Demands of Discipleship

Matt. 10:37-38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:25-27, 33
(Huck 62, 171; Aland 103, 217; Crook 118, 260-261)[1]

Revised: 28-December-2017

הַבָּא אֵלַי וְאֵינוֹ שׂוֹנֵא אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ וְאֶת אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת יְלָדָיו וְאֶת אֶחָיו וְאֶת אַחְיוֹתָיו וְאַף אֶת נַפְשׁוֹ אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִהְיוֹת תַּלְמִידִי מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ נוֹשֵׂא אֶת צְלוּבוֹ וְהוֹלֵךְ אַחֲרַי אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִהְיוֹת תַּלְמִידִי מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ מַנִּיחַ כָּל מַה שֶׁיֵשׁ לוֹ אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִהְיוֹת תַּלְמִידִי

“Anyone who wants to join me but puts family ties or love of self ahead of me cannot possibly be my full-time disciple. Anyone who is not prepared to die cannot possibly be my full-time disciple. Anyone who does not renounce his possessions cannot possibly be my full-time disciple.”[2]










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 Story Placement

The Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident contains very little of the instruction Jesus gave in similar situations. Lindsey theorized that the Hebrew source from which the Synoptic Gospels are descended contained narrative-sayings complexes that were broken apart in the process of transmission from the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua to the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke.[3] According to Lindsey’s view, a Greek editor detached teaching sections from the description of the events that occasioned them.[4] The content of the Demands of Discipleship discourse fits one of the central themes raised in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident: the rigorous demands of discipleship.[5]

We believe there is linguistic and literary evidence to support Lindsey’s suggestion that the Demands of Discipleship discourse and the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident originally belonged to the same narrative-sayings complex, a complex we have entitled “Cost of Entering the Kingdom of Heaven.”[6] For example, Jesus’ statement that a disciple must be willing to “say farewell to all his possessions” (L17-18; Luke 14:33) directly corresponds to the rich man’s unwillingness to part with all his possessions in order to become a disciple, as well as Peter’s exclamation, “We have left everything and followed you” (Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L96-98; Matt 19:27; Mark 10:28; cf. Luke 18:28). In addition, Jesus’ statement that a disciple must “hate” his father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters (Demands of Discipleship, L5-8; Luke 14:26; cf. Matt. 10:37) seems to be an amplification of Jesus’ response in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L112-118 (Matt. 19:29; Mark 10:29; Luke 18:29) about “leaving house” (i.e., family) for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., in order to join Jesus’ band of disciples). Other key phrases in this pericope that fit the context of the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident include “comes to me” (L4; Luke 14:26), “comes after me” (L13; Luke 14:27) and “be my disciple” (L14; Luke 14:27). These phrases are similar to, and probably synonymous with, καὶ δεῦρο ἀκολούθει μοι (“and come, follow me”; Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L50; Matt. 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22). The points of contact between the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident and the Demands of Discipleship discourse strongly suggest that at a pre-synoptic stage these pericopae belonged to the same literary context.



Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua.


Conjectured Stages of Transmission

LOY 48-Five AttestationsThere are five canonical attestations to parts of the Demands of Discipleship discourse that appear to reflect two pre-synoptic versions of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying.[7] The best preserved version of Jesus’ sayings are found in Luke 14:26-27, 33. The version in Matt. 10:37-38 is very similar to Luke 14:26-27 and probably stems from the same source (Anth.). Another version of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying, which stems from a different source, appears in Luke 9:23. This version of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying has a more refined Greek style and therefore probably stems from FR.[8] The Luke 9:23 version of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying was subsequently copied by the author of Mark (Mark 8:34), and Mark’s form of the saying was then copied by Matthew (Matt. 16:24).[9]

(Anthology) (First Reconstruction)
Luke 14:26-27, 33 Matt. 10:37-38 Luke 9:23 Mark 8:34 Matt. 16:24
L1 Εἴ τις ἔρχεται πρός με Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεσθαι, Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἐλθεῖν, Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἐλθεῖν,
L2 καὶ οὐ μεισεῖ τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα ὁ φιλῶν πατέρα μητέρα ὑπὲρ ἐμὲ
L3 οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος
L4 καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὰ τέκνα καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ τὰς ἀδελφάς, καὶ ὁ φιλῶν υἱὸν ἢ θυγατέρα ὑπὲρ ἐμὲ
L5 ἔτι τε καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἑαυτοῦ, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν
L6 Οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής. οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος.
L7 ὅστις οὖν βαστάζει τὸν σταυρὸν αυτοῦ καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ
L8 καθ’ ἡμέραν,
L9 καὶ ἔρχεται ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.
L10 οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής. οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος.
L11 οὕτως οὖν πᾶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ὃς οὐκ ἀποτάσσεται πᾶσιν τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ ὑπάρχουσιν οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
  • Pink = Lukan-Matthean agreement in columns 1 and 2.
  • Red = Agreement in all five columns.
  • Blue = Agreement in Luke’s Anth. and FR versions.
  • Green = Agreement in columns 3-5.
  • Cranberry = Agreement between Luke’s Anth. version (column 1) and all three FR versions (columns 3-5).
  • Purple = Agreement between Matthew’s Anth. version (column 2) and all three FR versions (columns 3-5).
  • Light Blue = Agreement between the Markan and Matthean FR versions (columns 4 and 5).

The version of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying in Matt. 10:37-38 and the versions derived from FR (Luke 9:23; Mark 8:34; Matt. 16:24) are, from a linguistic and literary point of view, inferior to the version in Luke 14:26-27.[10] While this is to be expected in the case of the versions derived from FR, it is surprising in the case of Matt. 10:37-38, which, like the version in Luke 14:26-27, was derived from Anth. The reason for the inferiority of the Matt. 10:37-38 version seems to be that Matthew reworked the verses from Anth. in order to fit them into the new context of Matt. 10, where Jesus gives instructions to the Twelve as he prepares them for their preaching and healing mission and predicts persecutions and hardships they will suffer.[11]

To further complicate matters, it appears that Luke inserted the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes (Luke 14:28-32) between the second and third demands of discipleship. The two similes are very different in terms of style and vocabulary from the verses surrounding them (Luke 14:26-27, 33).[12] The similes also interrupt the three-part parallelism of Jesus’ demands for discipleship. Moreover, the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes do not really illustrate the demands of discipleship Jesus describes in Luke 14:26-27, 33. The Tower Builder and King Going to War similes describe a situation in which someone begins a task, but finds himself unable to complete it because he lacks the necessary resources. Within the conjectured context of the “Cost of Entering the Kingdom of Heaven” complex, having sufficient resources is not the problem. The rich man who declined Jesus’ invitation to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., to become a full-time disciple)[13] had extensive resources—resources with which he was unwilling to part. The rich man was not like the farmer who had insufficient funds to complete his building project after the foundation was laid, or like the king who lacked enough men to match his enemy in battle.[14] The rich man’s decision—whether it is worth it to give up beloved activities, relationships and belongings in order to become Jesus’ disciple—is better illustrated by the Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl parables in which a person exchanges everything he has in order to obtain something of infinitely greater value.

With the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes removed, Luke 14:26-27 and Luke 14:33 fit together smoothly and logically.[15] The three demands of discipleship Jesus describes in this pericope share the same form and they relate to key issues raised in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident and reiterated in the Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl parables.

Crucial Issues

  1. What is the meaning of “hate” in Jesus’ saying?
  2. What is the meaning of “to carry one’s cross”?
  3. Were all disciples required to give up their possessions in order to follow Jesus?


L1-3 συνεπορεύοντο δὲ αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί καὶ στραφεὶς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς (Luke 14:25). This verse has been omitted from GR because it does not appear to reflect a Hebrew Ur-text. We believe that the author of Luke composed this verse in Gk. to provide a setting for Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:26-33.

L4 הַבָּא אֵלַי (HR). In LXX the verb ἔρχεσθαι (erchesthai, “to come”) was used to translate a variety of Hebrew verbs, but none so often as בָּא (bā’, “come”).[16] In addition, we find that while בָּא was translated with a number of different Greek verbs, ἔρχεσθαι was by far the most common.[17] Our reconstruction, therefore, rests on solid ground.

According to Lieberman, the verb בָּא can be used in rabbinic literature as a shortened technical term for someone coming to adopt new principles.[18] One of the examples Lieberman cites is the following passage from the Jerusalem Talmud:

תני כל הבא צריך לקבל עליו שכבר קיבל עליו משעה שישב

It was taught [in a baraita]: Whoever comes [to become a haver] must take upon himself [the obligations of haverut] since he has already [taken them upon himself] from the moment that he sat [i.e., became a haver]. (y. Dem. 2:3 [9b])

Might Luke 14:26 be an early attestation of this rabbinic usage?[19] We would then understand Jesus’ statement to mean, “If someone comes to me in order to study my halachah (i.e., my interpretation of the Torah)….”

L5 שׂוֹנֵא (HR). The verb μισεῖν is the most common translation of שָׂנֵא (sānē’, “hate”) in LXX. In the present context, Jesus did not employ “hate” in its absolute sense. Rather, he meant to teach his disciples that whoever did not love him more than his own family, or even his own life, could not be his disciple.[20] Observe the way Matthew paraphrases Jesus’ saying: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”[21] In Heb. “hate” can mean “love less” or “put in second place.” For example, Gen. 29:31 states that Leah was “hated,” but the context indicates that Leah was not unloved, but rather loved less than Jacob’s other wife, Rachel. Notice that the preceding verse specifically says that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah.

A second illustration of this Hebraic use of the word “hate” is found in Deut. 21:15: “If a man has two wives, one loved and the other hated….” Here, too, the context shows that the “hated” wife is only second in affection, and not literally hated.[22]

Another Hebraic use of the word “hate” is “leave, give up, put aside, distance oneself from, renounce.”[23] S. Safrai suggested that “hate” is used in this sense in Luke 14:26 (personal communication to David Bivin). Safrai gave two examples of this usage in rabbinic literature: “Love labor and hate mastery” (m. Avot 1:10) and “Love the ‘What if?’ and hate the ‘What of it?’” (Derech Eretz Zuta 1:11 [ed. Higger, 63]).[24]

“Hate” in the sense of “forsake” can mean “give up something one loves.” The thing a person forfeits—for example, the protective environment of home—is often more comfortable or convenient than the thing to which that person chooses to adhere; however, he or she chooses the latter in the realization that it is much more important, real or moral than the thing that is forfeited. Used in this way, “hate” does not describe a feeling, but an action. The person acts as though he or she hates the thing that is given up, even though the person’s feelings might be quite different. By leaving the thing one loves, one “hates” that which he or she has forsaken.

If, in Luke 14:26, Jesus uses “hate” in the sense of “forsake,” as Safrai suggests, it is one more reason to connect Luke 14:25-27, 33 and the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident. In this incident, Jesus says to his disciple Peter, “There is no one who has left house…” (Luke 18:29), while in the Luke 14 passage he tells his disciples to hate “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters [i.e., family].” Since in Heb. “house” can mean “family,” and “hate” may sometimes be a synonym for “leave,” both passages could be dealing with the same theme.

τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ (Luke 14:26). The extreme demands Jesus made of prospective disciples must be seen in the context of first-cent. Jewish society. In that society, the disciple was his teacher’s full-time apprentice or attendant, and the disciple’s total allegiance to his teacher was expected.[25] A special relationship developed between teacher and disciple in which the teacher became like a father.[26] In fact, the teacher was more than a father, and was to be honored above the disciple’s own father, as the following passage from the Mishnah indicates:

When one is searching for the lost property both of his father and of his teacher, his teacher’s loss takes precedence over that of his father since his father brought him only into the life of this world, whereas his teacher, who taught him wisdom [i.e., Torah], has brought him into the life of the world to come.[27] But if his father is no less a scholar than his teacher, then his father’s loss takes precedence….

If his father and his teacher are in captivity, he must first ransom his teacher, and only afterwards his father—unless his father is himself a scholar, and then he must first ransom his father. (m. Bab. Metz. 2:11)

If it seems shocking that someone would ransom his teacher before his own father, it is only because we do not understand the tremendous love and respect that Jewish disciples, and the community at large, had for their teachers. Consider the words of the man who said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say good-bye to my family” (Luke 9:61). Jesus’ reply shows that only those who were prepared to totally commit themselves to him would be accepted: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”[28] The same prioritization of discipleship over family ties is emphasized in Jesus’ response to another man who offered to follow him, but only after burying his father. “Let the dead bury their dead,” Jesus told him (Luke 9:60; Matt. 8:22).Pursuing the life of a disciple was not always welcomed by the disciple’s family. According to rabbinic tradition, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus went to study under Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai in Jerusalem against his father’s wishes. Rabbi Eliezer’s father even threatened to prohibit his son from the benefit of any of his possessions (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 6 [ed. Schechter, 31]). In the case of Rabbi Eliezer, his master, Rabban Yohanan, brought about a happy ending by reconciling Hyrcanus to his son’s decision, but the story illustrates the potential dilemma envisioned in Jesus’ saying and highlights the connection between “hating” one’s father (L5) and renouncing one’s possessions (L17-18).

The Jewish sages expected their disciples to emulate the behavior of the Levites that Moses commended:

He [Levi] said of his father and mother, ‘I have no regard for them.’ He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant. (Deut. 33:9; NIV)

L6 καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα (Luke 14:26). In first-cent. Jewish society, marriage took place at a relatively early age (usually by age 18, according to m. Avot 5:21). This cultural norm posed a difficulty for would-be disciples who had to be away from home for extended periods. A disciple had to choose between a long betrothal, a lengthy separation from his wife after marriage, or the postponement of marriage altogether.[29] There was no uniform solution to this problem. We know, for example, that Peter was married at the time he became Jesus’ disciple.[30] All three options were difficult for the disciple, and if he chose a prolonged betrothal or an extended absence from his wife, his time away was a hardship for his bride, as well. On the other hand, some women took great pride in their husband’s efforts. Such was the case with Rabbi Akiva’s wife, who consented to their betrothal only on condition that he go away to study Torah prior to the consummation of their marriage (b. Ket. 62b). But even for Rabbi Akiva’s wife, the long absence of her husband was a true hardship. For this reason, the sages ruled that, if he was married, a man needed his wife’s permission to leave home for longer than thirty days to study Torah (m. Ket. 5:6).

L7 καὶ τὰ τέκνα (Luke 14:26). Rabbinic literature reports cases of disciples who did not recognize their own children as a result of being away from their families for so long (cf. b. Ket. 62b). These stories often emphasize the pride returning fathers express toward their children upon the discovery of their identity. These tales may support our interpretation of “hate” in the sense of “forego,” as well as our contention that “hate” in Jesus’ saying does not exclude feelings of love and affection.

L9 ἔτι τε καὶ (Luke 14:26). Davies and Allison comment that, “With the exception of ἔτι δε [sic] καί this [version of the saying—DNB and JNT] contains nothing characteristically Lukan.[31] Mt 10.37 is probably a heavily redacted version of what appears in Luke” (Davies-Allison, 2:221).

וְאַף (HR). Although the phrase ἔτι τε καὶ does not occur in LXX, the nearly identical ἔτι δε καὶ does occur 5xx in a Hebrew context as the equivalent of אַף כִּי (Neh. 9:18); אַף (Ps. 15[16]:7, 9); וְגַם (Ps. 8:8); and גַּם (Ps. 70[71]:24). Since in dialogue we prefer a MH style, we have elected to reconstruct with וְאַף, which occurs 13xx in the Mishnah,[32] as opposed to וְגַם‎, which occurs 4xx in the Mishnah, all of which are biblical quotations.[33] For examples of וְאַף אֶת followed by a noun with a pronominal suffix, cf. Lev. 26:42 and 4Q397 6 XIII, 15.

τὴν ψυχὴν ἑαυτοῦ (Luke 14:26). The Greek noun ψυχή (psūchē), often translated “soul,” can mean either “self” or “life.”[34] Since “hate his soul” is parallel to “carry his cross” (i.e., “lay down his life”) in the next verse, we should probably interpret ψυχή here in the sense of “life.” Thus, Jesus warns that discipleship must be dearer to a disciple even than life itself.[35]

נַפְשׁוֹ (HR). In LXX the vast majority of instances of ψυχή are the translation of נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “soul”),[36] Among the many nuances of the Hebrew noun נֶפֶשׁ are “self” (Isa. 44:20: וְלֹא־יַצִּיל אֶת־נַפְשׁוֹ [“and he cannot save himself”; JPS]) and “life” (Gen. 19:17: הִמָּלֵט עַל־נַפְשֶׁךָ [“flee for your life”; JPS]; 1 Sam. 20:1: מְבַקֵּשׁ אֶת־נַפְשִׁי [“he seeks my life”; JPS]).[37] Luke’s use of ψυχή may be colored by the semantic range of נֶפֶשׁ.‎[38]

In the Mishnah there is an interpretation of Deut. 6:5 that illuminates Jesus’ demands of disciples:

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֶת יָיי אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאוֹדֶיךָ בְּכָל לֶבָבְךָ בִּשְׁנֵי יְצָרֶיךָ בְּיֶצֶר טוֹב וּבְיֶצֶר רָע בְּכָל נַפְשְׁךָ אֲפִילֻּ הוּא נוֹּטֵל אֶת נַפְשֶׁךָ בְּכָל מְאוֹדֶיךָ בְּכָל מָמוֹנֶיךָ

And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. With all your heart—with your two inclinations, with the good inclination and the evil inclination. With all your soul—even if he [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] takes away your soul [i.e., life—DNB and JNT]. With all your strength—with all your wealth. (m. Ber. 9:5)

In this text, נֶפֶשׁ is equivalent to “life” (cf. y. Ber. 9:5 [67b]; b. Ber. 61b). This rabbinic tradition expresses the Jewish perception that, under the condition of foreign domination, loving God may entail risking one’s life.

Notice that the rabbinic interpretation of Deut. 6:5 includes both life and wealth among the possessions that a person must put at God’s disposal.[39] Perhaps Jesus was acquainted with an early form of this rabbinic tradition,[40] which would explain the logical flow from the renunciation of wealth in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident to the (potential) renunciation of life in the Demands of Discipleship discourse. Jesus could make such demands of his disciples because joining his band of disciples meant participating with God in his mission to rescue Israel, humankind and the whole of creation. There could be no greater expression of love for God than joining God in his redemptive activity.

L10 οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής (Matt. 10:37). Matthew’s “is not worthy of me” is less Hebraic than Luke’s “cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Nolland (Matthew, 441) notes that ἄξιος recurs repeatedly (7xx) in Matt. 10.

אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִהְיוֹת תַּלְמִידִי (HR). The LXX translators rendered יָכוֹל (yāchōl, “able”) with δύνασθαι (dūnasthai, “to be able”) far more often than with any other verb.[41] Conversely, δύνασθαι in LXX almost always represents יָכוֹל‎.[42] For examples of אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל (’ēnō yāchōl, “he is not able”), see Tower Builder and King Going to War, Comment to L6; Friend in Need, Comment to L14.

On תַּלְמִיד (talmid, “disciple”) as the reconstruction of μαθητής (mathētēs, “disciple”), see Lord’s Prayer, Comment to L4.

L11-14 In these lines we not only have a Matthean parallel, we also have two forms of the saying in Luke. Such repetitions of Jesus’ sayings in Luke are known as Lukan Doublets. Lindsey suggested that Lukan Doublets are the result of Luke’s having copied parallel material from his two sources, Anth. and FR, at different spots in his Gospel.[43] Lindsey observed that often one component of a Lukan Doublet shows signs of Greek improvement, whereas the counterpart is much more Hebraic. In this instance, the counterpart in Luke 9:23 shows signs of Greek editing, whereas Luke 14:27 shows Hebraic characteristics.[44] For this reason Lindsey attributed Luke 14:27 to Anth. and Luke 9:23 to FR.

L11 ὅστις οὐ βαστάζει (GR). Although we use Codex Vaticanus as the basis for our commentary, the reading οὖν at Luke 14:27 seems to be a scribal error.[45] Our Greek reconstruction reflects this assumption.

L11-12 βαστάζει τὸν σταυρὸν ἑαυτοῦ (Luke 14:27). Bivin and Tilton disagree over the interpretation of Jesus’ imagery in this saying. In Bivin’s opinion, carrying one’s cross is a metaphor primarily for the daily hardships and deprivations of discipleship (שִׁמּוּשׁ חֲכָמִים, shimūsh ḥachāmim, “service of sages”).[46] Tilton, on the other hand, believes that the imagery of cross-bearing refers to the necessity to accept the possibility of martyrdom as a consequence of following Jesus.

Bearing one’s cross is a potent and visceral image. During the first century C.E. in the land of Israel, the cross was a chilling symbol of the Roman occupation, a warning to the empire’s conquered peoples of the lengths the empire would go to maintain its grip on power.[47] For Jews living in the land of Israel, the cross symbolized their crushed hopes for freedom and peace, and reinforced their status as a conquered people.[48] In a culture where crucifixion was a reality, and in a context where the cross already had a deafening political message, it seems to Tilton unlikely that Jesus would have spoken of cross-carrying so lightly as Bivin suggests.[49] Although giving up one’s livelihood in order to itinerate with a sage as a full-time disciple could, indeed, be difficult, the image of a tortured soul affixed to a cross seems grossly disproportionate.[50] In Tilton’s opinion, it is more likely that Jesus used the cross to symbolize the risk of martyrdom at the hands of the Roman Empire.

Why might following Jesus involve the risk of running afoul of the Roman government?[51] Probably because the people who joined Jesus’ movement believed that through following Jesus and practicing his teachings, God would miraculously liberate Israel from foreign oppression. Despite his opposition to armed insurgence against the Roman Empire, Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven carried with it an implied critique of Caesar’s reign.[52] Jesus’ depiction of God as a king who is actively bringing his reign to bear over the people of Israel cannot have escaped unfavorable comparison with Caesar’s often brutal reign. And from his prophecy of the liberation of Jerusalem after “the times of the Gentiles have been fulfilled” (Luke 21:24), we learn that, like many in Israel, Jesus held on to the hope for political redemption from foreign domination.[53] Since it was the policy of the Roman Empire to stamp out messianic movements, Jesus knew that his message of redemption through the Kingdom of Heaven was a dangerous business.[54] Jesus, who was certainly aware of the political implications of his message, warned would-be disciples of the dangers involved. In this respect, Jesus’ outlook was much more realistic than many of the false messiahs who (whether intentionally or not) deceived people into expecting a glorious military victory against Rome. Jesus knew that a military revolt would be disastrous for the people of Israel, but he believed that redemption could be achieved through other means: through repentance, acts of mercy, and universal love.

This is the folio of the Bodmer Papyrus in which Luke 14:27 is written with the staurogram.

That some early Christians understood Jesus’ saying to imply that his followers might have to endure crucifixion for the sake of discipleship is vividly illustrated in certain early Gospel manuscripts. In the Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV (P75; early third cent. C.E.), for example, the Greek word for “cross” in Luke 14:27 is written with an abbreviation that graphically represents crucifixion.[55] The abbreviation, written σϼος, incorporates the monogram ϼ, a combination of the letters τ (tav) and ρ (rho) from the word σταυρός (stavros, “cross”).[56] The ϼ monogram, which scholars refer to as a staurogram, resembles the shape of a crucified person. As Hurtado observes, “The tau is confirmed as an early symbol of the cross,[57] and the loop of the superimposed rho in the tau-rho suggested the head of a crucified figure.”[58] The ancient scribal practice of writing “cross” in Luke 14:27 and Luke 9:23 with a visual representation of a crucified person indicates that some early Christians understood Jesus’ warning about the necessity of carrying one’s cross literally.

Close up of the Bodmer Papyrus containing Luke 14:27 with the staurogram circled in red.

מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ נוֹשֵׂא אֶת צְלוּבוֹ (HR). On reconstucting βαστάζειν (bastazein, “to carry”) with נָשָׂא (nāsā’, “carry”), see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comment to L63.[59] In our reconstruction there is a wordplay on שׂוֹנֵא (sōnē’, “hate”; L5) and נוֹשֵׂא (nōsē’, “carry”; L11). In MH, the words for cross are צְלוּב (tzelūv)[60] and צְלִיבָה (tzelivāh).[61] We have adopted the former for HR.

L13 καὶ ἔρχεται ὀπίσω μου (Luke 14:27). Black (277-278) notes that the phrases ἔρχεται ὀπίσω μου (Luke 14:27) and ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου (Matt. 10:38) are equivalent phrases with no difference of meaning.

וְהוֹלֵךְ אַחֲרַי (HR). Following after a sage is a classic description of the behavior of disciples in rabbinic literature,[62] and it appears that the Hebrew expression הָלַךְ אַחַר sometimes has the specific meaning of “to follow a sage as his disciple.”[63] This is how Josephus understood the phrase הָלַךְ אַחַר (hālach ’aḥar, “walk after”) in the story of Elijah’s calling of Elisha,[64] as becomes clear when we compare Josephus’ paraphrase of 1 Kgs. 19:21 to the original Hebrew verse and its LXX translation:

וַיֵּלֶךְ אַחֲרֵי אֵלִיָּהוּ וַיְשָׁרְתֵהוּ

…and he walked behind Elijah and served him. (1 Kgs. 19:21)

καὶ ἐπορεύθη ὀπίσω Ηλιου καὶ ἐλειτούργει αὐτῷ

…and [he] went after Eliou and ministered to him. (3 Kgdms. 19:21; NETS)

καὶ ἦν Ἠλίου τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον τοῦ ζῆν καὶ μαθητὴς καὶ διάκονος.

…and so long as Elijah was alive he was his disciple and attendant. (Ant. 8:354; Loeb)

Josephus’ paraphrase indicates that it was natural for a first-century Jew from Jerusalem to understand הָלַךְ אַחַר in the Elijah-Elisha story as a technical term for discipleship.

L15 Unlike Luke 14:26-27, 33, which are relatively easy to reconstruct in Hebrew, Luke 14:28-32, which make up the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes, are much more challenging. This fact, together with the way the twin similes interrupt the three part parallelism of the Demands of Discipleship saying, leads us to conclude that the author of Luke spliced the twin similes into the Demands of Discipleship context from another source (FR).[65] We have therefore dealt with the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes separately.

L16-19 Some scholars are of the opinion that Luke 14:33 was composed by the author of Luke.[66] Their conclusion is based on the following observations: 1) poverty and giving up one’s possessions are Lukan themes (cf. Luke 6:20; 12:33); 2) the verb ἀποτάξασθαι appears 4xx in Luke-Acts, but only 1x elsewhere in the synoptic tradition (Mark 6:46); 3) Luke 14:33 is an unnatural conclusion to the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes; and 4) there is no parallel to Luke 14:33 in Mark or Matthew. These are weighty considerations, however we have chosen to retain this verse for the following reasons:

  1. Luke 14:33 has basically the same structure and much of the same vocabulary as the sayings in Luke 14:26-27, which are deemed to be original.
  2. Although Matthew has no parallel to Luke 14:33, this does not prove that the source from which both Luke 14:26-27 and Matt. 10:37-38 are derived did not have a verse corresponding to Luke 14:33. We have demonstrated above that Luke 14:26-27 is closer to the conjectured Ur-text than Matt. 10:37-38. In addition to the other changes the author of Matthew made to this passage, it is possible that he chose to omit the third rib of a tripartite parallelism.
  3. The content of Luke 14:33 is in harmony with Jesus’ requirement that the rich man divest himself of his possessions in order to join Jesus’ itinerating band of disciples, as well as with Peter’s observation that the disciples had left everything in order to follow Jesus.
  4. Jesus’ requirement that individuals must renounce their possessions in order to gain entry into his movement is not unprecedented in first-century Judaism (see below).
  5. Parting with one’s possessions in order to travel with Jesus is a logical necessity. Disciples could not bring their possessions with them on the road.

The difficulties with Luke 14:33 do not seem sufficient to exclude this verse from our reconstruction of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua.

L16-17 οὕτως οὖν πᾶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ὃς οὐκ ἀποτάσσεται (Luke 14:33). The first two lines of this verse, L16-17, have undergone considerable redaction, which we attribute to the author of Luke. The Lukan redaction is a consequence of the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes (Luke 14:28-32), which the author of Luke sandwiched between the second and third parts of Jesus’ saying about the demands of discipleship. Luke rewrote the beginning of Luke 14:33 in order to make it into a more fitting conclusion to the similes.

L16 οὕτως οὖν πᾶς ἐξ ὑμῶν (Luke 14:33). The phrase οὕτως οὖν (“so therefore”) is Luke’s way of presenting this verse as a logical consequence of the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes. Luke’s attempt, however, was not entirely successful; whereas the similes describe scenarios in which a person makes a calculation about whether he has enough resources to embark on an endeavor, according to Luke 14:33 a prospective disciple must part with everything he has, whether his possessions be numerous or few.[67]

The words ἐξ ὑμῶν (ex hūmōn, “from of you”) are another adaptation of Luke 14:33 to the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes, which open with the phrase τίς γὰρ ἐξ ὑμῶν (tis gar ex hūmōn, “for which one of you”; Luke 14:28).

ὅστις οὐκ (GR). We believe that in Luke’s source the third demand in the series would have had the same pattern as those it followed. Just as Luke 14:27 opens with ὅστις οὐ (hostis ou, “whoever does not”), so in Anth. the third of Jesus’ demands probably opened with ὅστις οὐκ.[68]

L17 ὃς οὐκ ἀποτάσσεται (Luke 14:33). The verb ἀποτάξασθαι (apotaxasthai, “to bid farewell”) occurs 6xx in NT, four of which are in the writings of Luke.[69] This is the only NT instance where ἀποτάξασθαι is used in the sense “to renounce,” however this usage is attested in the writings of Philo (cf. Leg. 3:142, 145) where ἀποτάξασθαι is applied to Moses’ renunciation of food prior to receiving the revelation at Sinai.[70]

מַנִּיחַ (HR). Although the verb ἀποτάξασθαι occurs 7xx in LXX, it appears only 2xx in a Hebrew context (Jer. 20:2; Eccl. 2:20),[71] and only in Eccl. 2:20 does ἀποτάξασθαι translate a Hebrew word (יֵאֵשׁ [yē’ēsh, “to despair”]). Since ἀποτάξασθαι appears to be a Greek editorial improvement that cannot easily be put back into Hebrew, we have modeled our reconstruction on Peter’s claim that the disciples “left everything” to follow Jesus (Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L96-98; Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:28; cf. Luke 18:28). On our preference for הִנִּיחַ over עָזַב see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L97.

ἀφίησι (GR). The Greek Reconstruction represents how the conjectured Greek Translation of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua may have read. In situations such as Luke 14:33, where we do not have a version in Matthew or Mark for comparison, and the text appears to be heavily redacted, we arrive at GR by imagining how the verse might have been written in Hebrew and then translating this Hebrew reconstruction into Greek in a literal style.[72] This approach allows us to imagine how the Greek Ur-text was worded before undergoing successive stages of editing.[73] In the present case, since ἀποτάξασθαι appears to have been introduced by the author of Luke, we conjecture that Luke’s source read ἀφίησι (afiēsi, “he leaves”), the same verb that appears in Peter’s claim to have “left everything” in order to follow Jesus. Another option for GR would be καταλείπει (kataleipei, “he leaves”), the verb used to describe Levi’s action in Call of Levi, L18 (Luke 5:28).

L18 πᾶσιν τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ ὑπάρχουσιν (Luke 14:33). This statement links the Demands of Discipleship discourseto the other pericopae in this narrative-sayings complex (Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident; Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl parables). In each of these pericopae Jesus implies that it is necessary to leave one’s possessions in order to join his itinerating band of disciples.

Numerous sources reflecting divergent streams of ancient Judaism attest to the austere lifestyle of those who devoted themselves to full-time Torah study. The members of the Qumran community, who went out into the desert to engage in the study of Torah (1QS VIII, 15), gave up the private ownership of property upon their admission to the Yahad (1QS VI, 18-22; cf. 1QS I, 11-13). Rabbinic traditions about the Rechabites, which may reflect the practices of the Essenes, or a group close to the Essenes,[74] mention that the Rechabites left their possessions in order to study Torah.[75] Rabbinic traditions also describe the privations their own disciples endured.[76] Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai, for instance, commented upon the austere lifestyle of full-time disciples:

לא נתנה תורה לדרוש אלא לאולכי המן הא כיצד היה יושב ודורש ולא היה יודע מהיכן הוא אוכל ושותה ומהיכן הוא לובש ומתכסה הא לא נתנה תורה לדרוש אלא לאוכלי המן

The Torah was not given for study except to the eaters of manna. For how can someone be sitting and studying and not know where his food and drink will come from, or where his clothes and coverings will come from? Thus, the Torah was not given for study except to the eaters of manna.” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael Vayassa chpt. 3, on Exod. 16:4 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:235])[77]

Likewise, Ben Azzai offered assurances that the rigors of full-time discipleship are worth the discomforts involved:

אם מנבל אדם עצמו על דברי תורה ואוכל תמרים חרובים ולובש בגדים צואים ויושב ומשמר על פתח של חכמים כל עובר ושב אומר שמא שוטה הוא זה לסוף אתה מוצא כל התורה כולה עמו.‏

[Ben Azzai said] If one wastes away over the words of the Torah, eats dried-out dates and wears soiled clothing and sits faithfully at the door of the Sages, every passerby says, ‘Probably that’s a fool!’ But in the end thou wilt find the whole Torah at his command. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 11 [ed. Schechter, 46]; Goldin trans.)[78]

There are also many allusions to the disciples’ poverty in the Synoptic Gospels. In addition to Peter’s statement that the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus (Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L97; Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:28; cf. Luke 18:28), Yeshua’s Discourse on Worry (Matt. 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-32) is probably best understood in the context of the austere conditions of discipleship. The Lord of Shabbat incident (Matt. 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5) may have been occasioned by the disciples’ poverty.[79] And Jesus’ statement that “the son of man has no place to lay his head” is also best understood as an allusion to the difficult lifestyle of full-time discipleship (Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple; Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58).

Jesus’ requirement that disciples must renounce everything they own (Luke 14:33) fits harmoniously with what we know about Jesus from other Gospel narratives and sayings and with the picture of discipleship in the first century.

כָּל מַה שֶׁיֵשׁ לוֹ (HR). On reconstructing πᾶς (pas, “all,” “every”) with כָּל (kol, “all,” “every”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L26. In LXX the combination of πᾶς + τὰ ὑπάρχοντα frequently represents some variation of כָּל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ,‎[80] while in rabbinic literature we find that the Rechabites made a claim similar to Peter’s, that for the sake of Torah study they left everything they owned: הנחתי כל מה שהיה לי (Sifre Zuta 10:29; cf. Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 35 [ed. Schechter, 105]). Our reconstruction attempts to reflect this linguistic background.

Redaction Analysis

Luke 14:26-27, 33 preserves a three-part saying in which Jesus describes the difficult demands of discipleship. This saying has many Hebraic features (e.g., “hate” in the sense of “leave behind” in L5; “soul” in the sense of “life” in L9; “go after” in the sense of “become a disciple” in L13) that indicate that the source of this saying was Anth. In order to provide what he regarded as an appropriate setting for Jesus’ saying, the author of Luke composed Luke 14:25. For some reason, the author of Luke inserted the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes (Luke 14:28-32) between the second and third of Jesus’ demands. This interpolation interrupts the flow of the Demands of Discipleship discourse, and has led some scholars to doubt the authenticity of Luke 14:33.

In comparison with the version of Jesus’ saying preserved in Luke 14:26-27, 33, the version preserved in Matt. 10:37-38 appears to have undergone thorough redaction by a Greek editor, probably by the author of Matthew himself. Matthew dropped the third rib of Jesus’ triple parallelism, changed “whoever does not hate…” into “whoever loves…more than me,” and made “cannot be my disciple” into “is not worthy of me.” These stylistic changes were probably for the benefit of non-Jewish Greek readers or to assimilate Jesus’ saying into the context of Matt. 10.

The author of Luke primarily relied on two written sources for the material in his Gospel. Since one of these sources (FR) was an epitome of the other (Anth.), Luke often had two versions of the same story or narrative from which to choose. Sometimes Luke copied both versions at different points in his Gospel—these are the Lukan Doublets. This is what happened with Jesus’ cross-bearing saying. The highly Hebraic version from Anth. was copied at Luke 14:27, while the more refined Greek version from FR was copied at Luke 9:23. Mark, who used Luke as a source for the composition of his Gospel, copied Luke’s FR version of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying (Mark 8:34), and Matthew subsequently copied this version from Mark (Matt. 16:24). Thus, both Matthew and Luke have a version of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying derived from Anth. as well as a version stemming from FR.

Although the Demands of Discipleship discourse is best preserved in Luke 14:26-27, 33, even there we find signs of Greek editorial activity, which should probably be attributed to the author of Luke. These include the insertion of the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes between Luke 14:27 and Luke 14:33 (L15), the phrase οὕτως οὖν in L16, which Luke added in order to make Luke 14:33 into a conclusion to be drawn from the interpolated similes, and the verb ἀποτάξασθαι in L17.

Results of This Research

1. What is the meaning of “hate” in Jesus’ saying? Jesus did not require his disciples to have feelings of animosity or disdain toward their parents, their wives or their children. “Hate” has this connotation in Greek and in English, but in Hebrew “hate” can mean “to put second” or “to forsake” in favor of something else. What Jesus required was not a feeling of contempt, but an extremely difficult action: to part with one’s family in order to join Jesus’ band of disciples as they itinerated throughout the Galilee and Judea. This difficult requirement would not have been considered extraordinary within first-century Jewish society.

2. What is the meaning of “to carry one’s cross”? Two main possibilities exist for the interpretation of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying: it can either refer to the daily difficulties all first-century disciples endured as they itinerated with their masters, or it can refer to the likelihood that individuals associated with Jesus’ movement will risk execution at the hands of the state.[81] If the former interpretation is accepted, then Jesus used cross-bearing as a figure of speech unparalleled in contemporary sources. If the latter interpretation is accepted, we must grapple with the political implications of Jesus’ mission.

3. Were all disciples required to give up their possessions in order to follow Jesus? By definition, full-time discipleship required giving up one’s ordinary means of income. Full-time disciples could not work their fields or ply their trades because they were constantly in the presence of their master. And if their master was an itinerating teacher, as Jesus was, they had to leave behind their belongings and their families in order to travel with him from place to place. It is not certain that all Jesus’ disciples were required to sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds to the poor as Jesus required of the rich man (Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L45-50; Matt. 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22). Perhaps other disciples were permitted to entrust their belongings to a family member or a friend for the duration of their discipleship, but this must remain speculative. What is certain is that all full-time disciples who itinerated with Jesus could not bring their possessions along with them.

The demands of full-time discipleship may sound extremely harsh, but it should be borne in mind that Jesus did not demand full-time discipleship as a condition for inheriting eternal life.[82] Many individuals who were close to Jesus and who accepted his message did not become full-time disciples.[83] Among these are the people whom Jesus healed; Zacchaeus, who remained in Jericho after his encounter with Jesus; the landlord in Jerusalem who welcomed Jesus and his disciples into his home for Passover (cf. Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb, Comment to L22-33); Nicodemus; Joseph of Arimathea; and, doubtless, many others. The rigorous demands of full-time discipleship were not for everyone, and their failure to leave everything in order to follow Jesus did not prevent non-disciples from experiencing the healing, renewal and redemption that God was bringing about through the Kingdom of Heaven. But for those who were ready and able to accept the challenge, full-time discipleship offered immeasurable rewards (cf. Blessedness of the Twelve).


The Demands of Discipleship discourse is a fitting comment on the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident. In that pericope, Jesus discusses the necessity of leaving one’s home (i.e., family) in order to become a full-time disciple. In that same pericope, Peter exclaims, “We have left everything and followed you.” In Demands of Discipleship Jesus states that anyone who does not “hate” his family cannot be a disciple and anyone who does not renounce his possessions cannot be his disciple. Giving up everything a potential full-time disciple had in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is also the theme of the Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl parables. Together, these three pericopae appear to constitute a narrative-sayings complex that may have existed as a single literary unit in the Hebrew Life of Yeshua.



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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] This translation is a dynamic rendition of our reconstruction of the conjectured Hebrew source that stands behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels. It is not a translation of the Greek text of a canonical source.
  • [3] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Unlocking the Synoptic Problem: Four Keys for Better Understanding Jesus”; idem, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists.”
  • [4] See Robert L. Lindsey, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists,” under the subheading “Restoring Narrative Sayings Complexes”; idem, TJS, 38-39, 42-43.
  • [5] Lindsey dated his discovery of the literary link between Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven and Demands of Discipleship to 14 March 1978 (LHNS, 135).
  • [6] See Robert L. Lindsey, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists,” under the subheading “Restoration of Narrative-Sayings Complexes.”
  • [7] The non-canonical Gospel of Thomas also attests to two versions (logion 55 and logion 101) of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying:

    Jesus said: Whoever does not hate his father and his mother will not be a disciple to Me, and (whoever does not) hate his brethren and his sisters and (does not) take up his cross in My way will not be worthy of Me. (Gos. Thom. §55 [ed. Guillaumont, 31])

    <Jesus said:> Whoever does not hate his father and his mother in My way will not be able to be a [disciple] to me. And whoever does [not] love [his father] and his mother in My way will not be able to be a [disciple] to me, for My mother [ ] but [My] true [Mother] gave me the life. (Gos. Thom. §101 [ed. Guillaumont, 51])

    The versions in the Gospel of Thomas share similarities with the versions in Luke 14:26-27 and Matt. 10:37-38. Like Luke 14:26, the Gospel of Thomas uses the verb “hate,” but like Matt. 10:38, Gos. Thom. logion 55 uses the adjective “worthy.” The versions in Thomas are likely dependent, either directly or indirectly, on the canonical versions of Matthew and Luke. The version in logion 101 may be an adaptation of Jesus’ saying to a Hellenistic proverb. Theon of Alexandria (first cent. C.E.) reports that Isocrates advised students to honor teachers above parents, since parents only give life, whereas teachers are the cause of living nobly (Progymnasmata chpt. 3 Chreia), which may be similar to “[My] true [Mother] gave me the life” (Gos. Thom. logion 101). The Gospel of Thomas adapted other sayings of Jesus to Hellenistic models. For instance, logion 102 is the adaptation of the Aesopic fable about the dog in the manger into a woe against the Pharisees.

  • [8] The two versions of Jesus’ cross-bearing saying in Luke 14:27 and Luke 9:23 constitute a Lukan Doublet. According to Lindsey’s hypothesis, Lukan Doublets are indicative of Luke’s dependence on two pre-synoptic sources. One of these sources (Anth.) was highly Hebraic, the other (FR) is characterized by a more refined Greek style. Several times in his Gospel Luke copied both the Anth. and the FR versions of Jesus’ sayings, resulting in the Lukan Doublets. See Robert L. Lindsey, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists,” under the subheading “Lukan Doublets: Sayings Doublets.”
  • [9] Compare all these versions of the cross-bearing saying in the Synoptic Gospels to John 12:25-26.
  • [10] Commenting on Matt. 10:37-38, Beare writes: “the Lucan version probably stands closer to the original form of the saying, as it reproduces a peculiarly Semitic locution…. Matthew’s version…conveys the sense better in Greek (and in English)” (Beare, 86). Cf. Johannes Schneider, “σταυρός κτλ.,” TDNT, 7:578; C. H. Dodd, Historical Traditio in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 343.
  • [11] Allen (110-111) writes: “It is clear that in the Synoptic Gospels we have three recensions of this saying, viz. (a) Mk 834 = Mt 1624 = Lk 923, a positive form, εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἐλθεῖν (Lk. ἔρχεσθαι), ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ (Lk. adds καθ᾽ ἡμέραν) καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. (b) Mt 1038, a negative form, ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος. (c) Lk 1427, another negative form in a different context, ὅστις οὐ βαστάζει τὸν σταυρὸν ἑαυτοῦ καὶ ἔρχεται ὀπίσω μου. The two latter look like independent translations of a Semitic original.” Cf. Albright-Mann, 132.
  • [12] The Tower Builder and King Going to War similes have a high frequency of words that appear only in this passage in the Synoptic Gospels (ψηφίζειν [Luke 14:28]; δαπάνη [Luke 14:28]; ἀπαρτισμός [Luke 14:28]; ἐκτελεῖν [Luke 14:29, 30]), as well as words and phrases that do not appear in LXX (ψηφίζειν [Luke 14:28]; ἀπαρτισμός [Luke 14:28]; εἰ δυνατός [Luke 14:31]). Thus, the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes stand out linguistically from their Lukan context.
  • [13] On equating becoming a disciple with entering the Kingdom of Heaven, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L64-65; David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Jesus’ Band of Itinerating Disciples.”
  • [14] Moore pointed out that in the Tower Builder and King Going to War similes, “The men are not asking themselves whether they are willing to pay the cost. But ‘desiring’ (ver. 28. θέλων), to do a certain thing, they are considering whether they are able, with the resources at hand, to accomplish it.” See Thomas Verner Moore, “The Tower-builder and the King,” The Expositor 8.7 (1914): 519-537, quotation on 522. The Tower Builder and King Going to War similes are poor illustrations of the rich man’s dilemma, for whereas the tower builder and the king were willing to pursue their tasks if they had the necessary resources, the rich man who had abundant resources was unwilling to accept Jesus’ invitation.
  • [15] According to Jarvis, “if vv. 28-32 are removed the continuity of the remainder is improved.” See Peter G. Jarvis, “Expounding the Parables: V. The Tower-builder and the King going to War (Luke 14:25-33),” Expository Times 77 (1965-1966): 196-198, quotation on 196. Cf. Snodgrass (384): “if the parables are omitted, the text that remains (Luke 14:26-27, 33) reads smoothly.”
  • [16] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:548-553.
  • [17] See Dos Santos, 22-23.
  • [18] See Saul Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine: Studies in the Life and Manners of Jewish Palestine in the II-IV Centuries C.E. (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1942), 80.
  • [19] Cf. the tradition about the Rechabites who said: באתי…ללמוד תורה (“I came…to study Torah”; Sifre Zuta 10:29).
  • [20] Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 35.
  • [21] See R. Steven Notley, “Jesus’ Command to ‘Hate’.”
  • [22] Another illustration of this nuance—“to hate” in the sense of “to put in an inferior position in terms of affection”—is found in Jesus’ own words: “No servant can serve two masters…he will hate the one and love the other…” (Luke 16:13; Matt. 6:24). The point of this teaching is that any attempt to be God’s slave and at the same time to be a slave to money will fail. It is not that in such a situation a person actually hates God, but rather, that he tries to love both God and money. Inevitably, a conflict of interest will arise in which the person will sometimes prefer money to God.
  • [23] See Marshall, 592.
  • [24] These two rabbinic sayings are exhortations to prefer one thing and put aside another. The second saying enjoins that one should prefer the “What if?” that is, weigh or consider carefully one’s actions, but flee the “What of it?” that is, avoid the attitude that one’s actions do not matter.
  • [25] See Isaac Newman, “Talmudic Discipleship,” in Encyclopedia Judaica Yearbook (Jerusalem: Keter, 1989), 33-40.
  • [26] See David N. Bivin, “At the Feet of a Sage”; idem, “First-century Discipleship.”
  • [27] Compare Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah’s words of comfort to Rabbi Eliezer recorded in Sifre Deut. § 31 (on Deut. 6:5), and compare these rabbinic traditions to Theon of Alexandria’s statement (first cent. C.E.) regarding Isocrates (436–338 B.C.E.): “We object to…Isocrates’ saying that one should honor teachers before parents, since the latter have offered us the chance to live but teachers the chance to live nobly” (Progymnasmata chpt. 3 Chreia). Translation according to James R. Butts, The Progymnasmata of Theon: A New Text with Translation and Commentary (Claremont, Calif.: Claremont Graduate School, 1987), 213.
  • [28] Compare Elijah’s response to Elisha’s request to say good-bye to his parents (1 Kgs. 19:20). See Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple, Comments to L32, L35-36.
  • [29] See Newman, “Talmudic Discipleship,” 38.
  • [30] See Healing Shimon’s Mother-in-law, Comment to L11.
  • [31] While it is true that in NT the phrase ἔτι τε καὶ occurs only in the writings of Luke, even in Luke-Acts this phrase only occurs 2xx (Luke 14:26; Acts 21:28). To describe the phrase as “characteristically Lukan,” therefore, seems to be a bit of a stretch.
  • [32] For examples of וְאַף in the Mishnah, cf., e.g., m. Ter. 5:4; m. Yom. 3:10; m. Sot. 7:3, 4; m. Bab. Kam. 2:5; m. Bab. Metz. 2:5 [2xx]; m. Edu. 6:3 [2xx].
  • [33] The four instances of וְגַם in the Mishnah are: m. Maas. Sh. 5:10 (in a quotation of Deut. 26:13); m. Sot. 8:6; m. Bab. Kam. 3:9 (in a quotation of Exod. 21:35); m. Sanh. 1:4 (in a quotation of Exod. 21:29).
  • [34] An example of ψυχή (“soul”) carrying the sense “self” appears in a mid-first-cent. C.E. Greek novel, where a prospective husband advises himself to be patient as he anticipates marriage: καρτέρησον ψυχή (“be patient, soul,” i.e., “be patient, self,” “be patient, my heart”) (Chariton, De Chaerea et Callirhoe 3.2.9).
  • [35] Understood in the sense of “self,” the meaning of Jesus’ saying would be that disciples must put their interests, concerns and comforts second to serving Jesus as his disciple. The two senses are not mutually exclusive, since anyone who is prepared to die has, by definition, put his or her personal interests beneath the call to discipleship.
  • [36] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1486-1490.
  • [37] Cf. HALOT, 712.
  • [38] For the semantic range of ψυχή, cf. Luke 12:19, “I will say to myself [ψυχή]: ‘Self [ψυχή], you have many good things…’”; and Luke 12:20, “Your life [ψυχή] will be demanded from you.” See also Moule, 185.
  • [39] It is possible that the identification of מְאוֹדֶיךָ as wealth is also witnessed in DSS. See Serge Ruzer, “The Double Love Precept in the New Testament and the Community Rule” (JS1, 89-94).
  • [40] As Kister wrote, “notwithstanding significant changes in style, tone, context, and content, aggadic statements in rabbinic literature should be regarded principally as traditions, and the sages to whom these utterances are attributed as tradents of ancient material. Studies that consider rabbinic literature together with writings of the Second Temple period (such as Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran, Philo, Josephus, Gospels) validate time and again this assertion.” See Menahem Kister, “Allegorical Interpretations of Biblical Narratives in Rabbinic Literature, Philo, and Origen: Some Case Studies,” in New Approaches to the Study of Biblical Interpretation in Judaism of the Second Temple Period and in Early Christianity (ed. Gary A. Anderson, Ruth A. Clements, and David Satran; Leiden: Brill, 2013), 133-183, quotation on 141-142.
  • [41] See Dos Santos, 81.
  • [42] See Hatch-Redpaht, 1:353-354.
  • [43] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Unlocking the Synoptic Problem,” under the subheadings “Pre-synoptic Sources” and “Lukan Doublets”; idem, “Measuring the Disparity Between Matthew, Mark and Luke”; idem, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists,” under the subheading “Lukan Doublets: Sayings Doublets.”
  • [44] See Brad Young, “A Fresh Examination of the Cross, Jesus and the Jewish People” (JS1, 202).
  • [45] The insertion of a final ν (nu) by copyists, even when this changed the meaning of the word, was a fairly common error. For an analogous example in the writings of Josephus, see Daniel R. Schwartz, Reading the First Century: On Reading Josephus and Studying Jewish History of the First Century (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 2013), 38. On the rationale for basing our commentary on Vaticanus, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction’,” under the subheading “Codex Vaticanus or an Eclectic Text?”
  • [46] On the term shimush in the context of discipleship, see Newman, “Talmudic Discipleship,” 33-34.
  • [47] See N. T. Wright, “Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans,” in A Royal Priesthood? The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically: A Dialogue with Oliver O’Donovan (ed. Craig Bartholomew, Jonathan Chaplin, Robert Song, Al Wolters; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 173-193, esp. 182.
  • [48] See David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Political Aspect.” Although there are reports of Jewish authorities who practiced crucifixion (e.g., Jos., J.W. 1:97; 4Q169 [4QpNah] 3-4 I, 6-8; Gen. Rab. 65:22; y. Sanh. 6:6 [23c]; y. Hag. 2:2 [78a]), and despite the evidence that the Essenes may have sanctioned crucifixion for certain crimes (11Q19 [11QTemplea] LXIV, 6-13), only the Roman governor had the legal authority to impose the death penalty during Jesus’ lifetime (cf. John 18:31; Jos., J.W. 2:117-118; y. Sanh. 18a, 24b). See Brad H. Young, “A Fresh Examination of the Cross, Jesus and the Jewish People” (JS1, 196-199); Jean-Jacques Aubert, “A Double Standard in Roman Criminal Law?” in Speculum Iuris: Roman Law as a Reflection of Social and Economic Life in Antiquity (ed. Jean-Jacques Aubert and Adriaan Johan Boudewijn Sirks; Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 123.
  • [49] Cross-bearing is used once in rabbinic literature to portray the plight of Isaac, who carried the wood for the whole burnt offering on his shoulders (Gen. Rab. 56:3). Strictly speaking, this example is not a metaphorical usage of cross-bearing, rather the image of a man carrying his cross shares a point of comparison with the story of Isaac: both Isaac and the cross-bearer carry an instrument of their own deaths to the place where their doom will be carried out.
  • [50] Tilton agrees with France, who writes: “The metaphor of taking up one’s cross is not to be domesticated into an exhortation merely to endure hardship patiently…. While it may no doubt be legitimately applied to other and lesser aspects of the suffering involved in following Jesus, the primary reference in context must be to the possibility of literal death” (France, 340). In Tilton’s opinion, the point of comparison in Jesus’ warning between disciples and cross-bearers is not the action of carrying a burden, but one’s status as an enemy in the eyes of the state. Had Jesus said, “Anyone who wishes to be my disciple must take his seat in the electric chair” or “must wear a noose around his neck,” no one today would have supposed that the force of the imagery was focused on the sitting in the chair or the swinging on the rope. (Cf. Plummer [Luke, 248], who noted that the image of carrying one’s cross “represents…not so much a burden as an instrument of death.”) Likewise, in a culture where crucifixion was a practiced mode of execution, the point of Jesus’ imagery is that discipleship involves accepting risk to life and limb (cf. Allen, 182; W. Manson, 110-111; Nolland, Matthew, 442).
  • [51] Bivin regards the Roman Empire as more tolerant than does Tilton. See David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “Bivin Rebuts Tilton’s View of the Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ Teaching.”
  • [52] See Tilton’s discussion of the political aspect of Jesus’ message in David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Political Aspect.”
  • [53] On the political aspect of this prophecy, see David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem,” under the subheading “Solidarity with Israel.”
  • [54] Tilton can see no reason to suppose that the Roman Empire would have made a distinction between violent insurgents and peaceful resisters, any more than the British Empire made an exception for Gandhi’s non-violent resistance in the twentieth century. On the usefulness of comparing the behavior of empires separated in time by several centuries, see Daniel R. Schwartz, Reading the First Century, viii.
  • [55] On P75, see Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament (trans. Erroll F. Rhodes; 2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 87. The staurogram also appears at Luke 9:23 in P75.
  • [56] This abbreviation is unusual in that Greek monograms typically combine adjacent letters, for example, χ (chi) and ρ (rho) were combined in the monogram , which stands for the word χριστός (christos, “anointed one”) in Christian writings. The pictographic quality of the staurogram may account for the unusual combination of non-adjacent letters to form the monogram.
  • [57] Cf., e.g., Barn. 9:7-9; Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 6:11 §278-280; Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 3:22.
  • [58] See Larry W. Hurtado, “The Staurogram in Early Christian Manuscripts: The Earliest Visual Reference to the Crucified Jesus?” in New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World (ed. Thomas J. Kraus and Tobias Nicklas; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 207-226, quotation on 223.
  • [59] On the basis of a rabbinic parallel in Gen. Rab. 56:3, Young proposed reconstructing Luke 14:27 as: מי שלא יטען את צלובו ויבוא אחרי אינו יכול להיות תלמידי (“whoever does not load [on his back] his cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple”). See Brad H. Young, “A Fresh Examination of the Cross, Jesus and the Jewish People” (JS1, 191-209, esp. 202). According to the Genesis Rabbah passage, when Isaac carried the wood on his shoulders as he ascended the slope of Moriah (Gen. 22), “…it was like a condemned man who took his cross upon his shoulders.” Some scholars have even suggested that Jesus alluded to an early version of the tradition preserved in Gen. Rab. 56:3 when he spoke of carrying one’s own cross. While it is difficult to prove that the comparison between Isaac and a man carrying a cross existed in the time of Jesus, we do find that this comparison is made in the writings of the church fathers. Davies-Allison (2:223 n. 51) cite Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 4:5.4, which states: “Righteously also do we, possessing the same faith as Abraham, and taking up the cross as Isaac did the wood, follow Him.” Cf. Augustine, De Trinitate 2:2.11, who refers to “Isaac, who became [a symbol of—DNB and JNT] Christ when he carried the wood for his own sacrifice.” Are these examples of cross-pollination between Christian and Jewish interpretations of Scripture later witnesses to a pre-Christian tradition, or independent developments in separate faith communities?
  • [60] Examples of צְלוּב are found m. Yev. 16:3; t. Sanh. 9:[7]3; Gen. Rab. 56:3; y. Yev. 16:3 [83a]. See Jastrow, 1286; Kaufmann Kohler, “Cross,” JE 4:368-369.
  • [61] An example of צְלִיבָה is found in b. Gittin 70b). See Jastrow, 1283.
  • [62] Descriptions of disciples following their master are common in rabbinic literature. See, for example:

    כבר היה רבי ישמעאל ורבי אלעזר בן עזריה ורבי עקיבא מהלכין בדרך ולוי הסדר וישמעאל בנו של רבי אלעזר בן עזריה מהלכין אחריהם

    Once Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah and Rabbi Akiva were walking along the road and Levi the netmaker and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah’s son Ishmael were walking behind them…. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shabbata chpt. 1, on Exod. 31:13)

    מעשה ברבן יוחנן בן זכאיי שהיה רוכב על גבי החמור והיו תלמידיו מהלכים אחריו

    An anecdote about Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, who was riding on a donkey and whose disciples were walking after him…. (Sifre Deut. § 305, on Deut. 31:14; cf. b. Ket. 66b)

    פעם אחת היה רבן יוחנן בן זכאי יוצא מירושלים והיה ר′ יהושע הולך אחריו וראה בית המקדש חרב

    One time Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was going out of Jerusalem and Rabbi Joshua walked after him and he saw the Temple in ruins…. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 4:5 [ed. Schechter, 21])

    ר″ג הוה מטייל מן עכו לכזיב והיה טבי עבדו מהלך לפניו ורבי אלעאי מאחוריו

    R. Gamaliel was once walking from Acco to Chezib, Tabbai his servant walking in front, and R. Ila’i behind him. (Lev. Rab. 37:3; Soncino)

    רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי פעם אחת הייתי מהלך אחר ר′ אלעזר הקפר בריבי בדרך ומצא שם טבעת ועליה צורת דרקון

    Rabbah son of Bar Hanah said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: “One time I was walking after the eminent Rabbi Eleazar Hakkappar in the road, and there he found a ring and on it was the form of a dragon.” (b. Avod. Zar. 43a)

  • [63] Cf. Lachs 258, 66 n. 2; Morton Smith, Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels (Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1951), 30, 44 n. 101. For the opposite view, see Martin Hengel, The Charismatic Leader and His Followers (trans. James Greig; New York: Crossroads, 1981), 50-57.

    Smith mentions the story about Rabbi Yehoshua’s disciples where parallel versions equate אחריך רבי (“We are after you, Rabbi”) with תלמידיך (“We are your disciples”):

    מעשה בר′ יוחנן בן ברוקה ור′ אלעזר חסמא שבאו מיבנה ללוד והקבילו פני ר′ יהושע בפקיעין אמ′ להן מה חידוש היה לכם בבית מדרש היום אמרו לו תלמידיך

    An anecdote about Rabbi Yohanan ben Berokah and Rabbi Eleazar Hisma, who came to Lod from Yavneh and who greeted Rabbi Yehoshua of Pekiin. He said to them, “What was the innovation you had today in the bet midrash?” They said to him, “We are your disciples.” (t. Sot. 7:9)

    כבר שבתו תלמידים ביבנה ולא שבת שם רבי יהושע וכשבאו התלמידים אצלו אמר להם מה דבר חדש היה לכם ביבנה אמרו לו אחריך רבי

    Once the disciples spent the week in Yavneh, but Rabbi Yehoshua did not spend the week there, and when the disciples came to him, he said to them, “What new thing did you learn in Yavneh?” They said to him, “We are after you, Rabbi.” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Pisha chpt. 16 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:90])

    Evidently, then, being “behind” a sage meant the same thing as being his disciple.

    On the translation of שבת in this story, see Marc Hirshman, A Rivalry of Genius: Jewish and Christian Biblical Interpretation in Late Antiquity (trans. Batya Stein; Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1996), 145-146 n. 44 and the literature cited there.

  • [64] The expression הָלַךְ אַחַר occurs twice in the biblical account of Elijah’s calling of Elisha (1 Kgs. 19:19-21). In response to Elijah’s call, Elisha says וְאֵלְכָה אַחֲרֶיךָ (“and I will walk after you”; 1 Kgs. 19:20), and after Elisha slaughters his oxen and makes a feast for his companions we read וַיֵּלֶךְ אַחֲרֵי אֵלִיָּהוּ (“and he walked after Elijah”; 1 Kgs. 19:21). LXX translated these phrases as καὶ ἀκολουθήσω ὀπίσω σου (“and I will follow after you”; 3 Kgdms. 19:20) and καὶ ἐπορεύθη ὀπίσω Ηλιου (“and he went after Elijah”; 3 Kgdms. 19:21).
  • [65] See above under the subheading “Conjectured Stages of Transmission.”
  • [66] Among such scholars is Bovon (2:385).
  • [67] Bovon (2:349) writes: “At the point where the parables invite readers to take stock of the means at their disposal to find out what their capacities are and take the measure of them, v. 33 concludes (‘so therefore,’ οὕτως οὖν) paradoxically with an order of renunciation.”
  • [68] The negative adv. οὐ becomes οὐκ when it is followed by a vowel with smooth breathing (BDAG, 733).
  • [69] The NT instances of ἀποτάξασθαι are: Mark 6:46; Luke 9:61; 14:33; Acts 18:18, 21; 2 Cor. 2:13.
  • [70] Note that Moses’ fast, though lengthy, was temporary. Thus, ἀποτάξασθαι does not imply permanent renunciation.
  • [71] The other instances of ἀποτάξασθαι in LXX occur in 1 Esdr. and 1 Macc., where ἀποτάξασθαι has the sense “to station [troops].”
  • [72] On this approach, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction’,” under the subheading “Guiding Principles.”
  • [73] In certain Triple Tradition pericopae there might be as many as four layers of editorial activity: that of FR, Luke, Mark, and finally Matthew.
  • [74] See Ze’ev Safrai, “The Sons of Yehonadav ben Rekhav and the Essenes,” Annual of Bar-Ilan University Studies in Judaica and Humanities 16 (1979): 37-58 (Hebrew; English summary, 131).
  • [75] Cf. Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 35 (ed. Schechter, 105); Sifre Zuta 10:29, cited in Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L97. For these sources, we are indebted to Ze’ev Safrai and Peter J. Tomson, “Paul’s ‘Collection for the Saints’ (2 Cor 8-9) and Financial Support of Leaders in Early Christianity and Judaism,” in Second Corinthians in the Perspective of Late Second Temple Judaism (ed. Reimund Bieringer, Emmanuel Nathan, Didier Pollefeyt, and Peter J. Tomson; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 212 n. 252.
  • [76] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L112-129.
  • [77] In the Mechilta, Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai’s comment is juxtaposed to a saying of Rabbi Yehoshua about those who work for a living and only manage to study two halachot in the morning and two halachot in the evening. According to Rabbi Yehoshua, “it is as if he fulfilled the whole Torah.” Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai describes the life of those who give up their secular occupations in order to study full time, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua emphasizes the merit of those who manage to fit study into their busy work lives.
  • [78] Cf. Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 22 (ed. Schechter, 46).
  • [79] In the Lord of Shabbat incident the disciples help themselves to the gleanings because they are hungry. This may be an indication of the disciples’ poverty.
  • [80] Cf. the following examples:

    וַיִּתֵּן אַבְרָהָם אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ לְיִצְחָק

    ἔδωκεν δὲ Αβρααμ πάντα τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ Ισαακ τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ

    And Abraham gave all he owned to Isaac. (Gen. 25:5)

    וַיְהִי בִּרְכַּת יְהוָה בְּכָל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֶשׁ־לֹו בַּבַּיִת וּבַשָּׂדֶה

    καὶ ἐγενήθη εὐλογία κυρίου ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ὑπάρχουσιν αὐτῷ ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ καὶ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ

    And the LORD’s blessing was on all that he owned in the house and the field. (Gen. 39:5)

    פֶּן־תִּוָּרֵשׁ אַתָּה וּבֵיתְךָ וְכָל־אֲשֶׁר־לָךְ

    ἵνα μὴ ἐκτριβῇς σὺ καὶ οἱ υἱοί σου καὶ πάντα τὰ ὑπάρχοντά σου

    lest you be disinherited: you and your house and all that you own. (Gen. 45:11)

    וַיִּקַּח יְהֹושֻׁעַ אֶת־עָכָן בֶּן־זֶרַח…וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־לֹו

    καὶ ἔλαβεν Ἰησοῦς τὸν Αχαρ υἱὸν Ζαρα…καὶ πάντα τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ

    And Joshua took Achan son of Zerah…and all that he owned. (Josh. 7:24)

  • [81] We suppose that some form of the cross-bearing saying did originate with Jesus, but not everyone agrees with this conclusion. Some scholars presume that the cross-bearing saying did not originate with Jesus, but was composed by the early Church. If the cross-bearing saying did not originate with Jesus, this would expand the range of interpretive possibilities.
  • [82] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L15-16.
  • [83] Cf. John P. Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve: Did it Exist During Jesus’ Public Ministry?” Journal of Biblical Literature 116.4 (1997): 635-672, esp. 636-637.

My Search for the Synoptic Problem’s Solution (1959-1969)

Dr. Lindsey wrote this article in preparation for the press conference that took place in October 1969 upon the publication of his A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark.[1] This press conference was held at the Baptist House, Narkis Street 4, in the Jerusalem suburb of Rehaviah. The book contains, in addition to the Greek and Hebrew texts of Mark, which Lindsey spent nearly ten years in perfecting, a Foreword by Professor David Flusser of the Department of Comparative Religions at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a 76-page English Introduction by Lindsey.

Mark’s Unpopularity

The Gospel of Mark was never popular in the Greek-speaking Hellenistic church. Papias, the mid-second-century bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, was the first church father to mention the Gospel and his statement was probably dictated by the general criticism voiced against Mark by the early Greek readers of the Gospel: “Mark,” Papias says, “did no wrong in writing down the things [he had only heard Peter say].”[2]

The order of the four Gospels in the earliest manuscripts often placed Mark at the end of the four, but in any case always secondary to Matthew (as in the modern order). It is now clear that ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament like Codex Bezae show a deliberate scribal attempt to revise the text of Mark through harmonization with Matthew and Luke. Mark’s Gospel is not quoted at all by such early writers as Clement of Rome or Ignatius of Antioch, and it was only in the fifth century that Mark even rated a commentator: Victor of Antioch.

Saint Augustine wrote rather contemptuously of Mark as “a camp-follower and abridger” of Matthew.[3] Even in modern times the sections for Sundays and Saints’ Days in the Church of England Prayer Book show only three readings from Mark out of a total of seventy from the Gospels.

Various reasons have been given for Mark’s unpopularity. One is that he was not an apostle like Matthew and John to whom Gospels are credited. Another is that his book does not, like theirs, contain many of Jesus’ longer discourses. Whatever the reasons, Mark’s Gospel was never popular in ancient times.

The Theory of Markan Priority

Despite this rather remarkable consensus of ancient authors, modern critical study of the Gospels, which began less than two hundred years ago, has since the 1880’s held almost unanimously that Mark was the first of the Gospels and was used by Matthew and Luke as their principal source when writing their own story of Jesus’ life. The occasional voices lifted in protest—Roman Catholic scholars held out until recent times against the theory due to Augustine’s writings—have again and again been silenced by the weighty words of New Testament scholars, usually of Protestant background, who back Markan priority. The theological libraries and journals of today, like the denominational literature of all the larger Protestant churches, base their studies and remarks on the Markan Priority Theory as a matter of course.

The first Markan priorists, particularly the earlier German and English ones, had glowing words of praise for the author of Mark. He had written, they said, in rough, popular Greek, but he was, like the Grandma Moses of modern art, a primitive genius. His style showed oddities and cliches, but also had a directness and “freshness” which suggested he may even have been an eyewitness of the events he described. According to these Markan priorists, Matthew and Luke had “smoothed out” Mark’s rough Greek and corrected his non-theological language, often agreeing with one another against Mark in some small, word agreement as they did so.

By the early 1900s, however, German scholars were having second thoughts about the authenticity of Mark’s picture. Facing serious verbal discrepancies between Mark’s text and those of Matthew and Luke, these scholars concluded that Mark was a late writer who had strung together a series of narratives and sayings largely developed through the oral retelling of them by Greek Christians. Mark had placed these oral narratives in a chronological frame that was purely of his own invention.

As a result of these academic doubts there issued a new search for the earliest form of the Gospel stories and it was soon held, notably by Rudolf Bultmann in his monumental Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (1921)[4] that most of the stories in the Gospels had been developed secondarily from some remembered sayings of Jesus. The stories were therefore unhistorical. Bultmann found that even the longer sayings of Jesus had been seriously distorted by Greek Christians (in a process he called the Sitz im Leben, or “life situation,” of the Church) and held that only a small number of these sayings could be said to be closely parallel to their original Semitic counterpart. Almost all the serious critical works of the past ninety years have either been based on Bultmann’s theories or have been the result of an attempt to modify his position.

A “Re-write Man”

As a consequence of my endeavor to produce a Modern Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark, however, I began to develop a different picture of the interrelationship of the Synoptic Gospels. This new picture began to emerge from my observation that whereas the portions of Matthew and Luke that have no parallel to Mark translate quite naturally into Hebrew, Mark’s Gospel (and Matthew’s parallel passages) presented certain difficulties. Although Mark also had many lines and phrases that translated easily into Hebrew, these were often interrupted with words and expressions that are nearly impossible to translate into Hebrew. Luke, on the other hand, even when in parallel to Mark, presented no such difficulties. These observations led me to develop the theory that the Synoptic Gospels drew on an earlier account of the life and teachings of Jesus originally written in Hebrew and later translated into a highly literal Greek version.

I further came to the surprising conclusion that Mark was not the earliest of the Synoptic Gospels, but that Mark followed Luke, rewriting and revising Luke’s wording, and that Matthew later followed Mark, but also had access to the earlier Hebraic-Greek account of the life of Jesus that was the basis of Luke’s Gospel. I realized that, if true, my theory would both explain Mark’s traditional unpopularity, and lead to a serious reassessment of the prevailing view of Mark’s position among the Gospels. The basic reason for Mark’s unpopularity is that it was written by an early Jewish Christian who rewrote the gospel story using the midrashic methods of early rabbis, sometimes described as those of “darshehu and sarsehu,” a rabbinic phrase which can be paraphrastically translated as “homilize it [the text, usually of the Bible] and bend it to apply to your need.”

And rather than assuming that Luke used Mark as the basis of his Gospel, as is commonly held by most New Testament scholars, it appears that the opposite is true. Mark employed Luke’s Gospel, along with another early source, and the result is a Gospel that is almost as much annotation and comment as original story. Mark’s principal method was to replace about half of Luke’s earlier and more authentic wording with a variety of synonyms and expressions he culled from certain Old and New Testament books that, today, we can identify usually simply by consulting Greek and Hebrew concordances of the Bible.

Like the rabbis, Mark loved to find linguistic parallels to the text he was copying in other, often unrelated, books, and then mix words and phrases taken from these parallels with others of his sources. This method resulted in an amplified text that many scholars had thought gave an authenticity to Mark’s work, but which, in reality, should be described as a fascinating but rather inauthentic dramatization of the Gospel story. Due to Mark’s quite normal midrashic and aggadic Jewish methods, his Gospel is the “first cartoon life of Christ.” Mark was a “re-write man.”[5]

I am convinced that Mark, who may indeed be the John Mark of tradition, had before him not only Luke and a parallel early source, which I call the “Anthology,” but also Luke’s Book of Acts, five of the earliest epistles of the Apostle Paul (1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans), and the epistle of James. He also knew and quoted from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts of the Old Testament. Mark’s method was to follow story by story and verse by verse the Anthology and Luke, dropping some stories only to bring them back at a later point in his Gospel, and constantly replacing his discarded stories, sentences or words by other stories, sentences or words found in non-parallel portions of Luke’s Gospel, the Acts, and the other books mentioned above.

I admit that to the modern Bible exegete Mark’s method I have just described sounds too mechanical to be true, but this method would not be strange to Jews of the first century. I myself had the greatest difficulty accepting the picture I paint of Mark when I first encountered the evidence. In fact, I hesitated for some years to publish my conclusions until the picture became clear in most of its details.[6]

A New Understanding of Synoptic Interdependence

The first observation that eventually led to the development of my new theory was that the Greek text of Mark was just a little too easy to translate to Hebrew. The word order and idiom sounded too Hebraic to be good Greek, and too sophisticatedly Semitic to be explained by the usual theory that the Gospels are imitations of the second-century B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament know as the Septuagint.

At first I supposed that Mark may have been translating directly to Greek from a Semitic text. But this explanation proved unreliable when it became clear to me that Mark’s text had some dozens of odd, non-Hebrew-sounding words that kept reappearing an inordinate number of times. One of these peculiar phrases was the oft-repeated (more than forty times) “and immediately” of Mark. This phrase has annoyed everyone who has ever read a literal translation of Mark’s Gospel. Slowly I realized that these odd stereotypes and redundancies had to be the work of a redactor who was operating from a Greek text and adding expressions that could only be translated to Hebrew with considerable circumlocution.

Faced with the challenge of trying to translate these “non-Hebraisms” in Mark, I turned in some desperation to a word-by-word comparison of the parallel stories and sayings in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Working with the help of Huck’s Greek synopsis of the Gospels[7] and Moulton-Geden’s concordance of the New Testament[8] for two years (1960-1961), I came to my first tentative conclusions, conclusions that surprised me.

The first conclusion was a quite “orthodox” one: the strange non-Hebraisms of Mark often, although not always, appeared in Matthew at points of exact parallel with Mark. In contrast with the seeming dependence of Matthew on Mark was the near absence of the Markan stereotypes from Matthean stories that had no parallel to Mark (in the so-called “Q” and unique Matthean materials). Following this cue, I found that it was remarkably easy to translate the non-Markan portions of Matthew to Hebrew. It thus seemed reasonable to assume that the usual theory of Matthean dependence on Mark was essentially correct.

My second conclusion, however, was disturbing. Luke’s text showed almost no sign or hint of the Markan redactive expressions. Moreover, whether I translated from Markan or non-Markan portions of Luke, I found that the text translated with relative ease to Hebrew, indeed with about the same ease Matthew provides in his non-Markan portions. I am not sure why I did not suspect from this evidence that Luke may not have used Mark’s Gospel, but I think it was due to my supposition that the theory of Lukan use of Mark was too well-attested by modern scholarship to be incorrect.

The third conclusion was the most disturbing of all. Comparing the texts of the first three Gospels, I slowly became aware of the so-called “Minor Agreements” of Matthew and Luke against Mark, one of the points at which the theory of Markan priority has often been attacked by adherents of the time-honored Augustinian theory and the Griesbach theory.[9] Neither of these  theories has difficulty in explaining the Minor Agreements, whereas the usual view of Markan Priority (according to which Matthew and Luke are uninfluenced by each other’s work) has difficulty accounting for the approximately six hundred points at which Matthew and Luke agree to disagree with the Markan parallels with respect to wording and omissions.

I decided very quickly that the only way to combine the first and third conclusions was to posit the existence of a common document known to Matthew and Luke and basically parallel in story order with Mark, but verbally very different from it. (This meant that I had returned to a view not unlike that of the first Markan priorists, who had held that a kind of Ur-Markus or Proto-Mark was known to Matthew and Luke instead of Mark, and that the Gospel of Mark was in some ways not quite like Ur-Markus. The major difference between my view and that of the first Markan priorists is that, according to my theory, the common source included not only Ur-Markus narratives, but also Q sayings.) But what was one to do with the second conclusion? Why did Luke show little or no indication that he had seen the redacted expressions in Mark?

Markan Pick-ups

When I arrived at the solution, the second conclusion made sense. I discovered that Luke had not used Mark. Rather, Mark had used Luke. It soon became clear to me that my Markan stereotypes and non-Hebraisms were word “pick-ups,” which I could prove had been borrowed directly from Acts and distant Lukan contexts. For instance, the strange “and immediately” turned out to be first used by Mark in rewriting the scene of Jesus’ baptism as a result of having compared the story with the scene in Acts 10 of Peter’s vision on the Jaffa rooftop. In Acts 10:16 we find Luke’s only use of καὶ εὐθύς (“and immediately”) in the Book of Acts.

And there was that odd word for bed, κράβαττος (krabatos), which Mark had used in two stories (Mark 2:1-12 and 6:53-56) where Matthew and Luke had used a quite different word in parallel. Only in Acts and Mark did the word appear among the Synoptic writers. As in Mark, Luke had used krabatos in two different stories. In Acts 9:33 he stated that a paralyzed man, παραλελυμένος (paralelumenos), had been laid on a krabatos and been healed by Peter. In Acts 5:15 Luke told of people being brought into the streets on krabatoi (plural of krabatos) so that the shadow of Peter might fall on them for healing. Mark, too, had a paralyzed man in 2:1-12 who was brought on a krabatos to be touched by Jesus. Mark had seen paralelumenos in the Lukan parallel (Luke 5:18) and had turned to Acts 9:32-35 to read the story of Aeneas, the paralelumenos there. And, in parallel to the story in Acts 5:15-16, Mark had written of people who were brought on krabatoi into the marketplaces (!) so that Jesus “could touch them” (see Mark 6:53-56).

I kept a growing list of “pick-ups” and soon noticed some were coming from the epistle of James and many more from Acts and the Pauline epistles. One of my greatest surprises was the discovery that the words coming to Mark from Paul were limited to certain epistles—1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans—epistles usually thought to be Paul’s earliest letters.

A Better Way Forward

Despite the support of Professor David Flusser[10] and a few other scholars in Jerusalem, I was under no illusion about the difficulty of proving my theory to modern New Testament scholars. My problem is that I am a source critic living in a post-source-critical age. People suppose the Synoptic problem was solved long ago. Hundreds of living scholars have written books espousing Markan Priority, or at least basing their studies on the “assured” results of this point of scholarship. The latest fad among New Testament students is to ferret out the differences between the writers of the Gospels with a view to finding out how they differ theologically, actually an old discipline of early German scholars.

But it appears that the true solution to the Synoptic Problem has never really been resolved by scholars until now. The theory of Markan Priority is very close to the truth and for this reason has held the field so long. Both Professor Flusser and I view my theory as more a correction of the prevailing hypothesis than a radical departure from it.

However, the whole structure of modern New Testament research has been erected on the scaffold of Mark’s originality. Doubt in the very resurrection of Jesus, that central node of all Christian tradition, stems not a little from the fragmentary Markan account of the resurrection,[11] which differs significantly from that in Luke, whose detailed account is doubted because it is so unlike that of Mark. My theory, by contrast, suggests that the Lukan version of the resurrection may very well be the correct one. Modern skeptical Christian theology has often reveled in the uncertainty of the accounts of the resurrection story and has treated faith as “faith only if it has no facts at its command.”

This is not the traditional view of Christian faith, and it is pretty certain no Christian church would ever have been born without the early apostolic certainty that Christ rose literally from the grave, a fact many have pointed out. My synoptic theory, which maintains that the Gospel discrepancies are due to the odd secondary methods of Mark, opens a road to greater certainty in the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. For the moment, however, this is not my primary interest. What fascinates me is the possibility that the Matthean-Lukan agreements against Mark, and the more Hebraic texts of Matthew and Luke, can be shown to be the earliest Greek materials and may even be processed to yield much of their basic Semitic undertext, which Flusser and I are convinced was in Hebrew.

We even know what kind of Hebrew lies back of the Greek text and we can sometimes reconstruct the Hebrew text with great certainty. The narrative portions and some of Jesus’ formal teaching are clearly in Biblical Hebrew. The conversations of Jesus, on the other hand, are full of late-biblical and post-biblical Hebrew words and expressions. All this fits the linguistic scene of the first half of the first century, as we now know from the Dead Sea Scrolls and recent research in Mishnaic Hebrew sources. The Semitic sophistication of most of the Synoptic texts makes it impossible to hold that they are the creation of a Greek-speaking church, as many scholars think today. When we have laid aside the secondary elements so strongly seen in Mark and sometimes in Matthew (due to Mark’s influence), we have a straightforward story modeled after the Hebrew narratives of the Old Testament. This story had to have been composed very early in the first century, although we cannot tell when it was composed with exactitude.

*This article, originally published in 1969, has been here emended and updated by Lauren S. Asperschlager, David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton.


Sidebar by David Flusser: Who Was John Mark?

Professor David Flusser on R. L. Lindsey’s “revolutionary step” in New Testament scholarship, showing that the Gospel of Mark, which made Jesus “less of a Jew,” was written latter than Luke.

John Mark is the supposed author of the second Gospel in the New Testament. He was evidently a Cypriot Jew and a member of the first Christian community in Jerusalem. He became Paul’s companion in his missionary journeys, quarreled with him, returned to Jerusalem and finally went with Peter to Rome where he met Paul again and was reconciled with him. According to a Christian tradition, he was buried in Alexandria, but his body was finally brought to Venice and buried in the famous San Marco church. His symbol in Christian art is a lion, and this animal became the emblem of the Venetian republic.

The Gospel that John Mark is supposed to have written has recently been translated anew into Hebrew by Robert Lisle Lindsey, the head of the Baptist Church in Israel. This translation has now been published, together with the Greek original and a long introduction. It seems to me to be a revolutionary step in New Testament scholarship.

The first three Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—are called by scholars the Synoptic Gospels because all are based on similar material and can be seen together. They can even be printed in three parallel columns, creating a book called a Synopsis. So it is clear that there is a literary connection between these three Gospels and it is also evident that to understand their interdependence means greater knowledge of Jesus and his teachings. To know more about Jesus’ life and doctrines should be the central aim of all Christian research. This was the opinion of Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Dutch humanist and scholar born 500 years ago. His aim was to propagate the “Christian philosophy,” or, in other words, Jesus’ doctrines. For this purpose he published in 1516 the first edition of the original Greek text of the New Testament. But, as we will see, the “historical Jesus” is not always at the center of Christian thought.

Sir Bedivere returning Excalibur, Arthur’s sword, to the lake from which it came, illustration by Aubrey Beardsley for an edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur. Le Morte Darthur, the first English-language prose version of the Arthurian legend, completed by Sir Thomas Malory about 1470 and printed by William Caxton in 1485. The only extant manuscript that predates Caxton’s edition is in the British Library, London. It retells the adventures of the knights of the Round Table in chronological sequence from the birth of Arthur. Based on French romances, Malory’s account differs from his models in its emphasis on the brotherhood of the knights rather than on courtly love, and on the conflicts of loyalty (brought about by the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere) that finally destroy the fellowship.
Sir Bedivere returning Excalibur, Arthur’s sword, to the lake from which it came, illustration by Aubrey Beardsley for an edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur.
Le Morte Darthur, the first English-language prose version of the Arthurian legend, completed by Sir Thomas Malory about 1470 and printed by William Caxton in 1485. The only extant manuscript that predates Caxton’s edition is in the British Library, London. It retells the adventures of the knights of the Round Table in chronological sequence from the birth of Arthur. Based on French romances, Malory’s account differs from his models in its emphasis on the brotherhood of the knights rather than on courtly love, and on the conflicts of loyalty (brought about by the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere) that finally destroy the fellowship.

Rewritten Source

Modern scholars have, I think rightly, stated that Mark, or another gospel on which Mark is based, was one of the two main sources of both Matthew and Luke. Unfortunately, the laziness of the human spirit later led scholars astray and instead of trying to find out whether the common source of both Matthew and Luke was Mark or his supposed source, they increasingly identified this source with Mark. This led to deplorable consequences for modern New Testament scholarship. As we shall see, Mark is a completely rewritten source. The adaptor had the popular Hellenistic taste for dramatization and his theological acumen was not very strong. One may compare his way of rewriting his sources with that of Sir Thomas Mallory.

For someone who does not know literary criticism, the popular form of expression of this kind of literature may evoke the false impression of original freshness. For instance: “Then Sir Gawayne and Sir Tristram departed and rode on their wayes a day or two and there by adventure they mette with Sir Kay and with Sir Sagramour le Desyrous. And then they were glad of Sir Gawayne and he of them, but they wyst not what he was with the shylde of Cornwayle but by….” An uninformed reader would say: “How many details! This has the freshness of an eye-witness report.”

Let me give an even more characteristic parallel case from Mark’s Gospel, the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26). Jesus “took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him: ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said: ‘I see men but they look like trees walking.’ Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and he was restored, and saw everything clearly” (see also Mark 7:31-37, and compare with Matt. 15:29-31).

This is not an archaic way of writing, but a popular form of vivid description. Later scholars abandoned the idea of Mark’s original freshness, but, not being versed in literary criticism, they assumed that Mark was the fruit of an “oral tradition” and, because they thought that Mark was the source of both Matthew and Luke, they extended the hypothesis of oral origin to all three Synoptic Gospels.

The following step in New Testament scholarship was caused by modern theology. Today it seems to be difficult to believe in facts and Jesus does not fit modern idealistic theology. Thus, it is easier for many theologians to believe in the kerygmatic Christ, as depicted in the Gospels, than to follow the “historical Jesus.” This historical tour de force is supported by the theory of the oral origin of the Gospels: the oral tradition has, so to speak, its place in the creative power of the Church; the object of its preaching was not the historical Jesus, but the kerygmatic Christ; the Gospels are mainly the reflection of the faith in the resurrected Lord. (Most of the champions of this approach do not believe in the resurrection.)

Even before I had the pleasure of meeting Lindsey, I did not accept all these beautiful ideas. I saw, from my experience with other sources, that also in the case of the Gospels, the philological approach was better suited to the matter at hand. Knowing both Greek and Jewish sources, I recognized that Mark was the fruit of thorough editing. And then I met Lindsey.

Two Crucial Facts

Lindsey approached the problem from another angle. He wanted to make a new Hebrew translation of Mark’s Gospel for his community and thus he was forced to recognize that Mark was rewritten, because his text is a strange mixture of Hebrew memories and of Greek popular style. He pursued this line of investigation and discovered two crucial facts. He saw that, in passages where Mark is lacking, Matthew is more Hebraic and is not imbued with the typical Greek style of Mark. He also discovered that Luke shows no traces of being influenced by the editorial activity of Mark, and the third Gospel, written by a Greek physician, is far more Hebraic than the Gospel supposedly written by the Jew, John Mark. From these two facts Lindsey concluded that Mark had entirely rewritten a source which was known to Luke before it was edited and that Matthew used Mark. But there are many minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark in passages from Mark. Thus, Matthew used both Mark and his original source. Further, Lindsey rightly supposes that in rewriting his source, Mark was helped by the extant Gospel of Luke.

Lindsey’s arguments are stringent, but his approach can be tested only when at least two conditions are fulfilled: the investigator must first study most of, if not all, the relevant Gospel materials in the light of the theory, and secondly, he must know enough Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic to understand the argument. Lindsey himself could see the truth only because he speaks Hebrew fluently and can thus read the relevant old Hebrew sources. I do not know if there are scholars studying Chinese or Tibetan Buddhist texts without knowing Sanskrit and Pali. If such scholars indeed exist, it is a great pity. I remember attending in Germany a very important colloquium about New Testament problems. Important German professors were present and I met no opposition—until I claimed that a certain passage in Matthew is a literal translation from Hebrew. Then I was attacked by the whole learned crowd: “How do you know?” they said. Last year I read the same passage at the Hebrew University where the reaction of a Dutch student who has lived here for some years and speaks fluent Hebrew was: “But these words are literally translated from Hebrew!”

Let me provide only one example of the importance of knowledge of Hebrew for an understanding of the Gospels. Jesus said, according to Matthew 6:31-32: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things.” In Luke 12:30 we read instead of “the Gentiles”: “all the nations of the world.” This is a translation of the Hebrew “kol oomot ha’olam,” an expression common in rabbinical writings. If I am not wrong, Jesus’ words are the first example of the use of this expression (in a not very friendly context).

Thus the greatest difficulties for the acceptance of Lindsey’s approach to the synoptic problem will be: 1. Ignorance of Greek and Hebrew linguistics; 2. Lack of training in literary criticism; 3. A hypertrophy of idealistic theological mist; 4. The inveterate “oral” approach to the Gospels; 5. The belief in a kerygmatic Christ and the distrust of a Jewish “historical Jesus.” Thus, the psychological obstacles for Lindsey’s solution will be great today, but it is always difficult to find belief on earth.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying the good fortune of being able to use Lindsey’s achievements for my own research. My German book about Jesus, which has already appeared in English, is based upon Lindsey’s solution to the synoptic problem. I hope that my book will pave the way for the acceptance of Lindsey’s method by non-committed scholars, and especially by students. It seems to me that it is of vital importance for the understanding of Jesus that the new hypothesis be tested. To what extent Mark obscured the intentions of his source by rewriting and dramatizing his source can be shown by inner analysis and by comparison with the other two Synoptic Gospels. My own experience has proven that these profound changes made by Mark had the effect of making Jesus’ image less clear. And if in Mark the picture of Jesus the man became unclear, it is natural that Jesus became also less of a Jew. This can now, after Lindsey’s discovery, be proved by objective textual analysis. Thus, even if Lindsey’s achievements are not immediately accepted by academic pontificators, it will eventually help the real pontifices, the “bridge builders,” those who want better understanding between Judaism and Christianity.[12]

  • [1] Robert L. Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark. Jerusalem: Dugith Publishers, 1969 (1st ed.); 1973 (2d ed.). xxvi + 162 pp. (Preface to the 2nd ed., pp. v-xxvi. Foreword by David Flusser, pp. 1-8. Introduction, pp. 9-84. Greek text and Hebrew trans., pp. 85-159.)
  • [2] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15.
  • [3] De Consensu Evangelistarum 1.2.4.
  • [4] English translation: Rudolf Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition (trans. John Marsh; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963).
  • [5] David Flusser remarked at the press conference that Lindsey’s Hebrew translation of Mark is of much significance in the long history of New Testament Hebrew translations, but that the importance of Lindsey’s work lies mainly in Lindsey’s theory of the composition of Mark and Mark’s relationship to that of Matthew and Luke. See David Flusser’s references to Lindsey’s research in David Flusser, The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 3-4, 122. Flusser states: “My approach to the [“Synoptic Problem” is]…chiefly based on the research of the late R. L. Lindsey…The present biography [The Sage from Galilee] intends to apply the methods of literary criticism and Lindsey’s solution to unlock these ancient sources [the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke]” (pp. 3-4). See also the references to Lindsey in Flusser’s entry, “Jesus,” in The Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter; New York: Macmillan, 1972), 10:10.
  • [6] Flusser explained at the press conference that the very way in which Lindsey came to his conclusions has a certain authenticity which is to be admired: “Lindsey started out only to get a modern Hebrew text of the Gospel of Mark that would update the excellent but antiquated translation of Franz Delitzsch. He had been taught, as we all were, that from the last quarter of the nineteenth century it had been proved that Mark had served as one of the sources of Matthew and Luke. He had no reason to disbelieve this theory. It was while he was making his first draft that he ran into the difficulties that drove him to his long and painstaking research and which, in my view, ended in the most important and decisive correction of the usual view of Markan priority ever made.”
  • [7] Albert Huck, Synopsis of the First Three Gospels (9th ed. rev. by Hans Lietzmann; New York: American Bible, 1936).
  • [8] William F. Moulton and Alfred S. Geden, eds., A Concordance to the Greek Testament According to the Texts of Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf, and the English Revisers (3rd ed.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1950).
  • [9] The Augustinian theory insists that Mark used Matthew only to be followed by Luke who used both Mark and Matthew. A modern defense of this position may be found in B. C. Butler’s The Originality of St. Matthew: A Critique of the Two-Document Hypothesis (Cambridge, 1951). On the other hand, the Griesbach theory concludes that Luke used Matthew only to be followed by Mark who used both Luke and Matthew. The strongest defense of this theory is provided by W. R. Farmer’s book, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis (2nd ed.; Dillsboro, NC: Western North Carolina Press, 1976).
  • [10] I met Professor Flusser for the first time in the summer of 1961.
  • [11] The end of Mark’s Gospel was lost at an early stage, but some scholars believe it may have been preserved in the last chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.
  • [12] This article appeared on page 11 of the Friday, October 24, 1969 Jerusalem Post Magazine [the weekend supplement].

Toward an Inerrant View of Scripture

Revised: 15-Feb-2008

When applying the adjective “inerrant” to Scripture, Protestants presumably mean one, two, or three of the following things:

  1. an inerrant autograph written by a biblical author;
  2. an inerrant copy of a manuscript descending from an autograph;
  3. an inerrant translation based on one (or more manuscripts) descending from an autograph.

No biblical autographs have survived. There are only manuscripts which were copied from earlier manuscripts, which were copied from still earlier manuscripts, and so on. To speak of an autograph as inerrant, we are essentially claiming that Scripture used to be inerrant. In theory, if all relevant manuscript evidence were available, we could trace a manuscript’s lineage back to an original autograph. But since we do not possess a single biblical autograph, we are not in a position to comment on an autograph’s character in a meaningful way. Moreover, even if we had access to a biblical autograph, would a spelling error render it errant?

We can comment with greater confidence and credibility on an extant manuscript whose lineage descends from an autograph. Anyone who has worked with manuscripts knows that when transcribing, scribes were prone to mistakes because of physical limitations. To complicate matters, scribes sometimes corrected errors in their exemplars. Occasionally, their emendations were faulty, and in these cases they compounded the problem. Scribes usually made their corrections in the vertical margins of a manuscript or between the horizontal lines of script above the word (or words) in question. Such corrections and notations can be seen in the margins and between the lines of the famous Isaiah Scroll from Qumran.

The entire biblical discipline of textual criticism (lower criticism) rests on the assumption that by comparing a place where manuscripts of the same biblical book differ, scholars can determine which reading should be regarded as preferable or even authentic. For their own benefit and to assist other scholarly types, text critics have constructed a critical apparatus for each book of the Old and New Testaments. In the apparatus, in an abbreviated format, they have listed important variant readings found among manuscripts of the same biblical book. Information originating from a critical apparatus regularly appears in footnotes of English translations in the form of comments like “Dead Sea Scrolls and Syriac (See also Septuagint)…” and “Some witnesses read….”

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and The Greek New Testament are two standard critical editions of the Bible that feature critical apparatuses. By including a critical apparatus in each of these editions, text critics have indicated that they have collated and evaluated the variant readings of manuscripts. The committee of The Greek New Testament decided to add capital Roman letters to its apparatus as a means of rating readings that it adopted for the Greek text. The notation {A} signifies that an adopted reading is beyond doubt, whereas {D} indicates that a high degree of doubt is associated with an adopted reading.

Text critics labor hard to make reliable printed editions of the biblical text accessible. Their aim is accuracy. If textual scholars had inerrant manuscripts in their possession, they could greatly reduce their workload, because such an ideal manuscript would eliminate the need for assembling a critical apparatus.

Scholars who serve as translators generally work from printed critical editions and not manuscripts. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia is based on a manuscript known as Codex Leningradensis. Interestingly, New Testament text critics opted not to base their standard editions on a single manuscript. The text of The Greek New Testament is a composite, hybrid or “eclectic” text that incorporates elements (i.e., adopted readings) from different manuscripts. Generations of skilled text critics contributed to the construction of the Greek text that serves as the base text for The Greek New Testament. Its text is accurate and reliable, but such a Greek text probably never existed in its present form as the actual text of a biblical autograph.

Readers of the Bible know that each English translation has its own character. Most biblical verses can be translated in more than one way. Each standard English translation of the Bible has its strengths and weaknesses. Even the venerated King James Version and the popular New International Version have shortcomings alongside their advantages. Moreover, a translation cannot be superior to the source from which it emanates. If the nature of biblical manuscripts resists the application of the adjective “inerrant,” how much more so the nature of translations, because translations emanate directly (or indirectly) from those very same manuscripts.

The adjective “inerrant” implies singularity. Christians of every historical period (including those living today) are united by a common confession. An affirmation once made by converts undergoing baptism in the third century C.E. encapsulates our confession:

Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose the third day alive from the dead, and ascended into the heavens, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead.

Neither today nor in the past have all Christians agreed upon a singular (i.e., inerrant) canonical text. For example, while many North American Christians enjoy their NIV and KJV Bibles, Greek Orthodox believers revere the Septuagint as their canonical Old Testament.

I would suggest that we wean ourselves of describing Scripture with the adjective “inerrant.” To speak of the Bible as inspired reflects the language of Scripture (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17), but to speak of it as inerrant forces the adoption of an adjective that Scripture does not claim for itself. As alternatives, I would propose switching to “reliable” and “accurate.” The collective manuscript evidence of the Bible, the critical editions based on it, and the English translations derived from them are indeed accurate and reliable. I cannot easily escape the impression that when preachers and evangelists describe the Bible as inerrant, many of them are really making a claim about the church tradition to which they subscribe. Taking advantage of how dear the Bible is to their listeners, they blow a smoke screen into their faces. Behind the cover of obfuscating rhetoric, they adeptly shift the adjective “inerrant” from the Bible onto their dogmas. The maneuver can be accomplished easily, because the laity tends to be lax when it comes to matters requiring inquiry for verification. In contrast, scholars have invested much effort in trying to explain to the reading public the stages of bringing an ancient biblical book from manuscript to printed English. Articles entitled “Textual Criticism” are among the longest in Bible dictionaries. Sadly, however, they are also among the least read.

Studying the Gospels Synoptically

If you are a serious student who wishes to engage in careful, analytical study of the Gospels, you’ll need a few special tools in your study tool box. Obviously, tool number one is a Bible translation that you can readily understand and one that gives a reasonably literal rendering of the Greek texts of the New Testament. Having several translations handy as you study is even more helpful. A concordance and a good Greek lexicon are indispensable, too.

But, if there is one tool that facilitates Gospel studies more than any other study aid, it is a “Synopsis” of the Gospels. “Synopsis” is a word that was derived from two Greek words: opsis (seeing), and syn (together), to express the concept of “seeing together.” This term is used to describe a special version of the Gospel texts that presents each Gospel in its own column on a page. All four, or sometimes, the first three canonical Gospels are arranged side by side in columns, so that the texts can be compared with one another, or in other words, can be “seen together”.

Our first three canonical gospels are most often studied in this manner, since the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to be “seeing together” the events in the life and ministry of Yeshua (Jesus). For this reason, they are called the “Synoptic Gospels.” All three contain many of the same stories, sometimes in the same words, sometimes in different words. Luke and Mark may have very similar versions of various episodes in the Yeshua account, but these episodes may appear at different places in each of these gospels. A similar situation occurs in comparing Matthew with Luke or Mark. Consequently, it’s not enough to simply arrange Matthew, Mark and Luke in parallel columns in order to compare them with one another. Each of these gospels is arranged in a slightly different chronological order, and the authors have chosen to include parables, sayings, or incidents in different contexts that can make attempts at comparison a complex task.

To overcome this problem, compilers of Synopsis study aids have divided the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, (and sometimes John) into story units we refer to as pericopes. Technically, the plural is pericopae, and the singular is pericope.

These pericopae are usually named from a phrase that appears in the passage, or as a description of the passage, and the names are often similar in the different Synopses (the plural form) that are available today. In this manner, the story units from each gospel can be placed next to each other for easier comparison. In the Synopses, the pericopes are numbered for easier indexing and searching. Unfortunately, the numbering schemes differ from one Synopsis to another, but a cross index can be developed if it’s needed.

Where a phrase is missing in one gospel, a blank space is left in the text to call attention to the omission, and where a story unit does not appear in one gospel, the column is left blank and reduced in size. All things considered, a Synopsis makes the study of the gospels much easier.

I should mention here that a synopsis is unlike a Harmony of the Gospels which is an attempt to “harmonize,” or blend, the texts together for a more comprehensive story. A synopsis allows us to see the differences in each Gospel—which is often valuable in understanding the texts and determining the better readings.

I first used a Synopsis many years ago when dear friends presented me with a copy of Throckmorton’s Gospel Parallels, Fourth Edition. The text was the Revised Standard Version, and this book revolutionized my study of the Synoptic Gospels.

Some years later, we organized a Synoptics study group from our fellowship, and we all purchased copies of the new fifth edition. This edition uses the New Revised Standard text, and has useful features not included in the earlier editions. Throckmorton’s pericope order and numbering system is based on a Greek language synopsis compiled by German scholar Albert Huck in the late 1800’s. Another German scholar, Johann Jakob Griesbach, had published the first Greek synopsis in 1774-1776.

On the occasion of a 2002 seminar on the Synoptic Gospels, I looked into purchasing more copies of Throckmorton’s from Thomas Nelson Publishers and found to my dismay that it was out of stock—and apparently out of print.

Earlier this year, I looked on the internet to see if I could find a few leftover copies somewhere for another Synoptics study class, and was pleased to find that Throckmorton’s Gospel Parallels, Fifth Edition was once again available! While searching the web, I also discovered that this volume is a required text for courses in a number of seminaries and colleges. The book is available from Thomas Nelson Publishers, or from bookstores. The price at Christian Book Distributors is $25.00 (CBD #WW74842).

Throckmorton’s synopsis includes a pronunciation guide for technical terms, good background information on Greek and Syriac manuscripts of the Gospels, and quite a few notes about variant readings in the manuscripts. This is all valuable information, so Throckmorton’s is worth considering for your study needs.

Christian Book Distributors also carries two other good synopses:

Aland’s Synopsis of the Four Gospels includes the Fourth Gospel and is available for $18.99 (CBD #WW02706). This is the English-only version, which is fine for most people.

Aland’s Synopsis in Greek and English is $120.00 from CBD, but only those who can understand Greek would need this one (CBD #WW56691). This seems to be the preferred version for scholars these days.

Another Synopsis is to be published in the near future, but we don’t have a definite date for it yet. It’s a new work by Zeba Crook which promises to be an excellent study tool, even for students who have not yet studied Greek. Zeba includes definitions for the Greek words that he uses in his discussions. [This synopsis, Parallel Gospels: A Synopsis of Early Christian Writing, was published by Oxford University Press in November, 2011. – Editor]

Dennis Sullivan

Did the Early Scribes Understand John 9:3 Correctly?

The punctuation found in later manuscripts was added by scribes, and is not original to the New Testament. As such, the punctuation that has been passed on to us is the product of the scribes’ own interpretation.

Imagine trying to read a book in which the words are not separated by spaces, and the phrases are not marked by punctuation of any sort, so that all you see is a continuous stream of letters for which you must provide your own word- and phrase-stops. Not only would the unusual condition of the text slow you down a great deal, but you would also, at times, be at a loss to know the precise meaning of certain sentences, because punctuation guides the way in which we interpret texts.

Believe it or not, this is how the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts were written. The punctuation found in later manuscripts was added by scribes, and is not original to the New Testament. As such, the punctuation that has been passed on to us is the product of the scribes’ own interpretation. Of course, this means that there may be places where the scribes punctuated incorrectly (i.e., not in keeping with the intended meaning), so that all the various translations of the Greek have gotten it wrong, causing us to misunderstand the intended meaning. Several years ago, it occurred to me that this might be the case with John 9:1-5.

In John 9:1-5, the punctuation of the (later) punctuated Greek texts is the equivalent of that found in our English versions, and this allows me to discuss the passage by referring to the English text. John 9:1-5 reads as follows:

[1] And as [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. [2] And his disciples asked him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” [3] Jesus answered, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. [4] I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night is coming when no one can work. [5] As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”[1]

I suggest that verse 3 should be punctuated differently, in two ways: (1) the colon after “parents” should be changed to a full stop (i.e., a period), so that “but that the works…” begins an entirely new sentence, and (2) the period at the end of verse 3 should be changed to a comma, so that the phrase, “But that the works of God should be made manifest in him” modifies what Jesus says in verse 4. (You may think it strange to begin a new sentence with “But,” but this is not strange within the Greek New Testament.) With this new punctuation, the passage reads as follows:

[1] And as [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. [2] And his disciples asked him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” [3] Jesus answered, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents. But that the works of God should be made manifest in him, [4] I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night is coming when no one can work. [5] As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

To my mind, “But that the works…” begins not only a new sentence, but a whole new paragraph. I have three reasons for preferring this new punctuation: (1) It is troubling to think that the man Jesus refers to was born blind just so that God could be glorified by healing him after he reached adulthood, and the new punctuation relieves the text of such a notion; (2) Jesus’ response to the disciples, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents,” functions within the narrative of the chapter as nothing more than a negation of the Pharisees’ (later) assertion that the man was born in sin; and (3) the word translated “made manifest” (Greek phanerow) denotes the notion of appearing visibly (as if “in the light”), and this connects nicely with Jesus’ reference to working “while it is day,” before night comes. Jesus is saying (metaphorically) that the works of God can be seen only during daylight hours.

Healing Blind Man
Jesus’ healing of a blind man as depicted in the sixth-century C.E. illuminated Rossano Gospels manuscript. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I invite you to read the whole passage with this new punctuation in mind. I think you will find this reading altogether more satisfactory, both literarily and theologically.[2]

  • [1] Since my argument is really about the state of the Greek text, this translation follows the Greek more closely than, say, the NRSV.
  • [2] This article is based on a study that I published in New Testament Studies in 1996.

Paraphrastic Gospels

As Robert Lindsey realized in 1962, Mark reworked Luke’s Gospel in writing his own. Mark liked to substitute synonyms for nearly anything that Luke wrote. If, for instance, Luke used the singular of a noun, Mark substituted the plural form of the same noun in writing his Gospel. And vice versa: if Luke used the plural, Mark substituted the singular. In this article, Robert Lindsey surveys a unique substitution category found in Mark’s Gospel: the replacing of one verse of Scripture with another.

The four Evangelists of the Greek New Testament, though concurring at many points, demonstrate a remarkable degree of disparity when retelling their versions of the life of Jesus. This is especially true of Mark and John.[1] Their accounts are very early Greek paraphrases of the gospel records.[2] Mark’s Gospel predates John’s by about forty years, and it will be the Markan paraphrastic method that will occupy our attention here.

When reading Matthew, Mark and Luke in modern translation, a reader generally cannot see the differences in wording of the underlying Greek texts. This is because the differences are often synonymic. If perceptible at all, they can easily escape notice. In scores of places, where Luke used a certain word or phrase, Mark used an equivalent, but different word or phrase. The best way to grasp how Mark operates is to look at examples from the Gospels themselves.

Markan Synonyms

In Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26, there is a story about a paralytic who is carried to Jesus on some sort of stretcher. Matthew and Luke agree against Mark that the paralytic was carried on a κλίνη (kline).[3] Mark has chosen κράβαττος (krabattos) as a synonym.[4] The variance is reflected in the New American Standard BibleKline is translated as “bed” and krabattos as “pallet.”

Added Detail and Dramatization

Late third-century fresco from the catacombs in Rome depicting the woman who touched one of the tassels (tsitsiyot) of Jesus' garment.
Late third-century fresco from the catacombs in Rome depicting the woman who touched one of the tassels (tsitsiyot) of Jesus’ garment.

A slightly different example is found in the story about the woman with a hemorrhage. Matthew 9:20 and Luke 8:44 both say that the woman “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment,” whereas Mark 5:27 says that “she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment.” In this case, the slight change from προσελθοῦσα (proselthousa; coming, approaching) to ἐλθοῦσα (elthousa; coming) is not reflected in English translations;[5] but Mark’s addition of ἐν τῷ ὄχκῳ (en to ochlo, in the crowd) and omission of τοῦ κρασπέδου (tou kraspedou, the fringe) are.[6] Furthermore, Mark 5:26 includes details that are absent in Matthew and Luke: the woman “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent everything she had, but instead of getting better she grew worse.” These added details are characteristic of Mark’s method. He enjoys enriching his story with vivid tidbits of information. In Mark 1:41 he reports that Jesus was moved with compassion; in Mark 4:38, that Jesus was fast asleep on a cushion; in Mark 6:39, that the people sat on green grass; and in Mark 6:13, that the twelve anointed the sick with oil.[7]

Replacement of Scripture Quotations

The above synonymic interchanges and supplemental details are mild examples of Mark’s paraphrastic tendencies. To catch a glimpse of more dramatic ways in which Mark paraphrastically handled his primary written source (i.e., Luke’s Gospel), we need only examine Mark’s quotations from Scripture. When Luke quotes from Scripture, Mark usually cites a different verse or alters Luke’s verse by expanding or changing certain of its features.

Isaiah or Malachi?

In Matthew 3:1-6, Mark 1:1-6 and Luke 3:1-6, John’s preparatory ministry is described. To clarify John’s role, Luke quotes from Isaiah 40:3-5. He specifically informs the reader that the quotation comes from the prophet Isaiah. Mark, too, says that he is quoting from Isaiah, but only includes Isaiah 40:3. Perhaps compensating for the dropping of Isaiah 40:4-5, Mark inserts (before the quotation from Isaiah!), “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way.” For one reason or another Mark does not inform the reader that he has introduced Malachi 3:1 into a context supposedly representing what was said by Isaiah.

Emmanuel Tzanes-  St. Mark the Evangelist
Icon of St. Mark the Evangelist by Emmanuel Tzanes. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What motivated Mark to do such a thing? It appears that Mark has been influenced by a second gospel story that speaks about John the Baptist. In Luke 7:27, Jesus claimed John to be the one whom the prophet Malachi described. Despite the fact that John did not formally join Jesus’ movement, Jesus strongly affirmed John’s ministry by saying that “none of those ‘born of women’ is greater than John.” Having been impressed by such marvelous statements about John, Mark lifted Malachi 3:1 from this second John the Baptist context. When he placed the Malachi verse from Luke 7:27 into the first John the Baptist context of Luke 3:4, he inadvertently ended up suggesting that the compound reference stems from Isaiah. Note also that Mark chose to drop, in its entirety, the second John the Baptist context at the place where Jesus affirms John’s role of heralding the Coming One.[8] The placement of the Malachi verse at the beginning of his Gospel in the context of John’s preaching and baptizing activities strongly suggests that Mark knew the material preserved in Luke 7:24-35, but opted not to include it in his retelling of the gospel story. Instead, he merely hinted at Jesus’ affirming witness of John by relocating a key verse.

Psalms or Isaiah?

Earliest known representation of the Jewish form of baptism. This fresco, found in the second-century Callistus catacomb in Rome, depicts Jesus after he had immersed himself being assisted out of the Jordan River by John the Baptist.
Earliest known depiction of Jesus’ baptism. After immersing himself, Jesus climbs out of the Jordan River with John the Baptist’s assistance. A dove hovers in the upper left corner of the image. This fresco was found in the late second-century crypt of Lucina in the catacombs of Rome.

According to Luke 3:22, the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism quoted Psalms 2:7: “You are my son. Today I have begotten you.”[9] According to Mark 1:11, however, the heavenly voice said: “You are my son, my beloved. With you I am well pleased,” which is apparently a combination of Psalms 2:7, Isaiah 44:2 and 62:4.[10]

Psalms 31 or 22?

The last words Jesus spoke on the cross are not identical in the first three Gospels. Luke records that Jesus quoted from Psalms 31:5: “Into your hands [literally, ‘hand’] I entrust my spirit. You will redeem me, O LORD; you are a faithful God” (Luke 23:46). Mark, however, writes that Jesus quoted in Aramaic from Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you far from delivering me, from the words of my groaning?” (Mark 15:34). Mark’s version is certainly difficult to grapple with theologically. Did God abandon Jesus? Or is this simply another example of Mark’s editorial replacement habit? Throughout his Gospel, Mark does portray Jesus as being abandoned by family members, trusted disciples, and here, perhaps, even by God.

As Shmuel Safrai has noted, “It seems likely that Jesus, who in the last days before his crucifixion had already told his disciples of his impending death and its meaning, would recite in his final moments the verse from Psalm 31, ‘Into your hands I entrust my spirit,’ rather than the verse from Psalm 22, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”[11] Luke has preserved a magnificent glimpse of Jesus as an observant Jew. Psalms 31:5 is even today still part of the standard, Jewish deathbed confession.[12] This prayer is exactly what one would anticipate on the lips of a dying, observant Jew.

Editorial Changes

These differences between Mark and Luke in quotations of Scripture appear to be due to the editorial changes of one of the authors. In nearly every case, evidence exists suggesting that Luke’s text is earlier, more Hebraic, or more comprehensible. To my mind, Mark had Luke’s Gospel before him as he wrote and did not hesitate to lace the story with additional elements.


How does Mark’s paraphrastic habit affect our perception of the formation of Scripture? Ancient Jews, including the followers of Jesus, did not make the often arbitrary distinction moderns make between translation and interpretation.[13] This ancient attitude can be readily seen when we study the Septuagint and targums vis-à-vis the Hebrew Masoretic Text. The Septuagint and targums are often as much paraphrastic interpretations as they are translations. The eminent Jewish scholar, Saul Lieberman, once described the Septuagint as the oldest of the preserved midrashim.[14] Moreover, Josephus, a famous contemporary of Mark, claimed in his Jewish Antiquities to be recording in Greek a precise account of Israel’s history based upon the Hebrew Scriptures themselves (Ant. 1:5, 17), but according to modern standards, produced a free, paraphrastic retelling of the biblical narrative.

Thus, Mark’s manner of writing should neither surprise nor undermine our concept of the formation of Scripture. Rather, our concept of the formation of Scripture must be broad enough and sufficiently informed to accommodate Mark’s methods. The ancient records indicate that Jews and Christians living in the first two centuries of this era embraced an understanding of inspiration of Scripture that was broader and less rigid than that embraced by many Christians today. Our views of inspiration often place demands on the Synoptic Gospels that they were never intended to bear. The Jesus who is forced out of the text under such demands tends to have a steamrolled appearance. He usually resembles one of us—a good Baptist, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Pentecostal, or whatever the denominational orientation of the reader may be. To correct our habits, we must strive to see the Gospels as an organic part of Second Temple-period Judaism’s rich diversity. Only then can we come to terms with Mark’s method and begin to bring the demands we place on the gospel texts in line with those they are able to bear.

Editors’ note: Out of esteem for our teacher, Robert Lindsey, we have collaborated to make this article and his “Unlocking the Synoptic Problem: Four Keys for Better Understanding Jesus” (Jerusalem Perspective 49 [Oct.-Dec. 1995], 10-17, 38) available to our readers. These articles mark the end of Robert Lindsey’s scholarly career. With his health waning and incapacitated by a series of strokes that accompanied the diabetes from which he suffered, Dr. Lindsey was able to complete only a first or second draft of each article. Though we could not preserve Dr. Lindsey’s writing style, great effort was made to preserve faithfully the content of his articles. We are responsible for the articles’ conclusions and footnotes. — David Bivin and Joseph Frankovic

  • [1] A rule of thumb is: Opposite a parallel story in Luke, Mark will change up to fifty percent of Luke’s words; where Matthew has a story parallel to Mark, Matthew will copy about seventy percent of the words found in Mark, but give, against Mark, about ten percent of the words Luke uses; where John has a story parallel to one found in the synoptic tradition, he will have phrases reflecting one or more of the synoptic documents, resulting in a mixing of the words, especially the words of Mark and Luke—less often copying readings from Matthean parallels.
  • [2] One helpful way of viewing John’s Gospel is in light of the Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a retelling of the Exodus and wilderness experience. It is a theological reflection on the past and a restating of the commandments, to prepare the Israelites for the transition from a nomadic to an agriculturally based, sedentary lifestyle. In particular, certain aspects of the biblical commandments were developed and emphasized to meet new challenges. The Gospel of John is similar. It represents a theological development in the presentation of who Jesus is. Moreover, John’s method is freer than Mark’s.
  • [3] Cf. Matt. 9:2 with Luke 5:18, and Matt. 9:6 with Luke 5:24. In Luke 5:24 the word κλινίδιον (klinidion, a little bed), the diminutive of κλίνη (kline), is used.
  • [4] Cf. Mark 2:4, 11.
  • [5] The change from proselthousa to elthousa in Mark 5:27 and the change from kline to krabattos in Mark 2:1-12, both examples from the Triple Tradition, are places where Matthew and Luke agree against Mark. Such agreements are termed “minor agreements” by scholars. For the significance of these minor agreements against Mark, see Nigel Turner, “The Minor Verbal Agreements of Mt. and Lk. Against Mk.,” Studia Evangelica 73 (1959): 223-234; and E. P. Sanders, “The Overlaps of Mark and Q and the Synoptic Problem,” New Testament Studies 19 (1973): 453-465.
  • [6] The Greek κράσπεδον (kraspedon) is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew צִיצִית (tsitsit, tassel). Cf. Numbers 15:38. Matthew and Luke make clear that the woman touched the braided tassels that were attached to the corners of an observant Jew’s garment.
  • [7] Some scholars term the additional details provided by Mark “Markan freshness” and view such additions as evidence of the primitive nature or originality of Mark. These extra details, however, are often lifted from other books of the New Testament or the Septuagint. Already at the turn of the twentieth century Benjamin Bacon had noticed Mark’s habit of lifting material from other sources. See Bacon’s comments to Mark 1:1 (Hosea 1:2, LXX), Mark 1:13 (Naphtali 8:4), Mark 6:13 (James 5:14), Mark 6:23 (Esther 5:3), and Mark 7:19 (Acts 10:15; 11:9) in The Beginnings of the Gospel Story: A Historico-Critical Inquiry into the Sources and Structure of the Gospel According to Mark, with Expository notes upon the text, for English Readers (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1909), 8, 13, 66, 75, 89.
  • [8] Cf. Matt. 11:7-19 and Luke 7:24-35.
  • [9] In most English translations all three synoptic writers appear to agree upon the words of the heavenly voice: “You are my son, my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Yet, there is a variant reading for Luke 3:22. This reading is attested by the fifth-sixth-century Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis manuscript, the Old Latin manuscripts, the Gospel of the Ebionites, and by several church fathers. The variant reading is, “You are my son. Today I have begotten you.” This is a quotation from Psalms 2:7 and is much more suitable in the context of Jesus’ baptism, the commencement of Jesus’ public ministry. Luke’s text was likely “corrected” by a scribe to bring it into alignment with Matt. 3:17 and Mark 1:11. This scribal tendency of aligning the wording of one synoptic text with the other two can be seen in numerous places, if we pay close attention to the readings of the various New Testament manuscripts.

    For a discussion of this variant reading, see Alfred R. C. Leaney, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke, in Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1958), 110-111. Though agreeing with the editors of the United Bible Societies’ third corrected edition, who accept the reading, “You are my son, my beloved. With you I am well pleased,” Joseph A. Fitzmyer has a helpful discussion of the variant in The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), The Anchor Bible, Vol. 28 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1981), 485.

  • [10] Mark may have been influenced by Luke 20:13 in his choice of “beloved.”
  • [11] Shmuel Safrai, “Spoken Languages in the Time of Jesus,” Jerusalem Perspective 30 (Jan./Feb. 1991): 8. Note that Stephen also quoted from Psalms 31:5 as he was being put to death (Acts 7:59; cf. John 19:30), and Peter exhorted those who were sharing the sufferings of Jesus to commit their souls to God (1 Pet. 4:19).
  • [12] Cf. The Authorized Daily Prayer Book, ed. Joseph H. Hertz (rev. ed.; New York: Bloch Publishing, 1948), 1065.
  • [13] See Joseph Frankovic, “Pieces to the Synoptic Puzzle: Papias and Luke 1:1-4,” Jerusalem Perspective 40 (1993): 12-13.
  • [14] Saul Lieberman,Greek in Jewish Palestine/Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1994), 50.

Gergesa: Site of the Demoniac’s Healing

The steep slope of the "precipice," swept bare by a recent fire (view west across the lake). (Photo courtesy of Janet Frankovic.)
The steep slope of the “precipice,” swept bare by a recent fire (view west across the lake). (Photo courtesy of Janet Frankovic.)

One of the miracles performed by Jesus during his stay with the Sea of Galilee fishermen is known in Christian tradition as the “Healing of the Demon-possessed Man,” and also, more popularly, as the “Miracle of the Swine” (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). The story actually begins at Capernaum, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus lived for a time at the house of Jonah the fisherman and his sons, Simon Peter and Andrew.

One day Jesus wished to get away from the crowds that were surrounding him. It was winter, the season when fishermen, then as now, took their boats to sea in the afternoon, to the sardine fishing grounds near Gergesa, about eight kilometers across the water from Capernaum. Jesus went down to the harbor at Capernaum and entered the boat of one of his disciples. He sailed with his disciples “over to the other side.”

On this particular winter day, Jesus performed not one, but two miracles. The first had to do with the weather: his boat and the other boats that set out for the fishing grounds were suddenly struck by a great storm, and “waves beat into the boat” (Mark 4:37). Such sudden storms are typical of the Sea of Galilee in winter. The frightened disciples clustered around their master, who happened to be sleeping peacefully in the stern of the boat. They woke him and asked fearfully, “Master, don’t you care if we die?”

So Jesus rose and “rebuked” the wind and told it to be calm, and the storm stopped. Then he rebuked his disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And the boat came safely to the other side.

As Jesus got out of the boat and stepped ashore, a man approached him who was clearly what today we would call psychotic. In the manner of the time, he claimed that “a legion of devils” lived inside him, “possessed” him, and he begged Jesus to cure him.

Jesus agreed to drive out the devils, and sent them into a herd of swine that happened to be feeding on a nearby hill. The suddenly crazed swine ran violently down a ridge and jumped off a precipice into the Sea of Galilee, where they drowned.

Site of the Miracle

Remains of the Kursi harbor's breakwater were completely exposed in the 1989-1991 drought (view to the south). In the distance, behind the grove of trees on the shore, can be seen the precipice from which, according to tradition, the swine plunged into the lake.
Remains of the Kursi harbor’s breakwater were completely exposed in the 1989-1991 drought (view to the south). In the distance, behind the grove of trees on the shore, can be seen the precipice from which, according to tradition, the swine plunged into the lake.

Where did this miracle take place? There are three candidates. The best manuscript of the synoptic gospels, Codex Vaticanus, reads “the land of the Gerasenes” in Mark and Luke’s accounts of the miracle, and “the land of the Gadarenes” in Matthew’s; however, there is also good manuscript evidence for a third site: “the land of the Gergesenes.” Therefore, did the miracle take place near Gergesa, known today as Kursi, on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee; or did it take place in the region of the Greek city of Gadara, south of the Sea of Galilee, where an Arab village known as Um Keis later occupied the site; or did it occur even further south, near the Greek city of Gerasa?

The Jerusalem Talmud, redacted in Tiberias on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee, provides a clue. It connects the area around Susita-Hippos, near Kursi, with the Girgashites, one of the seven Canaanite nations at the time of the Israelite conquest.

Small stone anchors and fishing net weights that were found on the lake shore a few hundred meters south of Kursi harbor moments before they were photographed. Twine and small screwdrivers mark the holes in the stones.
Small stone anchors and fishing net weights that were found on the lake shore a few hundred meters south of Kursi harbor moments before they were photographed. Twine and small screwdrivers mark the holes in the stones.

Another ancient name with a similar sound is connected with the Susita region, namely, the Geshurites, who lived in an Aramaic kingdom that existed in King David’s time east of the lake. The Septuagint gives “Gergesites” for “Geshurites” (Josh. 12:5). The Midrash, too, refers to “Gergeshta [the Aramaic equivalent of Gergesa], on the eastern side of Lake Tiberias.” According to the Midrash, in the future, when Gog, the hostile force from the land of Magog, invades Israel and is defeated in an apocalyptic war, God will point to the graves of Gog, which will extend from Jerusalem to Gergeshta. All this seems to indicate that, of the three names, Gergesa is the most accurate and most firmly rooted in geography and tradition, and that the plain of Kursi is in fact the land of the Gergesenes, or part of it.

Already in the third century, the early church father Origen reached the conclusion that the names Gadara and Gerasa are suspect. He uses the name Gergesa in describing an ancient town close to the lake where there was a precipice near the shore. This, Origen says, was the place where the demons drove the swine into the lake. The name Gergesa, he adds, was prophetic, in that the Hebrew word garesh means “to drive out”; and indeed, the residents of this town did drive out Jesus. No other church father has provided a clearer geographical designation.

A stone threshold lying on its side, a remnant of the public building that, perhaps, was the synagogue at Kursi. At one end of this basalt threshold is a socket (marked by an inserted reed; at upper right). Originally, a door hinge rested in the socket. (Photo courtesy of Janet Frankovic.)
A stone threshold lying on its side, a remnant of the public building that, perhaps, was the synagogue at Kursi. At one end of this basalt threshold is a socket (marked by an inserted reed; at upper right). Originally, a door hinge rested in the socket. (Photo courtesy of Janet Frankovic.)

How did the names Gerasa and Gadara enter the gospel accounts? In the opinion of the renowned scholar Gustaf Dalman (Sacred Sites and Ways, p. 178), it may be assumed that the name Gerasa was employed by a gospel writer who was unfamiliar with the geography of the region. The name Gergesa sounded strange to him; therefore, he “corrected” it, substituting a similar sounding and familiar name—Gerasa, the name of a well-known Greek city east of the Jordan. Then, Dalman suggests, another gospel writer who was more familiar with the local geography, in an attempt to correct the error, substituted Gadara, the name of a Greek city located above the Yarmuk River on a ridge southeast of the lake.

There is a certain geographic basis for the name Gadara, since the city’s domain extended to the southeastern shore of the lake (see my forthcoming The “Land of the Gadarenes”: New Light on an Old Sea of Galilee Puzzle). This latter gospel writer, however, did not know the fishing and sailing habits of Sea of Galilee fishermen; consequently, he, too, erred. The boat of Jesus’ disciples was on its way, together with other fishing boats from Capernaum, to the sardine fishing grounds of Kursi, where, in winter, work starts shortly before sunset. Gergesa (Kursi) is across the lake from Capernaum, a distance of only eight kilometers; but the district of Gadara is not “across to the other side” (Mark 4:35; Luke 8:22), rather it is at the other, or southern, end of the lake, a distance of over sixteen kilometers from Capernaum. Fishermen, cautious by nature, were not in the habit of sailing such distances, particularly in the dangerous winter season.

The Land of the Gergesenes

On the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, five kilometers north of modern Kibbutz Ein Gev, a small peninsula extends into the lake. At this point, roughly parallel to the shore, there is a small valley three kilometers long and about one-half kilometer wide. The valley continues into the lake forming a wide shoal. This shoal is, and has always been, the best sardine fishing grounds in the lake.

The beautiful Valley of Kursi (view to the north), probably the "land of the Gergesenes" (Luke 8:26. (Photo courtesy of Mendel Nun.)
The beautiful Valley of Kursi (view to the north), probably the “land of the Gergesenes” (Luke 8:26. (Photo courtesy of Mendel Nun.)

The valley and its shoal make up the delta of a stream that descends from the Golan Heights. The canyon formed by the stream is known in Arabic as Wadi Samak, meaning “Canyon of Fish.” The name may indeed be very ancient, for the word “samak” means fish in Aramaic and Ugaritic.

The Valley of Kursi—the “land of the Gergesenes” in the New Testament—with its abundant water supply, fertile land, and fishing grounds, has been inhabited since time immemorial. The mouth of the Samak Canyon is unique—wide, rectangular, steep, and closed at the back, to the east. It looks like a giant armchair, which is probably the origin of its name: Kursi (variant, Kursa) means “armchair” in Semitic languages.

Kursi in Jewish Sources

Map of the Sea of Galilee's ancient harbors. Sixteen harbors have recently been discovered, thirteen of them by the author.
Map of the Sea of Galilee’s ancient harbors. Sixteen harbors have recently been discovered, thirteen of them by the author.

A settlement named Kursi, or Kursa, is mentioned several times in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, but with no clues as to the site’s location. According to one of these talmudic traditions, the pagan temple of Nebo occupied a site named Kursi (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 11b); but there is no indication whether the temple was in the land of Israel or in Babylon. The Jerusalem Talmud mentions the burial, by residents of Kursa, of a man from a nearby village (j. Moed Katan 82c, chpt. 3, halachah 5). The Jerusalem Talmud also mentions a second-century C.E. sage named Ya’akov ben Korshai, that is, Jacob of Korsha or Kurs(h)a (j. Shabbat 12c, chpt. 10, halachah 5; j. Pesahim 37b, chpt. 10, halachah 1).

At the close of the Second Temple period, Gergesa was part of the territory of the Greek city of Hippos, and its name does not appear in the list of villages that had purely Jewish population and were required to pay taxes and donations to the temple in Jerusalem. On the other hand, Avanish, a neighboring village on the southern bank of the Samak, does appear in the list. From this evidence and the gospel story of the Gergesene demoniac, it may be assumed that non-Jews as well as Jews lived in Gergesa.

The Fishing Harbor

After the Six Day War in June 1967, remains of a Jewish settlement from the Roman-Byzantine period began to come to light. In 1970, archaeologists carried out an underwater survey along the lake’s coast near Tel Kursi. The divers discovered the foundations of an anchorage. These, no doubt, are the ruins of the ancient harbor of Gergesa.

A perfect row of heavy basalt foundation stones, remains of the massive breakwater that protected Kursi’s harbor. (Photo courtesy of Janet Frankovic.)

The remains of this harbor can be seen from the shore during most months of the year—provided one knows what to look for. A breakwater, encircling an area of 1,500 square meters, juts out from the shore, curves slightly for 150 meters and rejoins the shore. The harbor is one hundred meters long, with a maximum width of twenty-five meters. The entrance was at the northern, calmer side. As it leaves the shore, the breakwater is four meters wide, and five to six meters wide further out, as protection against storms from the south and west. The workmanship of the breakwater is excellent: the layers of basalt boulders have chiseled outer surfaces.

Ruins (interior) of the holding tank for the live fish. (Photo courtesy of Janet Frankovic.)
Ruins (interior) of the holding tank for the live fish. (Photo courtesy of Janet Frankovic.)

The harbor is the heart of a complex of facilities that made up a fishing village. North of the anchorage, the remains of a plastered rectangular storage tank, three by three and a half meters, can be distinguished. (Although originally built on the shore, well out of danger from high waves, the tank is now partially submerged because the lake’s level has been raised nearly a meter by modern engineers.) The tank was used to store fish brought in several times a day by dragnet hauls. A supply of fresh running water made it possible to keep the catch alive for several days. This ancient method is more sophisticated than recent methods: until the 1950s fishermen had to drag their catch behind their boats in wooden cages. The tank received its water not from the lake, but via an aqueduct that carried water in special terra-cotta pipe from the Samak stream. The rectangular foundations of a quay (eight by five meters) can be seen between the tank and the lake. Here fishermen unloaded their catch and bargained with the fishmongers.

Foundations of a large building with a mosaic floor were found to the north of the tank. More than a hundred lead dragnet sinkers were found in proximity to the building, connecting their use to the time the building functioned, perhaps as the harbor and fish market’s administrative center. Pottery unearthed from silt covering the inside of the harbor dates to the Roman-Byzantine period. Remains of the settlement, which flourished here from before the Arab conquest, are dispersed for about half a kilometer along the shore. At a later period, the settlement was limited to the tell itself, which grew to a height of six meters and covered an area of three acres. Remains of a Roman road leading from the main road to the settlement were found by the author in 1975.

At the northern end of the site, wave action has exposed part of a large building containing two layers of a colored mosaic floor. The building is surrounded by broken columns and marble fragments. This is apparently the synagogue of Kursi, “the synagogue of Jonadab son of Rechab in Kursia above the Lake of Tiberias,” which is mentioned in an eleventh-century list of holy sites for Jewish pilgrims, a kind of pilgrim’s guidebook.

The discovery of Kursi’s harbor paved the way for surveys of other ancient harbors surrounding the lake. To date, sixteen such harbors have been discovered.

Plan of the Kursi-Gergesa harbor. Note the two surviving sections of the pipe that carried water from the aqueduct to the fish tank. (Drawing by Mendel Nun.)
Plan of the Kursi-Gergesa harbor. Note the two surviving sections of the pipe that carried water from the aqueduct to the fish tank. (Drawing by Mendel Nun.)

Reconstructing the Words of Jesus

The Bible texts were originally written down in three languages: the Jewish Bible in Hebrew and a bit of Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek. However, none of the extant manuscripts is the original document written by one of the authors of the books of the Bible. Those first versions have long ago been lost. Fortunately for us, they were painstakingly copied over and over again, and handed down from one generation to the next.

Copying and Translating

When a person copies a document of any length, he is bound to make some mistakes. Even the most skilled scribe may misspell words or skip letters, words or even whole lines. (See David Bivin, “Scirbal Scribal Errors.”) As we read the copy, we may be able to see just where a mistake has been made and easily correct it. If we have another copy of the same document to compare with, the job is that much easier. In fact, the more copies we have to compare, the more we can be sure that we are reconstructing the original accurately.

The texts of the Hebrew Bible were not only copied, they were also translated into other languages such as Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic and Ethiopic. Another valid way to get an independent picture of the original is to translate these other early versions back into Hebrew. After this has been done, the scholar can compare the results with the Masoretic (traditional) text and other biblical manuscripts such as those found in the Judean Desert caves and the Samaritan Pentateuch.

The printed Hebrew Bible which translators use contains the Masoretic text as its base, with various alternate readings from other ancient versions cited in footnotes. Because we have dozens of complete or partial manuscripts of this text to compare, we can be quite sure that the readings we choose accurately represent the original.

Biblical Manuscripts

When we come to the New Testament, the situation is many times more certain, for we have more than 5,000 manuscripts containing parts or all of the New Testament. Here, however, we do not have one basic text to which we attach variant readings, for no single New Testament text has been preserved the way the Jewish people preserved the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible.

Therefore, New Testament textual critics have spent thousands of hours comparing the many manuscripts and deciding what is the most likely original wording. Because it is a process of selecting the best reading word by word, we call this an “eclectic” text, from the Greek word meaning “to select.” Most of the existing manuscripts agree with the final eclectic text in more than ninety-eight per cent of the wording, but no one of them agrees with it at every point. This is to be expected, since extant manuscripts represent the result of copying over several centuries, with the possible introduction of minor deviations from the original along the way.

We can say that the texts which translators use are, to a high degree of probability, extremely close to the originals of Moses, Isaiah, Paul and the other Bible writers. There is one notable exception to this, however. Remember what we said about the helpfulness of translating other language versions of the Jewish Bible back into Hebrew to arrive at the original wording. Parts of the synoptic Gospels are also translations of an original or originals. If we keep in mind that Jesus and his disciples and hearers were not speaking Greek but rather Hebrew or Aramaic, or both, then we can see that we will only arrive at Jesus’ original words by translating the Greek texts of speeches in the synoptic Gospels back into their Semitic original.


One simple example will suffice to show how this kind of translating would work. In Revelation 19, the Greek text four times uses the word ἁλληλουϊά (hallelouia), which is in fact a simple transliteration of the Hebrew הַלְלוּיָהּ (haleluyah, hallelujah). Some of our modern translations here read “Praise the Lord.” They have recognized the Hebrew behind the Greek and have translated it rather than leaving the transliteration. No New Testament translation to date, however, has attempted to apply this principle to the words of Jesus in the Gospels.

The only exception to this is the word “amen.” The Greek has transliterated the Hebrew אָמֵן (amen) as ἀμήν (amen), a meaningless combination of letters in Greek. English translators, recognizing the Hebrew, have generally not followed the Greek in transliterating “amen,” but have given an approximate translation of the Hebrew—”verily” or “truly” (see David Bivin, “Amen: Introduction or Response“).

The Divine Name in the Hebrew New Testament

God has a personal name: יהוה (YHVH). Like Semitic names in general, it was intended to reflect something of the bearer’s character. YHVH is related to the root הוה (h-v-h, “to be”), and reflects God’s eternity and timelessness.

The name of the God of Israel contained power and was used with reverence. The third commandment said it was not to be “taken in vain,” which meant that people were not to swear falsely by God’s name. However, this commandment came to be interpreted in its narrowest sense, and somewhere between the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C. and the third century A.D., people stopped using the name at all when speaking.

When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in the third century B.C., the tetragrammaton was often substituted by the Greek word κύριος (kyrios), which means “Lord.” This causes a slight complication when we read, because there is already a word for “lord” in Hebrew, which is sometimes applied to God either in its singular form, אָדוֹן (adon), or as a plural with first person singular pronominal suffix, אֲדֹנָי (adonai, Lord; literally, “my lords”).[1] Thus it is not always possible in the Septuagint to tell whether the original underlying Hebrew referring to God was the tetragrammaton, adonai, or some other word.

Greek to Hebrew

This problem does not exist when translating the New Testament into most languages: translators just use the word for “lord.” However, in the Hebrew translation of the New Testament it was necessary to decide at each appearance of kyrios whether to render adonai or YHVH or something else. In the case of quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures the decision is simple enough. In a passage such as Matthew 22:44, the modern Hebrew New Testament returns to the original of Psalm 110:1 and reads, “נְאֻם יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי [ne’um YHVH (by tradition read as adonailadoni],” where English translations have rendered, “The Lord [or LORD] said to my Lord.”

Notice in the above example that Matthew is quoting words which Jesus spoke to an audience. Would Jesus or anyone else in the New Testament have actually pronounced the Divine Name? The answer must be no. However, the translators felt justified in leaving the original wording of the Psalm, even though Jesus would have spoken the words “ne’um adonai ladoni,” substituting adonai for the tetragrammaton. In this case they were copying from the original Psalm rather than quoting the actual words which came out of Jesus’ mouth.[2]

Other instances where God is spoken of in direct speech are in the words of Elizabeth, Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1:28, 46, 68. In all of these cases the first edition of the modern Hebrew New Testament used YHVH to translate kyrios, although the three speakers would have said adonai, as will the modern reader.

Hebrew to Greek

The Septuagint translators, who tended to be fairly literal in their translating, had been faced with the converse problem: how could they distinguish between אֲדֹנָי (αdonai) and יהוה (YHVH) in their Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible? The solution they generally seem to have settled on was to render adonai as ho kyrios (the Lord), and YHVH as simply kyrios without the definite article. This was done without distinction as to whether the passage was direct speech or narrative. The Septuagint was translated over a period of several generations, and this rule was not followed consistently by its various translators.

It is interesting to note that the Greek of the New Testament also has both forms, kyrios and ho kyrios, sometimes even coming side by side (e.g., Luke 1:9, 11; 1:25, 28, 32; 1:45, 46). To make things more complicated, the form of kyrios without the definite article is occasionally used of Jesus, as in Luke 2:11 (“…is born [a] savior, who is Messiah, [the] Lord”).[3]

Modern Hebrew Translations

The first edition of the United Bible Societies’ Hebrew New Testament, with a few exceptions, had used the Septuagint practice as a guideline by rendering ho kyrios as אֲדֹנָי (adonai), and kyrios (without the definite article) as יהוה (YHVH). However some members of the editorial committee called this into question. First of all, the distinction would not be clear to modern readers to whom it might seem strange to find the tetragrammaton being used in direct speech. Secondly, modern Israeli readers will say adonai when they encounter יהוה in the text.

To aid in making the decision, we asked a number of Israelis with a good academic command of Hebrew whether the translation should maintain יהוה or substitute instead an abbreviation such as ה or יי, both of which are common in Hebrew literature and are read as adonai, or ha-shem (“the name”). Opinions were divided, although most were in favor of maintaining יהוה, except in direct speech. Some of these argued that to use ה or יי would give the impression that the New Testament is just another secular book with less sanctity than the Hebrew Bible.

Those who argued against using יהוה said that it has simply never been done in texts other than the Hebrew Bible, from ancient times until today. Additionally, they said, more Israelis would be likely to read the New Testament if it did not contain the divine name. The first of these objections is contrary to the evidence: the divine name is found in non-biblical material in the Dead Sea Scrolls and especially in the Temple Scroll. The second objection is not at all certain. Those Israelis who are interested in reading the New Testament probably will not be put off by the appearance of the tetragrammaton. Those who refuse to read the New Testament do so because of objections to Jesus and Paul and the history of “Christian” treatment of Jews; changing יהוה to ה or יי will make no difference to them.

It was decided to abandon the Septuagint’s solution and treat each case on its own merits. Each one of the more than 300 occurrences of kyrios in the New Testament had to be checked in its context. Where direct speech was involved, it could be translated by הָאָדוֹן (ha’adon, the Lord), אֲדֹנָי (adonai), or even אֱלֹהִים (elohim, God), as the Septuagint translators themselves had sometimes done (in the reverse direction, of course). The one exception to this is where the speaker is quoting a verse from the Hebrew Bible which includes the tetragrammaton. In these cases, as in the example from Matthew 22:44 cited above, the original יהוה has been maintained. In narrative sections יהוה has been left in the translation in almost every case. Some of the cases in the Gospels are in fact stock phrases in which the divine name of God is normal. Among these are מַלְאַךְ יהוה (malach YHVH, the angel of the LORD), יוֹם יהוה (yom YHVH, the day of the LORD), יַד יהוה (yad YHVH, the hand of the LORD), and כְּבוֹד יהוה (kevod YHVH, the glory of the LORD). Here the Hebrew New Testament has preserved the familiar phrase.

Difficult Decisions

In some places it needs a decision bordering on the theological to determine how to translate kyrios. What should be done, for example, in a situation like Luke 19:31, 34: “You shall say ‘The Lord needs it.’”? Was the owner to understand that the Lord needed the colt or that the LORD needed it? In the modern Hebrew translation it would be possible to render kyrios as either הָאָדוֹן (ha’adon, the Lord) or as אֲדֹנָי (adonai, the LORD). English translations generally do not have to make such a decision because they use the distinctive LORD only in the Hebrew Scriptures. The modern Hebrew translators decided to use ha’adon, leaving open the interpretation that Jesus, the disciples’ master, needed the colt. Translation sometimes unavoidably involves interpretation, and in this case the interpretation could have gone either way.

Or, to take a similar example, how are we to understand the words of Jesus in Mark 5:19: “Go home to your family and tell them what ho kyrios has done for you”? The first Hebrew New Testament edition used יהוה, but it need not have been so unequivocal since Jesus would not have pronounced the divine name. It is clear that Jesus said either adonai or ha’adon. To render kyrios here as adonai would lose the ambiguity. It is better to stay with ha’adon, which could have been understood by the newly-healed demoniac (as well as by today’s readers) to refer either to the LORD or to Jesus. Judging from verse 20, the ex-demoniac may have understood the latter, because he went out to proclaim in the Decapolis “how much Jesus had done for him.”

As a general rule it was decided that the modern Hebrew New Testament would stay with אָדוֹן (adon, Lord) or אֲדֹנָי ( adonai, LORD) for kyrios rather than use the tetragrammaton, יהוה. The exceptions to this are those quotations from the Hebrew Bible in which יהוה appears in the original. Other minor exceptions also can be found in places where the context seemed to demand using יהוה (for example, Rev. 19:6).

  • [1] The plural of אָדוֹן (adon) is אֲדֹנִים (adonim). The regular plural with first person singular pronominal suffix is אֲדֹנַי (adonai, my lords). In the Masoretic text, when God is intended and not “my lords,” the word is pointed אֲדֹנָי (one exception of 425 occurrences, אֲדֹנָי in Judges 13:8).
  • [2] The Greek text of Matthew here uses the word kyrios twice. The Septuagint used the word kyrios to translate thirteen different Hebrew words. Therefore, when translating back into Hebrew we can choose which of those words is more appropriate to the context and situation. If יהוה is used, the modern Israeli reader will still say “adonai.” Today, as in the time of Jesus, it is permitted when copying Scripture to write the tetragrammaton even though one does not pronounce it.
  • [3] Two seventh-century Latin manuscripts of the New Testament (β and r1) change “Lord” in Luke 2:11 into the genitive, that is, “…who is Messiah of [the] Lord,” a more Hebraic expression (i.e., מְשִׁיחַ יהוה [meshiakh YHVH]).