Significance of 'Jesus, passing by ...' in the Gospels
Return to Index or Mark Exegetical Notes
The following materials are based on Ernst Lohmeyer,'"Und Jesus ging vorüber"', Nieuw Theologisch Tijdschrift (Haarlem) 1934, pp. 206-224.
Lohmeyer points out that this motif of 'passing by' is used in the Hebrew OT at several points where it marks the onset of a theophanous (i.e., God-revealing) situation. The note is emphasized even more in the Septuagint (LXX), where several other passages are made to conform to this same pattern. In the passages given below, 'LXX' is used to indicate that the note of God (or his angel) passing by is to be found only in the Septuagint version and not in the Hebrew as well, or at least less clearly there.
1) After wrestling with God (Gen 32.28), Jacob
says, 'I have seen God face to face (G4n 32.30), and he calls the place Peniel
('the face of God'). Then in Gen 32.31, Hebrew:
'The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel ...' [Penuel = Peniel, i.e., face of God'].
But in Gen 32.32, LXX: The place name, Penuel, has been replaced by the paraphrase, 'the form of God'. Although the passage could be understood in the original sense, one who spoke Greek would more naturally take the LXX as:
'The sun shone on him when the form [i.e. visible appearance] of God passed by.'
(ἀνέτειλεν αὐτῷ ό ἥλιος ἡνίκα παρῆλθεν τὁ εἶδος τοῦ θεοῦ)
We have a similar shift in David's last words,
2 Sam 23.3 f., Hebrew:
When one rules justly over men; ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the morning's suns before whose brightness misty haze does not remain.'
2 Kingdoms 23.3 f., LXX (Codex B) (= 2 Sam 23.3 f.):
Here 'misty haze' is missing, and instead we find:
'from the light of which the Lord passed on' (κύριος παρῆλθον)
As Lohmeyer says, these two examples would not count for much if the same motif of 'passing by' were not also in the great self-revealings of God to Moses (Exod 33.19) and Elijah ((1 Kings 19.11).
Yahweh reveals himself to Moses:
a) Exod 33.19, Hebrew:
'And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name Yahweh ..."'
Exod 33,19, LXX: (Note the shift from 'goodness' to 'I')
'And he said, "I shall pass before you in my glory, and shall call upon my name, 'Lord', before you."'
(Ἐγω παρελεύσομαι πρότερός σου)
Exod 33.22, Hebrew & LXX:
'And while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by;  then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.'
The theophany to Elijah:
1 Kings 19.11, Hebrew: 'Behold, Yahweh passed by',
3 Kingdoms 19.11, LXX: 'Behold, the Lord will pass by'
(i.e., the LXX links it with the previous verse as part of the instructions given to Elijah about what will happen rather than giving it as part of the subsequent narrative concerning what happened).
Dan 12.2 announces the appearance of Michael along with deliverance for the
people of Israel and judgement for the heathen peoples.
Dan 12.1, Hebrew: '"At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince ..."'
Dan 12.1, LXX: At that time Michael the great angel will pass by ..."'
may be coincidental, but in all the above cases the LXX uses παρέρχομαι
Lohmeyer, op. cit., pp. 218-219 [Gibbs' translation]:
There occur in the OT a certain number of diverse forms of divine
epiphany. When the epiphany does not merely concern the divine
will or word, but also concerns the presence of the divine majesty, then
we find the motif of "passing-by". In this motif the
unbounded distance that exists between God and man is still preserved,
but with this motif there also exists at one and the same time, in this
one isolated moment, the wonder of his tangible and imperious nearness;
in the passing-by the compelling eternity of God flows for once within
the fleeting moment of NOW. How deeply this motif is bound up with
OT thinking is shown clearly enough in the stories of Moses and
Elijah. Such great prototypes shed a substantial amount of light
on the motif of "passing-by" as used in the narratives
concerning Jesus. For where it is mentioned there also immediately
follows the unveiling of his divinely commanding majesty; in the
fleeting moment his eternal being is expressed. And yet the OT
examples do not form the immediate background from which this NT usage
acquires its clarity and depth.
A syncretistic element seems to lie closer to our 'passing-by' motif as we find it in the NT. This element is the myth, frequently brought into play, of a divine figure who walks as a stranger on earth and only occasionally unveils his true nature through wonderful words and deeds. In this myth the motif of 'passing-by' seems to fit into a particular story so conveniently that it appears to be no more than a passing reflection of the governing secret about the divine figure. But there is, as far as I can see, no trustworthy and unequivocal evidence that this extra-Judaic myth directly shaped the Gospel tradition at any point; to this end one searches in vain for precisely this trait of the passing-by in the accounts of this myth. But it does point to an area of thinking in the Gospels which is related to this myth in many characteristics and is perhaps intimately related to it in its origins.
[Gibbs' comments on the above (as of
10.04.1974): (1) It is now widely recognized that Mark is combating a
misunderstanding of Jesus (and of discipleship) based on the Hellenistic concept
of the self-powerful, autonomous 'divine man'. (2) Part of the way in
which Mark combats this is to present Jesus in the garb of the Hellenistic
wonder-working 'divine man'. He does this in order to show that every time
that Jesus is presented this way, he is misunderstood or unrecognized for who he
is. This would account for Lohmeyer's conviction that a syncretistic myth
is being used here: it is the myth of the 'divine man'. (3) As Lohmeyer
himself indicates, the 'passing-by' motif is not to be found in the syncretistic
myth; it is rather an OT motif, and it is part of Mark's apparatus for anchoring
the stories in which it appears firmly to the OT, for Jesus is only to be
understood as the Son of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In these
stories, as we shall see, Jesus is presented as God's surrogate, effectively
God-with-us and God-for-us.
Thus we conclude (a) the syncretistic myth is being used by Mark and others, but (b) the 'passing-by' motif is an anchor to the OT which points away from this syncretistic myth to the theophanies of the OT as the only true basis for understanding the stories.]
'Passing-by' in the Gospels:
Mark 1.16-18: 'And
passing by1 ... he saw2 Simon and Andrew ...,
and Jesus said to them, "Come after me ...," and straightway ...
they followed him.'
1 Verb used: παράγειν 2Aorist - a 'happening' which may be punctiliar. This appears to be 'the electing look of God'.
Parallel: Matt 4.18-20: Matthew uses περιπατεῖν, 'to walk about', instead of παράγειν, and he uses εὐθέως, 'immediately', a stronger word than Mark's εὐθύς, 'straightway'.
2.14: 'And passing by1 he saw2
Levi ... and he says to him3, "Follow me," and
... he followed him.'
1 Verb used: παράγειν 2Aorist. 3Mark's common use of the historic present.
Parallel: Matt 9.9. Identical to Mark in all relevant details.
6.48: (Jesus walking on the Sea): '... he comes toward them
walking1 upon the Sea, and he willed2 to pass by3
Conclusion, v. 50: '"Be of good cheer: I AM; fear not!"'
1Verb used: περιπατεῖν. 2Aorist 3Verb used: παρέρχομαι.
For "I AM" as a Divine Name see Exod 3.14 and the Jewish liturgical usage built upon it.
For OT background to the whole story see especially Isa 43.1 ff.
Parallels: Matt 14.25: Matthew has the walking upon the Sea (using περιπατεῖν), but omits the 'pasing by' while retaining "Be of good cheer: I AM; fear not!" John 6.19: 'They beheld Jesus walking (περιπατεῖν) upon the Sea' (//s: Mark 6.49; Matt 14.26). Conclusion, v. 20: '"I AM; fear not!"'.
10.46-52: (Healing of Bartimaeus, the blind man):
v. 46: '... when he [i.e. Jesus] was going from Jericho ...'
v. 49: [after Bartimaeus' cry]: 'Jesus stood still [aorist participle]
v. 49b: [disciples to Bartimaeus]; '"Be of good cheer, arise He calls you."'
v. 52b: [about the restored Bartimaeus]: 'and he followed him in the way' [i.e. in the way to the Cross].
Parallels: Matt 20.29-34: (two blind men):
v. 30: 'hearing that Jesus passes by' (παράγειν)
v. 32: 'Jesus stood still'
v. 34b: [restored men]: 'and they followed him'
Luke 18.35-43: [unnamed blind man]:
v. 35: 'As he drew near to Jericho [ἐγγίζειν], a certain blind man sat by the way (παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν) begging.'
v. 37: 'They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."' (παρέρχομαι)
v. 43: [restored man]: 'and he was following him ....'
Mark 15.21: 'one passing by, Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus ...' [I.e, father of a striving man and a red man, of Jacob & Esau = Isaac, as suggested by G. W. H. Lampe & K. Woolcombe in an SBT monograph, details lost]. This is the only Markan occurrence of παράγειν which does not have Jesus as the verb's subject. It appears to fall in line with the other passages, being a 'showing forth' in a disciple of the Way of the Cross in terms of the 'Binding of Isaac' typology
9.27-31: (two blind men, who refuse to obey Jesus' explicit command and go
away instead of becoming his disciples by following him obediently; this section
is parallel to, and is intended to be contrasted with, that of the two blind men
in Matt 20.29-34 - see above)
v. 27: 'And as Jesus passed by [παράγειν] there, two blind men followed him.'
v. 30: 'Jesus charged them sternly'
v. 31: They disobey his command, going away.
1.29 ff.: (John the Baptizer's confessions, resulting in two disciples
v. 29: 'The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him [τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐρχόμενον πρὸς αὐτόν], and said, "Behold the Lamb of God .... (v. 34:) And I have beheld and borne witness that this is the Son of God."'
v. 36 '[John] looked at Jesus as he was walking [περιπατεῖν], and says, "Behold, the lamb of God!"'
v. 37 'And the two disciples heard him speaking, and they followed Jesus.'
9.1-38: (Jersus heals blind man, vv. 1-7, who, when he knows who
Jesus is, believes, and worships Jesus, vv. 35-38 - i.e., he becomes a
v. 1: 'And passing by he saw [Καὶ παράγων εἶδεν - cp. Mark 1.16; 2.14] a man blind from birth.'
vv. 6, 7: healing.
vv. 35b-38: '"Do you believe in the Son of God?" And that one answered him and said, "And who is he, sir, in order that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you." He said, "Lord, I Believe"; and he worshipped him.'
A number of verbs are used to express the going-by, or perhaps more generally, the Jesus-in-motion idea, but all of these Gospel examples are connected with the theme of encountering Jesus in order to confess and follow him as disciples. There appears to be a three-step pattern:
1. Jesus in motion (passing by, walking about, coming toward);
2. a. Jesus sees and calls (with a command) OR
b. Jesus is seen and confessed, OR
c. Jesus is hailed, stands still, and healing follows.
3. A following of Jesus as disciples.