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

Sola Scriptura

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

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

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

2. The Words of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 7:10-14, 25ff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

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

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

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

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

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

The Letter of James

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Scriptura: Mark 12:35-37 par

Sola Scriptura

Jesus’ View of the Authority of Scripture: The Prophets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would divide the Psalm as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Scriptura: Matthew 5:17-20

Sola Scriptura

The studies this Fall in the “Reformation Fridays” series examine the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”). Following our introduction and a short study of the key Scripture-declaration in 2 Tim 3:15-17 (cf. the previous study), we now turn to consider Jesus’ view and treatment of the Scriptures.

The term “(sacred) Writing(s)” (grafh/, plur. grafai/) occurs 14 times in the Gospel sayings of Jesus, almost always in a context that points to the fulfillment of Scripture (prophecy) in the person of Jesus. This is also the specific emphasis where the word is used elsewhere by the Gospel writer (Luke 4:27, 32, 45; John 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9). Jesus’ use of the term “Writing” (i.e. Scripture), as for nearly all Jews of the period, was more or less synonymous with the expression “the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13 [par Lk 16:16]; 22:40; Luke 24:44)—meaning the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and the Prophetic books (Isaiah–Malachi), including the Psalms. It is not entirely certain, based purely on the Gospel evidence, to what extent the other Old Testament books were similarly included under the label of Scripture.

Indeed, our study on Jesus’ view of the (Old Testament) Scriptures can be divided between the Law (Pentateuch) and the Prophets (including the Psalms).

The Law of Moses (Torah/Pentateuch)

A summary of Jesus’ recorded sayings and teachings clearly shows that he considered the Torah regulations (recorded in the Pentateuch) as authoritative for Israelites and Jews—and for his disciples as well. And yet, Jesus’ view of the Law, according to the Gospel evidence, is rather more complicated and nuanced. A proper study of it goes far beyond the scope of this article, but I have earlier provided and extensive treatment of the subject in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (articles on “Jesus and the Law”). In Part 2 of that series, I present a detailed survey of the Gospel passages, divided into three main categories:

    1. Traditions where Jesus advocates Torah observance, but where following him may involve going beyond it
    2. Traditions where Jesus appears to relativize Torah observance:
      1. By spiritualizing the commandment, or, more commonly:
      2. By emphasizing or indicating that his own person (and following him) supersedes the Torah regulations
    3. Traditions which suggest that, in some way, the Torah regulations are limited temporally or in religious scope. In many ways this aspect cannot be separated from #2; certainly, in early Christian thought, the person and work of Jesus inaugurated an (eschatological) “new age”, in which the old religious forms and patterns either passed away or were given new meaning.

Jesus addresses the authority of the Law in a number of key traditions (sayings and episodes) in the Gospels, but perhaps the most important collection of teaching is to be found in the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, par Luke 6:20-49). A careful study of this Sermon-collection demonstrates that it is Jesus’ interpretation (and application) of the Torah regulations that is most important for his disciples (and for us as believers). For an exegesis of key sections of the Sermon, cf. Part 3 of the aforementioned series “Jesus and the Law”.

While the teaching and example of Jesus may take priority over (and surpass) the written text of the Torah, the written Torah (that is, the Scripture) certainly was considered authoritative by Jesus himself. We can see this, for example, by the way that the written text (of Deuteronomy, 6:13, 16; 8:3) is quoted in the famous Temptation episode (Matt 4:4, 7, 10 par).

Matthew 5:17-20    

Nowhere does Jesus offer such a clear example of his view of the Old Testament Law (Torah) as in Matthew 5:17-20, which also serves as the introduction to two key blocks of teaching: (1) the six so-called “Antitheses” [Matt. 5:21-48], and (2) instruction on specific religious behavior (almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) for his followers [Matt. 6:1-18]. They are also among the most difficult of Jesus’ sayings, especially for (Protestant) Christians accustomed to the idea of a “Law-free” Gospel.

To begin with, it is important to consider these four verses in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (for a critical introduction to the Sermon on the Mount and the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’, see the introductory notes of my series on the Beatitudes). Matt. 5:17-20 follows the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) and several additional sayings illustrating the character of Jesus’ faithful followers (Matt 5:13-16). The sayings in vv. 17-20 need not have been uttered by Jesus at the same time—the “Sermon” is better understood as a literary and didactic arrangement or collection of Jesus’ teaching, rather than as a single discourse delivered on a particular occasion. Instead these four sayings are thematically related, representing, as it were, principles governing Jesus’ own interpretation of the Torah for his followers. They will each be examined in turn.

1. Matthew 5:17

Mh\ nomi/shte o%ti h@lqon katalu=sai to\n no/mon h* tou\$ profh/ta$: ou)k h@lqon katalu=sai a)lla\ plhrw=sai
“Do not regard (as proper), (that) ‘I have come to loose down [i.e. dissolve] the Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]’; I did not come to loose down but to fill (up).”

The verb nomi/zw (nomízœ) is related to the noun no/mo$ (nómos), here translated conventionally as “Law”; however, no/mo$ would more accurately be rendered as “that which is proper/binding”, “binding custom”, or something similar, and the verb nomi/zw, “regard as proper, consider proper/customary”, etc. Both of these terms carry a technical meaning here: no/mo$ refers specifically to the hr*oT (tôrâ), while nomi/zw indicates proper religious belief. Similarly the opposing verbs katalu/w (katalúœ, “loose down”, cf. lu/w, “loose[n]”) and plhro/w (pl¢róœ, “fill up, fulfill”) have a very specific meaning in this context: as a legal term, katalu/w can mean “abolish, annul, render invalid,” etc., while plhro/w has the sense of “establish, complete, supply the full (force of)”, etc. Several points can be made:

    1. The juxtaposition of “Law and Prophets” here indicates hrwt/no/mo$ primarily as Scripture, rather than as the law-code or commandments per se. That is, no/mo$ here refers to the Pentateuch (books of Moses, Genesis-Deuteronomy), and the “Foretellers” the Prophetic books (see above). The conjunction h* means that Jesus is effectively saying: “I have not come to dissolve (the authority of) either the Law or the Prophets”. The Pentateuch is the principal expression of the Torah of God, but the Prophetic books also expound and support the instruction—the two forming the corpus of Sacred Writings for Jews (and Christians) of the time.
    2. The ‘incorrect’ statement (or something very like it), governed by mh\ nomi/shte, is actually attested in early Christian writings. For example, in the “Gospel of the Ebionites” (according to Epiphanius’ Panarion 30.16.5), h@lqon katalu=sai ta\$ qusi/a$ (“I have come to dissolve the sacrifices”), and a similar Gnostic formulation in the “Gospel of the Egyptians” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.63). According to the Dialogue of Adamantius (ch. 15), certain Marcionites claimed that Jesus actually said the opposite of Matt 5:17: “I have not come to fulfill the Law, but to dissolve (it)”. Cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 174-176. It may seem strange that Jesus himself would already (in his own lifetime) be safeguarding his teaching against ‘misrepresentations’ of this sort—or does this rather reflect early disputes regarding his teaching? In Romans 3:31 Paul delivers an apologetic statement very similar to that of Jesus’ here: “Do we then bring down the Law (for it to be) inactive through faith? May it not be! But (rather) we make the Law stand!”
    3. The verb katalu/w can be used in the sense of “dissolve/destroy” a building, etc., and so it appears in the charge that Jesus said he would “dissolve” the Temple (Mark 14:58; 15:29 par.; Acts 6:14; also cf. Mark 13:2 par.). This is a significant association in terms of Judaism and the Law within early Christianity—cf. the highly Christological version of the Temple-saying in John 2:19ff. Similarly, the contrasting verb plhro/w, can be given a theological and Christological nuance here: that Jesus himself completes or fills up the Law. Paul’s famous statement in Rom 10:4 comes to mind: “For Christ is the completion [te/lo$] of the Law…”

For a more detailed study on v. 17, see my earlier note.

2. Matthew 5:18

a)mh\n ga\r le/gw u(mi=n: e%w$ a*n pare/lqh| o( ou)rano\$ kai\ h( gh=, i)w=ta e^n h* mi/a kerai/a ou) mh\ pare/lqh| a)po\ tou= no/mou, e%w$ a*n pa/nta ge/nhtai
“For, amen, I say to you: ‘until the heaven and the earth should go along [i.e. pass away], one yod or a single horn will not go along from the Law, until all things should come to be’.”

There is an interesting chiastic form and parallelism to this saying:

    • “Until heaven and earth should pass along”
      • “One yod or a single horn will not pass along from the Law”
    • “Until all (things) should come to be”

The first and last phrases are both temporal expressions: the first in concrete terms, according to the ancient worldview (“heaven and earth” represents the universe as understood at the time); the second more abstractly, as the coming-to-be of all things. In between these two expressions is a statement regarding the (relative) permanence of the Law. The “yod” is traditionally the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet (and of the Greek as well); it is not as clear precisely what kerai/a (lit. “horn”, or possibly “hook”) signifies here, but presumably it indicates a small ornamental mark in the script. The force of the expression is rhetorical rather than literal, i.e. “not even the smallest letter or mark will pass away from the Law”.

Noteworthy is the fact that the reference is specifically to a written text. It is not certain to what extent there was a distinction between written and oral Torah in Jesus’ time; but overall Jesus appears to have had a negative view of traditions added to the primary sense of the written text. Indeed, it can be argued that a fundamental purpose of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere) was to restore the true meaning and significance of the original (written) Torah. In any event, it is clear enough that here Torah means primarily sacred Writing (Scripture, as in v. 17); but it probably also refers to the Torah as (written) Law-code—i.e., the collection of commandments, statutes, etc., contained in the Pentateuch.

The saying as a whole seems to limit the force and validity of the Law to the current world-order, as opposed to subsequent Jewish ideas which often emphasized the eternality of the Torah. There is an eschatological aspect at work here, as in much of the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus’ followers were to be aware of the (imminent) end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God (with its accompanying Judgment). The Law would only serve as a governing (religious) authority for believers during the present Age. Paul expresses a rather different view of the temporal limitation of the Law (see, for example, in Galatians 3:26-4:7).

3. Matthew 5:19

o^$ e)a\n ou@n lu/sh| mi/an tw=n e)ntolw=n tou/twn e)laxi/stwn kai\ dida/ch| ou%tw$ tou\$ a)nqrw/pou$, e)la/xisto$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n: o^$ d’ a*n poih/sh| kai\ dida/ch|, ou!to$ me/ga$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Therefore if (there is one) who [i.e. whoever] should loose (a single) one of these littlest things upon (you to) complete and should teach men thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the kingdom of the heavens; but (one) who should do and teach (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the kingdom of the heavens.”
[in more conventional translation:]
“Therefore, whoever looses (a single) one of these littlest commandments and teaches men (to do) thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the Kingdom of Heaven; but (the one) who does and teaches (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the Kingdom of Heaven”

The noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is literally “something (placed) upon (one) to complete”—i.e., “charge, injunction”, or, more commonly, “command[ment]”. There are a number of important questions within this verse, which I will discuss briefly in sequence.

    • How does the verb lu/w here relate to katalu/w in verse 17? The first generally means “loose[n]”, while the second is more intensive and forceful, “loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy]”. In verse 17, the sense is “to destroy or abolish the authority of the Law” (and Prophets). Here the sense is rather “to remove or lessen the requirement of a commandment”.
    • What exactly is meant by “these commandments”? Are these the commandments of the written Torah, or are they the commandments of Jesus? Arguments can be made for both views. The context of verses 17 and 18 would indicate that the written Torah is meant—if so, then the saying would imply that the written Law is fully binding for Jesus’ followers. However, many commentators would hold that Jesus’ commands are what is meant here; such commands would include Jesus’ (authoritative) interpretation of the Law, but would not be synonymous with the commandments of the written Torah itself.
    • What is meant by the “least/littlest” of these commandments? There are several possibilities:
      (a) Jesus is distinguishing between his own commandments—if so, this has been largely lost to us.
      (b) He is distinguishing between greater and lesser commands in the Torah (perhaps similar to later Rabbinic teaching)
      (c) He makes a distinction between the external/ceremonial detail and the broader concepts of righteousness/justice, mercy, love, etc. (see Matt 23:23-24).
      (d) The force of the expression is rhetorical and not meant to be taken literally (and also facilitates the wordplay later in v. 19).
      In my view, the last option most likely correct: “the least of these commandments” would be another way of saying “any of these commandments”. However, option (c) should not be entirely disregarded; the expression “least of these commandments” could be taken to mean “even the smallest detail of the commandments”.
    • How should the juxtaposition of “least/littlest” and “great(est)” in the kingdom of Heaven be understood? It is possible that degrees of reward or position in Heaven for believers is meant; at the very least, Jesus seems to be drawing upon this idea. However, it seems quite strange that those who disregard (and teach others to disregard) the commandments (especially if Jesus’ own commandments are involved) would receive any place in the Kingdom. I prefer to consider the use of the terms “littlest” and “great” here as rhetorical—a colorful and dramatic way of contrasting the fates of the obedient and disobedient. The question of whether the disobedient followers are ultimately “saved” is interesting, but probably out of place here.

The most significant question remains whether “these commandments” are those of Jesus, of the written Torah, or both? I don’t know that it is possible to give a decisive answer here. Subsequent Christian tradition tended to identify “the commandments” with “the commandments of Christ”, but is this the same as what Jesus means in the saying of verse 19? It is probably best to understand the phrase here in the qualified sense of “the commandments of the written Torah… as interpreted by Jesus”. Admittedly, we almost certainly do not have all of Jesus’ teachings related to the Law. The Gospels themselves contain, I am sure, only a portion of them; even here in the Sermon on the Mount, the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48 and the instruction in 6:1-18 are only representative of the teaching Jesus gave to his followers. For this reason, in particular, the phrase “commandment[s] of Christ” requires a more thorough and systematic treatment.

4. Matthew 5:20

Le/gw ga\r u(mi=n o%ti e)a\n mh\ perissu/sh| u(mw=n h( dikaiosu/nh plei=on tw=n grammate/wn kai\ Farisai/wn, ou) mh\ ei)se/lqhte ei)$ th\n basilei/an tw=n ou)ranw=n
“For I say/relate to you that if your justice/righteousness should not be over (and above much) more than (that) of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees, no, you will not go into the Kingdom of the heavens.”

This is probably the simplest, and yet, in some ways, the most difficult of the four sayings. It does not deal directly with the Law; rather it offers a challenging point of comparison for Jesus’ followers. The “Scribes and Pharisees” is a stock phrase and schematic expression in the Gospels, often related to those who question or dispute with Jesus, involving some point of legal or religious observance. They are typically mentioned only in the setting of the narrative, or in reaction to something Jesus says or does. The Pharisees have been given a superficially bad reputation by Christians, often as the result of careless reading of the Gospels. Of the major Jewish groups known from the time, the Pharisees probably had the most in common with Jesus himself. He doubtless had many interactions with them, of which only traces have been preserved in the Gospels; on the whole, they appear to have been thoroughly devout and scrupulous in religious matters, though not as strict as the Community of the Qumran texts (usually identified as Essenes). The Scribes [lit. Writers] were legal experts, largely synonymous with the “Teachers of the Law”, and certainly many Scribes were also Pharisees. Jesus’ disputes with the “Scribes and Pharisees” (and other religious leaders) will be discussed in some detail in an upcoming article in this series.

It is important to understand the sense of dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosún¢, “justice/righteousness”) here. As throughout the Sermon of the Mount, and much of early Gospel tradition, the term signifies obedience and conformity to the will of God as expressed in the Torah and the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole. In this respect, it is comparable (and compatible) with the traditional Jewish sense of righteousness, and should not be confused with subsequent Christian (esp. Pauline) theological and soteriological use of the word. Presumably, for the first followers of Jesus, and early Jewish Christians, the point of the comparison with the righteousness of the “Scribes and Pharisees” would have been more readily apparent. Today, we can only speculate as to what precisely was meant. There are several possibilities:

    1. The Scribes and Pharisees did not go far enough in observing the Torah—that is, they did not penetrate to its deeper meaning and significance, as indicated by Jesus in his teaching. This would seem to be implied by the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48.
    2. Their approach to Torah observance and religious behavior was fundamentally flawed, and not the product of a pure heart. This seems to be the thrust of Matt 6:1-18, as well as the Beatitudes. Cf. also the association of Pharisees with “hypocrisy” at numerous points in the Gospels (esp. in Matt 23).
    3. The religious leaders who failed to follow Jesus were (all) missing the teaching and revelation which fulfills and completes the Law (and Righteousness). As such the righteousness of Jesus’ followers would (and should) by its very nature far surpass theirs.
    4. The comparison is primarily rhetorical and exhortative: a call to follow and obey Jesus’ authoritative instruction and interpretation of the Law.

I think there is merit in each of these four views, which can be supported by further detailed study of the Sermon on Mount itself.

June 24: Acts 10:44-48

Acts 10:44-48

There are three references to the Spirit in the Cornelius episode of chapter 10, and each of these reflects an aspect of the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts.

In verse 19, the Spirit communicates a message to Peter, related to his activity as a missionary (and apostle). This is part of the wider theme of the Spirit guiding and directing the early Christian missionaries. This aspect was introduced in the Acts narratives at 8:29, 39, and will continue throughout the remainder of the book. I will be discussing it specifically in an upcoming note.

In verse 38, the Spirit is mentioned as part of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma) portion of Peter’s speech (on which, cf. Parts 13-14 of the series “The Speeches of Acts”). The reference is to the Baptism of Jesus, as presented in the Lukan Gospel (3:22). Luke presents the coming of the Spirit on Jesus at his baptism as an anointing, expressed in terms of the citation of Isa 61:1-2 (by Jesus) in the Nazareth episode, marking the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The wording here in v. 38 suggests that it is a Lukan adaptation of the early kerygma (as it would have been spoken by Peter). It is also possible that there is an allusion to the early Christian baptism ritual, where the presence of the Spirit was symbolized by the practice of chrism (anointing with oil).

This brings us to the references to the Spirit in vv. 44ff, which are closely connected with the baptism of converts, and raises the question of the relationship between the Spirit and baptism. That there was such a connection with the Spirit is well-established in early Christian tradition, going all the way back to the beginnings of the Gospel and the historical traditions surrounding John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus. The saying by the Baptist in Mark 1:8 par is unquestionably an old and authentic tradition:

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit”

It has been preserved in at least three separate lines of tradition—the Synoptic, the Johannine (Jn 1:33), and the versions of the saying here in the book of Acts. The version of the saying in Luke 3:16, like the parallel in Matt 3:11 represents an expanded form, with the declaration of the “one coming” being embedded in the middle of the saying. In the book of Acts, a version of this saying is part of the introduction to the book (1:1-5); the narration in this long introductory sentence leads into the saying, but framed as a saying by Jesus, rather than by the Baptist:

“…he gave along the message to them not to make space [i.e. depart] away from Yerushalaim, but to remain about (for) the e)paggeli/a of the Father, of which you (have) heard (from) me, (saying) that ‘Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in the holy Spirit after not many of these days’.” (vv. 4-5)

In the restatement of the Cornelius episode (by Peter) in chapter 11, this key tradition is specifically mentioned again, in connection with the coming of the Spirit upon the household of Cornelius:

“And, in my beginning to speak, the holy Spirit fell upon them, just as (it) also (did) upon us in (the) beginning; and I remembered the utterance of the Lord, how he related (to us): ‘Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit’.” (vv. 15-16)

The close connection between the Spirit and baptism is thus given special emphasis. The coming of the Spirit in the Cornelius episode is first narrated in 10:44:

“(While the) Rock {Peter} was yet speaking these words, the holy Spirit fell upon (all) the (one)s hearing the account.”

Two points are significant with regard to the narrative context of the coming of the Spirit in this episode: (1) that the Spirit falls upon Gentiles (non-Jews), and (2) the Spirit comes prior to baptism. The first point is more important to the overall Lukan narrative, but the second point requires some comment as well.

In the earlier episode of 8:5-25, the Spirit does not come upon the (Samaritan) converts until Peter (and other apostles) arrive to lay hands upon them—that is, some time after they have been baptized (vv. 12-17). The implication is that the presence of an apostle is required for the Spirit to be conferred on believers. This very well may have been the procedure in the earliest Community, when the numbers were relatively small and limited to the confines of Jerusalem. It would have quickly become a practical impossibility once Christianity spread further abroad.

The first believers (including the core group of apostles) received the Spirit at the Pentecost event of 2:1-4ff, and it would be natural that believers subsequently would receive the Spirit through these apostles as intermediaries. Very soon, however, the coming of the Spirit had to be realized in a different way within the early congregations, and it was proper that the focus would be upon the baptism rite as the moment when this occurred.

The coming of the Spirit prior to baptism is most unusual, in the context of early Christianity. The most reasonable explanation, in the case of the Cornelius episode, is that the atypical sequence served to demonstrate (to the Jewish believers) that non-Jews (Gentiles) were deserving of baptism and inclusion into the Community. Verse 45 illustrates this clearly enough:

“And they stood out (of themselves) [i.e. were amazed], the (one)s (having) trusted out of (those having been) cut around [i.e. circumcised], as many as came with (the) Rock {Peter}, (in) that [i.e. because] the gift of the holy Spirit had been poured out even upon (those of) the nations.”

This issue becomes the focus of chapter 11, and reaches its culmination in the Jerusalem Council of chapter 15 (an episode that sits at the very heart of the book of Acts). The presence of the Spirit was manifested through ‘speaking in tongues’ (v. 46), much as in 2:4ff and (presumably) in 8:17-18. Peter addresses the possible concern of Jewish believers in v. 47:

“It is (surely) not possible (for) any(one) to cut off the water (so that) these (people) should not be dunked, (these) who received the holy Spirit (just) as we also (did)?”

The decisive point for Peter, and for the Jewish Christians who were convinced by his arguments, was that the Spirit came upon these Gentile converts. It was the presence of the Spirit which demonstrated unquestionably that the conversions were genuine, at that these non-Jewish believers had every right to be counted among the faithful and included within the early Christian Community—even before they had been baptized. Baptism and the coming of the Spirit were closely connected, but they remained separate events and distinct religious phenomena within early Christianity, even as they are (and should be so) for believers today.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 21: Acts 4:31 (Lk 11:13)

Acts 4:31 (Luke 11:13)

The prayer-speech of the Jerusalem believers in Acts 4:23-31 follows the conflict-episode of 4:1-22, and comes in response to that episode. It is the first recorded instance of opposition to the Gospel message (by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem). Both the content of the speech and the framing of it (vv. 24a, 31) make clear that it truly is a prayer to God:

“And, (hav)ing made their request (to God)…” (v. 31)

The verb de/omai is largely synonymous with the common verb for prayer, proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”)—compare 10:2 and 30. In the introduction to the prayer-speech (v. 24a) it is said that the believers “lifted (their) voice toward God”. The specific request they make relates to their mission of proclaiming the Gospel; the petition is two-fold:

    • That they would be enabled to proclaim the Gospel (lit. the account [lo/go$] of God, “your account”) with all outspokenness (parrhsi/a, i.e. boldness) [v. 29]
    • That God would continue to perform miracles through them (like the healing of the crippled man in chap. 3) [v. 30]; this miracle-working power is intended to support the preaching of the Gospel:
      “…to speak your account with all outspokenness, in the stretching out of your hand to (perform) healing and signs and wonders…”

It is recognized that the power to work miracles comes “through the name” of Jesus—that is, believers acting in Jesus’ name, with his power and authority, as his representatives. This is an extension of the authority given to the disciples by Jesus during the period of his earthly ministry (Luke 9:1-6 par; 10:1-12). Only now, with the departure of Jesus to heaven, this authority comes through the direct presence of the Spirit, given to the believers by Jesus himself. And, in fact, God answers the prayer, by gifting the believers with a fresh empowerment by the Spirit:

“And, (hav)ing made their request (to God), the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they all were filled by the holy Spirit, and they spoke the account (of God) with outspokenness [parrhsi/a].” (v. 31)

This essentially repeats the manifestation of the Spirit in the earlier Pentecost scene (2:1-4ff), when, it may also be assumed, believers had been gathered together and united in prayer (1:14, 24). The coming of the Spirit, and the manifestation of its presence, is thus the answer to believers’ prayer. In this regard it is worth considering Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Gospel (Lk 11:1-13), which includes the Lukan version of the Lord’s prayer. This teaching is distinctive in that it climaxes with a saying by Jesus that indicates that the true goal (and purpose) of the disciples’ prayer is the sending of the Spirit by God:

“So if you, beginning under [i.e. while you are] evil, have known (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will the Father out of heaven give (the) holy Spirit to the (one)s asking him!” (11:13)

In the Matthean version of this “Q” tradition, the saying makes no mention of the Spirit:

“…how much more will your Father, the (One) in the heavens, give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking him!” (7:11)

This raises the strong possibility that the reference to the Spirit is a Lukan adaptation of the saying, interpreting (and explaining) the “good things” that God will give as referring primarily to the Spirit. This is consonant with the Spirit-theme of Luke-Acts, and, in my view, there is little doubt that the author is here anticipating the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in the early chapters of Acts.

In this regard, mention should be made of the interesting variant reading in the Lukan version of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer (11:2). In a handful of manuscripts and textual witnesses, in place of the request for the coming of the Kingdom (“may your Kingdom come”, we have a request for the coming of the Spirit; in minuscule MS 700 this reads:

“May your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”
e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$

While this reading almost certainly is secondary (and not original), it is fully in accord with the Lukan understanding of the true nature of God’s Kingdom. The key declaration by Jesus in Acts 1:8 serves as the primary theme for the entire book, and it defines the Kingdom according to the two-fold aspect of: (a) the presence of the Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel (into all the nations). The answer to the believers’ prayer in 4:31 clearly encapsulates both of these aspects.

June 14: Acts 1:8 (Luke 24:49)

Acts 1:8 (Lk 24:49)

These daily notes on the Lukan Spirit-theme will now focus on the book of Acts. The remaining references to the Spirit in the Gospel will be examined in light of the corresponding development of the Spirit-theme in Acts.

The first reference to the Spirit is found in the introduction to the book (1:1-5), a long and complex sentence, the syntax of which is most difficult and involves detailed textual questions that are beyond the scope of this note. The main point involves the character of vv. 1-5 as a summary of the Gospel (the first volume of the 2-volume work). Jesus’ ministry—especially his teaching to his disciples—took place “through the holy Spirit” (dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou). In the previous note, we saw how, in the Lukan narrative, the presence of the Spirit was central to the description of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning:

    • The Spirit comes upon Jesus at the Baptism (3:22)
    • Jesus is filled and guided by the Spirit as he is led into the desert (4:1)
    • The presence of the Spirit enables Jesus to overcome the Devil and come through the period of testing (implicit in the narrative)
    • Jesus returns “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14) to begin his ministry
    • In the synagogue at Nazareth he quotes Isa 61:1-2 (4:18-19ff), identifying himself as the Messianic figure of the prophecy, one who has been anointed by the Spirit.

The reference to the Spirit here in Acts 1:2 suggests that the Holy Spirit has remained upon Jesus throughout the entire course of his earthly ministry. Now, the time of his ministry has reached its end, and he is about to depart from his disciples (his ascension to heaven, vv. 9-11, cf. also Lk 24:51 [v.l.]). Much like the prophet Elijah, upon his departure to heaven (2 Kings 2:1, 11-12), who gave his prophetic spirit over to his disciple (Elisha, vv. 9-10), Jesus does the same for his disciples (on the connection between Jesus and Elijah, cf. the previous note and Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The Spirit will come upon them, in a manner similar to the way it came upon Jesus (at the Baptism). This coming of the Spirit upon Jesus was described as an anointing (vb xri/w) in Lk 4:18 (Isa 61:1), and it would be fair to say that this anointed (i.e. Messianic) aspect extends to the disciples of Jesus (believers) as well. Certainly this is suggested by the Elijah/Elisha parallel, since the giving of the prophetic spirit to Elisha is connected with the idea of a prophetic anointing (1 Kings 19:16).

At the close of the Gospel, Jesus promised that the Spirit would come upon his disciples:

“And, see! I send forth the e)paggeli/a of my Father; but you must sit in the city, until the (moment) at which you should be put in(to) [i.e. clothed in] power out of (the) height(s).” (24:49)

The noun e)paggeli/a is etymologically related to eu)agge/lion (“good message”). It literally means a message about (e)pi/) something, or upon a certain subject. Often it is used in the sense of a promise—i.e., that a person will do something; in a religious context, it typically refers to something that God has promised He will do. This is an important theme that is developed in the book of Acts, identifying the person of Jesus (the Messiah) and his presence (through the Spirit) as the ultimate realization of the covenant promises God has made to Israel (2:39; 13:23, 32; 26:6; cf. also 7:17).

We know that the e)paggeli/a in Lk 24:49 is a reference to the Spirit, because this is made explicit in Acts 1:4, and again in Peter’s Pentecost speech (2:33):

“… he gave along the message to them not to make space [i.e. move] away from Yerushalaim, but to remain about (for) the e)paggeli/a of the Father, of which you have heard (from) me.” (1:4)

“…so, (hav)ing been lifted high to the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of God, and (hav)ing received the e)paggeli/a of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father, he poured this out, [even] (as) you (have) seen and heard.” (2:33)

The Christological portrait in Luke-Acts accords with the Johannine tradition: the exalted Jesus receives the Spirit from God the Father, and then gives it, in  turn, to his disciples.

The restatement of this promise of the Spirit (by Jesus) in Acts 1:8 represents the keynote message and theme of the entire book:

“…but you will receive power, (with the) coming of the holy Spirit upon you, and you will be my witnesses, (both) in Yerushalaim and [in] all Yehudah and Shimron, and even unto (the) last (parts) of the earth.”

On the important association of the Spirit with power (du/nami$), cf. Lk 1:17, 35; 4:14; 8:19; 10:38; cp. in Paul’s letters, Rom 1:4; 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5, etc. The use of the verb e)pe/rxomai (“come upon”) reflects the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts (Lk 1:35); it is a distinctly Lukan verb, as seven of the nine NT occurrences are in Luke-Acts. Even as the Spirit comes upon Mary—who, in some ways, represents the first believer in the narrative—so also it will come upon all the believers as they are gathered now in Jerusalem (2:1-4).

In the next note, we will explore the context of the statement in Acts 1:8 a bit further, particularly in relation to the Pentecost scene that follows in chap. 2.

 

 

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Daniel 12:1ff

Daniel 12:1ff

The final article in this series focuses on Daniel 12:1-4. The book of Daniel was immensely influential on early Christian eschatology; this can be seen especially in the book of Revelation, and I have documented it throughout my earlier series of critical-exegetical notes on Revelation. But the influence is already evident earlier in the Gospel Tradition, most notably in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13 par).

The second half of the book of Daniel (chaps. 7-12) is fundamentally eschatological, and can be characterized, in many respects, as an example of early apocalyptic literature—a point that remains valid regardless of how one dates these chapters. Traditional-conservative commentators tend to take the historical setting of the visions at face value, treating them as authentic prophecies by Daniel (in the 6th century B.C.). Most critical commentators, on the other hand, regard chaps. 7-12 as pseudepigraphic, written during the period of 167-163 B.C. In point of fact, most Jewish apocalyptic writings are pseudepigraphic, presenting events leading up to the current moment (i.e., when the writing was composed) as a revelation by a famous figure of the past.

In any case, from the standpoint of the visions in chaps. 7-12, the years of 167-164 B.C. represent the climactic point of history. This can be seen most clearly in chapter 11, which contains a fairly detailed (and accurate) outline of history in the Hellenistic period—events involving the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties following the breakup of the Alexandrian empire. The reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes marks the onset of a great time of evil and suffering for God’s people in Judea. Verses 21-45 summarize the events of Antiochus IV’s reign (175-164 B.C.), especially his invasion of Israel and the notorious ‘reform’ policies enacted in Jerusalem (168-167, vv. 29-35).

That these are considered to be end-time events is clear from the wording in verse 40: “in (the) time of (the) end” (Jq@ tu@B=). The context is unquestionably eschatological, with the final years of Antiochus’ reign (167-164) marking the watershed moment. What follows in chapter 12 must be understood in this light.

Daniel 12:1

“And, in that time, Who-is-like-(the)-Mighty-One? {Mika’el} will stand (up), the great Prince, the (one) standing over (the) sons of your people, and there will come to be a time of distress which has not (yet) come to be, from (the) coming to be of (the) nation until that time; and, in that time, your people will be rescued, every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account.”

The initial expression “in that time” (ayh!h^ tu@b*) relates to the earlier expression “in (the) time of (the) end” (in 11:40, cf. above). What is described in chapter 12 is expected to take place in the period of 167-164 B.C., and in the years immediately following. Indeed, the chapter represents the conclusion of the eschatological vision-sequence of chaps. 10-12 (and of chaps. 7-12 as a whole). On the same temporal expression used in an eschatological sense, cf. also Joel 3:1 [4:1]; Jer 3:17; 4:11; 31:1.

There are two main eschatological themes established in this verse: (1) the appearance/rise of the heavenly being Michael as protector and deliverer of God’s people; and (2) a time of great “distress” for God’s people, making necessary the protective action by Michael. It is worth examining each of these themes.

1. The role of Michael

The Hebrew name la@k*ym! (mî½¹°¢l) is a traditional El-name, a sentence or phrase name in the form of a question— “Who-(is)-like-(the)-Mighty-(One)?” (i.e., Who is like God?). In the book of Daniel, it is the name of a heavenly being who functions as the (heavenly) protector and “prince” (rc^) for Israel (10:13, 21). He will fight on behalf of Israel, against the nations (who have their own heavenly “princes” on their side).

With the development of angelology in the post-exilic period, Michael came to feature prominently in Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic writings. He is consistently regarded as one of the chief Angels, with central cosmological and eschatological roles; the book of Enoch (1 Enoch) provides a useful compendium of references (9:1; 10:11; 20:5; 24:6; 40:9; 54:6; 60:4-5; 67:12; 68:2-4; 69:14-15; 71:3ff). Michael’s role as the protector of God’s people, who fights (along with other Angels) on behalf of God’s people, is an important component of the eschatological (and Messianic) world view of the Qumran community, best expressed in the War Scroll [1QM] (cf. 9:15-16; 17:6-7, etc). Many commentators on the Qumran texts believe that Michael is also to be identified with the “Prince of Light” and the figure of Melchizedek (cf. 11QMelchizedek).

Michael and the holy Angels fight against the “Prince of Darkness” and the evil Angels; this heavenly aspect of the great eschatological battle is parallel to the end-time conflict between the people of God and the wicked nations. This is very much the same role played by Michael in the vision of Revelation 12:7-9ff. Otherwise, however, Michael is not very prominent in early Christian eschatology (the only other NT reference being Jude 9). This can be explained by the fact that, for early Christians, Michael’s traditional role as heavenly deliverer was taken over by the exalted Jesus.

This heavenly deliverer figure, which I regard as a distinct Messianic figure-type (cf. the discussion in Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), is referenced in the Gospel Tradition—in the eschatological sayings of Jesus—by the expression “Son of Man”. Some commentators maintain that, in the original context of these sayings, Jesus is referring to a distinct heavenly being (such as Michael) separate from himself. While this is possible, it is rather unlikely, in my view, based on the consistent use of the expression “son of man” by Jesus as a self-reference. Moreover, the authenticity of this usage by the historical Jesus can be all but proven (on objective grounds)—a point that I have discussed elsewhere.

Even so, this eschatological role of the “Son of Man” figure almost certainly derives from Daniel 7:13-14; indeed, there can be no question of an allusion to that passage in Mk 13:26; 14:62 pars. While Dan 7:13-14 may be interpreted in several different ways (cf. my earlier study and article in this series), the angelic interpretation of the “one like a son of man” would seem to be the most likely explanation of the scene (in its original context). Indeed, some commentators would identify this heavenly figure specifically as Michael. The end-time appearance of Michael in Dan 12:1 certainly would seem to match the appearance of the “Son of Man” (= the exalted Jesus) in Mk 13:26 par.

2. The Time of “Distress”

“there will come to be a time of distress which has not (yet) come to be”

The Hebrew expression is hr*x* Ju@ (“time of distress”), translated in the LXX as h(me/ra qli/yew$ (“day of distress”). The noun hr*x* fundamentally means “tightness”, i.e., something narrow and confining that constricts or binds a person’s movement, etc. Figuratively, it refers to circumstances which create such tightness and pressure, and the English word “distress” is most appropriate for this connotation. The Greek word qli/yi$ has much the same meaning, though with perhaps the harsher sense of being pressed together, squeezed to the point of being crushed. On this eschatological idiom, cf. also Jeremiah 30:7, and note the wording in Exod 9:24.

Dan 12:1 makes clear that, with the events of 167-164 B.C., a time of great distress will come upon God’s people. The implication is that the persecution brought about by Antiochus IV is only the beginning of this period. It is by no means clear how long this period will last, but the outlook of the passage (and chaps. 7-12 as a whole) suggests that it will be relatively short (albeit intense). The expression “time, times, and a half” (= 3½ years, half a week, as a symbolic number) would seem to define this period (v. 7), even as it also corresponds to the time of persecution and evil under Antiochus IV (167-164).

The book of Daniel exercised a tremendous influence on early Christian eschatology, but if we limit our study to 12:1ff, and its influence on the Gospel Tradition, then we must turn to the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus. The wording in Mark 13:19 par unquestionably alludes to Dan 12:1 (LXX), being almost a loose quotation or paraphrase:

“For (in) those days there will be distress [qli/yi$], such as has not come to be like this from (the) beginning of (the) formation (of the world), which God formed, until th(is time) now, and shall not (ever) come to be.”

The end-time described in Daniel 7-12 has been transferred, from the time of Antiochus IV (167-164 B.C.) to the time of the Roman Empire in the mid-first century A.D. This is quite understandable, since the eschatological deliverance, described in Daniel 12, apparently did not take place in the years immediately following 164 B.C.; in any case, the prophecy was not fulfilled completely, and it was envisioned that this would occur during the lifetime of early believers (in the mid-late 1st century A.D.). The belief in Jesus as the Messiah means that his appearance on earth marks the end-time. And, for early Christians, the death of Jesus effectively marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress.

A central event of this time of distress is the destruction of the Temple; Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction forms the setting for the Discourse (Mk 13:1-2ff par), and is alluded to again in vv. 14ff (cf. especially the Lukan version, predicting the siege/destruction of Jerusalem, 21:20ff). All of this was largely fulfilled with the war of 66-70 A.D. The time of distress is tied primarily to this devastation of Jerusalem, but there are actually three parts, or aspects, to this period as outlined in the Discourse (using the Markan version, Mk 13):

    • Vv. 5-8: The distress for people in all the nations
    • Vv. 9-13: The distress for Jesus’ disciples (believers)
    • Vv. 14-19ff: The distress for the people of Judea and Jerusalem
The Deliverance of God’s People

“…and, in that time, your people will be rescued, every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account”

In the midst of the time of distress, the heavenly deliverer will appear, bringing deliverance to God’s people and ushering in the Judgment on the wicked (i.e., the nations). In the Eschatological Discourse, this is expressed in terms of the appearance of the “Son of Man” from heaven (Mk 13:24-27 par). For early Christians, this was understood as the return of the exalted Jesus from heaven. The Messianic identity of Jesus was complicated by the fact that he did not fulfill the expected eschatological role of the Messiah during his time on earth. The expectation thus had to adjust to the idea that this Messianic role would only be fulfilled upon Jesus’ return to earth (from his exalted position in heaven), after at least a short period of time (= the time of distress).

The end-time return of Jesus (the “Son of Man”) fits the pattern of the appearance of the heavenly deliverer (Michael) in Dan 12:1ff. Michael “stands over” (lu dmu) God’s people; this indicates a protective presence, but also may allude to Michael’s role in the Judgment. In any case, his presence means rescue from the time of distress. The Niphal (passive) form of the verb fl^m* literally means something like “be given a means of escape”. It is only the righteous ones among God’s people who will be rescued by Michael. This is clear from the qualifying phrase “every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account”.

The rp#s@ is literally an “account(ing)”, which should here be understood as a list of names, such as of citizens belonging to a particular place. The people whose names are listed in this account (or ‘book’) are those who truly belong as the people of God—that is, they are the faithful and righteous ones. This also means that they are destined for the blessed afterlife in heaven with God; on this traditional motif of the ‘Book of Life’, cf. Exod 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isa 4:3; Lk 10:20; Phil 4:3; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; on the Judgment-context of this ‘book’, cf. 7:10; 10:21; 1 Enoch 47:3; Rev 20:12-15.

In the Eschatological Discourse, while the Judgment setting is clear enough, the emphasis is on the salvation of the righteous from this Judgment (Mk 13:27 par, cf. also verse 13). It is the elect (lit. the ones “gathered out”) who are rescued by the heavenly deliverer (the exalted Jesus) at the climactic moment. This is an important distinction, limiting the concept of God’s people to the righteous ones, and it follows a definite line of prophetic tradition, the same which we see here in Dan 12:1-4.

Verses 2-4 and Conclusion

Other elements of the eschatology in Daniel 12:1ff were also influential on early Christian thought. Verse 2, for example, expresses a clear belief in the resurrection, which will occur at the end-time. This is arguably the only unambiguous Old Testament reference to resurrection. Moreover, it is striking that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised from the dead: the righteous will awake to life (yj^), while the wicked will awake to disgrace and an abhorrent fate. These contrasting fates are described as <l*ou—that is, lasting into the distant future. On the idea of the eschatological resurrection in the Gospel Tradition, cf. especially the key references in the Johannine Discourses of Jesus (Jn 5:19-29; 6:39-40ff; 11:23-27).

The blessed afterlife that awaits the righteous, following the Judgment and Resurrection, is further described in verse 3. The righteous are characterized by the verb lk^c*, by a descriptive participle in the Hiphil stem, meaning those who act in a wise and insightful manner. It is not only that they act wisely, but they lead others to behave in a similar way; specifically, they cause “many” (<yB!r^) to act rightly (vb qd^x* in the Hiphil causative stem). Because they are righteous themselves, they are able to turn others to the path of righteousness. The reward for this righteousness is a heavenly existence, compared with the celestial brightness (rh^z)) of the stars in heaven. This is an ancient and traditional idiom for the blessed afterlife, which is scarcely limited to Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Jesus may be alluding to v. 3 in Matt 13:43 (cf. also 22:30).

The final verse in this section (v. 4) emphasizes three key motifs that were influential on Jewish and early Christian eschatology:

    • The sealing of the prophetic account (in chapters 10-12, and presumably also chaps. 7-12 as a whole); this imagery obviously was developed in the book of Revelation (chaps. 5-6; 8:1; 10:4; 22:10). The motif also has the practical value of allowing for the fulfillment of the Danielic visions (with their setting c. 167-163 B.C.) at a later time (viz., in the NT setting of the mid-late 1st century A.D.)
    • The (end-time) chaos implied by the image of “many” people rushing/pushing about (vb. fWv); there is a certain futility indicated by this, especially if this is an allusion to Amos 8:12—i.e., people are going about seeking the word of YHWH, and do not find it.
    • The idea that wickedness will increase, that evil will become more abundant (vb hb*r*). The MT reads tu^D^ (“knowledge”)—that is, “knowledge will increase”; however, there is some reason to think that the text originally read hu*r* (“evil”), which appears to be the reading underlying the LXX (a)diki/a, “injustice,” i.e. wickedness), though admittedly Theodotion agrees with the MT (gnw=si$, “knowledge”). Confusion between the consonants d and r was relatively common, and led to a number of copying mistakes. The Dead Sea Scrolls might have decided the textual question, but, unfortunately, chapter 12 was not preserved among the surviving Qumran manuscripts. In my view, the increase in wickedness during the time when the prophecy is sealed (that is, during the time of distress) better fits the context of the passage; it also occurs as a persistent theme in Jewish and early Christian eschatology (see esp. the wording in Matt 24:12).

 

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Daniel 7:13-14

There are several key Old Testament references which applied to both the death and resurrection of Jesus, and which played an important role in the development of the Gospel Tradition. It is the resurrection association that makes these Easter-time studies especially appropriate. There are three such references to be examined. The first, from the visions of Daniel, is the subject of this article (reproduced, in large part, from my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

Daniel 7:13-14

Dan 7:13-14, which would prove to be enormously influential on eschatological and Messianic thought, both in Judaism and in early Christianity, itself holds a central place in chapter 7 of the book of Daniel (for the structure of the chapter, cf. below). It is part of the heavenly Throne-vision in vv. 9-12, similar to other such visions in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—1 Kings 22:19ff; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; 3:22-24; 10:1, cf. also 1 Enoch 14:18-23; 60:2; 90:20, etc (Collins, p. 300). The throne is said to have wheels, and thus is to be understood as a chariot-throne, which draws upon ancient Near Eastern mythic imagery, associated with heavenly/celestial phenomena—i.e. the fiery chariot of the sun, etc—and the divine powers which control them. For chariot imagery related to God and Heaven in the Old Testament, cf. 2 Kings 23:11; Psalm 68:17; 104:3; Isa 66:15; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:15-21; 10:2. The idea of God’s chariot-throne would play an especially important role among the Jewish visionary mystics of the Merkabah/Hekhalot tradition.

Interestingly the text of verse 9 reads “the thrones [pl. /w`s*r=k*] were set [lit. thrown, i.e. into place]”, and there is some question as to the use of the plural here. It probably should be taken as indicative of the setting—the heavenly Council or Court. In ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite) tradition, the high deity °E~l (generally identified with YHWH in the Old Testament) presides over the Council of the gods; in the context of Israelite monotheism, the “gods” (°¢lîm/°§lœhîm) are created heavenly beings (i.e. Angels) who sit in the Council—Psalm 82:1; 89:7; Job 1:6, etc. For an elaborate description of the Angels surrounding the chariot-throne of God, cf. the so-called “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice” (4Q400-407, 11Q17) from Qumran, esp. 4Q405 frags. 20, 23 (11Q17 cols. 7-10); and in early Christian tradition, note Matt 25:31, as well as the (Christian?) corollary of human beings on the thrones surrounding God/Christ (Matt 19:28; Rev 4:2ff; 20:4). Cf. Collins, p. 301.

On the throne is seated the /ym!oy qyT!u^ (±attîq yômîn), usually translated as “(the) Ancient of Days”, with the adjective qyT!u^ understood (on the basis of its cognates in Hebrew) as “advanced”, either in the sense of age or of prominence and wealth (majesty, etc). This image is likely drawn from the mythic-religious tradition of depicting the high God °E~l as an elderly patriarch (with long white/grey beard), though here it has been adapted to traditional Israelite visionary images of the glory of God (El / YHWH)—Exod 24:9-11; 1 Kings 22:19ff; Isa 6:1-5; Ezek 1. Verse 9b-10a vividly depicts the divine figure seated on his fiery chariot-throne, with countless multitudes (of heavenly beings) serving him. The vision scene in 1 Enoch 14:15-23 provides an interesting comparison.

From verses 11-12 it is clear that the Heavenly Council is also the Court, with God ruling as Judge (Psalm 82, etc). Judgment is brought against the Beasts of the earlier part of the vision (vv. 2-8, cf. below)—a sentence of death is pronounced and executed against one Beast (the fourth), while the others are stripped of their kingdoms but allowed to live for a time. It is in this context that verses 13-14 must be understood:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

This figure comes near and approaches the “Ancient of Days”, and is given authority/rule (/f*l=v*), honor/glory (rq*y+), and (a) kingdom (Wkl=m^), so that “all the peoples, nations and tongues [i.e. languages] would serve him”. The question as to the identity of this “(one) like a son of man” has long vexed commentators, leading to a variety of interpretations, some more plausible than others. In terms of the original context of the vision in the book of Daniel, I would suggest three basic possibilities regarding this figure:

    1. Symbolic—he represents the Kingdom of God or the people of God (and their dominion)
    2. Real, but archetypal—i.e. he is the heavenly archetype of humankind (“son of man”), specifically the righteous/holy ones (people of God)
    3. Real, and personal—he is a real heavenly being, an Angel such as Michael who represents the people of God, supporting and protecting them, etc.

Sound arguments can be made for each of these:

1. The symbolic view is supported by the structure of the passage (chapter 7) itself, where the “(one) like a son of man”, and the kingdom he receives, is set parallel with the people of God (and they kingdom they receive), cf. below. Also, this figure resembling a human being is clearly meant as a contrast with the four “beasts” of vv. 2-8; since they are taken to represent four earthly kingdoms (in their savagery and violence), it is logical that the human being likewise represents the kingdom of the people of God.

2. The same parallelism could just as well be interpreted in an archetypal sense—that the heavenly “son of man” is the type/pattern for the righteous/holy ones on earth. This certainly seems to be the way that Daniel 7 was expounded and interpreted in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st-century A.D.?), and also, to some extent, by the Qumran community (cf. below).

3. It is the third view, however, which seems best to fit the immediate context and thought-patterns in the book of Daniel. Angels are prominent in the second half of the book, and are generally depicted in human terms (Dan 8:15; 9:21; 10:5; 12:5-7; cf. also 3:25), as they often are elsewhere in the Old Testament (Gen 18:2; Josh 5:13; Judg 13:6, 8, 16; Ezek 8:2; 9-10; Zech 1:8; 2:5, cf. Collins, pp. 306-7). A specific identification with the chief Angel (Archangel) Michael is possible, given his comparable role and position in Dan 12:1 (cf. also 10:13, 21). The “(one) like a son of man” should probably be understood as a real heavenly being, at least similar to an (arch)Angel such as Michael. This does not eliminate the parallelism or corollary with the people of God, as is clear enough by the evidence from Qumran (on this, cf. below).

Before proceeding, it may be helpful to examine the structure of Daniel 7 in outline form:

    • V. 1: Narrative introduction/setting
    • Vv. 2-14: The Vision of the Four Beasts
      —The Four Beasts (vv. 2-8)
      —The Ancient of Days who presides in Judgment over the Beasts (vv. 9-12)
      —The Son of Man who receives the everlasting kingdom/dominion (vv. 13-14)
    • Vv. 15-27: The Interpretation of the Vision
      —Basic outline/explanation: Four Kingdoms (vv. 15-18)
      —The Kingdom of the Fourth Beast (vv. 19-25)
      —Judgment and the Kingdom of the People of God (vv. 26-27)
    • V. 28: Conclusion

Verses 13-14 and 26-27 are clearly parallel in several respects:

    • Judgment in the Heavenly Court (vv. 9-12, 26)
      • Kingdom taken away from the Beast(s)
    • Everlasting Kingdom/Dominion
      • Given to the “one like a son of man” (vv. 13-14)
      • Given to the “people of the Holy Ones of the Most High” (v. 27)

Interestingly, we find the same basic paradigm, it would seem, in the Pseudo-Daniel (Aramaic) text 4Q246 from Qumran, which was certainly influenced by Daniel 7.

An important point lies in the way that heavenly and human beings are united in the term “holy ones” (Heb. <yvdwq, Aram. /yvydq). Although a few instances are uncertain or disputed, the majority of occurrences of the plural “holy ones” in the Old Testament would seem to refer to heavenly beings (i.e. Angels)—Deut 33:2; Psalm 89:5, 7; Job 5:1; 15:15; Dan 4:17; Zech 14:5, and cf. also the LXX of Exod 15:11. The only clear instances where “holy ones” refer to human beings (on earth) are in Deut 33:3 (cf. the par with verse 2); Psalm 16:3; 34:10. Especially significant is the usage in the Qumran texts, which in many ways are close to the eschatological/apocalyptic imagery and thought-world of Daniel, and, indeed, were certainly influenced by the book. The Qumran Community saw itself as connected with the Angels—the holy/righteous ones on earth, corresponding to the Holy Ones in Heaven. Indeed, they referred to themselves as “congregation of the holy ones”, and in 1QM 10:10; 12:7; 1QH 11:11-12 we find the very expression (“people of the holy ones”) as in Dan 7:27; note also the variant formula “holy ones of the people” (1QM 6:6; 16:1).

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71), which may well be contemporary with Jesus and the earliest Gospel tradition, there is an equally clear, and (in some ways) even more precise correspondence between the holy/righteous ones on earth and in heaven—1 Enoch 39:5; 47:2; 51:4, etc. It is indicated that their true nature and position will be revealed at the end-time Judgment (1 En 38:4-5). The Son of Man is their ideal/archetypal heavenly representative (the Righteous One, the Elect One); in the concluding chapters 70-71, we see how Enoch himself, as the first human being to be raised to heavenly status, is identified with this Son of Man, apparently merging/assimilating with him in some way.

What of the traditional interpretation of the “one like a son of man” with the Messiah in Jewish thought? Apart from the possible example of 4Q246 from Qumran, this association does not seem to have been clearly formed until the 1st century A.D. In the Similitudes of Enoch, the Son of Man figure, certainly inspired by Daniel 7, is specifically called “(the) Anointed One” (1 En 48:10; 52:4); cf. also the context in 2/4 Esdras 13 (late 1st-century A.D.). The Messianic interpretation came to be the dominant view in Rabbinic literature (b. Sanh. 89a; Num. Rabbah 13:14, et al); even the plural “thrones” in Dan 7:9 could be understood in this light (one throne for God, one for the Messiah), as traditionally expressed by R. Akiba (b. Chag. 14a; b. Sanh. 38b).

Dan 7:13-14 in the Gospel Tradition

This heavenly/visionary scene of the “son of man” was applied by early Christians to the exalted Jesus (following his death and resurrection). All the evidence, however, suggests that this association was introduced by Jesus himself, and early believers contributed relatively little to it within the Gospel Tradition. In the New Testament, the expression “son of man” (in Greek, o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) scarcely is found at all outside of the Gospels, where it occurs almost exclusively in the words of Jesus. It was little used by early Christians as a title for Jesus (with “Christ,” “Lord,” or “Son of God” being much preferred). All of this provides strong confirmation for the authenticity of the “son of man” sayings of Jesus.

For these sayings, which I have discussed extensively in earlier notes and articles, there are two main categories:

    • Sayings which relate in some way to the suffering and death of Jesus, and
    • Eschatological sayings which refer to the end-time appearance of the “Son of Man”

Some commentators have felt that, in the eschatological sayings, Jesus originally was referring to a heavenly figure separate from himself. While this is possible, it is highly unlikely, given Jesus’ regular (and distinctive) use of the expression “son of man” as a self-reference. However, for Jesus to identify himself with a heavenly figure who will appear on earth (from heaven) in the future, it would seem to require his exaltation (from earth) to heaven. In terms of the Gospel narrative, this can only occur with his resurrection from the dead.

Daniel 7:13-14 seems to have informed the eschatological “son of man” sayings of Jesus, but in only two instances does he clearly cite or allude to it. The first occurs at the climactic moment in the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse. Following the great distress (qli/yi$) that is to come upon the world (and Judea in particular), Jesus gives the following declaration:

“And then they will look with (open) eyes (at) the Son of Man coming in (the) clouds with much power and splendor [do/ca]” (Mk 13:26)

The Lukan version of this saying (21:27) is nearly identical, but in Matthew (24:30) it is modified slightly, adapted to fit in connection with Zech 12:10 (to be discussed in a separate note).

The second instance, as it happens, occurs in the Synoptic Passion narrative—that is, in the context of Jesus’ suffering and (impending) death. It is part of the Sanhedrin interrogation scene. While this scene differs somewhat in all three Gospels, the basic narrative line is the same: the Council asks Jesus if he is the Anointed One (Messiah), and his response involves a “son of man” saying that clearly refers to Dan 7:13-14:

“…and you will look with (open) eyes (at) the Son of Man, sitting out of (the) giving (hand) [i.e. at the right hand] of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven!” (Mk 14:62)

Here, the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus are joined in the saying: he will be put to death, through the involvement of the Council, but it will ultimately result in his resurrection and exaltation to heaven at the right hand of God. This, indeed, is the very scene described in Stephen’s vision, in Acts 7:55-56.

From this point, we can see how, for early Christians, the Messianic interpretation of Dan 7:13-14 was applied to the person of Jesus—first in terms of his exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (from whence he will come at the end-time Judgment), and subsequently, in terms of his pre-existent deity. According to either strand of tradition and belief, his divine/heavenly status and position was superior to that of the Angels, just as the “one like a son of man” would seem to hold a special and exalted place in the context of Daniel 7. As mentioned above, the identification of Jesus with this divine/heavenly figure appears to go back to the (authentic) early layers of Gospel tradition, and the Son of Man sayings by Jesus himself (for more on this, see in Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

References marked “Collins” above are to John J. Collins’ commentary on Daniel in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993), esp. pages 299-323.

April 12: Mark 10:32-34 (concluded)

Mark 10:32-34, concluded

Component 4—the mistreatment of Jesus

“…and they will play with him, and will spit on him, and will whip him, and (then) they will kill him off”

The third Passion-prediction (Mk 10:34) here specifies more of the “many things” the the Son of Man (Jesus) will suffer (cf. 8:31 par). In particular, it is declared that there are three things that will occur once Jesus is “given over” to the nations (i.e., the Gentile Roman authorities). This is expressed by a sequence of three verbs:

    • e)mpai/zw—the base verb pai/zw essentially means “act like a child,” in the sense of making sport, playing. The compound with the prepositional prefix e)n can be understood either in a locative sense (i.e., acting like a child in/on a particular location) or in a relational sense (i.e., acting like a child with regard to someone or something). The latter is more properly in view here, and a reasonably accurate translation in English idiom would be “play with” or “toy with”. Clearly, it is meant in a negative sense—that is, “playing with” someone in a derisive or insulting (or even abusive) manner.
    • e)mptu/w, “spit on,” the meaning of which is straightforward, and can be translated quite literally in English.
    • mastigo/w—like the related masti/zw, has the fundamental meaning of “beating against” something, with a repeated movement. The action envisioned often involved repeatedly striking an animal (or human), with a whip or lash, etc. The related noun ma/stic specifically refers to a “whip”, with the verb indicating the action taken with a whip. While these terms can be used in a figurative sense, here the meaning is concrete: Jesus will be whipped by the Romans.

The first two actions are described in the Passion narrative at Mk 14:16-20. Curiously, in Luke’s version, this takes place while Jesus is in the custody of the Jewish king Herod, not the Roman Pilate (Lk 23:11). However, the Lukan ordering means that the mocking/mistreatment of Jesus occurs before he is whipped (v. 16), in accordance with order of the verbs here in the Passion-prediction; in Mark-Matthew, it occurs after the whipping (Mk 15:15; Matt 27:16).

In the Passion narrative, Mark and Matthew each use the verb fragello/w (derived from the Latin flagellum) to describe the whipping of Jesus, rather than the more general mastigo/w (as here in the prediction, cf. above). This makes clear that it is a reference to the verberatio (scourging) that accompanied a capital sentence—a cruel and horrific punishment that was often fatal in itself. Interestingly, the Gospel writers treat this with considerable reserve, stating the fact of the whipping in the briefest terms possible (without the slightest graphic detail), and making no mention at all of its effect on Jesus or what resulted from it. By contrast, later Christians, especially in the medieval period, but also in modern times, have emphasized Jesus’ suffering from the whipping, depicting it at times in gruesome and morbid detail.

This mistreatment of Jesus by the Romans ultimate leads to the sentence of death being carried out. Again the intensive verb a)poktei/nw (lit. “kill off”) is used, as in the other Passion-predictions. Matthew’s version (20:18) specifies the manner of death; he also has a shorter phrase than Mark (with 2 verbs of mistreatment instead of 3) and uses different syntax:

“…they will give him along to the nations, (for them) to spit on (him) and whip (him) and put (him) to the stake [staurw=sai]”

The verb stauro/w literally means “put to the stake” or “put on a stake”, a reference to crucifixion. Luke’s version (18:32-33) follows Mark more closely, but includes a fourth verb of mistreatment, the first three being grouped together, and in passive forms; the result is to separate the mocking abuse (done in Luke’s version by Herod’s soldiers) from the whipping (done under Pilate):

“…and he will be played with and will be insulted and will be spat on, and (then), whipping (him), they will kill him off”

The verb Luke adds (in italics above) is u(bri/zw, which basically means to insult someone, but may also connote a more severe or violent action that leads to harm or injury.

Component 5—the death and resurrection

“…and they will kill him off, and, after three days, he wil stand up (again).”

The concluding statement of Jesus’ death and resurrection follows the pattern of the prior Passion-predictions. Again, Mark uses the expression “after three days” (meta\ trei=$ h(me/ra$), while Matthew and Luke each have “on the third day” (th=| tri/th| h(me/ra|), which is technically more accurate to the historical circumstances, and is also in keeping with the customary early Christian usage. Matthew again uses the verb e)gei/rw (“rise [up]”), while Luke here follows Mark with a)ni/sthmi (“stand up”).

Luke is also unique in his inclusion, following the third prediction, of another reference to the disciples’ failure to understand (cf. on the second prediction, 9:45):

“But they could put together none of these (thing)s, and this utterance (also) was hidden from them, and they did not know [i.e. understand] the (thing)s being said.” (18:34)

The verb suni/hmi literally means “put together”, here in the conceptual sense of putting things together in the mind, making and understanding the connections between them. The passive perfect participle kekrumme/non (“having been hidden”), like that used in 9:45, is an example of the divine passive, and indicates that it was God Himself who hid from the disciples the meaning and significance of what Jesus said to them. This may come across like an early Christian apologetic for the apostles, but it is important to realize that, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative—and the Lukan narrative, in particular—the true meaning of Jesus’ death is rooted in the post-resurrection proclamation. Only after the resurrection, with the enlightenment that the experience of the resurrection brings, can Jesus’ disciples understand the reasons for his death, and how it relates to his Messianic identity.