Monday, November 13, 2006

John, Jesus, and the Temple

January 14, 2007
Luke 3.21-22; 7.18-35

If Luke's Theophilus is in fact the high priest of 37-41 A.D., what would he have known, and thus recognized in Luke's writings? Some queries and assertions follow:

Theophilus knew Caiaphas, no doubt, being his brother-in-law. Luke 3.2 mentions Annas, Theophilus' father, and Caiaphas as the ruling high priests. Would Theophilus have also known Zechariah, John's father, listed immediately after Annas and Caiaphas in 3.2? Surely Theophilus was very familiar with John's story, his being of the priestly line and a prominent public figure. John, having been put to death by Herod, would have been a familiar subject to both Theophilus and his granddaughter, Joanna, who married Herod's steward, Chuza (see Lk8.3).

For some reason, it is a popular position in NT scholarship to assert that John was NOT associated with the Qumran sect (the community responsible for the Dead Sea scrolls). The reasoning generally rests upon the lack of any explicit reference to John's association with Qumran, and any lack of specific location for John's wilderness and Jordan ventures. But, what if this reasoning is incorrect? We know from the Dead Sea scrolls that Qumran was a counter-temple sect: the people retreated into the wilderness because they thought the priesthood was corrupt. If Luke were to describe anyone coming from the Qumran and south Jordan region doing and preaching the very things we find in the scrolls, then would it have been necessary to explicitly say that individual was from the Qumran sect, especially considering the recipient, Theophilus, was a member of the temple establishment and would have been most familiar with counter-temple movements such as Qumran? Would Theophilus not have recognized John’s behavior and preaching as Qumranic?

Aside from his close proximity to Qumran, there are other elements to John's life which indicate that he would have been considered a temple defiant. His baptism was of repentance and for the remission of sins (Luke 3.3). These ethical standards were sanctioned by the temple establishment, not individual radicals in the countryside or wilderness. These were temple rituals, performed by the priesthood. John's declaration that a person was free from sin because of his baptism in the Jordan river would have been seen as counter-temple to any first century Jew.

Perhaps by beginning his Gospel with John, an implicit counter-temple movement himself who looks like he once belonged to (or still did?) the Qumran sect, Luke is suggesting that Jesus is interested in counter-temple movements. Since John is Jesus' forerunner, it seems that Jesus would be interested with John's agenda. And since John is portrayed as a temple-defiant, might the same be true of Jesus? Indeed, Luke cites Isaiah 40.3-5, a favorite Qumran text, to describe John, the one "preparing the way" for Jesus (Luke 3.4-6). Jesus likewise cited Isaiah to describe his own ministry (Isaiah 58.6; 60.1-2 in Luke 4.18-19). And Jesus contrasted John with those who are "beautifully adorned in palaces" (Luke 7.25), an adequate description of the priesthood (which shall be taken up in this study at a later date). (Luke likewise contrasted John's ministry with the priesthood in 3.2ff..) Jesus' acceptance of John's ministry as a contrasting or competitive effort was widely known. He even employed some of John's language in his own preaching (compare, for example, Luke 3.7ff. [and Matthew 3.7ff.] with Matthew 12.33; 23.33).

Jesus himself behaved like a counter-temple movement. Luke 4.1ff. tells of Jesus' retreat from the Jordan into the wilderness, the wilderness region previously identified with John being the starting point for his own ministry, and to which he returned at times (see 5.16). By saying that Jesus was "led away by the Holy Spirit...into the wilderness", perhaps Luke is suggesting that it was divinely intended or authorized that Jesus become identified with (and eventually assume for himself the role of) a counter-temple movement. Jesus forgives sins (Luke 5.21-24; 7.36-50; 15.11-32; 23.40-43). (Interestingly, in 5.21-24 Jesus links his authority [ezousian] to forgive sins with his being the Son of Man - a trait possibly linked to the one like a son of man in Daniel 7.13-14 [LXX], who is given dominion [ezousia]. The link between Luke's story and Daniel 7 will emerge in weeks to come.) On occasion, after having healed someone, Jesus sent that one to present him/herself to the priests. While it might be suggested that Jesus was simply obeying the Law of Moses in sending those healed to the temple, most probably Jesus was demonstrating that what was previously sanctioned by the priesthood (confirming healings) had been transferred to him. Two details of Luke 5.12-15 help exemplify this: 1) Jesus assumed that the rite detailed in the Law remained legitimate (see Leviticus 13.2-17, 49; 14.2-9). 2) Jesus desired to "prove to them" (the priests) that his work was legitimate. He did what priests did, and therefore was in no need of a temple priest. His work was sanctioned by God. The temple needed cleansing (Luke 19.45-46), and Jesus predicted its destruction (21.5-6). He was, in essense, counter-temple.

There is no doubt that Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D. would have recognized Jesus' efforts to replace the temple establishment. Most probably he was involved in the services of the temple in some capacity during Jesus' life. His father, Annas, and brother-in-law, Caiaphas, were in power (Luke 3.2). He knew of counter-temple communities, such as Qumran, and the effects they might have had on his and his family's work in the priesthood.

Read Luke 3.21-22 and 7.18-35. Why might Jesus have submitted to John's baptism, a rite of repentance and forgiveness of sin? Consider the boldness of Jesus in identifying himself with the radical John. How significant is the 'wilderness' to you?


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