July 20: Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

When we turn to the letter to the Hebrews, we find a number of references to the Spirit. For the most part, however, these are traditional in nature (cf. the notice in 3:7 on the Spirit-inspired character of the Scriptures), and not nearly as prominent or significant as one might expect in a theological writing of this sort. The lack of emphasis on the Spirit may simply be a reflection of the overwhelmingly Christological thrust of the letter; even so, if Paul (for example) had authored a similar work, the Spirit surely would have featured much more prominently. In particular, there is little or no mention of the idea, so frequent elsewhere in the New Testament, of believers being “in the Spirit” —that is, united with Christ (and God the Father) through the presence of the Spirit. The closest such reference in Hebrews is in 6:4, where believers are described as those

“…(hav)ing been (en)lightened, (hav)ing (both) tasted the heavenly gift and (hav)ing coming to be holders with (one another) of (the) holy Spirit”

The idiom of believers holding the Spirit together with one another certainly captures the essential idea of being united in the Spirit. The emphasis is on the initial experience of salvation (conversion), which entails acceptance of the Gospel, trust in Jesus, confirmation in the baptism ritual, and the presence of the Spirit. The author does not develop the idea any further. However, earlier in the letter (2:4), mention is made of the activity of the Spirit among believers, through miraculous and powerful “signs and wonders”, referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of things (i.e. ‘gifts’) distributed (merismoi/) among individual believers and congregations (cp. Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 12-14).

The four remaining references to the Spirit are contained within the “New Covenant” exposition in chapters 9-10. The bulk of Hebrews (3:1-10:25) expounds the central theme that believers in Christ are living under a new covenant, and that all the forms of the old covenant are replaced (and fulfilled) in the person of Christ. The author of Hebrews declares, even more forcefully than Paul does in his letters, that the old covenant has completely passed away, and is no longer in effect for believers. This is very much part of the early Christian eschatological worldview—that this “New Covenant” marks the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the new. For more on this aspect, cf. the article on Hebrews in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

In particular, Hebrews focus on the ritual dimension of the old covenant, as embodied in the Temple cultus—that is, the sacrificial offerings, and the priesthood that administered them. Interestingly, Hebrews never refers directly to the Temple itself (referring instead to the older tent [skhnh/] shrine or ‘Tabernacle’), nor does it make use of the early Christian tendency to interpret the Temple in terms of Jesus’ own person/body. Instead, the author utilizes the simpler contrast between the physical Temple on earth and the (spiritual) dwelling of God in heaven. Christ is identified, not with the Temple, but with the priesthood (spec. the High Priest) that offers sacrifice in the Temple sanctuary. The two main sections which describe Jesus as a (High) Priest are Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and 6:20/7:1-10:18; cf. the earlier article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Hebrews follows a well-established line of tradition in understanding the death of Jesus as a sacrificial offering. The author draws upon two principal types of sacrifice: (1) the offering which took place at the ratification of the covenant (Exodus 24:3-8), and (2) the sin offering at the ‘day of atonement’, when the High Priest would also enter the innermost part of the shrine (Leviticus 16). According to the Last Supper account, Jesus himself alluded to these same two sacrificial traditions, associating them with his own death (his “blood”). Thus, the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice that marks the beginning of a “new covenant” is rooted in the Gospel tradition (Mark 14:22-25 par). The author of Hebrews does not contribute anything new in this regard; rather, he develops and expounds a set of ideas and associations that were already well-established in early Christian belief.

The references to the Spirit in chapters 9-10 are interesting in the way that they punctuate the exposition, following two parallel lines of thought; this may be summarized as follows:

    • The Spirit’s declaration of the new covenant (9:8; 10:15)
      • The role of the Spirit in establishing the new covenant (9:14; 10:29)

The first line of thought draws upon the traditional association of the Spirit with prophetic inspiration. This association came to be applied, in Jewish thought, specifically to the inspiration of the Scriptures—the Torah (Pentateuch), Prophets, and Psalms (cf. the earlier note on Nehemiah 9:20, 30, etc). The New Testament authors generally assume the Spirit-inspired character of the Old Testament Scriptures, referring to it a number of times, in passing, without any real need to comment on the matter further or to develop the theological basis for the idea. There is a clear example of this in Heb 3:7 (cf. above), and another allusion here at 9:8:

“…the holy Spirit making clear by this (that) the way (into) the (holy) of holies had not yet been made to shine forth, (while) the first tent was yet holding (its) standing [i.e. while it still was standing]”

The “this” (tou=to, in italics above) refers to the Torah regulations related to the sanctuary of the earthly Tent (Tabernacle) and Temple, summarized in vv. 1-7 as part of the “first (covenant)”. This idea expressed in v. 8 is that, through the inspired account of the Tabernacle/Temple ritual in the Scriptures—including the inspired source/nature of the building plan itself (Exod 25-31)—the Spirit has revealed the limitations of the old covenant, which are to be fulfilled in the new. This is part of the wider exposition in the section, whereby Christ’s sacrifice both completes, and takes the place of, the sacrificial offerings made in the Tabernacle/Temple complex.

More than this, the wording of verse 8 implies that the Spirit also reveals, at the same time, the perfection of the new covenant. The Spirit makes known to believers the truth that Jesus’ sacrificial death opens the way (o(do/$) for us into the holiest place—the innermost shrine where God himself dwells. This is but a step removed from the idea expressed in Ephesians 2:18 (discussed in a prior note), that in the Spirit we, as believers, hold the way leading toward God the Father (cp. John 14:6).

Moving ahead to 9:14, the author refers to the role the Spirit played in the sacrifice of Christ, which both brought cleansing from sin (for believers) and established the new covenant. Acting as High Priest, Jesus made the sacrifice (in his own blood) “through (the) Spirit of (the) Age(s)” (dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou). The expression “Spirit of the Age(s)” was unusual enough that it prompted scribes to alter it to the more familiar “holy Spirit” (with a(gi/ou instead of ai)wni/ou); however, the reading with ai)wni/ou is almost certainly original. The adjective, difficult to translate literally in English, is often rendered as “eternal”, which tends to capture the general idea, if not especially accurate as a translation. The ai)wn– concept in the New Testament relates fundamentally to the Jewish and early Christian eschatological worldview, with the distinction between the current Age and the new Age to come. It also corresponds to the term <l*ou in Hebrew, which typically signifies either the distant past or the distant future, with the presence and power of God encompassing both (i.e. ‘eternal, eternity’). In the context of the exposition here in Hebrews, the distinction is between the earthly sanctuary, which is temporal in nature, and the heavenly sanctuary, which is eternal. The Spirit, of course, belongs to the heavenly sanctuary, where God himself has his dwelling.

The further associations of the Spirit with cleansing (vb kaqari/zw) and life for the dead, are well-established in Christian thought and tradition, as we have seen these notes.

At 10:15, the Spirit again declares the New Covenant (cf. above on 9:8), this time citing the famous prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33-34 (vv. 16-17). The declaration effectively brings the long exposition (of chaps. 3-10) to a close, concluding with a blunt restatement of the fundamental argument—namely, that the old covenant (with its sacrificial ritual) has come to an end for believers in Christ (v. 18). The sacrifice of Christ did away with the need for any further sacrificial ritual.

The reference to the Spirit in 10:29 properly belongs to the exhortation section that follows (10:26-12:13), but one which builds upon the New Covenant exposition of chaps. 9-10. After all, if there had been serious consequences for transgressing or rejecting the old covenant, how much more so is it now in the case of the new. This is the thrust of the warning in vv. 26-31, stated clearly enough in verse 29. In the old covenant, the person who sinned willfully and deliberately was “cut off”, and could not be restored to God (as part of his holy Community) through sin offering. So it is also in the new covenant, according to the author of Hebrews. A person who continues in blatantly sinful behavior, after coming to faith in Christ, will face the same Judgment as the wicked. They are said to be “trampling the Son of God under (foot)” and “bringing (it about)” that the “blood of the covenant” is treated as something “common” (i.e. profane), and not holy.

Moreover, the person who so violates the New Covenant is said to “bring injury (up)on the Spirit of (God’s) favor”. It is a rejection, not only of Jesus Christ (the Son of God), but one which brings insult and injury (vb e)nubri/zw) to God’s own Spirit. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ famous (and much-debated) saying on the “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Mk 3:28-29 par); on which, cf. my most recent discussion. The expression “the Spirit of favor” (to\ pneu=ma th=$ xa/rito$) is unusual (and unique in the New Testament), but clearly the term xa/ri$ (“favor”) refers to God’s favor—that is, the favor he shows to his people (believers). This means, primarily, the favor he shows in bestowing his Spirit upon us. The gift of God’s Spirit, of course, cannot be separated from the work of Jesus Christ and our trust in him, as is apparent from the strong Christological context of these references in Hebrews. Even though the author never develops this sense of the role of the Spirit in and among believers, he clearly accepts (and assumes) it as part of the early Christian worldview.

 

 

July 15: 1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

In the recent daily notes this summer we have been exploring the early Christian view of the Spirit, and the way that it developed, over the course of time, from the Old Testament, Jewish, and Gospel traditions. It remains to examine the references to the Spirit in the New Testament Writings not yet studied, such as the letters of 1 Peter and Jude, which contain key passages. These will be presented in a survey format, rather than with a detailed exegesis of each passage. The evidence from the Pauline letters, in particular, will be used as a point of reference (and comparison).

1 Peter 1:2

In the opening greeting, the author of the letter (Peter) refers to believers (his audience) as “the (one)s gathered out” (i.e. elect/chosen ones), and that this choosing by God took place “in (the) holiness of (the) Spirit”. The noun a(giasmo/$ more properly signifies something being made holy (vb a(gia/zw); though less accurate syntactically, we might translate the phrase as “in the Spirit making (you) holy”. Clearly this is a reference to baptism (cf. 3:21-22), as the parallel motif of “sprinkling” (r(antismo/$) would confirm. The Spirit played a central role in the early Christian baptism ritual, as we have discussed at various points throughout these notes. The association involved the fundamental idea of cleansing (from sin/impurity), which is certainly present here, as well as the following ideas that are more uniquely Christian in orientation:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks a new Age, and a new covenant with God, for believers in Christ. While this draws upon earlier Prophetic traditions, the Christocentric focus among early believers represented a radical new development, quite apart from Messianic traditions in Judaism at the time.
    • The ritual came to symbolize the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the believer’s participation in it. This goes quite beyond the earlier association of baptism with cleansing from sin, etc, being in some ways closer to certain rituals in contemporary mystery religions. Paul was most influential in developing this idea, drawing out the deeper theological and christological meaning.

The phrase “(the) sprinkling of (the) blood of Yeshua (the) Anointed” encompasses both of the aspects highlighted above. It alludes to the covenant ritual in Exodus 24:4-8, understood as a new covenant in terms of Jesus’ sacrificial death (Mark 14:24 par; cp. 1 Pet 1:19). Baptism thus symbolizes believers’ cleansing by the Spirit of God, as well their new  covenant identity as God’s people through union with Christ (including participation in his death and resurrection). The simple way that these ideas are combined in v. 2 suggests that they were well-established and ingrained in Christian thought at the time.

1 Peter 1:11-12

The references to the Spirit in verses 11-12 merely express the widespread early Christian belief, inherited from the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, that the Prophets of old were uniquely inspired by the Spirit of God, and spoke/wrote under its influence. The wording here, however, also evinces several uniquely Christian points of emphasis. Most importantly, we note how the expression “(the) Spirit of (the) Anointed” (pneu=ma Xristou=) is used in v. 11, being essentially synonymous with “(the) holy Spirit” in v. 12. Admittedly, the expression “Spirit of Christ” is rare in the New Testament, but we have seen how, for Paul at least, it was interchangeable with “Spirit of God” —indicating that the (Holy) Spirit was both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God.

The use of “Spirit of (the) Anointed” in verse 11 was likely influenced by the idea that the Old Testament prophecies foretold “the (thing)s (related) to (the) Anointed” —i.e., Messianic prophecies, of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even so, the fact that “Spirit of Christ” could be used so readily as a substitute for the “Spirit (of God)”, without any need for further comment, shows how well-established the identification of the Spirit with both God the Father and Jesus Christ was among early Christians at the time. Moreover, it is likely that, in the case of 1 Peter, this also reflects a belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus (cf. 1:20), rather than—or in addition to—the earlier exaltation Christology that associated his divine Sonship primarily with his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. Such pre-existence Christology,  even in a rudimentary form, would make it easier to envision how the Spirit of Christ could be inspiring the Old Testament Prophets. The Spirit was the active Spirit of both God the Father and Christ the Son, even prior to Jesus’ life on earth. If 1 Peter was genuinely written by the apostle Peter, then it probably dates from the early 60’s A.D., making it one of the earliest documents expressing this belief in Jesus’ pre-existence (cp. Phil 2:6ff).

1 Peter 2:5

As part of the exhortation and ethical instruction in 2:1-12, the letter makes use of the same motif we saw in Ephesians 2:18-22 (cf. the earlier note)—of believers, collectively, as a house (that is, the “house of God”, or Temple sanctuary). The Pauline character of the Ephesians passage tends to be confirmed by use of similar house/Temple metaphors elsewhere in the undisputed letters (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1; 6:16), but the same sort of imagery here in 1 Peter indicates that it was even more widespread. This is rather to be expected, given the importance of the Temple, and the practical need for Christians to reinterpret (and ‘spiritualize’) its significance, turning it into a symbol of believers—individually and collectively—as the dwelling place for God. In particular, it is the place where God’s Spirit dwells.

Ephesians takes this a step further, emphasizing the Spirit as that which unites believers together, with the further implication that the ‘house’ itself is spiritual, built of/by the Spirit. Much the same is indicated in 1 Pet 2:5:

“and (also you your)selves, as living stones, are built as a house of the Spirit [i.e. spiritual house]”

This imagery is expounded through an application of several different Scripture passages (Isa 28:16; Psalm 118:26; Isa 8:4), identifying Jesus as the “foundation stone” (or cornerstone) of the Temple. This identification goes back to early Gospel tradition (Mark 12:10-11 par) and Jesus’ own teaching/sayings regarding the Temple. As Jesus Christ is the “living stone” (v. 4), so also believers, through union with him, are also made into “living stones”. As we have seen, to be “in Christ” is the same as being “in the Spirit”, a point that doubtless 1 Peter would affirm along with Paul, as indicated by the wording here in vv. 4-5.

Verses 5ff continue the spiritual reinterpretation of the Temple and its ritual (i.e. the priesthood and sacrificial offerings), identifying believers as representing the holy sacred office (priesthood), but one which now brings near to God sacrificial offerings “of the Spirit” (i.e. that are spiritual, pneumatiko/$). The old material offerings of slaughtered animals (qusi/ai), etc, have passed away completely for the people of God in the new covenant (vv. 9-10).

The remaining passages in 1 Peter and Jude will be discussed in the next daily note.

 

July 12: Ephesians 2:18-22 (continued)

Ephesians 2:18-22, continued

Having discussed verses 18-22 in the wider context of vv. 11ff (and chaps. 1-3) in the previous note, today we will examine them in more detail. Verse 18 marks the climax of the exposition in this section, declaring that the unity of believers—Jews and Gentiles—is realized through the Spirit:

“…that through him the both (of us), in one Spirit, hold the way leading toward the Father.”
or, in a somewhat more literal rendering:
“…that through him we hold the way leading toward (Him)—the both (of us), in one Spirit—toward the Father”

To state the matter with more precision, the unity is realized through Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit. As I have mentioned repeatedly, from the Pauline standpoint, the Spirit means both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, and to be “in the Spirit” is the same as being “in Christ”. This reality of being “in the Spirit” also means that we hold, in and among us, the way “leading toward” the Father (cp. John 14:6).

In verse 19, the imagery shifts to that of a house (oi@ko$), utilizing the motif of a building—a constructed dwelling—as an illustration of this unity in the Spirit. Paul (or the author) continues alluding to the idea of the separation between Jews and Gentiles, prior to the saving work of Jesus, with the traditional contrast between the Israelite people and others (non-Israelites) who simply dwell among them. The common Hebrew term for the latter is rG@, with the comparable Greek word being pa/roiko$ (one who “houses [i.e. dwells] alonside”). This word is used in v. 19 along with ce/no$ (“foreigner, stranger”), and is contrasted with sumpoli/th$, one who lives “together with” other citizens/natives of the same city. Here is how this is phrased:

“So then, (now) no longer are you foreigners and (one)s housing alongside, but you are (resident)s together (in the) city of the holy (one)s, and (the) house-hold [oi)kei=o$] of God” (v. 19)

Believers are citizens of one city, and even belong to a single household. It is the city and house of God, residency shared by all the “holy ones” (a%gioi), both in heaven and on earth.

“(the) house (hav)ing been built upon the (foundation) set (down) of the apo/stoloi and the profh/tai, (the stone) at the top corner being (the) Anointed Yeshua himself” (v. 20)

The compound verb e)poikodome/w encapsulates the idea of a house (oi@ko$) being built upon (e)pi/) a foundation. This foundation (qeme/lio$) is literally something “set down” on the ground, at the base, in preparation of building. It is identified by the pairing “apostles and prophets” —those “se(n)t forth” (a)po/stoloi) and the “foretellers” (profh/tai), the latter term either in the sense of speaking something beforehand or speaking it before (in front of) an audience. The latter meaning more properly captures the sense of the corresponding Hebrew term ayb!n`, i.e. one functioning as a spokesperson for God, who declares His word and will to the people.

Traditionally, this pairing of apostles and prophets has been understood in terms of the unity of the new and old covenants, respectively. To be sure, early Christians held widely to the belief that the Gospel of Christ was foretold by the Old Testament prophets, and also that the inspired ministers of the Gospel functioned in a manner comparable to the Prophets of old. Paul affirms this correspondence a number of times in his letters (e.g., Rom 1:2; 16:26; 1 Thess 2:15), however it seems rather out of place to read it into the passage here. The same pairing of apostles/prophets in 3:5 rather confirms that the reference is to Christian prophets—and the pairing signifies the leading Christian ministers who possess the spiritual gifts of apostleship and prophecy. Apostles and prophets have the highest place in the ministry list in 4:11, as also in 1 Cor 12:28-29.

The apostles were the missionaries who played a leading role in the proclamation of the Gospel in a particular territory, and in the founding and maintenance of local congregations. The prophets were the primary teachers and preachers within the congregation, those who proclaimed the word and will of God to others through inspired revelation. Here it is said that such ministers serve as the foundation for all other believers, presumably in the practical sense that they are the ones, primarily, who proclaimed the Gospel message for congregations in their formative stage. This tends to contradict the illustrative language Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3, but follows the traditional imagery associated with the Twelve (Matt 16:18f; Gal 2:2, 6-9, etc).

Verse 20 does, however, agree with Paul in 1 Cor 3:10-11, in affirming that Christ is the true foundation of the house/building of God. The adjective used here is a)krogoniai=o$, meaning something like “at the top corner”. Elsewhere it occurs only in the citation of Isa 28:16 in 1 Pet 2:6, where the Scripture quotation makes very much the same point (cf. also the citation of Psalm 118:22 and Isa 8:14 in vv. 7-8; cp. Mark 12:10-11 par). More than simply a reference to the foundation stone of a building, the motif seems to locate the Christ-stone as central to the entire edifice, and may more properly allude to the keystone used to top an arch (cf. Barth, p. 318, citing earlier studies by J. Jeremias).

“in whom all (the) building [oi)kodomh/], being joined (close) together, grows into (the) holy shrine [na/o$] in (the) Lord” (v. 21)

Here the “house” is specifically identified as the shrine (na/o$), i.e. Temple sanctuary, of God. This follows the longstanding tradition of referring to the Temple as the house (tyB@) of God. The term oi)kodomh/ refers specifically to the edifice or structure of a house. Paul makes use of such a Temple-motif in his letters, most notably in 1 Cor 3:16-17; cf. also 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16, and cp. the context of 1 Cor 9:13. Long before the Jerusalem Temple was actually destroyed, early Christians had already begun reinterpreting and “spiritualizing” the Temple, identifying believers in Christ—collectively and individually—as the true dwelling-place of God. We find the same emphasis, for example, in the book of Revelation (3:12; 21:22, etc), and a strong argument can be made that the entire line of thought has its origins in the Gospel traditions in which Jesus identifies himself with the Temple building (Matt 12:6; John 2:19, cp. Mk 14:58 par). A marked anti-Temple tendency can be detected, for example, in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:41-50, cf. 6:13-14), and this attitude towards the sacrificial ritual of the Temple cultus generally pervades early Christianity. At the same time, the Temple itself continued to serve as a positive symbol—not for the ritual of the old covenant, but as a metaphor depicting the presence of God’s Spirit in and among believers.

The “in whom” (e)n w!|) at the beginning of the verse refers to Jesus Christ (“[the] Anointed Yeshua”) at the close of v. 20. Similarly, the same expression (“in whom”, e)n w!|) begins verse 22, and refers to “(the) Lord” at the end of v. 21. Syntactically, v. 22 is subordinate to v. 21, but in reality these are parallel statements, referring to believers as those being “in Christ” (= “in the Lord”). Even so, we should keep in mind that the term ku/rio$ (“Lord”) had a dual-usage in early Christianity, and could refer to God the Father or Jesus, interchangeably.

“in whom you also are built together into a (place) for God to put down house, in (the) Spirit.” (v. 22)

The “you also” (kai\ u(mei=$) applies to the audience of the letter as Gentile believers, alluding again to the key emphasis throughout these chapters on Jewish-Gentile unity for believers in Christ. The use of the term katoikhth/rion brings out the aspect of the Temple sanctuary as the place where God “puts down (his) house”, i.e. where he dwells. The verse (and the entire pericope) concludes with the expression “in the Spirit”, which is clearly parallel with the “in whom” (i.e. in Christ / in the Lord) at the start of vv. 21 and 22. It functions as a comprehensive reference, even if its immediate place in the syntax of the verse is somewhat ambiguous. It can be understood four different ways, according to four points of reference:

    • “you”, i.e. believers as those who are “in the Spirit”
    • “God”, that God dwells in/among believers “in the Spirit”
    • house/building—believers make up this building, but it exists and has its substance/reality “in the Spirit”
    • “built…in the Spirit”, it refers to primarily to the process of building/growth

It is difficult to isolate and give preference to just one of these aspects, but I would tend to focus on the first two as the most consistent with early Christian and Pauline tradition. That it is God’s Spirit that dwells in believers is certainly made clear by Paul in 1 Cor 3:16-17 and 6:19, and may be the intended point here as well, given the proximity of the expression “in the Spirit” to katoikhth/rion tou= qeou= (“a [place] for God to put down house”, i.e. “dwelling-place of God”). However, the overall theme of chapter 2 relates to the unity of believers, and that this is realized “in the Spirit”; it is perhaps best to view these concluding words here along the same lines—as the source, basis, and fundamental reality of Christian unity.

References above marked “Barth” are to Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 34 (1974).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 24

Psalm 24

This Psalm has one of the clearest liturgical settings of any in the Psalter, even if the historical situation cannot be reconstructed in detail. The superscription itself merely indicates that it is another musical composition (romz+m!) “belonging to David”, and offers no other information regarding the performance tradition. The structure of the composition is more enlightening, divided as it is into two main strophes, each of which may tell us something about how this Psalm was used in the ancient liturgy. Following an opening pair of couplets (vv. 1-2), the first strophe (of irregular meter) is comprised of vv. 3-6; the second strophe (of 3+3+3 tricola) is in vv. 7-10. A hl*s# (selah) notation comes at the end of each strophe.

VERSES 1-2

“The earth and her fullness (belongs) to YHWH,
(the) productive land, and (the one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] in her;
for He set her firmly upon the seas,
and fixed her upon (the) flowing (water)s.”

This pair of 3+3 couplets establishes YHWH as the Creator and Sovereign Lord of the universe. It is a fundamental statement of Israelite monotheism, identifying YHWH as the one supreme Deity. His position as Creator and Lord makes him worthy of worship and honor.

The “earth” (Jr#a#) is paired with the noun lb@T@, difficult to translate in English, emphasizing what the earth contains and produces (“brings forth”); for lack of a suitable alternative, I have rendered it above as “productive land”. Both terms refer to the flat disc or cylinder of the earth (or land) in the ancient Near Eastern cosmology, a geocentric view of the universe. The notice in verse 2, that YHWH set the earth firm and fixed “upon the seas / waters” is an allusion to the the primeval waters that surround the universe (Gen 1:2). This founding/fixing of the earth implies that the chaos of the primeval condition has been ‘subdued’, allowing for order to be established in creation. In ancient Near Eastern cosmological myth, this is often described and depicted in terms of the deity defeating the Sea (and its allies) in battle. While this cosmological myth-aspect is virtually absent from the Genesis Creation account, vestiges of it—i.e., of El-Yahweh’s defeat of the waters—are preserved in the poetry of the Old Testament. For the relevant examples, and the ancient background of this mythic theme, cf. my article “Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

VERSES 3-6

“Who shall go up on (the) mountain of YHWH,
and who shall stand in (the) standing place of His holiness?
(The one) clean of palms [i.e. hands] and pure of heart,
who has not lifted his soul to the (thing that is) empty,
and has not (bound himself) seven-fold to deceit.” (vv. 3-4)

The expression “mountain of YHWH” in the Old Testament, while also deriving from cosmological myth, typically refers to the city of Jerusalem—in particular, the ancient fortified hill-top site around which the larger city grew. This original location, a Canaanite fort-city captured by David, was known as the “city of David” and also by the name /oYx! (Zion). Like most such Canaanite walled cities of the period, it was comprised largely of the Temple-Palace complex (rather than being a residence for the populace). So it was also with “Mount Zion”, the most ancient part of Jerusalem—it had a special association with the Temple sanctuary as the dwelling place of God.

The Temple mount was thus a holy site, and no one could approach God’s dwelling in the sanctuary if they were not themselves holy. This applied principally to the priests who officiated in the Temple precincts; however, by extension, the principle of holiness and (ritual) purity related to the wider community of Israel as well. Much of the legislation in the Torah involves the preservation of ritual purity, so that sacrificial offerings and other business conducted in the precincts of the Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) and Temple, performed in God’s presence, would not be rendered impure and ineffective.

This purity requirement is described in verse 4, a tricolon with irregular meter (3+4+3). Any one coming into the Temple courts and sanctuary must be both ritually pure (“clean of hands”) on the outside, but also inwardly “pure of heart” (bb*l@ rB^)—that is, one’s mind and intention must be pure. The final two lines function as a couplet with synonymous parallelism, expressing purity in terms of true religion—devotion to YHWH alone. The expression “lift (up) his soul” is parallel to the verb form uB^v=n], a Niphal (reflexive) of the root ub^v*. The precise meaning of this root in the Niphal is uncertain, but is perhaps best understood in its presumed literal sense as “bind oneself seven-fold” (i.e. by an oath or vow). The nouns aw+v* (“emptiness”) and hm*r=m! (“deceit”) are also parallel; while they could simply connote wickedness in a general sense, here, as in other instances in the Psalms, they seem to carry a specific association with the worship/veneration of false deities (i.e., any deity other than YHWH).

“He shall take up blessing from YHWH,
and justice from (the) Mighty (One) of his salvation;
(Yes,) this (is the) circle (that is) seeking Him,
(the one)s searching for (the) face of Ya’aqob. Selah” (vv. 5-6)

The couplet in verse 5 affirms the relationship between YHWH and the one who is righteous; the covenant bond is preserved, and God will provide hk*r*B= (“blessing”) and hd*q*x= to such a person. The latter noun has a semantic range that can be hard to translate consistently; it is usually rendered “righteousness” or “justice”, but in the context of the covenant bond, it can also connote loyalty, generosity, and the like.

The concluding couplet in verse 6 is most difficult, but the (demonstrative) pronoun hz# (“this”) gives the final answer to the question in v. 3: “Who shall go up…?” — “this is who…”. However, the syntax is by no means clear; the first line is alliterative, and reads:

ovr=D) roD hz#
zeh dôr dœršô

The translation would be “this (is the) circle seeking him”, a reference, presumably, to the faithful ones (the priests?) of YHWH, parallel with the initial word of the second line, “(the one)s searching for him” (<yv!q=b^m=). The last two words are the main source of confusion, the Masoretic text apparently being in error (“your face [;yn#P*], Jacob”). Critical commentators are inclined to emend the text here, one of two ways:

    • His face [wyn`P*], Jacob”, following the Targum
    • “(the) face of the Mighty One [i.e. God] of Jacob”, assuming that yhla has dropped out of the text, following some Syriac MSS; for this expression cf. Exod 3:6, 15; Psalm 20:1; 46:7, 11 (and elsewhere in the Psalms), etc.

The latter option is to be preferred; however, it is possible that the expression “face of the God of Jacob” here is preserved by the shorthand “face of Jacob”, the MT suffix ; either being a scribal mistake or representing an emphatic/enclitic particle (yK!) that has been mispointed (cf. Dahood, p. 152). The “face” is the manifest presence of God (Exod 33:14, etc).

Verses 7-10

“Lift up your heads, (you) gates,
and be lifted up, openings of (the) distant (past),
and (the) King th(at is) worth(y) shall come!
Who (is) this King th(at is) worth(y)?
YHWH, strong and mighty,
YHWH (the) mighty (one) of battle!

Lift up your heads, (you) gates,
lift up, (you) openings of (the) distant (past),
and (the) King th(at is) worth(y) shall come!
Who (is) this King th(at is) worth(y)?
YHWH (Creator) of (the heavenly) armies—
He (is) the King th(at is) worth(y)! Selah

By all accounts this is a very old piece of poetry (10th cent. B.C., cf. Cross, pp. 91ff), perhaps older than the remainder of the Psalm. It certainly retains the ancient ritual/liturgical context much more so than the first strophe. Many commentators would associate it with a ceremonial transport of the golden box (or ark) that served as the symbolic throne and dwelling of YHWH in the Temple. It is theorized that a procession of priests and people led the ark into the Temple complex, and that these verses were recited, perhaps in alternating chorus, as accompaniment. Even if this were correct, the exact occasion remains unknown and can only be guessed at. The reference to the Creation in vv. 1-2 raises the possibility of a New Year ceremony, when YHWH takes his place in his house after his victory in battle over the primeval forces of chaos and darkness. Another possibility is that it involves a ceremony commemorating the building/founding of the Temple itself, or of the moment when the ark of God’s Presence first entered the Temple (cp. the setting of Psalm 132).

The gates/doors of the Temple (and city) are directed to “lift up” their heads in homage to YHWH as he enters. This solemn bit of ritual imagery as always seemed curious, but there is some evidence that the basic portrait is derived, in different ways, from cosmological myth. The identification of the Temple-site with the “mountain of God” confirms the correspondence between God’s dwelling in heaven and his symbolic, manifest dwelling on earth. The Semitic Creator deity °E~l (“Mighty [One]”) was thought to dwell on a great (cosmic) mountain also depicted as a (heavenly) Tent. The same basic imagery was applied to YHWH, otherwise identified with as the Creator °E~l. Any local mountain could serve as a form of the cosmic “mountain of God”, even a modest hill-top site such as Jerusalem/Zion.

The heavenly dwelling of God was itself divine, and could be conceived as living or alive. Moreover, the mountain/palace of °E~l in west Semitic (Canaanite) tradition served as the heavenly court where the gods would assemble for feasts and other important occasions. In the great Canaanite Baal Epic (tablet II, column ii [CAT col. III]), as part of the conflict between Baal-Haddu and the Sea (Yamm), messengers from the Sea appear while the gods are assembled in the mountain/palace of °E~l. The purpose of their appearance is to deliver a threatening message that Baal should be handed over as a slave to the Sea. The deities lower their heads at the sight of these fearful emissaries from the Sea, to which Baal rebukes them with an opening line nearly identical to vv. 7a, 9a of Psalm 24:

š°u °ilm r°aštkm
“Lift up your heads, (you) Mighty (one)s [i.e. gods]!”

The only difference is that in the Psalm personified gates of the heavenly dwelling take the place of the gods residing within. It is hard to imagine that the formula used in the Psalm does not stem from the same basic line of tradition. A significant point is that, in the Baal Epic, following his battle with the Sea, a great heavenly palace is constructed for Baal-Haddu comparable to that of °E~l. It is only natural that the gods would likewise “lift their heads” to greet Baal as he comes into his palace, thus affirming his kingship and rule over the universe (cp. verses 1-2 here); it is easy to see how, in an Israelite monotheistic setting, the circle of deities might be replaced by the surrounding gates of the palace.

The gates are called <l*ou, a term which can mean either the distant past or the distant future; it can connote the idea of “eternity, eternal”, and thus implies that these ‘gates’ are somehow divine, or at least have an ancient and eternal quality. It is the heavenly dwelling itself that greets YHWH on his victorious return from battle. Dahood (p. 153) notes the use of the expression “king of the gate” in the Ugaritic texts, as a title for the Canaanite king; even more so would the Creator deity deserve such a title.

The construct expression dobK*h^ El#m# deserves some comment. Literally, it means “king of the weight”, i.e. “the king of weight”. The noun dobK* has the fundamental meaning “weight”, in the sense of have a certain worth or value. It often connotes the idea of “honor”, especially when applied to God, and in such cases is typically translated as “glory” (i.e., “the king of glory”). However, in my view, the force of the ritual has to due with YHWH’s worthiness to be enthroned in his palace as king—sovereign over the universe. A proper translation of the expression might then be “the king of worth”, which preserves the construct form. Along these lines, I have opted for a rendering which is less accurate syntactically, but which, I think, better captures the sense of the passage: “the King th(at is) worth(y)”. Because of YHWH’s strength and might, demonstrated in battle against the waters of chaos, He is worthy to be recognized as King over all Creation.

It is, indeed, YHWH’s role as a warrior (“mighty [man] of battle”) that is emphasized in vv. 7-10, and the cosmological background of the ritual scene best explains this. That is to say, the primary association is with God’s victory over the primeval waters of chaos (the “Sea”), by which He established the current order of creation. The extent to which this same pattern applied to the “holy war” tradition—i.e. YHWH achieving victory for Israel over her enemies—can be debated. Certainly the expression “YHWH of the armies” (toab*x= hwhy), essentially shorthand for “…creator of the heavenly armies”, relates to God’s role as protector of Israel, who fights (with the forces of heaven) on behalf of His people. Whether the ritual setting of Psalm 24 specifically refers to the “wars of Israel” —Exodus and Conquest, etc—remains uncertain.

How do the verses of the first strophe (vv. 3-6, cf. above) fit into the ritual/liturgical context of the second? Possibly, before the procession with the ark entered the Temple precincts, there was a liturgical affirmation of the holiness and purity of the officiants (priests and people), represented in these verses. There was often a magical quality inherent in such ritual formulae—that is to say, the proper performance of the ritual was essential to its efficacy. Without the ritual affirmation of purity, the effectiveness of the entire ceremony—including the divine blessing and favor that result from it—would be put at risk. The ceremonial aspect, however, was only intended to confirm the reality of the situation—i.e., that the priests, etc, had kept themselves pure, conducting themselves in a holy and righteous manner, in accordance with the regulations of the covenant bond.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).

 

June 19: 1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

In the previous note, I mentioned Paul’s implication (in 1 Cor 2:9-16) that the “mind of Christ” is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. Paul did not go into any detail on the theological or Christological basis for this idea; however, there are certain passages in his letters which do shed some light on the matter. In today’s note, I wish to bring together two passages in 1 Corinthians where Paul refers to the Spirit.

1 Cor 6:17-19

The first of these is in 1 Cor 6:17-19, the closing verses of an extended section on ethical instruction in chapters 5-6. Two specific issues are addressed by Paul, in 5:1-5ff and 6:1-8, respectively; in each case, a more general ethical exhortation for believers follows (5:9-13, 6:9-11). This exhortation is given a more definite theological dimension in 6:12ff, involving the juxtaposition of the human body (in its essential limitation and corruptibility) with the presence of God. Paul uses the example of sexual intercourse (vv. 13-15), as a motif for the uniting of two persons (v. 16). He emphasizes illicit/immoral intercourse (i.e. with a prostitute, po/rnh), in particular, so as to make the contrast between worldly and spiritual union more pronounced. Note this contrast:

    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the prostitute is one body [e^n sw=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 16),
      with “one body” further equated with “one flesh [sa/rc]”
    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the Lord is one spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 17)

Paul adds to the juxtaposition of body (sw=ma) and Spirit (pneu=ma) the religious image of the temple (shrine/sanctuary, nao/$) as the dwelling-place of God (v. 19). The body of the believer—and of all believers collectively—is like the Temple-sanctuary, in that the Spirit of God dwells in it:

“have you not seen that your body is (the) shrine of the holy Spirit (dwelling) in you, which you hold from God, and (which) you are not yourself? For you were obtained at market [i.e. purchased] of (great) value; (so) then, you must honor/esteem God in your body.” (vv. 19-20)

The imagery is part of the overall ethical instruction, but it contains certain profound theological implications. The religious motif of the sanctuary shrine (Tent or Temple) relates to this ethical instruction in terms of the ritual purity that needed to be maintained for the sanctuary and its altars. This purity is further tied to the idea of God’s holiness, and nearly all of the purity regulations in the Torah are rooted in the ancient principle of the Community’s encounter with the divine holiness. A defiled sanctuary—and the defilement by one individual is enough to defile the whole—disrupts the connection of the Community (the people of God) with God and His holiness. In Christian terms, this religious dynamic is expressed in terms of preserving the holiness of the Community of believers—which means each individual believer as well as the Community as a whole. On this same sort of emphasis within the Qumran Community, cf. my earlier article. Paul made use of this same Temple-motif in 3:16-17, and it also occurs in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (on this passage, cf. my earlier studies).

The individual believer receives the Spirit at baptism, and thus joins the Community of all other believers (who likewise possess the Spirit of God). It is God’s own holy Spirit, and  thus the exhortation is focused on the individual preserving this holiness, continuing to live in a pure and upright manner, appropriate to the holiness of God’s own Spirit. As the discussion in 5:1-8 makes clear, the immorality of one individual affects the Community as a whole.

Even more striking, however, is the idea expressed by the comparison in vv. 16-17—that the believer who joins with the Lord becomes “one spirit” with Him. The relative ambiguity surrounding the dual-use of the title “Lord” (ku/rio$) by early Christians was mentioned in the previous note. Here the immediate context (of the prostitute illustration) suggests that “the Lord” primarily refers to Christ—that is, the believer joins with Christ and become “one spirit” with him. At the same time, it could just as well apply to God and His Spirit—the believer joins/unites with His Spirit. That both subjects (God and Christ) are in view seems clear from Paul’s phrasing in verse 11:

“…but you were washed from (sin), but (also) made holy, but (also) made right
in the name of the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed and
in the Spirit of our God.”

The believer is baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” and “in the Spirit of God” —two aspects of the same religious experience. Again, Paul does not explain the theological basis for the dual-motif, though the association of both Christ and the Spirit with the baptism ritual is obvious enough and well-established throughout the New Testament. But Paul’s thinking runs rather deeper, as we shall see.

1 Cor 15:44-46

I have discussed Paul’s famous chapter (15) on the resurrection at length in earlier articles and notes. Here I wish to focus on one Christological detail, which Paul expounds, if only in seminal form, in verses 44-46.

In dealing with the subject of the resurrection, Paul introduces the same contrastive pair of adjectives—yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$—used in 2:14-15. As I discussed in the previous note, the adjective yuxiko/$ in this context refers to a person with only a soul (yuxh/), but not the Spirit (pneu=ma) of God—that is, the contrast is between believers (who have the Spirit) and all other human beings (who do not). The situation is a bit more complicated in this discussion on the resurrection, as Paul is contrasting the human body with the soul, which believers share with all other people, and the body transformed by the Spirit, which only believers experience. And believers are able to experience this because of what Jesus experienced in his resurrection, and by virtue of our union with him.

Let us trace the logic of Paul’s line of argument here:

    • The distinction of the believer’s body (person) before and after it is raised from the dead (v. 44)
    • The parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the last man) (v. 45)
    • A parallel further defined by the contrast between earthly and heavenly (vv. 46-47)
    • Believers in Christ join with him in belonging to this heavenly nature (v. 48)
    • And so we will partake in this same heavenly existence after being raised (v. 49)

The Christological aspect of this heavenly/spiritual existence is emphasized strongly in verse 49:

“just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens”, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God. However, before we, as believers, can be transformed by the Spirit, it was necessary that Jesus should first be transformed:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

The idea seems to be that Jesus, in his resurrection (and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven), was joined and united with God’s Spirit, according to the principle expressed in 6:17 (cf. above). While this may be somewhat problematic in terms of the subsequent Christological emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus, it is fully in accord with the early Christology of the period 30-60 A.D. Paul may have harmonized the two aspects—pre-existence and exaltation/deification—by way of a rudimentary “kenosis” doctrine, if Philippians 2:6-11 (c. 60 A.D.) is any indication. In any event, the statement in 1 Cor 15:45 suggests how Paul would explain the communication of the mind/spirit of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) to believers. Since Jesus was united with the Spirit of God, the Spirit which believers receive is not only God’s Spirit, but also the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, we find the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” (or “Spirit of Jesus”) used interchangeably by Paul, though there are no such examples in 1-2 Corinthians (1 Cor 6:11 being the closest); several instances in the other letters will be discussed in upcoming notes.

 

The Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, I examined the references to the “holy spirit” in the Qumran Writings, focusing primarily on the three key texts—the Community Rule (1QS), the Damascus Document (QD/CD), and the Hymns (Hodayot, 1QH). These writings share a common understanding regarding the holy spirit of God, and its relation to the holiness of the Community. As it happens, there is a rather different aspect of the pneumatology of the Qumran texts, expressed within an elaborate ritual (and visionary) setting, that is attested in several key writings, most notably the so-called “Angelic Liturgy” or “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”. Because of the difficulty and complexity of this material, it is necessary to give it a separate treatment here.

Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice

This work is preserved in at least 9 manuscripts from Qumran (4Q400-407, 11Q17), and one from Masada (Mas1k). The number of manuscripts, copied over more than 75 years, attests to the popularity of the work; presumably, it was utilized within the worship and ritual of the Qumran Community. The commonly accepted title today (Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice), reflects the structure of this work—a series of thirteen “Songs”, one for each Sabbath during the first quarter of the year. The introductory formula for each Song indicates that it was meant to accompany the daily burnt offering on the Sabbath. The association with the Temple-ritual is important for an understanding of the Community’s religious identity, both in its origins and present constitution—with a strong priestly component, having separated from the Temple establishment in Jerusalem. As occurred within Judaism following the destruction of the Temple, it was necessary for the Qumran Community to find a new way of expressing the reality of the Temple ritual for its members—at the spiritual/symbolic level, and within an entirely new visionary setting.

For a fine treatment of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, in English, with reconstruction, translation, textual notes, and commentary, cf. James R. Davila, Liturgical Works, Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eerdmans: 2000), pp. 83-167.

The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice make for difficult reading; in addition to the fragmentary text, the work has a visionary and liturgical character that is quite foreign to our religious sensibilities today. A proper understanding is helped by realizing that there are three interrelated aspects throughout the Songs:

    • The ritual setting and religious life of the Community, tied to the actual Sabbath-worship during the year
    • The Old Testament description of the Temple and Tabernacle, along with related traditions
    • A visionary description of the heavenly realms, which, while drawing upon Scriptural expressions and imagery, is largely independent of Old Testament tradition

The three aspects blend together in an original and powerful way. It is the last aspect that is especially foreign to Christians today; however, it will not seem quite so strange to scholars and students who are familiar with the Jewish apocalyptic and mystical writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. and beyond. It is worth touching on these briefly before proceeding to a discussion of the Songs.

Jewish Visionary Tradition

There are certain definite parallels between the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and several lines of visionary and mystical tradition in Judaism. Certainly, many of the pseudepigraphic writings from the period c. 200 B.C. to 400 A.D. contain apocalyptic elements that include visions of heaven—even visionary journeys through the heavenly realms—similar to the descriptions we find in the Songs. However, the closest parallels are perhaps to be found in the Hekhalot literature, so named because the writings involve a visionary ascent through the heavenly “palaces” (hekhalot, tolk*yh@). It represents an expression of the so-called Merkabah (“chariot”) mysticism. The merkabah (hb*K*r=m#, “sitting/riding place”, i.e. chariot) idea stems largely from Old Testament tradition, and especially the visions in Ezekiel 1 and 10, as representing the dwelling place and throne of God. In the Merkabah-mysticism, this idea is adapted in a curious way: the mystic goes down (descends) into the chariot, which serves as the vehicle for the visionary ascent. It is possible that the “chariot” here stands as a symbol for a ritual meditative technique that enables the visionary experience. In any case, the seer ascends through the “palaces” of the seven heavenly realms, facing challenges and dangers along the way; ultimately, if successful, he reaches the Throne of Glory and is allowed a glimpse of the worship performed there by the Angels.

The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice share many characteristics and manner of expression with these Hekhalot writings. The litany-like sequences and chains of phrases are quite similar at many points, though never reaching the excesses (of names, titles, and apparent nonsense-words) found in the Hekhalot literature. The central feature in common, of course, is the idea that the earthly participant is able to witness the Angelic worship and ritual that takes place around the Throne of God. The dating of the Hekhalot literature is difficult; the main texts (or macroforms) date from the early medieval period, but may contain material or traditions that go back to the 1st-2nd centuries A.D.

Another important line of tradition is the Enoch-literature, including the main Book of Enoch (1 Enoch), the later 2 Enoch, and the Hebrew 3 Enoch (which is also to be counted among the Hekhalot writings). This reflects a long line of tradition stretching back centuries. The rather cryptic reference to Enoch in Genesis 5:24 may indicate that there were already extensive Enoch-traditions in circulation by the early-mid 1st millennium B.C., though it is just as likely that the Genesis reference served as the basis for all the subsequent traditions. In any event, a central feature of the Enoch writings is a detailed description of the heavenly realm, which the exalted seer experiences as part of an extensive heavenly journey. The main Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) is a complex, composite work that was almost certainly composed over a long period of time, by different authors. The earliest portions probably date from around 250 B.C., while the latest were likely written by 100 A.D. The work was known by the Qumran Community, and may even have been regarded as authoritative Scripture; that it was also familiar to Christians in the 1st century is indicated by the reference in Jude 14-15, and by certain parallels elsewhere in the New Testament.

The Structure of the Songs

In my view, there is a clear three-part structure to the Songs:

    • Songs 1-5—In these five Songs, the setting of the heavenly realm is established, along with the “holy ones” in heaven; a comparison is also made with the earthly Temple/Tabernacle, and the “holy ones” (i.e. the Qumran Community, esp. its priests) on earth.
    • Songs 6-8—These three Songs form the heart of the work, with a central depiction of the heavenly Temple (Song 7), flanked by two Songs (6, 8) which present a series of praises and blessing by seven “Princes” of heaven.
    • Songs 9-13—In these five Songs, the heavenly Temple is described in detail, culminating with the inner Throne room of God, and the worship/ritual that takes place there.

Songs 1-5

In the first two Songs, the heavenly-setting is introduced, with the palace/temple and “holy ones” of heaven being compared with those on earth—a comparison that continues at least into the second Song. The theme of holiness is established from the beginning, along with the expression “holy (one)s”, and, in particular, the extended idiom “holy (one)s of the holy (one)s” (<yv!odq= yv@odq=). This is important because of the way it blends together three different ideas:

    • The supreme and complete holiness of God
    • The heavenly beings as “holy ones”, and
    • The sanctuary (i.e. in the Temple) where God dwells as the “holy of holies” (Exod 26:33-34, etc)

The double-plural form is best understood as an intensive—i.e., “the most holy (place), most holy (ones)”. This expression occurs multiple times in the main portion that survives from Song 1 (4Q400 fragment 1, col. i.1-21 = 4Q401 fr. 15). The parallel between the “holy ones” (i.e., heavenly beings) and the “holy of holies” (Temple sanctuary) is key to understanding the visionary landscape of the Songs. Unlike the earthly Temple, made of physical objects and lifeless furnishings, the heavenly Temple is made of living beings—that is to say, of the heavenly beings or “holy ones”, and the ones closest to God’s throne are the holiest of these. The heavenly “holy ones” are all to be understood as “spirits”. In column ii of the same fragment, the phrases “spirit [j^Wr] of all…” and “holy ones of the holy of holies” occur in close proximity (lines 5-6).

Nothing certain survives of Song 3, and very little of Song 4, so there is no way of knowing exactly what these portions contained. Also quite uncertain is the nature of the 5th Song, though it seems to provide a parallel of sorts with Song 1. This would make sense if, as indicated above, Songs 1-5 represent a distinct unit. One interesting detail is the mention of the multi-colored material (hmqwr) in connection with the “inner chamber” of the King (God); this certainly alludes to the decoration of the Tabernacle/Temple sanctuary and the curtain at its entrance, and is an important part of the parallel between the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries. The largest fragment of Song 5 (4Q402 fr. 4 = Mas1k i.1-7) would seem to emphasize God’s work as Creator, especially in the creation of the heavenly beings. The references to warfare (lines 7-10) may relate to the ancient cosmological myth that defines the creation of the universe as the product of conflict (among the deities) in heaven. However, I think it perhaps more likely that these references simply allude to the traditional role of the heavenly beings as “armies” who will fight on God’s behalf; in the eschatological battle depicted in the War Scroll (1QM), the “holy ones” of heaven join with the “holy ones” on earth (i.e. the Qumran Community) to defeat the forces of darkness.

Songs 6-8

As noted above, Song 7 is the center of the entire work, preceded and followed by parallel Songs (6, 8) which consist of a series of praises and blessings uttered by seven “Princes” of heaven. Possibly the number seven, apart from its symbolic and traditional importance (cf. in the book of Revelation, etc), refers to the cosmology of the time, with the idea of seven concentric heavenly domains (or spheres), and God dwelling at the highest point. Certainly the Hekhalot literature (cf. above) makes much use of this cosmological framework; given the basic similarities with the Songs in other respects, it seems likely that a similar framework may be in view here—seven heavenly realms, each with a pair of “Princes” who govern it. Songs 6 and 8 have precisely the same format; in Song 6 the praises/blessings are uttered by seven “chief Princes”, while in Song 8 the praise comes from seven corresponding Princes who are identified specifically as priests (of the interior) and called “wondrous second Princes”. The distinction with the first group of seven is not entirely clear, but it may reflect the Priest-Ruler dual leadership emphasized in the Qumran texts.

Song 7 is the center-point, and we are fortunate that at least two substantial sections have been preserved. The first of these (4Q403 fr. 1 col. i.30-47 = 4Q404 3-5 + 4Q405 4-5, 6) contains the opening of the Song and a two-fold invocation: (1) to all the “holy ones” in the heavens (lines 31-40), and (2) to those beings which make up the heavenly ‘Temple’ (41-47). These “holy ones” are also called spirits— “spirits of understanding” (line 37) and “spirits of righteousness (line 38). Moreover, the living beings which form the heavenly Temple and sanctuary are also “spirits” (of perfect knowledge and light). As noted above, the spirits in the sanctuary would have been considered especially holy, and this seems to be expressed in lines 44ff; here I cite Davila’s reconstruction of the text (p. 124) in translation:

“Most hol[y spi]rits, living divinities, [ete]rnal holy spirits above all the hol[y ones… of wonder, wonderful of effulgence and ornament. And wondrous is the God of gl]ory in the light of perfect light(!) of knowle[dge] […in all wondrous sanctuaries. The spirits of God surround the dwelling of the K]in[g of faithfulness and righteousness. All] [its walls…in the holy of holies…”

In the separate fragment 4Q403 fr. 1 col. ii.1-17 (+ 4Q404 fr. 6), we seem to have a clearer sense of the structure of the heavenly Temple, consisting of seven exalted holy places (line 11, cf. above), along with a ‘tabernacle’ (dwelling) of the “exalted chief” that apparently stands as separate “holy place” before the entrance to the inner chamber (holy of holies). All throughout this space, and especially in and around the inner sanctuary, there are “holy spirits” —spirits of God, and even those holiest of the holy ones (“spirits of the holy of holies”, line 7f). It would seem that these spirits all appear in bright, fiery colors, drawing their life and energy from the spirit of God Himself. This last point is not entirely clear, but it is suggested by the fascinating wording at the beginning of this fragment: “…complete [i.e. perfect] light, multi-colored(ness) of (the) spirit of the holy of holies”. In any case, they are depicted as colorful flames that surround God’s throne in the inner chamber (line 9f). The spirits of the inner shrine all praise God together (lines 15-16).

Songs 9-13

The final 5 Songs provide a more detailed description of the heavenly Temple and sanctuary, culminating with a liturgical presentation of the praise/worship of God that takes place before His Chariot-Throne (Songs 12-13). The chariot-motif for the throne of God stems primarily from the visions in Ezekiel 1 and 10, as noted above. Throughout in these Songs there continue numerous references to the “spirits” who are the beings that comprise this living sanctuary, and especially those “spirits of the holy of holies” (11Q17 col. iv, etc) who surround the Throne of God. Those spirits who make up the curtain and floor, etc. of the sanctuary are especially glorious—spirits of light in various shapes, wondrous colors, etc. As we move in closer to the very throne of God, the praise of these spirits begins to grow quiet, and we even read of a “spirit of quiet” that emerges among these divine beings. From this quiet blessing (cf. the beginning portions of Song 12), a tumult of praise comes forth again, radiating outward into the entire heavenly realm.

In the concluding Song 13, the focus shifts from praise of God to the (sacrificial) ritual aspect of worship performed by the priests. On the heavenly level, of course, these are holy ones (Angels/spirits) who perform the ritual, but they have their corresponding form among the holy ones (the Qumran Community) on earth. These ministers perform their offerings in purity, with a “spirit of holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr, 11Q17 col. ix). The holy ones approach God in living garments that correspond with the colorful spirit-beings who form the curtains, etc, of the sanctuary—they have garments “of light of the spirit of the holy of holies” (4Q405 fr. 23 col. ii.8ff). They possess pure colors, with the substance/likeness of the “spirit of glory”.

Conclusion

From this study of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, as well as those texts and passages discussed in Part 1 of this article, it is clear that the Qumran Community had a very distinctive understanding of the “holy spirit”. On the one hand, it continued the concepts and terminology from earlier Old Testament and Jewish tradition, emphasizing the cleansing aspect of God’s Spirit, along with the close association with wisdom and spirit-inspired leadership. There were two main aspects to the role of the Spirit in the leadership of the Community—focusing on the priestly character of the Community, and the continuation of the inspiration of Scripture (the Torah and Prophets) through the inspired teaching/interpretation that took place within the Community.

However, in terms of the specific expression “holy spirit” (or “spirit of holiness”), the Qumran texts understand (and express) this almost entirely in terms of the holiness of the Community. The true members of the Community, by  their very nature (as “sons of light”), possess an upright spirit, given to them by God, even prior to joining. Upon entry, they are further cleansed (symbolically and ritually) by God’s holy spirit, and are made completely holy. The need to maintain this holiness and purity was central to life in the Community. Indeed, the Community itself, as representing the faithful ones in Israel, possessed a “holy spirit”. This emphasis on its holy character is best seen in the Community Rule (1QS) 8:20-21ff: it is a “Community of holiness”, led by a “council of holiness”, and comprised completely of “men of holiness” (or “men of complete holiness”), being established, in truth, by God’s own “spirit of holiness”.

I disagree with commentators (e.g., Charlesworth) who claim that the references to the “holy spirit” in the Qumran texts are a precursor to the early Christian concept of the Holy Spirit. I find little indication of this. Instead, the “spirit of holiness” appears to be one of many different “spirits” who function together to perform God’s will. Of course, all of these spirits are holy—they are among the “holy ones”, as is clear from the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. There is no one “holy spirit”, but many holy spirits—those closest to God being the most holy (“spirit[s] of the holy of holies”, etc).

Thus I would maintain that, for the Qumran Community, there is an interesting example of the “one and the many” with regard to the “holy spirit”. On the one hand, the texts can still speak in traditional terms of the “spirit of (God’s) holiness” —that is, His own Spirit that is at work in the world. At the same time, this Spirit is manifest in many different ways and forms, through the different spirits that serve God on His behalf, in relation to His people (the Community). All of these are holy, but when one is emphasizing or focusing on this idea of holiness or purity, specifically, one can speak of a distinct “spirit of holiness” that is present in the Community, and is reflected in the “holy spirit” of the Community itself, along with the “spirits” of its individual members.

It is in the entrance ritual that the Qumran understanding of the “holy spirit” is closest to that of the New Testament and early Christianity. During the water-ritual (par. to Baptism), the “spirit of holiness” cleanses the individual from sin, and the person’s own spirit is thus made holy. The holy person then becomes part of a holy Community. The main difference in early Christianity was that the very Spirit of God comes to dwell within the person (and in the Community). I do not find anything comparable in the Qumran texts. Instead of the person’s own spirit being made holy, the emphasis is on the Spirit of God abiding in their spirit (and uniting with it). There is also, of course, the idea of the Holy Spirit as representing the continuing presence of the exalted Jesus in and among believers; this is thoroughly unique to Christianity, with noting remotely like it in the Qumran texts.

May 19: Zechariah 4:6; 12:10

Zechariah 4:6; 12:10

In these notes we have been studying the references to the Spirit (j^Wr) of God in the Old Testament, from the earliest historical traditions in the Pentateuch to the Exilic and Post-exilic periods. The most recent notes have examined, in particular, the role of the Spirit in the restoration-message of the 6th century Prophets (Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Deutero-Isaiah[?]), and how this began to be realized in the Judean Community of the early (5th century) post-exilic period. The focus in Ezra-Nehemiah is very much upon the Torah as the foundation of this new (restored) Israelite/Jewish identity, and the recognition of the spirit-inspired character of the Torah (Neh 9:20ff, discussed in the previous note) confirms the close connection between the Spirit and the Torah in passages such as Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:26-27. Preserving the covenant-bond with YHWH, demonstrated specifically by faithful observance of the Torah, is part of the “new heart” and “new spirit” given to the people, referenced in these restoration-oracles.

In a different way, the message of the earlier Prophets was continued in the post-exilic Prophetic writings of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, and this can be illustrated by the references to the spirit (j^Wr) of God in these texts. The situation surrounding the book of Zechariah is the most complex, due the composite nature of the work as it has come down to us. Most critical commentators would date chapters 9-14 considerably later than chaps. 1-8 (the visions and oracles of which are indicated as occurring 520-518 B.C.); the second half of the book would be dated after 515 B.C., and perhaps well into the 5th century (before 445?).

Zechariah 4:6 (Hag 2:4-5)

The oracle-vision in chapter 4 represents one of the earliest Messianic passages in the Old Testament—that is to say, it identifies present/future persons, according to a certain set of Prophetic traditions (regarding a coming king from the line of David, etc), as Anointed figures, in a manner that begins to approach the Jewish Messianism of the first centuries B.C./A.D. This foundational line of Messianic tradition (drawn from numerous passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, etc) was applied specifically to the ruler Zerubbabel and the priest Joshua. The Davidic lineage of Zerubbabel (whose name means something like “seed of Babylon”) is far from clear, a royal genealogy being indicated only in one late source (1 Chron 3:16-19). He is referred to as a hj*P# (i.e., governor of a city or small territory) in Haggai 1:1; 2:21, but his exact status in relation to the Persian Empire is not entirely clear. Certainly, however, he was a leader (along with the priest Joshua) of the Judean/Jerusalem Community in the early post-exilic period, being among a group of men who return to Judah, with permission from the Persian government, in order to rebuild the Temple (cf. Ezra 2:2; 3:2, 8; 4:2-3; 5:2). He is specifically paired with the priest Joshua in a dual-leadership role, in Haggai 1:12, a detail well-established enough to be preserved in later Jewish tradition (cf. Sirach 49:11-12).

In Zech 4, an oracle regarding Zerubbabel (vv. 6-10) is presented within a visionary framework—the vision of a golden lampstand flanked by two olive trees. The lampstand represents the presence of YHWH, in a symbolic/spiritual sense, while the two olive trees signify two anointed figures (v. 14)—that is, the anointed ruler Zerubbabel and priest Joshua. Not surprisingly, the message of the oracle relates to the rebuilding of the Temple, providing assurance that, the work having been begun (by Zerubbabel), it will be brought to completion (vv. 8-9). This is part a wider declaration regarding the divine presence that enables (and protects) Zerubbabel’s work, stated memorably in verse 6:

“This is the word of YHWH to Seed-of-Babel {Zerubbabel}, saying: ‘Not by strength, and not by power, but by my spirit [j^Wr], says YHWH of (the heavenly) armies’!”

It is by God’s spirit that this (the rebuilding of the Temple) will be accomplished, in spite of any difficulties or opposition that may be faced. Here we have a different side to the same basic restoration-message found in Ezra-Nehemiah (cf. the previous note). There it was the spirit-inspired Torah that was being emphasized, here it is the association of the spirit of God with the Temple—both represent fundamental aspects of the Israelite/Jewish religious identity that is being renewed and restored in the post-exilic period.

Since the Temple represents the presence of God as he dwells with His people, the association with His spirit is clear and natural enough. This aspect is brought out even more fully in Haggai 2:1-9, in which a similar message of exhortation is given to Zerubbabel (along with Joshua, and all the people) from YHWH, promising divine providence and supervision over the rebuilding:

“‘You must be strong…and do (the work), for I (am) with you’ —utterance of YHWH of (the heavenly) armies— ‘(by) the word (of the agreement) that I cut with you in your going forth from Egypt, and my spirit [j^Wr] is standing with you, (so) you must not fear!'” (vv. 4-5)

As a side note, the idea of the “(heavenly) armies” reflects an ancient image, the origins of which had long been lost by the time the book of Zechariah was composed. It essentially refers to El-Yahweh’s control over the powers of the sky/heaven, to the point that they will fight (as an organized army) on His behalf, and at His command. We see vestiges of it in the theophany-image of God (YHWH) residing in a chariot (cf. the chariot throne vision of Ezekiel 1). The vision in Zech 6:1-8 likewise preserves this symbolism, together with the specific idea that these heavenly chariots transport the spirit (j^Wr) of God (v. 8).

Zechariah 12:10

The oracles in Zechariah 12-14 continue the restoration-message of the exilic Prophets, but in a more developed form, drawing upon early apocalyptic and eschatological traditions, similar to those found in the books of Joel, Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah. In other words, the restoration of Israel is presented as part of a larger set of future/end-time events which encompass the judgment of the nations, the establishment of a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, and so forth. The second half of Zechariah (chaps. 9-14) also shows signs of the development of an incipient Messianism—i.e., the expectation for the coming of a future Davidic ruler who will oversee the judgment/defeat of the nations and a New Age for Israel.

The multi-part oracle in chapters 12-13 refers to “that day” (vv. 3ff)—i.e., the “day of YHWH” from the nation-oracle tradition of the Prophets, but now expanded to become the moment when all the nations are judged together (cf. Joel 3). The nations will gather to attack Jerusalem (cp. 14:1ff; Ezek 38-39), but YHWH will bring salvation for Judah, as He Himself protects His people and will destroy their enemies (vv. 8-9). The eschatological nature, and cosmic dimensions, of this conflict are indicated by the allusions to the Creation account in verse 1. The end is a reflection of the beginning, and the New Age will entail a kind of New Creation (cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22; Rev 21:1). Even as God, by his own Spirit/Breath, gave the spirit/breath (j^Wr) of life to humankind (cf. the earlier note on Gen 2:7; Job 33:4), so in the New Age will He “pour out” His Spirit on His people (v. 10).

This is a well-established prophetic image, as we have seen in the prior studies on Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29, etc, and the oracle alludes to it here, by the expression “a spirit of favor” (/j@ j^Wr)—that is, of God’s favor toward His people. The water-imagery associated with pouring is made explicit: God will provide a fountain (roqm*) of water, flowing from the ground, for the people (and rulers) of Jerusalem (13:1). The primary purpose of this water is to cleanse God’s people from sin and impurity; as a result, the “spirit of uncleanness” (ha*m=F%h^ j^Wr) will be taken away from the land (v. 2). The association of the Spirit with water and cleansing is part of a longstanding tradition, and would become an important aspect of the imagery surrounding the idea of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

These references only confirm the increasing tendency, throughout the writings of the exilic and post-exilic periods, to connect religious reform with the presence and activity of God’s spirit. One final passage in this regard, from the book of Malachi, may be cited in closing. As part of an exhortation for a return to covenant faithfulness and loyalty, the prophet introduces the traditional metaphor of fidelity in marriage (2:14). The covenant is compared to a marriage-union, where two people become united in spirit; and, as the bond here is between humankind and God, the union entails a joining with the spirit of God (v. 15, cp. 1 Cor 6:17). Since a breaking of the covenant-bond involves a failure by human beings, not by God, the restoration must occur with the human spirit. Therefore the exhortation in verse 16 calls on the people to “be on guard with your spirit” (i.e. guard your spirit). The word j^Wr is used in both instances in vv. 15-16, for the spirit of God and His people alike.

February 9: Revelation 21:22-23

Revelation 21:22-27

Having depicted the heavenly city of the “new Jerusalem” generally, and its walls (gate-ways and foundations) in particular, the vision proceeds to describe life within the city, in two respects: (1) its dependence on the presence of God Himself (and of Christ the Lamb), and (2) its relation to the ‘outside world’ (the nations). This section may be divided into three parts:

    • The presence of God and Christ takes the place of outward, earthly forms (vv. 22-23)
    • The surrounding nations are drawn to this eternal Light (vv. 24-26)
    • Who and what is allowed into the City (vv. 27)
Revelation 21:22-23

When compared to ordinary human cities, the situation in the “new Jerusalem” is very different, in that the presence of God (and Christ) takes the place of outward, earthly forms. This is symbolized two ways—one religious (the Temple), and the other natural (light).

“And I did not see (any) shrine [i.e. Temple/sanctuary] in her, for the Lord God the All-mighty is her shrine, (as) also (is) the Lamb.” (v. 22)

The Jerusalem Temple sanctuary (nao/$) plays a key role in the book of Revelation at several points. This, of course, is symbolic, and no real conclusions can be made regarding the date of the book, based on these references—i.e., whether it was written before or after the destruction of the Temple (70 A.D.). Early Christians were perfectly capable of making important use of the Temple, figuratively, long after the physical building-complex in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The Christian use of the Temple as a symbol preceded its destruction by several decades, going back to Jesus’ own words and the early Gospel Tradition (on the relationship between Jesus and the Temple, cf. my earlier article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”). A tendency to spiritualize the Temple is found throughout the New Testament. Already Jesus and the earliest believers appear to have relativized the importance of the Temple (and its cultus), envisioning a different purpose for its (symbolic) space (cf. my article on the Temple in Luke-Acts). Earlier in this series, I discussed the significance of the Temple in Jewish eschatology and Messianism.

Of special importance was the early Christian tendency to identify the Temple with the person of Jesus himself (Matt 12:6; Mark 15:38 par; John 2:19ff [cf. Mk 14:58 par]; Eph 2:20); by extension, Paul especially identified believers—individually and collectively (the ‘body of Christ’)—with the Temple building (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21-22). The book of Revelation clearly recognizes this same sort of symbolism (3:12, etc), while retaining a more concrete sense of the Jerusalem Temple as an actual sanctuary. Let us briefly survey the visionary passages which feature the idea of the Temple sanctuary (nao/$):

    • As part of the vision(s) of chapter 7, believers who have come through the period of distress now have an exalted position before the throne of God and “give service to Him day and night in His shrine” (7:15). Clearly this is a heavenly sanctuary, centered around the very presence of God.
    • In 11:1ff, the Jerusalem Temple (its sanctuary and altar) serves symbolically to distinguish faithful believers from the rest of the wicked city (possessed by the nations). The earthly Jerusalem is called the “great city” (v. 8), a label otherwise reserved in Revelation for the wicked “Babylon” (and/or Rome). I discuss the parallels with chapter 21 (the measuring of the city, etc) in a prior note.
    • In 11:19, we read specifically of “the shrine of God th(at is) in heaven”; again the very presence of God is indicated (symbolized traditionally by the golden box [ark] of the Covenant). It is from this heavenly sanctuary that the great Judgment (and the messages regarding it) issues forth.
    • Along this line, voices and Messengers are heard/seen coming from out of the heavenly sanctuary, where God resides—14:15, 17; 15:5-8; 16:1, 17.

Thus, in all but one instance, the sanctuary (nao/$) refers to God’s presence in heaven. Now that God Himself resides directly with his people, i.e. in the “new Jerusalem”, there is certainly no longer any need for a Temple-building as such. Even the idea of a heavenly sanctuary seems to have disappeared, indicating a level of closeness and union, between God and His people, that transcends even the earlier throne-vision scenes in the book. There is also a clear contrast with the scene in 11:1ff:

    • Ch. 11—Believers exist in the world, living in the wicked “great city” (earthly Jerusalem). The faithful are separated from the world only by the space of the sanctuary (understood figuratively), where they gather around the ‘altar’, i.e. in the presence of God.
    • Ch. 21—Believers are no longer limited to the space of the sanctuary, for now the entire city is pure and holy, and there can be nothing wicked in it any longer.

In this regard, the vision in chapter 21 is quite different from similar depictions of a future/glorious Jerusalem, both in the Old Testament and subsequently in Jewish eschatology. The Temple—envisioned as a real, if idealized, building—features prominently in Ezekiel’s great vision (chaps. 40-48), as also in Zech 14:16-21, and other prophetic passages. Of other eschatological references, we may note Tobit 14:5; 1 Enoch 91:13; 2 Baruch 32:4 (cf. Koester, p. 820, and my earlier article). The Qumran Community certainly expected the Temple to be at the center of the New Age, whether in terms of a restoration/transformation of the existing building, or as a new (heavenly) Temple which God will build (or send) in its place—cf. the Temple scroll [11Q19] 29:8-10; 11Q18 frs. 19, 20; 2Q24 fr. 4 l. 3; 4Q400-405.

“And the city held no occasion of [i.e. need for] (the) sun, and not the moon (either), that they would shine forth in her, for the splendor [do/ca] of God gave light (to) her, and her lamp is the Lamb.” (v. 23)

There was also no need in this city for any natural light—that is, coming from the natural sources of the sun and moon. While the vision may genuinely understand the absence of sun and moon as an authentic cosmological detail in the New Age, it would be a mistake for us to make too much of this. The ancient cosmology of the first-century Near East, including the place of the sun and moon in it, is radically different from our expanded view of the universe today. What is most important here is the idea of the sun and moon as the primary sources of natural light. Instead, believers in the “new Jerusalem” rely on supernatural heavenly/divine Light that comes from the very presence of God and Christ.

This motif derives largely from Isaiah 60:19 (also vv. 1-2); as we shall see, a number of details here in verses 22-27 stem from the oracle in Isaiah 60. Of all the elements or features of the natural world, light was chosen, due to its primary religious and theological significance (which hardly needs to be demonstrated), as well as the way in which it marks the beginning of the original creation (Gen 1:3). Since God was the source of the first (created) light, His manifest presence provides an even greater, and truer, source of pure light. Jesus is also identified with light-imagery, especially in the Johannine tradition (Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5, 7; 2:8-10), where the imagery goes beyond the traditional Messianic associations (Matt 4:16; Luke 1:79; 2:32, etc). The specification here of Jesus as a “lamp”, as opposed to God as the true source of the light, suggests a Christological ‘subordination’ that would make many Christians uncomfortable; however, it generally reflects early Christian thought on the matter, though perhaps formulated not as precisely as we might like. The exalted Jesus rules alongside God the Father, sharing the same authority and power, but he still receives this from the Father. This, too, is a key point of Johannine theology, which Jesus himself declares repeatedly throughout the Gospel Discourses.

In the next daily note, we will explore the next part of this visionary description, of the relation of the city’s Divine Light to the surrounding nations. This presence of the “nations” in the vision raises certain difficulties of interpretation, as we shall see.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

November 9: Revelation 16:1-11

Revelation 16:1-11

The actual cycle of seven bowl-visions occurs in chapter 16, the drama of the scene having been built up in the prior two chapters, especially the vision in chap. 15. The seven Messengers (Angels) hold seven “plagues” (plhgai/)—disasters sent by God which are to “strike” the earth. The motif of the bowls (“offering-dishes”, fia/lai) is related to the image of wine poured out on the earth as a symbol of Judgment (cf. the previous note). The two sets of images are combined, so that the “plagues” are poured out of the dishes; the historical tradition of the Egyptian Plagues (Exodus 7-12) very much influences the imagery of these visions.

The earlier trumpet-cycle of visions also depicted the great Judgment upon the earth; however, in that cycle, the focus was on the wickedness of humankind generally, while here the bowl-visions more properly emphasize the judgment of the nations. In particular, the first five visions are centered on the domain and influence of the Sea-creature (“wild animal”, qhri/on) from chapter 13, as was the vision in 14:9-11. Note the thematic structure of the first four visions:

    • Vision 1: A painful mark upon all human beings who received the “mark” of the Sea-creature
      • Vision 2: Judgment upon the Sea—turned to blood
      • Vision 3: Judgment upon the Sea (its waters) as they exist on/in the earth—also turned to blood
    • Vision 4: A burning of all human beings (i.e. those who ‘belong’ to the Sea-creature)

The outer visions 1 and 4 target humankind as those belonging to the Sea-creature, while the inner visions 2 and 3 directly target the Sea itself.

Verse 1

“And I heard a great voice out of the shrine saying to the seven Messengers: ‘Lead (yourselves) under [i.e. go away] and pour out onto the earth the seven (thing)s of the impulse of God (that are) to strike!'” (v. 1)

As the Messengers, in these visions of chaps. 15-16, repeatedly come out of the heavenly sanctuary (nao/$), now a “great voice” is heard (also in verse 17). Since no other Messenger is mentioned, presumably it is God Himself now who speaks, giving the command for the Judgment to begin. In terms of the action that is involved, “pouring out”, this continues the wine motif, confirmed by the use again of the noun qumo/$ (“impulse”) associating the wine-cup/bowl with the anger of God and His desire to punish wickedness. It is this divine anger that is “poured out” upon humankind in the Judgment; for more on the traditional nature of this idiom, cf. its use in the Prophets (Psalm 69:24; Jer 7:20; 10:25; Ezek 7:8; Zeph 3:8; Koester, p. 646), in addition to Joel 3:13ff and the previously cited wine references (note on 14:9-13).

Verse 2: First Vision

“And the first (Messenger) went from (there) and poured out his offering-dish onto the earth—and there came to be a bad and evil wound (left) upon (all) the men holding the engraved (mark) of the wild animal and kissing toward [i.e. worshiping] its image.” (v. 2)

As in the vision of 14:9ff, the first bowl-vision (and first “plague”) is directed at all people who worship the Sea-creature (chap. 13) and who receive its engraved ‘mark’ (xa/ragma) indicating that they belong to it. The punishment matches the sin—they receive a painful ‘mark’ (e%lko$) on their body. The noun e%lko$ indicates a wound or cut, possibly related to the verb e%lkw, signifying a pulling or tearing of the skin, etc. It can refer specifically to a ‘wound’ that is the result of disease or illness—a festering sore, ulcer, abcess, etc. While this alludes to the plague in Exodus 9:8-12 (e%lko$ being used in the LXX, v. 9), it is the parallel with the “mark” of the Sea-creature that is especially being emphasized.

Verses 3-7: Second and Third Visions

“And the second (Messenger) poured out his offering-dish onto the sea—and it came to be blood, (as of) a dead (person), and every soul of life [i.e. living soul] died off, (all) the (thing)s in the sea. And the third (Messenger) poured out his offering-dish onto the rivers and the fountains of waters—and it (also) came to be blood (there). And I heard the Messenger of the waters saying: ‘Just are you, the (One) being and the (One who) was, the right/pure (One), that you judged these (thing)s, (in) that [i.e. because] they poured out the blood of holy (one)s and foretellers [i.e. prophets]—and (now) you have given them blood to drink, (for) they are brought (into the balance)!’ And I heard the place of slaughter [i.e. altar] saying (in return): ‘Yes, Lord God the All-mighty, true and just are your judgments!'” (vv. 3-7)

Even as human beings were given a painful wound for their worship of the Sea-creature, so the very Sea itself is given a similar ‘wound’ and turned into blood—the thick, congealed blood of a “dead person”. As a result, all living beings in the sea die off. While this vision refers to a plague upon the natural world (echoing the plague on the Nile, etc, in Exodus 7:14-21), it is clear that the symbolism properly applies to the wickedness of the human government of the world—in other words, the earth as the domain of the Sea-creature. I would interpret the two visions here as follows:

    • Vision 2: The Sea—the dark, chaotic realm of evil, out of which the Sea-creature rises
    • Vision 3: The rivers and fountains = the presence of the Sea (waters) on/in the Earth, i.e. the domain of the Earth-creature, who acts on behalf of the Sea-creature

The reference to the “Messenger of the waters” is parallel to the Messenger controlling the fire in 14:18—both reflect the ancient cosmological idea that the natural features and phenomena of the world are controlled by divine/heavenly beings, and, indeed, the visions of Revelation make considerable use of this idea within the drama of the narrative. However, the message of this Angel refers not to the “waters” as a natural feature, but as a symbolic manifestation of the evil power of the “Sea” in its functioning power on earth. According to the visionary logic of the scenes in chapter 13, this refers to the domain of the Earth-creature who works on behalf of the Sea-creature. It is said that “they” poured out the blood of holy ones and prophets, meaning that they persecuted and killed the people of God—both the earlier ones of Israel, and, subsequently, believers in Christ (cf. Matt 23:31, 37 par). The end-time persecution in the period of distress is primarily in view (7:14; chaps. 12-13). Who are “they”? The worldly rulers and powers—specifically the Roman imperial government and its local/regional vassals, though it could just as well apply to any wicked earthly government throughout history. As in the first vision, the punishment here fits the sin: they poured out blood, and now blood has been poured out for them to drink. This is also expressed by the adjective a&cio$, rather difficult to render in English; I have tried to preserve the fundamental meaning of the idiom, that of something brought into balance, i.e. weighed out so that its value and worth is determined. Here it is the scales of justice that are in view, the wickedness of human beings weighed out, balanced by a proper and proportionate punishment.

In response to the Angel’s message, the altar in heaven speaks. Again I translate the word qusiasth/rion literally as “place of (ritual) slaughter”, even though the altar in the book of Revelation is generally understood to be the altar of incense (not animal sacrifice) that resides in the Temple sanctuary. However, in the fifth seal-vision (6:9ff), the idea of sacrifice is implied by the presence underneath the altar of the souls (of believers) who have been slain, and the emphasis here is also on believers being put to death by the wicked. Those souls in the seal-vision speak out in a loud voice, and the response from the altar here likely is meant to echo the earlier scene.

Verses 8-9: Fourth Vision

“And the fourth (Messenger) poured out his offering-dish upon the sun—and it was given to it to burn the men (on earth) in fire. And the men were burned (with) a great burning, and (yet) they insulted the name of God, the (One) holding e)cousi/a [i.e. power/authority] over these (thing)s that strike (them), and they did not change (their) mind to give Him honor.” (vv. 8-9)

To the realms of Earth (i.e. the inhabited world of humankind) and Sea (the dark, turbulent world of evil) is now added that of the Sun. Again, on the surface this refers to a feature of the natural world; however, in the visionary logic of the narrative, here it more properly signifies the heavenly realm of light, righteousness, etc. In particular, it is a powerful image for the fire of God’s holy Judgment—i.e., the traditional motif of fire from heaven. This aspect of the Judgment has been expressed a number of ways (fire from the altar of incense, etc); now it relates to the natural heat human beings feel on earth from the sun—the sun itself serves as a vehicle for God’s fiery Judgment. The response of the afflicted population, as described here, could be taken to imply that humankind still had the opportunity to repent and turn to God, even after the Judgment had begun. In this respect the vision resembles the fifth and sixth of the earlier trumpet-cycle (chap. 9, note esp. verses 20-21).

Verses 10-11: Fifth Vision

“And the fifth (Messenger) poured out his offering-dish upon the ruling-seat of the wild animal—and its kingdom came to be darkened, and they squeezed their tongues out of the labor (they felt), and (still) they insulted the God of heaven (from) out of their labors and out of their wounds, (but) they did not change (their) mind [i.e. repent] out of their works!” (vv. 10-11)

As noted above, these visions specifically target the domain of the Sea-creature, but here the point is made explicit, the plague being poured out directly on the ruling-seat (qro/no$, throne) of the creature (“wild animal”, qhri/on). Back in 2:13, the city of Pergamum was said to be the place “where the ruling-seat of the Satan is”, due to its importance as a provincial center, the prominence of the imperial cult in the city, and, most importantly, because the believer Antipas was put to death there. All of these factors also serve to inform the symbolic domain of the Sea-creature (chap. 13), even though that domain cannot be limited to any specific geographical location. The Roman Empire and the Imperial cult is the most immediate point of reference for the symbolism, but, as we will see in the sixth and seventh visions, the imagery is considerably broader than the historic Roman rule of the first centuries.

The darkening that comes upon the creature’s kingdom is another direct allusion to the Exodus traditions and the Plagues on Egypt (Exod 10:21-29). Darkness was also a traditional image associated with the judgment to come upon nations and people on the “Day of YHWH” (Joel 2:10; Amos 5:18; 8:9; Zeph 1:15; Ezek 32:7-9) and was a common motif signifying (end-time) judgment (Mark 13:34 par; 15:33 par; Rev 6:12); moreover, any unusual darkness could be seen as an omen portending a coming disaster (cf. Koester, pp. 450, 649). Verse 10b-11 refers to the people in the Sea-creature’s kingdom, i.e. the human beings under its control, who belong to it and venerate the image, etc. It is not immediately clear what about the darkness causes the reaction of “squeezing” (or “chewing”) the tongue; most likely, it marks the cumulation of the experience of hardship and suffering in the midst of the Judgment. The noun po/no$ is used, which fundamentally means “labor, work, toil”, here more properly the suffering and pain that comes from hard labor. This hardship, along with the painful “mark” (e%lko$) on their bodies (cf. above), prompts humankind again to insult God (vb blasfhme/w). It would seem that people still have the opportunity to repent, but apparently none do. There is a bit of wordplay here involving the preposition e)k (“out of, from”) and the plural nouns po/noi (“labors”) and e&rga (“works”):

    • People insult God “out of” their labors (po/noi), i.e. their hardship and suffering
    • They do not repent “out of” their works (e&rga), i.e. their wicked behavior

The final two visions in the cycle (6 and 7) bring the scene of the great Judgment to a close, depicting the same judgment of the nations with a different set of symbols. We will explore these in the next daily note.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

November 7: Revelation 15:5-8

Revelation 15:5-8

The drama and suspense of the onset of the great Judgment builds in this second heavenly scene (15:5-8). In the previous note, we examined the scene of the People of God (believers) standing upon the crystal-clear sea, in front of God’s throne (implied), singing a song of praise to God for his deliverance. The sea was “mixed with fire”, indicating the punishment-aspect of the Judgment and anticipating the Bowl-cycle of visions. The seven Messengers (Angels) holding these “plagues” (plhgai/) were already mentioned in verse 1, along with an announcement of the Judgment.

Verses 5-6

“And with [i.e. after] these (thing)s, I saw—and the shrine of the tent of witness in the heaven was opened, and the seven Messengers holding the seven (thing)s to strike came out of the shrine, having been sunk [i.e. clothed] in clean (and) bright linen (garments) fastened around the chest (as they stood with) golden belts.”

The seven heavenly Messengers (Angels) are described here in some detail, both in terms of the setting of their appearance and the clothing they wear. Again, from a literary standpoint, this allows the suspense of the scene to build. The shining white (linen) garments with golden belts matches the earlier description of the exalted Jesus (1:13-14); it is traditional imagery, depicting purity, holiness, and heavenly splendor, applicable to the righteous in heaven (3:4; 7:14; 19:8), and, more broadly, to the People of God in their heavenly aspect (4:4; 19:14).

As in the visions of chapter 14, these Messengers come out of the Temple sanctuary (nao/$, “shrine”), the Temple being used as a symbol for God’s dwelling (in heaven); it also represents the place where the People of God gather to worship. The altar (of incense) is in the Temple sanctuary, and its fire symbolizes the end-time Judgment (8:3-5; 14:10-11, 18). The reference to the Temple as the “tent of the witness” is one of several images from the Exodus narratives that have been introduced into the Judgment scene here. In verse 3, the song sung by the People of God is called “the song of Moses”, referring to the song of praise, attributed to Moses, set after Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt and crossing the Sea (Exod 15:1-18). The seven Messengers are said to hold plhgai/, literally things which strike, often in the sense of disease or natural disaster that ‘strikes’ humankind. The English “plague” derives from Greek plhgh/ (pl¢g¢¡), and the Bowl-visions certainly reflect the historical tradition of the Plagues of Egypt (Exod 7-12). As for the “tent of witness”, it is a reference to the portable tent-shrine (‘tabernacle’) of the Exodus/Wilderness period. More properly called the “tent of (the) appointed (meeting)” (du@om lh#a)), the name “tent of the witness” is better rendered from the Hebrew as “tent of the agreement” (td%u@h* lh#a), Num 17:7-8 [Heb 22-23]), in reference to the tablet(s) recording the binding agreement (covenant) established between YHWH and Israel, stored in the golden chest that served as the “throne” of YHWH in the shrine. Both the tent-shrine (Tabernacle) and later Temple were built after a similar pattern, and served a common purpose for the People of God (Israel); however, the image of the tent-shrine is more appropriate here, in terms of its (Mosaic) connection with the “plagues” of Egypt, etc, but also because of its more immediate association with the cloud/fire of God’s presence. This is alluded to by the image of the smoke (kapno/$) of His presence that fills the shrine in this scene, also serving as an image for the smoke of His fiery anger.

Verses 7-8

“And one out of the four living (being)s gave to the seven Messengers seven offering-dishes [fia/lai] being full of the (angry) impulse [qumo/$] of God, the (One) living into the Ages of the Ages. And the shrine was made full of smoke out of the splendor of God and out of His power, and no one was able to come into the shrine until the seven (thing)s to strike (held by) the seven Messengers should be completed.”

The parallelism of these two sets of images is clear enough. The offering-dishes are filled with the angry impulse of God (i.e. to punish wickedness), and the sanctuary is filled (same verb gem[i/z]w) with the smoke of His splendor and power. The Greek word fia/lh generally refers to a broad, flat dish such as that used in religious offerings, particularly libations—i.e. offerings of wine. This fits perfectly with the earlier image of the Judgment as a cup of wine to be poured out upon the earth (14:8, 10, 19-20); there the same word qumo/$ (“impulse”) was used, referring to God’s anger and desire to punish wickedness. As noted above, the “smoke” (kapno/$) is a dual-image, signifying both the presence of God in the sanctuary and His anger which will be expressed as a fiery Judgment. The final statement in verse 8 again draws upon the ancient Tent-shrine traditions, limiting access to the sanctuary, so that even the officiating priests could not enter (Exod 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron 5:13-14; 7:1-2; cf. also Lev 16:13, etc; Koester, p. 645-6).

The Messengers already hold the seven “plagues” which will strike the earth; the motif of the offering-dishes is a literary device which gives to the vision-cycle a powerful dramatic and ritual dimension. It also blends together two sets of images for depicting the Judgment: (1) the Exodus traditions with the Plagues of Egypt, and (2) the wine imagery of chapter 14. The sudden appearance of the “living beings”, which echoes back to the heavenly throne-vision of chapters 4-5, is also a dramatic device, but one which enhances the symbolism here in two respects: (1) it plays on the theme of God in the sanctuary as “the Living One”, and (2) it provides a subtle contrast to the Sea and Earth creatures of chapter 13, and the ‘living’ image of the Sea-creature that causes humankind to worship and obey the creature. The first five visions of this Judgment-cycle (16:1-11) are directed specifically against the world as the domain of the Sea-creature. These will be discussed in the next daily note.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png