The Son of Man has Nowhere to Lay His Head – Matthew 8:18-20

Matthew 8:18 is a transition between the three healing stories in Capernaum and the three stories loosely concerned with following Jesus. First, two would-be disciples approach Jesus and Jesus responds with rather difficult, enigmatic sayings. Second, Jesus demonstrates his authority of creation itself, yet his own disciples have “little faith.”  Third, Jesus demonstrates his authority over demons, and a whole town demands he leave their region. In 9:1, Jesus crosses the lake again and returns to “his own town” Capernaum.

Following Jesus

Luke 9:57-61 has close parallels to these two would-be disciples, but adds a third who wants to return home to say farewell to his family, evoking Jesus’s well-known saying, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In the first case, Luke does not identify the mane as a scribe (he is “someone,” τις).

A scribe approaches Jesus and expresses his desire to become a follower of Jesus. A scribe (γραμματεύς) usually refers to someone who is clerk or secretary, someone who can read and write and is trained in dealing with official documents. However, in Matthew the scribes are usually experts in the law, or the biblical scholars. The scribes were who people would look to for answers about how to interpret and apply the Law to a specific situation.

This scribe ought to call to mind the summary statement at the end of the Sermon on the Mount; Jesus taught “as one who had authority, not as their scribes” (οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν).

The scribe addresses Jesus as “teacher” (Διδάσκαλε, rather than ῥαββί, רַבִּי) and says he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. This is the way a student might ask a rabbi to enter into a formal discipleship relationship. Nolland suggests the man sees Jesus as an important somebody with whom he would like to be associated (Nolland, Matthew, 365).

In contemporary academia, someone has more gravitas if they did their doctoral work at a top-notch university or had an academic star as their thesis advisor. Sometimes even taking a single class with a particularly famous scholar is enough to boast about. (Michael Bird once asked me for directions in the book room at SBL, and I put that on my resume.)  Perhaps this scribe wanted to pad his resume by sitting under Jesus’s teaching for a few months.

But this is not the kind of disciple Jesus is looking for. Prior to the Sermon on the Mount Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him and they immediately abandoned their business (fishing) and followed him (Matt 4:20). That is the kind of followers Jesus demands, in contrast to the scribe who is looking for a traditional rabbi/teacher-student relationship.

The response contrasts the type of discipleship the scribe might expect with Jesus’s unusual demands on his disciples.  This is the first time in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus has identified himself as the “Son of Man” (there are a total of 28 Son of Man sayings in Matthew). Although the phrase does appear in Ezekiel (always God referring to the prophet as a human), it is more likely the title is drawn from Daniel 7:13-14. After a series of kingdoms, Daniel sees a son of man who comes before the Ancient of Days to judge the final kingdom and establish his own everlasting kingdom.

Even what Jesus means by the title is ambiguous, since sometimes he uses it in the context of his role as the suffering servant (20:18; 20:28; 26:2) and other occasions it refers to his role as the king in a future judgment (25:31, 26:64).

In this case, the Son of Man has a humble ministry among the poorest in Israel. He says the animals have place to live, but the “Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” If Son of Man alludes to the Jewish expectation of a David-like king who would rule over Israel in peace and prosperity, it would be shocking to hear he has no “place to lay his head.” Perhaps this alludes to David before he became king, running from King Saul, although there is no exact parallel to this saying in 1 Samuel or the Psalms.

T. W. Manson argued “birds of the air” were apocalyptic symbolism for the gentile nations and foxes were the Ammonites (Manson, Sayings of Jesus, 72). In Luke 13:32 Jesus calls Herod Antipas “that fox.” Manson suggests Jesus means something like, “everyone is welcome in Israel except true Israel (the Son of Man).” Bailey suggests political overtones in the saying, “The Son of Man stands powerless and alone. Are you serious in wanting to follow a rejected Son of man?” (Through Peasant Eyes, 25).

Certainly, Jesus is not homeless in the modern sense of the word. In fact, he will return to “his own town” in Matt 9:1 and live in Peter’s house in Capernaum. However, following Jesus is not like following a traditional rabbi; becoming a disciple of Jesus is to become a “scribe of the kingdom” (13:52) who sells everything he has in order to obtain the kingdom (13:44-46).

Followers of Jesus are the disenfranchised, the poor and the fringes of Israel, not the Herodians or the Temple aristocracy. Jesus does live a life of voluntary poverty and he does have an itinerant ministry that takes him all over Galilee and Judea. But his point here is that he not welcomed by the “in group.” Yet he will be welcomed by sinners (9:10-13).

Jesus is therefore telling the man that following him as a disciple is not likely to result in a traditional scribal role (Decent salary? Benefits? Comfortable perks of the job?). In fact, if someone wants to follow Jesus, they must be rejected by the other scribes and teachers of the Law, challenged by the Pharisees and he must be prepared to suffer along with him. Following Jesus will lead to Gethsemane and Golgotha (Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, 24).

Did the man follow Jesus? Davies and Allison think he was not a “friendly inquirer who is (implicitly) bidden to follow Jesus. On the contrary, the scribe, we are to think, is turned away” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:41). On the analogy of the rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit the kingdom, perhaps this scribe went away from Jesus disappointed with the answer he was given (Matt 19:16-30).

Jesus Heals Peter’s Mother in Law – Matthew 8:14-16

Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever and is perhaps suffering from malaria or some other disease. Jesus heals her on the Sabbath and she begins to serve him.

Christ Healing Peter's Mother in law, John Bridges

First, if Peter have a mother-in-law, then Peter was a married man. In Matthew 19:27 Peter says he has left everything to follow Jesus, including his house and wife. However, 1 Corinthians 9:3-5 implies Peter was married when Paul write that letter.

Second, what illness was his mother-in-law suffering? The verb πυρέσσω and the cognate verb πυρετός are rare in the New Testament and the only the verb appears in the LXX in Deuteronomy 28:22 where translates the Hebrew noun קַדַּחַת (qaddaḥat). This kind of fever is associated with the curses for covenant unfaithfulness and only appears elsewhere in Leviticus 26:16.

Matthew’s version of Mark 1:29-34 is briefer and omits the fact this occurs on the Sabbath. Luke 4:38-41 also sets the healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus does not touch her hand, but rather rebukes the fever. Luke adds the fact she was tormented (passive participle of συνέχω) with a high fever (πυρετῷ μεγάλῳ). Compare this to the father of Publius in Acts 28:8, he was suffering with dysentery.

Davies and Allison point out the connection between a fever and demonic activity in the Testament of Solomon 7. In this apocryphal story, Solomon questions the demon Lix Tetrax who describes himself as causing fevers which last for a day and a half.

Testament of Solomon 7.5–6 “I create divisions among men, I make whirlwinds, I start fires, I set fields on fire, and I make households non-functional. Usually, I carry on my activity in the summertime. If I get the chance, I slither in under the corners of houses during the night or day. I am the direct offspring of the Great One.” 6 I asked him, ‘In which constellation do you reside?” He replied, ‘Toward the very tip of the horn of the moon when it is found in the South—there is my star. Therefore, I was assigned to draw out the fever which strikes for a day and a half.

However, there is nothing else in the story to imply this woman was under demonic oppression. Perhaps an outsider might have considered the possibility she had a demon, but that is not at all the point of this story.

After she is healed, she immediately serves him (Jesus). On the one hand, this may refer to her returning to her role as a hostess for a Sabbath meal for an honored guest. But on the other hand, this is the first person in Matthew’s gospel who serves Jesus. As Donald Hagner comments, “She ministered to him in grateful response to what he had done for her—a fundamental aspect of discipleship: (Hagner, Matthew, 209).

Walter Wilson recently suggested Matthew re-worked this story to recall Elisha and Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37). He points out the healing of the leper in Matthew 8:1-4 alludes to the healing of Naaman, a gentile military officer with leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14). When Elisha entered the house, he there was a child lying dead on the bed; when Jesus entered the house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in the bed.  In both cases, the women serve the prophet (2 Kings 4:16; Matt 8:14).

Wilson and others who draw parallels to Elisha are likely correct. Just as the Sermon on the Mount drew comparisons to Moses as Israel’s lawgiver, these miracles draw comparisons between Jesus’s healing ministry and the two greatest prophets from Israel’s history.

But there is more here. The first three miracles in Matthew 8 concern people who would be excluded from worship at the temple and would certainly not be the sort of people expected to express faith in a Jewish teacher like Jesus.

That evening, many are healed (8:16). In the parallel story in Mark 1:29-34 Jesus was in the synagogue on the Sabbath and returned to Simon and Andrew’s home when he healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

Matthew concludes these three healing stories by declaring Jesus fulfills Isaiah 53:4 (Matthew 8:17). The verse is part of the four “Servant songs” in Isaiah, the most significant is 52:12-53:12. Matthew’s quotation here follows the LXX, which has the gist of the MT.

Isaiah 53:4 (ESV) Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

Isaiah 53:4 (LES2) This one carries our sins and suffers pain for us, and we regarded him as one who is in difficulty, misfortune, and affliction.

How does Jesus “take up” illness? In the first century, sin and sickness were often connected. This is more clear in Matthew 9:1-8 when Jesus forgives a paralyzed man’s sin, prompting the teachers of the Law to accuse him of blasphemy.

Bibliography: Wilson, Walter T. “The Uninvited Healer: Houses, Healing and Prophets in Matthew 8.1-22.” JSNT 36 (2013): 53–72.

Who are the “Many Who Come from the East and West” in Matthew 8:10-12?

In Matthew 8:10-12 Jesus draws a contrast between the “sons of the kingdom” who will not participate in the eschatological feast and those who will. The ones who do recline at the table with Abraham are “many from the east and the west.” Just who the many who enter the banquet and sit at the head table in the eschatological banquet has been a matter of discussion in recent scholarship.

Great Feast Abraham Beyeren

Since Jeremias, the majority opinion is that the included “many” are believing Gentiles and that the excluded “sons of the kingdom” are unbelieving Jews (Jesus’ Promise to the Nations, 51). Jeremias gives five features of Jesus’ view of the eschatological pilgrimage of the Gentiles (57-60). First, God reveals himself to all humanity (Isa 2:2; 40:5). Second, God calls everyone to Zion (Isa 45:20–22). Third, the journey of the Gentiles to Zion, from Egypt and Assyria (Isa 2:3, 19:23). Fourth, the nations will worship at the “world–sanctuary” (Isa 56:7, 66:18). Last of all is the messianic banquet on the world–mountain (Isa 25:6–8). Matthew 8:11 is, for Jeremias, an interpretation of Malachi 1:11 highlighting the in–gathering of the Gentiles (62).

In a 1989 article, Dale Allison challenged this consensus opinion by arguing the “many from the east and the west” are Jews from the Diaspora rather than Gentiles replacing Jews at the eschatological feast. While he does not interact with Allison’s article, John Nolland argues a “re–application of the gathering of Israel to the gathering of the Gentiles is to claim too much.” Jewish eschatological thinking always allowed for Gentile participation in the Jewish eschatological gathering. (Matthew, 357).

Allison points out there is no text in the Hebrew Bible or the Second Temple Period, which describes Gentiles as coming from the east and west. Isaiah 59:19 describes a pilgrimage from the east and west when the Redeemer comes to Zion for those in Jacob who have turned from transgression. Psalm 107:3 describes Israel coming from the east, west, north and south. Philo (Spec. Leg. 1.69) uses this language (“from the east and west”) to describe the return of Diaspora Jews from Alexandria and Babylon to Jerusalem for festival days. For other texts describing a pilgrimage from the “east and west, north and south.” (See LXX Ps 106:2–3 [ET 107:2–3], Isa 43:5–6; Zech 8:7–8, 1 Enoch 57:1).

Psalms of Solomon 11 combines the gathering of the children of Zion (PsSol 11:2, cf. Isa 52:7; 54:1–4) with the voice of one bringing good news to Zion.

Psalms of Solomon 11.1–4 Sound in Zion the signal trumpet of the sanctuary; announce in Jerusalem the voice of one bringing good news, for God has been merciful to Israel in watching over them. 2 Stand on a high place, Jerusalem, and look at your children, from the east and the west assembled together by the Lord. 3 From the north they come in the joy of their God; from far distant islands God has assembled them. 4 He flattened high mountains into level ground for them; the hills fled at their coming.

The Zion is to clothe herself with garments of glory (PsSol 11:7, cf. Isa 52:1) because the way through the wilderness has been prepared by leveling the path and turning the desert into paradise (PsSol 11:4–5, cf. Isa 40:4, 41:17–18). This pilgrimage only concerns Jews scattered throughout the world as they return to Zion and Jerusalem.

Allison also argues that even if there is an allusion to an eschatological pilgrimage of the nations to Zion in Matthew 8:11, it cannot be assumed that the original hearers would have thought of this pilgrimage as universal salvation of Gentiles (163). Allison cites several Second Temple Period texts which show that the Gentile pilgrimage in the future will be one of judgment, not salvation. As early as Ezekiel 39 the nations come to Israel, but instead of finding salvation at an eschatological banquet, they are utterly destroyed and become the food for the banquet (Ezek 39:17–20).

Allison is correct that at least some streams of Second Temple Period Judaism did not envision a future conversion of the nations, but rather their destruction. The source for this diversity is the ambiguity is the foundation eschatological banquet text, Isa 25:6–8. In fact, this is the only text in the Hebrew Bible which may connect the pilgrimage of the nations to Zion with the messianic feast. In every other text, the nations travel to Zion to pay homage to the God of Israel, but the feast is celebrated only by Israel. Allison concludes that Jesus would not have turned the metaphor of the messianic banquet upside down by replacing Israel with the Gentiles. Rather, he was indicating that the Jews who thought they ought to be sharing in the messianic banquet will be replaced by other Jewish guests, perhaps even those from the Diaspora (165).

While agreeing with many of Allison’s points, Michael Bird nevertheless maintains that the consensus view is essentially correct (“Who Comes from the East and the West?,” 441–57). Bird points out the book of Isaiah has both a “pilgrimage of the Gentiles” (Isa 2:2–4) and an eschatological banquet (Isa 25:6–8). Allison does not think Jesus’ audience would have read the two texts together since there is no pilgrimage and conversion of the nations in the eschatological feast.

Following Craig Keener, Bird points out that Jesus and other Second Temple Period thinkers frequently read Isaiah synthetically. “Even if he drew on only a single text, [Jesus] understanding of that text would be informed by the others” (Keener, The Gospel of Matthew, 270, n.26). Similarly, Warren Carter is convinced Allison is correct about inclusion of the Diaspora but does not see this as a non–inclusion of the Gentiles (Matthew and the Margins, 203). The context of Matthew 8:8–10 is the compelling factor for Carter. Matthew has placed this saying into a context which highlights Gentile conversion.

If it was only Matthew inserting the saying into the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant, then perhaps Bird and Carter have a valid point. But the literary unit of Matthew 8–9 should be considered as a whole. This section is a series of miracles and conflict stories between two teaching sections (Matt 5–7 and 10).  In this larger section Jesus comes into contact with various outsiders: a leper, the demon–possessed, tax collectors, the blind and lame, as well as a Gentile. The faith of the Gentile centurion stands as part of a series of events which demonstrate that Jesus extends mercy to the outsiders.

In fact, there is nothing in Matthew 8:5–13 which anticipates the Gentile mission which would have been the case when Matthew finally wrote his Gospel. If Matthew were creating a story to show that Jesus was extending salvation to the Gentiles, then Jesus should have shared a meal with the Gentile as he did the (Jewish) tax–collectors and other sinners in Matt 9:9–13. That the centurion knows it is not lawful for Jesus to enter his home may imply that this man was a God–fearing Gentile not unlike Cornelius (Acts 10:28). Luke describes the Centurion as a patron of the Synagogue at Capernaum (Luke 7:4–5).

When read within the context of Matthew’s gospel, this saying about an eschatological banquet does not so much refer to geographical Diaspora Jews, but rather a sociological Diaspora. An additional factor is the placement of the saying in Luke 13:29, where there is no hint of Gentile salvation in Luke. In fact, read within the context of Luke–Acts, the “many from the east and west” are in fact Diaspora Jews gathered at Pentecost who hear the preaching of the Apostles and receive the Holy Spirit.

In summary, this saying is an explicit reference to the eschatological banquet. But Jesus expands the banquet to include people on the fringes of the Jewish life. The saying is less about a future banquet than Jesus’s ongoing ministry of table fellowship. Only a chapter later, many do in fact come to sit with Jesus and celebrate with him as a bridegroom (Matt 9:9–13).




Jesus Heals the Centurion’s Servant – Matthew 8:5-13

Jesus returns to Capernaum, Peter’s village, where is met by a centurion asking him to heal his servant who is suffering greatly (Matthew 8:5-6). Like the story of Jesus healing the leper in the previous paragraph, Jesus will cross cultural barriers by responding to this Gentile’s request.

Centurion's Servant Healed

Jesus left Nazareth and began to live in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13), likely living in Peter’s home (8:14). He will return to the village in 11:23 and 17:24. The modern route from Nazareth to Capernaum is about 30 miles, but the way drops from 1138 feet at Nazareth to 680 feet below sea level at Capernaum (at current lake levels). In the first century Capernaum would not have been very large, perhaps no more that 1700 residents. The village is right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and there is evidence of at least seven docks for fishermen. There is also evidence of a small synagogue under the impressive fifth century building modern tourists visit.

Having finished the Sermon on the Mount Jesus walked to the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Peter and his family lived. From the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount to Capernaum is perhaps three and a half miles by the modern road, less if Jesus is able to take a more direct route.

The centurion is a Gentile, but it is at least possible he is a God-fearing gentile. Was there a Roman garrison in Capernaum in the first third of first century? This is often stated, but rarely proven. Mike Wilkins, for example, states “recent excavations reveal a military garrison at Capernaum had its headquarters to the east of the Jewish village” although he does not offer a footnote for this recent excavation (Wilkins, Matthew, 341).

There is little evidence for Roman military presence in Galilee prior to AD 44 (Wahlde, “Archaeology and John’s Gospel”). In the 1980s a Roman bathhouse was found near the eastern border of the village, right on the property line between the Franciscan and Orthodox properties. At present, the bathhouse is dated to the second or third century (it is similar to small bathhouses in Gaul and Britain from the period), but the excavators suspect an earlier bathhouse was present when the later was built.

Why would a typical Roman soldier think a Jewish healer would have this kind of authority? If he is simply a pagan Roman centurion, he may have tried all other methods, both medical and divine, to heal his servant. If he was a God-fearing Gentile, then he may have had faith in the God of Israel to heal. In either case, he had heard Jesus was known for healing all kind of illness and approaches on behalf of the servant. The point of the passage is that a Gentile expressed more faith than the Jews in the region, especially the Pharisees.

The centurion approaches Jesus and shows unusual respect for him. The verb translated “asking for help” (NIV) or “appealing to him” (ESV, NRSV) is προσκυνέω, “to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure” (BDAG). It can mean anything from “greet with affection” or “welcome respectfully” to “worship (like a god).” Although it is unlikely the man is worshiping Jesus like a god, it is significant Matthew has chosen this word to express the centurion’s attitude toward Jesus. This Gentile considers Jesus worthy of respect and honor.

His request is simple: heal my servant. It is possible to translate the noun παῖς as “servant” or “son.” In fact, John has son (υἱός), but Luke has “servant” (δοῦλος). It may be the case that the ambiguity of παῖς led to the different terms in Luke and John, and it is also possible the servant was so beloved by the centurion he considered him as a son. (See this post from Ian Paul for the suggestion the servant was the centurion’s gay lover. Dwight Gingrich points out the noun “παῖς (pais) usually carries no sexual connotations whatsoever.”)

In either case, he is paralyzed and suffering greatly. The verb translated “suffer” (βασανίζω) refers to extreme distress and is used for torture in some contexts. Matthew adds the adverb “greatly (δεινῶς), “an extreme negative point on a scale relating to values” (BDAG). When your doctor asks you how bad your pain is on a scale of one to ten, the servant’s pain goes all the way to eleven.

Jesus is willing to go to the servant and heal him, but the centurion knows a Jewish person would not enter the home of a Gentile.For example, in Acts, Peter initially refused to enter the home of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile who was so godly that the Lord sent an angel to personally answer his prayers. In Acts 10:28 Peter says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation.”In the Mishnah, m Ohol. 18:7, “Dwelling places of gentiles [in the Land of Israel] are unclean.”

The centurion says he is not worthy (οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανός) of a visit from Jesus in his home. Instead, the centurion recognizes Jesus is authority and knows Jesus only has to say the word, and his servant will be healed.

Jesus is amazed at the man’s faith, telling his followers that he has met no one in Israel who has a similar faith.  “No one in Israel” as opposed to the gentile centurion has expressed a belief in Jesus’s authority over illness. Why is this surprising? There are several texts in Isaiah which suggest the messiah would have a healing ministry, Isaiah 35:5-7. 61:1-4. If Jesus was known for “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom” and healing every disease and sickness (Matt 4:24), then the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees should have made the connection to these prophecies about the coming eschatological age. In the next few pages of Matthew, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees will question Jesus’s authority and cast doubt on the origins of his power.

Skipping over 8:10-12 for now, the story concludes in verse 13, the servant is immediately healed. In the leper story, Jesus says he is willing to heal, and in this story, Jesus once again expresses his authority by healing the servant by his word, crossing over social and cultural boundaries to care for someone at the lowest rungs of society.



Jesus Heals a Man with Leprosy – Matthew 8:1-4

In the first three stories in Matthew 8, Jesus heals three people of the fringes of Jewish society, demonstrating his authority of physical illness and fulfilling Isaiah 53:4. In Matthew 8:1-4 Jesus heals a man with leprosy by touching him.

Jesus healing the leprous man is an example of the triple tradition (Matt 8:1-4//Mark 1:40-45//Luke 5:12-16). Matthew omits Jesus’s response in Mark 1:41. There Jesus either has compassion on the man (the majority of manuscripts) or he is indignant (D and some old Italian versions). Matthew also drops out the man’s disobedience to the command to stay silent (Mark 1:45, “instead he went out and began to talk freely). Matthew tells the story as simply as possible in order to emphasize Jesus’s authority over illness.

A person with rotting skin like leprosy was considered as good as dead. Their disease was often associated with God’s judgment (cf. 2 Chr 26:20). As ceremonially unclean and as contagious persons, they were required to keep themselves separate from society and to announce their approach with the words “Unclean, unclean!” (Lev 14:45–46; cf. Luke 17:12). In Numbers 5:2 the leprous are to be “put out of the camp.” When Miriam is punished with leprosy Moses pleads with God to heal her saying “Let her not be as one dead.” Leviticus 13-14 has a wide range of rules for people with skin conditions and in Deuteronomy 24:8-9 Israel is to be very careful with lepers, “remember Miriam!” There are several stories which describe leprosy as a punishment from God (2 Kings 5:7; 7:3-10; 15:5; 2 Chron 26:16–21).

Leprosy is a concern in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the Temple Scroll, lepers and menstruating women should have a place to live outside a city to live so they do not defile people in the city. The section just prior to this quote instructs the readers to “not be like the Gentiles” who bury their dead everywhere, but rather build cemeteries outside the city to avoid corpse uncleanliness. No one with leprosy or a skin disease was allowed to enter the Temple (11Q20 Col. xii:3).

11Q19 Col. xlviii:14 And in every city you shall make places for those contaminated 15 with leprosy, and with sores and with scabies so that they do not enter your cities and defile them; and also for those who have a flux 16 and for women when they are in their menstrual impurity and after giving birth, so that they do not defile in their midst 17 with their menstrual impurity. And the leper who has chronic leprosy or scabies and the priest has declared him unclean. (trans. Garcı́a Martı́nez and Tigchelaar)

This is similar to the Mishnah which lists lepers along with several other “fathers of uncleanliness.” These things render a person unclean by contact. If a leper touched a plate or a bowl, then that vessel was unclean and any food eaten from that vessel would be rendered unclean.

m. Kelim 1:1 The Fathers of Uncleannesses [are] (1) the creeping thing, and (2) semen [of an adult Israelite], and (3) one who has contracted corpse uncleanness, and (4) the leper in the days of his counting, and (5) sin offering water of insufficient quantity to be sprinkled. Lo, these render man and vessels unclean by contact, and earthenware vessels by [presence within the vessels’ contained] airspace (trans. Neusner).

In addition to this, the tractate m. Nega’im concerns various skin diseases and how they affect the cleanliness of clothing, homes, etc. as well as methods for purifying a leper.

m. Nega’im 13:11 A leper who entered the house—all the utensils which are there are unclean—even up to the beams.

m. Nega’im 14:1 A  How do they purify the leper? (B 1) He would bring a new flask of clay, and (2) put in it a quarter-log of living water, and (3) bring two undomesticated birds. C He slaughtered one of them over the clay utensil and over the living water. D He dug [a hole] and buried it before him [the leper]. E He took cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet wool and bound them together with the ends of the strip [of wool] and brought near to them the tips of the wings and the tip of the tail of the second [bird]. F He dipped [them in the blood of the slaughtered bird] and sprinkled [the blood] seven times on the back of the hand of the leper. G There are some who say, “On his forehead.” H And thus did he sprinkle on the lintel of the house on the outside.

The man kneels before Jesus, a sign of respect, probably not worship. When the leper asks to be made clean, he is asking Jesus not just to remove his painful disease, but to be allowed back into Jewish life, including living again with his family and worship at the Temple.

Jesus responds by touching the man and he is immediately made clean. No one touches a leper since touching make the person unclean and they may contract the disease themselves. Touching the untouchable violates the law (cf. Lev 5:3).

Jesus then tells the man to say nothing but rather go to a priest to offer a gift. Why does Jesus command silence? Although it is more clear in Mark, there is a “messianic secret” theme in Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 16:20 he tells his disciples to tell no one that he is the Messiah, and in 17:9 he tells the three witnesses of the transfiguration to tell no one about their experience until after the resurrection. The usual explanation is that healing a leper would have confirmed Jesus is the messiah and drawn even larger crowds, crowds of people who would misunderstand the nature of Jesus’s messianic activity.

m. Nega’im 14:7 A On the eighth day [Lev. 14:10] one brings three beasts: a sin offering, and a guilt offering, and a whole offering. B The poor person would bring sin offering of fowl and a whole offering of fowl [Lev. 14:21]. 14:8 A He came to the guilt offering and put his two hands on it and slaughtered it. B And two priests received its blood, one in a utensil and one by hand. C This one who received [the blood] in the utensil came and sprinkled it on the wall of the altar. D And this one who received it by hand came to the leper. E And the leper immersed in the court of the lepers. F He came and stood in the gate of Nicanor. G  R. Judah says, “He did not require immersion [on the eighth day, having done so on the seventh].”

Why would Jesus require a proof of healing? A gift after a skin disease is cleared was Moses commanded so that he can once again be part of Jewish society. “Jesus is thus shown to be faithful to the stipulations of the Torah in spite of an infraction of the command not to touch” (Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 199). People with skin conditions were considered unclean for a period of seven days, after which time they had to submit to a priest for inspection and make a series of washings and offerings to be restored to a state of ritual cleanliness.

When Jesus touches the leper he crosses a boundary most of his contemporaries would not even approach. He showed compassion for the leper even though there was fear and loathing for the leprous man. How does Jesus’s action of touching the leper provide a model for contemporary ministry?


Were Lepers Considered Unclean in the Bible? Matthew 8:1-2

In Matthew 8:1-2, a man with leprosy approaches Jesus and asks to be made clean. It is important to understand leprosy in the context of the first century. In modern usage, leprosy refers to a specific medical condition known as Hansen’s disease. The Greek λεπρός covers a side range of skin conditions, so it is perhaps better to call this a “bad skin condition” (although this runs the risk of making the reader think the man just had a really bad case of acne). In classical Greek, the word λεπρός referred to skin that was scaly, rough, or harsh or things that were “mangy” (BrillDAG).

Jesus heals a leper

People with skin conditions were considered unclean for a period of seven days, after which time they had to submit to a priest for inspection and make a series of washings and offerings to be restored to a state of ritual cleanliness.

However, in a recent JBL article, Myrick Shinall has challenged the consensus view that people with leprosy were shunned in Jewish society. He argues the text usually cited in the commentaries are inconsistent and fragmentary and is more interested in diagnosing leprosy rather than excluding the leper from society (924). There is considerable variation of exclusion because of leprosy. Although Miriam is sent outside the camp, Naaman is permitted to go anywhere (2 Kings 5) and Uzziah was forced to live in a separate house, but the text does not describe the king as in isolation (2 Chron 26).

Shinall then argues there is no social isolation in the various leper stories in the Gospels (932). There is nothing in Matthew 8, for example, that indicates this leprous many was living a life of social isolation, and later Jesus will enter the home of Simon the Leper and eat with him (Matt 26:6). Shinall understands Simon’s name as indicating he was currently suffering from leprosy; he is not “Simon, the former Leper.”

The problem Shinall addresses is the common, an inaccurate portrayal of Second Temple Judaism as overly concerned with purity in contrast to the loving Jesus who reached out to lepers. He sees this as a clear bias against Jews in early church writers and implicit in modern commentators. If the motivation for overplaying social exclusion is slandering the Jews, then it should be dropped (934).

I am in agreement with his final conclusion: do not slander the Jews in your teaching and preaching on this passage (seriously, don’t). However, social isolation because of one’s status is exactly the point of the three stories in Matthew 8:1-17. Jesus touches the leper and Peter’s mother-in-law, as I will show later, she is suffering from a fever which is associated with the curses for covenant unfaithfulness. The middle story in this section has Jesus talking with a Gentile, risking a violation of purity laws.

The contrast is not between a kind and living Jesus and the whole of Second Temple Judaism, but with the way Pharisees practiced purity. Contact with a leper, a Gentile and a feverish woman were all grave risks for rendering someone unclean and would require a person to make appropriate washings in order to return to a state of cleanliness.

This needs to be unpacked more, but for now, I will state here that the Pharisees were the sub-group within Judaism who attempted to live in a state of ritual purity at all times. They are also the group who will come into direct conflict with Jesus over these kinds of purity issues.

Bibliography: Myrick C. Shinall Jr., “The Social Condition of Lepers in the Gospels,” JBL 137.4 (2018): 915-34.

See also: J. K. Elliott, “The Healing of the Leper in the Synoptic Parallels.” TZ 34 (1978) 175–76;  Ituma, Ezichi, Enobong I. Solomon, and Favour C. Uroko. “The Cleansing of the Leper in Mark 1:40–45 and the Secrecy Motif: An African Ecclesial Context.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 75.4 (October 2019): 1–11.

Main Themes in Matthew 8-12

Matthew 4:23-25 and 9:35 form an inclusio, a frame around the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7) and the authority/miracle stories (ch. 8-9), forming a major unit in the Gospel of Matthew. (Click here for an index of all Sermon on the Mount posts.) At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the people are amazed because Jesus teaches with authority. In Matthew 9:35, they are amazed at Jesus because he does things with authority.

After collecting Jesus’s teaching on the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew collects ten miracles (nine healings) to demonstrate that Jesus is the Servant from Isaiah 53:4. In the Septuagint the servant “carries our sins and suffers pain for us, and we regarded him as one who is in difficulty, misfortune, and affliction” (LES2). These themes are clear in Matthew 8-9, Jesus heals people who are on the fringes of society because their illnesses are associated with uncleanliness and sin. Similar to the blindman in John 9, someone might have asked what the leprous man did to deserve such a painful punishment. Jesus disconnects sin and illness in these stories. This is clear in Matthew 9:1-8 when Jesus forgives a man’s sin without healing him first; the teachers of the Law consider this blasphemous since only God can forgive sin and false because the man was still paralyzed.

Interspersed into this collection of miracle stories are sayings of Jesus and reactions from crowds, the disciples, teachers of the law and Pharisees. In most cases, people who should not understand who Jesus do (a centurion, 8:9-9; demons 8:28; tax-collectors, 9:9-13; blind men, 9:27). Those who should recognize his healings as signs the messianic age has come do not understand Jesus (anyone in Israel, 8:10-12; the disciples, 8:23-27; teachers of the law, 9:3; John the Baptist’s disciples, 9:14; Pharisees, 9:34).

These reactions to Jesus anticipate a series of conflict stories that follow in Matthew 10-12. People begin to react to Jesus as the Messiah in various ways, but the climax ins the Pharisees rejecting Jesus and declare he is working his miracles under the power of Beelzebub. Jesus says this rejection is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a sin that will not be forgiven int his age or the age to come (Matt 12:32). Matthew 12 ends with Jesus’s family asking to speak with him (12:46-50). In Mark 3:20-21 his family wants to take him home because they think he has lost his mind, although that detail is omitted in Matthew 12.

For example, in this first section of Matthew 8-9, a leper, a gentile, and a woman with a fever, people who are unclean with respect to ritual purity under the Law, are healed. Jesus touches a leper, speaks with a Gentile, and touches a woman. All three actions would render Jesus unclean by the standards of the Pharisees, who lived as much as possible in a state of perpetual ritual purity.

Just as the Sermon on the Mount subverts expectations about the Law and how one lives out their lives as Jews in the Second Temple Period, Jesus will challenge the beliefs of other teachers (especially the Pharisees) with respect to discipleship (who can be a follower of Jesus looks much different than who can be a follower of the Pharisees!) He declares that “many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” while the “sons of the kingdom” will be thrown in the outer darkness where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Those who think they belong in the kingdom of Heaven (sitting at the head table with Abraham) will not enter the kingdom at all, while those who should not be in the kingdom (lepers, Gentiles and a women with a suspicious disease) will not only get in, but they will be the honored guests!

Logos Free Book of the Month for September 2020 – The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

Logos is offering a great Free Book of the Month as well as some real gems at deep discounts. For the month of September, you can download the The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke for free. D. A. Carson wrote the Matthew commentary, Walter W. Wessel wrote Mark, and Walter L. Liefeld wrote Luke.

This free volume (and the Isaiah Jeremiah volume for $1.99) was published in 1984. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary has been extremely popular over the years, reflecting some of the best evangelical scholarship at the time, yet targeting pastors, teachers and lay-people. The body of the commentary deals with the main features of the text and interacts with the biblical languages in more detailed notes. When I am asked by recent college graduates what commentary series the should buy, this is the series I recommend.

As always Logos has a few more volumes in the series at extremely reasonable prices:

  • The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 6: Isaiah (Geoffrey W. Grogan), Jeremiah (Charles L. Feinberg), Lamentations (H. L. Ellison), Ezekiel (Ralph H. Alexander), $1.99
  • The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition), Everett F. Harrison, Donald A. Hagner, Robert K. Rapa, $2.99
  • The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 3: 1 Samuel–2 Kings (Revised Edition), Ronald F. Youngblood, Richard D. Patterson, Hermann Austel, $3.99
  • The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 5: Psalms, (Revised Edition), by Willem A. VanGemeren, $9.99
  • The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition), William W. Klein, Todd Still, Robert L. Thomas, $16.99 (50% off)
  • The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 13: Hebrews-Revelation (Revised Edition), R. T. France, George Guthrie, J. Daryl Charles, Tom Thatcher, Alan F. Johnson $18.99 (50% off)

Not sold yet? Here is a short video on the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary:


Usually about mid-month Logos adds another set of free and discounted books, so starting September 9, you can get Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Books 1–5 (The Fathers of the Church; Catholic University of America, 1953). This translation is more up-to-date than Krisopp Lake’s 1923 translation in the Loeb Library, although unlike the Loeb edition this book only contains the English translation of the first five books of Ecclesiastical History. There are a few additional books with great discounts, so visit the page for all the deals.

If you do not already own Logos, you can get the basic edition for free and read these books, or get Logos Fundamentals for 50% off for a limited time. This is a collection of 53 resources for $49.95. Follow that link and you can select one additional resource for free and choose a few more for $1.99 each. Try using the code PARTNEROFFER8 at checkout.

Logos Commentary Sale

Logos is also running a sale on their best rated commentaries. Save up to 50% on excellent resources such as Doug Moo’s Romans volume in the The New International Commentary on the New Testament or Greg Beale’s Revelation commentary in the New International Greek Text Commentary series. Pick up individual volumes of the Word Biblical Commentary (Longenecker’s Galatians, for example) and the Anchor Bible commentary (Propp’s two volumes on Exodus, for example), and the NIV Application Commentary. there are plenty of other series represented at every level, from high-end academic to pastoral expositional commentaries.

These Logos resources are available only until the end of September 2020. Be sure to get these books while you can!

Biblical Studies Carnival 174 for August 2020

August is always a slow month for the Bibliblog community. University professors struggle with the tail end of summer combined with the sudden realization they really should think about prepping syllabi for the fall. This year, a healthy helping of ever-changing COVID-19 policies made planning for the fall quite an adventure.

I have already taught an August intensive class face-to-face. Sort of. Everyone wore masks at sat six feet apart, half my class was in another room watching via Google Hangouts, and I lectured from behind a plex-glass shield. Sadly, it was not bullet proof, but it did save students from encountering in the diseased contents of my lungs. But the fact it is September 1 and I am teaching real live students in a classroom is something of an improvement over March 15.

University of Zoom Meme

In biblio-blogging news, Brent Niedergall is hosting the next carnival, Jim West hosts in October 2020 (due November 1), and Bobby Howell will do November 2020 (Due December 1).  I am desperately seeking for December 2020 (Due January 1), and any month in 2021. Please contact me via email, or DM on twitter (plong42) to discuss hosting a carnival. I would love to see some veteran bloggers step up, but at this point I cannot really be too picky.

I have edited the Biblical Studies Carnival Master list and posted it to a tab at the top of this page. It is not perfect and I will continue to tweak the look and feel. You can click an older carnivals, although many of the earliest blogs are no longer online. I might be able to find those using the Wayback Machine, but I did not have time to run down all the dead links. More to come.


Teaching with COVID

Zoom Call memeJames McGrath comments on Michael Peppard’s article on why educators must reimagine remote learning and provides a collection of links to other articles on remote learning. McGrath also had a post on Gamifying for a Better Fall Semester. To be clear, McGrath defines gamification as “adopting of a points-based approach to grading, not to specific activities that might be game-like.”

Brian LePort has a new blog (to me at least), Google-Hermeneutics and Wiki-Exegesis: Studying and Practicing Religion in the Information Age, with some helps for remote learning, including a link to AAR’s ‘A Proven Practice’ series.

AWOL maintains a list of Active Open Access Journals. If you are not on a university campus with access to JSTOR, you may be interested in their online database, now with free access until the end of the year. “To support researchers during this challenging time in which many are unable to get to physical libraries, we have expanded our free read-online access to 100 articles per month through December 31, 2020.” You have to register (which is harmless) in order to access this otherwise expensive database.

David Turner reflects on Matthew 14 and doing ministry in during COVID.

Michael J. Kruger posted his annual reposting of Is It a Waste of Time for Seminary Students (and Pastors) to Learn the Biblical Languages?  [narrator’s voice: it’s not]

Hebrew Bible/LXX

At, James Diamond, Discerning False Prophecy: The Story of Ahab and the Lying Spirit and Naama Golan, The Statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream and the Golden Calf. Robert Eisen asks, What Is the Basis for the Draft in Jewish Law?

Jonathan Laden describes a Military Fort Discovered from Time of Biblical Judges. Here is a news story on the site. This fort also makes Bryan Windle’s Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology for August.

Jacob L. Wright, Rahab: Between Faith and Works.

Bob MacDonald continues his exploration of music and the Hebrew Bible with The Ubiquitous Silluq, Ga’ya, and Metheg. Bob is also celebrating his 75th birthday with a fundraiser for the Hebrew Bible Music project. There is just a week left to help him reach his goal, so click through to the fundraiser page and be generous.

Theodore J. Lewis, The Fascination, Challenges, and Joys of Being a Historian of Ancient Israelite Religion. Based on his recent The Origin and Character of God: Ancient Israelite Religion through the Lens of Divinity (Oxford University Press, 2020).

William Ross interviews Mark Awabdy who recently published a commentary on the Greek text of Leviticus. Ross also has a quick note on Seth Ehorn’s volume in The Baylor Handbook on the Septuagint (BHLXX).

In other LXX News, Brent Niedergall continued his Battle of the Lexicon series, pitting Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint by Lust, Eynikel, and Hauspie (LEH) and A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint by Takamitsu Muraoka (GELS).


The discovery of a rare stash of pure gold coins from the Abbasid Caliphate period, dated around 1,100 years ago made the news. The coins are made of pure gold, the total weight of the hoard is about 845 grams of pure gold. The cache was found in an archaeological site by a volunteer.

Recordings from Dead Sea Scrolls in Recent Scholarship: A Public Conference, which took place virtually on May 17-20, 2020 are now available.

Megan Sauter on Anastylosis at Machaerus, Where John the Baptist Was Beheaded.

Ken Dark  on The Archaeology of Nazareth in the Early First Century.

John DeLancey visits Lachish and Masada, with videos. Here is a video interview with Jodi Magness on her new book, Masada.

Robin Ngo on a Canaanite Fortress Discovered in the City of David.

It seemed like the Givati Parking Lot Excavation at the City of David was in the news several times this month. For example, the ashes of Jerusalem’s biblical fall still show at dig near Old City.

Paul Anderson, John: The Mundane Gospel and its Archaeology-Related Features. This one is from July, but it is a good article so I included anyway.

Carl Rasmussen posted on Samothrace, Seldom Visited by Tourists, BUT Visited by Paul (Acts 16:11). Carl also posted A Fortress on Patmos and Nazareth: Perfect Crusader Capitals — Scenes from the Gospels and Acts.

Not really a bibliblog, but Atlas Obscura has an excellent article on The Strange Afterlife of a Mysterious Tomb Inscription at Beit Guvrin. Although the Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park is not a popular tourist site for Christians to visit, the site is fascinating.

More geology than archaeology, World’s Longest Marlstone Cave Discovered in Israel Near Dead Sea. Ferrill Jenkins asks the question on all of our minds these days, “How would Bet Guvrin look during a pandemic?

Posted July 30, a Gold diadem found in Roman-era sarcophagus in Izmir, Turkey (biblical Smyrna).

New Testament

Commenting in Brian J. Wright’s book Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus, Timothy N. Mitchell asks some questions about Burning Magical Books in Ephesus (Acts 19:20).

Καταπέτασμα at Scribes of the Kingdom posted The demonized Gerasene and the paganized Greek: eschatological allegory in Mark 5:1-20. “For Mark and the early Christians, this central hope of Christ’s victory over the paganized world at his parousia was dramatized in the legend of the Gerasene demoniac.”

Marg Mowczko posted a nice piece on Romans 14 and the Divisive Issue of Women Pastors. She says, “The church at Rome was experiencing conflict and division over a few issues, but the issue of female pastors, or ministers, does not seem to have been one of them. Still, I believe it’s useful to think on our issue in light of Paul’s teaching about not judging the weaker brother or sister. This principle in Romans 14 of not judging has applications beyond different attitudes about diet.”

Bobby Howell added two more installments to his series on the phrase “test the spirits to see whether they are from God…” (1 John 4:1, ESV).

Chuck Bumgardner at Pastoral Epistles posted a series of links to important studies on the PE.

Laura Martin at Enough Light rules out a possible interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Is there a timeless foundational principle that women are more easily deceived?

Brian Small suggests reading Hebrews in a Time of Pandemic by providing a link to Andrew T. Lincoln, “Reading Hebrews in a Time of Pandemic: Heroism and Hope in the Face of Fear.” Expository Times 131.11 (2020): 471–79.

Reading Acts read Revelation this summer, and darn near finished it: A Lament for Fallen Babylon – Revelation 18:1-3, Three Woes against Babylon – Revelation 18:9-20 and The Rider on the White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16.

James McGrath reacts to Jason Staples’ recent guest posts on Bart Ehrman’s blog.

Brent Nongbri updates a recent talk on early Coptic books with even more recent data, New Radiocarbon Calibration Curve and Early Christian Manuscripts.

The Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) Blog published a guest post from Gerd Mink responding to Stephen Carlson’s article, “A Bias at the Heart of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM),” in Journal of Biblical Literature.

Rob Bradshaw has added George Milligan, Here & There Among the Papyri (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1923) to his site. Rob has maintained for many years and he has an excellent collection of hard-to-find journals and other resources.

The Zondervan Academic posted five new podcasts to promote N. T. Wright and Michael Bird’s the New Testament in Its World.

  • Craig Keener, Beginning New Testament Study, and a Conversation in Jerusalem
  • Lynn Cohick, Canonization, and N.T. Wright’s Reading and Research Habits
  • Jeannine K. Brown, the Jewish Context of Jesus, and “Faith in Christ” vs. “Faithfulness of Christ”
  • Nijay Gupta, the Story of Paul’s Life and Ministry, and N.T. Wright’s Favorite New Testament Book
  • Esau McCaulley, The Afterlife in Greco-Roman Thought, and Teaching the New Testament


James McGrath shares a link to the Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio program whose latest episode features me talking with host Miguel Conner about the topic “The Shared Origins of Monotheism, Evil & Gnosticism”.

Laura tells us what is wrong with this umbrella diagram representing Christian marriage.

The Amateur Exegete has been posting excerpts from his reading along with a four part series, Contradictions in the Empty Tomb Narratives: A Response to Erik Manning, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

On Scribes of the Kingdom, An apocalyptic Trinitarianism? “When the apocalyptic flood had at last been dried up and the nations woke up in a new world, only the cult of the Christ-god remained.”

Jim West reminds us of Emil Brunner’s Rejection of the Heresy of Universalism.

Book Reviews

Brent Nongbri has some first thoughts on Ariel Sabar’s Veritas (Doubleday, 2020). Sabar “clinically dissects the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife episode in a way that reflects pretty poorly on parts of our guild.”  Tony Burke at Apocryphicity has a long post on the book as well. Peter Gurry collects some press releases and early reviews. Robert Mazza looks at the dark side of truth in his review of the book. Here is an hour-long video from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore interviewing Sabar.

Greg Carey reviews The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity. Edited by Ronald J. Sider (Cascade Books, 2020).

Andrea L. Turpin at The Anxious Bench offers a survey of recent books on Recent Books on Women & Gender in American Religious History.

Brent Niedergall reviews John A. L. Lee, The Greek of the Pentateuch (Oxford, 2020) and the new Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Mark by Joel Williams (B&H 2020).

Chuck Bumgardner posted a convenient overview of recent articles and book reviews on the Pastoral Epistles.

Reading Acts read (and reviewed):

Reviewing Kristin Kobes du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne. How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, Matthijs Schuurman on evangelicals’ militant masculinity and reminds everyone the president rules the country, not a church.

Nijay Gupta shares his list of the Top 10 New Books in New Testament Studies published in August and September 2020. Grab your credit cards and head to your favorite bookstore to order them all. Nijay has been running a great series on “The Editors behind the Great Books in New Testament Studies,” here is Katya Corvett from Zondervan.  He posted the announcement of the new Commentaries for Christian Formation (CCF) from Eerdmans, including a new commentary on Galatians from N. T. Wright. Nijay is working on the Galatians commentary in the Story of God series from Zondervan, but there is really only one commentary on Galatians everyone needs, right?

Andrew Keanan has a short note on Christoph Helig, Paulus als Erzähler? (BZNW; De Gruyter, 2020).

Kenson Gonzalez reviewed Peter J. Gentry, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets (Crossway, 2020) and Richard Bauckham, Who is God? (Baker, 2020).

If you are looking for an early birthday present for me, the first volume of Historical and Theological Lexicon of the Septuagint is now available.

News of the Day

ASOR took the word “oriental” out of their name.

Karen Swallow Prior has words for Jerry Falwell. Jr.

Ben Witherington discusses The Difference between Critical and Sceptical [sic] Thinking.

Women’s Classical Committee: Classical Blogs and Sites by Women (updated August 2020)

When Baptists Believed in the Bible—and Bourbon, the sort of Church History we really need.

Chris Gerez on The Religious History of the 19th Amendment. That’s the one about women’s suffrage for you white male evangelicals.  Tony Keddie on U.S. Republicans and the Fallacy of Biblical Capitalism.

Why White Christians Need Hip-Hop.

Eric Metaxas became a meme. Again.

News you can use: This Is How They Wiped Themselves in Ancient Rome. “A very gross but extremely informative look at the archaeology of toilet hygiene.”

The Rider on the White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16

The Return of the KingVirtually everyone agrees this passage describes the triumphal return of Christ. But as David Aune notes, the imagery used is not derived from other early Christian traditions concerning the return of the Lord (Revelation, 3:1046). The description of the return of Jesus as conquering king are drawn from a wide variety of texts in the Old Testament and Second Temple literature. In fact, the rider on a white horse is the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.

The rider is described in somewhat familiar terms to those who read apocalyptic literature. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v 12).  Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings, as in Dan 10:6 (Theodotian LXX). He has many crowns (diadems) on his head (12). In the Greco-Roman world, multiple crowns is an indication of sovereignty over territories.

Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has many crowns, perhaps so many they are not counted. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13). Normally blood is associated with the atonement, but this is not the case here.  The blood is that of the enemies of God, and is likely an allusion to Is 63:1-3.

A sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a). This is a reference to the power of his word (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21), but the image appears elsewhere in Jewish apocalyptic.

4QIsaiah Peshera 8-10 iii 15-19 (tr. García Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls, 186): [He will destroy the land with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he will execute the evil] ? [The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot] of David which will sprout [in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute] his enemies.

The rider has several names. First, he is named Faithful and True. These titles are used for Jesus in Revelation 1:5 and 3:14. Second, he has another name inscribed which he alone knows (12b). Divine beings sometimes had a secret name or were unwilling to give their true names. In Gen 32:29, for example, God does not give his name when asked. Third, his name is “the Word of God” (13b), reminiscent of John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word. Finally, on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed: King of kings and Lord of lords (16).

Mantiklos Apollo with inscription on its thigh

Mantiklos Apollo with inscription on its thigh

James Edwards has recently published several examples of writing on the thigh of statues. The article includes photographs of statues of Apollo found in Miletus (fifth century BCE) and Claros (sixth century BCE) with writing on Apollo’s thigh indicating who offered a sacrifice to Apollo. These two statues date centuries before Revelation was written, but there are literary references to inscribed statues in Cicero and Pausanias indicate the practice of inscribing a name to honor the donor was well-known. Since all but one of his examples are dedicated to Apollo, Edwards argues this is an allusion to the Apollo cult, something he argues appears in Revelation 12 (Edwards, 529-535). For Edwards, the name on the thigh is therefore a “divine rejoinder to the inscription on the forehead of the great harlot” (535).

In Jesus the Bridegroom, I suggested Isaiah 49:14-26 adapted elements of Lamentations and Jeremiah 2 into a complaint song. In Isa 49:14 Lady Zion complains that her husband has forsaken her. The Lord protests, however, stating that he has in no way forgotten his bride. The Lord cannot forget his bride Zion because her name is “inscribed on his palms.”

While the vocabulary is different, “inscribing on the arm” is an indication of love in Song 8:6. Fox sees a parallel between Song 8:6 and the Cairo Love Songs (COS 1.150) in which a young man expresses his desire to always be near his beloved: “If only I were her little seal–ring, the keeper of her finger! I would see her love each and every day.”  As Marvin Pope suggests, anatomical descriptions in poetry are quite flexible. An “arm wearing a ring” in Song 8:6 should likely be understood as a hand.

But there is considerable difference between a mark or symbol on one’s hand and a name inscribed on one’s thigh. However, in the context of the final chapters of Revelation, the rider on the white horse is coming to the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-8). In Isaiah 49:18, the Lord swears an oath that Zion will adorn herself as a bride once again as her children return to Jerusalem. These verses are likely an allusion to Jeremiah 2:32, “can a girl forget her ornaments?”

I suggest, therefore, that the name on the thigh is part of the marriage imagery present in Revelation 19-22 and draws on the rich imagery of Israel’s marriage relationship with God in the Hebrew Bible. As in Isaiah 49, God has not forsaken his bride Israel and is now returning to rescue her from her oppressors.

The rider has come in order to judge in righteousness (11b).  That the messiah will be God’s righteous judge is a theme of several texts in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 98, 72:2, 96:13, Isa 11:4). He will wage war in righteousness (11b) and smites the nations with the sharp sword (15a).  He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (15b). That the Messiah will be something of a true shepherd is common in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 2:9) as well as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25.

Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God.  Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar; To shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth; At his warning the nations will flee from his presence; and he will condemn sinners by the thoughts of their hearts.

John describes this judgment as treading “the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is yet another familiar metaphor for the anger of God in Revelation and the est of the prophets. John has already used this metaphor in Rev 14:19.

The Rider on the White horse therefore represents the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom. God intervenes in history by means of a mighty warrior who renders justice. He will punish the enemies of Israel, destroying them utterly. But he will also vindicate those who have suffered on behalf of their testimony for Jesus: they are raised to new life in Rev 20.


Bibliography: James R. Edwards, “The Rider on the White Horse, the Thigh Inscription, and Apollo: Revelation 19:16,” JBL 137.2 (2018): 519-536.Long, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels (Pickwick, 2013).