“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 5:27)

John 5:27

The next “son of man” reference in the Gospel of John is at 5:27, within the lengthy Discourse of chapter 5. The Johannine Discourses of Jesus are all carefully structured and arranged. For example, the first four Discourses are arranged in two pairs. The Discourses in the first pair (3:1-21; 4:1-42) are based upon encounters between Jesus and a particular individual—Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, respectively—characters who are vividly portrayed in the narrative. The Discourses of the second pair (chaps. 5 and 6) are each rooted in a different kind of historical tradition—namely, a miracle episode, similar to those we find narrated in the Synoptic Gospels. Indeed, the miraculous feeding episode in chap. 6 (vv. 1-14f) so closely resembles the Synoptic episode(s) (Mk 6:30-44 par; 8:1-10 par), that most commentators would consider both versions to be derived from a single (common) historical tradition.

As for the miracle episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-16), it bears a certain resemblance to Mark 3:1-6 par, with the healing framed as a Sabbath controversy episode. Actually, in the Johannine narrative, the healing (vv. 1-9) and Sabbath-controversy (vv. 10-16) portions appear to reflect separate traditions, which the Gospel writer (or the underlying Johannine Tradition) has combined into a single narrative. In this regard, we might a comparison with the healing miracle (of a paralyzed man) in Mk 2:1-12 par, in its contextual position preceding the Sabbath controversy episodes of 2:23-3:6. As it happens, in both the episodes of 2:1-12 and 23-28, the expression “the son of man” plays a prominent role (vv. 10, 28).

The Johannine combination of traditional elements—healing miracle and Sabbath controversy—provides the narrative background for the main saying of Jesus (v. 17) that initiates the Discourse proper: “My Father works (even) until now, and I (also) work.” In the sections of the Discourse that follow, Jesus expounds the meaning of this saying.

In all of the Johannine Discourses, there is a reaction to the initial saying of Jesus by his hearers, and this reaction leads to an expository response by Jesus. The hostile reaction, by at least some of the populace (“the Yehudeans”) who heard him, is presented indirectly, in summary fashion by the Gospel writer, in verse 18. The people objected both to his healing act which (in their view) violated the Sabbath law, and to his statement, by which they recognized that “he was making himself equal to God”.

Typically, the audience reactions to Jesus’ statements in the Discourses involve a misunderstanding of (the true meaning of) his words. Here, the emphasis is not so much on misunderstanding, as it is on opposition to Jesus. Given the Synoptic parallels (see above), and also the certain parallels with the healing episode in chapter 9, it would seem likely that “the Yehudeans [i.e., Jews]” of verses 10-18 should be identified with the kinds of Jewish religious authorities (‘Scribes and Pharisees’) who typically feature as Jesus’ adversaries/opponents in the Gospel Tradition (cf. 9:13-16ff).

Jesus’ exposition that follows may be divided into two main portions—vv. 19-30 and vv. 31-47. The “son of man” reference occurs toward the end of first division. The principal theme of the Discourse is two-fold: (1) Jesus’ identity as the unique Son of God the Father, and (2) the fact that, as the Son, he does the work of his Father.

Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example in his working—a principle that almost certainly reflects the practical situation of a son apprenticing in the same work/trade as his father. As Jesus states at the opening of his exposition:

“The Son is not able to do anything from himself, if not [i.e. but only] what he should see the Father doing; for the (thing)s which that (One) would do, the Son also does.” (v. 19)

The Father, like a human father instructing his son, shows the Son what to do and how to work (v. 20).

To illustrate the nature of the Father’s work, Jesus cites two examples, both of which have an eschatological orientation: (i) giving life to the dead (v. 21), and (ii) acting as Judge over humankind (v. 22). The first theme is loosely related to the healing miracle of vv. 1-16, though it would, of course, be more appropriate to the Lazarus episode of chap. 11. The ability to heal illness reflects the life-giving power of God. However, the exposition focuses specifically on giving life to the dead (i.e., resurrection), with the end-time resurrection primarily in view. This resurrection, according to traditional eschatological expectation, is connected with the end-time Judgment.

These twin themes are woven through verses 19-30, being developed in various ways, and (most importantly) given a Johannine Christological interpretation. Structurally, the exposition here is given in two parallel sections—vv. 21-24 and vv. 25-29. Three key points are made in each section:

    • The authority/ability both to give life and to judge is given by the Father to the Son (vv. 21-22f, 26-27)
    • Giving life: the one who hears the voice of the Son will receive life and be raised from the dead (v. 24a, 25ff)
    • Judging: those who hear the Son’s voice will face the Judgment (v. 24b, 28-29)

The emphasis in the second section (vv. 25-29) is on what we may call the traditional future eschatology, held by Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D. In the first section (vv. 21-24), however, the focus is on the realized eschatology that is so distinctive of the Johannine Gospel. The two eschatological strands are joined together here by the phrase in v. 25a: “(the) hour comes, and is now (here)”.

From the standpoint of the Johannine ‘realized’ eschatology—that is, where traditional future events (i.e., resurrection, the Judgment) are realized for human beings already in the present—the eschatological events of the resurrection and the Judgment are understood in terms of trust in Jesus. This is stated quite clearly in verse 24:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me holds (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over [metabe/bhken], out of death and into life.”

The use of the perfect tense of the verb metabai/nw, in particular, makes clear that the person trusting in Jesus (as the Son sent by the Father) has already (in the present) received the resurrection-life, and has passed through the Judgment into eternal life. Much the same idea was expressed earlier in 3:16-21, and can be found at other points in the Gospel as well.

Yet this ‘realized’ eschatology does not exclude the traditional (future) understanding of the end-time resurrection and Judgment. This is clear from the second section (vv. 25-29), though some commentators would view the future eschatology in these verses as the product of a later (redacted/edited) edition of the Gospel, and not the work of the original author. As noted above, verse 25a serves to join together the two different eschatological viewpoints. More than this, there is a certain inclusio to the section which could be interpreted as presenting the theme of Jesus’ life-giving (resurrection) power according to both eschatological aspects:

    • Realized eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes and is now (here)
      when the dead
      shall hear the voice of the Son of God,
      and the (one)s hearing shall live” (v. 25)
    • Future eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes
      in which all the (one)s in the memorials [i.e. tombs]
      shall hear his voice,
      and they shall travel out…(some) unto life…and (others) unto judgment” (vv. 28-29)

In both instances, human beings hear the voice of the Son (Jesus). This “hearing” has a double meaning, but the second (deeper) meaning applies only to the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine theology. For this reason, the verb a)kou/w (“hear”) is used twice in verse 25:

    • “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God”
      viz., at the resurrection, when humankind is raised from the dead
    • “and the (one)s (hav)ing heard shall live”
      viz., believers, those trusting in Jesus, shall enter into eternal life

At the same time, the entire verse echoes the realized eschatology of vv. 21-24, and anticipates the Lazarus episode, in which “the dead hearing the voice of the Son” is applied to the present, not simply to the future.

With this analysis in place, we can now turn to the “son of man” reference in verse 27. It is important, first, to examine the reference within the unit of vv. 26-27. As noted above, in this unit, we find the theme of the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. In the first section, this theme was expressed in vv. 21-22:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes live th(ose) whom he wishes.
For the Father judges no one, but has given all (power of) judgment to the Son”

It is similarly expressed, though with quite different wording/phrasing, in vv. 26-27:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father holds life in Himself, so also He (has) given to the Son life to hold in himself.
And He (has) given (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to him to make judgment, (in) that he is (the) Son of man.”

The point is thus made doubly: the Father has given life-giving power to the Son; He has also given the Son the power/authority to act as judge over humankind. With regard to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” here, there are three interpretive issues that need to be addressed:

    1. The relation between the (parallel) terminology “the Son” (v. 22) and “(the) son of man” (v. 27)
    2. In what ways (if any) does the power to give life and to judge differ, particularly as expressed in vv. 26-27, and (how) does this effect the use of the expression “son of man”?
    3. How is the judgment to be understood, comparing the matter in light of both sections (vv. 21-24, 25-29), and in the broader context of the Johannine theology? And how does the expression “(the) son of man” relate to this understanding of the judgment?

In addition, some consideration must be given to the distinctive anarthrous form of the expression (i.e., without the definite article[s]) here in verse 27.

These points will be discussed in the continuation of this study.

 

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 11:20)

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

An important passage for understanding this petition—and the idea of the coming of God’s Kingdom within the Gospel Tradition—is Luke 11:14-23, along with its parallel in Matthew 12:22-30. This passage is part of the so-called “Q” (Quelle, or “Source”) material—shared by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not present in Mark. It may be labeled broadly as the “Beelzebul episode”, and there is a corresponding episode in the Gospel of Mark (3:22-27).

According to many commentators, the “Q” and Markan versions of this episode represent variant versions of a single historical tradition. This explanation is probably correct. There is evidence that the Matthean Gospel writer has incorporated both lines of tradition in the narrative; note, for example, the way that the saying regarding the “insult against the Holy Spirit” is made to follow this passage (12:31-32), even as it does in Mark (3:28-29). The same Gospel writer also appears to have combined Markan and “Q” versions of this saying (cp. Luke 12:10).

The Markan version of the “Beelzebul episode” makes no mention of the Kingdom of God; however, the Kingdom-theme is present, and functions as a more important component of the “Q” version. Let us use the Lukan form (11:14-23) as the basis for our study.

The way that the various traditions have been combined, compared with the shorter Markan version of the episode, enhances the sense of the conflict built into the original historical tradition. The accusation, that Jesus performs healing (and exorcism) miracles through the power of Beelzebul, now becomes part of a larger contrast between two kingdoms—the kingdom of God and the kingdom of ‘Beelzebul’. As one who represents the kingdom of God, Jesus is exercising authority over the daimon-spirits who serve the kingdom of ‘Beelzebul’.

The Kingdom-theme is established by the saying in 11:17-18 (par Matt 12:25-26), a form of which is also present in the Markan/Synoptic version (Mk 3:24-26). The point of the proverbial saying (v. 17), as it is applied to Jesus’ situation (v. 18), is that it makes no sense for a person working for Beelzebul and the demons to cast out demons; it would be like a kingdom that was divided against itself. The implication is that Jesus represents a different kingdom—namely, the kingdom of God.

This line of argument is developed in vv. 18b-19 (par Matt 12:27), and, again, by the illustration in vv. 21-22 (par Matt 12:29, and cf. Mk 3:27). First, Jesus points out that there are other people who perform similar miracles (or are thought to). In addressing the people in the crowd who bring the accusations against him, Jesus refers to “your sons” —that is, others among them, of whom (it may be inferred) similar accusations are not made regarding the miracles they perform. How are such people able to cast out daimons, if they are not, like they say now of Jesus, working through the power of Beelzebul?

Indeed, such miracles would typically be attributed to God. It may be the particular success and prominence of Jesus in performing these healing miracles which led to certain people claiming that he must, somehow, be working in league with the demons themselves. The implication is that there was a distinctiveness in the way Jesus was able to cast out the daimon-spirits, a distinctiveness which reflected a special kind of authority over the spirit-world. This exercise of authority was part of what led to the initial popularity of Jesus (note the tradition in Mark 1:27-28 par, and the following summary in vv. 32ff), and, with it, certain jealousy and resentment among other Jewish leaders.

The rhetorical argument (and question) in vv. 18b-19 leads to the dramatic declaration by Jesus in verse 20 (par Matt 12:28):

“But, if (it is) by (the) finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then (know that) the kingdom of God has come (now) upon you!”

Jesus claims, unequivocally, that he casts out daimons by the power (lit. “finger”) of God. The expression “finger of God” probably alludes to the Exodus narrative, regarding the plagues on Egypt, which were performed by God through Moses (and Aaron) as intermediary (Exod 8:19 [Heb 15]); for other occurrences of the idiom, see Exod 31:18; Deut 9:10 (cf. also Psalm 8:4). Like Moses, Jesus functions as God’s specially appointed (and anointed) representative, and here makes such a claim for himself—a claim which would not have been lost on many of his hearers. If the specific pronoun e)gw/ (“I”) is to be included (as original), then almost certainly it is emphatic; I have indicated this in the translation above: “but if I…”.

The force of Jesus’ claim is explained by the Matthean version of this saying, but also by the historical context of the Beelzebul episode. Instead of “finger [da/ktulo$] of God”, Matthew (12:28) reads “Spirit [pneu=ma] of God”. Almost certainly, the Lukan version more accurately represents the original saying; the Matthean variant is best understood as an explanatory gloss—viz., to explain that “finger of God” means the Spirit of God, working through Jesus.

This explanation, indeed, properly reflects the context of the episode, which the Markan narrative brings out most clearly. People were claiming that Jesus was performing his healing miracles through demonic power, rather than by the power (i.e., Spirit) of God. This helps us to understand the saying regarding the “insult against the Holy Spirit”, Mk 3:28-29, which Matthew records here in the same location (12:31-32). It is one thing to insult the human being (“son of man”) who performs the miracle, but quite another to blaspheme the Spirit of God that works through the person. Mark clearly states that this was the point of Jesus’ saying (3:30).

That Jesus performs his miracles, in a very special way (like Moses), through the Spirit (or “finger”) of God, is also indicated by the illustration in vv. 21-22 par. Subduing “the strong (one)” (i.e., Beelzebul) requires someone even stronger—that is, God Himself, or Jesus as His representative, acting in and by His Spirit.

The wording of the statement in verse 20 is relevant to the key declaration made by Jesus, at the start of his ministry, according to the Synoptic narrative (Mark 1:15 par, discussed in the previous study). In that initial statement, Jesus declared that:

“…the kingdom of God has come near [h&ggiken]”

This indicates that God’s kingdom would soon appear; on the eschatological significance of the adverb e)ggu/$ (“close, near”) and verb e)ggi/zw (“come/bring near”), see the previous study, and my earlier article on the imminent eschatology of early Christians. By contrast, here in Lk 11:20 par, Jesus uses the verb fqa/nw:

“…the kingdom of God has (now) come [e&fqasen]”

The verb fqa/nw can be a bit difficult to translate. It denotes coming (or doing something) first, before (or ahead of) others. It can specifically indicate the aspect of arriving first, and then, more generally, the idea of “arriving” or reaching a particular point. Taken in the more fundamental sense, the statement here would mean, “the kingdom has first come (now)”; alternately, it could mean, “the kingdom of God has reached you”, or, more generally, “the kingdom of God has now arrived”. In any case, it certainly indicates a step beyond the statement in Mark 1:15 par: the kingdom of God is not just near to coming, it has now arrived. The verb fqa/nw is used in the aorist tense, but this would seem to differ little from the use of the perfect tense (for e)ggi/zw in Mark 1:15); practically speaking, it needs to be translated like a perfect in English (i.e., “has come”).

The point of the saying, then, is that the Kingdom of God has now arrived, with the ministry of Jesus. In particular, God is exercising His authority over the demon-powers. These spirits, responsible for disease, and other forms of evil and wickedness, have held a certain dominion over the world (and especially over humankind) during the current Age, a power and influence which has only been increasing as the end of the Age draws closer. But now God, through his anointed representative, Jesus, is beginning to subdue the spirits, and to defeat the kingdom of the evil powers (led by ‘Beelzebul’). In this conflict between the two kingdoms, the kingdom of God is sure to be victorious, and, indeed, is even now beginning to establish itself on earth.

This idea of Jesus as God’s anointed representative (i.e., Messiah) brings to mind a second, but related, aspect of the Kingdom-concept—that of the restoration of the Israelite kingdom, under the leadership of a new Ruler from the line of David. This represents a different Messianic figure-type, which is fulfilled in the person of Jesus. The miracles which formed the basis for the Beelzebul episode attest to Jesus’ identity as a Messianic prophet—along the lines of Moses and Elijah, each of whom were miracle-workers, through whom the power of God was specially manifest.

In the Synoptic narrative, Jesus’ identity as a Messianic prophet dominates the first half—the period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. In the second half of the narrative (the period in Jerusalem), it is the Davidic/royal Messiah that is primarily in view. For next week’s study, in commemoration of Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, we will examine this particular aspect of the Kingdom-theme, as it is expressed in the Triumphal Entry scene.

The name Beelzebul (Grk Beelzebou/l) is a transliteration of a Semitic title, which was applied to the Canaanite deity Haddu (called Ba±al, Heb lu^B^, “Lord, Master”). The designation zbl (Heb lb%z+ z§»¥l) is an honorific title meaning something like “exalted” or “(most) high”. Thus, the Canaanite title b±l zbl means “Exalted Lord”. For Israelites and Jews, Baal Haddu was the most famous pagan deity from the ancient Near East, largely due to the fierce polemic references to him in the Old Testament (as a rival to El-YHWH). It was thus natural that this ‘exalted’ Baal would serve as a representation for the leader of all foreign/wicked deities (called daimons, or “demons”). Elsewhere in Jewish tradition and in the New Testament, this role is given to the Satan/Devil, or to the same essential figure called by different names.

Saturday Series: John 9:2-3ff

John 9:2-3ff

In the prior studies, it was discussed how the Johannine view of sin involves two distinct levels, or aspects, of meaning. The first defines sin in conventional ethical-religious terms—that is, as misdeeds or wrongs done by people during the course of their daily life. The second defines sin in terms of the great sin of unbelief—of a failure or refusal to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. These two aspects give to the sin-terminology of the noun hamartía, and the related verb hamartánœ, a dual meaning.

Such dual-meaning is not at all uncommon in the Gospel of John; indeed, it is part of the Johannine style, and can be seen throughout both the Gospel Discourses and narrative passages. Many examples could be cited, such as the use of the common verb ménœ (“remain”) or the verb pair anabaínœ / katabaínœ (“step up / step down”). These verbs can be used in the ordinary sense, in a narrative context. For example, the disciples might “remain” with Jesus (1:39), in the sense of staying in the same dwelling-place, or Jesus may be said to “go up” (lit. “step up”) to Jerusalem, in the ordinary sense of journeying/traveling there (2:13, etc); but these verbs are also used in a special theological (and Christological) sense throughout the Gospel.

Another piece of thematic vocabulary with a dual-meaning is the sight/seeing motif, along with its opposite (privative) aspect of lack of sight (i.e., blindness). A person can see with the eyes, in the ordinary physical sense; but ‘seeing’ in the Gospel also refers to trust/belief in Jesus as the Son of God, with the knowledge of God (the Father) that this brings. Similarly, lack of sight, or a failure to see, can mean a failure to trust in Jesus. The light-darkness thematic pair functions the same way in the Johannine writings, with a comparable dual meaning.

Both the seeing/sight and light motifs feature in the chapter 9 episode of Jesus’ healing of the Blind Man, and both motifs have a dual-meaning within the narrative. Chapter 9 does not contain a Discourse, per se, but the narrative features a number of Discourse-elements. The dual-meaning of these motifs, along with the inability of the audience to understand the true and deeper meaning of them, are elements that feature prominently in the Johannine Discourses.

Sin is also a significant thematic and conceptual reference-point throughout the chapter 9 episode, and it involves both of the aspects/levels of meaning highlighted above. The conventional ethical-religious understanding of sin is emphasized at the beginning of the episode, as the disciples ask Jesus about the relation of the blind man’s disability to wrongs (i.e., sins) that may have been done:

“Rabbi, who sinned [h¢¡marten]—this (man) or his parents—that he should (have) come to be (born) blind?” (v. 2)

Jesus makes clear that, at least in this instance (compare 5:14), the man’s blindness was not the result of any particular wrongdoing (sin):

“This (man) did not sin [h¢¡marten], nor (did) his parents, but (it was so) that the works of God should be made to shine forth in him.” (v. 3)

In other words, as in the case of Lazarus’ illness (and death), the ailment was allowed to exist so that the power and glory of God would be manifest through the healing miracle (“work”) performed by Jesus (see 11:4). Through the miracle, it would be clear (to those who would believe) that Jesus is the Son of God who performs the works of God.

The sight/seeing motif is obviously present in the figure of the blind man himself, but the parallel light motif is introduced, also at the beginning of the episode, in the declaration by Jesus in verses 4-5:

“It is necessary for us to work the works of the (One hav)ing sent me as long as it is day, (for) night (soon) comes, when no one is able to work. When I should be in the world, I am (the) light [fœ¡s] of the world.”

Verse 5 is, of course, one of the famous “I am” (egœ eimi) sayings by Jesus in the Gospel of John. This vocabulary and syntax clearly reveals that sight/seeing motif—like the related light motif—has a special theological meaning that is not immediately apparent at the surface-level of the narrative. At the surface-level, Jesus heals the blind man, allowing him to see (vv. 6-7). This is the ordinary physical/optical sight of the eyes.

It is just at this point, as the people begin to react to the healing, that the sin motif starts to be developed within the narrative. At first, it is the neighbors who react to the blind man’s healing (vv. 8-12), but then the Pharisees, functioning (in the narrative) as a collective group of religious authorities, enter the scene (vv. 13ff). Their role is essentially identical with that of “the Jews” in the earlier healing episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-17). In both episodes, the healing occurs on a Sabbath (5:9b; 9:14), and it is this fact that initially spurs the people’s hostility and opposition to Jesus’ healing work. The Johannine tradition corresponds generally with the Synoptic tradition in this regard (see my earlier articles on the Sabbath Controversy episodes, Parts 45 of the series “Jesus and the Law”).

The religious claim is made that Jesus’ healing work on the Sabbath is a violation of the Torah regulations prohibiting work on the Sabbath (Exod 20:10-11, etc). If such a claim were to be admitted as valid, it would be an example of religious wrongdoing (i.e., sin)—violating the Divine regulations of the Torah—and would make Jesus a sinner (hamartœlós), one who commits sin (hamartía). This, of course, would be sin as defined in the traditional and customary ethical-religious sense (see above). The Pharisees imply that Jesus is a sinner, as one who violates the Torah regulations. This, as other people in the audience recognize, would seem to be at odds with Jesus’ ability to work miracles:

“How is a sinful [hamartœlós] man able to do such signs?” (v. 16)

When the blind man himself is asked about this (“What do you say about him, [this man] that opened up your eyes?”), he responds that Jesus must be a prophet (v. 17). This is significant, in the context of the Johannine theology, since Jesus’ Messianic identity as an Anointed Prophet was established earlier in the Gospel (1:20-21ff; 4:19, 25, 29; 6:14; 7:40). In the Johannine writings, the titles “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “Son of God” go hand in hand; any true confession of faith will affirm Jesus’ identity as both the Messiah and Son of God (11:27; 20:31; 1 Jn 1:3; 2:22; 3:23; 5:20). However, according to the developed Johannine Christology, it is not enough to believe that Jesus is the Messiah; one must also trust that he is the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, sent from heaven to earth by God the Father.

At this juncture, about halfway through the narrative, the focus shifts from a conventional ethical-religious understanding of sin (aspect/level 1) to the distinctive Johannine theological/Christological understanding (aspect/level 2). This is expressed in a subtle way at the beginning of verse 18:

“The Jehudeans [i.e. Jews] then did not trust [ouk epísteusan] concerning him…”

In the immediate narrative context, this refers to an unwillingness to believe that the blind man had actually been blind. Yet this response actually reflects an unwillingness to believe in the miracle performed by Jesus, as a work of God, performed by the Son of God. Thus, there is implicit here a clear reference to a lack of trust in Jesus (in the Johannine theological sense). Their lack of trust is demonstrated further by the blunt declaration that Jesus is a sinner: “Give honor to God, for we have seen that this (man) is a sinner [hamartœlós]” (v. 24). Now apparently admitting the reality of the healing, the people (“the Jews”) recognize that God must be responsible for it. They thus essentially confess that the healing was a work of God, but that Jesus could not have been responsible, since he “is a sinner”.

The Johannine theology creates a profound irony here. In claiming that Jesus is a sinner, the people are actually showing themselves to be sinners, committing the great sin of unbelief. It is this theological aspect of sin that dominates the remainder of the narrative; at the same time, the true and deeper meaning of the sight/seeing motif also comes to the fore. True sight means trusting in Jesus as the Son of God; and true blindness (lack of sight) is the lack of such trust.

The climax of the narrative (vv. 35-41) demonstrates this Christological emphasis most vividly. Having been given sight in the ordinary physical sense, the man now begins to see in the true and deeper sense of trusting in Jesus. The question Jesus poses in verse 35 is:

“Do you trust in the Son of Man?”
sý pisteúeis eis tón huión toú anthrœ¡pou

Some manuscripts read “Son of God” rather than “Son of Man”, presumably because (quite rightly) “Son of God” is the more appropriate title for a confession of faith. However, two points must be kept in mind. First, in the Gospel tradition, the expression “son of man” often functions as a self-reference by Jesus, as a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”; thus, the question in verse 35 can be taken as essentially meaning “Do you trust in me?”. Secondly, in a number of the “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel, Jesus is clearly identified (or identifies himself) with a heavenly being, who is sent to earth as a representative of God, to act in His name. In the Gospel of John, in particular, the title “Son of Man” refers specifically to Jesus’ heavenly origin, as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father (1:51; 3:13f; 5:27; 6:27, 53 [in light of vv. 33, 38, 41ff, 51], 62; 12:23; 13:31). In any case, the manuscript evidence overwhelmingly favors the reading “Son of Man” as original here in v. 35.

The true/deeper meaning of the sight-motif is made explicit in verse 37: “Indeed you have seen [heœ¡rakas] him…”. The man’s confession of faith comes in verse 38 (“I trust, Lord”), indicating that now he truly does see. By contrast, those who do not trust in Jesus are truly blind. They are also sinners since they commit the great sin of unbelief; and, indeed, they face judgment from God on the basis of this sin:

“(It is) unto [i.e. for] judgment (that) I came into this world: (so) that the (one)s not seeing should see, and (that) the (one)s seeing should become blind!” (v. 39)

The Pharisees, still thinking of blindness in the ordinary (physical) sense, respond with puzzlement to Jesus’ declaration, asking, “(Surely) we are not also blind?” (v. 40). The episode concludes with a final expository declaration by Jesus, in which he identifies the true meaning of both sin and blindness as being a refusal to trust in him (i.e., unbelief):

“If you were blind, you would not have sin; but (since) now you say that ‘we see’, your sin remains.” (v. 41)

This statement is a rich trove of wordplay, utilizing the Johannine theological vocabulary. Next week, we will examine verse 41 in more detail, along with 15:22-24, in which a similar message is expressed. This follow-up study will demonstrate the way in which the theological/Christological understanding of sin is emphasized in the second half of the Gospel.

June 23: Acts 8:6-7ff (Lk 11:20)

Acts 8:6-7ff (Luke 11:20)

The first episode in the second division of the book of Acts involves the ministry of Philip in Samaria (8:5-25). As the summary narration in vv. 5-7 indicates, he both (a) preached the Gospel (“proclaimed the Anointed [One]”), and (b) performed wondrous “signs” (shmei=a) that included healing miracles. The miracles are performed in support of the Gospel preaching, as an authentication of its truth. All of this corresponds precisely with the prayer of believers in 4:29-30 (and its answer by God, v. 31), which makes it absolutely certain that the author of the narrative (trad. Luke) understood Philip’s miracles as the product of the Spirit’s presence and work.

This ministry of Philip results in the conversion of a number of Samaritans, who were then baptized (vv. 12-13). However, these converts did not themselves receive the Spirit until Peter and other apostles (that is, members of the Twelve) arrived and laid hands on them (vv. 14-17). The relationship of the Spirit to the rite of baptism (and laying on of hands) will be discussed in the next note. The point I wish to highlight here is the supernatural (miraculous) character of the Spirit’s manifestation. The effect of the coming of the Spirit on new believers is to be counted among the “signs and wonders” performed by the early Christians through the power of the Spirit.

The effect, in this case, was such that a certain Simon was fascinated by it (v. 13). Almost certainly, the phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’ was involved (cp. 2:4ff; 10:45). Simon recognized that the power of the Spirit was conveyed through the action of the apostles, and, based on his misguided understanding of the matter, sought to buy this power (vv. 18-19). The exchange with Peter that follows (vv. 20-24) is similar to his earlier encounter with Ananias/Sapphira (5:3-10, cf. the discussion in the previous note). Peter’s condemnation of Simon is similarly harsh: “May your silver be with you unto (your) ruin!” In colloquial English, we would probably say something like “To hell with you and your money!” The principle that Peter states remains pertinent for all believers as a warning:

“…you thought to acquire the gift of God through xrh=ma

The term xrh=ma fundamental refers to “something that can be used” by another person, and which thus can tangibly be sold or acquired through a business or commercial exchange. The power of the Spirit is not like this—it is the gift of God, bestowed upon believers by God Himself. Simon seems to acknowledge his error and responds with repentance (v. 24), quite contrary to the later Christian portrait of him (cf. “Did You Know…?” below).

This power of the Spirit possessed by believers is an extension of the miracle-working power exhibited by Jesus’ disciples went he sent them out on missions during the time of his ministry in Galilee (Mk 3:14-15; 6:7-13a par; Lk 10:1-12). The authority to preach and work (healing) miracles was given to them by Jesus himself, so that they functioned as his representatives (the fundamental meaning of the term apostle, “[one] sent forth”). The role of the Spirit is not mentioned in this regard (in the Gospel tradition), but the author of Luke-Acts certainly would have understood it as obvious and implicit in the tradition. Jesus’ own preaching and miracle-working power was a product of his anointing by the Spirit (at the Baptism)—Lk 3:22; 4:1ff, 14, 18ff. The citation of Isa 61:1-2 follows the LXX, with its mention of the blind recovering their sight, giving to the prophecy a healing miracle aspect that is not present in the original Hebrew. This aspect is given even more emphasis, in connection with ministry of Jesus, in 7:21-22 par.

However, the only direct reference to the presence of the Spirit in the miracles of Jesus is the saying in Lk 11:20 par (a “Q” tradition):

“but if, with (the) finger of God, I cast out the daimons, then (surely) the kingdom of God has (already) arrived upon you.”

The version in Matthew 12:28 is identical, except that it has the expression “Spirit [pneu=ma] of God” instead of “finger [da/ktulo$] of God”. It is unquestionably the same saying, and in this case a facile harmonization, to the effect that Jesus said both “Spirit” and “finger” at the same time, can be ruled out. The best explanation is that Luke has the more original version of the saying, and that the Matthean version is an interpretive adaptation, essentially explaining what the expression “finger of God” means in context—i.e., that it refers to the Spirit of God. Certainly the Lukan author would completely agree with this explanation.

Indeed, the connection with the Spirit is rooted in the wider Synoptic tradition—namely, the Beelzebub episode (Mk 3:22-27 par) where the “Q” tradition is attached (in Matthew and Luke). Connected with this episode is the Synoptic saying regarding the insult (blasfhmi/a) against the Holy Spirit (Mk 3:28-29 par). The overall thrust of the episode is the fact that certain people—identified as religious leaders opposed to Jesus—were claiming that his healing (exorcism) miracles were the result of demonic influence over him. The Markan narrative explicitly connects the Spirit-saying in vv. 28-29 with such false and hostile claims against Jesus (v. 30)—i.e., that his miracle-working power came from “Beelzebul” rather than God’s holy Spirit.

Thus, implicit in the Synoptic tradition is the claim that Jesus’ miracles were due to the presence of Spirit working in him. This same power was given by Jesus to his disciples, and now, more fully, to the early believers in Jerusalem. As in Jesus’ own ministry, the role of the Spirit was present both in the preaching and miracles performed by believers; the miracles, indeed, has as their primary purpose confirmation of the truth of the Gospel.

Like the figure of Judas Iscariot, Simon Magus came to be viewed in a completely negative light in early Christianity—wicked and nefarious, an arch-heretic and ‘founder’ of Gnosticism (Justin First Apology §§26, 56; Irenaeus Against Heresies I.23; Tertullian On the Soul §34; Against All Heresies §1; Eusebius Church History II.13; Epiphanius Panarion 21.1-4, etc). In the Pseudo-Clementine literature, Simon becomes the chief adversary of Peter during his missionary journeys. This entire line of tradition is highly dubious, built upon little more than the details of the Acts narrative. While Simon’s behavior and attitude is clearly immature and misguided, there is no real indication in the text that his conversion and baptism were a sham or otherwise false (as the later tradition would essentially require).

Saturday Series: Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10 par

In the previous two studies, we have looked at examples of the so-called “Triple Tradition” in the Synoptic Gospels. The term refers to narrative episodes, sayings of Jesus, and other traditions, that are found in all three Gospels. This is especially challenging for a critical study of the passages in question. On the one hand, the three Gospels all share the same basic tradition, and yet each has handled the tradition in distinctive ways. Occasionally, there are historical traditions that are preserved in all four New Testament Gospels—in the Gospel of John, as well as the Synoptics. One such tradition is the Miraculous Feeding (of the Five Thousand), surely one of the best known (and loved) of all Jesus’ miracles. This is the narrative episode I wish to discuss this week.

As it happens, there are aspects of this tradition which are especially problematic, from the standpoint of New Testament criticism, and which greatly complicate any critical study. Let us begin by addressing the most difficult question first—the occurrence of two Feeding Miracle episodes in the Synoptics (Mark/Matthew), each of which has a very similar outline, and many similar details as well (see below). The main question is: does this reflect two distinct historical events, or two versions of the same event? Most critical commentators hold to the latter view. Not only are the two episodes so closely alike, but, as we shall see, the account in John contains elements and details found in both Synoptic episodes. This would seem to confirm the critical view. However, at the same time, in the Synoptic narrative, Jesus himself refers to both of the miracles, mentioning distinct details from each. If the critical view is accepted, then the episode in Mk 8:14-21 par would have to be regarded as a kind of literary fiction. On the other hand, if one accepts the authenticity (and essential historicity) of Mk 8:14-21, then this would be proof that the two miracle stories reflect two historical episodes. Traditional-conservative commentators, naturally, are more inclined to accept the text—in this case, the Synoptic tradition (including Mk 8:14-21)—at face value.

Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10

First let us consider the similarities between the two episodes, as they are found in Mark [6:30-44; 8:1-10]:

    • Jesus and his disciples had traveled to a desolate place (6:31-32, 35; 8:4b)
    • A great crowd had followed Jesus there (6:30, 33f; 8:1)
    • Concern for the people, and how they could be fed (6:34-36; 8:2-4) —specifically Jesus is said to have had compassion on them
    • A question from the disciples regarding how food could be found for so many (6:37; 8:4)
    • Jesus asks his disciples “how many loaves do you have?” (6:38a; 8:5)
    • There are on hand only a small number of bread loaves and a few fish (6:38b ; 8:5b, 7a)
    • Jesus directs the people to sit down (6:39; 8:6a)
    • Jesus blesses, breaks and divides the loaves, along with the fish (6:41; 8:6-7)
    • All the people eat and are satisfied (6:42; 8:8a)
    • A number of baskets full of leftovers are gathered [by the disciples] (6:43; 8:8b)
    • The size of the crowd is identified by the (round) number of the men who ate—5000/4000 (6:44; 8:9)
    • Afterwards, Jesus and his disciples are described as getting into a boat, with a specific geographical location indicated, i.e. relative to the lake (6:45; 8:10)

There are also some notable differences:

    • The second episode contains no references to the travels and ministry work of Jesus, as in the first (6:30-34; but compare Matthew 15:29-31)
    • In the first episode, the disciples appear to initiate the concern/effort to feed the people (6:35-36), while in the second this is done by Jesus (8:2-3)
    • In the first episode, Jesus challenges the disciples to give the people something to eat (6:37)
    • The first episode contains detail regarding the people sitting down on the ground in groups (6:39-40)

Clearly, the similarities far outweigh the differences. The two episodes, of course, involve different specific numbers—5 loaves / 12 baskets / 5000 men vs. 7 loaves / 7 baskets / 4000 men—but these are rather minor compared with the overall points of agreement.

How does the Gospel of Mark make use of these two episodes in the context of the narrative? The author was clearly aware of the similarities between them; indeed, this is an important aspect of the symmetry and parallelism of the narrative in 6:14-8:30. I outlined this in a previous note; here it is again:

    • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the declaration by Herod—6:14-16 [inclusion of an associated tradition, 6:17-29]
    • Feeding Miracle (5,000): the disciples/12 baskets—6:30-44
      Miracle on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—6:44-52
      (they did not understand about the miraculous loaves)
    • Healing Miracles6:53-56
    • Conflict/debate with religious authorities over tradition and ritual—7:1-23 including a Parable and explanation by Jesus (vv. 14-16, 17-23)
    • Healing Miracles: 2 episodes—7:24-30, 31-37
    • Feeding Miracle (4,000): the disciples/7 baskets—8:1-10
      Teaching on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—8:11-21
      (they did not understand, re. the miraculous loaves)
    • Healing miracle—8:22-26
    • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the confession by Peter—8:27-30

In my view there is a definite (chiastic) symmetry to this section in Mark. Consider first—the framing episodes (6:14-16; 8:27-30) involving the question of Jesus’ identity, in which the general reaction by people to Jesus is noted (i.e. identifying him as “Elijah” or one of the Prophets). At the same time, Herod and Peter each make a declaration regarding Jesus’ identity:

    • Herod—he is John the Baptist raised from the dead (6:16)
    • Peter—”You are the Anointed One” (8:29)

The second pair of (parallel) episodes are the two Feeding Miracles:

    • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
      Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:30-44)
      Feeding of the Four Thousand (8:1-10)
    • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

The parallelism is reinforced by the inclusion, after the miracle, of an episode where Jesus and his disciples are together on the water (6:44-52; 8:11-21), and reference is made to the bread-loaves of the miraculous feeding (6:52; 8:19ff). The first episode involves a miracle (Jesus’ walking on the water), the second, teaching. A third parallel can be found in the healing miracles of 6:53-56 and 7:24-37:

    • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
      • Feeding of the Five Thousand
        —Healing miracles narrated (6:53-56)
        —Healing miracles: 2 episodes (7:24-37)
      • Feeding of the Four Thousand
    • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

Finally, at the center of the section, we find the debate between Jesus and the religious authorities (Scribes and Pharisees) regarding religious tradition and the interpretation of the Law (7:1-23). This theme carries through the remainder of the section, especially the instruction of Jesus to his disciples in 8:11-21, in which he warns them of “the leaven of the Pharisees [7:1ff] and Herod [6:14-16ff]” (v. 15). It is part of the reaction to Jesus’ ministry that is illustrated in this section. While the people may react to Jesus at one level—viewing him as a miracle working prophet like Elijah (note the allusions in the feeding miracle[s] to 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Kings 4:42-44), or otherwise—his true disciples ultimately will recognize him as “the Anointed One” (and Son of God).

Thus we can see that the two Feeding Miracle episodes play a pivotal role in the Markan narrative, and are important in demonstrating Jesus’ identity—the primary theme of 6:14-8:30. Now let us examine how these traditions were utilized in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39

Matthew follows the Markan narrative in recording both Miraculous Feeding episodes (of the 5,000 and 4,000). Indeed, Matt 14:1-16:20 appears to follow the entire outline of Mk 6:14-8:30 fairly closely. The main differences are:

    • An expanded version of the walking on water episode (cf. 14:28-33)
    • The sayings of Jesus in 15:13-14 and 16:2-3
    • An expanded version of Peter’s confession (with Jesus’ response) in 16:16b-19

The structure of Mk 6:14-8:30, with its rather careful symmetry (see above), I would attribute, on the whole, to the author of the Gospel (trad. Mark), rather than to an earlier stage in the Gospel Tradition. If so, then the presence of the same outline in Matthew would provide strong confirmation, at this point, of the critical hypothesis that Matthew made use of Mark’s Gospel. The author (trad. Matthew) has certainly included episodes corresponding to Mark 6:30-44ff and 8:1-10ff (Matt 14:13-21ff; 15:32-39ff), at more or less the same positions in the narrative. Notably, the basic information from Mk 8:11-21 is repeated in 16:5-12—i.e., Jesus’ own reference to both of the Feeding Miracles.

The differences between Matthew and Mark in the two Miraculous Feeding episodes are relatively slight, the most significant being:

Miracle #1 (14:13-21)

    • A simplified narrative introduction (vv. 13-14; compare with Mk 6:30-34), giving the basic information:
      —That Jesus departed to a “desolate” place, and crowds followed him there (v. 13)
      —and Jesus’ reaction to seeing the people, with the specific detail that he healed the sick among them (v. 14, cf. also Lk 9:11)
    • Matthew’s introduction (v. 13a) also makes a smoother transition with the Baptist episode immediately prior; Mark, by contrast, refers back to the mission of the Twelve.
    • The beginning of the narrative proper (vv. 15-16) is also simpler than in Mark. The author omits, or otherwise does not include, the disciples’ question (Mk 6:37) and Jesus’ question to them in response (6:38a, “How many loaves…?”); however, he also adds the words of Jesus in v. 16a: “They have no business going [i.e. there is no need for them to go] away…”.
    • There is no reference to the crowd sitting down in groups (Mk 6:39-40).
    • Verses 19-21 are very close to Mk, with a small addition in v. 21b.

Overall, Matthew’s narrative is simpler and smoother, with some of the dramatic and local detail of Mark’s account absent.

Miracle #2 (15:32-39)

    • Matthew’s version is framed by specific geographical references, in relation to the sea of Galilee (vv. 29, 39; cp. Mark 7:31).
    • We also have the detail of Jesus going up into the hill(s)/mountain (v. 29b)
    • The references to healing miracles (vv. 30-31) have been integrated more closely into the narrative of the miraculous feeding (cp. Mk 7:32-37).
    • The basic narrative of vv. 32-38 is quite close to Mk 8:1-9, with minor differences in wording.
    • There is a small difference in the geographical location at the close of the episode (v. 39; Mk 8:10).

Again, Matthew’s narrative is a bit simpler and more streamlined, by comparison with Mark. In both miracle episodes, the author adapts the tradition to set it more clearly within the context of Jesus’ ministry—especially the healing miracles of Jesus (cf. 14:13-14; 15:29-31). The second half of the Galilean Period in Matthew covers 10:1-16:20, and has a clearly defined theme of the disciples’ participation in Jesus’ ministry, along with the theme of discipleship. Matthew includes much more traditional material between the mission of the Twelve (10:1-5ff) and the confession of Peter (16:13-20) than do the other Gospels. The author retains the Synoptic (Markan) structure in 14:1-16:20, including the two Feeding Miracles, but sets them within a more developed and expansive narrative outline.

Luke 9:10-17

If Matthew appears to have used the Gospel of Mark at this point (see above), it is less clear in the case of Luke. The main reason is that the author has omitted (or has otherwise not included) the material corresponding to Mark 6:53-8:26, including the second Feeding Miracle (Mk 8:1-10). As a consequence, there is no way of knowing whether he knew of the second episode, and/or what he thought of it. If Luke made use of Mark’s Gospel, then he intentionally omitted that entire section; however, we must also consider the possibility that he inherited a Synoptic narrative that was simpler/shorter than Mark. Insofar as Luke records the Miraculous Feeding tradition, he follows a version that more or less corresponds to the first miracle in Mark (and Matthew). The following points of comparison may be noted:

    • Luke retains the Markan connection with the mission of the Twelve (v. 10; Mk 6:30); the importance of this will be indicated below.
    • Luke uniquely records the geographical reference which locates the miracle in the area around Bethsaida (compare Mark 6:45).
    • Like Matthew (see above), Luke has a simpler narrative introduction (vv. 10-11) than does Mark. Verse 11 would seem to be simplified version of Mk 6:33.
    • As in Matthew, there is incorporated into the narrative a summary reference to Jesus healing the sick in the crowd (v. 11b; Matt 14:14).
    • Luke adds the specific detail that Jesus spoke to the people “about the Kingdom of God” (v. 11); this definitely would seem to be an (editorial) addition by the author (on this theme, and wording, cf. Acts 1:3, also Lk 4:43; 8:1; 9:2; 17:20; 19:11).
    • Verses 12-17 generally follows Mk 6:35-44, but with simpler narration; with Matthew, the two questions in Mk 6:37-38 are omitted. There are a number of other (minor) agreements in wording between Matthew and Luke (cf. vv. 11-14, 17 par).
    • Luke has set the mention of the crowd’s estimated size earlier in the narrative (v. 14); instead, his version of the episode closes with the gathering of the twelve baskets of leftovers (v. 17).

The ‘omission’ of the Synoptic traditions in Mk 6:53-8:26 means that the Lukan account of this portion of the Galilean Period looks very different than it does in Mark or Matthew. Consider that the section from the mission of the Twelve, through to the confession of Peter, takes up just twenty verses in Luke (9:1-20). By comparison, the same relative division of the narrative in Matthew covers nearly seven chapters (10:1-16:20). The outline for this portion of Luke is amazingly simple:

    • Jesus with his disciples—the Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
      The reaction to Jesus: the question of Herod (9:7-9)
      • The Twelve return to Jesus, telling him of their mission work (9:10)
        —The Feeding Miracle (9:10-17)
      • The Twelve baskets gathered up (by the Twelve) (9:17)
    • Jesus with his disciples—praying together (with the Twelve) (9:18ff)
      The reaction to Jesus: the confession of Peter (9:18b-20)

The central section in bold represents the Feeding Miracle. Luke’s streamlined account, more than the other Gospels, uses the Feeding Miracle here to represent and summarize the ministry of Jesus. The connection with Jesus’ disciples (the Twelve) is more prominent as well. This is almost certainly the reason why mention of the estimated size of the crowd was moved back to verse 14—so that the feeding miracle would conclude with a reference to the twelve baskets gathered by the disciples (i.e. symbolic of the Twelve). Indeed, the Greek of verse 17 specifically ends with the word dœ¡deka (“twelve”).

Having compared the versions of the Synoptic tradition(s), it now remains to turn to the account of the Feeding Miracle in the Gospel of John. In so doing, we will return to the critical question (i.e. originally one or two miracles?), as well as examine the unique way that the tradition has been adapted in the Fourth Gospel, through its connection with the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. This will be the topic of next week’s study.

June 4: Mark 3:28-29; Matt 12:31-32; Luke 12:10

Mark 3:28-29; Matt 12:31-32; Luke 12:10

These June notes continue those of the earlier series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, examining how the Old Testament concepts and traditions were developed by early Christians in the New Testament. When we turn to consider what Jesus said about the Spirit during his ministry, the evidence is surprisingly slight, especially within the Synoptic tradition. Indeed, there are just three instances in the Gospel of Mark:

    • The saying on the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (3:28-29)
    • A notice within the Messianic question/debate of 12:35-37 (v. 36)
    • A saying on the coming persecution of his disciples during the time of distress, part of the Eschatological Discourse of chap. 13—13:9-13 (v. 11)

The second of these simply affirms the Spirit-inspired character of the Prophetic Scriptures (which includes the Psalms, and David as a prophet). In the post-exilic period, there came to be an increasing emphasis on the role of God’s Spirit in both the composition of the Scriptures and their interpretation—cf. the earlier note on Neh 9:20, 30, etc, and the article on the Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This emphasis is less prominent among early Christians than it was, for example, in the Qumran Community, but it is still present in the New Testament—a point to be discussed in the upcoming notes.

The references to the Spirit in Mk 3:29 and 13:11 are more substantial and distinctly Christian in character. The situation, however, is complicated by the fact that, for each of these sayings, there appear to be two distinct forms—one Markan (i.e. occurring in Mark), and the other part of the so-called “Q” material (found in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark). Let us begin with the saying in Mark 3:28-29, which has both Markan and “Q” forms. In such instances, there is a question of whether we are dealing with two distinct historical traditions, or variant forms a single historical tradition. Traditional-conservative commentators tend to opt for the former, while critical commentators typically assume the latter. The situation is further complicated by additional differences between versions of the Markan and “Q” sayings, the possibility of variation as a result of translation from an Aramaic original, and other factors.

Matthew contains both the Markan and “Q” forms, joined together at 12:31-32, while Luke has only the “Q” saying (12:10). Let us compare the Markan saying as it is found in Mk 3:28-29 and Matt 12:31, respectively:

“Amen, I relate to you that all (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and the insults, as many (thing)s as they may give insult—but whoever would give insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not hold release [i.e. forgiveness] into the Age, but is holding on (himself) a sin of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal sin].” (Mk 3:28-29)
“Through this I relate to you (that) all (kind)s of sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but an insult of [i.e. against] the Spirit will not be released.” (Matt 12:31)

Matthew clearly has a simpler version, but this may be a result of the combination with the second (“Q”) form/saying in 12:32. The point of the contrast is that all sins and insults will be forgiven, except for an insult directed against the Spirit of God (Mk uses the expression “holy Spirit”). The term “insult” (blasfhmi/a, vb blasfhme/w) is often used in a religious sense—i.e., something which is an insult or offense to God (thus our English word “blasphemy”). Jesus is speaking of a person insulting God’s Spirit directly. The Markan context for this saying (with the explanation in verse 30) is likely original. Certain religious leaders were attributing Jesus’ power over the evil spirits (or daimons, “demons”) to a certain kind of special demonic power (holding [i.e. possessing] Baal-zebul, the “prince of daimons”). Since Jesus’ ministry, including his healing miracles, was actually empowered and specially inspired by the Spirit of God (cf. the previous note), to claim that it was the result of demonic power was a direct insult to God’s own Spirit.

The Spirit-inspired character of Jesus’ healing miracles is implied throughout the Gospel narratives, but it is given specific expression in at least one saying, found in Matthew and Luke (i.e. “Q” material), with a slight but significant variation. In Matthew, it is part of the same narrative block as 12:31-32, dealing with the same dispute over the origins of Jesus’ miracle-working power. In verse 28, he states most dramatically:

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the Spirit of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

In Luke 11:20, this saying reads:

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

Almost certainly, Luke has the more original form, using the expression “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God”. However, the point is the same: it refers to the Divine source of Jesus’ power to work miracles over the spirits of disease, etc (cf. Exod 8:19). The Matthean form is likely a gloss to make this point clear. The connection of this manifestation of God’s Spirit with the coming of His Kingdom suggests a continuation of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the restoration of Israel and the New Age for God’s people (cf. the recent notes on the key passages from Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and [Deutero-]Isaiah).

What of the “Q” form of the ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’ saying? Here are the Matthean and Lukan versions:

“And whoever would speak a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but whoever would speak against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him—not in this Age, and not in the coming Age.” (Matt 12:32)
“And every (one) who shall utter a word unto [i.e. against] the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but for the (one) giving insult unto the holy Spirit, it will not be released.” (Luke 12:10)

Luke’s version occurs in an entirely different context, a clear indication that the saying was preserved separately, and it was the Matthean Gospel writer who included it as part of the ‘Beelzebul Controversy’ pericope, alongside the parallel (Markan) saying of 12:31. The fact that the Markan saying has the expression “sons of men”, and the “Q” saying “Son of Man”, can hardly be coincidental. It raises the possibility that an original (Aramaic) saying of Jesus came to be understood two different ways, as it was preserved and translated (into Greek), where the meaning of the underlying Semitic idiom “son of man” would have been lost, in favor of its familiar use as a title by Jesus (for more, cf. my earlier note on this saying).

In any event, in the “Q” saying, “Son of Man” clearly is a self-reference by Jesus. Such use by Jesus in the Gospels is complex and requires a separate detailed study (cf. my earlier series on the “Son of Man Sayings of Jesus”). It occurs extensively throughout the Synoptic tradition, with several different categories of “Son of Man” sayings. Most frequently, it is a self-reference, whereby Jesus especially identifies himself with the suffering of the human condition. Remember that Matt 12:32 occurs in the context of Jesus’ public ministry, in which he worked to heal people of their suffering and affliction from illness and disease, which, according to the ancient understanding, were caused by evil/harmful spirits. This was an important part of his work as “Son of Man”, especially during the Galilean period of his ministry (in the Synoptic narrative).

The point Jesus is making in the “Q” saying is: to slander his miracle-working power is to insult (directly) the Spirit of God. It is one thing to speak against him personally, as he ministers among the people, but quite another to insult the source of his miracle working power, which is God’s own holy Spirit.

There is yet another version of this saying, preserved in the “Gospel of Thomas” (saying §44), which clearly represents a still later development (and a more Christianized version). It appears to be a superficial expansion of the “Q” saying, given in a trinitarian form:

“Whoever blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the Son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either on earth or in heaven.”

This version grossly distorts the sense and thrust of the original saying, as though a direct insult against God the Father (or against Jesus as the Son of God) will be forgiven. Neither the Markan nor “Q” sayings suggest anything of the sort; in any case, taken thus out of context, the saying is far removed from the point Jesus himself was making at the time. As a miracle working Anointed Prophet—God’s own representative (ayb!n`), who was also His Son—Jesus was specially empowered by the holy Spirit of God. To slander or insult that power is to insult God Himself. This reflects a development of the Prophetic tradition(s) regarding the Spirit, focused uniquely on the inspired person of Jesus himself, as Messiah, Prophet, and Son of God.

 

June 18: Mark 6:30ff; 8:1ff par

This is the last of short series of notes on the miraculous feeding narratives (of the 5000/4000) in the Gospels. In the prior notes, I have discussed a number of critical questions related to these narratives, along with a comparative study of the passages. Today, in the concluding note, I will look at Eucharistic elements in the narrative; this brings us back to notes I posted earlier in the week, following the (traditional) commemoration of Corpus Christi (the “body of Christ” in the Eucharist) this past Sunday. This entailed a study on the expression “breaking (of) bread” as a kind of shorthand reference to the Lord’s Supper in the early Church; in an examination of the relevant passages, I left unaddressed the miraculous feeding narratives, to which I now turn for today’s note.

Let us begin with Mark’s account (Mk 6:30-44); the key verse is v. 41:

“And taking [labw\n] the five bread-loaves and the two fish (and) looking up into the heaven, he gave a good account (of) [i.e. blessed eu)lo/ghsen] (it) and broke down [kate/klasen] the bread-loaves and gave [e)di/dou] (them) to [his] learners [i.e. disciples] to set alongside them [i.e. the people], and the fish he divided (among) them all”

Matthew’s account (Matt 14:13-21, v. 19) is simpler, but shows only minor differences, most notably perhaps the use of kla/w (“break”) instead of the compound verb katakla/w (“break down”). Luke’s version (Lk 9:10-17) of this verse (v. 16) is almost identical with Mark.

On the surface, there might not seem to be much relation to the Eucharist here; after all, there is no mention of a cup, nothing to suggest symbolism of Jesus’ body (or blood), plus the mention of fish—is there actually a connection to the Lord’s supper? The answer is yes, and there are several reasons for this, which I will discuss in turn.

1. The Greek verbs used

Look at the Greek verbs indicated in square brackets in Mk 6:41 above, and you will see that, with just one slight variation, they are the same verbs (and in the same sequence) used to describe Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper (Mark 14:22 par):

And in their eating, taking [labw\n] bread (and) blessing [eu)logh/sa$] he broke [e&klasen] (it) and gave [e&dwken] (it) to them and said, “Take (it)—this is my body”

The only difference is that there, instead of the verb katakla/w (kataklᜠ“break down”), the simple verb kla/w (klᜠ“break”) is used, as in Matthew’s account of the feeding of the five thousand (cf. above). As I pointed out in a previous note, the same sequence of four verbs also is used in the Emmaus scene, when the disciples finally recognize the presence of Jesus in their midst:

Lk 24:30: And it came to be, in his bending down [i.e. reclining] with them, taking [labw/n] the bread he blessed [eu)lo/ghsen] and, breaking [kla/sa$] (it), he gave [e)pedi/dou] (it) to them…

2. Textual evidence from the Feeding of the Four Thousand

In some ways, the wording in the Markan account of the feeding of the Four thousand (Mk 8:1-9,  v. 6) is even closer to that of Jesus’ acts of institution at the Last Supper:

And taking [labw\n] the seven bread-loaves (and) giving (thanks to God for his) good favor [eu)xaristh/sa$], he broke [e)kla/sen] (them) and gave [e)di/dou] (them) to [his] learners [i.e. disciples] to set alongside (the people)…

The parallel version in Matthew (Matt 15:32-39, v. 36) differs little. Interestingly, in Mark 8:7, in Jesus’ handling of the fish, there is a textual variant—some manuscripts read eu)xariste/w, others read eu)loge/w. The verb eu)xariste/w (eucharistéœ, “give/grant good favor, give thanks, be thankful/grateful”) also appears in Jesus’ acts of institution as recorded by Luke (Lk 22:17, 19) and Paul (1 Cor 11:24); it is also used in John’s account of miraculous feeding (Jn 6:11).

3. The Context in the Gospel of John

If we compare the wording in Jn 6:11

Therefore Yeshua took [e&laben] the bread-loaves and giving (thanks to God for his) good favor [eu)xaristh/sa$], he gave (them) throughout [die/dwken] to the ones (having) lain back [i.e. lain/sat down]…

it is noteworthy that we do not find nearly so close a parallel to Jesus actions at the Last Supper. Noticeably missing is any mention of breaking the bread (though “broken pieces” [kla/smata] are mentioned in v. 12). This may well be an indication that John has inherited an early form of the tradition which was not yet shaped to fit the eucharistic imagery to the same extent (as we see it preserved in the Synoptics). However, the Johannine form of the narrative would have a considerable influence on Eucharistic formulae and imagery in the early Church, as we shall see below.

The miraculous feeding episode in John serves as the basic setting for the great “Bread of Life” discourse which follows in Jn 6:22-59, a discourse in which most commentators find at least some reference to the Eucharist (especially in vv. 53-58). I must admit that I am not as inclined to see references to the concrete (material) sacrament in these verses as many commentators do—especially if we are to regard these in any meaningful way as authentic words of Jesus. I see the Eucharistic imagery here as of a more general type, referring primarily to the work of the Spirit as conveying the real [but spiritual] presence of Christ and eternal life to the believer (much as the apparent references to baptism in Jn 3)—foreshadowing, perhaps, the true and proper meaning of the sacrament. However, that there is Eucharistic imagery, especially in vv. 53-58, I do not deny; I have discussed this in several prior posts, including an earlier Saturday Series study.

4. Early Christian tradition

Here I will limit discussion to several points and one or two references which show that early Christians understood a definite Eucharistic aspect or element to the miraculous feeding episode.

a. The Johannine context. As mentioned above, the miraculous feeding is followed by the Bread of Life discourse, which has certain eucharistic elements. While the extent to which the eucharistic aspect applies to the meaning and intent of Jesus’ original words may be debated, there can be no doubt that Christians early on made the association. The Gospel of John is best dated somewhere between 70-90, and may include a late (c. 90-95) redaction.

b. As discussed in an earlier note, the “breaking (of) bread” appears to have served as a kind of shorthand reference to the Eucharist. In virtually every instance in the New Testament where the breaking of bread is mentioned, there appears to be some connection to the Lord’s Supper. By way of “catch-word (or catch-image) bonding”, any occurrence of breaking bread in the narrative would likely have been associated with the Eucharist from a very early time on.

c. The use of the verb eu)xariste/w in John’s account (as in the Synoptic feeding of the four thousand) may have helped to increase the use of the verb in association with the Eucharist (a word which, of course, derives from a transliteration of the related noun eu)xaristi/a [eucharistía]).

d. There are a number of parallels between John’s account of the miraculous feeding and references to the Eucharist in the so-called Didache (or “Teaching” [of the Twelve Apostles]).

    • The Bread is simply called kla/sma (plur. kla/smata), “broken (piece[s])” in Didache 9:3-4 as in the feeding miracle (cf. Jn 6:12)
    • Note especially the prayer in Did 9:4:

“As this broken (bread) was scattered throughout up above (on) the mountains and was brought together (and) became one, thus may your called-out (people) [i.e. church/ekklesia] be brought together from the ends/limits of the earth into your Kingdom…”

With the following details:

    • The bread scattered on the mountains (only in John’s account [v. 3] is a mountain setting mentioned).
    • The verb translated “brought together” (suna/gw) is the same used in Jn 6:12-13 for the gathering up of the fragments (kla/smata). The same verb is also used in a Eucharistic setting in Did 14:1. The image of the (twelve) disciples gathering up the twelve baskets of fragments “so that nothing might be lost” [Jn 6:12b] was a suitable symbol of Church Unity, as the Didache clearly indicates.
    • The mention of the Kingdom (of God/Christ); perhaps coincidentally, John’s account is the only one which makes any reference to a king (v. 14f).
    • Note the three relevant details in succession in Didache 14:1:

“having been brought together [sunaxqe/nte$], break bread [kla/sate a&rton] and give (thanks to God for his) good favor [eu)xaristh/satei.e. technically ‘celebrate the thanksgiving/eucharist]

Despite the name ascribed to the writing, the Didache is almost certainly not a product of the Apostles. It is typically dated sometime between 125-150 A.D., but may possibly preserve earlier tradition. It is a “church manual” of sorts, and provides at least a partial glimpse of what early Christianity may have been like in the first half of the second century (a generation or two after the later writings of the New Testament).

June 17: John 6:1-15

In the previous day’s note, I offered a comparison of the miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic Gospels, including a comparison of the similarities between the feedings of the 5000 and the 4000 in Mark/Matthew—similarities which serve as a reasonably strong argument in favor of the critical view that the two narrative episodes are based on a single historical tradition (or event). I also mentioned at least one good argument (on objective grounds, apart from any particular view of inspiration/inerrancy) in favor of the traditional-conservative view that these really do represent a record of separate events. This will be discussed in the second half of today’s note; however, to begin with, let me offer a comparison of the miraculous feeding narrative in John vs. the Synoptics. The corresponding passage in the fourth Gospel is found in Jn 6:1-15. The narrative setting of this episode in John is, of course, quite different:

    • Jesus has previously been in Jerusalem (Jn 5:1ff), and is now in Galilee (6:1); this abrupt shift would seem to indicate that we are dealing with the inclusion of traditional material, and no real attempt has been made by the author to smooth over the seam.
    • The occasion of Passover is mentioned (v. 4), which is almost certainly an insertion by the author to connect the miracle explicitly with the setting of the “Bread of Life” discourse which follows in 6:22-59.
    • Note how the author includes the episode of Jesus’ walking on the water (6:16-20) right after the miraculous feeding, just as in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew), even though it doesn’t seem entirely to fit the narrative context in John (note the rather awkward transitional description in vv. 22-23). I take this as an indication that the two episodes were already coupled together at a very early point in the Gospel tradition.
    • There is, certainly, nothing at all like the Bread of Life discourse following the feeding miracle in the Synoptic Gospels—it appears to be a tradition unique to John.

Special details in common between John’s account and the Synoptic feeding of the 5000:

    • Reference to Jesus’ healing the sick (v. 2) [cf. Matt 14:14; Luke 9:11]
    • Specific mention by the disciples of the cost of (at least) 200 denarii to feed so many people (v. 7; Mk 6:37)
    • The number of loaves (5) (v. 9)
    • The specific (round) number of men in the crowd (5000) (v. 10)
    • The mention of grass (v. 10; Mark 6:39, par Matt)
    • There are twelve baskets [kofino$] of fragments left over (v. 13)

Details in common between John’s account (of the 5000) and the Synoptic (Matthew-Mark) feeding of the 4000:

    • The specific location along/across the Sea of Galilee (v. 1) [cf. Matt 15:29]
    • Jesus going up onto a mountain (v. 3) [cf. in Matt 15:29, but note also mountain theme in Mk 6:46 par. Matt).
    • Jesus takes the initiative regarding the crowd (v. 5) [cf. Mark 8:2-3 par]—however this is more of an original/distinctive element of John’s narrative
    • Philip’s response to Jesus question (v. 7) shows a partial similarity to Matt 15:33 (but also Mk 6:37, see above)
    • The verb “sit/fall back” [a)napi/ptw] is used (v. 10) instead of “lay back/down” [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw]; also, there is no mention of the crowd sitting down in groups of fifty, etc.
    • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (v. 11) as in Matt  15:36 and MSS of Mk 8:7, instead of “bless” [eu)loge/w]

The number of details in common with the feeding of the 4000 is striking—another indication, perhaps, that the two narrative episodes (of the 5000 & 4000) stem from a single historical tradition. It is also worth pointing out some details which are unique to John’s account:

    • The Passover setting (v. 4), though the mention of “green grass” (Mk 6:39) might generally indicate springtime.
    • Jesus specific question about buying food for the crowd (v. 5), described as intended to test the disciples (Philip) (v. 6)
    • The mention of specific disciples Philip (v. 5-7) and Andrew (v. 8).
    • The boy with the loaves and fish (v. 9)
    • The loaves specified as “barley” [kriqino$] and the fish as “dried-fish” [o)yarion, instead of i)xqu$/i)xqudion]
    • Jesus’ command to his disciples to gather up the fragments (v. 12), along with the use of suna/gw (“bring together”) instead of ai&rw (“lift/take [up/away]”)
    • The reaction of the people to the miracle in vv. 14-15.

The significant number of details unique to John would seem to be incontrovertible evidence that John has not derived his account from any of the Synoptics, but has inherited an early Gospel tradition, some version of which is shared by the Synoptics as well. For a convenient chart comparing all of the miraculous feeding narratives in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible vol. 29: 1966), pp. 240-243.

What, then, of the traditional-conservative view which would regard the miraculous feedings of the 5000 and 4000 as authentic separate historical events? As I mentioned above, there is one main piece of objective evidence in its favor: namely, the tradition recorded in Mark 8:14-21 (par Matthew 16:5-12). Actually, according to standard methods of analysis for the Gospels, one should distinguish three elements in this passage, which follow a relatively common pattern:

    • Narrative setting (v. 14)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 15)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 17-21), following the question/misunderstanding of the disciples (v. 16)

The saying of Jesus about the “leaven of the Pharisees” is found in all three Synoptics—it is part of the parallel sequence in Matt 16:5-12 (v. 6), perhaps inherited from Mark, and is also found in Luke 12:1 but there in a very different context. It is Jesus’ exposition in Mk 8:17-21 which is of particular interest here, for he refers to both feeding miracles (in some detail!) If one is to regard vv. 17-21 as being in any way an authentic dialogue, then one is also forced to admit that the two miraculous feeding narratives both reflect historical events. This creates something of a dilemma for critical commentators—for if, on the other hand, the two feeding miracles are versions of a single event, then the entire dialogue of vv. 17-21 must effectively be regarded as an early Christian creation. Indeed, many critical scholars, I am sure, are inclined to accept the authenticity of the saying in v. 15 much more so than the expository dialogue in vv. 17-21.

It is interesting that there also appears to be literary significance to the parallel presentation of the two miraculous feedings, at least in the Gospel of Mark; note the following structure:

    • Feeding miracle (of the 5000)—Mk 6:30-44
      • Episode in a boat at sea (miracle of Jesus)—vv. 45-51
        • Statement about the loaves; disciples’ lack of understanding—v. 52
    • Feeding miracle (of the 4000)—Mk 8:1-10
      • Episode in a boat at sea (saying of Jesus)—vv. 14-15ff
        • Discussion of the loaves; disciples’ lack of understanding—vv. 16-21

While not constructed as carefully as similar arrangements of narrative episodes in, say, the Gospels of Luke or John, the parallelism is clear enough. There are then, other concerns besides historical accuracy/reliability that make it important to maintain a distinction between the two miraculous feeding narratives in the Synoptic tradition.

June 16: Mark 6:30-44 par, continued

In the previous day’s note I introduced some of the critical issues (source- and historical-critical) surrounding the miraculous feeding of the multitude (5000 & 4000) narratives in the Gospels. To demonstrate several points more clearly, today I will present a modest comparative study of the passages. To begin with, it is worth noting just how close are the three Synoptic accounts of the feeding of the Five thousand. The passages to compare are: Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14:13-21, and Luke 9:10-17. The introductory/transition portion of the narrative (Mk 6:30-34; Matt 14:13-14; Lk 9:10-11) shows much greater variance:

    • Occasion/setting: the return of the Twelve from their mission (Mark/Luke) vs. Jesus hearing about the fate of John (Matthew)
    • The extended narrative in Mark (vv. 31-34) including additional dialogue and a longer mention of Jesus’ compassion for the crowd
    • Matthew and Luke do not have the narrative portion of Mark 6:31-34, presenting a simpler narrative setting—Matthew/Luke agree (against Mark) in mentioning Jesus’ healing the sick in the crowd

There are other minor differences as well, such as Luke specifying the location as Bethsaida (Lk 9:10) and the mention of Jesus speaking about the kingdom of God (v. 11). The common elements are: (a) Jesus withdrawing (to a secluded place) with his disciples, (b) the crowd following him, (c) an expression of Jesus’ care/compassion for the crowd. Here is a comparison of the core narrative which follows (using the NASU translation), with significant differences (additions, modification or reordering of material) italicized (note also the simpler descriptions in Matthew/Luke compared with Mark):

Mark 6:35-44

35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But He answered them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” 38 And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.

Matthew 14:15-21

15 When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” 17 They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” 18 And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 19 Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, 20 and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21 There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

Luke 9:12-17

12 Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place.” 13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 (For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each.” 15 They did so, and had them all sit down. 16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full.

Let us now turn to the two accounts of the miraculous feeding of the Four thousand, in Mark 8:1-9 and Matthew 15:32-39. Luke does not record this separate feeding episode, which may not be all that significant since here in the narrative he has nothing corresponding to the entire section of Mark 6:45-8:26. As in the case of the feeding of the Five thousand, Matthew’s version is simpler than Mark’s, but, apart from slight differences in wording and arrangement, is otherwise extremely close. In many ways, the feeding of the 4000 gives the impression (according to the critical view) of being closer to the earliest historical tradition of the feeding miracle—it is a more streamlined narrative, with fewer signs of editing. The historical critical question, of course, is very much in dispute (for traditional-conservative commentators at least); but consider just how close the two narrative episodes actually are—in each we have:

    • A large crowd has followed Jesus, and is now in a deserted/distant place with no opportunity to obtain food
    • Jesus has compassion on the crowd
    • Mention of sending the crowd away
    • Question of the disciples about trying to feed such a large number of people
    • Jesus asks what food they have—just a small number of bread loaves and fish
    • Jesus instructs the crowd to sit down
    • Jesus blesses/gives-thanks and gives the food to the disciples to distribute to the crowd
    • All in the crowd eat and are satisfied
    • Baskets full of fragments remain and are gathered up
    • The (round) number of men in the crowd is stated (5000/4000)

There are, of course, notable differences—both substantive and in detail—but the similarities are striking; it is a fairly strong argument in favor of the critical view that we are dealing with two versions of the same underlying historical tradition. That two separate events would have occurred—and been narrated—in such a similar fashion seems rather unlikely. As critical commentators are fond of mentioning, there is also the historical implausibility of the disciples, having recently witnessed the first dramatic feeding miracle, having the same doubts again about being able to feed such a large crowd (but cf. the notice in Mark 6:52). The main differences between the two narrative episodes can be summarized:

Feeding the 5000

  • It is stated that Jesus had compassion on the crowd
  • The disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away (to find food)
  • Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd something to eat
  • The disciples tell Jesus what food they have (response to Jesus inquiry in Mk)
  • Five loaves, and two fish
  • Jesus commands the crowd to lay-back/recline [a)nakli/nw/katakli/nw] in groups
  • Jesus “blesses” [eu)loge/w] the food
  • Twelve baskets [ko/fino$] of fragments left over

Feeding the 4000

  • Jesus states that he has compassion for the crowd
  • Jesus says he is unwilling to send them away (to find food)
  • The disciples question how they can feed such a large crowd
  • Jesus asks the disciples what food they have (as in Mk’s version of feeding the 5000)
  • Seven loaves, a few (small) fish
  • Jesus has the crowd sit down [a)napi/ptw] (no mention of groups)
  • Jesus “gives thanks” [eu)xariste/w] (in Matt; “bless” [eu)loge/w] in Mk some MSS)
  • Seven woven-baskets [spuri/$] of fragments left over

To a large extent, these differences are variations in vocabulary and specific detail, of the sort that might naturally occur during the development and transmission of ancient tradition. If the critical view holds, then, at some point early on, two versions of the story (with differing details and vocabulary) crystalized, developing to become distinct enough to be preserved as separate narratives in the Synoptic tradition. In fairness I think it can be said that, without the need to safeguard a particular view of the inspiration (and/or inerrancy) of Scripture—that is, if such a narrative ‘doublet’ occurred in any other ancient writing—there would be little question that a single historical tradition underlay both narratives. However, there is at least one strong argument (on objective grounds) in favor of the traditional-conservative view, and this will be discussed in the next day’s note—along with a comparison of the miraculous feeding narratives in John and the Synoptics.

June 15: Mark 6:30-44 par

In yesterday’s note, partly in commemoration of the traditional feast of Corpus Christi (first Sunday after Trinity), I examined the New Testament expression of “breaking (of) bread” (as in Acts 2:42, 46; Luke 24:35, etc) in relation to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) in the early Church. There is one other major passage where this image occurs—the miraculous feeding of the multitude by Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. The tradition surrounding this miracle is unique in that: (a) it is one of the only episodes recorded in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John); (b) it is one of the only instances where something like the same narrative occurs twice in the same Gospel (Matthew/Mark). For this reason (among others), it proves to be an interesting ‘test case’ in terms of how early Gospel traditions may have developed, as well as being illustrative of the key differences between traditional-conservative and critical viewpoints in this regard. You will also find this episode discussed in detail as part of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

I will divide the discussion into three main sections, each of which will be treated in a daily note:

    • Survey of the passages, with a brief study of the source-critical and historical-critical questions
    • A more detailed comparative study of the narratives
    • An examination of the Eucharistic elements of the traditional narrative—their possible origins and influence in the early Church

Today’s note will is devoted to the first of these—namely, a survey of the passages, study of key source-critical and historical-critical questions. To begin with, a miraculous feeding of five thousand men (plus women and children) is narrated in Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15. As will be seen, all four narratives are quite close, both in outline and much detail as well; typically the the three Synoptic accounts are extremely close, while there are more substantial differences between the Synoptics and John. This brings up two separate, but related, source-critical questions:

    1. What is the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels?
    2. What is the relationship between the Synoptics and John?

The first question is usually addressed in the wider context of the so-called “Synoptic Problem”—how to explain the substantial agreement (including wording, order, other detail) between two and/or all three Synoptic Gospels. Today, there is a rough consensus among many (if not most) critical scholars that corresponds with the so-called “Two-Document” and “Markan priority” hypotheses, according to which:

    • Mark was written first, and both Matthew and Luke made (extensive) use of Mark, including the overall narrative plan and arrangement.
    • Matthew and Luke also made use of a second major (written) source, primarily consisting of blocks of Jesus’ sayings and teachings—this is the so-called “Q” source. Usually this is assumed to be a distinct written document, but it is perhaps safer to refer to it more generally as a collection of shared tradition(s).
    • Matthew and Luke also each made use of other sources—collections of tradition, whether written or oral—not found in the other Gospels, and often labeled “M” and “L” respectively.

While not without difficulties, this does, I believe, represent a reasonably sound working hypothesis. At the very least, if Matthew and Luke did not make use of Mark, then they must have made use of an early Gospel framework very similar in both content and arrangement. In particular, the position of the feeding miracle within the overall Gospel framework is similar between the Synoptics. Assuming, for the moment, the “Markan priority” hypothesis, here is the position of the episode in Mark:

1. Mk 6:1-6: The rejection of Jesus at Nazareth (saying in v. 4)
2. Mk 6:7-13: Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve (saying/commission in vv. 10-11)
3. Mk 6:14-29: Herod and the death of John the Baptist
4. Mk 6:30-44: The feeding of the Five thousand
5. Mk 6:45-52: Episode at sea—Jesus walking on water (reference to the feeding miracle in v. 52)
6. Mk 6:53-56: Summary references to healing miracles by Jesus
7. Mk 7:1-23: Sayings of Jesus in context of disputes with Pharisees and Scribes (at least two blocks of sayings, vv. 6-13 and 14b-23)
8. Mk 7:24-37: Two healing miracles

If we compare the position in the Gospel of Matthew, it is nearly identical; the only structural difference is that Jesus’ commission and sending out the Twelve occurs somewhat earlier (Matt 10:5ff) and serves as the introduction and narrative focus for a lengthy block of sayings vv. 16-42 added to the portion (vv. 5-15) he presumably inherited from Mark. The arrangement in the Gospel of Luke differs even more considerably:

  • The story of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth occurs earlier (at the beginning of his ministry), and in different/expanded form, in Lk 4:16-30
  • The material corresponding to Mark 6:45-8:26 for the most part is not found in Luke; as a result the confession of Peter, Jesus’ first Passion prediction (with related sayings), and the Transfiguration (Lk 9:18-36) follow immediately after the miraculous feeding episode in Lk 9:10-17

Notable differences between the Synoptic accounts of the feeding of the Five thousand will be mentioned in the comparative study in the next day’s note.

The second question (see above) has to do with the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels and John. Even though there is relatively little common material between John and the Synoptics, scholars have at times proposed that the author of the fourth Gospel utilized one (or more) of the other three. For example, there are some notable details in common between the Passion/Resurrection narratives of Luke and John, but other (apparent) minor points of agreement as well. However, in my view, most of these similarities are best explained by a shared common tradition rather than literary borrowing. I would concur with a good number of scholars today that there is very little (if any) clear evidence that the author of the fourth Gospel even knew (let alone used) any of the other three Gospels. At least one strand of evidence to this effect will be presented in the comparative study offered in the next day’s note. This means that, if we take Mark as the earliest Synoptic (and partial exemplar for the other two), then, at several key points, the Gospels of Mark and John are both drawing from an early tradition (or block of tradition), such as that involving the feeding of the Five thousand. By all accounts the “common portion” shared by John here is modest, limited to the traditions corresponding to Mark 6:30-52.

There is a far more serious historical-critical issue related to these passages, one which demonstrates a rather clear divide between traditional-conservative and critical approaches to the Gospels. The difficulty can be summarized by the fact that, in the Gospel of Mark (and in Matthew) there are two different miraculous feedings which are largely identical, differing mainly in specific vocabulary and other detail. This second episode is a feeding of Four (instead of Five) thousand men, as narrated in Mark 8:1-10 (par Matthew 15:32-39). The traditional-conservative view would tend to take these at face value as separate historical episodes; however, the number of similarities makes this hard to maintain in the light of objective analysis. The critical view would generally hold that these are separate versions of the same episode which have been preserved in different form; but there are difficulties with this view as well, as we shall see. Critical scholars are most reluctant to harmonize differences and discrepancies in Scriptural narrative by positing separate (similar, or nearly identical) events. For example, because of the different apparent chronology between John and the Synoptics, some traditional-conservative commentators would hold that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice; however, I regard this as highly unlikely—apart from the variant position of the episode (‘early’ vs. ‘late’), there is virtually no evidence to support a tradition of two (largely identical) Temple-cleansings. The situation is more complex with the “Anointing of Jesus” episodes in the Gospels; there it is likely that we are dealing with two traditions—one represented largely by Luke 7:36-50, the other primarily by Mark 14:3-9 and the Matthean parallel. As in the case of the miraculous feeding narratives, the Johannine account shows a mixture of details found in the other versions, which is somewhat hard to explain if we are dealing with different historical events (or traditions). This will be explored in greater detail in the next note.