Friday, October 27, 2006


Jesus' Self-Understanding

I have been desiring to blog about this matter for a while, but the complexity of such a delicate topic always stopped me from doing that. Not that things have magically become simpler now, but - as a book I recently read has it - writing is an excellent way to put ideas at work. And indeed, it is by writing posts for this blog that many times I have been able to focus issues a bit better, to investigate paths that without the (self-imposed) "need" to write and put things down as clearly as possible I would have hardly considered, and to receive valuable feedback that has shaped my readings and understandings.

On with the post, then. By the way, I have written, erased and re-written it more than a few times in the past weeks, and will probably modify it again in the near future.

I shall consider here Jesus' self-understanding. How did Jesus understand himself and his role?

First of all, a brief note on why this issue is of key theological importance. In short, the issue matters because if Jesus' self-understanding can be shown to be substantially different from what Christology describes him to be, then it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Christology itself is nothing but a gross misunderstanding. If Christ is not the first and best Christologian, Christianity could at best be described as a human, unfounded, erroneous, self-deceptive interpretation of irrelevant events; at worst, as a (perhaps conscious) attempt to create and sustain power structures that have in reality nothing to do with the man and the events they are supposedly based upon.

Unless otherwise noted, all English biblical translations are from the ESV; Josephus' English translations are by W. Whiston.

Several times I have heard or read that Jesus was identified by his contemporaries as "the Messiah that was expected in Late Second Temple times". While this is possible, the statement needs at least some explanation. Let's start with this quote:
There was certainly occasion for the memory of popularly elected kings to be revived in late Second Temple times when the Romans conquered Palestine and particularly when they imposed the tyrannical Herod as king. The Idumean strongman conquered the people with the aid of Roman legions, then taxed them heavily to support his lavish Hellenistic-style monarchy. As noted above, there is little by way of literary evidence for any longing for a messiah among the literate groups. But it would not be surprising if the ordinary people (who left no literary remains), suffering under an illegitimate and oppressive king installed by an alien imperial power, had been eager for an “anointed” king from their own ranks, like Saul or David of old. (R.A. Horsley, Messianic Movements in Judaism, from Freedman, David Noel, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York: Doubleday 1997, 1992 - henceforth ABD)
And actually, "Information to be gleaned from Josephus on certain aspects of these “kings” fits well with the interpretation of the biblical tradition concerning the popular “anointing” of kings. [...] The heads of the movements that arose at the death of Herod were all of humble origins." (ditto)

Now let's read some excerpts from Josephus' Antiquities:
Now at this time there were ten thousand other disorders in Judea, which were like tumults, because a great number put themselves into a warlike posture, either out of hopes of gain to themselves, or out of enmity to the Jews. [...]
There was also Judas, the son of that Ezekias who had been head of the robbers; which Ezekias was a very strong man, and had with great dificulty been caught by Herod. This Judas, having gotten together a multitude of men of a profligate character about Sepphoris in Galilee, made an assault upon the palace [there,] and seized upon all the weapons that were laid up in it, and with them armed every one of those that were with him, and carried away what money was left there; and he became terrible to all men, by tearing and rending those that came near him; and all this in order to raise himself, and out of an ambitious desire of the royal dignity; and he hoped to obtain that as the reward not of his virtuous skill in war, but of his extravagance in doing injuries. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17.10.4-5)
There are a few points that are worth noting here.

First, it is difficult to exactly determine who the historical characters at play really were. For example, Judas was an extremely common name; Josephus himself mentions three rebels called Judas within ten years; Acts 5:36-37 also mention some Theudas and Judas:
For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. (Acts 5:36-37)
but it is difficult to be more precise and, by the way, reconcile Josephus with Acts from an historical point of view.

Second, there was apparently a substantial amount of (maybe individually small) rebellious movements. Gamaliel, in Acts 5:35-39 (see above), is also a witness to the widespread existence of these movements, and "Christians" are considered by him (he was a Pharisee, "teacher of the law esteemed by all the people", νομοδιδάσκαλος τίμιος παντὶ τῷ λαῷ; he is also quoted in the Mishnah, where it is said that "when he died the glory of the Torah ended") as belonging to one of them. Interestingly, and perhaps not too surprisingly, Josephus says that Judas focused, both in recruiting adepts and in his military pursuits, around Sepphoris, which was one of the two sizeable cities in Galilee - the other being Tiberias. Interestingly, I say, because Jesus, on the other hand, seems to carefully avoid either of these two centers of power. I'll return to this point.

Third, Judas became the leader of a movement "in order to raise himself, and out of an ambitious desire of the royal dignity." (in order "to be somebody", as Acts put it.) This "messianic" desire was apparently common enough: Josephus goes on to speak of a Simon,
who had been a slave of Herod the king, but in other respects a comely person, of a tall and robust body; he was one that was much superior to others of his order, and had had great things committed to his care. This man was elevated at the disorderly state of things, and was so bold as to put a diadem on his head, while a certain number of the people stood by him, and by them he was declared to be a king, and thought himself more worthy of that dignity than any one else. [...] The royal palace also at Amathus, by the river Jordan, was burnt down by a party of men that were got together, as were those belonging to Simon. And thus did a great and wild fury spread itself over the nation, because they had no king to keep the multitude in good order, and because those foreigners who came to reduce the seditious to sobriety did, on the contrary, set them more in a flame, because of the injuries they offered them, and the avaricious management of their affairs. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17.10.6)
Amathus is described by Josephus in Wars of the Jews 1.4.2 as "the strongest of all the fortresses that were about Jordan", where "the most precious of all the possessions of Theodorus, the son of Zeno" could be found, in a passage recounting the wars of the Jewish king Alexander Jannaeus (104-78 BCE). About this Alexander Jannaeus, of the Hasmonean dinasty, I'd like to add that he is often said to have led "a fanatical war to impose Jewish customs and to annihilate Hellenistic culture" (so for example the ABD in Decapolis, by J.-P. Rey-Coquais), but it looks more like his wars were prompted by political rather than religious considerations.

What is of note here is the emphasis on the physical appearances of the would-be kings, an emphasis stressing the fact that the kingdom these people were struggling for was a kingdom of power. This is all made very clear once again by Josephus:
But because Athronges, a person neither eminent by the dignity of his progenitors, nor for any great wealth he was possessed of, but one that had in all respects been a shepherd only, and was not known by any body; yet because he was a tall man, and excelled others in the strength of his hands, he was so bold as to set up for king. This man thought it so sweet a thing to do more than ordinary injuries to others, that although he should be killed, he did not much care if he lost his life in so great a design. He had also four brethren, who were tall men themselves, and were believed to be superior to others in the strength of their hands, and thereby were encouraged to aim at great things, and thought that strength of theirs would support them in retaining the kingdom. Each of these ruled over a band of men of their own; for those that got together to them were very numerous. [...] And this man retained his power a great while; he was also called king, and had nothing to hinder him from doing what he pleased. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17.10.7)
While there was probably no direct connection between the "messianic" movements descrived by Josephus in Ant. 17.10 and the movement started by Jesus some decades later, it is entirely possible and even likely that the memory of previous political attempts at liberation from the Roman oppressor, and the memory of people wishing to be "kings", was still present in the minds of the people of Galilee. Even if some of the movements were individually small, still it appears clear from Josephus that Varus had to lead a Roman army of non-negligeable size to reconquer the areas that were occupied by them. Now, for what regards my use of the term "messianic movements" above, let's recall that Messiah derives from the Hebrew masiah, meaning "anointed", and biblically this anointment was typically applied to kings, specifically of Davidic descent (but Cyrus was also described as "anointed"). The use of the term Messiah to identify a priest (who would rise alongside the Davidic Messiah, hence the question of the "two Messiah") is apparently first found at Qumran. Anyway, note that Athronges was a shepherd, not known by anybody, like David.

Now, even if (I shall clarify this "if" soon) Jesus himself did not subscribe to a "political liberation agenda", still I would say that he "had to have in mind" that the kind of background I have described above was present into the minds of his audience (plus, that background was also into his own mind). The words "had to have in mind" may seem an unusual or even inappropriate way of dealing with the "inherent freedom of the Son of God" to people used to approach Jesus mostly from the viewpoint of his divine nature, but is a logical statement if we wish to maintain that he was fully a man, and a man of his time. Let me repeat: an important point to make is that Jesus, regardless of how he considered himself and his role, had to have in mind that others would have considered him a political, perhaps a nationalistic, leader. The NT confirms that this is what seems to have happened: take for example the incident at Emmaus, Lk 24:21, "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel". Outside the NT, the Slavonic version of Josephus' Wars of the Jews provides further confirmation:
And many of the multitude followed after him and hearkened to his teaching; and many souls were in commotion, thinking that thereby the Jewish tribes might free themselves from Roman hands. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Slavonic version, passage 12, between W.J. 2.174 and 2.175, translated by H. Thackeray - quoted in J. Taylor, Where did Christianity come from?, 2001, p.175)
But if this is the case, then interesting questions about Jesus' psychological attitude arise. If you talk to people, and want to communicate something to them, wouldn't you act differently, depending on whether you know your audience's background or not? Surely the way you communicate any message is not neutral, but depends on your audience and in particular on the knowledge you have of your audience. And Jesus was apparently fairly convincing with his first disciples, which at least means that he was able to communicate his message effectively -- i.e. using categories and ideas that were not too alien to them.

Whether we believe that Jesus had a special status (he was the Son of God) or not (he was one of - for example - the many people heading some sort of revolutionary movement), it seems that he was somewhat compelled to take part of the history and psychology of his fellow countrymen. In particular, to state something that should be obvious, in his teaching he did not (better perhaps to use a stronger term: could not, and this could not holds in both cases: whether we wish to underline his divine, or his human nature) use the categories that were developed in the following centuries like, for example, the definitions crystallized in the Chalcedonian statements. But now a pressing question is this: would Jesus see himself reflected in those definitions? If we say "no", then we are saying that Christology is in itself a (fairly elaborate) construction which is independent from Christ. If we say "yes", then we need to show how a "high Christology" a' la Chalcedon can be correlated to how Jesus saw and presented himself. I plan to return to this point in a future post. For the time being, let's stick to the theme of how Jesus saw himself.

Like Jesus, the first disciples were men of their time and, judging by what we can read in the NT, they were also of different education and social extraction (cf. Mk 1:16-20; 2:13-14). This is consistent with the fact that, differently from the customs of scribes and Pharisees (and Essenes, for that matters), in his teachings, or actions, or however we want to call his praxis in general, Jesus targetted not a particular audience, specialists or to-be specialists, but rather people as a whole (this of course does not exclude that he might have imparted more specific teachings to a subset of his followers). As men of their time, the disciples would therefore easily associate a would-be messiah with a political agenda and, again by what can be read in the NT, this is exactly what happened.

But was there a complete cognitive and existential dissonance between a Jesus intending his role only in a priestly, or prophetic, or spiritual, or eschatological way on the one hand, and his disciples interpreting him as a would-be traditional king on the other? That some dissonance existed is clear, and Mark stresses this point abundantly. But if Jesus was really and fully a man of his time, it seems difficult to maintain that he did not associate his role also with some political goals; in particular, with a "liberation theology" expressed in the words at Emmaus (Lk 24:21), where Jesus is seen as "the one [who was] to redeem Israel", or in the question of Acts 1:6, "So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'" It is also through this "political" message of his, I believe, that his disciples followed him. Granted, to avoid excessive vagueness it is necessary to explain what "political" means here, and I'll spend a few words about this in the coming paragraphs. But first let's ask ourselves, did he really believe in this "political" role, or are we just seeing a psychological device at play, meant to attract and retain disciples? Again, if we argue for his "humanity" in history, it seems difficult to maintain that he just pretended to be what he seemed to be. I believe that he saw and presented himself in the double role of the political liberator and of the "messianic" priest/prophet (in fulfillment of the "two Messiah" expectations I mentioned above).

But now we need to try and clarify in which sense Jesus saw this double role.

From the documents we can read today, it seems clear that with Jesus we are fairly distant from the "power model" of the would-be kings mentioned by Josephus. As I already said, it is perhaps of no small importance that during his wanderings Jesus seems to have avoided Galilean centers of power like Sepphoris and Tiberias, differently from the various Judas, Simon, Athronges, etc. At the same time, there are perhaps hints in the Gospels that the temptation to embrace a fully political agenda was also present in him; consider, for example, what Matthew and Luke say of his struggle with the Devil:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." (Mt 4:8-9 // Lk 4:5-7)
Matthew and Luke announce his victory over this temptation, but perhaps traces of it remain in the cry on the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" - Mk 15:34 // Mt 27:46. At any rate, the fact that in the end he did indeed present serious political problems to the ruling powers (the kings of the secular and religious worlds) is demonstrated fairly well by his execution. And yet, we cannot identify the kingdom announced by Jesus with the violent kingdom typical of the "desperate people" described by Josephus. Jesus' words to Pilate are paradigmatic:
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. (John 18:36)
I think that what we see here is in fact also a political agenda, along the lines of the expected deliverance of Israel. Everything turns around the relative meanings of "my kingdom" vs. "this world" (a theme dear to John). I think that with "my kingdom" Jesus did also intend a kingdom in this world, but not of this world. (an excellent synthesis of this message was some time later given by the Epistle to Diognetus in the explanation of the role of the Christians in the world - cf. Diognetus 5-6.)

So, what was this kingdom like? What was the "political" role that Jesus saw for himself? It was the transforming role of the one king over all authorities that were not and are not from God. Transforming, because -apocaliptically- the present rulers were to be overcome by a new eschatological order; but also because -immanently- this overcoming was happening now, with Jesus' message of the reversal of the traditional meanings of law, purity, and holiness, and with the request of the construction of a society - a church - centered around the values of truth and love. Cf. Ben Meyers' The Aims of Jesus: according to Meyers, these aims would be mainly the restoration of Israel, "the messianic task of building on rock, secure against death, the living temple of the last days". I'd just add that this message of eschatological building would not refute or deny a political, wordly building.

In other words, we need to reconcile Reimarus and Schweitzer. With Wright, I'd say that
First-century Jewish apocalyptic, is not the same as “end-of-the-world.” [...] Apocalyptic is the symbolic and richly-charged language of protest, affirming that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven—not in some imagined heavenly realm to be created after the present world has been destroyed. In particular, apocalyptic is the language of revolution: not that YHWH will destroy the world, but that he will act dramatically within it to bring Israel’s long night of suffering to an end, to usher in the new day in which peace and justice will reign. (N.T. Wright, The Historical Jesus and Christian Theology, 1996)
Jesus' messianic task, then, is indeed (Jewish!) apocalyptic; Jesus was an eschatological prophet; but he believed his role to be unique in the restoration of Israel, in the "return from Exile", in the accomplishment of Isaiah 40-55, and, at the same time, in the building of another kingdom, one "on earth as it is in heaven". This kingdom was not like the power kingdoms of the various Herod, Athronges, etc., but it was also not like the power kingdom expected by the Pharisees. Still, it was a kingdom with entirely valid political and eschatological connotations: this, I believe, is the essence of the whole Temple-building message and of the eucharistic commandment of 1 Cor 11:23-26 (cf. also Mk 14:22 // Mt 26:26 // Lk 22:19). This is the essence of Christology, i.e. the building of the eschatological (again, not to be confused with "end-of-the-world") Church. And here is the key, I think, of his "political" message: political does not necessarily mean power-driven, or "revolutionary", or secular; a message, and the derived praxis, can also be fully political when, instead of proposing to replace the current status quo with another one, aims to transform the existing structures showing what their limit is (remember Mt 5:17-18: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."), and when it contrasts these limits with the freedom of the kingdom of God. His message points at the same time toward the construction of a Civitas Dei and of a Civitas Hominis.

Within this framework, Jesus clearly perceived the uniqueness of his role and his identification with the expected Messiah, even if this perception seems, in NT writings, often to be more implicit than explicit; cf. for example the so-called "Messianic secret" in Mark 8:29, Andrew stating "We have found the Messiah" in John 1:41, Jesus saying before the high priest that he is "the Christ, the Son of the Blessed" in Mark 14:61-62, Jesus' titulus on the Cross, Jesus saying to Thomas "no one comes to the Father except through me" in John 14:6.

But how did Jesus convey his prophetic message? There are a number of major themes in Jesus' announcement: following Meyer, I shall briefly consider here the themes of sonship, temple-building and enthronement, trying to see how they are all related in Jesus' identity. In particular, I shall try and see how Jesus' identity points to the fulfillment of the Davidic prophecy of 2 Sam:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Sam 7:12-14a)
Now, the theme of the sonship shows us that apparently Jesus, as portrayed by the Gospels, believed he had a key mediating role, although subordinate to the role of God the Father: cf. Mt 17:27 // Lk 10:22, "All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.", Mk 13:32, "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father", and the already quoted John 14:6, "No one comes to the Father except through me." The association between the Son of God and the Messiah that will deliver Israel is well attested in Jewish literature; for example, in 2 Ezra 7:26-28 it is written:
For indeed the time will come, when the signs that I have foretold to you will come to pass, that the city that now is not seen shall appear, and the land that now is hidden shall be disclosed. Everyone who has been delivered from the evils that I have foretold shall see my wonders. For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. (2 Ezra 7:26-28, NRSV)
The same association we find among others in 2 Ezra 13:32 ("When these things take place and the signs occur that I showed you before, then my Son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea."), in 2 Ezra 14:9 ("for you shall be taken up from among humankind, and henceforth you shall live with my Son and with those who are like you, until the times are ended."), in the Testament of Levi 4:2, where Levi is said to become God's Son (and, significantly, in chapter 8 Levi is described as a priestly Messiah endowed with a crown and a scepter - i.e. he is king as well as priest), and in the very interesting Enoch 105 (but this could be an interpolation, since the whole chapter 105 is missing in the Greek fragments of Enoch):
In quei giorni il Signore disse [ai giusti] di chiamare e testimoniare, sulla loro saggezza, ai figli della terra: "Mostrate loro che voi siete la loro guida e le ricompense [che avrete] su tutta la terra, poiché io e mio figlio ci uniremo con loro, per sempre, sulla via della rettitudine durante la loro vita. E la pace sarà con voi! Gioite, figli della rettitudine, per davvero!" (Enoch 105, translated by L. Fusella from the Ge'ez manuscript [Dillmann 1851], in P. Sacchi [a cura di], Apocrifi dell'Antico Testamento, vol. I, 1989)
So, Jesus associates himself with the Son of God (the "beloved son", according to Mk 1:11), Jesus also associates himself with a Messianic role, and this connection between Son of God and Messiah is not really surprising. But what did he actually mean with these associations? What did they trigger into his and his followers' minds? If, as suggested above, Jesus' eschatological message had not to be seen in a strictly "apocalyptic" way; if, further, Jesus' message was intended - by himself and by his followers - in the two senses of political and religious liberation, then we are talking here of the present installation of the messianic kingdom. Temple-building, then, is the process through which this installation takes place.

The political function of the temple is well known. The great Davidic temple was built right in coincidence with the formation of the short-lived national state of Israel. At the same time, the temple was the house of YHWH, and this provided legitimacy to the ruling monarchy. Jesus intends to show how, in him, the temple of God can be rebuilt and installed once and for all.

It is important at this point to see the difference between the two Greek words ναος and ιερον, because it is a difference that carries a theological meaning. Unfortunately, this difference is generally ignored by translations, which render both simply as "temple". ιερον includes the whole Temple complex, and in our context could probably be translated as "Temple mount". ναος, on the other hand, is properly the inner part of the Temple, only accessible to priests (hence, forbidden to Jesus). So, in the episode of the young Jesus found in the temple, the word ιερον is used (Lk 2:46, καὶ ἐγένετο μεθ᾿ ἡμέρας τρεῖς εὗρον αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ); the same happens when Jesus entered the temple to drive out the money-changers (Mk 11:15, καὶ εἰσελθὼν ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν ἤρξατο ἐκβάλλειν...) and when Jesus taught in the temple (Mk 12:35, Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς ἔλεγε διδάσκων ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ). But when Jesus wants to speak of the temple that is going to be destroyed and rebuilt, he uses the term ναος: cf. Mk 14:58, ὅτι ἡμεῖς ἠκούσαμεν αὐτοῦ λέγοντος, ὅτι ἐγὼ καταλύσω τὸν ναὸν τοῦτον τὸν χειροποίητον καὶ διὰ τριῶν ἡμερῶν ἄλλον ἀχειροποίητον οἰκοδομήσω (same in John 2:19, ἀπεκρίθη ᾿Ιησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· λύσατε τὸν ναὸν τοῦτον, καὶ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις ἐγερῶ αὐτόν; John 2:21 then consistently says that "he was speaking of the temple of his body" using ναος, ἐκεῖνος δὲ ἔλεγε περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ), and it is the curtain of this inner temple that was torn in two at his death, Mk 15:38, Καὶ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη εἰς δύο ἀπὸ ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω (ditto in the parallel passages Mt 27:51 and Lk 23:45; interestingly, Jerome mentions twice in his writings that the lost Gospel of the Hebrews has a different account, a more radical one I would say: "Nel vangelo scritto in lettere ebraiche leggiamo che non è il velo del tempio che s'è stracciato, ma che fu: 'l'architrave del tempio a cadere, ch'era di una grandezza straordinaria'", Jerome, Epist. 120, 8, ad Hedyb; similarly in Jerome, In Math., 27,51 - in L. Moraldi [a cura di], Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento, 1991). Temple-building is therefore properly something that should be seen as the most sacred activity, to be performed by the high priest only (like, in the building of the Herodian temple, only priests were used for work in the sacred areas - in the ναος). Jesus intends this high priest to be himself.

The high priest, Jesus, is going to build the definitive temple, then. But given his double role of priestly and Davidic Messiah, this implies the necessity of proper enthronement. Eschatological enthronement is traditionally linked to the motif of ascent into heaven like, for example, in Enoch 6-36 (the "Book of the Watchers"), or in the well-known Dan 7:13-14:
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Dan 7:13-14)
An explicit reference to this enthronement passage can be found in Mark 14:61-62:
But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" And Jesus said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:61-62)
Jesus, therefore, is making here an explicit reference to his own enthronement, and in some way this enthronement is connected to his future ascent into heaven; he identifies himself as the Davidic and the priestly Messiah; he is, on the one hand, the Son of God, to which a kingdom has already been given by the Father, cf. Lk 22:28-30, "You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."; on the other hand, he is the Son of Man, who will be enthroned, cf. Mt 19:28 (parallel to the Lukan passage above), "Jesus said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'"

There are various theories on the origin and meaning of this Son of Man title, and it is difficult or maybe even impossible to understand to what extent the texts referring to it are reflecting a developed theological message, rather than Jesus' own understanding of his role. But at least we can say that the role that Jesus seems to play and understand is very often one that is loaded with a double meaning. The Son of Man title is sometimes applied to the future, as in Mk 14:62 above, in Mk 13:26, "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory" quoting again Dan 7, and in Mk 8:38, "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels". Note in this last passage an explicit ambiguity between "Son of Man" and "Son of God". But sometimes "Son of Man" is applied to the earthly Jesus, who apparently already reigns as Lord, as in Mk 2:9-11, "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins--he said to the paralytic-- I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home", and in Mk 2:28, "So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."

Still, the ambiguity between the two functions, present and future, of the Son of Man/Son of God is not simply "left there". It is indeed "bridged" (G. Nickelsburg, Son of Man, ABD) by the role of the suffering and exhalted Jesus, as in Mk 8:31, "And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again", in Mk 10:33:34, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise", and especially in Mk 10:45, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." In these passages the OT reference is perhaps the Suffering Servant of Is 52-53. The ambiguity between present and future is bridged in the climax of the mission of the earthly Jesus, his death - to be followed by his vindication, the resurrection.

The final question, then. Did Jesus understand that his mission was to die on the cross, and to die for a specific reason? What was this reason?

Mk 10:45 is indeed one of the very few places of the NT where Jesus is portrayed to give an explicit meaning to his death. That the death of Jesus was intended by the early Church as atonement for sins seems clear, looking at early texts like 1 Cor 15:3: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures", where Paul refers to an already existing understanding of the death of Christ as sacrifice. Paul has several other references to the sacrifice of Christ, cf. for example 1 Cor 5:7 ("... Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed") and Rom 3:25 ([Christ,] "whom God put forward as a propitiation [ἱλαστήριον] by his blood, to be received by faith"). But to what extent we can trace this understanding of atonement back to Jesus himself is not obvious, and Mark 10:45b is sometimes treated as a post-Easter gloss.

First of all, I would say that the emphasis of Pauline theology on the diad sin/sacrifice (I said Pauline, but I should also mention e.g. 1 Pet 2:24, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.", or the Epistle to the Hebrews) does not seem very explicit in the Gospels.

But there are two points I'd also like to make: first, it is a fact that very early in the life of the Church we see an interpretation of the death of Christ that centers around the meaning of sacrificial offering. This fact is then consistently confirmed in later writers. Second, we should always be very careful in evaluating the logia of Jesus as written in the Gospels, and avoid both literalism (to believe we are necessarily dealing with the ipsissima verba) and exclusivism (to believe that the passages found in the extant sources are representative of the fullness of Jesus' message) - this is of course true for all I have written so far as well. Perhaps the Gospel genre, or simply the Gospel writers, were just not so interested in recording Jesus' words about the meaning of the atonement, besides what I already mentioned. This could be due to the fact that in the narrative more emphasis had simply to be put into acts, because the narrative genre itself dictated that from acts (including life, praxis, death, and resurrection) theological meaning could be excerpted, and not the other way around. But we can and should also try and see a bigger picture, even in the narrative. What the Gospels propose are accounts of the life of Jesus that consciously (from Jesus' point of view!) move toward Jerusalem, at a specific time (Passover), with specific characteristics. Passover obviously suggests the presence of God during the sacrifice of reconciliation. As for characteristics, a most important part of the narrative is Jesus' trial. I think that Jesus' behavior during the trial can hardly be understood unless one thinks that he believed that his role was indeed to die, to die on the cross, and to be raised. But if we believe that he figured himself, as stated above, to be Son, Priest, Messiah, Temple-builder, then he might well have connected these points with his future death and resurrection. As a matter of fact, all these points taken together only form a partial picture, that can be completed in one of two ways: either with an apocalyptic, truly "end-of-the-world" focus, or with an eschatological and ecclesiological twist. The considerations I reported above make me believe that the second hypothesis cannot be easily dismissed. Sonship, priesthood, messianism, temple-building (through his body - remember the Eucharistic commandment, pointing to the future of his Church) are then to be linked to his death and resurrection, in the "realized eschatology" of a kingdom of God "on earth, as it is in heaven." In other words, Jesus might have perfectly understood his destiny of sacrifice on earth as the necessary step for the fulfillment of his role, to cause the definitive covenant, reconciliation, and victory over "sinful" structures, in the perspective of the construction of an eschatological, holy community of faithfuls. This, perhaps, was his final exegesis of the prophecy I mentioned above:
He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Sam 7:13-14a)

Friday, October 06, 2006


Kerygmata and Resurrection in the Gospels

Breward S. Childs, in his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, states that one of the main achievements of modern NT critical research, specifically on the formation of NT writings, is the consciousness that the very first level of the primitive Christian tradition is linked to the faith of those witnessing the resurrection of Christ. The focus of this kerygma was oriented in a missionary way toward those who were not Christian believers yet, and was centered on the resurrection.

In some sense, this a reasonable conclusion, especially perhaps to modern eyes, in light of the importance that one should attribute to the Resurrection event and to the spreading of the faith. But it is also a conclusion that - it seems to me - does not flow very easily from the Gospel texts we have today. Let's ask ourselves: What relevance does Resurrection have in the Gospels? (Note that I am specifically not considering Pauline writings here, where the missionary purpose and the stress on the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus are much more evident.)

It looks like here we touch a problem similar to the one we have when we want to produce a theological synthesis of the Gospel of Mark, namely, how do we reconcile the apparent presence in Mark's gospel of both a theology of glory and a theology of suffering? Did Mark correct a theology of glory with a theology of suffering, as a common solution to the Markan "literary problem" maintains? If we say yes, how do we explain the fact that in Mark the so-called "theology of glory" still outweighs in content the so-called "theology of suffering", and that, on the other hand, the theology of suffering is only properly introduced at chapter 8? Why not earlier, if Mark considered it so important? And why not in a more comprehensive way?

Similarly, if we say that the original kerygma focused on the spread of a Christian faith that was centered on the Resurrection, how do we explain that for example in Mark, allegedly the earliest Gospel, the Resurrection only accounts for the very last part of the Gospel (strictly speaking Mk 16:1-8 - with the three passion/resurrection predictions of Mk 8:31;9:31;10:33-34,45 laid out in the context/genre of the suffering servant), and in a way that would not seem so pastorally convincing? Pastorally, that is, assuming again, as per the hypothesis I mentioned above, that the kerygma had as a primary goal that of winning people to Christ, showing the all-encompassing significance of his resurrection. Saying that the primitive kerygma affirmed the death and resurrection of Jesus -- would not that require a bigger stress (than what we find in the gospel texts today) on realized eschatology, rather than on future eschatology? (cmp. the tension between these two in John's gospel.)

If we maintain that the original kerygma centered on the Resurrection as the foundational event of the new faith (new: to non-Christians), we need to come to terms with the fact that the "Pauline gospel" seems to be the real gospel, while later accounts1 do not seem to pay as much attention to that kerygma. Perhaps all this points out how difficult it is to find a satisfactory classification for the litereray genre of the Gospels, beyond the generic term of "narrative". Perhaps this means that, if the original kerygma really concentrated on the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:1-17), the gospel writers, or, maybe better, the gospel communities, fulfilled a real need of the expanding Church, i.e. one of encapsulating that kerygma in historical or pseudo-historical settings, within frameworks that were meaningful to those same writing communities. Finally, perhaps this means that the very concept of kerygma is an impossible one to define properly, and that we should really speak of kerygmata.


1 The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John. Let us also recall here the peculiar importance that - when speaking of the kerygma - Mark's gospel is often considered to have:
Some scholars assert that, contrary to the other gospels, Mark’s gospel does not only contain preaching (kerygma) but that it is also kerygma. It is maintained that, in comparison to the other canonical gospels, Mark’s gospel is unique. Matthew made use of Mark in the compilation of his gospel but laid far more stress on the teaching of Jesus. The gospel of Matthew is a composition of halachic and apocalyptic discourses in a narrative framework. John’s gospel is a composition of semeia (signs) and revelatory speeches, and Luke wrote a vita (life), or history, of Jesus. According to this view, Mark’s gospel is the only true “gospel.” (W.S. Vorster, in Gospel Genre, Freedman, David Noel, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 1997)

Monday, October 02, 2006


Animals in the Synoptics

This post started out of a bunch of simple questions I recently asked myself: which animals were familiar to the audience of the Gospels? What were their main metaphorical overtones? Did different Gospel authors choose to use different terms? Are there words peculiar to a given evangelist? Are there theological reasons for this? Geographical reasons? Reasons related to the expected audience of the text? To literary/source criticism?

As is often the case, the questions turned out to be not that simple, but gave me the opportunity to spend some good time with the texts in the original languages and with zoology, eventually providing some interesting insights (to me, at least). I decided to limit myself to the Synoptics. Be warned that there are no definite answers in this post, just notes.

When considering zoological terms, it is clear that many times we miss a familiarity with animals that was common in biblical times (and in biblical locations). This means that it is sometimes difficult for us to clearly understand even simple figurative meanings. A plain example is the sheep: to people used to tender flocks, or in general to observe sheeps around them, it is fairly natural that this animal might represent the tendency to get lost, to wander around, being exposed to all sorts of dangers. Take Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." The similitude was vivid and obvious to the ancient Israelite, perhaps it is not anymore to our modern eyes.

Here's a summary of animals explicitly mentioned in the Synoptics (you can find a table with all the occurences I found in the Greek text toward the bottom of this post):
  • Mark: camel, locust, dove/pigeon, wild animal, flying animal (bird), swine, sheep, fish, small fish, little dog, worm, young ass (colt), cock, snake.
  • Matthew: camel, locust, viper, dove/pigeon, flying animal (bird), dog, little dog, swine, fish, small fish, snake, sheep, wolf, fox, sparrow, big fish/whale, ass, young ass (colt), bull/ox (ταῦρος), fatted animal, mosquito/gnat, hen, birdling, eagle/vulture, young goat, cock.
  • Luke: turtle-dove, dove/pigeon, viper, fish, flying animal (bird), swine, fox, lamb, wolf, beast of burden, snake, egg, scorpion, sparrow, raven, ox/cow (βοῦς), ass, hen, birdling, sheep, calf, young goat, eagle/vulture, camel, young ass (colt), cock.
There are some word changes for animals in parallel passages; to identify the passages, I shall use the Latin headings found in Aland, Synopsis Quattor Evangeliorum. I sometimes took the analysis of these loci as an opportunity to try and validate the hypotesis that Mark wrote first, followed by Matthew (who had access to Mark), followed by Luke (who had access to both Mark and Matthew) - specifically not positing the existence of Q. (Without excluding the possibility that other sources were available to the evangelists.) Again, I won't provide definite answers here, since these, if at all possible, certainly require more serious work than these notes.
  • In the "tentatio" passage (Mt 4:1-11 // Mk 1:12-13 // Lk 4:1-13), Mark has the detail, not present in parallel accounts, that Jesus ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων. Gundry suggests that one thing that is often overlooked is that Jesus was with the beasts (not the reverse), to indicate that while he stayed with them for the whole forty days, no harm came from them. Perhaps - and I know this is an unsubstantiated link, although maybe still a possibility - one could remember that in Himerius, Or. 39 we find that "Orpheus in the Thracian mountains, where he has no one to listen to him, θεριον την εκκλησιαν εργαζεται = forms a community for himself from the wild animals." (quotation from the BDAG) At any rate, an interesting question is, why did Matthew and Luke leave out the "wild animals", and supplied instead a more comprehensive account of the temptations? Certainly, Mk 1:12-13 is lacking in narrative (for example, in these verses we are not told the nature of Satan's temptations, whether Jesus actually overcame them, and how), and Mt and Lk prefer to concentrate on the dialogue between Jesus and Satan, to show Jesus' power over the tempter; in this sense, the detail about the "wild animals" was probably seen as unnecessary, and perhaps stressing a bit too much the permanence of Jesus among unclean creatures.
  • In the "petitio efficax" passage (Mt 7:7-11 // Lk 11:9-13), Luke adds the sentence ἢ καὶ αἰτήσει ᾠόν, ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ σκορπίον, not present in Matthew. The New Bible Dictionary suggests that the association between egg and scorpion may be due to the fact that "the main segment of some scorpions is fat and almost egg-shaped." (in the same passage, fish and snake could be associated because some fish may look like snakes.) Scorpions were much feared because of their painful (although not necessarily fatal) sting - cf. Rev 9:5, καὶ ὁ βασανισμὸς αὐτῶν ὡς βασανισμὸς σκορπίου, ὅταν παίσῃ ἄνθρωπον.
  • In the "ne solliciti sitis" passage (Mt 6:25-34 // Lk 12:22-32), Matthew has "Look at the birds of the air" (ἐμβλέψατε εἰς τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), while Luke has "Consider the ravens" (κατανοήσατε τοὺς κόρακας). While "birds of the air" is an idiomatic expression to mean flying animals in general, ravens are specifically voracious and unclean birds (they are scavengers like the vulture); the use of the verb κατανοεω in Luke may point to the fact that he wants the reader to attentively consider how even these despised birds are fed by God. In this sense, Luke corrects Matthew with a more precise determination of the meaning of the sentence. An interesting feature of this verse in Luke, which perhaps also refers to the fact that he corrected Matthew, is that while Matthew speaks only of birds with a generic term (πετεινον), in Luke we do find the ravens in 12:24a, but then 12:24b has πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὑμεῖς διαφέρετε τῶν πετεινῶν, i.e. perhaps Luke changed Matthew's birds into ravens, but then left traces of the original text in the last part of the verse using the Matthean generic term for "birds" there (for consistency, one may have expected to find ravens in 12:24b too).
  • In the "missio discipulorum" passage (specifically Mt 10:16 // Lk 9:3), Luke has "I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves" (ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς ἄρνας ἐν μέσῳ λύκων), while Matthew has "I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves" (ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς πρόβατα ἐν μέσῳ λύκων). Why this difference, i.e. ἀρήν vs. πρόβατον? The contrast between lamb and wolf is a well-attested one, cf. Is 65:25, "the wolf and the lamb shall graze together" (LXX: τότε λύκοι καὶ ἄρνες βοσκηθήσονται ἅμα) or even Homer, Iliad 22,263. Luke's choice could refer to the Isaian passage above or to sacrificial offering, cf. e.g. Is 1:11, "I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats" (LXX: στέαρ ἀρνῶν καὶ αἷμα ταύρων καὶ τράγων οὐ βούλομαι). There is also a possible reference to the Paschal lamb (a theme much more developed in John and Revelation, though). In the same verse, Matthew also has "so be wise as serpents and innocent [or harmless, simple] as doves" (γίνεσθε οὖν φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις καὶ ἀκέραιοι ὡς αἱ περιστεραί), absent in Luke. Did Luke amend Matthew to refer to Isaiah using ἀρήν (a word found only here in the entire NT) instead of πρόβατον? Note that the contrast between sheep and wolf is also attested (e.g. John 10:12, ὁ μισθωτὸς [...] θεωρεῖ τὸν λύκον ἐρχόμενον καὶ ἀφίησιν τὰ πρόβατα...), and the LXX has "sheep" (for the Heb. שׂה, a word with a wide semantic latitude, i.e. sheep, lamb, goat, young sheep, young goat [BDB]) in Gen 22:8, Isaac's sacrifice: Ὁ θεὸς ὄψεται ἑαυτῷ πρόβατον εἰς ὁλοκάρπωσιν, τέκνον, a verse perhaps providing a possible connection between the full Matthean passage and the ἀκέραιος (simplicity/innocence) of the diad sheep/child. If Luke did change Matthew, perhaps he also removed Mt 10:16b not seeing it as a meaningful addition to the flow of the sentence, while Matthew would have suggested the antiparallels sheep/wolf and serpent/dove to better convey, on the one hand, the contrast between innocent and ravenous conduct; and to underline, on the other hand, the radical changes required for discipleship (while the first diad is negative, the second is positive). Note that Matthew 10:16b is attested in Ignatius ad Polyc. 2:2, Φρονιμος γινου ως οφις εν απασιν, και ακεραιος εις αει ως η περιστερα, and in POxy 655 col. ii, 11-23, [...] γει[νεσθε φρονι]μοι ω[ς οφεις και α]κεραι[οι ως περιστε]ρα[ι], cf. Evang. Thomae copt., Logion 39, "you, however, be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves."
  • In the "qui me confitetur" passage (Mt 10:26-33 // Lk 12:2-9), the zoological term used by Matthew and Luke (στρουθίον, sparrow) is the same. There is a difference in counting, though: Mt 10:29 has "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?", while Lk 12:6 has "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?" It is possible that Matthew has a reference here to the two small birds mentioned in the cerimonial of purification from leprosy of Lev 14:49ff - and it is possible that Luke wants to show that, if with one ἀσσάριον (rendered "penny"), a very small coin (the tenth part of a drachma), one can buy two sparrows, with two pennies one can buy not four (2 x 2), but five of them - to stress how little value these birds had: and still, ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν οὐκ ἔστιν ἐπιλελησμένον ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.
  • In the "ingressus triumphalis in Jerusalem" passage (Mt 21:1-9 // Mk 11:1-10 // Lk 19:28-40), Mark and Luke use only πῶλος (young ass/colt), while Matthew uses both πῶλος and ὄνος (ass). Why did Matthew add ὄνος? Note that Mark and Luke agree verbatim also in the detail - not present in Matthew - that εὑρήσετε πῶλον δεδεμένον ἐφ' ὃν οὐδεὶς οὔπω ἀνθρώπων ἐκάθισεν. Matthew here apparently wants to remind the reader of Zec 9:9, ("Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey"), and that's possibly the reason why he added the reference to the ὄνος. One cultural bias we may have at this point is that it may seem strange to us that Jesus rode an ass, rather than a horse. But horses were associated with power and wars (cf. Rev 6:2; 19:11,14), and asses with peaceful occasions, as Zec 9:9 shows fairly well. In summary, while Luke might have decided to stick to the Markan text, Matthew seems to have amended it, removing the remark that that was a colt "on which no one has ever yet sat", and adding the reference to the ὄνος, and the typically Matthean explanatory text in 21:4f. (Τοῦτο δὲ γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, etc.)
  • In the "Jesus in Jerusalem templum purgat" passage (Mt 21:10-17 // Mk 11:15-17 // Lk 19:45-46), Matthew and Mark say that Jesus "overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons." (Luke omits this part.) Pigeon here is περιστερά, a word which apparently can mean both pigeon and dove, and actually several translations (see later) have "those who sold doves" rather than "pigeons".
    First of all, let me make a few general comments about the dove. The dove is known to us - to be sure - as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, but its symbolic meaning probably originates in the Ancient Near East with a link between divinity and love; for example, in the episode of the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus ("like a dove", ὡς περιστερὰν), Mark 1:11 has Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα. In this drawing (taken from the Anchor Bible), after an old Syrian cylinder seal impression, one can see "the goddess of love [who] apparently bares herself in front of the storm-god, who strides over the mountains. A dove, which flies from her toward him, symbolizes her love for him and her readiness to make love." (AB) In early Christianity, it is common to find the dove in connection with the idea of peace, like for example in this titulus found in a Roman catacomb. (note also the orante and the olive branch.)
    Now, back to the text of Mt 21:12 and Mk 11:15, it is interesting to note that the ESV translates the same word περιστερά as "dove" in Mark 1:10, but as "pigeon" in Mark 11:15. The latter incident refers to the prescriptions of Lev 12:6,8, i.e. instructions on the purification of a woman who has conceived a male child; in particular, she is to offer a lamb, but (v.8) "if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean." This is the ESV translation, which has "pigeon" for both Lev 12:8 and Mk 11:15, and this seems correct at least from the standpoint of consistency, since Mk 11:15 refers to the customs explained in Lev 12. Other translations, like the KJV, WEB, NRSV, do not show consistency of terms between Lev 12:8 and Mark 11:15: they all translate יונה in Lev 12:8 as "pigeon" but περιστερά in Mark 11:15 as "dove". The NIV, on the other hand, has "two doves or two young pigeons", thus rendering תּר as "dove" instead of turtledove (why?). A consistent translation is the Vulgate, but using the word "dove" rather than "pigeon": "duos turtures vel duos pullos columbae" in Lev 12:8 and "cathedras vendentium columbas evertit" in Mark 11:15. I find a bit difficult to imagine how "pigeon" can be the right translation in passages like Lev 12:8, since for example Lev 1:14 clarifies that the only bird fit for sacrifice are the turtledove and יונה, and I (but perhaps that's a cultural bias) would not easily associate pigeons with purity, given their familiarity with waste and given the fact they can easily carry diseases -- doves would seem a more appropriate match. As a matter of fact, the New Bible Dictionary suggests that יונה is the "rock dove (Columba livia), which was domesticated in antiquity and has been used widely as a source of food and for message-carrying." On the other hand, the BDAG points out that the difference between pigeon and dove "cannot be precisely determined from usage in our texts."
    Anyway, what could have happened here is that Mark had the harshest account: Jesus overturned tables, "and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple", Mk 11:16 (καὶ οὐκ ἤφιεν ἵνα τις διενέγκῃ σκεῦος διὰ τοῦ ἱεροῦ); Matthew retained the account of the overturning of tables and seats, perhaps assuming the practice was meaningful to his readers (Lev 12:6 etc), but removed the harsh detail of Mk 11:16 that Jesus would block people from bringing anything into the temple; finally, Luke further domesticated the account, retaining only the information that Jesus "began to drive out those who sold", Lk 19:45 (ἤρξατο ἐκβάλλειν τοὺς πωλοῦντας, compare ἤρξατο ἐκβάλλειν here with the stronger Matthean ἐξέβαλεν), and connecting back to the original (Markan?) source at verse 46, quoting Isaiah 56:7, together with Mark 11:17 and Matthew 21:13.
  • In the "pseudochristi et pseudoprophetae" passage (Mt 24:23-28 // Lk 17:23-24,37b) we find the word ἀετός, which is normally "eagle". But in both passages there is apparently some confusion between eagle and vulture; in fact, ad sensum in both Mt 24:28 and Lk 17:37 ἀετός should be translated vulture, rather than eagle. It is interesting that in Hebrew too one word (נשׁר) seems to cover both meanings, perhaps due to the difficulty of identifying who's who from a distance. Mic 1:16 has "make yourselves as bald as the eagle" ("eagle" is in ESV, NASB, KJV, RSV, NRSV, Vulgate), but eagles have their head covered with feathers, so this may be the griffon vulture, and a proper translation could then be "as bald as the vulture" ("vulture" is in NIV, WEB).
  • In the "negationem Petri praedicit" passage (Mt 26:30-35 // Mk 14:26-31 // Lk 22:31-34) only Mark has the detail "before the rooster crows twice", πρὶν ἢ δὶς ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι. (δις is also not in the parallel Jn 13:36-38.) On the other hand, δις is found in the fragment from Fayyum, [πρι]ν αλεκτρυων δις κοκ[κυσει], but then it is fairly difficult to say whether the manuscript the fragment comes from is an abridgement of the Synoptic accounts, or rather a source upon which the Synoptics (notably Mark here) were based - in New Testament Apocrypha, Schneemelcher writes that "a secondary, indeed an abridged, rendering of the synoptic material has to be assumed, and the text must be considered an excerpt or fragment of a gospel hitherto unknown to us. The brevity of the fragment forbids sure statements of any kind: the completions also remain questionable." (see
Here are some further notes about animals occurring elsewhere in the Synoptics:
  • To make sense of passages like Mark 5:11 and parallels, where the word χοῖρος (swine) occurs, it is well to remember the purity prescriptions surrounding the swine; indeed the herds of swines mentioned in the Gospels were kept by Gentiles (Mk 5:1, Καὶ ἦλθον εἰς τὸ πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης εἰς τὴν χώραν τῶν Γερασηνῶν), not by Jews. (We can then also understand the command not to throw pearls before swines.) The OT reference here is apparently to Isaiah 65:1-4, speaking of "a nation that was not called by my name", where there are people who, among other despicable things, "sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places [cf. Mk 5:2]; who eat pig's flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels [hence the herds of swines]".
  • Sometimes we have troubles even figuring out what an animal mentioned in the Bible looks like, if we are unfamiliar with it or with the zoological terms used to identify it. Now, for what regards dogs (κύων), we probably have no such problems; but, given our sensitivities of modern westerners, we may have difficulties understanding how dogs could be seen with contempt and disgust in the biblical world. If you visit cities and towns in the Near East, you will soon find out how many straw, filthy and sick dogs may be there, looking for food among waste, etc. What can be interesting is that the dog (κύων) of Mt 7:6 (Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν) may be different from the little dog (κυνάριον) mentioned in the incident of the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mt 15:26f, where we might have a reference to a pet dog similar to ours, as suggested by Mt 15:27, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν.
  • The term κῆτος (whale / big fish) is only used in Mt 12:40; it is difficult to precisely understand what type of animal was meant here. Homer and Herodotus use κῆτος for a wide range of sea animals. κῆτος is used in the passage Matthew is directly referring to, i.e. Jonah 2:1, καὶ προσηύξατο Ιωνας πρὸς κύριον τὸν θεὸν αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῆς κοιλίας τοῦ κήτους (LXX).
  • As for gnats (κώνωψ), the passage in Mt 23:24 only makes sense if one remembers how numerous these tiny insects may be (especially in hot climates), and that - given their impurity, cf. Lev 11:20 - a pharisaic practice was to drink water through a straining cloth (a filter), to avoid swallowing the insects. So, the Pharisees are guilty of filtering the smallest insects, but then τὴν δὲ κάμηλον καταπίνοντες, i.e. gulping the camel, the biggest known animal, which was also unclean (Lev 11:4).
  • There are two related terms that are sometimes both translated as "ox", i.e. ταῦρος (Mt 22:4) and βοῦς (Lk 13:15). The BDAG states that βοῦς may mean both ox (when masculine) and cow (when feminine), in which case indeed Lk 13:15 should be "ox". For what regards oxen and specifically ταῦροι, they were apparently widely used as sacrificial animals, as in Mt 22:4, but also in Acts 14:13 (in a pagan context) and Heb 9:13; 10:4 (in a Jewish context).
Finally, in the following table you can find the explicit occurences of animals I noted in the Synoptics (NA26/27).

Mark Matthew Luke
1:6 καὶ ἦν ὁ Ἰωάννης ἐνδεδυμένος τρίχας καμήλου, CAMEL 3:4 Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Ἰωάννης εἶχεν τὸ ἔνδυμα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τριχῶν καμήλου, CAMEL 2:24 καὶ τοῦ δοῦναι θυσίαν κατὰ τὸ εἰρημένον ἐν τῷ νόμῳ κυρίου, ζεῦγος τρυγόνων, TURTLE-DOVE
1:6 καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐσθίων ἀκρίδας καὶ μέλι ἄγριον, LOCUST 3:4 καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, ἡ δὲ τροφὴ ἦν αὐτοῦ ἀκρίδες καὶ μέλι ἄγριον, LOCUST 2:24 ἢ δύο νοσσοὺς περιστερῶν, DOVE, PIGEON
1:10 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀναβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος εἶδεν σχιζομένους τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα ὡς περιστερὰν καταβαῖνον εἰς αὐτόν, DOVE, PIGEON 3:7 Ἰδὼν δὲ πολλοὺς τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆσ, VIPER 3:7 Ἔλεγεν οὖν τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ὄχλοις βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ' αὐτοῦ, Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆσ, VIPER

3:22 καὶ καταβῆναι τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον σωματικῷ εἴδει ὡς περιστερὰν ἐπ' αὐτόν, καὶ φωνὴν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ γενέσθαι, Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα, DOVE, PIGEON
1:13 καὶ ἦν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τεσσεράκοντα ἡμέρας πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ Σατανᾶ, καὶ ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ, WILD ANIMAL 3:16 βαπτισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εὐθὺς ἀνέβη ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδεν τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ καταβαῖνον ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν καὶ ἐρχόμενον ἐπ' αὐτόν, DOVE, PIGEON 5:6 καὶ τοῦτο ποιήσαντες συνέκλεισαν πλῆθος ἰχθύων πολύ, διερρήσσετο δὲ τὰ δίκτυα αὐτῶν, FISH
4:4 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ σπείρειν ὃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, καὶ ἦλθεν τὰ πετεινὰ καὶ κατέφαγεν αὐτό, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD) 6:26 ἐμβλέψατε εἰς τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὅτι οὐ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲ θερίζουσιν οὐδὲ συνάγουσιν εἰς ἀποθήκας, καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τρέφει αὐτά· οὐχ ὑμεῖς μᾶλλον διαφέρετε αὐτῶν, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD) 5:9 θάμβος γὰρ περιέσχεν αὐτὸν καὶ πάντας τοὺς σὺν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τῇ ἄγρᾳ τῶν ἰχθύων ὧν συνέλαβον, FISH
4:32 καὶ ὅταν σπαρῇ, ἀναβαίνει καὶ γίνεται μεῖζον πάντων τῶν λαχάνων καὶ ποιεῖ κλάδους μεγάλους, ὥστε δύνασθαι ὑπὸ τὴν σκιὰν αὐτοῦ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνοῦν, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD) 7:6 Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν, DOG 8:5 Ἐξῆλθεν ὁ σπείρων τοῦ σπεῖραι τὸν σπόρον αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐν τῷ σπείρειν αὐτὸν ὃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, καὶ κατεπατήθη καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατέφαγεν αὐτό, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD)
5:11 Ἦν δὲ ἐκεῖ πρὸς τῷ ὄρει ἀγέλη χοίρων μεγάλη βοσκομένη, SWINE 7:6 μηδὲ βάλητε τοὺς μαργαρίτας ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν χοίρων, μήποτε καταπατήσουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν καὶ στραφέντες ῥήξωσιν ὑμᾶς, SWINE 8:32 Ἦν δὲ ἐκεῖ ἀγέλη χοίρων ἱκανῶν βοσκομένη ἐν τῷ ὄρει· καὶ παρεκάλεσαν αὐτὸν ἵνα ἐπιτρέψῃ αὐτοῖς εἰς ἐκείνους εἰσελθεῖν· καὶ ἐπέτρεψεν αὐτοῖς, SWINE
5:12 καὶ παρεκάλεσαν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Πέμψον ἡμᾶς εἰς τοὺς χοίρους, ἵνα εἰς αὐτοὺς εἰσέλθωμεν, SWINE 7:10 ἢ καὶ ἰχθὺν αἰτήσει, FISH 8:33 ἐξελθόντα δὲ τὰ δαιμόνια ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἰσῆλθον εἰς τοὺς χοίρους, καὶ ὥρμησεν ἡ ἀγέλη κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ εἰς τὴν λίμνην καὶ ἀπεπνίγη, SWINE
5:13 καὶ ἐπέτρεψεν αὐτοῖς. καὶ ἐξελθόντα τὰ πνεύματα τὰ ἀκάθαρτα εἰσῆλθον εἰς τοὺς χοίρους, καὶ ὥρμησεν ἡ ἀγέλη κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, ὡς δισχίλιοι, καὶ ἐπνίγοντο ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ, SWINE 7:10 μὴ ὄφιν ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ, SNAKE 9:13 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς, Δότε αὐτοῖς ὑμεῖς φαγεῖν. οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Οὐκ εἰσὶν ἡμῖν πλεῖον ἢ ἄρτοι πέντε καὶ ἰχθύες δύο, εἰ μήτι πορευθέντες ἡμεῖς ἀγοράσωμεν εἰς πάντα τὸν λαὸν τοῦτον βρώματα, FISH
5:16 καὶ διηγήσαντο αὐτοῖς οἱ ἰδόντες πῶς ἐγένετο τῷ δαιμονιζομένῳ καὶ περὶ τῶν χοίρων, SWINE 7:15 Προσέχετε ἀπὸ τῶν ψευδοπροφητῶν, οἵτινες ἔρχονται πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐν ἐνδύμασιν προβάτων, SHEEP 9:16 λαβὼν δὲ τοὺς πέντε ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς δύο ἰχθύας ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εὐλόγησεν αὐτοὺς καὶ κατέκλασεν καὶ ἐδίδου τοῖς μαθηταῖς παραθεῖναι τῷ ὄχλῳ, FISH
6:34 καὶ ἐξελθὼν εἶδεν πολὺν ὄχλον, καὶ ἐσπλαγχνίσθη ἐπ' αὐτοὺς ὅτι ἦσαν ὡς πρόβατα μὴ ἔχοντα ποιμένα, καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτοὺς πολλά, SHEEP 7:15 ἔσωθεν δέ εἰσιν λύκοι ἅρπαγες, WOLF 9:58 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Αἱ ἀλώπεκες φωλεοὺς ἔχουσιν, FOX
6:38 ὁ δὲ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Πόσους ἄρτους ἔχετε; ὑπάγετε ἴδετε. καὶ γνόντες λέγουσιν, Πέντε, καὶ δύο ἰχθύας, FISH 8:20 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Αἱ ἀλώπεκες φωλεοὺς ἔχουσιν, FOX 9:58 καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνώσεις, ὁ δὲ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἔχει ποῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν κλίνῃ, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD)
6:41 καὶ λαβὼν τοὺς πέντε ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς δύο ἰχθύας ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εὐλόγησεν καὶ κατέκλασεν τοὺς ἄρτους καὶ ἐδίδου τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ἵνα παρατιθῶσιν αὐτοῖς, καὶ τοὺς δύο ἰχθύας ἐμέρισεν πᾶσιν, FISH 8:20 καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνώσεις, ὁ δὲ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἔχει ποῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν κλίνῃ, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD) 10:3 ὑπάγετε· ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς ἄρνας, LAMB
6:43 καὶ ἦραν κλάσματα δώδεκα κοφίνων πληρώματα καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἰχθύων, FISH 8:30 ἦν δὲ μακρὰν ἀπ' αὐτῶν ἀγέλη χοίρων πολλῶν βοσκομένη, SWINE 10:3 ἐν μέσῳ λύκων, WOLF
7:27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτῇ, Ἄφες πρῶτον χορτασθῆναι τὰ τέκνα, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ τοῖς κυναρίοις βαλεῖν, LITTLE DOG 8:31 οἱ δὲ δαίμονες παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Εἰ ἐκβάλλεις ἡμᾶς, ἀπόστειλον ἡμᾶς εἰς τὴν ἀγέλην τῶν χοίρων, SWINE 10:19 ἰδοὺ δέδωκα ὑμῖν τὴν ἐξουσίαν τοῦ πατεῖν ἐπάνω ὄφεων, SNAKE

10:19 καὶ σκορπίων, καὶ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ ἐχθροῦ, καὶ οὐδὲν ὑμᾶς οὐ μὴ ἀδικήσῃ, SCORPION

10:34 καὶ προσελθὼν κατέδησεν τὰ τραύματα αὐτοῦ ἐπιχέων ἔλαιον καὶ οἶνον, ἐπιβιβάσας δὲ αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸ ἴδιον κτῆνος ἤγαγεν αὐτὸν εἰς πανδοχεῖον καὶ ἐπεμελήθη αὐτοῦ, BEAST [OF BURDEN]
7:28, ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίθη καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, καὶ τὰ κυνάρια ὑποκάτω τῆς τραπέζης ἐσθίουσιν ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν παιδίων, LITTLE DOG 8:32 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ὑπάγετε. οἱ δὲ ἐξελθόντες ἀπῆλθον εἰς τοὺς χοίρους· καὶ ἰδοὺ ὥρμησεν πᾶσα ἡ ἀγέλη κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, καὶ ἀπέθανον ἐν τοῖς ὕδασιν, SWINE 11:11 τίνα δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν τὸν πατέρα αἰτήσει ὁ υἱὸς ἰχθύν, καὶ ἀντὶ ἰχθύος, FISH
8:7 καὶ εἶχον ἰχθύδια ὀλίγα· καὶ εὐλογήσας αὐτὰ εἶπεν καὶ ταῦτα παρατιθέναι, SMALL FISH 9:36 Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἐσπλαγχνίσθη περὶ αὐτῶν ὅτι ἦσαν ἐσκυλμένοι καὶ ἐρριμμένοι ὡσεὶ πρόβατα μὴ ἔχοντα ποιμένα, SHEEP 11:11 ὄφιν αὐτῷ ἐπιδώσει, SNAKE
9:48 ὅπου ὁ σκώληξ αὐτῶν οὐ τελευτᾷ καὶ τὸ πῦρ οὐ σβέννυται, WORM 10:6 πορεύεσθε δὲ μᾶλλον πρὸς τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ, SHEEP 11:12 ἢ καὶ αἰτήσει ᾠόν, EGG
10:25 εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τῆσ τρυμαλιᾶς τῆσ ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν, CAMEL 10:16 Ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς πρόβατα, SHEEP 11:12 ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ σκορπίον, SCORPION
11:2 Ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν κώμην τὴν κατέναντι ὑμῶν, καὶ εὐθὺς εἰσπορευόμενοι εἰς αὐτὴν εὑρήσετε πῶλον δεδεμένον ἐφ' ὃν οὐδεὶς οὔπω ἀνθρώπων ἐκάθισεν, YOUNG ASS (COLT) 10:16 ἐν μέσῳ λύκων, WOLF 12:6 οὐχὶ πέντε στρουθία πωλοῦνται ἀσσαρίων δύο; καὶ ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν οὐκ ἔστιν ἐπιλελησμένον ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ, SPARROW
11:5 καί τινες τῶν ἐκεῖ ἑστηκότων ἔλεγον αὐτοῖς, Τί ποιεῖτε λύοντες τὸν πῶλον, YOUNG ASS (COLT) 10:16 γίνεσθε οὖν φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις, SNAKE 12:7 ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ τρίχες τῆς κεφαλῆς ὑμῶν πᾶσαι ἠρίθμηνται. μὴ φοβεῖσθε· πολλῶν στρουθίων διαφέρετε, SPARROW
11:7 καὶ φέρουσιν τὸν πῶλον πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, YOUNG ASS (COLT) 10:16 καὶ ἀκέραιοι ὡς αἱ περιστεραί, DOVE, PIGEON 12:24 κατανοήσατε τοὺς κόρακας, RAVEN
11:15 καὶ τὰς τραπέζας τῶν κολλυβιστῶν καὶ τὰς καθέδρας τῶν πωλούντων τὰς περιστερὰς κατέστρεψεν, DOVE, PIGEON 10:29 οὐχὶ δύο στρουθία ἀσσαρίου πωλεῖται; καὶ ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν οὐ πεσεῖται ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἄνευ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν, SPARROW 12:24 ὅτι οὐ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲ θερίζουσιν, οἷς οὐκ ἔστιν ταμεῖον οὐδὲ ἀποθήκη, καὶ ὁ θεὸς τρέφει αὐτούς· πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὑμεῖς διαφέρετε τῶν πετεινῶν, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD)
13:35 γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, οὐκ οἴδατε γὰρ πότε ὁ κύριος τῆς οἰκίας ἔρχεται, ἢ ὀψὲ ἢ μεσονύκτιον ἢ ἀλεκτοροφωνίας ἢ πρωΐ, COCKCROWING 10:31 μὴ οὖν φοβεῖσθε· πολλῶν στρουθίων διαφέρετε ὑμεῖς, SPARROW 13:15 ἀπεκρίθη δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος καὶ εἶπεν, Ὑποκριταί, ἕκαστος ὑμῶν τῷ σαββάτῳ οὐ λύει τὸν βοῦν αὐτοῦ, OX, COW
14:27 Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Πάντες σκανδαλισθήσεσθε, ὅτι γέγραπται, Πατάξω τὸν ποιμένα, καὶ τὰ πρόβατα διασκορπισθήσονται, SHEEP 12:11 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τίς ἔσται ἐξ ὑμῶν ἄνθρωπος ὃς ἕξει πρόβατον ἕν, καὶ ἐὰν ἐμπέσῃ τοῦτο τοῖς σάββασιν εἰς βόθυνον, οὐχὶ κρατήσει αὐτὸ καὶ ἐγερεῖ, SHEEP 13:15 ἢ τὸν ὄνον ἀπὸ τῆς φάτνης καὶ ἀπαγαγὼν ποτίζει, ASS
14:30 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι σὺ σήμερον ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ πρὶν ἢ δὶς ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι τρίς με ἀπαρνήσῃ, COCK 12:12 πόσῳ οὖν διαφέρει ἄνθρωπος προβάτου. ὥστε ἔξεστιν τοῖς σάββασιν καλῶς ποιεῖν, SHEEP 13:19 ὁμοία ἐστὶν κόκκῳ σινάπεως, ὃν λαβὼν ἄνθρωπος ἔβαλεν εἰς κῆπον ἑαυτοῦ, καὶ ηὔξησεν καὶ ἐγένετο εἰς δένδρον, καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατεσκήνωσεν ἐν τοῖς κλάδοις αὐτοῦ, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD)
14:68 καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἔξω εἰς τὸ προαύλιον ·καὶ ἀλέκτωρ ἐφώνησεν, COCK 12:34 γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, πῶς δύνασθε ἀγαθὰ λαλεῖν πονηροὶ ὄντεσ; ἐκ γὰρ τοῦ περισσεύματος τῆς καρδίας τὸ στόμα λαλεῖ, VIPER 13:32 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πορευθέντες εἴπατε τῇ ἀλώπεκι ταύτῃ, Ἰδοὺ ἐκβάλλω δαιμόνια καὶ ἰάσεις ἀποτελῶ σήμερον καὶ αὔριον, καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ τελειοῦμαι, FOX
14:72 καὶ εὐθὺς ἐκ δευτέρου ἀλέκτωρ ἐφώνησεν. καὶ ἀνεμνήσθη ὁ Πέτρος τὸ ῥῆμα ὡς εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Πρὶν ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι δὶς τρίς με ἀπαρνήσῃ· καὶ ἐπιβαλὼν ἔκλαιεν, COCK 12:40 ὥσπερ γὰρ ἦν Ἰωνᾶς ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ τοῦ κήτους τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ τρεῖς νύκτας, οὕτως ἔσται ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ τῆς γῆς τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ τρεῖς νύκτας, BIG FISH, WHALE 13:34 Ἰερουσαλὴμ Ἰερουσαλήμ, ἡ ἀποκτείνουσα τοὺς προφήτας καὶ λιθοβολοῦσα τοὺς ἀπεσταλμένους πρὸς αὐτήν, ποσάκις ἠθέλησα ἐπισυνάξαι τὰ τέκνα σου ὃν τρόπον ὄρνις, HEN
16:18 καὶ ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν ὄφεις ἀροῦσιν, κἂν θανάσιμόν τι πίωσιν οὐ μὴ αὐτοὺς βλάψῃ, ἐπὶ ἀρρώστους χεῖρας ἐπιθήσουσιν καὶ καλῶς ἕξουσιν, SNAKE 13:4 καὶ ἐν τῷ σπείρειν αὐτὸν ἃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, καὶ ἐλθόντα τὰ πετεινὰ κατέφαγεν αὐτά, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD) 13:34 τὴν ἑαυτῆς νοσσιὰν ὑπὸ τὰς πτέρυγας, καὶ οὐκ ἠθελήσατε, BIRDLING
13:32 ὃ μικρότερον μέν ἐστιν πάντων τῶν σπερμάτων, ὅταν δὲ αὐξηθῇ μεῖζον τῶν λαχάνων ἐστὶν καὶ γίνεται δένδρον, ὥστε ἐλθεῖν τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ κατασκηνοῦν ἐν τοῖς κλάδοις αὐτοῦ, FLYING ANIMAL (BIRD) 14:5 καὶ πρὸς αὐτοὺς εἶπεν, Τίνος ὑμῶν υἱὸς ἢ βοῦς εἰς φρέαρ πεσεῖται, καὶ οὐκ εὐθέως ἀνασπάσει αὐτὸν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ σαββάτου, OX
14:17 οἱ δὲ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Οὐκ ἔχομεν ὧδε εἰ μὴ πέντε ἄρτους καὶ δύο ἰχθύας, FISH 14:19 καὶ ἕτερος εἶπεν, Ζεύγη βοῶν ἠγόρασα πέντε καὶ πορεύομαι δοκιμάσαι αὐτά· ἐρωτῶ σε, ἔχε με παρῃτημένον, OX
14:19 καὶ κελεύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνακλιθῆναι ἐπὶ τοῦ χόρτου, λαβὼν τοὺς πέντε ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς δύο ἰχθύας, ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εὐλόγησεν καὶ κλάσας ἔδωκεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς τοὺς ἄρτους οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ τοῖς ὄχλοις, FISH 15:4 Τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ ἀπολέσας ἐξ αὐτῶν ἓν οὐ καταλείπει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ πορεύεται ἐπὶ τὸ ἀπολωλὸς ἕως εὕρῃ αὐτό, SHEEP
15:24 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἀπεστάλην εἰ μὴ εἰς τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ, SHEEP 15:6 καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὸν οἶκον συγκαλεῖ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς γείτονας λέγων αὐτοῖς, Συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὸ πρόβατόν μου τὸ ἀπολωλός, SHEEP
15:26 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἔστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ βαλεῖν τοῖς κυναρίοις, LITTLE DOG 15:15 καὶ πορευθεὶς ἐκολλήθη ἑνὶ τῶν πολιτῶν τῆς χώρας ἐκείνης, καὶ ἔπεμψεν αὐτὸν εἰς τοὺς ἀγροὺς αὐτοῦ βόσκειν χοίρους, SWINE
15:27 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, Ναί, κύριε, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν, LITTLE DOG 15:16 καὶ ἐπεθύμει χορτασθῆναι ἐκ τῶν κερατίων ὧν ἤσθιον οἱ χοῖροι, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδίδου αὐτῷ, SWINE
15:34 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πόσους ἄρτους ἔχετε; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Ἑπτά, καὶ ὀλίγα ἰχθύδια, SMALL FISH 15:23 καὶ φέρετε τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, θύσατε καὶ φαγόντες εὐφρανθῶμεν, CALF
15:36 ἔλαβεν τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς ἰχθύας καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἐδίδου τοῖς μαθηταῖς, οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ τοῖς ὄχλοις, FISH 15:27 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὅτι Ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἥκει, καὶ ἔθυσεν ὁ πατήρ σου τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, ὅτι ὑγιαίνοντα αὐτὸν ἀπέλαβεν, CALF
17:27 ἵνα δὲ μὴ σκανδαλίσωμεν αὐτούς, πορευθεὶς εἰς θάλασσαν βάλε ἄγκιστρον καὶ τὸν ἀναβάντα πρῶτον ἰχθὺν ἆρον, καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ εὑρήσεις στατῆρα· ἐκεῖνον λαβὼν δὸς αὐτοῖς ἀντὶ ἐμοῦ καὶ σοῦ, FISH 15:29 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ, Ἰδοὺ τοσαῦτα ἔτη δουλεύω σοι καὶ οὐδέποτε ἐντολήν σου παρῆλθον, καὶ ἐμοὶ οὐδέποτε ἔδωκας ἔριφον ἵνα μετὰ τῶν φίλων μου εὐφρανθῶ, [YOUNG] GOAT
18:12 Τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ; ἐὰν γένηταί τινι ἀνθρώπῳ ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ πλανηθῇ ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν, οὐχὶ ἀφήσει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη καὶ πορευθεὶς ζητεῖ τὸ πλανώμενον, SHEEP 15:30 ὅτε δὲ ὁ υἱός σου οὗτος ὁ καταφαγών σου τὸν βίον μετὰ πορνῶν ἦλθεν, ἔθυσας αὐτῷ τὸν σιτευτὸν μόσχον, CALF
19:24 πάλιν δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρυπήματος ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, CAMEL 17:37 καὶ ἀποκριθέντες λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Ποῦ, κύριε; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ὅπου τὸ σῶμα, ἐκεῖ καὶ οἱ ἀετοὶ ἐπισυναχθήσονται, EAGLE [VULTURE here]
21:2 λέγων αὐτοῖς, Πορεύεσθε εἰς τὴν κώμην τὴν κατέναντι ὑμῶν, καὶ εὐθέως εὑρήσετε ὄνον δεδεμένην, ASS 18:25 εὐκοπώτερον γάρ ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρήματος βελόνης εἰσελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν, CAMEL
21:2 καὶ πῶλον μετ' αὐτῆς· λύσαντες ἀγάγετέ μοι, YOUNG ASS (COLT) 19:30 λέγων, Ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν κατέναντι κώμην, ἐν ᾗ εἰσπορευόμενοι εὑρήσετε πῶλον δεδεμένον, ἐφ' ὃν οὐδεὶς πώποτε ἀνθρώπων ἐκάθισεν, καὶ λύσαντες αὐτὸν ἀγάγετε, YOUNG ASS (COLT)
21:5 Εἴπατε τῇ θυγατρὶ Σιών, Ἰδοὺ ὁ βασιλεύς σου ἔρχεταί σοι, πραῢς καὶ ἐπιβεβηκὼς ἐπὶ ὄνον, ASS 19:33 λυόντων δὲ αὐτῶν τὸν πῶλον εἶπαν οἱ κύριοι αὐτοῦ πρὸς αὐτούς, Τί λύετε τὸν πῶλον, YOUNG ASS (COLT)
21:5 καὶ ἐπὶ πῶλον υἱὸν ὑποζυγίου, YOUNG ASS (COLT) 19:35 καὶ ἤγαγον αὐτὸν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, καὶ ἐπιρίψαντες αὐτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια ἐπὶ τὸν πῶλον ἐπεβίβασαν τὸν Ἰησοῦν, YOUNG ASS (COLT)
21:7 ἤγαγον τὴν ὄνον, ASS 22:34 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Λέγω σοι, Πέτρε, οὐ φωνήσει σήμερον ἀλέκτωρ ἕως τρίς με ἀπαρνήσῃ εἰδέναι, COCK
21:7 καὶ τὸν πῶλον, καὶ ἐπέθηκαν ἐπ' αὐτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια, καὶ ἐπεκάθισεν ἐπάνω αὐτῶν, YOUNG ASS (COLT) 22:60 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Πέτρος, Ἄνθρωπε, οὐκ οἶδα ὃ λέγεις. καὶ παραχρῆμα ἔτι λαλοῦντος αὐτοῦ ἐφώνησεν ἀλέκτωρ, COCK
21:12 Καὶ εἰσῆλθεν Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὸ ἱερόν, καὶ ἐξέβαλεν πάντας τοὺς πωλοῦντας καὶ ἀγοράζοντας ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ, καὶ τὰς τραπέζας τῶν κολλυβιστῶν κατέστρεψεν καὶ τὰς καθέδρας τῶν πωλούντων τὰς περιστεράς, DOVE, PIGEON 22:61 καὶ στραφεὶς ὁ κύριος ἐνέβλεψεν τῷ Πέτρῳ, καὶ ὑπεμνήσθη ὁ Πέτρος τοῦ ῥήματος τοῦ κυρίου ὡς εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὅτι Πρὶν ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι σήμερον ἀπαρνήσῃ με τρίς, COCK
22:4 πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους λέγων, Εἴπατε τοῖς κεκλημένοις, Ἰδοὺ τὸ ἄριστόν μου ἡτοίμακα, οἱ ταῦροί μου, BULL, OX 24:42 οἱ δὲ ἐπέδωκαν αὐτῷ ἰχθύος ὀπτοῦ μέρος, FISH
22:4 καὶ τὰ σιτιστὰ τεθυμένα, καὶ πάντα ἕτοιμα· δεῦτε εἰς τοὺς γάμους, FATTED ANIMAL
23:24 ὁδηγοὶ τυφλοί, οἱ διϋλίζοντες τὸν κώνωπα, MOSQUITO, [WINE] GNAT
23:24 τὴν δὲ κάμηλον καταπίνοντες, CAMEL
23:33 ὄφεις, SNAKE
23:33 γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, πῶς φύγητε ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννησ, VIPER
23:37 Ἰερουσαλὴμ Ἰερουσαλήμ, ἡ ἀποκτείνουσα τοὺς προφήτας καὶ λιθοβολοῦσα τοὺς ἀπεσταλμένους πρὸς αὐτήν, ποσάκις ἠθέλησα ἐπισυναγαγεῖν τὰ τέκνα σου, ὃν τρόπον ὄρνις, HEN
23:37 ἐπισυνάγει τὰ νοσσία αὐτῆς ὑπὸ τὰς πτέρυγας, καὶ οὐκ ἠθελήσατε, BIRDLING
24:28 ὅπου ἐὰν ᾖ τὸ πτῶμα, ἐκεῖ συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀετοί, EAGLE [VULTURE here]
25:32 καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺς ἀπ' ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα, SHEEP
25:32 ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων, [YOUNG] GOAT
25:33 καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, SHEEP
25:33 τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων, [YOUNG] GOAT
26:31 Τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πάντες ὑμεῖς σκανδαλισθήσεσθε ἐν ἐμοὶ ἐν τῇ νυκτὶ ταύτῃ, γέγραπται γάρ, Πατάξω τὸν ποιμένα, καὶ διασκορπισθήσονται τὰ πρόβατα τῆς ποίμνης, SHEEP
26:34 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι ἐν ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ πρὶν ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι τρὶς ἀπαρνήσῃ με, COCK
26:74 τότε ἤρξατο καταθεματίζειν καὶ ὀμνύειν ὅτι Οὐκ οἶδα τὸν ἄνθρωπον. καὶ εὐθέως ἀλέκτωρ ἐφώνησεν, COCK
26:75 καὶ ἐμνήσθη ὁ Πέτρος τοῦ ῥήματος Ἰησοῦ εἰρηκότος ὅτι Πρὶν ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι τρὶς ἀπαρνήσῃ με· καὶ ἐξελθὼν ἔξω ἔκλαυσεν πικρῶς, COCK

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Why Paul wrote in Greek to the Romans

And why not -say- in Latin, the "official language" of Rome? Cicero provides a concise, even if partial, explanation (giving also - mutatis mutandis - one of the reasons why this blog is mostly in English rather than in Italian):
Nam si quis minorem gloriae fructum putat ex graecis versibus percipi quam ex latinis, vehementer errat, propterea quod graeca leguntur in omnibus fere gentibus, latina suis finibus, exiguis sane, continentur. (Cicero, Pro Archia, 23 - written 62 BCE)
Which is not to say that Cicero did not want to cultivate good Latin writing, or that he was detached from his own Roman culture, as we know. I think this passage is interesting also because it could serve as a reminder of the difficult collocation of the literary genre of Romans: perhaps a personal letter to the Church of Rome, perhaps a sort of encyclical epistle, perhaps a kind of lehrbrief, or perhaps something else.

Juvenal's third satire (65 CE) tells us how contemporary Rome was filled with Greek-speaking people (divitibus gens acceptissima nostris, Juvenal says, with an interesting sociological remark). There is some modern relevance to the theme of people lamenting that their home country is "polluted" by foreigners and invoking the expulsion, in the name of the preservation of the "purer" race, of these foreigneres and in general of those adhering to foreign customs (emphasis mine):
Quae nunc divitibus gens acceptissima nostris et quos praecipue fugiam, properabo fateri, nec pudor opstabit. Non possum ferre, Quirites, Graecam urbem; quamvis quota potio faecis Achaei? Iam pridem Syrus in Tiberim defluxit Orontes, et linguam et mores et cum tibicine chordas obliquas nec non gentilia tympana secum vexit et ad circum iussas prostare puellas. Ite, quibus grata est picta lupa barbara mitra! (Juvenal, Satire 3, 58-66)
Both Clemens Romanus (ca. 88-98 CE) and Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 98-115 CE) wrote in Greek, Ignatius specifically writing in Greek to the Church of Rome; there are several other examples of writers writing in Greek in Rome in the first centuries CE: for instance, Galen (in Rome after 168 CE, serving as physician to Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus), or Justin Martyr (Apologia, 148-161 CE). On the other hand, the first known Christians writing in Latin are Apollonius and Pope Victor I (late 2nd half of II CE). Whoever visits the Roman catacombs soon realizes that most of the inscriptions there are written in Greek rather than in Latin: out of 534 inscriptions, 405 are in Greek, 123 in Latin, 3 in Hebrew, 1 in Aramaic, 1 is bilingual Greek-Latin, 1 is bilingual Greek-Aramaic (Fitzmyer, Romans, Introduction, VII; incidentally, the Italian edition - Lettera ai Romani, Piemme, 1999 - wrongly dates Cicero's Pro Archia to the 1st century CE rather than BCE). Apropos bilingualism, note the review of J.N. Adams, M. Janse, S. Swain, Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Text, Oxford, 2002 - a book I hope to get access to soon.

Liturgically, Justin in his First Apology describes how the Eucharist was celebrated in Greek in Rome; on the other hand, we have a fragment of the De Sacramentis written by the Pseudo-Ambrose, ca. 400, where the Roman liturgy is apparently said in Latin. In liturgy then, the transition from Greek to Latin happened somewhere in between these data points, but it seems difficult or controversial to be more precise. We also know that under Pope Damasus (366-384) the Vulgate became the official version of the Bible used in the Roman liturgy. Greek did not disappear completely: for example, those familiar with Roman or Ambrosian Catholic rites can easily remember that parts of the Mass are still in Greek today (notably the invocation Kyrie Eleison). Note also the symbol IHΣ abbreviating the word ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, the so-called monogram of Christ XP, the two letters Α-Ω to signify beginning and end, and the iconography of the fish, Greek ΙΧΘΥΣ, acrostic for Ιησους Χριστος Θεου Υιος Σοτερ.

In summary, all evidence points to the fact that by the time Romans was written, a substantial part (if not the majority) of the population in Rome was bilingual, that contemporary Christian literature was indeed normally written in Greek, that Greek was a common (if not the usual) language of Roman Christians and a kind of lingua franca, and that Greek continued to be used in Rome and in Roman rites for several more decades and perhaps centuries. The transition from Greek to Latin happened gradually, with Greek's usage progressively disappearing; and by the end of the fourth century CE we have strong indications that Roman liturgy had converged into using Latin rather than Greek in most of its forms.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Freedom of, or freedom from?

After the post on the obedience of faith, it seems fit to say something about freedom, a concept popularly perceived as in opposition to obedience.

Romans 8:2 reads:

ὁ γὰρ νόμος τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ζωῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἠλευθέρωσέν σε ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου τῆς ἁμαρτίας καὶ τοῦ θανάτου.

The point I would like to cover in this post regards the verb ἠλευθέρωσέν, aorist indicative from ελευθεροω, "to liberate", make free. As usual, I shall start looking where this verb (and the nouns ελευθερος, "free", and ελευθερια, "freedom") occurs in the NT, with the goal of better understanding its semantic domain.

First of all, the verb is from ερχομαι ("to go"), in the sense of "to go where one wishes", and therefore to be free. It is one of the key words of Paul's theology, where it is often used (to anticipate the conclusions) to mean freedom from the slavery of sin. The translations provided in this post all come from the ESV.

The verb ελευθεροω:
  • Joh 8:32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
  • Joh 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
  • Rom 6:18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
  • Rom 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
  • Rom 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
  • Rom 8:21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
  • Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
The noun ελευθερος:
  • Mat 17:26 And when he said, "From others," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free."
  • Joh 8:33 They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"
  • Joh 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
  • Rom 6:20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
  • Rom 7:3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
  • 1Co 7:21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.
  • 1Co 7:22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.
  • 1Co 7:39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
  • 1Co 9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?
  • 1Co 9:19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.
  • 1Co 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
  • Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • Gal 4:22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.
  • Gal 4:23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.
  • Gal 4:26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
  • Gal 4:30 But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman."
  • Gal 4:31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
  • Eph 6:8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
  • Col 3:11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
  • 1Pe 2:16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
  • Rev 6:15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,
  • Rev 13:16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead,
  • Rev 19:18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great."
The noun ελευθερια:
  • Rom 8:21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
  • 1Co 10:29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?
  • 2Co 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
  • Gal 2:4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in--who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery--
  • Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
  • Gal 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
  • Jam 1:25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
  • Jam 2:12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.
  • 1Pe 2:16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
  • 2Pe 2:19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.
We often think of freedom as freedom of doing something, that is, the liberty of acting (or not acting) in whichever way we desire. But this does not seem the meaning that the NT primarily attaches to ελευθεροω. In fact, this word is normally in opposition to "slave", or "slavery", and the slavery the texts often refer to is "sin". So for example Rom 6:18, Rom 6:20, Rom 6:22, Rom 8:2, Rom 8:21. The liberty the Bible talks about is not first and foremost an ethical liberty, it is rather ontological. In this sense, it is freedom from, particularly from being slave, or subject, to the limitations of sin. According to Paul, Christian freedom is still to be understood in opposition to slavery, but to the slavery of the Mosaic law. Cf. for example Gal 4:25-26, which contrasts the earthly Jerusalem, which is under slavery of the law, like Hagar - Sarah's slave - is in bondage, with the "Jerusalem above", which is free. However, there is another slavery, to which Christian freedom is not in opposition, namely, the slavery of Christ, or righteousness (which is the main effect of the Christ event, as Fitzmyer aptly says), as per Rom 6:18: ἐλευθερωθέντες δὲ ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ἐδουλώθητε τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ, "having been set free from sin, we have been made slaves to righteousness."

Here we need to note the key distinction between the two historical categories of the "freeman" (ελευθερος, latin ingenuus) and of the "freedman" (απελευθερος, latin libertinus). The freeman is the one who is born free. Does he have any merit for having been fortunate enough to be born free, or intelligent, or of a good family, or in the Western world, etc? No. The freedman, on the other hand, is the one who, although he was born as a slave, has been set free. Does he have any merit for this? No. (Regardless of his merits, his master could always refuse to grant him freedom.) But now, when we transpose this to Christianity, there is an important point to make: in the world the distinction between the freeman and the slave made free (the freedman) is still retained in terms of civil rights, or, in other words, being set free from your earthly master does not make you equal to a man born free (cf. Acts 22:28: The tribune answered, "I bought this citizenship for a large sum." Paul said, "But I am a citizen by birth."). In Christ, however, this distinction vanishes: what is important is only that you accept your being dependent upon (slave of) Christ, regardless of your natural descent: cf. Gal 3:28, οὐκ ἔνι ᾿Ιουδαῖος οὐδὲ ῞Ελλην, οὐκ ἔνι δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος, οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ. And this for the very simple reason that, in Christ, it does not make sense to speak of a "natural freeman", because all are tainted by (i.e. enslaved by) sin - hence, the distinction disappears. In this sense, as the Roman freeman was the only true citizen of Rome, the Christian made free by Christ is the the only true citizen of the free city of Christianity.

This is all condensed in 1 Cor 7:22: ὁ γὰρ ἐν κυρίῳ κληθεὶς δοῦλος ἀπελεύθερος κυρίου ἐστίν· ὁμοίως ὁ ἐλεύθερος κληθεὶς δοῦλός ἐστιν Χριστοῦ. The noun ἀπελεύθερος refers to the free man who was once a slave (δοῦλος). So, Paul says, if you were a slave of a human master, you are now set free from that slavery (that is, from the slavery of the law); you are now a freedman, but still a freedman of the Lord (κυρίου). On the other hand, if you were a freeman, do not presume to be absolutely (literally: without ties, or bounds) free, because, if you accept the call of God, you are now a slave of Christ. If you don't, you simply remain in your state of slavery. 2 Pet 2:19: ἐλευθερίαν αὐτοῖς ἐπαγγελλόμενοι, αὐτοὶ δοῦλοι ὑπάρχοντες τῆς φθορᾶς· ᾧ γάρ τις ἥττηται, τούτῳ δεδούλωται. That is, if you don't remove the cause of what overcomes (ηττηται, from ητταω, lit. to make less, inferior) you - that is, sin -, you remain in a state of slavery with regard to exactly those things that overcome you.

So, what is this freedom/ελευθερια? It is really "to go where one wishes", as the etymology suggests, but not primarily in terms of ethical behavior. It is freedom from the slavery of sin, and this freedom we can get through another freedom: the freedom to choose whether to be slave of sin, or not (and, incidentally, if we believe this is true freedom, we ought to respect it for what it is: if one really wants to be a slave, be he a slave). It is in the end really a freedom from, from sin, and from all sinful structures. 1 Cor 9:19: ᾿Ελεύθερος γὰρ ὢν ἐκ πάντων...: freedom from all, but which cannot be disjointed by the obedience of faith, by the slavery to Christ (hence, to all in Christ). Freedom and obedience go hand in hand. ελευθερια is primarily existential, ontological, theoretical, and only then practical and applied. Paul's paradox is in seeing that one first needs to accept its state of slavery before he can be set free, and that one needs to recognize that his real human nature calls for an actual recognition of his dependency on Christ's grace for salvation - which is perhaps a more palatable way, given our modern sensitivities, of expressing the need for one's voluntary slavery to Christ.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


The obedience of faith

In Rom 1:5 we find the expression υπακοη πιστεως:

Rom 1:1Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, κλητὸς ἀπόστολος, ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ,
2ὃ προεπηγγείλατο διὰ τῶν προφητῶν αὐτοῦ ἐν γραφαῖς ἁγίαις,
3περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα,
4τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν,
5δι' οὗ ἐλάβομεν χάριν καὶ ἀποστολὴν εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ,
6ἐν οἷς ἐστε καὶ ὑμεῖς κλητοὶ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ,

How should one translate εις υπακοην πιστεως? What does it refer to?

As for translation, one could literally render it as "to obtain/bring about obedience of faith" and be done with it. But in reality there are several questions to be asked:
  • Does the translation "obedience" truly make justice to the meaning of υπακοη? What does Paul mean by "obedience"?
  • What type of genitive is πιστεως? Should we say "obedience that is expression of faith"? Or simply "obedience that is faith" (epexegetical, or genitive of definition)? Or "obedience produced by faith" (genitive of production)? Or again "obedience rendered to faith" (objective genitive)? Does our understanding of faith (πιστις) influence our choice of the type of genitive and how?
In this post, I shall first examine the NT usage of υπακοη and of the verb υπακουω; I shall then evaluate the etymological origin of these words with the goal of throwing some light on their fuller meaning. Having done that, I shall proceed to consider what type of relation is there between obedience and faith, eventually proposing a translation for the expression εις υπακοην πιστεως. Finally, in the concluding section, I shall try to clarify the connotation of Christian obedience.

1. The meaning of υπακοη

This is where the word υπακοη occurs in the NT (ESV translation):
  • Rom 1:5: through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,
  • Rom 5:19: For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.
  • Rom 6:16: Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
  • Rom 15:18: For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience--by word and deed,
  • Rom 16:19: For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.
  • Rom 16:26: but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith--
  • 2Cor 7:15: And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.
  • 2Cor 10:5: We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (lit: the obedience of Christ, εἰς τὴν ὑπακοὴν τοῦ Χριστοῦ)
  • 2Cor 10:6: being ready to punish every disobedience (πᾶσαν παρακοήν), when your obedience is complete.
  • Phm 1:21: Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
  • Heb 5:8: Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.
  • 1Pet 1:2: according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ (ὑπακοὴν ...᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ) and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
  • 1Pet 1:14: As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,
  • 1Pet 1:22: Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth (ἐν τῇ ὑπακοῇ τῆς ἀληθείας) for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
While the verb υπακουω occurs in the following passages:
  • Mar 1:27: And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."
  • Mar 4:41 (par. Mat 8:27, Luke 8:25): And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"
  • Luk 17:6: And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
  • Act 6:7: And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (ὑπήκουον τῇ πίστει).
  • Act 12:13: And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer (ὑπακοῦσαι).
  • Rom 6:12: Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.
  • Rom 6:16: Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
  • Rom 6:17: But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,
  • Rom 10:16: But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?"
  • Eph 6:1: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
  • Eph 6:5: Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
  • Phi 2:12: Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
  • Col 3:20: Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
  • Col 3:22: Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.
  • 2Th 1:8: in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
  • 2Th 3:14: If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
  • Heb 5:9: And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,
  • Heb 11:8: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
  • 1Pe 3:6: as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
(In the translations, I have highlighted the Greek words "obey" or "obedience" in red, and sometimes the object or subject of obedience in green. Note that colors or emphasis might not be visible if you are reading this post through a blog aggregator rather than directly on the web site.)

A cursory look to the lists above shows that υπακοη seems to be a rather cherished word for Paul. Etymologically, υπακοη is formed by υπο + ακουω, i.e. "hear under". There is then the meaning of attentive listening, and, by implication, of conforming to some command or authority.

It is useful to compare it with its opposite "disobedience", i.e. παρακοη (cf. Rom 5:19, 2 Cor 10:6), formed by παρα + ακουω, that is, "hear aside", or mis-hear, and, by implication, neglect to hear. παρακοη is a rare word, and is purposedly employed in contrast with υπακοη. In Rom 5:19, παρακοη is the sin of Adam, which sheds some light on its true meaning (cf. Gen 3): the willful refusal of God's commandments. By contrast, then, obedience is true listening to God's message; in particular, the Pauline model of obedience is Christ, and this not only ethically, so to speak, but soteriologically: the effects of Christ's obedience, that is, διὰ τῆς ὑπακοῆς τοῦ ἑνὸς δίκαιοι κατασταθήσονται οἱ πολλοί, are in themselves a model for the individual effect brought about by obedience: through (δια) obedience the Christian shall be saved. Paul states the same thing in Rom 6:16, when he speaks of obedience εἰς δικαιοσύνην, εις having as usual a meaning of causality: obedience toward/meant to achieve/leading to righteousness.

It is interesting to note that a more common word for "disobedience" is απειθεια, rather than παρακοη, cf. e.g. Rom 11:30, ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ὑμεῖς ποτε ἠπειθήσατε τῷ Θεῷ, νῦν δὲ ἠλεήθητε τῇ τούτων ἀπειθείᾳ ("Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience"), which is from α + πειθω, i.e. "un-convince", or "un-believe". While παρακοη is contrasted to υπακοη within the framework of the presence of God, απειθεια is more linked to unfaithfulness, or refusal to believe in the first place. So the Vulgate, for example, translates Rom 11:30 as "sicut enim aliquando et vos non credidistis Deo nunc autem misericordiam consecuti estis propter illorum incredulitatem." In other words, υπακοη is a word whose meaning must be looked within the context of faith (note the aorist tense of ἠπειθήσατε). And indeed, in Rom 1:1-8 it is clear that Paul speaks to "all who are in Rome, loved by God", and who have already embraced the faith of Christ ("I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world", Rom 1:8). The "bringing about" of obedience is something that applies to the faithful.

From the quotations above, we see that in the NT "obedience" can be seen as the response of a slave toward a master. For Paul, who declares himself (Rom 1:1) δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, this would then be first and foremost obedience to Jesus Christ or, more precisely, to the claims of Jesus Christ. This is the obedience that (2 Cor 10:5) aligns every thought toward (εις) Jesus, that is, toward hearing and following him. Mishearing him then is disobedience (παρακοη), that must be fought and eventually punished (2 Cor 10:6). But it is important to stress that this "obedience" is really dedication of the slave to his master: in other words, Christian obedience implies positive engagement and personal commitment, rather than simply submission. (cf. Col 3:22, "obey [...] not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart.")

But while we are speaking of positive engagement, it is interesting to note that in Classical Greek the verb υπακουω has also the meaning of "answer (by voice or act) when called", or "answer (in a dialogue) when questioned" (LSJ). So, for example, in Homer, Odyssey 10.83, we find

ὅθι ποιμένα ποιμὴν ἠπύει εἰσελάων, ὁ δέ τ' ἐξελάων ὑπακούει

which can be translated as "where herdsman calls to herdsman as he drives in his flock, and the other answers as he drives his forth." I suggest that this link between obedience and [proper] answer to the call of God is implicit in the word υπακοη as used by Paul, and should not be forgotten. It is also apparently this meaning that the translation of Act 12:13b renders as "a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer [ὑπακοῦσαι]". ("answer a knock at the door" is another meaning of υπακουω found also in Classical Greek, and explicitly listed by LSJ.)

2. The genitive πιστεως

The positive engagement mentioned above is actually embedded - so to speak - in the Pauline concept of faith. For Paul, faith originates from personal hearing:

Rom 10:16᾿Αλλ᾿ οὐ πάντες ὑπήκουσαν τῷ εὐαγγελίω
17ἄρα ἡ πίστις ἐξ ἀκοῆς, ἡ δὲ ἀκοὴ διὰ ῥήματος Θεοῦ.

Which we may translate as, "But not all properly answered to (ὑπήκουσαν) the call of the gospel [or, obeyed to the gospel]. So, faith comes from hearing (ἐξ ἀκοῆς), and hearing comes through the word of God". Obedience then, which originates from faith through the word of God, is obedience to the gospel (the gospel "of our Lord Jesus Christ", 2 Th 1:8). Obedience (υπακοη), then, is the ultimate hearing (ακοη), and the complete expression of faith.

In the OT, faith, listening, and obedience are also closely linked: "obedience" is often the translation of שׁמע, originally "to hear", but also (BDB, Qal) "to hear with attention or interest, listen to", "to give heed", "to obey, be obedient"; it is typically associated with "voice" (very often of God), and translated in the LXX with ακουω or εισακουω (take notice in the latter word of the dynamics introduced by the preposition εις, and compare it with the Latin oboedire, from ob+audire). Cf. for example Gen 22:18, Gen 27:8, Ex 5:2 ("Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice..."), Dt 4:30, etc.

Having considered all these things, how should we interpret the genitive πιστεως then? The preposition εις in the expression ἐλάβομεν χάριν καὶ ἀποστολὴν εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως gives us a hint, since it suggest a movement toward obedience, in a context of faith. It does not seem then that an epexegetical genitive is appropriate here, that is, it does not seem that Paul wants to identify faith with obedience ("obedience that is faith"). Similarly, it does not seem that Paul has in mind an objective genitive, "obedience rendered to faith", as if identifying faith with a corpus of doctrines to which obedience is due. And it is not a genitive of production ("obedience produced by faith"), not in the sense of the production of obedience directly coming from faith, as a necessary consequence.

Rather, it seems to me that a translation of εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως needs to take into account several points: attentive submission, personal commitment and answer, and the dynamic nature of obedience as expression of a growing faith. As Heb 5:8 shows (καίπερ ὢν υἱὸς, ἔμαθεν ἀφ᾿ ὧν ἔπαθε τὴν ὑπακοήν - "although he was a son, he learned obedience through [or from/because of] what he suffered"), and as the preposition εις confirms with its meaning of purposedness, obedience is a progressive engagement, incarnated - if I may say so - in our incarnated faith. A faith that, to adopt terminology dear to Pauline theology, must always take into account our nature of man subject to personal sin. A suitable translation (or rather paraphrase) of the expression εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως could then be along the lines of "to bring about that obedience, that is personal answer to and full expression of faith [in the gospel of Jesus Christ]".

3. Conclusion

Many translations simply translate εις υπακοην πιστεως with "to bring about the obedience of faith". But an understanding of the meaning of true Christian obedience is vital to avoid falling, on the one hand, into rigid and cold observance of precepts ("the law"), and, on the other hand, into the illusion that faith by itself provides or produces obedience.

In this post I have argued instead that Christian obedience does come from faith, but in an evolving way, as a result of our journey in the faith of Jesus Christ, and that obedience can only be conceived in a framework of personal engagement with the gospel. In this sense, we should speak of the daily walk toward obedience, ultimate expression of the Christian faith.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Hope and Despair

Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I, 1514In the Introduction to his Theology of Hope, Jürgen Moltmann briefly writes about the contrary of Christian hope: the sin of despair. I think it is interesting to meditate a little bit on this inclination.

As Kierkegaard rightly said in The Sickness Unto Death, everyone is in despair (whether they know it or not), because despair is really a tension between the infinite and the finite; but, at the same time, despair is "the sin which most profoundly threatens the believer" (Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 2002, p.8).

There are many possible ways to speak of despair. I shall loosely follow here what Aquinas said about it in his Summa Theologiae (hereafter cited as ST), particularly in II-II, q.20 (De desperatione).

A first question that may arise is, Is despair really a sin?

Let's start with Eph 4:17-19, where Paul exhorts the Ephesians to no longer act as the Gentiles:

4:17Τοῦτο οὖν λέγω καὶ μαρτύρομαι ἐν κυρίῳ, μηκέτι ὑμᾶς περιπατεῖν καθὼς καὶ τὰ ἔθνη περιπατεῖ ἐν ματαιότητι τοῦ νοὸς αὐτῶν,
18ἐσκοτωμένοι τῇ διανοίᾳ ὄντες, ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ θεοῦ, διὰ τὴν ἄγνοιαν τὴν οὖσαν ἐν αὐτοῖς, διὰ τὴν πώρωσιν τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν,
19οἵτινες ἀπηλγηκότες ἑαυτοὺς παρέδωκαν τῇ ἀσελγείᾳ εἰς ἐργασίαν ἀκαθαρσίας πάσης ἐν πλεονεξίᾳ.

My translation:

4:17Now this I say and testitfy in the Lord: that no longer you should walk as also the Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
18obscured in understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in themselves, due to the hardness of their heart.
19They, who have become apathetic, surrendered themselves with greediness to lust, in all sorts of unclean works.

These are very strong words. The key verb that interests us here is ἀπαλγέω, used in v.19 in the perfect tense, to indicate something that already happened, but which bears its effect up to the present: in this case, an ongoing attitude of the Gentiles. ἀπαλγέω means "cease to feel pain or grief", and in the verse above it is often translated as "to become callous", or apathetic1. Being apathetic, or desperate (that is, without hope), is then a source of grave sins: when one is apathetic, he easily surrenders to "all sorts of unclean works".

So, we see that from despair serious sins can be originated; but is despair itself a sin?

It is indeed: nurturing false ideas into one's mind is a sin, while, on the other hand, nurturing true ideas into one's mind is good. But thinking that one can not be reached by the grace of God is a false idea. In fact, this contradicts both the concept of a free God (if God is free, in his mercy he may well decide to save a sinner), and the actual promises that God made to us. Therefore, it is a sin to live in despair, with despair intended as the belief that it would be impossible for one to be saved by God or, stated otherwise, that God's promises would not refer also to me. Actually, due to its destructive impact, and we shall say something more about this soon, despair is such a serious sin that (ST, II-II, q.14, a.2) it is placed among the sins against the Holy Spirit; and these are sins that, according to Mark 3:28-29, are "eternal", that is, unpardonable.

A similar path of reasoning applies to the opposite of despair, that is presumption, also a sin against the Holy Spirit: where desperation entails the false belief that God does not care (so to speak) about sinners, or that one cannot convert from his sins, presumption entails the false belief that, regardless of the sins one may commit, he will be saved anyway. Therefore presumption, like desperation, is also a sin.

So, despairing is a grave sin. But can one become desperate, and at the same time still be a believer? Or does despair only touch those who have no faith, or have lost theirs?

Faith is an all-encompassing attitude to life, one that shapes one's entire existence. In fact, believing is something that covers all-important universal concepts. Despair, on the other hand, is an "appetite", a particular disposition of man. Indeed, it is common experience that, while we may believe in some universal truth, when dealing with particular situations of life we fail to adhere to those truths, due a particular disposition of ours. So it is perfectly possible that a faithful person, due to a particular disposition of his (perhaps a difficult period of his life, perhaps a downcast moment), "lapses" into desperation. Therefore, it is certainly possible for a faithful to despair. Actually, as Kierkegaard said, it is common and maybe even unavoidable for all of us to despair! (unavoidable because, to use Kierkegaard's terminology, each of us has a created self, which compares itself with the uncreated God.) But there faith comes to the rescue. What is important, is that through faith we try to recover the true reasons of hope, and resist completely giving in to desperation. And this is all the more important, once we consider the destructiveness of the sin of despair.

In itself, there is no greater sin than hating God; but since per spem revocamur a malis et introducimur in bona prosequenda (ST, II-II, q.20, a.3, "through hope we are removed from evils, and we are induced to seek for good things"), conversely, not having hope at all (as in despair) induces us into repeated and most grave sins, as Paul said in Eph 4:19. In a sense, therefore, there is no greater sin than despair: despair robs man of his humanity. Despair generates - we could say - a sort of progressive environmental pollution.

Per me si va nella città dolente,
per me si va ne l'etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.
Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore;
fecemi la divina potestate,
la somma sapïenza e 'l primo amore.
Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.
(Dante, Divina Commedia, Inferno, III)

These are the words that Dante puts at the entrance of Hell. The message is clear: where all hope is left out -- there, it is Hell.

At this point, an interesting question is certainly, Where does this despair come from? What is its origin? As I wrote above, despair being a disposition, or an "appetite", there may be several secondary causes to it. For example, stressful or unexpected situations, putting our faith to the test. But there is also a very common cause for despair, one that gives raise to attitudes like the tedium vitae, an attitude of laziness, boredom, slothfulness or being apathetic, that causes us to loose interest in life itself. This is what has also been called the "don't-care feeling". I shall call this cause with its Latin name, acedia. It is thinking of acedia that I decided to insert a picture of Albrecht Dürer's enigmatic engraving "Melencolia I" above2.

And indeed despair does arise from acedia. In fact, hope is hope in something that is difficult, but possible to obtain. Despair, on the other hand, is the attitude that believes that it will be impossible for one to obtain the things that should be hoped for. But the more one is downcast, or filled with sloth, the more it will be difficult for him to avoid despair. This slothfulness is the contrary of the joy that the believer has all rights to have: as Aquinas puts it, homo in tristitiis constitutus non de facili aliqua magna et jucunda cogitat, sed solum tristia. (ST, II-II, q.20, a.4, "a man who is full of sorrow does not easily think of great and joyful things, but only of sad things.")

Take Qo 10:18:

בעצלתים ימך המקרה ובשׁפלות ידים ידלף הבית׃

That is, "By slothfulness (indolence, עצלה, ‛atslâh) the roof sinks in, and by idleness of the hands the house leaks."
עצלה is the feminine form of עצל, ‛âtsêl, the slothful, sluggard, about whom see e.g. Pr 13:4:

מתאוה ואין נפשׁו עצל ונפשׁ חרצים תדשׁן׃

That is, "The soul of the slothful desires, and gets nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be satisfied."3
The slothful may even have faith, that is, desire of knowing God and getting happiness, but his slothfulness renders this desire ineffective and useless; in other words, desperate.

Acedia is then something that blocks our desires, even desires of good things. In particular, acedia destroys spiritual life: where once there was joy in God, there is now nothing, or at most sorrow. What is destroyed is our creativity, our hopes, our potential of being full human beings: with acedia, we are reduced to a sense of helplessness and uselessness. In this sense, acedia is the opposite of charity.

So, how does one recover from acedia? By looking at its opposite, charity. A life lived in charity is a life where slothfulness has no place, and it is in charity, in openness to God and to our fellow human beings, that our God-given gifts are free to come out. But let's not mistake the Christian caritas for "human charity": true charity strictly depends on the intimate relation we are able to build with God; essentially, charity is friendship, but first of all friendship toward God. The more we relate to God, the more we relate to man and its meaning; the more we relate to God, the less boredom, tedium, and despair will be able to affect us. Aquinas rightly says that quanto magis cogitamus de bonis spiritualibus, tanto magis nobis placentia redduntur, ex quo cessat acedia. (ST, II-II, q.35, a.1, "The more we think about spiritual goods, the more pleasing they become to us, and from this sloth dies away.")

A few words to conclude then.

A theology of hope always starts from faith, and to faith must always return. But faith can eventually be destroyed by attitudes like slothfulness, or acedia, and despair. It is despair that brings us to an halt, that stops us from looking forward and thinking high, it is despair that carries with it that nihilistic "don't-care feeling". Despairing should not be seen as an inescapable, ultimate sickness, as an existential condemnation of man: it can and perhaps it will occur to us, but it should and can be resisted; and the way to resist and contrast it is through what could be called as the real human activity, the real charity, the source of hope, the action upon which all other actions depend: seeking to deepen our relationship with God.

It is through that, that our hope may become a truly theological, and therefore transformative, hope.


1 I have translated ἀπαλγέω as to become apathetic because this seems to render well its origin from the verb ἀλγέω, to suffer, plus the particle ἀπό, denoting separation, or cessation. The BDAG explains ἀπαλγέω as "to be so injured that one is not bothered by the implications of what one is doing, become callous, dead to feeling, without a sense of right and wrong", which fits quite nicely with the idea and consequences of hopelessness. Cmp. also Eph 2:12, where the Ephesians are described as ἐλπίδα μὴ ἔχοντες καὶ ἄθεοι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, that is, having no hope and without God in the world.

2 Seeing Melencolia I as the personification of melancholy is a popular theory, due to the extensive research of the art historian Erwin Panovsky, but other explanations have also been proposed. For an example, see The Relativity of Albrecht Dürer, by D.R. Finkelstein. It is fair to add that melancholy, as intended by Dürer, was probably not to be conceived in a completely negative way: as the comment at says, "melancholy was a divine gift. It could be dangerous, but also capable of leading a person into greatness. It was the delicate balance between madness and genius." In the context of this post, I simply take the engraving as a powerful way to visually stress the impact of the dark component inherent in such inclinations as acedia.

3 חרץ, chârûts, is here translated as "diligent", and this is perhaps not a very clear translation; the word comes from the verb חרץ, chârats (sorry for the missing vocalization), meaning cut, sharpen, decide. Often the opposition between the sluggard and
חרץ is one of slackness versus work, as, for example, in Pr 10:4, "A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich"; and the root of the word, sharpen, points to sharpness and activity, characteristics of the "diligent". There is possibly also a suggestion to another meaning of חרץ , i.e. gold. Let me also mention the beautiful translation of the Vulgate: vult et non vult piger anima autem operantium inpinguabitur, where that vult et non vult renders very well the inner movement of the piger, contrasted, according to the above, to the diligent/operans.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Logo