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…”: Supplemental note on Jn 1:14 and 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6

On John 1:14 and 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6

This note is supplemental to Part 3 of the current study article on John 1:14, looking, in particular, at the use of the verb gi/nomai in the statement “the Word became [e)ge/neto] flesh”, within the overall context of the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters). Two references will specifically be examined here: the saying by the Baptist in John 1:15, and the Christological confession in 1 John 4:2 par.

Beginning with the Baptist’s declaration in Jn 1:15 (par 30), it is clear that the verb e&rxomai (“come”) refers to the earthly career and ministry of the incarnate Logos; in English idiom, we might say, “when he came upon the scene”. The phrase is “the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] in back of me [o)pi/sw mou]”.

Only in terms of his public ministry, can Jesus (as the Logos) be said to come “in back of” (i.e. after, following) John the Baptist. At the time of his first appearance (the baptism), Jesus was virtually unknown, while the Baptist had already been on the scene for some time and had developed a reputation. Conceivably, Jesus may have been (for a time) a disciple of the Baptist; commentators are far from being in agreement on this point, but, if it were historically accurate, then it would provide a clearer meaning for the expression “in back of me” (cp. the use of o)pi/sw in Mk 1:17, 20 par, etc). John 1:15/30 likely represents a Johannine version of an historical tradition, otherwise preserved in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:7 par). On the background and Messianic significance of this saying, cf. my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

But, if e&rxomai in 1:15 refers to Jesus’ public ministry, what of the verb gi/nomai? There would seem to be two possibilities: (a) it refers to the human life of Jesus generally, or (b) it refers specifically to his birth. If we build out the statement in v. 15, it reads:

“the (one) coming in back of me, has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of me [e&mprosqe/n mou]”

In what sense has Jesus come to be “in front of” the Baptist? In light of verse 14, the answer can only be: it is because he is the Logos who became a human being. The connection with verse 14 (and the prior vv. 12-13) provides, in my view, conclusive evidence that gi/nomai here refers to primarily (if not exclusively) to Jesus’ birth—that is, the birth of the Logos as a human being.

This brings us to the confessional statement in 1 John 4:2. The author essentially asserts that every true believer will acknowledge and affirm that Jesus Christ has come “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/). The actual wording is “Yeshua (the) Anointed having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh”, utilizing the verb e&rxomai (“come”). There is a formal similarity with Jn 1:14, involving the conjunction of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be”) and sa/rc (“flesh”).

In the Baptist’s declaration of Jn 1:15 (cf. above), the verbs e&rxomai and gi/nomai are connected. As I have interpreted this verse, e&rxomai refers to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (i.e., his “coming” on the scene), while gi/nomai, in light of the prior v. 14 (and vv. 12-13), refers to Jesus’ birth (i.e., the birth of the Logos as a human being). But how does 1 Jn 4:2 (par 2 Jn 7) understand the verb e&rxomai? Elsewhere in 1 John (2:18; 4:3), the verb, used of the figure/spirit of “antichrist”, has the basic meaning of “coming on the scene” here on earth, i.e., being present and active among human beings. This generally parallels the references in Jn 1:7, 11, 27, 29-31, referring to the public appearance (and ministry) of John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively.

On the other hand, Jn 1:9 has the wider revelatory context of the Divine Logos (the Word/Wisdom of God) being manifest in Creation (and on earth). In certain respects, this would parallel the usage in 1 John of “antichrist” as an evil spirit, that is opposed to God (and His Spirit), and gives a false/deceiving revelation. In this regard, the use of the verb e&rxomai is closer in meaning to how gi/nomai is used in the Prologue, since the incarnation of the Logos represents the climactic manifestation of it within Creation. Other references in the Gospel support this cosmic orientation, utilizing e&rxomai to refer to the Son coming to earth from heaven, and then, having completed his mission, going back to his heavenly origin (i.e., coming [back] to the Father)—cf. 3:19, 31; 5:43; 7:28; 8:14, 21f, 42, etc.

We may thus isolate three Christological uses of the verb e&rxomai:

    • A person appearing, coming on the scene, to begin his public ministry/career
    • The coming to earth (from heaven) of a Divine/heavenly being
      to which a third, intermediate usage may be added:
    • The (eschatological) appearance of the Messiah (cf. 1:27; 4:25; 7:31, 41-42, and also my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

These differing emphases in the Johannine use of e&rxomai are of significance for determining the opponents’ view of Christ, in light of the confessional statements in 1 Jn 4:2 par and 5:6. The two statements are clearly related:

    • “…having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/]” (4:2)
    • “…(hav)ing come [e)lqw/n] in the water and the blood” (5:6)

In the latter statement, there are two forms of the phrase in bold: (a) “through [dia/] water and blood”, (b) “in [e)n] the water and in [e)n] the blood”. I have essentially combined these in the quotation above, in order to bring out more clearly the parallel. Given this parallel, almost certainly the phrase “in the water and (in) the blood” is an elucidation of what is meant by “in (the) flesh”. To say that Jesus Christ came “in the flesh” means (according to the author) that he came “in the water” and “in the blood”.

If “in the flesh” refers to Jesus’ life and existence as a human being, then the expressions “in the water” and “in the blood” must relate to this. Most commentators understand “in/through the water” as a reference to the baptism of Jesus, while “in/through the blood” certainly refers to his death. By this interpretation, the two expressions would designate, respectively, the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is also possible that “in the water” refers to the birth of Jesus, given the use of the water-motif in John 3:3-8, in relation to the idea of believers coming to be born as offspring of God (an idea very prevalent in 1 John). The pair of expressions, then, would designate the beginning and end of Jesus’ human life—that is, the boundaries and the span of it.

The author’s argument in 5:6, as it is worded, suggests that the opponents accepted that Jesus came “in/through the water”, but not “in/through the blood”. This would mean that they accepted the reality and/or significance of either—his human birth, or his baptism. If it is the latter, then this would strengthen the hypothesis that the opponents held an early “separationist” view of Jesus, akin to that which is attributed to Cerinthus (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.1). In a “separationist” Christology, it is held that the Divine Christ (= Son) came upon the man Jesus during the baptism, the two joining, only to separate again at the moment of Jesus’ death. A simpler version, drawn from the Johannine Gospel narrative, would affirm that the Spirit descended upon Jesus at the baptism, and then departed from him at his death (19:30). The opponents would have affirmed the importance of the baptism, since that was when Jesus received the Spirit, but not his death (since that is when the Spirit departed).

If “in/through the water” refers to the birth of Jesus, then the opponents would have affirmed the reality of Jesus human life, and its importance. What they denied was the death of the Son (Jesus). If their main objection was to the idea that the incarnate Son/Logos could die, then they would have something in common with those who held an early docetic view of Christ (such as that of the opponents combated by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters). Alternately, they may have denied the importance or significance of Jesus’ death.

Commentators remain divided on the precise nature of the opponents’ Christology; I have discussed the matter in more historical and exegetical detail in earlier notes and studies.

December 24: Psalm 89:20-21

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Part 2: Verses 20-38 [19-37]

Psalm 89:20-26 [19-25]
Verse 20 [19]

“Then you spoke in a vision to your devoted (one)s,
and said:
I have set a youth over a mighty (warrior),
I have lifted high (one) chosen from (the) people.”

The division of vv. 20-38 deals principally with the covenant YHWH made with David (and his descendants). This involves promises regarding the kingship over Israel. Here, in verse 20, we have a reference to the historical tradition of God’s choice of David for the kingship, in place of Saul; on this, cf. the narrative in 1 Samuel 16:1-13.

The initial line emphasizes how YHWH’s choice of David was revealed to the people. Specifically, it refers to a vision, through which God spoke, given to the “devoted ones” (<yd!ys!j&). In the context of the Psalm, such a substantive use of the adjective dys!j* (“good, kind,” but here with the meaning “faithful, loyal, devoted”) would refer to the faithful/righteous ones among God’s people.

However, if the tradition in 1 Samuel 16:1ff is being referenced here, then <yd!ys!j& may specifically designate YHWH’s chosen prophets—as represented by the figure of Samuel. The Qumran manuscript 4QPsx reads iyrjb (“your chosen [one]s”), rather than iydysj (“your devoted [one]s”). Dahood (II, p. 316) explains how iydysj could be understood in a singular sense, with the form either seen as preserving an archaic genitive (singular) ending, or being read as a plural of majesty (in reference to the king). Some manuscripts, in fact, do read the singular form idsjl.

The second line, following the MT, reads:

“I have set [i.e. given] help [rz#u@] upon (the) mighty (one)”

However, it would seem preferable to understand rzu in relation to the term ²zr in Ugaritic, meaning “youth” (sometimes in the sense of a young hero). If this is correct, then the line would presumably allude to the contrast between David and Saul (in 1 Sam 16ff), and possibly also to the famous events in chap. 17. YHWH set this youth (David) over (lu^) a mighty warrior (roBG]). Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 401) suggests that MT rz#a@ should be emended to rz#n@ (“crown”), in which case the line would read “I have set a crown on (the) mighty (one) [i.e. David]”.

The third line speaks of David as chosen (passive participle rWjB*) from the people, by God, to be king. Sometimes the root rjb (“choose”) can be used in reference to a strong/vital youth—especially a young man of fighting age.

Verse 21 [20]

“I have found David, my servant, (and,)
with (the) oil of my holiness, I anointed him.”

The anointing of David is narrated in 1 Samuel 16:13. It is indicated here that YHWH anointed him, but clearly (in the tradition) this was actually carried out by Samuel (one of YHWH’s prophets). The reference to David as God’s servant (“my servant”) carries several levels of meaning:

    • The king is a servant of YHWH in the general sense that his kingship and authority comes from YHWH, who exercises authority over all things.
    • The Israelite king is (to be) a loyal/faithful servant within the covenant bond; this refers both to the covenant God has made with His people, and to the specific covenant made with David (and his descendants).
    • The ideal king is patterned after David, in his faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH; in this regard, the king represents all those among the people who are faithful/loyal to the covenant.

The oil, with which David was anointed king, is qualified here by the term “my holiness” (yv!d=q*), yielding the expression “(the) oil of my holiness” (i.e., my holy oil). The implication is that the holiness of YHWH, the attribute of Divine holiness, is communicated—ritually and symbolically—by the anointing. The association of such oil with holiness is mentioned in a number of Torah references involving ritual anointing (cf. Exod 29:21; 30:25, 31; 31:11; 37:29; 40:9; Num 35:25). It is significant that, in the tradition, the Spirit of God comes upon David immediately after he is anointed (1 Sam 16:13). Throughout the Old Testament, the king is referred to as God’s anointed (“my/His anointed”); this terminology occurs dozens of times in the books of Samuel and Kings (1 Sam 2:10, 35; 12:3, et al), but also a number of times in the Psalms, where it specifically centers around the figure of David—2:2; 18:51[50]; 132:10, 17; cf. also 20:7[6]; 28:8; 84:10[9].

Comments for Christmas

The figure of David plays an important role in the Gospel Infancy narratives, relating to the birth of Jesus. This is part of the wider Gospel tradition, and shows how early Christians recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of the various Messianic figure-types—notably, the royal Messiah from the line of David (cf. the discussion in Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Messiah”).

Apart from the location of Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus (cf. 1 Sam 16:4ff; 17:12ff; Micah 5:2), the underlying traditions of the Infancy narratives clearly identify Jesus as a “son [i.e. descendant] of David”, legally, through the line of his father Joseph. This detail is emphasized in both the Matthean and Lukan narratives (Matt 1:20 [cf. vv. 1, 6, 17 in the context of the genealogy]; Luke 1:27; 2:4; cf. also 3:31). The citation of Micah 5:2 in Matt 2:5-6, along with the context of the entire narrative episode (in 2:1-12), unquestionably identifies Jesus with the Davidic Messiah of Jewish expectation.

This thematic orientation features even more prominently in the Lukan narrative—due largely to the explicit references in the angelic annunciations (1:32-33; 2:10-11). The allusions in the canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus), in 1:69ff, are closer in tone and spirit to Psalm 89:20ff. We might note, in particular, the specific reference to David as God’s “servant” (cf. above on the first line of v. 21), and to God “raising up” a “horn” of salvation for His people (cf. the previous note on v. 18).

The themes of David as God’s chosen, and of God’s anointing him with the oil of His holiness, are also important components of Jesus’ Messianic identity. In this regard, it is not Jesus’ birth, but his baptism where these themes are most closely associated with him in the Gospel tradition. For the idea of Jesus as the “Chosen [One]”, cf. John 1:34 v.l.; Luke 9:35 (realizing the parallels between the baptism and the transfiguration; cp. 23:35). With regard to the Messianic context of the baptism, the Lukan narrative particularly brings out the association with anointing (by the Spirit)—Lk 3:22 v.l. (citing Ps 2:7, cp. verse 2); 4:18ff (citing Isa 61:1ff), and the context of vv. 1ff, 14; Acts 4:26-27; 10:38. It was noted above how, in the 1 Samuel narrative, after David was anointed (as the future king), it is said that God’s Spirit came upon him (1 Sam 16:13).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

The Spirit and the Death of Jesus: Introduction

Following the celebration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, during this past Holy Week and Resurrection (Easter) Sunday, I will be presenting a series of notes on the relation of the Holy Spirit to the death of Jesus. It is a challenging and provocative subject, since the Spirit tends to be associated more with Jesus’ resurrection than his death. And yet, I would maintain that the connection of the Spirit to his death is one of the most profoundly distinctive features of Christian belief. It is also one which many Christians have not considered to any great extent. Through these notes, I hope to open new vistas for theological and spiritual exploration, and to encourage further study and meditation on the subject.

The first point to note is that there is no indication of any connection between Jesus’ death and the Spirit in the early/core Gospel Tradition. There is scarcely a trace of such a connection, either in the Synoptic Tradition, nor in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts (and preserved elsewhere in the New Testament). The Spirit is not mentioned (nor alluded to) even once in the Synoptic Passion narratives; nor, for that matter, is it mentioned in the Resurrection narratives. It is important to understand this, for it illustrates how the view of the Spirit, in relation to the person of Christ, developed among Christians during the first century.

What of the early Gospel tradition in this regard? Let us consider three key aspects of the association between Jesus and the Spirit:

    • The presence of the Spirit upon Jesus, as the Messiah, during his earthly life and ministry
    • The idea that Jesus (as the Messiah) is able to communicate or transmit the Spirit to God’s people
    • The prophetic tradition that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, marked by the presence of the Messiah, the Spirit will be ‘poured out’ upon all of God’s people

1. The first point is evident in the Gospels primarily through the tradition of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism. This is clearly an old and well-established tradition, found in both the Synoptics (Mark 1:10ff par) and the Gospel of John (1:32ff), and mentioned also (possibly by way of a separate tradition) in the book of Acts (10:38). The context of the Synoptic narrative makes clear that it is the abiding presence of the Spirit that empowered Jesus in his preaching and working of miracles (Mk 1:12ff, 21-28; 3:22-30 par). This comes across most clearly in the Gospel of Luke (4:1ff, 14, 18ff), but we also see a certain emphasis along these lines in Matthew as well (4:1; 12:18, 28ff [cp Lk 11:20]).

Several passages in Isaiah, given a Messianic interpretation, were applied to Jesus in the early Gospel tradition. Most notable are Isa 42:1ff and 61:1ff, which specifically refer to God placing His Spirit upon a chosen individual (cf. also 11:2ff). It would seem that Isa 42:1 was influential in shaping the view of Jesus (as the Messiah) expressed in the Baptism-tradition (cf. my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”). The Gospel of Matthew specifically cites 42:1-3, in connection with the Galilean ministry of Jesus, at a later point in the narrative (12:18ff). As for Isa 61:1, it is quoted by Jesus in the famous Lukan version of the Nazareth episode (4:16-30, v. 18), which, in Luke’s Gospel, marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus identifies himself with the anointed herald of 61:1ff, as a Messianic prophet, and the same connection is attested, independently, in the Q-tradition (7:22f par). Cf. my earlier article on Isa 61:1, and note a comparable use of the passage (as a Messianic scripture) in the Qumran text 4Q521.

2. Another early Gospel tradition associated with the baptism of Jesus, the saying by the Baptist in Mark 1:8 par, establishes the idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, will give the Spirit to God’s people. This communication of the Spirit is expressed in terms of the baptism-motif:

“I dunked [vb bapti/zw] you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit.”

The association of water and the Spirit is well-established in Old Testament tradition, especially in the Prophetic writings, where the idea is expressed that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, God will “pour” (like water) His Spirit upon His people—cf. Joel 2:28-29; Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:29. In this regard, there can be no doubt that, in its original context, the saying by the Baptist is eschatological in orientation. The Messiah, as God’s representative, will usher in the New Age, bringing deliverance and restoration to the righteous, and judgment upon the wicked. Matthew (3:11) and Luke (3:16) each draw upon a separate (Q) version of the Baptist-saying:

“I dunk you in water…but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”

The added motif of fire is parallel to water, in that both fire and water can be used as means of cleansing and purification (including the refining of metals, etc). But fire also alludes quite clearly to the end-time Judgment (Lk 3:17 par; cf. Mal 3:2-3; cp. Isa 4:4-5).

The Gospel of John also incorporates the Baptist saying, with its contrast between water and the Spirit; interestingly, the two parts of the saying are separated in the Johannine version (1:26, 33). This almost certainly was intentional by the author, as a way to give greater emphasis to the Baptist as a witness to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The Johannine dualistic contrast between ordinary water and the Spirit (3:5-8; 4:10-15, etc) may also explain this unique handling of the tradition.

3. The coming of the Messiah marks the end of the current Age, and the onset of the (Messianic) New Age. According to a well-established line of tradition in the Prophetic writings (of the exilic and post-exilic period), the New Age will be a time of restoration for Israel, in which God will “pour out” His Spirit upon all of the people. This abiding presence of His Holy Spirit will allow the people to fulfill the covenant (and the Torah obligations) completely, in a new way, because they will be given a new “heart”; thus, one can speak of a “new covenant” in this New Age. The key passages (cf. the notes in the series “The Spirit in the Old Testament”) are:

Joel 2:28-29 is central to the Pentecost scene in Acts 2, being cited specifically by Peter in his great sermon-speech (vv. 16-21), indicating that the coming the Spirit upon believers is a clear sign that the New Age has arrived.

The Gospel portrait of Jesus would have been quite straightforward in this regard: the Spirit descends upon him at his baptism, anointing him (as the Messiah), and empowering him to act as God’s representative on earth; he both purifies God’s people and ushers in the time of Judgment for the wicked; possessing God’s Spirit he is means by which the Spirit will be given to God’s people in the New Age. The death of Jesus, however, complicates this picture, since there is no evidence that there was any expectation that the Messiah—any of the Messianic figure-types—would suffer and die; on this point, cf. the article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Early Christians were forced to explain how Jesus could be the Messiah, considering his death and (in particular) the manner in which he died. The narrative Luke-Acts alludes to this problem repeatedly, emphasizing the importance of providing Scriptural (prophetic) support for the death (and resurrection) of Jesus—cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-49; Acts 1:16, 20; 3:18-24; 8:32-35; 10:39-43; 13:29-37; 17:2-3; 26:22-23.

There were a range of questions that early Christians themselves likely would have asked, regarding the death of Jesus, in relation to the Spirit. If God’s Spirit was upon Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, what happened to it when he died? How does this relate to the role of the Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus, and of Jesus’ subsequent ability/authority to give the Spirit to believers?

The Lukan Gospel re-establishes the connection with the Spirit at the close of the Gospel, alluding to it in 24:49, to be picked up again in Acts 1:5, 8; and yet very little is actually said regarding the role of the Spirit in the resurrection, to say nothing of any connection of the Spirit with Jesus’ death.

It may be possible, however, to find some slight indication of how the earliest Christians might have understood the matter. This can be done by piecing together two bits of evidence from the early preaching in the book of Acts. We begin with the kerygma from Peter’s speech to the household of Cornelius:

“…Yeshua from Nazaret, how God anointed him with (the) holy Spirit and with power, th(is one) who went throughout working (for) good and healing all the (one)s being under the power of the Diabolos {Devil} (for it was) that God was with him.” (10:38)

Particular attention should be paid to a juxtaposition of the two phrases in bold above. The first repeats the basic Gospel tradition (cf. above) that Jesus was ‘anointed’ by God’s Spirit at his baptism. The second implies that God Himself was personally present with Jesus, through His Spirit. Both phrases have Messianic import, as several key Scriptures, recognized as Messianic prophecies by early Christians, make clear (Isa 7:14 [cf. 8:8, 10]; 61:1; Psalm 2:7).

Now we turn to Peter’s Pentecost speech and the citation of Psalm 16:8-11 in connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. my recent Easter Sunday article for more on this); in particular, note the wording of verse 11 of the Psalm (in 2:27):

“…[in] that you will not leave down behind my soul in (the) Unseen (realm) [i.e. of the dead], and you will not give the holy (one) to see complete decay.”

This could be explained in the sense that the abiding presence of God’s Spirit remained with Jesus, even in his death (and burial); God’s Spirit does not leave him behind (vb e)gkatalei/pw) to decay in the grave. The problem with this view is that seems to be flatly contradicted by Jesus’ famous ‘cry of dereliction’ (quoting from Psalm 22:1) on the cross in the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mark 15:34 par). Luke’s Gospel, it is to be noted, does not contain this particular tradition; or, one may say, the author has adapted and modified the Synoptic tradition at this point (23:46).

In the first note of this series, we will examine the cry-tradition, in connection with the description of the moment of Jesus’ death, particular as this is recorded in the Gospel of Luke and in John (19:30). These two versions will be compared with the Synoptic tradition in Matthew/Mark. Such an exegetical (and expository) comparison will shed some significant light on how the Spirit came to be connected with the death of Jesus, and the important theological meaning this carries for the Johannine writings.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: Introduction

The Johannine Writings

Having thoroughly examined the key Pauline passages, it is now time to turn our attention to the Johannine writings. The Johannine view of the nature and role of the Spirit is distinctive, representing a unique development of early Christian pneumatology. Moreover, spiritualistic tendencies would seem to be rather more prominent in the Johannine writings than elsewhere in the New Testament; and there is some evidence that spiritualism governed the Johannine churches in a way that goes beyond what we know of other 1st-century congregations (based on the New Testament writings). In speaking of the ‘Johannine’ churches, it has become common to use the expression “Johannine Community”. I will discuss the usefulness of this expression when we come to the passages in 1 John.

There are more references to the Spirit in the Gospel of John than any other Gospel. In many ways, the emphasis on the Spirit is just as prominent in Luke, anticipating as it does the central role of the Spirit in the Acts narratives. However, I find little evidence of spiritualism in Luke-Acts. By contrast, there are a number of passages in John that could be characterized as spiritualistic. These will be examined in some detail.

Interestingly, the references to the Spirit in the Gospel of John, for all their distinctiveness, are presented within the confines of a traditional Gospel framework, such as we find in the Synoptics. The Spirit is first mentioned in the context of Jesus’ baptism (1:32-34; cp. Mk 1:8-12), and the Gospel concludes with the idea of the glorified Jesus having access to the Spirit, and able to communicate it to his disciples (20:22f; cp. Lk 24:49; cf. also Matt 28:18; Mk [16:15-17ff]).

The sequence in the Johannine narrative, on the surface, seems straightforward: Jesus receives the Spirit at his baptism, possesses it throughout his earthly ministry, and then gives it to his disciples at the end. However, at least two features in the Gospel complicate this picture. The first is the prologue (1:1-18), with its emphasis on the Divine pre-existence of the Son; the second is the traditional theme of the glorified Jesus receiving the Spirit upon his exaltation to heaven (cf. 16:5-7ff; 20:17), and only then giving it to believers.

On the one hand, the pre-existence Christology that runs through the Gospel creates certain problems for the traditional framework; for, surely, the pre-existent Son would have had access to God’s Spirit before it descended upon him at the baptism. Yet this theological point is scarcely addressed in the Gospel, except, perhaps, in an allusive and roundabout way. As far as the traditional exaltation Christology is concerned, if fits uneasily within the Johannine narrative. Apparently, Jesus ascends to the Father prior to his final departure (the traditional Ascension), so that he is able to give the Spirit to his disciples. In the book of Acts, by contrast, the Spirit is sent to the disciples only after Jesus’ final departure, when he is at God’s right hand in heaven (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4, 8ff; 2:1-4ff; 7:55-56).

John 1:32-34

Originally, in the early Gospel tradition, the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism, marking the beginning of his public ministry, was a sign of his prophetic empowerment. It is after the coming of the Spirit that Jesus endures Satanic temptation, and begins to preach and work miracles throughout Galilee (Mk 1:12-15, 21-28 par). Luke especially emphasizes the role of the Spirit in this regard (4:1, 14ff). A second theme that developed, at a very early point in the tradition, is the presence of the Spirit as a sign of Jesus’ special identity as a Messianic prophet. The anointed servant of Isa 42:1ff and the herald of Isa 61:1ff are the principal Messianic figures in this regard; the former passage, in particular, seems to have influenced the baptism narrative (cf. my recent study on Isa 42:1ff). Again, Luke gives special emphasis to this aspect, focusing on the association between the baptism and Isa 61:1ff (4:17-19ff).

The empowerment theme is almost entirely absent from the Gospel of John; there is virtually no connection, for example, between the Spirit and the miracles of Jesus in the fourth Gospel. With regard to Jesus’ Messianic identity, the Johannine Gospel does preserve a number of early traditional elements, clustered around the baptism-scene and the figure of John the Baptist. In particular, the Johannine line of tradition emphasizes two key aspects:  (1) the superiority of Jesus over John the Baptist, and (2) the Baptist (and the baptism-scene) as a Christological witness. Let us consider how these themes relate to the Spirit-reference in 1:32-34.

First, the references to the Baptist in the prologue (1:6-8, 15) combine both of these themes—i.e., John the Baptist as a witness (marturi/a), and the superiority of Jesus. Then, in the opening scene of the narrative (1:19-28), the John-Jesus relationship centers around Messianic identity. The Baptist denies any such identity for himself, reserving all Messianic roles for Jesus. If, as is likely, the author was aware of the Spirit-saying by the Baptist (Mark 1:8), he splits it apart, first alluding to it by having the Baptist say “I dunk you in water…” —the implicit (but unstated) contrast being that Jesus will ‘baptize’ people in the Spirit. The second part of the saying is held back until verse 33 (cf. below). There is a strong water-Spirit association that runs throughout the Johannine writings, a point that will be discussed repeatedly in these studies.

Finally, the Baptism of Jesus is narrated in vv. 29-34, but only in an indirect way, as a description given by the Baptist (i.e., the Baptist as a witness to who Jesus is). This important theme of witness is presented several different ways:

    • The Baptist’s announcement of Jesus’ presence, declaring him to be “the Lamb of God” (v. 29, repeated in v. 35)
    • The declaration of Jesus’ identity (“this one” [ou!to$]) as the Messiah, using the designation “the one coming” —a traditional Baptist-saying (Mk 1:7 par) given a uniquely Johannine theological formulation, alluding to Jesus’ Divine pre-existence (v. 30, par v. 15)
    • The Baptist states that his baptism ministry was for the this moment of Jesus’ revelatory appearance, for the purpose of making Jesus “shine forth” to Israel (v. 31)
    • The words that follow in vv. 32-34 are specifically said to be the Baptist’s witness (vb marture/w) to Jesus (“And Yohanan gave witness, saying…”)

The actual description of the Spirit’s descent (in vv. 32-33) follows the early Gospel tradition. The verb katabai/nw (“step down”), though it has special theological significance in the Gospel of John, is also used in the Synoptic version, and was doubtless part of the early tradition. The verb me/nw (“remain”), however, does not occur in the Synoptic version, and is almost certainly a Johannine addition:

    • (John speaking) “…I looked at the Spirit stepping [i.e. coming] down, as a dove, out of heaven, and it remained [e&meinen] upon him” (v. 32)
    • (John’s prophetic report of God the Father speaking) “the (one) upon whom you would see the Spirit stepping down and remaining [me/non] upon him, this (one) is the (one) dunking in (the) holy Spirit.” (v. 33)

The verb me/nw is relatively rare in the Synoptics, occurring 12 times in the three Gospels combined; by contrast, it occurs 40 times in the Gospel of John, and almost always with special theological (and Christological) significance. It is used another 27 times in the Letters of John (24 in 1 John, 3 in 2 John), so it is very much a Johannine term.

In the closing verse 34, the Baptist’s witness essentially takes the shape of a Johannine Christological formula:

“And I (myself) have seen, and have witnessed, that this (one) is the Son of God.”
[On the textual issue in this verse, cf. my earlier note.]

Though the Baptist is an important witness in the Gospel (5:33-36ff), even his witness is dependent upon the presence of the Spirit. He is only able to make the declaration of who Jesus is because he sees the presence of the Spirit remaining on Jesus. From the standpoint of Johannine writings (and the Johannine churches), the Spirit is the ultimate witness for believers.

John 3

The next Spirit-references in the Gospel John occur in chapter 3. The chapter as a whole represents the first great Johannine Discourse of Jesus. Some would limit the discourse to vv. 1-21 (or even 1-16); however, it is best to view vv. 22-36 in relation to the Nicodemus discourse in vv. 1-16ff. This will be discussed further in a special set of notes on vv. 31-36. However, I believe that the historical tradition(s) in vv. 22-30 were included at this point as a way of further expounding the contrast between John the Baptist and Jesus—emphasizing the traditional contrast, given deeper meaning in the Johannine Gospel, between John’s water baptism and baptism in the Spirit. Jesus’ words in verse 5 bring out this important contrast:

“…if one should not come to be (born) out of water and (out of the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God.”

And, as if to drive the point home, he says:

“the (thing) having come to be (born) out of the flesh is flesh, and the (thing) having come to be (born) out of the Spirit is spirit.” (v. 6)

The water/Spirit contrast in v. 5 is thus essentially the same as the flesh/Spirit contrast in v. 6, and is a central principle of Johannine spiritualism. Because of the importance of this seminal passage for a proper understanding of our subject, it is necessary to devote a separate article to a study of the John 3 Discourse.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Introduction

This study series will explore what I believe is a significant (and largely neglected) area of study: namely, the question of whether, or to what extent, spiritualist tendencies are present in the New Testament Scriptures. Unfortunately, the term “spiritualism,” or “spiritualist(s),” is one of the most ill-defined and misunderstood in the history of religious studies. Even more so than “mysticism” and “gnosticism,” the term “spiritualism” suffers from careless and imprecise application. For more on this, see my article in the Definitions and Explanations of Terms feature.

To summarize the discussion in that article, I define and explain “spiritualism” as follows:

A religious phenomenon whereby the esoteric (i.e., inward and invisible) aspect of religion is decidedly given priority over the exoteric (i.e., outward and visible) aspect of religion. The latter includes such things as: rituals, sacred places and objects, religious meetings/gatherings, institutional/organizational structures, written texts, laws and creedal formulations, etc. This “inward” aspect is understood in terms of the idea of the spirit (Latin spiritus, Greek pneu=ma, pneuma)—whether human or divine.

The related term “spiritualist” simply means: related to spiritualism or characterized by it. As a religious phenomenon applicable to Christianity, I have defined it, somewhat more concisely, as:

A set of beliefs or tendencies which emphasize the role and place of the Spirit (of God) as the supreme principle governing all aspects of religious life and experience. According to this principle, the inward and invisible spiritual aspect takes priority over all outward/visible/material elements of religion.

As noted in the aforementioned article, Christian spiritualism is distinctive because of the strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Thus, we may further define the principle of “spiritualism”, in the context of Christianity, as follows:

The presence and manifestation of the Spirit takes priority over all other external aspects and religious features. The Spirit is the normative, guiding force for believers, rather than rituals, sacred places, written texts (i.e. the Scriptures), creeds, and so on.

In this very specific and qualified sense, we may properly speak of spiritualism in Christianity, and also of Christian spiritualism.

Since, in Christian spiritualism, the spirit (pneu=ma) refers primarily, if not exclusively, to the Holy Spirit ([to\] pneu=ma [to\] a%gio$), we may fairly infer that any spiritualist tendencies in the New Testament derive (and would have developed) naturally from the early Christian understanding of the (Holy) Spirit. And, as may be demonstrated quite readily, the early Christian view of the Spirit, in turn, was derived from the view of the Spirit in Old Testament and Jewish tradition. I have discussed the latter in some detail, examining all of the most relevant passages, in a recent series (cf. the links at the end of this article), and so will not be repeating that analysis in the current study series. However, I will, on occasion, refer to certain key examples that may be seen as having specifically influenced aspects of the (possible) spiritualist tendencies in the New Testament.

As for the references to the Spirit in the New Testament Scriptures, I also have treated these extensively in earlier series—two in particular: “…Spirit and Life” and “The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition”. Here, I will be focusing almost exclusively on the passages which may reflect spiritualism (or spiritualist tendencies), and only occasionally discussing the other references. All of the principal passages are found in the Pauline and Johannine Writings.

Before proceeding with that extended study, however, it will be necessary to discuss several aspects of the Spirit-references in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, which may have helped lead to the development of a seminal kind of spiritualism among believers in the first-century. I would isolate four such aspects:

    • The association of the Holy Spirit (that is, the Spirit of God) with the person of Jesus, being manifest and located on/in his person.
    • The tendency whereby Jesus, in his person, came to take priority over the external elements of Jewish religion—the temple and its ritual, along with the Torah regulations, etc.
    • The application to Jesus of Messianic and eschatological expectations, including those drawn from exilic and post-exilic Prophetic tradition, involving the coming of the Spirit upon God’s people in the New Age. That is, the New Age is fundamentally characterized by the guiding presence of God’s Spirit in (and among) His people.

With regard to the first point, the association of Jesus with the Holy Spirit is expressed mainly through two lines of early tradition: (1) the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at the baptism, and (2) the resurrection of Jesus and his exaltation to heaven (at God’s right hand). The Synoptic Gospels record the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:10; par Matt 3:16; Lk 3:22), relating it to the saying by the Baptist in Mk 1:8 par (cf. also Acts 1:5; 11:16). The descent of the Spirit marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, and his divine empowerment for that prophetic work. It is in Luke where this aspect is given particular prominence, with special emphasis placed on Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit—4:1ff (cf. Mk 1:12 par), 14, 18ff, characterized as an anointing by the Spirit (4:18; Acts 10:38). The presence of the Spirit gives to Jesus authority over the evil/unclean spirits (cf. Mk 1:23ff; 3:11, 22ff, 28-30; 6:7 pars), and also marks the divine character of his teaching (Mk 1:22 par; Acts 1:2, etc). Luke again places special emphasis on the Spirit in this regard, as a focus of Jesus’ teaching, such as in the pericope on prayer in chapter 11 (v. 2 [v.l.], 13, and note the contextual Spirit-reference in 10:21).

It was especially after the resurrection of Jesus, with his exaltation to God’s right hand, that he actually came to be identified with the Spirit. This divine status and position, including his specific identity as the Son of God (according to the early exaltation-Christology), enabled Jesus to communicate the Spirit of God to believers (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; cf. also Jn 20:22; 7:39). Moreover, at various points in the New Testament, as we shall see, Jesus himself is manifest in the Spirit to believers. Through the resurrection, Jesus was united with God the Father as one Spirit (see esp. 1 Cor 15:45; cp. 6:17); this explains how early Christians could refer to the (Holy) Spirit as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus, interchangeably.

Beyond this, the Spirit was also associated with the conception and birth of Jesus (as a human being), though this does not appear to have been part of the earliest Gospel kerygma-narrative. The relative age of the tradition, however, is indicated by its independent attestation in both the Matthean and Lukan infancy narratives (Matt 1:18-20; Lk 1:35), and may (possibly) be alluded to by Paul in Gal 4:4-6. The Spirit, of course, is a prominent theme, developed by the author, in the Lukan infancy narrative as a whole (1:15ff, 41, 67; 2:25-27).

The second point outlined above relates specifically to the subject of Jesus and the Law. The Gospel Tradition, in a number of places, exhibits the tendency whereby Jesus, in his person, came to take priority over the external elements of Jewish religion—the temple and its ritual, along with the Torah regulations. I discuss the issue of Jesus and the temple extensively in an earlier article, examining both the temple-action (Mk 11:15-18 par; Jn 2:13-17) and saying(s) of Jesus (Jn 2:19ff; cp. Mk 14:58 par; Acts 6:14, and note Mk 13:2 par). The saying of Jesus in Matt 6:6 (in the context of that particular Synoptic tradition, 6:1-8 par) is also of special significance.

Jesus’ primacy over the Torah regulations has to do, in large part, with his authoritative interpretation of the Torah regulations, situated at the heart of his teaching (e.g., in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 5:17-20 ff). However, the Gospel portrait is rather more complex, and goes well beyond that limited aspect of Jesus’ relation to the Law. For more on the subject, see my survey of passages (in the series “Jesus and the Law”), as well as the articles on the Synoptic “Sabbath Controversy” episodes.

The third point relates to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, and the Old Testament prophetic traditions regarding the role of the Spirit in the eschatological New Age for God’s people. As noted above, I have discussed all of the relevant passages in an earlier series of notes on “The Spirit in the Old Testament”, and I recommend consulting these for further study:

As far as Jesus’ identity as the Messiah is concerned, in which he was identified by believers as fulfilling all of the Messianic figure-types known in Judaism at the time, see the various articles in my series “Yeshua the Anointed”. On the significance of the Holy Spirit in this regard, as attested in Judaism during the first centuries B.C./A.D., you may wish to consult my earlier note on Wisdom 9:17, etc, as well as the two-part article “The Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls” .


The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 4 (Luke 3:22)

The Birth of Jesus as the Son of God
(The example of Psalm 2:7)

In the concluding notes of Part 3, we looked at Galatians 4:1-7 (and the similar passage in Romans 8:12-17), where the birth of Jesus is connected to the sonship of believers. There is thus an implicit parallel established between Jesus’ incarnate birth (as a human being) and believers’ divine birth (as sons/children of God). In Galatians and Romans, Paul uses the idiom of adoption, rather than birth per se, but he is quite capable of referring to believers being “born” (cf. 4:23, 29). This “birth” takes place through the Holy Spirit, when believers receive the Spirit (Rom 8:15f).

Traditionally, the receiving of the Spirit occurred during (and was symbolized by) the baptism rite. In this regard, believers follow the type-pattern of Jesus’ own baptism, when the Spirit descended on/into him (Mark 1:10 par). This brings up an important point of Christology.

We have already examined how, from the standpoint of the earliest Christology, Jesus’ identity as God’s Son was understood primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation (to heaven). In this regard, he could be said to have been “born” as God’s Son as a result of the resurrection and exaltation. This is demonstrated quite clearly by the use of Psalm 2:7 in Paul’s Antioch speech in the book of Acts (13:33, cf the context of vv. 30-37). As it happens, the same Scripture-verse is cited, in the context of Jesus’ baptism, in the ‘Western’ text of the Lukan version (3:22).

Luke 3:22

In the majority of manuscripts, the words of the heavenly voice (3:22b) match those of the other Synoptic versions (Mark 1:11 par):

“You are my Son [su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou], the (Be)loved One [o( a)gaphto/$]; I have good thought/consideration in you [e)n soi eu)do/khsa]”

There is probably an echo of Isa 42:1 here, a Messianic passage for which the parallel is even closer in the Lukan version of the voice at the Transfiguration (9:35, cf. my earlier discussion). In the opening lines of that prophetic poem, God declares that He has put His Spirit upon the servant-figure (“I have given my Spirit upon him”). Moreover, the figure of a young servant (db#u#), beloved by his master, is not that far removed from the figure of a son. This is all the more so, when we consider that the word used by the LXX (pai=$) to translate db#u# can mean both “servant” and “child”. It is easy to see how the Greek version could take on a subtle interpretive shift to approximate the message of the Heavenly Voice—

my child [o( pai=$ mou]…my soul thinks good [e&dwka] of him…”

all in connection with the act of God “giving” His Spirit to be “upon” the beloved child/servant. For further study, cf. my article in the series on “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition,” as well as the supplemental note on Isa 42:1-4; see also the exegetical note (on Isa 42:1 and 61:1) in the series on the Spirit in the Old Testament.

However, in the ‘Western’ Text of Luke 3:22b—in Codex D [Bezae] and a number of Old Latin manuscripts (a b c d ff2, l, r1)—and in the writings quite a few Church Fathers (cf. the footnote at the end of this article), the heavenly voice actually quotes Psalm 2:7:

“You are my son; today I have caused you to be (born)”
ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se

This verse, of course, came to be a primary Messianic reference as applied to Christ, though usually in connection with the resurrection, not the baptism (Acts 13:33 [cf. above]; Heb 1:5; 5:5). While a number of scholars do accept this minority reading in Lk 3:22b as original (for a good summary and defense of this position, see Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture pp. 62-67, and notes), it is usually regarded as a secondary (variant) reading. I would tend to agree with this opinion, and would point to the very usage of Psalm 2:7, in connection with the resurrection, as an indication that its association with the baptism (in Lk 3:22 v.l.) reflects a measure of the Christological development that took place in the first century. This point deserves to be discussed a bit further.

Christological Development

There are two lines of early Christian tradition in which Jesus was identified as God’s Son, connected with the presence and work of God’s Spirit. The first is the resurrection of Jesus and his exaltation to God’s right hand in heaven (cf. above). The second involves the Messianic identity of Jesus, connected in the early Gospel tradition with the Isaian prophecies in 42:1ff (cf. above) and 61:1ff, and located, in the Gospel narrative, at the beginning of his public ministry—that is, at his baptism (and thereafter).

As the prophetic context of Isa 42:1 and 61:1 makes clear, the earliest strands of the Gospel tradition identified Jesus primarily as a Messianic prophet-figure, rather than the royal Davidic Messiah. Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophet figure-types is well-rooted in the Gospel tradition, but is hardly to be found at all in the remainder of the New Testament, and by the 2nd century the idea of Jesus as an Anointed/Eschatological Prophet had virtually disappeared from Christian thought. Even in the New Testament period, the Messianic identity of Jesus soon was understood primarily in terms of the Davidic Messiah, but also (and increasingly) through the figure of a Divine/Heavenly Savior who would appear at the end-time. I discuss all of these Messianic figure-types at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”; on the Prophet-types, cf. Parts 2 and 3; the royal/Davidic figure is discussed in Parts 6-8, and the Heavenly Deliverer (Son of Man, etc) in Part 10.

Early on, as Jesus’ Messianic identity came to be defined increasingly in terms of a royal Messiah (from the line of David), it is easy to see how Psalm 2:7 might have been cited in the context of Jesus’ baptism, in place of the allusion to Isa 42:1. This could have been done by the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) himself, in which case the quotation of Psalm 2:7 by the Heavenly Voice would be the original reading. But it is just as likely that Psalm 2:7 could have been included subsequently by a copyist, whether intentionally or mistakenly, perhaps inserted by way of a marginal gloss. Just as the Israelite/Judean king could be regarded as God’s “son”, with his coronation as a “birth”, in a figurative and symbolic sense, so could one speak of the royal Messiah as having been born as God’s son (on this, cf. my earlier series on “The Birth of the Messiah”). The prophetic motif of being “anointed” by God’s Spirit (Isa 61:1) could easily be understood in the sense of a royal anointing (for the Davidic Messiah).

Gradually, of course, early Christians came to realize that Jesus must have been the Son of God, in the sense of his exalted and Divine status, even prior to his resurrection—that is, during the time of his earthly ministry. In this regard, the announcement of the Voice at his baptism, declaring that he is God’s Son, would go far beyond the Messianic sense of sonship, implying that Jesus possessed an exalted/Divine position (and nature) even from the beginning of his earthly ministry (i.e., at his baptism). Here, the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 in terms of the resurrection is significant, when it is applied to an earlier point in Jesus’ life. 

In the next section of this article, we will turn to another use of Psalm 2:7, by the author of Hebrews, to see how the Christological aspects surrounding the idea of Jesus’ “birth” (as the Son of God) underwent further development in the later 1st century.

The primary patristic citations for the ‘Western’ reading of Luke 3:22b (cf. above) are as follows: Justin Martyr [Dialogue with Trypho 88, 103], Clement of Alexandria [Paedagogus I.25], Origen [Commentary on John I.29 {32}], Methodius [Symposium VIII.9], the Didascalia [93], Lactantius [Institutes IV.15], Hilary of Poitiers [On the Trinity VIII.25], Augustine [Harmony II.14, Enchiridion 49, Against Faustus 23], and so forth; it was also, apparently, the text found in the so-called Gospel According to the Hebrews [cf. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 11, 12] and Gospel of the Ebionites [cf. Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13], which may be derived from Luke’s reading, and in the Apocryphal Acts [e.g., Acts of Peter and Paul sect. 29]. It is sometimes difficult to know when a Church Father is citing a specific Gospel, but most of these references would seem to be from Luke.

June 24: Acts 10:44-48

Acts 10:44-48

There are three references to the Spirit in the Cornelius episode of chapter 10, and each of these reflects an aspect of the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts.

In verse 19, the Spirit communicates a message to Peter, related to his activity as a missionary (and apostle). This is part of the wider theme of the Spirit guiding and directing the early Christian missionaries. This aspect was introduced in the Acts narratives at 8:29, 39, and will continue throughout the remainder of the book. I will be discussing it specifically in an upcoming note.

In verse 38, the Spirit is mentioned as part of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma) portion of Peter’s speech (on which, cf. Parts 13-14 of the series “The Speeches of Acts”). The reference is to the Baptism of Jesus, as presented in the Lukan Gospel (3:22). Luke presents the coming of the Spirit on Jesus at his baptism as an anointing, expressed in terms of the citation of Isa 61:1-2 (by Jesus) in the Nazareth episode, marking the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The wording here in v. 38 suggests that it is a Lukan adaptation of the early kerygma (as it would have been spoken by Peter). It is also possible that there is an allusion to the early Christian baptism ritual, where the presence of the Spirit was symbolized by the practice of chrism (anointing with oil).

This brings us to the references to the Spirit in vv. 44ff, which are closely connected with the baptism of converts, and raises the question of the relationship between the Spirit and baptism. That there was such a connection with the Spirit is well-established in early Christian tradition, going all the way back to the beginnings of the Gospel and the historical traditions surrounding John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus. The saying by the Baptist in Mark 1:8 par is unquestionably an old and authentic tradition:

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit”

It has been preserved in at least three separate lines of tradition—the Synoptic, the Johannine (Jn 1:33), and the versions of the saying here in the book of Acts. The version of the saying in Luke 3:16, like the parallel in Matt 3:11 represents an expanded form, with the declaration of the “one coming” being embedded in the middle of the saying. In the book of Acts, a version of this saying is part of the introduction to the book (1:1-5); the narration in this long introductory sentence leads into the saying, but framed as a saying by Jesus, rather than by the Baptist:

“…he gave along the message to them not to make space [i.e. depart] away from Yerushalaim, but to remain about (for) the e)paggeli/a of the Father, of which you (have) heard (from) me, (saying) that ‘Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in the holy Spirit after not many of these days’.” (vv. 4-5)

In the restatement of the Cornelius episode (by Peter) in chapter 11, this key tradition is specifically mentioned again, in connection with the coming of the Spirit upon the household of Cornelius:

“And, in my beginning to speak, the holy Spirit fell upon them, just as (it) also (did) upon us in (the) beginning; and I remembered the utterance of the Lord, how he related (to us): ‘Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit’.” (vv. 15-16)

The close connection between the Spirit and baptism is thus given special emphasis. The coming of the Spirit in the Cornelius episode is first narrated in 10:44:

“(While the) Rock {Peter} was yet speaking these words, the holy Spirit fell upon (all) the (one)s hearing the account.”

Two points are significant with regard to the narrative context of the coming of the Spirit in this episode: (1) that the Spirit falls upon Gentiles (non-Jews), and (2) the Spirit comes prior to baptism. The first point is more important to the overall Lukan narrative, but the second point requires some comment as well.

In the earlier episode of 8:5-25, the Spirit does not come upon the (Samaritan) converts until Peter (and other apostles) arrive to lay hands upon them—that is, some time after they have been baptized (vv. 12-17). The implication is that the presence of an apostle is required for the Spirit to be conferred on believers. This very well may have been the procedure in the earliest Community, when the numbers were relatively small and limited to the confines of Jerusalem. It would have quickly become a practical impossibility once Christianity spread further abroad.

The first believers (including the core group of apostles) received the Spirit at the Pentecost event of 2:1-4ff, and it would be natural that believers subsequently would receive the Spirit through these apostles as intermediaries. Very soon, however, the coming of the Spirit had to be realized in a different way within the early congregations, and it was proper that the focus would be upon the baptism rite as the moment when this occurred.

The coming of the Spirit prior to baptism is most unusual, in the context of early Christianity. The most reasonable explanation, in the case of the Cornelius episode, is that the atypical sequence served to demonstrate (to the Jewish believers) that non-Jews (Gentiles) were deserving of baptism and inclusion into the Community. Verse 45 illustrates this clearly enough:

“And they stood out (of themselves) [i.e. were amazed], the (one)s (having) trusted out of (those having been) cut around [i.e. circumcised], as many as came with (the) Rock {Peter}, (in) that [i.e. because] the gift of the holy Spirit had been poured out even upon (those of) the nations.”

This issue becomes the focus of chapter 11, and reaches its culmination in the Jerusalem Council of chapter 15 (an episode that sits at the very heart of the book of Acts). The presence of the Spirit was manifested through ‘speaking in tongues’ (v. 46), much as in 2:4ff and (presumably) in 8:17-18. Peter addresses the possible concern of Jewish believers in v. 47:

“It is (surely) not possible (for) any(one) to cut off the water (so that) these (people) should not be dunked, (these) who received the holy Spirit (just) as we also (did)?”

The decisive point for Peter, and for the Jewish Christians who were convinced by his arguments, was that the Spirit came upon these Gentile converts. It was the presence of the Spirit which demonstrated unquestionably that the conversions were genuine, at that these non-Jewish believers had every right to be counted among the faithful and included within the early Christian Community—even before they had been baptized. Baptism and the coming of the Spirit were closely connected, but they remained separate events and distinct religious phenomena within early Christianity, even as they are (and should be so) for believers today.


June 9: Luke 4:1

Luke 4:1

The Lukan Gospel proper begins with chapters 3-4, corresponding to the beginning of the Synoptic narrative (Mk 1:2-28). The opening episode in the Synoptic tradition is the Baptism of Jesus—a sequence of episodes spanning the description of John the Baptist’s ministry to the summary description of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. There are three references to the Spirit within this tradition (Mk 1:8, 10, 12) which Luke has inherited. The first two—the saying by the Baptist (3:16) and the descent of the Spirit at the Baptism (3:22)—are simply reproduced from the tradition by the Gospel writer.

The situation is different with regard to the third reference. In the core Synoptic tradition, following the Baptism, there is a brief narration of Jesus’ time in the desert, where he is tempted (lit. “tested”)  by the Satan (Mk 1:12-13). The initial statement in Mark reads as follows:

“And straightaway the Spirit casts him out into the desolate (land)” (v. 12)

The use of the verb e)kba/llw (“throw out, cast out”) sounds extremely harsh, but is appropriate to the harshness of Jesus’ experience in the desert (v. 13). Matthew softens the language, but otherwise follows the Synoptic/Markan narration:

“Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under [i.e. by] the Spirit…” (Matt 4:1)

In Luke’s version, while the author clearly is drawing upon the same tradition, the wording has been modified considerably, in a way that reflects the Lukan Spirit-theme:

“And Yeshua, full of (the) holy Spirit, turned back from from the Yarden (river), and was led in the Spirit in(to) the desolate (land)” (4:1)

The two expressions in bold are thoroughly Lukan expressions, which, as we saw in the previous notes, were established in the Infancy narratives. They represent two of the primary modes of Spirit-experience featured in Luke-Acts:

    • filled with the Spirit—cf. the notes on 1:15 and 1:41, 67, where the verb plh/qw is used; here it is the related adjective plh/rh$ (“filled, full”)
    • being/going in the Spirit—cf. 1:17 and 2:27 (note); the idea of being led by the Spirit is very much implied in the latter reference (Simeon is guided into the Temple precincts where he encounters Jesus)

In the Markan narrative, the Spirit comes unto Jesus at the Baptism, but then he is “thrown out” by the Spirit into the desert. This could imply that the Spirit was no longer with Jesus during his time in the desert, but that Jesus had to fend for himself, enduring temptation (much like a normal human being). During that time, he had to rely on Angel-messengers for strength and comfort. The Matthean and Lukan versions word the narration to make clear that the Spirit was still with Jesus during his time of testing. In all likelihood, the Markan version intends this as well; the Spirit ‘thrusts’ Jesus into the desert, but does not leave him. Matthew and Luke simply make this point clear.

Indeed, the Lukan version gives special emphasis to the presence of the Spirit, by way of the double reference. Jesus remains filled by the Spirit, and guided by the Spirit, all through the forty days of testing. This is confirmed by the fact that the Gospel writer restates the Spirit-theme immediately after the temptation scene, in verse 14:

“And Yeshua turned back, in the power of the Spirit, into the Galîl.”

The restatement was necessary, on the literary level, because of the insertion of the temptation scene (vv. 2b-13). Both Luke and Matthew expand the brief Synoptic description of the testing (by Satan) with the famous temptation-dialogue (par Matt 4:3-11). This is part of the so-called “Q” material, and the temptation-dialogue is unquestionably one of the most vivid and memorable of “Q” traditions. The Lukan framing of this episode suggests that it is the presence of the Spirit that empowers Jesus to overcome the Devil during the forty days of testing.

Indeed, it may be said that Jesus comes through the desert-experience even stronger, and this in relation to the presence of the Spirit. In verse 1, Jesus is “led in the Spirit”, but in verse 14, following the testing, he returns “in the power of the Spirit”. On the important association of the Spirit with “power” (du/nami$), i.e., the power of God, cf. 1:17, 35; 24:49; Acts 1:8; 8:19; 10:38. It is clearly an important aspect of the Lukan Spirit-theme. On a similar association in Paul’s letters, cf. Rom 1:4; 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5, etc. This ‘power of the Spirit’ is often connected with the ability to work miracles; however, the primary Lukan point of emphasis is on prophecy—that is, the Spirit-empowered ability to communicate the word of God (i.e., proclaim the Gospel). In the book of Acts, the prophetic aspect includes supernatural signs and phenomena (speaking with tongues, etc).

We will explore this aspect of the Spirit-theme, in relation to the Lukan portrait of Jesus, further in the next daily note.