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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Elijah (2)

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ELIJAH (Authorized Version Elias) is mentioned in the Gospels on 9 occasions, reported in 15 passages (rejecting Luke 9:54). Of these passages only one, Luke 4:25 f., alludes to the story of Elijah as it is contained in the OT. Here Jesus justifies His performance of miracles in Capernaum, while refraining from working them in Nazareth, by citing the well-known story of Elijah’s going away from Israel in time of famine to relieve the distress of a Sidonian widow (1 Kings 17:8-9). All the other passages refer to the present or future work of an Elijah who, according to common Jewish belief, still lived and would appear again upon earth.

The dominant note in the belief is that the prophet was to appear as the forerunner of the Messiah. This notion appears in its simplest form in the accounts of the avowal of the Messiahship of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13 ff., Mark 8:27 ff., Luke 9:18 ff.). The answers then given by the disciples to Jesus’ question as to the popular estimate of Himself were varied, and doubtless representative: He was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (cf. Mark 6:15, Luke 9:8). Only one, Simon, saw in the work of Jesus the consummation, rather than the postponement, of their Messianic hope. The period of Elijah the forerunner is past, and the Messiah is here.

The relation between the prophet Elijah, the lawgiver Moses, and the Messiah Jesus, is dramatically presented in the narrative of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mark 9:2 ff., Luke 9:28 ff.). Here, too, the logical proof is presented that Elijah has come already, and is John the Baptist. When once Jesus has been accepted as the Messiah, the work of John cannot fail to be known as the great preparatory work of Elijah. This work finds expression in St. Matthew’s report of Jesus’ characterization of John (John 11:14; omitted from the parallel in Lk.).

The Baptist’s denial that he was Elijah (John 1:21 ff.) is the natural expression of his lofty idea of the work of preparation for the Messiah contrasted with the insufficiency of the work he had actually been able to perform. The passage incidentally describes one of the functions of Elijah who was to come, viz., that he should baptize. Baptism was then one of the preliminaries of the salvation which the Messiah was to bring.

Elijah is mentioned again in connexion with the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:46-49, Mark 15:34-36). The bystanders professedly misunderstood Jesus’ cry, ‘Eli, Eli,’ as a call to Elijah. They proposed to wait and see if he would come down to help Him. Bearing in mind that Elijah is the forerunner of the Messiah, their curiosity seems not simply whether Jesus would have supernatural relief, as a man might, but whether Elijah would, by coming to His aid, prove that Jesus was after all the Messiah.

There remains the striking picture of the Baptist in the character of Elijah, drawn in Luke 1:19 ff. The passage clearly assumes the developed doctrine of the Messiahship of Jesus, and the career of John the Baptist is analyzed from this point of view. The high spiritual plane of the identification is obvious. John comes in the spirit and power of the great prophet, reconciling families, reducing the disobedient to obedience, preparing Israel for the coming of the Messiah. Only on this high plane could the identification be successful. The work of the forerunner here finds fullest expression. He not simply proclaims, he prepares. This is, however, the implication of the other passages; otherwise the suggested identification of Jesus with Elijah would not have been possible, for it was the very works of Jesus that called out the suggestion. The same is true in the case of John.

The belief in the reappearance of Elijah, held by the Jews of NT times, is a later stage of the belief which is expressed in Malachi 4:5 [English]: he would come before the great day of Jehovah to reconcile the hearts of parents and children. Sirach 48:10 ff. describes the same work more elaborately, and forms an early interpretation of the passage in Malachi.

The Rabbinical writings abound in expressions of the same belief, with characteristic extravagances and specifications. These Jewish traditions know Elijah as zealous in the service of God, and as a helper in distress, as well as the forerunner of the Messiah. Naturally his work is in behalf of their own people, and is performed in connexion with their own institutions.

As the Jews elaborated the earlier doctrine of the Messiah, and as in their thought He became more and more exalted in holiness and majesty, the impossibility of His appearance in the midst of all the sin and shame of Israel was increasingly felt; and the character of Elijah, the holy prophet, zealous in his earthly life for the political and religious integrity of the nation, and already enshrined in tradition as having been spared death, was a fitting one to be chosen to carry on the great work of preparing Israel for the blessings of the Messianic era. Indeed, in some passages the doctrine of Elijah has developed to such an extent as well nigh to usurp the functions of the Messiah.

Literature.—Volz, Jüdische Eschatologie, 192 and passim; Jewish Encyc. s.v.; Gfrörer, Jahrhundert des Heils, ii. 227 f.; Bacher, Agade d. Tannaiten, passim; Weber, Altsyn. pal. Theol. 337–339; Schurer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ii. 524 f.

O. H. Gates.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Elijah (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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