The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 4 (Heb 1:5; 5:5; 9:14)

In the previous section of Part 4, we considered the role of Psalm 2:7 in the development of Christology in the first century. We saw how the Scripture was applied in the context of Jesus’ resurrection (and exaltation to heaven), as a way of understanding his identity as the Son of God (cf. Acts 13:33ff). It also could be used in the context of Jesus’ baptism, as in the variant ‘Western’ reading of Luke 3:22b, in which the Heavenly Voice quotes Psalm 2:7, rather than the allusion to Isa 42:1 in the majority text (and the other Synoptics). As a reference to Jesus’ Messianic identity, the use of Ps 2:7 in the baptism scene would most likely be intended to identify Jesus more precisely as the royal/Davidic Messiah (drawing upon the ancient Near Eastern tradition of the king as God’s ‘son’, in a figurative and symbolic sense).

Gradually, however, early Christians came to realize that Jesus must have been God’s Son, in terms of a Divine/exalted status, even prior to his resurrection—that is to say, during the time of his life and ministry on earth. Since the Gospel Tradition marks the beginning of Jesus’ career with his baptism, it was natural for Christians to interpret the declaration of the Heavenly Voice (at the baptism) in a deeper theological sense. In other words, Jesus was truly the Son of God, possessing a Divine/exalted position (and nature), from the beginning of his ministry.

Eventually, this idea of Jesus’ Divine Sonship was extended further back, to a time even before he was born—a point attested clearly enough by the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives. The Infancy narratives themselves do not indicate a belief in the Divine pre-existence of Jesus, but we know that such a belief—representing a further stage of Christological development—is attested by at least the mid-50s A.D., since Paul alludes to it at several points in his letters. The earliest definite evidence for belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is the ‘Christ hymn’ in Philippians 2:6-11, which Paul either composed himself (c. 60 A.D.), or incorporated (and adapted) from older traditional material.

The ‘Christ hymns’ in the New Testament appear to have served as a locus for Christological development. I have discussed all of these passages, in considerable detail, in an earlier series of notes. One such ‘Christ hymn’ occurs in the introduction (exordium) of Hebrews (1:1-4). This passage is especially significant for our study here, since it leads into a chain (catena) of Scriptures, imbued with Christological meaning, that begins with a quotation of Psalm 2:7 (v. 5). Therefore it is worth examining briefly these introductory verses which establish the theological (and Christological) context for the application of Ps 2:7.

Hebrews 1:1-5

Verses 1-2 deal specifically with the idea of God’s revelation, beginning with “God spoke”, and indicating a contrast:

V. 1: God (has) been speaking [lalh/sa$] V. 2: (God) spoke [e)la/lhsen]
    • (in) many parts and many ways
    • (in) old (times) [pa/lai]
    • to the Fathers [toi=$ patra/sin]
    • in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] [e)n toi=$ profh/tai$]
    • in one new way (implied)
    • in these last days [e)p’ e)sxa/tou tw=n h(merw=n tou/twn]
    • to us [h(mi=n]
    • in (the) Son [e)n ui(w=|]

The new revelation (to us) is marked primarily by two elements or characteristics: (1) it is eschatological, set in the “last days”, (2) it takes place in the person of the Son. The Greek e)n ui(w=| does not have the definite article, so it is possible to translate “in a Son”, but it is clear from the context that God’s Son—the Son—is meant. Verse 2b presents the nature of this Son, with a pair of relative clauses:

    • whom [o^n] He has set (as the) one receiving the lot [i.e. heir] of all (thing)s
    • through whom [di’ ou!] He made the Ages

The first of these draws on the idea of Christ being exalted to heaven following the resurrection, in common with the earliest Christian tradition; the second expresses Christ’s role in creation, implying some sort of divine pre-existence (cf. above). These two Christological approaches were shared by several strands of early tradition (e.g. Paul, the Gospel of John), and were not deemed to be contradictory in any way. The author of Hebrews will present the two views side-by-side at a number of points in the letter (cf. below).

In verses 3-4, the Son is described in greater detail; four elements are stressed in v. 3:

    • Reflection/manifestation of God’s glory and nature (3a)
    • Role in creating/sustaining the universe— “by the utterance of his power” (3b)
    • Salvific work—priestly cleansing of sin (by way of sacrifice, i.e. his death) (3c)
    • Exaltation to the right hand of God (3d)

The outer elements (first and last) indicate the Son’s divine/heavenly status, the inner elements (second and third) parallel creation and incarnation (Christ’s work in both). This is the sort of chiastic conceptual framework—

    • pre-existence
    • exaltation

which the author of Hebrews makes use of elsewhere (2:8-13, cf. also the famous Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11). In verse 4, Christ’s divine/heavenly status is emphasized—that it is greater than that of other heavenly beings (“angels”). This superiority is understood in terms of the name that he has inherited (cf. Phil 2:9ff), which, though not specified here, is best identified with ku/rio$ (“Lord”), the conventional rendering of the divine name YHWH. For more on the ‘Christ-hymn’ in vv. 3-4, see my earlier series of notes.

There can be little doubt that Sonship (i.e. Son of God) here is defined in the context of divine pre-existence—a blending of the Davidic “Messiah” with the concept of a heavenly Redeemer-figure which is also known from Jewish tradition at roughly the same time as the (later) New Testament, such as in the Similitudes of Enoch and 4 Ezra (2/4 Esdras). In Hebrews, this is indicated by the citations of Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14—both passages given Messianic interpretation—in verse 5. Recall that in Acts 13:32-33ff, Psalm 2:7 is cited in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (cf. above)—i.e., the Son is “born” following the resurrection. Verse 6, however, shows that the author of Hebrews has a view of Christ that is comparable to the prologue of the Gospel of John (esp. Jn 1:1ff, 9, 14, etc; cf. also Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:6ff):

    • Christ is already God’s “firstborn” (prwto/tokon)
    • God leads him into the inhabited-world (oi)koume/nh, possibly the heavenly realm of angels in addition to the world of human beings)
      ei)$ th\n oi)koume/nhn as parallel to the Johannine ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”)

As indicated above, the author presents two different Christological portraits, and continues this in vv. 8-12 (citing Scripture):

    • vv. 8-9—in more traditional language of exaltation (citing Psalm 45:6-7)
    • vv. 10-12—of Jesus’ divine status and existence encompassing the beginning and end of creation (citing Psalm 102:25-27, cf. also verse 2b above)

Jesus as God’s Son is an important theological identification throughout the New Testament; let us consider the thematic development and presentation here in Hebrews. In addition to 1:2, 8 we have (context indicated):

    • Heb 3:6—role as heir/master of the household, emphasizing his faithfulness
    • Heb 4:14; 5:5, 8; 7:3, 28—role as (exalted) High Priest, indicating his sacrificial work (cf. below); 5:5 cites Ps 2:7 [as in 1:5], cf. below; 7:3 has spec. title “Son of God”
    • Heb 5:8—his suffering (incarnation and death) and obedience (to the Father)
    • Heb 6:6—his death on the cross (spec. title “Son of God” is used)
    • Heb 10:29—his holy/sacrificial work, i.e. his death (“blood of the covenant”)

As the above summary indicates, there is a special emphasis in Hebrews on Jesus’ Sonship in terms of his sacrificial death.

Hebrews 5:5; 9:14

The theme of the Son’s superiority over the prophets and mediators (Moses, Aaron, etc) of the old covenant was established in the introduction (1:1-4, cf. above). In 4:14-5:10 the comparison is narrowed to the specific motif of Jesus as a new (and superior) kind of High Priest. This Priesthood of Jesus is defined in terms of his death and resurrection. In this regard, the citation of Psalm 2:7 (again) here in 5:5 draws upon the early tradition associating that particular Scripture with the resurrection (and exaltation to heaven) of Jesus. The opening words in 4:14 make clear that the exaltation is primarily in view, identifying Jesus as a great high priest “…having gone through the heavens”.

We saw, however, that the earlier citation of Psalm 2:7 (in 1:5, cf. above) was applied equally to the pre-existence of Jesus. In light of this developed Christology, the reference to Jesus as the “Son of God” here in 4:14 has a deeper significance. Even though he was already God’s Son, he humbled himself so as to take on the role of High Priest through his life on earth, with its suffering (5:7-8). Jesus’ obedience in enduring this suffering (v. 8) resulted in a greater completion (and perfection) of his Sonship (v. 9). The same basic paradigm is found in the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:6-11:

    • Pre-existence (alongside God)
      • Incarnation/earthly life (lowering himself)
        • Suffering/death (obedient humbling of himself)
      • Exaltation by God
    • Heavenly position (at God’s right hand)

The Priesthood that Jesus took upon himself in his earthly life (and death) was translated into a heavenly Priesthood. In this regard, Hebrews uniquely blends together Psalm 2:7 and 110:1 (5:5-6). Both of these Scriptures were treated as Messianic passages, applied to Jesus, at a very early stage of Christian tradition. They hold the same kerygmatic position, respectively, in Peter’s Pentecost speech and Paul’s Antioch speech (2:34-35; 13:33); in each instance, as we have discussed, they were interpreted in the context of the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus. Hebrews, however, focuses on the figure of Melchizedek in Psalm 110, drawing upon an entirely different line of Messianic tradition, identifying the exalted Jesus with a Divine/Heavenly Savior figure (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed,” along with the supplemental study on Hebrews in that series).

The synthesis of Christological beliefs and traditions in Hebrews is rich and complex. To this, we may add a very distinctive reference to the Spirit in 9:14. Comparing the sacrifice of Jesus (as High Priest) with the sacrificial offerings of the old covenant, the author concludes as follows:

“…how much more the blood of the Anointed (One), who through (the) Spirit of the Ages brought himself without blemish toward God, shall cleanse our conscience from dead works to give service to (the) living God.”

The blood of the material sacrificial offerings (goats and calves, etc) of the old covenant are contrasted with the spiritual offering of Christ himself. He who is the High Priest offers himself as a sacrifice to God. This is done in an entirely spiritual way. The expression used is “through (the) Spirit of the Ages” (dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou), i.e., “through (the) eternal Spirit”. This draws upon the basic early Christian belief that Jesus’ resurrection took place through the Spirit of God, but extends the role of the Spirit to his sacrificial death as well. Moreover, the sacrifice itself takes place “through the Spirit” since Jesus himself, as the pre-existent Son of God (cf. above), from the beginning shared in the Divine Spirit.

Once the Divine pre-existence of Jesus was recognized, the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to him took on an entirely new and deeper Christological significance. The older traditions had to be reworked and reinterpreted. We can see this process at work in Hebrews, and it is even more prominent in the Johannine writings, to which we will turn in Part 5.

Saturday Series: Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 52:13-53:12, concluded

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

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

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

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

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

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

“From oppression and from judgment he has been taken”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 8:17 (v. 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Zechariah 12:10

Zechariah 12:10

I have already posted an article in this series on Zechariah 9-14, but the interpretive difficulties surrounding 12:10 require a separate detailed treatment. The use of Zech 12:10 in three different lines of early Christian tradition clearly attest to its importance. It was applied specifically to the death of Jesus, but also related to his exaltation (to heaven) and future return. In this regard, it was similar to Daniel 7:13-14 (discussed in a previous article), and, indeed, the two Scriptures came to be associated quite closely in the early tradition.

For the background of the so-called Deutero-Zechariah (chaps. 9-14), consult the aforementioned article. Chapters 12-14 represent the second of two divisions (some commentators would include the book of Malachi as a third division). The eschatological aspect takes on greater prominence in these chapters, developing the Prophetic theme of the “day of YHWH”, as it came to be understood in the Prophets of the exilic and post-exilic periods—as the day when YHWH will judge all of the nations, collectively. The expression “on that day” (aWhh^ <oYB*), which occurs repeatedly in chaps. 12-14, refers to this eschatological “day of YHWH” theme.

In fact, the Judgment of the Nations is referenced and described in two oracles here—in chapter 12 (vv. 1-9) and again in chapter 14 (vv. 1-15). The basic scenario is the same in each case: the nations will assemble together for an attack against Judah (Jerusalem), though in actually it is YHWH who has gathered them, to bring down Judgment upon them, destroying them completely. The book of Revelation drew heavily upon these oracles (along with Ezek 38-39 and Joel 3) in its visions of the Last Judgment (14:14-20; 19:11-21; 20:7-10).

In the attack by the nations, YHWH will protect His people (Judah/Jerusalem), and will do battle on their behalf. The result will be salvation for Jerusalem and complete destruction for the nations, as is declared in verse 9:

“And it will be, in that day, (that) I will seek to destroy all the nations th(at are) coming upon [i.e. against] Yerushalaim.”

If verse 9 states what YHWH will do to the nations on “that day”, verse 10 explains what will happen to Judah/Jerusalem. There are two components to this declaration in v. 10, the first being rather easier to understand than the second:

“And I will pour out upon (the) house of David, and upon (the one)s sitting (in) Yerushalaim, a spirit of (showing) favor and of (request)s for favor” (10a)

The key phrase is <yn]Wnj&t^w+ /j@ j^Wr. The nouns /j@ and /Wnj&T^ are related, both derived from the root /nj (“show favor”). While /j@ (“favor”) is often used for the favor shown by YHWH, here it is better understood as the willingness by the people of YHWH to show favor themselves. A spirit (j^Wr) has come over them, a result of God’s own Spirit that is “poured out” on them at the beginning of the New Age (on this Prophetic theme, cf. Isa 32:15; 44:3; 59:21; Ezek 11:19; 18:31; 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). This new spirit in/on them changes their whole attitude and mindset, their way of thinking and acting. It is a spirit of peace and wholeness, after generations of wickedness and violence, that both show favor to others and makes sincere requests for favor to be shown in turn.

This bond of peace is part of the “new covenant” established between YHWH and His people in the New Age. And, in this Age of Peace, the “house of David” once again exercises rule over Jerusalem; this doubtless relates to the early Messianic expectation we find at various points in the exilic and post-exilic Prophets (cf. my earlier article and throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed” [esp. Parts 6-8]). The coming King announced in 9:9-10 probably reflects this same expectation of a new ruler from the line of David. Some in the late-6th century held out hope that the Davidic line would be restored in the person of the governor Zerubbabel, but this was not to be. After his successor (Elnathan), the “house of David” no longer holds any ruling position over Judah (the Persian province of Yehud).

The second component of verse 10 is more problematic:

“And they will look to me [or, to him], (the one) whom they stabbed, and they will mourn over him like (one) mourning over his only (child), and they will have bitter (grief) over him, like (one griev)ing bitterly over (his) first-born.”

The question that has vexed commentators is: who is being mourned and who was “stabbed”? But before addressing that question, it is necessary to deal with a textual point regarding the suffix of the preposition la# (“to”). The Masoretic text reads yl^a@ (“to me” ), that is, to YHWH; but this seems to contradict the context of the following reference to “(the one) whom they pierced” (the phrase being marked by the direct-object particle –ta#). Many commentators would emend the text here to wyl*a@ (“to him” ); and, defective spelling (wla) would allow for the confusion between w and y (that is, yla instead of wla), cf. Meyers, p. 336.

These textual and syntactical questions relate directly to the interpretation of verse 10. There has been a tendency, among readers and commentators alike, to try and identify the ‘one who was stabbed’ with some contemporary or historical figure (or event). The text, as we have it, simply does not allow for such precision, nor does it seem to be warranted upon a careful reading of the passage. In such matters, one is best served by letting the text be one’s guide, deriving a plausible interpretation through a sound and careful exegesis.

Before proceeding, mention should be made of another interpretive difficulty in verse 11:

“In that day the mourning will be great in Yerushalaim, like (the) mourning of Hadad-Rimmon (in) the plain of Megiddo.”

The comparison with the “mourning of Hadad-Rimmon” is obscure, with the exact point of reference uncertain. Two possibilities have been suggested:

    • It is a reference to the Canaanite deity Baal Haddu (= Hadad), who was thought to control (and was manifest in) the storm and rain. In Canaanite myth, Baal Haddu ‘died’ with the end of the spring rains and the onset of the summer heat. He was mourned for a time, but he came back to life, returning with the rains. Ritual mourning for Baal was tied to this mythology, just as it was for Tammuz (= Sumerian Dumuzi, cf. Ezek 8:14). Worship of Baal Haddu, in some form or to some extent, was relatively common through much of Israel’s history, and it is certainly possible that a ritual mourning for Baal took place in the plain of Megiddo, though we have no direct evidence for this.
    • The reference is to the death of king Josiah at Megiddo in 609 B.C. (2 Kings 23:29-30). In the parallel account in 2 Chronicles (35:20-26), we read how Josiah’s burial was the occasion for great mourning, and the implication is that this came to be a regular (annual) rite that has continued “to this day” —that is, into the Chronicler’s own time, which could well be near to the time of Zech 9-14.

The second option seem more likely, given the clear association of mourning with the site of Megiddo attested by the contemporary account in 2 Chronicles.

With this in mind, I present here four different lines of interpretation (of verse 10) for which one can make a relatively strong (or at least reasonable) case.

1. Some commentators would identify YHWH as the one “whom they have stabbed”. This is based on a literal reading of the text, accepting the MT 1st person suffix (y-) on the preposition (la#), and then treating the following phrase (marked as a direct object) in apposition: “they will look to me, whom they stabbed”. In this case, the stabbing would be figurative, presumably signifying a betrayal of the covenant through idolatry and worship of other deities, etc. With the new spirit that comes over the people, they collectively repent of their sin with great mourning. This line of interpretation might be seen as further support for the view that  the “mourning of Hadad-Rimmon” referred to ritual worship of Baal-Haddu (cf. above). Now the significance of the mourning is reversed: the people mourn for their lack of loyalty to YHWH, which had been demonstrated through worship of deities other than YHWH (such as Baal-Haddu).

The following three interpretations assume that the person who was stabbed is different than YHWH. Emending the 1st person suffix (on the preposition la#) to the 3rd person would result in a clearer text: “they will look to him whom they stabbed”. If the 1st person suffix of the MT is retained, it creates a more difficult syntax: “they will look to me, (on account of the one) whom they stabbed”, or possibly “they will look to me, (along with the one) whom they stabbed”.

2. The verb rq^D* indicates that the person was “stabbed”, but not necessarily killed; that is, the emphasis is on his being wounded. If we follow this distinction, it is possible to read vv. 10-11ff as reflecting the new spirit possessed by the people in the New Age. The spirit of peace has so taken hold that one now mourns over someone who is wounded like one would the death of an only child or firstborn son. According to this interpretation, the person who was stabbed serves as a general figure, for anyone who is wounded. The reason why the person was wounded is less important than the fact of wounding, just as one would mourn the death of a child, regardless of how or why the child was killed.

3. Some commentators would prefer to view the stabbed figure as representative of a particular group. Along these lines, the prophets of YHWH are a likely candidate to have been ‘stabbed’ by the people (and/or their leaders). Hostility toward the (true) prophets is very much a theme in these chapters, illustrated most vividly in the ‘Shepherd narrative’ of 11:4-16 (on which, cf. my recent discussion). Several points may be cited as confirmation for this line of interpretation:

    • The other occurrence of the verb rq^D* (“stab”) in these chapters relates to the stabbing of a false prophet (13:3); if that was done rightly, then, by contrast, the stabbing of a true prophet was a great wrong that should be mourned.
    • Historically, hostility toward the prophets led, at times, to violence against them; this was well-established in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, with the death of Uriah (by the sword, i.e. stabbing) being a notable example (Jer 26:20-23).
    • Hostility toward the prophets of YHWH was often rooted in the messages of judgment that they brought against the people (and their leaders); such messages were naturally unpopular, but the scenario depicted in chapters 9-14 could easily have led to violence against one of God’s prophets. The breakdowns within society, coupled with the threat of attack from powerful foreign nations, created an unstable environment where violence would be increasingly common.

With the onset of the New Age, the people would feel a burden to repent of such an act (or acts) of violence, and a collective period of mourning would be altogether appropriate for the occasion.

4. Another possibility is that the person who is stabbed alludes to the false prophet who is to be stabbed (same verb, rq^D*), according to the directive of YHWH in 13:3. That latter reference reflects the situation in the New Age, when the land (and its people) will be purified of all forms of false religion, of which false prophecy is a prime example. However, it must be emphasized that the main point of reference is false religion and idolatry. While it is necessary, according the standards of holiness presented in these chapters, to stab (and presumably put to death) the false prophet, the very existence of such false religion in the midst of Israel is reason for the people to mourn. The reference in 12:10 implies that there are false prophets among the people, and, with the onset of the New Age, they will be stabbed (according to 13:3); thus, one may say of such a person, “the one whom they stabbed”. The mourning in vv. 11-14 is not on account of the stabbing, but for what the stabbed person represents: the presence of false religion and idolatry among the people.

Of these four possible lines of interpretation, I would tend to favor the third (#3). The fact that a prophet-figure is “stabbed” (using the same verb) in 13:3 increases the likelihood that a similar point of reference is in view in 12:10. Also, the nature of the mourning in vv. 11-14, and the way it is described, suggests that the cause of the mourning is the injury (and/or death) of a particular person, and one who should be cherished—comparable to the death of a beloved child, or of a virtuous king like Josiah (cf. above).

Zech 12:10 in the New Testament

The early Christian interpretation (and application) of Zech 12:10 is closest to approaches 1 and 3 above. In approach 1, God (YHWH) is the one who is stabbed; while, in approach 3, it is a true prophet of YHWH. However, given the focus in the Passion narrative on Jesus as the royal/Davidic Messiah, it is possible that early Christians (including the New Testament authors) assumed that the stabbed figure of Zech 12:10 was the (Davidic) king–perhaps the same king mentioned in 9:9-10. This would certainly cohere with the basic line of Gospel Tradition, as well as the arc of the Passion narrative:

    • Jesus enters Jerusalem as the King (9:9-10)
    • He is struck (13:7) and stabbed (12:10)—i.e., his suffering and death (by crucifixion)
    • The promise of his resurrection/exaltation and future return (at the time of Judgment)—the eschatological context of chapters 12-14 (12:1-9; 14:1-15ff)

When it comes to the actual application of 12:10, there are three New Testament references, representing at least two separate lines of early Christian tradition. In all three, the verse was applied to the death (crucifixion) of Jesus. This naturally fit the idea of Jesus being “stabbed” (or “pierced”), i.e., his hands/wrists and feet pierced by nails on the stake. However, the Gospel of John quotes the Scripture specifically in reference to the piercing of Jesus’ side (19:34f, 37).

In the Gospel of Matthew, it occurs as part of the Eschatological Discourse. The climactic “Son of Man” saying (Mark 13:26 par) has apparently been modified to reflect Zech 12:10:

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will be made to shine (forth) in (the) heaven, and then all the offshoots [i.e. tribes] of the earth will beat (themselves), and they will look with (open) eyes (at) the Son of Man coming upon (the) clouds of heaven with great power and splendor.” (24:30-31)

The verb form ko/yontai (“they will beat [themselves],” i.e., in mourning) almost certainly is an allusion to the LXX of Zech 12:10. Interestingly, while the context of 12:10 clearly refers to the people of Judah/Jerusalem looking and mourning, Matthew’s application seems to assume that the prophecy (“they will look… they will mourn”) refers to all the nations. Since the Synoptic “Son of Man” saying here also alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 (cf. the prior article), we have a juxtaposition of two key Scriptures that tie the death of Jesus to his exaltation and future return (from heaven) at the end-time Judgment.

All of these features that we see in Matt 24:30-31 are brought out with greater clarity (and simplicity) in Revelation 1:7, where the eschatological context of the Scripture is even more prominent. Again, the author (and/or the visionary) has combined Dan 7:13 with Zech 12:10, in reference to Jesus’ end-time appearance:

“See, he comes with the clouds, and every eye will look at him, and even (those) who dug out of him, and all the offshoots [i.e. tribes] of the earth will beat (themselves) over him”

The verb e)kkente/w (“dig out”) is used for the ‘stabbing’ in Zech 12:10 (vb rq^D*)—i.e., digging out a hole in the flesh by piercing it with a sword or spear. This verb is relatively rare in the LXX, occurring just 9 times, but it is not used in Zech 12:10.

The curious verb used in the LXX, katorxe/omai, “dance over” (perhaps in the general sense of taunting, etc), may be the result of the Hebrew root rqd (“stab”) being accidentally reversed (and misread) as dqr (“skip about, dance”).

Moreover, the only occurrence of e)kkente/w in the New Testament happens to be the citation of Zech 12:10 in John 19:37 (cf. above), where it refers to the piercing of Jesus’ side with the spear (which, in the narrative, is described with the verb nu/ssw, “pierce, prick”). This would seem to be an example of the book of Revelation sharing in the wider Johannine tradition. In any case, the use of the verb here is almost certainly meant to echo the account of Jesus’ death in the Johannine Gospel.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Psalm 16:8-11

Psalm 16:8-11

This is another Psalm that appears to have been influential in the shaping of the Gospel Tradition (cf. the prior article on Psalm 22). Though Psalm 16:8-11 is not mentioned in the Gospels themselves, the reference in two different sermon-speeches in the book of Acts (by Peter and Paul, respectively [cf. below]) suggests that it had become a key Scripture in early Christian tradition for understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus.

[I have discussed this Psalm at length in my “Sunday Psalm Studies”, and this current article substantially reproduces that earlier study.]

I would divide the Psalm into two parts. The first (vv. 1-4) contrasts loyalty to El-Yahweh with the worship of other (Canaanite) deities. It is comprised of an initial petition (v. 1), followed by a declaration of allegiance and trust in YHWH (v. 2), and a statement whereby the Psalmist disavows any worship of other deities besides YHWH (vv. 3-4).

For a detailed study on verses 1-4, please consult the textual and exegetical notes in my earlier study.

Verses 5-11

“YHWH, you have numbered out my portion and my cup,
you (firmly) hold the stone (that is) my (lot);
the boundary (line)s fallen to me (are) in pleasant (place)s—
indeed, (this) possession is (most) beautiful over [i.e. next to] me.
I will kneel to YHWH who counsels me—
indeed, (by) nights His (inner) organs instruct me.
I have set YHWH to (be) stretched long in front of me,
(and) from His right (hand) I will not be shaken (away).
For this my heart rejoices, my heaviest (part) circles (with joy),
indeed, (even) my flesh can dwell in (peaceful) security,
for you will not leave [i.e. give] my soul (over) to Sheol,
you will not give your loyal (one) to see (the place of) ruin.
You will make me (to) know the path of Life,
being satisfied with joys (before) your Face,
(and) lasting pleasures at your right (hand)!”

After the syntactical and textual difficulties in verses 3-4, the remainder of the Psalm is relatively straightforward. The imagery in the first two couplets (vv. 5-6) derives from the binding agreement (covenant) idea as it would have been realized between a superior (sovereign) and his vassals. God (YHWH) is the good sovereign who bestows benefits upon his loyal vassals. He measures out (vb hn`m*, “number [out], count”, i.e. assign, appoint, etc) the appropriate benefit, viewed as a share (ql#j#) of the good things controlled by the sovereign. This includes the place at the table (“cup”, soK), also used to symbolize generally all that the person will receive—i.e. his “lot” (literally, “stone, pebble” lr*oG, indicating that the person is to receive the benefit). A common socio-political benefit is property—a territory or fief bestowed upon the vassal. The tribal territories of the Promised Land itself was seen as such a covenantal benefit (and promise) for the descendants of Abraham. The parallel wording used here in verse 6 relates to territory: “boundary (line)s” (<yl!b*j&) and “possession” (hl*j&n~), described as “pleasant” (<yu!n`) and “beautiful” (vb rp^v*, be clear/bright). It is given over to the vassal (“fallen to me”) and now belongs to him (“over me”, i.e. alongside, next to me).

In verses 7-9, the covenantal relationship itself (i.e. between sovereign and vassal) is depicted. The couplets in vv. 7-8 express this through two actions by the Psalmist (the loyal vassal):

    • “I will kneel to YHWH” —The verb Er^B* generally denotes giving praise and honor to a person; in the case of a person’s response to God (as the superior) it more properly indicates showing homage. It is acknowledged that there is a close connection between the root and the word Er#B# (“knee”), but it is not entirely clear if the verb is denominative (i.e. giving homage/honor by way of the idea of “bending the knee, kneeling”). My translation assumes this derivation.
    • “I have set YHWH (in front of me)” —Here the verb is hw`v* (“set, place”), the action perhaps best understood in the sense of a person placing his/her attention and focus firmly on God. The context would also suggest that the Psalmist is affirming his covenantal loyalty to YHWH. The word dym!T*, literally meaning something like “(stretch)ed out long”, is used here in an adverbial sense. It may be taken to mean that the Psalmist is continually doing this, or that it is a deep and abiding expression of his loyalty.

In each couplet, the second line describes the effect of this relationship on the Psalmist (the vassal). Even at night (every night) YHWH instructs the Psalmist out of His (i.e. YHWH’s) innermost being. The plural toyl=K! refers to the deep inner organs (i.e. kidneys) of a person, representing the source of deep feelings and emotions, i.e. God’s care and devotion to those who are loyal/faithful to him. If verse 7b emphasizes the inner aspect of the relationship, verse 8b stresses the outer aspect. Instead of the inner organs, we have the prominent outer motif of a person’s right hand. From the standpoint of the covenant, and expressed in terms of royal theology, it means the vassal has a prominent place at the side of the sovereign. Early Christians, of course, applied this royal motif to the position of the exalted Jesus, following the resurrection, at the right hand of God the Father. In both lines, the suffix y– is best read as a third person (rather than first person) singular. The suffixes y– and w– were often interchangeable, especially in poetry, which tended to preserve earlier (NW Semitic, i.e. Phoenician, etc) features otherwise rare in Old Testament Hebrew.

Verse 9 summarizes the preceding lines and anticipates the climactic reference to death and the afterlife in v. 10. The couplet begins with the expression /k@l*, “for this”, i.e. for this reason (LXX dia\ tou=to). The Psalmist can rejoice and be at ease because of the covenantal relationship with YHWH, entailing both benefits and protection. The former was emphasized in vv. 5-6, the latter here in vv. 9-10. The noun dobK*, usually translated as “honor” or “glory”, is better understood in terms of the related word db@K*, i.e. the liver as the “heavy” organ. The root dbk fundamentally refers to heaviness or weight, often in the basic sense of what is of value. The “heavy” organ is parallel here with the “heart”.

The security the Psalmist experiences extends to his very life being preserved and protected by YHWH. This is described in terms of being saved/delivered from Sheol, also here called “the (place of) ruin”. On the meaning and background of the term “Sheol” (loav=, Š®°ôl), see my earlier article. It is not entirely clear whether the emphasis here (esp. with the verb bz`u*) is on being left in the grave (i.e. after one has already died), or being given over to death in the first place. The references to Sheol in the Psalms suggest the latter. However, the New Testament use of vv. 9-10 in Acts 2:25-28ff (Peter’s Pentecost speech, cf. also 13:35) indicates the former, as it is applied to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (cf. below).

The closing tricolon of verse 11 suggests the imagery of a heavenly/blessed afterlife, with the covenantal relationship now being re-imagined in heavenly/eternal terms, with the Psalmist standing before God’s face and at His right hand. It is little wonder that early Christians would come to interpret these lines in terms of the place of the exalted Jesus with God in heaven (Acts 2:25-28ff).

Acts 2:25-28ff

The quotation from Psalm 16:8-11 is one of three key Scripture citations at the heart of Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:14-41); for a detailed study of this sermon-speech, cf. the two-part article in the series “The Speeches of Acts”. The citation generally matches the Greek (LXX) version [15:8-11], which is itself a reasonably accurate translation (into Greek idiom) of the Hebrew (MT)—on which, see above.

The Exposition/Application.—Here we must consider two portions: (a) the kerygmatic statement in vv. 22-24 which leads into the quotation, and (b) the exposition which opens the next section of the speech (vv. 29-31). I will treat the kerygma of vv. 24 below; here note the exposition from the next section (vv. 29-31)—Peter makes three points which can be grouped together as a triad:

    • The Psalmist (David) died (i.e. completed/finished his life) and was buried—indeed his tomb is still known (v. 29)
    • David was a prophet (literally, a foreteller) and knew that “out of the fruit of his loins” an heir will come to sit on his throne (v. 30)—primarily a reference to 2 Sam 7:11b-14, which came to be a prime Messianic passage.
    • As a prophet, David foresaw the resurrection (lit. standing up [again]) of the Anointed [i.e. Messiah, Jesus] (v. 31)—here specifically Psalm 16:10 is cited again.

At the climax of the Psalm, the protagonist finds continual joy and security in God’s presence, even to the point of trusting that YHWH will not abandon him to the grave (i.e. the ‘Pit’ or Sheol). This latter reference is somewhat ambiguous (cf. above), but it does seem to express the idea that the author of the Psalm will not experience death, at least not permanently. Subsequently in Judaism and early Christianity, this would have been understood in terms of resurrection. And it is the resurrection of Jesus that is primarily in view for Peter (and the author of Acts), as indicated by the repeated citation of verse 10 in Acts 2:31. In this interpretation, the Psalmist (David) speaks not of himself, but prophetically of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Notably, the Greek verb e)gkatalei/pw (literally, “leave down in…”, but also understood generally as “leave behind, abandon, forsake”, etc) was uttered by Jesus on the cross in Mark 15:34 / Matt 27:46; and this no doubt helped establish the connection between Psalm 16 and the death/resurrection of Jesus.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements to note: (a) in verses 22-24, part of the introductory address which leads into the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, and (b) verses 32-33, which are part of the introductory address of the next section (leading into the citation of Psalm 110:1). Verses 32-33 are addressed below; here let us examine briefly verses 22-24, which begin with the exhortation “hear these words…”:

    • V. 22: “(of this) Yeshua the Nazarean, a man presented from/by God unto you with works of power and wonders and signs which God did in your midst, even as (you your)selves know”
      • V. 23: “this one, by the marked will/purpose and foreknowledge of God, given out through the hand of lawless (ones), fastening (him) to (the stake) you took (his life) away”
      • V. 24: “whom God made stand up (again), loosing the pains of death, according to (the fact) that there was not power to hold him firmly under it”

I regard these verses as an example of early Christian kerygma (Gospel proclamation), using formulaic phrases, terms, and images which would stand out and be easy to remember and transmit. Here they are still rough and fresh, but over time such statements would take on a cleaner form (which could be used in early hymns and liturgy; for possible examples, cf. Romans 1:2-4; 1 Tim 3:16).

Acts 13:30-37

In Paul’s sermon-speech at Pisidian Antioch (cf. the article in the series “The Speeches of Acts”), the central Scripture citation is Psalm 2:7, which, however, is followed and expounded with quotations from two further passages of Scripture, as follows:

    • An allusion to Ps 16:10 in verse 34a—”(God) made him stand up out the dead, no more about to turn under into (complete) ruin/decay [diafqora]”
      • Reference to Isa 55:3 in v. 34b (see below)
    • Citation of Ps 16:10 in v. 35—”you will not give your holy/righteous [o%sio$] One to see (complete) ruin/decay [diafqora]”

The association between Isa 55:3 and Ps 16:10 is based on the substantive adjective o%sio$ (Hebrew dysj); here is the relevant portion of Isa 55:3, in the three versions (MT/LXX/Acts) side by side:

Isa 55:3 MT

<yn]m*a$n# dw]d* yd@s=j^ <l*ou tyr!B= <k#l* ht*r=k=a#w+
“…and I will cut for/with you a lasting agreement,
the (well) supported loving/loyal things of David”

Isa 55:3 LXX

kai\ diaqh/somai u(mi=n diaqh/khn ai)w/nion ta\ o%sia Dauid ta\ pista/
“…and I will arrange for/with you an arrangement of-the-ages,
the holy (and) trustworthy things of David”

Acts 13:34b

dw/sw u(mi=n ta\ o%sia Daui\d ta\ pista/
“…and I will give you the holy (and) trustworthy things of David”

The Greek verb diati/qhmi has the fundamental meaning of setting (or arranging) things through, i.e. in order, or for a specific end purpose. The noun, of course, is related, i.e. an “arrangement” —in basic English, the Greek expression could be fairly rendered “I have arranged with you an arrangement…” (as above). The noun diaqh/kh often had the more technical sense of a “disposition (of goods/property)”, “testament”, or the like, and was also regularly used to translate the Hebrew tyrb (“agreement, covenant”). It is this latter sense (from the Old Testament) that diaqh/kh is typically carries in the New Testament. Paul’s quotation does not mention the agreement/covenant, but only the final phrase, “the holy (and) trustworthy things of David”, which is synonymous with the covenant (promises).

The Hebrew adjective dysj has a wide and diverse semantic range, but perhaps could be summarized as “good, kind/loving, loyal”. The corresponding Greek adjective o%sio$ more properly relates to the religious sphere—that which is proper, good and right (“pure, whole, holy, sacred”, etc); in the LXX and New Testament it is largely synonymous with di/kaio$ (“just, right[eous]”).

Verses 36 and 37 apply Psalm 16:10 to the death and resurrection of Jesus in a manner very similar to that in Peter’s Pentecost speech (cf. above). Based on this evidence, we can be reasonably confident that verses 8-11 of the Psalm formed a key Scripture used by early Christians in their proclamation of the Gospel message. It also doubtless was used by the early missionaries to demonstrate that the death and resurrection of the Messiah (was prophesied in Scripture). There were relatively few passages that were suitable for such a purpose, and Psalm 16:8-11 was clearly one of them.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Psalm 22

Psalm 22

There were a number of Old Testament Psalms which were influential on early Christians (and the Gospel Tradition). Indeed, the Psalms were treated as a valid source of Messianic prophecies, often being counted among the Prophetic Scriptures, and with David, in particular, regarded as an inspired prophet (Mk 12:36; Acts 1:16; 4:25; Heb 4:7). As applied to the person of Jesus, understood to be the Davidic Messiah, the Messianic prophecies uttered by David (in the Psalms) has special resonance for early Christians.

Jesus’ identity as the royal (Davidic) Messiah (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) took on considerable prominence in the second half of the Synoptic narrative (the period in Judea/Jerusalem), and especially in the Passion narrative. It is thus not surprising that portions of the Psalms, along with other Davidic traditions, played a key role in shaping the Passion narrative. The most influential of the Psalms in this regard was unquestionably Psalm 22. I have discussed this Psalm at length in the “Sunday Psalm Studies” series (cf. Parts 1, 2, 3), and will be reproducing here only the most relevant portions.

Psalm 22 is a lengthy lament, which I would divide into three main sections:

    • Vv. 2-11 [1-10]—A lament to God by the Psalmist in regard to his suffering and the deplorable situation he faces
    • Vv. 12-23 [11-22]—This situation is described in terms of attacks by his adversaries
    • Vv. 24-32 [23-31]—Praise to YHWH for his power and goodness, anticipating that God will bring deliverance

The superscription includes the specific musical direction (in the MT) rj^V^h^ tl#Y#a^ lu^, which would mean “upon (the) hind/doe of the dawn”, though there is some uncertainty regarding the form tlya, which the Greek versions (LXX, Symmachus) and Targums apparently understood as tWly`a$ (“strength, help”), as in verse 20 [19]. The expression then could mean something like “strength/help that comes with the dawn”, the implication being that the Psalmist is facing a ‘dark night of the soul’, but that the sunrise of deliverance from YHWH is coming.

Section 1: Psalm 22:2-11

As noted above, verses 2-11 [English 1-10] represent a lament to God. It is the opening verse (2 [1]) that is central to the Synoptic Passion narrative; however, in order to set this verse in its original context, I include here discussion on verses 1-3ff (from my earlier study).

Verse 2 [1]

“My Mighty (One), my Mighty (One), for what [i.e. why] have you left me,
(be)ing far removed from my (cry for) help, (the) words of my groaning?”

This opening couplet establishes the Psalm as a lament, in which the protagonist cries to God in the midst of his suffering. It is an example of synthetic parallelism, with the second line building upon the first. The verb bz~u* (“leave, [set] loose, abandon”) in line 1 is picked up by qojr* in line 2, which I parse as a verbal noun (from qj^r*, “be far [removed], distant”). Not only does the Psalmist feel that God has left him, but He has gone far away. The parallel suffixed nouns yt!u*Wvy+ (“my [cry for] help”) and yt!g`a&v^ (“my groaning”) in the second line further add to the intensity of the scene. The root ga^v* more properly denotes roaring—i.e., a roaring cry of suffering and distress.

Verse 3 [2]

“My Mightiest (One)—
I call by day and you do not answer (me),
and by night, and (there is) no calm for me.”

The initial address to God (“my Mightiest”, yh^ýa$), if original, rather distorts the meter of the verse, though it does provide a fitting parallel to the opening of v. 2 (“my Mighty [One]”, yl!a@, repeated). To preserve the clarity of the couplet, I have rendered the initial address as a partial line which adds a moment of tension and suspense to the rhythm of the two couplets of vv. 2-3 [1-2] when read together. The parallelism of the couplet here is obvious, being more conceptual than formal. The noun hY`m!Wd can specifically mean “silence”, emphasizing that the Psalmist cries out continually (and is not silent), or it could indicate that there is no calm or stillness for him (i.e. no rest or respite from his suffering); the latter sense is to be preferred.

Verses 4-6 [3-5]

“And (yet) you are sitting (in the) holy (place),
the shining (splendor) of Yisrael!
In you our Fathers trusted (for safety)—
they trusted, and you made escape (for) them;
to you they cried out and were rescued,
in you they trusted and were not disgraced!”

These three couplets provide a contrast with the Psalmist’s situation. Since YHWH rescued and delivered the people of Israel in times past, why will he not deliver the protagonist now? In some ways, this anticipates the praise section in vv. 24-32, but here the recollection of past action of God on behalf of his people only serves as a bitter irony. There is a hint of rebuke in the opening couplet, contrasting the Psalmist’s deplorable condition on earth with YHWH sitting in splendor on his throne in heaven; it could perhaps be rendered “…and yet, there you are, sitting in the holy place!” The contrast between God and the human condition is further developed, most vividly in the verses that follow.

The threefold use of the verb jf^B* in vv. 5-6 may seem overly repetitive, but effectively makes a theological point: God will deliver those who trust in him. The root jfb often connotes trusting in someone for safety and protection, and is occasionally rendered “seek refuge [in]” —i.e. God as a place of protection. In spite of this threefold affirmation, implying that the Psalmist, too, is trusting in YHWH, there is as yet no deliverance from suffering.

Verses 7-9 [6-8]

“And (here) I (am) a worm, and not a man,
(the) scorn of mankind, and contempt of (all) people!
All (those) seeing me bring derision to(ward) me,
they let out (laughter) with (the) lip and wag (their) head:
‘He circled (with joy) to YHWH, so let Him (now) bring escape!
let Him rescue him, (seeing) that he finds delight in Him!'”

The contrast of the Divine and human condition is a frequent theme in Old Testament poetry, the human side often expressed by the parallel “man…son of man”. Here, however, the contrast is made even more graphically—the Psalmist’s condition is that of a worm, something even less than a man! By this is meant, primarily, the disgrace that he experiences from the rest of humankind (or, so it seems to him). The first couplet provides a synthetic parallelism, where the idea of being a “worm” is defined specifically in terms of the scorn (hP*r=j#) and contempt (hz)B=) he experiences from other people.

Even allowing for poetic exaggeration, to be sure, it is interesting to consider just what it is which brings about such treatment by the people at large. The only evidence provided here is that the protagonist has been struck by severe misfortune, which seems to run contrary to his faithful devotion to YHWH. In other words, if he has been faithful and loyal to YHWH (i.e. trusting in Him, cf. above), then how is it that he is now trapped in such a deplorable situation? This is a natural religious sentiment, felt my many devout persons at various times, and was a frequent theme in the ancient Wisdom literature (indeed, it runs throughout the entire book of Job). His sense of disgrace is only heightened all the more by the mockery he receives from the faithless in society. This is presented most vividly in vv. 8-9 [7-8], including a representative taunt expressed by the populace; this taunt occurs in the climactic couplet of v. 9, with both synonymous and chiastic parallelism:

    • The Psalmist circles (with joy) unto YHWH
      • so let God bring escape for him
      • and let (God) deliver him
    • since he finds delight in (YHWH)

Section 2: Psalm 22:12-23 [11-22]

In this portion of the Psalm, the distress and misfortune experienced by the Psalmist (cf. above on vv. 2-11 [1-10]) is defined in terms of attacks by his adversaries and opponents. Often in the Psalms, this line of imagery relates to the royal background and theology of the ancient poems (i.e. referring to opponents of the king and his kingdom). Admittedly, this aspect is less prominent here in Psalm 22, but we must still take it into account. The adversaries of the protagonist are never specified, though they are characterized generally as wicked and faithless/disloyal to the covenant with YHWH.

Verse 12 [11]

“Do not be far away from me,
for distress is near (to me),
for there is no (one) helping (me)!”

The section begins with a tricolon, in which the Psalmist calls out urgently to God, as he faces “distress” (hr*x*), an abstract term which should be understood in the concrete sense of hostile opponents who are attacking (or who would attack). The substantive participle “(one) helping” (rz@ou) refers to human aid, perhaps in the practical sense of military assistance; since there is no one available, the Psalmist has to turn to YHWH for divine aid.

Verses 13-14 [12-13]

“Many (strong) bulls surround me,
(the) mighty (one)s of Bashan enclose me;
they open their mouths upon me,
tearing and roaring (at me as) a lion!”

The two couplets in these verses describe the Psalmist’s enemies in the traditional imagery of fierce and powerful animals (bull / lion). They are compared with bulls (<yr!P*) in the first couplet, the parallelism filled in by the local idiom of cattle-herding in the region of Bashan, east of the Jordan (“mighty ones of Bashan”). In the second couplet, the lion (hy@r=u^) is in view, with its deadly mouth that roars and tears at its prey.

Verses 15-16 [14-15]

“Like water, I am poured out,
all my bones are separated;
my heart is (become) like wax,
it melts in the midst of my tissues;
my strength is dried up like (baked) clay,
and my tongue has been stuck to my jaws—
and (all this) has set me toward the dust of death!”

In the face of such danger, the Psalmist can feel himself on the verge of death. The strength of his limbs (and his heart) dissolves, melting all over. This liquid metaphor is replaced (in v. 16 [15]) with the opposite idea of drying—his strength drying up like the tongue in his mouth. The figurative anatomical references give way to a climactic exclamation in the final line, an exclamation, however, which is a bit difficult to interpret. The verb form, yn]t@P=v=T!, appears to be a second person singular imperfect form, suggesting a sudden switch to a direct address to YHWH by the Psalmist, perhaps blaming God for the situation he now faces—i.e., “and (so) to the dust of death you have put me!”. Commentators have suggested instead that it should be read as a third person feminine (collective), perhaps in the sense that ‘all these things’ (“they”), together, have set me toward the dust of death. I have tentatively followed this interpretation above. The image of “dust” (rp*u*), of course, fits the motif of drying out in v. 16.

Verses 17-19 [16-18]

“For (these) dogs have surrounded me,
a pack of (those) doing evil has gone about me,
digging (into) my hands and my feet—
I count all my bones (that are left)!
They, they give a look,
they take sight at me;
they divide my clothes among them,
and upon my garment they cast a pebble.”

These difficult (and irregular) couplets represent the violence of the attack made upon the Psalmist. Perhaps it is what he envisions happening, rather than something which, whether real or figurative, has actually taken place. In any case, the animal imagery from the prior lines continues, with the adversaries now depicted as a pack of savage dogs. They are characterized as “(one)s doing evil” (<yu!r@m=), and, in keeping with the imagery of the couplet, I have rendered the common noun hd*u@ (“appointed [gathering], assembly”) colloquially as “pack”.

The second couplet (v. 17b/18a) is particularly difficult, evidenced by the misplaced verse division. With many commentators, I read the initial word yrak as a verbal form (infinitive) from the root hr*K* I (“dig”), with an ‘intrusive’ aleph [a]. It is often translated here as “pierce”, perhaps to give greater relevance to the subsequent (Christian) application to the crucifixion of Jesus (i.e., piercing his hands and feet, cf. below). However, the original context of the Psalm had nothing to do with crucifixion; rather, it would seem, the idea is of dogs digging their sharp teeth into the legs and arms (i.e. ‘hands and feet’) of the protagonist. It is a vicious attack that leaves the victim in a debilitated state; and, it is in this light that I understand the second line of the couplet, as a bit of grim irony—the Psalmist is able to count the few intact bones he has left!

Rhythmically, following this pair of 3-beat couplets, there is a terse 2-beat couplet in the remainder of verse 18. The sense is not entirely clear, but I believe that the idea involves the attackers pausing to look at the body of their victim. This would seem to be confirmed by what follows in verse 19 (again a 3-beat couplet). Having left their victim dead (or near death), they strip him of his clothing, dividing the garments between them, casting lot to see who will receive the choicest garment (his robe/tunic).

Use of Psalm 22 in the Gospels

The role of this Psalm in the Gospel Tradition is relatively straightforward, being applied to the Passion and Death of Jesus—in particular, the scene of his crucifixion. The use of Psalm relates to the crucifixion scene in three ways:

    • The historical tradition of Jesus’ cry on the cross, which may have been the catalyst for drawing the attention of believers to the Psalm
    • The general parallels between the crucifixion scene and the details in vv. 2-19 [1-18] of the Psalm, which observers and subsequent witnesses would have noted
    • Those very portions of the Psalm were then used by early Christians (including the Gospel writer[s]) in the shaping of the narrative description of the crucifixion scene

There can be no doubt that this Psalm was especially significant for the shaping of the crucifixion account, with details from the poem effectively being enacted (fulfilled) in the narrative. In the Synoptic tradition (Mark-Matthew), Jesus quotes the opening line while fastened to the stake (Mk 15:34 par), and, as noted above, it may have been that historical tradition which prompted early believers to turn to the Psalm, where they recognized certain parallels with the events of his death. The Gospel writers clearly were aware of these details, and take care to highlight them, though the Psalm is cited directly only at Jn 19:24. In addition to the words uttered by Jesus, three elements of the Psalm were seen as related to the circumstances of his death:

On the significance of each of these details, in the original context of the Psalm, cf. the discussion above.

An interesting aspect of Psalm that is not particularly emphasized in the Gospel Tradition involves the third section (vv. 24-32 [23-31]), where the Psalmist’s lament is turned into a song of praise to YHWH for his power and goodness, anticipating that God will bring deliverance. This portion of the Psalm could easily have been applied to the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, yet I am not aware of any significant early Christian use of the Psalm for that purpose. Other Psalms, however, were applied to the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus in the New Testament, the most notable of which being Psalm 16 and 110. These will be discussed in upcoming articles in this series.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Exodus 24:8

Exodus 24:8

One of the most important Old Testament passages that shaped the Gospel Tradition, especially as it relates to the death of Jesus, is the covenant episode at mount Sinai in Exodus 24. I have discussed this passage at length in an article in the series “The People of God”, and the current study makes extensive use of that earlier article. You may wish to consult Parts 1 and 2, in which were examined the covenant-scenes in Genesis 15 and 17, scenes that are foundational for an understanding of the concept of covenant (Heb. tyr!B=, literally, binding agreement) in the Old Testament.

When considering the context of Exodus 24:1-11, it is important to realize that this covenant theme covers the entire second half of the book, beginning with chapter 19 and God’s manifestation (theophany) at Sinai. God appears to the people, just as he did to Abraham in Gen 15 and 17. The principal narrative in chapter 20 can be divided into two parts:

    • God speaks to the people, i.e. to the leaders (vv. 1-14), and then
    • God speaks to Moses as their representative (vv. 15-18ff)

This sets forth the agreement (covenant) between God and the people Israel (Abraham’s descendants). The “ten words” (20:1-14) and the laws/regulations in 20:19-23:33 represent the terms of the covenant—that is, the binding obligation which the people are to fulfill. This material is called the “account of the agreement” (tyr!b=h^ rp#s@ s¢pher hab®rî¾, 24:7, i.e. “book of the covenant”). The legal basis of this agreement requires that it be established in writing. The agreement itself is finalized (ratified) by the ritual ceremony in chapter 24.

Here, in Exodus 24:1-11, the people promise to fulfill their part of the agreement; indeed, the binding obligation in this instance is only on one party—stated in 19:8 and repeated in 24:3 (and again in v. 7):

    • “All (the words) which YHWH has (said by) word/mouth (to us) we will do!”

In the latter instance, the people are represented by their leaders—seventy elders, along with Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu. The unity of the people (as a common party) is emphasized in both declarations:

    • “And all the people answered in its unity [i.e. in unison, united] and said…” (19:8)
    • “And all the people answered (with) one voice and said…” (24:3)

This vow covers the first portion of the episode, which may be outlined as follows:

    • Verses 1-4a: The elders, representing the people, affirm their part of the agreement, which Moses puts in writing.
    • Verses 4b-8: This affirmation is ratified by sacrificial offering and ritual.
    • Verses 9-11: The elders ascend (partway up the mountain) and encounter God (theophany), and the covenant ritual is finalized.

There is obvious symbolism and significance to the seventy elders (see also Num 11:16, 24-25; Ezek 8:11) who represent the people. Most likely it draws upon the idea of completeness connoted by the numbers seven and ten (i.e. 7 x 10). The seventy elders truly represent the entire people of God. The action of the elders bowing low (reflexive stem of the verb hj*v*) reminds us again of the ancient Near Eastern background of the covenant (tyr!B=) idea. It is the act of a loyal and obedient subordinate, or vassal, paying homage to a superior authority, and indicating submission. This is in accordance with the suzerain-vassal treaty form of agreement, with Yahweh, as the one Creator God, representing the ultimate sovereign.

The ancient Near Eastern covenant was often accompanied by ritual involving cutting. In Genesis 15, animals were cut up into pieces, and God (symbolically, in a vision) passed between the pieces, indicating the binding obligation on him to fulfill the agreement. In the Genesis 17 episode, the ritual cutting is of a different sort (circumcision), and reflects the binding obligation on the other party (Abraham and his descendants). Now, in Exodus 24, the cutting is expressed through: (a) sacrificial offerings, and (b) the use of blood. More important, the ritual symbolism involves both parties—God and the people Israel. This dual-aspect is sometimes overlooked by commentators, but it is clear enough in the account of verses 4b-8.

First, we should note that there are three elements to the ritual scene:

    • The mountain location—symbolically a meeting-point between heaven (God) and earth (humankind)
    • The altar—representing the presence of God, and
    • The twelve pillars—representing the people (i.e., the twelve Tribes of Israel)

Mount Sinai is thus a (sacred) location where both parties can meet to establish the agreement. The use of pillars (or stones) to represent the parties of an agreement is attested elsewhere in the Pentateuch (Gen 31:45-54); see also Josh 24:27, where a stone serves as a witness to the agreement.

With regard to the sacrificial offerings themselves, they are of two kinds:

    • Offerings which are entirely burnt by fire on the altar (i.e. “burnt offerings”, Leviticus 1ff)—these are consumed (“eaten”) entirely by God, through the burning; the very Hebrew word for this offering (hl*u), ±ôlâ) indicates the symbolism of the savory smoke ascending (“going up”) to God in heaven.
    • Offerings which signify the wish to establish (or restore/maintain) good will and peace between parties—i.e. between God and the people. It sometimes called a “peace offering”, based on the customary translation of the Hebrew <l#v# (šelem, “peace”). Both parties “eat” of these offerings—a portion is burnt by fire (i.e. eaten by God), the remainder is consumed by the human participants in a meal.

Only in the case of the “peace offering”, consumed by both God and the people, is the term jbz (noun jb^z#, verb jb^z`), “[ritual] slaughter”, used; this is the offering which involves cutting. Interestingly, while the cutting in the previous covenant scenes (Genesis 15, 17) would have resulted in blood (see Exod 4:25-26, etc), only here, in this episode, does blood play a part in the ritual. It is applied to both parties in the agreement:

    • For God, symbolically, through the blood thrown against the altar (v. 6), and
    • For the people, the blood thrown (or sprinkled) on them (v. 8)

We must consider the different possible aspects of this symbolism. First, note the declaration accompanying the use of blood:

“See—the blood of the binding (agreement) which YHWH has cut with you upon [i.e. regarding] all these words!” (v. 8b)

In the case of the cutting up on the animals in Genesis 15, the background of the symbolism involved the punishment which would befall someone who violated the agreement (i.e., he/they would be “cut up” just as the animals were). In a similar manner, in Genesis 17, the person(s) who violate the agreement, which was marked by the cutting off of the male foreskin, would themselves be “cut off”. The symbolic use of blood here may also reflect the idea that death would be the result of violating the agreement.

At the same time, blood could symbolize the life-essence of a person (Gen 9:4-6), and thus possess a sacred, life-giving (and life-preserving) quality. In the underlying symbolism of the Passover ritual, the blood from the sacrifice specifically protects the person(s) from death (Exod 12:13, 22-23).

A third aspect—perhaps the one most relevant to the covenant scene in Exodus 24—is the use of blood to consecrate persons and objects within a religious setting (Exod 29:12ff; Lev 4:5-7ff; 8:15-24; 9:9ff, etc). The consecration of priests, those responsible for managing the ceremonial/sacrificial elements of the covenant, is accompanied by a ritual use of blood which is very close to that of Exod 24:6-8. In a sense, the consecrated priests are representatives of the entire people (like the elders in Exod 24), who are called to be a holy nation (Exod 19:6). In this respect, the “blood of the agreement” marks the sacred and holy character of the agreement between the people and God. Symbolizing both aspects of life and death, blood serves to finalize the binding agreement—the very bond—between the two parties.

Finally, we must note the climax of the Exodus 24 covenant episode: the manifestation of God (YHWH) to the leaders of the people (the seventy elders, etc) in verses 9-11. As in the vision of Genesis 15:17f, here God appears—the presence of both parties being required to ratify the agreement. To be sure, God was present, symbolically, by the altar, but now he becomes visible to the people (as he did in the initial Sinai theophany of chapter 19). We may outline this section as follows:

    • Ascent of the elders (v. 9) —Appearance of YHWH (v. 10) —They behold Him and live (v. 11a)
    • They eat and drink (conclusion of the ritual, v. 11b)

The use of the verb hz`j* in verse 10 indicates that the manifestation of YHWH was, at least in part, a visionary experience (see Ezek 1, etc). The parallel with the Genesis 15 episode would seem to confirm this aspect. The precise nature of the “eating and drinking” mentioned in verse 11b is uncertain, but it would seem to reflect the conclusion of the meal related to the sacrificial offerings in vv. 6ff. The people’s participation in this meal serves to finalize the agreement (specifically, their part in it). It is noteworthy that the establishment of the “new covenant”, marked by Jesus’ blood, is also part of a ritual meal (Mark 14:12-26 par).

As significant as the Exodus 24 covenant episode is, it should be pointed out, again, that chapters 19-24 represent only the beginning of a larger covenant-narrative complex which continues on to the end of the book (and, one might say, into the book of Leviticus). A study of the remainder of the book of Exodus demonstrates how chapter 24 fits into the structure of the book—both the legal material in chapters 25-31, 34ff and the important narrative scenes in chapters 32-33. The covenant agreement between God and Israel cannot be separated from the Instruction, or Torah—the regulations and instructions given by God to his people. These regulations function as the terms of the covenant. While this applied initially to the “ten words” (Decalogue) and the “book of the covenant” in 20:19-23:33, it came to encompass a much larger body of instruction and tradition.

The Last Supper Tradition:
Mark 14:22-25 / Matt 26:26-29 / Luke 22:17-20

Exodus 24:8 was most influential in relation to the important early Christian tradition of the institution of the “Lord’s Supper”, as is narrated in Mark 14:22-25 (par Matt 26:26-29; Luke 22:17-20). Here will be helpful to observe the basic tradition as it is preserved by Mark (and Matthew). The outline is very simple:

    • Action by Jesus (the bread):
      “taking bread (and) giving a good account [i.e. blessing] (to God), he broke (it) and gave (it) to them” (v. 22a)
      • Words of Jesus:
        “Take (it)—this is my body” (v. 22b)
    • Action by Jesus (the cup/wine):
      “taking (the) drinking-cup (and) giving good words of (thanks for God’s) favor, he gave (it) to them and they all drank out of it” (v. 23)
      • Words of Jesus:
        “This is my blood of the diaqh/kh [i.e. ‘covenant’] th(at) is poured out over many” (v. 24)

An additional saying/declaration by Jesus (v. 25) concludes the solemn moment:

“Amen, I say to you that, no—I will not drink yet (again) out of the produce of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

This saying, with its “Amen, I say to you” (a)mh\n le/gw u(mi=n) formula (a well-attested mark of Jesus’ own style), is parallel to the declaration in v. 18.

It is clear that the “Last Supper” was identified as a Passover meal in the early Gospel tradition; this is certainly the case in the Synoptics (Mk 14:1, 12-16 par), though less definite in John’s Gospel. Luke brings out most prominently the Passover connection, all the more so, it would seem, if one adopts the longer, majority text of vv. 17-20 (which includes vv. 19b-20). It has been argued that Luke preserved more of the original setting of the Passover meal, such as it would have been practiced in the 1st century A.D.; the outline of the meal in Lk 22:17-20 (longer text) would be:

    • The Cup (vv. 17-18)—a single cup, to be shared, it would seem, among all the disciples together. It is it perhaps to be identified with the initial cup of blessing (qiddûš), drunk prior to the serving of the meal. Possibly it may also represent the second cup of wine following the Passover liturgy (hagg¹d¹h).
    • The Bread (v. 19)—the “unleavened bread” (maƒƒôt) served and eaten together with the Passover lamb.
    • The Cup (v. 20)—the second cup of blessing (trad. kôš šel b§r¹k¹h), following the meal.

If Luke thus preserves more of the original historical setting, then the Synoptic version in Mark-Matthew (Mk 14:22-25/Matt 26:26-29) would have to be viewed as a simplification or abridgment of the scene. Central to the scene, and of the Gospel tradition that developed around it, are the words of institution by Jesus. There are two basic forms preserved—(1) that in Mark/Matthew, and (2) that in Luke and 1 Corinthians. In addition to the Synoptic Gospels, the tradition is preserved by Paul in 1 Cor 11:22-26, part of his instruction regarding the “Supper of the Lord” (vv. 17-34, cf. also 10:16-21). Paul introduces the tradition in v. 23:

“For I took/received along from the Lord th(at) which I also gave along to you—that the Lord Yeshua, on the night in which he was given along [i.e. betrayed], took bread…”

The first phrase does not necessarily mean that Paul received this information as a special revelation by Jesus; it may simply indicate that the tradition goes back to the words and actions of Jesus himself. As in the Gospels, Paul recorded words spoken by Jesus over the bread and the cup/wine, in turn. It is the words over the cup that allude to the covenant scene in Exodus 24:1-11 (discussed above).

Jesus’ action and words associated with the cup are clearly parallel to those associated with the bread. First, the action:

    • Mark 14:23-24: “and taking [labw\n] (the) drinking-cup (and) giving (thanks for God’s) favor [eu)xaristh/sa$], he gave [e&dwken] (it) to them and they all drank out of it. And he said to them…”
    • Matt 26:27: “and taking (the) drinking-cup and giving (thanks for God’s) favor, he gave (it) to them saying, ‘Drink out of it all (of) you’
      [Matthew is identical to Mark, except that the reference to drinking has been made part of Jesus’ directive]
    • Luke 22:20: “and so the same (way) also (he took) the drinking-cup after th(eir) dining, saying…”
    • 1 Cor 11:25: “and so the same (way) also (he took) the drinking-cup after th(eir) dining, saying…”
      [Luke and Paul have virtually the same version, with slightly different word order]

And the words of Jesus:

    • Mark 14:24: “This is my blood of the agreement [i.e. covenant] set through [diaqh/kh] (by God), th(at) is poured out over many”
    • Matt 26:27: “This is my blood of the agreement set through (by God), th(at) is poured out around many unto [i.e. for] the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins
      [Differences between Matthew and Mark are indicated by italics]
    • Luke 22:20: “This drinking-cup is the new agreement set through (by God) in my blood, th(at is) being poured out over you”
    • 1 Cor 11:25: “This drinking-cup is the new agreement set through (by God) in my blood—do this, as often as you should drink it, unto my remembrance”

Again, the common tradition inherited by Luke and Paul is clear. Their version differs significantly from that of Mark/Matthew in one respect:

    • In Luke/Paul, the cup is identified as the “new covenant”
    • In Mark/Matthew, the blood (wine) itself is identified with the “covenant”

The reference in Mark/Matthew is more obviously to the original covenant ceremony in Exodus 24:8; in the Greek LXX the declaration reads:

“See, the blood of the agreement which the Lord set through toward you around/about all these words”
In Hebrew (cf. above):
“See, the blood of the agreement which YHWH cut with you upon all these words”

The use of blood in Exod 24:6-8 is clearly drawn upon by Jesus, echoing the declaration in v. 8:

“This is my blood of the covenant [diaqh/kh] th(at is) being poured out over many” (Mark 14:24 par)

In these passages, the “blood of the (new) covenant” clearly refers to Jesus’ death, as a sacrifice—an offering slaughtered (cut up), and its blood poured out (onto the altar, etc), just as Jesus’ body is ‘broken’ and his blood ‘poured out’ in his death (see John 19:34). Similar language is used in the Gospel of John (6:51, 53ff) and elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 3:25; 1 Cor 10:16; Col 1:20; Heb 9:14ff; 10:29; 13:20; 1 Pet 1:2, 19; 1 John 1:7; 5:6, 8).

If the blood in the Sinai covenant scene established (ratified) the first covenant between God and His people (Israel), the blood shed by Jesus establishes the new covenant. This concept of a “new covenant” goes back to the Prophets of the exilic and post-exilic period, who described the restoration of Israel (in the New Age) in terms of a new covenant between YHWH and His people. The most prominent reference is Jer 31:31-34, a passage of tremendous importance for early Christian identity, much as it also had been for the Qumran community (CD 6:19; 1QpHab 2:4ff, etc). Early Christians certainly adopted the idea of the new covenant and applied it their own identity as believers in Christ—that is, believers as the people of God in the New Age. If we accept the historicity of the Last Supper tradition, then it would seem that this early Christian adaptation of the New Covenant concept goes back to the words and teaching of Jesus himself.

April 12: Mark 10:32-34 (concluded)

Mark 10:32-34, concluded

Component 4—the mistreatment of Jesus

“…and they will play with him, and will spit on him, and will whip him, and (then) they will kill him off”

The third Passion-prediction (Mk 10:34) here specifies more of the “many things” the the Son of Man (Jesus) will suffer (cf. 8:31 par). In particular, it is declared that there are three things that will occur once Jesus is “given over” to the nations (i.e., the Gentile Roman authorities). This is expressed by a sequence of three verbs:

    • e)mpai/zw—the base verb pai/zw essentially means “act like a child,” in the sense of making sport, playing. The compound with the prepositional prefix e)n can be understood either in a locative sense (i.e., acting like a child in/on a particular location) or in a relational sense (i.e., acting like a child with regard to someone or something). The latter is more properly in view here, and a reasonably accurate translation in English idiom would be “play with” or “toy with”. Clearly, it is meant in a negative sense—that is, “playing with” someone in a derisive or insulting (or even abusive) manner.
    • e)mptu/w, “spit on,” the meaning of which is straightforward, and can be translated quite literally in English.
    • mastigo/w—like the related masti/zw, has the fundamental meaning of “beating against” something, with a repeated movement. The action envisioned often involved repeatedly striking an animal (or human), with a whip or lash, etc. The related noun ma/stic specifically refers to a “whip”, with the verb indicating the action taken with a whip. While these terms can be used in a figurative sense, here the meaning is concrete: Jesus will be whipped by the Romans.

The first two actions are described in the Passion narrative at Mk 14:16-20. Curiously, in Luke’s version, this takes place while Jesus is in the custody of the Jewish king Herod, not the Roman Pilate (Lk 23:11). However, the Lukan ordering means that the mocking/mistreatment of Jesus occurs before he is whipped (v. 16), in accordance with order of the verbs here in the Passion-prediction; in Mark-Matthew, it occurs after the whipping (Mk 15:15; Matt 27:16).

In the Passion narrative, Mark and Matthew each use the verb fragello/w (derived from the Latin flagellum) to describe the whipping of Jesus, rather than the more general mastigo/w (as here in the prediction, cf. above). This makes clear that it is a reference to the verberatio (scourging) that accompanied a capital sentence—a cruel and horrific punishment that was often fatal in itself. Interestingly, the Gospel writers treat this with considerable reserve, stating the fact of the whipping in the briefest terms possible (without the slightest graphic detail), and making no mention at all of its effect on Jesus or what resulted from it. By contrast, later Christians, especially in the medieval period, but also in modern times, have emphasized Jesus’ suffering from the whipping, depicting it at times in gruesome and morbid detail.

This mistreatment of Jesus by the Romans ultimate leads to the sentence of death being carried out. Again the intensive verb a)poktei/nw (lit. “kill off”) is used, as in the other Passion-predictions. Matthew’s version (20:18) specifies the manner of death; he also has a shorter phrase than Mark (with 2 verbs of mistreatment instead of 3) and uses different syntax:

“…they will give him along to the nations, (for them) to spit on (him) and whip (him) and put (him) to the stake [staurw=sai]”

The verb stauro/w literally means “put to the stake” or “put on a stake”, a reference to crucifixion. Luke’s version (18:32-33) follows Mark more closely, but includes a fourth verb of mistreatment, the first three being grouped together, and in passive forms; the result is to separate the mocking abuse (done in Luke’s version by Herod’s soldiers) from the whipping (done under Pilate):

“…and he will be played with and will be insulted and will be spat on, and (then), whipping (him), they will kill him off”

The verb Luke adds (in italics above) is u(bri/zw, which basically means to insult someone, but may also connote a more severe or violent action that leads to harm or injury.

Component 5—the death and resurrection

“…and they will kill him off, and, after three days, he wil stand up (again).”

The concluding statement of Jesus’ death and resurrection follows the pattern of the prior Passion-predictions. Again, Mark uses the expression “after three days” (meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$), while Matthew and Luke each have “on the third day” (th=| tri/th| h(me/ra|), which is technically more accurate to the historical circumstances, and is also in keeping with the customary early Christian usage. Matthew again uses the verb e)gei/rw (“rise [up]”), while Luke here follows Mark with a)ni/sthmi (“stand up”).

Luke is also unique in his inclusion, following the third prediction, of another reference to the disciples’ failure to understand (cf. on the second prediction, 9:45):

“But they could put together none of these (thing)s, and this utterance (also) was hidden from them, and they did not know [i.e. understand] the (thing)s being said.” (18:34)

The verb suni/hmi literally means “put together”, here in the conceptual sense of putting things together in the mind, making and understanding the connections between them. The passive perfect participle kekrumme/non (“having been hidden”), like that used in 9:45, is an example of the divine passive, and indicates that it was God Himself who hid from the disciples the meaning and significance of what Jesus said to them. This may come across like an early Christian apologetic for the apostles, but it is important to realize that, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative—and the Lukan narrative, in particular—the true meaning of Jesus’ death is rooted in the post-resurrection proclamation. Only after the resurrection, with the enlightenment that the experience of the resurrection brings, can Jesus’ disciples understand the reasons for his death, and how it relates to his Messianic identity.

April 6: Mark 9:31-32 (concluded)

Mark 9:31-32, concluded

“…and they will kill him off, and, (hav)ing been killed off, after three days, he will stand up (again).”

This is the second part of the second Passion-prediction (Mk 9:31). The first part (cf. the previous note) emphasized the betrayal of Jesus (the Son of Man), by which he is “given along” into the custody of the authorities (“into the hands of men”). Here, in the second part, Jesus tells his disciples what will happen once he “given over” to the authorities. The declaration restates the climactic portion of the first prediction (8:31), presenting, in summary form, a message of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Lukan version omits this portion, but the Matthean version includes it (17:23a), utilizing the same wording as in the first prediction, and differing slightly from Mark:

“…and they will kill him off, and, on the third day, he will rise (up again).”

The context of this second Passion-prediction makes clear that the ruling authorities (“hands of men”) will be responsible for putting Jesus to death (vb a)poketei/nw, “kill off”). A comparison with the first prediction indicates that it is primarily the Jewish authorities (the Council in Jerusalem) who are in view here. Jesus will be “given over” (by Judas) into their hands, and it is they who will make the principal determination that he is deserving of death.

All three Gospels record the disciples’ reaction to this announcement, and the considerable variation in how this is expressed suggests that this portion of the tradition was not so well-fixed as the saying itself. The basic Synoptic form is probably best represented by Mark:

“And they did not know the (meaning of his) utterance, and they were afraid to ask him about (it).” (Mk 9:32)

Luke follows this, expanding the Markan/Synoptic wording somewhat (additions in italics below):

“But they did not know the (meaning of) this utterance, and it had been covered along (away) from them, (so) that they could not perceive it, and they were afraid to ask him about this utterance.” (9:45)

Luke uses the perfect passive participle parakekalumme/non, which is rather difficult to translate literally in English. The compound verb parakalu/ptw means “cover along[side]”, or (more simply) “cover over”. The perfect passive participle, in literal translation, would be “it had been being covered over”, but this is quite awkward in English, and requires a simpler rendering, “it had been covered over”. The passive here is best explained as an example of the “divine passive” (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. God has intentionally “covered over” the meaning of Jesus’ words for the disciples, so that they cannot perceive (vb ai)sqa/nomai) it clearly.

How should we interpret the disciples’ lack of understanding? It is hard to see how they could have misunderstood the basic prediction—viz., that Jesus would be handed over the authorities and put to death. Peter’s reaction (omitted by Luke) to the first prediction suggests that he it understood its meaning well enough. This leaves several possibilities:

    • They did not understand why Jesus, as the Messiah, would have to suffer and die
    • They did not understand the true significance of his suffering and death
    • It was the idea of his death and resurrection, in particular, that was kept hidden (by God) from their understanding; cp. a similar sort of misunderstanding in the Johannine Lazarus episode (11:11-16), and, with regard to Jesus’ own death and resurrection, cf. Jn 2:19-22.

Keep in mind that Luke has omitted mention of the resurrection in his version of the prediction, so it is effectively hidden from the disciples here (though it is included in his version of the first prediction). The shortened version of this prediction, if original, would have been rather difficult to understand.

Interestingly, Matthew records a different, and very simple reaction by the disciples:

“And they were extremely sorrowful” (Matt 17:23b)

This suggests that their focus was on Jesus’ impending death, and they seem not to have grasped the significance of his subsequent resurrection.

In the next note, we will turn our attention to the third (and final) Passion-prediction.

April 2: Mark 8:31 (concluded)

Mark 8:31, concluded

“…and to be killed off, and, after three days, to stand up (again).”

The last two components of the Passion-prediction in Mk 8:31 par should be treated together; indeed, this portion of the verse consists simply of the two infinitives, separated by a temporal phrase (“after three days”). Note how the two actions are joined:

    • to be killed off [a)poktanqh=nai]
      • and after three days
    • to stand up (again) [a)nasth=nai]

This simple syntactical structure provides a basic paradigm for the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The verb ktei/nw is a common verb meaning “slay, kill,” but can also be used more generally for putting someone to death (in any manner). The prefix a)po/ (parallel to the prefix on the second infinitive, cf. the previous note), functions as an intensive, i.e., kill completely, kill outright. I have translated it rather literally above as “kill off”.

The last infinitive, of the prefixed verb a)ni/sthmi (lit. “stand up”), refers to the resurrection of Jesus, after he has been put to death in Jerusalem. Indeed, this came to be the regular verb in Greek to express the idea of resurrection (“stand up [again]”), along with the derived noun a)na/stasi$ (“standing up,” i.e., “resurrection”). Both verb and noun came to be a standard part of the early Christian vocabulary; however, they were in use among Greek-speaking Jews even prior to Jesus’ resurrection, and there is no reason why Jesus himself would not have made use of it (or its Aramaic equivalent).

The Matthean and Lukan versions (Matt 16:21; Lk 9:22) here follow the Markan form, except that they each use the phrase “on the third day” (th=| tri/th| h(me/ra|) instead of “after three days” (meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$) as the temporal indicator. This probably reflects the more familiar early Christian way of phrasing the matter (cf. Acts 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4; Lk 24:7, 46), and Matthew and Luke repeat it in the subsequent Passion-predictions (Matt 17:23; 20:19; Lk 18:33). It is possible that, in this, early Christians were influenced by Hosea 6:2 [LXX]. At the same time, the Markan phrasing (“after three days”) would provide a better fit for applying the resurrection of Jesus to the pattern of the Jonah tradition (Jon 1:17, cf. Matt 12:40, and my recent note).

There is also a minor agreement between Matthew and Luke here in using the verb e)gei/rw (“raise [up]”) instead of a)ni/sthmi. In this case, the infinitive is in the passive (e)gerqh=nai, “to be raised [up]”), which is more precise theologically, since it emphasizes that Jesus was raised by God (His Spirit/Power). It is an example of the “divine passive” (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. The Markan verb (a)ni/sqhmi), by contrast, emphasizes the basic action of Jesus in the resurrection—he “stood up” (that is, came back to life) from the dead.

In both Mark and Matthew (the core Synoptic Tradition), the prediction by Jesus is followed by Peter’s reaction to it. Mark describes it this way (v. 32):

“And he spoke th(is) account speaking with all (candor). And the Rock {Peter}, taking him to (himself), began to lay a charge upon him.”

We do not know precisely what Peter said to Jesus, but, it probably was along the lines of, “Lord, you must not allow this to happen,” “do not let this happen”. The same verb (e)pitima/w) was used by Jesus in v. 30, when he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. In other words, it takes the form of a prohibition, a strong urging that things must not, or should not, be a certain way. In the case of Peter, almost certainly this strong reaction is rooted in the current expectations regarding the Davidic Messiah. It would seem to contradict his very confession, regarding Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (Anointed One), if Jesus were to meet with suffering and death in Jerusalem. Surely the sort of thing described by Jesus could not happen to the Messiah, to God’s Anointed One.

Jesus’ response to Peter, in turn, is even more forceful:

“But (Yeshua), turning about and seeing his learners [i.e. disciples], laid a charge upon the Rock {Peter} and said (to him): ‘Lead (yourself) under, in back of me, Satan! (For it is) that you do not have (your) mind (on) the (thing)s of God, but (on) the (thing)s of men!'” (v. 33)

The ‘charge’ placed on Peter this time takes the form of a harsh rebuke, indicating that Peter has spoken under the influence of the Satan. By the mid-first century A.D., the Semitic title Satan (Heb /f*c*) signified the great evil Adversary (Devil, etc) who stood in opposition to God. Effectively, anyone who similarly stood in opposition to the will of God could be described as acting (however unwittingly) on behalf of the Satan. Peter had failed to grasp the way that Jesus’ identity as the Messiah would be expressed in Jerusalem—not through victory over the nations and establishment of an earthly Kingdom, but through a path of suffering and death (followed by resurrection). As noted above, such an idea was completely out of character with Messianic expectations of the time.

Luke has omitted entirely the exchange between Peter and Jesus. This may be seen as part of a general early Christian tendency to avoid statements or traditions which cast the disciples in a negative light. The tradition of Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus in the Passion narrative was too well-fixed to be altered or omitted; but other Gospel passages could be (and were) modified and adapted in certain ways. On occasion, they could also be left out altogether, as in Luke’s apparent omission of Mk 8:32-33 par.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the second of the three Passion-predictions (Mk 9:31-32 par), beginning with an examination of its place and setting within the Synoptic narrative.