(For Eugene Schwartz)
Have you tried those wonderful computerized Biblical concordance programs? They’re a modern miracle. With them, you can find lots of interesting connections to enrich sermons and personal Bible study. But are the programs useful in scholarly study? And can a layperson successfully do research with them?
I have tried many concordance programs and can tell you. Also, I made friends with a layperson who used the programs to explore some interesting scholarly hypotheses. Let me tell you how it happened.
In 1993, I met Eugene Schwartz, an advertising executive; he and his wife were knowledgeable and avid collectors of contemporary art. Among Gene’s wide-ranging interests were Biblical studies and religion in general. He wrote You Are Not Far From the Kingdom of God,1 a well-received book that used traditional printed concordances to show parallels between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Before he died of a stroke in September 1995, Gene and I did some very interesting work with computerized Bible concordances, which I would like to convey to you in his memory.
Though a most intelligent and astute reader, Gene was not trained in Bible or New Testament research and had no advanced philological training. He did not read Hebrew or Greek, so he relied on me to sort out the kind of linguistic difficulties one encounters when switching between Hebrew and Greek versions of the Bible. When Gene saw how he could find important parallels more quickly with a computer concordance program than with a printed concordance, he became quite excited.
While a printed concordance is essentially one large, general index, an electronic concordance can provide speedy answers to much more specific questions. Gene and I both noticed immediately that the concordance programs provided us with easy ways to measure what Richard Hays, in his book on Paul’s use of Biblical tradition, has called “echoes of Scripture.”2 That is to 060say, we can easily quantify allusions by measuring whether a passage in one Biblical book merely repeats a few words of another or whether it directly quotes several words running. It is also a relatively simple matter, with all the examples called up in front of you, to judge how significant the parallels are. It amazed me that a layperson who read the Bible with interest and who could use the electronic concordances immediately saw the importance of these tools.
After several preliminary studies, we produced two fairly sophisticated hypotheses to test: (1) the Gospels rely on Hebrew Scripture in significant ways to frame the life of Jesus; (2) the Gospels use the writings of Paul to outline both their religious views and the details of Jesus’ life.
The first is a well-accepted position: The Gospels do use Hebrew Bible quotations to frame the major events in Jesus’ life. The second is provocative and, if accepted, would considerably change the consensus on how the Christian tradition grew. If Paul’s writings really did deeply influence the Gospels, perhaps we could call Paul the founder of Christianity.
The results of our research seemed to confirm the existing consensus about how the Hebrew Bible frames the life of Jesus. There are immense and significant parallels, especially in a few important quotations, between the Hebrew Bible and the key events in Jesus’ life.
On the other hand, there were very few clear parallels between Paul and the Gospels. (And most parallels were explainable through other means than direct borrowing of Paul’s work by the evangelists.) Indeed, except for some interesting parallels between Matthew and Paul, the great majority of the concordance issues that we raised seem to show the opposite: Paul and the Gospels almost always express the same ideas in completely different words. The only exceptions to this are the few places in which Paul quotes the words of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:10–11, 9:14, 11:23–26) and a few allusions elsewhere. Here the Gospels and Paul agree significantly but not entirely. Our concordance exercise shows that the Gospels were little affected by Paul. Indeed, one might even frame a second hypothesis: that the 074Gospels are trying to counter many of Paul’s emphases. But that remains to be demonstrated.
Here are some of the striking results from our research. The description of the resurrection in Matthew 27:52–54 echoes the prophecy of resurrection in Ezekiel 37:
The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore 075prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.’”
This demonstrates graphically that the New Testament portrays the final moments of Jesus’ life as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel 37. The allusion, rather than the quotation, is clear in the many similar words.
So, too, the beginning of Luke alludes to rather than quotes a passage from 2 Samuel:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever … And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
2 Samuel 7:12–13, 16–17
This allusion is easily discoverable from a simple search, and it reveals a much deeper relationship than do such passages as Daniel 2, which is normally listed as a collateral passage. Luke’s use of 2 Samuel 7 has been noted before, but the student who actively works out the messianic implications of Luke’s words will have a much deeper understanding of the narrative technique of the evangelist.
Gene also wanted to investigate the relationship between the Gospels and Paul. It was his hypothesis that Paul was the “second founder” of Christianity, and, hence, the Gospels should show real marks of his influence. It may be that Paul was the second founder of Christianity; many people have said so. But the computer could not help prove it, in my estimation. There is some correlation between Paul and the Gospels, but the similarity of language seems coincidental. Although the relationship between Jesus’ statement that the last shall be first in Mark 9:35 and Luke 13:30 may bear interestingly on Paul’s self-designation in 1 Corinthians 15:8, the connection would make a better sermon than history:
And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:8
The connection between the two verses is made on the basis of a single word—“last.” Even if one posits a relationship between the two statements, would it not be more politic to say that Paul interpreted Jesus rather than to say that the evangelists interpreted Paul?
I am unconvinced by the myriad rather weak parallels between the Gospels and Paul. Rather than seeing Paul as author of the Gospels, the word study seems to show that the two are definitely unrelated.
One last example will show an even more interesting intuition about the evangelists. One of the most interesting allusions that comes up continually in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is the relationship in language between the career of Jesus and the careers of David and Elijah. Sometimes there are direct quotations, but more often there are short, allusive parallels that seem to show that the evangelists were looking to the careers of David and Elijah to help them tell the story of Jesus’ life:
And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”
1 Kings 17:18
And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”
Continue the exercise yourself. Compare 2 Kings 2:9–10 and John 14:16–19; 2 Kings 2:11 and Luke 24:51; 2 Kings 2:1–2 and Luke 24:13, 28–29; 2 Kings 4:42–44 and Mark 6:37–38, 41–43; 2 Kings 4:2–7 and John 2:3–9. You can do it with your printed Bible, but it is a lot faster with an electronic Bible!
(For Eugene Schwartz)