Friday, October 16, 2009

The Request of James and John and the Ransom Saying (Video on Sunday's Readings)

Sunday, October 18, 2009: Liturgy Reflection from JP Catholic University on Vimeo.

Here I want to tease out a few themes related to the request and the ransom saying. Once again, a huge word of thanks goes out to Nate--this was a long video (sorry again, Nate!). So much could be said, but here’s just a little further scholarship on the material in the video. One thing I especially wanted to touch upon, given that this is the Year for Priests, is the priestly language implied in Jesus' allusion to Isaiah 53 (see below). Of course, I will be drawing a lot from my earlier video and post on Jesus' role as the Suffering Son of Man.

The Apostles’ Sitting With Jesus
The request of James and John in fact seems to reflect their understanding that Jesus was coming to establish the kingdom of God. In fact, elsewhere Jesus makes it clear that the apostles will share in his reign―the image of them “sitting” (καθίζω) on “thrones” as judges over the tribes of Israel is attested in both Matthew and Luke (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:28–29)―in Matthew the saying comes shortly before this episode! The idea is mirrored in the Dead Sea Scrolls which associates the eschatological age with the institution of “twelve chiefs” who will govern over the twelve tribes of Israel (e.g., 1Q33 2:1–3). Especially interesting is one of the fragments in the Dead Sea Scrolls, 11Q19 57:12–13, which describes how the future royal figure will be joined with twelve princes, twelve priests and twelve Levites “who shall sit together with him for judgment.”

The Danielic Imagery
In the last line Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man. As I have already explained, Jesus’ passion prediction in Mark 9:31 seems to evoke Danielic imagery―in fact, there he also identifies himself as the “Son of Man”. It is not surprising then that Jesus links the idea of his “giving his life” with “Son of Man” terminology.

However, it should be pointed out that imagery from the Son of Man vision in Daniel 7 actually dominates the passage. The point is especially underscored by my good friend and co-blogger Brant Pitre (Happy Birthday, buddy!) in his marvelous book on the historical Jesus and the tribulation.[1] Here I want to draw upon Brant’s excellent treatment.

The language of the request (“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory”) bears marked similarities to Daniel 7, which in fact describes the Son of Man’s coming and his reception of “glory” (v. 14) in connection with “thrones” being set up (v. 9) and a court “sitting” (καθίζω) in “judgment” (v. 10). Imagery from Daniel 7 can also be found in Jesus’ response. First, Jesus’ reference to his “cup” depicts his suffering in terms of the sharing in the eschatological tribulation[2]―something we have already seen described by Daniel 7 (especially v. 23–25). Moreover, Jesus’ language in Matthew 20:25–27//Mark 10:42–44 referring to the rulers as “the great” (οἱ μεγάλοι) among the “Gentiles” (τῶν ἐθνῶν) who “lord it over” (κατακυριεύουσιν) those under them, reminds the reader of Daniel 7 where four Gentile kings are represented by “great (μεγάλα) beasts” (cf. Dan 7:17) who “lord it over many” (κατακυριεύσει αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πολὺ; LXX Dan 7:3-11; 11:39 Theod.).[3] Furthermore, Jesus’ emphasis on “service,” particularly his insistence in the final verse that the “Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve (διακονῆσαι)” would seem an attempt to adjust the vision of glory the disciples likely inferred from Daniel 7, where all peoples serve (δουλεύσουσιν) the Son of Man (v. 14).[4] The use of the term “Son of Man” in verse 45 thus rounds out the Danielic which has permeated the discussion throughout the episode―it is not simply a saying haphazardly tacked on as an ending. Indeed, these overlapping themes strongly supports seeing the pericope as a single literary unit.[5]

The Motivation Behind the Request

Of course, the basic motivation behind the request is not hard to grasp. As Hooker explains, “No sooner is the end in sight, than the disciples begin to ask for a share in Jesus’ future kingly power.”[6] Specifically, it appears significant that the request appears just prior to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. As others have noticed, it seems to indicate that the disciples expected that Jesus would somehow usher in the eschatological kingdom there.[7] By asking to sit on his right and left however the disciples are asking not merely for a participation in Jesus’ messianic reign but for the status of most exalted in the kingdom.[8] That Jesus has to go on to contrast the way Gentile rulers govern with a teaching to the other disciples that “it shall not be so among you” also probably implies that their vision of the kingdom also was in error.[9] Where James and John have gone critically wrong is imagining that Jesus’ eschatological kingdom will consist in a merely triumphalistic vision. For Jesus, the kingdom is not merely about reigning over one’s enemies from an exalted position―the kingdom is also linked with his death.[10]

The Ransom Saying
Jesus teaching that “the Son of Man has come not to be served but serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” seems to draw from the Suffering Servant song of Isaiah 53. Indeed the teaching has numerous points of contact with this prophecy, particularly as it stands in the MT [Masoretic Text, e.g., Modern Hebrew Bible]. Davies and Allison[11] list a number of parallels:
1. The terminology of “the many” (רבים) plays an especially important role in Isaiah 53:11–12. 2. The language of “for many” (ἀντὶ πολλῶν) evokes Isaiah 53:11, where the Servant is said to “make many [לרבים] to be accounted righteous.”
3. Jesus’ words about “giving his life as a ransom” (δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον) is similar to the language in Isaiah 53:10, “when he makes himself an offering for sin” (אם־תשים אשם נפשו) in Isaiah 53:10 (cf. 53:12).[12]
4. Jesus explanation that he has come “to serve” (διακονῆσαι) evokes the imagery of the “servant” (עבד; Isa 52:13; 53:11).
In fact, Davies and Allison point out that Romans 4:25 reveals that the connection between Jesus’ death and Isaiah 53 was forged early on. Page puts it well:

“The link between the πολλῶν ("many") and rabbîm ("many"), which appears in Isa. 52:14, 15 and 53:11, 12, has often been pointed out, but it has not always been appreciated that what makes it significant is the occurrence in both Mark 10:45 and Isaih 53 is the notion of one dying in the place of the ‘many’. The similarities of detail, along with the fact that the general ideas of service and vicarious death are held in common, lead us to the conclusion that the ransom saying was formed in conscious dependence upon the Isaianic picture of the Suffering Servant.”[13]

Thus, while other Isaianic texts also seem to have connections with Jesus’ teaching,[14] the connection with Isaiah 53 therefore appears quite strong.[15]

Although it may at first seem strange that Jesus’ links his role as the Danielic Son of Man with imagery from the Isaianic Suffering Servant passage, it should be noted that elsewhere the book of Daniel itself appears to specifically describe the righteous of the eschatological age with imagery drawn from Isaiah 52–53 (cf. Dan 11:33; 12:1).[16] In addition, 1 Enoch also appears to link Isaianic imagery to the “Son of Man” figure.[17] The connection between “Son of Man” language and the Isaianic Servant is thus not lacking precedent.

Priestly Imagery
Given that this is the Year for Priests, I thought I also ought to highlight the priestly dimension of the saying.

Of course, that Jesus appears to allude to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant is especially significant for our purposes since the Isaianic figure is specifically linked with cultic imagery. The Servant serves as a cultic sacrifice, offering his life as a guilt offering (cf. Isa 53:10). Of course, implicit in this is a priestly role―he is the one who presents a sacrifice for sin.[18] Indeed, other cultic imagery also occurs within the passage. In particular, the Servant is said to “bear” (נשא) the iniquities of the people―an image not only linked with the scapegoat of Yom Kippur (cf. Lev 16:22) but also connected with the priests (cf. Lev 10:17: “that you may bear [נשא] the iniquity of the congregation”). That Jesus associates himself with the Suffering Servant would thus seem to imply that he perceives himself as in someway taking upon a priestly role.

In fact, that Jesus specifically identifies himself with the language of "ransom" (λύτρον) would also seem to point in the direction of some sort of priestly self-identification. What is virtually universally ignored by scholars is the fact that the only instance in Jewish literature in which humans are described as functioning as a "ransom" (λύτρον) is Numbers 3 and 8 where Moses is told to “present” the Levites before the Lord in the place of the first-born. Thus one can make the case that the idea of a human serving as a “ransom” is a priestly one.[19]

[1] Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 384–455. See also Brant’s article, “The ‘Ransom for Many,’ the New Exodus and the End of the Exile: Redemption as the Restoration of All Israel,” Letter and Spirit 1 (2005):41–68
[2] The image of drinking from the “cup” is used an a metaphor for suffering the eschatological judgment of God (cf. Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15–29; Ezek 23:31–34; Zech 12:2; Ps 11:6; 75:8; Lam 4:21). Noteworthy is also the fact that the Targums speak of drinking of the cup of death (cf. Tg. on Gen 40:23; Deut 32:1). There is a fascinating parallel in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, where prior to being sawed in half the prophet tells his disciples, “for me alone the Lord has mixed this cup” (Mart. Ascen. 5:13). Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:90 write, “So the cup that Jesus will drink (cf. 26.39), and that his disciples should be prepared to drink (cf. Mk 9.49; Gos. Thom. 82), is the cup of eschatological sorrow, which will be first poured out upon the people of God (cf. Jer 25.15–29).”
[3] The four beasts are said to not only be four kingdoms but four kings (Dan 7:17:מלכין). The idea of an individual tyrannical king is especially present in Daniel 7:24–25.
[4] See Pitre, “The ‘Ransom for Many,’” 49: “Indeed, Jesus appears not only to be overturning the expectations of James and John regarding the messianic kingdom, but conclusions that could be drawn straight from the visions of the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel itself. In so doing, he is directly tying his (and possibly) the disciples’ imminent suffering to the eschatological tribulation described in Daniel 7.”
[5] See the extensive discussion in Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile, 386–90. In addition, we should note that Ched Myers (Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story about Jesus [Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988], 279) suggests that the language of the request of James and John stems from Psalm 110. However, this is unclear. See the critique in Gundry, Mark, 583.
[6] Hooker, Gospel of Mark, 247.
[7] See Collins, Mark, 495: “The saying probably presupposes that Jesus will be enthroned as the king and judge of the new age as God’s agent.” In addition, see Nolland, Gospel of Matthew, 818: “. . . what is being related to is not the anticipation of suffering, but the prospect of divine vindication and establishment of Jesus as messianic king.” Still also see Lane, Gospel of Mark, 378; Morris, Gospel According to Matthew, 509. Furthermore, it can also be noted that Matthew has the woman coming to Jesus and “worshipping” (προσκυνοῦσα) him. For more on this language see the discussion above in n. 126 in chapter 3.
[8] Of course, such a self-seeking petition clearly runs counter to Jesus’ earlier teaching in Matthew 18:1–4 and Mark 8:33–35 that to be the greatest in the kingdom one ought to humble oneself.
[9] This is recognized by most commentators, e.g., Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:92; Luz, Matthew, 544; Nolland, Matthew, 8:22; Lane, Gospel of Mark, 382-83; France, Gospel of Mark, 418; etc.
[10] For further discussion between the relationship between the cross and Jesus’ coming as the Son of Man see Michael F. Bird, “The Crucifixion of Jesus as the Fulfillment of Mark 9:1,” Trinity Journal 24/1 (2003): 23–36; Kent Brower, “Mark 9:1-Seeing the Kingdom in Power,” JSNT 6 (1980): 17–41; Paul Barnett, The Servant King (Sydney, NSW: AIO, 2000), 171–74; Ched Myers, Binding the Strongman: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 248, 391–92; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 650–51.
[11] See the discussion in Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:95–97.
[12] Here Davies and Allison cite Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 292 n. 3: “the further definition of the phrase ‘give’ or ‘take life’ by a predicative accusative is only evidenced in Isa 53:10 MT [ʾāśām], IV Macc 6.29 [ἀντὶψυχον] and Mark 10.45 [λύτρον].”
[13] Sydney H. T. Page, “The Authenticity of the Ransom Logion (Mark 10:45b),” in Gospel Perspectives: Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels (eds. R. T. France et al; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980), 140 [137–61].
[14] See, for example, the articles by Morna Hooker, Rikki E. Watts and N. T. Wright in William H. Bellinger, Jr. and William R. Farmer, ed., Jesus and the Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 and Christian Origins (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998). In particular Isaiah 43 appears related given that it uses ransom language (cf. Isa 43:3). Some have argued that it is primarily this passage and not Isaiah 53 which accounts for the language in Matt 20:28//Mark 10:45. See, e.g., Volker Hampel, Menschensohn und historischer Jesus: Ein Rätselwort als Schlüssel zum messianischen Selbstverständnis Jesu. (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1990), 326–33. However, the problem with such a view is that the “ransom” that is paid in Isaiah 43:3 is Gentile nations, not a figure who was likely understood as messianic. For an excellent critique of this view, see Gundry, Mark, 592. See also J. B. Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man (London: Lutterworth, 1964), 56–57; France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 117–121; W. J. Moulder, “The Old Testament and the Interpretation of Mark x.45,” NTS 24 (1977): 121–23.
[15] For further arguments in favor of the Isaianic backdrop of the ransom saying see Rikki Watts, “Jesus’ Death, Isaiah 53 and Mark 10:45,” in Jesus and the Suffering Servant, 136–47; Peter Stuhlmacher, Reconciliation, Law, and Righteousness (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 19–20; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:95-97. See also Craig Evans (Mark, 123) who is probably right to see Jesus combining both Isaiah 53 and Daniel 7 imagery: “[T]he Danielic elements do not necessarily compete with or contradict the underlying elements from Isaiah. The two scriptural traditions complement each other, with the Suffering Servant of Isa 53 redefining the mission and destiny of the ‘son of man’ of Dan 7. Indeed, the ‘son of man’ will someday ‘be served,’ but he first must serve, even suffer and die, as the Servant of the Lord.”
[16] For example, scholars have argued that the use of the terminology in Daniel 11:33 and 12:13 seems to draw on the language used in the Suffering Servant prophecy of Isaiah 53. See John J. Collins, Daniel (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 385, who, commenting on Daniel 11:33 [“ And those among the people who are wise [ומשכלי] shall make many understand, though they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder, for some days”], wrties, “The designation משכילים is taken from the ‘suffering servant’ of Isa 52:13 (הנה ישכיל עבדי יָרום), who is said to ‘justify’ the רבים (Isa 53:11; cf. Dan 12:3).” Later, commenting on Daniel 12:3, Collins goes on to state, “As noted in the Commentary above, at 11:32, the maskîlîm take their name from the servant in Isaiah 52―53. The allusion is made all the clearer here when they are called מצדיקי הרבים (cf. Isa 53:11). The motif of exaltation is found in Isa 52:13. It is notworthy here the wise make the common people righteous, whereas in 11:33 they made them understand. The two notions are evidently closely related, if not equivalent.” See also Harold L. Ginsberg, “The Oldest Interpretation of the Suffering Servant,” VT 3 (1953): 400–404; Geroge W.E. Nickelsberg, Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism (HTS 26; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), 24; Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 589 n. 190.
[17] For example, the language of the “Chosen One”, which is associated with the Son of Man figure is clearly taken from Isaiah 42:1. See George Nickelsburg, in Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era (eds. J. Neusner, W. S. Green and E. Frerichs; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 61, who, after citing 1 Enoch 49:4 [“He is the Chosen One before the Lord of the Spirits”] states, “Here the allusion is to the presentation of the Servant in Isaiah: ‘Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom my soul delights. . .’” See also Black, Book of Enoch, 189: “The term ‘the Elect One’ points as unequivocally to the elect Servant of Second Isaiah, as does the term Son of Man to Dan. 7.”
[18] In addition, see 4Q541 (4QApocryphon of Levib) IX 1:2, which describes a coming figure who will “atone for all the children of his generation.” Scholars have seen allusions to Isaiah 53 here. This is of course significant since there the servant “makes himself an offering [אָשָׁם] for sin” (Isa 53:10). The word here is used for a sacrificial offering elsewhere (cf. Lev 5, 6:10; 7, 14, 19:21, 22 Num 6:12; 18:9; Ezek 40:39; 42:13; 44:29; 46:20; Ezra 10:19). Though the text in 4Q541 (4QApocryphon of Levib) contains no trace of the idea of an expiatory self-offering of the priest, it is nonetheless significant that here the figure of Isaiah 53 is linked with a priestly figure. For a fuller discussion see Émile Puech, “Fragments d’um apocryphe de Lévi et le personnage eschatologique: 4QTestLévic-d(?) et 4QAJa,” in The Madrid Qumran Congress: Proceedings of the International Congress on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Madrid 18–21 March, 1991 (eds. J. T. Berrera and L. V. Montaner; Leiden: Brill, 1992), 467–70; George J. Brooke, “4QTestament of Levid(?) and the Messianic Servant High Priest,” in From Jesus to John: Essays on Jesus and New Testament Christology in Honour of Marinus de Jonge (ed. M. C. De Boer; JSNTSup 84; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 83–100; idem., The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 144–57; Collins, The Scepter and the Star, 123–26; Chester, Messiah and Exaltation, 257.
[19] LXX Numbers 3:12 reads: Καὶ ἐγὼ ἰδοὺ εἴληφα τοὺς Λευίτας ἐκ μέσου τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ ἀντὶ παντὸς πρωτοτόκου διανοίγοντος μήτραν παρὰ τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ, λύτρα αὐτῶν ἔσονται καὶ ἔσονται ἐμοὶ οἱ Λευῖται. See Jacob Milgrom, Numbers (JPSTC; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1990), 18, who notes that the LXX relates the imagery here with “ransom” language. In light of this Fletcher-Louis writes, “That the Son of Man should act as a lu/tron is therefore fitting if he is of priestly (or Levitical) pedigree” (Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” JSHJ 5/1 [2006]: 60 [57–79)]. “Jesus as High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” 60). In addition, see the closely related passage in Numbers 8:19 which describes the giving of the Levites for the purpose of making atonement: “And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting, and to make atonement for the people of Israel. . .” Here the giving of the Levites is closely related to their role in making atonement for the people.


Anonymous said...

What is sad is that so many people in the world are ignorant of the truth, and some would rather believe in a lie than in the truth. But what man cannot do, God can and dose do!

Nicholas said...


Thank you once again for a wonderful explication of the Gospel readings.

You have a gift from God, and you are serving Him through your ministry.

God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Why did Jesus make a fire on the shore of Lake Galilee when He appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection?