This glossary includes a number of concepts, terms, characters, documents or events that are part of the context of the New Testament and help to understand it.

Blessing in the Old Testament
Carpenter / Craftsman / Worker (tektōn)
Child in the New Testament
Christ / Messiah
Clothing in the New Testament
Currency in the Bible
Heaven / Heavens (ouranos)
Holy / Holiness
I am (egō eimi)
Jewish Passover
John the Baptist
Lord (Kyrios)
Miracle / Act of power (dunamis)
Resurrection of the dead
Semitic inclusion
Witness / to witness / testimony


(Analysis with the help of Jean L'Hour, 'AMAN, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 66-68, André Myre, AMÊN, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique, p. 272-276, and John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew - Rethinking the Historical Jesus Doubleday (The Anchor Bible Reference Library): New York, 1991-2009, v.2, pp 177-233)

Amēn is the Greek transcription of the Hebrew verb: אָמַן (ʾāman). The root ’mn refers to that which is solid and firm (Ps 89:53, "Blessed be the Lord forever, Amen, Amen"). This final "amen" was translated by the Septuagint as genoito (let it happen, let it be so), from the verb ginomai (to arrive, to arise). The verb, for its part, describes the idea of who is solid, stable, and therefore reliable, as we see in Gen 15:6: "Abram trusted (hé'émin) in Yahweh, who counted him as righteous". We will not be surprised to learn that the Septuagint often translated this verb as "believe" (pisteuein). As for the nominal form אֶמֶט (ʾemeṭ), it is often translated as truth (alētheia) to denote what is true or as sincere, what can be relied upon.

The presence of amēn in the New Testament can be explained by two sources: the language of Jesus and his use in the synagogue liturgy. In the Gospels it is found exclusively in the mouth of Jesus and is always followed by legō (I say) : (Mt = 31; Mk = 13; Lk = 5; Jn = 50; Acts = 0), and legō is mostly followed by hymin (to you, pl.) (Mt = 29; Mk = 12; Lk = 5; Jn = 20; Acts = 0), and sometimes by soi (to you, sg.) (Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 5; Acts = 0). What characterizes the Gospel according to John is the constant use of the doublet "amen, amen", which he alone does. From this point of view, the use of the expression is found in 25 verses, whereas it appears in 31 verses in Matthew. It is translated in our Bibles as : "believe in my word", "well, yes", "I guarantee it to you, believe me". We opted for the translation: "Truly, I assure you".

  1. Mark

    It is agreed to consider the Gospel according to Mark as the first to be written. The use of amēn seeks to give a certain value and solemnity to what Jesus is about to affirm and, at the same time, is a call to believe Him at His word. In the 13 occurrences of the word in Mark, eleven refer to a future event. And in the latter case, the expression appears four times in a context where Jesus is addressing a large, sometimes hostile audience, and seven times where he is addressing his disciples.

    The future in front of a wide audience

    • Speaking of the coming judgment or kingdom: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (3:28-29); some will not taste dead of seeing the kingdom (9:1).
    • Speaking of the time of the Gospel: the gesture of the woman pouring very expensive nard on her head will be proclaimed (14: 9).
    • Speaking of his audience: No sign will be given to them (8: 12)

    The future in front of his disciples

    • Speaking of reward: he who gives a Christian a drink will have his reward (9:41); he who leaves everything will have eternal life (10:29).
    • Speaking of the end of time: it will take place in this generation (13, 30).
    • Speaking of faith: he who has faith will see what he wants to achieve (11, 23).
    • Speaking of the fate that awaits him: one of them will betray him (14:18); it is his last meal before the one in the kingdom (14:25); Peter will deny him (14:30).

    In the two instances in which we are not looking to the future, Jesus addresses only his disciples: Whoever does not welcome the Kingdom as a child will not enter it (10: 15); the widow who has put two coins in the treasury of time has put in more than all the others (12: 43). These two cases concern a fundamental attitude of the human heart that Jesus discerns in people and that he values.

    What can we conclude from Mark's amēn? First of all, Mark likes terms that have a local color, i.e. not Greek. Let us remember Talitha koum (5: 41), Ephphata (7: 34), or Eloï, Eloï, lama sabaqthani (15: 34). This preference of Mark does not detract from the likelihood that the expression is very old and probably dates back to the historical Jesus, given the multiple attestations (Mark, Document Q, John). When we look at all the occurrences, we note that it seems to be the word of a prophet who expresses his convictions about the future, and must therefore convince his audience to take him at his word, or else a prophet who takes a penetrating look at the human heart and at life, and invites his audience to pay attention to it and to remember what he says.

  2. Luke

    It is quite different with the Gospel of the Greek Luke. For the latter shows no attraction for this expression. Not only does it appear only five times in his gospel, but three of these five occurrences are simply a repetition of Mark (18:17.29; 21:21.32). Moreover, twice he replaces Mark's amēn with the Greek adverb alēthōs (really) (see 9:27; 21:3), just as he does with Document Q in 12:44. And when he repeats the announcement to Peter of his denial to Mark (Mk 14:30), he simply deletes the amēn (22:34). So one may wonder how to explain the two occurrences of amēn that are proper to him? In 4:24 ("And he said, 'Amen, I say to you, no prophet is well received in his own country') Jesus seems to be taking up a well-known saying, and so Luke would have simply reproduced his source as it is. In 12:37 ("Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, make them sit at table and, passing from one to another, he will serve them") we are faced with the conclusion of a parable that comes from a source particular to Luke, and which he seems content to reproduce. In short, the evangelist expresses no interest in amēn, which he merely repeats without further ado.

  3. Matthew

    It is quite different with the Jew Matthew where amēn appears in 31 verses. It is true that among these verses, 8 come from Mark (Mt 10:42; 16:28; 18:3; 21:21; 24:34; 26:13,21,34). And the part of Document Q is more complicated: as we know, the passages shared only by Matthew and Luke are considered as coming from a source that only they know, called Q (from the German Quelle, i.e. source); therefore the question arises: when amēn is present in Matthew and absent in Luke in these passages, was it Matthew who added it when taking up the content of Document Q, or was it rather Luke who removed it when copying the passage? All answers are highly hypothetical, since no copy of Document Q has ever been found. After analysis, we opt for the hypothesis that Matthew added amēn to his Document Q. Why did he add to his source Q?

    • First, we note that on the rare occasions when amēn seems to be present in Document Q, Luke explicitly replaced it with its Greek equivalent alēthōs (really): "Truly I say to you, he will establish it over all his goods" (Mt 24:27 || Lk 12:44); this is exactly what he had done with two passages from Mark that contained amēn: Mk 9:1 || Lk 9:27; Mk 12:43 || Lk 21:3). We deduce that if Luke does not feel the need to replace amēn with alēthōs, it is because amēn was probably not present in Document Q.

    • Second, Document Q seems to prefer the adverb affirmative nai (yes). For example, "So what did you go to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet" (nai legō hymin, Mt 11:9 || Lk 7:26; see also Mt 11:26 || Lk 10:21).

    • Thirdly, Matthew seems to love amēn so much that he sometimes adds it to his Markan source which, however, contains many: for example, "Jesus said to his disciples, 'Amen I say to you, it will be difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven'" (Mk 10:23; see also Mk 13:2; Mt 24:2).

    What role does amēn play in Matthew? It is a way to emphasize the solemn and peremptory character of Jesus' teaching. Above all, when we know his Jewish side which emphasizes orthopraxis, then the rules he puts forward become obligatory:

    • not one i, not one dot on the i, will pass from the Law, until all is done (5: 18)
    • the debtor must pay back every last cent (5: 26)
    • Do not shout your alms, prayer or fasting (6:2-16).
    • what you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven (18: 18)
    • Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me (25: 40).

  4. John

    Now what about John? As we have pointed out, he always doubles his amēn which becomes: amēn, amēn, and this over 25 verses. Of course, as with Matthew, this allows him to give great solemnity and importance to what Jesus is about to affirm. But the content is different. We could group this content into four categories.

    • A teaching about Jesus himself: he is the Son of Man in communication with God (1:51); he knows the things of God (3:11); the Son does exactly what the Father does (5:19); "before Abraham existed, I am" (8:58); he is the shepherd of the sheep (10:7).

    • A teaching on the spiritual life: Unless one is born from on high, or born of water and the Spirit, no one can see the kingdom of God (3:3-5); it is not Moses, but the Father who gives true bread from heaven (6:32); If the grain dies, it bears much fruit (12:24); the one sent is not greater than the one who sent him (13:20); when you have grown old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and lead you where you would not want to go (21:18).

    • A teaching on the fruits of faith in Jesus: Whoever believes has eternal life (5, 24); the dead will live (5, 25); whoever believes has eternal life (6: 47); eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus gives eternal life (6: 53); whoever keeps the word of Jesus will never see death (8: 51); whoever believes will do greater works than those of Jesus (14, 12); sadness will turn into joy (16: 20); whatever is asked of the Father, he will give (16: 23).

    • A teaching that reveals hearts: you seek Jesus not for a sign, but because you have been filled with bread (6:26); whoever commits sin is a slave (8:34); whoever does not pass through the gate of the enclosure is a thief and a robber (10:1); one of the disciples will betray him (13:21); Peter will deny him (13:38).

Blessing in the Old Testament (According to Jean L’Hour, bārak, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 91-99)

Blessing in Hebrew is said to be: bārak.. The root brk would be linked to the ugaritic berek (knee), hence "bending the knee", and to the Babylonian baraku, which are expressions of greeting, and thus the recognition of the greatness of the one we meet. What does this greatness consist of? From the book of Genesis, we can glimpse its meaning: "God blessed (bārak) them (the living creatures) and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters of the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth'" (Gen 1:22). By blessing them, God enables living beings to reproduce and multiply; therefore, blessing is the gift of a benefit, and God is the source of it. This is the greatness of God and the fundamental definition of "blessing".

Everything else flows from this definition. By blessing man and woman, God will make them fruitful and masters of the earth (Gen 1:28). By blessing Abram, God will make him the father of a great people. But the act of blessing does not consist only in fruitfulness, but in everything that contributes to a happy life: food, water, freedom from disease, protection from the enemy, a long life: "You shall serve the Lord your God, then I will bless (bārak) your bread and your water, and I will turn sickness away from you. No woman in your land shall abort or be barren, and I will let the number of your days come to an end. I will sow my terror before you, and I will bring shame on all the peoples you enter, and I will make all your enemies flee" (Ex 23:25-27).

If it happens to humans to bless, it can only be in the name of God, who alone is able to offer what people need. Thus, when Isaac blessed his son Jacob, he said: "May God give you the dew of heaven and the fat land, wheat and wine in abundance! Let the peoples serve you, let the nations bow down before you." (Gen 27:29). Thus, the human being can only be a mediator, i.e. he can only bless in the name of God: "Blessed (bārak) in the name of Yahweh be he who comes! We bless you (bārak) from the house of Yahweh" (Ps 118:26). The king himself is only a mediator, even if in the sentence he is the subject of the act of blessing: "Then the king turned and blessed (bārak) all the congregation of Israel, and all the congregation of Israel stood up" (1Kings 8:14); it is to be understood: in the name of God.

With this definition where God alone can bless man by offering his benefits, how can we understand a sentence like this: "Solomon said, 'Blessed be Yahweh, God of Israel, (bārak) who has fulfilled with his hand what he promised with his mouth to my father David'" (1King 8:15)? How can human beings bless God? In fact, such a sentence is always accompanied by a relative proposition "that" where all the blessings granted by God are listed. In other words, the sentence could be summarized as follows: this is how man or people were blessed. In this case, the word "blessed" addressed to God is synonymous with "praise be thou" and is part of a prayer of praise. For example: "I bless (bārak) the Lord who has counselled me, and even in the night my heart instructs me" (Ps 16:7); or: "Sing to the Lord, bless (bārak) his name! Proclaim his salvation day after day" (Ps 96:2).

If the object of the blessing is God, could not bārak be translated as "praise" instead of "bless"? It is possible, but Hebrew has a specific word for "praise": hālal. Above all, there is the risk of losing an important nuance of the word. For a blessing addressed to God is a gesture of faith in which the believer recognizes that God is the source of all the blessings of this world, whereas the word "praise" is simply the wish to say good words about God. Consider Psalm 135. It begins with : "Hallelu(hālal)jah (Yahweh)! Praise (hālal) the name of Yahweh, praise (hālal), servants of Yahweh...." (135: 1). But after a long enumeration of what Yahweh has done for his people beside the nothingness of idols, he concludes: "House of Israel, bless (bārak) Yahweh, house of Aaron, bless (bārak) Yahweh, house of Levi, bless (bārak) Yahweh, those who fear Yahweh, bless (bārak) Yahweh. Blessed (bārak) be Yahweh from Zion, who dwells in Jerusalem! (135: 19-21) Why didn't the psalmist simply repeat "praise" (hālal) at the end? It is because in the verb "bless" there is a confession of faith, the recognition of God's action, and not simply a wish; it is as if we were saying: together let us believe in what God has done for us and let us confess it to the face of the universe.

In parallel with this religious context, there are a few occurrences of the verb bārak in a completely secular context, whose usage seems very ancient. In this case, it simply means: to greet, thank, send back friendly, as expressed by the etymology of the word. For example: "Now he was finishing offering the holocaust when Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to meet him to greet (bārak) him (1Sam 13:10). Similarly, the noun berakah means gift. For example: "(Jacob said), 'Accept therefore the present (berakah) which is brought to you, for God has favored me and I have all that I need' and, at his urging, Esau accepted" (Gen 33:11).

Carpenter / Craftsman / Worker (tektōn) The word carpenter has become famous to describe the trade practiced by Jesus. Unfortunately, this term is misleading because it technically defines a person who does carpentry work. Carpentry was almost unknown in Palestine (Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament. Paris : Seuil, 1975, p. 161). Moreover, the professions were not clearly defined as they are today. Mark (6: 3), later taken up by Matthew (13: 55), uses the term tektōn, which means: craftsman or workman. It is therefore a very generic term that covers a whole range of work. Today we would speak of a handyman. Since the New Testament contains only these two references that we have just named, we must turn to the Old Testament for more information. The Septuagint (LXX), this Greek translation of the Old Testament, usually uses tektōn to translate the Hebrew word ḥārāš: craftsman or artificer. In rare exceptions (1 Chr 29:5; Deut 27:15; Jer 10:9; 24:1; 29:2), it uses a synonymous term: technitēs. Even more exceptionally, it translates by architektonias (Ex 35: 35) or architektoneō (Ex 38, 23), which gave our word architect, but which retains the meaning of the action of a craftsman.

Let us therefore examine the word ḥārāš, which appears 35 times in the Old Testament, to clarify the meaning of artisan or craftsman. We can establish three main categories of texts: a first category where the author specifies what the work of the craftsman consists of, a second category where the precision must be deduced from the context, a third category where the word craftsman remains generic.

  1. A first series of texts specifies in which field the craftsman carried out his work.

    • 2 Samuel 5:11 (cf. 1 Chronicles 14:1): Hiram, king of Tyre, sent an embassy to David, with cedar wood, craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) of wood and craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) of stone walls, who built a house for David.
    • 1 Chronicles 22:15: There will be with you many workers, quarrymen, craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) in stone and wood, all kinds of experts in all kinds of work.
    • 2 Chronicles 24:12: The king and Jehoiada gave it (the money) to the master builder who was attached to the service of the Temple of the Lord. Workers, masons, and craftsmen began restoring the Temple of the Lord; iron and bronze craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) also worked to repair it.
    • 2 Kings 12:12: When the silver was tested, it was given to the master builders of the house of Yahweh, and they spent it on the craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) of wood and construction workers who worked in the house of Yahweh.
    • Exodus 28:11: With the work of the craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: technē) of stone, carving a seal -- you shall carve the two stones with the names of the Israelites, and set them in golden chatons.
    • Isaiah 44:12: The craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) of iron makes an axe out of coals, he shapes it with a hammer, he works it with the strength of his arm. Then he is hungry and loses his strength, not having drunk water he is exhausted.

    These passages tell us that the craftsman worked three types of material: wood, stone and metal (iron and bronze).
    1. Wood was used to build a house or royal palace or temple,
    2. stone for the construction of walls or stelae or engraved stones,
    3. and the iron to make tools like an axe.

    How ḥārāš was translated by our Bibles, i.e. King James (KJ), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), American Standard Version (ASV), Jerusalem Bible (JB), New English Bible (NEB), New International Version (NIV), New American Bible (NAB)? When the context is wood, they translated ḥārāš mainly with "carpenter" (KJ, NRSV, ASV, JB NEV, NIV, NAB), and sometimes "worker" (of timber) (KJ, ASV). When the context is stone, translations vary a lot: "mason" (KJ, NRSV, ASV, NAB), "stonemasons" (BJ, NEV, NIV), "worker" (of stone) (KJ, ASV), "engraver" (KJ, ASV), "gem-cutter" (NRSV, NIV, NAB), "jeweller" (JB), "craftsman" (NEB). Transalations also vary when the context is iron or bronze: carpenter (KJ, ASV), worker (NRSV, NIV), craftsman (JB, NEV), smith (KJ, ASV), ironsmith (NRSV, NAB), blacksmith (JB, NEB, NIV).

  2. A second series of texts does not directly qualify the craftsman's work, but the context gives us clues as to what material he is working on.

    1. First of all, there are those who work with wood:

      • 2 Chronicles 24:12: "The king and Jehoiada gave it (the money) to the master builder who was attached to the service of the Temple of the Lord. The workers, masons and craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn), began restoring the Temple of the Lord; iron and bronze artisans also worked to repair it".
      • 2 Chronicles 34:11: "They gave it to the craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) and construction workers to buy the ashlar and wood needed for the chaining and framing of the buildings that had been damaged by the kings of Judah".
      • 2 Kings 22:6: "for the craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn), construction workers, and masons, to buy wood and ashlar for the repair of the Temple".
      • Deuteronomy 27:15: "Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast idol, an abomination to the Lord, the work of craftsmen's hands (ḥārāš, LXX: technitēs), and places it in a hidden place. -- And all the people shall answer and say: Amen".
      • Ezra 3:7: "Then money was given to the stonemasons and craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn); to the Sidonians and the Tyrians food, drink, and oil were given to bring cedar wood from Lebanon by sea to Jaffa, as authorized by Cyrus, king of Persia."
      • Isaiah 40:20: "He who makes a poor offering chooses a wood that does not rot, and seeks a skillful craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) to erect an idol that does not waver".
      • Jeremiah 10:3: "Yes, the customs of the people are nothing but vanity; it is only wood cut from the forest, worked by the craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn), chisel in hand".

      The context of these quotations is that of the construction or repair of the temple of Jerusalem, or that of the making of idols so hated by the prophets. So, depending on the object to be worked on, ḥārāš is translated by workman (KJ, ASV), artisan (NRSV, NAB), sculptor (JB), craftsman (NEB, NIV, KJ, ASV, JB, NAB), worker (NIV), carpenter (KJ, NRSV, ASV, JB, NEB, NIV, NAB), carver (JB), skilled hands (NIV), artificer (KJ).

    2. Then there are those who work with metal:

      • 1 Chronicles 29:5: "Whether it be gold for that which must be of gold, silver for that which must be of silver, or the work of craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: technitēs), who among you today is willing to consecrate it to the Lord?"
      • 2 Kings 24:14: "He took into exile all Jerusalem, all the dignitaries and notables, that is, 10,000 exiles, and all the craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) and locksmiths; only the poorest population of the country was left behind".
      • 2 Kings 24:16: "All the people of condition, numbering 7,000, the craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) and the locksmiths, numbering 1,000, all men fit to bear arms, were taken into exile to Babylon by the king of Babylon".
      • Isaiah 40:19: "A craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) molds the idol, a goldsmith covers it with gold, he melts silver chains".
      • Isaiah 41:7: "The craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) gives courage to the goldsmith, and he who polishes with a hammer to the one who beats the anvil: he says of the solder, "It is good", he reinforces it with nails so that it does not waver".
      • Isaiah 44:11: "Behold, all his saints shall be put to shame, and his craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) who are only men. Let them all be gathered together, let them appear before one another; let them be filled with both terror and shame".
      • Isaiah 54:16: "Behold, I have created the craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: chalkeus) who blows on the embers and pulls a tool for his use; I have also created the destroyer to destroy.
      • Hosea 13:2: "And now they continue to sin, they make images of molten metal, with their silver, idols of their own invention; the work of a craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) all this! They say, "Offer sacrifices to them." Men give kisses to calves!"
      • Jeremiah 10:9: "It is silver leaf, imported from Tarshish, it is gold from Ophir, the work of a craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: technitēs) or a goldsmith; they are clothed in purple and scarlet, all the work of a skillful man.
      • Jeremiah 24:1: Now the Lord showed me two baskets of figs before the sanctuary of the Lord. This was after Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken Jekonias, son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, the craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: technitēs), and the locksmiths, away from Jerusalem, and brought them to Babylon".
      • Jeremiah 29:2: "It was after King Jekonias had left Jerusalem with the the queen mother, the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: technitēs), and the locksmiths.

      Metal includes iron, bronze, gold and silver. Four contexts can be identified. The first is that of the idols attacked by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea. The artisan is the one who cast and carved the idol. Then there is the context where the craftsman is presented with the locksmith: we imagine that he was making the metal part of the lock. There is still the context of temple construction. Finally, there is the context of tool making, more precisely an axe. Depending on all these contexts, ḥārāš is translated by "artificer" (KJ, ASV), "artisan" (NRSV, NAB), "craftsman" (KJ, ASV, JB, NEB, NIV), "blacksmith" (JB, NIV), "skilled worker" (NIV), "workman" (KJ, NRSV, ASV), "metalworker" (NIV), "carpenter (KJ, ASV)", "woodworker" (NAB), "sculptor" (JB), "smith" (KJ, NRSV, ASB, JB, NEB, NAB), "carver" (JB).

  3. A third series of texts use ḥārāš (craftsman) without the context helping us to understand what the work is about.

    • 1 Chronicles 4:14: "Meonotai begat Ophrah. Seraiah begat Joab the father of Geharashim. They were indeed craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn)"
    • Hosea 8:6: "For he comes from Israel, a craftsman (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn) made him, he is not God. Yes, the calf of Samaria will fall to pieces".
    • Zechariah 1:20 (LXX: 2: 3): "Then Yahweh showed me four craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: tektōn)
    • Isaiah 45:16: They are ashamed and humiliated, all together they walk in humiliation, the craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: n/a, because it has totally transformed the meaning of the sentence) of idols"
    • Ezekiel 21:31 (LXX: 21:36): "I will pour out my wrath upon you, I will blow the fire of my wrath upon you, and I will deliver you into the hands of barbarous men, craftsmen (ḥārāš, LXX: teknotropheō) of destruction".

    The word is found in a variety of contexts. There is that of idols (Hosea and Isaiah), genealogy in the book of Chronicles, destruction in an apocalyptic environment and the vision of Zechariah of four beings. Based on these contexts, it is translated "craftsman" (KJ, ASV, JB, NEB, NIV), "artisan" (NRSV, ASV, NAB), "skilled worker" (NIV), "maker" (KJ, NRSV, ASV, JB, NEB, NIV), "carver" (NAB), "workman" (KJ, JB, NAB), "metalworker" (NIV), "carpenter" (KJ), "blacksmith" (NRSV), "smith" (ASB, JB, NEB), "skillful man" (KJ, NRSV, ASB, NEB), "man of trade" (JB)

After examining the Hebrew Bible, it remains for us to take a quick look at the Greek writings of the Old Testament where we find the word: tektōn.

  • Sirach 38: 27: Likewise all the craftsmen (tektōn) and tradespeople who work day and night, those who make a profession of engraving seals and who strive to vary the design; they are committed to reproducing the model well and are careful to complete their work.
  • Wisdom 13: 11: If some craftsman (tektōn) skilled in woodworking, having sawed a tree that was easy to turn, skillfully stripped it of its bark and turned it into a piece of furniture useful for life's purposes.

Both texts clearly refer to someone who works with wood. In the first case, the craftsman engraves wooden seals, in the second case he makes everyday objects. The NRSV translates tektōn from Sirach by artisan, JB by workman, NAB by engraver and Brenton (LXX) by carpenter. In the Book of Wisdom, tektōn is translated with woodcutter by NRSV and JB, with carpenter by NAB and Brenton.

It is time to summarize our analysis. What is a tektōn? It is a manual worker who works with just about anything: lumber if he is involved in building construction, but more often in wood carving for everyday objects or their repair; metal to make tools or objects related to the building, such as locks or goldsmith's pieces; stone for some masonry work or engraving on steles or seals. He is therefore a handyman. This is why modern Bibles use different words to describe him: carpenter, blacksmith, craftsman, artisan, sculptor, carver, jeweller, mason, woodworker, engraver, workman, smith, woodcutter. In his small village of Nazareth, was Jesus doing all of these things? Clearly, he was not involved in the construction of large buildings that did not exist in this humble hamlet. Joseph Meier (A Marginal Jew - Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Doubleday (The Anchor Bible Reference Library), New York, 1991, v. 1, pp. 253-315) describes him as a carpenter, a trade that involved a wide range of tasks: installing beams for the roofs of stone houses, making doors and door frames, as well as crossbars for windows, furniture such as beds, tables, stools, and closets, chests, or boxes. Justin the Martyr states that Jesus also made ploughs and the yoke for the animal. The exercise of this craft required a certain dexterity and physical strength, which takes us away from the image of the innocent, weakling that the pious images present of Jesus. Many of the images that we put in his mouth in the Gospels could be an echo of his work experience: "What do you have to look at the straw in your brother's eye? And the beam that is in your own eye, you don't notice it!" (Matthew 7:3); "He is like a man who, building a house, dug and dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock ... he is like a man who built his house on the ground without a foundation" (Luke 6:48); "Whoever puts out his hand to the plough and looks back ..." (Lk 9:62); "Enter by the narrow gate" (Matthew 7:13).

(In this analysis, some information is taken from André Myre, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montreal: Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, pp. 323-330)

The noun "demon" translates both the masculine Greek word daimōn and the neuter word daimonion. But the term daimōn appears only once (Mt 8:31) in the entire New Testament, compared to 63 times for daimonion.

In Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, daimōn appears alongside the word theos (God) to refer to the divine power that influences human destiny for good or ill, from which the meaning of "hateful fate" or "good fortune" or "happiness" is derived (see also Isa 65:11). The philosopher Plato considers these deities as mixed beings that he places in a space between men and gods. As for daimonion, the term is the diminutive of daimōn, and thus Plato considers it a divine but inferior being. According to the root of the word, daimōn refers to that which disturbs and tears and would have an animistic origin to describe the positive or negative powers that influence the course of human life. But in the hierarchy of otherworldly forces intervening in history, they are the lowest, and therefore the closest, and hence the most feared.

In the Septuagint

Let us note at once that daimōn appears only in Isa 65:11 (LXX "And you who forsake me and forget my holy mountain, who set a table for the demon [daimōn] and mix wine to make libations to fortune") and the translator thus translates two Hebrew words gāḏ and menî, which are two false gods, Gad, or "Luck," worshipped in Canaan, and Meni, or "The Dispensation" or "Fate." In the Jewish world, daimōn refers to foreign deities from whom one should stay away.

Rather, the name daimonion is used in the Septuagint. But the term is infrequent, and if we consider the Hebrew texts we have that have been translated into Greek as daimonion, we realize that there is no consistency. For example, the Hebrew text of Deut 32:17 uses the term šēḏ (a word borrowed from the Assyrian šêdu, protective spirit, especially the bull-colossus): 'they sacrificed to the šēḏ and not to God', and the Septuagint translated it thus: LXX "They sacrificed to demons (daimonion) and not to God" (see also Ps 106:37); thus, these are foreign deities that the Jews consider false gods or idols. The same idea is found in Ps 96:5, but this time the Hebrew term 'ĕlîl (worthless) is used; the Hebrew text presents: "all the gods of the peoples are vanities ('ĕlîl)", a phrase which the Septuagint has rendered as follows: LXX "For all the gods of the pagans are demons (daimonion)". This definition of daimonion as a foreign deity also appears in Baruch: LXX "for you have exasperated him who made you by sacrificing to demons (daimonion) and not to God (4:7; see also 4:35).

In Isaiah, it is rather the term śāʿîr (hairy goat or satyr, with a demonic meaning) that is translated daimonion. For example, in Isa 13:21 the Hebrew text tells us, "Wild cats will stop there, owls will fill the houses, ostriches will dwell there, and satyrs (śāʿîr) will dance there," and the end of the verse has been translated by the Septuagint thus: LXX "and the demons (daimonion) shall dance there" (see also Isa 34:14 where it refers to the destruction of Edom). Let us recall the context: the prophet announces the destruction of Babylon, which will become an uninhabited land where wild animals roam, creating an environment that appears haunted; the fact that the satyrs dance there indicates that they have taken possession of the place. The demons thus appear as dark spectres that scare and have made the desert places their home.

In Psalm 91, the psalmist expresses his assurance of being protected from all calamities, and at the end of v. 6 in the Hebrew text he tells us that he is not afraid of anything, in particular, "Not of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction (qeṭeḇ) that occurs at high noon." But the translator of the Septuagint has rendered the latter part of v. 6 thus: LXX "nor of a mishap and a demon (daimonion) of noon." V. 6 was intended to cover nighttime and daytime calamities, and the Septuagint translator probably considered the calamities of the day to be due to the vagaries of life or fate, thus introducing the old notion of the demon as responsible for good and bad fortune, as we have seen in Isa 65:11.

The book of Tobit, where daimonion appears seven times, must be considered separately. Let us remember that the book is a popular Jewish novel, but inspired by the sapiential tradition of the pagan world. The demon is presented in opposition to the angel Raphael (the healer). He even has a name (3:8): Asmodeus (he who causes destruction). He is said to be in love with Sara, Raguel's daughter, and so to keep her for himself, he killed the seven previous men who wanted to marry her (6:15). To get rid of him, Raphael proposes to Tobias, when entering the bridal chamber after the wedding with Sara, to take a piece of the liver of the fish as well as the heart and to put them on the embers of the incense burner: the odor will spread, the demon will smell it, he will flee and he will never be seen around her again (6:17). This is what happened, for as soon as the demon smelled the odor, he fled to the depths of Upper Egypt, where Raphael chained him up as he had been instructed. What do we learn from the book of Tobit about daimonion? First of all, the demon belongs to the spirit world like the angels, i.e. they are not human beings, but they are not God. But their behaviors are similar to human beings, like being in love and being bothered by certain smells? Are they inherently evil? It is not obvious, because in 3:17 the author of Tobit speaks of Asmodeus as an "evil demon," as if there were demons that were not evil; however, in 6:8 the author speaks of people being tormented by a "demon" or "evil spirit," as if the two terms were synonymous. Since we have no example of a "good demon," it is worth assuming that in Tobit's world some of life's misfortunes were the work of the demon.

What can we conclude from the Septuagint? The notion of demon (daimonion) is a floating one and can refer both to pagan deities, and thus idols in reference to non-existent beings, and to dark forces that lurk in the midst of desolation and are the source of life's misfortunes.

In the gospels

Mark, as the first evangelist, introduced the image of Jesus as an exorcist, i.e. as a caster of demons, an image that Matthew and Luke will copy. This image is totally absent from the gospel according to John.

This work of Jesus as an exorcist in Mark is so important that it allows him to summarize Jesus' activity: "And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons (daimonion)" (Mk 1:39). And when Jesus sends his disciples on mission, it is "with authority to cast out demons (daimonion)".

Why cast out demons? What is the problem? First of all, the gospels distinguish between exorcisms and healings ("he healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons", Mk 1:34). In connection with the healings, we sometimes learn the name of the illness: fever (Mk 1:30 || Mt 8:14 || Lk 4:38), leprosy (Mk 1:40 || Mt 8:1 || Lk 5:12; 17:12), paralysis (Mk 2:3; 3:1 || Mt 9:2; 12:10; Lk 5:18; 6:6; Jn 5:5), bleeding (Mk 5:23; Mt 9:20; Lk 8:43), a disease that leads to death (Mk 5:35 || Mt 9:18 || Lk 7:2.12; 8:42; Jn 4:47; 11:14), deafness (Mk 7:32), blindness (Mk 8:22; 10:40; Mt 9:27; 20:30; Lk 18:35-43; Jn 9:1), mutism (Mt 15:30), being crippled or lame (Mt 15:30), being hydropic (Lk 14:2).

But it is more difficult to clarify the situation of those who are "demonized" (daimonizomai), i.e. possessed by one or more demons, usually translated by: demoniacs. There are two clear cases where a description is given, starting with the possessed man of Gerasa (Mk 5:1-20; Mt 8:28-34; Lk 8:26-39): he was a man who lived in the tombs (Mt 8:28 speaks of two demoniacs), who broke his chains when they tried to bind him, and night and day he shouted and injured himself with stones; Luke adds that he lived naked (Lk 8:27). Mark describes him as having an unclean spirit, and when he declares his identity, he says he is a legion, and so it is several spirits that will be expelled to be sent into pigs (Mk 5, 13) who will throw themselves off the cliff and drown. Through this story with a folkloric coloring we can guess a case of mental illness. The use of the term "unclean spirit" (Mk 5:2) is significant: it is not a question of moral impurity, but of non-conformity, not only in terms of worship, but also in terms of social conformity, and therefore a danger to society.

The second case is that of an epileptic child (Mk 9:14-29 || Mt 17:14-21 || Lk 9:37-43): he is mute, he rolls on the ground and foams, he grinds his teeth and becomes stiff, he throws himself into the fire and into the water; according to Matthew, he is a lunatic; according to Luke, he shouts and is shaken with foam. According to Mark and Luke, he is possessed by an unclean spirit (Mk 9:25; Lk 9:42). Clearly, the child is behaving in a way that defies social norms.

But there are other less clear-cut situations that are attributed to the demon. For example, the daughter of a Canaanite woman (Mk 7:24-30; Mt 15:21-28), who has an unclean spirit according to Mark (Mk 7:24), and was being heavily abused by a demon according to Mt 15:22. What is this about? We are not given any clue, except that once healed, the child lies on the bed with the demon out. Another example is an account in Luke (13:10-17) of a woman who "had a spirit of sickness for eighteen years", was bent over and quite unable to stand up, and about whom Jesus acknowledges that "Satan bound her eighteen years ago". Why speak of a disease caused by a spirit/Satan in the case of the woman bent over for eighteen years, and not in the case of people with total (Mk 2:3) or partial (Mk 3:1) paralysis? Was this disability more unusual and spectacular?

Matthew and Luke also surprise us by attributing mutism to the demon (Mt 9:32; 12:22; Lk 11:14), and Matthew by attributing blindness to the demon (Mt 12:22), whereas elsewhere these ailments belonged to ordinary diseases. Thus, there is a lack of consistency. What does this mean? It is likely that, in the absence of extensive scientific knowledge about diseases, they were all attributed to dark forces, which were called demons, but that certain more spectacular illnesses, such as mental illness or epilepsy, or illnesses that disturbed the social order, were more likely to evoke diabolic possession.

Our understanding of the demon can be broadened by observing that John the Baptist was accused of being demon-possessed, according to Q Document: "For John the Baptist came eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon'" (Mt 11:18 || Lk 7:33). Why is this so? The behavior of John the Baptist does not fit the usual pattern, and therefore appears threatening. In John's gospel, Jesus is also accused of having a demon (Jn 10:20). Why? He has just claimed that he has the power to divest himself of his life and take it back, and people think he is crazy (mainomai). Saying crazy or unreasonable things is the work of the devil. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is not told directly that he is demon-possessed, but he is accused of performing exorcisms in the name of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons (Mk 3:20-30; Mt 12:24-32; Lk 11:15-23; 12:10). Why is this so? The context is that the crowd around Jesus is so large that he and his disciples cannot have their meal, that his relatives have come to seize him, considering that he has lost his mind, and the scribes of Jerusalem judging that something abnormal is happening. The disruption of a certain social order as Jesus does can only be the work of the demon, but as Jesus performs exorcisms, he can only do so in the name of his ruler, Beelzebub.

What then are these demons? They belong to the world of spirits, and impure spirits, and therefore in opposition to the order willed by God. Because they are spirits, they are superior to humans, and possess special knowledge: according to Mark (1:34), taken up by Luke (4:41), they know the identity of Jesus. They do not seem to be very high in the heavenly hierarchy, certainly not as high as the angels, for they need humans and animals to find a home, otherwise they are condemned to wander in the drylands (see Lk 11:24-26). They appear as an organized group under a leader, Beelzebul (Mt 10:25; 12:24,27; Mk 3:22; Lk 11:15,18-19), a name that may go back to the Canaanite god Baal.

In short, Beelzebul and his band of demons are responsible for the evils that afflict humans. Jesus, by healing and casting out demons, wants to restore humanity in its integrity, in all its greatness; it is not a question of restoring the social order, but the order willed by God. His mission, and that which he entrusted to his disciples, anticipates what the kingdom of God is.

In the Acts of the Apostles and other New Testament writings

With Acts, even if the author is the same as in Luke's gospel, the meaning of demons has changed: it is no longer a question of those spirits that prowl in desolate places and take possession of humans in order to alienate them and make them sick, but demons have regained the meaning they have in Deuteronomy and the book of Baruch: foreign deities, therefore idols that correspond to gods that do not exist (Acts 17, 18). This is the same meaning in Paul ("We know that there are no idols in the world and that there is no god but the one God" 1 Cor 8:4) and when he asks Christians to avoid pagan banquets where they eat meat sacrificed to idols in order to avoid entering into communion with demons (1 Cor 10:20), he does not mean to grant any kind of existence to the demons, but wants to avoid that the Christian be associated with what represents the antithesis of God.

The first letter to Timothy does not take a position on the existence of the devil, but the term becomes synonymous with that which is deceitful in the expression: "The Spirit expressly says that in the last days some will deny the faith and cling to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tm 4:1). As for the letter of James, it brings us back to what was one of the characteristics of the demons in the gospels according to Mark and Luke, a knowledge superior to humans: "You believe that there is only one God? You are right. The demons believe it too, and they tremble."

The book of Revelation stands out from the other writings. Of course, we find the notion of the demon as an idol (9:20) made of metal or wood, as presented in the OT, Acts or in Paul, but the demon is now associated with a dragon, presented as the adversary par excellence, associated also with a beast, symbol of the evil Roman Empire, associated finally with the false prophet, representing the ideological apparatus of power:

Then out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, I saw three unclean spirits come forth, like frogs. They are indeed spirits of demons. They work wonders and go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle of the great day of the sovereign God (Rev 16:13-14).

What is new is the association of the devil with all those hostile forces in the world that are engaged in a final battle with God and his children.

How to conclude this analysis? It was the Greeks who introduced the notion of the demon (daimonion), those demigods who exert either a positive or a negative influence on humanity. But the Jewish world, with its faith in a unique and transcendent God, took a negative view of this notion, associating it either with pagan divinities, called idols and representing nothingness, or with the dark forces that prowl in the midst of desolation and are the source of the misfortunes of life. But over time, like angelology, demonology, its antithesis, developed, especially in the apocalyptic context from the 2nd century BC onwards, as witnessed by 1 Enoch: the battle had begun between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The synoptic gospels testify to this perception that physical and mental illnesses come from the devil, and Jesus and his disciples are engaged in this fight against the devil, also called "unclean spirit". The book of Revelation takes up the cosmic vision of the forces of evil, of which demons are the valiant soldiers, conspiring against God and believers. But in the rest of the New Testament, the vocabulary around the demon has almost completely disappeared, not that we no longer believe in hostile forces against human beings, but the term "demon" is no longer what conveys it best.

Noun daimonion in the Bible

Noun daimōn in the Bible

Verb daimonizomai in the Bible

(In this analysis, some information comes from André Myre, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montreal : Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 323-330).

The term "devil" comes from the Greek adjective diabalos, which has the same root as the verb diaballō formed from the preposition dia (across) and the verb ballō (to throw, to cast), thus to throw across, to jam (like this diabolon, a stick used to jam the wheel of a Roman chariot), a verb that means: to denounce; thus it is that which disturbs harmony, disunites. In the classical Greek world, the masculine term ho diabolos is used by Aristotle to designate the slanderer or slandererous man, while in Plutarch the neutral term to diabolon refers to slander, to calumny.

In the Septuagint

The adjective diabolos is one of the terms chosen by the Septuagint translators to translate the Hebrew word śāṭān, which means: adversary, an opponent who is sometimes personified. Note that on two occasions (1 Kings 11:23; Si 21:27), the Hebrew śāṭān was translated by the Greek term satan. Why? This was undoubtedly the personal choice of the translator when the word simply plays the role of an attribute of a person, and thus does not designate a personified being.

The term diabolos, which always translates the Hebrew term śāṭān, when we have the Hebrew text, appears in only seven books: 1 Chronicles, Zechariah, Job, Greek Esther, Psalms, Wisdom and 1 Maccabees. Sometimes it plays the role of a simple adjective, sometimes it designates a personified being.

  1. An adjective

    In the Greek book of Esther, diabolos appears in the mouth of queen Esther (7:4) in her dialogue with the king at the Persian court to describe Haman, the grand-vizier, who had become an important minister, who had succeeded in getting an edict issued for the disappearance of the Jewish people, all because the Jew Mordecai had not bowed down to him; diabolos is usually translated as "slanderer" by our Bibles, because Haman's accusation that Jewish laws are incompatible with Persian laws is unjust and false. The term also appears in the narrator's pen in 8:1 to refer to Haman as he is stripped of his possessions.

    In 1 Maccabees 1:36, diabolos is applied to the citadel built under the direction of the tax collector sent by Antiochus after he had plundered Jerusalem: this citadel was to be used to store weapons and food, and was to be considered as a trap for the inhabitants; hence the comment: "It became an ambush for the sanctuary and an evil adversary (diabolos) for Israel at all times.

  2. A personified being

    In most cases, this adversary is personified. Thus, in the book of Job, he appears at the very beginning of the book during an audience with the Lord and his entire court of angels: he takes the form of an angel who is an intelligence agent charged with reporting to Yahweh on human conduct (Job 1:6-7). And like all intelligence agents, he is suspicious (1:9) of the true motivation of humans. So he proposes to put them to the test (1:11) to check their motivation. And to accomplish this task, he has broad powers (1:12): natural disasters (1:16,19), plunder (1:15,17), disease (2:7), death (1:15-19). In the book of Job, the role of the devil is limited to being the author of trials sent to human beings in order to test the quality of their hearts.

    But in the book of Zechariah, the devil plays a somewhat different role in the prophet's fourth vision: he is presented as an accuser, i.e. as the prosecutor responsible for the accusations (3:1-2). Remember that we are in the heavenly abode, and an angel plays the role of administrator of the world on behalf of God. The fact that Joshua, the high priest of Jerusalem, is in his presence seems to indicate a desire to have him play a role in the administration of the city. But the devil stands at his right hand, a position of influence, to accuse the high priest and prevent him from playing his role. The angel of the Lord will silence him. This is the same role of accuser that the devil plays in Ps 109:6: in a trial, the psalmist asks God to appoint a prosecutor to accuse his enemies of all the evil they have done to him.

    The role of the devil changes again with the book of Chronicles (21:1). Indeed, it is no longer simply a question of testing humans and accusing them, but of introducing into the human heart intentions contrary to those of God. Now, the context is that of the census of the people, an action managed by financial interests and unacceptable to God. Now, according to the author of the book of Chronicles, it was Satan, translated by "devil" in the Septuagint, who took the initiative to introduce this evil intention into the heart of King David.

    Finally, the book of Wisdom (2:24) completes the picture of the devil: he is an adversary of the human being who has been active since his creation in the Garden of Eden, for it was he who took the form of the serpent who deceived the woman (Gen 3), and thereby introduced death, jealous as he was of his immortality. Thus, the devil is not only an accuser and an adversary of God, but he is deceitful and a liar and seeks by all means to harm human beings.

This is the context in which we understand the gospels and the whole New Testament.

In the gospels

The term "devil" is found in the Q document, in Luke and Matthew, as well as in the Johannine tradition, but it is totally absent from Mark, who prefers the term "satan": Mt = 6; Mk = 0; Lk = 5; Jn = 3; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 4; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

  1. The Q Document

    The first function of the devil that we are presented with comes from the Q document (Mt 4:1-11 || Lk 4:2-13) and it is that of testing Jesus at the very beginning of his mission. This role is similar to that of the devil in the book of Job. Note that Matthew (4:3) uses the synonym "tempter" there (peirazōn, lit. testing him). The story assumes that the devil is master of the kingdoms of the world, for he is able to give them to whomever he wants; this is a rather negative view of the political-economic world, for to rule this world one must bow down to the devil. The three great tests that Jesus must undergo concern physical needs (food), the desire not to die, and the need to be important and to have the means to fulfill all one's desires; on all these points, the devil tests the human being to see to what extent he remains faithful to his vocation before God. This role of the devil is not bad in itself, since Jesus will play this role in Jn 6:6 to test the faith of his disciples ("Where shall we buy bread so that they may have something to eat?" By saying this Jesus was testing [peirazōn] him [Philip]; as for him, he knew what he was going to do").

  2. Matthew

    Matthew presents us with two scenes of his own that refer to the devil. The context of 13:39 is Jesus' parable about the kingdom of God (13:24-30) where a farmer sowed wheat in his field, but when the ear of wheat appeared, the weed also appeared. Once at home, the parable is presented as an allegory where the images take on symbolic value: the wheat designates those who will inherit the kingdom, the weed are the sons of the evil one destined for the dump where the fire burns without stopping. The devil is the father of the sons of the evil one. Thus, the word evil (ponēros) is attached to the devil, and he is presented as the main agent of the action against God; he is the enemy who turns people away from the kingdom. The second scene is a continuation of this one: at the final judgment those who have not had compassion in their lives will be removed from the kingdom and thrown into the great dump where the fire does not go out, and will thus go to join the devil and his angels (25:41). To speak of the devil and his angels is to recognize that the devil belongs to a heavenly population; to speak of the dump is to affirm that God will emerge victorious in his battle against the devil and that the latter will finally be exterminated.

    With his two clean scenes, Matthew addresses the issue of evil in the world, and in keeping with the mentality of his time, places the responsibility for evil on heavenly beings who lead astray human beings. This is a way of acknowledging that there is a real mystery here. But the scene of the final judgment affirms that human beings bear their share of responsibility by having allowed themselves to be led astray by the devil.

  3. Luke

    Luke has only one occurrence of the word "devil" of his own in his gospel in a scene where he takes Mark's explanation of the parable of the sower, but replaces Mark's word "Satan" with "devil" (Lk 8:12). This is all the more surprising since he likes the word Satan, which appears five times in his gospel. For his Greek audience, the term "devil" was probably more understandable than the Hebrew term "Satan" in the context of receiving the word, and thus in a context of faith which alone allows one to be open to it; the devil appears as the one who opposes the salvation of people, as the devil in Matthew opposed people entering the kingdom; in Luke, the opposition does not take the form of a struggle against compassion as in Matthew, but rather the form of a struggle against faith and the reception of the word.

    In the Acts of the Apostles, two scenes display the word "devil". First, there is Peter's speech at Cornelius' house that summarizes Jesus' ministry of healing "all who had fallen into the power of the devil" (Acts 10:38). This is a surprising statement, because everywhere else in the gospels, including Luke's gospel, the disease is associated with the demon, not the devil. Recall that the devil belongs to the world of lower spirits that inhabit humans and animals, when he is not prowling in desolate places, while the devil seems to belong to the heavenly court, charged with testing humans and steering them away from the kingdom of God. The distinction seems confused in Luke, who also associates with Satan the disability of the woman who has been bent over for 18 years (Lk 13:16), perhaps taking up an ancient tradition that goes back to the Hebrew world.

    The other mention of the devil in Luke is in the scene around the magician Bar-Jesus who opposes the mission of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:4-12) and seeks to turn the proconsul Sergius Paulus away from the faith. Paul then accuses Bar-Jesus, also called Elymas, of being "full of cunning and schemes", of being "a son of the devil, a sworn enemy of justice" (Acts 13:10). We find here the same perception of the devil that Luke presented in his gospel (Lk 8:12) in the explanation of the parable of the sower: the devil seeks by all means, including cunning, to prevent people from believing and accepting the word. Being the enemy of justice, he is the enemy of salvation.

  4. The Johannine tradition

    There are a number of similarities between the Lucan and Johannine traditions about the devil. Let's start with Judas. In John's gospel, Judas betrayed Jesus because the devil had set his heart on betraying him (Jn 13:2; see also 6:70), a similar statement in Luke, but with the Hebrew version of the devil, Satan: "Satan entered Judas" (Lk 22:3). It is the same perception that the devil is the source of evil, and it is he who introduces it into human beings.

    The other scene about the devil concerns a speech by Jesus to the Jews, who reproach them for not understanding his language, unable as they are to listen to his word. And Jesus explains: "You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (Jn 8:44). Thus, as in Luke's explanation of the parable of the sower, the devil prevents people from believing and accepting Jesus' word. But John is a little more precise about the means used by the devil by referring to the serpent in Gn 3 who deceived the woman with a lie. And the consequences of the devil's action are similar: in Luke, the devil is opposed to justice and salvation, in John he leads to death.

    In its presentation of the devil, the Q document states that the political-economic world is subject to him. John takes up the same idea, but using the expression "Prince of this world" (Jn 14:30), while affirming that he has no hold on Jesus, and even more, that he will be eliminated (Jn 12:31; 16:11).

    These ideas are extended in the first letter of John: the children of the devil do not practice justice, but he adds: and they do not love their brother (1 Jn 3:10). The same is true of the idea that Jesus' mission is to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn 3:8), an idea that will also be mentioned in Luke, but in reference to Satan (Lk 10:18).

In short, there is unanimity in the gospels to affirm that the devil is the source of evil in the world, that he has been at work since the creation of the world, since he took the form of the serpent to deceive the woman, and that he is now at work to prevent people from accepting the word of the gospel, but it is Jesus' mission to destroy his works, and it is assured that the son of God will be the great winner.

In the rest of the New Testament

As we have seen in the Septuagint, the word "devil" can be simply an adjective, or it can be a personified being.

  1. An adjective

    As an adjective, it means: to be backbiting, to be slanderous, because of its root: dia-ballō (to throw things across). The adjective appears only in the so-called Pauline letters, the author of which we are not sure; of the three occurrences, two concern women. First, 1 Tim 3:11 addresses either the wife of a deacon or a deaconess: "Women, likewise, should be worthy, not slanderers (diabolos), sober, faithful in all things", and then Titus 2:3 in a paragraph addressed to the elderly: "Elderly women, likewise, should behave as befits holy people: not slanderers (diabolos), nor given to excesses of wine". But men are not left out, for 2 Tim 3:3, which describes the features of men in the last days, tells us: "[Men will be] heartless, implacable, slanderers (diabolos), without discipline, cruel, enemies of the good.

  2. A personified being

    When diabolos is personified, we find the main features presented in the gospels. The devil is the source of evil and constantly harasses human beings in order to convince them of his designs, for he is "like a roaring lion" prowling around, "seeking whom to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). Therefore, "we must not give the devil a foothold" (Eph 4:27). The devil is cunning and a liar, and so it is a real battle that we must wage, putting on God's clothes to "stand against the devil's schemes" (Eph 6:11). In the face of his lies, which are expressed through his opponents, we must use gentleness, hoping that God will give them the opportunity to be converted to know the truth, "to come to their senses and free themselves from the nets of the devil who held them captive and subject to his will" (2 Tim 2:26). The world is in the grip of the devil, so that "he who wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (Jas 4:4), hence the exhortation: "Submit yourselves therefore to God, but resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (Jas 4:7). Finally, since the beginning of creation, where by his cunning he introduced death into the world (Gen 3), the devil has become a power of death, but the Son of God has destroyed "by his death the one who has the power of death, that is the devil" (Heb 2:14).

    The letter of Jude and the book of Revelation belong to a slightly different framework, marked by the apocalyptic tradition.

    Jude 1:9 refers to an unknown story (perhaps the apocryphal writing The Assumption of Moses) in which there was a lively discussion between the archangel Michael and the devil over the body of Moses. This scene is reminiscent of Zechariah 3:2, where the devil is at the right hand of the angel of the Lord as the prosecutor responsible for the accusations against the high priest Joshua and whom the angel of the Lord silences. The account considers the devil as belonging to the world of angels, but who plays the role of troublemaker.

    In the book of Revelation, several images are merged to give us a portrait of the devil. First, there is that of the dragon (drakōn), which is in fact a water serpent, a sea monster, symbol of the chaos that God had to face in order to organize the cosmos (see Isa 27:1). Rev 12:7 tells us that there was a battle in heaven between Michael and his angels against the dragon and his angels, and defeated, the latter no longer had a place in heaven and so was cast down to earth, and this fall is described thus: "The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him" (Rev 12:9). Thus, under different names, it is the same reality. This devil is the accuser of the Christians (Rev 12:10), he is the one who has them thrown into prison (Rev 2:10), who leads a merciless fight against the new Israel, the Church, and who lasts 1,260 days and three and a half times, that is to say, the time of persecution that will lead to the end of time (Rev 12:6). Finally, the angel of the Lord "took hold of the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and chained him for a thousand years" (Rev 20:2). After the thousand years, the devil was released from his prison and went to deceive all the nations of the earth, but finally God intervened, and "the devil, their deceiver, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the beast and the false prophet. And they will suffer torment day and night forever and ever" (Rev 20:10).

It is time to conclude. The term diabolos is primarily an adjective in the Greek vocabulary to describe a slanderous being, based on the verb diaballō which means: to denounce. The Septuagint translator used it, personifying it, to describe an angel of the heavenly court whose role before God is to be like the prosecutor in a trial, in charge of accusations and finding the flaws in human beings. To accomplish this task, he has broad powers to bring about various ordeals (see the story of Job). This is how he came to push the human being to commit what is evil (like the census by David). From there, he became responsible for introducing evil into the world, hence his identification with the serpent in Genesis (Wis 2:24). These are the two main roles that we find in the New Testament: 1) prosecutor, responsible for the trials (see the account of the temptations), in order to verify the faithfulness of the human being and to be able to accuse him, 2) and that of the source of evil in the struggle against the gospel and against the kingdom of God, and thus the source of death. This is how the believing life was represented by this great fight between God and the devil; for the moment the devil seems to dominate the world, but in the end he will be destroyed.

The terms "demon" and "devil" are basically used by the biblical authors to express two great mysteries: the demon is associated with the mystery of sickness and suffering, the devil with that of evil in the world. The basic insight is that God cannot be the source of these. Because of the scientific knowledge of the time, one fell back on spirits for explaining evil things, the lower ones, represented by the demon, responsible for physical ailments, and the higher ones, represented by the devil, responsible for moral ailments. But in this last case, the responsibility is shared, because it is up to the human being to resist the devil. Finally, whether it is the physical or moral evils, the arrival of the kingdom of God announces their end.

Noun / adjective diabolos in the Bible
Child in the New Testament
First, it is necessary to identify the terms used in the New Testament to designate the child. We will limit our search to terms that refer to the child in general, whether it is a boy or a girl, thereby eliminating words such as "son" (huios) or "daughter" (thygatēr) from our analysis. We will consider six terms: teknon (child) and its diminutive teknion (little child), pais (child) and its diminutive paidion (little child), nēpios (infant) and brephos (baby).


Teknon is a neutral name. It derives from the verb tiktō which means: to give birth. It thus designates the offspring, focusing on the child generated by the parents. It does not refer to a particular age, and refers to both boys and girls. It is the most commonly used term in the New Testament, i.e. 93 occurrences: Mt = 14; Mk = 9; Lk = 14; Jn = 0; Acts = 5; Ep. Jn = 9; 1 Th = 2; 2 Th = 0; Ph = 2; 1 Co = 3; 2 Co = 3; Ga = 5; Rm = 6; Col = 2; Ep = 5; 1 Tm = 5; 2 Tm = 2; Tt = 0; Phlm = 1; 1 P = 2; 2 P = 1; Jc = 0; Jude = 0; He = 0; Ap = 3. It almost always appears in a parent-child context, where "child" could often be replaced by "offspring"; it is somewhat synonymous with "son" or "daughter". Some examples:

  • Lk 1: 7 : "But they had no children (teknon), because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years."

  • Lk 3: 8 : "Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children (teknon) to Abraham"

  • Lk 13: 34 : "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children (teknon) together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

  • Mt 2: 18 : "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children (teknon); she refused to be consoled, because they are no more"

  • Mk 12: 19 : "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no child (teknon), the man shall marry the widow and raise up children (teknon) for his brother"

But this offspring can also be defined in a spiritual way. A few examples:

  • Lk 7: 35 : "Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children (teknon)"

  • Mk 2: 5 : "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Child (teknon), your sins are forgiven'"

  • Mk 10: 30 : "who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age - houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children (teknon), and fields, with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life."

  • 1 John 3: 10 : "The children (teknon) of God and the children (teknon) of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters"

  • 1 Cor 4: 17 : "For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child (teknon) in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church"

How is teknon perceived? How is the relationship between parents and offspring presented? In general, the vision is quite positive.

  1. The birth of a child is desired more than anything else, and not having a child is seen as a misfortune (Lk 1:7: "But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren"), and everything must be done to remedy this if possible (Mk 12:19: "Teacher, Moses wrote for us: 'If anyone has a brother who dies leaving a woman childless, let that brother take the woman and raise up children for his brother'").

  2. It is the role of the parents to

    • giving good things to their children (Lk 11:13 | Mt 7:11: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children (teknon), how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!")

    • to share all that they have (Lk 15:31: "Then the father said to him, 'Child (teknon), you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours'")

    • to feed them and care for them (1 Thess 2: 7: "though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children (teknon)" )

    • to hoard in order to help them (2 Cor 12: 14: "Here I am, ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, because I do not want what is yours but you; for children (teknon) ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children (teknon)")

    • to prefer them to pets (Mk 7:27: "He said to her, 'Let the children (teknon) be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children (teknon)'s food and throw it to the dogs'")

  3. The ideal is a harmonious parent-child relationship, so that if it is broken, it must be restored (Lk 1:17: "He (John the Baptist) will walk before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children") and have the family as a whole (Lk 13:34: "How many times have I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings").

  4. On the other hand, the bonds of faith take precedence over family ties (Lk 14:26: "If anyone comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple").

  5. Because of this strong parent-child bond, parents must be prepared to suffer the fate of their children (Lk 23:28, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children! "Mt 2:18: "A voice in Ramah was heard, weeping and long wailing: it is Rachel weeping for her children, and does not want to be consoled, for they are no more"), especially during the apocalyptic period (Mk 13:12: "The brother will deliver his brother to death, and the father his child; the children will rise up against their parents and put them to death").

  6. In this relationship between parents and children, there are rights and duties: children must obey their parents (Col 3:20; Eph 6:1), venerate them and pay them back (Eph 5:4); on the other hand, parents must not exasperate their children (Col 3:21; Eph 6:4), but educate them by means of admonition and correction (Eph 6:4).

  7. The parent-child relationship is so positive that it is elevated to the spiritual level, and is used to describe the master-disciple relationship:

    • Mark puts these words in the mouth of Jesus: (2:5) "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'My child, your sins are forgiven'. The disciples were amazed at these words. But Jesus rebuked them and said to them, 'My children, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God'"

    • Paul uses this language to speak of those he introduced to the Christian faith, like Timothy (1 Cor 4:17: "For this very reason I sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord"), and especially to all the Christian communities (Gal 4:19: "My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you").

    • John and Paul use this relationship to describe our relationship with God: (1 Jn 3:1) "See what manifestation of love the Father has given us that we may be called children of God"; (Rom 8:16) "The Spirit in person joins with our spirit to testify that we are children of God".


This term is short for teknon and appears only nine times, and only in John and Paul: Jn = 1; 1 Jn = 7; Ga = 1. It is a term to affectionately refer to an adult in the faith community, so it should be understood in a spiritual sense. Here are a few examples:

  • It is Jesus who speaks to his disciples: "Little children (teknion), I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come" (Jn 13: 33)

  • It is the evangelist who speaks to his community: "My little children (teknion), I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 Jn 2: 1)

  • It is pastor Paul who speaks to his community in Galatia: "My little children (teknion), for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Gal 4: 19)

This term, derived from teknon, is nevertheless revealing of attachment to children: it could not be used to express affection and attention to adults if it did not express at its root a very positive vision of the child.


This term, which can be masculine or feminine depending on whether it is a boy or a girl, is much less frequent and is found only 24 times throughout the New Testament, and only in Luke and Matthew, with the exception of a mention in one account in John, who uses both pais and paidion: Mt = 8; Mk = 0; Lk = 9; Jn = 1; Acts = 6; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Let's say right away that pais, unlike teknon, which did not include a reference to the child's age, gives us an idea of the child's age and must be understood in conjunction with its diminutive: paidion; as we will see below, paidion designates the child from birth until he is seven years old, and pais is the child thereafter until his bar mitzwah (son of the Law), around the age of 13, where he becomes an adult.

For Luke, the word has two meanings: child and servant. This meaning of "servant" is probably an influence from the Septuagint where pais is used to translate Hebrew ʿebed. Indeed, let us consider a typical example which is Abraham's encounter with Yahweh in the form of three men at the oak tree of Mamre:

(LXX) And he (Abraham) said, "Lord, if I have found grace before you, do not pass over before your servant (Greek: pais, heb. ʿebed). Let them prepare water, wash your feet and cool them under the oak tree. For my sake I will bring bread, and you shall eat; then you shall continue your journey: for this reason you have come to your servant (Greek: pais, heb. ʿebed). The Lord says: Let it be done as you ask" (Gen 18:3-5)

Thus, when Luke puts this prayer of thanksgiving inspired by the Old Testament into Mary's mouth, pais takes on the meaning of servant: "He came to the aid of Israel, his servant (pais), remembering his mercy" (1:54). The same is true of Zechariah's prayer (1:69), and of pais in two parables (12:45; 15:26) where the word means servant. Similarly, in his Acts of the Apostles, of the six occurrences of the word, five refer to a servant; the only exception is the story of the young man who fell asleep when he heard Paul speak and fell out of the window: at the beginning of the story, Luke calls him neanias (young man, or teenager), then pais.

Elsewhere in his gospel, when he takes up Mark's account of the raising up of the daughter of Jairus, Luke introduces the word pais (8:51.54) to speak of the girl, while Mark speaks of paidion: it can be assumed that Luke, who has mastered the Greek language, finds Mark very imprecise in his vocabulary and that, at the age of twelve (Mk 5:42), a girl should no longer be called paidion, a word he reserves for the first years of life, but pais.

Matthew, like Luke, recognizes that pais can sometimes mean servant, but this happens only once, when Herod "says to his servants (pais): 'This one is John the Baptist'" (14:2) (we have excluded 12:8 which is a quote from Isaiah 42:1-4). Otherwise, there are only two passages of his own where pais refers to a child: in his infancy narrative, where pais surprisingly refers to children under two years of age (2:16), while Jesus, who is the same age, is called paidion (2:13); and in this scene in the temple in Jerusalem, when Jesus has just driven out the vendors, where (pais) children shout: "Hosanna to the son of David!" (21: 15). In the latter case, the use of pais is amazing. For it seems that we have here an echo of Psalm 8:3 which speaks of proclamation on the part of the infant (LXX: nēpios). It is as if Matthew decided to use pais to cover all the ages of the child's life in a general way.

Finally, one can treat together Document Q (Lk 7:7 | Mt 8:6) and the verse of John that refers to pais (4:51), since they all refer to the account of the centurion of Capernaum. John introduces this account by speaking of huios (son), Luke by speaking of doulos (servant), and Matthew of pais (child), but later all speak of pais. The source from which Luke and Matthew draw and the source from which John draws are not the same, but it is possible that they echo the same event. If Luke uses the word doulos, we can assume that we are looking at a child who is able to perform certain tasks, and that is the meaning of the word pais, which follows a little later; and we can assume that the stories of Matthew and John, which both reflect the same event, are intended to refer to a child of the same age.

What can we conclude? pais refers to the child from the age of 7 years, therefore a being able to begin to perform tasks; and in this sense, it sometimes means "servant" as it is frequent in the Septuagint. This period ended around the age of 13, the time of the bar mitzwah (son of the Law), when one became an adult. The evangelists generally remain faithful to this definition, with a few exceptions such as this passage from Matthew's infancy narrative where pais is used in the context of children under the age of two, or in Mark with the raising up of Jairus' daughter who, at the age of 12, should not be called: paidion.

What is the perception of pais? First of all, when the word means "servant," it has a positive connotation: Israel is the servant of God (Lk 1:54), as is David (Lk 1:69), Jesus (Acts 3:26; 4:30); otherwise, they are the servants found in the characters of a few stories, and in anonymity they seem to play their role well. In its meaning as a child, the word refers to Jesus (Lk 2:43), the child of the centurion of Capernaum (Lk 7:7; Mt 8:6,8. 13 || Jn 4:51), the daughter of Jairus (Lk 8:51), the epileptic child (Lk 9:42 || Mt 17:18), the children whom Herod has slaughtered (Mt 2:16) and the children who cry out in the temple: "Hosanna to the son of David" (Mt 21:15); all these children whom Jesus heals, or who are slaughtered because of him, or who proclaim his praise, appear in a positive light.


It is a noun with a neuter gender. In the Greek world, according to Herodotus (reported by Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon), it is the child until the age of seven. It is more frequent than pais since there are 52 occurrences, especially in the Gospels: Mt = 18; Mk = 12; Lk = 13; Jn = 3; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; 1 Co = 1; He = 1. In Luke, out of the 13 occurrences of the word, more than half are in the infancy narrative and refer to the newborn babies that are John the Baptist and Jesus. This seems to be Luke's definition of the word, since when he tells the story of the young Jesus' escapade to the temple to discuss with the teachers, he no longer speaks of paidion, but of pais (2: 43); how old was he then, seven or eight years old? Apart from the infancy narratives, the only other occurrence of his own is in the parable of the untimely friend in 11:7 ("And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children (paidion) are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.'"); how old are these children in bed? Impossible to say, but probably very young. In the rest of his gospel, occurrences of paidion come either from Document Q (7:32: "They are like children (paidion) sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep'") or from Mark's accounts (9:47-48; 18:16-17), and therefore cannot be included in Luke's record.

Similar to Luke, Matthew concentrates half of the occurrences of paidion in his infancy narrative; indeed, the word refers to Jesus up to about the age of two. The only other occurrences that are specific to him concern the conclusion of the two stories on Jesus feeding the crowds (14: 21: "Now those who ate were about 5,000 men, not counting women and children (paidion)"; see also 15: 38); Matthew mentions people who have no social status, i.e. women and children, but how can we explain the presence of children in this scene if not of the fact that they were still inseparable from their mother? As for the other occurrences, they come either from Document Q (11: 16; "But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children (paidion) sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another"), or from Mark's accounts (18:2-5; 19:13-14).

Mark brings us a completely different perspective. The word paidion appears in three scenes.

  1. First there is the raising up of the daughter of Jairus (5:35-43), whom Jesus and Mark call paidion, whose age is given at the end of the story: she was twelve years old.

  2. Then there is that of the Syrophenician woman (7:24-30) whose daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit and where she responds to Jesus' objection that it is not good "to take the children's bread (teknon) and throw it to the little dogs" (7:27) by saying, "Yes, Lord! and the little dogs under the table eat the children's (paidion) crumbs!" (7: 28); who is it that eats while doing a mess around them, if not children of two or three years old? And Mark concludes: "So she went home, found the child (paidion) lying on the bed, and the demon gone" (7: 30); one would think the child was very young.

  3. In addition, there is the scene of a boy with epilepsy (9:14-27) whose father says that he has been like this since childhood, and that Jesus heals him, and after healing him takes his hand: this is a child who is able to walk and seems to be of a certain age.

  4. Finally, there is the scene in which children are brought to Jesus to be touched by him, but which disturbs the disciples (10:13-15): "Let the little children (paidion) come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs"; one can only imagine that they are young children, unimportant beings, so that the disciples may find them a nuisance.

John is in a class of his own.

  1. Let us begin with the scene of the royal official whose son is seriously ill (4:46-54): in his request for healing, the father speaks of his paidion (4:49: the NRSV translates as "little boy"), but when his servants come to announce his death, they use the word pais (4: 51: NRSV translates as "child," considering paidion as the diminutive of pais); by putting the diminutive paidion in the father's mouth, John probably wanted to emphasize the father's tenderness for his child and show the father's effort to touch Jesus' heart. In any case, the child must have been young enough to use such an affectionate term.

  2. The second scene leaves no room for uncertainty: "When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child (paidion) is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world" (16:21); as in Luke, paidion refers to the newborn baby.

  3. Finally, there is the final scene of the gospel: "Children (paidion), you have no fish, have you?" (21: 5). In a unique way in the Bible, paidion refers to adults, but is intended to express a great affection born of a certain intimacy; it is like saying: my babies. John will use the same expression (see 2:14,18) in his first letter.

In conclusion, we can quote the epistle to the Hebrews, whose author seems to have a good mastery of the Greek language and uses paidion to refer to very young children: "By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child (paidion) was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king's edict" (11:23).

What can we conclude? For Luke, paidion designates babies in their first months of birth, for Matthew children in their first years, and for Mark there is nothing systematic: paidion generally designates very young children, but also covers a twelve year old child. John joins Luke and Matthew in his terminology, but becomes unique in using paidion to describe all the master's tenderness and affection for his adult disciples.

A word on Document Q of which we have only one example: "They are like children (paidion) sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep'" (Lk 7:32 | Mt 11:16); these "children" are not yet able to accompany daddy in his daily work as was customary at the time, and therefore are still at the age of having fun with other children in the public square, and therefore must have been between 4 and 7 years old. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews confirms that this is indeed a very young child.

Whether it is Luke, Matthew, Mark, John or the author of the Hebrews, all present a positive image of paidion, whether it is in the guise of Jesus or John the Baptist or Moses, or of a loved one who is to be healed, or of disciples for whom they have great affection. In closing, a word about Paul for whom paidion is the mischievous, sometimes impish, child who has not yet developed good judgment (1 Cor 14:20); this is the exception.


It's an adjective that means: to be young or to be an infant. It is rarely found in the Gospels, and appears especially in Paul, for a total of 15 occurrences: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; Ep. Jn = 0; 1 Thess = 1; 2 Thess = 0; Phil = 0; 1 Cor = 6; 2 Cor = 0; Gal = 2; Rom = 1; Col = 0; Eph = 1; 1 Tim = 0; 2 Tim = 0; Titus = 0; Philem = 0; 1 Pet = 0; 2 Pet = 0; Jas = 0; Jude = 0; Heb = 1; Rev = 0.

Let's start with the gospels where none of the three references to nēpios come from the evangelists. Indeed, two references come from Document Q, which Luke and Matthew take up: "At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants (nēpios); yes, Father, for such was your gracious will" (Lk 10:21; Mt 11:25). The third reference is a textual quotation from Psalm 8:3 in the Greek version of the Septuagint: "and said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouths of infants (nēpios) and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself'?" (Mt 21:16). What is striking about these three references is that they attribute to babies a role in the revelation of the mystery of God. Of course, we must not take these texts literally, but the fact remains that the symbolism is striking: we can only grasp the mystery of God through a certain simplicity and openness of heart.

With the Pauline epistle, we find ourselves on a completely different register. Nēpios refers to that which does not have the capacity to understand deep things, which has no real intellectual backbone and allows itself to be carried away by any ideology, and it is synonymous with ignorance, a state that one must hasten to leave, and, on the social level, someone who has the same status as a slave. A few examples:

  • Rom 2: 20 : "a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children (nēpios; the Jerusalem Bible translates: unlearned), having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth"

  • 1 Cor 13: 11 : "When I was a child (nēpios), I spoke like a child (nēpios), I thought like a child (nēpios), I reasoned like a child (nēpios); when I became an adult, I put an end to child (nēpios)'s ways"

  • Eph 4: 14 : "We must no longer be children (nēpios), tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming"

  • Gal 4: 3 : "So with us; while we were infants (nēpios), we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world"

  • Gal 4: 1 : "My point is this: heirs, as long as they are infants (nēpios), are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property"

The epistle to the Hebrews goes in the same direction when it says: "for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant (nēpios), is unskilled in the word of righteousness" (5: 13). Thus, the Christian is someone who has left the world of nēpios to join the world of intellectual and moral maturity. Is there an inconsistency between the Gospels and the epistles? In fact, we are not talking about the same realities: in the first case it is the human being in his total receptivity to the mystery of God, in the second case it is the human being who has become an adult and responsible person who must assume the course of his life and live authentically according to the true faith.


It is a noun with a neuter gender which means: baby, newborn, embryo, fetus; it is generally the baby who is still breastfed by the mother. It is very rare in the New Testament: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; Eph Jn = 0; 1 Thess = 0; 2 Thess = 0; Phil = 0; 1 Cor = 0; 2 Cor = 0; Gal = 0; Rom = 0; Col = 0; Eph = 0; 1 Tim = 0; 2 Tim = 1; Titus = 0; Philem = 0; 1 Pet = 1; 2 Pet = 0; Jas = 0; Jude = 0; Heb = 0; Rev = 0 (it is absent from the Hebrew part of the Bible and appears only in Sir 19:11; 1 Mac 1:61; 2 Mac 6:10; 3 Mac 5:49 and 4 Mac 4:25).

It is Luke who uses this word the most.

  • It first designates John the Baptist still in Elizabeth's womb: "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby (brephos) leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (1: 41; see also 1: 44); in this scene, even the fetus is open to the Holy Spirit.

  • It then points out to Jesus who has just been born: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby (brephos) wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger" (2: 12; see also 2: 16)

  • In 18:15, in a scene he takes from Mark 10:13-16 where Mark speaks of paidion (little child), Luke makes this precision : "People were bringing even babies (brephos) to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it". Thus, Luke tells us clearly that these children, who are presented to Jesus for him to touch and from whom he will say that the Kingdom of God is to those who are like them, are in fact babies still in the breastfeeding phase.

Two other New Testament texts make reference to it, first 2 Timothy 3:15 ("and how from (being) a baby (brephos) you have known the sacred writings"), a way of saying "for a long time", and 1 Peter 2:2 ("Like newborn babies (brephos), long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation"), a way of comparing the word of God to the mother's milk which alone can make you grow.

All these texts with brephos have one thing in common: they insist on the great value and the precious character of the baby about to be born or who has just been born: with John the Baptist the baby already reacts to the Spirit, with Jesus the baby is the object of a proclamation by the angels of God; the baby is so important that Jesus touches them and proclaims that the kingdom of God is to those who are like them; it is from this period that one begins to be nourished by the word of God.

To summarize what has just been said, we propose the following table based on what the evangelists suggest.


We can now draw up this statistical table on the number of occurrences.

Authorteknon teknionpaispaidionnēpiosbrephos
Ep. John970200
1 Thess200010
1 Cor300160
2 Cor300000
1 Tim500000
2 Tim200001
1 Pet200001
2 Pet100000

It is time to summarize this analysis. Chronologically, childhood takes place from birth to the age of 13, at the time of the bar mitzwah (son of the Law), when the child, by becoming subject to the Law, passes into adulthood. This childhood is divided into two parts, paidion, which refers to the child under the age of 7, and pais, which refers to the child between the ages of 7 and 13. Nēpios is the baby at the very beginning of its paidion phase, as are brephos, but the latter may include the embryo in the mother's womb. As for the term teknon, the most frequent in the New Testament, it is the child without any connotation of age. And teknion, its diminutive, concerns an adult to whom one wants to express affection and attachment, as one is referred to as Babe or Charlie or Chuck.

In all this analysis, there was one constant: the positive look one has on the child. The child is a gift from God (see the story of Elizabeth), the child is the one to whom we give good things, the one with whom we share everything (see the story of the prodigal son), the one whom we take the time to educate, in the image of breastfeeding, and the parent-child relationship is so deep that it serves as an analogy to describe the relationship with God and allows us to speak of the children of God. The greatness of this relationship can be seen in the affectionate words addressed to his interlocutors in the mouth of Jesus: "Little children" (Jn 13:33), in the mouth of John the evangelist: "Little children" (1 Jn 2:1), in the pen of Paul: "My little children" (Gal 4:19). The child is so important that Jesus is asked to heal them if they are sick (the daughter of Jairus, the child of the centurion, the daughter of the Syrophenician, the epileptic child), and someone like Matthew mentions their presence in the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds. It is in the guise of a child that we are first introduced to John the Baptist and Jesus. Only Paul seems to bring a nuance to this picture; however, we must understand the context: it is not a question of taking away all its value from the child, but speaking to adults, he expects their faith to have matured and not to dither with the various doctrines.

In my opinion, there is one scene that sums it all up, the one where babies are brought in for Jesus to touch them, despite the opposition of his disciples. If the first Christian communities kept this scene in mind, it is because it probably resolved a dilemma experienced in Eucharistic gatherings, a dilemma related to the presence of children. For this scene clearly affirms that Jesus wanted the presence of the children with him, and that these children were a living word on how to welcome the kingdom of God. Can we have a more important role?

Textes avec le nom teknon in the New Testament

Noun teknion in the New Testament

Noun pais in the New Testament

Noun paidion in the New Testament

Adjective nēpios in the New Testament

Noun brephos in the New Testament

Christ / Messie (Summary of André Myre, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard - Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 320-324)

In the classical Greek world, the term christos (anointed, coated) is known as early as the 5th century BC. It is an adjective derived from the verb chriō (to touch lightly, to graze). It is used in poetry to describe being "greased" either with oil in the case of a person getting out of the bath, or with ragweed in the case of a corpse, or with poison in the case of an arrow.

In the New Testament, it is used as a noun for Jesus. It took only a few decades after his death for it to replace "Nazarene" as Jesus proper name. It happens to translate the Hebrew term māšaḥ (to rub, to anoint). It is mainly used to translate the enthronement of a king by anointing him with oil. Thus, the one who reaches the highest office is an "anointed one" (māšîaḥ). The term has been used since the enthronement of Solomon in the 10th century and refers almost exclusively to the descendants of David. When kings are no longer of this lineage, there will be hope, at least in Judah, for a return of this lineage, an earthly king who will rule his people justly. But the New Testament, in taking this term to apply it to Jesus, changes its content in the light of Easter.

The Septuagint translated māšîaḥ as christos (he who was anointed) from the verb chriō, so that we end up with three words, the Hebrew māšîaḥ, the Greek christos, and the Greek transcription of the Gospel according to John: messias or mesias (see Jn 1:41; 4:25), which were rendered in English by the three words: anointed, christ and messiah.

According to the Acts of the Apostles 2:36 ("Let the whole house of Israel know for certain, then, that God made him Lord and Christ, the same Jesus whom you crucified"), it is by his resurrection and exaltation that Jesus, until then called "Nazarene", becomes anointed, Christ or Messiah. From then on, this title of christos becomes the most important and even his proper name.

The writing of the Gospels bears the mark of the royal ideology that colored the title of Christ and had been in use in Jerusalem for centuries. This helps to understand all those passages where the word christ evokes either King David, or the various functions of the king, such as that of shepherd, guide and savior of his people, or God's chosen one:

  • John 7:41: Others said, "This is the Christ (Christos). But others said, "Is it from Galilee that Christ (Christos) must come? Didn't the Scripture say that the Christ (Christos) must come from the descendants of David and from Bethlehem, the village where David was, from which he came?
  • Matthew 1:1, "Book of Genesis of Jesus Christ (Christos), son of David, son of Abraham"
  • Matthew 2:6: "And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are not the least of the clans of Judah; for out of you will come forth a leader who will be a shepherd of my people Israel"
  • Matthew 16:16: "Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ (Christos), the Son (the king was considered the son of God) of the living God'"
  • Matthew 23:10: "Neither should you be called teachers, for you have only one teacher, Christ (Christos)"
  • Mark 15:32 "'Let Christ (Christos), the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, that we may see and believe'. Even those who were crucified with him outraged him"
  • Luke 2:11: "Today a Savior, who is Christ (Christos) the Lord, is born to you in the city of David".
  • Luke 23:35: "The people stood there watching. But the rulers mocked them, saying, 'They said, 'He has saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ (Christos) of God, the Chosen One'"

It would be the Christian community of Jerusalem which is at the origin of this title of Christ and its royal connotation. This theology was later conveyed through missionary activity in the various Christian communities of the Greco-Roman world.

Paul will inherit this theology. For him, "Christ" is the equivalent of a proper name and applies it to Jesus for the whole of his journey. With him, we pass from Jesus to "Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Colossians 1:9). Christ exercises a lordship but a power subordinate to God (1 Corinthians 3:23), and will last only for a time, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24). But the purpose of exercising this office is to make us discover the extraordinary greatness of the power of God who raised him from the dead and made him sit on a throne at his right hand in heaven (Ephesians 1:20).

Parallel to this royal color of the title of Christ, there is a priestly tradition in Christian circles of this title which is reflected in the Letter to the Hebrews: "But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption" (9:11-12) Thus, rather than speaking of a king, we speak of a high priest who enters the true temple of God to set his own free. This tradition is rooted in the Old Testament, where some texts speak of the anointment of the high priest (Numbers 35:25), reflecting his political role upon his return from exile in Babylon.

Clothing in the New Testament
Three Greek words are used to refer to what was the usual clothing of the people in Palestine as described in the New Testament: chitōn, usually translated as tunic, himation usually translated as coat, and stolē usually translated as robe. We can say that normal clothing consisted of two pieces of clothing: the tunic (chitōn), a short, light garment that was worn directly on the skin, over which the coat (himation) was put on for social life. As for stolē, it was the ceremonial coat for special occasions and looked like a loose dress. Let's take a closer look.

Let's start with chitōn (Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 2; Acts = 1; 1Jude = 1) which is the tunic or shirt that was worn directly over the skin and served as underwear. This is how Jude writes on it: "save others (the deviants of the community) by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic (chitōn) defiled by their bodie" (1, 23); if the tunic was contaminated by the flesh, it is because it was worn directly on the flesh. Also, when John 19:23 mentions that the soldiers made four parts with Jesus' clothes (himation), then when they arrived at the tunic (chitōn) which was seamless, they decided not to tear it and to draw lots, it turns out that Jesus was completely naked to be crucified (on Jesus' nakedness at the crucifixion, see R.E. Brown). When Jesus in Mark sends his disciples on a mission saying, "Don't put on two tunics," he invites them to travel light. Luke, for his part, puts these words in the mouth of Jesus in his discourse on the plain: "Whoever takes off your coat (himation), do not refuse your tunic (chitōn)"; this means to go so far as to give away one's underwear and find oneself naked.

This tunic was a light and minimal garment that hid one's nakedness. The fact that it was light made physical work possible. This is how farmers, for example, worked in the field simply wearing the tunic, without the coat: "and whoever is in the field should not go back to take his coat (himation)" (Mk 13:16). And it can also be said that this tunic was of less value than a coat, because the high priest, to express his indignation, does not hesitate, Mark 14:63 tells us, to tear his tunics (did he have several?); he would simply tear the top or the collar of the tunic.

The most common word for clothing is himation: Mt = 13; Mk = 12; Lk = 10; Jn = 6; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is a rectangular piece of fabric worn on the chitōn, therefore a kind of coat used as a cloak. Among the Romans, himation refers to the toga. As Jn 19:23 states, Jesus wore the tunic (chitōn) directly on the skin, on which he put a coat (himation). This is how the woman with hemorrhages managed to touch this coat from behind in the hope of being healed (see Mk 5:27). When Mark 10:50 writes that the blind man Bartimaeus, when he was called, rejected his coat, leapt up and came to Jesus, one can imagine that the coat was heavy and cumbersome, and therefore hardly allowed to run. In the same way, Jesus had to get rid of his cumbersome coat so that he could wash the feet of his disciples (John 13:4).

The coat belongs to social life, and it is not surprising to learn from Lk 8:27 that a demon-possessed person had not put on a coat (himation) for a long time and did not live in a house, but in the tombs. And it is the coat of Jesus that becomes resplendent in the scene of the transfiguration (see Mk 9:3). Thus the coat was always worn in public, which explains why people were able to spread their coats before Jesus in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mk 11:8).

As today, this garment could be of different qualities. This is what Lk 7:25 implies when he puts this word in the mouth of Jesus, in reference to John the Baptist: "Then what did you go out to see? A man dressed in delicate clothing (himation)? "In the same way, Peter 3:3 warns: "Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing (himation)". When John 19:2 writes that the Roman soldiers dressed Jesus in a purple himation, it is clear that this was a royal garment.

The coat is very close to the person, it is in a way his identity. Thus, when the witnesses of Stephen's stoning to death put their coats (himation) at Saul's feet (Acts 7:58), they leave a testimony and proof of their agreement (see Acts 22:20).

In short, the two pieces of clothing of the people were the tunic (chitōn), worn on the skin, and the coat (himation) put on the tunic. So the Christian Dorcas, whose death was mourned, covered all of the people's clothing with her work: "So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics (chitōn) and coats (himation) that Dorcas had made while she was with them" (Acts 9:39).

In this context, where does stolē fit? We are in front of a piece of clothing like himation. But according to W. Grimm (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament), it is a loose piece of clothing that reaches down to the feet and is reserved for men. Unfortunately, we have only three occurrences in the Gospels to give us an idea of what this garment is: there is Mk 12:38 which denounces the Pharisees who like to walk around in long robes (stolē), there is also Mk 16:5 about the young man sitting at the right side of the tomb, wearing a white robe (stolē) and Lk 15:22, a parable in which the father wants to celebrate the return of his lost son and asks the servants to clothe his son in his "first" garment (stolē), which is usually translated as "his best robe" (Lk 20:46 is not counted in the number of occurrences, because it is a copy of Mk 12:38). Elsewhere in the New Testament, it is found in Revelation where it is used synonymously with himation. So let's expand our search to include the Septuagint where stolē appears about 90 times. On the other hand, as in the New Testament, himation is much more frequent (about 214 times).

When we go through the entire Old Testament, we realize that the Greek translation of the Septuagint associated stolē with a garment of a certain quality. For example, Gen 41:42 :

LXX: Then the Pharaoh removed the ring from his hand, placed it in Joseph's hand, put on him a robe (stolē, heb. beged) of the finest linen (byssino, heb. shesh), and put a golden necklace around his neck.

Linen garments are considered to be of superior quality, and this is how Pharaoh honors Joseph. Along the same lines, we have this passage from Ezekiel 10:2:

LXX: And the Lord said to the man clothed in a robe (stolē, Heb. bad = linen): Go into the midst of the wheels under the cherubim, and take coals from the hearth which is between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city. And he went in before me.

The Hebrew text speaks of bad, a linen cloth, and the Septuagint translated it here stolē, and some translated here stolē in English as: long robe, to try to convey the idea of a quality garment. But all this is further clarified when Ezekiel speaks of the entrance to the temple of the Levite priests: "When they enter by the gate of the inner court, they shall be clothed with robes (stolē, heb. beged) of linen (linon, heb. pesheth)" (44:17).

The stolē is often mentioned as the coat of kings.

LXX: And in that day I will call my servant Elyaqim the son of Hilkiah. And I will clothe him with your robe (stolē, heb. kethoneth = tunic), and I will give him your crown with the empire, and I will entrust your ministry into his hands, and he will be like a father to those who reside in Jerusalem and live in Judea. And I will give him the glory of David, and he shall rule, and he shall have no adversary (Isaiah 22:20-22).

It is the announcement of the enthronement of King Elyaqim. But it is not only kings who carry the stolē, there are also priests who must officiate at the temple.

LXX: Then Aaron will enter the tabernacle of the testimony, take off the linen (linon, Heb. bad) robe (stolē, Heb. beged) that he has put on to enter the sanctuary, and put it there (Lev 16, 23)

This presentation of the priest with a quality garment has an echo as far back as the Sirach, written probably in the 2nd century BC.

LXX: When he (the high priest Simon) had taken the robe (stolē) of honor (doxa), and put on all his ornaments, and went up to the holy altar, he made the surroundings of the sanctuary shine (Sir 50:11).

In spite of everything we have just said, stolē should not be considered as a technical term for a specific garment. Besides, we could notice it: to designate it as a quality garment, it is necessary to add a qualifier: linen, or honor, or beautiful. In itself, it could designate any garment, as we see in Deuteronomy 22:5:

LXX: The woman shall not wear the garments (skeuē, heb. keli = clothing) of a man, the man shall not wear the dress (stolē, heb. simlah = coat) of a woman; whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.

The very fact that the Septuagint translated the reference to a woman's coat by stolē, while Grimm, earlier, tells us in his dictionary that stolē is a man's garment, confirms that this word must be taken in the general sense of garment, even if it is this word that the Septuagint prefers to himation when he intends to describe a garment of quality.

It is time to conclude. In the Bible, people wear two types of clothing. The first is the tunic (chitōn), a light garment that is worn directly over the skin. This is probably the garment worn in the privacy of the home or for manual tasks, such as field work. On the tunic, one would put on the coat (himation) when leaving the house and moving around the village or town. The quality of this coat varied according to the person's financial means. When this coat was of high quality, one tends to use the term stolē, for example in the story of the prodigal son where the father gives his found son the "most beautiful dress" (stolē).

Texts with chiton in the New Testament

Texts with himation in the New Testament

Texts with stolē in the New Testament

The chitōn




Roman toga that gives an idea of stolē


Currency in the Bible
(According to Jean-Philippe Lévy, L'économie antique. Paris : Presses Universitaires de France (Que sais-je? 1153), 1969; Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament. Paris : Seuil, 1975; L. Monloubou – F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Québec : Desclée – Anne Sigier, 1984)

The coin is defined as a piece of metal of any shape, composition and weight that is always fixed. It is the combination of the measure (fixed weight) and the stamp.

Prehistory of currency

In the history of mankind, currency appeared late. For a long time, trade was done by barter, whereby one object was exchanged for another. But the challenge of barter comes from the difficulty of assessing the value of the objects involved in the exchange: how to ensure that what one gives or receives is of equivalent value?

This is how "accounting money" emerged, an object that served only as a yardstick to establish the value of a good, without being involved in any transaction. For example, at the beginning of the third millennium BC in Egypt, we have the example of the scribe Thenti who gave up his house, valued at 10 shats (a gold ring weighing about 0.26 ounce) to the priest Kemapu. As payment, the priest hands over furniture and cloth that are valued at 4, 3, and 3 shats, respectively. In another example, in Homer's Iliad (8th century BC), the winners of the games are rewarded with a tripod, a cauldron, and armor that are valued in terms of the number of oxen. Sacks of grain, such as barley, were also used in Egypt and Babylonia as "accounting money".

A measure of weight

Nevertheless, the advantage of using the metal appears fairly quickly because of the ease of transporting and fractionating it. First there is gold, silver in Mesopotamia, copper and bronze in Egypt. It does not yet take the form of a coin, but it is weighed and often stamped. Thus, even before the existence of a currency proper, payments were made by a certain weight of precious metal. This explains the fact that several coins kept the name of a weight measure: the talent (the weight of metal a man could carry, 67 lbs in Babylonia), which was divided into 60 minas, and the mina was divided into 60 shekels (even today a coin like the English pound is named after a weight measure, the pound).

The beginning of currency

The appearance of the coin itself takes place shortly afterwards in the year 700 BC. It was invented in the Ionian cities of Asia Minor (present Turkey): Ephesus, Miletus, Phocaea, on the Mediterranean coast. The oldest pieces are in the form of pellets, not round and flat, but ovoid and swollen in the middle, bearing on one side a hollowed imprint, later in relief, and on the other a simple sanding to prevent fraudsters from trimming the metal a little. We thus have coins issued at Ephesus before 650: they are made of electrum (a natural alloy of gold and silver). It is only a little later that the real flat and almost round coin will appear.

Coins then spread quite rapidly westward, to Greece, where Athens had its own coins shortly after 600, finally reaching Marseille in the 4th century BC. In the Middle East, it is the Persian conquest of 539 that introduced the use of coins everywhere. Darius issued around 515 gold Darics bearing the image of the king shooting with the bow and arrow, and silver shekels. In Egypt, bronze coinage spread a little, but payments in kind remained in use for a long time; it was not until the 30th Dynasty, circa 360 BC, that Takhos issued gold coins of the same weight as the Darics, but bearing the image of the Athenian owl.

In Palestine

What about Palestine? The Old Testament speaks of the shekel, in Greek: siklos, in Hebrew: šeqel. But the shekel is above all a unit of measurement of weight (0.5 ounce). This is how gold, silver, bronze, iron and lead were weighed in commercial transactions. Moreover, since the minting of a currency presupposes an independent state, Palestine was hardly in a position to do so: Jerusalem fell under the aegis of Assyria in 701 BC, then under the aegis of the Arameans of Babylon in 587. But things seem to change with the Persian empire and the edict of Cyrus in 538 BC which allows the Jewish elite to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The freedom offered by the Persians may have allowed the coinage of a currency, the shekel. This is suggested by certain writings of the Pentateuch, begun long ago but finalized at that time, which seems to present the shekel as a currency in due form: "Whoever is subject to the census shall give half a shekel on the basis of the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs per shekel. This half shekel will be a levy for the Lord" (Ex 30:13). In archaeology, a Jewish shekel marked YHD: Yehud is reported to have been found, dating from the time of the Maccabees (2nd century BC). In addition, it is said that the subjugated authorities, cities and kingdoms were allowed to freely mint bronze coins according to the system of the conqueror. Many coins of the Asmoneans, Herods and Roman procurators have been found. Of course, the human face was avoided in order to respect religious sensibilities.

The Greek system was first introduced into Israel during the Seleucid era (4th century BC) and has been generalized since the conquests of Alexander the Great. For this system, the basic unit is the silver drachma (0.15 ounce), divided into 6 oboli and 48 bronze chalkos. Two drachmas were called a didrachma, and four drachmas constituted a tetradrachma, sometimes called a stater. There was also a bronze piece of very small value, the lepton, 1/7th of a chalkos. The very large sums were counted by talents and by minas, respectively 6,000 and 100 drachmas (one will refer to the table below). These coins were minted in large provincial cities such as Tyre.

When the Romans conquered the region, they introduced their currency whose basic unit was the silver denarius, with the effigy of the reigning Caesar, divided into 4 brass sesterions and 16 bronze asses. The as is divided into 4 quadrans.

Currency at the time of Jesus

One can easily imagine the number of different coins, related to different systems circulating in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus; in particular, many Jews from abroad went on pilgrimage to the Temple. This required the presence of bankers, who were in charge of the exchange of money in the temple; in fact the word banker comes from the word "bench", because these people sat on a bench in front of their counter to exchange money. This is witnessed by Mk 11:15-18; Mt 21:10-17; Lk 19:45-48; Jn 2:13-16.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to establish the purchasing power of these coins. However, it is legitimate to use the parable of the workers of the eleventh hour of Matthew 20:1-16 as a reference: the master of the house hires day laborers to go to work in his vineyard, and commits himself to pay a fair wage, which is one denarius, the Roman silver coin. Of course, there is a cry of injustice because those who worked all day received the same salary as those who worked all day; but the problem is the exorbitant salary of the latter, not the fair salary of the former. Thus, it seems legitimate to me to use as a yardstick for purchasing power, the salary of a day labourer, which would be a denarius of money.

Comparative table of the different coins

(g) = Greek
(r) = Roman
(j) = Jewish
Silver(g) talent1
(r) mina601
(g) stater
(j) shekel
1 500251
(g) didrachma3 0005021
(g) drachma
(r) denarius
6 000100421
Bronze(r) sestertius24 00040016841
(r) dupondius48 0008003216821
(r) as96 0001 600643216421
(r) semis192 0003 20012864328421
(r) quadrans384 0006 40025612864168421
(r/g) lepton768 00012 80051225612832168421

Description of some coins

Talent (greek: talanton, hebrew: kikkar)

It is above all a unit of weight of about 77 pound. In Greek it is said: talanton, in Hebrew: כִּכָּר (kikkar). In the Old Testament, kikkar can mean: a morsel, a piece, a country, a round weight, a unit of measurement of weight. With the meaning of a unit of weight, it is found about fifty times in Exodus, 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Tobit, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Esther, Zechariah, 1 Maccabees. So it is quite usual to find it in situations where it is necessary to weigh things:

  • Ex 25: 39: LXX "All these devices (the funnel and snuff-dishes of the lamps of the sanctuary) will weigh a talent (gr. talanton, heb. kikkar) of pure gold".
  • 2 Sam 12:30 : LXX "Then he removed from the head of their king Molchom his crown, which weighed a talent (gr. talanton, heb. kikkar) of gold, and which was adorned with precious stones."
  • 2 Esd 8:26: LXX "And so I weighed in their hands six hundred and fifty talents (gr. talanton, heb. kikkar) of silver, a hundred vessels of silver, and a hundred talents (gr. talanton, heb. kikkar) of gold".

And this weighing is associated with different materials: gold (Ex 39: 1), silver (Ex 39: 2), lead (Zech 5: 7), bronze (Ex 38: 29), iron (1 Chr 29: 7). This is how we want to evaluate the value of a commodity. For example, all the gold received by Solomon is mentioned as follows: "The weight of the gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold" (2 Chr 9:13); or the value of the purchase of a mountain ("And Ambri bought the mountain of Samaria from Samar, who was master of that mountain, for two talents of silver", 1 Kings 16:24); or the value of a human life ("And a man brought me a man and said to me, Keep this man; if he escapes, you will give me your life for his life, or you will pay one silver talent", 1 Kings 20:39), or the value of a slave ("and he sent forthwith to the cities of the sea, inviting to buy Jewish slaves, promising to give ninety slaves for one talent", 2 Mac 8:11). Note that in Roman times the annual tax for Galilee joined to Perea was 200 talents, and Herod's annual income was 900 talents.

In the New Testament, we are looking at "accounting money" currency of Greek origin which is equivalent to 6,000 drachmas, or 6,000 denarii in Roman currency, i.e. 6,000 days' wages for a farm labourer. It is mentioned only by Matthew, and this on the occasion of two parables. The first concerns two debtors, the first of whom owed his master 10,000 talents, i.e. the equivalent of 60,000,000 days' wages, and after his master has written off this debt out of pity, he has the nerve to take someone who owed him 100 denarii, i.e. 100 days' wages, by the throat (18:23-35). The second parable is that of a man who goes on a journey and entrusts five talents to one of his servants, two to another, one to a third, and expects to receive a good return on this money (25:14-30).

The first listeners of Matthew's gospel must have understood the value of the talent. For us in the 21st century, the word "talent" has the primary meaning of aptitude or ability, and this meaning seems to have been introduced by Erasmus from Matthew's parable.

Mina (greek: mna, hebrew: māne)

This a Greek acounting money currency of silver, equivalent to 100 denarii or 25 shekels or 100 days' salary for a farm worker, about 1 pound. In the Old Testament, it is above all a measure of weight, as we see in Ezekiel 45:12, when the prophet proposes the rules to be followed when returning home and exhorts the inhabitants to have just scales, a just bushel, a just measure, and adds: LXX "Let your weights weigh twenty oboles, five shekels, fifteen shekels; and let fifty shekels make a mina (gr: mna, heb.: māne)". And in 1 Kings 10:17, it is a weight: LXX "And three hundred armors of beaten gold, three minas (gr: mna, heb.: māne) of gold each; and he consecrated them in the wooden palace of Lebanon". This is how gold and silver are weighed (see Ezra's texts and 1 Esdras).

In the New Testament, only Luke refers to the mina, drawing on the same Document Q as Matthew; but while Matthew speaks of talent, a greater value, Luke speaks rather of the mina, no doubt a more accurate echo of its source (Luke tends to be more faithful to Document Q, as shown in his version of the Lord's Prayer). Now, in Luke (19:13-25), the mina appears as a coin that is fairly easy to handle, since the man of high birth is able to distribute it to his servants, which can be made to make profit or given to the bank, and which the fearful servant can deposit in a cloth.

Stater (grec : statēr)

Greek silver coin (0.30 ounce) and worth 4 drachmas or one tetradrachma. It corresponds to 4 denarii or 4 working days for a farm day labourer. It is only mentioned in Matthew 17:27 throughout the Bible, in this scene where the didrachma tax collectors (2 drachmas) ask Peter if Jesus pays the annual temple tax. It should be noted here that every male Jew, no matter where he lived, had to pay an annual tax of two drachmas (two days' wages) each year for temple worship. In addition, because the drachma is a Greek currency, the temple had to provide the service of money-changers or bankers when the tax was paid in another currency, hence their presence in the temple forecourt. In the Matthew scene, Jesus asks Peter to give the stater found in the mouth of the fish to pay both Jesus' two drachmas and Peter's two drachmas, that is, 4 drachmas or a stater.

A silver stater of Corinth with Pegasus and Athena

Shekel (greek: siklos, hebrew: שֶׁקֶל: šeqel)

The shekel is above all a Jewish measure of weight in the Old Testament (0.5 ounce). In the translation of the Septuagint, it appears 76 times, especially in the Pentateuch, and to a lesser degree in the prophetic books. For example, 2 Samuel 14:26 states that when Absalom shaved his head every year because his hair became too heavy, "he weighed his hair: 200 shekels, the weight of the king". Similarly, the prophet Ezekiel proposes certain rules for rationing food when Jerusalem is under siege: "And this food that you shall eat, you shall weigh twenty shekels a day, which you shall eat from day to day" (Ezekiel 4:10). But this weighing was mainly used in commercial transactions. For example, Abraham wanted to buy a lot to bury his wife Sarah: "Abraham gave his consent to Ephron and Abraham weighed to Ephron the money he had spoken of with the knowledge of the sons of Heth, that is, 400 shekels of silver from the merchant's house" (Gen 23:16). In the same way, the prophet Jeremiah bought his land from Anatoth: "So I bought this field from my cousin Hanameel of Anatoth, and weighed him the money, seventeen shekels of silver" (Jer 32:9). The shekel was the unit of measurement for weighing gold, silver, or bronze (see Ex 38:24-29).

But references to the shekel suggest that it is sometimes used to designate a currency. This is how the value of payment is calculated in case of damage: "If the ox is a slave or a maid that the ox gores (and causes its death), its owner will pay the price - 30 shekels -- to their master, and the ox will be stoned" (Ex 21:32). Even when the reparation must be in cash, its value is calculated in shekels: "If anyone commits fraud and inadvertently sins in taking away the sacred rights of the Lord, he shall bring to the Lord as a sacrifice of reparation a ram without blemish from his flock, to be valued in silver shekels at the rate of the shekel of the sanctuary" (Lev 5:15). When we spoke earlier about the stater, we mentioned the temple tax due to the temple valued in Greek currency, i.e., two drachmas. Exodus 30:13 refers to this tax: "Whoever is subject to the census shall give half a shekel on the basis of the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs per shekel. This half-shekels will be a levy for the Lord"; the half-shekels is equivalent to two drachmas (see Nehemiah 10:33 for a different rate of one-third of a shekel). Finally, it is to an evaluation of a monetary nature that we must understand this passage from 2 Kings 7:18: "For when the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, 'Two measures (8 US gallon) of barley will cost one shekel and one measure (4 US gallon) of flour will cost one shekel, tomorrow at the same hour at the gate of Samaria' ".

The word "shekel" does not appear explicitly in the New Testament. This is not surprising, because for more than two centuries Palestine has been under foreign domination, first that of the Greeks, with their drachmas, and then that of the Romans with their denarii. Today, the "shekel" is the currency used in the state of Israel (about 30 cents of US dollar for a shekel at the moment).

A shekel of Jerusalem from the year 68, at the time of the first Jewish revolt.

Drachma (greek: drachmē), didrachma (greek: didrachmos)

The drachma is the unit of the Greek monetary system in silver (0.12 ounce) which is equivalent to the Roman denarius. The only mention of it in the entire New Testament is in the scene in Luke 15:8-9 where a woman loses a drachma and begins to search carefully to find it; one drachma is equivalent to one day's wages.

The didrachma is simply double the drachma, and this sum corresponds to the tax due annually by each male Jew for temple worship. Now, the only reference to didrachma in the entire New Testament is in Matthew 17:24 when the tax collectors ask Peter if his master pays the didrachma.

What about the Old Testament. The Hebrew text ignores the existence of drachma or didrachma. This is understandable because the Greek conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great dates from 332 BC. The unit of weight and currency known to the Israelites is the shekel, and so it is the shekel that is mentioned throughout Scripture. However, when the Greek translation of the Hebrew text is undertaken during the period from 250 to 150 BC, a translation that is called the Septuagint, we are in the middle of the Hellenistic period and therefore the Greek drachma is in use in Palestine. So, for a certain number of texts, the translator of the Septuagint sometimes takes the initiative to simply replace the word "shekel" by "didrachma", thus committing a mistake: the shekel was the equivalent of two didrachmas, not one didrachma (see the texts of Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, Deut, Jos and Neh on didrachma in the right-hand column). It is the same mistake that the translator of the Septuagint makes when he translates the word beqaʿ (half, implying "half-shekel") of Exodus 38:26 by "drachma", when it should have been translated: didrachma, the amount of tax due to the temple.

Things are different for writings well situated in the Hellenistic period such as Tobit (even if fragments of Aramaic text would exist) and the Maccabees written in Greek: at this time, drachma and didrachma are legal tender. Thus, the text of Tobit confirms what Mt 20:2 revealed to us about the daily wage of a denarius: "But tell me what wages I shall give you? One drachma (drachmē) per day, and what will be necessary for you and for my son" (5:15); one drachma corresponds to one denarius.

A silver didrachma with the head of Apollo and a horse galloping under a sun with 16 rays.

A silver drachma with the head of Dionysus and a bunch of grapes

Denarius (greek: dēnarion)

It is the unit of the Roman silver monetary system (0.14 ounce), of the same value as the Greek drachma. It bore the inscription and effigy of the Emperor Tiberius, with the words: Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Divi Augusti Filius; on the reverse side, the seated figure of Livia or the victory sitting on a quadriga with Pontif(ex) Maxim(us). It is mentioned a few times in the Gospels (Mt = 6; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 2), and then appears only once in Revelation. It corresponded to the daily wage of an agricultural worker (Mt 20:2: "He agreed with the workers a denarius for the day and sent them to his vineyard") or to the average expense of a day (Lk 10:35: "The next day he took two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and what you have spent in addition, I will repay you when I return'"). The price of wheat or barley was evaluated in denarius (Rev 6:6: "three liters of barley for a denarius"), bread (Mk 6:37: "We must go and buy bread for 200 denarii"; Jn 6:7: "two denarii of bread are not enough for each one to receive a small piece"), perfume (Mk 14:5), and wine (Mk 14:5): "This perfume could be sold for more than 300 denarii"; Jn 12:5: "Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii"), debts in general (Mt 18:28: "One of his companions owed him a hundred denarii"; Lk 7:41: "One owed 500 denarii, the other 50").

The denarius is obviously absent from the Old Testament, for it arrived in Palestine with the conquest of Jerusalem by the Roman Pompey in 63 BC.

The silver denarius with the figure of Mark Aurelius

Obole (greek: obolos, hebrew גֵּרָה: gerāh)

It is a Greek silver coin worth 1/6 drachma and 8 copper coins (Greek: chalkos). This word is absent from the New Testament. For the Septuagint, it is used to translate gerāh, an ancient Jewish unit of weight and currency which, according to Ex 30:13, is equivalent to 1/20th of a shekel, i.e. 1/5th of a drachma. Gerāh appears five times in the Old Testament, each time translated as obolos by the Septuagint. In 1 Samuel 2:36, it is the word agorāh (payment) that the Septuagint translated by obolos, specifying what was meant by payment. In Greek tradition, the dead were buried with an obolos in their mouths so that they could pay Charon at the gates of Hades to help them cross the river Acheron or Styx.

A silver obole


A bronze coin of the Roman monetary system that was worth a quarter of a denarius. Its name is derived from semis (half) and tertius, because originally its value was two asses and half a third. Introduced in the 3rd century BC as a silver coin, it became a bronze coin in the 1st century BC and remained in use in the Roman Empire until the 3rd century AD. No biblical text refers to it.

Bronze sestertius with the figure of Vitelius


The word comes from duo (two) pondius (pound). It is a currency introduced during the Roman republic and worth two asses, or a half-sestertius. No biblical text refers to it.

Dupondius with the figure of Mark Aurelius around 170 AD

As (greek: assarion)

It is a Roman currency, the 16th of a denarius, a little more than the salary of a half-day's work. In the New Testament, it is found only in Luke 12:6 and Matthew 10:29, both of which reflect Document Q. They speak of passerines, the songbirds of which the sparrow is a part. According to Luke, they were sold 0.4 asses each, according to Matthew 0.5 asses each, which represents about fifteen minutes of work according to the salary of the time. In other words, a sparrow is worth almost nothing. Being a Roman currency, the as is totally absent from the Old Testament.

As with the figure of Emperor Nero


A bronze coin of the Roman monetary system worth two quadrans or four leptons. Its name means half, i.e. half an as. During the Roman republic, this coin was distinguished by an "S" (for semis) and 6 points in reference to 6 ounces. It was introduced in the 3rd c. BC and disappeared in the middle of the 2nd c. AD. No biblical text refers to it.

Semis of the 3rd c. BC with the figure of Pegasus flying away

Quadrans (grec: kodrantēs)

The Greek word kodrantēs comes from the Latin quadrans, i.e. a quarter of an as or quadrans, and is therefore equivalent to two leptons. Introduced during the Roman republic, this bronze coin disappeared in the middle of the 2nd century AD. It rarely bore the figure of the emperor. It is found only in Matthew and Luke throughout the Bible, and thus probably comes from Document Q.

The quadrans, Roman bronze coin

Copper (greek: chalkos)

The Greek term literally means copper, or copper derivatives such as bronze or brass. It is the name given to a Greek bronze coin, the smallest division, equivalent to 1/48th of a drachma, which is about the salary for 15 minutes of work for a farm labourer at the time. Compared to the Roman system, it was worth less than the as, but more than the lepton.

It is mentioned by Mark, Matthew, Paul and Revelation. But it is only in the Gospels, more specifically in Mark, which Matthew copies, that "copper" is presented as a currency. And since it is the smallest division of Greek currency, its meaning is clear: when Jesus asks his disciples, whom he sends on mission, not to bring a chalkos (Mk 6:8), he is in fact asking them not to bring any money; when the crowd deposits chalkos in the treasury of the temple (Mk 12:41), it deposits the smallest division of Greek currency, therefore almost nothing.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, and throughout the Old Testament, chalkos simply refers to metal, especially bronze or brass. For example: "And the two pillars, and the sea, and the twelve oxen of brass (chalkos) under the sea, which King Solomon made for the temple of the Lord. The weight of the brass (chalkos) was not known" (Jer 52:20).

Old copper coin

Lepton (greek: leptos)

Literally, the word leptos means thin, small. But it was also used to designate the smallest coin of the Roman and Greek system, made of bronze (0.06 ounce). It represented 1/128 of a denarius, about the value of five minutes of work for a farm labourer. It is therefore an insignificant and derisory sum. When Luke puts this sentence in Jesus' mouth: "You will not get out of there until you have given back even to the last lepton" (12:59), it means paying back everything, down to the last penny. And in his account of the widow who gives everything she has in the temple treasury, i.e. two leptons, Mark 12:49 gives us an idea of her extreme poverty.

In the Septuagint, leptos means only: small or thin. For example, Gen 41:3, LXX: "After these, seven other cows came out of the river, ugly and thin (gr: leptos, heb: daq), and they went to graze beside the others on the bank".

Texts with noun talanton in the New Testament

Texts with noun mna in the Bible

Texts with noun statēr in the Bible

Texts with noun drachmē in the Bible

Texts with noun didrachmos in the Bible

Texts with noun dēnarion in the Bible

Texts with noun obolos in the Bible

Texts with noun assarion in the Bible

Texts with noun kodrantēs in the Bible

Texts with noun chalkos in the New Testament

Texts with noun leptos in the New Testament

Glory (According to Jean-Pierre Prévost, Kaḇôd, et Pierre Létourneau, doxa, doxazō, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 154-155 et p. 348-355)

The word "glory" today refers to what happens to a person who achieves great fame or established reputation because a certain public recognizes his achievement; an artist or scientist is said to know glory, or to be at the height of his glory. "Glory" presupposes two things: a sequence of actions out of the ordinary by one person, and the recognition of the value of those actions by a body of people. The value of these actions can be at several levels: sporting, financial, artistic, scientific, etc.

But this meaning of the word misrepresents what the New Testament speaks of, especially the Gospels. Let's notice that the word "glory" is expressed in Greek by doxa, and the verb "to glorify" by doxazō. Let's do a little history.

Classical Greece

Etymologically speaking, the feminine noun doxa is derived from the verb dokeō (to appear, to seem, to think, to be of opinion), and thus refers to the subjective aspect of things: what seems to me, what appears to me. For the philosopher Parmenides (5th c. before the modern era), it translates the idea of opinion, as opposed to truth. In Plato, it denotes opinion as opposed to science, i.e. the world of the sensible and of appearances, which can only be a reflection of the world of ideas, and therefore can only be a conjecture, a product of the imagination. In the same vein, it refers to the subjective opinion about a person, negative or positive, and therefore to his reputation, hence the idea of his "glory", i.e. his great reputation. As a corollary, the verb doxazō means "to have a thought, to imagine" and, in front of a person "to glorify".

What about its meaning in the Bible?

Old Testament

The word "glory" appears under the Hebrew name kaḇôd which is derived from the verb kbd which means: to be heavy, to have weight. It is applied to a person who is "heavy", i.e. who has a lot of influence, and this on many levels.

This level can be economic and financial, so that to be rich and to be in glory are synonymous. For example:

  • Ps 49:17: "Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory (kaḇôd) of his house increases".
  • 1 Kings 3:13: "Even that which you have not asked, I also give to you: riches and glory (kaḇôd) as to no one among kings".

This level can be political. For example:

  • Genesis 45:13: "Tell my father about all the glory (kaḇôd) that I (Joseph) have in Egypt and all that you have seen, and make haste to bring my father down here.
  • Isaiah 22:23: "And I will drive him like a nail into a solid place; he (King Elyakim) will become a throne of glory (kaḇôd) for his father's house.

This influence can also be military. For example:

  • Isaiah 21:16: "For thus has the Lord spoken to me: One more year as the years of a hireling, and all the glory (kaḇôd) of Kedar shall be taken away" .

But in more than half of the occurrences, the word is applied to God. It is used to describe in a visible way the very person of God, and sometimes its intimidating aspect; one cannot see God, but one can see his glory. For example:

  • Exodus 16:10: "And it came to pass, as Aaron was speaking to all the congregation of the children of Israel, that they turned to the wilderness, and behold, the glory (kaḇôd) of Yahweh appeared in the cloud".
  • Exodus 24:17: "The glory (kaḇôd) of the appearance of Yahweh was to the Israelites as a devouring flame on the top of the mountain".
  • Leviticus 9:6: "Moses said, "This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, that you may see his glory (kaḇôd)."
  • Isaiah 59:19: "And they will fear the name of the Lord from the West, and his glory (kaḇôd) from the east, for he will come as a stream, and will be driven out by the breath of the Lord.

The idea of being heavy and influential, and therefore powerful, which applies to some people, applies eminently to God. For example:

  • Psalm 24:7-10: "Lift up your pediments, lift up your pediments, stand up, ancient portals; let the King of Glory (kaḇôd) enter!
    Who is the King of glory (kaḇôd)? It is the Lord, the strong and mighty, the Lord, the mighty in battle.
    Gates, lift up your pediments, stand up, ancient gates, let him enter, the king of glory (kaḇôd)!
    Who is the king of glory (kaḇôd)? Yahweh of Sheba, he is the King of Glory (kaḇôd)."

The book of the prophet Ezekiel is worthy of note, for not only does it use the word "glory" several times, but it becomes almost synonymous with "divine presence", a presence often associated with cosmic phenomena. For example:

  • Ezek 1:28: "The appearance of that glow all around was like the appearance of the bow that appears in the clouds on rainy days. It was something like the glory (kaḇôd) of Yahweh. And I looked, and I fell on my face to the ground, and I heard the voice of someone speaking to me.
  • Ezek 43:2: "And behold, the glory (kaḇôd) of the God of Israel came from the east. And there was a sound like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory (kaḇôd).

This perspective prepares the meaning that the word will have in Judaism at the dawn of the New Testament period: an almost personification of God and synonymous with the "presence of God" or Lord.

When the time comes for translators of the Hebrew Bible to translate kaḇôd into Greek, the term doxa will be chosen.

New Testament

Let us first note that the term doxa appears in all the writings of the New Testament, with the exception of the letter to Philemon and the letters of John. As for the verb doxazō, its most frequent use is in the Gospel of John; it is also found 12 times in Paul's Gospel and 4 times in the first epistle of Peter.

In our presentation of the origin of the word doxa in the Greek world, we pointed out that the term means above all "opinion", either a philosophical opinion or an opinion about a person, hence the common meanings of "reputation, fame, honor, glory". Similarly, the verb doxazō sometimes means to have an opinion, to imagine, to figure out, and sometimes to celebrate, to glorify.

A few times in the New Testament we find this sense of reputation and honor. For example:

  • Lk 14: 10 : "But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then to you will be glory (doxa) in the presence of all who sit at the table with you"
  • 1 Cor 11: 15 : "but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory (doxa)? For her hair is given to her for a covering."

But in most cases, the meaning of doxa must be understood in the light of the Hebrew word kaḇôd, with the idea of weight or heaviness, therefore influence and importance. As we have seen for in the Old Testament, this importance can be situated at several levels, such as that of wealth or political power. For example:

  • Lk 4: 6 || Mt 4: 8: "And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory (doxa) and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please."
  • Lk 12: 27 || Mt 6: 29: "Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory (doxa) was not clothed like one of these."

But as with kaḇôd, the doxa is applied above all to God, and thus has a theological significance. And it is above all epiphanic, i.e. it describes a manifestation of God. Thus it becomes an attribute of God.

To describe this attribute, images related to light are used, such as its brightness or radiance. For example:

  • Lk 2: 9: "Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory (doxa) of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified."
  • Rev 21, 23-24: "And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory (doxa) of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory (doxa) into it."

The idea of strength, power and influence present in the word kaḇôd-doxa applies eminently to God. It is through this doxa that he created the universe, and is the source of salvation, and raised Jesus from the dead. For example :

  • Rom 1: 22-23: "Claiming to be wise, they (the pagans) became fools; and they exchanged the glory (doxa) of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles."
  • Eph 3: 16: "I pray that, according to the riches of his glory (doxa), he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,"
  • Rom 6: 4: "Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory (doxa) of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life"

But what particularly distinguishes the New Testament from the rest of the Bible is the attribution of God's doxa to someone other than Him, i.e. to Jesus. This is possible, because through his resurrection Jesus was "glorified", i.e. he ascended into divine glory. For example:

  • Heb 5: 5: "So also Christ did not glorify (doxazō) himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"

  • Heb 2: 7: "You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory (doxa) and honor"

We have already said that, to describe the attribute of the glory of God, the image of light, brightness and illumination is used. This association between brightness and glory is clear in Luke: while Mark speaks of the resplendent garments of Jesus, of a unique whiteness during his transfiguration which represents him after the resurrection, Luke, in addition to mentioning the dazzling whiteness of Jesus' garment, writes :

  • Lk 9: 32: "Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory (doxa) and the two men who stood with him."

This glory of Jesus will be especially visible at the end of time. As a characteristic of God's glory is His power, so will it be at the end of time for Jesus when he comes with glory and power, and for Matthew in his role as judge. For example:

  • Mk 13: 26: "Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory (doxa)."
  • Mt 19: 28: "Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory (doxa), you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel"

And the Christian, as a being saved, as a son of God, is called to share in this glory. Since glory is the attribute of God, to share this glory is to share the being of God, and thus to be completely transformed (going from glory to glory). For example:

  • 2 Thess 2: 14: "For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory (doxa) of our Lord Jesus Christ"
  • 2 Cor 3: 18: "And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory (doxa) of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory (doxa) to another glory (doxa); for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit."

The Gospel of John, which makes extensive use of the noun doxa and the verb doxazō deserves a separate treatment. Indeed, the glory of Jesus is no longer a future reality of which we had an idea only at the transfiguration, but it is already perceptible in the historical Jesus, even if the believer will only see it completely in the afterlife. For example:

  • Jn 1: 14: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory (doxa), the glory (doxa) as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. "
  • Jn 17: 24: "Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory (doxa), which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."

The glory of Jesus unfolds on two different axes, depending on whether he is presented as the one sent by God to save the world, or the Son of Man who came from heaven to reveal heavenly things.

  1. As God's envoy, Jesus must legitimize his mission through signs that put God's power into action. These signs achieve salvation while revealing his eternal doxa as the only Son. Six signs will first be described, and then the seventh will be the final and perfect sign of his death on the cross, which will be presented as the glorification of Jesus, i.e. the re-installation of the obedient Son in eternal splendor, thus completing the revelation of Jesus as the only and true Savior Son. For example:
    • Jn 2: 11: "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory (doxa); and his disciples believed in him."
    • Jn 17: 5: I glorified (doxazō) you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

  2. As the Son of Man who came to reveal heavenly things, the glory of Jesus is no longer a future reality when He comes on the clouds. It is now the end times and the time of judgment. For the influence and power from the raising of the Son of Man on the cross, or if you will, of His glorification, is already at work.
    • Jn 13: 31-32: When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified (doxazō), and God has been glorified (doxazō) in him. If God has been glorified (doxazō) in him, God will also glorify (doxazō) him in himself and will glorify (doxazō) him at once.

How can we summarize this study by J.P. Prévost and P. Létourneau? The human experience of having people who are heavy, i.e. who have a lot of influence and exert a certain power, has provided an image of the transcendence of this God that we cannot see. One of these powerful people was the king in all his splendor. This image allowed the Jewish world to speak of God, the heavy and radiant being, without having to pronounce his name directly. With the New Testament, this glory of God passes into the background, even though it is present, for it is now the glory of Jesus who, through his resurrection, has been glorified, i.e. has attained the glory of God, with whom he shares his influence and impact, even though this glory will only truly appear to the believer when he returns at the end of time. In the same way, the believer is called to share this glory. In all this context, John stands apart: the glory of Jesus was manifested throughout his public life by the signs he performed, especially the final sign of his elevation or glorification on the cross, and it is now that the glory of Jesus is exercised as shown by his victory over evil.

Heaven / heavens (ouranos)
As can be imagined, the word ouranos is quite frequent in the Gospels - Acts, especially among in Matthew the Jew, where it often appears in the plural: Mt = 82; Mk = 18; Lk = 35; Jn = 18; Acts = 26; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Before making a more detailed analysis, we must first consider how the Jewish world represented the universe.

Ancient cosmology

In the cosmology of the ancients, the universe is divided into two main parts

  • Gen 1: 1: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth"

Heaven represents the world above and the earth represents the world below. The world below is that of the earth, a flat earth supported by immense columns or high mountains; above the earth, very high up, there is a solid, half-spherical vault, which rests at the edge of the horizon, the firmament, which separates the world below from the world above, an inaccessible world.

Let us now look at the world above. On the celestial vault or firmament, there are first the stars whose course God has traced, first the sun (Ps 19:5-7), then the moon, and finally he has fixed the stars (Gen 1:16) at their present location.

Above the stars are the upper waters, which God originally separated from the lower waters (Gen 1:6-8), and which He enclosed in vessels. It is from these vessels that rain, snow and hail come; for the vault of the firmament is not watertight, and can therefore open up, for example, to let rain through (drought occurs when the firmament remains closed, see Lk 4:25). This vault must also be half-open to let manna or the Holy Spirit pass through.

Finally, above the upper waters, above the visible world, there is the inaccessible and invisible world, called "heaven of heavens" (see 2 Cor 12:2; Eph 4:10), which is God's dwelling place. This appears as a large house with several floors, for it is to house the angels and various powers with their hierarchy, then God's chosen ones, and finally God himself who seems to inhabit the upper floor.

Thus, heaven usually refers to one of the components of this cosmology, the world above the firmament, as opposed to the world below the firmament. But let us note that these two components, the heaven and the earth, are destined to disappear, or to use the evangelical vocabulary, they are destined to "pass away". (Mk 13: 31 || Lk 16: 17 || Mt 24: 35) (On this cosmology, see L. Monloubou - F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Québec : Desclée – Anne Sigier, 1984, p. 121.)

Three meaning to the word "heaven"

Once we understand this cosmology, we can examine the use that the evangelists make of the word ouranos. The realities to which the word refers can be grouped into three main categories.

  1. The word "heaven" is a euphemism for God Himself. Since heaven is the place where He dwells, then to refer to that place is to refer to God. For example:
    • Jn 3: 27 : "John answered, 'No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven (ouranos).'"
    • Lk 11: 16 : "Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven (ouranos)"

  2. Heaven is that part of the universe that is above the firmament, composed of multiple layers: the stars, the upper waters and the inhabitants of the great house of God. For example:
    • Mt 24: 36: "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heavens (ouranos), nor the Son, but only the Father"
    • Mk 11: 25 : "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heavens (ouranos) may also forgive you your trespasses

  3. Finally, ouranos sometimes refers to the space above us up to the firmament, which we call the atmosphere. It then includes what is above the ground, what is in the air, for example birds in the sky or clouds, all the way to the blue of the firmament. For example:
    • Mt 6: 26: "Look at the birds of the sky (ouranos); they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
    • Lk 18: 13: "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven (ouranos), but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'"

We can now propose this table on the three great realities designated ouranos according to the evangelists.

Above the firmament35721618
The Atmosphere107818

As we can see, for Matthew ouranos refers above all to God and his world, for Mark the reference to the atmosphere and the celestial world appear in equal measure, for Luke ouranos as a celestial world largely dominates both in his gospel and in his Acts, finally for John his interest is God himself.

The singular and plural in the Septuagint

Once these three categories have been identified, one question remains: why is ouranos sometimes in the singular (heaven), why is it sometimes in the plural (heavens)? Let us first note that the Hebrew word for heaven is šāmayim, a plural masculine word. Yet the Septuagint, this Greek translation of the Hebrew text, translated for example Gen 1:1 ("In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth") with ouranos in the singular, even though šāmayim is plural, and our Bibles have done the same. On the other hand, André Chouraqui literally translated Gen 1: 1: "In the beginning Elohîms created heavens and the earth", and therefore šāmayim is always rendered by a plural: heavens. Of the 599 occurrences of ouranos in the Septuagint (including the four books of the Maccabees, the Odes and Psalms of Solomon, the version of Theodotion of Daniel, Bel and Susanna, and the version of the Vaticanus of Joshua, Judges and Tobit), 544 are in the singular, i.e. more than 90% of the cases. On this topic, J.-M. Fenasse et J. Giblet (Vocabulaire de théologie biblique. Paris : Cerf, 1981, p. 166-167) write:

Judaism and the NT have accentuated the religious value of this plural, to the point that the Kingdom of Heavens becomes identical with the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, neither in the LXX nor in the NT can it be assumed as a rule that heaven designates the physical sky, and the heavens the dwelling place of God. And 'it happens that this plural can express the conception widespread in the East of several superimposed heavens (cf. 2 Cor 12:2; Eph 4:10), it is often only an expression of lyrical and poetic enthusiasm (cf. Deut 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27). The Bible does not know two types of heavens, one that is material and the other spiritual. But in the visible sky, it discovers the mystery of God and his work.

It should be remembered that the Greek translators of the Hebrew text allowed themselves a certain freedom and were not always consistent. However, the choice between singular or plural for ouranos often seems to obey a certain logic, even if the Hebrew word is always in the plural. Let us take the book of Psalms, for example, where of the 77 occurrences of ouranos, 49 are in the plural (64%). When the author wants to emphasize the greatness, extent and complexity of what God has created, including the stars and all the levels of what makes up heaven, he uses the plural. When he wants to involve all those in heaven to proclaim God's greatness as a great choir, he uses the plural. Or when he refers to the dwelling place of God on the top floor of the whole of heaven, and to indicate his superiority over all heavenly beings, he uses the plural form. For example:

  • Ps 8: 4: LXX "When I see the heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have created, I say..."
  • Ps 88: 6: LXX "The heavens bear witness to Your wonders, Lord, and to Your truth in the assembly of saints"
  • Ps 112: 4: LXX "The Lord is exalted above all nations, and His glory above the heavens"

On the other hand, when it is a question of opposing or contrasting the two great realities of heaven and earth, then the author uses the singular (like the translator of Genesis with "God created heaven and earth"). In the same way, when he designates heaven as a place in relation to the earth, for example a place from which God looks at men, he uses the singular. When he intends to designate by euphemism the very being of God, source of intervention, he uses the singular. Finally, when he refers to the atmosphere in which lightning and thunder are unfolding, he uses the singular. For example:

  • Ps 49, 4 : LXX "He will summon heaven and earth to judge his people. "
  • Ps 79, 15 : LXX "God of hosts, come to us; look down from heaven; and see; and visit this vineyard"
  • Ps 77, 24 : LXX "And he rained manna on them to feed them, and he gave them bread from heaven"
  • Ps 103, 12 : LXX "Above them, the birds of the sky will make their nests; they will make their songs heard from among the rocks"

The singular and plural in the Gospels

Among the evangelists, the same trend is observed as in the Septuagint: 64% of the 179 occurrences in the Gospel-Acts are in the singular. But this proportion varies according to the evangelists, especially in Matthew where the plural dominates; here is the singular/plural ratio according to each evangelist: Mt = 27/55; Mk = 13/5; Lk = 31/4; Jn = 18/0; Acts = 24/2. Let us examine each of the evangelists by approaching them with the three realities that ouranos can designate.

  1. Mark

    Note that Mark always uses the singular, unless he is referring to a passage from the Old Testament (Mk 1:10-11 would be an echo of "Ah! If you tear the heavens apart" from Isa 63:19; Mk 13:25 would be an echo of "all the stars will fall" from Isa 34:4; as for Mk 11:25 and Mk 12:25, these verses would have been influenced, according to M.E. Boismard, Synopse of the Four Gospels, p. 347, by a first version of Matthew, called Intermediate Matthew, which Mark would have known). Here is a table of the distribution of ouranos in singular/plural forms.

    Above the firmament527
    Atmosphere under the firmament077

    1. Heaven is a euphemism for God without naming Him.

      In this case, ouranos is always in the singular, as we have seen in the Septuagint Psalms. For example:

      • Mk 8: 11: "The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven (ouranos), to test him"l’épreuve »
      • Mk 11: 30: "Did the baptism of John come from heaven (ouranos), or was it of human origin? Answer me"

    2. Heaven above the firmament

      Of the seven occurrences, five are plural. We have justified three of these plurals by the fact that Mark refers to passages from Isaiah. As for the other two plurals, it could be an influence of a first version of Matthew that Mark knew; this would be quite obvious in Mk 11:25 with the expression "your Father who is in heavens", the only case in Mark, but which appears 13 times in the Gospel of Matthew. Finally, it should be noted that Mark, although he is a great storyteller, is not always consistent. We need only compare the next two verses, where in the first one he speaks of angels in "heavens" and in the second one of angels in "heaven"; it is also possible that we are faced with a copyist error.

      • Mk 12: 25: "For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heavens (ouranos)."
      • Mk 13: 32: "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven (ouranos), nor the Son, but only the Father"

    3. The atmosphere up to the firmament

      Ouranos is always in the singular to refer to the space where the birds fly, where the clouds circulate, or to designate the four cardinal points. In the same vein, the sky is the place where we look up when we raise our heads. A few examples:

      • Mk 7: 34: "Then looking up to heaven (ouranos), he sighed and said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, "Be opened.'"
      • Mk 13: 27: "Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (ouranos)."

    In short, Mark, who first addresses his community in Rome, has a limited interest in heaven and tends to simplify this universe.

Noun ouranos in Mark
  1. Matthew

    From the outset it should be noted that in the Jew Matthew, the plural largely dominates: 55 occurrences out of 82. This is not surprising, since the Hebrew word for heaven, šāmayim, is a plural word. So it is easy to understand that expressions such as "your Father in heavens", which occurs 13 times in his gospel, and "kingdom of heavens", which occurs 32 times, fit well in a Jewish milieu.

    The following table shows the distribution of the masculine and plural according to the three realities designated by ouranos. We have refined our analysis by indicating when the word seems to have been copied from Mark or Document Q (thus not specific to Matthew), and when the word is specific to him (not found in Mark or Document Q, and so in the catogory "proper"). Note that we have put in the "proper" category the cases where Matthew has "heavens" and its parallel has "heaven". It is not always easy to determine which of Matthew and Luke best reflects the Document Q; the majority of Bible scholars agree that Luke best respects the original source; but, while taking this position, we believe that there are cases where Matthew best reflects this very ancient source, as in the case of "kingdom of heavens" which Luke would have transformed into "kingdom of God".

    God (proper)32234
    God (not proper)033
    Above the firmament (proper)17724
    Above the firmament (not proper)6511
    Atmosphere under the firmament (proper)066
    Atmosphere under the firmament (not proper)044

    1. Heaven is a euphemism for God without naming Him.

      We can see that a total of 32 times ouranos is plural, which seems very impressive. But we must immediately add that these 32 occurrences designate the "kingdom of heavens". If we removed this expression, we would find ourselves with five occurrences of the word in the singular only. Thus, Matthew likes above all to refer to God by the word "heavens" in the expression "kingdom of heaven"s. In Jewish cosmology, God occupies the top floor of this complex and inaccessible world. Otherwise he uses the singular, as in 5:34 and 23:22 where ouranos is his own, or as in 16:1 and 21:25 where he copies Mark. For example:

      • Mt 5: 34: "But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven (ouranos), for it is the throne of God" (see also 23: 22)
      • Mt 16: 1: "The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven (ouranos)"

    2. Heaven above the firmament

      As we have seen by examining Jewish cosmology, the world above the firmament is a complex world where the stars (sun, moon, stars), the upper sea, then the celestial spirits and finally God are housed. It is a plural world and this is reflected in Matthew where the plural dominates. First of all, at the top dwells God, so that we find 13 times the expression: your father who is in heavens. For example:

      • Mt 6: 9: "Pray then in this way: Our Father in heavens (ouranos), hallowed be your name"

      Further down in this house dwell angels and various spiritual forces called powers. For example:

      • Mt 24: 36: "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heavens (ouranos), nor the Son, but only the Father."
      • Mt 24: 29: "Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven (ouranos), and the powers of heavens (ouranos) will be shaken"

      Then there is a place for God's chosen ones, and to choose them, a large book where the good deeds of each are recorded. For example:

      • Mt 5: 12: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heavens (ouranos), for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. "
      • Mt 19: 21: "Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heavens (ouranos); then come, follow me"

      So, when this heavenly world opens, it is a complex and plural universe that opens:

      • Mt 3: 16: "And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens (ouranos) were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him"

      When does Matthew use the singular? As we have seen in the Septuagint, ouranos is singular when it is contrasted or opposed to earth, as in the expression "heaven and earth", or when there is a movement back and forth between heaven and earth; in this case heaven is considered as a single entity. For example:

      • Mt 5: 18: "For truly I tell you, until heaven (ouranos) and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished"
      • Mt 11: 23: "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven (ouranos)? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day"

      Thus, Matthew's world is typical of a good Jew.

    3. The atmosphere up to the firmament

      In a manner very similar to Mark, "heaven" is always in the singular in Matthew to designate the space above us that surrounds us, and which designates three things:

      • The area where the birds are deployed : "Look at the birds of the sky (ouranos); they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (6: 26; see also 8: 20; 13: 32)
      • The firmament towards which the gaze is directed when one raises the head: "Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven (ouranos), and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds" (14: 19)
      • The area of wind, clouds, thunderstorms and the color of the firmament: "He answered them, 'When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky (ouranos) is red.'" (16: 2; see also 16: 3); or: "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven (ouranos), and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see 'the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven (ouranos)' with power and great glory" (24: 30; see also 24: 64)

Noun ouranos in Matthew

  1. Luke

    In Luke, both in his gospel and in Acts, the singular largely dominates. As we have done for Matthew, we have identified his own occurrences in the gospels, i.e., that are not a simple copy of Mark or, when he takes up Document Q, his version is different from Matthew's.

    God (proper)033
    God (proper)033
    Above the firmament (proper)11314
    Above the firmament (not proper)347
    Atmosphere under the firmament (proper)044
    Atmosphere under the firmament (not proper)044

    Above the firmament21618
    Atmosphere under the firmament088

    The contrast with Matthew is striking. In about 90% of the cases, ouranos is singular both in the Gospel and in Acts. And this word is rarely used to designate God in the Gospels, and never in Acts.

    1. Heaven to designate God

      To designate God, ouranos is always in the singular. It is concentrated in three scenes: the one where some people ask Jesus for "a sign from heaven" after an exorcism to prove that it is not by the prince of the demons that he performs these exorcisms (11: 16), then in the parables around the prodigal son (15: 7.18.21), and finally the one about the debate around John's baptism (20: 4-5).

      This last scene is borrowed from Mark 11:31-33. The second scene is made up of three parables where we speak of "joy in heaven" (15:7) for one repentant sinner and "sin against heaven" (15:18,21); we can easily imagine that Luke did not invent these parables (the first one is also found in Matthew), and therefore he takes up a tradition he receives. Finally, the scene about the request for a sign from heaven (11:16) is clearly an addition by Luke who inserts it in the middle of a scene he takes from Mark. Indeed, Mk 3:22-30 recounts the skepticism of the scribes about Jesus' exorcisms by accusing him of expelling demons through Beelzebub, followed by Jesus' response that Satan cannot be divided against himself. Lk 11:15-22 repeats this scene in the same sequence, except that between his audience's word of skepticism and Jesus' reply, he inserts this request in 11:16: "Others, in order to test him, demanded a sign from heaven".

      Why such an insertion? One can imagine that for his Greek audience, the discussions around Beelzebul must have seemed a bit exotic, and the reformulation of the problem in terms of a sign from God to express the meaning of Jesus' exorcisms was more understandable.

      In short, Luke does not like euphemisms to refer to God, and does not hesitate to call God by name, hence, for example, the expression "kingdom of God".

    2. Heaven above the firmament

      It is in relation to this reality that the occurrences of ouranos are the most numerous in both Luke's gospel and in his Acts. Let's immediately settle the question of the few occurrences in the plural. In the Gospels, it is a repetition of an expression either from Document Q ("treasure in heavens", 18:22) or from Mark ("powers of heavens", 21:26). In Acts, it is first an introduction to Psalm 110 (2:34) in Peter's mouth, then a reference to Is 63:19 ("I see the heavens open") in Stephen's mouth, the same experience that Jesus had. We must therefore conclude that the plural for ouranos does not really belong to Luke's pen.

      It is therefore in the singular that he considers heaven. This does not mean that his cosmology is very different from Matthew's, but he simplifies things by calling everything above the firmament "heaven" in the singular. It is first of all the residence of God:

      • Lk 3: 22: "and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven (ouranos), "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased" (voir aussi Ac 11, 9)
      • Lk 11: 13: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will Father from heaven (ouranos) give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

      It is the place of residence of the angels:

      • Lk 2: 15: "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven (ouranos), the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us"
      • Lk 22: 43: "Then an angel from heaven (ouranos) appeared to him and gave him strength."

      Even Satan seems to live there, as well as a whole panoply of beings:

      • Lk 10: 18: "He said to them, 'I watched Satan fall from heaven (ouranos) like a flash of lightning.'"
      • Acts 7: 42: "But God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the host of heaven (ouranos), as it is written in the book of the prophets: 'Did you offer to me slain victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?"

      And of course, believers are called to live there :

      • Lk 6: 23: "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven (ouranos); for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets"

      And this is where the Risen Jesus returned:

      • Lk 24: 51: "While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven (ouranos)"
      • Acts 3: 21: "who must remain in heaven (ouranos) until the time of unversal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets."

      As already mentioned, just above the vault of the firmament, there are the stars and the upper sea, responsible for our meteorological phenomena:

      • Lk 4: 25: "But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven (ouranos) was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;"
      • Lk 17: 29: "but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven (ouranos) and destroyed all of them"

      As all this sky is a whole, when it opens, it is a sky in the singular that opens:

      • Lk 3: 21: "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven (ouranos) was opened"

      In short, we find in Luke's gospel the same cosmology as in the others, but with a vocabulary from which the Jewish color has been somewhat removed.

    3. The space above us to the firmament

      In a manner very similar to the other gospels, "heaven" is always singular to designate the space above us that surrounds us, and which designates three things:

      • The area where the birds thrive: "A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the sky (ouranos) ate it up" (Lk 8: 5; see also Lk 9: 58; 13: 19; Acts 10: 12)
      • The firmament to which the gaze is directed when one raises the head: "And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven (ouranos), and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd" (Lk 9: 16; see also Lk 18: 13; Acts 1: 10-11; 7: 55; 11: 6)
      • The area of wind, clouds, thunderstorms and the color of the firmament: "You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky (ouranos), but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" (Lk 12: 56; see also Lk 17: 24; Acts 2: 2)

Noun ouranos in Luke

  1. John

    The first thing to say about John is that the word "heaven", out of the 18 occurrences, appears only in the singular, never in the plural. Let us consider this table:

    Above the firmament 066
    Atmosphere under the firmament 011

    As this table shows, ouranos refers above all to God to avoid pronouncing his name, as was customary in the Jewish world. Let's take a closer look.

    1. Heaven to designate God

      After Matthew, it is John who seems to use the most ouranos as a euphemism for God. But in fact, it is all focused on two scenes: the first is John the Baptist's response to his disciples in support of Jesus' baptizing action: (Jn 3:27 "A man can take nothing for himself beyond what is given from heaven"), and the second is the one surrounding the discourse in chap. 6 on the bread of life that revolves around the manna/true bread of life from heaven. Nothing will be found elsewhere. Thus we have on the one hand John the Baptist, a worthy representative of the Jewish world, and on the other hand this scene of the Exodus where the Jewish people were fed with manna in the desert, now replaced by Jesus himself. Thus, ouranos belongs to the ancient world for the evangelist John, and he will no longer use it elsewhere.

    2. Heaven above the firmament

      The representation of heaven above the firmament is rather schematic in John's work: we learn almost nothing about its composition. Of course, it is God's dwelling place:

      • Jn 12: 28: "Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven (ouranos), "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again"

      It is from this dwelling place in heaven that Jesus comes:

      • Jn 3: 13: "No one has ascended into heaven (ouranos) except the one who descended from heaven (ouranos), the Son of Man"

      And it is also the home of the angels :

      • Jn 1: 51: "And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven (ouranos) opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man"

      But that's it. Nothing about other powers, or the stars, or the higher sea, or even the believers (although we have Jn 14:3: "And when I have gone and prepared a place for you").

    3. Atmosphere under the firmament

      This meaning of the word is almost completely absent from the fourth gospel, except in 17:1: "Thus spoke Jesus, and looking up to heaven, he said, 'Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you". Thus, we see in his gospel no reference to the birds of the sky or to the elements of nature such as the clouds or the weather.

Noun ouranos in John

Thus, "heaven" is a word that has a symbolic value and has different meanings. It can designate the space that today we call: atmosphere. For the people of the first century, this is where we find the birds, the clouds, the lightning and the firmament which can take on different colors depending on the weather. Beyond what we call "atmosphere", the people of antiquity placed another world, also called "heaven", where they saw different strata, the lights like the sun, the moon and the stars, then the water tanks that gave us rain, and finally, even further away, the world of God, unreachable and ineffable, a kind of big house, a whole panoply of beings and strata, the chosen ones, the angels, the various powers, and finally God himself. Because of this composite side, this milieu was called "heavens" rather than "heaven" in Jewish circles. Finally, because of its remote and unreachable nature, heaven is also a euphemism for God, without pronouncing his name.

In conclusion, we cannot help but quote the following sentence from Mark 13:31, taken up by Matthew and Luke: "Heaven and earth will pass away, my words will not pass away". Does this mean that even heaven will disappear? With a bit of humor, we could say that this ancient cosmology has "already passed" and has been replaced by a more modern one. Nevertheless, let's try to understand what is meant here.

Let us recall that Mark's words are situated in his apocalyptic discourse where our entire universe is destined to collapse. This means that for Mark this world divided between the earth below the firmament and what is above the firmament is destined to disappear: the stars with the sun and the moon, as well as the upper sea, which all belong to that part above the firmament, are collapsing; thus, a part of what he calls heaven is destined to disappear. In this final representation, everyone is somehow in God's universe. Of course, all this is connected to a cosmology that is for us obsolete. But there is good news here: for it is the announcement that the duality of heaven and earth is to be replaced by a unified world that lives in tune with God. Can we not find a greater source of hope?

Holy / Holiness (Summary of Jean L'Hour et Jean-Yves Thériault, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard – Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 165-170 and p. 386-390)

Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the holiness vocabulary (842 uses) is derived from the root qōdeš. In Akkadian, Babylonian, and Ugaric literature, this word means first of all: to consecrate, dedicate a person or thing to the divinity. As a result of such a consecration, the person or thing is removed from common use. We even have an example in Syro-Palestine where the word designates a goddess of love and fertility, the goddess Qudshu: being the wife of all the gods, she was undoubtedly consecrated to them.

When we go through the Old Testament, we find different nuances of the vocabulary of holiness that can be grouped in this way.

  • In the texts of the priestly tradition (Ex 20-31; Lev 1-16; legislative section of Numbers), the term qōdeš is used as an attribute of the sanctuary or an annex to it after an act of consecration, but never as an attribute of Yahweh himself or of the people; persons, places, or objects are thus used for the service of worship.

  • Deuteronomy makes moderate use of the word (17 times). What characterizes it is the use of the expression "holy people" ʿam qādōš to express the fact that it belongs exclusively to Yahweh by virtue of its election and setting apart among all peoples (Deuteronomy 7:6: ""For you are a people consecrated (ʿam qādôš) to Yahweh your God, whom Yahweh your God has chosen for his own people from among all the nations of the earth"). From this stems certain requirements such as keeping the commandments, abstaining from unclean animals and idols, and keeping away from pagan practices.

  • The Law of Holiness (Lev 16-27) offers another set in which the word designates first of all everything that is consecrated to worship, as in the priestly tradition. But it also has a very particular use: "Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy" (19:2). Indeed, Yahweh is the God of Israel, for he brought his people out of Egypt (19:36) and by this act he took possession of them. Therefore, the people have the duty to belong totally to Yahweh by obeying the laws of worship and ethics.

  • In Isaiah we find the expression "Saint of Israel" (qědôš yiśrāʾēl). God is unique, for he has attached himself to Israel and Israel has attached himself to God. Holiness does not express a metaphysical quality of God, but his relationship to his people. Therefore, one can sing in a liturgical setting: "They (the seraphim) cried out to one another, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, his glory fills the whole earth." (Isaiah 6:3)

  • Finally, the Prophet Ezekiel offers us another set of particular texts on holiness, with, for example, the expression: holy name (šēm qādšî). In the first part of his book, God manifests his holiness by intervening powerfully in history, sometimes to punish, sometimes to save. In spite of all this, the people did not know how to manifest the holiness of God's name. Therefore, Yahweh himself will see to it: "I will sanctify my great name which has been profaned among the nations in whose midst you have profaned it... Then I will take you from among the nations, I will gather you from all foreign lands and bring you back to your own land. I will pour clean water over you and you will be purified... And I will give you a new heart, I will put a new spirit in you, I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit in you and make you walk in my statutes and observe and do my judgments" (Ezekiel 36:23-28). The second part of the book takes place in the temple where God manifests His lordship by consecrating men and things to His exclusive service through worship. So there is a distinction between the holy and the profane: "His priests have violated my law and profaned (ḥālal) my sanctuaries; between the holy (qōdeš) and the profane (ḥōl) they have made no distinction and they have not taught to distinguish between the impure and the pure" (Ezekiel 22:26).

New Testament

In the Greek world, the adjective "saint" (hagios) first appears in the historian Herodotus (5th B.C.) to describe a temple. Holy is that which is feared with respect, which is consecrated and with which one should have no contact, when speaking of places and things.

In the New Testament the adjective designates various realities: the Breath or Divine Spirit, God, Jesus, the temple, a person, the angels, the apostles, the prophets, the law, a kiss, the city, the covenant, the earth, the offering, the firstfruits, the root, the mountain, the faith, a church, a calling, a conduct, a nation, the priesthood, the militia; depending on the circumstances, almost any reality can become holy. In the case of persons, it is said that they are close to or imbued with God, that they are related, devoted or consecrated to him: "We believe, and we have recognized that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:69). On things, it is said that they are of divine origin or that they have a relationship with God.

Paul presents us with a special use of the term with "sanctification" (hagiasmos) and the verb "to sanctify" (hagiazō). The verb has God as its subject: "May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). It is related to God's justifying action: "But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11). In a way, we find again the idea of the Old Testament: by his action of justification or liberation, God chose and acquired a people: "Thus he chose us in him, even before the foundation of the world, to be holy and immaculate in his presence, in love" (Ephesians 1:4); a holy people is a people consecrated to God, and therefore consecrated to a life of love, and to walk in the footsteps of him who is the mirror of God, Jesus. Sanctification, therefore, implies a journey: "Having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, completing our sanctification in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).

In short, to say of a reality that it is holy is, of course, to say that it is different from others, i.e. from the ordinary or profane world, but we are not speaking of its intrinsic value, but rather of the fact that it is consecrated to God; we are at the level of relationship. In the Old Testament, by intervening to liberate Israel, God acquired an exclusive relationship with this people and expects that its laws be obeyed and that worship and its objects recall this exclusivity. In the New Testament, holy persons and objects will also designate realities consecrated to God, but through Paul the word "sanctification" and the verb "to sanctify" receive a new light to describe the new reality operated by God in Jesus who liberates and acquires a people consecrated to him and must learn to become all that this new life implies, which is fundamentally a reflection of God as perceived in Jesus.

I am (egō eimi) (Largely inspired by Raymond E. Brown, Appendix IV: EGŌ EIMI, Gospel According to John (i-xii). New York: Doubleday, 1980 (The Anchor Bible, 29), p. 533-538).

The expression is composed of the personal pronoun egō (I, me) and the verb eimi (to be) in the present indicative. It is a very common expression in Greek and simply means: it is me, or I am. However, the Gospels, the Old Testament and Greek religious writings have also given it a solemn and sacred meaning. Thus it is found with these two different flavors in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 4; Mk = 2; Lk = 8; Jn = 37; Acts = 10; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0): on the one hand, there is the ordinary meaning (Lk 1:19: "And the angel answered and said to him, 'I am (egō eimi) Gabriel, who stands before God, and I have been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news"; on the other hand, there is the solemn meaning (Jn 8:58): "Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I tell you, before Abraham existed, I am (egō eimi)"). As can be guessed, the solemn meaning appears when the "I" designates Jesus, especially in John: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 32; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is therefore above all the fourth gospel that we should be interested in.

  1. Gospel according to John

    From a grammatical point of view, we can distinguish three categories.

    1. The expression "I am" without predicate
      • 8: 24: "I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am (egō eimi)."
      • 8: 28: "So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am (egō eimi), and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me."
      • 8: 58: "Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am (egō eimi)"
      • 13: 19: "I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am (egō eimi)"

      Such an expression, without predicate, seems incomplete and leaves us a little in the void. But, in fact, it has a revealing or apocalyptic function. More precisely, as will be seen below, it refers to egō eimi as the divine name in the Old Testament and in rabbinic Judaism.

    2. The case where there is no predicate, but we know who it is

      For example: "But he said to them, 'It's me (egō eimi). Don't be afraid." (6, 20). In itself, the expression means: it is indeed me, and not a ghost. But, at the same time, it must be recognized that the Old Testament often uses a similar formula: Do not be afraid, I am the God of your ancestors. Also, we can think that John gives two flavors to this scene, a flavor of everyday life and an epiphanic flavor.

      Another example: "(Jesus said to the guards, 'Who are you looking for?') They said to him, 'Jesus of Nazareth'. He said to them, 'It is I (egō eimi)'... When Jesus said to them, 'It is I (egō eimi),' they turned back and fell to the ground" (18:5-6). The fact that people retreat and fall to the ground suggests a theophany in which people are prostrate in fear of God.

    3. The case of a predicate in the nominative form:
      • 6: 35.51: "I am the bread of life [the living bread]"
      • 8: 12 (9: 5): "I am the light of the world"
      • 10: 7.9: "I am the sheep [for the sheep]"
      • 10: 11.14: "I am the good shepherd"
      • 11: 25: "I am the resurrection and life"
      • 14: 6: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life"
      • 15: 1.5: "I am the [true] vine "

      The emphasis is on the "I" that distinguishes Jesus from the others. For example, "I am the bread" is set in the context of a discussion in which the crowd suggests that the manna given by Moses would come from heaven (6:31). Or the statement "I am the light" occurs at the Feast of Tents and contrasts with the festive lamps that were burning in the women's courtyard in the temple. The double proclamation "I am the gate" and "I am the good shepherd" contrasts with the Pharisees mentioned at the end of ch. 9.

      At the same time, it is not simply a contrast with others, the preaching is also important to identify Jesus with a known reality and to make his role known: his mission is the source of eternal life ("vine", "life", "resurrection"), he is the place to find life ("way", "gate"), he guides to life ("shepherd"), he is the truth ("truth") which is food for life ("bread"). Yet all of these are usually attributes of God. But, as with John, the Son and the Father are one, what is said of the one can be said of the other: God is spirit (4:24), God is light (1 Jn 1:5), God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). In John, the expression "I am" is somewhat equivalent to that found in the synoptics: "the kingdom of God is like...". "The parable revolves around a symbolism of the face of God.

    A quick word about Revelation where the predicate in nominative form is also found. While the fourth gospel adapts the symbolism it finds in the Old Testament (where the bread, light, shepherd and vine symbolically describe God's relationship with Israel), Revelation reuses passages from the Old Testament as they are (for example, "I am Alpha and Omega" 1:8 takes up Isa 41:4: "I am the first, and with the last I shall be again").

  2. The Old Testament as the context of John

    The expression "I am" finds certain parallels in the magical formulas of Isis or in the liturgy of the cult of Mithra. But one would look in vain for a parallel to the absolute use of John's "I am" in pagan religions or even in Gnostic groups. Thus, it is rather on the side of Palestinian Judaism that one must look for the background of the Johannine expression.

    1. The expression "I am Yahweh".

      In Hebrew, this expression simply contains the pronoun "I" (heb. : אֲנִי, transl. :ʾănî), without a linking verb: "I Yahweh". The Greek translation of the Septuagint translated egō kyrios ("I Lord"), but sometimes introduced the verb to be (eimi).

      • Gen 28:13: "I (Heb.: ʾănî: ; LXX : egō) (am) Yahweh, the God of Abraham your ancestor and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie, I give to you and to your descendants"
      • Ezekiel 20:5: "In the day when I chose Israel, when I lifted up my hand to the seed of the house of Jacob, I made myself known to them in the land of Egypt, and I lifted up my hand to them, saying, 'I (Heb.: ʾănî; LXX: egō) (am) the Lord your God"
      • Ex 20:5: "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to these gods, nor serve them, for I Yahweh (Heb ʾānōkî yhwh, LXX: egō eimi kyrios) your God, (I am) a jealous God who punishes the iniquity of the fathers on the children, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren for those who hate me".

      In these passages, the expression aims to reassure the people and invites them not to be afraid, or to assert God's authority.

      But the expression also has a revelatory function, i.e. God's role in relation to his people.

      • Ex 6: 7: "I will take you for my people and I will be your God. And you will know that I (am) Yahweh (Heb.: ʾănî yhwh; LXX: egō kyrios), your God, who took you from the Egyptians' chores. "

      This passage can be related to John 8:28: "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am (egō eimi) and that I do nothing of myself, but I say what the Father has taught me.

    2. "I am" in Deutero-Isaiah (40 - 55)

      The expression serves first of all to affirm the oneness of God.

      • Isa 45:18: "For thus says Yahweh, the Creator of heaven, 'He is God, who fashioned the earth and made it, and founded it; he did not create it empty, but fashioned it to be inhabited. I (am) Yahweh (Heb.: ʾănî yhwh; LXX: egō eimi), there is no other".

      But it is also used to express the divine name.

      • Isa 43:25: "I, I, the one (Heb.: ʾānōkî ʾānōkî hûʾ, LXX : egō eimi egō eimi) who blot out your crimes for my sake, and I will not remember your sins".
      • Isa 51:12: "I, I, the one (Heb.: ʾānōkî ʾānōkî hûʾ, LXX : egō eimi egō eimi) who comforts you; who are you to fear the mortal man, the son of man destined to the fate of the grass?

      These passages can also be translated: I am "I am" that erases your crimes or consoles you, making "I am" a name. It is in the same line that the following passage should be understood.

      • Isa 52:6: "Therefore shall my people know my name, therefore shall they know in that day that I am who (Heb.: ʾănî hûʾ, LXX : egō eimi autos) say: "Here I am."

      Thus, Yahweh reveals his name: "I am", translated into Greek by: egō eimi. This is the interpretation found in the rabbinic tradition of the 2nd century AD.

    3. The Johannine tradition in this Old Testament context.

      The fourth gospel becomes perfectly intelligible in this context: the evangelist speaks of Jesus in the same terms that Isaiah uses to speak of Yahweh.

      Jn 8: 28Isa 53: 10
      When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am (egō eimi) and that I do nothing of myself, but I say what the Father has taught me.You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, you are the servant whom I have chosen for myself, that you may know and believe in me and understand that I (am) he (Heb.: ʾănî hûʾ, LXX: egō eimi), before me no god has been formed and after me there will be none.

      John thus underlines the implication of the divine dimension in the use of egō eimi. This is why the Jews will then want to stone Jesus for this blasphemy.

      The use of "I Am" as a divine name in late Judaism may explain its frequent presence in John. This is how Jesus reveals to his disciples the name of the Father (17:6,26), that he came in His name (5:43), that he does His works (10:25), that the Father gave him His name (17:11-12). The fact that Jesus will be glorified also means the glorification of the Father's name (12: 23.28), so that believers will be able to make requests in the name of Jesus (14: 13; 15: 16.23). What, then, is the name that he will glorify through his death and resurrection? The Acts of the Apostles and Paul reveal this name: Kyrios or Lord ("Therefore God exalted him and gave him the Name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus all things might kneel down in the highest heaven, on earth and in hell, and that every tongue might speak of Jesus Christ, that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father", Phil 2:9-11); this is the name that the Old Testament gives to Yahweh. John sometimes gives this name to Jesus (see 20:28: "Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God'"), but he much prefers: egō eimi.

      This use of egō eimi in an absolute way is the basis for the other uses, i.e. with a predicate (I am bread, I am light, I am life... etc.). This was the case in the Old Testament.

      • Ps 35:3: "Say to my soul, 'It is I (Heb.: ʾănî; LXX : egō eimi) your salvation.
      • Ex 15:26: "For I am Yahweh (Heb.: ʾănî yhwh; LXX : egō eimi), the one who heals you.
      • Deut 32:29: "See now that I, I am He (Heb.: ʾănî ʾănî hûʾ, LXX : egō eimi) and no one else with me is God! It is I who kill and I who make alive".

      Finally, the sapiential writings exerted a certain influence on John. One does not find the expression "I am" as such, but Wisdom is expressed in the first person.

      • Prov 8: 12: "I (Heb.: ʾănî; LXX : egō), the Wisdom, live with know-how, I possess the science of reflection".
      • Sir 24:3: "I (egō) came forth from the mouth of the Most High and as a vapour I covered the earth".

  3. The use of the expression in the synoptic gospels

    In the midst of the early Christian communities, it does not seem that John was the first to use the expression: I am.

    • Mk 14:62 || Lk 22:70: "I (Messiah, Son of the Blessed) am (egō eimi), says Jesus, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven".
    • Mt 14:27 (Mk 6:50): "But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'Be confident, it is I (egō eimi), do not be afraid.
    • Lk 24:36: "As they were saying this, he stood in the midst of them and said to them, "Peace be with you. [It is I (egō eimi), have no fear] (from Codex Seidelianus I, 9th century and Codex Guelferbytanus A, 6th century)".

    Mark's text could be a simple statement, but the fact that it raises an accusation of blasphemy directs us to the divine name. Matthew, for his part, suggests more than a simple acknowledgement of Jesus by the very fact that Jesus' words subsequently lead to a profession of faith. Finally, the fact that Luke's text is set in a paschal context suggests a scene of revelation of Jesus' lordship. In short, in his theological statements John probably capitalized on an expression that already existed in Christian circles and elaborated it further.

Jewish Passover (Extract from Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament, Seuil, 1975, p. 405).

Greek pascha, Hebrew pèsah, Aramaic pashâ (etymology discussed: "appeasement", "blow" striking the first-born, "jumping over" the houses of the Hebrews). It refers to the feast as well as to the lamb sacrificed.

Israel's main solemnity began in April on the evening of the 14th Nisan (the last day before the full moon following the spring equinox) and lasted for seven days, the week of unleavened bread (Ex 12:15-20). The ancient nomadic spring festival (the shepherds offered the first fruits of the flock) had been transformed into a commemoration of the people's founding event: Yahweh bringing the Hebrews out of Egypt through the Red Sea (Ex 12:11-14.23). Every Jew should, in principle, go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast par excellence of the Passover, which Jesus did.

According to the ritual probably in force at the time of Jesus, the Passover meal was prepared at the end of the afternoon of the 14th nisan. Fermented bread could not be eaten for the next seven days. Each family was required to sacrifice one year-old male lamb (or goat) without blemish in the Temple. Its blood was carefully collected and then, with a branch of hyssop, the uprights and lintel of the doorways of the houses were marked. Then the lamb was roasted whole without breaking any bones (John 19:33). Then, when sufficient numbers were present, the guests would gather, preferably in the upper chamber, which was decorated with carpets for the occasion. The meal was inaugurated by a cup of wine on which the president pronounced two blessings and which was then circulated around the table. A basin of water was passed from hand to hand to allow the participants to purify themselves before the Passover meal. While a second glass of wine was passed around, the president explained to the youngest of the guests the meaning of the different rites. The lamb is the one who turned the exterminating angel away from the houses of the Hebrews before leaving Egypt; the unleavened bread is the one that the Hebrews had hastily taken away from Egypt without having had time to ferment (Ex 12:17-20). Then, after the singing of the opening song of Hallel (Ps 113-114), the presider of the meal took the bread, broke it, and distributed it to the guests. Easter lamb was eaten with bitter herbs and pieces of unleavened bread dipped in haroset (a compote of figs and grapes baked in wine, which symbolized the bricks made by the Hebrews during their bondage in Egypt). The paschal lamb was to be eaten whole and its remains burned before daybreak. The cup of blessing was then drunk, and the end of Hallel was then intoned (Ps 115-118). A final cup of wine would bring the meal to a close. One would separate, but without leaving the house, from which one was not allowed to leave during the entire Easter night.

John the Baptist
His name is John (in Greek Iōanēs or Iōannēs, in Hebrew yôḥānān or yĕhôḥānān, which means "Yahweh gives grace"), so-called the Baptist. The attribute "Baptist" has always been associated with his name, because he distinguished himself by baptizing people. To understand the meaning of this gesture, one must first look at the context of the first century.


Our word "baptize" comes from the Greek: baptizō, which means to dive or soak in water, and it is from this Greek word that the Septuagint used to translate Hebrew: ṭābal. When we talk about diving or dipping, we are referring to water.

Since the dawn of time, especially in the East, water rites and ritual ablutions have been practiced (for what follows, see Charles Perrot, Jésus et l'histoire. Paris: Desclée, 1979, pp. 99-136). For water washes, purifies and invigorates, it is a sign of life and fecundity. In the religious world, plunging into water allows one to remove the profane world to enter the world of the sacred, the divine world: for the distance between the two worlds is so great that a symbolic gesture was needed to signify the passage from one to the other. This "purification" carried out by water was ritual and had above all a symbolic value. For example, among the Jews, priests had to wash before entering the temple (2 Ch 4:2-6), before and after ceremonies, as well as at Yom Kippur (Lev 16:24-26). This purification was also required of the general population in some cases, such as lepers once they had been cured or those who had been in contact with a corpse, in order to be able to reintegrate the worship community and the temple.

But the baptism of John the Baptist is completely different: it is no longer a simple purification ritual that is regularly repeated, but a dive into the water once and for all, and this dive forgives sins. So it was something new and unique. But where did John the Baptist get the idea? We don't know, but we can put forward two facts.

  1. In the Old Testament there is an account with similar characteristics, that of Naaman, the leper, leader of the army of the king of Aram (2 Kings 5:1-19). Following the advice of a Jewish slave to go to the Prophet of Samaria to be cured of leprosy, Naaman went to the king of Israel and then to the Prophet Elisha, who asked him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River to cleanse his flesh. After a moment of skepticism, Naaman dived into the Jordan River as prescribed, and his flesh became clean like that of a small child. This episode of a form of baptism had no sequel in the history of Israel. But the Baptist movement may have found a source of inspiration in it.

  2. In the first century (CE and before) there was a bubbling of religious fervor in Palestine. Under the impulse of the Pharisees, religious practices were democratized, i.e. the word of God was considered to be addressed to everyone and not only to priests, and according to an exegesis of Exodus 19:6, all Israelites were part of the "priestly people". From then on, the practices of worship around water will develop and spread, and above all apply to everyone. But all this has a perverse effect: the progressive compartmentalization of society, the separation between the pure and the impure, i.e. those who are able to follow all the religious rules in their meticulousness, and those who cannot. And among the latter was the group called "sinners" because of their work or social situation, such as doctors, butchers, shepherds, prostitutes and customs officers, because their function brought them into contact with pagans, women or corpses. As a result of all this, "sinners" no longer had access to the temple, and therefore no longer had access to the only possible place for the forgiveness of sins through the various sacrifices of the altar, including that of Yom Kippur (the Great Forgiveness); it was a complete dead end. This is what the Baptist movement will respond to.

The Baptist Movement

What is it all about? It is a "movement of religious revival, especially in popular circles, which proclaims the imminence of the eschatological judgment and already calls for salvation through conversion of heart and the rite of immersion in living water for the forgiveness of sins" (Perrot, op. cit., pp. 111-112). This rite is addressed to all, pure and impure, Jews or pagans, without any other condition than that of the attitude of the heart. It is a rite of forgiveness of sins, and therefore by its very nature challenges the claim of the temple with all its sacrifices to be the only place of forgiveness of sins. One cannot baptize oneself as one does ritual ablutions, it is someone else who confers baptism, and then a special bond is created between the baptizer and the baptized (as seen in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12-15) and which is a source of division in the community). In this movement, we know of course John, son of Zechariah. But there was also "a certain Bannus, who lived in the desert, who was content to be clothed with what the trees provided him, and to eat what the earth produced by itself, and used frequent ablutions of cold water by day and night, for the sake of purity" (mentionned by Flavius Josephus, Autobiography, #11). In the 2nd century AD, Justin also mentions Jewish Baptists in his Dialogue with Trypho, 80). Even today, there are still thousands of Mandeans in southern Iraq and Iran who use John the Baptist's name and practice the reiterative rite of baptism: it forgives sin in the living water of the Jordan-Euphrates, rejecting bloody sacrifices and calling all men to salvation (see J. Schmitt, art. Mandéens, in Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, 6(1957)758-787).

What do we know about John the Baptist? The testimonies are few, but sufficient to give us some idea.

Testimonies about John the Baptist

  1. Flavius Josephus (Jewish historian: 37 to 100 AD)

    Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquities (18, 116-119), offers us the following text on John the Baptist (in italics a few comments):

    Now, there were Jews who thought that if Herod's army had perished (defeated at the hands of the Nabataeans in AD 36), it was by divine will and in just vengeance of John, nicknamed the Baptist. Indeed, Herod had had him killed, although he was a good man, and he excited the Jews to practice virtue, to be righteous to one another and pious to God in order to receive baptism; for it was on this condition that God considered baptism to be pleasing, if it served not to be forgiven for certain faults, but to purify the body, after the soul had first been purified by righteousness. People had gathered around him, for they were very exalted when they heard him speak. Herod feared that such a power of persuasion might cause a revolt, the crowd seeming ready to follow the man's advice in every way, so he preferred to seize him before any trouble had arisen over him, rather than to have to repent later, if there was any movement, for he had exposed himself to peril. Because of Herod's suspicions, John was sent to Macherus (now in Jordan, about 6 miles from the shores of the Dead Sea, see the map of Palestine), the fortress mentioned above, and was killed there. The Jews believed that it was to avenge him that a catastrophe had befallen the army, God wanting to punish Herod (Antipas).

    A few comments on the Josephus' text.

    • John the Baptist is seen by Josephus as a good man who invited people to practice virtue, to be righteous to one another, to be pious to God in order to receive baptism.
    • John the Baptist had a great success with the crowds who were exhilarated to hear him
    • If John the Baptist was put to death by Herod Antipas, it was for political reasons: John the Baptist had such a hold on the crowds that Herod feared that he would stir up a revolt; this motive is totally different from that provided by the evangelists who invoke moral reasons, Herod not appreciating his reproaches about his marriage to his brother's wife.

  2. Paul of Tarsus (according to his so-called "authentic" letters which go from the year 51 to 63)

    From Paul, there is complete silence about John the Baptist. This is all the more surprising since he must have been familiar with the whole saga around the Baptist. In fact, his collaborator, Apollos, first knew about the baptism of John the Baptist: "He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and in the fervor of his soul he preached and taught accurately about Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John" (Acts 18:25). Moreover, according to Acts 19:1-3, when Paul goes to Ephesus, he meets people who have only received the baptism of John the Baptist, and Luke puts these words in Paul's mouth: "John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who would come after him, that is, in Jesus" (19:4). Why the silence of Paul in his letters? One can only speculate by making inferences from the Gospels: Paul, and a number of Christians, wanted to separate the Baptist movement from Jesus, to avoid confusion and accentuate the distance. This is what the Gospels do in their own way with statements such as: "I tell you that there is none greater than John among the children of women, yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he" (Lk 7:28; Mt 11:11). Similarly, Paul speaks very little about baptism, and in his letter to the Corinthians he insists that he baptized very little, for his mission was to proclaim the gospel, not to baptize (1 Cor 1:17). John the Baptist was very influential and his movement continued parallel to that of Jesus, and after him, Christians had to seek ways to recognize his contribution while distancing themselves from it. Paul chose silence.

  3. The Gospel of Mark (circa 67 AD)

    With the gospel of Mark, we are 10 to 15 years after some of Paul's letters. From the outset, he presents John the Baptist as the one who found himself preparing the ministry of Jesus, as his precursor, identifying him with the angel that Yahweh sends before his people on the way to the promised land in Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1, and with the voice of Isaiah 40:3, which announces a new exodus to leave the captivity of Babylon and return to the country. Let us consider Mark's text with the old testament texts he quotes.

    Mk 1: 2-3Old Testament
    As it is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah,
    Behold, I send my angel (messenger) before you, to prepare your way.Ex 23: 20 LXX: "Behold, I send my angel (messenger) before you, that he may preserve you in the way, and bring you into the land which I have prepared for you.
    Mal 3, 1 LXX : "Behold, I send my angel (messenger), and he will keep watch over the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come into his temple with the angel of the covenant which you have desired; behold, he comes, says the Lord Almighty."
    A voice cries out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.Isa 40: 3 LXX: "A voice cries out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."

    For Mark, John the Baptist prepared the ground for Jesus' mission. Moreover, he makes a number of statements about him

    • He has ministered in isolated regions, which he calls desert (in Palestine, it is not the Sahara, but rather arid regions without trees)(1, 4).
    • He proclaimed the baptism of conversion for the forgiveness of sins, typical of the Baptist movement (1, 4).
    • Baptisms were performed in the little Jordan river (1: 5)
    • He had some popular success (1:5), so much so that the chief priests, scribes and elders were afraid to speak ill of him because of the crowd (11:32).
    • He was successful even with the authorities, because Herod Antipas considered him a just and holy man, and he listened to him with pleasure, and even protected him (6, 20).
    • People consider him a prophet (11: 32).
    • Mark sees him as the Elijah who is to precede the coming of the Messiah, and so he is clothed like the prophet Elijah in camel skin (1:6; see 2 Kings 8:1) and feeds only on what nature offers him.
    • He had disciples who had become attached to him (2:18; 6:29).
    • Like every good Jew, he and his disciples respected the fasting periods (2:18).
    • He baptizes Jesus, originally from Galilee, in the Jordan River (1: 9).
    • As Jesus begins his ministry, John the Baptist is arrested and imprisoned (1:14).
    • His arrest and his beheading are the work of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip whom he had married and who was the object of the reproaches of John the Baptist.

    Throughout his gospel, Mark presents us with a number of scenes that bring Jesus closer to John, and a number that set them apart. Among those that bring them together are:

    • Jesus and John the Baptist are so similar that it is a source of confusion for many people, especially Herod Antipas who, after having had the Baptist beheaded, thinks he sees in Jesus his resurrected double: "King Herod heard of him, for his name had become famous, and it was said, 'John the Baptist has risen from the dead; hence the miraculous powers that are unfolding in his person." (6:14; see also 8:28).

    • When the Sanhedrin, made up of the chief priests, scribes and elders, questioned Jesus about his authority, Jesus first asked them to take a stand with regard to John the Baptist: was he sent by God, yes or no? (11:30); indeed, if they are unable to recognize in John the Baptist a messenger of God, they will be unable to see him also in Jesus, since both are on the same path.

    Having said all this, Mark brings an important nuance which he puts in the mouth of the Baptist: "He who is stronger than I come after me, and I am not worthy, bending down, to untie the strap of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (1:7-8). This distinction between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus is the fruit of Christian reflection that must have situated them in relation to each other: while recognizing the value of John's baptism, the baptism of Jesus is unique in that it confers the Holy Spirit; the latter is therefore superior to the former.

  4. The Gospel according to Matthew (about 80 or 85 AD)

    Matthew generally takes up Mark's presentation on John the Baptist. But he differs from it on a certain number of points.

    1. By taking up Mark's portrait of John the Baptist, he likes to be clearer and more precise;
      • The clothing of the Baptist is more like that of Elijah and his person will be clearly identified with Elijah: "I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they have not recognized him, but have dealt with him as they will... Then the disciples understood that his words were aimed at John the Baptist" (17:12-13).
      • Mark's purported quote from Isaiah at the beginning of his gospel is modified to eliminate Ex 23:20 and Mal 3:1 and keep only the part that is really Isaiah.
      • He insists even more that the way to Jesus passes through John the Baptist: "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe in him; but the tax collectors and the harlots believed in him; and you, when you saw this example, did not even have a belated remorse that made you believe in him." (21, 32)
      • The preaching of the Baptist is such a success that even the Pharisees and Sadducees attend (3:7).

    2. He addresses a question that Mark did not address, but that the Christians in his community were asking themselves: if Jesus was without sin, why did he go to be baptized?
      • So he has this scene where, when Jesus shows up to be baptized, John the Baptist objects, claiming that it is rather he who needs to be baptized by Jesus. In the end, the solution is that both of them must submit to God's will (see 3:13-15). This is an opportunity for Matthew to reiterate the superiority of Jesus (it is John who needs to be baptized by Jesus).

    3. Matthew subtly modifies certain scenes from Mark to put John's baptism in context.
      • He refuses to take Mark's statement that John the Baptist's baptism is a baptism of "repentance for the remission of sins" as it stands: yes, it requires sincere repentance, but it does not confer the remission of sins of which Jesus has the privilege (Matthew's Baptist only says: "Repent" (3:2); "They were baptized in the Jordan River by him, confessing their sins" (3:6)); the remission of sins is completely obliterated.
      • Matthew does not describe the baptism of Jesus, and his vision of being the beloved Son takes place after the baptism, after coming from the water; this is his way of diminishing the importance of that baptism.

    4. Matthew emphasizes the eschatological significance of the activity of John the Baptist, like that of Jesus.
      • Matthew gives us the content of the Baptist's preaching: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (3:2); and this is exactly the content of Jesus' initial preaching: "From then on Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (4:17). What does this mean? Two things: the mission of the Baptist and that of Jesus are totally synchronized; both warn us of the imminence of the kingdom, and for Matthew, the arrival of the kingdom corresponds to the day of God's judgment.
      • Thus with John the Baptist came a period of great upheaval, an atmosphere of war and conflict: "Until John the Law and the Prophets came; since then the Kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and all are striving to enter into it by violence" (16:16).

    5. But the biggest difference with Mark is the introduction of the elements of Document Q (this common source of Matthew and Luke) concerning the Baptist.
      • The arrival of John the Baptist corresponds to the arrival of the last times when God's judgment is exercised: "The axe is already at the root of the trees; every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (3:10); this is also the case for Jesus who performs a baptism in the Holy Spirit "and fire", i.e. fire that eliminates what is bad (3:16).
      • In spite of the great similarity between Jesus and John the Baptist, there is a fundamental distinction between the two: "Verily I say unto you, among the children of women there hath not arisen one greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (11:11); in other words, what Jesus introduced is greater than all that the Old Testament has brought us. This is Document Q's way of affirming what Mark said about the unworthiness of John the Baptist to untie the strap of the sandals of the one to come.
      • Speaking of "the one who is coming", i.e. the Messiah, Mark had never addressed the question: Did John the Baptist know that Jesus was the Messiah? For Mark the Baptist speaks only of the one who is coming, and at no time is he ever heard to say: it is he, Jesus. With Document Q, the question is really asked: "Now John, in his prison, had heard about the works of Christ. He sent some of his disciples to him and said, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect another?" (11: 2-3). Thus, for the Baptist, the identity of "he who was coming" was not clear.
      • In its own way, Document Q takes up the difference between the ascetic behavior of the Baptist and that of the "bon vivant" of Jesus: "For John comes, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He is possessed!' The Son of Man comes, eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners!'" (11: 18-19)

    Thus, with the Gospel according to Matthew, the portrait of John the Baptist became clearer. The synchronization between the mission of the Baptist and that of Jesus is clearer, while reiterating the fundamental distinction between the two. He is less afraid to address certain questions: Why did Jesus, who was supposed to be sinless, get baptized? Did John the Baptist know that Jesus was the Messiah? He is not embarrassed to show the great difference in behavior between the two: one is an ascetic, the other passes for being a "bon vivant".

  5. The Gospel according to Luke (circa 80 or 85 AD)

    Luke knows Mark and the Document Q about John the Baptist whose portrait he will take over. But with him, the portrait takes on a new dimension with the infancy narrative. In fact, he accentuates the synchronization between the two missions by creating a parallel account of the birth of the Baptist and Jesus :

    John the BaptistJesus
    1: 5-25Annunciation to Zechariah by the angel Gabriel1: 26-28Annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel
    1: 41-45Elizabeth proclaims her blessing and beatitude on Mary.1: 46-56Mary proclaims her thanksgiving
    1: 57-58Birth of John the Baptist and visit of the neighbors2: 1-20Birth of Jesus and Visit of the Shepherds
    1: 59-63Circumcision on the eighth day2: 21-28Circumcision on the eighth day and presentation at the temple
    1: 64-79Prophecy of Zechariah2: 29-38Prophecies of Simeon and Anne
    1: 80The hidden life of John the Baptist2: 39-52Jesus' hidden life in Nazareth and the anticipation of his service of the Word at the age of twelve

    This synchronization of the two missions is repeated in multiple ways, for example:

    • Like Jesus, John the Baptist proclaims the Good News: "And with many other exhortations he (John the Baptist) proclaimed the Good News" (3:18).
    • The message is so similar that "all wondered in their hearts about John, whether he would not be the Messiah" (3:15).
    • Both are envoys of God: "All the people who listened, even the tax collectors, justified God by being baptized with the baptism of John" (7:29).

    In a unique way, Luke gives us the content of John's moral teaching, and in this sense presents him to us as a teacher who has his own value:

    • Sharing with the poorest: "Let one who has two coats share with the one who has none, and let one who has something to eat do the same" (3:11).
    • Refusal to let tax collectors extort people: "Do not demand anything beyond what is prescribed to you" (3: 13).
    • Refusal of violence and slander from soldiers: "Don't molest anyone, don't extort anything, and be content with your pay" (3: 14).

    John the Baptist's message is universal in saying "when all the people had been baptized," implying that there were no exceptions, and thus including not only ordinary people, but also despised people such as tax collectors, and even soldiers, who might have been non-Jews.

    Like Matthew, he downplays the baptism of Jesus by practically ignoring it: "when all the people had been baptized and Jesus had been baptized" (3:21); it is like saying: Jesus was baptized in the lot of all the baptized, just like everyone else; there is nothing special about it. It is afterwards, in a moment of prayer, that he receives his election.

    In short, John the Baptist and Jesus appear as two brothers in the same mission, even if Luke takes up the words of Document Q: "I tell you, there is none greater than John among the women's children, yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he"; one is greater than the other.

  6. The Gospel according to John (about 90 or 95 AD)

    With John, we are on a completely different register. On the one hand, he moves away from simple factual enumeration to project a theological view of things, and on the other hand, he sprinkles his gospel with factual data that seem to go back to the time of Jesus. What he tells us about John the Baptist is much shorter, but at the same time much more valuable. Let's take a closer look.

    Let us begin with the theological view, that of the prologue (1:6-15):

    There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
    He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
    He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light
    John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'"

    From the outset, John affirms the precise role of John the Baptist: to bear witness to the light so that all may believe through him; in other words, the value of the Baptist is to be at the service of the light that is Jesus; he came before Jesus, but Jesus is greater than he is.

    We are far from the questioning found in Document Q where John the Baptist, in his prison, sends disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah. In John's gospel everything is clear, and it will be the same in the first chapter:

    This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." (1: 19-27)

    Thus, John the Baptist clearly knows that he is not the Messiah. And the evangelist takes up two affirmations that Mark's tradition knew: John is that voice that cries out in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord, and he is not worthy to untie the sandal strap of the one whose coming he announces.

    But John's John the Baptist will be much more precise, for he knows who the Messiah is and he will name him explicitly :

    The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God." (1: 29-34)

    One cannot be more precise and explicit. According to the evangelist John, John the Baptist did indeed identify Jesus as the promised Messiah, because God had given him the signs to recognize him, and he saw these signs in the Spirit that descended upon Jesus. This is how he was able to tell the people who came to him that Jesus was the Messiah.

    A few times in the Gospel John will repeat these statements: John the Baptist testified in favor of Jesus, and so he was a light, so to speak, and he allowed people to believe in Jesus.

    • "You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me." (5: 33-36)
    • "Many came to him, and they were saying, 'John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.'" (10: 41)

    According to the style of the Gospel according to John, all of these are theological statements, i.e. a thoughtful look at things after the fact, in the light of faith.

    But curiously, as many biblical scholars have noted (see R.E. Brown, The Gospel According to John. Garden City: New York, Doubleday (Anchor Bible, 29)), the most theological gospel offers us nuggets of historical data.

    First, there is the place where John carried out his ministry. Two are mentioned:

    • 1:28: "This was in Bethany beyond the Jordan River, where John baptized.
    • 3:23: "John also baptized at Aenon, near Salim, for the waters were plentiful there, and the people came and were baptized".

    First of all, the village of Bethany is to be distinguished from the one near Jerusalem, since it was "beyond the Jordan," and probably bore the name "Bethabara" (the place of the ford) (see Perrot, op. cit., note 25, p. 135; for the location of this village north of the Dead Sea on the Jordan River, see the map of Palestine). The indication of Aenon, near Salim, is better known and corresponds to the archaeological site known as ’Ayn Far’ah (see Aenon and Salim in Samaria, northeast of Mount Ebal, on the map of Palestine; for this identification between Aenon and ’Ayn Far’ah, see M.E. Boismard, Aenon près de Salem, in Revue Biblique, 80(1973)218-229).

    Second, the first disciples of Jesus were first disciples of John the Baptist.

    The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus... One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. (1: 35-40)

    We also learn that Jesus was baptizing, following John the Baptist.

    "They came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.'" (3: 26)

    Why did Jesus baptize, if not as a disciple of John and in the movement of his mission? The evangelist does not mention if Jesus himself was baptized, but indirectly refers to it: "I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and dwelling on him" (1:32). Afterwards, Jesus does not return home to Galilee, but remains in the company of the Baptist and his disciples. And because he baptized, and it was typical for the baptized to have a special relationship with the baptizer, those whom Jesus baptized began to become attached to him, hence the remark of John's disciples: "Here he is baptizing, and all come to him!". And Jesus' success seems to have been great enough that rumors spread: "When Jesus heard that the Pharisees had heard that he was making more disciples and baptizing more than John" (4:1).

    So when did a separation between the Baptist and Jesus occur? In other words, when did Jesus begin to stand on his own two feet? In the absence of precise facts, we can make certain conjectures.

    1. When Jesus learns that the Pharisees heard that he baptized more and made more disciples than John the Baptist, Jesus decides to leave the region where these baptisms took place and return to his homeland of Galilee (4:1). From then on, we will never hear about the baptisms of Jesus or his disciples again.

    2. The death of John the Baptist seems to have occurred early in the beginning of Jesus' mission. On this point, the evangelists are unanimous. First of all, when the evangelist John writes that John the Baptist's disciples report the baptisms of Jesus to him, he takes the trouble to mention: "John, indeed, had not yet been thrown into prison" (3:24). Mark, for his part, writes: "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God" (1:14). Luke mentions the arrest of John the Baptist even before mentioning Jesus' baptism, which is somewhat inconsistent because it is his way of ignoring Jesus' baptism. But it is clearer in Acts 13:25: "And as John was finishing his work, he said, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet'"; John the Baptist seems to die as he passes the "baton" to Jesus. Matthew is different. He does not tell us when the execution of John the Baptist took place, but speaks of it in the midst of his gospel as a past event: this corresponds to the structure of his gospel, where the second part is oriented towards the death of Jesus, and the reminder of the death of John the Baptist serves as a backdrop to anticipate Jesus' death.

After this long analysis of the various testimonies, can we find any historical consistency?

  • First of all, on the birth of John the Baptist, we have no way of verifying Luke's account, which contains such a great theological note and a literary style applied to the great characters of the salvation history that it is impossible to draw probable facts from it.
  • But the existence of John, nicknamed the Baptist, is undeniable and confirmed by multiple sources, including that of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.
  • That he introduced a new practice of a baptism of repentance for the conversion of sins is also undeniable. This was a kind of challenge to the Temple of Jerusalem, which kept the exclusivity of the forgiveness of sins through its various animal sacrifices.
  • The evidence is consistent in indicating that his preaching was universal, addressing all strata of society.
  • His activity seems to have taken place in two different places: Bethabara, on the banks of the Jordan River, north of the Dead Sea, then Aenon, in Samaria, where there were water sources.
  • Multiple sources confirm that it has been a huge success
  • What is also undeniable is that he was arrested, put in prison and executed by Herod Antipas: according to Josephus, because Herod feared a revolt of the people because of his success, according to the synoptic gospels because he reproached the king concerning his marriage with his brother Philip's wife and at the instigation of this woman. This death could be towards the end of the year 27 or at the beginning of the year 28 of the modern era: for it is probable that Jesus' ministry was from the autumn of the year 27 until April of the year 30, and this death is probably situated at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.
  • John the Baptist's preaching attracted people from Galilee, including Jesus and Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
  • Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist probably around the summer or fall of 27 CE and all indications are that he stayed with the Baptist for some time.
  • It is also likely that Jesus in turn began to baptize and that his first disciples came from the Baptist's entourage.
  • What led him to leave the Baptist's entourage and return to Galilee? It is possible that it was a combination of circumstances: the possibility of a conflict with the disciples of John the Baptist over the success of Jesus, which Jesus wanted to avoid (Jn 4:1-3), and the imprisonment and death of the Baptist (all the Gospels).
  • It is unlikely that John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, as several clues indicate: tradition has preserved the testimony of John the Baptist sending disciples from his prison to inquire about the identity of Jesus, and the very fact that the Baptist movement later continued with disciples who did not know he had referred to Jesus
  • It is undeniable that the Baptist movement continued after the death of its founder, so much so that it is echoed throughout history to the present day in southern Iraq and Iran.
  • After the experience of Jesus' resurrection of a number of disciples, it seems that the first Christians restored the practice of baptism as a sign of integration into the community.
  • Paul of Tarsus seems little interested in this practice, and even uncomfortable with the place of John the Baptist in the life of Jesus, even if he uses on some occasions the image of baptism as an assimilation to the death-resurrection of Christ; such unease is an indication that the Baptist movement, still very much alive, is ill-defined in relation to that of Jesus, and a little in rivalry.
  • It is more than 35 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus that all these events surrounding John the Baptist seem to be better understood. Christians have had time to read several times the Scriptures, and with the help of passages such as Ex 23:20, Mal 3:1, and especially Isa 40:3, they have been able to situate the Baptist in God's plan: that of being the precursor of the Messiah. The very fact that John the Baptist was able to announce the coming of someone greater than himself, without knowing who, took on a new dimension. We are then witnessing the rehabilitation of the "prophet of the desert", he was a messenger of God, he prepared the way of the Lord.
  • When Matthew and Luke publish their gospels around 80 or 85 AD, they are less reluctant to talk about John the Baptist in a serene atmosphere. The basic perspectives previously put in place are taken up again, but now they can accentuate the similarities between the preaching of John the Baptist and that of Jesus, and Luke goes so far as to propose a similar portrait of their birth and a kinship between the two teachers. At the same time, the fact that Jesus had to go through the baptism of John the Baptist is minimized, because the sinless Son of God could not have recognized his sins by going to baptism.
  • With John, around 90 or 95 CE, the story about John the Baptist has evolved further: now the Baptist clearly indicates to people that Jesus is the Messiah, the light of the world; we are less at the historical level than at the theological, whereas Christian reflection has made it perfectly clear that the whole life of John the Baptist pointed to Jesus. And of course, the fact that Jesus went through John's baptism is totally ignored. At the same time, one feels less embarrassed to reveal all the links that existed between Jesus and John the Baptist: the recruitment of disciples and the Baptist activity of Jesus.

John the Baptist and Jesus

We cannot conclude this analysis without establishing the comparative portrait of these two men, John the Baptist and Jesus.

John the BaptistJesus
A universalist message, addressed first of all to the multitude of the "people of the country", to the poor and the little ones unable to follow all the religious rules. A universalist message, addressed first of all to the multitude of the "people of the country", to the poor and the little ones unable to follow all the religious rules.
Through his baptism for the forgiveness of sins, John the Baptist challenges the role of the temple and its sacrifices as the only place for the forgiveness of sins. Through his healings and exorcisms, Jesus also challenges in his own way the role of the temple as the only place of forgiveness of sins, in addition to challenging it physically (vendors driven out of the temple).
John the Baptist aroused a great popular movement, arousing the concern of the authorities. Jesus, according to various testimonies, drew crowds, arousing the concern of the authorities.
John the Baptist was arrested, imprisoned and killed for political reasons according to Josephus, for moral and personal reasons according to the synoptic gospels. Jesus was arrested and killed for political reasons, according to John ("it is in your interest that one man should die for the people and that the nation should not perish as a whole", 11: 50), for his attack on religious institutions (destruction of the temple) according to the synoptic gospels.
John the Baptist stayed in the wilderness, and the people came to him. Jesus walked through towns and villages, reaching out to the people.
John the Baptist had the reputation of being an ascetic man, fasting regularly with his disciples. Jesus had the reputation of being a bon vivant, accepting invitations to eat, at the risk of being seen as a glutton and a drunkard.
The emphasis of the Baptist's preaching is on repentance, a change of life and the approach of God's judgment. The emphasis of Jesus' preaching is on the good news of God's coming reign.

At the end of this journey of the figure of John the Baptist, what remains for us? That of a man out of the ordinary, an innovator who introduced water baptism for the forgiveness of sins through sincere repentance, thus bypassing the temple of Jerusalem as the only place for the forgiveness of sins, a man of integrity, uprightness and passion who aroused the enthusiasm of the crowds, a strength of character that was not afraid to confront the authorities, a man who represents the best of Judaism, and of whom it has been said: "I tell you, there is none greater than John among the children of women" (Lk 7:28; Mt 11:11).

Even if, historically, there is no evidence to suggest that John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, the fact remains, as the Gospels recognized much later, that he was an essential link in the mission of Jesus. And he was able to be so, because he lived out the answer he gave his disciples who were bothered by Jesus' activity: "A man can take nothing for himself beyond what is given him from heaven" (Jn 3:27); it is a way of life without a personal agenda, with a complete openness to events and to God's will. In this way he opened the path to the one who would transform humanity.

Noun Iōannēs in the New Testament
Lord (Kyrios)
(Summary of André Myre, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard – Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 431-436)

The masculine noun kyrios in classical Greek means "he who is master of, who has authority", i.e. the master, the master of the house, the legal representative, the guardian.

It is the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible completed in the 2nd century BC, which has marked the history of this word in a decisive way. For it chooses to replace the tetragram YHWH (Hebrew: יהוה), the proper name of the God of Israel that a pious Jew avoids pronouncing out of respect, with "Lord" (Greek: kyrios) (See for example Genesis 15:8, where "My Lord Yahweh" (Hebrew:אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, transliteration: ʾ ădōnāy yhwh) became Despota Kyrie (literally: Master Lord). Whereas the word kyrios was hardly ever used until then to designate the deity in the Greek world, it is now charged with all the power of the personal God of Israel, creator of the cosmos and major actor of human history. But a certain ambiguity remains, for the word continues to be used to designate all kinds of "lords": from slave-owners to rulers of various kingdoms, and including other gods.

The first Christians, great readers of the Septuagint, used the term kyrios to attribute it to the risen Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of God. But the Aramaic language may also have influenced the use of kyrios to refer to Jesus. For the Aramaic word mare, which translates as "master" or "lord," is also used to refer to God (see Daniel 5:23), the one who will judge mankind at the end of time. The Septuagint will also translate mare as kyrios. The term mare is found in the New Testament: "Marana tha!" (literally: Our Lord, come, 1 Cor 16:22). The same expression seems to be behind this passage in Revelation 20:22: "Amen, come, Lord Jesus!" The formula Marana tha thus allows us to bring faith in the exaltation of Jesus, and thus the title of "Lord" that flows from it, to a Palestinian Christian community of Aramaic language. When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, around the year 55, twenty-five years after the death of Jesus, he reproduced an Aramaic formula so well established and known that he did not need to translate it. It must therefore have been born very close to the beginnings of the Aramaic community.

Psalm 110:1 seems to have played an important role in the attribution of the title Lord to Jesus. The Hebrew text reads: "The Oracle of Yhwh to my master ['adôn]: /Sit at my right / until I make your enemies / a stool for your feet." The Septuagint faithfully rendered the text, except for the first line, of which the Septuagint did the following: "The kyrios said to my kyrios: [...]" (LXX: Ps 109:1). In the Hebrew text, it is clear that Yhwh speaks to the reigning king, a descendant of David, promising him victory and power. The Greek is ambiguous. The Synoptics have distinguished these two kyrioi as follows: "The Lord [Yhwh] said to my lord [Jesus]: [...]" (Mt 22:44). Jesus is therefore both the Messiah or Christ, son of David, and the exalted one seated at the right hand of God. The names that were previously reserved for the descendant of David reigning in Jerusalem are thus transferred to the exalted Jesus. And it is not uncommon in the New Testament to see them appear in clusters, as in the words of Martha: "Yes, Lord (kyrios)," she says, "I believe that you are Christ, the Son of God, sent into the world" (John 11:27).

In the New Testament, there are therefore two to bear the title of Lord. First there is the living God: "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "He is and was and is coming," the Master of all things" (Revelation 1:8). But there is also the one who is by delegation of power, Jesus, by virtue of the exaltation realized after his death-resurrection: "...concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh, established Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 1:3-4). But even though Jesus received his lordship after his death, this title will be applied to his entire earthly journey, beginning with his baptism at the hands of John the Baptist (see Acts 1:21-22).

In fact, there are three realities. For the exaltation of Jesus - the Acts are clear on this - is defined by the gift God gave him of his own power of action, which is called hagion pneuma "Holy Spirit". "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. [...] Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:33.36). There is, then, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, as clearly expressed in Mt 28:18-20 with the request to make disciples and baptize them: so there is in order 1) in heaven above the Father, from whom exaltation has its origin, 2) in the center (or at the right hand of God, having his power from the Father), the Son, 3) and below, on earth, the Holy Spirit, the power of God which the Son controls and causes to act in his community. These three realities will bear the title of Lord (see 1 Cor 12:4-6). But only the living God deserves to be called "Lord of lords".

In the New Testament, the verb "to love" is expressed in Greek by two words: agapaō and phileō, while the noun "love" is expressed by agapē (which gave the word: agape feast, to designate a convivial banquet) and philia (in the sense of friendship), and the attribute "friend, dear" is expressed by agapētos and the noun philos which gave our word: philosophy, i.e. friend of wisdom). Let's go back a bit in history.

In Greek culture

In Homer's Odyssey (late 8th century BC), the verb agapaō is used when Ulysses is told, "Are you not just content (agapaō) to eat with us?". From the expression "be content with" develops the idea of: welcoming with affection, or showing affection. And when we use the word in relation to things, it has a meaning close to phileō, i.e. to desire something.

The noun philos expresses belonging to a social group, without sentimental connotations. When the adjective philos is used with people, it means: loved, cherished, dear. For its part, the verb phileō means: to cherish, to love, to have friendship for.

In Classical Greek, it is the verb eraō and the noun erōs (which gave our adjective: erotic) that is used to express desire and passion in love. However, no term from the erotic vocabulary has entered the New Testament.

In the Old Testament

Several words are used to express the act of loving, but the most important is ʾāhab (love, 216 times) and its noun ʾahăbâ (love, 31 times). The verb ʾāhab describes a whole range of human relationships: love of parents for their child (Gen 22:2), love of a husband for his wife (Gen 29:30), great friendship (1 Sam 18:1), love of a slave for his master (Ex 21:5), love relationship between a man and a woman (Gen 24:67). In the latter case, it is not surprising to find him seven times in the Song of Songs. One can understand the intensity of the feeling expressed by ʾāhab when it appears with its antonyms: to hate, to detest.

The use of ʾāhab and ʾahăbâ to describe God's relationship with his people first appears in Hosea (8th century BC): "The Lord said to me, 'Go again, love (ʾāhab) a woman who loves (ʾāhab) another and commits adultery, as the Lord loves (ʾāhab) the children of Israel'" (Hosea 3:1). But it is in Deuteronomy (7th c. BC) that the theological use is the most widespread (18 out of 22 uses) to describe God's relationship with Israel: because of this love God expresses his loyalty (7: 9), his election (4: 37), his attachment (10: 15), while the believer must respond by loving in turn: "You shall love (ʾāhab) Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your power" (6: 5); in the same way, he shall keep the commandments (5: 13) and walk in his ways (11: 22).

When the time came to translate ʾāhab (to love), the Septuagint used the Greek term agapaō, which then had the meaning of: to show affection. But the word then took on a religious meaning that accentuated its distinction from eraō and phileō. Saint Jerome, in his Latin translation of the Vulgate, opted for diligere (to love) and caritas (love, which gave our French word: charity).

In the New Testament

Because in classical Greek the verb agapaō and the noun agapaē specialized in reasoned love, based on knowledge and appreciation, it was chosen by the New Testament to express love, especially in John and Paul. And it will be declined in all its forms: "in praise of the glory of his grace, with which he has gratified us in the Beloved" (ēgapēmenō, Ephesians 1:6); "Yes, seek to imitate God, as beloved children" (agapēta, Ephesians 5:1). phileō and philos, we find them especially in John and Luke.

In Paul's letters

  • For Paul, agapē is part of the trio giving Christian life its foundation, as we see in one of his first letters: "We remember in the presence of our God and Father the activity of your faith, the labor of your love (agapē), the steadfastness of your hope, which are due to our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
  • It is even the most important member of the three: "Now therefore faith, hope and love (agapē) remain, these three things, but the greatest of them all is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).
  • But, contrary to what one might think, this love is not the result of a personal effort, but rather is openness to a gift from God: "Aspire to higher gifts. And I will again show you a way beyond them all. When I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, if I do not have love, I am no more than brass that sounds or a cymbal that resounds" (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1). This gift of God is offered to all at the starting point through the gift of the Holy Spirit: "And hope does not disappoint, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us..." (Romans 5:5).
  • It was God, first of all, who loved us: "But the proof that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners" (Romans 8:8).
  • And this love is not a vague feeling, but a transforming force: "and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:17-20).
  • And, of course, the main object of this love is our neighbor: "Be indebted to no one but to one another. For he who loves another has thereby fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8).
  • Love is what gives meaning to everything we do, and without it all is futile: "If I give alms for all my goods, if I give my body to the flames, if I have not love, it is of no use to me" (1 Corinthians 13:3).

As for phileō, it plays a secondary and limited role. It is occasionally found in certain sentences where one would expect to see agapaō: "If anyone does not love (phileō) the Lord, let him be anathema! Maran atha." (1 Corinthians 16:22). It is especially the words composed around this root that Paul uses: philotheos (he who loves God, 2 Timothy 3:4), philadelphia (brotherly love, Romans 12:10), philēma (kissing, Romans 16:16), philoxenia (hospitality, Romans 12:13).

Two important texts on love: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Romans 8:35-39.

In the Gospels

  • In Matthew, of the eight uses of the verb, seven refer to love of neighbor, especially love of enemies in the Sermon on the Mount, and the only reference to the love of God (Mt 22:37) is a reprise of Mark quoting Deuteronomy.
  • Mark's usage is even more restricted: of the five uses of the verb, none seems to come from his pen. Only one passage mentions that Jesus "loved" a man who told him that he had kept the commandments since his youth (10:21), a story whose vocabulary does not bear the features typical of him. The other uses are an echo of Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5 on the love of God and neighbor which summarizes the whole Law.
  • In Luke, as in Matthew and Mark, love means above all love of neighbor. The only two uses where it is about the love of God is either a reprise of Mark who quotes Deut 6:5, or a reprise of the Q tradition on reproaches addressed to the Pharisees who neglect the love of God. He has a preference for the noun philos (friend) which he uses fifteen times, especially through Jesus' words.

The Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John alone are responsible for 70% of the uses of agapaō, especially in designating the commandment of love and Father-Son relationships. In this, they are radically different from the synoptic Gospels and deserve a separate treatment.

First of all, John uses agapaō (37 times) and phileō (13 times) synonymously, and one would look in vain for a difference in nuance. To be convinced of this, let us give three examples:

  • On the one hand, he writes: "The Father loves (agapaō) the Son and has given all things into his hand" (3:35), but on the other hand, he also writes: "For the Father loves (phileō) the Son and shows him all that he does" (5:20).
  • To designate the beloved disciple, he sometimes says: "One of his disciples, the one Jesus loved (agapaō), was at the table next to Jesus" (13: 23), but other times he says: "Then he runs and comes to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved (phileō)" (20: 2).
  • It even happens in the same sentence that he uses these two verbs to designate the same reality: "When they had breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter: 'Simon, son of John, do you love me (agapaō) more than these? He replied, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you (phileō)." (21: 15)

In love, there are two poles: the person who loves, and the object of his love. When we use this grid to read again the Gospel according to John, we can make a number of observations.

God the Father who loves (12 times out of the 50 uses of agapaō and phileō)

  • The object of the Father's love is above all Jesus whom he loved before the foundation of the world (17:24). And because the Father loves Jesus, he has given him glory (17: 24), he has placed everything in his hands (3: 35), he shows him everything he does (5: 20). But this love seems to be linked to Jesus' acceptance to give his life (10: 17), which is for the evangelist a way of maintaining that this odious crucifixion is a gesture of love that has its source in God himself.
  • The object of the Father's love is also the world, to the point of wanting to offer it eternal life, and for this he sent his only Son (3:16). But God loves above all those who believe in Jesus (16:27), who love him and keep his commandments (14:21), to the point that he will dwell in their person (14:23). And God loves all these people with the same love that he loved his own Son (17: 23).

Jesus who loves (14 times)

  • First of all, the evangelist speaks of the human loves of Jesus. Jesus loved Martha and Mary (11:5), he loved Lazarus (11:3), and he loved in a special way this disciple who is referred to as the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (13:23).
  • More frequently, however, Jesus loves those whom the evangelist calls "his own" (13:1), i.e., those who keep his commandments and love him (14:21). He loves them in the same way he was loved by his Father (15: 9), and this love leads him to manifest himself to the one who receives him (14: 21), to make known the person of the Father (17: 26), to reveal the glory that the Father has given him (17: 24), and finally to dwell in him as the Father does (17: 23), so that the very love of the Father will dwell in him (17: 26), and together the Father, Jesus and the believer will form a great unity (17: 23). On the other hand, this love makes demands on the one who is the object of it: one must abide in this love (15: 9), one must keep his commandments (14: 21), especially the commandment of mutual love in the manner of Jesus (13, 34), which ultimately means being able to give one's life for one's friends (15: 13).
  • Surprisingly, Jesus' love for his Father is hardly mentioned explicitly. It is assumed through the many affirmations of the intimate relationship between God and Jesus, but there are few explicit passages like this: "but the world must recognize that I love the Father and that I do as the Father has commanded me" (14:31).

Human beings who love (24 times)

  • These humans are above all believers who love Jesus: they welcomed him as coming from God (8:42), they opened themselves to his word (14:23). The sign that they love Jesus is that they keep his commandments (14: 15), they keep his word (14: 24), they rejoice at the departure of Jesus because he returns to Him who is greater than he is (14: 28).
  • These believers are committed to mutual love (13:34). Who, then, is the object of this love? The clues point in the direction of the brothers in the same community. By asking believers to love one another as Jesus loved them (15:12), the evangelist sets the framework for the communion he has with the believing community; such communion cannot exist with unbelievers.
  • There is the special case of Peter in ch. 21 of the Gospel according to John (21:15-19). Three times Jesus asks Peter the question: Do you love me? And three times Peter answers: You know that I love you. Peter's love for Jesus becomes the foundation of his role in the Church, i.e., shepherd of the community: "Shepherd my sheep". At the same time, the evangelist mentions that this love will imply that Peter will die in his role as pastor (21:19).
  • Finally, the evangelist mentions cases of misdirected love: loving darkness rather than light (3:19), loving the glory of men more than the glory of God (12:43), loving one's life rather than accepting to lose it (12:25). This is what we could call false love.

We measure the gap between the three synoptic gospels and the Gospel according to John. In the latter, there is no question of love of enemies, but rather we are immersed in a mystical universe of intimate relationships between God, Jesus and the community of believers: it is an inner universe where love is not simply an action to be produced, but it is the expression of the very being of God and of his Son Jesus, and thus of all believers: "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (agapē)" (13: 35). The term of this love is a total sharing between the Father, the Son, the believer and the believers among themselves, a vast and immense unity. The great challenge is to maintain this communion.

Let us finally turn to the first epistle of John which has only 5 chapters and 105 verses, but where agapaō (love) is used 28 times, and agapē (love) 18 times (but phileō and philos are totally absent). This epistle extends the great ideas of the gospel on love, but at the same time it accentuates its features: the believing community is more clearly isolated from the world ("If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" 2: 15) and is interested only in itself; it affirms more clearly that the very identity of God is to be love ("God is Love", 1 John 4: 16); Jesus receives the very title of Love ("By this we have known Love: he gave his life for us", 1 Jn 3:16); and finally, a Christian who does not love loses his identity ("He who does not love has not known God, for God is Love", 1 Jn 4:8). Let us make a number of observations.

  • The emphasis of the epistle is on brotherly love. As pastor of the community, the author seems to note serious shortcomings: believers would be so obsessed with their privilege of belonging to the Christian community and believing in God and His Son that they neglect their brothers in need. While the Gospel according to John had a mystical flavor, he feels the need to restore balance and to reiterate the importance of action ("Little children, let us love neither words nor tongue, but in deeds and in truth", 3: 18). Therefore, he has very harsh words: "If someone says, 'I love God' and hates his brother, he is a liar" (4: 20); "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer" (3: 15). Brotherly love involves helping those in need ("If someone, enjoying the goods of this world, sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how can the love of God dwell in him?" 3: 17). His aim is therefore to challenge this community.

  • The author recalls the primary motivation of brotherly love: "As for us, let us love, since he first loved us" (4:19); "if God has loved us in this way, we too must love one another" (4:11). Our love for others is only an extension of the love we have received from God: we have been loved, let us share that love. And if Jesus went so far as to give his life for us, that is what we must do in turn (3:16).

  • The author's challenge is to burst the bubble of false theology (the result of a bad reading of the Gospel according to John?) in which some people are locked up, imagining that they know God and Jesus his Son well. His point is very clear: no one can directly experience God ("God, no one has ever contemplated him" 4: 12), and therefore claim to know him. The only way to experience God is through the mediation of fraternal love: "If we love one another, God dwells in us, in us his love is fulfilled" 4: 12). He also denounces those who delude themselves: "Whoever does not love his brother whom he sees cannot love the God whom he does not see" (4: 20). Because God is love, the only way to experience it is to love in turn (4:8).

  • One last point deserves to be emphasized. For the author of the epistle, there is no true separation and distinction between the love of God, the love of Christ Jesus and the love of the brethren. For one cannot love God without loving his Son whom he has begotten, and all those other children he has begotten, the children of God. Let us read this passage:

    • 1 Jean 5: 1-2: "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. ".

    The epistle goes much further than the scene reported by Mark 12:29-31 where Jesus speaks of two commandments, that of the love of God, quoting Deut 6:5, and the love of neighbor, quoting Lev 19:18. It affirms that it is the same love that encompasses God, Christ Jesus and neighbor.

(The data on Ancient Greece, the Old Testament and love in Paul's life come from Jean-Pierre Prévost et Jean-Yves Thériault, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard - Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 51-57 et p. 256-262)

Miracle / Act of power (dynamis) The word miracle in the New Testament is the translation of the Greek word dynamis which means strength, power. In classical Greece, dynamis refers to the ability to perform an action. In Homer, for example, it refers mainly to physical force, whereas in a philosopher like Aristotle it refers to the potentiality or capacity of a thing as opposed to the act. In cosmology, it is a natural attribute of the gods who have the capacity to intervene in the world. (see Pierre Létourneau, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard – Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 355).

Old Testament

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, dynamis very often translates the Hebrew yhwh ṣěbāʾôt, (Jeremiah 33:12 LXX: "Thus saith the Lord of hosts" (kyrios tōn dynameōn, the Lord of hosts). For dynamis refers to military forces (Isa 36:2 LXX: "And the king of the Assyrians sent Rabsaces from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a large army (dynamis)"). He also translates Hebrew words like ḥāyil: strength, power, wealth, army (Isa 60:11 LXX: "And your gates shall be open always; they shall not be shut day or night to bring in to you the riches (dynamis) of the Gentiles and their kings whom they bring to you"). Finally, it translates the Hebrew word ʿōz: strength, which is considered a quality of God (Psalm 89:11: "It is you who split Rahab like a corpse, scatter your adversaries by your arm of power (dynamis)"). It is this strength of Yahweh that enables him to save his people. In the Greek writings of the Old Testament, it is the same meaning that we find: "For devious thoughts drive away from God, and when tested, the Power (dynamis) confounds the foolish" (Wisdom 1:3); "He then gave the province to Alkime, leaving with him an army (dynamis) to support him. Bacchides returned to the king" (1 Maccabees 7:20); "Help your neighbor according to your power (dynamis) and beware of falling down yourself" (Ecclesiasticus 29:20).

New Testament

The New Testament will take up the general sense of strength and power, but will totally abandon that of the armed forces. In order to understand its use, it is first necessary to distinguish between the plural and the singular. In the plural, dynamis most of the time means actions of brilliance or acts of power that our Bibles translate by miracles. First-century Judaism does not have this notion of actions that escape the laws of nature; rather, they are extraordinary and marvelous actions that are usually perceived as a sign of God's benevolent intervention. Paul acknowledges that some members of the Christian community have a charism of acts of power or brilliance, which he distinguishes from the charism of healing (1 Cor 12:10.28-29). The ability to perform these acts of power would even be a distinguishing feature of the apostle (2 Cor 12:12). But it is Jesus who acts through the members of the Christian community (Gal 3:5; cf. also Heb 2:4). According to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul himself performed unusual acts of power (Acts 19:11), as did Philip, one of the seven appointed by the Twelve. And of course, the entire New Testament, and especially the Gospels, recognize Jesus' ability to heal and exorcise the demon-possessed. But their role is above all to lead people to change their lives (Mt 11:20-23), even if for some this is what leads them to consider him different (Mk 6:2; Lk 19:37).

In the plural, dynamis also refers to those supraterrestrial forces that belong to the cosmos and seem to have a negative influence on the course of history (see Rom 8:38) and that Jesus, through his resurrection, finally brought to submission (1 Peter 3:22). In the eschatological accounts of the end of the universe in the Gospels, these cosmic forces are also shaken (Mk 13:25; Lk 21:26; Mt 24:29).

In the singular, the word dynamis has been enriched with a whole range of different meanings. These could be divided into the following categories:

  1. First, it refers to the "power" of God as sung in the psalms. It is in Paul that we find this most frequent use. For example, he contrasts God's power with human wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-24; 2:5). For him, it is this power that raised Jesus from the dead and will raise us in turn (1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 13:4). This power was first manifested in creation (Rom 1:20), then it was manifested in the Gospel (Rom 1:16) and continues through all those who proclaim it (2 Thess 1:11; 2 Tim 1:8). In the Gospels, it is because of this power that Jesus heals according to Luke (Lk 5:17). According to Mark, Jesus rebukes the Sadducees for ignoring this power of God in the afterlife. When reference is made to the resurrection of Jesus, it is expressed in reference to the seat he will occupy at the right hand of God's power (Lk 22:69; Mt 26:64).

  2. This power of God is often expressed through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. For Paul, it is thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit that his discourse was persuasive (1 Cor 2:4), and it is this Spirit who strengthens the inner being of the Christian (Eph 3:16), just as by the power of this Spirit he was Son of God. According to the Acts of the Apostles, the gift of the Spirit gives Christians the strength to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. And also because of the power given by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was able to set free people who were subject to the power of the devil (Acts 10:38). The same Luke presents us with Jesus invested with the power of the Spirit who carries out his ministry.

  3. Jesus, risen from the dead, is empowered by the power of God. For Paul, the purpose of life is to discover the power of Christ (Phil 3:10), just as it is the power that expresses itself in him despite his weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9), and it is the power that expresses itself in the daily life of the Christian (Eph 1:19) and allows the community to exclude recalcitrant members (1 Cor 5:4). This power will be manifested in a powerful way at the return of Christ (2 Thess 1:7; Mk 9:1; 13:26).

  4. But dynamis also has a general and common sense of strength, capacity, value. Let us give a few examples: "If then I do not know the value (dynamis) of language, I will be like a barbarian to him who speaks" (1 Cor 14:11); "the power (dynamis) of sin is the Law" (1 Cor 15:56); "the tribulation that has befallen us in Asia has overwhelmed us beyond our capacity (dynamis)" (2 Cor 1:8). A similar use can be found in the Gospels: "And immediately Jesus became aware of the power (dynamis) that went out from him, and turning round in the crowd, he said, 'Who touched my clothes? "(Mk 5:30); "Behold, I have given you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and all the power (dynamis) of the Enemy, and nothing can harm you" (Lk 10:19); "To one he gave five talents, two to another, one to another, and one to another, each according to his ability (dynamis)" (Mt 25:15). In Revelation, the word is used instead of a qualitative one, for example in the following sentence: "In his right hand he has seven stars, and out of his mouth comes a sharp, double-edged sword, and his face is like the sun shining in all its power (dynamis)" (Rev 1:16).

  5. Power is the basis of authority. Thus the terms power and authority are used synonymously: "Fear seized them all, and they said to one another, 'What is this word? He commands with authority and power (dynamis) to the unclean spirits and they come out!" (Lk 4:36). But it is in Revelation that this meaning is most frequently used, especially to express the submission to this universal authority of Jesus, the slain Lamb: "You are worthy, O our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power (dynamis), for you created the universe; by your will, it was not and was created" (Rev 4:11).

  6. In the Pauline tradition, dynamis is sometimes synonymous with action, and is therefore opposed to "word", inasmuch as action must accompany word. For example, in Corinth, Paul reproaches some Christians for not living according to what they proclaim: "Then I will judge not the words of these proud men, but their power (dynamis); for the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power (dynamis)" (1 Cor 4:19-20). For the Gospel must be expressed in corresponding action: "For our Gospel has not come to you in word only, but in power (dynamis), in the work of the Holy Spirit, in superabundance" (1 Thes 1:5).

  7. Let us end with some cases where dynamis in the singular is used in the same sense as it is used in the plural. First there is the meaning of an act of power or brilliance, often translated as a miracle, as we see in Paul ("His coming to him, the ungodly, will have been marked, through the influence of Satan, by all kinds of works of power (dynamis), signs and lying wonders", 2 Thess 2:9) or in Mark ("But Jesus said, 'Do not forbid him, for there is no one who can perform a miracle (dynamis) by calling on my name and then speak evil of me'", Mk 9:39). And then there is the sense of cosmic power that we note in Paul: "Then it will be the end, when he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed all principality, dominion and power (dynamis)" (1 Cor 15:24; see also Eph 1:21).

This analysis makes us understand that the Jewish world, and the New Testament in particular, does not have a specialized term for miracles. For the contemporary world, the word "miracle" designates, if we are in a religious faith context, an event inexplicable by the laws of nature and attributed to God, and if we are in a secular context, a surprising, unexpected, unhoped-for, marvelous event. dynamis, which translates as power or force or ability, is a generic Greek term that covers a wide range of meanings.

Nazareth (According to Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament. Paris : Seuil, 1975, p. 385, et L. Monloubou – F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Québec : Desclée – Anne Sigier, 1984, p. 703.)

The city appears in the New Testament under the Greek term Nazaret or Nazara. It is unknown to the Old Testament, as well as to the Jewish historian Flavius Joseph (1st century) and the Talmud (5th and 6th century). It seems to have been founded by exiles who had returned to Galilee. Less than 3 miles from Sepphoris, it is part of the secondary road linking Damascus in the north and Egypt in the south. Anyone who has traveled through the city of Nazareth today will have noticed the steep streets: it is located at an altitude of 860 feet. The echo that John 1:46: gives us of it ("Nathanael says to him: 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'") suggests a small town without prestige.

On the archaeological level, an inscription found at Caesarea Maritima, dated from the 3rd or 4th century of the modern era suggests us a Hebrew root of the name with naçar: to guard, to watch, and which is at the source of the word nécèr: bud (which sleeps in winter and awakens in spring). In 1955, excavations uncovered rock dwellings with silos, cellars and a press covered with mosaic. The ceramics attest to a dwelling from the 1st century BC and the following centuries. The remains of a Byzantine church dating from the end of the 5th century were found. The Crusaders built there a church that was never completed and was totally ruined in 1263. A small construction in classical style lasted from 1730 to 1955. Today a basilica occupies the place. The crypt has preserved the remains of the ancient houses and churches.

At the time of Jesus, Nazareth must have had a population of 1,600 to 2,000 people, and had its synagogue (which archaeological excavations have found).

Nazareth with Tabor in the background One of those sloping streets
A view of the Basilica of Nazareth
A view of the Basilica of Nazareth
An ordinary street in Nazareth
Resurrection of the dead In the Greek language, there is no technical term to refer to resurrection. But in the Gospel-Acts, two verbs are used in this context: anistēmi (to make rise, to arouse, to arise, to rise, to lift oneself) and egeirō, which means first of all "to wake up", but whose symbolic value has been extended to: to make rise, to set up, to erect, to raise up. Let us take a close look at these two terms.

Anistēmi is composed of the prefix ana, which in the context means "up", and the verb istēmi, which means: to stand, place, erect, in its transitive sense, and: to hold, hold firm, maintain, in its intransitive sense. This verb is found almost everywhere in the Gospel-Acts, but especially in the works composed by Luke: Mt = 4; Mk = 16; Lk = 27; Jn = 8; Acts = 44; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In our Bibles, it is often translated as "to rise again". However, it is important to know that this verb designates four different major realities.

  • The gesture of rising up to get going. For example, Lk 1:39: "In those days Mary rose up (anistēmi) and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country".
  • The fact that Jesus was raised from the world of the dead and passed into the world of God. For example, Lk 24:46: "and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise (anistēmi) from the dead on the third day".
  • The Jewish belief that at the end of time there will be a resurrection of the dead. For example, Mk 12:25: "For when they rise (anistēmi) from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
  • The fact that a person comes back to life, which could be translated as resuscitation. For example, Lk 9:19: "They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has risen (anistēmi)".

Among these four major realities, it is the first that largely dominates, as can be seen from these statistics.

To stand up4921136
Jesus who has risen from the dead06317
Return to life or resuscitation00312
Final resurrection of the dead01050

But our analysis cannot be complete without the mention of anastasis (action of standing up, of standing upright, hence the raising, the resurrection), its nominal form: Mt = 4; Mk = 3; Lk = 6; Jn = 4; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Now, anastasis practically always means the final resurrection of the dead (the only exception being Lk 2:34, the passage from the infancy narrative where Simeon announces that Jesus will bring the "raising" of a great number of people in Israel). Thus, in the expression "resurrection of the dead", it is always the feminine name anastasis that is used; as an exception we can mention Mt 27:53 which speaks of the resurrection of Jesus with the word egersis, the nominal form of egeirō which we must now analyze.

The Gospel-Acts also uses another verb, synonymously, to describe the same realities: egeirō, which first means "to wake up", but whose symbolic value has been extended to: to make rise, to set up, to erect, to raise up. It is found in total with the same frequency as anistēmi: Mt = 35; Mk = 19; Lk = 18; Jn = 13; Acts = 13; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, the difference being in the personal preferences of the evangelists in the couple anistēmi/egeirō: Mt = 4/35; Mk = 16/19; Lk = 27/18; Jn = 8/13; Acts = 4/13. For example, Luke greatly prefers anistēmi, Matthew egeirō. But let's ask the question: how do the four major realities we identified with anistēmi break down with egeirō? Here is the table, where we had to add the reality of "waking up", its original meaning.

To stand up20101176
Jesus who has risen from the dead93326
Return to life or resuscitation43340
Final resurrection of the dead01101
To wake up32000

What do we observe?

  • The gesture of getting up and standing up still dominates largely
  • Regarding the reference to the resurrection of Jesus, all evangelists use synonymously and with similar frequency anistēmi and egeirō, except Matthew who only uses egeirō.
  • To describe a return to life or resuscitation, Luke and John use the two verbs synonymously, but Matthew and Mark only use egeirō.
  • Finally, for the final resurrection of the dead, only Mark uses both verbs synonymously, while Luke uses only egeirō, John uses only anistēmi and its nominal form anastasis, and Matthew uses only anastasis.

Finally, we can mention that only Matthew uses the nominal form egersis (awakening, resurrection): Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. This is a reference to the resurrection of Jesus, in accordance with what we have said on egeirō in Matthew.

Let us now say a word about this resurrection from the dead at the end of time. In Judaism, this notion appeared late around the 2nd century BC. Until then, it was imagined that the dead people stayed in Sheol, where they led a gloomy, larval life. Where was then the justice of God? It was believed that if one had led a good life, it was in this life that one was rewarded with many children and a good situation, while sinners were punished by catastrophes during their lifetime. But gradually the idea that God is able to give life to the dead (see Hos 6:3; Ez 37:11-14) was introduced, an idea that came to light with the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (215 - 164 BC): how could God abandon his friends who would die as martyrs? We have two testimonies to this possibility of life after death, first the second book of the Maccabees, then the book Daniel, both from the second century.

  • 2 Mac 7: 9: "At the moment of giving the last breath: "You are a villain," he said, "you exclude us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up (anistēmi) to eternal life, we who die for his laws".
  • Dan 12:2: LXX "And many of those who sleep beneath the earthen heaps will awaken (egeirō), some to eternal life, some to eternal shame and confusion".

Two observations should be made. First, the verbs anistēmi and egeirō are both used, the first by the book of Maccabees, the second by the book of Daniel. Second, there seem to be two visions of the resurrection of the dead: in the first case, only the righteous or the friends of God are raised, as the book of Maccabees testifies; in the second case, both good and wicked are raised, but the one for eternal life, the other for what can be described as shame, or reproach, or eternal horror or confusion. This tension between two perspectives continues in the Gospel-Acts. Let us consider each evangelist.

Mark introduced us to the resurrection of the dead in the account of the controversy with the Sadducees who denied the possibility of a resurrection of the dead (Mk 12:18.27). This account does not seem to distinguish between the righteous and the sinners: even if Jesus' argument starts from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, righteous men who have died, what he infers seems to apply to all: "God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. And when Jesus explains this life after death, his presentation seems to apply to everyone: "For when one rises from the dead, one takes neither wife nor husband, but is like angels in heaven".

Matthew, on the other hand, merely repeats this scene as it is in his own version (22:23-32). On the other hand, at the moment of Jesus' death, he presents us with the scene where many bodies of dead saints are raised from the dead (27:52). Of course, we are not at the end of time, but this scene wants to prefigure the perspectives opened up by the death of Jesus, and therefore points to the end of time. Who is resurrected in this scene? The saints. As for the others, we know nothing. Finally, there is the scene of the final judgment in 25:31-46, when the Son of Man separates the sheep from the goats and says to the former: "Receive as your inheritance the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world". And to the second: "Go away from me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels". This scene is ambiguous: it seems to be addressed only to the living ("Before him shall all nations be gathered together"), and nothing is said about those who are already dead. Only one thing is clear: there is a distinction between those who have done good and those who have done evil, and the latter "will be cast into outer darkness, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (8:12; see also 13:42.50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).

In Luke we find this tension between two perspectives. On the one hand, he also takes up Mark's scene about the Sadducees' controversy with Jesus (20:27-38). On the other hand, he adds Jesus' words: "The sons of this world marry and are given in marriage, but those who are judged worthy to share in this world and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are married" (20:34-35), so that only "those who are judged worthy to share in this world" will rise again. In the same vein, Luke presents us with a scene where Jesus is invited to dine with a Pharisee and exhorts him to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind when he gives a feast, and concludes: "Blessed are you then because they have nothing to give you back! For it will be restored to you in the resurrection of the righteous" (14:14); thus, only the righteous seem to rise again. But on the other hand, he puts in the mouth of Paul in his Acts of the Apostles, as he addresses the governor Felix: "having hope in God, as they themselves have hope, that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and of sinners" (24:15); therefore, contrary to what he says in his gospel, both the good and the wicked are raised.

What about John? We can speak of the same ambiguity. On the one hand, he seems to assume that only the believer raises up: "Yes, this is the will of my Father, that whoever sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (6:39); clearly, only the believer will inherit eternal life and be raised up by Jesus on the last day. But on the other hand, in a speech to the Jews, Jesus said, "Do not be astonished, for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his (Son of Man's) voice and come out: those who have done good, to a resurrection of life; those who have done evil, to a resurrection of judgment (5:28-29); clearly, those who have done good and those who have done evil will rise again, even if it is not clear what will be the fate of those who are under judgment.

What can we conclude from all that we have gathered as data? One form of ambiguity cannot be eliminated. And it is understandable. On the one hand, the texts of the New Testament have a pastoral perspective and are addressed above all to a believing community: the fate of the whole of humanity is not the primary concern. On the other hand, the future situation of humanity in an end-time context is inaccessible and can give free rein to the imagination, according to one's personal convictions. But what is clear is that one must enter the universe of Judaism to throw some light on all these texts.

Let us turn briefly to the Jew Paul. On the one hand, he seems to speak of universal resurrection.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:21-22: "For since death came by a man, the resurrection (anastasis) of the dead also comes by a man. For just as all die in Adam, so all will live again in Christ.

In the same vein, when he addresses the question of his Jewish brothers who rejected the message of Jesus, he writes: "For if their exclusion was a reconciliation for the world, what will their admission be, if not a life (zoē) from the dead?" (Rom 11:15); Paul expects this reconciliation and their resurrection from the dead. On the other hand, when he sums up the meaning of his life, he ends by saying: "in order to obtain, if possible, the resurrection (exanastasis) from the dead" (Phil 3:11). The sentence suggests that the resurrection of the dead is not guaranteed. This is confirmed by several passages like this one, this chapter where he fights those who deny the resurrection of the dead and describes how he sees the final resurrection:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:23: "But each one has his own rank: Christ as the firstfruits, then those who are to be Christ's at his coming".

Thus, to rise from the dead, one must belong to Christ, i.e., be a believer. What happens to others? He does not talk about them, his perspective being centered on the believing community.

  • 1 Thess 4: 16-17: "For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise (anistēmi) first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever."

This text speaks only of believers; believers who have died will rise first, then believers who are still alive at the coming of Christ. If we only had Paul's texts, and we had to ask the question: will the unbelievers rise again? The answer would probably be no. For Paul, to be raised is to live with Christ, the one he sought in all his mission ("You were buried with him in baptism, but you have also been raised with him, because you believed in the power of God who raised him from the dead", Col 2:12).

We cannot conclude without specifying two aspects of the Jewish universe. The first is that of the end of human history. The Christian faith was born in an eschatological context in which history is not infinite, but will have an end, a term seen with an apocalyptic vision, i.e. of intervention and final revelation of God which will be accompanied by judgment ("until the coming of the Elder who gave judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came and the saints possessed the kingdom", Dan 7:22). The second is that of the obligation to have a body to live; in the Jewish universe, there is no "soul" without a body. Thus Paul has to answer the question: "But how do the dead rise again? With what body do they return?" (1 Corinthians 15:35). His answer will be to speak of a "spiritual" body (1 Cor 15:44), which all must put on as one puts on a dawn. In this context, the Jewish community envisioned a resurrection of the dead for all dead people, first to identify them, then to exercise a final judgment, sending some to the light, others to the night (for an example of this vision, see 1 Hénoch).

Such an eschatological vision is incapable of answering the questions arising from a vision in which human history would have no end, and in which anthropological and psychological knowledge provides a complex view of humanity.

On John only, see the analysis of Jn 6: 44

Verb anistēmi in the New Testament

Verb egeirō in the New Testament

The term "satan" comes from the Hebrew word śāṭān, which means: adversary, enemy. It appears 27 times in the books of the Old Testament of which we have a copy of the Hebrew text. Most of the time, the Hebrew term was translated into Greek as diabolos (devil) in the Septuagint. But sometimes it was transliterated as such into Greek: satan or satanas. In the New Testament, both terms, diabolos (Mt = 6; Lk = 5; Jn = 3; Acts = 2; Ep. Jn = 4; Ep = 2; 1 Tm = 3; Tt = 1; 2 Tm = 2; 1 P = 1; Jc = 1; Jude = 1; He = 1; Rev = 5) and satanas (Mt = 4; Mk = 6; Lk = 5; Jn = 1; Ac = 2; 1 Th = 1; 2 Th = 1; 1 Co = 2; 2 Co = 3; Rm = 1; 1 Tm = 2; Rev = 8), are used to designate the same reality. So, refer to our article "devil" above for a presentation of this reality. The present article on Satan focuses on the passages where the Greek word satan or satanas is found.

In the Septuagint

Here is a table of verses where the Hebrew word śāṭān appears, as well as its translation in the Septuagint.

#RefHebrew TextSeptuagint
1Num 22: 22and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary (śāṭān)and the angel of the Lord rose up to accuse (endiaballō) him.
2Num 22: 32I have come out as an adversary (śāṭān), because your way is perverse before me.and, behold, I came out in opposition (diabolē) to thee, for thy way was not seemly before me
31 Sam 29: 4he [David] shall not go down with us to battle, or else he may become an adversary (śāṭān) to us in the battle.and let him not come with us to the war, and let him not be a traitor (epiboulos) in the camp
42 Sam 19: 22But David said, "What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should today become an adversary (śāṭān) to me?And David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Saruia, that ye came to me today as a traitor (epiboulos) ?
51 Kings 5: 4But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary (śāṭān) nor misfortune.Now the Lord my God has given me peace all around; there is no traitor (epiboulos) against me and no evil meeting.
61 Kings 11: 14Then the Lord raised up an adversary (śāṭān) against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was of the royal house in Edom.And the Lord raised up satans (satan) against Solomon, Ader the Idumaean, and Esrom son of Eliadae who [dwelt] in Raama, [and] Adadezer king of Suba his master; (and men gathered to him, and he was head of the conspiracy, and he seized on Damasec,) and they were a satan (satan) to Israel all the days of Solomon: and Ader the Idumaean [was] of the seed royal in Idumaea.
71 Kings 11: 23God raised up another adversary (śāṭān) against Solomon, Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, King Hadadezer of Zobah.And the Lord raised up [another] satan (satan) unto Solomon, Rezon son of Eliadae of Barameeth [who had fled] from Adadezer king of Suba his lord.
81 Kings 11: 25He was an adversary (śāṭān) of Israel all the days of Solomon, making trouble as Hadad did;and he was an adversary (antikeimenos) of Israel, all the days of Solomon.
91 Chr 21: 1Satan (śāṭān) stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel.And the devil (diabolos) stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.
10Job 1: 6One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan (śāṭān) also came among themAnd it came to pass on a day, that behold, the angels of God came to stand before the Lord, and the devil (diabolos) came with them.
11Job 1: 7The Lord said to Satan (śāṭān), "Where have you come from?" Satan (śāṭān) answered the Lord, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it."And the Lord said to the devil (diabolos), Whence art thou come? And the devil (diabolos) answered the Lord, and said, I am come from compassing the earth, and walking up and down in the world.
12Job 1: 8The Lord said to Satan (śāṭān), "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil."And the Lord said to him (autō), Hast thou diligently considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a man blameless, true, godly, abstaining from everything evil?
13Job 1: 9Then Satan (śāṭān) answered the Lord, "Does Job fear God for nothing?Then the devil (diabolos) answered, and said before the Lord, Does Job worship the Lord for nothing?
14Job 1: 12The Lord said to Satan (śāṭān), "Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!" So Satan (śāṭān) went out from the presence of the Lord.Then the Lord said to the devil (diabolos), Behold, I give into thine hand all that he has, but touch not himself. So the devil (diabolos) went out from the presence of the Lord.
15Job 2: 1One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan (śāṭān) also came among them to present himself before the Lord.And it came to pass on a certain day, that the angels of God came to stand before the Lord, and the devil (diabolos) came among them to stand before the Lord.
16Job 2: 2The Lord said to Satan (śāṭān), "Where have you come from?" Satan (śāṭān) answered the Lord, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it."And the Lord, said to the devil (diabolos), Whence comest thou? Then the devil (diabolos) said before the Lord, I am come from going through the world, and walking about the whole earth.
17Job 2: 3The Lord said to Satan (śāṭān), "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason."And the Lord said to the devil (diabolos), Hast thou then observed my servant Job, that there is none of [men] upon the earth like him, a harmless, true, blameless, godly man, abstaining from all evil? and he yet cleaves to innocence, whereas thou has told [me] to destroy his substance without cause?
18Job 2: 4Then Satan (śāṭān) answered the Lord, "Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.And the devil (diabolos) answered and said to the Lord, Skin for skin, all that a man has will he give as a ransom for his life.
19Job 2: 6The Lord said to Satan (śāṭān), "Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life."And the Lord said to the devil (diabolos), Behold, I deliver him up to thee; only save his life.
20Job 2: 7So Satan (śāṭān) went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.So the devil (diabolos) went out from the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from [his] feet to [his] head.
21Ps 109: 6They say, "Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser (śāṭān) stand on his right.Set thou a sinner against him; and let the devil (diabolos) stand at his right hand.
22Zech 3: 1Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan (śāṭān) standing at his right hand to accuse him.And the Lord shewed me Jesus the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and the Devil (diabolos) stood on his right hand to resist him.
23Zech 3: 2And the Lord said to Satan (śāṭān), "The Lord rebuke you, O Satan (śāṭān)! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?"And the Lord said to the Devil (diabolos), The Lord rebuke thee, O Devil (diabolos), even the Lord that has chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: behold! is not this as a brand plucked from the fire?

What do we see?

  • Of the 27 occurrences of śāṭān, 18 have been translated by the Greek word diabolos (devil), three by epipoulos (traitor), three by satan, one by diabolē (opposition), one by endiaballō (to oppose), and one by antikeimenos (adversary); only the occurrence in Job 1:8 has not been translated, the translator preferring a personal pronoun to avoid repetition ("The Lord told him [autō]").

  • Of the 27 occurrences of śāṭān, eight designate the attribute of the action or situation of a character, and in Greek it is translated by different words, except diabolos :

    • In the oracles of Balam, the word describes the action of the angel of God in blocking Balaam's way in response to the call of Barak, a Moabite king (Num 22:22,32);
    • In 1 Sam 29:4, the word describes the opposition of the chief of the Philistines to David taking part in the battle;
    • in 2 Sam 19:22, the word describes in David's mouth the action of Avishai who opposes his granting forgiveness to Shimei who cursed him earlier;
    • In 1 Kings 5:4, after making peace with the king of Tyre and as he prepares to build the temple, Solomon finds that he is in a situation where he no longer has an opponent;
    • 1 Kings 11 presents the situation of Solomon who faces an adversary in the person of Hadad the Edomite (1 Kings 11:14), then Rezon, son of Elyada (1 Kings 11:23,25).

  • Two occurrences (1 R 11:14,23) of the Hebrew śāṭān were translated into Greek by satan to describe the fact that Solomon faced adversaries.

  • Finally, when śāṭān designates this character of the heavenly court who plays the role of accuser and enemy of God, it is always translated by diabolos (devil).

In the Gospels

  1. Mark

    It was Mark who first introduced the term satan in the gospels (He never uses the term "devil"). He uses it in four scenes: the temptation of Jesus in the desert (Mk 1:13), then when his family thinks he has gone mad and the scribes from Jerusalem think he is performing exorcisms using the power of Beelzebub, the chief of the demons (Mk 3:23-26), in the explanation of the parable of the sower (Mk 4:15), and finally in the description Jesus gives to Peter after the announcement of his passion (Mk 8:33) What do we learn?

    1. First of all, in the figure of Satan in Mk 1:13 we find that which appeared in the book of Job, the tempter or accuser, who tests people faithful to God, which the Septuagint had translated as "devil", which the Q document also did. Obviously, Mark is not aware of this Q Document, and the particular source he uses seems influenced by the Hebrew world.

    2. The account in which Jesus is accused of casting out demons by Beelzebul is problematic (Mk 3:23-26). For, as we observed earlier in our analysis of the demon and the devil in the gospels, these two types of spirit are different entities: the demon is a lower spirit responsible for physical evils, while the devil, the Greek term for Satan, belongs to the heavenly court of angels and is responsible for moral evils. And Jesus, in his answer, refers to Satan casting out Satan, as if demons, Satan and Beelzebub all belonged to the same category of spirits. How can this be explained? It is possible that Jesus spoke only of Satan, since the word "demon", of Greek origin, was not part of his vocabulary and had no unique equivalent in Hebrew. In this case, the word "demon" would have appeared when the gospel entered the Greek universe. Furthermore, since Satan/Devil belongs to a higher class of spirits, it would be normal for him to have authority over the whole world of evils, and to delegate physical evils to lower evil spirits. Thus, this passage in Mark would testify to two traditions that have been sewn together: a very ancient tradition that echoes Jesus' language about Satan, and a tradition that goes back to the Hellenized Jews who commonly spoke of demonic possession.

    3. In his explanation of the parable of the sower, Mark attributes to Satan the situation of those who do not even accept the word of the gospel when it is proclaimed (Mk 4:15). It must be understood that Satan makes this good news seem foreign and unacceptable. Matthew has taken up Mark's text, but is more explicit: "they do not understand it", and replaces Satan with "the Evil One" (Mt 13:19). Similarly, Luke makes Mark's text explicit by referring to faith: "lest they believe", and replaces Satan with his Greek equivalent: the Devil (Lk 8:12). That Satan is replaced by "the Evil One" or "the Devil" is indicative that Matthew and Luke's audience includes a good proportion of people of Greek culture. Note that in the rest of the explanation of the parable Mark speaks of two other situations that prevent the word from being accepted, persecution and worldly concerns and desires such as wealth, but does not attribute these situations to Satan.

    4. Finally, Mark presents us with the scene where Peter, after hearing Jesus announce the suffering and death he will have to undergo, rebukes him, only to be told that he is a Satan (Mk 8:33). Why? By wanting to make Jesus deviate from his mission, Peter plays the same role as Satan, opposing the way proposed by God; in the OT, Satan is God's adversary. By adding to Peter's address: "You do not think things in God's way, but in man's way", Mark's Jesus assumes that the whole of humanity is under Satan's control.

    Satan in Mark thus presents the same traits as the Devil: he is the tempter and the accuser, he is responsible for the evils on this earth, in particular for the refusal of the gospel word, he is the adversary of God who seems to exercise a certain control over humanity. Moreover, the fact that he uses Satan rather than the Devil could be explained by his art of story telling where he likes to give an "exotic" color to his story, such as introducing Aramaic words.

  2. Matthew

    Matthew has only one reference of his own: "Away with you, Satan" (Mt 4:10), a phrase he adds to the account of Jesus' temptation that he receives from the Q document where only the devil is mentioned. This may come as a surprise. But by adding this phrase, which is a word he puts in Jesus' mouth, the evangelist is probably aware that Jesus could only have pronounced the word Satan, and not the original Greek word: devil.

  3. Luke

    Luke presents three occurrences of Satan in his gospel that are unique to him.

    1. In Lk 10:18, Jesus reacts to the return of the disciples who rejoice at the result of their exorcisms, i.e. the demons were subdued. Jesus' statement that Satan is falling from heaven, i.e., falling from his throne, announces the end of his reign. In this, Luke's Satan is in line with what the gospels say about the devil: he rules the world, but his end is near. At the same time, it confirms a certain confusion between the demon and the devil, who are usually different beings in the gospels, the demons being responsible for physical evils, at least some of them (such as epilepsy, mental illness, sometimes blindness and mutism), Satan/the devil responsible for moral evils. But the association of Satan with demons is probably explained by the tendency to put the responsibility for all the evils of the earth, including disease, on Satan's shoulders. Luke will do the same thing in Lk 13:16 (the account of the bent woman).

    2. The story of the woman bent over for 18 years (Lk 13:16: "And this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound eighteen years ago") is another example of confusion between the role of the devil and that of Satan. In the gospels, there is a constant where the diseases, at least part of them (like epilepsy, mental illness, sometimes blindness and mutism), are caused by a diabolic possession, while Satan/the devil is presented as 1) a prosecutor, responsible for the trials (see the account of the temptations), in order to check the fidelity of the human being and to be able to accuse him or her, 2) and he is the one who introduces moral evil in struggle against the gospel and the kingdom of God, and thus the source of death. Moreover, the beginning of the story of the bent woman mentions that the woman was possessed by a spirit (Lk 13:11) which usually means "evil spirit" or "demon" in the gospels. How do we explain the confusion? Again, Luke probably merges two sources, one of which, perhaps oral, would be very old around a word of Jesus that spoke only of Satan, and never of devil or demon. And Luke usually tends to respect the vocabulary of his sources.

    3. In Lk 22:31 Luke probably gives us another example from a very early source with the mention of Satan and the use of Simon as the name of the leader of the apostles: "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked for you (plural) to be shaken through a sieve like wheat." As we have said, the term "Satan" belongs to the Jewish vocabulary, and it is likely that it was used by Jesus. But the sentence is confusing because the "you" is a personal pronoun in the plural, and therefore not addressed to Simon, but to the apostles at the table with Jesus. This is not the first time that Luke's syntax has been confusing. In any case, Satan's role is very clear through the image of the sieve that separates the wheat from the chaff: he is the one responsible for testing the quality of the disciple's commitment (see the account of Jesus' temptation) and, if necessary, for making accusations like the prosecutor in a trial.

    In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke uses the term "Satan" twice, first in a speech by Peter to Annanias ("Why has Satan filled your heart? You have lied to the Holy Spirit," Acts 5:3), then in a speech by Paul to Agrippa who explains his mission to the Gentiles ("to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the empire of Satan to God," Acts 26:18). Here we find two traditional roles of the devil: that of introducing evil into the human heart, and that of being master of the world (see one of Jesus' temptations to receive the world as his inheritance if he submits to the devil). Why does Luke of Acts, who occasionally uses the word devil, choose the term "Satan" here? One possible answer is that Luke likes to coat his stories with a veneer of antiquity. The Jew Simon/Peter must have been speaking primarily about "Satan" in Palestine, not "the devil. The same is true of Paul, who, if we look only at the letters of which we are sure he is the author, uses only the term "Satan", never "devil".

  4. Johannine Tradition

    There is only one occurrence of "Satan," and it appears in Jn 13:27, after Jesus had offered Judas Iscariot a morsel that he had dipped: "At that moment, when he had offered him this morsel, Satan entered [eisēlthen satanas eis] in Judas". Why does the evangelist use the term "Satan" when twice before he used the term devil in reference to Judas ("one of you is a devil," Jn 6:70; "At a meal, when already the devil had put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray him," Jn 13:2). The likely answer is that John is here using a tradition also known from Luke ("Now Satan entered into [eisēlthen satanas eis] Judas, called Iscariot, who was of the number of the Twelve," Lk 22:3). Whether it is Satan or the Devil, the role is the same: to introduce evil designs into the human heart.

The other writings of the New Testament

Let us first consider the so-called Pauline letters. The traits that emerge from Satan can be gathered as follows:

  • Satan is the enemy of the gospel and uses every means to oppose it. In 1 Thess 2:18 Paul writes that he wanted to go to Thessalonica several times to review the community he had founded, but that Satan prevented him from doing so. Behind Satan, we must see individuals, probably Jews, who raised various obstacles; but for Paul, all this is the work of Satan. It is in the same sense that we should probably read 2 Corinthians 12:7 ("a thorn was put in my flesh, an angel of Satan appointed to smite me, that I might not be proud"): in many of the communities he founded there arose opponents who confronted him personally, people he calls false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13), people who led him to write this letter in tears (1:12 - 2:13).

  • Satan is the ruler of the world, and it is the role of the Christian community to provide shelter from his grip. So to exclude someone from the Christian community is to send him back to Satan, as Paul writes about the Christian who married his mother-in-law ("let such a man be delivered to Satan for the destruction of his flesh," 1 Cor 5, 5), or the author of the first letter to Timothy about Hymenaeus and Alexander who had blasphemed and have suffered shipwreck in the faith ("I gave them over to Satan, so that they might learn not to blaspheme any more", 1 Tm 1:20).

  • Satan is a cunning and deceitful spirit with powerful means. So Paul urges Christians not to be "deceived by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his intentions" (2 Cor 2:11), and Satan can even work through Christian missionaries, "disguised as apostles of Christ" (2 Cor 11:13), for Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light and servants of justice (2 Cor 11:14-15). But it is in the time before Christ's return that Satan will manifest himself most vividly with so-called signs and wonders (2 Thess 2:9).

  • Satan is the ultimate tempter. That is why Paul warns married couples who abstain for a time in order to devote themselves to prayer to resume their sexual life as soon as possible "lest your inability to control yourselves give Satan an opportunity to tempt you" (1 Cor 7:5). Similarly, the author of the first letter to Timothy recommends that young widows remarry, "for some have already gone astray by following Satan" (1 Tim 5:15): their situation as widows leads them to be idle, to run around the houses, to be talkative and indiscreet, to speak out of turn (1 Tim 5:13-14).

  • But Satan will soon be defeated: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Rom 16:20)

All these features of Satan are consistent with what we have said about the devil in the New Testament.

The book of Revelation deserves a separate treatment. First of all, the two terms "Satan" and "Devil" appear there and are often treated synonymously (Rev 12:9; 20:2). Satan/Devil was cast down from heaven to earth and is engaged in a merciless struggle with the new Israel, the Church, which lasts 1,260 days and three and a half times, i.e. the time of the persecution that will lead to the end of time (Rev 12:6). Finally, the angel of the Lord "took hold of the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and chained him for a thousand years" (Rev 20:2). After the thousand years, the devil was released from his prison and went to deceive all the nations of the earth, but finally God intervened, and "the devil, their deceiver, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the beast and the false prophet. And they will suffer torment day and night forever and ever" (Rev 20:10). While the assertion that the world is under the control of Satan is not new in the New Testament, what is new is to explicitly associate Satan with the Roman emperor, his officers, and the required cult, much as the imans of Iran refer to the American empire as the great Satan.

But Satan is given a special meaning first of all in the expression "synagogue of Satan" (Rev 2:9; 3:9). The expression appears in the letters addressed to the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia. It may seem surprising, but it is in keeping with the Johannine tradition in which the main opponents of evangelization are the Jewish brothers who refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah and who subsequently promoted persecution; the expression assumes that the true synagogue is now the Christian community. Let us not forget that Satan has been defined as the adversary of evangelization, and the author of the apocalypse is most likely of Jewish origin.

In the letter to the church in Pergamum, the author uses the expression "throne of Satan" (Rev 2:13), which may refer to the city's status as the main center of imperial worship in Asia Minor; indeed, a temple to the spirit of Rome existed there as early as 195 BC, and in gratitude to Augustus, a temple to the deity of Caesar had been built there in 29 BC.

In the letter to the church of Thyatira, Satan is also mentioned in the context of a similar Gnostic ideology coupled with a certain libertinism (which goes together, because in the Gnostic world only the spirit and knowledge matter, not the body and morality), and the author seems to reproach certain members of the community with this mentality of enlightened people who want to deepen a doctrine that he attributes to Satan (Rev 2: 24), a doctrine that he considers undoubtedly erroneous and perverse, and therefore anti-evangelical. This vocabulary is similar to that of the author of the first letter to Timothy (4:1), who also has to deal with false teachings, and who speaks of teachings of demons.

In conclusion

The term "satan" is a Hebrew word that means: adversary. In the Old Testament, it can simply mean opposition to some action or person, or it can be personified and then refer to that character in the heavenly court who acts as a prosecutor to test humans and bring accusations, just as it is he who introduces evil designs in opposition to God. The Greek translation of the Septuagint has opted for different words in the case of opposition to an action or a person, but has always opted for "devil" when referring to the heavenly figure.

In the gospels, the term "Satan" is especially present in Mark and Luke. In Mark Satan has the same features as the Devil: he is the tempter and the accuser, he is responsible for the evils on earth, in particular for the rejection of the gospel word, he is the adversary of God who seems to exercise a certain control over humanity. Moreover, the fact that he uses Satan rather than Devil could explain his tendency to give an "exotic" color to his stories, as he did with Aramaic terms. In Luke, Satan is the master of the world, more specifically of the pagan world, the tempter who tests the disciples, the one who introduces evil designs and thereby attacks the Holy Spirit, but his end is assured. It is possible that the presence of the term "Satan" in his work is explained by the use of an ancient tradition whose vocabulary he respects.

In the rest of the New Testament, Satan appears as a cunning and deceitful being who uses various means to oppose the gospel, especially the mission of Paul. Outside the Christian community, he reigns supreme. In the eyes of all, he is the tempter par excellence. But the believer is convinced that he will soon be defeated.

The apocalypse is different from other writings because Satan has different names, such as Devil, Dragon, Serpent. Cast out of heaven, he makes war on the new Israel, the Church. This war is made through the Roman emperor and the imperial cult. It is also waged through Jews who refused to accept Jesus as the messiah and who subsequently promoted persecution. It is also done through certain members who were led astray by a form of Gnosticism and religion for the "enlightened".

Noun satanas in the Bible
Semitic inclusion It is a writing technique, also called "chiasm", widely used in the Gospels by which a text is structured so that the theme at the end takes up the theme at the beginning.

For example, let's look at Mk 8:34 where the theme of following Jesus appears at the beginning and the end to enshrine the central idea in the middle.

A) If any
want to follow me,
B) let them deny themselves
B') and take up their cross
A') and follow me

Very often, it is the center of this structure that gives the key to understanding the whole. Let us give the example of Luke 5:17 - 6:11:

A) introduction 5: 17
B) healing 5: 18-26
C) controversy 5: 27-35
C') controversy 6: 1-5
B') healing 6: 6-10
A') conclusion 6: 11

Birth of the Septuagint

The Septuagint is basically the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. This translation started first with the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) in Alexandria, Egypt, during the reign of King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285 to 247 BC). According to the Letter of Aristeas, it is the work of 72 Jewish scholars who came from Jerusalem and completed it in 72 days, hence the name Septuagint, i.e., Seventy or LXX. It should be noted, however, that this translation was only known by its Latin name Septuaginta at the time of s. Augustine (354-430).

Subsequently, translation of the other books of the Hebrew Bible continued, involving a wide variety of translators, but the name Septuagint was retained for all these translations. Given the large number of scholars involved, it is easy to understand the great variety in the quality of the translation, some sticking to the most literal translation possible, others allowing themselves a fair amount of freedom in interpreting the original text.

According to the prologue to Sirach (0:27-29: "In the year 38 of the late king Evergetus, when I came to Egypt and sojourned there, I discovered a life of great wisdom"), the translation of all Hebrew books was completed during the reign of Ptolemy VIII Euergetus II Tryphon, co-king of Egypt from 170 to 163 BC and king from 140 to 116 BC. Thus, by 132 BC, the translation was complete.

According to the Letter of Aristas, the Septuagint was recognized by the Jewish community of Alexandria. For authors such as Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus, it is their main reference book.

The current text of the Septuagint

The Septuagint originally comprised what would constitute the canon of the Hebrew Bible: 1) the Torah or Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), 2) the Prophets, i.e., the Prophets. first the first Prophets (Joshua, Judges, the two books of Samuel and the two books of Kings), then the last Prophets, first Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, followed by the twelve: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, finally 3) the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, presented as Esdras B, the two books of the Chronicles).

To the original nucleus were later added Judith, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, texts that are considered deuterocanonical, i.e. a second canon or an addition to the original canon, as well as additions to Esther (the "dream of Mordecai" and the "plot against the king", the "Edict of Artaxerses", "Mordecai to Esther", the "prayer of Mordecai" and the "prayer of Esther", the "meeting of Esther and the king", the "new edict of Artaxerses", the "explanation of the dream of Mordecai" and the "conclusion of the Greek version") and Daniel (prayer of Azariah, the Song of the Three Children, the story of Susanna and the old men, Bel and the serpent). Also were added writings considered today as deuterocanonical, or apocryphal: 1 Esdras, presented as Esdras A, 3 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees, Psalm 151, the Odes and Psalms of Solomon, the prayer of Manasseh.

The Hebrew text used by the Septuagint is not always identical to the Massoretic text we know. For the Pentateuch, there is no problem. But the text of Jeremiah appears shorter, or the text of Joshua shows small variations, or some Psalms reflect a Hebrew text with vowels defined differently.

Moreover, the translation of the Septuagint is not systematic: the same Hebrew word is not always translated in the same way, and sometimes certain groups of books have their own particular vocabulary. As for poetic books, their translation is not always good and contains many approximations. Finally, while some translators have tried to represent the Hebrew text rigorously, others have given themselves more freedom.

For manuscripts, there are some papyruses from the 2nd century BC with Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and fragments from the 1st century BC with the Pentateuch, and the minor prophets, but it was only after the Hexapla of Origen that the complete text was obtained with the codex Vaticanus (4th century) and the codex Alexandrinus (5th century).

The Septuagint in the first centuries of the modern era

Since many of the early Christians came from Hellenistic Judaism, the Septuagint was their first reference to Scripture. Thus the New Testament, especially the Epistles of Paul, contain a number of citations from the Septuagint. Some Septuagint manuscripts have even been found in Qumran. Someone like Justin (circa 160 CE) tells us that the Septuagint was the most reliable version of the Old Testament and that it was read at the weekly assemblies of the Christian community along with the reading of the memory of the Apostles. However, referring to the same book, Christians and Jews entered into polemics over its interpretation. A typical example is Isaiah 7:14 ("Behold, the young woman (Heb. ʿalmâ = young woman, LXX: parthenos = virgin) is with child, she is going to bear a son and she will name him Immanuel"); for the first Christians the original meaning was the announcement of the virginal birth of the Messiah, for the Jews such an interpretation betrayed the original meaning. Going further, some Christians did not hesitate to make additions to the text of the Septuagint, for example adding "from the cross" to Psalm 95:10 (Heb. 96:10): "The Lord reigns [from the cross]". All this contributed to the Jewish community distancing itself from the Septuagint.

Moreover, at the end of the first century AD, following the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, religious Jews gathered in the city of Jamnea and began to draw up an inventory of their religious heritage, and in particular to determine definitively which books belonged to Scripture, the so-called canon of Scripture. However, the Septuagint, which had come into being before this period, had applied much less strict rules and contained books or portions of books that were different from the Palestinian canon, and even reflected a different Hebrew text. This contributed to diminishing the value of the Septuagint in the eyes of the Jews.

Aquila and the Septuagint

At the beginning of the second century Rabbi Akiva ben Yosseph developed a method of biblical exegesis in which each letter of Scripture was sacred, and therefore contained a meaning willed by God. Thus, for example, the Hebrew particle ʾēt, which only aims to introduce a direct object complement (Gen 1:1: "In the beginning God created (ʾēt) the heavens and (ʾēt) the earth") and has no meaning in itself, came to mean for Akiva "with", and therefore had to be read: God created with the heavens the sun, the moon and the constellations, and with the earth the trees, the plants and the garden of Eden. In such a context, the sometimes very free translation of the Septuagint lost its value.

So a disciple of Rabbi Akiva's, Aquila of Sinope, undertook a new Greek translation which aimed to render the Hebrew text literally, so that the same principles of exegesis could be applied to it. This translation shows great ingenuity in remaining stuck to the Hebrew text, but at the cost of a massacre of the Greek language, even a text incomprehensible to the uninitiated. For example, in Gen 1:1 (In the beginning (Heb. rēʾšît, LXX : archē), God created (ʾēt) the heavens and (ʾēt) the earth), the word rēʾšît is translated by the Septuagint as archē (beginning, origin), but Aquila, considering that rēʾšît is derived in Hebrew from rōʾš (head) opted instead for the Greek term kephalaion (main point, total), since it is derived from the root kephalē (head), which gives: "In main point, God...". And following the example of Rabbi Akiva, Aquila translates ʾēt, which was not translated by the Septuagint because it is only a particle introducing a direct object complement, by the Greek preposition sun (with). When different Hebrew terms are derived from the same root, he applies the same principle to his Greek translation: for example, all derivatives of the Hebrew root yĕšûʿâ (salvation) are also translated by the derivatives of the Greek root of sōtēria (salvation). Greek words that are masculine or neutral are used to translate Hebrew words that are also masculine. With Hebrew terms that are longer, Aquila offers a translation with longer Greek terms. It sometimes succeeds in the feat of translating a Hebrew term with the same final letter.

For several centuries the Jews held this translation in high esteem, even using it in their liturgy. But with the Byzantine Empire that appeared in the 5th century and the requirement imposed on Jewish communities to study the original Hebrew, this translation lost its authority. Today, all that remains of it is a number of fragments.

Other Greek translations

Other Jewish scholars, dissatisfied with the Septuagint translation, proposed their own translation of the Hebrew Bible. One of these was Theodotion, perhaps from Ephesus, who published his version in the second part of the second century CE. His aim was to propose a more accurate translation of the Hebrew text. A typical example is Isaiah 25:8, where the Hebrew text has : "He will swallow up death forever (neṣaḥ)", translated by the Septuagint as : "Death has prevailed and swallowed men up"; keeping the Greek text, he simply added: eis neikos (forever) to be closer to the Hebrew text.

Another such scholar is Symmachus the Ebionite, a Jewish Christian of the same period. His desire was to provide a translation of the entire Hebrew Bible by closely following the text, but at the same time offering the beautiful Greek style. In this way he cultivated the participial constructions by which the main proposition of the Hebrew text becomes a subordinate.

One could also mention other translations of individual books of the Hebrew Bible which are known to us only from the Hexapla of Origen.

The Christian School of Alexandria

In Alexandria, Egypt, the Christians started a strong intellectual movement that gave birth to the Christian School of Alexandria. It was the school that purified the Septuagint of all its Christian additions.

One of the most prominent members of this school was Origen (184 - 253). One of his major works is the Exapla, an edition of the Bible in which he presents in six columns the Hebrew text, followed by its Greek transliteration, then the translation of Aquila and that of Symmachus, then that of the Septuagint, and finally that of Theodotion. In order to note sections of the Septuagint that do not appear in the original Hebrew, he uses obels: –, —̣, ÷); and conversely, he added words, marked with an asterisk (*), when he considered them missing from the Septuagint translation. Origen made other modifications, such as correcting the form of proper nouns, or modifying the word order to match the word order of the Hebrew text, especially since each column contained only a few words.

The Hexapla aimed only at the community of scholars, and in particular to provide them with tools in their altercations with the Jews. In the end, however, they had no influence on the Christian communities, especially since Origen himself wanted them to stick to the traditional version of the Septuagint.

The school of Antioch

The founder of this school is Lucian, called the Lucian of Antioch or Lucian of Samosata (240 - 312). A great admirer of Origen, he in turn undertook to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. But he did so with great freedom of style, often replacing the Hellenistic forms of the Septuagint with the Attic forms, the dialect of the ancient city of Athens. His work was widely received and exerted a great influence, especially among the theologians and exegetes of Antioch. It even extended as far as Constantinople, then capital of the Byzantine Roman Empire. According to Jerome, around the year 400, it was the best known version of the Bible in the region from Antioch to Constantinople.

However, in Palestine there was a reaction against the influence of Antioch. It came from Pamphilus of Caesarea (250 - 309), founder of the theological school and the famous library of Caesarea, and also a great admirer of Origen. With the help of Eusebius, his pupil and future author of a history of the Church, he took up Origen's version of the Septuagint and published it in a separate text; this made it possible to revive this version of the Bible, independently of the Hexapla. According to Jerome, this was the dominant version in Palestine around the year 400.

(According to Alfred Rahlfs. Septuaginta. Stuttgart : Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1935, p. lvii-lxv; Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament. Paris : Seuil, 1975, p. 491, et L. Monloubou – F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Québec : Desclée – Anne Sigier, 1984, p. 692-693.)

Letter of Aristeas

Text of the Septuagint with English translation by L.C.L. Brenton

1 Esdras

3 Maccabees

4 Maccabees

Daniel Greek

Esther Greek

Odes of Solomon

Prayer of Manasseh

Psalm 151

Psalms of Solomon
Spirit (Summary Pneuma, paraklētos, chrisma), André Myre, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard – Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 463-469)

The word is derived from the verb pneō which means: to blow, to exhale an odor, to breathe. In classical Greek authors, the neutral noun pneuma refers first to the breath of the wind, then to breathing, respiration, exhalation or the smell of perfume. In a very rare way, it sometimes refers to the divine spirit.

In Hebrew, this is expressed by the word: rûaḥ (רוּחַ). Its meaning varies according to the level of reality in which one is situated:

  • Reality of nature: the word then designates the breath of the wind with which we are so familiar: "God sent a wind (rûaḥ) over the earth and the swelling of the waters were reduced", Gen 8:1.
  • Reality of the human being: the word translates the fact that a being is alive by its breath: "I will bring the flood, the waters, upon the earth, to wipe out from under heaven all flesh that have a breath (rûaḥ) of life: everything on earth must perish", Gn 6:17.
  • Reality of God: the word names the range of his powers of action: "Yahweh says: 'My Spirit (rûaḥ) will not always rule man, given his errors: he is only flesh and his days will be a hundred and twenty years", Gen 6:3.

In the Hebrew world, to the extent that he accepts to let himself be animated and directed by God's rûaḥ, the human being finds life and is able in turn to manifest extraordinary capacities: "I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit (rûaḥ) in you; I will remove from your body the heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put my own Spirit (rûaḥ) in you; I will make you walk in my statutes and keep and practice my customs" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

The Septuagint translated rûaḥ, usually a feminine word, as pneuma, a word of neutre gender. It refers primarily to a reality of God's power or capacity for action. It is in the Book of Wisdom, written directly in Greek, that this reality is best expressed: "And your purpose, who would have known it, had you not yourself given the gift of wisdom and sent your holy Breath (pneuma) from above" (9:17). Thus, human beings are able to grasp God's intentions, because they have received from him this immaterial and dynamic reality: "And your incorruptible breath (pneuma) is in all beings" (12:1).

The English word "spirit" comes from the Latin "spiritus", which was used to translate the Hebrew "rûaḥ" and the Greek "pneuma". Today, however, we tend to use the word "breath" to translate the same reality, because it covers both its dynamic and its immaterial aspects.

Throughout the New Testament, the word appears more than 240 times. One could schematize its different meanings in the following way.

  • It is the pneuma that allows God to raise us from the dead, as it was the case for Jesus: "And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you" (Romans 8:11).
  • The pneuma belongs to the Father or to the risen Jesus, and both can give it: "And now, exalted by the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, the object of the promise, and has poured it out. This is what you see and hear" (Acts 2:33).
  • The pneuma has inspired Scripture, as well as some of the great figures living at the time or contemporaries of Jesus: "It was you who said by the Holy Spirit and by the mouth of our father David, your servant, Why this arrogance among the nations, these vain plans among the peoples?" (Acts 4:25); "And it came to pass, when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, that the child leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:41).
  • The pneuma is at the origin of Jesus' historical existence and fundamental orientations: "The angel answered him, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God'" (Luke 1:35); "Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the desert" (Luke 4:1).
  • The pneuma is the basic dynamism of Christian existence in all its forms and guides decisions: "For those who live according to the flesh desire what is carnal; those who live according to the spirit, what is spiritual. For the desire of the flesh is death, while the desire of the spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:5-6).

Three great theologians of the Spirit can be identified: Paul, Luke and John.

  1. Paul

    The setting for understanding Paul's reflection on the pneuma is that of the Christian faith: how to explain where faith is coming from? "For our Gospel did not come to you in words alone, but in power, in the work of the Holy Spirit, in superabundance" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Therefore, faith is not born of the persuasion of the word, but of the work of the Spirit in the heart of the person. Everything else follows.

    • It is therefore this pneuma that is at the origin of Christian life: "And hope does not disappoint, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).
    • It continues to act throughout this Christian life: "Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? "1 Corinthians 3:16
    • And it is the pneuma who will lead us into eternal life: "Whoever sows in the flesh shall reap corruption from the flesh; whoever sows in the Spirit shall reap eternal life from the Spirit", Gal 6:8.

  2. Luke

    Luke's starting point is different from Paul's: he is rather concerned with understanding the abundance of life that marked the first half-century of the Church's life. This is the founding role of Pentecost: "But you are about to receive power, the power of the Holy Spirit who will descend upon you. You will then be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). And Luke sees this power as being given to each person who receives baptism: "Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:38). Once received, the pneuma becomes the source of missionary dynamism.

  3. John

    In John, the starting point for reflection is even different: how is it possible to listen to Jesus once he is gone and when facing confrontation with society of the time? Here are four versions of his answer.

    • You will be able to continue to listen to Jesus by taking the path of love, and by receiving the help of a lawyer to face society: "You will follow my precepts, if you love me, and I will ask the Father to give you another advocate (paraklētos) who will always be at your side, the Sprit (pneuma) of truth, which the world cannot receive because it does not see it and does not know it", Jn 14:15-17.
    • It will be the role of this Breath or Spirit to help us assimilate all the teaching of Jesus: "Then the Advocate (paraklētos) the Holy Spirit (pneuma) that the Father will send in my name, will guide you and remind you of all that I said" 14: 26.
    • In the face of society, this pneuma will give you the strength to be a living testimony of the person of Jesus in your whole person: "When the Advocate (paraklētos) comes, whom I will send to you, the Spirit (pneuma) of truth from the Father, he will testify for me. But you too will testify, since you have been with me from the beginning", 15: 26-27.
    • The action of this pneuma, which allows us to confront society in its errors, is only made possible because Jesus now belongs to the world of his Father and is able to give it as a gift: "But it is in your interest that I go, I tell you the truth, for if I do not go, the Advocate (paraklētos) will not come to you, whereas if I go from you, I will send him. Once there, he will instruct the cause of the world in matters of wrong, justice and judgment" 16: 7-8.

    As we can see, in John paraklētos and pneuma are synonymous. But where does the Greek term paraklētos come from when it does not appear anywhere else in the Bible? It refers to someone - a non-professional - who comes to support an acquaintance in the course of a trial. It is therefore a role of defender and intercessor. However, the Hebrew Bible proposed the word mēlîṣ (מֵלִיץ, mediator) to describe a similar function: "If there is an angel near him, a Mediator (mēlîṣ) taken from among a thousand, who reminds man of his duty" (Job 33:23). We must therefore think that John preferred to use a term well known in the local culture to make us understand the role of the pneuma, the dynamic breath sent by the resurrected Jesus. This role can be summarized as follows.

    • It is identical to pneuma, it will come second, after the departure of Jesus, the first paraklētos
    • It will be sent by the Father, in the name of Jesus.
    • Its function will be to defend not the world (kosmos), the opposing party in this great trial, but its own;
      • It will guide them and remind them of what Jesus said;
      • It will give them the strength to become true witnesses.

    The use of the word paraklētos gives an idea of the climate in which John situates his gospel: that of a confrontation and a great trial with society, in particular the Jewish world which excluded them from the synagogue, and in which the typical characters of a trial appear, i.e. a defense lawyer, a judge. This is why John reassures his community with the promise of Jesus that he will not leave them alone, but that they will be able to count on the help of a defender who will be at their side, will guide them and will allow them to revive his word in a new way.

    One cannot conclude the analysis of the pneuma without mentioning the term chrisma (anointing) found in the first Johannine epistle:

    You, you have been consecrated (you have received the chrisma) by the saint, and you all know... But on you his consecration (chrisma) remains, and you do not need to be taught. And since the consecration (chrisma) received from him teaches you everything, that it is truth and not a lie, remain in him as he taught you (1 Jn 2:20,27).

    According to John, by receiving the pneuma, the believer accepts a chrisma, a part of Christ that takes hold of his being and allows him to reinterpret all his teaching. It is the same role as that of paraklētos.

Synagogue The Greek word synagōgē means "meeting" or "assembly", translating the Aramaic word: kenichtâ (house of prayer). The synagogue dates back to exile when there was no temple, and was widespread in countries outside Palestine where there was a large Jewish community.

The building is oriented towards Jerusalem. It consists of a hall with a sacred cupboard containing the scrolls of the Law and Prophets. The person in charge of the synagogue, or head of the synagogue, is a layman chosen by the notables. He is assisted by the hazzan, a kind of sacristan, who also acts as cantor and schoolmaster. According to the rule, men and women occupied the two sides of the synagogue separately. The premises also served as a common house to which mutual aid services were annexed.

The Sabbath service consisted of prayers, readings from the Law, and a prophetic passage, all of which were translated from Hebrew into Aramaic, since most people spoke only Aramaic and no longer understood Hebrew. The whole thing was accompanied by instruction, often given by the Pharisees, but which could be given by one of the assistants. The meeting ended with a blessing. During the week, scribes taught the young men the meaning of the Scriptures. It was from the synagogue that the young Christian community proclaimed its faith.

(According to Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament. Paris : Seuil, 1975, p. 507, and L. Monloubou – F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Québec : Desclée – Anne Sigier, 1984, p. 715.)

Truth (According to Alētheia, Pierre Létourneau, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal : Bayard – Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 263-271)

The adjective alēthēs (true, sincere, real, genuine) is composed of the verbal root lanthanō (to be hidden, ignored, unnoticed), preceded by the negative prefix "a-". It thus qualifies what does not pass unnoticed, what is not hidden, what is not concealed. Homer uses it to talk about people who do not lie or make mistakes. The feminine name alētheia refers to "truth", i.e. speech that hides nothing, as opposed to error, lies or appearances. The verb alētheuō means: to tell the truth, and the adjective alēthinos (true, sincere) suggests the idea of authenticity by referring, for example, to true friends or true matters.

Old Testament

The Septuagint translated most of the time by alētheia the Hebrew word ʾĕmet (אֱמֶת, truth, fidelity, loyalty). In the Jewish world, ʾĕmet is used mainly to express three facts of life: conformity with reality, the sincerity of a person, the solidity of a thing or a person.

  1. Conformity with reality

    The word is sometimes used to express the adequacy with reality or the accuracy of an affirmation, just as today when one affirms that something is true: "But if the thing is the truth (ʾĕmet / LXX : ep alētheias) and the the signs of virginity has not been found with young woman" (Deut 22:20).

  2. The sincerity or good faith of a person

    In some cases, it is the attitude of a person that is in question, and then ʾĕmet serves to ensure the good faith or sincerity of the person, who has no personal agenda: "So then, if it is in truth (ʾĕmet / LXX : en alētheia) and in all sincerity that you have acted and have made Abimelech king" (Jg 9:16).

  3. The solidity of a thing or a person

    In the word ʾĕmet we also find the idea of solidity, loyalty and fidelity. Thus, a man of truth is someone "sure", reliable, on whom one can rely, as this advice from Moses' father-in-law to Moses to choose judges shows: "But choose from among all the people capable, God-fearing, men of truth (ʾĕmet / LXX : dikaious), incorruptible men, and set them over them as rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens (Ex 18:21). This time, the Septuagint preferred to translate ʾĕmet with the Greek word dikaios: just. In the same line, God's commandments are laws of truth, because they constitute a sure standard for life: "You came down to Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven, and gave them righteous ordinances, laws of truth (ʾĕmet / LXX : alētheias), and excellent precepts and commandments" (Neh 9:13).

It goes without saying that the term truth suits above all Yahweh, who is described as a God of "grace and truth (faithfulness)": "Yahweh passed before him (Moses) and cried, 'Yahweh, Yahweh, God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, rich in grace (ḥesed) and in truth (ʾĕmet)'" (Ex 34:6).

New Testament

In the New Testament, the different forms of alētheia are concentrated in the Johannine and Pauline writings; for example, the noun alētheia appears as follows: Mt = 1; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 25; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 9; 2Jn = 5; 3Jn = 6; 1Th = 0; 2Th = 3; Ph = 1; 1Co = 2; 2Co = 8; Ga = 3 ; Rm = 8; Col = 2; Ep = 6; Phm = 0; 1Tm = 6; 2Tm = 6; Tt = 2; Jc = 3; 1P = 1; 2P = 2; Jude = 0; He = 1; Ap = 0. On the whole, one also finds there the same three great semantic fields found in the Old Testament.

  1. Conformity with reality

    In this sense, alētheia intends to designate a report on the facts: "Yes, truly, they were gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentile nations and the peoples of Israel" (Acts 4:27); it is not so much a question of sincerity as of accuracy: "Truly, this man also was with him, and he is a Galilean! "(Lk 22:59). We are in a purely objective world.

  2. The sincerity or good faith of a person

    Alētheia here designates what is true, upright and sincere and often appears in the expression: telling the truth (legein / lalein tēn alētheian): "Then the woman, fearful and trembling, knowing full well what had happened to her, came and threw herself at his feet and told him the whole truth" (Mk 5:33). Paul uses it as a rhetorical argument to convince his audience of the sincerity of his words: "I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie -- my conscience bears witness to this in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 9:1). In this context, Jesus is presented as the one who teaches in truth, i.e., who expresses his thoughts openly and sincerely, without following anyone and without being influenced by looks: "Teacher, we know that you are truthful (alēthēs) and that you do not care about anyone; for you do not consider yourself a person, but you teach the way of God in all truth (alētheia)" (Mk 12:14). This sincerity is the opposite of hypocrisy (see Phil 1:18) or imposture (see 2 Cor 6:8).

  3. The solidity of a thing or a person

    Here, there has been a tendency to oppose the Hebrew and Hellenistic notions of truth, one having the more existential connotation of trusting in someone sure, expressed for example by the verb ʾāman, from which our Amen is taken, the other having a connotation of truthfulness-sincerity. There are passages in the New Testament where the idea of a safe, solid, reliable thing or person is predominant.

    • Paul rebels against those who have allowed themselves to be deceived by false wonders, instead of trusting in things that are sure: "and by all the deceitfulness of unrighteousness to those who are lost, because they did not receive the love of the truth (alētheia) that would have saved them ... that they might be judged all those who did not believe the truth (alētheia) but took pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thes 2:10,12).

    As can be noted here, truth is opposed to injustice: truth is seen as synonymous with the gospel, a path that leads to life, while injustice is seen as a twisted path that leads nowhere but to perdition. This idea is found in Romans 1:25: "They exchanged the truth (alētheia) of God for falsehood, worshipped and served the creature instead of the Creator who is blessed for ever. Amen". What could be more solid than the word of God!

  4. The truth of Christian or Orthodox doctrine

    In the pastoral and Catholic letters there appears a new connotation to the word "truth," that of authentic doctrine: "However, if I delay, you will know how to behave in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth (alētheia)" 1 Timothy 3:15. To accept the truth is to accept the Christian message: "(God our Savior) who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (alētheia)" (1 Timothy 2:4).

The Johannine writings

Because of the importance of the word alētheia, these writings deserve special treatment.

  1. Truth as God's revelation

    Beyond truth as adequacy with reality, or sincerity in personal attitude, or even the solidity of a person or thing, truth is what God reveals about himself in the person of Jesus.

    • "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we saw his glory, the glory which, as the only Son full of grace and truth (alētheia), he has from the Father" (1:14).
    • If the Law was given by Moses, grace and truth (alētheia) came through Jesus Christ" (1: 17).

    We have seen that in the Old Testament, grace (ḥesed) and truth (ʾĕmet) were the attribute of God, now they are the attribute of Jesus, an attribute that he takes from His Father. And we can only grasp this truth by opening ourselves to the life and words of Jesus. Hence the sentence: "I am the way and the truth (alētheia) and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me" (14:6). In other words, Jesus is truth because he manifests the true being of the Father, making him the authentic way to God, whose knowledge establishes a stable and lasting communion of life.

  2. Truth as intimate knowledge of the Father

    Johannine truth is not a theoretical or philosophical category that can be defined in a sentence, but rather an intimate knowledge of the Father that is acquired through a lasting attachment to the son in faith. That is why Pilate does not understand it ("What is truth?", 18: 38), and why it is possible only with the help of the Spirit or Breath of Truth: "But when he comes, the Spirit of Truth (alētheia), he will bring you into the whole truth (alētheia); for he will not speak of himself, but what he hears, he will speak, and he will show you the things to come" (16: 13). It is this intimate knowledge of the Father that makes it possible to live like Jesus and like Him, hence this sentence: "But the hour is coming, the hour is here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth (alētheia); for such are the worshippers whom the Father seeks" (4:23).

  3. Truth as testimony

    Because the truth is an entry into the intimacy of the Father, it can only be communicated by a living testimony, not by a magisterial teacher: "I was born and came into the world to bear witness to the truth (alētheia). Whoever is of the truth (alētheia) hears my voice" (18:37). Conversely, to receive this testimony, one needs an inner predisposition, called here: to be of the truth (ek tēs alētheias). Elsewhere, we learn that this predisposition is based on an authentic life: "he who does the truth (alētheia) comes to the light, so that it may be made manifest that his works are done in God" (3:21).

Witness / to witness / testimony
On testimony, the Greek language of the Bible offers us five related words: the verb martyreō (to be a witness, to testify), the feminine noun martyria (act of testifying, testimony, attestation of), the masculine noun martys (witness, martyr), and less frequently, the verb martyromai (to attest, to assure, to call to witness) and the neutral noun martyrion (proof, testimony).

The very idea of testimony refers to the experience of someone who has seen something with his own eyes and can talk about it: there are therefore two essential elements, a person (a dog cannot testify), and an event (one cannot testify on the theory of relativity). In our modern world, it seems to me that the notion of testimony appears in six different contexts.

  1. Judicial context: a witness will be called before a judge or jury to testify what he or she saw and heard, and what he or she says will be considered testimony.
  2. Factual context: someone who has witnessed an accident or a household scene or a disaster, who has seen and heard what happened, and therefore can talk about it; journalists are on the lookout for people's testimony.
  3. Contractual context: This refers to someone who witnessed the signing of a contract, such as witnesses at a wedding or at the signing of a will.
  4. Personal experience context: One would refer to the particular experience of the individual, also called testimony: for example, a former alcoholic might recount his or her difficulties with alcohol and how he or she overcame his or her addiction; one will say that he or she has given a testimony.
  5. Context of popular judgment: Testimony is also used in the context of people expressing personal judgment about someone or a situation: for example, one would talk about the good reputation of a public figure which is based on popular testimony.
  6. Context of objects or actions that have symbolic value: the testimony can refer to objects or gestures, in short to tangible things that are the expression, proof or sign of an action, a feeling, an attitude, a conviction: for example, receiving expressions of sympathy or appreciation, showing one's love for someone by offering them flowers, or an action where one has been able to show one's courage; this is called as well testimony

What about in the Bible? Let's begin with the Old Testament, which we will read through its Greek translation, called the Septuagint. In some ways, the Jewish world resembled ours in the main aspects of witness.

  • Judicial context. The judicial context is very present and certain procedures were established very early on: LXX "One witness (martys) shall not be sufficient against a man concerning any iniquity, fault, or sin which he has committed; judgment shall be pronounced on the mouths of two witnesses (martys) or on the mouths of three witnesses (martys)" (Deuteronomy 19:15); likewise, there is an invitation to testify with honesty: LXX "Thou shalt not bear false testimony (martyria) against thy neighbor" (Exodus 20:16).

  • Factual context. Although to a lesser extent, we also speak of testimony in a factual context, such as the following, where a person must testify to what he has seen and heard: "If a soul sins and hears someone swearing, and has been a witness (martys) to the thing, if he do not report it, he shall bear his iniquity." (Leviticus 5:1).

  • Contractual context. It is easy to see that the contractual context has been present since the dawn of time, hence the need for proof of a contract: "Abraham said, 'You shall receive these seven lambs from me, that they may be a testimony (martyrion) that I have dug the well'" (Genesis 31:30).

  • Context of popular judgment. This context is present in a world where honor and reputation are important: "The city murmurs against him who is stingy in his meals, and the testimony (martyria) given to his avarice is true" (Sirach 31:24).

  • Symbolic context. Finally, we speak of testimony in the context where a thing or an action has symbolic value, i.e. it carries a message: "And as a testimony (martyrion) of their perversity, this land remains barren and smoking, and of its trees the fruit does not ripen; and a statue of salt is the memorial of the unbelieving woman" (Wisdom 10:7); the barren land symbolically testifies to unbelief.

It may have been noted that the Old Testament contains examples of all the modern contexts in which we speak of witness, with the exception of one, that of the personal testimony of an intimate experience; this is not surprising, since it is part of an individual and intimate society, where the sharing of interior experiences is important, which was not the case in antiquity. On the other hand, in the Jewish world there is a setting that we have not yet named, the religious setting. It is necessary to talk on it a little, because it gives a new color to the notion of testimony.

When God comes into play, there are three dimensions to the notion of witness that predominate, that of a trial in which the true God must be determined, that of the covenant between God and his people that calls for the signs of this contract, and that of the symbols that testify to God's action.

  • Judicial context. It is especially in the prophetic writings that there is a huge trial against false gods, and each one brings his witnesses. The pagans have their own witnesses: "Here are all the Gentiles gathered together at once, here are their princes. Who among them will declare these things? Who will declare these things from the beginning? Let them produce their witnesses (martys), let them justify themselves, let them hear and speak the truth" (Isaiah 43:9); the servants of God also testify at this trial: LXX "Be witnesses (martys) for me, and I myself will be a witness (martys), says the Lord God; and also my servant, whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe and understand that I am. Before me there was no other God, and there shall not be another God after me". But it also happens that God takes his people to task and testifies against them because of their wickedness: LXX "Because they have done iniquity in Israel, and have committed adultery with the wives of their countrymen, and have spoken in my name words which I did not command them; and I am a witness (martys) against them, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 29:23).

  • Contractual context. To seal the covenant, God gave His people the two tablets of stone on which was written the Law, the behavior He expected of His people; to keep this Law was a sign of faithfulness to this covenant. Now, when referring to the Law or all of its laws written "with the finger of God," several books (especially Exodus and Deuteronomy, but also some psalms, as well as Numbers and Leviticus) have used the word ēdût (עֵדוּת: testimony), because these laws served as a witness to the contract between God and His people. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew word by the Greek word martyrion in the plural: testimonies. This is how Moses gathered his people together to explain the terms of the contract: LXX "These are the testimonies (martyrion), precepts and judgments which Moses made known to the sons of Israel after they came out of Egypt..." (Deuteronomy 4:45) and then asks the people to express their commitment: LXX "You shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, the testimonies (martyrion) and the ordinances which he has made known to you" (Deut 6:17), and finally place these testimonies in the ark of the temple as a reminder of the covenant: LXX "And you shall put in the ark the testimonies (martyrion) which I will give you" (Exodus 25:16).

  • Symbolic context. We speak of a symbol when a thing or a person testifies to the action of God. For example, David is presented in this context: "Behold, I have borne testimony (martyrion) to the nations; he (David) is the prince, the teacher of the Gentiles" (Isaiah 55:4). Very often a destructive event is seen as an action of God to punish the people for their unfaithfulness: "And I (Yahweh) will destroy her vine and her fig trees, because she has said, 'These are the wages which my lovers have given me. And I (Yahweh) will bear testimony (martyrion) to them, and the beasts of the field shall feed on them, and the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the earth" (Hosea 2:14).

In the Old Testament as a whole, the judicial context and the contractual context dominate to a large extent. On the one hand, on the civil level, conflicts and trials of men must be regulated, and on the religious level faith in Yahweh comes into conflict with other gods to be tried; in all this there is a need for good witnesses. On the other hand, the covenant between Yahweh and his people requires, like any contract, the presence of a witness, whose role is played by the tables of the law, which will be called "testimonies" and placed in the ark as a perpetual reminder. In short, the whole thing has a very legal flavor.

Now, what do the Gospel-Actes-Johannic epistles say about testimony? First, let us look at the statistics:

  • the verb martyreō (to be a witness, to give testimony): Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 33; Acts = 11; 1Jn = 6; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 4
  • the feminine name martyria (act of witnessing, testimony, attestation of): Mt = 0; Mk = 3; Lk = 1; Jn = 14; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 6; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 1
  • the masculine name martys (witness, martyr): Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 12; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0
  • the verb martyromai (to attest, to assure, to call to testify): Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0
  • the neutral name martyrion (proof, testimony): Mt = 3; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0

Of the 112 occurrences of these 5 words, 64 belong to the Johannine tradition, or 57%. It will have been noted that if John likes very much the words martyreō (to testify) and martyria (testimony), he never uses martys (witness), martyrion (proof) or martyromai (call to testify); his spectrum of interest is very specific. This is what we shall see.

As might be expected, the context has shifted with the New Testament. Just as trials and contracts, especially the covenant contract, called for testimony in the Old Testament, so now it is what we have seen and heard and what we know that calls for testimony: the resurrection of Jesus is at the center of it all. Thus a new context has emerged: that of the revelation of what was hidden, a revelation that has its source in faith. Let us begin with an overview.

  • Judicial context. It is not very present: Mt = 4; Mk = 5; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In the majority of cases, it is a question of Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin, for example: "Now the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin sought a testimony (martyria) against Jesus to put him to death, and they found none" (Mk 15:55).

  • Factual context. This context appears frequently in the Johannine tradition and in the Acts of the Apostles: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 14; Acts = 16; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 5. In the account of the beginnings of the Christian community, the apostles who walked with Jesus, and above all who witnessed his resurrection, are called to bear witness to what they heard and saw: "God raised this Jesus, and we are all witnesses (martys)" (Acts 2:32).

  • Contractual context. It is absent (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), with one exception which is in fact a reference to the tables of the Law of the Old Testament, called "testimonies", which were stored in the ark, first in the tent that served as a temple in the desert and then in the temple of Jerusalem: "Our fathers in the wilderness had the Tent of Testimony (martyrion), as the One who spoke to Moses had set up, enjoining him to make it according to the pattern he had seen" (Acts 7:44).

  • Context of popular judgment. This context contributes to someone's reputation. It is only found in Luke: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. For example, "Rather seek among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation (literally, having received a testimony (martyreō)), filled with the Spirit and wisdom, and we will appoint them to this office" (Acts 6:3).

  • Symbolic context. In this context, a thing, a person or an event is a sign, it carries a message. It is rarely encountered: Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 2; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Among the first Christians, the miracles performed by the disciples are a testimony from God: "Paul and Barnabas extended their stay quite a long time, full of confidence in the Lord, who testified (martyreō) to the preaching of his grace by performing signs and wonders with their hands" (Acts 14:3).

  • Apocalyptic context. The word apocalypse refers to the revelation of what was hidden. In this context, to witness means to bear witness to what one knows, i.e. to proclaim and affirm it; the emphasis is on knowledge, and knowledge that comes from faith. It is a meaning of the word found in the New Testament, which was absent in the Old Testament, and is also absent in our modern culture: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 30; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 10; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. For example, "To him all the prophets testify (martyreō) that whoever believes in him will receive remission of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43). As we can see, it is the Johannine tradition that has put it forward.

It is now time to focus on this Johannine tradition. There are really only three contexts (the judicial context appears briefly in the form of a reference to the Old Testament in 8:17: "and it is written in your Law that the testimony (martyria) of two persons is valid").

  • Factual context. We have already clarified that it usually refers to the experience with Jesus of Nazareth and his resurrection. But in the Johannine tradition, this context takes on other colors.
    • Let us begin with this common context with the synoptics and the Acts of the Apostles where it is a question of witnessing to the events surrounding Jesus, as we find it at the end of the Gospel: "It is this disciple who testifies (martyreō) to these facts and who wrote them, and we know that his testimony (martyria) is true" (21: 24). An appendix to this general testimony is the one more specific to the death of Jesus, when a soldier pierces his side and blood and water comes out of it, a sign of the gift of the Spirit: "He who has seen testifies (martyreō) - his testimony (martyria) is true, and he knows that it is true - so that you too may believe" (19:35).

    • Sometimes the testimony is restricted to particular events related to what Jesus said and did, for example, what he said to the Samaritan woman: "Many Samaritans in that city believed in him because of the word of the woman, who testified (martyreō): 'He told me everything I did.'" (4: 39); or what he did for Lazarus: "The crowd that was with him, when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, testified (martyreō)" (12: 17).

    • But it can also be a matter of witnessing the behavior of an individual, in particular the exemplary behavior of his Christian life, as we see in John's third letter, first in the introduction when the author addresses Gaius: "I rejoiced greatly in the brethren who came and testified (martyreō) to your truth, I mean to the way you live in the truth" (1:6; see also 1:6.12).

    • There is the unique case of John the Baptist who introduces us to this truly Johannine color of witness. For his testimony is a revelation and an affirmation of Jesus' identity. But it does not start from an ordinary experience, as is proper to the context of the event, but from a form of mystical vision: "And I did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He on whom you will see the Spirit descending and dwelling, this is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and testify (martyreō) that he is the Chosen One of God" (1:33-34; see also 3:28 which echoes this).

    • In the same line, there is the testimony of the entire Johannine community. This community as a whole, at the end of the first century, did not know Jesus by walking with him on the roads of Palestine, but it allows itself to say that it "saw" him who is Life, no doubt an echo of its experience of faith: "For life has been manifested: we have seen it, we testify (martyreō) to it and we proclaim to you this eternal life, which was turned to the Father and has appeared to us" (1 Jn 1:2; see also 1 Jn 4:14). Witnessing is synonymous with testifying to one's faith in the true identity of Jesus, and therefore is at the level of knowledge that is revealed and proclaimed.

    • Finally, there is the particular case of witnessing in the very mouth of Jesus. One may be surprised to see the testimony of Jesus placed in the context of an event: what event can he testify to? This passage enlightens us: "(He who comes from heaven) testifies (martyreō) to what he has seen and heard, and his testimony (martyria) is not accepted by anyone" (3:32; see also 3:11.33). Jesus belongs to that unique class of someone who has experienced the intimacy of God, and therefore can reveal and make him known. For John, the content of this revelation is called truth (alētheia); to witness is to make known the truth, i.e., the intimacy of God, which includes his messenger, Jesus.

  • Symbolic context. There are only two real references, but they are fundamental to the story of John's gospel. For his entire gospel can be divided into two parts, the gospel of signs (ch. 1-12), and the gospel of glory (ch. 13-21) (See R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John: Garden City: New York, Double Day (The Anchor Bible, v. 29-29a), 1966). The signs, however, refer to Jesus' acts of power, commonly called miracles (the water changed into wine at the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-11), the healing of the child of the royal official in Capernaum (Jn 4: 46-54), the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethzatha (Jn 5:1-9), the feeding of a crowd with bread (Jn 6:1-14), the healing of the blind man (Jn 9:1-7), the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-45)). These signs are not neutral, but they bear witness: "But I am greater than the testimony (martyria) of John: the works that the Father has given me to bring to completion, the very works that I am doing, testify (martyreō) that the Father has sent me" (5:36; see also 10:25). These works are the acts of power of Jesus, the so-called miracles, which are a testimony, i.e. confirming that in Jesus it is God who is at work.

  • Apocalyptic context. It is the most important in the Johannine tradition. The beginning of the Gospel sets the tone: In the beginning was the word, and this word became flesh, and this became revelation of that which was inaccessible to mankind, and this knowledge is light and life.

    But let us begin with the occurrences of testimony that are not centered on the revelation of the mystery of God in Jesus.

    • It may be the revelation of the human heart: "He (Jesus) had no need to be testified (martyreō) about man: he knew what is in man" (2:25).
    • In the same line, human wickedness can be revealed: "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify (martyreō) that its works are evil" (7: 7).
    • Thus Jesus makes known the intentions of the one who is about to betray him: "When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled inwardly and testified (martyreō), 'Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you is going to betray me' (13:21).
    • Conversely, one can ask someone to reveal how a word is bad: "Jesus answered him, 'If I have spoken badly, testify (martyreō). If I have spoken well, why do you strike me?"
    • Thus, very often the verb "to testify" could be replaced by "to declare", such as the following example: "For he himself had testified (martyreō) that a prophet is not honored in his own country" (4: 44).
    • When the testimony is centered on a person, it aims at revealing the identity of that person, as is the case for John the Baptist himself: "And this was the testimony (martyria) of John when, from Jerusalem, the Jewish authorities sent priests and Levites to him to ask him the question: 'Who are you?' He affirmed: 'I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said'" (1:19.23).

    Thus, "to testify" can refer to an affirmation or statement about ordinary life or people. But most of the time the testimony is centered on the person of Jesus. Let's look at two points: Who is giving this testimony? What is its content?

    Who is giving the testimony?

    Seven actors are named in John's gospel.

    • The first named is John the Baptist: "There was a man sent from God, and his name was John. He came as a testimony (martyria), to testify (martyreō) to the light, that all might believe through him" (1:6-7).
    • But there are also the acts of power of Jesus, his healings and his resusscitation of Lazarus, all grouped under the title of "works", which bear witness to the identity of Jesus: "Now I have a testimony (martyria) which is greater than that of John: these are the works which the Father has given me to do; I do them and they bear witness about me, that the Father has sent me" (5:36).
    • Behind the acts of healing, it is the action of God the Father that is taking place: "The Father who sent me has himself testified (martyreō) about me. But you have never listened to his voice or seen what he manifested" (5:37).
    • Just as the other evangelists note, it is in the Scriptures that we find the source for understanding the events around Jesus, and thus they become a form of testimony: "You study the Scriptures because you think that through them you acquire eternal life: they are the ones who testify (martyreō) to me" (5:39).
    • As Jesus prepares to leave, he announces the arrival of another witness, the Spirit or Paraclete: "When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he himself will testify (martyreō) to me" (15:26; see also 1 Jn 5:6-8).
    • And there is the testimony that Jesus gives to himself in John's gospel. After proclaiming himself "light of the world," the Pharisees rebuke him for bearing witness to himself, which Jesus acknowledges: "Jesus answered them, 'It is true that I bear testify (martyreō) to myself, and yet my testimony (martyria) is admissible, because I know where I come from and where I am going; whereas you know neither where I come from nor where I am going'" (8:14).
    • Finally, there is the testimony that the disciples of Jesus will give: "And you in turn will testimony (martyria) to me, because you have been with me from the beginning" (15, 17).

    What is the content of the testimony

    Let's follow the trail of those who testified.

    • In his testimony, John the Baptist says three things; first of all, in a direct way, he says that Jesus is the light of the world (1:7), and that he "goes before him," which can be understood on the hierarchical level (greater) and on the temporal level (existed before): "This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who has gone before me (lit. before me he came), because before me he was (lit. first of me was)" (1:15). Indirectly, through Jesus, we learn that he testified to the truth: "You sent a delegation to John, and he testified to the truth" (5:33).

    • What are the works (the water changed into wine at the wedding of Cana (Jn 2:1-11), the healing of the child of the royal official in Capernaum (Jn 4:46-54), the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethzatha (Jn 5, 1-9), the feeding of a crowd with bread (Jn 6:1-14), the healing of the blind man (Jn 9:1-7), the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-45)) bearing witness to? It could be summed up as follows: the life in fullness brought by Jesus.

    • The way for the Father to bear witness is to accomplish through Jesus all those works, commonly called miracles, called "signs" by John, and which, in the mouth of Jesus, want to testify that he was truly sent by God, that he is his representative and his face: "The Father who sent me has himself testified about me. But you have never listened to his voice or seen what he manifested" (5:37).

    • The Scriptures testify that Jesus is the source of eternal life: "You search the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life through them: they are the ones who testify about me. And you do not want to come to me to have eternal life" (5:39-40).

    • As for the Paraclete, his testimony can be deduced from his synonym: "Spirit of Truth", and the Evangelist specifies it as follows: "When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will bring you to the whole truth. For he will not speak of his own accord, but he will speak what he hears, and he will tell you all that is to come" (16:13), so that the disciple will be able to understand all that Jesus said and did.

    • The reference to Jesus' testimony about himself appears in 8:12: "I am the light of the world. He who comes after me will not walk in darkness; he will have the light that leads to life". But if we collect all the statements Jesus made about himself with the expression "I am," we get a short list:
      • I am the messiah (4: 26)
      • Jam the bread of life (6: 35)
      • I am the gate of the sheep (10: 7)
      • I am the good shepherd (10: 11)
      • I am the resurrection (11: 25)
      • I am the way, the truth and the life (14: 6)
      • I am the true vine (15: 1)
      All this without including the expression "I am" without any attribute, an allusion to the very title of God. Before Pilate, Jesus will summarize the testimony he came to give as follows: "I was born and came into the world to bear witness to the truth. Whoever is of the truth hears my voice" (18:37).

    • To know the content of the testimony of the disciples, it is necessary to turn to the end of the first letter of John where the author affirms that Jesus is the source of eternal life: "And this is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 Jn 5:11).

    How can we summarize this apocalyptic context? Testimony is first and foremost the communication of knowledge, knowledge that has so far eluded humanity. This is why the evangelist can say that John the Baptist came to bear witness to the light and that Jesus proclaims himself to be the light of the world. This knowledge could be summed up as follows: in Jesus we have been able to see the intimacy of God, a God who is Father, a God who loves, a God who heals, a God who wants to share his eternal life, and therefore invites us to enter into this intimacy, to cohabit with him in some way. This knowledge is path and life, because by revealing the path to take, it shows us how to become children of God, sharing the same life. All this is what John calls "the truth," and it is embodied in one person, Jesus of Nazareth.

    In closing, one might ask: in this revelation of God in Jesus, why did John use the verb "to testify" and the nouns "witness" and "testimony"? First of all, the whole of John's gospel appears as a great trial where the Christian and Jewish communities are in confrontation: in fact the Johannine community seems to be in the dock and must produce evidence showing that Jesus is truly the one sent by God. But there is more. Contrary to the conclusions of science that impose themselves on human intelligence, what Jesus reveals of God appeals to a disposition of the heart, and thus to human freedom and faith. This is how John can conclude his gospel, which he presents to us as his own testimony: "These (the signs reported) are for you to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (20:31). The gospel can only be presented in the form of a testimony.