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Almost All of Jesus’ First Recorded Words Were Already Spoken By Somebody Else

January 15, 2014
Isaiah Scroll

Isaiah Scroll

I’ve had a fascinating realization recently: almost all of Jesus’ first recorded words in Matthew and Luke were first spoken by somebody else. Jesus is highly prone to quotation early in his ministry.

This first stood out to me when reading through Matthew. After Jesus’ baptism and temptation, his first words of public proclamation (Matthew 4:17) are:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near!”

John the Baptist had been saying the same thing (Matthew 3:2), verbatim, in his first recorded words in Matthew:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near!”

The man Raymond Brown calls JBap

The man Raymond Brown calls JBap

I’m sure that Jesus’/Matthew’s use of these same words from John are deliberate. Jesus and Matthew are showing that Jesus stands in the line of the prophetic, John-the-Baptist tradition. This is a tradition that fulfills what God has promised in the Old Testament. By chapter 4, the prophecy-fulfillment theme has already been prevalent in Matthew.

The very first words of Jesus that Matthew records are at Jesus’ baptism, where he tells a protesting John, “Let it be [this way] now, for this is proper, in order to fulfill all righteousness.”

But after that, the next three statements of Jesus in Matthew are quotations of Deuteronomy to fend off the devil in the temptation narrative. Then comes Matthew 4:17, where Jesus issues the same call to repentance that John has issued.

Luke is similar. After Luke 2:49 has Jesus telling his parents that he had to be in his Father’s house, Luke moves to his account of the temptation. Luke also includes three “It is written” statements by Jesus. Then he goes to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth and reads from Isaiah–yet more quoted words on the lips of Jesus.

What are we to make of this? Did Jesus not have anything original to say at the beginning of his ministry?

Jesus Reads in SynagogueI think both of these Gospel writers and Jesus were keen to show that Jesus’ ministry was a continuation–better, a culmination–of the work and ministry that God had already initiated through Moses and the prophets. (Note: Mark and John look a bit different here.)

“God spoke long ago,” Hebrews begins, “in many instances and in many ways, to [our] fathers through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by [his] Son….”

At the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3, God declared Jesus to be his Son. This Son carries on and brings to completion the work of salvation that God has already been effecting in the world. Matthew and Luke highlight Jesus’ use of Scripture early in his ministry to place him firmly at the center of God’s action in the world. The Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5 and following will show even more in-depth interaction between Jesus and the Scriptures.

Jesus speaks God’s words, only now with an authority that exceeds the authority of all those who came before him. Jesus speaks other people’s words, but now with the authority of a Son, who was already present with God when the Word first inspired those words long ago.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Timothy Jones permalink
    January 15, 2014 1:43 pm

    Good stuff. Worthy of publication elsewhere, perhaps expanded upon, particularly in terms of the implications. (I.e. not only continuation/culmination but Jesus’s debt to Scripture/tradition.)

    • January 15, 2014 3:30 pm

      Thank you! After re-reading the last paragraph, I realize there are implications especially for Trinitarian theology, among other things.

  2. January 15, 2014 1:56 pm

    According to Heb. 10:5-7, the very first words of Christ were not His own but from Psalm 40:

    Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

  3. Joshua Paul Smith permalink
    January 15, 2014 4:39 pm

    My thesis will be giving special attention to Jesus’ first words in Luke, albeit from the perspective of a rhetorical analysis of the question itself. I think it is interesting that of the four gospels, Luke and John both depict Jesus’ first words in the form of questions.

    • January 15, 2014 4:43 pm

      Awesome! Have you posted anything on it already, or anything that you can share publicly? It is a fascinating first thing for Luke to include….

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  1. Words on the Word | How Jesus Used the Bible

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