June 5: Mark 13:11 par

Mark 13:11; Matt 10:19-20; Luke 12:11-12

One of the clearest indications of a development of the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God, within the earliest layers of the Gospel tradition, is the idea that the coming of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration will occur through Jesus, as God’s Anointed representative. As a Spirit-inspired Prophet, uniquely empowered by the holy Spirit of God, Jesus will communicate that same Spirit to others. This is reflected in the saying of the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), discussed in a prior note, and it is also implied in the way that the relationship between Jesus and his disciples is depicted in the Gospels.

The references to the Spirit in the Synoptic account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (esp. in the Lukan version, cf. the prior note on Lk 4:1, 14ff) make clear that his teaching/preaching and his ability to work healing miracles are the result of his being ‘anointed’ by the Spirit (see esp. the use of Isa 61:1ff in Luke 4:17-19ff, also 7:18-23 par). Having gathered around him a group of close disciples, to share in his ministry (Mk 3:13-19 par), Jesus gives to them a share of the same power to preach and work miracles (Mk 6:7-13 par). His disciples thus function as anointed prophets in a manner similar to Jesus himself. We must assume that this activity is likewise Spirit-inspired, even though there is no specific reference to the Spirit in these passages. The situation is comparable to the episode in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), where God allows a group of seventy Israelite elders to share in the same divine Spirit that is “upon” Moses. The Spirit comes upon them, and they each function as a ayb!n` (inspired spokesperson/representative for God, i.e. “prophet”), in a manner similar to Moses. The emphasis in that narrative is on leadership, but it is also clear that the activity of the inspired men includes proclamation and certain kinds of ministry performed throughout the camp (vv. 17, 26ff).

Though no direct mention is made of the Spirit in the Gospel passages dealing with the disciples’ activity during Jesus’ ministry, it is fair to assume that their preaching and miracles, like those of Jesus, were done with the “Spirit/finger of God” (Matt 12:28; Lk 11:20). The only instance where this ministry activity of the disciples is explicitly said to be inspired by the Spirit is the saying in Mark 13:11, for which there is a corresponding version in Matt 10:19-20 / Lk 12:11-12.

The Markan saying is part of the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 13 = Matthew 24 / Luke 21:5-36), the literary setting of which, in the Synoptic narrative, is in Jerusalem, not long before Jesus’ death. The Discourse thus foretells things that will occur after Jesus’ own death and departure. There will be a time of great distress (qli/yi$) for humankind (especially those in Jerusalem and Judea), and this will mean suffering and persecution for Jesus’ disciples as well (vv. 9-13). Jesus announces that his disciples will arrested and interrogated before government tribunals (both Jewish and non-Jewish), but his exhortation to them is that, when this occurs, they should not be anxious about how they are to respond or what they are to say; instead, he assures them:

“…whatever should be given to you in that hour (to say), so you must speak; for you are not the (one)s speaking, rather (it is) the holy Spirit.” (v. 11)

The corresponding saying in Matthew/Luke occurs at a different location in the narrative, but the context would seem to be the same—it relates to things that will take place in the near future, following Jesus’ departure. This fact is obscured by Matthew’s location of it in the setting of the mission of the Twelve (10:5-15). In one sense that location is anachronistic, but it reflects a different organizing principle for the traditional (sayings) material—as with the Eschatological Discourse, it is a literary, rather than a historical/chronological, arrangement. In any case, the Matthean version reads as follows:

“And when they give you along [i.e. over to the authorities], you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should speak; for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but (rather) the Spirit of your Father is the (one) speaking in you.” (10:19-20)

Luke has this saying in yet a different location, at 12:11-12, joined by way of “catchword-bonding” with the saying on the Spirit in 12:10 (discussed in the previous note). The Lukan wording is clearer and cast in a form that would better relate to early Christians in the author’s own time; the relevant portion reads:

“…you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should give forth as an account (of yourself), or what you should say; for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”

The distinctly Lukan elements (glosses) are given in italics—these include the use of the verb a)pologe/omai (“give forth an account”), the emphasis on teaching (vb dida/skw), and the verb form dei= (“it is necessary…”). This must be understood as a Christianized form of the saying, made to apply more directly to the life situation and experience of early Christians. Jesus’ prediction, of course, was admirably fulfilled during the period prior to 70 A.D., as documented by the experience of the apostles and other missionaries in the book of Acts. At several points in the Acts narratives, it is specifically stated that the early Christians respond as inspired spokespersons (i.e. prophets), being moved or “filled” with the Spirit—4:8, 31; 6:3, 5ff; 7:55; 13:9, etc. It goes without saying that this represents a distinctly Christian development of the Old Testament tradition(s) regarding prophetic inspiration. The juxtaposition of the Spirit-inspired prophecy of David (in the Psalms, 4:25, cp. Mk 12:36), with that of the early Christians (4:8, 31), demonstrates that they are parallel concepts of inspiration.

What is especially noteworthy about these references in the book of Acts is how they are specifically tied to the early Christian mission and the proclamation of the Gospel. The “good message”, which had already been proclaimed during the period of Jesus’ ministry (Mk 1:14-15; 6:12; 13:10 par, etc), is now framed in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The primary purpose for the holy Spirit coming upon the early Christians in Jerusalem was their mission to the surrounding nations and the proclamation of the Gospel (1:8; 2:1-4ff), a point that will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. As this proclamation is centered on a basic narration of the events of Jesus’ life (and death), it may be seen as providing a seminal basis for the idea of the inspiration of the Gospels, and even of the New Testament as a whole.

January 8: Baptism (John 3:22-23; 4:1-3; Matt 28:19)

Baptism by Jesus and his Disciples

Having considered the ministry of John the Baptist as the principal source of the early Christian practice of baptism (cf. the previous note), we must now look at how this developed in the Gospel Tradition. This could be examined in terms of the specific tradition regarding Jesus’ own baptism, or the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus; I have discussed those aspects at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (Division 1), and here will simply note the evidence for the continuation of the practice of ritual dunking/washing (i.e. baptism) as performed by Jesus and his disciples. The evidence for this is slight, but important.

John 3:22-23; 4:1-3

The Gospel of John contains the tradition that Jesus and his digsciples performed dunkings/washings (baptisms), apparently continuing the practice from John’s ministry:

“With [i.e. after] these (thing)s, Yeshua and his learners [i.e. disciples] came into the Yehudean {Judean} land, and there he wore through (a path) with them and performed dunkings [e)ba/tpizen]. And Yohanan also was (there) dunking [bapti/zwn] (people) in Aynon near Salim, (in) that [i.e. because] many waters were there, and (people) came to be alongside and were dunked [e)bapti/zonto]” (3:22-23)

“So when Yeshua knew that the Perushis {Pharisees} heard that ‘Yeshua makes and dunks [bapti/zei] more learners [i.e. disciples] than Yohanan’ —yet, indeed, Yeshua did not perform dunkings [e)ba/tpizen], but (only) his learners—he left Yehudah and went (away) from (there) again into the Galîl.” (4:1-3)

These are the only references in the Gospels which state that Jesus’ disciples performed baptisms during the period of his ministry. The use of the imperfect tense in 3:22 and 4:2 indicates that this was regular activity, done repeatedly. One may only guess as to why there is no other mention of this (and none in the Synoptic Gospels); it may be part of a general tendency among early Christians to separate themselves from followers of John the Baptist. Something of this rivalry is indicated in these very passages (cf. also Acts 18:25; 19:1-7), and is almost certainly related to the strong emphasis in chapters 1-3 on the contrast between John and Jesus, making clear the superiority of Jesus and his identity as the Messiah (1:6-9, 15, 19-27, 29-34, 35-37). This is very much the focus here in 3:22-36, where the historical notice in vv. 22-23 leads into the testimony of John (on his place in relation to Jesus, vv. 25-30), and the Christological exposition that follows (vv. 31-36).

Given this concern over subordinating John (and his ministry) to Jesus—something also seen, to a lesser extent, in the Synoptic Tradition—the detail that Jesus’ disciples continued to perform similar baptisms may be trusted as authentic (on entirely objective grounds). It is not the sort of thing that early Christians would be inclined to invent. That Jesus’ disciples would continue dunking people in the manner of John is not surprising, considering that, according to Jn 1:35ff, at least two of Jesus’ first disciples (Andrew being one) had previously been followers of John. Many critical commentators would go further that this, claiming that Jesus himself had begun as John’s disciple. In point of fact, from a theological standpoint, there is nothing at all unacceptable about this theory, though doubtless the idea will make many Christians uncomfortable. If Jesus had been a disciple of John, it was preparatory to the beginning of his own ministry, which also marks the start of the core Gospel narrative, in which we see John ‘passing the mantle’ over to Jesus.

Apart from the aforementioned critical theory, there are certain key similarities between the ministry of Jesus (especially in its beginnings) and that of John:

    • An emphasis on the need for repentance in light of the coming kingdom of God (and the Judgment)—Mark 1:4, 15 par, etc; Matt 3:7-8ff par; indeed, Matthew has John and Jesus declaring the same message (3:2; 4:17)
    • Both tended to frequent desert/wilderness locations
    • They both quickly gained popularity, drawing crowds around them
    • They each were similarly identified as Messianic figures, especially the Anointed Prophet according to the pattern of Elijah (cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”)

Given these basic similarities, there is every reason to think that the baptisms performed by Jesus and his disciples had the same religious and symbolic significance as those performed by John—that is, they symbolized the washing/cleansing from sin, when accompanied by confession and repentance.

Matthew 28:19

The only other Gospel reference to the disciples baptizing is in the “Great Commission” that closes the Gospel of Matthew (28:18-20). While this passage is unique to Matthew, it corresponds roughly to similar post-resurrection commission scenes in Luke (24:44-49) and John (20:21-23), as well as in the Markan ‘Long Ending’ ([16:14-18]). The central statement in the Matthean commission is verse 19 (cp. [Mk 16:16]):

“So (then), traveling (out) you must make all the nations (to be) learners [i.e. disciples], dunking [bapti/zonte$] them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

Many critical commentators are inclined to doubt or question the authenticity of the trinitarian formula here, regarding it instead as a reflection of early Christian belief (rather than Jesus’ own words at the time). I discuss this, along with other critical issues, in an earlier set of notes on Matt 28:18-20 and Lk 24:44-49 (Notes 1, 2, 3, 4). To repeat here several arguments in favor of authenticity (on objective grounds):

    • The instruction regarding baptism itself, as well as most of Matt 28:18-20 in context, is fully compatible with the sayings and teaching of the historical Jesus, based on an entirely objective analysis of the Gospel Tradition. For a number of examples and references illustrating this, cf. the aforementioned notes.
    • The common elements and parallels between the various post-resurrection Commission passages in the Gospels, which surely represent separate strands of tradition (given their differences), strongly suggest an underlying historical core.
    • Luke 24:47-49 provides independent attestation for the inclusion of a baptismal ‘formula’ as part of the Commission, which is also associated with the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Acts 2:38) and the Father. The other points of similarity between Lk 24:47-49 and Matt 28:18-20 were noted earlier.

On the contrary, one must, I think, be willing to admit that:

    • Many of the parallels and similarities cited (in the earlier note) are relatively loose, and could be said to be outweighed by the significant differences in detail. On the basis of traditional-conservative desire to harmonize, it would actually prove quite difficult to piece together all of these details (and separate Commission passages) into a genuinely convincing whole (judged honestly and objectively).
    • Assuming that Matt 28:19 is authentic, it is most strange that there really is no evidence for it (or its influence) anywhere else in the New Testament. By all accounts, based on the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, early believers were only ever baptized “in the name of Jesus” (to be discussed in the next daily note). If the apostles and early Christians were following Jesus’ example and instruction (as presumably they would be), then it is likely that Jesus’ original saying would have been something along the lines of: “baptizing them in my name…” (cf. Lk 24:47 / Acts 2:38)
    • The earliest attestation for the saying/instruction of Matt 28:19 is found in Didache 7:1, 3, which is typically dated from the early 2nd (or late 1st) century A.D. A fair date for the traditions in the Didache might be c. 70-80 A.D., which likely coincides with the completed form of the Gospel of Matthew. The trinitarian form (and formula) of baptism is attested in the second and third centuries, but, as far as we know, not earlier than c. 70 A.D.

In the next note, I will explore this idea of being baptized in the name of Jesus, which represents a distinctive early Christian development of baptism itself.

Women in the Church, Part 7: The Gospels and Acts

Having explored the subject of Women in the Church in the Pauline Letters, it is now time to turn and examine the relevant information from the Gospel Tradition, and in the book of Acts. I will be dividing this article according to the following outline:

    1. Sayings and Teachings of Jesus
    2. Jesus’ Interaction with Women (in the Gospel Narratives)
    3. Followers of Jesus in Gospel Tradition
    4. The Role of Mary
    5. Women in Luke-Acts

1. Sayings and Teachings of Jesus

There are actually very few sayings by Jesus involving women recorded in the canonical Gospels, and most of these are simply proverbial and tell us relatively little about his views on the position of women and gender relations. Women are featured in a couple of parables (Matt 13:33 par; Luke 15:8; 18:2-5) as stock characters. Two groups of sayings are perhaps a bit more significant:

(a) Traditional references to a woman’s pains in giving birth, symbolic of the suffering of the human condition—especially in association with the coming Judgment at the end-time (Mark 13:8, 17 par), which, in the Gospel narrative is set generally in the context of Jesus’ own suffering and death (cf. Luke 23:28-29; John 16:21).
(b) The illustrative image of the widow, again as a typical figure symbolizing human suffering and injustice—Mark 12:40-43 par; Luke 4:25-26; 18:2-5; cf. also Lk 7:12.

In several passages, Jesus addresses the topic of marriage, most notably in: (1) the sayings/discourse regarding divorce (Mark 10:2ff, par Matt 19:3ff; Matt 5:31-32; Luke 16:18); and (2) the case involving marriage and the resurrection (Mark 12:18-27 par). The latter passage seems to downplay the importance of marriage, to some extent; and, indeed, one detects an ascetic tinge in a number of Jesus’ sayings, such as Mark 10:29ff par; Matt 19:12. By all accounts, Jesus himself never married; and, according to the narrative context of Mk 10:29f, a number of his disciples had apparently left their families in order to follow Jesus (v. 28). In this regard, it is interesting to note an extra-canonical saying of Jesus which goes a step further in denying the significance of sexuality and gender distinction among believers. It is preserved in at least three sources—the (Coptic) Gospel of Thomas saying 22; 2 Clement 12; and in Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.13.[92] (attributed to the “Gospel of the Egyptians”). Gosp. Thom. 22 is presumably the earliest occurrence (late-1st/early-2nd century):

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to His disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the Kingdom.” They said to Him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the Kingdom?” Jesus said to them,

“When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter [the Kingdom].” (Translation by Thomas O. Lambdin)

This (purported) saying has similarities with mystic-ascetic and “Gnostic” thought, as attested, e.g., in the Gospel of Philip §73, 78, and Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.15 (citing teachings of the Naassene sect). In 2 Clement 12:5 the saying of Jesus is explained to the effect that a male believer should not look upon a female believer as a woman, that is, according to her sexuality or physical/biological gender (cf. Gal 3:28).

2. Jesus’ Interaction with Women

The Gospels record a number of episodes in which Jesus interacts with women. In some of these narratives he is depicted as disregarding or challenging certain social (and religious) conventions regarding the proper interaction of men and women—at least, the narratives may be read this way. Note, for example, the reaction of Jesus’ (male) disciples in Jn 4:27. Most significant, perhaps, is his friendship with Martha and Mary (the sisters of Lazarus, acc. to Jn 11:1-3); the authenticity of this relationship is confirmed by the fact that it is attested (independently) in at least two separate strands of tradition—Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1-44; 12:1-11. The declaration by Martha in Jn 11:27 regarding Jesus’ identity (as Anointed One [Messiah] and Son of God) holds a place in the Fourth Gospel similar to that of Peter’s confession in the Synoptics (Mk 8:29 / Lk 9:20 / Matt 16:16). At the very least, this indicates that Martha (and Mary) were believers and followers of Jesus (cf. below).

Many of the episodes show Jesus responding with compassion to the poor and outcast elements of society—a familiar and popular theme in the Gospel tradition. This produced some degree of negative reaction, even scandal, from onlookers and opponents, much as his willingness to associate with “sinners” (Mk 2:15-17 par; Lk 7:39; 19:7, etc). These are the episodes of note (“par” indicates parallel narratives in the other Synoptic Gospels; negative reactions are indicated by the verses in square brackets):

    • Healing of the women with a discharge of blood (hemorrhage)—Mark 5:25-34 par
    • Healing (exorcism) of the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman—Mark 7:24-30 par [note the exchange in vv. 27-28]
    • Healing (resurrection) of a widow’s son—Luke 7:11-17
    • Healing of a crippled woman—Luke 13:10-17 [v. 14]
    • Discussion with the Samaritan woman—John 4:1-42 [v. 27, a woman and a Samaritan no less!]
    • Response to the “adulterous” woman—John 7:53-8:11 [vv. 3-5] (an authentic tradition, if not part of the original Gospel)
    • Response to the “sinful” woman who anointed him—Luke 7:36-50 [vv. 39ff]
    • Response to the woman who anointed him at Bethany—Mark 14:3-9 par in Matt [vv. 4-5]; in John 12:1-8 the woman is identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus (the precise relationship between the two version, as well as Lk 7:36-50, remains much debated). Later tradition conflated the two figures—Mary and the “sinful” woman—with Mary Magdalene (also healed by Jesus according to Lk 8:2, and cf. below).

3. Followers of Jesus

By all accounts, the first followers of Jesus (those called by him) were all men. This is certainly true with regard to his closest disciples, the circle of Twelve in early Gospel tradition (Mark 3:13-19 par; Acts 1:13, 16ff). These were the men whom Jesus sent out, on at least one occasion, to preach and work miracles in his name (Mk 6:7-12 / Matt 10:5-15 / Lk 9:1-6; 22:35ff). This is the fundamental meaning of the word apostle, from a)poste/llw (“set/send forth”); and the Twelve were closely identified with this title in early Tradition (Mk 3:14; 6:30 par; Lk 22:14; Acts 1:2, 25-26, etc). Luke records a separate tradition (or version) where Jesus sends out a group of 70 (or 72) disciples on a similar mission (10:1-12); most likely these also were men, though this has to be inferred from the context. This limitation of discipleship and missionary work to men may simply be a product of historical circumstance, since the idea of itinerant female preachers and healers traveling about would have been shocking indeed to the cultural sensibilities of the time. And yet, we do have at least one notice that there were women followers of Jesus, in Luke 8:1-3, where it is stated that Jesus passed through the cities and villages “proclaiming the good message of the kingdom of God…”

“…and the Twelve (together) with him, and (also) some women th(at) had been healed from evil spirits and infirmities… who served/ministered to them [i.e. Jesus and the Twelve] out of the (thing)s under their (control) [i.e. their goods/possessions]”

These women are identified as: (1) Maryam {Mary} called Magdalene, (2) Ioanna {Joanna} wife of Chuzas, (3) Susanna, as well as “many others”. It would seem that their service was more or less limited to material aid and support. This same tradition is confirmed by (and may actually derive from) the notice in Mark 15:40-41. Indeed, the women followers of Jesus play an important role in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, part of the earliest Gospel narrative, and attested variously in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John):

    • There were women standing a distance away, watching the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:40-41, par Matt 27:55-56; Luke 23:49; also John 19:25). It is said that they had come with Jesus from Galilee, where they had helped in the work of ministry (Mk 15:41, cf. above). Mark and Matthew single out three who will take part in the next episode—Mary Magalene, Mary mother of James (and Joses), and Salome. Luke likewise mentions the first two (Lk 24:10), while John records a different set of four (or three) women who stand nearby: Mary (Jesus’ mother), Mary’s sister and/or Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
    • At least some of these women continued watching as Jesus was taken down from the cross, to see where he would be buried. Each of the Synoptics narrates this somewhat differently:
      Mark 15:47: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of (James and) Joses saw where Jesus was buried
      Matt 27:61: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting opposite the tomb
      Lk 23:55-56: The women followed and saw where/how he was buried, then returned to prepare spices and ointment
    • According to Synoptic tradition, Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James/Joses came early the next morning to see the tomb (Matt 28:1) and anoint the body (Mark 16:1-2; Lk 24:1). Mark mentions a third woman (Salome), while Luke may indicate the presence of others as well (Lk 24:10). The tradition(s) recorded in John differ in that Nicodemus brings the spices, etc to anoint Jesus before his burial (Jn 19:39-40) and Mary Magdalene is the only woman said to come to the tomb that morning (Jn 20:1ff).
    • The women (as variously mentioned): (a) see the empty tomb, (b) are greeted by angel(s) announcing the resurrection, and (c) encounter the resurrected Jesus. This common outline is old and reliable, but the specific details in the narrative (Mk 16:1-8, [9-11]; Matt 28:10; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1-2, 11-18) vary to an astonishing degree, and are actually extremely difficult to harmonize intelligibly (for those who wish to do so).
    • The women (or certain of them) report the empty tomb and the resurrection to the other disciples, including the Twelve (Matt 28:10, 11, 16; Luke 24:9-12, 22-24; John 20:2ff, 17-18; [Mark 16:9-11]).

It can be said that Mary Magdalene, and other of the women, were the first to see the resurrected Jesus, and the first to preach the Gospel (i.e. announce the resurrection). Understandably, this has been a popular point to make by modern-day preachers, in relation to the question of the role of women in the Church. The point is dramatized even further by the tradition of the disbelief of the disciples (including the Twelve) at hearing the news ([Mark 16:11, 14]; Luke 24:11). This detail is likely to be authentic (on objective grounds), since the later tendency was to downplay anything which cast the apostles in a negative light (but see how it also enhances Peter’s role, Lk 24:12 cf. Jn 20:3ff).

According to Acts 1:14, women were together (along with Jesus’ mother Mary) with the Twelve in the ‘upper room’ following Jesus’ ascension, and may have been present (at the historical level) in the post-resurrection scenes in which Jesus addresses and commissions his followers (Matt 28:16-20; Luke 24:33-49, 50-53; John 20:19-29). Acts 1:4-11 seems to assume only the Twelve (Eleven), as also in Mark [16:14-20]. In 1 Cor 15:6, Paul mentions an appearance by Jesus to more than 500 disciples, which certainly would have included a good number of women (cf. below). Somewhat surprisingly, Mary Magdalene does not seem to be part of early Christian tradition (outside of the resurrection accounts) and is not mentioned in the book of Acts.

4. The Role of Mary, Jesus’ Mother

Of all the women in Christian Tradition, (the Virgin) Mary, mother of Jesus is by far the most prominent. And yet, it is quite surprising how little she appears in the earliest strands of tradition. In the core Synoptic tradition, she hardly appears at all, briefly in one episode (Mark 3:31ff par); otherwise, she is only mentioned in Mk 6:3 / Matt 13:55. She has a somewhat larger role in two scenes in the Gospel of John—the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:3-5) and with the women and the ‘Beloved’ disciple at the cross (Jn 19:25-27). The latter episode presumably has greater symbolic meaning, perhaps suggesting that Mary is now the “mother” of the disciples (i.e. the Church). Of course, she is central to the Infancy narratives in Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2 (as well as in later extra-canonical Gospels), and this would be the primary basis for the subsequent Catholic/Orthodox veneration of Mary, already evidenced in the so-called Proto-Gospel (Protevangelium) of James (early-mid 2nd century).

It is the Lukan narrative in which Mary plays the most prominent role, in several significant scenes:

    • Lk 1:26-38—The Angelic announcement of Jesus’ coming conception (and birth), indicating how she has been favored by God (v. 30), and will be touched by the presence and power of God (vv. 35-37)
    • Lk 1:39-56—The visit to Elizabeth, who utters the inspired blessing (vv. 42-45), and which is the occasion/setting for the oracle by Mary (in a few MSS it is by Elizabeth), the so-called Magnificat (vv. 46-55)
    • Lk 2:1-20—The birth and visit of the Shepherds; most significant is the statement in verse 19 that Mary “kept all these utterances [i.e. by the shepherds, etc] (close) together, throwing (them) together in her heart”. This shows her in the process of considering the meaning and significance of Jesus’ birth and the wondrous events associated with it.
    • Lk 2:22-35ff—The encounter with Simeon set in the Temple precincts, in the context of fulfilling the purification ritual (following childbirth), etc (vv. 22-24). Such details are brought out, in part, to show the faithfulness/devotion of Joseph and Mary in religious matters (vv. 21, 39, 41ff, 51). A portion of Simeon’s oracle is directed to Mary (v. 35, cf. my earlier note for more detail).

We may also mention her role in 2:41-51, which contains at least one important point of emphasis: that Jesus’ natural (family) relations are subordinate to his relationship to God (the Father), cf. the juxtaposition in vv. 44, 46, 48, and Jesus’ famous statement in v. 49.

According to some commentators, Luke’s version of the episode in Mark 3:31-35 par has been (re)interpreted to show that Mary, along with Jesus’ natural family (brothers, etc), are among those who believe and follow him (cf. the separate note on Lk 8:19-21). Whether or not this view is correct, Mary is clearly depicted as a believer in Acts 1:14, where she appears together with the Twelve (Eleven) apostles, other women followers, and (notably) Jesus’ brothers (at least some of them). Interestingly, Mary is not mentioned by name elsewhere in the New Testament, being referenced only indirectly in Gal 4:4 (cf. also Rom 1:3), and possibly the scene in Revelation 12 (vv. 4b-6).

5. Women in Luke-Acts

Many scholars and commentators have noted that, generally, the Gospel of Luke gives more attention to women. In addition to the expanded role of Mary in the Infancy narratives, etc (cf. above), we may point out the following episodes or details unique to Luke:

    • The role of Elizabeth (Lk 1:5-7, 13, 18, 24-25, 36, 39-56, 57-60ff), set parallel to Mary (part of the wider John/Jesus parallel in the narrative); she, like her husband Zechariah (vv. 67-79) is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and utters a prophetic announcement (vv. 42-45). In a few manuscripts, she is also the one who delivers the Magnificat (vv. 46-55).
    • The mention and description of Anna (2:36-38), a (female) prophet, just as Simeon was inspired to utter a prophetic oracle. They both are aged figures, frequenting the Temple precincts, representative of the righteous/pious ones of Israel (i.e., the Old Covenant) who are looking forward to the coming redemption (vv. 25, 38).
    • Sayings, parables and healing miracles involving women (cf. above)—Lk 4:25-26; 7:11-17; 13:10-17; 15:8-10; 18:2-5. As indicated above (section 1), such episodes in the Gospel tradition tend to relate to human suffering and injustice, which often afflicts women who are in an especially vulnerable position (widows, etc). Luke gives greater emphasis to matters involving the poor/outcast and what today we would call social justice. To these we can add the scene of Jesus being anointed by a “sinful” woman (7:36-50), seemingly a parallel version or ‘doublet’ of Mark 14:3-9 par; John 12:1-8, but with many important differences. Note also the scene on the way to the cross in Lk 23:28-29.
    • References to Mary Magdalene and the other women who followed Jesus—Lk 8:1-3; 23:49, 55-56; 24:1-12, 22-24—which, for the most part, Luke inherited as part of the wider Gospel (and Synoptic) Tradition (cf. above).

When we turn to the book of Acts, right away we see women, including Jesus’ mother Mary, among the close followers of Jesus waiting together in Jerusalem, in the ‘upper room’ (Acts 1:13-14). Women are certainly to be counted among the 120 who are likewise gathered together (1:15ff), and present when the Spirit comes upon them all on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4ff). This interpretation of the scenario is confirmed by the use of Joel 2:28-32 in the great Pentecost sermon-speech by Peter which follows (2:14-36, vv. 17-21). In that Scripture God declares that (in the last days)

“…I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and daughters will prophesy…”
“(yes,) even upon my (male) slaves and my (female) slaves will I pour out from my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy…”

The implication is clear: God gives out his Spirit upon all believers equally, male and female alike, regardless of socio-economic position (i.e., even upon slaves). The implications of this equality are not really followed through in the narrative of Acts, but they are dealt with, to some extent, by Paul in his letters (cf. the earlier articles in this series, esp. Parts 1 and 3 on 1 Cor 11:2-16 and Gal 3:28). The only female prophets specifically mentioned in the book of Acts are the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). There are also several passages where believers are distinctly referenced as “men and women” (5:14; 8:3, 12; 9:2; 22:4; cf. also 17:4, 12). These references should not be limited to men and their wives—they are unquestionably to be read in the more general sense of male and female believers. Several of the verses refer to men and women sharing together in the persecution faced by believers (8:3; 9:2; 22:4). Elsewhere in the narratives, there are a number of episodes where specific women are involved; in at least some of these, we can infer that they likely played a significant role in the spread of Christianity and the establishment of churches:

    • 9:36-42—The disciple Tabitha/Dorcas, who was healed from a serious illness by Peter
    • 12:12ff—Mary the mother of John Mark, whose house apparently was used as a meeting-place for believers (a house-church? cf. Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15)
    • 16:11-15—Lydia, who along with other (prominent) women of Philippi, became believers during the missionary work of Paul and Silas (and Timothy, etc); she apparently hosted Paul and his companions in her house for a time (v. 15)
    • 17:34—Damaris, a woman specifically mentioned, apparently one of the few converts during Paul’s brief (and turbulent) stay in Athens
    • 18:2ff, 18, 26—Priscilla (or Prisca), with her husband Aquila, was a leader/minister in the churches of Corinth (1 Cor 16:19), Ephesus (cf. 2 Tim 4:19), and then (apparently) back in Rome (Rom 16:3). They hosted congregations in their house, and were close companions of Paul. Priscilla was a capable enough teacher in the faith to instruct Apollos “more accurately… (about) the Way [of God]” (Acts 18:26); the extent to which she may have done this in consort with her husband would seem to be of relatively little importance. However, it appears to have been troubling enough for the author/editor(s) of the “Western” version of Acts (D gig syr copsah arm al), that her name was either omitted from the text or placed after her husband’s (cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary [2nd edition], pp. 413-14). Some traditional-conservative commentators today might sense the same difficulty.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 2 (Mk 14:12-25)

The Passover: Jesus with his Disciples

The second episode of the Passion Narrative in the Synoptics is the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his disciples the night of his arrest. In the Synoptic tradition, this “Last Supper” was unquestionably part of the Passover celebration. This setting was established in the narrative introduction (Mk 14:1 par), and is affirmed again at the start of this episode (vv. 12ff). The Passover setting of the Passion narrative is just as clear in the Gospel of John (12:1; 13:1, etc); however, as you may be aware (and as we shall see), there are significant chronological differences between John and the Synoptics on this point.

Mark 14:12-25 (par Matt 26:17-29; Lk 22:7-39)

There is a clear and simple three-part division to this episode in the Synoptics, as illustrated first by the Gospel of Mark:

    1. The Preparation (vv. 12-16)
    2. The Passover scene at mealtime (vv. 17-21)
    3. Institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (vv. 22-25)

Each of these parts has a specific thematic association:

    • Vv. 12-16—The Passover
    • Vv. 17-21—The Betrayal by Judas
    • Vv. 22-25—The Suffering and Death of Jesus

This thematic structure was probably inherited by the Gospel writer from the early tradition, though it is possible that he played a significant role in emphasizing it within the narrative. Each of the parts will be discussed in turn, beginning with Mark and then examining the parallels in Matthew and Luke to see how the tradition(s) may have been modified or developed.

Mark 14:12-16 / Matt 26:17-19 / Luke 22:7-13

There are two basic elements to the tradition in vv. 12-16 which, we may assume, caused it to be included in the core narrative: (1) the significance and importance of the Passover, and (2) an early historical tradition regarding the specific location (the “upper room”) in which the meal took place. With regard to the first point, the importance of Passover is indicated by the careful preparations that are made for it. Jesus gives specific instructions to his disciples (vv. 13-15), though it is not entirely clear whether this reflects arrangements which had already been made or, in particualar, special foreknowledge by Jesus as to how things would come about. The parallel with the preparations for his “triumphal entry” (11:2-6 par) suggest that the Gospel writer(s) understood it in the latter sense.

Matthew and Luke both follow the Markan narrative with relatively little variation. Matthew’s account (26:17-19) is briefer and simpler, as is typically so for this writer when developing the Tradition. Luke (22:7-13) follows Mark much more closely, including the detail of the Passover sacrifice (v. 7). However, there are a couple of notable differences (in v. 8):

    • Jesus appears to take the initiative with the disciples (cp. Mk 14:12b), and
    • The two disciples are identified as Peter and John; this detail most likely represents a development of the tradition, according to the early Christian tendency toward identifying otherwise unnamed figures.

The initial directive by Jesus in Luke’s version also serves to give added emphasis to the Passover theme.

Mark 14:17-21 / Matt 26:20-25 / Luke 22:14-38

The Passover meal itself is the setting for vv. 17-21ff, though the meal itself is really only described (partially) in Luke’s version. The primary focus of this scene in the Synoptic tradition is the dramatic moment of the identification of Judas as the betrayer. This may be outlined as follows:

  • The narrative setting (v. 17)
    • The initial declaration by Jesus (v. 18)
    • The disciples’ reaction (v. 19)
    • The second declaration by Jesus (v. 20)
    • The Son of Man saying (v. 21)

Note how the dramatic purpose of Jesus’ twin declaration is to identify the betrayer:

    • “…one out of you will give me along [i.e. betray me], the one eating with me” (v. 18)
    • “(It is) one of the Twelve, the one dipping in with me into the dish” (v. 20)

The first declaration indicates that it is one of Jesus’ disciples who is present, eating at the table with him. The second further identifies the man as one of the Twelve—i.e. one of Jesus’ closest disciples. This level of intimacy is also indicated by the parallel: “eating with me”—”dipping into the dish with me”. Possibly there is an allusion here to Psalm 41:9, an association specifically made (by Jesus) in John’s Gospel (13:18), and one which would doubtless have been recognized by early Christians familiar with the Scriptures. The Son of Man saying in verse 21 is the most distinctive element of the narrative, and unquestionably reflects a very early and well-established tradition:

“(On the one hand) the Son of Man leads (himself) under [i.e. goes away] even as it has been written about him, but (on the other hand) woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is given along [i.e. betrayed]! Fine for him if that man had not come to be (born) (at all)!”

As in the earlier scene, Matthew (26:20-25) follows Mark closely, but again narrates in simpler fashion. He includes one detail which would seem to reflect a development of the tradition: in verse 25, Judas (identified by the author as “the one giving him [i.e. Jesus] along”) asks “Is (it) I, Rabbi?”, to which Jesus responds “You (have) said (it)”. It is rather an odd detail; its inclusion may be meant, in part, as a foreshadowing of Judas’ greeting at the moment of the arrest, where he also uses the honorific title “Rabbi” (v. 49).

Luke’s Gospel shows far more extensive development of the tradition here. The main differences are: (1) the identification of Judas and Son of Man saying occur after the institution of the Lord’s Supper (22:21-23), and (2) two blocks of teaching are included (vv. 24-30, 35-38)—one after the Lord’s Supper and the other after the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34). These differences will be discussed in the upcoming note on Luke 22:14-38.

Mark 14:22-25 / Matt 26:26-29 / Luke 22:17-20

These verses preserve the important early Christian tradition of the institution of the “Lord’ Supper”. Their significance will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming note, but here will be helpful to observe the basic tradition as it is preserved by Mark (and Matthew). The outline is very simple:

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

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

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

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

Once again, Matthew (26:26-29) follows Mark, though with a couple of key differences (marked by italics):

    • “Take (it and) eat…”
    • “…poured out unto the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins
    • “…that day when I should drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father

Generally these details (along with a couple of other small modifications) appear to reflect a degree of development, an expanding of the core tradition with added information or emphasis. This will be discussed further, along with Luke’s unique presentation of this material, and the parallel tradition recorded by Paul (in 1 Cor 11:23-26), over the next two notes.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 3 (Mk 2:23-28; Mt 12:1-8; Lk 6:1-5)

Mark 2:23-28 par—Sabbath Controversy #1

Following the method I have adopted for this series, I begin with the Gospel of Mark, as generally representing the basic Synoptic tradition. However, in this instance, there are at least two points where a distinct Markan addition may be involved. For the context of this episode within the Gospel narrative, cf. the previous note.

The structure of the scene is reasonably simple and straightforward:

    • The narrative setting and action—the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath (v. 23)
    • Reaction by certain Pharisees (v. 24)
    • Jesus’ answer to them—an example from Scripture (vv. 25-26)
    • Saying(s) of Jesus (vv. 27-28)

The saying (or pair of saying) in verses 27-28 provides the central significance of the scene and characterizes it as a pronouncement episode (the earlier scene in vv. 13-17 is another such episode). Let us briefly examine each of the four components in vv. 23-28:

Verse 23—The scene is set: “And it came to be (that)….”. Jesus and his disciples are traveling along, and, as they make their way through some fields, the disciples begin to pluck the heads of grain from the stalks. The centrality of the Sabbath setting is established by the relative emphatic position of the phrase “on (one of) the Shabbat (day)s” toward the beginning of the verse. The plural usage is fairly common, indicating the regularity of the day, as marking each week of the year.

Verse 24—Some Pharisees react with disapproval at the disciples’ behavior. The narrative leads one to imagine that they are right there standing in the fields watching; but it more plausibly represents the type of reaction that Jesus’ traditional-religious opponents (i.e. among the Pharisees) had to the (regular) behavior of he and his disciples. Their question to Jesus is “For what [i.e. why] do (your followers) do on the Sabbath (day)s th(at) which is not allowed?” The word translated “allowed” here is the verb e&cesti, which is difficult to render into English literally, but fundamentally refers to something which comes out of (e)c) a person—i.e. that one has the ability to do. From this is developed the idea of a person’s freedom to do something, and, by extension, that there are no obstacles against doing it—i.e. one is allowed or permitted to do it. Here, in the context of the Old Testament Law (Torah) this means what the Law permits (or does not permit). For the background to the Sabbath observance involved in this passage (cf. Exod 34:21, etc), consult my earlier discussion on the Sabbath controversy episodes in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

Verses 25-26—In response, Jesus cites an example from Scripture, from the life of David (1 Sam 21:1-6). Even though, in the context of that passage, the Temple had not yet been built, and the sanctuary (at the time) was located at the site of Nob, it is referred to as the “house of God” (o( oi@ko$ tou= qeou=), which could be applied easily enough to the Jerusalem Temple, as we see in Matthew’s version (below). The basic message is clear enough: caring for human need (in this case, hunger) takes precedence over religious regulations (i.e. the Temple ritual, cf. Lev 24:5-9).

Verses 27-28—The episode culminates with a saying by Jesus (or, possibly, a pair of sayings). It is not entirely clear whether the Gospel here has joined together separate sayings by Jesus, or whether they entered into the tradition originally as a dual-saying. In my view, the latter is more likely. Here is the two-fold saying as it reads in Mark:

“The Shabbat {Sabbath} (day) is through [i.e. because of] the man, and not the man through the Shabbat (day)”
“So too the S/son of M/man is L/lord also of the Shabbat (day)”

The saying in verse 27 is relatively straightforward, though commentators have not always grasped the full consequence of it. Jesus essentially reverses the original sense of the Sabbath Law (and tradition)—it was instituted to commemorate God ceasing (or “resting”) from His work of Creation (Exod 20:8-11, etc). Yet Jesus states that it was put in place “through [dia] man”—that is, on behalf of, for the purpose and benefit of, human beings. This, of course, is also part of the basic Sabbath Law (Exod 16:23-29, etc). But in this context—with the emphasis on the care and concern for the needs of human beings—the Sabbath regulation takes on a humanitarian, rather than ritual, purpose. Given the thrust of verse 27, it is possible that v. 28 is parallel to it. In the Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) idiom, the expression “son of man” is often synonymous with “man”, the two being set as parallel frequently in Hebrew poetry, i.e. “man…son of man…” (Num 23:19; Job 16:21; Psalm 8:4; Isa 51:12, et al). In such instances, it refers to humankind generally. If this is the sense in which Jesus uses it here, then the dual saying would be understood something like:

“The Sabbath was put in place for man, not man for the Sabbath
Even so, is man the lord of the Sabbath!”

In other sayings and situations, however, Jesus uses the expression “son of man” in a different sense—(1) in reference to himself, both as a human being, and/or as the Chosen One of God, and (2) specifically identifying himself as the divine/heavenly representative of God (“the Son of Man”) who will appear at the end-time Judgment. For more on this subject, cf. the article in my series “Yeshua the Anointed”. There can be little doubt that Matthew and Luke understood the expression here as a self-title of Jesus (cf. below).

Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5

This brings us to the tradition as it appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both Gospels generally follow the Markan narrative, with three notable differences:

    • They refer to the disciples plucking the heads of grain and eating (Matt 12:1; Lk 6:1) them. This has to be inferred from the narrative in Mark, but the detail places greater emphasis on the theme of caring for human needs (i.e. hunger)—indeed, Matthew specifically mentions that the disciples were hungry.
    • They each omit, or otherwise do not include, any mention of the (High) Priest who served at Nob (12:3f; 6:3f). Most critical commentators, who hold that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, believe that the reference was left out intentionally, since mention of Abiathar as the Priest would seem to represent an inaccuracy by Mark (consult the standard Commentaries for more on this point). It is less likely to be a Markan addition to the core Synoptic tradition, but that is still a possibility; even an early scribal addition or gloss might be considered.
    • Neither Matthew nor Luke has the saying corresponding to Mk 2:27.

This last detail is especially significant, since the lack of any reference to the first saying (about man) effectively removes the possibility that the expression “son of man” is meant in the generic sense in the second saying (12:8; 6:5, cf. above). In Matthew and Luke, almost certainly, it is understood as a (self-)title of Jesus and should be translated so—i.e., “Son of Man”. The saying then takes on a different emphasis; Jesus is identifying himself as the “Lord of the Sabbath”. The implication of this is clear enough—as the Lord over the Sabbath, Jesus’ words and actions, his ministry and personal presence, take precedence over the Sabbath laws. Whether or not the Pharisees properly interpret the regulations ultimately is beside the point; the emphasis is on Jesus’ authority over the Sabbath.

If there were any doubt in this regard, Matthew’s version makes it abundantly clear, by way of the ‘additions’ which are found in verses 5-7. These are three-fold:

    1. A second example from Scripture involving the Priesthood (v. 5), which makes the point in a different manner—the priests who work in the Temple on the Sabbath day are not guilty of violating the Sabbath.
    2. A saying involving the Temple (v. 6): “(one) greater than the Temple is here”. Compare the form of similar sayings (from the so-called “Q” material) in Matt 11:11; 12:41-42 par. Jesus takes the point a step further by essentially declaring himself to be greater than the Temple. The implication, in light of the example in v. 5, is that those who work in his service (i.e. his disciples) on the Sabbath do not violate it. It is but a small step to extend this principle to the entire Temple ritual, and, indeed, the Law (Torah) as a whole. On this, see the detailed discussions in the series “Jesus and the Law“.
    3. A citation from Hosea 6:6—(in Greek) “I wish (for) mercy, not (ritual) slaughter [i.e. sacrifice]”. Jesus quotes this same verse earlier (Matt 9:13 par), part of the core Synoptic tradition. Here it is even more pointed, in relationship to observance of the Law—”If you had known what (this) is [i.e. what the Scripture means]…you would not have brought down ju(dgment) (on) the (one)s (who are) without cause (of guilt)!” I.e., human beings (and, especially, Jesus’ own followers) who care for ordinary needs through ‘work’ on the Sabbath (even if it technically violates the regulations) are not guilty of any such violation.

Verse 5 would be categorized as “M” material (i.e. a tradition found only in Matthew); most likely this is so for the sayings in v. 6 and 7 as well, but these are harder to judge, on critical grounds. Regardless of the source of these traditions, their presence in Matthew’s version evinces an unmistakable development of the tradition. His version of the episode goes beyond the Markan and Lukan accounts, giving it a Christological resonance lacking in the other versions. Not only is Jesus the Son of Man and Lord of the Sabbath—but his authority is greater than even the Law and the Temple itself.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Jn 7:1-9)

The past two notes have examined the traditions regarding the family/relatives of Jesus in Mark 3:20-21, 31-35 par. While the Gospel of John does not preserve these specific episodes, it does contain a separate tradition which has a rough similarity to Mk 3:20-21.

John 7:1-9

In John 7:1, we find Jesus in Galilee, presumably somewhere near his home town (Capernaum? cf. Jn 6:17, 59). It is about the time of the Sukkoth festival (Booths/Tabernacles), and the celebration of this festival, in Jerusalem, will serve as the setting for the discourses of Jesus in chapters 7-8ff. Verses 1-9 serve as an introduction to traditional material and sayings/discourses which follow. Within this framework, the Gospel writer appears to have included a tradition regarding the insensitivity of Jesus’ family (his brothers) to his ministry, much as we see in Mk 3:21. This is recorded in vv. 3-8 as a simple dialogue; note the overall structure of the opening section (which I give here as a chiasm):

  • The narrative setting—Jesus in Galilee (Capernaum?) prior to the festival (vv. 1-2)
    • Statement by Jesus’ brothers (vv. 3-4)
      • Central comment by the narrator (v. 5)
    • Response of Jesus to his brothers (vv. 6-8)
  • Narrative conclusion—Jesus remains in Galilee (v. 9)

Verse 9, along with v. 10, is transitional to the main section(s) which follows in vv. 11ff. The narrator’s comment in verse 5 is central to the episode:

“For even his brothers did not trust in him”

This states simply and directly what was only implied in the Synoptic tradition of Mark 3:20-35 par (and also in the Nazarath episode of Mk 6:1-6a par, to be discussed). Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him, at least during this (Galilean) period of his ministry. Four such brothers are mentioned by name in Mk 6:3, but there is no way of knowing if those are specifically the ones meant in Jn 7:3ff. There is perhaps a derisive tone to the brothers’ words in vv. 3-4; however, more important for the Gospel writer is that their words reflect an ordinary, human (wordly) mindset. The implication is that the festival of Sukkoth, with so many pilgrims and others gathered in Jerusalem, would be an ideal opportunity for Jesus to make a name for himself, both with his own disciples and to people at large. The reference to the “works” (e&rga) that he is doing (i.e. in Galilee) suggest that they are urging him to perform his miracles publicly in Jerusalem, before a wide audience. Cf. Matt 4:3-7 par for a interesting comparison with the Temptation scene.

Jesus’ response to his brothers in vv. 6-8 is full of details and language common to the discourses of Jesus in John, and involves wordplay with some key vocabulary. I will treat these here briefly, in order of occurrence:

    • The contrast between “my” and “your” (e(mo/$/u(me/tero$). This is part of the dualism we find throughout the discourses of Jesus in John—i.e. Jesus vs. the (unbelieving) people around him, the Son sent by the Father vs. those belonging to the world. Perhaps the most pointed example of this imagery is found in 8:31-59, the climax of chapters 7-8.
    • The expression “my time (ha)s not yet (come) along” (o( kairo\$ o( e)mo\$ ou&pw pa/restin). Jesus frequently uses language of this sort in the Gospel of John, though always with the word “hour” (w%ra) instead of “time” (kairo/$). This will be touched on further below.
    • The important theme of the relationship between Jesus and the world, and the world’s hostility/hatred of him (cf. 3:20; 15:18-25; 17:14). This is part of the dualism mentioned above.
    • Along with this is the idea of Jesus’ witness again the world and its evil works. The verb marture/w (“[give/bear] witness”) has special theological significance in John, occurring 33 times (out of 76 in the NT).
    • The use of the verb a)nabai/nw (“step up”), i.e. “go up”. There is a definite play on words here. On the surface, Jesus seems to be saying simply that he will not be “going up” (i.e. traveling) to Jerusalem for the festival. But he is actually using it in a deeper sense, referring to (the time of) his eventual death and exaltation (including his return to the Father). For the specific theological and Christological meaning of this (otherwise common) verb, cf. 1:51; 3:13; 6:62; 20:17. This alternates with the “ordinary” usage in 2:13; 5:1; 7:10; 11:55, etc, though here too the double-meaning is no doubt implied.

Of special interest is Jesus’ use of the word kairo/$ in verses 6 & 8, in which the same basic idea is repeated:

“my time (ha)s not yet (come) along” (v. 6)
“my time has not yet been (ful)filled” (v. 8)

From the Gospel context (including similar usage in the Synoptics), it is clear that Jesus is referring to the time of his death, exaltation and return to the Father. However, as I noted above, in the Gospel of John, this is always expressed with the term w%ra (“hour”) rather than kairo/$ (“time”). The expression is “my/the hour has come (or has not yet come)”—7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1. The similar idea of an hour coming, related to the person and work of Jesus, is found in 4:21, 23; 5:25, 28; 16:2, 4, 21, 25, 32. The word “hour” is also used in reference to believers (i.e. the disciples) being in the presence of Jesus (5:35; 11:9). In all of these instances, w%ra (hœ¡ra) refers to a specific moment in time which is to come. The word kai/ro$ (kairós), we may say, has a somewhat different nuance of meaning—a particular point (and place) in time, i.e. during which a specific event takes place. In English, the word is often rendered as “season”. In the Gospel of John, kairo/$ occurs only here, whereas it appears more frequently in the Synoptic Gospels, in the teaching of Jesus, often in an eschatological context (Mk 1:15; 10:30; 11:13; 12:2; 13:33 par; also Lk 19:44; 21:8, 24, etc). Luke uses it in 4:13, at the Temptation scene, as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ future testing (i.e. during his Passion), even as the word occurs in Matt 26:18 (“my time is [now] near”). Elsewhere in the Synoptics, and in John, the time of Jesus’ suffering and death is expressed by w%ra (“hour”)—Mk 14:35, 37, 41 par; Matt 26:55; Lk 22:14, 53.

The use of kairo/$ in John 7:6, 8, may be due to the setting of the Sukkoth festival—”the (time of the) festival was near…” (v. 2). Essentially, Jesus is saying that this particular festival, in Jerusalem, was not to be the occasion of his glorification—i.e. of his death and resurrection/exaltation. His brothers may have been urging him to put on a public display of miracle-working, etc, in Jerusalem, but, for Jesus, the only such public display in that city would be his death on the cross—cf. 3:14; 8:58; 12:32, 34. That event truly would “draw all people” to him. It is interesting to consider the dualistic contrast Jesus makes, between himself and his brothers, in verse 6:

    • my time (ha)s not yet (come) along, but”
      your time is always ready”

The time of his (unbelieving) brothers is that of the world, which is constant and always present, in its evil and darkness. Even the occurrence of regular religious festivals does not change this. Jesus, however, as the eternal Son sent by the Father, is only present in the world for a short time, for the purpose of making the Father known, and bringing salvation, to those who will believe. There is an interesting parallel here with the statement Jesus makes to his mother in 2:4:

“my hour does not come here yet”
ou&pw h%kei h( w%ra mou

There is a general similarity. In both episodes, members of Jesus’ family essentially ask him to perform public miracles, albeit for different reasons. In each instance, Jesus’ response is not so much a refusal as it points to something deeper—to the time of his death and exaltation. All of his miracles lead to that great event, just as the Cana episode (2:1-12) directly precedes the Temple scene in Jerusalem (2:13-22) with its veiled prediction of death and resurrection (vv. 19-22).

Even though the Gospel of John does not contain narratives corresponding with the Synoptics at these points, it seems all but certain, on objective grounds, that the writer (trad. John) has inherited historical traditions quite similar, in many respects, to those of the Synoptics. They have been adapted and set within a very specific Johannine framework (involving repeated festival-trips to Jerusalem), using distinctive theological language. Yet something of the early traditional narrative is definitely preserved. Consider the loose parallel between John and Mark here, in which each Gospel has joined together:

    • Reference to the calling of the Twelve, featuring Peter, and concluding with the mention of Judas’ betrayal—Jn 6:67-71 / Mk 3:13-19
    • An episode involving the family/relatives of Jesus which shows misunderstanding (even hostility) toward his ministry work, etc—Jn 7:1-9 / Mk 3:20-21, 31-35

Even the basic division of the Synoptic narrative—divided into Galilean and Judean (Jerusalem) periods, can be glimpsed through the Johannine structure:

  • Jesus’ Galilean ministry (punctuated, in John, by trips to Jerusalem)—2:1-6:71
    • Which opens with a scene in Galilee involving Jesus’ family (mother), performing miracles, and a saying: “My hour does not come here yet”
    • And concludes with a great miracle (feeding the multitude), which is connected with
    • A confession (by Peter) regarding Jesus’ identity (6:68-69)
  • Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem—7:1-11:54?
    • Which opens with a scene in Galilee involving Jesus’ family (brothers), etc, along with the saying: “My time has not yet (come) along”
    • And concludes with a great miracle (raising Lazarus), which also is connected with
    • A confession (by Martha) regarding Jesus’ identity (11:27)

The points of similarity should be readily apparent.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Matt 12:46-50; Lk 8:19-21)

In the previous note, I discussed the two episodes in Mark 3:20-21 and 31-35, in which Jesus’ natural family and relatives are contrasted with the true family of his faithful disciples. I mentioned how Matthew and Luke do not contain anything corresponding to the first episode, but each has a version of the second—in Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21, respectively.

Matthew 12:46-50

Matthew’s version has a very different setting. Not only is the scene from Mk 3:20-21 absent, but the “Beelzebul controversy” episode (12:22-32) is kept separate from the scene contrasting Jesus’ natural and true family (12:46-50). This is the result of the ‘insertion’ of three sections of teaching (vv. 33-37, 38-42, 43-45) in between. The last two sections are part of the so-called “Q” material, found also in Luke, in a slightly different location and order (Lk 11:29-32, 24-26). Overall, the inclusion of vv. 22-45 makes the section function as a condemnation of the faithlessness and wickedness of the Age—including the cities and towns (of Galilee) in which Jesus has been preaching and working miracles. This narrative block begins with verses 15-21, and the Scripture citation of Isaiah 42:1-4 (vv. 18-21), which holds a similar place in Matthew’s narrative as does the citation of Isa 61:1 in Luke 4:17-21. Many people have not responded as they should to God’s Chosen One, who has been marked (and anointed) by the Spirit. It is by the Spirit of God that Jesus works miracles and casts out demons (12:28). This emphasis in v. 28 is one of the Matthean additions (Q material, cf. Lk 11:20) to the core Synoptic tradition, along with verses 22-23 and 30. They also give the section a stronger eschatological orientation—i.e., Jesus’ miracles are a sign that the Kingdom of God has come.

We can see how these additions, along with their distinctive emphasis, has modified the sense of the episode in verses 46-50 as well. There is the same contrast as in Mark—Jesus’ natural family vs. his true/spiritual family—but it yields a different implication in the Matthean context. The idea seems to be that not even Jesus’ own (natural) family will escape the Judgment, on the basis of their family ties; rather, only those who follow him faithfully (to the end) will be saved. There is an echo of this teaching (with a similar contrast) earlier in 10:34-39, and it is almost certainly implied in vv. 46-50 as well. Matthew’s version of the scene is presented in a more public, dramatic fashion; note some key differences (compared with Mark’s version):

    • Jesus is speaking to the crowd (v. 46a); this serves to join the narrative to the ‘inserted’ blocks of teaching in vv. 33-45.
    • It is narrated specifically that Jesus’ mother and brothers were seeking him out to speak with him (v. 46b).
    • The double use of the pronoun ti$ (“who”) in Jesus’ rhetorical question (v. 48) gives it a more solemn, formal sound.
    • Jesus delivers an emphatic gesture—stretching out his hand to those around him (v. 49, Mk has “looking around”). The gesture is also directed specifically toward his disciples.
    • In the final declaration (v. 50) Jesus uses “My Father (in the heavens)” instead of “God”; this gives added emphasis to the family aspect of the scene (cp. Lk 2:48-49).

Luke 8:19-21

The Lukan narrative context is different again. Not only is the scene of Mk 3:20-21 absent, but the “Beelzebul controversy” episode has been set in an entirely different location, at a later point in the narrative (Lk 11:14-23). As in Matthew, this episode is connected with the teaching on the “return of the unclean spirit” (vv. 24-26; Matt 12:43-45) and the “sign of Jonah” (vv. 29-32; Matt 12:38-42), and may reflect a traditional ordering of the “Q” material used by both Gospels. In any event, the Beelzebul scene, with its hostility toward Jesus’ ministry, has been removed completely from the context of 8:19-21. Another major change is that the parable of the Sower has been placed ahead of the scene in 8:19-21, contrary to the (Synoptic order) of Mark/Matthew. Luke has also added the important narrative summary in 8:1-3. Let us see how these changes have altered the outline of the narrative (in relation to vv. 19-21):

    • 8:1-3—Summary of the ministry work of Jesus (preaching the Good News and working healing miracles), and of the close disciples (the Twelve and others) who are following him. Luke uses the very language of Mk 3:14 (the calling of the Twelve), stating that these disciples were with him (met’ au)tou=).
    • 8:4-15—The Parable of the Sower, including the traditional elements:
      —vv. 4-8: The parable itself
      —vv. 9-10: The statement that the “secrets of the Kingdom” are only given to his (close) disciples
      —vv. 11-5: An explanation of the parable
    • 8:16-18—The Parable/illustration of the Lamp, with the two-fold (eschatological) warning in vv. 17-18
    • 8:19-21—The Scene/Saying regarding Jesus’ mother and brothers

Very little remains of the stark contrast presented in Mk 3:20-35; instead, the emphasis is primarily on the disciples of Jesus, their faithfulness to him, and the reward that will result from it. Several small, but significant, changes to the episode in 8:19-21 follow this general theme:

    • In verse 19, Jesus’ mother and brothers themselves desire to come to Jesus and meet with him (using the vb. suntugxa/nw). They are physically unable to reach him “through the crowd”.
    • Luke retains the image of Jesus’ mother and brothers “standing outside”, but their purpose is not merely to “speak” to Jesus, but to meet/be together with him (v. 19) and to see him (v. 20). The motif of seeing Christ is important in the Gospel of Luke (2:26, 30; 3:6, etc), as also in the Gospel of John, and frequently has theological/Christological significance.
    • The formulation of Jesus’ declaration (v. 21) is different. In Mark/Matthew, Jesus looks/motions to his disciples, and says regarding them:
      See, (here are) my mother and my brothers!” (Mk 3:34).
      The saying in v. 35 follows:
      [For] whoever would do the will of God—this (one) is my brother and sister and mother

Luke’s version of the climactic declaration, on the other hand, has largely removed (or has avoided) the basic contrast between Jesus’ natural and true/spiritual family, through a simple modification/abridgment of the saying:

“My mother and my brothers—these are the ones hearing and doing the account [i.e. word] of God”

This allows one to understand the saying to include Jesus’ mother and brothers as being among the faithful ones. We will see how this relates to the overall portrait of Jesus’ mother (Mary) and brothers in Luke-Acts in an upcoming note.

Luke 11:27-28

As it happens, there is a parallel saying of Jesus in Luke which preserves a bit more of the original contrast found in Mk 3:20-35 par. In Luke 11:27-28, a simple tradition is recorded, in which a woman utters a blessing (macarism) to Jesus (v. 27):

“Happy the belly [i.e. womb] carrying you and the nipples that you (have) sucked!”

Jesus responds with a blessing of his own (v. 28):

“(Indeed) but then (all the more) happy (are) the (one)s hearing the account [i.e. word] of God and guarding (it)!”

The woman’s blessing refers to Jesus’ mother in a concrete physical/biological sense. While Jesus does not exactly reject this statement, he certainly downplays its significance and redirects it. This is done with the compound particle menou=n(ge), which is rather difficult to render in English; it probably should be understood as something like “yes, but then all the more…” or “indeed, but now, truly…” Natural family ties mean relatively little compared with faithfulness to God (and Jesus). It is possible that the expression “the account [i.e. word, lo/go$] of God” from this saying, along with the specific idea of hearing the word of God, has been used to modify the (Lukan) form of the earlier, parallel saying in 8:21. A version of the saying in 11:27-28 has also been preserved in the “Gospel of Thomas” (§79), which likely is derived from Luke (along with 23:29).

Before proceeding to the episode at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6a par), it is necessary to examine one rare passage in the Gospel of John which seems to have some relationship to the Synoptic traditions in Mk 3:20-21 and 31-35 par. This will be discussed in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Mk 3:20-34)

The next topic to be discussed in this section, on the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (cf. the Introduction), are the traditions involving Jesus’ family and relatives. This is a simpler study, in that only a very few passages in the Gospels relate to it. However, it is most interesting for our study of the development of the Gospel Tradition, since it demonstrates how traditions, expressing a different point of view or emphasis, can develop alongside one another.

In the early Church, Jesus’ natural family—his brothers and mother (Mary)—held a prominent and revered position, which, by the first half of the 2nd century, had become quite well-established. This is indicated already in the New Testament in several places (1 Cor 9:5; Acts 1:14; Luke 1:26-56), especially with regard to the position of James among the Christians in Jerusalem (Gal 1:19; Acts 12:17; 15:13ff, etc). However, the early Gospel tradition tells rather a different story. There are scant references to Jesus’ family and relatives, but those which have come down to us are characterized by misunderstanding, even hostility, to Jesus’ ministry. There are two main passages to be discussed:

    1. Mark 3:20-35 (vv. 20-21, 31-35) and parallels
    2. The Episode at Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6a par)

According to the method I have adopted in this series, I begin with the Gospel of Mark as representing the basic Synoptic tradition. This is not to say that Mark’s account is always the earliest or simplest version, but it generally shows fewer signs of (secondary) development, compared with Matthew and Luke.

Mark 3:20-35

As it happens, this section follows directly after the calling of the Twelve (Apostles) by Jesus (3:13-19), as discussed extensively in the prior notes. In the Markan narrative this provides a clear and distinct contrast between Jesus’ relatives (his natural family) and his followers (his true/spiritual family). Two episodes are brought together in this section—verses 20-21 and 31-35, respectively. In the middle of these we find the “Beelzebul controversy” (vv. 22-30), a (hostile) encounter between Jesus and certain ‘experts’ on Scripture (the Law/Torah) who have come down from Jerusalem to see him. This controversy scene centers on the healing miracles performed by Jesus (cf. the immediate context of verses 7-12 & 15), which involved the exorcism (casting out) of the (semi-)divine beings (daimons), or spirits, understood as being responsible for many diseases and ailments.

According to the monotheistic view of Israelites and Jews, true deity only existed in God the Father (El/Yahweh [YHWH]). As a natural consequence, all other ‘lesser’ deities, recognized by the surrounding nations, were relegated to the position of evil spirits. The famous Canaanite deity of Baal (i.e. the “Lord/Master”, Haddu), so well-known from ancient tradition, was fittingly viewed as the “Prince” of these daimons (or “demons”). This designation was preserved in the Gospels, transliterated in Greek as Beelzebou/l (Beelzeboúl, “Baal-Zebul, originally “Baal [the] Exalted [One]”).

The thematic connection between the Beelzebul episode and verses 20-21 is important to note. Consider the sequence of events narrated in these two verses:

    • A crowd of followers has gathered around Jesus at the house where he was residing (v. 19b-20). No doubt this was due to the many healing miracles he had been performing (vv. 7-12).
    • Certain friends/relatives/acquaintances of Jesus (lit. “the ones alongside [of] him”), hearing about the miracles, and, it would seem, shocked by the sensation caused by his ministry, respond dramatically (v. 21):
      (a) they went out to “grasp hold” of him (i.e. seize him)
      (b) they declared “he stands out of (himself)”, i.e. is “out of his mind”

To cite a modern parallel, Jesus’ relatives and/or acquaintances wish to have him taken into custody (committed) on the grounds of insanity. In the ancient world, such “madness” was typically seen as being caused by the presence of divine beings/spirits (daimons, or “demons”). This was essentially the claim made by the religious experts in verses 22ff—that Jesus “holds Baal-Zebul”, and so performs healing miracles through the power of “the prince of demons”. Jesus’ response in verses 23-27 takes the form of a parable, illustrating the practical impossibility of such a claim. This leads into the famous saying on the Holy Spirit in vv. 28-29. The Gospel writer makes the connection clear by the explanation in verse 30—the religious leaders claimed that Jesus worked miracles through a demon-spirit rather than the Holy Spirit of God. This fundamental lack of understanding regarding Jesus’ ministry provides the setting for the episode in verses 31-35.

Mark 3:31-35

Here, Jesus’ mother and brothers are mentioned (also his sisters in v. 32 v.l.), creating a more specific and detailed situation than that of vv. 20-21. This also establishes a more direct contrast—between Jesus’ natural family and his true family (of followers/believers). The contrast is clear enough by the repeating elements of the verses in sequence:

  • His mother and brothers come (seeking him) (v. 31)
    • A crowd of followers is sitting around him (v. 32a)
      • Messengers report about his mother and brothers (v. 32b)
  • Jesus’ asks: “Who is my mother and [my] brothers?” (v. 33)
    • He looks at the followers round about him (v. 34a)
      • Declaration of his (true) mother and brothers (vv. 34b-35)

There is a possible play on words in v. 31, where it is said that Jesus’ mother and brothers were “standing outside” (e&cw sth/konte$), i.e. outside of the house/room where Jesus and his followers were gathered. Etymologically, this expression is related to the verb used in v. 21, where Jesus’ relatives declare that “he stands out of (himself)” (e)ce/sth); on this, cf. above. Note that this passage also contains certain vocabulary that alludes back to the calling of the Twelve in vv. 13-19:

  • In vv. 13-14, Jesus calls the Twelve toward [proskalei=tai] him, and they come toward [pro/$] him, so that he might send them forth [a)poste/llh|] as his representatives (i.e. apostles)
    • Jesus’ mother and brothers come to him, and send forth [a)pe/steilan] messengers toward [pro/$] him, calling [kalou=nte$] him (v. 31)
  • In v. 14, Jesus makes [vb. poie/w] the Twelve to be his close followers, to be with him (i.e. as his true family)
    • Jesus’ statement that the one who does [vb. poie/w] the will of God is (or becomes) part of his true family (v. 35); compare the reference to his (natural) ‘relatives’ as those who are alongside of him (v. 21)
  • The context in v. 15 of Jesus and the Twelve casting out daimons (vb. e)kba/llw)
    • This is also part of the narrative setting of vv. 31-35—verses 22ff, with the repeated used of e)kba/llw

All of these parallels serve to emphasize the contrast established between Jesus’ natural family, and the true family made up of his faithful followers (disciples). The subsequent passage, the parable of the Sower and its explanation (4:1-9, 10-20), confirms this point. In verse 11 Jesus’ disciples are contrasted with “the ones outside [e&cw]”, just as his mother/brothers are “standing outside [e&cw]” the room where Jesus and his disciples are gathered.

As we shall see (in the next note), the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have each handled this episode in a different way, both adapting the core tradition and expanding the narrative with other traditional material. One point in common is that neither Matthew or Luke includes anything corresponding to Mk 3:20-21. There are two possibilities; either (a) both Gospels have omitted it from Mark (or a similar Synoptic source), or (b) Mark has added the verses to the core Synoptic tradition. In either case, the Matthean and Lukan narratives omit any reference to actual hostility by Jesus’ natural family toward his ministry in this scene. This reflects a general tendency within the Gospel Tradition to downplay or eliminate details which cast Jesus’ family members in a negative light.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Acts 1:6-26)

Acts 1:6-26 (and Matt 19:28 par)

The previous note dealt with the association of the Twelve and the coming of the Kingdom of God, in the context of Matthew 19:28 par (Lk 22:28-30) and the tradition in Acts 1:6ff. I pointed out that there is good reason to think that the number twelve and its symbolism—related to the twelve tribes of Israel—was introduced and applied by Jesus himself. The apparent authenticity (on objective grounds) of the Matt 19:28 saying would confirm this. It is not entirely clear whether the idea is of a concrete earthly kingdom, or a heavenly one. The Synoptic narrative context of Matt 19:28, as it reads in Mark (10:28-31), indicates a contrast between earthly sacrifice/suffering for Jesus’ sake (now) and eternal/heavenly reward (in the future). This contrast seems to have been a common emphasis in Jesus’ teaching, such as we see in the parables and, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-12; 6:1ff, 19-21; Lk 6:20-26, etc). Matthew’s version of the episode (19:27-30) has a different emphasis, but it would seem that a heavenly context is still implied; the use of the word paliggenhsi/a suggests a time following the resurrection. The parallel in Lk 18:28-30 is somewhat ambiguous, as is the context of 22:28-30 (cf. verse 18).

The problem is that traditional Israelite and Jewish eschatology variously envisioned the coming Kingdom (of God) in earthly and heavenly aspects, drawing upon imagery from both. This is also true in terms of Messianic expectation. Sometimes the establishment of the Kingdom was seen to follow the end-time Judgment and the Resurrection, in other instances a period of (Messianic) rule on earth is envisioned. Certain eschatological schemes combine both aspects, as we see, for example, in the book of Revelation. Paul says very little in his letters regarding a future Kingdom on earth; the imminent, expected return of Jesus seems to coincide with the resurrection (1 Thess 4:14-17), after which believers will remain with him (in heaven). On the other hand, in 1 Cor 6:2, Paul states that believers will play a role in the Judgment of the world, expressing an idea generally similar to the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28 par. Presumably, this ruling/judging position is thought to take place in heaven, since he also says that believers will judge the Angels (v. 3).

Jesus’ own teaching in this regard is not entirely clear, at least as it has been preserved in the Gospel Tradition. However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, early Christians had no choice but to believe that the coming of the Kingdom, in its full sense, in heaven and/or on earth (cf. Matt 6:10), was reserved for the time of Jesus’ future return. In the interim—however brief or long it may be—the Kingdom was realized (on earth) in two primary ways: (1) by the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, and (2) through the missionary work of early Christians, spreading the new faith (from Jerusalem) into the wider world. This is certainly the understanding expressed by the author of Luke-Acts; and, if we take the text at face value, it was also the true purpose and intention of Jesus.

In the prior note, I looked briefly at the question asked of Jesus by the disciples (i.e. the Twelve) in Acts 1:6. Their question indicates that they were thinking in traditional eschatological terms about the coming of the Kingdom—as a socio-political (and religious) entity on earth, headed by Jesus as God’s Anointed representative (i.e. a royal Messiah). By extension, it might have been thought that they (the Twelve) would be ruling this Kingdom as well (cf. again the context of Lk 22:28-30). Jesus does not answer their question directly, and so leaves open, perhaps, the possibility of such an earthly (Messianic) regime in the future; however, his response must be deemed an implicit rejection of their very way of thinking. He deftly redirects the entire thrust of the question (verse 7), and then effectively gives them their answer: instead of expecting the return of an Israelite Kingdom like that of David long ago, the disciples will usher a different kind of Kingdom, involving—(a) the coming of the Spirit in power, and (b) their witness and proclamation of the Gospel message (verse 8).

The Restoration of Israel (Acts 1:12-26)

The disciples’ question (1:6) involved the idea of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. The author of Acts, doubtless following the (historical) traditions which he inherited, has built upon this theme, which is central to the narrative which follows in the remainder of chapters 1-2. I have discussed this at length in a set of notes (for Pentecost, soon to be posted on this site), and will only provide an outline of that study here.

The theme of the “Restoration of Israel” can be glimpsed already in verses 12-14:

  • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
    a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
    b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
  • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem, in one place (upper room), v. 13. This is a seminal image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
  • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related motifs, expressing the unity of believers together:
    ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
    pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
    h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
    o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al.
    th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)

As stated above, most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel; and, as such, their unity (and the unity of their mission work) similarly reflects the coming together of Israel (the true Israel). Consider, for example, the basic Gospel tradition of the sending out of the Twelve in Mark 6:6b-13 par. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist).

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. Note the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. There would seem to be a symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel.

The Pentecost Narrative (2:1-13ff)

This symbolism continues into the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. Note the following (chiastic outline):

  • The unity of the disciples (together in one place and/or for one purpose—e)pi\ to\ au)to/), verse 1.
    • The house/place of gathering is filled (e)plh/rwsen) with the Spirit, verse 2.
      • Appearance of tongues (glwssai) of fire upon each individual disciple (~120), verse 3
      • The disciples (each) begin to speak in other tongues (glwssai), verse 4
    • The disciples are all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit, verse 4
  • The unity of the crowd—devout Jews (from all nations) in Jerusalem come together in one place, verse 5ff

The way this scene builds upon the prior events of chapter 1 can be illustrated by expanding the outline:

  • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
    • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
      • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
    • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
  • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

This emphasizes more clearly the theme of the “restoration of Israel”, according to the eschatological imagery of the later Old Testament prophets and Judaism, which involves two related themes:

    1. The return of Israelites (Jews) from exile among the nations—this return is to the Promised Land, and, in particular, to Judah and Jerusalem.
    2. The Nations (Gentiles) come to Judah and Jerusalem, bringing tribute and/or worshiping the true God there.

The restoration of Israel in terms of a “regathering” of Israelites and Jews from the surrounding nations was expressed numerous times already in the Old Testament Prophets, especially the latter half of the book of Isaiah; this eschatological expectation was extended to include those of the nations (Gentiles) who come to Jerusalem and join the people of Israel—e.g., Isa 49:5ff; 56:1-8; 60:1-14; 66:18-24; Micah 4:2-5 (Isa 2:3-4). Cf. Sanders, p. 79. This theme became part of subsequent Israelite/Jewish eschatology and Messianic thought (Baruch 4-5; 2 Macc 1:27ff; Ps Sol 11, 17, etc), sometimes expressed specifically in relation to the regathering of the twelve tribesSirach 36:11; 48:10; Ps Sol 17:28-31ff; 1QM 2:2ff; 11QTemple 18:14-16; T. Sanh. 13:10; and also note the motif in Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-3ff (cf. Sanders, pp. 96-7).

Revelation 21:12-14ff

Finally, the connection between the Twelve Apostles and the Twelve Tribes of Israel is presented in the book of Revelation, but in a very different manner from the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28. It is part of the great vision of the new (heavenly) Jerusalem in 21:1-22:5, which serves as the climax of the book. The gates and walls of the city are described in 21:12-14ff, drawing upon the description in Ezek 48:30-35. Here we find:

    • Twelve gates, named after the Twelve Tribes—that is, the names of the tribes were inscribed on them (v. 12b). The Qumran community drew upon the same tradition (11QTemple 39-41; 4Q365a frag. 2 col. 2; 4Q554). The names on the gates commemorate the heritage of Israel as the people of God.
    • Twelve foundation stones for the city walls, named after the Twelve Apostles (v. 14). The image of Christ and the apostles as “foundation (stone)s” is found several times in the New Testament (1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20). There is also a similar idea expressed by the Qumran community, for the leaders of the community (esp. the twelve men of the Council), cf. 1QS 8:1-6; 11:8; 4Q154 frag. 1, col. 1). In the famous declaration of Jesus in Matt 16:17-19, Peter and the Twelve are depicted as stones which make up the foundation of the Church. Cf. Koester, p. 815.

Thus the New Jerusalem—that is, the heavenly/spiritual Jerusalem of the New Covenant (Gal 4:24-26)—honors the heritage and legacy of both Israel (representing the Old Covenant), and the Apostles (representing the beginning of the New). However, there is no idea here of the Apostles ruling—God alone (with Christ) is on the Throne (21:5).

References above marked “Sanders” are to E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985). Those marked “Koester” are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38a (Yale: 2014).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Matt 19:28; Acts 1:6ff)

In the previous note, I discussed the saying of Jesus in Matthew 19:28, with the parallel (or similar) saying in Luke 22:28-30, and the connection between the Twelve Disciples and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. There has been some question, among critical commentators, as to whether this particular association goes back to Jesus’ own words, reflecting something of his original purpose in designating the Twelve. On entirely objective grounds, there is reasonably strong evidence that it does. I would point to the following arguments:

    • An emphasis on the twelve tribes of Israel does not appear to have been especially prominent in early Christianity, all the more so as the faith spread into the Greco-Roman (Gentile) world. The few references in the New Testament come clearly from an (early) Jewish Christian context (Acts 26:7; James 1:1; cf. also Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5) or draw upon Old Testament tradition (Rev 7:4-8). The parallel in Rev 21:12ff will be discussed in the next note.
    • The very exclusiveness indicated by the association—Disciples/Israel—suggests a time-frame prior to the Gentile mission (i.e. prior to c. 45-50 A.D.). An early Christian formulation would likely reflect the inclusion of the Gentiles, taking it into account in some way.
    • The tradition regarding the Twelve is extremely early, being attested in multiple strands of tradition. This indicates that it was already firmly established well before 50 A.D.
    • The version of the saying in Matt 19:28 takes no account whatever of Judas’ betrayal, as the parallel in Luke clearly does (cf. also Jn 6:67-71). If the Lukan version of this saying has been modified in its context, eliminating the specific reference to twelve disciples (in light of Judas’ betrayal), then the earlier form would be reflected in Matthew’s version. Indeed, it is likely that Christians from a slightly later period would have qualified or explained the saying in some way, so as to factor in the situation regarding Judas.

Another sign of authenticity has to do with the emphasis on the coming Kingdom (of God). The concrete eschatological aspect of the Kingdom, so prominent in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, tends to disappear in early Christianity, being re-interpreted as a spiritual phenomenon (i.e. ‘realized’ eschatology)—the presence of God (and Christ) in and among believers, through the Holy Spirit. The imagery of Matt 19:28 par, on the other hand, preserves the idea of a real kingdom, with seats of rule—being specifically connected with the kingdom of Israel.

Commentators continue to debate the significance of Jesus’ preaching and teaching regarding the Kingdom (Mk 1:15 par, et al). On the one hand, many critical scholars hold that the historical Jesus believed that an end-time Messianic kingdom, in the socio-political (and religious) sense, was about to be ushered in by God, and that he would play the leading role in that process. According to this view, early Christians were forced to re-imagine and reinterpret Jesus’ words, as referring to the presence/work of the Spirit now, with the return of Jesus, establishing the Kingdom of God on earth in full, still reserved for a future moment. On the other side, traditional-conservative commentators would argue that Jesus intended this ‘Christian’ sense of the Kingdom from the first. The Gospel of Luke, along with the book of Acts, represents the only portion of the Gospel Tradition that deals with this question directly, in three passages: 17:20-21, 19:11ff, and Acts 1:6ff.

Luke 17:20-21 is part of a short collection of eschatological teaching (vv. 22-37ff) by Jesus, which the saying(s) of vv. 20-21 introduces, centered on the specific theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God. According to the narrative, certain Pharisees ask Jesus regarding “when the kingdom of God (would) come” (v. 20a). Jesus’ answer states that the Kingdom of God comes in a way that cannot be observed by human beings outwardly, at a particular moment or place (vv. 20b-21a). His response concludes with the famous declaration in v. 21b: “the kingdom of God is inside (of) you”. I have discussed this difficult statement at some length in an earlier note; commentators still debate the meaning, but at least three aspects may be emphasized: (1) the coming of the Kingdom will be hidden or invisible to people at large, (2) its coming/presence will be realized inwardly, and (3) it is to be understood as the presence of God/Christ among his people.

Luke 19:11 serves as the narrative setting of the parable by Jesus in vv. 12-27; it addresses the central question of the Kingdom even more precisely, stating that his reason for speaking the parable was:

“…through [i.e. because of] his being near Yerushalaim and their thinking that the kingdom of God was about (to come) along instantly to shine forth up(on them)”

At least some of Jesus’ followers thought that his arrival in Jerusalem (as the Anointed One) would usher in the Kingdom of God upon earth, in the socio-political and religious sense defined by the eschatological (and Messianic) expectation of the time. Certainly, people hailed Jesus as a Ruler from the line of David (i.e. a royal Messiah) during his entry into Jerusalem, according to the Gospel tradition (Mk 11:8-10 par). The Fourth Gospel even refers to the intent of some people to force Jesus into such a role and “make him king” (Jn 6:15). However, the parable in Lk 19:12ff makes clear that the well-born young noble (i.e. the Messiah), before he comes to exert his authority as ruler, will first go away into a “far-off country” for a time. This certainly reflects (or anticipates) the idea of Jesus’ death, resurrection and departure (to heaven) prior to his (subsequent) return. Note how, in the parable, the nobleman goes away for the purpose of “receiving a kingdom”—presumably this is to be understood in terms of Jesus’ receiving it (from the Father) upon his resurrection and exaltation to the “right hand” of God. When he returns, it will be as King and Judge.

Acts 1:6ff is the most important of the passages mentioned above, as in it Jesus answers a question from the disciples that is directly to the point:

“Then, the (disciple)s, (on) coming together, questioned him saying, ‘Lord, (is it) in this time that you (will) set down the kingdom to Yisrael from (where it was before)?'” (v. 6)

The disciples appear to understand the coming Kingdom according to the conventional/traditional Jewish eschatology of the time—as a socio-political (and religious) entity, like the Davidic kingdom of old, centered at Jerusalem. I have translated the verb a)pokaqi/sthmi here quite literally, i.e. to set/place down something from where, or in what condition, it was before. In simpler translation, we might say, “re-establish, restore”, etc; in other words, they are asking Jesus if he will restore the kingdom to Israel, like it was in the time of David. For more on the background of this aspect of the Kingdom, see Part 5 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as the supplemental study on Acts 1:3. In the next note, I will be exploring in some detail the way the author (trad. Luke) develops the theme of verses 6ff through the remainder of chapters 1-2 and as a key motif for the book as a whole.