April 4: John 20:17

John 20:17

Yeshua says to her: “You must not attach yourself to me, for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father. But you must travel toward my brothers, and say to them, ‘I step up toward my Father and your Father, and (toward) my God and your God’.”

Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 represent perhaps the most challenging (and controversial) detail of the Johannine resurrection narrative. Much attention has been paid to the precise meaning of the prohibition “you must not attach yourself [a%ptou] to me…”, but this tends to ignore the reason given by Jesus in the words immediately following: “…for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father”. The verb a)nabai/nw (lit. “step up”), is common enough, frequently used in narrative in a general sense (i.e. “go up” {to a place}); however, in the Gospel of John, it has a special theological (and Christological) meaning, along with the related verb katabai/nw (“step down”). In the account of Jesus’ baptism, katabai/nw is used to describe the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (1:32-33, cf. Mk 1:10); similarly, in the visionary scene of Jesus’ saying in 1:51, katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw are used together (i.e. Angels descending and ascending upon the Son of Man).

In the Johannine Discourses, katabai/nw refers to the descent of the Son of God to earth as a human being, especially in the Bread of Life discourse (6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58). In descending from heaven, the Son comes to earth from the Father, and is ultimately to ascend back to Him. This is the context of a)nabai/nw in 6:62, and also in 3:13, where the two verbs are paired together. The Son’s ascension (return) to the Father occurs with the completion of his earthly mission—that is, his sacrificial death. In early Christian thought, the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus were closely connected, almost to the point of being considered part of a single event (Acts 2:32-33; 1 Pet 3:21-22, etc). This tends to run contrary to the thinking of later Christians, where the “ascension” of Jesus is fixed in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:1-3ff, 9-11), as a separate event occurring at least forty days after the resurrection, following a number of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. I have discussed this at length in an earlier set of articles.

The references in the Gospel of John to Jesus’ ascension (“stepping up”) to the Father are complicated, because they function on two different levels:

    • Jesus ascends to the Father, then returns to the disciples, and they receive the Spirit
    • Jesus ascends (departs) to the Father, only to return at a future (end) time, and believers receive the Spirit

The first level involves the traditional narrative, and the historical traditions regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. At the second level, the same dynamic of the historical tradition is repeated again for all future believers. Jesus’ words to Mary refer to the first level (i.e. the first ascension); that is to say, after his resurrection, Jesus ascends (“steps up”) to the Father, and is then able to give to his disciples the Spirit when he appears to them (vv. 19-23).

Why does Jesus give the prohibitive command to Mary (“You must not attach yourself to me”)? The Johannine understanding of the resurrection (outlined above) fits uneasily in this narrative framework. It would have made much more sense for Jesus to ascend immediately after his resurrection, without the initial appearance to Mary. However, this would have been impossible, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative; the historical tradition of a post-resurrection appearance to certain women (and Mary, specifically) was so well-established that it had to be included. In the Synoptic Tradition, Jesus appears to a group of women that included Mary (Mk 16:1ff par), while in John, it is to Mary alone. It is not entirely clear whether this difference is specific to the Johannine Tradition, or whether it reflects an intentional simplification of the scene, for literary and dramatic effect. In any case, the Johannine interpretation of the resurrection takes place within the historical-traditional context of the appearance to Mary.

Beyond this, the exchange between Jesus and Mary does have genuine theological significance, and it is important to the Johannine narrative. It establishes a contrast between the disciples (believers), relating to Jesus in terms of his earthly human life, rather than through the presence and power of the Spirit. As Jesus notes in his famous saying in 6:63: “The Spirit is the (thing) making [i.e. giving] life, the flesh is not useful, not (for) one (thing)…”. Mary was seeking to unite with Jesus again at the level of the flesh (i.e. human friendship/discipleship), whereas the true and proper union of the believer with Jesus can only take place through the Spirit; and, the Spirit cannot be given until Jesus ascends to the Father.

That is the very point Jesus makes to his disciples in the Last Discourse, in 16:7:

“But I relate to you the truth: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away. For if I should not go away, the (One) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you; but if I travel (away), I will send him toward you.”

For the disciples, this was fulfilled in the Passion and Resurrection, with the sending of the Spirit, narrated briefly, but pictorially, in 20:22. This serves as the type-pattern for all future believers, who receive the Spirit, though no longer in the visible presence of Jesus on earth (cf. 20:29ff and 17:20-23). Until Jesus goes away (ascends, “steps up”) to the Father, he does not send the Spirit.

The relationship between the Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus is often ignored or neglected by Christians. One main reason for this, I think, is the overriding influence of the narrative in Acts 1-2, which effectively separates the coming/sending of the Spirit from the Resurrection. The Spirit is recognized in commemoration of Pentecost, not Easter/Resurrection Sunday. The situation would be different, however, if we focused instead on the narrative in the Gospel of John. Not only does the sending of the Spirit function clearly as the climactic moment of the resurrection narrative in chapter 20, but Jesus’ teaching regarding the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete is central to the Last Discourse that precedes his Passion. I will discuss this further in the next daily note, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), when we turn to Paul’s famous discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 19:30, 34; 20:22

John 19:30, 34; 20:22

This note looks at three verses in the closing chapters of the Gospel of John (the Passion and Resurrection narratives) which refer, or may allude, to the Spirit. This note is also preparatory for the study of the relevant passages in this series from the Johannine Letters, which will begin with the next study.

John 19:30

This verse records the last words of Jesus, at the moment of his death, one of the traditional “Seven Words” from the Cross. It reads:

“Then, when he (had) taken the sharp [i.e. sour] (wine), Yeshua said ‘It has been completed’, and, bending the head, he gave along the spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

The description of Jesus’ actual death is similar to that in the Synoptic Gospels, and certainly reflects the wider Gospel Tradition. Compare:

    • Mark 15:37: “And Yeshua, releasing [a)fei\$] a great voice [i.e. cry], breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired]”
    • Matt 27:50: “And Yeshua, crying (out) again with a great voice, released the spirit/breath [a)fh=ken to\ pneu=ma].”
    • Luke 23:46: “And, giving voice [i.e. crying out] with a great voice, Yeshua said, ‘Father, into your hands I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit [to\ pneu=ma/ mou]’. And, saying this, he breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired].”

It is clear that all three verses derive from a common (Synoptic) tradition; the versions in Mark and Matthew certainly are simple variants of a shared tradition. Luke’s version, however, has interesting points of similarity with John’s account:

    • Both record actual words of Jesus, marking the conclusion of his earthly life and ministry (compared with the wordless “great cry” in the Synoptic tradition)
    • They use a similar expression:
      Luke (Jesus speaking): “I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit
      John (Gospel writer): “He gave along [pare/dwken] the spirit
    • Most surprising of all is the close similarity between the Gospel writer’s words at the end of Lk 23:46 and that in John 20:22:
      Luke: “And, saying this, he breathed out” (tou=to de\ ei)pw\n e)ce/pneusen)
      John: “And, saying this, he blew/breathed in” (kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e)nefu/shsen)

This last similarity increases the likelihood that more than a simple description of Jesus’ death is intended in John 19:30. While, on the basic level of the historical narrative, the expression “he gave along the spirit” could merely mean “he died”, much like the archaic English expression “he gave up the ghost”, or, more commonly in modern idiom, “he expired (i.e. breathed out)” ,”he breathed his last”. Yet, the frequent wordplay in the Gospel of John, along with the important emphasis on the Spirit, makes it likely indeed that there is a double meaning here. Almost certainly there is an allusion to Jesus’ giving the Spirit (cf. 3:34; 15:26; 16:7, etc) to believers. Thus, while it is not the primary meaning, we could also translate (in a secondary sense) as:

“…and, bending the head, he gave along the Spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

John 19:34

The Gospel of John records a famous detail following the death of Jesus. It is tied to the tradition in vv. 31-37, in which the soldiers are directed to break the legs of the crucified victims in order to hasten their death. But when they come to Jesus, we read:

“but coming upon Yeshua, as they saw (that) he had already died, they did not break down his legs, but (instead) one of the soldiers nudged in(to) his side with the spear-point, and straightaway water and blood came out [e)ch=lqenai!ma kai\ u%dwr].” (vv. 33-34)

This information, especially the detail in v. 34, is unique to John’s Gospel, though it may still have derived from the wider Gospel Tradition. The fact that a narrative statement akin to v. 34 is found following Matt 27:49 in a number of manuscripts makes this a definite possibility. Yet only the writer of the Fourth Gospel has included it as a significant element of the Passion narrative.

At the historical level, many attempts have been made to give a physiological explanation for the “water and blood” which came out of Jesus’ side. While such speculation is interesting, it is far removed from the Gospel writer’s interest. In the context of the narrative, the main point would seem to be a confirmation that Jesus had experienced a real (human) death. Yet, for the author, both the detail regarding the breaking of Jesus’ legs (spec. that they were not broken), and the pricking/piercing of his side, were also regarded as the fulfillment of prophecy (vv. 36-37). The citing of the Scriptures (Psalm 34:20 [cf. Exod 12:10, 46; Num 9:12] and Zech 12:10) follows verse 35, in which the author explicitly states the importance of these details:

“And the one having seen (this) clearly has given witness, and his witness is true, and that (one) has seen [i.e. known] that he relates (it) true(ly), (so) that you also might trust.”

While the recognition of the fulfillment of Scripture certainly could lead one to trust in Jesus, there seems to be special importance given to the detail of the “water and blood” coming out—it is this, primarily, which the trustworthy witness has seen and reported. How would this particular detail lead to trust in Jesus? Many commentators feel that there is a deeper theological meaning to the image of water and blood coming out of Jesus’ side.

Certainly, the idea of blood shed (“poured out”) at Jesus’ death was given sacrificial and soteriological significance in the earliest Gospel tradition (Mark 14:24 par; Acts 20:28; Rom 5:9; 1 Cor 10:16, etc). While there is nothing comparable to Jesus’ words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel of John, there is strong eucharistic language and imagery in the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 (esp. verses 51-58); indeed, vv. 53-56 provide the only other reference to Jesus’ blood (and the only other use of the word ai!ma, apart from 1:13) in the Gospel.

As there is nothing unusual about blood coming out from the pierced side, it is likely that the appearance of water, along with the blood, is what makes the event particularly noteworthy. And, if we consider how water—the word (u%dwr) and the image—is used within the discourses of Jesus, we note its close association with the Spirit:

    • John 3:5: “if one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit…”
    • John 4:10ff: “living water…the water that I will give [v. 14]…in the Spirit and the Truth [vv. 23-24]”
    • John 7:37ff: “come to me and drink…rivers of living water…(He said this about the Spirit)”

The last two passages refer specifically to water which Jesus gives (i.e. to believers), and, elsewhere, that which Jesus so gives is identified with the Spirit (3:34; 6:63; cf. also 15:26; 16:7). There may be an even closer connection between 7:38 and 19:34, if “his belly” refers to Jesus rather than the believer—i.e. it is out of Jesus’ belly/stomach that rivers of living water flow to the believer. Many commentators would interpret 7:38 this way and hold that the Gospel writer has this in mind in 19:34.

It is possible that an association between water and blood may also be found in the Cana miracle scene in 2:1-11 (i.e. wine as symbolic of blood). If so, then there is a parallel between episodes at the very beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry; interestingly, Jesus’ mother Mary appears in both episodes (2:1-5; 19:25-27).

That water, blood, and the Spirit are closely connected in the thought of the Gospel writer would seem to be confirmed by 1 John 5:6-8ff. While the Letter may (or may not) have been written by the same author as the Gospel, at the very least the two works draw upon the same language, imagery and theology. This passage will be discussed in an upcoming note in this series.

John 20:22

Finally, toward the close of the Gospel, we find the actual moment when Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples:

“and, (hav)ing said this, he blew/breathed in(to them) and says to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit'”

For Christians accustomed to thinking of the coming/sending of the Spirit in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4ff), it can be difficult to know what to make of the description in John 20:22. Is this a ‘preliminary’ or ‘partial’ giving of the Spirit, prior to the day of Pentecost? Or perhaps it is a special gifting for Jesus’ closest followers (the Twelve), compared with the wider audience of Acts 1-2? I have discussed these critical and interpretive questions in my earlier four-part article “The Sending of the Spirit”. We must avoid the temptation of comparing John with Luke-Acts, and attempting to judge or harmonize on that basis. If we look simply at the Gospel of John, and how the Gospel writer understood things, and what he intended to convey, the following points become clear:

    • There is nothing in the Gospel to suggest that 20:22 is anything other than the fulfillment of what Jesus described and promised in 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15, and what the author himself refers to in 7:39. Indeed, there is no suggestion of a ‘second’ giving/sending of the Spirit. Not even in the “appendix” of chapter 21 (which might otherwise correspond to Acts 1:3) is there any indication that an event like Acts 2:1-4 is to be expected.
    • Jesus’ statement to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 suggests that, for the Gospel writer, Jesus “ascends” to the Father prior (logically and/or chronologically) to his appearance to the disciples in vv. 19-23, thus fulfilling his statements in the Last Discourse.
    • This giving of the Spirit in 20:22 is described in terms which almost certainly allude to the Creation narrative—God breathing/blowing life into the first human being (Gen 2:7). As such, there would seem to be a definite connection to the “new birth” which believers experience (3:5-8)—”born from above” and “born out of the Spirit”.
    • The giving of the Spirit is connected with two aspects of Jesus’ “commission” for the disciples (and, by extension, to all believers):
      (1) He is sending them out (i.e. into the world) just as the Father sent him—i.e. the are literally “apostles” (ones sent forth), and function as Jesus’ representatives (in his place). This explains the role and importance of the Spirit, who effectively takes Jesus’ place in and among believers.
      (2) He grants to them the power/authority to “hold” and “release” sins. Again, it would seem that this is a result of Jesus’ presence through the Spirit (cf. 16:8-11, etc).
    • There is nothing to suggest that 20:21-23 applies only to the original disciples (apostles), and not to all believers. The language used throughout the Gospel, including the Last Discourse (addressed specifically Jesus’ closest followers), whom seem to confirm this—Jesus is effectively addressing all believers.

The Sending of the Spirit, Part 4: Gospel of John (2)

(See Part 3 for the beginning of this article)

Returning now to John 20:19-23:

a. Resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples (v. 19-20), and the saying (v. 21)

The significance of the narrative portion (v. 19-20) can best be indicated by a comparison with the parallel account in Luke 24:36-40 (portions identical or close to that of John are italicized):

 

Luke 24:36-41a:

36 And at their speaking these things, he (him)self stood in their midst and said to them: “Peace to you”. 37 But startled and coming to be in fear they seemed to behold a spirit! 38 And he said to them: “(For) what are you (so) disturbed, and through what does (such) reckoning (pl.) climb up in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet—that it is I (my)self! Stroke me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones even as you behold me having.” 40 And (at his) having said thus, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And (in) their distrusting yet from joy and wondering…

John 20:19-20:

19 It being therefore late on the same day, on the first of the week, and the doors having been closed where the disciples were through fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood into the midst and said to them: “Peace to you.” 20 And (at his) having said thus, he showed them his hands and his side. Therefore the learners [i.e. disciples] were joyful (at their) having seen the Lord.

The language is close enough to indicate a common developed Gospel tradition (written or oral) here—one of several such agreements between Luke and John in the Resurrection narratives. It should be pointed out that a number of these agreements (including 24:40) are absent from the “Western” text of Luke (so-called Western “Non-Interpolations” see my earlier post on this topic); however the majority of scholars today accept the longer text. The reference to Jesus’ “side” rather than “feet” is likely an adaptation made to reflect the earlier narrative detail in John (19:34-37).

One could break down vv. 19-21 more narrowly, as a chiasm:

    • “Peace to you” (19)
      • Shows his hands and side; disciples’ joy (20)
    • “Peace to you” (21)

where the manifestation of Jesus’ wounds is bracketed by his two-fold greeting; or as a doublet:

    • “Peace to you” (19)
      • Shows his hands and side; disciples’ joy (20)
    • “Peace to you” (21)
      • Saying—sending the disciples

As for the saying in verse 21, it also seems to be part of a wider Gospel tradition. Compare the following:

 

John 20:21b:

“Even as the Father has sent (a)pe/stalke/n) me (forth), (so) also I send (pe/mpw) you”

John 17:18:

“Even as you have sent (a)pe/steila$) me into the world, (so) also I have sent (a)pe/steila) them into the world.”

John 13:20:

“Amen, Amen, I say to you: the (one) receiving (he) whom I would send (pe/mpw), receives me; and the (one) receiving me, receives the (one) having sent (pe/myanta/) me.”

Matthew 10:40:

“The (one) accepting you, accepts me; and the (one) accepting me, accepts the (one) having sent (a)postei/lanta/) me.”

John 13:20 and Matthew 10:40 are very close in form and meaning, if not actual wording. The Gospel of John has another pair of similar sayings (12:44-45), along with many other related references to Jesus being sent from God (John 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 33, 36-38; 6:29, 38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:49; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:8, 18, 21, 23, 25). 17:18 and 20:21b are likewise similar in form and meaning to each other; both reflecting the intimate relationship and union between the Father, Jesus, and disciples. One might indicate this by the following pair of diagrams:

The Father sends

The Son (Christ)

Into the World

Chooses/calls disciples
To the Father

Christ shows/leads way

Out of the World

Chooses/calls disciples
The Father sends

The Son (Christ)

Into the World
Christ sends

His disciples

Into the World

For the verb a)poste/llw (from which is derived a)po/stolo$, apostle) one would  render literally “to set/place (someone away) from”, often with the sense of sending someone out to a different position (for a specific purpose)—i.e. to commission a soldier or emissary—and sometimes with the idea of consecration (setting apart). Pe/mpw in its primary sense can be translated more simply “send” (cause one to go [forth]). In these sayings of Jesus, a)poste/llw is typically used in the past (or perfect) tense, pe/mpw more commonly in the present/future; but otherwise with little apparent difference in meaning. The two verbs are combined in 20:21: “As the Father has sent (a)pe/stalke/n, perfect) me, so I send (or I am sending) (pe/mpw, present) you.”

b. Jesus’ breathing in the Spirit to the disciples, and the saying (v. 22-23)

We now come to the account of the “sending of the Spirit” proper. Let us examine the verse by word and phrase:

kai\ tou=to ei@pwn (“and having said this”)—connecting this narrative piece with the previous saying. One may regard this as either simple historical narration or as an editorial phrase joining separate bits of tradition.

e)nefu/shsen (“he blew in”)—often translated “he breathed on (them)”, but the literal rendering of the prefix e)n (“in”) is preferable. In English, “breathe in” would be misleading, for Jesus’ is not inhaling, but rather blowing in(to) the disciples. Most likely there is here an echo of the Creation account (Gen. 2:7): “and (God) blew (jpn) in his nostrils the breath (hmvn) of life.” In the LXX the Hebrew is rendered kai\ e)nefu/shsen ei)$ to\ pro/swpon au)tou= pnoh\n zwh=$ (“and He blew in into his face the breath of life”)—the same verb used here.

kai\ le/gei au)toi=$ (“and said/related to them”)—introducing an accompanying direct address of Jesus in the narrative; most likely this does not reflect a separate saying.

la/bete pneu=ma a%gion (“take/receive [the] holy Spirit”). As there is no definite article, this could be translated “receive a holy spirit”; however, there are other passages where pneu=ma is used without an article, and the (personal) Holy Spirit of God is meant (cf. Acts 2:4 for a similar instance). Pneu=ma really should be rendered literally as “breath” or “wind” (that is, “blowing”), except that in English these words are nearly always impersonal, while in Greek pneu=ma came to be used to describe personal ethereal/invisible beings and well as the ‘inner essence’ of a person. The Genesis account uses the word pnoh/, from the same derivation as pneu=ma, and with the similar meaning of “breath/wind”.

The attached saying in verse 23 is a bit more complicated:

“Of (those) whose sins you would release, they have been released to them; of (those) whose (sins) you would hold (firm), they have been held.”

Here there are several important details to note:

    1. The verbs used: a)fi/hmi here has been rendered literally “release”, conventionally translated in such contexts as “forgive”; krate/w means “use strength”, but can have the figurative sense of “exercise power, rule” or the concrete sense of “grasp, seize, hold firm”. The last rendering (“hold firm”) is probably best here, as it clearly indicates the opposite of “release”.
    2. The tense/mood used: the best reading for each verb is aorist subjunctive (active “you would/might…”) followed by perfect indicative (passive “they have been…”). However, in a number of manuscripts the second instance of a)fi/hmi is a present (a)fi/entai, “they are [being] released”) or future (a)feqh/setai “they will be released”) form rather than the perfect.
    3. The use of a&n + the subjunctive has much the force of a conditional clause (i.e., with e)an): “If you forgive/release…”; but the whole construction, with emphatic use of particle and pronoun, also yields a solemn declaration: “If/when you should forgive/release (for anyone)… then (indeed)…”
    4. The plural indefinite pronoun (tinwn) would seem to have a general open-ended application: “whosever sins you would release…”. On its face, it is not limited to a specific group or community.

What exactly is Jesus saying here? I think it is useful to compare v. 23 with a somewhat similar saying in Matthew 16:19 (and 18:18):

Matthew 16:19 (18:18 is nearly identical):

“The (thing) which you would bind upon the earth will have been bound in the heavens; and the (thing) which you would loose will have been loosed in the heavens”

The form is nearly identical with that in John, also using aorist subjunctive and perfect indicative for each verb. The relative pronoun (o%) is even more general, not being limited to sins. To “bind” and “loose” is very close in meaning to “hold” and “release”, so that something of the same sort of power or authority is being described in both passages (in Matthew and John). The reference to keys earlier in the Matt. 16:19, would seem to echo Isa. 22:22 (“key of the house of David”). Interestingly, the Sinaitic Syriac for the second half of John 20:23 reads “shut (the door) against” instead of “hold”, language similar again to Isa. 22:22.

Interpretations vary both as to the nature and extent of the “power” granted by Jesus (a sampling of some of the more common):

    • The power over sin (given to all disciples) simply refers to the power to proclaim the forgiveness offered in the Gospel.
    • The reference is to the sacramental authority either in the sense of admitting persons to baptism and/or the sacrament of penance. Here the power would be limited to church officials and leaders (i.e. the apostles)
    • To the priestly power of absolution (limited to the apostles, and by extension, to priests).
    • A unique power granted to (the apostles) in the early Christian community—as representatives of Christ, they possess the same authority to address sin as he did in his earthly ministry. As such, it would only marginally relate (if at all) to future Christians.
    • Authority granted to all believers (i.e. all the disciples) to address sin, both in the world and, in particular, the Christian community.

I believe that a sound interpretation yields a combination of the last two positions listed above. I would combine them as follows:

    1. The early disciples—Peter (Matt. 16:19), the Twelve, and all others addressed in John 20:23—in fact held a unique commission from Jesus, including a leading position of authority in the early churches. This authority involved power to address and handle sins.
    2. However, this same power is possessed by all believers, to judge from parallel Johannine passages (see especially 1 John 5:16-17) and elsewhere in the New Testament (see James 5:13-19). Mutual confession of sin and correction seems to be involved, at least within the community of believers, as well as prayer against sickness, etc. How this relates to addressing sin in the World is less clear—but consider in this context the power of prayer described in James 5:15ff.

Part of the difficulty here lies in the tendency to consider “sin” in its cosmic dimension, in terms of salvation history, particularly as presented in the famous Pauline passages in Romans (esp. chapters 3 & 5) and elsewhere. But there are other aspects of “sin” and evil—the ability of human beings, both in a positive sense, especially through prayer and proclamation of the Word of God, or in a negative sense, to “hold” or “release” sin, need not contradict the belief that ultimate “release” (forgiveness) and salvation come from God.

3. Concluding Comparison of John 20:19-23 and Acts

In conclusion, I shall return to the comparative question addressed above. Several points related to the list of solutions presented there:

  • A simple, straightforward chronological harmonization of the two passages is neither advisable nor entirely appropriate. There is no indication that John or Luke-Acts is familiar with each other’s account. The only point of possible contact would seem to be the shared narrative tradition at Luke 24:36, 40 and John 20:19-20, and even that is not absolutely certain on text-critical grounds. Futhermore, in the “appendix” (ch. 21) of John there is no mention of a subsequent sending of the Spirit (nor future Ascension); Luke-Acts makes no mention of the disciples having received the Spirit prior to Acts 2. As tempting as the desire to harmonize might be, one should exercise caution.
  • The great narratives of the four Gospels (and Acts) are more than collections and arrangements of historical tradition: they are powerful creative works. Their distinctions should not be limited to preserving different traditions. Luke, in the Gospel, and Acts have presented a story of the Spirit coming upon the disciples, using the language and description of Old Testament theophany (“power from on high”). John has crafted his own story, using the images and symbols from earlier in the Gospel (especially chs. 13-17) and centered on the motif of “sending”. Luke has chosen the tradition of the Spirit’s manifestation at Pentecost, John has enhanced the tradition of the resurrection appearance.
  • For those inclined to harmonize, I would suggest a different approach:
    In Luke 24:49 we read: “and [see!] I send (a)poste/llw) you the e)paggeli/a of my Father upon you; but you, sit in the city until the (moment) in which you should be set in power (from) out of the height.”
    a)poste/llw is in the present tense (“I send” or “I am sending” [forth]), but, in light of Acts 2 (and the end of the verse here), typically understood in a future sense (“I [am about to] send”). But what if one were to read the present literally in light of John 20:22: i.e., “See, (here now) I am sending you the Spirit [i.e., promise/announcement, e)paggeli/a] of [i.e. from] my Father…” at which point one can fill in (or at least reference) the breathing of the Spirit from John.
    An interpretative rendering to be sure, but is this not approximately when the account of John 21:22 would have taken place in the Lukan scene?

Finally, I might boldly suggest that our connection to the Spirit need not be understood in a particular moment or event of “sending”. Perhaps, indeed, no single narrative is sufficient to describe its wonder and mystery—does it come to us from out of heaven, or from the breath of Jesus’ own lips?—as fire, wind, water, breath, dove, and many other images: they are nearly as inexhaustible as God’s Word itself.

The Sending of the Spirit, Part 3: Gospel of John (1)

I have discussed the Pentecost Narrative of the sending/coming of the Spirit, within the context of Luke-Acts, in some detail in Parts 1 and 2 of this article. Now I will be discussing the Johannine account (20:19-23) here, as follows: First, an introductory comparison of the two accounts; second, an analysis of John 20:19-23; third, a concluding comparison of the two passages.

1. Introductory Comparison of John 20:19-23 and Acts 2:1-13 (esp. vv. 1-4):

The key points of difference are fairly obvious from a simple reading of the two texts:

    • One takes place (apparently) the day of the Resurrection, the other between 40 and 50 days later (Acts 1:3; 2:1)
    • In one the resurrected Jesus is ([meta]physically) present and visible, in the other he has departed and is no longer seen (Acts 1:9)
    • One depicts the Spirit coming through the direct (physical or metaphysical) mediation of Jesus (Jn 20:22), the other has the Spirit coming in a theophany from “out of heaven” (Acts 2:2)
    • One passage includes other elements common to the Resurrection narratives and Gospel traditions (cf. Luke 24:36-40, 47-48; Matt. 28:18-20; Mar 16:19, etc.); the other clearly does not have these—if anything, one finds reflections of Old Testament passages (Ex. 19, etc., and related Jewish traditions).

Points of similarity, though less obvious, are notable:

    • Both occur in context of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. If Luke had chosen to compress the Pentecost tradition into the end of the Gospel (along with the Ascension, 24:49-53), this would be even more apparent.
    • Both can be understood to occur following the “ascension” of Jesus to heaven (i.e., to the Father) (John 20:17; Acts 1:9-11)—though the precise meaning and parallel may be debated (see below).
    • Both are connected with the commission and early Christian mission of the apostles (or wider group of disciples) (John 20:21; Acts 1:8 and following).

How should we understand the relationship of these two accounts? Here are some positions adopted by commentators:

    1. Both episodes are factual/historical and are separate chronological events, just as it appears when one combines (harmonizes) the narratives. This would be the standard orthodox or traditional-conservative view. There are still difficulties and differences of interpretation, particularly in explaining John’s account; a few solutions:
      a) It describes a symbolic gift, in promise of the future sending of the Spirit.
      b) It is a real but partial gift, until the day when the Spirit will be sent in full.
      c) The gift is limited to the apostles (the ‘Twelve’), their mission and authority; at Pentecost it will be given to all the disciples.
      d) The gift is limited to the (apostolic) ‘power over sin’ (v. 23); at Pentecost it will be given in full.
    2. The episodes reflect separate, unrelated historical traditions (which may or may not be entirely factual in detail) as to when, where, and how the apostles (and other disciples) first received the Spirit. This would probably be the more common Critical view.
    3. The episodes are historical (in substance), but generally symbolic in nature—that is, two different narratives have been chosen to represent the climactic moment when the Spirit was sent.
    4. The episodes are fundamentally interpretive (theological) narratives, rather than historical/factual accounts—that is, narratives have been built up (centered on real historical tradition), and shaped by each author’s own understanding (or the understanding of a wider Christian community), as to the meaning and significance of Christ’s work, the nature of the Holy Spirit, the believer’s relation to Christ through the Spirit, and so forth.

Arguments can be, and have been, offered in favor of each of these four positions (or some variation of them)—some stronger than others. However, before any further judgment is made, let us examine John 20:19-23 in detail:

2. Analysis of John 20:19-23:

Four elements make up this brief passage:

    • Resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples (v. 19-20)
    • Jesus’ commission to the disciples (v. 21)
    • Jesus’ “breathing in” (the Spirit) to the disciples (v. 22)
    • Statement of Jesus on the disciples’ authority regarding forgiveness of sins (v. 23)

I  think it possible, even likely, that four short pieces of tradition have been combined, as some of them have parallels elsewhere in Gospel tradition (see below). Also, I believe, one can adapt the outline of the passage slightly to indicate a bit more clearly how the author may have fashioned this material:

    • Traditional narrative (Resurrection appearance), v. 19-20
      —Saying of Jesus (general “apostolic” commission), v. 21
    • (Traditional?) narrative (“Breathing in” the Spirit), v. 22
      —Saying of Jesus (statement of [apostolic?] authority), v. 23

Before examining each of these, I should say that it is my conviction that John 20:19-23 cannot properly be understood without consulting the Gospel elsewhere at three points:

    1. The Resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene (20:11-18, particularly vv. 16-17)
    2. References in the great “Farewell” discourses (13:31-17:26) to: (a) Jesus’ return to the Father, and (b) the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete.
    3. Other references to: (a) the Spirit,  and (b) Jesus ‘going up’ (being ‘raised up’, etc), found in the earlier discourses.

Let me touch on these in turn:

(1) The Resurrection Appearance to Mary

I have discussed this in some detail in an earlier post; here I will draw attention specifically to verse 17. The dramatic moment of recognition comes as Jesus speaks Mary’s name, and she responds with the exclamation “my Rabbi!” (yn]oBr*, an honorific title something like “my lord”, often applied to great teachers). Then follows the somewhat enigmatic verse 17:

“Jesus says to her, ‘Do not fasten (yourself) [a%ptou] to me! for I have not yet stepped up [a)nabe/bhka] toward the Father; but go toward my brothers and say to them: “I step up [a)nabai/nw] toward my Father and your Father and (to) my God and your God”.'”

Read in context, without resorting to the narrative in Luke-Acts, Jesus certainly seems to indicate that he is about to ascend (“step up”) to the Father, and that, by the time he appears to his disciples in v. 19ff, he will have “ascended”. But do John and Luke-Acts describe the same “ascension”? It must be pointed out that the Gospel of John uses a wide range of words referring to Jesus’ “ascent” and/or “departure” to the Father: a)nabai/nw (“go up”, lit. “step up”—1:51; 3:13; 6:62; 20:17); u(yo/w (“lift up [high]”—3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34); u(pa/gw (“lead/go away [lit. under ‘cover’]”—7:33; 8:14, 21-22; 13:36; 14:4-5, 28; 16:5, 10, 17); poreu/omai (“pass on, travel”—14:2-3, 12, 28; 16:7, 28); e)rxomai (“go”—17:11, 13; par. “come” [from the Father]—8:14, 42; 12:46, etc., cf. also 14:6]) and a)pe/rxomai (“go [away] from”—16:7); lamba/nw (“take [up]”—10:17, 18; a)nalamba/nw “take/receive up” was a common term for the Ascension). a)nabai/nw is used to describe [Jesus’] Ascent in Eph. 4:8-10 and Acts 2:34, both referencing Old Testament passages; Revelation also uses it frequently for heavenly ‘ascent’; and it would become much more widely used for the Ascension later on. The dualism of coming/going, above/below, so common in Johannine thought, can also be seen in the pointed juxtaposition of a)nabai/nw (“step up”) with katabai/nw (“step down”)—1:51; 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51. Just as Jesus’ came from Heaven sent by the Father, so he will return to the one who sent him (the Father in Heaven). Clearly, John’s language implies something much more than a single Ascension moment or event. These passages should all be studied carefully.

(2) References in the Farewell Discourse(s)

 The main references are:

  • John 13:33: “where(ever) (o(pou) I go away (u(pa/gw), you are not able to come (e)rxomai)” (cf. 36, 7:34; 8:21)
    Related themes: the Son being glorified (doca/zw) in/with God (v. 31-32); the disciple’s seeking; the command to love one another (vv. 34-35); the disciples (Peter) following (a)kolouqe/w) (v. 36-38)
  • John 14:2ff: “I pass (on) (poreu/omai) to make ready a place for you …. I am passing (on) (poreu/omai) toward the Father (v. 12)”
    Related themes: trust (pisteu/w) in God and Christ (v. 1); the way (o(do/$) to the Father (vv. 4-5, also v. 3, 12); Jesus coming (e)rxomai) (again) to take the disciples along; “where(ever) (o(pou)” He is (v. 3-4); seeing (o(ra/w), knowing (ginw/skw) and coming (e)rxomai) to the Father (in Christ who shows [deiknu/w] Him) (vv. 4-9); “I in the Father and the Father in me” (same works, same glory) (vv. 10-12)
  • John 14:16f: “I will inquire (of) the Father and he shall give you another para/klhto$, that he might be with you into the Age, the Spirit (pneu=ma) of truth…”
    The para/klhto$/Spirit will also: “remain alongside (para/) you and shall be in (e)n) you” (v. 17)
    Related themes: love toward Christ (and keeping his commands, v. 15, 21ff); opposition to the World (ko/smo$) (v. 17, 22); seeing (qewre/w) and knowing (ginw/skw) God (and Christ) (v. 17, 19); Christ’s going and away and coming again (v. 18-19, 23); life in Christ (v. 19); “I in the Father” (along with believers) (v. 19-20); Christ sent (pe/mpw) by the Father (v. 24)
  • John 14:25-26: “the para/klhto$, the holy Spirit whom the Father will send (pe/mpw) in my name, that one shall teach you all things and shall put under [i.e. in] memory (for) you all things which I have said to you”
    Related themes: Christ will no longer remain alongside the disciples (v. 25ff)—his going away (u(pa/gw) and coming (e)rxomai) again (v. 28); Christ going (poreuomai) to the Father; peace (v. 27); love toward Christ (and the Father) (v. 28, 31); Christ’s words (v. 26, 29, 30) and commands (from God) (v. 31); opposition to the World (ko/smo$) (v. 30)
  • John 15:26-27: “when the para/klhto$, whom I shall send (pe/mpw) to you (from) alongside the Father, does come—the Spirit (pneu=ma) of truth which passes forth out (from) alongside the Father—that one shall witness about me”
    Related themes: opposition to the World (ko/smo$) (vv. 18ff, 16:2-4); love (and hatred) toward the Father and Christ (and His own) (vv. 19ff); Christ’s words (v. 20, 22; 16:4) and works (v. 24); Christ sent (pe/mw) by the Father; seeing (o(ra/w) and knowing (ei&dw/ginw/skw) Christ and God (v. 21, 24; 16:3)
  • John 16:7ff: “if I do not go away (u(pa/gw) from (you), the para/klhto$ will not come (e)rxomai) toward you; but if I pass on (poreuomai), I will send (pe/mpw) him toward you”
    The para/klhto$/Spirit will (vv. 8-15):
    “expose (e)le/gxw) the World about sin and about justice and about judgment”
    “lead you on the way (o(dhge/w) in all truth”
    “not speak from himself: whatever he hears (from God, and receives from Christ) he will speak”
    “announce (a)nagge/llw) to you the coming things… (and all that he receives from Christ)”
    Additional related themes: Christ going away (u(pa/gw) and (the Spirit) coming (e)rxomai) (v. 5, 7, 10, 13); Christ sent (pe/mpw) by the Father (v. 5); Christ going to the Father (v. 10); opposition to the Word (ko/smo$) (v. 8-11); words of Christ (v. 4, 12ff); trust (pisteu/w) in Christ (v. 9); seeing (qewre/w) Christ (v. 10); “I in the Father” (v. 15)
  • John 16:16: “a little (while) and you shall not anymore see (qewre/w) me, again a little (while) and you shall see (o)pta/nomai) me” … “again I leave (a)fi/hmi) the world and pass on (poreuomai) toward the Father (v. 28)”
    Related themes: disciples’ seeking/asking (vv. 17-19, 23ff); opposition to the World (ko/smo$) (vv. 20, 28, 33); words of Christ (v. 25, 29); peace (v. 33); love toward Christ (v. 27); Christ going/coming, esp. going to the Father (v. 17, 28); Christ sent by (“came out from alongside” e)ce/rxomai) the Father (v. 27, 30); “I in the Father…” (v. 32)
  • John 17:11ff: “I am not anymore in the World—but these are in the World—and I come toward you” … “but now I come toward you—and (yet) I these (things) I speak in the World, that they might have my joy filled (completely) in themselves (v. 13)”
    Related themes: knowing God and Christ (v. 3, 7-8); Christ sent by God (v. 3-4, 18); “I in the Father…” (shared glory, name, work) (vv. 1ff, 10); opposition to the World (vv. 6, 9ff); words of Christ (vv. 6-8, 14); Christ going/coming to the Father (vv. 11-13)

It is striking how often the same themes—the key words and phrases—occur throughout these chapters. To simplify matters, here is a thumbnail (chiastic) outline of the sections detailed above:

John 13:31-38: Jesus is going away, the disciples cannot come

John 14:1-14: Jesus is passing on to the Father, showing/preparing the way

John 14:15-24: The Father will send the Spirit/para/klhto$ (Jesus’ request)

John 14:25-31: Work of the Spirit/para/klhto$ whom the Father sends in Jesus’ name

John 15:1-17: Remain in Christ—the Vine and branches

John 15:18-16:4: Witness of the Spirit/para/klhto$ whom Jesus sends from the Father

John 16:4-15: Jesus will send the Spirit/para/klhto$ (it is necessary for Jesus to go away)

John 16:16-33: Jesus leaving (“releasing”) the World and passing on to the Father

John 17: Eternal Life with the Father—disciples to be united with Him (v. 22ff)

A couple of difficult points of interpretation in these chapters:

First, the language of going/coming seems to work on several different levels. “Going” can refer to: (1) Jesus’ death, (2) his glorification/exhaltation [going to the father], or (3) his ‘final’ earthly departure. Similarly, “coming” can reference: (1) Jesus’ coming to earth [from the Father], (2) his coming (back) to the Father, or (3) his coming (again) to the disciples, either following the resurrection or in a future return.

Second, I have chosen to leave para/klhto$ [parakl¢tos] untranslated above. Literally, it would be rendered “one called alongside”, usually in the sense of one who offers some form of assistance or encouragement. As a technical term, para/klhto$ can refer to a legal aid or advocate. Conventional translations vary—”Helper”, “Counsellor”, “Comforter”, “Advocate” being the most common. There is some uncertainty among Critical scholars as to what extent the Gospel definitively identifies the para/klhto$ with the Holy Spirit. In 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27, the identification is clear enough, however it is possible that older language and/or traditions about a heavenly/angelic parakl¢tos have been given new meaning here. Curious also is the first reference to “another (a&llo$) para/klhto$“, implying that Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry was a first para/klhto$. Finally, note too the alternation between references where the para/klhto$ is said to be sent by the Father (14:16-17, 25-26) or sent by Christ (15:26-27; 16:7ff)—this is another example of the Gospel depicting the unity of will, purpose, power and authority of Father and Son.

(3) Other references to the Spirit,  and Jesus ‘going up’ (being ‘raised up’, etc), found in the earlier discourses

As space is limited, I would recommend careful study, in particular, of John 3:1-21, 31-36 and 6:22-71.

(For the conclusion of this article, see Part 4.)

Where Did Jesus Go? – Critical Notes on the Ascension, Pt 3

In the first two parts (Pt 1 & 2)of this article, I discussed the main passages dealing with the Ascension of Jesus in Luke-Acts (Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11). Here I will briefly explore several additional New Testament passages, followed by a treatment of some key critical questions related to the Ascension.

Mark 16:19

This is the most straightforward account of the Ascension, presented in traditional, credal terms:

o( me\n ou@n ku/rio$  )Ihsou=$ meta\ to\ lalh=sai au)toi=$ a)nelh/mfqh ei)$ to\n ou)rano\n kai\ e)ka/qisen e)k deciw=n tou= qeou=
“therefore the Lord Jesus, after speaking to them, was taken up into the heaven and sat out of the ‘right-hand’ of God”

decio/$ is literally the hand/side “that takes” (or gives), the favored or auspicious side. The “right hand” (/ym!y`) of God occurs frequently in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:6, 12; Psalm 16:11; 17:7, etc; Isaiah 41:10; 48:13; 62:8; and others), usually as a symbol of God’s faithfulness and power. It is also the most common image of Jesus’ exaltation in the New Testament (Matthew 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; Luke 20:42; 22:69; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22)—all of these passages seem to have been influenced by Psalm 110:1 (many are direct citations). Even though this account in Mark is probably not original to the Gospel (part of the so-called “long ending”, 16:9-20), it no doubt here preserves an ancient tradition.

There is another reference to the ascension/exaltation of Jesus, in an unusual variant, earlier in the chapter. In verse 4, the Old Latin MS k begins: “but suddenly at the third hour of the day there was darkness over the whole circle of the earth, and angels descended from the heavens, and as he [the Lord] was rising [surgente eo] in the glory of the living God, at the same time they ascended with him; and immediately it was light. Then the women went to the tomb…” (translation from Meztger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, pp. 101-102). This represents a description of the actual resurrection of Jesus, similar to that found in the Gospel of Peter §35-40. However, it also reflects the principal manner in which the “Ascension” was understood in the early Church—that is, as an extension of the resurrection (on this, see below).

John 20:17

The only specific reference in John to anything like the traditional “Ascension” in Luke-Acts, occurs during the first resurrection appearance (to Mary Magdalene). Here Jesus says to her: mh/ mou a%ptou, ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father”; and, following the instruction to go to the other disciples (“my brothers”), tells her to say to them, a)nabai/nw pro\$ to\n pate/ra mou kai\ pate/ra u(mw=n kai\ qeo/n mou kai\ qeo\n u(mw=n (“I step up toward my Father and your [pl.] Father, and [toward] my God and your [pl.] God”). The chronology of this statement is difficult, for it does not seem to fit with the wider record of resurrection appearances in the Gospel tradition, nor with the ‘older’ view of an ascension as an immediate climax of the resurrection/exaltation. It is complicated even further by John’s highly symbolic use (primarily as presented in the Discourses of Jesus) of going/lifting up. For other similar uses of a)nabai/nw: John 3:13; 6:62; 1:51 (also the references of “going up” to the feast may involve an intentional wordplay); for u(yo/w (“lift high”) see John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34. Throughout the last discourses (John 13-17), Jesus also makes numerous references to going/returning to the Father (John 13:3, 33; 14:2, 4, 13, 28; 16:5, 7, 10, 17, 28). Since these are generally made in context of the coming/sending of the paraclete (lit. “one called alongside”, identified with the Holy Spirit [14:26]), it is almost certainly Jesus’ ‘final’ departure that is in view; however, other references to his return (14:18-20; 16:16-23) seem to fit better an immediate post-resurrection appearance.

I have discussed some of the symbolic and theological nuances of the appearance to Mary in a previous post. With regard to the authentic tradition that underlies this narrative, it is perhaps best to distinguish clearly between: (a) Jesus’ exaltation to the right-hand of the Father (as part of the resurrection), and (b) his final (earthly) departure from the disciples. Since “ascension” language can be used to describe both of these, one must be careful not to confuse them (on this, see in more detail below).

Ephesians 4:8-10

Here Paul (or the author of the epistle) cites Psalm 68:18a [MT 19a], which, early on in Christian tradition, seems to have been understood as referring to the ascension and exaltation of Christ. It quickly became embedded as part of the liturgy celebrating the ascension. However, as is often the case with scriptural citations in the New Testament, both the original text and context have been altered:

Hebrew (MT)

<d*a*B* tonT*m^ T*j=q^l* yb!V# t*yb!v* <orM*l^ t*yl!u*

“You have gone up to the heights, you have led captive captivity, you have taken gifts by man”

LXX (67:19a)

a)ne/bh$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/teusa$ ai)xmalwsi/an e&labe$ do/mata e)n a)nqrw/pw|

“You have stepped up into (the) height, you have led captive captivity, you have taken/received gifts among man”

Ephesians 4:8

a)naba\$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/eusen ai)xmalwsi/an e&dwken do/mata toi=$ a)nqrw/poi$

“Stepping up into (the) height, he led captive captivity, he gave gifts to men”

The LXX is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew. However, the citation in Ephesians differs markedly:

    • The first verb (a)naba\$) is a participle, which is not all that significant; this also occurs as a variant (MS B) in the LXX
    • The verbs have all been changed from 2nd person to 3rd person, which is a natural adaptation to the context in Ephesians (from a hymn addressing God, to a description of the work of Christ).
    • The collective “man” (<dah) has been changed to the plural “men”
    • The last verb has been changed from “take/receive” (jql, lamba/nw) to “give” (di/dwmi)

This last is most notable, for it entirely alters the sense of the passage. In the original Psalm, the justice and power of God are celebrated. Yahweh has gone out before His people, leading them in power and glory (vv. 7-18, also 21-23)—kings and armies flee before His might (v. 12, 14). He is depicted as going up into His mountain, leading captives from battle, and taking/receiving gifts (even from the rebellious [the ones who have “turned aside”], v. 18b). Verses 24-31 present the liturgical picture of peoples offering gifts to God. While all of this, of course, could fit the image of Christ being exalted to the right-hand of God, Ephesians has turned the image inside out: now God/Christ is the one offering gifts to believers.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It now remains to address several key questions related to the Ascension:

    1. Where did it occur?
    2. When did it occur?
    3. What is its exact nature?

1. Where Did the Ascension Occur?

This is part of a larger question related to the provenance of the resurrection appearances. If one takes all the Gospel narratives as they currently stand, it is actually quite difficult to harmonize them in detail, though of course many have attempted to do so. There are two fundamental differences in the accounts:

(a) In one line of tradition, the Messenger tells the women at the tomb to relate to the disciples (and Peter) that “he leads (the way) before you into Galilee; there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mark 16:7, par. Matthew 28:7). The implication is that Jesus is going ahead to Galilee, and it is there that the disciples (including Peter) will (first) see him. This is confirmed even more clearly by Jesus in Matthew 28:10, declaring that the disciples “should go from (here) into Galilee”. There is no suggestion that they should remain in Jerusalem; in fact, that could be said to contradict Jesus’ command. In Matthew, the subsequent appearance in Galilee (vv. 16-17), however brief, gives every indication that this is the first appearance to the disciples (note their “wavering” in v. 17, indications of doubt common to the other appearances in Luke and John).

By all accounts, the original ending of Mark has been lost (this is not certain, but I think it remains the best explanation); the so-called “long ending” (16:9-20), though added relatively early (it is known by the mid-2nd century), seems very much to be a secondary (scribal?) addition. While doubtless containing ancient/authentic traditions, I think it possible that an attempt has also been made to harmonize with the account in Luke. In any event, the resurrection appearance (and ascension, v. 19) seems to take place in Jerusalem (though this is not specified), which would be ‘contrary’ to the message in v. 7.

(b) The second line of tradition (preserved in Luke 24 and John 20) clearly has the resurrection appearances occurring in and around Jerusalem. In the Lukan account, Jesus actually commands the disciples to remain (kaqi/sate, “sit” or “dwell”) in the city (presumably Jerusalem) “until the (moment) in which you should be set in power out of (the) height” (24:49). The implication is that they should stay in Jerusalem for the approx. fifty days until Pentecost (when the Spirit comes upon them). There is no mention of going to Galilee; in fact, similar to the (opposite) situation in Matthew-Mark, that would contradict Jesus’ explicit command. It is interesting that, if Luke has made use of Mark (as scholars commonly believe), then he has quite altered the angelic announcement: in Luke 24:6 the two messengers still mention Galilee (cf. Mark 16:7), but in a very different context.

In John, too they are apparently in Jerusalem when Jesus appears and they receive the Spirit from him (20:19-23); similarly the appearance to Thomas eight days later (vv. 26-29) would presumably still be in Jerusalem. John 21 complicates the picture: for there (in verses 1-14 at least) we have a resurrection appearance in Galilee. However, since this chapter follows what seems to be the conclusion to the Gospel (20:30-31), many scholars would view it as a kind of “appendix”, possibly composed/included by a different author (though this is much disputed). Its exact origins and relation to the events recorded in chapter 20 are also uncertain, with a wide range of opinions on all sides.

Of course, according to Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:50-53 (assuming the longer reading), the Ascension of Jesus—that is, his final departure from the disciples—clearly takes place on the Mount of Olives, about 2000 cubits (or just over 1000 yards) east of Jerusalem (Acts 1:12). If the reference in Luke 24:50 is meant to be specific, then the Ascension might have occurred on the eastern slope somewhere near Bethany.

2. When Did the Ascension Occur?

This question, in relation to the seemingly divergent chronologies in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11, has been dealt with to some extent in the first two parts of this article. The basic question is, did it take place on Easter day as is (apparently) indicated in Luke 24 and the Markan “long ending”, or did it take place between 40 and  50 days later as narrated in Acts? My view is that the “separate” accounts in Luke-Acts probably describe the same event, but that in the Gospel the narrative has been greatly compressed, so that events which may have occurred days apart seem to take place on the same day. The same could perhaps be said of the Markan “long ending”, especially since everything seems to wrap up quickly in the last two verses.

However, a proper answer to the question also must address exactly what one means by the “Ascension”.

3. What Is the Nature of the Ascension?

As indicated above, there seem to be two separate traditions at work:

a) The first describes the “Ascension” in terms of Jesus’ resurrection—his being raised and glorified to the “right hand” of the Father.

b) The second relates it in terms of Jesus’ final (earthly) departure from his disciples.

One must be careful, I think, not to confuse or conflate the two traditions—for, both doctrinally, and even historically, they can be said to have quite different meanings. However, if one wishes to systematize or harmonize the scriptural details, it could possibly be done as follows:

    • Jesus’ being raised from the dead (evidence of the empty tomb and the angelic announcement[s])
    • His ascension to the Father is part of the resurrection/exaltation, which climaxes with his presence at the right hand of God (where also he receives the Spirit to give to his disciples)
    • From a temporal point of view, Jesus’ appearance to the women (cf. Matthew 28:9-10; [Mark 16:9]; John 20:11-18) could perhaps be seen as taking place prior to this ascent to the Father (John 20:17-18)—but that is not entirely clear.
    • Resurrection appearances of the glorified Christ, during which he instructed and commissioned the disciples (in John [20:22] he gives them the Spirit as well)
    • His final departure, recorded only in Luke-Acts, described as a visible Ascension
    • Mark 16:19 may represent a conflation of the two traditions (in a credal formula?), indicated above

The Resurrection in Luke: The ‘Western’ Text

The major text-critical question in the Resurrection Narratives involves the so-called “Western Non-Interpolations” in the Gospel of Luke. This rather awkward term stems from the analysis by Westcott & Hort (principally Hort) in their landmark The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881, vol. II pp.175-177), regarding situations where, despite superior manuscript evidence to the contrary, the Western Text may have the original reading. In general, the “Western Text” (as represented by Codex Bezae [D], key Old Latin [and Old Syriac] MSS, and other versional witnesses), was deemed inferior to the so-called “Neutral Text” (exemplified esp. by Codex Vaticanus [B])—this view, with some modification (and different language), continues to be held by most critical scholars today. Particularly in Luke-Acts, the “Western Text” tends to have longer readings at key variation-units—expanding or adding clarifying detail to the text. It is all the more noticeable, then, on those rare occasions when D (and other Western witnesses) happen to contain a shorter reading. When this fact (cf. the principle lectio brevio potior, “the shorter reading is preferrable”) is combined with intrinsic or transcriptional probability in favor of the shorter text, one must then contend with the possibility that the Western reading is original. Hence the term “Western Non-Interpolation”: i.e., the majority text contains an interpolation (an added verse or phrase), contrary to the shorter (original) Western text.

Westcott & Hort identified 27 shorter Western readings of note: six were deemed unlikely to be original, twelve others considered possibly (but probably not) original, and nine regarded as “probably original”. These nine (the “Non-Interpolations”) are: Matthew 27:49; Luke 22:19b-20; 24:3, 6, 12, 36, 40, 51, 52. For some time, critical scholars tended to favor this approach; however, in recent decades, with the discovery of the Bodmer Papyri (esp. Ë75), the pendulum has swung decidedly in the opposite direction—the majority of scholars, on the whole, now reject these shorter Western readings. Indeed, Ë75 (early 3rd century?) contains the longer (majority) reading for all 8 Lukan “Non Interpolations”, greatly strengthening the already impressive external evidence for them. On the other hand, the strongest argument in favor of the shorter readings is one of transcriptional probability—no one has really been able to offer a good explanation as to how (or why) the longer readings, if original, would have been deleted. Moreover, nearly all of the majority readings in these instances involve (possible) harmonizations to other portions of the New Testament (see notes below) as well as significant Christological details, both of which are more likely to represent scribal additions than details scribes would have ever deleted. For a fairly thorough defense in favor of the Lukan “Non-Interpolations”, see B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Oxford:1993, pp. 197-232.

There is the problem: on the one side, the external manuscript evidence is decidedly in favor of the longer readings; but on the other, internal transcriptional evidence seems clearly to favor the shorter. Interestingly, all of the nine “Non-Interpolations” are from the Passion and Resurrection narratives (8 from the Lukan), and all but two (7) from the Resurrection/Ascension accounts in Luke 24 (common to virtually the same set of manuscripts). This cannot be coincidental, nor do I think it can be accidental. In other words, whichever set of readings (longer/shorter) is correct, the changes seem to have been both deliberate and consistent in Luke 24. Either scribes added text (interpolations), perhaps to harmonize with John’s account (see below) etc. and/or enhance the Christological portrait, or they deleted the text, for reasons that are as yet not entirely clear.

Luke 24:3

Here is a translation of the majority text of vv. 1-4, with the words in question italicized:

1And on (day) one of the week, of deep dawn [i.e. early at dawn], upon the memorial [i.e. tomb] they came carrying spices which they had made ready. 2And they found the stone having been rolled (away) from the memorial, 3but going into (it) they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to be in their being without a way-through [i.e. as they were at a loss] about this, and see!—two men stood upon [i.e. next to] them in flashing clothes…

Manuscripts D a b d e ff2 l r1 do not include the words tou= ku/riou  )Ihsou=. They may have been added to specify and make clear what would otherwise be implied: that it was truly Jesus’ body missing from the tomb. If the words did not drop out by accident, it is hard to explain why a scribe (on orthodox one, at least) would have removed them. A few manuscripts (579 1241 pc syrs, c, p bohms) read simply tou=  )Ihsou=.

Luke 24:6

The same group of Western manuscripts (along with Georgian MS B) do not include the words ou)k e&stin w!de a)lla\ e)ge/rqh from the angelic announcement. Here is a translation of the majority text (with italicized words):

5And at their [i.e. the women] coming to be afraid and bending th(eir) faces into the earth, they [i.e. the men/angels] said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living amid the dead? 6He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you…”

Luke 24:12

Almost the same group of Western MSS (along with several Syriac witnesses [and Marcion?]) do not include verse 12 at all. The majority text reads:

o( de\ Pe/tro$ a)nasta\$ e&dramen e)pi\ to mnmei=on kai\ paraku/ya$ ble/pei ta\ o)qo/nia [kei/mena] mo/na, kai\ a)ph=lqen pro\$ e(auto\n qauma/zwn to\ gegono/$

But Peter, standing up, ran upon [i.e. ran to] the memorial [i.e. tomb] and bending alongside he saw the cloths [laying] alone, and he went from (there) toward his own (home), wondering at the (thing which) had come to be [i.e. what had happened]

This is of course quite similar to the account in John 20:4-5f, enough that scholars who favor the shorter reading view the verse as a harmonizing interpolation. The word kei/mena (not in Ë75 a B W etc) is probably a simple harmonization; however, otherwise, there are enough differences (including all of 12b), that this is less likely for the verse as a whole. On the other hand, the sequence from verse 11 to 13 reads smoother without v. 12:

11and these words [i.e. the women’s report] shined in their face [i.e. appeared to them] as if idle-talk, and they [i.e. the apostles] did not trust them [i.e. the women]. 13And see—two of them [i.e. disciples/apostles] in the self(-same) day were traveling unto a village…

It is also much more effective dramatically without v. 12, leading up to the revelation at Emmaus; it can be argued that the announcement in v. 34 (“the Lord has been seen by Simon!”) is more dramatic this way as well. That being said, what of the (internal) evidence—the intrinsic or transcriptional probability—for inclusion/exclusion of the verse? I find the argument for simple harmonization with John to be weak; I am also unconvinced by the idea that the verse was added to make better sense of v. 34. A much stronger argument is that the verse was added (whether from John, or more likely a separate tradition) to soften the image of the unbelieving apostles in v. 11—not all of them mistrusted the women, Peter responded aggressively to see for himself! What of reasons for scribes’ deleting the verse? Apart from the fact that the narrative reads better without v.12 (the plural pronoun and copulative kai arguably connect more readily with v.11), it is hard to come up with a good explanation.

Luke 24:36

Here the opening of Jesus’ introduction—kai\ le/gei au)toi=$: ei)rh/nh u(mi=n—is not included by the same group of Western manuscripts (D a b d e ff2 l r1). Again, let us examine the context in translation (disputed words italicized):

36And as they spoke this, (Jesus) himself stood in the middle of them and says to them: “Peace to you”. 37But being terrified and coming to be in fear, they seemed to gaze at a ‘spirit’. 38And he said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] are you disturbed…?”

The scene makes more immediate sense without the words—Jesus suddenly appears in their midst and they are terrified (presumably not recognizing him, cf. v. 16ff). There would seem to be less reason for such sudden, extreme fear, after the words of greeting (“Peace to you”). In this instance, a harmonization with John (20:19) is perhaps more likely than in Luke 24:12. As for omission, if the words did not fall out accidentally, why would they have been deleted? Again, it is hard to come up with a reason.

Luke 24:40

Here, as at 24:12, and entire verse is missing from (the same group) of Western manuscripts, along with the Curetonian and Sinaitic Syriac. The verse reads:

kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e&deicen au)toi=$ ta\$ xei=ra$ kai\ tou\$ po/da$
“and having said this, he showed them the hands and the feet”

A harmonization with John 20:20 is certainly possible. On the other hand, I would say that there is at least a plausible reason for scribes omitting the words, as they may have appeared superfluous or redundant directly following v. 39.

Luke 24:51-52

These two variations units are, in some ways, even more controversial, and are better left to an (upcoming) article on the Ascension.

One of the reasons earlier scholars more readily favored the “Non-Interpolations” of vv. 12, 36, and 40, was the understandable assumption that these were scribal harmonizations (of a sort all too common in the manuscripts) with the parallel passage in John. However, commentators today tend to prefer the view that Luke and John (in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, at least) both draw from a common tradition, which explains their sharing certain details not found in Matthew-Mark.

From a text-critical point of view, however, it should be reiterated that the internal evidence favors all of the Lukan “Non-interpolations” (in chapter 24). The two overriding arguments:

    1. Scribes are more likely to have harmonized the text (to another Gospel passage) by adding to it, than to eliminate a harmonization by deleting the text.
    2. Scribes are more likely to add details enhancing or expanding the portrait of Christ, than to delete them. One indisputable fact is that for all seven instances in Luke 24, the longer (majority) text adds vivid or significant detail related to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection not found in the corresponding Western text.

All things considered, it is safest to defer to the overwhelming external evidence in favor of the longer readings. Yet, in studying and meditating upon the Resurrection accounts in Luke, I would urge care and consideration—if we wish to understand the inspired original text, such significant textual variants must be given their due.

April 15 (1): Luke 24:25ff, 44-47

A unique (and often overlooked) detail in the Lukan Resurrection narratives is the way in which the Risen Jesus interprets the Scriptures for the disciples, showing how his suffering, death, and resurrection were foretold (or prefigured) in the Sacred Writings. This is specifically narrated in two episodes: (1) on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27, 32), and (2) the Appearance to the Eleven (Luke 24:44-47).

1. On the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27, 32)

I discussed this episode in a prior post. In my view, it is the two-fold exposition of vv. 19-27 which is central to the scene:

(a) Vv. 19-24: The two disciples, in response to Jesus’ question (poi=a; “what [things]?”), unintentionally (in the narrative context) present a summary of the Gospel, an early bit of kerygma (cf. Acts 2:22-24): describing the death and resurrection (i.e. report of the empty tomb).
(b) Vv. 25-27: After rebuking the disciples,
a)rca/meno$ a)po\ Mwu+se/w$ kai\ a)po\ pa/ntw=n tw=n profhtw=n diermh/neusen au)toi=$ e)n pa/sai$ tai=$ grafai=$ ta\ peri\ e(autou=
“beginning from Moses and from all the Prophets he explained through [i.e. interpreted] to them the [things] about himself in all the Writings” (v. 27).

Once the disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (sacramental symbolism), and he becomes invisible to them (an interesting reversal of the symbolism), they specifically recall the earlier exposition (v. 32):

ou)xi\ h( kardi/a h(mw=n kaiome/nh h@n [e)n h(mi=n]
“was not our heart burning in us”

w($ e)la/lei h(mi=n e)n th=| o(dw=|
“as he spoke with us in the way”
w($ dih/noigen h(mi=n  ta\$ grafa/$;
“as he opened through [i.e. explained] to us the Writings?”

2. The Appearance to the Eleven (Luke 24:44-47)

There are two parts to this scene: (a) the Appearance (vv. 36-43, cf. John 20:19-20), and (b) Instruction/Commission to the Disciples (vv. 44-49). With regard to (b), I would structure it as follows:

i. v. 44 “These are the words/accounts [logoi] of mine which I spoke to [lit. toward] you, being yet with you:”

o%ti dei= plhrwqh=nai pa/nta ta\ gegramme/na
“that it was necessary to be fulfilled all the (things) having been written”

e)n tw=| no/mw| Mwu+se/w$
“in the law of Moses”
kai\ toi=$ profh/tai$ kai\ yalmoi=$
“and (in) the Prophets and Psalms”

peri\ e)mou=
“about me”

ii. v. 45-47 “Then he opened [lit. opened through] their mind for the(ir) putting-together [i.e. so as to understand] the Writings…” (indirect discussion)
“…and he said to them” (direct discourse):

ou%tw$ ge/graptai
“Thus it has been written”  (note the three clauses each beginning with an infinitive)

paqei=n to\n Xristo\n
to suffer the Anointed (One) [i.e., that the Anointed would suffer]”
kai\ a)nasth=nai e)k nekrw=n th=| tri/th| h(me/ra|
“and to stand up [i.e. rise] out of (the) dead ones in the third day”
kai\ khruxqh=nai e)pi tw=| o)no/mati au)tou= meta/noian
“and to proclaim upon his name change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]”

ei)$ a&fesin a(martiw=n
“unto release of sins”
ei)$ pa/nta ta\ e&qnh
“unto all nations”

iii. v. 47b Transitional clause: “(the ones/things) beginning from Jerusalem…”

iv. v. 48-49 The commission: “…you are witnesses of these (things)”

“and see—I set (forth) from (me) [i.e. send] the anouncement of my Father upon you”
“but you—sit [i.e. settle/remain] in the city until the (moment in) which you should be put in power out of (the) height [i.e. clothed in power from on high]”

The Scriptural exposition of vv. 44-47 leads to the Apostolic commission in vv. 48-49. The hinge is the transitional clause “beginning from Jerusalem…”; this also symbolizes the joining line of Luke’s two-volume work—the Gospel and Acts. With regard to the exposition of Scripture, as indicated above, this is presented in two aspects: (i) a reiteration of Jesus’ earlier teaching (“it is necessary…”) regarding the fulfillment of Scripture, and (ii) the “opening” the disciples mind to understand the Scriptures. For (ii) I would point out that this is likewise presented under two aspects:

First, the act of “opening” (v. 45)—here it is a specific moment, indicated by to/te (“then, at that time”). The verb (dianoi/gw, an intensive stem from a)noi/gw, “to open”) would be rendered literally, “opened through” or “thoroughly opened”; it is the same verb used in the Emmaus narrative: “their eyes were opened (dihnoi/xqhsan)” v. 31, and “as he opened (dih/noigen) the Scriptures to us” v. 32.

Second, a summary of the “opening” of the Scriptures (vv. 46-47, cf. v. 32)—under the declaration “thus it has been written” (ou%tw$ ge/graptai), what follows is a terse credal statement, a sequence of infinitives: “to suffer” (paqei=n), “to stand/rise up” (a)nasth=nai), “to be proclaimed” (khruxqh=nai).

Interestingly, neither in this episode, nor in the Emmaus narrative, is it ever demonstrated exactly what Jesus taught—just what Scriptures did he expound and explain to the disciples, and how was this done? It is this question, along with a further discussion of the theme of the fulfillment of Scripture (cf. v. 44 et al.), which I will address in an upcoming article.

For more on the Lukan Resurrection narrative in chap. 24, see my note on the key variant readings in the “Western” Text.

April 14 (2): John 20:24-29

Jesus’ appearance to Thomas (along with the other Disciples) is the last of three Resurrection appearances which I am discussing for the three days of Easter (in the afternoon—you can find the first two for Sunday and Monday). Commentators have been puzzled by this episode (John 20:24-29), unique to the Fourth Gospel. Critical scholars tend to regard it as a creation of the Evangelist, perhaps to personify the disciples’ doubt—note that in the earlier appearance (John 20:19-20ff) there is no mention of any doubt or surprise (compare Mark 16:13-14 [long ending]; Luke 24:11, 25, 37-38, 41; but note the odd juxtaposition of John 20:8-9). Traditional-conservative commentators, naturally, take the text at face value, as a second appearance which took place eight days later. However, the sequence does present certain chronological difficulties, particularly when one tries to harmonize the passage strictly with the Synoptic accounts. For what it’s worth, I suspect that, at the historical-chronological level, the sequence here in John perhaps should read: 20:19-20, 24-29, 21-23. But clearly, this sort of rearrangement would not be appropriate; for there is a definite purpose to the current placement of verse 24-29—they join the appearance and apostolic commission of vv. 19-23 to the concluding statement of vv. 30-31, “…but these (things) have been written so that you might trust that Jesus is the Anointed (One), the Son of God, and so that trusting you might have life in his name”.

There are two primary themes or motifs which divide this passage: (1) “seeing” and (2) “trusting”, along with an intermediate theme of the presence of Christ.

1. Seeing (vv. 24-25)

(a) The other Disciples tell Thomas “we have seen (e(wra/kamen) the Lord!” This 1st person plural perfect form (of o(ra/w) is only found in the Gospel (cf. also 3:11) and First Epistle of John (1:1-3), and is virtually a credal formula of faith and witness in the early Christian (Apostolic) community. For this reason, some scholars have found its use in John 3:11 (Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus) to be suspicious—is it from the early Community rather than the historical Jesus? Certainly in Johannine theology, the two are united: the Community speaks what they hear Jesus say (through the Spirit), just as Jesus speaks what he hears from the Father. The 1st person singular form also occurs almost exclusively in John, including the parallel exclamation of Mary “I have seen (e(w/raka) the Lord!” (20:18; cf. also 1:34; 8:38). The verb implies more than the simple act of seeing (i.e., “look at, perceive”, etc)—in the context of John’s Gospel, there is perhaps also a revelatory quality involved: “to see clearly/truly”.

(b) Thomas responds, “if I should not see (i&dw) in his hands the tupos of the nails and cast my finger into the tupos of the nails and cast my hand into his side, no I shall not trust (pisteu/sw)!” Note the different manner of “seeing”—a different verb, and use of the subjunctive (“should/might see”) vs. the perfect indicative (“have seen”) along with the negative condition (“if I do not…”), also governing “trust/believe”. The combined negative particle (ou) mh) + aorist subjunctive indicates an extremely strong asseveration or denial, with a prohibitive quality: “by no means shall I trust!” I have left the word tupo$ untranslated above; it generally refers to a deep mark, as left when something is stamped or struck, but is used more commonly in the New Testament in a more abstract sense (“form, pattern”). There is some textual variation here: a few manuscripts read topo$ (“place”) or the plural form of tupo$/topo$.

(c) Consider what it was that the Disciples saw (and which Thomas demanded to see): in vv. 19-20, when Jesus first appeared to the disciples, upon greeting them, he immediately (cf. the literary context, “and saying this…”) showed (e&deicen) them (his) hands and side. This actually takes place between his two-fold greeting “peace to [or with] you” (ei)rh/nh u(mi=n), repeated in verse 21. The verb deiknu/w/dei/knumi seems to have a special significance in the Gospel of John: everywhere else it is used in the context of revealing something of the Father (5:20; 10:32; 14:8-9). In the original tradition it may simply indicate a demonstration of Jesus’ identity and real body (see the similar account in Luke 24:40 [absent in key Western MSS]); but, in the Gospel of John, I would say it has a deeper meaning as well.

John makes a good deal of Jesus’ side, a detail not found in the other Gospels (in Luke 24:40 Jesus shows them his hands and feet, but see the textual variant [interpolation?] at Matthew 27:49). It is possible that here the piercing (“pricking”) of the side (John 19:34-37) has been emphasized merely for the purposes of introducing the prophecy from Zechariah 12:10 (v. 37); however, I do not think this is the case. The emphatic authorial/editorial aside (v. 35) seems to refer specifically to the piercing and the “blood and water” which came out. The exact force of this reference is not entirely clear; it could be: (a) apologetic, that is to demonstrate that Jesus died a true physical death; (b) sacramental, symbolic of the Eucharist; (c) spiritual, symbolic of life or the life-giving Spirit [found in Christ]; or some combination of these. I should say that (c) is closest to the mark. Blood only occurs in John within the most difficult portion of the Bread of Life Discourse (6:53-56), which probably also has eucharistic significance (but note the qualification in vv. 62-63). Water also is connected with the Spirit (the life-giving presence and power of Christ, “living water”) in the great Discourses (3:5ff; 4:7-15; 7:38), but again not without a possible sacramental meaning as well (at least in 3:5).

2. Trusting (vv. 27-29)

This theme is prefaced by Thomas’ declaration in verse 25 (“if I do not see…no I shall not trust [pisteu/sw]!”)

(a) Jesus responds to Thomas, directing him to “touch” the hands and side. Scholars have sometimes been puzzled at this, since previously in the appearance to Mary Magdalene he ordered her not to touch him, and, according to the chronology of the Synoptic Gospels (and Acts), Jesus still has not ascended (cf. John 20:17). Any number of attempts to explain or harmonize these details have been made, most of which are highly questionable at best. It should be noted that, apart from the fact that the appearances to Mary and Thomas may stem from entirely separate traditions, both the context of the scenes and the language Jesus uses is very different. Mary, it would seem, is responding in a natural human way to her recognition of Jesus (her exclamation “Rabbi/Teacher!”), perhaps with the attempt to embrace him (see Matthew 28:9, where the women grasp his feet). In my prior notes on this scene, I discussed the possible significance of the verb a%ptomai (“bind, attach to, touch”) as well as Jesus “going up” (a)nabai/nw). In the context of John’s Gospel, a proper understanding of Jesus’ return/ascent to the Father must center on the discourse[s] of chapters 14-17 (and earlier references), rather than the Ascension narratives in Luke-Acts. Thomas, however, does not respond with the limited emotional/visceral trust exhibited by Mary (who “sees” Jesus); his is a lack of trust in the witness “we have seen the Lord”. Jesus puts Thomas to the test (note the use of imperatives in v. 27), with the disciple’s own formulation: “carry [fe/re] your finger here and see [i&de] my hands, and carry your hand and thrust (it) [ba/le] into my side…” It is not indicated whether Thomas took up the challenge; perhaps in an early tradition he did, but the lack of any detail here is significant in the Gospel context, for it leads directly to the statements which follow—”…and do not be without trust, but (be) trust(ing).”

The Greek in 27b is rather obscured in many translations (“stop doubting” [NIV], “do not doubt” [NRSV]. “do not disbelieve” [ESV]). Literally, it reads kai\ mh\ gi/nou (“and do not come to be”) a&pisto$ (“without trust”) a)lla\ pisto/$ (“but trust[ing]”). However, this too is a bit misleading, for the present tense of gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) is probably durative—the negative + imperative would then have the sense of “do not continue to be”. As for pisto/$, it is typically translated “faithful, believing”, just as the noun pi/sti$ and verb pisteu/w are translated in terms of “faith” or “belief”. However, I feel that the English word “trust” is a better fit for the primary sense, and tend to translate the words this way, although in most instances little harm is done to the meaning if one uses “belief/faith”. The adjective pisto/$ could also be rendered “trust-worthy”, but I think it is important here to emphasize the act/condition of trusting (or “believing”, if one prefers). a&pisto$ is the opposite, indicating the lack or absence of pisto/$: “without trust”, un-trusting (or un-trustworthy). Jesus’ command here (“do not come/continue to be untrusting, but trusting!”) overrides decisively the earlier imperatives.

(b) Thomas responds to Jesus in a most extraordinary fashion, with the exclamation o( ku/rio/$ mou kai\ o( qeo/$ mou (“My Lord and my God!”), v. 28. This is unquestionably a theological exclamation, and perhaps the most exalted in the all the Gospels; for o( kurio$ and o( qeo$, in the Jewish context, both refer to the one true God (YHWH). It also represents, arguably, the first time in the Gospels that Jesus is identified directly with the arthrous o( qeo$. (the God, as opposed to being “God, divine” more generally). In John 1:1, we do not find the article (kai\ qeo\$ h@n o( lo/go$ “and the logos was God”); both the article and the word qeo$ are textually uncertain in John 1:18. There can be no doubt, however, that in the Gospel of John, Jesus identified himself with God the Father (cf. esp. 8:58), and that even his opponents understood the implication (5:18, etc). And yet, Christians of a later time, influenced by Trinitarian doctrine, were very sensitive to this point—Christ (the Son) and the Father may have both been God (qeo/$), but they were not the same person. It is not surprising then, that a few MSS of John 20:28 omit the article. Such Christological issues are largely foreign to the Gospel; one need not look any further than Philip’s request to Jesus in 14:8 (“Lord, show [dei=con] the Father to us…”), to which Jesus responds o( e(wrakw\$ e)me\ e(w/raken to\n pate/ra (“the [one] having seen me has seen the Father”, v. 9).

(c) This exclamation would seem to be a supreme testament to faith and trust; however, Jesus, without contradicting Thomas’ statement, responds in turn with an interesting question (assuming it is a question): “(now) that [i.e. because] you have seen (e(w/raka$) me you have trusted (pepi/steuka$)?” (verbs both in the perfect). Many commentators interpret it as a rebuke of Thomas; possibly, but I am not so convinced of this. Certainly, the disciple was rebuked earlier (v. 27) for his lack of trust; but, Jesus’ statement to him here should not be understood as a simple comparison of his trust (only after seeing) with a superior level of trust from those who have not seen. The conclusion of the statement: “happy the (one) not seeing (i)do/nte$) and trusting!” (verbs both aorist participles). It is tempting to insert “yet” (i.e., “not seeing and yet trusting”); this may be the sense intended. However, this happy state (maka/rio$) is not so much a blessing due to greater trust, but a result of the greater power and witness which will occur (through the disciples) by the Spirit after Jesus returns to the Father. To make the sense clear in English, I might translate Jesus’ words as follows: “you trust because you have seen me—how happy, then, will they be who trust without seeing!”

3. The intermediate appearance of Jesus (v. 26)

In between these two episodes of seeing (emphasizing lack of trust) and trusting (emphasizing lack of seeing), Jesus himself appears suddenly in the midst of the disciples. This repeats (pa/lin, “again”) the earlier appearance (vv. 19-20); in fact, the appearance itself is recorded in almost identical wording: the doors being closed, Jesus came and “stood in the middle and says/said to them, ‘Peace to you'” However, there are two small but significant points of difference:

(a) In the first appearance, the doors were closed, where the disciples were, “through fear of the Jews”. Now, however, there is no mention of fear.

(b) In this second appearance, it states that the disciples were (h@san) within (e&sw). Now, in the simple context of the narrative, this would mean nothing more than that the disciples were inside the room. However, in about half of the instances where the adverb e&sw is used in the New Testament (including all non-narrative uses in the Epistles [Rom 7:22; 1 Cor 5:12; 2 Cor 4:16; Eph 3:16]), the reference is to inward (spiritual) rather than outward (external) matters. Is it too much to understand something of that connotation here? The rest of the disciples, who have already seen (and trusted), are now within.

In conclusion of these Easter-season notes, I would like to suggest a possible chiastic outline, indicating certain thematic parallels in the appearances of Jesus to Mary and Thomas:

Exclamation (title of Jesus)—”Rabbi (Teacher)!” 20:16

“Do not touch…I am going up to my God (and your God)” (Jesus’ rebuke of the disciple) v. 17

Disciple’s exclamation—”I have seen (e(w/raka) the Lord!” v. 18

Disciples’ exclamation—”We have seen (e(wra/kamen) the Lord!” v. 25a

“If I do not place my finger…my Lord and my God!” (Disciple untrusting/trusting, with Jesus’ rebuke in between) v. 25b, 27-28

Exclamation (title of Jesus)—”My Lord and My God!” v. 28

April 13 (2): Luke 24:13-35

This is the second of three Resurrection Appearances I will be discussing during the three days of Easter (in the afternoon), and is perhaps the most well-known and beloved of all those recorded in the Gospels: the appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (centerpiece of the liturgical Officium Peregrinorum). The extraordinary narrative—one of the longest such narratives in the Gospels—is unique to Luke (24:13-35), although there is presumably a reference to it in the so-called “long ending” of Mark (16:12-13). While Luke may well have expanded and dramatized the core tradition, it remains thoroughly convincing and lived-in; on every objective ground, the basic historicity of the event would be difficult to question. However, there is no doubt that, as a literary work, Luke has given to the narrative a careful interpretive structure. There are probably any number of ways this section could be outlined, but here is one  that I offer (arranged chiastically, to indicate parallel scenes and details):

A [vv. 13-14] The two disciples are
a) travelling from Jerusalem (a)po\  )Ierousalh/m) and
b) conversing with each other (pro\$ a)llh/lou$) about all the things that had “come together”

B [vv. 15-16] As the disciples are conversing and inquiring with each other
a) Jesus comes near to them, but
b) their eyes are “held” and they cannot recognize [lit. “know upon”] him

C [vv. 17-18] The exchange:
a) Jesus acts: He draws them out (asking “what are these logoi….?”)
b) The disciples [one, Cleopas] ask
** about Jesus’ as a stranger [“one who houses along”]
** mentioning the things coming to be in these days
c) Jesus acts: He draws closer into their conversation (asking “what [things]?”)

D [vv. 19-24] What things?
a) the recent events of Jesus’ death and (reports of his) resurrection
b) they hoped he was the Anointed One [“the one about to ransom/redeem Israel”] (v. 21)

[vv. 25-27] What things?
a) all that Moses and the Prophets said of his death (suffering) and resurrection (coming into glory)
b) what they say about him [the “Anointed One”]

[vv. 28-29] The exchange:
a) Jesus acts: He draws them out (making toward travelling further)
b) The disciples ask
** for Jesus to come into their house as guest [“remain with us”]
** mentioning that now the day has bent down [i.e. is almost over]
c) Jesus acts: He draws closer, going in to “remain with them”

[vv. 30-31] The disciples are reclining (at meal) together with Jesus
a) Jesus takes (blesses and breaks) bread and gives to them
b) their eyes are “opened” and they recognize [“know upon”] him
[b´) Jesus comes to be invisible from them]

[vv. 32] The disciples
b) say to each other (pro\$ a)llh/lou$) “was not our heart burning in us as…?”
a) standing up immediately they return to Jerusalem (ei)$  )Ierousalh/m)

In a straightforward (linear, dramatic) reading of the passage, one might naturally view the recognition of Jesus during the breaking of bread as the climactic point. There is certainly truth to this (the sacramental symbolism is noteworthy and clear). However, as indicated in the outline above, I feel it is rather the exposition of Scripture (v. 25-27), in relation to the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 19-24), which is the central moment of the narrative. This would seem to be confirmed by the disciples ultimate response—they refer not to the revelatory moment at the breaking of bread, but to the earlier exposition: “was not our heart burning in us as he spoke with us in the way…?” (v. 32).

A few brief notes on this verse in particular:

(1) Instead of kaiome/nh (“burning”), other (primarily Western) witnesses read (or translate) kekalumme/nh (“covered”), bradei=a (“heavy”) or words indicating “hardened”, etc. However, kaiome/nh is almost certainly correct. The verb can indicate the condition (or process) of being burned (up), or it can have a causative meaning—i.e., to kindle, set on fire. The passive form here would seem to indicate a fire being kindled, but also the process—ongoing action, as indicated by the progressive periphrastic construction (kaiome/nh h@n).

(2) A few key early manuscripts (Ë75 B D) and versions do not include e)n u(mi=n (“in us”). This would be a natural addition, and possibly not original, though it is probably best to retain it in the text.

(3) It is said that Jesus “opened” (dih/noigen) the Writings [Scriptures] to them. This same verb (an intensive form of a)noi/gw) is used for the opening of the disciples’ eyes to recognize Jesus at the breaking of bread. Luke uses it again in v. 45, in a very similar context, where it is stated that he “opened” the mind (or understanding) of the disciples so as to understand the Scriptures. Earlier in the Emmaus narrative here (v. 27), a different verb is used: it says that Jesus “interpreted” (diermh/neusen) the things concerning himself in all the Writings (e)n pa/sai$ tai=$ grafai=$). This verb is an intensive form of e(rmhneu/w, rendered literally “explain through”, that is, to explain from one reference point (or language) to another.

(4) There may be a symbolic import to the phrase “in the way” (e)n th=| o)dw=|): “as he spoke with us in the way”. In the narrative context this simply means that Jesus spoke to them while they were travelling; however, “the way” appears also to have a been a (short-lived) term for the early Christian Community (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 12; cf. also the testimony of John the Baptist, Luke 1:76; 3:4; 7:27 and par.).

April 12 (2): John 20:11-18

For the three days of Easter (in the afternoon), I will be discussing three Resurrection Appearances of Jesus: (1) to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), (2) to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and (3) to Thomas. Interestingly, these persons are hardly even mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels. As for Mary Magdalene, her presence at the tomb, with Jesus’ early appearance to her, is a fixture in Gospel tradition—indeed, it is one of the indisputable facts in the Resurrection Narratives. And, while the basic outline may be the same in all four Gospels, how different are the precise details! John’s account is perhaps the best known, but is complicated by the presence of Peter and the Beloved Disciple (20:2-10)—the narrative makes more sense (and is more consistent with the Synoptics) if one reads 20:1 followed by vv. 11-18.

Looking at the episode in vv. 11-18, I highlight three principal motifs: First, an initial lack of recognition of the risen Jesus (vv. 14-15)—a motif which occurs in other Appearance stories (Luke 24:13-35; John 21:1-14). However, in John we also find repeatedly the motif of the audience misunderstanding what they see or hear Jesus saying or doing; in this instance, it is Jesus himself that Mary misunderstands (“…supposing that he is the gardener”). The verb here is doke/w, which has a fairly wide range of meaning: “think, consider, seem, appear, recognize”; a derived word is do/ca (usually translated “glory”), but which has the general sense of “thought, consideration, what seems (to be), what appears (to be)” (only secondarily does one speak of do/ca as “reputation, esteem, honor, glory, etc”). In the context of the Person of Christ, one naturally also relates the word to “docetic/docetism”—that Christ only appeared or seemed to be fully human. So, the word may have a deeper meaning here than it appears at first glance. It is only when Mary hears Jesus say her name, that she recognizes him.

This leads to the second Johannine motif of seeing and hearing. These appear frequently in both the narratives (miracle stories) and the discourses, and are often a source of misunderstanding (cf. 9:39-41, etc) for the audience. Jesus stresses repeatedly that he only says (and does) what he sees and hears the Father saying/doing (5:19-20, 30; 12:49-50, etc); similarly, believers will see and hear what Jesus says and does (5:24; 8:47; 12:47-49; 14:10, 24; 17:24, etc), which leads to the experience of (eternal) life in Christ (5:25, 28; 6:63, 68; 8:51; 12:50; and cf. the raising of Lazarus, 11:1-44). So, when Mary hears Jesus say her name, and recognizes his voice, it is not merely a dramatic narrative detail: one may say she is herself coming out of the tomb at the sound of his voice (5:25, 28); for she truly hears his voice (10:3-5, 16, 27; 18:37 [“all who are of the truth hear my voice”]). She also sees, that is, she recognizes Christ; just as only those who belong to the truth can hear God’s voice, so only those who are “born from above” can see the kingdom of God (3:3).

However, Mary’s understanding is not complete. This brings me to the third motif of ascension. Perhaps the most famous (and controversial) part of this narrative is in verse 17. Upon recognizing Jesus, Mary turns to him and calls to him (“Rabbi/Teacher”); Jesus’ response is: mh\ mou a%ptou ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for not yet have I gone up toward the Father”. The verb a%ptw generally means “connect, fasten, bind”, or, more figuratively, “touch”; in this regard, one may “touch” either lightly or strongly (“handle, cling to”, etc). The exact context and meaning of Jesus’ words here remain in dispute, with any number of suggested interpretations (many exotic or implausible); however, since the precise action is not specified, I believe they should be taken in a more symbolic fashion. Mary responds to Jesus in a natural, human way (addressing him as “Teacher”); whether or not she might actually try to embrace or “cling to” him physically, that would seem to be the underlying reality—she seeks to “touch” Jesus at the physical, rather than spiritual, level. So we have Jesus’ answer: “I have not yet gone up [i.e. ascended] to the Father”. This image of going up, taking up, lifting up, etc. occurs in Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospel, related to both his death and resurrection, and to his return to the Father. Particularly, in the last Discourses, does he refer to this “going away” (13:33-36; 14:2-4, 16-19, 26-31; 16:5-16, 19-24, 28; 17:11-13), back to the Father, which, in many instances at least, Jesus connects directly with the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete. It is by the Spirit that we are able to “touch” and “cling to” Christ, and only by the Spirit (being born from the Spirit, “from above”) that we can see and enter into the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is also reflected in the powerful language of union/unity expressed by Jesus throughout the Gospel (see especially chapter 17), and, I think, stated clearly again in Jesus’ closing words to Mary: “but go toward my brothers and say to them, ‘I go up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God‘”.