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 10:17-22 par; Romans 13:8-10

Sola Scriptura

In order to have a proper understanding of the early Christian view of Scripture, it is necessary to pay close attention to the development of this view within the early Tradition, with its roots in the Gospel tradition, going back to the words of Jesus. The place of Scripture in early Christianity cannot be separated from the role of the Law (Torah) for early believers, since the Law represents one major division (i.e., the Pentateuch) of the Old Testament Scriptures. We have already examined certain aspects of the Law in Jesus’ teaching, and the influence of this teaching among early Christians. Let us now consider this influence further, illustrated through comparison of a key Gospel (Synoptic) tradition with a passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Mark 10:17-22 par

The episode of the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ is found in all three Synoptic Gospels (Mark 10:17-22; Matthew 19:16-22; Luke 18:18-23), and, within the Synoptic narrative, it is one of the last episodes before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (and the beginning of the Passion narrative). The authority of the Scriptures is quite clearly expressed by Jesus, and generally corresponds with his teaching in Matt 5:17-20 (discussed in an earlier study in this series). The young man asks Jesus: “What should I do (so) that I might receive the lot of [i.e. inherit] (the) life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life]?” (Mk 10:17; Lk 18:18 par). Jesus’ answer is simple and direct: “You have known the (thing)s (laid) on you to complete” —that is, “You know what is required of you to do”. The noun e)ntolh/, usually translated concisely (but flatly) as “commandment”, properly denotes a duty that someone is obligated to fulfill. Within Judaism, the noun (usually in the plural, e)ntolai/) refers specifically to the regulations in the Torah, recorded (in written form) in the Pentateuch.

Jesus’ unqualified reference to ‘the commandments’ is certainly meant in a general and comprehensive sense—that is, to all of the Torah regulations and requirements. However, the requirements that he specifically mentions are focused entirely on the ethical side of the Law, as represented by the second part of the ‘Ten Words’ (Ten Commandments, Decalogue). The five commandments cited (Lk 18:20 par) comprise most of the social-ethical side of the Decalogue (Exod 20:12-16; Deut 5:16-20), including the command to honor one’s parents. Matthew’s version (at 19:19b) also includes the command to love one’s neighbor (Lev 19:18b), which is telling from the standpoint of the early Christian view of the Law (cf. below). The lack of any mention of the ritual-ceremonial side of the Law is also most significant, and is typical of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. In only one instance (Mark 1:40-44 par Lk 5:12-14; Matt 8:1-4) does Jesus instruct a disciple (or potential disciple) to observe the ritual regulations of the Torah (a second ambiguous instance could also be cited, Matthew 17:24-27). For the most part, the ritual-ceremonial parts of the Torah are devalued or simply ignored in the early Christian Tradition; essentially, only the social-ethical commands are preserved as authoritative for early believers, and, in particular, those of the Ten Commandments. As the episode in Mk 10:17-22 makes clear, this emphasis can be traced back to the teachings of Jesus.

At the same time, Jesus confirms that being his disciple requires something even more than fulfilling the (ethical) demands of the Torah (cp. Matt 5:20):

“One (thing) is lacking for you: Lead yourself under [i.e. go away], sell as many (thing)s as you hold and give (the money) to [the] poor, and you will hold treasure in heaven, and (then) come follow me!” (Mk 10:21 par)

This has important implications for believers, as it may be said to represent the beginning of the early Christian tendency to place being a disciple of Jesus above fulfilling the Torah regulations. The Torah (and the Pentateuch Scriptures containing it) may continue to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a qualified sense, and only in relation to the greater duty of following the teaching and example of Jesus himself. For more on the subject of the Jesus’ view of the Torah, cf. the articles in my earlier series, which includes a convenient survey of the relevant Gospel passages.

Romans 13:8-10

Paul’s brief discussion regarding the Law in Romans 13:8-10 well illustrates the early Christian tendency mentioned above, and also shows something of the way that the Christian view of the Law (Torah and Pentateuch) developed from the Gospel Tradition (sayings/teaching of Jesus). The extent of this development can be seen clearly enough from Paul’s words in verse 8:

“Owe nothing to no one, if not to love each other; for the (one) loving the other (person) has fulfilled the Law.”

On the surface, this could simply mean believers should fulfill the command of Leviticus 19:18b (included in Matthew’s version of the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ episode, cf. above), as if it were simply one of the many Torah regulations we are required to observe. However, Paul clearly has something else in mind—namely that the ‘love command’ serves to represent in itself all of the Torah regulations, and effectively replaces them for believers. Note what Paul says in verse 9:

“For the (requirement) ‘you shall not commit adultery,’ ‘you shall not murder,’ ‘you shall not steal,’ ‘you shall not set your (heart) on (anything belonging to your neighbor),’ and if (there is) any other thing (laid) on (you) to complete [e)ntolh/], it is gathered up (under one) head: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

For believers, there is essentially just one command—the greatest command, the love-command—that we are required to obey. All other commands and regulations (from the Torah) are contained and comprehended within this single duty (e)ntolh/) to love. This view is hardly unique to Paul, but is part of a much wider teaching throughout early Christianity. It goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (esp. Mark 12:28-34; cf. also Matt 5:43-44ff par; 7:12 par), is referenced on more than one occasion by Paul (cf. below), is expounded clearly in the letter of James (2:8-13), and can be found prominently in the Johannine tradition (Jn 13:34-35; 14:15ff; 15:9-10, 12-13ff; 17:26; 1 Jn 2:5, 10, 15; 3:10-11ff, 17-18, 23; 4:7-12ff, 20-21; 5:1-3; 2 Jn 5-6).

To be clear, the essential early Christian teaching in this regard, as it developed, was that the entire Law is fulfilled when one obeys the ‘love command’ :

“Love does not work ill for the neighbor; therefore love is (the) fulfilling [plh/rwma] of the Law.” (v. 10)

By this, Paul means that, since one who loves others will do nothing bad against them, all of the social-ethical requirements of the Torah will automatically be fulfilled, and thus are no longer necessary. This means that the authority of the Torah (and thus also the Scriptures that contain it) is no longer the same for believers in Christ. The Law/Pentateuch continues to be authoritative for early Christians, but its authority is no longer primary. In place of the Law, there are two higher sources of authority—(1) the ‘love command’ as embodied by the teaching and example of Jesus, and (2) the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul does not specifically mention the Spirit here, but he certainly understands it as the source of the  Divine love that guides our thoughts and actions (5:5). He brings out the role of the Spirit much more clearly and strongly in Galatians, where his similar discussion of the ‘love command’ (as replacing/fulfilling the Torah, Gal 5:6, 13-14) is connected with the guiding presence of the Spirit (vv. 16-26). These two sources of authority—love and the Spirit—are primary over the Torah (and the Scriptures).

Even so, it must be emphasized that, for early Christians of the first-century, the Old Testament Scriptures continued to be authoritative, if only in a secondary and supplemental way. This can be illustrated from dozens of passages and references in the New Testament, but perhaps the best examples are found in the ‘Scripture-chains’ that early missionaries and Church leaders utilized in their preaching and teaching. We will examine one such chain (catena) of Scripture—perhaps the most famous in the New Testament—in our next study, continuing in Paul’s letter to the Romans. At the same time, mention will be made of the other chains in the New Testament, and of parallels in contemporary Jewish writings.

 

June 9: Luke 4:1

Luke 4:1

The Lukan Gospel proper begins with chapters 3-4, corresponding to the beginning of the Synoptic narrative (Mk 1:2-28). The opening episode in the Synoptic tradition is the Baptism of Jesus—a sequence of episodes spanning the description of John the Baptist’s ministry to the summary description of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. There are three references to the Spirit within this tradition (Mk 1:8, 10, 12) which Luke has inherited. The first two—the saying by the Baptist (3:16) and the descent of the Spirit at the Baptism (3:22)—are simply reproduced from the tradition by the Gospel writer.

The situation is different with regard to the third reference. In the core Synoptic tradition, following the Baptism, there is a brief narration of Jesus’ time in the desert, where he is tempted (lit. “tested”)  by the Satan (Mk 1:12-13). The initial statement in Mark reads as follows:

“And straightaway the Spirit casts him out into the desolate (land)” (v. 12)

The use of the verb e)kba/llw (“throw out, cast out”) sounds extremely harsh, but is appropriate to the harshness of Jesus’ experience in the desert (v. 13). Matthew softens the language, but otherwise follows the Synoptic/Markan narration:

“Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under [i.e. by] the Spirit…” (Matt 4:1)

In Luke’s version, while the author clearly is drawing upon the same tradition, the wording has been modified considerably, in a way that reflects the Lukan Spirit-theme:

“And Yeshua, full of (the) holy Spirit, turned back from from the Yarden (river), and was led in the Spirit in(to) the desolate (land)” (4:1)

The two expressions in bold are thoroughly Lukan expressions, which, as we saw in the previous notes, were established in the Infancy narratives. They represent two of the primary modes of Spirit-experience featured in Luke-Acts:

    • filled with the Spirit—cf. the notes on 1:15 and 1:41, 67, where the verb plh/qw is used; here it is the related adjective plh/rh$ (“filled, full”)
    • being/going in the Spirit—cf. 1:17 and 2:27 (note); the idea of being led by the Spirit is very much implied in the latter reference (Simeon is guided into the Temple precincts where he encounters Jesus)

In the Markan narrative, the Spirit comes unto Jesus at the Baptism, but then he is “thrown out” by the Spirit into the desert. This could imply that the Spirit was no longer with Jesus during his time in the desert, but that Jesus had to fend for himself, enduring temptation (much like a normal human being). During that time, he had to rely on Angel-messengers for strength and comfort. The Matthean and Lukan versions word the narration to make clear that the Spirit was still with Jesus during his time of testing. In all likelihood, the Markan version intends this as well; the Spirit ‘thrusts’ Jesus into the desert, but does not leave him. Matthew and Luke simply make this point clear.

Indeed, the Lukan version gives special emphasis to the presence of the Spirit, by way of the double reference. Jesus remains filled by the Spirit, and guided by the Spirit, all through the forty days of testing. This is confirmed by the fact that the Gospel writer restates the Spirit-theme immediately after the temptation scene, in verse 14:

“And Yeshua turned back, in the power of the Spirit, into the Galîl.”

The restatement was necessary, on the literary level, because of the insertion of the temptation scene (vv. 2b-13). Both Luke and Matthew expand the brief Synoptic description of the testing (by Satan) with the famous temptation-dialogue (par Matt 4:3-11). This is part of the so-called “Q” material, and the temptation-dialogue is unquestionably one of the most vivid and memorable of “Q” traditions. The Lukan framing of this episode suggests that it is the presence of the Spirit that empowers Jesus to overcome the Devil during the forty days of testing.

Indeed, it may be said that Jesus comes through the desert-experience even stronger, and this in relation to the presence of the Spirit. In verse 1, Jesus is “led in the Spirit”, but in verse 14, following the testing, he returns “in the power of the Spirit”. On the important association of the Spirit with “power” (du/nami$), i.e., the power of God, cf. 1:17, 35; 24:49; Acts 1:8; 8:19; 10:38. It is clearly an important aspect of the Lukan Spirit-theme. On a similar association in Paul’s letters, cf. Rom 1:4; 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5, etc. This ‘power of the Spirit’ is often connected with the ability to work miracles; however, the primary Lukan point of emphasis is on prophecy—that is, the Spirit-empowered ability to communicate the word of God (i.e., proclaim the Gospel). In the book of Acts, the prophetic aspect includes supernatural signs and phenomena (speaking with tongues, etc).

We will explore this aspect of the Spirit-theme, in relation to the Lukan portrait of Jesus, further in the next daily note.

 

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 7: Mark 10:32-34

Mark 10:32-34

As discussed in a prior note, the three Passion-predictions relate specifically to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and, in the Synoptic Tradition, they serve as a framing mechanism for the journey narrative (cf. my outline in the earlier note). Within this narrative setting, the final Passion-prediction effectively marks the end of the journey. After this point, the tone and focus of the Synoptic narrative changes significantly, with a sudden emphasis on Jesus’ role as the Davidic Messiah (“Son of David,” Mk 10:47 par)—a role which takes on prominence with the ‘Triumphal Entry’ scene (11:1-10 par), and continues throughout the Passion narrative.

As previously mentioned, Luke has greatly expanded his version of the journey narrative by making it the location for a wide range of traditional material—sayings, parables, and narrative episodes—that covers nearly nine full chapters (9:51-18:14). This disrupts the framing device of the Passion-predictions, but the third prediction (18:31-34) still serves to mark the end of the Jesus’ journey. Though he has only reached Jericho (18:35ff; Mk 10:46 par), he is close enough to Jerusalem that reader is able to make the transition into the Passion narrative.

Mark introduces the third Passion-prediction with a rather lengthy narrative summary that emphasizes Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem and which helps to build the dramatic suspense:

“And they were on the way, stepping up to Yerushalaim, and Yeshua was leading (the way) before them, and they wondered, and the (one)s following (him) were afraid.” (Mk 10:32)

Immediately preceding this narration we have the episode with the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ (vv. 17-22), along with the important teaching on discipleship (vv. 23-31) that follows in the Tradition. It is not clear why the disciples “wondered” as they walked behind Jesus; the idea seems to be that it was the bold way that Jesus took the lead in their journey that caused their surprise (cp. the Lukan wording in 9:51, at the beginning of the journey). At the same time, Jesus’ disciples were afraid—a fear that is meant, at the very least, to evoke memory of the previous Passion-predictions, in which Jesus’ emphasized the suffering and death he would face in Jerusalem.

Primarily, however, this narrative description is a literary device for dramatic effect, meant to build suspense leading up to the third prediction. The narration continues to this effect:

“And (hav)ing taken along the twelve again, he began to recount to them the (thing)s being [i.e. that were] about to step [i.e. come] together for him…” (v. 32b)

The wording here makes clear that Jesus is addressing the Passion-prediction specifically to the Twelve. This simply makes specific what was implied in the context of the first two predictions—namely, that Jesus was speaking to his close disciples, and that the Passion-predictions are central to what he was teaching them on the journey. A principal theme throughout this teaching was discipleship—the cost of being a disciple, etc (on this, cf. my earlier outline). The importance of this theme is brought into high relief by the Passion-predictions, as if to emphasize what the disciples, too, will face as a result of following Jesus. On this specific connection between discipleship and Jesus’ suffering/death, note the Synoptic episode that immediately follows the third prediction (Mk 10:35-44 par).

In typical fashion, Matthew follows the Synoptic/Markan narrative, but presents it in a much simpler manner (his relative freedom in this regard indicates, again, that the surrounding narrative was less well-established in the tradition than the prediction itself):

“And Yeshua, (as he was) stepping up to Yerushalaim, took the twelve [learners] alongside, down by (him)self, and on the way he said to them…” (20:17)

The main detail added by Matthew is the expression kat’ i)di/an (“down [by him]self”), i.e., close to him, privately. This emphasizes the intimacy of the moment, and that the Passion-prediction was intended for these disciples alone.

Luke’s version of the narrative introduction is even simpler:

“And, (hav)ing taken along the twelve, he said to them: ‘See, we are step(ping) up to Yerushalaim…'” (18:31a)

He has effectively eliminated the dramatic buildup and, more significantly, the approach to Jerusalem is retained only as part of the Passion-announcement itself. It is a most elegant modification of the Synoptic tradition, and it places the emphasis, not on the narration, but on the words of Jesus. Luke adds another important detail in his version of the Passion-prediction, but that is best dealt with as we begin discussing the prediction proper, in the next daily note.

The Passion-prediction may be outlined as follows, being comprised of these components:

    • The approach to Jerusalem
    • The betrayal of Jesus to the (Jewish) ruling authorities
    • The judgment by the Council, handing him to the (Roman) authorities
    • The suffering and death of Jesus (represented by a sequence of four action-verbs)
    • His resurrection after three days

This is essentially a thumbnail outline of the Passion narrative itself, and likely is not all that different from the most rudimentary form of the narrative that developed as a result of the early Gospel preaching. Indeed, the earliest core of the Passion narrative almost certainly had such kerygmatic origins, as can be glimpsed from passages in the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts—cf. 2:23-24; 3:13-15; 4:10, 27-28; 5:30-32; 10:39-41; 13:27-31.

We will begin analyzing these components in the next note.

April 4: Mark 9:31-32

Mark 9:31-32

Verse 31

“for he taught his learners [i.e. disciples] and said/related to them…”

The second Passion-prediction by Jesus, as it is recorded in the Gospel of Mark (9:31), is comprised of three parts:

    • A simple narrative introduction (v. 31a)
    • Prediction of his Betrayal (v. 31b)
    • Prediction of his Death and Resurrection (v. 31c)

Before proceeding with an exegesis of these three parts, it is worth considering how this Passion-prediction fits in the structure of the Synoptic (Markan) narrative. As I discussed previously, the three Passion-predictions provide a framework for the opening section of the second half of the Gospel narrative (the Judean/Jerusalem period). This opening section is centered on the journey of Jesus to Jesus to Jerusalem (covered by chapter 10 of Mark). The Passion-predictions are rather evenly divided within the section, marking the beginning, middle, and end. The second prediction marks the mid-point of the section, dividing it into two distinct parts. We may outline this as follows:

    • First Passion-Prediction (and the disciples’ reaction)—8:30-32
    • PART 1 (Preparation: Teaching the Disciples):
      • Teaching/sayings on Discipleship, with an eschatological theme (8:33-9:1)
      • The Transfiguration: Revelation to the Disciples (9:2-8)
      • Teaching the Disciples, with an eschatological theme (9:9-13)
      • Exorcism miracle episode, in the context of teaching the Disciples (9:14-29)
    • Second Passion-Prediction (and disciples’ reaction)—9:30-32
    • PART 2 (The Journey to Jerusalem):
      • Teaching his disciples: theme of ‘entering the Kingdom of God’ (9:33-50)
      • Teaching the crowds: focus on a discussion with Pharisees on a point of Law (10:1-12)
      • Teaching his disciples: theme of ‘entering the Kingdom of God’ (10:13-31)
    • Third Passion-Prediction (and disciples’ reaction)—10:32-34

The first part of this section centers on Jesus’ teaching his close disciples, in a manner that we may say is in preparation for the journey to Jerusalem. The Transfiguration episode effectively brings his Galilean ministry period to a close, and marks an end to his primary Messianic role during this period—as an Anointed Prophet, fulfilling the type-patterns of Moses and Elijah. Following this episode, Jesus once again alludes to his coming suffering and death (9:9-13). All of the teaching in this section has a strong eschatological emphasis, indicating quite clearly that his death and resurrection also has a profound eschatological significance (something many Christians today are unable or unwilling to recognize).

At verse 30, the narrative transitions into the second Passion-prediction, with an echo of Jesus’ earlier prohibition on revealing his identity as the Messiah (8:30):

“And from that (place), going out, they traveled along through the Galîl, and he did not wish that anyone should know (it)…”

Here, however, the sense of prohibition is rather different. Jesus simply wishes to avoid the crowds, keeping his presence hidden from the surrounding populace while he travels (south) through Galilee. The reason for avoiding any crowds is made clear in the opening words of verse 31:

“…for he taught his learners [i.e. disciples]”

Again, this echoes the context of the first Passion-prediction (“And he began to teach them…”). The teaching he was doing with his (close) disciples was of such importance, that Jesus wished to avoid attracting crowds around him that might distract from his work. And what is the subject, the focus of this teaching? It is the message of his coming suffering and death in Jerusalem. That the Passion-prediction fundamentally represents the substance of his teaching here is indicated by the wording of v. 31a:

“for he taught his learners [i.e. disciples] and said to them…”

What Jesus “said to them” is the Passion-prediction proper. As noted above, the statement of the prediction can be divided into two parts. The first predicts Jesus’ betrayal (an aspect of his Passion not specified in the first prediction), while the second restates the message of his coming death and resurrection. We will examine the first part (v. 31b) in the next daily note.

Saturday Series: Luke 7:36-50

Luke 7:36-50

In the previous study, I examined the Anointing of Jesus in Mark and Matthew, in which it is set as the first episode in the (Synoptic) Passion Narrative. We also looked at the parallel account in John, where the episode, though placed at an earlier location in the narrative, still is closely tied to Jesus’ Passion. Luke likewise includes an Anointing scene, but one with a very different setting—earlier in the Galilean ministry period (7:36-50)—and with considerable differences in detail as well. These points of difference would normally be sufficient to mark the episode as deriving from an entirely separate (historical) tradition. However, at least two facts would argue against this:

    1. This is the only such Anointing scene in Luke; he does not include anything similar at a point corresponding to Mk 14:3-9 par. This might suggest that Luke felt that the episode properly belonged at a different point in the narrative. John’s version provides confirmation for an earlier setting of the episode, prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
    2. Luke’s account includes specific details common to the Synoptic (Markan) version:
      (a) The name of the host (Simon)—Mk 14:3 par; Lk 7:40.
      (b) The unnamed woman with an alabaster jar of perfume—Mk 14:3 par; Lk 7:37
      (c) As we shall see, the description of the woman’s action (v. 38) is nearly identical with that in John’s version (12:3), which otherwise is quite close overall to the Markan episode.

How are we to explain the relationship between the Lukan and Synoptic (Mark/Matthew) version? This is a significant critical question, which cannot be ignored; there are several possibilities:

    • They simply record entirely separate (historical) events, and the similarities between them are coincidental. This would probably be the normal traditional-conservative view, yet the points noted above seem to speak against it.
    • Luke has combined two distinct historical traditions:
      (1) that involving a “sinful” woman who wets Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair; the episode is set earlier in Jesus’ ministry, at the house of a Pharisee.
      (2) that of the woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany; i.e. the Synoptic tradition, set close to the time of Jesus’ Passion in Jerusalem.
      This would tend to be the more common critical view—that Luke has added details from the Synoptic version (which he has otherwise omitted) to the other scene.
    • They record the same underlying historical tradition (and event), but that Luke has brought out very different details and points of emphasis, through the specific tradition he has inherited.

Unfortunately, each of these three views has its own problems, and none is entirely satisfactory as an explanation of both the differences and similarities between the versions. The situation is complicated still further when one compares these two (Synoptic) versions of the Anointing scene with the third (in John). Insofar as Luke has developed the core Synoptic tradition, we must consider this from several different perspectives.

1. If Luke has otherwise made use of Mark (or a similar Synoptic narrative), why did he omit the Bethany Anointing scene of Mk 14:3-9? Different possibilities have been suggested, but, in my view, the most convincing is that his purpose was to emphasize more clearly two primary thematic elements of the narrative—(1) the Passover setting, and (2) the Betrayal by Judas. Eliminating the Anointing episode at this point serves to join immediately the narrative introduction (22:1-6) with the Last Supper scene (vv. 7ff), in which both of these elements are prominent. Luke has further enhanced the narrative introduction by weaving into it the tradition of Judas’ betrayal (compare vv. 3-6 with Mk 14:1b-2).

2. The author (trad. Luke) may also have wished to give greater prominence to the earlier Anointing scene, set in Galilee. Whether or not he has included details, otherwise found in the Bethany scene, within this episode (see above), there is tremendous power and beauty to the narrative in 7:36-50. The Anointing episode outline (on this, see last week’s study) is essentially represented by vv. 36-40, the first part of the narrative. The second part (vv. 41-50) involves a parable (vv. 41-47) similar to others found in Luke’s Gospel (see especially 10:25-37, of the “Good Samaritan”). The three-fold emphasis on repentance, forgiveness, and love, reflects important Lukan themes, such as we see, for example, in the parable of the Prodigal (15:11-24ff). All of these elements, of course, are unique to Luke’s tradition, and are not found in the Synoptic Anointing episode. Yet, as noted above, there is some indication that the author may have seen the two traditions as reflecting the same episode. In particular, the reference to the host Pharisee as “Simon” (v. 40) could suggest a conscious harmonization with Mk 14:3ff.

3. The similarity between Lk 7:38 and Jn 12:3 raises the possibility that Luke inherited a form of the (Bethany) Anointing tradition closer to Jn 12:1-8 than Mk 14:3-9. This should be seriously considered, especially since there is some evidence that, in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, Luke and John are drawing from a common tradition separate from the Synoptic (i.e. not found in Mark/Matthew).

Next Saturday is Palm Sunday, and it is natural that we should turn our attention to the Triumphal Entry scene in the Gospels, as preliminary to the Passion narrative that follows. There are a number of key critical questions related to the famous Entry scene, and we will consider these in turn: (a) Textual, (b) Source, (c) Historical, and (d) Literary. I have touched on some of these areas in earlier notes and articles, but in our study they will be surveyed in a more comprehensive way. I hope you will join me for this exciting study, in preparation for Holy Week.

March 30: Mark 8:31

For the daily notes leading up to Holy Week, I will be presenting an in-depth exegetical and expository study of the Synoptic Passion-predictions by Jesus. These three predictions are part of the “Triple Tradition” —that is, sayings and narrative episodes found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels.

The starting point for this study will be the Gospel of Mark. That is to say, I will be focusing on the Gospel of Mark as representing the core Synoptic Tradition. It is the Markan version of the Passion predictions that will form the basis for these notes, to be supplemented by the significant variations and differences in the Matthean and Lukan versions.

Mark 8:31

The first of the Passion predictions occurs at Mark 8:31, immediately following the episode of Peter’s confession (8:27-30). In my view, this represents a clear transition point between the first and second halves of the Synoptic narrative. This division is best expressed in the Gospel of Mark, where the first half of the narrative (the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry) and the second half (the Judean/Jerusalem period) are roughly equal in length. This narrative structure has been distorted in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, effected by the inclusion of a significant amount of additional material. In particular, the journey to Jerusalem, covered by a single chapter in Mark (chap. 10), has been greatly expanded in Luke to the point where it effectively spans more than ten full chapters (9:51-19:27).

“And he began to teach them…”
Kai\ h&rcato dida/skein au)tou\$

The second half of the Markan Gospel begins with these words (8:31). It follows directly upon the climactic moment of the first half—the confession by Peter regarding the Messianic identity of Jesus (vv. 29-30):

“And he inquired of them, ‘But who do you count [i.e. consider] me to be?’ The Rock {Peter} gave forth (an answer): ‘You are the Anointed (One)’. And he laid a charge upon them, that they should recount [i.e. tell] (this) about him to no one.”

The entire Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry (i.e., the first half of the Synoptic narrative) has led to this dramatic moment—the revelation (by Peter) of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (“Anointed [One]”). As I have discussed at length in prior notes and articles, in the Galilean period, Jesus’ Messianic identity relates primarily to the Prophetic figure-types: Moses, Elijah, and the Anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff (cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). However, by the time the Gospels were written, the specific title “Anointed (One)” (Xristo/$), as it is applied to Jesus, had come to be defined largely by the Davidic Ruler figure-type. And it is this figure-type—the royal Messiah from the line of David (cf. Parts 6-8 of “Yeshua the Anointed”)—that dominates the second half of the Synoptic narrative.

What precisely does Peter mean by the title in the original tradition (as expressed in Mk 8:29)? Most likely he would have in mind the Davidic Ruler figure-type; indeed, this would help to explain his reaction in v. 32. It was definitely not expected that a Messiah would suffer and die, and certainly not the Messianic Ruler of the kingdom that was to be established (on earth) in the New Age. The Lukan form (9:20) of Peter’s confession (a slightly expanded version) may be intended to convey a more precise identification with this royal figure-type: “(You are) the Anointed (One) of God” (to\n xristo\n tou= qeou=). This echoes the wording from the Infancy narrative (“the Anointed [One] of the Lord,” to\n xristo\n kuri/ou, 2:26), where  the royal/Davidic associations are abundantly clear. The Matthean form of the confession is even more expansive, reflecting, it seems, an attempt by the Gospel writer to expound the statement more squarely in terms of the early Christian understanding of Jesus’ identity: “You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God” (16:16; cp. the Johannine confession [by Martha] in 11:27).

“And he began to teach —This marks the beginning of the second half of the narrative. So also in the first half (the Galilean period), Jesus’ ministry begins with teaching, as summarized by three traditional components:

    • His proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mk 1:14-15 par)
    • His call of the first disciples (lit. “learners,” those whom he would teach, Mk 1:16-20 par)
    • His practice of teaching in the Synagogues of Galilee (Mk 1:21ff par; cp. Lk 4:14-16ff)

Now, however, his teaching (vb dida/skw) is directed at his close disciples, and the message deals specifically with his impending suffering and death in Jerusalem. In the context of the Gospel narrative, it must also be seen as a response to Peter’s confession. Indeed, he is the Anointed One of God, but this is not to be manifested in the way that Peter and the disciples (and other Jews of the time) would have anticipated. The Davidic Messiah was expected to subdue and judge the nations, not to suffer and die at their hands. Peter’s reaction in verse 32f demonstrates rather clearly how incongruous this idea was in terms of the Messianic expectation. Jesus’ teaching is meant to prepare his disciples for the fact that his Messianic identity (as the coming Davidic Ruler) would be realized in a very different way.

The Matthean version (at 16:21) generally follows Mark at this point, and essentially preserves the dividing line between the two ‘halves’ of the Gospel narrative. The wording does, however, differ slightly:

“From then (on), Yeshua began to show [vb deiknu/w] to his learners [i.e. disciples]…”

Luke, by contrast, has blurred this division, making the Passion prediction (syntactically) part of the same tradition-unit as Peter’s confession:

“…'(You are) the Anointed (One) of God.’ And, laying a charge upon them, he gave along (the) message (that they are) to recount (this) to no one, saying that ‘It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s…’ ” (9:20-22)

In the next note, we will begin examining the Passion prediction itself.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Moses and Elijah, Part 2

Moses and Elijah (Part 2)

The Transfiguration Episode (Lk 9:28-36 par)

As I argued at the conclusion of Part 1, the Transfiguration scene, within the context of the Synoptic narrative, is set at the conclusion of the Galilean period and marks the beginning of the Judean period (the second half of the narrative). The second half of the Gospel narrative, I would maintain, properly opens with the first Passion prediction by Jesus (Mk 8:31 par), but the Transfiguration is the first major episode. It holds roughly the same place as the Baptism scene does in the first half of the narrative. Clearly there is an intentional (literary) parallel intended between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes. In particular, the Voice from heaven makes a declaration that matches (or nearly matches) the heavenly declaration at the Baptism (Mk 1:11 par); indeed, in Matthew’s version, the two utterances are identical.

It is clear from the position of the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic narrative, that it marks the conclusion of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the beginning of his Passion—the upcoming journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10; Lk 9:5118:34), and the events which would take place there. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration brings out this aspect more clearly (cf. below).

The presence of Moses and Elijah

Central to the Transfiguration scene is the presence of Moses and Elijah, who appear alongside of Jesus (Mk 9:4-5 par). It has been popular to interpret the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene as representing “the Law and the Prophets” which Jesus was fulfilling (Matt 5:17; Lk 16:16; 24:27, 44; Jn 1:45, etc). However, this does not seem to be correct. To begin with, Elijah is an odd choice to represent the Prophetic Scriptures (Isaiah would make more sense, cf. Jn 12:39-41). More importantly, Moses and Elijah each represent distinct Prophet-figures; and, in the original context of the Gospels, it is almost certain that Jesus, in the period of his Galilean ministry especially, was also seen as an Anointed Prophet.

That Jesus was seen as a Messiah of the Prophet figure-type seems clear enough from the Baptism scene, attested by different strands of tradition (Mk 1:7-8 par; Lk 3:15ff; 4:14-30; Jn 1:19-27), as well as the entirety of the period of his Galilean ministry, according to the Synoptic narrative. Principally, he fulfilled the role of Spirit-endowed, miracle working Prophet (like Elijah), identified more specifically with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. For more on this, see the previous articles in this series, along with Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

I would suggest that in the Transfiguration scene the significance of Moses and Elijah is two-fold:

    1. It identifies Jesus as a Messianic Prophet (like Moses and Elijah), marking the conclusion of his Galilean ministry in which this role was primarily being fulfilled, but also pointing to his eschatological role inaugurating a new era for the people of God. It is no coincidence that, in Jewish tradition by the time of Jesus, Moses and Elijah were seen as prophetic figures who would appear at the end-time, as a fulfillment of specific prophecies (Deut 18:15-20; Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6).
    2. Moses and Elijah each experienced a theophany—manifestation of God’s presence—upon the holy mountain (Sinai/Horeb); similarly, Jesus (and his disciples) on this mountain experience the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence and the divine Voice from heaven. This theophany, in relation to Jesus, is of a different sort, reflecting his divine Sonship.
Jesus and Moses: Luke 9:28-36

Luke’s version of the Transfiguration scene (9:28-36) contains a number of important details which emphasize the association of Jesus with Moses (and the Moses/Exodus traditions). These will be discussed here in turn.

“after…eight days” (v. 28)—Luke curiously dates the Transfiguration episode differently than in Mark-Matthew (“after six days”). One can only guess at the reasons for this, but it is possible that an allusion to the time-frame of the festival of Booths (Sukkot) is intended (Lev 23:35-36, and cf. below).

he stepped up into/onto the mountain” (v. 28)—The mountain location of the Transfiguration fills the type-pattern of mount Sinai as the setting of the Sinai Theophany—the mountain Moses ascended to meet YHWH. This association is part of the core tradition; however, Luke’s wording here (“he stepped up into/onto the mountain,” a)ne/bh ei)$ to\ o&ro$) precisely matches the LXX of Exod 19:3.

“the visible (form) of his face (became) different” (v. 29)—The change in Jesus’ appearance is central to the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:3); all three Gospels mention Jesus’ clothing becoming unusually bright/white, however Matthew and Luke specifically mention the shining of Jesus’ face. Luke emphasizes the transformation of Jesus’ face, stating that its visible appearance (ei@do$) became different (“other,” e%tero$). It is likely that this alludes to the tradition of the transformation of Moses’ face (Exod 34:29ff), even though the wording differs from the description(s) in Exodus.

“…who were being seen in splendor [do/ca]” (v. 31)—Luke adds the detail that Moses and Elijah appeared “in glory/splendor”. This can be taken as further emphasis on the tradition of the divine glory/splendor (do/ca) that was reflected on Moses’ face (Exod 34:30-35). Here it is extended to the figure of Elijah, so that all three figures—Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah—shine with heavenly/divine glory.

“…his way out [e&codo$]” (v. 31)—In the core tradition, Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah; however, only Luke provides information about the subject of their discussion. According to Luke’s version, the three spoke specifically about “his [i.e. Jesus’] way out, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem”. The expression “way out” is a literal translation of the noun e&codo$ (éxodus), which almost certainly stands as an allusion to the Exodus. If so, then Jesus effectively fulfills the role of Moses in leading the way for a “new Exodus”. It must be emphasized, however, that here the “exodus” refers specifically to Jesus’ “way out” of his life on earth—that is, his impending death (and resurrection) in Jerusalem.

“they saw his splendor/glory [do/ca]” (v. 32)—Only Luke includes the detail that the awakening disciples “saw the splendor/glory” of Jesus. In all likelihood, this again reflects the Moses tradition in Exod 34:29-35, where the people see the glory on Moses’ face. The wording here resembles the declaration in the Johannine Prologue (1:14ff), which also alludes the same Exodus traditions and contains a comparison between Jesus and Moses.

“we should make tents” (v. 33)—The declaration by Peter is part of the core tradition, which may contain an echo of the festival of Booths (Sukkot), as recorded in the Law of Moses (and which is part of the Moses/Exodus traditions, Lev 23:33-43; Neh 8:14-17; cf. also Exod 23:14-19; 34:22-24; Num 29:12-38; Deut 16:16-17; 31:9-13). As noted above, the specific dating of the Transfiguration in Luke (v. 28) may be intended to bring out this association.

“a cloud came to be and it cast shade upon them” (v. 34)—The overshadowing cloud is part of the core tradition, and almost certainly alludes to the Sinai Theophany (Exod 19:9ff; 24:15-18), though the theophanous Cloud, representing the manifest presence of YHWH, features throughout the Exodus narratives (Exod 16:10; 40:34, etc).

“…going into the cloud” (v. 34)—Only in Luke’s version do the disciples enter the cloud (with Jesus). This clearly echoes the scene at the Sinai theophany, where Moses enters the cloud of God’s glorious presence (Exod 24:18; cf. also 33:9). At the same time, this represents a shift in the significance of the two episodes, whereby access to the manifest presence of God is no long limited to the chosen representative (Moses/Jesus), but is opened up to (all) the faithful ones among God’s people.

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. chosen]” (v. 35)—The declaration by the heavenly Voice closely parallels that of the Baptism scene (in Matthew the two are identical). In the previous article on Isa 42:1ff, I discussed how the Baptism declaration likely alludes to this passage, and the same applies here in the Transfiguration scene. The Lukan form of the declaration, including the descriptive (substantive) participle o( e)klelegme/no$ (“the [one] having been gathered out”), more closely matches Isa 42:1 than that in Mark-Matthew.

In the aforementioned article, I also discuss how the “servant” of Isa 42:1ff can be interpreted as an inspired prophetic leader who follows in the pattern of Moses. That is to say, he functions as a “new Moses” who will lead the people of God in a “new Exodus” out of their time in Exile. It seems likely that the Transfiguration scene follows the line of interpretation that identifies Jesus as the “prophet like Moses” who is to come—that is, the Messianic prophet according to the figure-type of Moses (cf. above and Part 3 of “Yeshua the Anointed”).

“you must hear [i.e. listen to] him” (v. 35)—This directive, part of the heavenly declaration in the core tradition, almost certainly alludes to Deuteronomy 18:15, and the need for God’s people to hear/obey the words of the “prophet like Moses” who is to come. The implication, again, is that Jesus is to be identified with this Messianic prophet figure, even as his (more directly) in Acts 3:22; 7:37. The Lukan word order here is closer to the LXX of Deut 18:15 than is that of Mark-Matthew.

The transitional character of the Transfiguration scene is indicated by the way that Moses and Elijah vanish, leaving Jesus alone on the mountain. Their departure clears the way for the identification of Jesus with other Messianic figure types—most notably, the Davidic royal Messiah, as well as the heavenly “Son of Man” figure. Even more significant, from the standpoint of early Christian theology, is the heavenly declaration that affirms Jesus’ status as God’s Son. There can be no doubt that this episode marks Jesus as being superior to the prophetic figures of Moses and Elijah; however, it is important to realize that this superiority is expressed in the context of the Old Testament tradition.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Moses and Elijah, Part 1

Moses and Elijah (Part 1)

The figures of Moses and Elijah are central to the Gospel narrative, and to the Messianic identity of Jesus, particularly in the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry which forms the first half of the Synoptic Narrative. Moses and Elijah were important prophetic figures in Israel’s history (and in Old Testament tradition), and, through the key Scriptures of Deut 18:15-19 and Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6, came to be regarded as figure-types for the Messianic Prophet who was expected to appear at the end-time (prior to the great Judgment). For more on this subject, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Jesus was identified with both the Moses and Elijah figure-types, as I discuss in the aforementioned article. This can be seen at various points throughout the early Gospel tradition, associated with the Galilean ministry of Jesus as recorded (especially) in the Synoptic narrative. However, there are two episodes from this Galilean period where the Old Testament associations particularly stand out:

    1. The Miraculous Feeding episode, and
    2. The Transfiguration scene

Part 1 of this article will deal with the Miraculous Feeding  episode, while Part 2 will examine the Transfiguration scene.

The Miraculous Feeding Episode (Mark 6:30-44 par)

This episode makes for a fascinating test case in New Testament criticism. Not only do we have the three Synoptic versions (Triple-Tradition), along with a parallel version in the Gospel of John, but there is the second Feeding miracle (of the 4,000), nearly identical in its basic outline (to that of the 5,000), preserved in Mark and Matthew (Mk 8:1-10) par. It is not the place here to go into the many critical questions regarding the relationship between these versions; in any case, I have discussed the matter at considerable length elsewhere (cf. especially the articles in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). In this particular study, I will be focusing on influence of the Old Testament on the Miraculous Feeding scene as it has been recorded in the Gospels.

As it happens, there are no direct citations or quotations of Scripture in the Feeding episode (in any of the versions); instead, we find a number of subtle, but significant, allusions to Old Testament traditions that have helped to shape the narrative. Three strands of tradition may be isolated, each of which relates, in certain ways, to the figures of Moses and Elijah:

    • The phrase “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34 par)
    • Allusions to the Elisha tradition of 2 Kings 4:42-44
    • The Moses/Exodus traditions of the Passover and Manna, esp. as developed by Jesus in the Johannine discourse that follows the miraculous feeding
“Sheep without a shepherd” (Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Mk 6:34 par)

In the Synoptic (Markan) version of the feeding of the 5,000, we find the following narrative description:

“And coming out (of the boat), he [i.e. Jesus] saw (the) throng (of) many (people), and he was moved in (his) inner parts upon them, (in) that [i.e. because] they were as sheep not having [i.e. without] any herder, and he began to teach them many (thing)s.” (6:34)

Neither Matthew nor Luke contain the specific allusion to the people “as sheep without a shepherd”, though they include the detail of Jesus’ compassion for them, as well as the mention of his teaching and the healing miracles he performed. Conceivably, Mark has added the sheep/shepherd reference to the core Synoptic tradition, which would explain why Matthew and Luke do not have it in their version; nor is it part of the second Feeding (of the 4,000) narrative.

However it came to be included in the Markan version of the episode, its significance relates to the apparent allusion to Numbers 27:17, as descriptive of Joshua, the Spirit-endowed leader who follows Moses as guide (i.e., ‘shepherd’) for the people (vv. 12-23). Joshua stands in relation to Moses, much as Elisha does to Elijah (cf. below), with both receiving an ‘anointing’ of the same divine, prophetic Spirit that their predecessor possessed. Here is how the matter is described in Num 27:16-17:

“May YHWH, Mightiest (One) [i.e. God] of (the) spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who will go out before them and who will come (in) before them, who will bring them out and who will bring them (in), and (then) the assembly of YHWH will not be like a flock (of sheep) which does not (have) for them (one) giving pasture [i.e. a shepherd/herdsman].”

The allusion in Mk 6:34 indicates that Jesus is to be regarded, like Joshua (the two names being essentially identical), as the Spirit-empowered successor to Moses. It is Jesus who will lead and guide the people of God. Indeed, like Moses himself, Jesus serves as God’s chosen (= anointed) representative who miraculously provides food for the multitude as they sojourn in the desolate land.

The motif from Numbers 27:17 is repeated in 1 Kings 22:17, part of the Micaiah scene in chapter 22. The sheep/shepherd idiom is used there in a negative sense: because of the wickedness of the king (Ahab) and the many ‘false prophets’, the people of Israel truly are like sheep without a proper shepherd. While the prophetic significance of this Old Testament episode cannot be disregarded, it is only loosely related to the Elijah/Elisha traditions. Almost certainly, it is Num 27:17 that is being referenced in the Markan version of the Miraculous Feeding scene.

The Elisha tradition in 2 Kings 4:42-44

As nearly every New Testament commentator recognizes, the basic action of the Miraculous Feeding episode reflects, to some extent, the scene in 2 Kings 4:42-44. The way that the two narratives relate can be traced rather simply by comparing the relevant detail:

    • A man brings loaves of bread to Elisha (v. 42)
      / The disciples bring loaves to Jesus (Mk 6:37f, 41 par)
    • Elisha tells him to give the bread to the people to eat (v. 42)
      / Jesus tells the disciples to give the people food to eat (Mk 6:37a par)
    • The servant asks how he can give the bread to so many men (v. 43a)
      / The disciples ask how they are able to obtain food for so many people (Mk 6:37b par)
    • A repeated directive to bring/obtain loaves of bread (v. 43b; Mk 6:38 par)
    • All of the people eat and there is still some left over (vv. 43b-44a; Mk 6:42-43 par)
    • This is done/accomplished “according to the word of YHWH”, as expressed by the prophet Elisha (v. 44)
      / The miracle takes place according to the command of Jesus, accompanied by his word of blessing/consecration (Mk 6:39, 41)

These parallels make abundantly clear that Jesus is acting as an inspired Prophet, in the pattern of Elijah (and his disciple Elisha). Elijah was the great miracle-working prophet in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the mighty deeds and wonders taking place, by the power of God, through special prophetic Spirit that was upon him. Elisha, his disciple and appointed successor, would receive this same Spirit (2 Kings 2:9-10ff), even as Joshua inherits the Spirit-endowed mantle of leadership from Moses (cf. above, and note the more specific prophetic parallel in Num 11:16-17ff).

As I discuss in the previous article, by the 1st century B.C./A.D., the Spirit-inspired Herald of Isa 61:1ff had come to be associated with the (Messianic) figure-type of Elijah. This can be seen both in the Gospel Tradition (Lk 4:17-19ff and 7:18-22 par) and in the Qumran text 4Q521. The specific points of emphasis in the Nazareth episode of Lk 4:16-30 are again worth noting:

    • Jesus specifically identifies himself with the prophet/herald who is “anointed by the Spirit”, a prophetic detail that was fulfilled at the Baptism, and with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (3:22; 4:1, 14-15ff)
    • He again identifies himself as a prophet in the proverbial saying of 4:24 par
    • The Scripture examples he cites (vv. 25-27) are from the Elijah and Elisha narratives
    • Elisha was the only Old Testament prophet specifically said to have been anointed (cf. 1 Kings 19:16), in a manner that seems to have been primarily figurative, referring to the divine/prophetic Spirit that comes upon him
The Moses/Exodus Traditions

The allusion to Num 27:17 in Mk 6:34 (cf. above) suggests that Jesus is fulfilling the role of Moses, as the Spirit-empowered leader of the people, who guides them on their journey in the desolate land. The setting of the Miraculous Feeding episode fits this traditional paradigm, with: (a) the large crowd of people, (b) the desolate locale (Mk 6:35 par), and (c) the difficulty in finding food to eat. All of this naturally brings to mind Moses’ role as intermediary between God (YHWH) and the people, especially with regard to the miraculous feeding episodes recorded in the Exodus narratives. The prime narrative is in Exodus 16, where, according to Moses’ prophetic announcement, God brings down meat (quail) and bread (‘manna’) from the sky to feed the people.

There is only the faintest allusion to the manna-tradition in the Gospel narrative. However, it takes on more prominence in the Johannine version of the Miraculous Feeding (6:1-14). In at least two small details, John’s version emphasizes the association with Moses, rather than Elijah. The first is the reference to the time of the Passover festival (v. 4), a detail found only in John’s version, though the mention of green grass (Mk 6:39 par) suggests that the episode may have taken place in the Springtime.

The second significant detail comes at the conclusion of the narrative (v. 14), where people respond to the miracle by declaring that “this is truly the Prophet, the (one) coming into the world!” This demonstrates the popular expectation of a Messianic Prophet, which, most commonly, was conceived according to one of two prophetic figure-types: Moses and Elijah, respectively (cf. again Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The title “the Prophet” is more likely to be a reference to the Moses figure-type (Deut 18:15-19), while the descriptive title “the (one who is) coming” (Grk o( e)rxo/meno$) better fits the Elijah type (cf. Mal 3:1ff, 4:5-6, and my earlier note on the subject). Given the Moses/Passover theme that runs through John 6, it seems probable that “the Prophet” is the “Prophet like Moses”.

In the great “Bread of Life” discourse that follows the Miraculous Feeding episode in the Gospel of John (6:22-59ff), the miraculous division of the bread-loaves is expounded in terms of the Moses/Exodus tradition of the manna—as “bread coming down from heaven”. This line of interpretation by Jesus is introduced in the discourse at verse 31:

“Our fathers ate the manna in the desolate (land), even as it has been written: ‘Bread out of heaven He gave them to eat’.”

The Scripture citation corresponds most directly to Psalm 78:24, but certainly refers to the main historical tradition in Exodus 16:4, 15 (cf. also Wisdom 16:20). As Jesus continues with this line of exposition, he brings up the (comparative) parallel with the figure of Moses:

“Amen, amen, I say to you: (it was) not Moses (who) has given you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.” (v. 32)

Two different points of contrast are at work in this statement:

    • It was not Moses who gave the bread, but God (YHWH) Himself
    • The manna was not the true “bread out of heaven”

Then Jesus goes a step further, identifying this “true bread” as a person who comes down from heaven:

“For the bread of God is the (one) stepping down out of heaven and giving life to the world.” (v. 33)

The remainder of the discourse (vv. 35ff) builds upon this idea, as Jesus, in response to the request by the people in v. 34 (reflecting their misunderstanding), declares:

“I am the Bread of Life…” (v. 35)

Jesus is himself the true “bread from heaven”, which God gives to His people (believers) in the world. The Moses/Manna theme is reiterated at several points throughout the discourse (cf. especially vv. 46, 49ff), but is very much central to the overall “Bread of Life” image. The allusions to Jesus’ death (vv. 33, 38, 50-51, and the eucharistic language in vv. 52-58) tie the imagery back to the Passover setting of the miracle (v. 4), since the death of Jesus took place at Passover, fulfilling the figure-type of the Passover sacrifice (cf. 1:29, 36; 2:18-23; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14, [29], 31-33, 36).

Conclusion: The Context of the Synoptic Narrative

To gain a full appreciation of the significance of the Miraculous Feeding episode as an expression of the Messianic identity of Jesus, we must consider carefully the place of this episode within the Synoptic narrative framework. In particular, the two Feeding miracles (in Mark and Matthew) are key to the shaping of this framework. I have outlined the Markan structure in earlier notes and articles, but it is worth presenting again here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus we can see that the two Feeding Miracle episodes play a pivotal role in the Markan narrative, and are important in demonstrating Jesus’ identity—the primary theme of 6:14-8:30.

Luke’s Gospel has a somewhat different structure, due to the fact that the author omits (or otherwise does not include) all of the Synoptic material in Mk 6:45-8:26 par. The single Miraculous Feeding (of the 5,000) thus is more clearly rooted in the concluding portion of the Galilean narrative:

    • The Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
    • The Reaction of Herod (9:7-9)
    • The Miraculous Feeding (9:10-17)
    • The Reaction (Confession) of Peter (9:18-20)

Peter’s confession essentially brings the first half of the Synoptic narrative (the Galilean ministry period) to a close. The Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-8 par) may be viewed as transitional, or as the beginning episode in the second half of the Gospel (the Judean period), preceding as it does Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (chap. 10). The journey section is framed by the three Passion predictions by Jesus, and so it is perhaps best to view the second half of the Synoptic narrative as starting with the first Passion prediction (Mk 8:31 par).

In any event, the Transfiguration scene is transitional in the sense that it completes the identification of Jesus as the prophetic Messiah, and prepares the way for his identification as the royal Messiah (from the line of David), which is the Messianic figure-type that comes to dominate the second half of the Gospel. In order to see how the associations with Moses and Elijah truly function within the Synoptic narrative, it is necessary for us to turn to this key episode of the Transfiguration, in Part 2.