Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Prophet Has Come

Mark 9:13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him."

13 ἀλλὰ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι καὶ Ἠλίας ἐλήλυθεν, καὶ ἐποίησαν αὐτῷ ὅσα ἤθελον, καθὼς γέγραπται ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν.

This is something Jesus tells Peter and James after they witnessed His transfiguration.  They didn't know what to make of Elijah and Moses on the mountain with Jesus and they start asking Him questions.  They were trying to understand why it was written that Elijah must come first.  This is how Jesus responded to them.  He tells them that Elijah ἐλήλυθεν, which is in the perfect active indicative.  The most generic understanding of the aspect of the perfect is that it refers to a completed action with present effect.

Why do I quote this verse on a day when I am emerging from a blogging slumber?  I guess I'm in an academic mood, but it makes me think of hermeneutics, which is one of my favorite subjects.  It seems to me that Jesus could be referring to the fact that Elijah was with them at the transfiguration.  Or as is often supposed, it means that Jesus is referring to John the Baptizer.  For what it's worth, the ESV cross-reference points to Mark 6 which recounts why John was beheaded by Herod.

If Jesus does indeed refer to John the Baptizer here then this is something of a hermeneutical oddity for us.  It tells us that there is some sort of non-literal language being used here.  If we take this passage literally we are confused or perhaps we look for Elijah to come before the Messiah as the Jews do.  After all, if we take this passage literally then they are right.  But if we read this with an understanding to the symbolic language we see that not all is as it seems.  In fact, Jesus is explaining this with symbolic rather than literal language.

My point is that we need to be careful about being too literal.  The key is to figure out what should be taken literally and what should be taken symbolically.  It sure helps when the New Testament interprets it clearly for us, doesn't it?

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