January 28: Luke 4:18

In the previous note, I examined the tradition in Mark 1:14-15, with its two-fold use of the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”), specially the saying by Jesus in v. 15. I mentioned that Luke does not include this saying at the corresponding point in the narrative (right after the baptism and temptation), but rather includes something comparable at a slightly later point, by adapting the Synoptic tradition of Mk 1:38-39 (cp. Matt 4:23/9:35):

“Let us lead [i.e. go] away from (here) into (all) the (places) holding village-towns, so that there also I might proclaim (the message); for unto this [i.e. for this reason] I came out. And he went proclaiming…” (Mk 1:38f)

“It is necessary for me also to bring the good message of the kingdom of God to the other cities, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is) upon this [i.e. for this reason] (that) I am se(n)t forth. And he was proclaiming…” (Lk 4:43f)

For the expression “good message of the kingdom of God”, Matthew has the similar “good message of the Kingdom” (4:23/9:35). Luke has transferred mention of the “good message” to this later point because he wishes to use the episode in the Nazareth synagogue to introduce Jesus’ public ministry. Otherwise, it is clear that he is working from the same Synoptic narrative outline:

We can see again how the tradition has been adapted to prepare for the Nazareth scene:

“…Yeshua came into the Galîl, proclaiming…” (Mk 1:14) “and…coming into the synagogue he taught” (Mk 1:20)

“And Yeshua turned back in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl… and he taught in the synagogues…” (Lk 4:14-15)

By moving the reference to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue to a slightly earlier point in the narrative, it prepares the reader for his appearance in the Nazareth synagogue (4:16-30).

Luke 4:18

All three Synoptic Gospels record the episode at Nazareth, but the narrative is much briefer in Mark-Matthew (Mk 6:1-6; Matt 13:54-58) and is set at a later chronological position in the narrative outline. The Lukan account is much more expansive and detailed, including the quotation by Jesus of Isaiah 61:1-2. These differences have led many critical commentators to question the historical authenticity of the Lukan version. I discuss this episode, and the historical-critical question, in some detail in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (soon to be posted here), and I do not intend to go over the matter in these notes. It is certainly clear that, for the author (trad. Luke), the citation of Isaiah 61:1f on the lips of Jesus is central to the episode, effectively taking the place of the declaration in Mk 1:15.

Let us consider the verse from Isaiah—the opening words of the oracle in chapter 61—quoted by Jesus; first, a rendering of the Hebrew [MT] and Greek [LXX] side by side:

“The Spirit of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me,
because he (has) anointed me,
he sent me to bring (good) news (for the) oppressed,
to wrap tight the broken of heart,
to call (out) freedom for the (one)s taken captive,
and opening wide for the (one)s bound (in prison),
to call a year of pleasure for YHWH,
and a day of vengeance for our God,
to sigh deeply (with) all the (one)s (who) mourn”
“The Spirit of the Lord (is) upon me,
on account of which he anointed me to give a good message to the poor,
he has se(n)t me forth to heal the (one)s crushed together in the heart,
to proclaim release to the (one)s taken at spear-point [i.e. captive],
and seeing again for the blind,
to call a year received (favorably) by the Lord,
a day of giving out in exchange (for what was done),
to call alongside all the (one)s mourning”

The citation in Luke 4:18-19 does not match either the LXX nor any known Hebrew text, and appears to be an adaptation, presumably by the author. It generally follows the LXX, especially in the reference to the blind seeing again (tufloi=$ a)na/bleyin), which appears to reflect a misunderstanding of the Hebrew idiom j^oqÁhq^P=, an emphatic (doubled) form, “opening (the eyes?) wide” in the sense of being freed from bondage (i.e. from prison). The LXX reading (shared by Luke) could also indicate a variant underlying Hebrew, e.g. <yr!w+u! (“blind”) instead of <yr!Wsa& (“bound”). Certainly the idea of the blind seeing again was well suited to the miracles performed by Jesus during his ministry.

Regardless of the textual differences overall, the portion marked in bold above is what is most important for our study here. The Hebrew [MT] reads:

yn]j^l*v= <yw]n`u& rV@b^l= yt!a) hw`hy+ jv^m*
“…YHWH anointed me, he sent me to bring (good) news (for) the oppressed”

Compare the LXX:

e&xrise/n me eu)aggeli/sasqai ptwxoi=$ a)pe/stalken
“…anointed me to bring a good message to the poor, he has sent me…”

Two ideas are brought together: (1) anointing + (2) proclaiming good news; the Greek phrasing of the LXX/Luke puts these even more closely in context—i.e., the anointing is for the (primary) purpose of bringing/proclaiming the good news: “(he) anointed me to bring the good message” (e&xrise/n me eu)aggeli/sasqai). On the lips of Jesus, this is the Lukan version of the tradition in Mk 1:14-15; note:

    • The Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jesus (at the Baptism), Mk 1:10/Lk 3:22 (also Lk 4:1, 14), which functions as a kind of anointing (allusion to Ps 2, cf. Lk 3:22 v.l.).
    • Jesus proclaims the “good message” (Mk 1:14-15)

For Luke, presenting this in terms of Isa 61:1ff is most important, as he records Jesus identifying himself specifically with the anointed figure of the passage (v. 21). In some ways this is parallel with the initial words of Jesus in Mk 1:15:

    • “the time has been fulfilled [peplh/rwtai]” (Mk 1:15)
    • “this Writing has been fulfilled [peplh/rwtai]” (Lk 4:21)

The emphasis of the first declaration is eschatological, the emphasis of the second is prophetic, and, one may say, Messianic—Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed herald of the Isaian oracle. We know, on objective grounds, that this identification cannot be a Lukan creation, since it is preserved in a separate line of tradition, part of the so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but absent from Mark). We will examine this in the next daily note.

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