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.


The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Isaiah 61:1-3

Isaiah 61:1-3

Having discussed Isaiah 42:1ff in the previous article, we now turn to Isa 61:1-3. These two passages have a good deal in common, both in terms of the Messianic interpretation that was given to them, and how they were applied to Jesus in the earliest strands of the Gospel Tradition. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that they are rooted in the actual historical tradition much more than in the early Christian interpretation of that tradition. This is especially so in the case of Isa 61:1ff, as we consider how this passage may have been applied by Jesus to himself, in ways that scarcely continued at all in subsequent Christian thought.

While Isa 40:3 and 42:1ff are part of so-called Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 4055), 61:1-3 is part of the following chapters (5666) that many scholars regard as a separate (and later) work, customarily referred to as Trito-Isaiah (“Third Isaiah”). Because the message of these poems tends to assume a post-exilic setting, focusing on the future destiny of Judah/Jerusalem following the restoration/return of the people to the Land, Trito-Isaiah is usually dated to the (early) post-exilic period (i.e., the 5th [or late 6th] century B.C.). Even if this critical assessment is correct, the poems in chaps. 56-66 clearly draw upon (and develop) many Isaian (and Deutero-Isaian) themes. In particular, there are many points in common between chapters 40-55 and 56-66.

If we treat chapters 56-66 as a distinct work (or division within the larger Isaian corpus), then chaps. 60-62 are at the heart of that work. Indeed, it would seem that 61:1-3 lies at the very center of the Trito-Isaian poems (cf. Blenkinsopp, pp. ). Chapters 60 and 62 each present a prophetic vision of the glorious destiny for Judah and Jerusalem in the coming New Age. As the people continue to return from exile (60:4ff, 9), so also the surrounding nations will bring tribute and pay homage to the new kingdom. God’s people, centered in Jerusalem, will experience a blessing and prosperity greater than anything before.

However, as chapter 61 makes clear, this glorious New Age had not yet been fully realized in the post-exilic period. Much of the territory (of Judah and Jerusalem) still lay in ruins and needs to be rebuilt (v. 4), a scenario which accords well with a mid-5th century setting, prior to the work inaugurated by Nehemiah (after 445 B.C.). Moreover, the context of vv. 1-3 and 8-9 suggests that there was considerable poverty, as well as widespread injustice and oppression in the land at the time. Again, this fits the vivid portrait in Nehemiah 5:1-5 (cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 224). In the glorious New Age of Israel’s restoration, there is no place for such poverty and injustice.

If we are to consider the structure of chapter 61, it may be treated as a poem with two strophes; each strophe has two parts: (1) announcement of the prophet’s role in establishing the ‘new covenant’ (vv. 1-3, 8-9), and (2) a prophetic hymn-like declaration of the glorious destiny of Judah/Jerusalem (vv. 4-7, 10-11). Each strophe presents a different aspect of these themes. In vv. 1-3, the focus is on the Spirit-empowered prophet, while the ‘new covenant’ itself is only mentioned directly in vv. 8-9. It is specifically referred to as an “eternal covenant” —literally, a “binding agreement (into the) distant (future)” (<l*ou tyr!B=). Technically, this means that the agreement is perpetual and does not require any future ratification or renewal.

The connection between the Spirit-inspired prophet and the covenant is made explicit in 59:21, the verse immediately preceding chaps. 60-62:

“And (for) me [i.e. for my part], this (is) my binding (agreement) [tyr!B=] with them, says YHWH: my Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have set in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, and from (the) mouth of your seed, and from (the) mouth of (the) seed of your seed, (so) says YHWH, from now until (the) distant (future).”

The promise is that there will be a continuous line of inspired prophets, lasting into the far distant future (<l*ou), and this promise is an essential part of the new covenant (“binding [agreement]”) between YHWH and His people. The scope of this prophetic dynasty, taken together with the passages promising the ‘pouring out’ of the Spirit upon the entire people (cf. 32:15; 44:3, etc), strongly suggests what may be referred to as a ‘democratization’ of the ancient prophetic principle. If Moses is the primary prophetic figure-type in view (cf. below), then is it too much to imagine that Moses’ expressed wish in Numbers 11:29 (that all of God’s people would be prophets) finds its fulfillment in the New Age?

In our previous discussion on Isa 42:1ff (see the article and supplemental note), I mentioned that there are two plausible ways of understanding the “servant”, based on the Deutero-Isaian context and the traditions involved:

    • The collective interpretation: the “servant” is the people of Israel/Judah in the New Age of restoration; the Spirit is poured out upon the entire people (cf. above), who function as the inspired messenger(s) of YHWH to the other nations.
    • The figure-type of Moses: the “servant” is a specially-appointed prophet patterned after Moses (Deut 18:15-19), who leads God’s people out of exile and serves as mediator of the (new) covenant.

Sound arguments can be made for both lines of interpretation, at least in regard to the “servant” of 42:1ff. In the case of the anointed prophet-figure in 61:1ff, however, it does seem that a specific individual is in view. Certain evidence suggests that here, too, it is a prophet following in the pattern of Moses. The wording of 59:21 (cf. above), which is unquestionably related to 61:1, resembles that of Deut 18:18, in which YHWH declares that “I will give [i.e. put] my words in his mouth”. We find the same Deuteronomic phrasing applied to the prophet Jeremiah (in 1:9), and the idea that God’s word will not “depart” (vb vWm) from the prophet’s mouth may be an echo of Joshua 1:8, with the declaration that the Instruction (Torah) of YHWH will not “depart” (same verb) from Joshua’s mouth.

Moses was the supreme Prophet in Israel’s history, due to his role in receiving the Torah from YHWH, and then communicating it to the people. In so doing, he functioned as the mediator of the covenant, especially in the period following the Golden Calf incident (cf. the complex narrative in Exodus 19-34). For more on the original context and setting of Isaiah 61:1-3, consult the supplemental daily notes on the passage.

Jewish Interpretation of Isaiah 61:1-3

By all accounts, the prophecies in chapters 60-62, regarding the glorious destiny of Judah/Jerusalem, were never fulfilled in the early post-exilic period (nor in the centuries to follow). It was thus natural that these prophetic poems would be given a Messianic interpretation by Israelites and Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. According to this line of interpretation, the promises would finally be realized in the time of the Messiah. The primary Messianic figure-type was the royal Davidic ruler—that is, a future ruler from the line of David, who will serve as God’s representative in establishing a restored Israelite Kingdom (centered at Jerusalem) and in judging/subduing the surrounding nations. On this figure-type, cp. Parts 68 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

However, the “anointed” figure in Isa 61:1ff is not a king, but a prophet—one who brings a message (from YHWH) to the people. The “servant” in 42:1ff exercises a judicial and law-giving function that would be more fitting of a ruler, and yet there too the emphasis is prophetic, rather than royal. The personage of Moses embraces both aspects—judge/lawgiver and prophet—and, as I have discussed, the prophetic figure-type in view may be the “prophet like Moses” promised in Deut 18:15-19.

If we turn to the Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D., specific references or allusions to Isa 61:1ff are actually quite rare. However, there are at least two Qumran texts which give us some indication of how the passage may have been understood by Jews at the time. The first text is 4Q521, sometimes referred to as the “Messianic Apocalypse”. It is the reasonably well-preserved fragment 2 (cols. 2 & 3) which has most intrigued scholars. The surviving portion of column 2 begins (lines 1-2):

“[for the heav]ens and the earth will hear {i.e. listen} to his anointed (one), [and all wh]ich (is) in them will not turn (away) from the commands of his holy (one)s.”

The ancient idea of the universe (heavens and earth) obeying God’s word has joined the religious-ethical concept of faithfulness to the Torah (and to the Community)—both are aspects of a single dynamic which is about to come more clearly into view at the end-time. Indeed, the context suggests an eschatological orientation, and that the “anointed (one)” is a Messianic figure who is (about) to appear. This is confirmed by a careful reading of the remainder of the fragment.

Following the exhortation in lines 3-4, the remaining lines (5-14) record a promise of what God will do for his people, inspired by Isaiah 61:1ff, blended with a citation of Psalm 146:7-8, and allusions to eschatological/Messianic passages such as Daniel 7. In applying this chain of Scripture passages, it is clear that the “poor” and suffering ones are synonymous with the pious and devout ones (<yd!ys!j&)—the faithful Community in the midst of the wicked and corrupt world. It is they who receive the “good news” proclaimed by the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. These associations are worked out in the wording of lines 5-7:

“For my Lord will consider the devout (one)s and will call the righteous/faithful (one)s by name, and his Spirit will hover upon the poor/afflicted (one)s, and he will renew with his strength the (one)s firm (in trust). For he will give weight to {i.e. honor} the devout (one)s (by putting them) upon the seat of a kingdom unto (the Ages)…”

What follows in lines 8-9 echoes Psalm 146:7-8, referring to the freeing of prisoners, opening eyes, straightening the twisted, etc. Unfortunately there is a gap in line 10, but it indicates an imminent eschatological expectation: God is about to “do weighty (thing)s which have not (yet) been” (line 11). These deeds of deliverance will, it seems, be performed by an Anointed representative, such as is mentioned in line 1, identified with the herald of Isa 61:

“…according to that which he spoke, [for] he will heal the wounded (one)s, and will make (one)s dead to live (again), and will bring (good) news for the poor/afflicted (one)s…” (lines 11-12)

To this, in the badly preserved third column of same fragment, is added an allusion to Malachi 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] and the end-time role of “Elijah” as the Messenger who prepares things for God’s appearance on earth to bring the Judgment (3:1ff). This suggests that the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff is being interpreted according to the figure-type of Elijah, rather than Moses (cf. above). The miracle-working power accords better with the Elijah-traditions, especially the association with raising the dead (col. 2, line 12)—a connection that continues throughout Jewish tradition (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24; Sirach 48:5, [11]; m. Sota 9; j. Sheqalim 3:3; Pesikta de R. Kahana 76a). By the end of the 1st century A.D., resurrection came to be connected with the appearance of the Messiah generally (2 Baruch 30:2; 2/4 Esdras 7).

The second text is 11QMelchizedek [11Q13], another fragmentary work with eschatological and Messianic significance. There appear to be two Messianic figures who feature in this text. The first is Melchizedek, understood as a heavenly deliverer, perhaps to be identified with the angel Michael, who will defeat the forces of evil, and thus free God’s people from the power of Belial (col. 2, lines 1-14, 25; col. 3 + frags. 5 & 7). The second figure is an anointed herald who announces the good news of this salvation (col. 2, lines 15-20ff).

The chief Scripture reference is Isa 52:7, but filtered through the framework of Isa 61:1ff (along with a citation of Dan 9:25). The herald is a Messiah, and specifically one who is “anointed of the Spirit”. The Hebrew term for this prophetic herald is the verbal noun rC@b^m=, from the root rc^B* (cf. above), literally “(one) bringing (good) news”. This word occurs in 11QMelchizedek col. 2, line 18—

“and the (one) bringing (good) news i[s] (the) Anointed of the Spir[it]”

where, as noted above, the herald may be understood as an end-time prophet according to the figure-type of Elijah. However, in 4Q377 (frag. 2, col. 2, line 11), the prophetic herald (rcbm) is specifically identified with Moses.

Isaiah 61:1-3 in the Gospel Tradition

Luke 4:16-30

Isaiah 61:1ff features prominently in the Lukan version (4:16-30) of the episode at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6a; Matt 13:53-58). Because Luke’s version contains details not found in Mark-Matthew, and because it is located at a different point in the Synoptic narrative (at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry), some commentators have posited that there were two such (historical) episodes at Nazareth. However, this is extremely unlikely. The Gospels know of only one such episode, the basic outline of which is consistent. Moreover, Luke’s version (v. 23) essentially confirms that the location of the episode in Mark-Matthew is correct; Jesus has been working in Galilee (centered at Capernaum) long enough for his deeds to have become well known in Nazareth.

This suggests that Luke has changed the location of the episode, setting it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, for a distinct literary (and theological) purpose. Several factors may explain the change. First, moving the episode to this earlier point facilitates a natural connection with the Nazareth setting of the Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2). Second, the episode vividly illustrates Jesus’ practice of visiting the synagogues and teaching the people there (v. 15); the main Synoptic narrative uses a different episode for this purpose (Mk 1:21-28 par), which Luke includes as well, immediately following the Nazareth scene (vv. 31-37). Third, if the citation of Isa 61:1-2 is an authentic part of the historical tradition received by Luke, then it would have been natural for him to include it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following the baptism and temptation scenes.

On this point, Luke clearly connects the Spirit-anointing of the Herald in Isa 61:1 with the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism (3:22 par). Luke’s Gospel gives special emphasis to the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ ministry, part of a thematic focus that relates to the central place of the Spirit in the narratives of Acts. In Jesus’ public ministry, he provides the type-pattern and example for the apostles, walking about under the guidance of the Spirit, and ministering under its power. There are key references to this in 4:1 (cp. Mk 1:12), and again following the Temptation scene (and immediately prior to the Nazareth episode), in 4:14. The Isaian “anointing” by the Spirit thus applies most fittingly to the ministry of Jesus.

If we accept the historical authenticity of the Lukan version of the episode (with its citation of Isa 61:1-2), then it must be admitted that Jesus specifically identified himself as the anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff. The Scripture as Luke presents it does not match the Hebrew text that Jesus would have read out loud (at the historical level, vv. 17ff). It follows the LXX, but in an adapted form, omitting two phrases, and interpolating part of 58:6 between verses 1 and 2. This is best understood as an interpretive literary adaptation on the part of the Gospel writer. Even so, it may be seen as accurately representing the manner in which Jesus fulfills the prophecy. Indeed, the adapted LXX version found in vv. 18-19 of the Lukan episode provides a much better fit to the reality of Jesus’ Galilean ministry than does the Hebrew text. The distinctive features of this version may be summarized as follows:

    • the phrase “to bind (the wounds) of (the one)s broken of heart” (bl@-yr@B=v=n]l= vb)j&l^, LXX i)a/sqai tou\$ tou\$ suntetrimme/nou$ th=| kardi/a|) has been omitted
    • the Greek reads tufloi=$ a)na/bleyin (“seeing again [i.e. new sight] for [the] blind”) instead of the Hebrew “opening up for (the one)s bound (in prison)” (j^oq-jq^P* <yr!Wsa&l)
    • the phrase a)postei=lai teqrausme/nou$ e)n a)fe/sei (“to send forth in release (the one)s having been broken” comes from Isa 58:6d (LXX), though it generally matches the thought in 61:1 as well
    • the citation has left out the phrase “and a day of vengeance for our God” (LXX kai\ h(me/ran a)ntapodo/sew$), which provides the (negative) judgment-parallel to the (positive) “year of favor for YHWH” (LXX “year of the Lord [favorably] received”, e)niauto\n kuri/ou dekto\n).

These changes emphasize certain aspects of Jesus’ ministry:

    • Jesus’ proclamation stresses the coming of salvation (“year of the Lord’s favor”), giving this aspect of the end-time message priority over that of judgment (“day of God’s vengeance”)
    • The double-use of the term a&fesi$ (“release”) brings out the idea of release (same word, a&fesi$) from the bondage of sin (i.e., forgiveness from sin), which was so important in Jesus’ teaching
    • The LXX reference to giving sight to the blind (cf. also Isa 35:5 and Psalm 146:7-8) allows the passage to be applied to the healing miracles performed by Jesus (cf. below).

The Lukan context clearly understands the anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff as a Messianic prophet, and one, it seems, that is generally patterned after the figure of Elijah (cf. the discussion above, esp. as related to the Qumran text 4Q521). Jesus certainly identifies himself as a prophet in verse 24 (cp. Mk 6:4 par), and the Scripture examples he cites in vv. 25-27 come from the Elijah and Elisha narratives (1 Kings 17:9-10; 18:1; 2 Kings 7:3-10). As it happens, Elisha is the only Old Testament prophet who is anointed—a ritual action which represents his inheritance of the prophetic spirit of Elijah (1 Kings 19:16; 2 Kings 2:9-10ff), much as happened in the case of Moses’ prophetic spirit in Numbers 11:16-17ff.

Luke 7:18-23 par

Jesus identifies himself with the Herald of Isa 61:1ff in a second passage—the “Q” tradition of Matt 11:2-6 / Lk 7:18-23. Again the Scripture is cited in relation to the Galilean ministry of Jesus, demonstrating that his work was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. However, here, instead of a more or less direct quotation of Isa 61:1ff, Jesus provides a loose application of different Isaian texts: along with Isa 61:1, there are allusions to Isa 26:19 and 35:5.

The historical and narrative context of this episode also relates more directly to the Messianic identity of Jesus. John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus, to ask him if he is “the (one who is) coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$). That participial expression is tied to the earlier saying by the Baptist regarding the “(one who) comes” (3:16 par). The Lukan wording of this saying generally follows Mark (1:7); however, in Matthew the substantive participle (o( e)rxo/meno$, “the [one] coming”) is used, as also in John 1:15, 27. It must be regarded essentially as a Messianic title, most likely referring to the coming Messenger of Malachi 3:1ff, understood in an eschatological (and Messianic) sense. For more on this, cf. my earlier article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

While in prison, John the Baptist apparently had developed some doubt as to whether Jesus truly was the fulfillment of this coming eschatological/Messianic figure. Jesus does not answer the Baptist’s question directly; in a manner that seems to have been typical of his approach, Jesus neither affirms nor denies the identification per se, but rather redirects the questioner to a deeper understanding of the situation (compare his response to the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6-7). It is as if he is saying: observe and judge for yourselves, based on what you see taking place in my ministry (vv. 21-22a). And Jesus summarizes his ministry work (verse 22) by alluding to Isa 61:1ff (along with other Isaian texts):

    • “blind (person)s see again” [Isa 61:1 LXX; 35:5; cf. also Psalm 146:7-8]
    • “(those) limping walk about (again)”
    • lepers are cleansed”
    • “deaf (person)s hear (again)” [Isa 35:5]
    • “(the) dead are raised” [Isa 26:19 LXX]
    • “(the) poor are given the good message” [Isa 61:1]

The primary focus is on the healing miracles performed by Jesus (verse 21), including raising the dead (the episode immediately preceding, in vv. 10-17). No such miracles are mentioned in the original Hebrew of Isa 61:1-3, but (as noted above) the LXX of verse 1 includes the idea of the blind receiving sight again. Interestingly, in the Qumran text 4Q521 (see above), Isa 61:1-2 is similarly connected with the blind receiving sight (cf. Psalm 146:7-8), and also with the raising of the dead. This text, along with the Gospel tradition here, strongly suggests that, by the first century A.D., the anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff was being interpreted as a Messianic prophet according to the figure type of the “Elijah who is to come” (Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6; cf. Mk 9:11-13 par; Lk 9:8; Jn 1:21ff). This pattern of the Spirit-empowered, miracle-working Prophet certainly fits the Galilean ministry of Jesus, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. Indeed, there are many signs that, during this period, Jesus was identified (and identified himself) as a Messianic Prophet according to the Elijah figure-type.

At the same time, there are other passages in the Gospel tradition where this Elijah-role is explicitly given to John the Baptist (including by Jesus in the Matthean version of this “Q” material, 11:14). The historical and traditional aspects of this Messianic question are complex, and I discuss them at length in other notes and articles; cf. especially Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The identity of Jesus as a Messianic Prophet, according to the types of Moses and Elijah both, will be discussed further on in this series, when we come to the Transfiguration episode.

Saturday Series: Luke 9:28-36

Luke 9:28-36

Having examined the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-13 par), and its parallels with the Baptism of Jesus, in last week’s study, here I will be focusing on the meaning and significance of the episode, especially as presented in the Gospel of Luke. This will include a comparison of the variant readings in Lk 9:35, compared with those in John 1:34.

Interpretation of the Transfiguration scene

As I mentioned previously, the Transfiguration begins the second half of the Synoptic narrative, much as the Baptism scene begins the first. The Baptism of Jesus marks the start of his ministry (in Galilee), while the Transfiguration marks the beginning of his Passion (i.e. in Judea/Jerusalem) and precedes his journey to Jerusalem. The parallels between the Baptism and Transfiguration (see the list in the prior study) have to be understood in terms of these differing contexts within the narrative. Consider the following points:

1. The connection with John the Baptist and questions regarding the identity of the Messiah

This has been a central theme in our study of the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (discussed in detail in earlier studies). John the Baptist, of course, features prominently in the Baptism narrative, which opens with a description of John and his ministry, including the central association with the Isaiah 40:3ff prophecy (Mark 1:2-6 par). His presence in the Transfiguration scene is limited to the (separate?) tradition which appears at the end (Mk 9:11-13). It is generally assumed that Jesus is speaking of John in his reference to “Elijah” (compare Matt 11:14), drawing a parallel between the Baptist’s mistreatment/arrest and his own (i.e. of the “Son of Man”, 8:31; 9:12, etc). Note the framing structure surrounding 8:27-9:13, forming an inclusio:

The question regarding the identity of “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) is given more prominence and clarity in Luke’s account of the Baptism (3:15; compare John 1:19-27).

2. The heavenly declaration corrects/clarifies the Messianic identification

This is implicit by the phenomena attending Jesus at his baptism, especially the descent of the Spirit upon him; Luke brings out the Messianic association more directly, in the subsequent scene at Nazareth, where Jesus identifies himself with the “Anointed” figure of Isa 61:1ff (Lk 4:17-21, cf. also 7:22). This makes clear in what sense Jesus is the Messiah (3:15) and the “one [who is] coming” (3:16; 7:19 par). The heavenly declaration at the Baptism adds to this by identifying Jesus as God’s Son (3:22 par), drawing upon the image of the king (i.e. the Davidic ruler) as “Son of God” (the variant reading in Lk quotes [the Messianic] Psalm 2:7). Similarly, prior to the Transfiguration, Peter declares Jesus to be “the Anointed One (Messiah) [of God]” (Mk 8:27 / Lk 9:2). The exchange between Peter and Jesus which follows (Mk 8:31-33 par, but omitted by Luke) suggests that Peter had in mind the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic ruler (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), which would not have been compatible with the idea that Jesus must suffer and be put to death. It was Peter who also responds to the Transfiguration, without truly understanding the significance of what he sees (Mk 9:5-6 par, see below). Again, as at the Baptism, the heavenly voice declares Jesus to be the “Son of God”—but here, it would seem, not in the traditional Messianic sense, but hinting at something greater, tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:9, 12-13 par), which will lead to his exaltation to the right hand of God (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:32-35; 13:30-35 [citing Ps 2:7], etc).

3. The presence of Moses and Elijah—Jesus as a Prophet figure, specially chosen/anointed by God

That Jesus was seen as a Messiah of the Prophet figure-type seems clear enough from the Baptism scene, attested by different strands of tradition (Mk 1:7-8 par; Lk 3:15ff; 4:14-30; Jn 1:19-27), as well as the entirety of the period of his Galilean ministry, as it is recorded in the Synoptic narrative. Principally, he fulfilled the role of Spirit-endowed, miracle working Prophet (like Elijah), identified more specifically with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. It has been popular to interpret the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene as representing “the Law and the Prophets” which Jesus was fulfilling (Matt 5:17; Lk 16:16; 24:27, 44; Jn 1:45, etc). However, this does not seem to be correct. To begin with, Elijah is an odd choice to represent the Prophetic Scriptures (Isaiah would make more sense, cf. Jn 12:39-41). More importantly, Moses and Elijah each represent distinct Prophet-figures; and, in the original context of the Gospels, it is almost certain that Jesus, in the period of his Galilean ministry especially, was also seen as an Anointed Prophet. I would suggest that in the Transfiguration scene the significance of Moses and Elijah is two-fold:

    1. It identifies Jesus as a Messianic Prophet (like Moses and Elijah), marking the conclusion of his Galilean ministry in which this role was primarily being fulfilled, but also pointing to his eschatological role inaugurating a new era for the people of God. It is no coincidence that, in Jewish tradition by the time of Jesus, Moses and Elijah were seen as prophetic figures who would appear at the end-time, as a fulfillment of specific prophecies (Deut 18:15-20; Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6).
    2. Moses and Elijah each experienced a theophany—manifestation of God’s presence—upon the holy mountain (Sinai/Horeb); similarly, Jesus (and his disciples) on this mountain experience the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence and the divine Voice from heaven. This theophany, in relation to Jesus, is of a different sort, reflecting his divine Sonship. For more on this, see below.
4. The Transfiguration scene prefigures the coming Passion—the death and resurrection of the Son of Man

This is clear from the position of the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic narrative, as noted above. It marks the conclusion of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the beginning of his Passion—the upcoming journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10; Lk 9:5118:34), and the events which would take place there. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration brings out this aspect more clearly (see below).

The Transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36

Note the following details or characteristics of the Lukan version, and its place in the specific context of the Gospel narrative:

    • Luke has given special prominence to Jesus’ role as a Messianic, Spirit-endowed Prophet in the period of his Galilean ministry (4:149:22); this gives greater significance to the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene (see above).
    • Peter’s confession in Luke (9:20) reads “You are the Anointed One of God” which is parallel to the unique form of the heavenly declaration in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration “This is the Son of God, the Elect/Chosen (One)“. On this, see below.
    • Luke’s version of the Transfiguration brings out more clearly the association with Moses and the Exodus—especially the traditions regarding the cloud of God’s presence (9:29, 31a, 34-35, cf. Exod 13:21-22; 19:9, 16ff; 24:15-16ff; 33:9-10; 34:5; 40:34-38). In particular, note v. 34 which alludes to Moses entering the cloud (Exod 24:18, cf. also 33:9).
    • This also enhances the idea of the Transfiguration as a theophany, in which Jesus and his disciples experience the presence of God and see his glory/splendor (vv. 31-32, see also v. 27). In this context, the altered appearance of Jesus (v. 29) probably is meant to echo the tradition regarding Moses changed appearance in Exod 34:29-35.
    • Luke ties the Transfiguration more directly to the coming death and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, in two respects: (1) by the detail he includes in v. 31, using the word éxodos (“way out”, i.e. “exodus”), and (2) its relation to the journey to Jerusalem which follows, and which features so prominently in the structure of the Lukan narrative (9:51-18:34)

The textual question in Luke 9:35 and John 1:34

Finally, mention should be made again of the textual variants for the heavenly declaration in Luke 9:35. The majority text (including A C* W 33, etc) follows the version in Mark (9:7):

“This is my Son, the (one who is) loved”
hoútós estin ho huiós mou ho agap¢tós

However, many of the earliest/best manuscripts (Ë45,75 a B L, etc) instead read:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. elect/chosen]”
hoútós estin ho huiós mou ho eklelegménos

Most commentators prefer this as the original reading, considering it much more likely, considering scribal tendencies, that the passage would be harmonized with Mark than the other way around. As it happens, there is a similar textual variant related to the declaration of Jesus’ identity at the Baptism, in John 1:34. The Baptist’s statement, in the vast majority of manuscripts and witnesses (including Ë66) reads—

“…this is the Son of God”
hoútós estin ho huiós toú theoú

which, of course, is quite similar to the voice at the Transfiguration in the Synoptic tradition (cf. also the Matthean version of the Baptism, Matt 3:17). However, in a number of witnesses (Ë5,106vid a* b e ff2* etc) the reading is:

“…this is the (One) gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen] of [i.e. by] God”
hoútós estin ho eklektós toú theoú

A few MSS have the longer (conflate) reading “…the elect/chosen Son of God”, which is surprisingly close to the heavenly voice in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration (according to many of the best MSS, cf. above). The adjective eklektós is closely related to the participle eklelegménos (both from the verb eklégomai, “gather out of/from”), and has essentially the same meaning (“selected, elect, chosen”, etc). The adjective normally refers (in the plural) to believers (as the elect/chosen ones) in the New Testament, but the singular is used of Jesus (also as a title) in Luke 23:35; a few manuscripts likewise read the adjective, instead of the participle, in Lk 9:35. In the two Lukan references, and in Jn 1:34 v.l., the title “Elect/Chosen One” almost certainly must be understood in a Messianic context. The Lukan usage in 9:35, if original, suggests a parallel with the adjective agap¢tós (“[the one] loved [i.e by God]”)—the one chosen by God is loved by God, and vice versa. It also indicates that the title “Son of God” should not be understood here in terms of later orthodox Christology (nor even the developed Christology of the Fourth Gospel). The immediate narrative context of the Gospel has rather a different, two-fold emphasis:

    • Jesus is the Son of God in a Messianic sense, according to the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 etc in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. Lk 1:32, 35, etc), and
    • The declaration points to the death, resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, by which he is considered to be God’s Son (and Anointed One) in a very special sense (Acts 13:33, etc). The Johannine idea of Jesus’ Sonship—i.e. as the pre-existent, eternal Son of the Father, plays little (if any) role in the Synoptic narrative, and represents a somewhat later development in the Gospel tradition

As an interesting side note, the title “Elect/Chosen One of God” in Aramaic (ah*l*a$ ryj!B=, b®µîr °§l¹h¹°) is found in a text from Qumran (4Q534). It survives only as a fragmentary piece, so it is nearly impossible to determine the precise context, but it appears to be related in some way to the ancient Enoch traditions, most familiar as expressed in the work known as 1 Enoch. Column 1 lines 10-11 reads:

“in that [i.e. because] he is the chosen (one) of God, his being born [i.e. his birth] and the spirit [jwr] of his life-breath [<vn] {…} his thinking/reckoning [pl. i.e., plans] will be to the distant age (to come) [i.e. for ever]…”

It may perhaps be debated to what extent the title “Elect/Chosen One” is Messianic (compare Isa 42:1; Ps 89:3; 106:23); however, in the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (chap. 37-71), often dated roughly to the time of Jesus (early-mid 1st cent. A.D.), we find a heavenly figure (much like Jesus) who is variously given the titles “Son of Man”, “Anointed One” and “Elect/Chosen One”. All three of these titles appear together, in the context of the Transfiguration scene, in Luke 9 (vv. 20, 22, 26, 35 v.l., 44).

Next week, we will turn our critical lens to one of the most intriguing pieces of the “Triple Tradition” —the episode of the anointing of Jesus by a woman. Perhaps no other Gospel episode has been preserved in such a conflicting and controversial manner. In addition to the marked differences between the Synoptic version in Mark-Matthew and that in Luke, the separately preserved Johannine version contains details shared by both (along with its own distinctive features). Our studies on this fascinating tradition will prepare the way for the upcoming Holy Week.

Saturday Series: Mark 9:2-13 par

Mark 9:2-13; Matt 17:1-13; Luke 9:28-36

This week, our illustrative studies on the Gospel tradition (specifically the Synoptic Gospels) will turn to the Transfiguration scene. This episode is especially interesting in the way that it parallels the earlier Baptism scene. The parallelism raises significant critical questions regarding the underlying historical tradition. The points to be discussed here in this study are:

    1. The position and significance of the Baptism and Transfiguration in the structure of the Synoptic narrative as a whole
    2. Similar/parallel details between the Baptism and Transfiguration, and how they may differ or function in context, and
    3. The similarity of the heavenly declaration regarding Jesus’ identity

Study of the Transfiguration is much simpler than that of the Baptism, since it seems to be attested only in the primary Synoptic narrative, with no parallel in the Johannine tradition, and relatively little specific adaptation by the Gospel writer. Continuing with the approach I have been using in this series, the core (Synoptic) narrative is represented by the Gospel of Mark, in line with the fundamental critical hypothesis that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark. There is always the possibility that all three Gospels are drawing (independently) upon a common “Synoptic” tradition; however, it must be affirmed that, if Matthew and Luke did not use Mark, they must have used a source very similar in content and structure.

In Mark, the Transfiguration occurs at 9:2-13, with the Synoptic parallels being Matt 17:1-13 and Lk 9:28-36. It does not seem to have been part of the so-called “Q” material (common to Matthew and Luke), nor is any such tradition recorded in the Gospel of John. Commentators debate whether Matthew and Luke may have inherited traditions apart from the core Synoptic narrative (so-called “M” and “L” material), which they included, or whether they have simply adapted the basic narrative. A reference to the Transfiguration is also found in 2 Peter 1:17-18, but it is not clear whether the immediate source of this is historical memory (Peter, taking the text at face value), the Synoptic narrative, or an independent tradition.

1. The Structure of the Synoptic Narrative

The Synoptic narrative, as shared by all three Gospels, is divided into two main portions: (1) The Galilean ministry of Jesus, and (2) The time in Judea (Jerusalem). The Galilean period begins with the Baptism, and concludes, we may say, with Peter’s confession of Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, this covers the span of 1:28:30; Matthew and Luke generally follow this same outline (Luke being closer to the Markan order), but both Gospels “fill out” the narrative with additional sayings and episodes, i.e. the so-called “Q” material, along with other traditions (“M” and “L” content).

The Transfiguration is the major episode which begins the second half of the Gospel, much as the Baptism begins the first half; it follows the first (of three) announcements by Jesus of his upcoming Passion (Mk 8:31ff), and precedes the journey to Jerusalem. This journey is scarcely mentioned in Mark, serving as the setting for chapter 10 (vv. 1, 32, 46), but in Luke it is developed considerably as a prominent feature of the narrative, covering the entire collection of material from 9:51 to 18:34 (almost ten full chapters). Virtually all of Jesus’ activity in Judea is set in the second half of the narrative, giving the impression that the only journey Jesus made to Jerusalem was the one just before his death. By contrast, the Gospel of John records multiple visits to Jerusalem, coinciding with the major religious festivals, an arrangement which, in certain respects, one must assume more accurately reflects the historical situation.

2. Similarities between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes

I begin with the narrative as represented by Mark, noting differences in the other Gospels along the way. There are a number basic elements which can be pointed to as parallels between the two scenes:

    • The isolated locale—the Judean desert/wilderness (1:4ff) vs. a high mountain [in Galilee?] (9:2)
    • Visual/visionary phenomena appear, in relation to Jesus (1:10; 9:2b-4)
    • These phenomena involve brightness/whiteness (1:10 [the dove image]; 9:3)
    • The phenomena may be said to have a Prophetic and/or Messianic context— “anointing” by the Spirit (Isa 61:1ff, see Lk 4:14-20, etc) and the presence of Moses/Elijah with Jesus
    • A cloud/presence, i.e. from heaven (1:10-11; 9:7)
    • The declaration by a heavenly voice (cf. the next section below)
    • A reference to John the Baptist as “Elijah” (1:2, 6; 9:12-13)
    • The scenes are connected (in different ways) with Peter, James and John as disciples of Jesus (1:16-20; 9:2ff)
    • Following closely after, Jesus works a healing (exorcism) miracle (1:21-28; 9:14-29)

In Matthew’s version, the parallel is made more precise by the fact that the heavenly declaration in both scenes is identical (Matt 3:17; 17:5b). The primary difference between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes is twofold: (a) the presence of Jesus’ disciples and their response to the visionary experience, and (b) the Transfiguration more fully reflects a theophany (divine appearance/manifestation), such as recorded in the Old Testament. Luke, in particular, has brought out more clearly a connection with the theophany at Sinai (9:30-31, 34; compare Exod 19). Luke also adds the detail of Jesus being engaged in prayer in both scenes (3:21; 9:29a), which creates another parallel unique to that Gospel.

3. The declaration of the Heavenly Voice

In both scenes there is a heavenly Voice (i.e., that of God). Note the similarity of wording (in Mark):

“and there came to be [egéneto] a voice out of [ek] the heavens” (1:11a)
“and there came to be [egéneto] a voice out of [ek] the cloud (9:7a)

The main difference is one of closeness and intensity—the voice at the Transfiguration comes from a theophanous cloud [nefél¢], indicating the presence of God (see the Exodus traditions, Exod 13:21-22; 19:9, 16ff; 24:15-16ff; 33:9-10; 34:5; 40:34-38), which overshadowed [literally, cast shade upon] Jesus and his disciples. Luke’s account enhances the detail of the cloud (Lk 9:34), drawing upon the image of Moses entering the cloud, to the place where God was present (Exod 24:18, cf. also 33:9). The declaration of the heavenly voice in both scenes is very similar; in Mark it is:

    • “You are my Son, the (one who is) loved—in you I have good regard [i.e., think well, think good of]” (1:11b)
      su eí ho huiós mou ho agap¢tós en soi eudók¢sa
    • “This is my Son, the (one who is) loved” (9:7b)
      hoútos estin ho huiós mou ho agap¢tós

Matthew, insofar as he is following the Synoptic/Markan version, seems to have combined the two statements, so that they read as identical in both episodes:

    • “This is my Son, the (one who is) loved—in whom I have good regard” (3:17; 17:5)
      hoútos estin ho huiós mou ho agap¢tós en hœ¡ eudók¢sa

The situation in Luke is a bit more complicated, as there are significant variant readings for the declaration in both scenes. For the baptism (3:22b):

    • The Majority reading—identical with that in Mark (cf. above)
    • The minority “Western” reading—a quotation of Psalm 2:7 LXX:
      “You are my Son—today I have caused you to be (born)”
      huiós mou eí su egœ¡ s¢¡meron gegénnhká se

On this textual variant, cf. my earlier discussion. For the transfiguration (9:35):

    • Reading of Ë45,75 a B L, etc:
      “This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. elect/chosen]”
      hoútós estin ho huiós mou ho eklelegménos
    • The majority reading (A C* W 33 et al): identical with that in Mark

Most critical commentators consider the first reading as more likely to be original, the latter being adapted/normalized to the Synoptic parallel in Mark/Matthew and the baptism scene. A few manuscripts read the related adjective eklektós instead of the participle eklelegménos (cf. Lk 23:35), but with essentially the same meaning. This textual question will be discussed in relation to an interpretation of the Transfiguration scene, especially as it has been developed in the Gospel of Luke.

Finally, to round out the comparison, we should mention the version of the heavenly declaration at the Transfiguration, from 2 Peter 1:17, which is similar to that in Matthew, but with a different formulation in Greek (giving priority to the reading of Ë72 B):

“This is my Son, the (one) loved (by) me—unto whom I have good regard”
ho huiós mou ho agap¢tós mou hou!tós estin eis hón eudók¢sa

All of these extensive parallels relate to the underlying historical tradition, and how that tradition was shaped and adapted within the Synoptic narrative. It cannot be coincidental that the period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, according to this narrative, begins and ends with two similar scenes (Baptism and Transfiguration)—each containing the declaration of Jesus’ identity by a heavenly voice. Of fundamental importance to the narrative is how each of these scenes establishes the Messianic identity of Jesus—and that this identity (announced by the heavenly voice) informs the entire narrative.

With this structure and thematic framework in mind, let us now consider how the historical tradition (of the Transfiguration) was interpreted within the Synoptic narrative. We can see this based by a careful study of the Lukan version of the scene (9:28-36). For this, however, it will be necessary first to bring out several key points that relate to the wider Synoptic tradition. By doing so, we can gain a better sense of how the earliest Christians understood Jesus’ Messianic identity. This will be the focus of next week’s study.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Isaiah 42:1

Isaiah 42:1

The next Old Testament reference to examine in this series is the opening verse of the poem in Isaiah 42:1-9, one of the Deutero-Isaian poems (the “Servant Songs”) which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense by Jews (and early Christians) in the first centuries B.C./A.D. That it was so applied to Jesus is clear from the direct citation (of vv. 1-3) in Matthew 12:18-20. However, verse 1 is also integral to the Baptism episode in the early Gospel Tradition.

This study will proceed in three parts:

    • A brief examination of the original meaning and context of Isa 42:1
    • Allusions to Isa 42:1 in connection with the Baptism of Jesus, and
    • The citation in Matthew 12:18-20

Isaiah 42:1 in Its Original Context

A literal rendering of the Hebrew text of verse 1 is:

“See, my servant, on (who)m I grab hold,
my chosen (one whom) my soul favors;
I have given my Spirit upon him,
(and) he will bring out judgment for the nations.”

Traditionally this marks the first of the ‘Servant Songs’ in Deutero-Isaiah, with the specific mention of “my servant” (yD!b=a^). However, the servant-motif was introduced already in 41:8ff, and, in certain respects, can be seen as rooted in the opening poem of 40:1-3ff (cf. my recent notes on this passage, in connection with the first study [on Isa 40:3] in this series). Therefore, it is necessary to consider 42:1-4 in its wider context of the initial Deutero-Isaian poems. These poems introduce a number of key themes that will be built upon and developed subsequently:

    • The message of good news for God’s people (spec. the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem), regarding the promise of their (imminent) restoration and return from Exile.
    • A corresponding announcement of the coming Judgment against the Nations.
    • This Judgment-message is centered on the contrast between God (YHWH) and the peoples of earth, a contrast which involves humankind’s worship of false deities (= idols) in place of YHWH.

A similar judgment had already been leveled against the people of Israel/Judah, fulfilled through the Assyrian/Babylonian conquests and exile. Now, this penalty has been paid, and the time of exile has come to an end. God’s people will be restored, and it is time for the day of YHWH’s Judgment to turn to the other nations.

All of these themes run through the poems of chapters 40 and 41. Some commentators would treat chapter 40 as a Prologue, with the main Deutero-Isaian work beginning with chap. 41. There is some validity to this division of the text. In any case, as one examines the opening sections of chapter 41, we find a clear juxtaposition between an impending judgment against the nations (“islands”, vv. 1-5a), primarily due to their foolishness in worshiping other deities (dismissively designation as mere ‘images’, vv. 5b-7), and the restoration of God’s own people Israel/Judah (vv. 8-10ff).

The wording in 41:8-9 is significant, and has a bearing on a correct understanding of 42:1ff; it reads (inclusive of v. 10a):

“But you, Yisrael, my servant,
Ya’aqob, you whom I have chosen,
seed of Abraham my (be)loved,
you whom I have grasped from (the) ends of the earth,
and you (whom) I have called from her extreme (border)s,
and said to you, ‘You (are) my servant,
I have chosen you and will not reject you’
do not be afraid, for I (am) with you,
do not look away, for I (am) your Mighty (One)…”

Clearly, the wording of verse 8 resembles that of 42:1, identifying the people of Israel, collectively, as the “servant”, “chosen one”, and beloved of God. One might well take for granted that the “servant” in 42:1, otherwise unnamed, is still to be understood as Israel. The LXX makes this explicit, by including reference to Jacob and Israel, after the pattern in 41:8. In all of the other references to God’s “servant” (db#u#) and chosen one, in chapters 41-45 (42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4), this figure is identified with the people of Israel (in a collective sense).

Another set of themes that run through chapters  41-45 involves the role of Cyrus, the Persian ruler. He is called the “anointed (one) [j^yv!m*]” of YHWH, and, in his own way, function’s as God’s servant. He will be the one, at the practical historical level, who will enable the Judean people to return from their Exile. His conquests of the Babylonian empire (see chaps. 46-47ff) make it possible for God’s people to return. The Persian conquests thus mark the beginning of God’s Judgment against the nations (cf. above), but they also signify the inauguration of a New Eranot only for Israel/Judah, but for the other nations as well. The nations have the opportunity to turn to YHWH (and away from their false deities/idols), joining the restored Israel/Judah in worshiping the one true God.

Some have felt that Cyrus is the “servant” in 42:1ff, but this is unlikely. A much stronger argument can be made that the figure of Moses, as Prophet and the one who leads the people out of their exile, is in view. I discuss this at length in a supplemental note on this passage.

There are, in fact, two main lines of interpretation which can possibly serve as a valid explanation for the identity of the “servant” here. The first is that it refers to a prophet in the pattern of Moses—a “new Moses,” if you will. This figure will function as a judge and lawgiver for the nations, establishing a new era of order and justice that properly reflects the rule of YHWH, Creator and Sovereign over the world. His activity as judge and lawgiver is described in vv. 1-4. He represents the new covenant between God and the people (Israel), a binding agreement that restores the original Sinai covenant, and is characterized by a renewed adherence to the Torah (i.e., the Law of Moses). At the same time, he serves as a “light” to the nations, conveying to them the same Law and Truth of God.

The second possibility is that the “servant” is, as in the other references (cf. above), the people of Israel, in a collective sense. Only here it refers to the time after the people have been restored, and are residing once again in the Land, with a new covenant in place between them and YHWH. As a sign of this ‘new covenant,’ the people have received God’s Spirit, just as we see described in 44:1-5 (cf. my earlier note on 44:3). According to this line of interpretation, the “people” (<u*) in verse 6 must represent the peoples of the earth (taken collectively), parallel with the “nations”. Restored Israel embodies the covenant for the other nations/people, functioning as a “light” that shines the truth of God’s Torah to them as well.

Isa 42:1 and the Baptism of Jesus

It seems most likely that there is an allusion to Isa 42:1 in the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ Baptism. This is clearest in the Synoptic narrative (Mk 1:9-11 par), where we find two components that relate quite strongly to Isa 42:1:

    • The coming of the Spirit upon Jesus, and
    • The wording of the heavenly Voice

Here is the heavenly declaration in Mk 1:11 par:

“You are my Son, the (one) loved (by me); in you I think well [i.e., think well of you]”
su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n soi eu)do/khsa

The other Synoptic accounts generally follow the Markan version, though Matthew (3:17) does formulate the declaration differently:

“This is my Son, the (one) loved (by me), in whom I think well”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n w!| eu)do/khsa

Luke’s version (3:22) is identical with Mark’s, except that in a small number of textual witnesses, the Voice quotes Psalm 2:7b [LXX] instead.

The LXX of Isa 42:1 indicates how the Baptismal declaration is more closely related to our verse than might seem at first glance. For Hebrew yD!b=u^ (“my servant”), the Greek reads o( pai=$ mou (“my child“), since pai=$ can also refer to a (young) servant. Clearly, it is not too far a step from “my child [pai=$]” to “my son [ui(o/$]”, especially if Psalm 2:7 was also in view. The second part of the verse is perhaps closer to the Baptismal declaration in the original Hebrew yv!p=n~ ht*x=r* (“[whom] my soul favors”), rather  than the Greek (“my soul has received [i.e. accepted] him”). However, the similarity of thought seems clear enough.

An allusion to Isa 42:1 finds definite confirmation in the Johannine version (1:34), in which John the Baptist makes the declaration, substantially at the same point where the heavenly Voice speaks in the Synoptic version. There is, however, a text-critical question here, with two variant readings, and strong arguments can be made for each of them. The reading in the majority of textual witnesses is:

“And I have seen, and have given witness, that this (one) is the Son of God [o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]”

However, in other manuscripts and versions (Ë5vid a* b e ff2 etc), the reading instead is:

“…that this (one) is the (one) gathered out (by) God [o( e)klekto\$ tou= qeou=, i.e., the chosen one of God]”

A few other versions have the conflate reading “…that this is the chosen Son of God”. Whatever the original reading, it is most likely that the expression o( e)klekto/$ (“the [one] gathered out”, the chosen one) relates to Isa 42:1, since the LXX translates yr!yj!B= (“my chosen [one]”) specifically as o( e)klekto/$ mou.

How was Isa 42:1 understood as applied to Jesus? Almost certainly, it reflects a Messianic interpretation of the verse. That is to say, the “servant” is a Messianic figure, one who was anointed, like the ancient kings and prophets, with the Spirit of God. There are two Messianic figure-types that may be in view here, both of which were applied to Jesus by the earliest Christians. The first is the anointed Prophet figure-type, one of which was patterned according to the figure of Moses (cf. above), while the other was patterned after Elijah. For more on this, cf. Part 3 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The other Messianic figure was the royal Messiah from the line of David (i.e., the Davidic Rule figure-type, Parts 68 of “Yeshua the Anointed”). The application of Psalm 2:7 to Jesus was well-established (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5; cf. also Rom 1:4; Rev 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). As discussed above, there was probably an allusion to it in Mk 1:11 par (it is explicitly quoted in Lk 3:22 v.l.). The role of the “servant” in bringing judgment and justice to the nations (vv. 1-4ff) better fits the Davidic ruler type; however, the emphasis on the presence of the Spirit, and the parallels with Moses (cf. the supplemental note), rather suggest a Messianic Prophet figure. During the period of his Galilean ministry, Jesus was identified as a prophetic Messiah, much more than as a royal/Davidic Messiah. This will be discussed further in the next study.

The Quotation of Isa 42:1ff in Matthew

Isa 42:1 is quoted directly only in Matthew’s Gospel, at 12:18-20, where the Gospel writer cites verses 1-3. It is worth noting the context of this citation in the Matthean narrative. At the place where it occurs, it serves as a kind of summary of Jesus’ early ministry work in Galilee. It covers the Synoptic material in Mark 1:14-3:19 par, but also a considerable amount of other traditional material (such as the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7), much of which is shared by Luke (and customarily designated as “Q” material).

Of special importance are the healing miracles performed by Jesus, which were done with the power of God’s Spirit. The conflict episode that follows in 12:22-32 deals specifically with the question of the source of Jesus’ healing power. Isa 42:1ff may have been quoted primarily as prophetic proof of his empowerment by the Spirit. But other Gospel themes are alluded to in the passage as well. Perhaps most notable, in light of the healing miracles, is the idea that the servant will provide justice and relief for the oppressed (v. 20a): “a bruised reed he will not break down, and smoking flax he will not quench”.

Of great significance to early Christians, especially during and following the early mission to the Gentiles, is the repeated emphasis on bringing judgment (and justice) to the nations (vv. 18b, 20b). Though this theme is not especially prominent in Matthew (compared with Luke-Acts), the Gospel writer very much had it in view, referencing it both in the Infancy narrative (2:1-12), and in the closing words of the Gospel (28:18-20). The quotation of Isa 42:1-3 sets very near the midpoint of the Matthean Gospel.

In closing, we may say that Isaiah 42:1ff exerted an influence on the Gospel Tradition that was many-faceted, reflecting a Messianic interpretation of the passage, as well as the range of Messianic beliefs that were current in the first centuries B.C./A.D. As I discuss at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed,” virtually all of these Messianic traditions were applied to the person of Jesus by early Christians. Evidence for this can be seen throughout the New Testament, but a number of important strands were already present (and relatively well-fixed) in the early Gospel Tradition. It is significant that several of these were established in the Tradition at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.