The Didache and its Relevance for Understanding the Gospel of Matthew

The image featured above, intended to symbolize the Two Ways of Life and Death, which are of central importance to the Didache, was photographed by Imen Bouhajja in Ghar Elmelh, Tunisia (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

1. The Didache

A portrait of Philotheos Bryennios found opposite the title page of Philip Schaff’s The Oldest Church Manual Called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (1885). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1873, Philotheos Bryennios, the metropolitan of Serres (Serrae) in Macedonia, discovered a Greek parchment manuscript in the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantinople. The document contained several early Christian writings, including the text of the famous Didache. Bryennios edited the treatise in 1883. In 1887, the manuscript was transferred to the Greek patriarchate in Jerusalem where it is still preserved today as Hierosolymitanus 54. In the colophon of the manuscript (folium 120, front side) the name of the scribe and the date are preserved. “Leon the scribe and sinner” was the one who produced this codex, which he completed on Tuesday, 11 June 1056.

The ancient textual basis of the eleventh-century minuscule copied by Leon should be narrowed down to its central part only (fol. 39front-80back). The source of this text, extending from the Letter of Barnabas to the end of the Didache, may have originated in the patristic period.[1] In this article, the text of the Didache (fol. 76front-80back) is studied in isolation from the other works contained in the Jerusalem Manuscript. Of course, there are also a few smaller and fractional witnesses to the text of the Didache. For the establishment of the text of the Didache, however, the bearing of these fragments is meagre.

1.1. The Contents of the Didache

The Didache is a compilation of several older sources which are structured into four clearly separated thematic sections: The Two Ways document (chs. 1-6), a liturgical treatise (chs. 7-10), an exposition on church organization (chs. 11-15) and a section relating to the end time (ch. 16). Each individual part belongs to a different literary genre, evolved over a period of time, and makes up a coherent unity.

Two Ways
The opening line of the Didache, “There are two ways, one of life (zōē), the other of death” (1:1), introduces the subject treated in its first part. The Way of Life (Did. 1-4) covers moral instruction, which is expounded at greater length than the Way of Death, which contains a mere list of warnings (Did. 5). Let’s have a first look at the opening of the Two Ways document (1:1-3a):

There are two ways, one of life, the other of death, and between the two ways there is a great difference. Now the way of life is this: First, you shall love God who created you, then your neighbour as yourself, and do not yourself do to another what you would not want done to you. The teaching [that flows] from these words is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies,….

The Way of Life begins with a conventional summary of the Law consisting of the double love command (the “love of God” and the “love of neighbour”) and the Golden Rule in its negative form (“do not yourself do to another what you would not want done to you”).[2] The topic clause in 1:3a (“The teaching [that flows] from these words is this”) shows the following part to be interpretation.

This interpretation continues all the way through three chapters before reaching its conclusion in 4:14b. It includes first a series of positive admonitions found in verses 1:3b-2:1, which reflect some of the radical requirements of the Sermon on the Mount and are particularly close to Synoptic tradition. Then follows a list of precepts intended to cover the essentials of the second table of the Ten Commandments (2:2-7), a distinctive literary unit (3:1-6) that closely reflects the Decalogue themes of the preceding chapter and, finally, two chapters dealing with morals, humility and constructive social behaviour (3:7-4:14). The Way of Death in fact represents a catalogue consisting of twenty-three vices in the first part and a list of nineteen evildoers in the second (5:1-2).

Two things may be noted about the form of the Two Ways in Did. 1-6. Firstly, one would expect the exhortation in 6:1 to conclude the Two Ways section of the Didache: “See to it that no one leads you astray from this way of the teaching, for such a person teaches you apart from God.” Both formulation and content suggest that the Two Ways doctrine comes to a close in Did. 6:1. This impression is strengthened by the predominant tenor in the following verses (6:2-3), which appear to reflect an atmosphere of concession. At the end of the comprehensive ethical treatise, Did. 6:2 suddenly grants that partial compliance with all previous admonitions suffices. Furthermore, with respect to food, everyone is allowed to determine what is to be eaten, and only a minimum requirement is laid down (6:3). As will be corroborated below, the statements in Did. 6:2-3 appear to be a later addition to a basic tradition of the Two Ways.

A second remarkable feature occurs in Did. 1:3b-2:1. The passage clearly interrupts the connection between Did. 1:3a and 2:2 and it stands out from the immediate context in chs. 1-6 with respect to its high number of close parallels to the Gospels of Luke and, especially, Matthew. This is all the more striking because a similar accumulation of traditional Gospel motifs is absent from the remainder of the Two Ways in Did. 1-6. The situation is in fact such that apart from the collection of Jesus tradition in 1:3b-2:1 (and the concessive items in 6:2-3), there is hardly any reference to specific Christian doctrine in the Two Ways manual. Nowhere are obvious soteriological and Christological motifs such as the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ to be found. By inserting the “Evangelical Section” right after 1:3a, the explanation of the double love command and the Golden Rule (1:2) was Christianized while the traditional Jewish interpretation in Did. 2:2-7 accordingly became the “second commandment” (2:1). On the other hand, it has been observed that the text in Did. 1:1-3a. 2:2-6:1 displays numerous links with materials in sources of early Judaism.[3] It is closely related to traditional Jewish materials in the Testament of Asher 1:3-5, the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies VII, 3, 3-5; 7, 1-2 and the Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides. For these reasons, it was argued as early as the end of the nineteenth century that this or a similar form of the Two Ways is derived from a Jewish origin.

The view that a Jewish tradition is behind the present form of the Two Ways in the Didache—with the exception of Did. 1:3a-2:1 and 6:2-3—may be substantiated as follows. In addition to the Didache, the Two Ways tradition ranges across a variety of Christian documents from the first five centuries, including the Doctrina Apostolorum, the Letter of Barnabas 18-20 and some five later writings.[4] Each of these writings represents an independent witness to the ancient Two Ways tradition in which the basic pattern is essentially the same, particularly the appearance of the two ways and the presence of a double catalogue of virtues and vices in which each of the ways consists. It is interesting to see, however, that the various forms of the Two Ways demonstrate no familiarity with the collection of Jesus tradition in Did. 1:3b-2:1 and the supplement in Did. 6:2-3. Moreover, they do not display any acquaintance with Did. 7-16. The obvious explanation for this phenomenon is that these Christian documents are somehow affiliated with a form of the Two Ways tradition lacking these parts.

Since we do not have a copy of the original source extant, our knowledge is at best indirect, being only deducible from the Doctrina, Didache, and Barnabas. The late David Flusser and I have attempted to reconstruct the Jewish prototype of this teaching, which we called the ‘Greek Two Ways’ (GTW) because the text of this pre-Didache source was in Greek. As a matter of fact, this (hypothetical) version of the pre-Didache source, except the Christianized sections of 1:3b-2:1 and 6:2-3, is reflected by and large in the wording of the Didache.

The ancient Greek Two Ways, freed from the secondary context as provided in the Didache, was constructed, preserved, and handed on within pious Jewish circles that maintained highly refined ethical standards.[5] The text shows an undeniable relationship with a particular type of rabbinic literature called Derekh Erets (“The Way on Earth”). Both the Greek Two Ways and the rabbinic Derekh Erets tractates reveal a specific trend in early Jewish thought that calls on a newly refined moral sensitivity. Part of the oral tracts with subjects concerning Derekh Erets reflect the teachings of pious Jewish circles in the first and second centuries C.E. on moral behavior.[6] These men constituted Hasidic groups within the society of the rabbis, practicing charities and performing friendly deeds of compassion.[7] Thus, the tradition of the Two Ways was transmitted and kept alive within virtuous Jewish factions. At the same time, however, the ancient Two Ways also developed into a pre-baptismal catechesis for Gentiles in the Didache community and, as we will see below, probably in other first-century Christian communities as well.

Liturgical Treatise
The ritual of baptism, the Lord’s Prayer, and the eucharistic celebration in Did. 7-10, are deeply affected by the pattern of Jewish daily worship. Did. 7 is linked to the preceding Chapters 1-6 by a directive (7:1b) that the Two Ways doctrine should be the substance of the teaching of candidates for baptism:

As for baptism, baptize this way. After you have said all these things [i.e., all that is written above], baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. If you do not have running water, however, baptize in another kind of water; if you cannot [do so] in cold [water], then [do so] in warm [water]. But if you have neither, pour water on the head thrice in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit (Did. 7:1-3).

The baptism of Jesus as depicted in a catacomb painting from Rome. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Did. 7 is the earliest surviving description of the administration of baptism.[8] It is likely that in the days of the Didache’s composition, the Two Ways as presented in the first section served as a basic catechetical instruction prior to baptism. At the same time, the interest in ritual purity is still paramount in Did. 7 as the text reflects the concern that one should use the most appropriate water available for baptism. In the Hebrew Bible, purification was necessary before participating in Temple worship and this remained for ancient Jews, first and foremost, the prerequisite for encountering the sacred. Ritual impurity bars a person from God’s presence and it is a biblical principle that it forms a barrier that must be removed (Num. 19:20).

The directives in Did. 7:1c-3a with regard to the kinds of water to be used in baptism are clearly borrowed from Judaism. The discussion of the various types of water alludes to Jewish ablutions for ritual purification, and the directives in Did. 7 seem to have their parallels in Jewish halakhic instructions about water for ritual washings. It was a principal issue to determine what sort of water was needed for the purificatory washing. In rabbinic sources, six types of water supply are distinguished in an ascending order of value beginning with the lower qualities of water and proceeding to the higher ones (m. Miqw. 1:1-8).

The text in Did. 7:1c-3a itself, however, may reflect a development that abandoned an originally strict ritual practice. On the one hand, the purity required to approach God is still attained through the performance of ablutions or immersions. On the other hand, the text does not reflect a continuous, strong adherence to Jewish halakhot governing ritual purity. The normal condition of the water found in the rite of Christian baptism is indicated by the phrase “living water” (Acts 8:36; 16:13), and also in the Mishnah it has the highest rank within the classification of kinds of water. But the Didache regulations give the impression that the importance of the baptismal instruction with regard to correct practice is diminishing.[9] They embody concessions toward a formerly strict practice. Should circumstances so demand, the rules permit performance of the rite of baptism “in another kind of water” (Did. 7:2a). And if there is neither cold nor warm water, one was allowed to pour water onto the person’s head instead of immersing them in it. This is an even further concession to the rigorous standards regarding the water for baptism: mere affusion is allowed in case water is scarce. Whereas the interest in ritual purity is still paramount in Did. 7, the rules governing ritual purity were losing their significance.

A ritual immersion bath (mikveh) discovered at Magdala. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

Interestingly, the directives in Did. 7 are influenced by Jewish halakhic debates on ritual washings, but at the same time reflect a liberalization of the rigorous demands with respect to the baptismal water. The ritual is on its way to a stage in which the effect of baptism is unquestioned, even if the water is less suitable. The prefacing of the baptismal ceremony in Did. 7 with the original Jewish instruction of the Two Ways in Did. 1-6 resulted in an “ethicization” of the baptism ritual. Because baptism is not limited here to a mere cultic action but has taken an ethical shape as a result of being preceded by the original Jewish Two Ways instruction, its precise ritual details become less relevant. What is important is that baptism in Did. 7 carried with it a commitment to a right conduct (Did. 1-6). The Didache still does articulate an interest in issues relating to ritual impurity but probably prioritized the maintenance of moral impurity over the preservation of ritual impurity.[10]

The mention of a pre-baptismal fast in 7:4 appears to have prompted the observation about fasting as an independent phenomenon in 8:1, that is, the stationary fast. Whereas the “hypocrites” fast on Mondays and Thursdays, the readers of the Didache should keep Wednesdays and Fridays as their fast-days. In the same way, a transition is made by the word “hypocrites” to a further differentiation between two practices in the next verse. Instead of “praying as the hypocrites” do, the members of the community are required to recite the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (8:2-3). The Lord’s Prayer is offered in an obligatory text without mentioning or quoting additional prayers. This circumstance, and the requirement to say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, may indicate that this prayer took the place of the Jewish Tefillah, which was recited three times a day as well.[11] One may assume that individual members of the Didache community still prayed the Tefillah, and when the number of Gentiles in the community increased, this practice undoubtedly caused a strong tension between non-Jewish Christians and Judaizing Christians. The prayer formulary in Did. 8 may have served as a means to prevent people within the Didache community from imitating Jewish practices. The version of the Lord’s Prayer written out in full here, varies from Matt. 6:9-13 in some details only but, even so, probably is not dependent on Matthew. Both the redactor of Did. 8:1-3 and Matthew might have known the prayer from its regular use in their respective church traditions. The agreements are probably to be assigned to the liturgical tradition they have in common.

The congregation is required to distinguish itself from the “hypocrites” by fasting on different days and observing divergent prayer customs. Opponents are disparagingly characterized as “hypocrites” here and again in the next verse. Who were these hypocrites? A possible suggestion, which is widely advocated, proposes that the term reflects the rivalry between a Jewish-Christian faction within the boundary of Judaism and another Jewish group. It has repeatedly been suggested that the label ‘hypocrites’ might refer to Pharisees in particular.[12] For in the period after the Jewish war, the rise of rabbinism led to promulgations of legal decisions which laid claim to religious authority. Members of the Didache community might have felt bitter about the Jewish central authority’s attempts to manage their lives and resented the rabbis gaining control of the public sphere.

But was the community of the Didache still a competing group within the larger fabric of Judaism in its day or had it already ceased to consider itself a variety of Judaism? And if the latter applies, what may have caused the congregation to move away from its roots? One thing is clear: The Didache obviously was composed for the initiation of Gentiles into the community. This already becomes noticeable in the supplementary long title of the Didache (“Doctrine of the Lord [brought] to the Nations by the Twelve Apostles”). The Two Ways doctrine of chs. 1-6 apparently was intended as a prescriptive code principally for Gentiles who had grown up in households in which pagan gods and pagan standards of morality abounded. The Two Ways dichotomy served as a framework for understanding the radical alteration in behaviour and commitments that the Gentile convert was expected to make. Thus, the rules for Jewish life were modified into a pre-baptismal catechesis for Gentiles entering the community. These circumstances might have moved the Sages to harbour suspicions. Moreover, this is the period during which the Birkat Ha-Minim, the benediction against the heretics, appears to have been inserted into the Jewish liturgy.[13] It not impossible, then, that at this stage the Didache community shared a consciousness of their views being suppressed by contemporary Judaism in general. Jewish Christians are likely to have been a major target of this synagogue denouncement. Within this framework the term “hypocrites” in Did. 8 might reflect the deteriorated relations between the particular Didache community and its Jewish opponents in general.

The title and the opening words of the Didache as these appear in MS Hierosolymitanus 54. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Chapters 9 and 10 present the prayers, rubrics and regulations for the Eucharist. Binding formulae are given for the pertinent prayers. The eucharistic celebration is introduced in 9:2-4 by blessings over the cup and the bread based on Jewish prayers of blessing. After the first table prayer in 9:2-4, a rubrical comment follows in Did. 9:5, emphasizing that no one who has not been baptized is allowed to eat and drink of the Eucharist. It is the only place in the Didache outside Did. 7 that mentions the verb ‘to baptize’ or ‘baptism’:

Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist save those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord, for concerning this the Lord has spoken, “Do not give what is holy to dogs” (Did. 9:5).

The term “Eucharist” in this verse not only refers to the utterance of the thanksgiving prayer like that in 9:1, but also to the Eucharistic food over which the blessing is spoken. In Did. 9:5, baptism is indeed referred to as the general prerequisite authorizing participation in the Eucharist and preventing pagans from sharing the meal. Didachic baptism is a ritual act marking the initiation of new members into the community and, at the same time, seems to set the acceptable limits of table fellowship.

As we see in the rubric of Did. 10:1, a regular meal follows upon these prayers which is concluded by an additional prayer of thanksgiving. This is the second part of the eucharistic prayer in Did. 9-10. In recent decades has it come to be generally accepted that the ultimate roots of the eucharistic prayers in Did. 9-10 lay in Jewish liturgical practice. Attempts have been made to link the prayer in Did. 10:2-5 with the rabbinic Birkat ha-Mazon, the prayer that concludes the Jewish meal.[14] In the last few years, however, this supposition has become controversial as Jewish liturgical traditions of Temple times are no longer taken to be as fixed and uniform as was once supposed. We should therefore be cautious and not be too eager to draw the conclusion that these prayers had a standardized form in the first century.[15] On the other hand, it is of importance to note that, in spite of this variation in wording, the Jewish after-dinner prayer Did. have a number of stable elements. The general structure of this prayer was probably already known to the author of the Book of Jubilees in the second century B.C.E. When Abraham says Grace after meals (Jub. 22:6-9), we find him uttering a three-part prayer, i.e. a benediction, a thanksgiving, and finally a supplication,[16] a pattern very much like the later texts of the Birkat Ha-Mazon.

The prayers in Did. 9:2-4 and 10:2-5 encircling a real meal represent some vestiges of Gentile Christian usage as well. The petitions in 9:4 and 10:5 regarding the gathering of the church are bound up with the biblical expectation of salvation that the dispersed of Israel will be collected in the day of salvation (Deut. 30:3-5a; Isa. 11:12b-c; Ezek. 37:21). Later this desire was kept alive in the tenth benediction of the Tefillah. The transfer of this concept to the Christian church in Did. 9:4 and 10:5, however, involving a gathering of the church without further reference to the Jewish people, is a conspicuous characteristic of Christian refashioning. It is clear that a petition for the gathering of the dispersed people of Israel is beyond the liturgical range of the community of the Didache. The formulation reflects a Gentile, rather than a particular Jewish position and perspective.[17] One may therefore assume that the supplications in Did. 9:4 and 10:5 were formulated in a Gentile Christian community. They clearly illustrate the fact that, as the church won more and more Gentiles, it gradually alienated itself from its Jewish background.

Church Organization
What follows next is the section comprising Did. 11-15 with guidelines for good order and church discipline. These chapters present authoritative ‘apostolic’ rules on matters of ecclesiastical organization that end in 15:4, just before the doctrine concerning the things that will happen at the end of the world in Chapter 16. The instructions give a glimpse of the local church or churches for which the Didache was written. A variety of disciplinary measures is presented, designed particularly to correct abuses in the life of the Didache community. The regulations in this section specify how certain classes of visitors must be tested so as to protect the community from troublesome visitors. In Did. 11:1-12:5, the emphasis is on testing Christians who would stop over at the Didache community. The passage provides guidelines by which to ascertain the legitimacy of these Christians, whether they claim to be apostles, prophets or just laymen. Although these preachers could expect a hospitable reception within the community, they all had to be subjected to an examination. The community reserved the right to judge outsiders in order to prevent a number of charlatans from taking advantage of its hospitality.

The apostles are the first class of visitors considered here. They are persons sent out on a mission from elsewhere and because they were in transit, they were not allowed to stay longer than two days or to ask for money (11:4-6). The second class of strangers dealt with here are the prophets. It was rather difficult, however, to equip the community with criteria enabling them to differentiate between true and false prophets. Since prophets were regarded as speaking in the Spirit, they had a privileged status that distinguished them from other teachers. The Didache, however, sanctions the prophetic gifts without endangering the community. While preserving the high valuation of speaking in the Spirit, the manual recommends an examination of a prophet’s lifestyle as a chief criterion for credibility (11:7-12).

Discussing ordinary people who come to the community and claim to be Christians, the Didache in the next chapter demands a further testing and setting of conditions as well. If a travelling Christian layman wants to settle in the community, the general rule is that such a person must earn his own living with a trade (12:1-5). Christians wishing to reside within the community will have to work for a living: “If he wants to settle in with you, … , let him work and [thus] eat” (12:3). In this context, the passage in 13:1-7 is not some peculiar afterthought or a part not reflected upon in Did. 11. The connection between Did. 13 and 12:3-5 is clearly indicated in the phrase “wanting to settle in with you” in 13:1 (and 12:3). Apparently, the instruction in Did. 13 is meant to counteract the wording of 12:3-5 insofar as the classes of the prophets and teachers are regarded. This instruction does not apply in the case of a teacher and a genuine prophet. When true prophets or genuine teachers desire to settle down in the community, they are to be given material support as a reward for their labours (13:1-2).

Visiting prophets (and even traveling apostles) were still active in the church by the time of the redaction of the Didache, and this phenomenon fits the general mobility of contemporary religious teachers of popular Hellenistic religion.[18] At the time when the Didache was composed, the number of itinerant religious propagandists appears to have increased to such an extent, however, that it opened the door for abuses to set in. Because Christians were generally expected to offer a generous and cordial welcome to guests and strangers, this hospitable attitude could easily be misused.

In Did. 14, the concern is no longer with the attitude of the local community towards outsiders, towards those who visit the community, but rather with circumstances within the settled community itself. The successive topics are loosely connected. The confession of sins and reconciliation is the central theme. Both rules are laid down as a requirement for the admission to the celebration of the Eucharist.[19] The pleonastic phrase “on the Sunday of the Lord” with reference to the Eucharist in 14:1 might indicate a polemic against those who still preferred the Sabbath to the Lord’s day for the weekly celebration of the Eucharist.[20] The author once again seems to be taking a stand against Judaizing Christians. Evidence from other sources (Gal 4:8-11; Col 2:16-17 and Ignatius, Magnesians 9:1-2), indicating that some Christian circles conti-nued to observe the Sabbath, strengthens this impression. The phrase, then, might suggest that these Christians should exchange the Sabbath for the Sunday as the day of the celebration of the Eucharist. In 15:1-2, another theme is introduced. The community members are advised to select for themselves bishops and deacons who are qualified for their offices. They are to be honest, unassuming and not greedy. After the digression in 15:1-2, the statement in 15:3 reminds of the admonition in 14:3. Someone who, in spite of the congregation’s correction, continues to wrong his brother has to be peacefully excluded from the community until he repents.

The End Time

The final page of the Didache as it appears in MS Hierosolymitanus 54. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The concluding section in ch. 16, which is incomplete in the manuscript left to us (Hierosolymitanus 54), contains a premonition related to the end of human history and the return of Christ to ensure obedience to the preceding provisions in Did. 1-15. The hortatory passage of vv. 1-2 functions as a warning to the reader for the retribution at the end of time. This parenetic passage includes two concrete admonitions, i.e., a call for vigilance (16:1a) and an admonition to meet frequently (16:2a). Both incentives are substantiated by a succinct portentous scenario (16:3-8), which portrays the events at the end, starting with the multiplication of false prophets and corrupters.

1.2. Conclusion

The first section specifies how new Gentile members are to be instructed prior to baptism (Did. 1-6/7). There are good grounds for arguing that the materials in Did. 1-6 represent at least two layers of composition, related to two different stages in the literary history of the Two Ways. In fact, it appears that this part of the Didache attests to a separate circulation of a form of the Two Ways, closely related to Did. 1-6 but without the Christian materials in 1:3b-2:1 and 6:2-3.

The ultimate roots of Christian baptism in Did. 7:1-3 lay in the Jewish immersion ceremony carried out whenever one was preparing to visit the Temple. In Did. 7:1c-3a, various types of water are mentioned, which shows a paramount interest in ritual purity as it reflects the central concern that one should use the most appropriate water available for baptism. But, at the same time, baptism in Did. 7 appears to embody concessions with regard to a formerly strict practice. The fading interest in a stringent performance of this purity ritual can be explained by reference to the increasing emphasis on the ethical dimension of baptism by the prefix of the Two Ways in Did. 1-6.

In Did. 7-10, a section follows giving rules for those having been baptized and providing the required text of the Lord’s prayer and the Eucharist (Did. 7-10). It is not unrealistic to assume that at a later stage of the development of the Didache, the community included a variety of groups. There probably was an increasing quantity of Gentiles grown up in non-Jewish households, a number of members who were Jewish in their own self-conception and halakhic practice, and various shades of other believers-in-Jesus in the middle. The Didache attempts to overcome the tension between these groups and movements by replacing Jewish traditions and prayers that might have been operative earlier in his community with a modified and transformed worship reflecting the liturgical traditions that were maintained by the majority at a later time. The presence of the Christianized parts (1:3b-2:1; 6:1-2) in the prebaptismal catechesis, the Lord’s Prayer taking the place of the Jewish Tefillah (8:2), the supplications (9:4; 10:5) in the set of eucharistic prayers and also the substitution of the Sabbath for the Sunday (14:1) are intended to prevent a seemingly irreversible division within the community.

In addition to the admission of Gentiles into the Didache community, also the hospitable treatment of transient outsiders caused significant problems. The manual offers an appropriate set of rules in Did. 11-15 to prevent the community’s hospitality from being exploited. Did. 16, finally, may be regarded as a reaffirmation of the grave importance of the instructions given in the preceding chapters.

To sum up: since the Didache was composed in a time of transition, its major concern was to safeguard the unity and identity of the community against threats from the inside and outside world.

2. The Relevance of the Didache for Understanding the Gospel of Matthew

The common assumption is that Matthew’s gospel took shape at some point in the years between 80 and 100 C.E.[21] If we want to examine this gospel in light of the Didache, we are faced with an array of difficult questions, one of them pertaining to the Jewish parent body and the identity of the Matthean community. Who were the Christians standing behind the Didache and Matthew? Did. the Didache and Matthew indeed emanate from the same geographical, social and cultural setting? Can we trace the developing interests of the respective community or communities in the different textual layers of the Didache and Matthew?

2.1. The Nature of the Agreements between Didache and Matthew

Both writings, the Didache and Matthew, show significant agreements as these share words, phrases and motifs. The collection of Jesus sayings in the Evangelical Section of Did. 1:3-2:1 is very close to the Sermon on the Mount. The radical exposition about the love of one’s neighbour as love of one’s enemies (Did. 1:3b-d) recalls Synoptic tradition in Matt. 5:44. 46-47 and Luke 6:27-28. 32-33. Besides this paragraph, the Evangelical Section includes two additional passages comparable to the Synoptics articulating the prohibition of violent resistance (Did. 1:4; par. Matt. 5:39-41; Luke 6:29) and the exhortation to be charitable (Did. 1:5-6; par. Matt. 5:25c-26. 40; Luke 6:30; 12:58c-59).

Additionally, the correspondence of the Trinitarian baptismal formula in the Didache and Matthew (Did. 7 and Matt. 28:19) as well as the similar shape of the Lord’s Prayer (Did. 8 and Matt. 6:5-13) apparently reflect the use of resembling oral forms of church traditions. Moreover, both the community of the Didache (Did. 11-13) and Matthew (Matt. 7:15-23; 10:5-15.40-42; 24:11.24) were visited by itinerant apostles and prophets, some of whom were illegitimate. There is also the admonition in Did. 16:1-2 to always be on the alert and watch over one’s life (par. Matt. 24:42.44; 25:13) which are followed by a succinct revelatory scenario in Did. 16:3-8 portraying the events at the end of time (par. Matt. 24-25).

Also other instructions, sayings, phrases and motifs in the Didache are shared with Matthew: Did. 11:2.4 commands that the messengers of the Lord are to be received as the Lord himself (par. Matt. 10:40); in Did. 11:7 the warning is given not to put those who speak in the Spirit to the test since that would be a sin against the Holy Spirit (Did. 11:7; par. Matt. 12:31); according to Did. 13:1-2 it is the community’s duty to provide for the daily needs of a genuine prophet and true teacher because they are “worthy of their food” (par. Matt. 10:10); and in Did. 14:2, the rule is articulated that Christians who have a quarrel with a companion may not participate in worship until they have been reconciled (par. Matt. 5:23-24).

A main obstacle in the investigation of the extent to which the Didache might be relevant to the interpretation of Matthew is of course the question whether the composer of the Didache was familiar with the finished gospel of Matthew or vice versa. Scholars time and again have assumed that the Didache draws on the final form of the Gospel of Matthew.[22] And, indeed, if the document was composed in the second half of the second century or later, as some believed,[23] the Didache would present a strong case for the use of the gospels as we have them. In recent scholarship, however, a new consensus is emerging for a date of the Didache’s composition about the turn of the first century C.E. If the Didache was redacted that early, the view of dependence of the document on one of the Synoptic Gospels becomes all but a certainty. An alternative solution might be that Matthew is dependent on the Didache as a direct source.[24] But this proposal is problematic too, as it would imply a very early date for the composition of the Didache. It is more likely, therefore, that the close relationship between the documents might equally suggest that both documents were created in the same cultural, historical and geographical setting, for example in the Greek-speaking part of Syria.

In comparison with Matthew, the Didache is a ‘primitive’ teaching manual, largely unaffected by theological developments. Now, if the Didache is not dependent on the Gospel of Matthew but reflects materials used by Matthew, it would mean that we have in the Didache a window on the social and religious milieu out of which the Gospel of Matthew arose. In the next subdivision, we will present examples of this ‘primitive’ teaching manual in Did. 9:5 and 15:3. These instances are particularly interesting as they display traces of the historical situation behind Matthew’s text (2.2).

But there is more. One must differentiate between the text as presented in Did. 1-6 and the one offered in Did. 7-16, since the earlier layer of Did. 1-6 is closely connected with a Jewish pattern of the Two Ways. This teaching was conceivably taken as its basic framework. In the above section on the Didache, it was ascertained that this Jewish form was modified once the Two Ways came to be used as an initiatory catechesis for Gentile catechumens in the Didache community. Still, the basic tradition of the Two Ways doctrine put forward in Did. 1:1-3a.2:2-6:1 may have circulated for a long time in Jewish and Christian communities apart from its eventual incorporation and modification in the Didache. We will see that the Two Ways doctrine was also known to the Matthean community. Like the Didache, also Matthew in all probability made use of the Two Ways in both his Sermon on the Mount and the Story of the Rich Young Man (2.3).

2.2. Matthew in Light of Didache 7-16: Two Examples

It is worth noticing that Did. 9:5d and 15:3 are two instances in the Didache unambiguously referring to the “gospel” and “the Lord has spoken” while providing explicit echoes more or less corresponding to particular occurrences in Matt. 7:6a and Matt. 18:15-17, respectively. The following section will demonstrate that the passages in Did. 9:5 and 15:3 are related in their dependence on a common tradition used by Matthew as well.

Matt. 7:6 in Light of Did. 9:5
If we pay attention to the saying “do not give what is holy to dogs” in Did. 9:5 a parallel with Matt. 7:6 can easily be found. Since the saying is introduced by the formula “concerning this the Lord has spoken,” there are scholars who take the Didache to be quoting Matthew’s Gospel here. [25]

The saying in Did. 9:5d is verbally identical to the first part of the dual saying in Matthew, which has no parallel in Mark and Luke:

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine lest they trample them under foot and tear you to pieces. (Matt. 7:6)

Does the saying indicate that the Didache has ripped it from its original Matthean context and applied it wrongly to the issue of correct participation in the Eucharistic observance? Since after the instructions for blessing the wine (9:2) and blessing the bread (9:3-4), the Didache verse reads as follows:

Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist save those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord, for concerning this the Lord has spoken, “Do not give what is holy (to hagion) to dogs.” (Did. 9:5)

The saying in Did. 9:5d (“Do not give what is holy to dogs”) is undoubtedly quoted as a conclusive word of the Lord to emphasize that all those who have not been baptized are to be excluded from the Eucharist.

The tenor of the clause supporting this exclusion (9:5d) is particularly close to that of the Temple purity terminology. The wording “what is holy” (to hagion) probably refers to sacrificial food, a meaning suggested by its usage in the Septuagint translation of Exod 29:33; Lev. 2:3; 22:6.7.10-16; Num. 18:8-19; Ezra 2:63 and its parallel text in Neh 7:65. Particularly relevant to our investigation is the following passage in the Septuagint translation of Lev. 22:6-7.10:

…he shall not eat of the holy things (apo tōn hagiōn) unless he has bathed his body in water. When the sun is down he shall be clean; and then shall he eat of the holy things (tōn hagiōn), for they are his bread. … And no stranger shall eat the holy things (hagia): a sojourner of the priest’s or a hired servant shall not eat the holy things (hagia).

The term “holy things” refers to the animal meat or agricultural produce designated for sacrifice in the Temple. Since the expression in Did. 9:5d deals with “what is holy” (to hagion), it has a cultic ring to it and suggests a customary Jewish sacrificial Temple ritual. The eucharistic prayers in 9:2-4 and 10:2-5, therefore, encircle a real meal and the food consumed is not understood as ordinary food, but as something special. The holy food was set aside exclusively for baptized members of the community, while the non-baptized were prohibited from taking part in the Eucharist “since the Lord has said, ‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs’” (9:5d).

The idea of dogs devouring dedicated food was felt to be particularly horrifying in the Second Temple period. This concern is reflected in the Qumran scrolls. In the halakhic letter 4QMMT (Miqsat Ma’ase ha-Torah or Some Precepts of the Law), written by members of the Qumran community against their opponents, there was a prohibition against dogs in Jerusalem in order to prevent the defilement of the Temple and the holy city (4QMMT 58-62).[26] The saying “Do not give what is holy to dogs” represents a Jewish maxim, which has its roots in the Jewish purity discussions. Maybe the opponents of the sect took precautions to avoid defilement of the Temple by keeping dogs out of the sanctuary, whereas the Qumran group had extended the field of defilement to the whole of Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem is the “camp of holiness” (4QMMT 60), dogs are not allowed to enter.[27]

Also relevant to our subject is a passage in the pseudepigraphic work Joseph and Aseneth, which was probably composed for Jews between the first century B.C.E. and the second century C.E. The pagan Egyptian girl Aseneth, daughter of the priest of Heliopolis, expresses her disgust with her ancestral religion when she converts to the worship of the God of Israel by throwing the sacrifices through the window to the dogs as food (10:14). A similar thought may be expressed in Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities of which the original (Hebrew) form according to many scholars was composed between 70 and 135 C.E. in Jewish Palestine. The pertinent text concerns the rage of God against Jephthah’s rash and careless vow in Judg 11:30-31 to offer to God “whatever meets him first on the way” since his sacrifice might also have consisted of something unclean like a dog (BA 39:11).

The particular antonymy of the holy thing(s) and dogs in Did. 9:5 provides the Eucharist with distinct features of a sacrificial offering in the sanctuary. Whereas the longer Matthean saying is not found in Jewish writings at all, the shorter saying in Did. 9:5 bears a marked similarity with a common expression in rabbinic literature. The adage “Holy things (dedicated sacrifices) are not to be redeemed to feed them to dogs” was widely disseminated and the extent of this spread is attested to by many references in rabbinic writings in the Mishnah, the Tosefta, and the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud until far into the fourth century C.E.[28] In view of the early examples mentioned above, it is not unlikely that the fixed rabbinic formula itself was widespread as early as the first century C.E.

First-century C.E. mosaic from Pompeii of a guard dog chained to a post. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But what does the verb “to be redeemed” mean in the above adage? For the Jewish Sages, the admonition “holy things are not to be redeemed to feed them to dogs” was obviously a standard reason for prohibiting the sacrificial food belonging exclusively to God ever to coincide with the most forbidden impurity. Holy animals were set apart and dedicated to God. In midrash Siphre on Num. 18:15,[29] it says that even if an animal meant to be sacrificed died, it should be treated as sacred food. The owner was not allowed to pay the Temple redemption money so that the animal could be used to any advantage. Consumption of its meat was prohibited and the animal had to be buried. This accords with another early witness found in the Mishnah suggesting that a dedicated animal, although blemished, still has a lasting status of belonging to the divine sphere (m. Tem. 6:5). It does not lose its holiness and still belongs to God. The release of holy things from divine ownership (by paying redemption money) was forbidden. Blemished animals or those slain were unqualified to be sacrificed in accordance with biblical law, but even so, redeeming them was the equivalent of feeding them to the dogs. The feeding of holy things to dogs was so appalling and scandalous that it underlies the denial of one’s right to dispose freely of sacrificial meat.

In Did. 9:5d the use of “what is holy” (to hagion) involves a degree of transference. The status of being explicitly sacrificial, originally restricted to the Temple service, is conferred on what in essence is not a sacrificial meal.[30] The saying “Do not give what is holy to dogs” shows the application of the cultic terminology to an extra-Temple domain and to figurative dogs. The established proverb is used in a metaphorical way as it is meant to enforce and justify the exclusion of the unbaptized—characterized here as (scavenging) dogs—from the eucharistic food. Dogs represent the Gentiles in their impure state. The Jewish requirement of being in a state of ritual purity became the precondition for partaking in the ceremony of eating holy food within the community of the Didache.

Although it is impossible to say with certainty how the saying in Matt. 7:6 was given its present form, the following reconstruction of its history of transmission seems likely. Initially, there was a separate short statement presupposing the Jewish proverb “Holy things are not to be redeemed to feed them to dogs.” The maxim in the Didache suggesting a different cultic setting and associating “dogs” with Gentiles reflects a second stage in the development of the tradition. It may have been a genuine saying of Jesus (“for concerning this the Lord has spoken”), but it is equally possible that the maxim was attributed to Jesus in a later period. In any case, the verbal identity of the Greek wording suggests the use of a common Greek source as far as the one-member clause in Did. 9:5d and Matt. 7:6a is concerned. The entirety of Matt. 7:6 apparently represents some further point in history where the line about the pearls and the swine came to be coupled to the basic saying about the holy and dogs. The focus on purity as a separate concern disappeared and the former meaning gave way altogether to a new sense. It remains difficult to tell, however, whether the latter modification in Matt. 7:6 emerged only in the final stage of the editing of the gospel or whether it had already taken place in the tradition before it came to Matthew.

Matt. 18:15-17 in Light of Did. 15:3
The section in Matt. 18:15-20 outlines the procedure to be adopted when a fellow believer digresses from the norms of the community. The text in Matt. 18:15-17, missing in both Mark and Luke, contains a halakhic rule for how to respond to a personal offence committed by a fellow believer:

18:15If your brother sins against you, go and reprove him (elenxon), between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.

The offender is given three chances to settle the issue. If a brother has sinned against another, the offended party should reprove his brother in private and discuss the issue in such a way as to lead him to accept his fault. If this first admonishment fails, the wronged individual should take along two witnesses according to Jewish law (Deut. 19:15). If this second effort likewise does not bring about a satisfactory resolution, the matter is to be brought before the whole community. When the offender remains recalcitrant and refuses to listen to the “church,” he should be treated like a “Gentile and tax-collector,” meaning that the associations with the sinner are broken off.[31] He is declared to be outside the limits of the community. Verses 18-20, though in contrast to the immediately preceding text addressing the audience in the second person plural, continue the section with some proverbial statements by Jesus that ground the jurisdiction of the church in these matters. The decision of the community after the three-step legal process is immediately ratified in heaven.

In Jesus’ presentation the ill-treated party takes the initiative to resolve a grievance in three well-defined stages: first, privately, then with the help of a few witnesses, and finally with the force of the entire community. Those who have been persistently reluctant to recognize the criticism of their sinfulness end up being shunned. The conditional sentences (eight times in vv. 15-20) are typical of casuistic law as they describe various situations that might arise. The judicial style of our passage is underscored by the reference to witnesses who may be called by the prosecution.

There is widespread recognition that the contents of Did. 15:3 match those of Matt. 18:15-17 as both passages deal with reproof.[32] In Did. 15:3, it is the instruction itself which displays an intense preoccupation with the spirit in which reproof is undertaken:

Reprove one another (elenchete de allēlous) not in anger (en orgē) but in peace (en eirēnē), as you have it in the gospel; and let no one speak to anyone who wrongs another—let him not hear [a word] from you—until he has repented. (Did. 15:3)

Here it concerns the “reproof of a brother,” implying someone being confronted in a friendly manner with an error he or she has committed. If the errant brother (or sister), despite this reproof, continues to wrong his fellow believer, the members of the community are prohibited from further relating to him until he repents. The Didache appeals to “the gospel” here. The directive to reprove one another not in a hostile way, but with a respectful attitude, is something that can be read or heard in the “gospel.” In this specific case where the statement attached to this introduction formula provides a quotation or allusion showing detailed textual agreement with the Gospel of Matthew, one might expect the Didache to be dependent on Matthew.

Before going into the subject, however, it is of significance to point out that in addition to Matt. 18:15-17 and Did. 15:3, the act of reproof is also found elsewhere in the Jewish cultural world at the time. The forensic course of proceedings connected with reproof which probably lies buried in the text of Matt. 18:15-17 was developed exclusively by the Qumran community.[33] It was not part of the legal system in the rest of Palestine. The most relevant passage in this respect is found in the following part of the Community Rule (1QS):

23They shall register them in the rule, one before the other, according to his insight and his works that they may all obey one another, the lower one (in rank obeying) the higher one (in rank). In order to examine
24their spirit and their works year after year that they may promote each according to his insight and the perfection of his way, or to demote him according to his failings. They shall reprove (lehokhiakh)
25one another in t[ru]th, humility, and compassionate love (be’e[met] we’anwah we’ahavat khesed) toward man.—empty space—Let no one speak to his neighbour with anger or with a snarl,
26or with a [stiff] neck [or in a jealous] spirit of wickedness. And he must not hate him [in the fores]k[in] of his heart but let him reprove him (yokhikhenu) on the same day lest
VI, 1he incur a sin because of him. And in addition, let no man bring a matter against his neighbour before the Many except after reproof before witnesses (1QS V, 23b-VI, 1b).

This segment deals with the annual examination of all members of the Qumran community and the reproof of fellow members. Interestingly, in the middle of line 25, the scribe of 1QS left a space, and made a mark in the margin as a paragraph sign. Since this is also the point at which the third person plural changes into the singular, these features may indicate a distinct break in the literary pattern and leave us with a basic division of the passage. The lines 24b-25a are closely linked to 23c-24a, which describe the annual inspection of the position of each member of the community’s complex hierarchic system. The statements are linked grammatically by the third person plural. The reproach is to be administered “in truth, and humility and compassionate love.” This passage thus reveals a particular concern for the offender. Reproof in 23b-25a seems to belong to the private sphere of relationships where the precepts are formulated in terms of warm encouragement. In this segment, reproof does not function within the judicial framework of a violation of the Law of Moses but serves as part of the annual examination and classification of the Qumran members. The notion of reproof occurs in 1QS V, 23b-25b in the context of the setback in status due to disloyalty to the community’s moral instruction in the preceding year.[34]

The substance of the second part (1QS V, 25b-VI, 1) enlarges on the exegesis of the biblical reproof passage in the Damascus Document, that is, CD IX, 2-8, 16-23. In the two units, not presented here for brevity’s sake, reproof is part of a judicial procedure. Reproof in front of witnesses, it is stated in CD IX, 2-8, was a legal requirement to be carried out prior to the judicial decision. The other passage in the same document (CD IX, 16-23) deals with the duty of witnesses to reprove. Reproving is again a necessary part of the legal process. At variance with CD IX, 2-8, however, in which the “elders” are the instance before whom the reproof is brought, here it is the “Examiner” (or the “Overseer”) in whose presence the process must take place. Anyway, the statements in CD IX, 2-8 (3-4) and 16-23 (17-19) show that reproof in front of witnesses is required when carrying out a legal action. Instead of reproving a fellow privately, it must be part of a formal procedure in the presence of witnesses. Also in 1QS, the reproaching of one’s fellow seems at first sight to be presented as a preliminary step in the judicial process: one must reproach one’s fellow before bringing the case before witnesses and in a later stage before “the many” (ha-rabim), a technical term referring to the full members of the community. The statements in 1QS VI, 1; CD IX, 3-4 and 17-19 show that reproof in front of witnesses is required when carrying out a legal action. Instead of reproving a fellow privately, it must be part of a formal procedure in the presence of witnesses. In general, reproof had a juridical character in Qumran.[35]

The caves at Qumran. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

It is doubtful, however, whether 1QS shows the same extent of legality as do the two passages in the Damascus Document. The passage V, 23b-VI, 1b reveals a particular concern for the offender. Even if it belongs to a forensic procedure that must be executed in accordance with specific legal norms, it has no judicial air to it. Each year, the community is to convene in a special session to examine the spiritual qualities and actions even of full members so as to re-allot their positions in the community. The verb lehokhiakh (‘to reprove, expose, uncover, demonstrate the mistake or guilt’) in line 24 conceivably prepares for the phrase “let him reprove him (yokhikhenu)” in the second part of the unit (V, 25b-VI, 1). The members are apparently stimulated to solve their difficulties between themselves, and they should appeal to the legal system when this fails. In 1QS the first act of the reproach is to take place privately (in the form of a moral exhortation) between the two contenders alone[36] whereas, in CD, the presence of witnesses is vital for reproving from the very first step. While in CD IX, 2-8, 16-23, the process of reproving occurs in two stages, in 1QS, the member at fault has three chances to have the problem solved. Since the judicial scenario of reproach was developed uniquely by the sect, the Matthean tradition must have been influenced by (a document or oral tradition from) Qumran or a similar community. Reproof in 1QS V, 23-VI, 1, as in Matthew, involves a three-step process: in private (V, 23-26 = Matt. 18:15), before witnesses (VI, 1 = Matt. 18:16), and before the Many (VI, 1 = Matt. 18:17).

The evidence is thus almost completely against the hypothesis that the composer of the Didache took the reproof materials from Matt. 18:15-17. Comparing the reproof passage in Did. 15:3 with the one in Matt. 18:15-17, one can only conclude that these passages are very different, as the former displays a striking concern for charity toward the offender. Whereas Matthew emphasizes reproof as a necessary part of the legal process, any legal connotation is missing in Did. 15:3. On the contrary, Did. 15:3 does not even mention witnesses! The act of reproving is marked by brotherly love. Moreover, the Didache limits the duration of expulsion to the moment of repentance whereas in Matthew we find a rigidly official procedure emphasizing the possibility of permanent expulsion without any indication that the offender can be received back again in the community.[37]

It might be appropriate, therefore, to suggest that 1QS V, 24b-25 or a similar text was the source for Did. 15:3a:

They shall reprove one another (lehokhiakh ish et re’eho) in t[ru]th, humility, and compassionate love (be’e[met] we’anwah we’ahavat khesed) toward man. Let no one speak to his neighbour with anger (be’af) or with a snarl,…. (1QS V,24b-25)

The Greek phrase “reprove one another” (elenchete de allēlous) in Did. 15:3a may even be a translation of its Hebrew counterpart “they shall reprove one another” (lehokhiakh ish et re’eho) in 1QS V, 24b-25. Moreover, the circumstances in which mutual correction is to take place should not be rage or agitation (en orgē // Hebrew par. be’af) but harmony and friendliness (en eirēnē // Hebrew par. be’e[met] we’anwah we’ahavat khesed).[38] Both passages, Did. 15:3a and 1QS V, 24b-25, emphasizing fraternal reproof in a spirit of generosity, friendliness, and compassion demonstrate similarity in that they are almost identical verbally. The reproof passages in Matthew and the Didache show clear indications of having been developed from a text closely related to the one in 1QS V, 23-VI, 1.

Conclusion: The Relevance of Did. 7-16 for the interpretation of Matthew

The term “gospel” in Did. 15:3 or the phrase “the Lord has spoken” in Did. 9:5c do not seem to entail a dependence on Matthew. On the contrary, these designations are probably best understood as references to oral or written collections of sayings ascribed to the authority of Jesus upon which both Didache and Matthew drew. The text of these collections was likely to be circulating among its hearers and readers.

As we have seen, there are more instances in Did. 7-16 showing agreement with Matthew.[39] They too may be reproducing Jewish or Jewish Christian sources. Apparently independently of each other, Didache and Matthew drew these materials from a common pool of traditions, but reworked and contextualized them differently. In any case, it is significant to know that the Didache, in specific cases, reflects sayings at an earlier stage of their development than their parallels in Matthew.

2.3. Matthew in Light of Didache 1-6: The Two Ways

The motif of the Two Ways in Matthew 7:13-14 recalls the beginning of the Two Ways teaching in the first six chapters of the Didache. The Matthean passage has often been taken to be the source of Did. 1:1.[40] We have seen that in the Didache, the statement on two contrasting moral ways serves as a framework for the subsequent exposition of two sets of opposing ethical characteristics or antagonistic groups of people associated with the way of life (Did. 1-4) and the way of death (Did. 5), respectively. In Matt. 7:13-14, however, the metaphor has a different function. There it refers to reactions to the main body of Jesus’ explanation of the Law in the preceding part of the Sermon on the Mount (5:17-7:12). This brings us to a range of difficult questions about the Law in Matthew’s gospel. How does Matthew understand Jesus’ attitude towards the Torah? How does this Sermon relate to the Greek Two Ways? What was the relationship of Matthew’s community to Judaism? What is the role of the Torah in Matthew’s Gospel? How should we portray the type of Judaism Matthew is in dispute with?

As seen above (section 1.1), early versions of the Two Ways, found in Did. 1-6, Barnabas 18-20, and the Doctrina Apostolorum, attest to a separate circulation of a form of the Two Ways very much akin to Did. 1-6 and prove that the doctrine was widely known in the first Christian centuries. For our purposes it is important to realise that the (hypothetical) version generally reflects the wording of the Two Ways in the Didache, except for the Christianised sections 1:3b-2:1 and 6:2-3. Therefore, this paper will stick with the Christian Didache excluding those parts and details differing from the hypothesized Greek Two Ways.

The following pages will clarify that Didache 1-6 Did. not draw on Matthew but, rather that Matthew in all probability made use of the Two Ways in both his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27) and the Story of the Rich Young Man (Matt. 19:16-30).

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27) in Light of the Two Ways

Within first-century Christian circles, the doctrine of the Two Ways was employed in pre-baptismal instruction. This is explicitly stated in Did. 7:1, in a verse that directly follows the rendering of the Two Ways section: “As for baptism, baptize this way. After you have said all these things [i.e., all that is written above], baptize” (7:1). The candidate who applied for baptism was instructed in the ethical catechesis as contained in a written or oral Two Ways tradition. It is possible that the supposed life situation of a Two Ways tradition used by Matthew—that is the setting of the Two Ways before it was introduced into the present context of the Gospel—might have also been a catechetical situation, perhaps even an instruction for neophytes.[41]

Essentials of the Two Ways are particularly similar to elements of Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 5:3-7:27. The Sermon on the Mount, bracketed by the ascent of and descent from the mountain in 5:1 and 8:1, is the first detailed portrayal of Jesus as a teacher in Matthew’s Gospel. In the Sermon we can distinguish three main parts:

  1. the introduction (5:3-16),
  2. the main body (5:17-7:12) and
  3. the last section representing concluding warnings (7:13-27).

For our purpose, it is important to note that the outlook and practice promoted in the Beatitudes of the first part of the Sermon are thoroughly Jewish.

1. These proclamations (5:3-12) are pervaded with a tone of promise but, at the same time they breathe an atmosphere of exhortation and moral admonition on appropriate attitudes and correct conduct. Matthew shares four Beatitudes with Luke (6:20-22), referring to the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are persecuted.

The additional five Beatitudes in his gospel (Matt. 5:5-9) show a great interest in highly developed ethical behaviour. This advanced standard of morality, permeating the entire Sermon on the Mount, reflects the views operative in Hasidic Jewish circles,[42] a distinct group within the society of Pharisees and rabbis practising an austere interpretation of halakhoth, performing good deeds and showing a far-reaching trust in God and providence.[43] Rather than emphasising a strictly legal, halakhic approach to the Law, their instructions display a moral, personal and ethical attitude to life. As seen above (section 1.1), it was especially the early layer of this Derekh Erets literature that embodied a refined human ethic, highlighting acts of charity, modesty and humility. Prominent in this doctrine is a rigorous attitude towards the prevailing halakha and the propensity for good deeds in public life, such as the redemption of captives, the restoration of property, the consolation of mourners, the giving of alms, etc. Because they believed that a literal interpretation of the commandments resulted from a lack of positive motivation, they Did. more than the Law required. In Matt. 5:5-9, God’s blessing is promised to those disciples who exhibit attitudes of meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, and peace making.

2. The central section of the Sermon in Matthew opens and closes with references to “the Law and the Prophets” (5:17 and 7:12). This section in turn is divided into two further parts. The first part is the unit in 5:17-48, which presents a collection of materials dealing with the Law. This unit begins with an introduction containing a programmatic statement on the validity of the Torah in Matt. 5:17-20. In the next segment of this first unit (5:21-48), the so-called “antitheses” occur, each of which is made up of two parts including an initial quotation from the Law and, so it seems at first glance, Jesus’ refutation of it. The second half of the Decalogue is likely to be at the background of this section.[44]

Both the introduction (Matt. 5:17-20) and the antitheses (5:21-48) presuppose a similar spiritual and ethical thought that can also be found within the pious Jewish circles mentioned above. They believed that fulfilment of explicit halakhic duty was not in itself enough in that it Did. not exhaust one’s moral responsibility and, as a consequence, they Did. more than the literal interpretation of the Law required. The traditional material behind Matt. 5:17-48 may have been derived from a source that was identical or similar to the child (teknon) passage in Did. 3:1-6. In order to really appreciate the relevance of this unit a more detailed comment is needed.

Did. 3:1-6 consists of five small strophes, each structured according to the same distinctive, symmetrical pattern not present elsewhere in the Two Ways. Apart from some slight changes, they are built in the same framework and employ the same terminology. The verses 2-6 display a particular repetitive pattern in that each is divided into two parallel halves. The first half contains a warning against a specific minor transgression because such a sin, so it says, “leads to” a major transgression. Then, in the second half, an admonishment is offered against two or more minor sins, for these too are considered to “give birth to” a major transgression. With respect to Matt. 5:17-48 the first three verses are rendered here:

(3:1) My child (teknon mou), flee from all evil and from everything like it.

(3:2) a. Be not angry,

b. for anger leads to murder,

c. nor jealous nor irascible nor hot-tempered

d. for from these murders are born.

(3:3) a. My child, be not desirous,

b. for desire leads to sexual immorality,

c. nor foul-mouthed nor indiscreetly peering

d. for from all these adulteries are born.

Theme and terminology of Did. 3:1-6 betray close affinities with material collected and preserved in the pious milieu of early Hasidic Sages. The concept presupposed in Did. 3:1-6 is the Jewish distinction between “minor and major” or “light and heavy” commandments. The emphasis is on minor transgressions like, for example, in 4 Macc. 5:19-21. Dismissing the suggestion that less weighty sins are less serious, these verses say:

Accordingly, you must not regard it as a minor sin for us to eat unclean food; minor sins are just as weighty as great sins, for in each case the Law is despised.

The focus on the light commandments also occurs in instances of rabbinic literature like m. ’Abot 2:1; m. ’Abot 4:2 and in various other cases.[45] Moreover, an echo of the rabbinic usage of “light” and “weighty” precepts is found in the wording of Jesus: “and you have neglected the weightier matters of the Law” in Matt. 23:23b. Although explicit statements with regard to light and weighty directives are not found in the Greek Two Ways, the section in 3:1-6 is related to these views. It explains the connection between a light sin and a heavy one as the transgression of a minor precept (no anger, envy, irascibleness, etc.) leading to a transgression of a major one (murder etc.). The passage not only requires strict observance of the major precepts, but adherence to the minor commandments as well.

The most pertinent parallel to the preamble in Did. 3:1 and the subsequent strophes in 3:2-6 is found in the rabbinic Derekh Erets tractates. In these tracts, the following ethical rule serves as a résumé of moral codes:

Keep aloof from that which leads to transgression, keep aloof from everything hideous and from what even seems hideous. Shudder from committing a minor transgression, lest it leads you to commit a major transgression. Hurry to (perform) a minor precept, for this will lead you to (perform) a major precept.[46]

Certain things, not forbidden by the Law, were taken in these pious circles to be actual transgressions and are referred to as light sins. The saying shows that the popular adage, to be as careful of an unimportant precept as of an important one, in its original meaning was an alternative form of the counsel:

My child, flee from all evil and from anything resembling it. (Did. 3:1)

The preoccupation of this teknon-section as a whole, with its repetitive use of the phrase teknon mou (“my child”) is expressed in the introductory sentence of 3:1. It is intended to highlight the avoidance of anything resembling evil because it leads to evil itself. The tradition is the basis upon which the hasidically-oriented materials have been formulated as a moral guide for Derekh Erets.

The opening unit in Matt. 5:17-20 has the programmatic significance of supplying the reader with a clue as to the right interpretation of the Scripture quotations in the subsequent antitheses. In this opening section, we face the transparent principles of hermeneutics which are applied to the traditional commandments of the Scripture in Matt. 5:21-48. It is not difficult to envisage that the sayings in Matt. 5:19 and GTW 3:1 belong to the same particular strand of Jewish tradition:

5:18For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

When Matthew has Jesus demand that the disciples’ righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20), he not only validates the maintenance of the Torah (v. 18) but also the keeping of the “least of these commandments” (v. 19). The jot and tittle stand for both the smallest graphic elements of the Law in a literal (v. 18) and figurative (v. 19) sense. The Matthe-an features become particularly clear in Matt. 5:20, which certainly exhibits Matthew’s favorite diction, that is, his choice of words and phraseology.[47] Through redactional shaping Matthew seems to be countering contemporary issues of authority. The “scribes and Pharisees,” his opponents, are negative counterparts to the disciples.[48] The expression about “righteousness” going “beyond” that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20) is echoed in 5:48: “You, therefore, must be perfect (teleioi), as your heavenly Father is perfect (teleios).” The idea of greater righteousness is found again in the idea of perfection in 5:48 and both verses 5:20 and 48 serve to frame the six antitheses in 5:21-47.

In Matt. 5:21-48, Jesus is presented as an authoritative teacher in order to establish a binding interpretation of the Torah against the views of a contending party. His counterstatement radicalises, intensifies and transcends the premise rather than revoking or changing it.[49] The sayings concern anger and murder, lust and adultery, divorce, and teachings about oaths, retaliation, and love of one’s enemy. Their meaning boils down to the following: Not only must you not kill, you must not even reach that level of anger (5:21-22). Not only must you not commit adultery, you must not even look desirously at another man’s wife (5:27-28) and so forth.[50]

This was also the quintessence of pious ethics. The maxim “be heedful of a light precept as of a weighty one” (m. ’Abot 2:1) serves as a recapitulation of morality found in the refined ethics represented by the Derekh Erets tracts.[51] The saying provides the critical principle by which the Law is to be read, interpreted and evaluated within the early milieu of Derekh Erets and within the circles in which the Two Ways and Matt. 5:17-48 were originally kept alive. In Matt. 5:21-48 Jesus carries forward the teaching already implicit in the weighty commandments by expounding them within the parameters of the maxim that a light commandment is as important as a weighty one.[52]

The second division (Matt. 6:1-7:12) of the central section of the Sermon on the Mount is only indirectly connected with issues of the Law and is somewhat loosely related to the other Sermon elements as well. In 7:12, finally, this middle section is brought to a close by a positive formulation of the Golden Rule:

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew’s version of the Golden Rule is somewhat peculiar as compared with Luke since in Matt. 7:12c the ensuing phrase is provided, indicating that the Golden Rule can serve as an underlying principle of “the Law and the Prophets.” The clause is missing in the parallel verse in Luke 6:31. It may have been inserted by Matthew to create a deliberate link between the Golden Rule and the almost identical phrase in 5:17.

The vv. 5:17 and 7:12, then, form a thematic inclusion around the core of the middle section. Inserted at the end of the main body of the Sermon, the Golden Rule occupies a significant position. Matthew perceives the Golden Rule as an eminent summary and decisive climax of the preceding demands, prohibitions, and ethical discussion in 5:17-7:12.[53] In the final resolution, the Law is reaffirmed and joined with the principle of love of neighbour. To love God and one’s neighbour embraces the entirety of the Law and the prophets (Matt. 22:34-40). At this point it is essential to note that the same phenomenon occurs in the teaching of Didache 1-6. In the Greek Two Ways 1:2, the double love commandment, i.e., love of God and love of neighbour, and the Golden Rule serve as the essential components of the Way of Life.[54]

The importance of this observation increases when one sees that Matthew—unlike Mark and Luke—places the Golden Rule in close proximity to a statement on the Two Ways in Matt. 7:13-14:

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life (zōē), and those who find it are few.

These verses show close affinities to Luke 13:23-24:

And someone said to him: ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’

Both Matthew and Luke might have drawn on the common Q source. We cannot deal with this verse extensively here, but suffice it to note that according to many scholars Luke has retained the statement in a more authentic form.[55] Because the Two Ways motif in Matthew appears to seriously interfere with the structural pattern of the statement on the gates in Luke, it may have been added to the proclamation at a later stage.[56] In that case, Matthew or his tradition adapted and expanded the original gate saying by the inclusion of the Two Ways emphasis.

3. At the beginning of the final section of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew opens a general drift of two opposing paradigms by presenting the Two Ways (7:13-14), contrasting the way that leads to destruction with the way that leads to life. In these concluding units he confronts the readers with an ultimatum. The choice is between these alternatives and there is no middle way. They represent the dualistic trend of answering Jesus’ call for acceptance of his words. The metaphor of the Two Ways and its elaboration in Matt. 7:13-27 reflects the reactions to Jesus’ explanation of the Law in the preceding part of the Sermon on the Mount. The admonition against false prophets (7:15-23) offers a polarity of good trees and virtuous fruit (good natures generating good deeds) with bad trees and evil fruit (bad natures producing bad deeds). The community is warned against false prophets who are hard to identify. But since a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bad fruit, the disciples can discern these disguised false prophets by their practices and lifestyle. In 7:19 the Matthean Jesus depicts their fate at the final judgment. The tree that bears bad fruit will be cut down for firewood.[57]

This subject of false prophets continues through vv. 21-23, mentioning those who do the will of the Father as opposed to those who do not. Although the false prophets confess Jesus as Lord, prophesy in his name and perform other mighty works, Matthew has Jesus radically dismiss them with the words from Ps 6:9 as “workers of lawlessness” (7:23). They fail to do the will of the Father. In the subsequent parable of the two builders (7:24-27), the antithesis is between those hearing and obeying the words of Jesus and those hearing but not obeying them. He who hears Jesus’ words and obeys them is compared to a wise man who built his house upon a rock. On the other hand, he who hears Jesus’ words and does not obey them is compared to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The first house built on the solid foundation (that is, those who hear and follow the teachings of Jesus) will survive the overwhelming and threatening storm and flood, that is, final judgment,[58] whereas the latter (those who hear but do not follow Jesus’ teachings) will be entirely devastated.

The Way of Life and the Way of Death as metaphor in Matt. 7:13-14 have been given an orientation toward the ultimate destiny of humankind. Closely related to the ethics of the Greek Two Ways, Jesus is the one who definitively interprets the Law so that his words provide the basis for “life” (5:21-48; 7:24-27; 12:1-14). Entering the narrow gate or going down the constricted way by means of bearing good fruit (7:17), performing the will of the Father (7:21), or complying with the words of Jesus (7:24) ultimately leads to a state of unending blessedness. Going the right way is responding to the words of Jesus which, in fact, comes down to living in accordance with his exposition of the Law (5:17 and 7:12) as it is delivered in the Sermon on the Mount.

Examining the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, one establishes that the Two Ways motif (Matt. 7:13-14) appears close to the Golden Rule (7:12), which is the essential scope and climax of the preceding rules of conduct for believers. Furthermore, it was observed that the section in 5:17-48 reflects the second half of the Decalogue and emphasizes a distinct characteristic of Derekh Erets.[59] Finally, the macarisms (beatitudes) in 5:3-12 embodied the type of norms and values which pious Hasidic Jews strived for. The same elements are found in the Greek Two Ways, albeit in an inverted position. There the metaphor of the Way of Life (1:1) is followed by the Golden Rule and the double love command as the fundamental principles underlying the further explanation of the Way of Life (1:2). Did. 2:2-7 contains a list of precepts clearly meant to illustrate, expand and expound upon the second half of the Decalogue.[60] A similar catalogue of Decalogue materials is found in the vices listed in the teknon-unit in Did. 3:1-6. This part of the Two Ways is followed by and concluded with a list of moral values in which counsel about social conduct, acquiescent meekness and a gentle heart prevails (3:7-4:14). The portions Matt. 5:3-12, 17-48; 7:12, 13-14 probably represent a reworking of a pre-Matthean Q source which is also reflected in Luke 6:20-49 and 13:23-24. Matthew may have considerably revised the Q sermon here under the influence of an ancient Two Ways version.

The Story of the Rich Young Man (Matt. 19:16-30) in Light of the Two Ways

In addition to the Sermon on the Mount, the Matthean version of the story of the Rich Young Man is also coloured by a form of the Two Ways. Matthew’s acquaintance with the Two Ways suggests the possibility that he read the Markan version of the rich man’s account in a similar vein.

The story—as reported by Matthew—consists of three parts.[61] In the first subsection (19:16-22) a rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments of the second half of the Decalogue. The young man claims he has observed them and Jesus then instructs him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. This proves too much to ask of the young man. He goes away sad. The second and third subsections render Jesus’ discussions with his disciples. He first (vv. 23-26) instructs them about wealth, emphasizing that it will be as impossible for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. The disciples ask whether anyone can be saved and Jesus replies that God is able to do everything. The third subsection (vv. 27-30) contrasts the rich man’s refusal to give away his wealth with the disciples’ response of leaving families and possessions. Peter asks what he and the other disciples who have left everything and followed Jesus will receive as their reward.

The Matthean version of the story as a whole is based upon Mark 10:17-31. Both accounts evidence the basic idea of a fundamental contrast between possessions and property in this life and the treasures of the coming kingdom. Closer examination, however, shows that Matthew has exercised considerable freedom in rewriting Mark’s account. The story of the rich young man opens with the question in Matt. 19:16: “What good deed must I do to have eternal life (zōē aiōnion)?” The first usage of the word “life” in Matthew’s Gospel is found in Matt. 7:13-14, where there is mention of an easy way “that leads to destruction” and a hard way “that leads to life (zōē).” The antithetical parallelism recalls the beginning of a teaching of the Two Ways section passed on in the first six chapters of the Didache.

Matthew might have read the Markan version of the rich man’s story along the same lines. What changes does he make to his Markan source? Right at the beginning, Matthew has the rich young man ask: “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life? (19:16). Matthew has Jesus reply in v. 17 by replacing the man’s wording of “to have” with “to enter” and changing “eternal life” to just “life”: “If you wish to enter life (zōē), keep the commandments.” A first indication suggesting an image of a way or road is found right at the beginning of Jesus’ dialogue with the rich man. This revision is redactional and seems to reflect an attempt to conceive the question within the framework of the Two Ways. It “transfers the man from the market to the road and implies that he must make a pilgrimage instead of a purchase.”[62]

Another remarkable change in comparison to Mark is Matthew’s transformation of the man into a young man in v. 20. Matthew drops the phrase “from my youth” in Mark 10:20 and labels him “the young man” twice (19:20, 22). In Luke 18:18 the young man is called a “ruler” which may be considered another hint of his being mature in age. Why Did. Matthew alter the man’s age? Matthew may have identified the questioner as a “young man” so as to emphasize the instruction needed to enter a new life. We have seen that the Two Ways often served as a basic catechetical instruction preceding the ritual of baptism. Since the life situation (Sitz-im-Leben) of the teaching used by Matthew was a catechetical one, perhaps even an instruction for neophytes, Matthew compared the rich man to a convert and calls him “young.”[63]

Additional alterations introduced in Mark’s version of the story betray Two Ways traits as well. Matthew’s negative formulation of the commandments—all having the Greek negative ou (“not”) followed by a second person future indicative instead of (“not”) followed by an aorist subjunctive—deviates from Mark’s wording. Matthew Did. not assimilate the rendering of Scripture here to the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, but instead adapted Mark’s rendering of the commandments to the phraseology of his Two Ways version. In his usage of the negative ou followed by a second person future indicative, Matthew falls back on the Two Ways wording that exhibits the same phraseology.[64]

More important is the adjustment in Matt. 19:18-19. Jesus instructs the questioner to keep the second table of the Decalogue in order to enter life. The link between “life” and commandments was quite common in Jewish tradition.[65] Matt. 19:18-19 might thus reflect traces of a common catechism, a view that is substantiated by the Greek article to (“the”) preceding the Decalogue commands in Matt. 19:18. When Matthew, deviating from Mark 10:19 (and Luke 18:20), appends this to, he as much as says he is reproducing familiar (catechetical) material. And there is something else here that is significant. Unlike Mark, Matthew attaches the summary command of Lev. 19:18 as well. The commands from the second table of the Decalogue are associated with neighbourly love:

You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt. 19:18b-19)

By stressing the triad of life (zōē in v. 16 and again in v. 17), the second table of the Decalogue (vv. 18b-19a), and the principle of neighbourly love (v. 19b) Matthew’s version of the Rich Man’s episode reflects a substantial part of the Two Ways teaching.[66] For we have seen that the reconstructed Way of Life is defined first by a fusion of the commandments of divine and altruistic love, the subsequent Golden Rule and a list of precepts covering the second table of the Ten Commandments in Did. 2:2-7.[67] By introducing this material through the article to Matthew was able to recall the whole of the common instruction about the Way of Life.

The term “perfect” (teleios) in the clause “if you wish to be perfect” (v. 21) has no Markan counterpart and, aside from the additional occurrence in Matt. 5:48, it is not found anywhere else in the Gospels. In Matt. 5:48 it serves to conclude 5:21-48, the pericope which presents examples of what it means to abide by a “greater righteousness.” Jesus’ requirement in 5:20 that the disciples’ righteousness must “go beyond” than that of the scribes and Pharisees[68] is echoed in 5:48: “You, therefore, must be perfect (teleioi), as your heavenly Father is perfect (teleios).” The charge in Matt. 19:21 corresponds to the greater righteousness announced in Matt. 5:20, implying that more Torah must be done than the legal minimum.[69] Following Jesus requires observing the commandments along with their explanation by Jesus. Since the word teleios is lacking in the other Gospels it is surprising to find it in the Didache twice. In Did. 1:4 the phrase “and you will be perfect” occurs in a context of non-retaliation, while in Did. 6:2a those who are able to carry the “whole yoke of the Lord” are called “perfect.” As already indicated, I believe Did. 1:3b-2:1 and 6:2-3 to be later Christian additions to a basic Jewish Two Ways tradition. On the other hand, the repeated occurrence of the term “perfect” in precisely those Matthean contexts which display a close affinity with the Two Ways may indicate that Matthew was acquainted with a copy of the Two Ways that included Did. 6:2-3. Matthew might have used a Christianized Two Ways since the instruction probably preceded baptism in his community.

We can draw the conclusion, then, that the Two Ways teaching sheds light on the story of the rich young man in Matt. 19:16-22 in two respects. First, it is clear that observance of the second table of the Decalogue in vv. 18-19 does not suffice to be qualified for eternal life. In Matthew the rich man asks: “What do I still lack” (v. 20b)? Obviously the speaker believes he has faithfully observed the Law, but in spite of his obedience Matthew shows him to be aware of his failure to enter life. Matthew has Jesus reply in v. 21: “If you wish to be perfect (teleios), then go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor.” This higher ethical standard is not an additional requirement but the concrete enactment of the command to love one’s neighbour.[70]

This brings us to the second point. There appears to be a significant distinction between keeping Torah within a normal Jewish framework of expectations (vv. 18-19) and keeping Torah as defined by the love command (vv. 18-22). In Matthew, the emphasis on obeying the second half of the Decalogue is far more than simply a quantitative demand for compliance with every commandment; it is a requirement to live out all the implications of loving one’s neighbour. Of course, Matthew’s presentation varies from the pattern in the Two Ways tradition since he relies significantly on Mark’s Gospel and largely follows his word order. Yet, by adding the love commandment to the second part of the Decalogue, Matthew indicates that rather than considering all injunctions of the Torah of equal weight, he prioritizes values. In Matthew and the Two Ways the love commandment is a principle of primary significance. The Law is subordinated to a single dominant perspective through which all the other commandments and directives are interpreted.[71]

It is important to establish that in describing Jesus’ general statement about the rich in vv. 23-26, Matthew still follows Mark’s narrative quite closely and preserves the same solution: ultimately only God makes salvation possible (v. 26). In v. 23 Matthew largely agrees with the phraseology of Mark 10:23 where Jesus turns from the rich man to his disciples commenting on what has just happened: “And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’” The next verse in Mark, however, is not found in Matthew: “And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard is it to enter the kingdom of God!’” It is striking that after 19:23 Matthew omits the wide-ranging statement of Mark 10:24. Whereas Mark has changed the subject from the rich man to all men, Matthew keeps the discussion on the subject of riches and the kingdom.[72] He finds it impossible for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom.

According to Matthew, one either lives by God’s values or by those based on wealth. A similar dualistic trend is found in Matt. 7:13-14 where the Two Ways theme sets the stage for the contrasting replies to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that follow in the final section (7:13-27). The Two Ways represent the dualistic trend of answering Jesus’ call for acceptance of his words. The deeds or behaviour of the false prophets (7:15-23) offers a polarity of good trees and virtuous fruit with bad trees and evil fruit. This subject continues through vv. 21-23, mentioning those who do the will of the Father as opposed to those who do not. Also, in the subsequent parable of the two builders (7:24-27) the antithesis is between those hearing and practising the words of Jesus and those hearing but not practising them.

The call for voluntary poverty in Matt. 19:21 was not answered in v. 22. For the sake of his wealth the rich man rejected Jesus’ offer of eternal life by walking the right path. In 19:23-26, the image of the two ways is applied in terms of a behavioural contrast between the wealthy and others. Wealth and prosperity is a power that forces a rich man to choose between God and his possessions, between treasure in heaven and treasure on earth. In Mark 10:21, Jesus looks at the man and loves him. In Matthew there is no mention of Jesus’ love for the rich young man. After all, this man has forfeited life (see also 6:24 and 16:26) since when given the choice he opted for mammon.

At the beginning of the final section (vv. 27-30), Peter, picking up on Jesus’ promise to the rich man of a “treasure in heaven” (19:21), asks about the disciples’ future and reward (19:27). For in contrast to the rich man, they were not trapped by wealth but “left everything and followed you.” Where the rich man fails, Peter and others succeed. Jesus responds in vv. 28-30. It would take too much space to enter into details here.[73] Suffice it to say that Jesus’ response focuses on the disciples’ fortune at the Last Judgment.

In order to understand we must turn to Matt. 7:13-27 again since that passage closely parallels 19:23-30. We noted above that Matt. 7:13-27 offers the Two Ways (7:13-14) as interpreting two mutually exclusive modes of answering Jesus’ call. The ways of life and death take on new meanings here. In 7:19 the Matthean Jesus depicts the fate at the final judgment of trees that bear bad fruit. They will be cut down for firewood. This is followed by the solemn declaration of a primary criterion of divine judgment in 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” The concluding passage in 7:24-27 sets out stark alternatives again. The first house built on the solid foundation will survive the overwhelming and threatening storm and flood, that is, Last Judgment, whereas the latter will be entirely shattered. The Way of Life and the Way of Death as metaphor in Matt. 7:13-14 have been given an eschatological connotation, an explanation targeted at the End Time. Closely related to the ethics of the Greek Two Ways, Jesus is the one who definitively interprets the Law such that his words provide the basis for “life” (5:21-48; 7:24-27).

A similar Two Ways interpretation seems to be presupposed in Matt. 19:27-30. Since following Jesus involved complete fulfilment of the Torah’s requirements in accordance with Jesus’ exposition, the Twelve are rewarded with the special privilege of sitting on twelve thrones and judging the twelve tribes of Israel (v. 28c).[74] The themes of life and death are interpreted in the perspective of the ultimate destiny of the world. Obedience to the right way is not determined by its puny earthly reward, but instead is remunerated by the infinitely greater post-Judgment reward. This reward is not expected in this mortal life, but as an eschatological good to be realized in immortality. With respect to the approaching End, the word “life” comes to indicate divine exoneration and acquittal contrary to conviction and being found guilty. The interpretation of the terms “life” and “death” is updated to eternal life and eternal death. By his present conduct, by following Jesus, that is, by carrying out the ethical mandates provided, man can also become worthy of eternal life.

3. General Conclusions

It is worth noticing that Did. 9:5d and 15:3 are two instances in the Didache unambiguously referring to “the Lord has spoken” and the “gospel” while at the same time reflecting explicit quotations more or less corresponding to particular occurrences in Matthew. If this meant that the text of the manual derives from Matthew then it would be hard to corroborate, substantiate or readjust a portrayal of the historical situation behind Matthew’s text. In light of the above evidence the conclusion seems justified, however, that rather than the Didache referring to Matthew, both Matthew and the Didache independently transmuted and rewrote similar Jewish traditions. This practice may have been a result of the immediate ties each work had with the community where these traditions were transmitted. It is thus not far-fetched to suppose that at least parts of the text of the Didache 7-16 were compiled in fairly close contact with the community in which Matthew’s gospel arose.

It seems unlikely that the Two Ways teaching, orally or in writing, was restricted to the community from which the Didache is derived. The instruction might have been used as a pre-baptismal catechesis in many local Christian communities other than the Didache. This opens up a whole new area of research that awaits further fruitful exploration with respect to New Testament literature because it allows us additional insight into the situation of the writer and hearers. If familiarity with the Two Ways’ catechesis preceding the rite of baptism was indeed widespread among first-century Christian communities, we will gain a deeper insight in the preconception of early Christians and this would help us better understand their documents.[75] The identification of a pre-literary tradition in literary texts grants us knowledge about the situation of the writer and hearers that otherwise may be overlooked. When we restrict ourselves to the example of the Rich Young Man in Matt. 19:16-30, this line of approach helps us to discover the significance of various themes in vv. 16-22, that is, the question about life, the second half of the Decalogue, the addition of the love command and the reference to perfection. Moreover, this approach also clarifies why Matthew left out most of Mark 10:24 and inserted the eschatological role of the Twelve in Matt. 19:28. Matthew applies the conceptual tool of a choice between life and death by drawing a sharp contrast between voluntary poverty and wealth. Wealthy people cannot enter eternal life (vv. 16-22. 23-26). Only when one observes the rulings of the right Way, “life” becomes “eternal life” which lies entirely in the future (vv. 27-30). Choosing the right way leads to eternal life. Matthew probably envisaged a role for the Two Ways in this Rich Man narrative because he and his intended readers—all baptized followers of Jesus—might have been reminded of their initiation into the Matthean community by reading Mark’s story of discipleship, wealth and eternal life. For this reason, Matthew even emphasizes the rich man’s youth.

It would be conjectural to restore here the form of the Two Ways version that guided Matthew in systematizing his material for the gospel. The tradition of the Two Ways was kept alive within virtuous Jewish factions but developed within the Didache community into a pre-baptismal catechesis for Gentiles. As a result of their education, Jews generally would have grasped what God required of them. For non-Jews, however, the Jewish Two Ways dichotomy served as a framework for understanding the radical alteration in behaviour and commitments that the Gentile convert was expected to make. On the other hand, Matthew also assumed there to be a great difference between his community’s ethos and that of Jewish outsiders. He describes the substantial discrepancy between the tougher standards of his group’s elevated ethics and the circles of scribes and Pharisees as a “going beyond” relation expressed in the ideal of attaining a “perfect” (teleios) moral behaviour. In order to set apart his community from its Jewish environment he probably used a Christianized version of the Two Ways. The insiders were considered a Law-fulfilling community whose righteousness—based on Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah—was even greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20).

The basic ethical unit of the Two Ways finds its best explanation in the light of traditions that were current in Jewish Hasidic circles, i.e., those pious Jewish groups responsible for the formation of the earliest kernel of Derekh Erets literature. The early portions of Derekh Erets and the Two Ways as well as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (which I did not deal with here), represent a well-defined trend in early Judaism, which met a definite local need in providing humane ethical principles. It is possible that Jesus belonged to these Hasidim. In any case, his moral views of life and humanity, especially his position in the Sermon on the Mount, are so closely related to the ethics of the Greek Two Ways that his approach seems to have evolved out of these very circles.

Of course, Matthew’s portrait of Jesus’ attitude towards the Law must not be separated from Matthew’s own attitude towards the Law and that of his community. We should constantly be aware that in exploring Jesus’ attitude towards the Law, one is, in fact, investigating Jesus’ attitude towards the Law according to Matthew. This is not to deny, however, that some form of the Golden Rule, being a summary of all provisions of the Torah, may have its ultimate roots in Jesus’ ministry. As seen above, the diverse precepts in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5:17-7:12 and the Way of Life in Did. 1:2-4:14 are organized by and subsumed under the love command (Matt. 7:12 and Did. 1:2). In Matthew, the absolute importance of this principle of love for interpreting the law is also emphasized in many other ways. The love command of Lev. 19:18 is quoted as many as three times in Matthew (5:43; 19:19; 22:39). Moreover, it is also repeatedly articulated with the help of cognates expressing the concept of “mercy” like eleos (9:13; 12:7; 23:23), eleein (“to have pity” in 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; 20:30. 31) and splanchnizesthai (“feel compassion / mercy” in 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34). The emphasis on the love commandments and mercy serve both the community in its internal orientation and in its contrast to other groups.

However, this theme is not just found in Matthew. Evidence in other New Testament writings (Mark 22:31 par.; Luke 6:27-36; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14) indicates that also for Jesus himself the love commandment probably served as the centre of Law. Thus, although the precise formulation and location of the Golden Rule in Matt. 7:12 might be Matthew’s, it hardly seems likely that it would not represent what Jesus actually taught.

  • [1] Huub van de Sandt and David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, (Compendia rerum iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum 3/5; Assen: Van Gorcum-Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 16-24.
  • [2] This latter rule is not only reflected in the Two Ways 1:2c but is frequently found throughout Jewish, Christian, and Hellenistic sources. About the so called “Golden Rule,” see Philip S. Alexander, “Jesus and the Golden Rule,” in Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders (ed. J. H. Charlesworth and L. L. Johns; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 363-388.
  • [3] Willy Rordorf and André Tuilier, La Doctrine des douze Apôtres (Didachè) (2nd ed.; Sources Chrétiennes 248 bis; Paris: Cerf, 1998), 24; Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache: A Commentary (trans. L. M. Maloney; Hermeneia, Minneapolis; Fortress, 1998), 36-38.59-63.
  • [4] Such as the Apostolic Church Order, the Epitome of the Canons of the Holy Apostles, the Arabic Life of Shenute, the Ps.-Athanasian Syntagma Doctrinae, and the Fides CCCXVIII Patrum.
  • [5] Van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 155-182.
  • [6] The early layer of these tractates reflects a lifestyle which is called “derekh hasidut,” the way of the pious. It reveals the teachings of the early Hasidim who, according to Myron B. Lerner, “The External Tractates,” in The Literature of the Sages (ed. S. Safrai; Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum 2/3; Assen: Van Gorcum-Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) 367-404 (380), “placed extreme stress on self-deprival and the performance of good deeds and acts of loving kindness.”
  • [7] See, e.g., “Hasidim,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (16 vols.; Jerusalem: Keter, 1962), 7:1383-1388; Heinz Kremers, “Die Ethik der galiläischen Chassidim und die Ethik Jesu,” in K. Ebert, Alltagswelt und Ethik (Wuppertal: Peter Hammer Verlag, 1988), 143-156.
  • [8] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 202.
  • [9] Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, for example, considers the “allowance of pouring instead of immersion” as an “anomaly” and “a break with Jewish practice” (206). However, this need not necessarily be a rupture with its Jewish environment. The highlighting of “moral purity,” common in early Christian literature, was also widespread in in Philo’s works and in the Qumran scrolls, see Jonathan Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 64-66; 48-56, 67-91. One may thus view this change in emphasis as an inner-Jewish phenomenon.
  • [10] This is not the appropriate place to dig deeper into the distinction between “ritual” and “moral” impurity. Whereas the sources of ritual impurity are mostly confined to natural phenomena, including childbirth, the carcasses of animals, menstrual and seminal emissions, skin disease, or a human corpse, moral impurity results from immoral acts such as sexual sins (Lev. 18:24-30), idolatry (Lev. 19:31; 20:1-3), and bloodshed (Num. 35:33-34). See Klawans, Impurity and Sin, 21-31.
  • [11] See for instance Dan. 6:11; 2 En. 51:4; m. Ber. 4:1 (and see also 4:3.7).
  • [12] See for example Peter J. Tomson, “The wars against Rome, the rise of Rabbinic Judaism and of Apostolic Gentile Christianity, and the Judaeo-Christians; elements for a synthesis,” in The Image of the Judaeo-Christians in Ancient Jewish and Christian Literature (ed. P. J. Tomson and D. Lambers-Petry; Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 158; Tübingen: Mohr, 2003), 1-31 (9-10 and n. 40); Marcello Del Verme, Didache and Judaism: Jewish Roots of an Ancient Christian-Jewish Work (New York-London: T&T Clark, 2004), 185; Jonathan A. Draper, “Christian Self-Definition against the ‘Hypocrites’ in Didache VIII,” in The Didache in Modern Research (ed. J. A. Draper; Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 37; Leiden: Brill, 1996), 223-243.
  • [13] Peter J. Tomson, “The Lord’s Prayer (Didache 8) at the Faultline of Judaism and Christianity,” in The Didache: A Missing Piece of the Puzzle in Early Christianity (ed. J. A. Draper and C. N. Jefford; Early Christianity and Its Literature 14; Atlanta: SBL, 2015), 165-187 (183-185).
  • [14] See for example Enrico Mazza, The Origins of the Eucharistic Prayer (trans. R. E. Lane; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1995), 13-18; Niederwimmer, The Didache, 156-160; Alan J. P. Garrow, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache (Journal for the Study of the New Testament—Supplement Series 254, London: T&T Clark, 2004), 17-19; Van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 309-329; etc.
  • [15] See also Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. (New York: Newman, 2003), 416-421; Jonathan A. Draper, “Ritual Process and Ritual Symbol in Didache 7-10,” Vigiliae Christianae 54 (2000): 121-158; Matthias Klinghardt, Gemeinschaftsmahl und Mahlgemeinschaft: Soziologie und Liturgie frühchristlicher Mahlfeiern (Texte und Arbeiten zum neutestamentlichen Zeitalter 13, Tübingen: Francke Verlag, 1996), 407-427.
  • [16] Jonathan Schwiebert, Knowledge and the Coming Kingdom: The Didache’s Meal Ritual and its Place in Early Christianity (Library of New Testament Studies 373, London: T&T Clark, 2008), 119; Mazza, Origins of the Eucharistic Prayer, 156-159; Van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 316-318.
  • [17] Huub van de Sandt, “The Gathering of the Church in the Kingdom: The Self-Understanding of the Didache Community in the Eucharistic Prayers,” in Society of Biblical Literature—Seminar Papers 42 (Atlanta: SBL, 2003), 69-88.
  • [18] See Van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 340-341.
  • [19] The community is required to “break bread, and give thanks,” expressions that correspond with “broken bread” and “giving thanks” in Did. 9-10. The descriptions in Did. 14:1 seem to refer to one and the same eucharistic ritual. The text associates this meal with the idea of sacrifice (thysia); see Schwiebert, Knowledge and the Coming Kingdom, 167.
  • [20] Rordorf and Tuilier, La Doctrine, 64-65.
  • [21] William D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, The Gospel according to Saint Matthew (3rd ed.; International Critical Commentary; vols. 1-3, London-New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 1:127-138 and see the list of scholars there adopting a similar position (128).
  • [22] For references, see John S. Kloppenborg, “The Use of the Synoptics or Q in Did. 1:3b-2:1,” in Matthew and the Didache: Two Documents from the same Jewish-Christian Milieu? (ed. H. van de Sandt; Assen: Van Gorcum-Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 105-129 (105, n. 2).
  • [23] R. Hugh Connolly, “Canon Streeter on the Didache,” Journal of Theological Studies 38 (1937): 364-379 (367-370); Frederick E. Vokes, The Riddle of the Didache. Fact or Fiction, Heresy or Catholicism? (The Church Historical Society 32; London: SPCK, 1938), 51-61.
  • [24] Minus Did. 8:2b; 11:3b; 15:3-4 and 16:7 according to Garrow, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence.
  • [25] Édouard Massaux, Influence de l’Évangile de saint Matthieu sur la littérature chrétienne avant saint Irénée (Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 75; Leuven: University Press-Peeters, 1950; repr. Leuven, 1986), 604-646 (618); Donald A. Hagner, The Use of the Old and New Testaments in Clement of Rome (Novum Testamentum Supplements 34; Leiden: Brill, 1973), 280; Kurt Wengst, Didache (Apostellehre): Barnabasbrief. Zweiter Klemensbrief. Schrift an Diognet (Schriften des Urchristentums 2; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1984), 28; Helmut Köster, Synoptische Überlieferung bei den apostolischen Vätern (Texte und Untersuchungen 65, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1957), at first leaves the question open (198-200), but after having dealt with other similar instances in the Didache, he is inclined to believe that the document is not dependent on (one of) the Synoptic Gospels (240). For a more elaborate version of this section, see my ‘“Do not Give What is Holy to the Dogs” (Did. 9:5d and Matt. 7:6a): the Eucharistic Food of the Didache in its Jewish Purity Setting’, Vigiliae Christianae 56 (2002): 223-46.
  • [26] See Elisha Qimron and John Strugnell, Qumran Cave 4 5: Miqsat Maʻaśe ha-Torah (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 10; Oxford: Clarendon 1994), 52-53. A similar ban applied to chickens as well; see also Elisha Qimron, “The Chicken and the Dog and the Temple Scroll,” Tarbiz 64 (1994) 473-476 (Hebrew) (for an English translation of Qimron’s article, click here). Joshua Tilton kindly provided me with this publication.
  • [27] It has been noted that the acquaintance with the above halakha was not restricted to the Qumran community only since it is probably echoed in Rev 22:15 where it says: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practises falsehood” (compare 21:8). The author of Revelation apparently was familiar with the established halakha of 4QMMT and explains the rule in a spiritual way (See Marc Philonenko, “’Dehors les chiens.’ Apocalypse 22.16 et 4QMMT B 58-62,” New Testament Studies 43 [1997] 445-450). He applies it to the heavenly Jerusalem and considers the “dogs outside” to represent the apostates and false teachers. The text suggests the disciplinary measure of excluding false teachers and those who commit the most grievous sins (the sorcerers, fornicators, murderers and idolaters) from the city.
  • [28] Such as in m. Temurah 6:5; t. Temurah 4:11; y. Maʻaśer Šeni 2:5, 53c; b. Temurah 17a; 31a; 33a-b; b. Bekorot 15a (2x); b. Šebuʻot 11b. For the specific quotations of these instances, see the notes in my ‘“Do not Give What is Holy to the Dogs,”’ 229-231.
  • [29] Pisqa 118; see H. S. Horovitz (ed.), Siphre d’be Rab I: Siphre ad Numeros adjecto Siphre zutta (Corpus Tannaiticum 3/1; Leipzig 1917; corr. repr Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1966), 138.
  • [30] The Qumran Essenes seem to have anticipated the propensity to extend the sacred meals beyond the altar and the temple in Jerusalem and, like the Qumran group, many other Jews of the Second Temple period observed ritual purity when participating in secular meals; see Huub van de Sandt, “Why does the Didache Conceive of the Eucharist as a Holy Meal?” Vigiliae Christianae 65 (2011): 1-20.
  • [31] The wording “as a gentile and tax-collector” in Matt. 18:17b, referring to the punishment of expulsion, stands out from the Matthean gospel as a whole with respect to its pejorative tone. The gist of the expression applies neither to the life of Jesus nor to the Gospel of Matthew. It is improbable that the historical Jesus, who extended the possibility of conversion to the toll-collectors and sinners, would have used this phraseology in such a context. With regard to Matthew, the expression appears to contradict the favourable attitude toward pagans and tax-collectors displayed throughout Matthew’s gospel. It is therefore unlikely that we are dealing here with words pronounced by Jesus or created by Matthew.
  • [32] For references, see Niederwimmer, The Didache, 204, n. 10. For a more detailed treatment of this subject, see my “Two Windows on a Developing Jewish-Christian Reproof Practice: Matt. 18:15-17 and Did. 15:3,” in Van de Sandt (ed.), Matthew and the Didache, 173-192.
  • [33] See Lawrence H. Schiffman, “Reproof as a Requisite for Punishment,” in Sectarian Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Courts, Testimony and the Penal Code (ed. L. H. Schiffman; Brown Judaic Studies 33; Chico Calif.: Scholars, 1983), 89-109 (97-98); this article was published in an almost identical version as “Reproof as a Requisite for Punishment in the Law of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Jewish Law Association Studies 2: The Jerusalem Conference Volume (ed. B. S. Jackson; The Jewish Law Association. Papers and Proceedings; Atlanta Ga: Scholars, 1986), 59-74; Moshe Weinfeld, The Organizational Pattern and the Penal Code of the Qumran Sect: A Comparison with Guilds and Religious Associations of the Hellenistic-Roman Period (Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus 2; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986), 74-76; Bernard S. Jackson, “Testes singulares in Early Jewish Law and the New Testament,” in Essays in Jewish and Comparative Legal History (ed. B. S. Jackson; Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity 10; Leiden: Brill, 1975), 172-201 (175-76) and n. 6.
  • [34] See Van de Sandt, “Two Windows,” 185-186.
  • [35] Florentino García Martínez, “La Reprensión fraterna en Qumrán y Mt 18,15-17,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 2 (1989): 23-40; trans. “Brotherly Rebuke in Qumran and Mt 18:15-17,” in The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Writings, Beliefs and Practices (ed. F. García Martínez and J. Trebolle Barrera; Leiden: Brill, 1995), 221-232; Schiffman, “Reproof as a Requisite for Punishment,” 94-96.
  • [36] See Weinfeld, The Organizational Pattern, 38-41, 75; Jacob Licht, The Rule Scroll: A Scroll from the Wilderness of Judaea: 1QS – 1QSa – 1QSb (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1965), 137 (Hebr.); Michael Knibb, The Qumran Community (Cambridge Commentaries on Writings of the Jewish and Christian World 200 BC to AD 200; Cambridge: University Press, 1987), 115.
  • [37] “There is nothing to indicate that he can be received back again;” see Goran Forkman, The Limits of the Religious Community: Expulsion from the Religious Community within the Qumran Sect, within Rabbinic Judaism, and within Primitive Christianity (Coniectanea neotestamentica or Coniectanea biblica: New Testament Series 5; Lund: Gleerup, 1972), 129. See also Ingrid Goldhahn-Müller, Die Grenze der Gemeinde: Studien zum Problem der Zweiten Busse im Neuen Testament unter Berücksichtigung der Entwicklung im 2. Jh. bis Tertullian (Göttinger Theologischer Arbeiten 39; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989), 181; Alois Schenk-Ziegler, Correctio fraterna im Neuen Testament: Die “brüderliche Zurechtweisung” in biblischen, frühjüdischen und hellenistischen Schriften (Forschung zur Bibel 84; Würzburg: Echter Verlag, 1997), 298.
    On the other hand, Matthew may have incorporated this unit precisely at this very position in his gospel for a special purpose. In Matt. 18, the forensic process passage is set within a literary context of humility (1-5), responsibility (6-9), individual loving care (12-14), forgiveness, and mercy (21-35). Matthew surrounds the traditional segment on fraternal reproof with material promoting a spirit of generosity and unbounded compassionate love. In the light of the wider context of Matt. 18, the regulation in Matt. 18:15-17 displays an essential correspondence with the reproof passage in Did. 15:3. The act of reproach here might have the same purpose as the one in Did. 15:3, that is, to gain a brother by having him listen to the evidence of his culpability and admit his sin.
  • [38] See Jean-Paul Audet, La Didachè: Instructions des apôtres (Études bibliques; Paris: Gabalda, 1958), 180 and Schenk-Ziegler, Correctio fraterna, 126-58 (130-32). A more distant parallel is found in T. Gad 6:3: “Therefore, love one another from the heart, and if a man sins against you, speak to him in peace (en eirēnē)….”
  • [39] Like for example Did. 7:1.3 (par. Matt. 28:19); Did. 11:2.4 (par. Matt. 10:40); Did. 11:7 (par. Matt. 12:31); Did. 13:1-2 (par. Matt. 10:10); Did. 14:2 (par. Matt. 5:23-24); Did. 16:1-2 (par. Matt. 24:42.44; 25:13); and Did. 16:3-8 (par. Matt. 24-25). See also above, pp. 12-13.
  • [40] See Philip Schaff, The Oldest Church Manual, Called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1886), 18 (on top); James Muilenburg, The Literary Relations of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, (Marburg, n.p., 1929), 73; Frederick E. Vokes, The Riddle of the Didache: Fact or Fiction, Heresy or Catholicism? (The Church Historical Society 32; London: SPCK; New York: Macmillan 1938), 19; etc.
  • [41] Georg Braumann, “Zum Traditionsgeschichtlichen Problem der Seligpreisungen MT V 3-12,” Novum Testamentum 4 (1960): 253-260 (259-260); Wiard Popkes, “Die Gerechtigkeitstradition im Matthäus-Evangelium,” in Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche (1989), 1-23 (17).
  • [42] See Martin Hengel, “Zur matthäischen Bergpredigt und ihrem jüdischen Hintergrund,” Theologische Rundschau 52 (1987): 355-356; see also 379-380. For the ideological and literary affinity of the first three Beatitudes with the Dead Sea Scrolls, see David Flusser, “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity. Collected articles (ed. D. Flusser; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 102-114; repr. from Israel Exploration Journal 10 (1960): 1-13; idem, “Some Notes to the Beatitudes,” in Judaism, 115-125; repr. from Immanuel 8 (1978), 37-47.
  • [43] See Shmuel Safrai, “Teaching of Pietists in Mishnaic Literature,” Journal of Jewish Studies 16 (1965), 15-33 (32-33); idem, “Hasidim we-Anshei Maase,” Zion 50 (1984-85), 133-154 (144-154); idem, “Jesus and the Hasidim,” Jerusalem Perspective (1994) 3-22; idem, “Jesus and the Hasidic Movement,” in The Jews in the Hellenistic Roman World. Studies in Memory of Menahem Stern (ed. I. M. Gafni, A. Oppenheimer and D. R. Schwartz; Jerusalem: Graphit, 1996), 413-436 (415) (Hebr.).
  • [44] The second half of the Decalogue is even more likely to stand in the background of Matt. 5:21-48 since the last unit (5:43-48) stresses the love of one’s neighbor which, as we have seen, is often used in early Judaism to express in crystalized form the second table of the Decalogue (see Matt. 19:18-19; Rom. 13:8-10; Jas 2:8-11). Rather interestingly, the items “murder” and “adultery” (in this order) also head the rather long catalogue of prohibitions in GTW 2:1-7 and again the list of vices that serves as an explication of the Way of Death in Greek Two Ways 5. Altogether, it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that the first two items in the arrangement of the lists, which are modeled after the second tablet of the Decalogue, are more strung together by tradition than the remainder, which rather seems a haphazard and free adaptation in the various lists.
  • [45] b. Menah. 44a, top; b. Ned. 39b; y. Pe’ah 1,15d; Siphre Deut. 79 to Deut. 12:28 in Louis Finkelstein (ed.), Siphre ad Deuteronomium (Corpus Tannaiticum 3/2; Berlin: Jüdischer Kulturbund, 1939; repr. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1969), 145; Siphre Deut. 82 to Deut. 13:1 (ibid., 148), Siphre Deut. 96 to Deut. 13:19 (ibid., 157).
  • [46] See the treatise Yir’at Het (“fear of transgression,” and a separate denotation of chapters I-IV and IX of the Derekh Erets Zuta tract) II, 16-17 or Derekh Erets Zuta II, 16-17 according to Marcus van Loopik, ed., The Ways of the Sages and the Way of the World (Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum 26: Tübingen: Mohr, 1991), 229-231 (with commentary) = Massekhet Derekh Erets I, 26 according to Michael Higger, ed., The Treatises Derek Erez: Masseket Derek Erez; Pirke Ben Azzai; Tosefta Derek Erez (2 vols.; New York 1935; repr., Jerusalem: Makor, 1970), 1:78-79 (Hebr.) and 2:38 (English Translation).
  • [47] See Ulrich Luz, “Die Erfüllung des Gesetzes bei Matthäus (Mt 5,17-20),” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 75 (1978): 398-435; repr., in trans. “The Fulfilment of the Law in Matthew (Matt. 5:17-20),” in Studies in Matthew (ed. U. Luz; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 185-218 (197); Robert Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding (2nd ed.; Waco TX: Word, 1983), 135. 156; Luz, Matthäus, 1:230; Albert Descamps, “Essai d’interprétation de Mt 5,17-48: Formgeschichte ou Redactionsgeschichte?,” Studia Evangelica 1 (1959): 156-173 (163); Jacques Dupont, Les Béatitudes 3: Les évangélistes (Études Bibliques; Paris: Gabalda, 1973), 251, n. 2; J. P. Meier, Law and History in Matthew’s Gospel: A Redactional Study of Mt. 5:17-48 (Analecta biblica 71; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1976), 116-119; Davies and Allison, Matthew 1:501.
  • [48] See also Matt. 23, where Matthew levels the usual charge of hypocrisy (vv. 4-7) against the “scribes and Pharisees” and attacks the Jewish community leadership (of his own post A.D. 70 situation?) in seven woe oracles, in which Jesus condemns the “scribes and Pharisees” seven times; see David C. Sim, The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism: The History and Social Setting of the Matthean Community (Studies of the New Testament and Its World; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 130-131. See also Petri Luomanen, Entering the Kingdom of Heaven: A Study on the Structure of Matthew’s View of Salvation (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/101; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998), 85. 120.
  • [49] See also Matthias Konradt, “Rezeption und Interpretation des Dekalogs im Matthäusevangelium” in The Gospel of Matthew at the Crossroads of Early Christianity (ed. D. Senior; Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 243; Leuven: Peeters, 2011), 131-158 (135-154).
  • [50] Most commonly, the specific antithetical formulations of the first, second, and fourth antitheses (Matt. 5:21-22. 27-28. 33-34a) are considered pre-Matthean while the antithetical pattern in the remainder of the series is assumed to be a secondary arrangement on the basis of the earlier three. This means that those antitheses, showing a radicalisation of the commandments rather than a direct opposite character, are generally considered to have been received by Matthew in antithetical form. In short, the first, second and fourth antitheses are traditional (pre-Matthean) while the other three (with Lukan parallels) are assigned to Matthew’s redaction; see Rudolph Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (8th ed.; Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 29; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1970), 143-144; Ulrich Luz, Matthäus: Mt 1-7 (Evangelisch-katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 1/1; Zürich: Benziger-Verlag, 1985), 246 (though he is inclined to believe that the fourth antithesis is redactional too); Maarten J. J.Menken, Matthew’s Bible: The Old Testament Text of the Evangelist (Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 173; Leuven: University Press-Peeters, 2004), 265-266; Jan Lambrecht, The Sermon on the Mount. Proclamation and Exhortation (Good News Studies 14; Wilmington Del: Glazier, 1985), 94-95; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:504-505 and many others.
  • [51] See Van de Sandt and Flusser, Didache, 176-179, 216-234.
  • [52] See above, p. 26 (“keep aloof from everything hideous and from what even seems hideous”) and compare also the following statement:

    Keep aloof from everything hideous and from whatever seems hideous lest others suspect you of transgression

    in Yir’at Het I, 13 according to Van Loopik, The Ways, 194-197 (with commentary) = Massekhet Derek Erets I, 12 according to Higger, The Treatises Derek Erez, 1:63 (Hebr.) and 2:35 (English translation).

  • [53] Graham N. Stanton, A Gospel for a New People: Studies in Matthew (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992), 303-304; Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 360-363, 379-381; Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount: A Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, including the Sermon on the Plain (Matthew 5:3-7:27 and Luke 6:20-49) (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 518; etc.
  • [54] Jewish tradition attributes a negative form of this saying to Hillel who presents the Rule as the summation of the Law. According to b. Shab 31a, Hillel summarized the essence of the whole Law by rendering the negative form of the Golden Rule (“Whatever is hateful to you, do it not unto your fellow”) and adding: “the rest is a mere specification.” The reduction of the laws to basic principles very much resembles our passage in Did. 1:2-3. In 1:2, the essential core of the Way of life is found in the double love commandment combined with the negative form of the Golden Rule. These three precepts which have special prominence and serve as the basic elements of the Way of Life are then followed by the clause: “The explanation of these words is as follows.”
  • [55] See Georg Strecker, Die Bergpredigt: Ein exegetischer Kommentar (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984), 161; Luz, Matthäus 1:395-396; Clayton N. Jefford, The Sayings of Jesus in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 11; Leiden: Brill, 1989), 25-26 and the Appendix A (146-159). See also Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:696-698.
  • [56] Adelbert Denaux, “Der Spruch von den zwei Wegen im Rahmen des Epilogs der Bergpredigt (Mt 7,13-14 par. Lk 13,23-24): Tradition und Redaktion,” in Logia. Les Paroles de Jésus—The Sayings of Jesus (ed. J. Delobel; Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 59; Leuven: University Press-Peeters, 1982, 305-335 (322-323); Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:696-698.
  • [57] John the Baptist had previously employed this image of judgment in Matt. 3:10 against the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Matthew everyone, whether disciples, Pharisees and Sadducees, are judged by one law.
  • [58] See Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:721-722; Luz, Matthäus, 1:537-538; Joachim Gnilka, Das Matthäusevangelium (Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 1/2; Freiburg: Herder, 1988), 1:282; W. Wiefel, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus (Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament 1; Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1998), 156; Floyd V. Filson, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew (2nd ed.; Black’s New Testament commentaries; London: Black, 1971), 108
  • [59] In his treatment of the minor sins, Jesus’ argument in Matthew seems rather more rigorous than the line of reasoning in the Two Ways or in the early stratum of Derekh Erets. Although the loss of temper, a lustful look, or the taking of an oath do not replace the acts of murder, infidelity and perjury, they are valued in the Sermon on the Mount as sins in their own right, incurring the same penalty as murder or adultery. The view that anger equals murder and that lust equals adultery, is toned down in the Greek Two Ways 3:1-6 (and in, say, Yir’at Het II, 16-17 as well). The passage in the Greek Two Ways 3:1-3 appears largely to represent preventive measures to protect someone from transgressing weighty commandments.
  • [60] In addition to the double love commandment and the single commandment to love one’s neighbour (or its variant version in the Golden Rule) also the second table of the Decalogue was commonly seen as summarizing the essentials of the Law as may be derived from instances in Pseudo-Phocylides, Sentences 3-7 and Rom. 13:8-10.
  • [61] See, e.g., Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:38; Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (The Bible and Liberation Series; Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 2000), 387; Luz, Matthäus, 3:120. For a more elaborate version of this section, see my “Eternal Life as Reward for Choosing the Right Way: The Story of the Rich Young Man (Matt. 19:16-30),” in Life Beyond Death in Matthew’s Gospel: Religious Metaphor or Bodily Reality? (ed. W. Weren, H. van de Sandt, J. Verheyden; Biblical Tools and Studies 13; Leuven: Peeters, 2011), 107-127.
  • [62] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:43.
  • [63] See Pierre Bonnard, L’Évangile selon Saint Matthieu (Commentaire du Nouveau Testament 2/1; 4th ed.; Genève: Labor et Fides, 2002), 288: “ce mot est peut-être une allusion aux catéchumènes de l’Église matthéenne.”
  • [64] See also Menken, Matthew’s Bible, 211-212.
  • [65] See Deut. 30:15-20; Lev. 18:5; Prov. 6:23; Mal. 2:4-5; Bar. 3:9; Ps. Sol. 14:2; Rom. 7:10; 4 Ezra 14:30; m.’Abot 2:7.
  • [66] See for example also Jefford, The Sayings of Jesus, 54-56. 62; Garrow, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence, 240-241, 247-248.
  • [67] The second table of the Decalogue has nevertheless been expanded here with specific elements, including pederasty, magic, sorcery, abortion, infanticide and additional injunctions.
  • [68] See Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 135. 156; Luz, Matthäus, 1:230; Meier, Law and History, 116-119; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:501.
  • [69] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:46; Warren Carter, Households and Discipleship: A Study of Matthew 19-20 (Journal for the Study of the New Testament: Supplement Series 103; Sheffield: JSOT, 1994), 117; Luz, Matthäus, 3:46. 123-125; Joachim Gnilka, Das Matthäusevangelium (1988), 2:165.
  • [70] See also Wim J. C. Weren, “The Ideal Community According to Matthew, James, and the Didache,” in Studies in Matthew’s Gospel: Literary Design, Intertextuality, and Social Setting (ed. W. J. C. Weren; Biblical Interpretation Series 130; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 222-247 (232-235); Matthias Konradt, “Die volkommene Erfüllung der Tora und der Konflikt mit den Pharisäern im Matthäusevangelium,” in Das Gesetz in frühen Judentum und im Neuen Testament (ed. D. Sänger, M. Konradt and C. Burchard; Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus 57; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), 129-152 (152); idem, “The Love Command in Matthew, James, and the Didache,” in Matthew, James and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings (ed. H. van de Sandt and J. K. Zangenberg; Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series 45; Atlanta: SBL, 2008), 271-288 (274-278); William R. G. Loader, Jesus’ Attitude towards the Law: A Study of the Gospels (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/97; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 226-227. 269.
  • [71] As seen above, the diverse precepts in the Sermon in Matt. 5:17-7:12 and the Way of Life in Did. 1:2-4:14 are organized by and subsumed under the love command (Matt. 7:12 and Did. 1:2).
  • [72] See also C. Coulot, “La Structuration de la péricope de l’homme riche et ses différentes lectures (Mc 10,17-31; Mt 19,16-30; Lc 18,18-30),” Recherches de Science Religieuse 56 (1982): 240-252 (249).
  • [73] For more specifics, see my “Eternal Life as Reward,” 121-124.
  • [74] Jacques Dupont, “Le logion des douze thrônes (Mt 19,28; Lc 22,28-30),” Biblica 45 (1964): 355-92 (378); Filson, Gospel According to St. Matthew, 210. Jesus was the judge who authoritatively interprets Torah. In the Antitheses of Matt. 5:21-48 Jesus seems to use the controlling clause “but I say to you” to expound the demands of Torah and in Matt. 11:27 the power to disclose “these things” to infants is delivered to the Son so as to reveal the Father to whom he chooses.
  • [75] See also Huub van de Sandt, “James 4,1-4 in the Light of the Jewish Two Ways Tradition 3,1-6,” Biblica 88 (2007): 38-63; Darian R. Lockett, “Structure or Communicative Strategy: The ‘Two Ways’ Motif in James’ Theological Instruction,” Neotestamentica 42 (2008): 269-287. See also Matthew Larsen, and Michael Svigel, “The First Century Two Ways Catechesis and Hebrews 6:1-6,” in Draper and Jefford, The Didache, 477-496.

The Programmatic Opening of Jesus’ Biography as a Reflection of Contemporaneous Jewish Messianic Ideas

This article develops the discussion started in Serge Ruzer, “‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’—In Search of the Jewish Literary Backdrop to Mark 1:1-11: Between The Rule of the Community and Rabbinic Sources,” in The Gospels in First-Century Judaea (ed. R. Steven Notley and Jeffrey P. García; Leiden: Brill, 2015), 76-87.

That Mark’s Gospel was designed first and foremost as Jesus’ messianic biography is clear from its opening line: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah (Christ)” (Mark 1:1). In light of this, I am inclined to view Mark 1:1-11 as a programmatic opening to Jesus’ messianic biography. that aimed to convincingly present Jesus as the Anointed One. It stands to reason, therefore, that Mark’s introduction would relate to Jewish messianic beliefs that circulated broadly within the various currents of Second Temple Judaism. Let me quote in full the passage in question:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), the son of God (υἱοῦ θεοῦ). 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight—” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching an immersion of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν). 5 And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ).” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove (ὡς περιστερὰν); 11 and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved son (ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός); with thee I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:1-11; adapted from RSV)

Mark’s programmatic opening of the Gospel narrative also appears in a slightly reworked and expanded form in Matthew 3:1-17 and Luke 3:2-22.

Whatever overall model for development of the Synoptic tradition is favored,[1] in the case of this particular pericope priority of the Markan version may be plausibly assumed.[2] It stands to reason that an earlier (oral?) tradition of Jesus’ immersion in the waters of the Jordan River under the guidance of John the Baptizer—possibly relying on an account by eyewitnesses—had been in existence prior to the composition of the Synoptic Gospels.[3] In addition, a more general awareness of John’s enterprise, as recorded by Josephus Flavius (Ant. 18:118-119), may have provided a broader backdrop to the said tradition. I will focus, however, on the compilers of the nascent Gospel narrative, who at some point gave the inherited story its final literary form with the intention of demonstrating their understanding of Jesus’ messiahship.

Even if the intended audience of the Gospel narrative was already of a mixed character, the messianic idea itself, which constitutes the narrative’s true focus, was emphatically a Jewish one—one, moreover, of the Land of Israel provenance. The provenance of the messianic idea in the Land of Israel is assured because it is practically unattested in Hellenistic Jewish sources. It is non-existent, for example, in The Letter of Aristeas, a treatise that may be taken as representative of Hellenistic Jewish self-expression. The messianic idea seems, moreover, to have been peripheral at best to the thinking of Philo of Alexandria.[4] One should expect, then, that in aspiring to present a befitting commencement to Jesus’ messianic biography, the narrative of Jesus’ baptism would relate to core messianic expectations current among Jews living in the land of Israel during the late Second Temple period. It is this angle that the present article will pursue: to reflect on the messianic anticipations of the narrative’s intended audience—whether Jewish or Jewish-minded—to which the opening section of Mark was tailored to offer a satisfactory response.

Two distinct issues are collated here in the Gospel baptism narrative: a) John the Baptizer’s preaching of the water immersion as intrinsically connected to the repentance and consequent forgiveness of sins, and b) Jesus’ own initiation into his messianic mission. The Synoptic tradition presents the two issues as essentially linked, with the Baptizer as the Messiah’s forerunner. The continuation of the Synoptic narrative, however, contains contradictory indications to whether John actually recognized Jesus as the expected Anointed One.[5] Moreover, the picture of Jesus’ initiation into his mission by John—apparently through repentance from sin—remains problematic for the emerging Christian tradition, to which the solution suggested in Matt 3:13-15 clearly bears witness.[6] All this may indicate that the respective elements in the depiction of John and Jesus in the Jordan River episode each deserve separate attempts at contextualization.[7]

Purification through Immersion and the Holy Spirit

The immersion of purification was practiced—in various forms—at the beginning of the Common Era by different groups in Palestinian Jewry and beyond.[8] Yet a highly characteristic feature distinguishes the Gospel description of baptism preached by John in the desert: Immersion here is conditioned on preceding repentance or “return (to God)” (Mark 1:4). This is further highlighted in the Matthean and Lukan reworking of the scene, where the Baptizer forbids those who have a different notion of immersion to go into the water unless they first repent and “return to God.”[9] It is this idiosyncratic understanding of immersion as the crowning stage of the repentance process—with bodily cleansing by water perceived as an analogy to inner cleansing from sin—that has caused scholars to see the passage as corresponding to ideas attested in the Dead Sea Scrolls. We encounter this insistence on inner cleansing as a precondition for water immersion,[10] inter alia, in the Rule of the Community:

[They] should not go into the waters to share in the pure food of the men of holiness, for they have not been cleansed unless they turn away (return, שבו) from their wickedness…. (1QS 5:13-14: DSS Study Edition)[11]

There is yet another peculiar trait of John’s baptism, sometimes overlooked in the research, which invites comparison to perceptions found in the Scrolls: the Baptizer’s distinction between the current, not yet definitive, immersion of repentance and another event, described with the same βαπτίζειν (baptizein, “to immerse”) due to ensue in the days of eschatological redemption. It is the Spirit that will then be doing the cleansing (Mark 1:8): “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ).”[12] The motif of the last days’ cleansing, presumably of our inner man, seems to relate to a long-standing tradition (see Ezek. 36:24-27). Yet the awareness of the gap between the “not yet eschatology” of the present stage in the history and the expected “final end” is characteristic for the messianically minded community of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

In these lies the history of all men; 16 they do fall into their divisions…for all eternal time. For God has sorted them into equal parts until the 17 last day and has put an everlasting loathing between their divisions… 18…God, in the mysteries of his knowledge and in the wisdom of his glory, has determined an end to the existence of deceit and on the occasion 19 of his visitation he will obliterate it forever.…[when] truth shall rise up forever in the world which has been defiled … during the dominion of deceit until 20 the time appointed for judgment. Meanwhile, God will refine, with his truth, all man’s deeds, and will purify for himself the configuration of man, ripping out all spirit of deceit from the innermost part 21 of his flesh, and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every irreverent deed. He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (ויז עליו רוח אמת כמי נידה) (in order to cleanse him) from all the abhorrences of deceit and from the defilement 22 of the unclean spirit. In this way, the upright will understand knowledge of the Most High, and the wisdom of the sons of heaven will teach those of perfect behavior. For these are those selected by God for an everlasting covenant…. (Rule of the Community 4:15-22; DSS Study Edition)

The passage leaves no doubt that the present cleansing by water, even when preceded, as ordained in 1QS 5:13-14, by repentance and “turning to God,” is insufficient. There is a need for the true and final cleansing to be performed by God at the end of days through the Spirit (lines 20-23) with the imagery used for the Spirit’s action borrowed from that of water (הִזָּה, “sprinkle”).

A fresco by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel depicting the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A fresco by Giotto (ca. 1305) in the Scrovegni Chapel depicting the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Note that in this depiction John is standing on the edge of the Jordan, and does not enter the water with Jesus: a detail which is true to first-century Jewish custom. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

We have then, in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Synoptic baptism narratives two important parallels. First, immersion is only the last stage of the purification process that must be preceded by repentance and “turning to God”. Second, the current purification is only partial, whereas the true one will be achieved in eschatological future through the action of the Spirit, described in terms of immersing in water βαπτίζειν/הִזָּה.

These instructive parallels make it possible to contextualize the Baptizer’s message vis-à-vis some core Qumranic ideas. In light of different circumstances, however, one should not expect a complete overlap of all the constitutive elements. Thus, though John the Baptizer seems to retain some of the Qumran-flavored animosity toward those who do not share his perception of immersion and the nature of the current phase of eschatological predicament, the Gospel portrays him as more ready to address and preach to a general Jewish audience than is characteristic of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nevertheless, the parallels outlined above may in principle point to an immediate historical link between John the Baptizer and the Dead Sea sect, in other words, John the Baptizer may have been a former member of the Dead Sea sect who disseminated Qumranic ideas beyond their sectarian milieu.[13] Alternatively, these parallels may indicate that the ideas in question did not belong exclusively to the Dead Sea community but rather to wider circles in late Second Temple Judaism.[14] When combined with the evidence from the Scrolls, the Gospel narrative becomes an important witness to those broader trends.

John the Baptizer and the Expected Coming of Elijah

The obvious awkwardness of Jesus being subjugated to John the Baptizer in the Gospel narrative raises an important question: Why did the compilers of the initial Gospel tradition regard it as necessary to begin Jesus’ messianic biography with the figure of John the Baptizer? One explanation could be an apologetic need, since John seems to have had a towering presence in minds of his adepts, some of whom later joined Jesus’ movement. If, however, we focus on the messianic literary strategies, we should examine how the depiction of John in the Gospel narrative contributes to the assimilation of Jesus’ messianic career to broader messianic expectations.

The key seems to be provided by the biblical reference—not to Isaiah as the standard text claims, but to Malachi 3:1—introducing the Baptizer in Mark: “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare the way” (Mark 1:2). This quotation is from the beginning of a passage that ends with the pairing of Moses and Elijah wherein the latter is presented as the eschatological prophet:

Remember the Torah of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse. (Mal. 3:22-24 [English 4:4-6]; RSV)

John’s link to Elijah is spelled out further on in the narrative, following the Transfiguration scene clearly inspired by the said pairing of Moses and Elijah in Malachi:

11And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things; and how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” (Mark 9:11-13; RSV)

In my opinion, we should take seriously the claim that it is the broader Jewish environment that put forward the demand for Elijah: The disciples questioned Jesus’ messiahship by appealing to what is presented as an existing tradition propagated by the scribes about Elijah as the Messiah’s necessary forerunner. As Matthew’s addition (“Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist”; Matt. 17:13) further clarifies, the Gospel narrative allots John, with his call to repentance, the role of Elijah in response to that existing tradition. It stands to reason that in messianically-minded circles the anticipation recorded at the end of Malachi would engender patterns of messianic belief, incorporating Elijah’s advent as part of the messianic scenario. Later rabbinic sources contain multiple attestations of such incorporation.[15] I suggest that the Gospel narrative should be seen as reacting to this belief-pattern, thus providing a witness for its early first-century provenance.

What Kind of Messiah?

Mark 1:1 introduces Jesus as the Messiah, to whom the tradition has already affixed the appellation “son of God.” Early Christian sources provide ample evidence of the problematic nature of this appellation and of the attempts to clarify it.[16] In the first century C.E., the appellation Messiah (Anointed One) seems to have been no less ambiguous. Eschatological messianic beliefs did flourish in Jewish religious thought of the late Second Temple period,[17] yet they were characterized by a considerable lack of uniformity: most prominently, differing emphases on kingly, priestly (e.g., in the Dead Sea Scrolls) and prophetic messianic figures and/or functions were propagated by different Jewish groups.[18]

In light of this double ambiguity, the passage in Mark 1:9-11 (cf. Matt 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22) may be viewed as aiming to elucidate the pronouncement in Mark 1:1. Thus Mark 1:10 relates to the question “What kind of Messiah?” by confiding that Jesus’ messianic anointment was not that of oil, as in the case of kings and priests, but rather of the Holy Spirit, which emphatically defines him as a prophetic messianic figure. Mark’s answer appears to refer to Isa. 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted…” (cf. Luke 4:16-21).

Mark 1:11 further indicates that the appellation “son of God” denotes Jesus’ status as God’s chosen one,[19] as one deserving of the gift of the Holy Spirit, who, now empowered by the Spirit, is able to fulfill his exceptional mission.[20] It has moreover been suggested that Mark 1:11—similarly to its Synoptic parallels—also refers implicitly to Ps. 2:7, where the king (David) is proclaimed by God to be his son in the course of what seems to be the enthronement ritual.[21]

These are therefore the salient features of the beginning of the messianic scenario propagated by the Gospel narrative: Jesus’ messiahship is presented as that defined by the prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit with a hint at kingly connection. The claim for such a combination appears to refer to Isa. 11:1-2: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him.” The kingly Messiah motif seems to represent a non-sectarian general pattern of messianic belief, clearly differing from, for example, Qumranic emphasis on the priestly messiah.[22] In another meaningful departure from a quasi-Qumranic promise of a general eschatological “baptism of Spirit” encountered earlier in our passage, here it is only the Messiah who is “anointed” with the Spirit. In principle, this may signify the initial phase of transition from the water immersion to the future internal cleansing through the action of God’s Spirit.[23]

The Spirit’s Descent as a Dove at Jesus’ Baptism

The Gospel narrative is keen on highlighting that the Messiah’s endowment with the Spirit is preceded by a call for Israel’s general repentance, somehow linked to water’s cleansing effects—with no explicit biblical backing in sight. The peculiar comparison of the Spirit’s descend to the hovering of a dove (see also Matt. 3:16, cf. Luke 3:22) also deserves notice. This comparison clearly functions as rhetorical embellishment to the Gospel narrative, not as a realistic detail provided by historical memory.[24] One may, therefore, ask how was such a detail—as well as the rest of the description of the “inauguration” of Israel’s Messiah—supposed to function effectively vis-à-vis existing ideas, biblical and/or contemporaneous, and with which of those ideas was it conversing?

A tradition attested in Genesis Rabbah, a rabbinic midrashic compendium edited in the late fourth or early fifth century C.E.,[25] and reflected in a Babylonian Talmud parallel, may shed some light here. Unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are roughly contemporary with or predate the tradition reflected in Mark, the problematic character of later rabbinic sources as witnesses for the context of nascent Christianity has been widely recognized.[26] I will return to this problem, but let us first have a closer look at the Genesis Rabbah passage:

R. Simeon b. Lakish applied what is said (“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep”; Gen. 1:2) to the [foreign] Powers…. As for “and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters” (ibid.)—this alludes to the spirit of the Messiah, as you read, “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isa. 11:2). By what merit will this spirit eventually come? …by that of repentance which is likened to water, as it is written, “Pour out your heart like water” (Lam. 2:19)….
…Simeon b. Zoma was wrapped in speculation when R. Joshua…greeted him…“What is it, Ben Zoma!” Ben Zoma answered: “I was contemplating the Creation: Between the upper and the nether waters there are but two or three fingerbreadths. For it is not written, ‘And the spirit of God’ blew, but ‘hovered,’ like a bird (יונה, “a dove” appears in the parallel in b. Hag. 15a) flying and flapping its wings, the wings barely touching [the nest].” (Gen. Rab. 2.4; translation mine)

This text belongs to a broader section reading elements of a messianic scenario into the opening lines of Genesis.[27] Such a hermeneutical strategy, propagating the view that the messianic redemption belonged to the very core of God’s plan about creation,[28] clearly attests to the centrality of messianic belief for the rabbinic compilers of Genesis Rabbah. Here are the elements of the messianic scenario that according to our midrash had been preordained before the seven days of creation:

  • (a) As the reference to Isaiah 11 (“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him”; Isa. 11:1-2) indicates, the Messiah expected by the rabbis will be of Davidic lineage and the redeeming enterprise will be inaugurated by him receiving the gift of God’s Spirit – the Spirit that had been waiting for the Anointed One since before the creation.
  • (b) The reception of the Spirit by the Messiah is conditioned on the preceding repentance (Israel’s? the Messiah’s own?), presented as analogous to “pouring of the water.”
  • (c) The link to water is further strengthened by the midrashic reference to Gen 1:2, where water and spirit are collated.
  • (d) The image of bird/dove is evoked to solve the problem of the appearance in Gen 1:2 of the Hebrew participle מְרַחֶפֶת (meraḥefet, “hovering”), since the reason for the use of this term is far from obvious in the biblical context. The Spirit’s “hovering” is explained as analogous to that of a bird’s/dove’s hovering over its nest.[29]

Stained-glass image of a descending dove. Photograph courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

An attempt to investigate the possible meaning of this impressive overlap between the Synoptic and midrashic descriptions of the opening event of the Messiah’s enterprise, including the use of a seemingly secondary bird/dove-centered imagery, sends us back to the problematic character of rabbinic evidence whenever it is appealed to in the discussion of nascent Christianity. Though Genesis Rabbah may contain many earlier traditions, their sure dating remains difficult. In light of the much later provenance of the compendium as a whole, the possibility that its compilers/editors responded to the challenge of the Christian foundational narrative should not be dismissed offhand. Actually, a claim has been made that Genesis Rabbah represents a persistent theological program reacting to the crisis of Christianity’s newly acquired dominance.[30] However, even if present elsewhere in Genesis Rabbah,[31] this polemical anti-Christian posture is conspicuously absent from the description of the details of the messianic scenario we have been discussing. The compilers of this particular messianic midrash seem not to have recognized that the motifs and themes that they integrated into their picture of the Messiah’s advent are also combined in the Christian messianic narrative. In the eyes of the Genesis Rabbah compilers, these motifs belonged to the common Jewish heritage.

If not as a polemical response to Christianity, then how should the observed overlap be interpreted? Its comprehensive nature precludes the possibility of an accidental collation of similar motifs first by Mark and then by a fourth-fifth century redactor of Genesis Rabbah. I suggest that the Synoptic narrative is rather to be viewed as an important witness to an early stage in the trajectory of the broader Jewish tradition describing how the inception stage of messianic redemption should look. Moreover, it is the existence of such a backdrop tradition that must have informed the Gospel narrative’s literary strategies in reworking the inherited memory of Jesus’ baptism into what was regarded as a befitting opening for Jesus’ messianic biography.[32]


The outcome of this discussion is thus twofold. On the one hand, it raises suggestions concerning a broader first-century Jewish context to narrative strategies employed in Mark’s prologue to Jesus’ messianic biography. On the other hand, it allows Mark 1:1-11 to be used for recovering an early phase of a pattern of messianic belief, seemingly shared by wider Judaism, which would continue into the rabbinic period. In other words, I have tried to show how the New Testament evidence can be engaged as a witness for broader trajectories in early Jewish messianic beliefs.

  • [1] See Marcus, Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 40-56.
  • [2] See William D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (3 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T Clark, 1988-1997), 1:286, 323-343; Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke, Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981), 479-487. See also Marcus, Mark 1-8, 138-140.
  • [3] On the sources of Mark, see, for example, Christopher S. Mann, Mark, Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1986), 16-19. For this periscope, see Markus, Mark 1-8, 138-139. See also David Flusser, Jesus (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2001), 37-55.
  • [4] In the large volume dedicated to the messianic theme, James H. Charlesworth (ed.), The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992) there is only one contribution dealing with Jewish Hellenistic thought (Peder Borgen’s “‘There Shall Come Forth a Man:’ Reflections on Messianic Ideas in Philo”).
  • [5] See Flusser, Jesus, 47-53.
  • [6]

    Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. (Matt. 3:13-15)

    Cf. the treatment of the hierarchy between the Baptizer and Jesus in Luke 1-2 and John 1:19-34.

  • [7] Cf. the description of the Baptizer in Josephus, Ant. 18:118-119.
  • [8] See David Flusser, “John’s Baptism and the Sect of the Judean Desert,” in idem, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity: Studies and Essays (Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Poalim, 1979), 81-112 (in Hebrew); Étienne Nodet and Justin Taylor, The Origins of Christianity: An Exploration (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 57-88; Justin Taylor, Pythagoreans and Essenes: Structural Parallels (Paris: Peeters, 2004), 19-20; Thomas Joseph, Le movement baptiste en Palestine et Syrie (150 av. J.-C.-300 ap. J.-C) (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2010).
  • [9]

    But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance.” (Matt. 3:7-8)

    Cf. Luke 3:7-9, where it is not the Pharisees and Sadducees but the general crowd who are the object of John’s invective.

  • [10] See, for example, Flusser, Jesus, 37-40; Frédéric Manns, L’Evangile de Jean a la lumiere de Judaisme (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1991). For a different appraisal, see Joan E. Taylor, The Immerser: John the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997). Cf. Hartmut Stegemann, The Library of Qumran, on the Essenes, Qumran, John the Baptist, and Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998). For a discussion of the variety of existing scholarly opinions regarding the measure of overlap between Qumran and John’s immersions, see Leonard F. Badia, The Qumran Baptism and John the Baptist’s Baptism (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1980).
  • [11] F. García Martínez and E. J. C. Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
  • [12] For the closeness of the Baptizer’s eschatological outlook to that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, see Flusser, Jesus, 258-275.
  • [13] Some scholars have therefore suggested seeing John as a “marginal Essene.” See David Flusser, Jesus, 37-38.
  • [14] See, for example, Serge Ruzer, “Nascent Christianity between Sectarian and Broader Judaism: Lessons from the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Adolfo Roitman, Laurence H. Schiffman and Shani Tzoref (eds.), The Dead Sea Scroll and Contemporary Culture (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 477-493. For a former assessment, see Moshe Navon, Messianic Figures in Second Temple Judaism: Relationship between the Charismatic Leader and His Adherents (Pd.D. diss.; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2004) (in Hebrew).
  • [15] See, for example, b. Ber. 3a; b. Sanh. 97b; 98a.
  • [16] See Serge Ruzer, “Son of God as Son of David: Luke’s Attempt to Biblicize a Problematic Notion,” in L. Kogan, N. Koslova, S. Loesov and S. Tishchenko (eds.), Bibel und Babel 3 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 321-352.
  • [17] See Shemaryahu Talmon, “The Concepts of MASIAH and Messianism in Early Judaism,” in James Charlseworth (ed.), The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 79-115. The reasons for that upsurge might have been varied and cannot be discussed here.
  • [18] For messianic ideas reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls, see Lawrence Schiffman, “Messianic Figures and Ideas in the Qumran Scrolls,” in The Messiah; Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity, 116-129; John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star; The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 75-77. See also David Flusser, “Jewish Messianism Reflected in the Early Church”; Ruzer, Mapping the New Testament, 101-129.
  • [19] See Flusser, Jesus, 42, 113-123.
  • [20] See Marcus, Mark 1-8, 160; cf. the programmatic opening of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (1:1-4).
  • [21] “I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you’” (Ps. 2:7). See, for example, the Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek-English New Testament (8th rev. ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 6, 162, 783; Mann, Mark, 199; Marcus, Mark 1-8, 162. See also discussion in Ruzer, “Son of God as Son of David.”
  • [22] See note 18 above.
  • [23] Flusser (Jesus, 42) suggests—in an attempt at unearthing the historical kernel of the episode—that “the endowment with the Holy Spirit, accompanied by an ecstatic experience, was apparently something which happened to others who were baptized in John’s presence in the Jordan.”
  • [24] Cf. the (mis-)interpretation in Luke 3:22: σωματικῷ εἴδει ὡς περιστερὰν (“in bodily form, as a dove”).
  • [25] See Jacob Neusner, “The Theory of History of Genesis Rabbah,” in Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck (eds.), The Christian and Judaic Invention of History (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1990), 209; Burton H. Visotsky, “Genesis in Rabbinic Interpretation,” in Craig A. Evans, Joel N. Lohr and David L. Petersen (eds.), The Book of Genesis: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 579 and note 3 there. For conflicting appraisals of Genesis Rabbah’s literary genesis, see Hans-Jürgen Becker, Die grossen rabbinischen Sammelwerke Palästinas; zur literarischen Genese von Talmud Yerushalmi und Midrash Bereshit Rabba (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999); Chaim Milikowsky, “On the Formation and Transition of Bereshit Rabbah and the Yerushalmi: Questions of Redaction, Text-Criticism and Literary Relationships,” Jewish Quarterly Review 92.3-4 (2002): 521-567.
  • [26] See, for example, Hans-Jürgen Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck on the Kingdom of Heaven,” in Hans-Jürgen Becker and Serge Ruzer (eds.), The Sermon on the Mount and Its Jewish Setting (Paris: Gabalda, 2005), 57-69. See also Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martínez and Peter Tomson (eds.), The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2010).
  • [27] Cf. Visotsky, “Genesis in Rabbinic Interpretation,” 585-586; Zvi Ron, “The Book of Jubilees and the Midrash on the Early Chapters of Genesis,” Jewish Biblical Quarterly 41.3 (2013): 143-155.
  • [28] Jacob Neusner, “Genesis Rabbah, Theology of,” in Jacob Neusner and J. Avery-Peck (eds.), Encyclopaedia of Midrash I: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 108.
  • [29] See Hyam Maccoby, “Ben Zoma’s Trance,” Journal of Progressive Judaism 1 (1993): 103-108. This is not the only instance where the rabbinic tradition ascribes (an understandable) puzzlement regarding details of the creation account to Ben Zoma; see Aron Pinker, “Ben Zoma’s Query on Genesis 1:7: Was It What Drove Him Insane?” Judaism 55.3-4 (2006): 51-58.
  • [30] Jacob Neusner, Judaism and the Interpretation of Scripture: Introduction to the Rabbinic Midrash (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2004), 30-31; idem, “Genesis Rabbah, Theology of,” 110; Visotzky, “Genesis in Rabbinic Interpretation,” 579-591. Cf. Howard A. David, Polemics and Mythology: A Commentary on Chapters 1 & 8 of Bereshit Rabbah (1992), 150, who argues that polemics may have been directed toward a Jewish audience that held ideas overlapping with those of “outsiders.”
  • [31] Some discern it in Gen. Rab. 1:4 in the claim that, actually, not only the Torah, but also Patriarchs, Israel and the Temple were present in God’s contemplation before the Creation and thus belong to the unchangeable matrix of sacred history. Even the appearance in this context of the motif of the Messiah’s name has been interpreted—with reference to a more detailed elaboration in b. Sanh. 98b—as polemically propagating a Messiah whose name would be not Jesus. See David, ibid.
  • [32] But cf. Marcus, Mark 1-8, 163-167, where the scene of Jesus’ baptism is contextualized almost exclusively vis-à-vis Old Testament prophetic sayings.

Parables on the Character of God

R. Steven Notley is co-author with Ze’ev Safrai of Parables of the Sages (Jerusalem: Carta, 2011).

<i>Jerusalem Perspective is excited to announce that in the coming months Dr. R. Steven Notley will be sharing a series of blogs on Jesus’ parables with our readers. In anticipation of these blogs, and as a preview of what we might expect from Dr. Notley, we are sharing two sermons on the parables that Dr. Notley delivered to the Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem. Enjoy!



Matthew 18:21-35: The Unforgiving Servant (16-Jan.-2016)

In this sermon Dr. Notley discusses how the concept of creation in the image of God came into its own in the Second Temple period and how this concept gave rise to new ways of thinking about human relationships to God and neighbor. On the one hand, human beings are to emulate God’s attribute of mercy in our relations to one another. On the other hand, God will relate to us the way we relate to one another.


Luke 15:11-32: The Generous Father (1-Feb.-2010)

This sermon is a new take on the Prodigal Son parable, in which Dr. Notley points out that neither son understood their father’s unconditional love.

Unforgiving Servant
Domenico Fetti, Parable of the Wicked Servant, oil on canvas (ca. 1620). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


The Significance of Jesus’ Words “Not One Jot or One Tittle Will Pass from the Law” (Matt. 5:18)

This article was inspired by a question from Jane Allen about David Bivin’s Hebrew Nuggets, Lesson 1: Jesus’ Hebrew Name (Part 1).

In a statement about the continuing validity of the Torah, Jesus uses a difficult-to-understand idiom. The Greek reads: ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου (“…until pass away the heaven and the earth, iota one or one point by no means will pass way from the law…”; Matt. 5:18).

Most English translations have not helped readers understand the idiom:

“Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law…” (KJV)

“…till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law…” (RSV)

“…until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law…” (ESV)

What Is a “Jot” and What Is a “Tittle”?

Behind the translation “jot” is the word ἰῶτα (iōta), the name for the tenth letter of the Greek alphabet (ι), and behind “tittle” is κεραία (keraia). Presuming that Jesus originally made the statement recorded in Matt. 5:18 in Hebrew, iota would stand for י (yod), the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. But what is the meaning of keraia, and what might have been its Hebrew equivalent?

Roman letters with the serif marked in red. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Roman letters with the serifs marked in red. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

According to BDAG, the meaning of keraia is “horn,” “projection,” or “hook” and when used to describe a characteristic of a letter keraia refers to a serif.[1] (A serif is an ornamental barb that adorns a letter.) The most natural equivalent of keraia in Hebrew is kotz.

In biblical Hebrew the word קוֹץ (kōtz) meant either “thorn” or “thorny bush,” but in post-biblical Hebrew kotz took on a secondary meaning referring to the thorn-shaped projections on certain Hebrew letters. In the scrolls found at Qumran along the northwestern corner of the Dead Sea, and on ossuary inscriptions from the first century the kotz is distinctly visible at the top left corners of the letters yod, vav and lamed.

Isa. 53.8
From the Great Isaiah Scroll discovered at Qumran, this image shows part of Isa. 53:8 (1QIsa XLIV, 15).

Isa. 53.8markings
Same image as above, but with the kotzim on the letters yod, vav, and lamed circled in red. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Some scholars have suggested that תָּג (tāg; plural: תָּגִים [tāgim], or תָּגִין [tāgin]), is a better equivalent for keraia in Matt. 5:18.[2] Tag is a loanword from the Aramaic תָּגָא (tāgā’, “crown,” “crownlet on a letter”), but since tag occurs only in very late rabbinic sources, but not at all in Biblical Hebrew, the Dead Sea Scrolls, or Tanaitic literature, it is unlikely that tag existed in Hebrew in the time of Jesus.

The opening words of the Shema' ("Hear, O Israel"; Deut. 6:8) from a mezzuzah parchment. The tagin ("crowns") are visible on the top left corners of the letters ש (far right), ע (the large letter in the middle) and ש (fourth letter from left). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The opening words of the Shema‘ (“Hear, O Israel”; Deut. 6:8) from a mezuzah parchment. The tagin (“crowns”) are visible on the top left corners of the letters ש (far right), ע (the large letter in the middle) and ש (fourth letter from left). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Other scholars have suggested that tagin and kotzim are to be equated, but this suggestion is incorrect.[3] Tagin are scribal ornamentations that appear on certain letters in Torah scrolls or on the parchments encased in tefillin or a mezuzah,[4] but the ornaments referred to as tagin did not exist in the Second Temple Period when Jesus lived. Tagin are a scribal convention that developed at a much later date.


Meaning of the Expression in Jesus’ Saying

Yod with KotzThere are parallels in ancient Jewish sources that can help us clarify the meaning of Jesus’ statement in Matt. 5:18. The Babylonian Talmud relates a legend about Moses who had a vision of the future, when the Torah would be taught by Rabbi Akiva, who would base “mounds upon mounds of religious rulings” on the basis of his exposition of every kotz [על כל קוץ וקוץ] in the Torah (b. Men. 29b). Just as Jesus claimed that not even a kotz would ever disappear from a letter in the Torah, so Rabbi Akiva attached importance to every kots in the Torah, and went so far as to derive religious rulings (or halachot) on their basis.

An even closer parallel to Jesus’ saying is found in the following passage:

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: לא נצרכא אלא לקוצו של יו″ד

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: The Torah must be taught according to the kotz of a yod. (b. Men. 34a)[5]

In the phrase kotz of the yod we discover the reason Jesus mentioned “jot” and “tittle” in the same sentence. He did not mean “neither the smallest letter, nor the smallest dot,” referring to two different and unrelated markings, but “neither the smallest letter, nor even the smallest part of the smallest letter.”

To illustrate how essential is each letter of the Torah, the sages told a fanciful story about king Solomon who reasoned that since the prohibition against taking many wives in Deut. 17:17 says, “so that his heart will not turn away,” as long as he did not turn his heart away, it would be permissible for him to take as many wives as he wished:

באותה שעה עלתה יו″ד שבירבה ונשתטחה לפני הקב″ה ואמרה רבון העולמים לא כך אמרת אין אות בטלה מן התורה לעולם הרי שלמה עומד ומבטל אותי ושמא היום יבטל אחת ולמחר אחרת עד שתתבטל כל התורה כולה אמר לה הקב″ה שלמה ואלף כיוצא בו יהיו בטלין וקוצה ממך איני מבטל

At that time, the yod of the word yarbeh [from the commandment lo’ yarbeh lō nāshim, “(the king) must not multiply wives to himself”; Deut. 17:17—DNB and JNT] went up on high and prostrated itself before God and said: ‘Master of the Universe! Hast thou not said that no letter shall ever be abolished from the Torah? Behold, Solomon has now arisen and abolished one. Who knows? To-day he has abolished one letter, to-morrow he will abolish another until the whole Torah will be nullified?’ God replied: ‘Solomon and a thousand like him will pass away, but the smallest tittle [i.e., kotz—DNB and JNT] will not be erased from thee.’ (Exod. Rab. 6:1)[6]

According to this story God promises that not even the kotz of the yod from the word ירבה (yarbeh, “multiply”) in Deut. 17:17 will be nullified. The idea expressed in this story is so similar to the saying of Jesus in Matt. 5:18 that it seems quite likely that Jesus alluded to a familiar saying that also influenced the fanciful story about Solomon that appears in later rabbinic literature.


In order to grasp the full meaning of Jesus’ saying in Matt. 5:18, we suggest the following paraphrase: “Not the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the yod, nor even its non-intregal serif, the kotz, will ever drop out of the Torah!”[7] In a very colorful and dramatic way, Jesus declared that the Torah of Moses would never cease to exist.

An ossuary inscription (first century C.E.) with the name יועזר ("Yo'ezer").
An ossuary inscription (first century C.E.) with the name יועזר (“Yō‘ezer”).

Same image as above, but with the kotzim on the letters yod and vav circled in red. The ossuary that bears this inscription is housed at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago where it is on display in the Megiddo Gallery. Photo courtesy of

The featured image shows the text of Matt. 5:18 in The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Testament and the New: Newly Translated out of the Originall Tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised by his Majesties Special Commandment Appointed to be read in Churches Imprinted at London by Robert Barker Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie Anno Dom. 1611 (also known as The King James Version).
  • [1] Walter Bauer, Frederick W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3d ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 540.
  • [2] See, for instance, Michael Avi-Yonah, Views of the Biblical World Vol. 5: The New Testament (Jerusalem: International Publishing Co., 1961), 32.
  • [3] See Avraham Even-shoshan, Ha-Millon He-Hadash (Jerusalem: Kiryath Sepher, 1966), 1181.
  • [4] See the entry for “Tagin” in Encyclopaedia Judaica (16 vols.; ed. Cecil Roth and Geoffrey Wigoder; Jerusalem: Keter, 1971-1972), 15:700.
  • [5] A variant of this statement is found in b. Men. 29a where we find לקוצה של יוד.
  • [6] Translation according to H. Freedman and Maurice Simon ed., The Midrash Rabbah (10 vols.; London: Soncino, 1983), 3:103.
  • [7] The NIV translators should be commended for their translation of this verse: “…not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law…” (Matt. 5:18).

Character Profile: Rabban Gamliel the Elder

The ancient Jewish sage Rabban Gamliel is mentioned not only in rabbinic literature, but also twice in the New Testament. In Acts 5:34-39 Gamliel (or “Gamaliel”) speaks out in the Sanhedrin on behalf of the early followers of Jesus, while in Acts 22:3 the Apostle Paul mentions that he was at one time a student of Gamliel. In the video below Marc Turnage introduces us to this important figure in the history of Judaism and Christianity.

To learn more about Gamliel, we recommend the following article on Jerusalem Perspective:

This illumination from the fourteenth-century Sarajevo Haggada pictures Rabban Gamliel. The picture may be of Rabban Gamliel II, grandson of the Rabban Gamliel who was the Apostle Paul’s teacher. The younger Gamliel, unlike his grandfather, was known for his severe disposition.

Video Clip: Brad Young on “Why Rabbinic Literature is Pertinent to the Study of the Gospels”

In this video, excerpted from his lecture “Why Rabbinic Literature is Pertinent to the Study of the Gospels,” delivered at the 2006 Jerusalem Perspective Conference, “Insights into Jesus of Nazareth: His Words, His Wisdom, His World,” Brad Young discusses why rabbinic literature is, unfortunately, so often dismissed as a valuable source for understanding Jesus’ message.

JP-Conference-LogoThe complete lecture, along with the rest of the presentations delivered at the 2006 Jerusalem Perspective conference, is available through the En-Gedi Resource Center. To purchase the lectures in audio MP3 format, or to purchase video recordings of the lectures included in an 8 DVD set, click here.











LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua

Revised: 29-June-2016




















A key concept in Jesus’ teaching is the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] The Kingdom of Heaven is the subject of many of Jesus’ parables and is at the heart of his proclamation. The Kingdom of Heaven has, nevertheless, frequently been misunderstood and misconstrued by numerous scholars. The Kingdom of Heaven is neither a place we can visit nor a time for which we must wait.[2] According to Jesus’ teachings, the Kingdom is not up in heaven, it is taking place here on earth. Likewise, for Jesus the Kingdom is not in the near or distant future, the Kingdom has already begun.[3]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature

“The Kingdom of Heaven” is not a phrase that is familiar from the Hebrew Bible, because it does not appear in the Jewish Scriptures.[4] Neither can the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven” be found in the writings of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha[5] or in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[6] “The Kingdom of Heaven” is not known from the writings of Hellenistic Judaism. The phrase is common only to the New Testament and rabbinic literature.[7] This fact is one example of Jesus’ familiarity with and sympathy for the teachings of the Jewish sages.

In rabbinic literature מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (malchūt shāmayim, “the Kingdom of Heaven”) refers to the reign of Israel’s God over his people and over his creation. “Heaven” in the rabbinic phrase does not refer to a place (i.e., heaven) but stands as a substitute for the divine name (i.e., the Tetragrammaton).[8] It should also be noted that in Hebrew the word for “kingdom” in the phrase מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם is a verbal noun,[9] which suggests that the focus of the term is on divine activity (God’s reign) rather than a sphere of influence.[10]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: The Shema and the Kingdom of Heaven

Becker has shown that rabbinic references to the Kingdom of Heaven are most often linked either to the recitation of the Shema or to the giving of the Torah at Sinai.[11] Rabbinic literature refers to reciting the Shema as קִבּוּל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (qibūl malchūt shāmayim, “receiving the Kingdom of Heaven”; Sifre Num. § 115 [ed. Horovitz, 126]). According to Safrai, “The essence of the Kingdom of Heaven is not in the first verse, which proclaims the unity of God (Deut. 6:4), but in the continuation: the requirement to love God and to do his commandments.”[12] This usage indicates a relational aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven: God reigns over a human being when that person determines to perform God’s commandments.[13] The relational aspect of the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven can be observed in the following examples:

אָמַ′ רֶ′ יְהוֹשֻׁע בֶּן קָרְחָה וְלָמָּה קָדְמָהּ שְׁמַע לִוְהָיָה אִם שָׁמֹעַ אֶלָּא יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו מַלְכוּת שׁמַיִם תְּחִילָּה וְאַחַר כָּךְ יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו עוֹל מִצְווֹת

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korhah said: “Why does the section Hear, O Israel precede And it shall come to pass if you obey? So that a person may first accept the Kingdom of Heaven and afterwards accept the yoke of the commandments.” (m. Ber. 2:2)[14]

מַעֲשֶׂה בְרַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵ′ שֶׁנָּשָׂא וְקָרָא בְלַיְלָה שֶׁנָּשָׂא אָמְרוּ לוֹ לֹא לִימַּדְתָּנוּ שֶׁחָתָן פָּטוּר מִקִּרְיַת שְׁמַע בְּלַיְלָה הָרִאשׁוֹן אָמָ′ לָהֶן אֵינִי שׁוֹמֵעַ לָכֶם לְבַטֵּל מִמֶּנִּי מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם שָׁעָה אַחַת

An anecdote about Rabban Gamaliel: When he got married he recited the Shema on his wedding night. His disciples said to him, “Didn’t you teach us that a bridegroom is exempt from reciting the Shema on the first night?” He said to them, “I will not listen to you to annul the Kingdom of Heaven[15] even for a moment.” (m. Ber. 2:5)

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: The Kingdom of Heaven and Israel’s History

The rabbinic association of the Kingdom of Heaven with the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Sinai connects the relational aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven to another facet of the Kingdom of Heaven concept: the Kingdom of Heaven’s connotations of redemptive history. Rabbinic tradition identifies the celebration of God’s victory at the Red Sea as the first allusion to the Kingdom of Heaven in Scripture. In response to the defeat of Pharaoh, Israel sang “The LORD shall reign forever and ever” (Exod. 15:18).[16] Thus it is through the LORD’s redemptive intervention in history that the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed. In response to God’s salvation, the children of Israel gladly accepted the Torah as their constitution:

אנכי ה′ אלהיך. מפני מה לא נאמרו עשרת הדברות בתחלת התורה משלו משל למה הדבר דומה לאחד שנכנס במדינה אמר להם אמלוך עליכם אמרו לו כלום עשית לנו שתמלוך עלינו מה עשה בנה להם את החומ′ הכניס להם את המים עשה להם מלחמות אמר להם אמלוך עליכם אמרו עליכם אמרו לו הן והן. כך המקום הוציא ישראל ממצרים קרע להם הים הוריד להם המן העלה להם הבאר הגיז להם השלו עשה להם מלחמת עמלק אמר להם אמלוך עליכם אמרו לו הן והן. רבי אומר להודיע שבחן של ישראל שכשעמדו כולן על הר סיני לקבל התורה השוו כלם לב אחד לקבל מלכות שמים בשמחה.‏

I am the Lord Thy God. Why were the Ten Commandments not said at the beginning of the Torah? A parable is told, to what may the matter be compared? To one who entered a country and said, “May I rule over you?” They replied to him, “Have you done anything good for us that you should rule over us?” What did he do? He built the [city] wall for them, brought water [into the city] for them and fought battles for them. Then he said to them, “May I rule over you?” They replied, “Yes, yes.” So, also the Omnipresent brought Israel out of Egypt, parted the sea for them, brought down the manna for them, raised the well for them, brought the quail for them and fought the battle against Amalek for them. He said to them, “May I rule over you?” and they responded, “Yes, yes.” Rabbi [Yehudah ha-Nasi] says: This makes the excellence of Israel known, for when they all stood before Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, they were all of one mind to receive the Kingdom of Heaven joyfully.[17] (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BaHodesh chpt. 5, on Exod. 20:2)[18]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Future Completion of the Kingdom of Heaven

Thus, the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven is linked to Israel’s redemptive history and God’s relationship to Israel as a redeemer. The Kingdom of Heaven is revealed when God acts as Israel’s savior, and in response Israel cheerfully accepts the LORD as their king. The connection of the Kingdom of Heaven to Israel’s redemption history encompasses not only events from the biblical past, but also looks forward to future instances of God’s redemptive action. According to one rabbinic tradition, Israel’s song at the sea alludes to the future rebuilding of the Temple:

אימתי תבנהו בשתי ידיך. משל ללסטים שנכנסו לפלטרין של מלך בזזו נכסיו והרגו פמליא של מלך והחריצו פלטרין של מלך לאחר זמן ישב מלך עמהם בדין תפש מהם הרג מהם צלב מהן וישב בפלטרין שלו ואחר כך נתודעה מלכותו לעולם לכך נאמר מקדש ה′ כוננו ידיך ה′ ימלוך לעולם ועד.‏

The LORD shall reign [Exod. 15:18]. When? When you build it [i.e., the Temple—DNB and JNT] with your two hands. A parable. [To what may the matter be compared?] To robbers who entered the palace of the king, stole his property, killed the royal servants and destroyed the palace of the king. After awhile the king sat in judgment over them. He imprisoned some, he executed some and he crucified some. He dwelt in his palace and afterwards his reign [מלכותו] was recognized in the world. Accordingly, it says, The sanctuary, O LORD, your hands established [Exod. 15:17].[19] (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 10, on Exod. 15:17)

From the point of view of this parable, the Kingdom of Heaven awaits a future completion. The Kingdom of Heaven is compared to an earthly king whose palace has been destroyed. Only when the king’s authority is recognized in the world is his kingdom established. Likewise, only when the LORD’s authority is recognized by all the peoples of the world will the Kingdom of Heaven be complete. As Notely-Safrai note (109), this midrash on Exod. 15:17-18 looks forward to a fuller realization of the Kingdom of Heaven in the future, when the nations of the world are made to recognize God’s reign by vindicating Israel through the rebuilding of the Temple and punishment of Israel’s enemies.

Similarly, commenting upon the story of the war with Amalek (Exod. 17), Rabbi Eliezer said:

אימתי יאבד שמן של אלו בשעה שנעקר עבודה זרה היא ועובדיה ויהא המקו′ יחידי בעולם ותהי מלכותו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים באותה שעה (שם י″ד) ויצא ה′ ונלחם בגוים ההם והיה ה’ למלך וגו′.‏

When will the name of these people [the Amalekites—DNB and JNT] perish? In the hour when idolatry is uprooted together with the idolaters and the Omnipresent will be unique [i.e., worshipped exclusively—DNB and JNT] in the world and his Kingdom [מלכותו] will be [established—DNB and JNT] forever and ever. In that hour, the LORD will go out and wage war etc. [Zech. 14:3], and the LORD will be king [over all the earth, and on that day the LORD will be one, and his name one (Zech. 14:9)]. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Amalek chpt. 2, on Exod. 17:14)[20]

Rabbi Eliezer’s comment unites all the aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven we have discussed thus far, and highlights another facet yet to be explored. Here we see the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven linked to Israel’s redemptive history—the defeat of Amalek—which awaits completion in the final redemption when Israel is vindicated before the nations and idolatry is uprooted from the earth. On that day the LORD will be one, and his name one, an allusion to the Shema. Rabbi Eliezer’s comment also makes it clear that Israel’s redemption is not merely a spiritual concept, but anticipates a this-worldly transformation of social and political realities. The realization of the Kingdom of Heaven involves the abolition of idolatry, the liberation of Israel from foreign oppression, and the submission of the Gentiles to God’s rule (or even their complete destruction). Just as the Kingdom of Heaven was revealed through Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt, so the completion of the Kingdom of Heaven will result in a future political liberation of Israel from foreign oppression. Thus the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven has a political as well as a religious dimension.[21]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven[22]

Flusser discussed the political aspect of the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, arguing that originally “the Kingdom of Heaven” was an anti-Zealot slogan.[23] At the end of the Second Temple period there were various groups of militant Jewish nationalists who advocated armed revolt against the Roman Empire. These insurgent groups believed that national liberation could be achieved through violent means. They believed that their armed struggle would provoke divine intervention on Israel’s behalf and the eschatological events of the final redemption would be set in motion as a result of their terrorist activities. It seems likely that at least one stream of militant Jewish nationalism emerged from the School of Shammai.[24] This militant Jewish nationalist ideology was countered by the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism[25] with the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven.[26] According to Hillelite ideology, violent militant insurgence can only replace the Roman Empire with a kingdom of flesh and blood:

רבי חנניה סגן הכהנים אומר כל הנותן דברי תורה על לבו מבטלין ממנו הרהורי חרב. הרהורי רעב. הרהורי שטות. הרהורי זנות. הרהורי יצר הרע. הרהורי אשה רעה. הרהורי דברים בטלים. הרהורי עול בשר ודם…. וכל שאינו נותן דברי תורה על לבו נותנין לו הרהורי חרב. הרהורי רעב. הרהורי שטות. הרהורי זנות. הרהורי יצר הרע. הרהורי אשה רעה. הרהורי דברים בטלים. הרהורי עול בשר ודם…. הוא היה אומר אל תראוני שאני שחרחורת ששזפתני השמש [בני אמי נחרו בי שמוני נוטרה את הכרמים כרמי שלי לא נטרתי (שיר השירים א′ ו′). אל תראוני שאני שחרחורת ששזפתני השמש בני אמי נחרו בי] אלו בולאות שביהודה שפרקו עולו של הקב″ה מעליהם והמליכו עליהם מלך ב″ו י.‏

Rabbi Hananiah,[27] prefect of the priests, says: He who takes to heart the words of the Torah is relieved of many preoccupations—preoccupations with hunger, foolish preoccupations, unchaste preoccupations, preoccupations with the evil impulse, preoccupations with an evil wife, idle preoccupations, and preoccupations with the yoke of flesh and blood…. But he who does not take to heart the words of the Torah is given over to many preoccupations—preoccupations with hunger, foolish preoccupations, unchaste preoccupations, preoccupations with the evil impulse, preoccupations with an evil wife, idle preoccupations, and preoccupations with the yoke of flesh and blood…. He used to say: Do not look at me because I am dark and the sun has tanned me [my mother’s sons were angry with me (Song 1:6)]—these are the assemblies of Judah who broke off the yoke of the Holy One, blessed be he, and caused a king of flesh and blood to reign over them.[28] (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 20 [ed. Schechter, 70-72])[29]

In contrast to the aspirations of the militant Jewish nationalists who hoped to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression by resorting to violence, the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is realized through the performance of mitzvot and acts of mercy:

אילו הסתכלו ישראל במה שאמר להם יעקב אביהם לא שלטה בהם אומה ומלכות ומה אמר להם קבלו עליכם מלכות שמים והכריעו זה את זה ביראת שמים [והתנהגו זה את זה בגמילות חסדים] וכ″ו

If Israel had kept the words that Jacob, their father, spoke to them, no people or kingdom would rule over them. And what did he say to them? “Take upon yourselves the Kingdom of Heaven and emulate one another in the fear of Heaven [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] and practice kindness to one another. (Sifre, Ha’azinu chpt. 18, on Deut. 32:29 [Finkelstein, 372])

Despite this peaceful approach, the concept of redemption (גְּאוּלָּה; ge’ūlāh) itself was not spiritualized: the peace-seeking Hillelites still retained hope for political liberation from foreign oppression.[30] This hope for political freedom is expressed in statements such as the following:

ר′ נְחוֹנְיָה בֶן הַקָּנָה אוֹ′ כָּל הַמְקַבֵּל <עָלָיו> [[עוֹל]] תּוֹרָה מַעֲבִירִים מִמֶּנּוּ עוֹל מַלְכוּת וְעוֹל דֶּרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ וְכָל הַפּוֹרֵק מִמֶּנּוּ עוֹל תּוֹרָה נוֹתְנִים עָלָיו עוֹל מַלְכוּת וְעוֹל דֶּרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ

Rabbi Nehunyah ben ha-Kanah says: Anyone who receives the yoke of the Torah removes from himself the yoke of the empire and the yoke of daily sorrows, but anyone who breaks himself away from the yoke of the Torah takes upon himself the yoke of the empire and the yoke of daily sorrows. (m. Avot 3:5)[31]

The political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven is also present in a saying attributed to Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili.[32] Commenting on the grammar of Exod. 15:18, he said:

רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר אלו אמרו ישראל על הים יי מלך עולם ועד לא היתה אומה ומלכות שולטת בהן לעולם אלא אמרו יי ימלוך לעולם ועד לעתיד לבא.‏

If at the [Red] Sea Israel had said, “The LORD reigns forever and ever,” no nation or kingdom would ever have ruled over them. But they said, The LORD shall reign forever and ever,—in the future tense…. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 10, on Exod. 15:17)

In other words, had the children of Israel recognized the Kingdom of Heaven in the present, and not merely as a future event, God’s reign would have continued uninterrupted from the time of the splitting of the Red Sea until today. Only God, and no one else, would ever have reigned over Israel. The political aspect of Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili’s statement is clear: the Kingdom of Heaven and the reign of foreign powers over Israel cannot coexist. Kingdoms of flesh and blood are displaced wherever the Kingdom of Heaven has been realized.[33]

Thus, there is a certain tension in the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. The sages who articulated this concept rejected the violent tactics of the militant Jewish nationalists, yet they clung to the hope that Israel would be liberated through the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven.[34] The means, and not the ends, were the locus of their disagreement with those who called for armed revolt against the Roman Empire. Rather than resorting to violence, the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism insisted that redemption would be achieved through unswerving loyalty to the Torah.

The political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven is highlighted in the Babylonian Talmud’s version of the story of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom:

תנו רבנן פעם אחת גזרה מלכות הרשעה שלא יעסקו ישראל בתורה בא פפוס בן יהודה ומצאו לרבי עקיבא שהיה מקהיל קהלות ברבים ועוסק בתורה. אמר ליה: עקיבא, אי אתה מתירא מפני מלכות…. אמרו לא היו ימים מועטים עד שתפסוהו לרבי עקיבא וחבשוהו בבית האסורים, ותפסו לפפוס בן יהודה וחבשוהו אצלו אמר לו פפוס מי הביאך לכאן אמר ליה אשריך רבי עקיבא שנתפסת על דברי תורה אוי לו לפפוס שנתפס על דברים בטלים בשעה שהוציאו את רבי עקיבא להריגה זמן קריאת שמע היה והיו סורקים את בשרו במסרקות של ברזל והיה מקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים…. היה מאריך באחד עד שיצתה נשמתו באחד

Our Rabbis taught: Once the wicked Government [מלכות הרשעה] issued a decree forbidding the Jews to study and practice the Torah. Pappus b. Judah came and found R. Akiba publicly bringing gatherings together and occupying himself with the Torah. He said to him: Akiba, are you not afraid of the Government [מלכות]?… It is related that soon afterwards R. Akiba was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus b. Judah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him. He said to him: Pappus, who brought you here? He replied: Happy are you, R. Akiba, that you have been seized for busying yourself with the Torah! Alas for Pappus who has been seized for busying himself with idle things! When R. Akiba was taken out for execution, it was the hour for the recital of the Shema’, and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven [והיה מקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים]…. He prolonged the word ehad [“one”] until he expired while saying it. (b. Ber. 61b; Soncino [adapted])

In this story, the Roman Empire (מלכות הרשעה; lit., “the wicked kingdom”) is opposed to the Kingdom of Heaven. Rabbi Akiva’s commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven leads to his defiance of the emperor’s decree and costs him his life. Simply reciting the Shema was a political act, because it meant declaring loyalty to the God of Israel in defiance of Caesar’s decree. As Harvey writes, “…allegiance to the metaphysical malkhut of God enjoins resistance to the tyrannical malkhut of Rome. The Roman government (malkhut) had prohibited the study of Torah, but Rabbi Akiva continued teaching and was imprisoned and sentenced to death by torture…. Proclaiming in extremis the divine oneness, Rabbi Akiva affirmed his absolute allegiance to the kingdom of God while defying the imperial oppressors.”[35]

Comparison of the versions of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom in the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmuds is instructive. In the Jerusalem Talmud’s version, the phrases “the wicked kingdom” and “the Kingdom of Heaven” do not appear. The version in the Jerusalem Talmud (y. Ber. 9:5 [67b]; y. Sot. 5:5 [25a-b]) does not report the reasons for Rabbi Akiva’s execution, whereas the version in the Babylonian Talmud (b. Ber. 61b) stresses that Rabbi Akiva was martyred simply for teaching Torah in defiance of Caesar’s decree. Although both versions omit any mention of Rabbi Akiva’s support for Bar Kochva’s revolt, it is clear that the Babylonian version intentionally suppressed Rabbi Akiva’s pro-revolutionary stance in order to portray him as a martyr who was executed solely for his commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven.[36] It therefore appears that the Babylonian version has manipulated its source in order to express the anti-revolutionary ideology expressed by the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. Nevertheless, even in the Babylonian Talmud’s recasting of the story of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom, Rabbi Akiva’s commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven remains a political act every bit as much as it was also religious. This reformulation of the story of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom shows that the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven could express an anti-revolutionary sentiment and a critique of the Roman Empire at the same time. The rejection of militant Jewish nationalism did not imply support for Rome. In the minds of the Jewish sages who developed the Kingdom of Heaven concept, anti-revolutionary sentiment and critique of the Roman Empire were two sides of the same coin.[37]

The rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore, is multifaceted. As Becker writes, “the term malkhut shamayim points to a bundle of closely associated and interconnected motifs: God’s unity, his presence in his realm, his redeeming acts in the present and future, his precepts for Israel by which Israel realizes God’s kingdom in the present…and the idea of martyrdom for heaven’s sake.”[38]

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus

Many of the aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven that we observe in rabbinic literature are also discernible in Jesus’ teaching, but we also find that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in distinctive ways.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Divine Activity

Jesus referred to the healing of the sick and the driving out of impure spirits as evidence that God was actively working through Jesus to redeem his people. When he sent out his twelve apostles to heal and exorcise demons, Jesus instructed them to proclaim that Ἤγγικεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (“The Kingdom of God has come near to you”; Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, L105; Luke 10:9; cf. Matt. 10:7). In other words, God’s redemptive power has broken into the human sphere.

On another occasion Jesus declared: “If I cast out demons by the finger of God then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20; cf. Matt. 12:28). As Notley observed, the phrase “the finger of God” appears only three times in the Hebrew Bible: once in reference to the plagues in Egypt, when Pharaoh’s magicians recognized the LORD’s power (Exod. 8:19), and twice in reference to the giving of the Torah at Sinai (Exod. 31:18; Deut. 9:10).[39] By this sophisticated biblical allusion, Jesus connected the divine activity taking place through his healing and teaching mission to Israel’s redemption history. In much the same way as the sages connected the Kingdom of Heaven to the redemption from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, Jesus drew a connection between the first redemption and the redemption breaking out through his own mission.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Political Aspect[40]

It also seems that, as in rabbinic sources, the Kingdom of Heaven has a political aspect in Jesus’ teaching.[41] Like the Hillelite Pharisees, the political opponents of the militant Jewish nationalist parties, Jesus opposed armed rebellion against the Roman Empire.[42] This much is clear from Jesus’ statement that taxes must be paid to Caesar (Question Concerning Tribute to Caesar; Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26) and that one must turn the other cheek, and walk the extra mile (On Retaliation; Matt. 5:38-42).[43] Jesus’ opposition to armed rebellion is likewise evident in his blessing of the peacemakers, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Beatitudes; Matt. 5:9). But Jesus’ political opposition to the militant Jewish nationalists included more than sharing the opinion of the Hillelites that armed resistance was futile and perilous; Jesus also adopted their terminology: the anti-Zealot slogan “the Kingdom of Heaven.”

As with the Hillelite concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus stressed that love of neighbor (including even love for one’s enemy), forgiveness of debt, repentance and faithfulness to the Torah would be the catalyst for Israel’s redemption.[44] Nevertheless, Jesus’ understanding of redemption was not spiritualized. According to Luke’s version of Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem, Jesus envisioned a time when the “days of the Gentiles” would come to an end (Luke 21:24).[45] Jesus did not abandon the hope for Israel’s freedom and vindication, rather he abandoned the notion that redemption would be achieved through violent means.[46]

Jesus’ opposition to revolt, therefore, should not be equated with support for the Roman Empire. We have already seen that, in the minds of the Jewish sages who formulated the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, opposition to the militant Jewish nationalists and critique of the Roman Empire were two sides of the same coin. Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven is likewise a rejection of militant Jewish nationalist ideology on the one hand and Roman imperialist policy on the other.[47] Jesus explicitly critiques the Roman Empire in his teaching on greatness among his disciples (i.e., the Kingdom of Heaven):

“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. (Luke 22:25-26; RSV)[48]

Jesus’ command to “render unto Caesar” (Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26) should not be taken as an affirmation of the Roman occupation of the land of Israel.[49] Rather, Jesus’ teaching on paying tribute can be compared to the Essene doctrine to relinquish one’s goods “like one oppressed before someone domineering him” (1QS IX, 22-23). According to Jesus, Caesar might be able to demand tribute because the coins with which it was paid bore his image, but one’s life and one’s being is owed to God in whose image human beings are made.[50] This highly subversive saying contrasts the claims and the rights of Caesar with those of God.[51] The negative comparison of God and Caesar is hardly complimentary toward the empire.[52]

The political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching is also seen in his association of the Kingdom of Heaven with persecution and martyrdom. As with the Jewish martyrs, for whom faithfulness to the Torah became an action within the political arena,[53] Jesus recognized that proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven could earn the enmity of the Roman authorities and even those within the Jewish community who benefitted from the status quo. Although Jesus did not pose a military threat to the Roman Empire, Jesus’ message that God was actively redeeming Israel through his healing and teaching ministry would not have been welcomed by the Roman Empire, which had no interest in seeing Israel’s liberation. It was the policy of the Romans to stamp out messianic expectations, and it is unlikely that they would have distinguished between peaceful and militant movements.[54] From the Roman point of view, it was the hope of redemption, not only the means, that was threatening.[55] Hope, as all oppressive regimes recognize, is subversive, which is why, throughout history, oppressive regimes have gone to great lengths to crush the hopes of the people who are under their control.[56] One of the most effective means for crushing the hopes of Israel that was practiced by the Roman Empire was the brutal practice of crucifixion.[57]

The strongest link between the Kingdom of Heaven and martyrdom in Jesus’ teaching, however, is located in his statement that “Whoever does not take up his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Demands of Discipleship; Luke 14:27; cf. Matt. 10:38).[58] The connection of this saying to the Kingdom of Heaven may not be immediately apparent; however, as we will demonstrate below, Jesus referred to his band of itinerating disciples as “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus’ equation of discipleship with the Kingdom of Heaven, and his warning that his disciples might face persecution and even martyrdom at the hands of the Roman authorities,[59] indicates that Jesus understood that proclaiming God’s reign was a religious action that was also felt within the political arena.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Jesus’ Band of Itinerating Disciples

The phrase “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” is a distinctive usage in Jesus’ teaching. In rabbinic literature we find the phrase “to receive the Kingdom of Heaven,”[60] but not “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” This distinctive usage highlights an important innovation to the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching.

The phrase “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God” is found in the following statements:

Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 5:20)

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 7:21)

Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child cannot enter it. (Luke 18:17)

The wealthy enter the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. (Matt. 19:23; cf. Mark 10:23; Luke 18:24)

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25)

The statement in Luke 18:17 that “whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child cannot enter it” demonstrates that Jesus was familiar with the Pharisaic-rabbinic phrase “receive the Kingdom of Heaven,” and also marks a point of departure for Jesus’ distinctive usage. In Jesus’ teaching, entering the Kingdom of Heaven refers to joining a clearly defined community.

Jesus’ innovative use of the the Kingdom of Heaven to refer to a community that is united for a common purpose is most clearly illustrated in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident, in which Jesus compared entering the Kingdom of Heaven to passing a camel through the eye of a needle. Many interpreters have supposed that the rich man forfeited his share in the life of the world to come by declining Jesus’ invitation to follow him, but this conclusion does not concur with Jesus’ prior affirmation that by observing the commandments the rich man would inherit eternal life. What the rich man declined was not eternal life, but an opportunity to join Jesus’ band of disciples, a process Jesus described as “entering the Kingdom of Heaven.”[61] In other words, Jesus referred to the community of disciples who joined his itinerating mission, who studied his interpretation of Torah and practiced his halachah, as the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, for Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was not only a divine activity—God’s rescue mission to redeem Israel—the Kingdom of Heaven was also the community of Jesus’ disciples who participated with God in his redemptive mission.[62]

That in Jesus’ teachings the Kingdom of Heaven refers to a specific community is also indicated by the way Jesus could speak of gradations within the Kingdom of Heaven. For example: “Whoever loosens one of the least of these commandments and teaches other people to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever does and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Yeshua’s Words about Torah; Matt. 5:19). Or again: “No one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist. But the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he” (Yeshua’s Words about Yohanan the Immerser; Matt. 11:11; Luke 7:28). The first example indicates that there are members of great standing within Jesus’ band of disciples, and there are some of lesser standing. Disciples who do not neglect the least, or the “light,”[63] commandments will attain respect and recognition among Jesus’ followers. In the second example we find that Jesus considered John the Baptist, who did not become one of his disciples, to be a great human being. But belonging to his band of disciples meant participating in something of such great significance—for it was through his Kingdom of Heaven movement that God was bringing redemption to Israel—that it surpassed John’s individual greatness.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Between Qumran and the Bet Midrash

Perhaps Jesus coined the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” in order to highlight the communal aspect of his understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven as opposed to the private and individual connotations of the Pharisaic-rabbinic use of “receive the Kingdom of Heaven” to refer to the recitation of the Shema. But why chose the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” in particular?

A few Jerusalem School scholars have suggested that the expression “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” combines the Pharisaic-rabbinic phrase “receive the Kingdom of Heaven,” with the Essene phrase “enter the covenant.”[64] Like “receive the Kingdom of Heaven” in rabbinic sources, “enter the covenant” is sometimes used in DSS to refer to the recitation of the Shema,[65] but more often “enter the covenant” means “join the Essene community.”[66] The semantic overlap between “receive the Kingdom of Heaven” in the Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition and “enter the covenant” in Essene terminology makes the fusion of these two phrases plausible, while the communal aspect of the Essene phrase “enter the covenant” explains why Jesus might have found such a fusion to be desirable: conjoining the Pharisaic-rabbinic and Essene phrases allowed Jesus to indicate his indebtedness to Pharisaic-rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven while at the same time extending its meaning to include a communal dimension.[67]

If Buth’s suggestion is correct, “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” is one of a handful of examples of Pharisaic-rabbinic/Essene hybrid phrases that Jesus coined.[68] Other such hybrid phrases include “mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven”[69] and the combination of “poor in spirit” with “Kingdom of Heaven” in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3).[70]

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Temporal Aspect

A second distinctive usage of the “Kingdom of Heaven” in the Gospels is found in Jesus’ statement that “the prophets prophesied until John,” but “from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking through” (Matt. 11:12-13). Jesus’ words can be compared to the following statement in rabbinic literature:

אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח אבל לעולם הבא עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתך

Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, “All the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah. But as for the world to come, the eye has not seen, O God, except you [Isa. 64:3].” (b. Ber. 34b; cf. b. Shab. 63a; b. Sanh. 99a)

This rabbinic statement testifies to a tripartite division of history: the days of the prophets, the days of the Messiah, and the world to come.[71] This same tripartite division of history appears to be implied in Jesus’ saying about John the Baptist; however, in place of “the days of the Messiah,” Jesus speaks about “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus’ tripartite division of history is also implied in the Blessedness of the Twelve pronouncement: “Many prophets and messengers desired to see what you see [i.e., the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven], but did not see it” (Matt. 13:17; Luke 10:24).[72] As in the statement “the prophets prophesied until John,” so too, in this saying, Jesus divides history into the days of the prophets, and the present era that is witnessing the dawning of messianic redemption. Likewise, in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven pericope, where a rich man refused Jesus’ invitation to join his band of disciples, Jesus speaks of entering the Kingdom of Heaven in the present and inheriting eternal life in the world to come.

According to Flusser, “Jesus made a tripartite division of the history of salvation. The first was the ‘biblical’ period, which climaxed with the career of John the Baptist. The second period began with his own ministry in which the kingdom of heaven was breaking through. The third period will be inaugurated with the coming of the Son of Man and the Last Judgement at a future time which is unknown to anyone.”[73]

Jesus’ tripartite division of history conflicted with the two-part division of history witnessed in the sayings of John the Baptist, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in certain rabbinic traditions. According to the writings of the Essenes, the eschatological era might commence at any moment. The end of history was close at hand. The final judgment of the wicked and the vindication of the righteous was imminent. This two-part division of history is also attested in the sayings of John the Baptist: “Already the axe is at the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire…. One is coming after me who is more powerful than I…the winnowing fork is in his hand and he will purify his threshing floor and gather the wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will destroy with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:10-12). For John the Baptist, then, the end of the present age was coming quickly, and fast on its heels was the final judgment.

For Jesus, however, there was an intervening period between the normal course of history and the final judgment. In this intervening period, the righteous would coexist with the wicked, for this would be a period of grace in which sinners were called to repentance and welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. In this middle period, God’s redemptive mission would be breaking into the human sphere through acts of faithfulness, mercy and love. In this messianic era of redemption, which Jesus referred to as “the Kingdom of Heaven,” evil would indeed be uprooted, but not through coercion, warfare or violence. The Kingdom of Heaven would advance through peacemaking, forgiveness, and discerning the divine image in one’s fellow human being, even discerning it in the face of one’s enemy.

In order to counter the expectation of imminent judgment, Jesus told parables in which he compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a net that scoops up good fish together with the bad (Matt. 13:47-50), and to a field in which tares grow among the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). At the final judgment the evil will be sorted from the good, but in the intervening period saints and sinners continue to coexist.

Summary: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus

Detail of Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Master of the Mansi Magdalen (c.1490 – 1530).
Detail of Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Master of the Mansi Magdalen (c. 1490 – 1530). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the teachings of Jesus we find numerous points of contact with the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. In agreement with the Jewish sages, Jesus linked the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven to Israel’s history of redemption, both present and future. As with the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism, which used “the Kingdom of Heaven” as an anti-Zealot slogan,[74] Jesus adopted this phrase because it agreed with his understanding of the means by which God intended to redeem Israel. And, like the sages, Jesus could not escape the political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven. Although Jesus did not have political ambitions, he was aware that the totalitarian Roman regime would perceive his absolute commitment to the reign of God to be subversive, and he knew that he might be opposed even by some members of the Jewish community who stood to gain from the status quo.

These points of agreement with the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven notwithstanding, Jesus’ appropriation of the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven also involved innovation. We do not find that Jesus connected the Kingdom of Heaven with the recitation of the Shema. To claim that Jesus rejected this connection would be going too far, but absence of this connection in the Synoptic Gospels cannot be ignored. We also find that, although Jesus was familiar with the rabbinic phrase “to receive the Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus more frequently spoke about “entering the Kingdom of Heaven.” This distinctive vocabulary appears to be the result of Jesus’ unique application of the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven to his own band of itinerating disciples. Finally, Jesus used the Kingdom of Heaven to signal his understanding of a tripartite division of history. The Kingdom of Heaven, in this sense, referred to the messianic period of redemption, an era of grace and repentance, which would be concluded at some future date with the advent of the Son of Man to render judgment on the earth and inaugurate the eschatological era.

For Jesus the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven was multifaceted, and the different nuances of the concept could all be present to varying degrees at the same time. It is not always necessary to choose which nuance of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus intended in a given saying, and to do so can actually distort his meaning because the many aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven are not mutually exclusive.

FR’s Secondary Use of “Kingdom of God” as a Substitute for “Coming of the Son of Man”

Lindsey observed that, in a handful of cases, Luke uses the Kingdom of God in a way that does not agree with the nuances of the Kingdom of Heaven we have outlined above. Lindsey further observed that these anomalous usages appeared in the more refined, less Hebraic of Luke’s sources (First Reconstruction or FR). Certain passages where Luke copied FR are easily identifiable because they consist entirely of Lukan doublets, sayings that appear twice in Luke’s Gospel, albeit in slightly different forms. Lindsey noted that the Lukan doublets can be sorted into two groups: those that appear in collections of pithy statements that are only loosely connected, and those that appear in longer contexts and are stylistically poorer Greek and markedly Hebraic in form.[75] One collection of Lukan doublets from FR appears in Luke 9:23-27. Each of the verses in this passage have counterparts elsewhere in Luke that are more Hebraic in form. The one exception is Luke 9:27, which is a doublet, but its counterpart also appears to have been the product of FR:

FR Version Anth. Version
Luke 9:23 Luke 14:26-27
Luke 9:24 Luke 17:33
Luke 9:25 Luke 12:19-21
Luke 9:26 Luke 12:8-9
Luke 9:27 = 21:[31-]32

Let us examine Luke 9:26-27, which will help us to understand FR’s anomalous usage of “the Kingdom of God”:

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God. (RSV)

In this passage, FR appears to equate the coming of the Son of Man with the future revelation of the Kingdom of God. The entire section, Luke 9:23-27, is derived from FR, but only Luke 9:27, which contains the anomalous usage of Kingdom of God, lacks a parallel in Anthology (Luke’s Hebraic source). This unusual fact suggests the Luke 9:27 is the product of FR’s own editorial creativity, and not the reflection of an original Hebrew saying of Jesus. The counterpart to Luke 9:27 is found in Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem. According to Luke 21:29-33, Jesus said:

Observe the fig tree, and all the trees. When they put out [fruit],[76] seeing it for yourselves you know that already summer is near. So also you, when you see these things happening, you will know that near is the Kingdom of God. Amen! I say to you, this generation will not pass away until everything has happened. The heaven and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

This passage probably does go back to a Hebrew source, but there are indications that the text has suffered redaction at the hand of a Greek editor. The phrase “and all the trees” (Luke 21:29), for instance, interrupts the flow of Jesus’ simile, and is likely secondary.[77] Also, the phrase “Kingdom of God” destroys what looks to be a wordplay in Hebrew between קַיִץ (qayitz, “summer,” “summer fruit”) and קֵיץ (qētz, “end”).[78] It seems probable that, in its original form, the saying meant that just as when a fig tree begins to put forth fruit a person knows the summer (קַיִץ) is near, so when the disciples see Jerusalem surrounded by armies they will know that the end (קֵיץ) is near. The editor of Luke’s source either did not understand the wordplay after it had been translated into Greek, or perhaps he intentionally changed the reading to say, “you will know that the Kingdom of God is near.”[79] The verses immediately following this prediction (Luke 21:34-36) describe the coming of the Son of Man. So, in the context of Jesus’ prophecy, it appears that the First Reconstructor (the creator of FR) again equated the Kingdom of God with the coming of the Son of Man. The opinion that the Kingdom of God will be revealed in the generation of the apostles appears to be the innovation of FR, for originally Jesus spoke not of the Kingdom of God, but of the destruction of Jerusalem as the event that would take place during the apostles’ lifetime. The First Reconstructor imported the idea of the Kingdom of God into Jesus’ prophecy, and he evidently repeated the notion that the Kingdom of God would be revealed through the coming of the Son of Man during the apostles’ lifetime in Luke 9:26-27.

Once the equation of the coming of the Son of Man with the Kingdom of God is recognized as a secondary feature of FR’s redactional activity, other instances of this secondary usage become more easily identifiable. Lindsey suggested that Luke 17:20-21 is simply FR’s secondary reworking of Jesus’ saying in Luke 17:22-24. Presenting these verses in parallel columns will enable readers to observe their similarity:

Luke 17:20-21 Luke 17:22-24
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, And he said to the disciples,
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it.
nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ And they will say to you, ‘Lo, there!’ or ‘Lo, here!’ Do not go, do not follow them.
for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (RSV) For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day.” (RSV)

In the saying about the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 17:22-24), Jesus tells his disciples that they should not listen to people who report that the Son of Man has come, because on the Day of the Son of Man everyone will be aware of his arrival. The First Reconstructor refashioned this authentic saying into a saying about the Kingdom of God that does not accord with Jesus’ habitual manner of speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven. Ordinarily, Jesus claimed “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” or “the Kingdom of Heaven has come upon you.” He did not speak of the Kingdom of Heaven as something that cannot be observed, but rather as a divine activity with empirical results.

The redactional activity of FR has given the mistaken impression that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as something distinct from his healing and teaching mission, something that was to be revealed in the apostles’ lifetime following the destruction of Jerusalem. In these passages FR described the Kingdom of God in terms of and in conjunction with the coming of the Son of Man. Luke, who used FR as one of the primary sources for his Gospel, incorporated FR’s secondary usage of the Kingdom of God, but this anomalous usage did not originate with Jesus.

Which is Correct: “Kingdom of Heaven” or “Kingdom of God”?

Perceptive readers will have noticed that in our discussion of FR’s secondary usage of Kingdom vocabulary, the phrase we considered was “Kingdom of God,” or in Greek, ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. The phrase Jesus himself would have spoken in Hebrew is מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (malchūt shāmayim, lit., “kingdom of heavens”).[80] In the Gospels we find both ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (hē basileia tou theou, “the kingdom of the god”) and ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (hē basileia tōn ouranōn, “the kingdom of the heavens”). However, the distribution of “Kingdom of Heaven” vs. “Kingdom of God” is far from even. Luke and Mark exclusively write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, whereas Matthew predominantly writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, but occasionally writes ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. How are we to account for this unusual phenomenon?

First, it is clear that one of the Synoptic writers (or one of their sources) is responsible for changing the reading either from Kingdom of God to Kingdom of Heaven or from Kingdom of Heaven to Kingdom of God. We find that in Triple Tradition pericopae where Luke and Mark agree to write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, Matthew often (but not always) writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.[81] In Double Tradition pericopae where Luke has ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, Matthew always has ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.[82] From the perspective of a Markan priorist the solution is simple. Since Luke and Matthew are based on Mark, and since Mark never writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, and since Luke follows Mark in writing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, it must be Matthew who is responsible for the change. But since we accept Lindsey’s synoptic hypothesis, the problem is not so straightforward. According to Lindsey’s hypothesis, Mark copied Luke, and therefore Mark’s agreement with Luke to write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ proves nothing more than that Mark copied Luke in those places. Matthew, on the other hand, had access to one of Luke’s pre-synoptic sources, and therefore it is possible that Matthew reflects an earlier reading, which Luke for some reason decided to change. Let us examine the two hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Matthew is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ into ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.[83] According to this view, when the Hebrew Life of Yeshua was translated into Greek, the translator made an exception to his usual practice of rendering his Hebrew source in a highly literal style and chose instead to translate מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם as ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. The Greek translator’s motivation for making this exception to his usual practice may have been to avoid confusion for his non-Jewish, Greek-speaking readers. For Gentile readers, “Kingdom of Heaven” might have been unclear in two ways: 1) it might have sounded as though the kingdom were located in heaven or even in the sky; 2) “heavens” might suggest a multiplicity of deities (the Greek pantheon) to Gentiles from a polytheistic background.[84] Once the Greek Translation was made, ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ was copied by Anthology, followed by FR, followed by Luke, followed by Mark. Matthew, however, decided to change ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ into ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν for reasons of his own.

Support for the hypothesis that Matthew is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ into ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν is found in the few places where Matthew actually does write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (Matt. 12:28; Matt. 19:24; Matt. 21:31, 43). Matthew 19:24 is a Triple Tradition pericope (Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven), and is therefore the weakest example, since it is possible that in this instance Matthew simply copied the reading he found in Mark 10:25. Matthew 21:31 and Matt. 21:43 are much stronger examples since Matt. 21:31 comes from a unique Matthean pericope (Two Sons parable), and Matt. 21:43 is unique to Matthew, despite belonging to a Triple Tradition pericope (Wicked Tenants parable). These examples may therefore reflect the reading of Matthew’s non-Markan source. Matthew 12:28 is also a very strong example since this verse appears in a Triple Tradition pericope (The Finger of God), but in a verse that is omitted in Mark. The only way Matthew and Luke could have agreed against Mark to include this verse is by relying on their shared, non-Markan source, and therefore their agreement to write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in this pericope strongly suggests that this was the reading they both found in Anthology.

Hypothesis 2: Luke is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, which he found in his Hebraic source (Anthology), into ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. According to this view, the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua did not make an exception to his highly literal style of translation when it came to מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם. The editor of Anthology copied ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν from the Greek Translation, but the First Reconstructor sometimes, perhaps always, changed ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν into ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ for the sake of his non-Jewish, Greek-speaking readers. That the First Reconstructor would make such a change conforms to his usual practice of improving the Greek style of his revised material. Luke observed the change to ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in FR, adopted it, and decided to systematically replace ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν wherever he found it in Anthology, for the same reason that had motivated FR: Luke addressed his Gospel to a non-Jewish, Greek-speaking audience. The author of Luke, who was a traveling companion of Paul, was probably aware that Paul himself used the phrase “Kingdom of God” when writing in Greek (cf. 1 Cor. 6:10; 15:50), as shown, for example, in Acts 14:22 (cf. Acts 19:8). Luke’s desire to use Paul’s vocabulary may have been an additional factor that influenced his decision to systematically replace ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν with ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

When Matthew sat down to compose his Gospel, he found “Kingdom of God” in Mark and “Kingdom of Heaven” in Anthology. When copying a pericope, Matthew’s habit was to weave words from Anthology’s parallel into the text of Mark[85] with the result that Matthew often replaced “Kingdom of God” in Mark with “Kingdom of Heaven.” In Double Tradition pericopae, where Matthew’s source was Anthology, we find that Matthew always writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, and in unique Matthean pericopae, where Matthew must either be relying on Anthology or writing his own composition,[86] Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven” 12xx and “Kingdom of God” 1x.

Verdict: Luke is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, which he found in his Hebraic source (Anthology), into ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.[87] Although it is impossible to be certain, we believe that the following arguments should cause us to favor Hypothesis 2:

  1. Luke is known to de-Judaize his material in order to make it more understandable for a non-Jewish, Greek-speaking audience.[88] For example, Luke changed “the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), a phrase familiar from Qumran, to “the poor” (Luke 6:20).[89] Luke changed “Our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9), a familiar phrase from rabbinic literature, to “Father” (Luke 11:2) because Greek doesn’t like possessive pronouns and “in heaven” could be misleading to a Gentile audience.[90] We also find that Luke often omitted “amen,” or changed it to “truly” or “yes” when he found it in his sources, presumably because amen is a foreign word that would not have been familiar to non-Jewish Greek-speakers.[91]
  2. Matthew’s tendency is not toward Judaism, but is rather distinctly anti-Jewish.[92] Only Matthew has the Jews say “Let his blood be upon us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). Only Matthew implicates the Pharisees in Jesus’ passion.[93] Only Matthew has Jesus reject the “Sons of the Kingdom” in favor of “another nation” (cf. Matt. 8:12; 21:43). The passages in Matthew that appear to be more especially Jewish are not the result of his feelings of sympathy for Jews and Judaism, but evidence of his reliance on an excellent Hebraic Greek source.[94]
  3. An author who is totally consistent in his use of terminology may be suspected of editing his sources to achieve consistency. In other words, total consistency may be indicative of an agenda. Luke is totally consistent in his use of ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. Matthew, on the other hand, is inconsistent. On one occasion Matthew accepted ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ from Mark (cf. Matt. 19:24). On two other occasions Matthew wrote ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ even though we believe his source probably read ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (Matt. 12:28; 21:31).[95] If Matthew had an ideological motivation for replacing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ with ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, why was he unsuccessful in three instances?[96]
  4. In order for Matthew to know that behind ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in the pre-synoptic sources was the phrase מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם in the Hebrew Life of Yeshua, Matthew would have needed to know Hebrew, since the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν is not found in LXX or in Jewish literature composed in Greek.[97] But there is no evidence that the author of Matthew knew Hebrew.[98] To the contrary, in the passages that are unique to Matthew and clearly the product of Matthew’s pen, Matthew writes in a popular Greek style, not in Hebraic Greek.[99]
  5. Lindsey’s hypothesis predicts that where Matthew is independent of Mark, his text is likely to be as Hebraic as Luke’s, or even more Hebraic than Luke’s,[100] because Matthew’s only source apart from Mark is the very Hebraic Anthology. In pericopae where Luke relied on FR and Matthew relied on Anthology, Matthew was often able to achieve a more Hebraic text than Luke’s. It is hardly surprising, therefore, to find that in Double Tradition pericopae Matthew has the more Hebraic ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν opposite Luke’s ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

Of course, not all instances of ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν in Matthew are necessarily copied from Anthology. Having seen ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν so frequently in Anthology, Matthew sometimes inserted the phrase where it did not originally belong. In a similar way, we have seen that some instances of ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in Luke do not reflect Jesus’ usage of מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם.


Bivin Rebuts Tilton’s View of the Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ Teaching

I have some hesitation about Tilton’s understanding of the political aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching. Here are the reasons why.

The political chaos that swirled around Jesus—the desire for vengeance upon the Roman occupiers, especially in the Galilee, yes, even in Jesus’ own hometown synagogue, the inept Roman governors and evil Jewish kings, ethnarch and tetrarchs (such as Herod the Great and his sons, including Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee)—makes Jesus’ reading of the Prophets in the Nazareth synagogue recorded in Luke 4:18-19 (Isa. 61:1-2; 58:6; especially his purposeful omission of “a day of vengeance of our God”), and his message to John in Luke 7:22 (= Matt. 11:5), stand out. In both places, in similar words, Jesus spelled out his agenda:

εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς…κηρύξαι αἰχμαλώτοις ἄφεσιν καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν, ἀποστεῖλαι τεθραυσμένους ἐν ἀφέσει, κηρύξαι ἐνιαυτὸν κυρίου δεκτόν

To preach good news to the humble…to proclaim release to the captives and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)[101]

τυφλοὶ ἀναβλέπουσιν καὶ χωλοὶ περιπατοῦσιν, λεπροὶ καθαρίζονται καὶ κωφοὶ ἀκούουσιν, νεκροὶ ἐγείρονται καὶ πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται

The blind receive sight and the lame walk, lepers are cured, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the humble have good news preached to them. (Luke 7:22; Matt. 11:5)[102]

Jesus was not unaware that Israel’s liberation from foreign rule was inherent in the concept of redemption, but he ignored it. It distracted and detracted from the urgent necessity of getting more and more people under God’s reign.

While the winds of despair and rebellion engulfing the land of Israel swirled around Jesus, although he wasn’t a pacifist,[103] he never waivered in his belief that armed resistance to the Roman rulers was wasted time and energy—there were just too many dead, oppressed, lepers, blind, deaf and lame, in both the physical and spiritual senses. Now was the long-awaited time of salvation, and in spite of, and even because of, the political situation, the work of Jesus and his disciples was of extreme urgency.

In the midst of passionate cries for armed rebellion, in the midst of a deteriorating political situation, Jesus consistently proclaimed that now was the time of salvation and spiritual redemption. Jesus’ interest was in יְשׁוּעָה (yeshū‘āh, “help”), in the physical senses of this word, but more importantly, in its spiritual senses (“salvation”).

The kingdom that Jesus and his disciples proclaimed was not a political, nationalistic, or military kingdom, although some who perhaps had not listened long enough or closely enough to their message may have misunderstood it, taking “kingdom” in a political sense as meaning an armed struggle, and taking Jesus’ claim to be the long-awaited Messiah as a call to armed resistance. Rather, when Jesus and his disciples referred to “kingdom,” they meant a kingdom of personal surrender to a loving and benevolent God who brings down his rain on saints and sinners alike (Matt. 5:45), a kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Jesus’ call to discipleship meant putting God’s Kingdom first in one’s life, even putting it above life itself. It meant being willing to die for the Kingdom, but Jesus’ “taking up your cross” did not mean joining the armed resistance. Jesus was likely talking about the difficulty of a disciple’s life of service to a sage (שימוש חכמים, shimūsh ḥachāmim). Davies suggested that “take up your cross” was a rabbinic technical term for following a rabbi as his servant.[104]

Although frequently Roman authorities, ignorant of Jewish custom and insensitive to Jewish religious feelings, caused civil disobedience, too often responsibility for outbreaks of violence could be laid at the feet of Jewish residents of the land of Israel who fell prey to human emotions and calls by zealots and terrorists for revenge on the Romans and throwing off of the foreign yoke. Inept Roman administrators and cruel and adulterous[105] Jewish kings, such as Herod the Great and his sons, made matters much worse, but it was those whose hearts Jesus’ message had not reached who, following their own human passions, indirectly contributed to the deaths of a huge part of the Jewish residents of the land, as well as the destruction of their Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus was well able to show righteous indignation, for instance, when he saw the commercialism and graft in the Holy Temple of God. He took aside the hawkers (from whose profits the Sadducean high-priestly mafia took a huge cut) and chastised them for their impious activities, saying, “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves'” (Luke 19:45-46; cf. Isa. 56:7; Jer. 7:11).

Often, perhaps every year since his birth, as was the custom of his parents (Luke 2:41), Jesus had made a pilgrimage to the Temple. He noticed with pain the change that had taken place during his lifetime in the way the Temple was administered. Year after year graft and corruption increased. The Sadducean high priestly families, a cartel who controlled the income connected with the Temple, were indeed a mafia, eliminating anyone who was a threat to their profits:

Abba Saul ben Bothnith said in the name of Abba Joseph ben Hanan: “Woe is me because of the house of Boethus; woe is me because of their staves. Woe is me because of the house of Hanan; woe is me because of their whisperings [i.e., informing to the civil authorities, apparently]. Woe is me because of the house of Kathros; woe is me because of their pens.[106] Woe is me because of the house of Ishmael ben Phiabi; woe is me because of their fists. For they are high priests, and their sons are [temple] treasurers, and their sons-in-law are trustees, and their servants beat the people with staves.” (t. Men. 13:21; b. Pes. 57a)[107]

Jesus was arrested by the Gentile[108] slaves of the high priest Caiaphas (Matt. 26:3, 57), who instigated his death, bringing him to the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate on trumped up charges. Still later, the Sadducean priestly families persecuted Jesus’ disciples, executing, for example, Jesus’ brother James in 62 C.E. (Jos., Ant. 20:197-200). This execution took place during the high priesthood of Ananus the son of Ananus, greatly offending some of the Pharisees of the city (Jos., Ant. 20:201) who viewed James as a righteous man.[109]

Tilton Responds to Bivin’s Rebuttal

Bivin and I are in substantial agreement on a number of issues regarding the political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching. Most importantly, Bivin and I agree that Jesus was not a zealot and had no intention of leading a military uprising. I believe that Jesus’ ethic of peacemaking and universal love was explicitly opposed to vengeance, hatred and violence.[110] We agree, as Bivin has it, that “The kingdom that Jesus and his disciples proclaimed was not a political, nationalistic, or military kingdom.” Bivin and I also agree that Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth was provocative precisely because Jesus did not call for vengeance upon the enemies of Israel. It appears that the school of Shammai, which dominated the Pharisaic party in the first century C.E., was closer to the nationalist populist center of the political spectrum in Jesus’ time. It was not until after the destruction of the Temple that the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism became dominant.[111] Thus, Jesus’ anti-militant stance was probably a minority position in Nazareth, and may have seemed disloyal and unpatriotic to the members of the synagogue who listened to his sermon. Finally, I agree with Bivin that “Jesus’ ‘taking up your cross’ did not mean joining the armed resistance.” One did not have to be a militant Jewish nationalist to resent the injustice of foreign oppression. Twentieth-century disciples of Jesus such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu prove that nonviolent religious movements can have a profound political aspect without attempting to topple governments by resorting to violence.[112]

I believe our difference of opinion regarding the political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching is one of nuance and emphasis. Bivin maintains that “Jesus was not unaware that Israel’s liberation from foreign rule was inherent in the concept of redemption, but he ignored it.” Thus, in Bivin’s opinion there appears to be a dichotomy between the political and the spiritual. Essentially, Jesus abandoned the hope of political liberation in favor of a spiritual experience of salvation. I regard Bivin’s alternatives as a false dichotomy, and maintain that one need not choose between the political and the spiritual dimensions of the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, I believe that Jesus shared the yearning of his people for political liberation from the Roman Empire. Although I am convinced that Jesus rejected violent resistance, it appears to me that Jesus expected that God would miraculously bring about Israel’s redemption without weapons or bloodshed by means of his followers’ participation in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Israel’s liberation from the Roman Empire was, in my opinion, only one aspect of Jesus’ rich concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. Complete redemption would include the liberation of the whole creation from the power of Satan. Political oppression is only one manifestation of Satan’s reign, but there are others: fear, disease, ignorance, inequality, injustice, idolatry, sexual immorality and violence are all aspects of Satan’s reign that the Kingdom of Heaven dismantles. The rule of one people by another is inherently unjust, and is one of the evils that the Kingdom of Heaven addresses. Therefore, I cannot say that Jesus ignored the injustice his people suffered, and I have attempted to demonstrate that many of Jesus’ statements were critical of Roman imperialism.

It is true, as Bivin points out, that the Roman-appointed high priests caught up with Jesus before the Romans did. On the other hand, Antipas, the Roman-appointed tetrarch of the Galilee (Jos., J.W. 17:94), had been seeking to execute Jesus for some time (Luke 13:31), and when the high priests handed Jesus over to the Roman governor of Judea, Pilate executed Jesus as an enemy of the Roman state. I do not regard the fact that the pro-Roman high priests got to Jesus first as proof that the Roman authorities looked favorably on Jesus’ message, his movement, or his hope for redemption. It seems to me that the pro-Roman high priests understood the subversive political implications inherent in Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven and perceived that it struck at the basis of their power: the Roman military presence in the land of Israel.


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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] Pace Schweitzer, who regarded the Kingdom of God as a purely eschatological concept. Cf. Albert Schweitzer, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Passion (trans. Walter Lowrie; New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1914). For a critique of Schweitzer’s hypothesis, see Young, JHJP, 191-194. On the temporal aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching, see the subsection entitled “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Temporal Aspect” below.
  • [3] Pope and Buth stress that “the Kingdom of Heaven” is not a concept that pertains to the afterlife, i.e., going to heaven after you die. See Anthony Pope and Randall Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” Notes On Translation 119 (1987): 1-31, esp. 7.
  • [4] Cf. Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (trans. Israel Abrahams; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 4; Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 3.
  • [5] Young notes, however, that there are phrases that come close to “the Kingdom of Heaven” in pseudepigraphical literature (Young, JHJP, 194). Note, for example, T. Benj. 9:1 (ἡ βασιλεία κυρίου; “the Kingdom of the Lord”); Sib. Or. 3:47-48 (βασιλεία μεγίστη ἀθανάτου βασιλῆος; “great Kingdom of the immortal king”); Pss. Sol. 17:4 (ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν; “the Kingdom of our God”). Nevertheless, Young stresses that “The expression itself, ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ in early Jewish apocalyptic literature is unknown and variations of the term are quite rare even if the concept does surface from the background in a number of texts” (Young, JHJP, 196).
  • [6] See Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 6.
  • [7] This point was emphasized by Safrai. See Shmuel Safrai, “Sidebar,” in Robert L. Lindsey, “The Kingdom Of God: God’s Power Among Believers.”
  • [8] See Kaufmann Kohler, “Kingdom of God,” JE 7:502; Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 2. The use of “Heaven” as a substitute for “God,” “Lord” or the Tetragrammaton is attested already in 1 Maccabees. See Daniel R. Schwartz, Judeans and Jews: Four Faces of Dichotomy in Ancient Jewish History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 122 n. 26, 123 n. 32.
  • [9] The noun מַלְכוּת occurs 91xx in MT, 58xx in DSS and 20xx in the Mishnah. The most common translation of מַלְכוּת in LXX is βασιλεία (81xx). In several cases where βασιλεία is the translation of מַלְכוּת, the meaning of both terms is clearly “reign” as opposed to “kingdom.” Examples include:

    וּבְמַלְכוּת אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ בִּתְחִלַּת מַלְכוּתוֹ כָּתְבוּ שִׂטְנָה עַל־יֹשְׁבֵי יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם (Ezra 4:6)

    καὶ ἐν βασιλείᾳ Ασουηρου ἐν ἀρχῇ βασιλείας αὐτοῦ ἔγραψαν ἐπιστολὴν ἐπὶ οἰκοῦντας Ιουδα καὶ Ιερουσαλημ (2 Esdr. 4:6)

    And in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. (Ezra 4:6)

    וְאַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה בְּמַלְכוּת אַרְתַּחְשַׁ֣סְתְּא מֶלֶךְ־פָּרָס עֶזְרָא בֶּן־שְׂרָיָה בֶּן־עֲזַרְיָה בֶּן־חִלְקִיָּה (Ezra 7:1)

    καὶ μετὰ τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα ἐν βασιλείᾳ Αρθασασθα βασιλέως Περσῶν ἀνέβη Εσδρας υἱὸς Σαραιου υἱοῦ Αζαριου υἱοῦ Ελκια…. (2 Esdr. 7:1)

    And after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra son of Seria, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah…. (Ezra 7:1)

     וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל־הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶל־בֵּית מַלְכוּתוֹ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי הוּא־חֹדֶשׁ טֵבֵת בִּשְׁנַת־שֶׁבַע לְמַלְכוּתוֹ

    καὶ εἰσῆλθεν Εσθηρ πρὸς Ἀρταξέρξην τὸν βασιλέα τῷ δωδεκάτῳ μηνί ὅς ἐστιν Αδαρ τῷ ἑβδόμῳ ἔτει τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ

    And Esther took herself to king Ahasuerus, to the royal house, in the tenth month, the month of Tevet, in the seventh year of his reign. (Esther 2:16)

    וּבִשְׁנַת שְׁתַּיִם לְמַלְכוּת נְבֻכַדְנֶצַּר חָלַם נְבֻכַדְנֶצַּר חֲלֹמוֹת

    καὶ ἐν τῷ ἔτει τῷ δευτέρῳ τῆς βασιλείας Ναβουχοδονοσορ συνέβη εἰς ὁράματα….

    And in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams…. (Dan. 2:1)

    There are further examples in the MT and LXX where βασιλεία/מַלְכוּת could mean either “reign” or “kingdom.” There are also examples in DSS where מלכות likely means “reign” rather than “kingdom,” for instance:

    פשרו על מנשה לקץ האחרון אשר תשפל מלכותו ביש[ראל]‏

    Its interpretation concerns Manasseh in the final end when his reign will weaken in Is[rael.] (4QpNah [4Q169] 3-4 IV, 3)

  • [10] See Young, JHJP, 196; cf. Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (trans. Irene and Fraser McLuskey; London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960), 200 n.1.
  • [11] Hans-Jürgen Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck on the Kingdom of Heaven,” in The Sermon on the Mount and its Jewish Setting (Cahiers de la Revue Biblique 60; ed. Hans-Jürgen Becker and Serge Ruzer; Paris: J. Gabalda, 2005), 57-69, esp. 62.
  • [12] Shmuel Safrai, “Oral Tora,” in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (CRINT II.3; ed. Shmuel Safrai; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:93.
  • [13] Cf. Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 4; and Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck,” 63.
  • [14] The phrase “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” which appears in printed editions of the Mishnah, is a secondary reading, as its absence from the Kaufmann, Cambridge and Parma codices of the Mishnah and the parallel version of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korhah’s saying in the Jerusalem Talmud (y. Ber. 2:3 [4b]) proves. The addition of the word “yoke” appears to be an assimilation to the phrase “yoke of the commandments” which is juxtaposed to “the Kingdom of Heaven.” One can easily see what happened. The word עוֹל (“yoke”) was added to יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו מַלְכוּת שׁמַיִם (“will receive upon himself the Kingdom of Heaven”) because it stands parallel to יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו עוֹל מִצְווֹת (“will receive upon himself the yoke of the mitzvot [commandments]”), a phrase which is identical in form, except for the addition of the word “yoke.” Afterwards, the expression “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” was proliferated in rabbinic literature (e.g., m. Ber. 2:5). See Young, JHJP, 227 n. 30a; and David N. Bivin, “Jesus’ Yoke and Burden,” n. 34. An additional example of the proliferation of “yoke” with “Kingdom of Heaven” in inferior mss. of tannaic literature is found in Sifre, Ha’azinu, Piska 23, on Deut. 32:29 (cited below). Cf. Finkelstein’s critical edition: Sifre on Deuteronomy (ed. Louis Finkelstein; New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1969), 372.
  • [15] On the phrase “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” which occurs in some printed editions of this mishnah, but which is absent in the Kaufmann manuscript, see the preceding footnote.
  • [16] The connection between the Kingdom of Heaven and Exod. 15:18 is explicit in the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer (of uncertain date). The connection between the events at the Red Sea and the Kingdom of Heaven is implicit in the tradition regarding the right of Judah to rule over the other tribes of Israel (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BeShallah chpt. 6, on Exod. 14:22), and in a saying of Rabbi Eliezer (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 3, on Exod. 15:2 [ed. Horovitz-Rabin, 126, lines 19-20]; see Blessedness of the Twelve, Comment to L16-18).
  • [17] In other words, Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi means that Israel happily accepted God’s reign over the people as a collective.
  • [18] Translation based on Notley-Safrai, 112.
  • [19] Translation based on Notley-Safrai, 108.
  • [20] According to Schechter, Rabbi Eliezer’s statement was “calculated to give the kingdom of heaven a national aspect, when we remember that Amalek is only another name for his ancestor Esau…who is but a prototype for Rome” (Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: Major Concepts of the Talmud [New York: Schocken, 1961], 99).
  • [21] In Tilton’s view, the Kingdom of Heaven metaphor is inherently political. The designation of God as a king, and the description of God’s activity as reigning, derive from the political lexicon. See Richard Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (San Fancisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 170.
  • [22] The view presented in this section reflects Tilton’s opinion. Bivin believes that the mainstream Pharisaic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven was not directed against the Roman regime.
  • [23] See Flusser, Jesus, 105-108; cf. Shimon Applebaum, “The Zealots: The Case for Revaluation,” Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971): 155-170, esp. 161.
  • [24] On the origins of the Zealot and Sicarii movements, two prominent militant Jewish nationalist groups in the first cent. C.E., and their distinctions, see Menahem Stern, “Zealots,” in Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book 1973 (Jerusalem: Keter, 1973), 135-152. See also, Uriel Rappaport, “Who Were the Sicarii?” in Jewish Revolt Against Rome: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (ed. Mladen Popovic; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 323-342. On the emergence of militant Jewish nationalism from the School of Shammai, see David Flusser, “Gamaliel and Nicodemus,” under the subheading “Nicodemus”; Peter J. Tomson, “Zavim 5:12—Reflections on Dating Mishnaic Halakhah,” in History and Form: Dutch Studies in the Mishnah (ed. A. Kuyt and N. A. van Uchelen; Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 1988), 53-69; idem, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (CRINT III.1; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 173-177; idem, “Gamaliel’s Counsel and the Apologetic Strategy of Luke-Acts,” in The Unity of Luke-Acts (ed. J. Verheyden; Leuven: Peeters, 1999), 585-604, esp. 588.
  • [25] During the first century C.E., the Pharisees were divided into two main branches, the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. On these two Pharisaic schools, see Shmuel Safrai, “Halakha,” in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (CRINT II.3; ed. Shmuel Safrai; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:185-194; idem, “Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai,” in Encyclopedia Judaica (2d ed.; 22 vols.; New York: Macmillan, 2006), 3:530-533.
  • [26] See David Flusser, “Gamaliel and Nicodemus.”
  • [27] Rabbi Hananiah, who lived before the destruction of the Temple, belonged to circles that opposed revolt against the Roman Empire, as sayings such as “Pray for the peace of the ruling power, since but for fear of it, men would have swallowed up each other alive” (m. Avot 3:2) make clear.
  • [28] Another saying that seems to refer to the tumultuous period leading up to the Jewish revolt against Rome is found in the mouth of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai who survived the destruction of Jerusalem:

    רבי יוחנן בן זכאי אומר משרבו הרצחנים בטלה עגלה ערופה לפי שאין עגלה ערופה באה אלא על הספק עכשיו רבו ההורגין בגלוי משרבו המנאפין פסקו מי מרים לפי שאין מי מרים באין אלא על הספק עכשיו כבר רבו הרואין בגלוי משרבו בעלי הנאות בא חרון אף לעולם ובטל כבוד תורה משרבו לוחשי לחישות בב″ד נתעותו המעשים ונתקלקלו הדינין ופסקה השכינה מישראל משרבו רואין לפנים בטל (דברים א) לא תכירו פנים במשפט ולא תגורו מפני איש ופרקו מהן עול שמים והמליכו עליהם עול בשר ודם

    Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai says, “From the time murderers increased, the calf’s neck rite was annulled, because the calf’s neck rite is not applicable except in cases of doubt, but now murderers increased in the open. From the time adulterers increased, they stopped the ordeal of the bitter waters, because the ordeal of the bitter waters is not applicable except in cases of doubt, but now those who see [their lovers] in the open are many. From the time the lovers of pleasure increased, wrath came to the world and the glory of the Torah was annulled. From the time whisperers increased in the Sanhedrin, deeds were perverted, the judges were cursed, and the Shekhinah ceased from Israel. From the time respecters of persons increased, You must not show partiality in judgment…you must not respect persons [Deut. 1:17] was annulled and they cast off the yoke of Heaven and caused a yoke of flesh and blood to reign over them. (t. Sot. 14:1[1-4])

    In this saying Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai criticizes those who set up a yoke of flesh and blood and who cast off the yoke of Heaven. The terminology is similar to that of Hananiah the prefect of the priests. Does “murderers” who kill “in the open” refer to terrorist groups like the Sicarii? Does “whisperers…in the Sanhedrin” refer to the chief priests, and in particular those of the House of Hanan (cf. t. Men. 13:21; b. Pes. 57a)? If so, then Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai criticized both the militant Jewish nationalists on one extreme and the high priests who colluded with the Romans on the other. If so, Jesus was not unique in his rejection of violent insurgence and condemnation of the corrupt priesthood.

  • [29] Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 107.
  • [30] According to Flusser, “the term ge’ullah is applied almost exclusively to national redemption, and became a synonym for national freedom. This idea of national freedom from the subjection to other states is the main element in the yearnings of the people for the redemption of Israel, and it became even more pronounced during the period of Roman domination” (David Flusser, “Redemption: In the Talmud,” in Encyclopedia Judaica [2d ed.; 22 vols.; New York: Macmillan, 2006], 17:152). For redemption in the sense of the political liberation of Israel in Second Temple Jewish literature, see also the “Additional Note” to David Flusser’s “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem.” On the sages’ view that the rule of foreign empires over the Holy Land was illegitimate, see Louis Ginzberg, On Jewish Law and Lore (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 86-88.
  • [31] According to Young (JHJP, 198), Rabbi Nehunyah’s statement refers to “the yoke of political oppression,” and that “the yoke of God’s sovereignty can be contrasted to the yoke of an earthly regime.”
  • [32] On Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili, see Shmuel Safrai, “The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the First Century,” under the subheading “Rabbi Jose ha-Galili.”
  • [33] A later rabbinic source (fifth or sixth cent. C.E.) explicitly contrasts the Kingdom of Heaven with the Roman Empire:

    הגיע זמנה של מלכות הרשעה שתעקר מן העולם, הגיע זמנה של מלכות השמים שתגלה, והיה י″י למלך על כל הארץ וג′. וקול התור נשמע בארצינו, א″ר יוחנן קול תייר טב נשמע בארצינו, זה מלך המשיח

    The time has arrived when the wicked kingdom will be uprooted from the world, the time has come when the Kingdom of Heaven will be revealed, and the LORD will be king over all the earth [Zech. 14:9]. And the voice of the turtle dove will be heard in our land [Song 2:12]: Rabbi Yohanan said, “the voice of the good guide will be heard in our land, this is the anointed king [i.e., the Messiah—DNB and JNT].” (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 5:9 [ed. Mandelbaum, 1:97)

    The “wicked kingdom” is a common designation for the Roman Empire in talmudic literature. According to this source, Israel’s longed-for redemption will come about through the downfall of Rome, and the Kingdom of Heaven will be ushered in by the Messiah.

  • [34] That slavery of any kind was considered to be antithetical to God’s reign is expressed in a midrash on Exod. 21:6 which stipulates that any slave who prefers to continue serving his master rather than go free at the end of seven years must have his ear pierced with an awl:

    תני רבי אליעזר בן יעקב אומר ולמה אל הדלת שעל ידי דלת יצאו מעבדות לחירות שאלו התלמידים את רבן יוחנן בן זכאי מה ראה העבד הזה לירצע באזנו יותר מכל איבריו אמר להן אוזן ששמעה מהר סיני (שמות כ) לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני ופירקה מעליה עול מלכות שמים וקיבלה עליה עול בשר ודם אוזן ששמעה לפני הר סיני (ויקרא כה) כי לי בני ישראל עבדים והלך זה וקנה אדון אחר לפיכך תבוא האוזן ותירצע לפי שלא שמר מה ששמעה אזנו

    It is taught [in a baraita]: Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov says, “And why unto the door [Exod. 21:6]? Because by the door they go out from slavery to freedom.” The disciples asked Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, “Why does [Scripture] see fit that this slave [who is discussed in Exod. 21—DNB and JNT] should be pierced in his ear rather than any of his other limbs?” He said to them, “The ear that heard from Mount Sinai, There shall be no other gods before me [Exod. 20:3] and cast off from itself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and received upon itself the yoke of flesh and blood is the ear that heard from Mount Sinai For the children of Israel are my slaves [Lev. 25:55] yet this [slave] went and acquired another master. For this reason the ear will come and be pierced, since he did not keep what his ear heard.” (y. Kid. 1:2 [11b]; cf. t. Bab. Kam. 7:5; b. Kid. 22b. In the parallel version we find the phrase “yoke of Heaven” rather than “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” which may be a scribal error.)

    Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai regarded choosing servitude over freedom to be an affront to God’s reign. It seems inconceivable that if he regarded servitude of an individual to be antithetical to the Kingdom of Heaven that he could regard the subjection of the entire people of Israel to a foreign power with indifference. Although Yohanan ben Zakkai advocated peace, one should not assume that he abandoned hope for Israel’s redemption from political oppression.

  • [35] Warren Zev Harvey, “Kingdom of God מלכות שמים,” in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought (ed. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr; New York: Scribner’s, 1987), 521-525, quotation on 523.
  • [36] See Moshe David Herr, “Persecutions and Martyrdom in Hadrian’s Days,” Scripta Hierosolymitana 23 (1972): 85-125, esp. 111-112 n. 88.
  • [37] It should be noted that although the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven has a political aspect, it does not have, so to speak, a political agenda. As we have seen, the notion of the Kingdom of Heaven was articulated in opposition to political insurgents. The Kingdom of Heaven would not be a kingdom of flesh and blood. The Kingdom of Heaven is conceived of as a divine activity. Acts of mercy and observance of the commandments would be the catalyst for redemption, not direct political action.
  • [38] Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck,” 65.
  • [39] See R. Steven Notley, “By the Finger of God.”
  • [40] This section of “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua” represents Tilton’s view. Bivin views the Roman government as more benevolent than Tilton does, and Bivin sees the Sadducean high priestly families as the main culprits in the arrest and accusation of Jesus before the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. See the addendum below, “Bivin Rebuts Tilton’s View of the Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ Teaching.”
  • [41] Tilton believes that in Jesus’ teaching the Kingdom of Heaven is (among other things) a political metaphor that carries with it an implied critique of all human governments. See Kohler, who defined “Kingdom of God” as “Reign or sovereignty of God as contrasted with the kingdom of the worldly powers” (Kohler, “Kingdom of God,” JE 7:502). Jesus contrasts the reign of flawed human beings, who are often unjust, cruel, greedy and self-aggrandizing (cf. Luke 22:25), with God’s better reign. God is generous, merciful, fair and open-hearted (Luke 6:38). He seeks the welfare of all human beings: the evil as well as the good, the deserving and the undeserving alike (Matt. 5:45). Tilton regards Jesus’ implied critique of human governments as an expression of Israel’s prophetic tradition. On the prophetic critique of human governments, see Moshe Weinfeld, “The Protest against Imperialism in Ancient Israelite Prophecy,” in The Origins and Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations (ed. S. N. Eisenstadt; Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1986), 169-182; Binyamin Uffenheimer, “Ancient Hebrew Prophecy—Political Teaching and Practice,” Immanuel 18 (1984): 7-21.
  • [42] In this respect, Jesus followed in the tradition of the prophet Jeremiah who urged the politcal leaders of his day to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke (Jer. 27:11). Jeremiah did not forsake the hope for the restoration of the Davidic throne and the liberation of Israel (cf. Jer. 23:5-6; 30:8-9; 33:15-16), but he realized that armed revolt would only lead to disaster. See Uffenheimer, “Ancient Hebrew Prophecy—Political Teaching and Practice,” 19-29. In a similar way, Jesus opposed the ideology of the militant Jewish nationalists, and called the people to repentance, for only in this way would Israel be spared the destruction of the Temple (Luke 13:34-35; 19:42-44). See Flusser, Jesus, 200; R. Steven Notley, “‘Give unto Caesar’: Jesus, the Zealots and the Imago Dei.”
  • [43] Jesus’ command to walk the extra mile was likely given in reference to the Roman practice of pressing subjects into forced service. The word for “mile” in the Greek text of Matt. 5:41, μίλιον, is a loanword from the Latin mille. It is possible that μίλιον translates the Hebrew מִיל, also from Latin (via Greek). מִיל occurs 9xx in the Mishnah: m. Yom. 6:4; m. Yom. 6:8 (4xx); m. Bab. Metz. 6:3 (2xx); m. Bech. 9:2 (2xx).
  • [44] See R. Steven Notley, “Jesus’ Jewish Hermeneutical Method in the Nazareth Synagogue,” in Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality (2 vols.; ed. Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias; London: T&T Clark, 2009), 2:46-59, esp. 56.
  • [45] On the hope for political liberation that Jesus expressed in this prophecy, see David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem,” under the subheading “Solidarity with Israel.” Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 106.
  • [46] According to Flusser, Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem expresses his opposition to revolt against Rome: “He did not share the belief or the hope that Jerusalem would survive the war” (David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem,” under the subheading “Solidarity with Israel”).
  • [47] In Tilton’s opinion, there is an implied critique of the Roman Empire in Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus contrasted with human governments. On the political critique implied by proclaiming God’s reign, see Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 124-125.

    Tilton also detects a critique of the Roman Empire in Jesus’ teaching on non-retaliation (Matt. 5:38-41). See Joshua N. Tilton, Jesus’ Gospel: Searching for the Core of Jesus’ Message, 61.

  • [48] On this passage, cf. Flusser, Jesus, 76-77.
  • [49] Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 104-105.
  • [50] See Randall Buth, “Your Money or Your Life.”
  • [51] It must be recognized that Jesus could not have opposed payment of tribute without supporting revolt, for they amounted to the same thing. Refusing to pay tribute is tantamount to a declaration of independence. Such a political act would unavoidably provoke war with Rome, the very thing Jesus hoped to avoid. A similar political action, refusal to offer sacrifices in the Temple on Caesar’s behalf, did spark the revolt that resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. (cf. Jos., J.W. 2:409). On taxation as the primary concern of the Roman government in the provinces, see Graham Burton, “Government and the Provinces,” in The Roman World (2d ed.; 2 vols.; ed. John Wacher; New York: Routledge, 2002), 1:423-439, esp. 423 where Burton writes, “The Roman government did not pursue many of the goals which, today, are conventionally associated with the exercise of political power by the state, e.g. the control or modification of economic developments, social welfare, education. Its concerns were more limited, above all the regular exaction of taxes and maintenance of internal order.” See also Martin Goodman, The Roman World 44 BC—AD 180 (New York: Routledge, 1997), 100-101.
  • [52] See Peter J. Tomson, “Jesus and his Judaism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (ed. Markus Bockmuehl; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 25-40, esp. 31.
  • [53] The persecutions in the days of Antiochus IV (second cent. B.C.E.), for example, were primarily motivated by political interests. According to 1 Macc. 1:41, Antiochus sought to unite his empire by abolishing the ancestral customs of the various peoples he ruled. By creating a single national identity, Antiochus sought to solidify his political hegemony. Jewish commitment to Torah in the face of persecution was motivated by religious piety, but their loyalty to the God of their fathers entered the political arena because it interfered with Antiochus’ political program.

    The memory of the Antiochene persecutions was still vivid in the time of Jesus, in part because Jews in the land of Israel continued to feel that their religious liberty was threatened by the Roman occupation. During Jesus’ time Roman interference in Jewish religious life included the appointment of high priests by the Roman governor (cf. Jos., Ant. 18:26, 34-35), Roman control of the high priestly vestments (Ant. 18:93-94), and constant surveillance of the Temple from the Antonia Fortress. In addition, Roman officials sometimes interfered in the collection (Cicero, Pro Flacco 26:67; Jos., J.W. 14:112; 16:28, 166; cf. Safrai-Stern, 2:678) and use of the half-shekel (J.W. 2:175; Ant. 18:60). We also hear reports of Jewish pilgrims who were massacred in Jerusalem during the feasts (Luke 13:1). Zechariah’s song in Luke is one expression of the Jewish perception of the danger inherent in the practicing of Judaism under foreign rule: Zechariah anticipates the coming of salvation that would bring with it the freedom to serve God (i.e., worship) without fear (Luke 1:74). All of these instances show that at least an important segment of the Jewish population in the land of Israel regarded the Roman Empire as a threatening presence. From their perspective, adherence to their ancestral faith might cost them their lives. It is reasonable, therefore, that Jesus, who proclaimed a message of liberation, anticipated the potential for his martyrdom and the martyrdom of his disciples at the hands of the Roman authorities.

  • [54] On the limits of the Roman empire’s policy of religious tolerance, see Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, 45.
  • [55] Caesar Augustus, for instance, ordered the burning of books composed in Greek and Latin that contained prophecies of the downfall of the Roman Empire (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars 2:31). Likewise, Justin Martyr mentions that a sentence of death had been decreed against persons who read certain oracular books (1 Apol. 44:12). The prophecies did not pose a military threat to the Roman Empire, rather the books were burned and the people who read them were killed because they inspired hope among the conquered peoples of the Roman Empire. See David Flusser, “Hystaspes and John of Patmos,” (Flusser, JOC, 393); idem, “The Roman Empire in Hasmonean and Essene Eyes” (Flusser, JSTP1, 199).
  • [56] According to Goodman, the “[Roman] emperors employed a huge military force whose main but unstated purpose was the suppression of dissent.” See the chapter “Military Autocracy,” in Martin Goodman, The Roman World, 81-86, quotation on 81; idem, “Opponents of Rome: Jews and Others,” in Images of Empire (ed. Loveday Alexander; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 222-238.
  • [57] As N. T. Wright observed, crucifixion was an action of the state that sent a strong political message, viz., Caesar is in control (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, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002], 173-193, esp. 182). Since Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, the message was even more pointed. Crucifixion reminded the Jewish people of their political status as a subjugated population who did not have legal standing or civil rights within the empire. Crucifixion was the seruile supplicium (“slave’s punishment”), and its use for the punishment of Jews reflects the opinion of the Roman elite that the Jews are “a people born to be enslaved” (Cicero, Prov. cons. 5:10; cf. Pro Flacco 28:69; Jos., J.W. 6:42; Apion 2:125). Cf. 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), 121. According to Aubert, “Among all penalties in use in Roman times, crucifixion conveys the clearest message regarding the symbolism attached to capital punishment and its victims’ status” (111); “Its primary purpose is to emphasize the victim’s final irrevocable rejection from the civic and international community and the total denial of any form of legal protection based on the rights guaranteed by ius civile [i.e., citizen law—DNB and JNT] and ius gentium [i.e., international law—DNB and JNT] and attached to any legal status above slavery” (116).
  • [58] Bivin and Tilton disagree with respect to the meaning of Jesus’ cross-carrying saying (Luke 14:27). Bivin believes that Jesus used crucifixion as a metaphor for the hardships of first-century discipleship. Tilton believes Jesus’ cross-bearing saying is a warning to would-be disciples that joining his movement required accepting the risk of martyrdom for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • [59] In the land of Israel during Jesus’ lifetime the threat of crucifixion came from Roman authorities. 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 although the Essenes evidently sanctioned crucifixion for certain crimes (11Q19 [11QTemplea] LXIV, 6-13), in the time of Jesus capital punishment had become the sole prerogative of the Roman government (cf. John 18:31; Jos., J.W. 2:117-118; y. Sanh. 18a; 24b). See Brad H. Young, “An Examination of the Cross, Jesus and the Jewish People” (JS1, 196-199); Aubert, “A Double Standard in Roman Criminal Law?” 123. On crucifixion in DSS, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Crucifixion in Ancient Palestine, Qumran Literature, and the New Testament,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40.4 (1978): 493-513. On crucifixion in Pharisaic-rabbinic halachah, see David J. Halperin, “Crucifixion, the Nahum Pesher, and the Rabbinic Penalty of Strangulation,” Journal of Jewish Studies 32.1 (1981): 32-46.
  • [60] The phrase קִבֵּל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (qibēl malchūt shāmayim, “receive the Kingdom of Heaven”) is found, for example, in m. Ber. 2:2; Sifre. Deut. § 323, on Deut. 32:29 (ed. Finkelstein, 372); b. Ber. 10b, 13a, 14b, 61b.
  • [61] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L64.
  • [62] According to Shmuel Safrai and David Flusser, this usage is unique to Jesus (oral communication to DNB). See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Kingdom Of God: God’s Power Among Believers,” under the subheading “Jesus’ Movement.”
  • [63] See David N. Bivin, “Matthew 5:19: The Importance of ‘Light’ Commandments”; Sandt-Flusser, 220-225.
  • [64] Buth discussed this idea at the 2015 Lindsey Legacy Conference in the “Shabbat Morning Bible Study: Panel Discussion with David Bivin, Randall Buth, Brad Young, Steven Notley and Halvor Ronning on the Kingdom of Heaven,” at about the one hour mark. Frankovic also touched on this idea in Joseph Frankovic, “Beyond an Inheritance,” footnote 28.
  • [65] The statement עם מבוא יום ולילה אבואה בברית אל (“With the coming of the day and night I will enter the covenant of God”; 1QS X, 10) evidently refers to the recitation of the Shema. See Moshe Weinfeld, “Prayer and Liturgical Practice in the Qumran Sect,” in his Normative and Sectarian Judaism in the Second Temple Period (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 53-167, esp. 54-55.
  • [66] In DSS we encounter the phrase בא בברית with the meaning “join the Essene community” in CD XV, 5; XIX, 33; 1QS II, 12; V, 8, 20. Similarly, the phrase באי [ה]ברית (“those who enter the covenant”) refers to members of the sect in CD II, 2; VI, 19; VIII, 1, 21; XIII, 14; XX, 25; 1QS II, 18; 1QHa XIII, 23. We should stress that the Essenes did not invent the terminology of entering a covenant, which is borrowed from Scripture (cf. 1 Sam. 20:8; Jer. 34:10; Ezek. 16:8; 2 Chr. 15:12) and is also found in the writings of Ben Sira (cf. Sir. 44:20). Nevertheless the Essenes do appear to have been unique in using this terminology to refer to the recitation of the Shema, and to the joining of their sect.
  • [67] If the fusion of the Pharisaic-rabbinic and Essene expressions was based on their common meaning of “recite the Shema,” however, it is curious that no where in the Gospels does the term Kingdom of Heaven have this connotation.
  • [68] On the reconstruction of the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” in Hebrew, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comments to L63, L64-65.
  • [69] See Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L7.
  • [70] The phrase “poor of spirit” (עניי רוח) is a term the Essenes applied to themselves (1QM XIV, 7; cf. ענוי רוח [‘anvē rūaḥ, “meek of spirit”] in 1QHa VI, 3). See David Flusser, “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit” (JOC, 102-114); Robert L. Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “The Two Versions of the Beatitudes.”
  • [71] A tripartite division of history is also attested in Sifre Deut. § 34 (ed. Finkelstein, 62); Sifre Deut. § 47 (ed. Finkelstein, 104); and Ruth Rab. 5:6, which make reference to this world (העולם הזה), to the days of the Messiah (ימות המשיח), and to the world to come (העולם הבא). On the tendency in rabbinic sources to conflate the world to come with the messianic era, see David Flusser, “The Stages of Redemption History According to John the Baptist and Jesus” (Flusser, Jesus, 258-275, esp.269, 273).
  • [72] The translation given here is of our suggested Hebrew reconstruction of Jesus’ statement. On the temporal aspect of this saying, see Blessedness of the Twelve, Comment to L16-19.
  • [73] Flusser, “The Stages of Redemption History” (Flusser, Jesus, 262).
  • [74] See the discussion above, under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
  • [75] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Unlocking the Synoptic Problem: Four Keys for Better Understanding Jesus,” under the subheading “Lukan Doublets”; 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.”
  • [76] The verb προβάλωσιν (probalōsin, “they put forth”) in Jesus’ saying lacks a direct object. English translations provide the word “leaves,” but it is more likely that Jesus referred to fruit. See R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 108, 112); idem, “The Season of Redemption.”
  • [77] R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 108 n. 3).
  • [78] See R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 110-112); idem, “The Season of Redemption.”
  • [79] 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 “An Examination of the Editorial Activity of the First Reconstructor.” Cf. R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 108 n. 3, 111).
  • [80] The Aramaic equivalent of מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם is מַלְכוּתָא דִשְׁמַיָּא (malchūtā’ dishmayā’). Thus, whether one assumes that Jesus spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, there remains the problem of a shift in language from “Heaven” in the Semitic original to “God” in Greek.  See Tomson, “Jesus and His Judaism,” 29. It must be stressed, however, that the term “Kingdom of Heaven” does not appear in Aramaic except in very late sources. In the Mishnah, Tosefta, the Tanaitic Midrashim, and the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, for example, the term “Kingdom of Heaven” appears exclusively in Hebrew. The complete absence of the Aramaic term מַלְכוּתָא דִשְׁמַיָּא in early rabbinic texts makes Dodd’s comment that “there can be no doubt that the expression before us [i.e., ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in the Gospels—DNB and JNT] represents an Aramaic phrase well-established in Jewish usage,” (emphasis ours) puzzling in the extreme. See C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (rev. ed.; New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1961), 21; cf. Karl Ludwig Schmidt, “βασιλεία” (TDNT, 1:582).
  • [81]

    Kingdom of Heaven/God: Triple Tradition Pericopae
    1 Matt. 3:2 Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    Luke 3:3 κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας

    2 Matt. 4:17 Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 1:15 ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 4:15 ἐδίδασκεν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν

    3 Matt. 10:7 Ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    (Luke 9:2 κηρύσσειν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ)

    Luke 10:9 Ἤγγικεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    4 Matt. 12:28 ἔφθασεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    Mark (–)

    Luke 11:20 ἔφθασεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    5 Matt. 13:11 τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 4:11 τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 8:10 τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ

    6 Matt. 13:31 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 4:30 Πῶς ὁμοιώσωμεν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 13:18 Τίνι ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    7 Matt. 16:19 δώσω σοι τὰς κλεῖδας τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    Luke (–)

    8 Matt. 18:1 Τίς ἄρα μείζων ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 9:35 Εἴ τις θέλει πρῶτος εἶναι ἔσται πάντων ἔσχατος

    Luke (–)

    9 (Matt. 18:3) εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 10:15 δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 18:17 δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    10 Matt. 18:4 οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ μείζων ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    Luke 9:48 ὁ γὰρ μικρότερος ἐν πᾶσιν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχων οὗτός ἐστιν μέγας

    11 Matt. 19:14 τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 10:14 τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 18:16 τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    12 Matt. 19:23 εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 10:23 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελεύσονται

    Luke 18:24 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσπορεύονται

    13 Matt. 19:24 εἰσελθεῖν…εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    Mark 10:25 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν

    Luke 18:25 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν

    14 Matt. 21:43 ἀρθήσεται ἀφ’ ὑμῶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ δοθήσεται ἔθνει ποιοῦντι τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτῆς

    Mark (–)

    Luke (–)

    For the creation of this table, the authors relied on Lindsey, GCSG.

  • [82]

    Kingdom of Heaven/God: Double Tradition Pericopae
    1 Matt. 5:3 ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 6:20 ὅτι ὑμετέρα ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    2 Matt. 7:21 Οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι Κύριε κύριε εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 6:46 Τί δέ με καλεῖτε Κύριε κύριε, καὶ οὐ ποιεῖτε ἃ λέγω

    3 Matt. 8:11 ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 13:28 ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

    4 Matt. 11:11 μικρότερος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 7:28 μικρότερος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

    5 Matt. 11:12 ἕως ἄρτι ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν βιάζεται

    Luke 16:16 ἀπὸ τότε ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγελίζεται

    6 Matt. 13:33 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 13:20 Τίνι ὁμοιώσω τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    7 Matt. 22:2 Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 14:15 Μακάριος ὅστις φάγεται ἄρτον ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

    8 Matt. 23:13 κλείετε τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων

    Luke 11:52 ἤρατε τὴν κλεῖδα τῆς γνώσεως· αὐτοὶ οὐκ εἰσήλθατε καὶ τοὺς εἰσερχομένους ἐκωλύσατε

    For the creation of this table, the authors relied on Lindsey, GCSG.

  • [83] Allen (203) accounts for the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν in Matthew by suggesting that “it is probable that the editor [of Matthew—DNB and JNT] was a Jewish Christian who…judaised, or rather rabbinised Christ’s sayings.”
  • [84] See David Flusser, “The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels” (JS1, 21).
  • [85] See Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Approach to the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Mark Secondary to Luke.”
  • [86] We count 12 unique Matthean verses where Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven/God.” Of these we consider only one to be a Matthean composition (Matt. 19:12), and in this instance Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven.”

    Kingdom of Heaven/God: Unique Matthean Pericopae
    1 Matt. 5:19 κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν· ὃς δ’ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν
    2 Matt. 5:20 εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν
    3 Matt. 13:24 Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    4 Matt. 13:44 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    5 Matt. 13:45 ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    6 Matt. 13:47 ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    7 Matt. 13:52 τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν ὅμοιός ἐστιν
    8 Matt. 18:23 ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    9 Matt. 19:12 καὶ εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    10 Matt. 20:1 Ὁμοία γάρ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    11 Matt. 21:31 οἱ τελῶναι καὶ αἱ πόρναι προάγουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ
    12 Matt. 25:1 Τότε ὁμοιωθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    For the creation of this table, the authors relied on Robert L. Lindsey’s Greek Concordance of the Synoptic Gospels (3 vols.; Jerusalem: Dugith, 1985-1989).

  • [87] Cf. Dalman, 93.
  • [88] Here, our use of the term “de-Judaize” is not intended to indicate that Luke was anti-Jewish. To the contrary, the author of Luke demonstrates a high regard for Judaism and great sensitivity and openness toward the Jewish people (on this point see especially Tomson, 214-247). We use “de-Judaize” to describe Luke’s tendency to downplay that which is specifically Jewish that might seem alien or incomprehensible to Gentile readers. The author of Luke was motivated to make his material universally applicable since he was writing for a non-Jewish audience.
  • [89] See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “The Two Versions of the Beatitudes.”
  • [90] See Disciples’ Prayer, Comment to L10.
  • [91] “Amen,” which appears with such high frequency in the sayings of Jesus, would have seemed strange even to non-Jewish readers who were familiar with the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Although אָמֵן occurs 30xx in the MT, ἀμήν occurs only 8xx in LXX (1 Chr. 16:36; 1 Esdr. 9:47; Neh. 5:13; 8:6; Tob. 8:8; 3 Macc. 7:23; 4 Macc. 18:24; Pr. Man. 15), all in later books and, with the exception of Neh. 5:13, exclusively in the context of a blessing or prayer (in Neh. 5:13 “amen” appears in the context of a curse). The standard LXX translation of אָמֵן is γένοιτο (23xx).
  • [92] On the anti-Jewish tendency of the author of Matthew, see David Flusser, “Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew” (Flusser, JOC, 552-560); idem, “Matthew’s Verus Israel” (Flusser, JOC, 561-574); idem, “Anti-Jewish Sentiment in the Gospel of Matthew” (Flusser, JSTP2, 351-353); R. Steven Notley, “Anti-Jewish Tendencies in the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Matthew and the Jewish People”; Tomson, 255-289.
  • [93] Matthew is unique in numbering the Pharisees among those indicted by Jesus’ Wicked Tenants parable ( Matt. 21:45). The chronology of Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees in Matt. 23 is artificially relocated to Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. Also, according to Matthew, the chief priests and the Pharisees conspire together to put a guard at Jesus’ tomb (Matt. 27:62). On this point, see Tomson, 272-276.
  • [94] See David Flusser, “Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew” (Flusser, JOC, 558-559); cf. Tomson, 281.
  • [95] Matthew’s source for Matt. 12:28, a verse appearing in a Triple Tradition pericope, but not found in Mark, was Anthology. In agreement with Luke, Matthew writes ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. However, in Matt. 12:28 Matthew omits an important Hebraism preserved in Luke’s parallel. Instead of “by the finger of God” (Luke 11:20), which alludes to the story of Moses, Matthew writes “by the Spirit of God,” which was probably easier for non-Jewish Greek-speakers to comprehend. Since we already have one example of Matthew’s editorial activity in this verse, it is possible that ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in Matt. 12:28 is also editorial, and that the agreement with Luke is coincidental.
  • [96] The authors wish to thank Lauren Asperschlager for making this point (personal communication).
  • [97] As noted above, there is no evidence for an Aramaic equivalent to “Kingdom of Heaven” in ancient Jewish sources.
  • [98] See David Flusser, “The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels” (JS1, 35).
  • [99] Instances of Matthew’s writing not dependent on a source include Matt. 19:10-12; 27:3-8; 27:62-66; 28:11-15. See David Flusser, “Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew” (Flusser, JOC, 560); R. Steven Notley, “Anti-Jewish Tendencies in the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Matthew and the Jewish People.”
  • [100] See Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem,” point number 4; idem, “Measuring the Disparity Between Matthew, Mark and Luke,” under the subheading “Further Proof of Mark’s Dependence on Luke”; David Flusser, “Flusser on Lindsey’s Synoptic Hypothesis.”
  • [101] In this passage, Luke seems to be preserving Anthology.
  • [102] In this DT tradition, there is identical wording, with the exception of a few instances of καί.
  • [103] See David N. Bivin, “‘Do Not Resist Evil’: Jesus’ View of Pacifism.”
  • [104] W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 422ff.
  • [105] E.g., Herod Antipas, who married his half-brother (by the same father; Ant. 18:136) Herod’s wife, Herodias (Mark 6:17-18). Herodias left her first husband, Herod (son of Herod the Great and Mariamme II) to marry his half-brother Antipas (son of Malthace the Samaritan)—not to marry Philip, as Mark erroneously reports.
  • [106] H. Freedman’s note in Soncino English version: “With which they wrote their evil decrees.”
  • [107] See Shmuel Safrai, “Insulting God’s High Priest,” sub-section “On the Sadducean High Priests and Their Families”; David N. Bivin, “Another Look at the ‘Cleansing of the Temple’ Story,” esp. footnote 10.
  • [108] Jewish halachah did not allow Jewish slaves.
  • [109] Note that Paul, equipped with letters of authority from the high priest in Jerusalem (Acts 9:2), was persecuting followers of Jesus, even traveling as far as Damascus (Acts 9:3ff.).
  • [110] See Joshua N. Tilton, Jesus’ Gospel: Searching for the Core of Jesus’ Message, esp. 73-79.
  • [111] See Shmuel Safrai, “Halakha,” in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (CRINT II.3; ed. Shmuel Safrai; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:194-196.
  • [112] On a few of the sayings that challenge Bivin’s assertion that Jesus was not opposed to violence in principle (i.e., that Jesus was not a “pacifist”), see Joshua N. Tilton, “Whole Stones That Make Peace,” idem, “Perfect Children.”

Foreword to Robert Lindsey’s A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark

Iam very pleased at having this opportunity to write a foreword to a work which, for the first time, explains in much detail the results of Robert Lindsey’s long and painstaking research on the text of Mark and on the Synoptic Problem.[1] It seems clear that Lindsey’s observations have provided a decisive new clue to understanding the synoptic relationships and an equally important clue to the correct approach to the Gospel of Mark.

At present, the scholarly opinion that the Gospel of Mark was a principal source for the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is all but unanimous. Unfortunately, the occasional voices raised in opposition to this view are usually accompanied by remarks that show a distressing lack of good philological thinking, for in their desire to avoid Markan priority these voices tend to propose theories that run contrary to one or more important facts that have long been known to scholars. Such theories are doomed to oblivion from the start.

The advantage of Lindsey’s theory is that it accepts the view that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke depend on two main sources, and that there also exists a pattern of interdependence between these three Gospels. Lindsey’s delineation of sources has, as far as I know, never been proposed. Even scholars who subscribe to the usual theory of Markan priority are obliged to admit that the idea that Matthew and Luke depend upon an extant Gospel did not arise from the original observation that these Gospels were directly dependent upon Mark, but from the gradual identification of Mark with an earlier gospel called “Ur-Marcus” by many scholars. Thus the idea of combining the so-called Two-source Theory of synoptic dependence with that of successive dependence of one Gospel upon another is a new development in synoptic theory and one that has its analogies to other modern approaches to the literary analysis of interrelated documents.

Lindsey’s approach can, of course, be properly tested only when at least two conditions are met: first, the investigator must study most, if not all, the relevant gospel materials in the light of Lindsey’s theory and, second, the investigator must know enough Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic to follow Lindsey’s arguments. As Lindsey explains, he made his earliest observations while facing the difficulties of translating the Greek text of Mark to Hebrew. Very few people today have the training to use Semitic languages and Greek comparatively, but even the scholar who knows Koine Greek well can, with a bit of effort, detect Mark’s strange use of language. It is impossible to explain the historically and linguistically self-consistent text of Luke as a rewriting of Mark and Q. The same can be said about the parts of Matthew not paralleled in Mark, especially those that are usually assumed to have been copied by Matthew from Q. A scholar must ask why in some Matthean parallels to Mark one finds a more Hebraic, and therefore a seemingly more original, series of words.

The Great Commandment

Let us examine the Great Commandment pericope (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28) as an example to illustrate this point:

Luke 10:25-28 Mark 12:28-31 Matthew 22:34-40
L1 Καὶ προσελθὼν εἷς τῶν γραμματέων ἀκούσας αὐτῶν συζητούντων, ἰδὼν ὅτι καλῶς ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς, Οἱ δὲ Φαρισαῖοι ἀκούσαντες ὅτι ἐφίμωσεν τοὺς Σαδδουκαίους συνήχθησαν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό.
L2 Καὶ ἰδοὺ νομικός τις ἀνέστη ἐκπειράζων αὐτὸν λέγων· ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτόν· καὶ ἐπηρώτησεν εἷς ἐξ αὐτῶν νομικὸς πειράζων αὐτόν·
L3 Διδάσκαλε, Διδάσκαλε,
L4 τί ποιήσας ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω;
L5 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν·
L6 Ἐν τῷ νόμῳ τί γέγραπται; πῶς ἀναγινώσκεις; Ποία ἐστὶν ἐντολὴ πρώτη πάντων; ποία ἐντολὴ μεγάλη ἐν τῷ νόμῳ;
L7 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν· ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι ὁ δὲ ἔφη αὐτῷ·
L8 Πρώτη ἐστίν·
L9 Ἄκουε, Ἰσραήλ, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν,
L10 Ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου καὶ ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου Ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου
L11 ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ καρδίᾳ σου
L12 καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σου
L13 καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ἰσχύϊ σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου
L14 καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου, καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος σου.
L15 αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μεγάλη καὶ πρώτη ἐντολή.
L16 δευτέρα αὕτη· Δευτέρα δὲ ὁμοία αὐτῇ·
L17 καὶ τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.
L18 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ· Ὀρθῶς ἀπεκρίθης· τοῦτο ποίει καὶ ζήσῃ. μείζων τούτων ἄλλη ἐντολὴ οὐκ ἔστιν. ἐν ταύταις ταῖς δυσὶν ἐντολαῖς ὅλος ὁ νόμος κρέμαται καὶ οἱ προφῆται.
  • Red = Luke / Mark / Matthew agreement
  • Orange = Luke / Mark agreement
  • Blue = Mark / Matthew agreement
  • Purple = Luke / Matthew minor agreement

In this pericope, both Matthew and Luke retain the expression ἐν τῷ νόμῳ (en tō nomō, “in the Law”) against Mark (L6), and Mark’s expression, ἐντολὴ πρώτη πάντων (entolē prōtē pantōn, “commandment first of all”), becomes in Matthew, ἐντολὴ μεγάλη ἐν τῷ νόμῳ (entolē megalē en tō nomō, “great commandment in the Law”). If we suppose that the expression כְּלָל גָּדוֹל בַּתּוֹרָה (kelāl gādōl batōrāh, “a great summary [statement] in the Law”) stands behind this phrase, Matthew’s version fits the rabbinic tradition exactly. Against both Mark and Luke, Matthew adds the equally rabbinic “on/upon/from these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (L18; Matt. 22:40). Despite these excellent Hebraic and rabbinic readings, however, it is clear that Matthew combined his source with Mark’s version by writing “great” and “first” in Matthew 22:38. Other Matthean-Lukan agreements against Mark include the appellation “teacher” (L3; Matt. 22:36; Luke 10:25), a title that these two writers appear to use only when uncommitted persons (i.e., non-disciples) speak to Jesus. The careful use of “teacher,” on the part of Luke and Matthew, like their use of the title “Lord” by which the disciples address Jesus, is one of many indications that the Synoptic Gospels have often faithfully preserved the original Hebrew setting.

Thus, Matthew’s Gospel shows that its author depended on more than one source: Matthew agrees with Luke against Mark on the phrase “in the Law,” produces two fascinating rabbinically sophisticated texts against Luke and Mark, and yet manages to combine these with the Markan version. On the other hand, we can demonstrate that Mark knew the original “great commandment” (preserved only in Matthew) from his statement that no “commandment is greater” (L18; Mark 12:31).

Some years ago I had occasion to point out these details to an outstanding New Testament scholar. His explanation was that Matthew “must have been influenced by a secondary oral tradition.” If his explanation is correct, then oral tradition served Matthew in a rather remarkable way, succeeding in both intertwining the text of Mark with that of Matthew and in presenting us with a much more original-sounding story. To someone like me, who has studied ancient texts of all kinds for many years, this explanation seems very strange indeed! The following changes, in just a few short verses, were made by Matthew.

  1. Against Mark and with Luke he wrote “teacher” (L3).
  2. Against Mark and with Luke he wrote “the Law” (L6).
  3. Against Mark and with Luke he omitted the confession of Israel, “Hear, O Israel” (L9).
  4. Against Mark and Luke he omitted “with all your strength” (L13-14).
  5. In Matthew 22:38 he introduced “great” against Mark’s “first” (L6; Mark 12:28).
  6. In Matthew 22:40 he introduced a halachic phrase against both Mark and Luke (L18).

Such a pattern is much more likely to be the work of an author faced with the literary problem of combining two texts, rather than being evidence of an oral tradition. Markan priorists have long held this point of view with regard to Matthew’s use of Mark and Q. Why not suppose that the Matthean-Lukan agreements show that Matthew possessed a text with parallels for a majority of the Markan stories he copied? The important changes of meaning could thus be attributed to the editorial activity of Mark.

In the example cited above, Mark noted the word “great” in his source and decided to change it to “first” (a non-Hebraic usage, since Hebrew uses “first” as a description of time, but not of station). There are other examples of Mark’s replacement of “first” for other apparent synonyms (cf. the synoptic parallels to Mark 6:21; 9:35; 10:44). His other changes, for example, the “Hear, O Israel” and his added homily (Mark 12:32-34), show Mark’s propensity for addition and expansion. Matthew, who possessed both the Markan text and a source parallel to it, a source that was known also to Luke, wove his sources together. It is difficult to imagine that Matthew corrected both sources with the help of floating, oral knowledge, especially since Matthew often betrayed an ignorance of things Jewish even while transmitting remarkably authentic rabbinic material.

“What they might do…”

If we accept Lindsey’s analysis of the Synoptic Problem, it is not surprising that we often find evidence that Luke’s version is the most original and that Matthew has been unduly influenced by Mark, even when he appears to be correcting Mark with the help of another source. The story of the man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6; Matt. 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11) is a case in point. In this story Jesus’ opponents watch to see if he will heal a man on the Sabbath in a way contrary to the halachah. None of the Synoptists suggest that there was any open criticism of Jesus’ action. There is no reason why there should have been such a criticism, for this kind of healing (by command) was not contrary to the halachah. Yet both Mark and Matthew, in almost identical words, state that “the Pharisees” (Mark adds also “the Herodians”) took counsel against Jesus “to destroy him.” Significantly, Luke says only that Jesus’ opponents “discussed among themselves” what to do “to” Jesus.

In a story about a person named Honi (m. Ta’anit 3:8; cf. b. Ta’anit 23a) we have an interesting first-century B.C.E. parallel to the New Testament account. Honi, during a season of drought, had rather impudently demanded rain from God. Certain Pharisees felt that Honi had acted too much like a spoiled child and they rebuked him. Honi, however, had done nothing against Jewish halachah and, in the end, his Pharisaic critic could only say to him, אֲבָל מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לְךָ (avāl māh ’e‘eseh lechā, “But what can I do to you?”), the implication being that nothing could be done to him, for he had not transgressed the halachah.

The incident in the Gospels must have occurred much as Luke preserved it. Jesus looked at the unfortunate man and, in a provoking challenge to all present, said, “Is it permitted to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9). He then told the man to stretch out his hand and, as he did so, the hand was healed. There is certainly an implied criticism of Sabbath legalism in Jesus’ words, but he had done nothing that violated the sanctity of the Sabbath. Luke’s “they discussed what to do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11) may only mean “they discussed what could be done to Jesus.” Indeed, as he appears to do in other instances, Luke may have replaced an original phrase in direct discourse, such as, “They said, ‘What can we do to him?'” with the extant statement. If so, the difficulty finds its solution in a simple Hebrew idiom. Mark, however, takes the phrase to mean that “they counselled with each other,” intending to do what a group of high priests later would take counsel together to do, namely, destroy Jesus. Mark has jumped ahead to a later event and attributed motives of a later time to Jesus’ detractors in the synagogue, who, like the Pharisees in the Honi incident, were merely upset with Jesus’ seeming impudence.

Comparison of such rabbinic stories with the synoptic accounts teaches us many lessons. The first is that any normal philological reasoning would indicate the priority of Luke’s account. Water does not flow uphill. It is simply impossible to believe that the Matthean-Markan account could be changed secondarily into the Lukan form. On the other hand, it is easy to explain the secondary action of Mark. The second lesson is that knowledge of language usages in Jesus’ time illuminates the difficult problems of originality in the Synoptic Gospels. The third is that Matthew is secondary to Mark and Mark to Luke, for only in such an order of dependence is it possible to explain how Matthew could adopt Mark’s secondary readings.

The “Trial” of Jesus

The originality of Luke and the secondary readings of Mark (so often followed by Matthew) can be further illustrated in one of the most important parts of the Gospel story, the so-called “trial” of Jesus. Most of the difficulties noted by scholars are the result of concentrating on the Matthean-Markan version of this event to the neglect of Luke’s version. I want to mention two important points connected with this discussion.

The first point has already been dealt with by Paul Winter in his On the Trial of Jesus. Winter noted that in the Gospel of Luke no mention is made of a condemnation of Jesus by the Jewish authorities at Jesus’ “trial.”[2] This surprising fact becomes even more important when it is noted that in the whole of Luke there is no mention anywhere of a verdict passed by a Jewish court, not even in the three predictions of Jesus’ demise in Jerusalem (Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31-33).[3] Although an adherent of the Markan hypothesis, Winter explains this Lukan hiatus as due to a tradition Luke preserved against Mark. The improbability of this explanation becomes immediately clear when we note that Luke does not hesitate to report the delivery of Jesus to Pilate by the Jewish authorities (Luke 23:1), yet omits the Markan “condemnation” (Mark 14:64), and when we note that Mark’s “all judged him worthy of death” (Mark 14:64) can easily be Mark’s interpretation and extension of the conclusion of the high priests’ decision in Luke 22:71: “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it from his own lips.”

The second point concerns the Matthean-Markan agreement that the high priests accused Jesus of blasphemy (Matt. 26:65; Mark 14:64). Scholars have expended great effort to explain the nature of this blasphemy. One scholar even suggested that Jesus “pronounced the unutterable name of God.”

The accusation of blasphemy is absent from Luke, as is the Markan reference to the tearing of the high priest’s clothes. There is only an interrogation by the high priests and a most remarkable description of Jesus’ dialogue with the priests, the rabbinic sophistication of which is no less astounding than the Hebrew word order and idiom of the account. There is every reason to accept the Lukan version in preference to that of Matthew and Mark. According to Luke, Jesus had no trial. There was only an interrogation by the high priests to clarify the claims Jesus made. In doing so, the high priests were searching for an excuse to hand Jesus over to the Roman authorities as a dangerous political insurgent.

Of course, I am not here arguing that the Gospel of Luke is universally more original than Mark, or, especially, than Matthew. Luke occasionally modified his sources; for instance, he deleted almost every Jewish literalism, such as “our Father in the heavens” (e.g., Matt. 5:45; 6:9; 7:21; etc.), which to the Greek mind might have suggested that the Christian God was localized above earth in some superterrestrial Eden. Nevertheless, as Lindsey contends, the Gospel of Luke has not been influenced by the redactic operation of Mark. Fortunately, this understanding, joined with the fact that Matthew has preserved many Hebraically and rabbinically excellent texts, gives us confidence that the Synoptic Gospels are much more historically accurate than modern scholarship has tended to assert. Lindsey’s research is thus an important step in the direction of defining the approach to the Synoptic Gospels that will best help us restore the earliest form of the life and teachings of Jesus.

For Flusser’s assessment of John Mark, the supposed author of the Gospel of Mark, see the sidebar to Lindsey’s article “My Search for the Synoptic Problem’s Solution (1959-1969).”
  • [1] Robert L. Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark (2nd ed.; Jerusalem: Dugith, 1973). For an update and emendation of Lindsey’s introduction to this work, see Robert Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark” and “The Hebrew Life of Jesus.”
  • [2] Paul Winter, On the Trial of Jesus (Berlin: Walter de Gruyer, 1961), 28.
  • [3] It should be noted that the Gospel of John also lacks a session of the Sanhedrin in which Jesus is condemned to death.

A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem

Shortly after Robert L. Lindsey’s eureka moment (“Luke is first!”) on February 14, 1962, and at Professor David Flusser’s urging, Lindsey submitted the following article to the editors of Novum Testamentum. The article was published in the journal’s November 1963 issue as “A Modified Two-Document Theory of the Synoptic Dependence and Interdependence,” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 6, Fasc. 4 (November 1963): 239-263. Lauren S. Asperschlager, David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton have updated and emended the article to bring it in line with the modifications Lindsey made to his hypothesis over the following 30 years. Pieter Lechner has created the tables and graphics.

Despite the continuing debate between Matthean and Markan priorists, some form of the widely-accepted Two-Source Hypothesis seems necessary for a proper understanding of the synoptic relationships. The Two-Source Hypothesis as generally conceived, however, cannot cover the evidence of dependence and interdependence found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The same must be said for the theory of Matthean priority.

Both Markan and Matthean priorists are guilty of trying to solve the synoptic problem by over reliance on evidence for the interdependence of the Synoptic Gospels. These theorists’ basic error stems from their failure to recognize the necessity of positing the existence of a document other than Q, a document that is not completely present in any of the canonical Gospels. The interdependence of the Synoptic Gospels is a fact from which no theory of origins can escape, but the evidence of dependence on an additional document no longer extant, yet known to each of the synoptic writers, demands an adequate literary explanation.

Very few twentieth-century synoptic theorists can be said to have wrestled seriously with the question of whether a Mark-like, extra-canonical authority may not be necessary to explain unsolved problems of synoptic relationships. Instead, the tendency has been to abandon all hope of finding a literary solution.[1]

The ghost of the much-maligned Ur-Marcus[2] continues to rear its head. Bultmann wrote:

It is….probable that the text of Mark which the two other evangelists used lay before them in an older form than that in which we have it today. This Ur-Marcus (as it is usually called) was altered and enlarged at certain points; but it cannot be distinguished from the present text of Mark in any important way.[3]

Likewise, Taylor wrote:

We may feel compelled to reject all known forms of the Ur-Markus Hypothesis, but there is something unseemly in an investigation which ends with Requiescat Urmarcus. The same also may be said of the rejection of redactional and compilation hypotheses. There is no failure in synoptic criticism, for, if we reject a particular suggestion worked out with great learning and ability, we are compelled to reconsider the evidence on which it is based and seek a better explanation, knowing that a later critic may light upon a hypothesis sounder and more comprehensive still.[4]

Whatever the failures of Ur-Marcus theories, and they are many, it needs to be admitted that only in the direction of such hypotheses can there lie any hope of a solution to the present impasse in synoptic studies. We may indeed be able to correct a few more items related to the Jewish, first-century setting of our documents by the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic sources, but until the literary connections of our extant Gospels are clarified, we will remain in the state of uncertainty in which we now find ourselves. It is my conviction that the situation is not as hopeless as it seems, and that if the right tools of literary criticism are employed the synoptic problem can be solved. This is a bold claim. It would have been such a hundred years ago. In today’s atmosphere it may be considered overly bold.

The three most important results of synoptic criticism in the nineteenth century are: 1) the isolation of source Q; 2) the perception that Matthew and Luke used a narrative much like Mark as the skeleton of their works; and 3) the conclusion that Matthew and Luke cannot have influenced each other directly. Unfortunately, it cannot be said that twentieth-century scholarship has added much more than refinements to these foundations.

The clearest of these axioms is the third: Matthew and Luke did not know each other’s work. The diversity of ways in which Matthew and Luke splice Double Tradition pericopae into their narrative outline is so dramatic that the attempt by Matthean priorists to derive Mark and Luke from Matthew must be abandoned.

The first axiom, which concerns the nature and extent of source Q, is slightly less clear than the third axiom. Harnack’s The Sayings of Jesus[5] remains the best work on Q, but it is vitiated by the supposition that Matthew and Luke used Mark as their narrative skeleton and that Q is responsible for the longer Matthean-Lukan parallels to Mark 1:1-13. With Augustine, the simplest reader of the Gospels must often suppose that the first thirteen verses of Mark, when compared with Matthew and Luke, can only be understood as an abridgement of a longer narrative. Far the simplest explanation of the Markan version is that Mark excised or shortened some longer narrative. The suggestion that a Mark-Q “overlap” occurred here, such that Matthew and Luke were able to supplement Mark’s account from their knowledge of Q, is the invention of the dogma of Markan priority, by which Mark is identified with the narrative source standing behind Matthew and Luke. The same can be said of the Markan Beelzebub Controversy (Mark 3:22-30).

Least clear, although quite certain when critically defined, is the second axiom: Matthew and Luke used a narrative much like the Gospel of Mark as the skeleton of their Gospels. Here the error of Markan priorists lies in their failure to see that the nature of the relationship of Matthew and Luke to Mark is not one of complete dependence in Markan contexts. To correct the error it is necessary to adopt a more radical form of the Ur-Marcus theory than that maintained by Bultmann. My hypothesis proposes that 1) Luke did not know Mark. Luke did, however, know a source much like Mark. 2) Mark did not know Matthew. However, Mark did know Luke and one of the sources upon which Luke was based. Luke gave Mark his narrative skeleton, but Mark also used one of Luke’s primary sources, which allowed him to detect some of Luke’s editorial activity. Mark was then able to revise and redact Luke with the assistance of their shared non-canonical source. 3) Matthew knew Mark, but he also knew the same non-canonical source common to Mark and Luke. Matthew did not know Luke, but his knowledge of one of Luke’s sources as well as his use of Mark, which was directly influenced by Luke, created strong Matthean-Lukan affinities. Often we find that Matthew preserved the wording of the shared non-canonical source better than either of the other two synoptic writers. Wherever we observe this source’s influence we discover indications that it was a highly Hebraic-Greek document, possibly the descendant of a literal Greek translation of a Hebrew biography of Jesus.

Lindsey's Stemma. (Graphic created by Pieter Lechner.)
Lindsey’s Stemma. (Graphic created by Pieter Lechner.)

The advantages of my hypothesis are the following:

1. My synoptic hypothesis keeps the number of sources utilized by the synoptic writers to a minimum. Due to the extreme complexity of the synoptic problem, theorists tend to multiply sources. Grant’s theory of multiple sources is perhaps the most elaborate ever devised. He is obliged to posit not only Q, Mark, M and L,[6] like Streeter, but other written sources as well.[7] It would obviously be preferable to diminish rather than enlarge the number of sources, since the simplest solution that explains all the data is usually the best.

Moreover, if Q could be accepted by scholars as a near-certainty, we must ask ourselves why a more comprehensive source known to all three of the synoptic writers should not also be accepted by scholars as a theoretical possibility. There is no serious reason to deny this possibility, especially if positing its existence makes unnecessary the multiplication of sources.

This is not to say that my hypothesis obviates the necessity of supposing that each of our Synoptists had access to other sources than the shared, non-canonical, Hebraic-Greek source I refer to as the Anthology. Each of the three authors adds a small amount of material that must be presumed to come from oral knowledge. However, the vast majority of the common material of Matthew, Mark and Luke is derived either directly or indirectly from the Anthology.

2. My hypothesis solves the problem of Mark’s relationship to Q. It was noted by Bacon that certain Q passages in Mark show proximity to the Lukan text of Q.[8] The earliest appearance of Q is the misplaced Malachi quotation in Mark 1:2 (cf. Matt. 11:10; Luke 7:27). The next is “and they were silent” in Mark 3:4 (cf. Luke 14:3-4). The Beelzebub Controversy of Mark 3:22-30, lifted mainly out of Luke 11:15-23, is shortened, revised and topped off with a quotation (Mark 3:29) from Luke 12:10. In the list of short sayings that closed the discussion about the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:21-25; Luke 8:16-18) and to which, as Luke shows, no additional parables were appended, Mark has inserted the saying, “with what measure you mete….” from Luke’s Shorter Interpolation (Mark 4:24; Luke 6:38).[9] The Parable of the Mustard Seed, which, as both Matthew and Luke show, was originally a partner-parable to the Parable of the Leaven, is edited and added by Mark from Luke 13:18-19 (Mark 4:30-32). These parable additions by Mark constitute the reason Mark is obliged to speak of “parables” in Mark 4:2, 13 instead of a single parable as in Luke (cf. Luke 8:4, 11). My hypothesis, therefore, obviates the need for Mark-Q overlaps. Material in Mark supposed by Markan priorists to overlap with Q actually comes from the Gospel of Luke.

There are a number of other Markan pick-ups from passages he found in Luke, but here we will discuss only those found in Mark’s Little Apocalypse (Mark 13:1-37). Lockton was the first to detail the remarkable pattern of Markan conflation in this passage.[10] A diagram will aid in showing the pattern:

Markan Pick-ups in chapter 13
Markan Pick-ups in chapter 13


Each space in the Markan column represents a verse. The shaded areas represent material not found in Luke or in other parts of the New Testament except Matthew. Several verses toward the end of the passage show that Mark borrowed words or ideas from Acts 1:6-7 and 1 Thessalonians 4:6-7. In accordance with his custom of omitting references to Jerusalem, Mark excised “Jerusalem” in verses 14 and 20 (cf. Luke 21:20, 24). Lockton’s argument that it would be far more reasonable for an editor to collect scattered verses and group them together around a central theme than to break up a series of extended stories into verses and create an appropriate framework for each verse is convincing.[11] Luke’s practice was to quote his sources in blocks. Mark’s practice was to edit and conflate, a practice he turned to because he sought to harmonize verse by verse his two principal sources (i.e., the Anthology and Luke). Matthew’s practice, a practice he learned from Mark, was to conflate Mark and the shared non-canonical source.

3. My hypothesis provides a solution to the problem of Matthean-Lukan minor agreements against Mark. The tendency of Markan priorists to hide or explain away these agreements is inexcusable. McNeille’s statement that they “do not amount to very much”[12] is difficult to comprehend, there being approximately 800 such agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark. Besides these, there are numerous meaning contacts and short and long omissions agreed upon by Matthew and Luke against Mark. No amount of appeal to independent Matthean-Lukan correction of Mark’s text or to textual variants can do away with this evidence. Piper correctly remarks: “Canon Streeter’s attempt to explain away all these agreements as textual variants rests upon mere conjectures rather than on manuscript evidence.”[13] Had Streeter used the Matthean-Lukan agreements against Mark as positive data for establishing his Greek text, he would have been far nearer the truth than to attempt to establish a text against these agreements.

4. My hypothesis clarifies the independent witness of each of the Synoptists against the other two regarding Semitic word order, construction and thought. The Synoptic Gospels are not translations of a Semitic document. Even the Anthology was known to Matthew, Mark and Luke only in Greek. But there are many indications that this undertext was based on a literal translation of a Hebrew document. To the extent that each Synoptist used the Anthology, he was influenced by the immediate wording before him. In Luke we see the strongest attempt to improve the Hebraic-Greek word order and syntax and make them into idiomatic Greek, nevertheless Luke preserves many Semitic elements against Mark and Matthew in immediate Markan contexts. Luke was particularly careful not to change the utterances of Jesus in Anthology contexts if these were not too heavily Hebraic.

As generally recognized, Matthew sometimes shows a more Hebraic text than either Mark or Luke, but this is not because he was a Jewish Christian. Matthew almost certainly did not understand Hebrew or Aramaic. He accepted non-Hebraisms from Mark, some of which are Pauline and/or Lukan. He also occasionally made small changes in the Hebraic word order of his undertext, even in immediate contexts with Mark and Luke where these attest to normal translation Greek. Matthew’s most Hebraic texts often occur where Mark followed Luke in the excising or alteration of the Anthology. On the whole, as Moffatt saw (in regard to Q),[14] Matthew was like a textual critic who carefully preserves the more literal readings of the undertext. Comparing Mark verse by verse with the Anthology, Matthew normally adopted the Markan story-order, but frequently preferred the Anthology’s wording. When he detected an Anthology conflate in Mark, Matthew usually located the verses in the Anthology and corrected the Markan version, often adding additional verses from the Anthology. The author of Matthew was a montage expert. He did not rewrite the Anthology.[15] Matthew was not a translator of Hebrew. The Hebraic influence on his Gospel comes from the translation Greek of his sources.[16]

Mark independently witnesses to translation Greek underlay. His word order is often Hebraic and he sometimes shows Semitisms against both Luke and Matthew, although usually against Luke only. Nevertheless, Mark’s text is stylistically mixed. Much influenced by Luke, Acts and some of the Pauline epistles, Mark borrowed many non-Hebraic constructions and compounded them with comments of his own. When quoting from memory, he wrote with the ready hand of a Greek-speaking preacher.[17] Mark obviously knew Aramaic, for he translated at least once from an Aramaic Targum,[18] but he may not have known Hebrew.[19] Mark’s Semitic Greek is taken mainly from the Anthology, although sometimes from Luke, or possibly, as in his frequent asides, from a knowledge of Aramaic.

While we are on the subject of Semitic influence, it should be remarked that the undertexts of the Synoptic Gospels are almost certainly translations of Hebrew, not Aramaic, documents. Grintz correctly argued this point,[20] but he collected only part of the evidence. Birkeland concluded that Jesus probably gave his teachings in Hebrew.[21] Dalman, who is perhaps more responsible than any other for the time-honored practice of looking to Aramaic when Semitic influence is suspected in the Gospels, wrote:

For my own part I do not see more than a high probability for an Aramaic primary gospel, and dare not speak of a certainty resting on proofs… Genuine proofs of an Aramaic, as opposed to a Hebrew, written source of the Synoptists are the harder to produce, because the same idioms and the same constructions of clauses as are found in Aramaic are possible even in biblical Hebrew, and still oftener in the style of the Mishna.[22]

Were Dalman living today, following the discoveries in the Judean Desert, it seems probable that he would find himself explaining the Semitic base of the Gospels as Hebrew rather than Aramaic. The burden of proof now lies on those who hold the Aramaic theory. This is not to say that Jesus did not know Aramaic or use it on occasion.

5. My hypothesis clarifies the relationship between Matthew and Mark. Matthean priorists have produced significant evidence for the greater originality of Matthew vis-à-vis Mark. On the other hand, Markan priorists have quite properly countered with weighty evidence in favor of Matthew’s dependence on Mark. Both are right. What the Matthean priorists have observed is simply Matthew’s preference for the wording of the Anthology. What the Markan priorists have correctly noticed is Matthew’s dependence on Mark for his pericope order and Matthew’s insertion of material from the Anthology. However, Matthean and Markan priorists are in error in supposing that the fact of interdependence is the principal criterion for determining the relationship of these two Gospels.

It is to the credit of the Matthean priorists that they have seen more clearly than their opponents the importance of the Hebraic elements in determining the Matthean-Markan relationship. Schlatter was so conscious of these elements that he refused to argue the subject of priority.[23] Specialists in Semitic languages such as Gustaf H. Dalman, Charles F. Burney and Matthew Black have tended to avoid questions of priority and interdependence. (Wellhausen, in his strong support for Markan priority, is an exception.) Matthean priorists have found support for their position in the work of Semitists,[24] but considerable Semitic evidence points both ways—some towards Matthean priority and some towards Markan priority. The relevance of the Semitic evidence can be evaluated only when it is correlated with the evidence obtained from studying the interrelationship of the synoptic texts. My analysis of the combined evidence has forced me to posit a Hebraic-Greek source (i.e., the Anthology) as the only possible explanation for the Matthean wording where Matthew’s dependence on Mark can be ruled out, but Matthew’s use of Mark is equally clear from the many indications in Matthew’s text of common vocabulary and pericope order.

6. My hypothesis agrees with and underlines the results of scholars who point to the redactic nature of Mark and his apparent dependence on Acts and the Pauline epistles. The roughness and redundancy of Mark’s editorial connections and style have been noted by many scholars. So distinctive are these features of Mark’s Gospel that, when wedded to the theory of Markan priority, they led certain scholars to develop a discipline known as Form Criticism. Their argument runs as follows: Since Mark was used by Matthew and Luke as the first of their two principal sources, it is unnecessary to look for authenticity in the parallel Matthean and Lukan texts. If we look into the earliest Gospel (i.e., Mark), we observe a series of stories rather poorly connected by repetitious and unskilled editorial phrases to which have been added numerous suspect topographical references. It seems obvious that these references are the inventions of a later editor to whom the tradition had become dim. This editor collected floating oral stories and stitched them together with the help of these topographical references, adding comments and emphases that were engendered by the needs of the Christian communities of the last quarter of the first century. Therefore, the form critics reasoned, if we are to recover historical details about Jesus and his first disciples, we must discard any notions about an authentic series of historical events and concentrate on finding out whatever we can about individual pericopae. (Source critics faced the problem of Markan “roughness” with the same presupposition of Markan priority, but sought the problem’s solution through the delineation of multiple written sources.)

If Matthew and Luke did depend solely on Mark for their narrative skeleton, then the approaches of Form Criticism may be valid. The signs of editing, commenting and catechising are everywhere evident in Mark. Moreover, as Bacon insisted, there are words, phrases and ideas that can only be explained as showing some kind of dependence on Acts and the Pauline epistles.[25]

My contention that the text of Mark is a partly Hebraic, partly Aramaic and partly “improved Greek” only emphasizes the secondary nature of the connecting phrases and topographical references that Mark used to link his pericopae. However, the numerous Matthean-Lukan agreements against Mark, the independent witness of Hebraisms in each Gospel, and the mixed text of Mark throw a different light on the redactional nature of Mark. Mark was decidedly not a collector of oral traditions who, unaided by previous attempts at collection, sat down to bring these oral traditions into a narrative sequence. Rather, Mark was a preacher-writer who stuck closely to the narrative sequence he found in Luke, while correcting and updating it with the help of the Anthology. Mark occasionally borrowed expressions from Paul and Acts, and added a few sayings and names he must have known from other written and oral sources. He enlivened the laconic Hebraic-Greek undertext by freely changing simple verbs to compound ones, rare ones, or more colorful ones, many of which he picked up from Luke in other contexts. Mark saw Luke occasionally use an historical present; therefore, Mark expanded this Lukan practice until he had more than three hundred historical presents. In Mark’s hands Luke’s precise use of the Greek imperfect tense, which Luke introduced to give variety to the monotonous Hebraic translation-Greek aorist-tense verbs in his sources, became almost a caricature. Mark did the same with Luke’s ἔλεγεν/ἔλεγον (elegen/elegon) usages, Luke’s “began to” plus infinitive expressions, and Luke’s verbs of “marvelling.” Mark built homilies, expanding and abridging, even changing pericope-order to achieve his editorial objectives.

Mark had special interests; but most of them are a result of Mark’s being a popular preacher, not a theologian or text critic. Mark borrowed the idea of “hardening” from Paul (cf. Rom. 9:18; 11:7, 25) and applied it to the disciples.[26] Mark also was anxious to preserve names such as “Andrew” when Luke’s excision of early stories connected with the Jordan region caused them to be deleted (cf. Mark 1:16, 29).

Mark suggests that Jesus’ family thought Jesus mad (Mark 3:21), yet he inserted the names of Mary and the names of Jesus’ brothers where Luke had only “Joseph” (cf. Mark 6:3 with Luke 4:22). Mark intended no disrespect to the disciples, Jesus’ family, or even to his sources, but as a preacher he had encountered unbelief and hard-heartedness in the places he ministered. Introducing unbelief into the story of Jesus’ relationship with his family was simply Mark’s way of comforting his fellow-believers and challenging the unbelief of “those outside.”

Mark had a special interest in the Second Coming of the Lord, as shown by his supplementing the apocalyptical material in Luke 21:5-33 with material from the Anthology and by adding allusions to the writings of Paul and the book of Daniel. Mark’s emphasis on Galilee to the near exclusion of Jerusalem fits with his emphasis on the Second Coming: by dropping the immediate contexts surrounding the name Jerusalem he was able to make his Little Apocalypse (Mark 13:1-37) deal exclusively with the Second Coming. Incidentally, this constitutes the strongest argument that the destruction of Jerusalem had not yet occurred when Mark wrote; for, had Jerusalem already been destroyed, he surely would have added a homily about the wickedness and subsequent punishment of the city. Mark was not averse to the idea of the destruction of Jerusalem; he was simply a good preacher who adapted his message to non-Jewish readers who would not have found the destruction of the Holy City as meaningful as the return of the Lord. Mark’s abridgement of the resurrection stories opposite Luke 24:13-53 and Matt. 28:11-20 and relocation of Jesus’ post-resurrection meeting with his disciples from Jerusalem to Galilee (cf. Mark 16:7 to Luke 24:6) appear to be the result of Mark’s feeling that he must consistently emphasize Galilee (cf. Mark 1:39; Luke 4:44; etc.) by avoiding any mention of Jerusalem.

7. My hypothesis explains the abundant evidence of Markan-Lukan interdependence without necessitating elaborate explanations about the textual superiority of Matthew to Mark, the Matthean-Lukan agreements against Mark, the Hebraisms in many Matthean and Lukan parallels to Mark, and the widely acknowledged redactic and “borrowing” character of Mark. Parker correctly perceived the wide difference between the Markan-Lukan and the Markan-Matthean vocabulary and noted the frequent agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark. Having concluded that the differences between Matthew and Mark necessitate the positing of a proto-narrative (K), he suggested that “…it would be attractive to explain all these Matthew-Luke contacts by supposing that Luke too, used K, perhaps to the exclusion of canonical Mark itself.”[27] Parker’s rejection of this suggestion is the result of his failure to see that Matthew not only used the Anthology, but also canonical Mark.[28] Once it becomes clear that Matthew used Mark and the Anthology, it is much easier to conceive of Mark using Luke and the Anthology. Matthew’s use of more than one parallel source arose from his realization that Mark had given him a precedent for such a practice.

The first mistake of many Ur-Marcus theories lies in their over-emphasis on mechanical analysis. Such an approach leads in turn to a deprecation of the editorial independence present in each of the Synoptic Gospels. With the control given by a feeling for the presence of Hebraic syntax, many of the non-Hebraic elements stand out conspicuously, and one becomes keenly aware of the linguistic tendencies of each of the three writers. When one lacks this control, it becomes easier to confuse the editorial work of a synoptic writer with the texts of his sources.

The Ur-Marcus theory of Bussmann is a case in point.[29] Due to his overly mechanical methods, Bussmann was obliged to posit what in essence amounts to an Ur-Marcus I and an Ur-Marcus II. He correctly supposed that Luke used a proto-narrative, which he called G. According to Bussmann, after Luke used this document, a Galilean redactor thoroughly revised it, and this Ur-Marcus II, which Bussmann labeled B, is the undertext used by Matthew. Finally, Mark used B when writing his Gospel. Bussmann’s separation of the redactic elements in Mark is largely correct and was relatively simple, for Bussmann had the Matthean-Lukan agreements to guide him; but his reconstructions of Matthew and Luke show that he was insufficiently aware of the stylistic peculiarities of these two writers, and of Luke in particular. Had he availed himself of the Hebraic evidence found in each of the Synoptic Gospels, Bussmann would have found it unnecessary to attribute revision to a non-canonical source. The redaction began in Luke; Mark revised the Anthology and Luke; Matthew used Mark, but often restored the wording of the Anthology. This criticism of Bussmann is only one of many that can be leveled at his theory.[30]

The second mistake of most Ur-Marcus theories lies in the unwillingness of their adherents to concede the direct influence of one Gospel on the other.[31] Both Bussmann and Holdsworth[32] correctly concluded that Luke was written prior to Mark. Had they understood the special editorial characteristics of Luke as well as Harnack[33] or Dalman,[34] who emphasized respectively the Greek and Semitic elements of Luke’s style, they would have found it less difficult to assess the dependence of Mark on both Luke and the Anthology. Parker suggested that Mark excised certain overly-Jewish passages from K.[35] The truth of the matter is that it was Luke who followed this procedure, omitting certain Anthology passages, and for precisely the same reason—to improve the Greek style of his Hebraic-Greek sources. Mark often followed Luke in his excisions.[36] Where Mark did so, Matthew often supplemented with additional material from the Anthology.[37]

The Markan harmonization of Luke and the Anthology is particularly interesting. With great surprise I first noted Mark’s dependence on Luke while doing a study of the elegen/elegon usage common to all the Synoptic Gospels.[38] To judge from the Septuagint, this construction does not represent normal Greek translation of Hebrew texts: one would expect instead the Greek aorist tense (εἶπεν or εῖπον) in most places where elegen/elegon is used. Luke scattered elegen (or elegon) throughout his Gospel, and, in total, used it 22 times.[39] Matthew agrees with Mark on the use of elegen (or elegon) only 11 times. Mark, as if suddenly enamored with the construction, used it for the first time in Mark 2:16 and with high frequency until Mark 7:27, at which point Mark used elegen/elegon only occasionally, but, in all, he used it 49 times.[40]

Strangest of all is the fact that Luke and Mark agreed to use the elegen/elegon construction only at Mark 2:27 (= Luke 6:5) and Mark 4:30 (= Luke 13:18), and that Matthew and Luke never agreed to use it at the same point in their parallel narratives. Obviously, we are dealing with an editorial usage, a usage that indicates Mark’s middle position. One of the three writers originated the usage and the other two borrowed it for their own individual purposes. It was not a part of the Anthology. Matthew was the least interested in using it, but he copied it from Mark occasionally,[41] and also used it independently (Matt. 9:24; 12:23; 21:11; 27:49). The critical interrelationship is that of Mark and Luke: the flow is from Luke to Mark.

In Mark 2:27 elegen introduces the unique Markan saying about the Sabbath being made for man, which is followed by a statement about the Son of Man (Mark 2:28). Although there is a rabbinic parallel to Mark 2:27, both Matthew (Matt. 12:8) and Luke (Luke 6:5) thought the pericope needed only the second saying to make it complete. This is evidence that Mark 2:27 is an editorial comment added by Mark.

In Mark 4:30 καὶ ἔλεγεν introduces the Markan version of the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Matthew is in Markan order at this point (Matt. 13:31-32), but the parallel in Luke (Luke 13:18-19) is clearly in a Q context, with both Matthew and Luke showing that the Anthology contained the Parable of the Leaven (Matt. 13:33 = Luke 13:20-21) as a partner to the Parable of the Mustard Seed. To introduce a parable Luke alternated ἔλεγεν with εἶπεν (cf. Luke 13:6, 18; 14:7; 18:1 [ἔλεγεν] with Luke 12:16; 13:20; 15:3 [εἶπεν]). If Luke used Mark one must say that he 1) adopted this phrase from Mark; 2) normally refused to copy it in Markan contexts; 3) copied it from Mark 2:27 where Matthew did not, but agreed with Matthew to exclude the first of the two sayings it introduced; 4) dropped all but the Parable of the Sower in chapter four of Mark, yet added elegen neatly when he quoted the Parable of the Mustard Seed later in a Q context.

Far simpler is the suggestion that Luke originated this usage, and that he often inserted it to introduce sayings of Jesus although it was not in his sources. Mark picked it up from Luke for his own editorial purposes, finding it a convenient Lukan addition that would allow him to introduce his rabbinic quotation at Mark 2:27, and using it at Mark 4:30 (the opening of Mark’s version of the Parable of the Mustard Seed) because he was adding a parable that Luke copied from the Anthology. I have already suggested that the Beelzebub Controversy (Mark 3:22-30) is a Markan pick-up from Luke 11:15-23. Mark treated this borrowing from Luke as the first of four parables he gives in Mark 3:23-4:32.

However, it is Mark’s use of elegen/elegon in Mark 6:14-16 against both Matthew and Luke that most clearly demonstrates Mark’s practice of harmonizing Luke and the Anthology:

Markan Harmonization
Markan Harmonization

This passage occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels in Markan order and would not normally be suspected by Markan priorists of coming from Q. The variant reading elegen, for elegon, in line 9 (Mark 6:14), is improbable. There is no other serious textual difficulty.

In lines 3 and 12 we have typical Matthean-Lukan verbal agreement against Mark. Mark differs not only in his use of “king” for “tetrarch” (line 4), but in the word order of the phrase. Line 5 shows a Matthean-Lukan grammatical agreement against Mark’s explanatory phrase or sentence: both τὴν ἀκοὴν Ἰησοῦ (Matt. 14:1) and τὰ γινόμενα πάντα (Luke 9:7) are objects of the main verb. This is strong evidence that Matthew and Luke knew a text other than Mark.

Despite these agreements, Matthew and Luke show versions of the story that are impossible to reconcile. Matthew tells a simple story in which Herod declares to his servants that John has risen from the dead. Luke’s story is longer and shows Herod confused because of various reports about Jesus’ identity but doubting that John could have risen from the dead and wanting to see Jesus because of what he has heard.

With the exception of the typically Matthean ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ (cf. Matt. 11:25; 12:1; 14:1) and the un-Hebraic “tetrarch,”[42] Matthew’s version can be translated word for word into perfect biblical Hebrew. The noun ἀκοή (line 5) might possibly be the equivalent of the Hebrew שֵׁמַע (cf. Gen. 29:13; 1 Kgs. 10:1, where τὸ ὄνομα is שֵׁמַע’s translation). The phrase τοῖς παισὶν αὐτοῦ (line 7) is obviously לַעֲבָדָיו; the phrase ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν (lines 12 and 14) is equivalent to Hebrew קָם מִן הַמֵּתִים; and αἱ δυνάμεις (line 16) is clearly the rabbinic הַגְּבוּרוֹת. If we were to borrow καί and βασιλεύς from Mark, the text would read in Hebrew:

וַיִּשְׁמַע הוֹרדוֹס הַמֶּלֶך אֶת שֵמַע יֵשׁוּעַ וַיֹּאמֶר לַעֲבָדָיו, זֶה הוּא יוֹחָנָן הַמַּטְבִּיל, הוּא קָם מִן הַמֵּתִים וְלָכֵן הַגְּבוּרוֹת פּוֹעֲלוֹת בּוֹ.‏

Were either the Matthean-Lukan agreements or the Hebraic evidence here isolated phenomena in the Synoptic Gospels, some other explanation would be preferable. As it is, we are obliged to suspect the presence of the strongly Hebraic Anthology behind the texts of all three Synoptists.

From line 8, Luke’s version becomes almost completely non-Hebraic. He uses indirect discourse where Hebrew prefers direct discourse. He employs his much-loved passive construction with ὑπό (Luke 9:8), the very antithesis of a literal translation from Hebrew, as a glance at the Septuagint’s use of ὑπό will immediately show. The phrase ἐκ νεκρῶν (Luke 9:7) is, as in Paul, a Greecizing of ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν. Furthermore, there is no Hebrew verb that can in itself express the act of cutting off a man’s head as can ἀπεκεφάλισα in Luke 9:9.

The content of Luke’s version also bears a strong resemblance to the discussion at Caesarea Philippi (cf. Luke 9:19) and to John 1:20-22 (cf. Luke 3:15-16). When this is coupled with the non-Hebraic constructions beginning in line 8, and the fact that the Matthean-Lukan agreements occur early in the passage, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Luke has departed from the Anthology at this point and has begun copying the First Reconstruction, Luke’s second source, a redaction of the Anthology. Matthew’s extremely Hebraic text gives every evidence of being more original than Luke’s version.

The content and wording of Mark are remarkable for the extent of their redaction. As so often, the text of Mark is half translation Greek and half improved or popularized Greek, but here, even the content of his story betrays the double nature of his dependence. Although in Mark 1:28 he retains the Hebraic ἀκοή (against the Lukan ἦχος), he gives a subsidiary sentence to explain ἀκοή. Mark appears to think that ἀκοή represents the Semitic שֵׁם, as if he thought the translator of the undertext confused שֵׁמַע with שֵׁם. Alternatively, Mark may simply have decided to explain שֵׁמַע as שֵׁם in accordance with his tendency to view word-plays as opportunities for midrashic interpretation. Mark’s use of “king” for “tetrarch” may represent his personal Semitic understanding, or “king” may have been in his source for John’s death (Mark 6:22, 26, 27). Mark’s use of ἐγήγερται in Mark 6:14 (cf. 1 Cor. 15:4) against the Matthean-Lukan ἠγέρθη (Matt. 14:2; Luke 9:7) is typical of Mark’s changes for the sake of novelty or Greek improvement. He preferred ἐκ νεκρῶν to ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν (line 14), yet retained the sentence with “the powers” (line 16) in a word order that may even be more original than Matthew’s.[43]

Mark’s elegen/elegon constructions immediately parallel the Lukan passive constructions. In line 20 Mark gives a neat Hebraic equivalent, εἷς τῶν προφητῶν (Mark 6:15), of Luke’s more distinctly Greek phrase, τις τῶν ἀρχαίων (Luke 9:8), and could represent Hebrew influence. Mark’s use of elegon without an expressed subject in line 9 could be a reflection of a Hebrew undertext, or due to the influence of popular Greek. Mark’s phrase in line 23, ὃν ἐγὼ ἀπεκεφάλισα Ἰωάννην, however, like that in line 6, φανερὸν γὰρ ἐγένετο τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, is awkward to translate into Hebrew. Peculiar is the fact that Mark’s conclusion is the same as Matthew’s, and against Luke. After all this discussion, Herod comes to the conclusion that John has risen, yet the words ἐκ νεκρῶν are not added as in line 15.

The normal explanation given to this pericope by Markan priorists is that Matthew and Luke have independently taken from Mark the phrases they needed to construct their own disparate versions. On the face of it, that explanation sounds attractive; but it will not do for the following reasons: 1) Matthew and Luke both show they are influenced by a source other than Mark; 2) Matthew’s text contrasts sharply in its simplicity and Hebraic constructions with the versions of Mark and Luke; 3) the conclusion of Luke’s story gives an excellent reason for Mark’s introduction of the non-Hebraically-styled discussion concerning Herod’s confusion: Herod wisely listens to the popular ideas but wisely remains indecisive; 4) Mark mixes, as in lines 15 and 16, the non-Hebraic Lukan expressions with the Hebraic Matthean phrases, yet in lines 4 and 6 opposes both Matthew and Luke; 5) Mark largely follows the story of Herod’s confusion, but says nothing about his being confused: this makes his introduction of the popular ideas about John very rough, for his story begins with Herod and suddenly (in line 9) shifts to an undesignated and unexplained subject; 6) Mark concludes the story half in the words of Luke and half in the words of Matthew (lines 23-24); 7) if Luke were following Mark, why would he agree with Matthew at all, with Mark only in spots, break with Mark in his conclusion, and yet end up with a more coherent story?

My conclusion is that Mark knew this story both from Luke and the Anthology, but he was so impressed by Luke that he accepted Luke’s version about Herod’s confusion, though without mentioning it, and harmonized the two accounts so cleverly that, were it not for the nearly perfect Hebraic text of Matthew and the Matthean-Lukan agreements against Mark, we would fail (with the Markan priorists) to see what Mark has done. On the other hand, did we not know that Mark was used by Matthew, we would have concluded that Mark harmonized the accounts of Matthew and Luke. As it is, we must suppose that Mark harmonized Luke with a source known to all the Synoptists (i.e., the Anthology). The hypothesis that Mark used Luke unlocks this synoptic conundrum, clarifying the reason for Mark’s writing that Herod thought John the Baptist had been raised from the dead.

8. Finally, my hypothesis provides a reasonable answer to various problems arising from the common and disparate pericope-order of the Synoptic Gospels. Matthew and Luke almost never agree together against the story-order of Mark, but both show a few differences in the placement of stories vis-à-vis Mark. This double fact suggests that Mark stands between Matthew and Luke, and emphasizes the improbability that Matthew and Luke influenced each other directly. It does not prove that Matthew and Luke depend equally on Mark’s order, as Markan priorists argue. Theoretically, the order of dependence could be Matthew-Mark-Luke or Luke-Mark-Matthew. It is impossible to determine the Synoptic Gospels’ order of writing from pericope order alone. My contention that the synoptic order is Luke-Mark-Matthew is fully consonant with the central facts of pericope-order.

The way the synoptic writers insert Anthology passages into their Gospels provides evidence against the theory that Matthew and Luke equally depended on Mark as one of their sources. Matthew can often be seen to take his cue from Mark’s use of the Anthology for the additional Anthology material. Luke, by contrast, acts as if he had never seen the Anthology in Mark. In order to maintain that Luke used Mark, it is necessary to suppose that Luke was able to recognize each hint of the Anthology and excise it only to give it in a wider context in his blocks of the Anthology. But the certain evidence of Lukan doublets proves that Luke would not have felt compelled to follow such a procedure. The theory of Markan priority also fails to explain how two writers unknown to each other (Matthew and Luke) independently determined to use Mark as an outline into which they placed long excerpts from the Anthology.

These difficulties are easily explained when it is realized that Mark decided to use Luke as his basic text, but to use the Anthology in places where he had a special interest, such as in his Little Apocalypse (Mark 13:1-37). Matthew, who had the texts of Mark and the Anthology before him, was impressed by the way Mark inserted material from the Anthology into his Gospel. Matthew accepted most of Mark’s Anthology insertions, and even expanded them by including additional material from the Anthology. Luke thus became the originator of a gospel form that includes incorporating material from more than one written source. Mark, who learned this practice from Luke, passed it on to Matthew.

Wildflowers growing on the wall of Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Gary Asperschlager.
Wildflowers growing on the wall of Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of Gary Asperschlager)

All this fits completely with what we know of Luke’s independent approach to his sources. It does not fit Mark at all. Luke quoted his sources in blocks; Mark combined Luke, the Anthology, Pauline expressions, and other “pick-ups.” Luke was not averse to doublets if they appeared within blocks of material in his source(s). Mark has no true doublets, only occasional repetitions of pithy sayings. Luke sometimes inserted editorial sentences under the influence of a source he was not using at the moment, but he normally left his blocks of material intact even if he sometimes improved their Greek style and removed overly Hebraic expressions. Mark edited, paraphrased and embellished his sources. He mixed styles, repeated words and phrases, abbreviated or elaborated narratives, and crafted homilies. Matthew often found it necessary to revert to the Anthology’s wording when faced with extensive editorial activity in the text of Mark.

Matthew’s departure from the Markan pericope-order is a result of Matthew’s inserting long passages from the Anthology that Mark had omitted. Finding no hint in Mark of Luke’s method of quoting blocks of material verbatim from the Anthology, Matthew learned from Mark that pericope excision and change of story order are acceptable. His agreement with Luke against Mark in the use of Ναζαρά (Nazara; Nazareth; Matt. 4:13; Luke 4:16) shows that Mark dropped the Rejection in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) and replaced it by moving the Call of Peter, James and John (Luke 5:1-11) forward to this position. Matthew therefore agreed with Mark’s placement of the Call of the Disciples as the first pericope of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, but immediately afterwards he broke with the Markan order to combine the Markan summaries found in Mark 1:39 and 3:7-10 (Matt. 4:23-25). His reason for doing so was to insert the Sermon on the Mount.

After the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew returned to Mark at the point of Mark’s first summary (Mark 1:40), picking up stories from the Anthology and Mark and mixing them for two chapters, much as Mark had mixed the Beelzebub Controversy from the Anthology with Lukan material (Mark 3:22-30). Matthew abbreviated most of the Markan stories that are drastically out of Markan order in his text at this point. He had observed Mark do this in the Call of the Twelve (Mark 1:16-20) and the Rejection at Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6), and evidently concluded that it was the correct thing to do when making dramatic changes of order. In any case, since Matthew had not collected all the miracle stories from Mark 1:21-5:43, he combined the Call of the Twelve (Mark 3:13-19) with the Sending of the Twelve (Mark 6:6-13) in Matthew 9:35-10:16, to which he appended a conflation (Matt. 10:17-22) of the Little Apocalypse (Mark 13:1-37) with various Anthology passages (Matt. 10:23-11:30). At Matthew 12:1 he returned to Mark and largely followed him except for minor excisions and occasional additions from the Anthology, and his fulfillment quotations,[44] until the end of his Gospel.

From the first chapters of John we discover that there were two periods in which Jesus sojourned in Judea. From the first of these Luke apparently removed the story concerning Andrew and Peter (John 1:40-42), probably for reasons of space. This resulted in Luke’s bringing Jesus to Galilee immediately after the Temptation (Luke 4:14), summarizing his first activities (Luke 4:15), and giving the Rejection in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) as his first Galilee pericope. Later (in Luke 4:44), Luke mentions in a short summary a return of Jesus to Judea for a preaching tour, but does not include any pericopae from this period.

These deletions by Luke created narrative difficulties, which Mark recognized. Capernaum came to be mentioned first in Luke only obliquely in the Rejection in Nazareth pericope (Luke 4:23).[45] Peter is first mentioned in Luke only as the owner of a house (Luke 4:38). Andrew has dropped out of Luke’s account altogether (except in the list of Jesus’ disciples given in Luke 6:14-16).[46] This apparently worried Mark, and he set about to rectify the situation. He first dropped the Rejection in Nazareth. This solved the problem Mark saw in Luke of Capernaum being mentioned before any events set in Capernaum were recorded. Looking ahead, Mark picked out the story of the Call of Peter, James and John (Luke 5:1-11) and brought it forward as an introduction to Peter and Andrew, after inserting Andrew’s name. To accomplish this manipulation, Mark was obliged to drop Jesus’ preaching from the boat (Luke 5:2-3) and the special story of the circumstances surrounding Peter’s decision to follow Jesus (Luke 5:4-11). This apparently left Mark with some regrets, for he brought the preaching-from-the-ploiarion (πλοιάριον, small boat) back in his summary in Mark 3:7-12, and kept using the phrase “by the sea” (παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν) in such unnecessary places as Mark 2:13; 5:1; and 5:21. Apparently, Mark also considered it necessary to add (against Matthew and Luke) the names Andrew, James and John in Mark 1:29, and change Luke’s “Judea” to “Galilee” (Luke 4:44; Mark 1:39), which gave him a smooth connection to “Capernaum” (against Matthew and Luke) in Mark 2:1.

More serious is Mark’s insertion of the Rejection at Nazareth in Mark 6:1-6 at a place that makes it stand, in Moffatt’s words, as an “erratic boulder.”[47] That Mark had been influenced by the Lukan story is clear from his use of πατρίδα (patrida, home land, home country),[48] with which, instead of “Nazareth,” he introduced the locale of the pericope. Mark shortened and summarized the story, using his typical editorial vocabulary and the Pauline-Qumranic οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi = הָרַבִּים: Mark 6:2), dropped the excellent scriptural quotations, changed Luke’s “son of Joseph” to “son of Mary,” and gave more or less the non-Hebraic Lukan version of the saying about a prophet’s honor, to which he added the opposition of “home” and relatives. His addition of the four names of Jesus’ brothers (Mark 6:3) from oral knowledge leaves us in debt to Mark for a tradition we would not otherwise have known, but it is obvious that the Lukan account in respect of the names is more original. We can only be grateful that this opportunity for textual change (when in an out-of-order pericope) allowed Mark to indicate his reverence for names that he might have mentioned much earlier had he not decided to omit the infancy narratives.

Papias’ statement that Mark was not “in order,”[49] therefore, preserves a valid criticism that can be established by literary analysis. In contrast to Mark and Matthew, Luke’s order is more original, for his practice was to delete stories and Hebraic constructions from his sources, but not at the expense of pericope order. This fits well with the conclusions of Harnack and others that, on the whole, Luke shows a more authentic order than Matthew or Mark.

These are the main advantages of my hypothesis. It may appear that my theory is more complicated than others. In actuality, it is far simpler than most synoptic theories. Only two written sources are demanded to explain the great majority of the material found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Luke is seen to be first, followed by Mark, and then by Matthew. The difficult problems surrounding the so-called Proto-Luke, or the special Lukan source of the “Passion Narrative,” or the nature of the Markan relationship to Q, or the strange “Jewish Christian” element in Matthew, all disappear. Postulating the Anthology as descended from a literal Greek translation of a Hebrew biography of Jesus, and supposing that the Anthology was known to each of the three Synoptists, gives the content and structure of the Synoptic Gospels a firm substructure and accounts for their Hebraic vocabulary and word order. On the other hand, the interdependence of the Synoptic Gospels is fully maintained and explained.

Interesting questions remain. Can the Anthology be reconstructed? Why was the Anthology discarded by the post-apostolic church? If, however, the above analysis is correct, the derivation of most of Matthew and more than half of Luke from canonical Mark is probably the most serious error ever made in New Testament criticism. It has placed an unfair responsibility on Mark’s text, has created misunderstandings, and misled generations of scholars in their search for the “sources of the sources.” To a great extent these sources lie intact in the Synoptic Gospels and only await the correct application of literary tools, long recognized but insufficiently utilized.

  • [1] Cf. Otto A. Piper, “The Origin of the Gospel Pattern,” JBL 78 (1959): 115.
  • [2] The name given to a conjectured earlier edition of the Gospel of Mark.
  • [3] Rudolf Bultmann, Form Criticism: A New Method of New Testament Research (trans. F. C. Grant; Chicago, New York: Willett, Clark, 1934), 13-14.
  • [4] Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (London: Macmillan, 1955), 76-77.
  • [5] Adolf Harnack, The Sayings of Jesus: The Second Source of St. Matthew and St. Luke (trans. J. R. Wilkinson; London: Williams & Norgate, 1908).
  • [6] M stands for the source of Matthew’s unique material. Similarly, L stands for Luke’s unique material.
  • [7] Frederick C. Grant, The Gospels: Their Origin and Their Growth (New York, London: Harper, Faber & Faber, 1957), 50-51.
  • [8] Benjamin Wisner Bacon, The Beginnings of Gospel Story: A Historico-Critical Inquiry into the Sources and Structure of the Gospel According to Mark (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1909), xxi.
  • [9] On the Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly (Mark 4:26-29), see footnote 17 below.
  • [10] William Lockton, “The Origin of the Gospels,” Church Quarterly Review 94 (July 1922): 216-239 [Click here to read a reissue of Lockton’s article on]. Lockton derived Mark from Luke, Matthew from Mark and Luke, and disavowed the existence of Q. His three books should be carefully studied: The Resurrection and Other Gospel Narratives and The Narratives of the Virgin Birth (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1924); The Three Traditions in the Gospels (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1926); Certain Alleged Gospel Sources: A Study of Q, Proto-Luke and M (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1927).
  • [11] Lockton, “The Origin of the Gospels,” 220.
  • [12] Alan Hugh McNeille, An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament (2nd ed.; rev. by C. S. C. Williams; London: Oxford University Press, 1953), 66.
  • [13] Otto Piper, “The Origin of the Gospel Pattern,” 116.
  • [14] James Moffatt, An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (New York, Edinburgh: Scribner’s, T&T Clark, 1911), 195.
  • [15] Cf. G. D. Kilpatrick, The Origins of the Gospel According to St. Matthew (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946), 8-9. Kilpatrick’s examples of Matthean “rewriting” of Mark show Matthew using the more Hebraic text of the Anthology instead of Mark’s text.
  • [16] Cf. Jehoshua M. Grintz, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language in the Last Days of the Second Temple,” JBL 79.1 (March 1960): 32-47. Grintz, like many a Semitist before him, mistakenly concluded that Matthew represents an original translation of Hebrew material.
  • [17] For example, in his version of the Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly (Mark 4:26-29), Mark gave the Parable in sixty words, yet managed to include the Pauline-Lukan νύκτα καὶ ἡμέρα and the Lukan ὁ σπόρος.
  • [18] See J. Courtenay James, The Language of Palestine and Adjacent Regions (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1920), 244.
  • [19] Mark’s apparent mistranslation of the Hebraic “Boanerges” in Mark 3:17 is only one of several such indications. The Hebrew original must have been בְּנֵי רוֹגֶז ,בְּנֵי רֶגֶשׁ or בְּנֵי רַעַשׁ, none of which would bear the translation “sons of thunder.” If, on the other hand, Mark did know Hebrew, it is possible that his “sons of thunder” explanation of Boanerges is an attempt to heighten רַעַשׁ to רַעַם (thunder) due to the biblical connection of רַעַם and רַעַשׁ (cf. Isa. 29:6).
  • [20] Jehoshua Grintz, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language,” 32-47.
  • [21] Harris Birkeland, The Language of Jesus (Oslo: I kommisjon hos Jacob Dybwad, 1954), 40.
  • [22] Gustaf Dalman, The Words of Jesus Considered in the Light of Post-Biblical Jewish Writings and the Aramaic Language: I. Introduction and Fundamental Ideas (authorized English version by D. M. Kay of Die Worte Jesu; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1902), 62.
  • [23] Adolf Schlatter, Der Evangelist Matthäus (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1948), xi. Schlatter accepted the existence of an Ur-Marcus, which he called the grundtext (basic text).
  • [24] Cf. B. C. Butler’s frequent references to the work of Charles F. Burney in The Originality of St. Matthew: A Critique of the Two-Document Hypothesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951).
  • [25] Bacon, The Beginnings of Gospel Story, xix, xxvii-xxviii, 59, 89, 122-123.
  • [26] Mark 6:52 (“they had not understood about the loaves, their hearts were hardened”) and Mark 8:17 (“Why are you talking about bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?”)
  • [27] Pierson Parker, The Gospel Before Mark (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 160.
  • [28] Parker delineated his K much too mechanically: for Parker, whatever verbal agreement existed between Matthew and Mark was automatically K. Such agreement naturally includes Mark’s non-Hebraic constructions, some of which, like κηρύσσων τὀ εὐαγγέλιον, are Markan pick-ups from Paul, while others, like the elegen/elegon constructions, are taken from Luke. Parker’s supposition that the Matthean-Lukan agreement with Mark in story-order negates the probability that Luke used K to the exclusion of Mark simply shows that he was unable to conceive of any Synoptist using K plus another Synoptic Gospel.
  • [29] Wilhelm Bussmann, Synoptische Studien (3 vols.; Halle: Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses, 1925-1931).
  • [30] Cf. Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, 70-72. Taylor’s criticism number 3 that “many vivid details in Mark, names, numbers, and the like” (p. 71) are not likely to be redactional is completely unfounded.
  • [31] See, for example, William West Holdsworth, Gospel Origins: A Study in the Synoptic Problem (New York: Scribner’s, 1913), 10-11.
  • [32] Holdsworth, Gospel Origins, 108-109, 117-118, 169; Holdsworth, The Christ of the Gospels (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1911), 64-70.
  • [33] Adolf Harnack, The Sayings of Jesus.
  • [34] Gustaf Dalman, The Words of Jesus.
  • [35] Pierson Parker, The Gospel Before Mark, 87-115.
  • [36] An example of Mark’s double dependency may be seen in the Confession at Caesarea Philippi. With Luke, Mark omitted Jesus’ Hebraic answer to Peter (cf. Matt. 16:17-18), but he followed the Anthology against Luke by giving Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (Mark 8:32b-33).
  • [37] For example, Matt. 3:14-15; 16:17-18.
  • [38] The singular (ἔλεγεν) or plural (ἔλεγον) 3rd person, imperfect tense of the verb λέγειν appears in Mark in 2:16, 24, 27; 3:21, 22, 23, 30; 4:2, 9, 11, 21, 24, 26, 30, 41; 5:8, 28, 30, 31; 6:4, 10, 14, 15, 16, 18, 35; 7:9, 14, 20, 27; 8:21, 24; 9:1, 24, 31; 11:5, 17, 28; 12:35, 38; 14:2, 31, 36, 70; 15:12, 14, 31, 35; 16:3 (49 occurrences); Matthew 9:11, 21, 24, 34; 12:23; 14:4; 21:11; 26:5; 27:41, 47, 49 (11 occurrences); Luke 3:7, 11; 4:22; 5:36; 6:5, 20; 9:23, 31; 10:2; 13:6, 14, 18; 14:7, 12; 16:1, 5; 18:1; 21:10; 22:65; 23:34, 42; 24:10 (22 occurrences).
  • [39] However, only twice does Luke agree with Mark on the use of elegen (or elegon): in Mark 2:27 (= Luke 6:5; ἔλεγεν) and Mark 4:30 (= Luke 13:18; ἔλεγεν).
  • [40] Cf. John C. Hawkins, Horae synopticae: Contributions to the Study of the Synoptic Problem (2nd ed.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909), 12, 52. Hawkins gives the occurrences of this phrase as Luke 23, Matthew 10 and Mark 50.
  • [41] Matthew copied from Mark the elegen/elegon usage a total of 7 times: Matt. 9:11 coming from Mark 2:16; Matt. 9:21 from Mark 5:28; Matt. 9:34 from Mark 3:22; Matt. 14:4 from Mark 6:18; Matt. 26:5 from Mark 14:2; Matt. 27:41 from Mark 15:31; and Matt. 27:47 from Mark 15:35.
  • [42] Jewish usage would be “king,” as in Mark.
  • [43] The word order in both Matthew and Mark is fully Hebraic, but the priority of the verb in Mark is attractively idiomatic.
  • [44] Matthew introduced many of his quotations from Scripture with the formula, “this took place to fulfill what was spoken…” (e.g., Matt. 12:17-21; 13:14-15, 35; 21:4-5; 27:9-10).
  • [45] Capernaum is first mentioned in Mark at Mark 1:21, and first mentioned in Matthew at Matt. 4:13.
  • [46] In the New Testament, “Andrew” is mentioned in Matt. 4:18; 10:2; Mark 1:16, 29; 3:18; 13:3; Luke 6:14; John 1:40, 44; 6:8; 12:22; Acts 1:13.
  • [47] James Moffatt, An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, 223.
  • [48] Mark 6:1. Mark borrowed the noun πατρίς (patris) from Luke’s version of a proverb in Luke 4:24. In a medieval Hebrew document, זבח פסח לאברבנאל נד,ב; דוידזון 489, the proverb has been preserved as אֵין נָבִיא בְּעִירוֹ. The Anthology must have read οὐκ ἔστιν προφήτης ἐν τῇ πόλει αὐτοῦ and Luke (or the First Reconstruction, Luke’s second source) changed this to οὐδεὶς προφήτης δεκτός ἐστιν ἐν τῇ πατρίδι αὐτοῦ. Apparently, Luke found it hard to call Nazareth a πόλις, although in biblical Hebrew a town can be referred to as an עִיר (ir = LXX πόλις [polis, city, town]), e.g., Josh. 19:6; Ruth 3:15 (i.e., Bethlehem, a town).
  • [49] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15.

“It Is Said to the Elders”: On the Interpretation of the So-called Antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount deserves endless study,[1] and the more one studies ancient Jewish sources, the clearer the meaning of these words of Jesus becomes.

Even at first glance, Matthew 5:17-48, the core of the Sermon on the Mount, has a distinctly Jewish feel. On the surface, however, this sermon can give the dangerous and deceiving impression that it sharply opposes the spirit of Judaism. Some time ago a critic sent me his thesis in which he concluded that the only original material in this exegetical homily was its antitheses where Jesus highlights his unique approach by introducing his comments with, “But I tell you.” One New Testament commentary suggests that in this pericope Jesus is not contrasting his ethic with the interpretation of Scripture in his day, but with the Torah itself.[2] In this article I will attempt to treat this matter more carefully and fairly than many exegetes do when they analyze Jesus’ words.

“But I say to you!”

There exists a paradoxical contrast between the Jewish contents of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and its antithetic form.[3] The main reason for this is the repeated use of the phrase ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν (“But I say to you!”).[4] This phrase creates a sense of conflict between Jesus and Judaism because the pronoun ἐγὼ (“I”) at the opening of the phrase is unnecessary in Greek. It would have been sufficient simply to say λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν, since the speaker is already implied by the form of the verb. This is what we observe, for example, in Luke 6:27 where Jesus expresses the contrast between those addressed by his cries of woe (in vv. 24-26) and his listeners: Ἀλλὰ ὑμῖν λέγω τοῖς ἀκούουσιν (“But to you that listen, I say….”). Here we notice the personal pronoun is lacking. The presence of the first person pronoun in Matthew’s antithetical statements, therefore, must indicate emphasis. Matthew’s emphatic “But I say to you” gives the impression that Jesus’ message stands in contrast to the spirit of Judaism.

But the contrast is not merely between varying opinions or interpretations. Matthew’s use of ἐγὼ appears to put the focus on Jesus’ person and unique status. This impression is confirmed when we read, at the conclusion of the sermon, that Jesus “taught them as one having authority and unlike their scribes” (Matt. 7:29).[5] It is especially noteworthy, therefore, that the emphatic “I” is missing in the text of Luke, since this statement is paralleled in Matthew 5:44 where the emphatic use of the personal pronoun appears.[6] This fact raises the possibility that the presence of ἐγὼ in Matthew’s antitheses does not reflect the original form of Jesus’ statement, but is instead the result of the final editor’s redactive activity.[7] If this is the case, then the paradoxical tension between the Jewish content of Jesus’ sermon and its antithetical form disappears. The tension was artificially introduced by the final editor of Matthew, and was not originally part of Jesus’ message.

The Sadducees and the Abuse of Scripture

In my article on the Torah in the Sermon on the Mount (see note 1), I discussed Jesus’ use of the “exegetical homily.” In the antitheses Jesus employs the rabbinic rule of interpretation known in Hebrew as kal vahomer,[8] where one draws a logical deduction about a “heavier” (more important or more complex) situation from a “lighter” (less important or less complex) situation, or the other way around.[9] But the last two sections of this homily represent an exception. Instead of making a saying ethically sharper, Jesus states an objection to an inhumane interpretation of two biblical sayings. In both cases the Pharisaic scribes could not have been Jesus’ opponents.

In the first case (Matt. 5:38-42), Jesus objects to an overly literal understanding of Exodus 21:24 (“an eye for an eye”). According to Megillat Ta’anit, the Boethusians, an offshoot of the Sadducees, were remembered for brutally meting out the principle of “eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth” in a literal fashion.[10] The Pharisees, on the other hand, interpreted this principle as requiring the payment of damages equal to the harm caused by an injury. It therefore seems likely that Jesus directs his critique toward the Boethusian Sadducees in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount.[11]

A second case (Matt. 5:43-48) may also be directed against a Sadducean abuse of Scripture. Here Jesus objects to an abstruse paraphrase of the command to love one’s neighbor found in Leviticus 19:18. The Greek text of Matthew 5:43 reads, Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου καὶ μισήσεις τὸν ἐχθρόν σου (“You have heard that it was said: ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”) Such an inhuman perversion of the command to love is not to be found in the Hebrew Bible. Neither does it express the intention of the Jewish message; it rather represents a vulgar teaching of retaliation similar to the Sadducean application of Exodus 21:24 discussed above. How then did this coarse paraphrase of Leviticus 19:18 originate? Leviticus 19:18 only says, וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). In biblical Hebrew, however, the word רֵעַ (“neighbor”) also has the meaning “friend.” Thus, some understood the Hebrew verse to mean, “Love your friend and hate your enemy.” Had the translator of Matthew’s Hebrew source paid more attention to the point of Jesus’ critique, he would have translated רֵעַ as φίλος (“friend”) rather than πλησίον (“neighbor”) in Matthew 5:43. But evidently the translator recognized the allusion to Leviticus 19:18 and followed the Septuagint’s Greek translation without any serious reflection.

The idea that one should love one’s friend and hate one’s enemy is still with us today. It was a common ethical rule among the early Greeks. Socrates unsuccessfully opposed it. The closest parallel to the pseudo-quotation in Matthew 5:43 is a saying by the Greek Archilochos (650 B.C.E.): [ἐπ]ίσταμαί τοι τὸν φιλ[έο]ν[τα] μὲν φ[ι]λεῖν[, τὸ]ν δ᾽ ἐχθρὸν ἐχθαίρειν (“I know how to love the friend and hate the enemy”).[12] Although today the command to love the friend and hate the enemy seems non-Jewish, this understanding of Leviticus 19:18 does represent the exegetical method of some in those days. It was evidently a group of Sadducees whose vulgar and barbaric abuse of scripture Jesus disputed. These groups justified their ethic of retaliation by interpreting Leviticus 19:18 as though it said: “You shall love your friend as yourself. You shall love him who is close to you as your friend,” or more paraphrastically, “Treat the other as he treats you—the friend with love, the enemy with hate.”

“The Elders” and Pharisaic Interpretation of Scripture

Recently, the following theory has been postulated:[13] Since the antitheses stand in contrast to the Torah of Moses, we can understand this controversy without reference to contemporary Jewish sources. I must counter that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus explicitly mentions the opinion of the “elders” twice (Matt. 5:21, 33).

The first reference to the elders is especially important and instructive:[14] “You have heard that it was said to the elders: ‘You shall not murder! And anyone who murders must answer for it before the court’ (or, alternately: ‘will be subject to judgment’)” (Matt. 5:21). Jesus regarded this application of the commandment as unsatisfactory. Rather, he wished to apply this rule to the person who is angry with his brother. Similarly, we read in the Didache: “My child, flee from all evil and from everything like it. Do not be an angry person, for anger leads to murder…” (Did. 3:1-2). Jesus’ view, already current in Jewish circles, is thus an example of the refinement of the Torah’s commandments against the interpretive tradition of the “elders.”

With the aid of rabbinic sources the “elders” can be identified. In the time of Jesus, the ten commandments, or at least the instructions in Exodus 20:13, were understood to teach the basic prohibitions without giving specific penalties for their infringement. An early rabbinic commentary on Exodus 20:13 (“You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal”) states that this passage constitutes a general warning against these offenses:

You Must Not Murder. Why is this said? Because it says: “Whoever sheds human blood,” etc. (Gen. 9.6). We have thus heard the penalty [for murder] but we have not heard the prohibition; therefore it says here: “You must not murder.”[15]

Genesis 9:6 is interpreted the same way in the Targumim. Targum Onkelos to this Genesis passage runs:

Whoever sheds the blood of man—and this is confirmed by witnesses—is deemed guilty by the judges. And whoever sheds the blood of man without witnesses, the Lord himself will punish him at the last judgment.

Thus we see that with the support of Genesis 9:6 the warning against manslaughter was made into a general law: He who commits murder shall be deemed guilty and be punished by the court. Since this exegetical maneuver is presupposed in the Sermon on the Mount, we may conclude that the “elders” refers to the generations before the time of Jesus who had been instructed to apply the commandments in this manner. And we may further conclude that this approach was developed by Pharisaic interpreters since their exegetical method was preserved in later rabbinic literature.

Acanthus leaves flank a rosette pattern on a limestone block that once decorated the beautiful fourth-century synagogue of Capernaum. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.
Acanthus leaves flank a rosette pattern on a limestone block that once decorated the beautiful fourth-century synagogue of Capernaum. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

Jesus reacted against this Pharisaic approach to the commandments. Rather than seeking to define the prohibition and the penalty for murder, Jesus sought to expound the commandments in such a way as to prevent murder from happening, by rooting out the evil impulse from the human heart: “You have heard that it was said to the elders, ‘You must not murder, and anyone who does murder is subject to the court.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to the court. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ is subject to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says ‘You fool!’ is subject to the fire of Gehenna” (Matt. 5:21-22). In this respect Jesus shows himself to be close to the pious Jewish circles who produced the Two Ways, which was later incorporated into the Didache.[16] We can now see that Jesus’ critique in Matt. 5:21 is directed, not against the Torah itself, but against a particular exegetical approach to the commandments that was current among certain Pharisaic circles in his day.

The “elders” are, therefore, justifiably mentioned in Matthew 5:21. Does the same hold true for the second reference to “elders” in Matthew 5:33: “You have heard that it is said to the elders, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord’”? The quotation referred to in this antithesis is not a direct biblical quotation, but an amalgamation of biblical verses (cf. Ex. 20:7; Lev. 19:12). This fact in itself supports our supposition that Jesus is taking issue not with the Torah’s commandments but with their application by preceding generations of Pharisaic interpreters. In Matthew 5:33 the elders maintain that everyone must keep their oaths, that no one should make false oaths. The saying of the elders, therefore, appears to be a traditional halakhic prohibition directed against making an oath hastily.[17] In contrast, Jesus—like the Essenes (Josephus, Antiq. 2:195)—held that one should never utter an oath of any kind because this so easily leads to a false oath. Jesus’ ruling is consequently a sharpening of the Torah’s commandment. It neither abolishes the opinion of the elders cited by Jesus, nor the biblical commandment itself.


The fact that the “elders” are mentioned only in Matthew 5:21 and 33 points to the reliability of what is transmitted since the interpretations Jesus attributes to them are attested in later rabbinic literature. Nevertheless, redactional changes in the text are not excluded. Indeed, the opposite occurs, since the difficult phrase, “You have heard that it is said to the elders” (which is incomprehensible in its Hebrew context) can hardly be original. But because the word “elders” correctly appears in both of the above cases it is still possible to recover its original meaning. The usual translation, “You have heard that it is said by the elders” cannot be correct, whether from the standpoint of content, or from a linguistic point of view.[18] If by “elders,” Moses or his contemporaries or the rabbis were intended, then Matthew would have expressed this explicitly.

One may, therefore, suppose that this phrase in Matthew 5:21 and 33 originated through combining two previously independent formulas, namely the quotation formula “It is said” and the introductory formula “You have heard from the elders.”[19] In rabbinic literature, “It is said” is the most commonly used formula to introduce a quotation from the Hebrew Bible.[20] The formula “It is said” is likewise placed before biblical quotations in Matthew 5:27, 31, 38, 43. The “elders” would in those places be a disturbing element, since here Jesus is citing scripture and not a traditional halakhic interpretation.[21]

In Matthew 5:21 and 33, however, Jesus is not directly quoting scripture, but makes reference to Pharisaic interpretations taught to earlier generations. Mention of the “elders” in these verses is therefore warranted. As we have said, the original form may have been, “You have heard from the elders.” In any case, the mention of the elders confirms our contention that the antitheses are not directed against the commandments themselves, but against the explanation and application of these verses that were developed and taught by certain Pharisaic sages.[22]

Concerning the formula, “But I say unto you,” we have seen (especially from the context of Luke 6:27) that the original formula was not so emphatic or antithetic as Matthew’s version suggests.

This article is an emendation and updating by Joshua N. Tilton of David Flusser, “‘It Is Said to the Elders’: On the Interpretation of the So-called Antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount,” Mishkhan 17-18 (1992-1993): 115-119.

  • [1] Cf. inter alia David Flusser, “Die Tora in der Bergpredigt,” in Juden und Christen lesen dieselbe Bibel (ed. Heinz Kremers; Duisburg: Braun, 1973), 102-113; idem, “A Rabbinic Parallel to the Sermon on the Mount,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 494-508.
  • [2] W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 505-509.
  • [3] By antithesis we mean an opposite or contradictory statement. We say that the Sermon on the Mount has an antithetical form because Jesus draws a contrast between his interpretations that ‘establish’ or correctly apply Torah, versus faulty interpretations that tend to weaken or ‘abolish’ Torah.
  • [4] Matt. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44; 16:18; Luke 11:9; 16:9; as well as Matt. 21:27 (= Mark 11:33; Luke 20:8), have nothing to do with our subject.
  • [5] This concluding remark is indicative of Matthew’s editorial activity. The final editor of Matthew has taken this sentence from its original context in the story of the exorcism at the Capernaum Synagogue (Luke 4:31-37 = Mark 1:21-28) in order to use it as his final comment on the Sermon on the Mount. On this unfortunate tendency in Matthew’s final redaction, see David Flusser, “The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels,” in Jesus’ Last Week (ed. R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 23, 36; idem, Jesus (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2001), 249.
  • [6] The same “I” is also missing in the Sermon of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:9 = Luke 3:8) and even in Matthew 5:20.
  • [7] See Huub van de Sandt and David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its place in Early Judaism and Christianity (CRINT III.5; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 213 n. 63.
  • [8] Wilhelm Bacher, Die exegetische Terminologie der jüdischen Traditionsliteratur (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1905), 1:172-174; 2:189-190.
  • [9] The kal vahomer style of reasoning in Matt. 5:21-37 becomes clear when the Sermon on the Mount is compared with the Jewish Two Ways, which was incorporated into the Didache. See Flusser, “A Rabbinic Parallel to the Sermon on the Mount,” 496-498; van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 232.
  • [10] The Scholion to the 4th (14th) of Tammuz explains: ועוד שהיו ביתוסין אומר, עין תחת עין, שן תחת שן—הפיל אדם שנו של חברו יפיל את שנו, סמא את עינו של חברו יסמא את עינו יהו שוים כאחד (And additionally, the Boethusians used to say: ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’–if someone knocked out his fellow’s tooth, he shall knock out his tooth; if someone blinded his fellow’s eye, he shall blind his eye, and they will be equal).
  • [11] See “Die Tora in der Bergpredigt,” (note 1 above) 103, n. 2; and van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 208 n. 44.
  • [12] Archilochos Pap. Ox. 22, 2310 in Albrecht Dihle, Die Goldene Regel (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962), 32-33. The coarse ethic can also be documented in the early period of ancient Israel. When David mourned over his son Absalom, Joab walked into the house of the king and reproached David because he had dishonoured those who had saved his life: “You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you” (2 Sam. 19:7 MT [19:6 ET]). The Qumranic parallel to Matt. 5:43 is: לאהוב כול בני אור… ולשנוא כול בני חושך (“To love all the Sons of Light… and to hate all the Sons of Darkness”) (1QS I, 9-11; cf. also Josephus, Bell. 2.139). This sentiment has another presupposition, the ethical dualism of the Essenes, according to which the entire world is believed to be divided into black and white, good and evil, those God loves and those he hates.
  • [13] See note 2.
  • [14] For this insight I thank my student Serge Ruzer. See Serge Ruzer, “The Technique of Composite Citation in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21-22, 33-37),” RB 103.1 (1996): 65-75; and idem, “Antitheses in Matthew 5: Midrashic Aspects of Exegetical Techniques,” in Mapping the New Testament: Early Christian Writings as a Witness for Jewish Biblical Exegesis (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 11-34. To Matt. 5:21, see especially Martin McNamara, The New Testament and the Palestine Targum of the Pentateuch, Analecta Biblica 27 (Rome: 1966), 126-131.
  • [15] Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael to Exod. 20:13 (ed. S. H. Horovitz and I. A. Rabin; Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1970), 232. Translation based on that of Jacob Z. Lauterbach, Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael (Philadelphia: JPS, 2004), 2:333.
  • [16] See van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 193-237.
  • [17] See van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 196 n. 8, 211.
  • [18] The Greek phrase, Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, is literally “to the elders” or “to the ancient ones.”
  • [19] See van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 209-212.
  • [20] See Mekhilta to Exod. 20:13 (ed. S. H. Horovitz and I. A. Rabin; Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1970), 232-233.
  • [21] See W. Bacher, Die exegetische Terminologie, 1:6; 2:11-12. Bacher (1:6, n. 1) understood that this rabbinic formula is reflected in our passages.
  • [22] See van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 213-214.

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].

“Verily” or “Amen”—What Did Jesus Say?

In translating the Greek texts of the Gospels into Hebrew, Dr. Lindsey found that many passages could be rendered literally with almost no change of word order. The result was a Hebrew version that often sheds fascinating light on the meaning of Jesus’ words, so much so that Lindsey came to believe the Greek sources Matthew, Mark and Luke used were rendered very literally from Hebrew originals. This Hebraic perspective sometimes explains Gospel passages that have long been considered difficult or ambiguous. In the following article,Lindsey presents one example of what has been considered a uniquely idiosyncratic expression of Jesus, but which a Hebraic perspective reveals to be a familiar phrase from the Scriptures.

Every reader of the Gospels knows the phrase, “Verily, I say unto you,” or “Verily, verily, I say unto you.”[1] According to the standard English translations of the Old and New Testaments, it seems that Jesus alone used such a preamble. Most Christians, long accustomed to such expressions in the Bible, take it for granted that “Jesus talked that way.”

What struck me first about “Verily I say unto you”[2] was that the Greek text simply transliterated the Hebrew amen for “verily.”[3] That in itself is not altogether surprising, for elsewhere in the New Testament, notably in the epistles of Paul, amēn often comes at the end of an expression of praise to God. Paul speaks of God as the Creator “who is blessed forever! Amen!” (Rom. 1:25), and exclaims “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever! Amen!” (1 Tim. 1:17). Honorific amēn responses also appear several times in the Book of Revelation. All of this is in perfect accord with occasional Old Testament usage[4] and with present-day practice in synagogues and churches.[5]

Puzzling to me, however, was that amēn came at the beginning of something that Jesus was quoted as saying. There are no other instances in the New or Old Testaments of a statement beginning, “Amen, I say to you.” In Hebrew literature ’āmēn is always a response. For example, the Psalmist writes, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! ’āmēn and ’āmēn” (Ps. 41:14). In Numbers 5:22 one reads that before the priest gave her the “bitter water,” a wife suspected of infidelity had to listen to his words and respond, “Amēn, amēn.”[6] Again and again we hear the phrase, “And the people all said, ‘Amen'” (Deut. 27:16-26). Amen is used exclusively in biblical literature as a response—except for Jesus’ mode: “Amēn, I say to you.”

Many commentators have noted the uniqueness of Jesus’ use of amēn. The first writer to allude to this is the author of Revelation who uses “Amēn” to identify the resurrected and ascended Jesus: “These things says the Amen” (Rev. 3:14). It would appear that the revelator felt a poetic license to use this appellative because Jesus is so often quoted in the Gospels as using amēn. Although not wholly comfortable with the oddity of the locution, modern writers have accepted that the words “Amen, I say to you” were as unique as Jesus himself. One scholar has popularized the idea that, since the phrase is too unusual to have been invented and put into the mouth of Jesus, most sayings beginning with “Amen…” are sure evidence that we are reading his [Jesus’] ipsissima verba.[7]

More recently, scholars have come increasingly to suppose that the Gospels are mainly a collection of late, re-edited sayings that were greatly changed from their original form before final redaction towards the end of the first century. Hence, they have aired the notion that the phrase is a convenient formula under which many invented sayings of Jesus were collected to preserve their authority.[8] I am unable to accept any of these suggestions. If it is possible in many cases to get back to a Hebrew original of Jesus’ words simply by finding the right Hebrew equivalents to a Greek passage and by putting them down in the order of the Greek text, one cannot speak of a long period in which our Gospel stories and sayings took form at the demand of a Greek-speaking church.

Theoretically, the “Amen, I tell you” formula may be as fully original as the Hebraic “behold” and “eat and drink” idioms so common in Jesus’ speech. Nor would it be strange if the earliest translators of the Hebrew Life of Jesus simply transliterated ’āmēn as they wrote down their Greek text. The word γέεννα (geena, “gehenna,” “hell”), used throughout the Gospels, from the Hebrew גֵּיא בֶן־הִנֹּם (gē’ ben hinom, “Valley of Ben-hinnom”), is clearly such a case.

Assuming, then, that Jesus did use amēn frequently, why should he have used it unidiomatically? We may concede that even the Gospel writers felt that the phrase was unusual and either, as in Luke, preferred to omit the offending amēn, or, as probably in Mark, inserted it in some sayings in the editorial process just because it was unusual. But to find Jesus deliberately reversing its position in speech, even when he seems to be speaking an otherwise normal Hebrew, strains the imagination.

Checking all the appearances of amēn in the Septuagint, it is interesting to note that whereas in the earlier portions of the Hebrew Scriptures the Jewish translators had attempted to give a Greek equivalent for ’āmēn,[9] in the later portions they chose to transliterate the Hebrew אָמֵן (’āmēn) as ἀμήν (amēn). This offers a precedent for the retention of amēn in the Greek texts of the Gospels. The translators of the original Hebrew texts of the Life of Jesus may well have followed suit.

The same variation is visible in the Gospel of Luke, where the author uses “Amen, I say to you” six times, but three times writes ἀληθῶς λέγω ὑμῖν (alēthōs legō hūmin, truly I say to you; Luke 9:27; 12:44; 21:3).[10] Matthew, in his general parallel to seven of the eleven passages in which Luke writes only “I say to you,” has in each, “Amen, I say to you” (Matt. 5:26; 8:10; 10:15; 11:11; 13:17; 16:28; 23:36). Since it seems certain that Matthew and Luke independently used at least one common literary source, and since Matthew produces the amēn formula more than thirty times, it is a good guess that the Greek texts standing behind the Gospels preserved the expression “Amen, I say to you” over forty times.

Turning, then, to an analysis of each use of amēn in the Gospels, a first impression is that the “Amen, I say to you” phrase has a kindred one: “I say to you” or “But I say to you.” Matthew and Luke join in reporting that Jesus said concerning John the Baptist, “But what did you go to see, a prophet? Ah yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet” (Matt. 2:9, Luke 7:26). Here, “I tell you” is the same in Greek as “I say to you,” and there is no suggestion of amēn in either Gospel. There are many such “I tell you” or “I say to you” sayings in the Gospels.

Parallels to the expression “And I say” and “But I say” have been found in rabbinic literature.[11] In these rabbinic contexts a statement attributed to another rabbi will often be contrasted with one introduced by “But I say” or “And I say.” However, there does not appear to be a rabbinic parallel to “Amen, I say to you.”

Perhaps more decisive as a clue is that both “I say to you” and “Amēn, I say to you” regularly occur in the Gospels not at the beginning of a saying, but in the middle of an extended series of sentences. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, Jesus says that the “sons of this age are wiser than the sons of light,” and adds, “and I say to you, make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness” (Luke 16:9). In a short saying, Jesus states: “See that you look not down on one of these little ones. I tell you that their angels in heaven do always behold the face of my father” (Matt. 18:10). “Blessed are those servants,” says Jesus, “who stand watching when their Lord comes.” Then he adds, “Amen, I say to you that he shall gird himself up and then go about serving them” (Luke 12:37). In these and many other examples, “I say to you” and “Amen, I say to you” both serve the purpose of providing a speech formula by which an additional emphasis or piece of information can be joined to an earlier statement.

Is there, in fact, any difference in the function of these outwardly different expressions? After all, if one removes the amen from the one phrase, one has exactly the same words as are found in the other: “I say to you.” Patently, the amēn either acts like the adverb “truly” to strengthen “I say to you,” or somehow stands on its own and is unlinked syntactically to “I say to you.” It is clear that Luke, at least, has decided that the first possibility is the more likely and therefore has not hesitated at times to use alēthōs (truly) in place of amēn.

But the second possibility also exists, particularly if there is good reason to think that the appearance of amen in the Greek texts is an untranslated Hebraism that was retained because it had become popular and understandable in Greek-speaking synagogues and churches. In other words, it is possible that we should read amēn as the response that it normally is, and separate it from “I say to you” by placing a period after it.

My search for clues to explain the amēn formula led me to conjecture that amēn was indeed a response. I observed that its normal position was not at the beginning of a saying, but after a strong statement, and that the following “I say to you” introduced an additional sentence of emphasis and confirmation. The amēn seemed, therefore, to be a way of reinforcing the original affirmation, and “I tell you” added a further point of stress. After some study I saw that the amēn occurrences normally show the following pattern:

  • Strong statement
  • Amēn
  • Confirming statement

This pattern is particularly evident in Jesus’ μακάριοι (makarioi, “blessed”) sayings:

Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Amen! I tell you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see and to hear what you hear and did not hear it. (Matt. 13:16-17)

Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Amen! I tell you, he will set him over all his possessions. (Matt. 24:46)

Blessed are those servants whom the Lord shall find them watching. Amen! I tell you that he will gird himself and have them recline and will come and serve them. (Luke 12:37)

These are undoubted examples of the “Strong statement…Amen…confirming statement” pattern, and the use of the Hebraic makarios almost as an expletive underlines the claim that a strong affirmation introduces the formula.

In more than one example, another speaker makes a strong affirmation and Jesus responds with “Amen!” going on to add, “I tell you.” Matthew (21:28-32) recounts the story of two sons, one of whom tells his father that he will not do something the father had requested, but eventually does it, while the other says he will obey his father, but then does not. Jesus asks, “Which of the two did the father’s will?” The listeners answer, “The first,” to which Jesus replies, “Amen! I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes enter into the kingdom of God before you.”[12] The explanation that “Amen” appears here as a response is very convincing. If there were no “Amen,” and “I tell you” were used alone, it would hardly be so. By saying “Amen!” Jesus responds like the conversationalist and teacher that he was.

On one occasion, “Amen” appears as the reaction to an impressive event. In the story of the Widow’s Mite, Luke 21:1-4 describes Jesus watching with his disciples near the treasury bin in the Temple as the affluent pass by to make their gifts. A widow drops in her “mite,” and Luke simply records Jesus’ response: “Truly I say to you, this widow has put in more than all the rest, for all of these have contributed out of plenty, but she out of poverty.” The original response must have been, “Amen! I tell you that she has given more than all the rest….”

In light of this illustration, we should widen our pattern of the amēns of Jesus. There is no conversation between the widow and Jesus, and Jesus prefaces his “Amen” not with strong words, but with an account of something seen. The pattern becomes:

  • Strong statement or significant action
  • Amēn
  • Confirming statement

Almost every utterance of amēn in Jesus’ sayings will be found to conform to this pattern. All the Lukan and most of the Matthean instances fit. Two or three instances in the Gospel of Mark are without an introductory statement, and Matthew usually follows Mark on these. This is probably because Mark is freer toward his texts and Matthew tends to copy Mark even when his parallel source disagrees textually.[13]

An ironic use of this formula is found twice in Matthew (Matt. 6:2, 5). The Matthean examples are connected to the phrase “they have their reward.” In the first, Jesus teaches how one should not give alms: “Do not be like the hypocrites, sounding a trumpet in front of you so men will praise you.” Then comes “Amen,” and Jesus adds, “I tell you, they have their reward.” In the second, Jesus warns his hearers not to pray like the hypocrites “on the corners of the streets, so they will be seen by men.” Once more, Jesus follows this statement with “Amen” and “I tell you, they have their reward.”

To think that Jesus would have used this strong “Amen” almost in mockery seems at first somewhat curious. It could be argued that Matthew added “Amen” to “I tell you” by analogy, but in Luke 4:16-30 we find a remarkable episode in which the ironic nuance can scarcely be absent. It is possible that this instance, generally called the Lukan story of the rejection in Nazareth, provides the final clue to the origin of Jesus’ use of the “Amen” pattern. It is also a superb example of Hebrew narrative. As so often in Luke, a literal translation of the Greek text into Hebrew yields a passage brimful of Hebrew idioms, proverbs and patterns of thought.

The episode appears as the first event in Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and there is good reason to suppose that Luke placed it where he did as an introduction to the teaching of Jesus concerning his entire mission. Jesus comes to Nazareth and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He is given the scroll of Isaiah and reads from it:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…. (Isa. 61:1-2)

From rabbinic sources we know that this verse was considered a prophecy of the coming Son of David because of its use of the word מָשִׁיחַ (māshiaḥ, anointed). It was a bold claim when Jesus announced to his listeners that the prophecy had been “fulfilled today in your ears.” Little more of what he said about himself is narrated, but the crowd is said to marvel “at the words of grace that proceeded from his mouth.” At the same time, the crowd appears to be more intrigued than affected, and the people remark that Jesus is, “after all, just Joseph’s son.”

Jesus retorts, “You will doubtless quote me the parable, ‘Physician, heal yourself. What we heard you have been doing in Capernaum, do here too.'” Then he says, “Amen! I tell you, no man is a prophet in his own town.” He ends by suggesting that, just as Elijah and Elisha worked miracles of healing and feeding for outsiders only, so his own miracles would be limited to the people beyond the confines of his own village.

As in so many stories in the Gospels, Jesus’ preoccupation with the writings and works of the Old Testament prophets is striking, and it is perhaps not astonishing to find a parallel to his way of speaking in an incident in the twenty-eighth chapter of Jeremiah. In verses 1-11 we learn that the prophet Hananiah of Gibeon appeared before Jeremiah and “the priests and all the people” and dramatically declared that the recently exiled Judaeans, together with the captured vessels of the Temple, would soon be sent back to Jerusalem. Such a promise ran contrary to the message of Jeremiah who answered, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord make the words you have promised come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord and all the exiles.” Jeremiah then corrects Hananiah’s false prophecy by using the phrase, “But hear the words I speak in your ears.”

The parallels are too close to be accidental. Jeremiah talks “in the ears” of the people; Jesus says the Scripture is fulfilled “in your ears.” Jeremiah says “Amen” to a prophecy that he wishes would come true, but knows will not; Jesus can say “Amen” to a hope of the working of miracles in Nazareth although he knows that he must deny it. Jeremiah counters the words of the false prophet with his own “I speak”; Jesus counters the false hopes of the inquisitive with his own “I tell you.” The ironic use of “Amen” by both suggests that Jesus deliberately adopted the pattern of “Amen” and “I tell you” from the remarkably similar speech pattern of Jeremiah.

I suggest, therefore, that the word amēn, which appears repeatedly in the Greek texts of the Gospels, is a transliterated Hebrew expression used by Jesus as a response, and that the “I tell you” which invariably follows was added by Jesus to introduce a new affirmation designed to strengthen the original purpose for which the amēn was uttered. The contention that Jesus used “Amen, I say to you” as a phrase characterized by an adverbial amēn is untenable. Rather, when he said “Amen!” and added “I tell you,” Jesus was adopting a prophetic speech model of the prophet Jeremiah, and we may infer that Jesus wished his adherents and listeners to understand that this device of speech matched his prophetic career and messianic claims.

*This article, originally published in the defunct Christian News from Israel 25.3 (1975): 144-8, has been here emended and updated by David N. Bivin, Joshua N. Tilton and Lauren S. Asperschlager. For a discussion of Lindsey’s article, see David N. Bivin, “Jesus’ Use of ‘Amen’: Introduction or Response?

  • [1] The latter phrase appears only in the Gospel of John, e.g., John 1:51; 3:3, 5.
  • [2] This is the KJV’s rendition of ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν (amēn legō hūmin, lit., “Amēn, I say to you”). The RSV renders the phrase, “Truly, I say to you.” The NIV renders it, “I tell you the truth,” while the NKJV translates, “Assuredly, I say to you.” The expression appears twenty-six times in Matt., eleven times in Mark and six times in Luke (Luke 4:24; 12:37; 18:17, 29; 21:32; 23:43 [ἀμὴν σοι λέγω, amēn soi legō]). In John we always find the amen doubled in this expression, that is, “Amen, amen, I say to you” (20 times).
  • [3] The Hebrew word אָמֵן (’āmēn, “surely”) was transliterated to Greek as ἀμήν (amēn), rather than being translated.
  • [4] For example, Deut. 27:15 and 1 Chron. 16:36.
  • [5] Perhaps amēn entered the early Greek-speaking congregations mainly on account of a predilection to keep liturgical words alive even when transferring material from one language to another.
  • [6] This is a good example of amen’s meaning. The NIV renders, “So be it.”
  • [7] Joachim Jeremias, Neutestamentliche Theologie (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus G. Mohn, 1971), 43-44.
  • [8] Cf. Victor Hasler, Amen: Redaktionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung zur Einfürungsformel der Herrenworte “Wahrlich ich sage euch” (Zürich; Stuttgart: Gotthelf-Verlag, 1969), 177ff., in particular.
  • [9] Often γένοιτο (genoito, “let it be so”; Deut. 27:15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26; 1 Kgs. 1:36; Jer. 11:5; twice ἀληθινόν (alēthinon, true; Isa. 65:16); once ἀληθῶς (alethos, truly; Jer. 35:6).
  • [10] In addition, the author of Luke once writes, ναὶ λέγω ὑμῖν (ναι legō hūmin, “yes, I say to you”; Luke 11:51). Mark gives amen in each of his parallels to Luke’s alēthōs (Mark 9:1; 12:43).
  • [11] See Morton Smith, Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels, Journal of Biblical Literature Monograph Series, vol. 6 (Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1951), 27-30.
  • [12] For two additional examples of “Amen!” plus strong affirmation in a response by Jesus, see Luke 18:29 and 23:43.
  • [13] In John, the formula has been extended to “Amen, amen,” and amēn is clearly thought of as adverbial, the repetition being a means of dramatizing. The fact that in John no introductory statement or action is necessary exemplifies that author’s method of picking out a synoptic literary device and enlarging its use without preserving original contexts.