” (Lk 8:42), or using the adjective by itself to designate an “only son” (Heb 11:17). Only in the Johannine writings, is the adjective applied to Jesus, in a theological sense, identifying him as the “only Son” of God: 1:18; 3:16-18; 1 Jn 4:9.

The Divine Sonship of Jesus is, of course, a central tenet of early Christian belief, whether expressed by the specific title “(the) Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=), the shorter “(the) Son” ([o(] ui(o/$), or indirectly. In the Synoptic Gospels, the title “(the) Son”, when spoken by Jesus himself, can also represent an abbreviated version of the title “(the) Son of Man”. The Gospel of John follows the early Christian usage, employing all three of these titles: “Son,” “Son of God,” and “Son of Man”.

The full title “Son of God” is relatively infrequent in the Johannine Gospel, at least within the traditional material itself (1:49; 19:7); it occurs four times in the Discourses, spoken by Jesus (3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4). Elsewhere, it functions as part of Johannine confessional statements (1:34 [also v. 49]; 11:27; 20:31)—a point that becomes even clearer when we consider the usage in 1 John (3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12-13, 20). Central to the Johannine tradition was the confession of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (though, as the Letters attest, Johannine Christians could be in disagreement over precisely what this entailed).

More commonly, in the Gospel Discourses, Jesus refers to himself either as “(the) Son of Man”, or (more frequently) “(the) Son”. The title “Son of Man” tends to be reserved for statements dealing with either the heavenly origin of the Son, or, more fully, the idea of the Son’s descent from heaven (and his ascent back to heaven [beginning with his death on the cross])—1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:34; 13:31. When referring to his relationship to God the Father, Jesus refers to himself simply as “(the) Son”, a usage that pervades the Discourses—3:16-17f, 35-36; 5:19-27; 6:40; 8:35-36; 14:13; 17:1. Even when the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) is not explicitly used, and Jesus speaks of God as (his) Father, the same relationship is clearly intended.

It is noteworthy that, while the idea of believers as the children of God is central to the Johannine theology, the noun ui(o/$ is never used in this context. The relationship between believers and God (as their/our Father) is expressed through the plural of the noun te/knon (te/kna, “offspring”). By contrast, the noun ui(o/$ is consciously reserved for Jesus (as the Son). This differs, for example, from Paul’s usage, since he is willing to apply the sonship motif to believers, calling them “sons [ui(oi/] of God” (Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26); though he is careful to frame such references either in terms of adoption (ui(oqesi/a, “placement as a son”, Rom 8:15, 23; Gal 4:5), or in relation to the Sonship of Jesus (e.g., Rom 8:29; cf. Eph 1:5). Within the Johannine theology, however, Jesus is quite literally the only Son.

2. The Son’s relation to God the Father

In 1:14, the glory of the incarnate Logos (Jesus) is said to be that of an only Son “alongside [para/]” the Father. Early Christians were quite clear on the Divine status/position of Jesus as God’s Son. Within the early exaltation Christology, after the resurrection, Jesus was exalted to heaven, where he (now) stands at the “right hand” of God the Father (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the subsequent pre-existence Christology that developed, this same relational idea was applied to the Son’s pre-existence—viz., even in the beginning, he stood alongside the Father, sharing in His glory and splendor.

Though this theological view is only suggested or indicated briefly elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Phil 2:6; Heb 1:2-3), it stated more fully and directly in the Gospel of John. The heavenly origin of the Son (implying Divine pre-existence) is repeatedly mentioned throughout the Gospel (see the “Son” and “Son of Man” references, above), along with the idea of his impending return (back to the Father). Outside of the Prologue, an emphasis on the pre-existent glory (do/ca), which the Son shares with the Father, is most clear in chapter 17 (see esp. verses 5, 22, 24).

At least as important, for the Johannine theology, is the Son’s relationship to the Father, which is expressed in various ways; two themes are particularly notable: (1) the Father gives all things (that are His) to the Son, and (2) like a dutiful Son, Jesus follows his Father’s example and instruction, saying and doing all that he hears and sees his Father saying/doing. For the first theme, the key references are: 3:34-35; 5:21-22ff, 26-27, 36; 6:32-33, 37ff, 57; 10:28-29; 17:2, 8-12, 22-24; what the Father gives to the Son, the Son, in turn, gives to believers. For the second theme, cf. 5:19-20, 30, 36; 6:46; 8:26, 28-29, 38ff; 12:49-50; 15:15; 17:8, 14.

3. The Divine attributes and characteristics manifested in the Son

The incarnate Logos, and God’s “only Son”, with his splendor/glory (do/ca), is said to be “full of favor and truth”. There are three terms contained in this qualifying phrase; let us briefly consider each of them.

a. plh/rh$ (“full, filled”)

The adjective plh/rh$ occurs only here in the Gospel of John, nor does it tend to be used in a theological context, the way it is here, elsewhere in the New Testament. It is most commonly used in Luke-Acts, occasionally in the context of believers being filled with the Spirit (Acts 6:3ff; 7:55; 11:24); in Lk 4:1, the same is said of Jesus himself. It is possible that a similar association, between Jesus and the Spirit of God, is intended here. One is reminded of the statements in 3:34-35:

    • V. 34—Jesus receives the fullness of the Spirit (“it is not out of a measure that He [i.e. the Father] gives the Spirit”)
    • V. 35— “The Father loves the Son and has given all (thing)s into his hand.”
b. xa/ri$ (“favor”)

One of the things, of which the incarnate Logos’ splendor is “full”, is xa/ri$, “favor” —that is, the favor given/shown by God. The noun xa/ri$ is by no means a Johannine term; outside of the Prologue (vv. 16-17), it does not occur in the rest of the Gospel, and only once in the Letters (2 John 3). This may be compared, by contrast, with the extensive use of the word in Luke-Acts and the Pauline writings.

Translated into the Johannine idiom, xa/ri$ should probably be understood here in terms of the love (a)ga/ph) that the Father has for the Son, expressed principally by what the Father gives to him (3:35, etc, cf. above). It has been suggested (cf. Brown, p. 14) that xa/ri$ is related here to the Hebrew ds#j# (“kindness, goodness”), specifically in the latter’s connotation of faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion. In this regard, xa/ri$ is, indeed, an important aspect of the Son’s do/ca—that is, the honor shown/given to him by the Father. The following term a)lh/qeia (cf. below) could similarly be associated with Hebrew tm#a# (rel. hn`Wma$), which connotes faithfulness (lit. “firmness”).

c. a)lh/qeia (“truth”)

Unlike xa/ri$, which virtually is never used elsewhere in the Johannine writings, the noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) is an important Johannine keyword. It occurs 25 times in the Gospel (compared with 7 in the Synoptic combined) and 20 more times in the Letters (9 in 1 Jn, 5 in 2 Jn, 6 in 3 Jn). The related adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$ (“true”) also occur rather frequently. In the Johannine theological idiom, “truth” (a)lh/qeia) is a fundamental Divine attribute which the Son possesses (from the Father), and which he communicates to believers in the world. In so doing, the Son makes the Father known (in His fundamental nature as Truth). This Divine truth is specifically associated with the Spirit (4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6).

A comparative study of the use of xa/ri$ and a)lh/qeia, along with the usage of the adjective plh/rh$ elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke-Acts), strongly suggests that this final phrase of v. 14 refers to the incarnate Logos’ possession of the Spirit of God, and of the Father’s giving the Spirit to him. The following verses of the Prologue (vv. 16-18) emphasize how this “favor and truth” is given by the Son, in turn, to believers; again, in the context of the Gospel (and the Johannine theology), this would be understood primarily in terms of his giving the Spirit to believers, by which they/we come to be born as the children of God.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).