Sunday Morning Greek Blog

May 27, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Trial of Jesus (Luke 22:67–70 and parallels)

Something interesting struck me as I read Jesus’s response to the illegal council called to accuse him of blasphemy and condemn him to be crucified. Jesus tends to be a little tight lipped in the Gospel accounts of his Passion, so the words the Gospel writers attribute to Jesus are important for understanding why he responded the way he did when he did. Let me cite the relevant passages in a vertical parallel, all from the NIV (with the exception of the plural “you” modified in Luke):

Parallel Accounts of the Trial Statement

Matthew 26:62–64

62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” 64“You [singular] have said so” (Σὺ εἶπας), Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Mark 14:60–62

60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62“I am” (Ἐγώ εἰμι), said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Luke 22:67–70

67“If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” 70They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “Y’all say that I am” (Ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι).

John’s account of this meeting (John 18:19–24) is so different that it won’t be a factor in my comparison here, but I will return to it in a later post. Let me illustrate the key differences in the three Synoptic passages in Table 1:

Table 1: Parallel accounts of the “Son of Man” statements in the Gospel trials

Matthew 16:63–64

“Tell us if you are the Messiah…”

[follows]

“You (sg) have said”

[omits]

“Son of Man sitting…”

“coming in the clouds of heaven”

Mark 14:61–62

“Are you the Messiah…?”

[follows]

[omits]

“I am”

“Son of Man sitting…”

“coming in the clouds of heaven”

Luke 22:69–70

“Are you the Son of God?”

“Son of man will be seated…”

“You (pl) say that…

… I am”

[precedes]

[omits]

Explanation

Luke only has Jesus quoting Psalm 110:1 (109:1 LXX) about sitting at God’s right hand before saying “You say that I am.” Matthew and Mark both add Daniel 7:13, “coming in the clouds of heaven” (a clear reference to the Messianic portion of Daniel) after the Psalm 110:1 quotation, but they put those quotations after the “You say” (Matthew) or “I am” (Mark). The little bit about sitting at God’s right hand may seem perfectly innocuous to us, unless we, like the Jewish scribes, understand the full context of Psalm 110:1. The very next phrase after “Sit at my right hand” in that verse is “until I make your enemies your footstool.” Wow! Here we have the Pharisees accusing Jesus, and Jesus responding with a statement that essential signals his accusers are enemies of God! Not exactly a soft-spoken answer when you come to think about it. Add to that the quotation from Daniel, and Jesus is really putting the Sanhedrin in its place: By saying the Son of Man will come on the clouds, he is equating himself with the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel, leaving no doubt about his divine mandate and divine nature.

Add to that Mark and Luke’s account of Jesus using the phrase Ἐγώ εἰμι, which some in Jesus’s day (or even in the modern day) see as an intentional reference to God’s divine name in Exodus 3:14 (see discussion below), and we’ve got Jesus essentially giving the Sanhedrin the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Jesus proved it over and over again (in John’s account, Jesus chides the Sanhedrin for doing this in secret when he taught publicly everywhere he went), but the Pharisees have to say it as well, especially the high priest (see, for example, John 11:51).

One thing to keep in mind when examining the modern eclectic Greek New Testament: punctuation was added at a much later date. It didn’t exist in the autographs. Have you ever thought about why, after the Sanhedrin “asks” Jesus a question (in the NIV, anyway), Jesus treats the “question” like a regular statement? There is no “question” word that one might expect to find if the one asking the question expected a certain answer. Granted, not all questions need one of these special words to be understood as a question, but in the case of the Gospel writers, I would suggest that the phrase Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ εὐλογητοῦ be taken as a statement, not a question. This accomplishes two things in my mind if it is true:

  1. If John 11:51 has a broader application, then the high priest not only must prophesy about Jesus’s death, but he must also prophesy about his nature: The high priest prophesies that Jesus is the Son of Man; that means there is now another witness to Jesus’s true nature, but
  2. Without Jesus ever directly stating it in trial (with the possible exception of Mark, who may have a shortened version of Luke’s account), Jesus stealthily gets the Sanhedrin (or at least the high priest) to commit “blasphemy” by declaring Jesus to be the Son of Man. When Jesus says “You have said it,” he is in fact turning the tables on them and accusing them of very “blasphemy” they’re trying to pin on him! (I recognize there’s no real blasphemy here, because Jesus really is the Son of Man, but the Sanhedrin doesn’t want to see things that way.)

I think this latter point especially is fully in keeping with the nature of how Jesus responded to the religious rulers of his day. He always turned the tables on them to show them their erroneous thinking and oppressive religious “leadership,” if one can call it that. If Jesus had said outright the full phrase in their hearing, it would have been over and done, and the Sanhedrin would have been fully justified in their own minds in sentencing Jesus to death. Jesus was not wont to leave them with that kind of self-satisfaction. The reason the Sanhedrin gets so angry is precisely because Jesus has tricked them into committing the very “blasphemy” of which they are accusing him. Jesus had said that the demons believe he is the Son of Man, and they tremble. Here, the Sanhedrin apparently believes it as well, but instead of trembling in fear, they steel themselves against the possibility and (mis)use their authority to have Jesus arrested and eventually crucified.

Is Ἐγώ εἰμι a Direct Reference to Exodus 3:14?

As tempting as it is to always assume that when Jesus says Ἐγώ εἰμι, he is always referring to the divine name in Exodus 3:14, I have to reject that notion to be universally true in the Gospels. There are clearly times when Jesus uses the phrase simply to indicate his presence or his existence without the theological weight. Given the full statement in Luke that includes those words (and since I think Luke is on most things more thorough than Mark), I don’t think Jesus saying Ἐγώ εἰμι here has much theological weight. What seems to upset the Sanhedrin is Jesus’s quotation of Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 more than anything else. Of course, Jesus could have said it in isolation (as Mark has it recorded) to get the Sanhedrin’s dander up, to make them think that’s what he meant even though he didn’t. It’s a word play that’s not intended to deceive, but to drive home the point.

Conclusion

These parallel accounts in the Synoptic Gospels raise some interesting issues in my mind. I think Jesus remains consistent with his approach to the religious elite of his day by not giving them the satisfaction of thinking they are right. A more detailed treatment of John’s version of these events goes beyond the scope of this blog post, but as I’m reading through John again now, I’m already finding things in the earlier part of his Gospel that tie into that account, so you can be sure I will have another post on these events from John’s perspective.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

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