Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mk 11:9-10, cont.)

This note continues the previous discussion on the ‘Triumphal Entry’ scene in the Gospels. We saw how the Tradition here has certain fixed elements, around which the Gospel writers enhanced the material, bringing out certain distinctive features or points of emphasis. The quotation from Psalm 118:26 (first line), in the crowd’s acclamation at Jesus’ entry, is a fixed tradition, found in all four Gospels. The w(sanna/ exclamation (Aram. an` uv^oh [hôša±-n¹°], Heb. an` hu*yv!oh), stemming from v. 25 of the same Psalm, is another relatively fixed element.

Psalm 118 was part of the Hallel collection (113-118) of hymns which were sung on the occasion of the great pilgrimage Festivals (such as Passover and Sukkot). In particular, verse 26, with its festal setting (cf. the procession indicated in vv. 19-23ff, and the celebratory ornamentation in v. 27), was used as a greeting for pilgrims arriving for the festival. However, the Psalm itself evinces a strong royal background and setting, involving the arrival of the king to the city, returning, it would seem, from battle (in which he was victorious)—as indicated by the context of vv. 14-21; cf. also the militaristic language and imagery in vv. 6-13. See my earlier article on verse 26 (in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”).

It may well be that this royal background, with its nationalistic implications (i.e., the Israelite/Judean kingdom’s victory over its enemies, and the surrounding nations [vv. 10-11]), was not at all lost on the crowd who greeted Jesus so enthusiastically. Indeed, there are other historical details within this tradition which suggest a highly-charged political atmosphere. The branches (stoiba/$ plur. [kla/doi in Matt 21:8], brought by the people, are evocative of the festival of Sukkot, as well as a natural echo of Ps 118:27. However, they also suggest the nationalistic fervor of the crowds, fueled, it would seem, by the thought that their Messianic expectations might be on the verge of being fulfilled.

Particularly in the Johannine version, where the crowd actively goes out to meet Jesus (12:13), carrying/waving palm branches (bai+/a, from the foi=nic [palm] tree), this aspect of the scene is almost certainly being emphasized. As Brown (p. 461) notes, this use of palm-fronds is reminiscent of symbolic gestures associated with the Maccabean revolt (cf. 1 Macc 13:51; 2 Macc 10:7). The palm tree (and branches) also appear on coins from the Bar-Kochba revolt (132-135 A.D.), and palm-fronds are mentioned as a symbol of (royal) power over the (unified) nation of Israel in Testament of Naphtali 5:4. Brown also mentions the political implications of the specific use of the expression ei)$ u(pa/nthsin, in the context of the “joyful reception of Hellenistic sovereigns into a city” (p. 462, citing an example from Josephus War 7.100). With this in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that Luke omitted any mention of the branches, in accordance with his apparent tendency to downplay the political implications of Jesus’ identity as the (Davidic) Messiah; cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 1243ff on this point. This Lukan understanding of the coming of the Kingdom (as expressed in 17:20-21; 19:11ff, etc) will be discussed as we proceed further in our study.

How did Jesus himself, at the historical level of the scene, regard his Messianic identity, particularly in relation to the popular expectation (of the crowds)? If we take the preparatory episode (in the Synoptic account, Mark 11:1-6 par) at face value, then Jesus may have purposefully sought to draw attention to the prophecy in Zech 9:9ff. While only verse 9 of this prophecy is cited (in Matthew [21:4-5] and John [12:15]), the entire section of the poem (9:9-13), taken as a whole (and particularly in the full context of chapters 9-14), has a strong national-political—and militaristic—emphasis.

The Johannine treatment of this part of the Gospel tradition is distinctive. In John’s account, Jesus apparently obtains the donkey in response to the nationalistically-charged crowd’s approach. While this could be seen as an affirmation, by Jesus, of their Messianic expectations, the Gospel writer’s handling of the Scripture prophecy seems to redirect the interpretation. The first line of the quotation apparently blends together Zech 9:9 with Zeph 3:14/16; in so doing, the prophecy counterbalances the nationalistic emphasis of Zech 9:9-13 with the more universal outlook of Zeph 3:14-20—emphasizing the end-time restoration of Israel, the gathering in of all God’s people (especially the weak and outcast). Cf. the discussion by Brown, p. 462f; he notes how this orientation of Jesus’ Kingship aligns with the Johannine theology, as expressed, for example, in 11:52.

The comment of the Pharisees on the scene, in 12:19 (“See, the [whole] world goes forth after him!”), carries a theological irony similar to that of Caiaphas’ prophecy, echoing the Johannine language of, e.g., 12:32— “…I will draw all (people) toward me”. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, any thought of Jesus’ Kingship is subordinated to his mission, which he, as the Son sent to earth by the Father, is obligated to complete. The completion of this mission occurs with the death (19:30), and the ‘lifting up’, of Jesus; his exaltation (as King) begins with his death.

All of the Gospel writers, in shaping their narratives, engaged in some measure of re-interpretation of Messianic expectations, as applied to the person of Jesus, and as fulfilled by him. Some of this interpretation is intrinsic to the historical tradition itself—see, for example, how Jesus deals with certain Messianic expectations, in relation to Psalm 110:1 (i.e., the Messiah as the “son of David”), in Mark 12:35-37 par. This is just one of several passages, in the Jerusalem Period section of the Synoptic narrative, dealing with the theme of kingship, the kingdom of God, and of Jesus’ identity as the (Davidic) Messiah. In commemoration of Holy Week, I will be examining these passages, as a way of supplementing our study on the coming of the Kingdom of God—viz., the petition from the Lord’s Prayer that is the focus of this series:

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 28A (1985).
Those marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John (I-XII), Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

January 7: Isaiah 9:5-6

Isaiah 9:5-6, concluded

The reference to the royal child (and his kingdom) in verses 5-6 [EV 6-7] (cf. the previous notes) is striking, and is (of course) quite familiar to Christians as a Messianic prophecy, applied to the person of Jesus. Assuming the historical setting of Isa 6:1-9:6 to be the years leading up to 732 B.C. (and prior to 722), a Messianic interpretation of the child in vv. 5-6 would seem to be out of the question (in terms of the primary meaning of the passage; see the specific context in 8:23 [9:1], discussed previously). Is it possible to identify the child with a particular historical figure? The grandeur of the titles in v. 5, and reference to the “throne of David” in v. 6, would require, at the very least, a king of Judah (that is, from the Davidic line).

The only person from Isaiah’s own time (c. 735-700) who seems to fit is Hezekiah, son of Ahaz. The birth and/or accession of a new king could be a time of great hope and promise, but also of tremendous danger, as princes and vassals may see the moment as an opportune time for revolt (cf. Psalm 2). Following the reign of his father, Ahaz (who “did not do what was right in the eyes of YHWH”), Hezekiah is a positive figure, even under the withering judgment of the book of Kings (2 Kings 8:3ff: he finally removed the “high places”, which his ancestors failed to do). He will also become a central figure in the book of Isaiah, and focal point of the key historical moment: the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem under Sennacherib in 701 B.C.

Some scholars would identify Hezekiah also as ±Immanû-°¢l (“God-with-us”) of the prophecy in 7:10-17 (cf. also 8:5-10). Arguments in favor would be: (a) parallel with 9:5-6, as both prophecy the birth of portentous children containing a promise of salvation; (b) the name is suggestive of the words of 2 Kings 8:7 (“and YHWH was with him…”); (c) the subsequent use of the name/phrase in 8:8,10. Arguments against: (a) there is nothing in the two passages which specifically identifies the two children; (b) the other symbolic names in chs. 7-8 still seem to be real names applied to specific children, so Immanuel, if a real name, most likely belongs to a different child than Hezekiah; (c) Immanuel as a child of Isaiah (or even as a purely symbolic/collective name) remains a possibility. I am by no means convinced that Immanuel, even if a child of Ahaz, is the same as the (royal) child of 9:5-6. In some ways there is even a closer parallel between the child of 7:14-17 and Isaiah’s child in 8:1-4, but few (if any) commentators would equate the two.

As far as arguments against identifying Hezekiah with the child of 9:5-6, three are especially significant:

    1. The message of deliverance and restoration in vv. 1-4 was not fulfilled in Hezekiah’s reign, particularly not for the Northern kingdom (the territories mentioned in the setting of 8:23). And, while Hezekiah was a good and faithful ruler (according to the testimony of 2 Kings 8:3-7ff), achieved some military success (2 Kings 8:8), and stood against Assyria (2 Kings 8:7, 13–chap. 19 and par.), an appraisal of his reign would not seem to match the glowing language of Isa 9:6. Indeed, in 2 Kings 20:16-19 [par. Isa 39:5-8], Isaiah himself prophecies the future Babylonian captivity—there will be only limited “peace and security” (20:19, contrasted with Isa 9:6). However, these points are weakened somewhat if one considers the character of the oracle in 9:1-6, which does not seem to carry the same predictive force found earlier in chapters 7-8: there are almost no specific historical details, no time indicator, indeed no clear sign of an immediate fulfillment. The perfect verbal forms, typically understood as prophetic perfects (indicating the certainty of what God will do), could also have a gnomic sense (indicating what God always does).
    2. It has been said that the weighty titles listed in Isa 9:5 are too lofty to be applied to a human king. However, similarly lofty, theologically significant names and titles were regularly applied to rulers in the ancient Near East. The most extensive evidence comes from Egypt, and the names applied to the Pharaoh during enthronement rituals (some of which are roughly parallel to those in Isa 9:5, cf. the discussion in the prior note). No similar ritual is recorded as such for kings of Israel/Judah in the Old Testament, but there are a few hints in the Psalms and elsewhere; Psalm 2 is perhaps the most striking example, a setting similar to that in the Egyptian ritual, where the Deity addresses the new ruler as His “son” (Ps 2:7). For more on this Psalm, see below.
    3. The very lack of specific historical details (see point 1 above) could be taken as a strong argument against identifying the child with Hezekiah. Certainly, it could apply at least as well to later rulers (such as Josiah, cf. below) or a future Messiah. If one accepts the basic interpretation of 9:5-6 as reflecting the enthronement/accession of a new king (that is, the language and symbolism of it), it has a timeless quality which could apply to any anointed king (the same is true of Psalm 2, etc). Only the historical context of the passage (c. 730-700 B.C.) would make it apply specifically to Hezekiah.

As mentioned above, there have been attempts at identifying the child (and the date of the poem) with Josiah, nearly a century later (c. 648-609 B.C.). According to 1 Kings 13:2ff, the coming rule of Josiah was prophesied, specifically in connection with the religious-political reform that he would undertake. There was, indeed, in Josiah’s reign a reawakening of aspirations for establishing control over the Northern territories for the kingdom of Judah, and this would fit the basic message of the oracle here. Moreover, the final collapse of the Assyrian empire, apparently prophesied (or at least alluded to) in vv. 3-4, did take place during the time of Josiah’s reign, though not because of anything done by the Judean kingdom. Ultimately, of course, Josiah’s kingdom fell short of the prophetic ideal promised by the poem no less than the kingdom of Hezekiah. Cf. Roberts, p. 152.

If one separates the poem from the narrative introduction in 8:23, there really are no historical details present which can allow us to date the poem with any sort of precision. The general character of the royal theology and exalted language could apply to the coronation of almost any king, as mentioned above. The accession of a new king offered hope for a time of joy and peace in the land, including deliverance from surrounding enemies (actual and potential). The imagery of light/darkness is also typical in this regard. One may cite Near Eastern examples, going back to at least the time of Hammurabi, where we find such language used in the prologue to his famous lawcode, in which he describes himself as one who “caused light to go forth over the lands…”, and that the gods made him king for this purpose:

“to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak, to rise like the sun…and to light up the land” (Roberts, p. 149)

Messianic (Early Christian) Interpretation

Even though Isa 9:5-6 is not cited in the New Testament, 8:23-9:1 [EV 9:1-2] are quoted in Matthew 4:15-16, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee; and, though not specified, an identification of Jesus with the child in 9:5-6 would seem to be implied. This is certainly how early Christians would come to understand the passage (Justin is perhaps the earliest surviving witness [c. 140-160], cf. First Apology §33 and Dialogue §76). More broadly, it would come to carry a Messianic interpretation, though there is little surviving pre-Christian Jewish evidence of this.

Even though no commentary on Isa 8:23-9:6 [EV 9:1-7] survives from Qumran, there is an allusion to v. 5 in the “Thanksgiving Hymns” (Hodayot) 1QH. In Hymn 9 [XI, formerly III], the author compares his distress to that of a woman giving birth (verse 7ff): “9and the woman expectant with a boy is racked by her pangs, for through the breakers of death she gives birth to a male, and through the pangs of Sheol there emerges, 10from the «crucible» of the pregnant woman a wonderful counsellor with his strength, and the boy is freed from the breakers”. He goes on to contrast the (righteous) birth of a boy with the (wicked) birth of a serpent (verse 12ff), a reflection of the strong ethical dualism found in many of the Qumran texts.

A comparison of Isa 9:1-6 [esp. vv. 5-6] with Psalm 2 (discussed above) is noteworthy:

    • Both passages are understood (in their original context) as relating to the enthronement/accession of a new (Davidic) king. The positive side of the event (light, joy, deliverance from [current] oppression) is stressed in Isa 9:1-6, the negative side (danger from rebellious princes/vassals/allies) in Ps 2.
    • Both speak of a birth (Isa 9:5; Ps 2:7). This may mean that the ‘birth’ in Isa 9:5 is symbolic of the king’s accession/enthronement, rather than a literal physical birth.
    • Both speak of (the king) as a son. The king as God’s son (i.e., “son of God” though the phrase is not used) is explicit in Psalm 2 (cf. also 2 Sam 7:14), while only implied, perhaps, in Isa 9:5-6.
    • Following the ‘announcement’ of birth/sonship, both passages have God’s declaration of royal inheritance and sovereignty (Isa 9:6; Ps 2:8-12)
    • Both passages came to be understood as Messianic prophecies, and were applied to Jesus by early Christians—Ps 2 (along with Ps 110) already, on several occasions, in the New Testament itself.

An examination of these parallels is also instructive for understanding how the language and imagery of the Old Testament developed over time, from the original historical context and meaning, to a broader symbolism related to the idea of the Davidic kingship and covenant; then follows the hope/promise of a restoration of Davidic rule (in the post-exilic period) under a new Anointed figure (Messiah), traditions of which are preserved and transmitted in Jewish thought and belief, until the time of Jesus Christ (Yeshua the Anointed [Messiah]).  In the light of this new (incarnate) revelation, new meanings and applications of the Scriptures were opened up to believers—it is hardly surprising that at least a few of these would appear to relate so beautifully to the marvelous birth of our Savior.

References above marked “Roberts” are to J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah, Hermeneia (Fortress Press: 2015).

January 6: Isaiah 9:6

Isaiah 9:5-6, continued
Verse 6 [7]

“His rule will be great,
and no end to its fullness,
over (the) ruling-seat of David,
and over his kingdom,
to make it firm and establish it,
in justice and in rightness,
from now until (the) distant (future).”

The emphasis on the rule (hr*c=m!) of the new king, and the exalted royal titles given to him (in connection with his coronation/accession), were discussed in the previous note (on v. 5 [6]). Here the same word, hr*c=m!, is used again, as verse 6 [7] further expounds the nature and character of this rule.

There is a textual difficulty in the opening word, mainly due to the occurrence, in the Masoretic text, of a final mem (<) in the middle of the word—hB@r=<^l=. This indicates that the received text was divided into two words hbr <l, which the Masoretes then ‘corrected’ as one word, vocalizing it hB@r=m^l=, “for (the) greatness/increase of”. The Qumran Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) supports the Masoretic vocalized (corrected) reading (q§r¢°). It is probably best (and simplest) to follow the q§r¢°, reading hbrm as a verbal noun—i.e., “being great, increasing (greatly)” —which, for poetic concision, I translate above as “will be great”.

The greatness of this king’s reign, and the expansion of his domain, is further characterized as a near-limitless <olv*. This noun is often translated “peace,” as I did for the final royal title in v. 5 (“Prince of Peace”). However, properly, it means “completion, fulfillment,” and so I have rendered it here as “fullness,” as a fitting parallel to hB@r=m! (“greatness, increase”). There can be no question that peace is an important attribute of this rule, and that this king’s reign also be characterized by a lengthy period of peace; thus the line can equally well be translated “and no end to its peace.”

The next two lines form a precise parallel: “over the throne of David / over his kingdom”. Clearly we are dealing with the Davidic line of the Judean kingdom, and the royal theology associated with it. This new king will confirm and strength the Davidic line, enhancing its glory and prestige. The verbs (/WK, Hiphil “make firm”) and du^s* (“[give] support”) are given in the form of purpose/result infinitives: “to make firm…to support”. This establishment and strengthening of the Judean kingdom will be done through justice (fP*v=m!) and rightness (or righteousness, hq*d*x=). The noun hq*d*x= (and root qdx) often connotes faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant with YHWH. It is this fulfillment (the fundamental meaning of <olv*) of the binding agreement with God that guarantees Divine protection for the kingdom—and, with it, deliverance for the people and victory over their enemies. In the context of the oracle (8:23 [9:1]), this protection and deliverance will be extended to the ‘remnant’ of the shattered Northern Kingdom.

The idea that the king’s peaceful and blessed reign would last from the “time (now)” (hT*u^) until the distant future (<l*ou) is typical of the exalted (and hyperbolic) coronation language used in the poem. The exaggeration expresses both an ideal and a hope for the future. This language is perhaps even more important in relation to the continuation of the Davidic royal line. The Old Testament traditions alternate, in their royal theology, between the promise of an unconditional kingship for the Davidic line, and a promise that is conditional upon each ruler remaining faithful/loyal to the covenant. The latter view dominates much of the Deuteronomic history (including the books of Kings) and the Prophetic writings.

Verse 6 [7] concludes with a final declaration, which could be a secondary addition to the text (cp. at 37:32): “(The) ha*n+q! of YHWH of (the heavenly) armies will do this”. Whether or not it is original, the statement serves as a safeguard, so as to credit any success (and military victory) for the Judean king to YHWH, rather than the human ruler (and his forces). The ancient title “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies [toab*x=]” may have referred originally to El-Yahweh as the Creator of the heavenly/celestial entities (retaining the verbal force of the name hwhy). However, the idea that those entities would fight (for Israel) at His command (e.g., Judges 5:20) perhaps allows us to fill in the title, at least as it came to be used in the traditional narratives and poetry, as “YHWH, commander of the heavenly armies”.

The noun ha*n+q! is a bit difficult to translate (I have left it untranslated above). The basic meaning of the root anq entails having a strong emotion, usually in relation to the possession of something. Often it signifies the idea of jealousy or envy, and it is certainly used this way in the Old Testament as a Divine attribute—viz., of YHWH’s jealous guarding of His people (as His possession), etc. Priority should probably be given to the fundamental aspect of the intensity of the emotion, in which case a translation like “ardor” for ha*n+q! would be proper; in passages where jealousy/envy is not clearly indicated, the noun is often translated “zeal”.

In the next daily note, the final note in this set, we will examine further the poem as a royal oracle, a prophecy regarding the new king of Judah and his reign. We will give consideration to the identification of the king in question, from the standpoint of the original historical context, and then touch briefly upon the passage as a Messianic prophecy, applied to the person (and birth) of Jesus.

January 5: Isaiah 9:5

Isaiah 9:5-6
Verse 5 [6]

“For a child has been born to us,
a son has been given to us,
and rule is come to be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called:
Wonder-Counselor,
Mighty-Warrior,
Father of ‘Long-Life’,
Prince of Peace.”

As with vv. 3-4 (cf. the previous note), vv. 5-6 begin with the particle yK! (“for…”, “[it is] that…”), a conjunctive particle often used with emphatic (or asseverative) force. Here it clearly relates the announcement of the new king (in Judah/Jerusalem) to the deliverance of Israel from her foreign oppressor (vv. 3-4). Indeed, the rule that his upon his shoulder is in stark contrast to the yoke of servitude that had been upon the shoulder of the Israelite people. Even so, the precise relationship between vv. 1-4 and vv. 5-6 may be debated. Is the birth of the child (or accession of the king) the means by which God will bring about the things detailed in vv. 1-4? Are 8:23-9:4 the reason for the birth? Or are the events of vv. 1-4 juxtaposed with the birth as parallel aspects of God’s action?

The first two lines may be summarized simply:

    • Wnl*ÁdL^y% dl#y# yK! (“For a child has been born to/for us”)—the etymological connection of dly is lost in translation: “a (thing) born has been born”, “a (thing) brought-forth has been brought-forth”.
    • Wnl*Á/T^n] /B@ (“a son has been given to/for us”)—a point of (synonymous) poetic parallelism with the previous phrase.

The noun hr*c=m! occurs only here (and in v. 6) in the Old Testament. It is presumed to derive from a root (hrc II) meaning “rule,” but based entirely upon the context here (and by the LXX translation of a)rxh/). It may also be related to rc^ (translated “prince”, as in the fourth title at end of the verse, cf. below). The mem (-m) preformative element could either be the mark of a verbal noun (“ruling”) or a locative indicator (place of rule, i.e., kingdom, dominion). Given the contrastive parallel with the instruments of slavery (yoke and shoulder/pinion bar) in v. 3, hr*c=m! is best understood here as signifying the ruling power and authority given to the king (and possessed by him). A royal staff, resting upon his shoulder, would make a fitting parallel to the oppressor’s authoritative staff/rod (fb#v@). In any case, we are most likely dealing symbolic emblem[s] of rule, along with the names applied to the king (cf. below), being ritualized aspects of sovereignty.

What of the titles or names in Isaiah 9:5b? There are four: the first two have nouns in juxtaposition, the second two are effectively construct forms:

    • Ju@oy al#P# (pele° yô±¢ƒ), typically translated “Wonderful Counsellor”
    • roBG] la@ (°¢l gibbôr), typically “Mighty God”

However, the English rendering is a bit misleading, as if the first words were adjectives modifying the second. The nouns juxtaposed are not related syntactically in quite this way. The noun al#P# refers to something extraordinary, i.e. a wonder, marvel, miracle, etc. The relation between the nouns is perhaps better expressed by a comma, or hyphen: “Wonder, Counsellor” or “Wonder–Counsellor”. The noun roBG] refers to a strong (man) or warrior. la@, usually translated “God” (El), has an original meaning something like “mighty” (“Mighty [One]” = “God”); the plural form <yh!l)a$ (Elohim) is probably an intensive plural, roughly “Mightiest”. “God Warrior” is a fairly accurate rendering of the second name, or, translating even more literally “Mighty One, Warrior”.

    • du^yb!a& (°¦»î±ad), familiar translation “Everlasting Father”
    • <olv*Árc^ (´ar-sh¹lôm), “Prince of Peace”

In the third name, the two words have been joined (without a maqqeph [‘hyphen’]), the second of which is difficult to translate. du^ indicates, more or less literally, the passing or advancing of time, either in the sense of (a) into the distant past, (b) into the [distant] future, or (c) in perpetuity [i.e. continually]. As such, it is roughly synonymous with the word <lou (see v. 6). “Everlasting” is not especially accurate, but it is hard to find an English word that is much better. In the context of a royal title, something along the lines of “long life” is probably implied (similar to Egyptian titles, i.e. “living forever”, “good in years”, etc). This would create a parallel with the two names: “Father of ‘Long-life'”, “Prince of Peace” —two aspects of the promised time of renewal. However, there is a sense of du^ which also indicates “ancient” or “eternal” (Hab 3:6, etc) as long as one is careful not to infuse the latter rendering with an exaggerated theological meaning.

These four titles are included under the formula: “and he/they will call [or has called] his name…”

It is not entirely certain whether we are dealing here with the birth of the new king, or to his coronation/accession (as a ‘birth’), or both. The identity of this figure, and his relation to the child in 7:10ff, will be discussed in an upcoming note. In my view, vv. 5-6 here do draw upon the traditional language of coronation rituals in the ancient Near East. For more on this, cf. the discussion by Roberts (pp. 150-3) and the earlier studies he cites. In particular, parallels with the Egyptian coronation service have been noted (cf. specifically the texts related to Hatshepsut, Amenhotep III, and Haremhab). The exalted titles in verse 5 are comparable to a number of the Egyptian crown-titles that are attested—e.g., “ready in plans” (cp. ‘Wonderful counselor’), “great in marvels,” “good god,” “great in strength,” “living forever,” “(he) who gives life,” etc (Roberts, p. 151f).

References above marked “Roberts” are to J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah, Hermeneia (Fortress Press: 2015).

Early Christian Use of Isaiah 7:14

It is hard to know just when early Christians began to view Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth, as we see in Matthew 1:22-23; it is possible, though quite uncertain, that the Gospel writer was the first to make the connection. Here I place side-by-side, the Hebrew (MT), the Greek (LXX) and Matthew, in a rather literal translation, with the Hebrew/Greek given below:

As explained in the main note, “virgin” is not particularly appropriate for translating hm*l=u^; nor exactly is “young girl/woman”. As no English word or phrase entirely fits, I have somewhat reluctantly opted for “maiden” as the least unsatisfactory solution.

For my Lord Him(self) will give for you a sign: See—the maiden (is [becoming]) pregnant and (is) bearing a son, and (she) will call his name “God-with-us”
toa <k#l* aWh yn`d)a& /T@y] /k@l* /B@ td#l#y)w+ hr*h* hm*l=u^h* hN@h! la@ WnM*u! ov= tar*q*w+
Through this (the) Lord Him(self) will give you a sign: See—the virgin will have in womb and will bring forth a son, and she will call his name ±Immanû¢l
dia\ tou=to dw/sei ku/rio$ au)to\$ u(mi=n shmei=on i)dou\ h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri\ e&cei kai\ te/cetai ui(o/n kai\ kale/sei$ to\ o&noma au)tou= Emmanouhl
{first part of the verse is not cited} See—the virgin will have in womb and will bring forth a son, and they will call his name ±Immanû¢l, which is being explained across [i.e. translated] (as) “God with us”

The LXX is an accurate rendering of the Hebrew (MT), the difficulties surrounding the use of parqe/no$ notwithstanding, and apart from the very different idiom used for conception and childbirth. The citation in Matthew is identical to the LXX, but for one difference (indicated in italics above): “they will call” instead of “you will call”. The MT has regularly been understood as a 2nd person form, but most scholars today read it as a 3rd person feminine. Manuscript 1QIsaa reads arqw (“and he will call”), apparently in an indefinite sense, which may be reflected in the Syriac )rQtNw (wntqr°, “and he will be called”), and possibly is the basis for the rendering in Matthew (“they will call”). The Gospel writer also provides an explanation of the Hebrew term.

This citation in the Gospel is one of a number which occur especially in the Infancy narrative (1:18-2:23):

With the possible exception of 2:5-6 (Micah 5:2), these Scripture passages were taken and applied in a sense altogether different from the original context. This was discussed already for Isaiah 7:14; I will treat the remaining verses in upcoming notes.

It is interesting to see how (and where) the Gospel writer introduces the prophecy: it follows directly after the heavenly Messenger’s announcement to Joseph. Note the similarity in language in v. 21: “she will bring forth a son and you will call his name Yeshua± [Jesus]”, which is nearly identical to that of Isa 7:14 (cf. the similar pronouncements in Gen 16:11 and Judg 13:5). Many critical scholars would hold that Matthew has shaped the angelic announcement to fit Isa 7:14; however, it is certainly possible that, seeing the similarity in language, the writer was led to include the Isaiah prophecy at this point. Indeed, this sort of “catch-phrase bonding” abounds in the New Testament, and was a prime technique used by early Christians to join Scriptures and traditions together. The writer is also careful to distinguish the two passages: while “call his name Jesus” and “call his name Immanuel” are parallel, they are not identical—this is probably why the third person plural “they shall call” is used in the citation; it is a small adaptation, but it has an interesting effect. Joseph (the “you” of v. 21) calls him “Jesus” (v. 25), but “they” (people of Israel, believers, those who encounter Jesus) will call him “Immanuel”.  This is indeed what has happened: for believers, who ‘find’ Jesus in the Scriptures, apply those texts to him—whether or not the original context truly warrants it!

Even in the early years of the Church there were questions (by both Jews and Greco-Roman ‘skeptics’) about such use of the Old Testament, and even about the Isaian passage in particular. Isa 7:14 is not cited in the New Testament outside of Matt 1:22-23, but then the birth of Jesus in general is scarcely mentioned apart from the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. Nor is it used by the so-called Apostolic Fathers of the late-first and early/mid-second century (except for the ‘long’ form of Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians §18). By the late-second and into the third-century it appears more frequently, corresponding both with an increased interest in traditions regarding Jesus’ birth, as well as more ‘systematic’ attempts to defend (proto-)orthodox Christian beliefs in the face of Jewish and pagan objections. Justin Martyr gives perhaps the earliest [c. 140-160], and most noteworthy, surviving treatments of Isa 7:14: in his First Apology §33, and especially in the Dialogue (with Trypho) §§43, 66-67. The Jewish interlocutor “Trypho” in §67 (at first) offers an interpretation of Isa 7:14 similar to that of modern scholars (that is, according to the original historical sense); Justin has no interest in responding to this view, but rather reacts to the notion that beliefs such as the Virgin Birth are derived in imitation of pagan myths, provoking a lengthy discussion. While earlier generations of critical scholars occasionally posited similar explanations for the “origin” of the Virgin Birth, they have been almost entirely abandoned by serious commentators today.

In conclusion, let me return to the interpretive crux—believers, including the earliest Christians (and the inspired Gospel writer), have applied Isaiah 7:14 to the (virgin) birth of Jesus, even though the original context of the passage relates to the Syrian-Ephraimite crisis facing Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah in c. 735-4 B.C. I regard this as one of the great wonders and beauties of the sacred Writings: that prophet and people, author and hearer (or reader) alike respond to the word[s] of God and the work of the Holy Spirit as part of a profound creative process. The eternal Word, stretching from the 8th-century crisis facing the people of Israel, touching those who experience the miracle and mystery of Jesus’ birth, reaching all the way down to us today—all who are united in the Spirit of God and Christ—speaks that remakable, nearly unexplainable phrase, that one name: la@ WnM*u! “God-with-us”.

December 25 (2): Isaiah 7:14 (continued)

Isaiah 7:14, continued

Having discussed the translation of the Hebrew word hm*l=u^ in Isaiah 7:14 in the first note, it remains to explore the equally difficult interpretive question as to the identity of woman (and child) in the prophecy. To begin with, it is vital that one look for clues first in the immediate context of chap. 7 (and the section 6:1-9:6) before seeking them elsewhere. However, it worth noting the three main interpretive approaches (see also the note regarding the interpretation of prophecy in general):

    1. Futuristic—that is, in retrospect, the child refers to a figure (usually understood as Messianic) who would only appear many years after the time of Isaiah. This has been the traditional Christian view, but, as indicated in the previous studies, it more or less ignores the original context of the prophecy. Still, there are (or have been) a number of ways to retain it as a secondary or supplemental interpretation. The wider application of the “sign” to the ‘house of David’, makes some sort of Messianic interpretation at least possible on textual grounds.
    2. Historic—in that it relates to the present circumstances involving Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah. This is the view favored by most critical or otherwise serious scholars today, with two differing positions being commonly held:
      a) It is the wife (or bride) and child of Isaiah. The close parallel of 8:1-4 is a strong argument in favor of this view, as is the fact that the prophet gave symbolic names to two other children (7:3; 8:3) relevant to the circumstances and fate of Israel/Judah. However, these other children create a problem, as does the fact that hm*l=u^, it seems, would not normally be used of a married woman (though it might be of a young bride). The “prophetess” of 8:3 appears to be different woman from that of 7:14, which is another complication; though we really don’t know enough about Isaiah’s personal life to be sure of the details.
      b) It is the wife (or concubine, etc) and child of Ahaz. In the context of the passage, the prophecy is addressed to the king (as head of the ‘house of David’), so an application to Ahaz, rather than Isaiah himself, seems to make more sense. In Song 1:3; 6:8, hm*l=u^ seems to be a technical term for girls in the royal court (or harem), and this may also be the sense here. The promise of the name “God-with-us” is, perhaps, more appropriate for a royal figure; and the parallel of 9:5-6, if applicable, would also be an argument in favor of this view.
    3. Symbolic/collective—referring to the people or kingdom of Israel/Judah as a whole. The strongest argument here is the subsequent use of the name/phrase “God-with-us” (la@ WnM*u!) in Isa 8:8, 10; however, this is perhaps better viewed as an application of the symbolic name given in 7:14. Even if the child represents the king (‘head’), the woman could be symbolic of the people (recall the use of hm*l=u^ in Gen 24:43 for Rebekah, the mother of Israel/Jacob).

In terms of the original meaning of the prophecy, I would say that 2b is the best solution, though certainly not without its own difficulties. However, it seems to fit the context overall: a specific girl (hm*l=u^h*), belonging in some respect to the royal court (circumstances unknown to us), is (or is soon to become) pregnant and will give birth to a son; by the time the child has been weaned, and is old enough to choose between good and evil, Aram-Damascus and Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom) will suffer at the hands of the king of Assyria and no longer threaten Judah (a prediction which more or less came to pass by 732 B.C.). Whether such a son of Ahaz should be identified with the (positive) figure of Hezekiah is a separate question; though accepted by some scholars, I am by no means certain that such an identification is correct.

Is a virginal birth as such indicated? I do not see anything in the original Hebrew text, nor in the context of the passage, which necessarily implies a miraculous birth. However, three textual points need to be considered:

    1. Whether the use of hm*l=u^ here does indicate specifically a chaste young woman, as the LXX translation would suggest. Unless the word here is otherwise a technical term related to the royal court, such an implication is possible, even likely, but not certain (as discussed in the previous study).
    2. The force of the verbal adjective hr*h*: does this mean she is already pregnant, or that she will soon become so? Judging from similar instances (Gen 16:11; 38:24-25; Ex 21:22; Judg 13:5, 7; 1 Sam 4:19; 2 Sam 11:5; Isa 26:17; Jer 31:8), the present tense is perhaps more likely. The closest parallels to the prophetic formula of Isa 7:14 are Gen 16:11 and Judg 13:5—the present tense seems more appropriate in the former, the future tense in the latter.
    3. The significance of toa (“sign”): the word can occasionally refer to a wondrous portent or omen. As indicated previously, the LXX translator may have understood this as a miraculous event (use of parqe/no$ to indicate a virginal birth, so understood in Matt 1:18ff). However, the use of toa elsewhere in Isa 6:1-9:6 (7:11; 8:18) and in the book as a whole (19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 38:7, 22; 44:25; 55:13; 66:19) would speak against this (only in Isa 38:7 is does a special miracle seem to be indicated).

As a short answer to each question, I would state: (1) I do not think that virginity as such is emphasized in the use of hm*l=u^ [nor is it in any way contradicted]; (2) hr*h* probably indicates that the woman is currently pregnant; (3) the ‘sign’ (toa) is the child itself [rather than the nature of the birth], cf. 8:18—the sign carries two primary points of signification: (a) the name “God-with-us” [cf. esp. 8:8, 10], and (b) the temporal indicator based on the development of the infant [7:15ff].

What of this name “God-with-us” (la@ WnM*u! ±immanû-°¢l)? Some believers may feel that such a momentous name could only apply to a Messianic (or even Divine) figure, rather than an ‘ordinary’ human (king). However, theologically significant names were common in Hebrew, often using “God” (°El) or Yahweh (shortened or hypocoristic form “Yah[u]”). This is more or less obscured in English translations, where names are typically given an anglicized transliteration rather than translated. For example, Isaiah (Why`u=v^y+, Y§sha±y¹hu) ought to be rendered “Yah-will-save” or “May-Yah-save!”; similarly, Ahaz is probably a shortened form of Jehoahaz (zj*a*ohy+, Y§hô°¹µ¹z) and would mean something like “Yah-has-seized” or “Yah-has-grasped [hold]!”. So, a name such as “God-with-us” (la@ WnM*u!) could certainly be applied to a significant person or ruler (though at this time, Yah-names are much more common than El-names). Isaiah himself gave elaborate symbolic names for his two (other) sons: bWvy` ra*v= (Sh§°¹r-y¹shû», “[a] Remnant will return”, Isa 7:3), and zB^ vj* ll*v* rh@m^ (Mah¢r-sh¹l¹l-µ¹sh-baz, “Hurry [to] seize booty! hasten [to] take spoil!”, or something similar)—both names relating to the impending/future judgment on Israel.

In the historical context, the name “God-with-us” has a very specific meaning: Ahaz and the southern Kingdom faced an imminent attack by Aram-Damascus and the Northern Kingdom, along with the looming specter of an Assyrian invasion. From a practical political-diplomatic view, the young king had two options: submit to the Syria-Ephraim alliance, or seek aid from Assyria to fend of the attack (effectively becoming an Assyrian vassal or tributary). Judging from the account in 2 Kings 16:7ff (and the rather different parallel in 2 Chron 28:16ff), as well as the Assyrian annals (cf. ANET, 282-4), Ahaz appears to have chosen the latter. Isaiah’s counsel in chapter 7 was to trust in God, for God is with Jerusalem and his people in Judah, and within just a year or two the threat from Aram-Ephraim will be eliminated. The use of the name “God-with-us” in Isa 8:5-10 is even more dramatic and telling, for the warning (and promise) of ±Immanû °El (vv. 8, 10) extends to all the surrounding nations (even to the Assyrian Empire): “take counsel (for) counsel and it will break apart, give word (to) a word and it will not stand! For God (is) with us!”. In this final exclamation, we have moved clearly from the sign (the child) to what it signifies—that God Himself is with us. Little wonder that early Christians would have applied this name (and this passage) to the person of Jesus Christ: “and the Word [logo$] came-to-be flesh and set-up-tent [i.e. dwelt] among us…” (John 1:14a).

December 24: Isaiah 7:10-14

Isaiah 7:10-17

This is the second of the oracles in 7:1-8:10, and needs to be understood in connection with the earlier oracle of vv. 3-9 (discussed in the previous note), and in the context of the larger section 6:1-9:6 (cf. the prior notes on 6:1-13).

Indeed, verses 10-17, are presented in the narrative as a continuation of the oracle in vv. 3-9. This is clear from the narrative introduction in verses 10-12:

“And YHWH continued to speak to Aµaz, saying: “‘Ask for you(rself) a sign from YHWH your God—made deep (as) Sheol or made high (as) from above [i.e. the sky]’. And Aµaz said, ‘I will not ask and will not test YHWH.'”

The apparent expression of trust by Ahaz (v. 12) relates back to the exhortation (and warning) that frames the prior oracle (vv. 4, 9b). However, even though Ahaz will not ask for a sign (toa) from God, the prophet proceeds to give him a sign anyway. It is, of course, possible to read Ahaz’ response as a display of false humility, as a pious front to cover what is really a lack of trust. Isaiah’s harsh response in v. 13 would seem to confirm this view of Ahaz:

“And he said, ‘Hear, now, O house of David: Is it a small (matter) for you to weary men, that you would weary also my Mighty (One)?'”

As in verse 2, Ahaz is referred to as the “house of David,” since he represents the royal court as a whole. Yet, the designation is also important because the oracle relates specifically to the “house of David” (that is, the kings of Judah), and the line of kingship that goes back to David. Eventually, this Judean royal tradition would play a central role in the development of Messianic thought and expectation. The sign given to Ahaz (and the Judean kingdom) follows in verse 14:

“Thus (the) Lord himself will give for you a sign—See! the hm*l=u^ [±almâ] (becoming) pregnant will bear a son and (she) will call his name ‘God-with-us.'”

Note that I have translated the name la@ WnM*u! (±immanû °¢l), and have temporarily left untranslated the word hm*l=u^ (±almâ). This latter word has been variously translated “virgin” or “young girl”, etc.—a point of longstanding dispute and controversy, which I shall discuss in more detail in the next note.

Given the famous Christian use of this passage (esp. verse 14), it is worth nothing that, apart from the overall historical context, a number of details in the passage speak clearly against the child as a (messianic) figure coming only in the (distant) future:

    • It is meant to be a sign for the “house of David” (that is, the kings of Judah) which they, and presumably Ahaz in particular, would be able to recognize (in their lifetime)—v. 11, 13-14.
    • The use of the definite article (hm*l=u^h*, the ±almâ), would seem to indicate a woman already known to Isaiah and/or Ahaz—v. 14
    • The interjection hN@h! (“see/behold!”), as well as the construction td#l#)yw+ hr*h* (verbal adjective + Qal participle) seem to imply an immediacy (i.e. “see! the ±almâ, being pregnant, is about to bear…”)
    • The key temporal detail of the prophecy vv. 15-16, would seem to specify that within 2-3 years of the child’s birth, the main event will take place. This will be discussed further in the next note, but cf. also the discussion on the time indicator in vv. 8-9 of the previous oracle.
    • The event so indicated has a two-fold reference:
      a) The land of the ‘two kings’, which (currently) causes you dread, will be forsaken (“the land” primarily in reference to Aram-Damascus)—v. 16
      b) YHWH will bring the king of Assyria (with special reference to judgment on the Northern Kingdom [“Ephraim”])—v. 17
      This prediction was fulfilled, to large degree, in 732 B.C. (that is, within 2-3 years), with the fall of Damascus and the effective loss of much of the Northern kingdom (conquest of territory, deportations, installment of a puppet king, etc.)

 

Sola Scriptura: Romans 3:10-20; 9:24-29; 15:7-13

Sola Scriptura

Romans 3:10-20; 9:24-29; 15:7-13

As we have discussed in the previous studies in this series (on the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura), the Old Testament Scriptures continued to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a secondary (not primary) sense. The principal purpose of the Scriptures was to support the Gospel preaching and the identification of Jesus as the Messiah. This was especially important within the context of the earliest mission. In order to convince their fellow Israelites and Jews of the Gospel, it was necessary for the early missionaries to demonstrate, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is the promised Messiah. In particular, the fact of Jesus’ suffering and death was so unusual and problematic for the Messianic identification, that it had to be explained. Moreover, Jesus departed to heaven without ever fulfilling many of things expected of the Messiah. Thus, for the purpose of the mission, it was vital to find every relevant Scripture that would support the Christian view. We can see this as a key point of emphasis throughout the book of Acts (3:18ff; 5:42; 8:26-40; 9:22; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 24:14; 26:22ff; 28:23); and, according to the Gospel of Luke (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45ff), the process of locating the relevant Scriptures began with Jesus himself. It is fair to assume that the early missionaries had access to (written) collections of these Scripture references, for use in their preaching and teaching; it is possible that the ‘parchments’ mentioned in 2 Tim 4:13 functioned as a notebook, containing this kind of information.

We have already seen this use of Scripture by early Christians in the context of the apostolic preaching (the sermon-speeches) in the book of Acts (cf. the earlier study, and throughout the series “The Speeches of Acts”). In the longer speeches (i.e., Peter’s Pentecost speech [2:14-41], and Paul’s speech at Antioch [13:16-52]), we find a sequence of Scripture citations applied in support of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma). In several New Testament Writings, these sequences take a more precise and compact form—in a homiletical and literary genre known as a Scripture “chain” (catena), sometimes also referred to as the testimonia (testimonies) genre. In this format, Scripture verses are strung together, according to a common theme, or (more commonly), by way of “catchword-bonding”—that is, associations of verses, which may otherwise be entirely unrelated, based on the presence of shared words or phrases.

The Scripture-chain (Catena), as used in the New Testament, is a distinctly Jewish genre; and it is no coincidence that the two books in which Scripture-chains features most prominently—Romans and Hebrews (cf. also 1 Peter)—were written to Jewish Christians. The congregations at Rome seem to have included both Gentile and Jewish believers (cf. below), certainly much more so than the other Pauline churches in Greece, Macedonia, and Asia Minor to which he wrote. For Israelites and Jews, the Old Testament Scriptures had primary authority, and thus, in writing to Jewish believers, it was reasonable to make frequent use of the Scriptures, citing them even in a shorthand fashion.

An earlier contemporary example is known from Qumran—specifically, the “Testimonia” text from cave 4 (4Q175, also referred to as 4QTest[imonia]). We only have fragments of what presumably was a larger text; but what survives contains a series of Scripture quotations from passages that were given a Messianic interpretation—most notably, Deut 18:18-19 and Num 24:15-17, along with Deut 5:28-29; 33:8-11, and an interpretive expansion based on Josh 6:26.  The surviving portions of the “Florilegium” text (4Q174) have a similar character. Though more in the nature of a Midrashic commentary, 4Q174 contains a sequence of Scripture citations, interpreted in a Messianic (and eschatological) context. The earliest Christian Scripture-chains would have been used for much the same purpose—to show that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah promised by God, and that the things currently taking place among believers marked the beginning of the New (Messianic) Age.

However, in Romans, Paul’s use of the Scripture-chain device has a somewhat different focus. What the chains demonstrate, we may say, is Paul’s view of the implications of the Gospel for humankind. In particular, they relate to the important theme of Jewish-Gentile unity in Romans. The three Scripture-chains span the lengthy body of the letter and evince something of Paul’s development of his theme. We may summarize this as follows:

    • 3:9-20—Jews and Gentiles are equally in bondage to the power of sin (prior to receiving the Gospel)
    • 9:24-29—Through trust in Jesus, many Gentiles have come to be part of the new People of God, along a faithful remnant from Israel (with promise of a more widespread conversion)
    • 15:7-13—In Christ, Gentile and Jewish believers are united as the People of God

Let us examine briefly each of these Scripture chains.

Romans 3:9-20

This first chain marks the climax of the first major section of the letter (1:18-3:20), containing the opening lines of argument that prove the central proposition in 1:16-17. The upshot of this entire line of argument is summarized in 3:9, with Paul having made the claim for:

“both Yehudeans {Jews} and Greeks [i.e. Gentiles], all (of them), to be under sin”

The expression “under sin” (u(f’ a(marti/an) is a shorthand for “under the power of sin” (i.e., in bondage to sin), and refers to the condition of Jews and Gentiles—that is, all humankind—prior to receiving the Gospel of Christ. Paul’s arguments in chapters 2-4 are specifically directed to Israelites and Jews, making the principal point that a person is not made right (in God’s eyes) through obeying the regulations of the Law (Torah), but only through trust in Jesus. This relates to Paul’s view of the Torah that he expresses vigorously (and with more polemic) in Galatians. He repeats much of this same line of argument in Romans, but giving to it a wider scope and more expansive treatment. In particular, there is a profound theological development of the Pauline view in chapters 5-7. It is notable, however, that this first section in Romans closes with a pointed statement regarding the Law that matches what we find in Galatians:

“…since out of [i.e. by] works of (the) Law all flesh shall not be made right in His sight, for through (the) Law (comes) knowledge about sin.” (3:20)

Paul’s view of the main purpose of the Torah regulations runs contrary to the traditional Jewish view. Rather than leading to people being made right with God, what the Torah regulations ultimately do is to show that people are in bondage to sin. Paradoxically, the more faithfully and devoutly one attempts to fulfill the Torah regulations, the more vividly it is revealed that one is in bondage to sin (cf. Paul’s provocative discussion in chapter 7).

This fact is itself proved by the whole testimony of the Scriptures, and Paul draws upon the authority of the (Old Testament) Scriptures to make his point—which he does through the chain of references in vv. 10-18, beginning with the declaration “Just as it has been written…” (v. 10). With one or two exceptions, all the Scriptures Paul cites in the three chains come from the “Prophets” (i.e., the Psalms and Prophetic books).

The first Scripture citation apparently comes from Ecclesiastes 7:20, which is unusual, and suggests that the authoritative/inspired Scriptures for first-century Christians may have included the Wisdom books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job), in addition to the Pentateuch and Prophets/Psalms. If Paul is citing Ecclesiastes here in v. 10, he does so loosely, as a simple declaration of his theme:

“There is not (anyone) right(eous), not even one”
ou)k e&stin di/kaio$ ou)de\ ei!$

The LXX, which more or less accurately renders the Hebrew, reads:

“there is not a right(eous) man on the earth, who will do good and will not sin”

Assuming it is a citation, Paul omits a&nqrwpo$ (“man”) and adds the phrase ou)de\ ei!$ (“not even one”). The Scriptures that follow essentially expound and flesh out this keynote verse:

    • Verse 11Psalm 14:2 (cf 53:1). Again the LXX accurately translates the Hebrew, and Paul’s wording represents an adaptation:
      “…to see if there is (one) putting things together [i.e. understanding] and seeking out God” (LXX)
      “there is not (any one) putting things together and seeking out God” (Paul)
    • Verse 12Psalm 14:3, a continuation of the same citation, here following the LXX more precisely
    • Verse 13Psalm 5:10, along with 140:4, again corresponding to the LXX
    • Verse 14Psalm 10:7 [LXX 9:28], Paul’s wording represents an abridgment, though essentially using the same words as the LXX
    • Verses 15-17Isaiah 59:7-8. It is possible that v. 15 could also allude to Prov 1:16, which would count as another citation from the Wisdom books (cf. above); more likely, however, the Isaiah passage is in view throughout. Again, Paul’s words represent a simplification or abridgment. Verse 16 quotes Isa 59:7b according to the LXX, as also v. 17 (of Isa 59:8), with only a slight difference.
    • Verse 18Psalm 36:2b, exactly according to the LXX. In many ways, this blunt declaration (“there is not [any] fear of God in front of their eyes”) provides an effective bookend to the initial statement in v. 10, and showing how the bondage to sin (of all humankind) leads to a more extreme and thorough kind of wickedness.
Romans 9:24-29

The second Scripture-chain is part of Paul’s discussion in chapters 9-11, regarding the relationship between Gentiles and Jews, in terms of the overall plan of God, as it is realized (from an eschatological standpoint) in the context of the early Christian mission. These chapters, in particular, are laced throughout with Scripture quotations and allusions; in every section one finds multiple references. The main reason for this lies, I think, in the nature of Paul’s subject matter. He addresses a complex and difficult question which must have burdened every thoughtful Jewish believer: why have so many (the vast majority) of Israelites and Jews (God’s people) rejected or been unwilling to accept the Gospel of Christ? In his three-part treatise here in chaps. 9-11, Paul attempts to provide an answer, one in keeping with his overall theme of Gentile-Jewish unity in Christ.

According to Paul’s line of argument, expounded in chapters 9-10, God has allowed the hearts of Israelites and Jews to be hardened (so as to be unable/unwilling to trust in Jesus) for the express purpose of facilitating the mission to the Gentiles. The Jewish rejection of the Gospel has opened the door for the message to be proclaimed to Gentiles throughout the Roman world—which just happens to be the focus of Paul’s own missionary work (as an ‘apostle to the Gentiles’). Once this mission to the Gentiles is complete, then Paul foresees a time ahead (relatively soon), at the return of Jesus (or just prior), when the hearts of Israelites and Jews (collectively) would finally turn to accept the truth of Christ. Paul discusses this eschatological process (and event) in chapter 11. For more this aspect of chaps. 9-11, cf. my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Paul’s overall theme of the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers is expressed well in 9:24, a statement that leads into his Scripture chain:

“(so) even (for) us whom He (has) called—not only out of (the) Yehudeans {Jews}, but also out of the nations [i.e. Gentiles]”

God has called Gentiles to join with that ‘faithful remnant’ of Israelites and Jews who have accepted the Gospel and trusted in Jesus. Paul cites a chain of four Scriptures (from the Prophets) in support of this statement: (1) Hosea 2:25 (v. 25), (2) Hosea 2:1 (v. 26), (3) Isaiah 10:22-23 [conflated with a form of Isa 28:22b] (vv. 27-28), and (4) Isaiah 1:9 (v. 29). Paul generally cites these Scriptures according to the text of the LXX, though the conflation of Isa 10:23 and 28:22 in v. 28 produces a notable difference. Also Isa 10:22 has been abridged and modified slightly, under the influence of the previously cited Hos 2:1. Similarly, the quotation of Hos 2:25 also diverges, due to the influence from the wording in Hos 1:9.

Paul applies the Hosea passages, which originally referred to the Israelite people, to the Gentiles and the context of the Gentile mission. Those who are not the people of God (“not my people”, i.e. the Gentiles) have now become His people. This is instructive for a proper understanding of the early Christian view of the authority of Scripture, and how it is subordinated to the higher revelation of the Gospel. There are many instances where the New Testament authors (and speakers) quote the Scripture quite out of context, even altering and modifying the text in various ways, in order to bring out the prophetic connection with the Gospel and the life-situation of early believers.

Interestingly, the setting here in chapters 9-11, would certainly allow for an interpretation of Hos 2:25, etc, in its original context—viz., as a promise of the future restoration of Israel, when they would return to faithfulness (according to the covenant) and become God’s people once again. Though there may currently be only a ‘remnant’ who trust in Jesus (the Isaian prophecies in vv. 27-29), Paul envisions a time in the not-too-distant future, before the end, when there would be a (miraculous) widespread conversion and acceptance of the Gospel (chap. 11).

Romans 15:7-13

The final Scripture chain comes at the close of the body of the letter, and at the end of the practical instruction and exhortation in 12:1-15:13. It is thus a fitting moment for Paul to re-emphasize his important theme of unity in Christ for all believers, Jews and Gentiles alike. He expresses this in a joyous manner, in vv. 7-9, as he leads into the Scripture citations (vv. 9-12). Again he emphasizes how the Gentiles’ acceptance of the Gospel has been prophesied beforehand in the Scriptures. The passages he cites are:

    • Verse 9Psalm 18:50 [= 2 Sam 22:50], corresponding to the LXX, which more or less accurately represents the Hebrew. The idea of the Psalmist acknowledging (and confessing) the greatness of God among the nations is certainly fitting as a prophetic foreshadowing of the missionary work of apostles like Paul himself, proclaiming the Gospel among the Gentiles.
    • Verses 10-11Deut 32:43, combined with Psalm 117:1. The Psalms reference largely matches the LXX, while the quotation from Deuteronomy differs from both the LXX and the Hebrew original. In some ways, Paul’s version is a conflation of the Hebrew and LXX (which reflects a variant Hebrew text, cf. 4QDeutq):
      “Cry out (for joy), O nations, with (regard to) His people…” (MT)
      “Rejoice, O heavens together with Him, and let all the sons of God give homage/worship to Him” (LXX)
      In Paul’s version, the nations praise God together with His people (Israel), thus making the passage a prophecy of Jewish and Gentile unity in Christ.
    • Verse 12Isaiah 11:10, in an abridged form of the LXX. This passage is a key Messianic prophecy recognized by Jews (and early Christians) in the first century. The idea of the Messiah’s rule over the nations, of course, takes on an entirely new significance in a Christian context.

Paul’s theme of Jewish-Gentile unity in Romans is informed, at least in part, by his project of collecting relief money (from the congregations in Greece and Macedonia) to bring to the poor and oppressed believers in Judea. This project (his ‘collection for the saints’) has just recently been completed, and he anticipates journeying to Jerusalem to deliver the money (vv. 25-29). This was a momentous occasion for Paul, and he viewed the collection as an important symbol of the unity (in Christ) between Jews and Gentiles.

Sola Scriptura: Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35

Sola Scriptura

In our previous studies in this series, we examined the early Christian view of Scripture as represented within the Gospel Tradition. In particular, the core of that view can be traced back to sayings and teachings by Jesus himself. For the early Christians, as for Jesus, the Old Testament Scriptures can be summarized by the two-fold categorization “the Law and the Prophets”. By this is meant the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and the Prophetic books (Isaiah–Malachi), with the latter category also including the Psalms. The extent to which the other Old Testament books were similarly regarded as authoritative Scripture remains uncertain.

The Torah continued to be authoritative for early Christians; however, increasingly, its authority came to be rooted in the teaching of Jesus—that is, the Law as interpreted by Jesus. With regard to the Prophetic writings, their authority was expressed primarily in terms of the various Messianic prophecies recorded, which were applied to the person of Jesus as the Messiah (including all of the Messianic figure-types). There were some unique difficulties surrounding the application of the Messianic prophecies to Jesus—related principally to his suffering and death, which were not at all part of the Messianic expectation by Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Moreover, though Jesus was raised gloriously from the dead, he departed from earth (to heaven) without fulfilling many of the end-time Messianic expectations. All of this was sensed keenly by the first Christians (cf. Acts 1:6ff, etc), and, if they were ever to convince their fellow Jews of the truth that Jesus was the Messiah, they would need to demonstrate, through the authority of the Scripture prophecies, that the suffering and death (and resurrection) of the Messiah was prophesied in Scripture.

As we saw in the previous study, the seeds of this line of interpretation go back to the words of Jesus himself, and are firmly rooted in the Gospel Tradition. In particular, the Gospel of Luke gives special emphasis to the importance of the Messianic prophecies (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45ff), and this continues as a key theme in the book of Acts. All throughout the narrative, there are key references to the work done by the early missionaries to prove, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is the Messiah—cf. 3:18ff; 5:42; 9:22; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 24:14; 26:22ff; 28:23. A clear example is found in the episode of Philip and the Ethiopian official (8:26-40), where the prophecy in Isa 52:13-53:12 (vv. 7-8) is interpreted and applied to Jesus (vv. 32-35).

Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35

Such Scripture citations also feature prominently in the sermon-speeches of Acts—especially those in the first half of the book (chaps. 1-15) presented as being preached or spoken in a Jewish setting. I have treated these speeches at length and in detail in a separate series (“The Speeches of Acts”). Here, to give a representative example of the early Christian use of the Old Testament Scriptures (the Prophets), and how the authority of the Scriptures was treated (and utilized) in a missionary context, let us turn to the famous Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-41, cf. Parts 2 and 3 of “The Speeches of Acts”).

The speech itself may be divided into three main sections, each of which begins with a (vocative) address to the crowd, according to three parallel expressions:

    • a&ndre$  )Ioudai=oi—Men, Yehudeans [i.e. Judeans, men of Judea]!… (v. 14)
    • a&ndre$  )Israhli=tai—Men, Yisraelis [i.e. Israelites, men of Israel]!… (v. 22)
    • a&ndre$ a)delfoi/—Men, Brothers!… (v. 29)

The variation may be merely stylistic, but it is also possible that a progression is intended—from geographic (Judea) to ethnic-national (Israel) to a more intimate familial designation (Brothers). Here is an outline of the three sections, according to the pattern of the sermon-speeches of Acts:

Section 1 (verses 14-21)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Judeans…” (vv. 14-16), leading into the Scripture citation. There is no direct kerygma other than to turn the attention of the crowd to the current phenomenon they are experiencing, that it is a fulfillment of Scripture. But note also the concluding citation of Joel 2:32a in verse 21.
    • Citation from Scripture: Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 in Hebrew] (vv. 17-21); the specific citation will be discussed in more detail below.
    • {There is no specific exposition given or concluding exhortation in this section—application of the Scripture is implicit}

Section 2 (verses 22-28)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Israelites…” (vv. 22-24), leading into the Scripture citation. It contains a clear kerygmatic statement, which I have already discussed in a prior note, but will treat again in the context of the Scripture passage (below).
    • Citation from Scripture: Psalm 16:8-11 [LXX 15:8-11] (vv. 25-28), to be discussed in detail.
    • {Again there is no specific exposition or concluding exhortation in this section—the exposition is picked up in the next section}

Section 3 (verses 29-36)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Brothers…” (vv. 29-33). This introductory portion contains an exposition of Psalm 16:8-11 in vv. 29-31, along with a kerygmatic statement in vv. 32-33, which leads into the Scripture citation.
    • Citation from Scripture: Psalm 110:1 [LXX 109:1] (vv. 34-35), to be discussed.
    • Exposition and Gospel kerygma: This is contained within a single, solemn declaratory statement (v. 36)

As the Scripture citation is central to each section of the speech, it is important to examine each in turn; this will be done according to:

    1. The Text
    2. The Exposition/Application (as understood or expressed by the speaker and/or author)
    3. Kerygmatic statement or formulae

Scripture Citation #1: Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5, Hebrew]

The Text.—The quotation from Joel closely follows the Greek (LXX) version, with the following notable variations:

    • “in the last days” (e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$) instead of “after these things” (meta\ tau=ta) [verse 17 / 2:28]
    • the positions of “young ones/men” (oi( neani/skoi) and “old ones/men” (oi( presbu/teroi) are reversed
    • the addition of “my” (mou) to “slave men” and “slave women” [i.e. male and female slaves] (dou=lo$/dou/lh) [verse 18 / 2:29]—indicating that these are slaves/servants of the Lord.
    • the addition of “and they will foretell [i.e. prophesy]” (kai\ profhteu/sousin)—this repeats what is stated in verse 17 [2:28], and gives added emphasis on the theme of prophesying (see below).
    • the addition of “up above” (a&nw) and “down below” (ka/tw) [verse 19 / 2:30]
    • the last portion of Joel 2:32 [3:5] as been left out: “so that in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be the (one) being saved, according to that (which) the Lord said, and they are (ones) being given the good message [eu)aggelizo/menoi], (those) whom the Lord has called toward (Himself)” (translating from the LXX; eu)aggelizo/menoi is a misreading of the Hebrew <yd!yr!c=b^ [“among the survivors”])

In some manuscripts the quotation conforms more precisely with the LXX (as in the Alexandrian text represented by codex B), but this is likely a secondary ‘correction’; the version of the quotation which has been adapted to the context of the speech (especially in vv. 17-18) is almost certainly original. Overall the LXX here reflects a fairly accurate translation from the Hebrew. At the historical level, one would expect that Peter might rather have quoted from the Hebrew—if so, it is understandable that the author (trad. Luke) might simply substitute in the LXX (with some modification). On the (critical) theory that the speech is primarily a Lukan composition (set in the mouth of Peter), adapting the Greek version would be a natural approach.

The Exposition/Application.—No exposition is given by Peter, other than the statement that events of the moment are a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (v. 16). It is interesting to consider how Peter (and/or the author of Acts) applies this prophecy to the current situation. The phenomenon of speaking in tongues, though the principal occasion of the crowd’s amazement, appears to be only marginally connected with the prophecy. I would say that there are three main points of contact which are being emphasized:

    • God’s sending his Spirit upon the believers, and their being filled with the Spirit
    • That believers—both men and women—will prophesy
    • This pouring out of the Spirit specifically indicates it is the last days

In many ways, this passage represents (along with Jeremiah 31:31-34) the keystone Old Testament prophecy regarding the “new age” (the New Covenant) inaugurated by the work of Jesus Christ. Consider the elements which are combined in this passage:

    • That God is doing a new thing, pouring out of his Spirit upon all people—young and old, men and women, slave and free alike (cf. Gal 3:28).
    • That God’s people will now be guided directly by the Spirit (on this theme, cf. Jer 31:34; 1 John 2:27).
    • Even the least of His people will be able to prophesy—that is, speak the revelatory word or message of God (in this regard, note the interesting passage Num 11:24-29).
    • This signifies that it is the “last days” (i.e. the end times)
    • Salvation (in Christ) is being proclaimed to all people

This is also an instance where the New Testament speaker/author has been relatively faithful to the original historical context of the prophecy. Consider the place of this prophecy in the book of Joel:

    • Joel 1:2-20: A lamentation for the land which has been desolated by a locust invasion (probably symbolic of a enemy military invasion)
    • Joel 2:1-11: Announcement to Judah/Jerusalem of an impending enemy invasion, with eschatological characteristics—it is God’s own judgment on the land, signifying the “day of YHWH” (verse 11)
      • Joel 2:12-17: A call to repentance for all the people in the land
    • Joel 2:18-27: A declaration that God will restore the fertility and bounty of the land, bringing blessing back to the people (described in material terms, as recovery from the locust attack)
    • Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]: A promise of spiritual blessing (i.e. the pouring out of God’s own Spirit) upon the all the people in the land—this will follow after the material blessing and restoration mentioned previously, and relates specifically to the survivors (i.e. the remnant) of the judgment (v. 32 [3:5]).
    • Joel 3:1-16 [4:1-16 Heb]: Announcement of God’s judgment on the Nations (following the restoration of Judah/Jerusalem, v. 1)—again this signifies the eschatological “day of YHWH” (v. 14, cf. 2:11).
      • Joel 3:17-21 [4:17-21 Heb]: The future fates of Judah/Jerusalem and the Nations are contrasted.

It could also be outlined more simply as:

    • 1:20-2:11—Judgment on Judah/Jerusalem (“day of YHWH”)
    • 2:18-32—Restoration and blessing (material and spiritual) for the survivors in Judah/Jerusalem
    • 3:1-16—Judgment on the Nations (“day of YHWH”), contrasted with the fate of (the restored) Judah/Jerusalem

Even though the context implies that the restoration indicated in 2:18-32 will be reasonably soon (not left for the indefinite future), it is not specified precisely when it will occur. Even today, there is a considerable divergence of views among commentators as to how such passages should be interpreted. Regardless, in Acts, it is clearly the spiritual side of Israel’s future restoration that is emphasized, being applied to believers in Christ—a theme which is found throughout the early chapters of the book. What is perhaps overlooked by many modern interpreters is the prominence of the eschatological motif. This is indicated here by:

    • The alteration of the LXX meta\ tau=ta (“after these [things]”, Hebrew “after/following this”) to e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$ (“in the last days”) of Joel 2:28 [3:1] in v. 17, specifying clearly that this is the last-days/end-times.
    • The natural phenomena described in Joel 2:30-31 [3:3-4], included in vv. 19-20 are eschatological/apocalyptic images which came to be associated quite distinctly with God’s end-time Judgment—cf. especially in the Synoptic tradition (Jesus’ Olivet/Eschatological Discourse), Mark 13:14-15ff par.

Even though the natural wonders of Joel 2:30-31 are not technically being fulfilled at the time of Peter’s speech, they clearly signify that, in the mind of Peter (and, to some extent, the author of Acts), the end-times are definitely at hand. This belief in, and expectation of, the imminent judgment of God (and return of Christ), found in nearly all the New Testament writings, may trouble some traditional-conservative commentators (wishing to safeguard a view of Scriptural inerrancy); however, it is an important aspect of early Christian thought which cannot (and ought not to) be ignored or explained away.

Kerygmatic statement or formulae.—As there is no exposition of the passage from Joel, neither is there any clear kerygma, except, I should say, for the concluding citation from Joel 2:28a [3:5a] in v. 21:

“and it will be (that) every (one) that should call upon the name of the Lord will be saved”

In its original context, of course, it refers to calling upon the name of God (YHWH) for salvation, etc; however, in an early Christian context, it takes on a new meaning in reference to the risen/exalted Jesus as Lord [ku/rio$, cf. Acts 2:36, etc]. In this regard, note the key kerygmatic statement in Acts 4:12.

Scripture Citation #2: Psalm 16:8-11 [LXX 15:8-11]

The Text.—The quotation from Psalm 16:8-11 matches the Greek (LXX) version [15:8-11], which is itself a reasonably accurate translation (into Greek idiom) of the Hebrew (MT). It may be useful, however, to compare (literal/glossed) renderings of the Hebrew MT and LXX/Acts side by side (translation of such ancient poetry being truly just an approximation):

MT Psalm 16:8-11

“I have set YHWH to (be) in front of [i.e. before] me continually,
for (indeed) from my/his right-hand I will not be made to slip/swerve.
For thus is my heart joyful, and my liver twirls/leaps for joy;
(yes) even my flesh dwells unto safety/security.
For you will not leave/deliver me unto Sheol,
you will not give your good/faithful (one) to see (the) Pit.
You will make me know the path of life,
(and the) filling/fullness of joys (at/by) Your face,
the pleasant (thing)s by Your right-hand constantly.”

LXX Psalm 15:8-11 / Acts 2:25-28

“I saw the Lord before in my eyes [i.e. in my presence] through all (things/times),
(in) that he is out of [i.e. from/on] my right-hand (so) that I should not be shaken.
Through this my heart was of a good mind [i.e. was merry] and my tongue jumped for joy,
but yet also my flesh will put down (its) tent [i.e. dwell/rest] upon hope,
(in) that you will not leave my soul down in Hades and will not give your Holy (One) to see thorough ruin/decay.
You made known to me (the) ways of life,
(and) you will fill me of a good mind [i.e. with happiness/joy] with your (presence) before my eyes.”

The Exposition/Application.—Here we must consider two portions: (a) the kerygmatic statement in vv. 22-24 which leads into the quotation, and (b) the exposition which opens the next section of the speech (vv. 29-31). I will treat the kerygma of vv. 24 below; here note the exposition from the next section (vv. 29-31)—Peter makes three points which can be grouped together as a triad:

    • The Psalmist (David) died (i.e. completed/finished his life) and was buried—indeed his tomb is still known (v. 29)
    • David was a prophet (literally, a foreteller) and knew that “out of the fruit of his loins” an heir will come to sit on his throne (v. 30)—primarily a reference to 2 Sam 7:11b-14, which came to be a prime Messianic passage.
    • As a prophet, David foresaw the resurrection (lit. standing up [again]) of the Anointed [i.e. Messiah, Jesus] (v. 31)—here specifically Psalm 16:10 is cited again.

Originally Psalm 16 was a (personal) lament by the Psalmist (trad. ascribed to David), expressing trust in the faithfulness of Yahweh (identified with El)—in contrast to Canaanite gods/idols—with a strong affirmation of his own devotion to God. Verses 8-11 represent the conclusion of the Psalm—the Psalmist finds continual joy and security in God’s presence, even to the point of trusting that YHWH will not abandon him to the grave (i.e. the ‘Pit’ or Sheol). This latter reference is somewhat ambiguous, but it does seem to express the idea that the author of the Psalm will not experience death, at least not permanently. Subsequently in Judaism and early Christianity, this would have been understood in terms of resurrection.  And it is the resurrection of Jesus that is primarily in view for Peter (and the author of Acts), as indicated by the repeated citation of verse 10 in Acts 2:31. In this interpretation, the Psalmist (David) speaks not of himself, but prophetically of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Notably, the Greek verb e)gkatalei/pw (literally, “leave down in…”, but also understood generally as “leave behind, abandon, forsake”, etc) was uttered by Jesus on the cross in Mark 15:34 / Matt 27:46; and this no doubt helped establish the connection between Psalm 16 and the death/resurrection of Jesus.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements to note: (a) in verses 22-24, part of the introductory address which leads into the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, and (b) verses 32-33, which are part of the introductory address of the next section (leading into the citation of Psalm 110:1). Verses 32-33 are addressed below; here let us examine briefly verses 22-24, which begin with the exhortation “hear these words…”:

    • V. 22: “(of this) Yeshua the Nazarean, a man presented from/by God unto you with works of power and wonders and signs which God did in your midst, even as (you your)selves know”
      • V. 23: “this one, by the marked will/purpose and foreknowledge of God, given out through the hand of lawless (ones), fastening (him) to (the stake) you took (his life) away”
      • V. 24: “whom God made stand up (again), loosing the pains of death, according to (the fact) that there was not power to hold him firmly under it”

I regard these verses as an example of early Christian kerygma (Gospel proclamation), using formulaic phrases, terms, and images which would stand out and be easy to remember and transmit. Here they are still rough and fresh, but over time such statements would take on a cleaner form (which could be used in early hymns and liturgy; for possible examples, cf. Romans 1:2-4; 1 Tim 3:16). I discussed some of the Christological aspects of the language and terminology here in an earlier article.

Scripture Citation #3: Psalm 110:1 [LXX 109:1]

The Text.—The quotation from Psalm 110:1 is virtually identical to the Greek (LXX) version [109:1]:

Ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w| mou
Ka/qou e)k deciw=n mou,

e%w$ a*n qw= tou\$ e)xqrou/$ sou
u(popo/dion tw=n podw=n sou.

“The Lord said to my lord,
‘Sit out of [i.e. from/by] my right-hand,
until I should set your enemies
(as something) under-foot [i.e. a ‘foot-stool’] for your feet’.”

The only difference is the first definite article (o() for ku/rio$ (i.e. “[the] Lord”), which is omitted in some manuscripts.

The Exposition/Application.Psalm 110:1 follows on the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, with a definite continuity of thought: just as Ps 16:8-11 refers to God not leaving his Holy One down in Hades to see ruin/corruption—implying the resurrection—so with Ps 110:1 we see the result and after-effect of the resurrection—Jesus exalted (as Lord) to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. This is stated clearly in the kerygmatic statement in vv. 32-33 (see below), but decisively in verse 36, which serves as both exposition and kerygmatic declaration. In its original context, Psalm 110 was probably connected with the coronation or inauguration (enthronement) of the king. 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. In Hebrew, it reads: “(An) utterance of YHWH [hw`hy+] to my lord [/wda* i.e. the king]…”; translations which render both hwhy and /wda by “Lord”, as in the Greek, obscure the sense of the original. Of course, this very ambiguity lies at the center of the early Christian view of Jesus as “Lord” [ku/rio$] (see below). 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. However, there can be no doubt that early Christians saw in this Psalm (as in Psalm 2) a reference to Jesus’ exalted/divine status. The fact that verse 1 was already cited by Jesus in early Gospel (Synoptic) tradition (Mark 12:36-37 par) may have contributed to the association, even though the exact meaning and force of the question Jesus asks is not entirely clear (and continues to be debated). Hebrews 1:13 apparently cites Ps 110:1 in the context of Jesus’ pre-existent nature and status as God’s Son (Heb 1:2-3ff), according to orthodox belief. But here in Acts, Ps 110:1 is applied specifically to Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven following the resurrection, which is somewhat problematic for orthodox Christology, for it could be taken to mean that Jesus had a position at God’s right hand only after (and as a result of) the resurrection/exaltation. This was discussed in an earlier note; and see also my article on Adoptionism. For more on this idea, cf. below on Acts 2:36.

Mention should also be made of the obscure and highly enigmatic reference to “Melchi-zedek” in Ps 110:4—the entire verse, in context, is extremely difficult to interpret, with a wide range of scholarly suggestions available. Be that as it may, Christians applied this specific reference from the Psalm to Jesus as well—most famously in the seventh chapter of Hebrews (Heb 7). For more on this, cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with a related study on the idea in Hebrews.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements which should be noted: (a) verses 32-33, following the exposition of vv. 29-31 and prior to the citation of Ps 110:1 in vv. 34-35, and (b) the climactic declaration in verse 36. Here is the statement in vv. 32-33:

“This Yeshua God made to stand up (again)—of which we all are witnesses—(and) therefore he was lifted high to the right [lit. giving] hand of God, and receiving the announcement [e)paggeli/a, i.e. promise] of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father he poured this out—(of) which [also] you see and hear.”

In some ways this continues the kerygmatic statement from vv. 22-24, which summarizes Jesus’ earthly life and ministry up to the moment of resurrection; now is described the resurrection (and post-resurrection appearance[s], “of which we all are witnesses”), the exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven, and the sending of the Spirit (which Jesus receives from the Father). There can be little doubt that such credal summaries were an important part of early Gospel preaching and proclamation (kerygma). The climactic declaration in verse 36 is, however, especially striking:

“Therefore let all the house of Yisrael safely/certainly know that God made him (both) Lord and Anointed—this Yeshua whom you put to the stake!”

Here we have the two titles most widely used and applied to Jesus in the early Church—”Lord” (ku/rio$) and “Anointed” (xristo/$, i.e. Messiah/’Christ’). It would seem the implication here is that both titles apply to Jesus as a result of the resurrection and exaltation, which, again, is somewhat problematic from the standpoint of orthodox Christology. Also difficult is the statement that God made (e)poi/hsen) Jesus Lord. I have discussed these points in some detail in an earlier note.

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).