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!”
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?
I 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.
12 thoughts on “Almost All of Jesus’ First Recorded Words Were Already Spoken By Somebody Else”
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.)
Thank you! After re-reading the last paragraph, I realize there are implications especially for Trinitarian theology, among other things.
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.’”
Great point, Bob!
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.
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….
Jesus first word is in the Quran. He speaks when he is in cradle.. that is first miracle of Jesus in Quran. before you bash me. read first. thanks…
Thanks for your comment. No intention to bash you. Though I do disagree with you, as you might guess.
I came to believe that Jesus had a Spiritual Father, Mentor and Master and this was the Great Jewish Prophet John the Baptist that in the Gospel of Matthew telling us that for those who are willing to accept he is Elijah and Jesus and most of his Disciples like Peter were very involve in the Movement of the Kingdom of God on Earth Now and to Repent Ourselves from the Debauchery and Corruption of the Times! When I pray my Sign of the Cross, I start in the Name of Our Father John the Baptist , his Spiritual Son Jesus of Nazareth in the Sprit of Humanity which is the Holy Sprit! AMEN because Hell is coming to us because of Satanic Greed Worship of Capitalism that have replace the Great Teachings and Social Principles of these Religious Figures of the Past! JR AUDET
Thanks for visiting the blog. John indeed is presented as a sort of second Elijah, but John himself is clear that he is not worthy of Jesus. The Gospel doesn’t even come close to calling John the “Spiritual Father” or “Mentor” or “Master” of Jesus.