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Isaiah 40:1-2 — LXX, Masoretic Text, Links to the Synoptics

I read part of Isaiah 40 in a wedding today, and while I was at the rehearsal, I got bored and started comparing the versions of the text contained in the Septuagint (LXX) and the Masoretic Text (MT). And, unlike my last text criticism/commentary on Ezekiel, I did a little research before I wrote this. My main sources are:

Hans Debel, “Greek ‘Variant Literary Editions’ to the Hebrew Bible?”, Journal for the Study of Judaism 41 (2010): 161-190.

Wilfred G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques, 177-185.

I only really had time to look at Isaiah 40:1-2, but verse 2 provides plenty of fodder for consideration. Here are the two texts, followed by my own English translations.

1 Παρακαλεῖτε παρακαλεῖτε τὸν λαόν μου, λέγει ὁ θεός.
2 ἱερεῖς, λαλήσατε εἰς τὴν καρδίαν Ιερουσαλημ, παρακαλέσατε αὐτήν·
ὅτι ἐπλήσθη ἡ ταπείνωσις αὐτῆς, λέλυται αὐτῆς ἡ ἁμαρτία·
ὅτι ἐδέξατο ἐκ χειρὸς κυρίου διπλᾶ τὰ ἁμαρτήματα αὐτῆς.

1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says God.
2 “Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her,
Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed,
Because she has received from the Lord’s hand double her sins.”

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹהֵיכֶם1
2 דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ
כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם בְּכָל-חַטֹּאתֶיהָ

1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
2 “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double for all her sins.”

Verse-by-Verse Comparison

Verse 1 only merits brief mention, because the difference between the two texts is so slight — the LXX simply has “God,” while the MT has “your God.” These different readings do not change the meaning of the text in the slightest.

Verse 2, however, is where the fun begins. Here’s my analysis.

Analysis of Vocabulary

The imperatives of vv. 1-2 are plural in both texts — they are second plural in the LXX and masculine plural in the MT; that is, they are functionally equivalent. The original reading seems to have been simple imperatives with no explicit subject, with the LXX’s addition of “priests” serving to make the subject explicit. References to priests in Isaiah are infrequent enough; ἱερεύς appears only in LXX 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 40:2; 61:6; 66:22, and כהן only appears in MT 8:2; 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 61:6; 66:22, which means that “priest” is likely only original in 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 61:6; 66:22 — three times in 1 Isaiah and twice in 3 Isaiah, but none in 2 Isaiah, where ch. 40 is located. Thus, it’s likely that the original version of this text contains only the plural imperatives, with “priests” being an interpretive addition.

The “proclaim” of the MT (קִרְאוּ) is more original, with the LXX making the shift from καλέσατε (“call,” “proclaim”) to παρακαλέσατε (“exhort,” “comfort”) based on the presence of παρακαλέω twice in verse 1 and the similarity of παρακαλέω to καλέω. Likewise, the MT’s “servitude” is more original than the LXX’s “humiliation.” It is easy to see how the specific “servitude” shifted to the more abstract “humiliation,” while the move from abstract to specific is not as likely. Finally, the LXX’s “double her sins” is more original than the MT’s “double for all her sins.” The LXX’s reading is far more difficult to interpret than that of the MT, which makes it more likely to be original than the MT’s reading.

Analysis of Structure

Let’s look at the structure of the comforting message in the two different texts.

“Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her,
Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed,
Because she has received from the Lord’s hand double her sins.”

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double for all her sins.”

The LXX structures the priests’ consolation as a set of nested parallelisms in a bicolon — that is, the two ὅτι clauses are parallel, and the contents of the first ὅτι clause are also parallel — while the MT arranges the proclamation in a tricolon. I cannot tell at this point which version is more original; even though parallelism is a classic feature of biblical Hebrew poetry, tricola are by no means unknown (cf. Watson, 177-185).

I can say for sure, though, that the LXX has revised the Hebrew text it reflects. Since the MT’s וְקִרְאוּ (“and proclaim”) is more original, we can say with certainty that the LXX has dropped the conjunction in favor of juxtaposing the two clauses in the parallelism; that is, it reads “speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her” instead of “speak to the heart of Jerusalemand comfort her.” We may thus assume by analogy that “Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed” reflects an older “Because her humiliation has been completed and her sin has been removed.” (This reading, of course, is different than that of the MT, which has כִּי (“that”) where the LXX’s source has וְ (“and”).) With the vocabulary of the MT as a guide, we may reconstruct the LXX’s source as follows:

דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ וְנִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed and her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

As I said, though, I’m not certain whether the LXX’s bicolon or the MT’s tricolon is more original, though the two structures definitely reflect two different text-types.

Analysis of Meaning

As they stand, the texts of the LXX and MT here provide two pretty different meanings. The MT has unnamed heralds — the most obvious group is the prophets — making a threefold proclamation directly to Jerusalem, that she no longer will suffer servitude, that her guilt is absolved, and that God has repayed her sin in full. In other words, these heralds must proclaim to Jerusalem that God, of his own accord, has forgiven her sins. The LXX, on the other hand, has the priests comforting Jerusalem because her guilt had been absolved; that is, it implies that Jerusalem’s absolution has come by means of the Temple sacrifices.

If we assume that the text recorded in the MT is more original — an assumption that most of the linguistic features support — the MT thus reflects a prophecy made during the time of the Babylonian exile (i.e. the time 2 Isaiah was written), that God had forgiven Jerusalem because he had exhausted his wrath against her, and he would soon return the Jerusalemites home. The LXX, it seems, reflects a later, post-exilic tradition, which took root at a time when the Temple sacrifices occurred regularly. In this tradition, God has still forgiven Jerusalem for her sins, but because she has offered acceptable sacrifices at the Temple.

Interaction with the New Testament

The tradition of the LXX’s text is not very friendly to the traditional understanding of the prophets (e.g. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” Hosea 6:6) or of the NT (e.g. the Temple sacrifices being insufficient for salvation, which is something only Jesus’ death can bring about).

Interestingly, it is quite probable that at least three of the NT authors knew of this second tradition. Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2-3, and Luke 3:4-6 all quote this passage (specifically, Isa 40:3, the verse immediately after the one we are currently considering) with wording identical to that of our LXX. Thus, it is highly likely that their version of Isa 40:2 refers to priests, not prophets, as does our LXX. While we cannot say for certain how exactly these authors would have treated the pro-sacrifice tradition in Isa 40:2 in the LXX, it is certainly a question worth considering.


In sum, we may reconstruct two different text-types of Isaiah 40:2 — one reflected by the LXX (LXX-source) and one reflected by the MT (MT-source):

דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ וְנִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed and her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ
כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

The MT reflects a more original tradition, one in which the Judean population, held captive in Babylon and longing to escape their servitude and return to their homeland, receives a prophecy that God has forgiven them — not from anything they themselves had done, but simply because had exhausted his wrath against them.

The LXX is a later tradition, one that roots itself in the efficacy of the Temple sacrifices; in this tradition, God still has forgiven Jerusalem her sins, but because the priests have offered acceptable sacrifices to atone for their sin. Matthew, Mark, and Luke likely knew this tradition, since their quotations of the next verse (Isa 40:3) are identical to the text of our LXX, and it is worth considering what effect, if any, this tradition had on their thought.


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Greek Wednesday: The Subjunctive & Optative in early Christian Greek, Μὴ γένοιτο in Paul

Continuing in my current obsession with the optative mood, here are some statistics to support the notion that the optative was on the decline in first-century CE koine Greek, followed by a discussion of the optative in Luke and Paul, and the phrase μὴ γένοιτο in Paul and Epictetus.

The New Testament has 17,543 finite verbs. Of these, 1868 are subjunctives and 68 are optatives. In terms of percentages, 10.6% of the finite verbs in the NT are subjunctive, while only 0.388% are optatives. The Apostolic Fathers (not including the Latin sections of both Ignatius’ letter to the Philippians and the Shepherd of Hermas) has 7842 finite verbs, of which 1111 (14.2%) are subjunctive and 50 (0.638%) are optative. I don’t have access to word counts of the classical Greek corpus, but optatives certainly show up more more frequently than 1% of the time there. Thus, it’s very clear that the optative was on the decline in first-century CE Greek.

Within the NT, two authors — Luke and Paul — use the majority of the optatives. Luke has 29 optatives, while Paul has 24. Luke, owing to his more literary style, uses the optative more or less properly; in other words, his usage of the optative accords with its use in classical Greek. (Though he, idiosyncratically, uses εἴη quite frequently). Here are some examples (English is the NRSV):

Luke 1:38 εἶπεν δὲ Μαριάμ· ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου· γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου. καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ᾿ αὐτῆς ὁ ἄγγελος.

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 6:11 αὐτοὶ δὲ ἐπλήσθησαν ἀνοίας καὶ διελάλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους τί ἂν ποιήσαιεν τῷ Ἰησοῦ.

But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Acts 17:27 ζητεῖν τὸν θεόν, εἰ ἄρα γε ψηλαφήσειαν αὐτὸν καὶ εὕροιεν, καί γε οὐ μακρὰν ἀπὸ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου ἡμῶν ὑπάρχοντα.

so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

In Paul, on the other hand, fully half (12) of his optatives are in Romans alone, and 10 of those are the phrase μὴ γένοιτο (“may it never be,” “by no means,” “God forbid”). Here’s a sampling (again, English is NRSV):

Romans 3:3 τί γάρ; εἰ ἠπίστησάν τινες, μὴ ἡ ἀπιστία αὐτῶν τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ καταργήσει; 4 μὴ γένοιτο· γινέσθω δὲ ὁ θεὸς ἀληθής, πᾶς δὲ ἄνθρωπος ψεύστης, καθὼς γέγραπται· ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου καὶ νικήσεις ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written, “So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging.”

Romans 6:15 Τί οὖν; ἁμαρτήσωμεν, ὅτι οὐκ ἐσμὲν ὑπὸ νόμον ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ χάριν; μὴ γένοιτο.

What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!

Romans 11:11 Λέγω οὖν, μὴ ἔπταισαν ἵνα πέσωσιν; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ τῷ αὐτῶν παραπτώματι ἡ σωτηρία τοῖς ἔθνεσιν εἰς τὸ παραζηλῶσαι αὐτούς.

So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

In fact, all told, Paul uses the phrase μὴ γένοιτο a whopping 14 times throughout his letters. One other author has a similar high concentration of “μὴ γένοιτο”: Epictetus, and a comparison between him and Paul will be useful.

(Of course, though the two authors use the phrase in similar ways, it is unlikely that either is dependent on the other. Paul couldn’t have read Epictetus, because Epictetus was born in 55 CE, and wasn’t active as a philosopher until near the end of the first century and into the second century, well after Paul had died. However, the similarities between the two are pretty eerie. For instance, Epictetus was a Stoic, and Paul showed sympathies to Stoicism. Epictetus learned philosophy in and originally taught in Rome; the majority of Paul’s μὴ γένοιτο phrases are in his letters to the Romans. Moreover, read these samples from Epictetus’ Discourses and tell me they don’t sound a little bit Pauline in usage (though not necessarily in content).)

1.2.35-36 τί οὖν; ἐπειδὴ ἀφυής εἰμι, ἀποστῶτῆς ἐπιμελείας τούτου ἕνεκα; μὴ γένοιτο. Ἐπίκτητος κρείσσων Σωκράτους οὐκ ἔσται: εἰ δὲ μή, οὐ χείρων, τοῦτό μοι ἱκανόν ἐστιν.

What then, since I am naturally dull, shall I, for this reason, take no pains? I hope not. Epictetus is not superior to Socrates; but if he is not inferior, this is enough for me.

1.8.14-15 τί οὖν; αἴρω τὰς δυνάμεις ταύτας; μὴ γένοιτο: οὐδὲ γὰρ τὴν ὁρατικήν.

What then? Do I take away these faculties which you possess? By no means; for neither do I take away the faculty of seeing.

2.8.1-3 Ὁ θεὸς ὠφέλιμος: ἀλλὰ καὶ τἀγαθὸν ὠφέλιμον. εἰκὸς οὖν, ὅπου ἡ οὐσία τοῦθεοῦ, ἐκεῖ εἶναι καὶ τὴν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ. τίς οὖν οὐσία θεοῦ; σάρξ; μὴ γένοιτο. ἀγρός; μὴ γένοιτο. φήμη; μὴ γένοιτο. νοῦς, ἐπιστήμη, λόγος ὀρθός. ἐνταῦθα τοίνυν ἁπλῶς ζήτει τὴν οὐσίαν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ.

God is beneficial. Good is also beneficial. It should seem, then, that where the essence of God is, there too is the essence of good. What then is the essence of God, – flesh? By no means. An estate? By no means. Fame? By no means. Intelligence? Knowledge? Right reason? Certainly. Here, then, without more ado, seek the essence of good.

Okay, so I lapsed into a little bit of a conspiracy theory there. Sorry. However, two similarities really stick out between Epictetus’ and Paul’s uses of the phrase. First, they ask a rhetorical question, which is often introduced by τίς, οὖν, or both. Second, they do not use the phrase with a verbal force (as seen in Classical Greek, e.g. Euripides, Medea 598-599: μή μοι γένοιτο λυπρὸς εὐδαίμων βίος
 / μηδ᾽ ὄλβος ὅστις τὴν ἐμὴν κνίζοι φρένα [“May such a wretched prosperous life never come about for me, / nor wealth of a sort that torments my heart”]), but instead use it simply as a strong means of denial; in other words, they use it as a very strong synonym for the word “no.”

Look, for example, at Romans 3:3-4 and Discourses 2.8.1-3 above. In both cases, μὴ γένοιτο clearly means “by no means!” or “no way!” or “God forbid!” Epictetus counters μὴ γένοιτο with ὀρθός, “certainly.” Thus, it is far more natural for μὴ γένοιτο here to mean “no way!” than for it to mean “may it never be!” Likewise, in Romans 3:3-4, it makes far better sense to read μὴ γένοιτο as “certainly not!” or “God forbid!” Thus, it seems, by the time of late koine Greek in the first and second centuries CE, μὴ γένοιτο had become a set phrase for a strong denial, lacking any verbal content.

So, in sum, the optative was clearly in decline in non-literary Greek by the time of the first and second centuries CE. However, it was preserved in a set phrase of strong denial, μὴ γένοιτο, that served only as a strong synonym for the word “no” but did not actually carry any verbal force.

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Greek Wednesday: Non-Past-Referring Aorist Indicatives

Note: This post is adapted from F. Beetham, “The Aorist Indicative,” Greece & Rome 42 (2002): 227-236, Frank Stagg, “The Abused Aorist,” JBL 91 (1972): 222-231, Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (rev. Gordon M. Messing; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956), 429-434, and Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 

A good many aorist indicative verbs should not be read as a past tense; in fact, D. A. Carson has estimated that perhaps 15% of the finite aorists in the New Testament do not refer to the past.[1] On the face of it, this number might not seem significant, but it means that, to take Carson literally, somewhere around 900 aorist indicatives in the NT do not refer to the past. So, obviously, understanding this phenomenon is very important for understanding the text of the NT. I’ll use examples from Classical Greek to illustrate the phenomenon, which can then be applied back to the NT.

1) Substituting for the future tense, in order to intensify the action of the verb.

Classical examples:

εἴ περ γάρ τε καὶ αὐτίκ’ Ὀλύμπιος οὐκ ἐτέλεσσεν,
ἔκ τε καὶ ὀψὲ τελεῖ, σύν τε μεγάλῳ ἀπέτισαν
σὺν σφῇσιν κεφαλῇσι γυναιξί τε καὶ τεκέεσσιν.

If he that rules Olympus fulfill it not here and now,
he will yet fulfill it hereafter, and they shall pay dearly
with their lives and with their wives and children.

(Homer, Iliad 4.160-162)

εἰ μέν κ’ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται·
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ’ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ’ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.

If I stay here and fight, I shall lose my safe homecoming but I will have a glory that is unwilting: whereas if I go home my glory will die, but it will be a long time before the outcome of death shall take me.

(Homer, Iliad 9.412-416)

ἀπωλόμην ἄρ’, εἴ με δὴ λείψεις, γύναι.

I am lost, then, if you are going to leave me.

(Euripides, Alcestis 386)

NT examples:

πάντα ὅσα προσεύχεσθε καὶ αἰτεῖσθε, πιστεύετε ὅτι ἐλάβετε, καὶ ἔσται ὑμῖν.

Whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received [it], and it will be yours.

(Mk 11:24)

λέγει Ἰησοῦς· νῦν ἐδοξάσθη ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐδοξάσθη ἐν αὐτῷ.

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.”

(Jn 13:31)

2) Using the aorist to express a general truth (like a proverb or a maxim) or to make a general description.

Classical examples:

παθὼν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω.

A fool learns by experience.

(Hesiod, Works and Days 218)

οἱ τύραννοι καὶ οἱ τὰς ὀλιγαρχίας ἔχοντες μάλιστα δύνανται τιμᾶν· πλούσιον γὰρ ὃν ἂν βούλωνται παραχρῆμ’ ἐποίησαν.

Tyrants and oligarchs have an immense advantage in that they can make anyone they choose instantaneously rich.

(Demosthenes, Speeches 20.15)

φᾶρος δὲ αὐτημερὸν ἐξυφήναντες οἱ ἱρέες κατ’ ὦν ἔδησαν ἑνὸς ἑωυτῶν μίτρῃ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς

On the day of the festival, the priests weave a cloth and bind it as a headband on the eyes of one of their number.

(Herodotus, Histories 2.122)

This aorist is also often equivalent to a conditional statement.

ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἀθυμοῦντες ἄνδρες οὔπω τρόπαιον ἔστησαν, ὦ Κριτία

But men of faint heart never yet set up a trophy, Critias.
(= If there is a disheartened man, he has never yet set up a trophy.)

(Plato, Critias 108c)

And it also occurs in similes pretty frequently in Homer.

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τίς τε δράκοντα ἰδὼν παλίνορσος ἀπέστη
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃς, ὑπό τε τρόμος ἔλλαβε γυῖα,
ἂψ δ’ ἀνεχώρησεν, ὦχρός τέ μιν εἷλε παρειάς,
ὣς αὖτις καθ’ ὅμιλον ἔδυ Τρώων ἀγερώχων
δείσας Ἀτρέος υἱὸν Ἀλέξανδρος θεοειδής.

As one who starts back affrighted, trembling and pale, when he comes suddenly upon a serpent in some mountain glade, even so did Alexander plunge into the throng of Trojan warriors, terror-stricken at the sight of the son Atreus.

(Homer, Iliad 3.33-37)

NT examples:

ἑπὶ τῆς Μωϋσέως καθέδρας ἐκάθισαν οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι.

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.

(Matt 23:3)

ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος, καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν.

The grass withers and the flower falls off.

(1 Pet 1:24)

3) The aorist with τί οὖν οὐ and τί οὐ takes the place of the present tense to express surprise that something hasn’t been done.

Classical examples:

εἴ τινα ἔχεις τῶν ῥητόρων τοιοῦτον εἰπεῖν, τί οὐχὶ καὶ ἐμοὶ αὐτὸν ἔφρασας τίς ἐστιν;

If you have any orator of this kind that you can mention, without more ado tell me who he is!

(Plato, Gorgias 503b)

Τί οὖν, ἔφη ὁ Ἱέρων, οὐχὶ καὶ σύ, ἐπεὶ νῦν γε ἔτι ἰδιώτης εἶ, ὑπέμνησάς με τὰ ἐν τῷ ἰδιωτικῷ βίῳ;

Why, then,” said the Priest, “don’t you, since you are still your own person, remind me about what happens in private life?”

(Xenophon, Hiero 1.3)

NT examples:

καὶ διελογίζοντο πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς λέγοντες· ἐὰν εἴπωμεν· ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, ἐρεῖ· διὰ τί [οὖν] οὐκ ἐπιστεύσατε αὐτῷ;

And they discussed it among themselves: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why don’t you believe him?'”

(Mk 11:31; par. Matt 21:25; Lk 20:5)

Τότε προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ κατ᾿ ἰδίαν εἶπον· διὰ τί ἡμεῖς οὐκ ἠδυνήθημεν ἐκβαλεῖν αὐτό;

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why can’t we cast it out?”

(Matt 17:19)


1. D. A. Carson, “An Introduction to the Porter/Fanning Debate,” in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics. JSNTSS 80 (1993), 25.

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Two Interesting Articles

I read two interesting articles from the latest Journal for the Study of the New Testament this evening and wanted to pass them along.

Our hypothesis is that Luke was sensitive to the pagan overtones of associating prophecy and virginity. Specifically, two related concerns may underlie the avoidance of the terms προφῆτις and προφητεύω with respect to Mary. First, explicitly designating Mary as both virgin and prophetess might imply that a sexual act was involved in her being endowed with the Holy Spirit. As seen above, ancient descriptions of the prophetic inspiration of women often had sexual overtones. This was a very real liability with Mary given that her reception of the Spirit is directly related to her conception of a divine child! Secondly, the explicit convergence of virginity and prophecy might imply a causal, or at least facilitating, connection between the two, that is, that Mary’s virginal condition enhanced her receptivity to the divine. Although this idea was popular in antiquity, it is not clear that Luke subscribed to it.

“Mantic Mary? The Virgin Mother as Prophet in Luke 1.26-56 and the Early Church,” by N. Clayton Croy and Alice E. Connor.

The provisional conclusion of this article, then, is that the revised reading [that Jesus was conceived illegitimately] needs to be taken seriously as a minority report that raises significant questions about the traditional reading [the virgin birth], questions that should cause the latter’s adherents to re-think its justification, but that, on balance, it is not compelling enough to make them abandon it. Matthew, though obliquely, probably remains a witness to a virginal conception. But, with apologies for the puns, the article will have succeeded in its aim if it has raised suspicions about the legitimacy of both the revised and the traditional readings of Jesus’ conception in Matthew and planted the seed for further reflection and discussion.

“Contested Paternity and Contested Readings: Jesus’ Conception in Matthew 1.18-25,” by Andrew T. Lincoln.

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