November 24: 1 Timothy 3:16cd

The Hymn, continued

(The first couplet was discussed in the previous note)

Second Couplet (verse 16c)

w&fqh a)gge/loi$
e)jhru/xqh e)n e&qehsin
“(he) was seen by (the) Messengers,
(and) was proclaimed among (the) Nations”

The contrast in the first couplet was between the “flesh” (sa/rc) and the “Spirit” (pneu=ma); here in the second couplet the juxtaposition is between the “Messengers” (a&ggeloi, i.e., Angels) and the “Nations” (e&qnh). The connection between the Angels and the Nations is ancient, as can be seen, for example, by the tradition preserved in Deut 32:8 (4QDeutj and LXX)—the number of the nations (trad. 70) corresponds to the number of the “sons of God” (divine/heavenly beings). The book of Daniel preserved a more developed form of this correspondence, when it refers to the tradition of a heavenly/angelic “Prince” who belongs to a particular nation (10:13, 20-22; 12:1), overseeing it.

The eschatological outlook of the Qumran Community evinces a more oppositional (and antagonistic) dualism, dividing the heavenly beings between the “sons of light” and “sons of darkness”. The righteous ones of the Community (on earth) are aligned with the “sons of light” (led by Michael), while the wicked nations are aligned with the “sons of darkness” (led by Belial); expressed vividly in the War Scroll (1QM) and other texts. This basic tradition is reflected in Rev 12:7-12, and thus was part of the early Christian apocalyptic as well.

The juxtaposition here in the hymn, however, does not represent an antithetical dualism; rather, the contrast is simply between the beings dwelling in heaven (Angels) and the peoples dwelling on earth (Nations).

As in the first couplet, the verbs are aorist passive indicative forms—w&fqh (“he was seen”) and e)khru/xqh (“he was proclaimed”). The context, in both instances, is the exaltation of Jesus, building on the second line of the first couplet, which alludes to the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The heavenly beings (Angels) are witnesses to the exalted Jesus’ presence in heaven, even as Jesus’ disciples on earth were witnesses to his resurrection. Those disciples, the first believers in Christ, then proclaimed (vb khru/ssw) the message of his exaltation to the surrounding peoples and nations.

The verb khru/ssw is fundamental to the early Christian tradition, and is used throughout the New Testament (including 19 times by Paul in his letters) to refer to the preaching of the Gospel. The related noun kh/rugma (k¢¡rygma, “proclamation”) is less common, with only 9 occurrences in the New Testament, but 6 of these are in the Pauline letters, where it is essentially synonymous with the Gospel (eu)agge/lion), as the message is proclaimed (preached) by missionaries and ministers (Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 1:21, etc; cp. the short ending of Mark [16:8]); as such, it is also used twice in the Pastoral letters (2 Tim 4:17; Tit 1:3). The word has come to serve as a technical term by New Testament scholars for the earliest Christian Gospel-preaching (kerygma).

Third Couplet (verse 16d)

e)pisteu/qh e)n ko/smw|
a)nelh/mfqh e)n do/ch|
“(he) was trusted in the world,
(and) was taken up in splendor”

The contrast in the final couplet follows the same heaven-earth juxtaposition from the first two couplets (cf. above). Here the order of the pairing reverts to that in the first couplet—earthly, then heavenly. The formal pattern of the prepositional predicate also continues, using the preposition e)n (“in”). The same pattern applied in the second couplet as well, though the sense of the preposition there is more properly rendered “among”. There is no preposition specified in the first line of the second couplet, but the dative could certainly reflect e)n—i.e., “was seen among the Messengers”.

The earthly aspect here is expressed by the common word ko/smo$, typically translated “world”, but which properly signifies the order and arrangement of the world (i.e., world-order, created order). The noun do/ca is also a common term, but one which can be difficult to translate, due to its relatively wide semantic range. It fundamentally refers to how something (or someone) is regarded, especially in the positive sense of being esteemed, i.e. treated with honor. In a religious context, when applied to God, it connotes the esteem and honor which is due to God. He is deserving of this honor simply because He is the Creator and one true God, the Ruler of the universe. For this reason, do/ca (like the corresponding Hebrew word dobK*) is often used, in the more objective sense, for all that distinguishes God from all other (created) beings. Along these lines, the word is typically rendered “glory”, “splendor”, and the like. Here, it is best viewed as a comprehensive term for the entire divine/heavenly realm, in contrast to the earthly/material cosmos.

The verbs in the third couplet, again expressed in aorist passive indicative forms, have a simple and straightforward meaning. The verb pisteu/w means trust, in the specifically Christian sense of trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. To say that he was trusted “in the world” draws upon the context of the corresponding lines in the first two couplets: (a) Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, and (b) the post-resurrection proclamation of the Gospel. His disciples trusted in him, becoming believers, while others came to faith, in turn, through their proclamation.

The verb a)nalamba/nw (“take up”), especially in a passivum divinum sense (“taken up [by God]”), was a technical term for the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:2, 11, 22; [Mk 16:19]; cf. also the noun a)na/lhmyi$ in Lk 9:51). Implicit in this, of course, is the wider idea of Jesus’ exaltation. A central component of the early Gospel proclamation is the motif of the exalted Jesus standing “at the right hand” of God in heaven (Mk 14:62 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:33f; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22). This motif stems largely from Psalm 110:1 (cf. Mk 12:36 par; Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13), but may be influenced by other Scriptural traditions as well, such as the ‘son of man’ passage in Daniel 7:13-14. In any case, it certainly would inform the idea of Jesus being taken up “in glory/splendor” here in the hymn.

As in the Christ hymns of Philippians and Colossians, there is a strong emphasis on the exalted Jesus’ position of rule over all creation. This is perhaps clearest in the second couplet (cf. above), in which all beings—both in heaven and on earth—recognize the exaltation of Jesus (and his divine place alongside God the Father).


In the study of each couplet, I have brought out the conjunction of the two lines; however, when considering the hymn-portion of v. 16 as a whole, it is better to present it consistently in its flowing, litany-like character:

was made to shine forth in (the) flesh,
was made right (again) in (the) Spirit,
was seen (among the) Messengers,
was proclaimed among (the) Nations,
was trusted in (the) world,
was taken up in splendor”

Clearly, the lines do not represent a chronological summary of the Gospel message. The thematic structure is better understood as being woven around the heaven-earth dualism of each couplet. The first and third couplets are in relatively close parallel, contrasting Jesus’ earthly life and ministry with his heavenly exaltation (resurrection/ascension). The second (middle) couplet emphasizes the reaction to Jesus’ exaltation, as both heavenly beings (Angels) and earthly beings (human believers) acknowledge the exalted and ruling position of Jesus. This acknowledgement (trust/faith/confession) leads to proclamation—that is, the preaching of the Gospel message. While the Angels may proclaim this message, in certain ways, it more properly refers to the work of believers on earth, the ministry and mission-work of the Gospel, in all its different forms.

October 26: Philippians 2:9b

Philippians 2:9b

The clause in v. 9b is subordinate to the main clause (9a), expounding and qualifying it; that is to say, it explains what is meant, primarily, to say that God “made (Jesus) high over (all)”. The two parts of the verse should be read as a poetic couplet, with synthetic parallelism:

“And therefore God made him high over (all),
and favored him (with) the name th(at is) over every name”

Before proceeding with an exegesis of v. 9b, I feel it is important to emphasize again the context established by the main clause of v. 9a (discussed in the previous note). In particular, let us give further consideration to the following two parts of the clause:

1. dio\ kai/This dual conjunction, governed by the inferential conjunction dio/ (“therefore”), provides the transition between vv. 6-8 and vv. 9-11. In the immediate context, it indicates the reason for God’s action in “making Jesus high over all”. As the syntax makes clear, God’s action is in response to Jesus “emptying himself” and “lowering himself”. In this regard, it is worth keeping in mind the way that the hymn as a whole is governed by four primary aorist verbs:

    • e)ke/nwsen [Jesus] “he emptied (himself)”
    • e)tapei/nwsen [Jesus] “he lowered (himself)”
    • u(peru/ywsen [God] “he made (him) high over (all)”
    • e)xari/sato [God] “he showed (him) favor”

Jesus’ willingness to give up his exalted position (with God in heaven), and to take on the lowest position (as a human slave), prompts God to “show him favor”, exalting him to the highest position. This paradoxthat lowering oneself leads to exaltationis fundamental to the New Testament message, rooted in Jesus’ own example and epitomized in his famous saying of Matt 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14. In particular, Jesus’ willingness to submit himself (like a slave) to human authority, leading to his suffering and death (in the manner of a criminal slave), results in his being given a position of rule over all humankind (and all creation).

2. u(peru/ywsen (“he showed favor”)The verb encapsulates the entirety of the earliest Christology (during the period c. 35-60 A.D.). As I have repeatedly noted, this was an exaltation Christology, meaning that Jesus’ divine status and identity as the Son of God was understood primarily (if not exclusively) through the resurrection. After being raised from the dead, Jesus was further exalted to a position “at the right hand” of God in heaven. This was a fundamental belief, widespread among the earliest believers, as the New Testament record makes clear (cf. Mk 12:36; 14:62 pars; [16:19]; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22). The implication is that the  exalted Jesus now stands alongside God on His throne, and thus shares in that ruling position. The developing pre-existence Christology (reflected in the first half of the hymn) is essentially patterned after the exaltation portraitthat is to say, Jesus held a similar position, alongside God the Father in heaven, prior to his life and mission on earth.

Now, turning to the clause that follows in v. 9b:

kai\ e)xari/sato au)tw=| to\ o&noma to\ u(pe\r pa=n o&noma
“and He favored him (with) the name th(at is) over every name”

e)xari/sato (“he showed favor”)The two main aorist verbs in the second half of the hymn are treated as a pair: u(peru/ywsen kai\ e)xari/sato (“He made [him] high over [all] and favored [him]”). The two actions thus go hand-in-hand, and should be treated as two components (or aspects) of the same exaltation of Jesus by God the Father.

The middle deponent verb xari/zomai means “give a favor, show (someone a) favor”, and is rather frequent in the Pauline letters (16 of the 23 NT occurrences, including 2 in Ephesians). The usage is closely tied to Paul’s key theme of God showing “favor” (xa/ri$) to us through the work (his sacrificial death) of Jesus; indeed, the verb is almost always used in this context, and it is quite rare to see it applied to Jesus himself (i.e., God showing favor to him).

au)tw=| (“to him”)The unusual use of the verb xari/zomai (applied to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus), noted above, is significant, though its importance is easily glossed over by commentators eager to assert that Jesus maintained his exalted (heavenly) position even throughout his earthly life. The “emptying” (kenosis) of Jesus here in the hymn is stripped of its essential meaning if one attempts to force into the passage the Christological idea that Jesus maintained his exalted position all throughout his life as a human being. Because Jesus truly did empty and lower himself, it was necessary and fitting that God should raise him (back) to a position of glory. This was something that God did to him, through His own eternal power and glorythe exaltation to God’s right hand, even as He also raised him from the dead.

to\ o&noma to\ u(pe\r pa=n o&noma (“the name th(at is) over every name”)This phrase has proven to be rather problematic, and source of debate among commentators. It is the direct object of the verb xari/zomaithat is to say, it represents the special favor granted by God to Jesus. But just what is this “name th(at is) over every name”? In my view, readers of the passage (including many commentators) have been tripped up here by the corresponding expression “the name of Jesus” in v. 10. A careless reading might lead one to think that the “name of Jesus”, and thus also the “name over every name”, is simply the name Jesus (Yeshua). Almost certainly, this is not correct, though the importance of the point requires a more detailed discussion, which will be provided in the next note (on v. 10).

The phrase “the name th(at is) over [u(pe/r] every name” is clearly parallel with the idea of God making Jesus high over [u(per-] all (v. 9a). The parallelism of this wordplay is often lost (or ignored) in translation, but I have preserved it precisely in the literal translation  above. Indeed, the name is central to the exaltation itself, and serves to explain what it means for God to “make him high over (all)”. This will be discussed in the next note.

It is vital here that one recognize the significance of the name (o&noma), from the standpoint of ancient Near Eastern religious thought and cultural tradition. A person’s name was seen as embodying his/her essential nature and character; this means that, to know a person’s name, in this sense, is to know the person. This was equally true in a religious contextto know the name of a deity is to know the deity. For this reason, it is easy to see how namesespecially the names and titles of God—could come to possess a kind of magical quality. To invoke or “call” the name of God was the same as connecting, in a real way, with the personal power and presence of the Divine. For more on the subject, cf. the introduction to my earlier series “And you shall call his name…”.

Given this ancient understanding and use of the name, one can readily see how Jesus‘ name would take on special importance among early believers. In fact, there are three areas of early Christian belief which must be kept in view, in order to achieve a correct interpretation of vv. 9-10:

    • The importance of Jesus’ name for believers
    • The use of the (divine) title “Lord” (ku/rio$) applied to Jesus, and
    • The idea that Jesus has special access to God’s own name

Each of these will be discussed as we proceed with our study of verse 10.

October 13: Philippians 2:6a

Philippians 2:6a

o^$ e)n morfh=| qeou= u(pa/rxwn

The “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11 can be divided into two halves which mirror each other conceptually. This structure of the hymn will be discussed in more detail in the concluding note to this series; however, it is important at the outset to have at least the basic outline in mind. Verses 6-8 describe the lowering of Jesus from an exalted heavenly place alongside God the Father, while vv. 9-11 correspondingly describe the exaltation, the raising of him back to heaven. This may be framed as a chiastic outline—moving from divine/heavenly (pre-)existence, and back to an exalted status (as God/Lord) in heaven:

    • God sends his Son from him (i.e. from heaven)
      • to be born (lit. come to be) of a woman (Gal 4:4)
        • into the suffering/slavery of the human condition (v. 7a)
        • suffering/death on the cross (v. 8)
      • through the resurrection, Jesus is “born” (i.e. firstborn of the dead)
    • God exalts him to heaven, at his right hand, as Son of God (cf. Ps 2:7 / Acts 13:32-33) and Lord

This same sequence is indicated, in simpler form, by the four main aorist verbs that guide the syntax of the passage:

    • e)ke/nwsen (“he [Jesus] emptied [himself]”)—his ‘departure’ from heaven and birth/incarnation as a human being
    • e)tapei/nwsen (“he lowered [himself]”)—his suffering and death
    • u(peru/ywsen (“[God] lifted [him] high”)—Jesus’ resurrection and ascension/exaltation
    • e)xari/sato (“[God himself] showed favor [to him]”)—”with the name over every name”, as Lord and (Son of) God in heaven

This will be studied in detail as we proceed through the hymn.

The opening lines of the hymn, in verse 6, establish the position of Jesus in heaven. This is usually taken as evidence of a pre-existence Christology, and correctly so; indeed, it would appear to be the earliest example of such a Christology in the New Testament (c. 60 A.D., or somewhat earlier). In the prior period (c. 35-60 A.D.), an exaltation Christology dominated Christian thought, whereby the deity of Jesus—his nature and status as the Son of God—was located almost exclusively in the resurrection, and his exaltation to heaven to reside at the “right hand of God”. Needless to say, Phil 2:6-11 attests both aspects of first-century Christology, with a pre-existence dimension (vv. 6-8) added to the (earlier) exaltation-aspect.

There are two clauses in verse 6, the first of which will be examined in today’s note. I have left it untranslated (above), so that its meaning (which has been much disputed) can be established through careful exegesis.

The initial clause begins with a relative pronoun (o%$, “which, who”), referring back to Jesus Christ (e)n Xristw=| Ihsou=) in v. 5 (cf. the prior note). There are number of hymn-like early Christological statements in the New Testament, where the lines are similarly governed by an initial relative pronoun (Col 1:15; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 1:3). In context, the pronoun provides a transition between verse 5 and the hymn proper: “…in (the) Anointed Yeshua, who [o%$]…”. The remainder of the clause is considerably more difficult; the central phrase follows:

e)n morfh=| qeou=
“in (the) morfh/ of God”

The interpretive crux involves the precise meaning of the word morfh/, which occurs only here in the New Testament (apart from once in the ‘long ending’ of Mark [16:12]); it is also relatively rare in the Greek Old Testament (LXX), occurring just 8 times (Judg 8:18; Job 4:16; Isa 44:13; Dan 3:19; Tobit 1:13; Wisdom 18:1). A related verbal noun mo/rfwsi$ is similarly rare (Rom 2:20; 2 Tim 3:5), along with the verb morfo/w (only in Gal 4:19); neither word is used in the LXX. The fundamental meaning of the morf– word-group is that of the (external) form or shape of something—often specifically of human beings or animals, but it could apply to any object or feature of the visible world.

Given the connotation of morfh/ as referring to something visible, one should perhaps understand the expression morfh\ qeou= in traditional terms—of the divine/heavenly “splendor” that surrounds God when He appears in a vision (or theophany) to human beings. In other words, it is a visible mark which sets a divine/heavenly being apart, distinct from a human being. If we are to apply this to Jesus, it would mean that he is to be considered as something more than an ordinary human being. Early Christians would have affirmed this unquestionably of Jesus following the resurrection, with his exaltation to heaven; however, as noted above, vv. 6ff here attests to some form of pre-existence Christology as well—that Jesus had a comparable exalted status even prior to his life on earth.

The term “exalted” well captures the connotation of morfh/ as it is used here, and there can be little doubt that the early exaltation-Christology informs the imagery in vv. 6ff. The key image of this Christology is of Jesus standing in heaven “at the right hand of God”; that expression, or allusions to it, are frequent in the New Testament, and attest clearly to its central position in the earliest Christology (cf. Mk 12:36 par [citing Ps 110:1]; 14:62 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22). Thus, it was well accepted that, after the resurrection, Jesus held an exalted position of supreme glory and honor alongside God Himself in heaven. The developing pre-existence Christology attributed a comparable divine position for Jesus in heaven, even prior to his earthly life.

Equally important for an understanding of the word morfh/ here in verse 6 is its parallel usage in verse 7, where the expression morfh\ dou/lou (“form of a slave“) is precisely parallel with morfh\ qeou= (“form of God“). If a position alongside God in heaven represents the highest, most exalted point, the position of a human slave represents the lowest point. This will be discussed further in the note on verse 7.

The final word of the clause in v. 6a is the (present active) participle u(pa/rxwn. The verb u(pa/rxw is quite difficult to translate in English; literally it means “begin under”, in the sense of beginning at a certain place or point. It came to be used in the more general sense of “be present, exist”, sometimes with the nuance of being in a particular state or condition or set of circumstances. It can also be used of something which belongs to a person, being “under” his/her control. This relatively wide range of meaning makes an interpretation of its use here, in relation to the phrase “in the morfh/ of God”, rather difficult.

It is helpful to consider how Paul uses the verb u(pa/rxw elsewhere in his letters; the most obvious example is in 1 Cor 11:7, where it is used in connection with the do/ca qeou= (“honor/splendor of God”), which, as noted above, is roughly comparable to morfh\ qeou= (“[visible] form of God”). In that verse, the same verbal form (present active participle) refers to the circumstances whereby someone is marked as possessing a certain (exalted) status or position. Here in Philippians, the verb is used again at 3:20, where it refers to the exalted position that awaits for believers in heaven; right now, at this moment, such a place exists in heaven, belonging to the heavenly realm, but we are yet to enter into it.

With this line of interpretation in mind, let us now turn to a translation of v. 6a; an extreme literal rendering would be:

“who, beginning under in (the) form of God”

We must remember that morfh/ refers to a visible shape or appearance, and that morfh\ qeou= is best understood in terms of a visual designation that sets God (or the divine) apart from human beings—i.e., the divine “splendor” (do/ca) manifest in traditional heavenly visions or theophanies. By using the verb u(pa/rxw (as a present active participle), the phrase emphatically affirms that Jesus exists (and existed) under just such circumstances, in an exalted position alongside God in heaven. Though not stated specifically in this verse, the context (of the hymn) indicates that Jesus held this position prior to his life on earth (which means prior to his death and resurrection).

Many commentators and theologians would seek to read a more expansive Christology into the hymn here in vv. 6-7, drawing upon later, developed Christological notions regarding Jesus’ divine nature and attributes, his precise relationship to the Father (from an orthodox, trinitarian standpoint), etc. However interesting such speculation may be, and important in its own right, it goes far beyond the thought of the hymn—and, indeed, of Paul’s own thought (for the most part) all throughout his letters. The tensions between orthodox Christology and the language and imagery used in the hymn becomes even more pronounced in verse 7, as we shall see. It is vital that we keep close to the actual wording and syntax of the text, avoiding the temptation to read wider theological concerns into the passage. Indeed, we can see the importance of this disciplined approach as we turn to the second clause of v. 6, which we shall do in the next daily note.

August 23: Exodus 15:12

Exodus 15:12

“You stretched (out) your right (hand),
(and the) earth swallowed them.”

Verse 12 is not a stanza as such, but a single (2-beat) couplet that brings the first part of the Song to a close. The terse synthetic parallelism of the couplet serves as a dramatic climax to the poetic account of the miracle at the Sea. The “right (hand)” (/ym!y`) of God was mentioned earlier in verse 6 (stanza 3), at the beginning of the poetic narration proper. As a symbol it emphasizes both YHWH’s power and the fact that victory was achieved by He alone, without reliance upon any human intermediary (or military technology). The “stretching out” (vb hf*n`) of His hand suggests the divine power in action.

YHWH, as the Creator, does not simply command human armies, but rather the forces of creation itself. The natural world responds to His command and does battle against the enemies of God (and of His people). Typically, this is understood in terms of the forces in the sky (heaven)—sun and moon, wind and storm, etc. However, here it is the earth (Jr#a#) that responds to the command of God’s outstretched hand. From the standpoint of the ancient Near Eastern cosmology, the universe could be divided simply into two parts—the heaven(s) above, and the earth below. The latter includes not only the flat disc (or cylinder) of the earth itself, but all of the space below the earth as well—that is, the underworld, conceived of primarily as the realm of death and the dead. This comprehensive meaning of Jr#a# (°ereƒ, Akkadian erƒetu) is well attested, for example in the Canaanite texts from Ugarit, but also at various points in the Psalms and Old Testament poetry, etc.

While the Sea may allude to the primeval waters, the actual “Reed Sea” where the nature-miracle took place is a body of water in/on the earth. When the waters, which the great wind had piled up, fell back upon the Egyptians (cf. the previous note on stanza 4), it may fairly be said that the earth “swallowed” (vb ul^B*) them. At the same time, as they were drowned to death, they were taken down into the realm of the dead below the earth (Sheol, the underworld); thus, they were “swallowed” by the earth in a double sense.

Coming as it does after the antiphon-response of stanza 4 (verse 11), it is worth considering this couplet in light of that response. The specific point of emphasis in those lines is on how the power of YHWH (over creation), manifest in the miracle at the Sea, separates Him from the other gods worshiped by the nations. There is no sense here of an absolute monotheism, but rather the (rhetorical) question posed reflects the relative monotheism of the early Israelite period. The point is not that no other deity exists, but that YHWH is far superior to all other deities, and that He alone is the Creator. His control of the forces of nature marks Him as the Creator.

The wording of the first two lines, each of which begins with the interrogative “Who (is) like you…?” (hk*m)k* ym!), needs to be considered carefully. The first line reads:

“Who (is) like you among the Mighty (one)s, YHWH?”

The expression “mighty (one)s” is a literal translation of the plural <l!a@ > <yl!a@. It is thus a plural of the noun la@ (°¢l), “mighty (one)”, which is the common Semitic term for deity, and can be used either as a general noun or proper name/title, much like “god/God” in English. None of the “mighty ones” (i.e. gods) worshiped by the other nations can compare with YHWH, the Creator worshiped by Israel. YHWH is to be identified with °E~l, the Creator and Mighty One of ancient Semitic belief. The question in the second line essentially repeats that of the first:

“Who (is) like you, so magnificent among the Holy (ones)?”

This question goes a bit further, suggesting that only YHWH is truly deserving of worship. The passive participle of the verb rd^a* (“be great, mighty, majestic”) connotes the honor that is due to YHWH. As previously noted, the (abstract) noun vd#q) is best understood as a collective term (“holy [ones]”), parallel with “mighty ones” in the first line. It emphasizes the religious/cultic environment in which the deity is revered and worshiped. The root vdq fundamentally implies a distinction, whereby one thing (or person) is separated (or set apart) from another. A sacred space and apparatus is set up for the worship of a particular deity—but YHWH is deserving of worship far more so that any other deity worshiped by the nations.

The contrast between Israel and the nations continues into the second half of the Song, becoming one of its major themes. This will be discussed in the next note.

August 19: Exodus 15:6-8

Exodus 15:6-8

The third and fourth stanzas of the Song of the Sea are longer than the first two (cf. the previous notes on stanzas 1 and 2), each being made up of five 2-beat couplets. Together they serve to narrate the event at the Sea in poetic form, corresponding to the prose account in chapter 14 (vv. 21-29). They expound in greater detail what was stated only briefly in the first two stanzas.

Stanza (vv. 6-8a):

“Your right (hand), YHWH,
is mighty in (its) power;
your right (hand), YHWH,
broke (the) enemy apart!

In (the) greatness of your rising,
you broke (those) standing (against) You!

You sent out your burning (anger),
(and) it devoured them as stubble;
with (the) blowing of your nostril(s),
(the) waters were piled up (together)!”

This stanza can be divided rather clearly into two bicolon-pairs surrounding a central couplet (all with 2-beat [2+2] meter). The bicolon pairs contain a strong (synthetic) parallelism, in which the second line (and second couplet) builds upon the first.

The first two couplets evince the kind of repetitive parallelism that is typical in Canaanite poetry of the period. The motif of God’s “right (hand)” (/ym!y`) symbolizes strength—especially strength in battle that leads to victory. This is further emphasized by the combination of the verb rd^a* (“be mighty, great, magnificent”) with the noun j^K) (“firmness, strength, power”). The focus on the “right hand” of YHWH also signifies that victory was achieved by He alone, without use of human intermediaries (or their technology).

This is stated more pointedly in the central couplet, where the victory over the Egyptians was achieved through the “greatness” of the “rising (up)” of YHWH Himself. The noun br^ fundamentally denotes an abundance or increase, either of size, extent, or number. The root hag, meaning “rise, raise (high)”, was used in the opening couplet of the Song; YHWH is to be raised high (i.e. exalted) in praise because He has raised Himself victoriously in battle against His enemies. This victory is expressed in the second lines of the second and third couplets, using two verbs with a similar meaning: Ju^r* (“break in pieces”) and sr^j* (“break/tear down”). The “enemy” is defined as those who “stand (against)” God, in the sense that they are hostile to His people.

The final two couplets relate how YHWH achieved this victory. Couplet 4 describes this figuratively in terms of the fiery anger of God that consumes (vb lk^a*, “eat, devour”) His enemies. In the ancient Semitic idiom, this “burning” (/orj*) is often located in the nostril(s) ([a^) of God—an image presumably related to the idea of an angry snorting bull, or something comparable (°E~l as a bull was an ancient religious symbol). Such powerful ‘snorting’ from the nose/nostrils fittingly conveys the key image in the climactic couplet—that of a great blowing wind (j^Wr) from God. This wind was central to the nature-miracle that took place during the event at the Sea (according to the traditional account). It was the effect of the wind upon the sea-waters that resulted in the wondrous event, summarized in the concluding line:

“(the) waters were piled up (together)”

The verb used is <r^u*, an extremely rare root in the Old Testament. Apart from its use in the Song here, it is attested only by the related noun hm*r@u& (“pile, heap”, as of grain, rubble, etc). The basic image is that of a great mound of water, perhaps meant to resemble a giant tidal wave. The antiphon-response in verse 8b gives a bit more clarity to what is envisioned.

Response (v. 8b):

“(The) flowing (water)s stood (up) like a mound,
(the) deep (place)s churned in (the) heart of (the) sea!”

Following the poetic pattern of the Song, this antiphonal couplet is a 3-beat (3+3) bicolon. It expounds the statement in the final line of the stanza, regarding the effect of the powerful wind from YHWH upon the Sea. The noun dn@ (n¢¼) in the first line is somewhat problematic, since the other occurrences of it in the Old Testament (Josh 3:13, 16; Psalm 33:7; 78:13) are likely dependent upon its use in the Song. Evidence for a proper determination of its meaning is thus slight, but the basic denotation of “mound, hill” would seem to be confirmed by the cognate word nadd in Arabic (cf. Cross, p. 128).

Also difficult is the verb ap^q* in the second line, as there are only three other occurrences in the Old Testament (Job 10:10; Zeph 1:12; Zech 14:6). Based on the context of these passages the meaning is thought to relate to creating/producing a thickening or condensation of liquid. The idea of “churning” is perhaps an accurate denotation.

Together, these two lines depict the immense power of what took place in the Sea. The wind pushed the waters up—effectively stopping their flowing and damming them up, so that they piled up into a great mound of water. Deep within the water itself this resulted in a turbulent churning as wave after wave was pushed back upon itself.

In the next note, we will look at the fourth stanza (vv. 9-11) which is clearly related closely to the third, both poetically and in terms the poetic narrative. As the third stanza emphasizes the pushing back of the waters, so the fourth climaxes with the moment when these waters are released again and fall upon the Egyptians.

References marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History and Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).

September 23: Revelation 5:1-8

Revelation 5:1-14

Revelation 5:1 begins the second half of the vision in chapters 4-5. If chap. 4 was devoted to a vision of God (the Father) on His throne, chap. 5 is a vision of Jesus at the right hand of the Father—that is, sharing the ruling place with God. The parallelism between these two halves is unquestionable, and reflects a central theme of the book, theological and christological, which was already introduced in the opening words, and the first vision, in chapter 1. The key points in parallel are:

    • The central presence of the Throne, representing the seat of ruling-power in heaven. The Lamb has a place near and/or on the Throne.
    • Both God and Lamb are surrounded by the “seven Spirits” and have authority/control over them.
    • The Living Beings and Elders likewise surround both figures and give homage/praise to them, in a similar fashion.
    • The Song of praise that is sung to each uses similar language and form, beginning with the word a&cio$, usually translated “worthy”—i.e. “Worthy are you…”
Rev 5:1-4

The chapter begins with a narrowing of focus for the vision, closing in on the image of the throne:

“And I saw upon the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, a paper-roll [i.e. scroll] having been written (on the) inside and on the back, (and) having been sealed down with seven seals.” (verse 1)

Here we have the central motif of the “right hand” of God. The adjective decio/$ literally means “giving”, referring to the right hand as the auspicious (or giving hand)—i.e. the hand or side from which blessing comes, where symbols of power and authority are focused, etc. A fundamental element in the early Christian view of Jesus, and the Gospel proclamation (kerygma), was that, following his death and resurrection, Jesus was exalted to a position at the “right hand” of God in heaven—cf. Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. In terms of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God, this motif was largely drawn from Psalm 110:1, and its application goes back to Jesus’ own words (Mark 12:36; 14:62 pars). The viewpoint here of the right hand of the throne of God prepares the reader for the appearance of the exalted Jesus.

Another important detail in this verse is the seal or stamp (sfragi/$) on the scroll. Typically, a papyrus or parchment scroll (bi/blo$, here the diminutive bibli/on) would be tied up with a string, upon which a clay or wax (or lead) seal was applied, and then stamped down (vb. katasfragi/zw) with an engraved image (from a signet ring, etc) to indicate ownership. God, as the Ruler, is the one who has stamped down his signet onto the seal, indicating his ownership. No one could tamper with (i.e. break) this seal; only the owner (God himself) has the authority to open the scroll, or someone who possessed the same authority (from God). The divine character of this seal is further emphasized by the plural (“seals”) and use of the number seven. This is the point of the solemn declaration which follows in verse 2:

“And I saw a strong Messenger proclaiming in [i.e. with] a great voice, ‘Who is a&cio$ to open up the paper-roll and to loose(n) its seals?'”

This is the same adjective (a&cio$) applied to God in 4:11, and which will similarly be applied to the Lamb in verse 9. I have temporarily left it untranslated (cf. further in the next note), but will mention here the fundamental meaning of something which is brought into balance (i.e. being of equal/appropriate weight). The significance of this is brought out vividly in verse 3:

“And no one—(not) in heaven, and not upon the earth, and not down under the earth—was able [i.e. had power] to open up the paper-roll and to look at it.”

The implication, of course, is that no one in all of creation possessed the personal authority of (or from) God in order to be able, rightly, to break the seal. The verb du/namai literally means “be (en)powered, have power”, but is often better rendered in English as “be able (i.e. to do something)”. The emphasis is not on a test of strength or power as such, but on a person’s authority (i.e. ability) to do something. This scene becomes personalized when the visionary (seer) gives his own reaction:

“And I wept (very) much (at this), that no one was found a&cio$ to open up the paper-roll and (so) not to (be able to) look at it.” (v. 4)

The importance of looking (vb. ble/pw) at the contents of the scroll is emphasized repeatedly, though it is not immediately clear why this would be so. On the one hand, it can be regarded as a literary/narrative device, building suspense—the reader is waiting and eager to find out what is written on this scroll (v. 1). At the same time, the ability to look at its contents implies someone with the authority to open the scroll and read it, which, again, anticipates the appearance of the Lamb (Jesus), building narrative suspense. The person allowed to open a sealed scroll would be: (a) the owner of it (or his/her representative), or (b) the person to whom it was rightfully sent (and intended to be read). Both aspects of meaning are present here, though it is the former which is emphasized.

Rev 5:5-8

In these verses, we find a precise response to the scenario established in vv. 1-4—no one in all of creation is able to open the scroll. There is a chiastic structure to vv. 1-8 which I outline as follows :

Indeed, the answer comes in verse 5:

“And (then) one out of the Elder (Ones)s said to me: ‘Do not weep! (for) see, the lion th(at is) out of the offshoot [i.e. tribe] of Yehudah, the root of Dawid, (he is able) to open up the paper-roll and its seven seals!'”

On these “Elder Ones” (presbu/teroi), see the previous note on 4:4. His response is characteristic of heavenly beings (Angels) when they appear to chosen ones among God’s people (i.e., “Do not be afraid!”, etc). The declaration which follows is among the most overtly Messianic in the book of Revelation, expressed very much in traditional language, specifically related to the Davidic Ruler figure-type (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Two expressions are involved:

    • “the lion out of the tribe of Judah”—The lion commonly symbolizes power, but also a leading/regal position among all the other animals (i.e. ‘king of the beasts’); lion images were frequently used in the royal iconography of the ancient Near East. Here the expression is derived primarily from Genesis 49:9-10, part of Jacob’s testament (“last words”) to his sons (Judah, vv. 8-12). These verses were given a Messianic interpretation by the time of Jesus, as we see from the Qumran texts (4Q252 5:1-4), and other writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D. The ruling staff (tb#v@) in Gen 49:10, was blended together with that of Balaam’s oracle (Num 24:17), to form a dual Messianic reference, prophesying the coming of the (end-time) Davidic Ruler.
    • “the root of David”—This expression comes from Isaiah 11:1: “A stick/twig [rf#j)] will come forth from the stem [uz~G#] of Yishai {Jesse}, a green shoot [rx#n@] will bear (fruit) from his roots [vr#v, pl.]”. The Septuagint (LXX) translates both uz~G# (“stem”) and vr#v# (“root”) as r(i/za (“root”), which is used here in Revelation. Isaiah 11:1-4ff was one of the key passages interpreted as prophesying the coming of the Davidic Messiah. With its military allusions, which could only be realized for Christians at the return of Jesus, it is generally absent from the New Testament, except for 2 Thess 2:8 and (here) in the book of Revelation. David himself was more properly referenced by the “branch” [rx#n~ / rf#j)], which, under the influence of the similar expression “sprout/branch of David” (dw]d*[l=] j^mx#) in Jer 23:15; 33:5 (cf. also Zech 3:8; 6:12), gave rise to rich set of Messianic motifs—see the Qumran texts 4Q161 7-10 iii 22; 4Q174 1-3 i 11; 4Q252 5:3-4; 4Q285 5, and other writings of the period.

In verse 6, this Messianic description (of the exalted Jesus) gives way to the image/vision of a Lamb (a)rni/on):

“And, in the middle of the ruling-seat and the four Living (Being)s, and in the middle of the Elder (One)s, I saw a Lamb having stood as (one) having been slaughtered, holding seven horns and seven eyes, which are the the [seven] Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.”

The repeated use of e)n me/sw| (“in the middle [of]”) is a bit confusing, but I believe it is meant to emphasize two things: (1) the central position of the Lamb in the heavenly scene, and (2) his close proximity to the throne of God. There are four visual attributes or characteristics of this Lamb:

    1. It is standing (i.e. alive) even though it appears to have been slain. The paradox of this image may be conveyed by the sequence of perfect verb forms—”having stood”, “having been slaughtered”. This aptly reflects the dual-aspect of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the importance of both to his exaltated position/status as Messiah and Son of God.
    2. It has been slaughtered (vb. sfa/zw). This refers to ritual slaughter, i.e. a sacrificial offering. There are several possibilities:
      (i) The Passover lamb (Exod 12:6, etc), the blood of which symbolized God’s protection/deliverance for the faithful ones among His people.
      (ii) A sacrifice for sin/guilt (Lev 14:12-13), though lambs were more commonly used in the daily offering, etc, and not regularly connected with atonement for sin/guilt.
      (iii) The sacrificial offering at the establishment of the Covenant between God and His people—according to Exod 24:5-8, this was a sacrifice of “good will”, utilizing an ox/bull for the partial burnt offering.
      Jesus’ death is associated with all three of these, at various points in the New Testament. Probably the connection with the Passover is most clearly in view, as also in 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19, and, presumably, John 1:29, 36 (cf. the details in 13:1, etc, 19:14, 29[?], 31). There may also be a allusion here to Isaiah 53:7-8 (Acts 8:32-33).
    3. It has seven horns. The horn of a powerful animal, like the lion itself (cf. above), was a common ancient symbol of the strength and authority to rule; as such, it was natural as a Messianic motif—i.e. Luke 1:69 (cf. Ps 132:17; 92:10; 148:14; Ezek 29:1; 1 Sam 2:1, etc). The number seven here indicates divine power and authority, that the Lamb shares rule with God the Father (on/at His throne).
    4. It has seven eyes. These are identified specifically with the heavenly beings or Messengers (“Spirits”) which surround God’s throne and which “are sent forth into all the earth”. This imagery seems to be drawn from Zech 4:2ff, in which the “lamps” (Angels/Spirits) are described as “the eyes of the Lord” which travel back and forth in all the earth (v. 10). Here they are the eyes of the Lamb, indicating again the close relationship between the Lamb (the exalted Jesus) and God the Father.

Verse 7 narrates simply how the Lamb approaches the throne (at God’s right hand) and takes the scroll from God (“the One sitting on the ruling seat”). This action triggers an explosion of praise from the heavenly beings around the throne (vv. 8ff), similar to that which they offered to God in 4:8-11 (on this, cf. the previous note). It is an elaborate and dramatic scene, as the Living Beings and Elders again fall down to give homage—this time to the Lamb. They hold musical instruments (the kithara, a six- or seven-stringed harp) and golden dishes containing fragrant smoke (incense), identified as the “prayers” of the holy ones. These represent different aspects of worship—music and ritual offerings, only in the latter case the offerings, in a Christian context, have been defined in terms of prayer (largely eliminating the sacrificial/ritual dimension).

The Song sung by the heavenly beings will be discussed in the next daily note.

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