June 2: Mark 1:9-11 par

Mark 1:9-11 par

Along with the saying of the Baptist (cf. the previous note), there is a related early Gospel tradition involving the Spirit of God (and/or the “holy Spirit”)—the famous narrative of the Baptism of Jesus. I have discussed the entire episode of Jesus’ Baptism at great length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”; here, in this note, the discussion will be limited to how this narrative tradition reflects a development of the earlier lines of Old Testament and Jewish tradition, regarding the Spirit of God.

The core Synoptic narrative is best represented by the Markan version (1:9-11), with the descent of the Spirit described in verse 10:

“And straightaway, stepping up out of the water, he saw the heavens being split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down unto him”

The Matthean version (3:16) is expanded, offering more precise (if blander) detail:

“And (hav)ing been dunked, Yeshua straightaway stepped up from the water, and see!—the heavens were opened (up), and he saw [the] Spirit of God stepping down, as if a dove, [and] coming upon him”

The Lukan version (3:21-22), by contrast, is briefer, but embedded within a complex syntactical structure that is difficult to translate; the relevant portion reads:

“…(an) opening (up) of the heaven and (the) stepping down of the holy Spirit, in bodily appearance as a dove, upon him”

The main details are consistent across the Synoptic tradition, and are also shared by the Johannine version (1:32ff), presented as an indirect narration by the Baptist:

“I have looked at the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him”

The three key details, found in all versions, are: (1) the Spirit “stepping down” out of heaven, (2) the form/appearance as a dove, and (3) its coming “upon” Jesus. Let us briefly consider each of these.

1. “stepping down” (vb katabai/nw) out of heaven

This signifies the heavenly origin of the Spirit, implying that it comes from God in heaven. The Markan and Johannine versions specifically state that it came “out of” (e)k) heaven, while Matthew has “from” (a)po/) heaven. The dramatic opening up of the heavens (i.e. the skies) in Mark/Matthew makes clear the idea that the Spirit comes down onto the earth. The use of the verb katabai/nw (lit. “step down”, i.e. come down) has special significance in the Gospel of John, which uses both katabai/nw and the related a)nabai/nw (“step up”) in a uniquely theological (and Christological) sense. The “descent” of the Spirit marks the beginning of this descent/ascent motif—that is, the incarnation and exaltation of Jesus, respectively—in the Gospel (cf. 1:51, etc).

2. The Dove

Commentators continue to debate the significance of the dove appearance of the Spirit in this episode. Many ideas and associations have been suggested, but three seem particularly relevant:

    • The Creation account, which depicts the spirit (or breath) of God “hovering/fluttering” like a bird (Gen 1:2, cf. the earlier note); other Old Testament passages similarly describe God’s presence in creation (that is, among His people) using bird-imagery (e.g., Deut 32:11-13).
    • The fundamental meaning of both pneu=ma in Greek and j^Wr in Hebrew is that of wind, i.e. something blowing; this makes for a natural association with the image of a bird in flight. Similarly, the image of a bird in the expanse of the skies (or heavens) connotes freedom, exaltation, purity, and so forth. Many religious traditions worldwide depict the life-breath (i.e. soul, spirit) of a person as a bird.
    • The whiteness that characterizes many doves, and is traditional of the dove, serves as a natural symbol for the holiness (i.e. purity) of God’s Spirit.

Only the last of these relates specifically to a dove, and is particularly important to the baptism setting, with its emphasis on cleansing. It is worth remembering that the literal expression in Hebrew is, most commonly, “spirit of [God’s] holiness” (vd#q) j^Wr), rather than “holy spirit”; that is, the emphasis is squarely on holiness and purity as a divine characteristic.

3. Coming “upon” Jesus

The Markan version uses the preposition ei)$, which is somewhat ambiguous; literally, it could mean “into”, but most commentators would render it here as “unto”. In Old Testament tradition, this could be comparable to the idea of God’s Spirit coming (or “rushing”) to a person, using the preposition la#. By contrast, Matthew and Luke (along with the Johannine version) use the preposition e)pi/ (“upon”), corresponding to the Hebrew lu*. There are even more Old Testament passages which express the idea of God’s Spirit being (or coming) upon a person—cf. Num 11:17ff; Judg 3:10; 14:6; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 11:6, etc (discussed in recent notes). Moreover, this was the basic idiom that was developed in later Prophetic tradition, involving the image of the Spirit being “poured out” upon a person (cf. the discussion below).

The Significance of the Baptism Scene

This needs to be considered from several vantage points:

    • The Baptism scene in the context of the early Gospel narrative
    • The language and imagery in the scene itself, especially the detail of the “voice” from heaven
    • How the scene was understood, in context, by the Gospel writers
The Context of the early Gospel narrative

This involves: (a) the baptism rite in the setting of John’s ministry, and (b) the saying of the Baptist regarding “the one coming”. Both of these aspects were discussed in the previous note, where I pointed out the significant parallels with the water-ritual performed for entrants into the Qumran Community. The ritual symbolized the person’s “spirit” being cleansed (and made holy) by God’s own Spirit; moreover, this cleansing was preparatory for the purification that would take place at the end-time. The Gospel narrative clearly indicates that the baptism rite, as performed by John, was for the cleansing of sin, and that it similarly anticipated the end-time Judgment of God—when the righteous/faithful ones would be purified, while the wicked would be consumed.

What is distinctive about the Baptist’s message in this regard, is the localization of this end-time cleansing with the Messianic figure of “the one coming”. On the derivation of this expression from the tradition in Malachi 3:1, as interpreted in a Messianic sense, cf. the previous note, along with my supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Implicit in the early Gospel narrative is that Jesus, with his initial appearance at his baptism, is being identified with this Messianic figure. The point is not made explicit at all in the simpler Synoptic narrative of Mark, but the connection is evinced, in different ways, by the other Gospel writers. For example, the inclusion of the Infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke establishes the Messianic identity of Jesus even prior to the Baptism, a point reinforced by Matthew’s citation of Isa 9:1-2 in 4:12-16. Luke sets the Baptism episode in the context of questions regarding whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One (3:15ff); this is presented even more prominently in the Johannine Gospel (1:19-27).

The pouring of water in the baptism-rite also suggests the idea of anointing—indeed, both motifs were associated with the Spirit of God in Old Testament Tradition, as discussed in prior notes. In the ancient kingship traditions—going back to the earlier leadership of Moses, Joshua, and the Judges—the Spirit of God came upon the ruler, in a manner similar to prophetic inspiration (cf. 1 Sam 10:6, 11; 11:6, etc). In the case of Saul and David, there is a close connection between the coming of God’s Spirit and the anointing ritual (1 Sam 16:13f); even after the principle of Spirit-inspired charismatic leadership waned, the presence of the Spirit was still tied to the king’s anointing in the (Judean) royal theology. There is less evidence for the anointing of prophets; however, the expression “anointed one” (j^yv!m*, i.e. messiah) could be applied to prophets, as well as kings and priests. As mentioned in the prior note, the early Gospel tradition, during the period of his ministry, seems to have identified Jesus as a Messianic prophet rather than the Davidic ruler figure-type. Cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The Voice from Heaven

The heavenly voice in the Baptism narrative primarily represents a theophany—that is, the manifestation of God among human beings (His people, or their chosen representative[s]). The main Old Testament example, of course, is the Sinai theophany, when the people heard the voice of God speaking (Exod 19:19ff; 20:18-21; Deut 4:10-12). In the Gospels, this theophanic voice relates specifically to key moments during Jesus’ ministry, demonstrating God’s relationship to him specifically. In addition to the Baptism and Transfiguration episodes (Mk 9:7 par; Lk 9:35 [v.l.]), there is a comparable occurrence in the Gospel of John (12:27-32). The heavenly voice at the Transfiguration essentially repeats the voice at the Baptism (in Matthew’s version they are virtually identical), and the parallel episodes serve to divide the structure of the Synoptic narrative:

    • The Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry
    • The Transfiguration marks the end of that ministry, and the beginning of the events leading up to his Passion

The declaration made by the heavenly voice, and its precise significance, continue to be debated. There does seem to be an allusion to Psalm 2:7, which would strongly indicate an identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) of the Davidic ruler type—i.e., future/end-time king from the line of David. In some manuscripts of Luke 3:22, the voice actually quotes Psalm 2:7, an indication, at the very least, that early Christians had made the connection. However, it seems more likely that the primary allusion is to Isaiah 42:1, which clearly references the Spirit coming upon God’s chosen one (cf. my earlier note on the passage). The Greek word translating db#u# (“servant”) is pai=$, which literally means “child”, and so could easily be interpreted in the specific sense of “son” (ui(o/$). The Servant of the deutero-Isaian poems is best understood as an Anointed leader patterned after Moses, who will lead Israel in their return from exile (a ‘new Exodus’). He thus serves as a Messianic prophet-figure, parallel to the end-time Prophet patterned after Elijah (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6, cf. the previous note). In the Transfiguration scene, Jesus is associated with both Moses and Elijah.

The Meaning of the Scene in the Gospels

Given the explicit notice that the purpose of John’s baptizing was for repentance and forgiveness of sin, it is interesting that the Gospel writers do not give any evidence of the theological implications of this in relation to Jesus. At the level of the historical tradition, the idea of Jesus’ sinlessness was not yet an issue, and, by the time the Gospels were written, the Baptism-tradition was so well-fixed that the writers were no longer free to comment on the matter. Only at Matt 3:14-15 is there any indication of an apologetic concern, expressed more in terms of Jesus’ apparent submission to John, than on his need for repentance.

Whatever the specific reasons or circumstances for Jesus being baptized, at the historical level, the Gospels quite clearly demonstrate that the scene is not about cleansing and purification, but of consecration and empowerment. The best parallel from Old Testament tradition is that of prophetic inspiration—that is, the Spirit of God coming upon the chosen/gifted spokesperson (ayb!n`) who will serve as God’s representative. The idea of Jesus as a Davidic (royal) Messiah is largely foreign to the first half of the Synoptic narrative (the Galilean ministry period); only with the journey to Jerusalem, and the events leading to his Passion, does the Davidic association come more clearly into view. Two aspects of Jesus’ ministry are most directly relevant to the ayb!n` (prophet) role:

    • Preaching and teaching—i.e. Spirit-inspired utterance, and
    • Healing miracles, demonstrating his power and authority over spirits of disease, etc.

Of the Old Testament Prophets, the working of miracles is associated most commonly with Elijah (and his successor Elisha), and also, to a lesser extent, with Moses. Inspired preaching is common to many of the prophets, though the specific idea of teaching, with its connection to the Torah, would be most closely related to Moses. Thus Jesus could well be viewed as an Anointed (Messianic) prophet patterned after both Moses and Elijah (cf. the Transfiguration scene). However, direct allusions in the Gospels are slight, and it is only in the Gospel of Luke that we find a clearer portrait of the kind of Anointed figure Jesus understood himself to be. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

May 6: 1 Kings 18:12ff; 22:10-28

1 Kings 18:12ff; 22:10-28

The main occurrences of the word j^Wr in the book of Kings (1-2 Kings) are found in the Elijah narratives, and the usage of the word here is quite illuminating. It is related to the idea, discussed already in several prior notes, of prophetic inspiration—of the spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH coming upon (or “rushing” to) a person, manifesting itself in a kind of dramatic (and ecstatic) prophetic experience. If Moses was the principal figure for the earliest mode of prophecy in Israel, Elijah serves much the same role in a later line of tradition during the Kingdom period. The main difference in the Elijah narratives, however, is that there is now a strong sense of conflict between the true prophet (Elijah, Micaiah) and the older tradition of spirit-enthused prophetic ecstasy.

1 Kings 18:12ff

The narrative in chapter 18 has, at its heart, the contest between Elijah and the prophets (<ya!yb!n+) of Ba’al and Asherah. This, of course, reflects the marked tendency of religious syncretism in Israel, whereby Canaanite religious traditions and practices where blended together with those devoted exclusively to El-Yahweh, to the point that Yahwism could become displaced in importance within the culture. Such tendencies had been present for centuries, practically from the first Israelite settlement of Canaan, but increased dramatically under the influence of certain royal houses and their administrations. This began with Solomon, but reached its pinnacle, it would seem, with the Northern court of Ahab and Jezebel, the principal setting of the Elijah narratives.

Almost in passing, within this narrative, there is an interesting notice at verse 12, involving the encounter between Elijah and the royal messenger Obadiah. Elijah instructs him to return to Ahab and announce “See! Elijah (is here)!” (v. 8). Obadiah is frightened at how Ahab may react to this. The king had been searching for Elijah, without success; and, if he is now told “Elijah is here”, and then comes and does not find the prophet, then the messenger giving this report will suffer for it. The rather superstitious and fearful mindset of Obadiah is reflected in the concern he expresses in verse 12:

“And it will be (that), (as) I go (away) from you, and (then the) spirit [j^Wr] of YHWH carries you upon [i.e. to] (a place) which I do not know, and I come to make (this known) before Ah’ab, and he does not find you, then he will slay me…”

Here the fundamental meaning of j^Wr as “breath” or “wind” (i.e. something blowing) is clear. The idea is that, as a divinely-inspired prophet, around whom supernatural events and phenomena can occur, Elijah might suddenly (and/or miraculously) be taken away to another place by the “wind” of God. Indeed, this very thing was essentially described in the famous departure (or ‘ascension’) of Elijah in 2 Kings 2:11-12, though depicted more colorfully through the image of a ‘fiery chariot’ carried up by a powerful storm-wind (hr*u*s=). In this scene, the idea of the j^Wr of God is expressed through the imagery of Storm-theophany (i.e. God manifest in the storm), frequently applied to YHWH in the Old Testament. Such an identification is made in verse 16, when Elisha (now possessing the prophetic spirit that had been on Elijah) encounters the “sons of the prophets” (essentially a group of prophets-in-training) at Jericho. One of these young prophets, interested in searching for Elijah, suggests that the “spirit/wind [j^Wr] of YHWH” may have carried him off to another location (cp. Acts 8:39), echoing the earlier language of Obadiah.

Even though Elijah—and, after him, Elisha—clearly possesses the prophetic spirit (j^Wr) from YHWH (2:9, 15), these narratives tend to avoid the older manner of expression, in their referring to the spirit of YHWH coming/rushing upon the prophet. Instead, where this idea occurs in Kings, the preferred expression is “the hand of YHWH”. Like the spirit rushing upon the Judges (on this, cf. the earlier note), etc, the “hand” of YHWH brings special inspiration (3:15) or supernatural ability to the person. So it was for Elijah, in the episode following the contest with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18—the “hand” of God gives him special ability to run (v. 46), further proof of his status a true inspired prophet (in contrast to the false prophets of Baal).

1 Kings 22:10-28

A similar sort of prophetic contest/conflict is narrated in chapter 22. The situation is comparable, though instead of 450 / 400 prophets of Baal / Asherah, we now have 400 prophets of YHWH who belong to Ahab (i.e. attached to the royal court), vv. 6ff. We might be inclined to read this in light of the chap. 18 narrative, which recorded that the prophets of Baal/Asherah were put to death (v. 40); however, given the syncretistic tendencies at the royal court, there is no reason why the king might not employ prophets of YHWH in addition to those of Baal. Perhaps implicit in the chap. 22 narrative is the idea that there is little difference between these court-prophets—whether of Baal or YHWH—as they function the same way, and are generally branded by the author (and the underlying prophetic tradition) as false prophets.

On the surface, these 400 men function very much in the manner of prophets and diviners throughout the ancient Near East—including those in Israel. It was common practice for kings to consult such (apparently gifted) men, especially when they were about to make an important decision, such as going to war. It was important to ascertain the will of God (or the gods) in this regard—i.e., what the result would be, and whether one ought to take a particular action. There had been a longstanding tradition of priestly divination in Israel, especially involving the “urim and thummim”, stones used to obtain a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to questions. The prophets of Ahab in chapter 22 apparently utilize similar kinds of instrumental means for divination, in addition to oracular responses obtained during moments of prophetic ecstasy.

In verse 10, we read how the kings of Israel and Judah (Ahab and Jehoshaphat), together consult the group of prophets on the question of whether to engage in battle with the kingdom of Aram-Damascus at Ramoth-gilead. They meet at the threshing-floor (/r#G)) outside the city, the open area best suited for public gatherings. Here the prophets (<ya!yb!n+) are all “acting like a ayb!n`” . This denominative verb (ab*n`), in the reflexive hithpael stem, was discussed in the earlier notes (on Num 11:13-30 and 1 Sam 10:5-11; 18:10; 19:20-21ff). It seems to connote specifically an ecstatic manner of prophetic experience, brought about by the presence and activity of the divine spirit, and marked by unusual behavior. In the earlier lines of tradition (in Numbers and Samuel), this was an entirely valid expression of the prophetic gift, however strange and disturbing it may seem to us today.

In the book of Kings, by contrast—and especially here in the Elijah narratives—such ecstatic modes of prophecy are very much devalued, due in large part, I am sure, to the continued reliance upon them, in a superficial manner, among all these many prophets attached to the royal court (of Ahab, etc). Since such court-officials were expected to give the response that the king wanted to hear, all of the supposedly spirit-inspired phenomena had become largely a matter of show, lacking the substance of true prophecy. It is no coincidence that the verb ab*n` occurs in the books of Kings only in the narratives of chapter 18 (v. 29) and 22 (vv. 8, 10, 12, 18), referring essentially to the false prophets (of Baal and YHWH). While the true prophet of YHWH in chapter 18 was Elijah, here it is Micaiah, unique among the prophets because he typically does not tell the king what he wishes to hear (v. 8).

There is an important parallel involving the vision Micaiah narrates as part of his prophetic response to the king (vv. 19-23):

    • a heavenly being from YHWH’s court volunteers to be sent as a lying/deceitful spirit [j^Wr] from YHWH (vv. 21-23), to deceive Ahab and cause him to go out to battle (where he will be killed)
    • the 400 prophets who tell Ahab it is God’s will for him to go to battle, and that he will be victorious, similarly act as a ‘lying spirit’, speaking falsely (as prophets) on YHWH’s behalf (v. 24)

Zedekiah represents these 400 prophets, and confronts Micaiah regarding his contrary response, striking him as an insult, along with the following words:

“Where (did) this (happen), (that the) spirit [j^Wr] of YHWH crossed over from me to speak to you?” (v. 24)

The implication is, that if Zedekiah had spoken under inspiration by the spirit of God, and Micaiah gave a contrary response, then Micaiah could not possibly have been inspired by God as Zedekiah was—i.e., Micaiah is a false prophet. The narrative, of course, shows the situation to be exactly the opposite—Micaiah’s prophecy is true, while that of Zedekiah (and the other 400) is false, their apparent ecstatic manifestations of the spirit notwithstanding. The emphasis is on the substance and result of the prophecy, not the various phenomena that accompany it (vv. 25, 28)—a point fully in accord with the Deuteronomic principle for the testing/confirmation of true prophecy (Deut 18:21-22). The prophets of the 8th/7th centuries, whose oracles and activity received written form, attest a similar caution regarding prophecy apparently uttered under ecstatic inspiration from the divine spirit (Hos 9:7; Mic 2:11; cf. also Jer 5:13), and likewise tend to avoid use of the verb ab*n` (cf. above), though the verb does reappear with some frequency in the later prophets of the 6th/5th century (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah).

June 27: On John the Baptist (conclusion)

In the previous three daily notes (note 1, 2, 3), in commemoration of the traditional birthday of John the Baptist (June 24), I examined the relationship between John and Jesus in terms of the figure of Elijah, looking specifically at evidence for both John and Jesus being identified with Elijah (as the end-time Prophet-to-Come). In today’s note I offer a concluding discussion of the topic, according to the following:

    1. Jesus as the Anointed/Eschatological Prophet in Gospel and early Christian tradition
    2. John in early Christian tradition and the disappearance of the Elijah motif

1. Jesus as the Anointed/Eschatological Prophet in Gospel and early Christian tradition

For specific references in the Gospels related to Jesus as Elijah and/or the eschatological Prophet, see the previous day’s note. Here, in summary, it is worth discussing a bit further: (a) Deuteronomy 18:15-19 as applied to Jesus, and (b) Jesus as the Prophet and Jesus as the Messiah.

(a) Deuteronomy 18:15-19—in its original context, this passage predicts (or promises) that YHWH will raise up another authoritative prophet to follow in Moses’ footsteps. The Hebrew word ayb!n` (n¹»î°). usually translated “prophet”, has the basic meaning of “spokesman”, i.e. someone who stands and represents (God) before the people, proclaiming the word/message of God; its meaning therefore overlaps with the Greek profh/th$ (proph¢¡t¢s), “one who speaks before” (usually understood as one who speaks beforehand, a “foreteller”). Since the people were unable (and/or unwilling) to hear God’s words directly (vv. 16-17), the presence of a spokesperson (such as Moses) was necessary. As God’s representative, his word is authoritative and must be obeyed (vv. 18-19). The passage goes on to warn against “false” prophets, with a test and instructions for dealing with them (vv. 20-22).

By the time of the New Testament, Deut 18:15-19 had come to be understood somewhat differently, as a prediction for a future “Prophet like Moses” who will arise at the end-time. Passages such as Num 24:17 (from Balaam’s oracle) were interpreted in much the same way, as referring to future, eschatological “Messianic” figures. The texts from Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) evince a belief in an (anointed) eschatological Prophet (cf. 1QS 9:11 etc); it is possible that this figure is related to the one who will “teach righteousness” at the end of days (CD 6:11, cf. Hos 10:12). The Florilegium/Testimonia of 4Q175 cites Deut 5:28-29 and Deut 18:18-19 (Exod 20:21 according to the Samaritan text) as one of a string of “Messianic”/eschatological passages. A similar expectation of an end-time Prophet can be found in passages such as 1 Maccabees 14:41. It should be remembered that the Qumran Community, like many Jews and most early Christian of the period, believed that they were living in the end times (or “last days”), so that the eschatological prophecies were specifically relevant to their situation, and so were being (or were about to be) fulfilled.

In Acts 3:22-23, Peter (in his sermon-speech), combines Deut 18:15, 18-19 and Lev 23:29, applying them to Jesus and identifying him as the Prophet to Come. Interestingly, the context of vv. 20-21 suggests that a future (though imminent) appearance of Jesus is in mind; and yet Peter uses the “Prophet” theme for a somewhat different purpose—to draw a connection between (i) the Prophets who spoke of and foresaw these things, and (ii) the Jews currently hearing him (“sons of the Prophets”), exhorting them to accept the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ (vv. 24-26). Deut 18:15 is cited again in Acts 7:37 as part of Stephen’s great speech, tracing Israel’s history.

(b) Jesus as the Prophet and the Messiah.—The evidence is, I should say, rather strong that there was an early historical (and Gospel) tradition which viewed Jesus as the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah) in terms of the Prophet, rather than the (Davidic) King. The latter association, however, proved to be much stronger, to the extent that the idea of Jesus as the end-time Prophet of God largely disappeared from Christian tradition. As I judge the evidence, Jesus as Anointed Prophet is more or less limited to the early ministry in Galilee; with the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the figure of Anointed (Davidic) King (i.e. the “Son of David”) takes over. Is this distinction and division (according to the Synoptic narrative outline) historical or literary?—I would argue that it is both. Indeed, I would go a step further and suggest that it is possible to trace a doctrinal development as well, perhaps best understood according to the idea of progressive revelation. This might be outlined as followed:

    • Jesus as (Anointed) Prophet—this is largely a result of the early miracles and preaching, centered in Galilee. The miracles, in particular, suggested an identification with Elijah. At the same time, there was an expectation of a “Prophet to Come” (like Moses, according to Deut 18:15-19); and Jesus was thought to fulfill this role as well. Counter to this, we have the association of John with Elijah (according to Mal 3:1; 4:5-6) also preserved in Gospel tradition, including sayings of Jesus specifically identifying John with Elijah—these sayings remain problematic and somewhat difficult to interpret (note also John’s denial that he is Elijah in the Gospel of John). For more, cf. Parts 2-3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.
    • Jesus as Anointed (Davidic) King—this becomes the main association in the Jerusalem portion of the Synoptic narrative, beginning with Mark 10:47-48 par, through the triumphal entry (Mk 11:10 par), and on through the Passion narrative. In this regard, note especially, Mark 12:35-37 par; Matt 21:15; Mark 14:61; Matt 24:5, 23; 26:63, 68; 27:17, 22; Lk 23:2; Mark 15:32 par; cf. also Jn 10:24; 11:27; 12:34 and Matt 16:16, 20. It is through the identification of Jesus as Anointed (Davidic) King that the title Xristo$ (“Anointed”), particularly following the Resurrection (cf. Lk 24:26, 46; Acts 2:36), came to be applied to Jesus (becoming virtually a proper name). Cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.
    • Jesus as Lord [ku/rio$]—this is fundamentally a product of the resurrection and the early Christian belief in Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God in Heaven. In early tradition, it went hand in hand with the title “Anointed” (cf. Acts 2:36); however, as “Anointed”/Christ came to be used increasingly as a proper name, “Lord” took over as the main title applied to Jesus in Christian tradition. References to “Lord”, like the title “Son of God”, can be found at earlier positions in the Gospel narrative, but it is doubtful whether (or to what extent) they would have been applied to Jesus earlier historically, in the sense (and with the meaning) that they came to be used by Christians later on; though key exceptions could be cited, such as Matt 16:16.
    • Jesus as (Anointed) Priest—this appears to reflect a late strand of Christian belief; apart from the epistle to the Hebrews, and several allusions in the Johannine writings, there is little evidence for this association in early Gospel tradition. Cf. Part 9 of “Yeshua the Anointed”.

2. John in early Christian tradition and the disappearance of the Elijah motif

Just as the belief in Jesus as the end-time Prophet was superseded by his identification as Anointed (King) and glorified Lord, so, too, did John’s role as Elijah disappear from Christian tradition. The reason for this is, I think, straightforward, the explanation being two-fold:

    • Belief in John as Elijah was based on early historical tradition; as belief in Jesus and Christological tradition developed and progressed, John’s role and position naturally was diminished (as represented by John’s own words in Jn 3:30).
    • The idea of Elijah and the eschatological Prophet-to-Come was based largely on the belief, shared by many Jews of the period and most early Christians, that the Kingdom of God was at hand—God’s end-time Judgment, preceded by Elijah (and/or “the Prophet”), was imminent (therefore the urgency of repentance and conversion). As the years passed, without a realization of the end, the importance of this eschatological view gradually lost strength. Already in the early Church, it had been replaced partially by the concept of Christ’s return—he would still bring about God’s (imminent/end-time) Judgment, but not in the role of “Elijah”. However, note the persistence of the eschatological Elijah motif in Revelation 11.

With the disappearance of the eschatological Elijah theme, and, correspondingly, John as Elijah (however that might be interpreted), the Baptist also disappeared largely from early Christian tradition. Apart from the Gospels and several historical/kerygmatic references in Acts, he is not mentioned at all the New Testament (nor is the Baptism of Jesus). Subsequently, in Christian thought, he is associated almost exclusively with the Gospel Narratives of Jesus’ baptism. This itself makes it difficult for Christians today to appreciate fully—and to interpret accurately—Jesus’ sayings regarding the Baptist, such as those in Matt 11:11-14; Mark 9:11-13; 11:30 pars; Lk 16:16; Jn 5:32-36.

June 26: John 1:21, 25, etc

In the previous day’s note, I looked at the Gospel evidence identifying John with Elijah. The connection is relatively strong in Synoptic tradition, largely due to the interpretation and application of Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6. Luke retains the association in Lk 1:16-17, 76-77; 7:27 (cf. also Lk 9:7-9), but he omits the specific identification made by Jesus in Matt 11:14 and Mark 9:11-13 / Matt 17:10-12. There are also, however, other strands of Gospel tradition which seem to identify Jesus with Elijah. The passages here will be discussed in turn, followed by a concluding notice.

1. John’s testimony in Jn 1:21, 25

The only reference to Elijah in the Gospel of John is found in Jn 1:21 and 25, where the Baptist responds to questions by Jewish leaders from Jerusalem (vv. 19ff). John specifically denies that he is Elijah, contrary to Synoptic tradition (and Jesus’ own words). He denies both that he is Elijah and “the Prophet” (i.e. the eschatological Prophet-to-Come)—these are apparently understood as separate figures, with “the Prophet” likely referring to the Prophet “like Moses” (cf. Deut 18:15-19). His denial would seem to imply that both roles are reserved for Jesus. For more on this, see below.

2. References to Jesus as “the Prophet”

In the Gospel of John, there are several references to Jesus as “the Prophet”—that is, the eschatological Prophet-to-Come: Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40 (also 7:52). It is noteworthy that in these, and similar, passages, it is the people who make the identification (cf. also Matt 21:11; Lk 7:16; 24:19; Jn 4:19; 9:17); however, there is no suggestion by the Gospel writer that this is in any way incorrect. Though not a connection with Elijah as such, it shows preserved in early tradition the idea that Jesus was the expected (Anointed) eschatological Prophet. In the early Gospel preaching of Acts, Jesus is specifically identified as the eschatological “Prophet like Moses” (Acts 3:22-23; 7:37, quoted from Deut 18:15-19).

3. The Synoptic saying of Jesus in Mark 6:4 / Matt 13:57 / Luke 4:24

In the scene of his rejection at Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6 / Matt 13:53-58 / Luke 4:16-30), Jesus refers to himself as a prophet (for a similar saying, see Luke 13:33). In Luke’s version of the episode, Jesus draws a specific parallel between himself (as a prophet) and Elijah/Elisha (Lk 4:25-27).

4. The use of Isaiah 61:1ff

In the previously mentioned Nazareth scene (Lk 4:16-30), in the synagogue Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 (vv. 18-19), applying the passage to himself (v. 21). In so doing, he identifies himself as an Anointed (Messiah) figure, gifted by the Spirit of God to proclaim good news, etc, and to work miracles. Remember that in this same narrative, Jesus refers to himself as a prophet (v. 24), and draws a parallel with Elijah/Elisha (vv. 25-27). The juxtaposition of these three elements is significant—i.e. Anointed-Prophet-Elijah.

An echo of Isa 61:1-2 can also be found in Matt 11:5 / Lk 7:22, Jesus’ response to a question from John (Lk 7:19 par): “Are you the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] or to we look toward (receiving) another?” The expression “the one coming” probably refers, not to the Davidic Messiah, but to the eschatological (Anointed) Prophet, who will be present to usher in the coming Judgment of God (as predicted by John in Lk 3:16-17 par, cf. Mal 3:1 etc, and my earlier note on this passage). If this is the reference, then Jesus’ response, drawing upon Isa 61:1-2 (cf. also Isa 29:18-19; 35:5-6), without providing a direct answer, makes clear that he is the Anointed (Messiah), but with an emphasis on: (a) proclaiming good news to the poor, and (b) working miracles of healing (including raising the dead). Of all the Old Testament Prophets, the power to work miracles (and even raise the dead) was associated almost exclusively with Elijah (with the anointing/gifting also bequeathed to his disciple Elisha). Of course, in the Matthean version of this (Q) section, in Matt 11:14 Jesus proceeds to identify John with Elijah; however, this is not found in the Lukan version.

An interesting parallel can be found in the fragmentary text 4Q521 from Qumran, where (in fragment 2 ii) we read: “…heaven and earth will hear/obey his Anointed (One) [i.e. Messiah]”. The passage which follows draws upon Isa 61:1f and Psalm 146:8-9, and includes a reference to raising the dead, as in Lk 7:22 par. The distinctive association of Elijah with resurrection is attested in later Jewish tradition (m. Sota 9 end; j. Sheqalim 3:3; Pesikta de R. Kahana 76a), and the reference to “heaven and earth hearing/obeying” also fits the Elijah tradition (Sirach 48:3). That the Anointed figure of 4Q521 is Elijah (or according to the type of Elijah) would seem to be confirmed by the additional fragment 2 iii, which cites Malachi 4:6 [3:24 Hebr]. For several of the references above, and additional discussion of this passage, cf. J. J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (ABRL 1995), pp. 117-122.

5. The Transfiguration

In the Transfiguration episode (Mark 9:2-8 / Matt 17:1-8 / Luke 9:28-36), Moses and Elijah appear alongside Jesus and converse with him (Mk 9:4 par). Moses and Elijah are typically thought to represent the Law and the Prophets, respectively; however, I feel it is more likely, at least at the earliest level of the tradition, that they both represent the Prophetic—in particular, the end-time Prophet-to-Come. This is a well-established association in Jewish tradition of the period for both figures—Moses by way of Deut 18:15-19 and Elijah by way of Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6. If so, then the narrative may present a visual, dramatic identification of Jesus as the Prophet (according to both types, Moses and Elijah). Here again, the Synoptic tradition proceeds to identify John with Elijah (in Mark 9:11-13 and Matt 17:10-12), though Luke does not include this subsequent passage. It should be pointed out that, at the historical level, Mk 9:11-13 par need not have taken place right after the transfiguration—the shared reference to Elijah would have been enough (by way of catch-word bonding) to join the two pieces in the tradition.

6. Mark 8:28 par

In the earlier scene of Peter’s confession (Mark 8:27-30 par), in response to Jesus’ question (“who do the men count me to be?”, i.e. “who do people say that I am?”), the disciples answer to the effect that Jesus is said to be one of the famous Prophets come back (from the dead), specifically mentioning two—John the Baptist and Elijah. At the very least, this would indicate that some people at the time thought that Jesus might be Elijah.

7. Mark 15:35-36 par

Following Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross (Mk 15:34 / Matt 27:46), preserved in Hebrew/Aramaic transliteration (with Greek translation), some of the bystanders, upon hearing it, exclaim “see, he calls (to) Elijah!” While the narrative suggests that this is simply a mishearing or misunderstanding of Jesus’ words, the reference to Elijah may have additional significance as well, especially if it was believed by some that Jesus was the eschatological Prophet (i.e. Elijah returned). There might then be additional bite to the taunt in verse 36, as if to say, “this one who was supposed to be the Prophet (Elijah), let’s see if Elijah will save him!”

This study will be concluded in the next day’s note.

(For more on the relationship between John and Jesus, and the Messianic idea of an Anointed Prophet, cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplemental note on Mal 3:1ff, and the first division of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” [The Baptism].)

* * * * * * *

Many critical scholars hold that Jesus began as a disciple of John the Baptist. Even though this is not stated as such in the Gospels, it is often thought to be implicit in the way that the Baptism of Jesus is preserved as a part of Gospel tradition. Early orthodox believers, having inherited the (strong) historical tradition that Jesus had been baptized by John, had some difficulty in explaining how and why this should have been. It is possible that there is already an apologetic thread in the Gospel narratives themselves; consider for example: (1) the added dialogue in Matt 3:14-15, (2) the way Luke has removed reference to John’s presence and role in Lk 3:21-22, (3) the narrative in Jn 1:29-34 where the Baptist testifies regarding Jesus but does not specifically baptize him. Even today, some might take offense at the idea that Jesus could have been John’s disciple, yet it is really not any more problematic than the baptism itself—following the explanation in Matt 3:14-15, Jesus could have been a follower of John as part of his “fulfilling justice/righteousness”. At the very least, tradition preserves:

    1. That Jesus himself was baptized by John
    2. That some of Jesus’ first disciples had previously been followers of John (Jn 1:35-37f)
    3. That there was some rivalry between the followers of John and Jesus (Jn 3:22-30, and implied, perhaps, in other passages as well).

June 25: Mark 1:3, 6 par, etc

This is the second of a short series of daily notes commemorating the birth of John the Baptist (trad. June 24). In the previous day’s note, two passages from the Lukan Infancy Narrative (Lk 1:16-17 and Lk 1:76-77) were discussed, from the standpoint of John as Elijah (or a prophet like Elijah). This is an important, if somewhat overlooked, association. Christians and readers of the Gospels are generally familiar with it, but it has long ceased to hold much real significance for believers. This is not the case in the earliest years of the Church, as can be seen upon a close and careful examination of early Gospel tradition. Two points are clear enough:

  • Early Christian and Gospel tradition drew upon the idea of Elijah as an eschatological (end-time) “Prophet to Come” which was already current in the Judaism of the period.
  • There is evidence for the figure (or role) of Elijah associated with both John the Baptist and Jesus.

By way of comparison, I will first look at the evidence for John as Elijah (today’s note), and then the evidence for Jesus as Elijah (next day’s note). With regard to John the Baptist, I will discuss each relevant point (and passage) in turn.

1. The introductory (Gospel) citation of Malachi 3:1

Anyone familiar with the canonical Gospels knows that a citation from Isa 40:3 effectively begins the Synoptic narrative, as in Mark 1:3; Matt 3:3; Luke 3:4ff:

“A voice crying out in the desert,
‘Make ready [e(toima/sate] the way of the Lord,
make straight his trodden (path)s!”

However, Mark (Mk 1:2) prefaces his version with a citation from Malachi 3:1:

“See—I set forth my Messenger before your face [prosw/pou],
who will pack down (fully) [kataskeua/sei, i.e. “properly prepare/equip”] your way”

The author has added in an association otherwise known from Synoptic tradition (see below). The “Messenger” of Mal 3:1 may have originally been understood as an angel (i.e. heavenly messenger), but in Mal 4:5-6 [3:23-24 Hebrew] (possibly a later/secondary addition], the Messenger is specifically identified with Elijah.

2. The description of John the Baptist

 The description of John in Mark 1:6 par seems to echo that of Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 1:8). While it is possible that this simply reflects a typical image of a Prophet (Zech 13:4), early Christians and other Jews of the period would certainly have recognized the identification with Elijah. The wilderness association may also be relevant (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-18).

3. The Herod/Herodias episode

Commentators have noted the loose parallel between the persecution suffered by Elijah at the hands of Ahab/Jezebel with that suffered by John at the hands of Herod/Herodias, as narrated (in flashback form) in Mark 6:14-29 (par Matt 14:1-12). Luke mentions the arrest and execution of John, but has nothing corresponding to the flashback narrative, having presumably omitted it intentionally (though admittedly a vivid and dramatic account, it is something of a digression in the narrative of Mark/Matthew). Luke 9:7-9 also may be relevant here, for this passage records rumors (in reference to the miracles of Jesus) that John had returned (from the dead), specifically in connection with the (traditional) idea of Elijah’s return.

4. Matthew 11:14

This is the first of two passages in which Jesus himself refers to John as Elijah: “and if you are willing to receive (it), he himself is Elijah, the ‘(one) who is about to come'”. This verse specifically identifies John as both (a) Elijah and (b) the end-time “Prophet to Come”. This association will be discussed in more detail in the next day’s note. Matthew 11:2-19 is part of so-called “Q” (material common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark); the corresponding passage is Luke 7:18-35. In both versions, we also find Malachi 3:1 cited (Matt 11:10; Lk 7:27), as part of Jesus’ affirmation that John is a prophet, but even more than a prophet—i.e. presumably Elijah of end-time tradition. However, in Luke there is no saying specifically identifying John with Elijah (as in Matt 11:14). It is possible that verse 14 is a Matthean addition; but it is just as possible that Luke has omitted it (see below). In all likelihood this “Q”-section represents a cluster of sayings/teaching related to John the Baptist, which may not have been given all on the same occasion.

5. Mark 9:11-13 / Matthew 17:10-12

In the Synoptic tradition, following the Transfiguration scene (in which Elijah appeared), Mark and Matthew record a question by the disciples as to why scribes/scholars say that “it is necessary first for Elijah to come” (Mk 9:11). By this certainly is meant the tradition as recorded in Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6; Sirach 48:10, etc., whereby the prophet Elijah will come before (that is, ahead of) the great and terrible “day of the Lord” (i.e. the end-time Judgment). Jesus’ response may seem somewhat odd (from a later Christian perspective):

“Indeed (it is necessary for) Elijah to come first (and) set down (again) [i.e. restore] all things, and how it is written upon [i.e. about] the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be made out (as) nothing…” (Mk 9:12)

This first statement juxtaposes two elements: (a) the traditional end-time appearance of Elijah, and (b) the (impending) suffering of the Son of Man (Jesus himself). The first is a conventional eschatological motif; the second is thoroughly unconventional—there is little (if any) evidence, either in the Old Testament, or in Jewish literature prior to the New Testament, that the Messiah (or Son of Man) would suffer. Moreover, though there are passages where Jesus (like many Jews of the period and most early Christians) suggests an imminent end-time Judgment, the idea that he envisioned this coinciding with his suffering and death is especially difficult for orthodox believers to accept, since nothing of the sort took place (except perhaps in a spiritual/symbolic sense); but note the position of the Eschatological discourse of Mark 13 par, etc. As for the association of these themes in Mark 9:12, they are expounded somewhat in verse 13:

“…but I say to you that (indeed) Elijah has come, and they did to him as much as they wished, even as it is written upon [i.e. about] him.”

Is Jesus here speaking of John? Certainly one understands a possible reference to John’s imprisonment and execution, but the language here seems to relate more properly to Jesus’ own (impending) suffering. Though somewhat difficult to discern entirely, Jesus’ approach to the disciples’ question seems to be:

    • Beginning with the traditional eschatological understanding of the prophet Elijah’s role, and, while affirming it
      • Shifts the focus to the Scriptural/prophetic role of the Son of Man, especially the (unusual) idea that he is to suffer
      • Though unspoken here, the passage is centered between the first two predictions by Jesus of his own (impending) Passion (Mark 8:31; 9:31 par)
    • An implicit identification of John with Elijah, but in terms of his suffering and death

Much the same thing takes place in Acts 1:6ff, where disciples ask Jesus if now, following his resurrection, he will “restore the kingdom to Israel”—this is a question, like the one in Mark 9:10, which is framed according to a traditional eschatological understanding. And, as in Mark 9:11-12, Jesus again partially affirms, but essentially redirects their question toward a much deeper, less conventional meaning—the impending reality of the coming of the Spirit and the beginning of the apostolic (Christian) mission.

It is noteworthy that Luke has omitted (or does not include) the section corresponding to Mark 9:11-12. It is possible that he, too, wishes to downplay a direct identification of John with Elijah. In the angelic announcement of the Infancy narrative (Lk 1:16-17) it is stated that John will go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah”—this is somewhat different than saying that John himself is actually Elijah come again.

For further study, you may wish to consult the special note (on Mal 3:1ff) in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and also the notes on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

* * * * * * *

The centrality and importance of Isa 40:3 for both John the Baptist (Mark 1:3 par) and the Community of the Qumran texts [Dead Sea Scrolls] (cf. the Community Rule [1QS] 8:12-16) has led to the suggestion that John may have been associated at some time with the Qumran Community (usually identified as Essenes). It is a speculative, but not implausible, theory; and the following points have advanced in support of it:

  • John was born into the priestly line (according to Luke 1:5), but (apparently) never served officially as a priest. Many of the leading figures of the Qumran community were priests opposed to the current religious (Temple) establishment in Jerusalem. John’s parents were quite old when he was born, and likely would have died while he was still young; a child orphaned from priestly parents would have made a strong candidate for adoption by the Qumran community, as Josephus states was occasionally done by the Essenes (Jewish War II.120). Moreover, as a serious, religious-minded youth, John may well have been attracted to the Qumran community, even as Josephus was drawn to the Essenes as a young man (Life §10-11).
  • The Qumran community practiced ritual washings, which symbolized cleansing/purification from sin and entry/participation in the community (cf. 1QS 3:3ff; 5:13-14). As such, it provides a distinct parallel with early Christian baptism, which is related in turn to the earlier baptism practiced by John. There is also an interesting juxtaposition of cleansing by water and the Holy Spirit (and fire) in 1QS 4:20-21, as we see expressed by John in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16.
  • John’s ministry along the Jordan river included the desert regions around the Dead Sea not all that far from the site of Qumran. It is certainly possible that John may have had some contact with members of the Community.

For a more detailed summary, see the recent article “John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Scrolls”.

June 24: Luke 1:16-17, 76-77

June 24 is the traditional date commemorating the birth of John the Baptist—six months prior to the birth of Jesus, according to Luke 1:26. Just as the traditional date for the Jesus’ birth corresponds generally to the winter solstice, so John’s birth corresponds to the summer. This synchronicity symbolizes the relationship between John and Jesus in the Gospel and early Christian tradition. There are a number of ways this relationship might be studied, ranging from the historical to the theological-christological; I will be looking at it here, over several daily notes, according to one aspect, centered around the figure of Elijah.

With regard to John’s birth, apart from a generic (and proverbial) reference in Matt 11:11 / Lk 7:28, it is treated only in the Lukan Infancy narratives (Lk 1) and there in significant detail. In fact, within Lk 1-2, the births of Jesus and John are presented as parallel and overlapping (or intercut) narratives (sometimes referred to as a narrative “diptych”); the parallelism is clear and striking—each contains:

    • An angelic appearance (by Gabriel) announcing the child’s birth—with a prophecy/declaration of the child’s future—to one of the parents (Zechariah/Mary), patterned after similar Old Testament annunciations (Lk 1:8-23, 26-38)
    • A short narrative with an utterance by Elizabeth (Lk 1:24-25, 39-45)
    • A canticle by one of the parents (Mary/Zechariah), of a similar character and style drawing heavily upon Old Testament imagery (Lk 1:46-55, 67-79)
    • A narrative of the birth of the child, involving the reaction by people nearby (Lk 1:57-66; 2:1-20)
    • A notice of the naming and circumcision of the child (Lk 1:59-60; 2:21)
    • A statement regarding the child’s growth and development, patterned after the Samuel narrative in the OT (Lk 1:80; 2:40, 52)

This prominence is offset by the fact that, upon the start of Jesus’ ministry, John disappears more completely from Luke than in the other Gospels—Luke has eliminated the flashback narrative of John’s arrest and execution (Mk 6:14-29 and Matt par), and, more significantly, reduced the narrative of Jesus’ baptism (Lk 3:21-22), removing any specific mention of John’s role. Perhaps there is implicit here what is made explicit in Jn 3:30.

There are two passages in the Infancy narratives which are prophetic of John’s relationship to Jesus—one in the angel’s announcement to Zechariah (Lk 1:16-17) and one in the canticle of Zechariah (Lk 1:76-77)—both involve the motif of John as Elijah (or a prophet like Elijah).

Luke 1:16-17

The prediction or prophecy by the heavenly Messenger (Gabriel) begins in verse 14, extending through verse 17. There are actually two separate predictions: (1) in vv. 14-16 and (2) in v. 17. For the first prediction, the points mentioned are—

    • You (Zechariah) will have joy and leaping (for joy), v. 14a
    • Many will rejoice upon the child’s birth, v. 14b
    • The child will be great (me/ga$) in the eyes/sight of the Lord, v. 15a
      (note the similar statement regarding Jesus in Lk 1:32, “he will be great [me/ga$]”, and cf. Lk 7:28)
    • He will not [i.e. is not to] drink wine or beer/liquor, v. 15b—presumably as a ‘Nazirite’, like Samuel and Samson, two figures for whom there also were heavenly birth announcements (cf. Judg 13:4-5)
    • He will be filled with the holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, v. 15c—perhaps echoing similar phrasing of Samson as a ‘Nazirite’ from his mother’s womb (Judg 13:7; 16:17)
    • He will turn many of the sons of Israel back to [lit. e)pi/ upon] the Lord their God, v. 16

Verse 16 is a clear reference to John’s role as a prophet—one whose preaching and proclamation (often warning of impending judgment) sought to bring about repentance and a return to faithfulness among the people. In this regard, the prophet himself was often understood as having an eschatological role or status (cf. for example, Hos 3:5). This, in turn, points toward the association of John with the messenger of Malachi 3-4, which is specified clearly in verse 17:

“And he will go before in His [i.e. the Lord’s] eyes/sight in (the) spirit and power of Eliyyah [i.e. Elijah], to turn the hearts of (the) fathers (back) upon (their) offspring, and (the) unpersuaded [i.e. unbelieving/disobedient] in [i.e. unto] (the) thoughtfulness of (the) just/righteous (ones), to make ready for the Lord a people packed down fully [i.e. properly equipped, prepared].”

Note the specific phrases:

    • He will “go before” the Lord, as the Messenger in Mal 3:1 “looks over (and prepares) the way before” the Lord. The Greek expressions [pro] e)nw/pion (in Lk 1:17) and pro prosw/pou (Mal 3:1), though slightly different, have generally the same meaning (“before the face/sight of”). This may also be reflected in the earlier v. 15a.
    • “(the) spirit and power of Elijah”—the identification of the prophet/messenger with “Elijah”, as in Mal 4:5 [3:23 Hebrew].
    • “turn the hearts of (the) fathers (back) upon (their) offspring”—this same idea is expressed in Mal 4:6 [3:24 Hebr], though with slightly different language. Again this would seem to be reflected in the earlier v. 15 (use of the same verb e)pistre/fw “turn back upon”, i.e. “return”).
    • “make ready for the Lord a people ‘prepared’ [kataskeuasme/non]”—that this is taken from Mal 3:1 is confirmed by the citation in Lk 7:27, where we see the same verb kataskeu/azw (lit. “pack down [fully]”, but in conventional English something like “prepare/equip properly”). For the phrase “make ready (e(toima/zw) a people”, cf. 2 Sam 7:24 [LXX 2 Kingdoms 7:24]; Sir 49:12.

The author of the Gospel (trad. Luke) may also have been familiar with Sirach 48:10, which cites Mal 4:6 in an eschatological context. For more on the Messianic interpretation of Mal 3:1ff, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with a supplementary study on the subject.

Luke 1:76-77

These verses represent a strophe in the hymn or canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus, Lk 1:67-79). Verses 67-75 extol the faithfulness and power of God in dealing with his people—his mercy and mighty works—much as we see in the parallel canticle of Mary (the Magnificat, Lk 1:46-55). Verses 76-77, however, are addressed (prophetically) to John:

“But also you, (little) child—you will be called Foreteller [i.e. Prophet] of the Highest,
for you will pass/travel before in the eyes/sight of the Lord to make ready His ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to His people in [i.e. by] the release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins”

Again we see here a citation from Mal 3:1 (cf. also Isa 40:3), which was, in Gospel tradition, generally understood as applying to John the Baptist (as will be discussed in the next day’s note). It is worth noticing the Jesus/John parallelism in the titles used:

    • John: “he will be great in the eyes/sight of the Lord” (e&stai me/ga$ e)nw/pion [tou=] kuri/ou), Lk 1:15
      Jesus: “he will be great” (e&stai me/ga$), Lk 1:32
    • John: “(you) will be called prophet of the Highest” (profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|), Lk 1:76
      Jesus: “(he) will be called son of the Highest” (ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai), Lk 1:32

This raises the somewhat difficult question of the meaning of ku/rio$ (“Lord”) when passages such as Mal 3:1 are applied to John—is the “Lord” Yahweh or Jesus? Presumably, in Lk 1:15-17, 76 it is God the Father (Yahweh) that is meant, in keeping with the Old Testament usage, as well as the literary context. However, Luke, like nearly all early Christians, would also understand “Lord” immediately has a title for Jesus, and this is certainly implicit here as well (involving literary foreshadowing). That there was some interpretive confusion is indicated by the textual variants which cropped up occasionally in such passages. It is safest to assume that Luke primarily intends to depict John as a Prophet who goes before the Lord (YHWH), in fulfillment of Old Testament tradition; but secondarily these verses are prophetic of John as the forerunner of the Lord (Jesus). This secondary meaning is hinted at in the evocative, though somewhat ambiguous, language of the strophe which closes the Benedictus (vv. 78-79):

“…through the (inner) organs of (the) mercy of our God,
in which a rising [a)natolh] out of (the) height has looked upon us,
to shine (forth) upon the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death,
to straighten down our feet into (the) way of peace.”

Here the mercy of God, depicted in vv. 67-75, culminates in a “rising up” (probably best understood as a rising sun/light), drawing from key Old Testament passages such as Psalm 107:9-10; Isa 9:1; 42:6-7; 60:1; Mal 4:2 [3:20 Hebr]; cf. also Num 24:17 (and later passages such as in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Zebulun 8:2; Levi 4:4; 18:3; Judah 24:1).

Images with Jesus and John the Baptist together as infants represented a popular theme in Renaissance painting, etc, part of a rich corpus of devotional, Marian art (such as in the Madonna d’Alba by Raphael [on right, and also used in the header above]). The Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke proved to be a prime source of thematic material for Western/Catholic artists in the Medieval and Renaissance periods (much more so than for the Eastern/Orthodox traditions); these included, especially—the Annunciation to Mary, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the journey of the Holy Family, and the boy Jesus in the Temple, as well as scenes from extra-canonical tradition (Infancy Gospels and Marian legends).

March 24: Luke 9:28-36

Within the Synoptic tradition, the Transfiguration episode is part of a series that divides the Gospel narrative between the time of Jesus’ ministry (in Galilee) and his ministry in Jerusalem prior to his death. Using Mark as the reference point, I would outline these as follows:

    • Peter’s Confession of Jesus as “the Anointed” [Christ/Messiah] (Mk 8:27-30)
      —Instruction not to reveal it to anyone (v. 30)
    • Jesus’ first prediction of the Passion (Mk 8:31ff) [Son of Man saying]
    • Five sayings on discipleship (following Jesus), in an eschatological context (Mk 8:34-9:1) [Son of Man saying, v. 38]
    • The Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10), with reference by Jesus to his death/resurrection
      —Instruction not to reveal it to anyone (v. 9f)
    • Question and teaching regarding the (eschatological) coming of Elijah (Mk 9:11-13) [Son of Man saying, v. 12]
    • A healing miracle (Mk 9:14-28)
    • Jesus’ second prediction of the Passion (Mk 9:30-32) [Son of Man saying]
    • Question involving Jesus’ disciples and their position (Mk 9:33-34), leading to teaching regarding true discipleship and humility, including an illustration involving children (Mk 9:35-37ff, 10:13-16)
    • Request of a man [‘Rich Young Ruler’], culminates in a question of whether he will follow Jesus (Mk 10:17-22ff), followed by additional teaching for his disciples (10:23-31)
    • Jesus’ third prediction of the Passion (Mk 10:32-34) [Son of Man saying]
    • Question involving Jesus’ disciples and their position (Mk 10:35-40), leading to teaching regarding true discipleship and humility (Mk 10:41-45) [Son of Man saying, v. 45]
    • Request of a man [a blind beggar], culminates in his following Jesus (Mk 10:46-52)

We can see how the three Passion predictions punctuate and portion out fairly evenly the material in these chapters (Mark 9-10). In particular there is a loose, but clear pattern to the second and third sections. All three Synoptic Gospels share this basic outline, though, as I have already pointed out, Luke has greatly expanded the portion corresponding to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, ‘omitting’ Mk 9:42-10:12 par, and ‘adding’ all of Luke 9:51-18:14. Referring to the above outline, Luke 9:18-50 corresponds to Mark 8:27-9:41, and even more decisively marks division between the earlier (Galilean) ministry (Lk 3:23-9:17) and the journey to Jerusalem (9:51ff). This is important for an understanding of the Lukan version of the Transfiguration scene, which I will explore briefly here.

The Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36)

For students and readers of the Gospels, this episode should be quite familiar, at least in its basic outline. It is common to all three Synoptics (Mk 9:2-10; Matt 17:1-9), and Luke follows the common account, though adding a few significant and important details which are worth examining [for an additional reference to the Transfiguration, cf. 2 Peter 1:16-18].

  • Luke introduces the account with “and it came to be, eight days after these sayings…” (v. 28), instead of “and after six days…” (in Mk 9:2; Matt 17:10). The author appears to be intentionally dating the episode differently, the “eight days” perhaps being an allusion to the feast of Booths (Sukkoth, cf. Lev 23:36). This seems likely, given the greater emphasis on motifs related to Moses and the Exodus in Luke’s version of the scene. The Sukkoth traditions (and the symbolism surrounding them) provide the context for Peter’s desire to build three tents (v. 33).
  • It is stated that Jesus went up into the mountain for the purpose of praying (v. 28b). The inclusion of this detail may be a foreshadowing of the garden scene in the Passion narrative (Lk 22:39-41ff par); prayer is also given particular emphasis throughout Luke-Acts.
  • The description of Jesus is modified slightly—Matthew and Luke (independently?) including a reference to the transformation of Jesus’ face (v. 29; Matt 17:2). Matthew states that his face “radiated (light)” [e&lamyen]; in Luke’s version “the visible-shape [ei@do$] of his face (became) other/different [e%tero$]”. It is not unlikely that an allusion to the transformation of Moses’ face (Ex 34:29) is involved here.
  • In the description of Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah, Luke adds two details (v. 31):
    (a) they were made visible before one’s eyes [vb. o)pta/nomai] in splendor [e)n do/ca]—this may be an intentional echo of the Son of Man saying in v. 26 (note also v. 27 par)
    (b) they spoke with Jesus regarding “his way out [e&codo$, éxodos] which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem”—probably referring both to Jesus’ death (cf. 2 Pet 1:15) and resurrection/exaltation, which clearly connects with the surrounding (Son of Man) Passion predictions of vv. 22, 44. Use of the word e&codo$ is almost certainly an allusion to Moses and the Exodus (cf. Exod 19:1; Num 33:38; Heb 11:22).
  • Matthew and Luke each (independently?) give greater emphasis to the cloud that appears (vv. 34-35; Matt 17:5), perhaps as an allusion to the theophany at Sinai (Exod 19:16ff). This is far more likely in the Lukan version, which adds the detail that “they [i.e. the three disciples] went into the cloud“, just as Moses entered into the cloud on Sinai (Exod 24:18).
  • In Mark/Matthew (Mk 9:7; Matt 17:5), the (Divine) voice from the cloud echoes the voice at Jesus’ baptism (in Matthew they are identical)—”this is my (be)loved Son…” However, in Luke (v. 35, according to the best manuscript evidence [Ë45, 75 a B L etc]) the declaration reads “this is my Son, the One gathered out [o( e)klelegme/no$] (i.e. the Chosen One)”. Luke’s use of verb e)kle/gomai is distinctive (11 of the 22 NT occurrences are in Luke-Acts); especially noteworthy is the use of the related (verbal) adjective e)klekto/$ (“chosen”) in Luke 23:35—there o( e)klekto/$ (“the Chosen [One]”) is set parallel with o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed [One]”), being applied (mockingly by the onlookers) to Jesus while he is on the cross.

These details shape and color Luke’s version of the scene in two principal ways:

  1. Greater emphasis is given to motifs associated with Moses and the Exodus, and especially with the theophany (manifestation of God) at Sinai. This, in turn, creates a closer connection between Jesus and Moses, as well as with Elijah, who also experienced a theophany at Mt. ‘Sinai’ (Horeb) [cf. 1 Kings 19:11ff].
  2. The transfiguration is brought more clearly into the context of Jesus’ (impending) death and resurrection, as found in the surrounding Passion predictions and Son of Man sayings. Lk 9:31, in particular, effectively sets the stage for Jesus great journey to Jerusalem (to begin in v. 51ff).
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is SonOfMan_header-small-1.png

March 19: Mark 9:2-10 par

Mark 9:2-10 (par Matt 17:1-9; Luke 9:28-36 )

The Transfiguration—from the Latin translation (transfiguratus) of the Greek (metamorfw/qh, “he was trans-formed”) in Mark 9:2—is one of the more famous episodes in the Gospels. It is part of the “Triple Tradition” (i.e., occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels: Mark 9:2-10; Matthew 17:1-9; Luke 9:28-36), and is to be found at the same point in the narrative framework: following Peter’s Confession, and in between the two pronouncements by Jesus of his upcoming betrayal and death (Mark 8:31; 9:31-32 par.); however only in the Lukan account, is it connected directly with the Passion (Luke 9:31, but see also the question concerning Elijah, Mark 9:11-13 par).

Still, the entire episode remains enigmatic; it has been, and continues to be, interpreted any number of ways. Particularly curious are the presence of Moses and Elijah (Peter apparently recognizes them without any explanation), “speaking with” (sullalou=nte$) Jesus (only Luke mentions their discussion, see below). The two Old Testament figures are commonly thought to represent the Law and the Prophets, with Jesus in the middle as a kind of fulfillment of the Scriptures. However, in the original context of the Gospels—and at the historical level—I think it is more likely that Moses and Elijah both represent prophetic figures. Jesus as a Prophet (or as the eschatological, coming Prophet) was an important concept during the time of his own ministry and in the earliest Christian period. That there was widespread (‘messianic’) expectation of an eschatological Prophet is confirmed by numerous passages in intertestamental Jewish literature (1 Maccabees 14:41, CD 6), the Qumran scrolls (1QS 9, 4Q175 [Testimonia], etc), and the New Testament (see esp. John 1:21, 25; [4:19, 25]; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). There were key Old Testament passages in this regard—(1) Deuteronomy 18:15ff (cf. Exodus 20:21 in the Samaritan Pentateuch), which speaks of a “prophet like Moses” who is to come; and (2) Malachi 3:1; 4:5 [MT 3:22], where a Messenger preceding the coming of the great Day of the Lord is mentioned, along with Elijah (cf. Sirach 48:10; Sibylline Oracles 2:187-189; Mark 9:11-13 par; Matthew 11:4; Luke 1:17; 9:8; John 1:21, 25; [Rev 11:1-13]). One might also mention a third prophetic paradigm from the Old Testament: the “Servant of the Lord” from the book of Isaiah (esp. Isa 61, which Jesus specifically applies to himself [Luke 4:17-21]); a text from Qumran (4Q521) describes an Elijah-like Messianic figure in language drawn from Isa 61 and Psalm 146. (For more on this subject, cf. especially Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”)

Of course, the climax of the Transfiguration scene is the Divine Voice (Mark 9:7; Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:35), speaking out of the cloud. It seems to come in response to Peter’s desire to build three “tents” (in imitation of the Sukkot, Feast of Booths); after the Voice has spoken, the cloud, along with Moses and Elijah, has vanished. I would like to examine briefly this verse, from two vantage points: one, text-critical, and the other, source-critical (or historical-critical).

1. Text-Critical: Luke 9:35 differs notably from the parallel text in Matthew and Mark—instead of the articular adjective o( a)gaphto/$ (“[the one] loved”), it reads the articular (passive) participle o( e)klelegme/no$ (“[the one] chosen”). This is almost certainly the original reading, found in Ë45, 75 a B L C (579) 892 1241 pc, and in a range of Latin, Syriac (syrs, hmg) and Coptic manuscripts. In numerous MSS it was harmonized to the text of Mark (A C* W f13 33 ª et al) or Matthew (C3 D Y pc), but not the other way around; in a few MSS we also find the more common adjective e)klekto/$ used instead. By all accounts, the reading o( e)klelegme/no$ is more unusual (and difficult—lectio difficilior potior); it is hard to imagine how it could have come about if the reading common to Matthew/Mark were original, whereas a scribal tendency to harmonize with the “easier” reading in the other two Gospels is quite natural. Literally, e)kle/gw/e)kle/gomai should be translated “gather out [of/from]” (le/gw in its original, primary sense of “gather, collect”), and was used quite often in the LXX, normally translating the Hebrew rjb (“choose, chosen”); and, as such, often with real theological significance—’anointed’ kings and priests, David, the city of Jerusalem, the “Servant of the Lord”, etc., were all chosen by God. Jesus, then, as o( e)klelegme/no$, is “the one [being] gathered out” from all other beings. It is perhaps easy to see how such a title might make scribes and commentators in the early Church uncomfortable: the text could have been modified for doctrinal reasons, in order to avoid an “adoptionistic” view of Christ.  However, it would be dangerous to read later Christological concerns very far into Luke’s account: more vital to him, surely, are the Old Testament parallels: just like the people Israel, David, Jerusalem, and the Prophets, so Jesus was chosen by God.

2. Source-Critical: In studying any one of the Synoptic Gospels, it is always worth holding up the common passages for comparison, to look carefully at the differences between them. Here, for example, is the best text in each Gospel for the Divine Voice:

Mark 9:7:
ou(to/$ e)stin o( ui(o\$ mou o( a)gaphto/$
“This is my (be)loved son”
Matthew 17:5b:
ou(to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$, e)n w!| eu)do/khsa
“This is my (be)loved son, in whom I have good regard”
Luke 9:35:
ou(to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( e)klelegme/no$
“This is my son the (one I have) gathered out [i.e. chosen]”
or, “This is my son the Chosen (One)”

In each Gospel, the voice concludes, a)kou/ete au)tou= (Lk. reverses the two words), “hear him!” The question of the text of Luke 9:35 was examined above. But what of the relationship between the three Gospels here? The common critical theory—that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark as a written source—encounters difficulties in the Transfiguration scene, as both Evangelists (Luke, in particular) use very different language in places and include numerous details not found in Mark’s account. This means, at the very least, that Matthew and Luke are drawing from other traditions (or their own inspired creativity), in telling the story. Luke, especially, seems to apply an extra layer of symbolism, drawn from the Old Testament, at key points in the narrative (on this again, see below). In Mark (and Matthew), the Divine Voice speaks much as it did at the climax of Jesus’ baptism, and Matthew may be intentionally drawing a closer connection (in Matthew the two pronouncements are identical). Is it possible to determine the text at the historical level? One might view Mark’s version as “original”, to which the other Evangelists have added details. From a traditional-conservative position, one may be tempted to combine all three, in which case the Voice would have said something like: “This is my (be)loved son, the Chosen one, in whom I have (good) pleasure”. However, there is really no basis for such a conflate reading, beyond a pious desire to avoid discrepancy. Instead, should we not consider that, at the level of the inspired received text, the Voice speaks all three ways?

Old Testament parallels in Luke:

In conclusion, I would like to note several details, unique to Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, which seem to be the result of specific Old Testament symbolism applied to the traditional text.

  1. Jesus’ Face (Luke 9:29):
    Instead of stating that Jesus metamorfw/qh (“was trans-formed”), Luke indicates that the ei@do$ [“sight” i.e., appearance] of his face [prosw/pon] was e%tero$ [“other, different”, i.e. altered]. Matthew also mentions Jesus’ face (one of several minor agreements between Matthew and Luke, against Mark); however, here, especially, a reference to the glorification (LXX dedo/castai) of Moses (Exodus 34:29-33) seems to be in mind. Luke also refers twice in this context to “splendor” [do/ca], once referring to the appearance of Moses and Elijah (v. 31). Also, as Moses speaks (LXX e)la/lhsen) to the (chosen) representatives of Israel (34:31), so he speaks with (sunela/loun) Jesus.
  2. The Conversation (Luke 9:31):
    Luke records something of the nature of the conversation Jesus has with Moses and Elijah, that they recounted [i.e. spoke of] th\n e&codon au)tou= h^n h&mellen plhrou=n e)n Ierousalh/m (“…his way out [i.e. departure], which he was about to [ful]fill in Jerusalem”). The Greek word e&codo$ (éxodos, lit. “way out [of/from]”) unmistakenly references the “Exodus” of the Israelites, under Moses, out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
  3. The Cloud (Luke 9:34-35):
    All three Gospels mention the cloud (nefh/lh), and the Divine Voice issuing out of it, as well as the cloud overshadowing (e)piskia/zw) them; but only Luke mentions the unusual detail: e)fobh/qhsan de\ e)n tw=| ei)selqei=n au)tou\$ ei)$ th\n nefe/lhn, “and they were afraid in their coming into the cloud”—apparently the disciples (with Jesus) enter into the cloud. This would seem to be an echo of Exodus 19:20, where God calls Moses up onto the mountain to the “thick cloud” (LXX nefe/lh, v. 16) where God Himself is; see also 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, in reference to the “pillar of cloud”. The image of believers “entering into” the dark cloud of God’s Presence, proved to be a powerful symbol in Christian mystical tradition (cf. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses II:162-169; Pseudo-Dionysius’ Mystical Theology §1ff; and many other references).

The archetypal imagery of the Transfiguration was particularly prominent in the mystical tradition of the Greek Church. Especially noteworthy is an episode in the Hesychast controversy of the 14th century. “Hesychasm” (from h(suxi/a, “quiet, stillness, silence”) was a characteristic term applied to mystic-ascetic monks and hermits in the Eastern Church, reflecting a life of contemplation and unceasing prayer [“prayer of the heart”], with the ultimate goal of union with God and qe/wsi$ (“deification”, i.e., man becoming like God, cf. John 1:12-13 and Athanasius’ famous axiom, On the Incarnation 54.3). Part of this mystical contemplation involved a special vision of the Divine “Light”—not the essence of God, but his “energy” (e)ne/rgeia)—an uncreated, “hypostatic” light, synonymous with the Glory of Christ (as manifested especially during the Transfiguration [traditionally on Mt. Tabor]), and sometimes referred to as the “Taboric light”. Famously, Barlaam of Calabria and Gregory of Akindynos opposed the possibility of such a transcendent vision, while the Hesychast position was powerfully defended by Gregory Palamas in his Triads.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 4 (Lk 9:28-36 etc)

This note follows up on the prior discussion, regarding the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-13 par), and its parallels with the Baptism of Jesus. Here I will be focusing on the meaning and significance of the episode, especially as presented in the Gospel of Luke. This will include a comparison of the variant readings in Lk 9:35, compared with those in John 1:34.

Interpretation of the Transfiguration scene

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

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

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

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

2. The heavenly declaration corrects/clarifies the Messianic identification

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

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

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

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

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

The Transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36

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

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

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

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

“This is my Son, the (one who is) loved”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$

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

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. elect/chosen]”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o/$ mou o( e)klelegme/no$

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

“…this is the Son of God”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=

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

“…this is the (One) gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen] of [i.e. by] God”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( e)klekto/$ tou= qeou=

A few MSS have the longer (conflate) reading “…the elect/chosen Son of God”, which is surprisingly close to the heavenly voice in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration (according to many of the best MSS, cf. above). The adjective e)klekto/$ is closely related to the participle e)klelegme/no$ (both from the verb e)kle/gomai, “gather out of/from”), and has essentially the same meaning (“selected, elect, chosen”, etc). The adjective normally refers (in the plural) to believers (as the elect/chosen ones) in the New Testament, but the singular is used of Jesus (also as a title) in Luke 23:35; a few manuscripts likewise read the adjective, instead of the participle, in Lk 9:35. In the two Lukan references, and in Jn 1:34 v.l., the title “Elect/Chosen One” almost certainly must be understood in a Messianic context. The Lukan usage in 9:35, if original, suggests a parallel with the adjective a)gaphto/$ (“[the one] loved [i.e by God]”)—the one chosen by God is loved by God, and vice versa. It also indicates that the title “Son of God” should not be understood here in terms of later orthodox Christology (nor even the developed Christology of the Fourth Gospel). The immediate narrative context of the Gospel has rather a different, two-fold emphasis:

    • Jesus is the Son of God in a Messianic sense, according to the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 etc in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. Lk 1:32, 35, etc), and
    • The declaration points to the death, resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, by which he is considered to be God’s Son (and Anointed One) in a very special sense (Acts 13:33, etc). The Johannine idea of Jesus’ Sonship—i.e. as the pre-existent, eternal Son of the Father, plays little (if any) role in the Synoptic narrative, and represents a somewhat later development in the Gospel tradition.
The title “Elect/Chosen One of God” (ah*l*a$ ryj!B=) is found in an Aramaic text from Qumran (4Q534). It survives only as a fragmentary piece, so it is nearly impossible to determine the precise context, but it appears to be related in some way to the ancient Enoch traditions, most familiar as expressed in the work known as 1 Enoch. Column 1 lines 10-11 reads: “in that [i.e. because] he is the chosen (one) of God, his being born [i.e. his birth] and the spirit [jwr] of his life-breath [<vn] {…} his thinking/reckoning [pl. i.e., plans] will be to the distant age (to come) [i.e. for ever]…”. It may perhaps be debated to what extent the title “Elect/Chosen One” is Messianic (cp. Isa 42:1; Ps 89:3; 106:23); however, in the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (chap. 37-71), often dated roughly to the time of Jesus (early-mid 1st cent. A.D.), we find a heavenly figure (much like Jesus) who is variously given the titles “Son of Man”, “Anointed One” and “Elect/Chosen One”. All three of these titles appear together, in the context of the Transfiguration scene, in Luke 9 (vv. 20, 22, 26, 35 v.l., 44).

February 20: Luke 4:16-30 (continued)

The narrative of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), with its central Scripture passage (Isaiah 61:1-2) was introduced in the previous note. Today, I will be examining the significance of the passage from Isaiah. This can be understood from two primary aspects:

First, in terms of the themes and motifs of Isa 40-66 (so-called deutero- and trito-Isaiah), especially those related to the restoration of Israel and the return of God’s people from exile. In an earlier note, I discussed the allusions to a number of Isaian passages in Lk 2:25-38—that is, in the context of devout Jews who are waiting (to receive) the “consolation [para/klhsi$] of Israel” (v. 25) and the “redemption [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem” (v. 38). These passages are thus to be understood in a “Messianic” context, broadly speaking—by the first century B.C./A.D., the idea of the “restoration” of Israel (and its kingdom), was closely tied to the coming of a new (Anointed) Ruler who would re-establish the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Sam 7/Psalm 89, etc).

Second, Isaiah 61:1ff specifically as a Messianic passage. That the passage was understood this way in Jesus’ own time is indicated by the Qumran text 4Q521. This text survives only in several fragments, the largest of which (frag. 2 [col. ii]) reads as follows:

…[for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his Anointed One [i.e. Messiah jyvm], 2[and all th]at is in them will not turn away from the precepts of the holy ones. 3Strengthen yourselves, you who are seeking the Lord, in his service! {blank} 4Will you not in this encounter the Lord, all those who hope in their heart? 5For the Lord will consider the pious, and call the righteous by name, 6and his Spirit will hover upon the poor, and he will renew the faithful with his strength. 7For he will honor the pious upon the throne of an eternal kingdom, 8freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twis[ted]. 9And for[e]ver shall I cling [to those who h]ope, and in his mercy […] 10and the fru[it of …] will not be delayed. 11And the Lord will perform marvellous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id], 12[for] he will heal the wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor 13and […] … […] he will lead the […] … and enrich the hungry. 14 […] and all … […]
(translation, with slight modification, from Florentino García Martínez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1997-8, 2000 Brill/Eerdmans, Vol. 2, p. 1045)

This section contains a blending of several Old Testament passages, primarily Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (for a somewhat similar use of Isa 61:1f cf. also 11QMelchizedek [11Q13]). The role of the Messiah (line 1) in what follows is not entirely clear, but it is possible that he is the agent through whom God will perform “marvellous acts” (line 11ff). It is hard to be certain, but the remaining fragments (especially frag. 2 col iii with its allusion to Mal 4:5-6) suggest the Anointed One (see also pl. “Anointed Ones” in frag. 8) should be understood as a prophetic figure, in the manner of Elijah. This will be discussed further below.

Isa 61:1, in its original context, referred to the prophet himself (trad. Isaiah)—the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and anointed him to bring good news to the poor and oppressed; vv. 2-11 describe and promise the restoration of Israel, including a (new) covenant with God (v. 8) and (new) righteousness that will be manifest to all nations (vv. 9-11). Once the full sense of this “restoration” was transferred to the future, the speaker came to be identified with an Anointed eschatological (end-time) Prophet. Admittedly, prophets are not usually referred to as “anointed” in the Old Testament, but in later Judaism it became more common, and in the Qumran texts the word is used a number of times (especially in the plural) for the Prophets of Israel. At various points in its history, the Qumran Community (as reflected in the texts) seems to have expected three different Anointed (Messiah) figures—(1) a (royal) Messiah of Israel (sometimes with the title “Branch of David” or “Prince of the Congregation”), (2) a (priestly) Messiah of Aaron (perhaps identified with the “Interpreter of the Law”), and (3) a Prophet. It just so happens, of course, that these represent the three traditional “offices” of Christ (King, Priest, Prophet).

The concept of a “Messianic” (eschatological) Prophet derives from two main Old Testament passages:

    • Deuteronomy 18:15-19—The “Prophet like Moses” whom God will raise up.
    • Malachi 3:1-2—The Messenger, identified in Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] with Elijah, who will prepare the way of the Lord before His coming.

Both are attested as “Messianic” passages at Qumran and in the New Testament—for Deut 18:15-19 cf. 4Q175; 1QS 9:11; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37 (and see below); for Mal 3:1-2; 4:5-6 cf. 4Q521 frag. 2.iii; 4Q558(?); Mark 1:2; Matt 11:10ff; Luke 1:76. Elijah was the more popular figure, either as a type for the end-time Prophet or as Elijah redivivus (Elijah himself returning)—cf. Sirach 48:10-11; 4Q558; Mark 9:11-12 par.; Mishnah Sotah 9 (the Beraita), B. Metsia 1:8, 3:4, Eduyyot 8:7, and numerous passages in the Talmud (j. Sheqalim 3:3; b. Berakoth 35a, Shabbat 118a, Erubin 43b, Pesachim 13a, Chagigah 25a, Sotah 49b, B. Metsia 3a, Sanhedrin 48a, Menachot 45a, etc.). He was associated especially with the end-time judgment (cf. the Rabbinic invocation of his return in relation to resolving disputes), and with the resurrection (in addition to the talmudic references above, cf. j. Ketubot 12:3; Pes. de R. Kahana 76a; also 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 7, for a connection between the Messiah and the resurrection).

Beyond the traditions indicated in these texts, the Lukan passage under discussion itself provides evidence for interpreting Isa 61:1-2 as referring to Jesus as an Anointed Prophet according to the type of Elijah:

    • Jesus’ saying in Lk 4:24 (par.) effectively identifies him as a prophet
    • The two Scriptural illustrations in vv. 25-27 are all from the Elijah/Elisha narratives in 1 Kings 17:1-18:1; 2 Kings 5 (these are the only OT Prophets mentioned in the context of anointing, cf. 1 Kings 19:16).

Indeed, I would argue that Jesus, at the earliest levels of Gospel tradition, was primarily thought of in terms of an Anointed (Messianic) Prophet, more so than as the Anointed (Davidic) King. It is hard to find an Old Testament passage more applicable to the ministry of Jesus (as recorded in the Synoptics) than Isa 61:1-2; and Jesus himself cites very similar language in response to the Baptist’s question (“Are you the Coming One?”), Luke 7:18-23/Matt 11:2-6. By the “One (Who Is) Coming” probably the eschatological Prophet is meant (Deut 18:15-19), and Jesus is explicitly identified with the “Prophet like Moses” in Acts 3:22-23; 7:37. The Gospel of John perhaps preserves something of this tradition of Jesus as “the Prophet” in Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40; 9:17[?] (cf. also Luke 7:39 v.l.).

The association of Jesus with Elijah in Gospel tradition is more complicated. The use of Isa 61:1-2 would seem to suggest it, but the Synoptic Gospels, at least, identify John the Baptist with Elijah (Mark 1:2; 9:12-13 par. [saying of Jesus]; Matt 11:10-14 [saying of Jesus]; Luke 1:17). However, in Jn 1:20-21, the Baptist denies, in turn, that he is “the Anointed One [Messiah]”, “Elijah”, and “the Prophet”—apparently, these are to be understood as three different figures—and, since, Jesus would seem to fulfill the first and third, presumably he would the second (Elijah) as well. Certainly, the traditional association of Elijah with the end-time Judgment and the Resurrection, applies prominently to Jesus. For more on this, see Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

In the Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:2-8; Matt 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36), Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus (traditionally they are depicted on either side of him). It is customary to interpret Moses and Elijah as representing the Law (Torah) and Prophets respectively; however, given the evidence above, I think that the original import of the scene may have been to confirm, symbolically, Jesus as the Anointed Prophet-to-Come (fulling the typology of both Moses and Elijah). In Jewish thought, both figures play an important eschatological role, and an early tradition along these lines would seem to underlie Revelation 11:1-13. It is noteworthy, that in the Synoptic tradition, following the Transfiguration, Jesus again identifies John the Baptist with Elijah redivivus (Mark 9:9-13 par. [but not in Luke]). Clearly, then, Elijah is distinguished from both the (Davidic?) Messiah and the coming Prophet. In later Jewish tradition, Elijah precedes and announces (even anoints?) the Messiah (appar. the Jew Trypho in Justin’s Dialogue 8, 49; Targum Ps-Jon. on Deut 30:4; and b. Erubin 43b). This idea may have already been current in Jesus’ time.

In the Gospel tradition as it has come down to us (most clearly in the Synoptics), Jesus as the Anointed One [Messiah] is presented in a two-fold aspect:

  1. As the Prophet (to Come)—limited essentially to the Galilean ministry, and with the role of “Elijah” reserved for John the Baptist.
  2. As the King (“Son of David”)—this is associated with the ministry in Jerusalem, beginning with the Triumphal Entry and continuing into the Passion and Resurrection narratives.

(The discussion on Luke 4:16-30 will conclude in the next day’s note, with an examination of the people’s reaction to Jesus.)