January 3: John 1:12-13, 14

John 1:12-13, 14

The prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) is probably the most famous and distinctive exposition of the divine pre-existence of Jesus, and of his identity as the Son of God, anywhere in the New Testament. This familiarity belies the complexity of the passage, both from a literary and theological standpoint. Most commentators have note the poetic, hymnic character of the prologue (most of it), and many consider it to have been a Jewish-Christian hymn which the author adapted. If so, then the substance of the prologue pre-dates the Johannine Gospel itself, which is generally regarded as the latest of the four Gospels (c. 90 A.D.), though containing many earlier traditions.

The prologue differs from the Gospel proper in a number of ways, with the poetic verses (and strophes) distinguished from the several prose statements (by the Gospel writer). The main additions by the author would seem to be the two statements regarding John the Baptist (vv. 6-9, 15), which function as comments, likely in response to adherents of the Baptist who viewed him as the Messiah, etc, instead of Jesus. Nowhere in the Gospel tradition is there such a pronounced contrast between John and Jesus (1:19-34; 3:22-30ff), with the Gospel declaring the superiority of Jesus in no uncertain terms.

Verses 13 and 17-18 are probably also explanatory statements by the Gospel writer that have been added to the earlier hymn; these statements enhance the theological and Christological dimension of the poem. If, indeed, the bulk of the prologue represents a pre-existing hymn, or poem, it would seem to reflect Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom traditions that have been applied to the person of Jesus Christ. In this regard, it is similar in style and tone with two other Christological ‘hymns’ in the New Testament—Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4 (cf. the previous note)—and may have been written at about the same time (c. 60-70). In his now-classic Commentary on the Gospel of John, Raymond E. Brown, following the work of earlier scholars, divides the poetic prologue into four parts or strophes (pp. 3-4), which I have further annotated here:

    • Strophe 1 (vv. 1-2)—Pre-existence: The Son (as the Word) with God in eternity
    • Strophe 2 (vv. 3-5)—Creation by the Word of God, which is also the Light
    • Strophe 3 (vv. 10-12a)—Response of humankind to the Word/Light
    • Strophe 4 (vv. 14, 16)—The presence of the incarnate Word with humankind (believers)

According to this sequence, the third strophe (vv. 10-12a) describes the entry of the Word (lo/go$) into the world (ko/smo$). While this alludes to the incarnation of Christ, it is not limited to that historical phenomenon. Rather, the orientation is wider, reflecting traditions regarding the presence of God’s Wisdom in the world; in particular, verses 10-11 draw upon the theme of Wisdom seeking a place among human beings on earth and finding none (cf. 1 Enoch 42:2). Since Jesus is the eternal Word/Wisdom of God, this traditional language and imagery is entirely appropriate:

“He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, and (yet) the world did not know him. Unto his own (thing)s he came, and his own (people) did not receive him alongside.” (vv. 10-11)

Only a few (the wise) accept Wisdom, even as only the righteous few accept the Word of God. Within the Johannine writings, this is understood in terms of what we would call election—that is, there are those who belong to God, chosen by Him, and it is they who are able to accept the Truth. Those who belong to God the Father, and who accept His truth, will be drawn to Jesus the Son, and will accept him (cf. 3:20-21; 18:37, etc). This theology underlies the statement in v. 12a:

“But as (many) as received him, he gave to them the e)cousi/a to become offspring of God”

The Word gives to the elect (i.e. those who receive him) the ability to become the offspring, or children, of God. Again, this is only realized within the Gospel context of the ministry of Jesus and the presence/work of the Spirit. The noun e)cousi/a, difficult to translate in English, refers (literally) to something which comes out of a person’s being, i.e., something one is able to do. To give e)cousi/a thus means giving someone the ability to do something, often in the sense of authority given by a superior to one who is subordinate. Verse 12b-13, which may represent an explanatory comment by the Gospel writer, expounds the idea of believers as the children (or offspring, te/kna, lit. those produced) of God:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of God, came to be (born).”

This is a uniquely Johannine way of describing believers (“the ones trusting”), using the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”). In the First Letter, the verb occurs 10 times, always (with just one exception) in the special sense of believers being born out of God; especially important is the articular (perfect) participle, used to define the identity of the believer— “the (one) having come to be born out of God” (3:9; 5:1, 4, 18). Only with the aorist participle in 5:1 is it used of Jesus, as the one born out of God (i.e., the Son); that peculiar usage is presumably meant to emphasize Jesus’ Sonship as the basis for our own (as children of God). The main Gospel passage expressing this is Jn 3:3-8, where the verb occurs 8 times. Here, coming to be born “out of God” (e)k tou= qeou=) is defined two-fold as being born “from above” (a&nwqen, v. 3) and “out of the Spirit” (e)k tou= pneu/mato$, vv. 6, 8). Being born “out of the Spirit” is contrasted with an ordinary human birth (“out of water”); there is a similar (three-fold) contrast with being born “out of God” in 1:13:

    • “not out of blood [pl. bloods]” —in the Semitic idiom, the plural usually refers to “acts of blood(shed)”, but here it may indicate the more general physiological idea of “actions involving (the) blood” (i.e., menstruation, etc)
    • “not out of the will of the flesh” —the will of the flesh signifies primarily the sexual drive
    • “not out of the will of man” —i.e., the intention and activity of the parent(s)

These three, taken together, refer to the ordinary (physical/biological) birth of human beings; this is very different from the spiritual birth of believers as sons/children of God. Interestingly, the only time in the Gospel when the verb genna/w is used of Jesus (in 18:37) it generally refers to his birth as human being; this is also the sense of what follows in 1:14 (using the related verb gi/nomai):

“And the Word came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh and put down (his) tent among us, and we looked (closely) at his splendor—(the) splendor as (the) only (one) coming to be [monogenh/$] (from) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth.”

This is the climactic moment of the Prologue (the poem), describing the incarnation of the eternal Word, i.e. his birth as a human being. This birth is implied by the specific wording, especially the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), from which also the compound adjective monogenh/$ is essentially derived. The adjective is notoriously difficult to translate in English; literally, it means “only (one) coming to be”, and, while it can refer to an only child, it more properly denotes something like “one of a kind”. Here, it refers to the incarnate Word (Jesus) as the unique Son (ui(o/$) of God. Indeed, in the Johannine writings, ui(o/$ is never used of believers; it is reserved for the one Son (Jesus), and, instead, the plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used when referring to believers as the sons/children of God.

The Johannine Prologue, especially with the concluding verses 14-18, represents the pinnacle of the expression of early Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God, blending the doctrines of divine pre-existence and incarnation together in the most powerful way, within the matrix of Jewish Wisdom tradition (cp. 1:14 with Sirach 24:8ff). It is also most remarkable how the Gospel writer, in developing and expounding his traditional material, combines the idea of believers as the sons/children of God with that of Jesus as the unique Son. This is very much a Johannine emphasis (in both the Gospel and Letters), but one also shared by Paul (in his Letters), indicating that it was a part of a natural development in early Christian thought. It is this that we will explore further in the next note—how early Christians understood believers in Christ to be born as “sons of God”.

* * * * * * *

The reference to the birth of believers in 1:12-13 was apparently confusing, and/or problematic, for many readers and copyists. Some early witnesses (primarily Latin) read the singular in v. 13 instead of the plural, beginning with the relative pronoun (o%$) and including the form of the verb genna/w; thus vv. 12b-13 would be translated as follows:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one) who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of God, came to be (born).”

The entire relative clause would then refer back to the subject of “his name”, rather than to “the ones trusting”, that is, to the birth of Jesus, rather than the spiritual birth of believers. The distinction was not lost on Tertullian, who accepted the singular as original, and accused Gnostics of altering the text to eliminate the idea of Jesus’ miraculous birth, replacing it with their own ‘spiritual’ birth (as gnostics), cf. On the Flesh of Christ 19. Tertullian, however, is almost certainly mistaken on this textual point, the reading with the singular being instead an example of an “orthodox corruption” (cf. B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture [Oxford: 1993], pp. 26-27). To be sure, it is understandable how the variant reading might come to be reasonably well-establish, offering as it does support for the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, and perhaps, at the same time, reflecting a certain unease among the orthodox regarding the identification of believers as the sons/children of God. I have discussed this in more detail in earlier notes.

January 2: Hebrews 1:1-5

Jesus as the Son of God: The Pre-existent and Eternal Son

In these notes, we have been examining the development of the early Christian awareness of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. In the earliest Gospel preaching, it was the resurrection of Jesus (and his exaltation to heaven) that marked his “birth” as God’s Son. This Christological awareness then came to extend back into Jesus’ earthly life and ministry—all the way to his baptism (marking the beginning of his ministry), and even to his very birth as a human being. Eventually, many believers came to realize that Jesus must have had an existence with God the Father even prior to his birth. Essentially this is the doctrine of the divine pre-existence of Jesus, tied to specific beliefs regarding his deity (or divine nature). There are different ways, or degrees, by which Jesus’ pre-existence may be understood, the nuances of which, I believe, tend to reflect the development of early Christology in the second half of the first century A.D. (c. 60-100).

Belief in the divine pre-existence of Jesus is hardly to be found in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (in particular, it is absent from the early Gospel preaching preserved in the book of Acts). Paul gives evidence of a such a belief, to some extent, in his letters (late-50s and early 60s). It is expressed primarily in terms of Jesus’ role in creation, drawing upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom traditions (Prov 8:27; Sirach 24:1ff; Wisdom 7:12, 21; 8:4; 1 Enoch 42; cf. Attridge, p. 40), in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Romans 11:36 (cp. John 1:3, 10). Several of Paul’s references to Jesus as the Son (of God) seem to presume a heavenly existence prior to his human birth and life (Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3, and note the opening words of Rom 1:3). This is of significance for the study being undertaken in these Christmas-season notes, exploring how early believers understood Jesus’ “birth” as the Son of God.

Of special interest is the “Christ-hymn” in Philippians 2:6-11, which joins together the idea of divine/heavenly pre-existence with the older tradition of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation to God’s right hand. The same may be said of the hymnic section in Colossians 1:15-18, which, if genuinely Pauline, was probably written at about the same time. In neither passage is the Sonship of Jesus related to the idea of his pre-existence; however, elsewhere in the New Testament—in the letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of John—those Christological elements are combined.

The dating of Hebrews is problematic, though it was likely written sometime between 70 and 100 A.D. Many commentators would view it as contemporary with the Gospel of John (c. 90?), though I tend to think that it may have been written somewhat earlier. In terms of its place within the development of early Christology, Hebrews seems to stand midway between Paul and the Gospel of John. Its Christology is clearly expressed in the opening (exordium) of the letter, 1:1-4.

Hebrews 1:1-4

The first four verses of Hebrews represent a single long sentence, regarded by many commentators as perhaps the finest such opening in the New Testament (from a literary and rhetorical standpoint). Here are the verses in translation:

“(With) God (hav)ing spoken (in) former (time)s to the Fathers, (in) many parts and many ways, in the Foretellers, upon these last days He spoke to us in a Son, whom He set (as the one) receiving the lot of all (thing)s, (and) through whom indeed He made (all) the Ages, (and) who, being a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God), and an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him, and (himself) bearing all (thing)s by the utterance of his power, (hav)ing made cleansing of sins, he sat on the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Greatness, in (the) high (place)s, (hav)ing come to be so much mightier than the Messengers, (even) as he has received as (his) lot a name (that) bears through (beyond what is) alongside of them.”

Not only is this masterful and majestic sentence a summary of the key themes that will be developed in the letter, it also effectively summarizes the Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ at the time the letter was written. The initial contrast is between the Old and New Covenants—between God speaking to His people (Israel) through the Prophets, and to His people (believers) through His Son (vv. 1-2a). Out of this initial statement, a complex Christological declaration is developed (vv. 2b-4). It generally follows a paradigm comparable to that in Phil 2:6-11, moving from the Son’s divine pre-existence to his exaltation (as Son) following his death and resurrection; this paradigm may be summarized:

    • Divine pre-existence as the Son
      • Incarnation (human life)
        • Sacrificial Death
      • Resurrection (restoration to life)
    • Exaltation as the Son to God’s right hand

The pre-existence (pre-incarnation) side is presented in vv. 2b-3a with a series of clauses that modify the word “Son” (ui(o/$). Each of these relates to that noun with a relative pronoun (o%$):

    • “…in a Son” (e)n ui(w=|)
      • whom He set as heir of all things”
        o^n e&qhken klhrono/mon pa/ntwn
      • through whom He even made (all) the Ages”
        di’ ou! kai\ e)poi/hsen tou\$ ai)w=na$
      • who, being…carrying…”
        o^$ w*n…fe/rwn…

The first two clauses deal with the Son’s authority over creation, both in terms of its end (“heir of all things”) and its beginning (“made the Ages”). The latter draws upon the ancient Wisdom traditions (cf. above), whereby God made the universe using Divine Wisdom (personified) as the intermediary. The Son, as the living Word (Lo/go$) and Wisdom of God, performs this same creative role. This idea is expressed famously in the Johannine prologue (1:3, 10), but Paul alludes to the same basic belief at several points in his letters (1 Cor 8:6; Rom 11:36; also Col 1:16f). The citation of Psalm 102:25-27 in vv. 10-12 repeats this (pre-existent) aspect of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (cf. below).

The third relative clause is compound, made up of two participial phrases, each expressing the unique deity of Jesus (as the Son):

    • (the Son) “who” (o%$)
      • being…” (w&n)
        • “…a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God)”
          a)pau/gasma th=$ do/ch$
        • “…an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him”
          xarakth\r th=$ u(posta/sew$ au)tou=
      • “and bearing all (thing)s by the word of his power” (fe/rwn te ta\ pa/nta tw=| r(h/mati th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=)

The first participle is the verb of being (ei)mi, “being” [w&n]), indicating what the Son truly is. Again this breaks down into a further pair of genitival phrases:

    • a)pau/gasma th=$ do/ch$—The noun a)pau/gasma (occurring only here in the New Testament) literally refers to a beam or ray (of light) coming out from a source. Here is another indication that the author is drawing upon Wisdom traditions, since in Wis 7:26 the Divine Wisdom (Sofi/a) is said to be an a)pau/gasma “of the splendor of the All-mighty” (cf. also Philo, On the Creation §146). As is typically the case, the word do/ca (“esteem”), when used of God, refers to that which makes Him worthy of our esteem and honor, expressed in a visual manner as an overriding greatness or splendor. It can also refer to the divine/heavenly state, in which God Himself dwells. To say that the Son is an a)pau/gasma means that he (himself) is a manifestation of the very glory of God, and that the ray of light he possesses, or embodies, comes from the same Divine source.
    • xarakth\r th=$ u(posta/sew$ au)tou=—The noun xarakth/r, here parallel with a)pau/gasma, literally means “engraving” or “imprint”, something cut or stamped into a surface. Sometimes the related motif of a seal (sfra/gi$) is employed, to express the idea of a Divine image (ei)kw/n) being imprinted. Again, this reflects Wisdom traditions, and Philo uses this imagery a number of times (On the Creation §25; The Worse Attacks the Better §§83, 86; On Flight and Finding §12; The Work of Planting §18), i.e. for the imprinting of the Divine image upon the mind. Like a)pau/gasma, the noun xarakth/r occurs only here in the New Testament; however, Paul uses the common noun ei)kw/n (“image”), in a similar Christological sense, in 2 Cor 4:4 and Col 1:15, the latter being closer to the thought and wording of Hebrews. The noun u(po/stasi$ (occurring 5 times in the New Testament, including 3 in Hebrews [3:14; 11:1]) literally means that which “stands under”, and is a technical philosophical and scientific term for the “substance” or “essence” of something, or that which underlies a particular phenomenon. Thus, the Son is an imprint of God’s essential nature and identity, which is very much built into the idea of the Son as reflection of the Father. Cf. Attridge, pp. 42-5.

The second participle is the verb fe/rw (“bear, carry”), and it expresses how the Son’s divine character is manifest in the world—he carries all things, meaning that he supports and sustains all of Creation. This is done “by the utterance [r(h=ma] of his power”, which blends the Wisdom/Creation traditions (cf. above) with the fundamental religious/cosmological idea of God creating the universe by His speaking a word. Both of these ideas are established more clearly in the Johannine Prologue (1:1-3ff), but they are certainly present here as well, and relate to the divine pre-existence of Jesus as the Son. The same divine power that brought the world into existence now providentially sustains it.

The remainder of vv. 3-4 more properly follows the older conception of Jesus as the Son–that is, in terms of his death, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of God the Father in heaven. Verse 3b summarizes this concisely:

“(hav)ing made cleansing of sins, he sat on the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Greatness in high (place)s”

Interestingly, the actual death and resurrection of Jesus, so central to the early Gospel preaching, is not even stated, but simply taken for granted. The author moves from the atoning/saving aspect of Jesus’ work straight to his exaltation. In some ways, this reflects the unique theological emphasis in the letter, focusing on the work of Jesus as a fulfillment of the priestly office. The closing lines in verse 4 build upon the idea of the Son’s superiority (over the Angels), again expressed in terms of his exaltation after his death. The language and thought, in this respect, is quite similar to that of the Christ-hymn in Philippians (2:9-11).

It is at this point that the author introduces the citation of Psalm 2:7 (along with 2 Sam 7:14):

“For to who among the Messengers did He ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)’, and again: ‘I will be unto a Father for him, and he will be unto a Son for me’?” (v. 5)

In inclusion of 2 Sam 7:14 confirms the Messianic context of the birth/sonship motif in Psalm 2:7. As we have seen, this originally applied to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, and, in particular, his death and resurrection. In this he was to be recognized as God’s Son, but still in the figurative sense that the Messianic interpretation would have entailed. Now, however, a deeper Christological meaning has been given to it, since Jesus is now seen as God’s Son from before the beginning of Creation. This also gives to all the birth and sonship images a new depth, as the author continues in verse 6:

“And, again, when He brought His first-formed (child) into the inhabited (world), He says: ‘And all the Messengers of God must kiss toward [i.e. worship] him’.”

The citation presumably comes from Deut 32:43 LXX, but it is the wording used to frame the citation that is especially significant. It refers to the Son’s incarnation, or coming into the world of human beings (cp. John 1:9ff, 14). But here the context makes quite clear two important points about Jesus as God’s Son: (1) he is God’s “firstborn” child prior to the incarnation, and (2) the citation of Psalm 2:7 (and 2 Sam 7:14) also applies to his sonship prior to the incarnation. This represents a genuine development in early Christian belief regarding the “birth” and sonship of Jesus, one quite similar with what we find in the Gospel of John. This will be examined in the next daily note (on John 1:12-13 and 14); here, it remains to consider again how the author of Hebrews frames this dual aspect of Jesus’ sonship—the ‘older’ aspect of his resurrection/exaltation, and the ‘newer’ aspect of his pre-existent deity. Chapter 1 closes with a pair of Scripture quotations (from the Psalms) applied to Jesus as the Son. It is part of the running comparison between the Son and the other heavenly beings (Angels):

“And toward the Messengers He says (v. 7)… But toward the Son (He says, v. 8)…”

The first passage, from Psalm 45:6-7, alludes to the exaltation of Jesus, of his being raised (as Son) to the throne of God; the second passage (Psalm 102:25-27), by contrast, implies the Son’s pre-existence, with its Creation-setting: “You, Lord, down at (the) beginning, set (the foundation for) the earth, and the heavens (are) the works of your hands”. In the original Psalm, of course, the “Lord” (ku/rio$) is YHWH, but here it is meant to apply more properly to Jesus, based on the common dual-use of ku/rio$ among early Christians. The final citation of Psalm 110:1 (v. 13), a Messianic passage at least as important as Psalm 2:7 (compare Acts 2:34-35 with 13:32-33), demonstrates again how the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Son of God has been transformed in the light of the growing Christological awareness. In Acts 2, this Scripture is interpreted in terms of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation, while here in Hebrews it has an altogether new and deeper meaning—one which combines the exaltation motif with divine pre-existence.

References above marked “Attridge” are to Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1989).

September 25: Revelation 5:11-14

Revelation 5:1-14 (concluded)

Rev 5:11-13

Following the song sung by the Living Beings and Elders (cf. the previous note on vv. 9-10), a vast multitude, both in heaven and on earth (and below the earth), joins in the singing. First we read of “many Messengers” (i.e. Angels, heavenly beings), almost beyond numbering—indicated by the expression “ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands (more)”. As they add their voices, it is as though we are hearing a refrain to the song in vv. 9-10, as it follows a similar pattern:

“…a&cio$ [i.e. worthy] is the Lamb th(at) has been slaughtered to receive the power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and esteem and (a) good account!” (v. 12)

Not coincidentally, there are seven attributes listed here, in keeping with the seven horns and eyes possessed by the Lamb, as well as the seven seals on the scroll. In some ways, the sequence of seven is more important than the individual attributes, as it clearly indicates the divine status and character of the Lamb, who is worthy (on a&cio$, cf. the previous note) to receive the same declaration of praise, worship and homage that the heavenly beings would give to God on His throne. This is a fundamental theme of the chap. 4-5 vision, as well as the book of Revelation as a whole. The seven attributes are traditional, and require little comment; I begin with the first four, which properly reflect divine attributes:

    • du/nami$ (“power”)—For God (or Christ) to receive power from others is a reflection of the (ritual) language and imagery of vassalage. The beings around the throne receive their position of rule/power from God, and thus give it back to him, as an indication of their submission and obedience, etc. It is also a natural characteristic of (religious) praise to emphasize the greatness of the Divine. The word du/nami$ indicates not only strength, but also the ability or authority to do something.
    • plou=to$ (“wealth, riches”)—This is a collective noun related to the verb plh/qw (“filling, fullness”). The customary translation “wealth” or “riches” can be somewhat misleading, suggesting a static possession, whereas here it denotes the fullness of God’s presence, power, etc—the source of all life and blessing. To recognize this of God (and Christ) effectively gives “wealth” back to him.
    • sofi/a (“wisdom”)—In its more original (and practical) sense, sofi/a refers to a thorough knowledge or skill in a particular area. Eventually, it came to have a more strongly intellectual denotation. Among early Christians, in particular, the word took on an increasingly spiritual dimension. True knowledge and ability comes from God, through Christ, by way of the presence of the (Holy) Spirit at work in and among believers.
    • i)sxu/$ (“strength, ability”)—Fundamentally, this refers to something which a person holds, or possesses—the ability to do something, in terms of capability. It is tied more directly to a person’s life-force, than is the similar term du/nami$ (above). The declaration here recognizes God (and Christ) as the source of life, and our own (natural) strength and ability which we give back (through worship, service, etc).

The final three words are, in a sense, synonymous, forming a triad which reflects how devout religious persons (believers) view God/Christ:

    • timh/ (“honor”)—This word fundamentally means “value” or “worth”, but is usually translated in the New Testament as “honor”. It refers to the worth we place on God and Jesus, i.e. the extent, or the way in which we value them.
    • do/ca (“esteem”)—Often translated “glory”, the word more properly refers to the way in which we consider or regard someone/something. However, in traditional religious usage, this represents only one side of the equation. How we regard God and Jesus is based on the nature and character which they possess—i.e., they are esteemed because they are worthy of esteem. In Hebrew, the word typically translated as “glory” actually means “weight” (db)K*), i.e. the weight or value which God possesses in His person.
    • eu)logi/a (“good account”)—The word is derived from eu)loge/w, “give a good account”, i.e. “speak/think well (of someone)”. Customarily, eu)logi/a is translated as “blessing”, but that covers up to some extent the concrete sense of the word. Because of their nature and character, and what they have done for us, God and Jesus are deserving of good words (of praise, proclamation of the Gospel [“good message”], etc) from us.

In verse 13, all creatures—in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (cf. verse 3)—join the song, further expanding the vast number of voices. Their refrain serves as a climax to the entire vision of chaps. 4-5, joining God and the Lamb (the exalted Jesus) together as the focus of worship:

“To the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, and to the Lamb—(be) the good account and the honor and the esteem and the might [kra/to$] into the Ages of the Ages!”

The three attributes (cf. above), which reflect how created beings (should) view and respond to God and the Lamb (Jesus), are repeated here; and a fourth is added: kra/to$. I am inclined to view this word as a summary of the four divine attributes in v. 13 (cf. above); in which case, the multitude of living creatures here echoes that earlier refrain. The meaning of kra/to$ (often translated “might”) differs somewhat from the words du/nami$ (“power”) and i)sxu/$ (“strength”)—I would define this as signifying the manifest presence of power and strength. As such, it is commonly used in reference to Deity. It is rather rare in the New Testament, occurring just 12 times, but its earlier use in Rev 1:6 is worth noting. Indeed, it may well be that its presence here, following do/ca, is meant as a deliberate echo of the closing words of 1:6. The entire greeting of 1:4-6 has the same two-part structure as chaps. 4-5, and shares many of the same phrases and ideas.

Rev 5:14

This verse serves as a coda to the vision, repeating the gesture of homage by the four Living Beings and twenty-four Elders. In 4:9-10, it was given to God on His throne, while in 5:8, it is directed toward the Lamb; now, here, we must understand it as an act of worship for them both, together. It is a solemn and fitting conclusion to the grand dual-vision in chapters 4-5.

September 19: Revelation 3:7-13

Revelation 3:7-13

The sixth letter in chaps. 2-3 is addressed to the city of “the one dear to (his) brother” (Greek fila/delfo$, philádelphos), surname of the Pergamene king (Attalos II) who founded the city in the mid-second century B.C. Today it is known by the name Alashehir. The brotherly affection (or loyalty) indicated by the name filade/lfeia (philadélpheia) takes on a new significance for early Christians, based on their use of the words fila/delfo$ and filade/lfeia, where the fondness/affection (fi/lo$) is understood in terms of the love (a)ga/ph) believers share with one another in Christ (cf. Rom 12:10; 1 Thess 4:9; Heb 13:1; 1 Pet 1:22; 3:8; 2 Pet 1:7, and note the interchange of file/w and a)gapa/w in Jn 21:15-17).

Rev 3:7

In this letter, for the first time, the introduction to the risen Jesus does not draw upon the vision in 1:11-16ff; however, it continues the blending of Messianic and Divine attributes which especially characterizes the portrait of Jesus in the book of Revelation. It begins with titles properly applied to God the Father (YHWH):

“the Holy (One), the True (One)…”
o( a%gio$ o( a)lh/qino$

The first title, “Holy One”, occurs in Isa 40:25; Hab 3:3 (cf. also Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Prov 9:10; Isa 5:19ff, etc), and relates to the idea of God’s holiness, expressed many times in the Scriptures (e.g., Exod 3:5; 15:13; Lev 19:2; Deut 26:15ff; Josh 24:19; Psalm 99:3ff; Isa 6:3; Luke 1:49, etc). It is applied to Jesus in the New Testament, usually in the form “the Holy One of God” (o( a%gio$ tou= qeou=)—Mark 1:24 par; John 6:69; also Acts 3:14 (“Holy and Just [One]”); and Acts 2:27; 4:27, 30; 13:35 (“your Holy [One]”). In these passages the sense is primarily Messianic, influenced, in part, by the wording in Psalm 16:10 (Acts 2:27; 13:35). However, there can be no doubt that the title “Holy (One)”, would have been associated in the minds of early (Jewish) Christians, with God Himself (cf. Rev 16:5, to be discussed). The association of the adjective a%gio$ (“holy”) with the title “Son of God”, in Luke 1:35, may point in this direction. There would also have been an obvious association with the Holy Spirit for early Christians as well (cf. 1 John 2:20; Luke 1:35).

The second title “True One”, “the One (who is) True”, using the adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”, par a)lhqh/$), is less common, but draws upon truth (a)lh/qeia) as an attribute of God—cf. 2 Sam 7:28; 22:31 (Ps 18:30); 2 Chron 15:3; Psalm 25:5; 43:3; Prov 30:5; Isa 10:20; 45:19; 65:16; Jer 10:10; Rom 3:4ff; 1 Thess 1:9, etc. Both noun and adjective are especially prominent in the Johannine writings (both the Gospel and Letters), where the terms are variously applied to God (the Father), Jesus (the Son), and/or the Spirit. Of the many occurrences, note especially: Jn 1:9; 3:33; 4:23-24; 5:32; 6:32 (and v. 55; 15:1); 7:18, 28; 8:14ff, 26, 32; 14:6; 17:17; 18:37f; 1 Jn 2:8, 27; 5:20. The Spirit is specifically connected with the Truth of God (and Christ)—Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6. The declarations in Jn 17:3 and 1 Jn 5:20 are central to Johannine theology, and must be studied closely. In the book of Revelation, “true” as a divine title, is applied to God the Father (i.e. YHWH) and Jesus interchangably, as can be seen in 6:10; 15:3; 16:7; 19:11, etc. The twin attributes “holy” and “true” are used together again in 6:10 (to be discussed).

Following these (divine) titles, we find the descriptive phrase:

“The (one) holding the key of Dawid, the (one) opening up and no one closes, and (the one) closing and no one opens up”

This is essentially a quotation of Isa 22:22, which came to interpreted in a Messianic sense, due to the expression “key of David” (klei/$ Daui/d). The key symbolizes both authority and rule (i.e. within the house or kingdom). The one holding the key typically would be a trusted servant acting with the ruler’s authority, giving/granting access and administering the household (or kingdom), etc. It is especially appropriate as an image for the risen Jesus, who was exalted to the right hand of God in heaven, and was given authority (as judge, etc) over the world. His actions/judgments cannot be reversed—what he opens cannot be closed, and what he closed cannot be opened. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples in Matt 16:19 (cf. also Jn 20:23). In Rev 1:18, the risen Jesus declared “I hold the keys of Death and (the) Unseen realm (of the Dead) [i.e. ‘Hades’]”. There the keys are unquestionably connected to Jesus’ resurrection; the significance of the image is also eschatological—as are the keys held by the heavenly Messengers in 9:1; 20:1.

Rev 3:8

The message to the believers in Philadelphia is entirely one of praise and encouragement (there is no blame/rebuke section beginning “but I hold [this] against you…”). The praise is emphasized at the start in verse 8:

“I have seen your works—see! I have given (you) a door having been opened up in your sight, (of) which no one can close it—(in) that you hold little power, and (yet) you (have) kept watch (over) my word [lo/go$], and you did not deny my name.”

The praiseworthy “works” are clearly summarized: the believers in Philadelphia have little power (i.e. in a socio-political or religious-cultural sense), and yet they have been faithful, in the face of the pressures (and persecution?) surrounding them in the city. Here the “word [lo/go$]” is best understood in terms of the Gospel message (which includes the teachings of Jesus), often referred to in the New Testament as the “account/word [lo/go$] of God”. They have been faithful in a two-fold sense: (a) keeping watch over the Gospel, and (b) not denying the “name” of Jesus (i.e. their faith in him and religious identity as believers). The latter implies some measure of persecution, or at least pressure (from the surrounding culture) to abandon one’s Christian identity. The idea of “keeping watch” (vb. thre/w) over the word/account (i.e. Gospel) may indicate the danger of false teachings, but could just as easily refer to influence from Greco-Roman (pagan) religion and culture—cf. the use of the verb in 1 Thess 5:23 (note the eschatological context); 1 Tim 5:22; 6:14; 2 Tim 4:7; James 1:27. The specific idea of keeping watch over the word (or ‘command’) of Jesus is especially prominent in the Johannine writings—Jn 8:51-52; 12:47; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10, 20; 1 Jn 2:3-5; 3:22ff; 5:3. In the Johannine tradition, this ‘command’—better understood as the charge/duty laid upon believers—is two-fold [1 Jn 3:23-24]: (1) trust in Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God, and (2) love for one another, following the example of Jesus.

On the suffering and persecution of believers being tied specifically to the name of Jesus, cf. Mark 13:13 par; Matt 10:22; Luke 21:12; John 15:21; Acts 5:41; 9:16; 15:26; 26:9, etc. The similarity of language between Rev 3:8 and the earlier wording used in 2:13 (letter to Pergamum) strongly indicates that the believers in Philadelphia were facing danger (and/or active oppression) from the provincial government (Roman magistrate, etc) due to their Christian identity.

The “door” that is opened up, relates back to verse 7, and the key held by Jesus; this door should be understood symbolically in terms of the believer’s entry into Eternal Life. On this basic motif in Jesus’ teaching, cf. Matt 7:13-14; Luke 13:24-25; John 10:1-2, 7ff. For the idea that Jesus provides access to God the Father, cf. the famous saying in John 14:6. The image of the “open door” will appear again in Rev 3:20 and 4:1.

Rev 3:9

As with the situation in Smyrna (2:8-11, cf. the earlier note), the believers in Philadelphia were dealing with opposition from the Jewish community. The same harsh language and terminology from 2:9 is used here. The nature of this conflict is not entirely clear; at Smyrna, it may have involved the denunciation of Christians to the authorities. Certainly, it had to be serious enough to bring about the condemnation (and punishment) described here:

“See, I will make them (so) that they will come and will kiss toward (you) in the sight of your feet, even (so that) they should know that I (have) loved you.”

This is a stark reversal of the traditional (eschatological) image of the Gentiles coming to Judea/Jerusalem to worship the one true God, and submitting or giving homage to God’s people Israel (cf. Isa 60:14, etc). It entails the love God has for his chosen ones (Exod 15:13; Deut 7:7; 33:3; Hos 3:1; 11:1; Isa 63:7; Psalm 98:3; Ezra 3:11, etc; and note especially the wording in Isa 43:4), which here is expressed in terms of Jesus’ love for his faithful followers—the people of God in the New Covenant. The idea of Jews bowing down (in submission), giving homage to Christians, will doubtless make many believers today a bit uncomfortable, in light of the sad legacy of centuries of anti-Jewish persecution. It is important to remember, however, the emphasis here in the book of Revelation, and elsewhere in the New Testament, which is fundamentally Messianic (and Christological)—true Israelites and Jews (i.e. those who are truly God’s people) would recognize and accept Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. Their opposition to believers, however this was manifest, shows that they do not accept Jesus, and, indeed, are opposed to him.

Rev 3:10-11

Here, Jesus expounds upon the idea of keeping watch over his word (lo/go$), using a bit of wordplay (with the verb thre/w):

“(In) that [i.e. because] you kept [e)th/rhsa$] my account [lo/go$] of remaining under, I also will keep [thrh/sw] you out of the hour of the test(ing) th(at) is about to come the whole inhabited (worl)d to test the (one)s putting down house upon [i.e. inhabiting] the earth.”

The expression o( lo/go$ th=$ u(pomonh=$ mou is somewhat ambiguous, and can be read one of two ways:

    • “the account of my remaining under”—that is, of Jesus’ willingness to endure suffering and death, as expressed in the Gospels; it would mean specifically following his own example
    • “my word (to you) of [i.e. about] remaining under”—this would refer to Jesus’ instruction to his followers, regarding how they should conduct themselves in the face of persecution and suffering

The motif of “remaining under”, rendering the noun u(pomonh/ literally, entails both patience and commitment, continuing to follow Jesus and remaining faithful to him. It is used frequently in the New Testament (more than 30 times, including 7 in the book of Revelation), and is often translated as “patience” or “endurance”. The reward, or result, of this faithfulness, is presented here as being reciprocal: just as believers kept Jesus’ word, so he will keep them out of the time of testing which is about to come upon the world. According to the eschatological view of many Christians (today), this refers to the so-called “Rapture” of believers which is to occur before the “Great Tribulation”. However, this certainly reads far too much into the text, and, even in its general premise, does not appear to reflect accurately what the text actually describes. Note that Jesus does not say that he will remove the believers of Philadelphia from the world, but only that they will be kept out of the time of testing, implying that they will still be in the world, but will be protected from the suffering and evil (temptation, etc) that is to come. This is very much akin to Jesus’ words in John 17:15 (and almost certainly expresses the same idea), as well as the famous petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13 par).

It also seems clear that Jesus is not speaking here of something that will take place in the distant future (i.e. our time today, or thereafter); rather, in addressing believers at the end of the 1st century A.D., he speaks of “the hour…that is about to come”. This is one of several definite indications of an imminent eschatology, which we have already seen in the first chapters of the book. The doctrinal difficulties involved in this, for us today, will be addressed in a special upcoming study. The same sense of imminence is found in the following declaration of verse 11:

“I come quickly [taxu/]—grab firmly (to that) which you hold, (so) that no one should take your crown.”

Here the nuance of the Greek is often lost in translation—believers already hold (vb. e&xw) faith, life, etc, in Jesus; they are exhorted to grab hold firmly (vb. krate/w) to these things. The adverb taxu/ (“quickly, [with] speed”) was used previously in 2:16, and will occur 4 more times in the book, always in reference to the end-time coming (vb. e&rxomai) of Jesus. The wreath, or “crown” (ste/fano$) was mentioned as a symbol of heavenly honor/reward in 2:10.

Rev 3:12

The final promise (and exhortation) in the letter-format always involves the eternal/heavenly reward which the faithful believer will receive. Here it is expressed with two statements:

    • “I will make him (to be) a standing post [i.e. pillar] in the shrine of my God, even (so) he should not (ever) go out(side of it) any more”
    • “I will write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God…and my new name”

The first image draws upon the ancient Temple design (1 Kings 7:15ff; Ezek 40:49; 11QTemple 10:4ff; 35:10; Josephus Jewish War 5.190ff), which involved supporting columns or pillars (Grk. stu/lo$)—in other words, the individual believer has a fundamental place and position in the overall design (and structure) of the Temple. The word nao/$ properly refers to the inner shrine, or sanctuary, but can also be used for the entire Temple building-complex. The Temple in Jerusalem, of course, was central to ancient Israelite religion, and early Christians made use of it, in a figurative (and spiritual) sense, referring to individual believers, and to believers collectively, as the Temple (or “house”) of God—cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21; Heb 10:21; 1 Pet 2:5; 2 Clement 9:3; Ignatius, Philadelphians 7:2; Barnabas 4:11; 6:15. In the vision of the “New Jerusalem” (chaps. 21-22), there is no longer any Temple building, being replaced by the personal presence of God and Christ (v. 22). The idea of Jesus as the real/true Temple is likewise expressed, or suggested, at various points in the New Testament and early Christian tradition (John 2:19-21; Matt 12:6; cf. also Mk 15:38 par; Acts 17:24; Ignatius, Magnesians 7:2; Barnabas 16. Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians (9:1) refers to believers as the stones of the Temple, an idea not so different from that in the book of Revelation here.

The second reward involves three “names” which will be written on the believer: (1) the name of God, (2) the name of God’s city, the “new Jerusalem”, and (3) the “new name” of the risen Jesus. All of these should be understood similarly to the “new name” which the believer will receive (2:17). The image presumably is that of God’s name being written on the forehead of the believer (14:1; 22:4). The symbolism indicates that the believer belongs to God (and Christ). In light of the pillar/temple imagery in the first half of the verse, there may be an allusion here to the inscription/dedication of pillars, etc, in temples and other public buildings, known from the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world (cf. Koester, p. 327).

The city of God (i.e. Jerusalem) is specifically identified as “the new Yerushalaim th(at is) stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven from my God”. This makes clear that it is not the current, earthly Jerusalem, but a heavenly/eternal “city”. The meaning of this image will be discussed later on when addressing the final vision(s) of the book in chapters 21-22. There are precedents for it elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. 2 Cor 5:1; Gal 4:25-26; Heb 12:22).

With regard to the “new name” of Jesus, the most reliable line of interpretation is to be found further on in the book, at conclusion of 19:11-16 (to be discussed in turn). However, there are a few other passages in the New Testament which may be relevant, such as the great prayer-discourse in the Gospel of John (chap. 17), which is vital to an understanding of Johannine theology (and Christology). God gives his own name to Jesus, who, in turn, makes it known to his followers (vv. 6, 11-12, 26). An interesting parallel is also to be found in Phil 2:9-10 (cf. also Heb 1:4; Eph 1:21). It is important to realize that the “name that is over every name”, like the “new name” in Rev 3:12, contrary to popular belief, is not simply “Jesus/Yeshua”, but that which reflects the essential identity and (divine) nature/status which Jesus (the Son) shares with God (the Father). In the earliest preaching, this was understood almost entirely in terms of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God. Eventually, it came to encompass the idea of divine pre-existence and eternal Sonship (to be glimpsed already in Phil 2:6-11).

September 12: Revelation 1:17-20

Revelation 1:9-20 (continued)

Revelation 1:17-20

The previous daily note examined the visual details of the initial vision in verses 9-20 (vv. 12-16). There I pointed out that the figure of the vision was depicted and described with both heavenly and divine characteristics. The details (and language used to describe them) are drawn largely from four passages in the Old Testament:

Central to the vision, with its identification of the figure as “(one) like a son of man” (v. 13; Daniel 7:13f), is the description of “the Ancient of Days” in Dan 7:9-10. In this regard, there is an interesting variant reading in the Greek of Dan 7:13, for the Aramaic

“…(one) like a son of man was coming and reached unto [du^] the Ancient of Days”

where the preposition du^ is translated by the corresponding e%w$ (“unto, until”). However, some manuscripts of the LXX instead read the particle w%$ (“as”):

“…(one) as a son of man was coming and came near as [w($] the Ancient of Days”

which could be taken to mean that he had the likeness or appearance of the Ancient of Days.

In the verses which follow (vv. 17-20), the heavenly/divine figure addresses the seer John. It is introduced with a notice of the traditional reaction of fear to seeing a heavenly being (Ezek 1:28; Dan 8:17; 10:9-10; Tob 12:15-16; Mark 16:5 par; Luke 1:12; 24:5, etc), followed by the similarly traditional words of reassurance mh fobou= (“you must not be afraid”, “do not fear”), as in Lk 1:13, 30; 2:10; John 6:20 par; Acts 18:9; 27:24, etc.

The figure makes a declaration (“I am”, e)gw/ ei)mi) which is associated with God (YHWH) and which reflects divine attributes, following the pattern in 1:4, 8 (cf. also 21:6). There are two specific titles involved:

Two points must be noted in relation to this declaration: (1) this heavenly/divine figure is identified (implicitly) with the risen Jesus, and (2) the declaration is defined in terms of Jesus’ resurrection:

“…and I came to be dead, and see! I am living [zw=n] into the Ages of the Ages”

This is important, as it reflects the early Christian mode of thinking which identified Jesus’ deity primarily with his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). This can be seen especially in examples of the earliest Christian preaching and (Gospel) proclamation—e.g., Acts 2:24-36; 3:15-16; 7:55-56; 13:30-37ff; Rom 1:4; Phil 2:9-11, etc. Being exalted to divine/heavenly status, Jesus shares divine attributes and titles, such as “the Living One”. He also shares precisely the eternal Life which God possesses, and, as such, he lives “into the Ages of Ages” (i.e. forever)—cf. Dan 4:34; 6:26; 12:7, etc.

The final phrase of this declaration sharpens the eschatological context, touching upon the idea of the end-time Judgment. The risen Jesus how has authority over death and the dead (i.e. those who are dead):

“…and I hold the keys of Death and of the Unseen world (of the dead)”

Death is depicted primarily as a place—the traditional Hades (a)i+/dh$, or ai%dh$, a%|dh$), the “unseen” realm (below ground) where the dead reside. In figurative (and mythological) language, this realm is ruled over by a figure personifying Death itself. To say that Jesus “holds the keys” is a symbolic way of describing the power/authority he has (cf. Isa 22:22; Rev 3:7), as the living one, over death. In traditional Jewish thought, a heavenly being (Angel) typically had power over Death/Hades (cf. Apocalypse of Abraham 10:11, etc), an idea with a very long history (cf. Exod 12:23ff; Num 22:23ff; 1 Chron 21:12ff; and many other passages). This specific image of Jesus holding the key of Death is repeated in 9:1; 20:1, emphasizing its eschatological significance. The end-time Judgment was often closely connected with the resurrection of humankind, which by the time of the book of Revelation was typically applied to both the righteous and wicked together.

Following this declaration, in verse 19, John is given (again, v. 11) the command to write down the things he sees and hears: “Therefore you must write the (thing)s you see…” The verb ei@de$ is an aorist form, which often indicates past action (“saw”), and might, from the standpoint of the book and its publication, refer to the things which John saw. Along these lines, it is probably better to view the aorist form as referring to the visions taken as a whole, reflecting an “external” view. These visions are qualified here two ways:

    • “the (thing)s which are” (a^ ei)si/n)—present
    • “the (thing)s which are about to come to be” (a^ me/llei gene/sqai)—immediate future

The context makes clear that the “future” events should be understood as occurring (close) after events of the present time (i.e., from the standpoint of the author and his original audience). Note the wording: “…are about to come to be with [i.e. after] these (thing)s”.

Finally, in the concluding words of verse 20, the risen Jesus offers a partial explanation of the first vision, its secret (musth/rion). This is an important aspect of eschatological (and apocalyptic) language—the revealing of something which has been secret, or hidden. In this instance, as in the parables of Jesus (Mark 4:11ff par), it is the specific symbols which are interpreted; two symbols are involved:

    • “the seven stars…upon my right hand”
      = “(the) Messengers of the seven congregations”
    • “the seven gold lamp(stands)
      = “the seven congregations” (contrast this with Zech 4:2ff)

There is a close connection here with the earlier reference to “the seven Spirits” in verse 4, which, as I have previously discussed, are best understood as heavenly beings (i.e. Angels). Note the symmetry:

    • Seven Spirits [Angels] before the throne of God (i.e. the ‘Ancient of Days’)
      —Seven stars (= heavenly Messengers) in the right hand of Jesus
    • Seven Lamps [Believers] surrounding the heavenly/divine figure (i.e. ‘one like a son of man’)

As in the introduction (vv. 1-3), Jesus serves as the intermediary:

    • God gives the message to
      • Jesus Christ, who gives it (through his Messenger[s]) to
        • Believers (through a chosen prophet)

This interplay continues into the “letters” which follow in chapters 2-3, as will be discussed in the next note. In the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, Angels are often ‘assigned’ to particular peoples or nations (Dan 10:13, 20-21; 12:1), and also to specific individuals (cf. Tob 12:14-16; 1 Enoch 100:5; Matt 18:10; Acts 12:15, etc). The idea that certain heavenly Messengers are designated to groups of believers (congregations) in various locations is fully in accordance with this line of tradition. As previously noted, the picture of seven Angels is also traditional (1 Enoch 20:1-7; Tob 12:15; 4Q403).

“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 5:20

1 John 5:20

This is the last note in this series dealing with First John. It treats what may be regarded as the final word of the letter (verse 21 functioning as a coda), though the declaration in 5:20 is actually part of a sequence of three statements, each beginning with the expression oi&damen o%ti (“we have seen that…”), and each dealing with the idea of being born of God:

    • V. 18: “We have seen [oi&damen] that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God…”
    • V. 19: “We have seen [oi&damen] that we are out of God…”
    • V. 20: “And we have seen [oi&damen] that the Son of God reached (us)…”

The verb ei&dw means both “see” and “know” (i.e. perceive, recognize), and is interchangeable with ginw/skw (“know”); especially in the Johannine writings there is a close (theological) relationship between “seeing” and “knowing”. The way the verb is used here in vv. 18-20, it has two levels of meaning:

    1. What believers have known and recognized from the beginning (1:1ff), ever since they first heard the Gospel message of Jesus, and experienced his presence through the Spirit.
    2. What the author has established for his audience throughout the letter.

The rhetorical thrust (“we have seen…”) essentially includes the readers into the author’s own sphere—the implication being that they will certainly agree with him and confirm, in their own hearts and minds, the truth of what he has said to them in the letter.

I have discussed verse 18 extensively in the three previous notes (July 5, 8, and 9). It uses the expression genna/w (“come to be [born]”) + e)k [tou=] qeou= (“out of [i.e. from] God”)—an expression which was used repeatedly in both the Johannine Gospel and First Letter (Jn 1:13 [also 3:3-8]; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4). The verb genna/w, used in this symbolic sense of a (spiritual) “birth” from God, always applies to believers; it is thus worth revisiting briefly the text-critical question surrounding the second occurrence of the verb in v. 18. The phrase involved is:

a)ll’ o( gennhqei\$ e)k tou= qeou= threi= au)to/n
“but the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him”

It is also possible to read the last word as au(to/n or e(auto/n (as in some MSS), in which case the subject of the phrase is definitely the believer:

“but the (one) coming to be (born) out of God [i.e. the believer] keeps watch (over) himself

In other manuscripts, the reading is not a verbal participle (gennhqei/$), but the related noun ge/nnhsi$ (“[a] coming to be [born]”, i.e. “birth”), which would mean that it is the spiritual “birth” from God itself which protects the believer. This reading, while making good sense, is almost certainly not original, but was likely introduced as a way of explaining the text. In my view, contrary to a number of commentators, the expression o( gennhqei/$ most probably refers to Jesus. The Johannine fondness for wordplay and dual-meaning makes this all the more likely. It may also relate to the idea expressed in 3:9, which is otherwise very close in form and thought to 5:18, where it is stated that “His [i.e. God’s] seed remains/abides in him [i.e. the believer]”. The “seed” (spe/rma) is best understood as the living and abiding presence of Jesus (God’s Son), through the Spirit. This would seem to be confirmed again by what follows here in verse 20. A thematic outline may help establish the connection:

    • Verse 18—The relation of the believer (the one born of God) to Jesus (the one born of God); this relationship (and identity) protects and preserves the believer from sin.
    • Verse 19—The contrast between this identity of the believer (born of God) and “the world” which is dominated by sin and evil—i.e., what we are, and what we are not.
    • Verse 20—The nature of this identity of the believer, and our relationship to Jesus (as the Son of God).

Let us examine verse 20 more closely:

“And we have seen that the Son of God reached (us) and has given to us a thorough mind [dia/noia], (so) that we might know the (One who is) true, and (indeed) we are in the (One who is) true—in His Son, Yeshua (the) Anointed. This is the true God and (the) Life of the Age.”

The principal statement is bracketed by references to Jesus as God’s Son; this is vital to an understanding of the verse, as it governs the structure of the statement, which I outline here as a chiasm:

This outline may be summarized:

This is very nearly a perfect epitome of Johannine theology, conforming to everything we find in both the Gospel and the First Letter. Somewhat more difficult is the concluding statement of the verse:

ou!to/$ e)stin o( a)lhqino\$ qeo\$ kai\ zwh\ ai)w/nio$
“This is the True God and (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal Life].”

Particularly problematic is the relation of the demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this”) to the previous sentence, as well as the predicate statement which follows. There are several possibilities:

    • The pronoun identifies the substantive o( a)lhqino/$ (“the true [one], the [one who is] true”) as God the Father—i.e., “this (one) is the true God“—who is also “the Life of the Age”.
    • It identifies “the One who is True” as God the Father (the True God), and His Son (Jesus) as “the Life of the Age”.
    • It identifies Jesus as both “the True God” and “the Life of the Age”.
    • It summarizes the entire Gospel message about both God the Father and Jesus (the Son)—i.e., “this is (the message of) the True God and Eternal Life”.

Sound arguments can be made for each of these four interpretations, and I find it almost impossible to make a conclusive choice. Most likely, based on Johannine usage, the expression “the Life of the Age” should be understood in relation to Jesus; he is identified as “(the) Life”, and the immediate source of Life for believers, in numerous places (Jn 1:4; 5:26; 11:25; 14:6; 1 Jn 1:1-2; 5:11-12, etc). Yet it is also entirely appropriate to refer to the Gospel message as “Life” in a similar way (cf. Jn 6:63; 12:50; 17:3; 20:31). The opening words of 1 John (1:1-2) seem to play on both of these meanings of “the Life”, and it is likely that a similar dual-meaning is present in the closing words of the letter as well.

Many commentators question whether Jesus would have been identified directly as “the true God”. While there is no doubt that, in both the Gospel and First Letter, the essential deity of Jesus (including his pre-existence and union with the Father) is clearly expressed, his identification as o( qeo/$ (“the [one true] God”) is less certain. Note, for example, the careful wording in John 1:1c (qeo/$ without the definite article). I have discussed the famous textual question in Jn 1:18 on a number of occasions (cf. the most recent treatment). As the textual evidence between qeo/$ (“God”) and ui(o/$ (“Son”) is rather evenly divided, one cannot simply read qeo/$ without futher ado. Even so, most manuscripts also read qeo/$ without the definite article in verse 18, for whatever that might signify (and it remains much disputed).

Syntactically, in 5:20, it is worth noting that the most proximate reference for ou!to$ would be Jesus, as the phrase “…His Son Yeshua the Anointed” immediately precedes the demonstrative pronoun. However, this is by no means a certain indicator of the pronominal relationship; consider the example of 2 John 7:

“…the ones not giving common account of [i.e. confessing] Yeshua (as hav)ing come in the flesh. This [ou!to/$] is the (one speaking) false(ly) and the (one who is) against the Anointed [i.e. ‘antichrist’]!”

Clearly, in this case, ou!to$ refers back to “the ones not confessing Jesus…” rather than to “Jesus”. Based on this syntax, ou!to$ in 1 Jn 5:20 would more likely refer back to “the One who is True” (i.e. God the Father), rather than to Jesus. At the same time, the syntax in 2 Jn 7 would suggest that both the pronoun and the two expressions (“the True God” and “the Life of the Age”) refer to a single subject, in which case, Jesus is the more probable subject.

Despite the many difficulties in deciding between the options listed above, I am inclined to favoring the second and fourth, or, perhaps, some combination of the two:

    • The two expressions “the True God” and “the Life of the Age” relate back to the two subjects—God the Father (“the One who is True”) and Jesus Christ (His Son), respectively.
    • As the concluding declaration of the letter, the pronoun ou!to$ also effectively summarizes the entire content of the letter; parallel with the opening words (1:1-2), it refers to the Gospel message, of what (the true) God has done for us through his Son Jesus, which leads to eternal Life for those who believe.

June 9: Acts 2:36

This is the third of three daily notes, covering three Christological phrases in Peter’s Pentecost speech-sermon (Acts 2:14-41). The first note examined the phrase in verse 22, the second note the dual clause in verse 33; today I will look at the statement in verse 36. Verses 22-24 represent a kerygmatic formulation which precedes the citation/exposition of Psalm 16:8-11; a second kerygmatic statement follows in verses 32-33, along with a secondary citation from Psalm 110:1 in vv. 34-35. Verse 36 represents, in turn, the climactic statement of the speech, the importance of which is indicated by the solemn manner it is introduced—

“Therefore (let) all the house of Yisrael safely/surely know…”

Then comes the climactic statement:

“…that God (has) made him (both) Lord and Anointed—this Yeshua whom you put to the stake!”

Here is again, the central clause:

kai\ ku/rion au)to\n kai\ xristo\n e)poi/hsen o( qeo/$
“God made him (both) Lord and Anointed”

Believers are so accustomed to thinking of Jesus as Lord (that is, God/Divine) and Anointed (i.e. the Messiah), that the context of this declaration in Peter’s speech is easy to overlook. Indeed, it may be somewhat shocking to realize that Jesus’ identity/status as Lord (ku/rio$) is specifically tied to his exaltation/glorification following the resurrection. That is certainly the sense of Psalm 110:1 here (cited in v. 34-35), juxtaposed with Psalm 16:8-11—the statement in Ps 110:1 follows (and, one may say, is a result of) Jesus’ being raised and ascending (v. 34a) into Heaven. Contrast this with the citation of Psalm 110:1 in Hebrews 1:13, where there is a relatively clear sense of Jesus’ eternal, pre-existent status as God’s Son (cf. Heb 1:3ff).

Here, too, in Acts the use of the verb poie/w (poiéœ, prim. “do, make”) is problematic, especially from the standpoint of post-Nicene orthodoxy. This verb is that which is used in reference to God’s act of creation, and yet the Nicene creed explicitly states that Jesus was “begotten, not made” (gennhqe/nta, ou) poihqe/nta). And, although the statement in Acts 2:36 does not say that Jesus was metaphysically made (as a creature), how can he be said to have been “made” Lord after the resurrection? Was he not already Lord in eternal pre-existent union with the Father, and all throughout his incarnate life on earth? Certainly, later theologians and commentators would be extremely reluctant to use such language as we find here in Peter’s speech.

It is somewhat easier to speak of Jesus being “made” the Anointed (i.e. the Messiah) since this term applies primarily to an Israelite/Jewish religious concept—that of the king or priest who is anointed (ritually/symbolically) as God’s chosen representative among the people. By the time of the New Testament, following centuries of reflection and response to both the Scriptures (prim. the Prophets and prophetic Psalms) and historical circumstances, the Anointed/Messiah had come to be associated with a very definite sort of eschatological figure (Davidic ruler and/or Priest and/or Prophet) who would oversee (in whole or part) the restoration of Israel and God’s end-time judgment. In several Jewish writings likely contemporary with the New Testament—the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) and 4 Ezra (2/4 Esdras)—this “Messiah” is more or less identified with an apparently separate figure, that of a heavenly/pre-existent “Son of Man” (certainly influenced by Dan 7:13). While there is some precedence for the idea of the Messiah as a divine/heavenly figure, more often he was understood to be a real human being. It is primarily the role he serves which is divinely ordained and empowered. One could, then, speak of Jesus as being “made” the Messiah, in the sense that, as a human being, he was divinely empowered to fulfill the Messianic role(s). In traditional Christological terms, Priest, Prophet and King, are understood as the three “offices” of Christ.

(For more on this, see the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and esp. Part 12 on the Messiah as “Son of God”.)

Yet, how exactly should one understand the idea of Jesus’ being “made” Lord here in Acts 2:36? The Greek word ku/rio$, in a Jewish and early Christian religious context, is used primarily as a reference to YHWH, the one God. Even in the earliest period of the New Testament writings and traditions, to refer to Jesus as ku/rio$ was tantamount to affirming his divine nature/status. There are of course passages in the Gospels where ku/rio$ is applied to Jesus in the narrative in a diplomatic or honorific sense, such as the use of “Sir” in English, but this is hardly the case in passages reflecting actual early Christian belief. More difficult to interpret are those sayings of Jesus where he appears to use the word applied to himself; perhaps most tantalizing of all is his citation of Psalm 110:1 (Mark 12:36-37 par), which might provide a decisive interpretation to the verse (see above), however the exact meaning and thrust of Jesus’ question remains a matter of considerable debate among commentators. The most explicit statement of Christian belief in this regard (identifying Jesus as Lord in the sense that God/YHWH is Lord), within the Gospel narrative, is certainly the declaration by Thomas in Jn 20:28 (“my Lord and my God!”). But if ku/rio$ is meant to indicate Jesus’ divine nature or status—identifying him in some meaningful way with God/YHWH—in Acts 2:36, how can he be said to have been “made” ku/rio$? I would suggest three main possibilities for interpretation, none of which are without difficulty:

  1. The statement fundamentally reflects an “adoptionistic” view of Christ—that is to say, he was only elevated to divine status (at the right hand of God, v. 33) upon his being raised by God from the dead and glorified/exalted. Prior to this, Jesus was simply a human being, though one specially appointed/gifted by God (v. 22ff). This would be the most straightforward reading of the statements in Peter’s speech, though of course, it contradicts much of the overall New Testament witness, and would be flatly rejected by (later) orthodox Christology. For more on this, see my article on Adoptionism.
  2. The statement—whether understood as being strictly from Peter, the author of Acts (trad. Luke), or some combination—shows a limited awareness of Jesus’ true nature. In other words, what was known for certain (at the moment) involved Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of God) and the sending of the Spirit (from God the Father), and was expressed within a traditional Jewish conceptual framework. Only subsequently, in the following years, would an understanding of Jesus’ eternal and pre-existent divine nature develop, to be expressed within the Gospels and Epistles, etc. This view of the matter reflects the principle of progressive revelation—that only gradually, did the New Testament writers, the apostles, and other believers come to a full realization of Jesus’ nature (in the orthodox sense). This view is somewhat easier to accept if Acts 2:14-36ff represents the actual words of Peter (c. 30-35 A.D.) rather than that of the author of Acts (c. 70-80?); it would be a strong argument that, at the very least, 2:14ff records early apostolic kerygma.
  3. The statement reflects a kenotic view of Christ. By this is meant that Jesus Christ, in some meaningful (though admittedly mysterious) way, forsook his pre-existent divine nature/status, and “emptied” himself to become a human being (the so-called kenosis, from Grk. keno/w kenóœ, “[make] empty”). Upon his death and resurrection, Jesus was then elevated and restored to (an even greater?) divine status, now united with humanity, at God’s right hand. While generally attractive, there are two main difficulties with such a view: (a) it is largely dependent on a single passage (the “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11), and (b) there are several other passages (such as Col 1:19, cf. also 2:9) which have been taken as confirmation of the orthodox belief that Jesus was in some sense “fully God” even during his earthly life. Applying this view to Acts 2:14-36 also requires reading much into Peter’s speech, which as it stands, better fits an adoptionistic, rather than kenotic, viewpoint.

Clearly there are significant critical and interpretive questions involved in this verse which admit of no easy solution. On the one hand, we should guard ourselves against reading developed (orthodox) Christology back into the New Testament; on the other hand, we must be cautious about reading too much into a single passage. Peter’s speech must first be understood and interpreted in its historical and literary context:

  • The historical context—this is the first public sermon delivered by believers following the resurrection of Christ (and the sending of the Spirit); one should expect just what we find here: rough, simple, dramatic kerygmatic statements (focusing on the immediate message of the resurrection and promise of salvation), rather than a developed and systematic Christology. Throughout the Gospels and here in Acts (cf. 1:6f), there are numerous examples where even Jesus’ closest disciples (Peter and the Twelve) demonstrated that they possessed a limited awareness of exactly who he was.
  • The literary context—this is also the first major Christian speech-sermon recorded in Luke-Acts; it follows directly after the resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Spirit on Pentecost: the events which Peter makes reference to in his speech. Even if the author had wished to express the deity of Christ more clearly, it would have been rather out of place in context here. The overall portrait of Christ will be expanded in the subsequent speech-sermons in Acts.

Both of these observations would tend to support the “progressive revelation” view (#2) above, as well as being the most compatible with orthodox Christology.

April 13 (1): John 1:51

Today, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), and following the theme of these seasonal daily notes, I will be examining the Son of Man saying in John 1:51. In an earlier note (for Holy Saturday), I surveyed all of the Son of Man sayings in John, noting three main categories:

    • Sayings which speak of the Son of Man being “lifted high” (using the verb u(yo/w)—Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34
    • Sayings involving the descent/ascent of the Son of Man (verbs katabai/nw, a)nabai/nw)—Jn 3:13; 6:22, 53, 62
    • Sayings which refer to the Son of Man being glorified (vb. doca/zw)—Jn 12:23, 31

John 1:51 generally belongs to the second category. All of these sayings refer in some way to Jesus’ death, and also relate to the two-fold sense in which the Son is “lifted up”, according to the symbolism and imagery in John—(1) his death on the cross, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father).

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon [e)pi] the Son of Man”

This saying has proven sufficiently difficult and obscure for commentators throughout the years, resulting in a wide range of possible interpretations. A fundamental question is whether the saying should be taken as a concrete prediction, or a symbolic picture. If the former, then one must ask to which specific event or episode it refers; there are three possibilities—(1) a supernatural event witnessed by the disciples (similar to the Transfiguration), but otherwise unrecorded, (2) the resurrection and/or ascension, or (3) the future/end-time appearance of Christ. Given the similarities with key eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics, the third option makes most sense; however, it does not especially seem to fit the context where the saying is set in John. If we are to understand the saying primarily as a symbolic picture—whether by the Gospel writer or Jesus himself—then there a number of possible associations or allusions which may be in mind. I summarize the most relevant and important of these here (cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, pp. 89-91):

The Baptism—There are two details in the (Synoptic) account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10 par) which are especially relevant:

    • The Holy Spirit, in the form/shape of a dove, descends [lit. “steps down”] upon Jesus, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51. Also, the versions in Matthew/Luke specifically use the preposition e)pi (“upon”) and narrate the episode as something observable by all the people (in contrast with Mark’s account). John does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but provides a comparable (indirect) description as part of the Baptist’s testimony (cf. Jn 1:32).
    • In the descent of the Spirit, the heavens are said to separate; in Matthew/Luke (Matt 3:16; Lk 3:21), the verb used is a)noi/gw (“open up”) as in Jn 1:51.

Matthew 16:27-28 par—Matthew’s version of a core Son of Man saying in Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) begins: “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his Messengers [i.e. Angels]…” and concludes with the specific formulation:

“…there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see [i&dwsin] the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (note the parallel in Lk 9:27: “…until they should see the Kingdom of God”, and also Lk 23:42 v.l.)

Several points should be made about the context and significance of this passage:

    • The reference is to the end-time Judgment, and (in the developed Gospel tradition) to the parousia (or second coming) of Jesus.
    • It is positioned directly between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (a vision of Jesus in glory witnessed by several of the disciples). Moreover, in both Synoptic tradition and Jn 1:19-51, the Son of Man saying follows soon after Jesus gives Peter his new name (Matt 16:18; Jn 1:42).
    • The Son of Man is associated with Angels in a number of sayings, all eschatological and emphasizing the end-time Judgment—Matt 13:41ff; 16:27 par; 24:30-31 par; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also Matt 4:6 par; 26:53.

The Resurrection/Ascension—Note especially the following:

    • In Mark 16:4 of the Old Latin MS Bobiensis (k), it is narrated that angels descend to Jesus and ascend with him (cf. also the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter §§36-40).
    • The appearance of Angels in the Synoptic tradition, associated with the Resurrection (variously described, Mk 16:5-7; Matt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7) and the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11) of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it is stated that the Angel “stepped down” out of heaven, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51 (cf. above).
    • John does not record a visible ascension of Jesus, but note Jn 20:17: “…I step up [a)nabai/nw] toward my Father”.

An allusion to Genesis 28:12—In Jacob’s dream-vision at Bethel, he sees Angels ascending and descending on the ladder; in the LXX “ascending and descending” uses the same verbs (a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw) as Jn 1:51.

    • There is a traditional Jewish interpretation which understands the Angels ascending/descending on him (i.e. Jacob), cf. Genesis Rabbah 69:3 (in 68:12 Jacob is seen as being simultaneously in heaven).
    • The Targums (cf. Onkelos) express the idea that the shekinah—the visible manifestation and/or personification of God’s glory—was on the ladder. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (mid-2nd century A.D.), we find the earliest evidence for the interpretation that Christ was on the ladder (86:2).
    • Bethel as the “House of God”, i.e. the rock/stone which symbolizes the Temple and its foundation. In Jn 2:19ff (not long after the saying in 1:51), the Temple is identified with Jesus’ own person (and body), specifically in connection with his death and resurrection.

These are the most plausible associations with Jn 1:51, based on similarities of language and imagery—(1) the account of Jesus’ baptism, (2) his resurrection/ascension, (3) his return in glory at the end-time Judgment, and (4) the theophanic dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. In the next note I will look a bit more closely at Jn 1:51 in terms of its likely meaning and purpose within the context and structure of the Gospel narrative.

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 12: Messiah and Son of God (continued)

In continuing this Part of the series, we may summarize the instances in the Gospels where the titles “Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$) and “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=) are combined or set in context with each other:

    • Mark 1:1, as the heading of the Gospel—”…of Yeshua (the) Anointed, the Son of God”
    • The association of Jesus’ Baptism with his being anointed (as well as being God’s Son)—Acts 10:37-38; Luke 3:22 v.l. (quoting Psalm 2:7).
    • Luke 4:41 (par Mk 1:34; Matt 8:16)—the author explicitly connects the exclamation by the unclean spirits (that Jesus is the Son of God) with his identity as the Anointed One (cf. Mk 3:11; Matt 8:29 / Lk 8:28).
    • Matthew’s version of Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16)—”You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God” (cf. the prior discussion).
    • John 11:27, a similar confession by Martha during the Lazarus scene—”You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world”.
    • Mark 12:35-37 par, where Jesus’ argument (based on Psalm 110:1) could be taken to mean that the Anointed One is something more than the “Son of David”, i.e. the Son of God (so early Christians would have understood it). The question Jesus initially asks in Matthew’s version of the scene—”What/how does it seem to you about the Anointed (One)? Whose son is (he)?” (Matt 22:42)—may even foreshadow such an interpretation.
    • Mark 14:61; Matt 26:62; Luke 22:67, 70, the question/adjuration put to Jesus by the Sanhedrin (cf. the earlier discussion on this).
    • In the scene before Pilate, the title “Anointed (One)” appears specifically in Matt 27:17, 22; Luke 23:2, associated with the accusation that Jesus considered himself to be a King; John’s Gospel adds, parallel to this, Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God (Jn 19:7).
    • Matt 27:40, 43, where the taunts of the crowd use “Son of God”, in place of “Anointed (One)”, cf. Mark 14:32; Lk 23:35ff, 39.
    • John 20:31, at the close of the Gospel, similar to Mark 1:1—”…so that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God”.

We should also include here the important references in the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke:

    • References to Jesus as the Anointed One, and a “son”, in the context of his miraculous (virginal) conception by the Holy Spirit—Matt 1:1, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25; 2:4ff; 15; Luke 1:26-38; 2:7, 10-11, 26.
    • The genealogies (Matt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-38) clearly show Jesus to be a descendant of David (legally, by way of Joseph, cf. also Matt 1:20; Lk 1:27; 2:4), i.e. the Anointed One as a “son of David” (cf. Lk 1:32; 2:11). The Lukan genealogy, which traces backward, ends with the phrase “the son of God”—referring directly to Adam, but on the theological level, to Jesus his descendant.
    • The Angelic Annunciation to Mary, more clearly than any other passage in the Gospels, associates the titles “Son of God” and “Son of the Highest” with the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic King (Luke 1:32-35)—for the remarkable parallels with the Qumran text 4Q246, see parts 78 and my earlier note.

The Gospel of John

The idea of Jesus as both the Anointed One (Christ/Messiah) and Son of God can be found in several places in the Gospel of John:

    • John 1:34—the Baptism of Jesus, narrated indirectly (by John the Baptist), is connected with John’s own identity in relation to Jesus (vv. 6-9, 15, 19-27, 30ff). Note especially in verses 20-25, where John denies being the Anointed One or “the one coming” (vv. 27, 30). In verse 34, at the climax of the Baptism narration, John declares “I have seen and have witnessed that this (one) is the Son of God!”.
    • John 1:49—the confession by Nathanael: “…you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!” Here “king of Israel” certainly refers to the expectation of an Anointed Ruler from the line of David; moreover, there is definitely a Messianic context to this scene (v. 45).
    • John 11:27—the confession by Martha (cf. above): “you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world.”
    • John 19:7, in the context of Jesus’ trial (cf. above).
    • John 20:31—the conclusion of the Gospel proper (cf. above).

Also noteworthy are the passages which connect the titles “Son of God” and “Son of Man”:

    • John 1:51—Jesus’ famous Son of Man saying, which follows Nathanael’s confession in verse 49.
    • John 3:13-14, 18—twin sayings of the Son of Man descending/ascending and being “lifted up” (vv. 13-14), followed by a reference to belief in Jesus as the Son of God (v. 18).
    • John 5:25, 27—parallel between the Son of God and Son of Man in the context of the end-time Judgment and Resurrection.
    • John 9:35—”Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (some MSS read “…in the Son of God”, cf. 3:18).
    • John 12:23; 13:31 refer to the Son of Man being glorified (through his death and resurrection/exaltation); John 11:4 refers to the Son of God being glorified (through the death and raising of Lazarus).

One should also mention John 12:34, where the titles “the Anointed (One)” and “the Son of Man” are related. Throughout the Gospel tradition, Jesus uses the title “Son of Man”, referring to himself, in an eschatological and/or Messianic context. Cf. my earlier note for more on the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John.

In addition to the passages above, Jesus frequently refers to himself as “the Son”, specifically in relation to (God) the Father—John 3:16-17, 35-36; 5:19-27; [6:40]; 8:36; 10:36; 14:13; 17:1, etc. Almost all of these are found in the great Discourses of Jesus, and there the Christological language and imagery has gone far beyond traditional Messianic interpretation (of Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:11-14, etc)—we find, in the words of Jesus, a clear expression of his pre-existent Deity. However, it is interesting that the title “Son” is only used of the incarnate Christ, in the sense that he makes God the Father known to humankind (cf. Jn 1:14, 18 [v.l.]); in John 1:1-14a it is rather Lo/go$ (“Word”) that is used. Also connected with the Sonship of Jesus and the purpose of the incarnation is the idea that all who trust/believe in him should come to be sons/children of God (cf. Jn 1:12; 12:36; 1 Jn 3:1ff).

Christological Development

In examining the idea of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in early Christian thought and expression, we begin with the Gospel preaching by the apostles and disciples in the book of Acts. The title “Son of God” occurs only once, in Acts 9:20, where the converted Paul’s first preaching in Damascus included the declaration regarding Jesus—”this one [ou!to$] is the Son of God!” The statement is parallel with his demonstration to the Jews in Damascus that Jesus is the Messiah—”this one [ou!to$] is the Anointed (One)” (cf. Acts 3:18, 20; 5:42; 17:3; 18:5, 28). The only other reference to Jesus as God’s Son involves the use of Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be [born]”) in Acts 13:33. This is part of Paul’s speech at Antioch, which is parallel in many respects with Peter’s great Pentecost speech in Acts 2. Paul cites Psalm 2:7, while Peter cites Psalm 110:1, applying them both to the resurrection of Jesus. These Scriptures are not interpreted in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent deity—i.e., of his birth/generation as Son by God in eternity—rather, they are related specifically to his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. It is after his death that Jesus is “born” as God’s Son, being raised and exalted to heaven. Interestingly, Psalm 2:7 was applied to Jesus three different ways in early Christian tradition:

    1. In reference to his resurrection and exaltation—Acts 13:33; Hebrews 5:5
    2. In the context of his Baptism—Luke 3:22 v.l. (D a b c d ff2 l r1, and attested by a number of Church Fathers)
    3. In terms of his pre-existent deity and relationship to God the Father—Hebrews 1:5; 5:5

Turning to Paul’s letters, the most notable passage is Romans 1:3-4, which, as I have previously discussed, may reflect an earlier creed or Gospel formula:

“…about His Son, the (one) coming to be (born) out of the seed of David according to the flesh, the (one) marked out [i.e. appointed/designated] as Son of God in power according to (the) spirit of holiness out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead, Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord”

The reference to the “seed of David” is derived from Messianic tradition, reflecting the figure-type of the expected/end-time Davidic Ruler. We can see how these terms and titles are brought together and connected in one statement: Son—son of David—Son of God—Anointed. Generally, however, Paul does not make much use of traditional Messianic thought and imagery, and almost never uses “Anointed (One)” as a specific title—in his letters (50s and early 60s A.D.) “Anointed” [Xristo/$] has already been thoroughly assimilated, becoming part of Jesus’ name (“Yeshua [the] Anointed”). Nor is the title “Son of God” especially common, occurring just three times in the Pauline corpus (in addition to Rom 1:4), each of which has the title set in tandem with “Anointed” or “Yeshua [the] Anointed”:

    • 2 Corinthians 2:19—”the Son of God, Yeshua (the) Anointed, the (one) proclaimed among you through us…”
    • Galatians 2:20—”…(the) Anointed lives in me… I live in trust of the Son of God…”
    • Ephesians 4:13—”…the (full) knowledge of the Son of God… the measure of stature of the fullness of the Anointed.”

More frequently, Paul refers to Jesus simply as “(the) Son”, by which God’s Son is meant, as in the Gospel of John (cf. above). Often these occur specifically in the context of Jesus’ sacrificial death—i.e., of God sending his own Son, etc (Rom 5:10; 8:3, 32; Gal 4:6)—as well as generally in terms of the Gospel message (Rom 1:3, 9; Gal 1:6). The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus is particularly in view in Rom 8:29; 1 Thess 1:10. There is, no doubt, an association with Messianic tradition in those few passages which refer to the kingdom of the Son, and to the promise of salvation (from the end-time Judgment, etc)—1 Cor 15:28; 1 Thess 1:10; Col 1:13. Paul also shares with the Johannine tradition the idea of believers in Christ becoming sons/children of God, through his death/resurrection and the work of the Spirit—Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 1:9; Gal 4:6.

Apart from the letter to the Hebrews and the Johannine writings, references to Jesus as Son (of God) are quite rare (2 Peter 1:17, referring to the Transfiguration). Hebrews, like the Gospel of John, understands Jesus’ Sonship in terms of pre-existent Deity (Heb 1:2, 5, 8, etc), but also in the (earlier) context of his sacrificial death and resurrection (Heb 4:14; 5:5; 7:28, etc). The title “Son of God” occurs in Heb 4:14; 6:6; 7:3; 10:29. Overall, we find here a more developed matrix of belief regarding the Person of Christ. This is even more so in the case of the Letters of John, so closely matching the language and thought of the Gospel (esp. the Discourses of Jesus). “Son” occurs 24 times (including twice in 2 John), with the specific title “Son of God” used in 1 John 3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12-13, 20. Interestingly, “(the) Anointed” is used as a distinct title twice in 1 John as well (1 Jn 2:22; 5:1), but it is no longer a traditional Messianic title; rather, it now identifies Jesus in terms of a very definite set of Christian (and Christological) beliefs, corresponding to the presentation of Jesus in the Gospel, which includes:

    • That Jesus is the Son (of God) and has been sent by the Father (2:22-23, etc)
    • That he has come to earth and appeared in human flesh (4:2, etc)
    • That he gave himself sacrificially for the salvation and life of the world (“…the one coming through water and blood“, 5:6 etc)

For perhaps the first time in the New Testament writings we find such beliefs about Jesus turned into a direct test for correct belief—i.e. orthodoxy (or, perhaps better, proto-orthodoxy). Note the repeated use of the pa=$ o( formula in 1 John (“every one who…”):

    • 1 Jn 2:23—”Every one denying the Son does not have the Father; the (one) giving account of [i.e. acknowledging] the Son also has the Father”
    • 1 Jn 2:29—”Every one doing justice/righteousness has come to be (born) out of Him”
    • 1 Jn 3:9—”Every one who has come to be (born) out of God does not do sin…” (also 5:18)
    • 1 Jn 4:7—”Every one loving (each other) has come to be born out of God and knows God”
    • 1 Jn 5:1—”Every one trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) has come to be born out of God…”

Cf. also 3:3-4, 6, 10, 15; 5:4, as well as the similar formulation in 1 Jn 4:3: “Every spirit which does not give account of [i.e. acknowledge/confess] Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God”. It is important to notice the way that the correct confession (or acknowledgement) of Christ is related (a) to moral and upright behavior, and (b) to the idea of believers also being born as Sons (Children) of God—cf. John 1:12 (also 11:52; 12:36); 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2.

Jesus as the Son (of God) is rare in the book of Revelation, occurring only once (Rev 2:18), though otherwise Messianic imagery, in connection with an exalted view of Christ (in Heaven), abounds throughout the book. The reference to Jesus as the “firstborn” out of the dead (cf. Rom 8:28; Col 1:18) may indicate that Jesus’ Sonship here, as in the earliest Christian preaching, is connected specifically with his resurrection.

The Apostolic Fathers

Finally, if we briefly examine the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-160 A.D.), the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings, we find essentially a summary and (re-)formulation of what is otherwise expressed in the New Testament; among the more noteworthy passages are:

  • 1 Clement 36:4—citation of Psalm 2:7-8 (cf. above), possibly also an allusion to Hebrews 1:5.
  • Ignatius to the Smyrneans 1:1—part of a creedal summary, either quoting Romans 1:3-4 or drawing upon the underlying tradition; likewise in Ephesians 20:2, where Ignatius offers an early formulation of the dual-nature of Christ, “Son of Man [i.e. human] and Son of God [i.e. Divine]”.
  • Ignatius, Magnesians 8:2, seemingly drawing upon Johannine language regarding the Person of Christ, and suggesting his pre-existent Deity.
  • Epistle of Polycarp 12:2, where the title Son of God is connected with Jesus as “eternal High Priest”, perhaps indicating familiarity with Hebrews.
  • Martyrdom of Polycarp 17:3—”we worship this one [i.e. Jesus] as (being the) Son of God”, cf. Acts 9:20.
  • The Epistle of Barnabas 5:9, 11; 7:2, 9; 12:8; 15:5, where there is a strong emphasis on the Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who fulfills (and replaces) the Old Testament types and forms, similar in certain ways to Hebrews and the Gospel of John.

Cf. also Didache 16:4, the Epistle to Diognetus 7:4; 9:2, 4; 10:2, and numerous passages in Hermas (Vision 2.2:8; Similitude 5.2:6, 8, 11; 8.3:2, 11:1; 9.1:1; 12:1, et al). In all of these early Christian works, traditional Messianic thought and interpretation has generally disappeared, having been replaced by a distinctly Christian point of reference, based on early Tradition and the writings of the New Testament. By the middle of the second century, Jesus as the Son of God became part of a wider Christological (and Apologetic) argument involving the Person of Christ. Proto-orthodox writers and theologians such as Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Irenaeus felt compelled to explain and defend their understanding of Christ on several fronts:

    1. Against Jewish opponents, e.g. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho §43, 48, 100-2, 118, 126-9, etc. In the context of such works, Christians were still forced to argue or demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah, though in a somewhat different manner than we see in the earlier book of Acts.
    2. Against Greco-Roman (pagan) misunderstanding and misrepresentation—cf. Justin, First Apology §§21-23, 31, 54, 60, 63, etc; Athenagoras’ Plea for the Christians §10; Origen Against Celsus 6:11, etc.
    3. Against alternate/heterodox (or “heretical”) Christian views of Christ, i.e. by so-called “Gnostics”, etc—cf. Irenaeus Against Heresies III.16-18ff; IV.5-11, 40-1, etc.

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 12: Messiah and Son of God

In this part of the series, I will be exploring the idea of the Messiah as the Son of God. This, of course, has enormous implications for the early Christian understanding of Jesus—how, and in what way (or ways), he is believed to be God’s Son. This article will be divided as follows:

  • Old Testament and Jewish Background
  • The Qumran texts and Jewish writings of the 1st century B.C./A.D.
  • The (Synoptic) Gospel Tradition
  • The Gospel of John
  • Christological Development in the New Testament and Other Early Writings

The Old Testament and Jewish Background

There are three relevant concepts or traditions in the Old Testament related to the expression “son of God”:

1. The plural “sons of God” as a reference to heavenly beings (‘Angels’):

    • <yh!ýa$h* yn}B= (b®nê-h¹°§lœhîm)—certain in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7, and virtually certain in Gen 6:2, 4; cf. also in Deut 32:8 LXX and 4QDt
    • <yl!a@ yn}B= (b®nê °¢lîm)—Psalm 29:1; 89:6
    • /olu# yn}B= (b®nê ±elyôn, i.e. “sons of the Most High”)—Psalm 82:6, though the interpretation of this passage is disputed, thought by some commentators to refer to human beings (judges)

The only occurrence of the singular is in Daniel 3:25, Aramaic /yh!l*a$ rB^ (bar-°§l¹hîn). Cf. the supplemental note on this verse.

2. The people of Israel as God’s “sons” or (collectively) as “Son”, in a symbolic or spiritual sense—”My (firstborn) son” (Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9); “sons of the living God” (Hos 1:10 [Hebrew 2:1]); “(My/His) sons” (Deut 14:1; 32:19; Isa 1:2-3; 30:1; 43:19; Jer 3:22). For YHWH as the “Father” of Israel, cf. Deut 32:6; Isa 64:8, etc. The only direct reference to Israel as “son of God” is in the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom (Grk ui(o\$ qeou=, Wis 18:13).

3. The king as God’s “son” in a symbolic or ritual sense—Psalm 2:7; 89:26-27; 2 Sam 7:14.

The last of these had the clearest influence on Messianic thought, especially with regard to the figure-type of the Davidic Ruler who was expected to appear at the end-time. For more on the Messianic interpretation and development of these passages, cf. Parts 6 and 7 of this series. The first two aspects developed and were combined several ways in Jewish tradition:

  • The Messiah was associated with the end-time Judgment of God on the wicked/nations of the world—only the righteous and/or repentant of God’s people would pass through the judgment and enter/inherit the Kingdom. This follows the tendency, especially in Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period, to refer specifically to the righteous as God’s “sons”, cf. Sir 4:10; Wisd 2:18; 5:5; Esth 16:16, etc.
  • Beginning at least with the book of Daniel (depending on how one dates it), a distinct parallel and connection formed in Jewish thought, between the people of God (i.e. the righteous/holy ones on earth) and the “Sons of God” (Holy Ones) in Heaven. This is perhaps best expressed in the 7th chapter of Daniel—the precise parallel between the heavenly “one like a son of man” (vv. 13-14) and the “(people of the) holy ones” (vv. 22, 26-27). For other expressions of the relationship between Angels and the righteous in Daniel, cf. Dan 3:25ff; 8:15-17; 10:10-21; 12:1-3.
  • In the Qumran texts (primarily from the 1st century B.C.), the righteous remnant of the end-time is identified specifically with the Community—i.e. those who have joined together, correctly observing the Torah and following the instruction passed down by the “Teacher of Righteousness”. As we have seen, there were strong eschatological and Messianic components to this self-identity; the Community Rule documents, along with other texts, show that they expected the appearance of several end-time (Messianic) figures who would serve as rulers/leaders (the Community itself being the effective embodiment of the Kingdom). In addition, the heavenly beings (“Holy Ones”) were seen as functioning in tandem with the “holy ones” (the Community) on earth, and would join together more closely at the end-time.
  • This inter-connection between the righteous/holy ones on earth and heaven, was made even more precise in the figure of the “Son of Man” (also called “Righteous One”, “Elect One” and “Anointed One”) in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st century A.D.?). For more detail, see Part 10 of this series.

There are definite similarities in thought and expression between the Qumran texts, the Similitudes of Enoch, and early Christian tradition. It is significant, perhaps, that the latest of the Qumran writings, and probably the Similitudes, were roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus and the Gospel tradition.

The Qumran texts and Jewish writings of the Period

In examining these writings (c. 150 B.C. – 100 A.D.), it is important to focus on texts which: (1) specifically use the expression “son of God” or similar wording, (2) mention “son” or sonship in a distinctly Messianic context, and (3) are either pre-Christian or show little sign of Christian influence. There are, in fact, very few surviving texts which are directly relevant to the discussion. Apart from traditional references to the heavenly beings (Angels) as “sons of God” in Wisdom 5:5; Jubilees 1:24-25; 1 Enoch 69:4-5; 71:1, etc., I highlight here passages from seven documents, including five from the Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls.

Qumran Texts (cf. Evans, Qumran-Messianism, pp. 137-47)—First, from the Florilegium (4Q174), a collection of Scripture verses with glossed interpretations, which have a clear eschatological and Messianic orientation. In lines 10-13, the Davidic promise of 2 Sam 7:11-14 is explained as referring to “the Sprout/Branch of David who will…sit on the throne in Zion at the end of days”. For “Branch of David” (dywd jmx) as a Messianic title, cf. Parts 67. This indicates the possibility of understanding the Royal/Davidic Messiah of the end-time as “God’s son”. Next, there are two passages which appear to speak of the “birth” (by God) of a Messianic figure:

  • 1QSa [1Q28a] 2:11-12—”[This is the sit]ting of the men of the name [i.e. of renown] [called] to the appointed place (of meeting) for the council of the Community, when He [i.e. God] will cause the Anointed One to be born with [i.e. among] them…” The verb restored as “cause to be born” i.e. “beget” (d[yl]wy) has proven somewhat controversial, having been read by other scholars as “bring [forward]” (iylwy), and other restorations have also been suggested. If the verb dly is correct, then the idea presumably derives from Psalm 2:7, where, in its original context, the king is begotten/born as God’s “son” (symbolically) upon his enthronement; here it would be his installment as ruler over the Community that is the occasion of his being “born”.
  • 4Q534 frag. 3 col. i, lines 8-11:
    “[and] he will know the secrets of man. And his wisdom will reach all the peoples. And he will know the secrets of all living things. [And al]l their plans against him will come to nothing, although the opposition of all living things will be great. […] his [p]lans. Because he is the Elect of God, his birth and the spirit of his breath […] his [p]lans shall be for ever.” Translation Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:1071 (italics mine).
    It has been suggested that the lacuna in lines 10-11 be restored “his birth and the spirit of his breath [are of God…]”, which is certainly plausible and is favored by a number of scholars (Evans, Qumran-Messianism, pp. 144-5).

In the highly fragmentary text 4Q369, which appears to be an apocalyptic/eschatological work, there is reference to what certainly seems to be a Messianic (and presumably Davidic) figure in column ii of fragment 1:

“…for his seed according to their generations an eternal possession, and al[l…] and your good judgments you explained to him to […] in eternal light, and you made him for you a first-bo[rn] son […] like him, to (be) a prince and ruler in all /your/ inhabited world […] the c[row]n of the heavens, and the glory of the clouds you have placed [on him …] and the angel of your peace in his congregation and… […] […] for him (?) righteousness rules, as a father to [his] s[on…]” (lines 4-10) Translation Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:731 (italics mine).

Unfortunately, the surviving portions are too incomplete (especially the tiny fragments 2-4) to be certain of the context. Finally, we must note the now-famous Aramaic (Pseudo-Daniel) 4Q246, the so-called “Son of God text”. I have discussed this document in some detail, especially with regard to the parallels with Luke 1:32, 35, in earlier posts. That the context is eschatological and Messianic (influenced, in large measure, by Daniel 7) seems reasonably clear to me. A coming Ruler, parallel to the “rise” of the people of God, is called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High”. His rule is contrasted with that of the nations, and his kingdom is connected with the “everlasting Kingdom” and dominion of the people of God.

Other Jewish Writings—I find only two other writings from the period to be especially relevant:

  • In Joseph and Aseneth 6:3-5ff; 13:13(10), Joseph is referred to as God’s “son”, probably in the sense that this can be said, from a symbolic and ethical standpoint, of righteous Israelites and Jews (cf. above). However, it is somewhat unique to have the idea or expression applied this way to a specific exemplary person, and may hint at something deeper. It is also not clear whether, or to what extent, this has been colored by Christian influence; scholars today typically date the book somewhere in the 1st century B.C./A.D.
  • In the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (or 4 Ezra), the Anointed One (Messiah) is called God’s “Son” in 2 Esdr 7:28-29; 13:32, 37, 52. The introduction to this work is Christian (cf. 2 Esdr 2:42), but the core of chapters 3-14 (late 1st-century A.D.) is Jewish and shows little or no Christian influence. Chapter 11-13 are clearly influenced by Daniel 7, merging together the Son of Man and Davidic Messiah traditions, much as we see in the Gospels and early Christian writings.

In none of these Jewish passages does “son” indicate deity in the developed Christian (Christological) sense. At most we see: (a) the “Messiah” as a heavenly/angelic figure, or (b) righteous human beings identified in some manner with heavenly beings.

Gospel Tradition

According to the approach taken throughout this series, I begin with the core Synoptic tradition as represented by the Gospel of Mark; the title “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=) occurs four times:

  • Mk 1:1, in the heading to the Gospel—”(The) beginning of the good message {Gospel} of Yeshua (the) Anointed, [Son of God]”. Some manuscripts (a* Q 28c al) do not have “Son of God” (cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 62).
  • Mk 3:11, where it is narrated that the unclean spirits, when cast out by Jesus during healing (exorcism) miracles, would cry out “You are the Son of God [su\ ei@ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]!”; par Lk 4:41, and similarly in Mk 5:7 / Matt 8:29 / Lk 8:28 (Luke has “Son of the Highest”).
  • Mark 15:39, at the death of Jesus, the centurion standing nearby exclaims “Truly this man was (the) son of God!”; par Matt 27:54, but Luke’s version is quite different—”This man really was just/righteous [di/kaio$]!” (Lk 23:47).

We should also note the following five passages in the triple-tradition:

  • Mark 1:11 par, the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism—”You are my (be)loved Son…”; several MSS of Lk 3:22 instead have a quotation from Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be born”). The voice at the Transfiguration, Mk 9:7 par, is very similar (esp. the form in Matt 17:5, while Lk 9:35 is somewhat different).
  • Mark 8:29 par, the confession by Peter (cf. below).
  • Mark 12:6ff par, in the parable of the ‘Wicked Tenants’.
  • Mark 14:61-62 par, the question of the High Priest / Sanhedrin to Jesus (cf. below).

To these may be added:

  • Matt 4:3, 6 (par Lk 4:3, 9), by the Devil in the Temptation scene—”If (indeed) you are the Son of God…”.
  • Matt 14:33, the disciples declare “Truly you are the Son of God”, matching the declaration by the centurion in Matt 27:54. This is an addition to the miracle scene (Mk 6:51, cf. Jn 6:21), and is unusual in the way it precedes Peter’s confession, contrary to the literary and dramatic development of the narrative in Mark-Luke.
  • Matt 27:40, 43, where the identification of Jesus as Son of God (by way of the High Priest’s question in Matt 27:63f) has carried forward into the taunts by the crowd delivered against Jesus while he is on the cross.

Interestingly, in all of these instances, the expression “Son of God” is used by others, not Jesus himself; indeed, a number of the occurrences are actually by persons or beings hostile to Jesus (the Devil, unclean spirits, the Sanhedrin, mocking crowds). Not once does Jesus use the title himself in the Synoptic Gospels. The closest we come to a direct affirmation by Jesus are in two (parallel) episodes—the confession by Peter, and the interrogation of Jesus before the Sanhedrin:

The confession by Peter (Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20; Matthew 16:16)

In all three Gospels, Jesus’ question to his disciples is the same: “but who do you count/consider me to be?” The pronoun “you” (u(mei=$) is emphatic—others have said that he is a Prophet (Elijah, etc), but now Jesus asks his own followers directly. In Mark, Peter’s response is simply “You are the Anointed (One)”. It is not entirely clear what Peter means by “Anointed One” in this context. As we have seen throughout this series, there were several Messianic figure-types which could be in mind; many of the references throughout the period of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry seem to involve an Anointed Prophet figure—Moses, Elijah or the Anointed of Isa 61:1ff. It is the latter that Jesus identifies himself with directly in Lk 4:18-21; 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6), etc. If Peter has in mind a Messiah of the Davidic Ruler type, this is by no means obvious from the text. It is interesting to see how Peter’s confession appears to expand, almost before our eyes, through the Synoptic tradition:

Mark 8:29
“You are the Anointed One”
Luke 9:20
“(You are) the Anointed One of God
Matthew 16:16
“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God

Critical commentators have questioned the historicity of Matthew’s version, the idea being that Peter (or any of the disciples) would not have formulated such an apparently advanced statement of Jesus’ deity at this early stage in the narrative. However, this perhaps reads a bit too much into the text. While it is certainly possible that Matt 16:16 represents an early Christian gloss or explanation of Peter’s statement, on the other hand, Peter need not have had in mind an especially advanced idea of Jesus’ deity (cf. Hosea 1:10 [Hebrew 2:1]). Also, it should be noted that in Matt 16:17 Jesus’ declares that Peter’s confession is the result of inspiration by God; in all likelihood, then, Peter would not have understood the full significance of his own words.

Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:61-62; Matt 26:63-66; Luke 22:66-71)

In Mark (and Matthew), the High Priest addresses Jesus, either as a question (Mk) or an adjuration (Matt):

Mk 14:61
“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?”
Matt 26:63
“I require an oath of you according to the living God, that you say to us
if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”

In Luke’s version, it is the Council collectively which asks the question, divided into two parts in the narrative:

Luke 22:67
“Are you the Anointed (One)?”
Luke 22:70
“Then you are the Son of God?”

There is an obvious parallel between this question and Peter’s confession, which in Matthew’s version is made all but explicit:

Jesus’ question / Peter’s confession
“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God” (16:16)
“…by the living God… if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God” (26:63)
Jesus’ declaration / Peter’s denial (26:64ff)

In examining Jesus’ response to the Sanhedrin’s question, we find two points in common between the three accounts—(1) some form of affirmation by Jesus, and (2) his identification with the heavenly “Son of Man” figure. Here is a comparison of Jesus’ response:

Mark 14:61-62

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

“I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi)
Son of Man saying—”and you will see the Son of Man…”

Matthew 26:63-64

“…that you tell us if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”

“You said (it)” (su\ ei@pa$)
Son of Man saying—”from now on you will see the Son of Man…”

Luke 26:67-69

“If you are the Anointed (One), tell us”

“If I tell you, you will not trust/believe (it)…”
Son of Man saying—”but from now on the Son of Man will be…”

“Then you are the Son of God?”

“You say that I am” (u(mei=$ le/gete o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi)

Here it is possible that Luke preserves a more complete account, and that Mark and Matthew (independently?) record a simplified version. Certainly Jesus’ ultimate response in Luke (“You say that I am”) seems to combine the versions in Mark-Matthew (“I am” + “you say/said”). In Mark, this response is an unqualified affirmation (“I am”); not so in Matthew-Luke, and commentators have various opinions as to how this should be understood, with three main possibilities:

    • As an affirmation—i.e., “You have said it (and it is the truth)”, “You have said (correctly)”, etc
    • As a reluctant/defiant response—i.e. “That is what you say”, “You said it, not me”, “(Those are) your words, not mine”
    • As a qualified affirmation—i.e., “You say it, but…”, perhaps in the sense of “Yes, but more than that…”

Jesus’ initial response in Lk 22:67-68, and his general silence before the Sanhedrin, makes an unqualified affirmation rather unlikely. Many modern commentators are inclined toward the second interpretation, i.e. that Jesus is unwilling to affirm the question as they have put it, turning their own words back on them. The use of the conjunctive particle plh/n by Jesus in Matthew to introduce the Son of Man saying suggests the third view—instead of answering their question directly, he shifts the focus to the eschatological image of the Son of Man. It is a difficult and sensitive matter, since this is the passage in the Synoptic tradition which most clearly expresses Jesus’ own view of his identity as the Anointed One (Christ/Messiah) and Son of God. Again, there are several possibilities that should be considered:

    • In referring to himself, in the Synoptics Jesus always uses the title/expression “Son of Man”, never “Anointed” or “Son (of God)”, and continues to do so here, answering their question in terms of the “Son of Man”
    • They will get their answer when the see him in his glorious/exalted state, presumably at his end-time appearance
    • It is meant as a warning of the impending Judgment by God, marked by the appearance of the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus himself)
    • In a number of passages, Jesus’ clearly does not want his identity as the Anointed One (or Son of God) to be made known publicly prior to his death and resurrection, perhaps to avoid popular misconception and misunderstanding

In my view, the some combination of the first and fourth options provides the best interpretive solution. This will be discussed further in the concluding sections to this Part, which, due to the length required, will continue in a second article. For more on the Son of Man sayings of Jesus, see my Easter season notes and Part 10 of this series.