Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: 1 Jn 2:18-27

1 John 2:18-27

In these articles, dealing with the spiritualism in the Johannine Writings, we now turn to the Letters of John, with special attention to the First Letter, the work known as 1 John. As virtually all commentators recognize, there is a close relationship between the Johannine Gospel and the Letters. The Gospel writer and the author of 1 John, if not the same person, share a similar literary style, mode of expression, thought-world, and theological vocabulary. The precise relationship between the Gospel and First Letter, in terms of the sequence and when each was composed, continues to be debated, with no consensus having yet been achieved. However, in my view, there is relatively strong evidence that at least a first edition of the Gospel had been completed and distributed (within the Johannine churches) prior to the writing of 1 John.

The closeness of thought and expression, between the Gospel and First Letter, means that there is methodological validity in turning to the Gospel for elucidation of passages in 1 John, and vice versa. Throughout these upcoming articles, I will be making frequent mention of the prior notes and studies on the Johannine Gospel. The discussion of spiritualism, and the role of the Spirit, in the Gospel is, in my view, entirely applicable to our study on 1 John.

The recent daily notes, covering significant portions of 1 John 1:1-2:17, are, in many ways, preliminary and supplemental to these articles. I will be referencing them at numerous points below. Our initial article here is focused upon 2:18-27, the first of the two “antichrist” passages. It is worth summarizing the structure of the Letter leading up to this passage:

    • Prologue (1:1-4)
    • First Section: Contrast of the Light of God vs. the Darkness of the World (1:5-2:17)
      • “Walking about” in light or in darkness: Sin and the Believer (1:5-2:2)
      • “Walking” in light/darkness defined in terms of the (two-fold) duty (e)ntolh/) believers are required to complete (2:3-11)
      • Believers have overcome the darkness of evil, and should not be drawn to the world (in its darkness) (2:12-17)

The dualistic light/darkness theme developed in 1:5-2:17 is used by the author as a way of contrasting the true believer with the false believer. The ‘opponents’ of 1 John are specifically characterized as false believers (cf. below).

It is generally considered by commentators that the author is referring to his opponents, alluding to their beliefs and positions, throughout 1:5-2:17. However, in the “antichrist” section of 2:18-27, he begins to discuss them more directly. He does so by placing the crisis, posed by these opponents, in an eschatological context:

“Little children, the last hour is (here), and, just as you (have) heard that (one) ‘against-the-Anointed’ [a)nti/xristo$] comes, (so) even now there have come to be many ‘against-the-Anointed’ [a)nti/xristoi], from which we know that the last hour is (here).” (v. 18)

The author clearly believes that he and his readers are living in the “last hour”, and that the end of the current Age is very near; cf. my earlier article on the imminent eschatology of first-century Christians. A basic premise of Jewish and early Christian eschatology was that, just before the end, things would get much worse in the world, with sin and evil becoming more prevalent and pervasive, including an intensive (and increasing) persecution of the righteous. This worldview is clearly reflected, for example, in the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mark 13 par). The presence of false prophets and false Messiahs was one feature of this end-time period of distress (cf. Mk 13:5-6, 21-22 par); the false Messiahs (i.e., false Christs), in particular, could properly be referred to as “anti-Christ” (cp. 2 Thess 2:7-12).

The specific word a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos) occurs only in the Letters of John (here, and also v. 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). It likely was coined by early Christians, patterned after the comparable a)nti/qeo$ (antítheos), when used in the (admittedly rare) sense of a rival God (qeo/$) or something imitating the Deity. The fundamental meaning of the preposition a)nti/ is “against”, but it can also mean “in place of”, and both of these aspects apply to the Antichrist Tradition as it was developed. And, indeed, the author does appear to be drawing upon an established eschatological tradition involving the use of a)nti/xristo$. He refers to an expectation that (one) “against the Anointed” (anti/xristo$, singular) will come in the “last hour”; whether this refers to an evil human leader or a spirit-being is not entirely clear, but probably the author has the latter in mind (cf. 4:3). For more on the background and development of the Antichrist Tradition, cf. my earlier three-part article (Part 1, 2, 3) on the subject.

Whatever tradition the author is referencing, he clearly interprets it in a new way, applying it specifically to the presence and activity of the ‘opponents’, considering them to be “many (who are) against the Anointed” (a)nti/xristoi polloi/). He continues in verse 19:

“Out of us they went out, but they were not out of us; for, if they were out of us, they would have remained with us; but (this happened so) that it might be made to shine forth [i.e. be made apparent] that they were not all out of us.”

The author plays with a dual-meaning of the preposition e)k (“out of”). In the opening phrase, it is used in the spatial sense of leaving, of going away from a group of people. However, in the remainder of the verse, it used in the sense of belonging to a group, being “of” a group of people. Thus, at one and the same time, the opponents are “out of” the Community, and also not “out of” it. Moreover, that they went “out of” it shows that they were never really “part of” it.

The author identifies himself (and his readers) with this Community, characterized as the Community of true believers. The opponents, having left the Community, show themselves to have been false believers. In all likelihood we are dealing with a genuine separatist movement, and a factional split within the Johannine churches. In this regard, the use of the preposition e)k and the verb e)ce/rxomai (“go/come out”) refers to a concrete division, and not simply a conceptual departure in terms of the opponents’ beliefs.

In verses 20-27, the author applies this crisis-situation to his readers, continuing the true-vs-false believer contrast established in 1:5-2:17. These verses may be divided into three subsections, each of which begins with an emphatic use of the pronoun u(mei=$ (“you [plur.]”)

    • Vv. 20-23: Kai\ u(mei=$… (“But you…”)
    • Vv. 24-26 (Umei=$… (“[But as for] you…”)
    • Verse 27: Kai\ u(mei=$… (“And [as for] you…”)

In each unit, the author addresses his readers as true believers, to be distinguished from the opponents (false believers and “antichrists”), and fully able to recognize the truth of the matter. This is expressed thematically through a chiastic structure:

    • The anointing (xri=sma) which believers hold within them (vv. 20-23)
      • That which is “from the beginning” (a)p’ a)rxh=$) remains in them (vv. 24-26)
    • The anointing (xri=sma) remains in them (v. 27)

The discussion is thus framed by a pair of references to the “anointing” (xri=sma) which is present in believers; in between, we find the expression o^ a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“that which [is]…from [the] beginning”), with which the author began his work (in the prologue, 1:1; cf. also 2:7, 13-14). A clear sense of the author’s use of these keywords is vital for an understanding of his entire line of argument.

For my part, I have no real doubt that the noun xri=sma here refers to the presence of the Spirit. It is worth noting, however, that these three instances (in vv. 20, 27) are the only occurrences of xri=sma in the New Testament. It occurs 10 times in the LXX, primarily in the Pentateuch (Exod 29:7; 30:25; 35:12, 19, etc), where it refers to the oil used for the consecrated anointing of people and objects. Quite possibly, its use here in 1 John alludes to the practice of anointing with oil as part of the baptism ritual. However, we cannot be entirely certain of this practice in the first-century; the earliest attestation is found in Tertullian, On Baptism 7, cf. also Cyprian Epistle 70[69].2, and the Apostolic Constitutions 7:27.

Even so, it is likely that the oil/anointing symbolism was part of the ritual from very early times. Its association with the Spirit would follow naturally from the common idea that it was in connection with baptism that a believer first received the Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:12-13ff; 9:17-18; 10:45-48; 19:5-6, etc). The association goes back to early Gospel tradition, in both the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:10 par) and the saying by the Baptist about Jesus (Mk 1:8 par). In Luke-Acts, this coming of the Spirit upon Jesus (at his baptism) is clearly understood as an anointing (Lk 4:18ff; Acts 10:38; cf. also the quotation of Ps 2:7 in Lk 3:22 v.l.). This is no mere Lukan invention, since the idea relates to the early application of Isa 61:1ff to Jesus as the Anointed One [Messiah] of God; on the similar idea of God placing his Spirit upon Jesus (as His chosen Servant), cf. Isa 11:2 and 42:1 (and the use of the latter in the Gospel tradition).

This Messianic concept of being anointed by the Spirit is part of a wider Prophetic tradition describing the activity of God’s Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration. Of special significance is the motif of the Spirit being poured out, as liquid (water, oil, etc) upon God’s people—cf. Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28-29 [cited in Acts 2:17-18].

For all of these reasons, we may safely assume that xri=sma in 1 John 2:20, 27 is a more or less direct allusion to the presence of the Spirit in believers. Believers hold (vb e&xw) this anointing in them (v. 20), and it remains (vb me/nw) in them. Both of these verbs have special theological meaning in the Johannine writings, and refer here to the abiding presence of Jesus (the Son), along with God (the Father), through the Spirit.

What are the consequences of this abiding presence of the Spirit (the xri=sma) in believers? The author explains this, to some extent, in each portion of his discussion:

    • “…and you know all (thing)s. I did not write to you (in) that [i.e. because] you have not seen [i.e. known] the truth, but (in) that you have seen it, and (also) that every false (thing) is not out of [i.e. does come from] the truth.” (vv. 20b-21)
    • “…and you do not have need that any(one) should teach you, but, as His anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and not (something) false, and, just as it (has) taught you, you must remain in him.” (v. 27)

The anointing (i.e., the Spirit) teaches believers “all things”, and so there is no need for anyone (else) to teach them. This touches to the heart of the Johannine spiritualism. It reflects the promised role of the Spirit in the Paraclete-sayings of Jesus in the Last Discourse (14:26; 16:13ff; cf. also 15:26). Through the Spirit, Jesus will continue to be present with believers, and to teach them. It is this emphasis on the spiritual presence of Jesus which may have led to the opponents devaluing the earthly life and ministry of Jesus (including his death).

This is particularly important, it seems, for the author’s rhetorical strategy here. On the one hand, he fully accepts and affirms the Johannine spiritualistic principle of the primacy of the Spirit—it is, indeed, the Spirit who teaches believers “all things,” and the true believer has no need to rely on any other human teacher. This apparently radical concept is actually inspired by the Prophetic tradition (cf. above) regarding the role of God’s Spirit among His people in the New Age. In this time of a New Covenant, the Spirit will lead all people to serve as prophets (Joel 2:28f), effectively fulfilling the wish expressed by Moses in Num 11:29; moreover, because God will write his Law upon the heart of each person, they will all know Him, without the need for anyone else to teach them (Jer 31:34). In this regard, the Johannine emphasis simply reflects an early Christian version of this Prophetic ideal, an eschatological hope for God’s people that is realized among believers in Christ.

The Spirit, being the Spirit of Truth (4:6; 5:6; Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), will always teach believers what is true, and will never say anything that is false. As a result, with the Spirit’s guidance, the true believer will be able to recognize any false teaching, including the false teaching of the opponents (v. 22, cf. below). If the Spirit teaches believers “all things,” with no need for anyone else to teach them, then why is the author bothering to give the instruction that he does? Even though the Spirit may be primary, there is still value in human instruction and exhortation. The guidance of the Spirit does not happen automatically, but requires a measure of faithfulness and cooperation by the believer. There is thus a place for human teaching and exhortation within the congregation, such as the kind that the author gives here. He expresses the contingency in two ways:

    • “I have written these (thing)s to you (warning you) about the (one)s leading you astray.” (v. 26)
    • “…just as he/it has taught you, you must remain in him” (v. 27)

The first point indicates the real danger, in the mind of the author, that the false teaching of the opponents could lead some believers astray (vb plana/w). How could this possibly happen to a believer? The concluding words in v. 27 make this clear: the believer must consciously and willingly remain in the Spirit, in order for the Spirit to continue guiding him/her in the truth.

The verb me/nw is a fundamental Johannine keyword, as I have noted above. The form used here, me/nete, could be read as an indicative or an imperative; in my view, the author intends an imperative, even as he does in the following v. 28. The Spirit teaching believers the truth depends upon the believer remaining in the Spirit. The actual phrase is “you must remain in him [e)n au)tw=|]”, and it is not entirely clear whether the pronoun (“him”) refers specifically to God the Father, Jesus, or the Spirit. In terms of the Johannine theology, the latter two—Jesus and the Spirit—would be principally in view, since a person remains in the Father through the Son (Jesus), and, in turn, remains in the Son through the Spirit. Much the same is expressed in the Last Discourse, cf. especially the illustration of the Vine (15:4-9).

The author tells us something about the false belief of the opponents in verse 22; I have discussed this at length in a set of three supplemental notes (1, 2, 3). The title o( xristo/$, as used in the Gospel of John, indicates that it refers specifically to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Another possibility, however, is that it functions here as a shorthand for the fuller Christological statement in 4:2—viz., regarding Jesus Christ as having “come in the flesh,” usually understood specifically in terms of his earthly life. Either way, it seems likely that the opponents of 1 John, in some fashion, denied or devalued the importance of Jesus’ earthly life (and death). This may have extended to a denial of Jesus’ identity as the Jewish Messiah.

A devaluation of Jesus’ earthly life could be explained on the basis of both the Johannine Christology and its spiritualism. The high Christology of the Gospel, emphasizing Jesus’ identity as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, could easily have led some Johannine Christians to question the importance of his earthly life and ministry. Moreover, if Jesus continues to be present with believers in the Spirit, continuing to teach “all things”, then of what value are the traditions of the things that Jesus said and did in the past?

In the prologue (1:1-4), the author clearly establishes the importance of the historical Gospel tradition—of the things Jesus said and did, preserved and transmitted to future generations by the first disciples (functioning as eye/ear-witnesses). It is no coincidence that the author essentially repeats the opening phrase—o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“that which was from [the] beginning”)—here in the central unit of his exposition (vv. 24-26). In between the two references to the teaching of the Spirit, he includes this reference to the Gospel tradition: “that which you heard from (the) beginning”.

In an earlier note on 1:1ff, I discussed how there are two aspects to the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ in 1 John: (1) Christological, referring to Jesus as the one who was with God “from the beginning” (Jn 1:1, etc); and (2) Evangelistic, referring to the message about Jesus, which believers have heard “from the beginning”, i.e., from the time of the first disciples. The Christological aspect is primary, but it cannot be separated from the Gospel witness. This is essentially the message of the author of 1 John, and he states it again here in vv. 24ff:

“(As for) you, that which you (have) heard from (the) beginning, it must remain in you. If that which you heard from (the) beginning should remain in you, (then) indeed you will remain in the Son and in the Father.”

According to the Johannine mode of expression, the person of Jesus (“the one from the beginning”) must remain in the believer; but this is not possible if the truth of the message about Jesus does not also remain in the believer. Here is a key sign distinguishing the true and false believer, in the context of the crisis caused by the opponents. The true believer remains faithful to the authoritative Gospel tradition(s) about Jesus, preserved from the first disciples, while the false believer has forsaken or has distorted those traditions. Put another way, the internal teaching of the Spirit will (and must) conform to the Gospel tradition; and any such teaching which contradicts that tradition, and is thus false, cannot come from the Spirit.

This will be discussed further, along with a further examination of the nature and beliefs of the opponents of 1-2 John, in the upcoming study on the second “antichrist” section (4:1-6). However, first I will consider the spiritualism of 1 John as expressed in the central section (2:28-3:24), where the marks of the true believer are most clearly enunciated.

The Ancient Israelite Festivals: Passover (Part 3)

Passover—Part 3:
Jesus and the Passover

The Gospel tradition

The most notable use of the Passover tradition in the Gospels is historical. That is to say, it relates to the historical tradition that Jesus’ death took place around the time of Passover. This is confirmed by multiple lines of tradition—in both the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 14:1ff par) and the Gospel of John (12:1; 13:1), as well as in subsequent Jewish tradition (e.g., the Talmudic baraitha in b. Sanhedrin 43a). The ‘Last Supper’ was, by all accounts, a celebration of the Passover meal (Mk 14:12-16ff par; Lk 22:15), regardless of how one chooses to deal with the chronological problems between the Synoptic and Johannine narratives. I have treated all of this at some length recently in the “Passion Narrative” series (Episode 2), including a discussion and overview of the chronological issue, and will not be repeating it here. The Lukan version of the Supper is presented rather more clearly as a Passover meal (for more on this, cf. the study on Lk 22:14-38 in the aforementioned series).

In the Synoptic Narrative, Jesus makes just one journey to Jerusalem; however, there is reliable evidence in the Gospels that this was not his only such journey. The Gospel of John alludes to a number of trips to Jerusalem (cf. below), coinciding with the major festivals. Passover (along with the festival of ‘Unleavened bread’) was one of the three pilgrimage festivals (<yG]j^), during which all adult males (at the least) were expected to travel to the central sanctuary (in Jerusalem) to celebrate the festival—cf. Exod 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Deut 16:16f; 2 Chron 8:13; and see the discussion in Parts 1 and 2. In traveling to Jerusalem for the three <yG]j^, Jesus would have been acting like any devout and observant Israelite, and following the example of his own parents, according the tradition Luke narrates in 2:41ff (cf. also vv. 21-24, 39).

Indeed, this is significant for an understanding of the place of the Passover within the Gospel tradition as a whole. We may begin with a brief consideration, again, of the fact that the ‘Last Supper’ was a Passover meal, and that, in holding this meal with his closest disciples, Jesus was celebrating the Passover with them.

As noted above, it is the Lukan Gospel that brings out this association most clearly, both by the way that the meal presented in the narrative (cf. the recent study), and by the words of Jesus in 22:15 (which occur only in Luke’s Gospel). His declaration begins with a Semitic idiom (cognate verbal complement), rendered in Greek, that is almost impossible to translate in English: e)piqumi/a| e)pequ/mhsa, a verb preceded by a (dative) noun from the same root. This syntactic device gives greater intensity and emphasis to the verb. In this instance, the verb is e)piqume/w, which essentially denotes having an impulse (qumo/$) directed toward (lit. upon, e)pi/) something; in English idiom, we would speak of having one’s heart/mind upon something. The related noun e)piqumi/a refers to this impulse. Literally, the two words would be translated something like “with an impulse upon (it), I have set my impulse upon…”; in this case, the sense is better captured in conventional English, respecting the intensive/emphatic purpose of the cognate verbal complement: “I have very much set my heart on…”. I will use this conventional rendering, in idiomatic English, of the first two words as I fill out the translation:

“I have very much set my heart on this Pesaµ [pa/sxa], to eat (it) with you before my suffering [paqei=n].”

There is an obvious wordplay here between pa/sxa, a transliteration of the Hebrew js^P# (pesaµ), and the verb pa/sxw (“suffer”). Philo of Alexandria brings out this same association (cf. the discussion in Part 2), and doubtless it would have been noticed by many Greek-speaking Jews. The verb e)piqume/w also brings in the connotation of “passion,” which, in a religious-ethical context, also contains the idea of suffering.

It is just here that the Passover came to have an entirely new meaning for early Christians, by its connection with the suffering and death of Jesus. Interestingly, the sacrificial language used by Jesus in the ‘words of institution’ for the Supper (Mk 14:24 par; 1 Cor 11:25) derives, not from the Passover tradition, but from the covenant-ratification ceremony in Exodus 24:1-11. The sacrificial offerings in this ceremony included <ym!l*v= offerings, of which only certain parts were burnt on the altar, with the rest of the meat being eaten by the worshiper; indeed, the covenant-ceremony apparently concluded with a ritual meal (v. 11). Like the Passover lamb, the flesh of the <ym!l*v= offerings was eaten, while the blood—at least in the covenant-ritual—was splashed upon both the altar and the people.

The Gospel of John

The Passover tradition is more prominent in the Gospel of John than in the other Gospels. According to the chronology of the Johannine narrative, Jesus was present in Jerusalem for at least three different Passovers, and the Christian interpretation of the festival—specifically in relation to the death of Jesus—was developed in a distinctive way in the Gospel of John. For more on the Johannine theme of Jesus fulfilling, in his person, key aspects of the festivals, cf. parts 8 and 9 of the series “Jesus and the Law”.

John 1:29, 36

In 1:29, and again in v. 36, John the Baptist declares regarding Jesus:

“See, the lamb of God, the (one) taking (up) the sin of the world!”

This is part of the important theme (especially prominent in chaps. 1-3) of John the Baptist as a witness to who Jesus is. Part of this witness involves identifying Jesus as the “lamb” (a)mno/$) of God. Since Jesus is specifically identified with the lamb slain at Passover elsewhere in the Gospel (cf. below), it is naturally for commentators to make the same connection here. Probably this is the primary point of reference intended by the Gospel writer, though one might rightly question whether this would have been the meaning (at the historical level) for John the Baptist. For a concise survey of the interpretive options, cf. the discussion in Brown, pp. 58-63.

How would the Passover lamb have been connected with the idea of “taking away sin”, which more properly refers to a sin offering? There are three factors that may help explain such a connection, within the Gospel tradition, as it was developed.

First, as the Passover lamb came increasingly to be viewed as a sacrificial offering, it was natural that this concept would attract features of other sacrificial offerings—such as the offerings made for sin, or the <ym!l*v= offerings which were more akin (in nature and purpose) to the Passover lamb. Second, central to the Passover tradition were the themes of salvation, liberation from bondage, and protection from God’s judgment—all of which could be applied, figuratively, in relation to sin. There is evidence from Philo of Alexandria’s writings, for example, that Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. were already interpreting the Passover tradition in this way. Indeed, his utilization of the pa/sxa/pa/sxw wordplay (cf. above) occurs in just such a context. Egypt represents the passions, which lead people to irrational (and sinful) behavior, while the Passover represents moving away from such passions. And, since sin leads to God’s judgment, one can easily see how the protective blood from the slain lamb can also symbolize removal of the effect of sin (by saving/protection from judgment). Finally, there is the established Gospel tradition of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, where the blood “poured out” was connected with the removal of sin, by at least the time of Matthew’s Gospel, since the Matthean version (26:28) contains an explicit reference to the forgiveness of sin.

John 2:13-22

In the Johannine version of Jesus’ Temple-action (i.e., the ‘cleansing’ of the Temple), though it is narrated at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, rather than toward the end (as in the Synoptics), it still takes place around the time of Passover (2:13, 23). Scholars continue to be divided on whether the Gospel of John has relocated the episode to an earlier point in the narrative, or whether the Synoptics have included an earlier Jerusalem episode as part of Jesus’ final time in Jerusalem (since the Synoptic narrative records just one journey to Jerusalem).

The view of some traditional-conservative commentators, that Jesus performed essentially the same Temple-action on two different occasions, has little to recommend it, beyond serving an innate desire to harmonize or explain away the chronological discrepancy.

In the Synoptic version, the connection with Jesus’ death is contextual, occurring as it does so close in time to the Passion-events. By contrast, in the Johannine version, the connection is made explicit—not through the narration of the Temple-action itself, but in the Temple-saying that follows in verses 19ff:

“Loosen [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine, and, in three days, I will raise it.”

This saying is similar to the charge made against Jesus in the Synoptic version of the Sanhedrin interrogation-scene (Mark 14:58/Matt 26:61; cp. Acts 6:14), which, in that narrative, is presented as a false charge, or at least a misrepresentation of what Jesus actually said. According to Jn 2:19, Jesus did, in fact, utter a Temple-saying along these lines. In any case, it is the Gospel writer’s comment in vv. 21-22 that makes the connection with Jesus’ death clear:

“…but he said (this) about the shrine of his body.”

Jesus identifies the Temple with his own person (and body), implying, according to the Johannine theological idiom, that Jesus himself is the true Temple—in contrast to the ordinary/physical Temple in Jerusalem. For more on this subject, cf. Parts 67 the series “Jesus and the Law”; just as Jesus represents the true Temple, so he also fulfills, in his own person and being, the true meaning of all the festivals (cf. Parts 89 of the aforementioned series).

The Bread of Life Discourse (John 6)

In the Johannine version (6:1-15) of the Miraculous Feeding episode (on which, cf. the articles in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”), the miracle takes place around the time of Passover (v. 4). In terms of the original historical tradition, this is quite plausible, given the detail of the presence of green grass (v. 10; Mk 6:39 par), which suggests a spring-time setting. For the Gospel of John, this means that the Bread of Life Discourse which follows (vv. 22-59), and which clearly relates to the miracle, also has a Passover setting.

According to v. 59, the Discourse took place in the synagogue (of Capernaum), and it is possible that Jesus is specifically drawing upon the synagogue Scripture-readings for Passover season (for more on this theory, see the study by A. Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship: A Study of the Relation of John’s Gospel to the Ancient Jewish Lectionary System [Oxford: 1960]; cf. Brown, pp. 278-80). In any case, he utilizes the Moses-Exodus tradition of the Manna (Exod 16), referred to as “bread from heaven” (v. 4; cf. Psalm 78:24-25; 105:40; Neh 9:15).

On the relation of the Bread of Life Discourse to contemporary Jewish expository and homiletical tradition, cf. the important study by P. Borgen, Bread from Heaven: An Exegetical Study of the Concept of Manna in the Gospel of John and the Writings of Philo (Brill: 1965).

Jesus identifies himself as the true manna, sent by God the Father to give life to the world (vv. 33, 51); thus he further expounds the expression “bread from heaven” (vv. 32-34) as the “bread of life” (vv. 35-40ff) and “living bread” (vv. 51-58), comparable to the “living water” of 4:10-15. The first section of the discourse (vv. 25-34) develops the expression “bread out of heaven”, with the theological emphasis on Jesus as the one who has come down from heaven (from the Father) to give life. The second section (vv. 35-50) develops the expression “bread of life”, emphasizing that (eternal) life comes through trusting in Jesus (as the one who has come from the Father). Finally, the third section (vv. 51-58) develops the expression “living bread”, emphasizing the life that Jesus, as the Son sent by the Father, possesses, and that one must partake of that life by ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ it.

It is in this final section that the association with Jesus’ death comes clearly into view. And it is unlikely that any early Christian would have missed the strong eucharistic emphasis of vv. 51-58, drawing upon the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (Mk 14:23-25 par), a connection that had already been made within the tradition of the Miraculous Feeding episode itself (cf. verse 11; and compare the language in Mk 6:41 par). I have discussed verses 51-58, as well as the Discourse as a whole, in some detail in prior notes and studies, including currently in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament” and as part of a set of notes on “The Spirit and the Death of Jesus”, focusing on the specific interpretive relation between vv. 51-58 and verse 63.

The Passion Narrative (John 19)

Finally, the Johannine Passion narrative clearly identifies Jesus, in his death, as the lamb that is slain for Passover. This is unique to the Fourth Gospel, and, we may presume, to the Johannine tradition which the Gospel writer inherited. Contrary to the chronology of the Passion narrative, Jesus is crucified on the day of Passover Eve (Nisan 14), which means that the Last Supper, if it was intended as a Passover meal, would have been celebrated in advance.

One way that scholars have attempted to harmonize the Synoptic and Johannine chronologies, is to posit that Jesus and his disciples were following a different calendar than that of the Jewish religious establishment. One theory is that they followed a (364-day) solar calendar akin to that which, apparently, was used by the Community of the Qumran texts (cf. the discussion in Part 2). According to this view, Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover earlier in the week, before the date when the rest of Judaism (including the members of the Sanhedrin) would have observed it. This has the benefit of avoiding the implausibility of the Council convening a meeting to interrogate Jesus on the day of Passover. On the whole, it is an attractive theory, but not without its own problems; indeed, the actual evidence supporting it is extremely slight.

There are two (possibly three) details in the narration of Jesus’ death (in chapter 19) which bring out this interpretation of Jesus as the Passover lamb:

    • According to v. 14, Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover eve (cf. above), around the time that the lambs were being killed
    • The mention of the hyssop branch in v. 29 (if original) may be an allusion to the Passover instruction in Exod 12:22
    • Jesus’ legs remaining unbroken (vv. 31-33) is explained (v. 36) in terms of the instruction regarding the Passover lamb (Exod 12:46; Num 9:12; cf. also Psalm 34:20)

In Part 4, we will examine the Passover tradition as it is referenced and interpreted elsewhere in the New Testament and other early Christian writings.

The Spirit and the Death of Jesus: Introduction

Following the celebration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, during this past Holy Week and Resurrection (Easter) Sunday, I will be presenting a series of notes on the relation of the Holy Spirit to the death of Jesus. It is a challenging and provocative subject, since the Spirit tends to be associated more with Jesus’ resurrection than his death. And yet, I would maintain that the connection of the Spirit to his death is one of the most profoundly distinctive features of Christian belief. It is also one which many Christians have not considered to any great extent. Through these notes, I hope to open new vistas for theological and spiritual exploration, and to encourage further study and meditation on the subject.

The first point to note is that there is no indication of any connection between Jesus’ death and the Spirit in the early/core Gospel Tradition. There is scarcely a trace of such a connection, either in the Synoptic Tradition, nor in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts (and preserved elsewhere in the New Testament). The Spirit is not mentioned (nor alluded to) even once in the Synoptic Passion narratives; nor, for that matter, is it mentioned in the Resurrection narratives. It is important to understand this, for it illustrates how the view of the Spirit, in relation to the person of Christ, developed among Christians during the first century.

What of the early Gospel tradition in this regard? Let us consider three key aspects of the association between Jesus and the Spirit:

    • The presence of the Spirit upon Jesus, as the Messiah, during his earthly life and ministry
    • The idea that Jesus (as the Messiah) is able to communicate or transmit the Spirit to God’s people
    • The prophetic tradition that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, marked by the presence of the Messiah, the Spirit will be ‘poured out’ upon all of God’s people

1. The first point is evident in the Gospels primarily through the tradition of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism. This is clearly an old and well-established tradition, found in both the Synoptics (Mark 1:10ff par) and the Gospel of John (1:32ff), and mentioned also (possibly by way of a separate tradition) in the book of Acts (10:38). The context of the Synoptic narrative makes clear that it is the abiding presence of the Spirit that empowered Jesus in his preaching and working of miracles (Mk 1:12ff, 21-28; 3:22-30 par). This comes across most clearly in the Gospel of Luke (4:1ff, 14, 18ff), but we also see a certain emphasis along these lines in Matthew as well (4:1; 12:18, 28ff [cp Lk 11:20]).

Several passages in Isaiah, given a Messianic interpretation, were applied to Jesus in the early Gospel tradition. Most notable are Isa 42:1ff and 61:1ff, which specifically refer to God placing His Spirit upon a chosen individual (cf. also 11:2ff). It would seem that Isa 42:1 was influential in shaping the view of Jesus (as the Messiah) expressed in the Baptism-tradition (cf. my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”). The Gospel of Matthew specifically cites 42:1-3, in connection with the Galilean ministry of Jesus, at a later point in the narrative (12:18ff). As for Isa 61:1, it is quoted by Jesus in the famous Lukan version of the Nazareth episode (4:16-30, v. 18), which, in Luke’s Gospel, marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus identifies himself with the anointed herald of 61:1ff, as a Messianic prophet, and the same connection is attested, independently, in the Q-tradition (7:22f par). Cf. my earlier article on Isa 61:1, and note a comparable use of the passage (as a Messianic scripture) in the Qumran text 4Q521.

2. Another early Gospel tradition associated with the baptism of Jesus, the saying by the Baptist in Mark 1:8 par, establishes the idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, will give the Spirit to God’s people. This communication of the Spirit is expressed in terms of the baptism-motif:

“I dunked [vb bapti/zw] you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit.”

The association of water and the Spirit is well-established in Old Testament tradition, especially in the Prophetic writings, where the idea is expressed that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, God will “pour” (like water) His Spirit upon His people—cf. Joel 2:28-29; Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:29. In this regard, there can be no doubt that, in its original context, the saying by the Baptist is eschatological in orientation. The Messiah, as God’s representative, will usher in the New Age, bringing deliverance and restoration to the righteous, and judgment upon the wicked. Matthew (3:11) and Luke (3:16) each draw upon a separate (Q) version of the Baptist-saying:

“I dunk you in water…but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”

The added motif of fire is parallel to water, in that both fire and water can be used as means of cleansing and purification (including the refining of metals, etc). But fire also alludes quite clearly to the end-time Judgment (Lk 3:17 par; cf. Mal 3:2-3; cp. Isa 4:4-5).

The Gospel of John also incorporates the Baptist saying, with its contrast between water and the Spirit; interestingly, the two parts of the saying are separated in the Johannine version (1:26, 33). This almost certainly was intentional by the author, as a way to give greater emphasis to the Baptist as a witness to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The Johannine dualistic contrast between ordinary water and the Spirit (3:5-8; 4:10-15, etc) may also explain this unique handling of the tradition.

3. The coming of the Messiah marks the end of the current Age, and the onset of the (Messianic) New Age. According to a well-established line of tradition in the Prophetic writings (of the exilic and post-exilic period), the New Age will be a time of restoration for Israel, in which God will “pour out” His Spirit upon all of the people. This abiding presence of His Holy Spirit will allow the people to fulfill the covenant (and the Torah obligations) completely, in a new way, because they will be given a new “heart”; thus, one can speak of a “new covenant” in this New Age. The key passages (cf. the notes in the series “The Spirit in the Old Testament”) are:

Joel 2:28-29 is central to the Pentecost scene in Acts 2, being cited specifically by Peter in his great sermon-speech (vv. 16-21), indicating that the coming the Spirit upon believers is a clear sign that the New Age has arrived.

The Gospel portrait of Jesus would have been quite straightforward in this regard: the Spirit descends upon him at his baptism, anointing him (as the Messiah), and empowering him to act as God’s representative on earth; he both purifies God’s people and ushers in the time of Judgment for the wicked; possessing God’s Spirit he is means by which the Spirit will be given to God’s people in the New Age. The death of Jesus, however, complicates this picture, since there is no evidence that there was any expectation that the Messiah—any of the Messianic figure-types—would suffer and die; on this point, cf. the article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Early Christians were forced to explain how Jesus could be the Messiah, considering his death and (in particular) the manner in which he died. The narrative Luke-Acts alludes to this problem repeatedly, emphasizing the importance of providing Scriptural (prophetic) support for the death (and resurrection) of Jesus—cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-49; Acts 1:16, 20; 3:18-24; 8:32-35; 10:39-43; 13:29-37; 17:2-3; 26:22-23.

There were a range of questions that early Christians themselves likely would have asked, regarding the death of Jesus, in relation to the Spirit. If God’s Spirit was upon Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, what happened to it when he died? How does this relate to the role of the Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus, and of Jesus’ subsequent ability/authority to give the Spirit to believers?

The Lukan Gospel re-establishes the connection with the Spirit at the close of the Gospel, alluding to it in 24:49, to be picked up again in Acts 1:5, 8; and yet very little is actually said regarding the role of the Spirit in the resurrection, to say nothing of any connection of the Spirit with Jesus’ death.

It may be possible, however, to find some slight indication of how the earliest Christians might have understood the matter. This can be done by piecing together two bits of evidence from the early preaching in the book of Acts. We begin with the kerygma from Peter’s speech to the household of Cornelius:

“…Yeshua from Nazaret, how God anointed him with (the) holy Spirit and with power, th(is one) who went throughout working (for) good and healing all the (one)s being under the power of the Diabolos {Devil} (for it was) that God was with him.” (10:38)

Particular attention should be paid to a juxtaposition of the two phrases in bold above. The first repeats the basic Gospel tradition (cf. above) that Jesus was ‘anointed’ by God’s Spirit at his baptism. The second implies that God Himself was personally present with Jesus, through His Spirit. Both phrases have Messianic import, as several key Scriptures, recognized as Messianic prophecies by early Christians, make clear (Isa 7:14 [cf. 8:8, 10]; 61:1; Psalm 2:7).

Now we turn to Peter’s Pentecost speech and the citation of Psalm 16:8-11 in connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. my recent Easter Sunday article for more on this); in particular, note the wording of verse 11 of the Psalm (in 2:27):

“…[in] that you will not leave down behind my soul in (the) Unseen (realm) [i.e. of the dead], and you will not give the holy (one) to see complete decay.”

This could be explained in the sense that the abiding presence of God’s Spirit remained with Jesus, even in his death (and burial); God’s Spirit does not leave him behind (vb e)gkatalei/pw) to decay in the grave. The problem with this view is that seems to be flatly contradicted by Jesus’ famous ‘cry of dereliction’ (quoting from Psalm 22:1) on the cross in the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mark 15:34 par). Luke’s Gospel, it is to be noted, does not contain this particular tradition; or, one may say, the author has adapted and modified the Synoptic tradition at this point (23:46).

In the first note of this series, we will examine the cry-tradition, in connection with the description of the moment of Jesus’ death, particular as this is recorded in the Gospel of Luke and in John (19:30). These two versions will be compared with the Synoptic tradition in Matthew/Mark. Such an exegetical (and expository) comparison will shed some significant light on how the Spirit came to be connected with the death of Jesus, and the important theological meaning this carries for the Johannine writings.

The Passion Narrative: Introduction

The Passion Narrative

I am interrupting the course of the Saturday Series studies this Spring to introduce a special set of studies in celebration of the current Lenten and Easter seasons. This series will examine the Passion Narrative in the Gospels, from the standpoint of New Testament criticism. All of the key critical issues and questions will be addressed, including a number which are relevant for a sound understanding of New Testament theology and Christology. In particular, these studies will consider the narratives in terms of the development of the Gospel (and early Christian) tradition. As it will not be possible to present this material within the confines a few Saturday posts, I am here expanding the Saturday Series format, to allow for more regular posting of articles throughout the remainder of March and into April.

These studies, in large part, reproduce material included in the earlier exegetical study series entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (see the Introduction to this series). The first part of the series was devoted to a detailed examination of the Baptism of Jesus. The second part dealt with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, especially as an organizing principle within the Synoptic Gospels. The third part, corresponding to this current series on the Passion Narrative, deals with the Judean/Jerusalem Period of Jesus’ life and ministry. It is worth noting this basic two-part structure to the Synoptic narrative—(i) the Galilean ministry (Mk 1:28:30), and (ii) the journey to Judea/Jerusalem and the events there (Mk 8:3116:8). Luke, through his greatly expanded treatment of the journey to Jerusalem, has a three-part division (+ the Infancy Narrative):

    • [The Infancy Narrative]
    • The Galilean ministry (3:19:50)
    • The Journey to Jerusalem (9:5118:34)
    • The time in Judea/Jerusalem (18:3524:53)

The Judean/Jerusalem period may likewise be divided into two main sections, along with shorter introductory and concluding episodes:

    • Introduction: The “Triumphal” Entry into Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-11)
    • Part 1: Teaching in Jerusalem (Mk 11:12-13:37):
      —Episode of the Fig tree (11:12-14, 20-25)
      Temple action (11:15-19)
      —Block of Teaching 1—Debates/disputes with Religious Authorities (11:27-12:44)
      Temple saying (13:1-2)
      —Block of Teaching 2—The Eschatological “Discourse” (13:3-37)
      —Lesson the Fig Tree (13:28-31)
    • Part 2: The Passion Narrative (Mk 14:1-15:47)
    • Conclusion: The Resurrection (Mk 16:1-8[ff])

All three Synoptic Gospels essentially follow this basic outline, though it has been modified and expanded in places by Matthew and Mark (especially the Resurrection episodes in Luke). We may outline the Passion Narrative itself as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction (Mk 14:1-2)
    • The Anointing Scene (14:3-9)
    • Excursus 1: The betrayal by Judas introduced (14:10-11)
    • The Passover: Jesus with his Disciples (14:12-25):
      —The Preparation (vv. 12-16)
      —The Passover scene at mealtime (vv. 17-21)
      —Institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (vv. 22-25)
    • Excursus 2: The denial by Peter foretold (14:26-31)
    • The Passion Scene in Gethsemane (14:32-52)
      —Jesus’ Passion and Prayer (vv. 32-42)
      —The Arrest of Jesus (vv. 43-52)
    • The Jewish “Trial”: Jesus before the Sanhedrin (14:53-72)
      —The Scene before the Council (vv. 53-65)
      —Peter’s Denial (vv. 66-72)
    • The Roman “Trial”: Jesus before Pilate (15:1-20)
      —The Scene before Pilate (vv. 1-5)
      —The Judgment (vv. 6-15)
      —The Preparation for Crucifixion (vv. 16-20)
    • The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (15:21-40):
      —The Crucifixion Scene (vv. 21-32)
      —Jesus’ Death (vv. 33-40)
    • Narrative Conclusion (15:42-47)

There are six principal episodes, each of which will be discussed in turn, beginning with the Anointing Scene (Mark 14:3-9 par).

It is generally felt by most scholars that the Passion Narrative was the first (and earliest) part of the Gospel Tradition to be given a distinct narrative shape. This can be glimpsed by the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts, as well as by the kerygmatic (Gospel-proclamation) elements common throughout the New Testament (especially the Pauline Letters). The death and resurrection of Jesus formed the center of the Gospel message, so it is natural that those traditions would be the first to take shape as a simple narrative, to make the details easier to communicate and commit to memory. This also means that a number of these traditions are relatively fixed, and evince less development than in other portions of the Gospel. Details such as Judas’ betrayal or Peter’s denial of Jesus simply had to be included in any telling of the story. Even so, each Gospel writer handles the material in his own distinctive way, “ornamenting”, if you will, around the core traditions.

In considering the development of Gospel tradition, as applied to the Passion Narratives, I find the following to be a sound (and useful) methodological approach. For each passage, narrative, or set of traditions being studied, I examine—

    • The basic Synoptic narrative (as represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark)
    • The so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark)
    • Traditions and details preserved only in Matthew and/or Luke (so-called “M” and “L” material), as well as original (literary) contributions by the authors
    • Johannine tradition and the Gospel of John

Generally speaking, this order of study is chronological, reflecting ‘layers’ of development—but not strictly so by any means. Indeed, there is some evidence that the Gospel of John, usually thought of as the latest of the canonical Gospels (c. 90 A.D.?), contains early/authentic historical traditions in a form that may be older than those of the Synoptics. Wherever possible, I will attempt to trace the manner of development in the Tradition, and how/why it may have taken place.

Mark 14:1-2 par

The Synoptic Passion narrative begins with this introductory notice:

“Now it was the Pesaµ and the (festival of) unleavened (bread), after [i.e. in] two days. And the chief sacred officials and the writers [i.e. scribes] were seeking how, grabbing hold of him in a (cunning) trap (right away), they might kill (him) off. For they said, ‘Not on the festival, (so) there will not be any clamor of [i.e. from] the people’.”

This is how the narrative reads in Mark (14:1-2). It relates two basic points of historical tradition: (1) that Jesus’ death took place around the time of the Passover (pa/sxa = Heb js^P#, pesaµ); and (2) that the religious leaders of Jerusalem, members of the Council (Sanhedrin), sought to arrest Jesus and put him to death.

Luke’s version (22:1-2) is simpler and more elegant:

“Now the festival of the (day)s without leaven, being called Pesaµ, was nearing. And the chief sacred officials and the writers were seeking how they might do away (with) him, for they were afraid of the people.”

This is clearly related to the historical tradition in Mark; and most critical commentators would maintain that Luke makes use of Mark throughout the narrative (and, indeed, throughout his Gospel). Whatever the author’s source, he has simplified the presentation, but has retained the basic statement relating to the two points of historical information noted above.

Matthew’s version (26:3-5) is even closer to Mark’s, and here it is even more likely that the author has utilized the Markan narrative. However, he has expanded the narration, adding several details which, in particular, make it clear that the Jerusalem Council (Sanhedrin) is involved:

    • He says that the leaders “were brought together” (sunh/xqhsan, vb suna/gw)
    • Along with the “chief sacred officials [i.e. priests]”, he mentions “the elders of the people”
    • The leaders are further said to “take counsel together” (vb sumbouleu/w)
    • The gathering, planning the arrest of Jesus, takes place in the courtyard (au)lh/) of the palace of Caiphas (Kai+a/fa$).

The author also prefaces his narration with an additional Passion prediction/announcement by Jesus (vv. 1-2). This adds to the drama of the opening, and yet it would seem that even this represents an adaptation of the Synoptic narration of Mk 14:1; the same detail is communicated, but presented (dramatically) through the words of Jesus himself:

“You have seen [i.e. known] that after two days the Pesaµ comes to be…”

The information that follows (in v. 2b) reflects the Synoptic tradition of the (three) Passion predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34 par):

“…and the Son of Man is given along to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified].”

While rooted in authentic tradition (the Passion predictions), Matt 26:1-2 is best explained as a literary addition, by the author, to the core tradition.

The next article in this series will deal with the Anointing Scene (Mk 14:3-9 par).

The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 4 (Luke 3:22)

The Birth of Jesus as the Son of God
(The example of Psalm 2:7)

In the concluding notes of Part 3, we looked at Galatians 4:1-7 (and the similar passage in Romans 8:12-17), where the birth of Jesus is connected to the sonship of believers. There is thus an implicit parallel established between Jesus’ incarnate birth (as a human being) and believers’ divine birth (as sons/children of God). In Galatians and Romans, Paul uses the idiom of adoption, rather than birth per se, but he is quite capable of referring to believers being “born” (cf. 4:23, 29). This “birth” takes place through the Holy Spirit, when believers receive the Spirit (Rom 8:15f).

Traditionally, the receiving of the Spirit occurred during (and was symbolized by) the baptism rite. In this regard, believers follow the type-pattern of Jesus’ own baptism, when the Spirit descended on/into him (Mark 1:10 par). This brings up an important point of Christology.

We have already examined how, from the standpoint of the earliest Christology, Jesus’ identity as God’s Son was understood primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation (to heaven). In this regard, he could be said to have been “born” as God’s Son as a result of the resurrection and exaltation. This is demonstrated quite clearly by the use of Psalm 2:7 in Paul’s Antioch speech in the book of Acts (13:33, cf the context of vv. 30-37). As it happens, the same Scripture-verse is cited, in the context of Jesus’ baptism, in the ‘Western’ text of the Lukan version (3:22).

Luke 3:22

In the majority of manuscripts, the words of the heavenly voice (3:22b) match those of the other Synoptic versions (Mark 1:11 par):

“You are my Son [su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou], the (Be)loved One [o( a)gaphto/$]; I have good thought/consideration in you [e)n soi eu)do/khsa]”

There is probably an echo of Isa 42:1 here, a Messianic passage for which the parallel is even closer in the Lukan version of the voice at the Transfiguration (9:35, cf. my earlier discussion). In the opening lines of that prophetic poem, God declares that He has put His Spirit upon the servant-figure (“I have given my Spirit upon him”). Moreover, the figure of a young servant (db#u#), beloved by his master, is not that far removed from the figure of a son. This is all the more so, when we consider that the word used by the LXX (pai=$) to translate db#u# can mean both “servant” and “child”. It is easy to see how the Greek version could take on a subtle interpretive shift to approximate the message of the Heavenly Voice—

my child [o( pai=$ mou]…my soul thinks good [e&dwka] of him…”

all in connection with the act of God “giving” His Spirit to be “upon” the beloved child/servant. For further study, cf. my article in the series on “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition,” as well as the supplemental note on Isa 42:1-4; see also the exegetical note (on Isa 42:1 and 61:1) in the series on the Spirit in the Old Testament.

However, in the ‘Western’ Text of Luke 3:22b—in Codex D [Bezae] and a number of Old Latin manuscripts (a b c d ff2, l, r1)—and in the writings quite a few Church Fathers (cf. the footnote at the end of this article), the heavenly voice actually quotes Psalm 2:7:

“You are my son; today I have caused you to be (born)”
ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se

This verse, of course, came to be a primary Messianic reference as applied to Christ, though usually in connection with the resurrection, not the baptism (Acts 13:33 [cf. above]; Heb 1:5; 5:5). While a number of scholars do accept this minority reading in Lk 3:22b as original (for a good summary and defense of this position, see Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture pp. 62-67, and notes), it is usually regarded as a secondary (variant) reading. I would tend to agree with this opinion, and would point to the very usage of Psalm 2:7, in connection with the resurrection, as an indication that its association with the baptism (in Lk 3:22 v.l.) reflects a measure of the Christological development that took place in the first century. This point deserves to be discussed a bit further.

Christological Development

There are two lines of early Christian tradition in which Jesus was identified as God’s Son, connected with the presence and work of God’s Spirit. The first is the resurrection of Jesus and his exaltation to God’s right hand in heaven (cf. above). The second involves the Messianic identity of Jesus, connected in the early Gospel tradition with the Isaian prophecies in 42:1ff (cf. above) and 61:1ff, and located, in the Gospel narrative, at the beginning of his public ministry—that is, at his baptism (and thereafter).

As the prophetic context of Isa 42:1 and 61:1 makes clear, the earliest strands of the Gospel tradition identified Jesus primarily as a Messianic prophet-figure, rather than the royal Davidic Messiah. Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophet figure-types is well-rooted in the Gospel tradition, but is hardly to be found at all in the remainder of the New Testament, and by the 2nd century the idea of Jesus as an Anointed/Eschatological Prophet had virtually disappeared from Christian thought. Even in the New Testament period, the Messianic identity of Jesus soon was understood primarily in terms of the Davidic Messiah, but also (and increasingly) through the figure of a Divine/Heavenly Savior who would appear at the end-time. I discuss all of these Messianic figure-types at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”; on the Prophet-types, cf. Parts 2 and 3; the royal/Davidic figure is discussed in Parts 6-8, and the Heavenly Deliverer (Son of Man, etc) in Part 10.

Early on, as Jesus’ Messianic identity came to be defined increasingly in terms of a royal Messiah (from the line of David), it is easy to see how Psalm 2:7 might have been cited in the context of Jesus’ baptism, in place of the allusion to Isa 42:1. This could have been done by the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) himself, in which case the quotation of Psalm 2:7 by the Heavenly Voice would be the original reading. But it is just as likely that Psalm 2:7 could have been included subsequently by a copyist, whether intentionally or mistakenly, perhaps inserted by way of a marginal gloss. Just as the Israelite/Judean king could be regarded as God’s “son”, with his coronation as a “birth”, in a figurative and symbolic sense, so could one speak of the royal Messiah as having been born as God’s son (on this, cf. my earlier series on “The Birth of the Messiah”). The prophetic motif of being “anointed” by God’s Spirit (Isa 61:1) could easily be understood in the sense of a royal anointing (for the Davidic Messiah).

Gradually, of course, early Christians came to realize that Jesus must have been the Son of God, in the sense of his exalted and Divine status, even prior to his resurrection—that is, during the time of his earthly ministry. In this regard, the announcement of the Voice at his baptism, declaring that he is God’s Son, would go far beyond the Messianic sense of sonship, implying that Jesus possessed an exalted/Divine position (and nature) even from the beginning of his earthly ministry (i.e., at his baptism). Here, the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 in terms of the resurrection is significant, when it is applied to an earlier point in Jesus’ life. 

In the next section of this article, we will turn to another use of Psalm 2:7, by the author of Hebrews, to see how the Christological aspects surrounding the idea of Jesus’ “birth” (as the Son of God) underwent further development in the later 1st century.

The primary patristic citations for the ‘Western’ reading of Luke 3:22b (cf. above) are as follows: Justin Martyr [Dialogue with Trypho 88, 103], Clement of Alexandria [Paedagogus I.25], Origen [Commentary on John I.29 {32}], Methodius [Symposium VIII.9], the Didascalia [93], Lactantius [Institutes IV.15], Hilary of Poitiers [On the Trinity VIII.25], Augustine [Harmony II.14, Enchiridion 49, Against Faustus 23], and so forth; it was also, apparently, the text found in the so-called Gospel According to the Hebrews [cf. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 11, 12] and Gospel of the Ebionites [cf. Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13], which may be derived from Luke’s reading, and in the Apocryphal Acts [e.g., Acts of Peter and Paul sect. 29]. It is sometimes difficult to know when a Church Father is citing a specific Gospel, but most of these references would seem to be from Luke.

Sola Scriptura: 1 Corinthians 7:10-14, 25, etc

Sola Scriptura

A fundamental conclusion from our studies thus far is that the Scriptures (of the Old Testament), while continuing to be authoritative for early Christians, possessed a secondary, or supplemental, authority. The primary source of religious authority was located in what may be labeled broadly as the Apostolic Tradition. In the mind of first-century Christians, the Scriptures support and confirm the Apostolic Tradition. In turn, the Apostolic Tradition formed the basis of the New Testament Scriptures. There are three main components to this Tradition:

    • The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel, and the seminal Gospel narrative that developed from it.
    • The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—transmitted from the apostolic witness of what Jesus said and did.
    • The inspired teaching and instruction by the apostles (as representatives of Jesus).

The first of these was discussed in the previous study; here we will be examining the second—the words of Jesus.

2. The Words of Jesus

The apostolic witness (of what Jesus said and did) was at first (c. 35-50 A.D.) transmitted orally; gradually, the sayings and teachings of Jesus were preserved in written form—a process that likely took place during the years c. 45-60. There are three main lines of tradition in this regard:

    • The Synoptic Tradition, as represented principally by the Gospel of Mark
    • The so-called “Q” (for German Quelle [“source”]) material, and
    • The Johannine Tradition (represented by the Gospel of John)

These are altogether separate lines of tradition, with very little overlap, except insofar as each draws on some of the same historical traditions. For the most part, the Synoptic Tradition and the “Q” Tradition, drew upon separate sets of sayings and parables of Jesus; only occasionally do we find Synoptic and “Q” versions of the same historical tradition. Many scholars assume that “Q” existed as a single written document—that is, as an early written Gospel containing sayings and parables (with little in terms of narrative episodes), arranged and joined together based on common themes and shared words/phrases (“catchword-bonding”). I am not so convinced of the existence of a single, distinct Q-document; however, a parallel to such a theorized document can be found in the Coptic/Gnostic “Gospel of Thomas”.

The Gospels themselves clearly demonstrate the primacy of Jesus’ words and teachings as a source of authority for early Christians. This is further confirmed by the witness of the other New Testament Writings, though actual quotations or citations of sayings by Jesus are much rarer than one might expect. This can explained according to a number of factors.

In the book of Acts, for example, the focus is almost entirely on the early Gospel preaching (cf. the previous study), and on the confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah. The seminal proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel was centered, almost exclusively, on the death, resurrection and exaltation (to heaven) of Jesus; and, the concern of demonstrating Jesus’ Messianic identity prompted the early preachers and missionaries to focus on the Old Testament Scriptures to support this message. The communication of Jesus’ sayings and parables, etc, would have been reserved for the early instruction (by the apostolic missionaries) in the newly-founded congregations. The preaching in Acts is generally located prior to such instruction, and the teaching in the Letters is subsequent to it.

1 Corinthians 7:10-14, 25ff

Paul’s teaching on marriage (and sexual relations) in 1 Corinthians 7 is instructive in terms of the early Christian understanding on the sources of religious authority. Three distinct sources of authority are involved: (1) a command based on Jesus’ words (vv. 10-11), (2) an inspired apostolic directive (vv. 12-14), and (3) an authoritative opinion by an apostle (giving his advice/recommendation, vv. 25ff). Let us consider the first of these:

“And to the (one)s having been married, I give along (this) message—not I, but the Lord—(that) a woman is not to make space (away) [i.e. separate] from her husband” (v. 10)

The verb paragge/llw simply means “give along a message,” but it is often used in the context of transmitting a directive or command, and that is certainly the sense here: the directive is that a woman is not to separate from her husband (and vice versa). Paul claims here that this directive comes from Jesus (“the Lord”) himself, indicating that Paul was aware of the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ teaching regarding divorce (Mark 10:11-12 par; Matt 19:9). Jesus’ teaching is thus the basis for the instruction that Paul gives here, but it is limited to the specific issue in vv. 10-11; for, in the very next verse (12), we read:

“And to the rest (of you) I say—not the Lord—if any brother has a wife…”

In other words, the instruction Paul gives in vv. 12-14 is not based on a transmitted teaching of Jesus, but comes, we may infer, from Paul’s authoritative (and inspired) teaching as an apostle. The implication is that, if a teaching by Jesus is known which directly addresses the issue, then that teaching/saying is given priority. Since no relevant saying was known for the issue in vv. 12-14, Paul had to rely on his own authority as an apostle. This is comparable to a judge or lawyer who cites earlier precedents, when they are on point, as a source of legal authority in making decisions.

Paul speaks even more cautiously regarding the issue in vv. 25ff:

“Now (on the issue) about the virgins, I do not have an order by (the) Lord on (it), but I give (you) a gnw/mh, as (one) having received mercy under (the) Lord, to be (taken as) trustworthy.”

Here he has neither a command from the Lord, nor does he give an apostolic directive, but offers what he calls a trustworthy (pisto/$) gnwmh/. The noun gnwmh/ essentially means “something made known,” usually in the sense of an opinion or advice, etc. Paul’s advice, in this instance, is that believers who are not currently married (or engaged to be married) ought to remain single; yet he is careful not to present this as a directive that needs to be obeyed.

Paul’s tendency to give priority, whenever possible, to sayings/teachings by Jesus, we can assume was commonplace among apostolic missionaries and church leaders. The relative lack of quotations or direct allusions in the New Testament Letters may simply reflect the fact that, for the majority of issues and concerns addressed by the writer, there was no saying or teaching of Jesus, known to the writer, that was on-point.

A notable occurrence of a Jesus tradition cited by Paul is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (cf. also 5:1-7), clearly drawing upon eschatological teaching by Jesus, such as we find in the Synoptic Gospels (see esp. the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus). Other clear allusions to teachings by Jesus are in Rom 12:14-21; 13:8-10 (cf. Gal 5:14); 14:14; 1 Cor 9:14. Many other loose allusions and general parallels (to Jesus’ teaching) can be cited, which demonstrates that, by the 50s A.D. (when Paul was writing), many Christians had assimilated the authoritative teaching of Jesus to the point that it pervaded their own thought and mode of instruction. As a vivid demonstration this, cf. on the letter of James, below.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

A distinctive citation of a Jesus tradition by Paul is found at the heart of his instruction regarding the ‘Lord’s Supper’ in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. In this instruction, Paul addresses problems he sees (and which were reported to him) in how certain believers at Corinth were conducting themselves in relation to the Supper. In particular, their behavior was disrupting the unity of the congregation that should be made manifest through participation in the Supper (vv. 18-22, 33-34). Paul warns that treating the Supper in an unworthy manner was dangerous, and could lead to divine punishment (vv. 27-32).

At the center of this instruction, as a way to exhort his audience to work toward the ideal of unity in their handling of the Supper, Paul cites a Jesus tradition that conforms closely to what we find preserved in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 14:22-24 par). Paul introduces it this way:

“For I received along from the Lord, that which I also gave along to you…” (v. 23)

The chain of tradition is indicated by the use of the parallel verbs paralamba/nw (“take/receive along”) and paradi/dwmi (“give along”). Paul says that he received this tradition “from the Lord”; this should be understood as something that ultimately comes from Jesus (his words), as preserved through the apostolic witness, rather than being the result of a direct revelation to Paul from the risen Christ (cp. 2 Cor 12:9).

For a comparison of 1 Cor 11:24-26 with the Synoptic version, cf. my earlier article in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

The Letter of James

The Letter of James provides a good example of how first-century Christians assimilated the sayings and teachings of Jesus, and how these teachings came to take the place of the Old Testament Scriptures as a primary source of authority for religious and ethical instruction. There are many allusions to Jesus’ teaching throughout the letter, in particular to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7; Luke 6:20-49). In the repeated contrast between the rich/mighty and poor/lowly (1:9-11; 2:1-7, 15-17; 3:6-10; 5:1-5), James would seem to have more in common with the Lukan presentation of Jesus’ teaching, but he does not appear to be directly citing any written Gospel.

This indicates a time when Jesus’ sayings and teachings were widely known and transmitted, but had not yet taken a definitive written form (such as in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain and the so-called Q source; cf. above). Like many early Christians of the period, Jesus’ teachings were authoritative, but not as a written Law to replace the written Torah. There is no indication that the author knew any of the Synoptic Gospels; and, indeed, he may have been writing prior to the publication of the Gospels. Whether or not he was drawing upon some kind of written source, or was simply relying upon oral tradition, is difficult to say.

The similarities between James and the Sermon on the Mount/Plain can be demonstrated as follows:

And, for other similarities/parallels with Jesus’ teaching:

Cf. the commentaries by J. B. Mayor (1913) and Peter H. Davids (NIGTC, Eerdmans:1982, pp. 47-48); also W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (1964, pp. 402-403).

This shows, I think, how fundamentally the author has assimilated Jesus’ teaching, and that it has become the basis for Christian ethical instruction. We see this throughout the New Testament and early Christian tradition—to the extent that the ethical commands and precepts of the Law remain in view for believers, they have been filtered and interpreted through the teachings of Jesus.

Sola Scriptura: Mark 12:35-37 par

Sola Scriptura

Jesus’ View of the Authority of Scripture: The Prophets

In our brief study on Jesus’ view of the authority of the (Old Testament) Scriptures, we are following the two-fold categorization of the Scriptures in terms of “the Law and the Prophets”, with the Psalms being included in the second category. The previous study focused on the Law (Torah/Pentateuch), now we turn to consider the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi, and the Psalms).

For early Christians, the authority of the Prophets (as Scripture) lay primarily in their relation to Messianic expectation. That is to say, the emphasis was on those passages (in the Prophets and Psalms) which were understood as prophesying the coming of the Messiah—the term (“Anointed [One]”) encompassing a number of different Messianic figure-types. These figure-types are discussed at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, each type identified as being fulfilled by Jesus; the main figure-type is the Davidic Ruler type (Parts 6-8), but there were also several Messianic Prophet figures (Parts 2-3), a heavenly Deliverer figure (Part 10), and possibly others. The Messianic interpretation of key passages in the Prophetic books builds upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition, being applied to the person of Jesus by early Christians. However, there is also evidence from within the Gospels (and the Gospel Tradition) that this Messianic application was begun by Jesus himself. A number of sayings by Jesus in the Gospels cite or reference the Prophets (incl. the Psalms) in terms of a Messianic self-identification.

The most difficult aspect of the identification of Jesus as the Messiah, for early Christians, was the fact of his suffering and death, which did not in any way square with Messianic expectations in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Christians were forced to confront this difficulty, and to find Scripture passages—spec. Messianic prophecies—which could be understood as predicting the suffering and death of Jesus. Indeed, this tends to be the focus of the references to the Prophets in the Gospels, going back to the sayings of Jesus. It is notable that a number of these references to the Prophets (as Scripture) occur in the context of Jesus’ Passion. The key Synoptic references in this regard are Mark 14:49 and Matt 26:54-56 (cf. also Luke 22:37), in which Jesus clearly indicates that his suffering and death (beginning with his arrest) were prophesied in the Scriptures. There are similar references in the Johannine tradition (Jn 13:18; 17:12; cf. also 19:24, 28, 36-37).

The Gospel of Luke presents most clearly this aspect of prophetic fulfillment, as rooted in the words of Jesus himself. This theme is introduced at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry (4:21), and again toward the end of his public ministry—in the Lukan version of the third Passion-prediction by Jesus (18:31):

“See, we (are about to) step up to Yerushalaim, and all the (thing)s having been written through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] will be completed for the Son of Man…”

This Lukan theme comes even more clearly into view at the close of the Gospel, following the resurrection of Jesus, as Jesus begins to instruct his disciples that all of things that took place (spec. his suffering and death) were prophesied beforehand in the Scriptures (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45). This becomes an important aspect of the Lukan narrative of the early Christian mission in the book of Acts (1:16; 3:18ff; 8:28ff; 13:27; 17:2; 18:28, etc).

We do not know for certain which Prophetic Scripture passages Jesus pointed out for his disciples, but I present a survey of possible candidates in the earlier article “He opened to us the Scriptures”. Several of these references from the Prophets and Psalms are specifically emphasized elsewhere in the New Testament and early Christian tradition (see, for example, the use of Isa 52:13-53:12 in Acts 8:28ff).

Mark 12:35-37 / Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44

An interesting example of Jesus citing the Prophets (here, the Psalms) occurs in Mark 12:35-37 par. On purely objective grounds, the authenticity of this tradition is accepted by virtually all commentators, though some may debate to what extent Jesus, at the historical level, is referencing the passage as a Messianic prophecy per se.

In this Synoptic episode (set during Passion week in Jerusalem), Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1. The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark and Luke, this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

    • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (Lk 20:41)
    • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (Lk 20:44)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)” —here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. the Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42-43 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus.

As in the case of the Torah, the authority of the Prophets (here, the Psalms) is realized for believers, in the teaching of Jesus, through his interpretation. The meaning of the text itself can be debated (which the very point of the scholarly discussion in this episode), and so an authoritative interpretation is required. Indeed, in this instance, Jesus plays on a certain difficulty and ambiguity in the text of Psalm 110:1, which may be summarized as follows.

Central to the episode is Jesus’ citation of Psalm 110:1, which in the Greek version (LXX) begins:

ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w|
eípen ho kúrios tœ kuríœ
“The Lord said to my Lord…”

The dual use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) at first glance is confusing, and is due to specific circumstances surrounding the recitation (and translation) of the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH, Yahweh). The original Hebrew reads,

yn]d)al^ hw`hy+ <a%n+
n®°¥m YHWH la°dœnî
“Utterance of YHWH to my Lord:…”

Early on in Jewish tradition, the Tetragrammaton hwhy (YHWH) was replaced with “(my) Lord” (ynda) when the text was recited; this, in turn, generally led to the common practice of translating hwhy with Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) in Greek, and to the double-use of ku/rio$ in LXX Psalm 110:1. A similar wordplay could be attested for Aramaic—ya!r=m*l= ar@m* rm^a& °¦mar m¹r¢° l®m¹r°î .

In the original context of the Psalm, the Lord (YHWH) speaks to “my Lord” (the king). Most scholars would hold that the setting (as in Psalm 2) involves the enthronement or inauguration of the (new) king, a time at which nobles and vassals might choose to rebel or to gain power and independence for themselves (Ps 2:1-3; 110:1). God gives to the king assurance of His protection and support, including victory over all enemies, i.e. the surrounding nations (Ps 2:4-11; 110:2-3, 5-7). Much like Psalm 2, this Psalm refers to the king in exalted, ‘divine’ language, very much in keeping with ancient (Near Eastern) ideas of kingship.

I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Declaration (utterance/oracle) of YHWH— “Sit at my right-hand…” (verse 1)
      • Promise by YHWH of (divine) power/victory over the king’s enemies (verses 2-3)
    • Declaration (oath) of YHWH— “You are a priest…” (verse 4)
      • Promise of the king’s power/victory over the peoples, in terms of YHWH’s judgment against the nations (verses 5-6)
    • Concluding declaration of YHWH’s establishment of the king’s rule (verse 7)

It should be noted that much of the vocabulary and syntax of this Psalm remains obscure, with verses 4 and 7 being especially difficult to interpret.

Psalm 2 was interpreted and applied to the coming/future Anointed King (from the line of David) in a number of Jewish writings of the period (such as the 17th Psalm of Solomon). However, apart from its use in the New Testament, there is little evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 at the time of Jesus. In one text from Qumran (11QMelch [11Q13]), Melchizedek (Ps 110:4) appears as a Divine/Heavenly figure who functions as Judge against the wicked (Belial), but this scenario (col ii, lines 9-13) is derived from Psalm 82:1-2 rather than 110:1. His appearance (as Judge and Deliverer) is also connected with the Anointed One of Daniel 9:25 and the Messenger of Isa 52:7 who brings the good news of salvation (col ii, lines 15-25). A similar paradigm may underlie the “Elect/Righteous One” and “Son of Man” figure in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), which many scholars hold to be roughly contemporary with Jesus and the early New Testament writings.

In any case, Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as though a Messianic interpretation were understood, but he shifts the meaning of “Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) away from the royal Davidic figure-type and toward a different reference point—a Divine/Heavenly figure, closer, perhaps, to the “Son of Man” of 1 Enoch and Jesus’ own sayings (cf. Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 pars; Luke 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, and pars in Matthew; also John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:62). Certainly, it was understood this way in early Christian tradition, associated specifically with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God in Acts 2:34-36 (cf. also Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the Synoptic saying of Jesus in Mark 14:62 par, he identifies himself (as “the Son of Man”) who will appear at the right hand of God, in connection with the coming/end-time Judgment (Mk 13:26 par). Thus Jesus may be identifying himself with a pre-existent Heavenly/Divine figure akin to that in 1 Enoch 37-71. In Hebrews 1:13, Psalm 110:1 is cited in the context of belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, though in Heb 5:6 an association with the resurrection (and exaltation) seems to be more in mind.

In my view, Jesus uses Psalm 110:1 as a clever way to shift the meaning of “the Anointed (One)” from the Davidic King figure-type over to a different reference point—that of a coming Divine/Heavenly figure, generally referred to elsewhere by Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Daniel 7:13).

Another important instance where Jesus cites from the Prophets (spec. the Psalms), treating and an implicit Messianic prophecy, which he applies to himself, is his quotation of Psalm 118:21-22 in Matt 21:42 par, part of the Synoptic episode (also set in the context of Jesus’ Passion) in Mark 12:1-12 par. For the use of Psalm 118 in the Gospel Tradition, cf. the discussion in my earlier article (spec. on Psalm 118:26).

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

Exodus 24:8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the words of Jesus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Zechariah 9-14

Zechariah 9-14

There can be no doubt that Zechariah 9-14 exerted a considerable influence on the Gospel Tradition—the Passion narratives in particular. This influence cannot be limited to a single passage; rather, there are more than half a dozen references from within these chapters which we can see reflected in the Gospel narrative.

Chapters 9-14 are sometimes referred to as “Deutero-Zechariah”, in a manner similar to the designation of Isa 40-66 [or 40-55] as “Deutero-Isaiah”. The prevailing critical view is that chaps. 9-14 are later, and come from a different hand (or hands), than chaps. 1-8. The reference to Greece/Greeks (/w`y`) in 9:13 has led some commentators to date chaps. 9-14 to the Hellenistic period (late 4th or 3rd century B.C.), or even later in the Maccabean period. However, critical scholars today tend to view these chapters as the product of the 5th century B.C., probably some time before the work of Nehemiah (445 and after). This would make Zech 9-14 more or less contemporary with the so-called Trito-Isaian poems (chaps. 56-66), according to the common critical view; both works seem to share a similar eschatological vision.

Indeed, Zech 9-14 has a strong eschatological orientation, envisioning the coming of a New Age for God’s people (Israel/Judah). This restoration of the Kingdom is related to the Judgment of YHWH against the surrounding nations, after which they will submit to the rule of YHWH and His Kingdom (centered at Jerusalem). This prophetic eschatology is very much in keeping with that of the other Prophets from the exilic and post-exilic periods (i.e., Joel, Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zech 1-8; cf. also the ‘Isaian Apocalypse’, chaps. 24-27). Its message reflects the same basic line of prophetic eschatological tradition, sometimes characterized as “early apocalyptic” or “proto-apocalyptic”.

The primary literary structure of Zech 9-14 is marked by the formula in 9:1 and 12:1:

hw`hy+ rb^d= aCm^
“A lifting up, (the) word of YHWH”

The specific term aC*m^ (lit. “lifting [up]”), used frequently in the Prophets to introduce a prophetic oracle or vision, is to be understood in the sense of something “taken up” by the prophet, an inspired message (from YHWH) that has been placed (like a weight) upon him. When a message of judgment is involved, it can truly seem like a “burden” to the messenger.

The same phrase occurs at Malachi 1:1, a book which, like Zech 9-11 and 12-14, contains three chapters. Indeed, those three sections are roughly equal in length; that, along with the identical opening words, have led some scholars recently to posit an original work, comprised of Zech 9-Mal 3, which was later re-edited within the context of the ‘Book of the Twelve’. It is a reasonably compelling argument, for certainly the opening expression in Zech 9:1, 12:1, and Mal 1:1 represents a common redacting device. It is distinctive of these chapters, and unique to them, occurring nowhere else in the Old Testament.

It is equally certain, however, that chapters 9-14 are related, thematically and by the use of keywords, etc, to the earlier (c. 520) oracles and visions of chaps. 1-8. Depending on how early in the 5th century chap. 9-14 were composed, Zechariah the prophet could still have been alive, or, at the very least, his colleagues and successors could have been continuing his work. In any case, these later chapters are clearly inspired, in various ways, by visionary messages of chaps. 1-8.

One of the key themes that runs throughout chapters 9-14 is the contrast between the rule of YHWH, as Shepherd of His people, and the failed (and/or corrupt) leadership of the ‘false shepherds’. It is an important theme, both in terms of the Messianic interpretation of these chapters, and in the way that the New Testament, in particular, applied this to the person and work of Jesus.

The best approach to analyzing this material, in terms of its influence on the Gospel Tradition (and Passion Narrative), is to look at the key references, examining (1) their background, and (2) their application within the Gospel.

Zechariah 9:9

“Spin (with) great (joy), daughter of ‚iyyôn!
Make a (great) noise, daughter of Yerushalaim!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and bearing salvation (is) he,
bent low and riding upon a donkey,
even upon an ass, son of a she-donkey.”

These lines, so famous from their use in the Triumphal Entry scene (cf. below), need to be understood in the context of Zechariah 9. The chapter is comprised of three different oracular sections:

    • Vv. 1-8: A judgment-oracle against the nations at the borders of Israel’s traditional territory; YHWH moves from Aram-Damascus in the north all the way to Jerusalem (His “house”), where He ‘sets up camp’.
    • Vv. 9-10: Announcement of a new king entering Jerusalem to begin his rule.
    • Vv. 11-17: YHWH establishes a new era of peace and security for His people, with a Kingdom centered in Judah and Jerusalem.

The principal actor is YHWH—it is He who subdues the nations, removing their capacity to make war, and restoring to Israel/Judah the extent of their Promised Land. It is not entirely clear what role the king, mentioned in vv. 9-10, plays in this scenario. The wording in verse 10 certainly emphasizes his connection with the New Age of peace; and yet it is God who acts:

“And I will cut off (the chariot-)ride from Ephraim
and (the war-)horse from Yerushalaim,
and it will be cut off, the bow of battle”

It is only after YHWH has pacified the land that the king fulfills his role—not through military action, but through speech:

“and he shall speak wholeness to the nations,
and his rule (shall be) from sea unto sea,
and from (the) River to (the) ends of (the) earth.”

The word <olv* I have translated in its fundamental sense as “wholeness” (or “fullness, completion”). The conventional translation “peace” indicates just one aspect of meaning; the significance of the noun is rooted in the ancient covenant idea—of a binding agreement that is completed between two parties, providing protection and security (and peace), etc. The speech-aspect emphasized here suggests a two-fold significance: (1) the king establishes a period of law and order, and (2) he specifically promulgates, by word and example, the Law (Torah) of YHWH.

This is important for a correct understanding of the description of the king in verse 9. Let us briefly consider each detail:

    • “righteous” (qyD!x^)—the adjective qyD!x^ fundamentally means “right, straight, just”, often in an ethical or religious sense (i.e., righteous); it can also connote someone who is faithful and loyal, and also someone who has been proven right (i.e. vindicated).
    • “bearing salvation” (uv*on)—this Niphal (passive-reflexive) participle (of the verb uv^y`) literally means “being saved”, but the precise idea here is difficult to bring across in English; the king is protected and given victory (i.e. is saved) through the power and faithfulness of YHWH, and yet he also carries and conveys this salvation to the people as a whole.
    • “bent low” (yn]u*)—this adjective often means “oppressed, afflicted,” but here the more basic meaning of “bent low” is preferable; it is used in a figurative sense, i.e., for the lowliness of the king; he does not present an impressive figure, and can scarcely be regarded as a mighty warrior; what victory, etc, he achieves comes through YHWH’s might.
    • “riding upon a donkey” (romj& lu^ bk@r))—while less majestic than the horse, a donkey can still be a fitting animal for royalty to ride (cf. Gen 49:10-11; 2 Sam 16:2); the main significance here is that the militaristic aspects (of the horse, etc) often associated with kingship have been removed.

The Gospel Tradition makes clear that early Christians saw Zech 9:9f as a prophecy/prefiguring of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem. This is well-established in the Synoptic tradition (Mark 11:1-10 par), even if the Scripture is cited directly only in Matthew (21:5). Jesus’ own detailed instructions to his disciples, as recorded in the Synoptic narrative (Mk 11:2-3ff par), if accepted as authentic, may indicate that he himself had this passage in mind. In any case, the fact that Zech 9:9 is also cited in the Johannine version of the Entry (12:12-19, v. 15) demonstrates how readily early Christians made the connection.

From the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, the Entry scene establishes Jesus as the royal Messiah from the line of David. The use of Zech 9:9-10, coupled with the exclamation by the crowds—citing Psalm 118:26, adapted according to a distinct Messianic interpretation (cf. the discussion in the previous article)—makes this abundantly clear.

And yet, from the Passion narrative that follows, the Gospels express the realization that Jesus’ Messianic identity would be very different from had been expected by the crowds. In this regard, the abandonment of traditional militaristic imagery, such as normally would have been associated with ancient kingship, is significant. For Jesus would not function as a great warrior, achieving victory over his enemies and establishing a kingdom in Jerusalem through military means. Instead, his attributes are those very characteristics given to the coming king in Zech 9:9-10: (i) “righteous”, (ii) “bearing (God’s) salvation”, (iii) “lowly”. Given the suffering and death he would endure in Jerusalem, it would perhaps be better to understand the adjective yn]u* in the more negative sense of “oppressed, afflicted”. However, in Matthew’s citation, this is translated as prau+/$ (“meek, gentle”), following the LXX; it is the only one of the three attributes (above) that Matthew retains in his citation.

Zechariah 9:11

“And also you, by (the) blood of your binding (agreement),
I have sent (out) your bound (captive)s from (the) pit in which there is no water.”

These words open final oracle-section of chapter 9 (vv. 11-17), and immediately follow the announcement of the coming king (vv. 9-10). The expression “blood of your binding (agreement) [tyr!B=]” refers to the ancient covenant, between YHWH and Israel, that was established (and ratified) at Sinai (Exodus 24, vv. 6-8). The reference here follows in the tradition of the exilic and post-exilic Prophets, by which the restoration of Israel in the New Age is defined in terms of a new covenant between YHWH and His people (Jer 31:31-34, et al). Ultimately, however, this ‘new’ covenant represents the true fulfillment of the original covenant at Sinai, one that is re-established (never again to be broken) in the New Age.

Given the influence of Zech 9-14 on the Gospel Tradition, and the close connection with 9:9-10, it seems possible that the reference to the covenant in v. 11 informs the wording of the Last Supper tradition: “this is my blood of the covenant” (Mk 14:24 par). However, it must be said, that the original tradition in Exod 24:8 is unquestionably the primary point of reference (“See, [the] blood of the binding [agreement] which YHWH has cut with you”). The subject will be discussed further in the next article in this series.

Zechariah 9:16, etc

At the close of the oracle in 9:11-17, the sheep/shepherd theme is introduced (v. 16), one which will be of tremendous importance throughout the whole of Zech 9-14, and which dominates the remainder of chapters 10-11.

“And YHWH their Mighty (One) [i.e. God] will save them in that day, as (the) flock of His people,
for (like) stones of a sacred (crown), they are sparkling upon His land.” (9:16)

The wording of the second line seems to echo the announcement of the coming king (vv. 9-10, cf. above) and suggests that, at least in part, the royal figure in those verses may be understood in a collective sense—that is, as representing the kingship of the people as a whole.

In any case, it is clear that YHWH is the shepherd, and this is most important for understanding the shepherd-theme as it is developed in chapters 10-11 (and again in 13:7-9). The true shepherd (YHWH) is contrasted with a variety of false shepherds (human leaders of various types). Unfortunately, the complexity of this theme in chaps. 10-11 (esp. the ‘Shepherd narrative’ in 11:4-16) requires a more extensive treatment than the space here allows. But I will touch on the matter a bit further when discussing 13:7-9 (below), and in a separate note on 11:12-13 (cf. below).

The true/false Shepherd imagery is most prominent in the ‘Good Shepherd’ discourse of Jesus in John 10:1-18, 25-30. Though this is not part of the Passion narrative as such, the idea of Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to the discourse (see vv. 11, 15, 17-18).

Zechariah 11:12-13

These verses are famously applied to the Passion narrative (the betrayal by Judas) in the Gospel of Matthew (27:3-10). They are part of the true/false shepherd theme of chaps. 10-11. However, since they are contained in one of the difficult sections of the entire book (some would say of the entire Old Testament)—the ‘Shepherd narrative’ of 11:4-16—and are only marginally related to the Gospel Tradition, I have decided to discuss them in a separate note.

Zechariah 12:10

This (12:10) is another difficult reference which is deserving of a separate note (upcoming). That it was applied by early Christians to the crucifixion of Jesus is confirmed by independent quotations in John 19:37 and Rev 1:7.

Zechariah 13:7

“Rouse (yourself), sword, upon my (shep)herd and upon (the) strong (one) my companion
—utterance of YHWH of (the heavenly) armies.
Strike the (one) herding [i.e. shepherd] and the flock will be broken apart,
and I will turn my hand upon the little (one)s.”

Verse 7b is cited by Jesus as a Passion prediction (Mk 14:17). Vv. 7-9 echo the problematic ‘Shepherd narrative’ of 11:4-16, and need to be discussed in that context. The action that YHWH commands against the shepherd is part of a wider judgment against the people. This judgment will result in widespread destruction, with only a third of the people surviving; but this surviving remnant will be purified and made holy.

The remnant-motif follows in a well-established line of prophetic tradition, but is here given a new meaning in the eschatological context of Zech 9-14. The judgment-context is realized through a great war between Israel and the nations (12:1-9; 14:1-14), in which the nations are defeated entirely through the power and greatness of YHWH.

These chapters exercised a tremendous influence on the visions in the book of Revelation, but it is important to remember that the death and resurrection of Jesus also was understood, fundamentally, in an eschatological sense by early Christians. Jesus’ Passion marked the beginning of period of darkness and distress for the world; there are allusions to this throughout the Passion narrative (e.g., Mk 14:38; 15:33 pars; Lk 22:53), and note the clear relationship between Jesus’ Passion (Mk 14:62 par, etc) and the events in the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 13 par).

Thus, we may see how the striking of Jesus (the Good Shepherd) fits into the pattern of God’s end-time Judgment. It marks the beginning of a time of great distress for the people of Israel, but also of persecution for the disciples of Jesus (believers). The flock of God’s people will indeed be “broken apart” (scattered), at least for a time. But this dispersion will also serve a greater purpose, in terms of the wider mission of believers, proclaiming the Gospel into the surrounding nations (cf. Acts 8:1ff).

Zechariah 13:1; 14:8

Following the eschatological war with the nations, there will truly, and at last, be realized a New Age of peace and blessing for God’s people. One of the motifs for expressing this is a fountain of “living water” that springs up, bringing cleansing and life to the people. The primary association is with the cleansing power of water:

“In that day there will be a fountain (dug), being opened up for (the) house of David and for (the one)s dwelling (in) Yerushalaim, for (cleansing of) sin and filth.” (13:1)

The fountain will turn into a great river that flows, not only in Jerusalem, but outward into the surrounding nations (‘from sea to sea’):

“And it shall be (that), in that day, living waters will go forth from Yerushalaim, half to the preceding [i.e. eastern] sea, and half to the following [i.e. western] sea” (14:8)

This imagery seems to have been influential on early Christians, in a number of ways. Apart from explicit references or allusions in the book of Revelation (e.g., 22:1-2), there is the obvious connection with baptism, and with the traditional association between water and the Spirit.

One likely passage that alludes to Zech 13:1 and 14:8 is the discourse of Jesus in John 7-8 (esp. 7:37-39). The Sukkot/Tabernacles setting pervades these chapters, and the same festival plays a small but significant role in Zech 9-14 as well (14:16-19, and cf. also the request for rain in 10:1).

Zechariah 14:20-21

Finally, mention should be made of Zech 14:20-21, as these verses would seem to provide the background for Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (see esp. Mark 12:15-18)—the episode that immediately follows his Triumphal Entry in the Synoptic narrative, and which helps to set the stage for his impending Passion. The associated Temple-saying in Jn 2:19 is understood explicitly in terms of Jesus’ death (and resurrection, vv. 21-22), and it seems to have played a role in the interrogation of Jesus before the Jerusalem Council (Mk 14:58 par).

The original context of Zech 14:20-21, coming at the close of oracles of chaps. 9-14, suggests that the role and place of the Temple will be transformed in the New Age, imbued with a greater sense of holiness and purpose in the worship of YHWH. Early Christians drew upon similar eschatological ideas as their own religious identity, in relation to the Torah and the Temple ritual, developed. The Temple (and its sacrifices) came to take on an entirely new meaning, the ritual aspects replaced by a spiritual dimension. There is strong evidence that these spiritualizing tendencies have their roots in authentic Gospel tradition and the teachings of Jesus himself. For more on this subject, see my earlier article in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Psalm 118:26

Psalm 118:26

There can be no doubt that Psalm 118 had a significant influence on the Gospel Tradition. Verses 19-24 came to be applied to Jesus, in no small part, it would seem, due to the use of vv. 22-23 by Jesus himself (cf. below). Even more notably, we have the famous exclamation in verse 26:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of YHWH,
we bless you from (the) house of YHWH!”

In Hebrew, the first line reads:

hw`hy+ <v@B= aB*h^ EWrB

Which the LXX renders as:

eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou

The Greek is a quite literal translation of the Hebrew, though the fundamental meaning of the verb eu)loge/w differs considerably from Hebrew Er^B*. That Greek verb means literally “give a good account of,” “speak well of”, that is, to give a word of blessing; the Hebrew, by contrast, seems to refer primarily to a gesture of blessing (esp. of bowing, bending the knee). The conventional meaning of “bless, give a blessing” is, however, common to both verbs.

Psalm 118:26 occurs twice in the Gospel Tradition: (1) in the Triumphal Entry scene (the exclamation by the crowds), and (2) in a saying of Jesus preserved (in differing locations) by Matthew and Luke (“Q”). Before we proceed to consider these two occurrences, along with the wider influence of Psalm 118 on early Christianity, it is necessary to establish something of the background and structure of the original Psalm.

Psalm 118 may be outlined as follows:

    • An opening thanksgiving to YHWH, with a call to worship (vv. 1-4)
    • An account of how YHWH delivered the king, giving him strength and victory over his enemies [in battle] (vv. 5-18)
    • A victory celebration involving a procession (back) to the city, and into the Temple (vv. 19-27)
    • A closing thanksgiving to YHWH (vv. 28-29)

The core of the Psalm can thus be divided into two parts: (a) a description of the king’s victory (vv. 5-18), and (b) a celebration of that victory (19-27). Verse 26 comes as a climactic moment to the second part, with the king’s victorious procession, having come into the city (vv. 19-20ff), now entering the Temple precincts. Once inside, the sacrificial altar (“horns of the place of slaughter”) will be adorned with festive decoration in commemoration of the great victory achieved by YHWH for His servant the king.

In this original historical context, it is principally the king who is acclaimed as “the one coming in the name of YHWH”. The verb in the second line does use the plural suffix (“we bless you [pl.]”), and this might seem to contradict the singular reference (“blessed is the [one]…”) in line 1. In all likelihood, the plural simply refers to the procession that accompanies the king.

Over the course of time, the use of the Psalm in worship gave to it a new dimension, in which the focal point was not the king, but the procession of the faithful, coming to the city of Jerusalem (and the Temple). It was natural that Psalm 118 would come to be used in the context of the pilgrimage festivals, such as Passover or Sukkot (Booths/Tabernancles), when the people were obligated to make the journey to Jerusalem; in that context, “the one coming in the name of YHWH” referred to the pilgrim. Ps 118 was counted among the Hallel Psalms (113-118) sung or recited on such occasions, and the place (and grouping) of these hymns within the Psalter almost certainly reflects this ritual usage.

Psalm 118:26 in the Triumphal Entry Scene

The Triumphal Entry scene occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels and in the Gospel of John—that is, in both lines of tradition. This suggests that all four accounts derive from a common historical tradition; the use of Psalm 118:26 is part of this common tradition. The words shouted by the crowds (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 19:38; John 12:13) are based upon Ps 118:26 [LXX], and yet, in each instance, the Scripture is modified in a way that reflects a Messianic interpretation (and application).

It is useful to compare each version side by side (translated words in italics represent details unique to each Gospel):

Mark 11:9-10

w(sanna/: eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou: eu)loghme/nh h( e)rxome/nh basilei/a tou= patro\$ h(mw=n Daui/d: w(sanna/ e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$

Hosha’-nâ Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David Hosha’-nâ in the highest (place)s

Matthew 21:9

w(sanna/ tw=| ui(w=| Daui/d: eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou: w(sanna/ e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$

Hosha’-nâ to the son of David Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord Hosha’-nâ in the highest (place)s

Luke 19:38

eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ o( basileu\$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou: e)n ou)ranw=| ei)rh/nh kai\ do/ca e)n u(yi/stoi$

Blessed is the (one) coming—the king—in (the) name of (the) Lord Peace in heaven and glory in (the) highest place(s)

John 12:13

w(sanna/: eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou, [kai\] o( basileu\$ tou=  )Israh/l

Hosha’-nâ Blessed is the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord, [and] the king of Israel

First, note what is common to all of the Gospels:

(a) w(sanna/—a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic an` uv^oh (hôša± nâ) (Hebrew aN` hu*yv!oh [hôšî±¹ (n)nâ]), which would be translated “Save, please…” or “Save, I pray…” (an being a particle of entreaty). This verb form (with or without the particle) reflects a real request from a petitioner (toward the king, or God) everywhere it occurs in the Old Testament; however, gradually, it came to be used as an acclamation or exclamation of praise (something like “God save the king!” in Britain). Its appearance here is certainly a result of its use in Psalm 118 (v. 25)—it may originally have indicated a prayer for victory and/or prosperity: in the context of Sukkoth (harvest festival) it is intended as a prayer for rain. Of the Gospels, only Luke omits any w(sanna/ exclamation.

(b) Psalm 118:26a—all four Gospels include the first half of verse 26, which is an exact quote from the Septuagint (cf. above): eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou, “blessed is the (one) coming in the name of the Lord”.

(c) Reference to king/kingdom—In all four Gospels, some mention is made of a king (basileu/$, John 12:13, Luke 19:38), a kingdom (basilei/a, Mark 11:10), or David (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:10). This would imply that the crowds (and/or the Gospel writer) had a Messianic context in mind—specifically, the Davidic Ruler figure-type (cf. below).

(d) e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$—this phrase occurs in all three Synoptic accounts (though Luke is quite different, see below). Literally, the phrase would be rendered “in the highest (place)s”, i.e., in heaven, or in the highest heaven. The rare instances where this phrase occurs in the Septuagint (Psalm 148:1; Job 16:19), it translates <ym!orM=B^ (“in the heights”) parallel to “heaven” (<y]m^v*, ou)rano/$). The usage in Matthew and Mark (with w(sanna/) probably represents a climactic intensification of the acclamation.

Secondly, what is unique to each Gospel:

(a) Mark adds eu)loghme/nh h( e)rxome/nh basilei/a tou= patro\$ h(mw=n Daui/d (“blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David”), as a parallel to Psalm 118:26a— “blessed is the one coming…blessed is the kingdom coming”. Here the Messianic connotation could not be more explicit: not just the king, but the kingdom itself is coming; that is, the restored Davidic kingdom will be ushered in. One is reminded of the annunciation to Mary: “he shall be great and shall be called Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32).

(b) Matthew adds tw=| ui(w=| Daui/d to w(sanna/: “Hôsha’-nâ to the son of David”, so that the exclamation of praise (or entreaty, in the original Psalm) is addressed specifically to the “Son of David”. This is a clear Messianic title which is applied to Jesus on a number of occasions (only in the Synoptic Gospels, most frequently in Matthew). It should be noted that generally it is the crowds (or other individuals) who use this title, never Jesus himself: in fact, the only time Jesus mentions it occurs in a brief exposition of Psalm 110:1 (Mark 12:35-37; Matthew 21:41-45; Luke 20:41-44) the precise meaning of which remains difficult to determine. Matthew records the same phrase (w(sanna/ tw=| ui(w=| Daui/d) being uttered by children in the Temple; Luke has a similar notice (without the phrase) involving the disciples (Luke 19:39-40).

(c) John follows Psalm 118:26a with the phrase [kai\] o( basileu\$ tou=  )Israh/l (“and the king of Israel”). This addition seems to specify who the coming one is— “even the king of Israel”.

(d) Similar to John, Luke seems to have added o( basileu/$ to Psalm 118:26a; however, the text is uncertain (see the textual note on Lk 19:38). More notably, Luke has, apparently, modified and expanded the phrase e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$, so that it is a clear echo of the angelic announcement to the shepherds: “in heaven peace, and glory in the highest (place)s” (compare Luke 2:14). The climactic moment of Jesus entry into Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51) parallels the entry of Jesus into the world.

It is interesting how the Messianic adaptation of Psalm 118:26 has effectively restored the original context of the Psalm, with its focus on the victorious king, in his processional entry into Jerusalem. Once again, it is the king who is identified as the one coming “in the name of the Lord”. Only now Jesus is the king, the royal Messiah from the line of David, who, it was expected, would subdue the enemies of Israel and establish a new Kingdom in Jerusalem. Such an expectation seems to have been clearly present among the crowd, even though the actual Messianic identity of Jesus would be realized in a very different way during his time in Jerusalem. Instead of a great political or military victory over his enemies, Jesus would meet with suffering and death at their hands.

The Messianic association with Zech 9:9 in the Triumphal Entry scene will be discussed in the next article (on the influence of Zech 9-14 on the Gospel Tradition).

Psalm 118:26 in the “Q” saying: Jesus’ Lament for Jerusalem

Psalm 118:26 is also cited by Jesus in a saying that is found in both Matthew and Luke (part of the so-called “Q” material). The two Gospel writers are clearly drawing upon the same tradition, since the two versions (Matt 23:37-39; Lk 13:34-35) are quite close in their wording. However, the location within the narrative is different in each case. Matthew sets this tradition—a lament by Jesus for the city of Jerusalem—most dramatically, at the climax of Jesus’ “woes” against the Scribes and Pharisees (23:1-36); it also immediately precedes his prediction of the Temple’s destruction (24:1-2ff). Luke has it at a different location, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Presumably, it was tied to the preceding tradition (13:31-33) by way of “catchword-bonding”, based on the mention of Jerusalem and the shared idea of prophets being put to death. Luke also includes a separate lament for Jerusalem at 19:41-44, immediately following the Triumphal Entry scene. The Lukan version of the “Q” lament-saying (13:34-35) is located during the journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:34ff).

Jesus’ use of Psalm 118:26 in this saying is intriguing, since he mixes together two traditional motifs: (a) YHWH as protector of His people (like a mother bird protecting her young), and (b) the king who is under YHWH’s protection. The first motif is expressed, most famously, in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:11). Jesus casts himself in this Divine role of protector, functioning as God’s chosen representative on earth. He gladly would have protected the people in the time to come (i.e., the end-time Judgment), but the response of the people (as a whole) would not allow it. This reflects the basic reality that many Israelites and Jews—especially the leaders and religious authorities in Jerusalem—were unwilling (or unable) to accept him as the Messiah. And, unless they do so, they will never see him in the role of their protector during the time of Judgment:

“…you shall not see me, until (the time) arrives when you would say, ‘Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord’!” (Lk 13:35)

The citation of Ps 118:26a, used in much the same sense as it is in the Triumphal Entry scene (cf. above), implies a recognition of Jesus as the King—that is, the royal Messiah from the line of David. By refusing to recognize him as their King, the people of Jerusalem will be without the Divine protection that he would provide. This warning of Judgment (“your house is left to you [desolate],” cf. Jer 22:5), within the Gospel context, surely alludes to the impending conquest and destruction of the city in the war of 66-70 A.D. The lament in Lk 19:41-44 brings this out more precisely, and it is also central to the Eschatological Discourse (esp. the Lukan version, cf. 21:20-24).

Psalm 118:22-23 in the Gospel Tradition

In Jesus’ parable of the Vineyard workers (Mk 12:1-12, par Matt 21:33-46; Lk 20:9-18), he brings it to a climax with a citation of Psalm 118:22-23. This is significant, because the parable has a strong Judgment-theme very much in keeping with the “Q” saying (Lk 13:34-35 par) discussed above. More precisely, both traditions contain the following elements:

    • The idea that the people of Jerusalem (spec. its leaders) have put prophets to death.
    • Their rejection of Jesus as the Chosen One (Messiah) of God; in the parable, he is specifically identified as God’s beloved Son.
    • A citation from Psalm 118, with its royal/Messianic setting, effectively identifying Jesus as the Messianic king.

Of special importance in verse 22 is the image of the cornerstone—in Hebrew lit. “the stone…at the head of the corner”. The original couplet reads:

“The stone (that) the (one)s building rejected
became (used) for (the) head of (the) corner.”

This must be understood first from the standpoint of the Psalm in its original context. As noted above, verses 5-18 describe a great victory by the king over his enemies, which was made possible through the strength and support of YHWH Himself. This is declared in the celebration that follows (vv. 19-27), and stated specifically in the couplet that precedes v. 22:

“I will throw you (praise), for you answered me,
and you became the salvation for me.” (v. 21)

In other words, his victory is entirely dependent on YHWH. The king himself can be regarded as a seemingly insignificant stone, of the kind that would be rejected by builders as being unworthy of an important place in the structure. However, due to the marvelous actions of YHWH on his behalf, the king has a chief place at “the head of the corner” —a ruling place in God’s Kingdom. What is true for the king in the Psalm, is even more appropriate to Jesus, the royal Messiah, in the context of the Gospel narrative. The ‘builders’ —this, the leaders and authorities of the Jewish people—have rejected him as an unworthy stone, and yet, as the Messiah (and Son of God), Jesus is destined to take the place at the “head of the corner” in God’s Kingdom.

In the core Synoptic narrative, the parable of the Vineyard-workers is the last major parable spoken by Jesus prior to his Passion. It very much anticipates his impending suffering and death, and also warns the people (and leaders) of Jerusalem of the Judgment that will come upon them (cf. above). As much as we may wish to avoid the association between the rejection of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem, it is very much part of the Gospel Tradition. It is no coincidence that the Temple-prediction and the Eschatological Discourse are situated in such close proximity to the Passion narrative. As noted above, Luke brings out this association most explicitly and vividly, by recording Jesus’ lament for the city immediately after his entry (19:41-44), and by the way the Judgment on the city is described in the Eschatological Discourse (21:20-24).

Early Christians followed Jesus in his interpretation of Ps 118:22-23, as can be seen in Acts 4:11, where it is central to the early Gospel proclamation, expounding the rudimentary narrative of Jesus’ Passion (vv. 10-12). There, Jesus is specifically identified as the ‘cornerstone’ of Ps 118:22 (cf. also Isa 28:16). Subsequent Christian preachers and authors further developed the idea; examples can be found in Eph 2:20, and, most notably, in 1 Peter 2:4-7. Through union with Jesus, believers also are regarded as precious stones, which likewise hold an important place in the building of God. Indeed, the Petrine exposition suggests that the building is constructed entirely of these precious stones (believers), while Jesus Christ retains the position of chief cornerstone.