“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Matthew)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Matthew

As discussed in the previous article on the Gospel of Luke, the most widely-accepted view regarding the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels posits that Matthew and Luke each made use of the Gospel of Mark and the so-called “Q” material as a common source. This approach, though not without its difficulties, remains the most plausible option for a functioning hypothesis, and so I have followed it for the purpose of this study. Thus, for the Gospel of Matthew (as for Luke), in examining the use of the expression “the son of man”, we must consider: (a) how the Markan and “Q” source material was included and adapted, as well as (b) references or aspects that are original or unique to Matthew.

From a structural standpoint, perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Matthean Gospel is the way that the author has grouped together teachings of Jesus—individual traditions, or clusters of traditions—into larger discourse-sections (or ‘sermons’). These discourses punctuate the Gospel—in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25 (to which one may add chap. 23)—and provide a certain theological framework that is interwoven with the narrative framework (drawn largely from the Markan narrative).

The Matthean Discourses actually represent expansions of previous, shorter discourse-sections. For example, the underlying “Q” material that formed the core of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7) likely corresponds, more or less, with the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:20-49). To this core, various other sayings and teachings of Jesus—some “Q” traditions, and others being unique to Matthew (“M” material)—have been added and arranged. The same is true with regard to chapters 10 (expanding the core tradition of Mk 6:7-13), 13 (expanding the sequence of parables in Mk 4:1-34), and 24-25 (expanding the “Eschatological Discourse” of Mk 13). To a lesser degree, chapters 18 and 23 are built up around core Synoptic/Markan and “Q” traditions, respectively.

The Matthean Gospel thus has a parallel arrangement running through the work: the narrative sequence (drawn from Mark), and the discourse/sermon sequence. With regard to the “son of man” references, it would seem best to analyze the data for each sequence in turn. We begin with the narrative sequence.

The Synoptic/Markan narrative, while generally followed by the Matthean Gospel writer, has also been disrupted and re-arranged at various points. The disruptions are largely due to the presence of the Discourses. For example, the Markan narrative is followed up to 1:20 (4:22), but then is interrupted to include the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7); when it resumes in chapters 8-9, the material from Mk 1:21-2:17 is presented, but in a different order (with the summary in 1:39 essentially being repositioned [and expanded] to introduce the Sermon on the Mount [4:23-25]).

The first occurrence of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) is at 8:20, following the Sermon on the Mount (the expression does not occur in the Sermon). Verses 18-22 are “Q” sayings (par Lk 9:57-60) on the theme of discipleship, and, in particular, on the cost involved in following Jesus. In the context of the narrative sequence, the two sayings of vv. 19-22 occur between the call of the first disciples (4:18-22) and the call of Matthew (9:9ff). In the intervening Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides a range of essential ethical-religious instruction for those who would be his disciples.

Let us briefly survey the references in the narrative prior to the central episode of Peter’s confession (16:13-20, par Mk 8:27-30); the sequence of references is as follows:

As in the Markan and “Q” source-material, these occurrences of the expression “the son of man” function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus (i.e., “this son of man”, namely himself). Any significance beyond this relates to Jesus’ identification with the human condition, especially with regard to human weakness and suffering. This extends to the anticipation of Jesus’ suffering and death that would occur in Jerusalem. The Matthean treatment of the “sign of Jonah” tradition (12:39-40ff) clearly brings this out—identifying the “sign” with Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection). The Lukan version—and the underlying “Q” tradition itself—focuses instead on the ministry (preaching) of Jesus. His preaching is contrasted with that of Jonah. The prophet Jonah’s preaching led to the repentance of the people of Nineveh; by contrast, Jesus’ own contemporaries (in Galilee) have not responded to him in a similar way, even though he is a far greater (and Messianic) Prophet.

In both 12:32 and 40, the expression (as a reference to Jesus) is connected with the theme of discipleship. Only the person who responds with trust to Jesus, and who, as a true disciple, will confess him publicly, will be able to pass through the Judgment and be saved. This thematic emphasis is intrinsic to the “Q” traditions themselves, and is brought out even more strongly in Luke’s treatment of the material (see the discussion in the previous article).

The focus on the suffering and death of Jesus comes more clearly into view with the central cluster of references in chapters 16-17ff. In this regard, the Matthean author is following the Synoptic/Markan narrative, and the three ‘Passion predictions’ by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). What is most interesting, however, is the way that the Gospel writer treats the expression “the son of man” so unequivocally as a self-reference by Jesus, entirely interchangeable with the use of the first person pronoun (“I”). Compare the question posed by Jesus to his disciples (in Mark and Matthew, respectively):

    • “Who do men count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:27)
    • “Who do men count/consider the son of man to be?” (Matt 16:13)

The Gospel writer clearly (it seems) does not consider the expression to be a Messianic or special Christological title per se, otherwise Jesus’ question would make no sense—viz., he would be giving his disciples the answer before he even finished asking the question (cf. Hare, p. 131f). Note the similar interchange, between expression and pronoun, in the first Passion prediction:

    • “And he began to teach them that it is necessary for the son of man to suffer many (thing)s…” (Mk 8:31)
    • “From then (on), Yeshua began to show to his learners that it is necessary for him to go forth to Yerushalaim and to suffer many (thing)s…” (Matt 16:21)

In chapters 16-20, references to Jesus’ suffering and death (17:9, 12, 22; 20:18, 28) alternate with references to his exaltation (and future return), 16:27-28; 17:9; 19:28. It will be useful to examine the original Matthean contributions to this presentation.

The saying in 16:27, though formulated differently, corresponds to Mark 8:38. It is possible that the saying was reworked (or replaced) because of the similar “Q” tradition that the author would include in 10:32-33 (where Jesus uses the personal pronoun instead of the expression “the son of man”). But the author has retained the motif of the “son of man” coming in glory:

    • “…the son of man…when he should come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with the holy Messengers” (Mk 8:38)
    • “For the son of man is about to come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with his/His Messengers…” (Matt 16:27)

The following saying in v. 28 also corresponds to the Markan parallel (9:1), being nearly identical, but with one key difference:

    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power!” (Mk 9:1)
    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the son of man coming in his kingdom!” (Matt 16:28)

The coming of the Kingdom is defined in terms of the coming of the son of man (Jesus) in glory. This clearly refers to the exaltation of Jesus, but also (it would seem) to his future (second) coming at the end-time. The saying in 10:23 (to be discussed) would indicate that the author had Jesus’ second coming (i.e., parousia) in mind. However, it is Jesus’ exalted position in heaven that is being emphasized in 19:28, a Matthean addition to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 10:17-31 (19:16-30) that has a loose parallel in Lk 22:28-30. The emphasis on the heavenly position of the son of man (on a ruling throne) anticipates the eschatological references in chaps. 24-25. It also reiterates the important discipleship context that attends a number of the “son of man” sayings (esp. the “Q” sayings) we have examined (see above):

“Amen, I say to you, that you, the (one)s having come on the path with [i.e. followed] me, in the (time of all things) coming to be (born) again, when the son of man should sit upon the throne of his honor/splendor [do/ca], you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

These sayings reflect the eschatological outlook of early Christians. As the Messiah, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven, Jesus will be sitting (in a ruling position) at the “right hand” of God, a position that he will continue to hold into the New Age. The end of the current Age was thought to be imminent, so that the New Age would very soon be ushered in—indeed, within the lifetime of some, if not most, of the first disciples. The exaltation of Jesus, followed by his subsequent return to earth (in glory), would mark the end of the current Age, and, with it, the final Judgment. This aspect of the “son of man” references will be discussed further in the continuation of this article, and again at the conclusion of this series.

Finally, the remaining “son of man” references in the narrative (26:2, 24, 45, 64) generally follow the Synoptic/Markan narrative, building upon the earlier association between the expression and the anticipation of Jesus’ impending suffering and death (in Jerusalem). Matthew is unique in the way that the Gospel writer opens the Passion narrative with a reiteration of the Passion-predictions:

And, when it came to be (that) Yeshua (had) completed all these words, he said to his learners: “You have seen [i.e. know] that after two days the Pesah [i.e. Passover] comes to be, and the son of man is given along to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified].” (26:1-2; cp. Mk 14:1)

Otherwise, the Gospel writer, in preserving the Synoptic/Markan references, emphasizes both the suffering of Jesus (including his betrayal, 26:24, 45) and his subsequent exaltation (26:64)—compare Mk 14:21, 41, 62. This balancing of the two aspects—suffering/death and exaltation—is, on the whole, typical of the use of the expression throughout the Gospel Tradition, but it is particularly significant (and noteworthy) in the Matthean presentation of the traditional material. In contrast with the Gospel of Luke, where the emphasis tends to be on the suffering aspect, Matthew gives somewhat greater prominence to Jesus’ exaltation.

References above marked “Hare” are to Douglas R. A. Hare, The Son of Man Tradition (Fortress Press: 1990).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 4)

The Climactic Sayings of Mark 13:26 and 14:62

Of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, most relate in some way to the human suffering of Jesus—and, particularly, to the suffering and death (viz., his Passion) which he would experience in Jerusalem. This is the focus of the three Synoptic Passion-predictions by Jesus (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f), but also clearly applies to the other occurrences of the expression in 9:9, 12; 10:45, and 14:21, 41. As I discussed (in Parts 2 and 3), the expression “the son of man” in these sayings, in addition to serving as a self-reference by Jesus, likely alludes to the poetic use of the expression in the Old Testament. The relevant references, given previously in the Introduction, are: Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:5[4]; 80:18[17]; 144:3 ; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43. In this poetic usage, the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (once vona$ /B#), “son of man”, is paired with “man” (<d*a*, vona$, vya! or rb#G#), as a way of referring to humankind or a human being generally (Psalm 146:3; cf. Part 1 on the sayings in Mk 2:10, 28), often emphasizing the limitation and weakness of the human condition.

In Mark 8:38, is the expression “the son of man” used in a rather different context—implying an eschatological judgment setting, as well as an exalted position for Jesus in heaven (alongside God the Father). This same emphasis features, even more prominently, in 13:26 and 14:62. These two sayings represent the climactic “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, and both are particularly important (and distinctive) in the way that they allude to the heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13-14.

I have discussed this Scripture passage in prior articles, as a supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and, more recently, in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. These articles can be consulted for discussion on the context and interpretation of Dan 7:13f. The relevant portion of the prophetic vision begins:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

The Aramaic vn`a$ rB^, corresponding to the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (or vona$ /B#), here simply refers to the human appearance (“like a son of man”, i.e., like a human being) of the heavenly figure in the vision. The human appearance of this figure is in marked contrast to the beasts elsewhere in the vision. Those beasts symbolize wicked/corrupt earthly power (i.e., kings and their kingdoms), while this “(one) like a son of man” represents heavenly power (and a corresponding king/kingdom). Indeed, the figure comes “with the clouds of the Heaven(s)”, drawing upon ancient storm-theophany imagery, such as is applied to YHWH in numerous Scriptural poems; for the motif of God coming/riding on the clouds, see Psalm 18:10-13; 104:3ff; Isa 19:1; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:4ff; Nah 1:3b.

This heavenly figure, with human appearance, approaches the throne of YHWH:

“…(he) was coming, and unto (the) Ancient of Days he approached, and they brought him near in front of Him.”

This heavenly figure is then given an everlasting Kingdom, with authority over all peoples and nations on earth (v. 14).

Mark 13:26

The “son of man” saying in Mark 13:26 is part of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (chap. 13 par), coming at a climactic point in the Discourse. The narrative setting for this collection of eschatological teaching is significant, preceding as it does the Passion Narrative (chaps. 14-15). It strongly indicates that there is a profound eschatological significance to Jesus’ suffering and death; indeed, his suffering/death may be said to mark the beginning of the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Dan 12:1 LXX]). Note, for example, the implications of Jesus’ wording in 14:38, 41 (cf. especially the Lukan formulation in 22:53b). This period of distress represents the “birth pains” of the New Age (Mk 13:8 par); and Jesus, in the Discourse, describes the things which will occur before the end (of the current Age), from three vantage points: (a) the nations and people on earth generally (vv. 5-8), (b) his disciples (vv. 9-13), and (c) the people of Jerusalem and Judea (vv. 14-23).

Following the period of distress, with all its attendant travail and suffering, the end will be ushered in (vv. 24-27) by the appearance of “the son of man” from heaven:

“And then they shall see the son of man coming on (the) clouds, with much power and splendor.” (v. 26)

The wording clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13, even though the scenario has a different orientation. In the Daniel 7 vision, the “(one) like a son of man” is coming on the clouds toward God, in heaven. By contrast, here in Mk 13:26 par,  the “son of man” is coming on the clouds to earth, to gather up the righteous (v. 27) and to usher in the end-time Judgment (implied by vv. 24-25). Yet the eschatological context for both references is essentially the same: they refer to the establishment of a Divine/heavenly kingdom, entailing the judgment of the nations, the destruction of the wicked, and the exaltation/reward of the righteous (cf. Dan 7:14, 23-27). The framing of this scenario within the Eschatological Discourse owes much to the conclusion of the book of Daniel (12:1-4ff).

Of all of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, the occurrence of the expression in 13:26 could most plausibly be interpreted as referring to a heavenly being separate from Jesus himself. Indeed, a number of commentators have explained the saying, at least in its original form (as spoken by Jesus), in precisely this way. This interpretative approach was mentioned previously, in connection with the saying in 8:38; however, here it is rather more plausible. From the standpoint of Jesus’ first hearers, it is by no means obvious that he is referring to himself by the expression “the son of man”. Nothing in the Gospel, up to this point, suggests that Jesus has been using the expression with Daniel 7:13 in mind.

Early Christians, of course, reading the passage with Christological hindsight, could understand verse 26 perfectly well as a reference to the future return of Jesus, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven; but what sense would this have made to Jesus’ own disciples (or to others) at the time? Admittedly, the reference is somewhat problematic, if viewed as an authentic saying by Jesus, with “the son of man” as a self-reference. And yet, the expression is clearly used as a self-reference everywhere else in the Gospel—Jesus refers to himself as “th(is) son of man”, i.e., this person (namely, myself). It must be regarded so here as well, both from Jesus’ own standpoint (as speaker), and from the standpoint of the early Gospel Tradition.

What, then, are we to make of its usage here by Jesus? Before proceeding to give an answer, let us first examine the final “son of man” saying.

Mark 14:62

The saying in Mark 14:62 par occurs at the climax of the Sanhedrin interrogation scene (vv. 53-65), a key episode within the Passion narrative. In the Markan version, the high priest asks Jesus:

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (v. 61)

Jesus responds with bold affirmation (“I am”), and then adds:

“…and you shall see the son of man being seated at (the) right-hand of the power (of God), and coming with the clouds of the heaven!” (v. 62)

Again, the expression “the son of man” functions as a self-reference—i.e., “you shall see th(is) son of man…”, “you shall see me…”. At the same time, however, there is a definite allusion (even more clear than in 13:26) to Dan 7:13f, where the expression “(one) like a son of man” occurs. Here, certainly, Jesus’ use of the expression as a self-reference, identifying himself with the human conditions, dovetails with the expression from Dan 7:13; not only does he identify with the human condition (on earth), but also with exalted position of the human-like figure in heaven. That is to say, Jesus here is identifying himself with the heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13ff, the one who receives the kingdom and rule over all humankind. In this exalted position, he is also associated specifically with the “holy ones” among God’s people, just as the “son of man” in 13:26f comes with the holy angels (from heaven) and then gathers together the holy ones (righteous/believers) on earth (cp. Dan 7:27; 12:1-3).

There are a number of critical interpretative questions surrounding 14:62 par, not the least of which involve the small but significant differences in detail between the three Synoptic versions.

In Matthew, for example, the question by the high priest (26:63) is phrased so that it more closely mirrors the confession by Peter (16:16; cp. Mk 8:29); indeed, the two are virtually identical:

You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God.”
su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= tou= zw=nto$

“…I would require an oath of you…(to say)
if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God!”
ei) su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=

Otherwise, the Matthean version of Jesus’ response (26:64) closely follows Mark. The Gospel writer gives Jesus’ initial affirmation an ironic twist; instead of the bold Markan “I am”, Jesus points back to the high priest’s own question (mirroring Peter’s confession): “You (have) said (it) [su\ ei@pa$]”. Matthew expands the beginning of the remainder of the response, but the core of it is essentially identical with Mark’s version. The two notable points of difference are: (1) it is introduced by the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti (“from now [on]”), and (2) the preposition e)pi/ is used rather than meta/, i.e., “…coming upon [e)pi/] the clouds of heaven”. The difference in preposition is minor, corresponding to the same difference between the LXX (e)pi/) and Theodotion (meta/) Greek versions of Dan 7:13 (the Aramaic preposition [<u!] is better rendered by the meta/ in Theodotion and Mark). As for the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti, which matches the corresponding a)p’ tou= nu=n (“from now”) in Luke’s version (22:69), it serves to position more clearly the “son of man” saying in relation to the impending death of Jesus. After his death (and resurrection), “from now on”, Jesus will have an exalted position (at God’s right hand) in heaven.

In both of the “son of man” sayings under investigation here, Luke’s version either eliminates or downplays the association with Daniel 7:13-14. In the saying corresponding to Mark 14:62 par, the Daniel allusion is omitted altogether, leaving only an implicit reference to Psalm 110:1 (i.e., Jesus at God’s right hand):

“But, from now (on), you shall see the son of man sitting at (the) right-hand of the power of God!” (22:69)

In 21:27 (corresponding to Mk 13:26 par), the wording is altered slightly, possibly to bring out the parallel with Jesus’ ascension (in Acts 1:9-11). Just as Jesus is taken up (to heaven) in a cloud (singular), so he will return (from heaven) in/on a cloud (again, singular). The plural “clouds” brings out more clearly than in Luke’s version an allusion to Daniel 7:13f (cf. above).

The main point of reference, as Luke’s version of the climactic saying (22:69 [Mk 14:62]) so clearly highlights, is the exaltation of Jesus to heaven, following his death and resurrection, where he will have an exalted place at God’s right hand. While evidence for the influence of Dan 7:13f on the earliest Christian understanding of Jesus’ exaltation is extremely slight, the motif of his position at “the right hand of God” (Ps 110:1) was a frequent and widespread component of the Christological portrait—[Mk 16:19]; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. In Acts 7:55-56, the Lukan author essentially records the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in 22:69. Even though it is Stephen, a believer, who sees the exalted Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God, this occurs (based on the narrative context) as part of an interrogation before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), mirroring the Gospel account of Jesus’ own interrogation before the Council.

Thus, the principal point of the “son of man” saying in Mark 14:62 par is not the (future) return of Jesus from heaven, but his exaltation to heaven; indeed, this orientation matches the the setting of the Daniel passage. How, then, did this aspect of Dan 7:13f, applied to Jesus’ exaltation, become applied to the idea of his future return (in Mk 13:26 par)? For early Christians, considering the matter after Jesus’ resurrection (and departure/ascension), this would have been an obvious extension—viz., Jesus’ exaltation would naturally be followed by his (imminent) return to earth at the end-time Judgment (cf. Revelation 1:7).

But could this same usage reasonably be attributed to Jesus himself, speaking to his disciples during his earthly ministry? The literary context of Daniel 7:13-14 certainly assumes an eschatological framework. After the judgment of the nations (and their kingdoms), the kingdom bestowed upon the heavenly figure will be an eternal/everlasting dominion, ruling over all people on earth. There will never be another kingdom, implying that human history, as it had previously been known, has effectively come to an end. The human people of God (“holy ones”) will, in their own way, also rule over this kingdom—note the parallels in wording between vv. 14 and 27. Moreover, as has been noted previously, the thought, wording, and imagery of Dan 12:1-4ff had a tremendous influence on early Christian eschatology, and on the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, in particular. The heavenly figure “Michael” (v. 1) will appear at the end-time, in the midst of a period of great distress (qli/yi$, cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par), ushering in (it is implied) the end-time judgment, which also involves the salvation (and ultimate exaltation) of the righteous (vv. 2-3).

If Jesus identified himself with the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14, then it would not be surprising if he also saw himself essentially as fulfilling the role of “Michael” in 12:1ff—that is, the exalted heavenly being who will appear at the end-time to usher in the Judgment and bring salvation to the righteous (for more on this eschatological/Messianic figure-type, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Admittedly, presenting this portrait to his disciples prior to his death and resurrection would, almost certainly, have created a good deal of confusion. However, at least two possibilities should be considered in this regard. First, the eschatological “son of man” reference in Mk 13:26 par, with its allusion to Dan 7:13ff, could have been made (originally) in a vague or ambiguous manner, referring clearly to the end-time appearance of the heavenly redeemer-figure of Daniel 7ff, but not (yet) referring clearly to Jesus himself as that figure. Second, one must at least entertain the possibility that some of the eschatological sayings/teachings of Jesus could have been made after the resurrection, in which case, an eschatological “son of man” saying such as Mk 13:26 par would presumably have made more sense to Jesus’ disciples (cf. the context of Acts 1:9-11). The current position of the eschatological sayings in the Gospels is primarily topical, rather than historical/chronological. This can be seen by the way that such material is grouped together in distinct (literary) sections of the Gospels (including the “Eschatological Discourse” itself), and also by Matthew’s inclusion (in the Discourse) of eschatological (“Q”) material that occurs in an entirely different location/setting in Luke (cf. the discussion in Parts 2 and 3 of my earlier article on the “Eschatological Discourse”).

For the next article in this series, we will explore the “son of man” sayings and references that occur in the so-called “Q” material shared by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: New Testament Christology, part 1

John 1:14 and New Testament Christology

Our final area of study in this series is the relation of John 1:14 to the wider view of Christ, held by early believers, and as expressed in the New Testament. To what extent does the Johannine Christology of the Prologue (and its underlying Logos-poem) reflect the beliefs and thought of first-century Christians? In what ways does this Christology represent a natural development of the early Gospel traditions, or should it be characterized more as a distinctly Johannine creative expression?

Due to the scope of the study, which involves much of the New Testament, I will not be going into the kind of exegetical detail that I did in the first two divisions. Rather, the study will proceed as a survey, looking at the more salient points and citing certain references and phrasing when appropriate. This study will build upon the results from the prior articles, framed in terms of the Johannine Christology found in the Prologue (and particularly verse 14). It is to be divided into three parts, focusing on:

    • The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts)
    • The influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and
    • The specific idea of the Divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ

Here, in Part 1, we begin with the first of these topics.

The Sonship of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels

John 1:14 speaks of the incarnation (“became flesh”) of the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, even though, throughout the remainder of the Gospel (and in the Letters), the principal identification is of Jesus as the Son of God. The word lo/go$ has considerable theological importance in the Johannine writings, but, outside of the Gospel Prologue, the profound Christological use of the term is, at best, only indirectly alluded to or implied. By contrast, the Gospel repeatedly refers to Jesus as the Son (ui(o/$) who was sent (by God the Father) from heaven to earth. This theology implies the idea of the Son’s pre-existence; Jesus’ words in 8:58 and 17:5, 24 state the Christological point even more directly.

In the Prologue, the Gospel writer appears to have taken an existing ‘Logos-poem’, developing and applying it to the context of the Gospel he was composing (or had composed). The Logos-poem itself draws upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition, involving the personification of Divine Wisdom (cf. Prov 8:22-31), but expressed through the philosophical/theological use of the term lo/go$, rather than utilizing the term sofi/a (“wisdom”) itself. This usage of the word lo/go$ in the Johannine Logos-poem has much in common with the way the term is used, for example, in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, as we have discussed.

In verses 14-18 of the Prologue, the Gospel writer makes the transition from the term lo/go$ (i.e., the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God) to the term ui(o/$ (i.e., the Son of God). This transition is enabled through the use of the adjective monogenh/$ (“only [Son]”) in v. 14 (cf. also v. 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9). The idea of Jesus as the incarnate Logos is absent from the Synoptic Gospels; nor does the term monogenh/$ occur (in this theological/Christological sense). However, the idea that Jesus is the unique Son of God is found at various points in the wider Gospel Tradition, going back to the early historical tradition and the earliest expressions of Christian belief.

In this article, we will examine the outlines of this belief in the Divine Sonship of Jesus, considering how it may relate to the Johannine Christology (of the Prologue, etc). I wish to focus on three areas:

    • The early exaltation Christology—viz., the Sonship of Jesus defined by his resurrection and exaltation (to God’s right hand in heaven)
    • The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism
    • The birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives
1. The early exaltation Christology

By all accounts, the earliest Christology can be characterized as an exaltation Christology—that is, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was defined primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. This exaltation resulted in his obtaining a status and position at the “right hand” of God in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The early Gospel proclamation (kerygma), as we find it preserved in the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts (and elsewhere in the New Testament), tends to define the Sonship of Jesus primarily in terms of this exaltation—see, for example, the declaration in Acts 2:36, the citations of Ps 110:1 and 2:7 (in the specific context of the resurrection) in Acts 2:34-35 and 13:33 (cp. Heb 1:5; 5:5), and Paul’s statements in 1 Thes 1:10 and Rom 1:3-4 (the latter perhaps quoting from an early credal statement).

Within the Gospel Tradition itself, the identification of Jesus as the exalted Son tends to be framed by way of the title “(the) Son of Man” (cf. Mk 13:26, 32; 14:61-62 par; Matt 16:27-28; 19:28; 24:36ff pars; 25:1). This Gospel usage of the expression “(the) Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), which unquestionably derives from authentic historical tradition (and Jesus’ own usage), is a complex matter. Four aspects of its use must be recognized:

    • As a self-reference, a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”, so that, when Jesus speaks of “the son of man”, he is simply referring to himself
    • The Son of Man sayings, where Jesus uses the expression to identify with the suffering and mortality of the human condition
    • The Passion statements and predictions, where the human mortality of Jesus (the Son of Man) refers specifically to his own impending death (and resurrection)
    • The eschatological Son of Man sayings, in which Jesus seems to identify himself with a heavenly figure who will appear on earth and usher in the end-time Judgment

All four of these aspects are combined in the famous declaration by Jesus in Mk 14:62 par, which is clearly influenced by Daniel 7:13-14, and thus refers indirectly to the idea of Jesus’ exaltation. For more on the Gospel use of the title “Son of Man”, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with my series on the Son of Man sayings; see also my note on Dan 7:13-14.

The Gospel of John preserves this exaltation Christology, but adds to it a highly developed pre-existence Christology. The two aspects of Jesus’ Sonship are thus balanced, much as we see, for example, in the ‘Christ hymn’ of Phil 2:6-11. In the Johannine theological idiom, the exalted status which Jesus receives (following his death and resurrection) is understood as a return—that is, to the glory which he, the Son, possessed in the beginning (17:5). The “Son of Man” references in the Gospel of John are instructive in this regard (1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31). They refer not only to the exaltation (“lifting high”) of the Son of Man, but to his coming down to earth (from heaven)—i.e., during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The pairing of the related verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”) highlight this dual-aspect. In the Johannine Gospel, the emphasis is squarely on the Son’s heavenly origin.

The Son’s heavenly origin is clearly the focus in the Gospel Prologue as well. The emphasis on his pre-existent glory (do/ca) balances the traditional idea of Jesus’ post-resurrection exaltation, as does the specific image of the Logos/Son possessing this glory “alongside” (para/) the Father. One is immediately reminded of the traditional idiom of the exalted Jesus standing “at the right hand” (i.e., alongside) God in heaven (cf. above).

2. The identification of Jesus as God’s Son at the baptism

The Gospel Tradition also expresses the idea of Jesus’ Divine Sonship through the specific tradition(s) surrounding his baptism. In particular, the heavenly voice at the baptism declares, quite unequivocally, that Jesus is God’s Son (Mk 1:11; par Matt 3:17; Lk 3:22), a declaration that is essentially repeated in the Synoptic Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:7 par Matt 17:5 [where the declarations are identical]; Lk 9:35).

In my view, this idea of Jesus’ Sonship should be understood in a Messianic sense. This seems particularly clear by the Lukan version of the declaration in the Transfiguration scene:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e., chosen]…”

The use of the participle e)klelegme/no$ (from the verb e)kle/gomai) unquestionably has Messianic significance, referring to Jesus as the “Chosen (One)”. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) has this in mind, given the occurrence of the related adjective e)klekto/$ in 23:35: “…the Anointed [xristo/$] of God, the Chosen (One)”. Interestingly, in some manuscripts, the Johannine version of the heavenly declaration at the baptism (Jn 1:34) also uses the substantive adjective e)klekto/$ rather than the noun ui(o/$ (“Son”):

    • “This is the Son [ui(o/$] of God”
      [Majority Text]
    • “This is the Chosen (One) [e)klekto/$] of God”
      [the reading of Ë5vid a* and other versional witnesses]
    • “This is the Chosen Son of God”
      [a conflation of the two readings attested in a number of versional witnesses]

The original Gospel tradition almost certainly alludes to Isaiah 42:1, Jesus’ baptism (marking the beginning of his time of ministry) being seen as a fulfillment of this prophetic passage—the heavenly declaration corresponding to v. 1a, and the descent of the Spirit to v. 1b. For more on this connection, cf. my earlier study in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. Jesus is thus identified with the Deutero-Isaian Servant figure, and as a Messianic Prophet, chosen by God and anointed by His Spirit. Again, it is Luke’s Gospel that brings out this Messianic identification most clearly, identifying Jesus, in particular, with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff (4:18-19, cf. also 7:22 par). Cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

By the time the Gospels were completed, Jesus’ Messianic identity as the royal/Davidic figure type (cf. Parts 68 of “Yeshua the Anointed”) had completely eclipsed that of the Prophet figure-types. It is thus not surprising that the Sonship emphasized in the baptism scene would come to be understood in terms of the royal/Davidic type as well. The textual tradition of the Lukan version of the heavenly declaration (3:22) contains a variant reading to this effect, whereby the heavenly voice quotes Psalm 2:7. Certainly, in the Lukan and Matthean Infancy Narratives (cf. below), Jesus is identified exclusively as the Davidic Messiah, with his Sonship defined on those terms.

The place of the baptism of Jesus (and the heavenly declaration) within the Johannine Christology is problematic and remains debated by scholars. The main event at the baptism (in all four Gospel accounts) is the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (Jn 1:32-33). In the Synoptics, the clear implication is that the presence of the Spirit is tied to Jesus’ Messianic identity (Isa 42:1; 61:1), empowering him to fulfill his ministry, working miracles as a Spirit-anointed Messianic Prophet (according to figure-types of Elijah and Moses). Luke’s Gospel particularly emphasizes this role of the Spirit, in relation to Jesus’ identity as a Messianic Prophet (4:1ff, 14, 18-19ff, 24ff [note the Elijah/Elisha references in vv. 25-27]).

However, in the Gospel of John, both Jesus’ Sonship and the role of the Spirit are described very differently, and the traditional material preserved in the baptism scene thus needs to be interpreted and explained accordingly. I am devoting an extensive supplemental note to this subject.

3. The Birth of Jesus (as God’s Son) in the Infancy Narratives

In the detailed exegesis of Jn 1:14 given previously, in the articles of the first two divisions of our study, I discussed the evidence in support of the expression “became flesh” (sa/rc e)ge/neto) as referring to a human birth—viz., of the birth of the Logos as a human being. For many Christians, this would simply be taken for granted, given the tendency to harmonize 1:14 with the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives—thus assuming that 1:14 refers to Jesus’ birth.

There is, however, no real indication that the Gospel of John, in any way, has been influenced by the Matthean and/or Lukan narrative (or any of their underlying traditions). The Gospel writer certainly was aware of the expectation that the royal/Davidic Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (7:42), but there is no evidence that he understood Jesus to have been born there—indeed, the author’s handling of the matter in 7:41-43 could be taken as suggesting the opposite.

More seriously, there are two ways in which the Gospel of John differs markedly from the Infancy Narratives: (1) the lack of emphasis on Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, and (2) the Johannine emphasis on Jesus’ birth as an incarnation. As we conclude Part 1 of this article, let us briefly consider each of these points.

The identification of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (xristo/$), that is, the Messiah, is central to the Johannine theology—as, indeed, it was for virtually all early Christians. However, as I have discussed (particularly in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), there were a number of different Messianic figure-types present in Judaism during the first centuries B.C./A.D., and these should not be reduced to the single (royal/Davidic) type that subsequently came to dominate eschatological and Messianic thought. In 7:40-43 (discussed above), there is a distinction made between “the Prophet” (that is, a Messianic Prophet, patterned after Moses) and “the Anointed One” (the Davidic Messiah). Similar distinctions are made in 1:20-25.

It is not clear whether the title o( xristo/$, throughout the Gospel, refers strictly to Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, or whether it has broader or more general Messianic significance. In any case, Johannine Christians would have identified Jesus with all relevant Messianic figure-types, both “the Prophet” (esp. patterned after Moses) and the Davidic Messiah. The Gospel explicitly identifies Jesus as “the King of Israel” (1:49), and, like the Synoptic tradition, beginning with the ‘triumphal entry’ and throughout the Passion narrative, gives certain emphasis to the theme of Jesus’ kingship (12:13, 15; 18:33ff, 39; 19:3, 12-21). In my view, the title o( xristo/$, in the Gospel of John, entails both Prophet (Moses) and Kingly (Davidic) aspects; overall, however, it is the association with Moses that is specifically established in the Prologue, and which is more dominant which the thematic structure and theology of the Gospel.

This is to be contrasted with the Infancy Narratives, where the Davidic Messiahship of Jesus is unquestionably given emphasis, and which is tied directly to Jesus’ birth—Matt 1:1ff, 20; 2:1-6ff (citing Mic 5:2), 15; Luke 1:27ff, 69; 2:1-4ff, 10-11ff. In the Lukan narrative, the Sonship of Jesus is defined by this particular Messianic paradigm, as the statements in 1:32-33 and 35 make abundantly clear. There is no real sense, in either narrative, that Jesus’ birth represents the incarnation of a pre-existent Divine being; to be sure, the Lukan and Matthean accounts are typically read that way, but this largely under the harmonizing influence of Jn 1:14.

The Johannine confessional statements (cf. especially in 11:27 and 20:31) effectively summarize the Johannine theology: Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) and the Son of God. He is, indeed, the Messiah (both Prophet and King), but also something more—the eternal and pre-existent Son of God. In Parts 2 and 3, we will consider the New Testament parallels to this pre-existence Christology, focusing (in Part 2) on the influence of Wisdom tradition on early Christology, and evidence for this outside of the Johannine writings.

November 16: John 15:16 (3)

John 15:16, continued

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“…(so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit”
i%na u(mei=$ u(pa/ghte kai\ karpo\n fe/rhte

In the previous note, we examined the idea that Jesus set (vb ti/qhmi) the disciples, whom he chose, in a special position (in relationship to him). Now, in the next clause, he expresses the purpose of this placement—the purpose being indicated by the governing particle i%na (“[so] that…”). The particle governs two phrases, represented by two verbs. Let us consider each of them.

1. u(pa/gw. This verb means “lead (oneself) under”, that is, hide oneself, go out of sight, disappear; often it is used in the more general sense of “go away”. It is a common verb, used primarily in narrative. While it occurs in all four Gospels, it is most frequent in the Gospel of John (32 times, out of 79 NT occurrences). It is another distinctive Johannine term; even though it can be used in the ordinary sense (of a person going away), e.g., 4:16; 6:21, etc., it tends to have special theological (and Christological) significance as well.

In particular, it is used in the specific context of the exaltation of Jesus—that is, his death, resurrection, and return to the God the Father (in heaven). Specifically, the death of the Son (Jesus), and his return to the Father, represent dual-aspects of a departure-theme that runs through the Gospel, becoming most prominent in the Last Discourse, as the death of Jesus draws near. The verb u(pa/gw is used to express this idea of the Son’s departure. It features in the Sukkot Discourse-complex (7:33; 8:14, 21-22; and note the ironic foreshadowing in 7:3), before being reprised in the Last Supper scene (13:3). Its introduction at the beginning of the Last Supper narrative sets the stage for the theme in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), where it occurs repeatedly—13:33, 36; 14:4-5, 28; 16:5, 10, 16, and here in 15:16.

There are several other references where the verb carries an important, but somewhat different, nuance:

    • 3:8—where it is used of the invisible coming and going of the Spirit, and of the one who is born of the Spirit (i.e., the believer)
    • 6:67—it is used (indirectly) of disciples who had been following Jesus, but who now ceased (i.e., went away), thus demonstrating that they were not true disciples
    • 12:11—here it is used in the opposite sense, of people who “go away” to follow Jesus, trusting in him
    • 12:35—its proverbial use in connection with the light-darkness motif, has to do with whether a person can see (i.e. know) where he/she is going; the person who has the light, and who can see, is a true believer and disciple of Jesus

Based on this evidence, the theological usage of u(pa/gw in the Gospel can be summarized as two-fold:

    • It refers to the departure of Jesus (the Son), back to the Father, with the completion of his mission
    • It is used (in various ways) to characterize the activity and identity of the true disciple/believer

These two aspects help us to understand the significance of the verb here in v. 16, in the context of the Last Discourse. This significance is rooted in the principal idea of the disciple/believer as an appointed representative of Jesus, one who is sent forth (i.e., the fundamental meaning of the term a)po/stolo$ [apostle]) to continue his mission. The two aspects of u(pa/gw are thus thematically related here:

    • Jesus goes away, back to the Father, having completed his (part of the) mission
    • The disciples (believers) go forth, in Jesus’ name, to continue the mission

2. fe/rw (“bear, carry, bring”)—This verb is used here with the object karpo/$ (“fruit”), as it is throughout the Vine-passage (vv. 2, 4-5, 8); the same expression, “bear fruit”, is used in 12:24 (discussed in an earlier note). In prior notes, I have mentioned that this idiom is to be understood principally in terms of the mission of believers, insofar as they/we are following in the example of Jesus (and his mission). This line of interpretation is more clearly established here, with the strong (if allusive) connection of v. 16 to the historical tradition of the calling of the (Twelve) disciples. The Twelve were specifically chosen to represent Jesus, continuing (and extending) his mission over a wider geographic territory. The same idea applies to the addressees of the Last Discourse—which includes the Twelve (sans Judas), but also encompasses all those who are true disciples/believers.

And what is the mission for believers? From the Johannine standpoint, it is essentially equivalent to fulfilling the two great duties (e)ntolai/) Jesus has given to us: (1) keeping/guarding his word(s), and (2) showing love to one another, according to his example (of sacrificial love); these two duties are defined by the phrases “remain in my word” (8:31, cf. 15:7) and “remain in my love” (15:9-10)—which are aspects and components of the general command “remain in me” (15:4ff). The first duty, guarding the word(s) of Jesus entails the proclamation of the Gospel, since the “word” of Jesus is largely synonymous with the Gospel message. This is particularly so in the Johannine context, where the “word(s)” of Jesus (esp. the great Discourses) are centered on his identity as the Son of God, the heavenly/eternal Son sent to earth by God the Father, and all that this theological affirmation implies.

October 16: John 15:2 (12:24)

John 15:2, continued

In considering how to interpret the idiom of “bearing fruit” (vb fe/rw + karpo/$) in the context of the Vine-illustration (cf. the previous note on v. 2), it is necessary to examine the use of this same terminology elsewhere in the Gospel of John. There are two relevant references: (1) 4:36, in the context of the discourse-illustration of vv. 31-38, and (2) the saying in 12:24. As the saying by Jesus in 12:24 is closer in form and substance to the statement in 15:2, we will look first at that reference.

John 12:24

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, (that) if the kernel of the grain, falling into the earth, should not die off, (then) it remains alone; but, if it should die off, (then) it bears much fruit.”

This saying is part of the Discourse-unit of 12:20-36. The narrative introduction is established in vv. 20-22, describing the unusual circumstances of some Greek visitors to Jerusalem (for the Passover festival) who expressed an interest in seeing Jesus (“we wish to see [i)dei=n] Yeshua”). In the Gospel of John, the idiom of seeing (and the specific use of the verb ei&dw, along with other sight-verbs), has theological and Christological significance. To see Jesus means coming to know and trust in him. Thus, this short episode, occurring toward the close of Jesus’ public ministry (as narrated by the Gospel), likely is meant by the author as a foreshadowing of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. At the historical level, the “Greeks” (or Greek-speakers) should probably be understood as Gentile converts (proselytes) or ‘God-fearers’ (such as Cornelius [cf. Acts 10-11]).

This allusion to the Christian mission is a sign that Jesus’ own mission on earth is nearing its end. This is the significance of the central declaration in verse 23:

“…the hour has come that the Son of Man should be shown honor [docasqh=|]”

Throughout the Gospel, the title “the Son of Man” (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) is used specifically in reference to the heavenly origin of Jesus—as the Son sent by God the Father to earth.

The verb doca/zw essentially means “recognize”, typically in the sense of giving/showing honor to a person, sometimes by placing the person in an esteemed/honored position. It is one of several verbs in the Gospel used in the specific theological context of the exaltation of Jesus. Within the Johannine Christological narrative, the exaltation of Jesus involves a process that covers (and includes) Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father (in heaven). Jesus’ passion (and the passion narrative), preceding his death, marks the beginning of the process of exaltation. For other occurrences of the verb doca/zw with this meaning, cf. 7:39; 12:16; 13:31-32; 17:1, 4-5; it occurs three more times in this passage (v. 28).

Thus, the immediate context of verse 24 is the beginning of Jesus’ exaltation, anticipating his impending suffering and death. As noted above, his death marks the end of his earthly mission, and foreshadows the beginning of the believers’ mission. This is the light in which we must read verse 24. The dying (vb a)poqnh/skw, “die off/away”) of the seed in the ground (or “earth”, gh=) clearly alludes to Jesus’ impending death. And yet, the proverbial and gnomic character of this saying suggests that it applies to the disciple of Jesus (i.e., believer in Christ) as well. The following verse 25 more or less confirms this point:

“The (one) being fond of his soul loses it, but the (one) hating his soul in this world shall guard it into (the) life of the Age [i.e., eternal life].”

This saying resembles comparable discipleship-sayings in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 8:35; Matt 10:39; 16:25; Luke 9:24; 17:33), and likely derives from the same underlying historical tradition(s). The implication is that the disciple must be willing to sacrifice his/her own life (“in this world”)—dying, if necessary—in order to obtain eternal life. This attitude of willing self-sacrifice follows the example of Jesus himself. In the Synoptics, this teaching is best expressed by the saying regarding the disciple “taking up his cross” and following Jesus; versions of this saying are preserved in both the Synoptic/Markan and “Q” lines of tradition (Mk 8:34 par; Matt 10:38 par). In the Gospel of John, this same principle is expressed primarily in terms of the “love command” (13:1, 14ff, 34-35; 15:12-13; cf. also 10:11-17). In both the Johannine and Pauline writings, we also find the idea that the believer shares/participates in Jesus’ death, and its life-giving power, through the Spirit, as symbolized by the rituals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The servant who follows Jesus in this manner, willing to share in his suffering and death, will be shown/given honor (same verb, doca/zw) by God the Father, just as Jesus (the Son) is exalted (v. 26; cp. 21:19).

It is in this context that we are to understand the motif of “bearing fruit”. Consider the short dialogue and exposition by Jesus that follows (vv. 27-36), in which he discusses further the nature and effect of the Son’s exaltation (beginning with his death). Here, in verse 32, an earlier Son of Man saying (3:14; 8:28; cp. in v. 34) is reprised, utilizing the verb u(yo/w (“raise/lift high”) to express the theme of exaltation:

“…and I, if I should be lifted high [u(ywqw=] out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself.”

Most commentators translate the prepositional expression e)k th=$ gh=$ as “from the earth”; however, this misses the important connection with the agricultural imagery in verse 24. The seed, falling “into the earth” (ei)$ th\n gh=n), dies, and then produces new life/growth that comes up “out of the earth” (e)k th=$ gh=$). The “fruit” (karpo/$) motif, in this agricultural context, thus refers to the life that is produced through the death of Jesus (the Son), and which is then communicated to the world. This Divine/eternal life is made available to every one who trusts in him; so powerful is this source of life that believers find themselves dragged (vb e(lku/w) toward it. The qualifying idiom “much fruit” (polu/$ karpo/$) in verse 24 should be understood in relation to the idea of “all (people)” (i.e., all believers) being drawn/dragged to the eternal life that the Son gives.

 

Saturday Series: John 8:21-30 (continued)

John 8:21-30, continued

In picking up from last week’s discussion on the references to sin in Jn 8:21-30, there are two questions which need to be addressed: (1) how does this passage relate to the earlier sin-reference in 1:29, and (2) what is the significance of the parallel versions of the statements in vv. 21 and 24, using the singular and plural forms, respectively, of the noun hamartía?

With regard to the first question, the statement in verse 24 is key:

“if you do not trust that I am, you will die off in your sins”

The fate of dying in one’s sin(s) thus is tied directly to whether or not the person trusts (vb pisteúœ) in Jesus. This trust is defined in terms of the essential predication (“I am,” egœ¡ eimi), that is characteristic of God (the Father), being applied to Jesus (the Son). This is a roundabout (and distinctly Johannine) way of affirming Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. In other words, unless a person trusts that Jesus is the eternal/pre-existent Son sent by the Father, that person will die in his/her sin(s). This fate of dying, lost in sin, must be contrasted with the salvation and eternal life that comes through trust in Jesus.

The famous declaration in 3:16-17 brings this out with particular clarity, and it helps us to understand the significance of the earlier Lamb of God declaration (1:29) in this regard. In each instance, the relationship between Jesus and the world (ho kósmos) is at issue:

    • “See, the Lamb of God—the (one) taking (away) the sin of the world.” (1:29)
    • “God sent forth the Son into the world…(so) that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17)

As previously discussed, in these passages, the noun kósmos is not (primarily) used in the negative sense that is so distinctive and typical of the Johannine writings. Instead, the principal meaning here is of humankind generally—i.e., of all the people on earth, in the inhabited world. The idiom of the world “being saved” is parallel, and essentially synonymous in meaning, with its sin being “taken away”. In the earlier study on 1:29, I discussed the use of the verb aírœ (“take up”) in that verse, and determined that the primary meaning there is “take away” (i.e., remove). Thus, the Lamb of God takes away (removes) sin, which is central to the idea of people (in the world) being saved.

As in 8:24, the statement in 3:16 makes clear that one is saved through trust in Jesus; combining this with the declaration in 1:29 leads to the conclusion that the Lamb of God “takes away” sin when one trusts in Jesus as the Lamb. As I discussed, the Passover lamb is the principal figure that informs the “Lamb of God” concept, and, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is identified with the Passover lamb primarily in the context of his death on the cross. The lamb is “lifted up” on the cross, in a way that is comparable to the application of the bronze-serpent tradition (Num 21:9) in 3:14-15:

“And, just as Moshe lifted high the serpent in the desolate (land), so also it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should hold (the) life of (the) Age [i.e. eternal life].”

These words occur immediately prior to the salvation-statement(s) in 3:16-17, and clearly frame the concept of one’s trust in Jesus in terms of trusting in his exaltation (i.e., being “lifted up”). In the Gospel of John, the exaltation of Jesus represents a process that includes: his death, resurrection, and return to the Father in heaven. The exaltation begins with his sacrificial death—as the Passover lamb who is slain, and whose blood protects (i.e., saves) people from death and judgment. When one trusts in Jesus the Son, this necessarily entails trusting in the sacrificial nature of his death and its life-giving power (represented by the image of blood). It is not enough to trust that Jesus is the Son of God, if that trust does not include this understanding and belief regarding the cleansing (i.e., sin-removing) and life-giving power of his death. This is a point that the author of 1 John argues vigorously against certain ‘opponents’ who apparently hold a rather different view of Christ’s death.

But what of the second question mentioned above? Is there any particular significance to the author’s use of both the singular and plural forms of the noun hamartía in 8:21 and 24?

    • “…you shall seek me, and (yet) you shall die off in your sin [hamartía]; for the (place) to which I go away, you are not able to come (there)” (v. 21)
    • “…if you do not trust that I am, (the) you will die off in your sins [hamartíais]” (v. 24)

In 1:29, the singular hamartía (“sin”) was used in a general or collective sense—that is, for the sin(s) that the people in the world possess, and the condition of sin(fulness) that controls and dominates the world of humankind. It is possible that the variation between singular and plural in 8:21, 24 simply expresses this same general/collective sense of sin. However, I believe that the author (and Jesus as the speaker) is utilizing a clever bit of wordplay (something that occurs frequently in the Johannine Discourses), bringing out two important and distinct aspects of sin. The plural refers to sin in the general/conventional sense, as wrongs, errors, and misdeeds committed by people; however the singular refers to sin in a specific sense—which, I would argue, is the primary sense of sin in the Johannine writings.

If we translate the genitive expressions in 8:21, 24 in an ultraliteral way, it may help us to perceive the distinction:

    • “you will seek me, and (yet) you will die off in the sin of you”
    • “if you do not trust that I am, (the) you will die off in the sins of you”

In v. 21, Jesus tells his audience that they will not be able to follow him, and so will die off in their sin (“the sin”). What is this sin? It is the great sin—the sin of unbelief, of not trusting in Jesus. As v. 24 makes clear, when a person possesses this great sin, it means that all other sins remain and cannot be removed; thus the person will die in “the(se) sins”. R. E. Brown, in his famous commentary on the Gospel (Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 29, p. 350) states the matter this way:

We note that “sin” is in the singular in vs. 21, for in Johannine thought there is only one radical sin of which man’s many sins (plural in vs. 24) are but reflections. This radical sin is to refuse to believe in Jesus and thus to refuse life itself.

I generally concur with Brown’s analysis in this regard, though I am perhaps not so quick as he to connect this idea of one great sin with the Synoptic tradition of the unforgivable sin (of blaspheming the Holy Spirit).

In any case, I would maintain that the Johannine writings understand two distinct levels, or aspects, of sin, which can be distinguished here in 8:21, 24 by the use of the singular and plural, respectively:

    • Singularthe great sin of not trusting in Jesus (as the Son of God)
    • Plural—sin in the conventional ethical-religious sense of wrongs and misdeeds that a person commits.

As we proceed through the remaining sin-references in the Johannine writings, this important distinction will come more clearly into view, along with certain theological, Christological, and spiritual implications.

Next week, we will examine the next section of the Sukkot Discourse in chaps. 7-88:31-47, with the statement regarding sin in verse 34. This passage defines sin through thematic idiom of slavery and bondage/freedom. The further reference in verse 46 will also be discussed.

 

May 18: John 16:12ff

John 16:12-15

The Paraclete-saying in vv. 8-11 (discussed in the previous notes) continues in verses 12-15. Some commentators would treat these as two distinct units, however I prefer to consider vv. 7b-15 as a single Paraclete-unit. The main reason is that, in the prior three sayings (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27), the statement on the coming of the “one called alongside” (para/klhto$) is followed by a reference to the parákl¢tos as “the Spirit of truth” (or “the holy Spirit”). Here, the parákl¢tos is called the “Spirit of truth” in verse 12, which strongly indicates that vv. 12-15 represents a continuation of the saying in vv. 7b-11, and that vv. 7b-15 constitutes a single saying, albeit expanded and more complex, according to the pattern in the Last Discourse.

The Spirit’s role and function was described in vv. 8-11: he will expose the world (o( ko/smo$), showing it to be wrong; this is fundamental meaning of the verb e)le/gxw, as previously discussed. The Spirit will show the world to be wrong on three points, each of which was discussed in some detail in the prior notes: (1) about “sin” (a(marti/a, note), (2) about “right[eous]ness” (dikaiosu/nh, note), and (3) about “judgment” (kri/si$, note). That the Spirit’s witness is aimed primarily at the disciples (believers), rather than directed at the world, is indicated by what follows in vv. 12-15. The world’s understanding of sin, righteous, and judgment is shown to be wrong, mainly for the benefit of believers. At the same time, believers (esp. the disciples) give witness toward the world, and the Spirit’s witness enables and guides them in this mission (cp. the Synoptic tradition in Mark 13:9-13 par, and throughout the book of Acts).

Thus it is that in vv. 12-15 the focus shifts back to the teaching function of the Spirit, emphasized in the second Paraclete-saying (14:25-26), an emphasis that is also reflected in the third saying (15:26f). In the articles on those sayings, I brought out the important point that the Spirit continues the mission of Jesus with his disciples (and future believers), and that Jesus is present, in and among believers, through the Spirit, continuing to speak and teach. This aspect of the Paraclete’s role is made particularly clear here in vv. 12ff, where Jesus begins:

“I have yet many (thing)s to relate to you, but you are not able to bear (them) now”

The verb he uses is basta/zw, which has the basic meaning of lifting something up and holding/supporting it. The disciples’ inability to “bear” Jesus’ teaching means that they are not yet ready to hear and understand what he has to say. The failure of the disciples to understand during the Last Discourse (e.g., 14:5, 8, 22) is part of a wider misunderstanding-motif that features throughout the Johannine Discourses. Jesus’ hearers are unable to understand the true and deeper meaning of his words. Only after the disciples have received the Spirit, will they be able to understand. Jesus still has “many (thing)s” to tell them, and he will communicate this further teaching through the Spirit:

“…but when that (one) should come, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you on the way in all truth; for he will not speak from himself, but (rather), as many (thing)s as he hears, he will speak, and the(se) coming (thing)s he will give forth as a message to you.” (v. 13)

The statement that the Spirit will guide believers “in all truth” corresponds to the claim  that the Spirit will teach them “all things”. In this regard, the identification of the Spirit-Paraclete by the title “the Spirit of truth” is particularly significant. The author of 1 John would take the connection a step further, declaring that the Spirit is the truth (5:6). For more on the expression “Spirit of truth,” cf. the article on the first Paraclete-saying.

Some commentators would limit these Paraclete-sayings in application to the original disciples, but such a restriction runs counter to the overall thrust of the Last Discourse, as well as to the Johannine theological-spiritual understanding. The Spirit continues to teach believers “all things”, as is clear from 1 Jn 2:20, 27 (to be discussed in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”). The focus in the narrative is, however, primarily upon the original disciples of Jesus, who are the first believers to receive the Spirit and to continue Jesus’ mission on earth.

The (correlative) neuter plural pronoun o%sa (“as many [thing]s as”) relates back to the neuter plural adjective polla/ (“many [thing]s”) in v. 12. The Spirit will hear the “many (thing)s” that Jesus has to say to believers, and will then speak them, on Jesus’ behalf; effectively, Jesus will be speaking through the Spirit, even as he will be present alongside believers through the Spirit. Interestingly, the statement in v. 12 (cf. above) seems, on the surface, to contradict what Jesus said in 14:30; note the formal similarity in expression:

    • not yet [ou)ke/ti] many (thing)s [polla/] will I speak [lalh/sw] with/to you” (14:30)
    • “yet [e&ti] many (thing)s [polla/] I have to say [le/gein] to you” (16:12)

This is another example of double-meaning in the Johannine discourses—where Jesus’ words can be understood on two different levels, or in two different ways. On the one hand, Jesus will not yet speak “many things” to his disciples, since he will not be present with them (on earth) much longer; but, on the other hand, he will yet say “many things” to them through the Spirit.

This chain of relation, between the Son (Jesus) and the Spirit, is given in verse 14, expressed very much in the Johannine theological idiom:

“That (one) will show me honor, (in) that he will receive out of th(at which is) mine and will give (it) forth as a message to you.”

The Spirit receives the words from Jesus, and gives them along to believers. This corresponds to the relationship between Father and Son, whereby the Son (Jesus) receives from the Father, and then gives it, in turn, to believers. The Spirit represents, in one sense, a further link in this chain; at the same time, Jesus himself is manifest in the Spirit, just as the Father is personally manifest in him (the Son). An important emphasis throughout the Gospel is how Jesus speaks the words he receives from the Father; in this regard, he is functioning as a dutiful son learning from his father and following the father’s example—i.e., the Son says (and does) what he hears (and sees) the Father saying (and doing). On this important theme, see esp. 3:31-34; 5:19ff, 30ff; 7:17-18; 8:26, 28, 38ff; 12:49f; 14:10; 15:15; 17:8, 14.

The Son speaks only what he hears from the Father; similarly, the Spirit speaks only what he hears from the Son. The precise expression is that he will receive “out [i.e. from] of th(at which is) mine” (e)k tou= e)mou=). Since the Father has given “all things” to the Son (3:35; 17:7, etc), the words of God which the Spirit receives come from the Son, and belong to him. In my view, the neuter plural participle (verbal noun) ta\ e)rxo/mena (“the coming [thing]s”) in v. 13 refers, not to news of future events, but simply to the words/teachings that are “coming” to the Spirit from the Son (the verb e&rxomai tends to have this Christological focus in the Gospel of John). The neuter plural has a general and comprehensive meaning, corresponding to the plural adjective poll/a (“all things”) in v. 12 (cf. above).

The disciples’ receiving of the Spirit marks the final stage of Jesus’ exaltation. The process of the Son being honored (vb doca/zw), which began with his Passion (cf. 12:23, 28), culminates in his receiving the Spirit from the Father to give to believers. The entire narrative of exaltation, from Jesus’ earthly suffering to communicating the Spirit from heaven, is characterized by the verb doca/zw (cf. 7:39; 12:16, etc).

“All (thing)s [pa/nta], as many as [o%sa] the Father holds, are mine; through this [i.e. for this reason] I said that he receives out of th(at which is) mine and will give (it) forth as a message to you.” (v. 15)

Verse 15 summarizes the theological message of the passage, stating quite clearly the key points of the Johannine theology which I have noted above. The neuter plural adjective pa/nta (“all [thing]s”) corresponds to the polla/ (“many [thing]s”) in v. 12, and the (correlative) neuter plural pronoun o%sa (“as many [thing]s as”) is repeated from v. 13. The adjective pa=$ (“all, every”) plays an important theological role in the Gospel; special attention should be given to other occurrences of the neuter (“every [thing], all [thing]s”)—cf. 1:3; 3:31, 35; 5:20; 6:37, 39; 10:4; 14:26; 16:30; 17:2, 7, 10; 18:4; 19:28.

May 15: John 16:11

John 16:11

In verse 11, we have the third (and final) item of the triad in the Paraclete-saying of v. 8:

“that (one) will show the world (to be wrong)…about judgment [kri/si$]”

In the previous notes on v. 9 and 10, two key points were established: (1) the Spirit will show the world to be wrong in its understanding (of sin and righteousness), and that (2) the true nature of sin and righteousness is to be understood in Christological terms—that is, in relation to Jesus’ identity as the Son sent (from heaven) by God the Father. The same two points apply to the final statement regarding judgment (kri/si$).

The noun kri/si$ fundamentally refers to a separation, often in the sense of discerning or making a decision about something. It is typically translated “judgment”, either in this general sense, or within the specific legal-judicial context of a decision rendered in a court of law (by a judge). For the most part, in the Gospel of John, as throughout the New Testament, kri/si$ specifically refers to the coming end-time (eschatological) Judgment, when God will judge the world, punishing humankind for its wickedness.

The noun occurs 11 times in the Gospel (out of 47 NT occurrences), and once in 1 John (4:17); the related verb (kri/nw) occurs 19 times in the Gospel, but not in the Letters. Occasionally, the more general sense of judgment is intended (cf. 7:24), or kri/si$/kri/nw is used in an ordinary legal-judicial context (7:51; 18:31); however, as noted above, primarily the reference is to the coming end-time Judgment (see esp. 5:29-30; 12:31, 48; 1 Jn 4:17).

Even though the eschatological context is primary, this is presented in a very distinctive way in the Gospel Discourses. At several points, we find signs of what is called “realized” eschatology—that is, the idea that end-time events, such as the resurrection and the Last Judgment, are understood as having, in a sense, already occurred, being realized in the present. This does not mean that the Gospel writer (or Jesus as the speaker) denies a future fulfillment, but only affirms that it is also fulfilled in the present. This is seen most clearly in the chapter 5 Discourse, where the resurrection is defined, not simply as a future event, but as realized in the present, through the presence of the Son of God (Jesus)—vv. 25ff; cp. 11:25-26. In terms of salvation from the coming Judgment, this is realized for believers (in the present), through their/our trust in Jesus:

“the (one) hearing my word, and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) life of the ages [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over, out of death, (and) into life.” (5:24)

If believers are saved from judgment in the present, through trust, then unbelievers correspondingly come under God’s judgment, having the judgment (already) passed against them (in the present), through their lack of trust. The key passage alluding to this is 3:19-21; cf. also 9:41; 15:22-24. In the wider Gospel tradition, the end-time period of distress, seen as the beginnings of the Judgment, commences with the suffering and death of Jesus (see, e.g., Mark 14:38-41 par, and the context of the “Eschatological Discourse” [chap. 13 par]). The Johannine tradition evinces the same basic eschatological view, and this is confirmed by Jesus’ declaration in 12:31, and is strongly implied throughout the Last Discourse.

The explanation of the Paraclete-saying in v. 8 concludes with the words of Jesus in v. 11:

“…and about judgment, (in) that the Chief of this world has been judged”

The perfect tense of the verb kri/nw (ke/kritai, passive, “he has been judged”) indicates a past event, the effect of which continues in the present. The implication is that the “chief of this world” has already been judged, just as believers have already passed through [perfect form of the vb metabai/nw] the Judgment (5:24, cf. above).

The expression “the chief of this world” (o( a&rxwn tou= ko/smou tou=tou) occurred earlier the 12:31 declaration:

“Now is (the) judgment of this world, now the Chief of this world shall be cast out!”

The idea expressed is very close to that here in v. 11: “shall be cast out” (future tense) is parallel with “has been judged” (perfect tense). Essentially the same expression was used earlier in the Last Discourse, at the close of the first discourse (14:30f):

“Not much more shall I speak with you, for the Chief of the world comes, and he does not hold anything on me, but (this is so) that the world would know that I love the Father, and, just as He laid on me (a duty) to complete, so I do (it).”

This is a rather complicated way for Jesus to refer to his impending suffering (and death). The approach of the “Chief of the world” signifies the world’s role, under the dominion of its “Chief”, in putting Jesus to death. The point is strongly made that this does not mean that the world (or its Chief) has any power over Jesus, or has anything incriminating on him (deserving of death)—cf. Jesus’ words to Pilate in 19:11, and note the emphasis in 10:18. In his own way, Pilate is one of the world’s “chiefs”, though ultimately subservient to the dominion/control of its main Chief (the Devil). Jesus’ suffering and death will happen so that everyone (“the world,” in a more generic sense) will know of the love between Father and Son, and that the Son (Jesus) is simply fulfilling the duty and mission given to him by the Father.

In speaking of the “coming” of the world’s Chief, coinciding with the onset of Jesus’ Passion, one is reminded of the Synoptic Garden scene, when Jesus announces to his close disciples that “the hour (has) come [h@lqen h( w%ra]” (Mark 14:41 par; cp. Jn 12:23, 27 in connection with v. 31). In the Lukan version (22:53), this declaration is given more vivid and personal form:

“…but this is your hour, and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness”

In many ways, this language approaches the Johannine theme of the world’s opposition to Jesus; the plural “you” essentially refers to those people, hostile to Jesus, who belong to the current world-order (ko/smo$) of darkness and evil. Functionally, they are servants of the Devil, the “Chief” of the world.

According to the world’s view of things, Jesus was judged and punished by the world’s authority; yet this view of judgment (kri/si$) is decidedly wrong. Jesus’ suffering and death actually marks the beginning of his exaltation—of his being “lifted up” (as the Son of God) in glory. While it might appear as though Jesus was judged, it was actually the world (and its Chief) that underwent judgment. This is the true nature of judgment that the Spirit will bring to light, exposing the false understanding of the world. Jesus himself declared the true situation at the close of the Last Discourse (16:33):

“…in the world you have distress, but you must take courage, (for) I have been victorious (over) the world!”

Again a perfect tense form (neni/khka, “I have been victorious”) shows how the future (eschatological) event of the Judgment is realized in the present. That Jesus’ victory over the world includes the “Chief of the world” —something already alluded to in 12:31—is confirmed by the author of 1 John:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth [i.e. appear on earth], that he should dissolve [i.e. destroy] the works of the {Devil}.” (3:8)

The mission of the Son on earth, culminating in his death, had the purpose (and effect) of destroying the ‘works’ (implying dominion/control) of the Devil. This is another way of stating that, with the death of Jesus, the “Chief of the world” has been judged.

Another way that the world is wrong about judgment relates to the future expectation of the end-time (Last) Judgment. The conventional religious view was that only at the end time, in the future (however immediate or far off), would God judge the world—judging human beings for their ethical and religious behavior. In two respects, the Gospel of John presents a very different perspective on the great Judgment: (1) the Judgment is effectively realized in the present, based on whether or not one trusts in Jesus (as the Son of God), and (2) people are judged ultimately, and principally, on their response to the witness regarding Jesus identity (as the Son). This ‘realized’ eschatological emphasis in the Johannine writings (esp. the Gospel) was discussed above, but it is worth mentioning again here. Point (2) has already been addressed in the prior notes (on v. 9 and 10), but, in this regard, the Christological emphasis of the Paraclete-saying cannot be overstated.

In the next daily note, our analysis of vv. 8-11 will be summarized, along with some exegetical comments on the following vv. 12-15.

May 13: John 16:10

John 16:10

Verse 10 highlights the second noun of the triad in v. 8 (cf. the prior note)—dikaiosu/nh:

“and that (one) will show the world (to be wrong)…about dikaiosu/nh…”

On the contextual meaning of the verb e)le/gxw, here translated as “show (to be wrong)”, cf. the prior note.

The Spirit will show the world to be wrong about dikaiosu/nh. This noun literally means “right-ness”, the closest approximation for which in English is “righteousness”, though in certain instances “justice” is perhaps a more appropriate translation. The noun is relatively rare in the Johannine writings; it occurs only here (vv. 8, 10) in the Gospel, and three times in 1 John.

The usage in 1 John may help to elucidate the meaning of the word in the Gospel. The context within the statements of 2:29, 3:7 and 10 is very similar:

“If you have seen that He is right(eous) [di/kaio$], (the) you know also that every (one) doing right(eous)ness [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be born out of Him.” [2:29]
“(Dear) offspring, let no one lead you astray: the (one) doing right(eous)ness is right(eous), just as that (One) is right(eous).” [3:7]
“In this is made to shine forth the offspring of God and the offspring of the {Devil}: every (one) not doing right(eous)ness is not out of God…” [3:10]

Righteousness is clearly related to the characteristic of God the Father as righteous (di/kaio$), an attribute that is also shared by the Son (Jesus), cf. 1:9; 2:1. Believers who are united with the Son (and thus also the Father) through the Spirit, likewise share this characteristic. And so, they will do what is right, following the example of Jesus (and of God the Father). In so doing, they will demonstrate that they have been ‘born’ of God.

This strong theological usage, within the Johannine idiom, informs the use of dikaiosu/nh here in the Paraclete saying (16:8): “that (one) [i.e. the Spirit] will show the world (to be wrong) about right(eous)ness [peri\ dikaiosu/nh$]”. Jesus expounds what is meant by this in verse 10:

“…and about right(eous)ness, (in) that I lead (myself) under toward the Father and not any (more) do you look at me”

On the surface, Jesus simply re-states what he has been saying throughout the Last Discourse—that he will soon be going away, back to the Father. This is most frequently expressed by the verb u(pa/gw, which literally means something like “lead (oneself) under,” i.e., going ‘undercover,’ disappearing, often used in the more general sense of “go away, go back”. It occurs quite often in the Gospel of John (32 times out of 79 NT occurrences), where it typically is used, by Jesus, to refer to his departure back to the Father. Properly construed, this ‘going away’ is part of the process of Jesus’ exaltation, of his being “lifted up” —a process that begins with his death, and ends with his return to the Father. The references to Jesus’ departure have a dual-meaning in the Last Discourse, referring to both ends of that spectrum.

The verb qewre/w, one of several key verbs in the Gospel expressing the idea of seeing, also has a double-meaning. It denotes “looking (closely) at” something (or someone), and occurs 24 times in the Gospel (out of 58 NT occurrences). Theologically it can signify seeing Jesus, in the sense of recognizing his true identity (as the Son sent by the Father), cf. 12:45, etc; yet, it also can refer to simple (physical) sight. Throughout the Last Discourse, there is conceptual wordplay between both of these meanings, and, not coincidentally, the references relate contextually to the Paraclete-sayings—14:17, 19; 16:16-17, 19. Here, qewre/w refers principally to the idea that Jesus will no longer be visible to the disciples, because he will no longer be physically present with them.

The context of the Spirit’s witness against the world here makes the similar language in 14:19 quite relevant:

“Yet a little (longer), and the world will not look at [qewrei=] me any (more); but you will look at [qewrei=te] me, (and in) that I live, you also shall live.”

Jesus seems to be alluding to his resurrection (and return to the disciples) after his death, when people will (for a time) not see him. However, the theological meaning of qewre/w is also prevalent—i.e., the “world” will not see Jesus (especially in his death) for who he truly is, the Son of God; but the disciples will recognize and trust in him.

This brings us to the statement in 16:10, which has always been something of a puzzle. Commentators have found difficulty in explaining how Jesus’ explanation relates to the Paraclete saying. How does the Spirit show the world to be wrong about righteousness specifically because (o%ti) Jesus departs to the Father (and the disciples can no longer see him)?

In the previous note (on v. 9), I mentioned how the Spirit’s role in exposing (vb e)le/gxw) the world “about sin”, refers, not only to the world’s actual sin (of unbelief), but to its understanding of the nature of sin. As I have discussed, in the Johannine writings sin refers principally to the great sin of failing/refusing to trust in Jesus, of not recognizing his identity as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. I would argue that the nature of righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) has a similarly Christological orientation in the Johannine writings.

This would seem to be confirmed by the references in 1 John, discussed above. Jesus (the Son) is righteous (di/kaio$), just as the Father is righteous—he shares the same attribute with the Father. True righteousness, thus, is not as the world understands it—in conventional ethical and religious terms—but, rather, in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Son, who manifests and embodies the truth of the Father. Thus, the emphasis here in v. 10—as, indeed, it is throughout the Last Discourse—is on Jesus’ return to the Father. His return, to his heavenly/eternal place of origin, provides the ultimate confirmation of his identity as the Son (and Righteous One) of God.

It is also possible that there is an allusion here to a ‘false’ righteousness possessed (and valued) by the world, which corresponds precisely with their great sin (of unbelief). In this regard, it is worth noting several instances in the LXX and NT, where dikaiosu/nh is used in a negative sense, or where such is implied—Isa 64:6; Dan 9:18; Rom. 10:3; Phil. 3:6-9; one may also mention the implicit contrast between the righteousness of the “scribes and Pharisees” and that of Jesus’ faithful disciples (Matt 5:20). Cf. the article by D. A. Carson, “The Function of the Paraclete in John 16.7-11”, Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 98 (1979), pp. 547-66 [esp. 558-60].

It is fair to say that the Spirit will both prove the world to be wrong in its understanding of true righteousness, and will expose the false righteousness that it holds. The connection with the disciples not being able to see Jesus—meaning Jesus will no longer be present alongside them physically—may be intended, in a subtle way, to emphasize the invisible nature of true righteousness. It is hidden to the world, and to people at large, since it is manifest principally through the Spirit. Only true believers can participate in this righteousness, through spiritual union with the Son (Jesus) and the Father. The effect and evidence of righteousness may be visible to all (cp. the saying in 3:8), but its true nature is invisible, being spiritual in nature, just as God Himself is Spirit (4:23).

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 1:1-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • pre-existence
      —incarnation
    • exaltation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 5:5; 9:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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