Why does Elijah come first? (Mk 9:11-9:11)

“Then they asked him.

‘Why do the Scribes say

That Elijah

Must come first?’”

 

καὶ ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες Ὅτι λέγουσιν οἱ γραμματεῖς ὅτι Ἡλείαν δεῖ ἐλθεῖν πρῶτον;

 

The role of Elijah can be found also in Matthew, chapter 17:10, as well as here in Mark.  The disciples of Jesus asked, questioned or interrogated him (καὶ ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν λέγοντες) about why the Scribes said (Ὅτι λέγουσιν οἱ γραμματεῖς) that Elijah had to come first (ὅτι Ἡλείαν δεῖ ἐλθεῖν πρῶτον).  The prophet Malachi, chapter 4:5, had also foretold the coming of Elijah.  He said that Yahweh was going to send the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of Yahweh would come.  These Scribes were contemporary religious experts who determined the traditions to be followed.  They were professional copiers of manuscript documents, although they had a wider role in Jewish society.

Pharisees and Scribes come from Jerusalem (Mk 7:1-7:1)

“Now the Pharisees

And some of the Scribes,

Who had come

From Jerusalem,

Gathered around him.”

 

Καὶ συνάγονται πρὸς αὐτὸν οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καί τινες τῶν γραμματέων ἐλθόντες ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων.

 

There is something similar to this in Matthew, chapter 15:1.  Once again, there was a confrontation with the Pharisees and the Scribes.  Mark said that the Pharisees and some of the Scribes gathered around Jesus (Καὶ συνάγονται πρὸς αὐτὸν οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καί τινες τῶν γραμματέων).  However, this time, these Pharisees and Scribes came from Jerusalem (ἐλθόντες ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων).  These Scribes were religious experts who determined the traditions to be followed.  They were professional copiers of manuscript documents, although they had a wider role in Jewish society.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, were a political party, a social movement, and a religious school of thought that became the basis for later Rabbinic Judaism.  They had their own expert explanations of Jewish law that sometimes appeared to be hypocritical or arrogant, with the letter of the law above its spirit.  They had a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple.  These Pharisees in the New Testament continually engaged in conflicts with Jesus and his disciples.

Scribes and Pharisees complained (Mk 2:16-2:16)

“When the Scribes

And the Pharisees,

Saw

That he was eating

With sinners

And tax collectors,

They said

To his disciples.

‘Why does he eat

With tax collectors

And sinners?’”

 

καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων ἰδόντες ὅτι ἐσθίει μετὰ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τελωνῶν, ἔλεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ Ὅτι μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει;

 

Luke, chapter 5:30, and Matthew, chapter 9:11, are similar to Mark, so that Mark might be the source of this incident.  In Matthew, it is only the Pharisees and not the Scribes who are complaining.  These Pharisees and Scribes saw this dinner party (καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων ἰδόντες) from the outside.  They saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors (ὅτι ἐσθίει μετὰ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τελωνῶν).  Then they asked the disciples of Jesus (ἔλεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ), and not Jesus himself, why was Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners (Ὅτι μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει)?  The Pharisees were a political party, a social movement, and a religious school of thought that became the basis for later Rabbinic Judaism.  They had they own expert explanations of Jewish law that sometimes appeared to be hypocritical or arrogant, with the letter of the law above its spirit.  They had a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple.  The Pharisees in the New Testament engaged in conflicts with Jesus and his disciples, as here.  However, Paul the Apostle may have been a Pharisee before his conversion.  Maybe Jesus and some of his followers were Pharisees, so that these arguments with the Pharisees may have been internal arguments.  Or is this portrait of the Pharisees in the New Testament a caricature, since the late first century Christians were fighting with the emerging Rabbinic Pharisees?  Their position towards the Scribes was a mixed bag.  These Scribes were religious experts who determined the traditions to be followed, as professional copiers of manuscript documents, although they had a wider role in Jewish society.

The scribes think that this is blasphemy (Mk 2:6-2:7)

“Some of the Scribes

Were sitting there.

They questioned

In their hearts.

‘Why does this man

Speak thus?

It is blasphemy!

Who can forgive sins

But God alone?’”

 

ἦσαν δέ τινες τῶν γραμματέων ἐκεῖ καθήμενοι καὶ διαλογιζόμενοι ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν

Τί οὗτος οὕτως λαλεῖ; βλασφημεῖ· τίς δύναται ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ Θεός

 

Luke, chapter 5:21, and Matthew, chapter 9:3, are similar to Mark, so that Mark might be the source of this saying about the Scribes and blasphemy.  Some of these Scribes were sitting there in this crowded room (ἦσαν δέ τινες τῶν γραμματέων ἐκεῖ καθήμενοι).  They were reasoning or questioning in their hearts, but not to others (καὶ διαλογιζόμενοι ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν).  These Scribes were the religious experts who determined the traditions to be followed as interpreters of the law in this generally uneducated society.  They were professional copiers of manuscript documents, although they had a wider role in Jewish culture.  They might have been the fore-runners of the rabbinic class that was developing at that time.  They wondered why Jesus was talking this way (Τί οὗτος οὕτως λαλεῖ), since it appeared to be blasphemy (βλασφημεῖ).  Blasphemers used scurrilous or irreverent language about God.  How is Jesus able to forgive sins (τίς δύναται ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας), since only God can forgive sins (εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ Θεός)?  This seems like a legitimate question.

Jesus taught with authority (Mk 1:22-1:22)

“They were astonished

At his teaching.

He taught them

As one having authority,

Not as the Scribes.”

 

καὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ· ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων, καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς.

 

There is something similar to this in Luke, chapter 4:32, and Matthew, chapter 7:29, where Jesus was teaching with authority.  The people of this Capernaum synagogue were astonished or amazed at his teaching (καὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ), since he taught them as if he had authority (ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων), not like the Scribes (καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν).  What was this authority that Jesus had?  He was not like one of these Scribes, who were religious experts who determined the traditions to be followed.  They were professional copiers of manuscript documents, although they had a wider role in Jewish society.  They might have been the forerunners of the rabbinic class that was developing at that time.  Jesus taught on his own authority without referring to tradition.  He was amazing.

The role of Elijah (Mt 17:10-17:11)

“The disciples asked Jesus.

‘Why then do

The Scribes say.

That Elijah must come first?’

Jesus replied.

‘Elijah is indeed coming.

He will restore all things.’”

 

Καὶ ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ λέγοντες Τί οὖν οἱ γραμματεῖς λέγουσιν ὅτι Ἡλείαν δεῖ ἐλθεῖν πρῶτον;

ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν Ἡλείας μὲν ἔρχεται καὶ ἀποκαταστήσει πάντα·

 

The role of Elijah can be found also in Mark, chapter 9:11, as well as here in Matthew.  The disciples of Jesus asked, questioned or interrogated him (Καὶ ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ λέγοντες) about why the Scribes (Τί οὖν οἱ γραμματεῖς) said that Elijah had to come first (λέγουσιν ὅτι Ἡλείαν δεῖ ἐλθεῖν πρῶτον).  The prophet Malachi, chapter 4:5, had also foretold the coming of Elijah.  He said that Yahweh was going to send the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of Yahweh would come.  These Scribes were contemporary religious experts who determined the traditions to be followed.  They were professional copiers of manuscript documents, although they had a wider role in Jewish society.  Jesus did not disagree with this comment.  He responded (ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν) by reiterating that Elijah was indeed coming to restore all things (Ἡλείας μὲν ἔρχεται καὶ ἀποκαταστήσει πάντα).  There is no doubt that the role of Elijah, a 9th century BCE northern Israel prophet, dominated late Jewish thought.